Thursday, April 28, 2011

Don't subsidize developers; vote NO on road bond

If Bend's $30 million road bond passes on May 17, developers will be free of their obligations to pay for any road improvements.

Under terms of his agreement with the city, Pahlisch agreed to pay nearly $500,000 toward the cost of the roundabout at 15th and Reed Market once he builds his 101st home in his nearby Bridges high-density subdivision.

But, if the bond measure passes, Pahlisch won't have to pay a dime, even he builds all of his nearly 400-home subdivision.

And, since the city is no longer collecting SDCs (system development charges) that help pay for roads in Bend, developers won't have to pay anything for the impact their developments have on roads in Bend.

Why must Bend property owners subsidize developers? Why doesn't the city demand that developers pay their fair share?

Naturally, the builders' union and developers are underwriting the campaign to pass the road bond measure because it's a fraction of what they would have to pay otherwise.

As for the bond measure itself, the bridge that is included on the Reed Market portion does not go over the railroad tracks. That bridge won't be built for decades, if ever. No, the bridge in the measure moves American Lane west a few feet and it'll need a new bridge over the canal.

Also, the Reed Market portion of the bond represents $18.3 million of the $30 million measure. But, if the other five projects go over-budget, which they will, the Reed Market work may not get done at all. The city will reason that if they don't have enough money to do it right, why do it at all. Reed Market was a city priority five years ago, and no improvements have ever taken place.

Finally, if Bend is serious about fixing its roads, it must approve a gas tax, which taxes the people who actually use the roads. Until it does so and until it demands something from developers, property owners should just say no to higher taxes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A word about birthers


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pump you up

For many years, the media in Bend was obsessed with saying that we had the highest gas prices in the state, and Oregon had the highest prices in the nation.

Well, it wasn't true then and it sure as heck not true now.

Check out this story at about how the poor Angelenos have to pay $4.19 a gallon at a Costco gas station. And, that's a steal. Anything under $4.30 a gallon is considered a bargain and some stations get $4.79 per gallon.

And, for those prices, you have to pump it yourself. If you want an attendant to fill your tank, you get to pay an additional 50 cents a gallon. In other words, you could pay as much as $5.29 a gallon for the same service you get in Oregon.

On Sunday in Bend, I filled up my car for $3.82 per gallon. Of course, I didn't have to pump it myself. We're civilized here in Oregon.

Also, our gas prices would be 6 cents a gallon cheaper if we didn't have a state increase imposed in January. Actually, our comparatively low taxes have little to do with the price of a gallon of gas in this country. Nor does the fact that Oregon and New Jersey are the only states that do not allow self-serve gas stations.

Market forces rule. Oil companies get what they can, where they can. We have no refineries in Oregon and Bend, despite its growth, is still the middle of nowhere, in terms of trucking gas over the mountains to get here.

In the Bay Area, with refineries next door, you can pay as low as $4.07 a gallon at a Costco in Concord.
Isn't that special.

We don't hear as much these days from oil industry lobbyists who push the bogus argument that gas would be so much cheaper here in Oregon if only we had self-serve gas stations. California and Washington, both self-serve states, have higher gas prices than Oregon.

Does anyone believe that gas in Oregon would be 50 cents a gallon cheaper if we just had self-serve?

In fact, it would likely be more expensive than it is now, just like our neighbors. And why would we want to add to our high jobless rate by firing thousands of pump jockeys.

I don't think I'm the only one in the Beaver State who likes paying less for gas and not having to pump it myself.

Of course, I wish I had an electric car so I could bypass the filling station altogether.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Does Mitt Romney care about poor people?

Couple of worthwhile links to check out:

The provocative headline, "What have the poor people ever done for us," lists some legacies of the rich and the poor. The line is taken from a comment by a "well-dressed gentleman" to a group of protesters outside a Bank of America branch in Concord, Calif.

Then, for a bit of humor, there is always The Onion. This headline draws you in: "Mitt Romney Haunted By Past of Trying to Help Uninsured Sick People."

As for Mitt, I've always wondered that if Matt is shorthand for Matthew, is Mitt shorthand for Mitthew?

