2010 Washington Ballot Initiatives

So, you think that Oregon is the national leader in number of ballot questions that the state’s voters must decide on? Well, this time around, you might be mistaken. This November, Washington voters will have no fewer than nine ballot initiatives and other measures to vote on.

Certainly, you are already being bombarded by political ads on television and radio, and the onslaught is just beginning. In the coming weeks, I will have discussions on what all of these measures are about for helping you decide the matters for yourself. In the meantime, here is a summary of the issues that you will be asked to become experts on:

The Washington Judge Bail Authority Amendment will give state judges the ability to deny bail whenever they deem that the public might be at risk.  It is estimated this might cover around 5,000 prisoners per year.   This was a reaction to the killer of the four Lakewood Police officers last year by a felon who was out on bail.

The Washington State Debt Limits Amendment will alter the way interest is calculated in state debt limits in the constitution to make Washington eligible for a new federal subsidy.  This is merely a housekeeping measure.

Referred Bill 52, Washington Schools Energy Efficiency Projects, will call for a $500 million bond that lawmakers estimate would create 40,000 new jobs in public school and government building renovations. The bond proceeds would be spent on replacing roofs, installing insulation, cleaning mold-infested buildings, and making energy-saving improvements. These improvements would take place on school campuses and state offices throughout the state.

Initiative 1100, the Washington Privatize State Liquor Stores Initiative
Initiative 1105, the Washington Revised State Liquor Laws Initiative
These two competing measures have many similarities and also some differences.  In the end, they are both looking to close the Washington state-owned liquor stores and allow private sellers to sell the liquor that they now sell.  It would also change the way that the state collects taxes on the liquor and the profits they make from liquor store sales. Besides, the best question might be what happens if they both pass?

Initiative 1082, the Washington Workers’ Comp Insurance Reform Initiative will try to privatize the publicly-run workers compensation system. Yes, despite what the ads will say, this is a way for corporations to save a few dollars and a new way for workers who are injured on the job to be screwed. (Did he say screwed? As a matter of fact, yes!) And, get this, isn’t it the Republican party, friends of the big corporations, that are claiming that if we save the big corporations money, that they will help the workers? Yeah, right.

Initiative 1098, the Washington State Income Tax Initiative will reduce your Washington property tax bill by 20%. It will make Washington a better place to start or operate a small business by cutting the Business & Occupation Tax on small businesses. It would generate an additional $2 billion per year to fund health care and education. It will do it by instituting a state income tax on individuals making over $200,000 per year or couples making over $400,000 per year. Opponents will tell you that rich people will flee Washington and head for one of the five remaining states without an income tax. Just like they have in 45 other states. Or not.

Initiative 1053, the Washington Tax Initiative, is the “off the wall” offering of that crazy Tim Eyman in this particular election.  He, and his financial backers, believe that certain legislative or initiative measures should not be adopted, even if a majority of Washingtonians want them to pass.  In the case of certain tax-related laws, they would not be adopted unless 2/3 of those voting voted “yes” on them.  In effect, this is a measure where we are voting to say whether the will of the people should be considered or not in certain cases.  Surprisingly, it would not require a 2/3 majority of the people voting yes for this measure to pass.  That should be telling in itself, no?  I’m comfortable with a system where the majority of the people decide on issues, thank you.

Initiative 1107, the Washington Repeal Tax Law Amendments Initiative, would reduce tax rates for certain food processors, end the sales tax on candy, and end the temporary sales tax on some bottled water and carbonated beverages. For those who are deeply concerned as to whether or not they have to pay sales tax on the purchase of that candy bar or can of soda.

As you can now see, you will have a lot of studying to do before the final exam on November 2.  As you are bombarded with ads between not and than, feel free to count how many actually make reasoned arguments for or against these measures.  It will certainly be easier than counting the ones making random, nice-sounding, but implausible (or irrelevant) statements about each issue.

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2010 Oregon Ballot Measures

Just a heads up, if you haven’t guessed already from all of the intentionally misleading political ads already out there, that the November political season is upon us. As usual, I will be tackling the issues from around Cascadia here, one by one. Just to get you started, here are some of the issues that you will be asked to become expert on in the near future. My commentary will be coming up in the upcoming days.

