Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day: life out of balance

This is what we can expect this summer
The fact that we have a Leap Day every four years is proof that time is an illusion.

Same for the reason in the recent run-up in gas prices. 

The average price in Oregon for regular gas, according to AAA, is $3.92 per gallon. Last year at this time it was $3.47. 

By the way, in self-serve California, the current average price is $4.32 per gallon. 

At this rate, we'll be over $5 a gallon by Memorial Day, which would smash Oregon's all-time highs of $4.89 per gallon during the summer of 2008 when GW Bush was still roaming around the White House.

We hear the usual blather about conflict in the Middle East, problems at refineries shifting over to summer fuel, rejection of the Keystone pipeline and, according to GOP candidates, it's all President Obama's fault.

Of course, we now know that excuses for high gas prices, by and large, are hogwash. 

As Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont, notes in this op-ed piece, Wall Street speculators are taking money out of the pockets of almost every American. 

He points out that "the demand for oil in the U.S. is at its lowest level since April of 1997."

Also, we're now a net exporter of refined oil products for the first time since 1949. 

So what gives? Why are gas prices so damn high? Is Big Oil to blame?

Sanders writes: "Sure. Partly. Big oil companies have been gouging consumers for years. They have made almost $1 trillion in profits over the past decade, in part thanks to ridiculous federal subsidies and tax loopholes. 

"But there's another reason for the wild rise in gas prices. The culprit is Wall Street. Speculators are raking in profits by gambling in the loosely regulated commodity markets for gas and oil. A decade ago, speculators controlled only about 30 percent of the oil futures market. Today, Wall Street speculators control nearly 80 percent of this market. Many of those people buying and selling oil in the commodity markets will never use a drop of this oil. They are not airlines or trucking companies who will use the fuel in the future. The only function of the speculators in this process is to make as much money as they can, as quickly as they can."

The other function of speculators is to act as "the invisible hand" to crush the marketplace. 

The amazing thing about capitalism is that it needn't fear any other ism from dethroning it as the de facto  economic model of the world. 

As we saw with the Wall Street meltdown in 2008 and that we're now seeing with the manipulation of the oil futures market, capitalism is perfectly capable of destroying itself.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GOP looking ahead ... to 2016

Potential GOP candidates in 2016
As soon as the polls closed in Arizona, the networks projected Mitt Romney the winner before a single vote was counted.

But, despite holding a 4-point lead throughout the night in Michigan, the networks were afraid to project him the winner, based presumably on exit polls.

Romney was winning big where most people live, around Detroit, while Rick Santorum was prevailing in rural areas, indeed much of the state, where few voters live. Eventually, Mitt was declared the winner around 7:15 p.m. West Coast time.

Neither Republican will carry Michigan in November and some Democrats consider Arizona in play for the general election.

The GOP establishment is breathing a sigh of relief tonight, but Mitt is still not the nominee, yet.

Republicans must be looking to 2016 where they hope they have a sure-thing nominee before the primary season even starts.

If he's alive, Ron Paul will be there. There will also be the token minority and perhaps, a token female.

But the nominee will be another white male, who will take positions on social issues that are out of step with most Americans.

What's happening nationally to the Republican Party mirrors what happened to Oregon over the past 30 years.

For most of our history, Oregon was largely a progressive Republican state, with long-serving GOP governors and senators. Under Republican leadership, Oregon created its well-known land-use laws and also the first bottle bill in the nation.

But, in the early-1980s, Oregon elected its last Republican governor. By 2008, we no longer had a Republican politician in any statewide office. We have just one GOP representative out of five.

A reason for the change? Well, the GOP became fixated on social issues to the exclusion of most everything else and Oregonians said "no thanks."

The GOP became known as the party of extremists and most voters are not.

It's taken awhile, but it seems that the rest of the country is following Oregon's lead. The nation is exhausted by the stalemate on social issues. It's time to move on.

But, the extreme base of the GOP still wants to wage a battle -- on abortion, contraception, gay rights -- that is less than secondary to most American lives.

GW Bush was adept at catering to the base while also appearing palatable to independents. Granted, he wasn't really elected president in 2000, but selected by the Supreme Court.

Still, Bush prevailed in 2004 by 2.9 percent of the vote, the smallest margin for a re-elected president since 1828. (President Obama won by 7.3 percent in 2008).

Compared to 2000, Republicans considered the 2004 vote a landslide and a mandate to do whatever they wanted. The obituary of the Democratic Party was written by pundits coast-to-coast.

Well, here we are in 2012 with the GOP struggling to find a candidate to face President Obama.

Since it is still February, no one knows how the election will go, but this much is certain: Obama will win most of the states where most of the people live, while Romney/Santorum will carry a majority of the states, but where fewer people live.

As in 2004, the election will likely be over once the votes are counted in Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.  If Obama takes all three, and he has the edge now in February, the election is over.

That's good for us on the Left Coast because it means we won't be hammered with as many negative ads as in the battleground states and it may keep some GOP voters at home.

Should Obama win, as I think he will, the pundits will write the obituary for the GOP.

In fact, they have already.

While demographics favor Democrats now and the foreseeable future, nothing is set in stone.

Whatever party that is in power always has the ability to squander that power.

Besides, 2016 isn't that far off when you consider the GOP presidential campaigns start a year from now.

God help us.

February one of the mildest in Bend

These last few days notwithstanding, February will go down as one the driest, mildest Februarys in Bend's history.

We had 60-degree weather last Friday and it was still in the mid-40s during the evening.

Sure enough, though, we woke up to snow on Saturday morning and it's been white and cold ever since.

We're supposed to get a few more inches of snow overnight and, thanks to Leap Day, our February weather will appear colder and snowier than it actually felt like.

Check out this link from The Weather Channel on Bend's mild month.

There were few days with precipitation. Temps in the upper 40s to low 50s were almost routine.

Yes, we had some cold nights, but February is known for even colder nights.

