Tag Archives: Jake Thomas

Oregon’s affordable housing on the edge of the fiscal cliff

By Jake Thomas, Staff Writer

Sequestration.

It sounds like an invasive medical procedure. In a way it is, and it’s about to be performed on the entire country unless Congress acts fast.

In Portland, sequestration — a wonky term for general cuts in government spending — could result in less affordable housing and leave some of the city’s most vulnerable people struggling to put a roof over their heads. And the political hiatus in Washington over the future budget has local housing agencies hanging in limbo over how to prepare for the chopping block.

“Almost every resource that we have to build affordable housing will see cuts,” said John Miller, executive director of the Oregon Opportunity Network, of the looming and deep cuts to the federal budget. Continue reading

Defending Rachel Corrie: Her parents keep marching on

by Jake Thomas, Staff Writer

Olympia, Wash. is an “All-American City,” according to the sign that greets visitors. It’s also the hometown of Rachel Corrie, who has had a street named after her in  Iran’s capital, a play produced about her life staged on almost every continent, and whose death continues to be a source of controversy.

In 2003, Corrie, a 23-year-old student at Olympia’s Evergreen State College and peace activist, was crushed to death while trying to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian home in southern Gaza. Following her death, Corrie’s parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, became embroiled in a heated international issue that they had only given passing attention to in the past. The continue today to find answers to why their daughter was slain while trying to gain some sort of accountability from Israel.

In August, an Israeli judge handed down a ruling on the civil lawsuit brought by the Corries against Israel and its Ministry of Defense. The judge absolved Israel of any responsibility for Corrie’s death, ruling that the state couldn’t be held at fault for civilian deaths that occur in conflict areas. The ruling was panned by human rights advocates, who said that it enforced a culture of impunity in the Israeli military while also setting a dangerous precedent that could affect the safety of activists and journalists operating in conflict areas in Israel-Palestine.

Despite the judge’s ruling, questions concerning why and exactly how Rachel Corrie died remain unsettled. Although the court found her death to be an accident, others dispute that finding, arguing that she was intentionally run over. Additionally, the military investigation into Corrie’s death has been widely criticized, even by the State Department under President George Bush, a staunch ally of Israel.

Following the court ruling, the Guardian newspaper called Corrie a “memory that refuses to die.” A play based on her writings, “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” continues to be produced, and her parents hope to carry on her work through the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice.

Street Roots spoke with the Corries about their experience seeking the truth about their daughter’s death, their plans to appeal the court decision and what it’s like having their daughter become an international symbol.

Jake Thomas: You’re preparing to appeal your case to the Israeli Supreme Court. What are you hoping the outcome will be?

Craig Corrie: Well, I think for one thing, the general opinion of the judge was that Rachel was killed as an act of war, and Israel is not responsible for anything it does as an act of war. I think that flies in the face of a whole lot of international law. I think it flies in the face, as a solider in Vietnam, what I was taught our responsibilities were. I think it flies in the face of common decency. I think it makes it particularly problematic for any civilian in a war or conflict area. I think it makes it difficult for journalists, and certainly for Rachel as a human rights observer. So that overarching finding needs to be challenged, and that’s far bigger than Rachel. I think that when you look at what the judge wrote, I think he ignored most of what our attorney did. For instance, he found that the investigation done by the Israeli military police was, I believe, “faultless” when translated into English.

The day after Rachel was killed, President Bush was promised a thorough, credible and transparent investigation by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and it’s still the position of our government that that never happened.

When people came to the witness stand, particularly the person who conducted the investigation, it became amazingly obvious that the investigation was lacking. They found out that there was a camera on the border that was taking video, and they failed to produce all of that video that was available for the day. They claim that it started right as Rachel was killed, and there was no more video. He said that the copy of that video was first given to the officers in charge of the higher echelons of the chain of command, and I think it was one week later that he got a copy of it. Well, other video from that time has been on Israeli TV, it’s been on different documentaries, our government has seen it, we’ve seen it. This guy is testifying that there is no other video, but we don’t have the chain of custody of that video to produce it in court, so that was a particularly appalling piece of it. Continue reading

Ellen Rosenblum and the new DOJ

By Jake Thomas, Staff Writer

Ellen Rosenblum had some high-profile shoes to fill when she was sworn in as Oregon’s first female attorney general earlier this summer. She completes the term of John Kroger, the Enron-trial hero, author and publicity heavy who resigned the post to become president of Reed College.

