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Jack Bog's Blog, by Jack Bogdanski of Portland, Oregon

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Wednesday, April 30, 2003


Here's an e-mail exchange I've had today and yesterday with my state representative, Jackie Dingfelder:

From: Jack Bogdanski [mailto:bojack@lclark.edu] Sent: Tuesday, April 29, 2003 5:06 PM To: REP Dingfelder Subject: From a constituent

Dear Rep. Dingfelder:

As a resident of your district, I support your struggles to find funding for the state's most pressing needs in these times of great hardship. I support tax increases for priorities like schools, public safety, and social services for the homeless and the physically and mentally ill of our communities. I voted for Measure 28, and I support increases to our ridiculously low vehicle registration fees and other levies. Oregon takes a bad rap for high taxes. With the absence of a sales tax factored in, our taxes are actually relatively low. We should not be selfish when so many are in need.

I also support the governor's efforts to cut the fat out of government. This is no time for frills or risk-taking in state government.

With all of these concerns in mind, I hope you will vote for HB 3606, the baseball stadium financing bill that will soon come before you. The bill does not obligate the state to pay a penny beyond what comes in as income tax revenue from the players' salaries, which would all be new money. It is not as though baseball will take revenues away from other programs. These are revenues that don't exist now, and will never exist without baseball. Plus, the economic boost that baseball would create would pay for all sorts of needs that are current languishing. There would be jobs and resulting income taxes for decades to come. And it's an environmentally clean, family-friendly industry.

I know this is a tough sell among some constituents. We need to take care of schools before we play games, some say. But those who pit baseball against social services are missing the point of the bill. The money that would be used under HB 3606 to pay for the stadium is not money that would ever be available for schools. Without baseball, these funds simply won't exist. On the other hand, the secondary tax revenues that baseball can generate through job creation certainly would be and should be available for schools. While we attend to our problems, let's not turn our backs on the solutions.

We spend $460 million of hard state tax dollars every year for a state economic development department. Let's commit to spending $150 million of found money in a one-shot deal, and do more than that department gets accomplished in a decade.

This is a key moment for our city and state. Baseball franchises do not come up for grabs regularly, and there is now one or more ripe for the taking. Please help us take an important step forward toward bringing this economic prize home to Oregon.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Jack Bogdanski
NE Portland

From: Rep Dingfelder [mailto:Dingfelder.Rep@state.or.us]
Sent: Wednesday, April 30, 2003 2:32 PM
To: bojack@lclark.edu
Subject: RE: From a constituent

Dear Mr. Bogdanski,

Thank you for your email. Rep. Dingfelder is supportive of bringing major league baseball to Portland, but does not believe that public money should be the funding source. A new baseball stadium in Portland would cost $300 million. The question of the state's ultimate liability for the construction bonds has not yet received a satisfactory answer. Rep. Dingfelder does not support any proposal that carries the slightest risk of increased debt obligation for the taxpayers of Oregon.

I encourage you to attend the next Town Hall on May 10th to meet with Rep. Dingfelder, Rep. March, and Sen. Avel Gordly. The Town Hall will be held on Saturday, May 10th, from 10:00 am-noon, at the YMCA Arts Education Center (6036 SE Foster Road).

If you are unable to attend the event, please feel free to contact our office again with any further concerns you may have.

Maralea Lutino
Legislative Aide

From: Jack Bogdanski [mailto:bojack@lclark.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, April 30, 2003 10:09 PM
To: Rep Dingfelder
Subject: RE: From a constituent

Dear Maralea Lutino:

A careful reading of the bill shows that there is no risk of increased debt obligation for the state. The bonds would not be issued by the state, and the state would merely "grant" the income tax revenues from the ballplayers and the team to whatever entity winds up issuing the bonds. No new income tax revenues, no state payments.

The State Treasurer has been intimately involved in the drafting of the bill to make sure that these concerns have been addressed. The state's credit rating would not be adversely affected in the least.

I hope that Rep. Dingfelder will take another look at the bill. It is a no-risk proposition for the state, but failure to pass it will prevent the creation of thousands of jobs. Without some public funding -- and this is as much a "user fee" as it is a tax -- major league baseball will not come here.

I hope that you will put a copy of my e-mail messages in the representative's bill file. Thank you.

Jack Bogdanski

UPDATE, May 1, 11:25 a.m.: It turns out that the response I received (printed above) was a form letter.

Enlarge your penis! Mortgage rates lowest ever! Go to jail!

The State of Virginia has made sending misleading spam a felony. Long overdue.

Love hurts

Even the mightiest sometimes feel its sting. (Another good link from Howard Bashman.)

Sleaze to the max

The settlement announced this week between prosecutors and the nation's big investment firms portrays the firms as lowlife thieves in suits. Ten firms and two big-shot analysts agreed to pay $1.4 billion in fines, restitution and other payments, but given what they and the rest of the Wall Street crowd have apparently been caught doing, that's getting off lightly.

The newly revealed details of the widespread stealing and bribery that appear to have been taking place in our securities markets are stunning. Many observers suspected that some Wall Street firms were knowingly advising investors to buy stocks of companies that the Wall Street firms knew were in trouble, in order to keep the executives at the troubled companies happy. This in turn led those executives to use the same Wall Street firms for investment banking services, in which the Wall Street firms make a mint by acting as go-betweens between the securities markets and the companies. According to prosecutors, those suspicions were true.

But the level of corruption within the investment firms was never even hinted at until this week, when it was revealed that they were bribing each other's analysts to tout stocks that the bribing party was doing the investment banking for!

Stephen Laboton of The New York Times explained some of what has been disclosed:

The Securities and Exchange Commission, state prosecutors and market regulators accused three firms in particular — Citigroup's Salomon Smith Barney, Merrill Lynch, and Credit Suisse First Boston — of fraud. But the thousands of pages of internal e-mail messages and other evidence that regulators made public today painted a picture up and down Wall Street of an industry rife with conflicts of interest during the height of the Internet and telecommunications bubble that burst three years ago.

At firm after firm, according to prosecutors, analysts wittingly duped investors to curry favor with corporate clients. Investment houses received secret payments from companies they gave strong recommendations to buy. And for top executives whose companies were clients, stock underwriters offered special access to hot initial public offerings....

[T]he regulators found fault with every major bank on Wall Street.

In addition to the three firms accused of fraud, five others — Bear Stearns, Goldman, Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Piper Jaffray and UBS Warburg — were accused of making unwarranted or exaggerated claims about the companies they analyzed. UBS Warburg and Piper Jaffray, were accused of receiving payments for research without disclosing such payments.

Times reporter Gretchen Morgenson filled in some of the particulars of the bribery:
In a newly disclosed tactic, Morgan Stanley and four other brokerage firms paid rivals that agreed to publish positive reports on companies whose shares Morgan and others issued to the public. This practice made it appear that a throng of believers were recommending these companies' shares.

