The Oregon Blog
Under grey skies, self-medicating with black coffee

Thursday, January 30, 2003  

All right, onto the BIG NEWS--Measure 28.

There's carnage all over the place. To personalize it, I just got an email from a friend about Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, which treats addiction, among other things:

The failure of Measure 28 has completely decimated Cascadia Mental Health and put tons of chronically mentally ill out on the street. M-- thinks that they could have up to a dozen suicides in the coming months of former clients. He is also probably out of a job (though not totally forced out - he could stay on but his entire division is no more). Terrible days...

Unfortunately, this story is going to be the norm across the human services, not the exception. And despite what our oft-commenting friend Ignatius Reilly thinks, there's no upside to this. These services are often shoestring operations. Once devastated, they're not going to reconstitute. Counselors, therapists, and social workers, who make little money for their trouble, will have to look elsewhere for work. They won't be able to hang on for 5 months, hoping their job will come back. As the quote above demonstrates, for many of those receiving services, hanging on by their fingernails, this will be the foot that stomps down.

There's also no legislative advantage. Everyone will pay for this. As for the fiscal advantage--dismantling the safety net is always far more costly down the road. Then it becomes criminal and medical cost. We've screwed the pooch on this one, and it's our most vulnerable who will pay.

posted by Jeff | 2:52 PM |

Well, I've been negligent in my blogging. A slippery slope that is--the further behind you get, the harder it is to get back into the swing of things. So here goes.

Little Beirut no more?
Going way back, the Portland City Council decision to blow off condemning the Iraqi war. Randy Leonard's vote wasn't particularly surprising, but Francesconi's was. And his reason was especially lame. "I do not believe a City Council resolution is an effective means of changing national policy. We strain our ability to focus on things we can control." Of course it's not an effective means of changing national policy--that's not what the vote indicates. It's more like a show of hands for the anti-war sentiment of the city. 25,000 people--5% of the entire city--already had voted. This is likely the most anti-war city in America. That the city council wasn't prepared to stand behind its people on a wholly symbolic vote is disheartening. Shame on you, Randy and Jim.

posted by Jeff | 2:35 PM |

Wednesday, January 29, 2003  

Eye on the Oregonian

A little bit more needs to be said about the channel deepening and the Oregonian's coverage of it. We always imagine that the news is relatively objective, and certainly that newspapers don't have a particular editorial ax to grind. The truth is, of course, that they're subject to all the conflicting emotions of anyone else, and sometimes they let the conflicts get the better of them.

On the channel deepening issue, I happen to have more information than the average reader, thanks to knowing someone in the Army Corps of Engineers. That's part of the full disclosure--but in fact, everything I'm about to say is easily verifiable by looking at the relevant, publically-available documents.

Perhaps you've had a chance to see today's O and their version of the deepening story. Let's break it down. When you read the story, you're told that the Corps has released new, positive data supporting channel deepening, but you get the impression that it's not wholly reliable. Why do you end up with that impression?

The article hangs its hat on an independent analysis that the Corps had done to study its numbers and make recommendations. Of course, they don't call it an independent review. Instead, they immediately try to cast suspicion:

The panel -- made up of economists and transportation consultants selected by the corps -- ....

And then there were nine following paragraphs where the Oregonian excerpted language from the review that was critical of the Corps' analysis. And again here we have to question even the language as not objective. For example:

In its summary, the panel said the corps' analysis had been improved and that the revised estimates of benefits "appear to be a sufficient basis" for justifying the project.


The panel suggested the corps leave lightloaded ships out of its calculation of benefits. But the corps rejected that advice.

Finally, the piece concludes with these bizarre paragraphs:

In its summary, the panel said the corps' analysis had been improved and that the revised estimates of benefits "appear to be a sufficient basis" for justifying the project.

In an interview, the author of the 13-page report would not elaborate.

"I wouldn't use any different words than are in the document," said Dan Smith, a principal with the Tioga Group in Moraga, Calif. "We spent a lot of time figuring out what those words should be."

(For the record, the panel wrote: "Overall, the panel members are satisfied with the reasonableness of the assumptions and overall conclusions of the benefits analysis of the 43’ channel, and that the data were generally used properly in the overall analysis. The cost-side reductions have resulted in a substantial cost-benefit cushion, and the outstanding issues with the benefits analysis would not appear to jeopardize the overall cost-benefit balance. The revised estimates of economics benefits appear to be a sufficient basis for a decision of overall project justification.")

