|For old times' sake|
The bojack bumper sticker -- only $1.50!
To order, click here.
Demand cash up front.
I saw Sam the Tram out putting up lawn signs on NE 33rd near Grant High School on Saturday. He was waving to cars as he dashed through the rain. I contemplated an obscene gesture, but decided the better tack would be to act like I didn't recognize him.
The signs are pretty nightmarish. Bright red, as in the city's balance sheet. No "Shake Up City Hall" this time (at least, not that I saw), but "Because Portland Belongs to All of Us." I guess Sho's into excluding people?
And "Moving Portland Forward." I picture the Portlandia statue on a cliff, peering over the edge.
Jon Coney, the Metro clone who's running for state representative, has quite a few up in the same area as well. Haven't seen one from Cyreena Boston yet, but I am sure they'll be exquisite.
I've been meaning to blog about this for a while, but the press of other important topics has kept me from getting to it. Last week, I was watching some sporting event or another -- probably a Blazer game -- when up popped a commercial for Mattress World. No problem -- I'm all ready for the iconic Mattress World owner couple to appear and show us how they're doing with their diets this month. Funniest spots since Tom Peterson.
But lo and behold...
The Mattress World guy is nowhere to be seen! The wife is there, the kids are there, but...
WHERE IS HE? I can't sleep until he tells me, "The mattress is free"!
I hope everything's o.k.
UPDATE, 2/12/10, 8:54 p.m.: New developments here.
Throw away your calendar. Don't dust off the softball mitt just yet. This morning on the ski trails on Mount Hood, we encountered the best snow of the year.
Even the normally difficult stretches were do-able. A divine gift of a day.
We've now examined two layers of our Bruce Springsteen concert experience of the other night, and it's probably time to put it down for a while. You never know when the edge of another layer's going to appear, but if it does, it will probably take some time.
Meanwhile, a few loose ends:
The E Street Band is still extremely sound. Drummer Max Weinberg was a workhorse, doing yeoman's duty throughout the show. At 57 years of age, and having had some occupational hand troubles over the years, you might expect him to be slowing down, but he clearly wasn't. Maybe his steady TV gig has kept him in shape, but whatever the cause, he's still in the groove.
Nils Lofgren, who fell into the band quite by accident in the '80s, was a strong acquisition whose value becomes more apparent with every tour. His solos have become show-stoppers. He and Little Steven (Van Zandt) play such a mean pair of guitars that Bruce can lay off the strings whenever he wants and still have a phenomenally full rock sound behind him.
Clarence Clemons, the "Big Man," is still blowing fairly strong, but he's moving a little more gently now that he's into his Social Security years. It wouldn't be E Street without him, and when the sax breaks come in the older songs, the energy level in the hall picks up quite a bit.
The other players are Gary W. Tallent on bass, who's been there since the beginning; "Professor" Roy Bittan, whose piano is the melodic anchor of the crew; Soozie Tyrell, who provides background vocals and plays violin when it's called for; and a fellow named Charles Giordano, who has stepped in while original Bruce keyboardist Danny Federici is more or less sidelined with some serious medical issues. Bruce's wife Patty also sings and plays guitar with the band, but she was missing from this part of the tour -- home with the teenagers, who Bruce said would otherwise be taking pot cookies out of the oven right about concert time.
Speaking of concert time, the show began just over an hour after its scheduled 7:30 start time. The Rose Garden ushers, who always seem to have the inside scoop, mentioned something about a late flight, but by 8:30, they assured us that the artist was "in the building." Moments later, the lights went down and the festivities began.
By that time we were fairly fat and sassy. Between giving up on the mosh pit and heading to our seats, we spent a nice hour and change in the "taproom" inside the arena, on the ground level right across from where the old Cucina Cucina used to be. We had to show our tickets to get in there, and they had to be seat tickets, not floor tickets. Of course, we had both in our pockets, and we showed the seat tickets, which by that time we were resigned to use.
The taproom is adjacent to the main concourse, and from our stools we got to see the floor standees hustle along, headed for the magic door through which they would reach the Promised Land. They were all cautioned not to run, but the Mrs. and I, having been through the same drill six years ago, knew that at that point, containing one's self is pretty nigh impossible. You are that close to being that close, and it's "Feet, don't fail me now!"
We considered for a minute trying to use the floor tickets in my pocket to cheat our way into the pit. It looked as though it might have been possible -- there was an usher blocking the passageway between the taproom and the concourse, but she did let a couple of wristband people through. Could we finagle our way past her? She was probably the last line of defense between us and the stage!
Nah. We decided that we had already had sufficient ticket drama for one day. It was enough to get a vicarious thrill from watching the people trying to walk as quickly as they could without running.
We then settled in for some of the $8 microbrews that the Rose Garden is so well known for. But we were blessed with an incredible young waitperson who worked feverishly to make sure that everyone at her tables were being served well and not having to fret about the clock. Along with the second round of excellent beer, we decided to order some finger food, which was also fast and good (though not cheap). At one point, one of the gals we were sharing a table with spilled an expensive mixed drink, and our waiter had another one in her hand, on the house, within a couple of minutes. You really could not have asked for a better pre-concert venue.
Across from us in the taproom were two young women who were wearing identical T-shirts that said "Lesbians [Heart] Bruce." We smiled at that sentiment, but pretty much shrugged it off. Of course they do! Everybody in the place did.
It turned out, those two were part of a larger group of young women -- maybe 10 or so -- who were all wearing the matching shirts. During the second half of the show, we saw that the group of them had made their way into the mosh pit and were standing stage left, where the barrier stood between the pit and the rest of the standing room. As he wandered over that way during the instrumental segment of a song, Bruce noticed the shirts and gave a big grin. During his last number, "American Land," in which various nationalities of immigrants are recited, he threw in a reference to "lesbians" in where "Germans" would normally go. The guy doesn't miss a beat.
Now, there once was a time when I probably would have griped about the t-shirt crew wangling their way into the pit. They couldn't all have had winning wristband numbers, could they? But it was the end of another wonderful Bruce show, and somehow the concept of ticket line justice seemed pretty far away. God bless the lesbians, and the guy they were showing love to.
We also got quite a kick out of watching our friend Charles and his date literally right up against the stage next to Bruce's microphone throughout the concert. They appeared on the big overhead screens more than once, and we could see that they got in plenty of touches on the star and his guitar. A big night for them, even when Bruce was singing songs older than they were.
The only thing we would have enjoyed more was standing next to them. But hey, at least it was somebody we knew.
Get up every morning at the sound of the bellAmong the handful of songs that Bruce Springsteen likes to open his full-band concerts with, this is perhaps the strongest. When he kicked off his show with it last night at the Rose Garden, I flashed for a minute on the show that I attended under an inflatable dome at Santa Clara University more than 31 years ago. Same opener, same electricity, and with just a couple of exceptions, the same band.
Get to work late and boss man's givin' you hell
'Til you're out on a midnight run
Losin' your heart to a beautiful one
And it feels right
As you lock up the house
Turn out the lights
And step out into the night
Both Bruce and his audience, including myself, are a little different now. I was 22 years old at that time; he was 27. Back then, we had unlimited adrenaline, and we were showing off how it worked. Since then, we've turned a corner, and now the point of the show is to tap into the reserves of that kid stuff, pushing it until it comes blasting out through the thick pile of reality that's accumulated in the decades since.
Bruce is a little wider, and balder, than he was even six years ago when he last visited Portland with his band. Our kids are growing up -- in his case, almost to the age at which he started writing and singing his own songs about rebellion, and the shortcomings of the old folks' world. "How does it feel to see Bruce get older?" the Mrs. asked me early in the show. "About the same as looking in the mirror," I said. "You gotta go with it."
Springsteen is going with it quite well. He has had complete control of his career for decades, and today he has the luxury of tremendous artistic freedom. He can channel Woody Guthrie if he likes, knock out airy pop songs, mount a huge Pete Seeger tribute effort, or put out an album of Irish jigs. Money, which was never the point, now is not even close to being an issue. But staying on top of the music world and in front of adoring crowds will always be there. As Bruce himself has noted (and sang last night), "Poor man wanna be rich/Rich man wanna be king/And a king ain't satisfied 'til he rules everything."
It's ironic how the music industry, whose unwritten rules were once hostile to a guy like Bruce, is now in the palm of his hand. In the old days, a performer made money by selling records; concert tours barely broke even, existing only to support record sales. Now it's more or less the other way around. Sales of CDs are dead forever, and even single-song downloads are nothing to bank on over the long term. The way you make money as a band these days is on the road.
Which, of course, is the Springsteen specialty. He can sell at least 10,000 seats in any major city -- and often multiples of that -- with no promoter weasels and absolutely no advertising. He basically puts on the show himself, and the fans figure it all out by word of mouth. On the back of an envelope, I'd bet he makes between a half-million and a million a night, after all expenses but before taxes. The band members get paid a low five figures a week, which when you think about it is a nice living over a year. A hundred nights on the road for Bruce is $100 million.
That said, at this stage in a long and storied career, there are some challenges. One such has dogged Bruce for 20 years now, and that's how to deal with the hype. Since he appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek the same week in 1975, he's always had to live up to a larger-than-life image. When the machinery of stardom has made you such an icon, it brings out extreme reactions in people. If somebody doesn't like Bruce, usually they really don't like him. He has admitted that he himself became "Bruced out" after the monster promotion of the album "Born in the U.S.A." in the '80s. Sure, it was a fine record, but it didn't stop the earth on its axis, the way Columbia Records kept telling you that it did.
New material always rolls out of an aging star under a cloud of suspicion. Sinatra, Dylan, Stevie Wonder -- most of the greats have gone through it. When one's early work is studded with classic gems, it's hard for anything that's just plain very good to stand up next to it. The smash hits are accordingly few in the later years, although years down the road, some of the later stuff may hold up quite well. As Joni Mitchell once observed from a stage, "Nobody ever told Van Gogh, 'Paint A Starry Night again, man!'"
Another quandary after 40 years of performing is picking a concert set list out of what has become a huge catalog of songs. When I first caught up to Bruce in the mid-'70s, he wanted to play three-hour concerts, but he had only around two hours of original material. So he'd cover "Quarter to Three," "Raise Your Hand," or "Devil with a Blue Dress On" -- taking them all to a higher level. Nowadays he's got a big enough body of work that he could do a dozen shows, with all original material, and never repeat a song. And so he faces Bob Seger's problem: "What to leave in? What to leave out?"
Last night's selections were an interesting lot. As expected, the band played almost all of the current album, "Magic," and those numbers were mostly new to me. (Sacrilegiously, I hadn't even listened to the whole album before the show, although I have a copy in my hand at this writing.) The melodies were nothing new, but the lyrics were as thought-provoking, or fun, or both, as ever. Lots of folks in the crowd were quite familiar with the new songs, singing along both with and without prompting from the stage.
The choices from among the older stuff were particularly good. There were four from "Born to Run," a surprising four from "Darkness on the Edge of Town," two from "The Rising," and only one from "Born in the U.S.A." There was also a souped-up shuffle version of "Reason to Believe," from the haunting downer folk album "Nebraska."
But for long-time Bruce aficionados, the highlight of the night was a pair of songs from the very first Bruce album ever, "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." These were "For You" and "Lost in the Flood." Wordy, Dylanesque Bruce at his best, before anybody knew who he was, before Max Weinberg and Steve Van Zandt even, a kid with a head full of ideas and two hands full of Fender guitar.
