Sunday, February 28, 2010

Great Games

The 21st Winter Olympics proved to offer the best highs and worst lows of any Winter Olympics. From the death of the luger at the start to the thrilling Canadian overtime victory at the end, these were memorable Games.

All is right with the world tonight in Canada. They are the best in ice hockey.

Highlights of the Games include:

Kudos to local athletes of Torin Koos (Nordic), Tommy Ford (Alpine), Chris Klug (Snowboarding). They didn't medal but put in great efforts. Being called an Olympian is a major league accomplishment.

Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette wins bronze after her biggest fan and best friend, her mother, died suddenly from a heart attack just two days before her short-program skate. The greatest achievement of the Games. A French-Canadian unites a nation in British Columbia.

Lindsey Vonn, with nothing but pressure including the sexy cover of Sports Illustrated, won gold in the premier ski event: the downhill. She's the first American woman to do so.

Also, an American won gold in a cross-country event for the first time. Bill Demong won in Nordic-combined (ski jumping and cross-country skiing) and Johnny Spillane won this third silver at these games in the same race. Remarkable.

It was also amazing to watch the finish of the women's 30K (18-mile) Nordic race. The Polish and Norwegian skiers were stride for stride at the very end with the Polish skier capturing Poland's first-ever gold in a cross-country event. Fantastic.

Americans won a record 37 medals. A tremendous achievement considering the last time the Winter Games were held in Canada in Calgary 1988, the Americans won just 6 medals.

Apolo Anton Ohno won 3 medals to make him the most decorated American Winter Olympian ever with eight.

Special props to the American 4-man bobsled team which captured gold for the first time in 62 years. The driver, Steve Holcomb, had eye surgery two years ago so he could see again. They rode their sled, "Night Train," to glory.

The Canadians may not have "Owned the Podium," but they owned the platform that matters most to the rest of the world outside the U.S. - gold. They won a record 14 gold medals. Call it a Yukon gold rush. And to think that Canada hadn't won a gold medal in two previous Olympics on its own soil. Hats off to Canada. The U.S. came in third in the gold category with 9. The Germans won 10.

Stephen Colbert's "Vancouverage" and the Colbert Nation's $300,000 support of the U.S. speed-skating team added a golden and humorous luster to the Games.

On the downside, it was painful to watch all the wrecks on the slopes and on the bobsled/luge/skeleton track. The worst mistake was the lost gold medal for Dutch skater Sven Kramer whose coach steered him onto the wrong lane and ultimate disqualification with only a couple of laps to go in the 10,000-meter race. Brutal.

Another loser was NBC, the only network in the world to tape-delay the Games. That's pathetic. Here's hoping that ESPN outbids all other American networks to broadcast the next two Olympics. They promise to broadcast the Games live. This could be the last Olympics where viewing them is dictated by the networks. The convergence of the TV and the Internet means that, finally, viewers can choose what to watch when they want to watch it. I can't wait. Eurosport in the Internet proved to be a popular alternative this time around for watching events as they unfolded.

Also, the Vancouver area suffered from its worst winter warm spell, thanks to El Nino. The weather wreaked havoc on all the outdoor events. But hey, that's what happens when you depend on the weather. The British press pushed the theme that these were the worst Games ever. Please. We still have the 2012 Summer Games in London.

As for the Winter Games, it's on to Sochi, Russia, in 2014 for the 22nd Winter Olympiad. Let's hope the U.S. doesn't boycott these games like it did the Moscow Summer Games in 1980.

If anyone is looking for better weather in Sochi (Feb. 7-23, 2014) than was found in Vancouver, well, look again.

The average February highs in Sochi are 50 degrees. The average lows are 38 degrees. Sochi has a humid, subtropical climate and is the unofficial summer capital of Russia. It became fashionable among the Russian elite under Stalin, who built his favorite dacha there. It's bordered by the Black Sea on one side and the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains on the other. With a population around 400,000, Greater Sochi claims to be the longest city in Europe as it sprawls along the Black Sea coastline.

As they say in Russian for good luck: udatshi.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tea time in America

Just a quick entry to alert anyone out there that a couple of pieces in the New York Times are well worth reading. You're not likely to see them in the local newspaper because they're a little critical of the Tea Party movement, which is a major constituency of the paper.

And, of course, these types of stories are something you couldn't possibly see on your local TV newscast. They're too complex and don't fit their rigid pattern of he-said-she-said-you-decide mold.

The first piece is by Frank Rich, the finest political columnist in the country, points out that the domestic terrorist attack on Feb. 18 in Austin, Texas, says more about the state of our country than anything else. I blogged on this in a previous post on that very day.

Rich references another Times' piece on the Tea Party movement with a dateline from Sandpoint, Idaho, the same place that once accepted the Aryan Nations brotherhood that is now trying to relocate to John Day, Oregon. It's another must read.

No one can destroy the U.S. We are quite capable of doing that ourselves.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Reconcile this

As the rhetoric roils over the use of "reconciliation" to ram bills through Congress, check out this fact from the Washington Post.

Also, look at this info from Wikipedia:

Since 1980, 17 of 23 reconciliation bills have been signed into law by Republican presidents (a Republican has been president for 20 of the last 29 years). Since 1980, reconciliation has been utilized nine times when Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate, six times when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate,one time when the Democrats controlled the Senate and the Republicans the House, and seven times when the Republicans controlled the Senate and the Democrats controlled the House. Reconciliation has been used at least once nominally for a non-budgetary purpose, namely the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 (a Republican was president and the Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate). The 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) contained some healthcare type reforms.

In other words, Republicans whine when reconciliation is used against them, but praise it when they use it. Hypocrisy, as always, from Republicans, who now have a new offshoot party. It's not the Tea Party, but the Whine Party.

The Democrats should use reconciliation to pass health care reform. Get 'er done.