From 1999 through 2001, for example, Morgan Stanley paid about $2.7 million to approximately 25 other investment banks for these so-called research guarantees, regulators said. Nevertheless, the firm boasted in its annual report to shareholders that it had come through investigations of analyst conflicts of interest with its "reputation for integrity" maintained.

Among the firms receiving payments for their bullish research on companies whose offerings they did not manage were UBS Warburg and U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray. UBS received $213,000 and Piper Jaffray, more than $1.8 million.

What jumps off the page in these documents is the Wall Street firms' disregard for the individual investor in pursuit of personal benefit.

One comment made by a Bear, Stearns analyst is telling. While participating in a conference call by SonicWall, an Internet company whose shares Bear, Stearns had sold to the public, the analyst told a colleague that he was trying to make the company look good with his questions. A few moments later, he said, "we got paid for this," adding, "and I am going to Cancun tomorrow b/c of them."

A couple of guys have been banned from the industry in this latest wave of prosecution, but that won't be enough to heal the sickness that appears to be permeating Wall Street. Here's hoping that jail sentences and huge court judgments for investors are not far behind. Yes, let's hope that those {sarcasm}horrible, horrible trial lawyers who are ruining this country{/sarcasm} put an even more serious dent in the wallets of the more egregious dens of iniquity.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

What's in a name (or a mug shot)

There's been a lot of action on the internet and in activist circles lately concerning the Portland-area fellow who's accused of being in on the alleged local Al Qaeda wannabe ring. I don't know if he's guilty or not, or whether it was right for the government to hold him for weeks without charging him. But I do have faith in my friend U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones to sort it all out.

What I find most intriguing is how the defendant is identified in the media and on the 'net. His supporters call him Mike Hawash and show photos like this one:

The prosecution refers to him as Maher Hawash and releases photos like this one:

Mild-mannered, peace-loving computer wiz? Or deadly, crazed radical conspirator? I guess we'll be finding out. But it isn't easy to tell at the moment.


Watching pro basketball these days gives me the blues.

The Great One, M.J., has bowed out, while some other, lesser icons, like John Stockton, Karl Malone, David Robinson, Arvydas Sabonis and Scottie Pippen, creak along on ancient wheels that are ready to come off, the Mick Jaggers of the sports world. The new stars are Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, whose game is lethal but just not fun to watch. Bringing up the rear behind them is a gang of thuggish second-tier players with some serious behavior problems off the court, along with a bunch of kids who skipped college for the pro ranks and would have dropped out of grammar school for the pro's if that were allowed. They all make millions. Most of them act like they could care less what decent fans think of them.

Adding to the buzz-kill is the NBA's relentless expansion of the schedule. The first round of the playoffs, which used to be a best-of-five format, is now the best of seven. So anemic teams, without a chance, get to drag their fans through an extra two or three games before succumbing to the obvious. We're still in the midst of the first round now, and already it's growing tiresome. Series are spread out, with as many as three days between games. At this rate they'll still be playing on Fourth of July.

Don't turn to the college game for relief from hardwood greed. College conferences have added a whole new layer of playoffs by squeezing in conference tournaments between their regular seasons and the NCAA national tournament. Now players in leagues like the Pac-10 play an extra handful of games after an already stretched-out schedule before heading off to "March madness." The added games are mostly played on weekday afternoons, which makes one wonder who's in class at the participating schools on game days. No one believes that the athletes actually go to school any more (just as no one seriously views them as amateurs), but it's depressing to see thousands of other students being encouraged to cut a week of classes for another road trip to watch still more basketball.

There are probably still some basketball programs of integrity in the high school ranks. But their days may be numbered due to the budget crises in the public schools. For example, if voters in Portland don't vote over the next few weeks to raise their state and local income tax rates from 9 percent to 10.25 percent, there may not be high school sports at all. And counting on Oregon voters to jack up their own taxes is a risky proposition indeed.

In any event, sad as the state of hoops is these days, I still watch the pro game. It's like slowing down to look at a wreck on the highway. But I don't root with passion any more, and whenever it warms up around here (rare so far this year), I get up and away from the screen.

Monday, April 28, 2003

I thought the city was broke

Over this blog's history, more than a few hits have come from readers who were searching for stories about the so-called North Macadam development project that's on the books for the area just south of downtown Portland. This is the $1.4 billion development that's supposed to keep the Oregon Health and Science University from packing up and moving to Hillsboro (as if that would ever happen). The key feature of the plan is a hideous aerial tram that would run from Pill Hill down to the toney new development so that the medical types wouldn't have to waste 10 extra minutes riding down there in something so pedestrian as a bus. (The privacy and wishes of middle-class homeowners along Gibbs Street be damned.) Behind it all is Homer Williams, the real mayor of Portland, who has cashed in on many a tax-advantaged and otherwise city-subsidized development in his illustrious career. (BTW, my past posts can be found here, here, and here. I won't repeat those rants, although I still stand behind all of them.) Homer's lobbyist on this one? Neil Goldschmidt.

A recent edition of the Portland Tribune included a fascinating story about how the cost estimates for North Macadam (which the bureaucrats now alternately refer to as South Waterfront) keep rising. Estimated costs of infrastructure development -- for streets, utilities, streetcar and the tram -- have jumped 55 percent. Now the price tag for those items is $372 million! And the number of jobs that the bioscience facility down there would create keeps dropping. Now it's down to 300, with 5,000 new jobs overall over a 15-year period. Let's see, $372 million to create 5,000 jobs? That's $74,400 per job, not counting OHSU's construction costs (it also being a public entity).

Commissioner Erik Sten was quoted last summer as saying the infrastructure improvements would cost $70 million. Guess he forgot the 300 part.

The streetcar that will run to this lovely new addition is now estimated to cost $11.5 million all by itself, and the tram, which was touted as a $10 million toy before the City Council approved it, is now up to $15.5 million. Apparently Williams and partners would pay 49 percent of that, and OHSU another 46 percent. But the city and the Portland Development Commission would be handed a bill for 3 percent. That's around $800,000, if they stay on budget. It's a good bet that the tram won't. And no one's talking about who will pay to operate the streetcar and tram, which are guaranteed to lose money year after year. I'm sure that will be the city, Tri-Met, or some other shell created by the city to suck taxes out of the city's taxpayers. Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of public dollars to run a competition to see who can come up with the grooviest design for the tram, they ought to sponsor one to see who the heck around here can afford it.

But never fear, folks, according to the Trib story, "eventually" we'll get "two hotels, office-research buildings, health clubs and restaurants," 12 residential towers, a new Portland City Grill, and a Starbucks.

Gag me with a spoon.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Spring is sprung

It was a gorgeous day today in the Rose City. Lots of sun, bright blue sky, temperature almost to 70.

So I washed the car. Didn't everybody?

Saturday, April 26, 2003

If you think this blog is dull

Try that one. (Thanks, Howard Bashman.)

