Monday, November 30, 2009

Give to the rich this holiday season

On the same day (Nov. 28) the local daily ran a story on how the Bend City Council, with money from a federal grant, might aid between 425 and 600 customers with their utility bills, the paper’s editorialists railed against it.

This isn’t surprising. In fact it is predictable from the so-called “liberal media.”

The Bulletin is against BAT, the local, modest transit system. It whined about the city spending money on bus-stop shelters. The Bulletin’s unofficial slogan is: All the News that Screws the Poor – and Kisses the Rich.

Almost all newspapers in America take similar positions as The Bulletin. It’s one of the reasons they are failing. They’re out of touch with the times and would-be subscribers.

On Nov. 30, The Bulletin pontificators wrote that the city should again offer “relief” to the developers/builders by granting them more extensions on their building permits. Afterall, developers are more valuable to the city than utility bill scofflaws and bus-riders, heaven forbid. The poor builder, who is designing that $1 million dollar spec home for a buyer two years from now, needs a break.
One of the reasons for delinquency of water and sewer bills is that the city almost annually has jacked up the those rates by double and even triple the rate of inflation this past decade. They had to because developers needed to be subsidized for the impact of their developments on the community.

In fact, without a vote of the people, the city council assessed all homeowners a $48 annual tax on each residence to pay for stormwater runoff problems because the city does not have a stormwater drainage system. The city could have also required builders to pay a stormwater impact fee (system development charge), but no, that would hurt them. Once again, the development community got preferential treatment while everyone else got screwed. With this money, nothing will be done to solve chronic flooding problems at the underpasses in Bend. And, as always, developers, some of the city’s richest citizens, won’t have to contribute a dime toward this problem, a position the Bulletin endorses wholeheartedly.

So remember, think of the rich this holiday season. The Bulletin always does. Afterall, we’re all equal in their eyes, except that some are more than equal than others.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Don’t Californicate Oregon

On Jan. 26, 2010, we’ll find out if Oregonians choose to not follow California’s lead by affirming the role of the Legislature to propose and enact laws in the state.

Californians long ago ceded that authority by approving propositions that tie up 80 percent of that state’s budget. Couple that with California’s assembly two-thirds majority required to pass laws and you have what Republicans have longed for: gridlock.

This is understandable in a state where gridlock is a daily ritual on freeways, highways and alleyways. The California government merely represents what the state has become: unmanageable, ungovernable and undriveable.

Oregon isn’t there yet, even though former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber said so earlier this decade. He made those claims while enduring a Republican-controlled Legislature which focused on placing the government in the bedroom – abortion, gay rights, assisted suicide – and out of the role of managing the state’s affairs.

Oregon has a Democratic governor and Legislature. To balance the budget last session in this Great Recession, they increased the minimum corporate from $10 to $150. This tax has not increased since 1931, during the Great Depression.

Please, $150 dollars? That’s less than corporate bigwigs spend on an afternoon with a prostitute. It’s less than what they spend on a bottle of wine at an upscale restaurant. Yet, these corporatists would rather see schools close, crime increase and health care diminish should this tax fail to pass in January.

The Legislature also increased taxes on a mere 2.5 percent of the population: the wealthiest people in the state, those making more than $250,000 as a couple or more than $125,000 as an individual.

If a couple makes $260,000 a year, they would pay an additional $180 a year in taxes until 2012. We’re talking $15 dollars a month. That less than what a couple might pay for a couple of lattes and scones on a Saturday morning. It’s ridiculous to think that these people will move elsewhere or work less because of this “onerous” tax. Complete bullshit.

The far greater concern is if these tax increases don’t pass. Oregon will have to shut down schools at least a month earlier in May, lay off police officers and let people die because they’re denied health care. Would any business want to relocate to a state like that? Absolutely not.

They want a state that cares about itself. California has shown that it does not and is losing businesses because of that fact.

The question, to be answered on Jan. 26 is: Do Oregonians care about Oregon?

Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Black and white and read all over … where?

Newspaper circulation continues its steep descent across the nation, while the local paper in Bend claims modest gains. This seems dubious, at best, since home foreclosures, record high unemployment and business failures have thinned expendable income considerably throughout Central Oregon.

