Middaugh campaign grasping at straws?

by Steve, May 8th, 2008

election08Maybe not, but the e-mail I got from his former boss today sure seems like it. With Middaugh’s opponent Nick Fish picking up all three big media endorsements (Oregonian, Willamette Week and Tribune) and trouncing Middaugh by 21 points in BlueOregon’s straw poll, the Middaugh campaign has called on his former boss, Commissioner Erik Sten, to send out an e-mail plea to his supporters to work their networks to drum up some votes.

Here’s the text of the e-mail:

Friends,

Ballots are out, and I need your help. While I left City Hall satisfied that my time was well spent, there is a lot left to do. I want you to know that I believe that Jim Middaugh is the best person to do it. Please vote for Jim.

This year’s election cycle has more drama than even a political junkie could ever expect. From the top of the ticket down to the state legislature the races are exciting and important. Turnout is going to be record high, and most people are not going to be able to keep track of all of these important races.

That’s why your help right now is crucial. Jim Middaugh is a new name. A quick recommendation from you to your friends, neighbors and colleagues will mean more than anything, and now is the time.

I hope you will join me in taking a few minutes, getting in touch with your friends and spreading the word about this terrific, grass roots candidate who is committed to all the things that make Portland great and the things we still lack like adequate housing and support for our schools.

Simply put, Jim Middaugh is the most prepared candidate I’ve ever seen for City Council, and in twenty years of activism I’ve seen and served with some great ones. He is running voter-owned, with no debts to anyone, but people like us who now have to help him get over the top.

Please use e-mail, phone or whatever way you like to get the word out. If you can, call the campaign and see what else you can do to help. The number is 503 231-2859. Email is jim@jimforportland.com.

Thanks for all you do.

Fondly,

Erik Sten

P.S. If you have some spare time please help with phoning, visibility or weekend canvassing.

Is it just me, or does this have an air of desperation to it?

More on the inevitable growth crowd

by Steve, May 8th, 2008

election08I’ve written some recently about gentrification and certain candidates’ fixation on the idea that 300,000 new residents will be shortly arriving in Portland. Sam Adams, Chris Smith and Jim Middaugh have all thrown this number around as the gospel truth, to the delight of big real estate developers who are looking forward to Sam Adams as mayor.

These guys aren’t all that thrilled with the prospect of Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz on the council, both of whom have questioned the wisdom of continuing city subsidies to a high-end condo market that’s starting to slump so badly they’ve stopped work on some and converted others to rentals.

Despite the casual way some candidates are tossing around the 300,000 figure, which represents a doubling of our current growth rate, Metro has put the figure at less than half that: 148,000. (The Portland Mercury points this out in its analysis of Chris Smith’s campaign literature.

This puts the damper on the mad dash to gentrify all of our close-in neighborhoods, but the mythology still lingers. Yesterday a new blogger on Metblogs wrote a defensive post titled Growth is here to stay, get over it.

The post makes some good points about Oregonians’ provincialism, but misses the greater point about the city government’s role in managing growth. Yes, some growth is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean we need to a) encourage it or b) bankrupt the city giving infrastructure subsidies to condo developers in the guise of preparing for it.

The fact is that we can accommodate the growth that is expected without building an east-side Pearl, and without building nine-story condo bunkers on Interstate Avenue. At some point the environmentalists who have been placated by real estate developers with buzzwords like “sustainable,” “green” and “smart growth” will realize that what we’ve done in the Pearl is none of the above.

Potter slashes IFCC budget

by Steve, May 7th, 2008

Mayor Tom Potter’s proposed budget would cut all public funding for IFCC, North Portland’s unique arts presenting organization. I wrote up a piece about this over on Metblogs, including information on getting your voice heard in the budget discussion. Time is of the essence; the final budget hearing is tomorrow.

Oregon Reddit: Now slightly less broken!

by Steve, May 6th, 2008

techFor a while now, I’ve been using Oregon Reddit, a local version of the social bookmarking site hosted by OregonLive, the sort-of Web front for that dying dinosaur of Portland media,The Oregonian.

For a while when it first started, before people really figured out what it was or even that it existed, a handful of bloggers discovered that they could get links to their blog posts on the front page of OregonLive. As originally configured, the current top link — as voted on by the then-small user community — would be posted on the front page of OregonLive.

