Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What's holding us back

Well, as a nation, there a few things holding us back.

We have the "job creators" on Wall Street who got tired of speculating on the price of oil when it wouldn't stay above $4 a gallon so now they're pushing up coffee prices so that a $10 cup of coffee is within reach.

Nevermind, that there is no classic "supply-and-demand" dynamic driving these price spikes. It's the invisible, and all-knowing, hand of the marketplace manipulating the market like a marionette.

And then we have Republican congressmen who believe that relief for the victims of natural disasters, like what victims of Hurricane Irene experienced, is money wasted. These elephants postulate that if we give out money to Americans flooded out of their homes, then we must cut money to people who were flooded out of their homes.

The logic is there, but it's a tad warped.

And then the usual elephant in the room surfaces: All of the problems in America, according to the GOP "brain trust," can be traced to all those regulations, environmental and financial, that have been in place for years.

If only manufacturers could pollute at will, or if bankers could foreclose on more homes, then we could reduce our jobless rate, their thinking goes.

But, as Stephen Colbert notes, the only factory left in America is The Cheesecake Factory. Those eateries may pollute, but it's something not necessarily experienced at the restaurant, but much later on. Also, we know what The Cheesecake Factory pays: "family wages" for three families living in single-family housing.

The other "theory" of conservatives, teabaggers included, is that for every job cut from government, another job is automatically, and permanently, created in the private sector.

Of course, there is absolutely no evidence for this belief, but that doesn't mean anything.

Afterall, nearly every scientist in the world believes in evolution, also known as Darwin's theory of natural selection, but that doesn't mean it's real. GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, who is also a gynecologist, doesn't believe in evolution.

Hey, it's a free country. We can believe what we want to believe because we have the freedom to do so.

They don't have that freedom in China or Cuba or Saudi Arabia.

But, in America, we do.

And, can you believe how many different cheesecakes they serve at The Cheesecake Factory?

Only those who have never been to a Cheesecake Factory can say that America is in decline.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Good fencing makes for good neighborhood associations

The city of Bend is wondering if it should allow its 13 neighborhood associations to be politically active.

This would be a monumental shift.

The neighborhood associations were created almost 10 years ago, after the Westside Consortium fiasco, to allow various areas of the city to air their gripes in public about anything from barking dogs to failing roads.

The city would listen politely and then completely disregard what these associations wanted. The "charettes" held about the Reed Market Road corridor are a prime example.

The associations were designed to give the appearance that the city listened to its non-prominent citizens, when, in fact, the opposite was true.

The only thing the city wanted from neighborhood associations was benign participation like organizing trash pickups or noxious weed-pulling days.

Well, city officials should not only let neighborhood associations become political in nature, like endorsing candidates for city council, but they should also be allowed to sue the city or developers when agreed-upon conditions of development are not met. Or when persistent problems are not remedied. Or when the city says it has run out of bond money and can't fix Reed Market afterall.

The only way citizens have any redress is through the legal process. Why do you think the builders' association/union is so successful? Because it sues government so often.

The way to give neighborhood associations a true voice in their own city is to let them sue -- early and often, if need be -- so that we can maintain a livable city.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where there's smoke, there's fire: Bulletin files Chapter 11

The smoky skies of August finally made their annual return this morning due to regional wildfires, but you wouldn't read much of it in the daily paper.

The top story was the paper itself. It filed bankruptcy to reorganize its $18 million debt.

The Bulletin revealed that since 2007, when Junior was still president, profits have declined 25 percent. This triggered a loan rate increase from its lender, Bank of America, from 6 percent to 12 percent, but that number was reduced to about 10 percent.

The Bulletin is the flagship paper of the Chandler family-owned Western Communications. WesCom owns six other newspapers along with the Nickel ads in Central Oregon. The newspapers are: The Triplicate in Crescent City, Calif.; The Curry Coastal Pilot in Brookings, Ore.; The Union Democrat in Sonora, Calif.; The Baker City (Ore.) Herald; The Observer in La Grande, Ore.; and the Redmond (Ore.) Spokesman.

