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The race between the folks who want to rename a Portland street after César Chávez and those who want to rename East 42nd Avenue after Douglas Adams is over, and the Chávez folks have apparently won. They got their signatures in to the city first, and so their proposal will get first priority as the city kicks off its review process.
In a peculiar show of gamesmanship, the Chávez fans still aren't saying which street they'd like to rename. They've collected signatures and submitted paperwork for three streets: Grand Avenue, East 39th, and Broadway. Only one at most will be renamed, but the Chávez group is keeping potential opponents off guard by leaving only a one-in-three chance that their street will ultimately be targeted. By the time the applicants and the city zero in on one, the process will be that much further down the road.
A pretty shabby move, if you ask me.
Legally, one wonders how long that particular game can go on. The City Code specifically states: "Only one street renaming application shall be processed at a time...." The rest of the code, in discussing applications, envisions only a single street being proposed for renaming in any one application. Have the Chávez people submitted three applications, or only one? If it's three, then only one can go forward. It's past time for them to say which one that is.
A friend writes:
Sarah Palin spoke in Erie, Pa. yesterday and made a reference to the Philadelphia Phillies winning the World Series. There were quite a few boos from the crowd.
For someone who is characterized as a populist, common touch type, she really blew this one. When you are invoking the "bread and circuses" of American sports, you better know where you are and who the local teams are. I've visited Pittsburgh a lot in the last five years. I like the area, but western Pennsylvania is not eastern Pennsylvania -- they have their own teams. The Pirates, Steelers, or Penguins could work in Erie. This is not a sophisticated insight.
Some politicians are very good at this type of demagogy. Not Palin. Her knowledge base is weak and her narcissism overwhelms any chance of her really doing the homework that effective politicians do. Palin should had consulted with Joe Sixpack. He could have explained it to her.
We got some more election porn yesterday -- if you like getting this stuff, it always pays to wait until the last minute to vote. This time it was from some organization fronting for the unions that represent public school teachers and other government employees, instructing us on the correct way to vote. Which is no on Measures 58, 60, and 64:
The main reason given for these recommended "no" votes is the fact that the three measures are sponsored by Bill Sizemore, the villain who takes money from out-of-state righty fat cats and puts it out on the street to collect signatures for their vapid ideas. So often has Sizemore outraged the left that now his authorship is being seen as reason enough to vote against any measure.
Maybe there's something wrong with Oregon's initiative system -- something that ought to be reformed. And maybe Sizemore's breaking the rules of the game -- in which case he ought to be punished for his misdeeds. But I just don't buy the suggestion to ignore the merits and demerits of ballot measures based on whom they come from. Even idiots get it right once in a while.
I'm voting no on most of Sizemore's initiatives, but for the right reason: I have read them, considered their substance, and concluded that they stink (except for 59, the unlimited Oregon income tax deduction for federal taxes).
I see that Fireman Randy just came back from a hotshot New York meeting with His Royal Highness The Grand High Commissioner Of "Major League Soccer." And wow, if Portland taxpayers hand Little Lord Paulson $100 million to screw around some more with PGE Park, the grand high commissioner might actually give Portland an expansion franchise in his "major league soccer" league -- arguably the third- or fourth-best soccer league in the whole wide world.
OMG, I can hardly contain my excitement.
I wonder how much the city spent sending the Fireman out of town on this vital mission. I'm sure old Merritt showed everybody a good time in the Big Apple.
Time to get out my ballot and vote "no" on some money stuff.
There's a certain kind of politician who's immensely popular up there.
Bojack's crystal ball is showing the following tonight:
Sarah Palin will release a scanty summary of her medical background tomorrow -- on Friday, just in time to get lost in Halloween and the final weekend before the election. It will be a summary assessment of her current health by a physician, similar to what Barack Obama released a while back. It will not contain original medical records or any hard evidence of her supposed pregnancy with, or delivery of, her infant son, Trig Palin, in April.
The McCain camp will tell the world "See? We released her medical records. What more do you want?" When the media calls the disclosure out for the thin piece of paper it is, McCain and Palin will say, "That's all you got from Obama." And before that conversation can go any further, it will be time to vote.
I'm sure that Palin believes that the questions surrounding Trig's birth will go away after she and McCain lose the election. But given her continuing posturing for a run at the White House in the future, and her continuing use of her children as campaign props, she's wrong about that.
The Portland police officer who needlessly killed James Chasse in 2006 changed his story in crucial respects just days after the killing on a Pearl District street, according to a fine investigative story by Nick Budnick in the Trib today. Officer Christopher Humphreys, a notorious "thumper," is captured on video the night of the killing admitting that he and his partner tackled the diminutive Chasse. Two days later, Humphreys told investigators that he merely pushed Chasse, who fell to the ground.
The 42-year-old, 145-pound man suffered at least 26 broken and shattered bones in his rib cage and a punctured left lung as a result of his "fall." Humphreys directly denied to police investigators that he landed on Chasse.
When history remembers Tom Potter as mayor of Portland, his failure to respond adequately as police commissioner to this deplorable incident will no doubt be mentioned. Not a great legacy, Mayor.
Obama strategists worried about complacency on the part of Obama supporters have gotten an unpleasant jolt with this high-profile defection from the Democrat's camp.
The Blazers say that savior Greg Oden will be out two to four weeks with a sprained foot. They add, "The MRI revealed a couple of avulsions that are not believed serious and do not require surgery."
Not knowing what an "avulsion" is, we wiki-ed, and lo and behold, it's apparently a type of bone fracture. Ick.
The City of Portland has been making a lot of noise lately about changing its rules for siting cell phone antennas. Traditionally, these things have gone on tall, ugly towers, but now the trendy thing is to put them on regular telephone poles. Neighbors have been complaining about the unsightly towers, and that seems to be music to the city's ears, because it's cheerleading putting the cell antennas on the lower, less conspicuous poles.
One big problem with this is that the lower the antenna's height is, the closer it is to people. And the closer it is to people, the more radiation that it is hitting those people with. It's never been proven that cell phone radiation from an antenna, say, 50 feet away can hurt you -- but it's never been proven that it doesn't, either. The whole civilized world is currently being used as a colony of guinea pigs to find out what the health effects of low levels of this type of radiation are.
Complicating matters is that our friends in Congress (who take millions in campaign contributions from the cell phone companies) have strictly prohibited local governments from considering possible health consequences in siting cell antennas. And so all the city is allowed to take into account in allowing these things in any given location is aesthetics.
I'd rather not have these antennas near my house at all, but if there has to be an installation, I'd rather look at an ugly tall tower than have it sitting on a telephone pole 15 feet from my kids' bedroom window, blasting away 24/7. Ten or 20 extra feet could make a big difference in the health impacts.
I had a great weekend in the pro football Underdog Pool. Acting on smart tips from readers Pat Malach and Kevin, I guessed that Cleveland would continue to cleve, and it did, netting me the big points of the week (7).
And with that, it is on to the ninth week of the big daddies' season. I'm in third place in the standings at this point, but there are plenty of hounds coming up behind me, and so there's no room for any stumbling. Readers, can you help me pick an underdog (in caps) from this bunch that will win its game outright this week?
13 DETROIT at Chicago
8.5 KANSAS CITY vs. Tampa Bay
8.5 DALLAS at NY Giants
7.5 CINCINNATI vs. Jacksonville
6.5 SEATTLE vs. Philadelphia
6 NY JETS at Buffalo
6 NEW ENGLAND at Indianapolis
5.5 GREEN BAY at Tennessee
5 HOUSTON at Minnesota
3.5 MIAMI at Denver
2.5 ST. LOUIS vs. Arizona
2.5 OAKLAND vs. Atlanta
2 BALTIMORE at Cleveland
2 PITTSBURGH at Washington
Seattle at home? New England on the road? Favre in the snow? Any chance of the Cowboys waking up and upsetting Plaxico and his soap opera pals?
Such logic isn't lost on Stern. He remains adamant that N.B.A. franchises must remain in the nation's largest cities. He ticks them off: ''Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles. . . . If I've forgotten one, I don't mean to. The Top 10.'' But he also acknowledges that the other dozen and a half teams might be better situated as the lone big-league option in a small market rather than fighting popular baseball and football teams for corporate and fan support and media attention. That means successful N.B.A. markets like San Antonio, Sacramento, Portland and Salt Lake City. It doesn't mean Seattle. ''I wake up every morning thanking the Good Lord that we're the only game in town,'' says Peter Holt, who owns the San Antonio Spurs.The whole thing, here, is worth a read.
More election porn showed up yesterday. The Mrs. and I each got a "voter guide" explaining to us the way correct-thinking folks are supposed to vote on the ballot measures. Although they came from outfits with different names -- "Defend Oregon" and "Our Oregon" -- they were pretty obviously created by the same people:
The Yes on 57/No on 61 gave us this guy. Can't tell whether he's supposed to be a criminal, a voter, or what:
But this one eclipsed them all for pure entertainment value -- some of the best porn is always generated by amateurs:
We finally see what our frequent blog commenter looks like. Given his slim-to-no chance against the union candidate, we may actually vote for JK, just for kicks. He'd give Salem a kick in the pants that it so richly deserves.
What would a government agency be if it didn't blow big bucks on endless "strategic plans," groovy mottoes, new "brands," and constant bureaucratic "re-engineering"? Well, the City of Portland's human resources office isn't going to be outdone in any of those departments: It's hiring a local accounting firm, AKT, on a no-bid basis to do all of that and more, in connection with something called "Re-Engineering of the City's HR Business Process." The estimated price tag: 50 grand.
So far they've come up with a real catchy slogan: "Knowledgeable, Helpful and Responsive." You read it here first, people: That one is bound to go viral.
The Portland Airport must be a cash cow for the Port of Portland. They're building more parking and a shangri-la office facility, and generally blowing more and more money out there -- as if the financial meltdown around the rest of the world weren't happening.
Last week we were told that the Port wasn't going to be able to sell bonds (borrow money) on Wall Street for deicing equipment. But I dunno, there's a $130 million bond sale scheduled for this week -- revenue bonds having to do with the airport. And orchestrating the deal? Why, Goldman Sachs, of course.
It must be nice.
Check him out having one of his spells:
He is obviously in pain and starting to lose his grip. Can he handle the White House?
So forget the obscenity of any sports owner having the temerity to ask for public funds for a sports stadium at a time when we are collectively bailing out the nation's banks. Forget the lunacy of making the case for $85 million from a city that, despite its lush rose gardens and micro-breweries, has 16 percent of kids living below the poverty line. Forget all humanitarian and economic considerations. The fact is that the cash between the cushions at the Paulson family compound could pay for the new stadium in Portland and yet Merritt wants more. These aren't masters of industry. They're grifters.And when we're called upon to vote for the starving children, let us not forget what the city has plenty of money for -- and on which no vote will be taken.
... real jail.
... I would pull all of my television ads off the air -- and ask the shadow campaigners behind me to do the same -- except for this one.
