Friday, May 23, 2014

Are the homeless on Facebook?

Judging by Facebook's claims that it produced thousands of jobs and pumped more than a half billion into the Oregon economy, there shouldn't be many homeless people at all.

And yet, the homeless count in the tri-county area (Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson) is at its highest since 2005, according to the Central Oregon Leadership Coalition.

One of the main reasons for this high count is that many of the homeless can't find a job that will pay enough for them to live in an apartment or house.

Deschutes County's unemployment rate is 8.4 percent. Jefferson County's is 9.7 percent.

And, in Crook County, where Facebook operates its data centers, and received huge tax breaks for doing so, the jobless rate is 10.8 percent.

Meanwhile, that statewide unemployment rate is 6.9 percent and the national rate is 6.3 percent.

Gee, with all the tax breaks to Facebook and Apple plus those 3,600 jobs Facebook claims were created by its data centers, the jobless rate shouldn't be so high and the homeless rate should've dropped.

And yet, we're seeing the result of these huge tax breaks to some of the wealthiest companies in the world.

The real job gains are minuscule, while the social costs escalate.

David Cay Johnston has covered much of this in his trilogy of economic exposes "Perfectly Legal," "Free Lunch," and "The Fine Print."

This is what yet another "jobless" recovery looks like. More Americans are opting out of the workforce because the jobs pay too little and provide few benefits.

Before anyone points to Oregon's second-highest-in-the-nation minimum wage at $9.10 an hour as a reason for our lagging employment numbers, first take a look at Washington state. It has the highest minimum wage in the country at $9.32 per hour and yet it's jobless rate is 6.1 percent, which is below the national average.

Or, take a look at Georgia, the beacon of the "New South," where the state minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, yet the jobless rate is 7.0 percent.

No, it's better to look at of the diminishing clout of unions in this country. Last year, 11.3 percent of American workers belonged to a union, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1983, that rate was 20.1 percent. By the way, union participation in America never topped 40 percent. So much for all that union "political clout."

The middle class in this country has imploded, thanks, in part, to the "war on unions."

Also, as more money flows to the richest one percent, it means far less money flows to the 99 percent and directly into the economy where it can stimulate growth.

Fortune 500 companies have an estimated $2 trillion in offshore accounts. Plus, uber-rich Americans like Mitt Romney also keep their money away from America.

This is the new normal. Until the super-rich realize that they're killing the goose that laid their golden eggs, not much will change.

And, having a Facebook page isn't going to do the trick.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hummel ousts Flaherty; Wehby crushes Conger; levies pass

John Hummel pummeled incumbent District Attorney Patrick Flaherty by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin as voters showed their displeasure with the hot-headed D.A.'s management style.

In the GOP Senate race, local boy Jason Conger beat Monica ("Stalker") Wehby by a 2-to-1 margin in Deschutes County, but she was cruising to victory statewide by nearly 20 percentage points over Conger.

Wehby had the national GOP machinery behind her, which included a hefty fund-raising advantage over Conger. The late disclosures that police were called against her, twice from her ex-husband and then an ex-boyfriend, didn't seem to hurt her that much.

Still, the stalking allegations show that she's a bit unstable and may not be ready for prime time in the fall.

Wehby will likely be "unavailable" to the media for months.

The fire and emergency personnel levies that bolster their public retirement accounts passed easier in Bend than in the county. Property taxes will rise again with little or no improvement in services.

Randy Miller easily defeated Thomas Spear for circuit court judge, which proves that experience doesn't matter to voters.

The turnout was pathetic, probably less than 40 percent, far off the pace from four years ago, when it was nearly 46 percent. Of course, the Tea Party was in full swing then.

This is consistent nationally as teabaggers continue losing to establishment Republicans in this election cycle. The economy is better so its harder to rock the boat. Incumbents should benefit in the fall from this economic uptick.

Although Democrats have a slight edge in registrations over Republicans in the county, 30,737 to 30,266, the GOP, as of 11 p.m., turned out more voters by about 8 percentage points.

Unaffiliated voters in Deschutes County make up nearly 37 percent of the electorate now (35,671), but only about 13 percent of them, by 11 p.m., bothered to vote in the primary, which is closed to the political parties. Maybe they thought if they didn't vote, the levies wouldn't pass without a double majority. Well, that rule no longer applies in May and November elections.

