Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The clash of Elephants

The current Republican brand
It's great to see the Republican brand so splintered that it needs two rebuttals to President Obama's state-of-the-union address.

Talk about mixed messages.

Evidently, the elephants are crashing their own Grand Old Party

In the Grand Canyon state, the Arizona Republican Party officially censured Sen. John McCain, former Vietnam prisoner of war and ex-presidential candidate, "for his continued disservice to our state and nation."


Now, McCain may be a complete jerk who has no use for sycophants in the Republican Party who prize party purity above all else, but to characterize his political actions as a "disservice" to this country is bizarre.

In Oregon, the only GOP candidate who has a legitimate shot at defeating Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley is Monica Wehby, a Portland pediatric neurosurgeon, will likely lose in the GOP primary to state Sen. Jason Conger of Bend.

Why? Because she doesn't believe the government should govern abortion. Afterall, she is a woman first and a Republican second. She has dedicated her life to children, yet, to Republican diehards, she's just a RINO because she doesn't blindly oppose abortion.

Ironically, the "pro-life" crowd is staunchly pro-death penalty.

Party platform purity has kept Oregon Republicans from winning many statewide races for decades.

The national Republican Party hasn't bothered to pour in boatloads of money to unseat Merkley because they know they'll lose.

Oregon is a blue state with huge geographical swaths of deep-red Republicans.

The problem for the GOP in the Beaver State is that the vast majority of voters live in the Portland area and they reliably vote Democratic.

It's just numbers.

In Arizona, meanwhile, McCain will survive the latest attack on his service to this country.

But, the GOP is positioning itself to be the party of losers, in every sense of that word.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The struggles of the rich

Kristallnacht in America?
As the billionaires gathered in Davos to share ideas on how to get an even a greater slice of the economic pie, it's worth noting that 85 individuals have as much money as 3.5 billion people on the planet.

I mean, how come the wealth of these hard-working 85 doesn't equal the cumulative wealth of 4 billion people?

Yes, I know, it's sad.

But, apparently, it gets worse.

The insults the wealthy must endure, from those not rich, are considered crimes against humanity.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins compares the plight of the richest 1 percent to that of the Jews on the eve of World War II:

Regarding your editorial "Censors on Campus" (Jan. 18): Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."
From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these "techno geeks" can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a "snob" despite the millions she has spent on our city's homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.
This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?

Maybe Perkins, who loves his spendy boats, has one named KrystalYacht.
Thank god he had defenders in the comments section on the WSJ website.
Even though the stock market is at an all-time high and corporate profits have never been better, the commenters aren't satisfied. In fact, they're indignant.
Instead of being loved beyond all measure, the 1 percenters feel hurt that anyone would dare criticize them.
Such are the travails of the rich.
Sticks and stones may break their bones, but words really hurt them.
How can the one-tenth of 1 percent, or the richest 85 folks on the planet, possibly defend themselves against the ugly words of the billions out there who feel uninvited to their highly selective economic orgy.
Perhaps someone should form a union for the rich. They definitely could use one.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bracing for empty buildings in Bend

Bend barely needs one Walgreens, let alone two
When Walgreens, the discount drug store chain, opens not one, but two stores in Bend by this summer, we should see a shakedown of Rite Aid.

Rite Aid currently has one over-large store on Bend's north end and a smaller, midtown building.

The Rite Aid on the north end recently upgraded its appearance to conform with the new corporate look.

The midtown Rite Aid, however, looks as dull as ever with a generic '70s look.

Safe to say that the smaller Rite Aid will close when the Walgreens come on line. The north store could shutter too. (I wonder if Walgreens plans on getting into the medical marijuana field in anticipation of legalization in Oregon someday. Afterall, Walgreens made its mark selling prescription alcohol during Prohibition.)

It's hard to say what could go in Rite Aid's place in the midtown shopping center, which includes a Grocery Outlet and a sad flea market. It's a down-market kind of location that would normally attract a Big Lots or a Pic-N-Save.

But, Big Lots is already ensconced between Old Navy and Safeway in the Forum shopping center on Bend's east side.

It would be good for a Ross Dress for Less except that Ross apparently is still opening a second location next to Joanne's fabric store on Bend's south end.

Speaking of the neglected south side of Bend, Albertsons will likely close its doors since the corporate honchos said they intended to downsize this year.

The newly expanded Walmart with a grocery store across the street from Albertsons should force the closure of Albertsons.

Again, it's hard to say what could go in there. Perhaps, WinCo Foods, which had plans to build in the area, could take over the Albertsons building. But, WinCo and Walmart attract the same kind of budget-conscious shoppers and Walmart will win that battle.

So, we could have a vacant building for quite some time. Or, wouldn't it be nice if Trader Joe's would put a second location there. Wishful thinking, of course.

Regarding grocery stores, the recently closed Ray's Food Place on the west side should stay vacant for quite some time. That shopping center's only success story is McDonald's, such as it is.

Meanwhile, there is no movement yet to take over the space of Sears in the Bend River Promenade. That's a high-profile spot on Bend's northern end with Parkway visibility.

But, there is already a Kohl's and Macy's in the same mall. Maybe Standard appliances could move from its wretched location, with terrible access, on the northern outskirts of Bend. Or, likely not.

In the Cascade Village Shopping Center, about a mile from the Bend River Promenade, J.C. Penney looks like it could close its doors since that corporation doesn't really know what it's doing.

That would leave a huge building available for whatever retailer chooses to expand there. It has great access via Highways 20 and 97.

But, American retail corporations really have no clue these days in the internet age.

They bring in MBA ideas when all that's needed is a little common sense.

Shoppers like deals, or the perception that they're getting a deal.

Markdowns and coupons will always work in the retail world in spite of what some former executive at Apple believes.

But, the easy access to better deals on the internet are wreaking havoc on the "brick-and-mortar" stores.

However, a good chunk of retail spending can be attributed to impulse buying. You see something and you buy it, within reason, of course.

The problem with many corporate stores is that they mark up the prices on their goods so high that the shopper pauses to think, "hmm, maybe I should check on the internet for a better deal."

Once a retailer plants that seed of doubt in a shopper's mind, the sale is lost.

The answer is that brick-and-mortar stores, even those with their own websites, have to be more aware of what's available elsewhere on the internet and at what price. But, they're not and that's why they're failing.

It's not complicated.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hey Apple, don't click on this Icahn

Carl Icahn, the famously disruptive investor, has his sights set on Apple.

Or, more precisely, Icahn eyes all that money Apple is sitting on, which is estimated at 10 percent of all corporate cash in America.

According to a cover story last month in Time magazine, American corporations are sitting on one trillion cash in the states and another trillion off shore.

They have no incentive to hire more workers in this economy because of weak demand. Nor, do they need to pay workers more money so that they could buy more things to fuel our economy, which is based almost entirely on consumer spending.

Enter Icahn and other investors like him.

If Apple isn't going to spend the money, they'll gladly take the dough off its hands.

Icahn, dubbed "The Original Wolf of Wall Street" by Time, has increased his pressure on Apple
by owning $3 billion in stock.

The funny thing is that corporations spend millions, if not billions, in avoiding paying any taxes at all to the country that enforces laws and keeps the peace so that they can make all their billions.

But, that money is still vulnerable to vultures like Icahn.

"What bothers me a hell of a lot..., is cash of a $US150 billion just sitting there doing nothing. And not to use it to do a huge buyback, is sort of disgraceful," Icahn said on CNBC.

What bothers most American workers, considering American corporations are sitting on so much cash, is why these companies aren't investing in America.

Could it be that they don't give a damn about this country or its workers?

The answer is obvious.

The irony is that communism or Islamic terrorism are not the real threats to capitalism.

Capitalism is quite capable of destroying itself, thank you very much.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Teabaggers trying to bag Sen. Jeff Merkley

Judging by a story in the local daily newspaper, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., should have few problems getting reelected to a second term this year.

Five mainstream Republicans are vying for Merkley's seat and they revealed that they are out of touch with reality.

How so?

Well, Jo Rae Perkins, a former Linn County Republican County chairwoman, compared the Common Core educational curriculum standards to communism. "This is what we saw happen under Mao. This is what we saw happen with Stalin. We've got to stop this."

That seems a tad "off message."

The bogeyman is no longer a communist, he's an Islamist, according to Republican orthodoxy.

And, to these folks, President Obama is an Islamist and he must be stopped. In fact, a Republican hopeful in Florida called for Obama's execution.

But, that's the Sunshine State, a far cry from the Beaver State.

Here, we have the catastrophe of the Cover Oregon health insurance website, the worst in the nation.

Naturally, the Merkley challengers jumped all over "Obamacare."

But, just as there is anecdotal evidence that the Affordable Care Act is one big headache, there is also anecdotal evidence that, hey, it's pretty good.

In fact, I've heard from some folks, who've actually called Cover Oregon on the phone, that it's a far better experience than they've heard about in the press.

Typically, the GOP senatorial candidates railed against federal regulations on anything in Oregon.

Thankfully, we have common sense leaders in this state, unlike in West Virginia, Texas and Florida to name just a few, that believe oversight of chemical companies, clear-cutters and air polluters is in the best interest of the state's residents.

And, social issues such as opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage are bedrock conservative principles. Nevermind, that these positions are out of step with the majority of Americans.

That's not what matters to teabaggers. What matters is standing up for principles that the majority of Oregonians do not share.

In other words, the GOP candidates embrace defeat at the polls.

Thank god.

Monday, January 20, 2014

2014 a far cry from 1964

The Fab Four that threatened America. Wow.
As we get ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan show along with the British musical invasion, it's worth noting that life is a lot better for most Americans today, but dreadful for many.

Racially, we are better off. It helps having an African-American president elected not once, but twice.

The jobless rate remains high as more workers quit looking for work. An estimated 40 percent of the workforce has opted out even looking for work.

No surprise since we are enduring at least the fourth jobless recovery in the past 25 years.

Compare that with 1964, a Leap Year when the jobless rate would be at its highest that decade, at 5.2 percent, before falling to its last historic low of 3.5 percent in 1969. We will likely never see jobless numbers so low again.

Back in the Sixties, Americans made most of the products they consumed, even the toy bobble-head dolls of The Beatles. In 2014, most American flags are made in China, along with almost everything else we consume.

Yes, the government learned then, as it did during the two world wars, that foreign conflicts are good for the economy.

But, the war then was in Vietnam, which set the standard for abject failure for America.

Today, we have Afghanistan, another never-ending conflict that won't end well for the U.S., much like our invasion of Iraq. And yet, the economy cratered to Depression-era depths in spite of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unlike Vietnam, which never attacked America or was ever a threat to this country, Afghanistan did harbor the folks who hijacked our planes on 9/11 and killed nearly 3,000 innocent people. Iraq, of course, is considered the greatest foreign policy blunder in American history.

In 1964, we were still fighting the Cold War with the Soviets. And, unlike today, we had the draft.

In 2014, the Soviet Union hasn't existed for more than 20 years, yet we're fighting a hot war with Islamic terrorists. Ironic that an atheistic foe gave way to a rabidly religious adversary.

And, we thought in 1964, that atheism was the greatest threat ever to this country.

We had a presidential election in 1964, unlike this year. Republican nominee Barry Goldwater, who inspired the modern conservative movement, proposed in his platform that Social Security be voluntary. This was nearly 30 years after it became the law of the land. It's safe to say that "Obamacare" will still be contested until at least 2044. By the way, Goldwater, due to his extremist rhetoric in regards to the Communist "threat," not to mention his vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, suffered the worst defeat by a Republican in the past 50 years.

1964 was also an Olympic year for the Summer games in Tokyo, a country trying to rebound from its horrific crimes of World War II. Innsbruck, Austria, hosted the Winter Games.

In 2014, we have the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, which, if regional terrorists succeed, could be the beginning of World War III between western Christian countries and mid-eastern Muslim nations.

As a recent PBS documentary noted, the Sixties, a decade that was the best and worst of times, really began in 1964. We had the space race on one end of the spectrum and race riots on the other. We had widespread prosperity along with a "war on poverty."

Of course, the assassination of JFK in late 1963 was the prelude to all the angst that the decade would entail.

Cassius Clay, the original trash talker in sports, became the undisputed champion of boxing in 1964. He promptly denounced his "slave name" and became Muhammad Ali. That action may seem tame by today's standards, but Ali represented a serious threat to the white status quo. There was Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Ali. Wasn't that a time.

The Beatles look innocuous, by today standards. Their mop-tops, though, upended an American culture that featured only white boys with crew-cuts. Long hair became the symbol of rebellion.

Therefore, the Fab Four were deemed a threat to the American way of life.

The Beatles' songs, though, are still the standard by which all pop music is measured in 2014.

We are far better off as a culture because of The Beatles.

Let it be.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Warmest January on record?

And food doesn't grow where water doesn't flow
With high temperatures in the 50s this week and the same forecast for next week, along with clear and sunny skies, January is shaping up to be Central Oregon's warmest such month in history.

Of course, our history only goes back about 100 years. Still, this should be the warmest and driest January since at least 1976.

This is not good news for Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort which already was reeling from a non-existent holiday ski season all the way back to Thanksgiving.

Cities in the region, along with ODOT, though, are saving on snow-removal costs.

My aching back is grateful that I haven't had to shovel the full driveway in 2014.

Unlike California, which formally declared a drought today, Oregon doesn't need to worry so much about water, yet.

The aquifer under Central Oregon is so large it has yet to be fully quantified.

But, if we can be the Saudi Arabia of water to California's thirsty citizens, I'd welcome the fiscal windfall.

Let's see, would $100 a barrel be too much for Cascade cool-ade?

As they're learning in the Great Plains, water is the dominant issue in the west so far this millennium.

The southwest, particularly, is poorly prepared to deal with this looming catastrophe.

Of course, as the climate change naysayers say, this is all part of the normal weather cycle of the planet.

Humans, even though they've expanded in numbers from 1 billion 160 years ago to more than 7 billion today, have had absolutely no effect on the climate of the world, the global warming critics claim.


Those in California, Arizona and Nevada that like to dismiss all those who live in the Northwest as rain masochists, well, your pain is just beginning.

You have our sympathy.

But not much else.

Monday, January 6, 2014

OSU-Pumice Pit sinks deeper

New signage for OSU-Pumice Pit
Now that the first report is out that says the land for the future OSU branch campus in Bend is likely unsuitable for erecting university-type buildings, the OSU brain trust sees this as proof to build the school on a former pumice pit.

Well, they've already paid $12 million for the land that no one else would buy at any price.

OSU-Pumice Pit is almost a certainty.

But, the hope of welcoming its first class by 2015 at the westside campus is a bit premature.

They'll be busy repairing any buildings by then.

In fact, OSU-Pumice Pit could be an ongoing engineering experiment to show how constructing classrooms on unstable land leads to unusable buildings.

The problem is that they've only budgeted about $8 million to prep the site for buildings when it will need that and more on a yearly basis.

Taxpayers statewide are now saddled with a project that was designed to enrich a handful of landowners while providing construction jobs in perpetuity for a handful of construction companies.

It's a sweet gig for the powers that be in Bend.

In fact, these powers should teach a course at OSU-Pumice Pit titled "How to rip off the government and be considered pillars of the community."

Of course, these same folks will also demand a course be taught on how pension plans of public employees are destroying our economy and depleting our public coffers.

Since most citizens in Bend do not want OSU to build on a pumice pit, the fledgling school will have a tough time reaching out to the broader community for continuing economic support.

Afterall, if those that sold the pumice pit to OSU really cared about  higher education in Bend, they would have donated the land.

But, they didn't because that is no longer the American way.

The mantra now is: Ask not what you can do for your government, ask how your government can take money from the many to give to the few.

That's something you don't need a university education to grasp.