I think Portland battles Utah for the division title right to the end. And shocks everyone by winning it. I know nobody’s saying that, but I just honestly believe they have more overall talent than the Jazz.And that prediction is coming from a guy who knows what he's talking about.
The paid circulation of the dead-tree version of The Oregonian has dropped below the 300,000 level. The latest figures, released today, place it at 283,321.
A bunch of mavericks up there. Heck of a bunch of people.
It's Big Pipe. Does this mean that Fireman Randy gets assigned to deal with Zari and Grimwad over at Parks? Oh please, Lord, make it happen -- you couldn't get better blog fodder than that.
Don't let this be you.
The dysfunction known as the New York Knicks basketball team (the proud home of Zach Randolph) gets worse by the week. Now Knicks exec Isiah Thomas -- who has never, in our view, been what you call "good people" -- apparently overdosed on sleeping pills over the weekend and is denying that it happened. In direct contradiction to police reports on the incident, Thomas is claiming that it was his teenage daughter, not he, who was rushed to the hospital.
If he's lying -- and I believe the police, who say he is -- Thomas is ever more of a dangerous nutcase than I thought he was. Why the team owners and the league tolerate shenanigans like his is beyond me.
A while back, regular toilets that actually work were banned in the United States, in favor of the "low flow" specials that can't handle the big job, if you know what I mean. Save the whales, etc.
Now it's regular light bulbs that are getting the bum's rush, in favor of compact fluorescent bulbs that save energy. You can't get regular light bulbs at Costco any more, and that's often my geezerly sign of things to come.
So I buy a pack of the new ones and try to use them, but yuck! That's got to be the ugliest light I have ever seen. We're talking 1958 White Castle men's room light. A sickly, harsh bluish murk that can only make the Northwest's winter gloom even more depressing. Maybe in the tool shed you'd use one of these -- or on the outside of the house, on the side where you're not speaking to your neighbor. But in your living quarters? No way.
Do I really have to use these things? Can somebody recommend a version of them that throws off a spectrum of light that human beings would actually want to live under?
This is a true piece of work. I predicted that she wouldn't last a week on the ticket. I am so glad to have been wrong about that.
The Reign of King Henry Paulson is turning out to be quite the royal scam. He hands out hundreds of billions of our kids' tax dollars to the big banks with no strings attached, and we're all supposed to light a candle and hope that they start making loans again. And guess what -- they aren't going to. They're going to buy up smaller banks with the billions -- bailing out the shareholders of the target companies -- and then the big boys will pay dividends on their own stock, making their own shareholders richer. And no end to the executive bonuses, of course.
I keep reading that they're training an Army unit to serve as a domestic riot squad. If the American people ever actually figure out what the banksters have pulled off during the last five years, that is going to be Pentagon money well spent.
It's the new Cambodia.
While out on a gorgeous Sunday stroll along Hawthorne, we glanced at a sidewalk newsrack with the dead-tree version of the O in it. There above the fold was a shouting headline about the mentally ill guy they caught tagging the other night -- he's caused many thousands of dollars of damage in his graffiti "career." But then, showing some truly lousy journalistic judgment, they feel compelled to run a full-color photo of this dude's handiwork right next to the headline. Wow, that will deter the taggers. Way to go.
Weekend gifts from the mailman: more yes on 56, no on 60, and the late-stage confused message from Portland City Council hopeful Charles Lewis:
Until after you've read this.
A reader writes:
While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75-year-old Texas rancher whose hand was caught in a gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Sarah Palin and her bid to be a heartbeat away from being President.
The old rancher said, "Well, ya know, Palin is a post turtle."
Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a post turtle was.
The old rancher said, "When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle."
The old rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor's face, so he continued to explain. "You know she didn't get up there by herself, she doesn't belong up there, she doesn't know what to do while she is up there, and you just wonder what kind of dumb ass put her up there to begin with."
Oregon's own, wacky Ed Fadeley has made the tax geek news across the country this week. He and his wife underpaid their federal income taxes in 2000 and 2002 by substantial amounts. And in dealing with the IRS and appearing on his own behalf before the U.S. Tax Court, he behaved like a clown, drawing thousands in penalties.
Fadeley and his wife never filed their federal tax returns until the Tax Court judge "asked" them to. And when they did, they claimed a bunch of outlandish deductions, $91,000 of which were promptly tossed out by the court. Add six to eight years of interest onto the bill, and you've got yourself a real mess. Just another day at the office for Fadeley.
Some interesting facts from the court's opinion: The former Supreme Court justice collected state pensions of around $82,000 and $85,000 in the two years in question, and he paid $100,000 in attorney's fees over the scrape he got into with the State Bar disciplinary process in the 1990s. He and his wife claimed that the land around their home was a working farm, but they never made a nickel of income from it. In defense of his claim that his farm was a business, Fadeley noted "that one of the horses fell into a ditch and died and that cougars and an English bulldog killed some of the sheep and three pygmy angora goats."
They may need to close them temporarily. Hope you don't need your money for anything while they're closed.
... would it be o.k. with Caribou Barbie?
Who gets paid more by the McCain campaign?
A. Amy Strozzi, the celebrity makeup artist who's the traveling stylist for Sarah Palin.
B. McCain's foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann.
Here's one that floated into my e-mail this morning:
John McCain and Barack Obama somehow ended up at the same barbershop.
As they sit there, each being worked on by a different barber, not a word is spoken. The barbers were even afraid to start a conversation, for fear it would turn to politics.
As the barbers finished their shaves, the one who had McCain in his chair reached for the after shave. McCain was quick to stop him saying, "No thanks, my wife Cindy will smell that and think I've been in a whorehouse."
The second barber turned to Obama and said, "How about you?"
Obama replied, "Go ahead, Michelle doesn't know what the inside of a whorehouse smells like."
Politics in America have become pretty ugly, especially as the Presidential campaign reaches its climax. Messages of hope and promise are nowhere to be found. "Things are bad, and the other guy is going to make it worse. We must fight."
The grubby stories, or dark hints of stories, come at us from every angle. Obama was born in Africa. Palin faked her last pregnancy. McCain's cancer is back. The internet has given everyone the equivalent of the printing press, and the effective information filter formerly provided by the mainstream media is gone. If the truth is ugly or inconvenient, nowadays you're going to hear it anyway.
The right wing is behind in most of the polls, and quarterback McCain is throwing his last few Hail Mary passes. Socialism! Terrorism! Fear! It's depressing to hear -- and even more depressing to see it have its desired effect on some segments of the population.
It's all just human nature, of course. When you've got something that someone else wants, like your vote, it's fascinating to watch what they might do to get it. My friend Betsy Richter knows all about this subject -- she's about to give a public talk on how to get people to do what you want them to do. No doubt she's following the final campaign themes with interest.
Part of what makes the last stage of the campaign so distasteful is that it reminds us that we all push each other's buttons at one time or another to bring about a desired outcome. Ah, humanity -- we do throw our Hail Marys now and then. Steve Earle said it well a while back: "Sure, my music's political. All music is. Even a lullaby is political, to a baby."
I see that Gordon Smith's pseudo-liberal credentials are being called into question in connection with one of his little pro-life shindigs. Why people buy into this guy's moderate shtick is beyond me. He's pretty much a smooth-talking Cheney who's had his chance. After 12 years in the Senate, all he's got is "I'm almost a Democrat! Merkley ate a hot dog! Merkley bought furniture!" Pack him up with the Chimp and send him off to his retirement.
This one from the Pentagon.
Tri-Met bus drivers continue to make ominous noises about the bike lanes that are going in around the Rose Quarter Transit Center. The fact is that there has never been a safe way for a person on a bike to get through there from the East Bank Esplanade, and the bike lanes will give cyclists at least a little margin of safety.
From firsthand experience, I can report that some bus drivers show downright aggression toward bicycles in what they perceive as their sacred territory around the Rose Quarter, and it is about time that they get the message that they have to share the road with others. If they don't like it, they can take a security detail on MAX through gangland in Gresham.
Lest I forget to restate this, I am not a resident of Oregon House District No. 38, but I know enough about that race to say this:
Fireman Randy says he doesn't want to be Portland police commissioner.
First: Merkley or Smith? Merkley, of course. Old Gordo has been a big help to Bush over the last eight years. Now it's time for him to join Bush in retirement. I didn't think Merkley had a prayer, but now it looks as though he does. Let's hope so, and all vote for him.
More property taxes for the zoo and "the children" in Portland? The jury's still out on those two. I have a hunch that I'll vote no and the Mrs. yes, and thus we'll cancel each other out.
Let's see, what else is there? The Multnomah County race between Mike Delman and Judy Shiprack isn't in our district, but if it were, we'd vote for Delman. The whole Mean Girls era is finally over, and we don't need to start up another one with Shiprack, who's cut from the same cloth.
In the Portland City Council race, we were once quite enthusiastic about Charles Lewis, but have come to realize that there's little or no difference between him and Amanda Fritz, and so we'll be writing in somebody. Indeed, let the nominations begin!
It was a bit of a dud weekend in the pro football Underdog Pool in which I play. There were four winning underdogs, but only one (the Lambs) paid biggie points. The "value" games all went to the favorites.
So here we go for our eighth week -- the regular season hitting the halfway point, I think -- and with me still at least mathematically in the running for the big bucks. See anybody there in the underdog column (in caps) who's going to win their game outright? For our purposes, the point spread doesn't count, except to say how many points I'll win if I pick a winnah.
The only true home 'dogs are the Lions and the Fish -- something tells me we could be in for another lean week:
13 KANSAS CITY at NY Jets
9.5 CINCINNATI at Houston
8.5 ATLANTA at Philadelphia
8 DETROIT vs. Washington
7 CLEVELAND at Jacksonville
7 OAKLAND at Baltimore
7 ST. LOUIS at New England
5 SEATTLE at San Francisco
4.5 ARIZONA at Carolina
3.5 NEW ORLEANS vs. San Diego in London
3.5 INDIANAPOLIS at Tennessee
3 NY GIANTS at Pittsburgh
1.5 MIAMI vs. Buffalo
As ever, readers' expert advice is appreciated. Atlanta? Detroit? Cincy?
UPDATE, 10/23, 10:56 p.m.: And add this one:
2.5 TAMPA BAY at Dallas
WASHINGTON, DC—Recently, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been criticizing Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for his belief "in redistributing wealth." "I'm not going to redistribute your wealth," claims McCain.The whole thing is here.
However, McCain is absolutely going to redistribute wealth. He is just going to redistribute it to the already wealthy. By doubling down on the Bush tax cuts and proposing $175 billion in tax cuts for corporations, McCain’s policies will exacerbate the already astounding income inequality in the United States.
Congratulations to Portland uber-blogger Betsy Richter, whose talk --"How to get people to do what you want them to do..." -- has been selected as one of 13 for the upcoming Ignite Portland 4 event at the Baghdad Theater. There were more than 50 entries, and so it's cool to make the cut.
We haven't heard about this program until now, but it sounds like a blast:
If you had five minutes on stage what would you say? What if you only got 20 slides and they rotated automatically after 15 seconds? Around the world geeks have been putting together Ignite nights to show their answers.Good luck to Betsy at the big show.
