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.