Friday, May 28, 2010

The cost of oil addiction

Here we go again -- another bailout.

The government, whom the right wingnuts believe can't do anything right, is now called upon again, by those same nutjobs, to save the world, or, in this case, the Gulf of Mexico.

Corporations are so resilient, we're led to believe, that they not only know how to fail on such a grand scale, they can also turn around and blame the government for too much or too little regulation. They can have it all: obscene profits and a Teflon image when the oil slickens the coastline.

I'm surprised the anti-immigration forces didn't blame this all on Mexico. Afterall, it's their gulf, not ours.

This oil spill disaster highlights what we are willing to do to the environment to feed our addiction to cheap oil.

In fact the oil from the BP deep sea well is so cheap that 18 million gallons of oil can be squandered so far and have no effect on gas prices. BP can afford to lose that oil and pay for the cleanup. It's merely the cost of doing business. The oil conglomerate didn't have much of a plan in place in case the well failed because it didn't have to and, more importantly, didn't care to.

BP made $5.6 billion in the just the first three months of this year and it's spent about $1 billion so far on the Gulf catastrophe. If it spends another billion on cleanup, it'll still end up with more than $20 billion in profits. A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon, we're talking chump change for the the oil giant.

And yes, there are people out there who are calibrating the political risks this gusher presents for President Obama. Excuse me, I think the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem trumps any discussion of politics.

It needs to be pointed out that Obama was not on the oil rig when it exploded and killed 11 men. Now was he the one who argued with the oil rig operators on what to do before the explosion.

Obama's fault is that he is the president and he must clean up BP's mess all by himself.

What this latest calamity means -- along with the Exxon Valdez, 9-11 and the Iraq War -- is that we need to rely on some other energy source rather than oil. If we don't, there will be more oil spills, more terrorist attacks and more wars.

When will we ever learn.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

iPad, iPawed, iYawned

Got to play around with my mom's 3G iPad during the past week, and while it is a slick device, in the end, I was underwhelmed. The iPad is a giant iPhone with no camera and no phone.

The 3G aspect isn't useful at all unless you are willing to pony up $15 bucks a month for the right to connect to AT&T's network. Doesn't matter if you already subscribe to AT&T with your iPhone. And, to hear iPhone users complain about dropped or interrupted calls on a daily basis, it doesn't seem worth it.

Still, the iPad does have Wifi and it connects to Internet just like a netbook. But, once I connected to Yahoo, I had to enlarge the screen because the type was too small for me to read. This created an extra step just to read my e-mail.

Pictures and videos look great on the iPad. And, the e-book, which doesn't come pre-installed on the iPad, but is available for free via download, is awesome. In fact, as an e-book, it's the best there is, but at a minimum of $499, not to mention the cost of each e-book, it's ridiculously expensive. The iPad costs more than I've spent on books or magazines in the past five years.

Also, the iPad is awkward to hold and use. Buying a cover that doubles as a semi-stand helps. The on-screen keyboard is not fit for fast typing. Paying for a wireless keyboard with a stand turns the iPad into -- at more than twice the cost -- a netbook.

In the end, I'd rather get a netbook. They're light and far more useful than an iPad. Much cheaper, too.

But, a netbook is not an e-book. An iPad is not an iPhone and an MacBook is not a netbook.

It's all getting way too complicated.

But, you have to hand to Apple. It's now worth more than Microsoft precisely because it takes chances that Microsoft would never even imagine. The world needs Apple even if it doesn't really need all its products.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sometimes you gotta laugh

A few bits on the internet today caught my eye and made me laugh.

Here's one from the Washington Post about the GOP's new website where it asks for ideas from the general public.

And the ideas came streaming in, such as:

"Let kids vote!" recommended one. "Let's make a 'Social Security Lotto,' " proposed another. "What dope came up with the idea of criminalizing a parent's right to administer corporal punishment?" a third demanded.

Another contributor had parody in mind (we hope): "English is are official langauge. Anybody who ain't speak it the RIGHT way should kicked out."

The New York Times' take on the Cannes Film Festival awards is worth a read. The top prize, or Palme d'Or, went to “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives."

It was the first Thai film to ever win the award. It was directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who gratefully goes by the name Joe. " 'I would really like to kiss all of you,' " he said to the jury, telling (Tim) Burton that he liked his hairstyle."

