Saturday, April 5, 2014

Buying GMO Voters

Oregon is one of twenty-three states with an initiative process. Anyone can write a new law in Oregon, collect enough signatures and put it to the voters to vote on. Oregon voters decided seven of these in 2012. We have voted on measures as diverse as gay marriage, tax limitations, criminal penalties and union rights.

Next month, residents of our two local counties will vote on whether to ban
GMO crops within our boundaries. Already, opponents have donated $812,910 to ensure its defeat.  In 2002, the GMO industry spent $5.5 million to defeat a statewide initiative requiring labeling of foods containing GMOs. In response, 70% of Oregonians voted not to know what was in their groceries.

A little history of money and Oregon ballot initiatives seems warranted.

In 1984, a Georgia company that manufactures equipment and supplies for lotteries wrote initiative measures establishing the first state lotteries in Oregon and California. The company included language that limited the lottery to the types of products it produced exclusively, thus ensuring its own singular profit should the measures pass. It did pass with 66% of Oregonians voting in favor.

In 1992, the AAA successfully placed an initiative on the Oregon ballot banning triple-trailer trucks on Oregon highways. Oregon is
one of only ten states that allow the vehicles referred to as "road trains" elsewhere. Representing Oregon motorists, AAA initiated the measure at the request of its members. Safety was the primary motivator. The trucking industry spent millions on ads insisting these trucks were super-safe, citing state accident reports that did not distinguish the number of trailers on a truck. Hence, since no accident reports mentioned triple trailers, the ads asserted that no accidents had happened. Oregon voters were persuaded and 61% voted to defeat the measure.

Southern Oregon is being barraged with ads now claiming that enforcement of the local anti-GMO ordinances will bankrupt county governments and hurt public safety (by diverting police from crime). The ads claim to be supported by small farmers in our two counties even though 99% of the money comes from outside of Oregon, half from just three corporations (Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont).

Two trends matter in whether or not Southern Oregonians will bend to the will of the out-of-state defenders of GMO agriculture. 

  1. Oregonians are cynical of ballot measures in general. There have been 59 statewide measures at general elections in the past 15 years. 73% of these were defeated. 
  2. Many voters still do not understand the first basic concept of the initiative
    process: Voting no means keeping the status quo while a yes vote means accepting the change. Over the years, I've explained this perhaps a hundred times, nearly always to voters who insist "yes, but some are tricky and that isn't always true."
  3. Negative ads work. Will voters who today seem inclined to vote against GMOs be persuaded by the ads?
 The outcome is still to be determined. Add to the debate the entry of the Citizens' Initiative Review process this spring. A bipartisan panel of citizens and experts will review Jackson County's measure 15-119 and publish its findings, adding a serious analytical component to the more visible propaganda onslaught.  Unfortunately though, those findings will come too late to be a part of the much-used Voters' Pamphlet for the May election.

I'm pessimistic but also troubled enough by the entry of big money in my little rural counties to do what I can do. How about you?

See also: Hobby Politics

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Is it Still Democracy?

Tax day is fast approaching. By April 15th, you will have met your obligation to fund the US government and all its services. 

How do you feel about spending for the highest incarceration rate in the world? How do you feel about allocations for the NSA to collect broad sweeps of communications from you, me and every other American? How do you feel about our country's recent wars, costing over a trillion tax dollars?

Perhaps you can take some comfort in knowing that all of us citizens have the power to elect those who make these decisions. That in a republic, we have the last word.

What are the functions of government that most of us would consider reserved for accountable government alone?  Here is my highest priority list.
  • Making laws
  • Police work
  • Administering justice and punishing criminals
  • Diplomacy
  • Control of our military
  • Waging war according to the principles of the US and international law
  • Gathering and managing intelligence
  • Creating budgets and allocating public resources
  • Running and verifying elections
There are others but these are the biggies. Now consider the following facts:
  • Congressmen depend on the generous campaign contributions of those who benefit from their decisions. Worse yet, passing laws to benefit specific companies is highly lucrative. 60% of retired Congressmen became lobbyists, thereby increasing their salaries by 1,452%. 
  • Today's McCutcheon decision by the Supreme Court eliminates fifty years of efforts to reign in corporate influence on our lawmakers. 
  • The profitable prison industry has exploded with the growth of incarceration, where the cost of holding each federal prisoner is now about $30,000.  While private prisons still house a minority of prisoners, they now house about half of those held for immigration violations. 
  • 70% of intelligence collection, storage and analysis is contracted out to private businesses. Remember that Edward Snowden didn't work for your government; his access to secret intelligence was as an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, which is almost entirely (99%) funded by federal government contracts.
  • In the Iraq War, there were more boots on the ground loyal to their well-paid corporate employers than those answering to all of our military branches combined. Each pair of those boots costs us $1,222 per day. Big players in our recent wars were Haliburton spinoff KBR with $39.5 billion in a no-bid contract allowing them to name their price and Blackwater (now Academi), best known for its reckless killings and abuse of Iraqi civilians, making our soldiers less safe by generating animosity toward Americans.
Novelist John LeCarre called it the "Deep State".  Anyone who values democracy and government by, of and for the people will be horrified to learn just how deep the tentacles of industry reach into our government.  Recently, I watched Mike Lofgren, former GOP Congressional budget-crunching analyst, interviewed on Bill Moyers and Company. This is an interview every American should watch. Click the link to see the full 26-minute episode.