And now the whiz-bang gang from uptown, they're shootin' up the streetI can see how Bruce would be going all the way back to that at this point in his life. I've been going back to Cortland Street myself lately. What happened three months ago is worth keeping track of, but what happened 40 years ago are mysteries that need to be contemplated and savored.
That cat from the Bronx starts lettin' loose
But he gets blown right off his feet
And some kid comes blastin' round the corner
But a cop puts him right away
He lays on the street holding his leg screaming something in Spanish
Still breathing when I walked away
When "Lost in the Flood" finished, I told the Mrs.: "We can go home now. Bruce played 'Lost in the Flood.'" Certainly we had received our money's worth at that point, but of course we stayed until the show was over.
It never fails. You leave a Bruce concert exhausted but energized at the same time. The next day, you walk around on a different plane. You're on to something that most other people aren't. You feel as though you've been privy to matters beyond the petty details of everyday life. And there's a guy walking around just behind you through that life, reminding you to try to live out the ideals and dreams.
So what if now it's an older guy's voice you're hearing, in your good ear? You gotta go with it.
UPDATE, 3/30, 9:02 p.m.: Readers point out that Springsteen in fact does have a concert promoter these days -- a national, publicly traded pack of weasels called Live Nation. I'm not saying "Bruuuuuuce" -- I'm booing.
I still think he makes half a mil to a mil per show.
I've written a lot about my experiences as a Bruce Springsteen fan over the years. When I was in law school something like 30 years ago, I was determined to write the definitive piece about how the Nijinsky of Asbury Park fit into my world view. I wrote and wrote and wrote, on a portable typewriter that I dragged around with me in those days. What emerged was a jumbled mess of an article that the editor of the law school newspaper couldn't understand, much less publish. It made sense to me, but no one else would get it. I was happy to get what I felt out of my system for a while, but what I wrote never saw the light of day.
I didn't get the manuscript back from that guy. It would make interesting reading now.
Anyway, there are always a lot of layers to Bruce stories. There's the music, the star, the performances, the crowd, the scene, the politics, and probably most importantly, how all of the above tie into the real world that happens before the music starts and after it stops. Having just come off last night's show at the Rose Garden in Portland, I think I'll try something that I wasn't smart enough to go for back in law school: I'll take the layers one at a time.
The last time Bruce and his band were here, playing the album "The Rising," the Mrs. and I got to the arena early enough to camp out in a line all afternoon and stand in the mosh pit right in front of the stage. There were no seats on the main floor of the arena, and no reserved spots on which to stand, but 350 lucky fans got to stand in the pit. Being that close to the E Street Band is a wonderful experience, and of course we wanted to do it again, and so for the present tour we again bought a pair of general admission, standing room spots.
This time around, the Bruce people eliminated the need for us to stand around all afternoon waiting for the show. Instead, from 2 to 5 they issued wristbands to all floor ticketholders who requested one, each with a number, issued in ascending numerical order. At 5:15 they would pick a number, and that number would be first in line to get in. Everyone after that number would line up behind him or her, in order. Once they reached the last number that had been issued, the patron with number 1 would get to go in, then 2, etc.
We popped over to the Rose Garden with the kids in tow a little before 3 and got our orange wristbands -- numbers 297 and 298. "Left wrist, please," the Springsteen man said. Nice silver-haired Jersey guy, around my age.
At the number assignment session, we saw some folks we know, right off the bat. Bean was there, along with Jim the Musician Lawyer, and our numbers were right next to theirs. We mused briefly about where we would stand in the pit if we got in. Then we went home for a cup of coffee before coming back for the 5:15 Moment of Truth.
When we arrived back at the arena at the appointed time, there were about a thousand people milling around outside. Everybody was lining up, as instructed, in number order. There was a KGON truck parked there, playing a 30-second commercial on a large screen over and over. The "We Will Rock You" one. I was able to tune it out, but it drove some people crazy. Eventually one of the fans climbed into the KGON truck and pulled the plug on the music. The crowd let out a big cheer.
There were some other folks in the crowd that we recognized. Craig the Guy I Work With and his daughter were there, and a young fellow I know, Charles. They were back in the 600's somewhere. In the line, we had some time for some nice conversation with the people behind us, whom we were meeting for the first time. Bruce concertgoers are always good company.
It had been a crazy weather day, with sun, then driving hail; temperatures were unseasonably cool, but the skies were sunny and blue. When the Springsteen guy came out and shook up the big bowl with the numbers in it, everybody stood up. A guy behind me said that the last number they had issued was 796. Bean and I deduced that if they drew a number lower than ours or higher than 750, we were in the pit. We all silently applied our powers of persuasion on the gods of fortune.
A fan out of the crowd picked the number and handed it to the tour guy. Then a young fellow with a bullhorn made the announcement: "670."
And so everybody from 670 to the end, and from the start of the line to number 230, would get to hang in the pit. For the rest of us, and for hundreds more who would be showing up in the next couple of hours, we'd have the back two-thirds of the arena floor to stand on.
We stood there pondering our fate. We had had about a 40 percent chance of making it to heaven, and we didn't quite get there.
Now, when you get as old as I am, you tend to have a Plan B for just about everything. In our case, we had heard through the grapevine earlier in the week that some nice lower-level seats had suddenly gone on sale, and we had also purchased two of them. And so I had four tickets in my pocket -- two floors, two decent seats. Knowing we would have an extra pair of tickets, and taking advantage of this era of bar-coded electronic tickets, we had parked an extra copy of both pairs with a friend. We told her we would call her after the drawing and tell her which pair she should use. After the Magic Number had been announced, we punched her digits into the cell and told her she'd be using the floor tickets. We would be sitting in the seats.
After I hung up, we stuck around in the line for a while. With Bruce's organization, there are sometimes pleasant surprises. Maybe, we thought, they'd let some extra folks into the pit. But the drawing had been so well organized, and the counting so exact, we eventually reached the conclusion that no, there would be no reprieve.
Given that they had numbers right around ours, Bean and Jim were also out of luck. Craig had a number in the low 600's, and so he missed the cut, too. Only Charles made it, and he scored big time, in the first 20 or so. "I hate you," I told him with a big smile. He and his lady friend were in for the big ride.
It was only 6:00, and the show wasn't scheduled to start for another hour and a half, and so the Mrs. and I decided to find a drink somewhere. We bid farewell to our erstwhile standing-room buddies, stepped over the yellow crime scene tape that was marking the lineup area, and walked off.
This one's so sad, it's almost funny: The Portland police union says that the city's police officers don't engage in racial profiling, and here's proof:
[D]uring daytime hours black drivers constitute 9.1 percent of all stops, while at night that figure grows to 17.3 percent of all stops.... [The union's expert] cited data showing that black drivers make up twice the share of drivers pulled over at night as they do during daylight hours, when officers are more able to determine ethnicity — as evidence that racial profiling does not go on.Let me get this straight: As a percentage of all stops, we pull over twice as many African-Americans at night as we do during the day, and it's darker at night and harder to see, and so that must mean we're not racially profiling.
Glad that's settled.
You wonder why the average guy or gal ignores state politics? Check this out. It's just about the blandest coverage of a hot race that you could imagine. To write a less interesting piece on that contest would be difficult.
Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler may just get his butt run out of office for some of the crazy stunts he's pulling now. Get a load of this:
The county was blessed with higher-than-expected property and business income taxes this year, before the economy slowed. That, plus unspent reserves, is expected to provide $35 million in "one-time" money for 2008-09.Did he say pay down debt?!! Obviously, he does not belong in government anywhere near Portlandia.
"We’ll take a majority of the one-time money and use it to pay down our debt," Wheeler said. That would reduce the county’s ongoing funding shortfall, he reasoned.
Pay down debt? With all the neighborhoods still served by neither streetcars nor condo towers, and a wonderful convention center languishing without a headquarters hotel? Buildings all over town without eco-roofs? Executives at Hoffman Construction taking home a mere high six figures?
Pay down debt? What about that new David Douglas school? And for the love of God, Ted, what about the doulas?
Come to your senses, man! Or you'll be back working a real job in the private sector faster than you can say "Measure 50 compression."
Sure, they're going to put in a day labor pickup station over by the Oregon Convention Center. But with the economy going the way it's been going, we may need another one downtown:
Why are we watching a blowout when there's another close game in progress? Plus, Dick Enberg -- please, guys, take him up to the Hollywood sign and push him off!
UPDATE, 6:27 p.m.: Actually, I see you can pick which game you want to see here.
UPDATE, 6:52 p.m.: That is, if you can get the viewer to run. My computer doesn't like it at all. To make matters worse, the TV broadcast left out about 30 seconds of the overtime period when the CBS software erroneously cut to a commercial.
UPDATE, 10:29 p.m.: On a better computer the player worked fine. Now if we could just get announcers who weren't in love with the top seeds...
We just got back from a rare trip to a movie theater. There we partook of an amazing film -- wildly entertaining, smart, funny, and with serious political and religious implications.
The flick fell short in only one respect: It was able to portray only the second most ridiculous city council anywhere.
Some startling news on the wire this afternoon about Blazer center Greg Oden. (Scroll down a little for the story.)
Says today's e-mail:
"We were impressed with his experience in the Marine Corps, his experience as a federal prosecutor and his experience as an academic," said PPA President Robert King. "John's public service record is an all-star combination of law enforcement and public policy that we want to see in our next Attorney General."One of the first outfits I'd like to see Kroger investigate if he wins is the Portland police union. And so this endorsement is not exactly a plus in my book.
And with the Portland-Vancouver area poised to take on 1 million new residents by 2030, the landlocked city of Portland views the streetcar as a tool to help absorb those new residents without the burdens of yet more vehicles and parking needs.The O ought to send Sam the Tram a freelancer check for that paragraph. He must have written it himself.
At the risk of interrupting this ritual chant, a fact: The population of the City of Portland, where the shiny new condo-selling streetcars would run, is growing by approximately 1.1 percent a year -- and that estimate is arguably on the high side. At that rate, only 156,000 new residents will be arriving in the city by 2030. If another 844,000 come to the area, it will be to the suburbs, which will not be served by the streetcars.
Sam the Tram loves to throw the million-newcomer number around, as he did a few weeks back on the Lars Larson radio show (the one on which he said the city shouldn't use contractors who employ illegal aliens). The problem is, he's not running for Metro, which would be a much better job for him. As mayor, he'll do everything but what he is supposed to do -- insure provision of essential services to people within the city limits.
Portland's vegan strip club is drawing national attention.
I guess that's the point of this. Or maybe not. As usual, I can't make heads or tails of what she's trying to say.
Here's a workplace innovation that some city workers in New York aren't too keen on.
These hysterical bloggers may be too much for you to handle.
This man ought to be showing up in town over the next day or so:
Oh, and there's that other guy in the band, too.
The state says the place is too out of control.
Looks like Portland City Council Jim "Sten" Middaugh is spending his on wine and cheese and Lloyd Jones. From an e-mail that he sent out earlier today:
This week we're making it easy and fun to help me win with two FREE events.Now, Lloyd Jones is a great performer, and even at 7:00 on a Monday night, I'd go hear him play -- especially since as a taxpayer, I already paid for it. But if showing up helps this guy win the election, I don't care if it's the Rolling Stones, I won't be there.
Invite your friends to meet me, enjoy some great food and drinks, and hear some terrific local music:
1. TONIGHT, April 26th, on the West Side!
Come out tonight to Sip D'Vine, at 7829 SW Capitol Highway(map) in Multnomah Village from 7 p.m to 9 p.m. to enjoy some great jazz by Ross Seligman and some wine and conversation about how to make Portland even greater. Forward this message to a friend!