But Rosenblum brings her own set of legal chops to the state’s top law office. Rosenblum’s long legal career in Oregon includes representing author Ken Kesey in a dispute over the film adaptation of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” as well as a 14-year stint as a federal prosecutor and 22 years as an appellate and trial judge.

While running against Dwight Holton in the Democratic primary for the office, Rosenblum became an unexpected hero for advocates of liberalized marijuana laws after she took positions that put her in sharp contrast to her opponent, a former U.S. attorney who had been at the forefront of the federal crackdown on medical cannabis.

Although Rosenblum said she would make enforcement actions against pot a low priority as attorney general and would stand up for the state’s medical marijuana law in the face of federal opposition, she never fully embraced her branding as a champion of cannabis. She claimed she merely wanted to make sensible use of limited law enforcement resources and respect the will of the voters on medical marijuana. Regardless, the enthusiasm and money she drew from medical marijuana advocates helped catapult her to victory.

Rosenblum comes to the job after 49 state attorneys general reached a settlement with five of the country’s largest lending institutions. The agreement addressed mortgage loan servicing and fraud by the banks that caused a wave of foreclosures across the country. The lawsuit produced a $25 billion settlement, as well as new protections for homeowners that Rosenblum will have a hand in implementing.

Street Roots spoke to Rosenblum about how she plans to uphold civil liberties in an age of increasing government surveillance, what marijuana legalization might mean for her office, difficulties in keeping distressed homeowners in their homes, the high cost of incarceration and how she hopes to improve some of the little-noticed services her office provides. We began our conversation with one of the more controversial issues in Portland’s law enforcement practices.

Jake Thomas: Do you agree with your predecessor that Portland should have rejoined the Joint Terrorism Task Force (a partnership between various U.S. law enforcement agencies that has been criticized for violating the First Amendment rights of activists)?

Ellen Rosenblum: Not necessarily. I was perfectly comfortable with us having not joined it, and I never understood what the considerations were in rejoining it.

I have a lot of concerns about civil liberties. I met yesterday with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union to hear their issues. That was not one of their issues that they raised with me. So I haven’t put that on my table with my issues.  When I heard we were rejoining, I had some of the same concerns that the city had when they decided not to. Continue reading

Wee, the people: facing the facts about basic needs

By Jake Thomas, Staff Writer

Jack Sim is the head of the WTO. Not that WTO; the World Toilet Organization, a global group that seeks to address an issue that might not even be an after thought for many, yet remains a pressing public health concern across the world: the lack of good clean toilets.

Much of the work of the WTO focuses on “ecological sanitation for the bottom 40 percent of the world’s population.” And addressing this topic in many parts of the world involves finding creative ways to work around entrenched social mores about what is considered a rude topic. However, finally tackling what should be an obvious public health issue can yield large dividends, according to Sim. Continue reading

Where wisdom sleeps: Chronicling addiction and recovery on the streets

By Jake Thomas, Staff writer

Between 2005 and last year, Linda Ross Swanson began making regular trips to Backspace in Old Town. But she wasn’t going there for a cup of coffee or to see live music. Instead, she went there to listen to stories of despair, grit and redemption from Portlanders who’ve struggled with poverty and addiction before getting on the road to recovery. Swanson used the material for “Wisdom Under the Bridge: The Prophets from Skid Row.”

The book includes the stories of 12 individuals who have overcome addiction and street life to become sober and productive people. The stories are presented as oral histories and take on stream-of-consciousness-like qualities, which Swanson used to capture each prophet’s voice and narrative. Swanson, a private grief counselor who serves as an associate sister at the Holy Names Sisters Foundation, hopes that telling the stories of how these individuals overcame adversity will provide lessons to others, while also challenging readers’ perceptions of the homeless.

Jake Thomas: The stories in the book are meant to be similar to or modeled after “ethical wills” or “wisdom wills.” I was hoping you could talk a little bit about how you discovered wisdom wills and why you wanted to use this format.

