Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The sun also powers

Solar fields on eastern edge of Bend
With recent news that California will mandate all new homes include solar power, it's worth noting how affordable solar power has become.

Solar energy is now 50 percent cheaper than coal, the former gold standard of cheap energy.

Also, the solar industry employs more workers than coal, wind or nuclear energy combined.

Across the globe, from Australia to India to Germany, solar is causing headaches for the entrenched fossil fuel industries.

With China leading the solar revolution, the Trump administration is doubling down on coal and offshore drilling, even though more Republicans back renewable energy than coal.

With Tesla Powerwall batteries, which are designed to store solar energy and are coming soon to Home Depot, this country isn't counting on Trump to lead anyone anywhere.

Even in Central Oregon, solar fields have proliferated in the last couple of years.

It's about time.

This region brags about all the sunshine it gets, in comparison to western Oregon, but, until now has done little to capitalize on this solar energy revolution.

Central Oregon cities should join California in mandating that new homes be solar energy self-sufficient.

In fact, the whole state should flex its progressive street cred and mandate it by 2025.

Not only is it good for the planet, it's good for the pocketbook.

Also, the less reliant we are on natural gas or oil, the less likely we are to fund fracking-induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, or terrorism from the Middle East or election meddling from Russia.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

City of Bend's septic-sewer extortion

The Bend City Council is expected this summer to pass a motion to smack 599 southeast Bend homes with a $50,000 sewer bill - each.

It's expected to cost every homeowner a minimum of $500 per month.

As a result, many southeast Bend residents in Desert Woods or Kings Forest subdivisions will be forced out of their homes. They'll likely have to sell their homes at a reduced price. Call it a gift to the real estate cartel in Bend.

Of course, nowhere else in Bend has the city added $50,000 to the cost of an existing home.

The city says it is forced to do so for a variety of reasons. The state mandates that any home with a septic system within 300 feet of a sewer line must connect to the sewer if their septic system fails.

The city recently completed the Southeast Interceptor sewer line that runs through Kings Forest and Orion Greens. By doing so, any home within 300 feet of this sewer line much connect to it if their septic system fails. This could result in someone, living 290 feet away, having to pay the exorbitant cost - more than $100,000, of running a sewer line down the street to their home.

So, in order to avoid one house close to the sewer line paying a much smaller price than one house farther away, the city wants all households to agree to a more equitable solution. The city wants the 599 houses to share, 50-50, the public cost of the sewer installation. The private costs of each home to connect from the house to the sewer line is all on the homeowner.

Well, the city's extortion attempt is wrong.

Twenty years ago, Bend residents brought this problem on themselves when they forcibly annexed these southeast subdivisions. The residents in these subdivisions voted against annexation but were overwhelmed by the vast majority of Bend residents at the time.

The city knew then that it would eventually have to face this problem of adding these homes to the sewer system. Yet, the city set aside no money until last July to help pay for the forced sewer expansion in southeast Bend.

In addition, the city chose to run the Southeast Interceptor through these subdivisions. It did so largely to relieve a stressed system caused by NorthWest Crossing and other westside developments.

The city also wants to decommission many of the sewer-pumping stations that now exist and occasionally fail throughout the city.

Because of decades of poor planning, Bend has far more sewer-pumping stations than any city in Oregon.

The city also notes that there are no federal or state grants available for this southeast sewer project.

Those types of funds dried up in the early 1980s, they said.

Coincidentally, there was a huge federal tax cut for the rich in the early 1980s followed by two more this century. As a result, there will never be any federal money available for any public infrastructure projects again unless Congress passes legislation to do so.

If all else fails, the city should be like the federal government and just borrow the roughly $30 million cost of the project. The city can get better rates than individual citizens, particularly through the Dept. of Environmental Quality.

Bend appointed an advisory committee to come up with solutions of how to pay for the sewer project in southeast Bend.

Naturally, the city mayor and other councilors said from the beginning that the city would not pay more than 50 percent of the public cost.

Well, the advisory committee is likely to recommend to council that residents not be saddled with more than $25,000 each in total debt for public and private sewer costs. The committee will likely recommend that the monthly cost to a homeowner be about $250 per month.

In order to make up the difference, the advisory panel will likely recommend a $5 monthly fee to all sewer users in Bend, both business and residential. It seems like a modest amount considering that the residents in the affected subdivisions didn't vote to join the city and had no choice in where the Southeast Interceptor was installed.

