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Updated: 2 hours 48 min ago

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