Dave Lister, closet socialist

By Joe Cortright of Portland, Oregon. Joe is the president and principal economist at Impresa, a consulting firm specializing in regional economic analysis. He's also a senior non-resident fellow of the Brookings Institution and chief economic analyst for the Oregon Business Plan.

In an op-ed in this morning's Oregonian, Dave Lister describes SeaPort Airlines, a new commuter airline startup, as a "high-flying example of free-enterprise."

Dave Lister is either a closet socialist, or he and I must have a different definition of "free enterprise."

SeaPort Air is heavily subsidized to fly to both Newport and Astoria. Government subsidies make up 80% of the revenue the airline gets for carrying passengers to these two cities. See, for example, this AP story from last month:

SeaPort's coastal flights have generated $213,000 in revenue, while the Port of Astoria and the City of Newport have spent more than $1 million in grant money to prop up the airline. ...

The port and the city received $4.5 million in state and federal grants last year to jump-start air service to the coast and approved a plan that would stretch the money for two years.

SeaPort's coastal flights have generated $213,000 in revenue, while the Port of Astoria and the City of Newport have spent more than $1 million in grant money to prop up the airline.

Perhaps Dave will now start praising TriMet as a paragon of free enterprise, too. Its subsidy is just about in the same range as SeaPort's.

[Editor's note: Commenting on the same issue at the Oregon Economics Blog, Patrick Emerson asks "Are there editors at the Oregonian?"]

Comments

  • Eric (unverified)
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    Calling SeaPort airlines "free enterprise" is indeed a stretch, but apparently it played no small part in helping secure the new NOAA facility in Newport. I don't think there's nearly enough of a market for people to fly to Portland from Newport or Astoria (as evidenced by the lack of passengers on SeaPort flights), but perhaps it will find increased business after NOAA comes to town. Who knows? All I can say is that if I have to go to Portland, I just drive there. Not the best alternative but less gas than a plane.

    Here's an article on the subject:

    http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2009/09/bluer_skies_for_seaport_airlin.html

    • Eric (Newport resident)
  • isbp (unverified)
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    Cue Lister's "I own a business" defense.

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    If Tri-Met distributed shares to each resident in the 3 counties and continued to recieve the same amount of subsidies it gets today, the free-market fanatics would consider it a great success. That is until it ended up with some fatal train collisions as happened in Britain when they did the same thing.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)
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    Noam Chomsky has pointed out a billion times that the purpose of the corporate-owned media is to create a pervasive wave of propaganda for the idea of "free markets," all the better to ensure that the poor get market discipline for their every move while the rich get public subsidies for theirs.

  • forest (unverified)
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    This story is way more crooked than another phony free-marketer celebrating the success of government largesse. It's a story about former senator Gordon Smith using his access to Bush money to thwart a competitive selection process and enrich his friends.

    Has anyone looked at the relationship between the CEO of Seaport, his former boss Dan Lavey, and the role played by Gordon Smith? Smith wired the award of the route for Craford using Lavey to lobby county commissioners and others. Smith was the driving force behind landing the federal money from the Bush administration to prop up Seaport. Someone should check whether Lavey or Gallatin have a financial interest in Seaport or have a contractual relationship with SeaPort.

  • ISocialism (unverified)
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    Of the $213K of reported revenue, a good chunk of that is subject to speculation - mark to market accounting and other tricks are being used to gin up the numbers in favor of a small coalition of 'investors'.

  • Ralph (unverified)
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    DL probably wrote his op-ed after a few too many. Par for his course.

  • Bill McDonald (unverified)
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    If you make it to the last paragraph, Dave is coming out against government interference in free enterprise. He just chose an example that hurts his argument, rather than helps it.

    The really dumb part of this post is the sentence: "Dave Lister is either a closet socialist, or he and I must have a different definition of free enterprise."
    
     Go back to the Brookings Institute and ask your buddies if maybe there is another possibility here. Maybe Dave just blew it when he picked the example. I suspect he  wasn't aware of the problem while writing this, or he would have stuck in a sentence about the subsidies to cover himself from this sort of reaction.
    
      Running with the socialist bit when the guy writes the last paragraph that he did, is a cheap shot. You've got Dave on the way he illustrates his point but you can't help overreaching with it. It's transparent.
    
       Hey, what about this, Mr. Smarty-Pants? Planes all count on government air traffic control so making the point that an airline is socialist is weak from the start.
    
       This is the type of esoteric, "look at me" crap that makes think tanks come off as such pompous dumb asses.
    
       You could have made your point without all the phony socialist drama.
    
  • (Show?)

