Cover My World
You know what it means when a restaurant "86's" an item from the menu. But did you ever have to pull a "Routine 288"? Cousin James has, and he tells the story here.
|For old times' sake|
The bojack bumper sticker -- only $1.50!
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You know what it means when a restaurant "86's" an item from the menu. But did you ever have to pull a "Routine 288"? Cousin James has, and he tells the story here.
Congressman David Wu has jumped into the Cascade Locks casino fray. He's asked the Secretary of the Interior to nix the deal that Governor Ted has struck with the Warm Springs tribes to put their gaming palace in the Columbia Gorge. The Gorge isn't in Wu's district, of course, but his constituents include the Grand Ronde tribe, whose competing casino would take a major hit if the Warm Springs deal goes through; and the West Hills guardians of the Gorge environment. Although Wu's move won't be warmly received at Mahonia Hall, it makes perfect political sense.
I wonder if there will be a public debate between Wu and Len Bergstein, the p.r. guru who's fronting for the Warm Springs tribe. If so, I'll be in the front row -- not!
Now that Goli Ameri's out of the picture, there are few celebrities in the Rose City who are more annoying than Wu. Bergstein, however, is a contender for that crown.
Yesterday saw my last class lectures for another academic year. Since late August, I stepped up to the podium 112 times, for a total of 182 hours, before a total of around 235 students.
That's a lot of tax talk, and a lot of odd-looking PowerPoint. Like this.
So now the theater goes dark for the summer, and most people think it's a four-month picnic for us academics, but for me, work continues -- just different kinds of work. First there are exams to prepare, and administer, and grade. Graduation hoopla to attend -- fun, yes, but after 20 years it's a little bit of a duty along with a party. My several professional writing projects go on all year long, and a large part of June and July will be taken with a serious revision of my book. Those months are also the time when I teach marathon bar exam review lectures in three cities. There are a few weeks in August where things hit a sort of lull, but a full 11 days before Labor Day, another crop of students arrives, and it's off the races again.
Still, the end of classes marks a time of transition to a new summer attitude, and that's a good thing. Away go the heavy Rockports that hold us up through the soggy depths of a Portland winter. Off come the button-down flannel shirts and long-sleeved polos. Out come the shorts and the sandals. The dog-eared seating charts by which I try to keep track of the students fall by the wayside. The 10-speed bike gets used a little more. The rose bushes get some attention. The home to-do list starts to get whittled down a bit. The pile of sweatshirts gets thinned out.
Cue the Beach Boys.
Well, just as I predicted four months ago (scroll down for first comment). The developer who came in with the best original proposal for the east side of the Burnside Bridge -- the only one who didn't call for big box retail -- had its idea handed off to another developer, who in turn was awarded the project by the snakes at the Portland Development Commission tonight.
Once again, the PDC goes out of its way to do the exact opposite of what the community wants. In this case, the neighborhood beat back the big box proposal, and so I guess they deserved punishment for daring to defy the mighty PDC Mafia.
People rag on me on this blog for being so negative. But tell me, what is there to like about state and local government around here? The PDC is like a cancerous cyst on Portland civic life. Whether Tom Potter has the will and the smarts to save the patient surely remains to be seen.
Well, Buckman Pool is closed, probably forever. The MLC Pool in Northwest Portland is next. Sorry, no money for repairs, or even routine operation, for that matter.
But we've got millions to work on the Park Blocks downtown, to make the surrounding real estate more valuable. From today's Trib:
Portland Parks & Recreation has selected ZGF Partnership to design three parks that will help tie the area together — a $2 million park on what’s now a parking lot just west of the Fox Tower; a $1.7 million renovation of O’Bryant Square, four blocks to the north; and an unbudgeted renovation of Ankeny Park, between Burnside and Southwest Ankeny Street.
"It's Vera's vision! It will be the next Barcelona!" Whatever.
The statute of limitations on income taxes is generally three years. If you behave badly -- commit fraud or even innocently omit large amounts of income from your tax return -- the period for the IRS to come get you may be longer. But in the usual case, it's three years and out.
The three years generally runs from the April 15 due date for filing the return -- later if you file later. The IRS typically has three years to get the bad news in the mail to you from that date. (If you don't file the return, the statute doesn't even start to run until you rat on yourself.)
And so when the end of April rolls around, if you haven't heard from the revenuers about the fourth year back (in this case, 2001), their chance to audit you for that year has now most likely gone away. Congratulations!
Monday night is garbage night in my neck of the woods, and I just got done with my annual ritual marking the passage of the tax audit year. I shredded all my tax information and other receipts for 2001, and moved my 2001 tax returns to my permanent tax return folder. (It generally pays to keep the returns forever -- you never know when you might be called upon to prove what you made, or paid, or declared. And surprisingly, the IRS doesn't keep such information where you can get it, at least not for long.)
I'm a nerd who keeps every receipt for three years, and although I've outgrown looking at them all as I feed them to the shredder blades, I did have a wistful moment or two tonight. I ground up the receipts from the doctor for my older child's infant checkups and shots. She's 4 now. My first bill from Verizon was in there -- boy, was their coverage lousy -- and a bunch of worthless privacy notices from this bank and that. You could fill up the van with gas for $21. The New York Times daily home delivery ran around $133 a quarter. The Nordstrom bills said that they were "prepared for" me. It was before we refinanced this house. I bought a Joe Tex CD on eBay.
Anyway, here's hoping I didn't jump the gun. I'd hate to find a notice from the IRS in the mailbox, postmarked April 14, after the garbage guys come through and the mailman swings by tomorrow morning.
But I doubt it. Goodbye, residual tax worries of 2001.
The other day I remarked about the city's plan to spend $7.5 million more on lawyers alone in its quixotic attempt to buy Portland General Electric (PGE). I suggested that if the deal doesn't close, that fee will wind up being paid by the city's taxpayers.
Not so, answered Commissioner "Fireman Randy" Leonard. He wrote: "If we do not reach a deal with Enron to sell PGE, our legal fees to this firm are capped at $650,000."
Ah, but as Bill Clinton might have put it, it depends on what your definition of "reach a deal" is. A review of a press release now available (pdf) at Mayor Tom Potter's pages on the city website reveals that the Miami, Fla.-based law firm's fee is divided into three segments -- a $650,000 meter drop, another $2.35 million more "[i]f it strikes an agreement" with PGE, and "an additional $4.5 million, if the deal closes and regional ownership of the utility is established."
