Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Oregonian Has a Hit

The Oregonian has made it big time. One of its stories was linked more than 250 times--as the Oregonian noted on today's front page.

After The Oregonian reported the situation a week ago, the story spread rapidly across the Internet, linked from more than 250 blog postings and political Web sites.

The Big O apparently counts the links to its stories and is proud when one of its stories is a hit in the blogosphere.

The times they are a-changin'.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Anna Diggs Taylor’s 15 Minutes of Fame

Remember the above front page headline?

Well, here’s today’s.

Poor Anna Diggs Taylor. She was a front page star on August 19, 2006. At that time, as if in response to a no-brainer question on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader,” Taylor made the less than stunning pronouncement that “There are no hereditary kings in America”.

Shortly after her ruling it was discovered that her judicial ethics were a bit out of line. She ruled in the case even though she was Secretary and Trustee for a foundation that donated funds to the plaintiff in the case.

Now she is not only a judge under a cloud, she is just some unnamed judge.

Today's front page story in the Oregonian about what happened to Judge Taylor’s ruling notes her existence. She’s described in the LA Times-Washington Post article* as: “the only judge who held that a controversial surveillance effort by the National Security Agency was unconstitutional” and “a U.S. District Court judge in Detroit, Mich.” But no name. Just some judge overturned because she got standing to sue wrong.

Thankfully the U.S. Appeals Court did not have to rule on her higher judicial abilities. Fifth grader Spencer might have been a big help to her.

*The link is to the Concord Monitor version of the article because the Oregonian does not put stories online that it buys from news services.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Multnomah County Problems

Arthur Gregg Sulzberger has an article on problems in the operation of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office. The title and subtitle give the gist:

Sheriff's office at a crossroads
Patrols vs. jails - Budget cuts, shrinking territory and a potential exodus of deputies are threatening the operation

Basic facts Sulzberger points out:

To feel the fall the way law enforcement deputies feel it, you must know what they once were.

Three decades ago, the organization was nearly 300 strong, serving 190,000 people in the county's unincorporated territory . . . .
. . .

Today a 36-deputy patrol force with an $8.5 million budget serves just fewer than 14,000 people and handles about 2 percent of the county's overall crime (down from 20 percent in 1975). Though the population is small, the area is massive: 289 square miles comprising nearly 62 percent of the county.

By contrast with the 36 patrol deputies in law enforcement, “corrections has more than 450 deputies and , it eats up about 85 percent of the sheriff's overall budget.”

Most of the people Sulzberger quoted lean towards consolidating/contracting out law enforcement with surrounding jurisdictions. Maybe that’s coming, but it won’t solve the budget problems. In may increase them.

If 85% of the sheriff’s budget is devoted to corrections, there’s only 15% to work with on law enforcement. And, assuming the county isn’t going to leave 14,000 people to vigilante justice, there will be a price.

Contracting with the City of Portland would actually raise the pay scale paid per officer. Right now entry level Portland police officers get $39,894 entry, $48,714 after six months, $65,374 after five years. Multnomah County deputy pay is: $42,574 to $53,306

You might save $1,350 for the first six months on each Multnomah County officer replaced by a contracted City of Portland officer, but after that you’d be paying anywhere from $6,000 a year to $12,000 a year more for each deputy (which may be why so many Multnomah County deputies are applying for City of Portland entry level positions). Contracting out doesn’t sound like such a money saver.

But, even if law enforcement is unified or contracted out, that won’t alleviate the financial crisis with jails. Sulzberger tells us that Multnomah County law enforcement makes only 3% of the arrests in the county. But, it provides 100% of jail beds in Multnomah County--and is not doing too well in that area:

Fifty-seven beds were closed because of budget cuts this month, bringing the total number of available beds to 1,690, 500 fewer than the peak in 2000. The $58 million Wapato Jail remains unopened because of lack of operational money. Meanwhile dozens of inmates are being released each week because of lack of space.

If 97% of arrests work out to a similar percent of incarcerations, the problem is in getting the other jurisdictions that use jail facilities to pay a share of operational expenses for the space their inmates use. But, the current operational model is that the county funds all jailing costs for any jurisdiction in the county. It’s not working. The result is fewer and fewer jail beds even after investing $58 million dollars in a new jail facility.

Which brings me to the main problem: inept county government. When there are funding problems, the commissioners haven’t acted as though operating expenses need to be covered by those who use a facility--or even by new taxes. Their attitude is “We don’t have the money, and we’re not going to get it.”

There’s a need for Wapato’s jail beds even by a small jurisdiction like Troutdale:

"What we really want from the sheriff's office is jail beds," Troutdale's Nelson says. "Our residents pay city taxes and county taxes. Well, they're getting their law enforcement services with their city taxes, and what they need from their county taxes is jail beds."