Don't know what gets the credit for our relatively mild February, but if it's climate change, La Nina or El Nino, I don't think most people would complain. Even snow-riders had their share of snowpack at Mt. Bachelor.

Of course, it also means we could have another cold, lengthy spring like we had last year. I won't complain, though, because those chilly springs are great for keeping my juniper allergies at bay.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Who will be Romney's running mate?

Will it be M&M (Mitt and Marco)
on the GOP ticket?
Although Mitt Romney has yet to seal the deal with Republicans, it seems he'll get the nomination, barely.

In the process, he'll have alienated a few groups he might need in November.

These include independents, women and Hispanics, to name a few.

He'll get enough women, but not a majority, to vote for him.

What he can't do is lose the Hispanic vote by less than 40 percent, according to Beltway politicos.

But, the intolerant position that Romney and GOP have taken on immigration is pushing Hispanics away from Republican Party.

So, how to win them back? Pick a Hispanic as a running mate.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., seems like the perfect fit as he could deliver Florida, a crucial swing state, and a sizable portion of the Hispanic vote even with his anti-immigrant stances. He's also Catholic.

Or, sort of. Apparently, he's left the Church a few times, but always gone back. At one point, he attended a Baptist church.

And, the clincher, he was also a Mormon when he was a child.

Having a president as a Mormon does not seem far-fetched. But, having his vice-president as a onetime Mormon would really alienate the evangelical/fundamentalist base of the GOP and suppress the Republican turnout even further than Mitt could do by himself.

That is why the story emerged this week, to plant that seed of doubt in the electorate.

Romney may opt for another Hispanic, perhaps New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez. She could deliver the Hispanic and female vote, or so the thinking goes. But, New Mexico isn't a vital battleground state.

Ultimately, I don't see Mitt taking such a bold, unprecedented move. He saw what happened to the McCain/Palin ticket and it wasn't pretty. Yes, they did get tens of millions of votes, but still lost by 7.3 percent, which is considered a blowout in this millennium.

Mitt, will likely pick someone white, male and not Mormon.

Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, seems like a Mitt pick with his strong business background. But, while an undergrad at Princeton in 1970, Daniels got arrested for possession of marijuana, LSD and other drugs. No, he wasn't a pharmacology student. But, that arrest didn't prevent him from getting elected governor.

Picking a Veep is a tough call. President Obama went with a safe, bland pick in Joe Biden.

Mitt will likely make another safe, cautious pick.

He'll want to look steady, not desperate and calculating.

Either way, it won't matter in the end.

At this point, I see Mitt losing by 8.3 percentage points to President Obama.  The electoral count could be even worse.

Friday, February 24, 2012

HP stands for Ho-hum Products

Poor Hewlett-Packard. It's earnings were down 44 percent over the holiday season thanks largely to weak demand for its PCs.

Such news is hardly surprising since the previous CEO wanted to jettison the high volume/low margin PC business from HP.

Out he went and in came Meg Whitman, the woman who made a killing running eBay and then blew a good chunk of it on her failed, egotistical bid for governor of California.

HP, on the consumer end, is known for cheap computers and printers. There are so many models of each that it can barely keep track of them.

Whitman acknowledged as much when she said that HP needed to reduce its SKU, or stock-keeping unit.

Whitman also blamed the economy, flooding in Thailand and changing buying habits for the big decline at HP. Consumers are buying iPads, not HP's failed TouchPad, which lasted about two months.

How about blaming its mediocre to poor core products.

I've had numerous HP products over the years, including printers, desktops and laptops.

The only product that I've ever liked was the 5P laser printer. I traded in my 3P in 1995 for the 5P and it's still working.

But, the desktops and laptops had numerous issues including ridiculous "bloatware," pre-loaded garbage software that nearly incapacitates the computer.

Another big issue is the poor compatibility between HP computers and HP printers. Go figure.

Some of the problems are related to Microsoft's Windows operating system. But, it got ridiculous when I called HP's customer support and they would immediately say they weren't at fault. Call Microsoft. And, of course, Microsoft blamed HP.

I had enough of HP by 2009 after my daughter's first laptop became virtually useless after one year in college. We got her an MSI netbook which was a champ on her travels.

I'm typing this blog entry on a Samsung laptop that came with little bloatware. It's fast and reliable.

My next printer will be a Canon because they're always rated better than HP printers.

The big winners of the PC era, HP and Microsoft, are now the big losers during the iEpoch.

The reason is that they both had microscopic innovation this past decade. They were fat and happy.

Apple wasn't.

Thanks to Steve Jobs' leadership, Apple produced hit after hit: the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. Now that Jobs has died, Apple will likely begin to fade again.

And then there is Google, the search engine that could.

Its Android operating system is now on more phones than Apple's operating system.

It may not be long before Android hogs market share in computers whether they be tablets, laptops or desktops.

Google and Apple are innovators.

The only knock against Google is that it innovates so much and so frequently that it can barely inform the end-user.

I'm mostly in Google's camp because Apple's products are overpriced, but I have yet to buy any hardware that runs Android.

The updated Asus Transformer running Android, though, is looking good.

I'm done with HP and someday soon I may be done with Windows.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Apple exploits in America, too

Data center: Warehouse full of computer servers
with few workers
Apple got cored recently in the New York Times over its exploitation of workers in China.

Now, Oregon is saying, "hey, Apple, exploit us, too."

Last week, when the Oregon Legislature passed the "Facebook" bill to not tax data centers in enterprise zones for 15 years, Apple quickly bought 160 acres near Prineville for $5.6 million, according to news reports.

Apple, apparently, is going to build another data center near Facebook's two centers there.

If there is one thing that two of the richest companies in America cannot afford is taxes.

Taxes are for the fools who haven't figured out how to exploit local and state governments in granting them tax exemptions.

In fact, it's a strategy of many corporations to extract as many concessions as possible from desperate government entities.

