Friday, December 30, 2011

Top stories of 2012

It's always easy to look back and identify the top stories of the previous year.

I mean, in 2011, everybody knows the top bananas: We got Osama bin Laden, the Iraq war ended and a Kardashian marriage was short-lived.

But, what about next year's list? 

Afterall, 2012 is an Olympic and Leap Year, which is called an Oleapic Year.

It takes guts, not to mention a little insanity, to predict the top stories of 2012.

Well, let's get it started:

1) Barack Obama won re-election by a bigger margin than in 2008, beating the unusual, and some said kinky, ticket of Romney/Bachmann/Paul.  Predictably, birthers called for Obama’s immediate impeachment. Teabaggers marched on Washington because a black man was still in the White House.

2) Our military budget escalated even though the ranks were thinned following the draw-downs from Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of new, private contractors, who make $200,000 a year instead of $40,000 that a soldier makes, helped balloon the budget. Still, it wasn't enough for some contractors, who dabbled in the local poppy trade in Afghanistan to make ends meet.

3) Iraqis turned to Iran to help end their civil war. 

4) Dow Jones Industrial Average rose, then fell, then rose, then fell again before ending the year on a surprising upswing following Obama's convincing election along with a split government.

5) Wall Street embraced socialism again. For the second time in four years, investment banks, those too big to fail, bet recklessly on what they knew were scams knowing full well that taxpayers had no choice but to bail them out once more. As they say, privatize the profits and socialize the costs.

6) Americans “occupied” a lower standard of living. U.S. jobless rate “plunged’ to 7 percent. More Americans worked at Wal Mart, McDonald's and Starbucks than at manufacturing plants.  On the bright side, the minimum wage rose here.

7) In Oregon, the jobless rate dropped to 8 percent, but climate change brought warmer temps and clearer skies resulting in a panic over skin cancer.

8) In Bend, buyer's remorse over the 2010 election of D.A. Patrick Flaherty continued. The D.A. launched an investigation into why the state was investigating him.

9) Local Realtors made bold statement: Now is the time to buy.

10) The couch potato named Time's "Person of the Year."

11) Just as the Mayans predicted, their calendar ended on Dec. 21 or 22, 2012, depending on which Internet site you called up. The Hallmark calendar, though, correctly predicted a full year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A quote of note

In Time magazine's "Person of the Year" issue, that correctly picked The Protester, there was also "The Short List" of those four individuals that the magazine also considered for the honor.

No. 1 on the list is Adm. William McRaven, who "led the special-ops teams that took down Osama bin Laden."

After 9/11, according to Time, he was the principal author of Bush's National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, which cautioned against a literal idea of combat: "We will not triumph solely or even primarily through military might."

But, here is the money passage in the article:

    McRaven speaks respectfully of Bush as Commander in Chief, saying he "made some very, very tough decisions." About Obama, without a question to prompt him, he waxes lyrical and at length. The planning and decision-making for the bin Laden raid, he volunteers, "was really everything the American public would expect from their national leadership."
    "The President was at all times presidential," he says. "I would contend he was the smartest guy in the room. He had leadership skills we'd expect from a guy who had 35 years in the military."

Election over.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Does Iraq war really end?

Was it worth it?
While we're all celebrating the pullout of most of our troops from Iraq, the question remains: Was it worth it?

Obviously, not.

We lost nearly 4,500 troops and around 30,000 seriously injured. It should be noted that advancement in medical technology reduced the number killed, but dramatically raised the number of those who will need daily assistance for the rest of their lives.

The clincher: More Iraqis lost their lives under America's invasion and occupation than were lost under Saddam Hussein.

When you destroy the village in order to save it, you lose the war.

It was true in Vietnam. It is true in Iraq.

First off, there was no justification for the invasion of Iraq. They had no connection to al Qaeda or 9/11.

They had no weapons of mass destruction, particularly those that form a mushroom cloud.

By invading Iraq under false pretenses, it emboldened other Third World countries to acquire nuclear weapons sooner, rather than later. 

In what became known as a war of choice, Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn was really just another war over oil: Chapter two, or was it three, of the Petroleum Wars.

By surrendering to our addiction to foreign oil, America and Britain suffered almost irreparable harm to their reputations as defenders of freedom.

Almost, I say, because we have President Obama to shore up our flagging reputation.

It's a difficult task, but it takes someone with brains, rather than brawn, to accomplish this.

First off, it takes a skilled mind to manage the disruptions to conventional wisdom that the Arab spring caused.

If we had Bush Jr. in power or some other neo-con, it would've been disastrous. We would've invaded Libya or Syria with significant loss of American lives and with no tangible gains, much like Iraq.

As it was, we didn't invade Libya or any other Middle-Eastern country.

Yes, they're now more likely to adopt radical-Muslim, anti-woman, anti-American, anti-Israeli positions, but, unfortunately, that is the will of the people in those intellectually-backwards lands.

Muslim countries, without question, choose ignorance over enlightenment.

Civil war will likely break out in earnest in Iraq.

Iran will likely take control of Iraq and flex its wimpy muscles at Israel.

Israel will likely retaliate and then we'll finally have the Armageddon that doomsayers have longed for.

We may have another Mideast war.

Or, we'll just go shopping.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Giving the 1 percent some love in Bend

Bend's 1 percenters need
a publicly-funded athletic facility
Okay, not everyone on Bend's west side is in the dreaded 1 percent class of Americans who look down on the rest of us.

In fact, much of the west side contains the struggling 20-nothings to 30-somethings to 40-wanna-bes.

It's fair to say, though, that the vast majority of Bend's 1 percenters live on the west side.

But, the park district doesn't want west-siders to travel an additional mile, or less, to work out.

The park district is looking to spend more than $2 million on land to build another swim and fitness center on Bend's near west-side in the Shevlin Center.