A reformed reformer

Well, wouldn't you know. A well-respected school reformer with ties to the Reagan and both Bush administrations, who once applauded "No Child Left Behind," is now cheerleading for common sense.

Check out the Washington Post story today titled, "Business principles won't work for school reform, former supporter Ravitch says."

Diane Ravitch has a new book coming out next week called, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System."

The article states that "... Ravitch, an education historian, now renounces many of the market-oriented policies she promoted as a former federal education official with close ties to Democrats and Republicans."

She even challenges President Obama's education policies.

"In choosing his education agenda, President Obama sided with the economists and the corporate-style reformers," Ravitch writes in her book.

The piece points out that Ravitch, "stoutly defends teachers unions, questions the value of standardized test data and calls the president's affinity for independently operated charter schools 'puzzling.'"

"Is Arne Duncan really Margaret Spellings in drag?" Ravitch asked in a February 2009 blog item, suggesting that the education secretary's policies are not much different from those espoused by Spellings, who held the office under President George W. Bush, the article says.

Ask any teacher if they like the direction of education today. You'll likely get an earful. But who bothers asking teachers what they think. They belong to UNIONS! Gosh.

Still, teachers will tell you that there is so much focus on testing and the core subjects of math and reading, that there isn't much time (not to mention money) for things such as art, P.E., music or anything fun. Teachers are noticing burnout, not just among fellow teachers, but in the kids themselves. And we're talking primary grades here.

The upshot is that more dropouts are likely and at lower grade levels, particularly in middle school.

The irony is that more children will be left behind, not fewer. And, more teachers will leave the profession, not fewer. Better go back to the chalkboard.

In her book, Ravitch writes: "I wanted to believe that choice and accountability would produce great results. But over time, I was persuaded by accumulating evidence that the latest reforms were not likely to live up to their promise. The more I saw, the more I lost the faith."

Good for her to have the courage to challenge her own assumptions. She checked out the real world and found that students aren't widgets.

As I wrote in an earlier post, until they become widgets, businesses will be businesses and schools will be schools.

She says major education philanthropies, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, rely too much on business principles to improve schools.

You can't run a school like a callous corporation. Ravitch has seen the light, finally.

Will it matter in the long run? Not likely.

The extreme Republicans want to destroy public education, while misguided Democrats claim they want to improve education. If both sides employ the same strategies -- more charter schools, more testing leading to more accountability -- schoolchildren are bound to lose.

That's what happened with the charter school focusing on the arts in Sisters. It was a glorified coloring school that didn't teach students the fundamentals of reading or arithmetic. That charter is closing with the students returning to the public school knowing less than their classmates.

If public schools lack accountability, what about charter schools? They have no accountability.

This isn't to say that all public schools are wonderful. But the core issue is socio-economic. The rich do better than the poor. A recent study shows how some public schools in high income areas in the Portland area, are really more like private, elite schools. The poor are excluded. And that's the way it is.

You can be sure that folks on Bend's westside would like to exclude "the unwashed masses" from Summit High School. In a sense it's already happening. Many lower and middle income students just don't feel welcome there and transfer to Bend High or Mountain View.

It's always been about exclusion and exclusivity. That's how we roll as a nation. But that's why public education is so essential. It aims to reach and teach the "unwashed masses." It's one of the major reasons why so many flock to our shores.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Parking lot parkway

It appears the state transportation department has settled on a re-route of Highway 97 on Bend's north end to ease the ridiculous gridlock.

It's only taken six years to get to this point. It may take another six years just to start construction, which would take a couple of years, at least.

In the meantime, the city is poised to add more congestion to the area by no-doubt fast-tracking a new Wal-Mart super center at the Cooley-Hwy.97 intersection. Plus, the city will likely give away more land to companies to move into Juniper Ridge, the so-called Shangri-La of business parks, also on Cooley Road.

The state, though, just wants a safe, efficient road that doesn't create another parking lot of traffic. Businesses, and the city, want the opposite. Businesses prefer gridlock because it means more business. This is the cause of the 7-mile eyesore known as Third Street in Bend.

The city will do what businesses want because they believe they'll get more tax revenue. This thinking has failed to work because the city faces more than a $20 million shortfall paying for basic services like police and fire departments.

The state had to come in and put a moratorium on business growth on the north end of Bend. The transportation commission all but called for it five years ago.

“The Bend Parkway has been a huge frustration for me,” said Stuart Foster, former chairman of the OTC, which oversees highway funding for state road projects. He made these comments at an August 2005 commission hearing in La Grande. (I have a tape of the hearing)

“Frankly, ODOT didn’t do a great service in designing what we got, which I assume was in close consultation with the community,” Foster said. “Bend has failed and the business community has failed in it. We have egg on all our faces.”

He particularly criticized the north end of the parkway.

“Once it was constructed, at least it appeared to me, nobody planned for what happens at the south end and at the north end, the parkway ended in a shopping center, which is still absolutely mind-boggling to me,” he added. “You spend a 100 million bucks and we had the thing designed to end at a shopping center.”

Someday, ODOT hopes that Highway 97 from the boarders of Washington to California is a four-lane interstate freeway. At the pace it's going, next century might be too soon. Still, it's what communities all along the route must realize: either an unobstructed highway goes through your town or it goes around it.

No longer will businesses in communities along the route be able to hold the public safety hostage. In Bend, a handful of businesses will have to move. Some will go out of business. This is the price of progress. Is one life lost on the parkway worth one business? Is it worth more? Is it worth less?

Hopefully, ODOT will keep the lid on future growth that makes Highway 97 less safe, because the city of Bend is incapable of maintaining safe roadways.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Oh, brother

A story on The (Portland) Oregonian website reports that 60 to 70 protesters took to the streets of John Day (pop. 1,500) on Monday to protest the planned headquarters of the white supremacist group Aryan Nations.

The Aryan Nations national director told the paper that Grant County (pop. 8,000) with its wide open spaces (double the size of Delaware) is perfect for a headquarters and national gathering in September 2011.

