Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Redmond duffers; gas prices; studded tires - updated

Who knew that Redmond, Oregon, was such a golf mecca.

City officials seem to think so. First, the city helped pay for Juniper Golf Course to move to its new location south of the Redmond airport with a $6 million bond. It will now pony up another $600,000 on top of $300,000 last year.

Prior to the move, the municipal golf course had less than 450 members. After the move, membership cratered to roughly 130. Juniper now claims it has about 200 members.

Wow. That's one helluva subsidy for duffers to knock a ball around on a High Desert course.

Redmond has always struggled with priorities. It needed a new high school more than 20 years ago and finally will get one in 2012. It's needed a new public pool and fitness facility for years.

Part of the problem is that the city gobbles up most of the available tax revenue pie. Unlike Bend, which has a separate park and recreation department, the city of Redmond oversees the parks. Consequently, Redmond has too few parks and facilities for recreation.

Another problem is that Redmond subsidizes a number of businesses in the city, particularly near the airport. This means the tax burden shifts to residential homeowners who naturally vote against schools or anything else in Redmond.

Rather than throw money away on a golf course, Redmond would be better off building a new pool and fitness facility. The expansion of Juniper Swim and Fitness Center in Bend is paying for itself with increased use. The center in Bend is great. I worked out there this morning.

Instead of 200 or 400 members, a new pool and fitness facility in Redmond would easily have 4,000 members in that city with a population of roughly 25,000.

But, quality of life hasn't been a high priority in Redmond. Unless you golf. Obviously, too few do.

Meanwhile, gas prices continue to rise as more people drive. At the low end is Fred Meyer which cost $2.76 a gallon as of a couple of days ago. That's about 13 cents cheaper than the cheapest gas in Eugene, which we paid over the weekend. For years, Bend was known as having the highest gas prices in the state. We now have some of the lowest prices.

Oregon drivers, though, in spite of having someone pump your gas for you, spend less of their income at the pump than most other states. The Natural Resources Defense Council released a new study showing Oregon ranks 34th at 3.6 percent of income going to big oil.

Mississippi ranks a dubious first with 6 percent of income going out the tailpipe. Idaho is 10th at 4.54 percent of income. This study is more a reflection of lower-income states paying a greater share income for gasoline than high-income states, such as Connecticut, which ranked 50th at 2.52 percent of income going to the likes of ExxonMobil.

Still, for all the blather about how not having self-serve gas stations in Oregon leads to higher prices, well, that is bunk. Market forces determine the price of gas. Always have, always will.

Speaking of driving, the state, as usual, extended the season for the use of studded tires from April 1 until April 11. This happens almost every year because we get late season storms that dump a ton of snow in the Cascades, where driving over the passes can be treacherous.

But this story carries less interest today because more and more drivers are switching to studless snow tires. Costco only sells studless snow tires. It stopped selling the studded variety a few years ago. Studless tires allow drivers to put the tires on when needed and take them off when they're not. There is no deadline. Plus, in almost all winter driving conditions, they're better. I've used them for about 5 years now and I've never had a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Studded-tire use has been blamed for the rutted and deteriorating roads throughout the state. However, it is the weight of heavy trucks that do more than 90 percent of the damage to our roads.

And yet, if there was one driver out there with studded tires, he or she would get the blame for destroying our roads. The studded tire canard is, well, tiresome. It's time to get a new villain.

update -

Good story here about how commodity speculators are driving up the price of gasoline again. Aren't free markets beautiful? Not!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The way the wind blows

update below

If you watch Fox News, you know that global warming was something Al Gore cooked up after he invented the internet just so he could win a Nobel Peace Prize.

According to critics of global warming, now known as climate change, the scientists may say one thing, but we all know better because it was a miserable winter in at least half the country. For the record, we had a mild winter here in Central Oregon. In fact, it was probably the warmest February on record, thanks to El Nino. Now that April is nearly here, it's snowing again.

According to an article in the New York Times, though, climate change not only pits almost all scientists against big oil/coal and overheated politicians, but it also pits climatologists against meteorologists. The former studies long-term weather trends, while the latter predicts short-term weather forecasts on TV.

Yes, the weatherman has improved his game in forecasts, but he or she still gets it wrong much too frequently. They would be more accurate if they didn't hype the weather so much. For example, when the temperature is going to drop a couple of degrees from one day to the next, this is not a cold front. Likewise, when temps break into the 70s from the upper 60s in the Central Oregon in late spring, it is not a heat wave. The hyperbole, more than anything else, undermines most local weather reports.

The reason is that weathermen must make the weather sound dramatic when it isn't. That's why it's humorous to see the meteorologists practicing caution and restraint when it comes to climate change. You would think they would love to hype weather armageddon, at least on a weekly basis.

But, they don't, because many of them don't believe climate change is real, or is out of the ordinary or caused by man.

They're entitled to their beliefs, but, outside of geologists, almost all scientists believe that climate change is happening. The oceans are expanding and icebergs are melting. Geologists believe this is a normal pattern. Climatologists do not.

The reason why climate change has so many doubters, is that there is an entire industry devoted to causing such doubt. Check out this story on Koch Industries, an American oil and pipeline conglomerate.

The story says:

"Koch Industries has 'become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition,' spending over $48.5 million since 1997 to fund the climate denial machine, according to an extensive report today by Greenpeace. "

It even outspent ExxonMobil, if that's possible.

