𝑾𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝑪𝒐𝒍𝒐𝒓 𝒊𝒔 Your 𝑷𝒓𝒊𝒗𝒊𝒍𝒆𝒈𝒆? Now Available!

A collection of 72 political statements in poetic form, What Color is Your Privilege? examines the wide spectrum of ways our society marginalizes people. Although many people on society’s fringes still have some privilege, society maligns, excludes, and abuses them because of their skin color, religion, disabilities, neurodivergence, sex, sexual orientation, gender, immigration status, age, financial position, housing arrangements, etc.

What Color is Your Privilege? opens a window on the suffering many are privileged to ignore.

“Serving a truth serum for hate and hypocrisy, F.I. Goldhaber is writing with a hammer and speaking with a tongue of fire. In What Color is Your Privilege?, they sing a book-length blues song decrying racial, gender, religious, and sexual intolerance in America. With courage and a rejection of conventionality rarely found in contemporary verse, this book shines a bright, beaming light on the ‘hostile world’ we live in and the revolution being fought for the soul of America.” — John Warner Smith, Louisiana State Poet Laureate 2019-2021.

Now available from Left Fork books and your local bookstore as well as from Bookshop.org. You can also order from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Left Fork is a small “unashamedly progressive press” based in Southwest Oregon, overlooking the West (left) Fork of Oregon’s Illinois River.

Primary Ballot Review: Washington County Commission

Commission Chair

First published on PDX.Vote.
May 3, 2022

PDX.Vote logo with thick grey and black letters on a light green background
Incumbent Washington County Board of Commissioners Chair Kathryn Harrington, who is running for reelection to the at-large position, claims she was elected in 2018 “with a focus on increasing government transparency and accountability, advancing equity and diversity, addressing affordable housing and homelessness.”

She stated on her 2018 campaign website that “We need to be more focused on serving community members throughout Washington County and making sure we are not leaving people behind.” But since she took office, the total number of houseless individuals in the county, which had gone down the year before, has increased by almost 40 percent.

Harrington declined to answer questions regarding the plight of houseless individuals in the county and the ongoing pandemic. But, during her State of the County address on April 12, Harrington discussed how the county is using federal American Rescue Plan and Metro supportive housing services funds to expand the availability of affordable housing and the delivery of wrap-around social services to help people with mental health, addiction, and disability issues stay housed, as well as increasing the number of shelter beds available.

Most of Harrington’s comments about the pandemic were related to economic recovery. She mentioned the county’s high vaccination rate, despite the reality that vaccines only prevent vaccinated individuals from becoming seriously ill in most, but not all, cases.

Harrington also has been slow to keep her promise to advance equity and diversity. After a three-year process which started with the approval of an “equity charter,” the county commissioners, voted in April 2022 to establish an advisory council on racial equity (ACRE). All of the Washington County commissioners except one are white. During the State of the County, she applauded the process of creating a racial equity advisory council, despite the snail’s pace.

In addition, Harrington has hardly been a proponent of government transparency and accountability. Her opponent entered the race after local elected officials expressed concerns with the county’s lack of transparency under Harrington. One of the accusations regarding Harrington’s violations of county human resources policies involved her displeasure “about County staff appearing in front of city councils and interacting with the cities without” her knowledge.

The county paid Michael V. Tom of Northwest Workplace Investigations $25,000 to scrutinize this and other allegations by current and former employees about Harrington’s “unprofessional” conduct while in office. Citing attorney-client privilege, the county originally suppressed Tom’s full report, which he based on interviews with 20 county employees and one non-employee. “[Washington] county staff retained a second independent attorney, at an additional cost of $1,440, to draft a condensation of the significant facts from the report that are not otherwise exempt from disclosure”, according to Philip Bransford, county communications officer.

Witnesses told the investigator that Harrington “indicates disinterest, becomes ‘short,’ or makes statements expressing frustrations with presenters and/or moves onto other agenda items; is sometimes ‘thrown off’ or flustered if a meeting does not go as planned by the agenda; and has been observed using expressive faces, rolling her eyes, heavy sighing, putting her hand on her head or shutting down with crossed arms and sitting back when unhappy in meetings.”

Harrington responded that “she tries to ‘catch’ herself from using the alleged body language.” During her State of the County presentation, Harrington’s delivery was almost wooden. She smiled frequently, but not always appropriately, and there was often a disconnect between her words and her body language.

The condensed report states that Harrington’s “behavior can be hostile and abusive and beyond unprofessional; she can be condescending and speaks down and cuts off people in public settings … she is not a team player or a people person; her communication style is abrupt, blunt and direct; she uses intimidating and a demeaning tone” but also “that it was difficult to determine whether Chair Harrington’s communication and conduct rose to disrespectful or unprofessional behaviors”. One witness said they had “not seen Chair Harrington engage in any unfair, undignified and/or disrespectful, humiliating, or shaming behaviors”, stating “she is not self-aware and has an unkind delivery style; she cannot see herself; she is not reflective and lacks emotional intelligence”.