The Christian-based group has been largely inactive in northern Idaho after the death of its longtime leader Richard Butler in 2004 and after losing a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

It's great to see that citizens in Grant County in east-central Oregon come out to oppose this move by a group that hates Jews and non-whites.

Aryan Nations is currently based in Lexington, South Carolina, which makes sense, since that state started the Civil War. The group, though, may move to St. Cloud, Fla. Their website proclaims: "Stop the hate -- Segregate!"

Their website allows says: "The Folk, namely the members of the race, are the Nation. Racial loyalties must always supersede geographical and national boundaries. If this is taught and understood, it will end fratricidal wars. Wars must not be fought for the benefit of another race."

A picture of a tombstone on its website shows the birth of the U.S. on July 4, 1776, and the death by suicide on Nov. 4, 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president.

To be sure, Grant County does have its kooks. Afterall, it passed a ballot measure in 2002 declaring the county a United Nations-free zone. Maybe they were afraid of "black helicopters" that have been tormenting Idahoans for years. Another measure that passed allows residents to cut down trees on federal forest land without Forest Service approval.

And yes, Central Oregon has been home to oddballs. We had the Rajneeshees here in the mid-1980s before their world fell apart outside Antelope.

Also, the John Birch Society was strong in eastern Oregon in the 1960s. In fact, former Bulletin editor Robert W. Chandler was recruited by the Republicans to run for Congress in 1962 because a Bircher was a candidate in the Republican primary. Chandler won the primary but was crushed in the general election by Democrat Al Ullman.

But, the Aryan Nations is one group this state does not want within its borders. Oregon came into the Union as a "free" state, even though it prevented African-Americans from moving here at the time. We are largely a progressive state. We don't need to regress by allowing Aryan Nations here. Their "free speech" damages all of us.

The Dept. of Homeland Security considers extreme right-wingers to be a threat to our society.

We have enough hate here with conservative talk radio. We also have plenty of teabaggers.

We have enough problems without adding any more. Go away, Aryan Nations.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Now is the time to buy - redux

Just as the median price of a home in Bend has plummeted from $398,000 to $189,000, real estaters gathered Monday to hear the latest forecasts on their business.

What they heard was prices are down, but sales are up. Inventories are down.

Oh, and discourage foreclosures through a marketing campaign.

You see, those who walk away from their homes hurt their neighborhoods and their community, we're told. Oh, and they further drive down home values.

Yet, banks can, and do, default on their properties and they're considered savvy, shrewd and successful.

Why shouldn't the common homeowner aspire to the same things?

Because the whole system is based on the rubes at the bottom subsidizing the rich at the top so they can make more reckless investments and be bailed out for doing so.

If the folks at the bottom act like those at the top, the marketplace could become more unstable. But that's capitalism. Just as banks look out for their own financial well being, so should individuals.

If defaulting on your home loan saves your sanity and improves your financial outlook, you should do it.

A new scare tactic is emerging to discourage defaults. More employers, we're told, are relying on credit checks when screening potential workers.

In Oregon, legislators are trying to bar that practice. The local paper, naturally, is opposed to such a law. But, if a developer with a dubious credit history were in the same boat, the paper believes such invasion of privacy is unwarranted.

The credit-check scare, though, is just a ruse for not hiring someone. So many Americans have defaulted on credit cards and home loans during this Great Recession that it's hard to hire someone who hasn't. Besides, if someone does their job well enough, what does their credit history matter?

Look at the major Wall Street banks. They've behaved recklessly and nearly destroyed themselves along with the world's economy. Yet, they were rewarded for such behavior. Billions in bonuses were handed out last year.

The bottom line: Don't fall for the scare tactics. Look our for yourself and your family. They come first before your neighbors or your community. Act like a banker. It's in your best interest.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Made in America?

Checked out the Ford Fusion in front of Costco the other day. This hybrid vehicle boasts 41 mpg, the most in its class. Motor Trend hailed it as car of the year.

This Ford Fusion, however, is made in Hermosillo.

Hermosillo is in Mexico (unmentioned on the sticker) where Ford started building vehicles in the 1980s or when the first "jobless" recovery began in the United States.

Coincidence? Hardly.

We, apparently, are in the beginning of another jobless recovery. This time, though, promises to be worse than the previous ones.

As we ship jobs to Mexico, China and elsewhere, fewer Americans have work. It's one of the things they apparently don't teach in business schools in this country: Fewer jobs means fewer employed. Fewer employed means less income. Less income means less buying power. Less buying power means fewer items purchased. Fewer items purchased means less factories are needed.

With the national jobless rate at around 10 percent, Oregon is about 12 percent and Central Oregon about 15 percent. The "underemployment" in Oregon is about 22 percent, third worst in the nation. Underemployment refers to those who work at jobs far beneath their previous experience or are working less than they would like to.

Over the weekend, the New York Times looked at the current "recovery" in an article grimly titled: "The New Poor: Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs."

Here's a paragraph that sums up the problem:

"Large companies are increasingly owned by institutional investors who crave swift profits, a feat often achieved by cutting payroll. The declining influence of unions has made it easier for employers to shift work to part-time and temporary employees. Factory work and even white-collar jobs have moved in recent years to low-cost countries in Asia and Latin America. Automation has helped manufacturing cut 5.6 million jobs since 2000 — the sort of jobs that once provided lower-skilled workers with middle-class paychecks."

Halliburton, the government oil and gas gian/Iraqi contractor once fronted by Dick Cheney, moved its headquarters offshore to avoid paying taxes on the billions it collected from the U.S. government. Even capitalists apparently don't believe in our form of government.

The article also notes that while job growth was 2.4 percent annually in the 1980s and 1990s, it had been 3.5 percent a year from the 50s to the 70s. Well, during the past 10 years, the annual job growth was 0.9 percent.

The companies that do hire workers are building fortunes on the backs of part-time, temporary on contract employees with no benefits, certainly not health insurance.