The following have qualified for the November 2010 Oregon Ballot:

Measure 70: The Oregon Veteran Home Loans Expansion.  The State of Oregon, through the Oregon War Veterans Fund, offers low-interest to war veterans from Oregon.  A quirk in the wording in the Oregon Constitution tends to disqualify many members of the military reserves who were called up and served in war zones from being eligible for this program.  This measure makes the program available to a few more worthy people.

Measure 71: The Oregon Legislature Annual Sessions Amendment.  Oregon is one of the few remaining states where the legislature still meets only every other year.  In modern times, our lawmakers need to meet every year to do the state’s business.

Measure 72: Oregon Property Projects.  The measure proposes authorizing lowest-cost borrowing for the state’s real and personal property projects.  Yes, it’s all pretty boring, but modernizes the state constitution to bring state borrowing options into the 21st century.

Measure 73: Oregon Minimum Criminal Sentence Increase.  Another of those measures that sounds good in sound bites but limits judges and prosecutors ability to give appropriate sentences to meet the needs of particular people, this one covers two very disparate subjects: Sex crimes and drunk drivers.  So, what happens if you agree with the increased penalties for one of these things and not for the other?  Stay tuned!

Measure 74: The Oregon Regulated Medical Marijuana Supply System Act.  Since we allow those people who have a medical condition that would be soothed by the use of marijuana to use it on a limited basis, it would make sense to allow people to grow it for their use. Or not, depending on how you want to vote.  It would make sense, if we are going to use this as a medicine, to research the quality standards of this medicine.

Measure 75:  The Oregon Job Growth Education And Communities Fund Act, Part II.  Don’t you just love the people who write some of these ballot measure titles who try to hide the real meaning of the measure.  Does anything in that title tell you that the point of this measure is to build exactly one privately-operated gambling casino in Multnomah County and nowhere else?  Does it mention that the supporters are the one company that would operate the casino?  And did we mention that it is unconstitutional to do this?  Thank goodness  for the ballot initiative in Oregon, where we can attempt to pass something, even if it’s illegal. Besides, you might wonder whatever happened to Part 1!)

Measure 76: The Oregon Lottery Funds for Natural Resources Amendment.  It will keep giving 15% of lottery proceeds to support development of parks, beaches, wildlife habitat, and watershed protection.  You choose.  I’ll give you both sides of the story.  But the real question is this:  What programs did we take the money from so we could fund parks and wildlife and so forth?

So there they are. Get to thinking about them. In the next few months, others will try to sway your decisions on these questions. Most will not share both sides of the story. Have fun, but beware!

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First They Came…

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

— Martin Niemöller (c. 1937) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

Actually, there is some question as to just exactly which religious, ethnic, political, or social groups were in the original quote, since Niemöller himself seemed to change the quote as needed for different groups that he was speaking to. Over the years, we have heard this used many times in the media, in the movies, and on television. A wide variety of groups have been mentioned in this context over the years.

The point is that, even though there is no threat of Nazi’s going around and committing genocide today, there are those in this country who would be tempted to do so if the opportunity were available. In today’s world, the threats are in intolerant political and religious groups that feel that anyone unlike them deserves to die. (And if you don’t believe me, look in the comments section of articles in any major metropolitan newspaper today.) Today’s targets may be less traditional: Hispanics, Muslims (or any non-Christians), homosexuals, and so on. Sadly, the same concerns that Niemöller had in 1937 Europe are similar to the concerns I have about the United States in 2010.

In 2010, it is moderately unsafe to be a Muslim or gay or Hispanic in America. If you look around, there are not a whole lot of us who are speaking out for the rights of these and other groups who do not meet the “conservative right-wing” definition of “normal”. Frankly, I am ashamed that more of us do not step forward and defend the rights of our friends and neighbors who fall into these groups.

It is really easy to stand aside while our neighbors are figuratively (and literally, in some cases) beaten up. It is easy to just nod and go on with our day when some people threaten the rights of others. After all, they are not coming after me. But we really need to start defending the basic rights of all of our neighbors. By the time they decide to come after me, there may be no one left to speak up.