“Witnesses reported confronting Chair Harrington about her behavior”, the investigator reported, and “the Chair did not engage in the behavior again; that Chair Harrington’s conduct has improved … that in the past 3-4 months, Chair Harrington became more supportive and ‘over-the-top intentional’ to show kindness towards others”. In the condensed report, one witness is quoted saying “that Chair Harrington is brilliant, has great ideas and is good for the County”.

The two male members of the Board of Commissioners insisted to media that they want the full report released. Commissioner Roy Rogers, who is not up for reelection this year, has stated that since taxpayer money paid for the report, it should be available to the public. Commissioner Jerry Willey, who is running for reelection unopposed after two candidates withdrew, claims the investigator concluded Harrington violated county policies and has been quoted as saying, “We can’t cover up violations of our human resources policies under the secrecy of attorney-client privilege.”

Willey told KOIN 6, “She engaged in workplace harassment that was abusive, disruptive, unprofessional, and created a work environment that was not civil or respectful of county employees.” So the investigator is recommending, Willey said, allegedly reading from the report, “emotional intelligence training, benefit from counseling and training regarding her substantiated disrespectful conduct.”

Rogers told KOIN, “In the full report, you’ll see, they resign. There are people leaving. It’s in there and that’s a shame.”

By hiring an attorney to conduct the investigation, the board created the attorney-client privilege it used to prevent the full report’s release. Pamplin Media Group appealed the county’s refusal to release the full report and on April 11 Deputy District Attorney David Pitcher determined “The condensed report fails to adequately describe significant facts contained within the full report.” On April 13, Pamplin’s Troy Shinn reported that Pitcher said, “the condensed report omits significant observations and statements made by witnesses about the behavior of Chair Harrington and its impact on county employees.”

Pitcher’s decision didn’t find the county’s claim of attorney-client privilege persuasive: “For the internal advisory exemption to apply, the county must make a strong showing that its interest in frank internal communications clearly outweighs the public interest. We do not believe the county has met its burden to sustain this exemption. The voters and citizens of Washington County have a significant interest in learning of potential misconduct or policy violations by a public official, particularly one who is up for election next month.”

Pitcher’s boss, Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton, is also on the May ballot. Harrington has endorsed Barton’s opponent, public defender Brian Decker.

The county had the option of appealing the DA’s decision in court After an executive session on Tuesday, April 12, the Board released the full report with recommended redactions to protect identities of employees the investigator interviewed.

One of the footnotes in the redacted document states: “Many witnesses reported concern for potential repercussions and/or retaliation from Chair Harrington. To aid in protecting their identities, each is referred to as ‘a witness’ or ‘reporting party.'”

That document, about twice as long (with black blocks marking redacted information) as the condensed report, also quotes the employee who reported overhearing Harrington’s use of profanity stating “Harrington is ‘unpredictably volatile’ and you ‘never know which Kathryn you are going to get.’ The employee described the Chair as ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ and reported that the Chair can be straight-forward and happy one moment and then in the next moment will raise her voice and appear unhappy.” This “employee reported that the Chair is the reason the employee is leaving their employment with the County,” according to the redacted report. A former employee reported “they left County employment because of the incident and ongoing concerns with” Harrington. The word “volatile” and references to “Jekyll and Hyde” never appear in the condensed report.

In the full, redacted report the witness who said Harrington is “brilliant” also reported that Harrington “doesn’t have to destroy careers,” that “people are leaving or don’t want to work with her,” and “her behavior needs to change.”

The employee who said it was difficult to determine if Harrington’s conduct “rose to disrespectful or unprofessional behavior” also told the investigator that “other Commissioners,” in addition to Harrington, use “an abrupt, blunt and direct communication style,” according in the full report.

According to Bransford, the county response to the report included clarification by the county administrator of roles and responsibilities of staff who work with the commissioners. Although the work of the employees interviewed by the investigator support the commissioners, they report to the county administrator.  In addition, the county administrator has commissioned a workplace assessment to set a baseline for future evaluation of working conditions in the County Administrative Office. Harrington’s use of profanity in talking about staff, another of the complaints in the condensed report, was addressed by soundproofing the “thin” walls of her office. This was done as part of “soundproofing improvements to the existing walls and HVAC ducts” for the entire Board of County Commissioners/County Administrative Office suite (work space for about 20 people in both enclosed offices and cubicles) at a total cost of $11,452, according to Bransford.

When Harrington was elected to the Board, she and District 2 Commissioner Pam Treece, replaced two members of what was then an all male and rural/conservative board. With Nafisa Fai’s election in 2020, the Board shifted to majority female and majority liberal/progressive.

Although the commissioners standing up for full disclosure are men, some of the people who have identified themselves as targets of her harassment have been women, including Harrington’s former Chief Of Staff Elizabeth Mazzara Myers who received a settlement of more than $80,000 for lost wages and benefits.