In fact, part of Wal-Mart's business strategy is to shift their health-care costs onto the public sector at the same as it tries to fight any change to improve public heath care.

So, it is no wonder that General Motors and Chrysler went bankrupt. More companies will either move all production overseas or go out of business altogether.

With Americans out of work, what will they be able to afford, particularly now that easy credit is now history?

Free-market capitalism rests on the assumption that unfettered markets are self-correcting and maintain a balance within the system. Well, we've seen the result of the free market with the collapse of the financial system.

The very same people who decry government intervention in the marketplace turned to the government for help. Once they got this aid, they then blamed the government for going into debt to bail them out. Biting the hand that feeds them has proved quite profitable.

We've long been conditioned to consider socialism and communism to be the greatest threats to our capitalist society. Well, capitalism is quite capable of destroying itself as we've witnessed the past couple of years.

There once was a theory that said if the rich had to pay little or taxes, the money they saved would then "trickle down" to the masses to form a robust economy.

As tears stream down the faces of the jobless and the underemployed, we have the true meaning of "trickle down."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Frontside 1080 and other anomalies

Can you imagine doing a backside 940 on the heels of a double corkscrew?

Thank god there is a commentator to let Olympic viewers know what the heck the snowboarders are doing in the halfpipe.

But, it is hilarious to hear all this chatter of frontside this and backside that and even the McTwist 1260. The numbers apparently refer to the full or partial rotations the boarders do while soaring through the big air.

It was great seeing Shaun White do his gold-medal, nighttime runs. He wore the baggy, team uniform, which resembled a Northwest lumberjack complete with a plaid hoodie. His long, bushy red mane flowed outside his helmet.

Boarders maintain this counter-culture hipness long after they've gone mainstream. They still look, act and talk like stoners. While skiers don tight-fitting, multi-colored spandex, snowboarders of both genders wear bulky gear as if they're going sledding. One Japanese half-piper even sported the matty, dread-lock look.

Yes, we get it. Snowboarders are the opposite of skiers. But, it's time to grow up. You're no longer renegades. You're the status quo.

Of course, halfpipe terminology has nothing on figure skating, which is in a tizzy over the "quad" that the second-place men's finisher landed, but that the gold-medal winner didn't even attempt.

The Russian, Yevgeny Plushenko, dissed American Evan Lysacek after the judges gave Lysacek the gold. Wonder what Johnny Weir would have said? We'd never hear the end of it.

But telling the difference between an axel and a lutz or a toe loop and a salchow is why we need someone like analyst Scott Hamilton there in Vancouver. He says these things, but I still don't know what they are.

Figure skating, snowboarding and mogul skiing all suffer because they are judged events. Like gymnastics in the summer games, it's hard to tell the difference between the best competitors.

Not so for the downhill. Lindsey Vonn battled high expectations and a badly bruised shin to ace the premier ski event on the most brutal course the women have ever raced on. She did it on men's skis, which will likely be the norm for women at Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

And quietly, surprisingly, Bode Miller collected his second silver medal today in the Super G, which apparently combines the downhill and the giant slalom races. Nonetheless, it looks like the downhill.

Miller, in spite of his pathetic no-medal performance at Torino, is now the most-decorated male Olympian in U.S. skiing history. He hasn't done bad on the World Cup either.

Speaking of medals, the Americans now have 20, almost double runner-up Germany. But, there is a full week left in Vancouver and the Germans always clean up in the bobsled.

It's always amazing to watch the various biathlon cross-country ski races where the competitors stop occasionally to shoot rifles at targets. To most Americans, skiing and shooting go together as well as figure skating and hunting. However, the northern Europeans consider this all too natural. Why then not expand shooting to other Winter Olympic events. How about ski jumping and shooting? Or, maybe pairs figure skating interrupted periodically with the man and the woman shooting at targets along the boards? The crossover appeal would draw more viewers and advertisers.

Another highlight this week was watching Bob Costas interview Stephen Colbert, the late-night comedian and speed-skating sponsor. It was must-see TV. Look for Colbert's take on the Olympics next week on Comedy Central.

Amid all this Olympic drama and excitement, Tiger Woods held a press conference to say, "Hey, look at me. I'm still here."

And the proper response: Who cares.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Teabagging. Is there an app for that?

Now that a domestic terrorist struck an IRS building with his private plane in Austin, Texas, teabaggers across the land must be nodding their heads in understanding.

Sounding like Glenn Beck from Fox News, this nutcase ranted on a blog to justify his actions. Apparently, there were so many sympathizers for this homegrown terrorist that Facebook had to take down a site supporting him. You can find more sympathetic comments on stories all over the internet.

Domestic terrorists, from the Oklahoma City bombers to the murderer of an abortion doctor last year, seem to find sympathy from what is now called the Tea Party movement. They indulge in an old-school form of teabagging: opening tea bags and dumping out the contents.

Anti-government action is nothing new, it's part of our DNA. From the Ku Klux Klan to the John Birch Society, racism, hate and intolerance are as American as apple pie.

But, the teabagger movement emerged after Barack Obama's election to the presidency in 2008. It's obvious that the losers from that day, particularly in the South, couldn't stand seeing a black man, a true African-American, leading our country. They've created an anti-Obama website called O.B.A.M.A.(One Big Ass Mistake America) that is a repository for racist ranting. The site has a half-million devotees.

Teabaggers claim they are merely against big government and the deepening deficit, but they were mute, in fact non-existent, during George W. Bush's plundering of the national treasury.

No, teabaggers are disgruntled Republicans, but Republicans nonetheless. They listen to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham for insight and enlightenment. It's no wonder they hate education. Learning just turns students into liberals.

The nation's leading Republicans gathered in Washington today for their annual meeting that bashes Democrats and their own government. Speakers, from Dick Cheney to Mitt Romney, channeled their inner teabagger to woo the elephants in the room. Later, Scott Brown, the new U.S. senator from Massachusetts expressed sympathy for the Austin terrorist.