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Proposed Portland Anti-Crime Laws

Today, The Oregonian newspaper is reporting that Mayor Sam Adams has come up with a number if ideas for helping stem the recent tide of shootings in North Portland. It constantly amazes me (or perhaps it shouldn’t) that his detractors spent the last week or two complaining that he wasn’t doing anything to solve the problem. While they were doing that, he was out in the city talking with, well, just about everyone involved in the situation to see what could be done.

In the meantime, Adams has been, among other things, coming up with a list of five proposed new laws that would attempt to give law enforcement some tools to work with to help keep the situation under control. As reported by The Oregonian, here are the five proposals he made, with my comments below:

1. Would amend city’s curfew law, adding a 9:15 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for minors who have been found by a court to have possessed, bought, used, transferred or transported a firearm unlawfully. (Current code sets a 9:15 p.m. curfew on weeknights for minors under age 14 who have not started high school, increasing it to 10:15 p.m. when there’s no school the next day; and a 10:15 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for children 14 and older, extended to midnight if there’s no school the next day.)

In a way, the city curfew for minors has always seemed so 1950’s, but is a tool that can be used to help get kids off the streets and back where they belong. Despite the whining of the gun lobby, does it really seem so unreasonable that a 16-year-old that been in trouble with the law previously be in the house or with a parent or guardian by 9:15 on a school night? Or on any night? This would be an inconvenience to a few people, but seems like the kind of thing that can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. It amuses me to see the folks advocating for kids to be out all night.

2. Creates new city crime, endangering a child by allowing access to a firearm, and sets a sliding scale of penalties involving jail time and a fine, dependent upon danger to community. An adult would be guilty of the crime if he or she failed to prevent access to a firearm, whether loaded or unloaded, to a child without permission, or the permission of a parent or guardian. The penalty increases if the child carries the firearm off the gun owner’s premises. And it reaches the most severe penalty if the child carries the firearm to any school, school-sponsored or school-related event. The penalty levels haven’t been decided. It would not apply if a child obtained a gun through illegal entry to a home, or if the gun was locked away, secured or inoperable, or the child discharged it in self-defense.

Again, it amuses me that the gun activists can be so blind to not permitting any firearm regulation, that they can be in favor of allowing people to give firearms to kids, unsupervised, with no consequences. I have been taught since I was young to lock up the guns, to keep them away from children, and to treat all firearms as if they were loaded. Is it different now? Are we not responsible to do these things? It should be OK now to hand a child a gun, or to allow them to take it, and leave the house with it? Nothing here prevents a parent or other responsible adult from using the guns as they were intended, or allowing them to be used properly, even by children. It does make it a crime to let them take it to school. I don’t really have a problem with that.

3. Creates new city crime: failure to report theft or loss of a firearm. A gun owner would have to report a theft or loss of a firearm within 48 hours of learning of a theft, or misplacement of a gun, and provide its description and serial number to law enforcement. If not, the owner would be subject to a $500 fine. If an owner reported a gun stolen but didn’t provide the serial number, he or she would face a $200 administrative fee.

While I am not violently opposed to having some sort of gun registration system, I do understand that the registration process is not really worth the time and expense that would be necessary to implement it. It does not particularly bother me that we do not have lists of gun owners, although I do sleep a little easier knowing that people need permits to carry concealed firearms and that there is a system in place so that criminals and the mentally ill are not buying them (as much as possible, anyway). However, it does not seem unreasonable that if someone has their gun stolen, that they report that fact to the police in a timely manner. You can bet that if someone is going to steal a gun, they are not doing it so they can display it on their mantel for its beauty. They may be stealing it to resell, but it is more likely than not that the gun is being stolen so that it can be used to commit a crime. Heck, we report cars that are stolen voluntarily, if only so that we are not stuck with the parking tickets that the thief might run up. It doesn’t seem the least bit unreasonable to report the theft of a gun. At the very least, it would put law enforcement on notice that the owner isn’t the criminal if the gun is used for a nefarious purpose.

4. Increases penalty for existing city crime: possession of a loaded firearm in a public place. The courts would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days for someone convicted of carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle, including a transit vehicle. Right now, the court has discretion to sentence a violator for up to six months in prison and face a fine up to $500, but it’s rarely done. This would not affect those with concealed-handgun licenses.