It’s also been pointed out that the majority of those who have switched their endorsements from Harrington to her opponent, including Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax, Sherwood Mayor Keith Mays, Tualatin Mayor Frank Bubenik, Tigard Mayor Jason Snider, former State Senator Mark Hass, and Former Washington County Commissioner Dick Schouten, also are men. But some female elected officials who endorsed Harrington in 2018 have switched their recommendations for 2022 including State Senator Janeen Sollman (District 15), North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan, Banks Mayor Stephanie Jones, Hillsboro School District Board Members Lisa Allen and Erika Lopez. Harrington’s 2022 list of endorsements is shorter than in 2018. However, she is still endorsed by U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici, former Governor Barbara Roberts, Treece, Fai, Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty, King City Mayor Jaimie Fender, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, State Senator Kate Lieber, and others.

Another notable difference in Harrington’s 2022 campaign materials is apparently in reaction to her current opponent’s military service. In 2018, when she ran against someone accused of lying about whether and when he served in the U.S. Navy, Harrington’s website made no mention of the armed forces. Now, the opening sentence of her bio on the site states she grew up in a military household.

Harrington’s opponent in the upcoming election is Hillsboro City Councilor Beach Pace. Pace served in the U.S. Army for seven years, including as Bomb Squad Executive Officer and Commander, and led her unit in security operations for the United States president, vice president, secretary of state, and other high-ranking officials. She earned a Bachelor of Science from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a Master of Public Administration from Northern Michigan University. Her website emphasizes her skills in collaboration, understanding, and listening to all points of view.

Pace has stated she had no intention of running for the county commission until approached, starting in August, by several people who expressed concerns regarding access to information about and involvement in county decisions.

In addition to her experience on the Hillsboro City Council, which she represents on the League of Oregon Cities board of directors and Washington County Coordinating Committee, Pace has held leadership positions with non-profit organizations including Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Columbia Northwest, Vice President and Executive Director of City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley, Vice President of Roadtrip Nation, and board member of the Westside Queer Resource Center. She also has nine years private sector experience as a team leader.

Pace is the only commission candidate acknowledging on her website that “we are not yet out of the pandemic” and states she will “collaborate with the local and State governments to ensure resources are available to meet the needs of our communities.”

Unfortunately, federal and state governments have abandoned most efforts to control the pandemic — which is still killing 1,000 to 2,500 people every single day in the U.S. — by eliminating mask mandates, no longer paying for testing and vaccinations for the uninsured and manipulating data to make numbers look better. Washington County, where the virus made its first Oregon appearance in 2020, still offers free vaccinations. However, in addition to not preventing COVID-19’s spread, none of the vaccines appear to reduce the risk of long-term, possibly permanent disability from Long COVID.

When asked how she would work to contain the pandemic in the face of a government attitude which ignores the harm caused to people who are disabled, elderly, immunocompromised, medically unable to get vaccinated, poor, living in congregate situations, etc. (as well as the repercussions of Long COVID), Pace responded with hopium misinformation. “The COVID-19 virus is becoming endemic, meaning it has more predictable behavior. This also aligns with people learning to live with the virus, much like influenza, and regulatory restrictions lifting. However, new variants are preventing us from moving entirely into this endemic phase.”

In stating “I believe local governments now have the opportunity to make recommendations based on case counts on a community-by-community basis”, Pace ignores the fact that we don’t have accurate case counts, because case counts are no longer being reported.

Despite high vaccination rates compared to the rest of the state, Washington County is still at high risk, as are all counties in the metro area, even according to the U.S. COVID Risk & Vaccine Tracker. But even that data is misleading as it uses manipulated CDC metrics. In reality, the only COVID measurement that hasn’t been politically compromised is wastewater data and those numbers are frankly terrifying.

Chart showing percentage of change in COVID detected in wastewater samples in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties
COVID changes detected in wastewater samples in Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington counties

The change in the percentage of the COVID virus found in Washington County wastewater has increased an average of more than 536 million percent just for the beginning of April. The average increase for the entire metro area (Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties) was more than 178 million percent across all reporting wastewater treatment facilities. For the 15 days ending April 21, Washington County was up another 532 percent.

Currently, the Washington County website refers to the politically compromised Center for Disease Control’s deadly “guidelines” which, for example, advise those who test positive to isolate for five days even though most people remain contagious for seven to 10 days. The website also claims people “do not need to stay home (quarantine) unless” they have symptoms, ignoring asymptomatic transmission. Pace said “I will partner with Washington County’s Public Health Officer to ensure accurate information and appropriate recommendations are made available in a timely manner.” Hopefully, if she is elected, she’ll “partner” with epidemiologists and virologists who are not politically compromised to do so.

