Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sequester festers; does it matter?

In Oregon, we are far less addicted to the federal dole than places like Virginia, Alaska or Kentucky.

Or most states, for that matter.

Here's a map of the projected effects of the sequester cuts on all the states. Oregon ranks near the bottom with federal spending accounting for just 2.1 percent of our state gross domestic product.

So, the federal budget cuts that are to take effect on Friday won't have much of an impact here.

There are some polls out today that show Republicans are simply out of touch with reality. A Pew Research Center poll even shows that most Americans view the GOP as too extreme. 

Not sure we needed a poll to reveal the obvious. but it helps to show Republicans what the country thinks about them. In light of this, it's surprising to see more than 80 prominent Republicans come out in favor of marriage equality.

Another poll, from NBC and the Wall Street Journal, shows a number of things such as the GOP is less interested in national unity than President Obama and that the public is wary what the budget cuts could do to the economy.  Again, no surprise here.

Meanwhile, the uber rich say "ah sequester, schmester."

Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase, bragged to investors that his "bank is anti-fragile, we actually benefit from downturns."

Finally, there is little story of a study about why the filthy rich hate budget deficits and why they don't care if Medicare or Social Security or any program that affects the masses get financially gutted through budget cuts.

The MSNBC story adds that one of the study's authors said that since the wealthy exert more influence on government, their fixation on deficits is shaping public policy toward cost cutting rather than government spending.

"We suggest that these distinctive policy preferences may help account for why certain public policies in the United States appear to deviate from what the majority of U.S. citizens want the government to do," the authors state in the report. "If this is so, it raises serious issues for democratic theory."

Ya think?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Getting pumped by gamblers

Just filled up the Honda today and paid $3.60 a gallon, which is a bit extreme but not when compared to other parts of the country.

Here's a link to a short list of states with the highest gas prices in the country.

Spoiler alert: Oregon is not among them. Not even close.

No, as usual, Hawaii leads the list with an average of $4.28 per gallon.

California, which probably has 100 million vehicles in the Golden State, is No. 2 at $4.17 per gallon.

And, this always has to be mentioned, Oregon's gas prices are significantly cheaper than states where you have to pump your own gas. If you opt for someone to pump your gas in California, you can pay up to 50 cents more per gallon.

So, all those people who claim Oregon's gas prices would be so much cheaper if we didn't employ thousands throughout the state to pump product into our SUVs, the facts don't back them up.

Here's a link to Gas Buddy's nationwide map showing gas price "hot spots."

Naturally, those places where more people are most dependent upon, or addicted to, gasoline, have the highest prices. These areas include large metro areas around the country.

Also, more affluent areas pay more. It's what the market will bear.

Speaking of markets, the main reason we're seeing such high prices so early in the year, given the facts that production is up and consumption is down, can be blamed on "speculators," or, basically, gamblers.

It's like we've turned over the main component of our economy to the types who run Atlantic City and Las Vegas casinos.

It doesn't take x-ray goggles to see that this is no way to turn an economy around.

Anyway, it's all another reason to buy high-mileage vehicles like hybrids and electric cars. That's our only weapon against the oil gamblers.

Or, work from home.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fairness and the undocumented

The Oregon House passed legislation Friday that allows undocumented children, who've lived in Oregon for years, pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.

The tuition equity bill passed with all 33 Democrats and five Republicans voting for it.

Sadly, our local yokels from Bend opposed the bill and provided a little fireworks at the proceedings in Salem, according to this report in The Oregonian, when Republican efforts at a competing bill were rejected.

Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, and Jason Conger, R-Bend, were highlighted in the Oregonian report with Conger saying, "I consider this a failure."

Apparently, Whisnant and Conger failed to get the memo from the Republican National Committee, which said winning more of the Hispanic vote was a top priority.

By their actions today, these numbskulls proved once again that Republicans don't really care about Hispanics or their votes. They only care about fanning the flames of bigotry.

The state Senate expects to pass the bill next month and we can look forward to Tim Knopp, R-Bend, further embarrassing this area by opposing basic fairness.

