Transportation forum addresses projects big to small
Different transportation initiatives are underway or planned in Vancouver, from replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge to launching ferry service from Vancouver to downtown Portland.
More than 50 people attended Vancouver’s Downtown Association’s transportation panel discussion last week at the Hilton Vancouver Washington to hear about these and other projects.
The discussion ranged from replacing a critical component on the I-5 Bridge, used by more than 130,000 vehicles a day, to operating an all-electric van that would provide two-hour tours of Vancouver’s top historical sites.Interstate 5 Bridge
Ron Arp, president of Identity Clark County, heralded recent developments after the Columbia River Crossing crashed and burned in 2013.
Those include the 2019 Legislature allocating $17.5 million for a project office and $17.5 million for planning and pre-design of a new bridge. Last week, Oregon appointed eight state legislators to a bridge committee and agreed to provide $9 million for the project office.
“We are going to replace this I-5 Bridge,” Arp said. “It’s going to take a lot time. It’s going to take a lot of work.”
“Edison didn’t invent the light bulb the first time,” he said. “And Microsoft didn’t invent Windows the first time.”
More information: www.fix5now.com.Bridge trunnion
No one knows when the I-5 Bridge will be replaced, if ever. Not so for a major repair project coming up in 13 months.
In September 2020, the I-5 Bridge’s northbound span will be shut down to replace two trunnions, part of the lifting mechanism that allows taller vessels to pass under the bridge’s twin spans.
The mechanism includes sheaves, or wheels about 12 feet in diameter, cables and trunnions, which are axles that help turn the sheaves and lift and lower the span for marine traffic below.
In 1999, a crack was found in one of the trunnions on the northbound span’s south tower, just two years after the span was shut down to replace the other two trunnions in September 1997.
Ellen Sweeney, community affairs coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation in the Portland area, said the replacement will require closing the northbound span for up to two weeks in September 2020.
All vehicle traffic will be switched over to the three-lane southbound span. As was the case during the 1997 closure, a reversible lane will be used to create two travel lanes to accommodate rush hour traffic into Portland in the morning and two lanes for afternoon traffic to Clark County.
Jessica Bull, a program manager with JLA Public Involvement, said if drivers do not change their travel habits during trunnion replacement, backups could stretch for 4 miles on either side of the Columbia River and congestion could more than double, from 7 hours to 16 hours a day.
More information: www.interstatebridge.org.C-Tran
CEO Shawn Donaghy reviewed a number of initiatives his agency has underway, including expanding The Vine bus rapid transit system onto Mill Plain Boulevard, which would provide high-capacity transit between downtown Vancouver and a planned transit center west of 192nd Avenue.
In September, C-Tran will provide its first direct service from the Fisher’s Landing Transit Center to Portland International Airport, Donaghy said.
C-Tran also is looking to expand its “bus on shoulder” program, which currently operates on a section of state Highway 14. The new service would be on Interstate 5 southbound, from 99th Street to the I-5 Bridge, Donaghy said, adding that the agency wants to have the project running before trunnion replacement in September 2020.
Donaghy said his agency’s Youth Opportunity Pass has seen “a ridership explosion” since it was expanded to provide free bus passes to all students. When the program was available only to low-income students, it provided between 20,000 and 30,000 rides a year, he said. Now that it is open to all students, it provides more than 250,000 rides a year, he said.
More information: www.c-tran.com.Ferry service
Susan Bladholm, president of Friends of Frog Ferry, said her group proposes to create an all-passenger ferry with no vehicles that would serve commuters, local residents, visitors and tourists, and emergency responders.
“This is not a vanity project,” she said. ” ‘Isn’t this cute and fun?’ I have zero interest in that.”
Bladholm said she is a big supporter of transit and “the bridge,” an apparent reference to replacing the I-5 Bridge.
“We need the bridge,” she said. “However, this is something we can do in the next three years.”
The Federal Transit Administration provides grants to support ferry service in urban areas, Bladholm said, adding that Oregon is one of only 10 states that have not tapped the federal program for ferry dollars.
Frog Ferry service could begin in 2022 or 2023, starting on the Willamette River before expanding to Vancouver, she said. Ferries could whisk commuters from Vancouver to downtown Portland in as little as 38 minutes, she said.
“I feel very confident standing before you today saying this will happen,” Bladholm said.
More information: frogferry.com.Rethink your drive
Shara Wokal, chief financial officer at LSW Architects, said Rethink Your Ride, or ryd, has been doing 18 months of beta-testing to meet niche transportation needs in downtown Vancouver.
