Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hell in a handbasket

Now that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, there are many Americans who firmly believe that we've finally gone to hell in a handbasket.

But, how did that handbasket get there so fast?

Well, there are a number of touchstone moments over the past few centuries that led to this expected, but still stunning, ruling. 

For extreme right-wingers, Thursday's Supreme Court ruling affirming "Obamacare," for the sceond time in three years, meant that hell was right around the corner.

In reality, though, the most immediate precedent came exactly two years ago when the high court ruled that California's voter-approved, same-sex marriage ban discriminated against homosexuals and was unconstitutional. There was an expectation then among some Americans that the end times were near at hand. 

But, there have been a number of rulings that conservatives cite as proof that America was "going to hell in a handbasket."

The big one, of course, was Roe v. Wade from 1973 that legalized abortion. In spite of that ruling, hell was not reached. The sky did not fall. Pestilence did not ravage the land.

In the 1960s, the high court ruled that people of different races could marry and that contraceptives were entirely legal. Hell could be seen at this point.

But, the real biggie from that decade, and the one that led to all the troubles of this country, according to the far right, was the decision that banned prayer in public schools. Since kids haven't prayed in public schools since 1962, the "logic" goes, no wonder we have gay marriage today.

And, the ban on prayer in school would not have happened if segregation was left intact.

In 1954, though, the Supreme Court held that public schools couldn't discriminate against African-Americans. Much to the relief of conservatives, that didn't lead to integration overnight. In 1963, Gov. George Wallace personally barred blacks from entering the University of Alabama.

Of course, there wasn't much outcry from conservatives in 1944 when the high court effectively ruled that herding Asian-Americans into internment camps along the west coast was constitutional. Well, many Americans were, in fact, in the grip of World War II and we all know that "war is hell."

That wasn't the first time this country went to hell and back, though. There was a little ruling in 1857 that said African-Americans had no standing to sue for their freedom and that the federal government could not regulate slavery in territories acquired after the creation of the U.S. 

The Dred Scott ruling, which provoked little conservative outrage at the time, led directly to the Civil War, which was definitely hell for this country.

By contract, the Supreme Court's historic ruling on gay marriage will not lead to another Civil War. In fact, the decision will be forgotten by most Americans next week when they realize gay marriage doesn't make a mockery of "traditional" marriage. 

Here's a notable line from the decision: "Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations."

Leave it to President Obama, though, the first sitting president to support gay marriage, to really nail it: "This ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free."

That's far from hell in a handbasket.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Look away from Dixie flag

Take down the Confederate battle flag
It's been 150 years since the end of the Civil War and we're finally getting rid of the last symbol of that conflict.

What took so long?

Well, racism.

It would take 100 years after 1865 to finally give African-Americans the real right to vote or even to be served in a white establishment in the South.

In fact, for decades after the Civil War, the former slaves merely had second-class status, at best, in American society.

When the federal government finally intervened in the 1950s-60s, southern states suddenly found their "heritage" in the Confederate battle flag and proudly flew it at their capitols. Mississippi still incorporates the battle flag in its official state flag. It's aggravating that this Mississippi flag flies, with all the other state flags, at Oregon's capitol in Salem.

The southern "heritage," through the display of the Confederate flag, deifies the rebels, who should be regarded as traitors and terrorists.

The Confederate battle flag is nothing more than a symbol of our original sin as a nation. It represents  slavery, evil, hatred, racism, lynchings and now, sadly, mass murder at a South Carolina church.

Yes, it is the equivalent of the swastika flag in Germany.

Amazingly, Mitt Romney came out against the Confederate flag. Even more shocking, the South Carolina governor, evidently ignorant of the death threats she would receive, called for the flag to be taken down from the capitol grounds. Even Walmart, no stranger to racism, along with Amazon, now refuse to sell the flag in any form.

Yes, the times they are a-changing.

It was also stunning last week that the Supreme Court, with Clarence Thomas providing the fifth vote, defended the state of Texas in denying the placement of the Confederate battle flag on a state-issued license plate.

This doesn't mean that any pathetic yokel can't plaster a Confederate flag on his pickup truck.

No, any American can still display their ignorance and racism by adorning almost anything with the Confederate flag.

Comedian John Oliver, a Brit, had one of the best slams against such folks:

"The Confederate flag is one of those symbols that should really only be seen on T-shirts, belt buckles and bumper stickers to help the rest of us identify the worst people in the world."

Unfortunately, we still have way too many of these people in America.

Racism still plagues this country as evidenced by the reaction to Barack Obama's presidency.

We do not need to fan the flames of racism by allowing any government entity in this country to fly the Confederate flag.

Take it down and put it in a museum, where it belongs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

OSU-Cascades wins okay to build 10-acre campus
A four-university is supposed to fit on just 10 acres
Predictably, OSU-Cascades survived another round when the state Land Use Board of Appeals affirmed its right to shoe-horn a four-university on 10 acres on Bend's cramped west side.