Missing from the fray was Sarah Palin, the Tea Party's pinup teabagger. Glenn Beck, the ultimate gloom-and-doomer teabagger, will close out the hate-fest on Saturday.

Some teabaggers would love to see a Palin-Beck presidential ticket in 2012.

Republicans may think they can absorb the teabagging movement and they'll take over the government once again. But, while Palin and Beck have rabid followings, they only represent about 30 percent of the electorate. That doesn't win elections.

What was once the so-called "silent majority" is now the cranky minority.

When the teabagging Republicans lose with this kind of lineup they'll resort to extremism, perhaps even violence.

Today's sorry event in Texas is not likely the last of its kind. With Beck, Palin and teabaggers showing the way, we're going to see more of this domestic terrorism. And that is not good for this country.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Measures 66 & 67 redux – precinct breakdown

Nearly half the precincts in Bend voted to approve Measure 66 last month, while 7 precincts out of Bend’s total of 19 precincts voted yes to Measure 67.

Due to lopsided “no” votes in the city’s richest areas, though, both measures went down by 53 percent to 47 percent margins. That contrasts with Deschutes County which drubbed both measures by 59 percent to 41 percent margins.

Thanks, however, to the good folks in the Portland area, where the vast majority of Oregonians live, both measures passed easily.

Measure 66 boosts income taxes on households making more than $250,000 per year. Measure 67 increases the minimum corporate tax from $10 to $150.

On Measure 66, the precincts voting in favor include:

Precinct 1: The downtown area west to 12th St.
Precinct 4: The southern portion of downtown including the Old Mill District.
Precinct 6: The northeast industrial areas from Revere up to Empire avenues.
Precinct 7: The far west side from Galveston/Skyliners north to Summit Drive, which includes the West Hills and Northwest Crossing.
Precinct 9: The area around Pilot Butte.
Precinct 27: Southwest side, south of Galveston from the Deschutes River to Mt. Washington Dr.
Precinct 32: Central-east side from roughly Third St. to 12th St. and from Reed Market to Revere.
Precinct 34: The area around St. Charles Medical Center.
Precinct 46: Area around Mountain View High School.

Now, the precincts that contain Bend’s wealthiest neighborhoods slammed both measures. They include:

Precinct 35: Awbrey Butte. Measure 66 went down 70 percent to 30 percent. Measure 67 was defeated 68 percent to 32 percent.
Precinct 47: Broken Top and Sunrise Village areas. Measures 66 and 67 were defeated by 61 percent to 39 percent margins.

Class warfare lives on. The rich won in Bend, but they lost statewide.

Link to precinct vote totals in Deschutes County:

Link to Bend precinct map:

The health of the nation

Do these following statistics surprise, upset or please you?

“The nation’s top five insurers made $12.2 billion in profits in 2009, a 56 percent increase over 2008, while covering 2.7 million fewer Americans.”

“Anthem Blue Cross decided to raise rates by up to 39 percent in California.”

“Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield filed for a 25.3 percent rate increase on 70,000 Oregonians.”

For about 30 people gathered at Strictly Organic Coffee, at Bond and Arizona, this morning to stage a peaceful protest in support of passing health care reform, these insurance robberies are the central issue.

Best overheard line by a woman commenting on her bumper sticker that reads: “My car has better insurance than I do.”

The assembled were almost all middle-aged or senior women in the protest organized by the grass-roots group Health Care for America Now, which staged the protest nationwide.

It’s good that these people care enough to want to see real health insurance reform, but it definitely looks like it won’t happen.

The reason: that $12.2 billion in profits for the health insurance racketeers. They can buy off anyone with that kind of dough. They have already.

As most Americans know, we have a health INSURANCE crisis in this country and it’s not going to go away anytime soon. To have real reform, we need a single-payer, non-profit system. Until we do, health insurers will just take our money and laugh at us.

Medicare operates with a 3 percent overhead cost. The big insurance companies’ overhead: 30 percent.

Check out Michael Moore’s documentary “Sicko.” It says it all about the greed consuming the for-profit insurance giants.

Until America suffers a cataclysmic event similar to what Europe did during World War II, we won’t have the understanding to realize that health care is a right and not a privilege as some placards read today. We don’t get it, yet.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Games go on – as they should

Despite the gruesome death of the 21-year-old luge rider, Nodar Kumaritashvili , from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the 21st Winter Olympics in Vancouver are carrying on amid soggy conditions. Apparently some welcome snow arrived today, but it forced some postponement of events.

Yet, it’s always great to see the Olympic rings. It is the world’s flag and one day, in maybe another millennium, it will be. It shows how we’re all interconnected and dependent on one another.

Even though the Winter Games don’t have the mass appeal of the Summer Games, they are gripping in their own right. Unlike the Summer Games, the Winter Olympics feature so many events where death or severe injury are always possible.

What makes the Games great, though, is to hear of the obstacles that so many athletes have overcome to reach this pinnacle of success. The Canadian mogul skier, Alexandre Bilodeau, who won Canada’s first goal on Canadian soil (in three Olympic tries) is inspirational in his own right. His older brother has cerebral palsy and they’ve been best friends their whole lives with the older always rooting and supporting his younger brother. It’s an uplifting story for any era.

I find myself rooting for the Canadians to do well if front of their home fans. Of course, I cheer for all the athletes from all the countries. It’s a remarkable achievement just to be there.

Also, the American pair’s skaters’ back story is inspiring as well. Evora and Ladwig don’t fit the typical profile of upper-crust, pampered skaters, but blue-collar types who worked their way to get to Vancouver despite calls for them to give it up.

As for NBC, it’s great having Bob Costas as host. He’s the best who’s ever done it. But, like previous Olympics, everything is tape-delayed and the finals of the best events aren’t on until 11 p.m. It’s ridiculous in this Internet age and it’s the main reason why NBC expects to lose $200 million on the Games. It’s really their own fault. Much like newspapers, they have yet to adapt to this new world of instant information, commentary, analysis, video and audio.

