Tuesday, March 24, 2015

GOP's un-winnable field of candidates

The GOP 'Twilight Zone'
The dog and pony show of presidential politics began with the looniest of the Republican field tweeting his candidacy.

Sen. Ted "Teabagger" Cruz then went to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University to show off his uber-Christian street cred.

First off, Liberty University represents neither liberty nor higher education.

And, Cruz, who was born in Canada, is neither credible nor electable as a nationwide candidate. Yes, he won a statewide race in Texas, but that isn't saying much. Rick "Oops" Perry won twice in Texas and he, too, has absolutely no chance of winning the presidency.

Even the number-crunchers at Five-Thirty-Eight dismissed the Cruz candidacy by calling him "too extreme and too disliked to win."

And, they were being kind.

He's also a bigot, a sexist and anti-government. In essence, he's a jerk.

The Onion has a few takes on Cruz.

Gov. Jerry Brown wasted no time in calling Cruz "absolutely unfit" for the presidency because he denies climate change.

For all the whining by "birther" Republicans over President Obama's birthplace (they don't know Hawaii is a state), they have no problem with Cruz's birth in Canada, which is a foreign country. Typical GOP hypocrites.

Speaking of hypocrisy, Cruz hates "Obamacare" so much that he is now signing up for it.

Cruz may be the first wacky Republican presidential candidate out of the gate, but he won't be the last.

The potential field is so bad, that Jeb Bush is the only "moderate" in the field. But, his last name is so toxic, he faces a steep uphill battle even to win the GOP primaries.

Apparently, JeBush can't even win over the conservative standard-bearers of "hate radio."

I'ts going to be a long election. Billions will be spent trying to sell us a candidate by taking down another. What a colossal waste of money on such pitiful people.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mirror, mirror on the pond ... what's the fairest plan of all

Pacific Power's dilapidated Mirror Pond spillway
Opponents of the "vision" for the redevelopment in and around Mirror Pond were out in force Wednesday night at the Bend City Council meeting to voice objections to what is really another grab of public land for private gain.

I've been to a number of such hearings in the past, but I watched this one on TV. Opponents were passionate that the river be restored to its natural state and that three- or four-story buildings not be allowed next to the river.

The council, as it always does, listened well enough, but approved by a 4-3 vote, to proceed with further study of the "vision" created by the park district and an ad hoc committee.

As I wrote earlier, Pacific Power's dam is failing and the utility wants to abandon it along with the small hydro facility connected to it. The dam makes Mirror Pond possible, but it also causes sediment to build up over the years and it needs dredging every 20 years. It's been more than 30 years since the last dredging and the sediment is now substantial.

Naturally, Pacific Power does not want to pay a dime to dredge the pond or to decommission its own dam.

Also, naturally, developers seized upon this straightforward issue to propose taking over the Pacific Power land, along with an underused nearby park and a couple of city parking lots.

The developers got freshman legislator Knute Buehler (R-Bend) to beg the state for $5 million that will likely be used by the developers to purchase the land from Pacific Power, the park district and the city. Republicans are quick to spend money, but always prevent government from raising taxes to fund those expenditures.

It's all moved so fast that most citizens of Bend have no idea whats really happening.

The last thing developers and a slim majority of the council want is for any of this to go before the vote of the people.

But, what's proposed is so massive that voters should decide the fate of the most iconic spot in Bend.

Also, the dam and dredging issues are completely separate from any redevelopment of the area.

Take one issue at a time and proceed cautiously. And, don't put the taxpayers at risk.

As for the opponents, it's great they came out and spoke at the council meeting. It's also great that they've gathered signatures from a few thousand citizens who are opposed to the preferred "vision" for Mirror Pond.

That said, all of that is essentially meaningless.

Unless opponents can pool their financial resources together to sue the city and park district to prevent the "vision" from going forward, all their angst will be for naught.

That's what the grass-roots group Truth In Site has done to stop OSU-Cascades from building its new campus on junk land on Bend's west side. It has, at least, stalled the misguided campus project.

The city won't put the Mirror Pond issue to a city-wide vote, so a lawsuit is the only recourse.

Unfortunately, a handful of people decide what gets done in this town and taxpayers get stuck with the bill.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Who'll start the rain?

The main way to get Californians' attention
As a steady drizzle dampens the High Desert, with springtime just days away, Central Oregonians are wondering what happened to winter.

Where is all the snow? Can the ski pass be partially refunded?

Recent California transplants must be snickering, "these winters aren't tough at all."

