My position on Relevant Issues

with some Evaluation & Analysis

Oregon Local Politics

Linn County Class Action Timber Lawsuit

 
Decision-maker: Benton County Commissioners (to join lawsuit)
Timeline: decision to opt-in made in 2017 & the county court ruled on the class action lawsuit in 2020

I support the Commissioners prior decision to opt into the Linn County Timber Lawsuit, since it's a question of contract law, and opting out would have reduced the State's obligation by less than 1%, but the Democrat-Herald (Alex Paul, March 10, 2020) identified Benton County's award at $6,671,128, which may be used to defer some taxes or fees.

 
  • Is it a “breach of contract”? 

Yes, unless an Appeal Court or the Oregon Supreme Court overturns the decision. “A Linn County jury ruled Wednesday that the state of Oregon breached its contract with timber counties west of the Cascades by failing to generate sufficient revenue through logging on state forests.” Oregon Public Broadcasting, 11-20-19 - https://www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-linn-county-timber-lawsuit-jury-verdict/

  • Why is this important?

Contracts are a vital part of building relationships and completing business transactions.  Contracts have been the cornerstone of our civilization throughout recorded history and presumably well beforehand.  If you don’t like the terms of a contract, the time-honored approach is to renegotiate it.  For example, if you order a pizza, and half a pizza arrives, you shouldn’t have to pay full price, even if they did a good deed giving it to a homeless shelter on the way.  For this lawsuit, if the entire public benefits from a change in forest management, that entire public should be willing to pay more in taxes rather than burden a minority with all the costs.

 
  • Was it a good financial decision for Benton County to opt-in?

One objection to the Benton County’s participation in the lawsuit was that all Oregon residents are responsible for the $1.06B ($252.92 per person), so Benton County residents lose out overall.  This objection is a straw-man fallacy, in that the Commissioners only possible decision was to join the class action suit, NOT to dismiss it. The lawsuit and State’s obligation would have continued with or without Benton County.  Because other counties would still collect, opting-out would have changed the State’s obligation to $1.06B-6.7M or $251.32 per person, thus saving the state $1.60 per person, less than 1% of the total, while Benton County gets the $6,700,000.

  • Is this an environmental issue?

Yes, forest management is an important environmental issue.  However, consider the principle -- can the State break a contract if it’s better for the environment.  Can I do the same?  If I heat my house with excess wood scraps most days in winter, an environmental good which I already do, can I avoid paying utility bills?  I hope you'd agree with me that the answer is “No.”  As for the environment, can the State effectively promote future desirable changes to forest management if the people on the ground don't trust them to honor their word?  Trees are great at converting CO2 to O2, as well as providing other things we need and use, and both can be improved by cooperative forest management.  Breaking a contract does not lead to future cooperation among the parties to it.

  • Could the County have received more money?

Benton County’s share in the lawsuit dropped from an estimated $27M to 6.7M (25% the original estimate) while the other counties in the lawsuit only dropped from an estimated 1.4B to 1.06B (75% the original estimate).  As your Commissioner, I would have tried to get Benton County as many dollars as the court would recognize as our loss over the term of the Contract.

 

   Case History (below) at end of Article from the Albany Democrat-Herald, Alex Paul, Dec. 22, 2019

  • The lawsuit was filed in March 2016. The class members charged that in 1998, the Board of Forestry changed what the term “greatest permanent value” meant in dealing with timber harvests on more than 600,000 acres of state forest lands in 15 Oregon counties.

  • Clatsop County, which is home to a large share of those state lands — opted out of the lawsuit. And Judge McHill ruled late in deliberations that Klamath County could not be included because its state lands are managed under the rule as it was applied prior to 1998.

  • Oregon State Forests were created from the Forest Acquisition Acts of 1939 and 1941. The state agreed to take possession of hundreds of thousands of acres of mostly cut-over and burned forestlands that private companies had let go back to counties for unpaid taxes.

  • Because the nation was in the grip of the Great Depression the landowners did not want to invest money in replanting trees, knowing it would take decades before they could recoup their investments with timber harvests.

  • Oregon Gov. Charles Sprague and others had wanted to create a state forest system, thereby also creating a permanent timber economy for the state for many years.

