Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fantastic! Parks Board unanimously urges Council to reject "stimulus" money to lock up 200 acres of cropland in Minto Brown Park!

minto brown 1.jpgMinto Brown Park -- a unique treasure providing wildlife habitat and farmland in an urban growth boundary. Image by JamesCohen via Flickr

Wonderful performance by some dedicated volunteers, the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. These volunteers met for a long meeting tonight to discuss the staff proposal to sell a permanent easement for nearly 200 acres of Minto Brown Park land to the feds in the name of "stimulus" and "emergency flood control."

The City Council will be holding a public hearing on the issue next Monday night (6:30, Council Chambers). Now the Council will be looking at a unanimous recommendation by the Parks Board to
  • Reject the easement proposal

  • Put the currently farmed land in the park out for competitive bidding

  • Revise the Park Master Plan.
This was a perfect motion. It should be a very strong encouragement to the Council to walk away from the hurried proposal to change the land use in the Park with virtually no public awareness or discussion, and locking up that land would be pretty much directly opposed to the current park master plan. (If the Council decides to pursue the sale of the easements, the deadline is August 17.)

The Parks Board not only rightly urges the Council to reject the hurried proposal but it also goes on to hit the nail on the head by calling for the Minto Brown Park Master Plan to be revised -- this plan, which was last revised in 1995 after a lot of hard work by citizens, is not even available on the City's website and there have been signs that some in the City weren't even aware of it, much less looking to implement it. That's the time and the right forum for everyone to deliberate carefully about the future of this unique and treasured resource.

GREAT JOB by the Parks Board members. Now the only thing needed is for citizens to show up Monday night, July 27, at City Hall to make sure the Council knows that the people of Salem don't want to lose control of their beautiful local park in return for a quick hit of borrowed money from the feds.

Special point: One of the parks board members made the excellent point that, while some might hope that the money would be put aside in a fund to pay for future upkeep of the park (which we currently get for free on the farmed acreage from the outfit farming those acres), the whole idea of stimulus money is to spend it, not bank it. So there's yet another way that this whole proposal is a bad fit for Salem.

Prior posts on Minto or the easement here, here, here, here, and here.
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Synchronicity: If you really want to prepare your kid for the future

060128 globe in spaceImage by xjyxjy via Flickr

Then don't feel like you've got no alternatives to the factory schools that are busily preparing kids for the early-middle 20th Century and calling it "education." There are good alternatives. Both these linked articles appeared today, as if to reinforce the message.
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The Issue that Surrounds Everything

One of the things we're going to need in the future is a lot more entrepreneurial activity. The old economy, based on gigantic and ever-increasing flows of energy and materials (and wastes) is grinding to a halt, and won't be coming back. In the future, there will be a lot fewer massive institutions employing hundreds of thousands of people in big bureaucratic kingdoms, with benefits. People will have to make a lot more of their own livelihood, and they will have to do so much more locally.

One of the big barriers to the kind of innovation and entrepreneurial behavior we need is our weird system of health insurance that's tied to employment rather than citizenship. By tying access to health insurance to working for someone else -- and typically, that means a very big someone else -- we discourage people from creating precisely the kind of ventures that we will need the most of in the future: small, local services that are aimed at meeting each others' basic needs.

People in the health insurance industry are, no doubt, occasionally wonderful people -- just like some of the people who sell guns and drugs in the black market are sometimes wonderful people. But their industry is a parasite, consuming 30% of our sky-high health care costs and producing exactly no health benefit. In fact, our insurance system is one of the root causes of our insanely poor overall rankings on national health indices: we are far and away #1 in spending but about 35th in health results. A good deal of that is due to the fact that we treat health care like a non-essential, and we allow other people do without access to it (so long as we ourselves have access). Thus, people don't follow good health maintenance and illness-prevention strategies and the giant money-sucking leeches in the health insurance biz don't want to pay for prevention because there's no guarantee that the eventual savings will accrue to them instead of their competitor.

Truly an insane system, but one that is so fantastically profitable for a few that it will not die easily, despite the huge amount of suffering and needless waste that it inflicts on us.
Socialist Health Plan? In Norway, Obama's Plan Not Even Close

If Michael Steele and the Republicans really believe that President Obama is proposing a socialist health plan, they need to get out more.

I've just returned from a research trip to Norway, where their universal health system really is socialist. It's also much less expensive than the current U.S. system, so maybe the Republicans would like it if they checked it out. The non-socialists in Norway support it because it works so well, especially compared with "the bad old days" of private medicine, when even the doctors' association advocated for socialized medicine as the only affordable way to make quality care available to all Norwegians.

One reason Norwegians like their system is that it's pro- economic innovation because it's not tied to the employer. Norwegians are free to change jobs for more challenging opportunities, or try their wings as entrepreneurs, because they don't have to worry about insurance - it's with them wherever they go. Economist Jonathan Gruber of MIT is one of many economists who believe that U.S. employer-tied health insurance is a drag on progress. But Obama's plan accepts the status quo even though it might not be affordable.

Norwegians like their system because it cuts red tape. The patient-doctor relationship isn't complicated by multiple insurances; if you need care, you get it as a matter of right. No bills to pay, no plans to juggle, no worry about your dependents, and no worry about your becoming a burden to your children.

Because Norwegians are practical, they enjoy saving money for quality health care. On a per capita basis, Norwegians spend $4,763 per year, and cover everyone, while U.S.'ers spend $7,290. By various standards of health quality, like life expectancy or rate of preventable deaths, Norway does better than the U.S. One key measure is physicians per capita: the U.S. has 2.43 physicians compared with Norway's 4 doctors per 1,000 population, even though Norway spends a third less of its Gross Domestic Product on health care than the U.S. does. (These numbers are from Bruce Bartlett, Forbes magazine columnist who was a former U.S. Treasury Department economist.)

While in Norway I did hear complaints - Norwegians famously believe everything can work better than it does - but I didn't interview anyone, from left wing to right wing, who would change the basic system. Maybe it's time for U.S. politicians to learn from what other countries are doing right.