That's $7.5 million all together. Of which $3 million could very well be due and owing even if the deal never closes.
The $650,000 ceiling is in effect unless and until the firm "strikes an agreement" between PGE and the city, according to the mayor. One wonders exactly what that phrase means. A letter of intent? A mutually signed "term sheet"? And even if it means a fully integrated agreement, there's a lot that can go wrong with a deal this complex and nasty between the "striking" of an agreement and its actual closing.
So it's $3 million potentially down the tubes. Just on lawyers. Not counting what's been spent already. As of November 2003, the last time it was reported, the out-of-pocket-to-date was more than $800,000. Wonder what the tally is today. Such a deal.
And you wonder how the lawyers are going to withstand the obvious pressures when there's a $4.5 million bonus waiting for them on the other side that closing table. What if one of the attorneys discovers a deal-breaker between the time the "agreement" is "struck" and the closing? Will the law firm be vigorous in advising the city to back away from the transaction? Will the firm be as zealous in keeping the city out of a bad deal as it would have been if it were being paid simply by the hour?
It's bad enough that the investment banker weasels are going to be working on commission. They've been known to push bad deals through because their rule has always been, if it doesn't close, they don't get paid. Now the attorneys will be largely in the same position -- more than half their fee is on the come. Great.
Oh, and by the way, Kevin Mannix weighed in against the city takeover today. Finally, something he, Neil, and I can agree on.
Have you checked out Portland blogger Superinky Fixations yet?
Here's a tale of a private e-mail message heard 'round the world.
We've been reading a lot these past couple of weeks about Dr. Jayant Patel, a.k.a. "Dr. Death," a surgeon who, according to press reports, took his deadly incompetence through the health care communities of New York, Oregon, and finally Australia before the powers that be got around to pulling his license.
Patel spent 12 years playing doctor with Kaiser patients in Portland before he packed up and moved to Australia. While he was in the Rose City, he apparently engaged in all sorts of shenanigans, including performing a colostomy backward. He allegedly was not above falsifying patients' charts, either.
So far, I haven't heard or read a word of logical connection being made between this case and Ballot Measure 35, the proposal that Oregonians narrowly voted down (.pdf) last fall. It would have capped awards for pain and suffering at the hands of quacks at $500,000. It was a bad idea, but the insurance industry, which runs medicine in this country, almost conned the electorate out here to fall for it.
As I said back then, the real problem with medical malpractice is not the lawyers. It's the medical profession, whose will and ability to police itself are every bit as lame as those of the bankrupt Catholic Church in its darkest era. When trusted professionals are maiming and killing through negligence or worse, the answer is not to move them to another state or country. The answer is to be sure that they never harm anyone else, anywhere, ever.
When the medical profession cleans up its act, maybe I'll start thinking about "tort reform." But not until then.
A reader writes:
I've read your recent posts about the Gov., I have to say, I couldn't agree more. He's has done a terrible job with his first term, and I'm certain a second term would be just as bad. There has been a lot of uncertainty surrounding the 2006 Governor's race, and who wil run. The only thing scarier then another 4 years of Ted is the thought that we might not be able to keep Kevin Mannix out of the Governor's Office. Needless to say this has really been bothering me. He's anti-environment, anti worker, and a right wing freak. After thinking about this for a while I came to the realization that there is only one Democrat who has shown interest in being Governor in the past, has the statewide name recognition needed, and would do a good job in getting Oregon back on track -- Cong. Peter DeFazio.
While Cong. DeFazio showed a lot of interest in running in 2002, there have only been a few rumors about his interest in running this time. In this vein, I have begun a grassroots campaign to let Cong. DeFazio know how much Oregon wants and needs him in the Governor's office. I have had decent success so far in getting people to write letters, but I don't have the ability to reach out to the Progressive base. I was hoping you could help me with this by mentioning it and encouraging your readers to contact the Congressman.
While he is not commonly thought of as being a likely candidate to run I think the evidence overwhelming points towards him. His statewide name recognition would make him an instantly credible candidate, he has the contacts to set up the fundraising and grassroots program needed to run, his legislative record is beyond compare. I think we would be hard pressed to find a better candidate anywhere.
In 2002, he was interested in running but was unfortunately convinced by fmr. Gov. Goldschmidt to stay out of the race so the party wouldn't have a costly primary. Now that our current Governor is showing little support across the state, is doing a terrible job, and has still yet to decide whether to run again or not, this seems like the perfect opportunity for Cong. DeFazio. I believe that if we show him how much support he has across the state that he will surely decide to run.
The first song and video from Bruce Springsteen's new album are out on Yahoo. I think you should be able to link to it here. (You may have to sit through a 30-second Pepsi commercial first.)
I've never liked Bruce's solo acoustic albums much, especially on first listen. "Nebraska" I grew to like, but I never could sit through "Tom Joad." So far, I'm not happy with this particular song. It has a total of two chords, and one of them makes only the briefest of appearances. It reminds me of Bob Dylan's "Self Portrait" period -- a period when Bob might better have stayed home.
Bruce is a genius, but I suspect this album's going to be an acquired taste at best.
Yesterday was an amazing day for me on a number of levels. A lot of it had to do with my relationship to the written word.
I started the day at a luncheon (regular readers here know that's usually my first meal of the day) at which the featured speaker was Michael Powell. Powell's Books has long been the true cultural soul of Portland, and its owner, who seems a relatively humble, down-to-earth man, told a few of the many stories surrounding his phenomenally successful business.
I've grown tired over the years of listening to the Republican version of "small business." The "ownership society" people, who whine about the wealth transfer taxes and make it sound like this country has been so unfair to them, leave me cold. Powell didn't complain about taxes. He didn't complain about land use regulation. He didn't complain about the union that he lives with. He didn't complain about anything, really. He was mostly about thanking all the people who have gotten him to where he is. Genuine gratitude.
Powell illustrates, to me at least, that love for one's trade and respect for one's employees and customers can overcome all obstacles. I had been impressed before I heard him speak, and I'm even more impressed now.
One thing he's worried about these days is the part of the Patriot Act that lets the FBI throw him in jail if he doesn't tell them, on demand, which books you and I purchased in his store. He doesn't want to cooperate with them on that. I don't blame him, and I'm grateful for his advocacy on my behalf.
