Friday, February 11, 2005

What's Up With Oregon?

by Rohan

I'll admit to not having known, or even cared much about Oregon, but now, because of a sensational suicide pact, the state at the northwest corner has my complete attention, and maybe will soon have the unwanted attention of many. I say unwanted because to examine Oregon is to examine the current economic climate of the state and a window into the future of America’s economy. But before getting into economic trends lets begin with the sensational stuff, the stuff FOX News lovingly wallows in, except with just a wee bit more depth.

Gerald Krein, 26, was arrested after he used e-mail to try to recruit for a mass suicide set for Valentine’s Day. This plot involved over thirty people across the United States and Canada, according to authorities.

A woman who was going to join these poor souls had second thoughts when another chat room participant said she’d take the lives of her two children before offing herself. This shook the woman to contact police.

The police found Gerald at his mother’s mobile home in Klamath Falls. He faces charges of solicitation to commit murder.

Now this story is reported through the predictable mainstream as an example of how “evil” the Internet is, and will surely raise discussions on policing the Internet. This is a ploy. The Internet has been the only source of honest investigative journalism, keeping an eye on power, and “they” know this, which is why sorry individuals like Gerald Krein are so helpful for the Gestapo. But I digress. The story being avoided is the poverty weighing on the citizens of Oregon. Remember, Gerald Krein is a twenty-six year old man, in a mobile home, with his mother. There’s a reason for this.

Oregon has the highest jobless and hunger levels in the country. Four years after the recession of 2001, the employment level remains below pre-recession level. An estimated 50,800 workers in Oregon have lost their Unemployment Insurance benefits in 2004.

Bush continues to make sweeping cuts to raise money for the Iron Triangle.

Those government programs that have traditionally assisted the poor have either been eliminated or had their funding reduced. Oregon’s primary welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), has not increased the minimum income level required to qualify for help since 1991: $616 per month.

The Oregon Health Plan (OHP) has followed a similar path. Initially formed to provide health coverage to the working poor, the standard program of OHP has been progressively stripped of funding.

Oregon’s economy had been driven by agriculture, which has been subject to falling commodity prices in the face of globalized competition and is heavily reliant on poorly paid workers, many of whom are undocumented Hispanic residents (illegal aliens), which of course help drive wages into the dirt.

Higher-paying, “family-wage” jobs have been gradually replaced by lower paying jobs in the service sector. This isn’t an indictment of undocumented workers (illegal aliens), it’s an example of how DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS whore themselves to the financial elite and feed the people to the “Free-Market” beast.

During the 2003-2004 fiscal year—a year, it should be noted, that has been described by the Bush administration as one in which the economy was “rebounding”—the state’s network of non-profit pantries, warehouses and local food bank affiliates distributed a record 721,000 food boxes, an 11 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

The beginning of the sharp and steady rise in food box distribution by the Oregon Food Bank coincides precisely, and not surprisingly, with former President Bill Clinton’s “welfare reform” act in 1996.

The Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP), a liberal think tank, published a damning study on the conditions facing the working class and the increasing numbers of working poor in the state of Oregon.

The full report can be accessed at

The study is called In the Shadows of the Recovery: The State of Working Oregon 2004, and it details the impact of the recession. It’s also an indictment on the recent policies of both DEMOCRATCS AND REPUBLICANS. It covers jobs, wages, health, housing, prices, etc.

Economic pressure resulted in a spurt of alternative lenders who offer “subprime” home refinancing, payday loans, pawnshop loans, and higher-interest credit cards. The OCPP study brings attention to the increased rate of foreclosures and loss of property due to these life-snuffing loans.

The payday loan industry grew substantially in the last few years, now outnumbering McDonald’s restaurants in Oregon. Many workers are “living” only by borrowing from their future paychecks at shamefully astronomic rates.

The superficial recovery doesn’t help the underclass of Oregon because their existence due to bankruptcies, accumulated debt, and deferred healthcare while jobless has placed them so deep underwater drowning seems more sane than struggling for a breath.