Pace’s website is the only one of the four commission candidates that doesn’t mention unhoused individuals in the county. When asked how she would address that issue, Pace decried the “housing first” method which emphasizes putting unhoused people in permanent housing rather than temporary shelters, although she does agree with Harrington that “wrap-around services are key to long-term solutions for housing insecure and homeless neighbors”. She specifically lists both Sheriff’s Deputies and operators of the referral-only Bybee Lakes Hope Center, formerly the Wapato Correctional Facility, which requires frequent drug and alcohol screenings, mandatory community service hours, etc., as two “resources” she has consulted to develop “a model of services that provides dignity and respect to our neighbors facing housing insecurity or homelessness.” (In contrast, Harrington mentions the Laurelwood Center, a low-barrier shelter for women and couples that does not require sobriety or abstinence, as a resource she investigated.)

In addition to numerous elected officials and community leaders, Pace is also endorsed by the Portland Business Alliance, Washington County Chamber PAC, Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce, Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce, and Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland. From those, her responses to my questions, and her fond memories of her military service, I would peg her significantly to the right of Harrington.

District 2 Commissioner

First published on PDX.Vote.
May 3, 2022

Two of Washington County’s four commissioners, selected by district, are up for election in 2022. Both incumbents are running for reelection, but only one has an opponent.

Incumbent Pam Treece currently represents District 2, the northeast section of County which includes Bethany, Cedar Hills, Cedar Mill, Helvetia, Raleigh Hills, and Rock Creek, as well as portions of Beaverton and Hillsboro.

Treece ran in 2018 on the promise of “Making sure housing is attainable, and that residents can afford to live where they work” and “Ensuring a regional approach to homelessness”. She declined to answer questions regarding the increase in and plight of houseless individuals in the county or the ongoing pandemic.

During the State of the County address on April 12, Treece spoke of ensuring enough affordable housing choices and the shortage of affordable housing options, as well as a dearth of middle housing, an issue addressed by the legislature. House Bill 2001 allows for duplex, triplexes, fourplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses in areas previously zoned exclusively for single-family housing, expanding affordable housing options, Treece said. Both she and Chair Kathryn Harrington made a point of mentioning River Terrace 2.0, which is actually a city of Tigard project, as an example of Washington County’s progress in creating additional “affordable” housing. She also mentioned touring the Laurelwood Center, a low-barrier shelter for women and couples that does not require sobriety or abstinence, as a model for Washington County.

In addition, Treece praised the glacially slow process of creating a racial equity advisory council, expressing her “appreciation to the work that’s gone into this. This is definitely the next step to address the purpose of the ordinance we adopted.”

A graduate of Portland State University and Lewis & Clark College, Treece has been a public school teacher, a small business owner, and a PacifiCorp executive. She also served as Executive Director of Westside Economic Alliance, ODOT Transportation Commissioner, and on a number of Washington County, Metro, Beaverton School District, and non-profit boards and committees. Her list of endorsements by elected officials and organizations is longer in 2022 than it was in 2018.

Treece’s opponent, Don Frazier, repeatedly mentions “clean public spaces” and keeping “our public spaces usable and enjoyable” on his website. When contacted, he admitted those were coded complaints about houseless encampments and stated: “I do not want Washington County to become like Multnomah County and the City of Portland … not taking care of the homeless situation, the camps that just move from one area to another and the heavy use of drugs on the streets.”

Although his website states: “We need to collaborate on creative solutions to help houseless individuals without sacrificing the utility and beauty of our county’s public spaces, keeping tents off the streets while providing food, shelter, and services for those in need”, when contacted he declined to elaborate.

Frazier, a self-employed business owner, former teacher, and union carpenter for Portland Public Schools and Portland Community College, also displays a thin blue line flag on his website and makes references to “unnecessary taxes and burdensome mandates and ordinances.” He declined to answer any questions about what taxes he believes are superfluous, what programs he would eliminate in order to reduce taxes, and what mandates and ordinances he believes are superfluous. Although he promised to respond to these questions in writing, Frazier never did.

The endorsements section of his website is blank.

District 4 Commissioner Jerry Willey, who represents the largest district stretching west, north, and south from Hillsboro to the Tillamook, Columbia, and Yamhill County lines and encompassing Banks, North Plains, Forest Grove, Cornelius, and Gaston, is running for reelection with no opponent. Two candidates filed to run against Willey, but have since withdrawn.

The state’s second most populous county, Washington County is one and a half times the size of Multnomah County with three quarters the population, but the same number/structure of elected officials. In contrast, the open Multnomah County Chair position attracted seven candidates (one has withdrawn) and three candidates filed to run against the District 2 Commissioner incumbent (one has withdrawn).

Washington County Commission Chair Primary Recommendation

As is the case for most elections, there is no good choice for Washington County Commission Chair.
Washington County, Oregon blue, white, and tanlogo
I have met both Kathryn Harrington and Beach Pace in person. The latter is warm, charming, and engaging. The former is none of those.

Yesterday, PDX.Vote published my deep dive into the candidates and some of the problems with both. (Notably, PDX.Vote chose not to endorse a candidate for Chair in the Voters’ Guide for the May 2022 election.)

