Monthly Archives: December 2008

Russian Professor: America ‘Disintegrates’ in 2010

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In Moscow, Igor Panarin’s Forecasts Are All the Rage; America ‘Disintegrates’ in 2010

Wall Street Journal | Dec 29, 2008

Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S.

By ANDREW OSBORN

MOSCOW — For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument — that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. — very seriously. Now he’s found an eager audience: Russian state media.

In recent weeks, he’s been interviewed as much as twice a day about his predictions. “It’s a record,” says Prof. Panarin. “But I think the attention is going to grow even stronger.”

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.

But it’s his bleak forecast for the U.S. that is music to the ears of the Kremlin, which in recent years has blamed Washington for everything from instability in the Middle East to the global financial crisis. Mr. Panarin’s views also fit neatly with the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia is returning to its rightful place on the world stage after the weakness of the 1990s, when many feared that the country would go economically and politically bankrupt and break into separate territories.

A polite and cheerful man with a buzz cut, Mr. Panarin insists he does not dislike Americans. But he warns that the outlook for them is dire.

“There’s a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur,” he says. “One could rejoice in that process,” he adds, poker-faced. “But if we’re talking reasonably, it’s not the best scenario — for Russia.” Though Russia would become more powerful on the global stage, he says, its economy would suffer because it currently depends heavily on the dollar and on trade with the U.S.

Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces — with Alaska reverting to Russian control.

In addition to increasing coverage in state media, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, Mr. Panarin’s ideas are now being widely discussed among local experts. He presented his theory at a recent roundtable discussion at the Foreign Ministry. The country’s top international relations school has hosted him as a keynote speaker. During an appearance on the state TV channel Rossiya, the station cut between his comments and TV footage of lines at soup kitchens and crowds of homeless people in the U.S. The professor has also been featured on the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda channel, Russia Today.

Mr. Panarin’s apocalyptic vision “reflects a very pronounced degree of anti-Americanism in Russia today,” says Vladimir Pozner, a prominent TV journalist in Russia. “It’s much stronger than it was in the Soviet Union.”

Mr. Pozner and other Russian commentators and experts on the U.S. dismiss Mr. Panarin’s predictions. “Crazy ideas are not usually discussed by serious people,” says Sergei Rogov, director of the government-run Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, who thinks Mr. Panarin’s theories don’t hold water.

Mr. Panarin’s résumé includes many years in the Soviet KGB, an experience shared by other top Russian officials. His office, in downtown Moscow, shows his national pride, with pennants on the wall bearing the emblem of the FSB, the KGB’s successor agency. It is also full of statuettes of eagles; a double-headed eagle was the symbol of czarist Russia.

The professor says he began his career in the KGB in 1976. In post-Soviet Russia, he got a doctorate in political science, studied U.S. economics, and worked for FAPSI, then the Russian equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency. He says he did strategy forecasts for then-President Boris Yeltsin, adding that the details are “classified.”

In September 1998, he attended a conference in Linz, Austria, devoted to information warfare, the use of data to get an edge over a rival. It was there, in front of 400 fellow delegates, that he first presented his theory about the collapse of the U.S. in 2010.

“When I pushed the button on my computer and the map of the United States disintegrated, hundreds of people cried out in surprise,” he remembers. He says most in the audience were skeptical. “They didn’t believe me.”

At the end of the presentation, he says many delegates asked him to autograph copies of the map showing a dismembered U.S.

He based the forecast on classified data supplied to him by FAPSI analysts, he says. He predicts that economic, financial and demographic trends will provoke a political and social crisis in the U.S. When the going gets tough, he says, wealthier states will withhold funds from the federal government and effectively secede from the union. Social unrest up to and including a civil war will follow. The U.S. will then split along ethnic lines, and foreign powers will move in.

California will form the nucleus of what he calls “The Californian Republic,” and will be part of China or under Chinese influence. Texas will be the heart of “The Texas Republic,” a cluster of states that will go to Mexico or fall under Mexican influence. Washington, D.C., and New York will be part of an “Atlantic America” that may join the European Union. Canada will grab a group of Northern states Prof. Panarin calls “The Central North American Republic.” Hawaii, he suggests, will be a protectorate of Japan or China, and Alaska will be subsumed into Russia.

