Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Happening People: Laura Poueymirou
Health Care Reform in Trouble in Senate
Advocates for national single-payer health insurance or a public insurance option are rallying in Eugene this weekend as part of a national day of action organized by Democratic Party leader Howard Dean. The rally is to counter efforts to water down health care reform and maintain the health insurance industry’s profit-motivated model for delivering health care services.
The Eugene rally begins at 11:30 am Saturday at the Free Speech Plaza at 8th and Oak, across from the Saturday Market, and the open microphone will be from 2:30 to 3:30 pm. Information tables will be set up and literature will be distributed. A rally is also planned at 10 am Saturday on the Capitol Steps in Salem, and some Eugeneans are planning to be at both events.
Conservatives in Congress, including some Democrats, are trying to kill Obama’s public health insurance option, not by opposing it outright, but by pushing weak half-measures and calling them “public plans,” according to Patrick Schmitt of MoveOn.org “The latest is a proposal for small, regional ‘co-ops’ that would have no chance of competing against insurance companies to bring costs down.”
Schmitt says on the www.MoveOn.org website “If we act immediately, we have a good shot at defeating ploys like the ‘co-op.’ The key is to make it clear that we support a strong public health insurance option and lay out exactly what that means.”
An overwhelming majority of Americans, about 83 percent, says Schmitt, supports a public health insurance option. MoveOn favors a “strong public health insurance option available to anyone who chooses to participate. If you like your current plan, you can keep it; if you want to participate in the public health insurance plan, you can choose that.”
A conference call was held June 19 with members of Sen. Jeff Merkley’s staff. Merkley is the junior member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy. Lane County health care reform advocate Rand Dawson participated in the call and says he was disappointed with what he heard. He says few opportunities were provided for questions from callers.
“The thrust (of the call) was to provide a sketchy outline of what the staffer said ultimately would be over 600 pages of detailed tweaking of current delivery and financing mechanisms,” says Dawson.
In the HELP bill right now, says Dawson, “The current fragmented private insurance system remains intact with many of its underwriting prerogatives. Some limits may be placed on such items as pre-existing conditions or current health status. But ‘age’ rating will be allowed. So imagine the differing rate structures for older folks.”
Dawson says there was “no mention of how we can afford to continue the insurance industry’s high administrative overhead — particularly since they will continue to exert underwriting capability.”
Back in mid-May, EW asked Merkley to clarify his position on single-payer. “Sen. Merkley believes there are many merits to a single-payer system and will vote for single-payer if it comes to the Senate floor,” said his communications director, Julie Edwards. “However, he understands that it will be difficult to enact such legislation. That is why he is strongly pushing for the inclusion of a single-payer option, such as an extension of Medicare, in the Senate health care reform bill. Every American should be able to choose whether they would prefer public or private coverage. A public option would provide competition to keep private insurance companies honest and lower costs, and help ensure affordable health care for every American.”
Dawson says the HELP Committee’s openness to single-payer options is stronger than the Senate Finance Committee, which has “even greater issues with ‘public plan’ concepts than the Senate HELP committee.” The Finance Committee is expected to reveal its health care bill this week.
The monthly joint meeting of the local chapters of Health Care For All-Oregon and the Archimedes Movement will be from 6:30 to 8 pm Wednesday, July 1, at the EWEB Community Room. Updates will be provided on legislation in Congress and in Oregon. For more information, call 953-0148. — Ted Taylor
From Pits to Parkland
A tragedy has become a place of beauty where children can play safely, thanks to the families and friends who lost their own children. There will be a dedication ceremony for the new Golden Gardens Park beginning at 5 pm on Thursday, June 25.
On Father’s Day 2005, cousins Nick Davis,14, and Britton Shephard-Davis, 15, drowned in the deep water-filled pits near Golden Gardens Street in northwest Eugene. The family and friends have worked to turn the dangerous “pits” into safe park.
The 146-acre Golden Gardens Park was once a “borrow pit” from which gravel was taken to be gravel for the construction of Beltline Road. The steep-sided water-filled pits, brushy undergrowth and obstructed access made the area dangerous to local kids who played there. In addition to the Davis cousins, at least two other drownings have happened in the pits since 1990.
But the Davis family, their neighbors and the boys’ schoolmates turned the tragedy into a new beginning. The Bethel community formed the informal group Friends of Golden Gardens Park and raised awareness about the area. Thanks to their work over the last four years, Eugene Parks and Open Space dedicated $50,000 from the parks’ budget to build an emergency-access bridge, and the City Council allocated $600,000 in emergency funds to re-slope the ponds’ banks, making them less steep and less difficult to climb out of. A 2006 $1.4 million bond measure paid for the rest of the improvements, which include a longer path, better wildlife habitat, planning of native trees, shrubs and grasses, as well as other safety improvements.
In an email to the EW, Patricia Haney, the grandmother of Nick Davis wrote, “This is an important example of citizen concern and involvement in trying to make sense of two senseless deaths.”
