Thursday, April 29, 2010

Allergies get a breather


It's official. April in Bend was one of the coolest in recent decades and well below average. For example, average highs are usually in the upper 50s and low 60s. As I type this at 4 p.m., it's 45 degrees, clear, bright and windy. In fact, that wind chill in the shade can bring the temp closer to freezing.

While all this chilly weather wasn't good for suntanning it was fantastic for allergies.

Weather.com says our juniper tree pollen count is moderate, but my nose says differently. In fact, I haven't had to go to the usual extreme of taking the stopper: Allegra-D.

I've taken a few of the generic version of Zyrtec, but those pills really don't cut it when the days are warm and the pollen is flying.

With nighttime temps at or below freezing and with daytime highs in the 40s and 50s, the dreaded juniper onslaught was kept at bay.

Yes, I know some of you have suffered in Central Oregon, but, by and large, this was one of the best springs for chronic allergy sufferers. Now, the allergy doctors will tell you how awful it is, but don't believe them. It's actually my best spring for allergies in Bend in more than 20 years.

And, the good news is that juniper trees have a built-in pollen time-release capsule and it's been stunted. This means that the juniper pollen season will be not only shortened but likely nearly non-existent.

Now, it is supposed to warm up next week into the 60s and that should cause a few problems, but, overall, juniper pollen will not be the nasal nemesis of springs past.

And, for that, I'm eternally grateful.




Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Immigration: No mas!


Arizona's recent action to get a grip on its illegal immigration problem was expected as was the negative reaction to it.

To its supporters, which includes a majority of Arizona voters, the law has a double benefit: it targets illegals and it challenges federal authority.

Arizonans, officially, have always had a problem with race. Former governor Evan Mecham, lost his reputation, his office and his state's good standing by opposing the national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last year, Arizona State refused to give its commencement speaker, President Barack Obama, an honorary degree, which is customary in these types of things, because he hadn't accomplished much yet. And, how many ASU grads have become president of the United States? Exactly.

My dad grew up in Arizona and remembered that after the white kids swam in the public pool, it was drained before the Mexican kids were allowed in, and vice-versa.

As a nation, we've always kept our distance from the brown-, black-, "yellow-" and red-skinned people.

Arizona loves to attract attention for all the wrong reasons. Now, add its love-hate relationship
with Mexicans to the mix.

The law is intended to corral the illegals. Here's a forceful argument in favor of the law.

To its critics, the law codifies racial profiling. Obama criticized it. Check out this story for reaction from abroad. Love the headline: "Hysterical nativism."

Those who know ethnic profiling first-hand are naturally hostile to Arizona's approach. Read this for an example.

Boycotts have been called by San Francisco, St. Paul and other cities and states.

Since the law challenges federal authority, it's likely to be ruled unconstitutional, according to a piece from the Wall Street Journal's website.

All of this is secondary, of course, to how it plays out politically.

While Hispanics tend to be Democrats or at least aligned with Democrats, the Arizona law divides Republicans. Read this story for background.

Karl Rove, who spoke in Bend recently, sees the potholes ahead for Republicans, and opposes Arizona's law. See his reaction here.

The states that border Mexico -- Arizona, California, Texas and New Mexico -- all have serious problems, from schools to hospitals to other state services, related to illegal Hispanic immigration. Auto insurance companies needed to add uninsured coverage to a responsible motorist's bill largely because of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America who didn't have any insurance.

Even Oregon has its share of issues since it relies on seasonal employees to work the fields, bus the dishes, clean the motel/hotel rooms and roof the houses, among other vital services. The number of Hispanics in Central Oregon continue to rise year after year.

That being said, the real problems are being swept under the rug.

The most prominent question is: Who hires all these illegal immigrants?

Another is: Who puts up all those billboards in Spanish?

Or: Why are we given a choice of English or Spanish whenever we call any major corporation?

Government certainly hasn't mandated these things.

And, government can't stop these things because it will be accused either of censorship or restraining trade unconstitutionally.

Basically, the problem is entirely ours.

We want the cheap labor that Mexicans provide, we just don't want Mexicans, particularly those who don't learn English, to have any rights here.

It's like Woody Allen's joke at the end of "Annie Hall":

"This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, 'Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken.' And, uh, the doctor says, 'Well, why don't you turn him in?' The guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.' "

To paraphrase Woody, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about illegal immigration; ya know, it's totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep accepting it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs.




Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Money -- That's what we want


The Bend Chamber of Commerce surveyed its members to reveal that a majority of them don't feel the love in Bend.

Boo-hoo.

During this Great Recession, most workers and businesses are struggling, particularly in Bend. It's not surprising that the attitude of small businesses in Bend would be negative. It mirrors their workforce.

Bend has long been described as "poverty with a view." That view now extends to businesses.

The chamber's Executive Director Tim Casey is quoted in the daily newspaper as saying about the chamber's members: "They don't feel like the city is going out of their way to take care of businesses."

Yes, now that they're struggling, it's suddenly the city's fault. It's always convenient to blame someone else when business sours, and the usual whipping boy is government.

But that's garbage. Business is lousy because the housing market collapsed in Bend and Wall Street stole retirement funds of many of Bend's citizens. Banks aren't lending. Credit is tight.

Consequently, people are buying less and eating out less. Business is contracting, not expanding. This has almost nothing to do with government. It's called a "down business cycle." It's a symptom of our economic system.

Business groups believe that government stands in the way of their prosperity. And yet, they're always first in line for handouts from government. Typically, they want it both ways.

Basically, they want what everyone else wants: Money. In this case, government money.

Businesses want "incentives" to stay or expand in Bend. In return for these incentives, the chamber's businesses offer nothing except their incredible wonderfulness of being.

The chamber rails against "regulation" and yet it is precisely the lack of regulation that has brought our economy to its knees.

What the city failed to do during the boom years was improve the city's infrastructure: roads, sewers and storm drains in particular. A citizens' group called Infrastructure First pushed this very issue and now some business owners are belatedly jumping on the bandwagon.

