Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hate loses nail-biter, 5-4

Love conquers all, even the Supreme Court
In a welcome surprise, Justice Kennedy sided with the four progressive justices to overturn hate, inequality and discrimination in regards to gay marriage.

It's a long time coming for the gay community and for this country.

Of course, this isn't going to end discrimination or hatred against homosexuals. Far from it. Just check out the hate comments after the main story on the Wall Street Journal website and others.

But, it now means the federal government no longer embraces inequality with respect to gay marriage.

This is what our vaunted Constitution sets forth in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Twelve states have already legalized gay marriage, with California being the 13th after today's ruling to let a lower court decision overturning Prop. 8 stand as the law of the Golden State.

More states, including Oregon, will legalize gay marriage in the coming years.

This is a mark of an evolving nation.

The decisions today do not affect any religion's definition of marriage being between one man and one woman.

The rulings do not affect any heterosexual marriage in this country. If anyone feels that their marriage is being mocked by these rulings, they have obviously done something to mock their own marriage, because these rulings do no such thing.

The world will not stop rotating. Heterosexual marriages will continue and the population will continue to explode. As God intended, of course.

Still, you have to wonder about the four justices (Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas) who decided to uphold hate as an American standard.

These are the same type of justices who would've upheld slavery or not allowed women the right to vote.

Clearly, they're on the wrong side of history. Thank God.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Woe is 'The O'

As expected, The (Portland) Oregonian will only deliver their newspaper three days a week, or four, it's hard to tell.

Here's a link to their own story which says sometime this fall, just in time for the holidays, it will print newspapers seven days a week, but only have home delivery on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, with a bonus edition on Saturday.

The paper will still be available around town at some retailers, but it's safe to say many folks won't go looking for it.

The Oregonian is owned Advance Publications, Inc., which similarly downsized the New Orleans newspaper, The Times-Picayune, and seven others to less than stellar results.

The focus for The Oregonian will be on delivering content through its website:

Of course, it also means fewer reporters, editors and photographers and those that remain will have their workload increased and their pay, most likely, decreased.

Got to keep productivity up. Shareholders, but nobody else, love it.

The journey from journalist to "content provider" will be complete.

With smartphones and tablets in almost everyone's hands these days, that is where people get their news.

I'm assuming The Oregonian will have a pay-wall that is becoming the norm on newspaper websites, but that's not certain.

What is certain is that newspapers are shrinking, in every way possible, particularly in regards to influence. The (Bend) Bulletin may be forced to drop its already downsized Monday paper, and possibly other days.

Ironically, newspapers, which are in the business of informing the public on what's new, found themselves stuck in what's old.

Newspapers failed to adapt to the changing world they were reporting on.

Even Portland's Willamette Week knew what was coming for The Oregonian almost a year ago.

Eventually, newspapers will figure out how to make money off their websites. If Google can do it through advertising, so can newspapers.

In the meantime, there will be less oversight of government and corporations from newspapers.

Television news cannot fill the void since TV stations already thrive on skeleton crews. Plus TV mainly just covers crime, accidents and natural disasters. Much of everything else is too complicated to squeeze into a "two-minute package" on the evening news.

Thank god we still have The Colbert Report and The Daily Show to explain what's really going in the world.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Let Middle East civil wars play out

                                         Friends or foes?                                            NYT
One of the more annoying things about the mainstream media, particularly NPR and its Talk of the Nation show, is the ridiculous amount of air time they devote to the civil war in Syria.

Whenever Syria is mentioned on Talk of the Nation, I immediately turn to any other station on the dial. Okay, not right-wing "hate radio."

First off, most Americans do not care about Syria. If we can't place Benghazi on a map, after months of Fox News coverage, we sure as hell don't know where Damascus or Aleppo or Homs are.

Evidently, the "Arab Spring" of 2011 is still trying to bloom in Syria in 2013.

The Assad boy, though, learned a few lessons from his dad, and has massacred his own people. Obviously, he's been using chemical weapons for awhile now.

This has prompted President Obama to do something.

But, what can the U.S. do?

If we arm the "rebels," we'll be arming elements of al Qaeda. We did arm rebels in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which only resulted in 9/11.

Apparently, Iran and Hezbollah, another terrorist group from Lebanon, are supporting Syria.

Russia, naturally, supports the authoritarian regime of Assad because, hey, they buy a lot of AK-47s.

The reason any of this menagerie matters to the American power structure, is because Syria borders Israel.