The program allows people to avoid parking hassles and receive free service at ryd stops in downtown Vancouver during non-peak hours, Wokal said. Those who use the subscription plan can receive unlimited service in the ryd zone in downtown for a monthly fee, she said.
The program uses distinctive vehicles that look like elongated golf carts and are 100 percent electric powered, she said.
The program partners with several local companies and organizations, including LSW Architects, Clark Public Utilities, C-Tran, Columbia River Economic Development Council and the city of Vancouver.
More information: ryd.green.The TourVAN
Imagine being able to take a 2-hour tour of the top historical attractions in Vancouver.
Two proponents of such a project describe it as a transportation anomaly: an all-electric vehicle carrying the smallest number of people traveling at the slowest speed possible with multiple stops.
Well, not exactly the smallest number of people. Richard Burrows, director of community outreach and engagement for The Historic Trust, said the TourVAN would seat 14 people.
Brad Richardson, executive director of the Clark County Historical Museum, said the museum had done walking tours, but this would take that effort to the next level.
“For the first time, all of our historical narratives can be told,” he said.
Vancouver as mural town facing formidable challenges
A big smile spreads across Salvador Larios’ face when he looks at the Martin Luther King Jr. mural on the west-facing wall of his Mexican bakery and grocery.
“We are 100 percent minority in the community. We are the little ones. We are always trying to survive,” said Larios, who came here from Mexico at age 9.
On the east wall of Larios’ shop, Dulce Tentacion (“Sweet Temptation”), is a festive gallery of people with skull faces, or calaveras.
“That is a traditional Hispanic picture,” he said. “I feel part of Hispanic culture, right here in Vancouver.”
Celebrating that culture by adding colorful murals to the gritty Fourth Plain streetscape has been a joint project of the nonprofit groups Clark County Mural Society and Fourth Plain Forward, assisted by the city of Vancouver. This is the third year of the Summer of Murals project along Fourth Plain Boulevard, with proposals vetted and artists hired to add several new diversity-oriented artworks to what’s often called the city’s international district.
But the campaign to make Vancouver a real “mural town” has never gone as smoothly and quickly as Jerry Rolling envisioned when he founded the Mural Society in 2004. Rolling, who worked as a Realtor then, wanted to bolster a downtown still struggling to reinvent itself. Today he still sees the approximately two dozen large and small artworks that have appeared on downtown walls as only a peek at what’s still possible — if only property owners, both public and private, would rally around the idea.
Instead, Rolling is steeling himself for the disappearance of several prominent public artworks from downtown — chiefly the towering, glowering Chkalov landing mural on Evergreen Boulevard between Main and Broadway. Cascadia Development Partners’ David Copenhaver, who is renovating that property this summer, did not respond to multiple calls from The Columbian, but Rolling said he’s been told the Chkalov mural is definitely a goner.
“We don’t have the money or the location to move it,” Rolling said. “We’ve got a lot of ideas, but we’re short resources and volunteers. We’re quite disappointed about this.”‘Nothing is permanent’
The red wingspan of Valery Chkalov’s airplane is so wide, it spills past the boundaries of the vast mural on Evergreen Boulevard and onto some upper-story windows. That’s a nice artistic touch by muralist Guy Drennan, who created this artwork in 2008. The mural commemorates Chkalov’s record-breaking transpolar flight and unexpected landing at Vancouver’s Pearson Field in 1937. Chkalov himself has become something of an adopted hometown hero, and his landing a celebrated moment in Vancouver history.
But a wall is a temporary thing. Drennan said he wasn’t brokenhearted, nor even particularly surprised, to learn that the Chkalov mural is almost certain to come down. “I’m the last to hear anything. I’m just the artist,” he said sardonically. (When this story went to print, workers were still working around the yet-intact mural.)
Drennan, 63, described his journey as a working artist as tough all along. Vancouver’s most recognizable muralist — whose clear, crisp, representational style can be seen on historical murals across town, from the Orchards Feed Mill mural at Covington Square to a paperboy on the east side of this newspaper’s headquarters — spent years paying the bills by working as a mortgage broker and restaurant waiter while pursuing art opportunities after work, he said.
Being a full-time artist really means “I’ve had a glorious career in the food industry,” Drennan joked.
Mural lovers must take change in stride, said Audrey Clark, the mural society’s president.
“Nothing is permanent,” she said. “That’s part of putting art up in public. It may be there for a season, and that season may be not as long as we’d wish.”
Maybe sometimes that’s even a good thing, she said, because the churning signifies a vibrant, growing downtown.