Wish we had smell-o-vision

I remember sci fi fantasies of smell-o-vision -- a technology that would convey not only the sights and sounds but also the smells of a given experience. I wish they had developed this already. Then we could all once again enjoy how delightful the clematis vine over the back deck smelled this spring:

Friday, April 25, 2003

Speaking of white elephants

Last Friday's Portland Tribune contained a full page of debate over whether Oregon taxpayers really get their money's worth out of the state Economic and Community Development Department. (Today they're scheduled to take a look at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, but that's definitely worth a posting of its own.)

I don't think the ECD department is worth what we're paying for it.

For starters, in my 25 years here, the biggest problem I have seen Oregon deal with is too much economic development. Thanks to a huge influx from our neighboring state to the south, our cities are crowded, roads are inadequate, family farms are disapperaring, ticky-tacky apartment complexes are everywhere, there's a whole California attitude on the roads and in the streets, taxes are a dirty word, and the suburbs are sprawling (within the bounds of our land use laws, which lots of the newcomers would like to throw in the garbage). If it were up to me, we'd take former Gov. Tom McCall's lead and change Oregon's slogan back to "A nice place to visit, but don't plan to stay."

But even if you think economic development is a good and necessary thing, the real question is whether we need a state bureaucracy to encourage it -- a state bureaucracy which, even after the recent budget cuts that have left sick people to die and roam the streets, spends $460 million a year.

That's right, $460 million a year of state taxpayer money to attract businesses to Oregon.

It's not worth it.

When one looks at the sorry state of Oregon's economy, it's hard to believe that anyone has been working to develop it. Of course, the good folks in Salem say that if it weren't for them, the situation would be worse. But that's very debatable.

The department claims that it created 2577 jobs last year, and saved 5707 more. Those numbers are in serious dispute. The Secretary of State and others say they're inflated. But even if they are correct, that's more than $55,500 of public money spent for every job brought here or saved.

That's too much.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

We love this, er, stuff

Master Sgt. and Adjunct Professor of Law John "Jack" Steele visits a faculty meeting.

Size matters

President Bush today called $350 billion in tax cuts "little bitty tax relief."

They grow 'em big in Texas.

In sports news

The major league baseball stadium bill barely made it through a committee of the Oregon House of Representatives last night. The vote was 4-3. Voting no were our good buddies from Albany, Coos Bay, and Gresham. Now the bill goes to the full House and Senate, where its passage won't be easy.

Meanwhile, the other day, Phil Stanford of The Trib broke what could wind up being the other big Portland sports story of the year: Paul Allen, owner of the pitiful Portland Trail Blazers basketball team, has outside consultants taking a look at his sports franchises, including the Blazers.

Here's what they'll tell him: Once-loyal fans hate the Blazers and the Seahawks, because they are being run by Bob Whitsitt, who's not very good at his job.

Where do I send my bill?

The prospect of a Whitsitt-less Blazers organization almost makes me want to reconsider my decision not to be part of a group that holds season tickets to the team's games.


Real livability

I saved my copy of the Business Section of the April 18 Portland Tribune because it had so much thought-provoking material in it. What a breath of fresh air that semiweekly paper can be.

I'll be working my way through a few of the topics it covered in upcoming posts, but I thought I'd start with a quote from a nifty letter to the editor by Lily Witham of Southeast Portland:

How can Mayor Katz justify continual development on the west side when we cannot even afford to keep our schools open for an adequate length of time? Oregon has been ridiculed via a nationally published comic strip ("Doonesbury") because of its inability to provide adequate schooling for our children.

What does it take to get the message across to the mayor -- real livability is much more than fancy housing developments, chichi grocery stores and retail boutique communities. It's about education, libraries that are open seven days a week, after-school art and sports programs, and educational systems that can provide an adequate length of school year without cheating the teachers out of two weeks' pay. Would Mayor Katz go without pay for two weeks? I think not!

You tell her, Lily Witham!

I dreamt last night that Vera announced her retirement. With folks openly declaring themselves "allergic to Katz," it may be best move.


It's hard to believe, but where I work, today's the last day of classes for another school year.

The 14-week semester that began in January, and the school year that started just before Labor Day, wind down after my last class this afternoon. Technically, classes go on until tomorrow evening, but for most of the faculty and student body, who don't have classes on Friday, today's the last day.

It's always a busy time, with exams looming, nervous students hitting the books, and preparations for graduation (over Memorial Day weekend) already in full swing.

But one more show, and I'm done with the show for four months.

I've got the greatest job in the world.

Let's go out with a burst of energy. Let's make it like the last two minutes of the Beatles' final work, Abbey Road:

And in the end The love you take Is equal to the love you make

Tuesday, April 22, 2003


Bloggers are a vain lot. They watch their hit counters regularly to see how many readers they're drawing in. They usually announce when the odometer turns over at some milestone or another.

Try as I might to resist such vanity, I can't help but note here that visitor no. 10,000 to this blog made the scene at 11:21:15 p.m. West Coast time this evening. It was an AOL user from the East Coast.

What brought them here? A three-word search:

amateur steroid seller

But to have 10,000 visits in less than 10 months is a big kick for me. It works out to 34 visits a day on average. Blogging superstars like Tony Pierce and Howard Bashman pick up 34 visits in 10 minutes on a good day. But for me, it's an honor to have that big a readership in a day.

Actually, it took a while to ramp up, and these days the hit count is around twice that. But who's counting?

Monday, April 21, 2003

Still empty, only bigger

They held a celebration over the weekend to mark the opening of the expanded Oregon Convention Center here in Portland. Beer garden, bands, activities for the kids.

Whoopdee doo.

Today we get to sober up and see that this $116 million project took a largely disappointing facility, doubled its size, and doubled its potential for failure.

We have built it, but the big conventions still will not come. And there's no sign that they are coming any time soon.

Take a look at the list of upcoming events. Are there any on there that could not have been accommodated by the original-sized Convention Center? I don't see any.

So why did we spend nine figures on this project?

The story goes back to November 1998, when voters in Portland soundly rejected a proposal to increase property taxes to pay for this expansion. Immediately the mayor and her spin doctors went to work. In their hearts, they said, the voters want the expansion, but they just don't want to pay for it.

Familiar "reasoning," but obvious nonsense. Many, if not most, of the no votes were not at all convinced that this project was a sound investment of public money. They were saying no expansion, period. And their misgivings were well founded.

The scheme that the mayor and her minions eventually concocted to finance this -- and it also financed another major fiasco, the renovation of Civic Stadium -- was an increase in the Multnomah County hotel-motel room occupancy tax and car rental tax. The tourists and conventioneers would pay for the expansion out of this tax, which increased from 9.0 to 11.5 percent. The "lodging industry" lobbyists signed off, with dollar signs in their eyes. Their out-of-town guests would pay, and the expected tidal wave of convention business would line the hotel operators' pockets.

I get a kick out of Oregon government's cozy relationship with the "lodging industry." Any time the hotel-motel room tax is up for an increase, the patsy politicians sit down with the hotel execs to make sure their feathers won't be ruffled. The state legislature is doing the same thing now over a proposed statewide room tax increase to pay for tourism promotion. Gotta make sure the "lodging industry" is o.k. with it.