It would cost more than $5 million, money the district doesn't have, to build a facility to duplicate the popular facility in Juniper Park, which is on Bend's near-east side.

Both facilities would be about a mile apart, as the crow flies.

The Juniper facility is "nearing" capacity, which apparently is a crisis mode for the park district.

Meanwhile, public schools have to be at least five years over-capacity before it dare ask citizens to approve a bond measure to build another school.

Of course, if you want to build a prison in Oregon that won't be needed for 10 years, you can ask for the money yesterday, and get it.

The big question for the park district is why?

Why do we need another redundant facility so close to the other one?

Is it because the 1 percent west-siders don't want to shower with the 99-percenters, the un-washed masses, on the east-side?

Is the Athletic Club of Bend, for the city's 1 percenters on the west side of town, too exclusive?

In fact, what will happen when the park district builds a west-side athletic facility that puts the Athletic Club out of business?

Well, we know the answer to that.

The Athletic Club, a private entity, will get the park district (meaning taxpayers) to buy the Athletic Club, which will maintain higher fees to cater to the 1 percenters. In other words, the have-nots subsidizing the haves.

The new west-side facility in the Shevlin Center will attract the un-washed masses on the west side of town.

It's a good thing, apparently. You don't want to mix the classes in America.

Because we are classless.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Return to sender

Will FedEx or UPS get mail to Santa?
The U.S. Postal Service is a perfect example of what ails America.

We want relatively cheap mail service delivered to every nook and cranny in America's dominion, but we don't want to pay the full freight of that service.

The USPS is billions in debt and wants to close 3,700 post offices, including 41 in Oregon, and consolidate 252 service centers. Portland would gobble up Bend's center and its 17 jobs.

 Closing the mail-processing center in Bend would save about $2.1 million and, instead of next-day service, it would guarantee two- to three-day  delivery for mail sent within our city limits.

But, it looks like such drastic measures are put off again until next May, so legislators can find a solution.

Reducing the Postal Service workforce through layoffs and attrition would result in about 200,000 less jobs in an election year.

Not gonna happen.

Teabaggers and other extreme conservatives want to shut down the Postal Service altogether, claiming that FedEx and UPS can do a much job better anyway.

Well, a few inconvenient facts get in the way.

FedEx isn't cheap. When I tried to mail a small package to the capital of Costa Rica, the Postal Service said it would cost $45 including tracking. I said, wow!

So, I went up the road to FedEx and they gave me a song and dance about how difficult it is to mail anything to Central America, but that they could try provided all the necessary paperwork was filled out. Cost. $150.

I mailed it through the Postal Service for $24 without tracking.

FedEx and UPS do not deliver to every little outpost in America. They may go hither, but not yon. Only the Postal Service does that.

In fact, the Postal Service's biggest customers are FedEx and UPS.

Some have this notion that the invisible hand of the marketplace solves all problems. (That, and tax cuts, of course)

Well, if we get rid of the Postal Service, many places would no longer get any mail and it would cost significantly more for the rest of us. Talk about "going postal."

Yes, the Postal Service has pension obligations that are draining its coffers. But, I'd rather see money go to retired postal workers than to hedge fund managers. Just saying.

Technology and the Great Recession have hit the Postal Service hard. Volume is down, while costs soar, thanks to high oil prices. But, a first-class stamp costs just 44 cents. In much of the developed world, the cost is at least double that. Does anyone think FedEx or UPS would deliver anything for 44 cents? it would be at least a couple of dollars.

In January, the cost of a first-class stamp will soar all the way up to ... 45 cents. Hey, a penny here and a penny there and we may have enough to keep Saturday delivery, not that all those credit card applications couldn't wait until Monday.

Of course, if we could just tax each stock share transaction a mere 1 cent, we could solve funding problems of the Postal Service. Forget that, let's shoot the moon and go for a whopping 2 cents per share transaction and we could help save Medicare. And a bonus: It could limit speculative stock trading which has destabilized the worldwide economy.

But, the Postal Service will likely limp along with diminishing results.

As they say in Washington, if it's broke, for heaven's sake, don't fix it. Use it as campaign fodder.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thought for food

With our national day of thanks here once again, it's a good time to take note of things of note.

Like "The 10 Most Tweeted Moments of all Time." I won't give away the most tweeted event in human history, but No. 3 was the indelible moment when the Brazilian national soccer team was eliminated from Copa America. Who could forget?

What I want to know, though, is the moment in this twitter time when the pound sign (#) became the hashtag (#). Could someone tweet me the answer during Thanksgiving dinner? Thanks.

Or, consider the musings of Daniel Kahneman in last week's Time Magazine. Kahneman, as we all know, won the 2002 Nobel prize for economics for his "prospect theory" in behavioral economics.

Anyway, he was asked about experts and if we should trust their instincts. 

Kahneman said: "There are domains in which expertise is not possible. Stock picking is a good example."

I think believers in Warren Buffett and a few other stock pickers would dispute that notion.

Kahneman also offered his thoughts on happiness: "When you analyze happiness, it turns out that the way you spend your time is extremely important. Decisions that affect how much time you spend with people you like are going to have a very large effect on how happy you are  -- not necessarily satisfied with your life -- but happy."

That's good to know when breaking bread with in-laws on Thanksgiving.

It also helps to show a bit of gratitude. A New York Times story reports that "Cultivating an 'attitude of gratitude' has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners."

Then, naturally, we get another story that says "two studies out this week indicate that negative comments can have health benefits."

So when a considerate sibling turns to you while passing the candied yams and helpfully suggests that "you get a life!" you should show some gratitude and say thank you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nittany Lions headed for state pen

What is amazing about the scandal involving Penn State and its longtime head football coach Joe Paterno is that so many are supporting JoePa in the face of his obvious moral failings.

When the PSU Board of Trustees announced that the longtime school president was fired, along with the head football coach, the only thing reporters wanted to know was: "who was going to coach the team?"