Otherwise, it would be like the decades-long civil war in the Congo. I won't even begin to explain where that country is.

The best that we can hope for is to sustain the rebels so that the Syrian civil war can last a few more years, or longer.

This might prompt Iran (Shiite Muslims) to take more direct action, which could provoke Saudi Arabia (Sunni Muslims) to challenge Iran.

Wouldn't that be beautiful? The more time Arab countries fight each other, the less time and money they'll have to fight us.

There is no reason whatsoever to get more involved in the Syrian civil war other than to provide some night-vision goggles or a few rocket-propelled grenades so that the rebels can survive, but not really win anything.

We saved the Muslim-dominated Kosovo in the 1990s and it didn't buy us much goodwill in the Islamic world.

Supporting the Syrian rebels would yield the same long-term results.

We certainly do not want Syria, as inconsequential to world affairs as Sarajevo's Bosnia was in 1914, to drag Russia and the western powers into another pointless world war.

Let the Muslim sects of the Sunnis and Shiites fight it out in the Middle East. If Israel is content with that arrangement then the U.S. should be too.

This would let NPR talk about Siri or Sirius, but not Syria.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bend: 'Poverty with a view'

                  The housing forecast for Bend is stormy                       OPB
Bend has long been known as a great place to live, but not for making a living.

For decades, the unofficial slogan of this high desert city was "poverty with a view" of the glistening Cascades.

Like any great slogan, it stretches the truth just a tad. These days, it's more like "upper-lower class with a view" of the parkway.

Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported in the daily newspaper, show the hourly wage in Bend is about 10 percent below the national average.

Actually, in most of the major fields, the Bend MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) is far lower than the national average. For lawyers, we're 24 percent down. For computer-related work, we're 19 percent lower and for engineering, we're 13 percent lower. Ironically, Bend has some of the highest-priced real estate in Oregon. Go figure.

Among the major fields, only health care is above the national average, by up to 20 percent.

These numbers point to a couple of things:

1) Health care is a way to transfer taxpayer money to private enterprise. Bend is known as a retirement mecca. Transplanted retirees brought their equity riches with them to Bend after selling their homes in high-priced neighborhoods in California and the Seattle area. These retirees could afford supplemental insurance to Medicare. They're considered golden for the medical community here.
Add in the few thousand government employees, from teachers to police officers to Forest Service workers, and the transfer of wealth from taxpayers to the health-care industry is complete. It's no wonder, then, that the medical field wages are above the national average.

2) There is no sustainable industry here with above average wages to fuel another housing boom. Bend led the nation in over-inflated housing prices during the boom and also led the nation in plummeting housing prices during the bust. Clearly, underpaid workers in the Bend area tried to live beyond their meager means. Consequently, we had record foreclosures and bankruptcies during the Great Recession.   With the average price of a home rising above $300,000 again, fewer underpaid locals can afford to buy a home. (There is plenty of undeveloped land in Bend and plenty of unbuilt subdivisions, so the lack of land is no excuse for the rising prices). Plus, the days when equity-rich outsiders could snap up overpriced real estate on Bend's west side are over. That was a once-in-a-generation bubble and it has burst. The housing industry in Bend, much like other places with a false economy, is like the emperor's new clothes. It's naked, and not pretty.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Surveillance that's not so shocking

I'm shocked, shocked that there's snooping going on here
What is surprising about the latest leak of the government trolling for data from Americans is that anyone is surprised at all that it is going on.

I mean, hasn't this stuff been reported before?

Yes and no. We know the government is snooping on us. We really don't know the extent of it.

If you use a cell phone or the internet, you're fair game.

The latest "revelations" come from a disgruntled former NSA analyst, who only made $200,000 a year while living in Hawaii, may give us greater insight, but I'm sure the surveillance is far more extensive than what is reported.

Watch "Zero Dark Thirty" if you want to know. Actually, the security-industrial complex has satellites with cameras that can see through walls.

Am I fearful about this? Not really. We ceded away our privacy when the Patriot Act was passed in 2001 by our elected representatives after the 9/11 attacks.

Since then, some terrorist attacks have been thwarted, some have nearly succeeded and some have been  carried out, like at the Boston Marathon.

It's hard to tell if all the snooping has been worth it.

But, it's also hard to tell if the "data-mining" has had a negative effect on the average American.

