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Nike Tax Deal and the Killing of Entrepreneurship

December 19, 2014 - 8:00am

The Washington Post has been running an excellent series on what ails the middle class, called Liftoff & Letdown.

The fifth installment in the series, The great start-up slowdown, examines the decline of entrepreneurship — the start-up of new businesses — in our nation.

One of the key factors that the article cites for the decline in entrepreneurship is the fact that entrenched companies “are ramping up their efforts to win favors from the government — tax breaks, spending contracts or industry regulations that favor their firm over potential competitors.” This practice, which economist William Baumol calls “unproductive entrepreneurship,” diverts resources away from more productive uses — from practices that would create more jobs.

And what example of “unproductive entrepreneurship” does the article cite?

The Nike Tax Deal.

As The Washington Post explains:

Look at shoes, for example. In December 2012, state lawmakers in Oregon met for a one-day special session. They considered exactly one bill, which they passed and the governor signed. The bill allowed the governor to ink a contract with the state’s most iconic big company, the shoe and apparel giant Nike. The company agreed to create 500 new jobs. The governor agreed to lock in a favorable tax system for Nike for the next 30 years. Any new shoemakers that spring up in the state will need to contend with tax uncertainties that their largest rival won’t be sweating. (Only one other company reached a similar deal: tech giant Intel.)

The claim that the Nike Tax Deal would create jobs was laughable from the start, as the company was already moving forward with its expansion plans and refused to release its consultant's economic analysis report.

Nike is undoubtedly Oregon’s greatest story of successful entrepreneurship.

So it is particularly sad to see that the Nike Tax Deal now stands as a classic example of unproductive entrepreneurship, a legislative act that aids in the killing of entrepreneurship statewide.

Chuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Measure 92 Recap: Money, Media and Memories

December 17, 2014 - 4:15pm

Yesterday, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown certified the results of Measure 92, officially confirming its loss by a whisker-thin 837 votes out of more than 1.5 million votes cast. The Yes campaign’s last-ditch legal challenge to approve 4,600 invalidated ballots failed, sealing its fate.

The initiative was about a lot of things – consumers’ right to know what’s in their food, voter turnout, the recount, mismatched signatures, and the continuing controversy over the safety of genetically engineered food.

But more than anything else, Measure 92 was about money.

Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Kraft, Land O’ Lakes and other food giants dumped millions into Oregon because they knew some consumers would see the GMO labels and not buy their products. Monsanto, Dow and DuPont did the same because the ripple effect of more consumers buying non-GMO products would mean fewer farmers buying their genetically engineered seeds and pesticides used with them.

The initiative set two all-time records for Oregon, the overall contribution total of about $29 million and the No campaign’s donations of nearly $21 million. The No campaign in California’s 2012 labeling initiative totaled $46 million, a little more than twice as much as here. California has ten times our population, putting into perspective the massive amount the opposition spent in Oregon.

Out of the No campaign’s total contributions, over 99.99% came from out-of-state corporations, led by Monsanto’s $5,958,750 and DuPont’s $4,518,150.

The state’s website combines individual donations $100 and under. Based on a grand total of $726, only a few dozen people at most (not corporations) donated to the No campaign. In contrast, over 17,900 individuals contributed to the Yes campaign. Only one actual human being donated more than $100 to the No campaign. If there was a Guinness Book of World Records category for lack of grassroots support in an election, the No campaign wins hands-down.

But the fact remains – they also won the election. Some unforgettable memories:

The effectiveness of No’s ads Much of this was the sheer volume and repetition that all that money bought, including TV, radio, internet, direct mail and telephone town halls – there was no escape. Blue Oregon wasn’t immune. I frequently saw three No ads attached to my own columns – on top, on the side and on the bottom.

But the ads themselves successfully misled voters. I heard from dozens of people who were afraid of rising food costs and hurting farmers. These ads were fiction (Remember the wheat farmer on TV saying it would cost farmers millions? Commercially-approved genetically engineered wheat doesn’t even exist), but if you didn’t know better, they still worked, especially on undecided voters.

Media On July 5, only three days after the Yes campaign submitted 155,000 signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, the Oregonian wrote the first of numerous editorials opposing it. It’s disappointing (but not surprising) that the editorial board members made up their minds without even talking to the Yes campaign first.

I was surprised by Willamette Week’s opposition and by its condescending statement parroting the Oregonian: “We worry that all labeling would do is confuse and frighten people.” The fact that consumers in 64 other countries that label GMO’s negotiate their grocery aisles clear-headed and unafraid didn’t seem to matter.

Jackson and Josephine counties Democrats/progressives tended to favor Measure 92 while Republicans/conservatives tended to oppose it. But Jackson and Josephine counties, which had both voted overwhelmingly last May to ban the growing of genetically engineered crops, bucked the trend. Jackson voted over 55% yes and Josephine, even more heavily Republican, voted 49% yes. Southern Oregon residents arguably have seen more farmer-led arguments against GMO’s than anywhere else in the state. Mirroring my experience, the more people know about GMO’s, the more opposed they are, and more inclined to favor labeling.

Going door-to-door Along with hundreds of other volunteers, I went door-to-door numerous times, during the traditional get-out-the-vote effort and the “ballot chase” to urge voters with invalid ballots to correct their signature problems.

Simply put, Oregonians are really nice. I remember all of two people who were nasty, among hundreds who were friendly, no matter how they were voting.