The only incentive the city should ever give business is what it should extend to all of its citizens: good roads, sewers, storm drains, water, parks and schools.

Until businesses realize that a well-run city is good for business , they'll always be whining about government instead of contributing to the solutions of adequate infrastructure.

Twenty years ago, because of Measure 5, the tax burden in Oregon shifted from businesses to residential homeowners. It wasn't enough for businesses and now they're trying to dig deeper into taxpayers' pockets.

Heck, it worked on Wall Street and in Detroit, why not here.

Well, our local government doesn't have deep pockets because taxpayers don't have as much money as they once did.

No one is owed a living and that includes businesses.

Tough, but true.



Bogus story of the day


With most newspapers shedding subscribers like Australian sheep dogs and Bend's economy tanking over the past couple of years, The (Bend) Bulletin claims its circulation grew 34 percent.

That is laughable, but new accounting rules by the Audit Bureau of Circulation give newspapers the right to count those who visit their websites as subscribers. The Bulletin claims it now has 54,000 subscribers. Just last year they had about 30,000 and even that number was highly suspect.

If the paper was doing so well, why did it slash employee pay 10 percent and also force furlough days on the staff that amounted to another 10 percent cut? Because, like many businesses during this Great Recession, it wasn't doing well.

Click here for the story from Editor & Publisher.

It used to be that no one under the age of 40 subscribed to a newspaper. Now that age is creeping toward 50.

Newspapers are going the way of land-line phones. (Notice that Qwest is getting bought out.) Cell phones rule among young people in the way that newspapers do not. The internet and social networking have replaced the sense of community that newspapers once claimed.

It's a whole new world in communication.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Republicans still have numbers edge

As of March 31, the party breakdown in Deschutes County was:

Democrats: 31,118
Republicans: 34,146
Non-affiliated: 18,219
Minor parties: 5,542 - mostly Libertarian.

With those statistics, it's easy to see that the Republicans, while clearly owning a plurality, need to appeal to the independent voter to secure victory in county-wide races. They usually do this because the independent voter leans conservative in these parts.

Factor in the Tea Party movement and Deschutes County, by numbers alone, is a solid "red" county. All a candidate has to do to win, is put an "R" next to his or her name.

In Bend's House District 54, however, Democrats narrowly edge Republicans, 16,972 to 15,325. Non-affiliated voters number 9,608. It's even more paramount for the Democrats to win over independents in this district.

Bend is the only city in Deschutes County where Democrats outnumber Republicans: 16,089 to 14,281.

The Voters' Pamphlet arrived in the mail and it's always amusing to see who's running.

Five Republicans, with almost zero name recognition are running to unseat Sen. Ron Wyden. Jim Huffman, a Lewis & Clark Law School professor is actually has libertarian views and the "big tent" of the GOP welcomes those that want to destroy our government.

Safe to say, Wyden, who faces token opposition from two no-names in the primary, will be re-elected in a landslide in November.

We will be electing a new governor this year but, like California and Jerry Brown, it could likely be a former governor. Democrat John Kitzhaber served two terms before our current governor, Democrat Ted Kulongoski. A former emergency room doctor, Kitzhaber was known as "Dr. No" while governor because he always needed to block the kooky legislation passed by the Republican-controlled legislature.

If elected again, he could face at least a split legislature if Tea Party sentiment yields big gains for the GOP.

In the primary, Kitzhaber faces Bill Bradbury, a former state legislator and secretary of state for the past decade. Bradbury is a good man, but he does suffer from multiple sclerosis. His health could become an issue if he were elected.

On the Republican side, six guys are running including anti-tax, anti-government activist Bill Sizemore. He faces two others with a shot at winning the primary: Allen Alley and Chris Dudley.

Dudley? Yes, that one, the former mediocre pro basketball player who couldn't make a free throw if his life depended on it. Amazingly, Dudley, who has no experience in any governmental capacity but Republicans like him. He's been low-profile since his days as a Trail Blazer.

Alley, should win the primary and have a chance at defeating Kitzhaber. If he did, Alley would be our first Republican governor in a quarter century. Let's hope that Oregon stays "blue" again.

We do have a local Republican, Chris Telfer, running for a statewide office as state treasurer. She has no primary opposition, so she'll face either Democrats Rick Metsger or Ted Wheeler.

Telfer currently serves as state senator from the Bend area and formerly served on the Bend City Council. While on the council she served on the city's development board that spent money on downtown projects. Telfer, a downtown property owner, benefited from all the money thrown at downtown yet never recused herself from voting on these issues.

She got elected state senator because, as noted above, she had an "R" next to her name. She hasn't been a Republican her whole life, but switched affiliations because, as an accountant, she can count. So, she's really a "RINO" (Republican in name only), but since fiscal responsibility, and not gay marriage, is the Republican theme this year, she should get considerable Republican backing.

Republicans haven't won many statewide races in decades, which is shocking since Oregon was once dominated by Republicans for most of the past century. But, Republicans became obsessed with abortion and gay marriage while most Oregonians cared more about the economy and the environment. With the economy in shambles, Republicans are returning to this former bread-and-butter issue for them and have a shot this year.

I'll discuss local races and issues on future blog entries.

The primary is May 18 one day after the last property tax installment is due.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Breezy, beautiful Earth Day in Bend

It was magnificent day in Bend as flora and fauna showed their colors in the brilliant sunshines. Rock chucks emerged to munch on the grass next to the Old Mill District. Blossoms bloomed on trees in the district as well, while daffodils danced in the cool wind from the north. At Drake Park, geese were out with their goslings and a pair of trumpeter swans chewed on the underwater weeds. All in all, an Earth Day to savor.




















The failure of charter schools



Three charter schools in the Sisters area closed shop this spring because, for one thing, their parent company, All Prep/Ed Choices in Clackamas, near Portland, is being investigated for mismanagement of funds.

