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

Friday, February 28, 2003  

About me

Why Emma
Beginning in about 2000, I began a pre-blog existence as Emma Goldman. I was frequenting the Atlantic Monthly's message boards, which was at the time infested with reactionary conservatives (I don't know if it still is). Tired of people looking at my name and jumping to a number of conclusions about who I was, I decided to use an obvious pseudonym. Randomly, I chose Emma Goldman--I might have chosen Che Guevara or Noam Chomsky. To my great surprise, people still made assumptions about me--in this case assuming I was female and Jewish.

When I started blogging in January of 2003, I carried the name over for the same reason, hoping to lure some of the Atlantic folks over. I've always felt that pseudonyms are good for the blogosphere--they encourage you to read what's written, not speculate about why they've been written. For everyone with a psued, I say bravo. As we approach the '04 elections and I become more directly involved in politics, this doesn't seem wholly kosher, though. So let me introduce myself:

Jeff Alworth
The short bio I had posted for a nearly a year was wholly accurate: I was born in 1968, the year the U.S. elected Richard Nixon. The span of my life has coincided with a new age of conservatism: each year since 1968, the country has shifted a little further right. I live in Portland, Oregon, known to Republican administrations as "Little Beirut." With my little community of liberal idealists and periodic pints of very good beer, I have so far managed to stay off Prozac.

I'm currently working as a researcher for the Graduate School of Social Work at Portland State University. I'm also a freelance writer (who spends way too much time blogging, when I should be pitching paying stories) and sometime filmmaker. I also host the Notes on the Atrocitiesand write for Open Source Politics.

posted by Jeff | 5:35 PM |

The political wars are starting to get ugly. Nobody's got enough money, and everyone feels like they're taxed too much. Republicans still believe they can ignore the problem by focusing on the usual anti-tax, anti-abortion, anti-state-worker, anti-...well, anti-everything and pro-nothing agenda and they'll have Doctor John to blame when it comes up short. Dems stupidly imagine they have to do nothing simply because of the intense hatred the Republican agenda engenders in the wet valleys of the state. And the poor, naive governor continues to offer his hand out for legislative dining. And then the (expected) news of further shortfalls have come to pass.

So what do our fearless leaders do? Go to war against each other.

The Oregonian is reporting that Salem Republicans are now eyeing Portland's plan to raise money for its own schools. Which is to say, after eight years of eviscerating the Democrats as tax-and-spenders, cutting taxes to the bone, and using anti-Portland propoganda to push through every political effort in the rest of the state, rural Republicans are now seeking to seize money that Portland levies on its own citizens to prop up the devastation they've caused over the course of eight years of ignorant mismanagement in their own districts.

(Keep in mind that Portlanders already spend thirty cents on every dollar they pay in taxes to fund state schools, even while Portland Public Schools rot in poverty.)

Bill Lunch commented on OPB this afternoon that he regards this as a serious effort that might well pass both houses of congress.

Personally, I think we should go ahead and have the damn war. The rural districts despise the metro areas and try to punish them at every opportunity. They complain that Portland dominates policy in their own areas and drain resources while compelling rural citizens to live by city values. But here's the question: does rural Oregon really want to declare war on the Willamette Valley?

Who would pay for roads and bridges and dams in, say, Malheur County? Surely not the 32,000 people who live there. Which means Jackson and Coos Counties would have to chip in: no more Multnomah County gravy train. And let's face it, the tri-county area in Portland is the major generator of revenue in Oregon. Most of the tax revenue is generated there and spread throughout the poorer, rural counties. They don't like to be called poor stepchildren, but would they like to pay for their own services? Of course not.

Oregonians once valued their diversity: now they use it as a club. For many Republican legislators who have only served in the post-term-limited legislature, heretofore awash in 90s cash, bashing Portland liberals has been money in the bank (and votes in the box). Even as people literally starve because of legislative mis-management, Republicans are still trying to force an extreme social agenda, demonize the Willamette Valley, and keep the level of hatred at a fevered pitch. They've been calling for a war for 10 years--they're about to get it.

(Yeah, oops is right.)

posted by Jeff | 5:25 PM |

Wednesday, February 26, 2003  

Bloggers and Journalistic Ethics

So in the midst of my working week away from town, I have a chance to blog, and by gum, I'm taking it.

Last week a fine discussion broke out over the "Jane Galt Incident" over on Alas, a Blog. The incident, as many bloggers are aware, resulted when Atrios alegedly (I didn't read the posts, so it's all hearsay, now fifteenth-hand or something) started referring to "Jane Galt's goon squad." This because Jane Galt had apparently spoken (tongue in cheek?) about encourage bad behavior at peace marches. You may follow various accounts here, here, and here to satisfy your curiosity.

But this isn't about the Jane Galt Incident. It's about the ethics of bloggers. The question arose: are bloggers journalists? Or instead: are they columnists (akin to Krauthammer and Dowd, beholden to the ethics of a carnival barker)?

The answer? Yes.