Mural Society founder Rolling feels differently. Vancouver has a self-declared but toothless downtown arts district, he pointed out. A state-certified “creative district” might offer real protections, or even dollars to relocate at-risk artworks.
The Mural Society intends to mount future downtown murals on removable panels, he said — as Drennan did recently with a historical look at early encounter between Japanese and Pacific Northwesterners, now facing a parking lot behind the Kiggins Theatre.
Meanwhile, Rolling recently put Drennan to work on a private project in time for a party commemorating the Apollo 11 moon landing. The muralist was down on hands and knees last month in Rolling’s driveway, transforming cracked asphalt into a gleaming star field complete with nebulae and that famously grimacing, bullet-wounded moon face from the 1902 silent film “A Trip to the Moon.”
“This (mural) I expect to be permanent,” said Rolling, who treated the final product with high-quality sealant. But in reality, “permanent” probably means “a few years,” he said.Downtown gallery
Rolling’s decadeslong mission to make Vancouver a real “mural town” grew out of elements as disparate as his childhood in England and his amazement at the way murals saved the declining logging town of Chaimainus, B.C., he said.
Rolling, 76, grew up feeling the reverberations of two world wars fought right in his global neighborhood, not a whole ocean away. Britons felt those crises far more deeply than Americans did, he believes. “My mother thought we were all going to die,” he said.
In World War I, he noted, as many as 100,000 British soldiers died at the Battle of the Somme. “There were no American casualties in that,” he said.
But Vancouver, the site of a pioneer fort, wartime shipyards and an Army base helmed by the likes of president-to-be Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. George C. Marshall, has a uniquely rich military history that deserves vibrant artistic celebration, he said.
“We have so much wonderful history here, and it’s grossly underutilized,” he said.
Rolling and fellow Realtor Nikki White launched the Clark County Mural Society in 2004, and immediately focused on what was then a dingy, blocked-off railroad berm at the bottom of downtown “that was pretty sad,” Rolling said.
He brainstormed a Remembrance Wall full of murals commemorating foreign wars and local veterans through history. Farthest left is Uncle Sam and a collection of classic “I Want You” posters. Parading right are scenes and personalities from America’s numerous overseas campaigns (as well as some “Wendy the Welder” shipyard workers here at home).
The big, impressive series of images remains unfinished. Mold is starting to spread down the wall.
“It needs baking soda and water and about 30 man hours to get rid of it,” Rolling said. Clark and Gus Melonas, spokesman for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, both said a veteran-driven volunteer effort to clean the wall will get underway soon.
Rolling is always on the lookout for a great wall, and he’s drawn to the big, new, paneled ones on berms under the rest of those railroad tracks, setting off downtown from the new waterfront development. They would be ideal for sweeping new murals, he noted. But officials have assured him that permissions, plans and prices would be prohibitive, he said.
“We’ve got a lot of projects and ideas on the back burner,” Rolling said. “We’d love to see more of the railroad walls become an art gallery for downtown Vancouver. But all these things take resources and maintenance.”
Not to mention permission. Melonas said that Vancouver’s Remembrance Wall is an exception to a general rule: BNSF “doesn’t get involved with” and doesn’t encourage artworks on railroad berms.
“We’re running a railroad here,” he said. “We actively discourage people from being anywhere on our properties.”Fourth Plain diversity
Even as downtown stands to lose murals, the body of artwork along Fourth Plain is expanding. Eleven “official” Fourth Plain murals now line the boulevard. Call it a dozen if you count the unplanned, extra artwork painted on a shipping container in a parking lot.
Florida muralist Camille Cote (who signs her artworks “FABS”), back in Vancouver for her third consecutive summer, said she had time and supplies left over after finally completing her huge, ongoing, multi-year celebration of children on the west wall of Evergreen Floors and Doors. So she and assistant Raphe Hec whipped up a big, surreal, female face surrounded by what Hec called “wild style” lettering. The final result resembles the kind of sophisticated graffiti art that’s more common in places like Rio de Janeiro than here.
“My view of art has evolved from ‘just a fun thing’ to something that helps the community,” said Clark, who hosted the visiting Cote in her home this summer. “Everybody brings their diversity and that’s really cool.”
On a recent afternoon, Fourth Plain business owners Jackie Steiner of Anderson Glass and Steffan Krueger of Evergreen Floors and Doors watched as Cote and Hec worked. Hec described his fluid spray-can painting technique as akin to dancing.
“It is very dynamic,” he said, pausing to take in the whole picture. “I want to feel the energy in the colors.”
The neighborhood certainly feels that energy, said Steiner, who has championed the Summer of Murals project all along.
“It brings more positive awareness; it helps this area,” she said. “When I drive to work and see this, it makes my day better in no time.”
