The question of whether the city's water, sewer and stormwater utilities are mistreated is endlessly complex—far more nuanced than the talking points you're likely to hear as a vote on the management of the utilities draws closer.
Those will include the city's bad decision to build a Water House with utility money, and the fact that rates have shot up — 73 percent for water bills, 79 percent for wastewater—in the last decade. Not that those things shouldn't be considered. It's just they're not the only things.
Which is a long way of saying: If you've got a little time to burn and an urge to better understand the issues surrounding this debate, you could do worse than to read the report just released by a City Club of Portland committee.
Over the course of six months, the 16-person committee says it reviewed "volumes" of material and interviewed 31 sources. And after all that—beyond forming a cogent, helpful summary of where Portland's public utilities stand—it came up with some firm conclusions.
•The proposed Portland Public Water District up for a vote this May isn't the answer.
The measure would create a new seven-member board to assume control of the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services. That board would remove cronyism from the rate-setting process, advocates claim, and ease the strain on consumers. But the City Club committee says that's probably not the case.
"While the proponents appear to believe that a new governing entity independent of the City will be able to lower rates, your committee sees nothing in the measure that will guarantee that," the report reads. "Rates will continue to be subject to upward pressure regardless of the utilities’ governance structure"
That's because the big jumps in rates have been primarily dictated by unfunded federal mandates like the Big Pipe project that keeps sewage out of the Willamette River and Columbia Slough. Exasperating expenditures like the Water House play a role, too, but it's vastly smaller, the committee says.
Certainly the cost of projects such as the Water House has had an effect on customers’ bills. And your committee questions whether the full scope of the misuse of funds has come to light. But the non-mission-critical expenses identified in the past few years are small in comparison to the price tag of massive projects such as the Big Pipe and LT2 (the so-called Long Term 2 requirements forcing the city to cover its open drinking water reservoirs) compliance. The Big Pipe project by itself cost more than $1 billion, and the cost of building covered reservoirs will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. These are among the major drivers of rate increases.
A Multnomah County judge is expected to rule in the near future whether certain projects partly funded with ratepayer money were inappropriate. A 2011 civil suit against the city has asked that money be paid back.
•And Portland's sewer and water systems are old. Like the city's streetscape, we're probably not replacing the pipes below it at a fast enough clip. But those projects cost money, which necessitates debts that we—the ratepayers—have to pay off over time. And so the rates have risen, and they're anticipated to continue to rise.
•Importantly, though, the committee also found Portland's rates aren't as wildly divergent as some would suggest. The report notes "a recent independent survey of combined water and wastewater rates for both residential and commercial customers shows that Portland's rates are generally comparable to those in other large cities on the West Coast."
•But the committee, like the Portland Business Alliance recently, says the status quo is due for a change. Portland's water and sewer rates have theoretically no upper limit—unlike the property taxes that help fill city coffers in fat times and leave us scrounging in the lean—and so are prone to potential abuse as city leaders look for money, the report says.
So the committee recommended the city establish a "Portland Water and Sewer Authority," a body of experts that's answerable to council, but which has final say on how the water and sewer bureaus spend their budgets. City Council would still have power to approve or reject utilities' budgets, and a city commissioner would be charged with appointing members of the new authority. But individual line items would be up to the group, not council.
"City Council members may advocate for particular projects during the budget setting process and before the Authority submits a budget for approval," the report says. "The Authority will be responsible for determining whether each such proposed project meets the stated criteria for delivery of utility services."
It's a different solution than that offered by the PBA, which suggested the formation of a "municipal corporation" in which all five city council members have equal control of the utilities.
The report was released to reporters on Thursday, with the understanding nothing would be published until Friday (a pretty standard ask from the City Club when it releases these things). But the Portland Tribune mistakenly published a story about the findings online briefly on Thursday. It was the only account of the report Kent Craford, a chief proponent of the new water district on the May ballot, had seen (his group, Portlanders for Water Reform, refused to be interviewed by the City Club committee).
Craford didn't want to talk about the report without reading it himself, but did critique the new "water and sewer authority" it proposed. To undertand his comments, you need to know the committee was chaired by Chris Liddle, a manager at Portland General Electric, and that former Mayor Sam Adams is now the City Club's executive director (though the group makes a point of noting he does not influence its research).