The recount The original machine ballot count showed the Yes side down 812 votes. The hand recount ended up with the Yes side down 837. The mismatched signature controversy aside, this tiny 25-vote difference is a pretty impressive statement on Oregon’s vote-counting integrity and accuracy. We’re not Florida.

On the negative side, at least one county, Deschutes, didn’t allow observers near a number of tables of election workers, making it impossible for them to see votes on the ballots being counted. Oregon should remedy this unfair inconsistency between counties before next year’s elections.

The Election Night parties The Yes party was a noisy, festive celebration held in a large hall at the Left Bank annex. There were an estimated 150-200 people there, the vast majority of them volunteers, donors and non-profit representatives who endorsed the measure, plus campaign staff.

The No “party” was a small, vacant conference room for media at the Embassy Suites hotel – no food, no drinks, no music. And no people. Just a table, chairs, one lonely lectern and a black curtain on one side of the room. Note the picture from the Portland Mercury.

I felt bad after the loss, but at least I never felt the hollow emptiness of that room. It captures perfectly the essence of the corporations behind the black curtain who defeated Measure 92.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Uber is Evil. But Portland is Failing (to Address our Taxicab Crisis)

December 17, 2014 - 1:57pm

By Alejandro Savransky of Portland, Oregon. Alejandro is a former political organizer and environmental advocate. He currently works in energy efficiency consulting.

Uber is an evil and arrogant company. No one is disputing that fact. However, by filing its recent lawsuit, the City of Portland is spending its limited time and resources protecting a taxicab monopoly that is slow, antiquated, inefficient, and borderline unethical.

Instead, Commissioner Steve Novick and Mayor Charlie Hales should be working to find solutions to our cab crisis. Consider the following facts:

  1. From a recent conversation I had with the City’s Transportation For-Hire Manager, Frank Dufay, I learned that there are currently only 460 cab permits available in the City of Portland. Let’s think about that number for a minute. We’re a city of more than 609,000, so that means we have one taxicab available for every 1,323 Portlanders. Even more troubling is the fact that this number has been static since 2012. Now, this should not come as a surprise to many people since, at least in my experience, the service provided by incumbent cab companies is mediocre at best. Wait times are often long and no-shows are more common than they should be.

  2. According to the City’s own FAQ on Taxis and other Private-for-Hire transportation regulation, "Portland taxi drivers often work long hours and make a net hourly wage of $6.22 an hour, lower than the $9.10 Oregon minimum wage." So this means that Portland is suing Uber in order to protect a taxicab monopoly that charges high prices (as shown by Sightline Institute) and whose employees earn less than the minimum wage. Some cab companies in Portland are driver-owned, and I have heard that these drivers report higher satisfaction with their job and compensation. Still, it seems backwards to protect this industry without reforming it.

  3. Portland did not sue AirBnB. AirBnB entered the Portland market illegally, just like Uber. I admit that AirBnB eventually worked with the city to come up with a legal framework that now seems to work for all parties involved—but Uber has been in talks with the City as well. Even though many of the same concerns people have about Uber also apply to AirBnB, Portland did not take legal action against AirBnB. This seems completely inconsistent. At the same time, it seems troubling that the city is willing to let a company that benefits homeowners—who tend to be richer—bend the rules while, at the same time, pulling out the rulebook against one that is most helpful to those who live in “car-lite” or “car-free” households—who tend to be poorer. Thus, the argument that the city has an obligation to fight companies that come to Portland and operate against the law is shaky at best.

Portland needs to solve its cab crisis. I urge Commissioner Novick and Mayor Hales to stop wasting time with this lawsuit and start working on real solutions that will either a) give Uber, Lyft and other similar companies the opportunity to operate in Portland legally, or b) improve our incumbent taxicab service in order to better meet the needs of Portlanders.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

School Policy: When faced with the Plague, why are you bringing Band-Aids?

December 16, 2014 - 2:17pm

Below is a letter I wrote to all of members the School Board for Portland Public Schools, with a copy to Superintendent Smith. The specific focus of the letter is one part of the proposal for changing the PPS lottery system, but the underlying issue applies to other communities throughout the state and the country. The problem is that public schools are so poorly supported and funded that there is wide local variation based largely on the ability of individual schools' parent populations to subsidize their operations and backstop the staff.

December 16, 2014

Dear School Board Members-

I am a North Portland resident. My husband and I have a daughter in 3rd grade and a son in 1st grade at Buckman Arts Focus Elementary. We also have a daughter who is scheduled to start kindergarten in Fall 2016. I write to urge you to retain sibling preferences in the lottery for intra-district transfers. The proposed policy as revised is still somewhat ambiguous on this point, although it is an improvement on the prior version (I have reviewed the proposed changes).

Requiring families to take their children to two separate elementary schools makes no logistical sense. It will create unnecessary burdens for families, disrupt the formation of supportive family and parent communities in schools and alienate people who would otherwise be supporters of the Portland Public schools. Moreover, it’s implausible that tinkering with the lottery system in this fashion will solve the actual problems that are creating inequity in the school district. The fact that the Superintendent and the Board have approached the problem with this as part of the solution makes me question both your near-term priorities and overall stance on inequities in the school system.

