Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Joint Terrorism Task Force decision for Portland is complicated, but a done deal

To say that the city's decision on whether to re-join the JTTF is a political hot potato is an understatement.  But, the city government has stepped up and gotten as close to a consensus as possible.  Dwight Holten, the US Attorney for Oregon, likes, and the ACLU of Oregon doesn't hate it.  The plan basically allows Police Chief Mike Neese to make decisions as to whether individual offers will be assigned to terrorism cases (which was outside of local control prior to 2005) and makes terrorism briefings from the feds to the locals easier.

It is likely that Dan Saltzman will vote against the measure for not going for enough.  Nick Fish won a lot of concessions from the rest of the council in terms of both stopping greater control of local police forces by the feds and removing more incendiary language from the resolution that Randy Leonard wanted.

Another blow for Righthaven

EFF describes the latest setback for Righthaven, the most despised of the copyright trolls.  Basically, Righthaven's business partner buys the rights to a copyright (usually pictures) and then assigns Righthaven the right to sue people (usually blogs) who use that picture.  Courts are now ruling that this scheme is no good.

The cost of open wifi

Apparently can be quite high.  This report out of Buffalo describes a man being arrested at gun point because someone used his open wifi connection to view child pornography.  I'm a firm believer in open wifi, so I hope I avoid the SWAT team.

Passing of a portland patriarch

The O's D.K. Row and Jeff Manning offer this great retrospective of Harold Schnitzer, who passed away today.  Schnitzer, who's family's name is almost synonymous with Portland, was one of the greatest philanthropists in the city.

New Orleans really is that bad

The New Statesman offers this in depth look at New Orlean's recent history of civil rights abuses.  Ugh.

Important supreme court decision

Today the Supreme Court wrote its opinion in AT & T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion.  This is probably the most important S. Ct. decision since Citizen's United, and shows some important things about the Court politically.  Once again, Justice Kennedy was the swing vote, siding with the conservatives (Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas) instead of the liberals (Breyer, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Kagan).

There are many ways to view this opinion, which in a nutshell is that federal laws regarding forced arbitration in consumer contracts pre-empt state laws.  There is the obvious Wall St. v. Main St. lens.  Others noted that the giant class action relating to Wal-Mart's discrimination against female employees will be greatly damaged by this decision.  On the other hand, this decision gives the federal government more power to regulate consumer contracts in favor of consumers, should they choose to do so.

My take is that this is another instance of the Supreme Court allocating powers to the federal government which previously belonged to the state government.  I see this decision as having a far reaching impact on consumers, as more areas which traditionally belong to state law, like foreclosures and the regulation of local commerce, will be pre-empted by federal law.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Texas to take away transgendered people's right to marry

Texas is going to attempt to take away transgendered people's right to marry (to have a sex change operation recognized prior to a marriage).  Gov. Rick Perry stated that they never intended to make that legal in the first place.

Indiana forensic toxicology lab not up to snuff

The Indiana state forensic toxicology is now admitting that 10% of all urine and blood tests which tested positive for marijuana were in error.  That means that 10% of all people convicted in the state for charges relating to ingesting marijuana were convicted in error.  Also, 10% error rate is reasonable doubt for those keeping score at home.

CA going after the "tax lady"

The California AG's office is pursuing the "tax lady" Roni Deutch for perpetrating a massive fraud on the state, by over promising and underdelivering on tax help.  The court's are buying it too, having already ordered her assets frozen, and now it looks like her repeated disregard for court injunctions against her business might earn her a jail sentence.

FICO is encouraging research into strategic defaults

So FICO is apparently shocked that people with otherwise good credit ratings are letting their credit ratings tank by going into "strategic default" on their mortgages, meaning that they are deciding not to pay the mortgage as opposed to paying it.  The reason being is that when your house is $100K upside down, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to pay your mortgage just to save your credit rating.  So now, FICO is offering analytics on who they believe will go into strategic default, so that mortgage holders can, I don't know, do nothing faster, I guess.  This is an interesting service, but it does not address what a lender could do to stop a strategic default that homeowners aren't already begging them to do (like a loan mod).

Eric Holder to look into illegal manipulation of gas prices

The US attorney general is going to form an Oil and Gas Fraud Working Group to determine if there has been illegal manipulations of the oil and gas commodities market.  Here is a good primer on how oil speculation works, and how it affects the price of gasoline.  The debate basically breaks along the lines of whether the high price of gas is a result of actual supply pressure or of market manipulation.

Monday, April 25, 2011

New McMenamin's opening next week downtown

The Portland Business Journal offers a peek inside.