Then there are stories with headlines that make you laugh out loud: "Report: Users Wasted 4.8 million hours playing Google's Pacman Doodle."

Take this job and shove it

As counter-intuitive as it seems, more workers are quitting their jobs amid this Great Recession.

An article in the Wall Street Journal says that "In February, the number of employees voluntarily quitting surpassed the number being fired or discharged for the first time since October 2008, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics."

And it could get worse, the story says:

"Recent sentiment indicates that the number of employees quitting could continue to grow in the coming months. In a poll conducted by human-resources consultant Right Management at the end of 2009, 60% of workers said they intended to leave their jobs when the market got better. " 'The research is fairly alarming,' " says Michael Haid, senior vice president of global solutions for Right Management. " 'The churn for companies could be very costly.' "

While it is obvious that the job market is improving leading to some defections, the major culprit seems to be worker unrest.

According to the Journal: "Another factor making it harder for companies to retain employees is the effect of the heavy cost-cutting and downsizing during the downturn on workers' morale. A survey conducted last summer for the Conference Board, a management research organization, found that the drivers of the drop in job fulfillment included less satisfaction with wages and less interest in work. In 2009, 34.6% of workers were satisfied with their wages, down more than seven percentage points from 1987. About 51% in 2009 said they were interested in work, down 19 percentage points from 1987."

During the Great Recession, companies cut workers' pay while increasing their workload. It doesn't take a bottle-rocket scientist to see workers get angry when they notice the top brass getting bonuses and new cars while the grunts get the shaft.

It's all part of the populist revolt that corporate America is trying to manage, but may find it exceeding their grasp.

Corporate media tries to place all the blame on government. While government deserves some blame, the vast majority of fault rests on Wall Street, which destroyed not only our economy, but much of the world's as well. The average Joe (not the plumber) doesn't understand derivatives and credit-default swaps. Heck, he doesn't even understand his own cell phone bill.

But, as corporate America shifts more jobs overseas to places like the always-stable Pakistan as TRG did in Bend, worker anger can only grow.

That angst should be directed at Wall Street, where a true revolution needs to take place.

Bend bottoms out

I've been out of town for a week and unable to blog, but on my return I see that Bend is a national leader again - in home depreciation.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency reports that the Bend area endured the largest decline in housing prices from the first quarter of last year to the first quarter of this year. It fell a whopping 23.03 percent. (See page 30 of PDF file from the FHFA)

We edged out the always delightful Madera-Chowchilla, Calif., area for top spot.

This news comes on the heels that housing permits here rose in the first three months of 2010, while the number of days a home spent on the market fell. These last two stats were anomalies because of government assistance. That aid is ending and the housing market should see more declines even during the busy summer selling season.

More homeowners will put their homes on the market in the next couple of months, which will further depress prices.

There will be good buys out there for existing homes and almost no reason to buy a brand new home. Our median price has dropped from a high of nearly $400,000 three years ago to about $180,000 today.

Still, it looks like we're in for bumpy ride until at least the first quarter of next year.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dugan, Luke, jail bond all lose

Anti-incumbency fever struck in Deschutes County as District Attorney Mike Dugan lost to his former assistant Patrick Flaherty by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin. Dugan has been D.A. for more than 20 years.

His resounding defeat could affect his wife, Judy Stiegler, who is running to retain her state House seat as a Democrat.

There are still about 15,000 ballots left to be counted.

Dennis Luke, a county commissioner since 1999 lost to Tony DeBone by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin.

And the $44 million jail expansion bond was mugged by a 68 percent to 32 percent margin.

Also, voters in Deschutes County voted by comfortable margins in favor of lower and higher education in Measures 68 and 69 respectively.

We're starting to correct our priorities. Put our money in education and not incarceration.

Turnout was about 45 percent, according to county clerk Nancy Blankenship.

Election results: Dugan out? Jail bond failing

Numbers started coming in just a couple of minutes past 8 p.m. elsewhere in the state, but not in Deschutes County.

Chris Dudley has an early lead over Allen Alley in the Republican governor's race.

By 8:12 p.m., 39 percent of the statewide count was in. Still no numbers in Deschutes County at 8:15 p.m. Wait, wait, here they come just before 8:16 p.m. Pretty quick for this county.

It looks like our longtime district attorney Mike Dugan is out of a job losing to his onetime assistant Patrick Flaherty.

Also, the jail bond is losing badly.