    If you make it to the last paragraph, Dave is coming out against government interference in free enterprise. He just chose an example that hurts his argument, rather than helps it.

    I don't think it's as simple as that, Bill. Anybody that knows anything about SeaPort knows that it's been heavily subsidized. There's no other explanation for an airline that flies from Portland to Astoria.

    I actually re-read the last paragraph, at your suggestion, and I'd suggest others do too:

    Portland Mayor Sam Adams has an economic development task force that has promised to bring "green" jobs to Portland to solve our unemployment problem. The group has developed elaborate timelines for nurturing certain industries. Unfortunately the timeline continues to be revised to extend the research phase and delay the implementation. The reason is simple. Rather than letting the waters of free enterprise seek their own level, they are trying to dig canals to channel those waters. And the more they dig, the more stagnant the waters become. They need to take a lesson from Kent Craford and the guys at SeaPort Airlines.

    It's not that he's coming out against government interference in free enterprise. Dave Lister is coming out against government-directed subsidies. Assuming that he knows even the basic facts about SeaPort, his argument is clearly this: It's better to have private companies figure out what activities they'd like the government to subsidize, rather than to have governments figure out what private companies they'd like to subsidize.

    It's a fine distinction - since both processes end up with taxpayer dollars financing private enterprise. But I think it's a critical one.

    Who should decide how taxpayer dollars are spent? The elected representatives of the taxpayers, trying to figure out what's best for the community at large? Or private entrepreneurs, trying to figure out what's best for themselves?

  • rw (unverified)
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    Kari: "Who should decide how taxpayer dollars are spent? The elected representatives of the taxpayers, trying to figure out what's best for the community at large? Or private entrepreneurs, trying to figure out what's best for themselves?"

    Well said.

  • Bill McDonald (unverified)
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    Kari, I think his article completely blanks on government subsidies regarding this little airline. I don't see any mention of them during the standard description of the little airline that could. I think he just blew it. That happens too, you know. If anything there's an anti-government vibe in the way airport security requirements have made the airline flourish. Your interpretation of what he's trying to argue is subtle. People who never heard of this airline - like myself - have no way of latching onto the pro-subsidy point of view, if it's there. I still think you're reading way too much into it.

       However, I was encouraged that evangelicals take the planes. I'm not getting on a 9-seater to Seattle  without at least one priest. You never know. I could have a death spiral conversion.
    
        Finally, Kari, what about the way the "socialist" word is thrown around? Not just here but nationally. That's the big problem for me.
    
  • (Show?)

    I think he just blew it. That happens too, you know.

    Sure. And that's why Patrick Emerson's question is a bit more on point: Where the hell are the editors at the O?

    Your interpretation of what he's trying to argue is subtle. People who never heard of this airline...

    I agree it's subtle. But then, it's clear that Dave Lister HAS heard of the airline. The complaint here isn't that his readers don't get it; it's that he doesn't get it.

    Finally, Kari, what about the way the "socialist" word is thrown around? Not just here but nationally. That's the big problem for me.

    Yeah, I agree. It's completely stupid. Which is why its use in this post by Cortright is so wonderfully delicious. Hoist with his own petard and all that.

  • blue collar libertarian (unverified)
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    I just did a quick read through this and only see the phrase "free enterprise" in the headline and a quote from the guy in the business. Did Lister choose the headline? When I had a op-ed published they picked it. Could be my mistake so I'll accept the lash ahead of time if that is the case.

  • (Show?)

    Oh poo...this isn't about the guy from Red Dwarf.

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    Thanks, Carl, that brings back warm memories. Lister lives! :-)

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    George Anonymuncule Seldes:

    Noam Chomsky has pointed out a billion times that the purpose of the corporate-owned media is to create a pervasive wave of propaganda for the idea of "free markets," all the better to ensure that the poor get market discipline for their every move while the rich get public subsidies for theirs.

    Bob T:

    Well, Chumpsky oughta know -- for many years he's been getting subsidies (from the Pentagon no less, as well as dreaded "multi-national corporations") and is a millionaire many times over (stock market player, invests in oil, military contractors, big pharma etc.), and while he preaches income redistribution he makes sure that his own money is touched as little as possible by using tax havens, trust funds etc., and although he claims to hate the idea of intellectual property rights he's made sure that his extended copyright protections for his works will ensure keeping millions in the family (to made up for by taxing people who inherit punier amounts). He's also a champion Jew-hater, although that's off-topic.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Garage Wine (unverified)
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    Joe Cortright does an excellent job of copycatting Patrick Emerson's blog post. Score one for the creative class!

