Archive for September, 2014

Voter assisted suicide

Author: admin

When someone commits suicide, two things happen. Someone dies. Those left behind feel shock and grief. Would those same attributes apply if an entire county died by its own hand? We’re about to find out.

Voters in Oregon’s Curry County seem determined to end life on this planet and set sail for an unknown destination in the afterlife. Try as they might, political, civic and moral leaders in-residence seem powerless to stop the self-induced destruction.

Already faced with the most serious local governmental fiscal hole in the state – following defeat of half a dozen bond issues for this and that – voters have said a loud “NO” to the latest measure – a small tax increase dedicated only to keeping doors open at the county jail. Just for keeping the bad guys locked up.

Bad enough. But it gets worse. Curry has been privileged to have the services of Sheriff John Bishop for many years. As good a professional cop as you’ll find. He’s tried and tried to make his case with voters that his lockup is out of compliance with nearly all legal – if not humane – requirements for keeping prisoners. He’s stacked up enough reasons for a better jail so effectively even voters in neighboring counties have been swayed.

He’s pleaded. He’s begged. He nearly single-handedly forced the latest bond issue before voters. All his labors have ended up in the trash. The latest – a rejection of something so basic to public safety it should be automatic. But it wasn’t even close.

Now, he’s leaving the job. The sheriff’s doctors have told him he’s got to get out from under the load of stress he’s carried for so long or he’ll die years before his time. He’s taken a new job in Salem. But that’s not all. His wife – who’s in charge of county corrections – is leaving, too. They’re both worn out. He and his corrections director wife will be gone before the end of the year.

The newly appointed sheriff – a younger veteran of the department – says the latest voter “shot-to-the-head” leaves him with one choice. He can lock up only the “really, really bad guys” and keep jail doors open ‘til January. Or he can keep taking those arrested and those sentenced by the courts and run out of money in a few weeks. Your call.

Curry County has been on this self-destructive path for several years. All the usual government services – including those required by law – have been cut, cut and cut again. Good people – people you’d want running things anywhere – have bailed out. Staffing in all departments – ALL – is less than minimal. Even 9-1-1 calls are screened for seriousness before anyone responds. And sometimes – they don’t. Bad guys – sometimes really bad guys – have been cycled from arrest to jail to court and back to the street for months.

Oregon has a new law allowing a county to declare bankruptcy and turn to the state for a bailout. A lot of voters in Curry seem to be counting on that. Counting, too, on getting out from under the current – and very deep – debt. They’re about to get a very large surprise.

While the state will be forced to step in, that new law also allows those who take over to make some major decisions. What services will be provided. What won’t. What those services will cost. And who’ll pay the bill. In fact, the state can lay on new “taxes” for certain things. Costs likely to be significantly higher than that old jail bond issue that was junked. The new, temporary help from the State of Oregon will come with a price tag. And with the authority to force payment.

Curry has only five “cities” with some 25,000 souls. More than three-quarters of ‘em live in Brookings, Harbor and Gold Beach – a stretch of Highway 101 of about 24 miles. A small county, yes. But it has a large land area and requires all the services of any other county. Given a long Pacific coastline and weather that wreaks havoc on roads and other public facilities, it also has some serious operating costs. Some of the required maintenance hasn’t been done in a long, long time because of the continued bond issue and county budget rejections. There’s a lot of deferred problems that need prompt attention before the entire infrastructure falls apart.

Curry County’s been “dying-by-a-thousand-cuts.” We lived there. We left. We found an attitude of false self-sufficiency among many people there. Curry may have the largest percentage of over-60 voters in the state. Maybe even over 70. Lots of retired folk. Lots of former government workers. Lots of former military. Fixed income folks.

But there’s something else. The largest population base is the unincorporated community of Harbor across the Chetco River from Brookings. Folks in Harbor have repeatedly refused to incorporate – preferring to leech the “free” services and shopping of the City of Brookings rather than carry their own costs. It’s been ever thus.