“It would be reasonable for Russia to lay claim to Alaska; it was part of the Russian Empire for a long time.” A framed satellite image of the Bering Strait that separates Alaska from Russia like a thread hangs from his office wall. “It’s not there for no reason,” he says with a sly grin.

Interest in his forecast revived this fall when he published an article in Izvestia, one of Russia’s biggest national dailies. In it, he reiterated his theory, called U.S. foreign debt “a pyramid scheme,” and predicted China and Russia would usurp Washington’s role as a global financial regulator.

Americans hope President-elect Barack Obama “can work miracles,” he wrote. “But when spring comes, it will be clear that there are no miracles.”

The article prompted a question about the White House’s reaction to Prof. Panarin’s forecast at a December news conference. “I’ll have to decline to comment,” spokeswoman Dana Perino said amid much laughter.

For Prof. Panarin, Ms. Perino’s response was significant. “The way the answer was phrased was an indication that my views are being listened to very carefully,” he says.

The professor says he’s convinced that people are taking his theory more seriously. People like him have forecast similar cataclysms before, he says, and been right. He cites French political scientist Emmanuel Todd. Mr. Todd is famous for having rightly forecast the demise of the Soviet Union — 15 years beforehand. “When he forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1976, people laughed at him,” says Prof. Panarin.

Walking in the countryside is good for the brain as well as the body

Telegraph | Dec 26, 2008

By Louise Gray

Now scientists have shown that “interacting with nature”, even in the middle of winter, boosts memory and concentration levels.

In fact, just an hour strolling through countryside increases the brain’s performance by a fifth.

In contrast a walk through busy streets, perhaps shopping for sales bargains, has no improving effect on the brain at all.

The research was carried out at the University of Michigan. One group was sent out on a 50-minute walk through streets lined with office buildings and busy with traffic while the other took a secluded, tree-lined route.

Afterwards the volunteers’ mental skills were assessed in a series of tests, and compared to their performance before setting off on the walks. Results showed that those who took the “nature route” improved their short-term memory by 20 per cent. There were no improvements after walking down city streets.

It is thought that the countryside is “restorative” because it allows people to switch off, while walking in towns and cities requires attention.

Marc Berman, a researcher at the University of Michigan, suggested a dose of nature can help cure mental fatigue.

“I would highly recommend going away for a little break in the country or simply going for a walk in a park in a town,” he said. “Our research has shown that this really is not subjective – the effects on memory and attention are real.”

The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, also found memory and attention improved after simply looking at pictures of nature rather than photos of built-up areas.

Mr Berman added: “Interacting with nature can have similar effects as meditating. You don’t hear people say, ‘Well, I got really tired out looking at this beautiful waterfall’. Nature does not make any demands of you.'”

Pentagon prepares to restore order to economic unrest

The report suggests the new (Barack Obama) administration could face a “strategic shock” within the first eight months in office.

Study: DoD May Act On US Civil Unrest

McClatchy | Dec 29, 2008

A U.S. Army War College report warns an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Nathan Freir wrote the report “Known Unknowns: Unconventional Strategic Shocks in Defense Strategy Development,” which the Army think tank in Carlisle, Pa., recently released.

“Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities … to defend basic domestic order and human security,” the report said, in case of “unforeseen economic collapse,” “pervasive public health emergencies,” and “catastrophic natural and human disasters,” among other possible crises.

The report also suggests the new (Barack Obama) administration could face a “strategic shock” within the first eight months in office.

Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said the Army post is not involved in any recent talks about a potential military response to civil unrest.

The report become a hot Internet item after Phoenix police told the Phoenix Business Journal they’re prepared to deal with such an event, and the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, Dominique Strauss-Khan, said social unrest could spread to advanced countries if the global economic crisis worsens.

Javier Sambrano, spokes-man for the El Paso Police Department, said city police have trained for years so they can address any contingency, but not with the military.

“The police (department) trains on an ongoing basis as part of its Mobile Field Force Training,” Sambrano said. “As a result, the police will be able to respond to emergency situations, such as looting or a big civil unrest. The police (department) does not train with Soldiers.”

Earlier this year, Pentagon officials said as many as 20,000 Soldiers under the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) will be trained within the next three years to work with civilian law enforcement in homeland security.

Joint Task Force-North, a joint command at Biggs Army Airfield, which conducts surveillance and intelligence along the border, comes under NORTHCOM. No one was available at JTF-North to comment on the Army War College’s report. NORTHCOM was created after the 9-11 attacks to coordinate homeland security efforts.

