Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What a waste

Mission accomplished?
Like almost all wars, the U.S. invasion of Iraq that began 10 years ago tomorrow was a complete waste of life, treasure and time.

It was commemorated today in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad with a barrage of car bombings that killed scores and wounded hundreds.

I predicted in 2003 that more Iraqis would die due to our unprovoked invasion of Iraq than died under Saddam Hussein.

Sadly, that is coming true.

Many compared the Iraq War with the Vietnam War. Besides being proxy wars for the real enemies -- the Soviet Union and China then; Saudi Arabia now -- the Iraq War proved to be quite different, and worse.

The catchphrase during the Vietnam War was: We had to "destroy the village in order to save it."

In Iraq, we had to destroy the country in order to save Israel, but, more importantly, to get Iraq's oil.

If Iraq had no oil, like North Korea, we would never have even thought of invading.

Aside from destabilizing Iraq and the region for years, the war made Iraq align with Iran, a country it waged war against in the 1980s. We supplied arms to Saddam Hussein then to kill Iranians and also his own people.

The invasion tarnished the reputation of the U.S. as a force for good in this world. We are slowly reclaiming that reputation.

We supposedly invaded Iraq (funded by a tax cut, of course) because of the bogus claim that the country had "weapons of mass destruction."

Ironically, the invasion sent the message out loud and clear: If you have weapons of mass destruction, like Pakistan or North Korea, we will not invade you. And, if you don't have nukes, you damn well better them or we will invade you.

Consequently, nuclear weapons are proliferating, particularly in countries like Iran and North Korea.

All those who say that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. Yes, and it would be better off without Kim Jong-un, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mahmoud Ahmandinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Joseph Kony and on and on and on. If you want them, go get them.

We got rid of Muammar Kadhafi, Hosni Mubarak, and Ben Ali without firing a shot. Actually, we let the people of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia decide their own fates. As they should.

I feel terrible for all the dead and those horribly maimed for life in America, in our allied nations and in Iraq because of our reckless, incompetent and immoral invasion 10 years ago. The post-traumatic stress will harm thousands more.

Like Vietnam, all that suffering for nothing.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sisters passes local option tax yet again

For the third time, Sisters passed a local option tax on Tuesday, this time by an overwhelming margin of 79 percent to 21 percent.

And, it did so with a turnout of 63 percent, thus easily surpassing the 50 percent mandated in our ridiculous "double majority" voting scheme.

Yes, that's right, the place with the highest property values in Central Oregon just decided again to renew a property tax to support smaller class sizes, a full school year (only in Oregon is this in doubt), and a host of curricular programs.

The Great Recession pummeled Sisters, as it has everywhere else, so the passage of this local option is truly impressive.

Sisters is the only school district in Central Oregon to pass a local option tax to supplement state aid that has fallen short for much of the past 10 years.

Because of this, Sisters attracts families from around the state and the region looking for a place that supports public education the way Sisters does. It helps that Sisters' schools rank high in state assessments.

It's an amazing thing to see in an age when all we hear is the whining about deficits and what we can't do to fund education.

Other districts in Central Oregon have passed school construction bonds and Bend has another one slated again this year.

While construction bond approvals are fantastic, much of their financial support for passage comes from the development/construction community that benefits directly from passage of such a bond in the form of construction contracts.

When the construction/development community doesn't directly benefit, it opposes operating bonds or local options. That's what happened in Bend earlier this century.

Kudos to the good folks in Sisters who have rallied yet again around their three schools -- elementary, middle and high -- as a source of community pride.

That support is so deep that when a construction bond to add classes to the elementary school was narrowly defeated in the 1990s, members of the community got together and built the needed classrooms with their own hands, time and materials.

It would be great to see other cities and state legislators show support for education the way Sisters has over the years.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bend city council votes against public safety

With just one dissenting vote, the Bend city council decided that road safety on the north end of Bend is clearly subordinate to the wishes of a handful of businesses.

The council voted to ask the state to remove the "expressway" designation of Highways 97 and 20 as they intersect adjacent to the Cascade Village Shopping Center.

If that designation is changed, those two major state highways will become more unsafe than they already are as businesses seek ways to capture all those passing vehicles and shoppers.

As it is, Highway 97 is gridlock paradise during daily commute times. Accidents are frequent.

Apparently, the council doesn't care if there are more accidents. Therefore, it doesn't really care about public safety.

