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

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April 2004 Archives

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Closed Will Return at

The blogging lamp will be dark here until Sunday night or Monday morning (depending on how much comment spam I've got to clean up when I return).

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Why Perez was stopped

The traffic stop that led to last month's fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American man by white Portland police officers was based on some pretty skinny grounds. As The Oregonian reports, one of the two officers involved testified at the public inquest today as follows:

Macomber and Sery, patrolling in North Portland in a district police call "Area 524," had just cited a gang member for having an open container of alcohol when Macomber said he spotted a white "luxury" car with chrome wheels and tinted windows. There were two men in the car as it moved north on North Oswego Street.

The officers would learn later that Perez was behind the wheel, although neither he nor the car were known to the officers. Sery ran a check of the license plate, and learned the car, a Mitsubishi, was registred to a man in his mid- 40s. Perez was 28.

The car was out of place, Macomber testified. It was on a back street, not a main thoroughfare, and Macomber said it looked like it would cost "about a third of what a home in the area would cost." It seemed likely to him that the car was involved in drug activity, he said. ...

Perez turned into the parking lot of a coin laundry and convenience store in the 7200 block of North Fessenden Street. Macomber pulled in behind him and flipped on his overhead flashing lights.

Perez had used his signal, but only 30 feet before the turn, Macomber said, giving officers the "technical reason" for the stop. The law requires drivers to signal 100 feet before turning.

I thought the Portland police were understaffed and extremely busy. Is this what they do all day?

What's really "troubling"

Say what you want about Bush and Cheney, they have cojones muy grandes. They're going to question John Kerry's military record? The guy went to Nam and got shot at while Little Lord Fauntlebush was drinking hard in an officers' club down in Texas.

You can't trust the Democrats on national security, they say. Really? If Gore were President, where would we be right now? Granted, Saddam Hussein would still be in power. But the United States would have real partners in the fight against radical Muslim terrorism, which could come in handy. And I doubt that that group would have stayed out of Afghanistan.

So doesn't it boil down to this: That to get rid of Saddam, we've alienated our allies and started a fight that we can't finish (at least not without reinstituting a Vietnam-style draft)?

Was it worth it?

"If I see the gun, I'm dead"

I got out of my arbitration hearing today just in time to hear the end of the first day of the city inquest into the James Jahar Perez killing. I look forward to reading and hearing news accounts of the proceeding, but Portland Communique provides quite a bit of coverage already.

So far, the most revealing exchange came between DA Schrunk and William Lewinski, the "police psychology" professor who was testifying as an expert. As b!X retells it:

How quickly could someone bring a gun from a console or a pocket area, with an officer standing close to that subject, even if they've decided to wait to see the gun? At a minimum, the officer, he [the expert] says, will have at least two, maybe three, bullets already coming at him.

"In simple terms," asks Schrunk, "if I see the gun, I'm dead?" Yes, says Lewinski.

The standard I have thought should be applied to police officers is that they must not shoot until they see the weapon. If this expert's opinion is accepted, and for all I know it is the standard that the police actually use, officers must shoot before they even see a gun. They need to guess whether there is a gun, and whether the suspect is getting ready to use it.

But what criteria are they to use? The partner of the officer who fired the shots at the unarmed Perez testified that he had a "sense" that "something bad" was about to happen. Is that going to be the standard?

The victim, they say, kept reaching into his pocket. How long should that have gone on before the officer killed him? And would a 50-year-old white guy driving a Jeep Cherokee in Raleigh Hills get a few extra seconds to stop doing that?

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Wide World of Links

The convergence of a number of other tasks has caused me to be a real slouch in the blogging department this week. But thanks to my alert readers, I have several links to offer.

First, we had a front-page story in The New York Times today about an especially creative creative writing student at NYU. Another fine blogger success story! But I can't seem to find the blog that made him famous. With all the publicity he's gotten, the guy may have encountered a major bandwidth problem. (He's supposed to be broke, after all.)

Then, with June rolling around, brides-to-be may be interested in this great deal on eBay.

And as part of our commitment to keep you, the reader, abreast of IRS-related developments in the Western region of the country, we offer this news story from our 50th state.

Thanks to Lorne, and to whoever steered me to the other two stories. I'm so punchy at the moment, I can't recollect my sources.

One less career change option

I have always thought that if offered a position as a judge on a prestigious court, I would have a hard time passing it up. Granted, there might be some background-check issues, heh heh, but if I cleared those, I'd seriously entertain such an offer.

After spending the last two days serving as an arbitrator (with another day set for tomorrow), I have changed my mind. Presiding over people's disputes, although stimulating and exciting on an occasional basis, is not the way I'd prefer to spend my regular workweek.

Follow the money

The Portland City Auditor's office has done an amazing thing. It has put on line (as pdf douments) all the campaign finance reports of all the candidates in the upcoming municipal elections. It's a gold mine of information about who's financing political campaigns in these parts (and in many cases, who's buying access to the occupants of City Hall).

You political junkies of Portland, the fun starts here. Click on over and see for yourselves.

b!X has started entering some of the data onto his blog. I'm hoping somebody puts all of it into an Excel (spreadsheet) file so that it can be sorted in more meaningful ways than the chronological presentations that the report forms give. Then we could really have some fun.

Another batch of reports will be out in early May -- one hopes, before the dedadline for mailing in those ballots.

Thank you, City Auditor's office. We've waited a long time for this. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but are any of these forms filed electronically? And would it be possible for interested residents to get a copy of the electronic files?

Monday, April 26, 2004

Retain Justice Kistler

You should vote to retain Rives Kistler on the Oregon Supreme Court. Rives brings an extraordinary wealth of intelligence, integrity, and fairness to that court. His opponent's not so hot, but he would have to be a star just to get into the same league (which he doesn't).

Endorsement time

The Voter's Pamphlet is here, and the ballots won't be far behind. Here are my picks for the upcoming races in the Portland area:

Portland City Commissioner: Nick Fish. Sam Adams is just Vera Katz in men's underwear (I think). Deny it as he will, his fingerprints are all over PGE Park, the Convention Center expansion, the OHSU aerial tram, and one waste of taxpayers' dollars after another. He was Katz's "economic development" chief. Just look at the state of the city's economy, and his record speaks for itself. If he wants to hold public office, let him start in the state legislature, the county commission, or Metro, where he can prove he's not the kind of guy who would waste taxpayers' money to make Homer Williams and Neil Goldschmidt happy. He doesn't deserve a cakewalk onto the City Council. Quite the opposite.

Portland City Commissioner: Randy Leonard. Randy has done a lot to shake things up at City Hall, and in that sense, he has lived up to his previous campaign promises to be the outsider and represent a neglected constituency. I don't mind much that he's rubbed the neighborhood association types the wrong way. But I'm very concerned that he was flown down to Las Vegas to be named some national developers' group's pet politician of the year. And he's right there with a yes vote for the RiverPlace streetcar and the Pearl theater. Randy, I'm still with you, buddy. But the day you and I part company is definitely in sight: the day you vote to spend city transportation funds for an operating subsidy for that stinking aerial tram.

Mayor: James Posey. Jim Francesconi is West Hills money with an Alameda mailing address (don't forget, he's a proud director of Portland Aerial Transportation, Inc.). Gongg!!! But try as I might to warm up to his principal rival, Tom Potter, that guy is just a bag of vague platitudes. With all the problems Portland is facing, you would think he'd offer some specifics. Except for his expertise in running the Police Bureau (which alone tempts me to vote for him), however, Potter has presented nothing concrete to merit the mayor's office. At least Posey has looked the voters in the eye, spoken from the heart, and said some things that needed to be said. For example, abolishing the Portland Development Commission, because it's just a tool for the wealthy. Right on, James! He probably can't win, but a vote for Posey is a vote for a runoff, likely between Francesconi and Potter. And it would send a message to both of them. Good enough for now.

Busse? Nah. Anyone who says he's a politician and a journalist at the same time doesn't get my vote.