Harrington has been accused of behavior that is “hostile and abusive”. And, although an independent attorney hired by the county found that Harrington’s conduct “rose to disrespectful or unprofessional behavior” the investigator’s full report noted that other Commissioners also use “an abrupt, blunt and direct communication style”. Would Harrington’s behavior have been investigated if she were male and/or identified as conservative and/or moderate?

In fact, Harrington has stated that her progressive policies and organizational changes have resulted in backlash. “I understand that there are people who are opposed to that progress … but I oppose their efforts to stop that progress.”

Pace emphasizes her skills in collaboration, understanding, and listening to all points of view. But she has both said that people approached her asking her to run for Chair and that she was drawn to run because of what she heard from people about Harrington. Not the same thing.

In addition, Pace’s endorsements include numerous business organizations such as the Portland Business Alliance; the Washington County, Beaverton, and Tigard Chamber of Commerce; the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland; and Commercial Real Estate Development Association as well as the Washington County Police Officers Association. None of these are endorsements that someone who claims to be progressive should accept or earn.

Harrington’s endorsements, on the other hand, include people who identify as progressive — Washington County Commissioner Nafisa Fai, Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty, and State Senator Kate Lieber among them — as well as organizations such as Pro-Choice Oregon, Tualatin Valley Firefighters Union, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, and Basic Rights Equality. Pace only has five union endorsements compared to Harrington’s nine.

For me, the final tipping point was Pace’s statement to the League of Women Voters – Washington County Candidate Forum about addressing transportation issues by investing in “some really bold moves, for example, the Westside bypass which was abandoned years ago.”

The Westside Bypass was abandoned because it was a poorly-conceived, vague, Republican-supported initiative to build a new freeway (pushed by the then Washington County Planning Commission chair, Richard Vial, a one-term state representative who after losing his reelection campaign has since unsuccessfully run for Secretary of State). The proposed privately-owned, toll-funded highway was to have taken an unspecified route through what is now farmland, diverting traffic from Interstate 5 from south of Portland to Highway 30 in Columbia County, and used eminent domain for private profiteering. (Even Pamplin Media, which couldn’t praise Vail’s first only term enough, admitted the project should “get shelved“.)

Claiming to be concerned about climate change while advocating building new freeways, which do not actually reduce traffic, is the equivalent of pretending not to be racist while voting for Republican candidates.

I will vote for, and recommend anyone who understands that the need to address the Climate Emergency must be the highest priority for any politician, do the same.

Police ≠ Public Safety

First published on The Big Smoke.
November 16, 2021

For more than 100 days over the summer of 2020, thousands of Portlanders took to the streets to protest racial injustice, especially police brutality against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. Those protests were met by the Portland Police with horrific violence which included:

  • filling the streets with chemical weapons (poisoning from which many have yet to fully recover);
  • beating people (including random residents who were not protest participants) with batons, fists, and weighted gloves;
  • firing impact munitions at close range into people’s chests, backs, heads, faces; and
  •  arresting them on spurious charges.

The results were minuscule, mostly superficial, changes to the outrageously out-of-proportion percentage of the city budget flowing into Portland Police Bureau (PPB) coffers. The city even refused to increase funding for the Portland Street Response, the one public safety initiative that actually was helping people, because the Portland Police Association (PPA), which represents Portland Police officers and protects their jobs even when they murder unarmed civilians, objected.

Photo of the back of a person with Portland Police emblazoned on their jacket, a helmet on their head, standing between partial views of Portland Police vehicles by Tito Texidor IIIYet, last month when the City Budget Office announced a $62 million general fund surplus ahead of the Fall Budget Monitoring Process, Mayor Edward Tevis “Ted” Wheeler quickly maneuvered to give a significant amount of that money to the police.

Wheeler, who is also the Portland Police Commissioner, immediately came up with erroneously named “public safety programs” to add almost $8 million, more than a quarter of the $31 million of the surplus allocated for city programs, to the PPB’s already bloated budget. His proposal includes:

  • hiring additional white supremacist bullies police officers, with no evidence more cops reduce crime;
  • allowing recently retired officers, who timed their departure to maximize their retirement benefits, to double dip return to work;
  • paying a $25,000 (more than many Portland residents earn in a year) signing bonus to “qualified” applicants;
  • wasting almost $3 million on body-worn cameras1 (BWCs)–which have no proven impact on police misconduct–despite the fact that only data showing BWCs increase police accountability were gathered in flawed studies created by manufacturers to sell cameras; and
  • dropping $225,000 on the Gang Enforcement Team (GET) Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT) Focused Intervention Team (FIT) Office of Violence Prevention to “assist gun violence reduction work”.

Wheeler, also wants to further persecute insecure, already-suffering, often-despondent, and scared unhoused residents by carving a significant amount of money from funds allocated to help them and instead use that money “increase homeless camp cleanups, or sweeps, ‘fivefold.'”

