Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Geese gassed in Bend

Just in time for the summer tourism season, the park district in Bend decided to gas 109 Canada geese from Drake Park along the Deschutes River, the city's iconic location.

Fed up with the perpetual poop, the park district rounded up the geese Tuesday morning, took them to a district shop and then forced them one at a time into a trash-can-sized enclosure filled with carbon dioxide and held them there until the thrashing about ended.

As with all gassings, it was meant to be quick and humane, the park district told the daily newspaper.

And, to make this palatable to the outraged masses, the park district was going to donate the gassed goose meat to area food banks.

That's the ticket, foie gras or goose pate. Don't let Mr. Creosote (from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life") know about it or he'll check in at the Bethlehem Inn, the city's homeless motel.

Evidently, years of forced birth control and oiling of eggs so that the goslings die, didn't reduce the geese population significantly enough for the park district. In fact, these measures stabilized the population at around 200 at the park. And, believe it or not, Canada geese, as well as the Mallards, were an attraction at Drake park.

Thank god the park district didn't try a shootout on the Deschutes. We would then have to name the river the Gooshoots River. Can you imagine scores of NRA types on either side of the river blasting away at the geese and goslings swimming in the water? Apparently, the recent explosion at a nearby bullet factory, Nosler Bullets, ended that brilliant idea.

When you create a habitat that attracts waterfowl, it's absurd to be outraged that the geese would settle here. A couple of decades ago, it was Mallard ducks that proved to be the problem. The park district netted them and shipped them off to parts a hundred miles away. In their absence, the geese moved in and there went the neighborhood, according to the Mallards. Now, with the geese gassed, the place is safe for Mallards again.

As we now know, geese and ducks are avoiding rural areas and moving into the cities of the Northwest because there is plenty of food and hunters aren't allowed. These bird brains have figured this out.

The Canada geese or Mallards will return. They will poop. And people will still visit the park in droves. Nothing gained, nothing changed.

But as always, blame Canada.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dudley tosses up another 'Air Ball'

When you have more money than brains, you can do just about anything you want.

You can run for governor of Oregon as a Republican even if you have no experience in leadership or government.

You can also send out a mailer to a registered Democrat asking for money even when your campaign war chest dwarfs your opponent's.

Chris "Air Ball" Dudley sent out a mass mailer this week and I received one today. He has two claims to fame: He played professional basketball for five NBA teams, including the Portland Trail Blazers, over a 16-year career and he's had diabetes since he was a teen-ager.

Having such a long, if forgettable, NBA career is impressive. So is dealing with diabetes on a daily basis. But, does this qualify anyone to be governor of Oregon?

The answer is NO.

Dudley has the most important thing going for him: money, and lots of it.

His Democratic opponent and former governor, John Kitzhaber, is worried about Dudley's dough and how it can influence the election. Plus, Dudley has other NBA friends who are millionaires and these millionaires know other millionaires. Such is the rarefied air of overly tall men.

Dudley has so much money on hand that he's already spending it on TV ads in mid-June. These ads, crafted by the crew that shaped Arnold Schwarzenegger's successful gubernatorial runs in California, are designed to paint a warm and fuzzy portrait of Dudley.

Fuzzy is what they are because they make it seem like Dudley is running for presidency of the diabetes association rather than for governor of the Beaver State.

Dudley won a crowded GOP field in the May Primary, but he certainly didn't excite the Republican base because so few bothered to vote for him. He got just under 123,000 votes. Overall, roughly 369,000 Democrats voted for their three candidates, while the nine Republicans split roughly 312,000 votes.

Dudley is a social moderate which wouldn't attract primary voters anyway. But, it could attract un-affiliated voters in November. Still, he has a steep climb, just from a numbers standpoint.

As for his nickname, "Air Ball," Dudley achieved that status by tossing up air balls from the free throw line, when absolutely no one was between him and the basket, during his NBA career.

Dudley is heaving up air balls once again since he seems to be throwing his money towards the basket and he's not even close.

Yes, Dudley, a pleasant and dull man, may capture 48 percent of the vote, but in these post-2000 elections, that would be considered a landslide defeat.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tax increases draw business to Oregon

When Oregonians overwhelmingly passed two tax measures last January, the conventional wisdom of a handful of newspaper editors said that this would be the end of Oregon. Businesses would flee the state to lower taxed states such as Idaho.

Well, check out this story from Portland's daily paper about how IBM expects to add 600 jobs to its newly-acquired company in Beaverton.

Of course, the anti-government crowd will say that 600 jobs is insignificant and far more than that will be lost to the state. In the absence of any proof that companies are fleeing Oregon for Idaho or any other state because of the tax measures, let's just say that companies are in awe of Oregon because it believes in itself enough to tax itself.

