Sunday, May 20, 2018

Meanings: Torture and the Democrats

Six Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of putting a well-known torturer in charge of the C.I.A.

A well-know torturer. Someone who has tortured people in the past. Ignore the words coming out of Gina Haspel's mouth now, and just remember that she tortured people in the (not-so-distant) past. She did it, she defended it.

Six Senate Democrats voted to put her in charge of the C.I.A. Please ponder that for a minute, and then further ponder what it really, really means to be a Democrat in this day and age. Is this the best we can hope for?

May 22nd Update: Here are some links to related and highly relevant stories:


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Priorities: Above the Fold, Under the Radar

Today's front page on the Gazette-Times is very revealing - at least about what they consider priorities in our community.

The big, above the fold headline is: Expression policy roils LBCC. Apparently this is all a late-breaking "shock wave" from a "controversial" art exhibit at LBCC last fall that "depicted men performing sex acts." A careful reading of the article doesn't turn up any more details than that about what exactly (or explicitly?) was "depicted," so it's a little difficult for me to get too worked up about it.

I think it's not breaking news to anyone that men do, on occasion, "perform sex acts." And the history of art is rich in nudes. So...This is the biggest news story of the day in the eyes of the GT? No lives were lost, no lives were ruined. Some sensibilities were apparently offended, but, let's face it, we live in a society that offers up all manner of sensibility-offending material every day. That being the case, it's up to each of us to pick and choose what we want to invest our time, energy and angst into in response, and which things just cause us to - literally or not - turn the other cheek.

And speaking of offensive subjects...Just below the art article, but still above the fold, is yet another article about the committed racist loser, Andrew Oswalt. Long story short: He is running for a seat on OSU's Student Fees Committee, because he is desperate for attention. The GT is all too happy to give him that attention.

But the fact remains that if the local media stopped giving this racist loser so much attention, he would likely go away, and run off to be with his five or six all-male aryan (intentionally lowercase) loser cohorts. In any case, the fact that a known attention-seeker is seeking attention does not warrant a lengthy article, but that's what we, and he, got.

Then, finally, if you make it to the bottom of the front page, squeezed into a couple of column inches, you'll see a headline that might just have some larger relevance: United Way report details region's poverty. Let me repeat that, in bold: United Way report details region's poverty.

Here's the first line from that story: "Despite positive economic signs in the area, nearly half of the mid-Willamette Valley's residents are living in poverty or are among the ranks of the working poor, according to a report from the United Way." There's that income inequality again, folks. We have some of the worst in the nation, right here in Benton County. This is a BIG issue. But it's by far the shortest of the three articles.

No lives are derailed by "sexy" art displays. Even a lone and lonely racist loser crying out for attention, despicable as he is, isn't able to shatter lives or families. Those aren't scandals - they're juicy come-ons to try and sell newspapers. But thousands of people living in poverty? That is a scandal. That is real news. And that is something we all need to focus in on.

That includes the GT, which does the community no favors by selling the sizzle, and shortchanging their responsibilities as a local news outlet.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Who Do You Really Work For?

Yesterday at work (at HP), we had a visit from Democratic state senator Sara Gelser. She came to give a little speech about children's issues, funding for schools, programs for special needs children and foster kids - those sorts of things. It wasn't quite standing room only, but she got a good turnout. Needless to say, I had to go.

She spoke about the topics listed above, and made it very clear that there is a crisis - that's the word she used - in DHS and other agencies that deal with kids who are also in crisis. Management and HR are defensive and sometimes abusive. Workers aren't being trained, and the turnover rate for DHS caseworkers is a staggering 75% annually. When kids are in crisis, and parents seek help, it can take up to eight months to get into a first appointment in Oregon. That's a long, long time to wait if your child is engaging in self-destructive acts right now.

Given all that, the outcomes we get in Oregon are pretty dismal. It's obvious that changes have to be made in how we handle these issues here. That's my view, and Gelser made it clear it's hers as well.

But she also made it clear that there's one area we don't need to change.

After her speech, she took questions from the audience. After several other people asked questions, I raised my hand and asked if she'd please talk for a moment about Oregon's notoriously low corporate tax rates, and how those low rates affect the state budget overall and spending for children's issues specifically.