Finally, affordable housing in South Waterfront

The city is finally breaking ground on the affordable housing project in the South Waterfront, which was part of the quid pro quo for the public development of the project.  The project, known as block 49, is going to focus on providing housing for veterans.

Home sales are up, but inventory is still through the roof

Reuters offers this report.  Of particular interest to me is the report that while there are about a million extra homes on the market right, and the fewest number of new homes being built since 1960, that number is about six million extra homes if you include houses in foreclosure.

Oregon Senate passes health insurance exchange bill

The governor supports it and it is going to the house.  The bill is an alternative to the health insurance exchanges set up by Obama's health care plan, and is criticized as being a handout to insurance companies for largely the same reasons.

MA high court rules that marijuana odor cannot provide reasonable suspicion of a crime

Findlaw offers the details here.  The operative issue is whether the odor of marijuana is evidence of a crime.  Since possession of less than an ounce is a civil in MA now, its odor cannot be evidence of crime.  For those keeping score, this has been the law in Oregon for some time.

Oregonian article detailing McCormick and Schmick deal

The O's Laura Gunderson, offers this great piece detailing the history of Tony Fertitta's buy-out offer of the Portland restaurant chain.  The battle over this has hardly just begun.

Google steals too

Google just lost $5 million in a patent lawsuit relating to some Android code.

Local business owner sent to jail for tax evasion

The O reports (and apparently no one has told them that gypsy is actually a racist term) that a local gypsy has been sent to jail for a year for tax evasion.  Bobbie Ephrem, a local car dealer and leader of the local Roma community, basically fought the law and the law won.  The IRS issued a jeopardy assessment against almost $3 million is assets taken from Ephrem in a dramatic raid in 2006.

Bobbie Ephrem, and his attorney, Marc Blackman, sued the government for a return of the money claiming that the jeopardy assessment against the money was not appropriate, and that the government was racially biased against Roma's, essentially punishing Mr. Ephrem for having a lot of cash laying around, which is part of the Roma (gypsy) heritage.  Ephrem won, and the feds had to pony up his dough.

However, he won the battle to lose the war, as the IRS, stinging a little from the defeat, sent in an informant to determine that the last tax return that Ephrem filed, in 2006 after the jeopardy assessment, understated his business revenue by about $1 million, leading to a tax liability of $109k.  While it is very uncommon for a person to go to jail for not paying taxes in the low six figures, when you go to war the IRS, you better win.

In depth profile of copyright troll

The Dallas Morning News offers this profile of Evan Stone, a real low rent copyright troll.  His justifications for pursuing these claims are interesting, if disingenuous.

No go for fancy bridge

Governors Kitzhaber and Gregoire announced today that the Columbia River Crossing will be a composite truss bridge, like the Glen Jackson (the I-205 bridge across the Willamette).  Critics favored a more iconic cable stay bridge, which would have added about $80 million to the price tag for the project, which is already highly questionable, and would have added time to the construction of the bridge.  But, now both states have to sell the bridge politically in order for the project to go forward.

This could be difficult, because, as the O's Steve Duin point out, it is highly unclear as to how Oregon will pay its share of the project without a major tax hike.  Additionally, the design aspect could be problematic.  The City of Portland strongly favored the cable stay design.  PORT's Jeff Jahn has already come out in support of nixing the whole project on design grounds (both aesthetically, and due to the composite truss design's alleged deficiencies in standing up to an earthquake).

There was no "right" decision on this issue, in the sense that any decision would have angered one contingency or the other, but picking the truss bridge over the cable stay makes it a tougher sell in Portland.  This is because the people who are going to be upset about the cost of the bridge are basically going against the project no matter what, as the design of the bridge is not a huge part of the cost, while other Portlanders who don't mind the cost do not want another ugly bridge.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Town which permits marijuana grows now subject to criminal investigation

The tiny town of Isleton is charing $25,000.00 a month for a permit to allow Delta Allied Growers to operate a 4,000 square foot grow operation.  Now, Sacramento County has subpoenaed the entire city government to the grand jury to talk about that, in preparation for criminal charges against the city.  Contra Costa County had previously threatened the same thing against Oakland, and this sounds like a dry run.

House to defend DOMA

If Obama won't do it, Boehner will (actually it will Paul Clement, house counsel).

Whitehouse wants more training for doctor's who prescribe painkillers

It is a well known fact that doctors don't go to school for long enough.  The whitehouse wants doctors to get more education on why OxyContin might be dangerous.

Think there are too many lawyers in Portland?