It's on to the fall where our Democratic governor and senator are vulnerable thanks to the terrible role out of the Affordable Care Act. Who knows, by the fall that may be old news. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Oregon joins equality era

Well, let the mockery begin.

As expected, a federal judge today struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban, which makes Oregon the seventh state to overturn such bans since the Supreme Court invalidated much of the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

Today's decision was inevitable. And welcome. And constitutional.

The ruling overturns the will of the people, who voted for the ban in 2004 when Republicans used the politics of division and hate to bring out the faithful GOP voter.

Yes, there is some grumbling from the predictable quarters, but there is little they can do about it now except move to a place that discriminates or imprisons homosexuals, like Russia or Uganda.

The largest business entities in the state supported the decision.

Also, the ruling was issued by Judge Michael McShane who is openly gay. Yet, read his comments and you have to come away impressed by his level of understanding.

Here is a snapshot:

"Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."

This will further rankle those who believe that McShane's decision makes a mockery of their heterosexual marriage.


No one can make a mockery of your marriage but you.

If straight, this decision is not about you. The world does not revolve around you or your marriage.

As McShane wrote: "(Gays and lesbians) face a tiered system of recognition that grants greater legal status to married felons, deadbeat parents, and mail-order brides. "

This ruling means that those most disenfranchised by society can now realize a level of equality that is currently assumed by everyone else.

Let freedom ring.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Vote for Hummel, Spear; 'no' on levies

Oregon's two-and-a-half-week-long vote-by-mail period closes on Tuesday, May 20, and it can't end soon enough.

Elections are tedious things with a barrage of negative advertising and letters to the editor that exasperate even the casual observer.

That said, there are just a handful of races worth noting.

John Hummel is the easy choice for Deschutes County district attorney. The incumbent D.A. Patrick Flaherty was such a disaster that he spent more time defending himself from lawsuits than he did defending the citizens of the county.

Plus, some prominent citizens representing the old guard of Bend switched allegiances from Hummel to Flaherty, which is a tipoff that Hummel would represent the new Bend, not the good-old-boys network.

As for the circuit court judge race, which, like the D.A. race, matters little to almost all citizens, a tussle is breaking out in this "non-partisan" race between the would-be Democrat Thomas Spear and the would-be Republican Randy Miller.

Well, since Miller has little experience, he was endorsed by the local daily and other GOPers, who prize ignorance as a prerequisite for government service.

Spear is more than qualified, which means little to voters who are poised to vote along partisan lines.

Let's make it simple. Vote experience. Vote Spear.

In the GOP senate race to face off against incumbent Jeff Merkley, local boy Jason Conger is battling Portland neophyte Monica Wehby.

This week, though, failed presidential candidate and controversial conservative firebrand Rick Santorum endorsed Conger. Such an endorsement would be the kiss of death in the general election, but, amazingly, could boost Conger's chances in the GOP primary, which usually rewards fringe candidates who then get killed in the general election. Also, Wehby was accused of stalking by a former flame, Andrew Miller, who is helping fund Wehby's campaign.

Vote Conger because he could prove disgraced former Republican Sen. Bob Packwood correct when he called Conger "a guaranteed loser."

For the fire and emergency personnel levies in the city and the county, vote "no."

These levies won't improve service, but rather fund the generous retirement portfolios of firemen and EMTs. Now, they deserve a good pension, but, since they are being dishonest about these levies, voters should not reward duplicity.

Imagine if the local school district asked for more money to reduce class sizes and higher more teachers? Oh wait, the district did and lost big time.

That said, these levies will pass because voters are suckers for extortion when "public safety" is invoked.

By the way, these property tax levies are NOT subject to the "double-majority" rule because, in 2008, voters approved a measure that exempted May and November elections from the rule that rewarded inaction.

So, a word to the lazy: Your non-vote will have no impact on the election.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Local economy going to pot?

As the economy sputters back to life, it seems counter-intuitive to slow it down.

But, that is what 26 of Oregon's 36 counties and more than 140 cities did when they passed moratoriums against medical marijuana dispensaries.

While Deschutes County commissioners voted for a moratorium, a few dispensaries had already opened in Bend, the county seat.

So, along with craft brewpubs, Bend is now a hub for medical marijuana.