Here's another nugget from the article:

"The company’s founder, Fred Koch, who once earned $5 million building oil refineries in the Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin’s reign, was a co-founder of the libertarian John Birch Society. Charles G. and David H. Koch, two of Fred’s four sons, each now own 42% of the company’s stock. According to 2009 Forbes rankings, the Koch brothers are tied for the 19th-richest person in the world, and for ninth-richest American, each worth between $14 and $16 billion, more than George Soros or the founders of Google."

Of course, all those billions are nothing against all those millions that scientists the world over own collectively. And you know scientists, always pushing an agenda from gravity to antibiotics. What's with those guys? Why do they always act like they're smarter than everyone else. Okay, they may be smarter than me or you, but what about all those teabaggers? Or John Birch?

Why should we trust people whose life work is to study the weather? Don't they have anything better to study? How about left-handedness? Or why some people detest Italian food? Something that matters.

But, no. Now scientists are trying to replicate the "Big Bang" with the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

Please, is this necessary? Do they need to destroy the planet in order to save it?

In the meantime, pass me the sunscreen.

update: The so-called "climategate" was bogus all along. A British inquiry says climate data was not manipulated. The story is here. A key paragraph from the story is below:

In their report released Wednesday, the committee said that, as far as it was able to ascertain, "the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact," adding that nothing in the more than 1,000 stolen e-mails, or the controversy kicked up by their publication, challenged scientific consensus that "global warming is happening and that it is induced by human activity."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Gawking GOPers

This is not the lead that most Republicans want to see with their morning coffee:

"The Republican National Committee gave nearly $2,000 to a Southern California GOP contributor for meal expenses at Voyeur West Hollywood, a lesbian-themed California nightclub that features topless dancers wearing horse-bits and other bondage gear, according to newly filed disclosure records."

The GOPers may not like it, but for most everyone else, it provides a daily chuckle.

The article, by the Washington Post's Dan Eggen, reports of other questionable spending by the Republican National Committee.

Of course, Republicans may not care that money was spent on topless dancers wearing bondage gear, but when you throw in the word lesbian, well, the GOP heart monitors go ballistic.

As we all know, Republicans are neither gay nor lesbian nor homosexual, in case there is any confusion. In spite of the gay Log Cabin Republicans, the GOP's "big tent" excludes most who are not in the "mainstream."

In recent years, the GOP has thrived under the threat of gay marriage being imposed by judges. Just saying the words gay and marriage together would generate millions in donations for the GOP and deliver solid turnout at the polls.

Then, gay scandals in Florida and Idaho tarnished the GOP brand. Throw in Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter adopting a baby and well, it's all gone to hell in a hand-basket.

What amuses most of us about all of this, of course, is the blatant hypocrisy of it all. Republicans always act as if they're the most moral of creatures, great and small. We know, obviously, that they're not more moral or ethical than Democrats. In fact, they're just like them.

This latest embarrassment, though, could please the old-school Republicans who want to get back to basics: reward the rich and punish the poor. Now that is different than Democrats, they believe.

Republicans are at their best when they appeal to the greed in us all. It's something we can all relate to.

Maybe, this latest episode will slap the GOP to its senses, just not in the bondage sense.

A sunny day in Eugene

Saturday in Eugene was one of those rare early spring days when the sun was shining bright, tulips danced in the breeze and all the food tasted great.

The photo here is of the new $200 million Matthew Knight Arena to house the basketball teams next season. It's dubbed "Matt Court," after the oldest Division I arena nearby -- Mac Court. Matthew Knight, Phil Knight's oldest son, died in a 2004 drowning accident at the age of 34.

The new arena is huge with 12,500 seats. Oregon, one day, wants to host an NCAA sub-regional tournament. The blue color at the top of the arena is insulation at this point.

Still, there is no coach for the men's team. After firing their most successful coach ever, Ernie Kent, Oregon, with the deep pockets of Nike, is apparently willing to pay millions for a big-time coach.

It would seem so because they haven't hired one yet, which is surprising. Names that surfaced over the weekend include Minnesota's Tubby Smith and Michigan State's Tom Izzo, who has his team playing in the Final Four again. Izzo claims he hasn't been contacted by Oregon. In Minneapolis, the papers there say that Nike's Phil Knight wants Smith. Who knows?

But whoever it is, he will likely be the highest paid public employee in the state of Oregon.

But back to Eugene, though. We had a delicious dinner at Beppe & Gianni's, fantastic pastries and coffee at Sweet Life Patisserie and a perfect lunch at The Vintage. We batted three for three including a stop for homemade ice cream at Prince Puckler's Gourmet Ice Cream shop.

Eugene, which is a Berkeley-lite in its funkyness, always has amusing bumper stickers. On one Subaru, amid all the anti-war stickers, read this: "Well, at least the war on the environment is going well."

And Eugene is doing well, too.

The Anti-Americans

Call it a spring of discontent.

Reports keep surfacing about anti-government actions or, in the case of the Census, non-action.

If you check out your local "rants and raves" section on Craig's List you'll find all kinds of bizarre anti-government rants and spontaneous Tea Party rallies. On the Central Oregon "rants and raves" list, tea partiers were to gather at the Olive Garden in Bend for a post-rally pasta feed. How civilized.

