Saturday, August 28, 2010

White Fright

Glenn Beck attracted a large crowd to the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, and judging by photographs and video of the crowd, it looks to be almost 100 percent white in a city completely dominated by African-Americans.

Of course, photos and videos can lie. The "lamestream media" will do anything to present their point of view.

We hear that all the time from Beck and his teabagging mate, Sarah Palin. In fact, it is people like Beck, who are a part of this so-called "lamestream" media, making such insane claims.

No one should confuse Beck, though, with sanity. And, he has tapped into that irrational side of Americans. (The gathering Saturday was anything but grassroots. It was Astroturfed all the way. Check this piece for a little enlightenment. Or this essay.)

Beck's most popular phrase is "they just don't understand."

Who are "they" and what don't they understand?

Who knows? Certainly, not Beck or Palin or their teabagging teammates: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.

What was clearly obvious at the Beck bash is that a certain segment of white America is running scared, like they've wandered into the wrong neighborhood and don't know how or where to get out.

You hear comments about how people are "afraid" or how they're "scared" about what's happening to our country. You see the bumper stickers about "fearing" our government.


What these people are afraid of is that black man, a true African-American, is running our country and there isn't a damn thing they can do about it except whine until the cows come home.

What Beck and the teabaggers want to restore in America is the time-honored tradition of racism.

Beck and others talk of "American exceptionalism" (whatever that is) but our racism is no different than the racism practiced by most other nations on this earth. That's not exceptional, but rather painfully mundane and ordinary.

In the 1960s, Democrats had a coalition that included "Dixiecrats," southern racists who still harbored deep resentment over the first Republican, Abraham Lincoln, and would never become Republicans.

Well, the civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s, passed by the majority Democrats, began the long descent of the Republican Party into race-based politics. The GOP, the parent of the teabagging movement, now welcomes and embraces racists, as long as they vote for them.

Richard Nixon devised the "Southern" strategy but it was Ronald Reagan who championed the restoration of "whiteness" in America. Reagan sealed the deal with southern white racists and the south is now reliably Republican.

But, a majority chunk of America is not, including Oregon.

Most Americans can't understand people like Beck, Palin or the thousands who joined them on Saturday in D.C.

And, that's a good thing.

But, what the Beck rally confirmed is that we definitely do not live in a "post-racial" society.

Despite Obama's historic election, racism is still part of the definition of our country. Beck, himself, confirmed this when he called Obama a racist. This is common tactic of racists to deflect attention away from their own racism.

It is up to the rational Americans to reject the race-baiting rhetoric that Beck, Palin and the rest of "hatriots" practice.

They no longer represent the "silent majority" of the 1960s, but rather the "miserable minority" of the 21st century.

Let's make sure they stay a minority for years to come.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Outsourcing America

Now that outsourcing is the basis for a new comedy this fall on TV, we should all laugh together.

Or maybe it should be a ribald guffaw or perhaps a hearty chuckle.

In any case, we know the plot of this TV series well.

Our Fords our made in Hermosillo, Mexico, not far from where our "American" strawberries come from.

Our Mattel toys, Apple iPhones and everything in Lowe's, Home Depot, Walmart and Target come from China.

And if we have trouble with our Chinese-made Dell or HP computers, we can call Bangalore, India, for a little help.

I have, haven't you?

Thank god we have some diversity in our "American" clothing that is now made all over the world, from the Dominican Republic to Bangladesh to Vietnam.

And, aren't those Australian chardonnays good, and cheap. And those Chilean red wines sure taste fine and, yes, they are dirt cheap.

Welcome to the global economy where everything Americans create, produce or patent can be done cheaper somewhere else.

Okay, so we have high unemployment and we're enduring our third jobless recovery in the last 20 years or so, but isn't it amazing how much the price has dropped on those HDTVs.

One of these days, I may even buy one of those Samsungs or Vizios, when I can afford it.

The good thing about America is that we still have the market cornered on ideas and innovation.

Okay, our ideas consist of outsourcing all those dull jobs that Americans no longer want to do for half the wages they used to make. As for innovation, we can always buy all the innovation that is fit to buy with money borrowed from the communist Chinese.

Recently, a federal judge decided that rules, adopted by the Obama administration, relaxing the use of embryonic stem cells for research are illegal because they run afoul of legislation passed by Congress.

The talking heads on TV and radio assure us that the judge's ruling will likely stand.

We don't need to worry because someone else in some other country will gladly use embryonic stem cells in their research.

This makes sense, because the last thing we need to do in this country is find a cure for cancer or diabetes or Parkinson's disease.

I mean, why would a scientist in this country do such a thing when it can be done cheaper in South Korea or China or France or Germany or Japan or Great Britain or, for that matter, anywhere else.