I mean, they're bringing "jobs," which is more important than anything else.

Of course, the employment numbers at the data centers are just a few dozen people, most of whom are hired from outside the area. Yes, these workers, presumably, will pay state income taxes, which is how Oregon primarily funds itself.

And, as I've noted before, schools in Crook County continue to struggle financially. Having poorly funded schools is not attractive to most families raising kids.

But, Facebook and Apple don't care about their workers that much. These wealthy corporations are  coming to Central Oregon for the usual business reasons: they need to be in this geographic area with its relatively cheap land, lower energy costs and pliant governments.

Those dots on their strategic plans don't include "quality of life" or public education or public safety or decent roads.

Now, if we could all just incorporate our families and bargain for lower property taxes on our homes.

Hey, it works for people who have money to burn but choose to burn yours and mine instead.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Does anyone care about Iran?

Personally, I do not.

I know there are many who do, namely Israelis, understandably.

But, we're in America and somehow we're supposed to be wrought up in the daily war of words between the two Middle East countries.

No, it is not good that Iran develops a nuclear weapon or two. But, that's the way of the world and weapons.

It'll take awhile, but eventually most countries will have some form of nuclear weaponry. Israel does.

Plus, Iran saw what happened to Iraq, which had no weapons of mass destruction and was invaded because it didn't.

Another unintended consequence of the Iraq war is that it accelerated the pace at which countries, rogue or not, are developing weapons of mass destruction.

Once Iran gets WMDs, Israel and the U.S. won't attack or invade that Islamic country.

The most dangerous country in the world, North Korea, is left largely alone because it has WMDs.

If Israel does attack Iran before it develops a nuke, we'll get blamed and dragged into another war over oil.

But, enough is enough.

If Israel wants to strike Iran, or vice-versa, then so be it.

There isn't much we can do about it.

Israel ceded the moral high ground when it chose to expand settlements in the occupied territories.

Iran has long ceded any ground whatsoever when it forced an Islamic republic upon a citizenry that didn't really want it. Plus, the leadership there says some alarming things about destroying Israel.

Such talk could lead to MAD: mutually assured destruction, which is a doctrine that has deterred World War III for more than 60 years now.

Neither side wants our counsel.

And, they'll pay for it.

Or, more likely, we're paying for it in the form of higher gas prices, greater instability in the Middle East and another potential petroleum war.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to lower gas prices

First off, don't drive.

No. 2, get an electric car.

No. 3, buy a Prius.

No. 4, arrest the speculators. The recent run-up in prices can be blamed mostly on speculators.

Unfortunately, those solutions are beyond the means, and practicality, of most Americans.

That is the conundrum we find ourselves in.

We are addicted to oil and don't want to end that addiction because it requires us to change.

And, it's as American as apple pie to refuse any 12-step process that will change us for the better.

Right now, until electric vehicles can go farther than 100 miles without recharging overnight, the gas-electric hybrid is a step in the right direction.

But, it is not the end-game. Far from it.

The ultimate vehicle will be one that is fully electric, can go 500 miles without recharging and then recharge fully in an hour.

That vehicle is a few years off.

Until then, the vehicle manufacturers need to phase out the gas-powered car in favor of the gas-electric hybrid. They need to make sedans as well as small SUVs that get 50 miles per gallon.

As the hybrid then becomes the norm, it buys time until the electric vehicle takes over.

Of course, electric vehicles, by themselves, won't reduce our consumption of fossil fuels that power our electrical grid.

We'll need government to require solar power on all homes where the sun shines.

That will take decades to accomplish, but until we do it, we'll be fighting wars in some god-forsaken place and paying a premium at the pump.

It's our choice.

Campaign notes: Mormons try to sabotage Mitt; Santorum was for abortion before he was against it

Anne Frank was 15
 when she died at Bergen-Belsen in 1945
Couple of stories need some attention because they are troubling for the two GOP front-runners.

Mormons, by virtue of their polygamist and racist past, have an uphill fight in being accepted by the majority of Americans.

They also have this practice of "proxy baptisms" in which they baptize long-dead individuals from different faiths. In essence, claiming them as their own.

In 2010, the Mormons and Jewish leaders came to an agreement in which Mormons would no longer "baptize" Holocaust victims.

But, apparently over the weekend, Mormons went and baptized a Holocaust victim.

It wasn't one of the millions of anonymous victims. No, it was Anne Frank, the most renowned of all Holocaust victims.

Aside from being a practice that, on its face, is incredibly weird, this incident focuses attention on Mitt's Mormonism when he seems to be avoiding it all costs.

No wonder, because if "baptizing" Holocaust victims is a part of the Mormon religion, what other bizarre practices does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engage in?

I don't want to know, believe me, but some independent voters might.

Should Mitt prevail in the Republican primaries, it looks like he just lost Florida in the general election.

Which leads us to Rick Santorum, who went out of his way last weekend to prove his bizarre bona fides in crazy, anti-Obama blather.

Now, Santorum, the most strident anti-abortionist running for president, must explain why he was pro-choice back in the day. 

Apparently, he was quoted saying "I was basically pro-choice all my life, until I ran for Congress."

Now, this won't hurt him with the anti-abortion crowd because they accept all converts to their side, unless that person is a Democrat running for office.

But, it does raise questions of what Santorum really believes and what he will say to get elected.

In this way, he is no different than Mitt or any other politician.

In other words, why vote for Rick or Mitt if they don't have any core beliefs?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Santorum surge highlights national divide

Blinders required to vote Republican
It's a sad state of political affairs when Rick Santorum is the best the Republican Party can offer Americans.

He's leading Willard Mitt Romney in the national polls and he spent the weekend making idiotic and divisive statements.

From dismissing climate change to trashing President Obama's "theology" to comparing Obama to Hitler, Santorum was smoking.

His comments may fire up the Republican base, including teabaggers, like nothing else, but they're a sure-fire way to get trounced in November.

