Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A tax break I've never understood

I mean this with all sincerity: can someone please explain to me the rationale for exempting social security taxes after the first $102,000 in income? Why should someone making a six-figure income not pay the same percentage of social security taxes as someone making half that amount?



Stuck in our ruts

Congress is in full-blown blame mode as it tries to look like it's working to help Americans who are paying through the nose at the gas pump.

Today's Oregonian notes that Republicans are all over Democrats for refusing to drill for oil and natural gas within our borders, and Democrats are castigating the GOP for bowing low to the oil companies and refusing to acknowledge the need for alternative energy sources.

But the key from that story came from U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer who, while promoting his usual topics -- mass transit, alternative fuels and new energy sources -- admits that there is no quick fix:

I never pretend we're going to change this stuff overnight. We've taken decades to paint ourselves into this corner. . . . We have to change fundamentally our politics to stop being hostage to the energy vision of the 1950s. Drill where it's appropriate. Stop the speculation. Give people more choices and have alternatives. This is what we're going to be slugging on for the next 30 months.

The next 30 months. That takes us to January 1, 2011.

In 30 months, who knows what the price of gas might be? But if we're going to be working on this for the next two-plus years, why do our parties feel the need to barricade themselves into their traditional constituencies? Why can't we simultaneously pursue existing and future energy sources?

Why can't we explore -- vigorously -- other sources of energy? Every idea that doesn't involve fossil fuels is an idea that won't require sending our money to foreign whack-jobs, and will (hopefully) be more friendly to the environment.

Why can't we drill for the oil in our country (including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off-shore)? Every barrel of oil that comes from the United States is one fewer barrel that we have to buy from Hugh Chavez or the House of Saud. Even if it's only 10 years of oil, that's 10 years of fewer imports from foreign whack-jobs. And by the way, Blumenauer should listen to his own message to "stop being hostage to the energy vision of the 1950s." Fifty years ago -- even 20 years ago! -- our technology did not allow for drilling in sensitive areas such as ANWR or off-shore, but that has changed.

If it's going to take more than two years before Congress even gets off its hind-end to do something, it seems to me that it's necessary to stop playing petty little games and explore every idea that might help.



Friday, June 27, 2008

A baseball diversion

Because my Giants have been worse than mediocre, I've only been glancing at the MLB standings this year, but a couple of things jumped out at me this morning:

The National League West -- where San Francisco is currently mired in third place, 11 games below .500 -- is pathetic. The Arizona Diamondbacks are in first place, even though they're just one game over .500!

It's no wonder the Giants are struggling -- they're a pathetic 14-24 on their home field, which is the worst home winning percentage in baseball -- worse than last-place teams Seattle and Washington. If the Giants were just playing .500 ball at home, they'd be a game behind the Diamondbacks.

The other thing that leaped out at me is the interleague records: nine American League teams have winning records against the National League, whereas only four NL teams can make that claim (two others were 6-6, including the best-record-in-baseball Chicago Cubs). If that's indicative of the post-season, it looks like the AL will continue its domination of the World Series. It's won seven of the last 10, and has an overall series record of 61-42.

It's gonna be a long summer...



Thursday, June 26, 2008

Quote of the Day: Apple vs. PC government

From Jonah Goldberg on NRO today:
Liberalism promises an Apple government. One that is seamless, smooth-running, sleek, chic and aesthetically uplifting. It is a world of Deweyan positive liberty, where the government takes so many of the hassles out of life that it liberates you to be all you can be. That's why liberals think the extra money is worth it. And frankly, if government could be an Apple government, I think the money would be worth it.

But Apple government, call it MacTopia, is fool's gold. It will always be a PC government, because that's what government is: a bunch of perpetually outmoded parts that have trouble talking to each other. It sells itself as the cheap fix but ultimately costs you more because of its constant system errors, freeze-ups, and faulty patches that only kick problems down the road. It is a system of impenetrable jargon designed not to improve efficiencies but to empower the bureaucrat-technicians who wield a gnostic-like power over the rest of us simply because they know what gets plugged in where and what an alt-dot-sys-bat file is. Citizens must take their word for what we need because the PC government system is rigged to keep us in perpetual stupefaction about how the system works.