That's the key to America. If it can be produced cheaper elsewhere, without union workers (who make up about 12 percent of our work force) along with their obscene pay and benefits, than we're all better for it.

Of course, anything our non-union engineers or scientists can do, some engineer or scientist in India can do it just as well and for a fraction of the cost. Same goes for our non-union financial analysts.

And when we outsource our teaching jobs, just think, our kids can start learning Mandarin in kindergarten without the dreaded union teachers. Think of the possibilities.

It will be weird, though and take some adjusting, when we outsource our open-heart surgeries, for example, to some guy operating a computer 10,000 miles away.

But, if anyone can do it, we can.

Yes, if a scientist in South Korea comes up with a cure for cancer using embryonic stem cells, we'll just have to import it like everything else.

And, it will likely be cheaper than anything discovered here.

At least, we'll have the moral high ground.

That always matters when there is money to be made.

Now, if we can only outsource our moral high ground. That would be the ticket.

Give us time, I'm sure we can figure that out.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bend No. 1 again

Yep, what goes up like a spec house in sagebrush, remains unsold like a spec house in Bend's upside down housing market.

It seemed like only yesterday when the Bend Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) had the fastest rate for home appreciation of the 303 MSAs that the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) tracks in its Housing Price Index (HPI).

Now, we're No. 303.

Yep, Bend leads the nation with the worst home depreciation after showing the same lead in the last quarter. Granted, we narrowly edged out Ocala, Fla., -18.59 to -18.55, for worst depreciation over the last year, we'll take the "victory," such as it is.

Check this link for the data. It's on Page 29 of this PDF file.

Who knew that this last year could be worse than the year before?

Well, almost anyone not connected with building/development/real estate/financing industries here. In other words, about 10 people. (Okay, building was just over 30 percent of our local economy, but a healthy economy should be only about 11 percent dependent on building.)

Still, what is Bend to do about the collapse of its economy.

Well, the builders' union wants the city to give builders more fee breaks so that they can finally start building homes again that no one wants to buy. Amazingly, the city sees wisdom in this logic even though the fee break last year did nothing to reverse Bend's 15 percent unemployment rate or make people want to buy overpriced homes.

Foreclosure and default notices still fill the daily's classified section.

Meanwhile, Bend still cannot fill potholes on Reed Market or other heavily used roads. And, as we know, a city that can't fill potholes can't do much of anything. That's what happens when you have inadequate building impact fees to begin with.

Sadly, the FHFA's MSA HPI doesn't rank worst potholes probably because there is no acronym for them.

Acronym or not, Bend has fallen into a huge pothole of home depreciation and the tow truck is nowhere in sight because the AAA card has expired.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is God a Muslim?

Who knows?

But, what is clear is that a growing number of Americans, my relatives included, believes President Obama is a Muslim.

Here is a link to a story showing how Americans, mainly Republicans, believe Obama is a Muslim, which, in their minds, means he is a terrorist, or worse, a socialist.

This poll was conducted before the uproar over the proposed Muslim center in lower Manhattan gained full jihad status.

Can you imagine what the percentage would be now of those who believe Obama is a Muslim? It could well be a third of all Americans.

Now, not to beat a dead camel, but WTF!

I'm no fan of Islam or any other religion that relegates women to second-class status, or worse.

But, what all this Islamophobia or Obamaphobia, if indeed they are separate but equal, means is that the groundwork is being laid to assassinate Obama.

Fox News and the denizens of hate radio are fomenting such hatred of Obama that an assassination of Obama would seem patriotic and entirely reasonable.

This is how low our country has fallen during this Great Recession.

And, if the mid-term elections don't deliver to Republicans what they expect them to, than Obama's life, and that of his family, are in jeopardy.

It's not entirely unexpected. Read this link from the New Yorker for some insight.

Or, read this link about the ties between Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, and the "terror-mosque" funder.

The last time we had a president whose religion was a major issue was 1960, when JFK was elected. And, we all know what happened to him in 1963.

I'm sure that Republicans are smart enough to wait to knock off Obama until after the midterms.

But, as with the election of 1964, it won't matter. Democrats will cruise in 2012.

And, it won't matter if God is a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu or a Jew.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Freedom of religion

Considering that it is mid-August and the only people paying serious attention to the news are the most desperate people in America, it is time to talk of religious freedom because of the proposed mosque/Islamic center near "Ground Zero" in New York City. (Props to Fox News for making news when there isn't any)

Of course, freedom of religion means only the Christian religion, according to most in the Republican party.

But what is Christian?

Southern Baptists believe that there is no way in hell that Catholics can enter heaven.

Catholics believe that their religion is the original, one true way to get to heaven.

Obviously, Christians don't agree on what is the best way to get to heaven.

Look at Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants, both Christian by the way, continually kill each other in the name of God.

