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Open Letter to Rep Greg Walden (R-OR)

Dear Representative Walden,

I was disappointed but not surprised that you voted for the Republican Christmas Present to the Wealthy Act this week, but I was flabbergasted that you actually had the balls to post a message on your Facebook page claiming that “Washington special interest lobbyists lost, and the hard-working American taxpayers … won.”  I am boggled that an elected official imbued with the public trust would make in a public statement that is so utterly and provably false.

The truth, of course, is the exact, polar opposite of your fantasy.  We all know that, and your attempt at DoubleSpeak revisionism does not change the ugly facts.  This bill was literally (and here I use the traditional meaning of the word, “in actual fact”) written entirely by thousands of Washington special interest lobbyists.  It was certainly not written by any elected representative of the people, as evidenced by the fact that it does not benefit the people.  Indeed, I would assert that it was not even READ by the Congressmen who voted for it, yourself included.  Shame on you.

No expert involvement.  No expert consultation.  No debate.  No public input.  No town halls.  The only voices that contributed were the voices of all of those “Washington special interest lobbyists” that were supposed to be sucked away when the swamp was drained.  Shame on you.

It’s clear you never talked to an economist.  An economist would have told you that you don’t cut taxes when times are good.  It’s economic idiocy.  When times are good, you store up surpluses so you have the opportunity to offer relief when times are bad.  An economist would have told you that cutting corporate taxes does not result in more jobs.  Corporations do not hire more workers when profits are up, they hire more workers when demand goes up, and that only happens when “hard-working American taxpayers” have more money to spend.  That’s something this bill simply does not provide.  When corporate profits go up, corporations shower their executives with bonuses and keep the rest.  This is not some harebrained theory on my part — go look at the statistics. The evidence is there.  Look at what happened following the disastrous Reagan corporate tax cuts.  America as a whole has always done better when corporate and high income tax rates are higher.

Corporate America did not need a tax cut.  Corporations are doing just fine, and corporate profits are at historic highs.  This bill gives them no incentive at all to do anything with their increased profits.  Indeed, the strongest incentive to get corporations to invest in plant, equipment, and personnel is a high tax rate.  When taxes are higher, it’s smarter for corporations to reinvest their profits to avoid paying tax, rather than stockpile the profits.  You have eliminated that incentive, and the result will inevitably be an even wider chasm between the rich and the poor.  Why would you vote to mortage our future by raising the national debt, in exchange for absolutely nothing?  The ugly answer to that is that you are rewarding those “Washington special interest lobbyists” who have been funding your campaigns.  That’s not democracy.  Shame on you.

It’s also clear you never talked to your constituents.  More than 75% of the American public was against this bill, and for very good reasons.  Besides the totally unnecessary giveaway to the most profitable corporations and the most wealthy individuals, this bill also guts the extremely popular Affordable Care Act (which can no longer be called “Obamacare”).  The most needy Oregonians will be rightfully outraged when their health insurance premiums go up because you voted to end the individual mandate, thus throwing the premium pool out of balance.  The ACA’s provisions were worked out over many long months, in consultation with industry and economic experts, producing a thoughtfully crafted piece of legislation that has been working.  By hacking away at it in the dark of night without the same kind of care and expertise, you have helped do real damage to the American public.  Shame on you.

You have tried to argue that the negative feelings in the public are because you’ve done a poor job of messaging.  That is not  so.  The problem is that the only way to put a positive spin on this bill is to lie about it, as you did in your Facebook message.

You have betrayed your constituents, your fellow Oregonians, and your country.  I’m ashamed to have you represent my state, and you can be sure that the electorate will remember this next November.

Posted in Opinion.

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Why Republican Rule is Dangerous

President Trump and his cabinet appointments have started overhauls of many of the Executive Branch departments that provide protections for the citizenry of the country.  These actions point out a stark contrast between Democratic and Republican philosophies, and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the fundamental purpose of our government.

The root justification for their actions is that regulations stifle the operation of Corporate America.  However, Corporate America is doing just fine, thank you.  The stock market is way up, meaning corporate valuations are at an all-time high.  Corporate profits are way up.  GDP continues to rise.  Executive salaries are at an all-time high.  And these huge corporate successes continue even after 8 years of Democratic regulations. What is the lesson from all of this?

The fundamental purpose of a corporation is to enhance shareholder value. That’s not good or bad, it’s just true.  Their purpose is not to be socially conscientious, or kind, or even necessarily fair.  Given that charter, a corporation should naturally be against raising the minimum wage, simply because doing so decreases profits and reduces shareholder value.  The same principle applied to collective bargaining, overtime, paid family leave, employer-paid health insurance, and even voluntary pollution controls. Doing business in an environmentally friendly manner costs money, thereby reducing shareholder value.