Forget about McCain's diapers -- look at what they're spending to convert the Alaskan First Family from K-Mart wardrobe to New York chic.
When a company goes bankrupt, typically its shareholders lose their stock, which is taken over by the firm's creditors. In the case of the bank bailout currently in progress, however, that's not going to happen. Remarkable.
But wait -- it gets even worse. Not only will the bank shareholders keep their stock, but they'll also continue receiving an uninterrupted flow of dividends! And so the billions that the taxpayers are pumping into the banks will be promptly pumped out to the shareholders, instead of loaned out to other banks or to worthy borrowers.
The banks say they need to keep paying dividends to stay viable, but as these Harvard professors point out, that is complete and total hogwash. My fellow Americans, this is a ripoff, plain and simple.
Last week we noted that the McCain sign that was senselessly firebombed on a lawn in Portland's Sellwood neighborhood happened to be too large for its location -- illegal under city ordinances. And we were right, as today's O reports:
The sign, which was charred by a Molotov cocktail on Oct. 11, is too big for a private lawn, according to city code. Lawn signs can be three-square-feet, according to Dave Roshak, who manages the city's sign section. Scutton's sign is 4-by-8 feet and stands on two 6-foot posts.That makes sense -- let the guy keep the sign up until after the election. And so for future reference, if you wait until the 29th day before the election to post an illegally large sign, there's effectively no remedy. Got it.
The city will send a letter informing Scrutton that he has 30 days to take the sign down or face a $50-a-day fine.
The bailout just gets weirder and weirder. Now Paulson and the boys are actually going to use the taxpayers' hundreds of billions to accelerate the process whereby there will be only five banks left in the whole country. Put all our eggs in even fewer baskets -- oh, that will make us more secure.
And how much would you bet that one of the few final baskets will be Goldman Sachs, Paulson's former employer and home of his old cronies?
And check out how the billions will be divvied up:
On Monday, Mr. Paulson described a process for banks to apply for government investments that is little more complicated than the one-page term sheet he handed to the chief executives of the nation’s nine largest banks at a meeting last week at the Treasury Department.No chance for any corruption there, eh? It's amazing what an old bald white guy in a suit can get away with in America.
The institutions, he said, must fill out a standardized two-page form and submit it to their primary regulator by Nov. 14. The Treasury will receive the applications, with a recommendation, from the regulator. Once it decides whether to inject capital, it will announce its investment within 48 hours. It will not disclose banks that withdraw or are turned down.
We did the annual analysis of our property tax bill last night, and while it went up only 0.3 percent over last year's bill due to some expiring tax levies, it did confirm a frightening trend: City of Portland taxes for police and fire pensions and for "urban renewal" have continued to increase sharply. The tax for the pensions is up 14.43 percent over last year, and the urban renewal tax is up 7.08 percent.
We expected the pension tax to rise, since we voted a while back to tax ourselves to try to staunch the financial hemorrhaging that the city's growing, unfunded pension liability represents: nearly $2.2 billion at last count. But we can't recall voting on "urban renewal" any time lately, and that one keeps growing like topsy even without voter approval. Over the last two years, our "urban renewal" taxes have grown at a compound annual rate of 10.83 percent -- and we don't live in or near an "urban renewal" district.
One statistic we like to keep track of is what percentage of the taxes that we pay to the city goes for "urban renewal." It's now up to 24.27 percent -- nearly a quarter of every dollar that the city collects from us. The police and fire retirement fund now takes 26.88 percent of what we pay to the city. Both of those percentages are record highs since we started keeping track, as of five years ago. Between the two of them, they suck up more than half of what the city collects.
The reason our overall bill didn't increase appreciably was that a city parks levy and a city children's levy both expired. Of course, the children's levy is back on the ballot for our consideration now. The last time we paid it, it made up about 4 percent of what we paid to the city.
Here is our latest spreadsheet showing how much the various categories of tax rose and fell, and what percentage of the tax is going where:
There's been a lot of chatter the last couple of days about Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's refusal to release any of her medical records for public inspection. Some are speculating that it has to do with the extraordinary birth of Palin's son, Trig. I hope those commentators enjoy their hate mail on that subject as much as I enjoyed mine. But leaving aside the Trig question, there are other motives for keeping Palin's medical file under wraps. Here now are the --
10. Doesn't want voters to find out that she took steroids while playing high school basketball.
9. That cheery smile? Yep -- Zoloft!
8. Details of her duct tape injury in Miss Alaska pageant could embarrass the campaign.
7. She and Todd sought counselling after he got too close to a caribou.
6. Two words: toenail fungus.
5. Would rather not discuss that emergency room visit where they had to extract the hockey stick.
4. She feels strongly that what a woman does with her own body is none of the government's business.
3. If you give them the medical records, the next thing they're going to ask for is a press conference.
2. She's not yet ready to admit publicly that she was originally a man.
And the No. 1 other reason Sarah Palin won't release her medical records:
1. They show that she was born in Africa.
Given the enormous array of election porn that we received in the mail last spring during the primary campaign season, we were surprised that we hadn't gotten any for the general election yet, even though our ballots showed up on Saturday. Leave it to the teachers' unions -- today we got a couple of fresh pieces:
You just know we'll be seeing a lot of these jack-O-lanterns for the next week or two.
They make wood pulp down there, but they don't always let you read what's printed on the paper later.
The State of Oregon is now shutting down sleazy mortgage brokers. "So far in 2008 it has revoked five mortgage lending licenses and issued more than 30 enforcement orders." Whoopdee doo. Where were they five years ago?
Here's a followup to our post of last week in support of Measure 59, which would allow an unlimited deduction on one's Oregon income tax return for federal income taxes paid (as opposed to the $5,600 maximum deduction for federal taxes under current Oregon law). A group out there that opposes the measure -- something called the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP) -- late last week decided to start telling the world as loudly as it could that Measure 59 would unintentionally raise Oregon income taxes on some of the state's elderly. It is drawing this conclusion based on a strange legal theory that doesn't sound right to us at all, and it relies on a casual e-mail from a state bureaucrat who does not appear to have given the legal question much serious thought.
Measure 59 is designed to cut Oregon income taxes. That is its clear intent, and to say that a court would interpret it to raise taxes is unrealistic. There are a lot of things that can be said in opposition to Measure 59 -- it would force the state legislature to rewrite the tax laws to make up for lost revenue, and it would benefit the upper-middle class and wealthy -- but whatever is said about the measure ought to be accurate. To state that the elderly will pay more Oregon taxes under Measure 59 is almost certainly wrong, and definitely reckless.
If you can stand the wonky tax law stuff -- which alas, is what you need to understand in order to to see what's going on with this -- here goes:
The OCPP states: "Because Measure 59 'supersedes any existing law or rule with which it conflicts,' it would no longer permit the state deduction of federal taxes paid on Social Security." Balderdash. That's based on the assumption that a court would find a "conflict" between Measure 59, which requires the state to allow a deduction for federal taxes, and the part of existing Oregon law in which the state already allows a deduction for federal taxes. Is that a "conflict"? Not in my dictionary, and I doubt in the dictionaries of the Oregon Tax Court and Supreme Court.
Measure 59 prohibits the state from imposing a state income tax on any of the federal income taxes that Oregon taxpayers pay, if those federal taxes are imposed on income that is taxed on both state and federal returns. Since Social Security benefits are not taxed by the state, Measure 59 does not apply at all to any federal taxes paid on Social Security benefits. (The feds don't tax all Social Security benefits, but for some taxpayers, they do.)
Under current law, the state generally allows a deduction for up to $5,600 of federal taxes paid in a given year, including any federal taxes on Social Security benefits. According to the OCPP press release, since the current Oregon deduction is not as broad as Measure 59 would require, the entire Oregon deduction "conflicts" with Measure 59, and so the entire existing Oregon deduction would be thrown out -- even the part having to do with the federal tax on Social Security benefits. As a result, according to the OCPP, Oregonians who pay federal tax on those benefits would (a) lose their Oregon deduction, and (b) therefore pay more Oregon tax.
Both (a) and (b) are highly suspect propositions. First, how can Measure 59 "conflict" with the existing deduction for federal taxes on Social Security benefits? Measure 59 by its terms does not apply to the federal taxes on those benefits at all. Under Measure 59, given its clear intent, it would be highly unlikely that a court would find a "conflict." Instead, it would allow the current Oregon deduction (up to $5,600) for federal taxes on Social Security benefits, and then on top of that an unlimited Oregon deduction for federal taxes on other types of income.
On what does the OCPP base its conclusion that there would be a conflict? Last Friday, Chuck Sheketoff, author of the breathless OCPP press release, copied me on an e-mail message he says he got on September 22 (interesting that he sat on it for a month) from Catherine M. Tosswill, Deputy Legislative Counsel for the state. She wrote to Sheketoff:
The ballots are here, and so it's time for us to make a call on three Portland-area ballot measures, all asking for money. As a parent, I'm staring hard at 26-96, for the zoo; and at 26-94, "for the children." And I'm reminded of the W.C. Fields line: "Anyone who hates children and dogs can't be all bad."
Let's put those two off to one side for the moment and get to the easy one, 26-95: Portland Community College has its hand out for $374 million (plus interest on the inevitable bonds) for new facilities. Are they kidding? Hey, PCC is a wonderful institution, but at this point in history, there's no way the taxpayers of this area should be committing to $374 million of pork for Hoffman Construction and the rest of the corporate welfare set (who are avidly supporting the measure, of course). I'm afraid PCC is going to have to make do with the buildings it already has. If there's $374 million lying around for construction projects, I think the Sellwood Bridge would be a perfectly good place to spend it.
If the PCC wants to come back and ask for money for cutting-edge, clever, economically efficient distance learning, great, we'll be all ears. But a third of a billion for bricks and mortar in the fall of 2008? Nope.
Here are some interesting insights from ancient history.
I'm about to be on KXL (750 AM in Portland) with Rob Kremer today. We start just after 9 this morning and rock until 11. He's the right wing; I'm the left. Usually a lively conversation.
I see that my law school acquaintance, now head of the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, Christopher Cox, is in The New York Times today, arguing that Congress should give his agency authority over the dangerous financial derivatives market, which has done so much to push the nation's financial system to the edge of the cliff. It's a great idea, but Cox is coming forth with it at least a decade too late.
It would have been nice if Cox had seen the light and voted for this sort of regulation during his 15 years as a member of Congress. But he was a Reagan acolyte representing blood-red Orange County, California, and regulating hotshot corporate America was a big no-no for a guy like him. I guess the smaller-government revolution is now officially over.
Our mailman has a real sense of humor. Usually these arrive around the same time, but this is the first we can remember getting them all on the very same day:
We wrap up our horseback survey of the 12 Oregon ballot measures today with two that aren't hard to understand or to decide on: Measure 55, relating to redistricting (reapportionment) of state legislative offices; and Measure 63, dealing with building permits.