So what gives? This should be a nonstarter, right? It's a piddly little $131 million project (.01% of the projected 2003 federal budget) that will probably benefit Oregonians. In any case, it ain't much of a risk, right?

Well, there is a risk, but it's the Big O's. In their Puliter-Prize chase, they ended up dumping thousands of dollars into this story back in 2001 and 2002. They put a full-time reporter on the story (Jim Barnett) and spent months trying to produce a decent scoop. After all, the Corps was in a mess of trouble elsewhere, so if the O could show it happening here, hey, that's got Pulitzer written all over it. But there was no malfeasance, and the only evidence the O could produce were its own numbers analyzing the cost and benefits of the project. Numbers, it turned out, that they steadfastly have refused to show for going on a year.

The way today's article concludes has some journalistic fingerprints on it. The Oregonian was duty bound to actually report what the recommendation by the review panel was. Apparently, the O then went fishing for a quote to justify its months-long assertions that the Corps' numbers are wrong. But because everyone associated with channel deepening feels leery about the O, no one was willing to say anything on record. A non-denial denial? No, just someone tired of being sandbagged or having his words twisted (see above).

It's probably a rich discussion, and certainly a classic Oregon one: it's got salmon and farmers and shippers and dams. Lotsa fun could have been had. But there didn't happen to be a story about the Corps' book cooking, and no number of slanted articles could produce it.

posted by Jeff | 2:17 PM |

Tuesday, January 28, 2003  

Oh yeah: VOTE.

posted by Jeff | 4:28 PM |

Let's see, who said that when your only tool is a hammer, all problems appear as nails? Must have been someone watching Oregon Republicans. Turns out that the cameras weren't even turned off before the 'phants quit talking bipartisanism and started pushing the usual extremist fare.

The O reported yesterday that Republicans were going ahead with the Son of Seven measure and throwing in a little anti-abortion legislation to boot. Again, we see that the radical wing of the Republican party is the tail wagging the dog. The bills are destined to fail, but 'phants want to send the strong message that no bill is too radical to try to get passed. Never mind that the state is facing actual crisis, better to appease the radical few. But hey, these are Oregon Republicans in a long line, going back to Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield, right? (Well, at least back to Lon Mabon.)

Nice work, guys. You've extended the hand of cooperation in stellar fashion.

posted by Jeff | 4:11 PM |

Breaking News

The Army Corps of Engineers has posted material about proposed channel deeping here. This is revised information about costs and environmental impact resulting from a three-foot deepening to 43'.

You may or may not recall the Pulitzer-prize-trolling series the Oregonian published about deepening back in March. The Big O essentially called the Corps out for bad data, asserting that the whole project was a boondoggle (despite the fact that it would cost the state of Oregon something like a paltry 30 mil). Yet in the intervening months, the O refused to share their calculations. The Corps was already involved in recalculating the costs and benefits, owing to the tanking economy, and this is the material posted today.

We'll see if the Oregonian is likewise willing to post their calculations.

posted by Jeff | 3:57 PM |

Friday, January 24, 2003  

Gone for the weekend. Don't forget, now . . . vote!

posted by Jeff | 3:21 PM |

Hell, while I'm ranting, how about this: Regal Cinema is the antichrist. One day, when I am mayor of Portland (or when more than four people are reading this), I'm gonna organize a boycott of those chiselers. Shall we count the ways in which I hate thee?

1) You raised the rates on BOTH regular admission and matinee admission. The damn matinee prices are now almost as expensive as the regular prices were before you took over.

2) You've raised the prices of popcorn and soda to ultra-obscene levels. And your popcorn sucks.

3) You pipe in the stankiest crap music that appeals to exactly NO audience (well, maybe your home Tennessee crowds), play it REALLY LOUDLY, and interrupt it periodically with SELF PROMOTIONS.

4) Your Tennessee aesthetics mean you think a movie like About Schmidt will only appeal to a tiny audience and thus put it at the Fox, while scheduling some pile of crap to play in the big theater at Lloyd.

5) You advertise to your PAYING audience with the trailers.

6) You advertise to your PAYING audience while they're sitting captive in the theater, listening to your STANKY CRAP MUSIC.

and 7) You've been advertizing that same goddam FANDANGO ad for the last 3 years to your PAYING audience.