Well, this one certainly was not.

In fact, in more than 30 years of living here, this was by far the warmest and driest winter yet.

The data seem to back it up.

At one snowpack-monitoring site near Mt. Bachelor, a meager 6 inches was recently notched, "a record low in 60 years of record-keeping."

About half of all Oregon monitoring sites are experiencing record low snowpack.

Of course, we'll still have rain, at least in western Oregon, for the next few months and any talk of watering moratoriums should dissipate.

In Bend, we've had odd-even watering days for decades. Conservation is built into the way of life here. Plus, nothing much grows in Bend, in terms of edible crops, so there isn't much need to irrigate anything more than a Kentucky bluegrass lawn.

Someday soon, though, those lawns will have to go.

Californians are starting to get rid of their lawns as their drought puts ours to shame.

For an update on California's problems, check out this piece from the L.A. Times. Be sure and read the comments, they're entertaining.

Basically, California has about a year's worth of water left in its reservoirs.

But, while 94 percent of Californians believe that the drought is serious, according to a recent poll, only about a third think water rationing should be mandatory.

In other words, Californians expect the sun to always shine and the water to always flow. They want their cake and eat it, too. It's always been that way.

The chickens, though, are coming home to roost. Mega-droughts are forecast in this era of climate change.

Even Antarctica is melting at an alarming rate which should boost ocean levels all the way to North America.

Californians, meanwhile, must get more desalination plants up and running, ASAP. That is their only hope.

Of course, they're not going to want to pay for these expensive plants or the nuclear energy needed to move all that water over hill and dale.

Naturally, some commenters on the L.A. Times' story said it would be easy to just take water from the Columbia River. Afterall, it just dumps into the Pacific Ocean. And, they ask, what would Oregonians really want: Northwest water heading south to the Golden State or more Californians moving north to the water-logged Beaver State?

Others chastise almond growers for using so much water to produce just one nut, while the vegans chime in that the water needed to sustain the beef industry in California is a far greater culprit.

As is common on most message boards, comments get crazy in a flash. Many blamed the "illegal aliens," and, of course, "governor moonbeam."

And, water conservation in some coastal California counties has led to water rate hikes as much as 30 percent. Meanwhile, the general managers of water districts in the Bay Area make more than twice as much as the governor.

The squabbling is just beginning.

None of it, though, will make it rain in the cities or snow in the Sierras. Evidently, prayers aren't helping much either.

I'm sure a Republican will provide a solution: Cut taxes on rain clouds and the precipitation will trickle down.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Oklahoma ain't OK

The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Well, thank god for social media.

We have on video a group of white fraternity boys from Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) at the University of Oklahoma making racist chants on a bus trip.

Here's what they chanted: "There will never be a nigger SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me."

Even their charming house mom got exposed using the N-word when a 2013 video surfaced online.

The president of the university immediately closed that chapter of the fraternity and kicked two of the "cheerleaders" out of school. One of the expelled apologized.

The legendary football team lost at least one recruit and could lose others, as could the basketball team. Sadly, an African-American chef lost his job when the frat house was shut down.

The comments on this Yahoo story are indicative of the pulse of America: We are a nation of racists and bigots as well as upright, ethical citizens.

Some of the commenters and even some experts have framed this incident as just an expression of free speech, our First Amendment right. No biggie. Nothing to see here, move along.

Yes, and free speech has consequences as the frat boys found out. If they were allowed to remain in school, their safety could not be guaranteed. Talk about yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. They would be stampeded.

Amid the vile online comments, I was amused by this one: "Dear Oklahoma. Thanks so much for giving us a day off as the punchline state. We needed the rest. Love, Mississippi and Alabama."

Coincidentally, the SAE, no stranger to controversy, was established in 1856 at the University of Alabama, which fought long and hard to exclude African-Americans from attending that school.

It's not surprising that frat guys acted this way. Fraternities have always been known for their juvenile behavior, degrading initiations and hazing incidents that "bond" the boys to think and act as a group, not as individuals. In essence, they're the opposite of what a college education represents.

Of course, Oklahoma is certainly not alone with racial issues. In fact most, if not all, major institutions of higher learning have racists in their midst. However, most choose not to share this on facebook, aka "the Chronicles of Narcissus."

What has long troubled me, particularly since this is now 2015, exactly 150 years after the Civil War ended, is that almost all of the football and basketball players at the major universities are black, while the fans, including the student sections, still are mostly white.