Measure 55 is a wonky housekeeping measure. It provides that when the lines of state Senate and House districts are redrawn every 10 years to keep their population even, the changes don't take effect until the next year. This makes the system far more orderly than what the rules currently provide. Under current law, the changes can take effect right in the middle of a legislator's term, and if under the new district lines there are two representatives from the same district, one of them gets reassigned -- to a district elsewhere in the state that would otherwise be left with no representative due to the musical chairs. This is how somebody in Eugene winds up representing central Oregon, at least for a year or two.
The next redistricting is due in 2011. Under this plan (and it would apply for all future rounds of redistricting), whatever new lines they come up won't take effect until 2013. Whoever's in office in 2011 will serve out their terms (through the end of 2012) under the old boundaries. The 2012 election will be the first under the new lines. Sounds good to me, and there's no organized, or even disorganized but vocal, opposition. Sure, there's more that could be done to make Oregon's redistricting process better, but this proposal seems beneficial enough. Gimme the pencil; I'm voting yes.
Measure 63 is at the opposite end of the spectrum from wonky. It's as blunt as you can get: No building permits required for home or farm improvements of less than $35,000. Get government off our backs, blah blah blah. Sorry, righties. Building permits and inspections are essential, and while there ought to be a minimal value below which they aren't required, $35,000 is way too high a threshold. For $35,000, your neighbor could create quite a mess, putting lots of innocent folks at risk and wrecking property values well beyond the metes and bounds of his own lot.
There's always some nutty stuff on the Oregon ballot, but this is one of the wilder ones to appear in quite some time. I wouldn't even think twice about it. No on 63 is the only sane way to go.
That's it for the state ballot measures. I'm going with a yes vote on 54 and 55 (housekeeping), 57 (milder of the two tough-on-crime measures), and 59 (full Oregon tax deduction for federal taxes paid). On all of the other eight, I'm voting nay.
As the ballots hit the mailbox, we here in the Portland area have some additional measures to brood about, mostly (I think) having to do with money. Time is a-wastin', and we plan to get on top of those over the next few days.
The crooks in our financial industries, and their lawyers, have no shame. Here the Wall Street types have taken our children's future away from them, but when you ask those banksters how much they are going to make on their special deal, they refuse to tell you.
We need to build more jails, all right, but not just for the meth freaks.
Today in the mail we received a big, heavy 206-page magazine full of ads for jewelry, high-end wine, ultra-expensive condos, and super-fancy furniture and fixtures. There are also some "articles," but they're utterly indistinguishable from the ads.
I think the mailman made a mistake. This publication belongs on another planet.
Fantastic news, America! Voting in this country continues to be so screwed up that the Supreme Court is getting involved again. Good times.
Over the summer the City of Portland went out for bid on "printing and mailing services" in connection with the more than 40,000 billing statements that it sends to its "customers" each year for various types of assessments against real property. Upon further review, the city announced yesterday that it won't be hiring an outside contractor to do that work after all, because "the City has determined that the requested services can be done in-house."
The cost savings is a plus -- there was an estimate of $99,000 on the contract. But given the city's track record with billing systems, is this latest decision a good thing?
Our quickie coverage of the pending Oregon ballot measures continues today, with two more out of the dozen that are about to go before the voters. That will bring us to 10, and at the risk of having them get lost on the weekend, we'll pick up the last two tomorrow. Word has it that the ballots may be in your hands by then.
The other day, we discussed two right-wing measures aimed directly at the public schools (58 and 60), and we concluded that we would vote against both of them. There's actually a third meanie measure in the pack, although you have to read beyond the title to figure that out. It's Measure 62, which mandates that 15 percent of the proceeds of the lottery be spent on law enforcement. Sounds good at first, but the next question is, Who's currently getting the money that would be dedicated to police and prosecutors if this thing passes? And the answer is, the public schools.
Now, we're old enough to remember when the lottery was first sold to Oregon voters. It was going to be an innocent little Saturday night drawing for Bingo ladies. Now it's this multi-headed behemoth of gambling, with Keno drawings every few minutes, slot machines, video poker, five lotto drawings a week, and many other ways to relieve the stupid and desperate of their money. But hey, it's for the children, right?
Well, now, apparently not. In their ongoing vendetta against the public schools and the teachers' unions, the righties now want to raid the school fund and sell it as a law enforcement initiative. What a time for that move! As the ban on smoking in bars takes effect and the recession digs deeper, lottery revenues certainly aren't going to be growing, and so cutting the schools' take right now seems especially cruel. We'll be casting a negatory vote on 62. If the Law and Order machinery needs more money, the state will just have to take it out of the Convention Center hotel budget.
Speaking of hating the unions, that brings us to Measure 64, an assemblage of vague and confusing legal gobbledy-gook that's apparently intended to stop the public employees' unions from spending members' dues for political causes. Coming from Bill Sizemore, the creepy ballot measure huckster who lives off money that's been donated on a tax-deductible basis to a supposed "charity" set up by an arch-conservative zillionaire in Nevada somewhere, that's a rich one indeed.
We've been around the block three times with initiatives like 64 over the years, and they've gone down every time. This time the entire charitable community is up in arms along with the union leaders. I guess we'll keep seeing these measures as long as the wingnuts want to waste their money putting them on the ballot. The only sensible way to react is to keep voting no.
He's a plumber, all right, but he's breaking the law by doing it without a license. The Obama tax plan wouldn't actually hurt his plan to buy a business. And Joe's about as good as paying his current taxes as Sarah Palin is -- which is to say, not very good at all. But hey, they've never let the facts get in the way of a McCain campaign story. Why start now?
The people who are challenging the City of Portland's crazy and probably illegal "satellite urban renewal district" nonsense in court are suddenly talking settlement. I figured this was going to happen. The challengers aren't really critics of runaway urban renewal or wasteful city spending -- they're just a bunch of business people who are mad that they aren't getting their cut. Now that the Potter people are vacating the PDC board, and a greasier slate picked by Mayor-elect Sam the Tram is moving in, the complainants are going to be bought off. You can almost smell it. On with the real estate developer welfare! Insolvency be damned! More, more, ever more tax dollars to Hoffman Construction! Go by streetcar!
Today's two Oregon ballot measures in our whirlwind survey are the two having to do with future elections. One's a no-brainer, and the other is a no-way-er.
Measure 54 is a housekeeping measure. It would conform the voting eligibility requirements in school board elections with the rules for other elections. That's the effect of current law anyway, since some of the special rules technically on the books for school board elections are unconstitutional. Legend has it that the glitch in current law was discovered by the student Constitution Team at Grant High School in Portland, and their findings led to this cleanup measure. More power to the Grantsters! This measure deserves an affirmative vote.
Down the other end of the list, Measure 65 would radically change the political party system in the state. Rather than have the two major parties hold members-only primaries, with the winners joining small-party nominees in the subsequent general elections, this measure would mandate that only the candidates who get the two highest vote totals in the primary would be on the general election ballot. Some are calling this an "open primary" system, but it isn't really. In an open primary each party's nominee appears on the general election ballot, but everyone gets to vote in all the primary contests. This measure is more like turning every election in the state into a nonpartisan election; only the two biggest-name candidates will be on the general ballot, and you'll likely never see a minor-party candidate on the general ballot at all. For many offices, the general election will offer the voting public two candidates from the same party -- the way all local-office elections in Portland and Multnomah County are now, for example. (Then you wonder how we get Bernie Giusto and the Mean Girls.)
Why would we want to do this? Measure 65 is being pushed hard by former Secretary of State Phil Keisling, and he's got the backing of a diverse group that includes some of the Bus Kids, as well as some high-roller doctors and corporate hotshots such as John Kitzhaber and Moneybags Parsons from Standard Insurance.
To us, the best Voter's Pamphlet comment by opponents of the measure comes from former Governor Barbara Roberts, who calls it a solution in search of a problem. Besides, the major political parties already have too much power, and they're too cozy with businesses and labor unions. Measure 65 would kill off little parties and further marginalize everyday voters. I'd like to see Oregon try some new ideas to clean up politics and make state government more effective, but something this extreme needs a compelling case to be made for it, and I'm just not seeing it. And so I will be voting no.
Long-time readers of this blog may recall that I have a "thing" for the popular singer Joan Osborne. The other night, the Mrs. and I caught Osborne live in concert at the Aladdin Theater here in town, and let me tell you: That "thing" is now bigger than ever.
This is one of those talents that's so magnificent, it's hard to describe. Who's the best female singer you ever heard belt out a song in concert? I'd have a hard time putting any voice ahead of Osborne. Ronstadt? Raitt? No way. Next to Joan they're positively vulnerable. Maybe Aretha in her prime -- maybe. I caught Ella once, late on, '78 -- she was something, even then. Janis would be in the same category, no doubt. But you can count still-active performers in this class on one hand. k.d. lang against Obsorne would probably make a good battle of the bands, but when they cranked up that hot last stanza, I'd be betting on Osborne.
And Joan's ear for good songs and musical settings! She stole the show in the Funk Brothers movie, she's fronted for what's left of the Dead, she's done the Grand Ole Opry thing -- her list of conquests gets longer by the year. And no wonder. The 90-minute Portland set showed her at the absolute top of her game. A voice as clear and pure and soulful as you're ever going to hear, and behind it a perfect sense of how to handle a lyric. Sinatra and Tony Bennett would be proud.
So why is she playing to 600 people in a venue like the Aladdin for a couple of thousand bucks at most, when she should be drawing Springsteen-sized crowds and raking in the millions? Beats me, people. Go figure. I'm just so glad she, and we, were there.
Now, I must confess that I came into the show pumped up to hear the '60s soul covers that made up most of Osborne's last two albums. And guess what -- she didn't do any of them. Most of the set was taken up by her new release, Little Wild One, which hearkens back to her earlier rock stuff, like the radio hit "One of Us," which she also sang (You know, "What if God was...?"). So was I disappointed? As it turns out, not in the least. The new album is darn good, and maybe it was just as well that I wasn't singing along in my head -- I got to concentrate on what she was doing.
She did pull a couple of chestnuts out of the soul albums -- the title song from "Breakfast in Bed" and the Dave Mason romp "Only You Know and I Know." The Dead's "Brokedown Palace" was also a sweet touch. But you know what? She could have been singing the Mattress World jingle, and it would have been great. That voice is an instrument that some day belongs in the Smithsonian -- kind of like Lou Rawls's (God rest him).
Joan, Joan, what more can we say? You are a treasure. We were all so lucky to have you on our warm little Portland stage. (And while we're at it, is the Aladdin a great venue, or what?)
One other item of note was the opening act, a singer-songwriter kid named Matt Morris. We expected exactly nothing from him, and we got a ton! Beautiful songs, great stage presence, the fire of a young solo performer -- whoa! Flashback to solo Bruce 1972. Who knows where it will lead? But this guy sure seems to be going places.
It was easy to see how Morris would wind up on a bill with Osborne -- he has a voice that can take a song to a much higher level in a big hurry. His originals soared, and when he actually pulled off John Lennon's "Help!" as a plaintive piano ballad, you knew he really had something going. The crowd ate out of his hand. Osborne brought him up later for a duet of her new song "Cathedrals," and it brought the audience to its feet. The vocals were stunning, and if I am not mistaken, in mid-song they switched from Morris low/Osborne high to vice versa. Impressive.