Her response was telling.

She confirmed that Oregon does indeed have one of the lower corporate tax rates in the country - and was quick to add that she absolutely supported it being that way. She said it was "good for business." Then, addressing the main focus of my question, she essentially said that, yes, the low corporate tax rate does make it harder to fund the state's budget overall, and yes that does make it harder to fund programs like the ones she had just spent half an hour talking about. But she quickly pivoted back to saying she supports keeping the corporate tax rates low, and finished with her version of the classic conservative line about how it's not about spending more money but just spending existing funds smarter, more efficiently. Then she moved on to talking about something else entirely.

She was pretty smooth, and it didn't sound overly harsh, but let's think about what she said. There's a crisis in Oregon. Services for children in Oregon get delivered slowly, at best. DHS is understaffed. The staff they do have don't get proper training, and a great many of them leave that field of work very quickly. This results in bad outcomes, everything from staff burnout, foster parent burnout, a lack of institutional continuity, all the way up to kids dying. A little more funding to address these things surely wouldn't hurt.

But, per Gelser, we can't change the corporate tax rates to do that, because the low rates are "good for business." So, to sum up, when it comes to dealing with Oregon kids in crisis, it's unfair to ask corporations to do more. That's the Democratic status quo, and that's Gelser's view. Mark that scorecard Corporations = 1, Children = 0.

Pretty sad. Yes, you can make the argument that things might be even worse under Republican leadership, but I'm here to make the argument that things could be a lot better under truly progressive leadership. We can do better, so much better. We can do more for kids, for the environment, for people who are struggling financially, for immigrants. All that's lacking is leaders who will lead, who aren't afraid to stand up to corporations and speak up for those they're supposed to be serving.

I am not afraid to speak up, and I will always know exactly who I am serving. YOU. Not Nike, not Microsoft, not HP. YOU. That's what makes me a better choice than yet another neoliberal Democratic corporate apologist. Please think about that, won't you?

Friday, May 4, 2018

They Haven't Even Tried

If you're running for office in Benton County, or if you're already holding elected office in Benton County, you've undoubtedly heard A LOT about the housing crunch, the housing crisis, slumlords, homelessness, homeless students in our schools, etc. What with Benton County having some of the worst income inequality in the country, and with OSU deciding to pour thousands more students in here to feed their billion dollar endowment, both of which make making your monthly rent a difficult task for so many people here, it's impossible to miss the growing housing and homelessness crisis here.

Now, obviously, as mentioned above, making ends meet month-to-month is a struggle for a lot of people. Which is to say, income inequality enables a wide foundation of financial insecurity for many members of our community. Becoming homeless is essentially the ultimate expression of that financial insecurity. And, when your expenses are stretched to the breaking point, and you experience some sort of precipitating event...You can end up on the streets.

Of course, such a precipitating event could be something huge and dramatic, like a medical crisis, or a death in the family. But, for those on a fixed income or tight budget, it can also be as simple as being subject to a no cause eviction, or perhaps a sudden rent increase that is beyond your means.

What have our local elected officials done in response to all this? Well, there's been a lot of lip service given, and oodles of "concern" have been expressed. But what concrete steps have been taken to actually try and address these issues?

Well, Portland has done something to address those issues. It used to be you could be subject to a no cause eviction or a rent increase with just 30 days notice. As you can imagine, that's not much time to deal with all that a move can involve - especially in a tight, expensive rental market like Portland (or ours). Now the minimum notice in Portland is 90 days. Portland has also passed a law requiring landlords in some of these types of situations to provide relocation assistance to their (soon-to-be-former) renters. That's cash money, folks. So, Portland has taken some very real steps to give renters both more time, and more money - both of which help keep families solvent and housed.

All that is great, and important, but in a real sense, the key detail in this story is that Portland was also sued over these policies - and won. In other words, their policies have been tested in the courts, and found to be legal. Right here in Oregon. Oh yeah, there's one more thing that's pretty great about these new rules: They don't cost the city government anything. So, they do the right thing, but don't cost a thing, and I like to think we can all agree that's a good thing, yes?