Most of all I liked Powell's style. He knows who he is, and who he isn't. Portland is lucky to have him.
After a brief nap -- dreaming and drooling on the couch while thunderstorm warnings squawked away in the background over the kids' TV show -- I had another brush with literary greatness. I was privileged to dine in the company of not one but two Pulitzer Prize winners, in connection with this weekend's "Wordstock" festival here in town. It was a delightful dinner on a number of levels, but most intriguing to me was the accessibility of the most highly honored guests -- they were more real than most of the rest of us in the group.
Then I came home and, after tucking everybody else in, I read this. And I was reminded of two things. One, those who tell stories like that one are among our society's greatest assets. And two, people like the lady about whom the story was written are ever greater.
I'll never make it into her league. But I'm proud to be somebody who's trying, once in a while, to tell a few stories that might matter almost as much as hers.
Governor Ted quickly folded the state's hand the other day in the high-stakes poker game surrounding the future of Portland General Electric. He made it clear that he isn't going to let the state get too involved in trying to wrest ownership of PGE from private hands. In his current view, the City of Portland is the best potential public buyer for PGE. And since the PGE customers out in the sticks are worried that the city will behave like -- well, like the City of Portland always has, placing New York Times-worthy "big ideas" and foolish PC doctrine above all else -- the state promises that it will exercise control over the "governance" of the company after the city buys it.
The guv's announcement takes the wind out of the sails of State Sen. Ryan Deckert's plan to form some sort of state entity to take over the Enron subsidiary. Ryan's still acting like there's something to talk about, but the last time the governor invited him over to the office to chat, I guess Ryan didn't notice that ornate veto pen set on Chief K's desk. It's over, dude.
Ted's playing this one pretty smart. Now that the cronies of his hero, Neil Goldschmidt, are out of the picture for a private bid, he's suddenly fine with public power. And he's not naive enough to put a cent of state money on the line for it. Let the geniuses at Portland City Hall front all the expenses (many millions), and take all the risk. If they fail, it's the city's, not the state's, millions down the drain. If they succeed, the state can come in and keep the city in check through "governance."
If you don't think this is a Team Goldschmidt comeback to Portland Commissioner Erik Sten, then you haven't been paying attention.
How sad. Governor, if the state is so interested in "governance" of PGE, then why doesn't it immediately undertake some serious reform of Oregon's public utility laws? Why doesn't the state make it illegal for a future private owner of PGE to pull the outrageous stunts that Enron inflicted on the consuming public in Oregon? Why doesn't the PUC adopt rules that clean up the sordid mess that public utility finance appears to have become in this state? Why don't you appoint a set of public utility commissioners who will call private owners of utilities out if they attempt more outrageous ripoffs?
If we had rigorous state "governance" of PGE to begin with, we wouldn't need the city to take it over. Having the fiscal wizards at 1221 SW Fourth become the owners of PGE, and then suddenly "governing" the heck out of it, is closing the barn door after the horse has run out.
Let's let Enron's creditors have PGE. And let's get some real "governance" in place, over them. There's no time like now to start some real regulatory reform.
Well, shave my legs and call me Betty! The oldies station on your Portland radio dial, KISN-FM, is no more. It's been moved to AM 910, and something called "Charlie FM" is in its old place at 97.1 FM. Charlie claims to play "everything," but so far that seems to be defined as music by white people from the 1980s and early '90s. "Everything" from Billy Squier to Billy Idol. With no live DJs.
So now for Motown, early Beatles, etc., we must listen to it the tinny old AM way. I knew KISN was in trouble when they started playing '70s music in the mix. Now they're banished to nursing home territory. Ouch.
Hey, "Charlie" just played "Maggie May." That's soul music, ain't it?
My fantasy basketball teams, the Ballers and Amgwana Kikbuti, were both smashing successes this year. In both leagues, they finished in first place for the "regular season." And each also won the league championship, decided in a "playoff" system based on the last several weeks of the real NBA regular season.
For a nerd, I'm cool.
Happy birthday to my sibling, who enters his sixth decade today. Welcome to Geezerville, bro. We've been expecting you.
The lame-duck Goldschmidt crew at the Portland Development Commission have delivered what I hope is their parting shot. At a recent retreat, they declared that Portland needs to become a "world-class city," like Atlanta or Bilbao, Spain.
And get this -- “The tram is a good start. The Pearl is there. But we’ve got a long way to go." Hey, PDC underachievers -- don't let the door hit you in the heiny!
Interesting news in The O this morning about the City of Portland's plan to take over Portland General Electric (PGE). Commissioner "Ready Kilowatt" estimates that the legal bills could run the city around $7.5 million.
If the deal goes through, it will paid by the PGE customers. If the deal doesn't go through, it will be paid out of property taxes.
Portland Tribune urban issues columnist Promise King announced yesterday that his career as a pundit is over. He's moving on to other things, including writing one or more books.
It's always a drag to lose an intelligent local commentator, and particularly sad in this case. See you around, we hope, Promise.
A serious disadvantage of these modern times is being subjected to data overload. Once in a while, I get introduced to someone as a blogger. A person I was meeting on these terms the other day got this forlorn look on her face and said, "How are we supposed to deal with all the information that we're hit with nowadays?" Er, nice to meet you, too.
Anyway, tonight I'm cleaning out my overstuffed e-mail inbox before the server gods cut me off from the outside world. I'm finding lots of neat stuff in there that I wish I had the time to really get into, but it's a pipedream.
Several of the pieces of e-mail are newsletters from our local state legislators. I e-mailed these folks back when the Major League Baseball bill was floating around in the legislature a while ago, and once they have your e-mail address, they'll be sending you their takes on the latest doings in Salem until the day you die.
Representative Jeff Merkley (Dem.), from out east Portland way, had an interesting item in one of his latest newsletters about the hassle that his constituents are having with the City of Portland. Back when the city annexed these folks years ago, it promised them that they wouldn't get sucked into the black hole of paying for the city's woeful sewer problems -- the source of never-ending complaints from the beleaguered citizenry whose sewer bills have reached astronomical proportions.
Funny thing -- the city promised, but it didn't deliver. The east Portland folks still haven't gotten, and are worried that they're never going to get, the storm sewer discounts that they were assured they'd get. According to Merkley, the city keeps putting off implementing the discounts until it gets its billing system straightened out. The current schedule is for that to be achieved sometime shortly after hell freezes over.