Linda Ross Swanson: Well, in 2005, I got my master’s degree in applied theology at Marylhurst University. It’s an inter-faith program, and one of the exercises in one of our classes was to do a ritual from one of the major religions. I came across the Jewish tradition of an ethical will, which dates back to biblical times when Jacob gathered his 12 sons around his death bed and bequeathed his blessing and his wisdom and his instructions. Continue reading

The Oregon Supreme Court considers the practices of MERS

By Jake Thomas, Staff Writer

Ivan Hooker built his own home in Jacksonville, a town outside Medford in Southern Oregon, 20 years ago with his own hands. He raised four kids there and built a business selling commercial trucks.

When the housing market crashed in 2008, business dried up, and he fell behind on his mortgage payments. Hooker says his bank ignored his efforts to work something out. When his bank finally got in contact with him, he said they presented three options: He could sell the house, but still not make enough to pay off the loan. He could pay the loan in full. Or allow the bank to foreclose.

Hooker, instead, suggested a fourth option: To fight his bank in court. Continue reading

People will be talking about it: the police, the charter commission and the work to be done

By Jake Thomas, Staff writer

A common pattern often emerges after a citizen dies at the hands of police. There is public rage. The city promises reform, and then the rage simmers off until the next incident. Less noticeable, however, is the constant work of people dedicated to bringing reform to the Portland Police Bureau, notably Jo Ann Hardesty (formerly Jo Ann Bowman).

Originally from Baltimore, Hardesty has been an Oregon state legislator, the head of the civil rights organization Oregon Action and one of Portland’s most vital and outspoken critics of the Portland police.

Two years ago, Hardesty was part of a coalition that helped pass a city ordinance aimed at strengthening oversight of the police by expanding the Independent Police Review (IPR) division’s powers to investigate police and giving it more of a role in how officers are disciplined. The ordinance was passed in response to a string of incidents where Portlanders were killed in standoffs with the police. But despite the efforts of the city, the bureau now finds itself the subject of a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

Recently, Hardesty served as a member of the city’s charter commission, a group of citizens selected by City Council and charged with making changes to what is basically Portland’s constitution. Although City Council intended the commission to refer “house-keeping” amendments to voters for final approval, Hardesty used the occasion to propose two measures related to how police can control crowds.

That opportunity was dashed when the commission adjourned Feb. 27, amid controversy and acrimony, with no signficiant policy proposals recommended for a public vote. Still, Hardesty hopes that the proposals, which were inspired by people involved in the Occupy Portland movement, will spark a broader discussion on police accountability while voters are also getting ready to select their next mayor.

Jake Thomas: Regarding the charter commission, you proposed two amendments that would bar police from using animals or chemicals to control crowds. Why should this be in the charter?

Jo Ann Hardesty: It actually shouldn’t be in the charter. We should have a police chief that would just implement it, or we should have a police commissioner who would say make it so because it’s good public policy. But since we have neither of those, the charter is the only option to the public right now. It’s not the whole police accountability package, but it certainly starts us on the process, and what I love is the opportunity to talk about it during the election season. Really, what does police accountability look like? I’d say that there are certainly other things that should be included with police accountability, but these two things are the most visible today right now and mostly on peoples’ minds because of Occupy and because of some of the most recent encounters with police. If it’s on the ballot, people will be talking about it, and we can create real community dialogue about what real police accountability looks like, and it forces people on the ballot to have this conversation.

I think the charter commission was set up for failure, quite frankly, because the mayor and the City Council didn’t want us doing policy issues. They gave us inadequate staff they gave us inadequate resources. They really tried to tie our hands. They didn’t expect in the short period of time that I would be able to come up with a couple proposals that would make it to the ballot. Continue reading

Candidate interview: Mark White

by Jake Thomas, Staff Writer

Mark White isn’t quite sure how many city boards, committees and commissions he’s served on over the  years (he estimates that it’s a couple dozen), but is hoping to add one more to his resume: City Council.

For the past seven years, White has been a full-time volunteer, working on a number of community projects, as well as serving on city boards set up to get input from the public on issues that span housing, urban renewal and many others. Most notably, White serves as the co-chair of the Charter Commission, which recommends changes to what is essentially the city’s constitution.