  • In return for deeding the lands to the state, the counties would receive two-thirds of timber sale harvest revenues and the state would keep one-third as a management fee. The counties also helped fund reforestation of the lands.

  • Timber management would be based on “greatest permanent value,” which the counties showed that in 1941 meant greatest monetary value.

  • Attorneys for the class members argued that the Board of Forestry changed the meaning of the term, without considering the counties as equal partners. They argued contract changes required approval by all contract parties.

  • Forest management changes cost counties about $35 million per year, experts said during the trial.

  • The counties had originally asked for $1.4 billion in current and future damages, but amend that to about $1.1 billion, based on a recalculation of future damages when the trial began.

 

Should Benton County own an armored vehicle?

Decision-maker: Benton County Sheriff

I support the Sheriff's Office having their own armored vehicle available and commend them for accepting this useful piece of equipment for the small cost of painting and maintenance.  This community should be proud of their resourcefulness. 

  • Below is my (John Sarna's) Letter to the Editor, titled: "Paranoid reaction endangers officers" (Gazette-Times, 6-4-18); I didn't compose the title, the Gazette did, I just submitted the words below.

Having finally secured and settled into my first professional job as an engineer — in the military-industrial complex — my internal guru pointed out it wasn’t particularly consistent with what served me morally. After thinking this through, I decided to risk telling my employer I could no longer work on offensive weapons. Surprisingly, they were receptive and reassigned me to other work, with substantial dividends to us both.

So, reading last year about Benton County’s procurement of a military-surplus armored vehicle — as a defensive “weapon,” it seemed the right thing to do, and quite cheaply at that. What surprised me was this community’s reaction in these letters to the editor, confirmed when I heard a couple of candidates for county commissioner pooh-pooh it as a “militarization” of our local police force, even getting some applause! I’ve tried to wrap my head around any scenario where an armored vehicle could be used against law-abiding, local residents, and they’re all paranoid or strawmen. 

One opposing scenario recently came to life in Blodgett, where Jim Morris allegedly shot up a couple of people and disappeared into the woods. A SWAT team responded in Linn County’s armored vehicle to try to capture him. Why does Linn County have a working armored vehicle and Benton County’s sits unusable in storage? The answer is disconcerting — people use the word “militarization” to stop thoughtful consideration, thereby refusing our sheriff one potentially useful tool for a critical responsibility — ensuring the safety of his deputies who must occasionally deal with such inherently dangerous situations.

The Benton County Sheriff’s Office is readying an armored vehicle to add to its fleet, the result of a federal program that provides surplus military gear at no cost to law enforcement agencies.  The armored vehicle, known as a Cadillac Gage Ranger or “Peacekeeper,” arrived at the Sheriff’s Office in November through the so-called 1033 program. The program, which began in 1990, permits the Secretary of Defense to transfer excess Department of Defense supplies and equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. The Sheriff’s Office has not yet used the Peacekeeper as the vehicle is in need of several repairs and modifications.  Sheriff Scott Jackson said he had no interest in obtaining a military vehicle, but the Peacekeeper caught his eye because of its potential use as a transport vehicle or as a response to active shooter situations.  “I hope we never use it,” he said. “This is something that we would use only in a worst-case-scenario. So unless we have a major incident, you’re never going to see it.”.

 

Disaster Planning - Preparedness and Mitigation

 

While our lives have been seriously disrupted by COVID-19, it will pass, hopefully at minimal human cost, but other risks exist, as well as residents and businesses still needing to recover from the lock-down. As I’ve brought up during meetings, even before this virus became a thing, we should be better prepared to weather these risks.  While I promote and support all elements in Benton County’s 2040 Thriving Communities Initiative Core Values, my first focus will be on “Community Resilience,” i.e., ensuring “Communities & Individuals are Prepared to Respond to & Recover from Natural & Human Caused Disasters, Threats, & Changes.”

 

What would I do as Commissioner:

  • If still needed in 2021, continue to oversee local efforts to alleviate the COVID-19 pandemic and promote economic recovery, including addressing economic damage to businesses and residents caused by the lock-down.