As you can tell, I'm a delirious fan, and from where I sat, there was simply too much going on in this show for a detached, coherent review. If you are reading this post and Osborne is about to come to your town, you positively need to drop everything and go -- it's that simple.
There's a bad smell pouring down out of the West Hills. This is our legislative leader who can't get a ban on cell phone use while driving passed. Hmmm, I wonder why not.
They're a little later than usual, but the pro football underdogs are here for this week's perusal. Last week, we went with Baltimore, which was the logical selection along with New England. Logic prevailed in neither case, however, and to win big points, one needed to suspend rationality and go with Saint Louis!
Anyway, help us out in this week's pool by suggesting an underdog or two (in caps) that can win this week's game outright. The number of points is relevant only in determining what I get if I'm right:
11 SAN FRANCISCO at NY Giants
10.5 SEATTLE at Tampa Bay
9.5 CINCINNATI vs. Pittsburgh
9 DETROIT at Houston
8.5 KANSAS CITY vs. Tennessee
7.5 CLEVELAND at Washington
6.5 ST. LOUIS vs. Dallas
3.5 MINNESOTA at Chicago
3.5 DENVER at New England
3 NEW ORLEANS at Carolina
3 BALTIMORE at Miami
3 OAKLAND vs. NY Jets
1.5 GREEN BAY vs. Indianapolis
I've fallen to fifth in the league standings and can't afford to lose more ground. I need the highest winning underdog on the list. Help -- not just anybody!
After years of denying guilt, Joseph Hirko has copped a plea and may be headed for jail. He won't be sentenced until March, however, and so he won't be having the prison Christmas dinner this year, at least.
I know you’ve come a long way from your prescription pill addiction. I’m sure stealing drugs from poor, disfigured, third-world children who were forced to suffer through the pain of surgery because you were eating all of their pills caused irreparable damage to your self-worth. And you’ve tried to overcome those issues by dressing like a 20-year old. But know that THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE ON TO YOU! No one wants a cougar for a first lady. You are hurting your husband’s campaign. You should learn something from Laura Bush – she overcame the whole "I’m a s***ty driver and KILLED someone" thing to go on to dress appropriately. You need to check yoself before you wreck yoself. Keep the slutty outfits at the Arizona Ranch with the Maverick. No one else wants or needs to see it.As usual, the ladies at I Could Kill Her provide hearty not-safe-for-work amusement.
Today we hit the halfway mark in our survey of the pending Oregon ballot measures, with Measures 58 and 60, both of which have to do with the state's public schools. Measure 58 prohibits schools from bilingually educating non-English-speaking students for more than two years. Measure 60 prohibits paying teachers based on seniority, requiring instead that teacher pay (and retention in times of staff cutbacks) be determined based on "classroom performance."
Whatever the merits of these ideas may be -- and to us they have serious flaws -- they have no place in state law. Right-wingers who think bilingual education is a bad idea and that the teachers unions have negotiated themselves too sweet a deal should run for their local school boards. That's who should be setting policy on matters such as these. Trying to micro-manage the public schools by legislation or initiative on a statewide basis isn't going to improve the quality of education, any more than the federal "no child left behind" law has.
Measures 58 and 60 are appalling lazy moves by the vocal haters of the teachers' unions. Rather than work through established channels to change school policy, they attempt to use the ballot box to impose a right-wing talk radio agenda on the public schools. In sorting through the dozen statewide ballot measures being presented to us this time around, these two stinkers are easy. They deserve a resounding no vote.
The crazy world of higher education, in which the U.S. News and World Reports school rankings have become for many the be-all and end-all for measuring college and university achievement, has reached a new level of insanity. Now Baylor is paying students whom they've already admitted to retake the college boards in hopes that they can raise their scores -- for the sole purpose of helping the university move up in the magazine's infernal rankings.
I can personally attest to the idiocy of it all because I am a friend of Mr. Ayers. In fact, I met him in the same way Mr. Obama says he did: 10 years ago, Mr. Ayers was a guy in my neighborhood in Chicago who knew something about fundraising. I knew nothing about it, I needed to learn, and a friend referred me to Bill.The whole thing, here, is in The Wall Street Journal, of all places.
Bill's got lots of friends, and that's because he is today a dedicated servant of those less fortunate than himself; because he is unfailingly generous to people who ask for his help; and because he is kind and affable and even humble. Moral qualities which, by the way, were celebrated boisterously on day one of the GOP convention in September.
This blog has come up as the top Google hit for this unique search. If anyone knows what that particular web surfer was searching for, we'd love to know.
... Joan Osborne.
"[I]n this particular state in this particular year, the Republican brand has gone to hell."
The truck manufacturer says it's pretty much closing down its Portland shop. Bad news for the local economy. But of course, Fireman Randy and the rest of the spendthrift City Council will spin this to justify more wasteful pork barrel spending. "Think of the soccer stadium as a stimulus program." Don't worry about paying for it -- the money will grow on the trees. Go by streetcar!
While we're writing up the Oregon ballot measures two by two, the most obvious pairing is Measures 57 and 61 -- the dueling "tough-on-crime" measures. Both will require tens of millions to be invested in building more prisons, and that's enough to turn some folks off on both measures. But even the ACLU types may hesitate before voting no on both, because there's some adolescent game-playing built into these measures that may make even the bleedingest of bleeding-heart liberals hold their noses and vote yes on one of them.
First, let's get the players identified on the scorecard. Measure 57 is the Legislature's tough-on-crime measure. Measure 61 is the right-wing initiative machine's super-duper-tough-on-crime measure. Measure 57 increases sentences for some categories of drug and property crimes, but it still leaves plenty of room for probation, treatment, yada yada, and the tweaker's likely to be back in your yard a few hours after the cops hauled him out of there the first time. Kind of like now.
Measure 61, on the other hand, don't need no steekeen' treatment or probation. It locks people up and throws away the key for crimes like first-offense burglary, and it's going to cost a gajillion dollars to implement. Moreover, as we build more and more warehouses for human beings, the chances for rehabilitating people with drug problems go from slim to barely perceptible. I'm as frustrated as anyone with the longstanding, disgraceful failure of the local criminal justice and social service systems to deal adequately with drug addiction and property crime, but some of the sentences Measure 61 imposes seem a bit harsh.
Whatever your druthers on these two may be, Oregonians have to shake (or hang) their heads at the way law is made in these parts. Here we have another case of the hard-core conservative folks shaming the Legislature into doing something that it should have done on its own in the first place. The politicians in Salem no doubt saw that Measure 61 stood a good chance of passing, and so they suddenly took an interest in crafting a measure that would take fewer and much smaller steps in the same general direction. The clear hope in Salem is that kinder, gentler Measure 57 will cancel out mean, old Measure 61.
And here is where the pitiful gamesmanship comes in. If both measures pass, the one with the highest vote total in favor wins, and the other one has no effect. And so if you think both measures are a bad idea, you may want to think twice about voting no on the wimpier Measure 57, which to you would likely be the lesser of two evils.
Having lived in Oregon for more than 30 years now, I have become weary of our state's screwy initiative process. Some years, it seems like an enormous waste of time and money. Directly competing ballot measures that require hours of strategic thinking before voting disgust me. But if activist segments of the citizenry use the initiative process to force the Legislature to do the will of the people, I guess it can't be all bad.
You can if you're the Republican Party.
The Dodger bullpen.
The guys who firebombed the McCain sign in the Sellwood neighborhood of Southeast Portland deserve some serious jail time for their vicious and dangerous act.
But while we're on the subject, isn't that waaaaaaay too big for a yard sign under Portland ordinances?
It's "for the children."
Now that Dwight Jaynes has joined Chris Snethen and me in the blogosphere, we thought it might be fun to start our own page, with the three of our writings on it. Maybe some day it will become its own little online publication, but for now we thought we'd start with just a place where excerpts from the latest posts on our own individual blogs are assembled. If you want to see what all three of us are up to at any given time, then just bookmark pdxwiseguys.com, where you'll find links to our latest. At some point after we get our feet wet, we may even start posting some exclusive content over there.
The City of Portland intends to award Price Agreements to the following three firms, each with a Not To Exceed amount of One hundred fifty thousand dollars ($150,000.00) per year, for one year following the Price Agreement start date with an option to renew for four (4) additional years.Congratulations on another great deal for the city's taxpayers. Nothing says green like an ugly coffee mug collecting dust in the back of the cupboard or on the shelf at Goodwill.
MARCO Ideas Unlimited, Portland, OR
SWAG Connection, Portland, OR
TRICOR Print Communications, Portland, OR
Here's a little outraged-consumer rant for the start of your work week...
If you are thinking about buying a computer from Dell, here are a few tips from a person who recently did so:
1. If you don't spring for extra money for a decent mouse, the generic one that they send you with your computer will be a worthless piece of junk. Be prepared to throw it in the garbage in short order.
2. If something in your new system doesn't work and you call Dell's warranty operation, you will be cast into a nightmarish telephone loop with people in India who (a) make you wait on hold forever; (b) never have any meaningful answer to your questions; (c) give you laughable "service ticket" numbers that no one will ever hear about again; and (d) feign inability to give you any advice on how to obtain warranty service or replacement. Mostly they will try to sell you "Dell On Call" service, where you can speak to an actual, coherent Dell person in North America somewhere for the low, low price of $30 or $50. This on a warranty issue!
They're thieves. Don't say I didn't warn ya.
And hey, memo to John Kroger! When you get into office in a few months, teach racketeers like these guys a lesson.
With just over three weeks to go until the ballots are counted, it's time to get serious about looking at the ballot measures that will be before us Oregonians momentarily. There are a dozen of these, and with the ballots ready to hit the mailbox, we'd better cover them at a clip of at least two a day.
We've already mentioned Measure 59 on this blog; it would change the Oregon income tax law to allow an unlimited deduction on one's Oregon income tax return for federal income taxes incurred in the same year. Let's roll that one in with the other tax measure, No. 56, largely eliminating the "double majority" rule, into a single post to kick things off. Both measures involve taxes, and both are reruns of past initiative battles.
Measure 59, the unlimited state income tax deduction for federal taxes, has been voted down in the past (most recently in 2000, I believe), largely on the ground that it's a tax cut for the rich. I'm not sure that's a fair characterization. As a practical matter, it represents a state income tax cut for Oregonians who pay more than $5,600 in federal income taxes in any given year. Are they all what you would call rich?
According to my algebra, to owe more than $5,600 in federal tax, a married couple would need to have federal taxable income of more than $42,683; a single taxpayer would need federal taxable income above $37,025. If you factor in the standard deduction and personal exemptions (with no dependents), a married couple would need total income of more than $60,583 to benefit from Measure 59; and a single taxpayer would need total income of more than $45,975.
