Thursday, May 31, 2007

Future Outlook for Dried Salmon County Seniors

Undoubtedly you have read or heard that our beloved county as well as a couple of its cities have been designated by magazines, television and other commercial ventures as the #1 or in the top 10 destinations for people to retire and live out their final years.

But, are we ready for them to come? Or, for that matter, are we ready to take care of ourselves in this county as we age? Concerns we have center primarily around the livability factor after the influx of retirees relocate to the area buying property up and after all of the locals who are 'pimping out' our county have made their fortunes, thus padding their own nest-eggs thus ensuring they are able to remain here and live comfortably. However, for the rest of us, the future may look more bleak.

A harbinger of what is to come in the City of Astoria is the 'domino-like' string of condominiums and luxury living establishments that will soon be lining the edges of our beloved riverfront. Condos that will be out of financial reach for most locals let alone local seniors. Currently there is very little if any affordable housing available throughout the cities of our county and this will probably worsen in the future. Sure, there are some assisted living facilities dotting our communities, but they also are far being within financial reach of all of our local seniors and what of the people who just want to live in an apartment or remain in their own homes because they cannot afford to move? This is segues into the next component of senior needs - transportation.

Local transportation, while better than it used to be in this area, still leaves much to be desired. We understand that the local bus system is subsidized heavily just to keep it going, but what if those funds go away? What will our seniors do then? Their needs for transportation are not for frivolous joy rides. Transportation is necessary for them to be able to attend medical appointments, access social services, and also for shopping and other daily needs that we who drive take for granted. Though many of us think that we will be driving into our 80's and 90's, think again. With liquid gold the price that it is now, we may not be able to afford it and, frankly, some seniors just need to not be on the road as drivers. Much easier to convince grandma to hang up her keys if there is a user friendly transportation system that will work for her needs and still allow for independence. Think of the fatal and severe auto accidents that have occurred in this county over the past 10 years or so. Many involved senior drivers who should not still hold valid licenses and be driving.

Challenges in shopping and gathering ones daily needs may be at the forefront and it would be nice if there existed more opportunities for 'downtown shopping' in our communities. Where neighborhood grocery stores were once plentiful in this county, now we are relegated to having to use the "big" stores. Even as a younger person, Fred Meyer and Safeway can be a daunting and totally frustrating experience, but just try to imagine experiencing all of that as a senior.

What can be done to alleviate these hurdles that exist for today's seniors and will probably only be compounded in the future when we reach senior-hood?

Socialised health care would be a start (a topic we will save for another day), as would more low income affordable housing in urban areas. However the housing needs to be accompanied by easy access to local services and/or excellent transportation systems.

As we don't see these things happening anytime soon, perhaps if people started working on these issues now, they may be in place by the time we reach our 'so called' golden years.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Business as Usual

Traditionally the Republican Party has been known as a friend of big business or even anyone with a business interest. The Democrat Party is generally known as a friend to labor unions and the workers. Though this division seems somewhat natural and necessary for balance it in actuality is most detrimental to the American economy.

As product pricing follows the laws of supply and demand, our labor markets swing with the same pendulum. If there are a lot of people in your profession who are prepared to work, the pay may be lower. If you provide a specialty service that few others can provide, you are paid more.

There are areas of the country where fast food workers are paid over ten-dollars per hour. Not only are they paid much higher than the national average for their McJobs, but they are also transported to and from work every day, which is usually from the inner city to the suburbs. Kids in the suburbs just won’t do that sort of work for that sort of wage.

Recently the City of Seaside has gone through some trauma because the affordable housing is converted into higher cost condominiums. These apartment complexes housed many of the people who are doing minimum wage tasks in their community. Over seventy units have been converted and are no longer available to these workers.

The owners are trying to maximize their investments and make a profit while they are able. However there are now at least seventy individuals or families who can no longer afford to reside in Seaside. This may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but next time you are in a large group, count heads and see just what 70 people look like.

Yes, many of the low wage jobs are filled by students who can only work part-time, but consider how many positions seventy people hold. What would happen to the motel industry in that town if all the housekeepers left? Let’s say all the fast food and convenience stores workers could no longer afford to be employed there?