But, advisory committees are just that. They have no clout and really no say in the outcome. They exist primarily as political cover for the council, which can turn around and say, "hey, we engaged the public and gave them their due."

Well, it's another reason why residents sour on local government. They don't listen to their citizens.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

'Thoughts and prayers' save the day again

This cartoon was prompted by Sandy Hook massacre in 2012
Or do they?

After yet another mass shooting at a school, NRA-backed Republicans showed how much they cared about the massacre by offering their "thoughts and prayers" for the victims.

But, does it depend on what thoughts, what prayers?

If the prayers are to Allah, Buddha or Ra, do they count?

Or, do the prayers have to be only to Jesus or God?

And, what thoughts are allowable?

Can someone have thoughts that this country finally join the developed world in curbing access to military-grade armaments?

Or, are the only "thoughts" that count are the ones that hope this anti-gun outrage blows over like in all the other mass shootings?

Well, I think we know the answer to these questions. It doesn't matter.

"Thoughts and prayers" mean "tough luck." Wrong place. Wrong Time. Keep Calm and Carry On.

The GOP/NRA knows there is one right that is above all others: It is the right to kill schoolchildren with an assault rifle.

All those who support the GOP/NRA are complicit in all these mass killings.

The GOP/NRA response to this latest outrage will likely call for more gun ownership, not less. They'll say that if those high-school victims had their own AR-15s, they wouldn't be dead today.

It wouldn't be surprising if the GOP/NRA introduced legislation similar to "motor-voter" registration laws that Democrats pass to enfranchise more potential voters.

The GOP/NRA version, let's call it the motor-revolver law, would require all those who apply for a driver's license must show proof of gun ownership before getting approved to drive a car.

Nevermind that you can't even rent a car in this country until you turn 25.

The alleged shooter in Florida on Ash Wednesday/Valentine's Day was all of 19 and bought his AR-15 legally last year.

I once had a discussion with a gun-fetishist who claimed that the murder of 20 first-graders in Sandy Hook was a small price to pay to enshrine the 2nd Amendment and its right to bear arms.

This is where we are as a nation. We now tolerate a school shooting every 60 hours.

Even the Supreme Court denied the District of Columbia, and by extension all jurisdictions, the ability to regulate gun ownership. In other words, the Supreme Court said that the right to kill with a gun supersedes the right not to be killed by a gun.

This is called American "exceptionalism."

No developed nation, except the U.S., allows the relentless carnage caused by men firing assault rifles or handguns.

And, no "thoughts" or "prayers" will ever change that.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Oregon votes for healthcare tax increase

Oregonians this week voted overwhelmingly, by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin, to increase taxes for Medicaid.

In the era of Trump, where it's fashionable to spit on those less fortunate, Oregonians emphatically said bullshit to that by backing Measure 101.

Over that past 40 years, Americans have been conditioned to believe that tax cuts cure all ills. We're told that a giant tax cut like the corporate one that Congress barely passed in December, boosts the economy, reduces the deficit, decreases income inequality and reverses male pattern baldness.

We now know, thanks to Reagan's slash-and-burn tax cut of the 1980s, that the opposite actually occurs. Yes, bald men still roam the streets of this land.

The so-called "trickle-down" economics leaves us with a national deficit so impossibly large that it will eventually ruin the country. China owns us now.

Because we pay less federal taxes, we have crumbling infrastructure, unaffordable college education and income inequality the likes of which the world has never seen before.

Just three Americans, Bezos, Buffett and Gates, are worth more than the combined assets of 50 percent of their countrymen and women.

Worldwide, just 42 people own the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the population.

No wonder the Doomsday Clock is now just two minutes 'til midnight, or the hour of reckoning.

In Oregon, a 2016 report showed that the state ranks 29th in income inequality, with the Bend-Redmond corridor the worst metro area in the state.

And yet, Deschutes County, home to Bend and Redmond, voted 54 percent to 46 percent for Measure 101 on Tuesday. That is a profound shift from historical patterns here.

Naturally, the local daily newspaper along with the state's largest newspaper repeatedly urged Oregonians to vote "no" on the measure. This just shows how out of touch they are with their readerships and why they are hemorrhaging subscribers.