Yes, probably not as effective an idea as it seems, but notably, it does not affect anyone who is carrying a firearm legally. Really, if I have a good reason for carrying a loaded weapon on my lap in the car or on a bus, why can’t I get a concealed weapons permit to do so? Maybe there is room to improve this before it becomes law, but on the face, it is a good idea. But the gun activists are right in one way. This one, by itself, won’t make the difference.

5. Designates illegal firearms use hot spots, valid for a three-year period, and gives the city the authority to exclude gun offenders who are on probation or under juvenile authority from entering a public area or park within the designated hot-spot locations, unless they live in the area, go to school, obtain social services there or travel through it. The hot spots would be areas where gun crimes or illegal discharges are significantly higher than that for other similar-size geographic locations.

OK, even I had to laugh at this one. The city experimented with “drug-free zones” and “prostitution-free zones” and everyone knew that these were the best places to buy illegal drugs or hire a streetwalker. I had a problem with the concept of exclusion zones, simply because it did seem too restrictive to ban someone from a certain part of town for 30 to 90 days. While it seems like this might be a good idea on the face of it, even if the goal is to exclude the gang member from access to their gang turf, I just don’t think this one should be the law. If a legal restraining order is called for, by all means get one. Use it. But this should be a case-by-case situation decided on by a judge, not an administrative process.

In the end, it is clear that Mayor Sam Adams is on the right track for trying to clean up some of the gang violence in Portland. It is clear that there is still much work to be done. This is a good start toward that goal.

It also amuses me that the some of the same people who complain that Adams is not doing anything to solve the city’s problems, while he is at work on solutions to solve them, are among the first in line to decry him when he presents his proposed solutions. If someone can do a better job, let them step forward and make some suggestions. (Just remember that “do nothing” or “lets stop and study the problem some more” are not practical suggestions.)

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The Problem With Being Muslim

There has been some discussion in the media lately about whether President Barack Obama is a Muslim or not. Despite a recent survey that showed that as many as 20% of Americans asked believe this might be the case, it is clear from the evidence that this is not true. Just because a person or a group of people repeat something over and over does not make it true. It appears that the president is a Christian, or at least has leaned that way during his lifetime.

However, if we wanted to ask a question that was more to the point, just exactly why is it so bad to be a Muslim? The evidence is pretty clear that Obama, like a great number of Americans, is a Christian who goes to church on special occasions and when they feel the need. That is the same as a lot of people in this country, and it’s not necessarily bad. Likewise, why is it any better or worse to be a Christian or a Muslim or a follower of some other faith?

My question, one that no one in the media seems to be able to address right now, is just what is so wrong about being a Muslim? Some people are Christians, some are Muslim, some are Buddhists, some are Sikhs or Pagans or Jews or followers of any one of a number of other spiritual systems. The question: Since when did it become an insult to call someone a Muslim? Until we address that, we are just arguing over mindless accusations that detractors of the president seem to want to make to .

Until we can accept one another for who we are, without “hating” someone else merely because of their race or religion, then we are fairly well doomed as a society. And until we can speak of one another (as individuals in a country) without the racial or religious labels, we are truly showing our ignorance. I look at the media reports and see misinformation on both sides of this issue.

Some of these folks are seeing Christians and Muslims as an “either/or” situation. I may offend a few with this description, but not deliberately. Let me explain:

  • Both Christians and Muslims believe that one God/Creator made the Earth.
  • Both believe that one should worship the Creator on a regular basis.
  • Both believe that regular prayer is a benefit to one’s life.
  • Both believe in the words of a holy book, that in each case was written by wise men inspired by God, and at a basic level tell similar stories.
  • Both holy books tell us how the world was created, how to worship and please God, and how to lead good and ethical lives.
  • Both books are full of wisdom to live by.
  • Both books have certain passages that could have very bad meanings, depending upon how they are interpreted.  In other words, if taken strictly and literally, and out of context, they both in places direct us to do things that are inappropriate by today’s standards.
  • Both books, while for the most part directing us to do good and not to hurt others, have sections that say we might need to fight or kill people to preserve ourselves and our respective religions. In both cases, only those who already have a mind toward violence actually interpret those sections as a call to violence.
  • Both religions have regular religious practice, a yearn for peace, a call to be charitable toward others, a call to be charitable toward their church, and a call to take care of ones self and others as their main focus.
  • Both have lists of rules one would follow to lead a good and wholesome life.