I am well aware the public schools in Oregon have struggled with funding for at least fifteen years and this is a reflection of state and federal legislative challenges. It is not this Superintendent or School Board’s sole responsibility to fix a system that has failed to prioritize public school education, making Oregon’s education system weak even in a country that largely fails to recognize the needs of working families, racial and ethnic minorities and people living in poverty when it comes to schooling. We all live with a tax scheme and other incentives skewed towards corporations and a few wealthy individuals. We are truly in a system where the 1% have taken 99 of 100 available cookies and are looking at the rest of us: public schools, health care, the environment, anti-poverty programs and saying “watch out, she’s going to get your cookie!” But given all that, why would you undertake a narrow remedial measure whose only measurable effect, relative to the scope of the problem, is to tick off people who are doing their best to support the public schools?

Allow me to explain why my children are in the lottery and a little bit of our experience as a PPS family.

Our neighborhood K-5 is Sitton, although we are actually closer to James John. When we went to the kindergarten round-up at Sitton they said they had no aftercare program on site. My husband and I both worked full time in or near downtown Portland. The parent representative told us that they were trying to fundraise to get approximately $5000 for a better sign out in front of the school. At James John they had no aftercare and the kindergarten teacher was rude and dismissive about my concern that my kindergartener would be released at 2:30 and I had a full time job. Individual schools and teachers cannot fix the overall failure of this country to recognize that children in school have parents who work, but it would better to treat parents as allies instead of inconveniences.

We literally and figuratively won the lottery by getting our eldest child into Buckman. We had a school with not just a robust arts program, but reliable, quality aftercare, reasonable proximity to my workplace and my husband’s and an involved parent community. What our school doesn’t have is enough of the most basic school supplies, low student teacher ratios, a PE teacher or enough money to actually sustain the program they have without raising $100,000 of money from parents every year. The fact that all parents have to show up on the first day of school (not just at Buckman, but most places) with two reams of photocopy paper that goes straight to the office tells me pretty much what I need to know about school funding. I am fortunate that I can afford #2 pencils, sanitizing wipes and crayons. Not all the parents in Buckman (or Sitton, or James John) can. But it’s money that I can’t then give to the Foundation and the PTA. Compared to raising $5000 for a sign (which PPS apparently can’t provide), the Buckman community is fortunate enough to raise money to support the staff. But every year is a constant fire drill with an exhausting round of fundraising events and the Foundation pleading for money at every assembly.

In the time that my family has been at Buckman, parents from lottery families have served as PTA officers, Foundation officers and room parents as well as basic classroom volunteers. Incidentally, basic classroom volunteer duties may include supervising “run-walk,” which is part of children’s required PE. Because there is no PE teacher, the classroom teachers take the kids outside to run laps around the school. If there aren’t enough adults between teachers, aides (a rare luxury) and parents, there’s no run-walk.

None of the above even touches on the academic quality of a PPS education. My understanding is that Sitton, James John, George Middle School and Roosevelt High School all have sundry challenges, reflected in their scores. The academic experience is a complex topic in itself and I’m aware that ratings fluctuate and don’t always reflect the learning experience of any given student. But it’s clear that the educational quality varies widely within the district, depending in part on which schools a child attends. And I even recognize that it’s not an easy solution to say “Well, if you don’t want parents fleeing any particular neighborhood school, maybe make sure the neighborhood school doesn’t make people want to flee!”

What Part of the Problem is Your "Solution" Fixing?

But I ask you to consider: what problem are you fixing by even suggesting that I should take a kindergartener to Sitton in far North Portland while simultaneously getting a 5th and 3rd grader to Buckman in near Southeast in Fall 2016? My children are fortunate to live with two parents who have reliable cars and flexible work schedules. Not every child does. Any parent in that situation who couldn’t be in two places at once would have some very tough decisions to make. Dividing families’ attention and resources between two Foundations, two PTAs, two principals and two school cultures would serve no good purpose either.

Assuming my family could manage all that, how soon would it be before the Sitton parent community would be raising more than $5000 to fill whatever enormous gaps there are from the General Fund? There’s not much relationship between moving my family and half a dozen other neighborhood families around and filling the actual needs of neighborhood schools. (Other families who are not attending Sitton or James John are sending their kids to MLC, Emerson, Chapman, The Village School, private school or Skyline, meaning some would be affected by your “fix” and some would not). There’s almost certainly no relationship between eliminating a sibling preference and the ability of the public schools to provide copy paper much less a PE teacher and a teacher student ratio of less than 28:1. There is definitely no relationship between where I send one out of three of my children and where low income families in the District can afford to live.

Intradistrict income and racial diversity problems in PPS are significant. Buckman may be atypical, but it has many families who speak English as a second language as well families who qualify for free or reduced lunch, as well as families who make generous donations to the Foundation. The Board and the Superintendent have an incredibly difficult, even insurmountable task in trying to offer all students a quality education and I thank you for your work. I realize the sibling preference isn’t the only issue before the Board, but that you could even start down this road with all the other problems facing PPS raises some serious credibility questions. When faced with the Plague, why are you buying Band-Aids?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Merkley to introduce new LGBT anti-discrimination law

December 16, 2014 - 7:47am

Senator Merkley is taking his fight against discrimination further.

He has announced that he plans to expand ENDA -- which is limited to employment discrimination -- and introduce a comprehensive LGBT anti-discrimination bill in the next Congress.

He told TIME magazine:

It can’t be right that people are thrown out of their rental housing because of their LGBT status or can be denied entry to a movie theater or to a restaurant. That simply is wrong and we need to take on this broader agenda.

