Town Hall

April 24, 2011

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a town hall meeting with my representatives in state government. There were about 45 or so people there listening to State Senator Chip Shields, State Representative Tina Kotek, and State Representative Lew Frederick introduce themselves and talk about what they were doing down in Salem.

It was a two-hour town hall meeting and, honestly, I learned quite a bit about what my representatives are doing and how they think. What I saw was interesting; all three legislators are bright, engaging, interesting people and this town hall helped humanize them. The legislature’s facing a difficult task: they started a couple months ago facing a $3.5 billion dollar shortfall and there isn’t a politician in Salem who doesn’t have a constituent begging them not to cut certain services. Each of them made reference to trying to save certain programs, and each took questions from the audience that consisted of “how will you try to save [x] program that’s meaningful to me?”

Probably the most interesting initiative I heard didn’t have an emotional connection to anyone in the audience. It came from Rep. Frederick, who mentioned a bill – I didn’t catch the number – that was set to expand the brownfields program. Essentially, brownfields are previously used lands tainted by environmentally hazardous materials – oil, gasoline, battery acid, etc – that would, if sold and reused, require cleanup by the new owner. The problem is that this cleanup is horrendously expensive and tends to leave these sites as unused, vacant lots. Any measure that could help get these sites back into use at a reasonable cost is, in my mind, a win.

However, the overall theme of this town hall was how they’re trying to carve up what revenues the state has taken in when those revenues are too small to even minimally fund all the programs we used to have. It’s a constant battle; every little program is meaningful to someone, and our representatives are (hopefully) constantly trying to find the most effective way to spend each dollar. Ideally, they’re looking to get the most bang for the buck in terms of return on investment. That’s a cold, heartless way of having to cut a program that’s too expensive but helps a small number of people, but, in my opinion, it’s what has to be done.

Finally, after the town hall, I got to mee Rep. Kotek face-to-face. I briefly tossed my thoughts on the kicker to her. Knowing that we should be squirreling away any budget surpluses – as my own research has shown – I asked her thoughts on it. After all, while I don’t support runaway government spending, there are some programs I tend to enjoy and slashing government spending during times of high unemployment just perpetuates a negative feedback cycle. Rep. Kotek mentioned that there were some ideas being floated around the capitol regarding the kicker and how to try to capture at least some of that surplus for when we have, for instance, multibillion dollar budget shortfall. I was glad to hear this.

The town hall was something I’m glad I attended; I’d like definitely attend more. Meeting those people elected to represent me helps establish a connection with my state government and might help get my modest, centrist viewpoint represented more in Salem.


Frustration

August 6, 2010
Vilfredo Pareto argued that, in an optimal (or “Pareto-efficient“) system, it is impossible to make anyone better off without making someone else worse off.  As a matter of public policy, then, a Pareto improvement makes at least one person better off without making anybody else worse off.  Without assigning a value judgement to the outcome, a desire of public policy is, at a minimum, to achieve a Pareto improvement with every decision.

It is in this light that I consider the tenure of Mayor Sam Adams to be a complete and utter failure.  In no particular order:

- His drive to ban plastic bags from being used by stores and charge customers extra to suffer using worthless 1950s-style paper bags – or bring their own bag.  News flash: it’s a common practice in this city to either re-use these plastic bags (as garbage bags, among other things) or recycle them.  Banning them only makes life in this city that much more expensive, a task Sam Adams and his merry band of likeminded yes-men and yes-women have excelled at.

- His renaming of 39th Avenue to César Chávez Boulevard, which I’ve posted out previously.

- The installation of speed bumps on NW Germantown Road.  This shortsighted move satisfies a few local residents, making them, in Pareto terms, better off.  However, the rest of the city who uses that road – one of the few arterial roads allowing access that direction – now has to suffer with more brake wear and suspension wear on their cars, a more jarring travel in any sort of vehicle, a less enjoyable road, and less responsive emergency access.  I would say that most of Portland was made worse off by this decision, just another in the long line.

- The drive by Mayor Sam Adams to boost water and sewer rates – already among the highest in the nation, as pointed out in the article – to pay for more bike lanes.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t legal use of tax fees; instead, perhaps we should use the extraordinarily high sewer rates to fix the problems with the Portland’s sewer system.

… and here’s another interesting fact.  I was at a Central Eastside Industrial Council meeting a few months ago and someone mentioned that commercial occupancy in downtown Portland had been in a notable decline for almost a decade.  While I’m sure bike lanes make it more accessible to those people who don’t have to otherwise travel during their workday, it’s a benefit to a decreasing number of people while everybody in the city has to pay for it.

The aforementioned reasons are what stick out in my mind.  I can’t find anything that Sam Adams has done that benefits more people than it harms.  He truly has embraced the selfish idea that “the wants of the few outweigh the good of the many”.  Instead of focusing efforts on trying to help Portland thrive in a challenging economic environment, he and the city council have focused efforts on pet projects and headline-grabbing agendas, guaranteeing that my city will have that much more work ahead of it when he’s finally out of office.


The Healthcare Post

August 26, 2009

Healthcare.  The debate that has been raging in our country for well over a decade, when Hillary Clinton lost her push for universal healthcare during her husbands presidency.  Like so many conversations we have, this one hasn’t really changed.

It’s seems to center around several points:

  1. Should we, or should we not, ensure that every American receives health care?
  2. If yes, then should we, or should we not, ensure that every American has health insurance?
  3. If yes, then should it be payed for through taxation or through private corporations?
It really does feel like this...

It really does feel like this...

