11 Jan

California goes forward on undocumented driving; Oregon is stalled

L0ast week was a big week for adding a little more order to the roads, for increasing the chances that thousands of people driving on a daily basis might know the rules, and even have insurance. It’s always nice to think the guy steering the truck next to you – or right at you – is working off the same driver’s manual.

It didn’t happen here, of course. Last November, Oregon voters rejected, overwhelmingly, a new law passed by the legislature to let undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses, if they passed the same tests and requirements everybody else has to meet. Overruling the law didn’t take anybody out of the driver’s seat, and certainly not out of the country or the state, but apparently it made some folks feel better.

The change happened in California, which has been having this argument for a long time, and where last Friday as many as 1.4 million drivers got the opportunity to become legal. On the first business day when the law went into effect, immigrants lined up even before DMV offices opened. Nobody knows how many will also get insurance, but The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that insurance companies across the state had added staff to deal with an expected surge in applications.

For most of the twentieth century, Californians only had to show that they lived in the state to apply for a driver’s license, vital in a place where walking is considered a suspicious activity. Then in 1993, as part of the anti-immigrant surge that ultimately rebounded disastrously against the state Republican Party, proof of citizenship was required for a license.
People did not leave the roads, but some observers did notice a difference. “For 60 years, California had the safest highways in the country,” Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo told the Times last week. “Then we started playing immigration politics with highway safety, and our highways got a lot less safe.”

The rule was reversed in 2003, and then put back in place under the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who may have been worried about undocumented terminator immigrants from the future driving on California freeways.

Now, with AB60 signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California has joined 10 other states (including Washington state) and the District of Columbia in allowing undocumented immigrants to qualify for driver’s licenses. The change stirred considerable support: “The California Police Chiefs Association supported AB60,” said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyers, “because we knew that it would allow for more licensed drivers on our roadway and we want to make sure the people we share our roadways with understand the driving rules of California and this legislation will allow for that.”

That’s not happening, of course, in Oregon, where the 66 percent No vote on Measure 88 – it passed only in Multnomah County – pretty much takes the idea off the table for the immediate future. “With the threat of international terrorism, the spread of Ebola and other third-world diseases,” warned Oregonians for Immigration Reform, “it’s vital to take all possible precautions in the control of immigration.”

Because Ebola is a greater health threat in Oregon than a guy in a pickup not sure when he can make a left.

Now that Measure 88 has been defeated, there’s no sign that we’ll be going anywhere on the undocumented immigrant issue. The measure was supported by agricultural groups, especially the nurserymen, who have undocumented employees who are driving. Nobody thinks they’re now going to stop.

Nobody thinks, either, that we’re going to resolve the issue with a magic bus that carries more than 160,000 undocumented Oregonians, including those who have been here for years and those who have children who are citizens, out of the country. The feds, under any administration, have never shown no intention of deporting the country’s 11,000,000 undocumented immigrants, and don’t have the resources to do it anyway.

Republicans in Congress will now seek to block funding for President Obama’s plan to ban deportation of 5,000,000 undocumented immigrants, but it’s not as if they have any other plan. In fact, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio cheerfully told The New York Times Sunday that it was a mistake to think Republicans had to do anything on the issue.

Now, California has joined Washington and eight other states in concluding that if you have hundreds of thousands of people in your state who aren’t going anywhere, you need to think about fitting them in.

Oregon has voted to pretend they’re not here.

Even if they’re driving a truck in our direction.

NOTE: This column appeared in Then Oregonian, 1/7/15.
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05 Jan

From Portland streets, you can see the road to Roman ruins

Traveling through Italy, some people are moved by the pasta, or the chianti, or the views of the Mediterranean. On his honeymoon there a few months ago, Portland city Commissioner Steve Novick noticed something else.

Looking around Italy, Novick recalled last week, reminds you that “civilizations collapse all the time.”

Just like the Portland road system.

Lack of maintenance, it seems, can have an impact something like barbarian invasions.

For the past few months, Novick may have felt besieged himself, as the transportation commissioner has sought a new tax stream to slow the crumbling of the city’s roads – ideally without a detour to the ballot box. So far, he hasn’t found a plan with either universal approval or a solid third vote on the five-member City Council.

So last week, Novick put forth a pick-one proposal: a residence-and-income-based formula that he hopes could pass the City Council and not spark a signature-driven ballot referral, and a Plan B, a progressive income tax that he would expect to fight out on the 2016 ballot.

The same ballot, of course, would also feature Novick himself, running for re-election, which doesn’t bother him.

“Me campaigning for a progressive income tax to improve the streets,” he calculates, “would be totally consistent with the rest of my career.”

In fact, Novick would actually prefer Plan B – except that the first plan would let the city get started on its reconstruction sooner, a useful move when your arterial roads are beginning to resemble a Roman aqueduct.

There would certainly be clarity in putting whatever proposal emerges on the ballot, where it might be going anyway. Novick calculates that his Plan A might avoid the ballot, because unlike an income tax or a gas tax, no major group has threatened to take it there.

“It’s generally an interest group that gets it referred,” he says. “This proposal might offend few enough people that it doesn’t get referred.”

Assuming, of course, that it finds a third vote on the City Council Jan. 14. Right now, Novick has the support of only Mayor Charlie Hales.

If, as he suspects, there will be an income tax on the ballot next year, polling isn’t terrific. Current support is around 55 percent, and support for a tax measure drops over the course of a campaign. Novick knows that general faith in government has plummeted over decades – and that events like the botched rollouts of Obamacare and Cover Oregon don’t help – and that wage stagnation leaves most people with less disposable income.