"You've got a committee of city contractors, chaired by a monopoly utility executive, staffed by a former mayor, recommending a committee of City Hall appointees oversee our water and sewer bureaus," says Craford. "That to me is not a recipe for reform. I appreciate that they're acknowledging the problems, but establishing a PDC (Portland Development Commission) for water and sewer—that doesn't address the issues."
You can find a list of all the committee's conclusions after the jump.
Monday morning, Kickstarter announced that the crowdfunding platform has received over $1 billion in pledges for projects around the world. $215 million of that has gone into games projects. That's so much money, you guys. Kickstarter loves sharing its data, especially this data—but we went ahead and broke down some Portland-specific stats for you.
First of all, the most funded games project in Portland ever ended last weekend! A board game called Lagoon: Land of Druids, by local company 3Hares Games, raised $147,762. It is one of 54 successful games projects in the history of Portland Kickstarters. 52 percent of games projects in Portland have succeeded: just under the 56 percent success rate for Portland Kickstarters in general. Our success rate is higher than Kickstarters overall, which is only 43.55 percent.
Keith Baker is a local Portland game designer whose game The Doom That Came To Atlantic City is Portland's third-most funded games project, which raised $122,874. He's also published his card game Gloom through a traditional publisher, and told me that Kickstarter has changed the game for independent designers like him.
"Kickstarter makes it possible for someone with a good idea for a game to make a game in a way that was impossible before, by raising the capital directly," Baker said. "It's also very dangerous, though. Just because you have a good idea for a game, doesn't necessarily mean you know how to produce it."
The direct-to-customer model puts a lot of pressure on designers to also be businesspeople, which he has seen not always work, Baker said. Kickstarter also cuts game stores out of the equation, which is another complicated problem. Overall, though Baker says Kickstarter is a helpful tool and he will be using it to fund a new RPG project later this year.
The steady-ish stream of design showcases that have already come and gone in these early days of 2014 seems to be taking a slight pause, but there are still a few things kicking on this week's calendar for those in search of the new, the discounted, and the shopping experience that includes free booze:
THURSDAY MARCH 6
—Lena Medoyeff Studio is hosting their semi-annual sample sale over two days, with 20-70% off select merch from past seasons as well as some of their current dresses and Souchi sweaters. Plus they'll have refreshments that involve Bull Run Distillery liquor. Lena Medoyeff Studio, 710 NW 23rd, Thursday & Friday
—Kevia Jewelry is also having a sample sale, to benefit The Friends of The Overlook House Foundation. Look for 50-70% off retail prices plus door prizes. The Overlook House, 3839 N Melrose, 5:30-8:30 pm
—Danner and Beckel Canvas got together and made a
baby boot, the Danner Light Beckel. Tonight they celebrate its birth with music by Denver and Barna Howard, plus our good friends Bull Run Distillery again! Danner at Union Way, 1022 W Burnside, 6-9 pm
—On a juniors note: Amy Vining Photography is hosting a fashion show featuring prom-wear vendors (Charlotte’s Weddings and More, Switch Shoes & Clothing) to raise money for "I Have a Dream" Oregon, with raffles, an afterpaty with DJ Paradox, and performances with the Jefferson Dancers. The Cleaners, 1022 SW Stark, 7 pm, $12
—Wildfang is hosting one of its newly regular happy hours, with complimentary drinks to sip while you shop. It's an extra-special edition this time, though: It also doubles as the launch of the retailer's exclusive TOMBOY collection, so be there if you want to get first dibs. Wildfang, 1230 SE Grand, 5 pm
—Small-batch t-shirt artists Dreem Street get their first proper Portland debut. Look for limited editions of hilarious and poignant designs that double as intelligent cultural commentary. Up through the month! Floating World Comics, 400 NW Couch, 6-9 pm
—Portland Fashion Week is hosting a casual First Thursday mixer for any and all who want to stop in and chat up staff about their next event. Cerulean Skies Winery, 1439 NW Marshall, 6:30-10 pm
FRIDAY MARCH 7
—Montavilla boutique Union Rose is kicking off the new season with its fourth annual spring cleaning sale. That means discounts on local apparel and accessory lines like Amelia, the in-house Big Brown Eyes, Sarah Bibb, Clair Vintage, and more. Union Rose, 7909 SE Stark, 6-9 pm