There are a number of ways that the religions differ, of course. But if you look at those things, you will find that they are in the realm of “method of practice” than in actual dogma. Christianity is different from Islam, but not much more than the way that different sects of Christianity (Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Protestants, and so on) are different from one another.

I find that many Christians, despite claiming to love their neighbors and claiming to be tolerant toward others, will badmouth the Muslims as bad people.  On the other hand, I have found that a great many Christians will go out of their way to badmouth the practices of their fellow Christians who happen to practice in a different way in a different church.

Yes, this does oversimplify things somewhat. But in the end, in the things that matter, most of the world’s religions are truly not that different from one another. So, why are we demonizing the other religious people so much?  Aren’t we really only arguing over the method of religious practice and some minor doctrinal details, rather than in some really evil difference in what we believe?

Unless we really believe that anyone who doesn’t sit next to us on Sunday morning is the bad guy.

Anyone want to help me out on this?

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Not Deporting Our Own Children

About a year ago, we reported here about the plight of Blanca Catt, a young lady who was adopted by a local Portland couple as a baby, raised in the Portland/Vancouver area, and knew only this place as home. Her new parents had adopted her after her birth parents, who had turned to a life of crime, had smuggled her into the US as a baby then abandoned her here.

Her world had been turned upside down when it was discovered that her original immigration paperwork had been done incorrectly. Despite assurances from Multnomah County adoption authorities that everything had been done correctly, she was not officially a US resident or citizen. When this was discovered, it was feared that Blanca, who knew only the US as home, who did not realize there was a problem, who had no connections to Mexico, and who did not even speak any Spanish, could be deported to Mexico and not allowed to return to the US.

I am happy to note, from recent reports, that this story will eventually have a happy ending. While the process will not be immediate, the Federal Government has seen fit to allow Blanca one of the rare visas that will allow her to stay in the US as a permanent resident. The now-19-year-old will not be able to apply for US citizenship for another 8 years. In the meantime, she will not be able to pursue some of her original goals. She is now working toward saving money for college to become a dental hygienist. Of course, she will not be eligible for financial aid because of the recent problems with her immigration status. I have confidence that she will make it work.

I know that this young lady will be able to overcome all of this and be able to grow up to do whatever she wants to do. It is unfortunate that our system is not flexible to respond when it is clear that a mistake was made, whether that error was on the part of her parents, the County, or the Federal Government. It just seems that we have become so short sighted on the whole subject if immigration that we cannot do the right thing, even if the right answer to the situation is obvious.

It appears that there is clearly some room for improvement.

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Reactions to Islam

News Item: A group of Muslims in New York City are looking to build a new community center, including a mosque, a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center. A small group of “conservative” US politicians have come forward to try to convince us that it would be wrong to build a place of worship so close to a place where this horrific event happened in 2001. President Obama has come forward as the voice of reason, to remind us that we can all choose to practice our religion when and where we choose to do so, even in New York City. These fringe Republicans are responding by stating that Obama is out of touch with Americans.

Comment: I’m not sure which Americans that Ms. Palin and Mr. Gingrich and others think that the president is out of touch with, but it certainly doesn’t seem out of touch to me that any religious group might want to build a facility in the most populous city in our country. On it’s face, it seems absurd that building a religious place of worship near the site of a disaster would be any problem at all. Certainly, the faith-based programs that would be happening at this community center would not only be of service to the community, it would have a healing effect in allowing the community to come together at this location.

I have heard of communities that might not want a church in a particular part of town due to traffic or zoning concerns. But I don’t ever remember hearing that they don’t want the church because a site of a disaster was nearby. In fact, in times of disaster and the aftermath of attacks or war, it is often representatives of religious organizations that are the first to arrive and to help. The arguments being made simply do not make any sense.

In an earlier incident in our history, in a terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, I never once heard that we needed to do anything about the location of any nearby religious centers or places of worship. No one thought that the proximity of a church was of any concern to anyone regarding how close it is to the center of that explosion. Certainly, there is at least one place of worship in Downtown Oklahoma City.

