Friday, August 30, 2013

Some late summer light reading

As summer recess comes to an end across the land, it's time to take a look at what passes for news when the first string is on vacation.

Since I don't want much television news, and certainly not cable news, I was unaware that in some Republican circles, the impeachment of President Obama is near at hand.


Well, apparently, there is even an "impeachment store" where you can get all your bumper stickers and other stuff to show everyone that you're a complete idiot.

On a more serious note, it appears that when Congress reconvenes in September, Republicans would rather see the country default on its debt than fund the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare."

Meanwhile, there is an Astroturf movement afoot to fight next year's implementation of "Obamacare" by staging protests where young teabaggers burn their fake "Obamacare cards."

As the article notes, Stephen Colbert cautions these folks not to burn themselves because they don't have health insurance.

What's really bad about these last few weeks of summer is that Colbert is on vacation. How dare him!

A Washington Post columnist tries to understand why the hatred of President Obama is so strong that more people in Louisiana blame Obama for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 than the man who was president, George W. Bush.

Leave it to The Onion, though, to put it all into perspective.

The headlines alone say it all:

"Study: Americans Enjoy Watching TV, Eating."

And my favorite headline of the summer:

"Washington's Hobby Lobby Lobbies to Strengthen Hobbies."

Read on, it's a crazy feeling.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

'The Butler' serves up civil rights struggle

Saw "Lee Daniels' The Butler" on Saturday, the same day that the 1963 March on Washington was commemorated in D.C.

That coincidence is fitting since the film is less about "The Butler," who served eight white presidents and is played well by Forest Whitaker, and more about the civil rights struggle in this country.

Surprisingly, for the second week in a row, "The Butler" was No. 1 at the box office.

Of course, the title of the movie is enough to keep many people away, but the filmmakers' claim they did this at the last minute because of legal issues surrounding another film called "The Butler," which was a silent film from 1916. 

But, that's a side issue to what "The Butler" means in America today.

Are we living in a post-racial era with a bi-racial president?

Not really.

Many comments about the film on the IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes websites reveal that, sadly, we still live in a racist time. Obviously, the film was a tad uncomfortable for these folks.

The Trayvon Martin case is still an open wound for many, including me, who believe that justice was not served.

Yes, there have been a couple of recent high-profile attacks of blacks on whites, but the big difference is this: The black perpetrators will serve prison time.

For anyone who lived through the civil rights' strife of the 1960s, "The Butler" covers familiar ground in showing attacks on Freedom Riders, lunch-counter sitters and others doing nothing more than marching peacefully for racial justice.

What's not so familiar is seeing these struggles through the eyes of those who suffered unspeakable crimes against their dignity.

Whitaker's butler had one of the more difficult jobs in America.

He had to be the "house nigger," as noted in the film, by subverting all his anger, and dignity, so that he could provide for his family.

That anger comes out in his oldest son who embraces the civil rights' struggle, complete with repeated jailings, to the consternation of his parents.

One of the great segments in the movie is when President Reagan is the first president to equalize pay between the black and white help at the White House, and when Nancy Reagan invites the butler and his wife to a state dinner for the first time.

Of course, as the film notes, Reagan was no friend of African-Americans. He opposed sanctions against South Africa and is shown admitting to the butler that he might be on the wrong side of history.

Uh, yeah.

In a moment that should touch many whites, as well as most African-Americans, the butler embraces his wayward son near the end of the film for teaching him what really matters in life.

The fault of the movie is trying to compress all the horrors African-Americans have endured, from slavery (in this case, a southern cotton plantation in the 1920s) to the present day, in a two-hour, 10-minute movie.

It's a bit of a reach.

But, African-American filmmakers don't have that many opportunities to get their history told properly.

When they get that chance, they have to milk it for all it's worth because they don't know when the chance to do so will ever come again.

The white screenwriter, Danny Strong, credits last summer's success of "The Help" for paving the way for "The Butler" to be made and released. Having Oprah Winfrey in the cast helped a bit, too.

With the early success of "The Butler," it's fair to say we should see other thoughtful, even humorous, depictions of the civil rights era in the future. (By the way, there is some levity, even hilarity, in "The Butler.")

We can only hope so.