But, I still love hearing the Olympic theme music, “Bugler’s Dream,” written by French-American film scorer Leo Arnaud and orchestrated by Felix Slatkin in 1958. ABC first used it in its Olympic broadcast for the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France, and it’s been forever linked to the Olympics by most Americans. NBC finally had the good sense to use it again after airing a few Olympics without it. It’s the audio cue for the Olympics - summer or winter.

Long live the games.

The saint goes marching out

St. Charles Medical Center in Bend and the Catholic Church have ended their 92-year partnership. The church could no longer tolerate the hospital’s practices regarding reproductive services, including contraception, but mainly tubal ligation or female sterilization.

St. Charles’s parent company, Cascade Healthcare Community, also operates facilities in Redmond, Madras and Prineville. Historically, St. Charles was a leader of the counter-Reformation.

It’s not lost on many women that the beef between the church and the hospital is over the church’s control of women’s lives. Ironically, women are the mainstay of the Catholic Church even as it denies them what they had centuries ago: leadership positions within the church. This is not a recipe for growth of the church.

Now, the church thinks it can grow by subtracting itself from the largest hospital east of the Cascades. It seems counter-intuitive.

Also, will nuns still be allowed to provide aid and comfort at the hospital? Afterall, it’ll still be called St. Charles.

St. Charles is a "non-profit" hospital, but it still likes to make money. Expanding services in reproductive health is a way to make more money. And that's always the bottom line.

Left unsaid on the TV newscasts was the big issue: abortion. The newspaper did address this issue at the end of its article. It is almost certain that abortions will be performed more openly at St. Charles. The secret in Bend was that abortions, in some capacity, have been performed there for years.

Like war, abortion has always been a part of our world and likely always will. It’s not pleasant, but that’s the way it is.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Now is the time to buy

Okay, not really. Bad joke. The rest of the country may slowly be rising from the depths of the Great Recession, but here in Bend and Deschutes County we haven’t even reached bottom yet.

That’s the latest word from the Bratton Appraisal Group which said that Bend hit a new post-boom low in January for the median price of a home: $189,000.

That’s less than half what it was at the peak in May 2007: $396,000.

In Redmond, it’s worse: The median price is now $120,000, down from a high of $289,000.


Pity those who bought at the peak and now are drowning under massive mortgage debt. (See earlier post about walking away from your "underwater" home). Deschutes County recorded 402 default notices alone in January. The daily newspaper’s classified section is filled each day with such notices. That’s one thing Craig’s List hasn’t siphoned off yet.

One place you won’t find any help is, of course, at the bank. Any bank.

Despite the billions in goodwill the American taxpayer gave the banks for their ruinous behavior, the banks now turn around to that very same taxpayer looking for loan modification and screech: “F--- you.”

In fact, one retired loan officer told me that she’s been getting calls from former clients asking what they can do to work with their bank to stay in their home. She’s discovered that the banks don’t give a damn about your problems. (As if they ever did.) She said the banks are just writing off the losses and collecting the properties. And she is disgusted with them.

It’s what I predicted when the bankruptcy laws were re-written during the Bush Administration. We’re witnessing the greatest land grab since the Great Depression.

Who benefits? The very rich, of course. They’re swooping in and picking up those vacant subdivisions throughout Bend for a third of the asking price.

And it’s not going to look any better anytime soon.

The reason? The other shoe is about to drop.

“There is a commercial real estate crisis on the horizon, and there are no easy solutions to the risks commercial real estate may pose to the financial system and the public," says a report issued Thursday by the Congressional Oversight Panel, the bailout watchdog led by Harvard Law professor and middle-class advocate Elizabeth Warren.

This is from the Huffington Post: “Over the next five years, about $1.4 trillion in commercial real estate loans will reach the end of their terms and require new financing. Nearly half are ‘underwater,’ meaning the borrower owes more than the property is worth. Commercial property values have fallen more than 40 percent nationally since their 2007 peak. Vacancy rates are up and rents are down, further driving down the value of these properties.”

Bend, of course, is poised to be a poster child for this crisis, too. Vacant commercial properties litter the landscape like cardboard boxes.

The bottom just seems to get deeper and deeper.

A super Sunday

Not the game, but my drive back to Bend from Eugene.

Dark clouds and rain mixed with bright sunshine. A beautiful paradox. Brilliant rainbows guided our way home.

It also helped that gas prices here are considerably cheaper than they are in the Willamette Valley.

I filled up at Fred Meyer for $2.55 per gallon, using my 3-cent discount, of course. The cheapest I saw in Eugene-Springfield was $2.83.

My, how times have changed. It seems like only yesterday when those numbers were reversed.

It’s odd reading The (Bend) Bulletin when they list gas prices in our area. They just throw a handful of stations in a list that never show the lowest prices which are usually Arco and Fred Meyer.

The TV stations do a better job by showing the highs and lows in the region.

Thank god we haven’t heard the whining about self-serve gasoline in our full-serve state.

In California, a self-serve state, the cheapest you’ll find is $2.75 in Yuba City, which is considered the worst place to live in America. It’s more than 3 bucks a gallon in the Bay Area and nearly $3 a gallon in the L.A. area.

In Washington, another self-serve state, the statewide median price for regular is $2.83. It’s more the $2.90 a gallon in Bellingham.

For those out there who still struggle with math, the gas prices in California and Washington, where you can stink up your hands and clothes when you fill up, are much higher than those in Bend.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Toyota’s troubles

As if there hasn’t been enough coverage of troubles with Toyota’s accelerators on many of its vehicles and with brakes on the 2010 Prius, I’ll chime in that Toyota still makes some of the best vehicles in the world.

And, if I had any money, I’d buy a Prius right away.