This kind of linkage could really bump traffic. You’d be amazed the kind of traffic OregonLive gets. Traffic to this blog would typically triple when linked like this. But the visit depth would go flat, and there was no increase in comment traffic. The traffic referred by OregonLive was not the kind of traffic I’m used to, and when they did comment, they often didn’t seem to even realize they’d left the OregonLive site.

Witness the Metblogs post I wrote about how to buy a new car, where one commenter on that site says:

I just want to say Congratulations to the Oregonian!! What hypocrites!! You print an article basically outlining how car dealerships screw everyone over…Yet you’ve happliy taken millions of their dollars to run their ads. THE DEALERSHIPS SPEND MORE MONEY THAN ANYONE IN ADVERTISING TO YOUR NEWSPAPER! Not so smart biting the hand that feeds you….

It was all fun and games, and even led to some hilarious links on The Oregonian‘s putative “front page” on the Web (such that it is). I had some fun posting a link to my criticism of the paper’s weak coverage of the blog movement. Nice to see the headline “Oregonian: a Day Late and a Dollar Short” on the Oregonian’s Web site. It stayed there for a quite a while, too.

But, like all good things, this had to come to an end. There was the case of one user in particular using Oregon Reddit to pimp his client’s commercial Web site. Then came the political operatives trying to game the system to keep stories about their candidates on the front page of OregonLive.

To do this, it was a simple matter of submitting a link, having all your cronies vote it up, and voting everything else down.

A vigilant group of three to five people (or one person voting from multiple logins on multiple IP addresses) could keep a link on top for a day, easily, with the side effect that interesting links got buried quickly.

What has followed this is a general sense that pretty much everything gets voted down immediately upon submission. There have been a number of flurries of posts about how broken Oregon Reddit is, and whether some users somehow cheated the system to get higher “karma.”

Interestingly, a significant portion of the Oregon Reddit community is made up of OregonLive employees, yet most of them don’t seem to know much about how the Reddit algorithm works.

Finally, they did something that should settle things down and make the thing work a little more reasonably: they stopped putting the “top” submission on the front page of OregonLive. Now there is no motivation to vote other posts down, since having the top post doesn’t buy you the traffic from the front page anymore.

It’s still a brutal world. I submitted three links today, and lost a couple karma points. (I think I’ve pissed off most of the OregonLive staff, not to mention the guys who pimp commercial Web sites and all the politicos.)

They guy who runs Silicon Florist asked me what I think the true utility of Oregon Reddit is, which is why I started writing this post.

Reddit is social bookmarking software. It is a place where you can submit links that are of interest to you, and through collaborative filtering, find other interesting links. Everybody gets to vote on every link or comment submitted. You gain (or lose) karma based on votes on your submissions, and submitted links get more points based on up votes and rise up the “hot” list where they are presumably seen by more people.

You can configure it so that when you vote down a link, it no longer shows up in the list. This allows you to keep a list of only the links you liked or haven’t checked out yet. In the best case scenario, there would be hundreds of links submitted daily, and you could quickly filter based on your own past preferences (you can add “friends” and see all their posts in a list) or you can see what the community as a whole has liked.

The current user with top “karma” is “hawth,” who gained his seemingly insurmountable karma dominance by submitting a ton of interesting links. He stopped posting links after an OregonLive employee accused him of cheating the system (but later apologized). Since he stopped posting, things haven’t been nearly as interesting. OregonLive staff continue to post links to stories on OregonLive. Most links get voted down immediately, and links rarely get more than two or three points.

There have been some new users with a flurry of posts recently, so hopefully that combined with the removal of the front-page listing will contribute to a more friendly atmosphere at Oregon Reddit. The key to making the system work is to increase the sheer number of submitted links, and increase the number of people voting. The facts that posts rarely rise into double-digit points and that the top post often has only one or two points are clear signs of this problem.

But the recent move to take the top post off the front page is a definite step in the right direction. Things are clearly slightly less broken than before!

The MHLW 2008 Portland, Oregon Voters’ Guide

by Steve, May 6th, 2008

election08

Mayor

Flip a coin. The business candidate who can’t articulate a single policy proposal (or pay his rent and taxes on time) or the career insider in the hip pocket of the big condo developers who will bring nine-story “green” towers and rich white people on bikes* to a gentrifying neighborhood near you. Dozono may be the best hope for a break from big-time public subsidies to the Homer Williams set, but don’t expect him to utter the words “rent stabilization” or “gentrification.” If you’re a renter, working class, poor, black or brown, you don’t have a dog in this fight. You can write me in if you want.
*I support equal rights for bike riders on our roads. Don’t take this statement as a repudiation of the bike community.

