Oregon votes on pot

Here the general electon is just around the corner and you have heard almost nothing about Ballot Measure 80. That's the initiative that would legalize marijuana in Oregon -- and try to regulate and tax it. Nobody is spending any money for or against its passage. You may have seen an occasional newspaper editorial about it, but the airwaves have been noticeably silent.

The supporters report spending less than $50,000 on getting their measure adopted. They had hardly any money left after spending about $300,000 to get it on the ballot, mostly in paying signature collectors. The opponents are the chiefs of police, the sheriffs and the district attorneys. They put statements in the voters' pamphlet, and that's the extent of their campaign.

Measure 80 would allow commercial cultivation of marijuana and sale to adults through state-licensed stores, kind of like liquor. It also would allow adults to grow as much of the stuff as they want for their own use. The law change would retain the medical marijuana program, but it's hard to see why.

Law enforcement points out that cultivation would still be illegal under federal law. Who would risk a federal indictment by openly growing commercial marijuana for sale to state-licensed stores? So if it passes, the practical effect of this measure may be small. But its symbolic effect would be big. Two other states, Washington and Colorado, are voting on similar measures. If all three are approved, that could be the start of forcing Congress to come to its senses and repeal the criminal treatment of a weed. (hh)

The rising price of disposal

Getting rid of refuse is getting more costly everywhere. In Albany, the price of trash collection jumped more than 10 percent from July 2011 to July 2012. Come January, it will go up again, by 3.6 percent. That makes for roughly a 14 percent jump over a year and a half. Trash and recycling services in the city are provided by Allied Waste/Republic Services, a subsidiary of a nationwide company.

The city council approved the plan to raise rates last year, and it followed up with the latest installment last week. (Households with a 32-gallon trash can will pay $17.40 a month, 60 cents more than now. Getting rid of a couch will cost $29.70, up one dollar. Disposal of a car tire will go up 40 cents to $11.80.)

The council approved because the disposal service does an excellent job and the local rates are about the same as those charged in selected other Oregon towns. The city manager says Albany would not likely find another company to take the disposal franchise for any less. All of this makes sense, but it's just one small example of how consumers are nickled and dimed on all sides. Only one council member, Bessie Johnson, objected, but the increases are almost automatic under a formula the council approved last year. From the ratepayers' side, she has a point. Disposal service isn't something that most people can do without. But if it gets too expensive, especially in hard times, we may find ourselves with more trash dumped in the woods and along our roads. (hh)

The blame for Benghazi

The Obama administration keeps excusing its conduct after the September attack on our consulate in Benghazi on the grounds that it was clueless and helpless. That's a pitiful response in light of what we spend on intelligence and the military.

First was the implication by the State Department and the president that the attack was a response to an abscure anti-Muslim video made in California. This even though, it now develops, our government had information early on that this was a planned attack by a militant faction in Libya.

Then the secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, said this week that the armed forces did not intervene because they didn't know what was going on. He said it's a "basic principle ... that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on, without having some real-time information about what's taking place."

Now it develops that the Americans under attack sent messages to Washington pleading for help not once but three times, but the requests were denied, according to a report on Fox News. So it appears that the defense establishment did have first-hand information about what was going on.

Even without exact information, why would the U.S. military hestitate even to try to help out if one of our outposts is under armed attack within an hour or two of a U.S. airbase in Italy? Panetta presides over a defense establishment costing more than that of any other country and yet can't send help to an American ambassador under armed attack?

The blame for the attack and the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans falls on the attackers. The blame for the administration's inaction during -- and misdirection after -- the event falls on the president and his team. (hh)

Those blue containers?

Here's a local tidbit for North Albany commuters: What's in those blue containers we see parked off North Albany Road where a contractor recently completed drilling a hole under the Willamette River and pulled through a water pipeline from  the Albany side? The question came up in a chat at the Albany Senior Center this week.

Kevin Hamilton of Albany Public Works explains: "The horizontal directional drill (HDD) made use of a drilling fluid composed of water and bentonite clay (low viscosity mud). This provided lubrication for the drill; served to flush the cuttings back to the drill site to clear the drill hole; and finally served to lubricate the pipe during pull-back proceedings. The pull-back proceedings displaced the drilling mud, so the blue containers were brought on site to receive the excess mud (about 137,000 gallons)."

He says the drilling subcontractor, Brotherton Pipeline, is slowly picking the containers up, one at a time and removing them from the site. They are not in anyone's way, so there's no hurry.

The final leg of the pipeline, by the way, up to a reservoir off Gibson Hill, is planned in conjunction with widening North Albany Road across Thornton Lake in 2014.

OSU and The Liberty

Oregon State University said this week it was "reviewing its options" after a federal appeals court reinstated a lawsuit by The Liberty, a right-leaning student paper. Here's one option for the university to consider in the interest of avoiding further legal delays and expense. It could apologize to the student paper and reimburse it for the costs it has incurred. And it could pledge to make sure it would not repeat what caused this flap.

I remember the story when it happened. It was during the 2008-2009 academic year, when The Liberty's distribution bins on the Corvallis campus disappeared. The boxes of other papers including some from off the campus were left in place. But The Liberty's boxes were gone. They were found later where they had been dumped in a university storage yard.

The student editors of The Liberty charged that the university administration was arbitarily trying to limit their ability to reach out to the campus community based on their conservative message. In October 2009 they filed a federal lawsuit, which a lower court dismissed.

But the Ninth Circuit this week said it had no trouble finding constitutional violations if the facts were as claimed in the suit. So clearly, the suit deserved to have a trial, and not to be dismissed.

The university says it's in favor of free speech and a free press. Of course. Well then, let it find a way to demonstrate that in this case. (hh)

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