Opinion, Analysis, Discussion

Letter: Former VP of Monsanto is now Deputy Commissioner of FDA — conflict of interest?

July 29, 2014 — 

Warning about GMO concerns

Genetically Modified Organisms are food you eat, such as corn and soy, that were manipulated in a laboratory by forcing DNA from a completely foreign species into them. This foreign DNA may include a virus and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

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Guest column: Medicare for all — the time has come

July 29, 2014 — 

Medicare — health insurance for Americans 65 and older as well as younger individuals with certain disabilities or health conditions — turns 49 today.

Since President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed this historic legislation in 1965, nearly 50 million Americans (15 percent of the nation’s population) depend on Medicare for their primary health care (www.aarp.org).

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Editorial: Govt. needs to know when to walk away from casino bid

July 29, 2014 — 

It was a bad idea two years ago, and it’s still a bad idea.

The Coquille Indian Tribe has not given up its efforts to build a casino off Interstate 5 in Medford, less than 75 miles from Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville. The tribe continues to push for the plan it announced nearly two years ago, despite the fact that Oregon’s governor, both senators, a House representative and other politicians have spoken against it. So have the Medford City Council and Jackson County commissioners.

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Letter: Fill VISN and national levels with honest leadership focused on veterans’ needs

July 29, 2014 — 

Call to replace VA leadership

The News-Review’s July 20 story “A workplace turned toxic?” details the dysfunctional environment that has been present for many years at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center. It is not surprising that so many employees have chosen to leave Roseburg VA.

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Letter: Jordan Cove denies requests for list of property owners along Pacific Connector Pipeline route

July 29, 2014 — 

Why is land list a secret?

The Pacific Connector pipeline is the chosen route to bring natural gas from the shale oil fields of the mountains west to a not-yet-built natural gas compression plant at Jordan Cove on Coos Bay, across the channel from the city of North Bend. Private pipeline developers have been granted the power of eminent domain to seize more than 300 parcels of private property which lie in the path of the 230-mile Pacific Connector route.

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Letter: Skookum Pond Trail needs more permanent signage to withstand vandalism

July 29, 2014 — 

Scout’s work appreciated

Last Saturday afternoon we took our son and daughter-in-law to Skookum Pond. All of us enjoyed the visit, the scenery and the lovely green environment.

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Publisher’s Notebook: Let humanity guide how we handle the children coming to the U.S. illegally

July 27, 2014 — 

There’s no question we need to control our borders. Citizenship in the United States of America has a significant value and it must be earned, not stolen.

It’s why we have an immigration process.

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Editorial: Roseburg VA employee dissatisfaction points to problems

July 27, 2014 — 

We’d like to think Roseburg is different. That a place with such beautiful scenery and friendly, helpful people could avoid corrosive work environments.

It seems that’s not the case. Not at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center anyway.

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Letter: Process Douglas County’s raw logs locally to boost economy and job prospects

July 25, 2014 — 

Don’t export our timber harvest

Thank you to the editorial board for the July 20 editorial in The News-Review. It explained clearly the economic problem with timber harvest in Douglas County. The problem is the export of raw logs. The timber industry exports the logs it harvests from private property, so it covets the cheap logs from federal lands.

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Letter: Roseburg city council’s concerns about medical marijuana questioned

July 25, 2014 — 

Tobacco vs. marijuana

The front page headline of The News-Review on June 20 was: “Keep medical pot away from parks, homes.”

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Guest column: Would my absence have altered the course of anyone else’s life?

July 25, 2014 — 

Recently I learned that I have been dead for 36 years.

I thought back, trying to recall what I had been doing on Dec. 1, 1978, the day of my passing, but drew a blank. I guess death does that to a person: blots out the memory of an unpleasantness.

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Editorial: Roses & thorns

July 25, 2014 — 


Final salute to Marine

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Letter: A country with no borders risks terrorist activity and economic disaster

July 24, 2014 — 

Economy has a tipping point

It seems that we have reached and passed the “tipping point.” I read an analysis of U.S. Census figures by Terence Jeffrey for CNS News that concluded that 86.5 million private workers actually carry the economic load of the nation, supporting 148 million Americans who rely on government benefits. With close to twice as many on this wagon as are pulling the wagon, it’s obvious that the tipping point has been passed.

