Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A respite from politics

Community GardenImage by Sbocaj via Flickr

Well, the election is all over but the crying --- whether of the "winners" or the "losers" remains to be seen. Good luck to all those who won office, and better luck next time to those who did not ... though not winning office in these times might actually have been the better luck.

Anyway, now that those are done, let's talk about something much more important and pleasant: growing food right here in Salem:
Garden Resource Connections @ Marion Polk Food Share

Thursday, May 20th, 2010 from 5-7pm – (Organized the 20th of every month)

Come get seeds, plant-starts and seed potatoes for your garden. Meet our Garden Council and other gardeners to learn what to do in your garden this month. If you have seeds or starts to share, bring those along. Trade what you can’t use for something else, and help a fellow gardener grow food.

If you use facebook, please befriend Marion-Polk Food Share and rsvp to the resource connections event here.

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How to make red-light cameras work for safety instead of just revenue?

Red-light running is a serious problem. Yesterday I was at an intersection and saw a truck blow through a red light just like the very first one in this disturbing video:

And a LOVESalem friend has been dealing with some very serious and scary health issues after a couple lawyers plowed into her. And yet, society's response has been lame -- installing red-light monitoring cameras has been a bust, actually increasing accidents (as people who would otherwise have gone through suddenly slam on the brakes and get rear-ended).

There have been a number of studies showing that cities are using red-light cameras as revenue sources rather than safety measures, tweaking the yellow light to increase revenue, which normally is shared with a private contractor who maintains the camera setup. Not only is this cynical municipal response to a real threat disgusting, it also worsens the problem because the it persuades people that the traffic laws are only about cash, rather than safety -- which is the heart of the problem.

What should we do instead? Do we really want cameras at every intersection? What can we do about this threat if not? Is there any way we can make people see that red-light running is as bad as drinking and driving, which has declined a lot since MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) made it notorious.

One thing I know for sure: We need a better insurance system in two respects:

1. A better health insurance system so that anyone creamed by a red-light-running driver doesn't get creamed even worse by their health insurance company (if they are lucky enough to be insured), and

2. Universal auto liability coverage through a pay-at-the-pump insurance premium. In other words, instead of having the widely ignored coverage (which upward of 12% ignored even in the good times -- imagine how much that's gone up now), we need a single state collision insurance fund that pays out whenever a driver causes someone else to experience a loss, paid for with a small premium on gas at the pump. This way, we get 0% uninsured drivers, which eliminates a huge part of the problem, which includes our current screwy system of making the people who do follow the law and carry insurance also buy insurance against the risk of other people not doing so (uninsured motorists' coverage).

Right now, as this is written, there are scores of people driving around in Salem with no insurance, and some without a license at all. They typically have no assets. What they should have is to pay into the insurance fund whenever they gas up their car, so that if they hit somebody, that person is protected, regardless of whether they're employed or insured themselves.

Now that you've voted, one more thing

A plum treeSo many beautiful fruiting trees (like this plum) do well in Salem. Image via Wikipedia

You did vote, right? Shameful how few people have. These spring elections are a problem -- low turnout elections create a systematic bias in favor of incumbents, and spring elections create a systematic bias in favor of low turnout. Hmmmmm, no wonder they persist.

Anyway, now that you have presumably voted, there's another bit of community activism to take care of: Sign up with these folks, either to register a tree or vine for harvesting or to take part (and to take some of the haul!).
Neighborhood Harvest of Salem

To volunteer: contact Amy Barr at abarr@salemharvest.org or go to http://salemharvest.org

To register a tree [or grape vine, or berry bushes . . . ]: go to http://salemharvest.org or contact dyates@salemharvest.org with questions.

. . . The program isn't a bad deal for volunteers either because they get to share the bounty they pick. So far the list of volunteers includes five neighborhood leaders and 15 harvesters, but the group is looking for more. Many of the cities with similar programs end up with more fruit trees than volunteers can pick. The Portland group, for example, has 515 trees on its list.