Oregon believes in education. It believes in health care for all. It believes in representative government. It believes in everyone paying their fair share.

Good job, Oregon. The jobs are coming.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Media strains to find election theme

While voters in a dozen states had their say on Tuesday, corporate media tried in vain to paint that statement with a broad brush.

Is anti-incumbent fever sweeping the land? Are tea-baggers tilting Republicans and the nation to the extreme right? Are Democrats doomed?

The short answer to those questions is "no," but as with all elections, there were exceptions Tuesday as there will be in November. As with many elections, it was mixed bag with no clear trend emerging.

Elections are local affairs that have their own peculiarities.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., was presumed dead before Tuesday. She survived to possibly win another term. The anti-Washington sentiment failed spectacularly there.

Tea Party candidates had middling success, but suffered three defeats in Virginia where the right-wing governor turned his attention to the Lost Cause in April and was roundly booed for doing so.

The big Tea Party surprise occurred in Nevada, where tea-bagger Sharron Angle defeated her GOP challengers to face Harry Reid.

Reid, considered the most vulnerable of Democrats, should have a cake-walk in November because Angle is a certifiable nutcase. Check out this story. Here's a slice:

Angle embraces the "patriot group Oath Keepers, whose membership of uniformed soldiers and police take an oath to refuse orders they see as unconstitutional -- including enforcement of gun laws, violations of states' sovereignty, and 'any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.' "

Well, isn't that special?

But, for sheer fruitiness, no one compares to queen birther Orly Taitz, who ran for secretary of state in California. Republican leaders were frightened at the possibility of Taitz running in November and made sure she was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin. Still, she got nearly 400,000 votes, which shows there are a lot of kooks (and racists) running around in California. Another birther was spanked in South Dakota. For background on Taitz and the birther movement, check out this Wikipedia link.

California millionaires, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, easily won their GOP senate and governor's races, respectively. They spent millions on their primaries and will sink millions more into the general election. Fiorina, who almost ran HP into the ground (I will never buy another HP product), and Whitman, who fled eBay before she could do much harm, prove that elections are decided by big money. Here's hoping that they squander their fortunes by losing to Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown and in failing to boost their own bloated egos.

Speaking of money, this last link should show everyone, tea-baggers and the quasi-angry alike, what is truly wrong with our country. We have an incomprehensibly high national debt, and this story, about a deceased billionaire evading all inheritance taxes, from Texas no less, is one reason why.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

To serve -- and to prosper

What is the point in serving on government panels, boards, councils, committees or sub-committees if you're not going to get paid for your time?

Well, you do what developers, builders and Realtors have been doing for years in Bend and Deschutes County: getting insider information to make a killing. Or, securing long-term leases for various government entities in a faltering business "park." Or, finagling favorable rulings from the entities they serve so that they can make even more money.

That's what "serving" means to these folks - personal wealth, and better yet, at government expense.

The most recent case is of the Cyrus family of Sisters. The Cyruses developed a subdivision called Aspen Lakes that includes a golf course. They want to convert it to a destination resort, they say, to become more profitable. But, county and state rules forbid that.

Enter Keith Cyrus. He serves on the county planning commission, but recuses himself from voting on issues that affect his business.

Still, according to the daily newspaper, he's had many conversation with county commissioners as has his son, Matt Cyrus about their desperate need to convert Aspen Lakes into a destination resort. In fact, Matt Cyrus got the county on Monday to grant an exemption to Aspen Lakes so that it could become a destination resort. This last-minute switcheroo occurred just as the public-comment period expired.

Whew, doesn't that reek!

The state, hopefully, will slap down this back-room dealing and prevent the Cyruses from going through with their plans.

Deschutes County is home to a number of destination resorts from Sunriver to Eagle Crest. Destination resorts have huge impacts on their neighboring cities but avoid paying taxes to offset even a portion of the impacts.

At Eagle Crest on Redmond's west end, the developers, Jeld-Wen, fought tooth and nail from being included in Redmond's city limits because Redmond's city taxes are the highest in the region. So, when Eagle Crest's sewer system failed, and it failed in a most odorous fashion, they coerced the city to let the resort hook up to the city's system. Yes, they would pay for upgrades to the sewage treatment facility, but little else.

These developers are, in a sense, anti-community. They want the benefits of living in Central Oregon without having to pay their fair share.