The politicians are forgetting that this is Oregon, and things are different here. We have no sales tax. When visitors come here, the hotel-motel tax is the only serious Oregon tax they pay (except maybe for gas for the rental car). If the tourist market will bear a few points on the room tax, then of course that tax should be increased. But there's no reason that the revenue needs to be plowed back into the tourism industry! When I visit New Jersey, New York, Washington, Chicago, I pay beaucoup retail sales tax, and it ain't going to any convention center expansion. It's going to pay for schools, police protection, and basic social services.

The kind we used to have around here.

Rather than sitting down for a seance with the hotel types and promising to spend the guests' tax money on the industry, the state and county ought to just increase the taxes to whatever the market will bear, and use the money for things that really count, and which we so desperately need these days.

And the market will bear a lot. When was the last time you checked the local occupancy tax rates before you booked a hotel room? Exactly, never.

But I digress. To get back to the point, here we are with what was previously a half-empty facility, now a three-quarters empty facility. And a lucrative revenue base has been exhausted to pay off the bonds that financed the expansion. It's a big mistake, and the voters tried to tell the mayor so.

What will it take to save the Oregon Convention Center from financial disaster? This year's spin doctors are blaming the red ink on the lack of a flagship hotel near the site. It would have to be a mega-hotel, maybe 600 or 800 rooms, to draw in the big shows. And, golly, nobody wants to build it.

Shouldn't we have thought of that four years and $116 million ago?

And will anybody ever want to build such a hotel here? I doubt it. I think the hospitality crew is smart enough to see that Portland just isn't going to be a good convention town any time soon.

Why would you bring a convention all the way to Portland, Oregon? Sure, there's spectacular outdoors just an hour away by car, but that's no draw for a convention. Most of those folks aren't willing to drive 15 minutes. Seasoned convention-goers know that you spend two thirds of your time at these things indoors, in meetings, and when you get some free time, it's likely to be for just a few hours. There need to be some dynamite attractions within taxi distance.

What's Portland going to offer in that department? The Pittock Mansion? The Chinese Gardens? The Portland Art Museum? The Public Library? The zoo? Minor league baseball?

It just doesn't add up. They ain't coming all the way from Poughkeepsie to shop at a Nike Town.

Maybe a downtown casino would do the trick. But is Old Dowager Portlandia ready for that one?

Well, at least we kept the architects and construction folks busy for a couple of years. But now the white elephant is all grown up and open for business, and the construction jobs are gone. So is a fair amount of taxing capacity.

Better schedule some more beer gardens.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

The rising

I never used to get Easter. I remember the year I decided to try to go out and buy a push mower for my lawn on Easter Sunday. Almost everyone who sold such things was closed. It made me grouchy. What's the big deal?

Times change, and seven years later, I finally get it. It's about joy and hope, despite the darkness of the world and local scenes.

Friends and family made this year's Easter as close to the ideal as I think I'll ever get. Although everyone else seemed to be taking the day in stride, I found the spirit of the day brighter than I can ever remember it.

The other thing I could never understand about Easter is how the church dragged it on for 40 days. But this year, I say, let's keep it going.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Middle-aged guy's hobby

I got in a good session out on our block yesterday with my graffiti cleanup kit. I find graffiti personally offensive, and I climb around at a few of the street corners around the house every now and then to clean it off.

There's never any message to the stuff we get here, just inane "tags" identifying (but not really) the people whose mental illness is to write on other people's property in the dark of night. I used to do the cleanup with bile in my heart, but over the years, it's mellowed down to something approaching pity and amusement.

The latest crop of junk to find its way onto the traffic signs around here was pretty easy to handle -- black marker that comes off fairly easily. But the process inevitably takes the reflective sheen off the sign, so that at night, when vehicle headlights illuminate it, there's a blotch where the graffiti was. Taggers like to do the backs of signs, too, but that's the easiest spot to police. You can scrub the heck out of it, and not care about what you're doing to any official message underneath.

Mailboxes are a big target, and the folks at our local Post Office give neighbors carte blanche to tidy them up. Nowadays the finish on the standard blue ones that the public uses cleans up fairly easily, but the old green utility boxes, which only the mail carriers use, are a toughie. I have a can of drab green paint that roughly approximates the official color of these boxes. Every now and then, I slop a coat of it on the green box on our street. I did that yesterday rather than try to get off a particularly nasty gold paint that was attempting (and failing) to convey a legible tag of some kind.

Last year, some new advertising benches showed up at the bus stop I police. Oh, great, I moaned, what a huge new target for the taggers. And I was right; it gets hit all the time. But the surface on it is super-easy to clean, and if I get out there before the bench company's cleanup crew does, I find the job a breeze.

Perhaps the brightest moment in my graffiti cleanup "career" came a few weeks ago, when I noticed that other people in the neighborhood have joined in the effort. A couple of times, I have noticed new tags, and thought, Oops, I need to get out there. But before I could, somebody else had beat me to it. Thank you, thank you, thank you, whoever you are!

One thing the graffiti experts tell us, I have found to be quite true: The faster graffiti comes down, the less of it goes up in the same spot. I particularly enjoy taking tags down the first day they're up. Take this crap somewhere else!

To taggers and would-be taggers: Get a life. You're on the internet. If you need to abuse yourself in public, this is the place. Lay off the streets of the city. And if you come to our block in the night like a cockroach, your litter will be removed as fast as it appears.

One final note, to Bohemian Mama, whose blog I enjoy regularly. She posted this week (Thursday April 17 -- I can't get the permalink to work right yet) in admiration of the anti-war graffiti around here, and I thought I'd respond:

First of all, Mama, happy birthday, and congratulations on "the Kid." But I think you've got the graffiti artists all wrong. They're not a broad coalition of downtrodden people of poverty, fighting the good fight against the Man. They are most likely one or two white people in their 20s, quite possibly female, who are addicted to graffiti. If it weren't the war, they'd be painting the anarchy symbol, "stop gentrification," "no war but class war," anti-capitalism, anti-WTO, etc. For them to run down onto Williams Avenue and paint some preachy slogan about how "war kills people of color" in an African-American neighborhood is just their sad attempt to ease their bourgeois guilt. I'm sure the people who live where they vandalize are not pleased. So when you're done admiring their work, feel free to help the People by grabbing some Formula 409 and a green scrubby pad and taking it down.

If 409 doesn't do the job, I'll lend you my supply of Graffiti-X, a strong graffiti removing solvent, which works wonders.

UPDATE, 4:30 p.m.: On my routine bike ride to run errands this afternoon, I noticed that a particularly vicious vandalism attack occurred last night on the large retail/residential building on the south side of NE Weidler between 15th and 16th. This was one of those incidents in which the graffitists used acid to etch their message into the retailers' plate glass windows. The damage was along 15th and Weidler. It looked to me as if a dozen or so windows had been hit. Someone reportedly also burglarized the jewelry store.