Which is to say, they're both. Generally bloggers repeat news from official media or comment, but occasionally they report. Thus they are held to differing standards. On this issue, I wrote:

This is actually an important story--I may have to blog it myself. In fact, as someone who's had passing contact with print journalism, I have to totally agree with Mark when he writes: "I think otherwise. Blogging is journalism on the cheap, but it's journalism nonetheless, and basic journalistic ethics applies: you shouldn't say, or clearly imply, something damaging about someone else that isn't true, and if you do you owe that person a full retraction and apology."

The truth is, if Atrios were the NY Times and he refered to "John Ashcroft's Goon Squad," Ashcroft would have a legitimate reason to call for a retraction.

Moreover, blogging must, if anything, hold itself to a higher standard. Whereas for-profit journalism has a vested interest in keeping on the up-and-up, we've got no one but ourselves to keep ourselves honest. The blogosphere can go in two directions: shrill name-calling sans journalism, or a legitimate alternative to for-profit journalism. If the latter's got ANY chance, we've got to hold ourselves to a high standard.

I was immediately repremanded for shoddy thought. The distinction between opinion and news was clarified. And then a pair of interesting posts appeared by Mac Diva (who didn't link to a blog):

Emma is equally clueless. John Ashcroft is a public official. The NYT or anyone else can say just about anything about him without liability. Obviously, neither journalism nor law is Emma's forte.

In regard to liability for inaccurate and offensive materials, I suggest Emma read New York Times v. Sullivan and its progeny, because her grasp of the topic is faulty.

I did some research. And then responded:

I think this issue is more subtle than you suggest. There are a number of factors that distinguish the Sullivan case from the hypothetical Atrios case--the actual text of which, as I tried to make VERY CLEAR, I had not read. The Sullivan case regarded an advertisement, and the defamation centered around innacurate information. The court wrote:

"The constitutional guarantees require, we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with 'actual malice' — that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not."

As I understand it, subsequent case law has set certain criteria for defamation, including: identification of a specific individual; publication; the statements must be false and cause actual damage.

Further, there are protections against libel and defamation, which include the category of rhetoric (as I mentioned in the thread, this distinguishes news from commentary), and retration--that if a false statement is made, the publication may issue a retraction without penalty.

A nice description of all of this is at:

Again, I didn't hear what Atrios said, which is why I tried to place it in the hypothetical. I wrote: "There's a BIG difference between editorial and journalistic content. Opinion pieces are pretty much bulletproof because they're, well, opinion.... But if the "goon squad" quote appeared in an article on the front page, not as a quote, it would be unethical."

To expand, if the New York Times reported--say on the front page--that an impromptu riot appeared to be "one of John Ashcroft's goon squads," it would, in my judgment, fulfill all the criteria for defamation, provided the Times didn't retract it (which was, I think at issue in the Galt-Atrios debate). Of course, if Maureen Dowd referred to John Ashcroft's goon squads, we'd call it, ah, par for the course. And legal.

To this, I received no response. So the question remains. Bloggers: journalists, columnists, and what are the ethics? Comments?

posted by Jeff | 8:02 PM |

Sunday, February 23, 2003  

Out of town until next weekend. Send emails and tell me you miss me.

posted by Jeff | 6:54 PM |

Thursday, February 20, 2003  


"The post-Measure 28 meltdown continues. On Wednesday, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, the county's largest provider of mental-health services, will lay off between 150 and 175 full-time employees and close nine of its current facilities, including Delaunay Family of Services in North Portland. The state's fiscal woes have trickled down to Oregon Health Plan recipients, meaning 2,500, or one-third, of Cascadia's clients will be ineligible for mental-health services as of March 1. 'It looks pretty bleak,' says Cascadia spokesman Mark Schorr. 'We're doing this so we can continue to serve the most severely mentally disabled.'"

| link |

This, following up on a report I made back on January 30 about Cascadia. You can ignore the news, but it doesn't go away...

posted by Jeff | 12:14 PM |

Warning: Rant Ahead

So I happened into the Fox Tower yesterday to meet someone who works there. A bit early, so I planted my keister in one of the cushy leather chairs in the lobby and picked up one of the stack of Brainstorm NW mags laying on the end table. Are you familiar with this rag? It's a talk radio show in print, all gussied-up for the SUV set. I've seen it a couple times and found it to be lightly indulgent fluff for the vain and wealthy--the types who would enjoy a Lars Larson penned column. Tame, lame, comforting conservatism.

But February's issue isn't indulgent or comforting, and it shows how badly divided Oregon has become. In "The Sound of Silence," Brainstorm steps into the batter's box:

"The silent majority's voice was heard on Jan. 28th as it rose to defeat Measure 28--the income tax increase. There's a simple reason that this growing majority in Oregon is silent. Its voice is muzzled by other forces--among them the statewide media and the public employee unions.

"Newspapers and television news programs across Oregon have been willing, or at best easily manipulated, accomplices to the public unions that now threaten the well-being of Oregon. From the outset, as unions waged their cynical campaign to convince voters that more taxes were the only answer to our budget crisis, the media joined in with little regard for depth or proportion."

