Thursday, May 30, 2013

Picture this: a newspaper without photographers

Is this the end of photojournalism?
Well, it's happening in Chicago.

The Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire photo staff, including photo editors, from the tabloid newspaper and its affiliated suburban papers.

It's only 28 jobs, but it's a trend that could be replicated all across the country.

Yes, newspapers did just fine for their first hundred years or so without any photos, but that was before photography was invented.

The Sun-Times said it was moving to what readers wanted: more video content.

I wasn't aware that you could get video content in the Sun-Times' tabloid paper. That's amazing.

Seriously, though, there's a website for that. It's called YouTube.

The Sun-Times will rely on free-lancers for its photo needs.

Free-lancing may become the norm for reporters and editors as well.

In fact, all companies could make more money for shareholders if they didn't have any full-time employees, but rather "independent contractors."

It's a way to bring jobs back to America from places like Bangladesh, where workers get by on $17 a month when they're not getting crushed to death in poorly constructed factories.

Thank god we still have Costco, which made a handsome profit, a 19 percent gain in the last quarter, in spite of paying its workers better than all its competitors. Naturally, Wall Streeters hate Costco precisely because it pays its workers so well.

Meanwhile, it's been reported that the suicide rate among male Baby Boomers is, well, booming, thanks in large part to a lack of employment opportunities.

Well, we all can't work at Costco.

And, lifelong photographers, even Pulitzer prize winners, can no longer work at the Chicago Sun-Times.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Gay Scouts of America?

I don't think so.

Despite the uproar from the usual suspects over the decision to allow gay Scouts but not gay Scout leaders, the Boy Scouts will survive. In fact, the story has already faded from view.

In the end, though, the BSA may not be as large of an organization.

That's to be be expected. Participation in the Boy Scouts has been declining for years when a ban on gays was the law of the Scout land. The numbers for the BSA are down 20 percent since 1999.

That decline is a result of a number of things, but homosexuality isn't one of them.

American society is changing. We're in the midst of our third jobless recovery in 20 years.

The income of Americans is declining. Whatever expendable income we have left now is spent on cable TV, the internet and smartphones.

Plus, the Baby Boom echo has grown too old for Scouting.

Large urban areas are more diverse and those communities do not have a history with Scouting.

There is soccer, lacrosse, swimming and other activities, not to mention playing video games all night long.

Ultimately, there is less money to spend on things like Scouting.

Mormons now comprise a good chunk of Boy Scouts.

Interestingly, Mormons, unlike the Assemblies of God, aren't irate over the new rule allowing gay Scouts.

From the CNN website: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ... said it will continue to work with the BSA. 'Sexual orientation has not previously been -- and is not now -- a disqualifying factor for boys who want to join Latter-day Saint Scout troops,' it said in a statement."

Some people decry the move towards tolerance in the Boy Scouts, with some threatening to form a new organization. Hate appears to be a greater unifying force than love in this country.

But, after all the sound and fury, life for the Boy Scouts will go on. They'll keep themselves "physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight."

That last phrase was conceived about 100 years ago before there were notions of "gay" or "straight."

As a former Scout, I thought morally "straight" meant not cheating, lying or stealing or tolerating those who do.

Most Scouts are of an age when sexuality is not fully formed beyond juvenile pranks.

More effeminate types in Boy Scouts usually are picked on, ignored or defended. Just like in the rest of society. It all depends on the group and the leadership.

Perhaps, the Boy Scouts could learn something from the Girl Scouts, as noted in this Time magazine story:

"In their statement of purpose called 'What we stand for,' the Girl Scouts explicitly reject discrimination of any kind and consider sexual orientation, 'a private matter for girls and their families to address.' Noting their affirmation of freedom of religion, a founding principle of American life, the Girl Scouts 'do not attempt to dictate the form or style of a member’s worship' and urge 'flexibility' in reciting the Girl Scout Promise. (They are encouraged to substitute the word 'God' for something that’s more in line with their own spiritual practice.) It’s an arresting contrast to the Boy Scouts of America, who in addition to excluding gays also refuse to hire non-believers. While the BSA employment application states unequivocally that atheists, agnostics and 'known or avowed homosexuals' are in all cases barred from becoming Scout leaders, convicted criminals can rest easy that their record 'is not an automatic bar to employment.'"

Yes, boys could learn something from girls, but they wouldn't want to admit it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

News media meltdown

Give me tax-exempt status or give me death!
News outlets are juggling so many Obama Administration "scandals" that they're getting hernias from all the heavy lifting.