Cleanup of this kind of damage involves sanding down the glass and repolishing it -- very expensive. Fortunately, the landlord had a crew out there right away today, doing just that. The police were by this morning and photographed the damage. It includes some very legible tags along with the usual anarchist signs. Taggers like to brag, and they also are well known for ratting each other out for reward money. At this level of vandalism, felony charges have been successfully brought against several Portland offenders. I suspect that this one will be apprehended eventually.

But no one, no matter how much they may agree with the "message," should be condoning this kind of crime.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Fire and brimstone

It's Good Friday.

In the Catholic faith, this is in some ways the spookiest day of the year. There's no Mass, no communion wafer. No music. Worshippers remember the death of Jesus, a horrible death, executed as a criminal for standing up to the local authorities.

Back when I was a kid, there were lots of statues around the church, and for this week, Holy Week, they were all covered up with long purple cloths. In that era, with the communion host inspiring absolute awe, the tabernacle in which it was normally kept was emptied out for the entire day, and its gold-plated door was left open to show that Jesus was no longer there. He'd be back on Saturday night, of course, when the bells would ring and the organ would blare at midnight Mass, louder than at any other time of the year.

But starting on Thursday night, and all day Good Friday, there was silence, darkness, and black and purple everywhere. Even the little bell that we altar boys would ring at key parts of the Mass was put away, and a loud wooden knocker device was brought out to replace it.

In those days, religious people would keep the "three hours' silence," from noon to 3 p.m., to commemorate the three hours Jesus hung on the cross. It was a holiday, and banks and many government offices were closed. But the mood was anything but celebratory.

Like many Catholic grammar school kids, I was a little jittery all day as I hung around the block. Baseball season had just started, and so the boys were thinking about the Yankees. The first of the season's baseball cards were being tossed in competition against somebody's front stoop. But the emphasis on death, and on the ultimate in the supernatural -- the resurrection of the dead! -- was enough to make most of us a little edgy.

And so it was with great alarm that we discovered one April Good Friday afternoon that our neighborhood was on fire!

A duplex or four-plex a couple of blocks west of us caught fire. There was a pretty good breeze blowing our way, and burning cinders were falling around us. The smell of smoke was strong. The fire trucks, which luckily were based pretty close to the blaze, were blasting their sirens, adding to the drama.

We kids were in a panic as we watched the roof of a house on our block -- our block! -- catch fire from the cinders. Was this the end of the world? Was this Jesus showing us what His "descent into hell" was like? We remembered what the Bible said happened at the moment He died:

And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
We ran back into the house, where our elders had very concerned looks on their faces. The sirens got closer. We were dying to get out there and watch, but it was too dangerous. We were ordered to stay inside, and even the moms and grandmas did the same.

The main fire and the few spot fires that it spawned were put out pretty quickly. The party line telephones were ringing off the hook with the news when all was clear. The primary blaze caused a good amount of damage, but the smaller fires didn't do much harm. Nobody was hurt.

At 3:00, we all trudged dutifully to church for just another round of Stations of the Cross, right on schedule. But for about an hour there, we had already said enough prayers to last a month.

If you holler, he'll rant mo'

The grouchy one really gets off a classic about the Dumbest Lawsuit of the Decade (So Far).

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Smooth sailing

I took my car to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality this week for its biennial emissions check. It was a painless experience.

Dropping in at the DEQ test station on NE 33rd Drive in late morning on a weekday in the middle of the month, I was greeted with only a few minutes' wait -- just long enough to fill out the insurance information on the back of my vehicle registration renewal form. And although my car is old enough to need the "enhanced" treadmill test, the test itself only took a couple of minutes.

The nice clerk told me I passed, took my check for the test fee and the bargain-basement vehicle registration, and gave me my new registration tags. The whole thing took about five minutes from entry to exit through the gates.

Had the car not passed the test, I'm sure I would be a lot less magnanimous. But as things went, I can only say that I wish the rest of government worked this well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003


Here's a bumper sticker that's about to hit the streets:

If you'd like to buy one, go here.

Duck and cover

Every year, the law school at which I teach holds an auction to raise funds for students who want to do public service work over the summer. The auction is a social highlight of the school year, and it raises a lot of money for the cause. Most of the money spent at the auction comes from the students themselves, which is a bit ironic, but lots of outside parties donate most of the valuable items sold, so it's a net increase in "wealth" for the students who opt for public service. The faculty and staff of the school also donate items, including dinners, bowling parties, and raft trips.

I'll never forget the year we had a bottle of Vietnamese "snake liquor" in the silent auction. This was a large bottle of some sort of clear alcoholic beverage in which was suspended, and I am not making this up, a sizeable dead snake. I bid a lot on that one, but somebody else wanted it even more than I did.

The most expensive and sought-after item of them all, however, is "Dean for a Day," in which the high bidder gets to take over the school for a single 24-hour period. Usually a group of first-year students pools their funds to buy this one, and one never knows what one is going to find upon pulling onto campus on the designated day.

I try to lay low -- very low -- on "Dean for a Day" Day.

It's today.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Giving peace a bad name

Oregonian columnist S. Renee Mitchell really let the anti-war protest community have a piece of her mind yesterday about vandalism and violence in protests. She was steamed at the guy whom police are after for damaging the roof of an expensive car on the Morrison Bridge on the afternoon of March 15, when war protest fever was just starting to peak. If the protest community is so anti-violence, Mitchell asked, why is nobody stepping forward to turn this culprit in?

I like Mitchell's work, and I'm with her on this one.

You want to protest? That's the great thing about America, you can do it all you want, so long as you do it legally. Until you've stood on a picket line starting at 6 a.m. on a series of dark, cold, rainy Portland winter mornings, you have no idea how good it feels. If W. decides he's going to start throwing his hands around outside Iraq, I may even have to dust off my picketing hat and get out there myself.

It's cool to picket. It's cool to chant and sing. It's cool to leaflet. It's cool to blog. It's cool to talk to passersby about what you're trying to say. It's cool to camp out on the sidewalk for as long as you can stand it. It's cool to turn the other cheek when people give you the finger. It's even cool to block traffic on a city street for a little while, I guess.

But no matter how just the cause, it is not cool to run out or ride one's bicycle on an interstate freeway where people are driving at 70 miles an hour. It is not cool to break windows at McDonald's and Starbucks. It is not cool to spray paint a bunch of inanities on other people's buildings.

And it is not cool to start jumping up and down on the roof of somebody's car, with them in it, when they're just trying to get home from the grocery store.

The cops are offering $1,000 for this fellow's particulars. Peaceful protesters, turn him in and use the money to feed the peace campers, buy an ad somewhere, or create some great new signs:

The official "crime stoppers" notice on this "suspect" is here, and the phone number to call is (503) 823-4357.

And you go, S. Renee Mitchell.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Good old boys

It's tax time again across this great land of ours, and if you need a break from wrestling with your own taxes, take a look at George W. Bush's 2002 federal income tax return over here (pdf file) and Dick Cheney's over here. They're quite an eye-opener.