Then the students rioted.

On the Fox News website, they had their usual un-scientific poll asking viewers what they thought of Paterno's firing and if the board of trustees did the right thing.

Only 60 percent of Fox viewers agreed with the firing.

Really? Do conservatives discount alleged child sexual abuse that easily? Apparently, they do.

The culture of top-tier college football has long tolerated a lengthy list of abuses, from crime to drugs to exploitation.

Well, this is where we are.

Add child-sexual abuse to the long list of problems that afflict major college football.

Big money corrupts everything it touches.

And Penn State football was a huge money-making operation. From TV revenue to donations, PSU grew, thanks largely to Paterno's football success, from a backwater, middling college into a huge, 45,000-student institution. During Paterno's tenure as head coach from the mid-1960s until last week, PSU's endowment grew from around nothing to $1 billion.

Anything that could derail this money train had to be squelched or covered up.

Well, as we've learned for decades, the cover-up is worse than the crime.

Although, in this case, the crime of child-sexual abuse is hard to beat. In fact, another rumor out there is that Jerry Sandusky, the ex-assistant PSU coach at the heart of the scandal, pimped out some of the kids he abused to big donors of his non-profit group, Second Mile Foundation, that supposedly helped underprivileged kids.

The alleged crimes and cover-up will spread collateral damage far and wide beyond the abused children and their families. From the school president to head football coach, the entire athletic director's office along with all the football coaches at PSU will lose their careers. They're done.

Civil suits could, and should, drain that huge PSU endowment.

All that blather about high standards and living a life of honor are just hollow phrases. JoePa looked out for JoePa and look where that got him. They even took his name off the Big 10 trophy.

It's all about the money. And now, they can kiss that good-bye.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The big, wet issue of our time

Well, thanks to $22.7 million campaign financed by Costco, hard liquor drinkers in Washington state can now get their fix at the corner grocery store or, better yet, at the gas station.

Thanks to the voters Tuesday, Washington returns to its days of yore.

The term "Skid Road," which is often called Skid Row, originated in Seattle where logging roads were lined with joints selling alcohol to weary loggers. The term now means any run-down section of town where the inebriated loiter.

The heat, now, turns on Oregon, which has a similar state-run liquor control business. Beer and wine are sold everywhere.

In Bend, we have just four liquor stores, one of which, is inside Ray's Food Place.

Gee, I remember those long, difficult days when we only had two liquor stores. And, they closed on Sunday, of all days!

The local daily has long championed easy access to hard liquor. Why? They must like their scotch.

Evidently, in this era of high unemployment and diminished expectations, we need a quicker way to spend whatever money we have left on vodka or tequila to drown our sorrows away.

Never mind the social ills caused by alcohol-abuse, just think of the jobs that will pour forth once Oregon gets wetter than it already is.

Let's see, we'll need more alcohol treatment centers, which employ people, not robots. Same for shelters for battered women. We'll see a greater need for police to deal with more drunken drivers. Auto repair shops will employ more to fix the increase in the number of damaged vehicles. Don't forget tow trucks. And, we could always use more divorce lawyers.

I guess it's a win-win situation.

Except that Washington has a sales tax. It estimates that with the number of liquor outlets expected to increase five-fold next summer, the state could reap $80 million in taxes over six years.

Oregon has no sales tax, so the revenue, $178.3 million last year, would no longer go to the government.

Not that it needs any money, with massive budget cuts, school closings, skyrocketing college fees, fewer state troopers, an ailing health care program, crumbling infrastructure and the like.

But, damn, it'll be easier to toast our failings when we can get our hard stuff at 7-Eleven.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bend home prices improving, Zillow says

Bend home prices, year to year, rose 3.1 percent to $192,700, according to the real estate website Zillow's Home Value Index.

That's good news, but Zillow also shows that it's far down from 2006, when the price was $383,000. In essence, we're at the same level as of January 2003.

Sisters also saw an uptick of 1.2 percent to $233,500.

La Pine, though, fell 5.8 percent to $114,700 and Redmond was down only 0.4 percent to $125,500.

Bend fell so far the fastest that it's not that surprising it is rebounding better than the other metro areas in the state.

While the Bend metro area was up a modest 1.7 percent to $174,500 (one of the few bright spots in the state), Portland was down 4.3 percent to $209,000, Salem plunged 7.5 percent to $154,400 and Eugene also dropped by 7.5 percent to $170,300.

Overall, Zillow says that, nationwide, nearly 29 percent of homes remain "underwater," meaning that more is owed on them than they're worth.

Zillow also reports we can see the bottom of this national housing mess, but we're not there yet.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Conversation? Is there an app for that?

How I long for a "smartphone."

It will be yet another way for me to ignore family and friends, especially during mealtime.

And, it will make me seem more important when I have to read a score update rather than talk to the person in front of me.

Remember the pager, that little gadget attached to your hip?

When it beeped or vibrated, it was a convenient way to say, "gotta go."

And you were believed. By appearing that you had more important things to do than talk to another human being, you earned respect.

The cell phone expanded this modern dynamic with texting, yet another case of a noun switching to a verb.

The smartphone has taken this to a whole new level of social avoidance.

With the Facebook smartphone app, you can update your Wall while you're having lunch with a mutual friend, who is doing the same thing on his or her Facebook Wall.

Or consider the modern tableau featured in the Bizarro cartoon. It's great seeing simians enjoying time together even though everyone is playing with their smartphone.

It expands interaction beyond the four sitting there, to everyone following them on Twitter.

Just imagine Thanksgiving this year. There won't be any arguments because everyone will be busy cruising the web on an iPhone, Thunderbolt or Galaxy. There won't be food fights because, hey, those phones are expensive.

In more intimate settings, when you don't have anything to say to the person across the table, you no longer have to chat about that always safe subject: the weather.