It will only take one earthquake to solve that problem.  The Multnomah County Courthouse is back in the news for the fact that it will collapse on itself in the event of an earthquake.  The county is responding by building a street car to Lake Oswego.  Just kidding, of course (although the streetcar vote, did, unsurprisingly, pass).  In fact, Deborah Kafoury, who has been an outspoken opponent of the streetcar to Lake O, is also the only person in local person who seems at all concerned about addressing the problem with the courthouse.

Google Offers will open in Portland

Google, having failed to buy Groupons, a website offering daily deals, will launch its competitor to Groupon in Portland.  As the daily deal wars heat up, I am rooting for the Portland Mercury's own Merc Perks.

Rajaratnam trial comes to a close

The government says he is overwhelmingly guilty, while the defense says the government witnesses are not credible.  We'll see what the jury thinks.

It's a good time to be a bank

Wells Fargo announced great 1st quarter profits, yet another bank which has offset mortgage losses with huge gains in consumer banking.

Gold at an all time high

Gold has pushed past $1,500 an ounce, largely fueled by inflation fears.

McCormick and Schmick's turns down Texas offer

The Board of Directors for the company turned the $125 million deal down, saying it wouldn't benefits shareholders.  Somehow, I doubt we've heard the last of this.

Police can now scan your phone from outside your car

This is making waves.  Police in Michigan have apparently been employing a device which can scan information from cell phones inside vehicles from outside vehicles during traffic stops.  Apparently, the police department is so worried about saying what police have been using these for, that they sent the ACLU a bill for $544K in response to a FOIA request to find out what they are using the technology for.

It is, of course, unknown whether this passes constitutional muster.

End of an era in Portland divorces

Gevurtz Menashe, Portland's big dogs in divorce, is seeing a change as Albert Menashe, long time managing partner, is calling it quits.

Department of transportation finally forces airlines to return bag fees when bags are lost

The Consumerist reports.  This seems like a no-brainer, but according to the new rules if your bag is not returned to you within 4 hours of your flight landing, you get your bag fee back.

Bye-bye Hawthorne Safeway

Safeway is finally getting rid of the outdated store on SE 27th and Hawthorne and replacing it, over the next year, with a much larger version.

Significant rape bill in Texas

This bill in the Texas legislature would allow juries to hear testimony about uncharged and unconvicted prior sexual misconduct by defendants in rape trials.  In general, any criminal trial for any crime is focused on the allegations of misconduct in the charges in front of the jury.  This would be a huge shift, and probably unconstitutional, away from the entire history of allowed evidence in criminal trials.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bank of America - profits down 36%

Bank of America said that its first quarter profits for 2011 were down, largely because its booming credit card business has been unable to offset the losses it suffered as a result of taking over Countrywide's mortgages.

TSA now checking for terrorists and people who make snarky comments about TSA

CNN has obtained a copy of the 70 items on the TSA checklist for observing people who might be terrorists.  One item on the list is a contempt for TSA procedures.  The Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (aka SPOT, eyeroll) is the method that the TSA employs to determine who is terrorist.  Apparently this list does not differentiate between terrorists and people who are annoyed about being hassled by the man because they want to get on a plane.

One thing which is perplexing to me about this list, in addition to not understanding how someone who is pissed off about being groped is a terrorist, is how on earth can two TSA screeners per checkpoint actually run down a 70 point list of factors to determine if someone is a terrorist?

Meat - now with antibiotic reistance bacteria

Apparently over a quarter of all meat sold in the US has an antibiotic resistant bacteria which the FDA does not test for, but can cause rather unpleasant conditions including pneumonia, skin infections, and sepsis.

Piss Christ controversial in France as well

People really have a problem with Andres Serrano's Piss Christ.  Somebody smashed it with a hammer while on display in France.  With the history of poor reception and political controversy of this piece, it seems like Serrano is getting more mileage from everybody going nuts over this than the photograph itself.

More trouble in Deschute County DA office

Patrick Flaherty, the newly elected DA in Deschutes County is asking for help from the State Department of Justice in a lawsuit stemming from the firing of three DA's immediately after Flaherty took office.

Evidence closed in Rajaratnam trial

Yesterday was the close of evidence in Rajaratnam insider trading trial, with some damning wire taps.  We'll see what the jury decides.

Brad Avakian to challenge David Wu for seat in Congress

Blood is in the water as far as David Wu's seat in Congress is concerned.  Between his bizarre behavior (go get 'em, tiger) and allegations of drug abuse, it seems like many a local democrat with national aspirations are gunning for his seat.  Brad Avakian, BOLI chief, has thrown his hat in, with other local dems expected to announce soon.  Wu's popularity among the Westside Asian community is formidable, but Avakian has proven himself to be a popular candidate in state wide elections, and he has deep roots in Washington County.