Salvation Army to remove donation trucks from area Fred Meyers
The Salvation Army is removing its donation trucks from Portland-Vancouver area Fred Meyers at the end of the month.
Alexa Morris, director of communications and marketing for The Salvation Army Cascade Divisional Headquarters, said the nonprofit has an opportunity to restructure the thrift store model to lower costs.
In Clark County, this change will shutter the donation trucks at 7411 N.E. 117th Ave. and 16600 S.E. McGillivray Blvd. in Vancouver, and 401 N.W. 12th Ave. in Battle Ground.
Service at the donation trucks will end Aug. 30, impacting 21 employees. Morris said employees who do not find other jobs in other Salvation Army programs will receive severance pay commensurate with their years of service and help finding other jobs.
Fred Meyer has for the past 10 years been a partner of The Salvation Army, a faith-based nonprofit offering a variety of programs and services to people in need.
“We’re thankful for the years they provided space for our donation trucks in their local parking lots,” Morris said in an email.
After the donation truck closure, people can still drop off donations at The Salvation Army Family Stores:
• 11808 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver.
• 2990 S.E. Hogan Road, Gresham, Ore.
• 10174 S.E. 82nd St., Happy Valley, Ore.
• 642 Lancaster Drive N.E., Salem, Ore.
The Vancouver store opened in March 2015 after its former location on Northeast Highway 99 closed to make room for a Fred Meyer fueling station.
News of the donation trucks’ closure comes a couple of weeks after the nonprofit said it would close its Northeast Portland drug and alcohol rehabilitation center for men in September, affecting 72 employees.
Thrift store proceeds have supported The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Portland. With the program change, proceeds will be used to support social service programs operated by The Salvation Army.
Bankrate survey: Many Americans say they can’t afford a vacation
Americans, crippled by debt and seeing signs of a slowing economy, are sitting out on pricey vacations and everyday leisure activities.
A new Bankrate survey found 42 percent of Americans decided not to take a vacation over the past year because of the cost. Nearly a third said they can afford a vacation less now than they could have five years ago, though 26 percent said they can afford to do so more now.
More than two-thirds of U.S. adults opted out of a recreational activity due to the cost at some point in the past year, the study found.
You can’t blame them.
Trade tensions have economists projecting the likelihood of a recession in the next 12 months at 35 percent. U.S. student debt is over $1.5 trillion.
Almost 40 percent of Americans think the economy is “not so good” or “poor.”
Half of respondents said the activities they passed on were too expensive to begin with or not a good value, while 43 percent said they didn’t have enough money left over after paying everyday bills and 41 percent said they wanted to save money for other things.
Parents missed out most of all. More than three-quarters of those with kids under the age of 18 reported missing out on activities, versus 66 percent of nonparents.
The survey encompassed over 2,500 American adults online in July with figures weighted to be representative of all U.S. adults.
Jayne: Change the NRA from the inside
It is an interesting idea. A powerful idea. And it represents the thinking that is necessary these days.
Last week’s column asked when the time will come to talk about gun violence. It was a rhetorical question; that time has long passed. The United States has, by far, the highest rate of gun deaths among developed nations. We also have, by far, the highest rate of civilian gun ownership. It isn’t difficult to do the math.
Anyway, writing about that topic always generates plenty of email, some of it incendiary, much of it thoughtful. And one email this past week was particularly insightful:
I believe that for many citizens in the United States that time is ’bout now. However I also believe for many the question is also how to be heard. To that, I have a suggestion — join the NRA.
Currently the NRA boasts membership of 5 million people. While that sounds like a lot of people, it’s a mere fraction of the total number of U.S. citizens over the age of 18. According to Census Reporter, 78 percent of the U.S. population is over the age of 18. That’s over 254 million people. So, think about it: If, all of a sudden 6 million, 8 million or even 10 million people joined the NRA (Yes! Double their ranks!) with a new voice to be heard, well it may be hard for even Mr. Wayne LaPierre to ignore what the constituency of this organization is striving for.
Membership into the NRA is $45. It may be the most powerful money any of us can spend in the fight for improved gun control and legislative influence.
The writer identified himself as a gun owner and sportsman. That is an important distinction. The idea is not to inundate the NRA with leftists who want to abolish the Second Amendment and seize guns; the idea is to change the organization from the inside into one that better reflects the thinking of gun owners.
Last year, a poll by Quinnipiac University found that universal background checks for firearm purchases were supported by 97 percent of respondents who say they or somebody in their household owns a gun. Among all Americans, a poll last week by Fox News found that 90 percent favor universal background checks and 81 percent desire “red flag” laws that allow police to seize guns from people shown to be a danger to themselves or others. It also found that 67 percent of the public thinks assault weapons should be banned.