I have a feeling – at least locally – that we all want every American to get the medical care they need.  Furthermore, we all know that health insurance – the way it’s currently being run – is getting more expensive much faster than we can keep paying for it.  (It’s killing pension funds and certainly seems like the industry to be in.)

So the debate keeps raging.  Who will pay for it?  How will we pay for it?  There’s a lot of money to be made – or lost – and a lot of interests who want to keep it from changing.  This makes reform difficult, even before we start adding fear into the conversation.

I really despise politics of fear.  So it goes with the “death panels“, where fear, uncertainty, and doubt are thrown around in an attempt to muddle the debate and convince uninformed voters that change is bad and the government is trying to kill them.

I believe that you’ll never go wrong assuming that someone will act in his or her own best interests.

With that said, I don’t see it being in anybody’s best interest to kill me.  I do see it, however, as being the best interests of a lot of other parties to keep me near death.  Treatment is expensive and profitable, and the more treatment that can be provided (to me or to others) the more money there is to be made.  An ounce of prevention might be worth a pound of cure, but there’s much more money to be made in treatment than preventative medicine. 

So is it in my best interest to be beholden to private insurance companies to ensure that I get the care I need?  I’m almost certain that it’s not.  And with that revelation, I leave it as an excercise for the reader to determine how to fix this problem.


Enemies of the People

July 11, 2009

These are the current members of the Portland City Council:

  • Sam Adams, Mayor
  • Nick Fish, Commissioner of Public Works
  • Amanda Fritz, Commissioner of Public Utilities
  • Randy Leonard, Commissioner of Public Safety
  • Dan Saltzman, Commissioner of Public Affairs
  • LaVonne Griffin-Valade, Auditor of the City of Portland

This is their crime:

They have voted – unanimously – to rename 39th Ave in honor of César Chávez, the labor activist.

Now, it’s not that I have anything against the man; by all accounts he’s been very important to the history of our country. I’m just vigorously opposed to renaming 39th Ave. I believe in systems that work, and I believe that streets that are numbered numerically as you progress west or east of the Willamette River represent a good system. The members of the Portland City Council, regardless of any other qualities, have shown absolute disregard for that system. That, in my book, is unforgivable. There are plenty of new, important streets in the Metro area that could be named after him – renaming 39th is asinine!

So it is now my personal mission to ensure that none of these people – people who have demonstrated a blatant disregard for the citizens of the city and the systems that help make our city livable – are ever re-elected. I don’t care if they’re angles, saints, or can cure leprosy with the wave of a hand; they have unanimously chosen to ignore the greater common good. They must not be allowed near these positions again!

Stay tuned for more on this issue, folks. There will be elections sooner or later, and you’ll hear me out there!


The Winning Team

May 6, 2009

“When I heard Specter switched parties, I thought he became a Republican.” – attributed to Jason Roe, GOP strategist.

I have long been an admirer of Arlen Specter, the senior senator from Pennsylvania. He and Patrick Leahy, both on the Senate Judiciary Committee, are among my favorite senators. They both seem reasonably moderate, very intelligent, and I could listen to them both speak for hours. 90% of the time, they seem to “get it”, which is more than I can say for the rest of Congress.

Recently, Specter announced that he was joining the Democratic party, because, as he put it, he “felt the Republican Party had moved too far to the right”. Some say he didn’t think he could be re-elected as a Republican; I think he made the right decision. The Republican brand has been so weakened and damaged over the past eight years that anybody who’s left in the Republican party (no pun intended!) leans far more politically to the right than they used to. Would they elect someone like Arlen Specter?

In many ways I disagree with our highly dichotomous system of party affiliation. It seems that – in Washington D.C. – you’re either a Republican or you’re a Democrat. There’s no label for “moderate” or “centrist”. I know that, as the political winds shift, my personal label might change despite my views staying roughly the same, so I can certainly identify with his perspective.

There are concerns that he’s providing the Democrats with a 60-vote unblockable majority. I’m less worried about that. I don’t think he’s a party-line voter, and, when push comes to shove, I don’t think he’d vote with the bloc on important issues if he disagreed with them. (Still, I dislike any party having that many votes.)

In summary, I’m not sure this is really going to change anything; but I do think it’s interesting to watch.


Feeling stimulated

February 13, 2009

It would appear that H.R. 1 has passed both the House and Senate and is being ironed out before being presented to the President. (Note to New Hampshire residents: I’m not sure you’re getting your money’s worth out of Judd Gregg. He didn’t vote. Also a note to Minnesota residents: You might want to elect a senator at some point soon. It seems important.)

What is H.R. 1? Why, it’s the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009″, an attempt to deficit spend $850-ish billion dollars in a way that will “stimulate” the economy.

I’m not sure this is a good idea. A little bit of debt is good for the soul. But with a GDP of $13.84 trillion, is having a national debt of over $10 trillion such a good idea? (And it’ll be over $11 trillion by the time H.R. 1 gets signed into law.) I mean, having a mortgage is one thing, but this is almost like having credit card debt that equals your entire yearly pay. (More, in fact!)

So while I’m sure there are provisions in the stimulus that effect me, I’m not sure that saying “figure this out” to the people causing the problems wouldn’t be a better idea.


And it begins…

January 20, 2009

Moments ago, our 44th president was sworn in.

Good speech. The president – “we the people”. Acknowledging the difficulties ahead, understanding the problems we’ve been having. Yet bringing hope. Our challenges “will be met”, and it won’t be someone else’s problem. We have to do it ourselves.

God, I hope this works.


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