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Hedge fund run by Robert Mercer, who funded anti-DeFazio SuperPAC, may have dodged $6 billion in taxes

July 24, 2014 - 7:00am

It's a stunning story. According to an investigative report authored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), a handful of Wall Street banks and hedge fund managers created an "alternative universe" of financial transactions based on "a series of fictions" designed to help them avoid massive taxes.

According to the report, one firm -- Renaisssance Technologies -- may have dodged over $6 billion in taxes alone. (No, that's not a typo.)

You might remember Renaissance Technologies as the Wall Street hedge fund whose CEO is Robert Mercer -- the model-train enthusiast who personally funded the SuperPAC designed to take down Congressman Peter DeFazio in 2010 and 2012.

Why does Mercer want so ardently to defeat DeFazio, of all people? Here's a detail from the Levin/McCain report that tells the story, as reported by the NY Times:

Over the same one-year period, Renaissance Technologies would execute on average 26 million to 39 million trades in stocks and bonds, many of those positions being held for just a few seconds, according to the subcommittee’s findings.

Yup, at least 26 million trades a year -- that's 500,000 a week. And that makes Peter DeFazio a serious threat to this particular hedge fund manager's way of life. After all, DeFazio's the fellow who has proposed taxing every single individual trade -- not 10%, not 1%, not even 0.1% -- but just 0.03%. Three cents on every $100 trade.

And while a 0.03% tax would cost you -- were you to be fairly successful and socking away $1000 a month for your retirement -- a whopping $3.60 a year, it would cost guys like Robert Mercer millions. Maybe even tens of millions. Or hundreds of millions.

Or more likely, it would mean that doing 500,000+ trades each week would no longer be a plausible strategy -- thus helping end automated trading and the inherent risk of "flash crashes" and other plagues on our economy.

No word yet on whether Mercer -- like his puppet, Art Robinson -- is back for a third shot at DeFazio, though he's already in for the legal max of $5200 in direct donations.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Can LeBron James Inspire Corporate America?

July 21, 2014 - 11:32am

Reading the business pages is depressing these days. Every time you look, there’s another big company doing an “inversion” – merging with an overseas company in order to renounce its American citizenship to avoid taxes. And that’s just the new trend; old-fashioned tax avoidance is still going strong, too. Recently, Floyd Norris of the New York Times wrote about the corporate practice of pretending that a large share of their income was generated from somewhat unlikely places:

Did you know that United States companies earned $129 billion in 2010 in three small groups of islands?

That is what they told the Internal Revenue Service they earned in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands.

Those islands together had a population of 147,400 that year, about equal to that of Joliet, Ill. Assuming you believe those figures, the productivity of workers in those countries is amazing. On average, United States companies had profits of $873,611 per person living in those islands."

I thought about these stories when LeBron James announced that he was returning to Cleveland – one of the most heartwarming developments of the decade, in my book. I found myself wondering if there is any chance that corporate America might follow James’ example.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to pick up the Wall Street Journal one day and see an op-ed by the Fortune 500 (as a group), echoing James’ beautiful essay in Sports Illustrated? Something like this:

Our relationship with the United States is bigger than profits. We’ve been forgetting that for the past few decades. LeBron James made us remember.

Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, for us, have been almost like college for other kids. Without the experiences we had there, we wouldn’t be able to do what we're doing today.

But we feel our calling here goes above business. We have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and we take that very seriously.

Our money can make a difference in the Cayman Islands, but we think it can mean more where we’re from. We want kids in the good old U.S. of A. to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make us smile.

Our nation, which has struggled so much in recent decades, needs all the talent it can get.

In America, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

We’re ready to accept the challenge.

We’re coming home."

Wouldn’t that be just great?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Vic Atiyeh, Oregon's last Republican governor, has passed away at age 91

July 20, 2014 - 9:05pm

Vic Atiyeh, who was elected Governor of Oregon in 1978 and served two terms, has passed away at age 91.

He is the last Republican to have served as Governor of Oregon. He was also America's first Arab-American governor.

The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes tells the story of Atiyeh's about-face on taxes during his first term as Governor:

Sworn into office on Jan. 8, 1979, the new governor soon faced a nightmare combination of events.

A Mideast oil embargo in 1979 caused an increase in interest rates, which caused a sharp drop in housing starts, which, in turn, caused a drastic slowdown in the wood products industry. State revenues plummeted.

But, as a result of prosperous times during the late 1970s, the state also had a record $600 million budget windfall. The Legislature passed a tax relief package that included a 30 percent reduction in some property taxes.

Atiyeh would later regret signing it. When state revenues plummeted, government was left with a shortfall approaching $700 million. Atiyeh called special budget-cutting sessions in 1980 and three more special sessions in 1982, including a record 37-day special session.

The first-term Republican governor had to deal with a Democratically controlled Legislature. But Gary Wilhelms, who was House Republican minority leader at the time, said Atiyeh had the advantage of knowing the Democratic leaders because he'd served with them in the House and Senate.

"They trusted him," Wilhelms said. "He was a man of his word."

Atiyeh led the Legislature through a series of budget cuts that included cutting welfare at a time when families needed it most. At the same time, the Atiyeh pushed to create Oregon Food Share, the nation's first statewide food bank.