From Benghazi to the IRS to reporters' phone records, the news media doesn't know where to start, or stop.

It's all so rich and complicated that it could only mean that President Obama orchestrated all this by himself from the Oval Office, according to Fox News.

Let's start with Benghazi, not that most Americans know where it is.

Check out this PPP survey with this telling statement: "One interesting thing about the voters who think Benghazi is the biggest political scandal in American history is that 39 percent of them don't actually know where it is."

The U.S. ambassador was murdered there along with three other Americans last September. According to Fox News, this is the most brutal assault on America in American history. Yes, worse than 9/11.

And, the Obama Administration blamed an anti-Islam video that inflamed Muslims in the Middle East. Then, it came out that it was "an act of terror," which, according to Fox News, is different than calling it a "terrorist attack."

Gee, how scandalous.

Republicans have pounced with various hearings that were full of heat, but no light. The GOP Benghazi obsession was meant to nip Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions in the bud.

Well, it ain't working.

The reasons why the Benghazi "scandal" doesn't get much traction with the American public are twofold:

1) The Benghazi "consulate" was actually a CIA base of operation. The CIA was in charge of security there, not the State Department. The CIA, with Gen. David Patraeus at the helm, failed miserably in its mission there. The Obama Administration can't really comment about Benghazi because it's all classified information.

2) Under the Bush Jr. Administration, there were 13 attacks on American embassies or consulates resulting in dozens of deaths. Where was the Fox News/GOP outrage then?

The IRS "scandal" seems onerous on the surface, but falls apart under scrutiny.

Evidently, the IRS targeted Tea Party groups and its members to prove they were "social welfare groups" for them to claim tax-exempt status.

First off, why are political organizations like the Tea Party even considered for tax-exempt status?

Also, there wasn't much outcry from Fox News/GOP when the IRS under Bush Jr.'s Administration targeted "liberal" groups like the NAACP and others.

As for seizing phone records of reporters, well, what do you expect?

Dick Cheney consolidated new, expansive powers for the office of the presidency after 9/11 and I predicted then that the GOP would not like these powers when a Democrat was in office. Hey, it's a "war on terror," remember?

Besides, if there is one group that engenders little sympathy, it's the press.

Yes, the press is beating its collective chest that if it weren't for them, there would be no IRS "scandal."

Uh, well, the story came to light when a question was planted at a public function where an IRS bureaucrat was speaking. Lot's of digging there, right? Not.

The press lost whatever credibility it had left when it donned tutus and waved pom-poms in the runup to the war in Iraq, the biggest foreign policy disaster in American history. Leave it to Stephen Colbert to tell the truth at the Correspondents' Dinner.

The media loves war because it drives ratings and readership. It doesn't really care what's good for this country or any country we invade.

Yes, there are multiple "scandals" enveloping the Obama Administration.

And, the public is yawning.

Polls show that the "scandals" haven't hurt President Obama's favorability numbers.

The public trusts President Obama more than it trusts the GOP and its media outlet, Fox News.

That's just the way it is.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

School bond, 911 levy pass; fluoride goes down in PDX

Hard to argue with idiots
While the Bend building industry is toasting their latest $96 million haul from taxpayers in the form of a school bond, and while 911 gets a 5-year operating levy, the freakish voters in Portland overwhelmingly turned down fluoride treatment for their water.

Portland is a national punching bag yet again for acting like some backwater southern town.

This Slate story says it all: "What's the Matter with Portland?"

Or read this story on Gawker: "Quacks of All Political Persuasion fight Fluoridation in Portland."

It's a story that the Wall Street Journal loves because it confirms the editors' belief that leftist Portland is a mess.

Oregon children have some of the worst teeth in the nation thanks to a lack of fluoride in the drinking water.

Fluoride has been used for more than 50 years in much of the country without any ill health effects. It is completely safe.

Almost all dentists in the state believe the water should be fluoridated.

Fifty years ago, it was the John Birch Society that led the fight against fluoride by claiming it was Communist conspiracy to poison us.

Today, though, it is largely the extreme left wing, along with Alex Jones' fans, who believe that fluoride is bad. It's the same sort of folks who oppose vaccinations because they believe that shots cause autism.

Well, consider this vote on fluoride as a giant step backwards.

How embarrassing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Vermont, naturally, joins compassionate states

Today, Vermont became the fourth state to legalize assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

In Oregon, where we enacted the nation's first assisted-suicide law in 1997, it's called "death with dignity."

Vermont's new law is patterned after Oregon's.