That may have to change if the county goes under. State of Oregon administrators charged with reviving the victim may have something to say about this longtime financial abuse of citizenship. Infrastructure costs disproportionally levied on some residents more than others may need to be readjusted some way. Freeloading may have to be ended.

If politics is your bent, watching developments in Curry County, Oregon, may be worth your while for a few months. Several other counties are in precarious financial conditions, too. But Curry seems closer to the edge of the cliff than any of them. Whether Curry jumps or is pushed off that cliff is the question. It got into this suicidal position at the hands of voters. This last “no” vote may have been the killer.

The good times rolled

Author: admin

Summer is over on Oregon’s central coast. No big news for you, maybe. But very big news for those of us beach side. And good news it is. Very good! Stores, restaurants, bars, campgrounds and all the usual places tourists spend their dollars are saying this has been the best – very best – year ever. Not just since the recession. Ever!

Even the real estate market, which went in the tank in 2007, has come back in a big way. Average sales prices in the $270,000 bracket a year ago hit an average of $340,000 in August. The number of sales has been pretty consistent for the last few months at 70 or so in our county. But prices have been going back to pre-recession levels. Best residential buys around now are condos and townhouses. Time shares are also firming up.

But – part of the reason for these record-setting numbers is likely to present a big future downside, we’re told. The weather. The summer months have been absolutely beautiful. But, it seems, too much so. Traditional rainy periods that occasionally drive sunbathing tourists back to the motels temporarily have been few. Less than two inches in August. About the same in July.

Biologists are saying coastal rivers aren’t running high enough for returning salmon to get all the way back to their spawning grounds. The absence of the usual amount of rainfall is also likely to affect lobster and crab futures because shallower waters near the coastline are warmer than usual. Not enough cold inflow from rivers.

So, it may be a “win-some, lose-some” situation. But it really has been just beautiful!

This was our first full summer during “the season.” We’d been warned the influx of all the touristas would have a daily affect on our lives. Lines at the good restaurants. Crowds in the stores. Lots of waiting when shopping. And traffic. Lots and lots of traffic in our little single highway towns. We’d have to learn the “back routes” to get from one end of the community to another.

It wasn’t really so bad. Except for the “left-turners.” Damn, how they screw up traffic. Rather than making three right turns to go around the block and head safely straight ahead to the beach, they just stop and hit the left blinker. And they stay stopped for one or more complete cycles of lights while traffic piles up behind.

In summer months, traffic moves north and south through little towns like ours in an almost unending stream. No problem as long as the movement continues. You deal with it. Except for those damned “lefties.” But when we locals complain, someone downtown who relies on the transitory dollars screams banning turns would cost them their livelihood. Sounds like B.S. to me but they win. Every time.

Speaking of traffic, during the season, it seems the most out-of-state plates we see are on vehicles from Washington, California, British Columbia and Idaho. In that order. All, of course, want to get close to the Pacific. And Oregon is where they chose to do so.

I think the reason for that lineup is this: Oregon is the only West coast state with an “open” beach law. That means no individual or corporation can buy up a chunk of coastline and keep the public out. Gov. Tom McCall – bless his craggy, departed heart – fought for eight years to get the “open” beach law on the books. And court decision after court decision has kept it there. It’s been challenged by Hilton, Marriott, and about every millionaire seeking an Oregon compound with a private ocean. None of ‘em has won.

But Washington, California and B.C.? Unless you can go through a state, county or local park, an Indian reservation – or a hotel lobby – the wall between public access and private property in those places is high and impenetrable. Just try to get to a public piece of the Pacific around Monterey that doesn’t fall into private ownership. Lotsa luck.

People come to the Oregon coast because they can get to the ocean. And the local people who count on those other people to come should say a little prayer of “thank you” to Ol’ Tom every night at bedtime. His legacy is one of unrestrained access to wet bare feet, happy but worn out dogs and sand in your car.

As for that high number of Idaho visitors? Well, guaranteed public access to the nearest ocean plus getting out of the continuing right wing political inquisition to see how the real world lives and see how very well things run in a real two-party state – the attractions are obvious.