Last Wednesday, almost 300 Portlanders spent seven hours (mostly) telling the City Commissioners not to spend any of the surplus on more cops. Those who testified in favor of expanding the police department, including business owners who erroneously believe that police prevent burglaries and robberies, spoke without evidence that more cops would solve the problems they presented. They repeated copaganda and used talking points promulgated by the dark-money lobbying group People for Portland that pushes a pro-cop narrative and falsely accuses unhoused Portlanders of perpetuating crime.

Those who spoke against expanding the police department more often cited actual facts. “‘The mayor peddles law enforcement as a deterrent to crime,’ said Seemab Hussaini, an organizer with Unite Oregon. ‘These solutions aren’t based on sound data.'”

In fact, only two days before this meeting, a data analyst, a community organizer, and a public health researcher released a report which uses the Portland Police Bureau’s own statistics to prove that there is absolutely “no correlation between crime levels in Portland and officer staffing levels.” Analyzing almost six years of data points, they found that increasing PPB staffing results in no decrease in crime. This directly contradicts the PPA contention that “The connection between the diminished police presence in Portland, the lack of and availability of resources, and the rise in crime is glaringly obvious.”

Families of homicide victims were among those speaking out in favor of more police. But again, there is no data showing increasing police presence reduces homicides. “Police do not create safety,” Dr. Amara Enyia, policy and research coordinator for the Movement for Black Lives, stated. “Policing is largely reactionary. They come onto the scene after the fact.”

“While police and allies have attempted to use data to tie ‘bail reform’ and racial justice protests to this past year’s rise in murders,” Scott Hechinger, a civil rights attorney, wrote in The Nation, “those claims are contradicted by the geography of the rise in homicides, which occurred across the country: in red and blue states, in jurisdictions that have seen some measured wins for criminal and civil justice and those that haven’t, in jurisdictions that saw protests against police violence, and those that haven’t–and all despite massive police budgets.”

The report repeatedly cited by media sensationalizing the increase in murders–which might be a result of COVID confinement, mass unemployment, or a statistical fluke in historically low and decreasing violent-crime rates–also showed a decline in all other major crimes. If that information gets mentioned by the media, it’s buried.

In reality, additional police presence, which routinely results in oppressive surveillance of and violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, “makes communities less safe and less healthy,” Takenya Nixon Brail, a public defender in Cook County, Illinois, wrote in teenVogue. “Not only does policing fail to prevent violent crime, it creates conditions that allow for even more violence.”

We’ve known for decades what works and what doesn’t to reduce violence and crime. And nothing involving police makes any positive difference including increased police presence, drug resistance education, copaganda police newsletters, scared straight schemes, and home detention or any other carceral programs.

If Portland, or any other city, really wanted to reduce crime and violence, they would redirect the funds sucked up by the police department and put it toward housing support (both for those already unhoused and those in danger of losing their housing), medical (including mental health) care, education (including early childhood education, and childcare programs for working parents, and job training), and food security. Reducing the number of cops would also remove some of the most violent, murderous, repeat offenders who consistently act as if the law does not apply to them from the streets of Portland.

Restorative justice approaches to addressing the root causes of violence and crime have been proven to result in actual improvements in public safety. But, these aren’t as easy to condense to one-sentence hyperbole plastered on billboards across the city and don’t generate generous political donations from businesses and pro-police lobbyists. So Wednesday the Portland City Council is expected to ignore data, the testimony of hundreds,  the demands of organizations representing Black Portlanders such as the NAACP, and the protest of thousands. At least three of the five will vote to throw more millions of dollars at violent criminals with an erroneous expectation that will result in any public safety improvements.

1 BWCs have been suggested by U.S. Department of Justice monitors of the city’s non-compliance with the DOJ Amended Settlement Agreement in its lawsuit against the city for abuse of people with mental health issues as one option for bringing the city into compliance. However, the policies required by the monitors are in direct opposition to those demanded by PPA.

West by God Virginia

First published on The Big Smoke.
November 08, 2021

People on social media producing proof of Senator Joe Manchin’s perfidy only demonstrate their own naïvité and ignorance of West Virginia, its culture, and its people. (Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to understand those, either. But I know enough based on my experience there to guess these approaches will make no difference.)

When the state of Virginia seceded from the United States in 1861, twenty-five counties in the northwestern corner of the state broke away and were admitted to the Union as a new state a year later. Yet, if you drive through West Virginia today, you will see the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s Northern Army of Virginia, commonly misidentified as the confederate flag, flying from houses, decorating pick-up trucks, and emblazoning clothing.

Caricature of Sen. Joe Manchin by Donkey HoteyLast month, author Don Winslow posted a video, which is still circulating and has been viewed millions of times, describing the “vile and provable corruption in Manchin’s life” under the hashtag #JoeManchinSenatorForSale. It breathlessly describes how the Manchin family acquired millions of dollars from coal and pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, West Virginia remains the second poorest state in the nation; the video ranking its economy 48 out of 50, healthcare 47 out of 50, education 45 out of 50, and infrastructure 50 out of 50.