Still, he thinks there are Portland groups that will show up for a progressive income tax campaign. And while council meetings like the one this Thursday will produce a wave of denunciation, people who come up to him in the streets say they hope he can get something done.
Even if a street fee is enacted – either Plan A or Plan B – Novick calculates that it would only slow the deterioration of Portland streets, like a foot stuck out to slow a runaway scooter.
Right now, he says, 12 percent of the major streets in the city are in poor condition. In 10 years, if no other revenue source is found, that number goes to 29 percent. Even if the city finds the additional $43 million – by either Plan A or Plan B, plus a business tax that doesn’t seem to be stirring a massive uprising – in 10 years the number projects to 19 percent.

To get all the city’s streets into good condition in 10 years would require an annual additional $143 million, a figure not imagined even in nightmares – neither fiscal or political ones.

Plus, Novick figures, the city should be spending more on infrastructure for earthquake preparation and its water and sewer pipes. After his first two years on the council, he says, “I feel like I’ve gone from a balcony seat to a fifth-row seat to the deterioration of American civilization.”

Still, there are things that can be achieved. Talking to voters in east Portland during his campaign, Novick recalls, their highest transportation concern was more regular bus service.

TriMet has told him that with the safety improvements in his package, it would run more frequent service along East 122nd: “So I would at least be able to cross off one thing that I offered in my Voters’ Pamphlet statement.”

And looking around at 2,000 years’ worth of infrastructure ruins in Italy can send one message that might even be reassuring for Portland:

Even if your roads collapse, you can still eat pretty well.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 1/4/15.

02 Jan

Looking back on the year of the hack

It may be all you need to know about 2014 that the year’s most talked-about movie was a Seth Rogen buddy comedy.

On that principle, the nation’s deep thinkers might spend 2015 talking about Adam Sandler.

Of course, the news value of “The Interview” – maybe the most prominent movie about journalists since “All The President’s Men” – was not artistic, but about some undeclared critic responding to the movie by breaking into Sony’s computer system and releasing massive numbers of internal emails. People are still working through the data dump, but the news so far seems to be that Hollywood studio executives aren’t always entirely sincere.

But the real message of 2014, nationally and in Oregon, is that anything on-line is virtually a public announcement. We saw repeated examples of how hackers can break into all kinds of protected systems.

It doesn’t even seem to require the most advanced technological skills. According to most suspicions, and quiet confirmation by the U.S. government, the Sony break-in seems to come from North Korea, which has never been confused with Cal Tech.

(Admittedly, North Korea has nuclear weapons and Cal Tech doesn’t, but Cal Tech could probably have a bomb if it wanted one, dramatically changing the power politics of Pasadena.)

Just before 2014 started, Target revealed a hacking that compromised 40 million credit card accounts; just this month, a Minnesota federal court ruled that banks could sue Target for damages for negligent protection. By the time the year was over, there were even larger break-ins at eBay and the J.P. Morgan investment bank, as well as break-ins at Nieman-Marcus and Home Depot.

In August, the image-sharing web site 4chan began posting about 200 nude pictures of celebrities, apparently hacked from personal accounts, which actress Jennifer Lawrence described as a “sex crime.” Apparently, sexting is not limiting to teenagers, and delivery is not limited to intended recipients.

In a holiday note, last week a group of hackers calling itself the Lizard cooperative shut down the Playstation and Xbox interactive systems, diabolically forcing millions of Americans to talk to their relatives on Christmas.

“The year 2014,” Vincent Weafer, senior vice-president at McAfee Labs, part of Intel Security, told the Ottawa Citizen, “will be remembered as ‘The Year of Shaken Trust.’”

Oregonians, even beyond those dealing with (and possibly changing their credit card numbers after dealing with) Target and Home Depot, had reason in 2014 to testify to that.

In February, the Oregon Secretary of State’s office revealed that its business registry and campaign finance reporting system had been hacked into by what it eventually concluded was a foreign source, possibly from China or North Korea. (Maybe the North Koreans had heard about “The Interview,” and were practicing.) Alex Pettit, new chief information officer for the secretary of state, told OPB, “We’ve moved from people looking to steal identities or to steal credit card information for financial gain or whatever to really organizations that are engaging in asymmetrical warfare. Folks that don’t like us.”

But that intrusion was dwarfed by an October announcement that hackers had gotten into the Oregon Employment Department’s job seeker web site, getting access to information on more than 850,000 people, including Social Security numbers. The break-in was large enough to be ranked #9 on iDigitaltimes’ list of the top hacking events of 2014.

(The Sony break-in, perhaps the biggest hacking news story of the year, was only #33.)

At least the Oregon Employment Department information escape didn’t involve any nude photos.
So far, it seems, none of the hacking break-ins, at the national or Oregon levels, have had the massive disastrous effects that could have happened. Defenders are developing responses, such as computer chips in credit cards, intended to provide more protection.

But in the hacking arms race – or more precisely, fingers race – hackers appear to keep finding ways around defenses. The multiple examples provided during 2014 argue that we’re still in a frontier time, finding our way across a Wild, Wild Web.

We are, it’s universally said, in an information economy, and more than a decade of news from Washington supports the idea that we’re living in a security state. But as all of 2014 argued, we’re having some trouble perfecting an information security system.

It’s particularly unnerving if, as Sony and the Oregon secretary of state’s office testify, the intrusions are increasingly coming from foreign sources and likely governments.

The situation leaves us with one major New Year’s resolution for 2015:

Carefully check your credit card receipts for nuclear weapons purchases.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, 12/31/14.