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

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Friday, April 30, 2010

All you need to read

Have a great weekend

How to stonewall a congressional hearing

Take it from Goldman Sachs's lawyer:

"Long, thoughtful pauses followed by rambling nonresponsive answers can easily devour half of a member’s allotted questioning time," Blalack told the American Lawyer.

Zinger of the Day

The most unintentionally hilarious coaching search in college basketball happened at Oregon, where the Ducks offered everyone this side of 99-year-old John Wooden the job before finally hiring Creighton's Dana Altman, and the funniest part may be, as SI.com's George Schroeder writes, that they ended up with a terrific coach anyway.

Bad company

The Portland metropolitan area comes in at number 3 on Forbes's new list of "Tomorrow's Real Estate Trouble Spots."

Playground flap gets cleared up

We blogged last week about a complaint we received from a Portland mom who was displeased about her pre-teen child and her teenage friends being kicked off the playground adjacent to their public school immediately after the bell rang at the end of the day. Now comes word from the principal that it was all just a mistake in the school office. The mom has copied us on his e-mail message to her:

It looks like there was a miscommunication and misunderstanding between my secretary and myself on Thursday morning last week. I was told that there were students who were unsupervised after school last week and I assumed she meant that they were under the age of 10 years old. Typically, when we have students this young left unsupervised here at school, we call home to let the parents/guardians know and we arrange to have them either picked up or someone comes to supervise them. I did not know my secretary was talking about older students, so when I repeated that we call home to let parents know, she took that as she needed to call the parents of the children who were on campus the previous day and let them know that they could not remain on campus unsupervised. When I got back to school on Monday (I was out on Friday), I realized what had happened and I gave you a call to try and clear up this misunderstanding. The district does not have a policy concerning supervision for students before and after school. The district wants all schools to let parents/guardians know when supervision is provided, but that before and after this time, the school is not responsible for students who arrive on campus. For our school, we begin supervision at 8:15 am and we end at 3:15 pm. Students who are in grades 1-4 should have adult supervision. If they have an older sibling with them, in grades 5-8, they can also remain on campus as long as their sibling is supervising them. Students who are in grades 5-8 can remain on campus without adult supervision. If there are issues with the students outside of the supervised times, we do contact parents to let them know what is happening with their student.

I hope this clears things up, but if not, please do not hesitate to give me a call or send me an email. I know as the weather gets better, students will want to stay on campus to socialize with their friends and we want to make sure they are safe.

Our readers called it early

The Blazers' post-season perished in 6 games, and it comes as no surprise to our readers. Once the Blazers got blown out in Game 2 of the series, those who voted in our poll could read the writing on the wall. After the Suns blew Portland out again in Game 3, in Portland, most thought that Phoenix would win the next two games in order, but when the Blazers evened the series up, Suns-in-6 was the readers' top choice once again.

Here's how the polls came out (in percentages of those responding):

Blazers in 4Blazers in 5Suns in 5Blazers in 6Suns in 6Blazers in 7Suns in 7
After Game 1 (Blazers leading 1-0)414538151410
After Game 2 (series tied 1-1)x31922321411
After Game 3 (Suns leading 2-1)xx536326 3
After Game 4 (series tied 2-2)xxx17352919
After Game 5 (Suns leading 3-2)xxxx482627

A scoundrel goes back on the hook

This one's a real beauty: The Oregon Supreme Court has unanimously reinstated the felony indictment of Portland real estate mogul Tom Moyer on charges that he lied about his campaign contributions to the Portland mayoral campaign of Jim "the Scone" Francesconi in 2004. Moyer got the charges thrown out on free speech grounds, but the state's highest court turned aside his constitutional claims.

Now Moyer has to decide whether to cop a plea or face trial just as he's got the city's current mayor twisting the arms of the Portland Development Commission crew to move their headquarters into Moyer's embarrassingly mothballed office tower project -- the big pit over where the Virginia Cafe used to be. The PDC needs to move like it needs a hole in the head, but Moyer and his latest City Hall marionette want to make it happen, and so the train is on the track. This is how the city "leaders" create "economic development" -- they build a huge bureaucracy and move it around from one landlord to another.

Anyway, maybe they could hold a ceremony in which Moyer and the PDC sign the new lease just as the sheriff puts the handcuffs on Moyer and takes him off to jail. The curse of the Virginia Cafe continues! Portland's a hilarious place if you're paying attention.

You can look inside another world

We've previously reported some soft-core election porn that arrived in our snail mail recently. But with the ballots about to be circulated, the more explicit stuff has started to show up:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Familiar scene

Another Blazer first-round exit in the playoffs raises a number of questions, but the biggest of these is how much new leadership the Portland team needs. The owner appears to be ready to jettison the general manager, but the team's failure to deliver on the court doesn't reflect well on the coaching staff, either. There are months to go before anything needs to be decided, but the weeks immediately ahead could hold some serious changes among the suits.

Apple cop raid upsets many

I'm not the only one. (NSFW.)

I've had girlfriends like that

The New York Times is going to take your money because that will make you love it more.

Screwed-up jury verdicts in Everett cop killing case

On trial for second-degree murder and manslaughter and pleading self-defense, an Everett police officer was acquitted of a crime in the shooting death of a civilian. But when he asked the jury to have the state pay his attorney's fees, the jury decided that he wasn't acting in self-defense.

Lawyers will explain that this contradiction is possible because a crime has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas on the attorney's fees question, only a preponderance of the evidence was needed to show that the officer was not justifiably defending himself. Be that as it may, these kinds of contradictory results (shades of the O.J. Simpson murder case) don't leave one with the best feelings about the criminal justice system.

Portland metro flunks economics

When it comes to the economy, we're one of the weakest 19 out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country, according to the latest Brookings Institute study. We're 13th worst in loss of gross metropolitan product. Something to think about, perhaps, before you blacken those ballot circles next to familiar politicians' names.

Getting on time to vote

As we await the arrival of our ballot in upcoming elections, we're winnowing down our choices. For Portland City Council, we're voting for Mary Volm, and for Multnomah County commissioner, we're voting for Paul Van Orden.

A vote for Volm is not without risks. She seems an edgy person, and her personal affiliation with the zany Adams recall guy hasn't gained her any mainstream cred. But she's the only one in her race expressing a lick of common sense about the dangerous direction in which the city is headed. Dan Saltzman is more to blame for that direction than just about anyone else, and Jesse Cornett is the next Erik Sten, all the way down to the "clean money" machine. You can almost smell the dopey ideas in his pocket. The other guys in the primary don't seem able to win a runoff against Saltzman. Volm might be able to, if everything falls her way.

We've already gone through the process of elimination for the county race, but to reiterate: Chuck Currie is yet another Stennie, a major no-no, and with a Roman collar, no less; and Karol Collymore seems too much under the wing of her boss, County Chair Jeff Cogen, who in turn still seems too much like his old boss, Saltzman. Plus, the ominous "time for a change" bleat that came out of Deborah (the Latest) Kafoury when Ted Wheeler left town was downright scary. Roberta Phillip is gone, and that leaves Van Orden, who's far more worth a flyer than the recycled henchpeople from Earl the Pearl and Ron Wyden (R-N.Y.).

In the Metro president race, Rex and His Bicycle are definitely out. Backed by the Sam-Rand Twins, public employees' unions, and developers, the guy's the ultimate symbol of what's wrong in Portland. That leaves former Portland "planning" guru Bob Stacey; and Tom Hughes, who's (gasp) the mayor of Hillsboro. Not an easy call, but we'll be voting for Hughes, if for no other reason than being tired of the wasteful, juvenile "planning" mafia that's quickly running our local government into bankruptcy.

Our votes have never put a local candidate over the top, and we apologize to Volm, Van Orden, and Hughes if our favor winds up hurting their candidacies. Especially since we're not overly enthusiastic about any of them. But people ask how we're voting, and so we answer.

One thing's for sure: If Burkholder, Saltzman, and Collymore or Currie win, Portland will probably soon be building a lovely, mostly empty Convention Center hotel to go along with its lovely, mostly empty Convention Center. It might happen even if just Burkholder gets in. And the wild spending spree will continue right up to a big crash, not too far off. Go Greek!

Pat Metheny has lost his mind (I don't mean that in a bad way)

Jazz guitar master Pat Metheny brought his Orchestrion show to the Aladdin Theater in Portland last night, providing an adoring audience with a highly entertaining and thought-provoking evening. It was some of the world's most lyrical modern instrumental music -- and some of the most challenging -- but the way it was delivered was an absolute hoot.

Orchestrion is a one-man show, but it's one man surrounded by his four dozen robots, playing along with him. Behind Metheny and all around him were automated instruments being operated by remote control. A couple of large xylophones, a baby grand piano (and another offstage, apparently), all manner of drums and percussion instruments, a glockenspiel, eight robotic slides that appeared to be strings of some sort, a wall-mounted six-string guitar and bass guitar, and a large bookcase stacked with what seemed like large bottles filled with liquid, into which air was being injected to produce sound (like blowing into a beverage bottle). A lot of the activity came across as if it was pre-programmed, but a goodly portion of it was being "played" by Metheny himself, who sent commands to the other instruments by stepping on foot pedals and plucking strings on his own guitar. As each instrument went to work, a small indicator light near it came on to provide a visual map. There were also some fairly abstract video images projected on some of the larger objects.

I should have known better than to try to take an iPhone image of a spotlit stage, but here's a couple of crude snapshots to give you some idea:

The foregoing description is goofier than the reality was. After all, this is Pat Metheny, whose signature riffs and prowess as a composer have taken him around the jazz world more than once over a 35-year career. He could back up his guitar stylings with a kazoo and a nose flute, and it would still be some seriously fine stuff. Last night's program included a suite that he wrote and recorded for his new banks of toys, but then he took the instruments through some of his classics, a couple of improvisations that helped break down the programming process, and even an Ornette Coleman number.

Metheny explained that the Orchestrion was a dream of his since discovering his grandfather's player piano as a youngster. Once recorded music arrived, people stopped trying to expand the player piano idea to whole bands. Besides, their annoying lack of any sound dynamics -- the inability to vary volume -- made the old players pretty tedious. But nowadays, with the advent of the solenoid switch (and computers, of course -- the elephant in the room that wasn't mentioned by the artist), much greater things are possible.

To say the performance was disarming would be an understatement. "Question No. 1," Metheny explained, "is, 'Have I lost my mind?'" At times, that seemed an apt inquiry. It was as if he were playing with a great group of side people, but it was just him up there. It was as if he were playing to a computer-generated background track, but not really -- the actual instruments were right there before our eyes and ears. It was going back in time and scrambling the history of music technology to see what might have been. It was also some sort of statement -- or at least an important question -- about what it means to "make music" nowadays.

I'm glad I got to see and hear it, and the sounds were exquisite, but I still haven't quite figured out what happened up there. This is one music experience that may never get fully sorted out. I get the sense that that's the way Metheny wants it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Genius in our midst

Welcome to Portland, Pat Metheny.

Tri-Met keeps it in the Network

As predicted here last night, the Tri-Met board of directors stayed quite local in their choice to replace outgoing CEO Fred "Crocodile" Hansen. The new guy is Neil McFarlane, who's been managing the troubled transit agency's capital projects for years. When last heard from, he was making $214,000 a year, including a "retention bonus," and now he'll get a nice raise.

In addition to MAX trains in every direction, McFarlane's portfolio includes heavy involvement in the WES line, which is one of the most spectacular failures in American mass transit history. For some reason that one was left out of the official press release this morning.

Years ago, McFarlane managed the construction of the Oregon Convention Center, which has also turned out to be a bust. At that point he was on the Metro payroll, and lately he has been serving on Metro's transportation "planning" committee.

Neil also represented TriMet in the unique public-private partnership with Bechtel Enterprises, which developed and constructed the Airport MAX extension.
In other words, Old Boy Network all the way. He's even named Neil! Makes it so much easier to keep everything straight in the meetings.

McFarlane has a master's degree in urban planning from UCLA, and he's got all the jargon down. He's involved with the "planning" folks at Portland State as part of their Otrec program. Apartment bunker developers, rejoice!

Meanwhile, Hansen's taking bold action in the wake of Saturday's killing of two pedestrians and injuring of several others by a wayward Tri-Met bus driver. Fred has sent out a memo! In it, he urges people to be more careful. Oh, and by the way, when a bus inexplicably runs five people over in a crosswalk, it's a "collision." Please make a note of the correct terminology.

One of the best

My wine spies tell me that this guy is in town, and that he'll be here on Friday evening.

"New media" vs."news media"

This recent court ruling is causing a bit of a stir. It seems that the web author in question was neither established enough nor reporting enough news to be considered "news media" for purposes of a state law shielding journalists' sources.

Any blogger reading that story has got to be thinking, "What about me?" The blog that's currently before you reports a fair amount of news, and gets a goodly number of readers every day. Do you think we would make the cut?

The decision is also interesting in that it discusses the breadth of California's shield law, which has potential application to the current Gizmodo iPhone flap.

Tall-tale touring

Repeat a lie 100 times, and it may start to sound like the truth. But how about if you stage a bike ride to reinforce it?

So it is with this City of Portland event. Look, Mayor, you're raiding the sewer budget for bicycle paths, because you were elected mayor, fair and square, and that means you can do that sort of thing. But please -- spare us the constant repetition of yet another lie you're trying to hide behind. Nobody, including you, believes that the bicycle plan and the sewers bear any reasonable connection to each other. And you know that.

It's this kind of bizarre behavior that makes you so darned creepy.

Portland's Euro dreams coming true

The City of Roses is becoming more continental every day, it appears:

"The issue is rollover risk," said Jonathan Tepper of Variant Perception, a research group based in London and known for its bearish views on Spain. "Spain has to issue new debt plus roll over existing debt to the tune of 225 billion euros this year. Forty-five percent of their debt is held by foreigners so they are dependent on the kindness of strangers."

Countries the world over sell bonds, which help cover the costs of things like social services and government workers' pay. In developed countries, this debt is considered relatively safe because governments can raise taxes or fees to pay their debts. But government revenue has dropped sharply during the recession, and levying higher taxes risks further slowing the economy.

With European budget deficits worsening, investors are now worried that — like American homeowners who borrowed too much in the last decade — some countries may have a hard time paying off their debts....

It is the most vicious of circles: stagnating economies are forced to cut back more, which reduces their ability to generate revenue and thus pay off their debts. As part of the euro zone, these countries do not have the ability to print their own money to stimulate growth and bolster exports, so increasing debt and an increasing prospect of default result....

Predicting where and when the next ripple will be felt is an inexact science. During the Asian crisis in 1997, Russia’s debt default took the world by surprise.

Some even worry that the next debt crisis may materialize closer to home — in the United Kingdom or even the United States, where budget deficits and debt burdens are growing. Both countries are now issuing debt at reasonable levels of 4 percent. The long run of cheap financing may be coming to an end, though, even for the most creditworthy countries.

But hey, let's have the city go further into hock to buy the Main Post Office for double its value! It will be just like Barcelona!

Willy Week endorses Saltzman

They loved "Opie" Sten, they endorsed Sam Adams and now they can't get enough of "Legend" Saltzman. Portland's doing just great, apparently.

In the Multnomah County commission race, they endorse Karol Collymore, who works for County Chair Jeff Cogen, who used to work for Saltzman.

WW holds itself out as edgy, smart, independent, thoughtful -- but when the chips are down, they're always there for fops like Sten and Adams, and West Hills nephews like Saltzman. Whatever it is that motivates that publication, I know I'll never figure it out.

Perfect choice

The grand marshal of this year's Rose Festival
Grand Floral Parade will be Brian Grant.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Tri-Met CEO expected in the morning

While Portland struggles to make sense of a tragic waste of two young lives under the wheels of a Tri-Met bus, the nursing home residents on the troubled transit agency's board are apparently going to name a new general manager tomorrow. The O is speculating that it's going to be the outgoing Seattle transit agency head, who's essentially being fired, but her appointment would be surprising.

