Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why does Facebook need tax subsidies?

In the next few months, Facebook may go public and fetch about $100 billion from eager investors.

In Central Oregon, Crook County government leaders were excited to see Facebook expand its data center near Prineville without having to pay about $2.8 million annually in taxes. And that's before the second data center is constructed.

In exchange, the good people of Prineville are thrilled to get new mats for the wrestling team, $1,500 for Friends of the Flag and $5,000 for the chamber of commerce. In all, Facebook, one of the richest companies in America, is scheduled to donate less than $100,000 to various county entities this year.

Granted, Facebook did pay about $12 million in development fees. And, it will have 52 full-time employees, recruited from outside the region, which will have no effect on a county with the highest unemployment rate in the state.

But, let's not kid ourselves. Most of those 52 won't live in Prineville or Crook County because the local school district is one of the poorest around. The school district can't even afford to pay for extracurricular activities, like sports.

The mayor gushed to the Bend Bulletin about Facebook: "They have been a good neighbor. They have increased business at grocery stores, filling stations, restaurants and motels."

It always good to see any business uptick during these times, but gas stations are are not the backbone of a stable community.

And, it looks like Crook County will attract more companies willing to cash in on taxpayer subsidies leaving area residents, who have a median income of more than $12,000 below the state average, to pick up the difference.

Facebook chose Crook County because of taxpayer subsidies, cheap land and relatively cheap energy costs. Nothing more and nothing less.

Facebook doesn't care about Prineville and will have no trouble leaving when its tax breaks end in 15 years.

The question taxpayers should ask Crook County government is this: Why does a company that will likely pick up $100 billion in a single day next year need to be sudsidized by one of the poorest areas in Oregon?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Death in Bend and city doesn't care

A 16-year-old cyclist was crushed to death this week on Reed Market Road, the busiest and most neglected roadway in Bend.

And the city's response? Hey, we have problems like this all over town. Take a number and get in line.

Sadly, this section of east Bend does not have the wherewithal to do what is necessary: Sue the city until it fixes this deadly roadway, which has no bike lanes let alone a sidewalk. But, there is plenty of room for all that and more.

The city knows it doesn't have to do anything about Reed Market because the  citizens in east Bend have no political clout and little recourse.

Yes, a bond measure was passed in May that would address the problems on Reed Market, but that work won't happen for at least three years, at the earliest. This means that more deaths are likely on this roadway.

The city engineer said that the accident that killed the teen was unusual, but hard to prevent.

He did concede that the accident was caused by traffic that backed up due to a car making a left-hand turn from Reed Market onto Pettigrew, a well-traveled road that takes drivers to Costco.

Hello, Mr. Engineer, but maybe a dedicated left-hand turn lane would've solved this problem?

But, no! This isn't possible because ... it's east Bend and who cares what those people think.

The city needs to be sued until it fixes immediately the deadly traffic problems on Reed Market.

A question of balance

Both Democrats and Republicans say they want a "balanced" approach to raising the debt ceiling.

By "balance," however, Democrats mean a combination of cuts and new revenues.

The Republicans, meanwhile, consider "balance" to mean a "balanced budget amendment" must be included in any increase in the debt ceiling.

The reason we are in this budget mess is that we started two wars and cut taxes at the same time.

On paper, or even on computer screens, having a balanced budget sounds reasonable.

In practice, though, it is ridiculous and potentially catastrophic for the country.

There are very, very, very few households in this country that live on a balanced budget. We have home loans, student loans, car loans, credit card debt, etc.

To claim that most Americans manage their lives by balancing their budgets each month is a complete falsehood. Without the ability to raise our personal debt ceilings, we would have far fewer homes or cars owned in America along with far fewer students in college.

Yes, most states have passed balanced budgets, but it has done nothing to mitigate the tremendous deficits many of these states, including Oregon, now face.

In fact, Oregon's balanced budget approach has left the state bereft of meaningful advances in higher education or new infrastructure to meet growing demand. In 2005, state appropriations comprised 36 percent of the University of Oregon's budget. Today, it is down to 7 percent.

We have far fewer highway patrol officers than 30 years ago even though the population has increased by a third. Our per capita income is shrinking, not rising.

Now multiply Oregon's problems 50 times and you can approximate what would happen in America if a balanced budget were required.

If we had a balanced budget provision during the Great Depression, we wouldn't have social security or any of the great legacies of the New Deal.

If we had to balance our books after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, victory against our enemies may not have occurred. We also would've lost the Cold War in the 1950s. We wouldn't have an interstate highway system and we wouldn't have landed on the moon. There would be no G.I. Bill. The list goes on and on.

Yet, we have Republicans in Oregon saying we need more money for higher education. We need to fix our roads, hire more cops, give more tax breaks to corporations, etc. Of course, we can't raise taxes for all these things, nor can we borrow money to do so. Instead, we pin all of our hopes and dreams on the lottery.

Consequently, Oregon, like many states with balanced budget requirements, finds itself in decline.

Is this what we want for America? I think not.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sun barely shines on tour of homes

Okay, the annual COBA tour of homes was underwhelming as ever, but a few of the homes stood out, for good and bad reasons: either they had solar power or they didn't.