Oregon has more young voters than any state

Oregon has a greater percentage of people under 30 people voting than any other state, by 11 percent over the national average.

Fifth Circuit says no to allowing gay parents on birth certificates

The Jurist reports that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Louisiana is free to refuse to issue birth certificates to gay couples from other states who lawfully adopt a child from Louisiana.  This comes on the heels of Arkansas and Florida state high courts striking down laws preventing gay adoption.  It should be noted that the fifth circuit viewed this as a state's rights issue, not a gay rights issue, writing that full faith and credit clause of the constitution was not intended to apply to birth certificates.  This is patently ridiculous, as no state could use a birth certificate as way to accomplish some otherwise unconstitutional goal (such as discriminating based on race).  The dissent points this out, and also states Lousiana has disregarded its own laws regarding who can be on a birth certificate, and also thoughtfully notes that the Tenth Circuit has come to the exact opposite conclusion, meaning that there may be may well be Supreme Court jurisprudence on this issue in the coming years.

Grooveshark is gearing up for an RIAA battle

Grooveshark, which is an internet radio station which allows listeners to select the music they hear, is getting ready to fight whoever is responsible for getting their app taken off of the Google and Apple app store, which is not known at this point, put appears to be the RIAA.  Grooveshark maintains that their service is completely legal.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mexico's endemic corruption is spreading North

NBC reports that the number of border patrol agents on the take from Mexican drug cartels is on the rise on the US side of the border now.

Global bond crises looming?

On the heels of the big news that S & P has downgraded US Treasury bonds to a "negative" rating, Germany has announced that it believes that Greece will default on its bonds and have to restructure this summer causing an escalation in Europe's debt problems.  Additionally, China's strategy of shoring up the renminbi against foreign currencies by carrying large foreign currency reserves is failing and inflation is on the rise.

Without anyone to buy government bonds, and those ratings falling, how are governments going to finance their debt?

Oregon House acts to limit the use of restraints in schools

The Oregon House decided to vote in favor of a law limiting the use of certain restraints against students and forcing schools to tell parents when the restraints have been used on their children.

Paying too much federal tax? Just be richer, stupid

The Chicago Tribune offers this article on how the richest 400 individuals in the US only pay a 17% actual tax rate and what that means to everyone else.

Good news in Portland real estate

The inventory of unsold homes in the Portland Metro Area appears to be leveling off for the first time in two years of increases.

Feds bust open huge credit card scam in Miami

The feds announced that they arrested 17 people in complex credit card fraud scheme in Miami Beach, wherein attractive young women would lure drunk tourists into high end clubs and then run their credit cards for tens of thousands of dollars.  I thought that is why rich people went to South Beach, but I guess it is illegal.

ACS:Law, an English copyright troll law firm, smacked around by high court judge

ACS:Law is an English copyright firm which pioneered the "copyright troll" litigation strategies  in England that are currently being employed in the US.  ACS:Law was oft-criticized for naming the wrong people in their demand letters, and generally being unscrupulous.  ACS:Law basically shut itself down after receiving numerous complaints, from consumer rights groups to the disciplinary panel for solicitors up to the parliment.  Now, even though the law firm and its main clients are defunct, a British Judge has found that the individuals behind the scheme are liable for damages caused to consumers who received the demand letters.

It looks like this problem might be spreading over the pond as well, as Righthaven, a copyright troll in the US, is headed for a similar fate, after heretofore unknown documents indicate that it is not the proper owner of the copyrights it seeks to enforce.

Orlando court rules that the FDCPA applies to facebook

When the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was authored in 1978, no one had any idea what social media was.  However, in 2011, social media is rapidly moving to the forefront of the debt collection industry, offering primarily ways to locate people, but also new ways of haranguing people who haven't paid their debts.

A court in Orlando is allowing a lawsuit to proceed under the FDCPA which alleges that a debt collector used facebook to unlawfully harass a debtor.  The debt collector was arguing that social media sites are not covered under the FDCPA, and this court did not agree. This is a very important issue, and likely a larger body of appellate law will develop quickly.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hillsboro schools give a detailed study in school budget reductions

Hillsboro is reducing its school budget by $20 million, and this is what the cuts look like.  Pretty much what is promised all over the country: fewer teachers, bigger classes, fewer schools days, and big cuts to extracurriculars.

Nice win in police brutality jury trial

Greg Kafoury and company had a phenomenal victory in a civil rights case in Multnomah County.  They won an $82K award for a woman who was violently arrested after asking an officer for his card.  While this is a good result, the underlying facts are very unfortunate because they are all too familiar.  This is another instance of excessive force by a recidivist police officer (Aaron Dauchy) with an obvious racial component.