Keurig, those coffee-pod people, have somehow created a market full of people who are willing to pay $60 for a pound of coffee. But that's not enough for Keurig: Now they're working on some sort of a digital rights management scheme involving coffee makers that would only use Keurig-branded coffee pods. Karl Bode at Techdirt writes:
In a lawsuit filed against Keurig by TreeHouse Foods, they claim Keurig has been busy striking exclusionary agreements with suppliers and distributors to lock competing products out of the market. What's more, TreeHouse points out that Keurig is now developing a new version of their coffee maker that will incorporate the java-bean equivalent of DRM — so that only Keurig's own coffee pods can be used in it:
"Green Mountain has announced a new anticompetitive plan to maintain its monopoly by redesigning its brewers to lock out competitors’ products. Such lock-out technology cannot be justified based on any purported consumer benefit, and Green Mountain itself has admitted that the lock-out technology is not essential for the new brewers’ function. Like its exclusionary agreements, this lock-out technology is intended to serve anticompetitive and unlawful ends."
The plan was confirmed by Keurig's CEO who stated on a recent earnings call that the new maker indeed won't work with "unlicensed" pods as part of an effort to deliver "game-changing performance."
Someone reading this post should write a sci-fi story about a mega-corporation that creates 3D-printed kidneys for transplant. The catch is that the kidneys can only tolerate drinks made with a special, licensed brand of water. You'll be considered a visionary genius when the story comes true in thirty years.
Russian assets dries up after President Vladimir Putin’s military forces took over parts of neighboring Ukraine. The ruble sank 1.8 percent against the dollar today, more than any other currency tracked by Bloomberg, while the benchmark Micex stock index plunged more than 11 percent and benchmark bond yields soared.... The rout today extends the ruble’s slide this year to 10 percent, a selloff exacerbated by the upheaval in Ukraine that led to the ouster of Putin’s ally last month and Russia’s incursion into the Crimea peninsula over the weekend.
It seems that every step forward being made by bitcoin, the virtual currency that I wrote about last December for the Mercury, it ends up taking a few stumbles backward.
The very day that my story posted late last year, the value of bitcoin fell nearly 60% as some investors panicked following the one-two punch of the largest exchange in China halting the acceptance of cash deposits and the People’s Bank of China banning transactions by all digital currencies.
Recently, the market seemed to have stabilized, with the value of bitcoin sticking to around $800 through January. But then news broke yesterday that Tokyo-based Mt.Gox one of the currency’s biggest exchanges closed up shop, potentially losing more than $400 million worth of users’ bitcoins. Investors have responded by selling off their stores and sending the value down to its lowest point in months.
What this means for the future of bitcoin is anyone’s guess at this point. The L.A. Times headline for their story about Mt.Gox was quite fatalistic: “Bitcoin virtual currency is on verge of collapse.” But talk to someone like Colin Lusk, a local network engineer and early bitcoin adopter, and he’ll tell you emphatically, “I remain bullish.”
“I picked up $5,000 worth of bitcoin in the last couple of weeks,” he says. “The entire time it was going down, I was buying some. Right now, it’s already stabilized. In two months, no one is going to remember what Mt.Gox was.”
To his credit, Lusk, who helps coordinate the twice-monthly meetups for Portland Bitcoin Group, says he pulled out of Mt.Gox months ago when he started noticing discrepancies regarding how the site was valuing the cost of one bitcoin.
“Last July, for example, it was trading at $80, $90, $100, something like that,” he remembers. “Mt.Gox had it $105.”
Of course, that led to some enterprising folks to set up bots to buy bitcoin in open market and then sell them on Mt.Gox for a small profit, a loophole that the trading site put a stop to earlier this month.
A bigger problem for users arose when they would attempt to exchange their bitcoin for cash. According to one Reddit user that Lusk was in touch with, the site dragged its feet about making a wire transfer until they were contacted directly. And even then, they charged the user a 5% fee to get his money.