ISIS and the talkers

Author: admin

One of my secret character flaws is occasionally getting a deep and continuous chuckle out of someone’s political discomfort. Oh, not real people. I mean the hate-mongers and loonies on the far right. Or left.

Such is the case these days noting the very untypical near-silence and even greater-than-usual oral confusion of Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, Hannity and their fellow travelers. They’re absolutely flummoxed and having a most difficult time trying to attack the President. The source of their confusion seems to be – ISIS. Anything to do with ISIS.

They want to heap scorn, criticism and verbal garbage on those in the White House. As is their usual bent. They want to loudly claim the administration is charging off in the wrong direction. But none of them – not one – has landed a blow. They’re as totally tongue-tied as the rest of us when it comes to trying to figure out what to do with this latest, most murderous turn in our world.

Oh, they blather and posture and exhibit the same kind of flatulence we’ve come to expect. But they’re even further off-target with their specious rambling than usual.

Same on the far left. None of the usual suspects over there has managed much more than a whimper about “homicidal psychopaths.” The videos of beheadings and executions have taken this latest outrage against the civilized world to such extremes that even the most accommodating ultra-liberal can’t muster much more than a “tsk tsk.”

This absence of informed criticism and our so far restrained response to ISIS seems to me three-fold. One – the extreme cruelty and seeming lack of any sort of conscience in these murderers is so stunning and such an affront to an otherwise civilized world that it knocks the mental wind out of us. They commit the sorts of acts we’ve learned of in ancient history classes. It’s the stuff of video games and violent movies. Not real life. We just can’t get our heads around it.

A second reason, I believe, for our failure at the moment to have a national response – other than extreme revulsion – is how to respond. What can you do? What actions can you take? When such a merciless adversary is inviting you onto the battlefield in hopes of killing more of our youth in frenzied battle, do you take the bloody challenge and show up? Or, do you gather your best advisors and try to create a civilized – and more traditional – reaction?

The fact is ISIS presents such an unorthodox and merciless enemy that even the military is somewhat stunned. They aren’t teaching “ISIS-101″ at West Point or Annapolis. Our cadets and midshipmen aren’t learning how to deal with beheadings, mass executions and slaughter of any and all people ISIS hates. Which seems to be all the rest of us.

This is an enemy you can’t bomb into submission. Napalm will take out a few. But – like cockroaches in a cheap hotel – more will crawl out of the nearest hole and the murder will continue. You can’t use tanks or traditional battlefield tactics and weaponry because there is no battlefield. Unless you count some city street, the next block down or a supermarket in an unnamed world city.

Third, whatever major national action there is behind-the-scenes is being handicapped by the public reluctance of Arab states to take up the fight. And ISIS is their fight. No one should doubt the American military and diplomatic activity that is – so far- hidden from public view. The major U.S. agencies directly responsible for coming up with a planned response are working 24/7. Count on it! But without large and total commitments from Arab nations that are or will be facing ISIS eventually, any response from this country will not eliminate the problem. It’ll just ease our national conscience that we killed a few of ‘em. Nothing more.

It’s interesting our impotent Congress is largely staying on the sidelines for this one. The same Congress that’s suing the President for “exceeding his authority” is now perfectly at ease to let him make all the decisions this time. All, that is, but McCain and Graham. Ol’ John and his sock puppet have been blasting away like a couple of drunk squirrel hunters.

Graham, especially, has taken the ignorant rhetoric further into the twilight zone this time with his “they’re-coming-to-this-country-to-kill-us” claim – stopping just short of demanding we arm boy scouts. ISIS is not a laughing matter. Graham is.

No, ISIS is most serious. You can bet no one responsible for dealing with the problem is laughing. There WILL be a response. This is as serious a situation as this nation has faced. We will respond.

Still, I have to chuckle a bit in all this as Limbaugh et al – usually claiming to have all the answers – have none this time. Their traditional foul attacks on various targets of opportunity that can’t fight back don’t work on this one. Their continual demeaning blather we’ve become accustomed to is just so much more sewage under the bridge.