I don't know about you, but I don't call a couple making $61,000 or a single person making $46,000 rich. (I tend to agree with Obama, who draws that line at $250,000.) Granted, Measure 59 would give a cut to everyone at the $61,000 level and above, including the truly well-to-do among us. But at least to some extent, it's a middle-class cut.
Perhaps the greatest attraction of this measure is its theoretical purity. As I've written here before:
You can't pay taxes to the state out of the money taken from you by the federal government. Failure to allow full deductibility amounts to a state tax on a federal tax....If Measure 59 passes, the state legislature will no doubt have to make up the revenue by imposing higher tax rates than it currently does on high-income taxpayers. Instead of a top marginal rate of 9 percent, they'll probably have to have a top marginal rate of, say, 12 percent. But it would be a 12 percent tax on an honest tax base -- not 9 percent on a dishonest tax base, which includes money that the feds take away before we get to see it in our take-home pay.
Passage of Measure 59 might also trigger a serious discussion of Oregon's tax system -- essentially a flat-rate, high-rate income tax, with no general sales tax -- which wouldn't be a bad thing, in my view. I know, I know -- the bad guys put it on the ballot, it went down before, and it benefits the wealthy, but I'm inclined to vote for it as a middle-class tax cut and a blow for honesty in taxation.
That brings us to Measure 56, which would eliminate the "double majority" requirement currently contained in the state constitution for ballot measures that would raise property taxes. Under current law, in order to pass a property tax increase, a measure must gather a majority of the votes cast, and a majority of the registered voters who are eligible to vote most vote in the election. The only exception is for November elections in even-numbered years, when members of Congress are elected (and every fourth year, of course, the President). As I recall, this requirement has been on the books for 12 years.
The double majority rule, which Measure 56 would get rid of, does lead to some anomalies. The one that's most often pointed to is the fact that people too lazy to vote get to cancel out the votes of those who show up and vote to increase taxes. But here's another one, even crazier: By voting "no" on a tax increase, you're actually helping to pass it, because you help the turnout exceed 50 percent. If you didn't vote at all, you wouldn't be adding to the turnout numbers. And so if you really want to help defeat a tax increase, you must first determine whether a majority of eligible voters are going to show up. If you're confident they are, then you should vote "no." But if you think the turnout might miss the 50 percent mark, then the best thing to do is not vote. Crazy, and possibly unlawful (if anyone would bother to challenge it on these grounds in court).
Anyway, Measure 56 would get rid of the double majority rule for any election in May or November in any year. Under current law, property tax increase measures can be passed without the double majority only in November every other year.
It's a close call, but on balance I like having all the property tax increase elections held at once. Under the old system, we used to get bombarded with the bureaucrats' requests for money several times a year, which both hid the combined impact of the tax boosts and allowed them to pass in low-interest elections in which only the government union people showed up. The world hasn't ended under the double majority requirement, and the more I see governments like the City of Portland squander tax dollars on developer and construction company welfare, the less inclined I am to support their revenue-raising initiatives. I'm inclined to vote no on Measure 56.
Sure, things are looking pretty good, but if you allow yourselves to become overconfident, the disaster could still easily happen. The best thing to do is to treat the race as if it's still a tossup, remembering that every vote is important. Here's a former Portlander who tells it like it is.
Just another Sunday on Wall Street: This week it's Morgan Stanley going down.
It's becoming apparent that the Bush administration is screwing up the economic bailout effort, in large part by clinging to its hard-core aversion to government ownership in private companies. The feds should have started nationalizing some banks several weeks ago, but they're just getting around to it now after explicitly refusing to do it.
Here's the Oregonian at its worst. Blatant cheerleading for a rape of the public coffers, as we plunge into a deep recession or worse, with no acknowledgment of the flaws in the plan being proposed or of the misgivings about it by a large, knowledgable segment of the population.
When the O goes out of business, which will probably be soon, they'll wonder why nobody cares. Hey Stickel and Rowe, this is why.
Emboldened by the meteoric success of his nomination of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, and still optimistic about winning the key swing states in three weeks, John McCain is reportedly huddling with advisors about possible Supreme Court appointments. It was not clear whether any firm decisions would be made before the election, but McCain is said to be gearing up for at least three appointments to the High Court in the first two years of his term in the White House. Justices Souter, Stevens, and Ginsburg are all expected to retire within that timeframe.
Aides report that McCain has already isolated one top candidate for his list of potential nominees. "It's kind of a replay of what we saw right before the convention," one campaign insider said. "He's already latched onto a proven maverick, who's bright, attractive, and accomplished. Plus, she has that 80 percent approval rating that the senator is always looking for. He's his own man, and he knows how to pick people."
This cranky old man has a different rap just about every week now.
At this point the recession train has left the station; the financial and banking crisis train has left the station. The delusion that the US and advanced economies contraction would be short and shallow – a V-shaped six month recession – has been replaced by the certainty that this will be a long and protracted U-shaped recession that may last at least two years in the US and close to two years in most of the rest of the world. And given the rising risk of a global systemic financial meltdown the probability that the outcome could become a decade long L-shaped recession – like the one experienced by Japan after the bursting of its real estate and equity bubble – cannot be ruled out.
Sarah Barracuda abused her power as governor.
When I stumble upon a baseball game on the tube, there always seems to be something interesting happening. It's going on right now in the Red Sox-Devil Rays game, where a certain someone is two-thirds of the way to a major accomplishment.
UPDATE, 7:47 p.m.: Never mind. His no-hitter lasted about two minutes after I jinxed it with this post.
And it's a bi-partisan effort.
Word has it that the Bush boys are gearing up for martial law.
Don't show this to anybody at Metro.
PBS is taking a poll on the subject, and the right-wingers are flooding in to try to misstate the obvious. If you've got an opinion you'd like to add to the tally, you can vote here.
The bottom is falling out in Asia again tonight. How long before the government closes the U.S. stock markets for a cooling-off period?
You have to wonder how a place like Portland, with its "progressive" City Council, can let its police run out and buy one of these.
Maybe He didn't know what He was doing a lot of the time.
Bill Sizemore's been in trouble before. But now he's in some deep, deep kim chee. Pretty soon it won't be just the teachers' unions who are after him; at some point, guys and gals with badges could start showing up asking questions. If you've been spending a tax-exempt charitable foundation's money on braces for your daughter, Fred Meyer, and the gas station, they're not going to like that answer.
That organization just issued a breathless e-mail news alert: "Treasury Department May Take Ownership Stake in Banks."
"[T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself." So said FDR, a great President who pulled this country out of the depths. And the same thing can be said about the current economic gridlock. Much of it defies logic, but people are scared to death right now -- everyone from the small bank depositor to the fattest hedge fund hotshot. As a result, the world financial system is imploding. People with money are stuffing it into mattresses, or their economic equivalents.
Why are Americans so prone to fear about the future? Can it be because for the last seven years, the Bush-Cheney administration has purposely sown the seeds of fear to justify the worst of its policies? Can it be the inane airport announcements about what color threat we should be worrying about today as we pass through the security theater? Can it be the Republican national ticket telling us this week how "fearful" they are of their opponent's middle name?
Fear is not helpful, as you'll see if you're brave enough to check what's left of the balance on your 401(k). Like just about everything Bush and Cheney have done, it has backfired. Big time.
Yesterday it was "How about we buy commercial paper?" This morning it was "How about an interest rate cut?" And the responses were the same both days -- "I'm getting out of stocks while there's still something left to get out of them."
David Talbot compares Obama's proximity to Bill Ayers with the Palins' connection to the Alaska secessionist folks.
... is now going to bring us a "beautiful" light-rail bridge. If the city doesn't go bankrupt first, of course.
The economy is coming completely unglued -- investors are panicking, we're careening into a depression -- and we have the namesake son of the U.S. Treasury Secretary out here in Portland, Oregon trying to con the city's taxpayers out of at least $85 million for baseball and soccer stadiums for his little teams. And you'll notice the price tag is up from the $75 million that it was just a month ago. That's a 13.3 percent increase in the same month that most folks' retirements and college funds went about 25 percent in the other direction.
This is the most ridiculous thing I have seen in my 30 years as a Portlander -- and that's saying a lot. Mr. Paulson, your timing is even worse than your dad's. If you can't make do with the stadium that you already have -- which the city's taxpayers still owe close to $30 million on -- you need to go back to New York and live the high life there. You can tell them how small-minded we all were.
If the City Council is foolish enough to authorize bonds for this harebrained stunt, people should collect signatures to put it on the ballot. That's usually hard to do -- you have to get umpteen thousand signatures in a month, as I recall -- but it will be easier this time, since we'll already be standing together killing time in line at the run on the bank and the soup kitchen.
Anyway, if you'd like to let Mr. Paulson know what you think, you might want to shoot him an informative e-mail. His personal e-mail address is a secret, of course, but the address for both of the teams is given as firstname.lastname@example.org. I think he's suffering from reality detachment; maybe we can help him out.
And while you're at it, you might want to give City Commissioners Nick Fish (503-823-3589), Dan Saltzman (503-823-4151), and Sam the Tram (503-823-3008) an earful about it as well. (Forget Fireman Randy -- he's all for this and isn't worth wasting your breath on.)
Finally, what would a Don Mazziotti scam be without unintentionally hilarious reporting by the O? The city's daily reports this insanity in stately tones as business as usual, without any perspective at all. No mention of the fact that most Portlanders are losing their shirts in the stock market; losing their jobs; being kicked out of their houses; or heading for the poor farm! Unbelievable. Ryan Frank, do you live in a cave?
... and I'll bet these guys can open up a can of whoopass at the ping pong table.
As I suggested here last week, the Federal Reserve is now buying "commercial paper" -- short-term IOUs -- from businesses. In other words, it's lending the businesses dough directly, since the usual financiers are hoarding cash for various reasons and won't lend it out.
How long before the government starts making direct mortgage loans and student loans? Not long, I suspect. I just hope they don't put some banksters in the middle of the deals and let them rake fees off the top. Hire bureaucrats and pay them normal people's salaries.
Meanwhile, the financial markets around the world continue to implode. Buy canned tuna and make sure you have a good warm coat, folks. Y2K has arrived, eight years late.
My readers are helping to make me a stud in the pro football underdog pool in which I play. I don't know squat about football, but based on what readers have been telling me, I've picked a winning underdog in three out of five weeks so far. Cool!
So here we go again. Can you find an underdog (in caps) in this bunch that can win its game outright? Remember, the point spread is relevant only in that it shows how many points in the season-long pool I will win if I am right:
13.5 ST. LOUIS at Washington
13 DETROIT at Minnesota
7.5 OAKLAND at New Orleans
7.5 CLEVELAND vs. NY Giants
6 NEW ENGLAND at San Diego
5.5 CINCINNATI at NY Jets
5.5 ARIZONA vs. Dallas
5 BALTIMORE at Indianapolis
4.5 SAN FRANCISCO vs. Philadelphia
3 MIAMI at Houston
3 JACKSONVILLE at Denver
2.5 CAROLINA at Tampa Bay
2.5 GREEN BAY at Seattle
2 ATLANTA vs. Chicago
Is this a week in which Oakland will shape up? And how about New England over San Diego, who may or may not show up? Arizona's not too shabby, especially at home -- right?