With a mere swipe, you can find the weather in Bend or Bangalore, average highs and lows, plus long-range forecasts. You'll sound impressive doing so, even though the person you're with doesn't care at all about the weather in Bend or Bangalore.

No need anymore to ask anyone for directions to anywhere or for suggestions on restaurants, movies or music. It's all at your fingertips.

Disagreements can be settled instantly, rather than waiting to look up something later in a dictionary, encyclopedia or almanac.

Need to figure out when and where Hitchcock appears in "Dial M For Murder?" No problem. Google it on your Droid.

The pursuit of trivia supremacy is now at your fingertips.

Where would we be without the smartphone?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick or treat? 7 billion and counting

Am I old?

It seems like only yesterday that the world population was 4 billion.

Of course, that was eons ago, in 1974.

Thanks to industrial, technological and scientific advancements, the world population has jumped in 200 years from 1 billion to 7 billion.

Not even the stock market can beat that rate of return.

During this unprecedented population explosion, the pace of change dwarfed all other periods in human history, combined.

Many great things exist today from electricity to antibiotics to fresh strawberries in January.

Of course, a few bad things also plague us, not that you would hear any of it on Faux News.

We have new ways to kill millions of people instantly through nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

We have dramatic climate change due, in no small part, to the activities of 6 billion more people on this planet in a relatively short span of time. Even a well-known climate change-denier, backed by Koch money, has finally seen the blinding light.

With the population expected to jump to 10 billion by 2083, we can expect more climate change, more degradation of our environment and, of course, more conflicts over the available resources that remain.

Right now, we're in the midst of the Petroleum Wars.

These conflicts will seem like petty skirmishes when the Water Wars flood the planet.

The Northwest, with its abundant rain and snowfall, could be the Saudi Arabia of America. California and other southwestern states could be buying our pure water by the barrel. Or, more likely, they'll just come up and take it. Watch out, Canada.

Since we've developed so many chemicals to make our plants and animals grow faster and "healthier," we've polluted the soil from which these plants sprout up and the animals that sustain us.

Unhealthy air still plagues our big cities, but here, as in so many other areas, China is No. 1. And, the Chinese like being No. 1.

This irks Republicans because if we didn't have the Environmental Protection Agency, they say, we would definitely be No. 1 in air pollution, not to mention, water and soil pollution.

And, if we elect Rick Perry next year, we could all experience the Texas "miracle" by becoming like Houston.

But hey, things could be worse.

At the rate we're going, they will be.

Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ending the Iraq fiasco

Incredibly, there are voices out there, mostly from the right but some from the left, saying we shouldn't leave Iraq so soon.

Are you kidding me?

The only way to correct a mistake is not to repeat it year in and year out.

The time to leave Iraq was 2003 when Bush II declared "victory." Unfortunately, we've been stuck in a quagmire ever since.

It's a no-win situation since most Iraqis don't even want us there.

Would you want to send a loved-one to protect a country where most of the citizens hate you?

And for what?

We found no weapons of mass destruction, which not only soured many fence-sitters on this disastrous invasion, but it also proved discouraging to the troops.

We don't have cheaper gas prices and the region is as unstable as ever. A classic lose-lose proposition.

The late Gen. William Odom urged withdrawal years ago because he noted that it's up to the Iraqis to determine their future, most likely by bloodshed.

Even if we stayed there a thousand years, civil war would erupt as soon as we left.

There are few Americans, other than oil companies, who care about Iraq.

After nearly 9 years of occupying Iraq, I'm sure a majority of Americans wouldn't be able to even locate it on a map.

The real tragedy is that thousands of Americans have been killed or seriously wounded for a deceitful cause.

Also, more Iraqis have died or been forced from their country under the U.S. occupation than under the brutal, tyrannical reign of Saddam Hussein, our onetime ally. Like Vietnam, you have to destroy the village in order to save it.

As we have seen in recent months, there are better ways to handle "problem" countries in the Middle East.

Tunisians voted for the first time recently. Libyans, with help from U.S. bombs, overthrew their own tyrant, Col. Gaddafi/Gadhafy/Kadafi/////. (There were only 112 ways to spell his full name.) Egypt got rid of its despot. Syria and Yemen are teetering on the brink.

All of this happened without a single U.S. casualty. It shows how smart leadership is better than ignorant leadership.

Now, we may not like what becomes of Egypt, Tunisia or Libya, but that's the way it is.

We're not going to like what happens to Iraq, but as long as the oil flows to fill up our SUVs, no one will care.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How to handle a bully

In case anyone missed it, here's a link to Stephen Colbert's dressing-down of Bill "Bully" O'Reilly.

Yes, it is true that Colbert has more than a dozen writers working for him. But, does anyone believe O'Reilly produces anything without others doing most of the work for him?

Still, this take-down of one of the great bullies of our time is brilliant.

Thank God we have people like Stephen Colbert to make us laugh at the blowhards like Bully O'Reilly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Bend, please

It seems inconceivable that the "frisbee and hacky-sack" crowd in lower Manhattan wearing "V for Vendetta" masks would inspire protesters all the way in Bend, Oregon.

But, Bend is but one of many places around the state to join the general leftish angst sweeping the thinking world.

For a couple of weeks during glorious fall weather with brilliant colors everywhere, a couple of dozen protesters have taken over the former Bulletin site in downtown Bend. There are about a dozen tents, a motor home and plenty of signs decrying war, economic imbalance and the 1 percenters.

These 99 percenters, the ones without fortunes, are mostly young and hip. And, presumably, jobless. That's okay, because the unemployment rate in Central Oregon is nearly double the national average.

What else is there to do before snowboard season?

I'm not sure what these protests will accomplish, but there are good reasons for this spontaneous eruption of anti-corporate sentiments.