“I said, ‘What?! You’re going to charge $50 to pull $1,000 out? That company is completely out of their mind,’” says Lusk.
As of this writing, all seems calm in the bitcoin marketplace following the Mt.Gox shutdown, with the value hovering just below $600, and users migrating to other exchanges like BitStamp and CoinBase. Mt.Gox CEO Mark Kapeles doesn’t seem particularly concerned either, posting on the site that he is “working very hard with the support of different parties to find a solution to our recent issues.”
One of the many things the snowpocalypse ruined was the all-important PDX Collective Sale, wherein almost a dozen boutiques (including Tumbleweed, Mabel & Zora, Ecovibe, Parallel, and Radish Underground, to name a few) band together at the end of each season to let go of their remaining merch at the cheapest prices you'll likely ever see them. The winter version always strikes me as particularly advantageous. While shops are getting in their lightweight dresses and short sleeves for spring, you'll be wearing warmer clothing for a while yet here.
So it's a good thing that they've rescheduled the canceled event, which is now occurring this weekend at the Cleaners (403 SW 10th), 10 am-5 pm Saturday, and 11 am-5 pm on Sunday. Many deals will be had, much money may be saved.
UPDATE: This post has been modified to reflect fresh information. Initially, reports came in that the Oregonian Media Group had announced layoffs today. That's not the case. A closely affiliated company headquartered in the Oregonian building apparently announced the changes.
A close affiliate of the Oregonian Media Group today announced a new round of layoffs, a source at the company confirms.
The number of employees affected remains unconfirmed, as do reasons for the shift. It appears to be the first-such move since significant staff cuts and reduced home delivery were announced last summer alongside reorganization at the paper.
The company recently announced it would switch formats. The Oregonian will soon print as a tabloid—the same size and style as the Mercury.
Update, 4:14 pm: A woman who answered the phone in publisher N Christian Anderson III's office says he's in a meeting (which is sometimes code for "not taking calls" and other times code for "in a meeting").
Any announcement doesn't appear to affect the paper's editorial staff. One staffer says the newsroom hasn't heard anything about layoffs.
Update, 4:20 pm: Anderson has responded to an e-mail, and seems to suggest any staff changes aren't technically among
Oregonian Oregonian Media Group employees, but with a company Oregon Media Group contracts with: Advance Central Services Oregon (not OMG's parent company, Advance Publications, Inc., as I suggested earlier). Anderson writes, in part: "Ad production staffers do not work for the Oregonian Media Group."
Update, 4:30 pm: Anderson now writes to clarify points. The Oregonian, he notes, does not have employees. It is the Oregonian Media Group.
"Technically, there are no employees of The Oregonian, and Advance Central Services Oregon is a separate company from the Oregonian Media Group. Advance Central Services Oregon provides a variety of services for Oregonian Media Group."
A recent email message to the general manager of Advance Central Services Oregon has not been returned.
Update, 4:42 pm: A bit about Advance Central Services Oregon. Its employees are not technically staffers at the Oregonian Media Group, but the two entities are entwined enough that they share an address, according to ACS Oregon's web site.
ACS Oregon was unveiled last year, as part of a massive shift at the Oregonian. In June, the company announced the formation of the Oregon Media Group, which operates Oregonlive.com and publishes the Oregonian. At the same time, the company introduced another entity, ACS Oregon, which it reported "will serve as a shared-services company that provides human resources, production, circulation, information systems and technology, strategic sourcing and accounting to Oregonian Media Group and other companies."
"Many of our employees will be offered positions with the Oregonian Media Group and many others will be asked to be part of the Advance Central Services Oregon team," Anderson said at the time.
Nearly 100 employees were laid off in that shake up—as many as half of them newsroom staff, Willamette Week reported.
Advance Publications has seven such Advance Central Services units, each corresponding to "media groups" around the country.
Fox News is going after The Lego Movie and RoboCop for being "anti-business," and... look, I know it's low-hanging fruit to go after Fox News, but holy shit, watching these dipshits furiously shout about Legos corrupting America's youth is delightful.