Multnomah County Commissioners: No endorsements. I am weary to the bone of the Sisters of Hawthorne. They bitch about the school funding situation, but then they retreat into an aromatherapy-filled back room and come out with their gay marriage adventure. Now the state is so polarized and paralyzed that any reasonable conversation about tax reform or restoring faith in government has been postponed indefinitely. They haven't administered the county income tax very well, either. I'm not going to endorse the anti-gay-marriage folks who popped up at the last minute to run against them. But I'm never going to urge people to vote for them, either. Indeed, I wish they had some credible opposition.

In the East County race, I endorse Lonnie.

Measure 26-53: No. On its face, it looks innocent enough: If a candidate for city office gets a majority vote in a primary, he or she automatically wins the position, rather than have to run unopposed in the general election. I guess it's supposed to save money, although seriously, folks, how many dollars are we talking about? Plus, if the victorious candidate is caught having sex with animals over the summer, why shouldn't he or she have to face the voters again in November? More importantly, I hear a rumor (although you'd never know it from the Voter's Pamphlet) that this measure would change the method for determining the number of signatures necessary for initiative and referendum petitions in future city elections. That alone deserves a closer look, which nobody's given it. Which adds up to a no vote from me.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Collateral damage

While on the subject of Steve Duin rants, he's also launched two at Blazers owner Paul Allen on account of the latter's placing his Portland real estate company, the Oregon Arena Corp., in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Duin chides the billionaire for playing deadbeat on the mortgage on the Rose Garden arena -- a mortgage held by a large teachers' and college professors' pension fund. (The same sentiment was voiced here a couple of months ago.)

Duin overlooked the latest scoop on this debacle, though -- the part where Portland taxpayers take one in the shorts. It turns out that, as part of the bankruptcy, Allen's company may wind up walking away from its contractual obligation to operate the city-owned Memorial Coliseum. The Coliseum, which hosts lesser events and has run seriously in the red ever since the Rose Garden opened next door, could conceivably be handed back to the city to operate. There it would join the city's money-bleeding PGE Park and the chronically empty (but heavily mortgaged and taxpayer-financed) Convention Center for the historic Trifecta of Bad Economic Development Deals, engineered by our illustrious mayor and her former economic development aide.

A decade ago, when Allen originally got the deal from the city that allowed him to build the Rose Garden, many questioned whether he was getting too sweet a deal. One answer to the critics was, "At least he'll run the Coliseum for us."

Well, now he could well be walking away from that commitment, too. "The rich are different from you and me." Thank heaven.

Fighting Ray Charles

Oregonian columnist Steve Duin really lets the Portland police have it today.

He speaks for many of us.

I hate the Lakers

Through my stupor of fatigue, I have managed to catch a couple of hours of the NBA playoffs on TV. I don't really like the NBA much any more, but with the Blazers not in the playoffs this year (I fiendishly enjoyed jogging around an empty Rose Garden last evening), I'm naively hopeful that the league might one day become more likeable once again.

There's one eternal truth that won't be changing any time soon, though: I hate the Lakers.

I hate Shaq. I hate Kobe. I hate Phil "Col. Sanders" Jackson. I hate Derek Fisher. I hate Gary Payton. And although I'm occasionally tempted to respect him, I hate Karl Malone the worst. So many future NBA Hall of Famers, all on the same team. I hate them all.

On Friday night, the Houston Rockets made me extremely happy by beating the schmucks from Staples and narrowing their seven-game series to 2-1 in favor of the Lakers.

For me the defining moment came in the fourth quarter, when, with one referee sidelined with an injury and neither of the other two watching, Malone punched the Rockets' star center, the Chinese sensation Yao Ming, in the kidney.

Nice, Karl. You've made a career out of crap like that. Enjoy your arthritis. I pray that you and your loathsome teammates are eliminated as soon as possible.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Friday on my mind

Hello out there, blog fans. Sorry to have neglected you today. I've been writing, writing, writing like a madman -- just not here (aside from answering a few comments). Slightly less fascinating stuff, like this:

Figure 1 presents a diagram of the fair market value analysis, with the willing buyer's and seller's expectations (along with their knowledge and their goals) being the driving forces brought to the hypothetical sale. When the subsequent events relate to the condition or quality of the subject asset, such as the fragile earning power or "looming" liquidity problems of SSE in Okerlund, their probative value depends on the expectations of the hypothetical parties. These events prove value only to the extent that they might have been expected -- that is, anticipated or predicted -- by the willing buyer and seller as they sat down at the bargaining table. Thus, their relevance and weight should be analyzed along the lines of the diagram in Figure 2.
Now it's time to go answer some students' questions about the arcane and complex tax laws that I've been telling them about for the past 14 weeks. When I return home, I believe a crash on the couch to "watch some basketball" (shorthand for a long nap) will be in order.

By the time I awake, we all will be deep into our weekend. God bless us, every one, let's have a great couple of days.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The Kerry spam continues

Today I received a lovely fund-raising e-mail from none other than Robert Redford. "Today is Earth Day," it begins, "and I am afraid."

Me too, Bob.

No bill

The Multnomah County grand jury has decided not to indict Portland police officer Jason Sery, who recently shot and killed an unarmed African-American man in a North Portland traffic stop.

It's not surprising. Grand juries rarely indict police officers.

Observers of the Portland scene have been hoping that the aftermath of this police killing would be different from the many others that have gone on before.

It hasn't been.

So far.

Words of wisdom

A friend and colleague relays this story:

When NASA was preparing for the Apollo Project, it took the astronauts to a Navajo reservation in Arizona for training. One day, a Navajo elder and his son came across the space crew walking among the rocks. The elder, who spoke only Navajo, asked a question. His son translated for the NASA people: "What are these guys in the big suits doing?" One of the astronauts said that they were practicing a trip to Mars.When his son relayed this comment, the Navajo elder got all excited and asked if it would be possible to give to the astronauts a message to deliver to the Martians.

Recognizing a promotional opportunity when he saw one, a NASA official, accompanying the astronauts said, "Why certainly!" and told an underling to get a tape recorder. The Navajo elder's comments into the microphone were brief. The NASA official asked the son if he would translate what his father had said. The son listened to the recording and laughed uproariously. But he refused to translate. So the NASA people took the tape to a nearby Navajo village and played it for other members of the tribe. They too laughed long and loudly but also refused to translate the elder's message to the moon.

An official government translator was summoned. After he finally stopped laughing the translator relayed the message: "Watch out for these a*sholes. They have come to steal your land."

They're back

Two of my favorite blogs, Hanlonvision and Frolic and Detour, are back in action after long hiatuses. (Hiati?)

Alli of Frolic has a new address and design, and she said something nice about me yesterday. The woman's a genius, I tell ya.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Show's over

Well, tonight concludes another school year's worth of tax classes, taught by yours truly. This semester included Partnership Tax -- bitchiest course in the law school curriculum, IMHO -- at 8:00 to 9:30 at night, two nights a week. It wasn't so tough on me; check the times of many of my posts to this blog, and you'll see that 9:30 p.m. for me is like other folks' noon. But it isn't so for most of the students, who labored over some positively gnarly tax technicalities with me at the ends of some very long days.

Hey, whatever -- classes are out, for better or worse. It's on to exams, and then to summer. My first lectures of the fall term are more than four months away.

I've got the best job in the world.


So, how'd we do?

I hear a deafening silence so far regarding how much Multnomah County collected in the first year of its new, supposedly temporary, individual income tax.

The estimates that County Chair Diane Linn mailed to every household in the county last September said that it would bring in $128 million a year, with $7 million of it to be spent on collection.

I've said all along the county would never collect that much, because it didn't make mandatory wage withholding part of the new tax system. Income taxes don't work without withholding, and since withholding's not required for the Multnomah County income tax, most employers won't do it.