I don't know where this delusional paranoia comes from--but it is delusional. Let's examine the claim the pro-28 forces were merely unions waging a cynical campaign. In fact, the cabal who supported Measure 28 was somewhat broader than Louisville Slugger-totin' thugs from the unions and their hapless toadies in the media. Broader to the tune of hundreds of organizations, politicians, and individuals.

And as to this charge that the public employee unions somehow control the media? Hard to know where to begin. A good place to start is the Columbia School of Journalism's "Who Owns What" website. Putter around there for a bit and you'll see that it's mainly conglomerates that own the media in Oregon (KGW, owned by Belo, KOIN, owned by Emmis, KPTV and KPDX owned by Meredith, The Oregonian owned by Advance, and so on and so on). You won't find that any are owned or controlled by the unions. Nor will you find that these media conglomerates are particularly union-friendly.

Brainstorm's delusions continue:

"Stories of the draconian cuts that would fall on the most vulnerable aired nightly. Stories of desperate seniors, weary teachers, sad children--you name it. When that wasn't enough, news stories warned of massive prisoner releases and cuts to police forces. Great public relations job by the multitudinous agencies of public employees. On election night some TV newscasters, unable to restrain their personal feelings, appeared visibly upset about the Measure's defeat."

Yes, perhaps because the draconian cuts were going to happen. When you tell the public what policies will result in, it's called news. (And those TV newscasters?--unnamed. You see, that's a good example of rhetoric, which is distinct from news.)

And then:

"Look--it's simple. Business creates wealth, which generates taxes, that pays for government. When business is in recession (or is forced into it by overly zealous government), then taxes decline. In economic recession, it is not a solution to try to levy more taxes-even if the goal is to increase tax volume. It is income that must be stimulated.

"The critical discussions in Oregon right now are almost entirely centered on the wrong topic. Or rather the discussion has been hijacked, as usual by the same old culprits-the media and the public employee unions. The discussion should be about generating more business to create more wealth and therefore more taxes. Instead it is about squeezing more dollars out of struggling businesses and ordinary families.

"No better example exists than in Multnomah County and Portland where heavily union-financed politicians, such as Lisa Naito, Eric Sten, Randy Leonard, and Maria Rojo de Steffey have proposed new payroll taxes and additional income taxes as the solution to declining business revenues and taxes. These short-term 'solutions' fly in the face of economic good sense, and though they may temporarily appease locals whipped into a frenzy about the failure of their schools and their city services--they solve nothing. They are nothing but political posturing."

This is a radical--but not fringe--view. According to the peabrains at Brainstorm, this is an issue of stifling business by greedy, tax-drunk unions. Fantastic.

Oregon has 112,000 public union employees--and is losing more each year (bucking a national trend). That's roughly 13% of the state's workforce. They don't have the state in a hammerlock. More importantly, on the issue of Measure 28, they were in agreement with everyone else. Business across the state practically begged for the passage of Measure 28, recognizing that a collapsing infrastructure would be horrible for business. Since the failure of Measure 28, Oregon has been the subject of national and international news, and the state is at a loss about how to encourage business in a state where students are in school only 154 days, where the criminals are released, and the cops are fired.

It's a horrible editorial, but it is instructive. Even in the face of a massive avalanche of evidence to the contrary, a large number of Oregonians--possibly even a "silent majority"--are blind to the damage being wreaked in Salem. There seems to be absolutely no openness to the idea that the "gubmint's bad" philosophy may need a retool. If gubmint's bad, gubmint's always bad. We see this in Salem, where conservatives continue to try to push through fringe legislation about abortion and land rights issues, totally ignoring the peril Oregon's in.

Things are at a crisis, people. Citizens are--quite literally--dying while Salem fiddles. It's time to put away the boxing gloves and roll up the shirt sleeves and solve some of these problems. Gubmint may be bad--but that's mainly because it reflects the idiotic paranoia of constituents like those who publish Brainstorm. Get a damn grip.

posted by Jeff | 11:39 AM |

Wednesday, February 19, 2003  

As I know there's at least two professional economists who read this page, I will now pose several questions about the state budget and revenue. That these two economists, and some reasonable percent of the other four or five readers of this blog, will in the future regard me as dumb as a bag of hammers cannot be avoided. I offer my ignorance for the public good (and edification of the other reader who also is confused on these matters).

Thus, let me begin with this: despite the fact that Oregon appears bankrupt, the general fund for this biennium is $9.6 billion, almost double the $4.9 billion of the 89-91 biennium. (But down from 99-01's whopping ten point five billion.) That's a hell of a lot of cabbage. A couple of big questions arise: would it be regarded as usual for a state's general fund to double every ten years? And, how is it possible for a general fund that's twice as large as it was ten years ago to be bankrupt? It seems logical to assume that the same things have gotten a great deal more expensive, or we're buying a great deal more things. (Using my handy price-of-beer analysis, it seems like my personal costs have risen in the neighborhood of 50%.)