The Tri-Met gig is a prime political patronage position -- outgoing Goldschmidt lieutenant Fred "Crocodile" Hansen was pulling down more than $250,000 a year, plus benefits, and who knows what his parachute will be -- and in Oregon, those kinds of appointments usually go to two kinds of people. It's either (a) a member of the Old Boy Network (e.g., Hansen, Tom Imeson, Matt Hennessee, Bernie Giusto), or the spouse or offspring of a member of said network; or (b) an up-and-coming elected official who's been making trouble for the old boys and needs to be bought off (e.g., Max Williams, Vicki Walker, Ted Wheeler).

With those being the criteria, I can't imagine a person with actual experience in transit management getting the nod. Remember, the Tri-Met board are all gubernatorial appointments -- "Hot Lips" Giusto was on that board until recently -- and they make the call on this one. Their choice seems as likely to be somebody like Jim Francesconi or Charlie Hales or one of the Metro clones as it does the gal from Seattle.

The flashing yellow left turn arrow signal

Hundreds of these are popping up in Washington County. In case you haven't encountered them before, here's what they mean:

They do respect her, but

So much wisdom can be gained by keeping abreast of the tax laws. Are Pringles potato chips? The tax law said no, but then changed its mind. And today we learn that pole dancing is not art.

Portland water bureau to hire website programmer at $83 an hour

Remember the announcement by Portland's spendthrift mayor three weeks ago that we were going on an austerity kick? Too funny. "No more unnecessary consultants!"

Yeah, right. Here's a new one from the water bureau -- somebody to run a web page for 10 hours a month. The budget for a year (120 hours)? It's $10,000.

Meanwhile, over at the parks bureau, a whole raft of outside consultants have hit the jackpot. They're doing things like landscape architecture and "trail planning and design." Gee whiz, don't we have enough in-house minions for that?

Those aren't pennies on the tracks

The things you learn when you start following the City of Portland's contracting practices. Did you know that the city owns not only Union Station, but also the tracks at the station? And although the tracks are leased out to the railroads, apparently the city still has responsibility for inspecting them.

It is thus that we find the city going out for bid once again for an outside track inspector. Over the past decade, it appears that firms named Michael L. Webb, Inc. and HDR Engineering, Inc. have been doing the honors. Who's next?

Isn't that cute

Gatsby's wearing jeans.

His buddies in the Hamptons must think he's so quaint.

Enjoy Willamette Park while you can

We've previously blogged about how the Portland water bureau is going to take a chunk of Willamette Park for a water pumping station. Now comes news that the city has a Portland State study group working on "future alternatives" for the park. Apparently what goes on there now just isn't good enough.

Some days it seems that all of our city is being turned into a big Portland State "planning" term paper. What an insane way to run a city government.

Chef from Fife lands in the Triangle

Here he is in Durham, N.C.

Doing something right

There's some stuff not to like about where Portland's household garbage program is going. But the idea of letting people throw all the recyclables into one or two bins is a great one. Otherwise, you're looking at this sort of thing, which is a real turn-off.

Ted, did your rogue employees cut square corners on their taxes?

Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler is staging a "media availability" today to discuss how he's tightening up travel policies for his investment manager Masters of the Universe. I hope he's going to discuss whether they declared on their personal income tax returns -- particularly their Oregon income tax returns -- the "per diem" allowances they got for expenses they never incurred. Like the NBA referees who were prosecuted for pocketing expense money they didn't spend and then not paying taxes on it, these guys need to pay dearly if they cheated the tax system.

And the state treasurer, guardian of the public treasury, really can't look the other way from that sort of thing.

Dead giveaway

Here's a story that proves that there's something wrong at UC Nike: The athletic department now has its own finance director.

Portland voices among those declaring recovery

Here's a collection of optimistic pronouncements, many of them from right here in the Rose City.

Plus, there appear to be more $1 bills in circulation lately...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tualatin "urban renewal" dead again

The Tualatin City Council voted unanimously tonight not to extend the city's "urban renewal" program -- that is, to let it expire on June 30, when the "urban renewal" district's debt is paid in full. The council went from a proposed $120 million extension in a town hall on April 1, to an $18 million extension, to a $7.5 million extension, to zero.

Wise move. "Urban renewal" is nothing more than a bunch of developer handouts that occasionally work out for the taxpayers, but usually don't. The city can now spend more than $2 million a year that it's been paying in debt service on improving public services, and thus the quality of life of its residents. We Portland residents, who pay 25 cents into "urban renewal" out of every dollar we fork over in city property taxes, should be green with envy.

Reed College heroin story makes splash in New York Times

It's way up there on the newspaper's main web page at the moment -- too early to tell (from here at least) where it will be in the dead-tree edition.

UPDATE, 11:06 p.m.: It appears that the story runs in Section A, page 13. It could have been worse for Reed.

Reader poll: Can Blazers fight back?

The Blazers are down 3 games to 2, following a disheartening blowout. How do you think the series will end up?
Suns in 6 games
Blazers in 7 games
Suns in 7 games
pollcode.com free polls

Grant High saved; not so for Marshall, Benson

Super Carole finally speaks.

Perhaps most interesting is where Portland's high school boundaries (about to be strictly enforced) are headed. According to the O:

Most Marshall students would go to Franklin. Those who attend Harrison Park would go to Madison. Boise-Eliot students would shift from Grant to Jefferson. Sunnyside students would shift from Cleveland to Grant. Buckman students would shift from Grant to Lincoln. Creston students would move from Franklin to Cleveland.
For Buckman, it's westward ho.

UPDATE, 9:25 p.m.: The official document is here.

It's official: American government reduced to corporate goons

I hope this story is a joke, but I doubt it.

Police agencies now have "steering committees" with corporate weasels on it? Un-farookin'-believable.

Trouble in the Beav'

Looks like there's a campaign finance flap in the City Council race out there.

But I'm talkin' 'bout Shaff (then we can dig it)

David Shaff, the director of the Portland water bureau, is usually sporting enough to respond to some of the harsh questioning he receives on this blog. After we wondered aloud last week why we're reading about E. coli in the city's reservoirs so much all of a sudden, he writes:

Since the implementation of the Total Coliform Rule in 1990, we have had 17 cases where we have had a sample test positive for E coli at a compliance point. That works out to a bit less than 1 per year. We have had additional positives that were not at compliance points – places where we test but are not required to and therefore don’t report. Even then, we typically do consult with the state drinking water folks to let them know what we have found and what we are doing about it even when not required. Obviously, Total Coliforms and E coli existed before 1990, and I don’t know what the rules or processes were before then, but can have some staff do some research if you are interested in more information.

We typically have many more Total Coliform positives than E coli positives. They are more frequent in the summer and fall when the water is warmer and bacteria can grow more easily.... [W]e can have quite a few in the summer. They are potentially a big deal and can trigger a Boil Water Notice, but are usually not much of an event or issue. The rules are a bit different for them – E Coli is what really amps things up.

Total Coliforms and E coli have been found throughout the system; I doubt that there is a statistical difference between how many times they are found at the reservoirs as opposed to other storage or in the distribution system (i.e. in a sample taken from the pipes) but they are found more at the reservoirs and downstream from the reservoirs....

There is a website maintained by the Oregon Department of Health Drinking Water Program where you can get all kinds of official reported data from PWB and find all of our positive tests for Total Coliforms and E Coli going back many, many years. They are not secret and pretty easy to find. I found them by going off a link on our website.

You said you haven't heard about them in all your years in Portland. We don’t publicize them. You heard about the Thanksgiving one last year because the two E coli positives in a row triggered the Boil Water Notice. This one you heard about because an anonymous caller called KGW Wednesday and told them about it. KGW talked to me, I gave them the information and they posted an article on their website. That was picked up by other media outlets Wednesday evening and then they followed up with on-camera and radio interviews Thursday. We don’t hide them, but we don’t send out press releases either. They are indicators, along with many others, that we track and respond to as needed. Although not "routine," they are something we see and deal with as a matter of course. This incident was like the first 15 – one positive followed by a negative and no action to take. The Thanksgiving incident was the anomaly. As I told Council in a note yesterday, we had a small event this week that could have turned into a really big event but didn’t.

We have a testing schedule that is required and approved by the state. We do around 300+ samples a month, a few more than we are required to perform. We do that partly to ensure we don’t get in regulatory jail if we miss one or have one invalidated and partly because we think we should test more widely than we are required to. We are the front line of public health defense for 800,000 Oregonians, and despite what some might say, we take that seriously. My folks are all well trained and most have higher certifications than they are required to have in order to operate and maintain a drinking water system.

I am told that we are also using lab methods and tests that are more accurate and sensitive than they used to be – which means that we will likely see more of these in the future as the tests improve and the regulations get more stringent. That is not a big surprise given that labs used to detect in the parts per million range and are now able to detect parts per trillion in some cases.

A number of reporters asked if this incident would effect the open reservoir discussion. My answer this week is the same as it was last December. Since we are already under mandate to stop storing our finished drinking water in open reservoirs, and since we have already begun the projects to comply with that mandate, these incidents have no impact on that issue.

Shaff also addressed a number of other criticisms he has heard, both on this blog and elsewhere, about the city's plans to disconnect the open water reservoirs and replace them with underground tanks. We'll take them up in a later post.

Forget E. Coli for a minute -- check out Cryptococcus Gattii

Stand by for the helicopters spraying Tinactin.

About that "bio-surveillance" in the 'Couv

We blogged last night about an odd City of Portland no-bid announcement regarding some sort of "bio-surveillance" computer system being used up in the 'Couv. A reader who knows about such things responds:

Here is the deal on the FirstWatch business. CRESA is the 911 agency for Clark County. The idea is to have a computer program keep track of things like 911 medical call complaints to spot a trend that may indicate something bigger happening. For example, a number of calls from the public complaining of breathing problems in a small geographic area may mean a chemical spill or accident nearby. That discovery supposedly lets the emergency crews and hospitals gear up for something bigger than usual. Or so they say. The FirstWatch folks really want you to think of a "dirty bomb" or bio-hazard attack to sell the product.

I think it's a bunch of bunk. It was first mentioned as part of the ambulance franchise RFP about 6 years ago. And American Medical Response may have had a hand in bringing the idea forward in their bid. There are some places that were talking about this idea after the 9/11 anthrax scares. Not much has happened after that. Then came the H1N1 "deadly pandemic" flu and away we go again. See here.

The buzzy word is "situational awareness." But the problem is that in a place like Vancouver, or even Portland, the resources (i.e., number of available ambulances, fire rigs, etc.) at any given time are so small that most get committed to a major event right after the first couple of calls, so the "awareness" comes after the units have arrived and departed with patients. It may be a possible help for someone like Los Angeles, but Vancouver? Bahahhahahahahaha.

This is actually a program update. As I recall this was first being installed about five years ago in the 'Couv. And if you really want to see how far this jive goes, drive by the fire station on 39th Chuck E. Cheese Ave just past Hawthorne (Engine 9's house). One rig inside is a fire pumper, the other is a million-dollar-plus rolling command center. It's so big that it can't fit into most PFB stations, and E-9's house is one of the only ones with big enough doors.... It's got all the bells and whistles, TV cameras, weather station, electric toilet, radios that connect to everything, sat TV stuff. And it never goes anywhere. It's perfect light duty for the driver. It's nuts. Actually, the whole thing is nuts!

Sounds like a possible new slogan for our region.

Will Portland's garbage changes send more stuff down the sewer?

We blogged last week about the relationship between the City of Portland's sewer system and the city's plan to cut garbage pickup to biweekly. With haulers showing up at the house less often to haul stuff out to the landfill, people will doubtlessly be sending more material than ever down the drain. More powerful garbage disposals are likely to be a big hit -- along with, as one alert reader points out, Portland's own flushable diaper. Hey, if you're paying a fortune for sewer services, you might as well make the most of them.

Sign us up for flushable socks.

Uncle Sam helps cities keep using plastic to stall collapse

We've been looking over some of the heretofore unpublished deal documents regarding the $160 million that the City of Portland quietly borrowed from Bank of America on March 31. This is a bridge loan to get the city to a much longer term, and much larger, borrowing for the sewer system over the summer.

It turns out, the city is going to apply to the federal government to have the loan subsidized under the new "Build America Bonds" program. Under that system, the federal government will send the city a check for 35% of whatever interest it pays to the lender. As a tradeoff, the lender will have to pay federal income tax on that interest, even though the bonds would traditionally have been tax-exempt. The idea is that the new deal will provide states and cites a greater boost than the tax exemption, which the feds say was only about a 20% subsidy on the interest rates that the lenders charge.

Here in Portland, where the city's long-term debt now tops $6 billion, the last thing we need is a greater incentive for the local government to go further into hock. But that's what's happening.

Meanwhile, knowing that these subsidies are coming, you can just see the Wall Street overlords jacking up their interest rates even higher than they might have been for taxable bonds, thereby soaking up the additional federal subsidy that's supposed to be helping the locals. "They can afford it -- the feds are paying the extra." Our Congress apparently never learns that when it hands out subsidies, they inevitably go to people other than the intended recipients.

Selling illegal drugs? Don't forget the stamps.

Being a tax professor has its perks. Among these are highly interesting colleagues. One such, Sarah Lawsky of George Washington University's law school, spent some time recently exploring the practice of state governments purporting to tax illegal drug sales. She writes:

Anyone who sells illegal drugs in Kansas without an appropriate stamp affixed is subject to tax penalties. (This doesn't make selling drugs legal, of course; it just means that there is an extra penalty if you sell drugs without paying the extra tax.)

There is only one place to buy the Kansas stamps in person: in Topeka, the state capital, at the state office building. (You can also buy them via mail, though you have to supply a mailing address, and you may be able to buy them through on-line auction.) While in Topeka this past week for Brad Borden's Washburn tax conference, I took the opportunity to go to the state office building and buy a few of the stamps.

The whole experience was very professional, but it is hard for me to imagine that anyone selling illegal drugs would be willing to give their name (even a fake one) and sit in a booth in a state office building for 45 minutes while something goes on in some back room somewhere, involving people you cannot see but who periodically call you on a phone in the booth and tell you it will be just a few more minutes. And indeed, the very freaked-out gentleman who eventually sold me the stamps told me this was only the third time he had made such a sale in his time working there (though he wouldn't tell me how long that was). This made me suspect that there are two other tax professors with such stamps somewhere in the country.

You can read more about the Kansas drug stamp tax here.

Does Oregon tax illegal drug sales? Think of the revenue they might be losing by going after Reed.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Size isn't everything

For some jobs, you now have to keep it real (neither link SFW).

"Bio-surveillance" in the 'Couv

Ever since we signed up to be kept abreast by e-mail of many of the bid solicitations being pumped out by the City of Portland, we've learned all sorts of interesting stuff. But here's a no-bid notice from the city that we're having trouble processing:

Procurement Description: On behalf of UASI Grant #UA07-0164, the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA) requires the enhancement and upgrade of the FirstWatch software application as currently being used by Clark County CRESA.

Justification: In August, 2006 the Clark County Board of County Commissioners approved the purchase of a software application and annual maintenance for FirstWatch Software, a bio-surveillance tool. In January, 2007 CRESA entered into a software license agreement with FirstWatch Solutions, Inc. for an early warning software product that provides realtime live computer aided dispatch (CAD) data monitoring for an anomalies that indicate increased activity of specific preidentified medical conditions. The software license, upgrade, and interface are required in order to allow for additional custom reporting. FirstWatch is the single contractor/supplier for the FirstWatch software and the proposed project requires use of the current provider in order to utilize the pre-existing knowledge of the existing contractor regarding the specifics of the hardware and software system.