We're a nation of hypocrites because we want the black athletes to make all that money for the schools, we just don't want them in the stands or attending the college if they're not athletes. Less than 5 percent of the OU student body is African-American.

Yes, we have an African-American president, but the fault-lines in the racial divide since his two elections have deepened and widened in this country.

Don't blame President Obama. He's bent over backwards, to the chagrin of some in the black community, to avoid the racial issues of the day.

Now, deep into his second term, he's telling it like it is. He's got nothing to lose.

It's encouraging that David Boren, the white president of the University of Oklahoma, acted so swiftly, definitively and correctly. Unfortunately, judging by the racist online comments, he'll get a dose of what President Obama has endured when the death threats start rolling in.

This racial episode in Oklahoma is a manifestation of how our white members of Congress and some members of the media have treated President Obama. The frat boys must have thought it was all okay.

Well, it isn't OK.          

Monday, March 9, 2015

Solar flexing some power

Solar panels are now integrated with roof shingles and tiles
There is a great article in the Washington Post about how utilities are fighting the growing trend of rooftop solar power.

It is rare to see an article like this in a mainstream newspaper these days, particularly in the Washington Post. Ever since Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in a fire-sale in 2013, the Post has steered hard to the right and coddles corporations over the common man or woman.

Bezos, though, is a fan of disruptive technologies and rooftop solar power is the most disruptive yet.

Anyway, aside from the obvious benefit to homeowners and the environment, solar power threatens the heavily tax-subsidized electric utility monopolies.

What the article points out is that the electric utility industry has been waging a war against rooftop solar power for 30 years.

Yet today, the article notes, there are twice as many residential solar workers as there are coal miners.

Since, it appears to be losing in its efforts to impede solar power's progress, even in "red" states, the traditional electric monopolies are now getting public utility commissions to do their bidding by imposing excessive solar surcharges on homes that use solar panels.

Some power companies are installing massive solar fields in the desert, but home rooftop solar appears to be the most promising way to go.

The power companies are falling into the same trap that the music industry did when Napster and then iTunes took over the marketplace.

Like the music conglomerates, the power companies will lose big if they continue to fight progress rather than work with it.

When storage of electricity becomes practical and affordable, the power companies will be in a world of hurt.

In Nevada, Elon Musk is developing a high-capacity battery for his Tesla vehicles, but a side benefit could well be a storage battery for solar power generated from rooftop solar panels.

That could eventually let homeowners unplug from the grid completely.

Yes, that seems far-fetched, but as pointed out in the WaPo article, who knew 10 years ago that homeowners would disconnect their phone land lines in favor of cell phones and their inferior call quality.

Once homes, particularly in sunny Central Oregon, become solarized, electric vehicles, with longer-range batteries become much more appealing.

Less fossil fuels consumed benefits the environment and denies funding to terrorists.

But, the power monopolies, backed by the fossil fuel industry, must be thwarted in their efforts to stifle innovation.

We hear the blather all the time about how a "free market" balances everything out for everyone's benefit.

But, the term "free market" is just a theory in economic textbooks with little basis in reality in the era of huge monopolies.

That's what we're seeing the electric and fossil fuel industry industries. With their huge cash reserves, they can buy any influence at any level of government to maintain their dominance.

They failed to stop the low-carbon fuels bill from passing in the Oregon Legislature recently even though they helped get rid of Gov. John Kitzhaber and his muse, Cylvia Hayes, who were at the heart of the matter. 

Here's hoping the new governor signs the bill. We need a government that protects the average citizen against the progress-crushing influence of monopolies.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A legacy of racism

A long road to freedom
Although it's almost  two thousand miles away, Ferguson, Mo., seems like a million miles away.

Of course, a place like Bend, Ore., really has no clue about the racial dynamics of a city in Missouri, which, historically, is one of the most racist states in America.

Check out the Missouri Compromise of 1820 for a little prespective. 

Oregon was admitted as a free state in 1859 and for decades it refused to even allow any blacks to move to the state. Yes, Oregon was a totally racist state, like much of America.

As an OPB documentary pointed out, what changed here were a lot of funerals. The old racist guard needed to die out before any racial progress could be made.

This is the picture of America. And, it's not pretty.

Check out the border war between Kansas and Missouri for a little perspective.

For a more modern view, check out this link that shows how the problems in Ferguson were long in the making.

As this country marks the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., it's worth noting that we've come a long way since then, but have so far to go.

President Obama will be in Selma this weekend, unlike the GOP leadership of the House.

It's disconcerting since President Lincoln was the first Republican president and Republicans, historically, were the vanguards of racial progress, particularly in Oregon.