2. MONDAY NIGHT, March 31st, on the East Side!
Great local blues artist Lloyd Jones will perform at Gotham Tavern located at 2240 N Interstate Ave (map) from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Jam to some blues, order some great food and help me win by inviting your friends to attend.
Back when we were playing Portland Bureaucrat Survivor back last May, we found photos of all the city's leading bureau heads except one -- Linda Meng, the city attorney. There were no pictures of her anywhere on the city's website. But that's since been remedied, as we discovered last night. So to make up for past omissions, here she is:
(BTW, that was not Ms. Meng's performance that we slept through on cable access yesterday.)
Not when there's one of Portland's new green bike boxes painted on the asphalt at the intersection.
But any bicyclist who assumes that drivers will know that -- any time in the next five years -- will be living quite dangerously indeed. And there will likely be a few who, although they know the new rules, won't follow them.
When it's convenient to say so, city transportation officials will tell neighbors that crosswalks make matters worse for pedestrians by giving them a false sense of security. You can multiply that fivefold for the bike box. Let's hope that if it doesn't work, we find out without somebody getting killed in one.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is hiring, big time, all of a sudden -- including calling back 25 retired workers with experience in bank failures. Brace for some hard times, people.
We needed some shut-eye just after lunch, and we found absolutely perfect conditions in the TV room. There were mattresses spread out on the floor right in front of the big-screen TV, the scene of a kid sleepover the night before. Nobody else was home.
We closed the drapes, hunkered down under the kiddie covers, and flipped on the tube. Nothing interesting on the sports channels at that hour... Here ya go -- a Portland Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund Board of Trustees meeting on cable access. Perfect.
They're in the City Council chambers. What the heck is that ugly wall hanging behind the mayor's desk supposed to be -- some kind of map? There's what's her name, the head of the city's Human Resources department, presiding. A few cops and firemen, with their game faces on, on either side of her. Man, they sure are meticulous when they're counting out that pension money. COLA this, retro that. You wish they were so vigilant when it came to other procedures -- like not killing innocent people. Look out, Jim Jim Chasse!
At the table talking to the panel, a firefighters' union guy, acting all tough. We're sure he had big shoes to fill when Randy headed off to greener pastures. And some gal sitting next to him with all the answers. Is that Linda Meng, the city attorney? No name plate in front of her. Something about "earned" versus "received"... Man, this is getting... very... boring... Pillow warming up...
Next thing we know, we've woken up, and the meeting's over. They're playing some sort of annoying music -- too grating for sleep. We switch over to some sports channel or other and roll over.
It's college coaches yakking about the Sweet 16 in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. There's Ernie Kent's voice. Guess he's trying out broadcasting, since he may have a new job soon... Still, very... soporific...
Who knows how long afterward, we awake with a start. Now there's a Texas Hold-Em game in progress with that Danny guy and some great big blonde gal in a field of six players. The kids are home, and it's time to get up. No more Ernie Kent. No more firemen playing hard guy. No more Linda-Meng-maybe.
But dang, that was a good nap.
Word has it that Hillary's getting the club out.
Read 'em and weep, here. I'll plow through them later, but right now I need a nap.
You know you're getting old when you spend a holiday weekend night watching a replay of a City of Portland land use hearing on cable access. But that's what we found ourselves doing a few nights back. The show, which ran on for quite a while, was must-see TV.
At issue was an application by the Holladay Park Plaza retirement center in the Lloyd District to build a 75-foot-tall senior housing project on property it owns just up 16th Avenue from its imposing tower. In the mid-1990's, the block on which this lot is situated had been the object of a land use dispute between the prior owner (a developer) and the Sullivan's Gulch Neighborhood Association. The city's decision at that time allowed for townhouses on much of the block, and a 60-to-65-foot-tall building on the lot now owned by Holladay Park Plaza. Everything's since been built but the big building.
Since the new plan was for a full story taller than the building that had been approved a decade earlier, the retirement home needed city approval to build at that height. And the city gave it to them, both at the bureaucrat level and by a hearings officer. The neighborhood, joined by the Irvington Community Association just a couple of blocks away, appealed to the full City Council. The hearing on that appeal, held last week, was what I watched on the tube.
Only four of the council members were present. Sten was away, doubtlessly counting his mystery money up at the mansion. That left Leonard, Adams, Potter, and Saltzman to hear the testimony. The neighborhood association folks did a masterful job with their case. They and their lawyer had a number of arguments, but three stood out. First, they noted that the block in question was supposed to provide a height transition zone from the massive apartment bunker just west of it, at 15th and Weidler. The block was supposed to provide a mid-level building as a transition to the older single-family homes to its east. The proposed building would actually be taller than the apartment building, and the neighbors wondered what kind of transition that provided.
Second, the neighbors argued, "a deal's a deal." The allowance of the townhouses was part of an intricate plan approved by the hearings officer in 1996. That officer specifically noted that the taller building on the corner (originally meant to be condos, I presume) was approved as part of a package. Charlotte Uris, one of Irvington's volunteer land use gurus and a participant in the original proceedings in the 1990's, pointed out that Holladay Park Plaza was now trying to "cherry pick" the last developable parcel out of the group and ratchet up to a better deal than the overall package of earlier approvals allowed. The neighbors' lawyer noted that since the proposed building did not meet land use rules except by virtue of the 1996 approvals, it could not legally be developed at all except under the terms of the ruling made at that time.
The neighbors' third argument was perhaps the most interesting of all. The retirement company based its application for the 75-foot-tall building in part on a transfer of "density rights" from the parcel on which its giant tower sits. This is one of the "floor-area ratio" (FAR) transfers that have become so popular with the developer weasels and their City Hall puppets these days. The Sullivan's Gulch folks argued that these transfers can come only from a lot adjacent to the property in question, and that there was actually a small lot between the tower and the proposed building site. Therefore, they said, the transfer couldn't be done.
At one point a member of the Council asked the assistant city attorney present whether the neighbors' reading of the FAR transfer rules was correct. She gave a decidedly noncommittal answer.
As noted here yesterday, the City of Portland is going to borrow more than $550 million for its sewer system next week. And the sales document for the bonds (the "preliminary official statement") hit the internet yesterday -- just about the time we complained on this blog that it was well nigh time to release it.
Unlike lots of prior city sewer bonds, these are scheduled to be sold without the benefit of a bond insurance policy -- inevitably, in light of the fact that the big bond insurance companies have become so shaky in recent weeks that investors aren't much impressed by their policies any more. This means that unlike the AAA credit ratings that several prior Portland sewer bond issues have enjoyed, these babies are going to go off at substantially lower ratings. About $340 million in bonds, with a first mortgage on the sewer system, have been rated Aa3 by Moody's, and AA- by Standard & Poors. The other $214 million or so, with a second mortgage, have been rated only A1 by Moody's, and AA- by Standard & Poor's. There's more on the rating systems here for Moody's and here for S&P, but Aa3 is several notches below Aaa at Moody's; A1 is the next level below that; and AA- is several notches below AAA at S&P. Lower ratings mean higher interest rates. (The ratings on the new bonds are the same as the city's sewer bonds have had for a while, if they were uninsured.)
When the city sold a set of insured sewer bonds in early 2007 -- back when bond insurance still meant something -- it got rates of between 3.6 and 3.725 percent on money it borrowed over eight years. The terms of the new bonds will run up to 25 years, which will also tend to bump up the interest rates. The city says if it can't get the money at 6 percent a year interest or less, there will be no sale this time around. Keep in mind that interest on these bonds is exempt from federal and Oregon income taxes, and so buying a Portland bond at 6 percent would be like buying a corporation's bond at something like 8½ percent.
Of the $554 million of new bonds, $150 million will be used to pay off "auction rate" (adjustable rate) bonds that were issued in 2003. The interest rates on these have gone through the roof since the first of the year due to the fall of the bond insurance companies; the city is pretty much up against the wall to get rid of them. They're planning to use another $117 million of the new bond proceeds to pay off some older bonds, part of a large sewer borrowing back in 1998. That's $267 million of refinancing, leaving $287 million of new money to spend on the sewers.
It's interesting that the city is planning to pay off the 1998 bonds. According to this document, the interest rates on those bonds run from 4.5 percent to 5.13 percent. Given that the interest rates on next week's bonds could run higher than that, one wonders why the city would borrow now to redeem the older ones.
The new bonds are to be paid off solely out of sewer bill revenues, and so there isn't much in the offering document about the city's tax structure or, of greater interest to us, about its outstanding overall debt load. One might have thought that that information would be material to the purchaser of the sewer bonds, but the city fathers think otherwise. They attach the city's audited financials as of last June 30, and we guess they figure that's enough about the balance sheet.
Another topic one might have expected to see covered in the offering document is the proposed referendum this fall in which voters are supposed to decide whether they wish to have an additional $55 a year or so in taxes (or "user fees," even if you don't use it) tacked onto their sewer and water bills for street maintenance. If we were a prospective bond buyer who was supposed to be paid out of sewer bills, we might like to know about other items that are going to get piled onto those bills. If a bill is only partially paid, which charge will be treated as being paid first?
In any event, the information spelled out in the new document reveals that the city's debt continues to jump sharply. After the new sewer bonds are issued next week, the mortgages on the sewer system will stand at $1,476,925,000 -- nearly $1.5 billion. In March 2007, when another set of sewer bonds were sold, the tally was only $1,214,230,000. That's a 21.63 percent increase in 13 months.
Now, on our debt clock in the left sidebar of this blog, we've been increasing the city's long-term debt at an assumed rate of just 5.18 percent a year -- apparently too conservative an estimate. Perhaps we will have a better handle on the current overall debt figure when the offering document is released for the city's upcoming $50 million in new, long-term "urban renewal" bonds. That should be out in a week or so, and since property taxes are involved, a more comprehensive debt picture should be included.
Meanwhile, there's more sewer debt on the horizon as well. The city says that it will likely go to the well for another $344 million of long-term loans in 2009-10, and another $140 million in 2011-12. Between our sewer bills and our property tax bills, we'll be paying for the rest of our lives on the money we're spending now. Good thing we're spending it all wisely. Go by streetcar!
When Bear Stearns's value dropped from $35 a share on a Friday to $2 a share the following Monday, that shook everybody up. Now, a week later, the buyer, JPMorgan Chase, suddenly jacks up its offer price to $10 a share. Which in some ways is even more troubling.
Does anybody on Wall Street know what the heck they're doing any more? I doubt it. Fellow taxpayers, get your knee pads on. We'll be bailing out these incompetents for decades.
How a radioactive cat reveals another threat to our privacy.
“I’m running to shake up the office of mayor and get Portland moving forward again.”
Travelers on I-5 south of downtown Portland have some interesting sights to see between the freeway and the river these days. There's the Cirque du Soleil tent, making its occasional visit to the Rose City. And now when the mime fans are done enjoying the show, they can ride the OHSU aerial tram [rim shot] and visit some hospital wards. Great way to cap off the circus experience.
A little further south, an interesting sideshow appears to be unfolding. Am I just imagining it, or have the cranes that are building the latest ghastly condo towers in the SoWhat District suddenly come to a halt? They sure aren't moving noticeably when I drive by.
Now, logic would strongly suggest the conclusion that there are some seriously heavy construction loans outstanding on the half-built condo projects down there. And it would be surprising if the developers hadn't been counting on a steady stream of condo sales in the occupied buildings to make the payments on the construction loans on the new ones. Now that condo sales have slowed to a weak trickle worthy of an Avodart ad, cash flow must be mighty hard to come by.