And a lot of taxpayers just haven't paid, and aren't going to unless the collector shows up at their door. The last figures I saw, in early March, showed that only $22 million had come in. Now we're nearly a week past the April 15 deadline for payment of 2003 taxes. All the local mail from last week has been delivered by now, and one would think the envelopes would have been opened and the money counted by now. And so far, no word on how much tax actually came in.

Until an official announcement, it's anybody's guess, but I'm thinking around $90 million at most. That's less than three quarters of the projections. I'm sure the Sisters of Hawthorne have been working furiously on a spin for that one.

Expect a lot of angry folks who paid, when they hear how many didn't. Not angry enough to vote to repeal the tax -- the petitions being circulated now won't pass, although it will be close. But angry enough, and with low enough morale, that political consequences will eventually be felt.

That's what happens when you have an income tax system run by a bunch of rookies.

And notice that it's too late to get a decent mandatory withholding system in place in 2004. The year is almost one-third gone, and employers and their payroll clerks (or payroll services) need a couple of months to ramp up. So the situation isn't going to get any better until 2005 at the earliest.

Which is supposed to be the third and final year of this tax.

Same-sex marriage court ruling

Just a few words about Judge Frank Bearden's ruling yesterday on same-sex marriage in Multnomah County. The decision is being spun so much by all sides, I'm already slightly motion-sick. Plus, the comments on this story tend to get nasty, so I'll be brief.

Judge Bearden's ruling is here. He basically agreed with the Oregon attorney general. He held that the state's hetero-only marriage statute was unconstitutional (under the state constitution), but he indicated that a "separate but equal" system of "civil unions" for gay couples might be enough to fix the problem. So long as they get all the legal benefits afforded to married hetero couples, gay couples might not have the right to the word "marriage."

So much for the substantive issue, and on that, the Multnomah County Circuit Court is not the last word. The Oregon Court of Appeals may get a crack at it, or it might be taken directly to the Oregon Supreme Court, which will have the final say. (Of course, there could be a constitutional amendment passed by the voters of the state in the meantime, but to me that seems unlikely.)

At this point, however, Judge Bearden is in charge on all procedural matters, including the means of remedying the unconstitutionality. And his order yesterday requires Multnomah County to stop issuing same-gender marriage licenses until the legislature has had 90 days to come up with a remedy (which the courts, of course, would then get to judge). That's 90 days from the next time the legislature (now in recess) meets as a whole. In so holding, the judge accepted the wise suggestions of the opponents of gay marriage that the matter needs to be resolved at a state, and not a county, level.

So everybody can say they won, for now, and Judge Bearden (who runs for re-election every six years) can hope to fade back into the background. But his order is likely to stand for at least a few months, if not a year or so. The legislature now appears unlikely to meet before next January, which would put the court's deadline for action at April 2005. And although the ACLU and the anti-gay-marriage folks would like to rush the appeals courts into a quick decision on their beef, there's been no indication so far that they will go along.

Around here, the higher courts don't usually expedite cases. And one would think that the Oregon Supreme Court, whose newest and only openly gay member is currently running for "retention" (re-election) against a noisy right-wing opponent, would not accept an accelerated timetable for this "hot button" issue.

Be that as it may, one interesting question is what is going to happen in Benton County (Corvallis and vicinity). You may recall that the county commissioners there suspended issuing all marriage licenses -- gay and straight -- until the Multnomah court ruled. Now that the court has spoken, and done so in an ambiguous fashion, what will Benton County do? Go back to hetero-only licenses? Continue to issue no licenses at all? Or dare to issue same-sex licenses? Unfortunately for them, Judge Bearden's thrown the hot potato right back.

I guess we'll see in a few days.

Caution: Paying attention will raise your blood pressure

Yesterday's New York Times served up a heapin' helpin' of alarm and outrage.

Level yellow: The IRS has been adding political messages about the glories of the Bush administration tax policies onto its official notices to taxpayers. Four April 9 news releases from the tax collection agency included this little tidbit:

America has a choice: It can continue to grow the economy and create new jobs as the president's policies are doing, or it can raise taxes on American families and small businesses, hurting economic recovery and future job creation.
Trust me, readers, I know something about this -- this is the worst politicization of the IRS since Nixon sicced the agency's auditors on his political enemies 30 years ago. The tax system is already teetering on the brink of a major disaster, and this administration picks now as the time to turn official IRS notices into a free medium of political campaigning. Very, very dangerous stuff. This behavior is stupid and reckless. It's got to stop immediately.

Level red: Political "scientists" are now putting human guinea pigs through MRI experiments to see what parts of their brains light up when political television ads are played before them. You talk about a distortion of the democratic principles on which this country is based -- this takes the cake. We're starting to make Orwell look like Pollyanna. Special shame goes out to the sick and desperate humans who are actually subjecting their brains to gratuitous radiation in the "cause" of perfecting the TV campaign ad. What losers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Speaking with authority

My good friend and former partner John Bradach Sr. had a thoughtful guest commentary published on Oregon Live yesterday. He's asked that I post a link to it on this blog. I do so gladly.

You think you have a stake in 9/11 and the war in Iraq? John may have you beat.

The earth moves

Big news, weblog fans. One of the world's most prominent bloggers, Howard Bashman, has moved his blockbuster blog How Appealing off Blogspot. More significantly, he's apparently picked a sponsor, a magazine called Legal Affairs, and he's posting on their site now.

Good for them. Good for him.

Still no comments, though....

Got a pimp name yet?

If not, let a pro assign you one. He'll keep trying 'til you get one you like.

For today, I'm going with "Funk Master Jack Trump." (Via LL Robot.)

Who controls the PDC?

Portland mayoral candidate James Posey's suggestion that the Portland Development Commssion be abolished, at least in its current form, got me thinking. It was high time I learned more about who runs the PDC. Like Posey, I don't like the vast majority of what they've been doing with my tax dollars in recent years. I needed to spend some time to figure out who "they" are.

It didn't take long at all. And the answer is, well, depressingly predictable.

The PDC is a creature of a 1958 public vote by which Portland voters established a commission to oversee urban renewal in the Rose City. The law passed by that vote has become Chapter 15 of the City Charter. The PDC is run by five commissioners, all appointed by the mayor; they serve staggered three-year terms.

The current commissioners' biographies, and the bio's of current top management, can be found here, on the PDC website. Chair Matt Hennessee's life story provides Clue No. 1 as to who really controls PDC:

Matt has 8.5 years of experience at nike, Inc., where he served in a variety of roles in customer service, distribution, and operations nationally and internationally.
Scroll down a bit and take a look at Commissioner Janice Wilson's life story, where you find this:
During her tenure at the bank she served for two years as an executive on loan to the City of Portland as the Executive Director of the Bureau of Human Services at the request and under the direction of then Mayor...
And there's Clue No. 2. But if you still don't have the answer, you'll get it when you read the sketch of the executive director and CEO of the PDC, Don Mazziotti, which reads in part:
Past positions include: Chief Planner for the City of Portland; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation for the U.S.; Secretary of Commerce for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Chief Executive Officer, Delta Development Group, Inc. and Chief Information Officer for the State of Oregon.
We could probably find some more dots to connect, but that ought to be enough. Surely you've figured it out by now, haven't you? Who else has Portland City Hall, Nike, Federal Department of Transportation, and the State of Oregon on his resume? (Last hint: It's somebody whose clients (and he) make a lot of money doing business with the PDC.)

I hope the next mayor is more independent of folks like that than the current one is.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Taking the pledge

Last week, I said in a blog entry that after I filed my taxes, I was going to get drunk. After seeing this photo essay, however, I changed my mind. (Via VodkaPundit.)

Sunday, April 18, 2004

He read my mind

Finally, one of the candidates for mayor of Portland has said something specific that speaks to me. And it's James Posey. His thought is this:

Posey, a small-business man, advocated getting rid of the Portland Development Commission based on urban renewal money, which he said goes too often to the city's rich and powerful.
As a Portlander who pays urban renewal property taxes into the great PDC slush fund, only to see it buy theaters for the Pearl District and aerial trams for Homer Williams, I say, right on, James Posey!