The racial divide in this country can only be crossed by facing the truth about our current racism, whether we like it or not.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Moda Center a ripoff of taxpayers, health-care policyholders

$40 million in Moda Health insurance premiums now pay
for renaming the Rose Garden, not health care
During all the recent chatter about Phil Knight's $68 million football operations palace at the University of Oregon, something far more sinister occurred.

Moda Health, formerly ODS, agreed to pay for naming rights to the Rose Garden arena in Portland for 10 years. It'll have that new "iconic" name of Moda Center.

Here's a link to The Oregonian story that includes some choice comments from readers.

Moda Health's main policyholders are public employees.

The Rose Garden is owned by Paul Allen, a billionaire who helped create Microsoft.

Public employees' health benefits are largely paid for by taxpayers.

Well, taxpayers are now giving the billionaire Allen $40 million over 10 years.

Yes, we always hear from the media how "entitlements" like Social Security and Medicare are bankrupting our country.

What's really bankrupting our country is giving millions to billionaires each and every year.

The ultra-rich know how to shoot up with government money better than any junkie does heroin.

Getting it from a largely taxpayer-funded health insurance company is what really rankles.

Many public employees get about $1,000 a month in health insurance from their agency, fire department or school district. That doesn't even cover dental or vision, which the public employee, at least a teacher, has to pay out of pocket.

For that $1,000 per month, a public employee gets about the same coverage as an individual paying $500 a month.

As in the private sector, the price that a public employee has to pay for health insurance escalates each year while the coverage plummets.

Since most Oregon school districts can no longer bargain for cheaper health insurance policies, the rich see a steady source of money to tap into each year.

Moda Health obviously has too much money on its hands from gouging public workers, while, at the same time, denying coverage.

It's classic health insurance in this country.

With millions going to executives of health insurance companies and to billionaires like Paul Allen, there is far less money to lower premiums, pay for coverage or pay doctors.

This is what's really wrong with health care in this country.

We pay about five times more than other developed countries. For that largesse, we get worse outcomes.

Until this country adopts Medicare for all, and not the private Medicare Advantage, we will be a poorer nation and a more unhealthy one.

The new Moda Center is a now a monument to what's wrong with health care coverage in this country.

Oregon cheapest state to own a car

Hey, Buster, fill 'er up
To once again debunk the claim by Big Oil that forcing self-serve gas stations in Oregon would make it less expensive to fill up your car, here's another study that shows the Beaver State is already the cheapest state in the land to own a car.

Our neighbors to the south and north, our second and 18th respectively.

Also, to further debunk the claim that Oregonians are taxed to death, Oregon's annual average cost for taxes and fees per vehicle is just $157, about 85 percent lower than the national average of $1,058, according to Bankrate.

So, to reiterate once again, we don't need self-serve gas stations in Oregon.

We're doing just fine, thank you.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Developer still on hook for roundabout funds

The Bridges' subdivision has done little to mitigate its impact on Bend
When the city of Bend passed its $30 million road bond last year, it was assumed that developer Dennis Pahlisch wouldn't have to pay anything toward the construction of the roundabout at 15th and Reed Market Road.

But, shockingly, the city said yes, Pahlisch still has to pay something.

Pahlisch is building a subdivision called The Bridges, which is located about a mile south of 15th/Reed Market, one of the busiest intersections in Bend.

In 2006, he agreed to pay $675,000 toward the construction of the roundabout that his subdivision would impact in a big way. Of course, he wouldn't have to pay anything until the 101st home was built.

Right now, he's built 79 homes, but wants to plat 47 more homes, which puts him over the 101-home threshold.

Pahlisch assumed that when he helped finance the campaign to pass the bond, he was off the hook for that $675,000.

The city, though, in a rare instance of asking a developer to pay something for the impact his development has on the city's infrastructure, wants Pahlisch to pay about $318,000.

City staff and the developer will bring this proposal to the city council next month.

Pahlisch claims he would rather pay for improvements to the city infrastructure rather than pay lawyers to fight the city. In other words, he likely would have lost in court.

That $318,000 would be paid over the next five to seven years, depending on how many homes get built.

In the agreement, the city must set aside this money for improvements to the 15th Street corridor between Reed Market and Knott Road, which is about a mile south of the Pahlisch subdivision.