In the upper Midwest, nine members of "Christian militia" were arrested, at the start of Holy Week no less, for apparently trying to kill police officers. Check out this story from the Associated Press. These bizarre events occur from time to time no matter who is president, but it seems that they're more frequent these days, especially with "rage" against government all the rage.

And, a Minuteman leader backpedals after issuing a call to come "locked, loaded and ready" to protect the border. Apparently, the response was too enthusiastic for the Arizona-based Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and is apparently disbanding. Check here for a story.

In Nevada, meanwhile, the Tea Party Express III (somehow I missed versions I and II), held a "conservative Woodstock" in Sen. Harry Reid's hometown of Searchlight.

Also, we have "the son of the god of Enoch" charged with threatening to kill Republican Rep. Eric Cantor. With Enoch, you never know.

Expect a huge anti-government/American protest on April 15 because, well, you know it is the worst day in America -- the day taxes are due. FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group led by Dick Armey, is leading the nationwide protest where it expects "hundreds of thousands."
Wonder if any militia will act as security.

But, the Tea Party movement may create problems in elections. Check here for a story about third party candidates and here for a piece on how anger is not a policy.

And, of course, we have the usual anti-Census crowd making more waves than usual this time around. To these nutcases, the government ("Big Brother") spies on you through the Census so it's best not to comply. If you don't send back the modest little survey, a Census worker will likely ring your doorbell. This could translate into more violence this spring and summer.

It also means that less federal tax dollars could come to your state. That may happen in Texas, where the governor last year sided with the secessionist movement in the Lone Star State.
That's fine for us here in Oregon. We could use a few more tax dollars that the Texans don't want. Check here for more info on the Texas anti-Census craze.

This should be a lively spring for lunacy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Angri-La redux: Natives are restless

Fresh from ignominious defeat on health care reform, teabaggers now resort to violence and threats of violence to show how angry they are.

Attacking Democrat offices and homes of Democratic representatives or their relatives seems to be national pastime. It's like spring training for the November election.

Sarah Palin told her Facebook followers to "reload" and put cross-hairs on legislative districts of Democrats.

It wasn't enough to spit on at least one legislator as he walked toward the Capitol to pass health care reform. Or to call another one a faggot and another a nigger.

Physical violence says so much more. It achieves so much more. Or, at least it does to teabaggers.

Egged on by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, teabagging anger is reaching new heights, or lows, depending on your point of view.

Yes, there is anger over health care reform. Of course, teabaggers don't have any idea what health care reform is, they just know they should be angry about it. Their "leaders" on radio and cable tell them so.

It's good for the cause, the cause of perpetual agitation.

When the fury over health care reform dies down a little, there will be other issues to get cranked about.

Palin's followers are ticked at her already because she's campaigning for John McCain who is in a nasty primary fight with a teabagger in Arizona. And McCain tried to show his street cred by announcing that Republicans will not cooperate with Democrats for the rest of the year.

Talk about taking your ball and going home. That's considered wimpy by teabagging standards. Where's the violence in that?

Republicans/teabaggers now want to repeal health care reform. That's the sum-total of their 2010 political campaigns. It may work, but it hardly suggests a worthwhile objective. Besides, the center plank of their platform is anger and it's a wobbly plank at that.

Good thing that Starbucks allows customers to wear guns while ordering hazelnut lattes. Now, teabaggers can forget about tea and just have a good-ol' shoot 'em up while hopped up on caffeine at their local chain coffee shop.

With that in mind, maybe it's time to remake "Blazing Saddles."

A little humor right now could go a long way.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Subsidizing jobs in Mexico, China, India ...

Idatech, the fuel-cell maker in Bend, knows how to work the system.

Since its founding in 1996, it has tapped into federal, state and local tax coffers for millions of dollars to stay afloat.

Idatech makes backup power generators for cell phone towers.

A couple of years ago when it threatened to move its 72 employees elsewhere because Bend had become too expensive, the city ponied up money to keep the high-tech company in Bend.

Of course, Idatech then turned around and opened a manufacturing facility in Tijuana, Mexico, because, well, it's cheaper to do so than in Bend.

Idatech isn't the only American company to export jobs to other countries and won't be the last. And companies, like Idatech, will continue to take taxpayers' money, thereby increasing the federal deficit, and then set up shop in China, India, Mexico, Honduras, Bangladesh and a host of other countries where workers make pennies compared to American workers' dollars.

One extreme example is Dick Cheney's Halliburton. After winning no-bid contracts worth billions for work in Iraq, the conglomerate then set up headquarters off-shore to avoid paying taxes to the very country -- and taxpayers -- that gave it billions.

This is how capitalism works. Oh, sorry, the Texas Board of Education voted to replace "capitalism" with "free enterprise" and "free market economy" in textbooks because the word "capitalism" carries negative connotations, they say. I guess they would know.

And who can argue against anything that is free. It sounds so good. In fact, it sounds too good to be true.

And it is.

What we have learned from the "free market economy" is that jobs flow to where workers make the least. In America, that means all clothing manufacturing is now done in foreign countries. Ford makes it hybrid Fusion in Mexico. General Motors makes vehicles there, too. The iPhone is made in China with technology bought from India.