What's the math here?

(I know PERS factors in somehow, but beyond that bit of nuance, I got nuthin.) A little help?

[UPDATE: Well, it seems my ecomomists are lame. Either this is too basic to fiddle with, the question is wrong, or they just don't know. But I expected better. I spoke to one on the phone briefly, and he said--lamely--"yeah, it's reasonable that the general fund would double in ten years..." before mumbling something about annual percentage growth and so on. Then I think we talked about salmon. So: answers? Emma still don't know...]

posted by Jeff | 12:26 PM |

Tuesday, February 18, 2003  

For anyone who's been in Portland less than a decade, Northwest 23rd Avenue is "Trendythird"--a stretch of retail for the caffeine-deprived and bauble-dependent. You know this stretch because you're the kind of person who wants to have a Starbucks on every corner to fortify your journey through Pottery Barns, Restoration Hardware, Dazzle, and Urban Outfitters. Or because that is your personal definition of hell. It's a street with a specific personality, and Portlanders know whether it's theirs or not.

But if you were around before 1990, you can recall a Northwest 23rd that was decidedly un-trendy. When I arrived in the city in 1986, it looked a lot like downtown St. Johns looks now. Northwest Portland of that era was mostly older, almost exclusively blue-collar. The neighborhood had an intact and insular feel, the quality of a town Ken Kesey wrote about. And at the center of that Portland was a diner on the corner of 23rd and Marshall called Fryer's Quality Pies.

This was an old school diner: formica, light brown bottomless coffee, waitresses in white uniforms (and varicose veins), $1.99 Breakfast Specials (served all day), and a lively menagerie of regulars. Everyone smoked there, whether they took it in directly through the filter or sampled the blue air. I spent the better part of my sophomore year of college in there, springing for the Breakfast Special (two eggs, hashbrowns, English muffin) and nursing a cup of Farmer Brothers. Of course, that was the middle of the end for Fryer's: in a few years, the Starbucks and young professionals would have elbowed out all the oldsters and Breakfast Specials. By the time I returned from my failed venture to grad school in 1995, Fryer's was just a shell.

Interestingly, Fryer's carcass had never rotted. They rented out the parking lot and leased the bakery side of the diner (to Misohapi--a worthy reincarnation), but the sign stood silently and the diner remained gutted. I always loved to see that sign, like a bit of cobblestone peeking through the asphalt. But it seems the time to bury the corpse has arrived: Phil Stanford reports in the Portland Tribune that the space will become the Shogun Gallery. Ah well, everything changes.

It's interesting timing, in a way. During its heyday (if you can call it that), Fryer's represented the old Oregon, the timber and shipbuilding Oregon. The Tom McCall don't-let-the-door-hit-your-ass-on-the-way-out-of-state Oregon. The innovative Hatfield Republican Oregon. Fryer's died when the new forest (the silicon one) replaced the old, when espresso replaced diner coffee. When Sizemore and Mabon replaced Hatfield and McCall. But that replacement Oregon didn't last very long. Design whizzes from New York have abandoned the Pearl for greener pastures. Starbucks is old hat. And Oregon can't fund its schools.

Maybe it's time to zip over to Trendy Third and have a look at the old building. Who knows, it might inspire us to look backward as we figure out how to move forward.

posted by Jeff | 12:14 PM |

Monday, February 17, 2003  

Appropos of the Keisling piece, I'll reprint my pitch for creative sales tax. Until it's adopted, I'll continue to repost it on occasion--as a public service. Because, you know, the halls of power monitor this blog closely.


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 $.49 candy bar, and go to the cash register with four bits. 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? That way, we wouldn't be reminded with every transaction: "You're now being taxed." Out of sight, out of mind, right?

As Keisling noted, 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. The poorest of Oregonians (those earning less than 14.5k) pay the highest taxes as a proportion of their incomes at 13%. (Keep in mind, we're not paying sales taxes because they're regressive.) Another example: because I bought a house that was worth about 30k in 1990 when Measure 50 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.

Ta da!, everyone's happy, and we don't continue to resemble Bangladesh.

posted by Jeff | 12:12 PM |

It's been the discussion around Oregon water coolers for the better part of a biennium, and now for the first time a public figure has actually broached the topic: tax restructuring. Yesterday's Big O had a wonderful piece by Phil Keisling, arguing rather broadly for change. Central to a plan he suggested was a 5% sales tax on nonessential goods and services (an undefined category). According to Phil, restructuring could be a magic bullet:

"If crafted carefully, a more balanced system could stabilize key public services, while doing more to grow Oregon's economy by retaining and expanding existing enterprises -- and while attracting new companies and job opportunities."