Santorum also considers public schools un-American while promoting home-schooling.


All this publicity should remind future GOP primary voters that Santorum has no chance in the general election and that they should just hold their noses and pick Mitt.

But Mitt is also his own worst enemy. Now, he'll have to tack further toward the right-wing fringe just to win the nomination.

By the end of primary season, the so-called "big tent" of the Republicans will be reduced to an umbrella, in a cocktail.

The GOP candidates are on record as being anti-women, anti-Hispanic, anti-African-American, anti-homosexual, anti-science, anti-education, anti-contraception and, of course, anti-abortion.

The only thing the GOP is in favor of is the supremacy of white males, which should get the party of Lincoln about 45 percent of the vote in November.

That percentage, of course, is less than what's needed to win.

TV pundits are warning Democrats not to wish for Santorum's victory because, the last time they had such wishes in 1980, Ronald Reagan came to the forefront.

Comparing Santorum to Reagan, though, is as insane as any recent Santorum comment.

Rick is no Ronald. Rick is no Mitt or Newt, for that matter.

Santorum may represent the GOP thinking of 1980, but it is now 2012.

The times have changed. Republicans haven't.

Best picture? Who knows

The Oscar telecast  airs Sunday, Feb. 26.
Billy Crystal to host
Like the Super Bowl, it's hard to remember who won Best Picture last year.

Afterall, there were 10 nominees, so it's easy to forget.

Amazingly, I've seen many, but far from all, of the nominees this year.

It seems that "The Artist," and "Hugo," are the leaders for Best Picture. Coincidentally, they are both about the early days of filmmaking. I give the edge to "Hugo." Same in the Best Directing category.

"Hugo," about the nascent days of cinema in France, is directed by an American, Martin Scorsese. "The Artist," about the end of silent film era in Hollywood, is directed by a Frenchman.

Of the two, "Hugo" is far more cinematic and should be seen on the big screen. "The Artist," largely a silent film, shows better than "Hugo" that movies convey far more information through visuals than dialog.

They're both good movies, but they don't have the emotional depth that other Best Pictures have displayed over the years.

Now, I remember what won last year: "The King's Speech." It was great movie about class that transcended class. Superb acting, as well.

I'm a little surprised that "The Tree of Life," got nominated for Best Picture and Director, since it is a film a few years ahead of its time and made little money at the box office. It's also hard to follow and loaded with symbolism that simply confounds the casual viewer. Still, I'm glad it was allowed to be made. It shows the esteem most insiders have for writer/director Terrence Malick.

I see George Clooney winning Best Actor for "The Descendants." He shows incredible range in a movie that feels organic instead of contrived.

Jean Dujardin, the lead in "The Artist," also has a good shot at winning Best Actor. It was funny to read that, while making the film, Dujardin spoke French and John Goodman spoke English in their scenes together. It worked great.

As for Best Actress, known as the Meryl Streep Award, it should go to Streep, even though I've only seen brief scenes of "The Iron Lady" on TV. She should always win, but rarely does.

I'm sure Streep would love to see Viola Davis win for "The Help," and I think Davis will win. Everyone knows that Streep doesn't need another Oscar to prove that she's the greatest actress that ever lived. But, it would do wonders for Davis if she won.

In the supporting acting roles, I see Christopher Plummer winning for "Beginners," about a gay older man, and a film I haven't seen.

Best Supporting Actress is tough since "The Help" has two nominated in the category, which usually means both will lose. In this scenario, Melissa McCarthy could win for "Bridesmaids," another crude, lewd comedy, that is surprisingly dull at times. Jessica Chastain, in "The Help" and five other films released last year, had the most productive year for any actress in any year.

As for writing, the category with the least respect, I see Woody Allen winning for "Midnight in Paris" for Best Original work and "Moneyball" winning for Best Adapted Screenplay since Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian worked on it.

Didn't see "Moneyball," but "Midnight in Paris" was fun in the classic Allen way. The original screenplay for "Margin Call" could pull an upset, though. Also, "Bridesmaids" might win, but really shouldn't since it's in the same category as "The Artist," a far more worthwhile film.

I didn't see many of the animated features nominated, by I did enjoy "Rango."

It was an acceptable year for films, but not really memorable. It was like pro football, entertaining at times, but, in the end, forgettable.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Does conservatism thrive on low intelligence?

It seems superfluous to ask to this question.

Any ideology that considers evolution no more valid than "intelligent design" calls into question the intelligence of adherents to that ideology.

But, that is modern conservatism. 

A Canadian study published last month shows that "a low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice, towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality, in adulthood."

In other words, stupid is as stupid does.

Conservatives, aided by Fox News, have created an alternate reality.  

The (Manchester) Guardian columnist George Monbiot writes: "Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that 'conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics.' The result is a 'shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology' which has 'ominous real-world consequences for American society.'"

Uh, no kidding. 

It's comforting, on one hand, to see that there are some "Republican ideologues" out there with some brains. Unfortunately, they are persona non grata in the Republican ranks.

On the other hand, why do the Democrats and the media allow a "fantasy-based ideology" to dominate the political discussion in this country?

Why is contraception framed as a "freedom-of-religion" issue rather than a basic health issue?

The "fantasy-based" ideologues in Congress held a hearing this week on contraception, but would only hear testimony from religious men. Women were not allowed to testify.

Hello, anyone there?

Evidently, not.

We're living in a time of unprecedented change in the social order that Republicans do not want to acknowledge.

In the early 1950s, less than 25 percent of college graduates were women. By the late 1970s, women had surpassed men as college graduates.

For the past 25 years, the ratio has stayed fairly constant: Nearly 60 percent of all college graduates are women.

More women now graduate from law or medical school than men.

The genie is out of the bottle and she ain't going back.

The GOP has aligned itself with this pre-1950s America.

Well, it's 2012. 