Our questions start with why Portland is posting this notice, since it has to do with Clark County, Washington. But more importantly, exactly what does this program do, why are the taxpayers buying it, and how much is it costing?

UPDATE, 4/26, 10:35 a.m.: A reader provides some helpful additional information here.

Door wide open for Blazer greatness

Goodness -- the Spurs are up 3-1 over Dallas. Get past Phoenix, boys, and we could be talking conference finals.

Rough night in the Multi-modal Mecca

If the gangbangers or the cops don't get you, the Tri-Met drivers will.

More wacky bike lanes

You've heard about the shortest bike lane -- now how about the widest?

Class action notices -- "like grocery store coupons"

A faithful reader sends along a link and a classic observation:

I get so many of these notices, now I think of them like coupons from the grocery store. A buck savings here, five bucks there.... This one is worth up to $35 for a push mower and a year more of warranty. I think this ought to cover lots of local folks:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reader poll: Can the Blazers win a three-game series?

The Trail Blazers have evened the series with Phoenix, 2 games apiece. What's going to happen the rest of the way?

What do you think the outcome of the Blazers-Suns playoff series will be?
Blazers in 6 games
Suns in 6 games
Blazers in 7 games
Suns in 7 games
pollcode.com free polls

No particular place to go

Portland politicians and bureaucrats are usually quick to tell you that public input, collected at multiple public meetings, clearly supported whatever stunt they're pulling at the time. You wonder who actually shows up at these confabs and fills out the questionnaires to City Hall's liking. Sometimes it seems as though it must be people who have no lives.

Tualatin "urban renewal" coming back to life

We noted recently that the City of Tualatin had canned its "urban renewal" program. Apparently a smaller version of the program has been drawn up -- one that will not need approval from as many agencies whose budgets are being raided -- and is set to be voted on Monday.

Drug cops to patrol year-end party at Reed College

An alert reader sends along this message that reportedly went out to the students at Reed College yesterday, about next weekend's celebration of the academic year's end:

My message regarding drug use at Renn Fayre 2010 is very simple: do not use illegal drugs. That means no marijuana, hallucinogens, designer drugs, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, or other illegal substances.

Since adopting the drug and alcohol implementation plan last year, we have consistently said that the plan applies throughout the year, and that no exception will be made for Renn Fayre. Recent events have given added urgency to this message. Yesterday Mike Brody and I were summoned to a meeting at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland. Present in the meeting were the United States Attorney for Oregon, the Chief of the Narcotics Section of the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Multnomah District Attorney, and the Deputy District Attorney. Their message was forceful and direct: shut down illegal drug use and distribution at Reed College, starting with Renn Fayre. Based on ongoing criminal investigations, including conversations with current and former students and other sources, these officials have heard numerous allegations about drug use at Reed, and particularly at Renn Fayre.

In the course of the conversation, the U.S. Attorney pointedly referred to a federal statute that makes it a criminal and civil offense for anyone knowingly to operate any facility for the purpose of using illegal drugs. We were also reminded of federal legislation that allows all federal funding--including student loans--to be withdrawn from any college or university that fails to take adequate steps to combat illegal drug activity.

We have been told that, during next weekend's Renn Fayre celebration, undercover Portland police officers will be circulating on campus, uniformed Portland police officers will be on alert to respond immediately to calls, and prosecutors stand ready to process criminal charges.

Further, in compliance with Reed's drug and alcohol implementation plan, Community Safety Officers will be patrolling the campus as usual throughout the weekend. If you are observed using, possessing, or distributing any illegal drug, the illegal drugs will be confiscated. At a minimum, you will be reported to the Dean of Students' office for disciplinary action. In the case of serious offenses, especially involving distribution of illegal drugs, we will also call the police--in accordance with the implementation plan--and you may be arrested and charged with a crime. Any place, such as one of the lodges, in which illegal drugs are being used will be closed down immediately and permanently.

The purpose of this notice and the actions that it describes is to protect individual members of the Reed community and the community as a whole. If you are inviting guests to Renn Fayre, you should inform them of these concerns. The wellbeing of the college depends on how everyone behaves next weekend and beyond. So does the future of Renn Fayre.

So I urge you again: no illegal drugs at Renn Fayre. Enjoy yourselves in a safe and healthy way, and honor the efforts of those who created Renn Fayre as a joyous celebration of Reed College at its best.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Have a great weekend

Coming soon to Portland

More innovation in transportation.

Finally, some biotech jobs at OHSU

Although some of the work involves hazardous material.

The Lower Uppers vs. the Ultrarich

Oh, yes:

If people no smarter or better than you are making $10 million or $50 million or $100 million in a single year, while you're working yourself ragged to scrape by on a million or two -- or, God forbid, $300,000 -- then something must be wrong....

One well-known and otherwise mild-mannered, free market-oriented Ivy League economics professor, for example, told me not long ago that "we should tax the [bleep] out of these guys," meaning CEOs, private equity honchos and other banking types.

Long overdue. Read whole thing here.

New York imitates Portland once again

A sports arena foisted onto an unwilling public with many false promises, plus (as a bonus) "mixed use" glory: "Nobody wants this. Yet it can't be stopped, because the rich always win."

State Treasurer travel scandal heats up

The you-know-what has really hit the fan with the whole Oregon State Treasurer Travelgate story. Now quite a few folks in power are demanding that the rogue state treasury employees who put themselves above the law because they are Masters of the Universe stop taking personal freebies from the Wall Street weasels.

But of course, there's always one rich old '80s throwback in the crowd who thinks corruption is o.k. because everybody does it. Besides, "All I care about is making money. Screw ethics." So totally Goldschmidt. So totally Portland. Of course, the guy is a former chair of the Portland Development Commission and an Arthur Andersen alum. And he just got reappointed to a brand new term running the state's investment board, by an inspiring vote of 16-14. So you can see how this whole thing happened.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see where the case goes next. As we've mentioned before, we hope and pray that the IRS and Oregon Department of Revenue get involved. If they do, heads will surely roll. As they should.

How is Portland "planning" like acupuncture?

Beats me, but that's what the city government says it's going to show us by sticking giant pins into the ground at important locations around town starting tomorrow.

I think Portland "planning" is more like experimental psychotherapy using hallucinogenic drugs. Unfortunately, there's been a miscalculation with the dosage and the place has been tripping heavily for 20 years. A lot of its best friends have gone home because they have to get up for work in the morning, but the city's still wandering around the yard raving about all of the cool things it's seeing.

E. coli! Quick -- get out your checkbooks!

We've had another E. coli scare at a Portland drinking water reservoir -- this one on Mount Tabor. Apparently they were getting ready to drain the reservoir to clean it anyway, and so they simply disconnected it and there was no big disruption to the public. But they say there was poop in them there reservoirs.

It's curious.

I've lived in Portland going on 32 years, and I can never remember even one prior incident like this, and here we've had two in five months. Has this never happened before? Has it happened, but the city never told us about it before? Or is the city just testing for it more frequently, or more vigorously, now?

In any event, given who's running the city these days, I don't blame critics of the water bureau for speculating that it is all a set-up. Is this part of a concerted effort to sell the public on an unnecessary gazillion-dollar reservoir replacement project that will make some "friends and family" construction companies rich, but bankrupt the water system and degrade water quality in the long run? I won't tell you it is, but I won't tell it isn't, either.

UPDATE, 7:45 a.m.: Meanwhile, while the city keeps telling us how bad the water situation is, we read this. Go figure.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reader poll: What are Blazers' chances, down 2 to 1?

Once again, the Blazers get blown out in their first home game of the playoffs. What do you think the final outcome of the series with Phoenix will be?

The Blazers have been shellacked twice in a row now by the Phoenix Suns. How do you think the series will end up?
Suns in 5 games
Blazers in 6 games
Suns in 6 games
Blazers in 7 games
Suns in 7 games
pollcode.com free polls

The way the camera follows us in slo-mo

That sci-fi course I took in college is definitely helping me understand current events 35 years later.

Where Gatbsy's fortune comes from

Not surprisingly, Senator Ron Wyden (R-N.Y.) gets almost two thirds of his campaign war chest from outside Oregon. The $526,000 from New York City is particularly impressive.

David Wu's another one -- two thirds from out of state. Sadly, no statistics are kept on how much influence beings from other planets have on Wu.

Portland dumps park bond measure

An alert reader sends along this notice to employees from Fish and Zsa Zsa about the City of Portland parks.

Headlining the "green" puppet show

We got another e-mail today from Rex Burkholder, the Metro clone running to become Head Metro Clone. This time he wasn't claiming to be a founder of an organization he didn't found, but he was still selling snake oil. It's pretty obvious that he's in the pack of hounds who use "green, sustainable" yada yada to sell condo bunkers:

The future of our region depends on putting people back to work. Rex knows that job creation and environmental protection must go hand in hand. He is committed to promoting sustainable growth and supporting our new, green economy. Rex has the experience necessary to protect this wonderful place we love and put our region back to work. That's why he's been endorsed by these businesses and individuals from our growing green economy:

Hiroshi Morihara, HM3 Energy*
Steve McGrath, Sustainable Solutions Unlimited*
Chris Humphries, EcoLogistics*
Sattie Clark, Eleek Inc*
Brad Malsin, Beam Development*
Nawzad Othman, OTAK*
John Carroll, Carroll Investments*
Stewart Ankrom, Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects*
B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery
Portland Pedal Power
John Russell, Russell Development*
Mark Edlen, Gerding Edlen Development*
Ned Dempsey, PneuLogic*
Ken Wightman, David Evans and Associates*
John Sorenson, Mid Tech Energy*
David Knowles, CH2M Hill*
Katy Brooks, EcoTech*
Chandra Brown, Oregon Ironworks*

* Organizations listed for affiliation purposes only and do not reflect an endorsement from the organization.

If you think real estate sharpies like Malsin, Carroll, Russell, and Edlen care about anything "greener" than what's in your wallet, or that this region is going to somehow get ahead of everybody else in bringing in "green" jobs, I've got an aerial tram I'd like to sell you.

School's over for the day, kids. Now get out.

A concerned reader writes:

I just had an interesting (and upsetting) conversation with the secretary at ACCESS school on the Sabin school campus, and subsequently composed a letter which my friend thought, since you're a neighborhood guy, you might also be interested in seeing. Without further ado:

I'm a Portland Public Schools parent and, as other parents are, I have been allowing my kids to stay on the playground for a little while with friends after school, to play. The school is about eight blocks from my home, in a safe neighborhood -- most neighborhood parents have their children walk to school -- and of course, many people use the field and playground during off-hours.

My oldest child, 12½, recently completed CPR training, and her friends are between 12 and 14... all good kids with involved parents, about whom I have no concerns in terms of getting into trouble. My son likes to play ball and have races with his friends in the field.

However, today I received a phone call from the school office saying that children are not allowed to play on the playground after school, and that they are calling all the parents to let them know. I asked her if that was a Portland Public Schools policy or just our school's policy, and at first she said she could only answer for our school, but later said it is a PPS policy that applies to all schools.

My question is, is this a common policy nationwide? Is it a new policy? Is it something that I, as a parent, should already have been aware of? The secretary really made me feel like I was a stupid, terrible parent for letting my children play unsupervised on the playground, and I realize that we live in a culture of protection, but at 12 and 13 years old a child is legally capable not only of supervising themselves, but of supervising younger children, so I am not understanding the logic behind not allowing children to play on the playground after school hours, and I am curious whether this is a pervasive or common policy, as it is new to me. The playground has baseball diamonds, a large field for running, as well as swings and a basketball court. I have often seen young teenagers skateboarding or playing ball there during off-hours.

The secretary told me that they can go to a public park, but I was under the impression that the playground is also a public park. If the playground is a public park, is this policy even legal? It seems to do children more harm than good, as it offers them one less option for healthy, outdoor, non-troublemaking fun. I also wonder if that policy means that children will not be allowed to use the playground during the summer.

Clearly, as would any parent, I want to know if my children are causing problems. I rely on the communication network of my fellow parents, as well as the tattletale instinct of other kids, to inform me if this were the case. My children have a cell phone with them. I feel that I am taking a reasonable balance between teaching them caution and responsibility. The idea that children of an age to legally supervise themselves and other children may not play on the public, publicly funded playground after school seems contrary to the statement that it's for safety reasons.


This land is your land

This afternoon's Portland City Council hearing on new zoning rules for the city's public schools is shaping up to be a hot one. Among those sure to show up are the angry parents who have rightly pointed out that the school board broke all the city's zoning rules when it "reconfigured" the public schools a couple of years ago. Now that the city is proposing to change its rules to legitimize future maneuvers of a similar nature, the activist types are complaining that it will "pave [the] way for Portland Public Schools to increase segregation, close schools, and sell public land."

The smell of rat emanating from the school district's real estate operation is indeed strong. There's some sort of "trust" group hovering around, ready to have the school board sell the Lincoln High School site, the school board headquarters, and other juicy properties, for a song to the Joe Westons and Homer Williamses of the world (who are well represented on the committee, no doubt). And there's no way the developer handmaidens on the City Council are going to stand in the way of that.

Meanwhile, Super Carole, whose next move is going to be to try to close some high schools -- lucky winners to be announced Monday -- is in a snit. She's accusing the city of infringing on her turf. An appearance by everybody's pal Chris "Streetcar" Smith (no relation to the super, apparently), in his new role as the mayor's planning expert, rounds out the tragicomic scene.

Night of the living condos

The previously abandoned condo bunker plan.

We breathed a sigh of relief a year or so ago when a Lake Oswego developer gave up on his plans to erect a huge apartment bunker at the nice corner of NE 15th and Hancock in a historic section of Northeast Portland. But an alert reader writes: "Walked by and noticed a demolition delay notice for the Irvington Guest House. Condo weasel developers much be resurrecting a plan."

Sure enough, the place is now owned by three companies, fronted by somebody named David Mullens of Creston Homes LLC, and the plan is to take the existing building down. For what? We shudder to think.

On the latest city records, the address for all three owners is 735 SW 158th in Beaverton. That's the headquarters of Arbor Custom Homes, which has had its hand in particle-board subdivisions of townhouses and detached homes throughout Portland suburbia. Listed by the state as a member of Creston Homes is Dennis Sackhoff, the CEO of Arbor Custom Homes. The other two companies, Actionway Investments and Autoway Investments, are less than a year old.

Portland long-term bonds crack $3 billion mark

This week, the City of Portland went to the Wall Street well again, mortgaging some of the IOU's it has gathered from taxpayers who are paying over time for special assessments and system development charges. The new city debt, much of which will run for 20 years, is around $22.1 million. Combined with $160 million of new sewer debt that it racked up, unannounced and unnoticed, on March 31, the city's long-term debt and "interim" financing of major construction (which inevitably requires permanent long-term debt to replace it) now totals more than $3 billion:

Unlimited general obligation bonds$ 68,050,000
Bonds paid and/or secured by general fund623,727,748
Revenue bonds1,980,102,880
"Interim" urban renewal and construction financing377,900,000
New "tax improvement" bonds22,080,000

There's lots more where that came from, with $71 million in new "urban renewal" bonds and a whopping $450 million in new sewer bonds about to sold this summer. It appears that we will be well over $3.5 billion by Labor Day.

Although it is a bit harder to get a handle on, our best estimate of the city's unfunded pension liabilities -- under its completely unfunded police and fire pension and disability fund, its newly discovered gap in funding its PERS plan, and unfunded health care for retirees -- is about another $2.9 billion. The last time the city's actuaries took a hard look at most of the retirement figures was as of June of 2008, when they changed all the assumptions and made it difficult or impossible to predict how fast that debt would grow. We've been using a growth rate of 6.5% a year, based on past history.

If we're right about the pension debt, and we know we're close, the city's total long-term liabilities now top $6 billion, which is more than $10,000 for every man, woman, and child in the city. Go by streetcar!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bull Run, Inc.