May you rot in the lowest level of corporate hell along with Bernie Evers and Andrew Fastow.

posted by Jeff | 2:15 PM |

A great article in today's Oregonian about the changing skyline of Portland. Eight new mid-rise apartment buildings are going in downtown and in the Pearl, which should raise the skyline just a smidge. More surprising--the buildings look like they won't suck! (As with all things from the Oregonian, the online site is damn near worthless. In the hard copy, there's a nice graphics sidebar that, it barely bears mentioning, is absent online. We should be happy the article's there at all.)

posted by Jeff | 1:59 PM |

Time's getting short, and if you haven't voted on Measure 28, keep in mind that this one's gonna come down to turnout. And believe me, the anti-taxers have voted.

On that topic, this was forwarded to me via the Oregon Democrats. Every little bit counts:

THIS SATURDAY: Jan. 25, at 10:00am, we're canvassing and rallying to get out the vote on Measure 28 - that little temporary tax that can help save schools and services right now. Hey, we want you to VOTE!

Meet us at the International Longshoremans Union Hall, 2345 NW Front, Portland.

We're unstoppable. Why canvass one day when you can canvass two? On Monday, Jan. 27, we're walking again! Meet between 5:00 and 6:00pm (rolling starts after work) at the NW Labor Council Headquarters, SE 11th & Madison. Added bonus - free food!

We care so much, we just can't sit still! Even if you've already voted, come make sure that others do too. If you haven't voted, don't mail your ballot, bring it to a drop box to make sure it's in on time!

See you there!

posted by Jeff | 1:50 PM |

Thursday, January 23, 2003  

A batch of news today…

On the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a bit of saber-rattling. Local pro-life groups are joining national groups as they gear up to overturn Roe. The governor has other ideas. Fight date TBA.

This may be a bad year for the environment. Bread before wetlands, dearies.

And finally, some good news on the Qwest front. The Oregonian’s reporting that the state might finally put the wood to them.

posted by Jeff | 1:13 PM |

Wednesday, January 22, 2003  

Fun with logic

Yesterday I mentioned the ironies that have blossomed from the Measure 28 debate. It gets better. Now some Republicans are arguing that "bureaucrats deliberately put gut-wrenching cuts on the chopping block to win voter support for an income tax increase on the Jan. 28 ballot." These would be the cuts those same lawmakers have for years been screaming we needed.

The four lawmakers charged that agency administrators didn’t heed the Legislature’s direction when framing the cuts.

“We ended up with targeted cuts that would hurt people,” [Jeff] Kropf [of Sublimity] said.

But lawmakers had trouble agreeing on specific cuts, so they wound up giving state managers wide latitude to make cuts within each agency.

Now that's leadership!

posted by Jeff | 2:09 PM |

Tuesday, January 21, 2003  

Rant to Reilly

Three things. First, I happen to know that until about midway through 2002, Mr. Reilly didn't even know who the governor of Oregon was. And so, on matters of policy, regard his views with suspicion.

Two, Oregon's tax base comes from two sources: income tax and property tax. Oregonians, obviously, do not pay a sales tax. Result? Oregonians pay a high income tax because they pay no sales tax. You see how that works? Truth is, we pay squat for taxes when you consider the entire taxpayer contribution--46th lightest overall. (Which is why, of course, we're screwed in the first place--Oregonians lost their jobs and what? Right, quit paying income taxes.)

Three. I'd agree that this is a bogus tax that came about because in all of the legislature there were a collective one and a half cojones. Politicians are paid to make decisions about providing services--matter of fact, that's exactly what they're paid to do. Fobbing it back off on the public is weak.

But that's exactly what the mean-spirited Bill Sizemore anticipated when he began his effort to try to transfer taxation out of Salem's hands and into ours. He knew that people are too craven to tax themselves, so by appealing to some half-baked "democracy by the people" notion, he effectively banished taxation.

Well, you should not stand for it, Mr. Reilly. You should have more than the one and a half collective balls of state legislators and pass the tax hike.

posted by Jeff | 3:38 PM |

All of a sudden, Measure 28 is a horserace. Apparently, watching the collapse of critical services has motivated some folks. As all this plays out, irony abounds.

First, there's this: after playing hardball for years on the size of government, state Republicans found that that some government is apparently all right. Homelessness, drug addiction, disabilities, old age--real threat to services that serve these needs had no effect on the Republicans. Then last week the news came out that cops might take a hit. Whoa. Now the 'phants are insisting they can scrounge up some more dough even if Measure 28 fails.