  • Bob R. (unverified)
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    He's also a champion Jew-hater, although that's off-topic.

    That's a marvelous trolling technique you've developed there, Bob. You make a statement that is bound to provoke controversy, and in the very same sentence, acknowledge it as being "off topic", as though you care so much about the quality of the discussion in this forum. It comes with the added bonus of inferring that anyone who takes the bait disputes what you have asserted is dragging the discussion off-course.

    If you really were concerned about off-topic comment bombing, you wouldn't have written that in the first place.

    You exhibit champion troll behavior, but that's off-topic.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Kari, that's "Hoist on his own petard".

  • Dave Lister (unverified)
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    Good criticisms. Two things:

    The Oregonian writes the headlines, I don't.

    SeaPort's main business is the commuter flights to Seattle... not subsidized as far as I know. The identification of a need for business travelers to get to Seattle (not Seatac) from Portland in less than an hour without dealing with airport screening is the foundation of their business plan. They identified a need and filled it. The subsidized routes were an offshoot.

    Providing air service to small communities that can no longer support the regular carriers is a vital transportation issue and I have no problem with it being subsidized. I also believe in Tri Met because we need a good public transportation system and recognize that it also needs to be subsidized; fares alone cannot support it. The arguments are about how the money is spent, not that Tri Met is necessary.

    As far as the editors at the Oregonian are concerned, they already called me on this one. I write opinions and they let me write what I want.

    Finally, I'm a pilot and any success story in aviation is to me a pretty cool thing.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Bob Tiernan is a robotic poster.

  • Doug Allen (unverified)
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    I have found all of Lister's columns to be a waste of newsprint, with very little thought put into them. Can't the Oregonian find a local "libertarian" who is a bit smarter? Like John Charles, for example? Elizabeth Hovde is better than Lister, and that isn't saying much, but she is more of a "conservative" than a "libertarian." Perhaps Lister pays the Oregonian a subsidy to publish his stuff.

    I rejoiced when David Reinhard left the Oregonian, but now I am not so sure, with namby pamby stuff from Sarasohn, incomprehensible drivel about Damascus from Andy Parker, and Steve Duin reverting to his sports commentator role. At least they still print George Will who promotes the dark side's positions with intelligence and wit, and occasionally even says something I can agree with.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)
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    Easy solution, Doug Allen. Don't read it.

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    Yeah Doug, that's what I do. :)

  • rw (unverified)
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    Yah, it's sad, but it IS the local fish wrap.

  • Bill McDonald (unverified)
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    Dave, You haven't addressed the central question of this post: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the socialist party? And one followup question: Are you in favor of turning air traffic control over to Halliburton or do you have socialist tendencies? Finally, have you ever palled around with a terrorist?

       Thanks for your cooperation although it wasn't really necessary. We have ways to make you talk.
    
  • Smegheads for Dave Lister (unverified)
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    But...that's what we like about him!

  • fbear (unverified)
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    Bill,

    You're usually right on, so I'm puzzled by your cluelessness about this.

    The point is that Lister made a big deal out of a "success story" that is a success largely because of a substantial government subsidy. This isn't a business pulling itself up by the bootstraps, it's government providing the bootstraps, and the boots.

    Many on the right are quick to throw the term "socialist" against government programs they don't like, so the point here is that this is a government program that Dave Lister likes. It's giving the right a taste of their own medicine.

  • Lucas (unverified)
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    The Oregonian writes the headlines, I don't.

    C'mon, man. If you don't have a brain, at least have some integrity.

    You're the one who wrote about the "waters of free enterprise" and how Mayor Sam Adams & Co. "need to take a lesson from Kent Craford and the guys at SeaPort Airlines."

    The O's headline succinctly captures the point of your op-ed. It's just that the O, like you, have no clue . . .

  • Jonathan Radmacher (unverified)
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    As someone who finds it pretty easy to sit back and snark, I appreciate Dave Lister's willingness to write commentaries. It's much easier to pick at something than it is to create the "something." Not that I agree with most of what he writes, mind you, but he continues to engage in a thoughtful way.

  • Bill McDonald (unverified)
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    I have no clue about this airline, I'll tell you that. I never heard of it. A 9-seater? There's another name for that: group sky diving. But what drew me in was the sentence about stops in Astoria, Newport and Pendleton with 4 new routes in Arkansas. I was intrigued by the comedic flavor.

    Okay, I get it now. This is a bag of the way the word socialist is thrown around by certain parts of society and you're tying that group to Dave. Didn't catch that.
    
    I was relying on Dave being clueless about the subsidies but I was instead. This was sort of a comedic take.
    