The Bushes reported income of around $856,000. They showed wages of nearly $400,000, and a whopping $436,000 in interest income. About $425,000 of interest came from W.'s blind trust, called "the Lone Star Trust." The return doesn't say exactly what that trust has invested in, but I recall reading somewhere that there were quite a few Treasury bonds in there. The end result was a federal tax bill of roughly $269,000 for the year, around 31% of the Bushes' adjusted gross income.

Overall, the Bushes' return isn't very revealing. A personal tidbit: the first couple still claims its twin 21-year-old daughters, Barbara and Jenna, as dependents. That's to be expected with them in college.

The Cheneys' return is more interesting. I remember, when Dick became V.P., how everyone said he was taking such a substantial pay cut by going back to work for the government. That is undoubtedly true, but from the looks of his tax return, old Dick is managing to eke out a living. He and his wife made more than $1.1 million in income last year, plus more than $559,000 of tax-exempt bond interest, and they rolled over nearly $1.6 million in pension distributions, presumably into one big-ass IRA.

Wonder why the Bush administration is so hot to eliminate the income tax on dividends? Check out the $491,000 in dividends on the Cheneys' return. At a top federal tax rate of 38.6%, that cost them nearly $190,000. If the full Bush tax cut goes through, that's another $190,000 a year the Cheneys won't have to pay to Uncle Sam, on top of the federal taxes they already save by investing in tax-sheltered bonds. (In contrast, the Bushes had dividends of only around $24,000. They are apparently way more into taxable bonds than into stocks, tax-exempts or mutual funds these days.)

In the end, the Cheneys wound up paying around $341,000 in federal tax. That's about 29% of their adjusted gross income, not including the tax-exempt bond interest. With the tax-exempt interest counted in, their tax rate was about 20%.

Charitable contributions are another interesting aspect of the returns. The Cheneys gave $122,000 to charity on an income well over $1.6 million; the Bushes, about $70,000 on income of more than $850,000.

Neither couple was subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

The bottom line on the Bushes' form is telling -- they didn't sign their own tax return. It looks like they had some guy from Northern Trust Co. sign for them as their attorney.

It must be nice.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Party on

Well, it looks like we're in for a $350 billion tax cut over the next 10 years, and staggering deficits that will put our children and grandchildren in hock way over their eyebrows.

The U.S. Senate, with Dick Cheney emerging from his undisclosed location to cast the tie-breaking vote, passed a budget yesterday that will cut taxes by that amount. It was billed as a setback for the White House, which had the nerve to ask for more than twice that amount in cuts, but even the Senate's smaller tax reductions threaten to bankrupt this country.

As reported in The New York Times today:

The budget plan shows a deficit of $385 billion in the fiscal year 2004, which begins Oct. 1, the largest deficit ever in dollar terms. It projects the deficit to decline annually until the budget is balanced in 2012.

Fiscal experts agree that these calculations are unrealistic. The resolution includes no money for keeping troops in Iraq after Sept. 30 and no funds for postwar reconstruction. It also envisions spending limits lower than Mr. Bush proposed, so low in fact that they would not cover the same level of services the government is providing this year.

The plan also shows military budgets after 2008 that are clearly much lower than the president or the Defense Department sees as adequate.

Well, it's a Republican Congress and a Republican White House, and they just deposed the Devil Incarnate, and darn it if they aren't going to get drunk on tax cuts and let the Democrats pay for it if and when they ever get back in power. They blast the Dems as "tax and spend," but the GOP is just "borrow and spend."

You 20-somethings, get ready to pay through the nose when these debts come due. But don't cry too loudly about it if you voted for this guy:

Friday, April 11, 2003

Election Day

One great thing about America is how often we get to vote on stuff.

Right now I'm filling out my ballot to name 12 members to the House of Delegates of the Oregon State Bar. As a member of the State Bar, I get to pick 12 out of the 19 folks who have volunteered to represent lawyer-heavy "Region 5" (Portland and vicinity) when the Bar meets to take action. Also up for a decision is a two-person race to select one Oregon lawyer to represent the state in the American Bar Association.

Thumbing through the "voter's pamphlet" to see who's running is always interesting. Hmmmm. There's the guy who represented me when I got divorced. Oh yes, I remember her from 25 years ago, nice person, wonder if she's grown up as much as I have? Hey, here's the guy who held the most famous field goal in Notre Dame history! Heckuva nice guy, gotta blacken the circle for him. Here's an ex-student of mine, she gets the nod. And... wait! Holy cow! It's the angry little blogging lawyer who wants a Segway! Definitely, we need his energy, ideas, and healthy outlook.

I know enough about six of these people to vote for them. So I'll seal it up and mail it in. Methinks the Bar will be in good hands.

Twinkle in his eye

The Grouchy Old Cripple in Atlanta reveals his soft spot.

Shooting for 3 in a row

This weekend, Tiger Woods is seeking his third consecutive
Masters title -- something no one has ever achieved.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Ding dong, Saddam is dead

Or badly hurt and deep in hiding, with no al-Jazeera to send us his latest home videos.

A ruthless dictator has been deposed by U.S. force.

So now what?

We rebuild Iraq. As Letterman pointed out last night, we make it into a strong, healthy nation... which hates us.

We move along in our icy relations with the U.N. and the nations that used to be our allies.

We look all over for those Weapons of Mass Destruction that we played charades over. If we don't find them, we'll have to conclude that they were there, but they've been shipped out to Syria.

Of course, we hire big corporations from Texas to make lots of money on the cleanup and nation building.

We start equipping commercial jets with anti-missile equipment.

We continue the "homeland" war on terrorism.

Why aren't we celebrating?

Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Mr. Fix-it

It was a day of good news on a number of fronts.

The one I'd like to talk about here is the news I got from my friend and former partner, Greg Macpherson, who is a representative in the Oregon Legislature. Macpherson has 25 years' experience as a pension lawyer, and I can tell you from personal experience that he is one bright dude with his heart in the right place.

Macpherson's office sent me an e-copy of his latest newsletter, which announces that he is working on trying to fix the PERS mess. For those who aren't familiar with it, PERS is the Oregon Public Employees' Retirement System, and it is very sick indeed. It has promised pension benefits to public employees so irresponsible that some will get twice as much money each month after they retire than they got when they were at the height of their careers. The outlandish benefits are threatening to bankrupt state and local governments, and they are already affecting state and municipal credit. The State Supreme Court has complicated the problems by holding that certain aspects of PERS can't be changed, no matter how ludicrous the windfall to the retirees.

But it is apparently possible to fix some matters prospectively, and that's what Macpherson is attempting to do. Here's the story from the newsletter:

Rep. Greg Macpherson unveiled a nonpartisan blueprint for a new retirement plan for public employees on Tuesday, and declared that the proposal meets the legislative PERS Committee's requirement for a system that is "affordable, reliable, sustainable and simple."

Macpherson, who serves on the House PERS Committee, outlined a proposal for a new system, called the Oregon Retirement Plan, that includes a "core defined-benefit plan" paid by employers, and a companion "defined-contribution" plan paid by members.