But, who are these videos for? No one in the senate will step up to take action against Manchin. Those pots know better than to call this particular kettle black.

Manchin won’t change. You can’t shame someone who has no shame. Last week when confronted by climate change protesters, Manchin just drove his Maserati through the crowd. And history won’t “remember” if there’s no one left with enough resources to record it.

Coal baron Manchin owns $5 million in coal company stock and rakes in half a million annually just in dividends in addition to fossil fuel company campaign contributions. He is the designated scapegoat roadblock to prevent Democrats from fulfilling any of the climate change promises they campaigned on in 2020. Although this position has increased Manchin’s power and prestige, the reality is that the Democrats’ corporate owners have no interest in reducing their profits to extend the ability of humans to survive on this planet.

Likewise, while residents of Manchin’s state would benefit from lower drug costs, reducing pharmaceutical company profits might negatively impact stock options for his daughter Heather Bresch, former president and CEO of Mylan, the company that increased the price of EpiPen 500 percent while she was in charge. Since pharmaceutical companies hedge their bets by contributing heavily to candidates from both parties, Manchin’s obstruction of drug price reforms is objectionable to the rest of the senate Democrats only when they’re in front of cameras.

And expecting outrage from West Virginians—the only folks who could actually remove Manchin from office—is a lost cause. Despite the popularity there of the legislation he is blocking, they’ve been voting for him for forty years and before that they repeatedly elected other swindlers.

I was a reporter in West Virginia just more than four decades ago (I left the year before Manchin first ran for public office). As part of the campaign press corps, I followed Democrat Jay Rockefeller around in 1980 when he stood for re-election as governor against Arch Alfred Moore Jr. former chief crook1 governor, who had been prevented by term limits from running in 1976. The joke was that folks should vote for Jay because he wouldn’t steal while in office since he could just buy the entire state. (Not that this reality prevented West Virginia from choosing Moore over Rockefeller in 1972 or from again electing Moore to the governor’s seat in 1984.)

While, unlike his predecessor/successor, he probably helped the state more than he harmed it, New York-born Rockefeller had stayed in West Virginia after completing his VISTA service there specifically to give himself a launching point for a national political career. His 1980 re-election campaign was only too obviously geared to put him in the national spotlight. (A colleague who had returned to his Ohio home to vote reported people coming into the polls and asking why Rockefeller’s name wasn’t on the ballot there since his ads were bleeding over into Ohio and Virginia and Maryland and Kentucky. In fairness, the only media reaching much of the state was based outside of West Virginia.)

Rockefeller outspent Moore 20 to 1 (I made a point of getting the clerks to weigh Rockefeller’s campaign expenditure reports rather than, like everyone else, reciting the absurd number of pages and/or foot-plus thickness), but only received 8 percent more of the total votes. And although Rockefeller served 30 years in the United States Senate (spending more than $12 million, almost $31 million in today’s dollars, to win the seat his first time), his long-planned run for president in 1992 ended after consultations with friends and advisers. (Scuttlebutt pinned his decision on skeletons in his stepfather’s, Senator Charles Harting Percy, closet. Others blamed fears of resurrecting interest in the never-solved 1966 murder of his wife’s twin sister. In either case, the general belief was his decision was made to protect his wife, Sharon Percy Rockefeller.)

Although West Virginians allowed an “outsider” to repeatedly buy a senate seat, they prefer home-grown crooks. Any attempt to “expose” Manchin without examining why West Virginians consistently vote grifters into office will not result in any change.

West Virginia is a gorgeous, interesting, conflicted state (a lovely place to visit, I don’t recommend living there). Advertisements for census workers in 1980 included the requirement, for some areas, that the applicant have the ability to ride and access to use of a horse. The newsroom routinely got wedding announcements for 14-year-olds, so staff only took note when someone in the announcement was 12 or younger. When my parents visited, we were driving back from The Greenbrier to Raleigh County when my mother noted that all the homes we passed were dark. It was Wednesday night, I explained, everyone was in church. At the time, if you wanted to go out to a bar for a drink, your only option was a “private” club (which generally meant forking over $1 for “membership” the first time you visited).

West Virginians resent being stereotyped as ignorant hillbillies. But, on January 20, 1982 I drew the short straw and was sent to accost people on the streets to ask what they thought of the release of the Iranian hostages. More than one person replied, “What hostages?” and even when I provided them additional information had no idea what I was talking about. That inspired me to pull the old journalism-school petition trick a few weeks later. (Without changing a single word except to replace “Bill of Rights” with “Petition” at the top, try to get random people to sign it.) Not only did the vast majority of the dozens of people I asked refuse to sign it, only two recognized it. The coup de grâce was an attorney who, on the courthouse steps and without recognizing the document’s language, objected to the “petition” because he specifically disagreed with number two.