After they concluded that no more could be cut, Atiyeh and Democratic legislative leaders agreed to an income tax surcharge raising the top rate from 10 percent to 10.9 percent. They also hiked cigarette taxes, curbed business tax deductions and cut a property tax relief program.

They didn't ask voters to approve the higher taxes. They just did it.

"During tough times you do everything you need to do," Atiyeh said years later. "You don't worry about getting re-elected. You get the job done."

Rest in peace, Governor.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Pacific Power’s got you hooked on Coal

July 18, 2014 - 9:44am

By Amy Hojnowski, of Portland. Amy is the Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

Check your electric bill. Does it say Pacific Power on it? Then let me be the first to tell you: you are addicted to coal. What, you say? Oregon doesn’t use coal power. That’s another state’s problem, right? Wrong. Over two-thirds of the energy Pacific Power supplies to their half-a-million customers in Oregon comes from out-of-state coal. But last week, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) issued a final order on the long-term energy mix of PacifiCorp, operating as Pacific Power in Oregon. Their final decision was clear: no more business as usual for coal-dependent Pacific Power.

For the last year, the Commissioners have been outspoken in their skepticism that Pacific Power’s fleet-wide, multi-billion coal expenditures provide the least-cost option for Oregon customers. In their final decision last week, the Commissioners refused to acknowledge Pacific Power’s coal expenditures at two of the Jim Bridger units in Wyoming and one unit at the Hunter plant in Utah, which means that Pacific Power will likely face significant challenges seeking additional rate hikes to pay for their coal.

The company’s rates in Oregon have already increased 61 percent during the last seven years, accounting for the billions spent to prop up dirty coal plants in other states. PGE, for example, uses half as much coal and their rate increases have been significantly less than Pacific Power’s.

The PUC’s final order reflects their findings that Pacific Power is putting its customers at risk of large price increases by investing in its coal fleet rather than honestly considering real investments in viable alternatives like wind and solar that create jobs here in Oregon. The Commission is charged with making sure that Pacific Power and all utilities are providing their customers with the least cost, least risk energy options, and clearly coal doesn’t cut it anymore.

While other utility companies in Oregon move more quickly toward affordable clean energy options, Pacific Power continues to cling to its outdated coal plants. Cheaper, safer and cleaner sources of energy like wind and solar are available now but account for less than 10% of Pacific Power’s energy mix and their long-term planning shows virtually no change.

Pacific Power’s customers expect more from their utility and are often shocked to learn how much coal they buy in their monthly bill. The reality is that the coal industry is dying out and the future is in modern solutions like wind and solar. Looming overhead are further public health protections and the first national standards limiting carbon pollution from power plants—a key driver of climate disruption—making dirty coal even more expensive and a shaky investment proposition. Even new analysis from Citigroup shows that coal is priced out of the market, while solar and wind power are already competing on costs with dirty fuels.

Meanwhile, Oregon is home to a burgeoning clean energy economy. There is no reason for Pacific Power to continue to burn coal in other states to power homes here in Oregon, other than to continue business as usual. Oregon ranks 5th in the nation for total wind energy installation and there is enough solar energy installed in the state to power over 7,000 homes. Investments in local solar and wind power will keep money in Oregon and provide jobs. A new report from the American Wind Energy Association shows that the states with the most wind power see electricity prices decline, while other states see price increases.

The Oregon Public Utility Commission stood up for Oregonians and sent a clear signal to Pacific Power that the utility cannot keep dumping money into outdated coal plants and expect customers to pick up the bill. Now it’s time for citizens and elected officials to engage and call for a truly coal-free Oregon. Together we can stop importing dirty coal from Pacific Power and start investing in clean energy.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Merkley: Birth control access is an economic issue

July 17, 2014 - 4:00pm

Yesterday, the Senate debated a bill to overturn the ridiculous Hobby Lobby decision that allows employers to declare a religious objection to complying with the federal law mandating birth control coverage in all insurance plans.

Many conservatives have been running around saying that the decision doesn't bar anyone from getting birth control; just the insurance to cover it. Well, you can always count on our own Senator Jeff Merkley to make it absolutely clear how these policies impact working-class families in blue-collar neighborhoods:

You can watch his entire seven-minute speech. Here's the section that really hit home with me:

It really is about women's access to fundamental health care. Whether contraceptives are used for family planning or for painful medical conditions like endometriosis, birth control is essential health care for millions of Americans.

And while some are trying to say that this case has nothing to do with access to birth control, that is simply not true.

For most working families affordability is access.

Without insurance, birth control can cost tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. A third of women in America say they have struggled with the cost of birth control at some point in their lives.

For a working family getting by month to month, often paycheck to paycheck, these costs -- though they might be dismissd by Washington pundits and even politicians here across the aisle -- those costs add up. And they can put contraception out of reach.

And a lack of insurance coverage can certainly make certain kinds of contraception totally unafforable.

As Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent, the upfront cost of an IUD is equivalent to nearly a month's wages for a minimum-wage worker. In the blue-collar community that I live in, in working America, a month's wages is a very big deal. Not having insurance coverage equals not having access.