Slowly, but surely, other states will allow their citizens the freedom, and the dignity, to die on their own terms, not on the terms established by the medical-industrial complex or any religion.

This is how it should be.

But, it was a fight in Oregon. We passed it with 51 percent of the vote in 1994, but legal challenges delayed implementation. Then, the Republican-dominated legislature forced another ballot measure that sought repeal of the law in 1997. Voters rejected that attempt by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin. In other words, Oregonians overwhelmingly wanted what they voted for the first time around.

Washington was late to this party, but voters there passed their own death-with-dignity measure in 2008.

Montanans got their right by court order in 2009.

For those who think this is a slippery slope to government-forced euthanasia, take a chill pill.

The number of Oregonians who have opted for the assisted-suicide route has slowly increased over the years. Last year, a high of 77 people chose to go out this way.

To put that in perspective, more than 32,000 people died in Oregon last year.

Clearly, death with dignity hasn't been a problem. There have been no mass protests over it and no renewed attempt to repeal the law.

It's settled here.

Someday, it will be settled in most states that choose compassion over cruelty.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Turnout low, but election doesn't require double majority

As of May 17, the vote-by-mail turnout in Deschutes County for Tuesday's special election stood at a pathetic 20 percent.

That's actually good news for the two main money issues facing voters here because this election does not require a "double majority" for them to pass. That means turnout does not need to exceed 50 percent of registered voters for the final vote to count.

From the Oregon Dept. of Revenue:

"In November 2008, Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 56 (Article XI, section 11k), which modified this 'double majority' requirement. A measure submitted in an election held in any May or November is exempt from the requirement."

Some lazy Oregonians assume that if they don't vote they'll have a greater impact than if they voted "no."

Well, special elections usually bring out those who are in favor of particular bond measures and the measures have a good chance of passing with a low turnout.

In Bend, we have a $96 million bond measure to build a couple of new schools and renovate many others in the school district. Supposedly, it is "revenue neutral" because it will replace bonds that are ending or that have been restructured at a more favorable rate. You can bet, though, your property tax bill will increase next November even if this bond doesn't contribute to the increase.

Since we're still experiencing stagnant growth in Bend, the school bond measure isn't critical right now. The main reason this bond measure has significant support from anti-government Republicans is because the local building industry needs the work. Normally, this sector of the economy rails against government spending, but, like an alcoholic when a bottle of bourbon is in sight, gets the shakes when big government money is within reach.

That said, many of the schools could use some retrofitting and the measure deserves a "yes" vote.

The other money measure is yet another levy to fund 911 operations for the next five years. Actually, 911 has the money it needs, but just wants more. There is no reason to vote for this measure particularly since the public safety sector rarely, if ever, supports public education measures. Vote "no."

Of course, with a low turnout, it will likely pass. Oh well. Could be worse.

There's no time to mail your ballot now. But, there are plenty of drop-site locations.

So, for all those who believe that by not voting at all will doom the money measures, I hope you lose.

Democracy is for those who participate, not for the deadbeats.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Next to health is wealth ...

Beware the medical-industrial complex
God help you if have to go to the hospital.

Particularly in Bend.

Thanks to provisions in "Obamacare," we finally get to see what various hospitals charge for the same procedures.

According to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, if you need a permanent cardiac pacemaker implant, and without complications, it would cost $47,619 at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, the highest in the state and above the national average. If you're on Medicare, the government-run program will pay $17,892. And, if you don't have supplemental insurance, you would owe St. Charles $29,727.

Or, if you drive to Springfield and get the procedure done at Sacred Heart Medical Center Riverbend, it will cost $24,587. After Medicare's reimbursement of $13,080, you would owe Sacred Heart $11,507.

In other words,  St. Charles is gouging you an extra $18,220 compared to Sacred Heart. It would take about a 1,000 trips to Springfield to make up the difference between the two hospitals.

St. Charles also exceeds other Oregon hospitals in the cost of major joint replacement or reattachment of lower extremity, which is a common procedure around these parts.

At the Bend hospital, it costs $50,146. At Salem Hospital, it's a relatively modest $33,649. But, here's the really odd part: Medicare reimburses you more in Salem ($15,532) than in Bend ($14,294).

Again, it appears the drive to Salem could save you about $18,000.

Of course, much of this is old news.

In March, Time Magazine ran a 36-page opus on how the medical-industrial complex is bankrupting the country while providing inferior care when compared with other first-world nations.

It's called "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us," written by Steven Brill.

First off, nurses and most doctors are not the target of the piece. They are not getting mega-rich at the expense of the health of most Americans.