So, why isn’t Wapato open and why aren’t Troutdale and other jurisdictions being charged at least part of the operational rate needed to house their inmates there? If you can give the service away for free, fine. But, since the county can’t, it needs to find a way to recoup at least some of the costs of a service it currently gives to other jurisdictions without getting anything back from them.

This is a county commissioner budget problem--not a sheriff’s office budget problem. But instead of fixing the problem, county commissioners want to micro-manage the sheriff’s budget. Go figure.

Last month the county commissioners, backed by a legal opinion from the county attorney, declared their intention to seize control of sheriff's spending. A battle-weary Giusto, who had fiercely guarded his right to spend sheriff's dollars as he saw fit, said he would not fight the board's decision.

Board members may look at further scaling back law enforcement. "We've got 14,000 people now and yet we have a full law enforcement division," says Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey. "I'm not sure that makes sense. This is a place people have held sacred that we can't mess with. Well we need to mess with it. It is not sacred. We need to focus on corrections."

Rojo de Steffey thinks 36 deputies serving 14,000 people living in a 289 square mile area is a “full law enforcement division”. And that 85% of the sheriff’s budget being given to corrections is not focusing on corrections. With analysis like Rojo de Steffey’s we’re in for more trouble.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

David Reinhard Scoops Oregonian News Reporters

Interesting that David Reinhard’s opinion column, “So is this what you call compassion?” in the Oregonian was way ahead of an Oregonian news article on the problems of ID theft by illegal immigrants. On June 24 Reinhard wrote:

OK, maybe generalities like the "rule of law" or even specifics don't do anything for you. That seems to be the case for people like Portland Mayor Tom Potter, who announced to one and all that he was angry at federal officials for the Fresh Del Monte raids and sorry for "Portland residents" who now faced deportation. But how about a little love for the U.S. citizens who had had their Social Security numbers lifted by Potter's "Portland residents"? Or a little sympathy for us who pay taxes to send our kids to school?

This isn't a victimless crime or, as some claim, a boon to the Social Security system since the illegals are paying into a cash-strapped system from which they'll never receive benefits. The affidavit says otherwise.

You try having somebody filch your Social Security number. The Internal Revenue Service might come calling and ask you to pay back taxes on the earnings reported under your number with no corresponding income-tax return filed. Or the extra wages charged to your hijacked account might subject you to the system's annual earnings test and result in a suspension of benefits.

Yes, the extra wages might lead to a higher Social Security benefit -- until the government finds out you didn't earn them, recomputes your benefit downward and bills you for the overpayment. Or, if you receive Social Security disability income, the government might cut, suspend or end your benefits because the unreported wage income would show an ability to work. It's all great fun.

It's doubtful Potter will ever rush out a press release declaring his "anger" about the hassle and disruption that U.S. citizens experience from this kind of identity theft. Nor should victimized legal residents expect the sob-story treatment that marks much media coverage of the illegals' (self-inflicted) plight.

No, a selective and stunted compassion is at work on the illegal immigration issue. There's fretting about what will happen to the detained workers and their families, but little else.

The June 12th raid at Portland Del Monte plant raised a number of issues in the press and among politicians and activist groups--but ID theft was not one of them. After Reinhard raised the issue in his column, the Oregonian followed a week later with an article on it.

The Oregonian news article, “Illegal Workers Turn to ID Theft”, was published July 1. Gosia Wozniacka reported:

During one stretch last year, American Staffing Resources -- which supplied temporary workers to the Fresh Del Monte plant -- employed 596 workers there, of whom 463, about 78 percent, were using someone else's Social Security number, according to a federal search warrant affidavit. Only 48 employees had valid, matching Social Security numbers.

This year, the Social Security numbers used by 184 American Staffing workers at the plant did not belong to them. Seven belonged to elderly people, about 20 to children, and 29 to people who had died, according to the affidavit.

Federal authorities attribute the proliferation of fraudulent documents to a rise in multinational criminal organizations branching out into the documents market and the misuse of Social Security numbers by employees.

That’s 27 living victims in just this one case. The figures for "one stretch" last year showed 463 workers who were using someone else’s Social Security number. This case included only 184. 184 is 40% of 463. So, you can probably multiple the 27 victims by 2-1/2 times to get a real figure--closer to 70 people--who are victims of identity theft in just this one plant in a year. Most of the victims, being children, will have a surprise when they reach adulthood and try to actually use their identity. Imagine trying to untangle identity theft years and years after it has occurred.

Not to mention the impact of the care and feeding of "multinational criminal organizations" by those who want to look the other way.

It took David Reinhard to get this considered as a newsworthy issue.

All victims are equal, but some are more equal than others.