In another Oregon civil rights case, the State agreed to pay $400K for denying a prisoner at Coffee Creek medical care.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rough day for Portland high arts

Both the Portland Opera and Symphony laid off considerable numbers of staff today.

US prosecuting Somali pirate leader

The US has joined the growing list of countries who are prosecuting Somali pirates for crimes committed in international and Somali waters.  The alleged ringleader of the botched ransom which resulted in the deaths of 4 American sailors was indicted under seal on March 8.  Despite the Somali criticism of the US's prosecution of Somali Pirates and some legal setbacks for the prosecutions in the US, the growth of Somali piracy is likely to spurn more prosecutions of higher level pirates.

Prostitution law makes it through Oregon's Senate

Oregon SB 425 passed the Senate unanimously, which makes the crime of compelling a minor to engage in prostitution a strict liability crime, ie, the pimp no longer has to know that the prostitute is under the age of 18 to be guilty of the crime.  Tough to argue with that.

New twist in Montana's battle over medical marijuana

Montana's governor vetoed a bill to overturn the state's medical marijuana laws.  The governor is not excited about overturning the law, which was enacted by voters in 2004, but he would support reform of the law.  The bill that the governor will likely support would end the dispensary system and turn the medical marijuana system into one which looks more like Oregon's.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Federal government does not fine banks

In a much anticipated move, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Reserve, the three government agencies charged with supervising banks declined to fine any banks for various frauds committed during the foreclosure crisis.  The OCC chief suggested that in the future, banks might consider not committing fraud, but would not be required to refrain from doing so.  Also, they regulators might consider forcing the banks to pay damages to homeowners who have been wrongfully foreclosed upon.

Meanwhile, Sen. Carl Levin released a 600 page report on the mechanics of how Goldman Sachs screwed their customers and the American public for with its role in subprime crisis.

Beaverton woman facing war crimes charges

A woman in Beaverton was arrested so that she can be deported to Bosnia and Herzegovina to stand trial for war crimes allegedly committed during the war between Bosnia and Croatia in the early 1990's.  

Canadian Judge invalidates the country's medical marijuana laws

This was done because the law, as it is formulated, does not allow access to marijuana for all patients who need it.  The government now has three months to fix the medical laws, or else the court will invalidate laws criminalizing possessing and growing marijuana in the country.

Jurors dismissed in murder trial because of Fox News

A KPTV camera in the courtroom for the trial of David Wayne French, accused of an ax murder in North Portland, accidentally caught two jurors on film (and aired the film, apparently also on accident) in violation of the Uniform Trial Court Rules.  There were two alternates on the jury, so the trial can continue.

Experian sued for reporting a different score to consumers than to the banks

The Consumerist reports about a lawsuit filed in California which alleges that when Experian sells you your credit score for $15 a month it is not the same number they provide to lenders who run a credit check.  It is undisputed that Experian sells you a different score, called a PLUS score, than your FICO score, which is the score creditors use.  The question for the courts is whether Experian is misleading consumers by providing the PLUS score on sites like

Trimet not cutting service for the first time in three years

Trimet released its budget for fiscal year 2012.  Trimet will be expanding service a few bus lines and the blue line slightly, which represents an increase in service, unlike the last 3 years.  The fare is going to be upped a nickel, but this is largely due to an increase in the price of diesel by almost a dollar a gallon.

DC Circuit expands circumstances where the police can initiate strip searches

Today, the DC Circuit Court found that the police do not need a reason to strip search a person accused of a crime, in this case it was a strip search of a person accused of "incommodating traffic".

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bud Clark Commons toured by cynical journalists

The Bud Clark Commons was opened last week for journalists to take a peak at Portland's newest building for homeless people, leading to much snarkiness in the "if we build them homes, we can't call them homeless anymore" vein.   The Mercury has dubbed it the "Hobo Bellagio", presumably looking down their nose at it because it is not an Indie Rock venue, whereas the O highlighted the cost ($47 million) and the project's emphasis on providing shelter for homeless veterans.  Jack Bogdanski wonders if it will attract more homeless to the city.

I don't buy the idea that providing services for homeless people attracts more homeless people.  And even if it did, so what?  Portland should turn their backs on homeless people because Boise does?  Considering all of the other extraneous crap Portland wastes its money on, I commend Commissioner Nick Fish for seeing this project through.

Portland Art Museum - still an art museum

PAM has been accredited as an art museum through 2024.  That's one thing Portland has going for it!

Eco-terrorism snitch may do some time

Jacob Jeremiah Ferguson, the main informant in the federal case against the "Operating Backfire" against the Earth Liberation Front, has apparently violated the slap on the wrist probation sentence he got in exchange for dropping the dime on over a dozen of his co-conspirators for an unspecified drug arrest.  The operation which has been criticized for disproportionately sentencing people to life imprisonment for property crimes.