The global economy means less work for Americans and more work for the poorest countries in the world. That is how capital flows. It's all so beautiful, the free marketeers claim.

Except that America is now experiencing it's third "jobless recovery" in the last 2o years. The number of the longtime unemployed is larger now than ever in this nation's history.

What all the brilliant business minds have failed to consider is that if Americans aren't working, how are they going to buy goods made overseas? Well, they're going to borrow money to do so.

The Great Depression occurred because Americans could not afford to buy the products they were producing without going into massive debt to do so. Now, the Great Recession persists because Americans cannot even afford the cheap goods they're not producing without going into debt.

Yes, joblessness today is much less than it was during the Great Depression because government was far more aggressive in averting total economic collapse, wading through "moral hazard" to do so. Because of the absolute failure of major American businesses, the government became not the problem, but the only solution.

And for that, we get Tea Party kooks claiming too much government interference in the free marketplace. They've got it wrong. By giving taxpayer money to companies, like Idatech, to export jobs outside this country, the government has abetted the economic meltdown.

Another thing we've learned from the "free market economy" is that there is no loyalty whatsoever -- not to the worker, to the consumer or to the nation itself.

One can hear executives at American companies, who've set up shop overseas, yell, "Screw unions! Screw the American worker! And screw the United States of America!"

That is the ultimate lesson learned from the "free enterprise" system.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Victory for Obama ...

(update below)

So proclaimed the start of the main headline on USA Today's Monday edition. It was those three words that Republicans wanted to avoid more than anything else and why all of them voted against health care reform.

A victory for Obama means he can accomplish something. In this case, one of the most vexing issues in American political history.

Another major issue was civil rights. It must be remembered that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was filibustered for 83 days before the opposition caved and history was made.

Newt Gingrich, a presidential aspirant, now predicts electoral catastrophe for Democrats over health care much as they suffered from civil rights. Talk about being on the wrong side of history, Newt.

Major change never comes easily in America. Afterall, we fought a civil war over slavery.

And health care reform has been a battle for at least 50 years. FDR considered it a fundamental right, but World War II intervened. European nations, which suffered the most during that conflict, understood that if they could kill so easily, maybe they could care for each other just as easily. Americans haven't yet come to this realization. Perhaps, this bill will help.

Yes, the health care reform bill isn't perfect. It doesn't allow for a public option or single payer. It doesn't rein in the big pharmaceutical companies or for-profit insurance companies, which are the major culprits in our health care crisis. Jacking up rates between 20 percent and 40 percent every year is the reason why insurance cartels need to be throttled. Also, big pharma charges more for drugs here than it does elsewhere and that is just wrong.

The anti-abortion Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, apparently got some favorable treatment from the White House on that issue. Those Dems don't seem to grasp that nothing aggravates women more than have men decide their health care for them.

Still, the bill will allow more Americans to get health coverage. Insurance companies can't reject potential customers based on pre-existing conditions. (With newfound DNA technology, almost all illnesses could be considered pre-existing.) Also, insurance firms can no longer terminate policies of those who get seriously ill. Really? Did we need a law for that? Yep.

And for all the doom-and-gloomers out there, the Teabaggers and Republicans, the sky didn't fall this morning. The sun rose in the east and will set in the west.

The stock market rose. Yes, even the money crowd was relieved that this bill passed.

It's time to move onward and upward. It's not only victory for Obama, but for Americans as well.

Update: Some worthwhile links:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Infrastructure insanity

The executive director of the economic development agency in Central Oregon told a Bend Chamber audience Friday that Bend needs better infrastructure to lure potential companies to the High Desert.

Well, he's a little late to the issue. A group called Infrastructure First started calling for better roads, water, sewer and storm drains in the mid-Aughties, when it mattered, when something could've been done about it. The group gathered more than 5,000 signatures, the most ever for a local initiative in Bend. The city, though, kept increasing the number of signatures needed, which meant the initiative would never qualify for the ballot.

EDCO's Roger Lee doesn't just think infrastructure should be first, but second and third as well, as quoted in the daily paper.

To draw more companies to Bend, Lee said, "It's infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure."

Hello? It's one thing to state the obvious, it's quite another to have any meaningful ideas on how to build the infrastructure necessary to keep pace with growth.

Infrastructure First wants the city of Bend to do what the city of Wilsonville does near Portland. It requires "concurrency," or that public facilities keep pace with development. Wilsonville does this by requiring developers pay their fare share in helping that city maintain its livability as it grows.

Due to unrelenting pressure from the development community, Bend never adopted a "public facilities strategy" to deal with the ridiculous growth during the Aughties. Consequently, Bend's infrastructure is inadequate and now the city can't attract the companies it wants.

This is killing the goose that laid the golden egg. The city adopted the developers credo of maximizing profits now and to hell with the future. So, our future doesn't look so swell.

Yes, infrastructure is vital to Bend's economic growth. Too bad, the players that had influence in our community failed to look out for the best interests of our city. They, like bankers on Wall Street, just looked out for their own greedy, self-interests.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March madness in Duckville

For some reason, the University of Oregon wants to stay in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.

Aside from the heroics in track and field -- world record for Bend's Ashton Eaton and first place for Oregon women -- it's been fairly negative for the Fighting Ducks.

The football program showed it couldn't handle success very well. Off-field problems resulted in a series of suspensions including the starting quarterback and running back.