I wonder. His numbers seem vague enough that an optimist like me can be fooled, but we'll have to let the critics have a look. In any case, his major thesis is sound: now is the time to act. Taxes are always hard to reform, mainly because there's a power struggle between those who feel they're getting too little for what they're giving. But now just about everyone's disgruntled, and therin lies the opportunity.

posted by Jeff | 11:45 AM |

Friday, February 14, 2003  

Over on Notes on the Atrocities, my national blog, I have taken up the conversation about the direction of the Democratic Party. I'd like to do a companion piece here, reflecting on the direction Oregon Democrats ought to be headed. It'll have to wait until next week, however. In the meantime, check out the Notes piece and see what you think.

posted by Jeff | 11:06 AM |

Thursday, February 13, 2003  

There's just an amazing amount of stuff going on--it's impossible to keep up with it all. (Of course, I try.) So first, a bit of the news.

The desperation that poverty begat
Jack Bogdanski has a wonderful story about the city council approving a move to install a 75-foot cell phone tower on Lynch View Elementary School. It was, of course, backed by the cell phone industry, who are taking advantage of the extreme poverty of Portland schools to install potentially dangerous equipment against the wishes of parents and neighbors. Notes Jack wryly, "The school district, so hard up for cash that it's probably just about ready to put cigarette machines in the high schools to help keep the lights on, will get a big $1,000 a month or so under its lease of the Lynch View site to Qwest." Ah Qwest, the only corporation I despise more than Regal Cinemas.

Karen Minnis's tax soft shoe
The $15.5 mil post-28 switcheroo passed the State House easily, 51-8. That was the easy part: now it goes to the leery Senate and leerier Guv. It's a band-aid for a sucking chest wound, applied gingerly by the guilty gunman who caused it in the first place, but what the hell--it's all they have. I predict passage all the way along. Not that it will matter much, becuase it looks like the state's about to lose another 300 mil from declining revenues. In the current biennium.

At what point to we run them out of town on a rail?
Without comment.

About 50 people from around the Willamette Valley gathered Wednesday at the Capitol to speak out against higher taxes.

Their timing couldn’t have been more ironic, coming the day after budget experts ratcheted up the estimated revenue shortfall from about $90 million to $300 million by May. That forecast generated talk of finding new funding sources.

The group, members of Taxpayers Association of Oregon, met with a few Republican lawmakers Wednesday, then observed the House floor session.

Richard Cayo, who ran unsuccessfully for the Milwaukie City Council last year, said he came to Salem to speak out against higher taxes. “The tax-and-spend liberals still have the control of this place. We have to work harder to get it out of the hands of entrenched politicians,” he said.

| link |

Sometimes you wonder: maybe we should just leave the state to the fanatics and move to Cali. Or Washington. Or Mississippi. Anyplace but here.

posted by Jeff | 11:54 AM |

Tuesday, February 11, 2003  

Republican chatter: "Okay, I'll flip a coin. Heads, deficits and we'll claim having deficits are the main reason to curb spending; tails, then it's having no deficits which is the main reason to cut taxes."

Okay, so I made that up. I didn't make up this:

Republicans, 1997: "Jack Kemp worships at the altar of tax cuts. Jack has always said that deficits don't matter. We think that deficits do matter."

Republicans, 2003: "Anything that will help us stop spending money, I'm in favor of.This place is set up to spend money; you know it's just the nature of the beast. And we've tried to say, hey, we don't have to spend so much of it. And if there's a deficit, that may help us."


"I think it's clear now that there's no correlation between the size of the deficit and interest rates. There's a much better case to be made that the deficit will force spending down."

(Respectively, those were The Hammer, Sue Myrick, R-NC, and Patrick Toomey R-Penn.)

It's like the President's trifecta, except it's more of a quinella. Maybe the daily double.

posted by Jeff | 4:29 PM |

Over on the Bog Blog, Jack Bogdanski noodles:

What if? If Gore had won the election, would be be going to war with Iraq?

Would we be talking about radical changes in the tax system that would shift the burden of federal taxes away from the wealthy and onto the middle class?

If Gore had lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College, would he be pushing a hard-left party line, rather than reaching out to the middle?

"There's no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans," Nader said.

What a dope.

(I 'spose I should be blogging this on Atrocities, but hey, 90% of Nader's base is here in Oregon, so what the hell.)

Two thoughts. The first is: when are the Dems gonna grow up? We're invading Iraq because nearly every donkey in Washington was waving a gun in the air and screaming that we needed to INVADE. Is that Nader's fault? Is it Nader's fault that the Dems, by virtue of fantastically weak leadership, managed to be the only group ever to LOSE the congress during the off-year elections? At some point--and reasonable people can draw this line--you gotta give up the Nader excuse.

Two: Nader didn't lose the election for Gore. If you gotta finger someone, start with Gore. He ran the worst Presidential campaign in history, fighting at every turn to demonstrate that he wasn't as exhilarating as his opponent--who had trouble with words and admitted not having any idea where foreign nations were or who led them. One could gently make the assertion that if you lose your home state, the problem may not be in the candidacy of a consumer advocate. And if you can't bring yourself to condemn the candidate himself for losing the race, the Supreme Court's a better scapegoat than Nader. Need I list the ways?