"This plan preserves the best features of both," said Macpherson, who is a lawyer with 25 years of professional experience in designing and running pension programs. "But it avoids the problems that created the present crisis in cost to employers and unfunded liability."

Macpherson pointed out that many public employers now pay more than 20 percent of their payroll in PERS payments. The new plan would keep that cost down to slightly over eight percent for most employers.

"This is well within the ballpark for other public pension plans around the country," Macpherson said.

The Oregon Retirement Plan would establish guaranteed pensions for retirees that pay them 45 percent of their final average salaries. The plan would also establish supplemental individual accounts, to which employees could contribute up to six percent of their salaries�a cost that employers could choose to pick up. The supplemental account would function much like a 401-K account. The individual account combined with the pension is expected to provide retirees with between 64 and 73 percent of their working salaries.

The Governor's office has expressed support for this approach to solving the long-term PERS problem, Macpherson said. "I have worked closely with the Governor's office in developing this proposal. His people support the concept and direction. They agree that it's the right vehicle for long-term PERS reform."

Representative Macpherson has presented the plan to his colleagues on the PERS Committee. The committee is expected to vote on a successor plan within the next week.

Whatever you might think of lawyers generally, this is a case for the special expertise that only an employee benefits pro like Macpherson can provide. I wish him the best in his efforts.

Speaking of gambles

One of the big issues on the governor's plate these days is whether to allow one or more of Oregon's Native American tribes to open a casino in metropolitan Portland. Right now there are a handful of Indian casinos around the state, big and small, good and not-so-good, but getting one open in the state's metropolitan center would be a major coup.

In the midst of the drive to bring major league baseball to town (see post below), one of the tribes, the Grand Ronde, popped up in the press and offered to pay for the stadium in exchange for the right to build a casino in Portland. Apparently the Grand Ronde is concerned about the Warm Springs Tribe's push to build a gambling facility that would be much closer to Portland than the Grand Ronde's nice Spirit Mountain Casino out toward the beach, and it was making its move publicly, hoping to get the competitive advantage by linking to baseball.

The governor said no, and although there have been bruised feelings all around (including in the mayor's office), that particular moment in history appears to have passed.

But the question isn't dead: Should a tribe be permitted to open an off-reservation casino in the Portland metro area?

My own view is that there's already too much legalized gambling in Portland. The so-called state "lottery" commission runs everything from "traditional" semi-weekly lotto drawings to four-digit drawings four times day, perpetual keno, video poker, scratch-off tickets, "breakopens," and even sports-book-style betting on pro football every fall. There are gambling machines and monitors in half the bars and virtually all the convenience stores. Little kids buying candy get to see their grandparents spending part of their Social Security checks on the hope that the Steelers will beat the spread.

How did we get here? It's truly a crazy tale. Many years ago -- 1984, I believe -- Oregonians were asked if they wanted a state lottery. The matter was put up for a public vote, and there was an earnest debate. But what was sold to the majority of voters then was just a nice, little, innocent, once-a-week Saturday night affair in which the state, like many other states at the time, would pick out six numbers and somebody would get lucky. The measure passed easily, and that was the last time we ever got to vote on which "products" the "lottery" offered to the public.

Now we have keno and sports book at every 7-11, and video poker machines in every bar, in the state. And the state is absolutely hooked on the money it generates.

If there's too much gambling around these parts already, which way does that "cut" for purposes of the off-reservation Indian casino in Portland?

And which tribe or tribes should get the business?

These are probably questions that should be addressed very carefully, without the din of baseball fever in the near background. I think Governor Ted did the right thing for now.

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Play ball

Regular readers of this blog (and they're up to about 80 a weekday) know that I don't like it when public money is wasted on frills, particularly at times like these, when our state and local governments are running on empty. So it might be surprising to find my name on the list that supports bringing a major league baseball team to Portland.

To do this will require the state to chip in $150 million toward the cost of a new stadium, which might run around $350 million overall to build. But the state's piece can be financed with government bonds, and the Oregon 9% income tax on the players' huge salaries should be more than enough to cover the payments on those bonds.

Having a big league team here would be an enormous stimulus to the local economy. The economic development that would spring up around the team should generate lots of new jobs and resulting tax revenues.

Sure, there are some risks. Some question whether there's a big enough fan base out there in the Portland metropolitan area to support a big league team over a 162-game season. But several major league teams such as the Montreal Expos are suffering greatly in their current locations, and itching to try someplace new.

Others have stated the case for major league baseball in Portland more eloquently and thoroughly than I could. To me, it's simply a gamble worth taking, even in these tough times.

Sunday, April 6, 2003

Rake that muck

Sunday's Oregonian contained a nice front-page investigative piece by Les Zaitz on wasteful spending within the ranks of our state legislators. While transplant patients prepared to die, mentally ill folks wandered the streets, and poor kids got a second-rate education, our elected lawmakers continued during their oh-so-painful special sessions last year to burn money on some extremely questionable items. Among the lowlights:

The Legislature sold off hundreds of perfectly good chairs in one of its hearing rooms for 77 cents each, then went out and spent $212,000 for new ones.

Taxpayers spent nearly $3700 for the Legislature to print up a 122-page trivia book, not counting what we paid House Democratic Leader Deborah Kafoury's staff to write it.

The Legislature has its own cook, with two helpers, who serve food in a lounge which is off-limits to all but the elected politicians, at a cost of more than $43,000 a year.

Rep. Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, and her husband, Sen. John Minnis, R-Wood Village, are reported to have taken a nice trip to Florida at taxpayers' expense. As Zaitz describes it:

Last August, Minnis and her husband, John, a state senator, flew to Florida for a meeting of conservative state legislators. By then, they had been through three budget-cutting special sessions and faced another one four days after returning from the Sunshine State.

The couple stayed at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, where the American Legislative Exchange Council was meeting. They also rented a car.

The resort is about 10 miles from the airport, but the couple drove 284 miles over six days. John Minnis said they "drove around the neighborhood" and went to nearby Disney World.

The two charged the trip's $2,289 cost to the state. That included a post-conference weekend at the resort and $464 for a Buick LeSabre. Minnis also brought her chief of staff, Gary Wilhelms, adding $1,496 to the cost.

According to the story, taxpayers also paid $1,990 to send Rep. Mark Simmons, in his final days as House speaker, and State Sens. Ken Messerle, R-Coos Bay, and Roger Beyer, R-Molalla --
to Hawaii for something called the Pacific Conference. They stayed at the Sheraton Maui, which promotes itself as "the perfect place to transform a business meeting into a mini-vacation."

The Pacific Conference involved morning sessions on public policy issues and free afternoons. Legislators said their lodging costs were covered by the Pacific Conference, but they weren't sure where its money came from.

Conference officials said 29 of America's largest companies -- including ExxonMobil and General Motors -- paid $5,000 each to fund the conference, including legislators' room bills.

But we taxpayers got to pay for the plane tickets for Simmons, Messerle and Beyer.

Shame, shame, on all of them.