If there is one sure path to citizenship, it's getting more people through college at a more affordable rate. For our local representatives, it's okay that Mexicans work in the fields or clean our toilets, but they sure don't want them to excel beyond those economic dead ends.

Obviously, we don't have the brightest people representing us in Salem.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Foreclosure notices belong in 'the cloud'

Foreclosure notices were highly profitable for daily newspapers
The newspaper industry is trying desperately to recoup all those foreclosure notices they lost when a court ruling made all foreclosures subject to a judicial process.

Such a process takes foreclosure notices and puts them on the internet, where most people get their information these days.

A bill is making its way through Salem to put the notices back into the daily newspapers.

Newspapers profit off the misery of others, be it in tragic news stories, features or in foreclosure notices that must run three separate times in a daily newspaper. Of course, the newspaper lobby got it written into law that weekly newspapers did not count and couldn't share in this loot.

Wow. Talk about a gravy train. In addition to subscribers and advertisers, newspapers made a killing from publishing notices of financial failure.

That ride ended last year for many newspapers in Oregon and they saw their bottom lines plummet.

When you throw in Craigslist, the free online classified site that all but killed the daily classified section, newspapers are in a downward spiral from which they may never recover.

Plus, no one under 50 subscribes to a newspaper today. Circulation, even locally, has been declining for years.

Newspapers argue that citizens won't find out what's going in their communities, with respect to foreclosed homes, and it's essential that newspapers be paid handsomely to print foreclosure notices.

Actually, what newspapers are saying is: "We don't give a damn about getting the word out, we just want the money."

But, and it's a big BUT, daily newspapers are no longer the venue that most citizens turn to when they want to find out what's going on. It may be regrettable, but that's progress.

So, it makes no sense to subsidize daily newspapers to publish information that is easier to access online, where it's stored in "the cloud," anywhere, anytime.

Plus, far more Oregonians, rural as well as urban, have an internet connection, be it through their home or their smartphone, than have a newspaper subscription.

Daily newspapers are always pointing out government waste.

Well, it is extremely wasteful to pay newspapers to publish information that is found for free online.

Leave foreclosure notices online, where they are more accessible to more people for less cost. That's freedom.

Oscar time, not Pistorius

'Beasts of the Southern Wild'
With the Academy Awards this Sunday, we'll finally get a reprieve from the Oscar Pistorius murder saga in South Africa.

"Blade Runner" Oscar, so named because he has no legs but rather carbon-fiber prosthetics, shot his girlfriend multiple times and is now in jail for her killing. End of story. Please.

Not so with the Oscars of Hollywood.

Granted, only those with real fast smartphones know who won in any category last year.

Like Detroit, the Oscars have seen better days.

There used to be only five films nominated for Best Picture. Now, we have 10, or just nine this year because there weren't enough worthy films to round out the field.

Still, there is money to be lost in wagering who will win and who won't.

Of course, I never wager on the Oscars, or anything else, but I still have opinions about the nominees, since I've seen a couple of the films. So, in the order of how the oddsmakers see it, here are the favorites to win Best Picture:

"Argo": No. 1 chance of winning, according to this website. The movie was entertaining, but painful to watch to those of us who lived through that age. Those polyester suits, horrible haircuts and grossly over-sized glasses are all part of my past and I didn't need to be reminded of it. Plus, the hostages were so inept and, at times, unlikable, that they didn't seem worthy of being rescued. Still, I was rooting for them. A well-done thriller even when you know the outcome.

"Lincoln": This Steven Spielberg opus could easily win since it showed how our government could get past its dysfunction and pass something truly consequential. That hasn't happened since women got the right to vote in 1920. While I liked the movie overall, I wasn't as awed as others. The opening, with a meaningless battle sequence followed by a contrived meeting between "Honest Abe" and some soldiers was cringe-worthy. And yet, it's always worth watching Daniel Day-Lewis. He's the best male actor alive. He is "Lincoln." There is no contest who will win Best Actor. Meanwhile, Tommy Lee Jones is the narrow favorite to win Best Supporting Actor.