Recently, Matt Cyrus, who serves on the Sisters School District budget committee, had the gall to write in The (Sisters) Nugget that raises to teachers over the past few years are bankrupting the district. That is complete bullshit. Sisters' teachers are lucky to even get a 2 percent raise per year and then those are usually negated when the school year is cut short, which has happened frequently over the past decade. Decreased funding from the state because of the Great Recession is the reason for the school district's deficit.

Most people who serve on boards do so because they want to give back to their communities. Clearly, others want to take more from their communities.

It is time to end the practice of letting developers, builders and Realtors serve on government panels so that they can have undue influence over land-use issues.

A note to tea-baggers out there: This is an issue to be an angry about.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

News alert! Bend is in Oregon, afterall

City staff and cheerleaders at the local daily are indignant that the state is telling Bend how it can grow. Their collective panties are in such a wad, they can barely sit down and listen to what the state has to say.

We are "different!" city staffers shout. We are "special," the daily's pontificators' scream.

And, being that different and that special means we deserve special rights that are better than anyone else's in the state.

Specifically, the city believes it should be able to expand its urban growth boundary by 40 percent to accommodate future growth.

Never mind that the city can't even supply sewer service to at least half of its homeowners. Or that the city cannot supply a storm drainage system to any of its citizens. Or that the city cannot create a grid system to safely accommodate Bend's modest traffic. In fact, the city can't even patch its potholes in a timely matter. Why would anyone think this mess should expand?

City planners are shocked that the state would question Bend's inability to manage growth at the most basic level. The daily newspaper is outraged that anyone outside this city would have any standing to question anything the city wants to do.

Well, news for them all: Bend is part of Oregon and must abide by Oregon's laws.

In the daily newspaper's Saturday edition, the editors reprinted an op-ed piece from a state land-use board member titled by the editors: "Bend should embrace 'positive change' and develop more densely."

The author argues with a measured, reasoned essay about Bend's terribly flawed plan to expand. (Warning: The Bulletin is a pay-per-view site and, of course, isn't worth a pay per view.)

In response, the daily newspaper wrote a long, hysterical diatribe in its customary arrogant tone titled "LCDC member's insulting lecture." The editorial resembled a petulant juvenile's response to an adult's temperate advice. No wonder that state leaders wonder what the hell is going on over here.

Check here for another critical review of the daily's position.

The city has plenty of undeveloped land, foreclosed homes and unbuilt subdivisions to last at least 20 years, which is the state's minimum number of years for expansion.

What the city doesn't have is any feasible plan to extend the sewer system to even 55 percent of its citizens or a storm drainage system to serve even 10 percent of its citizens. The greatest public safety hazard is the city's own road system and it has no realistic way of fixing this dire public safety hazard.

Thank god we have the state to slap some sense into the city planners' heads. Too bad the state can't slap any sense into the daily's editorialists' heads. Not that they would bother.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The myth of overtaxation

Here's a timely article about how Americans, no matter how much we whine, are taxed lower now than we've been for decades and Americans are taxed much less than most of the developed world.

Of course, this does little, if anything, to change the false perception that high taxation is killing our economy. All we really hear from corporate media is that taxes need to be cut to stimulate the economy.

Meanwhile, our cities, our schools and our colleges are declining. The less we invest in ourselves, and our core institutions, the less we become.

Predictably, the corporate media response is to reframe the debate that says public employees' salaries, benefits and pensions, that are paid for by all that taxation, are preventing our recovery.

In the boom times, the narrative is vastly different. It goes like this: Public employees are mocked for their steady, boring jobs where workers make much less than their counterparts in the private sector. In fact, jobs of teachers, police officers and firemen are considered lesser fields because of the cap on earnings.

Well, now that the economy has tanked, caused mainly by the very rich, those boring, steady public sector jobs become highly valued. Those who lost their high-paying jobs turn their anger toward public sector workers and their steady, benefit-laden jobs.

It's like the fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare. During the high-flying times, the hare taunts the tortoise. The hare gets so proud and self-congratulatory about his prowess that he is unaware that his prosperity is illusory. Lo and behold, the stodgy tortoise passes him.

This is where we are right now. The public sector tortoise is whipping the private sector hare.

Instead of working harder or running faster, though, the hare cries foul and claims the race isn't fair afterall. The tortoise cheated, the hare claims.

This type of class warfare is promoted by corporate media because it averts attention from the real problem: Wall Street and its destruction of our economy. But, who wants to fight the rich when we all believe we'll be that rich someday? That's the biggest charade of all. We all won't be that rich, not even close.

Better to be a tortoise and win the rat race, than the hare and lose it all.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Nearly 100, Wizard of Westwood dies

For those interested in the most successful coach in any sport ever, check out the Los Angeles Times piece on the passing of John Wooden, the longtime coach at UCLA, at the age of 99.