  • Develop local scenarios for natural disasters listed in the Benton County Multi-Jurisdictional Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan, including:

    • Earthquake – e.g., a magnitude 9 event on the Cascadia-fault

    • Flooding - e.g. Hwy 34 from being closed off just east of the Willamette

    • Drought - e.g., insufficent water to maintain water supplies in one or more communities

    • Wildfire - e.g. 52,000 people evacuated during the Camp Fire in Paradise - what to do if people flee here as well as preparation for a large fire here.  This was written well before Oregon's terrible Sept. 2020 fire season, which brings home the need for being better prepared for wildfire here

    • Winter storms (snowstorms, ice storms and extreme cold), windstorm, landslide, ashfall from a volcano, etc.

  • Raise the possibility of local scenarios not listed in the Benton County Plan​

    • George Floyd's death in Minneapolis on May 25 led to demonstrations protests that included widespread rioting and looting in cities throughout the U.S. and world.  ​While I would hope the peaceful nature of relevant demonstrations in Benton County is likely in the future, many suburbs an hour distant from cities saw looting, which they certainly wouldn't have anticipated.  It is therefore prudent to develop a reasonable response plan.

  • Identify where resources are lacking, acting to obtain them if the cost is reasonable​

  • Prepare for potential human-related disasters, like COVID-19, or a train derailment releasing a toxic liquid or gas, through like scenarios, recognizing that some events are unforeseeable, but may be addressed as described in the Benton County Emergency Operations Plan

  • Specific actions I’d recommend:

    • Implement Shake-Alert for County staff, so, if a major earthquake does occur, immediate action could be taken before shaking starts to save some essential infrastructure.  Shake-Alert could then be more quickly integrated into the Linn-Benton Alert Notification System, so Benton County residents could also be alerted to an impending earthquake.  While the Shake-Alert detection system is incomplete statewide here in Oregon (as a Commissioner, I would strongly advocate the State complete it), a statewide detection system is now complete in Canada, Washington and California, with all California residents being given the option to sign up to receive early warnings a year ago.  Those running the Shake-Alert detection system informed me that local governments in Oregon could obtain access to this detection system, so, by using appropriate software, Benton County could immediately begin providing Shake-Alert warnings to its staff, and later to its residents.  This could provide them with up to two minutes warning for a Cascadia-fault earthquake, the length of time depending where on the fault the earthquake begins.

    • Have Benton County Facilities place a kit by each County-accessible solar power system with tools and equipment to allow it to generate emergency power in the event the power grid goes down and fuel is unavailable for backup generators, then test that capability annually.  Also, advocate the Oregon State Legislature change a recent law implementing a change to the building code, making it difficult for residential solar systems to provide backup power if the grid goes down, without doubling the cost with battery backup.  This could mean the difference between the County going completely dark in an emergency and individual points of light available for residents to charge cell phones or radios, refrigerate food and medicine, provide power for medical care, etc.

    • Designate conference rooms in public buildings as "safe areas" with HEPA filters, where sensitive individuals could go to when fires or other unusual events cause hazardous air quality problems, such as in Sepember 2020 when the AQI lingered from unhealthy to well into the hazardous zone for a week.  Larger rooms may be needed to house many more residents during a more extreme air quality event.  Note - after writing this, I read in the Gazette-Times that Linus Pauling Middle School offered a clean air option for overnight sheltering during the September wildfires, one that included basic showering amenities, though not mentioning what filters were used to reduce particulates.  This is a good start, though, since not well publicized, it was eventually closed down for non-use.

    • Though priority should be given to the Van Buren Bridge Project, it's important to address the problem of flooding closing our major artery, Hwy 34, from being closed just east of the Willamette River.

    • Interconnect water distribution systems within Benton County to allow emergency access to drinking water if one or more community water supply systems are damaged and unable to provide their community with access to a safe water supply.  This could also be tied into the City of Albany water supply.  County and City staff have discussed this option, but it needs funding and a concerted political effort to succeed.