When Portland sells off its water and sewer systems to private corporations, remember that it will be to pay off the debts that it's racked up so that it can (a) give handouts to guys like Homer Williams and Little Lord Paulson, and (b) pay princely pensions to guys like Kyle Nice, Scott Westerman, and Randy Leonard.

Admiral Randy would approve

Even the Navy is on the biofuel bandwagon.

Facebook killed the blogosphere star

We were checking out our blogroll links last night when we discovered that whoa, quite a few bloggers have bit the dust in the last year. But a lot of them are still around on Facebook. Gotta admit, that's an easier way to have a light internet presence than running a blog. But it makes for a lot fewer compelling posts.

Eye yi yi

Portland often says it wants to be like Barcelona, and it's certainly a wonderful city, but maybe not this part:

Is Portland missing the boat on food scrap processing?

Maybe we should be running our table waste through high-end garbage disposals in our kitchen sinks and sending it through our platinum-plated sewers to a sewage treatment plant to be mined for methane, which can be used to generate electricity. From a "green" standpoint, it sure beats trucking the slop out to Waste Management in Troutdale and beyond, no?

This, of course, would involve the Sam-Rand Twins admitting that they placed their bets on the wrong technology. And we know that's not going to happen.

Your tax dollars at work, cont'd

Does every bureau in Portland City Hall have to have its own ongoing poetry contest?

Fresh from a junket to Guadalajara, Portland's Sunday Parkways bureaucracy has solicited your haikus about that event. Parkways is a nice idea, but as we noted last year, if you're not on two wheels, it's a bit of a drag.

Tried to cross the street
Too many clueless bikers
Next time we'll stay home

Here come da judge -- and da wannabes

Electing judges is a dirty business. The Founding Fathers had it right -- allow the duly elected politicians to appoint and confirm the judges initially, but after that, they should be good for life unless they commit "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Alas, here in Oregon, we have a different model, with judges running for re-election every six years. Just what government needs -- more pandering politicians. Anyway, if you're wondering who's who in the upcoming elections for the black muumuu's, the Oregon State Bar is offering some useful information, and its members' views on the candidates, here.

One thing you'll note if you head over there: There aren't many contested judicial races this time around. That's probably a good thing.

Spokane's Chasse

Some startling parallels between Portland's shame and that of the Lilac City.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reader poll: What do you think of Blazers' chances now?

The Trail Blazers were pummeled in Phoenix this evening, which means that they're tied with the Suns at 1 game apiece, with the two teams heading to Portland for Game 3 Thursday night. How do you think the Portland team will fare in the seven-game series?

The Suns have evened the series with the Blazers, 1 game apiece. What will be the final outcome of the series?
Blazers in 5 games
Suns in 5 games
Blazers in 6 games
Suns in 6 games
Blazers in 7 games
Suns in 7 games
pollcode.com free polls

Fan mail from down south

Our reader Paul Riddell, who runs the Texas Triffid Ranch, dropped us a nice note this morning about what's going on in his neck of the woods:

I've been keeping really close watch on your reports on City of Portland spending insanity, admittedly because it's great theater. What's tragedy next door becomes comedy 2500 miles away. I just wanted to let you know that I certainly don't figure that Dallas is better than Portland, and sometimes we come up with ideas of a whole new level of dumbth:


To fill you in on the particulars of this, which the Dallas Morning News conveniently leaves out, the Trinity River barely qualifies as a river this far north into Texas, and during the summer, it's little more than a mud wallow heading toward San Antonio. Worse, Dallas is on the Trinity River's floodplain, and the only thing preventing downtown from waking up underneath ten to twelve feet of floodwater (as what happened in 1905 and 1909) is a levee system overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers that's about as well maintained as the levees in New Orleans. That said, we've seen any number of dumb ideas on what to do with it, starting with a big plan in the late Seventies to dredge the entire river and turn Dallas into the world's most landlocked deep-water port. During the Eighties and Nineties, it alternated between turning this toxic water into a park and sailboating area or building a big toll road on pylons. Now...it's all about whitewater kayaking, all on a river that has as much flow as a water-saver shower head in summer. (It's quite telling that the top predators in the Trinity ecosystem are spotted and alligator gar, which can breathe air when the water becomes too stagnant for other fish.)

The reality of the situation is that just like Portland's situation with the soccer arena, the Trinity River developments are being pushed by the ultra-rich in Dallas, and it's all expected to be paid for with state and city funds. The toll road idea comes straight from Ross Perot Jr., who wants a major thoroughfare connecting downtown to Alliance Airport but without spending a pfennig of his own money. The park plans all come from a group of developers, particularly Harlan Crow (son of the late real estate emperor Trammell Crow), who've bought up otherwise worthless land in South Dallas and Oak Cliff in anticipation of this. They all figure that if the city puts in all of the work, then they can swoop in and build lots of "community" for our own creative class. And when Dallas is talking about "creative class," it really means "Southern Methodist University and Baylor brats with more family money than brains."

Now, the one good side to all of this is that we don't have anybody comparable to Sam Adams in this hunt. Our current mayor, Tom Leppert, is an unrepentant pimp for real estate interests through North Texas, but the Dallas charter makes sure that the mayor has almost no real power. (For the most part, anyone crazy enough to want the job was either intending to go on to higher office, such as with Ron Kirk in the Obama administration, or was attention-crazed narcissist, such as Laura Miller or Max Goldblatt. And then we had Annette Strauss, sister-in-law to the late Russian ambassador Robert Strauss: Annette was so incredibly stupid, even for the Dallas City Council, that when she died of a brain tumor, the nearly universal response was "How could you tell?") The bad news on this is that most city power is really combined in the City Council and on a group of four city commissioners. One of the commissioners, John Wiley Price, is famous worldwide for his very public temper tantrums (including his claim in 1992 that if Dallas didn't choose a police chief that was personally approved by the black community, he and his supporters would be up on rooftops with AK-47s), and he's VERY business-friendly...so long as he and his many, many friends get a piece. It's nearly impossible to get anything done in Price's jurisdiction in South Dallas without greasing a plethora of his staffers and supporters (including ones who insist upon getting a percentage of the company in exchange for helping to convince Commissioner Price to let a company move into the area), and the fact that he's been really quiet about the Trinity tells me that he's been a bought man for at least the last twenty years.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough, but I just want to let you know that you have wider ranging supporters than you thought. More importantly, by studying what's going on in Portland, we're trying to keep it from happening elsewhere. Thank you.

Most uplifting e-mail message we've received in a while. Few things in life are as entertaining as local politics.


Recall Sam Adams 2.0 has failed, as we thought it probably would. If you're wondering why, just go to recallsamadams.com and you'll see all you need to know.

Is all this seismic activity caused by man?

No, according to one fellow, it's caused by women.

Bait gone, time for the switch

I see that Portland doesn't have the money to turn Washington High School in the Buckman neighborhood into a community center after all. But the developer guy's still hanging around with a "Plan B." Wow, you don't say.

How long, do you think, before Super Carole sells the property off to the apartment weasels?

403 Forbidden

Here's an awful story involving a "former Portland businessman" and "one-time dot.com millionaire."

How to stay out of the Army

Cheeseburgers and pizza every day.

Griffith for State Senate

Here's an interesting primary race for the Oregon Senate: Republicans in District 19, which includes Lake Oswego, West Linn, Tualatin, and Dunthorpe, are faced with a choice between Steve Griffith and Mary Kremer. The winner will take on incumbent Democrat Richard Devlin in November.

I've blogged about Steve Griffith before -- he's my good friend and former law school classmate, and one of the most decent fellows on the planet. His track record, going all the way back to his days chairing the Portland school board, on which he served two terms, is one of careful moderation. His opponent, a former investment banker, is a newcomer to the political scene, but her husband, hard-core Republican activist and right-wing radio talker Rob Kremer, is a familiar figure.

I'm not a Republican, nor do I play one on TV, but I do know that as between Steve Griffith and Rob Kremer, the former's a thoughtful, moderate person, and the other is a dyed-in-the-wool Palinite sloganeer with a bit of a nasty edge personally. As for Mary Kremer, it remains to be seen whether her views would deviate much from those of her spouse. I couldn't bear to argue with the guy, even when I was getting paid to do it on the radio; maybe she's willing to take on the role of differing with him, but maybe not.

Anyway, to stay on the positive tip, as Griffith would, let me say that the GOP in that district could not find a better representative in the Senate than Steve. The guy is an adult consensus-builder who could actually make sane things happen in the Legislature.

"We are just waiting for another man to die"

One person's view of the current state of policing and treatment of mental illness in Portland.

"Bikes are for white people"

I'm not sure whether this is sad, funny, both, or neither, but it's classic Portland: A local group is burning a lot of energy trying to figure out why Portland's largely invisible racial and ethnic minority groups don't ride bicycles.

Not why they don't have job opportunities, or health care, or good schools. Not why their young people are being killed by the police and by each other. Why they don't ride bicycles.

Exotic flavors

Have you sampled Iced Borscht yet? Tasty stuff, although no guarantees that it's all SFW.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cue the crickets

This fatal accident involving a bicyclist probably won't prompt much comment from the Spandex set. If you've ever been hit by a bicyclist when you were on foot, you know why some people root for the cars.

The pennies project: an interim report

We've finished the first phase of our project to study the heavy bucket of pennies that our reader Ben has been collecting for around 20 years. We've now got the cents sorted into decades, with the '80s the most heavily represented, followed by the '90s:

We'll begin hunting around for rarities within the decades, and preparing some statistics about how much of what we've found, shortly. But for now, the answer to the obvious question: What's the oldest penny knocking around in his change over the last 20 years?

We've also spent enough time with these coins to form an artistic opinion: The pennies of the '60s are by far the nicest among those that are still readily available. They were made to last, and they have. Meanwhile, the pennies minted in the '90s and '00s are trashy. They're already corroding and disintegrating.

That's it for now, except for a request: Has anybody got a machine that will count large batches of pennies? We don't need to roll them up -- just count them.

Kissing the swoosh

Nobody good really wants the Ducks men's basketball head coaching job, but a lot of big names have gone through the meaningless ritual of being considered. So thinks this writer in St. Louis, who has a theory about why the candidates allow their names to be thrown in the hopper for that gig:

The most popular theory in college basketball circles is that when the Nike chairman beckons — particularly if you are working at a Nike school — you are obliged to listen.

So it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that even if Anderson wasn't truly interested in the Oregon gig, he had to at least go through the motions in deference to Knight.

Makes sense.

Big chance for Portland police

Well, Scott Westerman's conclusively out as head of the Portland police union. Here's a chance for the rank and file to show the public that it deserves to regain its trust. How about putting a calm, experienced, reasonable "good cop" in charge of the union? Leave the arrogant hotheads with personal issues and checkered pasts on the sidelines for a while. Just a thought.

Portland City Hall always has to show you who's boss

An alert reader writes:

Went downtown on business the other afternoon. Things being what they are downtown these days, I easily found a convenient parking place with a three-hour meter. About two hours and 45 minutes later, I got back to the car. As I walked to it, I noticed something inserted under the windshield wiper.
I knew it shouldn't have been a ticket, and happily it wasn't. Instead, it was a small, ticket-shaped (3½ by 8½) flyer from the Bureau of Transportation headed "For Your Information: Parking Meters & More." Inside was a long list of the rules governing parking downtown. Whoever placed the flyer there had circled a headline that said "Vehicles Parking In Violation Of The Following Regulations Are Subject To Citation And/Or Tow." They had also circled and checked the box that said "Re-Parking/Meter Feeding," in which it was helpfully explained that I should not return to the same "block face" until three hours has elapsed.

Not sure what to make of this. Is it customary to post these things on vehicles that have nearly used up their allotted parking time? Is the subliminal message here "Please Shop at Clackamas Town Center"?

Through the looking glass

The Portland City Council continues to behave strangely on the question of what to do with the Memorial Coliseum. The Trail Blazers appear to have a huge advantage over the other groups with ideas for the aging facility. The Blazers' Drunktown Jumptown plan -- plastic, touristy, corporate pile that it is -- seems pretty much invincible. But the city continues to announce to the world that it's considering other options, including upgrading the Coliseum to do a better job of what it does now -- serve as a junior public events venue to the Rose Garden next door.

The whole discussion seems kind of silly. It's hard to see anybody coming up with the money for doing anything serious there for five to 10 years. Why force a decision now?

And unless and until Little Lord Paulson conclusively moves his minor league baseball team out of town, nobody's going to convince us that his stadium plan for the Coliseum site is completely off the table.

Portland table scrap composting includes a no-bid deal

And guess who gets the transfer station and transport contract -- apparently, it's the sweethearts at Waste Management!

Another Southeast Portland corner gets a huge bunker

I see that the wrecking of Portland continues apace, with the latest atrocity going in at SE 38th and Division. I guess the disaster at SE 38th and Belmont needed a cousin. Four stories of shinola -- 23 apartments -- and plenty of room for Starbucks, Subway, and a couple of permanent "for lease" signs.

Retail sales and services that are not walk-up oriented will thrive in this south-facing development that looks onto a City run community garden. This is the perfect tranquil atmosphere for businesses such as massage therapy professionals, a counseling office, a hair stylist, etc.
Oh yeah, nothing says "tranquil atmosphere" like the corner of 38th and Division.

Completely out of character with the neighborhood, way too tall, and with no parking provided for any of its 23 new hipster tenants, I'm sure this is going to be a big plus for the lucky neighborhood. Go by streetcar!

Is Wheeler being set up?

The conspiracy theorist in me sees some interesting threads in this year's sudden turn of events involving Ted Wheeler. He's doing a great job as Multnomah County chair, standing up to the "urban renewal" snake oil salespeople in Portland, most of whom are part of the West Hills real estate Mafia. Suddenly Governor Ted, himself a West Hills puppet at crucial times, appoints Wheeler state treasurer, meaning he'd be leaving the county. As soon as he's gone, County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, whose very surname conjures up years and years of Portland old boy politics, announces that things around the county are going to be different from now on.

Upon arriving in Salem, Wheeler finds himself needing to build up name recognition throughout the state, and quickly, because he has to run to stay in the treasurer's office in November. He's only on job a matter of weeks when the Oregonian, long-time champion of West Hills development boondoggles, decides to break a story, which it's probably been sitting on for some time, about expense account improprieties in the treasurer's office. And they break it in stages, leaving the scandal in the headlines beyond the minimum time for stories of that nature. The first thing some people around the state hear about Wheeler, he's already on the defensive.

I wish I didn't know what I know about Portland, where things are almost never what they seem on the surface. Because given the seedy goings-on among the politicians and the media in these parts over the years -- particularly the O -- I wouldn't be shocked if the Arlington Club set was trying to get Wheeler out of politics in these parts as soon as possible.

That couldn't be happening -- could it?

Portland gets new CFO today

Richard F. Goward, Jr., formerly the chief financial officer of the Salem-Keizer school district, is scheduled to become the new chief financial officer of the City of Portland today.

Goward, 55, worked for the Marion and Polk County school district for 13 years. Before that he was the business manager at Chemeketa Community College for 11 years, and a CPA in a private firm for five years. He's got a business degree from Oregon State and an MBA from Willamette, and he has taught managerial accounting as an adjunct at the Willamette business school.

Goward's latest gig was to oversee the finances of a school district with 40,000 students and a budget of $681 million. (Portland's budget is around four times that size.) Goward lives in Keizer and says he plans to stay living there.

In some ways, I pity the guy -- can you imagine being the person running the money while Sam and Randy make the decisions? I'm sure his pay will be good, but you can hear his aging process revving up from here. Anyway, welcome to Portland, Rich Goward.

Lost child story lost

Am I just not paying close enough attention, or have the mainstream media here in Oregon been missing this story?