Times have changed. The onetime "Southern Democrats" are now the base of the Republican Party.

In other words, Republicans have embraced their racist constituents.

As a Democrat, I'm grateful that the racist southerners are no longer a key part of the party's base.

On the other hand, it's depressing to realize that the racial problems, that partially define this nation, still flourish.

The way President Obama has navigated this racial minefield is worth another Nobel Peace prize.

It's vital, for the world, that the U.S. confronts its racial problems with openness, honesty and forthrightness.

Judging by what's happening in the Middle East and Africa, it is essential that we project to the rest of the world that we know what our problems are and how we're dealing with them in a constructive manner.

Thank god we have a president who understands our racial problems and, unencumbered by another election cycle in which he would have to compromise his personal feelings, can forcefully come out and express them in a way that can heal this nation.

Not that racists or Republicans or Fox News viewers would give a damn.

But, it's not about them.

It's about the soul of this country and how we can still be a beacon to the rest of the world.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cable rate hike: Push coming to shove

Ah, when life was simpler
As it does annually, BendBroadband jacked up its cable TV rates by $4 per month for the Essentials tier to $57.99 and upped its internet rate by $1 to $42.99 for the Bronze package.

So, for $5 more per month, or $100.98, we're "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," marveling at "Duck Dynasty," and praying with BYU-TV.

Yes, we do get Comedy Central, Turner Classic Movies and ESPN along with the Pac-12 Networks, but, really, there isn't much to watch on those 179 "channels" for $57.99 per month.

The alternatives out there, though, aren't great.

Satellite TV has a much lower introductory rate, but it takes forever just to change channels or figure out where they are. Plus, the internet that the satellite companies offer is DSL through the phone company. That's definitely a step backward.

The internet is far more important to my life than cable TV.

Streaming content from the internet is getting more attractive.

Yet, by getting rid of cable TV, I would have to pay the unbundled internet rate of $52.99 per month. That would only buy me download speeds of 15 Mbps. To get 25 Mbps, the rate jumps to $62.99 per month.

And then there is the problem of actually streaming content to my 15-year-old, 80-pound CRT television.

Most streaming devices, from Blu-Ray DVD players to Google Chromecast to Roku 3 to Apple TV, use either HDMI or USB connections, which my old TV does not have.

Okay, just get a new TV. They're so "cheap."  A Samsung 50-inch internet-ready, flat-screen TV goes for about $500.

But, that would mean I'd have to get rid of my current entertainment center because any new TV screen wouldn't fit in it.

Not a big deal, but then I have to find a place to put all the DVDs, VHS tapes and CDs that we've accumulated over the years. I'd also have to get a new stereo to be compatible with the TV. I've already boxed up my LPs and put them in the garage.

And, if we're going to go through all trouble of moving the entertainment center out of the den, we might as well get new carpet, which we haven't changed in decades.

I'd also have to buy a credenza on which to put the new TV.

Yes, streaming leads to a multitude of issues.

There is the Roku 2, which would connect to my current TV, and it costs about $65.

Of course, not all streaming content is free and we'd have to pay for some of the stuff out there. We're already paying for Netflix, which really doesn't have great content.

Or, we could just get out the rabbit ears again, dust off the digital converter box and hope that we can get a couple of channels over-the-air. However, we live in a section of Bend that doesn't get great reception.

Or, just forget TV. Life will go on without it.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bibi, please go home

Israeli P.M. Bibi Netanyahu before Congress
The media has been working overtime to get Americans to care about the Israeli prime minister's speech to Congress.

It's not really working. Americans don't care about Congress, why should we care who speaks in front of it. Most Americans don't even watch when our own president speaks before Congress.

I heard yesterday that the Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu spoke before Congress a couple of years ago. Who knew?

Republicans invited Bibi to speak so they could embarrass President Obama about the six-nation plan to derail Iran's intentions to build a nuclear bomb.

Republicans care less about Israel than they do in undercutting anything Obama is trying to achieve.

Ironically, on a day when Republicans showed they cared more about Israel's security than this country's, Congress finally passed the bill, with most GOPers voting against it, to fund Homeland Security.

Yes, Iran would like to get rid of Israel, but knows it's not likely to ever happen because nuking the Holy Land will kill as many Muslims as Jews. The residual nuclear fallout will kill, or seriously injure, many more across the Middle East.

Only an irrational country like North Korea would consider such an option. Or a terror group like ISIS.