And if we can't abolish the PDC (I'm sure the deck is stacked to make that next to impossible), we ought to tear it apart and put it back together in such a way that our (and Uncle Sam's) tax dollars go to projects that a majority of Portland voters support.

If my ballot were on the kitchen counter today, I'd be blackening the circle for Posey. Actually, at this point, a vote for any candidate except Mr. Moneybags is a vote for a runoff. And that's a very good vote.

Will it play in Portlandia?

There sure is a lot of interest in Bush's, Cheney's, and Kerry's tax returns. It's been a busy weekend on the old hit counter for this blog.

Which leads me to thinking... Wouldn't it be great if we could see the tax returns of the current crop of candidates for Portland municipal office? If I could get them in a pdf file, I'd host them, and we could all spend some time analyzing them.

What do you say, readers? Should we start telling the mayoral and City Council candidates that our inquiring minds want to see their tax returns? At least as to their Multnomah County income tax returns, I'd say we have a moral right to know!

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Equal time

By popular demand, I have taken a look at John Kerry's 2003 federal tax return, and I must say it is a measure of the man himself. That is to say, pretty boring!

Kerry and his ketchup-fortune-heiress spouse file separate tax returns, and they release only his to to the public. Under the tax laws, items pass so easily between spouses that it's very difficult to judge either one's wealth by looking at just his or her return. Thus, it's hard to get too excited about anything on JFK Lite's return, since his wife obviously wears the money belt in the family.

Why do the Kerrys file separately? Surely it must be for privacy. It seems unlikely that this arrangement saves the couple any taxes.

In any case, the Democratic candidate for President is no slouch in the income department. He lists $147,818 in salary, $89,220 in royalties, and a $145,805 capital gain for the year. He received $11,141 in dividends on stocks, $1,250 in taxable interest, and $871 of tax-exempt interest. Throw in a $104 tax refund that he got from Massachusetts, and his gross for the year was $395,338.

On the deduction side, John Boy looks as though he led a pretty typical American life. He paid $8,381 in state income taxes, and $3,326 in interest on a home mortgage. Most significantly, he shows a $43,650 deduction for gifts to charity. After his deductions take a "haircut" on account of his high level of gross income, he's left with a taxable income of $346,664. Like Dick Cheney, he falls into the ever-widening alternative minimum tax (AMT) trap. And so his tax for the year (before a foreign tax credit of $84 for taxes paid to the U.K.) winds up to be $90,659 (not including interest, which he very well may owe because he had too little taken out during the year and wound up having to write a check for $63,298 to Uncle Sam).

As reported on his original return, Kerry's tax was 22.93% of adjusted gross; 22.88% of gross including tax-exempt interest; and 26.15% of taxable income. However, after correction by his accountants (see below), Kerry's tax was 25.86% of adjusted gross; 25.8% of gross including tax-exempt interest; and 29.49% of taxable income. The comparable percentages for President Bush and Vice President Cheney were as follows:

Bush: Tax was 27.67% of adjusted gross; 27.67% of gross including tax-exempt interest; 31.29% of taxable income.
Cheney: Tax was 19.59% of adjusted gross; 12.5% of gross including tax-exempt interest; 30.54% of taxable income.
Kerry: Tax was 25.86% of adjusted gross; 25.8% of gross including tax-exempt interest; 29.49% of taxable income.
Based on a comparison of those first two percentages, it's interesting to note that the wealthiest of the three, Dick Cheney, had by far the lowest tax rates. He certainly didn't get that rich by being dumb! (Bush and Kerry, on the other hand, weren't far apart.)

Anyway, getting back to Kerry, he's a trust fund baby, being the beneficiary of no fewer than four trusts. These are what produced most of his $12,000 or so of investment income. One of the trusts also produced run-of-the-mill capital gains for him of about $2,600. But his big capital gain was his $175,000 profit on the sale in March 2003 of a one-half interest in a painting by Dutch baroque era painter Adam Willaerts. The sale price of Kerry's half was $675,000, and his tax "basis" in it was $500,000. That's a $1,350,000 painting, folks. (Apparently it was purchased in May of 1996 for $1 million.) It's not clear from the return who owned the other half of the painting, or whether their share was sold. Anyway, it must be nice.

Kerry's accountants miscalculated the tax on the gain on the sale of the painting. It should have been taxed at 28 percent, instead of the 20 percent rate that they used. Kerry has already filed an amended return and paid another $11,577 in tax to clean up this blooper, for a revised federal tax bill (before foreign tax credit) of $102,236.

Kerry received a $89,220 royalty during the year (on his book, apparently) via the Helen Reese Agency in Boston. Unlike Lynne Cheney, who paid Medicare tax on her book royalties, Kerry took the position that his author activities are sufficiently limited that the royalties do not rise to the level of "net earnings from self-employment." Very interesting. If Kerry had reported the royalties the way Cheney had, he would have paid well over $2,000 in additional tax on them.

Continue reading "Equal time" »

Community policing at last?

Portlanders may get a kick out of catching up with this guy. There's lots of information here and here, and some more photos here and here.

News roundup

In the course of dashing around the last day or two (I managed to fix the toilet without even having to drive to the hardware store), I've read some stuff that made me stop and think.

My former student and favorite hippie lawyer Alan Graf had a nice opinion piece in the Trib about civilian police review.

The Portland State University paper did a good job with the earthquakes that keep occurring down near the South Sister (that's a mountain, for you non-Northwestern readers).

Meanwhile, in a piece that Michael Totten also liked, I was quite impressed by Paul Berman's commentary in the Thursday New York Times about what we have accomplished in Iraq (both for better and for worse), and what we (especially Democrats) should be doing about it now. It's a centrist view that really speaks to me. As John Edwards does.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Be back later

I've got a lot of irons in the fire (including toilet repair!), and today's one of those days where not everything's going to get the attention it deserves. Alas, this means you, dear readers, at least for a few more hours.

There's always that roster of links over on the left...

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Best of times, worst of times

Our older daughter sight-read her first word for me today.

It was "Disney."

The ides of April

I've been so absorbed with Dick Cheney's taxes these last couple of days that I have neglected my own. Today's the day for TurboTax to do its handiwork and print out all the forms that the Bogdanskis need to file. Then the checkbook comes out.

We've got no fewer than six envelopes, folks, and six checks:

Federal 2003 income tax return
Oregon 2003 income tax return
Multnomah County 2003 income tax return
Tri-Met 2003 self-employment tax return
Federal 2004 income tax quarterly deposit
Oregon 2004 income tax quarterly deposit

Not to mention the tax on the gas that I'll have to buy to get me out on my taxpaying errands. And whatever other sly ways the government will have to squeeze some more change out of me today. If it were up to the mayor, there'd probably be a pay turnstile on the front door of every house.

The bastards! Ah well, 'tis the price we pay for civilization.

See you at Kinko's or the Post Office. When I get back, I may blog a little about John Kerry's tax return. Then I might get drunk.

BTW, if the desperate among you need an extension of time to file your federal income tax return, you have to ask for it today. You may now be able to get your extension by phone or on line, as the IRS explains here. If that fails (and knowing the IRS, it just might), the paper form you need to mail in today is here. Oregon state extension information is here. Good luck.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


Here's a cure -- a blog for tax professors.

Actually, for tax types like myself, it's an interesting read. It's put together by Paul Caron, award-winning tax prof at the University of Cincinnati and a heckuva smart, and nice, man.

Good luck with it, Paul. But be forewarned, as others have learned, blogging can be addictive.

When I was 57, it was a very good year

A review of President Bush's and Vice President Cheney's 2003 federal tax returns, which were released to the public yesterday, reveals another financially successful year for two rich old boys from Texas.