The new RoboCop hasn't screened for critics yet, but if it sticks even a bit to the original RoboCop, yes, it will be incredibly, gleefully anti-corporate. The Lego Movie, on the other hand—and I will preface by this by saying that Denis' review is 100 percent correct, and the movie is fucking delightful, and hilarious, and clever, and you should see it immediately, and honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up being one of the best movies of 2014—is basically a commercial. It's called The Lego Movie. The only things onscreen are Legos. As soon as it finishes, you want to do nothing more than go buy a bunch of Legos. That is not anti-business. That is not even... even... guh.
HEAD EXPLODES. I keep waiting to not be astonished by Fox News anymore—"Oh, look at the bullshit they've come up with this time! That's some bullshit, alright. What else is going on?"—but the depth of their bullshit bucket is astounding. Anyway, thanks for the exasperating heads up, io9.
Yesterday's announced partnership between Coca-Cola and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters will soon pay off in one dramatic way:
As part of the strategic collaboration, [Green Mountain] will be The Coca-Cola Company’s exclusive partner for the production and sale of The Coca-Cola Company-branded single-serve, pod-based cold beverages.
I stopped drinking Coke products about six months ago—I had a baaaaaaaad Diet Coke habit—and when it comes to soda, I almost exclusively drink carbonated water from my Sodastream nowadays. But I don't use the crappy proprietary Sodastream flavors; why trade up one sugary syrup for another? Instead, I add fresh fruit juice to my soda water. It's a hell of a lot more refreshing, and once you get sugary sodas out of your system, it tastes a lot better, too. But I'm sure these single-serving Coke pods™ will be cheaper than a bottle of Coke, and I'm also sure that plenty of Americans have been dreaming of having a proprietary Coke soda fountain in their homes for years. This feels like a deepening in the long-running relationship between Big Soda and the American people.
If there's any question in your mind that Portland is ready for a new progressive community radio station, take a look at XRAY.FM. They've blown their Kickstarter fundraiser out of the water—as of this writing they've raised over $70,000, with their original goal having only been $40,000, so now they're going for 80k. They've also made a fresh video about how they'll use this monetary surplus, which features a puggle and a young lady with a boom mic. The new, more financed plans include an upgraded, larger studio that will allow them to air live interviews and performances (yes please), and enhance the overall vision of a station that "ignites both hemispheres of the brain with music, talk, culture, and more."
Those who remember the old PRA will appreciate the fact that XRAY.FM has inherited its gear, and the new station claims to have already recruited 75 local DJs (the Oregonian names Maggie Vail, Rev Shines, Beyonda, and Cooky Parker among them, along with emissaries from places and orgs like PDX Pop Now!, Holocene, and Mississippi Records), and is bringing back progressive radio personalities Carl Wolfson and Thom Hartmann (formerly of KPOJ).
The scope of what they plan to cover is delightfully wide, including "food, history, comedy, music, and game changers... The groundbreaking Lund Report will bring you health policy news. Carla Axtman from Blue Oregon and former KPOJ wildcard Adam Klugman will report current events. Bitch Media will bring their feminist perspective to pop culture with Popaganda. Listeners will enjoy Kickass Oregon History's take on our past. We will innovate with new shows, including programs from Native American voices, a Non-Profit Hour, a 'Millennial Retort' focusing on next generation doers, and a food report from Feast co-founders Carrie Welch and Mike Thelin."
The people on the station's include board include Tiga/Beech St. co-owner Maryam Hanafi Troncelliti, Relapse Records founder/Sizzle Pie and White Owl co-owner Matthew Jacobson, and Bunk Bar owner Matt Brown, with Dig A Pony co-owner Aaron Hall co-directing music programming—in short, it's kind of a dream team, and the potential could be pretty huge—especially if their signal is strong enough to be the new default station in cars and kitchens across the city. (There's also talk of developing an app for it.) If you want to throw some money at their ability to make a powerful entrance, Friday is the last day to donate. Let the puggle help you decide (the original video is below, but you'll have to visit the page to see the update video, which is where the puggle really gets to shine):
If you thought it was nice how last week we gave out two $30 gift certificates to Imelda's & Louie's, well, check this sucker out: Today (because not enough great things happen on Mondays) we're doling out a finale GC prize of ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS. This is a huge giveaway in its own right, but when you take into account Imelda's current huge post-holiday sale, we're easily looking at a multiple-pairs scenario (though you could also use it on the hosiery and accessories that are currently marked down up to 70%, too).