Divisiveness in Politics (e.g. Rural vs Urban)

 

Benton County mirrors the state, which mirrors the country, in having substantial populations of both rural residents, typically represented by Republicans, and urban residents, typically represented by Democrats. “It increasingly feels like U.S. politics has entered into a vicious cycle, whereby the moral and emotional language used to galvanize one side is directly antagonizing the other. The us-and-them nature of the debate has led to such a breakdown of trust that even hearing a policy proposed by the other side can be enough to trigger opposition to that policy. New policies (whatever their merit) can therefore quickly become symbols of conflict for the two sides to rally around” (Greater Good Magazine, 7-2-19). 

This unfortunately has entered into local meetings on issues, which I, for one, really appreciate having in Benton County and often attend.  I recall a public meeting in Corvallis where urban residents ridiculed a sign in a rural area stating, “young trees absorb more carbon.”  Also, at a meeting advertised to discuss the pros and cons of carbon pricing, all panelists adamantly supported Cap and Trade, one saying, surprisingly without challenge from other panelists (faculty from OSU), that if we don't act now global warming will end civilization. I do not want to discuss such pros and cons here -- but to uphold the importance of allowing other perspectives, such as those of Timber Unity, to be heard and considered on their own merits, without facing ridicule.

What would I do as Commissioner:

•    Promote civil discourse
•    Avoid the liberal vs conservative, or Democrat vs Republican labels on issues during public debate
•    Promote meetings where differing viewpoints are not only heard but respected
•    Identify underlying concerns and try to develop win-win solutions 
•    Prioritize potential win-win solutions in the budgetary and other decision-making processes.

 

In addition, my personal approach to eliminating divisiveness in politics includes commenting on divisive letters-to-the-editor (LTEs) in the Corvallis Gazette-Times.  Here's my LTE (published 5-17-20) responding to a May 1, 2020, LTE from someone  demeaning his neighbors for putting Trump signs on their lawns, insinuating the neighbors, “like Trump,” are “pathological liars . . . cheat everyone they do business with. . . cheat on their spouses … hate and fear anyone who is different” and more.

  • Vilifying neighbors for their choice of candidates shows a lack of respect for our democratic system of government.  It’s a return to tribalism, which can lead to violence and even genocide, as we’ve seen happen in other countries, e.g., Rwanda.  It’s not accepting diversity, it’s rejecting it.

  • As a Republican running for public office in Benton County, one of my top issues is promoting civil discourse to ensure a diversity of opinions are welcome.  While some may disagree with my approach, I will always welcome sensible comments without name-calling.

 

The Criminal Justice System Improvements (CJSI) Project

    A More Extensive Approach than Upgrading the Jail

As told in Benton County's Request for Proposal (RFP) for this CJSI Project, the County Jail has many problems, the primary one being it is chronically overcrowded and relies too much on the use of “citation and release,” resulting in many “failures to appear” in court. After the failure of three Benton County bond measures to build a better jail, a fourth bond measure is planned as part of the CJSI Project. This Project goes well beyond the scope of building a new jail, including doing something about the seismically unsafe Courthouse. The devil is in the details, and details of what is done and how it’s done are critical to its success, besides the substantial estimated cost ($8 to $11 million annually after $152 to $213 million in capital costs, not including land acquisition).


What would I do as Commissioner:

  • The Commissioners will have to make many decisions on the details of the project over the next few years. Having seen life from many different vantage points, as well as having family and good friends who have been on the wrong side of the law, I’d expect to be able to constructively contribute to the effectiveness of the Project while weighing the costs versus actual benefits to the population.

  • To gain additional insight into this issue, I would attend meetings of the proposed Citizens Advisory Committee, which is being set up to provide input into the pre-design work specified in the RFP, as well as getting advice from those working/serving in our criminal justice system.

As background, Benton County previously hired consultants who asserted the most effective way to reduce crime is a balanced approach that combines holding offenders accountable and providing rehabilitation and treatment services. Their Criminal Justice Assessment (1-15-19) proposed three scenarios, as follows, with decreasing costs for decreasing services, enabling the County to mix and match this in whatever way makes sense to the community.