You want to feel safer? Turn ‘em off!

End of the food chain

Author: admin

Collectively, Barb and I’ve lived in many different environments across our very large country. New York City (9 million folks) to Middleton, Idaho, when it was about 1,200. Always new experiences. But we’ve never lived in a more remote, end-of-the-food-chain location than the Oregon coast.

Lots of people want to live by the sea. Even many who’ve never seen more water in one place than a swimming pool. The idea’s been so romanticized – and commercialized – that many folks spend lots of time poring over computer-enhanced pictures of coastlines, ships, lighthouses and empty oceanscapes. Being an old Oregonian, I’ve fantasized about it for years. So, when the wife decided that’s where we ought to be, I was O.K. with it.

And here we are.

To make my point of being unaware of life’s little things we take for granted, here’s something you might not know. Every President of the United States during my lifetime has made the same personal admission after being in that office a few months. Different words, maybe, but same thought. Long-term politician or newbies in national politics, all of them – all – have admitted they never really knew the full scope of the job. Even Bush-the-elder – with decades of elective and appointive experience – said the day-to-day experience of being President was something he was not totally prepared for.

Well, my friends, so is the awakening to the realities of living on the Oregon coast. Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine. Most of the time. We like it. We’re adjusting. But, like Bush-the-first, the realities are not something we were entirely prepared for.

In the month of May, I wanted a new long-sleeved shirt for some reason. There was one “department” store in our area – the only one within 50 miles. I looked and looked but could find only short-sleeved. When I asked the clerk where the long-sleeved ones were, she said “We only stock them September through April.” I made do. We’ve learned to “make do” a lot.

There’s one store in our town that sells TVs. Just one. I was in the other day and counted six. Not six of one size. Six in ALL sizes.

There are three new car dealers 30 miles from where we live. All in the same town. I recently had the need for someone to apply some striping and decals to our new RV. At all three dealers I was told, “Well, there’s this one guy we use. But he’s going through a messy divorce right now and doesn’t want to be bothered.” The decals are still in the shipping box. And will likely stay there until that one guy gets his life reorganized.

Speaking of RVs – if you go 60 miles North of us – and 60 miles South – you’ll find one guy who works on ‘em. One. There used to be two but one died. Given the large numbers of RV’s that ply Highway 101 all year – plus the hundreds of full-timers living in those 120 miles – waiting for help with a bum refrigerator in summer or a busted furnace in winter can be heartrending experiences.

There are a lot of things you can’t run out and buy here. So you make lists of things people inland take for granted. Then, every few weeks, Barb and several friends make the trip to “the city” for supplies. We call it “the Costco run” no matter how many stops they have to make. They fill up someone’s large SUV with all the “necessaries,” then hit a few latte and quilt shops to make an occasion out of it.

We ordered satellite TV service. Oh, they’d sign us up right now and charge the old credit card on-the-spot. But we’d have to wait three weeks for the installer to drive the 100 miles between us and him. Nobody closer.

Given the age of utilities on the coast, you get used to power outages, sewer line ruptures and water line failures. Not just from old age but those storms that we’re famous for. You get used to waiting to flush. Or do it less.

Which reminds me. When we get one of those big Nor’wester’s in our forecast, there’s always the NOAA warning to avoid travel, stock up, stay inside and hunker down. After the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you wanna guess when we see the second highest tourist traffic? Right! Lines at motels with ocean views and low-lying campgrounds. And people parked at the beaches. The first row of seats for the tsunami.

“Blow, damn it, BLOW!!!”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all “life on the frontier.” We’ve got the necessities. If your list of necessities is kinda short. And when the days are sunny and the Pacific is blue and smooth, watching the whales spouting and enjoying the breezes can make a lot of the inconveniences seem small.

Besides, we’ve got a good selection of really great restaurants and dozens and dozens of coastal craft breweries and wineries. How the Hell do you think we locals get through all those storms?

Life is good!