When will we see the light

Amid the tragedy and troubles in Japan and Libya, not to mention $4 a gallon for gas in the states, we still don't get it.

"It" is true clean, renewable energy.

It's all there waiting for us, but entrenched interests plus our aversion to changing the status quo, prevent us from moving forward.

Amid positive news about electric cars, Google investing in the largest wind farm in the world in Oregon and the largest solar field in the world going up in California, a relatively new "F" word is making the rounds.

As in what's the "fracking" deal?

Well, kind of.

With our access to abundant oil dependent on crazies like Gadhafi/Qaddafi as well as other unstable Middle East countries, and with the inherent dangers of nuclear power exposed anew in Japan, many in the U.S. say we need to drill here, despite the BP oil spill, and frack now. 

Some people in this country believe we can drill our way out of any crisis, even though it just kicks the can down to the next generation, something these same folks say we can't do with our federal deficit. 

Other folks, like T. Boone Pickens, are convinced that fracking is our salvation.

To them, I say, frack off.

If there was that much oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the oil companies would be there like stink on s---. There isn't that much oil there and that is why it is not worth the oil firms' troubles to drill there. Unless, of course, the cost of their operation at ANWR was subsidized by the American taxpayer.

Well, it won't be subsidized. So, the only energy alternative out there, according to its acolytes, is fracking, which is the hydraulic fracturing of shale deep in the earth resulting in minor earthquakes, tainted water, and the occasional catastrophic spill, such as occurred earlier this week in Pennsylvania. 

Here's a video of the effects of fracking at the kitchen sink.

Utah, Montana and Texas can't wait to frack themselves silly. Here's hoping that oil/gas companies don't find Oregon worth fracking.

Okay, tiny tremors, flammable tap water and contaminated creeks are a small price to pay for OPEC-free energy.

But, in this era of climate change, what about carbon-neutral energy?

The proponents of fracking, which produces natural gas in an unnatural way, note that this hydrocarbon product is cleaner than coal or oil. While true, natural gas is still a major contributor to global carbon emissions and it could exceed oil and coal pollution by 2030.

This new push to frack was made possible by the Bush II administration. First, it forbid the Environmental Protection Agency from having any control over fracking. Second, it let oil companies conceal from the public what chemicals they are using while fracking. 

But, there is some respectable reporting going on. A New York Times story last week revealed the hazardous or carcinogenic fluids that oil companies are using that ultimately pollute our groundwater. 

Even Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal reported that the fluids used in fracking are toxic.

In Oregon, meanwhile, the world's largest wind farm should be up and running next year with enough electricity to power 235,000 homes in Southern California. Not bad. We also have plenty of hydro-power and we're a leading player in the solar business. 

Last summer, in fact, for the first time ever, the Northwest ran its power grid for a couple of days using only renewable energy. 

But, the Bonneville Power Administration, which oversees the hydro facilities in the Northwest, has indicated to wind farm producers that the grid won't be able to handle both hydro and wind power at the same time this summer during the seasonal snowmelt. The BPA wants wind power producers to shut down their wind turbines this summer, when wind is particularly brisk.

Is this crazy or what? 

We can produce enough energy right now using hydro, wind and solar to power the West but our grid can't handle it.

It's also crazy that teabaggers don't want the grid updated because it would increase the federal deficit. 

So, let's subsidize big oil and "clean coal" producers. Or exploit biomass, which, in our area, would burn wood waste to create energy. Locally, Sisters High School is converting to biomass energy and a biomass plant is going up in La Pine. Smokey skies ahead.

It would be more sensible to mandate that all homes in America run on renewable energy within 30 years. Germany, which has cloudy skies just like western Oregon but is still a world leader in solar power, was so freaked out about Japan that it is moving away from nuclear power toward more solar energy. 

Can you imagine if homeowners, were required, with a healthy subsidy, to have enough solar panels on their roofs to power their houses and electric cars? We would have so much power in this country it would halt fracking in its tracks.

But, we didn't get the message during the oil shocks of the 1970s. We ignored the writing on the wall after 9/11. There's no reason to believe we can see the light now.

It looks like the only way we'll ever get the memo is in the form of a mushroom cloud.