In order to attract good employees or even warm bodies, the local businesses will have to shell out much more than minimum wage just to keep staffing at a minimal level. While a few people try to maximize their investments in real estate, every business will have to pay for the loss of affordable housing. This cost will be passed onto the consumer.

There is a cause and effect here that transcends any ideology that Republicans or Democrats have cooked up. It is hard enough for a small business or a minimum wage employee to survive with the outside forces tugging them in every direction and emptying their pockets.

With oil companies taking in billions of dollars of profit every quarter, the trickle down economy harms both small business and workers. It is believed that everything finds its own level in Capitalism. Unfortunately this level where all things are equal rarely comes into play with these unrealistic profits.

The pendulum is still in motion. Though it is doubtful that those on the bottom of the food chain will ever get ahead; those further up the food chain will have to pay more to maintain the status quo. Affordable housing and services will need to be provided to attract individuals and families to work in the service industry. Businesses will end up paying one way or another to meet the goals of their business plans. Rather than jump through all the hoops and watch the funds diminish with each transaction to patch the holes that prevent employees from living and working in the same town. Wouldn’t it make better sense to pay a fair wage and offer a health plan up front? This will create a work force that will be loyal and will have a vested interest in the community where the business is located.

There is a lot to be said for businesses who embrace this concept. As consumers, think of a business you frequent that has a constant turn over. Each transaction is made with a new inexperienced employee. These employees are never there long enough to understand the customers. Compare this with a business you may frequent that has retained the same staff over many years who not only remember your name but remember your history and what sort of purchases you have made in the past. One might think this is unimportant in a convenience store or a fast food restaurant, but it is important in any business, even a Kool-Aid stand.

The lack of a common ground of the Democratic and Republican platform on issues of labor and industry will keep the nation divided and keep class wars on our doorsteps. Maybe the rich will gain more wealth, but this lopsided gain is harming the health of our country, states and towns. If this stalemate continues it will harm our future as the divide grows wider.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Conflicts of Interest

In Clatsop County a recurring topic of debate is conflict of interest. Conflict of interest between a public official and his/her “regular” job. Conflict of interest between two spouses when one is a judge and another is the city attorney. Conflict of interest between government employees “using” office time for private business.

Over and over again we have public officials who have to make a choice. Will the outcome of the decision before me give me an undue advantage? We want it to influence their lives. We want it to impact them just as much as it impacts us, but not more and not less. If it is good we don’t want them to have it better than us. If it is bad, we don’t want them to have it less.

How is it that these people, who we elected a mere matter of a few years, or even months, ago suddenly change into people who must be watched with suspicion? Perhaps it is the nature of the beast. We are raised with these ideas of ignobility. Thoughts like “the nature of the beast” and “original sin” are common threads most of us are familiar with. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and the root of all evil is the love of money. Success is looked at with a degree of suspicion, especially when it is in someone who is perceived as “flaunting” it or “suddenly” coming upon it. Carpet baggers are the worst of all people especially carpet baggers with money that aren’t sharing it by opening a series of small businesses that fail, one after another.

Perceptions are very important. In small communities where at the age of 50 you are still be referred to by a “y” at the end of your name or as a junior, one error in judgment can haunt you for decades, depending on who you are. Ask Julie Leonhardt.

Conflict of interest is about perceptions. Each year what is perceived as wrong and to what degree changes drastically. Recently the Daily Astorian reported a drug bust in which an “arsenal” of guns and ammunition was found in a home along with drugs and paraphernalia. The horror of Latino nationals being involved along with “Mexican Mafia” was a topic of conversation and news for the local rag for days.

Not even 20 years ago one of our own from the upper crust was caught after an intense six month long DEA investigation. When the agents burst through the door the man greeted them with a sub-machine gun in his hands. He had over twenty guns in his private “arsenal” along with all of the appropriate ammo. He also had cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and an assortment of prescription drugs bagged and ready for sale. The man was arrested, the DEA agents packed up and moved on to another county. Six months later the man opened a logging business. His first client? The then district attorney. After the next election Julie Leonhardt was the new DA. Conflicts of interest … never ending.