His bill would cover housing, public accomodations, financial transactions, employment, and more. In his announcement, as reported by the Washington Blade, Merkley said:

Last year, we passed in the Senate employment non-discrimination, but isn’t it time to do what Oregon did in 2007 and so many other states have done and pass a law that broadly prohibits discrimination throughout the world of the individual, as Eleanor Roosevelt put it, so that housing is covered, financial transactions are covered, public accommodations, restrooms, theaters are covered?” Merkley said. “If discrimination is wrong in marriage, it’s wrong in employment. If it’s wrong in employment, it’s wrong in housing. If it’s wrong in housing, it’s wrong in financial transactions and public accommodations.

According to the Center for American Progress, there are, amazingly, 14 states where you can get married -- but you can also get fired just for being gay.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

On the Meet the Press, Ron Wyden takes on Dick Cheney on torture

December 15, 2014 - 10:45am

In the wake of the CIA torture report, Senator Ron Wyden is calling for a new federal law that would permanently ban all agencies of the federal government -- particularly, the CIA -- from engaging in torture.

On Meet the Press yesterday, Wyden made it clear -- this isn't a partisan issue, and it's not a matter of opinion:

Facts aren't partisan, Chuck. We reviewed six million pages of documents, the full report has 38,000 footnotes. And what we've thought to do was very careful. And that is to take the statements the C.I.A. made to the American people, made to the Congress, made to the Justice Department, made to the president, and we compared it to their own internal communications in real time. There are a mountain of contradictions.

Right now, the Army Field Manual bans torture, but it only applies to the military. President Obama issued an executive order barring the intelligence agencies from using torture, but another president could reverse it easily.

The former vice president, Dick Cheney, also appeared on Meet the Press saying that he'd use torture again "in a minute". And it's not just former Bush administration officials. Just last week, the current CIA director, John Brennan, made it clear that they still consider torture a possible tactic for future use. Senator Wyden:

But what I'm especially troubled by is John Brennan on Thursday really opened the door to the possibility of torture being used again. And that's why it's so important that our report come out.


Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Federal court rules that crimes-against-humanity trial can proceed against Scott Lively, former head of Oregon Citizens Alliance

December 11, 2014 - 11:30am

In 1992, the Oregon Citizens Alliance -- led by Scott Lively -- pushed Measure 9, which would have declared homosexuality a "perversion" and required Oregon schools to teach it as on par with pedophilia. Thankfully, it failed. But not after a major fight.

Today, Scott Lively lives in Massachusetts, where he ran a quixotic campaign for Governor in 2014 (winning 0.9% of the vote). He may not be influential in Oregon or Massachusetts, but he is the guy who helped fire up anti-gay animus in Uganda -- ultimately leading to its law that provides for a death penalty for homosexuality. a proposed law that would have created a death penalty for homosexuality, but was later reduced to only a life prison sentence. Sigh.

Last year, Lively was sued in federal court for crimes against humanity. Last week, a three-judge federal appeals panel ruled that his trial in federal district court could proceed, saying that his request to throw the case out did not show a need for "extraordinary relief."

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Oregon is Plenty Big Enough to Make Polluters Pay

December 10, 2014 - 9:02am

Monday, Portland State University's Northwest Economic Research Center delivered their report on carbon pricing for Oregon. As reported in The Oregonian:

Taxing greenhouse gas emitters in Oregon could significantly reduce air pollution, without harming Oregon’s economy. The $60 per ton rate would put Oregon in a position to meet the Legislature’s goal of reducing emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels within the next five years. Without a tax, statewide emissions are expected to rise nearly 15 percent above 1990 levels by 2020.

To recap: pricing carbon pollution (and other greenhouse gases) is by far the most effective and efficient way to fight global warming. Fortune 500 companies are already building their future business models presuming there will be a price on such pollution.

Oregon’s Global Warming Commission, in its report to the 2013 legislature, wrote:

“only an economy-wide signal – a carbon [pollution] cap or carbon [pollution] tax – will truly change the rules of the game in meaningful ways... not only ramping down vehicle and power plant emissions in predictable, scheduled, systematic and non‐disruptive ways, but also – and more importantly – releasing the creative genius of American inventors, businesses and yes, even our oft‐maligned – and often deservedly ‐ financial wizards, onto the problem. When we do this as a country, there is little we cannot accomplish. And through the kind of ingenuity a clear carbon signal would unleash we will do it at a cost far lower than we can guess at today. With collateral benefits we can’t yet know. We just have to decide to do it.

Asked about pricing pollution, Governor John Kitzhaber made a curious comment in The Statesman Journal: “I don't think you can have an effective carbon market with a state of less than 4 million people.”

Here’s a list of are just a few of the 39 jurisdictions that already price carbon pollution, most of whom have been doing so for years:

Boulder, Colorado, population 101,166
Iceland, population 323,000
Alberta, population 4.1 million
New Zealand, population 4.5 million
Ireland, population 4.6 million
British Columbia, population 4.6 million
Costa Rica, population 4.9 million
Norway, population 5.1 million
Finland, population 5.4 million
Denmark, population 5.6 million

Here’s Sightline Institute’s awesome animated map tracking the growth in carbon pollution pricing. It shows in the next few years, a quarter of the world's carbon pollution will have a cost attached to it.

There’s significant variation in how the carbon pollution pricing systems work, what’s covered, and what prices are charged. Clearly, Oregonians have a panoply of options to choose the system that’s right for us. Various options would boost job growth.