Meanwhile, his opponent -- Monica Wehby -- has been parroting those right-wing talking points. Gee, what's the big deal? Just pay for it yourself! Easy for a pediatric neurosurgeon to say.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

A decade of BlueOregon

July 17, 2014 - 12:00pm

Well, folks, it's been 10 years of BlueOregon.

Hard to believe, actually, but it was on July 17, 2004, that we launched this little experiment. Since that time, we've had 10,317 posts from exactly 99 contributors and just over 1000 guest columnists. This little site has generated just over 14 million pageviews and over a quarter million comments. To everyone that's pitched in to make this the water cooler for Oregon progressives, especially our contributors, thank you.

In celebration, I thought I'd share a few of my own favorite posts over the last ten years. I've invited our other contributors to post their favorites from their own personal archives, too.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Hey, so whatever happened to David Wu?

July 16, 2014 - 1:36pm

Over at Buzzfeed, reporter Kate Nocera caught up with disgraced former Congressman David Wu. A few highlights:

He's hanging around on Capitol Hill:

But three years later, he’s still hanging around the Capitol. Wu sightings are generally met with snickering and tweets from reporters, cringes from his former staffers, and confused looks from some current members who greet him with half-smiles when they run into him. (“Is that guy still a member?” one freshman lawmaker asked a reporter recently). ...

He's figured out how to make a living:

His main stream of income seems to be coming from consulting Chinese companies about investing in the United States (“We sent $3 trillion over the last 30 years and I think it’s a good idea to repatriate some of that money,” he says). The rest of his time, he says, is spent going around the country “giving speeches and encouraging young people to get more involved in civic engagement.” ...

And he's donating a few bucks here and there:

He is the treasurer of a political action committee, the Education and Opportunity Fund. Filings show the PAC doesn’t do a lot, beyond small donations to local parties and a few House candidates, like Rep. Mike Honda, whom Wu considers a friend. It’s the small donations to local parties he considers “incredibly meaningful.”

“Some of the county parties at home are never appreciated, never supported,” he says. “By Washington standards they aren’t high donations, but they are incredibly meaningful. No one says thank you, no one shows their appreciation.”

He may not be in Oregon these days, but don't you worry he'll be back soon enough:

Wu says there’s a legitimate reason he’s still in the District. The terms of his divorce state he needs to remain there until his two teenage children have graduated from high school. He plans to one day return to Oregon, where he spent years as a lawyer before running an underdog campaign for Congress. “It’s the only place I ever chose for myself,” he says. “I consider myself an Oregonian and I fully intend to go home.”

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The superbug health crisis breeding at Oregon farms

July 16, 2014 - 9:00am

By Zoe Abbott Boyd of Portland, Oregon. Zoe is a senior in economics and political science at Lewis and Clark College, currently engaged in a summer internship with OSPIRG working on a campaign to limit the use of antibiotics on factory farms in Oregon.

As the effectiveness of essential antibiotic drugs is rapidly declining we are faced with a major crisis in public health. These wonder drugs have saved countless lives all over the world, yet unchecked misuse and overuse of antibiotics is causing an alarming increase in antibiotic-resistant germs. If we don’t act now, the age of lifesaving antibiotics as we know it may soon be over.

A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) alerts, a without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill. Currently, 23,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, while a further two million are sickened.

Why are these vital drugs failing, and what can we do about it?

A big problem is that eighty percent of the antibiotics in the United States are used on factory farms to feed to healthy animals. Pumping antibiotics into healthy animals not only prevents them from becoming sick in overcrowded, filthy conditions, but antibiotics also cause animals to fatten up faster.

However, the Pew Charitable Trust warns that over the past four decades there have been hundreds of studies showing that feeding antibiotics to livestock breeds resistant superbugs which then infiltrate our air, food, water, and eventually our bodies.

Operating within Oregon, Foster Farms is one of a number of companies that routinely uses antibiotics during livestock operations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the yearlong outbreak of salmonella heidelberg in Foster Farms poultry contained antibiotic resistant strains and sickened at least 416 people.

A letter, signed by more than 30 health, environmental and animal welfare groups, including several in Oregon, asserts that “Antibiotic resistance was a significant feature of the Salmonella outbreak” yet Foster Farms has failed to take steps to prevent future proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria from their products.

New agricultural policy is crucial to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant germs.

For the past 40 years, the Food and Drug Administration has approved antibiotics for use in livestock feed. If we want to continue benefiting from antibiotic medicine a and stop minor infections and injuries from becoming severe, the FDA must act.

In December 2013, after years of discussion, the FDA implemented voluntary guidelines intended to phase out the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for production purposes. While this is a step in the right direction, in order for us to see real change, these guidelines need to be made permanent and enforceable.

The guidelines will be reexamined in three years to decide if enforceable regulation in Oregon is necessary. We now have a clear timeframe to demonstrate the importance of limiting antibiotic use on factory farms. Policy makers must make addressing this major breach in the health and safety of the American public a major priority.

To prevent the World Health Organization’s fear of a post-antibiotic future from becoming a reality, we need to stop the spread of superbugs and that means ending the misuse and overuse of antibiotics.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Net neutrality and the fight to save democracy

July 15, 2014 - 6:00am

Will the internet remain open and free? Or will there be "fast lanes" and "slow lanes" for rich and powerful companies?

Today, the FCC closes the current phase of public comments, though another round of "comments on the comments" will soon open.