The Bulletin didn’t keep up with the growth of Central Oregon in the boom times (the region tripled in size but circulation didn’t even double) and now, during the Great Recession, it finds itself furloughing workers and cutting their pay.

While Craig’s List decimated its classified section, other competitors have taken a bite out of the daily’s lucrative display advertising. Three local television stations, a number of radio stations, a free weekly, called The Source that has survived longer than any other upstart, plus the ubiquitous Internet have all eaten away at The Bulletin’s profits.

It’s still the top dog in town, in terms of news, but its influence has waned. By the mid-1990s, more Central Oregonians, for the first time ever, said they got their news from television rather than the daily newspaper. It was only a percentage point difference then, but that was before the World Wide Web. Yes, it was a 6-day afternoon paper then and it’s a 7-day morning paper now. But, much like papers across the country, the instantaneous nature of the Internet has made The Bulletin anachronistic. The paper runs articles from the New York Times, AP and others that anyone can read the night before or even days before.

Yes, The Bulletin does have a website, but it is routinely scooped by a single former employee, Barney Lerten, who runs the website for KTVZ, the NBC affiliate in town.

Of course, with about 10 times the resources, The Bulletin covers more ground than any other media in the area. The TV stations video crime, fires and accidents, much like most stations across the country. Radio steals from both print and TV. The
Source sits back and comments on all of them from a left-of-center perspective.

And, much like most newspapers in the country, The Bulletin is deeply conservative, pro-business, anti-union and is the chief cheerleader for growth, no matter what the cost to the environment, infrastructure or to business itself.

Newspapers are watchdogs on government, as they should be, but they merely serve up PR when it comes to business. Consequently, we are mired in the Great Recession.

Newspapers exist primarily because of advertising. If they become too critical of any business, the offended business will pull ads and the papers will suffer.

It’s almost impossible to get any unbiased reporting on any industry from newspapers because of this inherent conflict of interest.

So, instead of reporting the truth about how lousy American cars have been for decades, newspapers created special “advertorial” products that only say how wonderful these vehicles are. Astute consumers got the memo anyway from Consumer Reports (which accepts no advertising) and bought Japanese Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans.

And, instead of warning consumers of the housing bubble and the highly speculative nature of that bubble, newspapers published special real estate sections that only showed how it’s always the time to buy. Unfortunately, there was no one to advise consumers that it’s rarely, if ever, the time to buy a nearly $400,000 home, which was Bend’s peak median housing price in 2006, particularly when the median income was $56,000 in 2007.

(Ironically, few reporters or editors at any of the media outlets in Bend can afford to buy a home in Bend).

Newspapers routinely print special sections on a wide range of topics with no news value in order to entice advertisers. These sections don't entice readers.

It’s no wonder, then, that newspaper circulation continues to decline. Right-wing “hate” radio, plus Fox News, has the market cornered on government bashing, mainly Democratic governments.

Newspapers can’t compete on that front. And, since they choose not to truthfully inform readers about the major economic decisions in their lives, newspapers are becoming irrelevant.

The Internet is the place where consumers go for more accurate information about products they want to buy. There are a number of websites that allow consumers, be they happy or disgruntled, to vent their pleasure or anger. Yes, they aren’t completely trustworthy, but you can get a better sense from websites than from any newspaper on whether a Dodge Durango, for example, is worth purchasing. For the record, a Dodge Durango is not worth buying.

Newspapers have no one but themselves to blame for their diminished role in society. They chose this path. And that’s the way it is.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bend housing rebounding?

The local daily newspaper, in its customary role as head cheerleader for development, pulled out the pom-poms today with a headline that screamed: “Housing inventory plummets in Bend.”

Read story here: http://www.bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091112/BIZ0102/911120373/1041&nav_category=

While, theoretically, this is good news that housing inventory is approximately 50 percent off its peak, as the story claims, there are some caveats in the article such as : “banks have generally been slow to list foreclosure properties, and that may account for some of Bend’s decline in inventory. More than 3,000 notices of default — a filing that initiates foreclosure proceedings — have been filed in Deschutes County this year.”