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Letter: Umpqua Community College might garner increased local support by offering more evening classes

July 23, 2014 — 

Not supporting UCC expansion

In the July 13 editorial titled “UCC funding,” the editors of The News-Review were insisting that we, the taxpayers, must support Umpqua Community College’s expansion program. Of course it would be wonderful for the community to have a growing community college.

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Letter: Pray for our country

July 23, 2014 — 

Disappointed by politicians

It is quite disappointing that Congress accomplishes so little, as well as our president. In the Senate, I am so frustrated with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

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Guest column: Let’s help economy by recruiting successful entrepreneurs

July 23, 2014 — 

Without dissent, the economy in Douglas County remains dire. Two facts are obvious to all: Douglas County is receiving fewer and fewer dollars each year to fund county services; and individual prosperity, on average, continues to diminish.

This is in contrast to what much of the state and much of the nation is experiencing. While Oregon and the U.S. continue to struggle economically, within Oregon, Douglas County ranks near the bottom in most economic indicators. In other words, Douglas County is an economically failed county, ranking in the hardest one-third of the U.S. to live.

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Letter: Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center needs full Emergency Room staffing

July 22, 2014 — 

Veteran talks of ER experiences

I’m a veteran who uses the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center for my medical problems. I’ve had to use the emergency room five times and each time I was there a minimum of five hours.

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Editorial: It’s time to put a Northeast Stephens Street crosswalk on sure footing

July 22, 2014 — 

The city of Roseburg got closer this month to punching the button on action that would bring a pedestrian crosswalk to Northeast Stephens Street. Now it’s up to the City Council to decide whether this project has legs.

A city advisory committee decided unanimously on July 10 to recommend the council plan for the project in the fiscal year that starts in July 2015. This was a good step. It addresses safety concerns raised by Roseburg residents about the mile-long stretch that lacks a place for people to legally cross the five-lane street.

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Guest column: Employee survey shows low ratings for Roseburg VA

July 22, 2014 — 

In January of this year several Roseburg Veterans Affairs employees asked if I could get a copy of the 2013 VA employee satisfaction survey. After attempting to get this in formation from the Roseburg and Veterans Integrated Service Network Freedom of Information Act offices with no success, I requested the survey from Washington FOIA on Feb. 27. I finally received the report on July 3.

The 2013 employee satisfaction report shows that, like the veterans, the employees rate the Roseburg facility very low compared to other VA facilities. The veterans report rated Roseburg in the bottom 4 percent of all VA facilities. Unfortunately, unlike the veterans report that compared all VA facilities, the employee report only compared VISN 20 results for comparison. VISN 20 is the regional office that oversees Washington, Oregon, Alaska and parts of Idaho Montana and California. The report does show an average for all VA facilities and Roseburg was consistently below this average.

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Letter: U.S. citizens deserve better treatment from their own government

July 21, 2014 — 

Tell your reps. to enforce laws

I’m tired of being treated as a third-class citizen by the government.

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Letter: Education is important, so step up and rebuild Yoncalla High School

July 21, 2014 — 

Build school for the kids

In response to the editorial on Yoncalla High School, I say rebuild it. I live in Rice Valley, in the Yoncalla tax base. Even if it raised the property tax double to $1,000 over 20 years, that’s only $4.17 a month; big deal.

Let’s say Drain and Yoncalla joined. Would there be a new mascot named? Yoncalla shouldn’t have to give up the Eagles and Drain shouldn’t have to give up the Warriors. I went to school in Drain at the high school.

I read someplace that a new school would cost $9 million. Let’s do it and repair the grade school. We had our chance at education, now let’s step up for these kids. That’s what is important, so keep their school.

All that said, now ask why the funds aren’t there anymore. It’s simple: Everything is tied up in court over the timber. The environmentalists have abused the legal system. Just bring the harvest levels back to where they were when Bill Clinton was president. Congress and the Senate has let this happen; we all need to step up and say, “No more!”

Yoncalla is just a start. Even if the schools do merge, there will be a time when a new high school will have to be built. Pay now, or pay later. Drain High School won’t last forever.