Yesterday, Senator Ron Wyden weighed in:

“It is impossible to permit pay-to-play discrimination without disadvantaging everyone who does not pay. Paid prioritization is destined to result in an Internet that tilts in favor of well-established and deep-pocketed players. And it is destined to create a set of disincentives for improving the technology for the benefit of all,” Wyden said.

“The answer is to preserve an open Internet by classifying today’s Internet as what it is -- a telecommunications service. This does not mean over-regulating the Internet. It means using a scalpel to deal with a specific market failure that threatens the public interest. I have always been a vocal advocate for applying a light touch to Internet regulation.”

We've already seen what happens to the public interest when broadcasting companies (Clear Channel, ahem) use their market power to squash progressive talk radio. If we allow the internet to become a place where the big corporations run roughshod over startups, small businesses, and bloggers, well, it just won't be the same internet.

And consumers and democracy will be the losers. Keep up the fight, Senator Wyden. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

The Yakama Nation vs. Coal Pollution

July 11, 2014 - 3:00pm

Tribal objection to coal pollution like the objections of conservationists and sportsmen alike has seemingly been not enough to stop coal from threatening the fisheries of the Columbia River.

After all, no less than the New York Times has been detailing the opposition of Native American tribes to northwest coal export proposals since 2012, as have flagship tribal media outlets, and tribal organizations themselves.

Yet the Corps of Engineers still doesn't feel the need to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement review, despite the tons of coal dust and acid rain getting ready to roll into our waters as a result.

And just this spring the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality approved three coal export permits as if it were business as usual.

But something important seems to be changing.

When Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber made his most recent comment on coal exports, he proclaimed his opposition to coal and the grounds he cited was "that the proposed facility would destroy at least three Native American fishing sites protected by the treaty"

What the Governor is referring to is the Treaty of 1855 between the United States and the Yakama Nation that guarantees, in exchange for land and peace offered by the Yakama, that the Yakama people would forever enjoy the right to fish in all their usual and accustomed places, and the right to live free of damages to those rights.

What that means is that not only must our governments allow traditional tribal fishing, but they must also preserve those traditional fisheries and the habitat they require.

Importantly though, only the Governor's rhetoric has changed, so far. The permit is still pending.

But the fact that Governor Kitzhaber is acknowledging his duties to uphold tribal treaty rights and highlighting those rights is exceptional, and that must be giving the investors and the pr firms that are counting on coal more than enough reason to start hedging their bets.

If coal exports are halted as a direct result of tribal opposition, than not only will we have Governor Kitzhaber to thank, but also the Yakama Nation and other tribal leaders as well, for taking a stand that will benefit all of us, and the salmon, for generations to come.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Marijuana is now legal and for sale in Washington. Will Oregon be next?

July 8, 2014 - 11:00am

As Oregonians get ready to consider legalizing marijuana, we get a chance to see how the process unfolds for our neighbors to the north.

The first retail shops in the state are opening today, with a pair of shops opening their doors just across the state line in Vancouver tomorrow.

Of course, there appear to be some real problems with the legal supply of marijuana for the retailers. From NBC News:

The state faces a huge backlog for licenses. There are only 18 license reviewers sifting through thousands of applications. The first approvals for growers didn’t go out until March, which left at most two growing cycles to stock the shelves.

That's created an inescapable shortage of product, and a growing population of desperate, irate business people. Some have already gone under as opening day was delayed again and again. Others are trying to sell or hold on long enough to break even. ...

As a result the price of a gram could exceed $30 dollars, compared to half that or less in the park around the corner or the medical shop a block away.

Of course, once it gets really going, we'll see what the impact really is. In Colorado, sales -- and thus, tax revenues -- have been well below expectations.

And yet, I can say from personal observation this spring, it seems that half the people walking around downtown Denver are stoned.

My question for you: As marijuana legalizes in Washington, what will you be watching for? Is there a real-life result that would change your mind from No to Yes, or Yes to No?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Great news! The Hobby Lobby ruling does not apply in Oregon

July 7, 2014 - 3:00pm

By Michele Stranger Hunter of Portland, Oregon. Michele is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon

After last week's ruling on the highly anticipated Hobby Lobby case, the country is on high alert. In a shocking 5-4 vote, for-profit companies can now use religious objections to avoid paying for contraception coverage required by the Affordable Care Act. This is the first time the Supreme Court has granted for-profit companies the ability to discrimination based on religious beliefs.

From the moment the ruling was announced, the conversation began to swirl, “how does this ruling affect women in Oregon?” Our coalition partners, ACLU of Oregon executive director Dave Fidanque and legislative director Becky Straus gave us the best news! The Hobby Lobby ruling does not apply in Oregon. Oregon once again protects women!

The ruling pertained to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, enacted by President Clinton, which prevented laws that burden how someone can exercise their religion. This only applies to actions by the federal government, the portion of RFRA that applied to the states was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997 and the decision to enforce was left up to each individual state. Oregon is 1 of 19 states that has not passed RFRA.

In addition to Oregon not passing the RFRA, Oregon did pass a law in 2007, the Access to Birth Control Act (known nationally as a contraceptive equity law), making all prescription methods used to prevent pregnancy covered by any health plan that includes prescription benefits; (see ORS 743A.066). Insurance plans must comply with Oregon insurance law which requires all plans with prescription medication coverage to cover birth control.