And as the pro-tax folk make the big push to pass Measure 28, the anti-services group find they're having a hard time finding money for their "message." From the Statesman-Journal article (rearranged for emphasis):

Business groups initially were reluctant to support Measure 28. But some came around, notably the Oregon Business Association and the Portland Business Alliance. They worry that service cuts will hurt the economy.

The Taxpayers Association of Oregon found it hard to raise money because of the recession, Williams said. He enlisted the support of a few dozen volunteers. A rival group, Bill Sizemore’s Oregon Taxpayers United, has been weakened by a series of legal and political setbacks.


posted by Jeff | 3:17 PM |

Friday, January 17, 2003  

News of sliced and diced services continue to arrive fast(ly?) and furiously, but not everyone's just sitting back and taking it.

It raises (in my mind) the two questions no one wants to consider: 1) what is the state going to do about its tax structure?, and 2) what about a sales tax? The reason no one wants to talk about the tax structure is easy--it's a nightmare of complexity. Oh yeah, and you've got to deal with Measure 5. Confronted with these realities, the mind naturally moves to a sales tax--straightfoward, clear, not complex. Of course, it's the question we can never consider, right?


Here's the dirty little secret I think all Oregonians would admit if they looked deep into their hearts. They say they don't want the sales tax because it's regressive. Because it's a slippery slope. Because you start with a 2% tax on luxury items and you end up with an 8% tax on a loaf of bread in 20 years. All that's true . . . but it's not the real reason. The real reason is because people love to go to a grocery store, select a $.99 candy bar, and go to the cash register with a dollar. It's because Oregonians are straightforward people and they don't like the process of mentally calculating cost and then having some arbitrary amount piled on top. But who's going to cop to that? (I would be happy to, but in fact, the reason I don't want a sales tax is because, you know, it's regressive and...)

The thing is, if I really am right about this, the solution to both problems might be in reach: instead of adding sales tax on at the register, we include it in the price of every item. Transactions remain clean that way, satisfying our sense of clarity, and after all, what's the difference if a six-pack of Full Sail is $6.99 or $7.35--who even notices?

The tax structure absolutely needs to be overhauled. As a mean, Oregonians have the 4th lightest tax load in the nation, but it's disproportionately carried by some and not others. And arbitrarily. Because I bought a house that was worth about 30k in 1990 when Measure 5 passed, I now pay $800 a year in property taxes. So let me make this suggestion: overhaul the tax code, include a modest sales tax on luxury items (because otherwise it is regressive), and pass a law that all sales tax must be included on the price tag of taxed items.

Okay, I'm ready to run for governor.

posted by Jeff | 3:36 PM |

Thursday, January 16, 2003  

Thoughts on John

Now that Coach K is in the house, everybody's rushing to kick Dr. John in the ass on his way out of office. It makes sense, psychologically. We've just come out of the most vitriolic (and Kafka-esque) legislative session in the state's history, but none of the problems are resolved. Many of the same figures are involved--all except the most visible of all. Into this comes his replacement, onto whom everyone places the fantasy of expectation. In this single, pregnant moment, Coach K looks great--he's a man with no history, only possiblity. Next to that, Dr. John's a reminder of ugly times.

But someone should praise Governor Kitzhaber, not bury him. We've entered an era absolutely dominated by conservative ideology. Words like "liberal" and "taxes" have become so demonized that they're carelessly used as epithets. This is an amazing triumph of the right, changing the very nature of the dialogue.

But more than that (or I should say related to that) we've entered an era of big money and little leadership. On both sides of the aisle. Republican ideology is little more than a prescription for wealth transfer. Democrats lost their ideological center when, in response, they joined the money hunt. Americans have become so disgusted with politicians it's almost become axiomatic that voting seems to them an exercise of choosing between the lesser of evils.

Dr. John bucked both of these trends. From the moment he moved to Mahonia Hall to this week, he never lost sight of his ideological center. Those things for which he's now vilified--his failure as a "bridgebuilder" and his crankiness--were results of his unwavering ideology.

Once the fur starts flying again, we'll see what Coach K is made of--and some will be sad to see that it's flesh and blood. And, once the emotion of 2002 dies down a little bit, Oregonians will look back at John Kitzhaber and see him in a more realistic light. In a year or five or ten, people will have the perspective to see him for what he was: one in the long line of independent Oregon politicians who stood for what he believed and fought for Oregon.

Thanks, Governor.

posted by Jeff | 2:42 PM |

PERS Issue on the move

The first bell has tolled.

posted by Jeff | 1:23 PM |

Testing the blog.

posted by Jeff | 10:28 AM |