There were three homes on Bend's south side right next to Highway 97 that had water heaters powered by solar panels. That's not as good as a completely solar-powered home, but it was good to see them on the low end of the price spectrum, from $162,000 to $189,500.

Of the nine homes in pricier NorthWest Crossing, only one had solar power. But, it was a complete solar home, meaning that it's a "Zero Energy Home." When the sun is shining, it produces energy for the grid and results in a credit on your power bill. When the sun isn't shining, you use energy from the grid and pay accordingly.

Since Central Oregon touts its 300 days of sunshine each year, it's safe to say this home won't cost anything to heat or cool.

It was built by SolAire Homebuilders with the asking price of $399,900, which is down from about $600,000 a new home in NorthWest Crossing would've fetched in 2006.

I didn't see all the homes on the tour, but did happen to be cycling through Caldera Springs, an upscale area attached to Sunriver. Of the four homes there, none had solar power. Three of the four homes on the tour there were already sold. The low end was $659,900.

I missed the homes in Tetherow, a high-end golf course subdivision on the southwest edge of Bend. Homes there were priced in the $700,000 to $900,000 range. None had solar power.

In 2011, it is shameful that all new homes, particularly the most expensive ones, in Central Oregon are not powered by solar energy.

Local governments in this region don't require solar power even though this place is marketed as the land of abundant sunshine.

If the booster set wants to attract more businesses to this area, it should put its money where its mouth is.

All cities in Central Oregon should require all new homes valued at more than $300,000 to be completely powered by solar energy. Those under $300,000 should, at the bare minimum, have water heaters powered by solar panels.

If governments in areas of the country with plenty of sunshine adopted solar mandates, a whole new demand would develop. This demand would force creation of a more efficient grid system, which in turn would further demand for a way to store all this power generated here. Afterall, the experts tells us, demand is what's holding the economy back. 

As electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids become more popular, a solar energy home would not only power the household, but also the electric vehicles used by that household.

The benefits are obvious including less reliance on any oil, foreign or domestic. Yes, it means we wouldn't be paying the Middle East terrorists to terrorize us.

But, it's almost 10 years after 9/11 and we still haven't gotten the memo.

What will it take? A mushroom cloud over Manhattan?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bulletin jacks up newsstand price to 75 cents

If you thought 50 cents was too much to pay for the local daily newspaper on the street, the Bulletin says "good riddance" by increasing the price of the weekday paper 50 percent to 75 cents. It's $1.50 on Sundays.

Not that it matters to most readers of the paper. 

Perhaps, the brain trust at the paper figured that pushing the street price up during the height of the summer tourism season wouldn't be noticed by visitors from California, Washington or other states. 

The monthly subscription is still $11 a month, for now. Look for it to increase in the fall when subscribers return from vacation and have more time or reasons to read the paper. Or, the paper may wait until the fall of 2012, during the heat of the presidential race, to hike the delivery rate.

With the drop in subscriptions along with the near extinction of the classified section thanks to, the daily paper needs to shore up its finances. 

High gas prices don't help. 

Furloughs, pay freezes and layoffs/attrition only go so far. Judging by the number of different bylines that come and go each month, the revolving door of the newsroom appears to be off its hinges.

The local daily has all but ceased to exist as a place to find breaking news. It has long ceded that role to local television and radio. 

A recent dramatic, midday rescue of a mom and two kids on the Deschutes River, which occurred about a mile from the paper's offices, didn't get much coverage until two days after the incident when it had long been played out on television.

The paper has the same philosophy about state, national or international breaking news. It routinely buries  breaking stories inside the paper that most other newspapers display prominently on their front pages. 

This leaves the local daily as a place for features and in-depth stories on how public workers, teachers included, are the new Rockefellers of the region. 

The anti-public worker stories are so commonplace they appear to be re-runs. And, it gets old, quickly.

The local daily does little to make readers aware of how developers and the builders' union essentially run our town to their benefit and not to the benefit of the overall community. It did nothing to alert readers of the dangers of real estate tax-shelter exchanges until arrests were made and millions of dollars lost. 

Of course, you wouldn't get any of this on local television or radio either, but no one expects them to do any meaningful, in-depth reporting in the first place.

Newspapers used to look out for the common good, but now, with declining revenues, they place an even higher premium on the interests of advertisers over the well-being of the community. 

Newspapers have been in decline ever since the telephone first appeared when cities had multiple daily papers. 

Then came radio, then television, then cable, then the Internet, then the smart phone and, voila, no one needs a newspaper anymore.

Social networking, blogging, YouTube, craigslist and others have shown where the growth in information is, and, it's not in newspapers.

It used to be said that no one under the age of 40 subscribes to a newspaper. Today, that age is probably 50 and rising. As the local weekly noted, a recent edition of the daily paper was filled with full-page ads selling hearing aids.

And, raising the price of the paper to 75 cents, particularly in this economy, is not a way to reach a younger audience.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Drip-drop, Murdoch

Or is it tick-tock Murdoch?

Either way, the steady patter of negative news raining down on the Murdoch media empire across the pond, will surely end up where it should, with Rupert himself.