Merkley wants the city to get on the ball and give his constituents what they were promised. His letter to City Hall is here (pdf). He adds, in his newsletter --
[A]ll citizens who are legally required to provide their own storm water systems should get the discount automatically. This is important because the [city] Bureau of Environmental Services has been plotting to use an application system as a barrier to citizens receiving their fair discounts.
Is it any wonder that PGE's customers are just a little worried about how they'd be treated if the city owned that utility?
"Habemus Papam!" Sounds like a pitcher in the old Negro Leagues, doesn't it? But actually it's the Latin cry, "We have a Pope," which resounded today in Vatican Square as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany was named the new pontiff.
And you know what's so nice about it? He's Pope. That's it. It's over. No Janeane Garafolo shrieking, "This election was so obviously fixed!" No six rounds of lawsuits. No absentee ballots coming in from the Jesuit soldiers that are yet to be counted. No confirmation hearings with Tom DeLay and Joe Biden. No having The New York Times running around to see if he's got a girlfriend on the side.
O.k., maybe they are running around looking for the girlfriend. But even if they find her, he's Benedict XVI anyway. Let's go have some eggs in his honor!
It looks like another fun-filled 10 years or so ahead, with little or no change in Catholic teaching on any of the hot-button issues that John Paul II held so tough on. Keep your Voice of the Faithful membership current, folks, the wild ride's going to continue.
The Oregonian ran a pretty big spread yesterday comparing the competing takeover plans for Portland General Electric. In particular, they held up side by side as potential purchasers the City of Portland and a possible new public entity to be created by the Oregon Legislature.
There's a lot of good food for thought there, but a key question didn't get asked very forcefully. That has to do with operations. Let's start with the basics: If PGE is publicly owned, who will actually operate the electric utility? Not the City of Portland or the new state-created public body. Under both plans, a private company will handle the day-to-day functions of the power business.
Proponents of the "public" power plans are slow to mention this truth: The shareholders of that private company are going to make a lot of profit.
Sure, there will be competitive bidding for that contract, but any electric utility operator putting in a bid will demand cost plus profit. It's likely to be a long-term deal. And the incumbent will have a major leg up on any bidding come renewal time. The slogan that private profit will be eliminated is simply misleading.
Of course, there will be additional private hands in the public pockets if either plan goes through. How much profit would Goldman Sachs earn from the sale of the bonds? How many millions would lawyers be paid to cut the myriad deals on the city's or state entity's behalf? The city has $2 million in its current budget for these transaction costs. At last report, the city had already spent around a million more, and so we're headed into $3 million territory, and so far, all we've done is make a hostile bid.
But most importantly, how many millions of dollars in private profit will the operator of the "public" utility earn, year after year? That's the $2.5 billion question that isn't being asked often enough.
To answer this question, it would be nice to see a comparable public-private hybrid operation to use as a model. But I don't know if one exists. Has this kind of arrangement ever been tried before?
One nice thing: No more "phantom" taxes, charged to ratepayers but not paid to the state. But will the private operator be able to pull a similar stunt in the "cost plus" contract?
The city tells us not to worry about these things. There will be plenty of bidders for the operations contract, and none of the bidders will want too much profit. In this, of course, the commissioners are just speculating, and repeating what Goldman Sachs has told them. High-priced consultants have grossly erred in predicting similar results for the city before.
Is PGE the next PGE Park -- an unmitigated financial disaster for Portland taxpayers? We've got Erik and Tram Adams back at the table, just as they were with the stadium, only now there are lliterally billions at stake.
I'm glad that the robber barons of Texas Pacific have been sent on their way. But at the thought of the city taking over, as a taxpayer I'm very afraid.
This year's tax deadline provoked a flurry of commentary about the impact of consumer technology on the tax system. A noteworthy thread came from some taxpayers who (like myself) pay (and dislike) the alternative minimum tax (AMT) as part of their federal income tax. One of them complained that the AMT was TurboTax's fault.
TurboTax is one of the popular personal computer programs that help taxpayers with the awful chore of filling out their forms. It is a godsend, and once a taxpayer uses it, the likelihood of going back to a pencil and paper on the kitchen table slips to nil. The program does all the math for you, it updates everything as you add new data about your income and expenses, and it remembers you from year to year. That last feature is particularly neat. Not only do you not have to re-key your address, dependents' names and i.d. numbers, and favorite charities every year, but you can also hold up your tax results from the last five years side by side to see how you're doing.
So how is TurboTax responsible for the perpetuation of the AMT?
Well, according to the critics, taxpayers who use this program (or a similar program, or who use professional return preparers who essentially charge you to run the same programs) may not even know that they're paying the AMT. And they don't suffer from the complexity of the AMT (which would be a real headache to figure by hand) because the program does all the thinking for them. Thus, there is far less likely to be a groundswell of outrage over the AMT than there would be if the taxpayers had to compute it manually.
They're certainly right about the outrage factor. Without TurboTax or something similar, most taxpayers wouldn't even realize they owe the AMT. They'd send in their tax returns, and get a rude surprise several weeks or months later, when they got a bill from the IRS for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. That would send them storming over to the phone to call their representatives in Congress, all right. In contrast, with TurboTax flagging the issue in a timely way (as it did for me), there's still indignation, but without the elements of shock and awe, and without the hassle factor accompanying manual calculations.
In that sense, the AMT really is being helped along by TurboTax. The complexification of the tax system lumbers on, and it's unlikely to get fixed, because, folks, Congress knows we either have TurboTax or are going to H. & R. Block. Congress knows that as long as the people at Intuit who are writing the TurboTax program can figure out the tax laws, Congress doesn't have to write a tax code that anyone else can fully understand.
This phenomenon is not entirely new. For example, a couple of decades back, the tax laws got much more complicated when Congress discovered the sheer beauty of cheap, handheld financial calculators, such as the classic Hewlett-Packard 12C. Once the tax staffers on Capitol Hill saw how easy it was to figure out compound interest, many important tax calculations suddenly required that such calculations be made. As one tax pro put it to me over the water cooler back in my practicing lawyer days, "The 12C created the O.I.D. rules."
And it's no news that the computer is affecting the way the world works, is it? Let's face it, in the end, Bill Gates killed the music industry. For most consumers, the purchase of music at a retail store appears to have become a quaint relic of a bygone era, due entirely to the power of the home computer. In that sense, it's Gates as much as Intuit who's responsible for the persistence of the AMT.