UPDATE, 3:50 p.m.: Apparently the case is taking place in Lane County.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reader poll: Who will win the Blazers-Suns series?

It was a dogfight, and they tried pretty hard to blow it at the end, but the Blazers managed to eke out a win in Phoenix tonight in Game 1 of their playoff series with the Suns. How will it go the rest of the way?

Who will win the Blazers-Suns series?
Blazers in 4 games
Blazers in 5 games
Suns in 5 games
Blazers in 6 games
Suns in 6 games
Blazers in 7 games
Suns in 7 games
pollcode.com free polls

Nate rates a 7.3 going into the playoffs

We closed out the voting in our latest Rate-a-Nate poll just before tipoff of tonight's opening playoff game. This time around, the Blazers' head coach scored a 7.3 on a scale of 1 to 10. That's quite a bit better than in our previous polls this season, where (in reverse chronological order) he picked up ratings of 6.4, 4.9, and 5.4.

We'll take another reading on this after the first round of the playoffs.

Condo buyers: Putting the "dense" in density

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that someone living in a multimillion-dollar penthouse in a city like Las Vegas or Los Angeles surrendering their car for a bus pass. Instead, these developments are luring people—and their cars, and their carbon footprints—into an already crowded urban environment. They’re putting the dense into density.
The whole thing is here.

Warm weather brings Welches con man back out of woodwork

An alert reader writes:

The infamous Welches con man is practicing his trade again. He was in front of the Laurelhurst Theater on Burnside at 6:15 Sunday night April 18. Same old tricks, his car was stolen and he needs cab fare. Starts off by saying "Have you heard of Welches," then flashes 30 bucks and shows his car keys and says he only needs $15 more to get a cab to Welches. When I told him I saw him on a KGW-TV news report over a year ago, he kind of frowns. I said sorry, but I know about your scam. I went home and pulled his picture from the internet stories under "Welches con man" -- its him.
His name is David Wilson. If he gives you his spiel, please take his photo with your cell phone and send it to us. Our last images of the guy are probably getting out of date.

One of these days, I hope we have a mug shot to use.

They told it like it was

I miss the old editors I used to have in my days as a young reporter back in Jersey City. They don't make them like that any more:

Preening over a story I once handed in to the foreign desk, I couldn’t resist asking the editor, "Well, does it sing?" Here is what he said: "Just keep triple-spacing it, sonny, so we can rewrite it between the lines."

What's wrong with sports journalism today

Our business now, too many times, is a fat kid in a T-shirt in his mother's basement, eating Cheetos and writing his blogs -- and we make it news.
The whole thing is here. [Via techdirt.]

The ventriloquist

When Portland's creepy mayor gives you the hard sell about how we need to spend more tax dollars on "sustainable" real estate development, remember who pulls his strings -- always has and always will.

State Treasurer junket story crosses into scandal territory

It was bad enough that State of Oregon treasury department officials were getting free meals, entertainment, and who knows what all else from the financial companies with whom they were dealing. Now it turns out that they were putting in for expense "reimbursements" from the taxpayers for the very same meals that they were getting for free.

Stunningly, their supervisors are insisting that it was all legitimate, and that there's no rule against the employees collecting "per diem" checks for meals that someone else paid for. There were also some meals that the employees collected from the state for twice -- once as reimbursement of conference registration fees, and again as "per diem." That last practice is against even the state treasury's laughable "rules" on the subject.

These guys may get away with the double dipping at their place of employment -- though heaven knows, they shouldn't -- but it's going to get mighty interesting if the IRS or the Oregon Department of Revenue doesn't find those reimbursements on their tax returns as gross income. "Per diems" and other travel "reimbursements" are taxable if you don't have out-of-pocket expenses. Just ask the NBA officials who were busted in a similar racket in the late 1990s.

Usually when the O sends out Les Zaitz to play "Who Had the Pickle?" with some bureaucrat's expense account, we just laugh. But this time, it's quite a bit more serious.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

From farce to force it

As a sixth-grade class project, this is a halfway decent effort. But why on earth did the Portland Water Bureau kill time on it? And how much did it cost?

If Portland wants to be more Euro...

... how about blowing up backroom sweetheart deals with developers?

Tough week for the Oregon hempsters

Two bad developments: First, the state supreme court ruled that your medical marijuana card won't stop your boss from firing you for using pot. And second, one of the grand old men of the pro-marijuana movement passed away.

Sick reaches a new depth

We blogged a while back about a lawsuit involving alleged spying by a school district on its students by means of free laptops that the district had supplied to them. Apparently, it's for real, and the details just get uglier and uglier.

If our society had any common sense, somebody would be facing serious criminal charges over this.

Which one knows what he's talking about?

Here's an interesting debate. On one side we find a smart guy who's made many, many millions of dollars running a successful business, and given lots of it back to the local community. On the other side, we find... well... another guy.

Great moments in Criminal Law

Witness the emergence of the bum-scratch-or-booger-flick defense.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gone astray

Looks like the Doberman has wound up at the Humane Society.

Have a great weekend

First chicken arrives back at roost

The boys at Goldman Sachs begin to pay for their sins.

Corporate weasels at their worst

Firing someone for doing too much volunteer work, then touting the person as a star employee for it, in the company's marketing materials.

NBA East playoffs: an ugly duckling

The pro hoops playoffs that are about to begin have four brackets: two in the east, and two in the west. The Blazers have a great bracket for them, with Phoenix, Dallas, and San Antonio -- all teams that Portland could conceivably beat. But in the east, there's one bracket that requires a clothespin for one's nose: Atlanta, Milwaukee, Orlando, and Charlotte. Yikes!

Meanwhile, out herein the west, I've developed a special prayer. Please recite it with me:

Dear Lord, about Kobe Bryant and his broken finger. Lord, I wish him no pain. May he not suffer. But Lord, may he be hindered, greatly hindered. Amen.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Did Portland police union chief tail his road rage victim for days?

That's the question raised (not in so many words) by this story. He says it's all an amazing coincidence. Why don't we trust him?

How it's done

When you contrast this story with what Portland police will do to you just for looking at them crooked, it's pretty telling.

Process of elimination

We're working our way through the long list of Multnomah County commission candidates in the upcoming election, and whittling it down based on what we consider to be some of their disqualifying features:

Karol Collymore - Works for Cogen, therefore a potential second vote for Cogen. Commissioner Deborah "the Latest" Kafoury says Cogen's going to shake things up from the way Ted Wheeler ran the county. We liked Wheeler, and are still quite leery of the Cogen-Saltzman axis. Sorry, Karol -- not this time.

Chuck Currie - No, no, a thousand times no. World's greatest Erik Sten fan, former flack for another Kafoury, defended Deborah K.'s decision to try to retain her legislative seat after she moved out of her district. A second vote for Kafoury, not to mention questions about the whole separation-of-church-and-state thing. Not now, not ever.

Gary Hansen - Been there, done that. Years on the Mean Girl and pre-Mean Girl versions of the county commission and in the Salem commuter club do not impress.

Tom Markgraf - Earl the Pearl aide, a streetcar man, and a Metro clone. Nuh-uh.

Roberta Phillip - Inexperienced, but looking like a quality candidate so far.

Maria C. Rubio - With the full endorsement of two of the former Mean Girl commissioners, this one's a nonstarter.

Loretta Smith - Backed by Ron Wyden's money. GONG! Say no more.

Paul van Orden - Maybe. His attempted run for sheriff when nobody else would stand up to Bernie "Courvoisier" Giusto was impressive.

So it's down to Phillip or van Orden for us. Two green lights -- the rest, yellow at best.

Is it a wallet, this is your life

My friend and colleague Tung Yin's Tax Day ruminations include some thoughts about "having some skin in the game." (Comments are welcome, and should go over there.)

Coming soon to Portland: corporate parks

They've been talking for years about selling off naming rights to public parks in Portland. Zsa Zsa and Grimwad had that train on the tracks and all warmed up before the plan got too much attention a few years ago. But in these days with Mayor Creepy suddenly crying about cash flow problems, you know it'll be back (along with selling off school property and the water system to the highest bidders). Here's some precedent from Tokyo involving a familiar name:

New Portland garbage deal -- pay more, get less?

Portland's starting up its new program of curbside composting of household food waste. Along with this good news comes some bad, however: Eventually pickup of ordinary household garbage is going to be cut back to once every two weeks. The theory, I suppose, is that with the food waste being composted, people's garbage stream is going to be cut in half.

I doubt it.

We've got some neighbors who don't even do much recycling, much less composting. You think they're going to start hauling around their after-dinner slop and cut their garbage in half? I don't.

At our place, we already compost our vegetable waste -- our worm colony eats it all -- and the rest of our food waste isn't half of what's in our garbage can -- not even close. And so when they cut regular garbage pickup frequency in half, we'll have to get a bigger can. And pay more for the privilege, of course.

Along with out-of-control water and sewer bills, we're looking at a noticeable increase in our garbage bill as well. And having garbage lie around twice as long as before. Ain't nothin' but a Portland party.

Volcanoes in Iceland? Who knew?

So now we do.

Ghosts of Tax Day Past

I was going through a long neglected desk drawer the other day when I stumbled across these:


I'm not sure how I got them. There's a set of the 1967 ones, too. Maybe they were left in the desk by a previous owner, or maybe someone else passed them along to me knowing my professional involvement with the tax system. Anyway, they weren't mine originally. In tax season for 1966 (spring of '67), I was a freshman in high school in New Jersey, hadn't had any reportable income yet, and had no clue that I would ever set foot in Oregon.

Holding these pieces of history in one's hands and leafing through them is kind of interesting. The obvious thing that jumps out at you is how much simpler the system was back then. The federal booklet (8¼ by 11¼ inches with a couple of staples in it) is only 20 pages long; the state instructions, which are three long pieces of paper folded together (not even bound), work out to eight pages of 8½ by 11. Today the comparable federal document is 105 pages long; the Oregon instructions have now swelled to 40 pages.

It's also interesting to note from whom the forms came:

Sheldon Cohen, now retired from a big-bucks Washington, D.C. law firm, is still around; these days he drops in from time to time on a tax law professor e-mail list serv to which I subscribe. And of course, Oregon's taxing bureau has long since been rechristened the Department of Revenue.

Back in 1966, there was little doubt who wore the pants in the family:

If the IRS owed you money, you mailed your return to Ogden, Utah; but if you owed the IRS money, you mailed it to a local office here in Portland:

Continue reading "Ghosts of Tax Day Past" »

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reader poll: How far will the Blazers get?

The Blazers have a pretty nice draw in the playoffs: Suns in the first round, Spurs or Mavs in the second. How far do you think they'll get?

How far will the Trail Blazers get in the playoffs?
Out in the first round vs. Phoenix
Western Conference semi-finalists (beat Phoenix, lose to Dallas or San Antonio in second round)
Western Conference finalists (win first two series, lose in third round)
Western Conference champions
NBA champions
pollcode.com free polls

Blazer game reduced to a scrimmage

As explained in this post, since San Antonio lost in Dallas this evening, the outcome of the Blazer game tonight (on KGW) no longer has any meaning. The key game now for the Western Conference playoffs is Phoenix at Utah (on ESPN). Whoever wins that one plays the Blazers in the first round; the loser faces Denver.

UPDATE, 9:34 p.m.: Phoenix is routing Utah, and so the Blazers will get Phoenix in the first round. After that, it's Dallas or San Antonio. Portland can't ask for a better playoff draw than that.

Portland sewer chief calls Mayor Creepy out on bike budget baloney

When Portland's mayor decided that he would divert $20 million from the city's sewer budget to pay for bike boulevards, the several sane people left in the city howled. So he rounded up some bean-counters from the city's finance department (the people leading the local government over the cliff of bankruptcy, but with spectacular style), and they suddenly determined that there had been all sorts of recent "savings on contracts" that would pay for the toys for the kids on their two-wheelers.

All through this, the head of the bureau in charge of sewers, Dean Marriott, has been biting his tongue. Marriott's a tough cookie who's been in the bureaucracy a long time -- legend has it that Tom Potter tried to fire him and he refused to leave. Yesterday, prodded by questioning from Willy Week, Marriott hinted at what he thinks of the mayor's latest bike-pandering maneuvers. And it isn't much:

Dean Marriott, BES’s director, says no one ever knows what the savings will be on a project until it is finished, and he says that BES cautioned against calling the difference between an engineer’s estimates and a bid “savings” when Adams first introduced the idea in February. The Portsmouth project is “a reflection of what I was talking about,” he says now.

I asked Marriott if he was upset that the mayor’s plan was complicating his work. “It’s just a little frustrating it’s become something of a distraction,” he said.

On the happy day when Sam Adams leaves office and moves to the East Coast, maybe we can all vote for Dean Marriott for mayor. At the moment, he seems like the only reasonable person left in City Hall.

Portland cop blows a .19 in traffic stop on I-5

Just another reason why all Portland police officers need regular drug testing -- and apparently a Breathalyzer once in a while, too. Were the cops who killed James Chasse drunk, hung over, hopped up, or juiced up when they did it?

Nothing says fun like a young cop and a Taser

At least he didn't play games with his Glock.

Portland red light camera upgrade: $681,818 per cam?

We've been brooding some more about that story we noted yesterday -- the one about Portland spending $7.5 million to buy new red light cameras to put up at the 11 intersections where older models of the cameras are currently posted around town. Just doing some simple math, that works out to $681,818 per intersection! How could these contraptions possibly cost so much? The underground sensor thingies are already in place, the poles are already there, the wiring's done, the ticketing process has long since been set up -- how much could the new hardware actually cost?

Supposedly the new cameras are going to take sharper pictures. But is that really necessary? As the folks who have already paid the spendy tickets will tell you, the old ones work pretty well. And as all the rest of us will tell you, the mere presence of these devices brings about a change in driver behavior. Heck, you could post dummy cameras that didn't even work, and it would deter most of us from even thinking about running the light. Just have them flash whenever somebody actually does run the light. The rest of us will never know if a ticket isn't actually issued.

Especially since the city says it makes little money from this program, it's real mystery why the equipment has to be first-class all the way. The contractor, a subsidiary of Xerox, looks pretty greasy. This one really has a strong odor of graft about it. Calling John Kroger! When you get through with the mayor of West Linn, and with Bicycle Rex Burkholder's little white voters pamphlet lies, you might want to turn over this particular rock.

Grow up!

O.k., fine -- bikes are cool, bikes are green, bikes are healthy, bikes are wonderful. Gandhi rode a bike. God loves bikes. But for crying out loud, there are so many other challenges that are facing our community that are a million times more important. Look at this guy, running to head the regional government. Is this all he can tell us about his time in office, and his agenda for our future? "I made sure there are bike paths." Earth to Rex: Our region's economy is dying!

The direction of our local government is so juvenile right now. It's really stunning. We deserve the disaster that is coming.

The song is over

Portland's about to lose a great institution when the venerable Artichoke Music on SE Hawthorne Boulevard closes its doors. Many a wonderful musical note has come from that place -- including the first public piano performance by our first-born. The farewell to this special establishment is scheduled to run through the end of May.

Portland gets away with rogue tax abatements

We've got a followup on our post of yesterday about those illegal property tax abatements that Portland gave out to landlords who built "transit-oriented" "mixed-use" developments. The City Council didn't have the authority to abate the taxes on the commercial portion of the apartment bunkers, but it did so anyway. And when the state and the county called the city out on it, the city ran down to the state legislature crying about how it had promised the giveaways to the landlords. "It's too late to turn back now" -- the classic Portland scam song.

As it turns out, the legislature gave the city just what it wanted -- retroactive authority to grant the abatements -- in the special session just concluded. The vote was unanimous. And of course, Good Old Governor "I See Nothing" Ted signed the deal into law.