That's the real problem. ISIS has demonstrated that it is a suicidal entity and preventing that group from getting access to any nuclear device should be the unifying focus of all remaining rational people in the Middle East.

Since 1992, Bibi has been warning that Iran is a couple of years away from having a nuclear weapon. It should have one by now, but apparently doesn't.

And, where does the anyone get the moral authority to tell Iran it cannot acquire nuclear weapons to defend itself. The U.S. is the only country to use an atomic bomb while Israel was the first to go nuclear in the Middle East. The genie is out of the bottle.

Bibi is not in favor of a potential anti-nuclear deal with Iran because he opposes any deal with Iran since he defines it as a terrorist country.

Bibi and Republicans have no alternative to the current deal-in-progress with Iran other than having the U.S. bomb and invade Iran like we did Iraq.

Sorry, Bibi, been there, done that. It didn't work out too well. In fact, it made Iran the dominant player in Iraq and ignited the Sunni-Shiite civil war that is engulfing the region. Coincidentally, it is Iran that's assisting Iraq in defeating ISIS, which is funded, at least in part, by Saudi Arabia.

Bibi, if you want to bomb Iran, go ahead. That's your fight, not America's.

Whether there is a deal or no deal with Iran, it won't really matter.

The age-old problems will persist.

The U.S. has two interests in the Middle East: Israel and oil.

Unfortunately, the countries that produce the oil, that we're hopelessly addicted to, want to destroy Israel, the only decent country over there. In other words, we're helping fund the enemies of our only true friend in the region.

To solve this dilemma, the U.S. either has to give up its support for Israel or for the oil-producing Islamic countries, mainly Saudi Arabia.

We aren't likely to do either option. Therefore there is no solution, from the American perspective, to the problems in the Middle East. And, there won't be until we give up oil from that region.

George Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, said it best in the 1980s when he told both sides in the Middle East that the world was tired of their problems.

We still are.

Don't let Bibi drag us into another hopeless war in the Middle East.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Oregon headed for tax-backwater status

Facebook, Apple and Google don't have enough money, so they're seeking more tax breaks from Oregon that would let them expand data farms here or provide internet service without paying hardly any taxes at all.

These companies already enjoy property tax breaks in the state and now want their income taxes swept away.

In neighboring Crook County, facebook got a sweetheart property tax deal and now employs a handful of people. In time, the only jobs there will be for janitors.

Apple showed how to get property tax breaks and screw over Crook County by adding no jobs. Apple is servicing its data farm there by remote control, most likely from India.

And what did Crook County get for all its benevolence? The highest unemployment rate in the state.

Yes, a lose-lose proposition, which will become lose-lose-lose if Oregon grants these ultra-rich companies still more tax breaks during the current legislative session.

Google is leading the charge because it wants to add true high-speed internet service at a reasonable price in the Portland area. There will be a few jobs associated with the Google Fiber service but not many permanent ones.

Apple and facebook plan to add no new jobs for the tax breaks they're seeking.

The deal is so outrageous that the League of Oregon Cities, hardly a left-wing cabal, is opposed to these ridiculous tax breaks.

Its executive director, Mike McCauley, was quoted in the daily paper as saying, "We cannot support the total bill as it is currently written as it provides excessive tax reductions to existing telecom and cable providers, at the expense of local services, without generating new economic development."

If these corporations want to get these tax breaks without providing any jobs, by all means, they should go to another state that are eager to bend over for them.

If Apple, the richest company in the world, wants to pay no taxes in Oregon, why should anyone else, of much lesser means, pay any taxes at all.

There is a narrative in this country that tax breaks to corporations equals endless tax-paying jobs.

Well, that Reagan-era doctrine has long been discredited.

It's been the Republican ploy to push the tax burden from those with the most to those with the least. In essence, starve the government of tax revenue and we'll all live long and prosper.

Well, our national debt is in the stratosphere due to this philosophy.

Meanwhile, the diminishing middle class is so financially stressed that it rarely votes for tax measures that would make their lives better.

The public good has been sacrificed for private gain.

In Oregon, obscene tax breaks for rich corporations has led to crumbling roads and bridges, inadequate funding for public schools and almost no support for higher education.

This all makes places like Prineville less and less attractive to outside companies. If the schools are weak, the infrastructure crumbling and there is little hope of affording higher education, what's the point of moving to Prineville at all.

The same could be said for any rural city in Oregon or in the rest of the country.

The more Oregon allows the wealthiest corporations in the world to avoid paying taxes, the poorer this state will be.