There may be political reasons Oregon won't go ahead on making polluters pay. But saying Oregon’s population is too small doesn't hold water.

That said, I'll make a deal.

Let’s take Governor Kitzhaber’s statement at its face: no pollution pricing while Oregon has fewer than four million residents.

But the moment Oregon’s population breaks four million (which admittedly may happen in the next few months), we’ll start to make polluters pay for global warming pollution, creating billions of dollars in revenue while improving fairness and economic signals. Deal?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Wyden speaks out on CIA torture report

December 10, 2014 - 6:00am

On Tuesday, Senator Ron Wyden took to the Senate floor to discuss the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on the use of torture as an interrogation tactic.

Wyden repeatedly took the CIA to task for misleading Congress with regard to the effectiveness of "enhanced interrogation." The report looked at 20 specific cases where the CIA had claimed that torture was the only way to get critical information.

In every one of these 20 cases, CIA statements about the unique effectiveness of coercive interrogation was contradicted in one way or another by the agency's own internal records. And we're not talking about minor inconsistencies. ... In every one of these 20 examples, the arguments for them crumble under close scrutiny.

In a statement, Wyden said:

While I understand this is a dangerous world and am grateful to the rank-and-file intelligence professionals that keep our country safe, the facts show that torture did nothing to protect America from foreign threats.

The current CIA leadership has been alarmingly resistant to acknowledging the full scope of the mistakes and misrepresentations that surrounded this program for so many years. I hope this report is the catalyst CIA leaders need to acknowledge that torture did not work and close this disgraceful chapter in our country’s history.

Senator Wyden also spoke with NPR's All Things Considered.

There's an excellent summary of the report available from the National Journal.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Yes on 92 campaign files suit to demand 4600 additional ballots be counted

December 9, 2014 - 9:45am

Well, the recount isn't going well. Multnomah County has completed its count, and added only 25 votes to the YES tally.

Statewide, 29 of 36 counties are done -- and the net shift is +1 for the YES side. With an 812-vote margin, the outcome isn't going to change.

Proponents, however, aren't done. They've filed a lawsuit asking that some 4600 ballots be counted, even though the signatures on the envelopes didn't match the ones on file. Their argument is compelling, though novel.

From the O's Michelle Brence:

Measure 92 supporters say elections officials should have informed voters that their signature must match the one on file for their ballot to be counted. They accuse the state of rejecting valid ballots that show no evidence of fraud.

"These votes are simply dumped. They're not believed to be fraudulent. It's a standard put in place out of fear, and it's a burden to voters," Paige Richardson, the measure's campaign manager, said according to The Associated Press.

Peter Wong at the Capital Press gets into the details of the complaint:

Christine Seals, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement that she has been using a stamp as her legal signature — and it was only after this election that officials said there was a problem.

“I take my right to vote very seriously, and I think it is very wrong that elections officials are disenfranchising me in this election because they’ve suddenly decided not to accept my stamp,” she said. “That is why I am joining this lawsuit. I cast a valid ballot, and it should be counted.”

Some said they were never told their ballot would not be counted, or that they tried to offer their signatures but were rejected.

This seems like a big gamble. But if it works, it's going to pay off big.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Uber vs. Portland: Who's right?

December 9, 2014 - 7:00am

On Friday night, Uber announced that it would start offering rides in Portland -- without completing negotiations with Portland over licensing, insurance, etc. On Monday afternoon, the City of Portland filed a lawsuit asking a Court to order Uber to stop operating.

I don't know about you, but my social media feeds have been raging back and forth -- with progressives coming down on both sides. A pair of sample posts:

So... what do I hate more? Uber's shady business practices or bureaucratic red tape that restricts a necessary public good? In this case, it's the latter. Thank goodness for disruptive technology.

Until Uber and ALL OTHER mini-cab services are willing to comply with negotiated union wages and rates and guarantee both wages and health/welfare on the one side and passenger safety on the other side I am no go.

Here's what Commissioner Steve Novick -- who runs the Portland Bureau of Transportation had to say:

If Uber thinks there should be no maximum price on what they charge Portlanders, they should make their case to the Portland City Council. If Uber thinks taxi companies shouldn’t have to serve people with disabilities, they should make their case. If Uber thinks taxis should not have to have proper insurance in case of a crash, they should tell us why we should allow that.

And here's what you'll find on the official Support Uber Portland petition:

The bottom line is this: Drivers deserve an opportunity to earn a living and Portlanders deserve a safe, hassle-free transportation option. And we will fight for you to have that right until it’s a reality.

I see merit in both sides of the argument. So, dear readers, I want to hear from you. Is Uber a good or bad thing? Is the way that Uber entered the Portland market an acceptable or unacceptable approach? Is the City's lawsuit an appropriate response or no?

Talk to me, folks.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

What you need to know about the Graduate Teaching Fellows strike at UO

December 5, 2014 - 12:03pm

By Chris Wig of Eugene, Oregon. Chris is a political organizer and mental health worker, serves as vice chair of the Democratic Party of Lane County, and earned his master's degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.

Thousands of students from around the world choose to attend the University of Oregon—our state’s flagship university—because it’s a great place to learn the skills they need to participate in the 21st Century workforce. Apparently, it’s also a place where approximately 1,500 graduate teaching fellows (GTFs) work for less than a living wage without access to any paid sick leave.

And that’s about to change.