"The number of trees that get registered is astounding," she said.

That's why leadership is critical, Clark-Burnell explained. She helped start the group with friends, and they now work under the nonprofit group Friends of Salem Saturday Market. They need more people who will help organize harvest parties, scout sites and collect the food for the pantries, she said. Harvest parties will begin in July with the start of the cherry season.

What neighborhoods get in return might be more than fruit.

Organizers said the Portland Fruit Tree Project helps build a sense of community where neighbors work together to feed the hungry in their area, care for neighborhood trees and share the harvest. . . .

And major props to the organizers, local heroes all!

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WORD: The price of private health insurance

papersThese are what patient records look like in a system where health takes a back seat to insurance company profits. Image by fsse8info via Flickr

How much would you pay to keep your private health insurance instead of a single-payer system? A thousand dollars? Ten thousand dollars?

How about $350 billion? . . .

Driving this high cost is overhead - plain old ponderous paperwork generated by our private insurance system - to the tune of $350 billion a year. Make no mistake: This money does not pay for health care. It pays for administrators, accountants, billing clerks and benefits managers to transfer our money to health care providers. . . .

It all adds up - to $350 billion.

Clearly filtering our dollars through private insurance companies squanders a lot of money (one dollar out of every three to be exact) before it gets to real-world health care. These losses would evaporate if the U.S. adopted a single-payer system. Mind you, single-payer systems still have administrative costs, just $350 billion less than we have now.

Let's see how $350 billion in paperwork compares to other costs.

It is more than we spend on immigrant health care ($40 billion), defensive medicine ($60 billion), and health insurance fraud ($72 billion) -- combined. It is more than we spend on medications ($261 billion), obesity-related diseases ($144 billion), tobacco-related diseases ($168 billion) or alcohol-related diseases ($96 billion). It's more than we spent on the Afghanistan war ($179 billion). It's more than the annual interest on our national debt ($224 billion).

And it's more than the extra funding needed for comprehensive health care for all Americans ($225 billion).

Curiously, one of America's own single-payer systems, the Veterans Administration, takes care of the sickest patients with the best results at the lowest cost with the highest patient satisfaction in the nation. Can life without private health insurance paperwork be all that bad? . . .

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Overdue still probably too little, too late

logoImage via Wikipedia

but it's a start: Cherriots is proposing a fare increase, with the basic adult fare for a one-way trip slated to go from $1.25 to $1.50 and most every other fare increasing by a corresponding amount.

The only interesting change is for the adult daypass to go from exactly the cost of two rides to the cost of two rides plus a quarter ($3.25).

The more interesting question is whether the Cherriots board has recognized that what they really need is a well-thought-out policy on fare increases so that it's not a big flap all the time -- if they thought through their policy on fares and farebox recovery and recognized the tie between fares and the minimum wage, they could spell out for everyone the conditions that would trigger a fare increase and then we wouldn't have the problem we have now, which is fares too low for too long, dragging the system down into unusability (no weekend service, little late-night service, route cuts).

Ideally transit is entirely fareless --- but until there's public support for that, riders have to pay enough to convince property owners that the system merits ample funding. Right now, Cherriots has allowed itself to get into a social service mode, thinking of its service as providing an option for people with no other options (and, therefore, high resistance to fare increases). That's nice, but it winds up hammering the riders anyway, as their bus service disappears when property owners refuse to pony up, in large part because the fares don't keep up.

So this increase is a step in the right direction if it leads to having some funding to restore some of the routes and times recently cut back -- but if it's just a random stab at an increase (rather than part of an overall fare strategy) or just-enough-increase to keep up with fuel and labor costs, then it's probably not going to cut it. We can hope that this is just the first increase of several that will be needed to get more funding from voters to pay for getting back to a functional, 7-day bus system, a critical service for a sustainable city.
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