Since OSU-Cascades owned just 10 acres, it was not required by the city to provide a master plan for the project.

The state agreed.

Afterall, we get four-year universities all the time in Bend, like strip malls. No need to have a master plan for something so routine.

Oh wait, this is the only four-year university this city will ever have.

But, there is no need to have a master plan or any plan for that matter.

This is Bend, where "planning" is a four-letter word. Yes, we can't count either.

With this land-use success, OSU-Cascades will try to add more space in increments of less than 20 acres so that it won't ever have to submit a master plan that could be scrutinized and rejected by the public land-use process.

As I've posted before, this was a simple case of a land scam by a few landowners getting rich at taxpayers's expense. Having the state's taxpayers fund the rehabilitation of contaminated land was an opportunity that city oligarchs couldn't pass up.

Even though OSU-Cascades is primarily for students in Central Oregon, today's ruling ensures that those from anywhere outside of Bend's west side are not welcomed at the university because of its inaccessible location.

But, there will be unintended consequences from Tuesday's ruling.

First, and foremost, is the fact that Bend's west side, with its upscale subdivisions, including NorthWest Crossing, will become less valuable as gridlock and noise grip the area.

This could make Bend's eastside more valuable since it'll be less congested, quieter and more livable.

Since there are no plans to build much housing near the school and its hoped-for 5,000 students, commuting from Bend's northeast side, the most affordable area in the city, to the west-side campus will negatively impact all areas in between.

And, of course, we can't further subsidize public transit because, well, that's like communism or socialism or Islamism or whatever is convenient to scapegoat.

The battle between the formal opposition, Truth In Site, and OSU-Cascades' brain trust obscured the fact that most citizens in the region reject the west-side location.

Even OSU-Cascades' own internal (re: biased) polling from April, and only partially released in an editorial this past week in the daily newspaper, shows that support for OSU-Cascades has dwindled from more than 80 percent to 59 percent. And that's without knowing where the actual campus would be located.

The arrogance and condescension displayed by the handful of supporters of the west-side campus toward anyone who opposed the contaminated site, helped fuel the general dissatisfaction toward the school.

This does not bode well for the long-term prospects of OSU-Cascades.

After it blows through the initial state funds just to rehabilitate the pumice pit, let alone the former county demolition landfill, OSU-Cascades will ask Bend residents to pass a bond to build the actual classrooms for the campus.

Since the leaders of OSU-Cascades, through their underhanded way of siting the school, obviously do not care what most Central Oregonians think, they'll find out that widespread financial support is gone with the broken wind.

In fact, this is the most damaging aspect to all of this. By dismissing all concerns about the west-side location as the product of NIMBY whiners, OSU-Cascades has enraged the very people it needs to ask for continuing support. Most Central Oregonians were offended by OSU-Cascades' condescending approach to the opposition.

In essence, OSU-Cascades' leaders have demonstrated that they do not care about the Central Oregon community at large. They'll find out that most residents won't care about the school when it starts begging for money.

This is all so sad. We could've had a well-regarded four-year university in Bend. Instead, we'll have a tiny school built on a terrible site to enrich a handful of landowners at the expense of a promising future for the public at large.

Welcome to the 21st Century. Today, the goal of civic "leaders" is to rip off the taxpayers. It's a far cry from the days when donating land to create a college, like OSU in Corvallis or COCC in Bend, was meant to foster a wider sense of community.

Those days are long gone.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Making Bend less affordable and less livable

Current minimum wage in Oregon is $9.25 per hour
Now that the insane upswing of housing prices is again making Bend unaffordable for working-class families, we get the usual hypocrisy about making housing more "affordable" by giving tax/fee breaks to the richest among us.

That old "trickle-down" philosophy worked so well for national debt. Right.

So, it appears the park district will cave on collecting up to $500,000 in development fees under the vague guise that this will make housing more affordable.

Uh, no it won't.

The city tried this during the downturn and, while housing prices cratered, so did any jobs that enabled anyone to afford those reduced prices.

The city set aside some fees for "affordable housing" money that was available only to non-profits.

Well, the Central Oregon Builders Association created a non-profit entity to capture those dollars which, in turn, enriched its members. It also built up a war chest to fight regulations, fees and, yes, affordable housing mandates. It also had a lot more money to advertise in the local daily for the annual tour of homes. Naturally, the daily paper constantly rails against any building impact fee.

Even the park district said it will give a "preference" to "affordable housing" projects, which means the money will go to the pockets of the usual developers.

Also, the park district says it will forego developing parks it promised residents because it won't be collecting the fees from developers to build those parks.

As dissenting park board member Nathan Hovekamp said, "Do we really want a sprawling city with less parks and trails?"