Folks say that the governor's travel per diems "raised eyebrows" among tax professionals in Alaska, and the state bureaucrats up there now concede that maybe they should have been included as income on her W-2 form. They're "reviewing" the situation.
No kidding. And hey, Juneau, while you're at it, how about the payments for her kids? How are they not on her W-2?
While you get ready for the run on the bank and the soup lines, the financial wizards are spending your tax dollars wisely.
Why don't they just knock the building down and let the weeds take it over? I'm sure the Portland Development Commission could get that done for the Parks Bureau in a jiffy.
Over the last few weeks, I have been noticing an inordinate number of visitors who arrived at this blog based on searches from Microsoft's LiveSearch site. Microsoft's computer was telling my server that all of those visitors were looking for the word "portland" or "greatest." Funny thing, though -- when I went over to LiveSearch myself and ran the same queries, my site didn't show up anywhere near the top of the results. Indeed, I didn't expect it to.
Intrigued by this, I decided to Google around and figure out what was going on. If there's one thing that bloggers and other webmasters like to write about on the internet, it's blogging and running websites. Sure enough, I quickly learned that the whole thing is some sort of sinister spam or spam-like program that Microsoft's been carrying on for more than a year now. Trying to get them to stop is futile, of course, and so the only choice a sitemeister has is between letting them do it and banning the Microsoft robots' IP address from accessing the target sites. Blocking those addresses could mean that LiveSearch will stop finding my site and indexing it for its search users.
But you know what? I resent Microsoft wasting my bandwidth with their dark experiments, and I wasn't getting so much legitimate LiveSearch traffic anyway. And so I've blocked the Microsoft IP addresses from reaching this site. It's really sick that I have to do that. Microsoft, everything they say about you is true! Fie on you!
Of course, the guy who presided over it all walks away with a $200,000 farewell gift.
Another Bush administration emergency response man:
And good news! He's 35 years old and from Goldman Sachs.
I'm glad I didn't do this. But the fact that someone else did it, doesn't bother me as much as it should.
I have no problem with images like this:
But of course, leave it to Disney to make absolutely everything PG-13 or more suggestive:
If it's one thing we've learned in studying the finances of the City of Portland over the last year, it's that for many years, the place has pretty much run on borrowed money. The city borrows for so many things, it's hard to keep track of all the bond issues. Short-term debt. Long-term debt. Interim debt. General obligation debt. Limited tax revenue debt. It goes on and on. And there are all sorts of crazy repayment schedules on these bonds, which usually make "refunding" bonds (refinancing) a routine option. Our current estimate is that the municipal government has long-term debt and "interim" financing currently outstanding to the tune of $2.9 billion (that's with a "b"). Much of that has been incurred with Masters of the Universe like Goldman Sachs holding the city commissioners' hands and telling them how smart and good-looking they are.
Such days are apparently over. In today's Trib comes the truly alarming news that the city's not even sure it will be able to borrow the money to finish fixing up the earthquake retrofit on fire headquarters -- at least not until the financial markets improve. And if it can't find the money for that essential public function, you've got to wonder how it will be able to finish the "big pipe" sewer revamping, pay for the crazy east side streetcar system, or undertake any number of other projects that were scheduled to be paid for with borrowed money. New Sellwood Bridge? You're dreaming -- better buy a canoe.
If, like we, you're not expecting the financial markets to improve substantially any time soon, then you'll want a front row seat as the chickens come home to roost at City Hall. Meanwhile, any talk of a new baseball stadium, the Burnside-Couch "couplet," Pearl District North, the new David Douglas school, and all the other debt-financed junk that the city fathers have been fantasizing about ought to be laughed out of the building.
Yesterday we posted our analysis of Sarah and Todd Palin's 2006 and 2007 tax returns. We concluded that the travel payments the Palins received for their children's travel were definitely taxable income, and that since the Palins did not report the kids' payments, they owe substantial back federal taxes (in the neighborhood of $6,000) on them.
And their tax deficiency could run substantially higher. For example, we left open the possibility that the amounts paid for Sarah Palin's own travel might have been taxable. We noted that the issue probably turned on whether the Anchorage area (including Wasilla) was her "tax home," as opposed to Juneau. If Anchorage was her "tax home," per diem allowances and other amounts paid for her expenses in Anchorage or Wasilla would be taxable, thus increasing her tax liability substantially.
An alert reader, Richard J. Koppel, an attorney in southern California, points out that the State of Alaska had already issued a policy paper on this very tax issue, years before Palin became governor. The state concluded then that long-term per diems (such as those now being paid to Sarah Palin) were taxable, because when an employee spends a majority of his or her time over an extended period in a given location on state business, that location becomes his or her "tax home," even though it is not his or her official Alaska "duty station." The state apparently did not follow these established policies in the case of the governor, because if it had, her long-term per diems would have appeared on her W-2 wage statement filed with the IRS.
The official memo, apparently written by someone in the state's Finance Division, is entitled "Income Tax Implications of Long-Term Per Diem." That document, bearing dates in both 2000 and 2004, appears on the state website, here. The most pertinent passage is this:
If the employee does not work at their PCN duty station at least 50% of the time (vacation time does not count toward time worked at the duty station), then the State must first consider whether the employee works the majority of their time at another location, making this location their principle place of business. If they do, this other location becomes their tax home. This occurs in situations where an employee is in long-term travel status at this other location for a period of time which is expected to exceed one year. It can also occur when a seasonal employee is assigned to a project or series of projects in one general location for two or more years in a row.This document is a potential blockbuster. It establishes two important facts:
Please note, per diem becomes taxable at the point at which it is determined the assignment will last one year or more. The following are a couple of examples to illustrate:
• An employee is assigned to a project which is expected to last 16 months. Since we know from the beginning that the project assignment will place the employee at this location for more than one year, all per diem paid to the employee at this location (starting with the first day) will be taxable.
• An employee is assigned to a project which is expected to last four months. At the end of the second month, the employee is assigned to a subsequent project which is expected to last ten months. Because the total time it is expected the employee will be assigned to this location will exceed one year, all per diem becomes taxable at this location starting with the third month.
We have discussed this issue with the IRS and the following summarizes the IRS comments on the one-year rule and taxable per diem.
• One year does not necessarily mean 365 consecutive days.
• Interruptions generally do not start the clock over again on the one-year rule unless they are significant (significant was not defined, but IRS rulings indicate seasonal shutdowns are not considered significant).
• The one-year rule requires the employer to look at the total time spent at the "temporary" location. If an assignment to a location is expected to last more than one year, or actually lasts longer than one year, then any per diem paid at this "temporary" location is considered compensation. The one-year rule applies beginning with the date the employer determines the assignment will exceed one year. Also, the IRS looks at “location” broadly and encompasses a general vicinity (generally a 50 mile radius).
• The remoteness of the duty assignment does not change the application of the one-year rule.
• The fact the employee may be incurring duplicate lodging expenses does not change the rule. The IRS has long ruled that duplicate expenses have no bearing on the determination of the tax home.
• With regards to seasonal employees, if the employee is assigned to the same general location two years in a row, or would otherwise meet the one-year rule, per diem paid would be considered compensation.
• The employer essentially has an obligation to determine the employee's tax home.
(1) The state has long acknowledged that it had a duty to determine whether Palin's "tax home" was really Anchorage and Wasilla, a conclusion which would have required that her per diems be reported as taxable income.
(2) The state knew that when an employee is planning to spend a majority of her time on state business in the Anchorage area for a four-year period, Anchorage is the employee's "tax home," and per diems for time spent in the "tax home" are taxable income.
So why didn't Alaska officials follow the state's official policies and report Palin's per diems as taxable income on her W-2? Only they can answer that.
And how can the tax lawyer whose opinion was released by the McCain campaign on Friday say that "no special consideration was ever given to Governor Palin, notwithstanding that she was the governor of Alaska"?
UPDATE, 10/7, 4:40 p.m.: The state is now "reviewing" the situation in light of the questions raised by this post. As well it should.
Asia seems to saying no.
A friendly reader writes:
Over breakfast this morning, my family figured out how to pay for the bailout using a time-honored Portland tradition.
They collected $1.00 in the first 30 seconds. If we just station our children on the street corners every morning before and after school, we should be able to whittle down the national debt (that they are going to be saddled with) in no time at all.
On Friday afternoon, just at the time of the week when people unveil unhappy news releases in order to minimize media coverage, the McCain-Palin campaign released Sarah and Todd Palin's federal income tax returns for 2006 and 2007. The returns do not include as taxable income any of the per diem allowances or travel expense reimbursements that the State of Alaska paid for travel by Sarah or Todd Palin, or by three of their children (Bristol, Willow, and Piper Palin), in 2007. At roughly the same time as it released the returns, the campaign also handed out an opinion from a Washington, D.C. tax lawyer that purports to address at least some aspects of the propriety of the omission of the travel money from the 2007 tax return.
Since then, one commentator has reported that there is now a "wonky debate" as to the correctness of their omitting the travel money from their tax returns. We disagree. There is no serious debate (at least, none that has been brought to our attention) about the fact that at least the amounts paid for the children's travel -- $24,728.83 in 2007, according to the Washington Post -- are taxable. The campaign's tax lawyer has got at least that much of the law, and perhaps more, wrong.
The opinion is from Roger M. Olsen, an M Street solo practitioner who was a tax official in the Reagan administration. His specialty appears to be the criminal side of the federal tax laws. Olsen's three-page letter never comes out and directly says "It's my opinion that the travel payments the Palins received were not taxable to any of them."1 Instead, it bobs and weaves a fair amount and never lands squarely on point:
Unless employees have reason to know that the W-2 is incorrect, the IRS expects employees to rely on the employer's W-2 as prepared & filed with the IRS, as Governor Palin did. The income tax aspects of fringe benefits are complex and highly technical, and not subject to second-guessing by laymen. The State of Alaska is confident that its position is correct. Its employees were entitled to rely on that determination. So was Governor Palin.Let's take the two paragraphs in order. The first one never actually says the payments weren't taxable income. It says that the Palins were "entitled to rely" on what the state did and didn't include on the W-2. What is that supposed to mean? If Olsen is saying that the federal tax consequences of payments from one's employer are conclusively determined by one's employer's treatment of the payments on the W-2, that's just flat-out wrong. Granted, the employer's omission of the payments might help the employee defend against any civil or criminal penalties that might be asserted, but no one with any credibility has suggested that the Palins have committed any fraud or behaved negligently. (The "tax cheat" headlines pouring out of the blogosphere over the last day or so are idiotic.) The Palins, who had their tax returns done by HR Block, simply got it wrong. And the fact that the state payroll office got it wrong, too, doesn't erase the Palins' unpaid tax liability.
Finally, under State law, the spouse of the Governor (or other family members on occasion) is entitled to payment of travel costs by the state when conducting official State business. I find no reason or rule of law that would lead me to a different conclusion as to his receipt of such State payments. Such payments for family members traveling on state business would not properly be included as taxable income on Governor Palin's federal tax returns.