That doesn’t mean corporations are inherently evil.  It simply means their goals do not necessarily align with the maintenance of a healthy and equitable society.  This is exactly why we have a government.  The purpose of a government is to provide the social conscience and the environmental protections that corporations are not chartered to provide.  For example, the job of OSHA and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is to  enact rules and regulation that provide a socially conscientious framework for corporate operations, to ensure that corporate employers act in a responsible  way.  We NEED that framework, because corporations are not incentivized to act that way on their own.  Most responsible executives should be relieved to  be able to blame regulations for requiring them to treat their employees  better than policies based strictly on shareholder value would permit.

Similarly, the job of the Environmental Protection Agency is to speak up on behalf of society, to enact and enforce rules and regulations that ensure corporations limit their activities to those that preserve our planet and its resources.  It is an adversarial relationship, to be sure, but it is a healthy one.  Corporate executives will naturally enact policies to extract and exploit natural resources in a way that optimizes profit, even if those are systemically unhealthy.  The job of the EPA is to provide a regulatory framework that allows corporations to continue profitable operations, but in a sustainable and healthy manner.

By installing leaders in these agencies who do not understand the need for these checks and balances, the Trump administration is putting the lives of the American working public — and the fate of the planet — at great risk.

Posted in Opinion.

What’s with insurance ads?

Why is it that, in the last couple of years, insurance companies suddenly seem to have entered into a competition to produce the funniest commercials?

For many years, insurance ads were staid, solid, and boring.  Geico seems to have started it with the Geico gecko, but the trend really got underway with their “caveman” series.  Personally, I think that series has now jumped the shark, but for a while they were really funny.

Then, we had Progressive and the Flo ads.  Some of them have been very entertaining, and I still have a crush on Flo.

Then, we had Farmers and the Farmers University ads.  “It’s an autoboathome!”  “Is that legal?”  “HA!  No.”  That series has gone into some pretty funny corners.  “You DO know this is just an exercise, right?”

Then, we had eSurance with their telephone support team.  Lower key, but still good personalities here.

My current favorite, though, is Allstate with the Mayhem guy.  Every one of those ads makes me laugh.  “I’m so busy with my LOLs and my BFFs that I didn’t see the C-A-R that I’m about to H-I-T.”  The new one, where he’s a raccoon, is another hit.

I’m not complaining, but I just think it’s fascinating that, suddenly, most of the innovation in television commercial comedy has migrated to the insurance industry.  Don’t you think?

Posted in Observation.

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Word Abuse

I just heard a radio advertisement from a car dealership in which they said they had a “veritable huge inventory”.  That is a very odd usage.  “Veritable” is used to qualify a metaphor.  You could say “a veritable ocean of cars”, or a “veritable swarm of cars”, but your inventory could be literally huge.

I often wonder where people pick up these strange constructions.

Posted in Observation.

School Bond Measures

I’m seeing a lot of unusual thinking in letters to the Oregonian regarding the Portland Public School bond measure.

Many writers say they are voting no because the assessment is unfair. I just don’t see that. A property tax is borne by every residence in the district, proportional to the value of the home they occupy. Landlords pass the assessment down to renters, so the burden is distributed among all people who live in the district. One writer complained that his property taxes would go up by $1,000. That would mean he is living in a home assessed at $500,000. He is doing OK — he can afford to pay a bit more.

In any case, the voters of Oregon decided this was the scheme they wanted when they passed Measure 5 and dismantled the previous system. There is nothing that any school system can do about this. There is no alternative. They can’t raise money in any other way. If you are philosophically opposed to public education, then just say that, and vote as you see fit. But punishing the school district just because you happen to dislike property taxes is not a rational response to the situation.

One writer said he was voting no until the district got their priorities straight. The reason building maintenance has been deferred is because they DO have their priorities straight — their priority is educating the children of Portland.

There’s no point in talking about cutting fat. After Measure 5, we cut the fat in 1994, and in 1997, and 2000, and 2002, and 2005, etc. We’ve been cutting muscle for some time, and we’re about to start chopping away at bone. The word “crisis” has been overused into meaninglessness, but that word is completely applicable here.

The school districts are not the enemy. They are trying to do what the people have chartered them to do. They can’t do that without funding.

Posted in Opinion.

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New Season of SNL

I watched the season premiere of Saturday Night Live over the weekend, with Amy Poehler as host and Katy Perry as musical guest.  Overall, I have to say that I was very entertained.

For me, the best skit of the night was “Bronx Beat,” a bit I always enjoyed.  Maya Rudolph came by for a cameo to join Amy this reunion.    What made this one great was the appearance by Katy Perry as a 16-year-old girl who had “blossomed” over the summer, wearing an Elmo t-shirt that barely covered her assets.  This resulted in the best line of the night: “Looks to me like this episode was brought to you by the number 38 and the letters double D!”

The “Mosque at Ground Zero” commercial was also great.  I was watching in horror, thinking about the nasty letters they were going to get.  When they went to the “it could happen — paid for by the Republican National Committee”, I just about busted a gut.  Great stuff.