The charter schools in Sisters struggled anyway to maintain enrollment and therefore ran out of money to operate. The Sisters Early College Academy failed to make tuition payments to colleges on behalf of its students. It owes them more $10,000.

The Academy of Fine Arts was a bogus concept to begin with because the Sisters schools do an adequate job of teaching art. It was a glorified coloring school where the students learned little in the core subjects. When they returned to the public schools, they were way behind their peers.

What's problematic about these schools is that they didn't address a real need in the community and went out of business as a result.

In Bend, the charter school called REALMS targets middle school students who have dropped out or are close to dropping out of the public schools. This is a critical age for saving kids before it's too late and nothing like it existed before in the school district. It's still hanging on. Marshall High School in Bend handles the troubled high school students.

The greatest need in charter schools, aside from reaching inner city kids, is in vocational education, which more and more public schools are dropping because of budgets and the lop-sided emphasis on college preparation. Yes, it is well known that college graduates do make more money over the long haul than mere high school graduates do. However, not all students want to go to college. And that's a fact.

Across the country, millions of dollars have been thrown at the charter schools. There have been some success stories in the inner cities, but also some spectacular failures.

Last week, the highly regarded Dept. of Education at Stanford University failed with its own charter school for, surprise, the same reasons that bedevil some public schools serving low-income areas.

Poor academic performance was the main reason why the local school district pulled the plug on Stanford's experiment.

Money wasn't an issue because Stanford spent $3,000 more per pupil than the average public school does.

One of the ironies of the charter school movement is that while the right wing demands increased oversight and greater accountability of public schools, it wants the opposite from charter schools.

And the result of this lack of oversight and accountability? Massive problems, at least in Pennsylvania, which passed charter school legislation in 1997. Read this story for edification.

But, failure of charter schools across the country has not deterred the Obama administration from expanding the number of charter schools. Read this story for more info.

What the Obama Administration should do is listen to the reformed reformers who have seen the light on "No Child Left Behind."


This well-known education "reformer," now considers endless testing and charter schools to be failed policies. (See previous blog entries here and here.)

In an op-ed piece on April 2 in the Washington Post, Ravitch wrote:

"We now know that choice is no panacea. The districts with the most choice for the longest period -- Cleveland and Milwaukee -- have seen no improvement in their public schools nor in their choice schools. Charter schools have been compared to regular public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, and have never outperformed them. Nationally, only 3 percent of public school students are enrolled in charters, and no one is giving much thought to improving the system that enrolls the other 97 percent."

The right-wingers insist that what ails public schools is that they're controlled by the teachers' unions. Charter schools are a way of breaking the unions' grip, they claim.

But, that is the fundamental flaw of the charter school movement. As we've seen, numerous charter schools have failed with not a single union teacher to blame. Also, charter schools can't be based on the premise of being against something -- unions -- but rather for something -- namely higher academic performance.

Ask any teacher, not that anyone in power would do such a thing, but, if you did, you would find that students who come from low-income parents who don't give a damn about education, or even their kids, are the students most at-risk of falling through the cracks of life.

It's not rocket science. It's just the way it is.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Higher education gives way to more housing, shopping, dining options

The consequences of the state's disinvestment in higher education became apparent last week when Central Oregon Community College signed a deal with the developer of the Old Mill District to build retail establishments on about 40 acres of undeveloped COCC land.

Well, there goes any hope of COCC, along with its tenant OSU-Cascades, evolving into a four-year university. Gone, too, is any hope of a research park emerging in Bend.

We have made our case as a community. We want more shopping and dining options and less higher education. Besides, it stings less to say "you want fries with your order" when you have a two-year degree than when you have a four-year degree.

That's not really a blueprint for long-range growth. But, with dwindling state resources coupled with anti-tax hysteria we should see more of this type of development across Oregon.

There's been much hand-wringing in recent years about creating more higher education opportunities here in Bend. Instead of focusing on expanding COCC, a few players in the area devoted years of foolish talk about a "world-class" research park miraculously sprouting amid the sagebrush at Juniper Ridge.

Please, we'll get a culinary institute at COCC and more room for the nursing program. That's the extent of our growth in higher education for the foreseeable future. It ain't much, but it's better than nothing.

The honchos at COCC know that educating people doesn't generate sustainable revenue, particularly with the state trying to wash its hands of the costly business of higher education.

The school is partnering with William Smith Properties so that COCC can start making money. Afterall, that is the ultimate mission of everyone -- to make more money.

More than a third of the 40 acres could end up being more housing, the kind that few students at COCC could afford.

And, if the dining and shopping are high end like at the Old Mill District, then it would preclude most COCC students from spending whatever money they have at this new mixed-use development.

It's sad to not hear talk of expanding higher educational opportunities in Bend. With a "budding high-tech industry" here, you would think the powers that be would see the wisdom in supporting that industry with more college courses and facilities. That's not going to happen, because it takes big-time money. And that's something this region doesn't have or it's not something those with the dough around here want to pay for.

Also, wasn't that supposed to be the benefit of a research campus where good money could be made from advances in a whole host of disciplines?

Well, that option really wasn't available to COCC so they took the next logical step - commercial development.

However, this development will use up almost a quarter of COCC's land that the college will need in the future if it can afford to expand, thanks to this new development deal. In essence, while perhaps creating a revenue stream for the college, this deal limits COCC's ability to expand to a four-year institution.

This move toward privatizing our public colleges and universities is gaining steam over on the wet side of Oregon.

Former University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer released a report last November that showed over the past 15 years state support for higher education has declined 44 percent while spending on prisons has increased 50 percent.

We can thank voters for that ridiculous imbalance after passing tax-limitation measures and anti-crime initiatives. We have an empty prison up in Madras to show for it.

Adopting a corporate model, Frohnmayer says, will help the Oregon University System adapt to this dismal fiscal outlook.

