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.