Pat Fitzgerald


Letter: Roseburg assisted living resident admires kindness and patience of caregivers

July 21, 2014 — 

Caregivers are appreciated

Recently, there was a letter in the Public Forum about how wonderful caregivers are. I just had to write to say how much I agree.

I moved to an assisted living facility in January. I couldn’t begin to tell you how nice all the young people working here are. I noticed it the first time I came here with my Senior Companion to look at this place. My admiration for the caregivers and other people who work here has only become greater in the past few months.

I appreciate all these good people for their kindness and patience. They are my “family.”

Bessie Dailey


Letter: Should we offset global warming by using nuclear energy?

July 21, 2014 — 

An alternative to fossil fuels

If global warming is the existential danger to civilization claimed by so many, I’d like to offer some thoughts for consideration.

1. Nuclear energy has the potential to provide vast quantities of power without producing C02 or other greenhouse gasses.

2. Every year the U.S. and other countries produce many ships powered by nuclear reactors because they’re tactically superior. If these reactors are safe enough to install for a mere fighting advantage, shouldn’t they be safe enough to consider for use on a larger scale to help curb climate change?

3. While the U.S. does next to nothing in the nuclear area, China, India, South Korea and other important C02-emitting countries are now building dozens of reactors to help do their fair share to curb greenhouse gasses.

4. Even President Obama has expressed his support for nuclear power. (“We supported the first new nuclear power plants in three decades.” This quote comes from a Miami speech on energy policy, Feb. 23, 2012.)

By any objective standard, non-nuclear efforts have fallen far short of addressing C02 issues. It has been nearly 25 years since Al Gore first published “Earth in the Balance” and U.S. production of wind, solar, and geothermal energy combined now represent about 2 percent of our country’s total energy production. We’re currently producing more fossil fuel than at any time in America’s history. Despite all of our efforts, the rate at which we’re adding C02 to the atmosphere has been increasing, not decreasing.

If man-caused climate change is a minor problem, I might concede the drawbacks of fission and consider taking a pass on nuclear energy. However, if warming poses the threat to life on earth that some claim, then doesn’t nuclear energy become an increas­ingly rational part of the solution?

Roger Shaffer


Editorial: Feds effectively limit Oregon’s timber industry

July 20, 2014 — 

The Oregon Department of Forestry’s annual report on timber production shows the need to increase logging on federal lands.

The report contains good news and restates a troubling trend. On the plus side, timber harvests in 2013 topped 4 billion board feet for the first time since 2006. Oregon produced enough timber to build 419,920 houses.

Recovery from the Great Recession continued, and demand for timber has room to grow. Housing starts nationally were still only about two-thirds the historical average.

The troubling trend is Oregon’s overreliance on private timberlands to the detriment of the environment and economy.

Privately owned forests make up 34 percent of Oregon’s timberlands and produced 77 percent of the timber.

The federal government manages 60 percent of the timberlands and yielded 13 percent of the harvest.

It’s an old story. The federal government sells a fraction of the timber that grows each year on the lands it manages, putting pressure on private lands to meet demand.

Annual harvests on private timberlands are sustainable for now. But they might not be if construction fully recovers and overseas demand for raw logs stays high or picks up.

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s task force on Oregon & California Railroad lands concluded in early 2013 that Oregon’s private timberlands would be insufficient in flush times.

“Timber from public land is likely necessary to allow Oregon’s mills to respond to a prolonged surge in demand,” the report stated.

Harvests on private and federal lands were once roughly proportional. Federal timberlands accounted for 57 percent of the harvest in 1988, two years before the spotted owl was listed as a threatened species.

Since then, federal timber harvests have fallen by roughly 90 percent.

Meanwhile, private timber harvests have fluctuated, depending on demand. The yield peaked in recent years at 3.6 billion board feet in 2004 and hit bottom at 2.1 million in 2009.

In contrast, federal forest management defies economics. In the high-demand year of 2004, the Bureau of Land Management sold 96 million board feet. In the recession year of 2009, it sold 147 million board feet.

Private timberland owners have cut more in each of the past four years to meet the gradual increase in demand. Private lands, however, can only produce so much.