It's scary enough to envision the power of the government to invade our personal lives. Far scarier when the government hands that power over to even more unaccountable private corporations. And today, from the Supreme Court, we have five Republican-appointed justices deciding to give money and corporate power unlimited sway in our government. 

Where does it end?

See also:  Leave Me Be

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What the $10.10 Minimum Wage Would Buy

I was curious how well a single parent might manage on the new proposed minimum wage of $10.10 per hour. This is $2.85 higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 and $1.00 more than Oregon's minimum of $9.10.

I'm assuming full-time employment for a single adult with two children, one in public school and one in daycare. I've used Oregon averages for housing and utility costs and assumed no employer-provided health plan. This is likely since full-time employment at minimum wage typically requires multiple part-time jobs. I've also assumed an average commute of ten miles each way to work with an average mileage car.

Gross Pay per month: $1,616
Social Security contribution: $100
Medicare contribution: $23
Federal Tax Withholding: $0
State Tax Withholding: $90

Net Pay per month: $1,403
Net Pay per year: $16,836

Basic no-frills expenses for Oregon:

Utilities (Power and Water): $168
Groceries (moderately thrifty) for 3 People: $520
Telephone (no landline, cheapest cellphone): $35
Good used car ($7,500 on 4-year loan): $190
Gasoline only for non-SUV commute (at 22 mpg): $18
Medical Insurance (eligible for expanded Medicaid in Oregon): $0
 Child care for pre-school child: $866
Basic expenses per month:  $2,677

This budget presumes no meals out, no travel beyond home to work, no car maintenance, no savings or retirement contributions, no television or internet, no entertainment or vacations, no purchases of clothing, toiletries, toys, or household goods. Depending where the family lives, these costs could be higher or lower. Odds are, they would need to co-habitate with another family to survive.

Publicly funded supports are essential for this family and could include:

SNAP Food Stamps
Subsidized Child Care
Rent Assistance
Utility Assistance

Given that just the bare bones cost of living for a family on the NEW HIGHER minimum wage are nearly double what they earn, each of these minimum wage earners will continue to need subsidies. Many would like to escape the humiliation of public assistance but don't have a choice, in spite of working full time. Taxpayers will continue to subsidize low wages, even with the increase to $10.10 per hour.

What is the argument against raising the minimum wage?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Half-way There

Media reports about the relative success or failure of "Obamacare" focus on the 2-3 million who have enrolled in private health insurance on the exchanges. Since that amounts to just 1% of the population, we conclude that the program is not working.

But those numbers don't begin to show the achievements of health reform.

An attempt to find current numbers of enrollees in all of the new programs -- from CHIP to Medicaid expansion to adding young adults to policies to the federal and state exchanges -- was an exercise in frustration.  Most of what I found was outdated (CHIP data ending in 2012, for example) or state-specific.  So it seemed worthwhile to try to gather all of the hard-to-find data in one place.

Here's the full picture (with links).

CHIP: Children's Health Insurance Program
Authorized in 1997 (Clinton) and reauthorized and expanded in 2009 (Obama)

8.1 million children enrolled in 2013 (must re-enroll each year)

Medicaid Expansion
Affordable Care Act in 2010 (Obama)

6.3 million new Medicaid and CHIP enrollees in the 25 states that allow it (since October 1, 2013)

Young Adults Added to their Parents' Insurance
Affordable Care Act in 2010 (Obama)

6.6 million (as of June 2012 -- no more recent data available)

New Insurance Policies Purchased on the Federal and State Exchanges
Affordable Care Act in 2010 (Obama)

3.23 million (unofficial estimate)

That's 24.23 million Americans who now have health insurance that was not available to them before.  There were 50.7 million uninsured Americans in 2009, prior to the ACA passing in Congress. 

We're half-way to the goal.