LA says that street artists violate unfair competition laws

The City of LA is on a warpath against people profiting on street art.  Specifically Christian Gheorghiu, who LA previously sought to enjoin from profiting from his street art.  The City is alleging, in a novel theory, that the sale of art which was popularized through graffiti, even though the art itself is legal, is nonetheless unfair competition, because the artists got their name out using illegal means.

New school budget passed by the Senate

The Oregon Senate approved a $5.7 billion budget for Oregon schools today.  This included $100 million from the state's rainy day fund, which the Teacher's Union had hoped would be $450 million.

Lake Oswego to debate the new streetcar tonight

Like right now!  Get going!  Just kidding, it is all but a done deal, as the votes will almost certainly be cast in favor of building the new streetcar.  However, if you want your honking screed regarding the new train to be heard by the Lake O city council, now is the time.

Appellate decision on child pornography

In US v. Apodaca the 9th Circuit Court of appeals offered an answer today on whether it is reasonable to place someone who has been convicted of possessing child porn on lifetime supervision under the theory that they are likely to engage in the actual sex abuse of children at some point.

Judge Cudahy decided that while the scientific evidence points to the fact that there is no correlation between a person viewing child pornography and that same person sexually abusing a child, there is also no scientific research that says it is unlikely that a person viewing child pornography would sexually abuse a child, and therefore lifetime supervision is reasonable for people who view or possess child pornography.

How to get the State of Oregon to pay property taxes on your Lake O Mansion

The Oregonian offers this report on this program wherein the Oregon Department of Revenue pays the property tax for an elderly or disabled person in exchange for a promise to repay that money, at 6% interest, and a lien against the property.  In effect, this program allows elderly and disabled people to never pay their property taxes, and then when they die, the State can enforce the tax against the property.  The Oregonian's problem with it is that many houses in the program are worth over a million dollars, so if the owner cannot pay their property tax, they should sell their house, not force other taxpayers to foot the bill.

The other problem, touched upon the O is that the program is broke.  The 2009 fiscal report of the program shows that in 2009 for the first time the borrower repayments decreased below the program's expenditures, causing the cash account for the program to crater.  Obviously the trend is continuing into 2011 and the program is out of money.

Loan servicers agree that at some point in the indeterminate future; they will follow the law

The New York Times reports that last week a group of loan servicers agreed to follow state law for foreclosures at some point, and might be assessed a fine.  The other way to look at it is that it is a complete surrender to big banks by the federal government.  While the New York Times characterizes the fines as "likely", Bloomberg explains that the federal government stepped in to prevent states from assessing fines.

Thank God we have a federal government which has the courage to protect defenseless banks from mean attorney generals who would require those banks to follow the law and fine them for not doing so.  Imagine the chaos we'd live in if banks had to follow state laws.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Step back for net neutrality

The House last week voted to end the FCC's regulations regarding net neutrality.  This isn't going to go far, but it does signal the end of net neutrality as a government goal if the Republicans take over in 2012 (and maybe the end anyway...).

Kroger strikes again

This time the Oregon DOJ popped Allied Interstate Inc. with a $90K fine for abusive debt collection practices in Oregon.

In other Kroger related news, Oregon is on its way to becoming the first state to take away tax exempt status for low performing charities (defined as cost of overheard compared to actual services provided) at the urging of our esteemed AG.

Burnside Rocket up for an Urban Development Award

The Burnside Rocket, a mixed use development on East Burnside is up for an urban development award for being "ultra-green".  That is green as in environmental conscious, not green as in money, because the development has never made money, and the developer almost was foreclosed on last year.  The building is now on the market for $3.25 million, which if it sells at that price would basically be a wash.

Rick James's Estate wants more royalties

On the heel's of Eminem's landmark victory regarding royalties for online music, Rick James's estate has filed suit against UMG alleging that it is owed more royalties for digital album sales.

Paul Ryan's Tax Cuts

Matt Taibbi offers this insight into Paul Ryan's proposed budget decreases.  Of course, this is largely just political posturing, as it has zero chance of making it out of the Senate.  I am not that interested in the same old Republican grand standing about ending entitlement programs, but I am interested in his proposal to lower the highest tax bracket to 25%.  The government might actually do this.