Given the right-wing-nuttery on display the past few weeks, women are far more likely to vote for Barack Obama than any GOP candidate. 

Let's hope so. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is Fox News lurching left?

Apparently, the extreme right-wingnuts in our country are complaining that their oracle of Obama-hate, Fox News, is inching from the far right to the near-far right.

Say what?

A lengthy article at Politico on Valentine's Day, no less, paints the picture that Fox News no longer speaks for the diehard dingbat.

Again, what's happening? I'm a bit confused.

Last week, one of Fox News' made men, Sean Hannity, did his part by claiming President Obama didn't even want to go after Osama bin Laden, let alone kill him.

But, it looks like there are cracks in the iron curtain separating Fox News from reality.

The Politico article traces the origin of the change to the assassination attempt on Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Ariz, in January 2011. 

Apparently, Fox fuhrer Roger Ailes told his crew to tone it down after the Giffords shooting.

What did this mean?

Well, they got rid of Glenn Beck, the type of disheveled guy you usually see spouting crazy conspiracy theories on street corners in major cities in America. Didn't seem like a hard call, but Beck devotees want him back on Fox.

And recently, Bill (Baba) O'Reilly defended Ellen DeGeneres (usually called DeGenerate in the right-wing world) when she was attacked for being a JC Penney spokeswoman. Wow.

Other wingnut complaints include the fact that Fox News hired "two far-left radical feminists" so that it would seem only partially fair and unbalanced. I guess they weren't blond bimbos with glossy lips, the usual Fox News female. 

It seems that with the rise of the Tea Party, Fox News was put in the untenable position of choosing between the two wings of modern Republicanism: Far right-wingnut and extreme right-wingnut.

Not that it really had to choose. Fox News viewership is greater than CNN and MSNBC combined.

Still, it's a fraction of what NBC, CBS, ABC or even NPR command on a given night.

Wingnuts, in the Politico piece, see a profit motive in Fox News' leftward lean:

“Something is happening at Fox News,” wrote one Red State blogger last month. “More often these days I hear the language of the Left entering their news programs. Conservative points of view are becoming more rare on Fox and/or treated with scorn…it may not be admitted, but I believe the left’s boycott of Fox is having an effect.”

Boycott? That seems coordinated.

 Like most viewers, I avoid noise whether it be from Fox News, MSNBC, CNN or those obnoxiously loud ads. Actually, we pulled the plug on our cable package last month and it hasn't made a bit of difference.

It's amusing, and also alarming, to read quotes like this:

“When I wake up, I go to two sites, instantly; they never close down in my browser: The Drudge Report and The Blaze (Glenn Beck's website),” said Ben Johnson, new media director of the conservative media watchdog Accuracy in Media. “They have proven to me to break the most interesting, underreported stories, and that’s what I want.”

What stories have they broken in the last 10 years? None, really.

The real problem was pointed out years ago by Stephen Colbert in his revolutionary bit at the correspondent's dinner where he roasted George Bush and the Washington press corps.

One classic line: "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Fox News presents an alternate reality, which many Americans, unfortunately, prefer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Higher ed in C.O. looks to higher power

As I predicted years ago, the only university that would consider filling our higher ed gap in Bend is one with a higher calling.

Well, news reports indicate that Northwest Nazarene University, based in Nampa, Idaho, is considering expanding to either Bend or Redmond.

NNU, though, is a liberal arts college offering legitimate courses along with Christian ministries as a part of its core curriculum. Students must attend chapel three times a week. It is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Of course, they're looking for local "partnerships," meaning they want handouts from local governments and Christian businesses to help set up shop here in the High Desert.

Can't blame them at all for trying. If Facebook can get tax breaks, what could NNU get?

The Bend area is one of the most populous areas in the country without a university within 100 miles. Actually, it's about 130 miles to the University of Oregon in Eugene.

Creating a four-year university in Bend has been a longtime goal of local leaders. Over the past 30 years, there have been panels, committees and consortiums trying to figure out how to expand the higher educational opportunities in Central Oregon.

We now have HEAT, the Higher Ed Assessment Team, and they're not exactly thrilled with attracting a religious university, even though it is Christian, to the area.

Bend created a huge, mixed-use zone on the town's north end with the expressed purpose of attracting a "world-class" research institution. There are good, religious universities offering world-class educations, but NNU doesn't rank with them.

Researching the intricacies of "intelligent design" doesn't exactly qualify as legitimate, or economically beneficial, research.

NNU should find a strong following in Central Oregon with its strong Christian base.

The school would generate some economic benefit, but not the kind envisioned by HEAT or other community leaders.

But, this is what we deserve.

We have leaders here who whine day and night that government should slash spending along with taxes.

Instead of investing in education, we choose to build prisons that won't be used for seven years.

Consequently, Oregon has whittled financial support for higher education to under 10 percent of a state university's budget.

This is what happens when every special interest group, representing petroleum, real estate, construction, tourism and beer, among others, all fight any tax increase that would affect their industry.

Our beer tax, one of the lowest in the  country by a wide margin, hasn't been raised in 30 years.

Yes, we do have a thriving craft beer industry in Bend, Eugene and Portland but that has little to do with our low tax on beer. Other states, such as Washington, have even healthier beer industries, but much higher taxes on beer.

And, we'll never have a sales tax in Oregon, because, well, it's Oregon.

But, we should have some decent brew to wash our higher ed sorrows away.

Not at NNU, though. Students there are prohibited from drinking alcohol.

O'Doul's, anyone?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

While pols meet, it's initiative-signing season

The speculator helped fuel
 our housing crisis
The Oregon Legislature is not likely to fundamentally alter the way things are done here during its mini-session, but two proposed initiatives this year could have a lasting impact.

One initiative is a grass-roots effort to get rid of studded-tire use in the state. The other is a well-funded effort by Realtors and builders to prohibit the state from ever imposing a real estate transfer tax when a house is sold.