No, the story goes after the "non-profit" hospitals and the exorbitant prices they charge for everything from one pill of Tylenol, to a gown for the surgeon to medical devices.

The prices set by various hospitals "chargemasters," bear little relation to the actual costs and seem arbitrary, at best.

Here's the kicker: Those without insurance are charged the highest set prices.

As Brill notes: "If you are confused by the notion that those least able to pay are the ones singled out to pay the highest rates, welcome to the American medical marketplace."

Of course, the only insurance most people can afford does not cover anywhere near what a typical hospital charges.

Brill also shows that we pay 50 percent more for drugs than all other first-world nations.

Meanwhile, hospital CEOs and other administrators make millions.

Brill reports that while hospital administrators whine about the "low" reimbursements from Medicare, they eagerly accept Medicare patients because hospitals get paid so quickly.

Medicare is efficient. Yes, it gets ripped off by doctors ordering more tests than necessary and by patients using services they don't need.

But, Medicare's CEO doesn't make millions.

On a recent Sunday night, I sent an e-mail to Medicare asking who is the boss and how much he or she is paid.

When I checked my e-mail at 8 a.m. the following morning, I had a response.

Medicare falls under the Department of Health and Human Services. Kathleen Sibelius is the Secretary for HHS and she made $199,700 last year. She got a "big" raise this year. She now earns $200,700 for overseeing Medicare and Medicaid, the largest medical entities in America.

Brill's piece doesn't get into the ripoff that is health insurance, but when the leaders of the top health insurance companies in America can make more than $20 million per year, the problem is obvious.

Like the rest of American society, the medical-industrial complex is a major problem because too few at the top take most of the money.

When Obamacare became law, progressives groaned that it was not a single-payer/public option. How could it be? The bill was written by the medical and insurance industries.

Brill reports that between 1998 and 2012, the medical industry spent $5.36 billion on lobbying Congress to write bills that favor the medical industry.

Until we stop corporations from writing our legislation that benefits corporations at the expense of the common taxpayer, then none of our problems will be solved.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Where corporate 'terrorism' is welcomed

The mess that is left of West, Texas
The same week that three innocent people were blown to bits in Boston, another 14 were incinerated in Texas.

In one place, Islamic terrorism was to blame. In the other, corporate culpability was the culprit.

In Massachusetts, an open society that welcomes all races and religions is now left to question where it went wrong.

In Texas, a paranoid culture of anti-government sentiments is merely reinforced when the town of West is blown to bits, thanks, in no small measure, to anti-government attitudes.

A New York Times article shows that distrust of government is more important in Texas than the death of one person, let alone 14. Oh, and about 200 were injured when a fertilizer plant blew up there, due, in no small measure, to a lack of government oversight.

Here are a couple of key paragraphs from the NYT's story:

"Texas has always prided itself on its free-market posture. It is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.

"But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities — more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012."

Now, if you're a worker in such fields, you may want to think twice about relocating to Texas.

If you're a corporation, though, Texas would be the place to set up shop. Better look out Bangladesh, Texas may want your garment factory jobs.

To any corporation, 14 worker deaths are worth less than one regulation. More than 400  fatalities annually is merely the cost of doing business in this day and age, a corporation would argue. Otherwise, the Islamic terrorists win.

Actually, more Americans die each year in Texas due to corporate "terrorism" than to any Islamic belief, be it Sunni or Shia.

The economic "miracle" of Texas sure is something.

There's a reason no one messes with Texas. It's a mess all to itself.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Oregon the worst place to retire?

With scenery like this, Oregon is naturally attractive
Well, that's what one study shows.


"Oregon ranks dead last on Bankrate's list of bad states for retirement for a variety of reasons. Its crime rate, state and local tax burden and cost of living are all higher than the national average. Its annual average temperature is 48.8 degrees, which is colder than the 30-year national average of 52.8 degrees."

Bankrate does balance that bad news with this:

"However, The Beaver State offers spectacular scenery from Mount Hood to the Pacific coast, and plentiful opportunities for hikers to climb its rugged terrain and kayakers to experience its exhilarating white-water rapids -- perhaps unsuitable activities for all but the hardiest retirees."

All in all, that's a good summation of life here for retirees, but it's got to put a damper on real estate marketing campaigns.

For the last couple of decades, Oregon, and Central Oregon in particular, have relied on out of state retirees to snatch up all those "bargain" properties when compared with real estate prices in California and Washington state.

The lack of a sales tax may seem great, but for retirees who have made most of their life purchases, it's not that big of a deal.