A few years back, a bright student and I were conversing about this very topic when she made an intriguing suggestion. Instead of Congress writing tax laws in a legal form of English that mere-mortal accountants and attorneys can understand, and then having Intuit put it into computer code, why not have Congress simply pass the computer code itself? In other words, rather than say, "Your tax is your income minus these deductions, multiplied by these tables -- now go buy a private computer program to try to get it right," Congress could simply say, "Your tax is what this computer language says you owe after plugging in the income and expense information that it calls for."
I laughed when she said that. But then again, I laughed years ago at the Charlie Chaplin commercials that promised a computer in every house some day.
In any event, there are plenty of reasons not to like the AMT. It takes away deductions for things like supporting dependent children, and paying income taxes to the state and local governments. If Congress really believes that those expenses decrease one's ability to pay, and therefore shouldn't go into the federal tax base, it ought to be sincere enough not to "sneak-tax" them through the back door of the AMT.
With TurboTax in the picture, the upcoming AMT battles will have to be fought out on those terms. "It's easy to overlook" and "I couldn't figure it out" are not going to be valid arguments.
...that you haven't filed your tax returns yet. Today's the deadline!
If you live here in the Beaver State, you may or may not need to file for an Oregon state extension, too. The information you need to know about that is here.
What would life be without those wonderful mailings that we get from our local governments to let us know that, yes, everything is just fine, and all that money we're paying in taxes is being spent wisely? The latest came in the mail the other day from something called the "School Efficiency and Quality Advisory Council." On the back, you see who that is -- Diane Linn, Tom Potter, Bill Scott, some other folks. They were appointed to a county board a couple of years ago, back when we passed the Multnomah County income tax, most of which goes to public schools. (I guess then-Mayor Katz was the original City of Portland appointee, and her successor has taken over her seat.)
Well, gol dang, wouldn't you know it? The school districts around the county are doing a bang-up job. They're "allocating" 98 percent of that county tax money to "instruction and school-based support." Only 2 percent of it is being "allocated" to "central support." Every single one of the districts is using the money to "maintain a full school year." No waste at all!
Now, I don't begrudge the schools the money, but to me, these figures are kind of comical. If they wanted to, the school districts could probably say with a straight face that they spend 100 percent of the county tax on "teaching and learning," and none of it on overhead. It's all just a paper number made up by an accountant. Since their classroom budgets are more than what the county contributes from the income tax, the districts can reason that they're using the income tax revenues for the classroom. But meanwhile, they can pay for the "central support" out of other money, like property taxes and state contributions.
How well the schools "use" the income tax ought to be judged by how well they "use" all of the funds they get. Because the last time I checked, it was all money. Yours and mine.
Anyway, the full report of this august panel is here.
You wonder how much it cost to send this little four-pager to every address in the county. Professional photos and all, although the "graphic design" was said to be donated. Was that expense really necessary? I would have bought textbooks for some kids in a poor school instead.
And the timing? To coincide with tax day, of course. To try to calm the rage. Will it? Not likely.
Not only is this blog in the news today, but The Oregonian's quoting at length from an exchange in the comments section!
Whew. I just finished writing an article about some of the latest goings-on in the wild, wacky world of the federal estate tax. Lifestyles of the rich and dead. A real page-turner. Redford's going to beg me for the movie rights to this one.
During breaks in the writing process, I decided to kick back and have some fun by finishing up the preparation of my own taxes. Once again, the wife and I celebrate her birthday week by stuffing six envelopes with six lovely checks. God bless America. Especially you, Diane and Lisa.
I couldn't help but notice how long the process takes. It annoys me more every year. Couldn't we come up with a tax system that's simple? All those forms are cutting into my blogging time.
This year California's tax officials are taking a bold step to make life a little easier for some of the taxpayers of that state. They've started up something called "Ready Return," a pilot program in which the state fills out your income tax return for you, based on the dirt that the state already has on you from your employer, your bank, etc. The state sends it to you, and if you've got nothing to add or subtract, you just send it back, with a check if you owe. If you don't owe, you send it back and get your refund. You can even e-file with it. If you like, you can round-file what they send you and do it the old-fashioned way (or hire someone to do it for you).
Some folks are howling in protest -- naturally, H. & R. Block doesn't want this sort of thing to catch on with other states or, heaven forbid, the feds. And the "libertarians" (and I use the term advisedly) are screaming that it's an invasion of privacy.
To which I say, bullpuckey. The state already has this information. If there's any invasion, it's the state having it in the first place, and we're way past that point in tax history. So what's wrong with the revenuers showing you what they've already got, and asking you if you've got anything else to declare? Nothing, in my book. I think it's a cool idea. I'm sure most of the folks they're targeting for the pilot really, legitimately do have absolutely nothing to add or subtract, and for them, the state should do the work.
The Cali bureaucrat who's making it happen? A former eBay executive, naturally.
A couple of interesting stories in yesterday's O. First and foremost, State Sen. Vicki Walker, Democrat from Eugene, my favorite public figure of 2004, has taken out an internet domain (walkerforgovernor.org -- nothing there yet) that indicates she's thinking of running for governor.
I could get behind that. Walker has forthrightly called into question the appearance (at least) of corruption in a number of shady quarters of state government, including SAIF, the lottery, the Oregon Investment Council, and several other places where the Goldschmidt taint lingers. And if it were not for her courage to come forward with what she had on old Neil, he'd still likely be calling all the shots in Oregon, and Nigel Jaquiss wouldn't be making room on his mantel for the Pulitzer.
Walker's candidacy for governor would be an extreme longshot, of course. I'm sure the Good Old Boys of the Democratic Party are ready to paint her as a hippie chick from Eugene without the experience needed to provide leadership, blah blah blah. But they'd have to talk me out of supporting her, and I wouldn't give up without a fight.
Especially given our incumbent Democratic governor. I don't think I'll be resurrecting the clothespin I clamped on my nose the last time I voted for him.
Which brings us to the other intriguing O story from Tuesday. Governor Ted has done something wonderful "for the children." Yes, he's put former Portland city commissioner and frustrated mayoral bidder Jim Francesconi back on the public payroll. He'll make $42,000 (for now) as some sort of consultant on how to bring social service agencies and the schools together to work more efficiently, blah blah blah. I guess the state superintendent of public instruction is incapable of getting that job done. Better get the Scone back on the pad; he's been working a legit job for more than three months now.