I'd say that's worth taking a whack! Head over to MOD to enter.
Yesterday we unleashed the first in our short series of gift certificate giveaways for Imelda's & Louie's shoe stores, and today we're getting a new one rolling! As a reminder, like virtually every other retailer in the world, Imelda's is currently having their post-holiday/end-of-season sale, which means you can truly maximize your money savings with this deal... If you're lucky!
Cuz guys! These Sorel boots are a useful and handsome classic. They're already on sale for $59.95, and if you win this GC? That goes down to $29.95, which is fucking cray.
Head over to MOD to test your luck.
Hey Blogtown! Over on MOD, we are kicking off a series of giveaways wherein you can win money towards new shoes at Imelda's and Louie's! They're already having a huge sale, so this is practically a free-shoe opportunity, here.
For instance, these gold Tretorn boots are sensible (waterproof, with furry lining!), cheerful (gold!), and adorable, and already on sale for $46.95. If you're the lucky winner of this $30 GC, that brings them down to just $16.95.
To settle a barrage of government legal actions over the last year, JPMorgan Chase has agreed to penalties that now total $20 billion, a sum that could cover the annual education budget of New York City or finance the Yankees’ payroll for 10 years.
It is also a figure that most of the nation’s banks could not withstand if they had to pay it. But since the financial crisis, JPMorgan has become so large and profitable that it has been able to weather the government’s legal blitz, which has touched many parts of the bank’s sprawling operations.
Apparently the bank makes $25 billion a quarter, so, you know. Among the alternative punishments that experts say might have more impact: break the bank up.
While the Merc keeps a much tighter focus on what's going on in Portland's independent retail world, the larger players' comings and goings can say a lot about the economic health of the city. So, for those of you who have heard rumblings that the Pearl District Diesel store is closing, fear not; word is that it's only temporary.
Diesel is still interested in maintaining a Portland store, but it's shopping around for a new location, most likely one that's a little closer to what's become the heart of downtown retail (the expanse that starts on the south side of W Burnside and stretches to Pioneer Place). Unfortunately the timing of their lease didn't match up to the discovery of an ideal alternative, which means an undefined but, they stress, temporary lack of Diesel-age in these parts.
Store manager Rachel Petersen reports that the final day of operations in the current space will be Friday, January 24, and plans are still up in the air as to whether they'll be having a massive sale or party in the meantime—Petersen encourages those interested in staying in the loop as things develop to sign up for Portland store-specific emails at diesel.com/signup.
This will be the last shopping-related event I tell you about in 2013. Probably. Fairly certain. Anyhow: The folks at New Refined Basics (good jewelry that's just what it says it is) and Spacecraft (a more-complicated-to-describe design studio whose projects have included furniture and light fixtures as well as fine art) are teaming up for an open studio "shindy," with treats, drinks, music, and handmade goods for the buying. Spacecraft in particular is probably a good place to look for those people who "have everything." Do they have a boombox made out of a milk crate? An end table made out of a utility pole? How about one of these:
DIDN'T THINK SO.
The Holiday Studio Shindy, Sunday, 534 NE 18th, 1-5 pm
Someone finally asked New York's outgoing mayor for his opinion on that New York Times story about the homeless girl named Dasani. His response?
Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I-NY) went on the defensive when asked whether he was moved by the New York Times’ powerful series on a homeless family struggling to survive in New York City. Bloomberg defended his homelessness policies and claimed that 11-year-old Dasani, the star of the piece, ended up in dire straits due to bad luck.
“This kid was dealt a bad hand. I don’t know quite why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not,” he told Politicker, calling her plight “a sad situation.”
One of the richest men in New York, who also "happens" to be the mayor of New York, saying that God wanted him to be rich. That's right up there with "let them eat cake." I refuse to believe that Bloomberg, who is a very smart man, actually just throws up his hands and says "it's what God wants" when he's faced with a serious question about economics. He's just hiding behind God to avoid the question, and to deflect his responsibility in the matter.