Nowhere in the story is the other reason for the drop in housing inventory: homeowners have simply taken their homes off the market after the summer selling season yielded little success.

There is no evidence of an influx of citizens to account for increase demand for housing. Rather, it appears that speculators are once again entering the marketplace sensing that the bottom has been reached.

With real unemployment around 20 percent in the region, it’s hard to make the case that the housing market is heading upward. This winter should reveal a new, deeper round of foreclosures, not only in single-family homes, but also in the commercial sector. This will further depress the local economy.

Ironically, the story appeared on the same day the newspaper inserted the thinning, real estate monthly: Picture Your Home.

Sadly, the newspaper, which helped fuel the crisis with its pom-pom-waving antics, is now trying to hype another bubble. It would be more helpful if the newspaper would promote other ways the city could diversify its economic portfolio. But, no.

The area has always been wedded to putting all its eggs in one basket, be it the timber industry, tourism or housing.

The housing boom of the aughties bore no relationship to demand. It was largely fueled by speculators.

The downside for Central Oregon is that property tax collections are also seeing record defaults. The Sisters School District is already projecting a $1 million shortfall next school year, meaning teacher layoffs and higher class sizes. Other school districts will face similar dilemmas.

Meanwhile, tax breaks continue for the housing industry, be it buyers or developers. This may spur false demand, but in the long run it will lead exactly to another recession in which we’re currently mired.

But, hey, now’s the time to buy.

Bend housing rebounding?

The local daily newspaper, in its customary role as head cheerleader for development, pulled out the pom-poms today with a headline that screamed: “Housing inventory plummets in Bend.”

Read story here: http://www.bendbulletin.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091112/BIZ0102/911120373/1041&nav_category=

While, theoretically, this is good news that single-family housing is approximately 50 percent off its peak, as the story claims, there are some caveats in the article such as : “banks have generally been slow to list foreclosure properties, and that may account for some of Bend’s decline in inventory. More than 3,000 notices of default — a filing that initiates foreclosure proceedings — have been filed in Deschutes County this year.”

Nowhere in the story is the other reason for the drop in housing inventory: Homeowners have simply taken their homes off the market after the summer selling season yielded little success.

There is no evidence of an influx of citizens to account for increase demand for housing. Rather, it appears that speculators are once again entering the marketplace sensing that the bottom has been reached.

With real unemployment around 20 percent in the region, it’s hard to make the case that the housing market is heading upward. This winter should reveal a new, deeper round of foreclosures, not only in single-family homes, but also in the commercial sector. This will further depress the local economy.

Ironically, the story appeared on the same day the newspaper inserted the thinning, real estate monthly: Picture Your Home.

Sadly, the newspaper, which helped fuel the crisis with its pom-pom-waving antics, is now trying to hype another bubble. It would be more helpful if the newspaper would promote other ways the city could diversify its economic portfolio. But, no. The area has always been wedded to putting all its eggs in one basket, be it the timber industry, tourism or housing.

The housing boom of the aughties bore no relationship to demand. It was largely fueled by speculators.

The downside for Central Oregon is that property tax collections are also seeing record defaults. The Sisters School District is already projecting a $1 million shortfall next school year, meaning teacher layoffs and higher class sizes. Other school districts will face similar dilemmas.

Meanwhile, tax breaks continue for the housing industry, be it buyers or developers. This may spur false demand, but in the long run it will lead exactly to another recession in which we’re currently mired.

But, hey, now’s the time to buy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Fall of the Wall

With so much navel-gazing going on about the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago today, I’ll pull out my own lint.

In 1979, I traveled alone by train from Nuremburg, the former soul of Nazi power, to West Berlin, a capitalist island in a sea of Communist waters. On the way, I sat in a compartment with a linguistic professor from West Germany. Since she spoke perfect English and I spoke little German, we had a great discussion about how Germany, the west in particular, had not atoned for the crimes it committed against humanity in World War II.