The basketball team, despite having talent and potential, underperformed yet again and the best coach in school history had to be let go.

Now, athletic director and former all-time football winning coach Mike Bellotti jumps ship for an announcer's job at ESPN. They say he missed football too much and directing too little.

He should be a natural in his new job. He's always been cool, calm and collected. Also, he gives Oregon a big boost in national profile at a prime position on the premier sports network.

It does, though, leave basketball with a question mark. Outsiders claim it's all up to Phil Knight and Nike to decide this anyway. That may be true to some extent. But, I imagine the school has a good idea already who the next coach will be because the news $200 million basketball arena is going to need a big-time coach.

Also, the next athletic director will likely be working with the new Pac-10 commissioner to forge the next step forward for the conference. Whoever it is, he or she will have to be media savvy. It's all about TV exposure because that's where the money is.

As for football, all is in good hands with Chip Kelly. Despite all the off-field problems this winter, he is the real deal. Yes, he won't have the steady hand of Bellotti at his back, but he'll be able to call the program all his own now. He'll do great.

And, I predict a trip to the National Championship game next season. Why not? Bellotti bailed coaching before the Ducks made it to the Rose Bowl and now he leaves altogether before the Ducks' greatest achievement. Kelly's goal along has been a national championship. With all the problems the team is experiencing right now, no one expects great things from the Ducks. And, that suits Nike U just fine.

Change is always nerve-wracking as all these changes will be. In spite of perennially cloudy skies in Eugene, the future looks bright.

Friday, March 19, 2010

CBS = Can't Broadcast Sports

Or more specifically, CBS does a terrible job with the best three weeks in college sports - the NCAA basketball tournament.

The college football bowl season doesn't even come close. (Of course, if there were a playoff in college football, it would be king, even over pro football).

Still, March Madness is maddening on CBS. It pre-selects which games it will broadcast in each region and too bad if you want to watch something else. This spells the death of network television in sports. Networks wants total control, but in the internet-savvy era, they can't have it, so give it up.

CBS doesn't realize that moving around between games, particularly the more exciting or more surprising games, is what most viewers want. Actually, they want to watch what they want and not what CBS tells them to watch. Get with it.

In the 1980s, ESPN knew what to do with March Madness. In fact, ESPN created this sports monster. They knew then how to move around between games to keep the viewer interested.

Once CBS got a hold of the early rounds of the tournament, it tried, but couldn't completely kill all the excitement. Still, CBS does a poor job of covering the tournament.

Luckily this year, the NCAA is allowing broadcast of all games on the internet and those in front of computers, or holding smartphones, can watch what they want. (Click here for viewer). It even has a "Boss Button" that brings up a bogus work flow diagram when your boss walks by at work.

But, most people prefer to watch the games on television and that is where CBS drops the ball.

Yes, there are way too many ads, but that is the price you pay when you don't have to pay to see the game. (We don't have cable or satellite. We get it over the airwaves.) CBS just has no feel for the game or the viewer.

Anyway, it's a just a game. I'll get over it in three weeks.

A place called Angri-La

We've all heard of Shangri-La, that mythical, mystical mountain paradise. It was a "permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world."

Now, we have Angri-La, that angry, expanse of America's heartland, be it inland or on the coasts or in the mountains or on the plains. It exists in Central Oregon, too.

Unlike Shangri-La, Angri-La is not a fictional "Lost Horizon." It's as real as a tea party, but with less decorum. It's not so much a place as a state of mind. It's a permanently agitated state, isolated from reality.

Some of these disgruntled Americans belong to the Tea Party movement, which counts anger as its core principle.
Those in Angri-La claim to like tea well enough to dump it out. They certainly don't drink much of it.
Members are largely white and partly large. Some are jobless and some are rich. They're united in their hatred of the federal government, now that a Democrat, who happens to be black, is in charge.

He's not just African-American, but a Muslim who wasn't even born here, they say. He shouldn't be president because the Constitution says so, they claim. And, no one knows the Constitution better than a Teabagger. It's part of their DNA. They aim to "to protect our country and the Constitution upon which we were founded!"

They're the only patriots we have left, they believe.

It's understandable to be incensed during this Great Recession amid billions in bank bonuses, but that is not what Tea Partiers stew about.

Teabaggers argue that they're mainly concerned about the ballooning federal deficit, health care reform, stimulus spending and government takeovers of American companies. But, they really don't care about the deficit, because the Tea Party didn't even exist when George W. Bush ballooned the deficit to fight two undeclared wars, to sign a budget-busting drug benefit and to hand billions to irresponsible banks.

No self-respecting Teabagger really cares about future generations and the debts they'll have to pay off. They're only concerned about their own immediate tax obligations. That's fair enough, but Teabaggers claim they worry about the future. If they did, they would see the wisdom in less spending and more taxes.

Because we are so used to low taxes over the past three decades, we believe that is our birthright. Any increase in taxes is considered, by Teabaggers, to be either socialism, Communism, Nazism, fascism or any other "ism" that they don't understand. Taxes are un-Constitutional. They're just plain, un-American. It's why we had our revolution in the first place. If King George had just given the colonists tax cuts, instead of tax hikes, we'd still be flying the Union Jack.

And the Tea Party movement is growing throughout Angri-La.