"Silver Linings Playbook": A great acting ensemble led by Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. They're all nominated in the four acting categories. The film is a tough, profane look at two damaged souls and how they get together against all odds. I did get nauseous while watching the film at Pilot Butte Six. Don't know if it was the large popcorn I devoured or the fact the camerawork is so unsteady and almost all in closeup that it was difficult to watch with the seats at the theater so close to the screen. I'd wait until it's on DVD. One pet-peeve: The lead characters walk or run in the middle of the street throughout the film and rarely come across moving vehicles. This lent an air unreality to what, in general, is a realistic drama. Directed by David O. Russell who did the classic, "Three Kings." Lawrence is the favorite to win Best Actress.

"Life of Pi": Did not see this Ang Lee fantasy, but it does look great and would be worth watching on the big screen unlike most of the nominees in this category. Just haven't carved out the time.

"Les Miserables": Haven't seen this one yet even though it's directed by Tom Hooper, who helmed "The King's Speech," one of the best films in the past 10 years, at least. Les Miz is a great story and has a good cast including Oscar favorite Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. I'll probably catch up to it on DVD.

"Django Unchained": Typical Quentin Tarrantino. An outrageous take on slavery with his usual mix of good and bad violence. QT writes great dialog and set pieces, but he does get carried away with the mayhem. Another DVD pick.

"Amour": Not sure why this foreign film is nominated here, as well as in the foreign film category. The film's director, Michael Haneke, has a history of making provocative and confounding films -- "The White Ribbon" and "Funny Games" -- and it's surprising to see him make a film that looks at love between a couple in their 80s. Kudos to him. I'll see it on DVD.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild": Probably the most accomplished film in the bunch considering that is was made for $1.8 million. It's a Terrence Malick-influenced film about people living in the "Bathtub," the outermost bayou of New Orleans. It's astonishing that people in this country choose to live the way they do in such deprivation. Equally amazing is that the director, Benh Zeitlin, does not look down on these characters, but rather humanizes them. A friend found this difficult to watch at Pilot Butte Six, much like I did when watching "Silver Linings Playbook" there. The hand-held camera work is hard to view when sitting so close to the screen. Luckily, I saw it on DVD.

"Zero Dark Thirty": Sadly, it seems like the controversy over the portrayal of torture in the film has given it the longest odds to win Best Picture. Then again, I haven't rushed out to see this movie because watching torture for the first half-hour or so of the film doesn't thrill me. But, Kathryn Bigelow is a good director and Jessica Chastain is one of the best actresses working today. Also, I love the fact that Chastain portrays the CIA woman who tracked down Osama bin Laden, a man who represented a culture that treats women as second-class citizens or worse. At this point, another DVD rental.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Isn't that special

Word out of Salem is that our two local Republican legislators want to end lawmakers' participation in the state retirement system known as PERS.

Well, not for current lawmakers, like themselves, of course. Only future legislators.

Yes, Tim Knopp and Jason Conger are taking that "bold" step in pushing something that won't affect them.

In theory, the idea is that Oregon legislators currently lack impartiality when deciding how to cut retirement benefits so that the state won't go bankrupt.

Freed from such shackles, these lawmakers could then solve the state's retirement elephant that sits on a pile of expanding cash.

No one, currently, is stopping Knopp or Conger from proposing legislation to actually deal with the problem.

Yet, there is a conflict of interest when judges, who also benefit from the state's retirement system, rule against reform because it will affect them personally.

In the past, Oregon courts have ruled against severe cuts to the retirement system because the contracts were made between two parties, legislators and public employees, and just one side cannot dissolve those deals unilaterally.

Naturally, Republicans refuse to compromise with any unions in the state.

It would help if legislators and judges were not part of the retirement system.

It would also help if there were a cap on benefits so that an ex-football coach like Mike Bellotti, who collects more than $41,000 per month in retirement benefits, would get a little less air in his golden parachute.

Almost 850 citizens get more than $100,000 per year. Here's a top 10 list from 2011.The lowest on the list makes about $20,000 per month.

The annual maximum should be $60,000, or $5,000 per month, but adjustable to the rate of inflation if it increases or decreases.

Of course, saying that the rich should pay more than those with far less usually gets the Republicans' panties in a wad.