My 1995 Camry needed its first brake job at around 143,000 miles. The factory battery died after 7 years. Show me an American car ever to achieve such durability. It’s still running with more than 150,000 miles on it. Never had an American car do that without needing either a new engine or transmission.

It should be noted in all this media frenzy that the Toyota accelerator trouble is an American problem. Toyotas made in Japan have no such issue.

When we bought our Camry in 1995, we made sure it was made in Japan. Likewise, when we bought our Honda CR-V in 2008, the VIN number starts with a J signifying made in Japan. I would urge all Americans, if they want a more reliable vehicle, to choose one made in Japan over anything made in America. Also, go to the repair shops at the dealerships. They’ll tell that American-made Toyotas or Hondas have more quality problems than the Japanese-made versions.

In this country, we plan for things to break down so that the supply chain never stops. Well, those chickens finally came home to roost this past year as GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy.

Yes, the Prius with the faulty brakes is a Japanese Toyota problem and one that, I’m sure, will be addressed and solved in no time.

The Japanese automakers make quality products unrivaled by any of its American counterparts. Like many Americans, I’ve owned American and Japanese vehicles. We have spoken with our pocketbooks that we prefer Japanese over American and, certainly, European-made cars, which are are overpriced.

Part of the reason for the decline in automobiles made in this country is that it is hard to get reliable information about these vehicles. Daily newspapers run “advertorial” sections on automobiles that seldom tell readers what they need to know about vehicles. These sections are just ads in another format. Trade magazines are sponsored by the auto industry so the information in those publications is merely P.R.

American automobile manufacturers have always viewed their quality problems as a marketing issue. Consequently, while P.R. campaigns became more sophisticated, the vehicle quality declined and sales plummeted.

It didn’t help that in this anti-government era when everything must be privatized or cut back, government vehicle pools, largely supplied by American automakers, dried up. With those sales gone, there were few left to buy GM, Chrysler or Ford products. Ford may be in better shape than the other two brands, but their products are second rate next to the Japanese.

Yes, the underdogs love it when the top dog, Toyota, gets its lumps. Don’t be gloating too long, because Toyota will leave you in the dust.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The lost decade – in film

From terrorism to wars, from economic collapse to natural disasters, the Aughties were a terrible decade. Thank god they’re over.

Another reason to forget this past decade is the movies that won the Academy Award for best picture.

In many ways, the winning films mirror the Aughties: violent, harsh, a little schizophrenic and, ultimately, meaningless. It got so bad that Hollywood had to nominate 10 films this year for the first time since 1943. That means there will be nine films instead of four that I probably haven’t seen. Actually, I did a little better this year. I saw two of the nominess.

Here’s the list of the Aughties’ “winners”:

2000: “Gladiator” – A video game movie. Long on ultra-violence and gore and short on substance and meaning.

2001: “A Beautiful Mind” – Almost as unstable as its subject. What appeared to be a clever ruse to experience the madness of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, turned out to be confusing and disingenuous. Is there a reality in the film that can be trusted? No. And that’s a little dishonest.

2002: “Chicago” – A fun musical that has the audience rooting for conniving vixens. It represents the decade well since the bad “guys” win.

2003: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” – The final chapter of the Tolkien trilogy that proved to be one long, mega-violent video game. Well made, but too much dizzying camera work. Has anyone figured out what it all meant? I sure haven't.

2004: “Million Dollar Baby”: A brutal, bloody boxing film of a female pugilist who ends up paralyzed from the neck down and begs to put out of her misery. That’s entertainment?

2005: “Crash” – The decade’s best film about our widening racial divides. Tackles the tough issues of our time and still manages to be hopeful. A rare triumph.

2006: “The Departed” – Boilerplate work from Martin Scorsese. Mean and violent. No one to root for. It won because the Academy felt that a Scorsese film was due. Not for this one, though. “Babel,” another nominated film, was the definitive post-9/11 film of the decade. Haunting, sobering and sad.

2007: “No Country For Old Men” – A disturbingly violent film from the Coen brothers who won because, again, the Academy thought they were due. Josh Brolin was excellent as was Oscar-winner Javier Bardem, who played a Grim Reaper, bringing death to most he meets. The character of the decade.

2008: “Slumdog Millionaire” – Cruel, gripping, unsettling look at modern India, which is not likely to use this flick to promote tourism. It’s a cross between the TV game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and the holocaust film, “Schindler’s List.” In that way, it was emblematic of the decade. In spite of great acting and filmmaking, it’s hard to recommend.

2009: The nominees are: “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The Blind Side,” “District 9,” “An Education,” “Inglorious Basterds,” “Precious,” “A Serious Man,” “Up,” and “Up in the Air.”

I’ve seen two of the nominees, “Avatar” and “Up in the Air.”

“Avatar,” the 3-D sci-fi epic, is now the highest-grossing film of all time. The premise, the exploitation of indigenous people and the devastation of their land by an imperialistic country, which happens to be the U.S., is timeless and instructive. The special effects are astonishing. Still, it seemed like a bit of “Transformers” or “District 9” crashed the party and the film, at times, was no more than a noisy, violent video game. In that way, “Avatar” should win best picture as a bookend to “Gladiator.” Movies, now, must mirror “reality” presented by Xbox and Playstation. And, the only video game I understand is “Solitaire” on my computer.

The other nominee, “Up in the Air,” certainly captures the spirit of the times since it is about a man who goes around firing people from companies who are too spineless to do it themselves. George Clooney is great, but I never felt truly moved by this film as I should have been. Part of the reason is that no character is truly empathetic, except the ones who are fired. Too bad one of them was not a lead character.

So, what does this past decade mean for the next one in cinema? Well, we can expect more loud, violent movies that look like video games on the big screen. Perhaps, instead of 3-D glasses, moviegoers will get joysticks or video game consoles to interact with the films. Will this help cure our national epidemic of obesity?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day - Long winter of discontent

Another downtown Bend restaurant has closed. Ciao Mambo, part of a small Italian restaurant chain, shut its doors late last week. This is sad news, but expected since Olive Garden opened recently.