What a way to run a city and a state. The locals give out illegal tax breaks to their favorite real estate sharpies, and when challenged, all they have to say is "We promised, so please make it o.k." And the state goes right along with it. Beautiful. This is why we need to have the legislature meet every year, I guess -- you don't want to have too many travesties queued up for the next biennium.

I doubt you could get away with this anywhere else -- even in Illinois or New Jersey.

Blazer playoff picture

I'm always game for trying to figure out the Blazers' playoff matchup scenarios toward the end of the season, even though it's some mind-boggling stuff. Last year, the NBA's official rules weren't clear enough for me to get it all straight, but doggone it, I'm going to try again.

We know for sure that the Blazers are going to play one of three teams: Dallas, Phoenix, or Utah. Of the three, Utah is the opponent that Blazer fans least want to see. Which one will they get?

It depends on what happens tonight, and a lot is riding on tonight's contest of Phoenix at Utah (7:30). If Utah loses that game, the Blazers will play either Phoenix or Dallas. If Utah wins that game, the Blazers will play Utah unless the Blazers win their home game against Golden State (7:30) and San Antonio wins at Dallas (5:00). Utah's home record this season is 32-8, and they've won 2 out of 3 over Phoenix so far, and so if the Blazers are going to avoid Utah, a San Antonio win on the road in the first game would be nice.

Unless either Phoenix or San Antonio wins on the road, Portland gets Utah in the first round, no matter what happens in tonight's Blazer game.

And now, the mind-numbing detailed analysis. As best I can tell, the Blazers are probably going to finish 6th in Western Conference. If they lose at home to Golden State tonight and San Antonio wins in Dallas, the Spurs are 6th and the Blazers 7th; otherwise, the Blazers are 6th. Portland owns the tiebreaker with San Antonio, having beaten the Spurs in the regular season, 3 games to 0. If the Blazers finish with the 6th seed, they play the 3d seed. If the Blazers finish with the 7th seed, they play the 2nd seed.

Too bad there's no way the Blazers will meet the Spurs in the first round; they also won't play the Lakers or Oklahoma City, who will face off against each other in that round. Denver is also out of the Portland picture; they continued their swoon last night, finishing their season at 53-29. Denver will be 4th or 5th, and thus won't see the Blazers except in the conference finals (which seems fairly unlikely).

With three relevant games on tap, you math majors out there can see that there are eight possible combinations of game outcomes tonight, and we'll try to identify the Blazers' first-round matchups under each one. The home teams in tonight's games are identified in bold letters.

1. Blazers win, San Antonio beats Dallas, Utah beats Phoenix: Blazers tie San Antonio in record (51-31), but get the 6th seed due to the tiebreaker; Dallas and Utah tie for 2nd in record (54-28). Here's where the NBA's crazy, arcane tiebreaker rules kick in. Both Dallas and Utah will have won their divisions, and so the tiebreaker goes to the team with the better record in head-to-head competition. Utah won the season series with Dallas, 2 games to 1; therefore, Utah is second and Dallas 3rd. Blazers play Dallas.

2. Blazers win, San Antonio beats Dallas, Phoenix beats Utah: Blazers tie San Antonio in record, but get the 6th seed due to the tiebreaker; Dallas and Phoenix tie for 2nd in record, with Dallas winning that tiebreaker because it won its division and Phoenix didn't. Blazers play Phoenix.

3. Blazers win, Dallas beats San Antonio, Utah beats Phoenix: Blazers finish 6th, a game ahead of San Antonio; Dallas finishes 2d and Utah 3rd. Blazers play Utah.

4. Blazers win, Dallas beats San Antonio, Phoenix beats Utah: Blazers finish 6th, a game ahead of San Antonio; Dallas finishes 2d and Phoenix 3rd. Blazers play Phoenix.

5. Blazers lose, San Antonio beats Dallas, Utah beats Phoenix: Blazers finish 7th; they play the 2nd place team, but is that Dallas or Utah, who finish tied? As noted in scenario 1 above, Utah finishes 2nd and Dallas 3rd because Utah won the head-to-head series between those two teams. Blazers play Utah.

6. Blazers lose, San Antonio beats Dallas, Phoenix beats Utah:Blazers finish 7th; Dallas and Phoenix tie for 2nd in record, with Dallas winning that tiebreaker because it won its division and Phoenix didn't. Blazers play Dallas.

7. Blazers lose, Dallas beats San Antonio, Utah beats Phoenix: Blazers tie San Antonio in record, but get the 6th seed due to the tiebreaker; Utah finishes 3rd. Blazers play Utah.

8. Blazers lose, Dallas beats San Antonio, Phoenix beats Utah: Blazers tie San Antonio in record, but get the 6th seed due to the tiebreaker; Phoenix finishes 3rd. Blazers play Phoenix.

If you consider all eight of the outcomes equally probable, the Blazers have a 37.5% chance of playing Phoenix, a 37.5% chance of playing Utah, and a 25% chance of playing Dallas. If the Blazers win, they have a 50% chance of playing Phoenix, a 25% chance of playing Dallas, and a 25% chance of playing Utah. If the Blazers lose, the chances of playing Utah go up to 50%, and the chances of playing Phoenix or Dallas drop to 25% each. (Of course, by game time in Portland, the San Antonio-Dallas final score should be known; if San Antonio has won, Blazer fans will know early on that a Blazer win will avoid Utah.)

Interestingly, it appears that Denver will finish in a tie for 4th place no matter what happens, and thus the tiebreaker on that one (against either Phoenix or Utah) will determine only home-court advantage in the first round.

I think.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Burnside-Couch "couplet" -- traffic from hell

Commuters who used to glide into downtown Portland from points east on Sandy Boulevard and Burnside Street are finding the new routing onto Couch very much not to their liking. "I have never been so angry about traffic in all my life," one reader complained to us today. What can I say, pal? This is Portland. Go by streetcar.

Plastic on the beach -- not just ugly

As these disturbing photos reveal, it's also deadly.

And I think to myself, What a wonderful world

Here's a young guy suing his mother over what she did to his Facebook account.

Side by side

A reader sends along a screenshot from yesterday's edition of this blog, with an interesting juxtaposition:

A double shot at Phoenix Espresso

And you thought you had the worst boss in the world.

Cha-ching! $7 million for new red light cams in Portland

But get this -- they aren't going in new locations. They're just going to take take clearer pictures in the current locations.

The city says it makes less than $10,000 a year profit on this program. Somebody else must really be cashing in. Has somebody's nephew got the contract on this one?

Reader poll: Rate-a-Nate at season's end

It's been a while since we ran a reader poll asking for feedback on the performance of Blazers head coach Nate McMillan. With the season ending and the playoffs looming, it's time to check in with readers once again on this subject. Two months ago, Nate received a reader rating of 6.4 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best and 1 the worst. Four months ago, it was only 4.9; at the start of the season, it was 5.4.

Blazer watchers, please weigh in:

On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is best and 1 is worst), how well is Nate McMillan performing this year as the coach of the Trail Blazers?
pollcode.com free polls

UPDATE, 12:36 p.m.: With our first 93 votes in, Nate's averaging a 7.3 -- by far his best showing of the season.

Fake New York meets the real thing

This New Yorker's got an interesting idea:

As you can see, where once there was simply traffic, there are now happy pedestrians enjoying the vehicular exhaust and awaiting an out-of-control taxi like so many bowling pins....

Outdoor living, traffic-calming, bicycle-friendly streets -- all of these are hallmarks of both "Livable Streets" and of Portland, Oregon. Furthermore, New York City appears to want to become Portland anyway. So why not simply install a giant Portland right in the middle of New York? Not only does it include an excellent cycling and public transit infrastructure already in situ, but it also comes with a bunch of breweries as well as like half a million smug yet amiable residents who require little beyond ready access to fair trade coffee and whimisical trinkets to weave into their blond dreadlocks. Indeed, installing a Portland in New York will be no more difficult than sliding a 10-speed cassette onto a freehub or assembling a piece of Ikea furniture.

The whole thing, with maps no less, is here.

Getting in on the ground floor

Here's something I hadn't noticed until an alert reader sent it along. Apparently some of the tax abatements dished out by the City of Portland for "transit-oriented development" and multi-family housing have been ruled partially invalid by the state attorney general, and Multnomah County has refused to honor the invalid parts. The state reportedly found that the city didn't have the power to abate the taxes on the commercial portions of the bureaucrats' beloved "mixed-use" projects -- the now-tired setup with boxy apartments upstairs and (mostly empty) storefronts below.

According to this document, 19 of the 24 landlords of such developments got dinged for additional property taxes this year, much to their chagrin. At last report, the city was down in Salem during the regularly scheduled "special" session, trying to get the legislators to overrule the Justice Department on the issue. Their poster child was the Safeway Tower down by Portland State. No word on how the lobbying effort went, but it's interesting that a city that's supposedly so strapped for cash is so eager to give it away.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mother of invention

For now, we have a fix for the rotting of our barbecue grill chimney, reported here last night:


Reader poll: Should Brandon Roy try to play on torn meniscus?

The news about Blazer Brandon Roy's knee is bad: He's got torn cartilage and needs surgery. He's talking about trying to play on it, though. It's playoff time and all, and they're saying there's no chance of it getting worse, but the prospect of his putting serious stress on the torn meniscus seems a little scary. What do you think?

Should Brandon Roy try to play on his torn meniscus?
pollcode.com free polls

Dike's next gig

We note with amusement that Dike Dame, the convicted bank fraud artist who served as partner with Homer Williams in pushing through Portland's spectacularly failed SoWhat District, is now one of a select few candidates for a new official committee whose amorphous mission has something to do with housing in the district. Here's a draft charter for this august panel. A recent e-mail from the Portland Development Commission to the SoWhat advisory committee notes: "So far the people who have indicated interest in being part of this committee are Maxine Fitzpatrick, Marilyn Considine, Mark Gregory, and Dike Dame. Also, feel free to forward information about this Committee to other people who might be interested in serving on it."

Man, if I had eaten through as much of other people's money as Dike Dame has, I'd be in a witness protection program somewhere. The investors, the banks, the taxpayers, the dupes who bought condos -- they must all have quite a few bones to pick with the fellow.

My blood runs cold, my memory has just been sold

With all the thuggery and thievery going on at UC Nike, this seems relatively wholesome any more.

Other shoe about to drop in Portland bond game

A couple of years back, I figured out a cute maneuver that Portland City Hall uses to prevent the public from challenging the many long-term loans that it takes out for wasteful "urban renewal" projects. The City Council authorizes the issuance of "interim" financing for the projects long before anyone can figure out what the projects are all about. There are only the vaguest of plans, if any, at that point, and so the public has nothing concrete to object to.

Step 2, the city runs out and borrows the money from a friendly banker like Bank of America on an "interim" line of credit that extends for several years -- usually five years. There are currently a couple of hundred million dollars in such IOU's floating around from the City of Portland.

Step 3, the "urban renewal" bureaucracy blows the money, with a healthy chunk going toward said bureaucracy's pay and benefits.

Step 4, after the money's all gone, the City Council authorizes the permanent financing for the project. At this point, it's way too late to turn back -- the money's already been spent, and whatever was supposed to be bought and built has already been bought and built (and maybe even given away on the City Hall friends and family plan by this time). Would the public now challenge the long-term bond issue? What, and throw the city into a major default on the line of credit?

Presto -- "urban renewal" bonds without a meaningful opportunity at a voter challenge.

You can see Step 4 in action in the next few months, as the city goes to the bond well for $44 million plus to pay off some of the "interim" debt on the financial black hole known as the SoWhat District. Everything down there has now conclusively tanked, but only now is the city getting around to taking out the mortgage to buy the place. This is where the voters theoretically get their chance to say no, I think. But if they do so, the city's in default on the $44 million line of credit with nowhere else to get the money. That cold, hard thing you feel pressed to your temple is the barrel of a gun.

I can't imagine what the terms of those bonds are going to be, or the interest rates. The condos in the ludicrous towers are being auctioned off in fire sales for less than half the grossly inflated projected prices they started out at, and the jobs that were supposed to be created down there were all smoke and mirrors from OHSU to get its office building and infernal aerial tram [rim shot]. If the city's going to ask to borrow money based solely on the future growth of the so-far-badly-failed neighborhood, any rational lender group is going to laugh. That leaves only the city's general fund as the collateral -- and that's already running dry.

Maybe they'll pay for SoWhat out of your water and sewer bills. Don't laugh.

Drug testing needed for Portland police

Now that we've learned that the head of the Portland police union himself has road rage problems, to go along with those of one of the Chasse-killer cops that he so loudly covers for, isn't it time that the city start demanding that its uniformed officers submit to random drug testing? I mean, what else better explains the needless violence (physical and verbal) that some members of the city's police force are prone to dish out, than the influence of stimulants or anabolic steroids?

Isn't there a police contract being negotiated, or about to be negotiated, these days? Let's add a random drug testing program into that package. So many people in so many professions are subjected to these tests -- shouldn't we ask the same of people to whom we issue weapons and a license to kill? When the kid who parks cars at the auto dealer accidentally dinged up my car a few years back, the first thing that happened was a drug test for him. Athletes both professional and amateur have to do it, wine salesmen have to do it, bus drivers have to do it -- why not Portland police? Especially since some of them who've lashed out at people unnecessarily look and act like they're on 'roids. If it means we have to add an extra $1,000 a year onto their pensions to get them to go along with it, so be it -- particularly since the city will probably wipe out that raise in a bankruptcy at some point, anyway.

I wish this were a frivolous suggestion, but it isn't. It needs to be done yesterday.

A city with no basic services

While Portland keeps using taxes and borrowed money to build sustainability centers, streetcars, soccer stadiums, bio-ditches, and other monuments to arrogance -- and all while its pension time bomb ticks loudly in the filing cabinet -- the city is badly damaging its ability to provide in the future those things that a municipal government is supposed to provide. Here's a cautionary tale from Colorado Springs: They're literally turning off streetlights, selling off police helicopters at auction, hocking buses, and taking the trash cans out of the city parks.

They still get a Double-A bond rating, though -- which shows you what a lousy indicator of financial health that is.

Oh, and they're probably going to be selling off the city utility systems, too: "City leaders are thinking about selling the local utilities and a hospital. That could raise an estimated $1.3 billion." Yep, they'll soon be buying their water from Pepsi.

As will Portland. It's just a matter of time.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More crumbling infrastructure

We've blogged before about our long-term relationship with a certain 25-plus-year-old Weber grill. So many fabulous meals have come off that appliance -- hundreds of classic ones, and many more than that just plain excellent.

This weekend, the weather invited us to fire the Weber up a couple of times -- salmon and halibut, barbecued chicken -- but as we put the grill through its paces, we stumbled upon evidence of two disturbing recent developments.

First of all, our charcoal "chimney," which is used to start briquets without air-polluting lighter fluid, has lost a key bolt, which holds the top of the handle and a heat shield onto the main cylinder:

That we could live with -- the thing's only a few years old, but it's not built to last too long. But much worse, the grill itself has lost one of the circular vent covers that closes off the lower air intakes when the grill is not in operation:

The center post that holds the little wheel in place has just rotted away.

What to do? Don't ask us -- we went to Catholic schools in northern New Jersey in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. And people, we didn't have shop. Barring the appearance of a good Samaritan with serious metalworking capabilities, it appears that both these items are headed for deposit in an upcoming neighborhood spring cleanup.

Granted, they both still work. But it's just a matter of time before that chimney gives out in a major way when it's loaded with flaming trouble. And although the grill still burns fine, without the vent cover it won't preserve the unburned coals the way it is supposed to. Whatever we save in time value by postponing the replacement of the grill, we'll lose in wasted fuel costs.

They don't even make the grills like this any more. For many years, the circular vent covers on the underside of the kettle have been replaced by a fan-type device that sweeps ash into a catch-pan and closes the vents (now a new shape) at the end of the grilling session. Perhaps we could buy just a new kettle bottom unit, and try to plug the legs and lid from the old one onto it. But that seems likely to cost almost as much as the purchase of a brand new grill -- and what if the old legs or lid don't quite fit the new kettle bottom?