Turnout sees last minute push

About 20 minutes before the "polls" closed here in Deschutes County, it was announced that turnout had jumped to 42.2 percent.

Others here at the county offices said it was one of the busiest last days for dropping off ballots.

Won't see first results until about 8:15 p.m., if were lucky. Usually we don't see anything until around 8:30 p.m. in our vote-by-mail system, which we've had for a decade in Oregon.

New rules, though, let the clerk's office to get a jump on counting, which means results could come quicker.

Growth gets another dose of reality

For those who believe that more new houses means more prosperity, it wasn't a particularly good week.

The state sent back Bend's "urban growth boundary" plan (UGB) because the city can't demonstrate how it will accommodate all the new land in terms of infrastructure.

Just over half the city isn't connected to the sewer system and the road grid system is seriously flawed. The city has ideas on how to address those issues, but it has no realistic timeline or funding source to accomplish anything on infrastructure. The city doesn't apply for all the available federal grants that it can because it doesn't really care.

Also, last week the builders' union claimed that the local housing market was recovering. This week they're whining that proposed increases in building and planning fees are premature. The city will likely cave to this special interest group and when their aren't enough planners to okay their developments or inspectors to sign off on, say, plumbing, builders will whine that they're aren't enough people working at the city's planning department. Classic case of having and eating their cake. Can't have it both ways, boys.

The housing market likely won't rebound until next year, according to some bearish analysts. With that in mind, the empty subdivisions throughout Bend, not to mention the defaults all over town, means there isn't any need to expand the UGB for at least another five years.

Notorious crime with ties to Bend

A story in the Eugene Register-Guard, talks about how the daughter of child-killer Diane Downs, was adopted by a Bend couple and still lives here.

Downs was pregnant with Rebecca Christine Babcock during Downs' trial in 1984.

Babcock has lived a troubled life. She became a teen mother when she was 17. She's single and going to college here. She was on ABC's "20/20" last Friday and is featured in the current issue of Glamour magazine of all places. She's trying to peddle her story for a book because it looks as if there is a big following for that sort of thing.

In 1983, Downs was a single mother of three when she shot them on a rural road in Lane County. One died, while two survived with serious injuries.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Is Masoli off Oregon's team?

Word on the street is that Jeremiah Masoli, who was once kicked out of high school, will now likely lose his scholarship at the University of Oregon.

Rumblings suggest he failed a drug test and was recently booted from the team.

Head Coach Chip Kelly is about to embark on a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan to visit our troops.

Good time to be out of town.

If the rumors are true, it's too bad for Masoli who was kicked out of Serra High in the Bay Area, for robbing people at a mall.

He was arrested in January for stealing in notebook computer and other things from a frat house near the Oregon campus. For that crime, he was suspended from the upcoming season, but remained on the team. Now apparently, it's over.

I guess playing in front of 60,000 adoring, screaming fans wasn't enough of a rush for him.

Now, he'll get his kicks elsewhere, not at Autzen Stadium.

With the starting quarterback from last year's Rose Bowl team gone for good, and with former head coach/athletic director Mike Bellotti moving on to ESPN, the Ducks are poised for big things this coming season.

The target is off their backs. There is less expected of them.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Palin should just 'gut' her speeches

Is anyone tired of Caribou Barbie, also known as Sarah Palin?

She's had a string of embarrassing comments recently and the press loves a good sideshow.

But, that's all she is: a sideshow. She'll never be the main event because, deep down, she's just a bimbo.

Her every utterance gets national exposure, for now.

Here's what she said about President Obama and guns at an NRA convention: "Don't doubt for a minute that, if they thought they could get away with it, they would ban guns and ban ammunition and gut the Second Amendment."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, wants the federal government to ban gun sales to suspected terrorists on the "no-fly list."

Naturally, Palin and the NRA believe that suspected terrorists don't have Miranda rights but they do have gun rights and they should be able to purchase assault weapons in the U.S.

Afterall, if terrorists can't get guns in America, who can?

When Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Palin had to offer her pearls of wisdom: we should "create law based on the God of the bible and the ten commandments."

Really. That helps a lot. Unfortunately, there is no commandment banning bimbos from the political arena.

Palin, like any decent capitalist, is cashing in on her fame. She has another "book" coming out in November titled America By Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag.

Here's a preview.