On to the second paragraph just quoted. After one totally irrelevant sentence about state law, and another sentence referring back to the baffling first paragraph, Olsen finally does say -- or comes close to saying -- that the amounts the Palins received for travel were not taxable (not to Governor Palin, anyway). But here, there is no doubt that he's at least partly wrong. There is no question whatsoever that the payments for the Palin children's travel -- $24,728.83 -- were indeed taxable to Governor Palin. The money paid for Todd Palin's travel -- $18,761.37 -- might possibly turn out to be tax-free, but it would be quite a stretch. And the per diems and other travel payments to the governor herself ($16,951) may or may not be taxable, but certainly not because state law or the state payroll office says so.
The children's travel payments are clearly taxable income. In our earlier post on this back on September 10, we theorized that Section 274(m)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code required that the payments be reported as income. Just yesterday, Bryan Camp, a tax professor at Texas Tech Law School, uncovered an obscure regulation2 (at least, it was obscure to us) that renders Section 274(m)(3) inapplicable to the Palins' situation. But that regulation puts them back under the tax regime for deductions for business travel under older law (pre-1986),3 and under that older set of rules, there is still no way they can exclude the payments for the children.
The Palins, living as they do in Alaska, are governed by Ninth Circuit law. The key case on deductibility of family travel expenses in this circuit is Stratton v. Commissioner, decided in 1971. In Stratton, a State Department foreign service officer's own travel expenses were ruled deductible, but his wife and children's travel expenses were held to be nondeductible. The court of appeals declared, in a passage that would seem quite applicable to the Palin children, if not also to Todd Palin:
Mrs. Stratton and the children are not employed by the Department. There is no mandatory requirement either by statute or regulation, that they accompany the employee on home leave. The reason that the family customarily does accompany the employee is no doubt due in large measure to the fact that the Secretary of State is authorized to pay their travel expenses to and from this country. 22 U.S.C. Sec. 1136 (1964). However, the fact that these expenses are so paid does not clearly indicate that the Department, as a matter of policy, or that Congress in adopting Sec. 1136, felt that the family's reorientation to the American way of life was necessary to the conduct of Stratton's trade or business as a foreign service officer. At best, it represents an accommodation by the Department to enable the family to fulfill its personal needs in reacquainting itself with the homeland at the same time that the employee is renewing his knowledge for business reasons. Finally, the asserted "public relations" duties of Mrs. Stratton are unspecified and, without further support in the record, must be considered to be incidental to her husband's business within the meaning of [the regulations].4The Palin children cannot be performing more than incidental services for the state -- if they provide any at all. Under Stratton, then, there is no "business purpose" for their travelling between Juneau and Wasilla, and thus their travel payments are taxable.
Which brings us to Todd Palin, the state's "First Dude." Could his travel meet the test of the regulations? They state (pardon the sexist language -- they're old regulations):
Where a taxpayer's wife accompanies him on a business trip, expenses attributable to her travel are not deductible unless it can be adequately shown that the wife's presence on the trip has a bona fide business purpose. The wife's performance of some incidental service does not cause her expenses to qualify as deductible business expenses. The same rules apply to any other members of the taxpayer's family who accompany him on such a trip.And the Stratton case makes clear that the spousal services must assist the employee spouse's business of being an employee, not the employer's overall business. Can whatever Todd Palin does for the State of Alaska as an unpaid volunteer meet this test? Can he even make that claim with a straight face?
As for Governor Palin herself, questions have been raised as to how she could be "away from home" for tax purposes -- that is, away from her principal place of business -- when she was in Wasilla. Olsen's opinion baldly states that her "tax home" was Juneau, the state capital, but that is hard to square with the fact that the governor spent the majority of her time in Wasilla and in Anchorage, where she works at a state office building. If Olsen is wrong and Anchorage was her "tax home," reimbursements for time spent in Anchorage and vicinity would appear to be taxable.
Even if Juneau is her "tax home," there is also the real possibility that her frequent trips between Juneau and Wasilla are simply long-distance commuting, which is a completely nondeductible, personal expense. In that case, all allowances and reimbursements for gubernatorial travel between the two cities would be taxable.5
There is more to brood about on the Palins' returns, to be sure. Last year Todd Palin claimed losses from his snowmobile racing "business" as a tax shelter against his fishing income. He also claimed deductions for use of a portion of the Palins' residence in his fishing business -- deductions that are difficult to claim legitimately, and which may be further complicated if, as reported, the state reimbursed the Palins for use of that home as a travel allowance.
But leaving all of that aside, the Palins should have reported as taxable income, at the very least, the $24,728.83 of travel reimbursements for the children. That income would have been taxable to them at somewhere between 25 and 28 percent, and so they are in the hole to the government for more than $6,000, plus interest since at least April 15 at the rate of between 5 and 6 percent a year. They should file an amended return and pay the resulting tax and the interest. And if somebody at the IRS took a good, hard look at the payments for Sarah and Todd, we would bet that there would be some additional tax due there as well.
UPDATE, 10/6, 3:26 a.m.: An important fact has emerged that makes what first appeared to be an honest mistake by the Palins into a potentially more serious matter. It now appears that State of Alaska finance officials did not follow their own official policy on tax reporting and withholding on long-term per diems in the case of Governor Palin's per diems. We have details here.
UPDATE, 10/8, 3:08 a.m.: It has come to our attention that the dollar figures in the Washington Post story covered a 19-month period, not just 2007. Regardless, much of the money was paid during that year, none of it was reported, and most of it should have been. The state should have withheld income tax on it and reported it on the governor's W-2 -- and should be doing so now.
I'll be appearing on the Kremer and Abrams radio show again this morning, from 9 to 11, on KXL radio (750 AM in Portland). I'm the substitute lefty, and Rob Kremer and his listeners are the righties. Sometimes I hold my own.
A reader sends along what he finds to be an interesting set of facts:
[T]hought you might find this funny.Ah, the Clintons.
Have you been following this story about the former Broadcom CEO that has gotten himself in trouble for all sorts of things?
Look at this article and note the FAA number for the plane.
Now, look what turns up on a search of that number on an aviation photo website:
[Scroll down for photographer's comment, and note the date. -- JB]
Indeed it looks like Bubba was in Australia during that time according to the Washington Post:
I find this funny, a little bit disturbing and at the very least not too surprising.
Anybody got any 11th-hour wisdom about which of these underdogs might win its game outright tomorrow or on Monday?
Click here and scroll down for a letter to the editor by David VanSpeybroeck about the vice presidential debate.
That our government is even working on something like this is another sad, sad statement about America.
We all know that blogs can raise a stink. But did you know that it works the other way, too?
I hate to see America's small businesses fail. But there'll be a silver lining the day guys like these go down. Maybe then they'll stop picking the taxpayers' pockets.
I know, I know, Obama said not to write any more about Bristol Palin, but to me it's important to determine whether her mother either faked a pregnancy or endangered her own child during childbirth.
The more I look at photos of Bristol Palin from the Republican Convention, the less convinced I am that she was really five months pregnant at the time. Here are a couple of "lovebird" shots from the Huffington Post. Is that a baby under there, or some sort of padding? The breasts look particularly odd. Is that pregnancy, or a towel?
Finally, in that same photo, look at the baby's face. Does he look like Sarah or Todd Palin? To me he looks like Levi Johnston.
UPDATE, 8:14 p.m.: We note parenthetically that in the post-debate photo op tonight, Trig Palin was around, at one point being carried by Piper. But Bristol was absent. Uh huh.
Remember when then-Commissioner Erik Sten was going to put the City of Portland a jillion dollars in debt to go buy Portland General Electric, and the Enron guys who owned PGE laughed him out of their New York office? Good times. And as part of the show, the city's water customers were told to make their checks out to "Portland Utilities," in anticipation of the expansion of the Great Opie Empire.
Well, our latest water bill, which is always big enough to make us nearly pass out, contained a subtle change from last quarter's:
One of the features of most of the "rescue" (bailout) proposals floating around Washington, D.C. is to let banks show their assets on their books at something other than "fair value," which was the required standard until the SEC more or less suspended it the other day. "Fair value" is the price that an asset could fetch on the open market as of the date of the company's balance sheet. Banks who have made bad investments and are afraid to tell the truth about it have convinced the SEC, and even well intentioned reformers like Peter DeFazio, that the current open market is so panicky that the free market price isn't really a "fair" reflection of the assets' true worth.
And so the SEC, and our leading lights in Congress, are going to let the banks show assets not at "fair value," but at "economic value," which in a recession is usually quite a bit higher -- unrealistically so. To come up with "economic values" to put on their balance sheets, banks can ignore real market conditions and make up their own pretend market in which everything is "orderly." The numbers that result are nothing more than glorified guesswork, with no anchor in reality. It's faith-based accounting.
A large part of what got America into the mess we're in today was creative bookkeeping. By abandoning the "fair value" standard and substituting a strictly hypothetical, theoretical measure of value, the SEC and Congress are letting the bankers continue to obfuscate their true economic positions. It's like going to the doctor, and when she tells you you're terminally ill, you demand that she tell you how you'd be if your disease wasn't fatal. It's like standing on top of Mount Everest, freezing to death, and telling your companions that you're fine because if it were 80 degrees, you'd be hot. It's a major move in the wrong direction.
The SEC's unilateral action Tuesday, which came just in time to distort banks' September 30 quarterly financial statements, is particularly misguided. Maybe hothead McCain was right and we need a thorough housecleaning over there.
Did you know that Lexis, the time-honored legal database, is now offering a Google-like free web searching tool? Its beta version worked for me, anyway. It's no Google, but it's another place to try when you're scouring the web for something.
The company who's making the train cars for Tri-Met's new west side commuter train line is going down financially, and Tri-Met (that's us, the Portland region's taxpayers) is now paying the company's suppliers directly. The project's already $3 million over budget and five months late, and they're having some problems with a new type of computer system that's supposed to direct traffic on the tracks. Those tracks are going to be shared by the commuter trains and freight trains.
But don't worry. The president of the Tri-Met board is a retired bank president, and he's on the case.
Look for this one to get worse before it gets better.
Just add pork -- lots of pork.
As we contemplate the end of our status as a superpower, can Americans honestly say we don't deserve that, given the government that we create for ourselves?
Here's a British glossary of terms being used in describing the current financial meltdown around the world.
It always pays to hang out with the occasional dumped links on UtterlyBoring.com.
Here's an interesting piece from last July, when a learned commentator asked where the public outrage was over the hash that had been made of our financial markets. Two months and change later, he's not needing to look too hard to find it.
Ya gotta admit, this guy was pretty clever. But he's gonna get caught, of course.
And naturally, he's making headlines the world over.
Catholic Archbishop John Vlazny is calling Governor Ted's pro-choice shindig this weekend "a source of embarrassment for our church and a scandal for the Catholic community."
Yet another, Archbishop Vlazny. Yet another.
Elaine's not-safe-for-work weekend trip to Palm Springs.
Here's an interesting piece of lawyering from down in the Lone Star State.