Which means somebody's losing some big-time moolah down there. Is it the developers and their partners, or somehow do they get to lay off the cash flow burden onto the city's taxpayers? Maybe our local business reporters could look into this for us. Given the major involvement of the Portland Development Commission, a lot of the details should be open to public scrutiny. Nothing to hide -- right?
UPDATE, 3:00 p.m.: There's a little bit of activity on those structures today, but not much. The cranes are stopped, to be sure.
Other than that, how was your Easter?
With the municipal bond market going through unprecedented gyrations, it's a scary time for state and local governments to be borrowing money. But hey, this is the City of Portland, and racking up the debt is one of the things we're really good at.
And so the city hopes to issue three different sets of bonds in April: $50 million in long-term "urban renewal" debt for "downtown waterfront" projects; $150 million to refinance some highly toxic adjustable rate debt that the city took out nine years ago to fund civilian employee pensions; and a whopping $550 million in sewer debt, some of it refinancing (including $150 million that's being converted to fixed interest rates from five-year-old adjustable rate bombs) and some of it new borrowing.
The sewer bonds are scheduled to be sold on April 3 -- a week from Thursday. A bit surprising, then, that there's no offering document posted on the city's website yet. Perhaps it's going to be a "private placement," where there's no disclosure document at all, like when the city borrows hundreds of millions, ever so quietly, from Bank of America.
Three quarters of a billion, all in a month. And at a time when bond insurance, on which the city has regularly relied to keep its bond ratings high, is pretty much not worth what you'd have to pay for it. All sorts of governmental and nonprofit players around the country are scrambling for fixed-rate debt right now, and the laws of supply and demand dictate that interest rates are going to be substantial as a result. This ought to be quite interesting to watch.
Meanwhile, the city has also gotten around to posting a series of disclosure documents, dated March 1, 2008, relating to bond issues that are already outstanding. They're here. You may smell smoke, but I doubt you'll find the gun.
It's the Question of the Year (So Far) in Portland politics. We're supposed to have an answer at 11 this morning, but in the meantime, you make the call:
But she did bring peace to Northern Ireland.
"The streetcar pays for itself."
-- Michael Powell, before the Portland City Council, March 20, 2008.
Betsy thinks out loud about what that means.
It hasn't been the best year for us in the March Madness basketball pools, but there may still be a slim chance to come in in the money. Today we will need wins from the following teams:
Except for Oklahoma, they're all the favorites. Saint Cajetan, please do your thing.
A hard-boiled look at the holiday.
Isn't there some money somewhere that you should be busy stealing, instead of opening your mouth and stinking up the place?
You knew it was coming, just in time for the Presidential campaign. Another atrocity on American soil.
A howler today from an Adams backer: The OHSU Health Club aerial tram is like "the Space Needle, the St. Louis Arch, NY Central Park, the Eiffel Tower."
Our friend Bill McDonald sends along a couple of photos from today's Obama rally at the Portland Memorial Coliseum:
I thought it was cool that he had one of the guys from Los Lobos on stage with him.
UPDATE, 6:16 p.m.: For those finding that line offensive, substitute the following: "It looks like Springsteen is letting himself go." Thank you.
The Ducks, who couldn't muster a winning record in the Pac 10, couldn't win a game in the NCAA Tournament, either.
Maybe a $200 million arena will help.
Finally, the Bush administration's Middle East policies produce shock and awe.
Adams campaign joined the legal challenges to Auditor Gary Blackmer's decision to approve Dozono's public campaign financing. He said that filing was not about knocking Dozono, his chief opponent, out of the race.
Obama's coming to Portland this morning. The local politicians will be falling all over each other to get up next to him on the stage, except for the misguided Clintonites like Ted K. and Sten. The traffic at the Memorial Coliseum, and perhaps the Banfield between there and the airport, should be pretty ugly all morning. You wonder if they'll have seats on the arena floor, or they'll do it like U2 and have a mosh pit so frail fans can pass out for the cameras.
That kind of scene doesn't do it for me any more, but I often fantasize what it would be like to have five minutes behind closed doors with a guy like B.O., one-on-one or with just a couple of friends around. What would you say to him?
I'm not sure I'd be too coherent, but I'd probably blurt out something like this: "You're our last hope. Four more years of what we've been through in the last eight? That will be the end of the America we used to know and love. Even if we get someone as bright and spirited as yourself in the White House, it may be too late to save it. You've got to win, Senator. We're behind you. Show us how we can help you."
You can see why people like me don't get five minutes one-on-one with people like Obama. I wouldn't be saying a thing to him that he doesn't already know.
That's the maker of those nifty coffee machines we spotlit here. The acquisition is one of several moves that Starbucks is suddenly wheeling out to try to keep people buying $4 coffees at the same time that they're trying to handle buying $4 gallons of gas. Good luck, Howard.
UPDATE, 3/21, 1:56 a.m.: Meanwhile, in a court down in California, the company takes a major dinger in the head over its practice of grabbing baristas' tips and paying supervisors with them.
How's your bracket doing?
Congratulations to Willamette Week on not only killing off Robert Ball, but now gravely wounding Sho Dozono in the race against Sam the Tram. Sho may keep his campaign going with private money -- I hope so -- but he's wasted a lot of time and effort on the whole "clean money" foolishness, and the Bluebirds will waste no time clucking their tongues and calling him this year's Emilie Boyles.
Disappointed Sho backers, look on the bright side. Anything that further exposes the circus-like voter-owed elections "system" as a colossally bad and unworkable idea is a boost for Portland.
How long can Sam the Tram get away with painting himself as some sort of outsider? How many years has he drawn his paycheck at Portland City Hall? It's really absurd.
And, alas, typical.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:...It's been a big, beautiful day, to conclude a wonderful winter and begin another glorious spring, but while the blogging spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak
See you tomorrow.
When a priest molests a kid in Oregon, it appears that the Church is not necessarily responsible.
Taking that issue to court is truly God's work.
Maybe it's just tax season burning me out a little, but I have found the whole flap over the remarks of Obama's preacher to be a real yawner. And the answer -- "McCain's preachers are nut jobs, too!" -- shows how dopey politics in America have become. No wonder we're plunging toward a depression.
Perhaps I'm missing something. It could be that the whole Historic Speech thing was something I should have gotten excited about. Help me out with this, people:
The hype for "Candidates Gone Wild" has begun. The Bus Kids and Willy Week are throwing their regular pre-election political hoedown at the Roseland on April 28 this year, and already they've started their pitch: We don't have enough room on stage for everybody who's running. This artificial scarcity is supposed to get the candidates falling all over each other to get a spot on the dais, I guess.
I remember their big, bad banning of Emilie Boyles a couple of years ago. This move hyped the event, established the selectivity of the on-stage guest roster, and provided a handy scapegoat for the foolishness of "voter-owed elections."
Given how clear it is whom the sponsors of this event will be endorsing this time around -- Adams and Novick for sure, and probably Middaugh and Smith -- why would the other candidates want to show up? The program will no doubt make them look bad, at least in a subtle sort of way. It's a wildly entertaining and interesting event, but the Pabst-fueled crowd probably will already have made up its mind on these races long before the curtain goes up, and so there will likely be few on-the-fence voters to pick up that evening.
If you were Dozono, Merkley, Fish, or Fritz, would you participate?
Did you know that Kevin Love, the freshman phenom on the U.C.L.A. basketball team and an alum of Lake Oswego High, is the nephew of Beach Boy Mike Love? Well, now you do.
We haven't seen much of this fellow, and it looks as though perhaps we won't, ever again.
I've been wondering what's going on in Erik Sten's office over these last three weeks before his mysterious retirement. An alert reader sends along this photo, which may explain some things.
I knew Mount Saint Mary's was going to win the play-in game in the NCAA basketball tournament. Just the first victory on my perfect ticket for the year.
Yesterday, in honor of Saint Patrick, I drank the last of the Bushmills in the whiskey cabinet. Guess it's time to restock. But for spring, maybe I'll go with something else.
The Fed just cut interest rates another 75 basis points.
The Fed also sent each financial institution under its jurisdiction a choice of either a toaster or 10,000 miles on Delta.
As you probably know, the IRS is going to be sending out "stimulus payments," starting in May, to most taxpayers. I love that term, "stimulus payments." So Spitzer-esque.
For most folks the check will be a few hundred bucks, which Exxon will gobble up before the Fourth of July. By then, $300 American will probably buy a loaf of bread and a Safeway rotisserie chicken.
Anyway, if you want to see how much you will be getting, the IRS just posted a handy-dandy calculator. Head on over and knock yourself out. You'll need to have your 2007 tax return done before you go, though.
Upper middle-class and rich readers, don't get your hopes up.
Here's a nasty little critter who's been making the rounds, big time, in area schools and day care centers this winter. After going through the whole search-and-destroy mission at our house, our older daughter decided she would do her independent study project on these pests. We now know a whole lot more about them than we ever wanted to.
They're making him look stronger every day.
What an enormous waste of time and money this is.
We're past "working out the kinks." We're now on to confirmed insanity.
Long-time readers may remember that I quit the Democratic Party two years ago, in protest of the fact that party members in Oregon are effectively prohibited from signing petitions to place independent candidates on the ballot. That state law (ORS 254.069) will some day be judged unconstitutional, but in the meantime, it's just bad policy.
This time around, there are no independent candidates in sight, and meanwhile, several races that affect me are effectively Democrat-only. My representative in the Oregon House (a.k.a. Cirque du Salem), for example. And state attorney general. Once the Democratic "nominee" is chosen for those two positions, he or she is a shoo-in, and so the May primary is pretty much it.
Besides, Obama needs me.
Therefore, it is time once again to do this:
I'm sure he wasn't trying to be funny. But Portland City Council candidate John Branam has produced a screamingly comical piece of campaign literature. Branam, as you may recall, is one of the "clean money" politicians, whose campaign machinations are being paid for by the city's property taxpayers under the goofy "voter-owed elections (VOE)" system. We blogged the other night about his fast fat-five-figure handout of taxpayer dollars to his campaign guru Phil Busse. Eyebrows are still going up over that one. But on a fundamental level, the glossy flyer that one of Branam's hit-and-run canvassers hung on our doorknob yesterday is an even better story.
Now, why did Opie Sten tell Portlanders that he was selling them "voter-owed elections (VOE)," whether they wanted them or not? It was supposed to take the influence of West Hills money (and other corporate money) out of the political equation, right? We don't want the same old rich fat cats corrupting our government officials with their filthy lucre any more.
O.k.? Now get a load of Branam's flyer:
To make sure our candidates aren't in the pockets of guys like Tom Kelly, we pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money, and the first thing they do is run out and hire a photographer to document the fact that indeed, that's exactly where they are. Is that beautiful, or what? You couldn't make this stuff up.
Branam, get a clue. Instead of forcing the little people to give you thousands to have your picture taken with Tom Kelly, you should have had Tom Kelly give you thousands to have your picture taken with the little people.
There's more to marvel at in that flyer -- the spendy and vaguely Obama-like logo, the name-dropping of New Seasons (I wonder what they think of that) -- but really, the photo and the quote say it all. "Voter-owed elections" is a classic City Hall farce. When Opie finally goes away in 18 days, I hope the other four gentlemen who have enabled his wild and wasteful brainstorms for many years will finally come to their senses and bury this one. Lay it next to the PGE takeover, the Convention Center expansion, the water billing fiasco, the failed Bull Run regionalization deal, the high-speed cable lawsuit, and the many other missteps that have characterized his painful tenure in city government.