And, of course, she's no longer comparing women to pit bulls but rather to "mama grizzlies":

"You don't want to mess with moms who are rising up," Palin said at the Susan B. Anthony List event. "If you thought pit bulls were tough, you don't want to mess with mama grizzlies."

She'll find out soon enough how it feels to be attacked by a mama grizzly when she announces her bid for the White House.

She knows she has 30 percent of Americans behind her and, to Palin, that seems like a majority. She, and her followers, should take a basic math course because 30 percent gets you nowhere in politics. About 70 percent of Americans don't want her to run for president.

But, she'll sell a ton of America by Heart as she did Going Rogue.

All she really wants is celebrity status and she has it.

Well, the National Enquirer is there to remind her what celebrity life is like. The grocery checkout line will be a little livelier as long as Sarah Palin provides the fodder.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Election not exciting the electorate

As of yesterday, the turnout in our May 18 primary election hadn't even reached 20 percent.

That's pathetic and it bodes well for the $44 million county jail bond because the "yes" voters are more motivated. Also, the "no" voters could mistakenly believe that the "double majority" is in play when it is not. A 50 percent turnout isn't necessary for the jail expansion to pass.

If you don't wan't the jail levy to pass, and I don't, then you had better vote "no" and get your ballot in.

We need to make at least a symbolic gesture that we see education and not incarceration as a way out of the Great Recession.

Two statewide education measures are on the ballot, 68 and 69, and they aid lower and higher education without directly impacting taxpayers.

They should receive strong "yes" votes.

Over the past 15 years Oregonians have increased prison spending by 50 percent while cutting funding for higher education by 44 percent.

Crime is down in Deschutes County and there is space available now for more inmates. Plus, working with the state to utilize the vacant prison in Madras would be way more cost effective.

Also, we can't afford the jail expansion.

Meanwhile, the cost of higher education continues to escalate.

Contrary to popular perception, we can't have it all. We can't continue to fund prisons at the expense of universities.

Let's "send them a message."

In this case, "them" is "us."

Housing woes not ending

Building permits are up from a year ago in Bend, but the median price of a home falls again to about $180,000. It was nearly $400,000 just three years ago. The median price in Redmond fell to $122,000 in April.

While the locals aren't singing happy times are here again, they are optimistic that this summer should bring more buyers to new homes.

That's going to be tough since defaults are at record highs and good buys abound around town and throughout Central Oregon. There are no compelling reasons to buy a new home when a nearly new home can be had for less than half of what it was going for just a couple of years ago.

The daily paper's classified section still lists pages of defaults and foreclosures almost every day.

And, according to knowledgeable financial forecaster Dean Baker, the housing comeback is premature and that the housing bulls aren't looking at the facts. Check out his story. He makes the case that it was incentives that goosed the market, and those enticements are ending.

The latest flyer from Windermere Real Estate makes similar points, but sees silver linings, as always, in the dark clouds ahead. Windermere sees more stable home prices, but the median price is 7.7 percent lower than it was last April.

Baker, who correctly predicted the housing crash, forecasts a "big fall-off in purchases for the rest of the 2010 and even into 2011."

If he's right, and there is good reason to believe that he is, home prices should continue to fall and next February could be the optimum time to buy.

The time to sell looks like it won't arrive for at least another year.

The Great Recession marches on.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Arizona needs to get a grip

Fresh off its recent law that will likely result in racial profiling, Arizona isn't done with the P.R. disasters.

The Republican governor signed a bill into law Tuesday that targets ethnic studies programs in the public schools. Even the United Nations had to weigh in on this one by condemning the measure.

From the Associated Press story: "The measure ... prohibits classes that advocate ethnic solidarity, that are designed primarily for students of a particular race or that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group."

Apparently the state schools chief has been after the Tucson school district's Mexican-American studies program that he claims teaches Latinos they are oppressed by white people.

From the AP story again: "About 1,500 students at six high schools are enrolled in the Tucson district's program. Elementary and middle school students also are exposed to the ethnic studies curriculum. The district is 56 percent Hispanic, with nearly 31,000 Latino students."

As for promoting resentment toward a certain ethnic group, well, the state may have to throw out most of its social studies textbooks that take a pejorative look at African-Americans and Hispanics.

Latinos in Arizona don't need any lessons on racial resentment, they've endured it in Arizona and elsewhere for decades.

As I posted before, my dad remembers the segregated public pools in the 1920s and 1930s in Arizona when white kids and Mexican kids couldn't swim together.