The no-bid deal was made last week after a seven-day notice period quietly slipped by. The very next business day, The Oregonian was right on the story. No Pulitzer there.
Ted amazes with his appointments. Francesconi. Matt Hennessee, one of Neil's minions on the PDC, whom Ted placed on the SAIF board. Dale Penn, the crusading D.A. who "solved" the murder of Michael Francke (at least to his own satisfaction), appointed by Ted to keep the lottery clean. And for the Tri-Met board, he picks Sheriff Bernie Giusto, who as a cop was driving Goldschmidt around (and allegedly getting it on with Mrs. G.) while the Gov was trying to hush up his own statutory rape. (Hey, the guy's perfect for Tri-Met, he knows about driving under tough conditions.)
Sorry, but I'm not voting for a day more of that.
And then, to add to the surrealism, yesterday's O quotes Bill Scott -- one of the inner, inner, inner Neil G. circle -- on the merits of the Scone's appointment. Cluck, cluck, just another lovely day in the Beaver State.
I remember the day Goldschmidt was outed. He tried to get away with retiring from his unofficial role as political boss, saying he needed to cope with heart problems and "spend more time with the family." A few hours later, the Willamette Week let loose with the real story. But in the interim, Ted and then-Portland Mayor Vera Katz released gushy statements expressing concern and love for Neil, Neil, the Great Visionary Whose Heart Condition Has Deprived Us All of the One True Path to Greatness. I'm sure the two of them quickly pulled those statements from anywhere you could find them now, but they indicated to those of us who caught them that these two were deep, deep into the Neil network.
Later on, when KGW had the nerve to ask Ted, "Did you know Neil had had sex with a 14-year-old when you named him to head the state's higher education board?" his response was a comedy classic. No, said the governor, he had never heard that. The only thing he heard about was that maybe Neil had had an illegitimate child. Oh.
The juxtaposition of the two stories in yesterday's paper also called to mind the connection that was recently made between Walker and Francesconi. As reported in the Willamette Week:
On Jan. 24, [2004,] Walker traveled to Portland for the NARAL dinner, which brought together progressive pols from all over the state. "I remember meeting [mayoral candidate] Jim Francesconi," she says. "He said, 'Take it easy on Goldschmidt--he's done a lot for this city and the state.'"
Go get 'em, Vicki.
It's been a while since I last posted about Marqui, the marketing software company that pays a group of bloggers to mention and link to it on their blogs. That's because under my new contract (pdf) with Marqui, I'm being paid to do so only once a month, rather than the once a week that prevailed in the "salad days" of the company's "blogosphere program."
Personnel-wise, Mark and Lisa Canter, the folks who introduced me to this heavenly gravy train, have moved on. Farewell to them. I hope they'll call again when a similarly nice opportunity appears. Meanwhile, the lovely and talented Janet Johnson has taken over the helm of the Marqui paid bloggers show, and she's been doing her thing, keeping us posted on the latest goings-on at Marqui.
The biggest of these is the release of the latest version of Marqui's software, version 4.8. And hey, you'll be pleased to know --
While, at present, all content publishing is done via DOS command-line batches and the DOS FTP command, the new version of Marqui will upgrade to using an FTP API for .NET to remove our dependency from DOS. This will provide improved capability for handling FTP error conditions and reporting progress.O.k., I'll admit, I have no idea of what any of that means. But they're nice people to work with, they're innovative, and I already blew part of my latest $200 check at Music Millennium yesterday. So there you go -- another month with Marqui. Cha ching.
Starting with this release of Marqui, we will be using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) for secure FTP instead of SSH2/SFTP2. This protocol is typically referred to as FTP over SSL, or FTPS.
Don't forget, Friday's the annual income tax deadline. And for you Portlanders out there, more good news: We've moved up to the sixth highest-taxed city in the nation!
Congratulations, Erik, Diane, and everyone who made this possible. I can't wait to pay for your next political campaign!
Portland Mayor Tom Potter's budget is out, and people in the honeymoon spirit are giving it pretty high marks. Certainly he's changed the process 1000 percent for the better over his predecessor. But when you turn to the substance, there are some curiosities, to be sure.
The latest peculiar trend in municipal money matters is that the neighborhoods are now being told that if they want their city recreation centers to stay open, they have to come up with private money to fund them. From Saturday's Oregonian:
In his proposal, Potter pointedly rewarded the Linnton Community Center. The center will get $50,000 from the city, in part because it has attracted private money to stay open.I'm aghast. Parks and pools -- the ultimate livability assets -- and now they're being told they need to start holding bake sales, like they do at that other outmoded institution, the public schools.
The move precedes a plan by parks managers to push community center supporters to wean themselves from public money. Instead, the centers would rely more on private funding.
"That's the type of model he thinks we should be rewarding," said Tim Grewe, the city's chief administrative officer.
Two pools found themselves on the other side of the debate.
The pools at the Metropolitan Learning Center School in Northwest Portland and Buckman Elementary School in Southeast Portland lost funding in the proposal because they don't have the same private support.
And juxtaposed with the public financing of campaigns for City Hall office, which the City Council is hellbent on passing, it's nothing short of stunning:
As Rev. Jesse might put it, Let's spend our tax dollars on pools and schools, not on fools.
Safe, clean, cheap nuclear power.
I can't resist posting a few more thoughts about the late Pope. He had a good sense of humor, he knew how to play the media, and he created some great images that I'll never forget.
Like the time he went to a synagogue. And apologized for Catholic complicity with the Nazis.
Or when he went to the jail cell of the man who had shot him and almost killed him. And forgave the guy.
Or when he got off the plane in Poland. And kissed the ground.
I'll never understand what makes a man become a Catholic priest, or stay one. I don't understand why the church has to be so stubborn about matters that aren't in the Bible, or even anywhere near the Bible. I can't believe a church would declare bankruptcy rather than face the truth, in public.
Far from perfect. But Wojtyla was a great man.
Is Saturday over? Good.
It was one of those days. I woke up to learn that the furnace is broke. The regular furnace guy is busy. The "emergency" guy costs close to 200 bucks. Plus, it turns out that nobody will have the part we need 'til Monday at least. Baby got ink on Mom's favorite shirt. There's a cold starting to go around the house again. Lots of huge, moronic graffiti cropped up overnight in the 'hood. The piles of work never seem to get any smaller. Saturday Night Live is as lame as I can ever remember.