  • Scenario 1, described as the “best practices” model, would include a new 112-bed jail plus a new law enforcement center and work-release center, preferably co-located at a single site.  It would also include preventive services such as addiction treatment, mental health treatment, a sobering center, a respite care center, restorative justice programs and transitional housing.  Additionally, it would include money for pretrial services, an updated inmate classification system, electronic monitoring, and in-custody addiction treatment, mental health treatment, behavioral health treatment and education services.  

  • Scenario 2, which is focused on investing in social services, includes a 144-bed jail plus a respite care center, sobering center, restorative justice and transitional housing programs, and enhanced social services outside the jail setting. However, it drops the work-release center, law enforcement center, pretrial services, updated classification system, electronic monitoring program and in-custody treatment and rehab programs.

  • Scenario 3, which puts the focus on accountability and in-custody treatment, calls for a 120-bed jail and a work-release center. It would also pay for pretrial services, an updated classification system, electronic monitoring, and in-custody treatment and education programs. What’s left out in this version are the respite care and sobering centers, restorative justice and transitional housing programs, and enhanced community services for addiction and mental health issues

Homelessness in Benton County

 

While I consider homelessness an important issue in Benton County, and I’ve attended quite a few meetings on it, I still don’t have enough knowledge (or hubris) to propose any specific solutions.  I recognize it as a “wicked problem,” the currently-used term for a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four, and in this case all four reasons: (1) incomplete or contradictory knowledge, (2) the number of people and opinions involved, (3) the large economic burden, and (4) the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.  Rather than seek an answer that eliminates a “wicked” problem, one should recognize that actions occur in an ongoing process, and further actions will always be needed (Robert Knapp, "Wholesome Design for Wicked Problems").

On the face of it, homelessness is caused by low income or unemployment in an area that may lack affordable housing. Government programs often address these directly.  However, in calling it a “wicked problem,” I recognize that homelessness is interconnected with other problems. Knowing what these are gives us insight into what to do. To name a few interconnected problems:

  • Perhaps one third of homeless in the U.S. are mentally ill, but many refuse treatments, so, how do we balance between helping them and respecting their choices as individuals with human rights?  Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer, since different people have different opinions on this.

  • Substance abuse and older addictions such as gambling may be even more correlated with homelessness, so, how do we balance between helping them and respecting their choices as individuals with human rights, another problem area where different people have different opinions.

  • The breakdown of the family is sometimes recognized as the largest contributor to homelessness.  Of those who have experienced homelessness in Australia, 62% of respondents cite family breakdown or conflict as the main reason for becoming homeless for the first time.  Within 18 months of emancipation, 40-50% of foster youth become homeless.

What would I do as Commissioner, acknowledging that, while federal and state resources may help, each community is its own best resource for deciding how to best address its homelessness issue:

  • ​Work on Disaster Planning, as described under that "Issue" in the drop-down menu, since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, i.e., unmitigated disasters increase the homeless population and take a greater toll on their welfare.  In the case of the current disaster, the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be necessary to promote economic recovery, including addressing economic damage to businesses and residents caused by the lock-down.

  • Work on improving our Criminal Justice System, as described under that "Issue” in the drop-down menu, to prevent criminal activity associated with some of the homeless.

  • Attend meetings of the recently formed Home, Opportunity, Planning and Equity (HOPE) Advisory Board to gain a better understanding of the specific challenges of homelessness in Benton County.

  • Meet with stakeholders representing the homeless themselves, shelter managers and advocates, affected businesses, and residents who have experienced disruptions in their lives due to contacts with homeless.

  • When opportunities arise for improving the homeless situation, work with others to take advantage of them, contributing my experience of being on the verge of homelessness a few times and having family and friends that directly experienced it.

Some current options that look promising:

  • Building micro-shelters is one option that’s gaining traction and is being tried out.  However, this is expensive and conflicts with zoning laws that protect the health, safety and general welfare of existing residents.

  • I heard a promising alternative at the Corvallis City Councilors meeting in July 2018.  Businessman Rich Carone floated a plan to spend $4 million raised from private investors to “use 2 acres for the shelter/social services facility, with space set aside for a garden, basketball courts, computers, medical and workforce facilities and transitional housing.” Unfortunately, that drew the ire of nearby residents, and the plan was shelved.