No, we don't, but that is exactly what we are going to get, along with terrible roads.

The building fees, which amount to less than 5 percent of the median home price here, are not making housing unaffordable. Subtract the $17,000 in city/park district fees from the median price of $310,000 and the homes are still not affordable to workers in the tourist industry of Bend.

As I've mentioned before in previous posts, no new home will be reduced by $17,000 by any builder. No, he'll just make and additional $17,000. Also, no one has ever prevented any builder from building affordable housing.

It takes $16.61 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Oregon, where the minimum wage is a respectable $9.25 per hour.

What is really making housing unaffordable, particularly for renters in Bend, is the escalating hikes to water, sewer and stormwater fees.

For years, the city has hiked its water and sewer rates at triple the rate of inflation. A two-bath home with one occupant in Bend averages about $100 per month water and sewer bill. Tack on another $48 (soon to be $60) per year for stormwater runoff and the monthly rent gets out of control.

The city can assess a building impact fee for stormwater, but caves in to the building industry and refuses to even consider it.

Now, instead of adding a 5-cent tax per gallon of gas for road maintenance as most major cities in the state do, the city is considering a new "utility" fee for roads that will add another $120 per year to the rent bill. And, if you don't even drive a car, you still get to pay for the roads you don't use. Evidently, the city doesn't think the principle that you pay for what you use, as in water or sewer, is applicable to road usage. Yes, that is hypocritical.

The oil industry is fighting hard to thwart any increase in the gas tax and they will likely succeed.

Meanwhile, the city says it has $80 million worth of deferred road maintenance and refuses to spend much money it does have to repair our crumbling roads. No, it would rather put the burden on property taxpayers in the form of a road bond.

Obviously, such bonds make housing less and less affordable.

So, in order to give the builders and developers outrageous breaks on building-impact fees, the taxes and fees for the average household escalate.

The tax burden shifts from the rich to the less affluent.

All this talk about making housing more "affordable" is sheer hypocrisy. In fact, it does just the opposite.

Sadly, Bend's livability suffers as a result.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Raise gas tax to fix roads

Like many states, Oregon, the first state to impose a gas tax in 1919, can't keep up with repairs to its roadways.

Of course, raising the gas tax is too simple, fair and unpopular with the oil industry, not to mention most motorists. We want well-maintained roadways, we just don't want to pay for them.

Plus, the oil lobby can buy off any legislator to thwart any increase in the statewide gas tax.

So, the Oregon Dept. of Transportation is tasked with fixing the roads with diminishing funds.

Increased mileage rates in vehicles, from hybrids to diesels to electrics, has meant a further decline in revenue to maintain the roads.

So, the "brains" at ODOT believe all those high-mileage vehicles are the culprits and want to impose a mileage tax where a Prius C owner could pay more taxes than a Cadillac Escalade driver.

To ODOT, drivers of the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Nissan Leaf or Volkswagen diesel are the reason why our roads are in such a mess. They must pay for all the damage they do to Oregon's roads.

Well, call it the Fox News approach to reality.

All the high-mileage cars in the state don't cause near the damage to our roads that a few dozen heavy trucks do on a daily basis. In fact, one loaded cement truck will do more damage than 100 hybrids.

Hybrids, along with high-mileage gas and diesel vehicles run on fuel and pay the appropriate taxes at the pump. The local daily referred to such vehicle drivers as "alternative free-loaders."

ODOT, though, only focuses on hybrids and electric vehicles.

Of the 3.3 million vehicles in this state, there are about 3,500 light-weight electric cars "tearing" up the roadways. Yes, they pay no taxes at the pump, but they more than make up for that shortcoming by not contributing to pollution or greenhouse gases. Calibrating a small tax for electric vehicles makes some sense, but it should be minuscule.

Apparently, it's news to ODOT that some diesel cars get better mileage that some hybrids. Why should hybrid car owners be penalized and not diesel car owners or other high-mileage gas vehicles?

It makes no sense.

The main problem with ODOT's short-sighted approach to highway funding, is that it rewards gas guzzlers who cause more pollution while further enriching those countries that support terrorism.

Why would ODOT want to create more support for ISIS or al Qaeda?

It is incumbent upon the state to reward good behavior while penalizing bad behavior. The heavy trucks cause almost all the damage to our roads and should pay for that damage.

The main goal is to decrease pollution, reduce wear and tear of our roadways and diminish funding for terrorists.

We need more hybrids and electric vehicles on our roads, not less.

The clear solution is to raise the gas tax on annual basis by 1 cent per gallon for all vehicles that use fuels.

The federal government has waning interest in repairing our crumbling highway infrastructure. It hasn't raised the 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax since 1993.

If we want safe roads and bridges we have to pay for them. The gas tax is the fairest way to do this.