In today's edition of the Mercury, I wrote a news story about bitcoin and how it is making inroads into the local tech world and various local businesses. A few weeks ago, when I sat in on the meetup group I wrote about in the piece, bitcoin was on a huge upswing. As I wrote:
The day before their gathering, the US Senate held its first hearings to discuss bitcoins. It was a welcome stamp of legitimacy from the federal government that came with an added bonus: Bitcoins nearly quadrupled in value as a result.
As I worked on the article I saw its valuation spike at over $1,000. When I turned in my copy, it was sitting around $800.
Well, by the time I woke up this morning, bitcoin's value had plummeted nearly 60%, with many investors dumping their stores of the virtual currency, and financial pundits looking for the deflation of what they view as a bubble.
The reason for the steep drop was a decision made by China's biggest bitcoin exchange to stop accepting cash deposits and, according to South China Morning Post, the People's Bank of China "banning all transactions by third-party payment providers involving digital currencies."
So, what gives here? Does this mark the beginning of the end for bitcoin's glory days? As ever, it depends on who is being asked.
The New York Times' Dealbook blog wrote a bit about today's price drop, with Boston University finance professor Mark Williams saying that we should expect to see more regulation like this in the future and that "bitcoin had followed the trademark patterns of past asset bubbles, and he predicted that the value would fall to as low as $10 next year."
But on Reddit's Bitcoin discussion group , when folks aren't jokingly posting the numbers for suicide hotlines around the world, advocates are urging users to stay strong. As user FreeToEvolve put it: "[Don't] listen to the people saying bitcoin is dead... don't listen to the 'to the moon; guys or the complete naysayers. Bitcoin can only be worth what its infrastructure can handle. There are many massive improvements and new features to come. We have a looooooooonnnnnnggggg road ahead of us."
You should read this whole New York Times report on poverty from Eduardo Potter. It's about how our attitudes toward the poor in America have changed, and how we're losing the war on poverty. But I think one paragraph in the piece is the most important part. It highlights exactly what's wrong with the Republican war on government. Turns out, government is what's holding a lot of us up:
Without the panoply of government benefits — like food stamps, subsidized school lunches and the earned-income tax credit, which provides extra money to household heads earning low wages — the nation’s poverty rate last year would have reached almost 31 percent, up from 25 percent in 1967, according to the research at Columbia.
I understand the thinking among Republicans is that if we let these people get to work on their own, with no assistance, they won't need government benefits. But they're wrong. There's simply not enough wealth to go around. Our wealth is stuck up at the top 1% of the population, and they're not letting it trickle back down. Without those benefits, without the wealthy paying the meagerest amount of taxes, we're looking at a country where nearly a third of us are impoverished. That doesn't sound like America to me.
Things are slowing down/we're running out of time/it's almost over. But there are a few local shopping events wrapping up this week that are here to save those of us still plugging away at the gifting thing:
—Tonight the shops of 811 E Burnside are staying open late with discounts and cocktails at shops like Haunt, Summerland, Redux, Bombshell Vintage, Sword+Fern, and Nationale. Tonight, 811 E Burnside, 7-9 pm
—Vintage/heritage-focused Animal Traffic is rounding up some of its favorite American brands (Red Wing, Vanson, Taylor Stitch, and Coalatree Organics) for a holiday party featuring a raffle for a pair of Red Wings, giveaways, New Deal cocktails, and Mike Elias of Denver and Devin Gallagher of Typhoon splitting DJ duties. Wednesday (tomorrow), Animal Traffic, 429 SW 10th, 5-9 pm
—One of the few of these shop-centric events that has a cover price, but in this case it's because you'll get wine and hors d'oeuvres from din din to go along with your perusal of goods from Tomahawk, Emily Katz, Adam Porterfield, Esser/Vesper, Reif, Chelsea Heffner, Emily Wyant, and more. Thursday, din din, 920 NE Glisan, 4-8 pm, $10
—The Incorporated, Eyes + Edge, and Mojave are teaming up for a party with Mandatory Bounce and DJ NathanDetroit. There will be clothing for purchase, too, but party seems to be the priority. Thursday, Mojave, 415 SW 13th, 8 pm
—The Nashionland Studio is having one last sale, pooling together designs from Carolyn Hart, Clair Vintage Inspired, Hubris Apparel, She-She PDX, and Orange Exterior. Friday, Nashionland, 1121 N Loring, 5-9 pm
How many shopping events are happening from now through the weekend? If you guessed "one hundred billion kajillion," you are correct! It's borderline impossible to keep track of them all which is why, yet again, I've collected them in tidy order for you over in Sold Out.