Granted, there is no such statewide transfer tax in Oregon, but the mere mention of it in previous legislative sessions had the Realtors reaching for the Tums.

Other states have transfer taxes and those states still have home sales. It is not the end of the world, far from it.

A real estate transfer tax is needed in Oregon, particularly in Bend, because: 1) schools and other vital services desperately need money and 2) it helps modulate the housing industry.

Building homes for the sake of building homes, when there is no real demand, does not make for a sound economy.

We saw what happened in Bend. Speculators were buying and selling homes to each other in a game of hot potato until the last sucker got stuck with a rotting potato.

These "flippers" left us with an inventory of unsold homes and lots that should last for five years.

If a transfer tax of 2 percent was ever collected, it would be great to see speculators help pay for the blight they cause.

The anti-transfer tax initiative will likely make it on the November ballot, but I urge everyone to vote "no" on such a terrible, anti-Oregon piece of garbage.

A ban on the use of studded tires in Oregon is long overdue. ODOT estimates that studded tires cause about $40 million in damage to our roads each year.

That number is not likely to rise because more and more drivers are opting for studless snow tires. They're more effective in more driving conditions than studded tires.

Costco, one of the top tire dealers in the state, stopped selling studded tires years ago.

As mentioned in a previous post on this subject, the main reason to support the ban is that it will shift the focus to the real culprit: long-haul trucks.

Oregon allows triple trailers and the weight of these rigs destroys our roads. The damage they cause dwarfs anything ever done by studded tires.

To back the ban, check out this website: Preserving Oregon Roads.

I have copies of the signature sheet if anyone wants to sign it.

Safe driving.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The trouble with Catholics

On Darwin Day, the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth in 1809, it should be noted that the Catholic brand is struggling these days.

Admittedly, it is odd to refer to Catholicism as a brand, but in this marketing age, is there anything more iconic, more brand-like, than the crucifix?

Nothing, really.

The crucifix is the most potent symbol in history.

Of course, it wasn't really adopted by Christians until the fourth century.

Before then, the fish icon was used. Hence, you can occasionally see bumper stickers of fish without legs, denoting traditionalists, or with legs, promoting Darwinism or evolution through natural selection.

Evolution cannot happen without human sexuality, the most potent force in human history.

Yes, that's right, human sexuality is a more powerful influence than any religion, political system or financial enterprise.

In fact, the power of human sexuality existed long before any belief system religion and will last after any religion.

So, here we are in the 21st Century, debating the ability of women to control when they will get pregnant.

What's really at issue is the ability of men to control women.

And that leaves us with the Catholic Church, a patriarchal institution that thrives on control over its vast dominion, particularly women.

It's not alone, of course, Islam, the GOP and others are venerable patriarchal institutions struggling with the aspirations of women.

The Obama Administration foolishly engaged the Catholic Church on its most vulnerable issue: Women and birth control.

Predictably, the Catholic Church showed a spine, that was conspicuously absent during the priest-abuse scandals, and resisted this intrusion.

The Church, if nothing else, is consistent. It has long opposed birth control and abortion along with the death penalty.

However, most Catholic women of child-bearing age use or approve of birth control measures. Many Catholic women have had abortions. And, most Catholics, in another case of situational ethics, are in favor of the death penalty.

These facts have been exposed during this debate on whether or not insurers of Catholic-related health plans should cover contraception. It also exposed the fact that the health plans of many Catholic universities and hospitals already cover contraception.

The Catholic hierarchy, and its acolytes in Congress, wailed that the recent government edicts were an attack on religion and violated one of the most sacred tenets of our Constitution: freedom of religion.

Yet, the Obama Administration was requiring nothing of religion except respecting the rights of women, one not fully enumerated in our Constitution, particularly after the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s.

This was too much for the Catholic Church because women, while being a backbone of the Catholic faith, are treated as second-class members of the Church. No women are bishops or cardinals or even priests. No woman, aside from the legend of Pope Joan in the 13th Century, has ever been a pope. Women have no voice in decisions by the Church.

Many Catholic women are fine with this structure and that is okay.

But, many Catholic women are not. This fact is but one of many reasons why the Catholic Church struggles to grow.

In fact, the Catholic Church is in decline in America. Parishes and schools are closing or being consolidated in traditional Catholic communities from Boston to Los Angeles.

The sex-abuse scandals of the past 20 years only added to the Church's existing problems.

Presidential candidate and proud Catholic Rick Santorum said that the government has no business in forcing insurance companies to pay for birth control.

The question to Santorum is this: when your wife, due to her declining health, had an induced abortion in 1996, did your insurance provider pay for that procedure?

I think we know the answer to that.

What women, as far as I can tell, do not like is that such personal decisions are debated so publicly. These are private matters that no religion or ideology should control.

Beginning almost 500 years ago, the Catholic Church was rocked by the Reformation, which led to the creation of multiple Protestant denominations.

Today, the Catholic Church is deaf to the concerns of women. Unless it hears and respects the aspirations of women, the Church will continue to decline in America and the Western World.

It will find itself in another Reformation, one controlled and dominated by women.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Where do you get your campaign news?

If you're like most people, you get your campaign news from cable TV.

That's according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Here's the rundown of where Americans get their campaign news:

Cable TV: 36 percent
Local TV news: 32 percent
Network news: 26 percent
Internet: 25 percent
Newspapers: 20 percent

In other words, TV, whether cable or over the air, dominates the way most Americans follow the presidential campaign.

It's no wonder, then, that we have the most ignorant electorate among nations with legitimate electorates.

Personally, I get my news from the Internet. I peruse news sources like the New York Times, MSNBC and The Oregonian.

Then I go to The Huffington Post for the full range of news they aggregate from the web.

I also check out the Wall Street Journal website, but, since Rupert Murdoch bought the newspaper in 2007, the WSJ is no longer the paper it was. Their best journalists left the sinking ship because they knew Murdoch favored "celebrity gossip" over legitimate news.