You would expect such long-form journalism from the Times, but I think the piece represents an end of another era as well - the substantive newspaper story.

The Times covers all the main elements of Wooden's life and years at UCLA, including the fact that a notorious booster helped UCLA achieve such prominence.

Still, 10 national championships, with seven in a row plus an 88-game winning streak show that it wasn't just a booster that made it all possible. No, it was Wooden, the man who made sure his players knew how to lace up their sneakers, plus players such as Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.

Wooden was a winner. He led his high school to the state championship. He led Purdue to its only national championship.

Sad to see him go. His accomplishments will never be surpassed.

Cutting classes -- schools to let out early

With an additional 9 percent cut levied across the state just last month after school districts made substantial cuts, many local districts won't wait to start cutting again.

In Sisters, the school year will end two days earlier, with the elementary and middle schools getting out Tuesday, June 8, instead of Thursday and the high school going until a half-day on Wednesday.

District staff voted to cut two student-contact days because teachers had already surrendered 3.5 non-student contact days this year to help balance the budget. Unfortunately, everyone has to share the burdens of the Great Recession, including students. Teachers already agreed to forego any pay raises next school year.

These two days won't solve Sisters budget problems next year, because they won't make up the additional $534,000 in cuts that have to be made.

Bend-La Pine will cut two days and Redmond three days. They'll have to whittle more days next year as well.

There are some in the community who believe schoolchildren should be shielded from the effects of the Great Recession. To their credit, the school districts have managed to protect almost all their programs, curricular and extra-curricular, this school year. Teachers and support staff have borne the brunt of the cuts because their salaries make up 80 percent of a school budget.

Of course, there is a downside to all of this. Students have less time in school, teachers and staff make less money and less money flows back into the community as a result. It's really a death-spiral and quite the opposite of a win-win situation.

More so than any district in the region, and perhaps the state, the Sisters community rallies around its three schools. They're a source of community pride. Sisters is the only city in this half of the state to twice approve local option levies to maintain as many programs as possible while keeping class sizes manageable.

When Gov. Ted Kulongoski ordered across-the-board 9 percent reduction last month, it meant schools statewide suddenly had $234 million less to work with.

Republican lawmakers, the ones who usually demand across-the-board cuts, whined that the legislature should decide cuts in a special session so that schoolchildren and the most vulnerable could be shielded somewhat. What a laugher. Republicans are always the ones that want to make cuts in schools and social services. Give them a special session and they'll further gut schools and social services.

Local school budgets, followed by cuts:

Bend-La Pine: $120 million, $6.5 million
Redmond: $55 million, $2.6 million
Sisters: $12 million, $1.2 million

Recently, the Chalkboard Project, funded by prominent Oregon philanthropies that also dislike unions, released a report showing how $500,000 could be saved in Central Oregon through efficiencies. That's nice, but with local school budgets totaling about $200 million, $500,000, as much as that is, isn't going to bring many school days back, if any.

Times are tough.

Thank god we have any empty prison up in Madras. At the rate we're diminishing education statewide, our students will fill that slammer in a few years.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bizarre Bend story goes national - puzzles readers

For those who don't watch Fox News or tabloid TV shows, you probably missed this crazy tale of a former liquor control worker for the state based in Bend. The bars and restaurants hated "Jason Evers" for his bogus reports on violations of state liquor laws.

Turns out "Evers" was actually Doitchin Krasev, a Bulgarian, who came to live with an American diplomat and his wife in the early 1990s. He stole the name of Jason Evers who was murdered as a 3-year-old in Ohio in 1982, bringing renewed pain to that family.

Anyway, this AP story goes into more depth, but readers on the Huffington Post were not impressed:

"Thank G)D this wasn't printed on paper. It would have been a total waste of a tree."

"Either something is missing or this story is mysteriously irrelevant."

"What exactly did this guy do, and why is it news?"

"So he changed his identity illegally a bunch of times and lived in secrecy? So what?"

The story was interesting to some people in Oregon and Ohio, but beyond that, it's a head-scratcher for most people, evidently.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bend goes down-scale

When Trader Joe's opened in Bend two years ago, residents could say that their city had finally arrived.

But, as the Great Recession lingers on, we're seeing a new trend of retail that caters to the more desperate.

On Third Street, in the former McMahon's furniture store, another Cash & Carry is opening up. And, where Linens 'N Things once operated near Costco, we will soon see Big Lots, which sells closeout and overstocked merchandise.