Those in need of weed relief must drive from around the region to Bend in order to fill a prescription. While in Bend, they're likely to shop and dine in the city.

So, Redmond's loss is Bend's gain.

But, this whole medical marijuana movement is really a charade and the last step before statewide legalization, which could come this November.

We've got joints named Bend's Best Buds and and Dr. Jolly's, which belie the legitimacy these establishments want to convey.

 Even health insurance companies won't cover medical marijuana.

But, marijuana does have legitimate medicinal purposes. Like many medicines, though, marijuana has its upsides and its downsides. And, smoking is not really tolerated these days.

The real use of marijuana, though, is recreational. Colorado and Washington legalized it in 2012 and those states haven't gone stir crazy.

But, they do have some problems, which include how to gauge driver impairment due to smoking weed.

Also, banks refuse to work with pot shops because the feds still consider marijuana a banned substance. Of course, this means opportunity exists for a new, intrepid bank to handle the serious cash that flows through all those cannabis stores.

And, Colorado's governor warns other states not to look at a marijuana tax as the way to solve budget problems.

Colorado residents, however, appear to approve of legal weed, according to this poll.

Oregon is poised to legalize marijuana in November after narrowly defeating a similar measure in 2012. This time, Oregon voters appear more likely to legalize pot, according to this poll. 

Afterall, why lose business and young, talented workers to neighboring Washington?

Nationally, marijuana legalization now appears inevitable, pollsters find.

This doesn't mean that everything will be copacetic once legalization occurs.

There will be more addiction, more driving under the influence resulting in more deaths and more social costs.

Just like with alcohol.

But, it's completely hypocritical for society to embrace alcohol and all its consequences while imprisoning and demonizing those who use marijuana.

The local newspaper is now known as The Beer Bulletin for it's almost daily coverage of all things related to the local brewing scene.

It's hard to see that they'll extend similar coverage to marijuana once it becomes legal.

If the new weed measure makes the November ballot, it will likely bring out the youth voter, who tend to vote for Democrats. This means that the meager hopes of GOP candidates for governor and senator are likely to go up in smoke.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Taking the plunge into smartphone mania

Finally joined the modern age by getting my first "smartphone," but I don't feel any smarter.

Yes, it's been seven years since the first iPhone came out and 15 years after the first BlackBerry.

There wasn't any rush for me to jump in earlier. I don't use a cell phone much, mainly because the quality of the phone reception is so poor. Of course, why talk when you can text.

Also, I didn't need a smartphone to ignore the person I was meeting. I'm perfectly capable of ignoring someone I'm talking to without the crutch of an iPhone.

And, I didn't need another reason to trip and fall, which happens to smartphone users who are so absorbed surfing the internet that they didn't see the curb or the person they walked into.

Basically, though, it was the ridiculously high cost of the smartphones and their attendant data plans that kept me using my Samsung t369 slider cell phone.

Well, some smartphone prices have come down along with the cost of data plans.

Also, I need to be able to use Skype when away from home to be in touch with my daughter, who is in Central America. 

I got the Moto G, an unlocked Android phone from Motorola, for $199. The T-Mobile data plan will cost $10 a month with no overage charges. Those costs are bit lower than a $700 iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy with a $30 monthly data plan.

Yes, I would definitely like to have an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, HTC One, LG G2 or Nexus 5, but I wouldn't want to pay for them.

Not when you consider that the phone reception on an iPhone is just as bad as it is on a $30 "dumbphone."

Also, after years of buying computers, printers, televisions, cd and dvd players, I've learned one important thing: the more you spend on any electronic gizmo, the more aggravated you'll be.

As with anything that comes at a premium price, you expect more from it. With electronics, you'll always be disappointed when you pay top dollar.

And, since it seems every other smartphone out there has a cracked screen, it will be less expensive to replace the Moto G.

So, I'm not expecting a whole lot from the Moto G. It doesn't allow you to change the battery or add more memory, just like an iPhone. It doesn't support LTE, which matters to geeks but not to me.

The camera is considered weak, but I don't use a phone as a camera in the same way I don't use a camera as a phone.

It comes with GPS, which I can use since my Garmin is six years old and out of date.

Naturally, the day the Moto G arrived by FedEx, an even cheaper Motorola was announced, the Moto E. 

In the end, the Moto G is just a phone and if the battery lasts a whole day, I'll be pleased.