Here are a few:

This chart helps explain some of the anger out there. It shows that for every dollar you earn, a CEO in America gets $475. The next closest nation is Venezuela, where an executive makes a mere $50 for your $1.

Of course, this has been going on for decades. No one really noticed because every American believes he or she will be that CEO one day. The odds of that happening are worse than your chance of starting for an NBA team.

But now that the economy continues its free-fall, Americans are starting to wonder why we subsidize American corporations to close plants in America and open them in foreign countries.

We also wonder about our retirement.

Check out "Retirement Heist" by Ellen Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize journalist for the Wall Street Journal, hardly a left-wing rag.

She points out that major American corporations, like G.E., are blaming onerous retirement benefits for our economic malaise. But, she also reveals that it is the retirement benefits of a handful of executives that are bankrupting our economy. G.E. alone must shell out $6 billion, not million, to a few executives. No wonder there is no money left for the rank-and-file worker.

Bank of America reports nearly $6 billion in profits, but says it must charge its account holders $5 fee per month to use its debit cards. Banks point out that the Wall Street reform act, which limited their fees charged to retailers to 100 percent profit rather 300 percent profit, left them with no choice.

Well, we all have freedom of choice.

My choice is to not bank with Bank of America or any bank that charges a debit card fee. I also do not buy products with American nameplates. That includes HP, Apple, IBM, Ford, GM, Chrysler, etc.

Instead, I own a Samsung laptop and cell phone. My next printer will be a Canon product. I own a Honda, Toyota and Subaru that were made in Japan, not America.

I urge other Americans to do the same.

Also, the pyramid scheme of our economy is based on every household paying their mortgage. For those who tried to work with their bank to avoid foreclosure and were rebuffed, I urge you to stop paying your mortgage. It's not ethical, but it's one thing that banks respect since they do the same thing. Check out this story about a guy who tried to get a loan modification, but was repeatedly rebuffed. He stopped paying his mortgage, with minimal consequence.

Can you imagine if most Americans stopped paying their mortgage? That would not only "Occupy Wall Street," but would end up owning it.

We have the power. We need to use it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sandy leading the internet way

Portland's farthest suburb to the east, Sandy, is going to offer its citizen the fastest internet speeds and the lowest price possible.

Check out this story from last summer in Portland's daily newspaper.

The city leaders have the foresight to make 100 mbps internet available to all citizens for $40 a month beginning later this year. You'll be able to download a high-definition movie in 4 minutes.

Plus, the city of Sandy is making it mandatory for new construction to be wired to the city's fiber-optic  system.

By contrast, BendBroadband, which has exclusive franchise rights in the city of Bend and elsewhere in Central Oregon, offers 8 mbps speed for $49.49 a month. It would take more than 70 minutes to download an HD movie.

Of course, BendBroadband does offer 60 mbps, but you'd have to pay $99.99 a month for that privilege.

Yes, you can get those services a little cheaper on BendBroadband, but you'd have to sign up for cable TV  and/or cable phone at additional costs.

The internet is evolving into the portal for all television. Instead of 50 or 500 channels, which you can't choose, you'll have access to untold number of channels that you choose.

What the city of Sandy is doing is showing how citywide high-speed internet, at an affordable price, will attract new businesses and citizens.

The internet is becoming as crucial to the economy as our roads are.

Plus, truly high-speed internet is a way to make telecommuting more cost-effective, which, in turn, could mean less vehicles using our roadways.

Highways are at least 100 times more expensive than high-speed internet.

The city of Sandy conducted a survey to see if residents wanted this service. According to the paper, one resident wrote, "I am so proud to be part of a city that is this forward thinking."

That's not something any citizen of Bend will be able to say about our fair city for quite some time.

I've long championed WiMax, which is widespread wireless high-speed internet, for Bend. The city already uses WiMax for communications. They paid for this when they sold property, which was confiscated during drug busts. So, that WiMax belongs to everyone in Bend.

It is up to Bend citizens to demand greater affordable access to the internet. It would benefit everyone who lives here and all those tourists who visit throughout the year.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The incredible shrinking newspaper

As promised, the daily newspaper today is about an inch narrower than it was yesterday.

This means shorter and fewer stories as well as smaller and fewer photos. It also means dinkier ads, but, presumably, at the same price or higher.

This all leads to less workers needed to produce a shrinking newspaper. And, ultimately, fewer newspapers.

This is a trend that's been going on for decades.

The old broadsheet was about a yard wide when fully opened.

Today's unopened daily is about 11.5 inches wide. It's much easier to handle, particularly if you're crammed into a skinny airline seat or while exercising on a treadmill.

But, most importantly, it wastes less paper.

This is the evolution of newspapers. It won't be long now when the size will shrink to that of an iPad.

After that, you'll get your news delivered on your iPhone, if you don't already.

The conundrum that newspapers face is how to make digital content pay the same or better than newsprint.

Once newspapers figure this out, their profits will soar because they won't be burdened with huge paper and production costs or the labor-intensive home delivery maze. But, they may have to become like and supply e-readers to subscribers at a loss.

In order to survive in the meantime, newspapers will become even cozier to a few big advertisers (e.g. Realtors, car dealerships) and their interests rather than to the citizens at large. This narrow-minded focus will also shrink the subscriber base.

Essentially, we no longer have "journalists," but rather "content providers," who serve as P.R. scribes at a much lower salaries than true flacks.

Content can be anything and will be anything. And, like some say, when anything goes, eventually everything will.

Like it or not, this is the digital age.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Joined the Century Club, finally

After 27 years of living in Bend, I finally managed this weekend to log 100 miles up and down Pilot Butte, the cinder cone that rises up nearly 500 feet in the center of town.

And, the funny thing is, it never got easier making the one-mile trek up to the top, either on the dirt trail or along the roadside.

After huffing and puffing my way up, though, the view from the summit always took the rest of my breath away. With the Cascade Range to the West and the Ochocos to the northeast, this panoramic view of Central Oregon is always worth the work to get there.