This county narrowly voted for Trump (46 percent) over Clinton (43 percent) in 2016, although Bend went with Hillary.

Deschutes joins seven other counties in Oregon that favored Trump in 2016 and said yes to Measure 101.

Even southern Oregon's Jackson County, a conservative stronghold, backed the tax increase.

This could bode well for Democrats in the November election. Perhaps even Greg Walden, the GOP congressman who represents the huge, rural 2nd District in Oregon, could be vulnerable this time around.

Wouldn't that be sweet.

Let the anti-Trump movement flourish.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Good riddance 2017

A woman's pickup truck in Houston, Texas
The year of the rooster will go down as one of the worst, politically, in U.S. history.

If the rooster crows a wake-up call, let's hope that Americans were roused from their slumber over what constitutes a decent human being.

Donald Trump continues to debase the office of the presidency, not to mention manhood itself, on a daily basis. It should be enough to alarm most Americans.

Thankfully, Trump's approval ratings are the worst for a first-year president in modern American history.

Evidently, Americans don't credit Trump for the humming economy or the big jump in the stock market. President Obama handed Trump a rising economy and one of the longest sustained growths in the stock market's history.

With tweet after embarrassing tweet, along with his compulsive lying, Trump confounded most Americans. He obviously was pandering to his ever-shrinking base of sycophants who truly are deplorable. And, racist, too.

In a year of sexual harassment allegations that brought the firing of many high profile men, it's ironic that the worst sexual predator, "grab 'em-by-the-pussy" Trump, still prowls the Oval Office.

We can only hope that he ends up in jail by this time next year.

Robert Mueller's investigation so far paints a picture of collusion between Trump and Russia to subvert the American electoral process.

When Trump finally met the Russian despot, Vladimir Putin, it was considered his "six-month performance review," by Stephen Colbert.

That may be too kind.

Andrew Sullivan recently wrote a piece about Trump titled, "Putin's First Year in the White House."

Obviously, Trump is "Putin's Puppet."

Trump is also known as the "Mango Mussolini," "Commander in Tweet," and "Hair Fuhrer."

One thing he is definitely not: leader of the free world.

He's antagonized our allies to the point that they no longer look to the U.S. for any guidance or support.

The over-arching story, though, is Trump's ties to the gangsters running Russia.

Consider that Trump's former campaign chairman was indicted for "conspiracy against the United States," among other charges.

Other Trump associates have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and are cooperating with Mueller's investigation.

This hasn't stopped congressional Republicans from fawning over Trump like predators themselves.

It's one giant sleaze-fest.

This past year also brought us "alternative facts" from the Trump administration and its enablers at Fox News.

Ironically, the Republican-leaning Rasmussen Reports, revealed that the winner of Trump's "First Annual Fake News Trophy" was ... drum roll, please ... Fox News.

Of course, to anyone with a brain, Fox News is to news what Pravda is to truth.

In other words, we live in a world where wrong is right.

This year, thanks to Trump, "white supremacists" were given a platform to air their depraved grievances.

And, by claiming that he alone made it safe to say "Merry Christmas," Trump brought shame to the holiday season.

But, Trump's real first-year legacy was dismantling the progress the country made under President Obama.

Trump's Cabinet secretaries were tasked with destroying the departments they manage, from the environment to energy to education.

One bright spot of the year occurred when NBC was forced to clarify a report that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump "a moron."

NBC obliged and said Tillerson actually called Trump "a fucking moron."

Then, Trump's national security adviser referred to Trump as "an idiot" and "a dope."

This is what the Electoral College gave us.

Any country that puts an "idiot, dope and fucking moron" in the White House deserves whatever troubles it may face.

Trump is pining for a nuclear confrontation with North Korea.

He's provoking Muslims in the hopes that terrorists attack this country again.

Trump's contempt for Hispanics means that the most productive members of our society will be kicked out.

This year showed that what makes America "exceptional" is our tolerance for the lowest common denominator in Donald Trump.

Cock a doodle doo.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Totality eclipsed expectations

Climber at Smith Rock. Check out this video
2017, a year considered deplorable in many ways, had one brief shining moment.

The total eclipse of the sun revealed, in stunning fashion, the relative insignificance of life on earth.

Like many in Central Oregon, I viewed the total eclipse on Aug. 21 as more hype than substance.