I haven't read about a citizen, who's been critical of the government, being detained for criticizing the government. Sending ricin to the president doesn't count.

Yes, those men who have divulged government secrets have faced prosecution. But, hey, that comes with the territory. If you can't do the time, don't commit the crime.

That said, I'm not troubled by the illegal release of the data. This stuff happens all the time.

I'm also proud that Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is looking out for the average American in challenging the surveillance state.

The debate over privacy versus security is worth having all the time in this country.

That's what separates us from places like North Korea, Iran, China and Russia.

Actually, there's a whole lot more that distinguishes us from them. We can criticize our government without being thrown in jail. Plus, we have Mexican food and they don't.

But, we have a paranoid class in this country of ultra-liberals, libertarians and arch-conservatives, represented by Fox News, that claims we are acting just like a totalitarian state.


Have we forgotten Nixon?

Compare today's surveillance with the Communist hysteria in the 1950s when using the word "peace" in public could sabotage your career.

Or, how about the internment camps for Asian-Americans during World War II?

Or, Jim Crow laws after the slaves were freed?

Or, slavery itself?

Not to mention our treatment of Native Americans.

What is happening now is relatively minor when compared with our past misdeeds.

That doesn't make it right, but it puts it into the proper perspective.

Plus, less than 1 percent of Americans have any skin in the "war on terror." And, now the 99 percent is complaining.

We rely on enlistees to sacrifice their limbs or brains or even their lives, while the rest of us go on shopping. Okay, we didn't shop as much during the Great Recession because we didn't have W. cheerleading us to do so.

The point is, homeland surveillance, whether we like it or not, is here to stay.

It is up to us to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. And, I have faith in this country that we won't let it get out of hand.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

'Gatsby' post-review: It's not bad, old sport

Carey and Leo as Daisy and Jay
The wonder of any film adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" is: why bother remaking it for the umpteenth time.

It's bound to be a mushy mess.

Throw in director Baz Luhrmann this time around and it's capable of being a frenzied mess.

Luhrmann, of "Moulin Rouge!" fame, keeps his frenetic camerawork in check, most of the time, and it works.

"Gatsby" is, as you would expect, visually ravishing with costumes and colors that are mesmerizing.

This "Gatsby," is the best one yet.

The music, much of it from today's hip-hip world, doesn't disrupt the flow of the film and, at times, is barely recognizable. However, the original theme composed for the film by Craig Armstrong, is what's really memorable about the music.

This "Gatsby," captures the feel of the novel, at least for the first two-thirds of the movie, better than all other adaptations.

For a time, a I felt transported back in time, to not only the 1920s, but also to my young adulthood in the 1970s.

When Luhrmann departs from the original text and goes all-in on the characters, "The Great Gatsby" approaches greatness. When Luhrmann goes back to the plot, the film loses some steam and becomes a conventional melodrama. At 142 minutes long, the film lags at the end.

I had no problems with Luhrmann's deviation from the novel. Using the narrator, Nick Carraway, as a recovering alcoholic in a sanitorium was clever. Not using Daisy and Tom Buchanan's daughter at all as a crucial element in the narrative, was expedient. And, not including Gatsby's father at the funeral was understandable.

The lead actors, Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy, definitely carry the weight of the film and exhibit actual screen chemistry. Mulligan is such a great actress that she becomes the pivot around which all the other actors dance.

Elizabeth Debicki, as Jordan Baker, is another revelation. She captures the look (Clara Bow's "it girl") and feel (party girl who's easily bored) of the Jazz Age better than anyone else in the film.

While "The Great Gatsby" is considered one of the great American novels, it apparently has even greater resonance to British and Australian filmmakers.

The 1974 "Gatsby," starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, was directed by an Englishman, Jack Clayton.

Luhrmann, the major creative force behind this version, is Australian, as are most of the actors in the film. In fact, the movie was mostly shot in Australia.

Perhaps the reason "The Great Gatsby" appeals to British/Australian sensibilities is because it's about a destructive class system, which, amazingly, most Americans today do not understand.

The class division in this country directly reflects the rich-poor divide of the 1920s, which is graphically depicted in both novel and films of "Gatsby."

What "The Great Gatsby" needs is a modern retelling of this classic.

There a number of examples of rise and eventual fall among the various non-white groups in this country. Their stories was worth telling and worth watching.

But, hats off to Luhrmann and his wife, production designer Catherine Martin, for daring to hold up a mirror from the 1920s so that we can see ourselves today in the 2010s.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Reformers 'schooled' again

David Sirota delivers another beatdown on the so-called "public school reformers."