Bush's tax status was virtually unchanged between 2002 and 2003. For the latter year, he had income of almost $400,000 from salary, around another $400,000 of interest income, $23,000 of dividends, and around $2600 of royalty income. He and his spouse took roughly $95,000 of itemized deductions, up from about $84,000 last year, with the increase largely attributable to a "miscellaneous" expense that wasn't disclosed on the portion of the return that was released to the public.

The First Couple paid $227,494 in federal income tax for '03 on a taxable income of $727,083. That's an effective rate of 31.29 percent of taxable income, and 27.67 percent of their gross. The rates the previous year were 34.75 percent and 31.39 percent, respectively. The decrease is no surprise -- the Bush tax cuts tend to favor rich, married, single-wage-earner couples like George and Laura. In fact, under the tax laws in effect when Bush was elected in 2000, the Bushes' taxes for 2003 would have been more than $260,000.

And so the Bushes are paying around $35,000 less in federal income tax now than they would have in 2000.

Cheney's return is always more interesting, because the Vice President is one rich s.o.b. He and his spouse grossed around $1,988,000 from all sources, including $454,000 of salaries, $627,005 of tax-exempt bond interest, $137,644 of dividends, $6564 in taxable interest, $44,500 from Lynne Cheney's consulting business, $327,643 of book royalties, and $302,000 in capital gains on sales of more than $10,000,000 of mutual fund shares in the early part of 2003. (They got out of Treasury bond funds -- "big time," as the Veep himself might say.)

For 2003, the Cheneys had so many tax goodies on their return that they had to pay alternative minimum tax (AMT) -- a special tax designed to prevent taxpayers from overdoing it on tax-favored items. This cut into the tax benefits of their deductions substantially. They wound up owing $248,369 in income taxes (including AMT, but before a foreign tax credit of about $7,000) on a taxable income of $813,266. That's an effective tax rate of 30.54 percent of taxable income, 19.59 percent of their adjusted gross income, and only 12.5 percent of their total gross, including the interest on their tax-exempt bonds. They did pretty well on those counts compared to '02, when the percentages were 35.45, 28.72 and 17.67, respectively.

I struggled to calculate what the Cheneys would have had to pay on their 2003 income under the tax law as it existed in 2000. The calculations get pretty hairy, what with the AMT and the capital gains preference. (The Bushes haven't had any capital gains to speak of in the last two years.) My best efforts result in a would-be 2000 tax on the Cheneys of $287,000, rather than the $248,000 they actually paid under the Bush tax cuts. That's about a $39,000 tax savings this year for the Second Couple from what they would have paid under Clinton.

Charitable contributions for the year? The Cheneys' jumped from about $120,000 to about $320,000, because Ms. Cheney's book royalties, which all go to charity, rose by that much. The Bushes' gifts to charity sagged very slightly -- from $69,925 in '02 to $68,360.

The Bushes stopped listing their daughters as dependents this year for the first time, but they weren't providing their parents with any tax benefit anyway, because the family makes too much money.

One mystery in my review of the Bush and Cheney tax returns is that they are partially incomplete. The forms released to the public do not include the many explanatory statements that were attached to the returns. As any IRS agent will tell you, those attachments are an integral part of the return, and they are covered by the perjury statement that the taxpayers sign. (Although the Bushes don't sign their returns -- they have someone at their bank do it for them under a power of attorney.) But the separate statements don't get published as part of the annual White House tax return disclosure ritual.

An intriguing item on the Cheneys' returns: they deduct their tax return preparation fees on Ms. Cheney's business schedule. That way Ms. C. doesn't have to pay 15 percent plus in self-employment (Social Security and Medicare) tax on the money she pays her tax accountants at KMPG. A smart move, but is it kosher?

UPDATE, 4/15, 4:15 a.m.: The plot thickens on the Cheneys' tax return preparation fee, just discussed. Several alert readers have commented to me off-blog about how much advantage the Cheneys might have gained by having that expense deducted on Lynne Cheney's business schedule, as opposed to listing it as an itemized deduction. There are a couple of advantages, and they appear to add up to even more than the 15-percent-plus in saved Social Security and Medicare taxes that I speculated about in the above post.

First of all, a correction on my part. It turns out that Ms. C. had already paid the maximum tax into Social Security for the year on account of her book royalties and her day job. And so she didn't save any Social Security tax by clever placement of the tax prep deduction; she wouldn't have owed any more Social Security tax than she actually paid, regardless. However, she did save Medicare taxes (just under 3 percent) by the deduction of the tax return prep fee on her business schedule.

More significantly, however, if that expense had been listed as an itemized deduction instead of a business deduction, it would not have been deductible by the Cheneys for AMT purposes, whereas it was fully deductible for that purpose (saving 28 percent of the deduction in tax) on the business schedule. Bottom line: The couple appears to have saved tax of more than 30 percent of the tax return prep fee by the way they listed it. (A couple of additional, indirect tax savings were suggested, but they'd be really tiny.)

Some of my correspondents join me in questioning the correctness of how the Cheneys played it. It's not a lot of money for tycoons like them -- maybe $1,000 or so in tax -- but I'd sure love to hear someone explain how the couple's tax accountants are entirely an expense of her consulting business.

One possibility is that the tax preparation fee listed on her business schedule is only part of the overall amount they paid to have their taxes done. Perhaps the rest was deducted as an itemized deduction (but not for AMT purposes) on those mysterious attachments that don't get released with the rest of the tax forms. Without those statements, I guess we'll never know.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

See how the other 1% lives

The Bush and Cheney 2003 personal tax returns are out. Here's Bush's. Here's Cheney's. I'll expand on this story, as I did last year, after I've had a chance to look them over.

Justice at the podium

Justice Scalia's speeches are causing a ruckus again. This time federal marshals confiscated and erased tapes that two reporters were making of one of his addresses. Since Scalia has long forbidden recording of his public talks, the marshals apparently felt they were doing what he wanted.

Today we learn that Scalia did not approve of the confiscation. He apologized to the reporters involved. And now apparently he will allow taping so that print media types can use the tapes to verify any quotations they are planning to use. But taping by radio, television and other electronic media will still be forbidden -- especially if they intend to play any part of the tape on the air.

So now the electronic media is up in arms, claiming that Scalia's distinction violates their First Amendment rights.

First the Pledge of Allegiance recusal, now this. I think the justice's best course might be to open his future speeches up for broadcast, or to take a break from giving them for a while.

The money that talks in the City That Works

If you're interested in these things, you've probably already seen this. But here's The Oregonian's compilation of big contributors in the current Portland mayoral and City Council campaigns. The accompanying story is here.

They've got other campaign finance disclosure stories, too, about state legislative races and Metro.

Monday, April 12, 2004

The color of money

The candidates in the Oregon primary elections have filed their reports on how much they've raised so far for their campaigns.

The numbers in the City of Portland municipal races can be found starting here; the State of Oregon reports don't seem to be up yet, but they're probably going to be less interesting.

Check out Jim Francesconi. $851,000 raised so far, and still going.

More interesting would be who are the donors behind those numbers. Apparently that's still forthcoming as well.

UPDATE, 4/13, 5:08 am: b!X has thrown out a thoughtful challenge to candidate Francesconi. Since the latter has come out for complete, instant "transparency" in campaign finance around here, why can't his campaign immediately post on the 'net a list of all his donors and amounts? C'mon, Commissioner, you've still got north of $300K in the bank. How about dropping a few thou to a bright young computer wiz and getting that list up and running right away? You are in a great position to lead by example.

A Streetcar Named Your Wallet

Here's Portland City Hall Bonehead Idea No. 10,462 of the new millennium. Portland Mayor Vera Katz has unveiled her new budget, which has got to be one of the most depressing public documents to be aired in quite a while. According to the Trib, it includes "making a series of changes to parking fees -- such as raising meter rates and extending meter hours at night and to Sundays -- which would finance $4.5 million in transportation improvements over the next few years."

And we all know what those "transportation improvements" are, now, don't we?