Of course, OHSU in Portland became a public corporation in 1995 and while it has prospered to some degree, it is also now the most expensive public medical school in the country.

So, the corporate model is coming and we'll see tuition rise higher and higher. Isn't that why they call in higher education?

Oregon public universities could charge what the private ones do or about 5 times what public college students pay now. How does $30,000 per year in tuition alone sound?

We could have a new slogan for higher education in Oregon that is also patterned after the corporate model:

Pay more, get less!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Adversity index says Bend still in recession


No surprise to anyone in Central Oregon, but Bend is officially still in recession, according to the Adversity Index put out by Moody's Economy.com. Here's the data on Bend. Here's the story on the nation's Adversity Index.

The February numbers reveal that 53 percent of the nation's 384 metro areas have begun to recover from the recession, up from 48 percent in January.

Still, it's not all bad news for the Bend metro area. According to Moody's, our economic outlook for strengths include:

*Robust population growth
*Budding high-tech industry
*Affordable housing
*Low electricity rates

Well, our population growth has stopped for the time being, but over 10 years, yes, Bend has boomed. As for affordable housing, that depends on your point of view. The median price is still under $200,000, but unemployment is still almost 15 percent.

As for weaknesses in our economic outlook, they include:

*Over-reliance on housing-related industries for employment growth
*Housing market remains out of balance
*High concentration of employment in low-paying service industries.

Can't quibble with those findings. Since the housing market cratered a couple of years ago, jobs are hard to find even in the service sector. Default notices so far this year are on pace to break last year's record. The housing market is seriously out of balance.

But, Bend ranks fairly high when compared to the rest of the country, according to the Adversity Index.

Our "employment growth rank," with 1 being best and 392 worst, Bend ranks a respectable 79th for 2009-2011. Our "cost of doing business" is 17 percent below average, but our "cost of living" is 2 percent above average.

It looks like Bend will stumble along for the next few years, which is not of kilter from historical perspectives. Bend has always been a boom-and-bust kind of town.

Of the state's six metro areas in ranked in the Adversity Index, only two areas -- Salem and Eugene-Springfield -- are not in recession, while Corvallis, Medford and Portland join Bend in the recession category.

But, hey, at least we have some lowest gas prices in the state, though not by much. Check here for the data.


Don't forget Ludlow, Columbine




The good thing about this date in history is that it's not April 19.

Yesterday, just happened to be the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which came two years to the day after the Branch Davidian disaster in the appropriately named Waco, Texas. It's worth noting that Oklahoma and Texas are states where extreme right-wing nuttery is tolerated and even encouraged.

Also, April 19 was the anniversary of the start of our Revolutionary War in 1775.

To celebrate all these disparate events, the gun nuts staged "gun-ins" in Virginia and Washington, D.C. Yeah, that's the central problem in America today: not enough people openly carrying their weapons in public. Who knew?

I'm surprised they didn't wait until today, the 11th anniversary of the Columbine Massacre, when a couple of pyscho students gunned down 12 fellow students and a teacher in Colorado. That way they could show how effective firearms are at school and why we need more of them. (They missed their chance on April 16, the anniversary of the Virginia Tech Massacre, when a long gunman murdered 32.)

Yes, April 20th is another red letter day in history.

Adolf Hitler was born on this day in 1889. It's also national stoner day.

April is indeed the "cruellest month."

In 1914, in Ludlow, Colo., dozens of men, women and children were killed amid a coal miner's strike. Two women and 11 children were asphyxiated and burned to death on April 20 in one of the worst attacks by capitalists against workers.

The mine was owned by the Rockefellers, and John D., Jr. spent much of the rest of his life atoning for the sin of Ludlow, which is now a ghost town.

Such events as Ludlow are barely mentioned in history books. Another one unknown to most Americans occurred on March 25, 1911. It was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, where 146 young immigrant workers, mostly Italian, perished, many jumping to their deaths to flee the flames.

The owners had locked the doors to keep the girls and women working. When the fire broke out there was no escape and the fire department was of little help since its ladders couldn't reach beyond the sixth floor and the fire was concentrated on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors.

Horrific events like the Ludlow Massacre and Triangle fire led to many reforms enacted under FDR in the 1930s.

Such reforms are constantly under attack. The recent mining disaster in West Virginia, where 29 perished, is a prime example of how mine owners do not care about the lives of workers. Lack of government oversight has also led to an increase of "black lung" disease.

And yet, we have this bogus Tea Party whining about government intervention in private enterprise. These fools don't realize that the enemy of the people is not likely the government, but the very company they work for or used to work for.

So let's remember April 19 for the worst domestic terrorist attack in our history performed by extreme right-wingers.

But, let's not forget the Ludlow Massacre today. It, too, was a terrorist attack carried out by company bosses of yesteryear.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Area resorts' study hits county budget


What better way to gauge the effect of destination resorts on Central Oregon's economy than to commission a study that could cost upwards of $150,000. Automatically, such a costly study would make resorts a drain on county coffers.

It's the county's policy to approve destination resorts without having any idea what impact they have on local infrastructure or resources. Deschutes County has three destination resorts: Sunriver, Eagle Crest and Pronghorn. Another resort, Thornburgh, is planned near Redmond. The county must accept the developer's rosy study as the definitive analysis of a resort's impact on the region.

Destination resorts are viewed by critics, including Central Oregon LandWatch, as ways developers can skirt Oregon land-use laws and create unincorporated areas that draw on government services without adequate compensation for those services.

A March 2009 study by C.O. LandWatch showed that the Thornburgh resort would be a net cost to local taxpayers of $51.28 million.

Since Oregon doesn't have a sales tax, Central Oregon loses millions in revenue since this area's economy is now tourist-driven. Also, room taxes are artificially low, 7 percent, as opposed to around 10 percent in the rest of Oregon and around the country. Much of the local room tax is "kicked back" to the tourism industry to be used to attract more tourists.