If there is a MacWorld (aside from the magazine), it is the private sector. Consumers matter more in the private sector than citizens do in the public one. The private sector is set up so that the people are happy with what they get. In the public sector the system is set up so that people have no choice but to stick with it (just look at school choice where liberals want to take scholarships from poor black kids for the good of the public school system). The government can — and sometimes does — borrow good ideas from MacWorld, but it cannot be MacWorld because the incentives are different.

Exactly right. And yes, I'm a Mac guy.

UPDATE: Jonah's Mac guy (a former Apple employee) responds that Apple is a "fascist" company:
Apple products are based on centralized command-and-control. Apple makes the hardware, software, and — increasingly — many key applications ("everything inside the state, nothing outside the state"). The Apple faithful believe that the computing world dominated by Microsoft is bad (if not outright evil) and must be redeemed. If only everyone changed to their way of computing, we would reach computing nirvana. And society would be changed for the better, too. If only. This mythology goes back to the original Mac "big brother" ad.

The company is led by one man, and one man only, and no one else could take his place. Steve Jobs is head of engineering, product marketing, advertising, etc. The employees exist to do what Steve wants because, after all, only Steve knows how to make it all work. Those who work there put up with it because they are proud to be part of a higher calling.

As I said, I love the products. And it's fine by me for Apple to function as a fascist company, as the employees can choose to work there (I chose otherwise). But don't ever wish for an Apple government.

The borg never sleeps

I knew this would awaken Gully from his slumber.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's missing?

The front page of today's O trumpets, "OHSU approves 'bare-bones' 2009 budget."

This leads to the obvious questions: how much is the budget? And, if it's truly "bare-bones," how does it compare to the current amount?

So I read Ted Sickinger's story. I learn the institution will be "restructured," including at least 150 layoffs, and tuition will increase.

I learn OHSU will spend $375 million to expand the hospital, while putting off $30 million in maintenance (because we see how well that's worked with Portland Public Schools).

I learn it will lose $28 million this year, which is 2 percent of its $1.45 billion in revenue.

I learn the budget has some, um, ambitions assumptions, such as at least a 6 percent increase in revenues in each of the next four years, plus $12 million in new grants next year.

And I reach the end of the story. Not once does it inform us of the budget amount, or how it compares to 2008. Maybe I'm crazy, but doesn't that seem like a glaring omission?



Monday, June 23, 2008

Global warming is not, apparently, a Packers fan

Did you know that Global Warming® could cause the Green Bay Packers to lose their home-field advantage?

You can read about it here, and keep track of all the other things blamed on Global Warming® here.



Saturday, June 14, 2008

Remember when we could tax you with impunity?

Ah, those were the days.

That's essentially the message in a column by Beaverton City Councilor Cathy Stanton, which appears in the June 2008 Beaverton city newsletter. (I can't find a copy of the current issue online, but you can sign up for it here.)

Stanton, elected last month to her fifth term, writes about her desire to update the city's charter, which was last revised in 1981. She says there are three potential changes to the charter "which would give us some flexibility" for the future. They are:
First, back in 1992, we increased the Privilege Tax. This was an additional 1.5% tax on our electric bill. We used this tax to pay for putting utilities underground when Murray Boulevard was widened. Once the project was complete, we rescinded the tax. If we had kept the tax in place and dedicated those funds, we could have placed all utilities underground when we improved Davis, Hart, and Hall over the last ten years. Wouldn't that have been nice?
Translation: Wasn't it foolish of us to remove that tax (even though it was probably intended only for the Murray project)? Wouldn't it have been nice to continue taxing you over the last 16 years so we could have more of your money than we already get for our current $160 million annual budget? Wouldn't it be great to say it's dedicated to utility relocation, but still have the money if we really needed it for some other really important project like The Round?
Second, the City used to have Urban Renewal Authority. We still do, but it requires a city-wide vote to implement. Rather than going through the expense of putting it on the ballot we have been doing the best we can to leverage federal and state dollars to improve the downtown. Oh, but if we only had that old authority.
Translation: We used to be able to spend your money without your approval, and we really want that back! We'll say the issue is an "expensive election," but really the issue is that we're afraid you pesky voters might say no, and really, we know better than you, don't we?
Third, Beaverton used to have a City Manager as well as a Mayor. In fact, as usual, we were one of the first cities in the State of Oregon to do so. But, I'm going to have to save that story for another article.
This is really funny, considering that A) This article came out after Dennis Doyle defeated four-term incumbent Mayor Rob Drake; and B) Stanton endorsed Drake. Now she wants the city to have a city manager? It couldn't have anything to do with her desire to take power away from the newly-elected mayor (accountable to the voters) and put it in the hands of a (less accountable) city manager, could it?