The Department of Forestry estimates that 3.8 billion board feet grow each year on private timberlands. The yield last year was 3.2 billion board feet.

Private forests still have untapped capacity and may be able to meet demand. Still, communities surrounded by federal forests won’t benefit as much as they should from the good times. Mills that depend on federal logs will miss out, too.

Also, private timber can be exported as raw logs, diminishing the number of jobs created.

The timber is there for the federal government to cut. The BLM estimates 1.2 billion board feet grow annually on O&C lands alone in Western Oregon. The annual harvest since 1995 has been about 150 million board feet.

Yes, the timber industry is bounding back. Right now, though, the federal government has a ceiling over how high the rebound can be.

Publisher’s Notebook: Does short-term commission appointment need so many steps?

July 20, 2014 — 

I’m not a fan of government committees.

They typically muddy things and are often used as scapegoats for leaders who can’t or won’t make decisions on their own.

Such is the case with this ongoing effort to find someone willing to sit on the Douglas County Board of Commissioners for the last five months of the year.

Longtime (and I mean a really longtime) county Commissioner Doug Robertson announced about a month ago that he will step down from the three-member commission at the end of this month. He’s got some personal issues to address and just didn’t think he could put in the time it takes to serve the balance of his four-year term.

Three candidates have filed to fulfill Robertson’s final two years (through 2016) on the commission, and voters will choose one in November.

Until then the two remaining commissioners — Susan Morgan and Joe Laurance — are hoping to find someone willing to keep Robertson’s seat warm the last five months of the year (Aug. 1 through Jan. 4) until a new commissioner takes office.

That’s where the committee comes in. According to Morgan and Laurance, anyone interested in serving as interim commissioner has until Monday to apply. So far they have received applications from former county Commissioner Mike Winters, Umpqua resident Chuck Warner, Roseburg resident Buzz Long, real estate broker Rich Raynor, former Community Cancer Center director Mel Cheney, former Myrtle Creek Postmaster Ken Brouillard, retired property manager Richard Weckerly and former restaurateur Delores Spencer.

Once the deadline passes, a citizen panel — appointed by the two commissioners — will review the applications and make a recommendation to the two commissioners who will, in turn, make a decision Aug. 13.

I know — say what?

My guess is that by Monday there won’t be more than 10 applications to review, so you would think the two commissioners could review them without the need for a citizen panel.

We elected them to make decisions, not punt to a “citizen panel.”

Besides, I’ll bet Morgan and Laurance have a pretty good idea whom they’d like to sit with the next five months anyway, so why not get it done with?

In fact, they could have avoided it altogether by simply inviting Tim Freeman to join the party early. Freeman was elected in June to replace Laurance and will take office in January. He could simply fulfill the balance of Robertson’s term, and by the time Laurance leaves in January, voters will have elected a permanent replacement.

Problem solved.

I bumped into Freeman earlier this week and he said he hadn’t applied for the appointment, but sounded as if he might have stepped up if asked by the two commissioners. My guess is that he just doesn’t feel like going through a dog and pony show that requires an interview from a yet-to-be-appointed citizen panel.

I wonder if the commissioners will need a citizen panel to appoint the citizen panel? Seems to me they could appoint a commissioner in the time it will take to appoint a panel of citizens who have enough time on their hands to review eight to 10 applications for a post that will only last five months.

Not sure how you find enough citizens who will have an ability to render an objective opinion for an appointment to a political seat, anyway.

So far they’ve done a good job of making this process a lot more complicated than it needed to be. The law allows the two commissioners a ton of flexibility in making an appointment.

They could have simply agreed to choose someone and vote on it.

Morgan: “I move to appoint Jeff Ackerman to the commission.”

Laurance: “Jeff Ackerman’s not on the list. He’s too busy with his chickens and hates meetings.”

Morgan: “OK. I move to appoint Tim Freeman to the commission. He was elected anyway, so he may as well get started now.”

Laurance: “I second that.”

Morgan: “All in favor, say aye.”

Laurance: “Aye.”

Morgan: “Motion carries two to nothing. Welcome to the commission, Tim.”

Morgan: “Next item on the agenda is a proposed chicken ordinance. Is Ackerman here?”