On December 2, a cold Tuesday morning, the GTFs declared a strike and took to the picket line after more than a year of intense negotiations with the university administration failed to produce a fair contract.

The crux of the disagreement is a familiar and controversial topic in Eugene—paid sick time. The GTFs have been negotiating for two weeks of paid sick and parental leave, while the administration countered by offering two weeks of “flex time,” which isn’t paid. The two sides almost reached an 11th hour compromise which would have placed $150,000 into a “graduate student hardship fund;” however university administrators were unwilling to write the fund into the GTFs contract, leading the GTFs to strike.

Ironically, the GTFs’ argument for paid sick and parental leave is based in no small part on research conducted by Dr. Scott Coltrane, who now serves as interim president of the university. In the December 2013 issue of The Atlantic, Coltrane wrote, “new policies should focus on wage replacement and ensuring fair treatment of parents in the workplace, regardless of gender,” and “any costs associated with taking paternal leave will be outweighed by potential gains.”

Throughout the first days of the strike, the GTFs have received a great deal of community support. Members of the Associated Students of the University of Oregon—the UO student government—and Student Labor Action project organized a “solidarity study-in” outside the university president’s office. Several elected officials spoke at the GTFs’ ‘Ready to Strike’ rally Monday night, including Majority Leader Val Hoyle, Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson, Mayor Kitty Piercy and City Councilor Claire Syrett; Sen. Michael Dembrow joined the picket line on the second morning of the strike. Many members of labor and political organizations, including American Federation of Teachers, Oregon Education Association, Oregon AFL-CIO, SEIU Local 503 and Sublocal 085, United Academics, the Democratic Party of Lane County and University of Oregon College Democrats have joined the picket line or sent letters of support.

So what can you do to help the GTFs achieve a fair contract with paid sick and parental leave?

To learn more about the GTFs and the strike, check out the GTFF website and Facebook page. For a solid overview of events leading up to the strike, read this article at Inside Higher Ed. You can find by far the most comprehensive coverage of the strike—complete with primary source documents—at the UO Matters blog.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Multnomah County leads the way with a new $15/hr minimum wage for all county employees

December 5, 2014 - 6:00am

Thursday morning, the Multnomah County Commission bumped the minimum wage for all county employees to $15 an hour.

It had been expected that the county would approve a new three-year contract with AFSCME Local 88 to make $15 the wage floor, but in a surprise move, County Chair Deborah Kafoury extended the new wage scale to all other non-union county employees, including temporary workers.

The Mercury's Dirk Vanderhart has the details:

That deal: A phased-in wage, with the county's minimum wage brought to $13 as of January, $14 beginning in July, and $15 in July 2016. The county estimates the increases will cost: $19,905 for the first half of 2015; $85,832 for the year the wage is at $14; and $198,285 for the first year of $15 (a presidential election year heavy on seasonal elections employees).

Will the City of Portland follow suit? According to the city, bumping all temporary and seasonal workers (mostly in Parks) to $15/hour would cost close to $3 million to cover a couple thousand employees. Last month, seasonal parks rangers (a very small segment of Parks workers) won a $15.83 starting wage as part of a new contract.

It certainly seems that momentum is starting to shift, after a long period of inaction.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Rev. Jesse Jackson leads Ferguson protest in Portland, followed by clashes with police

November 30, 2014 - 6:00am

On Saturday night, a small group of protestors and police clashed in downtown Portland. The activists were gathered to bring attention to issues of police brutality and racism, as once again brought to the nation's attention by the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Earlier in the afternoon, Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to a larger crowd in Portland.

The following is video from a live report in the 11 p.m. hour by KOIN's Joel Iwanaga and includes video of the Jackson's speech and interview.

Were you in Portland during any of the protests over the last several days -- either as a participant or an observer? What do you see, hear, and experience?

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Charlie Hales Propane Scheme Contradicts Portland's Climate Action Plan

November 29, 2014 - 9:00am

By Hart Noecker of Portland, Oregon. Hart is a filmmaker and livable streets activist.

This September, a few noteworthy news stories broke that seemed to escape public consciousness. One was on Portland winning global honors for it's Climate Action Plan.

From a city press release:

Portland is among 10 cities worldwide to receive the C40 City Climate Leadership Awards 2014. Portland is developing 'complete neighborhoods' to give all residents safe and convenient access to the goods and services needed in daily life. In 2012, 45 percent of the Portland population lived in complete neighborhoods, a figure which the city aims to raise to 80 percent by 2035. The city’s ambitious and successful initiative shows a unique and valuable pathway to sustainable, resilient, and low carbon communities.

Naturally, our mayor Charlie Hales seized the moment to pat his city on the back:

Portland stands proudly alongside the global megacities that make up the C40.We're delighted to have the honor and recognition that the Portland’s Healthy Connected City approach has proven to be a powerful carbon-reduction strategy.

There's just one problem with his words here. When contrasted to other statements Hales has made, they ring totally hollow.

Another story published in September was news that fossil fuel giant Pembina plans to build a bulk terminal in North Portland that would transfer 37,000 barrels of propane a day. As reported by the Oregonian:

Pembina Pipeline Corp.'s terminal in the Rivergate Industrial District would mean 1.3 mile-long trains full of propane passing through Portland every other day. Up to 30 million gallons would be stored on site. Massive tankers full of the fuel would transit the Columbia River two or three times a month.