Eagle Crest, created by the Jeld-Wen conglomerate, fought tooth and nail against inclusion in Redmond's city limits. When Eagle Crest's sewage system failed, it was able to tap into the city's system at a fraction of the actual cost. And some say Oregon is hostile to business when, in fact, it bends over for business.

The destination resorts have become de facto subdivisions with year-round residents that are a drain on local government services. The minimum wage jobs they create do not generate a livable wage for area residents. But, these resorts do help the restaurants and retailers in the area.

Still, destination resorts are like anti-communities. Since there is a lack of accountability to the greater good, these resorts perpetuate isolation from Bend, Redmond and Sisters instead of integration. Such Balkanization of the area is not healthy -- socially or financially -- in the long run.














'Turd Blossom' blooms in Bend


Karl Rove, nicknamed "Turd Blossom" by his longtime boss George W. Bush, spoke in Bend Friday night to a packed house for a new, local political action committee called Oregon Reagan PAC.

Apparently, more than 1,000 paid $50 each to hear the pearls of wisdom from one of the most effective and slimiest political operatives ever.

Rove had been in Central Oregon before with Bush on 2004 campaign.

It is interesting to note the strong pull that Republicans in Central Oregon have to bring in such "luminaries." While Deschutes County is still Republican and conservative, the city of Bend has more registered Democrats and is more liberal than the rest of the county.

Rove was brought to Bend for Tim Knoop, a former state representative from Bend and now vice chairman of Deschutes County Republicans.

Knoop told that daily newspaper that he formed the PAC in response to Oregonians voting for tax increases in January. Actually, Knoop is going to use his now expanded war chest to back the Republican challenger against our current state Rep. Judy Stiegler, who was a strong supporter of both measures. While the measures were trounced in Deschutes County, the margin of defeat in Bend was much narrower. The ultra-rich areas of town voted overwhelmingly against the measures. See previous post.

Stiegler is the first Democrat elected to a state post from these parts in more than 20 years. Her hold is tenuous since independents represent the biggest voting bloc. With anger as a campaign motif, Republicans hope to lure the independents their way.

It is fitting that Knoop brought Rove to Bend since Knoop is also an aggressive, mud-slinging political operative. The Stiegler camp should prepare for a dirty campaign and respond in kind.

Republicans have shown in recent decades how low they can go to win votes. Conversely, Democrats have campaigned like wimps.

It'll help that Stiegler's husband, longtime District Attorney Mike Dugan has deep ties to the Democratic establishment in Oregon. He's also running against a challenger and former employee, Patrick Flaherty, in the non-partisan race.

While Flaherty was quick to attack Dugan for his support of the tax measures, Dugan was unafraid to slam back. Dugan cited a 2000 audit that painted Flaherty in a negative light.

Dugan told the local daily that, "(Flaherty) was abrasive to the police agencies. Most of the police agencies didn't give him very high marks."

Kudos to Dugan for establishing a campaign style that is combative and aggressive. That's what what you want in a D.A. and also in a candidate.

Let's hope that other Democrats running for office, particularly Dugan's wife, take that cue. Hit back and hit hard.

The last thing we need from Bend is another ineffective Republican office-holder.






Friday, April 16, 2010

Why sack Goldman Sachs?



Goldman Sachs owns Washington. Why on earth would Washington insiders bite the hand that takes from them?

The blather in the media tried to explain what happened and who will win.

No one asked the most pertinent question: Why would the SEC (Securities and Exchange ommission) charge Goldman Sachs with civil fraud? What is the larger point here? What is the political upside or downside?

Yes, Congress is posturing about financial regulatory reform, but Goldman Sachs can easily buy off any and all members of Congress.

On the cynical political side of this story is the fact that almost all Americans hate everything about Wall Street and this fraud charge gets everyone feeling warm and fuzzy that the government is finally doing something to these bastards. Polling shows that Main Street wants to sack Wall Street, and with good reason.

But, what is to be gained by embarrassing Goldman Sachs and thwarting the market's rally?

The rational assumption is that by pretending to show that Washington is getting tough on Wall Street, the momentum for regulatory reform will be blunted. Without reform, Goldman Sachs and the rest of the gangsters on Wall Street can continue to steal from foolish investors and the national treasury.

Make no mistake, Goldman Sachs is in control here. In fact, they're shorting the extent of Americans' ire at the financial industry's pre-eminent player. They're betting that Americans will place their anger and reform at Washington and other political leaders, rather than where that anger and reform should be directed -- at them.

In that sense, they over-inflate the importance of the Tea Party movement. By betting on Tea Party sentiment, Goldman Sachs ignores the vast majority of Americans who want to see them pay for destroying our -- and the world's -- economy.







Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oh, to be middle-aged, white and angry


Actually, I'm all three. Although I'm really just angry at the people who are hoarding most of the anger in the country in the form of the Tea Party.

And, today is Christmas for Teabaggers across the land. Unwrapping anger on our national day when taxes are due gives Teabaggers the opportunity to vent about the Constitution, government, Obama, Obama's birth, Obama's Muslim roots, health care, deficits and illegal immigrants, to name just a few of their pet peeves.

You would think they were just disgruntled ex-employees with diminished prospects for their futures. But, no. They've got money and brains, so to speak.

Here's a New York Times poll that shows Tea Party members are richer and more educated that the average American. Here are a couple of highlights:

"The 18 percent of American who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.

"And while most Republicans say they are 'dissatisfied' with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as 'angry.' "

The Bend Tea Party organized an event today, but not in Bend. About 100 protesters stood beside Highway 97 in a hay field across from the former Funny Farm halfway between Bend and Redmond waving American flags and signs that were unreadable to those vehicles streaking by at over 60 mph unless they wanted to cause a huge pile-up requiring the government to untangle. But, it was the thought that counts.

Officially, the rally was called "Take Back America," which is strange because America hasn't gone anywhere and hasn't changed much. And, who are Teabaggers to demand that they alone get America back. An angry, vocal minority is still a minority.