The second element at play in keeping Hobby Lobby decision from Oregon is that the Religious Freedom Restoration Freedom Act (RFRA) only applies to actions by the federal government. The portion of RFRA that applied to the states was overturned by the Supreme Court soon after it was passed by Congress. Oregon is 1 of 19 states that has not passed it. Insurance companies therefore have to comply with Oregon insurance law which requires all plans that cover prescription medications to cover birth control.

Birth control is basic health care for women and Oregon law says so, and Oregon elected officials agree. In 2007, when Governor Ted Kulongoski signed the contraceptive equity bill into law he said the new law "is fundamentally about women being able to make the best health care decisions for themselves and their families." And the Affordable Care Act should have made gender-based health care discrimination a thing of the past but the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision calls out women’s health care alone. The case that Oregon makes now is that yes, the Hobby Lobby decision is discrimination.

Shortly after the Hobby Lobby ruling, Senator Jeff Merkley -- who was instrumental in getting the contraceptive equity bill passed in 2007 as Speaker of the Oregon House -- released a statement calling out this discrimination:

“The Supreme Court decision will make it more difficult for women to make critical personal health choices and shows just how far we still have left to go to ensure total equality for women in the workplace and, unfortunately, even in the doctor’s office.”

Jeff Merkley is up for reelection this fall and his opponent, Oregon US Senate hopeful Monica Wehby, had a different opinion. Monica Wehby says that she supports their decision on Hobby Lobby. Wehby said that she doesn’t see a problem with the Hobby Lobby decision. She has been very clear that the same Justices who came to this misguided ruling are the ones she would confirm to the Supreme Court if she were a member of the US Senate. Wehby said that as long as every women still has access to contraception through a third party, she doesn't see a problem. Wehby clearly does not understand the full implications of the Hobby Lobby decision. No one should have to access third party benefits for basic health care.

Monica Wehby is personally against a woman’s rights to choose, and she would confirm anti-choice Supreme Court justices who want to overturn Roe v. Wade. After an editorial board interview with the Willamette Week, Monica Wehby described Justice Samuel Alito, the architect of this week’s ruling, as the Supreme Court Justice she “likes best of all.” She also describes Justice Antonin Scalia, perhaps the Court’s most conservative justice when it comes to women’s health, as her “ideal.” Justice Scalia believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and says “it can and should be overruled.” Scalia has called the Court’s decisions related to a woman’s right to choose, “utterly idiotic.” Monica Wehby wants voters to think she’s not going to Washington to change laws, but her embrace of the court’s most conservative justices says otherwise.

It is no secret that 99% of women use contraception sometime in their life for a variety of reasons. Denying a woman certain health care coverage is denying her fair payment for her work. A women works for her paychecks and part of her earned wages is her health care coverage, so telling her what prescription medications she can have access to, is no different than a boss telling her how to spend money each paycheck.

Starting in 2006, the Oregon House has maintained a pro-choice majority. Oregon has ensured health care access for all Oregonians, and they don’t suggest women get basic health care through a third party. In Oregon, women’s health care is protected, and NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon will work to keep it that way. Bosses should stay in the board room and not the bedroom.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Confused by the Oregonian's GMO Confusion

July 7, 2014 - 2:21pm

That didn’t take long.

Three days after GMO labeling supporters turned in over 155,000 signatures to put their initiative on November’s ballot, and four months before Election Day, the Oregonian editorial board sounded the alarm: “GMO food-labeling mandate would sow only confusion.” The labeling they fear would be worded “Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

Let’s do a little survey on a few other federally mandated labels for everyday products:

“Contains orange juice concentrate” (Minute Maid): Confused?

“Irradiated” (Wegman’s Ground Beef): Puzzled?

“Calories - 150” (Pringles): Mystified?

“Product of Thailand” (Trader Joe’s Whole Cashews): Bewitched, bothered and bewildered?

If you answered no to all of the above, I’m guessing you’re part of a vast majority of Americans who emerge from grocery stores mentally intact. Neither have I seen any reports that consumers in 64 nations requiring GMO food labeling, including Germany, Japan, Australia, UK, even Russia, have succumbed to the Oregonian’s labeling-induced befuddlement.

No, it’s not the food labels that are confusing, it’s the Oregonian’s editorial. A few tidbits:

“Mandatory food labels should display nutritionally relevant information, not ideology.”

Well, we all agree that basic nutrition information is necessary and valuable. But there are several mandated food labels that have nothing to do with nutrition or ideology, as most examples cited above, yet are important and useful to millions of consumers.

“You can find a hodgepodge of arguments (for labeling) . . . They include environmental concerns, labeling requirements in other countries, a desire to protect organic farmers in Oregon, even consumers’ undefined ‘personal’ reasons.”

So the Oregonian cites several valid reasons for labeling and then decides to reject them. Their justification? The FDA feels “there is simply no scientific or nutritional basis to do so.” Again, the Oregonian ignores the inconvenient truth that the FDA has other reasons for labeling, such as country of origin and processing methods.

Then, mocking the concerns of anyone who dares question the government about GMO food safety: “Horrible things are just around the corner, in other words. Just wait.”