Naturally, our mayor seized the moment to support the announcement:

This is great news. We welcome this investment and these jobs in Portland. The city is committed to growing our economy on the land we already have, and holding industry to very high environmental and public safety standards. This proposal meets these goals.

Sorry, Charlie. You can't have it both ways.

Either Hales is serious about Portland's climate action plan - or he isn't. He can't support carbon reductions and dangerous new fossil fuel terminals at the same time. Propane is highly explosive, and we've seen deadly disasters in recent years as extraction from fracking has increased. The site of this terminal is in a flood zone, and is predicted by geologists to undergo "catastrophic ground movement in an earthquake greater than 6.0 magnitude".

Even when combusted intentionally, propane is a massive contributor of carbon to the atmosphere. Burning the 37,000 barrels of propane Pembina wants to pipe through town translates to 9,883 tons of CO2 - each and every day. The average car (12k miles/year, 25.5 mpg) produces 8320 pounds of CO2 annually -- or 22.8 pounds daily. 9883 tons is 19,766,000 pounds. Divide that by 22.8 and you get 867,138 cars. 37,000 barrels of propane a day is the same as putting 867,138 cars on the road every day. In our growing climate crisis, it is unacceptable for Portland's mayor to be throwing his support behind new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Our climate action plan, unfortunately, doesn't go nearly far enough in securing a safe path for our city's future, but it does clearly state the proper intention. Hales needs to choose which side of history he wants to be on. If our mayor supports the Climate Action Plan, he needs to withdrawal support for the Pembina propane terminal.

Public testimony on the terminal is scheduled for January 13th. A rally in opposition to the terminal will likely take place that morning outside city hall.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Thanksgiving Thoughts on Measure 92

November 25, 2014 - 9:13am

The final results of Measure 92, which would require the labeling of genetically engineered food, are in:

No 753,473 50.03%
Yes 752,664 49.97%

Difference 809

The morning after Election Night, the No lead was almost 46,000 votes. This has shriveled as virtually every county’s late votes have come in at a higher Yes rate than the earlier ones. This photo finish is well below the approximately 3,000 threshold required to kick in a state recount, which should begin on or around Tuesday, Dec. 2 and end within two weeks.

To be sure, it’s challenging to reverse a decision. An 809 vote difference out of 1.5 million ballots is miniscule, but still formidable when considering Oregon’s clean election system. With this many votes, however, it’s almost inevitable there will be some human and machine error. For example, the 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State initially found Dino Rossi winning by 261 votes, but the recount gave Christine Gregoire the final victory by 129 votes.

Most media coverage of Measure 92 has been about the numbers, which are certainly riveting. But what’s missing is the human element, the untold story that’s the foundation for everything that’s happened.

On the last day that voters could correct their ballots, Tuesday, Nov. 18, I was canvassing in Yamhill County, seeking people who were supportive to ask them to correct their mismatched or missing signatures.

It hadn’t been going well. Many people weren’t home, so all I could do was leave a note asking them to drive to the elections office in McMinnville to take corrective action by 5:00 p.m., a real long shot since many were working. Moreover, I had made several wrong turns on way-out-there dirt roads and was cursing the inadequacy of Google maps in the hills of Oregon wine country.

Then, on my next-to-last stop around 3:00, I met Casey. He lived in a small, well-worn home and was watching a basketball game on TV when he answered the door. I explained that he’d forgotten to sign his ballot, the election was extremely close, every vote counted, and could he please drive to McMinnville before 5:00 to validate his ballot?

He listened, looked sympathetically at me, and said, “You know, you’ve come all the way out here just to talk to me. The least I can do is go sign my ballot.”

All I could blurt out was repeated thank you’s and “You just made my day” as I floated away with the thought that at least I got ONE confirmed Yes for the day.

But once I got in my car, the inevitable doubts descended. Yeah, he said he’d go to McMinnville just to send me away happy, but he’ll probably just go back to his game on TV.

After my last stop, (sigh, no one home again), I drove to the elections office myself to meet my contact person to give her my list of names and results. And as I walked in, there was Casey at the counter, an hour before the deadline, waiting to sign his ballot. I called his name and thanked him profusely again. He just looked at me and smiled. This Casey hadn’t struck out.

Here’s to all the Casey’s of Oregon, who talk to strangers at their door, then go the extra mile (in this case, miles, literally) to exercise their right to vote for what they believe in, the right that so many people worked and died for.

And here’s to all the hundreds of Yes on 92 volunteers, who spent hours in the wind and cold, and, in central Oregon, tons of snow. Volunteers like Martha, who drove down from Seattle to make phone calls and go door-to-door for four days, even as far as Benton County, where the campaign needed her most. Volunteers like Lucinda, who called the Secretary of State’s office herself, got the list of voters with invalid ballots in western Washington County, all 179 of them, and went out to meet them on her own.

Here’s to all the people who place principle over profit, enthusiasm over cynicism, hope over despair.

And here’s to Oregon, a state that allows, no, encourages these shining stars of humanity.

As I write this, it’s still a few days to Thanksgiving, but I don’t think I could feel any more grateful than I do right now.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Merkley explains to Fed official: Ending too-big-to-jail means "putting people in jail"

November 25, 2014 - 7:00am

OK, this is just a little bit awesome. On Friday, the President of the New York Fed, William Dudley, appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection -- and our own Senator Jeff Merkley.

In his opening statement, Dudley claimed that "too big to jail" is no longer the way things work. That's the opening that Merkley was looking for. Especially since the number of people who have gone to jail is exactly... zero.