On that cheery note, have yourself a great Earth Day.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A day to shrug

Nothing seems the same anymore. The weather is warm when it should be mild and snowing when it should be sleeting.

Today, for instance, is the annual tax day, except that it's not. It is on Monday, April 18, this year because of a holiday in Washington, D.C.

We should all take the day off and go see a movie.

For the Ayn Rand crowd, there is the long-awaited film debut of "Atlas Shrugged," also known as the libertarian manifesto. First published in 1957, it tells a tedious story of how government thwarts initiative.

Rand's philosophy is "objectivism," whatever that is. Sounds like something from Russia, where Rand was born. She moved to the U.S. in 1926 when she was 21. Google her, she would've loved it.

The amazing thing about Randites is when they claim they have read this 1,088-page monster. Anyone who can get through such an unreadable book deserves some sort of kudos.

The book is so long that the film released today is just the first part of a trilogy. Well, those other two parts may not get filmed if "Part I" makes little money. As this story makes clear, the filmmakers are relying on teabaggers to rescue them.

Critics, though, are pounding away at it. Here is just one sample:

 "I suspect only someone very familiar with Rand's 1957 novel could understand the film at all," Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun Times. "For the rest of us, it involves a series of business meetings in luxurious retro leather-and-brass board rooms and offices, and restaurants and bedrooms that look borrowed from a hotel no doubt known as the Robber Baron Arms."

I'll shrug, too. I may take in "Rio" instead.

But, as libertarians get their crank on today over what was supposed to be Tax Day, here is some truly illuminating writing titled: "9 Things The Rich Don't Want You To Know About Taxes."

It is written by David Cay Johnston, who does great work in exposing the travesty of how tax cuts solve everything. 

Also, check out this column on how a public broadcasting station in Idaho, which is owned by a Republican, provides a definite need to red-state potato-heads by broadcasting NPR.

By the way, I've already got my tax refund. Have you?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Inside Job: Part Deux

Want to lose a leg along with that arm as tax deadline looms?

Thought so. Then read Matt Taibbi's piece in the recent Rolling Stone issue.

When we bailed out the banks, we bailed out billionaires and millionaires and their wives. We also subsidized their tax evasions in the Cayman Islands.

Nevermind, they don't belong to a union. Besides, they're better than you or me. 

In fact, they're the most important, indispensable people in the country.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

From muskets to rockets

Today marks a memorable day in history. The Civil War finally got started at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, 150 years ago.

And 50 years ago today, the first man in space was a Soviet, Yuri Gagarin.

Incredibly, the cause of the first event is still debated. The second event sent shocks waves across America and was somewhat ignored in this country until recently, like today.

As for the Civil War, we always hear the baloney about "state's rights," as in, it's a state's right to send more than 600,000 to their deaths for no reason other than it's a state's right to do so.

Time magazine devoted a recent cover to our nation's "squirmishness" about the central fact of the Civil War: It was about slavery.

I  learned about slavery and the Civil War in grade school. It went like this: The country divided up in blue and gray teams for the purpose of killing each other because the South wanted to keep their slaves and expand slavery while the North opposed those things.

Yet, many Americans, particularly in the South, are still in denial about this. You can see why Southerners prefer code words like "state's rights" and "secession," because they sound benign. Slavery does not.

But, why do reasonable Americans still avoid the slavery issue when discussing the reason for the Civil War?

Part of the reason is that by admitting we legally allowed slavery in this country, it strikes at the very core of our nation's soul. It mocks our most popular phrase written by a major Founding Father: "All men are created equal."

Jefferson wrote that line in the Declaration of Independence even as he, and other Founding Fathers owned slaves and didn't consider females their equals. Obviously, they weren't so forward-thinking afterall.

No, they were hypocrites. Jefferson even fathered children with one of his slaves.

This is not to say that the Founding Fathers didn't create a good country. But, it didn't become truly good until the Civil War, when slavery was abolished. It didn't get better until it allowed women the right to vote in 1920.