Geting older makes me scared. And sad. I don't like where so many things are headed. I miss the old times. I miss my dad. I have wasted a lot of opportunities, and made a lot of mistakes.
There's more, but let's stop there.
Of course, it could be much, much worse. I have no right to complain. But still, I'm just saying, good riddance to that day.
Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Bix has got a great post up on yesterday's Portland City Council meeting on "clean money," or whatever they're now calling the proposal to fund local political campaigns with property tax dollars. It's pretty clear from the comments that the commssioners made that it's going to be passed, and that it's not going to be referred to the voters by the Council before Commissioners Sten, Saltzman, and Leonard all get a crack at running for re-election on a pot of public funds.
In the course of the discussion, the commissioners pooh-poohed an immediate public vote on the proposal. The voters shouldn't get to vote on this, they said, and the reasons given reveal a very, shall we say, interesting view of their constituents. As reported by Bix:
On the matter of referring the proposal to the voters, Leonard said that the Founding Fathers had "outright rejected the notion of initiative and referral" out of the concern that "demogoguery could rule". He said that people elected to office are elected to make decisions....
Adams also opposed "throwing this into a campaign environment where it absolutely can get eaten alive by special interest campaign contributions" -- meaning referring it to voters. He did express support for having voters "check in on it at some future date", but did note that the current Council cannot bind future Councils to that course of action....
On the referral matter, Potter said he didn't think you can take everything to the voters. When Portlanders elected him, he argued, they said that "they believed in candidates who accepted less money"....
Wow. Portlanders, if we don't force this onto the ballot with a petition drive as soon as it's passed, we may never get to vote on it.
Try "the biggest idiot alive."
Bob Borden's diary -- now with comments!!!
If the City of Portland buys PGE, does that mean it gets to be in charge of the spent nuclear fuel pool at the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, too?
And when times get tough financially, will the city cut security there the way it's cut police and other public safety budgets over the years?
Can you say "Water Bureau"? Yikes!
What brings on these nightmarish ruminations is a new report suggesting that the nuclear waste that's stacked up at places like Trojan is an attractive target for a terrorist attack. Coming from the National Academy of Sciences, which has been known to pooh-pooh the risks of nuclear waste at times, that's a chilling statement.
Which city commissioner would we be entrusting with that one?
Maybe we could buy some lead streetcars...
A bright and creative friend of mine is putting together a project that would turn mannequins into art and raise money for the Portland schools at the same time. There's even a sports angle. It's going to make a big splash, but first, he needs the dummies.
Does anybody know where mannequins or similar human forms can be purchased, cheap? They needn't be new. Or is there anyone out there willing to donate one or more, for a great cause?
Please leave a comment below, or e-mail me privately. Thanks.
I love the education I'm getting from blogging. Yesterday I strongly suggested here that the City of Portland put up for an immediate vote the so-called "clean money" proposal to have local political campaigns paid for by taxpayers. That got me to thinking, What would it take for a petition drive to force such a referendum?
E. A referendum petition shall:So we need to know "the number of electors registered in the city on the date of the primary municipal election immediately preceding the date the prospective petition." Let's assume the date of the petition were May 15, 2005. The primary election immediately preceding that date would be, what? May 18, 2004, I presume?
1. Be filed with the Auditor for signature verification no later than 30 days after passage of the ordinance sought to be referred, however, it must be submitted to the Auditor at least four months before an election date in order to be placed on the ballot for that election. The four months submission requirement may be waived if the Auditor can complete the signature verification process and meet the counties’ elections filing deadlines, and the provisions of Section 2.04.130 B. are satisfied.
2. Be signed by a number of legal voters equal to or greater than 6 percent of the number of electors registered in the city on the date of the primary municipal election immediately preceding the date the prospective petition is filed, except that a petition signed by 2,000 registered voters shall be sufficient to call a referendum upon any franchise ordinance.
According to the city elections bureau, there were 296,565 registered voters in Portland on that date. Six percent of that is 17,794.
Could opponents of "clean money" get enough signatures to satisfy this requirement? I would think so. As best I can tell, however, the next primary would be May 16, 2006, which might allow one round of "clean money" to be inflicted on the voters, even against their will.
I have no doubt that if asked, the voters will reject the proposed system, on numerous grounds. As they say in chess, Check.
Today's been a weird day so far. For one thing, I found myself agreeing with the editorial board of The Oregonian this morning. They think that the City of Portland's proposed "clean money" system of financing political campaigns out of property tax dollars is a bad idea. We disagree about the reasons, but we agree on the bottom line: This concept is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can't afford this. We need cops. We need jails. We need schools. We need 911 operators. We need jobs.
Plus, we already have a very transparent campaign finance disclosure system in Portland, thanks to Commissioner Erik Sten and the city auditor. When the candidates file their contribution and expenditure reports, they're now posted to the internet the same night. Granted, that system could be improved -- an Excel-based spreadsheet system on the internet would help the public put two and two together much more quickly and easily -- but we could do that for a lot less than the estimated $1.7 million a year that "clean money" would require.
Nonetheless, the City Council, led by Mr. Big Ideas Sten, is determined to push his plan forward. Which leads me to make this challenge:
If it's such a good idea, gentlemen, why don't you put "clean money" on the ballot as soon as possible, and see how it does?
Although pundits worldwide speculate that the next Pope will come from a third world country, I suspect that the seat will go to one of the Vatican's long-time Italian officials. For example, this devoted Catholic clergyman would seem to be toward the front, if not first, in the line of succession.
I guess we'll find out in two to three weeks.
Question of the week for the Portland City Council:
When we get through teaching the federal government a thing or two about civil liberties, running homophobe beauty pageants out of town, buying an electric utility, starting up an expensive new public financing system for local elections, handing out free infrastructure and tax abatements galore to the skyscraper housing developers, and building the aerial tram and miles of streetcar extensions, could we please get around to some of the less important, fringe issues? Like these?
Just a thought.
Nothing like a little passenger train derailment to liven up a drab day. Four relatives of ours were on the ill-fated Train 27 as it made its way from Spokane to Portland this morning. They had been on the train for nearly 24 hours, having boarded way over in northeastern Montana, and they were expecting only about an hour more before making it at long last to Portland.