White, 52, moved to Portland 20 years ago from California and eventually made East Portland home. He has served as president of the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association for the last three and a half years. He is challenging Steve Novick, a well-connected and popular candidate, for the seat being vacated by Commissioner Randy Leonard.

Jake Thomas: You’ve served on a lot of city boards and commissions. What lessons have you learned from serving on them that you would bring to City Hall?

Mark White: Well for one, I bring an understanding of how City Hall works and what the real deal is behind how decisions are made. I’m not deluded to think that what happens in a committee is something that City Hall is going to take seriously. I’ve had numerous times when the city folks hear what they don’t want to hear, and their usual refrain is, you’re just an advisory committee. I have a true respect for folks who serve on committees and commissions and boards because I’ve done so many of them, and the folks who sit on them are incredibly, incredibly, incredibly passionate about what they do. Continue reading

Mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith talks to Street Roots

By Jake Thomas, Staff Writer

Jefferson Smith hopes to make history next year by becoming the first mayor to come from east of 82nd Avenue.

Since 2008, Smith has represented part of East Portland in the Oregon House of Representatives and has been a champion for a part of town that has often been overlooked by City Hall and faces challenges in education, transportation and poverty. Smith grew up in Portland where he attended Grant High School. He went on to graduate from Harvard Law School. After taking a high-paying job at a law firm, he left to start the Oregon Bus Project, a nonprofit venture that seeks to increase civic participation through get-out-the-vote and voter-registration initiatives.

While serving in the House, Smith, 38, has worked on how the state manages water, helped upgrade schools, made budgets more transparent, made it easier to register to vote and even made national headlines by rickrolling the Legislature to the tune of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give you Up.”

Jake Thomas: You’ve long campaigned for greater reinvestment in East Portland, home to a large population of immigrants, families in poverty and working-class communities. What are some concrete things you are going to do for this part of town as mayor?

Jefferson Smith: [Scribbles down points on a legal pad.] Six things. One: Using economic diversity as a lens through which we make planning decisions. When we have built developments in inner Portland we have often not done enough to avoid displacing housing that’s displaced by that development elsewhere, including largely in East Portland.

Two: As we make affordable housing investments, making sure that our design review process, while not making it more cumbersome, makes sure to improve the flavor of the neighborhoods.

Third: Looking for some centers of excellence in the area, including the plan for the Gateway Education Center.

Fourth: The safety on the MAX line is something I’ve been working on for the past year and a half with a bunch of people to try and find low-cost alternatives to improve safety on the MAX line. Crime on TriMet is down everywhere in the city except for east of 82nd Avenue. Continue reading

Mayoral candidate Eileen Brady talks with Street Roots

By Jake Thomas

Eileen Brady is perhaps best known for founding New Seasons Market with her husband Brian Rohter, a chain of stores that has drawn national attention for stocking its shelves with products from local and sustainable sources. But Brady is hoping to leave an even bigger mark on Portland by getting elected mayor. Aiming to bring her “results-driven approach” to city hall, Brady wants to make Portland a place that is both sustainable and nurturing toward businesses.

While Brady serves or has served on the board of multiple nonprofit and government entities and her name was thrown around as potential candidate for U.S. Senate in 2008, she came from more humble origins. Shortly after graduating from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., she moved to Portland as a young mother and started working at Nature’s Fresh Northwest, a precursor to New Seasons, for $5 an hour, eventually rising to human resources director.

“Portland’s a good city,” says Brady. “It could be a great city. In order to be a great city we’ve got to be able to build that economic piece of the puzzle and provide the civic leadership to get there. That’s what I’m most excited about: How do you move Portland from a good city to a great city?”

Jake Thomas: You’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars so far for your campaign. Do you worry that there’s a perception out there that there’s too much private money in politics?