I don't know why whites feel so threatened by minority students learning about their legacies in our culture. What is to be gained by not learning?

It seems that the state school czar, Tom Horne, who happens to be running as a Republican for attorney general, has been peeved "ever since he learned that Hispanic civil rights activist Dolores Huerta told students in 2006 that 'Republicans hate Latinos,' " the AP reported.

I think Arizona, with this new law and the "racial profiling" one, has demonstrated that the Republican leadership in the Grand Canyon state doesn't really like all those Latinos.

But they love Mexican food. Don't we all.

Doesn't Arizona have anything better to do? Like take all that sunshine and become energy independent.

No, it must antagonize Hispanics who will someday become the majority population in Arizona. The Census Bureau reports that in 2008 about 58 percent of Arizonans were white while 30 percent were Hispanic, a percentage that is double the national average.

We're turning brown, my friends. That's just the way it is.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

JPMorgan Chase chastened

JPMorgan Chase is now worried that more homeowners with "underwater" mortgages will act like, well, Chase's partner in crime Morgan Stanley, by defaulting on their loans.

Check out this story.

The investment-banking pyramid scheme is based on the premise that the fools at the bottom will continue to pay those at the top when it's not in their financial interests to do so. Afterall, those at the top need to maintain those billions in bonuses while those at the bottom lose their jobs.

Morgan Stanley is a master at "strategic defaults" because it knows it helps the bottom line -- bigtime.

From the Huffington Post story: "About one in eight defaults in February were strategic, according to the an April 29 research note by a team of Morgan Stanley analysts led by Vishwanath Tirupattur. Strategic defaults are those in which the homeowner could have continued to make payments but chose not to. The rate of strategic defaults has tripled since mid-2007, notes Tirupattur."

(Morgan Stanley was spun off of JP Morgan in the the 1930s when the Glass-Steagall Act forced commercial and investment-banking activities to be separated. Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, which helped fuel the Great Recession.)

In January, I urged homeowners in Central Oregon, where home values have fallen by 50 percent, to walk away and save their sanity, not to mention their financial health.

Check out my previous posting from Jan. 25, for more detail.

Late last year, Morgan Stanley walked away from five office buildings in San Francisco, losing about half of its $8 billion investment.

As Roger Lowenstein noted in a New York Times Magazine article in January:

"A Morgan Stanley fund purchased the buildings at the height of the boom, and their value has plunged. Nobody said Morgan Stanley is immoral -- perhaps because no one assumed it was moral to begin with."

And yet, somehow it's immoral for a desperate family to act like Morgan Stanley and walk away from their financial obligations.

Even Freddie Mac, a culprit in the current crisis, is now concerned about strategic defaults.

From the Huffington Post story: " 'While I understand how that might well be a good decision for certain borrowers, that doesn't make it good social policy,' argued Freddie executive vice president Don Bisenius in a May 3 note. His main argument? It affects neighbors' property values."

Well, actually, strategic defaults threaten the viability of Freddie Mac and JPMorgan Chase among others.

More homeowners with underwater mortgages, where they owe far more than what their home is worth, should do the Morgan Stanley thing and strategically default. It's financially prudent and the right thing for you and your family. Even Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase would see the wisdom in such a move.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Deer in my back yard

I left the double gate open over the weekend after hauling some yard debris off to the dump.

Well, two deer, a young buck and a small doe wandered into our large fenced back yard. They nibbled on weeds while a neighbor's cat relaxed right next to them. Feeling content, the deer decided to lay down and rest for awhile.

After about an hour, they showed no signs of leaving when the rest of the herd, six more does, moseyed on in for a little afternoon snack. After munching away for about an hour they all decided to lay down throughout the yard.

We had never seen anything like this in our back yard before even though deer our common in our neighborhood. Meanwhile, a gray squirrel danced along our deck railing after jumping into the bird feeder and loading up. Neither the squirrel nor the deer paid any attention to each other.

Finally, another neighbor cranked up his lawnmower and this got the deer up and moving. They scampered to a corner of our lot, before they realized the only way out was the way they came in.

And so, one by one, they all wandered away after about four hours in our yard.

Just another day in Bend.

It's 6-3, but momentum is shifting

With Elena Kagan's nomination, and likely confirmation, to the Supreme Court, the role of women in public life leaps forward.