Stanton concludes:
Sometimes, it is wonderful to go forward and break new ground, trod new paths. But, it's also good to consider what we might miss if we don't see where we've been and what we might be giving up by going in a different direction.
Yep, we long for the good ol' days when we could tax you with impunity, and you voters weren't so nosy about how we spent your money. Won't you be accommodating?

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I'll sleep well with protection like this

The latest owner of the Round development in Beaverton owes the city more than $800,000 in unpaid utility bills, but the city insists in its finest ostrich imitation that there are no problems.

This is the same developer (Dorn-Platz), whose defaults on city agreements have led to millions of dollars in foreclosures, unpaid taxes and construction liens.

This is also the same developer that, because of its defaults, forfeited the Round's heating plant to the city, and then started receiving almost $36,000 a month in rent from the city for that same plant. Exactly how long the city paid this rent is unclear, but we know the city was informed of Dorn-Platz's financial troubles almost a year ago, and it wasn't until sometime in 2008 that it stopped the payments. Let's be conservative and say it was seven months -- July 2007 to January 2008. So that's a quarter of a million dollars in rent.

And don't forget -- the city purchased this property for $5 million, which was more than its appraised value.

So what has the city done in response to Dorn-Platz's unpaid bills? It's seized a $250,000 security deposit from the developer, and authorized $79,000 for legal services from its Portland law firm.

Here's the best line of the Oregonian story:
City officials wouldn't talk Tuesday about their next move. But they insist that taxpayers will be protected and suggested that the Round's struggles have more to do with Dorn-Platz than a bad project idea.
I know the economy is an issue, but it's difficult to accept the latter part of that statement when the Round has had nothing but problems since the city bought the property. As an earlier Oregonian story noted:
The Round has struggled since 1997, when the city sold the former sewage-treatment plant to a developer and called for multistory buildings with ground-floor retail and restaurants with housing and offices above.

The first developer declared bankruptcy, and the city took back control of the site in 2001. Later that year, Dorn-Platz took over the project. The city, however, declared Dorn-Platz in default of its development agreement, penalized the developer and signed a new agreement.
So let's do the math: $821,000 in back utility bills, minus the seized $250,000 deposit, plus $79,000 for legal bills, plus $250,000 in rental fees for a seized heating plant, plus $5 million for the initial property purchase. That comes out to almost $6 million out of city coffers. And that, frankly, only scratches the surface of the city's financial investment.

I feel so protected. Don't you?

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

What a bargain!

If you live somewhere near Fairview, and you're willing to spend $25 this summer, your middle-schooler can get four weeks of bus transportation, breakfast, morning reading and math, lunch, and afternoon fun including soccer, biking, sports club, arts and crafts, dance, jewelry making "and more."

And one of the dance elements, apparently, is hip-hop.

I wonder if that $25 fee covers all the costs? After all, the new hip-hop instructor will make at least $13 per hour, and that doesn't count the bus drivers, math teachers, soccer coaches or arts & crafts instructors.

And if the fee doesn't cover all costs, how do Reynolds School District taxpayers feel about paying for this?