Jack Bog calls Nader's a dope because he says Dems and 'Phants are all the same. Don't blame Nader for that: it's what the Dems keep saying themselves, over and over and over and ...

posted by Jeff | 2:43 PM |

Monday, February 10, 2003  

Oregon Blog Endorsement

This is a overdue, but I wanted to give a mention to an important grassroots effort being organized by the One True B!X (his blog: Portland Communique). It's a resolution the Portland Bill of Rights Defense Committee has drafted to submit to the Portland City Council in defence of civil rights in light of the USA Patriot Act. It's a good proposal, vetted by lawyers to ensure it will pass legal muster, and well-reasoned. A pdf petition is available at the site, so go print it out and sign up your friends and family and coworkers and the barista down the street.

Even if the resolution isn't adopted by the city, it is important that a large number of Portlanders come out in favor. That's how change happens, folks. (Ignatius--something for you to do!)

Good stuff, and my big thanks to B!X.

posted by Jeff | 11:39 AM |

"We've had months and months of talk of calamity if Measure 28 failed. Now I want to see the calamity."
- Don McIntire, Taxpayer Association of Oregon

Just so we're clear, Donny Mac remains gleeful about the failure of Measure 28. Which means, apparently, that he does not regard these facts as calamitous:

-Oregon's deficit is now one-fifth its budget;

-The school year is 156 days long;

-114 inmates were released from the Multnomah County jail;

-129 state troopers were laid off;

-122 people with severe mental illness are being released from residential care;

-The Portland Public Schools general fund is $339 million--less than it was in 1992 in actual dollars.

Let's just keep clear about who wanted Oregon in this situation and why: people like Don McIntire, who are unelected and unaccountable, are driving policy. Is this the state we wanted?

posted by Jeff | 11:26 AM |

An unreasoning strafe: the Oregonian's "The Public Editor" column is worthless. "The Public Apologist" is more like it. For those unfamiliar, every Sunday, Dan Hortsch selects something controversial the Oregonian did from the previous week. He describes who it enraged and why. After which he concludes, inevitably, that although it was a tricky subject, by gum the O did a purty good job with it after all.

Don't even get me started on David Reinhard....

posted by Jeff | 10:58 AM |

Saturday, February 08, 2003  

Mayoral Hee-Haw

Did you catch this phrase from the quotes below? "City Commissioner Erik Sten, also thinking of a mayoral run..." It complements this one pretty nicely: "Francesconi wants to court business as part of a 2004 run for mayor." (Following up the news that ivory-tickling Thomas Lauderdale may have his sights on Vera's seat.) I suppose fixing the schools would be a pretty good lead-off line on any campaign, though?

Still, it bothers this blogger. After all, I was gonna leak a rumor that I was planning a run. Or at least, planning to form an exporatory committee...

posted by Jeff | 11:04 AM |

Financial Crisis Maneuvering

The financial crisis is real (despite Libertarian disbelief), and pols, eyes firmly on keisters, are a’scurry. In the past week, a whole batch of proposals surfaced to address the red ink. In Salem, Republicans’ plan to shift $15.5 mil lumbers along through the House. It is, of course, already dead—even if it gets out of the House, it’s DOA in the Senate.

(Yesterday, the Oregonian had a nice editorial, echoing commentary I blogged on Wednesday. [Surely the O is a faithful Oregon Blog reader.])

Meanwhile, every elected official in Multnomah County has a plan to bail out the schools. The highlights:

Lisa Naito’s Plan
Meanwhile, Multnomah County Commissioner Lisa Naito, fresh off watching 100-plus inmates scurry out of the county jail on early release, floated a temporary income tax increase. The plan, modeled after the failed statewide Measure 28, would send cash to county social services and jails as well as to schools. It's not clear whether the county board supports her plan.

City Council Plan #1
City Commissioner Erik Sten, also thinking of a mayoral run and playing to increasingly skittish parents, teamed with fellow Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Randy Leonard to support the heftiest increase.

The trio, a council majority, wants a payroll tax surcharge enacted quickly to add back school days being cut this spring. They also want a personal income tax increase to make sure that arts, music and physical education remain in the city's schools.

City Council Plan #2
City Commissioner Jim Francesconi will propose a local school funding solution today that would increase business taxes for three years….

Francesconi's proposal would not provide help this school year. It aims to generate $35 million annually for the next three years for the five school districts entirely or partially within Portland.

The Sten plan would get money to schools this year, but may not be legal. (Guaranteeing, it seems, legal proceedings that would prevent the funds from arriving this year. But what do I know about law?)

The upshot seems to be that Multnomah County schools (or PP schools) will probably be taken care of—if not this year then next. But except for the dead bill walkin through the House, no one’s addressing the state cuts or the damage they will cause to vulnerable citizens.