These should not be viewed as radical ideas. They are perfectly sensible and would protect the Second Amendment rights of responsible gun owners, yet they are staunchly opposed by the NRA. The interesting part is that a majority of those responsible gun owners typically support such measures.
And why not? From 1994 to 2004, the manufacture of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines were banned in the United States, and we managed to avoid martial law or tanks rolling down the streets.
But the most important part of the reader’s email might be its usefulness as a thought experiment. Our politics are so beholden to radical self-interest from both sides of the aisle that it is difficult for anybody in the middle to make their voice heard.
For an example from the left, there is the issue of immigration. Even some presidential candidates have advocated for essentially “open borders.” That is a silly idea that leaves moderate Democrats scratching their heads and Republicans foaming at the mouth or saying, “We’re going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay.”
And on the right, you don’t have to look any further than the NRA to find radical voices wielding more influence than they should have. The best guess is that the organization has about 5.5 million members — the NRA does not release official numbers — and yet it has oversized political influence.
Since the NRA began focusing on politics in the late 1990s, it has held sensible gun control hostage. And when an organization that includes roughly 1.5 percent of the population is able to do that, it is unconscionable for the rest of us to stand idly by.
Look for berried treasure on next vacation
Berries foraged in the forests we pass on the road to somewhere yield a taste of wild places.
Their names are playful: squashberries, wild beach plums, mayhaw, snowberries and the dreamily named cloudberry. Wild berries often have as many aliases as a career criminal, such as mooseberry and chuckleyplum. And they hide out, remaining at large, with their locations guarded as zealously as online passwords by locals who apprehend them for making jams, jellies and syrups.
When we agree to pay the sometimes-steep ransom they demand, after they’ve been tamed into jars, we’re rewarded with delicacies that are a bit like a message in a bottle from a place we once saw.
These edible gemstones of the natural landscape have been sought after as long as man and animal have been combing woods, shorelines, meadows, pine barrens, swamps and mountainsides for food.
In our commercial food system, noncultivated berries seem exotic. These are comestibles you can’t easily obtain at the local grocery in every region of North America. Wild is a luxury.
Among those luxuries is the thimbleberry, named for its thimble shape. It grows in the Great Lakes region, Washington, Oregon, California and Canada’s British Columbia, among other locales.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula fully embraces the thimbleberry. In the U.P., as it’s known, thimbleberries are harvested in woods, along Lake Superior and beside abandoned rail lines. U.P. farm stands display wild thimbleberry jam made by locals and, in one location, by Byzantine Catholic monks who operate the Jampot near Eagle Harbor.
The fruit isn’t commercially cultivated because it has a fragile nature, breaking up almost on touch. As a result, it’s sold for not-cheap prices. Michigan makers include American Spoon, a Petoskey-based company that has garnered five national awards for its wild thimbleberry jam.
“The thimbleberry is remarkably layered,” says American Spoon co-founder Justin Rashid. “The first taste is tannic. Then you get a kind of wild-rose aroma.”
Its seeds, he says, “release a kind of nutty aftertaste.”
The only companion it needs, he says, is a simple piece of buttered whole-wheat toast. He has also had U.P. foragers tell him they like a spoonful of thimbleberry jam with fresh Finnish squeaky cheese as an accompaniment to their morning coffee.
Using fruits from local foragers, American Spoon also preserves wild elderberries, blueberries and blackberries.
He says elderberries taste dark, rich and mysterious.
“The first thing that hits me is a faint, pleasing bitterness,” he says. “Then it kind of fills your palate with a complex flavor.”
Most regions have a berry pride. There are wild blueberries in Maine and Oregon; squashberries in Newfoundland, Canada; salmonberries in California and the Pacific Northwest up to Alaska; beach plums in Massachusetts and neighboring Atlantic Seaboard states; cloudberries in Minnesota, New Hampshire and Alaska; mayhaw in the South, including Louisiana, and dewberry in Texas. Huckleberry is Idaho’s official fruit.
On Newfoundland’s remote Fogo Island, the restaurant at the Fogo Island Inn turns out dishes that reflect the nearly two-dozen varieties of wild berries that populate the surrounding craggy terrain.
“The berry we use most is the partridgeberry, also the wild blueberry,” says the inn’s executive chef, Jonathan Gushue. The inn relies on locals for that stock. “Berry picking is very big here,” Gushue says. “Everyone does it.”