Just wait? Here’s a list of eight foods, such as bromated flour and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST), the FDA allows that are already banned in other nations. Obviously, these countries, in some cases dozens or hundreds of them, have found recent scientific research very troubling. The contentious debate on GMO’s and other foods, not to mention hormones in meat, is quite colorful: Where the FDA sees green lights, other countries see red flags.

History provides ample reason for concern. The government assured us DDT, PCB’s, mercury, dioxins and lead in paint and gasoline were safe, only to ban or restrict them later. The FDA has withdrawn approval for hundreds of drugs it once allowed, among them DES, which caused cervical cancer and infertility, and Vioxx, which caused tens of thousands of fatal heart attacks and strokes.

In fairness, the FDA and EPA, underfunded and understaffed, have a lot of dedicated employees and have done a great deal of good. But throughout our history, early critics of questionable substances have been routinely dismissed by “the experts,” who are typically paid by corporations producing the substances or by a government agency highly influenced by them.

In the past few months, New York Times and Consumers Union polls both found over 90% of respondents wanted GMO food labeled. These results represent millions of consumers, on all sides of the GMO safety argument. The campaign has supporters of all stripes. Proponents simply feel that no matter where you stand, you have the right to know what’s in your food. The Oregonian, on the other hand, contends that an additional four-word label will be just too much for our brains to handle.

In other words, the largest purveyor of written information in the state has taken the stance that we need to be less informed. No wonder I’m confused.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Equality on Independence Day

July 4, 2014 - 3:38pm

In the rousing beginning to the substance of the Declaration of Independence, the first political idea and value introduced is equality.

The rights that follow, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rest on a foundation of equality.

The purpose of government, to secure those rights, with powers derived justly from the consent of the governed, can only be carried out by securing the means to enact them. Securing the right to life means securing to the governed the means of life, of livelihood. Securing the right to liberty means securing to the governed the means of living freely. Securing the right to the pursuit of happiness means securing to the governed the means of pursuing happiness.

A great deal of the history of the United States, subsequent to the Declaration, has involved struggles over tensions between the foundational principle of equality, and the right to livelihood, without which liberty and the pursuit of livelihood are meaningless, versus the rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, when those rights in the hands of persons who possess the means of livelihood, conflict with the right to life and livelihood of persons who don't fully possess the means to that right, making contingent their own rights of liberty and pursuit of happiness.

The Declaration rejects permanent inequality.

In 1776, that meant rejecting hereditary aristocracy, which justified denying the right of pursuing happiness and the means of doing to most of the people, and denying the right of liberty and the means of living freely to most of the people, and even denying the right of life and the means of securing a living to persons, if it conflicted with established inequalities.

In our time, there are twisted arguments that the liberty of some to acquire great wealth justifies permanent class inequalities, including denying the means to the right to life and the means to the right to pursue happiness to many. These twisted ideas purport to elevate the right to liberty above the foundational principle of equality on which it rests.

These twisted ideas have been systematically promoted for the past thirty five years, while conjointly the principle of equality has been systematically denigrated, driven to the margins, passed over in silence, and ignored.

Those ideas are wrong. It is time to raise up the centrality of equality in our intellectual, cultural, and political life as a nation again.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Monica Wehby brings Hobby Lobby close to home

July 2, 2014 - 2:27pm

The decision issued by the Supreme Court Monday in what is now known as the Hobby Lobby case has left many progressives simply horrified. After President Obama, and progressive senators like Jeff Merkley, pushed for a broad mandate to ensure that every woman could have access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act, five male Justices formed a majority, yanking this access away. They stated that closely held corporations could claim that their religious beliefs were paramount to the health of their employees and their most personal of decisions. Now, to be clear, it’s their female employees they want to police, as both vasectomies and Viagra are still covered. Of course.

Justice Alito was specifically concerned about any fines that these restrictive corporations might face from the federal government, calling them potentially a “substantial burden.” Substantial burden…right. As Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her scathing dissent, the costs of an IUD can be up to one month’s salary for some women. Indeed, this decision makes it so much harder for women struggling to make it on an hourly wage to get the healthcare they need. Apparently, these substantial burdens, those of low and middle income women, don’t count.

Why does all of this matter to us here in Oregon?

Well, Monica Wehby, current Republican candidate for the US Senate, thinks this Hobby Lobby decision is just swell. According to her campaign manager, Michael Antonopoulos, Dr. Wehby “doesn’t see a problem with the ruling.” This, despite the fact that she’s a doctor and has no doubt seen the way in which family planning is perhaps the most fundamental of healthcare services a woman needs.

Make no mistake – the ACA continues to survive only because progressive senators continue to fight for it. And, if Congress passes a law to mitigate the Hobby Lobby decision, it will be because of progressive senators.

Progressive leadership is not just important to protect family planning, though. Think about it. A religious exemption to federal laws? What’s next? The minimum wage law? Anti-discrimination laws? Environmental regulations? Already there's blowback to President Obama's recent Executive Order requiring federal contractors to extend equal benefits to their LGBT employees. The implications of this historic precedent may be felt for years to come.