Sirota shows, through a U.S. Dept. of Education study, that  “about one in five public schools was considered high poverty in 2011 … up from about one in eight in 2000.” 

The entire school-reform movement is meant to not only crush the last unions left in America, but also to enrich a few corporate charter school honchos at the expense of the American taxpayer.

Sirota notes that the wealthiest public school districts in America are among the world's highest-achieving schools.

Oh, and most of their teachers are unionized, too.

Sirota calls attention to a 2011 study from a Stanford University professor that shows, without a doubt, "family income is now, by far, the biggest determining and predictive factor in a student’s educational achievement."

Of course, Sirota had to drag Stanford into this debate because, otherwise, no one would believe him.

But, really, do we need a Stanford study, most likely federally subsidized, to point out the obvious?


The "income-achievement gap" is older than new math. Actually, it's much older than that.

Here's Sirota's coup de grace:

"Meanwhile, despite the fact that many “reformers’” policies have spectacularly failed, prompted massive scandals and/or offered no actual proof of success, an elite media that typically amplifies — rather than challenges — power and money loyally casts “reformers’” systematic pillaging of public education as laudable courage (the most recent example of this is Time magazine’s cover cheering on wildly unpopular Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel after he cited budget austerity to justify the largest mass school closing in American history — all while he is also proposing to spend $100 million of taxpayer dollars on a new private sports stadium).
"In other words, elite media organizations (which, in many cases, have their own vested financial interest in education “reform”) go out of their way to portray the anti-public-education movement as heroic rather than what it really is: just another get-rich-quick scheme shrouded in the veneer of altruism."
Speaking truth to power.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Education spending tied to success

Oregon spent below the national average in 2011
The states that spend the most on public education get the best results, according to the website 24/7 Wall St. after it looked at Census data from 2011.

Obviously, Oregon does not spend the most, far from it. The Beaver State ranked 27th at $9,682 spent per student. The national average was $10,560 in 2011.

New York led the pack at a whopping $19,076 per student in 2011. Utah spent the least per student at $6,212.

Idaho, showing that it's no liberal Northwest state, came in next to last per pupil spending at $6,824.

From the 24/7 Wall St. story:

"Generally, the states that spend the most on education get the best results. A majority of the top spending states are in the top 15 in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading proficiency exams. Among the 10 states that spend the least per pupil, only Colorado was in the top 10 in any of these proficiency tests."

Surprisingly, Wyoming ranks No. 5 in per student spending but, along with No.2 Alaska, gets the least from its money out of the top 10 states.

"Last July, Harvard researcher Paul Peterson told the Casper Star-Tribune that spending per student has grown more in Wyoming than in nearly any other state, yet test results have remained stagnant," according to 24/7 Wall St.

Wyoming, though, is the least populated state in the nation at 576,412 as of 2012. 

Large, sparsely populated states, like Alaska and Wyoming, take a lot of money to educate their students in remote, isolated places.

Oregon's coastal neighbors, Washington and California, placed 29th and 35th, respectively.

Still, the data show that spending more per student provides more for a state's well-being.

From 24/7 Wall St.:

"Wealth and spending has a significant impact on educational outcomes, according to Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities. 'If you have more money, you can invest more in your schools,' he said in an interview with 24/7 Wall St. 'If you invest more in your schools, you're going to end up with a better-educated and ultimately higher-income population.'"

Those words are worth noting by Oregon's Legislature, which is poised to give a good boost to public education in the next biennium, thanks to Democratic leadership. It's money worth spending.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

More evidence on how we pay more for health care

Check out this piece in the New York Times on how we pay far more for common health care procedures than other first-world nations.

The Times zeroed in on colonoscopies, which cost an average $1,185 in the U.S., but in Switzerland, one of the most expensive places on the planet, the same procedure runs just $655.

Meanwhile, an angiogram in the U.S. averages $914. In Canada, it'll set you back $35.

Want some lipitor? In the U.S., a month's supply will cost you $124. In New Zealand, the same drug will set you back a mere $6.

In other words, we are getting completely ripped off by the medical-industrial complex in the U.S.

If we want to control costs, we need to rein in the hospital "charge masters," the pharmaceutical tyrants and the insurance industry mobsters.

The U.S. economy, not to mention the average American, is held hostage to the medical-industrial complex.