This would be the lowest highest tax rate since 1916.  It would also be a regressive tax.  This is because, the current 25% tax bracket is for individual making between $34K-$84K.  Taxpayers in this tax bracket also pay payroll tax (social security, medicare, medicaid, unemployment taxes), which is 7.25% on the employee side.  However, payroll taxes are phased out at $86K.  Right now, we almost have a flat tax, where the 25% tax bracket actually pays 32% of their real income in taxes (not counting the employer side of the payroll tax), and the highest tax bracket pays 35% income tax, but no payroll tax.  As it stands right now, including the payroll tax, all taxpayers who make over $34K a year pay about 35% in taxes.

If we collapsed the tax brackets to where the highest tax is 25%, and that bracket starts at $34K a year, we would have a system where wage earners earning below $86K would actually pay a higher rate than those earning above $86K.  No wonder the Republicans love Rep. Ryan's plan so much.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Food prices are on the rise

Is this the beginning of a food bubble?  The price of food (hey... I need that to eat) is skyrocketing.  So is the value of farmland.  Of course, there are many explanations for the rising price of food.  The US is out of corn, which is driving up the price of corn futures.  India and China are consuming more food, especially diary, which is driving up worldwide demand, but it is not known how this will interact with a predicted increase in inflation in China.  The Dodd-Frank Act regulations on commodities swaps are being delayed, but as of now, commodities are not ubiquitously rising, as they were immediately prior to the commodities crash of 2008.

End of the Kicker in sight?

Oregon's Kicker Law, which forces the government to refund money to taxpayers if the state meets its revenue goals, is under attack by Ted Wheeler and Kitzhaber.  The last time the kicker was actually utilized was in 2007 for the 2006 tax year.  Even then, it was roundly criticized.  This is because part of the reason Oregon went so broke so quickly during the recession is because the kicker prevents the state from having a rainy day fund.  Additionally, it is only marginally beneficially to the people who it supposedly benefits, because a) the top 1% of income earners get one quarter of the total refund, and b) to the extent that it benefits actual middle class tax payers the benefit they receive is greatly diminished by an increase in federal tax liability the year after the kicker is given out, because most middle class Oregonians take a federal deduction for 100% of the state income they pay.

But, the kicker is part of the Oregon constitution and getting rid of it will require a majority vote by all Oregonians, and Oregonians will vote for a tax increase when hell freezes over.

MPAA makes everything that much more ridiculous

OK, there is nothing about this situation which isn't stupid.  Zediva is a DVD rental outfit which allows you to "rent" a DVD, which is then placed in a DVD player and streamed to your computer.  Why?  Because the MPAA won't allow certain movies to be streamed online until a while after the DVD has been released because they think people will buy the DVD.

They also think that Zediva is exploiting a loophole in the copyright law.  However, Zediva now has a heavy hitter copyright lawyer on its side, so let's see where this ends up.  Of course, if the MPAA would just sell people movies on-line, we wouldn't really care about this, now would we?

Washington Mutual settles class action lawsuit (probably)

WaMu has offered a settlement of $200 million dollars in the class action suit which alleged that WaMu's stock tanked because of mismanagement and poor accounting.  This seems like a huge sum of money, but it actually only amount to 11 cents a share, before the lawyers take their cut . For stock which declined in value from over $40.00 a share to about a buck a share, 11 cents does not seem that great.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Khalid Sheik Mohammed to be tried at Guantanamo

The mastermind of the 9/11 attacks will not be tried in a civilian court after all.  This is incredibly disappointing news for a variety of reasons.  This is a failure of our entire system of justice.  The horrible crimes committed on 9/11 presented the US with an opportunity to show the world that our system of justice, where the rights of the accused are sacrosanct, and the truth is obtained through a rigorous adversarial process and instead we have done the opposite.

McCormick and Schmick's - Texas's newest seafood chain?

Tilman Fertitta, the Houston based restaurant giant is making a bid to purchase McCormick and Schmick's, the Portland based seafood restaurant chain.  Fertitta turned the Houston based Landry's seafood chain around and is now a minority shareholder in the Portland chain.  His all cash offer is expected to be accepted for 100% ownership of the Portland chain.

Expect more deep fried options.

Important Oregon Supreme Court case on cell phone searches

The EFF has weighed in as an amicus on the appeal of this case.  The issue for the Supreme Court to decide is if police need a warrant to search a cell phone taken from a person who was arrested, after the arrest.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reed's policies in re: sexual harassment subject of press scrutiny

Portland's shining beacon of light on the hill, Reed College, is in the Oregonian again.  There is apparently some question as to whether Reed has an appropriate policy in place regarding sexual assaults on campus.  Allegations of sexual assaults at Reed are handled by the Judicial Board, a collection of nerds students charged with the task of determining if other students have violated Reed's honor code.

This issue came to light when a J-Board member resigned due to concerns about the J-Board's inability to effectively handle sexual assault claims.