The closer for Weekend Update had Fred Armisen doing his great imitation of New York Governor David Paterson, only to be interrupted by the REAL David Paterson.  Watching the two of them side by side was great entertainment.  Paterson made a good case, with just enough of the craziness that makes him such a good target.

One of the new “featuring” cast members, Jay Pharoah, did a spot-on imitation of Will Smith during Weekend Update.  If he has the same kind of imitative talent as Fred Armisen, we should have some really entertaining episodes in the future.

I like Katy Perry, so I was looking forward to her performances, but I thought California Gurls didn’t work nearly as well as it does in the video.  Her voice didn’t have that same lush, rich quality that I like in her recordings.

I don’t understand what it takes to graduate from the “featuring” section to the “regular” section.  Abby Elliott graduated this season, but Nasim Pedrad did not.

Posted in Opinion.

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Good Riddance, Rush?

Rush Limbaugh said that if the health care reform bill passed, he was going to move to Costa Rica.  I, for one, stand ready to contribute to the fund for his one-way airline ticket.

I wonder if he realizes that Costa Rica has nationalized health care?

Posted in Observation.

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Calendar Silliness

There have been a number of recent letters in the Oregonian discussing the naming of the decade that just finished.  Several have argued that “the aughties” will not actually end until the end of this year.  This is just silly.  I’ve already had one letter published on this topic, but they edited out one of my better arguments.

The key mistake is in thinking that the meaning of a term like “the aughties” is affected in any way by the numbering of years past.  That constraint cannot be justified.  Another mistake is insisting that “the aughties” must always refer to a decade.  “The aughties” refers to any consecutive set of years where the tens digit is zero.  The most recent “aughties” ran from 2000 through 2009.  There was another “aughties” about 2000 years ago, but that one only covered nine years — the years 1 through 9.  Similar, “the zero hundreds” only contained 99 years (from 1 through 99), and “the nineteen hundreds” contained 100 years, from 1900 through 1999.

I think we can all finally agree that the 20th Century started in 1901 and ended in 2000, and that’s true because the 1st Century started in 1 and ran through 100.  The very term “20th Century” has a dependency upon  the centuries that preceded it.  Indeed, if you want to refer to “the 201st decade A.D.”, then I would agree that it does not end until the end of 2010.

The Third Millennium AD began in 2001, but “the two thousands” began in 2000.  There is no reason why the meaning of “the two thousands” has to involve arguments about the absence of a “year 0”.  It’s a word problem, not a number problem.

With all of the critically important problems facing the world today, I suppose it’s nice to be able to argue about something as trivial as semantics for a change.

Posted in Opinion.

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Airline Security Calculus

It is my hope that the recent attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to attack an airliner on Christmas Day results in absolutely no changes in procedure at American airports. Amidst all of the posturing and apologies and useless attempts to place blame, we all seem to have lost the notion of “common sense” in our approach to airline security.

Security experts have stated that three changes since 2001 have demonstrably improved air travel security: (1) reinforced cockpit doors, (2) armed air marshalls, and (3) the passenger attitude that “we aren’t going to take it any more.” Everything else is pointless flailing. Indeed, it was exactly this third change that brought down both the “shoe bomber” and Abdulmutallab.

As unpleasant as it is, we must use a kind of morbid calculus to determine the cost/benefit ratio when assessing security procedures. If an aircraft carrying 100 passengers crashes, assuming an average age of about 35, a collective total of about 30 million hours of productive life will have been lost. In comparison, there are (within an order of magnitude) roughly a billion airlines trips every year. Assuming a conservative one hour of inconvenience per passenger, that means the largely symbolic enhancements to passenger screening instituted by the Transportation Safety Administration have cost this country ten billion hours of lost American productivity since 2001.

Let me put that another way. Every two days, airport delays cost this country the equivalent of one human life in lost productivity. Does anyone really believe that additional security is saving one life every two days?   If not, then the TSA is not a “net win” for this country.

At some point, enough is enough. What happens if the terrorists figure out how to weave explosives into their clothing? Will the TSA respond by requiring that all passengers fly naked? I wish I were more convinced that could not happen.

Posted in Opinion.

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Our Weather Crisis, Dec 22

For gosh sakes, can we all please stop whining about the snow day? We had one afternoon of unexpected inconvenience, and it seems like half the city wants someone to be fired over it. Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.

Sure, the city of Portland could equip itself with a huge fleet of snowplows and sanding trucks, but that would be an egregious waste of taxpayer money. Such a fleet would sit idle, sometimes for years at a time.

We should all be clear about the government’s responsibility here.  ODOT is not required to hold you by the hand and guarantee that you get home in the usual time, regardless of weather conditions or driver stupidity. This snow was a surprise event. No one expected it. By the time it became clear that it was more than just a flurry, an ample collection of incompetent and overconfident drivers had already clogged the streets and highways, making any graceful recovery completely impossible.

Nothing should change because of this event.  It was one day.  Talk about it, laugh about it, buy some chains, and get over it.  Sheesh.

Posted in Observation.

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