I’m a feminist through and through…and I delight, exalt, in supporting women, those who serve as courageous leaders, and as fierce advocates for our health care, our families and our futures. We need more women in every elected office in the state and in our nation. Yet, in this case, supporting women and their families means ensuring that Monica Wehby does not get elected.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Paging Charlie Hales.

July 2, 2014 - 9:00am

Let's see here.

Portland has 603,000 residents. Boston has 635,000 residents. Our city budgets are roughly on par with each other. We both have robust technology industry sectors.

So, why does it feel like they're the ones living in the future?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

All Families Are Equal But Some are More Equal than Others

June 29, 2014 - 5:04pm

Looks like a headline for a Pride Month column? Nope, I'm dialing it back to topics that should be less current: who “deserves” to have children. Apparently we didn't get past it as a nation when the Supreme Court ruled against compulsory sterilization in 1942 (Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S 535). According to Elizabeth Hovde's column in the Oregonian yesterday, we shouldn't be providing paid maternity leave because the current proposal for funding it through a Social Security type mechanism would “fund maternity leave on the backs of other hardworking parents and people who planned when to have kids and afford them without government help.”

Apparently we should not join just about every other industrialized economy in providing paid time to recuperate from childbirth and care for infants because some people deserve to have kids and others do not. Those who do allegedly can afford to have them without government help because they engaged in prudent planning. Everyone else just has to figure it out. Is it alarmist to analogize this to eugenic sterilization? Perhaps, but since it is one of only two substantive arguments, spread across about 4 sentences in the 760 word article, I want to consider the implications of the policy position. The bulk of the article is devoted to generic snide comments about President Obama, who has not endorsed the specific funding proposal.

Hovde's second argument against paid maternity leave is it “might make useful family planning happen even less”. Hovde does not define “useful family planning”. Does she mean poor families would suddenly start having more kids because of the generosity of having some percentage of their low wage jobs paid out to one parent for twelve weeks? After which the parent would return to a job that may or may not offer sick days to care for the child for the rest of its dependent years, may or may not pay enough to cover daycare costs, and quite possibly does not pay enough to keep the family out of poverty. Clearly people are willing to raise children in all of the above circumstances, so a spike in the birthrate from a paid parental benefit is pretty unlikely.

Millions of American children have been born without a paid parental leave policy and will continue to be. The outcome of doing nothing, as Hovde would prefer, would be to continue leaving families economically vulnerable for procreating. Our status quo is: well educated, well compensated classes (a rapidly diminishing percentage of the U.S. population) have children, take a parental or sick leave with benefits (or use up the six, twelve or more weeks of income that they are presumed to have saved up). Others take 12 weeks if they qualify for FMLA, use paid sick leave if they have it (many people do not even have unpaid sick leave), use disability if they have it (many do not) and vacation (if they have it) and the rest of the time they are just on their own: no income comes in. Or you lose your job. A woman recuperating from a C-section (a surgery with potential for severe complications) or any other major birth complication simply loses wages (or that job) until she can go back to work. If the infant is born prematurely or with other challenges, anyone taking care of the infant simply loses wages.

This state of affairs affects those most vulnerable: low wage workers, temporary workers, single parents. However, Hovde says such folk don't deserve a benefit “funded on the backs” of those who “planned” their children and can do it without government help. Hovde may also be assuming everyone who has a child actually plans to do it exactly when they would find it most economically convenient (no surprise third babies because the birth control failed). She also suggests people with employer provided benefits (or the means to take time off work without severe adverse financial consequences) are raising children without governmental help. This discounts tax preferences for employee benefit plans, tax credits or anything else. (The annual tax benefit for having a child is small compared to the cost of raising one, but may be comparable to a one time per child salary replacement).

So this leaves the argument that some people - specifically poor people- just should not be having kids. If they do, as a society we should not be validating or subsidizing it. Hovde casts this as just one of those tough choices that responsible people have to make, but given the numerous things that we do choose to subsidize and endorse as a society, that argument is not persuasive.

Up until now, we have largely chosen to let poor children and their parents flounder, all talk of “pro-family” aside. Unless one is born into a family in which one parent makes enough for the other parent to stay home, we apparently don't care whether a woman has to choose between paying her rent and going back to work with a newborn. That is not identical to systematically eliminating the physical ability of poor women, women of color and other people deemed unworthy of reproducing to actually give birth, which we have a history of doing. But how much better is deliberate indifference to the welfare of children, newborn and ever after, whose births are deemed “less worthy”?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

DeFazio: Every time gas prices go up, Republicans pass imaginary legislation. It's Groundhog Day in June!

June 28, 2014 - 2:00pm

Remember "Drill, Baby, Drill"?

Well, over the last three years, domestic oil production is up nearly 50% since 2011. Nonetheless, the House Republicans are back with legislation that would remove a bunch of the restrictions on even more drilling -- offshore and on-shore.

Well, you can count on Congressman Peter DeFazio to blowing the whistle on this nonsense. Check out the video.

What's the craziest part of the nonsense?

The legislation, which passed 229 to 189, would actually allow Big Oil to -- wait for it -- ship American oil overseas for export sales.

What?! You read that right. The whole idea behind "Drill, Baby, Drill!" was to make America energy-independent of foreign oil. Now they want to export American crude overseas? That doesn't make us energy independent. That does the exact opposite.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

To improve health care, let's at least ask the right questions, OK?