No, it appears that our options are to repair the old equipment or chuck it all. If the latter course is forced upon us, well then, we can't say we didn't get our money's worth out of the grill. Though the chimney should have endured a lot longer.

Woo hoo! I mean, aw crap.

The good news: The Blazers beat the Lakers in L.A. this afternoon!

The bad news: They're MRI-ing Brandon Roy's knee tonight.

Old Town to PDC: Please don't go

And they share the widely held view that the mayor is pressuring the agency to move to the failed Moyer tower where the Virginia Cafe was run out.

"Houston, we've had a problem"

Hard to believe, but that adventure began 40 years ago today.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Headlining in Munich

An expat reader sends along this photo of a poster he found a few months back:

On duty or off, Portland cops provide entertainment

Today we learn that one of the Chasse killers -- the one who pulled his gun in a road rage incident -- is being sued for his latest tantrum.

And guess which other Portland cop has road rage problems? Yep, the Doberman himself! (And thanks, O editors, for burying bad cop news on Friday night once again. It keeps the comedy fresh.)

Meanwhile out in Gresham, another interesting story unfolds:

Evidently, Portland city cops are cruising the streets of Gresham while off duty, and in their own personal cars, issuing traffic tickets to Gresham citizens. This happened recently to a friend of mine. For the record, she is a 60-year-old grandma with zero tickets to her name.

Her first notification of this ticket came with a knock on her door at 8 p.m. March 24. A Gresham uniformed officer was there to tell her to call Officer Tom Rhodes, a Portland police officer, about a traffic offense that happen that day. She was confused but called. Officer Rhodes originally told her he witnessed her run a red light at Stark and 110th. She told him that was impossible because she never left Gresham all day.

He then said, "I mean 210th and Stark Street." That location is well within Gresham city boundaries.

He directed her to come to the East Portland Police Precinct the next day to appear before him directly.

She complied, and he issued her a ticket at that time. But not before he had to personally make a trip out to the parking lot so he could find out her car’s license plate number. Her fine is going to be $287.

The policeman in question responds:

People may wonder why a Portland police officer would cite a Gresham citizen stemming from an off-duty incident. That is a reasonable question.

My perspective, and the perspective of most officers, is that our concern for public safety doesn’t stop at the end of the shift. Nor does it end at a particular city limit. It is extremely rare that I have taken an action like this in my 23-year career, but I felt this was a situation where this driver needed attention and would benefit from the driver safety class.

I genuinely hope my efforts to contact and cite this driver will be accepted in the constructive way it was intended.

At least he didn't kill her.

Farewell to Chase

Once Jamie Dimon and the thieves at JPMorgan Chase stole Washington Mutual, I became determined to get my accounts out of there. I work too hard to help that kind of megalomaniac make money off my puny savings and cash flow. And so the hunt for a new bank began.

It took a while, but I wound up at Umpqua, and so far it's been a nice deal. This week, the process of moving to the new bank finally wrapped up. It feels mighty good to get away from a bad, bad dude. The beauty of Umpqua won't last forever, but for now, I'm out of the House of Shmendrick.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thieves attacking Pearl District condo bunkers

An alert reader writes:

Not sure if you've heard anything about this yet, but there's a rash of NW burglaries. In the Irving Street Lofts, a well-dressed, hip young couple forced their way into the lobby, tried to go up the elevator (but couldn't without a fob), broke into the package room (taking an envelope), then stole the outgoing U.S. mail. Well-dressed -- they looked like they belonged at Lizard Lounge across the street. The Pacifica building was also hit, as was the Streetcar Lofts, but I don't know how seriously. I'm guessing there are more. Anyway, fun stuff that I didn't see on my news feed.

Have a great weekend

Breaking the bank

The way things are going with Portland water rates, these folks may have to open an outreach office in Dunthorpe.


Here's irony for you: TurboTax screwed up and is getting audited by the IRS.

It can happen to anybody. The complexity of the U.S. tax code is a national disgrace, and actually trying to complete a return can be a deeply humbling experience, even for a tax pro. But you would think an outfit that makes bazillions promising that its program will get it right would... you know... get it right.

One of these days Congress is going to wise up and pass an official computer tax software program instead of a tax code. Whatever the program says should be final. If somebody wants to translate the software into statutory language, plain English, or any other language, fine. But since everybody's using the software, the computer's verdict should be conclusive.

What we have now is the opposite -- Congress passes legalese, which then has to be translated into computer code for everybody to use. But if the computer code is wrong, as it was in this case, under the current system, the legalese prevails.

The whole thing is pretty nutty, which is why it's a perfect career for some of us.

All aboard for the poor farm

John Charles, the Portland right-wing policy wonk extraordinaire, sounds off on what's pushing Tri-Met over the brink of financial ruin. Not surprisingly, it's employee benefits and wasteful rail and streetcar projects.

Mike Powell's couplet posse

Yesterday's post on the proposed local improvement district for the insane proposed Burnside-Couch "couplet" on the west side of Portland contained some familiar names. We had Mike "Streetcar" Powell as the head of the group pushing the idea, and with him Philip Kalberer, Christopher Kopca, Richard Parker, Greg Wentworth, and Vic Rhode.

A reader familiar with the planned street chop-up and the players behind it, filled our ear with some background on two of the above-named crew:

These guys are local transportation/urban renewal mafia fixers from Vera [Katz]'s time and before. Rhodes was the City (transportation) Engineer who fixed the first streetcar/mall project, Airport Way and more. He's not a by-the-book guy....

Kopca was a PDC honcho in the same era. His specialty was moving blue money and pink money and yellow money around so that it appeared to be the right color and coming out of the right pocket, and arm-twisting to get six and seven figure contributions into the pot from bystanders in order to make it all go. The whole SoWhat parking lot shell game that looked on the surface like usual and customary guvmint real estate transactions, but was actually a fancy way of putting money in a private developer's pocket had their smell on it.

A bottle of wine says that if you shook the Main Post Office project hard enough, those two would fall out. On the surface that one is just moving tax dollars around from one public pocket to another, but I'd bet there are "project management" contracts out there that get paid a percentage of real estate dollar transactions.

Go by giant SUV with blackout windows.

The reader asked not to be identified: "It is still a small town, and fear of retaliation is completely justified." Yikes.

The boyfriend's o.k.

Having burned out on being a Catholic, I'm wondering if this is the way to go.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Reader poll: Do you care about Tiger Woods at the Masters?

The sports media is all over Tiger Woods these days. His return to his sport after apparently being clubbed by his wife in an infidelity-related spat on Thanksgiving night, followed by crashing his car, has attracted quite the storm of media attention.

Golf doesn't do it for me, and golf scandals do even less. But maybe that's just me. How about you?

Do you care about Tiger Woods at the Masters?
A lot
A little
Not at all
pollcode.com free polls

Evening prayer

Dear Lord, please, please make it happen.

Score one for the O, and for Wheeler

The newspaper's exposé of travel and entertainment excesses at Ted Wheeler's new shop as state treasurer makes it easy for him to look good on that issue.

Government officials getting all buddy-buddy with the Wall Street weaselry is going to be the downfall of this country. See you at PGE Park.

Portland polce and fire pension number probably too low

Over on the left sidebar of this blog, we try our best to keep up with Portland's ever-growing unfunded liability for pensions for its police and firefighters. At this writing, the unfunded liability, based in large part on what the city reports, is around $2.9 billion (with a "b").

That's a pretty huge number -- more than $5,000 per resident -- but it may actually understate the city's liability, as this story indicates. At least Portland's actuaries are using a discount rate of 4.5% in figuring out the present value of the liability, as opposed to the fraudulent 8% still being used down in California. But even the Portland numbers are suspect, as are most of the statements of the city's political leaders when it comes to money.

People gettin' ready for the news

While Portland futzes around with its sketchy version of professional soccer, the real deal goes on elsewhere around the globe. The World Cup will be held in South Africa this year, starting in mid-June. My friend Steve Stark and his son Harry have once again written a splendid guide to the upcoming tournament. Last time, it was an Amazon e-book, but this year, it's a hard-copy publication:

I really got into the World Cup four years ago, thanks to the Starks; we even had a bracket pool on this blog. But that's been it for me until now. It's kind of like hockey in the Olympics -- the big enchilada of international competition is something to behold, but the annual grind in the American pro ranks isn't all that attractive. I even missed Euro '08; I have no idea if it even happened.

Anyway, the book gets into the drama and diplomatic aspects of the World Cup matches as well as the action on the field pitch. And for an occasional observer like myself, that's just right.

Mike Powell hits the neighbors up for money

An alert reader writes:

I just got a letter in the mail today, as a property owner, announcing that a new group has begun the process for a new LID [local improvement district -- JB] to help fund the "Westside segment of the Burnside/Couch Transportation Project from NW 2nd to I-405." This LID would be $3 million. There is the announcement of a meeting on April 21st at Big Pink at 4:30 pm. Of course these announcements do not go to mere renters in the district. Most property owners pass along these taxes to our long-suffering tenants to pay and do not tell their tenants the fees are coming. And in this economy, too!

The letter says this LID will be necessary because our Mayor has "directed the city staff to reduce the budget for the project." The Board of Directors for the Friends of Burnside/Couch, Inc., includes in order on the side of the page: Philip Kalberer, Treasurer; Christopher Kopca; Richard Parker; Michael Powell, President; and Greg Wentworth, Secretary.

At the end the letter says to call someone by the name of Vic Rhodes at 503-224-0709 if "you have any questions." The letter is signed by Mike Powell....

Talk about scams!

I do not know who Kopca is but Parker and Wentworth own property on the EAST side of the ditch. Kalberer is of course currently the PDC's landlord.

I intend to tell my tenants about the meeting and maybe they can spread the word. Will the condo owners be hit up, or will only first-floor businesses be taxed, as in the last proposed LID in the Pearl that was abandoned in the late 1990's? This could be an interesting issue.

LIDs are officially explained (with a highly favorable spin) here. In the case of the proposed, totally misguided Burnside-Couch "couplet," it would be all about narrowing Burnside, probably with a streetcar and who knows what else (maybe mega-bike lanes), setting the stage for apartment towers.

It's fascinating that Mike Powell, master of the Powell's Books empire, is pushing this so hard during so deep a recession, when retail is fleeing the rest of the mediocre Pearl District. No doubt Powell wants some day to put a giant condo tower where his store is today, with the store preserved on the lower levels. But for that, he wants everyone in the area to pay -- not to mention the obscene drain on property taxes that "urban renewal" would inflict to pay the bonds for the street "improvements" and accompanying land giveaways.

It's also hysterical that the couplet keeps coming back like a zombie when the reality of the city's abysmal financial picture is just now becoming apparent. Mayor Creepy tells everybody "We have to tighten our belts," but that's no brake on a runaway plan to turn the busiest street in the city to a one-way street and build a wasteful streetcar. It's all too insane any more.

Go by straitjacket!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What the Portland police need

An attitude adjustment, perhaps along these lines.


Late-stage Rasheed Wallace on the Boston Celtics.

Tighten up City of Portland spending? Yeah, right.

I thought in light of Portland mayor's declaration yesterday of a financial crisis, the city was going to end its binge of hiring consultants. I should have known that, like most of what that guy says, it was not to be believed. Here's the latest, hot off the presses from the city's human rights office:

The Office of Human Relations and Human Rights Commission are seeking proposals from qualified individuals, firms, teams or consultants, hereafter called “Proposer(s),” with demonstrated experience in the following areas:

1. ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: provide specific and relevant coaching to the 15 volunteers of the Human Rights Commission and staff of the Office of Human Relations. We are seeking expertise in the following areas:

a. Servant Leadership – provide coaching and training on Robert Greenleaf’s philosophy of servant leadership and how to incorporate its core values as a means of building and maintaining an effective volunteer human rights commission and addressing human rights issues in Portland.

b. Team building – provide coaching on, including but not limited to improving communication, incorporating goal setting and self-regulation strategies, individual and group skills assessment, optimizing group strengths, improving group effectiveness and productivity, enhancing collaboration among group members, and effectively facilitating and/or participating in meetings.

c. Oppression Analysis – provide coaching and training on:
i. individual and institutional racism, sexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, and ageism;
ii. a historical and present day context for an understanding of these oppressions; and
iii. connection of aforementioned forms of oppression to human rights issues and how this knowledge can be used to prevent, promote, and protect the human rights of all those who live, work, worship, study, travel, and play in Portland.

2. POLICY WORK – provide coaching and training on how to provide policy analysis using a human rights lens and make recommendations to Portland institutions in need of this expertise.

This work is on an as-needed basis with no commitment from OHR to provide enough work to keep successful Proposer(s) on a full-time basis. The successful Proposer(s) will be expected to enter into a not-to-exceed Professional, Technical, and Expert Services Contract with the City.

I guess this stuff is more important that potholes, cops, street lights, sewers and water. But doesn't the city have plenty of bureaucrats who can do this work? And weren't we supposed to be declaring a moratorium on this? Didn't the mayor say so, just yesterday???

Portland falling even further behind in bikey-ness

The Rose City may have the smallest park in the world, but not the shortest bike lane.

Never eat a banana again

The Green Police will be watching.

Comcast puts the X in Xfinity

Its customer service gives new meaning to the phrase "on demand."

If I get to this point, have me committed

People are now photo-blogging everything they eat.

Tax quiz

Two questions, 50 points each.

Question 1: You send your check for $10,000 to the University of Oregon. You write "donation" on the check. But you make the gift conditional on the $10,000 being used to fund a scholarship for your niece, who's a student at the U of O. Do you get to take a charitable contribution deduction for the $10,000 on your income tax returns?

Answer: No. As the IRS explains in Publication 526:

You cannot deduct contributions to specific individuals, including the following.

* Contributions to fraternal societies made for the purpose of paying medical or burial expenses of deceased members.

* Contributions to individuals who are needy or worthy. This includes contributions to a qualified organization if you indicate that your contribution is for a specific person. But you can deduct a contribution that you give to a qualified organization that in turn helps needy or worthy individuals if you do not indicate that your contribution is for a specific person.

Example. You can deduct contributions for flood relief, hurricane relief, or other disaster relief to a qualified organization. However, you cannot deduct contributions earmarked for relief of a particular individual or family.

* Payments to a member of the clergy that can be spent as he or she wishes, such as for personal expenses.

* Expenses you paid for another person who provided services to a qualified organization.

Example. Your son does missionary work. You pay his expenses. You cannot claim a deduction for your son's unreimbursed expenses related to his contribution of services.

* Payments to a hospital that are for a specific patient's care or for services for a specific patient. You cannot deduct these payments even if the hospital is operated by a city, state, or other qualified organization.

Question 2: You send your check for $10,000 to the University of Oregon. You write "donation" on the check. But you make the gift conditional on the $10,000 being used to fund a controversial severance package being paid to the university's departing athletic director. Do you get to take a charitable contribution deduction for the $10,000 on your income tax returns?


You are what you elect

Yesterday's hilarious announcement by Portland's creepy mayor that the city must suddenly cut back on unnecessary spending came at a most interesting time. That very same day, the city was out selling general obligation bonds to the public via Wall Street intermediaries in a $20.7 million refinancing. Were the prospective bondholders alerted to the mayor's momentous memo about the looming cash flow difficulties? I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't. Is that kind of omission from disclosure legal under the securities laws? At this point, government finance in America has become such a Fantasyland that maybe it's not even worth asking any more.

How did the city wind up $2 million in the hole this year? Gee, could it have been the $415,000 that it paid Steve Janik to grease the skids on the Paulson stadium deal? Or the $159,000 in interest that will be paid out of the general fund in the first year of the new $12 million loan for the Paulson stadium deal? Not to mention what it spent on staff time to make His Lordship happy. That's more than a quarter of the $2 million shortfall right there.