The resulting bounty used in the hotel kitchen also includes cloudberries, juniperberries, marshberries, crowberries — and snowberries, “when we can get them,” he says.
In early July this year, Fogo’s du jour menu offered a fresh meringue with cream and toasted meringue highlighted by partridgeberries with rhubarb. The inn also served roasted red cabbage with a dried blueberry-brown butter vinaigrette. “The tannins in these berries act very much like wine,” Gushue says.
Fogo Island Inn pastry chef Sarah Villamere works amid the aromas of spruce tips and birch syrup simmering on the stove, a reflection of an island where foragers show up at the kitchen’s back door with berries and invoices.
“When our blueberries and bakeapples and marshberries come in, that’s what we do,” she says. “We dehydrate a lot of berries for granola and trail mixes.”
They quick-freeze berries or make jams, vinegars and cordials.
Villamere says that in Newfoundland, wild berries are about folkways, such as the prized molasses-partridgeberry jam tart and salt-cod sandwich with jam and cheddar. Villamere says she enjoys pairing partridgeberry with dark chocolate. She says the jam also goes well with moose loin or duck breast, “a little dollop on the side like a mint sauce.”
Gathering in wild
Home cooks in search of recipes that reflect a region can check cooperative extension websites associated with a public university where berries are native. The National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia provides a wealth of information on how to safely prepare foraged fruits.
In the berry-rich 49th state, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service provides information, recipes and tips for enjoying a long list of free-range fruits.
Scandinavians, the website notes, “make a ‘cloudberry cream,’ by mixing berries or prepared jam with sweetened whipped cream.”
Before gathering wild berries in U.S. national parks, would-be foragers are encouraged to visit the specific park website or to contact the park in advance.
“National Park superintendents have the authority to designate certain fruits, berries, nuts or unoccupied seashells that may be gathered by hand for personal use or consumption if it will not adversely affect park wildlife, plants or other park resources,” says Jeremy Barnum, acting assistant director of National Park Service communications.
Similarly, those hoping to pick berries on national forest land should contact their local forest or grasslands office to learn whether foraging is allowed and if a permit is required, a Forest Service spokeswoman said.
On their way to our plates and bowls, wild berries can take more effort to locate and handle than their grocery-store cousins.
Elderberries, for example, are challenging to harvest, so they don’t show up in markets as fresh fruit. As a result, consumers don’t know about them, says Marvin Pritts, professor at Cornell University.
Will: Land of free, home of the rent-seekers
Given its surplus of violence and scarcity of resources, Chicago surely has bigger things to worry about than the menace, as the city sees it, of Laura Pekarik’s cupcakes. Herewith redundant evidence of regulatory government’s unsleeping solicitousness for the strong.
Pekarik, a feisty 33-year-old single mother and embodiment of America’s entrepreneurial itch, grew up in Chicago’s suburbs and at age 24 began baking for the fun of it. Eventually, she invested her entire savings ($12,000) in a green truck, called Cupcakes for Courage, from which she began selling.
She was part of the proliferation of truck-dispensed foods that grew in response to consumer demand for the fun and convenience of curbside lunches of all sorts. This was, however, neither fun nor convenient for restaurants, which responded by (guess one): (a) upping their game in order to compete with the upstarts in trucks or (b) running to the government for relief from competition. If you guessed “b,” you get an A for understanding the land of the free and the home of the rent-seekers.
Rent-seeking is private factions manipulating public power to enhance their profits. This is what Chicago’s restaurant industry did, with the help of an alderman who owns several restaurants. In 2012, at their behest, the city revised its vending laws to forbid food trucks from operating within 200 feet of any business that serves food (with fines of up to $2,000), which banned the trucks from almost all areas with office workers seeking lunches. And the regulations require food trucks to install GPS devices so government can track their movements.
The commissioner of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection says that the city’s food truck regulations — the city’s protection of consumers from more choices than the city thinks is good for them — “strike the right balance” between the interests of restaurants and trucks. Oh? Why is striking such balances between the interests of rival economic factions the proper concern of politicians and bureaucrats?
The commissioner was echoing Illinois’ Supreme Court, which said the city had a “rational basis” for its decision. And the court was echoing the rent-seekers’ self-serving and evidence-free faux sociology.Diversification
The court swallowed the junk-food sociology that asserts, without evidence, two things: that the existence of brick-and-mortar restaurants is threatened by food trucks, and that such restaurants are essential to “neighborhood stability.” Never mind the absence of evidence of damage to neighborhoods or restaurants in food-truck meccas such as New York, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.