    I get it now, but I will still jump in without a clear understanding of the facts in the future. That is my blog-given right.

      I apologize for calling the Brookings Institute a bunch of pompous dumb asses.
    
  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)
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    Interesting. I attempted to post this comment over at the Oregonian's site (Oregon(notso)Live) at 6:01 p.m. yesterday and it doesn't appear under the story today. I don't know whether it's a tech issue or whether they spiked it.

    There's no contradiction there at all. In America, the rich LOVE socialism and practice it exclusively when they can. "Free Market" discipline is for the poor, not themselves. You have only to look at how the recent and ongoing financial bailouts were conducted -- rather than bailing out homeowners so that they could PAY their mortgages and avoid foreclosure, the feds simply airdropped huge sums on banks directly and begged them to please, if you don't mind, possibly, maybe think about kinda, you know, for a little while, talking with the owners before kicking them out into the street. The rich and the corporate elites in America LOVE socialism, which is why they demonize the word every chance they get, which is nothing but the same phenomenon as Ted Haggard bashing the gays all the time.
  • DS (unverified)
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    Dave wrote:

    "Easy solution, Doug Allen. Don't read it."

    Dave, judging by the Oregonian's declining circulation #'s, looks like people are taking your advice.

    People choose not to read weak content.

    That is why the WSJ is seeing PAID circulation going up, while NYT and Oregonian continue to suck eggs.

  • (Show?)

    Kari, that's "Hoist on his own petard".

    No, it's not. Read your Shakespeare. Hamlet:

    There's letters seal'd: and my two schoolfellows, Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd, They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way And marshal me to knavery. Let it work; For 'tis the sport to have the enginer Hoist with his own petar[d]; and 't shall go hard But I will delve one yard below their mines And blow them at the moon: O, 'tis most sweet, When in one line two crafts directly meet.

    A petard was a sort of medieval hand grenade. You can't be hoist "on" it, but you can be hoist "with" it - i.e. blowing yourself up.

  • Bill McDonald (unverified)
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    So you're saying Shakespeare was a socialist? I'm confused again.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Bob R:

    That's a marvelous trolling technique you've developed there, Bob.

    Bob T:

    Well, yeah, I didn't need to add that last part but it was no different from other add-ons I see here when numerous others are being attacked. Point was to discredit Chumsky, which I like to do whenever I see yet another bobble-head quoting him. Anyone care to respond to the hypocrisy of Chumpsky? I guess not.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    RW:

    Bob Tiernan is a robotic poster.

    Bob T:

    Oh, c'mon. Hardly that. Was that robotic of me to post, several times so far, interesting and useful information about alternative energies and stuff about different biofuels that have a future in this world? Or my support for things like instant run-off elections and stuff? I guess not.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Lord Beaverbrook (unverified)
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    Bob R:

    That's a marvelous trolling technique you've developed there, Bob.

    RW:

    Bob Tiernan is a robotic poster.

    One way to distinguish between progressives and mere liberals is that mere liberals will quietly drop their points if their reference group disapproves, and silence is usually how that disapproval is communicated. That's why they're called "yellow" dogs. Rebel dogs, on the other hand, only notice that their concerns haven't been addressed and the situation hasn't improved.

    We call it public service. They call it anti-social. The absurdity seems to strike no one that, by doing so, they have created the concept of the anti-social socialist. Oh, the John Birchers already did that. See, we can't think five minutes without Dems and Reps blurring.

    (No need to fret, Bob. As a matter of fact, I do have a mouse in my pocket.)

  • Miki (unverified)
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    The majority of people who fly in aircraft with fewer then 30 passengers are either affluent enough to own or rent private planes and jets or else are heavily subsidized with public money as SeaPort is.

    The implicit message in Lister’s editorial is that well-heeled business travelers do not pose a risk to the greater good or that they are deserving of special privileges that are not accorded to Main St. Americans. For the record, the notion that the wealthy give a rip about the rest of us is now deeply buried beneath the rubble of the economic collapse.

    Not only is SeaPort Airlines heavily subsidized, in addition the infrastructure at the airports this company flies in and out of, PDX and Boeing Field, are paid for by federal and state tax dollars. For example while shortchanging education and the social services, the 2007 Oregon Legislature awarded PDX $6.3 million in Connect Oregon II lottery revenues for a runway extension project despite the fact that annual operations at this facility have plummeted to 1986-87 levels over the past decade.