Soldiers under the former Joint Task Force-6 (now JTF-North) supported the Border Patrol in El Paso with its drug-interdiction operations.

In case civilian authorities request help or become overwhelmed, El Paso has several National Guard and military reserve units that can be called on. In 1992, National Guard and active Marine and Army units were deployed to help police control riots and looting in Los Angeles.

Charles Boehmer, political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, was skeptical about the Army War College report.

“The military was not called out during the Great Depression, and I don’t think our economic problems are as bad as they were then,” he said. “The military always has contingency plans. It’s a think tank’s job to come up with scenarios, but that doesn’t mean it represents an active interest on the part of the (Pentagon).”

The sinister resurrection of Stalin

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The Soviet leader’s triumphant imperialism is the key to his rehabilitation under Putin, believes Anne Applebaum.

Telegraph | Dec 29, 2008

Who is the greatest Russian of all time? In the unlikely event that you answered “Stalin”, you would be in good company. One of the 20th century’s most horrific dictators has just come third in an opinion poll conducted by a Russian television station. Some 50 million people are said to have voted.

Myself, I have some doubts about the veracity of this poll, particularly given that the television station in question is state-owned, and therefore manipulated by the Kremlin. Also, first place went to Alexander Nevsky, a medieval prince who defeated German invaders – and an ideal symbol for the Putinist regime, which prides itself on its defiance of the West. Second place went to Piotr Stolypin, a turn-of-the-century economic reformer who, among other things, gave his name to the cattle cars (Stolypinki) in which prisoners were transported to Siberia – another excellent symbol for the “reformer with an iron fist” label to which both Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev aspire.

Both seem too good to be true; neither had ever before seemed like candidates for such an august title. Had the poll been completely free, I expect Stalin would have come in first place. Why wouldn’t he? After all, the government, media and teaching professions in Russia have spent a good chunk of the past decade trying to rehabilitate him – and not by accident.

All nations politicise history to some extent, of course. But in Russia, the tradition of falsification and manipulation of the past is deeper and more profound than almost anywhere else. In its heyday, the KGB retouched photographs to remove discredited comrades, changed history books to put other comrades in places where they had not been, monitored and tormented professional historians. Russia’s current leaders are their descendants, sometimes literally.

But even those who are not the children of KGB officers were often raised and trained inside the culture of the KGB – an organisation that believed that history was not neutral but rather something to be used, cynically, in the battle for power. In Putinist Russia, events are present in textbooks, or absent from official culture, because someone has taken a conscious decision that it should be so.

And, clearly, a decision has been made about Stalin. In a recently released, officially sanctioned Russian history textbook, in public celebrations and official speeches, the attitude towards him runs something like this: “Mistakes were made… errors were committed… but great things were achieved. And it was all worth it.”

This public portrayal of Stalin is highly selective. The many, many millions who died in the Gulag, in mass deportations or in mass murders are mentioned only as a kind of aside. Stalin’s purges of his closest colleagues and revolutionary comrades are given short shrift. The terror that made people afraid to speak their minds openly, that made children turn their parents in to the police, that stunted families and friendships, is absent from most contemporary accounts. Even Stalin’s programmes of industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation – which modernised the country at enormous cost to the population, the environment, and Russia’s long-term economic health – are not dwelled upon.

Instead, it is Stalin’s wartime leadership that is widely celebrated, and in particular his moment of imperial triumph in 1945, when Soviet-style communism was imposed on Russia’s western neighbours. In that year, Eastern Europe became a Russian colony and, more to the point, Stalin negotiated as an equal with Roosevelt and Churchill.

Annually, Russia’s May celebrations of the anniversary of victory in 1945 grow more elaborate. Last year, they included several thousand Russian soldiers dressed in Soviet uniforms, waving the Soviet flag and singing Soviet songs. Major pieces of weaponry were paraded across Red Square, just like in the old days, to enormous applause.

Books about the war have also now become a major publishing phenomenon in a country that, up until a few years ago, hardly published any popular history at all. Most major bookstores now have a war section, often featuring books like one I picked up in Moscow a few months ago. Entitled We Defeated Berlin and Frightened New York, it is the memoir of a pilot who describes the joy of bombing raids and revels in Russia’s long-lost power to frighten others.