No, the GOP would have all those making the $2,400 mean monthly allowance take the hit.

For Republicans, it's always about protecting those who donate the most to their political campaigns.

Can't touch them.

And with that goes any reform.

If Knopp or Conger were serious about PERS reform, they would craft a bill to immediately end the participation of current legislators and judges in the system.

Then again, that would actually take some balls.

Friday, February 15, 2013

It's a basic right

Valentine's Day brought us great weather, celebration of love and Oregon's 154th birthday as a state.

Also, Basic Rights Oregon kicked off its campaign around the state, including Bend, to place a measure on the ballot in 2014 to finally legalize same-sex marriage in the Beaver State.

Basic Rights Oregon helped Washington pass its same-sex marriage measure in November, thereby helping the Evergreen State become the most liberal state in the Northwest.

Since then, Washington has not crumbled into the Pacific Ocean. Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon and Boeing still are Fortune 500 companies. And, it still rains in Seattle. Sometimes for 40 days and 40 nights. No one is making a mockery of traditional marriages, except those who get married and divorced multiple times.

Nothing has changed other than scores of same-sex couples now have the same freedoms and protections under the law as opposite-sex couples do.

Oregonians banned same-sex unions with a constitutional amendment in 2004, a time when the politics of hate and division ruled the day.

Amazingly, those days seem so long ago now.

Even the Republican National Committee has gotten the memo. After the Romney/Ryan defeat, Republican insiders can see the "conservative case" for gay marriage.

Actually, after President Obama "came out" in support of gay marriage, some big-time money flowed to his campaign. Republicans now want their share of that serious cash.

Plus, as a handful of states have legalized gay marriage, Americans can see that all those predictions that we were riding that slippery slope to hell were completely bogus.

Republican bigwigs are signaling that they are done funding efforts to prevent same-sex marriage and aren't likely to send money to Oregon to defeat the Basic Rights initiative here.

Our local legislators, both Republicans, will be opposed to the "marriage equality" initiative, but they won't be campaigning against it.

Politicians only do what their donors tell them to do. And, believe it or not, there are still gays and lesbians who are registered Republicans. They aren't going to give money to GOP candidates who foment hate against them.

Our governor, John Kitzhaber, and the mayor of Bend, Jim Clinton, signed the petition Thursday.

Clinton pointed out to the assembled that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides the legal framework for same-sex marriage.

The "equal protection clause" states: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

I hope the initiative passes in Oregon, because same-sex marriage is going to happen; better sooner rather than later. Plus, it will make this state more competitive for businesses that could easily settle across the Columbia River in a more tolerant state.

Marriage equality is a basic right. It's also the right side of history.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

State of the Union?

When Ted Nugent is the esteemed guest of a Republican congressman, you know the state of the union is sick.

And, I use the word "sick" not in the current meaning of "cool" or "hip," but rather in the original definition, as in ill.

When the slaughter of 20 kindergartners is considered merely the price of freedom, by gun-nuts like Nugent, then this nation is sick, as in depraved.

When Republicans would rather see the country go in the tank than to compromise with President Obama or Democrats, then 8 percent unemployment becomes the new normal.

When the GOP's great "brown" hope in Sen. Marco Rubio votes "no" on the Violence Against Women Act, along with 21 other Republican senators, then you know the GOP still has a long way to go.

This doesn't help the GOP buff its brand in order to attract voters.

Here's a story that shows why the Republican brand is losing its mojo on economic matters.

If Republicans blame their poor "messaging" for losing the presidency yet again, well, the message in this story rings loud and true.

But, the new GOP message is to de-fund government at the state level so that Mississippi, the poorest and least educated state in the country, is the new economic model for all "red" states.

Meanwhile, corporations continue to make record profits due, in part, to the fact that they pay no taxes.

Here's a story showing how many billions that major corporations did not pay in taxes.

These corporations say that the corporate tax rate is so high, they have no choice but to avoid paying any taxes at all. Can you imagine if the corporate tax rate gets cut? We'll be paying corporations with our tax dollars.

Yes, the state of the union is a bit under the weather.