And I thought we just discovered $2 million in mystery savings in the sewer department. Could that money be used to fund traditional city services? Oh, no -- that has to go for bike boulevards and bioswales (formerly known as ditches).

The most amusing part of yesterday's development, though, was the Trib's rote recitation of a highly misleading proposition: "the Oregon Constitution... requires the state and local governments to balance their budgets every fiscal year." Really? Then how does Portland have $2.9 billion (with a "b") in long-term bonds outstanding? And how is Portland able to borrow something like $27.8 million every year to pay police and fire pensions, by selling "tax anticipation notes," and pay the money back out of the following year's tax collections? Balanced budget, my eye. Credit card binging and check kiting is a lot closer to an accurate description of the reality. Whatever the state constitution requires, it's nothing like what any household's money manager would call a "balanced budget."

It's sort of like the oft-repeated assertion that Portland has an "AAA" debt rating. Of the billions in long-term Portland bonds outstanding, only the general obligation bonds are AAA-rated. Many other of its bond issues bear lesser ratings, and have done so since the financial crash of the fall of 2008. Saying the city has an "AAA" debt rating is like saying that you're a vegetarian sometimes.

When the house of cards blows down, and that day will be sooner than most folks think, the public will wonder, "What happened to us?" It's pretty simple. The public let guys like the mayor, the city's money people, the bond lawyer, and the bankers and rating agencies whom the city enriches month after month, draw a curtain of secrecy and complexity around municipal finances. The only people accountable to the public are the elected officials, and let's face it, we have put in charge of our money a guy who not so long ago couldn't be trusted to make his own mortgage payments. Now he's in charge of a multi-billion-dollar business that's way over his head. And apparently the city doesn't even have a CFO, a treasurer, or a controller at the moment.

Don't expect Salem to be of any help at all. Oregon's got a long stay in the intensive care unit right around the corner. There will be no handouts from that quarter. Maybe Mike Bellotti will step up and donate $2 million to the city, but I doubt it.

Down in Los Angeles, the mayor's about to put the city government on a three-day work week rather than have its checks bounce. They've finally run out the clock on the financial shell game there. Default and decay are about to happen. It'll be pretty bad in Portland, too, before you know it. Yesterday's memo from the dude at the top is just the beginning. But hey, time to buy the Post Office at 150% of appraised value! Time to form another "urban renewal" district!

Go by streetcar!

Have you heard about WikiLeaks yet?

If not, you will soon.

One would certainly hope so

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Founded and lost

We've had Spandex Rex, Artsy Rex, For the Children Rex -- and now, Voters' Pamphlet Liar Rex. Stretching the truth -- it's the sustainable thing to do, apparently.

Imagine talking with a Tiger, chatting with a cheetah

Here's an interesting toy that's popped up on Slate:

Chasse cop's temper (on steroids?) flares up again

This time he's pulling his gun in a road rage incident.

What's the over and under on the Chasse verdict or settlement -- $10 million?

Creepy closes the barn door

Here's a Portland comedy classic: Our spendthrift mayor, who never saw a bioswale, bike path, soccer stadium, or streetcar that he didn't like, is suddenly on an austerity kick.

It must be time to budget for essential services.

A special synergy

Has anybody else noticed that as Randy Leonard has gotten skinnier, Sam Adams has gotten fatter?

Trouble in Paradise

And the bike-friendliest multi-modal mecca in America is... not Portland!

Throw another 30 bucks on your water bill. The Sam-Rand twins will not be denied.

It's been nice having you all as readers

But today's news about the internet is Comcraptastic.

"We live in a earthquake-prone part of the world"

Mayor Creepy is trying to capitalize on the latest earthquakes around the Pacific Rim -- and make the case for his and Fireman Randy's latest needless pork project, under which they'll be able to telephone and Tweet to you after the Big One. "Hello, this is Mayor Sam Adams, and there's been a 8.4 earthquake under Portland. There's no electricity or water anywhere and the phones aren't working. Hundreds of people are dead, and half the city is homeless. But you elderly people whose iPhones are charged up, this is to let you know that something has happened."

All this folderol started after the suspicious Thanksgiving boil-water alert. As far as earthquakes are concerned, Portland should be spending its money on true preparedness as opposed to more vanity projects from the Sam-Rand twins. If there's a serious seismic event around here, Creepy will be calling a lot of dead people. Portland is so unprepared for an earthquake, it's hard to figure out where to start. How about a sturdy, modern bridge over the Willamette -- say, in Sellwood?

More jobs pushed out of Portland

No doubt these guys will head for the 'burbs -- maybe even the 'Couv. Go by streetcar!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Arboretum dead guy

The Mental Health Association of Portland has tried its hand at organizing the tons of documents released by the Portland police in connection with the shooting of Jackie Dale Collins by a city police officer over spring break. The results of that effort are here.

Funny thing: When the PoPo believe they have a slam dunk, they're ever so free with the documents and tapes. Not so when they know darn well that they killed without justification, as in the Chasse case -- there, they're offering millions for silence.

In any event, the Collins papers are interesting in that they show what's out there to be dug up in these cases -- and that template could be helpful in the inevitable future instances of violence by police. As for the Collins case itself, you can almost feel the glee with which the cops are closing the books on that one. A bloody, homeless drunk careening around with an Exacto knife in his hand -- just add poor police training about mentally ill people and a culture of fear in the patrol cars, and you've got a corpse.

City wants Chasse deal kept secret

And the family of the young man killed by police brutality isn't playing along, at least not so far. Portland could really use a full trial of the lawsuit, but at the very least it needs a truly open and transparent settlement of the case. Anything less, and this poor fellow died mostly in vain.

When you're in disgrace, the best thing to do is pay your dues and move on. How rarely that happens at Portland City Hall.

You read it here first

Tualatin's sudden burst of sanity about "urban renewal" is further documented here.

Leave it to the developer weasels

They never stop wanting to get their hand in your pocket.

City of Portland -- Our McMansion

Several readers have sent me a link to this cautionary tale -- huge sewer project, big rate increases, huge city debt, constant funneling of profits to Goldman Sachs and the like on Wall Street -- and bingo! Next thing you know, a whole county's future is destroyed. "Sound like Portland?" one reader asks. Maybe not in every detail, but in broad outline, well...

As one county commissioner put it, "We're like a guy making $50,000 a year with a million-dollar mortgage."
Absolutely yes. That sounds exactly like Portland.

Tualatin cans "urban renewal" -- report

Down in Tualatin, the city held an open house on Thursday night to discuss whether it wanted to continue the "urban renewal" juggernaut -- funneling tax revenues to infrastructure projects and other frills that make developers wealthy but starve essential-service agencies. There was a lot of opposition expressed to renewing the "urban renewal" district, and the massive municipal government borrowing that comes with it, and according to one report we received on Friday, the city's decided not to go forward with the renewal -- at least not anywhere near along the lines of the current arrangement:

Last night I attended and contributed to Tualatin's open house/town hall regarding what was an imminent amendment to renew their 35 year old Urban Renewal district with a new $120 million plan.

It was to be a typical mixed-use vision for the city center and be funded with the current Urban Renewal proceeds due to expire June 30th. The huge increment created with over 35 years of a frozen base for basic services and diverting the other 35 years of property tax increases to retiring their old debt is currently generating $2.2 million annually.

On June 30th the prior debt will be retired, the district will expire and the $2.2 million/year will now return to fund the full spectrum basic services. Along with the average 4% increases every year to come.

It's obvious the feedback from citizenry at last night's lengthy open house/town hall (7 pm - 11 pm) turned around the decision to extend the district.

Today Mayor [Lou] Ogden discussed the issue with council members and they made the decision to let the district expire and the debt retire.

Congratulations to them all.

To have a place like Tualatin involved in "urban renewal" is a farce. There's never been any "urb" down there to begin with. It's a nice little town with some nice farmland nearby. It needs new apartment bunkers and plastic coffee shops like a hole in the head. Especially when these boxes come at the cost of services like fire protection. Bully for the firefighters down that way for standing up to real estate sharpies.

When "urban renewal" and "tax excrement increment financing" is sold to the taxpayers, the explicit promise is that some day, after all the debt is paid off, the increased property taxes generated by development will be available to pay for basic services. But in places like Portland, the city just extends the district, confirming that the original promises were lies.

Apparently Tualatin is going to show some decency and live up to the original commitment. We hope not only that this report is true, but that folks like the Multnomah County commissioners will also see how it's possible to face fiscal reality. Just say no to wasteful, ineffective "urban renewal"! Let's fix what we have -- it's falling apart -- before slapping up more Starbucks and building more apartment schlock.

Grave issue in New Jersey

The pending demolition of Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands of Hudson and Bergen Counties in the Garden State raises an interesting question about preserving history.

Reader poll: Which Easter leftovers are you having for lunch today?

Which Easter leftovers are you having for lunch today?
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Burning the midnight oil with your taxes?

Here's some inspiration for that annual chore:

[Via TaxProf Blog.]

The Washington Post figures it out

If you're going to allow anonymous comments on a web site, you have to moderate them. There's plenty of latitude in how heavy a hand you use, but if you don't sift through what you get, the content really devolves.

Saint Godwin, pray for us

The pedophile enablers in the Vatican really need to invest in a high-speed internet hookup.

Dead zone

Here's some sad news about Portland from the other day: Our metropolitan area is no. 6 in the country in commercial bankruptcies. No wonder the city's about to report yet another $20 million budget shortfall -- there's hardly anybody left to pay taxes. It appears that pretty soon we'll have more bike boulevards than employers.

Another gushing travel guide to Portland

At least this one is written by somebody who actually lives here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Two great Portland government programs rolled into one

New Portland street renaming

And on this one, the proponents have invoked an expedited process.

The Meowether?

With all the empty condos in Portland, is this next?


Got an e-mail alert today from Maria Rubio, who's running for Multnomah County commissioner. She included her list of endorsers, on which we find:

Former Multnomah County Commissioner - District 2 Serena Cruz Walsh
Former Multnomah County Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey

GONNNNNGGGGG! We can check that one off the list. We already have a Mean Girl Revisited on the commission in Judy Shiprack. Surely we do not want another.

Quid pro quo

I see that Dan "Legend" Saltzman is looking to make hay out of his vote in favor of the Paulson stadium boondoggle. An informed reader writes:

You might be interested to know that Jeremy Wright, the campaign manager for the Bradbury campaign, is once again using his position as a Timbers Army leader to recruit Timbers Army members to work the Saltzman campaign. He uses the username "Finnegan" on the Timbers Army message board.


In this message, he is trying to get Timbers Army members to help deliver lawn signs for Dan Saltzman on April 3rd and April 10th.

Saltzman is to politics as "Seinfeld" was to television. It's a show about nothing, but somehow a lot of people watch.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Oregon busting intern abuse

Not in the bathroom at Portland City Hall, of course -- but elsewhere in the state.

And after all, Beau Breedlove did get paid.

Have a great weekend

How could I have missed this joke?

A couple of alert readers advise me to take another look at this:

Kroger's gone hunting

And his next trophy is almost ready for the taxidermist.

Election porn getting steamier

Interim Oregon state treasurer Ted Wheeler isn't letting his on-the-job training period stand in the way of getting his face out in front of the folks around the state who will soon be voting for or against him. Look at this spiffy campaign that he's whipped together in less than three weeks following his swearing-in. "Guard Your Money" -- it's supposed to help folks identify and resist scams. Coincidentally or not, it will also help Democrats identify Ted when they cast their votes for his office in May.

It will be fun to see Attorney General John Kroger and Wheeler duke it out over who's a bigger scam-buster. Rest assured the parade of press releases from the two of them will keep us abreast of who's ahead in that department.

Elsewhere, we got an e-mail message all about this, which made us a little ill.

And finally, with all the friends we have in high places, our mailman is now delivering personalized election porn to our place:

It does get me a little hot under the collar at times.

Both species played hard

I see that the National Basketball Association has gotten on the "green" bandwagon and is having its players wear a special logo on their jerseys this week. It's kind of like a recycling symbol, but it's round, and the familiar silhouette of Jerry West is in the middle.

Makes sense to me. Nothing says conservation like an $8 beer. Moreover, those pro hoops players are all about sustainability. Zach Randolph recently placed an "I Only Use Tap Water" sticker on his bong. And in honor of "Green Week," the players association has adopted a resolution that all neck tattoos should be in soy-based inks.

Moss on your roof, in Portland?

Just leave it there and send the city a bill for $5 a square foot.

And if there's no moss yet, all you need is buttermilk.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

OMG! Earl the Pearl putting in for money to buy buses!

Here in Portland, where we're all ga-ga for trains and streetcars these days, the bus system is going to pot. The routes are being cut, and a lot of the buses are old and rickety. Today comes the shocking news that Portland Congressman Earl Blumenauer is asking his colleagues to throw Tri-Met $15.4 million toward the cost of 45 new buses. We locals would have to come up with the rest of the $19.25 million on our own.

At one time, that amount would have seemed like a good-sized investment in equipment, but when you think about how Tri-Met burned $161.2 million on the ludicrous WES train and another $575.7 million on the MAX line to the Clackamas Mall, you realize what a spectacular buy an order for 45 buses turns out be. It works out to $428,000 a bus, and each one runs wherever you want it to for 15 or 20 years. They can even change lanes! We're talking amazing technology here, people.

Wheels coming off the Catholic Church

Now the Archbishop of Portland is telling the priests (and by extension, their dwindling flock) not to buy the local newspaper because of its editorial stance on sex abuse of children by priests and the hiding of sex offenders by the church hierarchy. Even the infallible Pope has been implicated in the coverups and the enabling, but now somehow the archbishop sees fit to play the outraged victim.

This is the same fellow who told us that the Church was bankrupt, and spent eight figures on lawyers rather than pay the victims their due. And the same shell game is going on right now with the Jesuit order. "We don't own Jesuit High School. We don't own Gonzaga University." It would all be hysterically funny, if it weren't so profoundly depressing.

When I left the church, for the second time, a couple of years ago, it wasn't so much that I couldn't look past the hypocrisy of these men and focus on the sacred message. It was mostly about how tired I had become of handing money over. They never let up with the money pitch, and throwing away the envelopes was the best way I knew to call their attention to the fact that they were behaving like true scoundrels.

May the peace of Christ be with everybody on this holiest of nights on the liturgical calendar, but I'll meditate on what it means at home -- where my children are safe, money isn't everything, we face the truth about what we've done, and we make amends when we've hurt others.

Portland -- You'll come for the sewers...

... but you'll stay for the absurdity.

It's National Census Day

Have you filled out your census form yet? We haven't messed with it yet. But we're reliably informed that it calls for household information as of April 1 -- and if that's the case, then as of today, we're still not late.

$582 million of new debt queued up for City of Portland

The City of Portland is going to the Wall Street well for another loan next week -- but this one's just a $21 million refinancing of some old Parks Bureau debt. The existing debt's pretty spendy, with interest rates of up to 5%:

The new bonds -- which are now short-term debt -- will no doubt be at lower interest rates, which is a good thing.

But for those who are waiting for the day when the city's long-term debt tops $10,000 per resident, mark your calendars for this summer. According to the sales document for the refinancing bonds, the city's going to borrow another $582 million between now and September:

The sewer bond sale, which is the real whopper in the package, has been pushed back to the summer from a previous plan to have it go off in the spring. The sewer debt tends to have a crummier bond rating than the parks bonds, and it will no doubt be long-term, which means that it will certainly be a lot spendier in terms of interest costs.

Strangers in a strange land

The Sisters of the Road set invaded Portland's SoWhat District yesterday, looking for low-income people. They didn't find any.

The 10,000 biotech workers and vibrant yada yada were also nowhere to be found, of course.

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