Laura Pekarik was lucky. She diversified her business early on by opening two brick-and-mortar stores. When the weather is clement and business is good, she has 40 employees. But others have not been lucky: The number of food trucks in the Windy City has dropped by 40 percent. She hopes the U.S. Supreme Court, where she will continue to be assisted by the Institute for Justice, will hear her argument against government picking winners and losers, and doing so on behalf of those who have already won advantages.
The court should assert that the rational basis test does not require courts to be willfully oblivious of disreputable legislative motives.
McFeatters: History repeats in Russia, China
It’s beginning to feel like 1980s news tape showing America’s despotic enemies running amok.
In Russia, a mysterious fatal explosion a few days ago in one of the country’s 10 secret cities where nuclear research takes place has caused an uptick in radiation and raised alarm around the world.
It also raises memories of the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl, which Russia tried desperately to hush up, lying repeatedly about how serious it was. An estimated 4,000 people died; new cancers are still appearing. It could be 20,000 years before the site is safe.
In Hong Kong, a huge Chinese military presence is threatening to put down the pro-democracy movement, bringing to mind the 1989 slaughter at Tiananmen Square in Beijing when military tanks fired on and rolled over students, killing and injuring thousands.
The current incident in Russia involved a disaster over Vladimir Putin’s promise to his people that he would build a cruise missile with a conventional warhead powered by an onboard nuclear reactor with a range that easily could take it to the U.S. It’s called Skyfall. Whatever the project, five Russian nuclear scientists reportedly died, possibly thrown into the White Sea. Two other state employees were killed.
In Hong Kong, long a British protectorate now controlled by China, demands by protesters for democratic reforms, including dismantling a new law that permits Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to and prosecuted by mainland China, are being met with full-blown police violence.
“I hope it works out for everybody, China included,” President Trump said, noncomittally, after tweeting that China is massing troops at the border. He did not echo the State Department’s statement endorsing the freedom of protesters to assemble.No idea on real policy
Actually, we have no idea what Trump’s policy is on China. He has started a trade war that is slowly choking U.S. farmers and costing the average American family about $700 more a year for everyday goods. He says he and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a great relationship, but there is no agreement on how to resolve the trade dispute. We have stopped demanding that China subscribe to international codes of human rights.
We also don’t know what Trump’s real policy is toward Russia. He has not sympathized with pro-democracy protesters challenging Putin in Moscow. He has dismantled decades of arms control agreements with Russia. His campaign had dozens of contacts with Russia, lying about most of them. He has held private meetings with Putin without permitting any U.S. officials in the room.
Trump seems to have no words of wisdom for Russia as it continues to obfuscate and tries to contain the damage from its latest nuclear explosion.
Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.
McManus: Say no to Canada’s drugs
Last week, I walked into a small-town pharmacy in rural Canada in search of lifesaving medicine: insulin.
I don’t suffer from diabetes. But an estimated 30 million Americans do, and 1.5 million of them need insulin injections to stay alive. They’re facing a catastrophe: the price of insulin has nearly tripled over the last decade. Many cash-strapped diabetics without good insurance have resorted to rationing their supply. Some have died.
That shouldn’t happen in the world’s richest country. Nor does it need to happen. The proof is next door in Canada.
At Pollard’s Pharmacy in Parry Sound, Ontario, I asked if I could buy a 10-milliliter vial of Humalog, a fast-acting form of insulin that retails for $280 in Los Angeles.
“Sure,” the pharmacist said, and pulled a tiny bottle out of the refrigerator. The price was about 33 U.S. dollars, roughly 12 percent of what it would cost in the U.S.
“Pretty good price,” I said.
He laughed. “The government regulates what we charge,” he said.
No prescription required, either.
“Who’s going to buy insulin if they don’t need it?” he said.
I asked for a price check on another medicine: Ciprodex, an antibiotic I recently used for an ear infection. I paid $255 at home with a prescription. In Canada, I could buy the same drug for about $49 with a prescription from a local doctor.
The reason for those gaps in cost is simple: Canada’s federal government imposes price ceilings on prescription drugs.
Under Canadian law, the government can declare high prices an illegal abuse of patient rights. Drug companies can challenge the rulings, but they usually settle without court proceedings. Despite Canada’s low prices, its drug companies still manage to turn a profit. Prices are even lower in most European countries.
The U.S., by contrast, places few restrictions on what drug companies can charge.Solve problem ourselves
Thanks to brilliant lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry, federal law even prohibits Medicare, a major buyer of drugs, from using its purchasing power to negotiate prices directly. Manufacturers negotiate with private health insurers, but that’s a secretive process that produces the highest prices in the world. It’s a system that gives the industry the benefits of a free market, but strips consumers of bargaining power.