What this means is that the council won't make necessary changes to Reed Market Road where it crosses Highway 97 because a couple of businesses will sue them if they do.

This is the main reason why Bend is often called Bend-over.

Because that is what the city always does for any business that threatens to sue the city.

Luckily, the Oregon Transportation Commission is unlikely to agree to our city's ridiculous demands.

The commission is still irked that the $120 million it okayed for building the Parkway through Bend resulted in a "parking lot" on the north end of town.

The state's plans for Highway 97 call for a 4-lane freeway from the Washington to California borders.

Of course, that won't happen for decades, but the point is that businesses along this highway should plan for this eventuality.

The state is looking out for our safety. It's too bad our city councilors, save one, are not.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Happy days are here again?

Well, the Dow Jones Industrial Average says so.

The stock market hit a record high today, thereby erasing, theoretically, all those paper losses from the Great Recession.

It did this in spite of that "huge" tax hike affecting those making more than $450,000 a year that was supposed to cripple the economy.

And the sequester? The markets pay no attention to it.

Don't we all feel better now?

Actually, it's hard to cheer such wonderful news since the jobless rate is 7.9 percent nationally and about 10.5 percent in Bend.

Gas prices are at seasonal highs.

Fifty million Americans are on food stamps.

And while the Dow is at an all-time high, you can be sure that most working citizens' retirement plans haven't rebounded nearly as well.

Plus, tomorrow the market will tank, at least for a day.

The real issue goes much deeper than what happens on Wall Street.

As the economy contracted during the Great Recession, corporations realized, yet again, that they can make the same amount of money or more by employing less workers than before, particularly in the U.S.

Wall Streeters love this. The last people they want to see make any money are those Americans who actually produce something. The more the common worker makes, the less they rake in, or so they think.

Besides, why pay an American far more than what a worker makes in China or Mexico.

This trend of producing more with less workers has been going on for years, ever since the dawn of the Industrial Age.

As technology improves, workers become displaced.

Through much of the Industrial Age, the conventional order was disrupted and old jobs were lost forever. But, new opportunities blossomed and new employment emerged, even flourished.

But, the past few recessions have spawned so-called "jobless recoveries."

The Great Recession will produce the greatest jobless recovery so far.

Most Americans have done, and will do, without. But, many more will whip out the charge cards to keep cable TV and the smartphones or buy new tattoos or pay basic medical bills.

Either way, household debt should escalate once again.

Yet this time, there will be fewer jobs available to pay down that debt, let alone to contribute to that retirement portfolio laden with stocks.

One of things the Great Recession revealed is that the emperor has no clothes.

Of course, we have no emperor and never had one, but the analogy is that the American economy is so threadbare after all these jobless recoveries that all those clothes imported from China can't cover it.

Not even close.

It seems the good folks on Wall Street are the last to know that fact.

Someday they will find out that we don't have much of an economy out here in the hinterlands and, when they do, well, we may get a real crash on Wall Street.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Leave Mirror Pond as is

In all the talk about Bend's iconic image of Mirror Pond, on whether to dredge it or remove the dam that forms the pond, the best answer may be to leave it all alone.

Yes, the silt in the river is building up. This leads to some mudflats in the middle of the Deschutes River in the heart of Bend.

If dredging is the ultimate direction the park district takes with Mirror Pond, it will cost a few million dollars and it will have to be done every 15 years or so. The last time the pond was dredged was about 30 years ago and it's needed some attention for about 15 years.

If the dam is removed, the pond will shrink to the size of the Deschutes River that exists in the rest of Bend and the city's logo will no longer be true to what's actually there.

But, and this is a big but, the cost of doing either of the two main options requires massive amounts of money that neither the park district nor the city has.

Meanwhile, Pacific Power, which built the dam about a century ago and has sold enough power for 500 homes each year through the small hydro facility it constructed there, is licking its chops.

Why? Because it wants taxpayers to foot the bill for the costly removal of the dam or for repeated dredging of the river.

Environmental rules have changed dramatically over the past 100 years and Pacific Power is well aware that it has an albatross around its neck in the Mirror Pond dam and hydro facility.

If the city or the park district elects to do nothing with the pond, the federal government may force Pacific Power to deal with the problem.

Wouldn't that be sweet.

Get the corporation that has profited for decades from the hydro facility in downtown Bend pay for the cost of either removing it or dredging the river for the next 100 years.

Let's be smart about this. Corporations, not government, have the big money these days. Make the corporation pay for the problem it created at Mirror Pond.