If Freeman isn’t an option, I think Mike Winters is a perfect appointment, just in case I’m appointed to the citizen panel and have a say-so. He’s already served on the commission and knows the lay of the land, which will be a huge plus since there will be only five months to learn everyone’s name and where the restrooms are (tell me it’s not one of the first questions you ask when you start a new job).

The idea of an interim position is to provide some stability, or hold down the fort until reinforcements arrive.

“Don’t screw it up,” in other words.

It’s also important in those cases where Morgan and Laurance don’t see eye-to-eye on an issue. Nothing worse than a 1-to-1 tie (which is why soccer will never be high on my TV list) on an important chicken ordinance and that third commissioner provides a tiebreaker.

To summarize: We should have a decision as soon as a committee is assigned to appoint a citizen panel that will make a recommendation that will be taken into consideration by the two commissioners who may or may not go along with that recommendation, in which case another committee will be tasked to review the appointment process.

Got it?

Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or jackerman@nrtoday.com.

Letter: We should help fund health occupations building at Umpqua Community College

July 18, 2014 — 

We need to support UCC

It was a beautiful sunny summer Sunday morning out on the back deck eating a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, and reading The News-Review. It hardly gets better than that. In the personals was the best of the day. A man, 5’9”, in his “early 80s,” was looking for a healthy non-smoking, non-drinking woman over 65 for a “long-term relationship.”

I also happened to agree that day with The News-Review’s editorial page calling for Umpqua Community College to get on with it and mount a campaign to raise the matching funds necessary to bring home state funding for a health occupations building. Gun shy as a result of the failed levy two years ago, there’s talk of raising the money from various sources, including new fees on the students. No! Our students do not need additional debt.

This community needs to honor its original commitment to creating a college (speaking of a long-term relationship), and pay the freight. What we should ask of the students and potential students is their commitment to the campaign. The last campaign was a “top down” exercise from community leaders that failed to make the case. This campaign needs to come from the “grass roots,” the students, and they should be all over us for our support and our vote. If it’s not important to them, I guess it’s not important to us.

Norman Gershon


Guest column: Local groups are working to address doctor shortage

July 18, 2014 — 

A recent letter to the editor noted just how hard it is to find a doctor, both locally and at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The problem of a medical workforce is a problem many years in the making and is just now getting the attention it deserves.

Locally, we have recognized the workforce problem for many years and have taken a coordinated approach to addressing our workforce issues. Mercy, Architrave and DCIPA have a coordinated recruiting approach and have been tremendously successful, so that we have recruited 10 new primary care doctors and five new specialists to Douglas County. We have recruited many new physician assistants and nurse practitioners to increase access. In addition, Mercy, Architrave and DCIPA are actively pursuing the possibility of a family practice training program here in Roseburg.

It is important to understand how we got into this situation. In the late ’80s and early ’90s it was felt that we had TOO MANY doctors. It was predicted that the need for doctors would decrease as modern medicine increased life spans and allowed treatment of previously untreatable conditions. To prevent the expansion of the medical workforce, the size of medical school classes stayed stagnant and the number of training programs grew at a very slow rate.

The prediction of too many doctors proved terribly wrong. Modern medicine has indeed increased life spans, but requires a much larger medical workforce. In my 34 years as a doctor, we have made incredible advances. When I started medical school, the diagnosis of leukemia in kids was a death sentence. Kids with leukemia were kept comfortable and given an occasional transfusion, but almost all died. It did not take many doctors to treat leukemia. Today, about 90 percent of kids survive the common form of leukemia, but it takes a team of pediatricians, pediatric hospitalists and oncologist to make it happen. When I started medical school, tiny babies less than 2 pounds rarely survived the night. Now most live, but only after weeks or months in the neonatal intensive-care unit tended to by dozens of doctors and nurses. Thus, health care is so much better, but it takes many more doctors to do so.

In the last 10 years, we have begun to recognize the workforce shortage, both locally and nationally. New medical schools have been built and many have increased class size, but this has been a very slow process, because it took time to build this capacity. It takes a minimum of four years to get through medical school and then another three to five years to complete a residency. Thus, it takes a minimum of seven years to “mint” a new doctor.