She writes, “I may be presuming a lot, but I am calling this the ‘Nick and Brittan Davis Memorial Park.’ This is how I will think of the new park and I sincerely hope this will help my grandson Nick’s wonderful, brave and valiant family find some sense of justice in his untimely and preventable death.” — Camilla Mortensen
Fixing the Inequities
Corporations are responsible for only 6 percent of Oregon’s General Fund revenue, while Oregon families pay the other 94 percent, says Rep. Phil Barnhart in his “Legislative Report” this week. Two-thirds of the corporations in Oregon pay the $10 minimum tax which has not been increased since 1931.
Barnhart is chair of the House Revenue Committee, and says he has spent “a significant portion of my time this session working with colleagues and stakeholders to develop a supplemental revenue package to help ease the pain of cuts to services for our most vulnerable citizens.” He says HB 3405 and HB 2649 would raise $733 million “through judicious and fair tax increases on corporations and the wealthiest 2.5 percent of taxpayers.”
HB 3405 increases the minimum tax to $150 for all businesses and implements graduated increases on C-corporations with Oregon sales higher than $500,000. The bill also increases the tax rate on profits above $250,000 by 1.3 percent for the next two years.
“With the exception of corporations with profits over $10 million, this rate gradually decreases back to the current 6.6 percent by 2013. If adopted, Oregon’s overall state business taxes will rank fourth-lowest instead of third-lowest in the nation.”
Barnhart says Oregon businesses benefit both directly and indirectly from the infrastructure and services the state provides, whether it’s by providing an educated workforce or by maintaining the transportation and utility infrastructure that they rely on to do business.
“It is only fair they help pay for these services. Furthermore,” he says, “larger corporations should pay their fair share and we should shield Oregon’s small businesses as much as possible because they will be key players in Oregon’s economic recovery.”
“Oregonians have flooded my office with emails because they are horrified by the proposed cuts to schools, human services and public safety. I am too,” he says. “We passed these revenue raising measures to ensure those cuts will not be $733 million worse. Unless you want more teachers to lose their jobs, more school days cut, college tuition to go up, more seniors without vital services, more prisons closing and more prisoners released back onto the streets, Oregon needs this revenue. Most people reading this report will be unaffected by these changes, which will make our tax system more equitable.”
Barnhart can be contacted at (503) 986-1411 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ice Rink to Go Extinct?
Anybody have $3 million to spare? The Ice and Sports Center at the Lane County Fairgrounds is in need of major repairs and might close indefinitely with the wrap-up of the ice hockey season in March 2010.
Lane County is hurting financially and every department and every facility has been asked to make cutbacks. “I was approached to shut it down now,” says Cindy Jensen, manager of the Ice Center, “but we already have contracts through the summer.” She says the decision was made to stay open with reduced hours and reduced staff through the summer and the next hockey season.
The Lane County Board of Commissioners will make a final decision next spring on the future of the Ice Center. Jensen says the board will have options. Minor repairs could be made to try to keep the Ice Center open a while longer, $200,000 could be spent to replace the perimeter boards that contain the ice, or another $1 million could be spent to replace the 6-inch concrete slab under the ice and repair the PVC water pipes that control ground temperatures beneath the slab to prevent ice heaving. For $3 million the county could do it all, she says, including replacing the aging compressors.
Or the county could shut it down. Despite a very busy winter season, the Ice Center is a high-maintenance money-loser for the county every year, says Jensen. The electric bill alone is $14,000 a month.
About 1,000 county residents use the rink for UO Ducks hockey, Junior A-Team hockey, figure skating, recreational skating and youth skating programs. — Ted Taylor
• A master plan for Eugene’s latest Ridgeline acquisition is being developed and the first of several public workshops is from 6 to 8 pm Monday, June 29, at the Hilyard Community Center, 2580 Hilyard St. Public input will be sought regarding trails, recreation, habitat and other topics. A requirement of the purchase agreement is that the master plan be completed by July 1, 2010.
• A free film, Little Brother Big Pharma, will be shown at 6:30 pm Tuesday, June 30 at the Eugene Public Library Bascom-Tykeson Room. The showing is sponsored by VALID, MindFreedom and Opal Network. Part of the film was shot in Lane County with local mental health workers and activists. Following the film will be a discussion with film director David Heine and a panel including mental health professionals, psychiatric survivors/consumers and family members, with audience participation.
Lane Area Herbicide Spray Schedule
• Weyerhaeuser Company (746-2511) will spray 300 miles of forestry roads and roadsides in western Lane and Douglas Counties from Gillespie Corners to Drain, and 400 miles in Eastern Lane County forestry districts with six herbicides plus surfactants as close as within 10 feet of domestic water supply streams and fish streams starting June 29 (Notice No. 781-50322 Western and 771-55409 Eastern Lane).
• Gypsy moth spraying (southeast Eugene): For assistance with Report of Loss forms contact Lisa Warnes, VP of the SE Neighbors Association, at 484-2210.