The “conservatives” that have been decrying the new Muslim community center in New York are saying that it is inappropriate that a Muslim center be built, but have not said whether it would be appropriate to build a Christian community center or a Jewish community center in the same spot. I presume this is the case, as they have said as much in not so many words. Yet, they tell us that it would be wrong to call them religious bigots. I’m not entirely sure what else I would call them, if it is OK to build one brand of church but not another.

Perhaps they believe that, because many of the al-Qaida terrorists had been brought up as Muslims, that all Muslims must be bad. None of the Muslims that I know would do such a thing, and I know all of them to be upstanding members of our community. Even if the terrorists were Muslims, that is still not a reason to vilify the millions of Muslims around the world who are not terrorists. Certainly, the Republicans who are trying to eventually become our leaders are not so uninformed as to think that the Muslim religion, rather than a terrorist organization, attacked the World Trade Center. I have to conclude that they are either grossly uninformed, or that they are religious bigots. Neither one of these are particularly flattering to them.

Again, if we take previous incidents into account, Timothy McVeigh, who destroyed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people and injuring 450 more, had been raised in a Christian household. In another example, Adolf Hitler, the killer of millions during World War II, sent Jews, members of Christian denominations different than his own, and others to the gas chambers to die, all in the name of Christianity. We recognize these figures as anomalies. We have not shunned all Christians because of the actions of these particularly criminal Christians. It makes no more sense to shun these Muslims because of the actions of a few others who have no connection to them.

As we look to our leaders to guide us, the wise words of Barak Obama have reminded us that we all have the right to practice our peaceful religions in any appropriate manner. It is a right protected in our constitution. Please tell me if you think differently, educate me on this issue. But I can find nothing other than blatant religious bigotry in those not allowing this New York project to go forward. This never should have been more than a local issue.

I only hope that this does not become an issue in our own community.

UPDATE: From information in an article today, it appears that the Muslim community in New York City might abandon their community center project. The bigots will see this as a victory. The religious will see it as an offer to the community to stop the tensions that will inevitably arise from building the project. It is truly unfortunate that, in this day and age, that we still have the intolerance that will not allow our neighbors to pray in peace. Will the detractors be praying in peace tonight?

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I Have Things to Say

I have things to say.

I have not been saying much here lately.

But there are a lot of things churning around in my mind, just waiting to be formulated and to come out. So you will be reading more of it here again.

I have some strong opinions on many of the issues that meet us every day. Yes, those opinions lean wildly in the direction of making sure that the rights that we all are supposed to have are not restricted at the irrational whims of our elected officials and the other politicians and bureaucrats out there.

Some may accuse me of such, but I have no particular agenda that I am trying to sneak past you. It is just simply wrong to mess with the rights of common folks who are simply trying to lead their lives. I plan to give you specific examples of this as time goes on. I welcome your reasoned discussion of the issues, in a place where no reasonable point of view will be shunned, but BS will be called if the “argument” has no basis in reality.

Also, while I will try to remain rather Cascadia-centric, I will no longer be too afraid to wander into the ocean of national and world issues, especially when there is a lesson that can be taken back to our own communities.

Thanks for listening.

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Riding the Train in Cascadia

Over the years, I have had lots of reasons to travel between Portland and Seattle, and to other places around Washington and Oregon. I will confess right here that most of that travel has been by car. To a certain extent, I have not practiced moving around by public transportation as well as I have preached it. However, a bit of recent practice has got me thinking that leaving the car at home might not be as bad as it once was.

There is no doubting the convenience of the car for getting to places locally at whatever whim you might have at the moment. On the other hand, for the bulk of the trip between the two cities, it sure is nice to let someone else do the driving for you. The only trick to this is simply a bit of advance planning.

The background story is that my car’s starter decided to quit on the night before my trip to Seattle for my 30th high school reunion. The next morning, the local car rental agency called and said they didn’t have a car to rent that morning, even though one was reserved online. While I was muttering about what I was going to find to drive, someone asked if this was the time to suggest that “Mr Transit” might just want to walk his talk and take the train to Seattle. After giving that about 10 minutes of thought, I shed all the excess stuff that I was carrying down to one bag and headed downtown.