There are also some issues with helping the homeless that should be taken into consideration:

  • Offering free housing to the homeless is offensive to some who work long hours to pay for rent or for a home of their own.

  • Providing services to the homeless locally can result in many more coming to take advantage of those services and overwhelm our ability to provide those services.

  • Helping the homeless, in and of itself, can prolong their situation by taking away their sense of self-worth, as they become more dependent on the charity of others and lose incentive to improve their own situation.

In Benton County, perhaps the most contentious issues is where to place a homeless shelter.  In 2018, with a proposal to place it downtown on Second Street, nearby residents and businesses complained of anticipated problems, while the homeless themselves promoted that location.  I’ve come to agree with the residents and businesses who’ve raised their concerns, having witnessed bad behavior on the part of the homeless against people they disagree with, besides reading recent complaints from residents of harassment, assaults, and thefts. I don’t believe anyone here wants the San Francisco situation, which I’ve seen first-hand, where residents and local businesses are burdened by sleepers parked outside their doors, rampant theft, and having to deal with gross or dangerous leavings.  I hope a place like the one proposed by Rich Carone does become available where adequate services can be provided to the homeless without adversely affecting residents and businesses.

COVID-19 Pandemic

 

Only those isolated from the rest of the world, such as those on nuclear powered submarines, are unaware of the terrible COVID-19 (corona virus) pandemic sweeping through our nation, as well as the world.  Our local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) recommends I tell my neighbors the following:

  • To ask questions or follow up rumors, call the emergency information hotline at 541-766-6120 . The hotline is open M-F from 8-5.

  • If you have things to donate or need help getting food or a ride, go to bentoncounty.recovers.org  and sign in to get help, volunteer their time or find out what is needed.

  • Keep yourself informed. Lay your fears to rest. The Oregon Health Authority (www.oregon.gov/oha) knows what is going on in Oregon with Covid-19.

  • For Benton County, go to www.co.benton.or.us/coronavirus

 

This reflects the view of the experts and government officials, and, because remedial actions taken by responsible parties during emergencies shouldn’t be second-guessed, I accept their recommendations and refrain from making any comments on our current response.  However, I do suggest a different “approach” for policy-makers to consider.

​My advice to everyone is, while following the directions and advice given by the government and experts, please remain calm.  I expect this is extremely difficult while COVID-19 dominates the news, and that news seems to play on our fears, making it appear that the U.S. is the worst place in the world to be during this pandemic.  While noting that anyone in the U.S. getting this disease and dying from it is a tragedy, the actual risk to Oregonians of dying from COVID-19 is significant but, at this point in time, comparable to other risks we already live with.

  • Oregon residents were about forty-two (42) times more likely to die of something other than COVID-19 during the first 7-weeks of the pandemic from March 18 to May 6, when 115 Oregonians died.  I estimate this from 36,191 people died in Oregon in 2018, and multiplying that number by 7 divided by 52 is 4,872.  Regarding the age distribution, I note that 97% of the COVID-19 deaths were of people older than 60, while 77% of all deaths in 2018 were of people older than 65. 

  • Each of us in Oregon has a thirty in a million chance (0.0030%) of dying of COVID-19 i the future-- if we assume the same number of Oregonians (127 as of May 9, 2020, out of Oregon’s current population of 4,301,089) will die from COVID-19 in the future as in the past 7-weeks. This assumption is just a reasonably optimist guess based on the observation that death rates have been going down and they will continue to go down the same as they went up, as they did in China.  Others guess differently, but the news is sure to report if the death rate goes up substantially, and you can then revise the 30 per million risk accordingly (it's not a difficult calculation).  In any case, a thirty in a million risk is not much higher than other environmental risks, such as the risk some of us already accept from drinking chlorinated tap-water. As background, since it’s impossible to reduce the risk of anything in real life to zero, public policy sets the level of any environmental hazard to fall below some threshold.  A one in a million risk is the usual threshold, since that’s near the risk for death from naturally occurring phenomena, like the risk of being hit by lightning is the U.S. estimated at 1 in 700,000.  Even this risk level is sometimes set lower for economic reasons, e.g. chlorination of drinking water supplies to eliminate pathogens, thus reducing the overall risk, is allowed to be up to 10 per million.