During this shortage time, Roseburg and other communities have used doctors who have trained overseas. While these doctors have been a tremendous asset, this is not a good long-term solution, as it takes needed doctors from other countries and is restricted by a limited number of visas for foreign-trained physicians.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle today is a shortage of training positions for doctors who have already graduated from medical school. About 500 newly graduated doctors could not find a training position last year and this year will likely be worse.

Physician access is indeed a problem long in the making, but I think we were among the first to have recognized the problem and are making every effort to ensure access to medical care for our friends and neighbors in Douglas County. You can help by welcoming our new doctors and supporting the local delivery system.

Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer is a Roseburg pediatrician and chief executive officer of the Architrave Family of Companies. He can be reached at rdannenhoffer@architravehealth.com or 541-464-4300.

Roses & Thorns

July 18, 2014 — 


Sober salute

The phrase “gone, but not forgotten” is more than an epitaph. It was put into practice Sunday by members of Roseburg High School’s class of 1964 at the group’s half-century reunion.

These alumni were seniors when Muhammad Ali (then still Cassius Clay) bagged the heavyweight boxing title from Sonny Liston and The Beatles met Ed Sullivan. Those teens probably carried the conviction of most youth that they were invincible. And that long, sun-spangled years stretched before them.

Sadly, one of them would perish in Vietnam, as would a class of ’63 alum. Those two were honored by their classmates last weekend. They also were paid tribute by having their names added to the Remembrance Wall at the Patrick Kelley Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2468 in Roseburg, along with the names of 13 other Vietnam veterans who attended school with them.

Army Pvt. Gary Newport was killed by shrapnel in 1966. Air Force Capt. Mason Burnham died in a plane crash in Laos in 1972. Their fellow Roseburg High alums could have partied on at the reunion, living only for the day. But they stopped to remember their fallen comrades, as well as all those who did not survive to enjoy the gathering.

That shows real class.


Drawn to scale

A busy kid is a happy kid. If that isn’t stitched on a sampler somewhere, it should be.

Regardless, parents and teachers who know the truth of the truism took action to be sure that Tri City Elementary School students have something to keep their limbs as well as their minds engaged, rain or shine. The school’s parent-teacher group took the plunge and raised $10,500 to purchase a climbing wall now installed in the school cafeteria.

The 40-foot-wide, 8-foot-tall wall has built-in safety precautions. It also has an activity book with suggestions for teaching lessons on numbers, for example.

Bravo to the adults who got creative about finding another way to get children high on learning.


Been there, won that

It was fun, placing in the top 10 America’s Homecoming Queen competition on July 11 in Memphis, Tennessee, according to Myrtle Creek’s Rory Petterson. Fun, and now that’s done.

“I don’t think I’ll ever do a pageant again,” said Petterson, an 18-year-old South Umpqua High School graduate. “I’m going to stick to sports.”

Petterson has yet to be told where in the top 10 she placed and how much scholarship money she was awarded. She was chosen among 33 other Oregon high school homecoming queens, which was the win that launched her into the national contest. Her mother, Debbie Petterson, told The News-Review that her daughter had a great time, even if she didn’t arrive in Memphis with a personal hairdresser, as did Miss California and Miss Texas. Rory Petterson admitted she’s far more interested in athletics — she played volleyball and basketball and ran track at South Umpqua — than accessories.

Congratulations to a young woman with clear eyes and a level head free of hair extensions.

Letter: Politicians should secure our borders, not supply our contraceptives

July 17, 2014 — 

Hobby Lobby’s position is fair

It appears that Harry Reid and the Democrat senators are more worried about your sex life than they are about our national security.

Patty Murray and Mark Udall are introducing a bill (on the fast track) to overturn the Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby case. It’s bad enough that they think they know better, (Big Brother at work here), than the Supreme Court justices, but they are not telling the American people the whole truth about this decision. Of course, that seems to be par for the course of the Democrat senators.

The Supreme Court did not take away any right of any woman for any kind of birth control or the abortion pills. The decision was that a closely held corporation with religious objections to the contraceptives does not have to provide it to its employees. These same employees can get the contraceptives anywhere they please, but oh my, they would have to take personal responsibility and pay for it themselves.

