11/16 Editorials

Northern neighbors

step over the line

We've known it for years: More adults are non-smokers than are smokers.

States have repeatedly found that smokers will pay for the privilege. Generally that payment has been in the form of a tax. A tax that has grown repeatedly while others have remained relatively stable or faced limits.

Over the last 25 years or so, we've found that more and more establishments have made themselves "non-smoking."

In fact as the tide has turned against smoking, we find that smokers are increasingly polite in their habit. Most smokers ask permission before lighting up.

It seems smokers are generally less prone to leaving their litter behind than was once the case. (Too bad the same can't be said for soda drinkers and French fry fans.)

However, the recent election in our neighbors to the north may have gone a step (or several steps) too far.

Framers of the U.S. Constitution were wary of the damage a majority of citizens could wreak on a minority group. We may be seeing such an example with the passage of Initiative 901-The Indoor Clean Air Act.

Oregon smokers visiting their friends across the Columbia may be surprised to find that all restaurants, bars, bowling centers and other places in which smoking was permitted have now banned it.

In fact, the ban extends out of doors as well. The initiative prohibits smoking in all public places and 25 feet or less from entrances, exits, opening windows and ventilation intakes, in order to prevent secondhand smoke from filtering back inside.

Granted the dangers of second-hand smoke are well documented. However, the 25-foot limitation now moves the smokers far enough away from the building as to make it very difficult to find a place to smoke, indoors or out, in many urban areas.

In fact, Initiative 901 comes perilously close to looking like a prohibition on all smoking public places -- especially during the Northwest's familiar "rainy season."

Prohibitions often breed a whole new form of outlaw. The Roaring 20s probably wouldn't have "roared" so loudly if it weren't for the 18th Amendment banning the sale of alcohol. A strong argument could be made that the Mafia wouldn't have become so strong in many American cities if it weren't for prohibition.

Did the state of Washington essentially pass an initiative that says, "When cigarettes are outlawed, only outlaws will have cigarettes"?

We don't think it's quite that bad but it's treading awfully close to the majority punishing a minority group more severely than is desirable.

Oregon doesn't need nor should it support a clone of Washington's so-called "Indoor Clean Air Act."



Fair tax" advocates

seek national sales tax

As Congress is pondering different ways in which to simplify the tax code, up pops a group headquartered in Houston calling for a "Fair Tax."

In fact, another group "Oregon Supporters of the Fair Tax" held its first meeting Oct. 24.

The "fair tax," is a national sales tax.

Supporters in Oregon might see some irony in pushing a sales tax as a solution to taxation problems from this state. After all, Oregonians have repeatedly rejected a general sales tax when asked to vote on it.

The late Al Ullman, a member of the Oregon Congressional delegation for many years, advocated a national "value-added" tax while serving as Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

That tax bears a striking resemblance to a sales tax. Ullman was booted from his lofty post by a political newcomer, Denny Smith. The "sales tax" approach Ullman advocated was repeatedly used against him in that campaign.

The fair tax proponents say the national sales tax would mark the end of business or corporate income taxes, the so-called death tax, gift tax, federal personal income tax and the IRS. Pretty hard to be against that-unless you make a living preparing tax returns or work for the IRS.

Something tells us, however, that Oregon won't be the hotbed of support for a national sales tax. That is especially true if it still means Oregon will depend on its state income tax for the lion's share of state tax revenues.

The good news is that we are starting to see some real "out of the box" thinking on the subject of taxes. Some of that thinking includes elimination of the mortgage interest deduction and other untouchable items.

From that thinking, we hope a simpler, fairer and easier-to-understand tax law will result.


A lesson learned over

and over for centuries

Which event was bigger:

A German priest posting a notice on the door of Wittenberg's Castle Church or detonation of the first hydrogen bomb on Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific?

While everyone must have been impressed with a bomb some 500 times more powerful than the atom bomb that destroyed Nagasaki only five years earlier, history has been much more greatly changed by Martin Luther's 95 Theses and the resulting so-called Protestant Reformation.

These historical events occurred 428 years and one day apart. Martin Luther's words were a product of Oct. 31, 1517, the H-bomb blew up Enewetak on Nov. 1, 1952. The atoll was partially re-populated beginning in 1980.

As many have noted, Martin Luther proved "the pen is mightier than the sword." The lesson has been re-learned for nearly 500 years.


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