Kagan was the first female Solicitor General and the first woman dean of Harvard Law.

This is yet another milestone that is long overdue. As bright as men can be, we will not have true justice in this country until there are five women justices on the Supreme Court.

Women outnumber men in the population and need to outnumber men on the bench.

With Kagan on board there will be six men and three women on the court. Kagan is Jewish, which brings that number up to three, while Catholics hold six seats. We'll likely hear new conspiracy theories about why Protestants are shut out on the high court for the first time ever. Religion shouldn't matter, but it does. We still define and divide ourselves in a number of ways, with religion ranking right behind race.

I don't care what religion she is or that she might be a lesbian as was "whispered" by the media last week. What matters to me is that she continues the progressive and enlightened positions of her predecessor John Paul Stevens. She can't fall into the regressive/reactionary camp of Scalia-Alito-Roberts-Thomas.

And, she must be able to bring the "swing" justice, Anthony Kennedy, over to the progressive side. That'll be her number one job.

Much is being said about her lack of direct judicial experience. Two previous justices without judicial experience happen to be Earl Warren and William Rehnquist, both who became the Chief Justice of the high court. Warren was a visionary justice while Rehnquist was a reactionary one.

Kagan, at 50, could eventually become Chief Justice, but let's all hope she earns her stripes by bringing the law into the 21st Century while fending off attempts to send it back to the 19th Century.

Even though it's not coming as fast or in the manner as most of us would like, change is still coming to America.

And that's a good thing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Business knows best

With Republicans controlling the federal government for much of the Aughties, they were able to do what they've always wanted: emasculate government oversight of business. The result was disaster after preventable disaster. Check out this piece.

After being warned of a pending attack, the Republican-controlled government let the market speak. The result: 9-11.

When Hurricane Katrina was wiping out New Orleans, government let the market for disaster play itself out.

By not bothering to rein in the crooks on Wall Street, we had the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression. Oh yeah, they did get Martha Stewart on that $50,000 she scored through an inside tip, but they didn't catch Bernie Madoff's $50 billion scam. The SEC knew what was happening in the financial markets, but the marketplace is a beautiful thing, it always corrects itself. Yeah, right.

Twenty-nine coal miners lost their lives last month because the mine's owner knew he could ignore federal regulators.

Now, we have the BP oil slick disaster that probably could have been prevented if their had been some federal oversight.

It'll take the Obama administration longer than 15 months to clean up the mess, not to mention two undeclared wars, left behind by the last administration.

Republicans run for government office by being anti-government. They say that government is inept and they get elected to prove that point.

What is amazing is that the GOP can convince Americans they care about them.

What a country.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It's the infrastructure, stupid

I've constantly whined about Bend's aversion to maintaining, let alone improving, its infrastructure, which are roads, water, sewer, storm drains, parks, schools and decent croissants.

I am not alone. Apparently, this is a nationwide phenomenon with roots all the way back to the Reagan era. Check out this story for a little background.

The problem with infrastructure is the word infrastructure. It's something for engineers to get excited about, but not your average citizen.

But, roads are something we see everyday when we turn the key on our autos and watch the globe warm.

And sewers, well, we'd rather not think about them, but our butts do. It's all part of the circle of life from "The Lion King."

The bottom line is if we don't improve our infrastructure, we're talking backed-up sewers. After that, who cares about roads or anything else.

But, that's where we are as a city and a nation. Our collective sewer is backed up and our solution is to throw a tea party.

I guess it's better than fiddling while the oil slick burns.

Bend featured on Colbert Report

Yes, for all you doubters out there, Bend has finally arrived.

Though we've been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and countless talk shows, nothing compares to being "a special report" on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."

Appropriately, the segment is titled "The Enemy Within," an ongoing Colbert Report series.

You can't buy advertising like this.

It's what makes Bend "special."

Here's the link.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's time to arm the terrorists

Republicans in Congress are concerned that the fight with the terrorists isn't fair. They want suspected terrorists to be able to buy firearms, including assault weapons. Check this story out.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a liberal Republican, urged the government to close a "terror gap," where suspected terrorists on no-fly lists would be barred from buying firearms.

But, he discovered that the "right to bear arms" is the most essential freedom Americans have. Of course, it's merely the 2nd Amendment, but, in time, it'll shoot its way to 1st.