Democrats? Ball’s in your court.

posted by Jeff | 10:53 AM |

Thursday, February 06, 2003  

DeFazio for President

Yesterday Peter DeFazio introduced legislation to repeal the blank check Congress granted the President to invade Iraq. From his website:

“Our nation’s immediate threat is still Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda terrorist network. We have full knowledge of North Korea’s equally rapidly developing nuclear weapons program under the control of an equally diabolical leader. There’s well-published accounts of several Mid-east governments aiding and funding known terrorists. Of America’s imminent threats, Saddam Hussein is much lower on the list.

“Saddam Hussein is a brutal untrustworthy tyrant, but he is being contained, and we should allow weapons inspectors to continue their work.

“The President seeks war, this is clear. The Constitution grants the Congress sole authority to declare war, and I believe the President should come before Congress to seek that authority. Our resolution allows him that option.”

To which I can only say (sincerely): further evidence that this guy oughta run for President and offer Dems a real choice.

posted by Jeff | 3:13 PM |

Wednesday, February 05, 2003  

Apologies to all who recently posted comments. I switched to squawkbox in order to avoid the 400-character limit. Better popups now, but it's sad to lose your thoughts.

posted by Jeff | 4:27 PM |

"I think the voters did not expect that we would let people die. We feel strongly that it would be morally unconscionable to let these go into effect."
--House Speaker Karen Minnis

Of course, Republicans didn't think it was unconscionable to let the cuts go into effect during any of the five special sessions, nor did they think it was unconscionable when they argued against passage of Measure 28. Recall that this is the House Leader of the Republican Party, the same party who ponied up $500 to write in the voter's pamphlet:

”You cannot build character and courage by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

Every expansion or increase in the size or purpose of government places an additional strain on the limited resources of its citizens. Excessive taxation adversely affects the State's economy, the cost of doing business, the ability to create jobs, and increases the cost to consumers...We support the reduction of all taxes to a level needed only to maintain minimum government that can protect life, liberty, and property."

Beyond the unconscionable morality of the actions of legislators who cut funding to the frail and elderly—and let’s not lay the blame at the feet of the voters—it’s grossly disengenuous for them to claim that they “didn’t know.”

A long list of social advocates, politicians, business leaders, and concerned citizens knew exactly what would happen. Today’s Oregonian reports that Republicans are scrambling to fund some of these services that they took from their most vulnerable citizens. “The House proposal would restore the medically needy program, long-term care for 4,813 elderly or disabled people with serious but not extreme care needs, 122 residential beds for people with severe mental illnesses, state police forensics services and 40 patrol positions.”

Let’s see, what did the Democrat’s say before the election would happen? I quote:

“ These current services WILL BE CUT if this measure does not pass. The cost to the average taxpayer of preventing this devastation to what makes Oregon work, is less than $12 per month. Good citizenship requires a YES vote.
-122 adult mental health residential treatment beds: $667,000
-Services for 5,512 people with developmental disabilities: $11.8 million
-Longterm medical care for more than 11,000 senior citizens: $20.6 million
-322 Oregon State Police positions: $3 million.

That said, the Democrats are handling this situation badly as well. It’s one thing to make a point, it’s another to let people die so that you can make the point. They need to lead the charge on this and figure out some way to find emergency funds. The people who need to pay for this mismanagement are not those vulnerable folks who are losing services—it’s the anti-tax conservatives who decided a long time ago that money was more important than people. Democrats should have shown the moxie to take the lead on this a year ago, and I fault them for that. Nevertheless, it’s time to suck it up and cut a deal. The Republicans caused this mess, but it’s going to be the Dems who have to clean it up.

posted by Jeff | 10:43 AM |

Tuesday, February 04, 2003  

Consumerism vs. the Public Good

In the game of spin, the Republicans have dominated the dialogue since the time of Reagan. Woeful Dems have been playing defence for 30 years, losing popularity the whole way along. After a certain period of time, spin becomes fact, and so it has that our political dialogue is now shaped by these facts. In Oregon’s case, one of these bedrock “facts” has delivered us unto our current situation: the idea of taxation as consumerism rather than the public good.

The consumer model does not fit public policy. Farmers in Eastern Oregon will never choose to pay for light rail in Portland; Southeast Portland hipsters are not going to pay for dam maintenance in Eastern Oregon. By putting forward this bogus idea, conservatives have done a disservice to the state. We all pay taxes into a large pot so that people we elect and pay can redistribute that money to the agencies that need it. More importantly, Oregonians need to recall that we are all interconnected—the public good means more than just those needs we find at the end of our noses. If we look at all the costs we bear in society, it becomes clear that the complexity requires something more than the consumer model.

(And, when consumer-model advocates begin to tinker with state finances, as Bill Sizemore has done, they hamstring politicians’ ability to address the public good. )

There’s a kernal of reality to the consumer argument—or was, long ago; without oversight, contributions to a large pot of money can lead to mismanagement. But as we are now seeing, there’s no more fat to cut. Politicians raised on this idea are genuinely confused by the current financial collapse: they’re convinced that the pot is limitless and that it can always be redistributed. But much like the idea of welfare became fixed in liberals’ minds so that it was never revisited to see whether it was achieving the intended outcomes, conservatives have not challenged their own ideas about what it means to fund the “public good.”