The year I worked at the Post-Herald in Beckley, West Virginia, I initiated and completed three major investigations. As a reporter, I exposed:

  • conflict of interest, prescription misuse, and inappropriate use of federal funds at the county health department and regional health center forcing county officials to terminate their contracts;
  • questionable financial dealings by a local coal baron that resulted in payment of $68,000 ($231,000 in today’s dollars) in back taxes;
  • a local agency’s conflict of interest in use of Comprehensive Employment and Training Act Funds, which resulted in a state investigation.

In all three cases, the original tip came from someone who, like me, was an out-of-state (and more than likely temporary) transplant.

Because, for West Virginians, corrupt politicians, public officials, and other prominent personages are par for the course. Just as they accept coal mines and glass factories exploiting their children, grinding poverty, and crumbling infrastructure worse than elsewhere in the country, West Virginians seem unwilling to rid themselves of the politicians who regularly enrich themselves at the public trough.

1 Moore pleaded guilty to five felonies—including mail fraud, tax fraud, extortion, and obstruction of justice—in 1990 after federal investigators taped him conspiring with his former campaign manager to obstruct their investigation. Although he was fined $3.2 million, he paid only $750,000, and served only two years and eight months in federal prison (in Alabama and Kentucky) and four months of home confinement of a five-year and ten-month sentence. Just the illegal payments and extortion income he pled guilty to neglecting to include on his income tax amounted to more than a million 1980 dollars ($3.4 million today).

Coming Conflagration

First published on The Big Smoke.
June 30, 2021

If you need any more evidence that elected officials have no intention of giving anything more than lip service to actions necessary to mitigate climate change, you need look no further than the upcoming so-called Independence Day holiday in the United States.

Despite ongoing drought, record-breaking heat, and significant fire damage caused in prior years, they have done nothing to prevent the profitable sale of explosives (aka “fireworks”) to individuals who more than likely do not know how to use them safely and will detonate them while intoxicated.

As a brief respite begins from three record-shattering days of heat that buckled roads, shut down the Portland metropolitan transit system, sent more than 500 people to the hospital just in Multnomah County and killed at least 63 people statewide, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) banned firework usage “until further notice.”

However, this ban was announced three days before the holiday weekend starts, after people have already set off fireworks every night for a week, and includes no enforcement. (PF&R went so far as to dissuade people from calling 9-1-1 to report fireworks.) Nor does it include any restrictions on the very lucrative sales of fireworks. Those sales continue at a brisk pace and we all know that no one will purchase pyrotechnic devices and not blow them up.

Clark County, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, banned both the use and sale of fireworks. Until midnight on July 4. Those who live in (or adjacent to) states that allow untrained individuals to own and detonate incendiary equipment are very familiar with fireworks exploding until the wee hours of the morning July 4 as well as the weeks preceding and following the holiday. The best that can be expected from the Clark County ban will be fireworks commencing at midnight July 5.

PF&R apparently has more authority than other Oregon fire departments. Jurisdictions elsewhere in the Portland metropolitan area are merely begging people to find other ways to celebrate more safely. After numerous people already purchased their rockets and bombs currently available on every street corner, in every grocery shop, at every discount store.

Nearly 90 percent of the American West is under drought conditions. More than three-fourths of Oregon entered May in some stage of drought. And yet, nothing was done in the months leading up to this utterly predictable situation to prevent the coming conflagration.

In 2020, from June 23 through July 6, fireworks started 44 fires in the City of Portland. The 2020 California El Dorado Fire, started by fireworks used at a “gender reveal” party, burned 22,680 acres starting in El Dorado Park near Yucaipa. Fireworks started an estimated 19,500 fires reported to local U.S. fire departments in 2018 causing five deaths, 46 serious injuries, and $105 million in direct property damage. In 2017, a 15-year-old boy igniting fireworks during a burn ban started the Eagle Creek Fire, which ravaged nearly 48,000 acres on both sides of the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon and caused millions of dollars in damages.

Over and over, U.S. citizens prove they are not capable of safely handling fireworks–sacrificing fingers, eyes, and homes to explode rockets and grenades in their driveways. Yet, no one is brave enough to shut down the industry and eliminate the profits. Even in states such as Oregon which ban some more dangerous fireworks, people just drive across the river to acquire the more deadly explosives available in Washington.

I wrote this poem in 2015. No one would publish it (although it was accepted in 2017, that publication went under before this was published) until Portland Metrozine included it in the Summer 2019 issue. It was rejected almost 200 times. Unfortunately, denial doesn’t change facts.

Forgotten

Fire sweeps across the west,
burning fields, forests,
houses, and boats.

Drought parches farmland from
Pacific coastal
states to Rockies.

Seas rise, encroaching on
beaches, putting the
islands at risk.

Storms tear through our cities
during fall, winter,
summer, and spring.

Yet still those in power
deny climate change
even exists.

At best they’ll blame nature,
claim humans are not
responsible.

They refute the data,
ignore evidence
of their own eyes.

And so we’ve reached the point
of no return, when
we can’t survive.

The planet will continue
happier without
such parasites.

All that we’ve taken, we’ve
built, we’ve learned, soon will
be forgotten.