Translation: We get to pay to park on Sunday on MLK Blvd. to pay for the streetcar to RiverPlace, and then the almighty aerial tram to OHSU.

This is the same mayor who once proposed toll booths on the Willamette River bridges. She's done everything she can to stigmatize driving an auto to work, to church, to shop, or to go to a show. Of course, she doesn't drive. A police chauffeur has apparently handled all her transportation needs for more than a decade.

Uncle Charles's joke

Mother and three-year-old Son are at the zoo, looking at an elephant.

Son asks Mother, "What is that long thing on the front of his face?" "Why, that's his trunk, Son," Mother replies.

"What's that hanging off his backside?" the son inquires. "That's his tail," says Mom.

"And what's that thing hanging down off his belly, Mom?" After a moment of reflection, Mother says, "Oh, that isn't anything," and she guides the boy along to next exhibit.

A few weeks later, Son is back at the zoo with his father. At the elephant area, he shows off his new knowledge.

"See that thing hanging off his face?" he tells Father. "That's his trunk."

"Very good," Father replies. "Well, then, if you're so smart, what's that thing hanging off his backside?" "That's his tail," says Son, beaming with pride at his new knowledge.

A few moments of silence pass between them. Then the boy volunteers, "Mom says that thing hanging down off his belly isn't anything."

"Well, Son," Father says, "your mother is just spoiled."

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Perfectly lousy journalism

Nothing like the award-winning Oregonian (year after year, voted the best daily newspaper in Portland) to get the blood boiling on Easter.

Today we got an above-the-fold, front page testament to what a wonderful cop and a wonderful guy is Jason Sery, the Portland police officer who shot and killed the unarmed James Jahar Perez two weeks ago. The story (not on line at the moment, but I'll link to it if it reappears tomorrow) runs on for 58 column-inches. Sery got a commendation once when he served on the force in Billings, Montana. His friends and family say he's a saint:

[A] gentle and patient family man. A spiritual person, dedicated to Christian teachings on morality and compassion. A tireless and inventive cop who is a natural at working with the public.
He's gotten a dozen commendations in Portland for his work with neighborhood groups. He doesn't cuss.

How lovely, and how irrelevant. Good people do stupid things sometimes, and when other people die as a result of them, the good people have to be held accountable. I doubt that anyone would ever charge, much less try to prove, that Sery intentionally murdered Perez. The real question is whether he had reasonable cause to kill him, given the facts that Perez was unarmed and that the fatal shots rang out in 24 seconds after the stop was radioed in to the police station. Sery's supposedly model background adds literally nothing to answering that question. Reasonableness is an objective, not a subjective, factual question. If the officer panicked and killed the man without adequate cause, he's committed a homicide that ought to get him thrown off the force, if not criminally prosecuted.

That is so obvious. Why is everyone afraid to say it, and stay focused on it?

The Oregonian's unbalanced report was particularly disturbing in light of the other front-page, above-the-fold story it ran, on Saturday, reminding us yet again that the dead man had a high level of cocaine in his bloodstream when he was killed. The Saturday story, which covered around 30 column-inches, marvelled at how high the levels were, and at how none of the chemical byproducts of cocaine ingestion were present. All of which can only suggest, according to the paper, that the man swallowed a bunch of bags of coke just before he was shot.

Even if he did, so what? If he wasn't armed, he didn't deserve to die. And all the obfuscation in the world isn't going to change that truth in this case.

In a ham-handed attempt at balance, I suppose, The O also ran a very curious pictorial feature on the front page of its Sunday "Living Today" section in which five African-American Portlanders were very briefly interviewed for their views on the meaning of the latest police shooting. The front-page blurb on this piece promises that it will tell us "what it means to be black in Portland." How laughable to claim that it does more than scratch the surface of that subject. And how degrading that it was run in the front of the section of the paper that contains society cocktail party photos, Roseanne Barr's latest doings, Dear Abby, and the horoscopes. Look! We have African-Americans in this city! Now, that's living today!

And of course, one of the five interviewees happens to be a police officer, who'd "never second-guess the officers in the Perez shooting."

I can understand why a paper like The Oregonian runs this kind of material. I was a reporter for a Newhouse newspaper myself once, part of the time covering a police beat in Jersey City, N.J. in the middle of the night. I learned there that the press and the cops get friendly with each other -- often too friendly -- because if the cops stop talking to the press, the press can't get the information it needs to sell papers. There's a lot of one-hand-washing-the-other. It's inevitable.

But this weekend, I think the local fishwrap went a little overboard. Intentionally or not, they're aggravating the frustration and anger that's being felt as a too-limited public inquest and a too-secret, too-familiar grand jury proceeding draw near.

Maybe they should send their "architecture critic," Randy Gragg (stay tuned for another rant about this guy), out to do a piece on buildings in North and Northeast Portland that might burn if the anger and frustration explode this summer.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Say what?

The church sign generator made quite a splash around the blogosphere. The homeless guy sign generator wasn't bad, either. But with George Says, new heights of zaniness are possible. Head on over and do some presidential speechwriting. (Via Nth of Pril.)

Friday, April 9, 2004

Interview with new Portland schools chief

Not to be outdone by other bloggers who have been publishing interviews with some important state and local officials, I managed to pull some strings earlier today and land an exclusve one-on-one session with Vicki Phillips, the new superintendent of the Portland public schools. Phillips most recently was the Pennsylvania secretary of education. Her appointment to her new post was announced in Portland this past Monday night. I caught up with her at her school district office.

JBB: Welcome to Portland.

VP: Thank you. There's something wonderful about a fresh start in a new city. [Sings:] "You're gonna make it after all."

JBB: Will you miss Pennsylvania?

VP: Sure, in some ways. But when somebody offers to double your salary for the same work, you've got to heed the call. Plus, if it doesn't pan out, I understand the government pays very generous severances out here.

JBB: Tell us about your first impressions so far.

VP: I'm really, really impressed by the Rose City. So high-tech. I understand the public officials here already have a couple of, what do you call them? Blods?

JBB: Do you mean "blogs"? Weblogs?

VP: Yes, weblogs, that are all set up for their use. That's very progressive. And the place is so prosperous! I see these brand new streetcars, the gigantic convention center, a new local income tax, even a fancy stadium for minor league baseball. All this is telling me that these are boom times in these parts. I'm excited to be a part of it.

JBB: There was some controversy about the process by which you were hired.

VP: Really? I hadn't heard that.

JBB: Some people have objected that the candidates' forum you participated in was meaningless, since you had already been offered the job, and an announcement had already been made back in Pennsylvania that you were the new super in Portland.

VP: Well, you've got to take the time difference into account. It's three hours later on the East Coast. And so actually, I wasn't hired until after the forum was over.

JBB: Er, now wait a second...

VP: Let me put it another way, Eric...

JBB: It's "Jack."

VP: Yes, of course, sorry. Let me put it another way. People don't realize how hard it is to interview for a job that you've already quietly been offered. I had already resigned back in Harrisburg, and the pressure was really intense on me to perform flawlessly at the candidates' forum. If you bomb at that kind of event and you get hired anyway, it really starts you off on the wrong foot with people. Fortunately, I did o.k.

JBB: Some people in the audience thought your presentation was too canned. The other candidate was livelier -- even injected some humor into the proceedings.

VP: You know, Jack, I think there's a time and a place for everything, including kidding around. But not while I'm on the job. I try to emulate Justice Ruth Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. The last humorous moment she had in a professional setting was a momentary chuckle she reportedly let out at a faculty meeting at Columbia in the 1970s.

Continue reading "Interview with new Portland schools chief" »

Scam preview

Here comes the next development boondoggle out of Portland City Hall: the proposed Home Depot at Burnside and MLK.

Let's see. The affected neighborhood associations don't want it. The neighborhood businesses that sell paint, light fixtures, tiles, "house parts" and hardware sure don't want it. And the heavier industries down in that area don't want it, either.