In Hobby Lobby’s case, they provide free of charge 16 of the 20 named contraceptives, but object to only the four that could cause abortion. Maybe the Democrats should worry more about securing our border, and the diseases and the gang members coming across our borders illegally, rather than your sex life.

Rita Jost


Guest column: How can we address the needs of the homeless in our midst?

July 17, 2014 — 

There’s no place like home. In the early 1980s, my family was driving home from the Portland airport after our ninth trip in three years to Guatemalan refugee camps in Southern Mexico. At some point as we were driving back to Roseburg, I was struck by the thought, “This freeway is mine!” In other words, I had come home to a place that belonged to me — Interstate 5 and the familiar landscapes and towns along the way were all where I lived and could call “home.”

At the time I was thinking of the Guatemalan refugees who had been uprooted from their villages as they fled the genocide going on in their country. The ones we met had been hosted by kind people in southern Mexico, but regardless of how they’d been welcomed by strangers, they still deeply missed their homeland.

Now, 30 years later, I’m thinking of all the refugee camps throughout the world, and realizing that even with the temporary welcome they have received by their host countries, along with tents and occasional other amenities given to them by other generous countries like the U.S., they still must miss their homelands as much as the Guatemalans did.

Then I’m jolted again, when it occurs to me that political refugees aren’t the only ones who are missing their homes. Every day, all around our country, more people are joining the ranks of those who’ve lost their homes due to jobs ending and rent or mortgages that can’t be paid.

We also have plenty of homeless people in our midst in Roseburg, but not all of them have become homeless for the same reason. Some of them have deliberately chosen this lifestyle, but even they have their individual stories to tell.

There are those who never had a family home that was a safe place, or that in any way served as a model for establishing their own home. Most of them dropped out of school for a variety of reasons, thus reducing the likelihood of gaining employment sufficient for renting a place to live. Almost all of them have given up hope long ago, having had any dreams they once entertained repeatedly dashed by harsh doses of their reality.

Homeless people have become a problem for merchants in downtown Roseburg who contend that their presence discourages potential customers from shopping there. That’s a reasonable concern, but most of the suggestions proffered have had to do with simply eliminating the homeless population from the downtown area.

I’m wondering if there are any solutions that can eradicate the problems posed by the homeless people in our community, and at the same time address their needs in a kind and effective way. They do not qualify for welfare benefits, because they don’t have an address, and there are only a few members of our community who reach out to them.

Although our local mission does an impressive job of providing housing and food, many homeless people find it hard to comply with their strictures, many of which are of a religious bent.

Also, during the coldest times of the year, some places in Roseburg and the surrounding areas generously open their doors to provide warming centers for the homeless. But for the rest of the year we don’t know quite how to help them in a more long term way.

Last year I stopped at a rest area north of Cottage Grove, where I observed a panhandler sitting on a pile of blankets with her 6-year-old daughter. When they got up to leave, I was impressed by the way the youngster picked up each blanket and neatly folded it. Obviously she’d been coached by her mother.

I called the mother over to my car and expressed my admiration of her daughter’s behavior. Stevie (not her real name) and I had a long conversation.

The next week, I stopped at the same rest stop and had an even longer talk with Stevie, learning more about her and her husband. We exchanged phone numbers, and I wrote down her wish list of things she’d like to have – items such as notebooks, blankets and, of course, food.

And yes, a couple friends read me the riot act for giving Stevie my phone number, reminding me of the risk I was inviting by doing so. But my feeling is that if I’m not willing to at least risk that much, then how committed am I to helping the seriously at-risk people among us?

I’ve lost contact with Stevie, since her cellphone doesn’t work, and I worry about her and her family. I know their van broke down, and that they’re stranded in another place.

My heartfelt concern is: How can we address the needs of the homeless in a way that also respects the concerns of our community?

Judy Lasswell of Roseburg has been an active member of our community for 50 years. She has a master’s degree in counseling and taught welfare clients for 11 years at Umpqua Community College. She also was part of the underground railroad that brought at-risk Central Americans to Oregon, finding housing and employment for them as well as guiding them through the legal system of securing green cards. She can be reached at julass@charter.net.

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