I also check our Talking Points Memo, Fox News and Newsvine.

Occasionally, I'll look in at the L.A. Times and the Washington Post. ESPN is always in the mix as is the Eugene Register-Guard.

For tech news, I'll check out Engadget or TechCrunch. Late in the day, I'll go by Digg to see what's trending.

I rarely look at the local websites: KTVZ or The Bulletin.

But, if I'm interested in breaking news, I always go to KTVZ because former Bulletin reporter Barney Lerten covers it like a glove.

The Bulletin has relatively no interest in breaking news or any news that is reported elsewhere. Consequently, the local daily often appears clueless as to what's going on in the world.

Speaking of KTVZ, the station recently went through a self-publicized makeover of its set. Well, all those lines in the background are a complete distraction. It's a wonder that "consultants" are paid good money to come up with something so ridiculous.

As for network TV, I'll check out NBC, then CBS and, occasionally, ABC.

None of them, though, holds a candle to PBS, particularly when Ray Suarez is the anchor.

I watched him tonight moderate a debate over the contraceptive issue and he was, as always, brilliant. Suarez is simply the smartest, most reasonable and most fair newsman in the business today. No one, not even Brian Williams on NBC, comes close.

And, for a fun perspective, I watch The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.

One place I never go to get worthwhile information is cable news: Fox News, MSNBC or CNN.

I rarely watched them when I was signed up to the more expensive cable package. Now that I've downsized my cable package to include just the basis channels, I don't even miss those noise-makers.

CNN used to be a legitimate news source, but when it lost viewers to Fox News and it's opinion-based format, CNN abandoned news in favor of commentary. MSNBC, which is completely different from its online counterpart, is merely the mirror image of Fox News, from the left-wing perspective.

Unlike cable TV viewers, I don't need anyone to tell me what to think. I check everything out and make my own informed decision.

Unfortunately, that is not how most Americans process their news.

They go where their views are reinforced. More often than not, it is Fox News, which is not a credible news source.

A recent survey, by Fairleigh Dickinson University, found that a person who watches Fox News knows less about the world than someone who watches no TV news at all. This comes on the heels of other surveys that also show that Fox News viewers are the most uninformed citizens in America.

In fact, if Fox News is the sole place where a viewer gets his or her news, then that person is a certifiable idiot.

No offense, but we have a lot of idiots claiming to know what's going on in America. And, apparently, they're running for president on the Republican ticket.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Winner of GOP primaries/caucuses? Obama

Every time Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich wins a primary or caucus, even the non-binding ones, it's a win for President Obama.

The reason is that those two knuckleheads have absolutely no chance against Obama in the general election.

While Gingrich won just one primary, the South Carolina slime-fest, Santorum racked up four wins: Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney won easily in New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada.

And yet Mitt, despite batting 3 for 8, is the clear front-runner, according to politicos and the GOP establishment.

The problem is that a lot of Republicans aren't smitten with Mittens. In fact, the turnout Tuesday was down substantially from four years ago.

But, come November, will these elephants hate Obama enough to hold their noses and pick Mitt, their RINO?

That's the strategy Mitt is counting on.

Hatred, though, only goes so far. It can help bring out some of the base, but what about independents and any Democrats?

At some point, Mitt needs to show the independent voter that he is more than a callous, clueless Wall Street bankster.

Or that he has much of a pulse.

The turnout Tuesday was 6 percent in Missouri while it was less than 2 percent in Minnesota and Colorado.

Do Republicans just assume Mitt's their man and don't need to turn out and vote? Or, are they so disgusted with their choices that they just don't care?

Either way, it all benefits Obama.

While Democrats accuse Republicans of working to suppress voter turnout in key battleground states, it appears that Mitt is actually suppressing the Republican vote.

The GOP should be more concerned about Mitt's inability to energize Republicans, let alone anyone else.

Mitt's campaign slogan is: "Believe in America."

Perhaps it should be: "Believe in me, pretty please."

For now, though, I'll root for Newt, Rick and Ron, the three stooges.

Enough of the social issues

Is anyone tired of the same old arguments over gay marriage, abortion and contraceptives?

I know I am.

As expected, the Ninth Circuit overturned California's Prop. 8, the voter-approved initiative that prohibited gay marriage.

The Obama administration issued new rules last week requiring that religious-affiliated insurance plans cover contraceptives.

As for abortion, there are new restrictions constantly being passed in conservative "red" states.

The polling data show that Americans are willing to live and let live on gay marriage. The country is split on abortion, but believe it should be legal to some extent. Also, most Americans, and nearly 60 percent of Catholics, believe religious institutions like colleges should include contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans. Although, it was politically clueless by the administration to push this contraceptive agenda this year.

Republicans are thrilled that these issues are percolating during a presidential election year as they see these non-job-related issues bringing the diehards to the polls. Gun control is always a rallying cry for wingnuts even when no one, but them, is talking about it.

While those issues may have influenced the 2004 election, the tide is turning away from a national fixation on things not related to the economy.

As more states, including Washington (hey, Oregon, we're looking at you), allow gay marriage, it is obvious that the world isn't ending anytime soon. Of course, the Mayan calendar gives us only another 10 months or so.

Gay marriage doesn't make a mockery of straight marriage. We have the high divorce rate, hypocritical politicians, the Kardashians and other celebrities to do that.

Please, let's move on.

As for contraceptives and abortion, it is counter-intuitive to oppose both. Without contraceptives, there will be more abortions. Do we want more abortions or less? I guess Fox News viewers can decide.

It is quite possible that the conservative Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade in the next couple of years. If Americans think that will settle the issue, they are living in fantasy land.

Until the Supreme Court has a majority of women justices on it, any decision outlawing abortion would be disregarded by the majority of Americans. Even then, a ban on all abortions will be unenforceable.

Men have nearly zero credibility on this issue. Either they're against abortion, which brings up the control-over-women angle, or they're for it because they don't want the responsibility of caring for unwanted kids.