Fight on medical MJ and guns

Oregon's resident pot guru (what, we only have one?), Lee Berger, is fighting the good fight on whether or not having a medical marijuana card prevents you from also having a concealed carry permit.  Interestingly, the Oregon Department of Justice is on his side on this one, as Jackson County's position, that having the medical MJ card makes a personal criminal for the purposes of the concealed carry statute is pretty hard to defend.

If you are considering suing someone for copyright infringement...

... it is probably a good idea to make sure you actual own the copyright.

Thanks, Greg, for bringing this one to my attention.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Senate Bill 525 has stalled

This law would require an opt-in method for physical phone books, meaning you would actually need to ask for one, as opposed to them just showing up for you to throw in the garbage.  But it apparently is losing traction as the Yellow Pages apparently has lobbying muscle.

Seriously, this is not a hard issue to get right.

Supreme Court confers on the future Guantanamo

We know Obama won't actually do anything about Guantanamo, so the Supreme Court is taking their hardest look at the prison in several year.  Hopefully, the Court will re-address the increasingly Byzantine rules relating to the disposition of Guantanamo detainees.  However, what will really make the decision is whether Justice Kagan decides she must recuse herself from making decisions in the cases, because she argued on behalf of the executive branch in several of these cases as solicitor general.

New developments in the Rajaratnam trial

The US put on evidence detailing how Rajaratnam made $1 million in two minutes after receiving the inside tip on Warren Buffet's investment into Goldman Sachs in 2008.  Now the defense for Rajaratnam is getting going and they are saying that he is not a crook, just really smart.

HSBC lawsuit details their inaction in Loan Mods

Propublica offers this in depth look at a lawsuit against HSBC in Georgia by a loan servicer alleging that it is HSBC, as a straw man "trustee" for the nebulous groups of investors who actually own mortgages, which has prevented homeowners from modifying their mortgages under the HAMP program.

American Apparel threatens bankruptcy

In addition to moral bankruptcy, American Apparel is going into Chapter 11, which has cratered its stock.

The next frontier in computer anti-trust...

... will be related to search engines.  Microsoft announced that it is going to sue Google in Europe alleging that Google has set up its search engine to preclude other entities from breaking into the market.  Microsoft, obviously got this idea when the same European Court said it was doing the same thing by bundling internet explorer and windows media player with Windows.

Probably Google will use the tried and true "Bing sucks, and no one would use it anyway" defense.

Amex lawsuit regarding foreign currency fees will continue

American Express's motion to dismiss a class action lawsuit over the hidden fees it charges in foreign currency transactions was denied, and the suit will continue.  The federal government has not regulated foreign currency transaction fees on credit card transactions in foreign countries, and the thrust of this lawsuit is that all the major credit companies collude to keep the fees high.

Seattle man sentenced to six years for mortgage fraud

I'm in Seattle for the weekend, so here is this tidbit from the Seattle Times.  Apparently, this huckster was able to defraud several banks of over $7 million in fraudulent mortgages, and is now going to spend 6 in the poke.

Still, I wonder what genius at Pierce Commercial Bank was asleep at the switch when this fraud was perpetrated.

Portland schools building initiative to be one of the most expensive ever in the state

The Oregonian offers this in depth report.  The plan includes renovating Cleveland and Roosevelt and building a new Jefferson High, which are, according to the Oregonian, higher cost per square foot than any other public schools which have been built in the state.

The cost of this project is not inconsequential, the record $548 million bond on May's ballot would an increase in property taxes of about $2 per $1000 of assessed value for Portland property owners.  This is about $750 a year for an owner of $250K house.  The other issue is whether that money is really well spent on the very fancy schools which Portland wants to build, but it wouldn't feel like Portland without LEED certified high schools.

Beaverton Schools Superintendent set to make $185K

The Oregonian reports that the new superintendent of the flailing Beaverton Public Schools will be the third highest paid education administrator in the state.  This is tough pill to swallow after the district just announced it was laying off 50 custodians because of budget problems.

Mt. Tabor is moving to Vancouver

Well, OK, just the brewery.  But, if they want the big bucks, they'll have to do more than just find cheaper space across the river.  Maybe, they'll be the next microbrewery acquired by Craft Brewers Alliance, Inc., the publicly held company consisting of Redhook, Widmer, and the recently acquired Kona Breweries, which posted profits of $1.5 million last year.  Who knew microbrewing was such a big business!

Portland water bureau to expend funds to write history of Portland water bureau

Just to make sure that we have a great chronicle of the Portland Water Bureau's poor spending decision, the Portland Water Bureau is funding a history of the Portland Water Bureau.