Two GOP senators, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, argued that if we allow the government to ban gun sales to suspected terrorists where will this slippery slope lead us. Could it mean that we couldn't sell handguns to the suicidal? Or that those who want to assassinate the president can't even get a hunting rifle to do so?

Naturally, Republicans have no problems suspending other constitutional rights for terror suspects arrested in this country, like habeas corpus, a legal principle that dates to 1215.

From the Huffington Post story: "Like many of his fellow Republicans, Graham assailed the administration for respecting the constitutional rights of suspected terrorists, suggesting instead that they should be treated like enemies on the battlefield."

And, like enemies on the battlefield, we should sell them assault weapons. Yeah, right.

Apparently, some Republicans believe the only constitutional right a terror suspect has, is the right to arm himself.

Please! There is no way we can ever win the "war on terror" if we are willing to sell them arms to kill us. Is it more important to help our firearm manufacturers meet their sales quotas than to protect Americans from terrorists?

Obviously, some Republicans and gun nuts fear our government more than they fear the terrorists.

Isn't that pathetic.

Another one rides the bus

In its monthly newsletter inserted in utility bills, the city of Bend noted that BAT is a hit.

BAT is Bend Area Transit, a limited fixed-bus route system that the city and its voters rejected for years until it started up, barely, in September 2006. Until then, Bend was the largest city in at least the western half of the country without a transit system. Smaller cities such as Corvallis and Klamath Falls in Oregon started bus systems years ago.

Anyway, the city's newsletter says that before BAT it spent $1.1 million in 2005 to provide federally-subsidized Dial-A-Ride totaling 99,759 boardings of mostly senior citizens.

In 2010, the city spends the same amount for BAT and Dial-A-Ride but with more than 372,000 boardings that include seniors, students and everyone else in town.

Now, the naysayers will point out, "A-ha. The bus system doesn't make any money. In fact, no transit system in America shows a profit."

Breaking even on a transit system. while serving almost 4 times as many people, is far superior to what all roads in Oregon make, which is nothing. In fact, Oregon streets, boulevards and highways are a significant drain on city, county and state budgets.

What BAT does is provide modest transportation for people who have no other means of getting around town. It's socialist, I know. But, it does transport people to their jobs, which are capitalist jobs.

Bend didn't want to add a transit system, but some gutsy city councilors voted to okay it. City staff tried to undermine that decision by buying worthless used buses for $200,000 that had to be scrapped in about a year. The city, then, had to spend a far greater sum for new buses. Not once did any city official contact the statewide transit organization for advice or guidance.

In this regard Bend is the opposite of what Oregon is known for: progressiveness. Many of Bend's streets do not have sidewalks, let alone decent bike lanes. Bend was designed for the automobile, the Model-T.

On a recent trip to Portland, it was easy to get around downtown on its MAX and trolley systems. We bumped into a couple that had moved to downtown Portland a year ago. Where did they move from? Southeast Portland. And they love living the car-free life.

Of course, Portland is about 10 times the size of Bend, but still, it's a forward-thinking place whereas Bend doesn't spend much time thinking. Bend has the same mentality toward growth that could be found in California in the 1960s: unrestrained and with minimal oversight.

Bend is trying to work with Redmond to create a regional transit system, but that'll be years, if not decades, before something workable emerges.

In the meantime, we have BAT and that's a start.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Election recommendations

Even though the primary ballot is loaded with various elections and issues, it doesn't come close to the hype of the January special election when voters overwhelmingly approved two tax hike measures.

Republicans are making the passage of those measures the sole focus of the general election in November. Seems like a losing proposition since Oregonians said yes to increasing income tax on the rich and boosting the minimum corporate tax from $10 to $150, the first such hike at all since 1931.

Still, we have the primary to wade through on May 18. Republicans dominate in Deschutes County, so it is pointless for a Democrat to even run in any county-wide partisan race. Also, most races feature token opposition or no opposition at all.

That being said, the non-partisan race for district attorney pits longtime D.A. and leader of local Democrats, Mike Dugan, against his former employee, Patrick Flaherty, who left the office a couple of years ago after a state audit showed he was toxic in the D.A.'s office.

Republicans are backing Flaherty, which is reason enough to be opposed to him. However, Dugan does a fine job and there is no reason he should be voted out.