The Wall, or division, was a small price to pay, she allowed, for the havoc and horror that Germans unleashed on Europe and Russia. It was easy for her to say since she didn’t live in East Germany (GDR or DDR – Deutsche Democratik Republik). Still she saved my ass when the Stasi (East German secret police) came through the train and started to hassle me, a 23-year-old punk from California.

Outside the train station in West Berlin, I stood staring at the ridiculously complicated map. (Germans are terrible mapmakers). Suddenly, a car came screeching to a halt in front of me and the passenger door flew open. Was this the Stasi again? Or the CIA?

No, it was a middle-aged couple who were children during the Berlin Airlift in the late 1940s. They could tell instantly tell that I was an American and they wanted to give me a lift to a youth hostel I had read about. I got in their small four-door car and along the way they thanked Americans for all that we did back then. They had just been grocery shopping and when they dropped me off at the hostel, they filled my arms with their food. They raced off and I stood there dumbfounded.

Where was I?

I was in the center of east-west divide, between capitalism and communism, between reality and fa├žade.

On the train ride through East Germany, we passed by small burgs that reminded me of Baja California: squalor and poverty. What would Berlin offer?

West Berlin was wild, decidedly western and relatively prosperous. It was living color. East Berlin was hollow, drab and lifeless. The guided tour of East Berlin was like the Universal City tram ride except that there were no jokes, corny or not. There were few people and store windows were barely stocked with small pyramids of goods. It was as phony as Hollywood without the glitz. It was a place without color, not in the American sense, but in the sense of black-and-white films.

It was easy to see then that this charade, this wall, wouldn’t last.

Ten years later it didn’t.

How did this happen?

In America, the narrative goes like this: President Ronald Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and moments later the wall came tumbling down.

In actuality, Reagan uttered his words in 1987, as Alzheimer’s disease began to take over his life. By November 1989, Reagan was long gone from office.

What started in Gdansk, Poland, in 1980 with the Solidarity movement, finally reverberated across the Eastern Bloc and through Moscow itself in 1989.

Without Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Solidarity would have never become the force that it became and the Berlin Wall would have never come down.

Gorbachev, through glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), ensured the eventual collapse of the wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union itself in 1991.

But, it has to be noted that the Soviet Union was beginning to crumble in the 1970s as more “easterners,” -- be they athletes, artists or diplomats – traveled to the west. They could see for themselves the lie that the Communists had foisted on the Soviet “Union,” the Baltics, Balkans and Eastern Europe. Much as the Crimean War of 1854 led to “openness” in Russia to western ideas which ultimately led to the Communist Revolution of 1917, so did the exchanges – athletic, artistic and diplomatic – lead to the fall of repression and totalitarianism beginning in 1989.

Yes, Reagan played his part, but the real credit belongs to Lech Walesa (the leader of Solidarity), Gorbachev and the East Germans who wanted freedom more than anything else.

They are the heroes we need to remember today, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Juniper Ridge

The city of Bend is renewing its focus on Juniper Ridge, the 1,500-acre parcel on the city’s northeast end along Highway 97 that city officials hope will be all things to all people. Besides a business “park,” it will feature a university with research facilities, a performing arts center, open space and residential developments. Or so they say.

What is happening, though, is that the city is selling the land to healthy companies for far below market value in order to show how vital the whole project is to the future of Bend. It’s then taking whatever profits there are and spending it on roads, water and sewers that serve Juniper Ridge. In other words, it’s subsidizing the companies that can afford to move to Juniper Ridge without subsidies. Yes, corporate welfare. It worked for the richest people on Wall Street in Manhattan, it can work for the wealthiest citizens on Wall Street in Bend.

This means that all available city capital is being spent on Juniper Ridge. There is nothing left to fix dangerous roads, a patchwork sewer system or water deficiencies throughout the community. In other words, as Bend tries to create a utopia at Juniper Ridge, the rest of the city decays. It’s called killing the goose that layed the golden eggs.

That is Bend’s recent history. As it seeks new growth to fill city tax coffers, Bend is left with depleted coffers, foreclosed properties and a crumbling infrastructure. Bend depended on growth to solve all its problems, but growth exacerbated the problems that were there already.