Which brings us back home...And right to the question: WHY HAVEN'T WE COPIED THOSE ORDINANCES HERE??? This isn't rocket science. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. Insert your own cliché expression of shock and surprise here. But really, we have a crisis here. Right here. Why aren't our elected leaders simply keeping up with good things that are being done elsewhere and then shamelessly copying them? To do any less isn't just lazy, it's a dereliction of duty. It's cruel.

All we have to do is look a little further north. There we would find measures that do not solve the problem of homelessness and exploitative landlords, but do very much address those issues. These are great first steps. WE SHOULD TAKE THEM. These are rule changes that could be done very simply, and very quickly. (Again, they have been upheld by the courts already.)

I urge you to urge your local representatives to adopt these measures as soon as possible. When I am elected, these will be the first things I bring up - but I hope that these have already been passed by then. Please, please, take this issue away from me. Do the right thing, and pass such ordinances here. No more talking - let's see some direct action. We've all heard how "concerned" you all are, now let's see some concrete steps being taken to make things a little better here in Benton County.

Because until they've done that, they haven't even tried.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Your "Control" Looks Like Inertia To Me

The GT just published an article with the headline, "Democrats work on legislative control." It covered a lot of things, and touched down in more than one state, but it mainly focused on the effort to move Oregon from being a state where the Democrats have a clear majority in elected offices to one where the Democrats hold a SUPER majority.

This would, in theory, allow them to, as they say, "get things done." Or, as the article explains: That would give them a better shot at increasing corporate taxes in a state where corporations pay one of the lowest rates in the nation.

The article goes on to quote Jeanne Atkins, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon: "We continue to have a pattern where families pay more into the tax system to support state services than do corporations. With a supermajority maybe there's a better chance, but of course the devil is always in the details."

Yes, the devil is in the details, especially when it comes to party politics. Remember how the great Democratic states of Washington and Oregon were going to "do something" to address climate change - and whiffed? I suppose they can always get around to dealing with that impending global disaster, you know, next time. Which is to say, don't hold your breath waiting for those corporate tax rates to start rising. (Please see the Sunshine Week series for more on all the big, large, huge corporate donations flowing, flowing, flowing into the offices of our Democratic representatives.)

A two party system breeds black and white worldviews. "You're either with us, or against us!" Life is, of course, more complicated than that, but, for each party to continue to exist, the other party must continue to be "the enemy." However, "the enemy" never really loses in this conflict - but our whole society (and the whole world for that matter) sure does. We just bicker, bicker, bicker while forces growing beyond our control threaten to put out the lights on the age of reason.

All of which is a big lead up to saying that...When you put all your eggs in one (partisan) basket, you tend not to speak up when some of those eggs turn out to be rotten.

Democrats have control of Oregon, but have done next to nothing to address climate change. Democrats have maintained those criminally low corporate tax rates mentioned above. Democrats have engineered the PERS crisis. Democrats have control of Oregon, and have done precious little to address the housing crisis and homelessness. That goes at the state level, and at the local, Benton County level. Our Benton County Commissioners have gotten us into a lawsuit funded by the timber industry that partners us with far-right Republican counties to sue the state - a lawsuit that could bankrupt the state, and devastate our schools. Our local elected officials have let OSU run roughshod over the community, breaking their word, and creating a housing crisis, all while our local liberal leaders have said nary a discouraging word. Most damningly, our local elected officials have presided over creating a situation in which Benton County has some of the highest income inequality in the entire country.

Ah, but it's Democrats enabling all this, so all sins are forgiven. And thank goodness those bad, bad Republicans aren't in control, right? Yes, but...

That's not just misguided, it's pathological. It's deeply dishonest, and it's incredibly destructive to our community and the credibility of just about everyone involved. Saying you "care" isn't caring; doing something to show you care means a lot more. Talk minus action equals ZERO.

In the coming days I'll post some ideas that would address the housing crisis and the issue of exploitative landlords here. I'll post some ideas that would ease a few of the burdens on local low income families and children who struggle to afford to live here in our community. These are tried and tested ideas that work, and don't cost local governments a thing. They would be progressive, proactive and positive steps for our community.

Needless to say, I'll also post a few questions about why our local governing bodies haven't already taken these easy and obvious steps. I mean, aren't we supposed to pick the low-hanging fruit first?