Plus, as the TV show "Portlandia" says, Portland, where the vast majority of Oregonians live, is the city where young people go to retire.

Alaska, Washington, and California take the top four slots on Bankrate's list.

Native Oregonians, though, appreciate stories like Bankrate's, because if it discourages more people from moving here, the better it'll be for everyone already here.

That's the head-in-the-sand attitude, though, that has prevented Oregon from rising above its chronic provincialism.

It really won't matter, because when compared with urban environments in California and Washington state, Oregon looks pretty good. We have less people in the entire state, which is the country's 10th largest in size, than does the city of Los Angeles.

And, what does Bankrate consider the best states for retirees?

How do Tennessee, Louisiana, South Dakota, Kentucky and Mississippi suit you?

I thought so.

As I type this on a Thursday afternoon, it's 77 degrees and clear with a few puffy clouds dotting the sky. Plus, there's no smog.

There are no sounds of sirens or helicopters.

It's actually quite nice.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tax the rich until the cows come home

Fairfield Pond estate in the Hamptons is worth $220 million.
One bathtub alone cost $150,000.
If there is any hesitation to raise taxes on the richest in America, there shouldn't be after reading this story.

It shows that the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay has increased 1,000 percent since 1950.

In 2000, the ratio was 120 to 1. Today, the Fortune 500 CEOs make 204 times what their workers make.

Or, read this piece on why Apple went $17 billion in debt to buy back shares even though it has $145 billion in cash.

Spoiler alert: The tech giant wanted to avoid paying $9 billion in taxes to a country that enforces Apple's copyrights and secures the skies and waterways for it to ship its iPhones around the world.

Or, check out this story about how the $100 million mansion hardly raises eyebrows these days.

And, in case you missed it, here's link to the Vanity Fair piece on One Hyde Park, a tax haven in London, where an apartment can cost $40 million.

Obviously, some people have way too much money.

Years ago, there were revolutions, complete with guillotines, against entrenched wealthy monarchies.

It's clear that we are nearing the time of revolution against entrenched wealthy corporations.

Instead of guillotines, how about something more humane like waterboarding.

Too much money is held by too few people.

This country is in serious debt because the rich and cash-bloated corporations refuse to pay their fair share to a land that ensures their freedom to live beyond the beyond.

Some wealthy folks aren't aware of the modern proverb: Live simply so that others may simply live.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Knopp unfit to serve in government

A home that the government helped build
 by subsidizing local builders
On the day the daily newspaper ran an op-ed piece by state Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) titled "What we must do to improve Oregon's future," it also ran a news story about a housing project that benefited local builders first and home-buyers second.

Yet, Knopp, executive director of the Central Oregon Builders Association (COBA), opposed the plan that ultimately kept some of his builders busy building homes during the Great Recession.

In 2006, the city adopted an "affordable-housing fee" on new construction to assist those who couldn't afford Bend's skyrocketing housing prices. The fee was all of one-third of one percent.

Naturally, Knopp claimed, according to the paper, that it would inflate the housing market.

Knopp and builders oppose any fee that builders have to pay up front, including impact fees for roads, water, sewers or parks. In other words, builders despise anything that benefits the community before it benefits them.

Of course, the city bent over (again, this is why the city is known as Bend Over), and agreed to defer impact fees during the Great Recession and beyond. And, when it renewed the affordable housing fee in 2011, the city reduced the amount to one-fifth of one percent.

Still, the builders saw an opportunity and formed a "non-profit" group with the Orwellian name of "Building Partners for Affordable Housing."

They did this so they could directly recover the fees they had paid to the city.

Let it be known that no one has ever prevented the builders from building affordable housing. During the boom times, it is estimated builders in Bend were clearing more than $200,000 per home in profit.

Well, as we all know, the local housing market deflated quicker during the bust than it inflated during the boom.

Builders and suppliers went out of business by the score.

Yet, the "affordable-housing fee" rescued some builders from bankruptcy. Also, the federal government chipped in a tidy $250,000 in 2008.

Ten homes were constructed in a small subdivision in southeast Bend that sold for $160,000 to $180,000 per home, and more are planned nearby.

Amazingly, one of COBA's leaders said this to the daily: "It's still some irony to me that you charge more for housing to build other housing."

Clearly, he has no idea that government just saved his ass.

It's also very clear that Knopp, who opposes any tax hikes or fees even if it benefits his constituents, has no clue that government was the only entity to help builders during the Great Recession.

Knopp has no idea how to "improve Oregon's future," because he definitely doesn't know how to improve Oregon's present.