Or in the Islamic world, where Sunni and Shia, both Muslim, continually kill each other in the name of Allah.

And, of course, Christians and Muslims form a marriage of convenience in their hatred, and killing, of the Jews.

Welcome to freedom of religion, the monotheistic variety. (Hinduism, which is responsible for more deaths of women because of "inadequate" dowrys than in death-by-stoning for infidelity under Islam, is another can of worms not worth getting into here.)

In one of the great moments of American history, our founding fathers, in order to form a more perfect secular union, guaranteed freedom of religion.

Along with that freedom came the implicit agreement that religion, any religion, would not be the basis of our government, our country.

The founders were well aware of Christian religious strife and how it had not contributed to the advancement of humanity.

Consider where Islam is now, 1,400 years after its founding, in comparison to where Christianity was 700 years ago, 1,400 years after its founding. Look to the great Western Schism, the Italian Renaissance, the Spanish Inquisition and the Reformation. Obviously, it was not a period of harmony, tolerance or peace. It was a time of murder, mayhem, terror and persecution. Sounds like Islam today.

Amid this backdrop, apparently some Muslims in New York City want to build a mosque/community center a couple blocks away from "Ground Zero," where Islamist terrorists pirated two jumbo jets and rammed them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center killing nearly 3,000 Americans, Muslims, to boot.

Naturally, the "good" Christians in our midst are opposed to this affront to our collective "Christian" sensibilities.

Where was this Christian opposition when Protestants (mostly Lutherans) with the tacit approval of Catholics, marched millions of Jews to their murders at concentration camps in World War II?

Naturally, it was silent then and it is silent now.

I'm not defending the right of Muslims to build a mosque/community center near the site of America's greatest calamity since the Civil War. It seems grotesquely irreverent. Still, it is lower Manhattan, and in light of recent economic collapse, the most unsympathetic region in America.

And yet, what would be the greatest affirmation of our basic beliefs in this country than by letting Muslims exercise their freedom of religion near "Ground Zero"?

It would show the Osama bin Ladens of this world that we are not the enemy.

The enemy, as always, lies within us all.

It is up to the rational, secular Americans to agree that religious freedom does not threaten the freedom of all Americans, but, in fact, ensures it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fish wrap or wallpaper; you decide

It seems that Americans have a view of their media that is consistent with their views of Congress or Big Business.

A recent Gallup poll shows "near-record-low confidence" in newspapers and television news, with no more than 25 percent of Americans saying they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in either.

According to Gallup, "these views have hardly budged since falling more than 10 percentage points from 2003-2007."

Isn't that special.

The media, newspapers and Fox News in particular, have succeeded in poisoning the public appetite for government, and for themselves.

What goes around, comes around.

Your local TV news succeeds in giving viewers police chases, fires, accidents and crime. Those are the bread-and-butter elements of TV news, so they don't really matter in the overall perspective of community information or what's considered "local news media." And, ironically, more people than ever are turning to television to find out what's going on their communities and TV stations are the least equipped to know what's going on in their communities.

Newspapers represent their communities better than television does. Newspapers devote far more resources, such as reporters and editors, than TV does to any local community.

What the masses don't realize is that, outside the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, the vast majority of newspapers represent the conservative agenda in America.

And, this is to be expected. Most Americans, afterall, are conservative in how they spend their money and support their local churches, synagogues, stakes, mosques, temples, etc.

That doesn't mean that most Americans are "conservative" in the social realm from abortion to immigration to gay rights or from tattoos to piercings to divorce.

Newspapers bend over backwards to please the business/development interests of their communities even when those interests are to the detriment of the overall health of their communities.

So, when communities falter, as they are doing in this Great Recession, citizens do not look to newspapers for solutions because they know newspapers represent the business/development interests of the community and not the overall health of their community.

Until newspapers are willing to look out for what's best for their communities, and not merely what is best for a handful of business or developments interests, they will continue to see confidence in them wane along with the number of subscribers.

These conservative newspapers, ironically, have been hurt by the presence of ultra-conservative Fox News, which has eroded whatever confidence citizens had in their local media.

Fox News has redefined journalism to mere opinion. And, whoever has the most persuasive opinion, regardless of any known facts, rules the ratings.

So, Americans have less confidence in their media today because they believe that it is mere opinion and not "just the facts, ma'am."

Opinions are worth less than a dime a dozen.

That is why confidence in news media is at such a low ebb.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The business model struts its stuff

A longtime car dealership in Bend sold out recently and, as always, is portrayed as a "win-win" in the local media.

This is not a defense of Bob Thomas' Chevrolet-Cadillac-Honda dealership, which began operations in 1916, but rather a cautious appraisal of the buyer: Lithia Motors.

Bob Thomas was touted as a family-run, local dealership.