No wonder many Americans, especially from border states, are heading north to buy their prescriptions. It’s illegal to bring the drugs home, but hardly anyone is prosecuted.
And no wonder so many politicians, including Bernie Sanders and President Trump, have stampeded toward what looks like an easy solution: Allow U.S. drugstores to import drugs from Canada. Last month, Trump announced that he has ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to propose rules under which states, wholesalers and pharmacies could buy from Canada.
It sounds like a smart idea — but it’s not.
First, the plan Trump announced won’t cover some of the most expensive drugs, including modern forms of insulin and many cancer medicines.
Trump didn’t actually change the rules; he merely asked HHS to support “pilot programs” in states that want to try importing drugs. It may take years before any plans are up and running, and that’s if the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t succeed in stopping them first. (The head of PhRMA, the big drug industry lobby, denounced the proposed plans as “failed policies” that could “jeopardize public safety.”)
Even then, Trump’s rules won’t allow individuals to buy across the border. The plan is aimed at states, wholesalers and pharmacies, so the Food and Drug Administration can make sure the drugs are legitimate.
Second, we forgot to ask Canada what it thinks — and Canada isn’t capable of supplying the whole U.S. market. There are more than 329 million people in the U.S.; Canada’s population is 37 million. The Canadian pharmaceutical sector was never designed to handle our needs.
Are price ceilings the answer? Universal drug insurance? Better, more transparent subsidies for low-income patients? Freeing Medicare to negotiate prices down?
Maybe all of the above. We’re a big, smart, entrepreneurial country. We ought to be capable of solving this problem on our own.
Harrop: Candidate Bernie Sanders needs a shot of dignity
I have never been a big fan of Bernie Sanders. His authoritarian tendencies and aggressive attacks on any who would disagree have outweighed the good in him.
The good is his working-class voice, emphasis on economic issues and some solid ideas. But his recent lashing out at The Washington Post, where he accused the progressive beacon of punishing him, carried an air of populist paranoia — so much so he’s being likened to Donald Trump.
Sanders’ day in the sun was the 2016 presidential race when he seriously challenged Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton for the party nomination. That day is past.
Among Democrats, Sanders trails Joe Biden by 13 percentage points, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, is nipping at his heels.
Sanders may do OK in the first two contests, Iowa and New Hampshire, where the liberal white gentry wields many Democratic votes. But he will undoubtedly crash in the Southern primaries to follow, where African Americans are the deciders. Sanders generally does not bond with black voters, who tend to be more conservative. Quinnipiac puts him at only 8 percent among black Democratic primary voters.
Sanders did himself no good in 2016 when, having been trounced by Clinton in the Southern primaries, he waved away those contests as unimportant. In his worldview, what helps him matters. What doesn’t help him doesn’t matter. You’re for him or against him.
Still, it was surprising to hear Sanders decry persecution by The Washington Post. Amazon paid no taxes last year, he told a crowd in New Hampshire. “And then I wonder why The Washington Post — which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon — doesn’t write particularly good articles about me.”Parallels
The Post publishes far less good articles about Trump. And Trump wields a far greater threat against Bezos’ business interests than Sanders ever could. The parallels between Trump and Sanders blaming liberal news sources for their setbacks is glaring. Trump issues frequent tweets against “the Amazon Washington Post.”
But it’s not just The Post’s picking on Sanders, according to his campaign. It’s “the media.”
“The hyperoverreaction from many in the media to Senator Sanders’ critique reveals a bias,” according to campaign manager Faiz Shakir, as reported by Politico. “There is a sneering, contemptuous disdain that infuses those comments and a willingness to put words into Bernie’s mouth that he just didn’t use.”
Whoa. The Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, would have none of this.
“Sen. Sanders is a member of a large club of politicians — of every ideology — who complain about their coverage,” Baron said in a statement. “Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest.”
Sanders supporters now have Elizabeth Warren to carry the torch on such ideas as “Medicare for All.” Not that it’s wise politics. It polls poorly once the public understands it would mean losing private coverage. Warren does have an electoral advantage over Sanders in calling herself a capitalist as opposed to a socialist. Her speeches are also less of a looping tape.
Interestingly, though, more Sanders supporters back Biden as their second choice than they do Warren. This may reflect Sanders’ populist appeal to working-class voters rather than interest in his programs.
Sanders was never much of a team player in the Democratic Party; he seeks the affiliation only when he’s running for office.
Anyhow, his comet is on the way down. It’s legacy time. Sanders should stop the angry thrashing and start a slow stroll for the gates with dignity.