So who does want it? The Portland Development Commission, the folks who run the city's real estate slush fund. And no doubt -- no doubt -- the usual developer suspects who fill city commissioners' campaign coffers.

I thought we just passed a plan to make inner Burnside and Couch into a pedestrian-friendly, traffic-becalmed shangri-la. How's that going to be possible with a giant big box retailer right in the very heart of the district?

This town is, as the kids say, wack.

What's this under the sofa cushion?

RoguePundit's got the bead on a great story. I had heard a talk radio guy ranting about this one yesterday afternoon, too, as I struggled through rush hour traffic.

It turns out that the Oregon social services department yesterday revealed that it has just miraculously "discovered" $120 million that was lying around unnoticed. And so fully two-thirds of the deep cuts that we all were guilt-tripped about when we voted down Measure 30 aren't going to have to be made after all.

Well, isn't that special?

If the pro-tax forces win another election in this state at any time in the coming decade, it will be a miracle.

Governor Ted continues travelling the state with his stump speech about restoring faith in government. Pretty soon he'll be performing it at comedy clubs.

Thursday, April 8, 2004


Here's one of the nicest sports photos I've seen in a while.


Sometime this morning, visitor no. 100,000 arrived here, and with such a major odometer turn, it's time for the customary self-congratulatory post. I'd love to identify the historic visitor, but alas, Site Meter got drunk and passed out for a couple of hours today, and so I can't tell who it was. I guess you get what you pay for.

Time elapsed since the last 10K milestone: 29 days.

We now shift to a new level of milestones. The next visitor hailed will be no. 125K.

Thanks to everyone who visits here, especially those who leave comments. This is fun.

Just another backroom deal

The Oregonian's S. Renee Mitchell had a first-rate column yesterday about the supposed public process that culminated with the bang-bang hiring of the new Portland school superintendent the other day. According to Mitchell, the fix was in long ago, and the supposed candidates' forum was all just a show to make it look like there was public involvement. In fact, there was none. (Betsy had smelled a rat as early as last Sunday.)

This town really needs to take a hard look at itself. The people running it just refuse to allow the public in on anything important. We taxpayers are just too stupid, I guess, to be trusted with issues like whether the reservoirs should be covered, who the school superintendent should be, whether gay people should have the right to marry, what the police were really thinking when they decided to shoot somebody to death. Cue Jack Nicholson: "You can't handle the truth!"

It's all got to be done in secret, but with some lame effort undertaken to make it look like a democracy.

Too bad for the politicians that they're such inept liars. You tell 'em, Renee.

Your tax dollars at work?

The Portland City Council has taken an early, but big, step down the path of campaign finance reform at the local level. According to this entry from my dialing-for-dollars buddies at OSPIRG (which will doubtlessly be balanced off with an account in The Oregonian later this morning), the council voted unanimously yesterday to have the Mayor, Commissioner Sten and City Auditor Blackmer put together a plan whereby candidates for Portland elective offices could get free public money to finance their campaigns. In exchange for those funds, they'd have to agree not to accept donations from any other source.

Although the system would be voluntary, in at least one other place in which it's been tried -- Tucson, Arizona -- no candidate so far has dared to decline the public money and try to run based on private contributions. Apparently politicians fear that that would make them look too beholden to campaign donors' demands. As a consequence, there apparently are no campaign donors down there any more -- except for taxpayers, who pay for the system involuntarily. (Something similar is apparently working in Maine.)

I think campaign finance reform at every level of government is long overdue. Here in Portland, a spotlight is being thrown on this year's elections, including Commissioner Francesconi's million-dollar war chest and some interesting contributions to Commissioner Leonard's suddenly contested candidacy from some people whom he's in a position to make even richer than they already are. In fairness to those two candidates, the public is just waking up to a problem that's been present for many years. Old-timers in Portland have seen many a City Council decision made in favor of corporate and other interests who just coincidentally dropped a well-timed $10,000 into a campaign bucket or two. (You youngsters out there, head down to the library and check out the story of the Hollywood Fred Meyer store sometime.)

But I see a number of issues lurking in Portland's plan for a new system. One of them, of course, is the Oregon Constitution, which is pretty strict about government tinkering with free speech. Maybe the new system could survive a constitutional challenge, since it's nominally voluntary. But it would certainly have to be drafted carefully, with those legal obstacles in mind.

The other super-sized issue is political: whether Portland taxpayers really want to pay for the new system. The plan apparently calls for 0.1 percent or 0.2 percent of each city agency's budget to be diverted to the candidates for office. Supporters of the new system think that Portland voters will go for that, but I'm not so sure. I think that when they actually see how the system will work, the majority of taxpayers may well say no.

I help friends with their income taxes every year, and one question that comes up on every federal tax return is whether the taxpayer wants to designate $3 of his or her taxes for public funding of presidential election campaigns. The idea behind the federal "check-off" is the same noble goal that underlies the Portland proposal -- the desire to eliminate or minimize the influence of wealthy campaign contributors over the candidates after they are elected. Not a single person whose taxes I have done has ever told me to check the box "yes." Indeed, many of them have said something like, "I don't think tax dollars should be used to pay for political campaigns. Let the rich people pay for the campaigns." Paying for political ads is the last thing they want their tax dollars to do. No matter how hard I try to sell "clean" campaigns, they check that box "no," even though, as they well know, it does not affect the tax they owe or the refund they receive.

Continue reading "Your tax dollars at work?" »

Wednesday, April 7, 2004


This Sattay night I'm gon' chill at the crib with ma peeps, nome sane?

Everybody wants to get into the act

Portlanders, now look who's blogging.

Hurts so good

Who says Oregonians hate taxes?

Hospitals and managed care health plans around here are begging to be taxed. Because they're hoping that the new state taxes will be plowed right back into payments to them for services rendered, plus federal matching payments, under Medicaid (a.k.a. the Oregon Health Plan). Without more Medicaid funding, the health care industry will lose more revenue than it will pay under the new state tax.

Word from Washington, D.C. is that such taxes won't count toward the federal match for too much longer, and so the "providers" of health services are urging the state to be quick about it. "Tax me! Hurry!"

It sure looks like the upcoming "special" session of the Legislature is going to be dealing with more than just the relatively sterile study of tax reform that was first proposed. Besides the hospital tax, gay marriage will doubtlessly be on the agenda somewhere.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

That ain't hay

The Portland public schools have a new superintendent, Vicki L. Phillips, who comes to us from Pennsylvania. She is the Pennsylvania secretary of education and recently served as superintendent of the Lancaster, Pa. public schools. Before that she went to school and worked in Kentucky.

According to newspapers back in Pennsylvania, Phillips, who is 46 years old and single, with no children, will make $203,000 a year, "plus performance incentives to be negotiated later." Not bad by Portland standards.

She makes $115,533 in Pennsylvania now.

Don't get your hopes up

The pending public inquest into the police shooting of an unarmed black motorist in Portland is unlikely to satisfy many of those who are outraged by the killing. Apparently in response to (or anticipation of) a lawsuit by the shooting officer, who is now trying to block the inquest, DA Mike Schrunk is quoted as stating that the proceeding will be very limited, and it will not delve into the question whether the shooting was justified:

Schrunk said last week that the public has an urgent need for accurate information, so a public inquest is justified.

He said the inquest would be limited to determining the identification of the victim, when and where the death took place, the cause of death and the manner of death.

He said it would be a fact-finding procedure and not intended to determine whether deadly force was justified. He said a grand jury would do that later.

As b!X predicted in an earlier post or comment (which escapes me for the moment), this may not be much of an inquest at all. We already know who the victim was, when and where he died, the cause of death and pretty much all about the "manner of death."

If that's all that the public is going to get to hear inquest testimony about, the anger is likely to get even worse. This summer is not looking good at all.