  • These numbers are only approximate estimates of risk, and even the baseline data may change. Experts say we may not get an accurate count of COVID-19 infections and deaths for a while due to limited testing and challenges in the attribution of the cause of death. This is especially true for the number of infections, which appears to be much higher than reported -- 43 as of May 9, 2020, in Corvallis, compared to about 200 infections, calculated from the preliminary estimate from the OSU study on its prevalence in Corvallis (Gazette Times, 5-8-20), which gives us a “95% level of confidence that 23 of every 10,000 people in the city have been infected” with COVID-19.

  • Please ignore all the doom and gloom reporting that compares countries based on their total number of confirmed cases and deaths, which makes the U.S. situation look much worse than it actually is, but is an apples-to-oranges comparison.  For example, in 2017, carbon emissions were 424 MTCO2e in California and 64 MTCO2e in Oregon; does that make Californians 7 times worse polluters than Oregonians?  No.  Comparisons between nations & states with different populations should be on a per capita basis. For COVID-19, as of May 9, the U.S. has 236 deaths per million, Belgium is at 746, Spain is at 563, and Italy is at 500, followed by the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Netherlands, and Ireland (in order of decreasing death rates), all higher than the U.S.  In addition, our death rate drops by almost half, nearer to that of Canada and Germany, if one excludes the New York Metropolitan Area, which has almost half the cases in the U.S. and a twentieth of the population.  Here's where you can find per capita statistics on COVID-19 by country and here's where you can find per capita statistics on COVID-19 by state.

  • Seeing people wearing a mask while out in public, since it’s something far out of the ordinary, may instill fear but should instead make you feel safer, since it will lessen transmission of the disease.  After reading that masks helped avoid others catching the disease, I’ve been wearing a mask while out in public since March 22, a day before Governor Brown issued the stay-at-home order.

  • Finally, I must say I’m glad to see is a diversity of approaches being tried in response to this COVID-19 pandemic.  Comparing the outcomes resulting from differing responses will, at some future time, allow a reasonable evaluation of the options for responding to a future pandemic.  E.g., on Oregon Public Radio (OPR, May 9, 2020, morning report), a historian compared cities that locked down during the influenza pandemic with cities that didn’t, finding similar numbers of overall deaths from influenza in each, though deaths occurred at a slower rate in cities that locked down.

  • Eventually, however, there should be an evaluation of our COVID-19 response, just as self-reflection is good for personal endeavors.  Determining if our current response was appropriate should, hopefully, improve our response to a potential future pandemic. It should also tell us if our government officials were acting in the best interest of the public, though we should be careful to evaluate their decisions based on the information they had at the time rather than in hindsight.  We should also be careful to allow them only options that were they could implement.  For example, if, before the pandemic began to spread, the government required all those entering the country to be quarantined away from home for two weeks, COVID-19 could not have entered our population, but that was not an option that could be effectively imposed on citizens in a free country.

  • To better prepare for this pandemic, as I recommend for all disaster scenarios, other options should be considered, proposed for public debate, and the best one selected.  The first step is to agree upon the goal, whether it’s to minimize loss of life or the number or person-years lost, i.e., giving more weight to a young person’s life than an older person’s life.  The goal could and perhaps should include the economic damage to the economy, which we already incorporate into public policy, for example, cars are not designed to minimize fatal accidents since they’d be prohibitively expensive. The goal of minimizing loss of life should include not only deaths due to COVID-19 but to all other factors, such as increased rates of suicide from increased isolation, increased fatal auto accidents that we’ve seen, and increased risk of dying from other diseases due to anxiety.  The public would be given the opportunity to debate different options, based on the knowledge of experts in public health and economics.  They may also consider the how much of their freedom is lost under each option, since living with the freedom to get out and visit friends, family, and familiar places does matter to me and perhaps others.  The best option could then be chosen based on public debate, which would take into consideration the incidental consequences as well as reducing the overall potential for harm from this virus.

