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Priority Lists Register New Urgencies

By Robert Landauer

You often are annoyingly process-oriented, critics sometimes say. Possibly so.

Working democracy is not a specific result, I reply. It is a process by which results are sought, and the task of commentary writers often is to ensure that the system works fairly rather than produces the results we prefer.

Many of The Oregonian's editorials and local columns during the last 30-plus years have centered on development of statewide land-use goals and on creation of local plans that integrate housing, commerce, manufacturing and transit. Constant attention has been paid to identifying health care and quality-of-life benchmarks for all Oregonians and specific learning standards for the state's K-12 children and agitating for their achievement.

Battles to safeguard various endangered species, timber habitat and prime agricultural land and to enhance water and air quality have been recurrent themes, as have been raising public literacy and creating the mechanisms for greater public participation in the choices to be made.

Too, there has been a constant concern to defend civil liberties and to apologize when we failed to do so, notably the World War II internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

All these themes require nurturing. But other urgencies are climbing the priority list for public attention.

The most pressing is the peril the planet faces in its capacity to deliver basic services as human kind alters natural systems. (Required reading: and links.) A related necessity is to identify the corrective steps we should take as biological diversity is threatened and resources such as fish stocks and fossil fuels are depleted.

We must help make clear how to provide full employment with living wages and benefits for workers in a highly competitive world and to reverse the slide ofper-capita income in Oregon to its rank of 39th-lowest among the 50 states. To do that job we also must help convince Oregon taxpayers that we are co-conspirators in legislating ignorance and poverty if we continue to allow spending per student to slide to its anemic level --$1,000 below the national average.

We cannot maintain a decent living standard if bread winners must compete in world markets on the basis of low wages. Opinion leaders must point us toward policies that increase personal savings, channel vastly greater amounts of money into research and development and, particularly, replenish the drought-level flow of funds to early-stage companies that give us a job-generating competitive edge.

We must face the social implications -- bankruptcies, divorce, spousal and child abuse, suicides -- of Oregon's growing financial dependence on gambling. Ours is one of a small handful of states relying on gambling for more than 10 percent of its income. We are introducing highly addictive video slots to increase that income -- inevitably adding many to the state's total of 80,000 problem gamblers.

Thirty-five states require that insurance covering mental illnesses treat these afflictions the same as it does physical illnesses. Oregon's Senate has passed Senate Bill 1 to prevent insurers from applying lower limits on treatments for mental illness.The decision now rests with the House whether Oregon, like Dr. Seuss' Grinch, has "a heart two sizes too small." The essence of mental-illness parity is that coverage for hospital, clinic, therapy and professional appointments would be at the level allowed for physical treatments. We ought to end the injustice against the one of five Oregon families with members who suffer a mental-health disorder.

Restoring trust in government and its constructive role is an urgent priority.Truth telling is the antidote to poisonous messages, especially at the federal level, that are manipulative and loaded, not analytical and balanced.

We must search for leaders with the courage to direct us toward our long-term interests instead of settling for political wind socks who shift with the breeze from every public-opinion poll.


Completion of this column launches me into a full-time search for retirement Xanadus and pleasure domes. I thank readers for their patience and constructive criticism during my 39 years at The Oregonian.

Robert Landauer, editorial columnist for TheOregonian, retired this week.

© 2005 Oregonian Publishing Co. All rights reserved. Used with permission of The Oregonian.

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