That's ironic, because we have a "minority" in the White House. Maybe Teabaggers are angry at being marginalized the way most minorities are in this country. When they really think about it, they should be identifying with President Obama, not praying to Jesus for his assassination.

The Bend Tea Party's website has all sorts of "information" from videos and photos to commentary and book reviews.

For example, the "Must Read of The Week" is a piece by Michelle Malkin, a Right wing-nut who believes the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was the right and proper thing to do. Malkin, a Filipino-American, gets paid to make such outrageous claims on Fox.

Under "Commentary" on the Tea Party Website is a piece by military Dr. Terrence Lakin, who faces a certain court-martial, about how Obama is not a native-born American and therefore is forbidden by our Constitution to hold the office of president.

The lunatic fringe has always played a significant part of American life. This piece from Harper's Magazine in 1964 shows how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Basically, paranoid fantasies, be they from Birchers or Birthers, get too much play, and therefore legitimacy, from the mainstream media and its fascination with contrived conflict.

Of course, the Bend Tea Party's website says: "Recognize the mainstream media for what it is: the enemy."

That was point seven under the "Tea Party Warrior's Field Manual." Apparently, Fox News, the most successful cable "news" site is not mainstream enough.

The Bend Tea Party website has 124 members and has seven board members: Lucy Brackett, John Carrigg, Mike Guidero, John Philo, Sheila Simcoe, Keith Sime and Rich Stanfield.

The NY Times poll story has some choice nuggets in it that maybe the local Teabaggers should read:

"I just feel he's getting away from what America is," said Kathy Mayhugh, 67, a retired medical transcriber in Jacksonville. "He's a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he's a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction. I don't care what he says. He's been in office over a year and can't find a church to go to. That doesn't say much for him."

Then again, they probably agree with Mayhugh.

But Teabaggers don't really know what they stand for or what they want. The following concludes the NY Times poll story:

When talking about the Tea Party movement, the largest number of respondents said that the movement’s goal should be reducing the size of government, more than cutting the budget deficit or lowering taxes.

And nearly three-quarters of those who favor smaller government said they would prefer it even if it meant spending on domestic programs would be cut.

But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

Perhaps more local Teabaggers need to have their minds changed.

We got the biggest refund ever this year on our taxes and our income was the same as last year. That's called a tax cut, not a tax hike.

I'm sure most Teabaggers got a tax cut by today, April 15, the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. But, the Teabaggers are still trying to re-arrange the deck chairs on a vessel that sunk 98 years ago. It's time they let go.








Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is now the time to buy?


The Bridge Boys wondered the other night whether it was time for investors to jump into the Bend real estate market that is still reeling from defaults and foreclosures.

There are reasons why the timing is right and why it is wrong for investors.

First the positive reasons: We've reached a nadir of defaults. We can only go up, the thinking goes. Also, with people spending and consuming more, productivity is on the rise. And, the Dow topped 11,000 this week, which returns to pre-2008 crash levels. Stimulus spending is starting to reach second gear, which will further galvanize the economy. We may have reached the absolute low in mortgage interest rates. The median price of a home as dropped from nearly $400,000 to about $180,000. Buys are out there all over town.

Now the negative news: The defaults just keep on coming. My postman has noticed another wave of them recently, which suggests we're far from bottom. Unemployment nationally is high (just under 10 percent), but it is higher in Bend and Central Oregon at around 15 percent.
Bend's previous boom was fueled in large measure by equity-rich Californians cashing out and buying up in Bend. But, if it's hard to conventional loans now, it is even more difficult to secure jumbo loans, which one would need to buy a home in most areas of California. So, if people can't sell in California, they can't buy in in Bend.

A perennial negative for Bend is the lack of an economic engine. There are no lumber mills left in town. Some companies here are shifting production to Mexico. We have the largest medical establishment between the Cascades and Boise, Idaho, but that doesn't really drive the economy. If people don't have much money, they aren't likely to go to a doctor or dentist or optician.

Major public works projects like the Parkway in Bend and the bypass in Redmond are completed. Yes, work on the new high school is beginning in Redmond and that should help.

Bend is projecting a $21 million deficit over the next few years. It won't have money to fix roads or the sewer system which are in desperate need of upgrades. The state is facing billions in deficits so it can't be asked to assist in our local economy.

For those with cash, now is as good as any to jump into the market here, but that is for owner-occupied homes. With joblessness so high in Bend, though, and no clear prospects on the horizon for economic growth, short-term investors could still get burned in Bend. Those taking the long view of 10 years or more may have a better shot at making a profit.

That being said, investors are already swooping in and gobbling up unbuilt subdivisions for less than half the asking prices. Also, if guys playing bridge wonder if now is the time to buy, perhaps that time has already passed.

No offense to my bridge partners, of course.














More corporate welfare


With everyone seeking money from the government that they claim they don't want the government to give them because of the massive deficit, add Bend builders/developers to the corporate piggy trough.

Basically, the Central Oregon Builders Association claims that high building fees are preventing a rebound from the Great Recession. Why, even mighty Scappoose, northwest of Portland, has slashed fees and system development charges (SDCs) to attract business. Some here threaten to even defect to Scappoose because that's where freedom from government reigns.

You see there is this wide band of red tape encircling the city of Bend that is stopping the Great Rebound from happening. There are permits, fees and and SDCs. And then there are codes, standards and inspections. No wonder we can't grow, builders claim.

It doesn't matter that the city has extended building permits almost indefinitely or deferred SDCs. And yes, the city is applying for an enterprise zone, a tax-free haven for would-be companies.

And yet, nothing's working. We need more subsidies, the builders claim.

Well, the builders' association knows that there was too much building in Bend during the Great Boom. Instead of being around 10 percent of the local economy, the building industry was more than 30 percent. The city did nothing to modulate this, which contributed to our Great Bust.

The builders now claim if there were lower or no fees, Bend would boom again.

Of course, only fools believe that.