Congratulations to the Oregon Ducks men's basketball team on its undeserved invitation to the NCAA national tournament. I don't know which would be more fun: watching them lose in the first round to Mississippi State, or watching them get thoroughly annihilated in the second round by Memphis. Mississippi State will be 220 miles from home; Memphis, 136 miles. From Eugene to Little Rock is 1,755 miles.
The devastating developments in the U.S. financial markets are no longer keeping bankers' hours. It's just been announced that Bear Stearns is going to be bought out at a mere pennies on the dollar:
Bear Stearns, pushed to the brink of bankruptcy by what amounted to a run on the bank, agreed late Sunday to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase for a mere $2 a share, narrowly averting a collapse that threatened to cascade through the financial system.Bernanke is so scared by the whole thing that the Fed just cut interest rates another quarter-point, in an emergency move, on a Sunday. All to keep the stock markets from completely collapsing in the morning, I suppose.
The price represents a startling 93 percent discount to Bear Stearns’ closing stock price on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Here we have the culmination of 25 years of Reagan deregulation, compounded by the ignorance of the Bush family. From Treasury Secretary Paulson: "Last Friday, I said that market participants are addressing challenges and I am pleased with recent developments." Swell.
You wanted it, America -- now lie back and enjoy it.
UPDATE, 9:22 p.m.: What's that? Does that sound like a tsunami siren to you?
Just a short while back, I wrote with deep nostalgia about the street on which I grew up -- Cortland Street in the "Down Neck" (Ironbound) section of Newark. My former neighbor, Mike Dobrzelecki, sent along some great photos and a wonderful recap of where things stood on the street nowadays.
This afternoon, I got an update and some more pictures from Mike. And they are sad -- beyond sad, really. He writes:
Early this past week a fire devastated 3 houses in the middle of the block on Cortland Street, a densely populated block in the Ironbound District of Newark, New Jersey. The fire started at 26 Cortland St. on Monday 3/10/08 at about 3 in the afternoon. It did not take long for the house to be fully involved. Mother Nature played a hand that day with winds whipping through the Ironbound District. With the houses separated only by narrow alleyways, the fire spread swiftly to the 1860's era structures on either side -- 24 and 28 Cortland Street. Flying embers wafted over to Lentz Avenue, two blocks away, alighting on a couple of roofs, with one roof being heavily damaged in the process.God help Betty (that was her apartment on the top floor in the photo above), whose living room provided a wonderful rehearsal studio for her son Joey and me when we were doing a capella versions of Beach Boy numbers like "All Summer Long" back in the early 1960s. And everybody else who was displaced.
The closest firehouse on Ferry Street, a mere 1½ blocks away, responded within 5-10 minutes, but the fire soon went to 3 alarms involving 75 - 80 firefighters. The Newark firemen soon found another gremlin hampering their effort -- the fire hydrant right across the street was defective -- with much less than the required 1000 GPM water pressure available -- a legacy of neglect by the Newark City water authority come home to roost. My brother, Dan Dobrzelecki, recently retired from the Newark Fire Department, checked with his old buddies and related that Newark's Bravest had their hands full that day. No less than 4 other fires were raging in the city at the same time and the Fire Departments of Jersey City, Elizabeth and Irvington were put on notice that they may need back-up if it got any worse. Residents along the block were rousted from their homes in the interest of safety. Other homes on the street suffered smoke damage; 22 Cortland Street had some of its vinyl siding partially melted in the process.
By the time the Newark Fire Department arrived, the 3 houses on Cortland Street were a total loss, with damage extending to other houses on the block and even two streets away. The Newark Fire Department immediately classified the fire suspicious. The house went up too quickly, even given the high winds that day. 26 Cortland Street had a checkered history of late, with the house changing hands several times over the last few years. The house was unoccupied, and the current owner allegedly about to be subject to foreclosure proceedings. The Newark Fire Department Arson Squad is currently investigating this fire.
By the grace of God, no one was killed or injured. I guess that's something to be thankful for. The families living on either side lost everything in the fires. Betty Fernandez, a woman in her 80's and longtime Ironbound resident living at 24 Cortland Street, was on vacation the week before, and came home the day of the fire to find her home and everything in it gone -- her life erased in an afternoon. She was, understandably, in a state of shock. The Wladyga family, also living in the same 24 Cortland Street, were rendered homeless, as were the families living in 28 Cortland Street to the right. Within a day, the City of Newark declared all 3 structures to be uninhabitable and ordered demolition to begin. 26 Cortland Street, the origin of the fire, was a pile of rubble by Thursday, March 13, courtesy of giant fully tracked yellow Caterpillar Backhoe. 24 and 28 would soon meet the same fate.
Even though I have not lived there since 1975, I return to my old neighborhood and the city of my birth on a regular basis. It was a shock to see the heart cut out of my old block. My family's original house, just two doors away at 20 Cortland Street, was spared the worse effects of the fire, but I bet it was subject to smoke damage to some degree. If this turns out to be a case of arson, that would be horrible. It's bad enough to torch your own property, when you're in financial difficulty, but to have it spread to and destroy other peoples' homes, just for personal monetary gain, is unconscionable.
UPDATE, 5/11/09, 2:35 a.m.: Photos and videos of the blaze in progress are linked to here.
When you sell all your investments and buy gold coins, are you supposed to bury them in the yard, or can you just hide them in the sock drawer?
It's becoming ever more likely to me that the Democratic Party is going to blow the Presidential election. Now some
rich jerks dedicated partisans in the Clinton camp say they'll pull their contributions to the party if it doesn't give Hill the outcome she wants over the contested delegates from Florida and Michigan. The Obama folks seem to be taking the high road about that, but many Barack supporters out here in the boonies are ready to tell the Clinton people that she doesn't deserve our support, either.
And so the nominee will be either the unelectable Hillary or a crippled Obama. Throw in a nice Middle East crisis around Fourth of July -- a big blowup involving Iran maybe, or the next major terrorist attack on the West that you know is coming -- and McCain's stock is going to look pretty good when it counts.
More inspiration from the master orator.
Even if using property tax money to pay for politicians' political campaigns was a good idea -- and it probably isn't -- it's way more trouble than it's worth. Just figuring out how it is supposed to work is more than the minds inside Portland City Hall can manage, and a troubling new question arises just about every day.
Here's the latest query, posed by an alert reader yesterday:
[Candidate Jim] Middaugh goes around saying he's got a big advantage because he'll get $200,000 for a six-week special runoff election against [Nick] Fish (assuming he gets that far).I am not entirely sure, but I believe that under the city code, it depends on whether the employer or employee is wearing a bicycle helmet at the time the aid is rendered.
Next, his boss and election czar [Gary] Blackmer propose a resolution to change the VOE rules to give that payoff to Middaugh. Apparently, the resolution is vague enough that [Tom] Potter and [Randy] Leonard say they didn't understand what they were voting for. Middaugh obviously knew what was being concocted for his benefit -- because he had already been crowing about it before it even got to Council.
So, does Middaugh have to declare all the "service" he got from Blackmer and [Erik] Sten -- who he works for -- as an in-kind contribution worth $200,000? Don't the rules say something about help from your employer counting as in-kind contributions?
It's going to end sooner or later -- probably sooner, as their schedule hits a really rough patch starting now. The Rockets recently lost their key big man, Yao Ming, to a foot problem. Their success has come on the back of their other star, Tracy McGrady, who is injury-prone and tends to fail in the playoffs. But it's still an amazing run.
The colossal joke that is the City of Portland's public finance "system" for local politicians' campaigns becomes more comical by the day. Here's the latest installment: City Council candidate John Branam reportedly paid out five figures to his campaign manager -- former Portland Mercury dude and ex-mayoral candidate Phil Busse(!) -- as soon as Branam's check from the city cleared. The city's "rules," such as they are, forbid using taxpayer money for back pay or for pay in excess of the market value of a staffer's services. The kids at the Merc are all over it, here and here; the Double Dub has coverage here.
The cases of people who claim that TurboTax or some other computer program erroneously donated their Oregon income tax "kicker" rebate checks to the State School Fund have started working their way through the courts. At least one such case is presently docketed in the Magistrate Division of the Oregon Tax Court, where the taxpayers are asking the judge to force the state to pay them their "kicker."
This particular couple filed a paper return using TurboTax. They swear that they never told TurboTax to donate their "kicker," and that the screen version of the form with which were working did not indicate that the "donate kicker" box had been checked. But when they printed out the form, they say, it did have the box checked, and they signed and filed it without noticing that.
As we've blogged about here extensively in the past, TurboTax denies that that story is possible -- TurboTax says that the box could not be checked unless the taxpayers checked it -- and the state Department of Revenue apparently agrees, refusing to issue the refund. "Regardless of what you saw on the screen, you should have thoroughly reviewed the printed-out form before you signed it and sent it in," the state says. Sounds like a pretty solid legal position.
But the state's argument weakens, at least somewhat, when one considers that the revenue department has in fact sent refunds to other folks who claim TurboTax made the exact same mistake on their return. The only difference between those luckier taxpayers and the unfortunate plaintiffs before the Tax Court is that the luckier taxpayers filed electronically, rather than on paper.
The state's court pleadings in the case make clear who did and didn't get their "kickers" based on claims that TurboTax screwed up their returns. The "defendant" here is the Department of Revenue:
The state's court filing also explains that the taxpayers in question filed on paper, and that no one who filed that way prevailed in a claim of an erroneous donation of their "kicker."
It's hard to see how the distinctions that were made by the state are valid. First of all, the fact that someone who had filed electronically many months ago now gets TurboTax to print out a form without the "donate kicker" box checked hardly seems like any proof at all of what they actually did when they prepared their original electronic return. Why the state required that such a form be sent in by e-filers with the claim of a TurboTax error is a real mystery.
The accompanying certificate that the taxpayers never checked the box is a different story. Of course, that's evidence that they actually didn't. But the paper filers are willing to sign the same certificate, and for them it doesn't work. Why not?
If the state is acknowledging -- as it apparently has -- that TurboTax and other programs malfunctioned for the electronic filers, what kind of malfunction does the state think it was? And wouldn't the same malfunction have affected those who used the same program, but printed the return form out on paper?
The state is telling TurboTax paper filers, "You should have checked the form over again after you printed it out and before you signed it." But shouldn't it also be saying to the electronic filers, "You should have printed the form out and checked it over before you hit the 'Send' button"?
More fundamentally, when one files an electronic return, the data that whizzes across the internet to Salem simply is the return. And one's electronic signature is supposedly every bit as significant, legally, as ink on paper. If a taxpayer who files a computer-generated paper return is responsible for knowing what's on it, isn't the e-filing taxpayer responsible for knowing what's in the e-file that he or she sends in over the internet? We would certainly hope that he or she is.
Who knows if the folks now in court over this will win their cases? Maybe they shouldn't get their refunds. But if they shouldn't, then why did some of the computer users who claimed the same mistake get theirs? It seems to us that all of those who claimed errors should have been treated the same. It is also fairly clear that all of the taxpayers of Oregon deserve a public explanation of why the Department of Revenue made the distinctions that it did in this incident.
If the taxpayers lose their Tax Court battle with the state, we suspect their next stop will be a legal action of some kind against Intuit, the makers of TurboTax -- most likely in a different court. But some important Oregon tax law could be in the making before that happens.