The key question is if The Bulletin is doing as well as its editor has claimed over and over again, why can't the newspaper just go to another bank, one not loaded with baggage like B of A, but some other solvent institution, to take out a new loan.

The answer is that they can't. Banks believe newspapers are bad risks. This has little to do with the current economic climate but rather the dismal showings newspapers nationwide have returned to investors in the digital age.

The only paper of real value in the WesCom portfolio is The Bulletin itself.

I'm sure B of A would want WesCom to shed all the other papers. The problem is that there are few buyers out there for underperforming daily or weekly newspapers. And, WesCom is not interested in closing those papers or selling them at a substantial loss.

WesCom may not have a choice after bankruptcy proceedings run their course.

The bitter irony of this bankruptcy filing is that The Bulletin may be forced to do what it has long called government to do: Cut spending even if it means massive layoffs and loss of key services.

As WesCom chairwoman Betsy (Chandler) McCool said, "If we were going to do what they wanted us to do we'd have to lay off mass quantities of people."

Well, as Michael Corleone would say, "It's just business, Sonny."

And, in another stroke of irony, B of A, whose original name was the Bank of Italy in San Francisco, was founded by a reputed loan-sharker named Amadeo Gianini.

As an article in The Bulletin noted: "Other newspapers around the country have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the past several years, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune; the Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and other dailies and television stations; and Freedom, a company that owns the Orange County Register and other papers.

"Closer to home, The Columbian in Vancouver, Wash., emerged from bankruptcy in January 2010."

It's easy to say that newspapers have failed to adapt to the Internet age. The industry survived radio, movies and television, but it is lost in the digital era. 

Still, it is sad when a punching bag like The Bulletin loses its stuffing.

WesCom sponsors many events in its dominion including the annual fireworks display on Pilot Butte in Bend.

Well, the late editor Robert W. Chandler never did like spending money on those fireworks, but former publisher Greg Cushman, who is married to a Chandler daughter, knew that the new Republican Party loved such vacuous displays of patriotism.

Chandler was editor and publisher of the paper for decades from the early 1950s until he relinquished publisher duties to Cushman in the 1970s.

Now, the paper has a high-paid publisher, editor and chairwoman.  The advertising, circulation and financial managers also make substantially more than a market like Bend can afford.

It's no wonder that with such high overhead costs and with the rank-and-file employees bearing the brunt of the cost-saving measures, something had to give.

The answer is bankruptcy.

And you don't need a weatherman to know which which way the smoke is blowing.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Country first, all others get in line

Grover Norquist, the GOPfather
Now that the Republicans have made their six selections to the "Super Congress," it's safe to say they will get their way on all cuts and no revenue to continue to raise the debt ceiling.


Because they all signed Grover Norquist's pledge to never raise taxes or remove tax breaks already in place.

And, who is Grover Norquist?

Well, he's the founder of "Americans for Tax Reform" who supports anarchy rather than our government or our vaunted Constitution.

Here's a sample of his deep thoughts:

--- "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

--- "We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals - and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship." 

--- "Our goal is to inflict pain. It is not good enough to win; it has to be a painful and devastating defeat. We're sending a message here. It is like when the king would take his opponent's head and spike it on a pole for everyone to see."

--- "My ideal citizen is the self-employed, homeschooling, IRA (individual retirement account) owning guy with a concealed carry (gun) permit . . . because that person doesn't need the goddamn government for anything."

--- "Bipartisanship is another name for date rape."

And this is the person all GOP members of the "Super Congress" have pledge allegiance to.

It is time for Democrats to create there own pledge.

How's this: I, _____________, pledge allegiance to the United States of America, before any party or ideology. I pledge to compromise to reach consensus on what is best for this country not what is best for my party. I pledge to make the necessary cuts and raise the necessary revenue to keep our debt rating AAA and our economy vibrant.

No Republican would ever sign such a pledge because for elephants, it is Grover first, party second and billionaires third.