Compiled by Jan Wroncy, Forestland Dwellers: 342-8332, forestlanddwellers.org
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003 (last week’s numbers in parentheses):
• 4,315 U.S. troops killed* (4,312)
• 31,354 U.S. troops injured* (31,342)
• 185 U.S. military suicides* (185)
• 1,123 U.S. contractors killed
(accurate updates NA)
• 100,867 to 1.2 million civilians killed*** (100,820)
• $680.5 billion cost of war ($678.4 billion)
• $193.5 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($192.9 million)
• 712 U.S. troops killed* (704)
• 3,023 U.S. troops injured* (2,979)
• $190.6 billion cost of war ($190.1 million)
• $54.2 million cost to Eugene taxpayers ($54.1 million)
* through June 22, 2009; source: icasualties.org; some figures only updated monthly
** sources: icasualties.org, defenselink.mil
*** highest estimate; source: iraqbodycount.org; based on confirmed media reports; other groups calculate civilian deaths as high as 655,000 (Lancet survey, 2006) to 1.1 million
(Opinion Research Business survey, 2008)
• Lane County commissioners gave in to political pressure last week and voted to dedicate $3.2 million of the county’s shrinking federal revenues to funding 84 more jail beds. We heard lots of talk about criminals being let out early and killing someone; but little talk about people in need dying from lack of county services. Let’s not forget that the jail funding decision was due to political pressure, not public pressure. If the public really felt unsafe and wanted to fund more cops and jail beds, voters would have happily approved at least one of a string of public safety funding measures that have failed in recent years.
County officials know the $3.2 million won’t last long, so they are pondering a $20 million, five-year local option levy on the ballot either in November of this year or next. Sheriff Burger wants to wait, but the earlier election has two advantages: Jail beds are currently in the public eye, and public safety advocates are already organized. An election in 2010 is a mixed bag: No double majority is needed to pass money measures in general elections; but the economy could further disintegrate, and voters could be even more anti-government and anti-taxes.
The county can refer a measure to the ballot, but county officials would much prefer that the citizenry rise up and organize a petition drive and campaign to pass a measure. No polling has been done lately, but we imagine funding jail beds with federal taxes is more popular than local taxes. Some package of taxes and fees will be needed soon to replace federal timber payments and provide stability to county government. But any measure that favors punishment over prevention is bound to fail.
• A parallel to the county quandary can also be found in the political pressure to spend $16 million on a new police headquarters for EPD, despite alarming deficits looming in our city budget and the need to make cuts in police personnel. City councilors, city staff and the police union do not want a public vote on this issue; previous attempts to fund cop shops at the ballot box have failed miserably. What happened to the idea of elected officials representing the will of the people?
• Here’s a tip for reading the big glossy mail ads about our Oregon senators and health care that are landing in our mail boxes these days. First, look for the tiniest print. It’s the most important. It identifies who paid for the mailing. We’ve received two expensive mailings from AFSCME, the labor union for state, county, and municipal employees; one from the Wyden for Senate committee; and one from America’s Pharmaceutical Research Companies and FamiliesUSA, otherwise known as “Big Pharma.” The type on the last one is truly tiny. We asked Sen. Merkley’s office to comment on the Big Pharma piece which cleverly paired him with Wyden and his health care plan. Merkley had neither seen nor approved the mailing. That’s possible under section 527 of federal campaign finance law. That’s why it is so important to follow the money when you’re reading the ads.
• June is LGBT Pride Month (yes, President Obama even issued a proclamation about it) though we tend to cede local celebrations to the big city a couple of hours up the interstate. One local event to attend is Monday night’s Celebration of the Heart: Embracing Diversity. That’s where you can see all three of the Community Alliance of Lane County (CALC)’s traveling photo exhibits, including the one that freaked out a couple of Meadowlark parents because of the words “trans” and “queer” in one caption (see News Briefs last week). CALC’s event, which runs from 6:30 to 8 pm at the First Christian Church, stands as an attempt to promote some sort of “healing” after the trans hate spewed both privately and quite publicly in reader letters and comments on the R-G‘s articles and op-ed pieces. Violence against trans folk is all too common, and with attacks rising on LGB people as well, it’s important for sane Eugeneans to stand up and say we embrace and cherish trans, queer, bisexual, lesbian and gay members of our community. More info at www.calclane.org and see our Calendar Friday and Saturday for Corvallis events.
“We’re like cheerleaders for families,” says Laura Poueymirou, an early intervention and early childhood special education specialist with EC CARES, a Lane County agency affiliated with the UO College of Education. “We teach parents and preschool teachers about child development and how to adjust for each child with individual needs.” Poueymirou grew up near Saratoga in upstate New York, majored in psychology at SUNY Geneseo, and worked four years at a group home for kids with special needs. Then she, a friend, and a dog spent six months exploring the northern states in her VW van. “I wound up here and haven’t left,” she says. “It’ll be 14 years in October.” A volunteer at the WOW Hall since she arrived (“I found out about it from Frog”), Poueymirou retired earlier this month after four years on the Hall’s Board of Directors. A grad of the county’s master recycler program, she also volunteers on the recycling crew at events such as the Oregon Country Fair and the Eugene Celebration. She will take a leave of absence in September for a year of adventure in South America, where she plans to learn Spanish and to volunteer for an organization that’s turning ranch land into national parks.