Also, Ameritech Machine Manufacturing in Redmond went belly-up leaving 45 without work. Unfortunately, this long winter will prove to be the undoing of more small, and medium-sized businesses in the region.

And, it has nothing to do with the tax hikes passed last month by an overwhelming majority of voters. No, it’s the reality of the Great Recession.

We’ve seen this movie before. The groundhog saw his shadow.

Bend has always depended on the economy outside the region. When that economy is bad, so is Bend’s. This time around, instead of putting all its eggs in the basket of wood products, Central Oregon bet everything on the continued growth in the local housing market. When that collapsed, so did the local economy.

If voters had rejected the tax measures, there would have been hundreds of layoffs in the region of family-wage jobs because many teachers, police and other government workers faced the ax. And, for each of those family-wage jobs lost there would have been a doubling or even tripling effect because the loss would trickle down to local small businesses.

Unemployment and underemployment in Central Oregon is well over 20 percent. The state is one of three, along with California and Michigan, to have 20 percent unemployment/underemployment.

Part of the reason is that Oregon does not feed at the trough of the bloated military budget. There are no military bases in the state and too few military-related contractors.

Also, Oregon has yet to realize that education, all the way through post-graduate research, is the real ticket to economic stability.

Bend Councilor Jim Clinton, a physicist, is proposing a research center for Bend. He’s on the right track, but until business gets on board, there is no chance of it happening here. Bend should target its research with a facility at Central Oregon Community College geared toward sports medicine. With so many Olympic-caliber athletes residing in Bend, the area is a natural for such a facility. In the 1990s, Nike was rumored to consider a multi-sport complex in Bend. Again, this area, with its focus on skiing, snowboarding, cycling, golf, running and other outdoor pursuits, is perfect for it. We likely won’t see anything like this soon because the area is too narrowly focused on housing development. That’s where most of the tax breaks go and much of the government subsidies as well.

Punxsutawney Phil says it’s time to keep hibernating along with our economy.

Yet, more trains are whistling and rumbling through Bend while clogging rush hour commutes. Is that more of a sign of an early economic spring than a Pennsylvania groundhog?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Do deficits matter? (And other taxing issues)

Former Vice President Dick Cheney once said that deficits don’t matter. He uttered what many Republicans practice in private, but usually rail against in public. What he meant to say is that deficits don’t matter under Republican administrations, but they are devastating under Democratic administrations.

Now, that President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget is out there, the predictable hand-wringing by Republicans begins anew. And, Obama is burnishing his “hawk” credentials by increasing the military budget by 3.4 percent from $530.8 billion to $548.9 billion. Naturally, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with gobble up another $159.3 billion. To Republicans this amounts to a gutting of the military.

It’s amazing to realize that the deficit will reach nearly $1.6 trillion, the third year in a row that it’s been over a trillion. President Clinton left President George W. Bush a budget surplus in 2001. My, how times have changed.

The deficit business really accelerated under President Reagan when he cut the top tax rate from 60 percent to 40 percent, but then amplified spending by borrowing with no plan to ever pay it back. Yes, he did raise taxes, but on those on the bottom and middle tiers of the tax spectrum. Consequently, the deficit soared and the country partied on.

Many Americans took Reagan’s cue about borrowing and spending by borrowing and spending themselves. If the government isn’t worried about debt, why should anyone else.

Now, as usual, we here talk about “living within our means.” What this means is for government/corporations to borrow most of the capital available out there, while everyone else must scrimp and save, as if they haven’t been scrimping and saving.
Banks and “investment” firms are spending so freely on themselves, through bonuses, that they don’t even have any money left for their stock investors.

The system depends on the rubes (most common citizens) to rein in their spending, pay their mortgages and credit card bills so that this pyramid scheme can keep growing. As we do, government and, mainly, corporations, laugh at us. Once we realize we can act as irresponsibly as government and corporations do, the system will truly collapse.

Of course, banks accused middle and lower class Americans of racking up debts through spending on flat-panel TVs, iPhones and dining out. So, they had the bankruptcy laws re-written to prevent Americans from walking away from such credit card debts. However, credit card default is mostly triggered by spending on health care, because we don’t have universal health care. This meant that while health insurance companies passed out their bonuses for denying coverage, millions of Americans went bankrupt.

And today, I paid another government bill for “stormwater service” that amounts to $48 a year and was assessed on all households. This caused no belly-aching from the usual quarters (the daily newspaper, builders/real estate associations) because it pushed the cost away from the people who are causing the need for this fee – the developers. There is no stormwater service in Bend because there is no stormwater piping system. No, this money helps subsidize developers.

Also, this weekend, I ate an early dinner at the new Olive Garden restaurant in Bend. At 4 p.m., the place was swamped and the wait for a table was 45 minutes. It took about 25 minutes, but still, we’re in the middle of the Great Recession. What was everyone (or I) doing there? We’re still living it up, because, afterall, deficits don’t matter.

Our waiter said about 110 people work there throughout the day. In all, about 165, mostly part-timers, work there making between $8.40 to $11 an hour, plus tips. I wonder what kind of tax break Olive Garden got for creating so many jobs. Afterall, Facebook will receive $2.8 million a year in tax breaks for opening a data center, with 35 employees, in Prineville next year. Well, Olive Garden didn't get such a break because they didn't create "family wage" jobs.

The Bulletin, the daily newspaper, did note this past weekend in an article titled, “The Facebook Effect,” that one other company inquired to the state about relocating here and, presumably, getting a similar, or better, tax break than Facebook got. The article did say that Facebook will pay about $110,000 as a “community fee,” plus lesser city fees. The “Facebook Effect” is so amazing that the company even joined the local Chamber of Commerce. It also had a Bend restaurant cater its Jan. 21 announcement event.

Can we all feel the end of the recession now?