Monday, October 26, 2015

The warmest October on record?

Could be a wild ride this winter
Evidently, it is, in Bend, Oregon.

We've had few hard freezes this October, little rain and no snow.

The highs have been in the 60s and 70s.

The forecast for the rest of the month shows slightly cooler temps in the mid-50s and some rain, but no snow.

I've only lived here 31 years, but I've never seen Mt. Bachelor so bare, so late in October.

We've already had the warmest June on record here in Bend. It's safe to say that 2015 will go down as the warmest year in the city's history.

Granted, the history only goes back about 110 years and the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old.

But still, this is amazing for Bend. At our house, we haven't put the flannel sheets on yet and probably won't until mid-November. I haven't even worn flannel shirts that much.

Now, this is nothing compared to the 90-degree temperatures experienced in the L.A. area this month.

Or, the routine 80-degree temps in the Bay Area in October.

If much of Oregon and Washington are experiencing drought, one can imagine what's happening in California.

To the credit of many in the Golden State, they have conserved enough water that we don't hear that much anymore about their dire water situation.

But the situation is still extremely alarming down there.

Californians, and to a lesser extent Oregonians, are expecting the largest El Nino on record to save the day and bring record rainfall to the West Coast. It's already brought Hurricane Patricia to Mexico and ridiculous rains to Texas.

Of course, rain without a deep snowpack won't bring much water relief to the parched Pacific Coast.

Plus, Donald Trump will claim that El Nino is just another illegal alien up to no good.

Trump will fix this problem or hire the best people to keep El Nino from stealing American jobs.

El Nino, though, isn't likely to make that big of a long-lasting difference to Western water woes.

In fact, it may be another example of how climate change is worse than we thought.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The war on war itself

For years now, we've had wars of various magnitudes, intensity and failure: Iraq, Afghanistan, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, terrorism, poverty, drugs, women and gluten.

Poor gluten, it was on top for so long.

Incredibly, though, it's harder for America to go to war at all.

Certainly, all the countries and holidays haven't been conquered yet. Nouns, like terrorism, still abound.

What is going on?

Well, things haven't gone that well in Afghanistan for the past 14 years or so. And Iraq, well, it was the worst war in American history, which is saying a lot when you consider Vietnam.

The wars on the holidays haven't succeeded that well either. Christmas and Easter still seem to prosper in spite of Fox News' relentless drumbeat to incite faux outrage.

Yet, Columbus Day is now known as Indigenous Peoples' Day or Native American Day in a handful of locales. Oregon, thankfully, doesn't even recognize Columbus Day. Evidently, there aren't that many Italians in the Beaver State.

But, it's clear that many Americans want war, either against Russia, ISIS, undocumented workers or cholesterol.

Even though we spend more on our military-industrial complex than all other major nations combined, we haven't had a decisive victory since World War II.

We also haven't invaded any other country in more than 10 years.

Heck, even Michael Moore has a new documentary coming out called "Where to Invade Next."

So, what are the choices for our next war?

We haven't bit on a host of opportunities from Libya, Syria, Ukraine, North Korea, Iraq again or the Kardashians.

It's enough to give a warmonger an ulcer.

Call it the war on war itself.

Naturally, President Obama shoulders most of the blame. In an acknowledgement that he needed to show some cojones, Obama recently extended our war in Afghanistan for the next president to end.

Not that it will ever end.

One thing is certain, war is good for defense contractors, the media and undertakers.

It's bad for everyone else.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The myth of 'affordable housing'

New apartments, right, will block view of iconic Pilot Butte
We need a more realistic definition of what it means to have "affordable housing."

 It's a phrase that builders, Realtors, government types and newspaper editors all say they want, but do little to make a reality for renters or buyers.

So, for clarity, transparency and truth, "affordable housing" means it's more affordable for the builder/developer, not the renter or buyer.

It's like "routine surgery," which is only routine for the doctor, not the patient.

The city of Bend is now promoting higher density home-building by not collecting up to $1 million in impact fees.

The theory is that higher density, particularly with new apartment complexes, will lead to "affordable housing."

The less, though, a builder or developer has to spend on impact fees, the more he can spend in the local media to market his properties. Hence, the local "support" for eliminating impact fees.