And it should end up in America where Fox News is the most irresponsible media outlet in the land.

Freedom of the press comes with great responsibilities: to be truthful and informative, not deceitful and inflammatory. 

Murdoch's operations in Britain have reveled in irresponsible reporting because it sells in a country with apparently few journalistic scruples.

Let's take a look at Fox News, America's tabloid news station. There are websites devoted to tracking the lies that Fox News tells on a daily basis. One is called Fox News Lies and it was started by a formerly devoted Fox News viewer. Here's another.

Media Matters For America is also one of the leading watchdogs hounding Fox News.

When Fox News said that Jon Stewart lied on their station when he was interviewed by Chris Wallace, Stewart ran a segment listing just a few of the lies Fox News promotes. Here's a link.

Amazingly, it is not against the law for an American news outlet to lie about what is happening in the world. There are exceptions, but it's a gray area in the law.

And that's where Fox News operates, in that gray, shadowy underworld of distortions and fabrications.

Fox News could not set up shop in Canada because the conservative prime minister failed to force the Canadian regulators to repeal a law up there that forbids lying on broadcast news. Here's a link.

Gee, they sure hate freedom of the press in Canada if you can't even broadcast "false or misleading news."

Not that you would hear about any of this or the British scandal on Fox News.

As Stephen Colbert noted about Fox News, "We don't touch it, you decide."

And decide we will. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Talking points: 'Job creators', 'class warfare'

By early August, the so-called "debt crisis" will fade from memory like our Iraqatastrophe.

We'll wonder what the fuss was all about.

Does any American really care about our national debt?

If Americans did care about it, we would end our wars, slash the arms-procurement budget, make painful changes to Medicare and Social Security, and raise taxes on the rich.

But, we won't do those things, because we depend on these things. Like it or not, our economy is dependent upon government spending, either directly through government programs or, indirectly, through subsidies and corporate welfare.

Plus, the rich are entitled to their tax cuts and we know that entitlements can't be touched.

One of the Republican talking points is that the super rich are "job creators" and taxing them a penny more would result in 10 percent unemployment forever.

Of course, there is no fact to back up this bogus claim. As noted before, the only jobs hedge-fund managers created were in prostitution and drug trafficking. It's hard to build a sustainable economy on those two volatile industries.

Nevada has tried and it has led to the highest unemployment rate in the country. Plus, it has no state income tax, so that can't even be cut.

The mere mention of ending the Bush tax cuts, which means the marginal tax rate would rise back to 39 percent from 35 percent, provokes the GOP talking point of "class warfare."

Yo, that war ended decades ago.

The rich won. It wasn't much of a contest. The wehrmact of the wealthy moved across the country with amazing speed and efficiency, devastating huge swaths of the economic landscape.

This war machine even convinced much of the media to use this talking point as often as possible to describe how tough the rich have it these days.

Please, enough of the talking points. We get it, lawmakers. You don't want to do anything because it may negatively affect your re-election prospects.

Well, that's why we are where we are.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Murdoch made this mess

The scandal unfolding in Great Britain regarding Rupert Mudoch's "News of the World" tabloid should focus renewed attention on Murdoch's properties in America: Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.

It is no secret in the journalism world that Murdoch has a personal interest in the more sordid aspects of journalism, namely, the dirt on celebrities and politicians. You can bet your bottom dollar that Murdoch at least tacitly approved of any method to get the dirt on such celebrities and politicians. Afterall, he paid for those "scoops."

Now that "The News of the World" has been exposed as the slimiest news organization in the world, outside of Communist regimes, for tapping cell phones of family of murder and terror victims, Murdoch moved to consolidate his properties. He closed down the 168-year-old "News of the World" so that it can folded into the more "respectable" "The Sun," and so that his attempted controlling interest in BSkyB, a British satellite TV provider, won't be scuttled.

But, British Prime Minister David Cameron's former communications director, himself a former Murdoch minion, was arrested over his involvement in the "News of the World" scandal.

There is word that Murdoch's son might be arrested. What about Murdoch himself?

Okay, this is just tabloid England we're talking about. The standard is fairly low.

But, the more important question in America is: In what ways has Murdoch broken laws here?

Okay, lying everyday on Fox News is covered by our First Amendment, because these lies are considered opinions. Yet, these lies are considered "facts" by the gullible fools who believe what they hear and see on Fox News.

When Murdoch took over the Wall Street Journal in 2007, the best and the brightest of the staff moved on to greener pastures. The WSJ lost whatever credibility it had, while maintaining the narrow-minded focus of its often-ridiculed editorial page.

The WSJ, as does most newspapers, hardly matters in the great scheme of molding public opinion.

It is Fox News, the ratings leader among cable "news" channels, that should receive relentless scrutiny by the "mainstream" media.

Fox News has been the prime instigator of dissension in America, because, afterall, conflict boosts ratings.

Murdoch has no interest in providing "fair and balanced" news. He's only interested in the kind of garbage printed by "The News of The World" or mouthed by his hired guns on Fox News.

It is time for legitimate news reporters in America to go after Murdoch the way it would go after a Richard Nixon.

The guy is scum.