However, they just keep coming, so be sure to supplement your strategizing by taking a look over on MOD, where we have also posted the late-breaking events that are also going down this weekend, and there are some serious contenders over there.
Good luck to you in your frozen, wet shopping quest!
The city's proposed new four-year contract with the Portland Police Association is finally expected to become official next week—later than initially expected, the Mercury has learned, after some last-minute heartburn over a new provision ending payouts for time off earned while working holidays.
Anna Kanwit, director of the Bureau of Human Resources, confirmed that city officials realized a potentially expensive loophole in that provision while parsing through the "tentative agreement" [part 1 (pdf); part 2 (pdf)] the two sides reached on the contract earlier this fall.
Starting January 1, Kanwit says, officers will no longer be able to cash out time off earned for working holiday absent a formal agreement with the city. And that time off will be capped at 60 hours. That's the easy part. The hard part is what happens to all the so-called "compensatory time" cops already have on the books. And that issue, if it breaks the wrong way for the city, could cost just shy of $1 million, Kanwit says.
The deal with the union attacks that time off in two ways: First off, anything over 60 hours will be automatically cashed out. That's a measurable, budgeted hit. The wild card, Kanwit says, is what officers do with the remaining 60 hours. Historically, just 39 percent of officers have cashed out their holiday time instead of banking it for vacations. But now that the other 61 percent know they're losing the option? They might all decide to cash in.
Both sides tentatively signed the deal in October. PPA members ratified the terms (77 percent of members who voted said yes) in late November. But Kanwit says that million-dollar gave everyone pause in the past few weeks since the union voted.
"Our discussion was if there was something we should do to mitigate it," she says, saying the answer was "no," that it didn't make sense to reopen the agreement. "It's a one-time hit."
PPA President Daryl Turner has not replied to requests for comment on the contract, saying he was "busy" the one time he did pick up the phone.
The provision for holiday time cash-outs—which cost the police bureau about $1.2 million a year, but with the promise that it could vary—was among the more important subjects in negotiations. The cash-outs were added in the last contract, approved in 2011, but they proved difficult to budget, Kanwit says. That was borne out by a budget review in 2012 that blamed the provision for a huge surge in surprise costs in the police budget.
Canada's postal service will phase out door-to-door delivery over the next five years. Citing the rise of digital communications and a projected loss of CAD$1 billion by 2020, Canada Post today outlined a series of actions that it would take to streamline its organization and reduce losses. In particular, cutting out direct to-door delivery — which is currently only used to service one-third of Canadian households — will "provide significant savings," Canada Post says. Mail will still be delivered to community, grouped, lobby, and rural mailboxes, which make up how the remaining two-thirds of Canadian households receive their mail.
The cuts will put somewhere between six and eight thousand Canadian postal employees out of work. Man, this is depressing. You're supposed to be our sensible, stable older sister, Canada! Don't you foresee a time in which a national delivery network might be a valuable thing to have? Can't you do a better job at this being-a-country thing than us? If we don't have you to look up to, Canada, who will provide an example for us?
I think Black Friday/weekend is going to lose its cred as the biggest shopping weekend of the year, because at least around here, the two weeks that follow are bonkers. This week's Sold Out column is part 1 of a 2-part series in which I shut my mouth and just give you the facts about the bazillions and bazillions of holiday-related shoppery being organized by your friendly local retailers. It was too much to cram it all in print, but the online edition is more extensive, plus we have added some more late-breaking announcements over here on MOD so you can fully strategize your evening. Betcha five bucks I have all my gift shopping done by Monday, you guys!
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