To demonstrate that her husband isn't the only one without much brains, Virginia Thomas, the white wife of Clarence Thomas, the second African-American on the Supreme Court, is forming a "tea party" group.

"I adore all the new citizen patriots who are rising up across this country," Thomas, who goes by Ginni, said on the panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "I have felt called to the front lines with you, with my fellow citizens, to preserve what made America great."

"I am an ordinary citizen from Omaha, Neb., who just may have the chance to preserve liberty along with you and other people like you," she said at a recent panel discussion with tea party leaders in Washington.

Well, she may be trying to dispel the notion that the Tea Party movement is predicated on racism or she may be clueless about judicial non-partisanship. Even her husband doesn't attend the State of the Union addresses because of the partisan nature of those events. Maybe she doesn't realize that she is no ordinary citizen. her affiliations could have an impact on judicial decisions if her husband has to recuse himself from a case because of her activism. Of course he would never do such a thing. Conservatives only see a conflict of interest when liberals are involved. When conservatives indulge in conflicts of interest they call it judicial temperament.

But, it's safe to say that Virginia Thomas is holed up in Angri-La. She appears to be outraged about something, we just don't know what. And she'll fight on the "front lines" for whatever that is.

And that is how it is with most of those living in Angri-La. They're angry about something. They want to revolt, but don't know how. They have "hate radio" (Limbaugh, Beck, Ingraham, etc.) to fuel their infuriation. They also have Fox News, with its "fair-and-balanced" treatment of all the terrible things that godless liberals and and secular Democrats are doing to this Christian nation. Fox News feeds the fury.

With the imminent passage of health care reform, Angri-La will grow. They'll be more marches on Washington. They'll be more calls for liberty, for defending the Constitution and for, well, just being angry.

Who knew that losing the presidency to an African-American would unite so many in anger? Actually, that's part of our political DNA as well.

Welcome to the new horizon of Angri-La.

Furlough Friday, UGB and more

Oregon's DMV isn't open this Friday along with many state offices, because the state is running out of money and this is the first of six furlough days this year to save money. It's what right-wingers have been asking for decades: cut the waste, cut the fat, cut the government!

And so, that is what the DMV is doing. The Postal Service will likely have Furlough Saturday. Some colleges in California have Furlough Fridays, too. California's DMV started this more than a year ago. There isn't enough money to go around and cuts have to be made, and they're being made, whether we like them or not. That's the way it is during this Great Recession.

It makes sense for the DMV and USPS to close on certain days. Vehicle registration can be done online on any day of the week, saving a wait in line at the DMV. With the USPS, e-mail and online bill paying are reducing the need for 6-day-a-week service.

And yet, we have the numbskulls at the local daily paper calling this unnecessary, unwarranted and unfair, because the paper publishes seven days a week with more furlough days. Boo-hoo. Call out the violins. How sad.

The editorialists at the daily have long called for such cutbacks and now that they have them are whining about them. It must be difficult for the reporters at the paper to have to answer for such idiots, much like it used to be at the Wall Street Journal. Rupert Murdoch solved that problem by chasing away the best and brightest at the Journal and having greater control of the front page news. The current regime at the daily in Bend did the same thing years ago and continues to do so, even with the people they hire.

Editors at Bend's daily paper routinely shape stories called for by the publisher and editor. They can do what they want, but it certainly doesn't mean the daily paper represents "the people" in its "watchdog" role on government.

In fact, it's another reason why circulation is sliding at newspapers and why they're less relevant. As Glenn Beck would say, "they just don't get it."

It would certainly help public discourse if the local daily did cut back delivery to five days a week. We would all be better for it.

Also, props go out to Toby Bayard for giving a PowerPoint presentation at the urban growth boundary hearing yesterday. She showed the state Land Conservation and Development Commission what the city officials did not. She showed there is plenty of land within current city limits for all kinds of development. Good for her. She got it right. The city did not.

And, the daily finally has to write about the crazy Tumalo-based Chimps Inc., now that a former intern is suing the place for $828,000 after a chimp attacked her and bit off her thumb.

In light of the woman back East who appeared on "Oprah" to show her face was ripped off by a primate, these chimp compounds should get more scrutiny and hopefully put out of business.

The woman who owns the Central Oregon joint is Lesley Day, wife of Matt Day, owner of Hooker Creek construction materials and pal of the daily's bosses.

There has got to be better hobbies to fund, one that doesn't bite off thumbs and fingers of people who work there for free.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

'American Exceptionalism' is back?

What does "American exceptionalism" mean? Where did it come back from?

But, most importantly, why did the Texas State Board of Education deem it necessary last Friday for this phrase to be taught in their new social studies textbook? This means most state textbooks, including in Oregon, will adopt what Texas did, because it is the largest market outside California, which no one follows. There are many more outrages in the Texas board's re-write of history.

And you can watch what Stephen Colbert says about the Texas school board here.

According to Wikipedia, "American exceptionalism refers to the theory that the United States occupies a special niche among the nations of the world in terms of its national credo, historical evolution, political and religious institutions and unique origins. The roots of the belief are attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, who claimed that the then-50-year-old U.S. held a special place among nations, because it was country of immigrants and the first modern democracy."

Okay, de Tocqueville, a Frenchman, made this claim after touring the country in the mid-1800s. This was during slavery and before the Civil War.