Lithia is family run and is based in Medford, Oregon, but it is publicly traded and has a corporate mindset with 84 dealerships in 12 states.

I talked with some employees of Bob Thomas and they said they were given about two-weeks' notice that Lithia was buying out Thomas for $4.7 million and that they could lose their jobs immediately.

Well, they didn't lose their jobs, although they were quite aware of Lithia's reputation for wielding the ax when buying out dealerships.

Still, they know their jobs aren't secure. We're talking about employees who have devoted more than 20 years of their lives to this dealership.

The daily newspaper wrote about Lithia Motors recently and the reporter used this phrase to describe the changes Lithia has gone through during The Great Recession: "Cutting employees and improving operations ..."

Well, the local daily has cut employees for years while hiring new workers, who are then axed in a continuing revolving door that shoos out experience in favor of desperate college graduates.

A word to the wise at Lithia: You have a year to find another job. After a year, your days are numbered. And, we all know the "opportunities" out there at car dealerships. It's like the "opportunities" out there in the newspaper business.

In other words, start looking for another line of work.

The corporate world is quite simple and bloodless.

Their are three entities involved in a corporation: the stockholders, the customers and the employees.

I mention the last two for comic relief.

The only thing that matters in a publicly-traded corporation, and what the CEO's pay is based on, is the stock price.

Everything is subservient to stock price, even the premise for which the corporation exists.

The customer and whatever the corporation sells to that customer are irrelevant to the stock price at the end of the day. Corporate executives are paid by how well the stock performs, not on how well the employees deliver a sound product to satisfied customers.

And, as we've seen, the stock price can be manipulated in a multitude of ways that have nothing to do with how well the corporation creates its products or how well it treats its customers.

As for the employee, you are completely and utterly expendable. You are meaningless in a corporation.

If the corporation fires you for no reason and, in utter despair, you commit suicide, the corporation profits because it took out life insurance betting that you would kill yourself.

Get used to it. It's as American as apple pie.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Inception, conception, deception

Finally caught up with the summer's "must-see" film and it is worth seeing on the wide screen.

"Inception" by Christopher Nolan is relentlessly intense. You must pay attention or you can get lost in the layers of dreams upon dreams in the telling.

The actors are good, special effects are incredible and the story stays with you hours later.

In all these respects, the film is an unqualified success.

Unfortunately, it must do what Hollywood tells it to do: throw in gratuitous violence because it will bring in the video game crowd.

Now, the gunplay and bombplay (it's always interesting to use the word "play" with gun and bombs) is riveting, because the visceral effect demands it.

But, and this is a "but" that afflicts "Avatar" as well, gratuitous mayhem is not that interesting after awhile and it doesn't propel the story forward.

In fact, all the shoot-ups, car crashes and firefights in "Inception" don't add a thing to the story. In fact, it's all noise and thunder, signifying nothing.

The violence in "Inception" is so cartoonish that the "good guys" can get drilled with bullets, but show little effect while they shoot once and slay their aggressors.

Then again, it's all a dream isn't it. Or nightmare.

My nightmares haven't involved assault weapons mainly because I've never used them.

Nolan wrote this story about a decade ago, but felt he couldn't bring it to the screen until he had experience in big-budget, special effects blockbusters.

Well, I think his noble efforts in the "Batman" franchise proved to be a disservice to him on "Inception."

The story is so rich and so compelling that it didn't need such extravagance of special effects with conventional weaponry.

Also, dreams, at least mine, are so bizarre that they gnaw at me for days, sometimes years. "Inception" lacks this bizarre element because it goes for the "chase" over the "intrigue."

It seems that Hollywood has done its homework on what will sell. I'm sure they have the demographics down cold. If you use 400 bullets in a movie, it will do better than if you use 200 or 600, let's say. Or, if 20-30 people get killed in a film, it will sell better than if 5 or 60 people get killed.

If you have 25 explosions, you will make tons of money. But, if you have 50 explosions, you may not.

Afterall, we are in the "video game" era of filmmaking. Story is not enough, the new conventional wisdom says you must have noise, audio or visual, to really make your point.

In the end, though, you're left with more noise than insight. More money than art.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Been there - haven't done that

Ever taken a picture for strangers on vacation or holiday?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ending deficits by cutting taxes = stupidity

Just read a great piece by David Stockman, who directed the Office of Management and Budget under Reagan.

He takes Republicans to the woodshed for their idiotic idea to extend tax cuts to the richest people in America.

He notes what others have been saying for years: you can't have it all.

Yet, that's what Republicans have been promoting for decades now. Even Dick Cheney said that "deficits don't matter."

Teabaggers and other Republicans are somehow now concerned about government spending.

Too late. The genie is out of the bottle.

And, if that genie is Robin Williams from the movie "Aladdin," we're all going to need earplugs to keep all that whining to a dull roar.