Democrats should sign such a pledge and then turn to Republicans and ask: Why won't you pledge allegiance to the USA?

The reason is obvious: because Grover said no.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Local beer in 'Planet of the Apes'

About three-quarters way through "The Rise of the Planet of the Apes," Deschutes Brewery's Mirror Pond Pale Ale makes a big appearance.

It's in the scene where one of the jailers at the ape prison brings in some friends one night to make fun of the apes.

One of the friends even pulls out one of the ales and teases an ape with it. Not a good idea.

Anyway, Deschutes Brewery must have paid a pretty penny to get such product placement in a high-profile summer release.

By the way, the movie is good. You have to wonder, though, why the SFPD has only one helicopter, but with all the budget cutbacks these days, it makes sense. Also, why does Jacobs, the head of the lab, make a 180-degree switch and want to experiment on more apes.

Those quibbles aside, "Planet of the Apes" is a fun summer movie. Look for Bend's Deschutes Brewery, it'll make your day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Death of a statesman

Oregon lost one of its greatest public servants Sunday in Mark O. Hatfield, age 89.

He was two-time governor, U.S. Senator from 1967 to 1997 and served in the state legislature and also as Oregon secretary of state. He gave the keynote address at the 1964 GOP convention.

A devout Christian and pacifist, he was referred to in the lead of the story in the Seattle P.I. as "One of the the Pacific Northwest's political giants of the 20th Century."

And yet, our local daily newspaper, which is staunchly Republican, treated Hatfield's passing as it would any individual you have never of, by placing the obit on page B-5.

My, how times have changed.

Hatfield was a throwback Republican in the sense he displayed common sense and a willingness to compromise. The kind that dominated Oregon politics for a century.

Although he opposed abortion, the issue did not define him as it does Republicans these days. He was more passionate in his opposition to the death penalty, which is definitely not the position of most GOPers these days. Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry, who held a "Christian" rally this past weekend, boasts that he's executed more prisoners than George W. Bush.

In the early 1950s, Hatfield helped pass the public-accommodations law in Oregon that sought to end discrimination against minorities. He remarked, "I knew justice had been served."

He was anti-war before it became a movement, a stance influenced by being one of the first Americans in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped in 1945.

In the mid-1960's, he was the lone governor to oppose Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War.

He joined forces with George McGovern to craft an end to the debacle in Vietnam in 1970. As we know, that legislation was defeated. Eventually, so was the U.S.

He worked with Ted Kennedy in 1982 to put a freeze on nuclear testing.

If Hatfield and his contemporaries had been in Congress this summer, the debt-ceiling "crisis" would not have happened. We would've made the necessary cuts and raised the necessary revenue to avoid a downgrade in our credit rating.

Sadly, most Republicans in Oregon probably hold Hatfield in disdain. They much prefer someone like Michelle Bachmann, whose crazy look appears on the cover of Newsweek, revealing the current face of the GOP.

Hatfield was a gentleman and a scholar. Because there are few such men or women of character left in the Oregon GOP, only one has been elected to statewide office in recent decades.

Oregon is a "blue" state now. Thank God.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Downgraded? Yawn

So Standard and Poor's downgraded America's credit rating from AAA to AA+.

As Stephen Colbert noted, they're standard and poor, so naturally, they're moody.

These are the guys that gave AAA rating to all those bundles of garbage mortgages that were packaged to fool investors that ultimately destroyed the economies of the western world.

If anything, this country should be proud that a bunch of scoundrels from Standard and Poor's doesn't like our economic portfolio. Now, we can pigeon-hole them for what they really are: the hate America crowd.

Yes, America's debt is staggering, but the way we choose to handle the debt is the problem.

The stock market tanked this week because investors saw the austerity measures that originated in the House would derail any economic recovery. Evidently, teabaggers don't invest in the stock market.

Our debt isn't the problem. The way we handle that debt is the giant elephant in the room. We have to raise taxes and cut entitlements such as social security, Medicare, defense and oil company subsidies.