It was before the end of our war on Native Americans, before the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and before McCarthyism of the 1950s.

Our supposed exceptionalism became the basis for our overthrow of various governments in Hawaii, Central and South America, in southeast Asia and the Middle East, all coming after de Tocqueville's comments. (For background, read "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq" by Stephen Kinzer).

It's one thing for a foreigner to proclaim "American exceptionalism," but it's an entirely different thing when we shout it ourselves.

When we do, it reeks of pomposity, arrogance, elitism and condescension, which are traits America shares with other powers, past and present, so it isn't all that exceptional.

Perhaps, the Texas board was inspired by native son George W. Bush, who foisted American arrogance upon on the world during his disastrous presidency and why much of the world despised us during his reign?

Perhaps the board should have looked at other nations that were "exceptional" in the past.

German exceptionalism, vis-a-vis the Third Reich, failed catastrophically in the 1930s and 1940s.

Japanese exceptionalism went up in two mushroom clouds.

French exceptionalism ended ignominiously with Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The French, though, didn't get the message and had to be beaten in Vietnam and Algeria before it conceded it was no longer exceptional.

British exceptionalism declined over time as its empire, from America to India, dissolved. It is now a shell of its former self.

Soviet exceptionalism came crashing down in 1989.

Those are just the most recent examples of "exceptional" countries failing to stay exceptional. Many more litter the dustbin of history.

Bush's Iraq war is the most extreme example of "American exceptionalism." And, most likely, Iraq will return to civil war once we leave.

Yes, America is a great country. Our culture and products, for better or worse, dominate the world. More people want to move here and study here than any other place on earth. That says something worth remembering.

It doesn't say, though, that we should bestow our way of life or government on others. Other countries must find their own way, much as the U.S. found its way.

We can have influence, to be sure, but, unless it is tempered, we will end up the same way all the other imperial powers have - in decline.

Real exceptional countries don't have to say it, teach it or force it on others. They just know it.

Why does Bend want to expand its boundaries?

A tour of Bend should help state officials determine that Bend has so mismanaged its growth over the years, that it doesn't deserve a chance to expand what it cannot adequately serve now.

The state Land Conservation and Development Commission is holding a hearing in Bend today and Friday to determine if Bend's appeal of the state's rejection of the city's expansion plans warrants any merit.

City officials took LCDC members on a carefully selected tour to highlight why Bend needs to expand. It's a good thing they took state officials to Bend's north end where poor planning resulted in the traffic gridlock on the north end of the parkway on Highway 97.

It got so bad there that the state Dept. of Transportation had to come in and slap a building moratorium on Bend because the city's mismanaged growth threatens the safety of drivers on Highway 97.

There are other road problems throughout Bend that city officials have neglected to improve. Most important is Reed Market Road from Highway 97 to 27th St. They city planned the upgrades but never seriously considered funding those improvements. Yet, it approved subdivision after subdivision along that route, adding hundreds of homes and thousands of vehicles to the mix.

Due to the Great Recession, some of those subdivisions are vacant. Add in large undeveloped tracts within city limits and it is ample proof that the city has plenty of buildable land for the next 20 years.

Also, vacancies in commercial real estate show that we won't need new land for many years because there is so little demand today for what is already here.

Bend also has other major infrastructure deficiencies that were neglected during the boom years, namely sewer and storm drains.

Slightly less than half the city is hooked to a sewer system with one main interceptor line, which is showing signs of failure. Unless the city takes steps to fix this huge problem while adding the rest of the city to the sewer system, no expansion should be allowed.

As for a storm-drainage system, Bend has none. It assesses each household a $4 monthly fee, but exacts nothing from developers through system development charges. Since newer Bend subdivisions have higher densities -- more houses packed together -- there are far more surfaces from which to collect water and send it out to the streets where catch basins overflow almost instantly. This, in turn, leads to flooding problems, particularly on the west side and it dumps all this tainted water into the Deschutes River.

Is that the kind of city the LCDC wants for this environmentally-friendly state? I don't think so.

Tell Bend to start over. In the meantime, tell it to fix its infrastructure problems now before extending those liabilities outward.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Consumers want reliability

You know, it's about time someone showed Consumer Reports' annual auto issue to American car manufacturers.

In the report card category, Chrysler placed last, with GM just above it. Surprisingly, Mitsubishi edged out Ford for third worst.

The article noted that "Among American manufacturers, only Ford improved over last year. It scored one point better to pass Mitsubishi for 11th place in our rankings. By contrast, Chrysler is again in last place and dropped two points since last year. And General Motors placed right where it did last year -- second from the bottom -- even though it eliminated half its brands and about one-third of it models."

I'm sure if American carmakers read Consumer Reports they would know that the Japanese, and now the Koreans, are considered better automakers.

Then again, their sales, or lack of sales, should've told them that. GM and Chrysler did go bankrupt last year.

If they had started reading Consumer Reports, say 30 years ago, maybe they wouldn't have needed government bailouts last year, because it's been the same story for decades.

American carmakers apparently believed that no one could read, let alone pore over a magazine with no ads in Consumer Reports. They thought no one else was reading Consumer Reports.

To tell you the truth, American consumers didn't really need to read Consumer Reports to get the memo sent by U.S. automakers themselves.