Bend always throws all it eggs in one basket, be it the timber industry, housing developments or Juniper Ridge. It never occurs to the city’s power brokers that perhaps this singular path is destructive to the health of a vibrant community. It’s a short-term philosophy shared by corporate America. It’s what imperils Bend and the country at large.

State lands

The state has 640 acres on Bend’s southeast side that it wants to include in the expansion of the urban growth boundary. The property runs east along 27th street from Reed Market Road south to Ferguson. If approved, it has the potential to make the area the most unlivable spot east of the Cascades.

The reason is that 27th Street and Reed Market Road are failed roads ever since the city approved a number of developments along each road without any improvements to either roadway. Consequently, Reed Market is the most dangerous road in Bend and 27th Street from Reed Market north to Butler Market Road is becoming almost as dangerous. When the city calculates public safety and how much money to budget for it, it fails to consider highway safety, which affects more citizens than all of the city’s crime put together.

The state land in question has other problems including toxic soil from years of dumping on the site and volcanic caves, some of which house the threatened Thompson’s big-eared bat. For all these concerns, there is no reason why the city should ever consider adding this property to the urban growth boundary.

Until the city fixes Reed Market, including a bridge over the railroad, it should forget about adding more land or approving any more subdivisions in this area. If it does so, it will further erode property values and further enrage the citizens in southeast Bend.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Central Oregon University

Now that citizens in the Central Oregon Community College district voted for expansion of COCC in Bend and in other cities in the 10,000-square-mile region, it shows once again that higher education is valued here. COCC is evolving into COU (Central Oregon University).

The vote reveals a couple of things. This is reminiscent of the last great recession when citizens, in 1982, rallied to hope in the future by passing a stable tax base for the COCC district. Here we are in the Great Recession and voters are willing to increase their property taxes by $41.58 million even as unemployment hovers at 20 percent and foreclosure notices fill the daily classified section. This is remarkable.

It also guarantees another $11.47 in state funding toward the various projects in Bend and Redmond. Yes, the state is willing to support higher education in Bend, when the local citizens show they back it, too.

This won’t put to rest the ridiculous talk of an LSU (Les Schwab University) at Juniper Ridge in northeast Bend, but it should. Juniper Ridge is a business “park” that some city leaders and some editorialists believe will one day be home to a Stanford-like research university. This is nonsense. They need to get over this fetish. COCC will slowly morph into a university and the COCC campus in Redmond will one day take over the community college function. This is how it should be.

Continued talk of a university at Juniper Ridge will only divert attention and resources away from COCC and confuse higher education officials west of the Cascades as to what Central Oregonians want. The vote on Nov. 3 shows that the region wants to see expansion of COCC on Bend’s west side and believe that is the future of higher education in the “middle of nowhere.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trojan Horse is empty

Lost in all the babble about how Oregon destroyed USC on Halloween, the Wiccan New Year, is the fact that this is a reversal of fortune.

For decades, SC treated Oregon like the JV team that they were. It was usually a 50-point rout no matter where the game was played. Also, the Oregon players would get so beat up by the Trojans the team was useless for the rest of the season.

Word out of L.A. is that all the linebackers and a defensive end got injured in the agony at Autzen. Some of them may play this weekend, but the point is made: Oregon did to USC what the Trojans have been doing to the Ducks for decades.

I know. I was at those games in the early 1970s at the Coliseum. My brothers, friends and I would hang with the SC students at the gates and get in for $1. We would sit at the 50-yard-line in the “card” section and root for the dominant Trojans as they kicked the tails of all opponents.

But that was then. I long ago gave up any allegiance to USC. The arrogance, sense of entitlement and condescension of SC students and fans turned me off long ago. In fact, I always root against the traditional powers, from Notre Dame to Miami, from Michigan to Ohio State and from Miami to Florida. The hell with them all. I always root for any team playing them. And usually they schedule some lower tier patsy to pad their won-loss records.

So when Oregon administered an SC-type butt-kicking on the Trojans, I could only nod and smile. What goes around, comes around. And decades later, it finally came around. Hail Oregon, Troy returns to antiquity.