If you had asked him last week, Brad Avakian would have told you that he desired nothing more in the world than to show off his talents and dedication to the people of the Great State of Oregon by becoming its next secretary of state. Since then, his phone has rung, and it was the governor offering him the state labor commissioner job, which is being vacated. Oops! New theory.
Avakian's departure leaves the crowded field for the secretary of state position only slightly less crowded. We still have three state senators vying for the post, which I believe currently pays a princely $72,000 a year: Kate Brown, Rick Metsger, and Vicki Walker. Of the three, the most interesting is Walker, the Eugene firebrand. Her challenges to the Old Boy machine that has been running Oregon government for decades have been both refreshing and effective. We've made no secret of the fact that she's our favorite politician in the state.
Brown will have the full Democratic Party machinery behind her, and so it will be an uphill battle for Walker and Metsger. But this is a fairly low race on the ballot, and there's still a month and a half or so before the voting starts, and so anything could happen.
One thing Walker has done that's gotten some positive play is to put out a booklet with a set of platform promises in it. Of course, it also contains a good amount of bragging about things she's done in the Legislature, but it lays out some specific tasks that she says she'll undertake if she gets the secretary of state's post:
- Work to have the state "prohibit pass-through transfers of money from candidates, political parties, and leadership committees to other candidates and committees," on the ground that these practices impair transparency about who is truly financing campaigns.
- List the five largest contributors behind each initiative or referendum measure in the voters' pamphlet, and include in the pamphlet information about how to file a complaint alleging violations of the initiative and referendum rules.
- Refer a constitutional amendment to voters that would "prevent ballot measure racketeers like Bill Sizemore from filing any new ballot measures if they have repeat election law violations or unpaid fines for previous violations."
- Push for rotating regional Presidential primaries, so that Oregon isn't always one of the last to vote.
- As the state's auditor, "ask tough questions" to find out if tax subsidies to corporations and other business entities deliver public benefits as promised.
- Use federal Help America Vote Act funds to target minority and low-income folks for voter registration drives.
- Hand out voter registration forms to high school seniors at graduation.
There's more in there, including a swipe at the Lottery Commission (guess she couldn't resist), a promise to support stable funding for schools (which seems a little off-topic and sounds at least a bit sales tax-ish), a threat of criminal prosecutions for initiative process violations, and some inspiring words about "following the money" to root out waste, or worse, in government. The document pulls a few punches, and of course brief prayers must be offered for diversity and an end to global warming, but overall her screed is pretty bold in the specificity with which it addresses several issues.
Especially for the auditing side of the job, Walker is clearly the best choice. She's the only one of the candidates that the legion of Old Boy appointees in state jobs and on state boards will fear. The chances of Kate Brown or Rick Metsger aggressively pursuing neglect or wrongdoing in the state bureaucracy do not seem good. Particularly if she were teamed up with a new, no-nonsense attorney general, Walker would really make waves. Good waves.
"There was sort of a mania that fed on itself. People said downtown was the future, and young people bought into it. Some of those buildings should not have been built."Sounds a lot like the SoWhat District.
But hey, trendsetters, Homer and the boys always have a spin just for you:
James Atkins, whose development firm, Portland, Ore.-based Williams, Dame & Atkins, has built two major projects downtown, is bullish on the area but acknowledges that its transformation is not complete.Catch you at the Discovery Center.
From his developments elsewhere, Atkins has learned that younger people will live in edgy new neighborhoods. But a neighborhood becomes firmly established when older, more affluent people are willing to move in -- a sign that the area's safety and amenities match that of the suburbs where they'd been living.
Downtown needs even more restaurants, stores and parks for that to happen, Atkins said. "When the Westside empty-nesters arrive, that's when we'll see the real jump in the market," he said.
He added: "That process took 20 years in Portland."
They never led against Washington State. Will Oregon make it to the NCAA tourney? I doubt it. "We're in a really good league" isn't going to cut it for the Big Dance, especially when you went 9-10 in that league.
The Bush guys have a plan.
A while back, we noted that OHSU was finally creating some biotech jobs -- but they're all in Florida! (And we were not making that up.)
But it gets even more interesting, as deal after deal is quietly made back there, way out of the eye of the Oregon public. Check out this letter to the editor of a St. Petersburg paper -- scroll down to "Institute is good for Florida."
None of the dollars for this project will "flow out of state," as the Times' headline breathlessly reports. Instead, the money will be invested in a new Florida nonprofit - a corporation that will create jobs in Florida and drive increasing scientific investment in Florida. The Oregon Health & Science University, in fact, has voluntarily prohibited any sharing of local funding with VGTI Florida.Wow, that's reassuring to us folks out here in Stumptown who have dropped a half-billion bucks (so far) building the SoWhat District, where all the OHSU biotech goodies were supposedly going to go. Oh, well. The lies sounded pretty.
Across the bay from St. Pete, in the Tampa paper, there's more on the deal, including these highlights:
Economic development officials predict the creation of OHSU's VGTI-Florida will generate 1,466 jobs over 20 years. The facility and spinoff ventures will produce $4.2 billion in economic activity in Florida. The laboratory plans on studying immunity issues that come with aging, with Florida providing a vast supply of retirees to study....Fascinating reading material, that is. If it matters to Oregonians, it's in The Tampa Tribune.
Larry Pelton, president of the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County and a key negotiator in this and Florida's other biotech incentive awards, says no money from Florida will revert to Oregon and any spinoff companies that emerge out of the laboratory will stay in Florida.
Man, with all the finger-pointing that's going on among candidates for various offices around Portland about alleged campaign misdeeds by their opponents, I hate to start any more trouble. But yesterday a reader sent me what purports to be a copy of an e-mail message that he sent to Michael Dembrow, one of three candidates who are running for the Oregon House seat in my district (45). The reader also addressed the message to Dembrow's campaign manager, Logan Gilles. It reads as follows:
For shame! Last week I was about to sign up and contribute to your campaign, but after the "push-poll" I just endured, I feel obligated to support Ms. Boston. Your "polling" outfit, Standard Market Research in Denver CO, left no doubt in my mind what they were up to. You should know that I will share my experience with my favorite Law Professor. This is exactly what progressive democrats are sick and tired of. Take your coveted endorsements and stick them. As a lifelong resident of Northeast Portland I want progress, not regress. Stay out of politics, do not pass go, and you will not collect my $200.Wow. Even though beauty's only skin deep, perhaps our choice is becoming clearer.
We got an odd e-mail from the City of Portland just now. It links to this -- a formal notice of next Monday's fun "voter-owed elections" hearing down in Tualatin on the continuing assassination attempt against mayoral candidate Sho Dozono. But it was the rest of the brief e-mail notification that got our attention (bold type is our addition):
NOTICE OF IN-PERSON HEARING 3/12/2008Did Sam the Tram file a request today for a hearing against Sho?
OAH Case No.: 800420 (Certification Hearing, decision of City Auditor to certify Sho Dozono; does not include Request for Hearing filed by Sam Adams on 3/12/2008)
You received this message because you are subscribed to PortlandOnline's notification service. To unsubscribe go to www.portlandonline.com, sign-in, and click the "subscribe" link in the upper right hand corner to get to your subscription options.
I hear this passed today. Ouch.
The U.S. economy is imploding, thanks to the Chimp. And with all the herky-jerky moves that the Federal Reserve has pulled over the last month or two, I'm starting to sense some serious panic inside the Beltway. Just curious if you're on the same page as I am on this:
Is the current Spirit Mountain Casino TV ad the worst thing ever, or what? I'm talking about the one that plays throughout the Blazer telecasts. A bunch of out-of-work drama club alumni butcher what was a halfway decent pop song by Petula Clark, and try in vain to sell a wasted day in front of a slot machine and in a buffet line as something one might dream wistfully about. When they cut to a Native American lady doing the hokey-pokey as she deals some goofball a blackjack, my most recent meal moves an inch or two back in the direction from whence it came. Plus, the dancing with insane glee over a nasty habit that destroys the lives of so many people is nothing short of macabre.
And couldn't they have paid whoever laid that egg enough to lay two, so that we don't have to suffer through the same atrocity dozens and dozens of times over the course of the season? I hear the CIA is requesting a DVD of the current spot for use in Guantánamo.
Then there are the "Save the Gorge" ads on the radio, opposing the proposed new casino in Cascade Locks. "One casino per tribe... It's fair... Brought to you by the Concerned Environmentalists for Mom and Apple Pie... We're looking out for the wildlife." My eye. Brought to you by the competition. Looking to snag Grandma's Social Security checks before the nursing home takes them.
Sometimes one wonders what to make of the odd priorities of the City of Portland's transportation bureau. There's no mystery, however, about this one that's recently come to light.
Here's a story on the latest manifestation of the Generation Gap, with a Portland dad and daughter as the poster children.
The hearing on the Dozono "clean money" poll caper will be held on Monday. But get this -- hold on to your drink, it's really too funny -- the hearing will be held... ta da!... in Tualatin.
If you wanted to flush scarce taxpayer dollars down the toilet, you couldn't have done a much better job than Portland's brilliant "voter-owed elections" system. Way to go, Opie! Maybe the next week we can all go to Ashland to argue about Charles Lewis and the potholes.
Want more, Portlanders? Vote for Adams, Middaugh, and Smith. They'll blow hundreds of millions that others would merely dream about wasting. Go for it! We can race Bernanke to see who can land us on the rocks faster.
Now that they've given the bum's rush to those hippies at the Saturday Market, the Portland Development Commission is looking to fix up the space under the Burnside Bridge at SW First Avenue.
The taxpayer bailout of the mortgage fiasco has begun. You wonder how many cutesy moves the Fed will try before they all stop working. Probably right about the time the African-American guy or the woman takes over the White House.
... of "Dumbest Economic Predictions of the Year."
Over the weekend we wrote about how all mention of the OnPoint Credit Union-Countrywide Financial mortgage joint venture had been erased from the OnPoint website, without a word of explanation to the credit union's members or anyone else. We also complained in comments to that post that the OnPoint website gives exceedingly scant information about the finances of the organization -- for a full annual report, it says, you need to e-mail headquarters and ask for it.
Not so, as an alert reader points out. OnPoint's quarterly financials are available for public inspection on the website of the National Credit Union Administration, a federal agency. If you go here and enter either "OnPoint" in the name field or "62745" in the number field, you'll get lots of information as fresh as December 31, 2007. They'll even send you an Excel file of a lot of the data if you'd like. Why wait for the glossy brochure?
Just for kicks, we tried to get the December 31 and September 30 data files, and at least the December 31 version came through. The Excel file is here. We also printed out both the 12/31 and 9/30 NCUA performance reports, and compared them against each other.
Now, we're no expert on financial institutions, and OnPoint doesn't look to our untrained eye like it's in any great trouble, but there were a few stats in there that confirm what anyone who reads the news might imagine -- that the last quarter of 2007 wasn't so rosy:
|Federal agency securities||$97,766,028||$66,299,032||(32.19%)|
|Total reportable delinquency - total delinquent loans||$3,525,641||$5,472,354||55.22%|
|Total reportable delinquency - indirect lending||$1,659,211||$2,592,869||56.27%|
|Total outstanding loan balances subject to bankruptcies||$4,595,702||$6,466,112||40.70%|
The NCUA reports for both periods rate OnPoint as "Well Capitalized." There's certainly no reason to panic, we suppose, or to think that this isn't an industrywide problem. But the numbers do confirm what a brutal quarter 2007 closed with. And one would think that the quarter we're currently in won't be better, although we won't have the figures for this one until May.