Our crew suffered some severely jangled nerves, some bumps and bruises (at least, so far that's all that's shown up), and a few small property losses. Not to mention four extra hours of travel ordeal when they were already bone-weary. There are some prescription medications missing, too, and that's a major concern; we hope we can handle that somehow by telephone in the morning.
Portland looked pretty good to them as they pulled in on the charter bus that's become all too symbolic of Amtrak service in these parts nowadays. They're off in the morning to Hawaii, where they'll soon be reunited, we all hope, with their soldier man on leave from Iraq.
Tonight their shaky home video was shown on a couple of the local TV stations' news shows. At least they can have a laugh about that. But mostly we're all thinking, It could have been much worse. And I hope we can get those prescriptions refilled, on the double.
Our house guests are here. They had an interesting morning on Amtrak.
Now this is serious. Get well, Neil!
I'll never forget the moment I learned about the selection of John Paul II to be pope. I was sitting in the Pioneer Courthouse, newcomer to Portland, clerking for my judge, and the judge let out a holler that was pretty loud, even for the Eastern Oregon cowboy that he is at heart. "He's Polish! Bogdanski, get in here and listen to this."
And so it was that I learned of Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyla's ascendancy to the throne of the Roman Catholic Church -- to assume the role handed down by Jesus Christ to Simon Peter. It was a stunning move. The seeds of democracy were already beginning to sprout in Poland, where the Solidarity movement was starting to present bold challenges to Soviet rule. Questions were beginning to be asked that had previously been unthinkable, and the selection by the Church of a Polish pontiff was both a heavenly sign and a strong political statement.
Of course, my mom was disappointed. Back when I was an altar boy, she had always boasted to friends and family that I would some day be the first Polish pope. That prediction was somewhat inconsistent with her other prediction, that I would some day be the first Polish president of the United States, but when pressed, she stuck to both. Sorry, Mom, but as John Mellencamp has explained, "just like everything else those old crazy dreams just kinda came and went."
John Paul II's selection as pope followed shortly the death of John Paul I, whose term as pope had lasted only about a month. John Paul I's death, officially of a heart attack, seemed pretty suspicious. Vatican conspiracy theorists were having a field day. But the appointment of Wojtyla pushed the images of dark Vatican intrigue completely out of the picture, and a new day began.
Over the decades, John Paul II disappointed a lot of folks. They wanted changes in Church doctrine in so many vital areas: birth control, women in the priesthood, homosexuality, abortion, assisted suicide, and divorce, to name a few. What they got instead was someone who stuck to his guns -- the church's old-guard guns -- pretty much across the board. And he filled the College of Cardinals with lots of other traditionalists who feel the same way about most things.
I'm among the people who would welcome change in the Church. But I don't fault the man for the way he handled himself. He did what he thought was right, and he stuck up for values that deserve to be defended. Wherever he went, the loving crowds flocked, and he went everywhere. Even one of my poker buddies shook his hand once.
The pope inspired a lot of good, and he will be missed.
O.k., I was wrong. I said that all anybody in Portland City Hall knows how to get done any more is condo tower construction.
That was unfair. We're getting more than just ugly, cold, out-of-place condo towers. We're also getting...
Ugly, cold, out-of-place apartment towers! Welcome to Soviet Romania, everybody.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The squirrel that lives on Tom DeLay's head announced today that she is resigning in protest of the House Republican's intemperate remarks yesterday about the judges in the Terry Schiavo case.
"He's said a lot of dumb stuff, but that was the worst," declared the rodent, Skippy, who has covered DeLay's shiny dome since 1997. "I can't face myself in his mirror in the morning any more."
Speaking of the judges who ruled against him in the Schiavo case, DeLay told reporters yesterday: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." He said the courts' refusal to order the reinsertion of a feeding tube into Ms. Schiavo was a "perfect example of an out of control judiciary." Asked about the possibility of the House's bringing impeachment charges against judges in the Schiavo case, DeLay said, "There's plenty of time to look into that."
It was the second high-profile Capitol Hill toupee lost since the current session of Congress began. In January, Sen. Trent Lott's rug was seized by security guards after it set off several alarms at the entrance to the Senate Hart Office Building. FBI tests later showed it to be mildly radioactive.
As mentioned here a while back, there have been some major changes in the works for this blog, and after weeks of preparation, we're unveiling them today.
Specifically, we've decided, like so many blogs these days, to make this more of a team effort. Given the success of group blogging (or, as some call it, "gang blogging"), such as with Portland MetroBlogs and BlueOregon, the advantages of having multiple contributors are obvious. More voices, less work for each person.
This is not a decision that we rushed into. As regular visitors here know, we take great care with each and every post that we bring to you, our readership, and so it was with the utmost diligence that we sifted through the possibilities and made offers to only a select few cutting-edge writers and thinkers. We're pleased to note that our four top choices all said yes and will be joining us here shortly. In the meantime, we're proud to introduce them to you.
First, we have Molly Bordonaro, who we hope will supply long-missing Republican and feminist perspectives. Molly, as you will recall, is a rising star in the local GOP, and she'll be keeping us up to speed on her favorite issues, such as the death penalty and the national sales tax. She'll also give us some insight into the Portland Family of Funds, on whose board she serves. That little outfit is a ray of sunshine -- just another example of the Portland spirit of People Helping People with No Thought for Themselves.
Second, and this was a major coup, Randy Gragg (right), the architecture and development critic of The Oregonian, will be joining our pages on a regular basis. Randy will be keeping us posted on all the exciting changes going on in the Pearl District and the South Waterfront. He has also promised to mention occasionally the decay of the other neighborhoods, such as NW 23rd Avenue, whose moments in the sun are coming to a close as the hipsters move on.
We are particularly excited about our third new player, Jack Peek of Southeast Portland. As readers know, Jack has been an enthusiastic commenter on several blogs around town, and his gentle, lighthearted touches are well known for their ability to defuse tense situations and promote harmony. Jack will be covering issues relating to providing social services to those among us who are most in need.
Finally, we are thrilled that Archbishop John Vlazny will be contributing a piece from time to time on spiritual matters. Among the topics that he's looking forward to covering in upcoming posts are the Catholic doctrines of Preferential Transfers, Lien Priorities, "Springing" Trusts, and the Automatic Stay.
We know our readers will join us in welcoming these fresh new voices to our little corner of the blogosphere.