The reputations of the Founding Fathers are forever tainted because of slavery. That fact is uncomfortable for most Americans, including me. But what it means is that yes, we should be grateful to our Founding Fathers, up to a point. And no, we shouldn't use them as a crutch: "What our Founding Fathers intended ..."

It also means that our Constitution is an imperfect document. Always was and always will be.

We must always strive to get better as a nation and that is the fundamental lesson of the Civil War.

As for the Gagarin, he was viewed in this country as an enemy, not a hero, in 1961. He was an atheist, a Commie-Pinko and dang it, he beat us into space. Not only that, he orbited the earth well ahead of us. John Glenn didn't do it until almost a year later.

(And to think that Galileo was convicted of heresy on this day in 1633 for claiming the earth orbited the sun.)

What Gagarin and the Soviets achieved was, indeed, mind-boggling. The Soviets were also the first in space with Sputnik in 1957. After that jolt, American kids had to go to school longer so we could catch up to the Soviets. My school day went from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Or was it 7:30 to 3:30? It was so long ago, I can't remember.

Yes, we caught up to the Soviets and far surpassed them, no thanks to me or my longer school day.

The Soviet Union collapsed and we finally got to know more about the cosmonauts that competed against our astronauts. Check out this little story in Time about Gagarin. When you consider how inferior the Soviet equipment was compared to NASA's hardware throughout the Space Race, you have to marvel at the guts of Gagarin. I've enjoyed reading comments in recent stories about Gagarin and it's great to see him be treated as a hero and not a villain by people in this country.

What's really amazing about the concurrence of the Civil War and Gagarin's orbit on this day is that they're only separated by 100 years. The world went from horse and buggy to Mercury and Vostok just like that. It was definitely the most incredible 100 years in human history.

Monday, April 11, 2011

An Inside Job

As tax day approaches, many may wonder where their tax money goes.

Well, if you watch "Inside Job," the Oscar-winning documentary about the 2008 collapse of the economy, you'll find out a little.

Or, you can read a piece from in The Source, Bend's weekly newspaper, written by the esteemed, award-winning journalist/author David Cay Johnston, and you'll learn little more.

In short, your tax dollars go to subsidize the wealthiest people and richest corporations in America. Oh, and they also go to subsidize Wall Street banks and their billion-dollar bonuses.

"Inside Job" shows step-by-step how Wall Street banks purposely destroyed themselves -- and the world economy -- because they knew they were too big to fail and would be bailed out by the American taxpayers.

Here are some facts:

* In the U.S., hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost
* In China, roughly 10 million lost their jobs
* Iceland, the most stable country in the world, went bankrupt and has high unemployment for the first time since World War II.
* Wall Street types spent millions from their bonuses on cocaine and prostitutes
* Academic economists sell their views and principles to the highest bidder on Wall Street

These last two facts point out two important issues:

1) Apparently, the only jobs Wall Street has created in the past decade are in investment banks, prostitution and cocaine production and distribution.

2) You hear a lot from the academics from Columbia and Harvard about how deregulation and tax cuts benefit society as a whole. "Inside Job" shows that these same academicians are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from the likes of Goldman Sachs (aka "Government Sachs") and Morgan Stanley. In fact, the best thing about "Inside Job" is how it destroys the credibility of academic economists. As we have learned, tax cuts and deregulation, particularly of the financial industry, destroyed our economy, bankrupted the country and led to the greatest income disparity in American history.

Johnston's article shows how Oregon gets more revenue from the lottery than it does from corporations. In essence, the tax burden is pushed down from the very top of the economic strata to the lowest.

Johnston notes that no Oregon daily newspaper has published this fact.

Why? Well, newspapers are corporations as well and, as the Supreme Court ruled, corporations are people and they have feelings, too.

Newspapers usually whine about how the Oregon personal income tax rate is one of the highest in the country and how it's such an unstable funding source for government.

Now we have Megabucks, Powerball, Mega-Millions, Keno and other games to help balance our state budget. Oh, and Oregon has a $3.5 billion biennial budget deficit.

As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War this week, we should take note of the acronym CSA, which stood for the Confederate States of America.

Well, CSA now stands for Corporate States of America, which continues to wage war against unions and the working class. The uniforms aren't gray, but rather the color of money.