City Commissioner seat #1

Amanda Fritz. Transit nerd Chris Smith would turn the city into one big Pearl district he could. Charles Lewis? Meh. Not impressed. He seems quite angry, and quite willing to use his non-profit as a platform to jump into a higher-paying job. (Of course it’s all for the good of the children!) Jeff Bissonnette? Nice guy. Doesn’t have a chance. Mike Fahey? Grumpy old man; not running a serious campaign. John Branam? His campaign seems to be a jobs program for unemployed alt-weekly editors.

City Commissioner seat #2

Ed Garren. Of all the candidates running for city government, Garren gets gentrification the best. I’ll give Nick Fish a green light, too. He understands neighborhood issues, and he’s the candidate with a real chance to beat Sten’s anointed successor Jim Middaugh.

State measures

These were off my radar until I got my ballot. There are no arguments in opposition for any of them, but the arguments in favor scare me. Kevin Mannix. Crime victims’ rights groups. District attorney’s groups. My knee-jerk reaction is to vote against them, based on who is in favor of them. Use your best judgment on these. I got nothin’.

Democratic primary

I’m not registered Democrat, so I don’t get a vote in these, but here’s my take on the races:

Senate

Flip a coin. I like Novick personally. But policy-wise, there’s not much space separating him from Merkley. Either one would be to the left of Wyden, not to mention Smith. There seems to be a battle going on for the heart and soul of the state party, and it’s a freakin’ ugly fight. The old circular firing squad, as third-party spoiler John Frohnmayer called it. Frohnmayer, a former Republican, is coming into this race as a populist progressive. He will likely hand the race to Smith, regardless of who wins the Democratic nod. Like the mayor’s race, it’s a sad state of affairs. (I’m just reporting what I see, folks.)

President

Obama, simply because I don’t think Hillary stands a chance against McCain. Both Clinton and Obama are closer policy-wise to Bush than they are to me, and they are both bought and paid for by Wall Street. I strongly suspect the Democratic party is going to figure out a way to fuck up yet another in a string of gimme elections, and we’re going to be stuck with a McCain/Lieberman White House in January. Obama has an insurmountable delegate lead, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the party bigwigs throw it to Hillary.

Happy May Day!

by Steve, May 1st, 2008

laborI always find that on International Workers Day it is good to reflect on the basic reality that labor creates all wealth. This year, as the global economy teeters on the brink of calamity, the end game of three decades of deregulation of the financial sector, this concept is especially poignant.

Hedge fund managers, investment bankers and stock traders don’t create wealth, they skim it. It would actually be more accurate to say they steal it, since they don’t produce anything of intrinsic value to society.

The sub-prime crisis is just the canary in the coal mine, indicating a financial system rife with ethical corruption and iniquity. Among other things, this crisis represents one of the greatest transfers of wealth away from black Americans in the history of our nation. To blame the victims, even as we bail out the predators to the tune of $30 billion, is as offensive as it is ignorant.

Capitalism is predicated on continuous growth. Like a shark, it must keep moving to survive. This basic premise ignores the fact that we live in a closed system with finite resources. It is becoming undeniable that the system is feeding on itself in a way that, if left to its own devices, will lead to its demise, much like Marx predicted.

It may not be too late to steer clear of total collapse. The first step is to re-regulate all aspects of the financial sector.

We’ve also got to stop squandering money and lives on the Iraq occupation. This military adventure is part and parcel of the gross upward redistribution of wealth of the past decades.

And we’ve got to socialize health care in this country as part of a new New Deal. Instead of continuing our devastating investment in “killingry,” as R. Buckminster Fuller called it, we need to reinvest in “livingry.”

Will Obama be the FDR to Bush’s Hoover? So far both Democratic candidates have bent over backwards to show their loyalty to Wall Street, which indicates we’re not likely to see any major change of course from three decades of bi-partisan neoliberal deregulation.

There is another way, which is better for the planet, better for our neighbors, and which, above all, gives credit where credit is due: to the workers.

Too bad nobody running for president is willing to talk about it.