  • Human nature being what it is, any response should include it, reflecting how people react to a lock-down besides the incidental death factors mentioned above.  People may remain in their homes for a few weeks to avoid transmission of this disease, but most will not lock-down longer unless threatened, which will only drive prohibited activities underground.  This can largely be avoided by providing people with the means to socialize and entertain themselves through low-risk activities, such as hiking, sports, and supervised activities and/or learning at schools where social distancing is possible.  More information on transmission of COVID-19 is needed to determine the risk of engaging in the latter two activities.  The data exists, for example, professional soccer teams have played thousands of games where it’s possible to count the frequency of transmission between players, and, while I expect it to be extremely unlikely, a study could prove it true or false.  Experts on disease transmission could help us answer these important questions instead of telling us again and again to wear masks, which is ineffective when most of us wear them anyway because they may help, and since they are not recommended in some countries like the Netherlands, where public health experts state there is a “lack of scientific evidence on the efficacy of non-medical masks in limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus” (Forbes, Aug 1, 2020). Making masks a political battle does us all a disservice when it avoids identifying low-risk activities which could reduce transmission of this disease among those who can no longer tolerate living without the freedoms they once enjoyed.

  • Note on listening to Experts.  I heard Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR) on August 2, 2020.  He well demonstrated his expertise on COVID-19 as a disease but made obviously incorrect statements on history.  He explained that while COVID-19 can mutate, it is not capable of mutating like virus of the 1918 pandemic, so its future could but is unlikely to follow the same path (good point).   He said COVID-19 is his worse nightmare (could well be).  He followed it by saying this is the worst pandemic in history -- totally wrong.  Consider how Small Pox affected the entire continent of Native Americans.  Consider how the Black Plague is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Medieval Europe's population (Wikipedia).” This is a terrible disease, however, so I must forgive his hyperbole, though it is unbecoming of a scientist.

  • As one of the world's leading experts on infectious diseases, Dr. Fauci should be believed when talking about diseases and how they are transmitted.  Unfortunately, the media has used and interpreted his statements to make speculative claims about how to respond to this disease, for example, raising concerns about people attending church services while ignoring the past protests involving thousands in close proximity. Dr Fauci himself makes this point -- in regard to a 2020 baseball season: “I never said we can’t play a certain sport. What happens is the people in the sports industry … from the [MLB] Players Association, owners, people involved in the health of the players ask me opinions regarding certain facts about the spread of the virus. I give it, and then it gets interpreted that I’m saying you can’t play this sport or you can’t play that sport (Yahoo.com).”

 
 
 

Gazette-Times Letter to the Editor (as submitted for printing)

on Oregon's COVID-19 Vaccination Plan and its emphasis on

giving priority to some groups over others

based on equity of outcomes rather than equal access to the vaccine.

   The best window into your moral compass are life-threatening events, which COVID-19 unfortunately provides.  Oregon’s COVID Vaccination Plan (11-6-20) demonstrates our leaders’ emphasis on equity of outcomes.   That emphasis is especially troubling to this long-standing proponent of equal opportunity.
    Page 72 of the Plan states: “populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, will be prioritized . . . for allocation” of the vaccine.  It identifies only two ethnic populations: Hispanic and non-Hispanic, though 106 different ethnicities are listed in Wikipedia.  Such subjective divisions are one problem with equity of outcomes.
    A worse problem is that, under equity of outcomes in COVID mortality, more than 250 non-Hispanics must die of COVID in Oregon before any non-Hispanics get vaccinated, with many more such deaths necessary to achieve caseload equity.  Besides ethnicity, Oregon’s Plan lists six racial groups as disproportionately impacted populations, exacerbating the complexity and issues with equity of outcomes.
    Just as disconcerting, Oregon’s Plan gives critical population priority to the homeless, convicted criminals (inmates), and college students (whose COVID mortality is 1% that of seniors).
    Instead, I support equal opportunity, with options up for public discussion.  Vaccinate the eldest first -- to minimize overall deaths.  Have a lottery open to everyone -- to minimize years lost.  Give priority to COVID-caregivers and/or in-situ workers/teachers.
    Moreover, ensure disproportionately impacted populations have equal access to vaccinations, rather than the highest priority.
    Please ask yourself what seems fair, considering your own life situation.  Maybe read the Plan.  Have we really outgrown “equal opportunity” since the 60s?