Doesn't the CSA know that the "class war" is over? The rich won.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The fix was in

The old bait-and-switch technique.

That's what the Bend-La Pine School District used to redraw middle school boundaries.

First, it held public meetings over three months where officials presented three different plans to concerned parents and asked for their input.

The parents gave their opinions and the district boundary committee, unbeknown to the parents, completely disregarded their concerns.

The committee then submitted a fourth, completely different plan, to the district without a single public hearing.

After an outcry, the district relented and let all those parents from the Pine Ridge Elementary School area bellyache for awhile at a public hearing. Even though there was a threat of a lawsuit, the boundary committee still recommended the fourth option to the district.

What reeks about this, is that the Pine Ridge parents will have to drive about five miles from southwest Bend across town o take their kids to Pilot Butte Middle School in northeast Bend.

It makes no sense.

What makes sense is that those closest to Pilot Butte Middle School should've been re-directed to that school.

The west side of Bend, home to Bend's most affluent citizens and the area closest to Pilot Butte, was spared from having to mingle with the unwashed masses at Pilot Butte, an under-performing middle school with a sizable hispanic population. Yes, it's Bend's closest thing to inner-city.

So, there you have it. The school district looking out for its most vocal critics on Bend's west side while giving the finger to the suckers in southwest Bend.

Here's hoping that someone from the Pine Ridge Elementary area does sue the district and brings some common sense to this absurd boundary change.

People moving to Bend?

Stopped by U-Haul the other day and noticed a few people renting rigs to move out of town.

So I asked them if more people were leaving Bend than coming in.

Nope. Just the opposite. U-Haul's lot is getting so overcrowded that it needs to bring in drivers to move the vans to other locations. This is just an anecdotal snapshot, but it is real.

That's the story of Bend. Just when you think the local economy and housing market can't get much worse, people start to move in.

It seems counterintuitive with an unemployment rate at about 15 percent.

But, home prices continue to free-fall from nearly $400,000 four years ago to the $170,000 range today.

Perhaps more Californians are fleeing their state. Or maybe westside residents in Washington and Oregon are tired of the rain.

In any event, Bend isn't blowing away in the high desert wind just yet.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Buyer's remorse

Ever buy a new car when all you really needed was an oil change?

I know, it's irksome.

And a tad spendy, particularly when the new ride is a lemon.

Across the country, there are numerous examples of buyers expressing remorse over the choices they made.

Teabaggers took credit for returning Republicans to power last November. They railed about the national debt, but what they really wanted was no government at all. They'll get their wish beginning tomorrow when the government will likely partially shut down due to the teabagging tenet of "no compromise."

That's fitting because the government shutdown may scuttle, among more important things, some commemorations of the Civil War, which began 150 years ago this month when the South refused to compromise. Funny how the South is now a Republican repository of racist teabaggers. Any moderate GOPers out there a tad remorseful about your teabagging wing?

In Wisconsin, the good cheeseheads in America's dairyland voted in a new governor because they thought he sounded reasonable and could solve all of their upper Midwest problems. One big problem, though, is that he is a reactionary in a progressive state. He stripped unions of most of their collective bargaining rights while also slashing pay and benefits. Wisconsinites bowed their cheeseheads in remorse.

On Tuesday, though, they thought they got some revenge by barely voting in a liberal justice to the state supreme court. She had lost by 30 percentage points in the primary for this supposedly non-partisan post. But, you knew this was coming, one county clerk "found" thousands of votes for the incumbent to give him the victory. How convenient. In a another rebuke to the Republican governor, citizens voted in a Democrat to his old post.

And, here in little Bend, Oregon, our longtime District Attorney was voted out of office in favor a former, hothead prosecutor in the D.A.'s office.

Well, the hothead fired a bunch of prosecutors for forming a union and they're now suing him and the county. Also, the new D.A. got so paranoid that he tried to convene a grand jury to investigate possible leaks of private information from his office. In fact, the new D.A. became so unhinged that he wanted to move his offices because he feared more leaks. This new guy quickly demonstrated that the old D.A. was actually the better man for the job.

So, the next time we need an oil change, it's best to get an oil change.