Of course, none of that will come to pass, which is why our credit rating was downgraded.

Again, a downgrade from a sleaze outfit like Standard and Poor's is nothing to be ashamed about.

In fact, we should be damn proud. Belatedly, the markets are taking notice.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

No to studded tires, bike lane expansion

Like many places in Oregon, Bend has its share of medical marijuana dispensaries.

And, apparently some "prominent" people here must be visiting Bend's Best Buds far too often.

How else to explain local support for continued use of studded tires and further widening bike lanes on  a seldom-used road not from 5 feet to 6 feet, but all the way to 8 feet on either side. WTF?

First, studded tires.

Some guy from "liberal" Portland is circulating a petition to place a studded-tire ban on the November 2012 ballot.


He has a good shot of getting it on the ballot and a great chance in seeing it passed since, as his website notes, 84 percent of Oregon drivers don't use studded tires. They get to work and back just fine without them.

Presumably, the other 16 percent live east of the Cascades where snow is far more prevalent in winter.

We all know studded tires cause damage to Oregon roads every year, but, it's less than opponents claim when compared to semi-trucks. Still, $40 million worth of damage annually is not insignificant.

Ironically, fiscally conservative eastern Oregon, which rails against government spending, doesn't care about government spending at all when it comes to the damage caused by studded tires.

The fact is that studded tires are not as good as the main alternative, studless snow tires. They're so effective that Costco stopped selling studded tires years ago.

As the "PreservingOregonsRoads" website notes, Alaska considers studless snow tires an acceptable alternative to studded tires. And, since it apparently needs to be pointed out, Alaska gets more snow than Oregonians can ever imagine.

Studded tires have a slight edge about 2 percent of the time: climbing an icy road uphill at slow speed. The other 98 percent of the time, studless snow tires are vastly superior, particularly on wet, slushy pavement, which is what we usually get here in Central Oregon.

I've used both tires in my 27 years driving on High Desert highways in front-wheel drive vehicles only. I have never used four-wheel drive to get around Oregon. I can say unequivocally that studless tires are far better than studded tires. They're great.

Contrary to an editorial in the local paper, studded tires provide no advantage in stopping.

Drive up to Mt. Bachelor in winter and you'll see plenty of four-wheel-drive SUVs on their sides or tops because those drivers thought they were invincible since they had studded tires. What a dangerous joke.

The big reason to ban studded tires is that it will finally expose the main culprit to Oregon's deteriorating roadways: heavy semis.

Oregon is one of the few states to allow triple-trailer semis on its roads and the weight of those rigs is causing at least $300 million worth of un-repaired damage to Oregon main highways every year.

Ban studded tires. We don't need them and we can finally force the trucking industry to pay its fair share in maintaining Oregon's roads.

Now, the bike lane issue is far less contentious, at least it should be.

Skyliners Road, that extends for about 10 miles west of Bend, is a seldom used roadway past Mt. Washington Drive.

The county, using federal dollars, is planning on expanding the bike lanes from 5 feet to 6 feet because cyclists like to cruise this long road that sees a vehicle every 10 minutes or so.

Bend is known for its bike events, both road and mountain bike races, and these cyclists like using Skyliners. I've biked it and it's a great ride since there are so few cars on it.

But, please, why on earth, in these fiscally desperate times, are we even considering widening the bike lanes to 8 feet that will cost an additional $250,000 that the county does not have?!

In fact, Deschutes County is so broke that it can't even maintain its current road system and is proposing oiling roads, rather than re-paving them.

Also, most roads in Bend don't even have sidewalks, let alone bike lanes of any width.

Consider that county workers just bargained for less pay and less benefits and now some local yokel thinks whatever money left in the bare cupboard should be used on expanding a bike lane to 8 feet. Again, WTF?

Or consider that we're laying off teachers, increasing class sizes and diminishing the education of our youth, why is expanding a bike lane from 6 feet to 8 feet even proposed?

I don't think we can blame marijuana on this. We can just blame ignorance.