On my best days, I could make the ascent in 16 minutes. On those days, I was aided by listening to my daughter's older model iPod Nano, which was filled with tunes I loaded. Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," sure has a beat to hike to. So does Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower." As does "The Duke of Earl," by Gene Chandler.

To be honest, I've hiked the butte a number of times while living here. I just never tracked my treks. The state park system, though, has a Century Club, for those who've logged 50 trips up and 50 trips down. This summer, at age 56, I decided to try and join the club. My wife walked with me about a dozen times, but she really preferred yoga.

I was feeling good about my progress last week, when, after about three months of dusty trudging up the extinct volcano, I had only seven more trips to make.

But, last weekend when we went to hike the butte, they were holding a race to the top of it. This race was primarily for runners, which I am not. They had different categories, including one for the senior set. We found out that one of those older guys was nearing his 500th mile up and down the butte. And, he's been at it for only two and a half years after moving here from Florida. Oh, he's also surviving cancer. Plus, he is 93 years old.

I realized, once again, that whatever milestone you reach in life, prepare to be humbled.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A toast to our health

Actually, we may need two glasses of red wine to cope with yet another big increase to our health insurance premiums.

Add another toast to the Supreme Court, which may rule on Obamneycare before the election next year.

It's comforting to know that health insurers jacked up rates this year in anticipation that more people might start going to the doctor again, once the economy improves.

Of course, according to this New York Times article, "Many businesses cite the high cost of coverage as a factor in their decision not to hire."

We have a slight disconnect here. People aren't going to the doctor because they don't have a job and no health insurance. So, insurance conglomerates raise their rates even higher. It's their interpretation of supply and demand.

Apparently, it's much better for our money to go to insurance companies rather than our bank accounts. I mean, they really know how to spend money. Who do you think goes to all those fancy resorts every year for conventions? If insurance companies don't spend our money, who will?

There are some who blame Obamneycare because next year insurance companies will have to justify any rate increase above 10 percent. So, we'll all be better off when we only have rate increases of 9.9 percent a year.

Actually, health insurance rates have doubled in 10 years. Wages, though, have not.

The Kaiser Family Foundation study points out that in 2011 it costs $15,073 for family health insurance premiums. The Census Bureau notes that more than 7 million Americans don't even make $15,000 a year.

Not that any of this is a problem the Supreme Court can't fix.

When the High Court rules that Obamneycare is unconstitutional, there will be no health insurance mandate to worry about. Yes!

This will open the door to getting rid of mandated car and home insurance premiums.

With all the money we save by not having to pay so many outrageous premiums, we should have enough money to go see a doctor.

I'll drink to that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Economic recovery needs more than platitudes

As if we don't have enough problems in Bend with high unemployment, constant foreclosures and deadbeat developers, we now have more "experts" to tell us how to solve all of our problems.

Writing in the local daily newspaper, the co-chairs of the Deschutes Economic Alliance (DEA, not to be confused with the Drug Enforcement Agency) offer a six-point plan to jump-start our local economy.

This new group joins Economic Development of Central Oregon, Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council and others to inform us what we really need to grow our economy.

No. 1 includes "eliminating governmental 'D.U.R.T.'"

And what is "D.U.R.T.?"

Well, these econ-nerds define it as eliminating Delays, Uncertainty, Regulations and Taxes.

What the ....?

Bend has eliminated impact fees for new building. Uncertainty is caused by the marketplace. Regulations haven't been tightened lately and taxes remain flat.

But eliminate taxes? Are these econ-terrorists serious? It's like Michele Bachmann saying we shouldn't have taxes at all. Gee, how can we wage war without taxes?

The right-wingers and teabaggers claim that taxes are the root of all evil, but these same groups want all the services and benefits that the government, with its taxes, provides.

Which leads to the writers's second point: "Enhancing local higher education."

That's nice.

Yes, we need a four-year university here in Bend and OSU-Cascades at COCC is evolving toward that goal. But, if we can't raise taxes or borrow money to make this four-year university a reality, how in the hell do we do it?

Will the private sector step up to fund it?

Okay, enough with the laughter.

As I've noted before, at the rate we're going, the only four-year institution we'll see here is a Bible college. That's not exactly a job generator, but what the heck. I guess it could be worse. Could it? A Koran college, maybe?

The DEA co-chairs' third point is "developing more premier athletic events, services and facilities."

Well, we have more athletic events here than most places in the country.

Yes, we do need facilities, but again, if we can't raise taxes or borrow money to make these new facilities emerge in the High Desert, how in the hell do we get them?

We don't.

The private sector will never fund these athletic facilities. Case closed.

The DEA brain trust says we need "investigating energy-efficient system-built housing."


Apparently, we need to compete in the emerging "green" system-built housing.

Okay. No one is stopping anyone from competing in the "green" housing realm. What's pathetic is that for a region that sells itself on all its abundant sunshine, we don't have an aggressive solar initiative to mandate all new buildings, homes or businesses, to be solar-energy sufficient.

What's preventing any real growth in this economy is the lack of demand. Any attempts by government to stimulate demand is met by derision by the right-wingnuts in our society.

Okay, private sector. Have at it.

Point Five in this "strategy" is "working with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs."

This is the only point I agree with and it's refreshing to hear a call for greater cooperation. But, the motive here is dubious. The tribes are building a new casino along Highway 26, the main artery between Portland and Central Oregon. When that casino opens, it will siphon off much of those tourism dollars on which the rest of Central Oregon has grown accustomed to. No wonder the DEA co-chairs want greater cooperation with Warm Springs. Follow the money.

The last point is a complete non-starter: "Creating a Central Oregon economic corridor leadership council."

We already have that. We don't need more councils, commissions or alliances to show us the way.