Eileen Brady: Yeah. There’s too much influence. I’ll tell you one thing, you spend a lot of time raising money. My husband was the chair of the Voter Owned Elections campaign, and we came really close to winning. I was very disappointed that we didn’t get over the hump. We think that if we had two more weeks, voters would have kept public financing of elections. I am a huge supporter of campaign finance reform. But right now, we’re playing with the rules we have. If I could wave my magic wand and make this different, I would. I think one of the huge shifts in our politics, locally and nationally, when it comes, will be true campaign finance reform. Continue reading

Candidate interview: Amanda Fritz

Amanda Fritz sets new goals in run for second term

By Jake Thomas, Staff Writer

In 2008, Amanda Fritz, a psychiatric nurse and neighborhood activist, became the first ever non-incumbent to win a seat on Portland City Council through Portland’s Voter-Owned Elections, which provided public campaign financing to qualifying candidates. Since then, she’s carefully scrutinized how the city spends its money, sometimes to the chagrin of other city commissioners, and hasn’t shied away from being the lone dissenting vote on the council. With Portland’s public campaign financing dismantled, Fritz now has to raise private funds to keep her seat, which is also being sought by State Rep. Mary Nolan and Teressa Raiford.

Jake Thomas: You’ve run as a publicly funded candidate in the past. Now you’re running with private funds. There’s a perception out there, true or not, that if you run with private funds you’re beholden to private interests. As someone who’s done both, what do you make of that perception? How much influence does private money have?

Amanda Fritz: I remember when someone gives me $5, and I would certainly remember if someone gave me $5,000. I’m actually continuing to run with public campaign financing. Even though we don’t have the system in Portland, we still have the $50 tax credit, which you can take straight off your taxes each year. So that’s the limit I’m taking. I’m not taking money from corporations or other groups. It’s been really meaningful. It’s been really important to me to be the publicly funded commissioner who has to consider every one of our taxpayers and ratepayers as constituents, and it’s not that my colleagues don’t do that. It’s just that I don’t want to have a situation where one of my big campaign donors wants special access. So all of my big campaign donors are the citizens of Portland and everyone gets access to me in this office. Continue reading

Living in gangland: Former gang member turned educator talks about the globalization of a violent culture

By Jake Thomas, Staff Writer

Luis Rodriguez joined an East Los Angeles street gang when he was just 11 years old. After living a tumultuous life that involved numerous arrests, drug use and a stint being homeless, which he documents in his memoir “Always Running:  La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.,” he turned away from the violent life, becoming a respected activist and community leader. He also began working as a journalist for various newspapers in California and became the editor of the People’s Tribune, a radical newspaper that covered labor issues, homelessness and the arts.

The highly praised author of both poetry and nonfiction is an outspoken critic of more conventional lock-’em-all-up approaches to combating gangs, which Rodriguez says are shortsighted and make the problem worse. Rodriguez says that we are in an age of gang globalization that is being driven by policies in the U.S.

In recent years, Portland has seen an uptick in gang violence, including a rash of shootings. All of which has community leaders and city officials stepping up actions to respond to the public outry. Rodriguez weighs in on some of the approaches being advocated in response, what drives kids to join gangs, and how far it’s gone beyond the kids in the hood.

Jake Thomas: How have gangs changed in the past 20 years. Who is joining them today?

Luis Rodriguez: It used to be more about protection, but now it’s more about drugs and money. The vast majority of kids who join gangs — that vast majority — are not violent. Most of them aren’t even criminally involved. They join gangs for reasons that have to do with fitting in. They think they’ll get respect. Some of them will get in trouble, but they’re not really gangsters.

But the hardcore part of the gang — it’s hard to say what that is, maybe 10 percent — that hardcore group drives most of the violence. They’re the ones that go in and out of the prison system. The prison system trains them to be better at it. Better gangsters, better shot-callers. The prison system is like the school for the advanced gang leaders, so what’s happening is because we have such a great proliferation of prisons in this country, you’re getting a greater proliferation of hardcore gang members entering communities, schools and neighborhoods where kids would join gangs but not necessarily be hardcore. But with hardcore gang members among them, a lot more tends to happen. Continue reading

Accessing your vote: Legislation may mean more access to voting in Oregon

By Jake Thomas, Contributing Writer

Voter turnout in Oregon could see an increase among low-income individuals, students and others around the state. With less than 10,000 people registering to vote through public assistance agencies, lawmakers and advocates are pushing for change.

“The number of people registering at (social service) agencies have been dropping like stones,” said Nicole Zeitler, director of public agency voter registration for Project Vote, a national organization that seeks to increase voting rates. Continue reading