Even more significant is the role that the celebration of the Soviet Union’s imperial zenith now plays in a larger narrative about recent Russian history, namely the story of the 1980s and the 1990s. Famously, Putin once said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, presumably larger than either world war. He, along with the Russian media and the current Russian president who echo him, now considers the more open discussion of the Stalinist past that took place during Gorbachev’s glasnost to have been a distraction, a moment of national weakness. More to the point, they openly attribute the economic hardships of the 1990s not to decades of communist neglect and widespread theft, but to deliberate Western meddling, Western-style democracy and Western-style capitalism.

In fact, this argument now lies at the heart of the current Russian leadership’s popular legitimacy. Summed up, it goes something like this: communism was stable and safe; post-communism was a disaster. Putinism, within which Medvedev fits naturally, represents a return at last to the stability and safety of the communist period. Cheer for Stalin, cheer for Putin, cheer for Medvedev, and the media will once again be predictable, salaries will be paid on time, Russia’s neighbours will be cowed, and Russia’s leaders will, once again, negotiate on equal terms with the leaders of the West.

Besides, the more people take pride in the Stalinist past, the less likely they are to want a system that is more genuinely democratic and genuinely capitalist – a system in which the Russians might, for example, vote their president out of power, or hold a street revolution of the kind that brought down corrupt, post-Soviet governments in Georgia and Ukraine. The more nostalgia there is for Soviet-era symbols, the more secure the KGB clique is going to be.

None of which implies that the current Russian government is itself Stalinist either. As the recent election of Medvedev proved, Putin does not need that level of repression in order to stay in power. Too much violence might even threaten his legitimacy which is, as I say, based on an implied guarantee of stability and safety.

Nor was this rewriting of history ever inevitable. Despite the clichés people often spout about Russians invariably leaning towards authoritarianism or dictatorship, Russia was never condemned to celebrate this version of history.

On the contrary, a future government could, instead, rediscover the legacy of Russian liberalism at the beginning of the 20th century or even the legacy of the Russian dissidents, who in the 1960s and 1970s essentially invented what we now call the modern human rights movement. Every country has a right to celebrate some positive elements of its past, and Russia is no exception. But that Putin and his colleagues have chosen, of all things, to celebrate Stalinist imperialism tells us a good deal about their vision of their country’s future.

Anne Applebaum is the author of ‘Gulag: a History’ (Penguin)

Lung tumours ‘could grow faster’ due to processed food

Lung cancer tumours could grow faster because of an ingredient in processed food, a study has claimed.

Telegraph | Dec 30, 2008

Lung tumours ‘could grow faster’ due to processed food

Inorganic phosphates are used in a wide range of meat, seafood, cheese and bakery products to preserve flavour and texture.

Common consumption levels of the chemicals may fuel lung tumour development in susceptible individuals, say the researchers.

Scientists working with mice discovered that high doses of inorganic phosphates stimulate a cancer-promoting biological pathway in the lungs.

At the same time the activity of anti-cancer genes is reduced.

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in the world and affects 38,500 people each year in the UK. The disease kills 34,000 people in the UK each year, more than a fifth of all those who die from cancer.

Although smoking is known to cause 90 per cent of lung cancers, only about 8 per cent of smokers develop the disease.

Research suggests that a minority of the population is genetically predisposed to lung cancer. The new findings suggest that inorganic phosphates in everyday foods may add to the effect of smoking and help the disease develop in these vulnerable individuals.

An international team of scientists carried out the study of mice genetically engineered to develop lung cancer.

Over a period of four weeks, the mice were fed a diet containing either 0.5 per cent or 1 per cent inorganic phosphates – a range roughly equivalent to that found in human diets.

At the end of the study period the animals’ lung tissue was analysed.

Dr Myung-Haing Cho, from Seoul National University in South Korea, who led the research, said: “Our results clearly demonstrated that the diet higher in inorganic phosphates caused an increase in the size of the tumours and stimulated the growth of the tumours.”

The scientists found that the dietary phosphates stimulated activity of a protein called Akt in the lungs. Akt is a signalling molecule that helps regulate a range of processes such as metabolism and cell proliferation. It is also known to play a role in cancer development, helping cells to survive and multiply out of control.

Previous research has shown that 90 per cent of non-small cell lung cancers, the most common form of the disease, are linked to the Akt pathway.

The mouse study also showed that high consumption of inorganic phosphates reduced the activity of two tumour suppressing genes.