A great use of newsprint

The April edition of Portland's own Hollywood Star showed up in the mailbox today, and as ever, it's a beauty. As I've mentioned here before, the breadth and depth of coverage that this free monthly "shopper" newspaper gives to neighborhood issues on the inner east side is nothing short of awesome. Pages 2 through 9 are an activist's delight. Everything is there, from issues of citywide importance that are sneaking under the mainstream media radar (even a few stories that the bloggers aren't talking about yet) to neighborhood problems that have an impact on just a block or two.

Nice work, Star! You get the Bojack Prize for Journalism for the current vaguely defined time period. (Sorry, b!x.)

Portlanders, if you see this publication lying around in the lobby of your favorite east side establishment, take it home and check it out. (But don't look for its editorial content on the web -- it's not there yet.)

Jerk out

From Chuck Currie we learn that Ralph Nader failed to get even 1,000 people to show up at a "convention" in Portland to put him on the November ballot in Oregon.

Ralph addressed a group of 741 disappointed supporters, who now must gather 15,000 valid signatures over a three-month period to get him on the ballot.

Naderites blamed the nonsupport on the scheduling conflict with the NCAA basketball game. But come on, folks, how many Nader fans are also passionate college hoops fans?

I hope there's a good game on next Election Day.

This is actually a very good sign for November. As Howard Dean told Oregonians earlier in the day, a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.

If you care about this country, don't sign the Nader petitions!

Monday, April 5, 2004

By the numbers

Portland Police Officer Jason Sery, who killed a young black man in a traffic stop a couple of weekends ago, came to Portland from Billings, Montana, where he went to college (at least three years' worth) and previously served as a police officer.

Population of Billings, Montana (per 2000 census): 89,847
Black or African-American population of Billings, Montana: 495
Population of Billings, Montana that is even partially black or African-American: 849

I wonder how much race sensitivity/urban issues training Sery, who is 29 years old, received when he moved from Billings to Portland at age 24.

I'd bet little or none.

Sunday, April 4, 2004

Making it worse

Portland media is a disgrace sometimes. Now every story we read or hear about last week's police shooting has to include obligatory comments such as the following from KGW-TV:

A deputy state medical examiner said Friday that he found an "extremely high level" of cocaine in Perezís bloodstream.

Perez had a felony record for burglary, gun and drug possessions and was on parole at the time of his death. His record included a 1998 conviction for assault of a police officer and resisting arrest following a traffic stop similar to Sunday night's stop.

All of which is completely, totally irrelevant to the question now at hand. Even if the man was a hardened con and coked up beyond belief -- even assuming all of that is true -- if he didn't threaten the officers, he didn't deserve to die. Still seated in his parked car. Twenty-four seconds after he was pulled over.

Hey, fourth estate out there. You might as well be telling us, "The victim was wearing socks that had holes in them." It simply doesn't matter.

And shame on those who keep repeating these facts as if they did. What sleaze! The clear implication is: "The guy was a criminal, so it's less of a crime to kill him than an upstanding citizen."

Did they do drug tests on the officer who killed Mr. Perez? That would be far more germane.

They probably didn't.

Unfunny thought of the day

What do the Portland police and the Portland Trail Blazers have in common?

(See comments for the answer.)

Get well, Doug

One of the two injured climbers who took a 1,000-foot fall off a glacier on Mount Hood yesterday is identified as Doug Adair, 50, of Aurora. I know a Doug Adair, 50, of Aurora (above right), and how many of those can there be?

Doug, everyone at your alma mater is pulling for you. Heal, guy. We want you back behind your desk and drum set ASAP.

Not snarky enough

Many in the media are having some fun with the news that Bob Dylan, soon to turn 63, appears in a new Victoria's Secret commercial set to his song "Love Sick." Shot in Venice (as in Italy), the ad features the mysterious bard himself along with the usual scantily clad supermodels.

Virtually all of the commentators have tried to make the story funny. Mostly they offer Dylan song titles and lyric quotes. For instance, the Boston Globe:

Visions of Johanna in floral-lace baby doll sleepwear?

Lay, lady, lay across my big brass bed -- in a mini balconet bra and bun pant?

But IMHO, no one has yet struck comedy "gold" with it. Readers?

Saturday, April 3, 2004

Take me out to the bankruptcy

The Portland minor league baseball team has been taken over by its league as part of a last-minute reshuffling in preparation for its 2004 season at PGE Park. As taxpayers of Portland know only too well, city government sank tens of millions into renovating the stadium, borrowing the money and signing an operating contract with the team's owners that was supposed to pay off the bonds.

But it hasn't. The renovation was much too expensive (luxury boxes for minor league ball?), and public interest in the team is nowhere near what it will take to service the debt. (The rest of the same bond issue threw many more tens of millions at doubling the size of the largely empty Convention Center.)

Mayor Katz, who along with Commissioner Erik Sten and Katz's then-economic development aide Sam Adams engineered the renovation financing (in secret negotiations with the baseball operators), had this to say yesterday about the latest development:

I am obviously very pleased that the Pacific Coast League, TIAA-CREF [the bondholders] and Portland Family Entertainment [previous owners of the team] have all reached agreements in principle to transfer ownership of the Portland Beavers AAA baseball team and the Portland Timbers soccer team to the PCL for the 2004 season.

Much hard work has gone into these negotiations, but there is still more work to do.

This is one of the pet code phrases that the mayor utters when she votes for something. "There is still more work to do." The problem is, most of the time no one can figure out what she means. And if it's a threat of some sort to the party who's negotiating with her, that party inevitably calls her bluff, and she folds.

Over the next several days, the City and the PCL will be finalizing the terms of an operating agreement for the use PGE Park by the two teams.
"Finalizing"? As in, good for at least the next six months?

It is essential that this agreement be reached next week in order for the City Council to have time to approve such an agreement prior to the Beavers' scheduled opening day game on April 16.

The City looks forward to that agreement being finalized and signed by the parties involved. After that, the City will begin work with the PCL on a longer-term arrangement for the use of PGE Park by the Beavers and Timbers.

So much for "finality."

All minor league baseball fans in Portland should be very encouraged by the PCL's commitment to maintain AAA baseball in Portland.
Yes, all 672 of them are ecstatic.
This speaks very well of our community's support for professional baseball and soccer.
Earth to Vera! Earth to Vera!

License and registration

The real irony of the traffic stop shootings here in Portland is that they start with a supposed traffic infraction by the deceased.

In my 25-years-plus of living in this town, I have seen driver behavior deteriorate from model to largely dangerous, and the police bureau's interest in enforcement sink from mild to nonexistent. The police don't enforce the traffic laws much around here any more. People speed, run stop signs, run red lights, cut each other off, give each other the finger, etc. all the time. And except for drunk driving and photo red-light cams, law enforcement could care less. It says it just doesn't have the money or the person-power to do much about it.

But if you're a young male of color driving a funky old sedan or a "booming" car, you'd better use that turn signal, come to a full stop at the stop sign, and otherwise be a poster child for the driver's manual. If you know what's good for you.

Friday, April 2, 2004

Dial Rangoon 7-7500

Here's an outsourcing story for you, and I am not making this up: When needy folks call the Oregon state government for information on welfare and food stamps, the state has operators standing by --

In India!!!

Good morning

I just pulled one of my occasional major internal clock adjustments. Instead of staying up most of the night and sleeping all morning, I crashed at a normal hour and am now facing the unfamiliar sight of the morning sun streaming through my home office window.

Whenever I do this, I feel a brief reunion with the rest of the mainstream working world. But it's usually only a temporary euphoria. Within a week, it's back to Vampireville.

Thursday, April 1, 2004


Looks as though the officer who killed the unarmed motorist in Portland Sunday evening has a bit of a history.

Read all about it

For those of you who are willing to go through their registration process (which so far hasn't hurt me, that I know of), the folks at KGW-TV here in town have a page up where they compile many (all?) of the press releases with which they're inundated daily.

Want to feel like a news editor, sorting through all of the raw data that comes across the news desk every day? Have a look.

Is there an echo in here?

The first sentence of yesterday's lead editorial in The Oregonian sounded awfully familiar.

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