Building empty homes and vacant commercial structures is not a "sound" economic base. If there are no companies willing to move here and hire more workers, there is no need for much building at all, commercial or residential.

Our last growth boom was a byproduct of easy credit and wild speculation. It's why our collapse is worse than most places.

There has to be a "need" for more housing and commercial development. Without such a "need," no amount of government subsidies to the building industry will create the Next Boom.

In fact, corporate handouts have no effect at all. Scappoose, for all it subsidies, isn't growing and neither is Bend, for all its so-called government-imposed expenses.

The building industry claims the government gets in the way of growth and yet turns to government when growth stagnates. Builders wants it both ways as long as it goes their way.

The builders' association would be better off coming up with solutions to the massive infrastructure problems it produced for this city rather than bellying up to the piggy trough.

We have enormous problems with our sewer, road and storm drainage systems that the Great Boom left us. Until those problems are addressed and fixed, Bend won't be an attractive place to new companies or new residents.

The local building industry is not a solution to our Great Bust, but rather a catalyst for the Next Bust.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Averting our eyes from the prize



I watched a bit of "Eyes on the Prize" Sunday on PBS and, even though I've seen it a few times before, it's always riveting. Thank god for the courageous media back then, not to mention all those young African-American students on the front lines of integration, because the images and footage still resonate after all these years.

The Civil Rights movement was an extension of the Civil War, to guarantee that all men and women are created equal with equal rights.

Today, with the 149th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, there are a few out there who continue to divide America over that conflict. Their timing is suspicious, considering we have an African-American in the White House.

The Republican governor of Virginia has designated this "Confederate History Month." He's received support from the Republican governor of Mississippi. This is supposedly about "Southern heritage," the kind that excludes African-Americans, so that Virginians can "understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War." (The Virginia governor later condemned slavery).

These governors, and others in the South and elsewhere, need to be constantly reminded of what General U.S. Grant thought at the war's conclusion when he wrote in his memoirs, "I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse."

Imagine if Germany had a "Nazi History Month" about all the heroic actions of native sons trying to fight off the Allied invaders.

What is with these freaks in the American South? Is it some sort of fetish with uniforms and leather? Is it a complete denial of how destructive their "lost cause" of slavery was to this country? And why do these guys continue to get elected?

In light of "Eyes on the Prize," it's discouraging to see the same attitudes of the 1950s and '60s re-surface in 2010.

In eastern Oregon, a white supremacist group, using Confederate imagery, wants to set up shop in John Day, about 120 miles east of Bend. (See earlier post here.) And, I'm sure you see the Confederate battle flag on a few vehicles where you live.

It's one thing for a private citizen to display his or her hate and ignorance. It is completely wrong for a state in this Union to do so. Does the "North" need to come down and raise holy hell again throughout the South? The "North" now includes the vast majority of the 50 states. It would be quick work to crush the racists in the South, from Virginia to Texas.

But, we're beyond that. We, the "Northerners," hope to merely embarrass and humiliate these Southern "heritage" idiots on a national and international level.

Not that it matters to the Republican governors of Virginia and Mississippi. They are truly clueless.

Gas price surge - why we need change


I filled up the Honda Sunday at Fred Meyer in Bend. It was $2.87 per gallon of regular gas, including my 3-cent rewards card discount.

Most stations around Bend are at $2.99 per gallon. I imagine that it is at least $3.10 in the Willamette Valley and well over $3 bucks a gallon in California, where you have to pump it yourself.

So much for the economic recovery.

Forget the Tea Party upsetting the Obama "change" machine. Leave it to Exxon/Mobil and oil futures speculators to control the destiny of any American president. For as the price of oil goes, so goes the American economy. And this is precisely why alternative energy sources are so critical.

Yes, those alternatives are going to include nuclear energy. They'll include fuel cells as well as water, wind, solar and, unfortunately, coal. Hopefully one day, coal will be that barely used alternative, much like solar is today.

In Spain this last winter, the wind was so strong that, for the first time, the country got more energy from wind than coal.

Germany, with winter weather as cloudy as in western Oregon, is the world leader in solar energy. And China, with the world's worst pollution and limited oil production, is as fanatical about alternative energy as it is producing Zhu-zhu pets.

Throw in the global-warming angle and it's more critical than ever that we develop "clean" energy as quickly as possible.

After 8 years of the Bush administration with its complete reliance on oil and coal, it's going to take this country a while to catch up to countries like Spain, Germany and, most importantly, China.

It shows how Big Oil runs our country, no matter who is in power. Ironically, because Big Oil rules now, it ensures America will not rule later.

There are a few out there who realize that Big Oil is the key to our potential downfall, but they haven't mobilized effectively enough to make a significant difference. The Enron fiasco in California earlier this century convinced the techy crowd in the Bay Area that it had to rely on itself for its energy needs.

And yet, what did we get? The iPhone, iPad and Google Earth. As cool as those things are, what we really need from Silicon Valley is a way out of our energy death spiral.

We need fuel cells, solar and wind power at the homeowner level to make a big difference in our energy needs. Hybrid vehicles and the future fleets of electric cars should steer us in the right direction as far as the automobile is concerned.

But, come on, you tech-heads. Create something that matters other than video games. Drop the joy stick and grab the wheel of change.

Get your act together.

If you do, you'll be able to play with your xBox until the cows come home.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Who Obama should pick for Supreme Court


The mainstream, corporate media seems to want to pick the next Supreme Court justice by giving voice to Republican concerns about a potential liberal nominee.

Please, enough of that trash.

There hasn't been a liberal pick on the bench in decades when compared to Antonin Scalia on the ultra-conservative side. The high court is sagging to the right. It needs to be lifted toward the center with a proper pick of a smart, capable, liberal lawyer, of which there are plenty.

Democrats haven't put up much of a fight over extreme right-wing justices like Scalia, Roberts and Alito, who are definitely out of the mainstream of American jurisprudence.