June 27, 2014 - 9:00am

By Samuel Metz, MD. Samuel is a private practice anesthesiologist, HCAO representative from the Portland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, and founding member of Mad As Hell Doctors.

Oregon’s HB 3260 study of health care financing: The life you save may be your own.

Oregon’s unpredictable health care system is a lot like our unpredictable weather: everyone complains, but no one does anything about it. Now Oregonians can finally do something about our unpredictable health care system (our unpredictable weather remains a problem).

Oregonians should support the HB 3260 study of health care financing. This study is the next and most critical step toward providing all of us with the care we need at a cost we can afford. And every Oregonian needs health care – if not today, just wait a few years.

What does this HB 3260 study have to do with health care? The short answer can be found at OregonStudy.org. Here’s the more complete answer.

The world is filled with health care systems providing better care to more people for less money than our American private insurance industry. Unhappily, most of those successful health care systems are outside our borders. But domestic or international, all successful health care systems have much to teach us, if we are willing to learn.

Lesson one: Before you enact health care reform, know the alternatives. That’s where the HB 3260 study comes in. This measure, unanimously approved by Oregon’s House Health Committee and passed with bipartisan support, authorizes the Oregon Health Authority to study at least four methods of financing universal health care in Oregon. Upon completion, the OHA will send the results to our legislature with its recommendation of the best method to provide comprehensive care at the best price.

Lesson two: Credible information promotes wise choices. This makes HB 3260 study especially important. State legislatures in Vermont and California passed measures establishing universal statewide health care that expanded benefits and reduced cost. Vermont will implement its plan in 2017; the California legislature saw its measure vetoed by then Governor Schwarzenegger (the California legislature passed the measure again, and the Terminator vetoed it again). In both states, a study of health care financing authorized by the legislature provided critical information that motivated legislators to take positive, and reality-based, action.

Let’s put the lessons together. The HB 3260 study enables Oregon to provide better care to more people for less money.

So, what’s the catch?

Our legislature did not fund the HB 3260 study. Finding the money is up to us.

This study will cost $200,000. Considering that Oregonians spend over $30 billion annually on health care and that the study results potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars while improving access, that’s a good investment.

Contributors will be in good company. Supports of the study include the Oregon Medical Association, the Oregon Primary Care Association, the Oregon Public Health Association, the National Physicians Alliance, the Oregon Academy of Family Physicians, and many business owners and private citizens. But we need more.

How can we promote the study? Three ways:

  • Contribute directly at OregonStudy.org

  • Spread word about the study through, Facebook, Twitter, and email. Be sure to mention OregonStudy.org. For Twitter-heads, mention #universalhealthcare and @singlepayerOR.

  • Tell your legislator to support the HB 3260 study. Then tell them you expect legislative action when the study is complete.

Few states have the opportunity that Oregon has right now. We want better care to more people for less money. Oregon’s HB 3260 study finally does something about it.

Oregon’s weather, well, that’s a problem for another legislative session.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

A Quick Fix to the Portland Street Fee

June 25, 2014 - 4:38pm

By Jamie Woods of Portland, Oregon. Jamie is an economics professor and former school board member from East Portland.

Now that the decision about the residential part of the street fee is pushed back to November, it gives us some time for a cooler and more considered assessment of what can be accomplished.

Yes, the proposal, in spite of the reduction for lower income Portlanders, is regressive. The fees are regressive because we were all going to be charged the same price for different services. People that live on well paved roads, with safe intersections, in walkable neighborhoods will pay the same as those on a gravel road, near an intersection that kills a few people every year.

This focus on transportation service where folks live is different than what the city council has been considering. They have been focused on trips traveled and heavy vehicles. People value what they see every day, not abstract transportation services, but the physical items near them and their property.

Start with the current, postage stamp fee, and then give a household a discount if they front on an unpaved road. Give them another discount based on how many people are injured at local intersections. Give them another discount if their neighborhood is not walkable. Give them a discount if their street has less than five years of useful life.

You get the idea.

On top of that, give them a discount for being low income. If we do it right, a low-income person living on a bad road with dangerous intersections will get a check from the city -- along with an apology.

This small change addresses a lot of the criticism directed at the current plan.

This system has the advantage of aligning revenue collection with services provided. If the bureau of transportation wants more revenue for a bridge and other project, they don't go to the city council, they improve walkability in East Portland or pave a road. If they want more revenue for a public transit related project -- they fix a dangerous intersection. Traffic related deaths in the neighborhood bring down neighborhood fees and will be more quickly addressed.

For the economists reading this, I'm making an emotional appeal for an incentive compatible contract, between the citizens and the city, for services.

Linking the fees to performance also address the fears expressed in the survey that the fees can be siphoned off for other purposes.

The performance linked fees will supplement an advisory board, something the current proposal lacks, is advisable, but advisory boards come with risks. Advisory boards depend on outside, well-motivated, knowledgeable individuals to participate. East Portland and other underserved areas don't have those kinds of experts to advocate for them. That is why these mechanisms work well for well-educated and well-served communities but fail for others. The revenue costs of parochial decisions will put a damper on some of the worst aspects of an advisory board.

I say, keep the fee, but make a few adjustments to how it is paid.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs