Wednesday, April 30, 2014

GOP votes to punish workers

Koch brothers prevail once again
By doing as expected in blocking a vote on raising the minimum wage, Senate Republicans showed they truly do not care about the American economy.

Of course, they do care about the uber-rich like the Koch brothers, who don't want the minimum wage increased to $10.10 per hour. Polls show that the majority of Americans, including Republicans voters, want the minimum wage raised to $10.10.

And, that $10.10 per hour wouldn't be reached for two and half years.

To put that hourly rate in perspective, if the minimum wage were raised to match what it was worth in 1968 (the historic, inflation-adjusted peak year of $1.60/hr.), the minimum wage should be $10.86.

In 2017, when that $10.10 per hour would be attained under the defeated Senate bill, the minimum wage should be closer to $11.50 per hour.

The main talking point that the GOP uses to suppress the minimum wage is that it will kill jobs.

There is little evidence to show that. In fact, the opposite is true.

In 1968, the jobless rate was 3.6 percent and went down in 1969 to 3.5 percent. Today, the national unemployment rate is 6.7 percent.

In the 1960s, though, Americans actually produced the things they consumed. As Stephen Colbert once joked, "the only factory we have left is the Cheesecake Factory."

That's untrue. We also have the Spaghetti Factory.

Of course, raising the minimum wage won't necessarily reduce the jobless rate, but it certainly won't have a negative effect. 

In Oregon and Washington, voters had the good sense to raise the minimum wage and peg annual increases to the rate of inflation. Oregon's minimum wage is $9.10 her hour and Washington's is $9.32, the highest in the nation.

In all, 21 states have minimum wages above the national rate of $7.25 per hour.

The daily newspaper here even showed that our current minimum wage isn't enough to meet basic needs. Citing figures from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a worker would need $12.40 an hour and a 40-hour workweek to afford a one-bedroom apartment in Deschutes County.

If a higher minimum wage truly costs jobs, then the jobless rate would not have declined in all those states with a base wage above $7.25 per hour. In fact, the jobless rate has gone down in those states in the past couple of years.

Also, we now have conclusive proof that the "trickle-down" economic policies begun in the 1980s were a colossal failure. The middle class was devastated and the national debt soared.

The problem is that the rich don't spend enough money to keep the economy afloat. Job creation emerges when the vast majority of people have more money to spend, which is precisely why we need to increase the minimum wage.

Yes, "a rising tide lifts all boats," but adding a few dozen yachts in the ocean is not going to raise many dinghies across the country. More water, i.e. a higher income, is what's needed to raise the tide for all.

With the vote today, Senate Republicans proved, in the words of Texas Sen. John Cornyn, that the GOP is "bad and hard-hearted."

It doesn't give a damn about minimum-wage workers and is doing everything it can to thwart a full recovery of the economy, which would reduce the national debt.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Props to the NBA

Sterling was one of the worst owners in all sports
In a surprising but welcome move, the NBA commissioner banned Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Sterling from his own team and the NBA for life.

Of course, Sterling is 80, so his lifetime ban won't be that long.

Still, this is amazing.

Plus, the commissioner will try to wrest control of the team from Sterling, who made incredibly racist comments that were recorded surreptitiously by his mistress.

The wealthy, including Sterling who is reportedly worth $1.9 billion, have long been exempt from the laws and social norms that most everyone else must abide by.

As long as they can buy off anyone, the filthy rich can be racist, sexist, immoral and get away with almost any crime.

Sterling certainly bought off his foes over the years.

Now we know why he paid his players so little for decades and why the Clippers were one of the worst teams in the league. He didn't like his players because of the color of their skin.

More than 76 percent of the players in the NBA are African-American.

That stat, more than any other, prompted the harsh penalty against Sterling, who was also fined $2.5 million.

Which is another reason why this is watershed moment in sports.

The commissioner, Adam Silver, stood by the players, the workers. Yes, these workers are paid millions to play a child's game, but they make millions more for their owners, TV/cable networks and countless others.

The players were respected in a huge way.

This goes against almost all precepts of the modern workplace where the stockholder reigns supreme and jobs are shipped overseas.

And, isn't it wonderfully ironic that descendants of slaves are now considered too valuable to disrespect.

Far more than any other American sport, the NBA is a global brand. It showcases the best talent from around the world and basketball is second only to soccer in worldwide appeal.

This Sterling ban sends a strong message to NBA fans around the world that the birthplace of basketball does not tolerate racism. This shows leadership.


Friday, April 25, 2014

OSU-Pumice PIt ogles adjacent dump site

As if an unstable pumice pit isn't bad enough for a new four-year university in Bend, OSU-Cascades officials now salivate at the chance to build on an adjacent, closed dump site.

Yes, higher education is so esteemed in Bend that the only land it can offer up just happens to be some of the worst in the region.

The 72-acre landfill, which contains industrial and construction waste, is still believed to be on fire well below the surface.

About 20 years ago, the park district was sued when a boy fell in a fiery sinkhole at the site.

But, let's forget about all that.

Let's just build a new university and if there are any problems with sinking buildings, cars or people, we can always deal with that later.

It's not as if students spend all year at the school. They are there for just nine months.

Yes, there may be future lawsuits, but they'll get so tangled up in the court system, it'll take years to sort out. Besides, the state, county and city have deep pockets, as we all know.

 Let's not delve into this issue too much. Afterall, OSU officials want to open up the campus next year.

Time is wasting. If we don't build it now on a pumice pit/dump site, we'll never have a chance again for a four-year university in Bend.

We've waited decades. We can't wait a second longer.

Because if we wait, another more unsuitable site will just distract us. Yes, that's right, Knott Landfill on 27th Street could be more enticing when it closes in 20 years.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

DA race highlights May primary

As in most non-presidential years, primaries generate few legitimate candidates and dismal voter interest.

This year is no different for Oregon's Primary on May 20.

Locally, we do have the lively district attorney race in Deschutes County pitting controversial incumbent Pat Flaherty against John Hummel, a lawyer and former Bend city councilor.

Flaherty, who upset longtime D.A. Mike  Dugan in 2010, has been a disaster. He alienated most of his staff, which resulted in lawsuits galore. Instead of fighting crime, Flaherty has spent most of his time fighting for his own legitimacy as a district attorney at considerable taxpayer expense.

Hummel is the easy choice here. He's not a hothead like Flaherty, but rather has the measured temperament needed in such a job.

There is a judge race in the county that's generating a lot of interest, for whatever reason.

Judge races at the county and statewide level are generally hard to pick. They should probably be appointed positions rather than decided by voters, who have no clue as to who these people are.

It seems that the circuit court race is down to Randy Miller and Thomas Spear.

Based on resumes, Spear is the clear choice with extensive experience in the courtroom, unlike Miller. Vote for Spear.

For the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Jeff Merkley will face whoever the Republicans throw up as their sacrificial lamb.

Current state Rep. Jason Conger from Bend is the only one in a crowded GOP field with any name recognition, and that isn't much. He's a far-right conservative, which always appeals to the Republican base in the primary.

But, he's facing a well-financed doctor from Portland, Monica Wehby, who is a moderate on social issues. The Republican establishment clearly wants her to win, given her Dorchester endorsement, because they think she has the best shot against Merkley. Former Sen. Bob Packwood termed Conger "a guaranteed loser."

But, Wehby may be considered a RINO by the Tea Party wing of GOP and that could hurt her chances on May 20.

With the economy on the rebound, either one will have a tough time against Merkley in November. Wehby, though, probably has the better odds with her name recognition in the area of the state with the most voters.

It would be better if Conger won so that Democrats won't have to spend a ton of money defending a seat that is considered safe by most politicos.

There are five Republican challengers for governor with little name recognition. Dennis Richardson, a state representative from southern Oregon, is the likely candidate to take on Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is trying to win a record fourth term. Kitzhaber, due to the failed rollout of the Cover Oregon website, is definitely vulnerable, but no worthy Republican came forward to challenge him. Heck, a political nobody almost whipped Kitzhaber in 2010.

Richardson represents the extremist side of the GOP and Oregonians don't go for extremists. He won't get nearly as many votes out of the Portland area that Chris Dudley did against Kitzhaber. So it doesn't really matter who wins the Republican primary for governor.

Both the county and Bend are asking voters for more money to pay firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

There are two reasons to vote "no" on both measures. One, the money raised is likely to be used to pay the hefty pensions of retirees, yet neither government entity is being honest with voters about this.

Second, with the end of the Great Recession, property values are soaring once again, which means more property tax revenue for local governments. Isn't that one of the rationales for growth? If the city and county are collecting more money than they were three years ago, they should have enough to pay their employees.

Plus, it's not like we've added scores of homes and thousands of people since 2008. Quite the contrary. So, with fewer residents and increasing property tax revenue we don't need another tax.


Monday, April 21, 2014

It's springing in Bend

Out for a little paddling around on the Deschutes
It's great to see the annual green-up play out in Bend.

Aspens are budding. Willows, poplars, cottonwoods and birch are leafing. Lawns are coming back to life from their dormancy.

Cherry, plum and apple blossoms color the landscape in white. and purple. Of course, it's hard to actually grow those fruits in Bend.

The goslings are hatching in spite of efforts by the park district to reduce their numbers.

There's plenty of snow on the Cascades from Mt. Bachelor to Mt. Hood, which are striking to see atop Pilot Butte. The road to the top of the butte opened to vehicles last week.

Weather is warmer, but still not too hot to cause my allergies to flare up, yet.

Bend is a beautiful place even though our springs aren't as breathtaking as the west side of the Cascades.

But, they have more rain and more sources for allergies.

Speaking of allergies, The Onion has a story titled: "Report: 14% of Americans Now Intolerant To Word 'Gluten'."

As one who has a gluten intolerance of some sort, I can relate.

That wasn't the only chuckle in this time of rejuvenation.

The Onion also reports that a "New App Matches You With Others in Vicinity Who Wasted $2.99 On Same App."

The app is aptly called "Squandr."

April may be the "cruelest" month, but it's good to laugh through the allergies.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pay college athletes more

Now that some Ohio lawmakers are trying to thwart college athletes from forming a union, after a federal judge said they could, it's time that the NCAA let universities pay their athletes significantly more than is currently allowed.

It would prevent the bogus violations of regulations when an athlete gets a few bucks for peddling his old gear.

Coincidentally, the NCAA on Tuesday did expand the meal allowances for all athletes in college.

There's no sense in using the preferred NCAA moniker of "student-athlete," since most top-tier schools employ athletes who happen to attend some classes on campus. Many athletes never graduate.

Also, this increase in meal money is a far cry from what's needed or what's right.

As multi-billion dollar television contracts become the norm in college athletics to broadcast football and men's basketball, a far larger slice of that pie should go to the individuals who do the actual work that makes those contracts so stratospheric.

Plus, these sports attract more students to various schools.

Yet, all we hear is the predictable knee-jerk response that unions represent the greatest evil on earth.


With unions representing less than 12 percent of the American workforce, how is that they are targeted for 100 percent of the problems our economy faces?

While unions get the blame for the decline in our economy during the 1970s, it must be noted that during the height of union membership in the 1950s and 1960s, the American economy was at its strongest in history. Plus, a middle class emerged that made all that growth possible.

The decline of unions, from a high of 36 percent of the workforce in 1954, dovetailed with the eventual erosion of the middle class to the point that we have now endured at least four jobless recoveries in 25 years. The middle class is almost a distant memory.

The young adults earning the most money, yet not getting paid much for it, are college football and basketball players.

Yes, they get a "college education," which is as useful in today's global economy as a high school diploma was 40 years ago. Plus, the low-intensity majors they have time for, will prove useless once, or if, they graduate

An advanced degree or doctorate is required now to achieve a higher standard of living than your parents.

In other words, an undergraduate degree isn't worth as much now.

Plus, Division 1 college athletes spend more time training and playing than they do going to classes. There isn't any time left over to earn any spending money.

Therefore they should be paid at least $2,000 a month on top of their housing, eating and schooling costs.

Many graduate students at a number of research universities get at least $2,000 per month in addition to their scholarships and these students don't make a dime for their schools. Yes, they will likely earn a decent living once they get their advanced degrees, but at least a thousand of such students won't make as much as the Alabama football team does in one game.

If we supposedly have a merit-based economy, than those who earn the most for their schools should be paid more for their efforts.

It's the American way.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Vote 'No' on fire, emergency services levy that funds PERS

The city of Bend is seeking $10 million on May 20 to cover its liability for retiring firefighters and emergency medical personnel in the Public Employees Retirement System.

Yet, the city is claiming that it needs the money to improve response times.

Oh really.

With real estate prices reaching to the skies again, the city is taking in property tax revenue almost on par with pre-recession levels.

If the rationale against a gas tax is that we have far more homes than ever in Bend to pay for road maintenance, then it follows that the property taxes on these homes should be far more than enough to cover what the fire and emergency workers need to adequately serve the city.

Most citizens have never used the services of the fire department. In 30 years here, I've called the fire department once, and that was about 28 years ago.

Also, thankfully, I've never needed the services of emergency medical staff.

Now, these services are vital to our community. Yet, they do not supersede all other services from road maintenance to water to sewer.

There is a sexist attitude that supports PERS for male-dominated professions, like firefighting, but rejects retirement payments when the recipients are educators, who are mostly women.

The levy request would average about $60 a year for most Bend property taxpayers and raise $10 million over five years.

The fire department claims that their response times do not meet national standards. The reason for this disparity is that the railroad divides the city with no overpasses in the southeast section of town. And, $10 million would not even pay for one overpass.

The fire department is facing retirement of "baby boomers" and must figure out a way to pay for firefighters' generous monthly retirement checks.

But, the city can't ask residents to pay for the PERS payments because most citizens would reject such a request since the Great Recession wiped out most retirement plans of private-sector workers.

So, the city is couching this levy request as a need to improve services.

Well, the city is being dishonest. If it asked citizens to help offset the city's PERS' liability then I would be more supportive.

But, it is not.

When taxpayers voted against paying for the expansion of the county jail recently, Deschutes County found a way to pay for the expansion anyway.

Therefore, vote "No" on the city's request for more money. Our growth should pay for this improvement of city services.

End of an era

With the sad news that Stephen Colbert will take over for David Letterman on CBS, television will lose one of its greatest characters ever created.

The Colbert Report is easily one of the best shows to ever appear on the small screen, even though it's on cable and not seen by the wider audience that CBS can provide.

As always, network brass are looking to appeal to younger and hipper audiences. 

But, since Colbert will be retiring his brilliant character of a blowhard conservative talk-show host, he may not grab that young audience.

Of course, Rush Limbaugh helped Colbert today by calling his hiring by CBS a "war on the American heartland." 

There is no pundit, no columnist and no voice in America who can take down the powers-that-be with such brutal satire and "truthiness" than Colbert. Of course, having a stable of 18 writers helps.

Colbert's in-your-face smack-down of Bush II as well as the media at the correspondents' dinner was one of the most heroic performances of all time.

By adopting a faux-conservative persona, Colbert laid bare the hypocrisy, the hollowness and meanness of modern ultra-conservatives. Check out the comments after this story on the Wall Street Journal for validation. There are some seriously clueless folks out there.

By nearly always wearing a straight face, Colbert provokes more laughter than anyone I can remember.

Yes, he does have a few more months on "The Colbert Report," and they'll be bittersweet.

I'll miss "The Word," which lampooned Bill O'Reilly's "Talking Points" segment.

I'll miss "Better Know a District," which managed to both ridicule and humanize our elected representatives.

I'll miss the mockery of it all.

I rarely stay up to watch "The Colbert Report." I watch it the next night at 7 p.m. on Comedy Central.

And, that won't happen on CBS.

Goodbye Colbert, it was great watching you.