The old line is true: If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

This election should focus on many things, including the economy that provides living wages, making  health care more available and affordable and creating a fairer taxation system that asks more from the wealthiest of Americans.

The social issues are tiresome, counter-productive and, ultimately, a waste of time.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bend cares about infrastructure?

Shouldn't Bend get in shape
 before buying bigger pants?
Apparently, some city councilors, in a goal-setting session on Friday, believe infrastructure is at least worth talking about.

Of course, they talked about it last year and presumably, in the years before that.

Talk is cheap, though.

In the meantime, councilors voted to jack up water and sewer rates at three to four times the rate of inflation. And, the city plans on double-digit increase in those rates for the next several years.

What do we get for that? Not much.

Plus, the city started collecting an annual $48 storm drainage fee from every household. Bend has no storm-drainage system and won't anytime soon. The money goes to clear out catch basins when they clog up.

If the city really cared about infrastructure it would do a few things:

1) Ask more from developers, who pay a fraction of their impact on Bend's infrastructure, to contribute more.

2) Include developers in the storm-drainage funding equation. There should be an impact fee or SDC for storm drains on every new home constructed.

3) The city whiffed when given the chance a couple of years ago to impose a gas tax in the city. Huge mistake. Bend is a tourist destination with no sales tax and it made perfect sense to enact 3 cent-a-gallon gas tax. We would still have cheaper gas than in most of the state and in California and Washington. Here's hoping that someday we'll have councilors with common sense to pass this road-fixing tax.

On the brighter side of the council's goal-setting session was the idea that maybe the city should slow down its pursuit of expanding the urban growth boundary (UGB). Ya think?

Bend has wasted $4 million of taxpayers' money trying to figure out how to expand the UGB at a time when it cannot adequately provide basic infrastructure, including sewer to half the households, within the current city limits. It's a no brainer.

Fix what you have before adding more land that would only increase the problems you have with roads, sewer, water, storm drains, etc.

But, the builders' union will win the day and the citizens of the city will be the losers.

In other words, they'll kill the goose that laid the golden egg which Bend calls its "quality of life."

Friday, February 3, 2012

You say Nevauda, I say Nevada

Nevada stimulus plan
As Mitt Romney prepares to romp in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, it's worth asking: As Nevada goes, so goes the nation?

Uh, not really. 

Nevada, particularly Las Vegas, is Wall Street without the bailouts.

In other words, a failing state.

The unemployment rate is a nation-leading 12.6 percent. Nevada leads the nation in foreclosure filings at 1 in 16 when the national rate is 1 in 69. It also leads the nation in underwater  mortgages at 58 percent when the national average is 22.1 percent. 

But, how could this be?

There is no state income tax in Nevada. 

In fact, according to the Tax Foundation, Nevada ranks 49th out of 50 in least-taxed states. Only Alaska, the most heavily federally-subsidized state, beats out Nevada as the least tax-burdened state.

How could a state with such low taxes have such problems?

It makes no sense because, according to Republican dogma, low taxation means everlasting prosperity.

What gives?

Nevada, historically, is a bust-or-boom state. It relies on tourism, mining and military bases.

Well, underground explosions of nuclear bombs ended years ago. Mining and tourism rise and fall with demand.

Obviously, with the Great Recession, the numbers of those willing to donate money to mobsters has dwindled substantially.

The National Journal took the pulse of Nevada on the eve on the caucuses:

“The thrust of Nevada voting is really about taxes, limited government, and not about kind of social mores,” said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada (Reno). “We’re a state built on gambling. The bars never close. We have legalized prostitution.” 

In other words, an electorate tailored made for Mormons such as Harry Reid, the senior Senator from the Silver State, and Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president.

It's hard to feel much sympathy for Nevada, with its Sin City, when it depends on the two oldest professions -- prostitution and gambling -- to make ends meet. 

It's no wonder, then, that Nevada leads the nation in all the terrible economic indicators.

Here's hoping that what happens on Saturday in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas.

The rest of the country doesn't want your troubles.

Obama losing (Wall) Street cred

It comes as no surprise that Mitt Romney's rate of return from Wall Street, in terms of campaign donations, is about 5 to 1 over President Obama, who did well with Wall Streeters last go-around.

Afterall, Mitt is one of them, a venture (vulture?) capitalist. He understands them and their needs.

What do they need besides lower taxes, tax-free repatriation of offshore accounts and no government oversight?

Well, they want a little love. Check out this story.

Apparently, some Wall Streeters are "hurt" that Obama uses terms like "fat cats" when describing them. Poor babies. Here's another $10 million bonus. Feel better?

They can't understand why Obama doesn't speak of them with glowing praise for all that they do.

And what do they do after destroying the economies of the Western World, looting the federal treasury for bailouts and then heading to the Caribbean to stash all their cash?

Well, for starters, they make more money.

The NASDAQ reached an 11-year high today while the DOW flirted with a four-year high.

One thing Wall Streeters don't do is create jobs outside of their own incestuous realm.

While the unemployment rate fell in January, Wall Street rallied today behind another "jobless" recovery.

Wall Streeters and "fat cat" bankers have little comprehension of what main streeters are going through.

Mitt sums up their attitudes when he says, "I like to fire people" or that he "he doesn't care about the very poor."

Wall Streeters care about Wall Streeters, nothing more and nothing less.

Because many on Wall Street are obscenely rich, they believe their worth to society is far greater than anyone else's.

Well, it isn't.

Wall Streeters aren't worthless. But until they can tie their own shoes, make their own beds, grow their own food, put out their own fires, teach their own kids, clean their own suits, fix their own plumbing or even change a light bulb, they aren't worth that much.

It would help, of course, if they created a few jobs outside of those few positions in the prostitution and drug-trafficking industries.

Wall Streeters, though, insist they are adept at creating jobs -- overseas and in Mexico. Ole!