What we need is realization that no matter how much we need or want something, we won't get them until we realize that it costs money to get those things. Yes, we can blame government for not funding these grandiose ideas. But, unless we want to pay more taxes or allow our state government to borrow money for these ideas, they will never become reality.

What we've learned in this Great Recession is that the private sector, on its own, is incapable of spurring economic growth. The government alone isn't capable either.

What we really need is an epiphany: that the private sector is dependent upon the public sector and vice versa. We're all in this together. We are not enemies, but compatriots. Until this epiphany happens, we'll continue to wallow in the mire.

Light your own fire, baby.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We're No. 26! Hooray!

We all know that America is slipping. That's been going on for a few decades.

And, even though we've known for years that our Internet speeds don't measure up to the rest of the developed world, we thought perhaps we were making some gains.

Well, if 26th place is considered gaining on our "peers," we've got a long way to go. On the bright side, we are considered "above average."

Here is a link to a list of the 15 countries with the fastest Internet speeds.

It's one thing to get beat by South Korea, Sweden and Japan. It's quite another when outposts like Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova leave us in the dust of bits and bytes.

How did the country that invented the Internet and the computer get surpassed by former Soviet satellite nations?

Well, we can thank our devotion to the invisible hand of the marketplace that makes everything right and good.

We let corporations fight it out, believing that whoever wins will deliver the best product at the best price.

Of course, we know that's not true. A monopoly does what's good for the monopoly, not the common good.

Yes, there are excuses, caveats and other reasons for our lackluster showing. But, those for for losers.

Corporations blame government because they don't get enough subsidies (taxpayer handouts), while at the same time complaining about government interference (higher standards).

It's sad, though, when our major corporations are sitting on hordes of cash, yet can't even invest enough in their country to let us perhaps crack the top 25 in countries with the fastest Internet speeds.

Actually, it's pathetic.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bend encouraging more gridlock, new bypass

Since Bend is in the midst of a $220 million fix to the mess it created on the north end of the Parkway (Hwy. 97), it is now considering more retail development on the adjacent roadway, Highway 20, so that we can spend another $200 million or more trying to fix future traffic problems there.

Doesn't this all seem "counter-intuitive," to put it nicely?

For 30 years, Bend has been one of the most over-retailed cities in America. Of course, it's not the government's business to say we have enough retail to last us decades. The marketplace is supposed to control all of that. As we've seen in Bend, the marketplace is incapable of doing that.

We have two supermarkets across the street from each other on Bend's west side, an area that can barely sustain one supermarket. No matter. We have two malls a mile apart on Bend's north end. Oh well.

But, it becomes a major problem when taxpayers are left to pay the fixes that new businesses create for our infrastructure.

The state and city spent about $120 million to build the Bend Parkway/Hwy.97, which was a bypass to Division Street which was a bypass to Third Street, which tripled as Hwy. 97 and Hwy. 20.

Initially, Third Street was the bypass when Hwy. 97 was rerouted from winding through downtown Bend.

There is little long-range planning in Bend. It's just one bypass after another, leaving frustrated drivers needing a gastric bypass.

As a state transportation commissioner noted a few years ago, "we spent $120 million dollars so that the Parkway could end in a parking lot!"

As soon as plans for the Parkway were drawn up, major retailers like Target, Home Depot, Lowe's and Best Buy jumped at the chance to capture all those gridlocked vehicles. The city and the state made little attempts to limit development on a roadway that has been planned for quite some time to be a major north-south freeway from border to border.

Consequently, we have one of the more dangerous stretches of highway in the state with two signals and hair-raising left turns. For some reason, traffic safety is not considered public safety.

Highways 20 and 97 split to form a "V" on Bend's north end. It is an area known as the "Golden Triangle" for retail since its draws customers from Bend, Redmond, Sisters and beyond.

Walmart wanted to build a "super" store in this area at the intersection of Highway 97 and Cooley Road, to go with its regular Walmart on Bend's south end. Well, a hearing's officer finally put her foot down and said enough is enough. No "super" Walmart unless it wanted to fix the traffic problems at the intersection. Rejoice!

But wait. On the east side of Highway 97, the city started Juniper Ridge, a huge mixed-use development where the city "gives" land away to attract businesses.

So now the city needs the new Parkway bypass as much as Walmart does.

Now, we have a developer from Idaho who wants to add a major retail development along Highway 20 between Robal and Cooley roads. The city is encouraging these plans by forgoing fees that such a development requires.

Highway 20 kicks into a freeway at this point and is the state's main highway connecting western and eastern Oregon.

The city will likely okay the development and the state won't pay attention until it's too late. Dangerous gridlock on another state highway will be the result.

Which means, we'll need another mega-million bypass to Highway 20. It will be difficult to build, because the Parkway bypass will interfere with it.

Maybe they should just build a massive cloverleaf in the area.

Or, the heck with it. Let's build the world's biggest roundabout. We wouldn't need any sculptured art inside it. Big box stores will suffice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

DSA! DSA! DSA! The mess that is Texas

Like most Americans, I pay no attention to candidate debates, particularly when the election is more than a year away.

But, the internet is abuzz with screeds, blogposts and tweets about the GOP debate last night in Florida, hosted by CNN and its irregular ally, the Tea Party Express.

Apparently, the teabagging audience cheered "yes" when Ron Paul was asked if a hypothetical uninsured man who goes into a coma should be left to die.

Here is a short story and video about the incident.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry claims he was "taken aback" by the audience reaction. He asserted that the GOP is the "party of life." 

Well, the audience apparently also applauded when it was noted that Perry has presided over more executions than any governor in modern times.

So much for life.

Or for the U.S.

It seems that all the presidential candidates last night wanted to dismantle the federal government

These Republicans aren't running for president of the United States of America, but rather the Divided States of America (DSA).

Perry, the presumed front-runner, has even encouraged secessionist talk in Texas.