Dr Cho pointed out that the amount of inorganic phosphates added to processed foods had increased greatly in recent years.

“In the 1990s, phosphorous-containing food additives contributed an estimated 470 milligrams per day to the average daily adult diet,” he said.

“However, phosphates are currently being added much more frequently to a large number of processed foods, including meats, cheeses, beverages, and bakery products. As a result, depending on individual food choices, phosphorous intake could be increased by as much as 1000 milligrams per day.

“Although the 0.5 per cent was defined as close to ‘normal’, the average diet today is actually closer to the 1 per cent diet and may actually exceed it. Therefore, the 0.5 per cent intake level is actually a reduced phosphate diet by today’s scale.”

The findings were reported today in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

They showed that increased intake of inorganic phosphates “strongly” stimulated lung cancer development in mice, said Dr Cho.

He added: “Dietary regulation of inorganic phosphates may be critical for lung cancer treatment as well as prevention.”

Professor Stephen Spiro, deputy chairman of the British Lung Foundation, said: “This is an interesting study, which points the way for potential new research. The authors claim that in mice with lung cancer a diet high in phosphates increases lung cancer growth rates.

“Whilst this may be a relevant observation it has never been assessed in man, and any recent increase in high phosphate ingestion due to excessive phosphates in processed foodstuffs would be likely to take many years before they could affect tumour development in humans. This study does suggest that it may be worth while assessing phosphate ingestion in the modern diet, however further study would be required to ascertain any link in humans.”

Dr Kat Arney, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Although these results from mice are interesting it’s still too early to say for sure that the findings also apply to humans. But we do know that eating a lot of processed meat can increase the risk of certain cancers. It’s also important to remember that smoking is by far the main cause of lung cancer and quitting is the best way to reduce the risk of this disease.”

A spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency said: “We will need to assess the full details of this study before making any comment.”

Sex offenders volunteer for ‘chemical castration’ drug treatment

Sex offenders are being given drugs which lower their libido and make it difficult for them to reoffend, in a voluntary scheme introduced by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary.

Telegraph | Dec 27, 2008

By David Barrett

So far 11 men have put themselves forward for the pioneering project, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Those receiving the treatment, which has been dubbed “chemical castration”, include prison inmates and offenders who have been released from custody and are living in the community.

They are being given Prozac, which reduces their sex drive, or other categories of drugs known as anti-androgens.

Ministers are now being asked to set up a national clinic dedicated to handing out the medication to paedophiles and rapists who volunteer for the treatment.

The current project, which is being overseen by Professor Don Grubin, a forensic psychiatrist at Newcastle University’s Institute of Neuroscience, could be the first step towards wider use of the technique.

However, experts have warned that it could prove impractical to impose the medication on sex offenders in a compulsory programme.

Earlier this year, Poland became the first European Union country to begin moves towards the compulsory chemical castration of convicted paedophiles, after public outrage over the case of a 45-year-old man accused of fathering two children by his young daughter.

Prof Grubin said: “I am suggesting that consideration should be given to a formal national clinic. We are in the early stages of that and have had preliminary discussions with ministers about it.

“I certainly think it would be a benefit. A national clinic would work on prescribing and monitoring protocols and allow psychiatrists to gain a second opinion from me.”

Donald Findlater, director of research and development at The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a child protection charity, warned the scheme would probably not be relevant to the majority of sex offenders.

He said: “It certainly is a good idea but people need to be realistic about what we are talking about.

“It is going to be particularly targeted at those where an inability to control sexual urges is a major component in their offending, which is not typical for most sex offenders.”

Anti-androgens block receptors in the body to inhibit or block the effects of the male sex hormones. The dosage used to treating sex offenders can reduce testosterone levels to those of a pre-pubescent boy.

The alternative drug used in the scheme, Prozac, stimulates the brain’s production of the enzyme serotonin, which can cause loss of libido.

Professor David Wilson, a criminologist from Birmingham City University, warned that chemical castration should not be regarded as the solution to all types of sex offending.

“I would want to see this very carefully monitored in terms of whether it reduces the number of children who are attacked by predatory paedophiles,” said the academic, who has worked with two British sex offenders who took part in similar schemes after being convicted overseas.

“Chemical castration is not a cure-all and it will not simply magic the problem of paedophiles away. It can deal with the physical part of the libido but not the psychological phenomenon.