The Human Toll

(from WSWS)

Here are stories, taken from local press reports.

A couple of weeks ago, the state capitol building in Salem, Oregon, was disrupted for an hour when a distraught 54-year-old man, swearing loudly and carrying a 10-inch knife, walked into the Senate chamber and threatened to kill himself.

The incident was caught on the building’s internal video system. Boyd A. Owens entered the Oregon Senate Chamber a few minutes before lawmakers were to convene their 11:15 a.m. floor session on Monday, January 31. Police said 15 people were in the chamber and fled as Owens took a seat at the base of the Senate president’s podium, holding a knife in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

An Oregon lawmaker who also is a physician attempted to talk to Owens before a trained police negotiator took over. Before Owens surrendered peacefully an hour later, much of the building had been overrun by officers with the Oregon State Police and sharpshooters. As he was escorted handcuffed down the capitol steps, Owens turned to reporters and TV cameras. “I’m disabled!” he screamed. “I need housing! That’s all!”

Last February, shortly after Oregon’s voters had rejected the tax increase referred by lawmakers, a 22-year-old woman named Farrah Russell suffering from schizophrenia received a letter from the state. “The program which allows you to get a cash payment and medical card each month is ending ... (the) state no longer has the funding to provide this program.”

Russell had just moved out of her parents’ home into her own apartment, which is where she committed suicide one day after receiving a 72-hour eviction notice. She killed herself by swallowing a 30-day supply of anti-psychotic pills.

That same month, a 60-year-old bipolar disorder patient, Douglas Bean, broke down after the relatively inexpensive community-based mental health services that allowed him to live in his own apartment, at a cost to the state of about $2,000 annually, were discontinued. Bean was first treated in an emergency room, and then spent a week in a psychiatric unit, racking up $7,000 in medical bills.

Last March, a 36-year-old disabled Portland man named Douglas K. Schmidt suffered a massive seizure after losing his state pharmaceutical benefit, which he used for anti-seizure medication. He slipped into a coma, where he remained until late November, when a court-appointed guardian authorized doctors to remove Schmidt from the ventilator. The bills for the nearly nine months of medical care he required since collapsing March 1 came to about $1 million. The anti-seizure drug Lamictal, one of two state-funded medications that Schmidt could no longer obtain, cost $13 per day.

Oregon has been long regarded by comfortable layers of the middle class and bourgeois image-makers as an oasis where “things look different” from other, “troubled” regions, but it is hardly immune from the horrors of school shootings and mass killings. Since a troubled 15-year-old boy in the working class community of Springfield (about two hours south of Portland) killed his parents in 1998 and then opened fire in his high school, killing two students and wounding 22 others, Oregon has had not one, but three such extraordinary crimes within a period of one year.

Late in December 2001, the bodies of three small children, ages two, three and four4, and their 35-year-old mother were found in the shallows of two inlets on the Oregon coast. The husband and father, Christian Longo, was found guilty of the murders and is currently awaiting execution at a state prison in Salem.

Barely two months later, a 37-year-old man, Robert Bryant, killed his three children with a shotgun while they slept, murdered his wife, and then shot himself to death in a small community southwest of Portland. In December of that year, the bodies of three children and their pregnant mother were found dumped in the Tillamook Forest in Northwestern Oregon. The father, Edward Morris, has been indicted by a grand jury in the killings and is awaiting trial.

According to press accounts, all three men had skirted with financial ruin in the months before the killings.

More could be said about such crimes—much more, at any rate, than the helpless banalities served up by Oregon’s timid press. After Longo was captured hiding in Mexico, the Oregonian’s editorial writers sadly shook their heads and declared that “it’s impossible to imagine any explanation” for such a horrific offense, and then called for the death penalty.

Most of this information has been gathered at WSWS, and sadly, the information is accurate and fact checked.