Why should Democrats care what Republicans think about President Obama's next pick? If the fight over health care proved anything is that Republicans will put up a ridiculous fight no matter who Obama picks. The only way Republicans will work with the president is if they get to make the pick.

If we believe what the mainstream media tells us, Republicans are poised to pick up a number of seats in the House and Senate in November. They could even win back both chambers. If that is true, why even bother to care what Republicans think. Go for broke, now.

It's time for Obama to energize his base and pick a solid liberal who can go toe to toe with Scalia, Roberts and Alito.

If Republicans go ballistic over this pick, it could get Democrats off their butts and to the polls in November. Turnout is everything.

Obama should pick another woman for the court because we will not have true justice in this country until there are 5 women on the high court. Women outnumber men in the population and they should outnumber men on the bench. In time they will, because women students are in the majority in law schools across the land.

A black woman would be better because she would be the first such justice on the high court. Or an Asian-American woman, which would be another first.

I fear, though, that Obama will try and appease Republicans and pick your average white guy. Republicans love someone who is white, male and average. They're the ones who always say that best qualified person should be picked for the court as long as he's white.



Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ducks ranked 10th in pre-season poll


Shockingly, Oregon is the highest ranked team from the Pac-10 in ESPN's first pre-season poll for the 2010 season.

USC, the perennial power, is at 15th. Amazingly, Oregon State is at 20th and Stanford is at 24th.

I moved to Bend in 1984, the year after the infamous Civil War 0-0 Toilet Bowl, when no one outside the state of Oregon could tell the difference between UO and OSU.

My, how times have changed.

Washington, nor UCLA, rank in the top 25.

Oregon would have likely ranked higher if the dumb-bell Jeremiah Masoli didn't decide to throw his career away with the frat-house heist.

Still, Oregon is deeemed the most respected football school in the Pac-10.

Let that sink in. Who could have foreseen such a day.

No one could, outside of head Coach Chip Kelly whose ultimate goal is a national championship.

I think he has a chance of achieving that goal this coming season. Yes, that prediction can be considered "counter-intuitive" to say the least.

However, no one thought the Ducks would do anything last year after the debacle at Boise State and the loss of its No. 1 running back, LaGarrette Blount. All the Ducks achieved was the Pac-10 championship by the widest margin in nearly 20 years.

Say what you will about the Ducks and their lamentable off-season, the pollsters respect them.

Of course, they once respected Cal, but have been burned much too often with the Bears. And yes, this is just a pre-season poll in April, which is essentially meaningless.

But, hats off to the schools in Oregon. They've come a long way from the 0-0 debacle.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Big stink in Bend


Irresponsibility.

That's the word of the day because Bend has been irresponsible in managing its growth. It's allowed developers to rule the city by adding thousands of homes, but claiming no responsibility for the bigger picture.

A case in point is the sewer system. A story in today's daily newspaper quotes the city manager Eric King as saying the sewer system in northeast Bend is experiencing overflows near the interchange of Highways 20 and 97. This can now result in big fines for the city because there are new tougher reporting rules.

The city approved subdivision after subdivision that met all city guidelines on sewer requirements within each development. But then, the city was surprised to learn that all these new subdivisions overtaxed the main line.

Here's a choice quote from King:

"I don't think it was intentional. I think what happed was that nobody understood how this system would work dynamically. So a small pipe might serve a specific subdivision, but they didn't look at how that would affect the system overall."

Let's look at this quote. "Nobody understood how this system would work" underscores how incompetent city staff and its paid consultants have been. "Nobody?" My god, what the hell is going on?

Yes, developers pay their consultants to write up reports saying how their development will have minimal affect on the system, be it sewers or roads. The city, under state laws written by the builders' lobby, must accept these findings.

So, what do we get? We get exactly what any untrained, casual observer can see: an overtaxed sewer system and dysfunctional road system.

Which leads to the last part of King's quote: "... they didn't look at how that would affect the system overall."

Who in the hell is "they?" Is it the developers? The city? Hearings officers?

Hearings officers are generally the last resort for development oversight. Yet, a variety of hearings officers have failed to look at the big picture of Bend. They look narrowly at each "raindrop" and conclude, "oh, the system can handle that."

We have a city staff and a city council that are incapable of looking at the big picture. Just exactly why do we have a city staff and a city council? Isn't it their job to look at the bigger picture of how Bend develops and whether or not it can sustain that growth? "Sustain" meaning having adequate roads, sewers, water capacity, flood control, etc.

The city knows they need at least $25 million for minor upgrades on Bend's northeast side, but they claim work wouldn't start until 2015. That's ridiculous because the city has no money to fix the system and doesn't know how to apply for grants to fix the system.

Just as there is no timeline to fix the traffic problems such as Reed Market Road. The city claimed work would begin three years ago. And voila! In 2010, nothing has been done to fix the worst road in Bend.

Simply, there is no timeline or money to repair or improve any of Bend's infrastructure.

So, what is the city's solution. It couldn't possibly limit growth. That would take away someone's freedom.

No, the city intends to expand its urban growth boundary to add more subdivisions so that the system gets worse, not better. In a sense, they keep adding spades, diamonds, hearts and clubs to the "house of cards."

They're just watching to see if it collapses. And for that, city staff are paid well to do so.

How about this solution. No more development until all the various developers agree to pay half the costs of fixing our roads and sewer problems and existing city residents pay the rest. Until such an agreement is in place within a realistic timeline, no development should be allowed to proceed.

And yet, developers want all city residents to pay all the hundreds of millions needed to fix sewers and roads through skyrocketing property taxes. In essence they want to be subsidized to develop their properties.

No wonder we needed the state to come in and say, "Bend, you don't know what the hell you're doing. Your proposal, to expand, sucks."

What are we left with? Irresponsible developers, city staff and city council.

In the meantime, the so-called "quality of life," that supposedly attracted everyone to Bend in the first place, continues to decline.

It's called killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Now that stinks.