    The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) report on general aviation (GA) stated that 75% of aircraft operations in this country are classified as GA. As such they are not subject to federally mandated security measures. The lack of security for smaller aircraft poses serious risks to the public. The 8/8/09 Oregonian article Drugs leave trail of ruin, fear in rural Oregon on the drug related murders in Elgin said that “Law enforcement officials talk of aircraft slipping in and out of small airports and private air strips to refuel and deliver narcotics.” The article went on to quote a not–yet published 2010 report by the state High Intensity Drug Trafficking program indicating that air smuggling may be “an even greater threat than law enforcement is aware.”

    Recent stories alleging that Colton Harris-Moore, a teenager known as the “barefoot bandit” was able to steal small aircraft, on at least two separate occasions, also points to the need for greater security. In addition there have been a number of articles on the risk of terrorist attack via small aircraft.

    Lister has assumed the role of cheerleader for a classist system and a company that takes great pride in circumventing transportation security regulations. Why should those who fly in smaller taxpayer subsidized flights be exempt form the same security measures as the rest of us?

    Public handouts to the wealthy private aviation industry should cease immediately. Instead this money should be invested in mandated security requirements for all GA airports and small aircraft as well as transportation alternatives that serve the vast majority such as high speed rail. Education, health care, and the social services are also deserving of far more government financial support.

  • notchomsky (unverified)
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    Chomsky has said for years that our system is neither socialism nor capitalism, but rather privatized profits for the rich and socialized costs and risks for the rest of us. How can anyone look at the ongoing Obama/Bush bailouts for rich bankers and corporatists and deny the truth of that?

    Bob Tiernan should understand that hatred of Chomsky has been a cottage industry for many years for avowed communists and capitalists, Democrats and Republicans, pro- and anti-Semites. His is a unique voice, and those who attack him tend to display their own ignorance. If Tiernan has sources for his claims, he should post them, or, better yet, he should engage Chomsky himself at zcommunications.org.

  • Peri Brown (unverified)
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    I agree, Miki. But is it that simple? This seems like a special case, but aren't puddle jumper flights usually connections? That has to have a major effect on the traffic volume at hubs. I haven't bothered to look, but would bet that the puddle jumper subsidiaries of the major airlines don't turn a profit, per se. They exist because they feed regular hub based flights.

    So, how much would lite rail to Astoria be? Light rail everywhere. Much cheaper, no? Now watch the wingnuts show up. "Hey, we kind of liked the waste of fuel involved with airlines. Sounded a bit elitist too. We'll look the other way for if you want to subsidize that".

    Spot on, "not". What is it, that people that don't understand what he is trying to say can only parody his name? I remember waaaaay back, in the '70s, when Skinner devotees trashed his linguistic theories, they were calling him "Noam Chimpsky".

    His thinking reminds me a lot of Bobby Fisher's. Maybe they're trying to drive him mad, too, so they don't have to address the underlying soundness of the ideas. There must be an marketing or MBA course on ad hominem arguments.

  • Jim (unverified)
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    Bob Tiernan, please provide sources for your statements re Noam Chomsky, particularly that he is a Jew hater (I guess a self-hating Jew too), but as well the stock stuff.

  • notchomsky (unverified)
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    The US democratic deficit

    The irrelevance of popular opinion in the US is quite dramatic. Take the leading domestic issue right now, which is healthcare; it’s a catastrophe. The debate that’s going on is in fact surreal in many ways, not just Sarah Palin and the death panels, but there was a front-page story in the New York Times, reporting that the Obama administration had made a secret deal with the pharmaceutical industry in which it promised not to allow the government to use its purchasing power to negotiate drug prices, as is done in every other country and as, for example, the Pentagon can do for buying paper clips.

    But it’s legally barred in the United States and that’s the major reason why drug prices are twice as high as in most of the world. About 85% of the population think we should negotiate drug prices – but they’re not even mentioned, in fact I don’t think you can even find a report of the polls. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article23805.htm

  • Miki (unverified)
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    In response to Peri Brown's 10/25/09 question: So, how much would lite rail to Astoria be?

    I am not proposing light rail to Astoria as it would be a waste of money given the limited usage. Light rail may work well for densely populated urban environments but not for sparsely populated areas along Highway 30 and 26 to the coast. What I would suggest is a shuttle bus to both Newport and Astoria.

    The notion that terribly inconvenienced business people are deserving of massive public subsidies because their time is more valuable than our money suggests an inflation and grandiosity that is grossly out of proportion to their contributions to our community.

    <h2>Remember it is the business community that is affronted by the possible increase of the $10 corporate tax. Meanwhile taxpayers are expected to subsidize not only SeaPort Airlines but also entire so-called executive airports such as Hillsboro on their behalf.</h2>
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