Oregon hasn't been willing to revisit notions of the public good, and it's resulted in financial collapse. It doesn't matter now what kind of spin anyone puts on taxation--we will be compelled to have the discussion now.

posted by Jeff | 1:03 PM |

Oregon Blog Endorsement: Sandy Cinema 8

Continuing on with my personal campaign against the evil Regal Cinemas, a tip: Monday night cheapie movies CAN still be found. You remember those, right?--back in the light, sunny days before the choking cloud of Regal Cinemas descended, near-monopolistically on the fair city of Portland, a person could catch a Monday evening flick at the local googleplex for matinee prices. Banished, of course, under Regal's spiked heel of greed. Better to have no one in the theaters on a Monday night than a few people at the cheap rate, mused the feeblemind corporation. And so it was.

And yet, if you're willing to take a drive to Sandy, Oregon, a mere 25 miles from downtown, you too can experience cheap Monday nights. (All right, I know it may be a break even venture, but stay with me here.) Not only do you get the cheap flick, but a bathtub-sized popcorn's only $3.75--and it's tasty! More: there are no ads before the movie, no crappy music piped in, and NONE of your money goes to the evil collective. Go, my brothers and sisters! Go to Sandy, Oregon and Fight the Power!

(You can go here first, to check out the showtimes.)

(Saw Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: excellent. Highly recommended.)

posted by Jeff | 12:24 PM |

Monday, February 03, 2003  

A policy wonk is someone who downloads a report about revenue sources, climbs into the tub, and joyfully reads away. Thus I spent my Saturday reading the Legislative Revenue Office report on public revenues. I recommend it to both of my readers--Ampersand, you're Number Two!--there's some pretty fascinating info in there. (There's also some pretty dense stuff that the uniformned layperson--or me--isn't likely to follow.) In no real order, here are some of the facts, ma'am:

  • All oregon revenue falls into four categories: taxes, federal revenue, charges, and miscellaneous (interest and lottery revenue, among others).

  • Bill Sizemore and friends were successful in limiting taxes: since the '89-'90 biennium, personal and corporate taxes fell from 54% of the overall budget to 45% (the national average being 57%).

  • Until passage of measure 50 in '97, property taxes were generally assessed on real property value. Since then, it has taxation has fallen to about 76% of the total assessed value of properties in Oregon.

  • Before Measure 5, the state funded only about 30% of school costs the rest was paid for locally; since then, the state's burden has risen to 70%.

  • Beer taxes produced revenues of only 12.7 million dollars a year; a proposed change would raise another 2.5 per year, which is squat, but which would put enormous stress on one of the only local industries (all right, that was editorial comment).

  • [Update] Cigarette taxes. Oregon assesses a 68-cent per pack tax. It raises $152 million, which is down substantially from a high of $199 million in '98, when the tax was increased from fifty cents (damn those smokers who kicked the habit). Funds are distributed thus: $60m to the general fund, $92m to the OHP, $21m to TURA (?), Special transit (?) and local government.

  • There's a fair bit more that's not easily summarized. I'm working on the second document, about education funding, and will return with highlights...

    posted by Jeff | 1:50 PM |

    Saturday, February 01, 2003  

    Great article today from the Oregonian's Robert Landauer that pointed me to a couple of reports on Oregon revenue. I am just printing them out now, so it will be awhile before I can fully digest them. However, Landauer points to some statistics he gleaned.

    "Some highlights on the tax burden and its distribution: Oregon relies on state and local taxes considerably less than the average state (45 percent versus 57 percent) but depends more on the three other sources of revenue than the average state: federal revenue (25 percent versus 19 percent), charges or users' fees (18 percent versus 14 percent) and miscellaneous (12 percent versus 10 percent).

    Oregon's total state and local tax burden was 10.5 percent, compared with the U.S. average of 11.2 percent. Oregon ranks 39th in total tax burden: 38 states carry heavier loads, 11 states lighter. We're second-highest in state personal income taxes as a percentage of personal income, 18th in corporate income taxes, 25th in property taxes and 50th in sales and excise taxes. No state comes close to Oregon's dependence on a single source for state tax funds. The state relied on the personal income tax for 74.4 percent of its revenue in 2000-01."

    And later on, he notes

    Oregon's state and local tax burden is spread roughly proportionally. Households with incomes less than $14,525 pay higher rates (13.1 percent) than the 11.4 percent statewide average owing mostly to the property tax's impact on low-income families. High-end families with household income above $126,173 also pay slightly more (12.4 percent), largely owing to the progressive personal income tax and limitations on deductions and credits based on links to the federal tax code.

    Bears repeating: Oregonians who earn LESS than 14.5k a year pay the HIGHEST taxes in Oregon. Recall that these are the people most likely to have their services cut--a double whammy. And we don't want a sales tax because it's regressive.

    Read the reports youself here.

    posted by Jeff | 10:57 AM |