The whole video is just truly epic -- but this is the segment that's the big highlight:

William Dudley: I think we've actually set a new precedent that no bank is too big to be found guilty if they've committed a crime.

Jeff Merkley: OK, but that doesn't involve jail. 'Jail' involves putting people in jail. Ordinary Americans would find it fascinating that this plea agreement which basically involved a financial payment -- a fine -- constitutes ending too-big-to-jail if nobody is going to jail.

Watch the video:

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Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

It's official: Measure 92 heads to recount with No leading by 809 votes

November 24, 2014 - 10:24pm

The Secretary of State has confirmed what we've suspected might happen -- Measure 92 is going to a recount.

The final unofficial count is 752,664 votes in favor and 753,473 votes against -- an 809-vote difference. That's 49.973% for Yes and 50.027% for No. That 0.054% margin is well under the 0.2% margin that triggers a formal recount under Oregon law. In Oregon, a recount is a full statewide every-single-ballot recount.

While 809 votes out of 1.5 million cast is a tiny margin, it's very rare for recounts to change the outcome of elections.

In 2008, Oregon had a statewide recount for Measure 53 (civil forfeiture). In that case, the initial margin was nearly the same -- 0.056%. After the recount, the winning side expanded it's margin to 0.070%.

According to FairVote.org, there have been only 22 statewide recounts nationwide since 2000. Of those, just three changed the outcome. The median shift was just 0.015% in either direction.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Whose life matters?

November 24, 2014 - 8:40pm

It’s just a couple of hours after the announcement that Darren Wilson gets off free for the murder of Michael Brown — and yes, that’s how I see it. An armed cop against a kid with no gun, and he blew him away. And in the aftermath of the prosecutor announcing that his grand jury would not bring any charges against Wilson, many are asking, “Do black lives matter?” While I understand why that question matters, and why it matters tonight, in the big picture, it’s not the right question.

The right question is, “Whose life matters?”

Every day, white kids die and no one gives a damn. White kids are shot with guns – by their parents, by their siblings, by themselves – and our country does fuck-all about it.

Every day, white kids die of preventable diseases. Some are killed by idiot parents; some are killed by government policies that sanction the slow, torturous death of starvation. White kids are beaten to death. They are slaughtered in so many different ways, every day.

Each day, white men by the dozens take a gun and end their struggle with depression, anger, substance abuse, and mental illness, spurned by a medical establishment that gives them no regard.

Every day, white people die in hundreds of stupid and easily preventable ways, but our corporate overlords have an obligation to profits that makes human lives expendable. Another item on the ledger sheet.

It’s not just white lives that are disposed of daily in such horrific manner. It’s white, brown, black, red, yellow, and every other shade possible of human skin color. Some peoples in some places – Native Americans on their reservations, for example – are more likely to die of certain causes. Some people in other places – a black teenager walking on the street at night in just about any damn town – invite the fear and bigotry of law officers to manifest a justice system that is no such thing.

The question shouldn’t be, do black lives matter? Of course they do, otherwise the outcry over Michael’s murder wouldn’t be as loud, long and anguished as it is. Millions of white Americans actually do care about black lives. Millions of white Americans care about all lives, as do millions of Americans of every ethnic background.

All lives matter. The human race just happens to value other things as well, and that gives too many people an excuse to kill and to condone killing. Today, an unjust set of laws in the hands of a prosector who didn’t want to indict a white cop condones the unjustifiable murder of a teenager with black skin. That death happened months ago, and today we learn that there will be no justice for Michael Brown and his family.

There will be no justice for thousands of other Americans who die today because not enough of us give a damn to do anything about it. Black men and white men have been gunned down by cops in Portland without justification and without justice. People of every ethnic background will suffer poverty, deprivation, dehumanization, illness, homelessness, and death in Portland; and we won’t do much about it. Rage against the injustice in Ferguson. Lament how awful life can be. Decry the lack of justice in America. But don’t actually do something meaningful.

Tonight, in Washington, DC, President Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two white men and one black, murdered 50 years ago in Mississippi as they worked for civil rights. How bizarre, and maybe how appropriate, that they were honored on the same day Darren Wilson’s crime was washed away by a prosecutor in Missouri.

The murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner helped lead to the passing of the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act. Let’s hope Michael Brown’s murder results in more than anger, despair, and injustice.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs

Tim Hibbits: Measure 92 going to a recount

November 20, 2014 - 11:34am

According to pollster Tim Hibbits, the Measure 92 campaign is headed for a recount. Hibbits had previously declared -- on the day after election day -- that it had failed. From KPTV:

After analyzing the final election returns released by 15 counties on Wednesday, Hibbitts noticed a trend that had a higher percentage of "yes" votes than previous returns.

This also comes as the Yes on 92 campaign has been reaching out to 13,000 voters whose ballots had signature problems and weren't counted.

The Secretary of State's office released the names of contested ballots for the first time this year and Hibbitts said that could be playing a role in making the margin even closer.

“The only thing I'm certain about right now is there will be a recount,” said Hibbitts. “The margin of error is 3,000. I'm completely comfortable it's going to be way inside of that; we are going to go to a recount.”

This latest development does not include more than 13,000 ballots still being counted in Multnomah, Lane and Deschutes counties.

Wow. It still seems to me that the gap is too large -- but if Hibbits is right, we could be in for a long slog ahead.

Categories: Blue Oregon Blogs