For more than 30 years, Japanese cars have been more reliable, dependable and fuel efficient than their American counterparts. Consumer Reports merely validated what consumers had learned the hard way, by purchasing lemons. Afterall, the "lemon law" arrived in 1982 because American vehicles were so lousy.

In the late 1960s, my dad drove toward home from a GM dealership in a brand new Pontiac. The car never made it because it broke down in an intersection. You can imagine what it's like to buy a lemon before there was a law to protect you.

There are millions of former drivers of American products. They're driving Japanese makes, mostly.

I've owned a couple of Fords over the years and I can safely say, I'll never buy another. I once drove a VW van around the country. It survived, but it was costly to maintain. I've driven Chryslers, Chevys, Cadillacs, Buicks, Dodges and Pontiacs. They're all underwhelming.

I drive only Japanese cars now, Honda, Toyota and Subaru, the brand that Bend drivers prefer most.

Of all the safety features and innovations of the past 50 years, nothing beats reliability and dependability.

And that is where the Japanese excel, in spite of the recent recalls by Toyota and Honda, the premier brands.

In ranking reliability, Japanese and Korean manufacturers hold the top four slots. Porsche, not really a mass-purchased brand, ranks fifth. Ford is the only American brand to crack the top 10 at No. 9.

Japanese-made vehicles break down less often and last longer than American cars do. They require less maintenance that is cheaper than work on American vehicles. Forget German cars like BMW and Mercedes-Benz where you go in for an oil change and walk out $400 poorer.

In ranking "best and worst values," the magazine shows that Japanese and Korean vehicles dominate all the best-value categories, while American vehicles take nearly every slot for worst value in every category. Sadly, nothing much new there except that Korea is making better cars.

If there is one flaw to the Consumer Reports' rankings is that they don't rate vehicles on where they were made. Talk to any service department at any Japanese car dealership and you'll hear the same story: Hondas and Toyotas made in Japan are better built, therefore more reliable, than their American-made counterparts. I make sure the cars we buy are made in Japan, not North America or Mexico.

When some Bend dealerships lost their GM and Chrysler/Dodge franchises last year, they cried foul. It was sad it ended so abruptly and so callously, but, not to sound like George Clooney in "Up in the Air," they should take this as an opportunity to sell vehicles that Central Oregonians want to buy.

And, as tough as it is to admit, they don't want to buy American.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pay less taxes, get more services

For a well-reasoned article on our national disconnect between demanding less taxes and more government services, read this piece by David Leonhardt in the New York Times.

Then again, do we really need another well-reasoned article on the connection between taxes and government services? Will it ever matter?

Well, you decide. Here's a graph from the column:

"In recent years, economic research has suggested that moderate changes in the tax law don’t actually have a huge impact on growth. You don’t need econometrics to grasp this, either. Just look at the last 20 years. Economic growth after Bill Clinton’s tax increases was far more rapid than economic growth after George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Despite the Bush tax cuts, average annual growth over the last decade — even before the Great Recession began — was slower than in any decade since World War II."

Banking, real estate, fees and sunshine

Bend makes Forbes magazine again in this story titled, "In Depth: The 14 most troubles real estate markets."

Miami ranks No. 1 with 28.8 percent delinquency, but Forbes has this to say about Bend:

"Even tiny Bend, Ore., is in serious trouble, with 10.3% of its mortgages either delinquent or foreclosed on, up from 4.7% a year ago. Wasn't Bend one of those charming villages where people moved to escape high prices? Opt instead for Corvallis, three hours further east of Portland. Delinquencies there are a tame 1.7%."

One of the enablers of this real estate bubble and eventual bust is Cascade Bancorp, parent of Bend-based Bank of the Cascades. In corporate filings Monday, the bank says that it lost $48.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 and a total loss in 2009 of $93.1 million.

Cascade Bancorp has been on the ropes for a couple of years now and its auditor said there is risk it may fail. It's trading for 58 cents a share. A government takeover of the bank is something to watch.

Meanwhile, the city of Bend discovered that Cascade Natural Gas has underpaid its franchise fees for two decades. Cascade Natural Gas ponied up $1 million to the city last fall, the daily newspaper notes.

This practice is nothing new as Pulitzer-prize winning author David Cay Johnston noted in his best-seller, "Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You With the Bill)."

Utilities rarely pay their taxes, Johnston discovered.

Remember Enron? It never paid about $35 million in taxes it collected from ratepayers in Oregon when it owned Portland General Electric.

Speaking of power, the daily paper notes that the good folks in Christmas Valley don't much care for the solar arrays popping up in this south-central Oregon region that has no Christmas trees. And, it has less than 1,000 residents in this unincorporated community.

But, it does have sagebrush as high as an elephant's eye, and mornings that are beautiful, too.

Christmas Valley was the site of land scam in the 1960s. It also was home to government pork in the form of a transmitter for the Over-the-horizon Backscatter Radar system designed to warn the West Coast of impending Soviet attack that came on line as the Soviet Union dissolved.

Today, alfalfa farmers eke out a living in this arid outback inhospitable to farming. Solar power seems to be the perfect fit for this sun-drenched plain.

It may not be Texas Tea, but it could be valuable Oregon Ore.

Or we can put our money in coal, nuclear and petroleum-based power plants. The choice seems obvious.