Finally, there isn't anything in the NCUA files at all about the Countrywide deal. Apparently that was the whole point of the Countrywide joint venture -- to keep the loans generated by that partnership off OnPoint's books. And so the circumstances surrounding the termination of that relationship remain unknown, at least to us.
It's really simple: The tap water contains Tylenol, Advil, and a sulfa drug.
Glad there's no fluoride.
How the heck does that stuff get in our water? Are the Chinese blowing it up their chimneys? Do the elk up at Bull Run have headaches and bacterial infections? And do they have Regence, Providence, or Kaiser?
This amazes us. Eight of the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court have consented to interview videos in which they talk about the Court and many things related thereto. Only David Souter refused to participate. If you haven't already looked at these, you can find them here.
Funny how the "green, sustainable" sales pitch never seems to live up to the hype.
I heard weaselly Len Bergstein on the radio yesterday, talking about how "green" the Gorge Casino is going to be. Uh huh... hey, I'm stupid, are you stupid? Let's all be "green." "Green" condo high-rises. A "green" Convention Center Hotel. A "green" freakin' airport expansion. It is all... so... wonderful.
Portland City Council candidate Charles Lewis e-mailed us tonight to say that he's been endorsed by Stand for Children, the kids advocacy group.
Normally, when politicians tell us how "for the children" they are, we gag. But we'll suppress that reflex in this case, because it makes sense. Lewis has forgone a potentially lucrative career and spent a lot of his time helping less fortunate kids learn music. There's not much about that not to like.
I love it when Gonzaga loses.
One of them is media reporting about the priest-child sex abuse scandals -- because it "discredits the church." Great message, Monsignor.
Eliot Spitzer analogies for political candidates.
The administrative time and expense created by Portland's "voter-owed elections" system have just gone up -- way up. Enjoy the potholes -- we've got better things to do with your money.
And this time, somebody is calling it out for what it is.
We're still trying to figure out whom to vote for for our state representative to Cirque du Salem. As ever, it's amusing. Although we live in the Irvington and Alameda neighborhood "overlap," somehow we're gerrymandered into a district that runs all the way out to Parkrose. Whatever.
There are three folks in the running. One immediately fails by virtue of being a Metro Clone®. Spawn of Goldschmidt, get thee gone!
The other two candidates are both intriguing. The one guy's a Portland Community College professor -- head of the teachers' union over there. Green, green, oh so green -- just like Jackie Dingfelder, whom he's hoping to succeed.
The third hopeful for the seat shows a lot of promise -- the whole bright, shining, happy Bus kid thing -- but her campaign literature is odd, to say the least. I'm not sure what I'm being asked to do -- vote for somebody or buy perfume:
It's beautiful, but if this kind of pitch is effective with the constituents out by Costco, I'd be more than a bit surprised.
The "clean money" checks must have cleared -- Jim Middaugh for City Council lawn signs are cropping up like weeds over here in Northeast Portland. No mention of his current employer on the signs -- you were expecting "I was the Brains Behind Erik Sten"?
As eager as I am to see an end put to Opie-ism, I'm awfully concerned that Nick Fish, Middaugh's main opponent in the race, is completely off the average person's radar screen at this point. I don't know what the heck Fish is busy doing these days -- raising money, maybe? But he sure isn't making contact with everyday voters. So far I haven't seen a lawn sign, a bumper sticker, a button, a bus bench, a mailer, a media ad -- nada.
Fish blew an enormous lead over Sam "the Tram" Adams the last time he ran for the council, four years ago. Fish trounced Adams in the primary, but then fell back on endorsements and overconfidence while Adams and Sten stole the runoff election from him. I was stunned as the Tramster's sickeningly hypocritical "Shake Up City Hall" lawn signs appeared all over town, and Fish never responded with a barrage of his own.
The signs were the tipping point. And sadly, it's happening again.
Sten timed his resignation perfectly for Middaugh, who golly, was the only guy who had time to get "clean money," and he raised the necessary signatures in, like, an hour. How long before Sten announced his mysterious retirement did he tip Middaugh off? A month? Two months? Six months?
The Sten machine, which I hear is now referring to Fish as "a perennial candidate," is in serious butt-kicking mode. The bike helmet, the Gorge people, the streetcar people, plaudits from Middaugh's pals in Eugene (including DeFazio) -- if you want this, Nick, you'd better wake up soon. If you lead with Barbara Roberts again, the Bus kids will be laughing you right out of Candidates Gone Wild.
The cheerleading for the University of Oregon men's basketball team, which on the whole had a pretty anemic year, continues unabated. They won a couple of home games against the Arizona teams this weekend, and now the Phil Knight faithful are all talking about continued hopes of "going to the big dance."
There was a lot of hoopla last year when OnPoint Community (formerly Portland Teachers) Credit Union dove into a joint venture with the Countrywide mortgage folks. But now that the mortgage hawkers have crashed the economy, and the FBI is sniffing around Countrywide, suddenly it appears that OnPoint's not too keen on the whole Countrywide thing.
Check out these Google caches of OnPoint-Countrywide web pages, and what those pages look like now:
As a long-time OnPoint member, I'd be interested in knowing just what the heck is going on with that deal. But given the management attitude at OnPoint (whose CEO at one point was making $1.6 million a year), they'd probably rather throw me out than tell me.
I'm not sure what it all means, but on a foray to the supermarket this afternoon, I noticed this:
The City of Portland's ruling on whether City Council candidate Charles Lewis could use taxpayer-financed "clean money" to fix potholes on an unpaved eastside road shows what kinds of insane judgments the city is going to have to make if the "voter-owed elections" system continues. The city wrote Lewis that --
As long as your use of gravel is:Now what's a "direct campaign event" -- and as opposed to what? An "indirect campaign event"?
(a) a lawful activity, and complies with Portland City Code, including City Code Section 17.42; and
(b) is part of a direct campaign event,
Campaign Finance Fund revenues may be used to purchase gravel.
And it seems that the same sort of line-drawing will have to be done when judging whether a "clean money" candidate has used his or her own money for campaign expenses, which (if I've got it right) is illegal if the candidate has accepted public campaign money. For instance, if a candidate gives a large chunk of her own money to charity and makes a big deal out of it, is that an impermissible campaign expenditure? Is it a "direct campaign event" to give the private money and hold a press conference on the charity's front steps?
Not to mention the freedom of speech issues that these rulings will raise. What a mess. Typical Sten. Typical Portland.
Outrageous little graphic illustrating a story in the Times today on contested Senate races throughout the country. Check out what they're saying about the Beaver State, and contrast that with what they're calling in Minnesota:
Now, I'm not that hot a Novick fan, but it seems to me that the Democratic primary for the Oregon seat is very much a live contest. And the Times should have known that. More evidence, I guess, that the Old Gray Lady is losing her faculties.
It looks as though the City of Portland has given City Council candidate Charles Lewis the green light to use some of his "clean money" -- public funds granted to him for his campaign -- to fix potholes in a non-maintained road in an outer eastside neighborhood.
The pothole fix had previously been delayed by two obstacles. First, the city's "clean money" check didn't come in time for Lewis's first load of asphalt to be delivered. Second, he's had to wait for a ruling from the city, because his every move is being closely scrutinized by at least one of his opponents, who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time with the campaign rule book.
Anyway, the holes get fixed tomorrow morning. Sure, it's a showboat move, but that's how you get elected to local office, and it's a great statement in any event. Bully for Lewis.
The late morning newsstand edition of the O has bitten the dust.
And I couldn't agree with him more. We have crazy people roaming the streets without any option for treatment, the schools are past falling apart, bridges are falling down, and yet we're spending hundreds of millions building shiny plastic streetcars and condos for Homer Williams, Gerding-Edlen, Hank Ashforth, and the rest of the real estate set. It is indeed time to get the runaway train known as Portland urban renewal under control. I'm pleasantly surprised that Little Big Pipe has seen the light so quickly.
The Pearl District is no longer blighted, if it ever once was. Shut down that urban renewal district now, start paying off the darn debt, and give the county back the money that's being robbed from it for more of the same ugly highrise nonsense.
The idea of keeping the Pearl urban renewal juggernaut going to create a slush fund for the City Council to spend on new pet projects all over the city is particularly insidious (not to mention illegal). If somebody doesn't drive a stake through the heart of that colossally bad idea the day after Opie Sten leaves office, the county ought to sue the city's butt off over it. I'd pay for a seat to watch that lawsuit... er, um, actually, I guess I'd already be paying for both sides of it with my property taxes, now, wouldn't I?
Hey, if you send your browser to "onthevig.com" -- Chris Snethen's thoughtful and entertaining blog from the 'Couv -- check out the URL address to which you're redirected!
The politics of Cuba have been part of my consciousness ever since the early years of my elementary education. In the little Catholic school I attended in the "Down Neck" section of Newark, N.J., along about second grade we had a bunch of new kids in our classes who barely spoke English. They were refugees from Cuba, where the rise of Castro meant the end of life as their parents had ever known it. Meanwhile, we were engaged in "civil defense" drills wherein we were all herded to the basement cafeteria to practice kissing our butts goodbye in case of a nuclear attack on New York, eight miles away.
It was a great bunch of kids in that school, and despite the many barriers they faced, the immigrants fit in pretty well. I remember one classmate of mine, Rodolfo Gonzales, who was extremely bright, and who managed to pull some pretty good grades despite just having his world rocked. Way to go, Rudy.
When I was in college, I didn't take a lick of math, because I already had some serious math credits via advanced placement from high school. And so I never got a chance to take a class from another wonderful Cuban guy, Aurelio Baldor, who was teaching algebra. Dr. Baldor had been quite a figure in Cuba, apparently -- people referred to "El Álgebra de Baldor" -- and to be teaching in a commuter school in Jersey City was probably more than a bit of a downgrade for him. Moreover, he was not a young man when he had to make the transition. But he did, and I'll never forget the resiliency of his spirit.
Along about that time, I was a reporter for The Jersey Journal, a Newhouse newspaper based on Journal Square in Jersey City. One of the cities we covered (our beat was Hudson County) was Union City, which by then the Cuban immigrant population had taken over. There was still an Italian guy named Bill Musto serving as mayor, but the emergence of the Hispanic politicians had begun.
Fast-forward to 2008. Fidel Castro's finished, and he's left the reins to his
idiot son, Fidel W. Castro brother, Raúl. How long can these guys hold on?
Now, remember, they've given the United States the finger for about 50 years and gotten away with it. But now I wouldn't bet on their staying in power even three more years.
Why not? Computers and the internet. Against all odds, flash drives are changing the face of Cuba. And bloggers are in on the action. The writing's on the wall, Raúl! I hope you have a decent 401(k).
Wherein "I trust Sho" has certain negative implications...
Money makes the world go 'round -- but here's 500 bucks that probably weren't worth the trouble.
And speaking of the Hilton, is Fireman Randy (a union man) still giving them a special deal on his duct tape parade crackdown? For shame.
No wonder the Portland City Council is certifiably crazy. I have had cable access on the tube tonight, watching playbacks of yesterday's council meeting along with police and "sustainable development" budget confabs. What a bunch of bureaucratic drivel. Anyone who would give their lives to the pursuit of this stuff either is nuts to begin with, or will soon become so. The blogosphere is quite sane and sensible by comparison. Add the slight nausea caused by watching Opie Sten pontificate, and I was truly relieved to hit the power button after a couple of hours. I may have to call Dr. Laura to recover.