Who wanted to deal with the traffic, the crowds, the heat and the smoke to see totality up near Madras, about 45 miles north of Bend.

If my brother Mike and his wife Margot hadn't decided to come up from California, we would've been content with our 99.4 percent eclipse of the sun in Bend.

But we made the early morning drive to Smith Rock State Park. Our only traffic being the signals on the north end of Bend.

Miraculously, the smoke from month-long fires, cleared substantially for the only time that week.

It was chilly, about mid-50s. We found a spot along the western rim overlooking the Phoenix Buttress.

As the sun rose, the temps climbed and we could take off our light coats.

We chatted with a couple from London, Richard and Helen, who came specifically to Central Oregon to catch the eclipse. This was their third total eclipse, but the first one they could actually see because clouds obscured their other views of totality.

As the moon started to pass in front of the sun, we put on our special, welder's grade glasses and caught what looked like Pac-Man in the sky.

As totality neared, the temperature dropped dramatically and we had to put on our coats again.

It was getting dimmer by the minute.

Then, from atop Morning Glory Wall and Picnic Lunch Wall, hikers and climbers started a whooping sound and it echoed throughout the canyon.

Then we all whooped it up and it felt like a scene from Planet of the Apes.

The London couple laughed.

Richard told us to look west toward Mount Jefferson. When that goes dark, look back towards the sun and the total eclipse would be again.

Sure enough, that is exactly what happened.

It wasn't totally dark, but it was unlike anything I've seen. It was eerie, like a live sci-fi movie scene.

The totality, though, was spectacular. We had to take off our glasses to see it.

Unfortunately, no images I've seen captured what we saw. It looked like a multi-colored aurora borealis dancing around the corona. Even this YouTube video failed to capture our experience at Smith Rock.

When the sun peaked out again, we were nearly blinded by the light and rushed to put on our glasses. It also got warmer again and life slowly returned to normal.

It was sad to see the eclipse end as people started leaving immediately, to beat the traffic.

It didn't seem right to just dash off after witnessing such an astonishing celestial event, so we hung around and heard others say it was better than they thought it would be.

Exactly.

Some see what they want to in cosmic coincidences. Could recent disasters like hurricanes, fires, flooding, earthquakes and Trump be linked to the total eclipse of the sun?

Nah.

During totality, it was easy to see how inconsequential we all are. Our problems, no matter how big or small, don't amount to a hill of beans in this galaxy. Rather, this globe is just a speck of dust in the universe.

It's something worth pondering at Christmastime.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A rerun that's one too many

Now that Republicans have struggled to do the one thing that they're capable of doing, cut taxes for the rich, it is time for the rest of us to ignore the taxman, too.

We've seen this movie too many times before.

How does slashing your income while escalating your spending lead to financial solvency.

It doesn't. It leads to the massive deficits we enjoy today.

When Reagan cleaved income taxes for the rich in the early 80s, he also jacked up spending on the military to ridiculous levels.

It failed then to do much for the economy. Stable oil prices by the mid-80s resurrected the economy of the U.S. and much of the world. Still, we had the worst drop in the stock market's history under Reagan.

When George W. Bush hacked taxes for the rich earlier this millennium, while also starting two unfunded wars, the economy did not go through the roof.

In fact, it collapsed in 2008.

Now, Trump and congressional Republicans have rushed through another massive tax cut for the rich while increasing spending for never-ending wars.

The "tax holiday" granted to corporations who stash trillions overseas will likely do what the last tax holiday did in 2004. Corporations used their cash to buy out competitors, which resulted in 20,000 jobs lost.

Republicans do not care about jobs. They don't really give a damn about this country.

Republicans care about winning elections, cutting taxes, satisfying their donor base and enraging Democrats. That's it.

Oh, and contrary to their constant whining when Obama was president, Republicans do not give a shit about the deficit.

And, they want free stuff. They want constant war, Social Security and Medicare while not having to pay for them.

What Reagan, Bush, Trump and congressional Republicans have taught the average American is that you, too, can increase your spending beyond your ability to ever pay it back.

Who cares. Just declare bankruptcy like Trump did multiple times and everything will be good.

The lesson learned in 2017 is this: You're a fool to pay off your debts. Also, don't file your taxes unless you're getting money back.

The government has no intention of ever meeting its debt obligations. Why should you.