Friday, April 4, 2003

Learning to like the Gov

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski gave a speech today at a large luncheon event for the business law side of the school at which I teach. I had a front row seat for this, and came away energized to do some things to help make Oregon a better place.

Expect less from government was an obvious message. Work together with other Oregonians, even the ones you don't agree with. Promote the state everywhere you go. Be as optimistic as you can. But stand up and complain when the stripped-down system is eliminating programs that are worth fighting for.

"There are people protesting budget cuts in Salem every day," the governor noted. "People from all parts of the state are complaining that we're cutting important programs on which their communities depend. I'd be disappointed if they weren't."

As for getting started with some remedies, Kulongoski promoted his plan to raise more than $100 million a year by doubling our (ridiculously low, in my view) vehicle registration fees and increasing vehicle title fees. That revenue would enable the state to float $2.1 billion of bonds to fix its aging transportation infrastructure, particularly crumbling freeway bridges over the Willamette and McKenzie Rivers. That's a few thousand jobs right there.

He's also promising to cut bureaucratic red tape that adversely impacts business, but at the same time maintain land use and environmental standards. That's quite a juggling act, but at least he's hearing both sides.

I've never been a big Kulongoski fan -- "holding my nose" is how I unkindly put it when I voted for him last fall -- but you've got to admire him for taking the job. His heart is in the right place. He's more of a deal man than his predecessor was, which is really needed now in place of the gridlock we've witnessed in Salem recently. And what the new governor's saying makes a lot of sense.

"I need your help," he repeated several times.

I'll try.

Blessing in disguise

It's a good idea to shake up your listening habits from time to time. This week, gravity did the job for me.

An ever-balky shelf finally gave way on the bookcase that holds my vinyl record albums. The other morning, everything between Pseudo Echo and McCoy Tyner came down with a thud.

There were no apparent casualties, although the R's, S's and T's now are all sitting on the floor in front of the bookcase, as my favorite furniture folks try to make a new shelf. Meanwhile, since it's hard to maneuver in the stereo closet, I've been sampling the chestnuts from that portion of the record alphabet.

I started with Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" -- breathtaking from start to finish. Then I tried Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" -- great, yet perhaps not quite as great as I remembered it.

My first complete listen in many years to the Rolling Stones' "Let It Bleed" really blew me away.

You youngsters who haven't heard "Let It Bleed" owe it to yourself to check it out. You'll recognize "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and "Gimme Shelter," the two album rock masterpieces in the set, but the rest of the record is also remarkable. "Monkey Man" and "You Got the Silver" have gotten lost in the shuffle over the years; they are fantastic songs. Imagine what your parents must have felt when, never having heard any of these tunes, they first put this LP on the turntable and turned it up. Wow.

I'm not in a real hurry to get that new shelf now.

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Why I'm rooting for Marquette

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Unhappy coincidence

A couple of weekends ago I posted a little story on my music blog, Yakety Yak, about Motown soul singer Edwin Starr. Today comes word that Edwin has left us at the age of 61. God rest your soul, Edwin. (Thanks to Matt for relaying the sad news.)

Me and Erik down by the schoolyard

As I mentioned here yesterday, Portland Commissioner Erik Sten and I had an e-mail exchange this week about this blog, and some of the criticisms I've lobbed in his direction from this blog. For my part, I told him that I thought the city's current priorities are all wrong -- that we're wasting time on frills like the tram, streetcars, Convention Center expansion, campaign finance reform, public WiFi, etc., while our foundation is crumbling. I also told him I thought the city was being taken for a ride on PGE -- that if no real utility wanted the company more than the city did, it must be a bad deal for the city's taxpayers. I also opined that the Bull Run regionalization plan was misguided, that the city should maintain control of the water system, and that if the suburban customers didn't want to pay for system improvements through higher water rates, they could drink the Willamette.

Here is some of his response:

I think you have a strong point on the need to focus. I agree with some of your things, and not others. I think our basic infrastructure, like water and electricity, are key things for the next fifty years. That's probably a whole conversation in itself. Let me quickly share some thoughts on the specifics that you've been following.

If you'll allow one jab back at you, the tone of the blog leaves no doubt about your estimation of your own intelligence. You're a tad quick to assume that I can't see the obvious as well. There are 27 water districts for four sources of water, if you count the Willamette, which was unnecessary, but now exists. That's inefficient and costs you money. My original proposal was that we would merge all the districts into three. That was too much for people, but you would not have lost control as a ratepayer, the City govt., which you seem to dislike, would have lost control. Nonetheless, we are exactly where you would like us to be with the suburbs needing to sign a contract. Only difference is our relations are good, as opposed to terrible when the Willamette decision was made. Make no mistake about it, you want the suburbs' money. I do very much understand water bureau economics, and losing those customers, is not incidental. My regional efforts changed the psychology and now we'll get a good contract.

It's humorous to read your blog as if Dan had blocked something against my wishes. I'm outspoken, but not careless, and you have not heard me lamenting Dan's decision. We asked for a lot of money, they said no, and now we are all friends in a way that is positive. It's also worth noting that we have no good source of back-up when something goes wrong on the mountain. We could use better regional interties.

PGE is a much trickier situation, and we may just disagree. The private world is not passing up the opportunity because the company is a poor investment. It is passing it up for two distinct reasons. First, the FERC and SEC rulings make it very difficult for a private company to take over the corporate structure. We are contemplating an asset purchase. Second, capital is hard to find right now and companies are cautious. We have Goldman Sachs engaged to issue revenue bonds that are at a good rate of interest and have no recourse to the tax base. For that reason, we have a unique position, and a very unusual opportunity. That being said, we won't move forward without a good purchase price and a clear shot to reduce the cost basis of electricity by a substantial amount.

We will hire a private firm to operate it. One possible outcome is that Enron breaks up the company into pieces. If you compare that choice with a municipal purchase, you quickly see that all likely paths come with risk. If I understand your argument right, we should sit it out. Intellectually, I'm curious to know your preferred strategy. If a good private buyer emerges, we would be willing to defer.

That's a lot of blog from me, so I'll stop there. I do agree on the issue of priorities. I've backed off on some things you mention for just that reason.

Later on, he added: "I've just recently been tuned in to the blog universe, and I think it's a great way to get views out there."

Indeed it is.

Tuesday, April 1, 2003


Sgt. Jack Steele, adjunct professor of law, continues to work his way through the syllabus.

Mail/wakeup call

I got an e-mail message yesterday from Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten, whom I have lambasted on numerous occasions in this blog. Sten had gotten a link here from Kari Chisholm, who runs in the same political circles as the Commish.

It was a very polite message asking me for further thoughts on my opposition to "regionalization" of the Bull Run water supply and the city's planned takeover of Portland General Electric. I was glad to provide them.

But the exchange also reminded me that this isn't just some little private diary I'm writing here. People are actually reading this stuff. Including the people whom I've been calling names.

It's not good to call people names.

I still think the city has its priorities all wrong, and that it's piling on the frills while its foundation is crumbling. And I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to say so.

But I think I'm going to stop calling people "nitwits."

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