It does not mean the cost on those properties will become cheaper for the buyer or renter.

There is no evidence presented by anyone that no impact fees on new development creates "affordable housing."

It does mean, however, that infrastructure to support that growth will erode. Right now, Bend needs more than $80 million that it doesn't have just to maintain the current roads.

And, what is considered affordable? Paying $1,500 to rent a small house in Bend or $900 for a 1 bedroom/1 bath apartment is not affordable to most of the working class in this town.

In fact, teachers, firemen and police officers are having a tough time finding an affordable place to buy in Bend and have moved to Redmond or points beyond.

Inventory is not the problem. There are plenty of houses for sale and a handful of nearly vacant subdivisions ready for new homes.

The new apartment buildings planned for Bend are nowhere near the new OSU-Cascades campus. Walking, or even bicycling, to OSUC will be impossible for the majority of the students there. Relying on our token transit system is not much of an option either.

Bend attracts people to move here from all over the country. It is popular.

Anything popular is usually more expensive.

The going rate for renting or buying is whatever the market will bear and has absolutely nothing to do with building impact fees.

Right now, we have a bull market on price increases.

New apartments are going up right next to Pilot Butte, which is an icon for the entire region. The existing apartments there, called The Commons at Pilot Butte, had their rates jacked up by $300 a month this past summer.

The median price of a home in Bend is again nearly $350,000. Consequently, Bend is now considered one of the most over-valued housing markets in the country.

After the 2008 crash, the plunge here was steeper than in most of the country.

This roller-coaster effect underscores the point that counting on home/apartment construction to sustain our economy is as bad as relying on the timber industry was for much of Bend's history.

The underlying principle hasn't changed: Many people, particularly those who grew up here and work a minimum wage job, don't make enough money to own, or, in some cases, even rent a place to call home.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

American exceptionalism lives on in latest gun massacre

If we couldn't change gun laws after Sandy Hook, will we ever?
The Onion, the satirical website, has a standing headline that it trots out after the latest mass murder using firearms.

Sadly, it never gets old:

" 'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens."

Yes, call it American exceptionalism where we lead the world in firearm mayhem.

Who needs foreign terrorists when we have enough killers here at home.

The slaughter in Roseburg, where 10 were killed including the shooter, took about 10 minutes.

We may not be able to produce much in this country anymore, but we still produce mass murder faster than any other developed nation in the world.

Evidently, we've had 45 school shootings this year. Okay there are 52 weeks in a year and this latest mass shooting took place 40 weeks into the year. That's right, we average more than one school shooting per week.

Pathetically, there have been nearly 1,000 mass-shooting incidents in this country since 2012.

That's just the tip of the iceberg of American gun violence. The daily gang killings in Chicago or the near-daily murder-suicides, where a man shoots his wife and sometimes the kids before killing himself, are so routine that they barely merit headlines outside of the local papers.

Throw in your gun accidents and suicides and we have about 30,000 deaths per year by guns. No other developed nation comes close. Okay, Honduras has a higher murder rate. But, if we're comparing ourselves to failed states, than we have deeper problems.

In the past 45 years, we've lost more Americans to gun violence than were lost in all the wars we've fought in our history.

It's not terribly surprising that this latest tragedy occurred in Roseburg, a rural town that adores hunting.

It could happen in any city in America, including Bend.

Yet, the county sheriff in Roseburg, John Hanlin, once posted a video to Facebook that questioned whether the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 actually took place the way it was reported. He also wrote a letter to Vice President Joe Biden in 2013 stating that he would not enforce any new gun laws passed in the wake of Sandy Hook.

Hanlin also didn't think it was unusual that the killer had 13 firearms.

Clearly, Sheriff Hanlin is part of the problem and not the solution to gun violence in this country. Because of people like him and his refusal to reign in gun violence, we continue to have mass murders.

Like all other school shootings in this country, we'll have the predictable responses from people like me and people like Bill O'Reilly who consider gun massacres worth the price of freedom to own as many guns as you want.

Or, as Jeb!? Bush shrugs, "Stuff happens."

Meanwhile, nothing will change except that the next school shooting could be less than a week away.