I hadn’t been on the train to Seattle in a couple of years, and most of my train recollections revolve around the Coast Starlight of the past. The train, to me, was a slow mode of transport that was frequently too late to be of value. What I found out was that the Amtrak Cascades is really a great little train. The Talgo trrainset that they use is pretty comfortable. The trip is a fast 3.5 hours Portland to Seattle. It’s certainly not my Father’s Amtrak train! This trip made me remember just how efficient this trip can be, even though the train itself was full in both directions.

On my particular trip from Portland to Seattle, we started out at a 20-minute disadvantage, since there was a bridge up to allow a ship to pass on the Willamette River. This was easily made up, though, before we arrived in Seattle.

The one thing that disappointed me at a personal level was an inability to take a decent photo out the window of the train. Now, I guess you can’t expect to do well at 60 mph, but I was hoping for better results than I got. There must be a way to do that. But the fact is that I would have never have had 3.5 hours to contemplate photography or reading or working on my laptop had I been driving. I look at that as time gained rather than as time lost. Furthermore, I arrived without having to deal with 50 miles of Friday rush-hour traffic approaching Seattle.

As far as making transit connections, taking the train connects you with the best of transit on both ends of the connection. Portland’s Union Station is right on the Tri-Met Transit Mall. In Seattle, likewise, it is only a couple of blocks to most of the available transit options from King Street Station. I found a bus on 3rd Avenue that took me directly to my hotel. It was a 45-minute trip, but if I had known I was leaving the car at home, I would have chosen the hotel differently. As it was, I got to two events just fine on the bus, with only one late-night taxi home the entire 3-day trip. A day of fun in Seattle was also done via transit.

By the way, if you ever do the trip on the train, unless you’re really pinching pennies, you might consider springing for the extra $14 for Business Class. I did on the way back just because I was getting sore and tired, and it was totally worth it. If not for the extra big seats, then just for the fact that you don’t have to stand in the endless line in Seattle to check in and get a seat assignment. On the other hand, the trip up was perfectly acceptable in regular coach class. Certainly no issues there with space or legroom, even for a rather large person such as myself.

I am going to be rethinking how I travel around Cascadia from now on. Yes, there are certainly times where you need a car to get around. However, depending upon your destination, it will often be more convenient and less expensive to simply take the train and other public transit to my destination. You might consider trying this yourself next time.

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Saving the Earthworms

We here at Cascadia Journal are in favor of saving all forms of animal life from extinction, especially those native to our region. That being said, sometimes the issues are not so clear cut. From a recent Associated Press article:

SPOKANE — There won’t be any endangered species protection for the Giant Palouse earthworm in the immediate future.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week affirmed a lower court ruling that found there is not enough evidence to prove the worm is threatened.

The appeals found that virtually all information about the elusive worm is limited and inconclusive.

In April, living specimens of the worm were captured for the first time in two decades. Environmentalists have filed a new petition seeking endangered species protection.

— The Associated Press

The Giant Palouse Earthworm is an annelid beast that, until recently, was thought to be extinct. Recently, while digging around near Washington State University, researchers found some examples of what could be the elusive worm. Through DNA testing, they were confirmed to be of the missing species.

This brings up some interesting questions. If we really did think that these worms were extinct, and they now do exist, then wouldn’t they by definition be endangered? Probably. Yet, giving them the “endangered” tag would mean that farmers would have to do (or not do) something to protect the species. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem right to me in this case.

The court found that there is not enough evidence to prove the worm is threatened. My initial reaction is to protect them. But my next reaction is that perhaps, if they have been hiding all this time, that there could be a lot of them hiding out there in the vast and hilly fields of the Palouse.

Yes, I worry that we don’t do enough to protect endangered species. Deep down, I worry about the worms. On the other hand, common sense tells me that if the worms have survived that long without our assistance, and that our current farming methods have not killed them all yet, that they may have a penchant for hiding and for survival that we might not quite understand yet.

Let the farmers do what they will for now. The worms will get by. I doubt we will not kill these particular creatures off any more badly than we think we have already. I celebrate that they are not dead yet.

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