Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"May God save the country, for it is evident that the people will not." -- Millard Fillmore
One of the ongoing discussions about the Portland Streetcar is whether it is faster to walk or take the streetcar. When I want to travel along the streetcar's route downtown, I trot briskly along the route until a streetcar catches up with me, or until I catch up with the streetcar, or until I get to my destination. Usually I beat the streetcar. Every time I follow the tracks, I notice others also jogging or walking briskly along the route, apparently with the same purpose.
Twenty years ago I visited the Multnomah Kennel Club and watched the greyhounds run around the circuit, chasing a mechanical rabbit that's pulled along a channel next to the track. It struck me today as I noticed people trotting along the rail line that the Portland Streetcar is not primarily a means of transportation, nor is it mainly a subsidy to lucky if inept contractors and suppliers.
It's a public health measure, designed to not to move people from Point A to Point B, but to improve the cardiovascular fitness of downtown workers and residents who strive to outpace the trolleycar.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has attracted some public attention but hasn't really done anything to achieve its goals. (Actually, it's not clear to me what its goals are, or even if it has any particular goals.) Its activities seem designed to get the attention of local government but not to have much effect on the people and institutions it's complaining about.
Although I'm on the outskirts of the group against which Occupy Wall Street is protesting, I like to see protests done right -- call it an artistic sensibility if you wish. In that vein, I'd like to propose a change in approach.
The problem with occupying Wall Street is that Wall Street, in the sense against which Occupy Wall Street is protesting, is a concept -- a network of people and relationships -- and not a physical place. Yet all they are doing is occupying the physical place. Instead of occupying Wall Street, they should preoccupy Wall Street.
Preoccupy Wall Street? Yes! The PWS movement, as yet unstaffed (I'm inventing it, not joining it), will take as its mission to distract from its tasks those parts of the financial world that got us into this mess, and the senators and representatives who stood by and enabled it, by preoccupying them with responding to the citizens whose lives they've upended. Here are some ways that the PWS movement can preoccupy Wall Street:
1. Call up Phil Gramm at UBS AG and ask him if he still thinks that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act was a good idea. (That's the act that legitimized incest between banks and investment banks.) If your senator or representative was in office in 1999 and voted for Gramm-Leach-Bliley, call him or her and ask the same question.
2. Leave a message for your favorite bank president, asking if he or she favors deregulating deposit insurance and letting the marketplace set the rates for deposit insurance so that bad banks have to pay more or go without deposit insurance.
3. Buy a large supply of old Zimbabwean bank notes (the ones that have denominations as high as $100,000,000,000,000 because of hyperinflation and economic collapse). Then pick a day and hire every bike messenger in lower Manhattan to deliver them to the offices of investment bankers, one at a time throughout the day.
4. Call your least favorite bank and ask what rate it will charge you to lend you money to speculate in the stock market. Then ask if that's the same rate it would have offered MF Global before it collapsed on Hallowe'en. (Trick or treat!)
5. Send a note to the offices of some of the 61 members of the House Committee on Financial Services, and ask them if they'll forswear contributions from officers and directors of the institutions they regulate until the mess has been cleaned up and banks have stopped going under. Its members include Michael Capuano and Brad Miller, about whom I've written before. You can even ask Michelle Bachmann what she thinks -- she's a member also!
6. Participants away from Washington and New York can visit the district offices of the nearest members of the Committee, and explain their feelings on their elected representatives accepting gifts from the culprits.
7. Get a thousand or two people together at Wall Street (or its functional equivalent) and have everyone place cell phone calls at the same time, right before the stock market opens. See if everyone can get through.
Many other ways exist to creatively annoy Wall Street that don't require a tent and a portable toilet, and that will get attention of the industry and its regulators more effectively. Don't occupy Wall Street -- preoccupy it!
I"ll have a more serious thought on the national debt ceiling in a while, but it struck me yesterday that as our nation's elected senators and representatives like to spend beyond their means (Republicans as well as Democrats, but with different priorities) even as they decry our deficit, they could join in the commitment to reduce the deficit by making a small symbolic sacrifice. The constitution does not mandate any particular size for the House of Representatives -- Congress fixes its size by law. There's no magic in the current number of 435 representatives,a nd Congress could pass a law to reduce the House of Representatives by, say, 20%, down to 338 members. The savings is small relative to the size of the budget, but it would be a tangible sign that they believe in the smaller government for which they have long been advocates.
The younger Laquedem cousins and I enjoyed last night's baseball game with gusto, not to mention the fireworks afterward. We did notice one oddity unrelated to the game itself. Organizations that support the armed forces and returned veterans were out in force for the Patriotic Weekend events. One of them gave each of the Laquedem cousins a U.S. Army pin, for them to wear in support of our military. What was odd about that? You've probably guessed already, but here's the photo anyway.
Tonight at the Fifth Annual Celebrity Spelling Bee of Schoolhouse Supplies, Margie Boule (a two-time winner) of the Oregonian finished a close second, yielding her title as spelling champ to Nicole Vogel, publisher of Portland Monthly. "Isosceles" was her downfall, and "diaphanous" (not a word usually associated with January clothing for Portlanders) gave Ms. Vogel the crown.
The celebrity contestants included two more members of the print media, Don Hamilton of the Tribune and Jonathan Nicholas of the Oregonian, and two broadcasters, Tony Martinez of KPTV and Pat Boyle from KPAM. When one of the broadcasters asked the judges if phonetic spellings would be accepted, Mrs. Laquedem commented that the print media people would no doubt outperform the broadcast people. And she was right: Messrs. Martinez and Boyle hit the ground early in the bee.
Mayor Potter was one of the other good-sport contestants, and Commissioner Adams was one of the two judges (the other was Rob Smith of the Business Journal), leading to a burst of laughter when, after being given a word he found challenging, the mayor intoned, "Commissioner Adams, what bureaus would you like?"
The crowd filled the Melody Ballroom, and the silent auction was a success for the organization and its new executive director, Nick Viele. Schoolhouse Supplies' mission is to collect supplies for the public schools and then to distribute them to teachers and classrooms. It has a simple and effective distribution method: a teacher who needs supplies goes to the warehouse, selects what he or she wants, and takes the goods back to the classroom -- all free. Mr. Viele said that a $6,000 cash gift can be stretched to buy $30,000 of supplies, good value for the dollar. And the spelling bee was great fun -- I secretly wished that I was one of the contestants, until the MC called the words "furfuraceous" and "oppugn." Look for the sixth annual Bee this time next year.
The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, operators of the casino at Kah-Nee-Tah, wants to build a casino in the Columbia River Gorge, either near Hood River or at Cascade Locks, 20 miles closer to Portland. Warm Springs needs the governor's approval to build at Cascade Locks, but not at Hood River, because the site near Hood River is tribal trust land. The Cascade Locks site is not.
Reading between the lines, Warm Springs strongly prefers Cascade Locks. The Hood River design is an 8-story casino with restaurants built into a hillside. The Cascade Locks design includes a casino and restaurants, and also shops, a pool, a spa, a conference center, and a hotel, none of which is apparently in the Hood River design.
Diane York, the Hood River county commissioner who presented the plans to the Gorge Commission, also prefers Cascade Locks to Hood River, and she may have good reasons for her choice. But I was struck by her comment that locating the casino in Hood River could be "disastrous, economically and scenically." (Her words, as quoted by the Oregonian on April 24.)
I understand how a casino could be disastrous scenically (which may be government-speak for "look ugly"). I don't know how it would be disastrous economically (meaning, maybe, cause Hood River County to lose jobs) if it's in one place in the county, but not if it's in another place. Any ideas?