Dugan's wife, Judy Stiegler, is running unopposed to retain her state House seat. She faces a formidable opponent in the fall, Jason Conger, not because he has any record of public service, but because Republicans see Stiegler as vulnerable since she supported the January tax hikes when her Bend district did not. Democrats narrowly outnumber Republicans in Stiegler's district with independents deciding the outcome.

By November, the tax hikes will be ancient history. The irony is that Bend and Deschutes County stand to benefit from the tax increases. Tax revenue from the Portland area will end up subsidizing state services here.

There are three measures on the ballot, two statewide issues that benefit all levels of education and one local one to expand the local jail.

It's fitting that these measures are on the ballot since Oregon has increased spending 50 percent on prisons in the last 15 years while slashing spending for higher education by 44 percent. See previous entries here and here.

It's time to restore a semblance of balance. Vote "No" on the jail bond. It isn't needed because crime has declined and there are empty beds available.

Vote "Yes" on both education measures.

Measure 68 allows the state to issue bonds to match voter-approved school district bonds for school capital costs.

Measure 69 "continues and modernizes authority for lowest cost borrowing for community colleges and public universities."

Education in Oregon needs any and all tools available to put money towards education where it's essential so that we don't have to throw more money at the prison-industrial complex.

Also, it's critical that people vote because the jail bond measure is NOT subject to the double-majority rule that mandates more than 50 percent turnout and more than 50 percent approval.

Monday, May 3, 2010

iPad, iHype, iBend

In another bit of mindless trivia, Net Applications (whatever that is) claims that Bend is No. 5 in the nation for highest percentage of iPad owners.

Bend trails only San Francisco, Grand Junction, Colo., Santa Barbara and Honolulu, according to the May 1 report. See story here.

Amid our high unemployment (around 15 percent), our record number of defaults and foreclosures and with our recent voter-approved tax hikes, how is it possible that Bend could rank so high in conspicuous consumption?

Apparently, we have plenty of people here with disposable income. Or their credit cards aren't tapped out. Or they're rich grandmothers with a penchant for gadgets, according to this article.

While the iPhone was the best invention ever by Apple, the iPad, a fancy e-book reader, is likely to be an expensive paper weight even though Apple sold more than a million iPads quicker than the first iPhone.

The iPhone contains all that any young hipster needs to get along in this iworld. That's why they're called the iGeneration. It's no longer about "me," it's about "i."

Grandmothers, too, love the iPhone, which is replacing the notebook/netbook computer as the dominant idevice.

Bend received dubious press in the 1980s when it ranked No. 1 for percentage of VCR owners.
It meant then that there was either nothing to do in Bend or that our credit cards hadn't maxed out yet. Possibly both.

And, we have ranked in the top 10 for percentage of hybrid vehicle owners during the Aughties.

Here we are again on the "cutting edge" of hipness. Who knew that Bend could be so trendy or "cool."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Another government bailout

(Warning: a satirical entry)

Just returned from a weekend trip to Portland and was surprised to read that the teabaggers are not in an uproar over the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP (British Petroleum) oil-drilling platform fire that has claimed 11 human lives. (The lives of fish or birds don't count. Their lives matter even less than natives of India who perish on bus crashes.)

Yes, the oil spill will likely far surpass the disaster of the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska. Yes, fishing has been stopped from Louisiana to Florida, even though those anglers account for a mere third of the entire U.S. haul. And yes, most importantly, the price of oil is likely to rise.

But, why does the U.S. government need to take over this oil spill like it did the banks and the auto companies? What does the government know about oil drilling let alone massive oil spills?

Can't the government let the environment fail? Afterall, if we fix it now, what does that mean for the future -- the dreaded "moral hazard."

If we bail out pelicans and shrimp now, what does that mean for sea otters and seagulls when the next oil spill happens? They'll be lining up like for federal aid like investment bankers at a short sale.

It's something the government hasn't fully considered.

An environmental disaster caused by a card-carrying member of Big Oil is something that only Big Oil knows how to fix.

I mean, who cleaned up Prince William Sound after the Exxon disaster in1989?

Okay, so it's still not entirely cleaned up? But, like the saying goes, --it happens.

We can't let a little 130-mile-long-by-70-mile-wide oil slick stop us from further drilling along our coastlines.

Because, if we don't drill in the gulf, off our coastlines or in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, then we'll be buying from OPEC and face more 9/11-type terrorist attacks.

The bottom line is this: either we terrorize our own environment or let the Islamic extremists terrorize us.

Which one do you prefer?