“It is only part of the arsenal that should be used against these predatory offenders.”

He said some offenders simply inflicted other kinds of deviant behaviour on their victims if they were unable to perform sexually due to the drugs.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Evidence suggests that certain types of medication can be useful in reducing the risk from certain sex offenders.

“Medication is not necessarily a solution for the majority of sex offenders. There are specific risk factors for sexual offending which medication may assist with, but these risk factors are not present in all cases.

“Although this is not the only solution to the problem of sexual offending, we believe, in conjunction with other ways of managing the risk from sex offenders, the use of medication has an important role to play.

“In the last 12 months, we have introduced a service to make medication available to more sex offenders who meet the criteria for those likely to benefit.”

The spokeswoman refused to disclose further details of the offenders because of “medical confidentiality”. Research based on the results of the programme is expected to be published after it comes to a close in 2010.

Sweden, Denmark and Canada have offered voluntary chemical castration for some years. Some US states have both voluntary and compulsory programmes.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of probation union Napo, said: “There will be public support for compulsory programmes but they would be extraordinarily difficult to administer if the offender refuses.

“You would have to physically restrain them to administer the chemicals, and that could lead to legal challenges. The medical profession would be in great difficulty administering the drugs by force and may refuse to do it.”

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said the new project should be overseen by a judge.

“Whether consent has been given completely voluntarily should be monitored by a court because there should be no question of compulsory treatment in a civilised society,” she said.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “Any genuinely voluntary arrangement must be welcomed by every parent and everybody who cares about upholding decent standards in society.

“The danger if it topples over towards compulsory chemical castration is that it could be seen as a ‘cruel and unnecessary punishment’ which has been abhorred by successive statements of human rights going back to the English Bill of Rights in 1689.”

Oregon Eyes Taxing Vehicles Per Mile By Satellite

Albany Democrat Herald | Dec 29, 2008

A year ago, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced it had demonstrated that a new way to pay for roads — via a mileage tax and satellite technology — could work.

Now Gov. Ted Kulongoski says he’d like the legislature to take the next step.

As part of a transportation-related bill he has filed for the 2009 legislative session, the governor says he plans to recommend “a path to transition away from the gas tax as the central funding source for transportation.”

What that means is explained on the governor’s website:

“As Oregonians drive less and demand more fuel-efficient vehicles, it is increasingly important that the state find a new way, other than the gas tax, to finance our transportation system.”

According to the policies he has outlined online, Kulongoski proposes to continue the work of the special task force that came up with and tested the idea of a mileage tax to replace the gas tax.

The governor wants the task force “to partner with auto manufacturers to refine technology that would enable Oregonians to pay for the transportation system based on how many miles they drive.”

The online outline adds: “The governor is committed to ensuring that rural Oregon is not adversely affected and that privacy concerns are addressed.”

When the task force’s study and test were in the news in 2006 and 2007, critics worried that the technology could be used to track where vehicles go, not just how far they travel, and that this information would somehow be stored by the government.

In more than one interview with the Democrat-Herald and others, James Whitty, the ODOT official in charge of the project, tried to assure the public that tracking people’s travels was not in the plans.

The task force’s final report came out in November 2007. It was based largely on a field test in which about 300 motorists in the Portland area and two service stations took part over

10 months, ending in March 2007.

A GPS-based system kept track of the in-state mileage driven by the volunteers. When they bought fuel, a device in their vehicles was read, and they paid 1.2 cents a mile and got a refund of the state gas tax of 24 cents a gallon.

The final report detailed the technical aspects of the program. It also stressed the issue of privacy.

“The concept requires no transmission of vehicle travel locations, either in real time or of travel history,” the report said. “Accordingly, no travel location points are stored within the vehicle or transmitted elsewhere. Thus there can be no ‘tracking’ of vehicle movements.”

Also, the report said, under the Oregon concept of the program, “ODOT would have no involvement in developing the on-vehicle devices, installing them in vehicles, maintaining them or having any other access to them except, perhaps, in situations involving tampering or similar fee evasion activities.”

Equipment for the Oregon test was developed at Oregon State University.

Whitty said last year it might take about $20 million to establish that the mileage tax is commercially viable. Eventually, GPS devices would have to start being built into cars, and fueling stations would have to be similarly equipped.

The gas tax would stay in force — Kulongoski has proposed that it be raised 2 cents — for vehicles not equipped to pay the mileage tax.