Sounds reasonable, except that the city has no plans, and of course no money, to make any improvements to that segment of the road for at least 20 years.

In fact, the city recently chip-sealed the section of 15th from Reed Market to Pahlisch's subdivision even though this section of the road didn't really need it.

This work was completed just before the annual Tour of Homes, which featured homes in The Bridges.

Unfortunately, 15th St., from The Bridges to Knott Road, is crumbling to pieces, but the city can't say when, if ever, they'll repave that section.

A wag suggested that one way to control the speed in this 50 mph zone, which is faster than the Parkway in the center of town, is to let the roadway degrade to the point that it becomes a mile-long speed bump.

The point is that Pahlisch will pay nothing to improve the infrastructure of Bend that is outside his subdivision.

Pahlisch is planning on city residents to pass another road bond in five years that will completely free him of any financial obligation to the city in which he's amassed a fortune.

The Bridges' subdivision is in the southeast area of town where about 2,000 more homes are planned.

The developers, though, have learned their lesson from what happened on Bend's west side when developers there planned the 4,500-home NorthWest Crossing.

A hearings officer rejected the initial plan in west Bend because the roads there couldn't handle all the new traffic. (Naturally, the hearings officer lived on the west side when making that decision.)

The westside developers, though, formed a consortium to pay the upfront costs for a series of roundabouts and the southern-river crossing so that they could build their massive, mixed-use subdivision. Of course, the westside developers were reimbursed their investment with each new house built.

On the southeast side, though, no consortium was formed because developers there did not propose such a single, huge development.

No, they decided to build smaller subdivisions in phases so that a hearings officer couldn't reject their proposals because they were too small to trigger any dire infrastructure warnings.

Meanwhile, the roads in southeast Bend are crumbling to pieces, the sewer system is overflowing in other parts of the city and there is no storm-drainage system to handle the new high-density developments.

City staffers could enact a "public facilities strategy" for southeast Bend, but they are too fearful of developers to ever do such a thing.

So, what will happen is that Bend, which sells itself on its "livability," will become so unlivable that property taxpayers will be forced to pay for huge new sewer and road bonds.

The developers won't have to pay anything.

Afterall, developers don't really care about Bend, but rather how much they can profit from this city.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Newspaper fire sales

Extra! Extra! Wanna buy a paper for nuttin?
Now that the Boston Globe and Washington Post have sold for bargain basement prices, is the New York Times far behind?

Or, is The (Bend) Bulletin up for grabs at a rock-bottom rate?

Grim days for the newspaper world.

The New York Times bought the Boston Globe 20 years ago for $1.1 billion. The NYT, apparently, was thrilled to get rid of the Globe for $70 million. Can't say that the Times' owners are financial wizards. More like fools.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, sold for a comparatively robust $250 million to Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos. Twenty years ago, though, the WaPo was worth about a billion or more.

At least the buyer of the Globe, who also happens to own the Boston Red Sox, will likely keep things as they are since he paid so little for the paper.

The same can't be said for the WaPo.

Legendary WaPo investigative journalist Bob Woodward said, "Every news organization, collectively, is inefficient. Whether he (Bezos) has a plan, I don't know. I expect he will shake things up."

 Uh, yeah.

Amazon is known for operating with as few humans as possible.

Perhaps, Bezos will show Woodward the door. The Watergate journalist is way past his prime.

I would imagine Bezos will try to do to the newspaper business what he did to the retail business.

In essence, he'll get rid of people (in this case, reporters, editors and photographers) and replace them with "content providers" who will likely work as contract employees.

No health insurance. No benefits. No nothing.

Bezos, like many corporate honchos, just wants to expose government corruption and ineptitude, while turning a blind eye to all the ways corporations are destroying this country.

There has long been this myth that the media is some sort of liberal cabal.

The opposite is true. The media is controlled by corporations who only want to maximize their profits.

They do not care at all about serving communities and protecting them from corporate control.

Meanwhile, The Oregonian, Oregon's pre-eminent daily newspaper, is scaling back the number of days it publishes an actual newspaper.  The Bulletin offers a feather-light Monday edition.

Newspapers have only themselves to blame. They resisted change and now must watch how they've been turned into "throwaways."