Last week, I kiddingly wondered how there could be a race for Lisa Naito's Multnomah County Commission seat without perennial candidate Ron McCarty being in the mix. And then, right on cue, we read this.
Lots of, ahem, colorful characters running for office in Portland this time around. Must be something about the position of the moon.
The curious Sho Dozono poll story has failed to destroy his candidacy for Portland mayor. Today he was certified as qualifying for "clean money" under the "voter-owed elections" system of public campaign financing.
Sho will pocket $161,171 of taxpayers' money to spend on his campaign junk mail and nuisance phone calls in the weeks leading up to the May primary. That puts the current total of tax expenditures on the upcoming municipal races at $1,002,425 and counting, for the primary alone. That number could rise substantially if any of the "dirty money" candidates raises more than the "clean money" handout in his or her race, because the taxpayers get to match the excess for each and every "clean money" opponent in that race. And at least one council contest is headed for a runoff in November, whereat more tax dollars will be thrown.
Of course, the figures do not include the administrative costs to run the program. One can only guess what those come to -- the city will never tell, if it even knows or cares -- but I'd bet $100,000 would be a decent estimate for the year.
Any way you count it, it's a lot of potholes that aren't going to be filled.
Here's some news we didn't need.
Nice interview in the Times yesterday with former Blazer great Buck Williams. The basic question posed was why Buck doesn't have a good front-office job in the pro basketball league somewhere, instead of working for a construction supply company. The race theme is played, of course, as it always is in discussions of pro sports manager demographics, but there are also some basic human questions, such as why an incompetent creep like Isiah Thomas can run the Knicks while great people like Buck aren't offered positions of any significance by any professional team in this country.
The acquisition of Williams -- from New Jersey, as I recall -- was the key moment in the great Blazer runs of the early '90s. His addition took Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter to the NBA Finals. It didn't matter that two of the Portland starters were regular guys like Kevin Duckworth and Jerome Kersey -- Buck, Glide, and T.P. were enough for greatness. Had the Iron Curtain not held Arvydas Sabonis back, there would be at least a couple of world championship banners hanging in the Bank of America Rose Garden.
Today's Blazers are nowhere near that potential, but sometime soon -- maybe right at the end of this season -- the Blazers ought to try to bring a Buck-type veteran into the mix and see what he can do to enhance the talent they have. Maybe not a strong forward, but either that or a shooter.
Except for Roy, Aldridge, and Oden, everybody else -- including the European phenom and the upcoming lottery pick -- ought to be on the table. A wise veteran could take the team to new heights, as Buck did. Nate is only going to be able to take these kids so far without some grownups on the plane and in the locker room. The extremely soft play that they've mustered in recent games (especially when they have the ball) indicates that it's time for a wakeup call from a big, tough somebody, still in a uniform, who's been around for a while.
This person needs to get out of politics. And if she won't show herself the door, the voters need to help her find it.
First Linda Greenhouse, its Supreme Court reporter, drifted away, and now David Cay Johnston, its resident expert on federal tax and public subsidy scams, is reported to be leaving. Methinks bad things are happening at the Times. Probably a curse from when they moved away from their old building. [Via TaxProf Blog.]
This Eugene author has, as Ricky Ricardo used to say, some 'splainin' to do.
So says this new report.
They get in over their heads, and then look out.
The federal government will be handing out free money to all but the richest of us in a few months -- the so-called "stimulus payments" that are supposed to restore our confidence in the economy and get us spending money again. For most folks, the check will come to several hundred dollars, which I'm sure the oil companies will gobble up by Fourth of July as gas prices hit $4 a gallon. Congress should have decided just to send the money to Exxon directly.
Anyway, in order to get the money, it appears that you have to file a federal 2007 tax return. And a lot of people who are eligible to get the checks aren't otherwise required to file a return because they don't make enough taxable income to warrant filing.
Those folks will want to file a return for 2007 sometime soon, in order to be sure they get their "stimulus" money in May or June. For example, an elderly person who lives solely off Social Security benefits doesn't usually have to file a tax return, but this year he or she will want to, just to get a "stimulus" check of $300.
The IRS announced yesterday that people with no taxable income can even file their returns for this purpose electronically, entering $1 as their adjusted gross income. Apparently, the IRS computers won't take zero income as a valid entry.
Leaving aside what dubious fiscal policy this gimmick is, something tells me it is going to be a confusing mess before it's all over.
If you're wondering why that park in your Portland neighborhood is getting a little rundown and shabby, please understand that the city's parks personnel -- and parks money -- are busy doing other, way more important things than maintaining it.
Wow. In Chicago, the sales tax rate is about to hit 10.25 percent. Glad I live in Oregon.
But it's not a scholarship pageant, either...
Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, who earlier endorsed upstart John Kroger for state attorney general, has now endorsed upstart Steve Novick for the United States Senate. Looks like the Old Boys are getting a run for their money. About time.
Is the Portland Development Commission (PDC) "sick"?
Last week the commissioners got a report from some high-priced consultants who were called in nearly two years ago to address diversity issues at the agency, but quickly discovered that the "organizational health" problems ran deeper than that. Since that time, the consultants provided "guidance, counsel and coaching" to Bruce Warner, the executive director of PDC, and other members of the executive team on matters like hiring, resolving conflicts, "leadership, team building, diversity and building cultural competence." The consultants also "[p]rovided facilitated conversations between individual employees and managers when disagreements were unsolvable"; and they "[a]ssisted PDC’s housing bureau and the City of Portland’s Bureau of Housing through a conflict situation" so that "the two groups were able to establish an understanding of what they could agree upon and to acknowledge areas of disagreement." (They also helped the PDC "find" another consulting firm, CH2A of Harold Williams fame, to work with minority groups, and worked with a third group of PDC consultants, an unnamed public relations outfit, as well.)
"Executive coaching" has become a real symbol of dysfunction, not only at the PDC (where it a well established tradition) but in other city bureaus as well. Why do the top executives at an outfit like PDC need all this "coaching"? At the salaries they make, shouldn't they already be capable of doing the jobs they were hired to do?
One of the "coaches'" parting remarks is particularly troubling: "Due to the nature of change, being in the public eye, it still appears to us that there are so many meetings that we wonder how people are able to 'get the work done' when they are not in meetings." Throw in the chaos created by a new employee union, and it's hard not to conclude that the operation is still a mess. Given that it's been mortgaging the city's future, you would have hoped that this outfit would shape up more quickly than it has, with the departure of the Katz/Goldschmidt people. Ah, well -- perhaps chaos is the nature of the beast.
At the February meeting, our guests were Jody Yates and Amy Gibbons of ODOT. They reported on a project that ODOT and the City of Portland are partnering on: to resolve traffic movement problems caused by a high volume of cars in a short northbound segment of Macadam Blvd making lots of lane changes to get to different destinations. Cars coming of the I-5 North Macadam off-ramp and going to the new South Waterfront District have to quickly move over to the right lanes of Macadam. In that same space, some cars already on Macadam from the south have to move to a left lane to get on I-5. ODOT calls it a weave-merge problem that will only get worse as South Waterfront builds out and more regional traffic goes up Macadam.
ODOT and the city are looking at two fixes, both with cost estimates of about $40 million. Funding has been secured from several sources but there is still a big $12 million shortfall. ODOT and the city are sharing the costs. If the shortfall problem is solved, perhaps with a bigger federal earmark, construction may start in the spring of 2010.
We're on the mailing lists for all sorts of communiques from the City of Portland. Lately we got two city bureau newsletters -- one from the Bureau of Development Services (which I think is what they used to call the building permit office), and the other from the Water Bureau. They make an interesting contrast.
The BDS version, which bears the hopelessly Kafkaesque title "The Plans Examiner," is a grim two-color affair, mostly covering wonkish news that only bureaucrats and developers could love:
Bureau of Development Services Director, Paul Scarlett, recently announced a major restructuring of the bureau’s Inspections Division. The Inspections Division is the largest division within BDS and has approximately 100 positions that coordinate and perform over 210,000 permit inspections yearly on one and two family residences, multifamily dwellings, and commercial and industrial construction projects in Portland and the urban services areas of Multnomah County.Still with us? Then there's this:
The restructuring will split the division in two, resulting in a Commercial Division and a Residential Division. Additionally, the bureau will add a second Division Manager position. These changes will allow the bureau to more adequately address the supervision needs of staff and programs, focus on new innovations that cater to residential and commercial customers and ensure that the bureau continues to provide efficient inspection services.
Ah, well. Later in the issue we see more evidence of Portland's diversity:
The Bureau of Development Services recently added three more handouts to the translated materials available online. The three handouts were translated into Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese and include:"Change of Occupancy" -- now in Russian! Woo hoo! What? No Klingon?
• Windows #10
• Broken Sewer and Drain Lines #7
• Change of Occupancy #30
Actually, there is one bit of news in there that has the potential to become interesting, eventually:
The Bureau of Development Services is beginning the creation of a local building code amendment that would require sustainable elements to be included in the construction of a building. While BDS will review and evaluate other codes that have been approved or are being used in other parts of the country, there is not a set concept about how the local amendment might look.The Water Bureau newsletter, "Bull Run Dispatch," is much more fun. It's in full color, and there are entertaining features such as a limerick contest honoring the famous elk fountain downtown. You've got three weeks to come up with a choice limerick about that landmark, donated to the city by former Mayor David Thompson in 1900.
The Water Bureau newsletter also has a matching quiz about various fountains that the bureau maintains around town, along with some interesting features about some of them. Now, that's edu-tainment.
Read and enjoy both publications, Portlanders -- you paid for them.
Today the states and cities attack the bond rating agencies. Oregon is reported to be among the states speaking up. Let's hope the backlash from our Wall Street overlords isn't too severe.
With all the Nordic skiing that we've been doing since New Year's, we've been neglecting our running. Tonight we laced up the sneakers and hit the road just after dark for the first time in two months.
Some observations: The pavement is quite hard. And sticky. In order to glide, you need wheels.
Thank the Lord, though, that we can still get out there and pound out a few miles, as well as ski them and ride them. Move or die.
Here are a couple of hippy-dippy Portland business consultants making a national splash with a message that's all too familiar to those of us who follow city government in these parts: "Make cool mistakes."
If Hillary doesn't take both Texas and Ohio this week, she's probably a goner. Although she may continue to hang around, without those two victories she'll have a hard time becoming the Democratic presidential nominee.
But will it come pass? Will Obama take either of those states?
John McCain was born to U.S. citizen parents in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936. He is clearly a U.S. citizen from birth, but is he a "natural born" citizen, as the Constitution requires?
His fans are screaming that this is not an issue, but of course it's an issue -- everything is. And as for statutes that are being proposed now to "clarify" things, it seems unlikely that modern legislation would affect what the words of the Constitution mean. You can't amend the Constitution with a statute.
McCain is apparently saying that this was all settled back when Goldwater ran in 1964 -- having been born in Arizona when it was a U.S. territory. But it was a moot point -- Goldwater lost. Moreover, not everyone agrees that the Panama Canal Zone was ever a territory in the same sense that Arizona was. Is Iraq a U.S. "territory" today? And McCain's references to the Supreme Court in connection with Goldwater seem off the mark -- the Court never addressed his eligibility directly.
Look at it this way: If you're born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia, you're automatically a U.S. citizen, no matter who your parents are. That was not true if you were born in the Canal Zone. And so is a child born to U.S.-citizen parents living in another country "natural born"? Not clear.
Just what we need -- another constitutional crisis after the next election. It's how we decide things in this country.
No news in that observation.