You'd expect such high-minded conversations in the Lone Star State.

Below is list of the mess that Bush II brought to Washington and what Perry is proud to bring back to the nation's capital:

Texas Ranks #1 in population living below the poverty line ( 17.2 % ).

Worst environmental record in the United States

Ranks #1 in illiteracy

Ranks # 1 on the poorest gun regulations in the U.S. and highest per capita gun murder rates in the U.S.

Ranks #1 with the highest real estate taxes per $1,000 value of a home in the United States

Ranks #1 in the lowest high school graduation rate

Ranks #1 with the highest interest rates “pay day” companies can charge

Ranks # 1 in those making below minimum wage

Ranks 50th ( dead last ) in Teacher Pay

Ranks # 1 (26.5%) in those who lack health insurance

Ranks # 1 (20.3%) of children who lack health insurance

Ranks # 1 in the highest per capita executions in the world

Ranks # 50th in $ spent for Medicaid for the poor and children

Ranks 50th ( dead last ) in $ spent on its citizens

Ranks # 1 in the # of food insecure children.

Ranks 49th ( the 2nd lowest ) in Medicaid $ given to nursing homes

Ranks 2nd highest in teen births

Ranks #2 with the highest home insurance rates

Ranks #2 with the highest sales tax
Ranks 49th in $ funded for the mentally ill

Ranks #1 with the highest overall pollution rate

Ranks #1 in adults under correctional control

Ranks #1 in adults under probation

Things aren't all bad. Texas is using so much water "fracking" for natural gas that it didn't have enough water to fight the catastrophic fires down there. Hey, it was hot. Air conditioning was more important than homes.

Teabaggers love Perry for all of the above. He's their guy. Evidently, they want the country broken up so that states can do what they want.

By why run for president? Why not move to Libya. Now that's a place that could use a leader like Perry or any of the GOP candidates. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

The lost 9/11 decade

Without shared sacrifice we don't have a shared memory of that terrible day 10 years ago and the subsequent "war on terror."

Indeed, 9/11 is remembered as the day the Twin Towers fell in a heap of destruction. 

Ground Zero refers only to site of the former World Trade Center.

The attacks on the Pentagon or Flight 93 barely course through the memory banks.

Millions of Americans are grateful that tough-talking George W. Bush personally caught the bastard behind the attacks: Saddam Hussein. 

But, how could that be since we have a Hussein in the White House? One who wasn't even born in America?

And, are we still in Afghanistan? 

And, Iraq?

What gives?

Some call it the "fog of war."

In America, it's called the smog of shopping.

Some of us can recall that after the terrorists slammed our planes into our landmarks, Junior told Americans to do their patriotic duty: Shop 'til you drop. 

We did and, now, our credit cards are maxed out.

Junior didn't ask us to enlist to fight al Qaeda. He didn't ask us to pay for the doubling of our military budget from $300 billion to $600 billion. He didn't ask us to pay for two wars. He didn't ask much of anything.

Life should just go on as it did before 9/11, we were told. Move along.

Well, we did.

And, look where we are: Trudging on in a ravaged economy, caused primarily by the lords of finance; enduring sustained high unemployment; engaging in two endless foreign wars; and wallowing in a political civil war at home.

Is that the price of victory over the terrorists?

Did we really win? 

Would we have been better off if the terrorists had destroyed Wall Street?

These are questions without satisfactory answers.

It's depressing that these questions need to be asked. They certainly weren't asked after World War II.

The difference is leadership. We had it during WWII, we didn't have it during most of the "war on terror."

The sacrifice was shared during WWII. It wasn't for the past decade.

Frank Rich wrote a devastating 9/11 essay in New York magazine that asks: "If we don't need new taxes to fight two wars, why do we need them for anything."

That's exactly what Republicans and teabaggers are saying: We didn't have to raise taxes to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan for 10 years, so we obviously don't need taxes for disaster relief, Social Security, Medicare or even the Postal Service.

The rational mind knows that if we're spending a trillion dollars a year on defense, and wars, without added revenue to pay for them, we'll rack up a fairly substantial debt in 10 years. 

But, the beauty of it all, I suppose, is that we aren't entirely rational whenever it comes to taxes and spending, or wars for that matter.

We let "someone else," usually the less fortunate, go off and die or become permanently scarred by our current wars. No need for a draft, we were told, otherwise the wars would become more unpopular than they are.

We let "someone else," like the Chinese, finance our ridiculous low-tax/high-spending lifestyle. No need to change our ways because we're Americans, damn it, we don' have to.

We let "someone else," like the working class and the poor, shoulder most of the brunt of the Great Recession.

The 9/11 decade also brought back the 1950s in its political correctness, witch hunts and a general embrace of ignorance.

In Bend, after the Newport Avenue bridge was renamed the "Veterans Memorial Bridge," a group of citizens wanted to rename a lesser-used Deschutes River span at Portland Avenue "A Bridge to Peace." The backlash was stunning, as if the mere naming of a bridge after peace was tantamount to an act of war.

Writers and others around the country were fired for challenging the party line that the "war on terror," which includes torture, is not entirely ethical or moral.

As for ignorance, we have "truthers," "birthers," and Michelle Bachmann.

"Truthers," those who believe 9/11 was an inside government job to promote endless wars, offer a tantalizing theory because we do have endless wars.

However, 9/11 happened because of gross negligence and incompetence by our government led by Junior and Cheney, who, shortly after taking office, completely disregarded a bipartisan report that al Qaeda was determined to attack the United States. Hell, Junior even got an urgent memo a month before the hijackings saying that such attacks, using jets to slam into buildings, were imminent.

But, of course, none of that matters now. Junior is retired in Texas. Cheney is out promoting his view that everything is better now because of him and Junior.

But, it isn't.

We all know it isn't. At least we should know.

Therein lies our troubles.

Many Americans can't distinguish fantasy from reality.