Now, I personally will shop at these stores. I have nothing against them. But, it shows that Bend is more a Wal-Mart kind of town, where bargains, even if they're just by pennies, are preferred over selection, service and community support.

This counters the perception that the upscale Old Mill District tries to project for Bend. The Old Mill District has high-end retailers from Orvis to Banana Republic, where shoppers are hard to find.

Yet, retailers like Ross Dress For Less and T.J. Maxx, both selling closeout and overstocked clothing and other items, enjoy brisk business on Bend's northern end. Also, closeout food retailer Grocery Outlet does better than Trader Joe's. It sometimes has better deals on good wines and gourmet cheeses.

On the south end, at the Factory Outlet mall, virtually the entire northern half is now empty.

Yes, there are a lot of rich people in Bend, but their numbers are dwindling in the face of record defaults and foreclosures. The fantasy of a Nordstrom setting up shop in Bend, a fantasy that dates back more than 20 years, will not become real for years now, if ever.

Bend is settling back into the mode of a logging town, even though logs haven't been milled in Bend in more than 15 years. What we have is a lower middle class struggling to get by, day by day, paycheck to paycheck.

Such is the face of the Great Recession in Bend.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Israel is a burden on U.S.

The chief of Mossad, Israel's legendary secret service, apparently pointed out to leaders in Israel, in light of the flotilla failure, that Israel is becoming a burden on the U.S.

Well, no shit.

We are in Iraq, in some respects, because of the neo-cons in the Bush Administration who were looking out for Israel. (In most respects, we are in Iraq because of oil. This second go-round with Iraq is now known as the Second Petroleum War.)

Americans have always cared about Israel. Heck, in 1973, when I started college, I was all fired up for Israel after it was attacked in the Yom Kippur War.

But that's nearly 40 years ago. Times have changed. When scud missiles rained down on Israel during the First Petroleum War in 1991, Americans still defended Israel.

But then came 9-11 and Americans are now more concerned about America than Israel.

Israel is not our 51st state as some in the Israeli lobby would have us believe.

Israel is in the Middle East, which is home to the most intractable problem in the world. Palestinians and Arabs want the state of Israel to disappear. Israel wants to expand its settlements to counter this anti-Israel sentiment. There can be no winners, only losers.

Americans now know this. That is why many of us side with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip even though it's represented by Hamas, a brutal terrorist organization that wants to destroy Israel.

The narrative has changed from post-Holocaust sympathy for Israel to identification with the oppressed Palestinians.

Many in Israel know this change has occurred. They also know that Palestinians are reproducing faster than Israelis. In time, Israelis will be outnumbered. Hey, we got our own problems in America. Soon enough, Hispanics will outnumber all other ethnic groups in this country.

Israel is no longer America's obsession. Heck, most Americans couldn't even place it on a map.

In this post-Cold War era, Israel has become a burden that most Americans no longer want to shoulder. We don't care about the Middle East, because the Middle East doesn't care about itself.

Why would Iran, an Islamic state, want to obliterate Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites for Muslims? Maybe Iran does want to nuke Israel. In that case, Iran chooses suicide. And, if that's true, Americans would rather watch from the sidelines.

And, of course, it all boils down to oil. We're addicted to it and the Arabs have the goods.

Israel can only hope our addiction to oil lasts for years, otherwise we wouldn't care what happens in that god-forsaken corner of the world.

'Underwater' homeowners strike back

Just returned from a weekend wedding in the Seattle area. Nothing much has changed. The oil still gushes into the Gulf Of Mexico, Israel violently stops a flotilla of aid bound for the Gaza Strip, and Bend's cool, wet spring drizzles on.

Also, the New York Times finally catches up to a story that's been percolating for awhile: Homeowners are getting even with banks on their "underwater" mortgages where they owe far more than what the homes are worth.

Homeowners who are swamped with savings-draining mortgages are doing what banks would do: stop paying the mortgage. I know of someone in Bend who did this for months until their bank woke up and lowered their monthly mortgage by $800.

It's how you get the attention of banks. Talking, reasoning, negotiating with banks doesn't do much. When that monthly check stops coming in, the banks snap to attention. But, it can take them up to a year or more to realize you're not paying your monthly mortgage. This can allow you to save some money. This will help the overall economy because it puts more money into consumers' hands.

And, the banks don't want to be saddled with scores of foreclosed homes because they live for the short-term profit and those homes won't sell at a profit, if at all, for years. So, the next best thing is to take less money from the homeowner. While it means banks won't be as profitable, it does mean that they get some consistent revenue. It keeps people in their homes, stabilizes neighborhoods and helps the economy get back on track.

The lowly homeowner does have some power afterall. Seize it.