The Week in Review (Mar. 28 - Apr. 3)

Jeff Alworth

That the week beginning March 28 was notable for its grimness will strike no one as controversial.  Two extremely famous Christian symbols died this week, invoking something of an apocalyptic fervor among many of the nation's believers.  The week was indeed clouded by dark symbols, but I have a dissenting view about what they mean. 

The big news on Monday was the arrival of a new suitor in the PGE bridal sweepstakes.  Named innocuously and municipally "Oregon Mutual Utility," the group--headed by former Pacificorp execs--seized on a financial scheme popularized in the great California electricity deregulation experiment.  The group would use "securitized bonds" to acquire PGE--bonds backed by the guaranteed profitability of the utility.  California deregulation?  Hey, I'm sold.

On Tuesday, in an effort to help provide content for the cable news shows on a slow day, the Schiavo case--ahem--lurched back to life.  First, Jesse Jackson confused his critics on the right by coming out in support for the Schindlers (similarly confused lefties might recall his first name when seeking an explanation: “Reverend”).  And, after declaring their appeals concluded, the Schindlers reversed themselves, asking a court to intervene for the 2,693rd time.

A political morass on Wednesday, but for a change not in Washington.  This time it was the Iraqis who hurled insults and ground their proto-parliament to an intractable halt.  Things got so ugly in their bid to try to get things on post-election track that the local news feed cut out and went to a long-play of the Iraqi national anthem.  Wouldn't you love to see Fox do that to the O'Reilly Factor from time to time?

Also Wednesday, big doings closer to home.  Protesters of the Biscuit fire began the day creatively, setting up a vast tripod in the center of 2nd Ave in downtown Portland.  A teen dangled from the contraption and sent waves of rage through morning commuters.  I guess the kid was just trying to spread his fury: at the Fiddler sale, logging companies have already managed to cut half the trees, even before the case is settled in court.  Meanwhile, the Forest Service is preparing to auction timber sales in a Clinton-designated roadless area at the Biscuit fire.  In Salem, Karen Minnis located a file in her desk containing Dan Doyle's old Bucket Plan (marked "DOA" after his fraud and resignation), and coyly re-introduced it as a guaranteed "school funding plan."  Funny, it actually limits spending on education to 8% per biennium.  Finally, the Portland City Council delayed a vote on the Joint Terrorism Task Force following a productive public meeting Wednesday night.

Oh yeah, two more courts--including the US Supreme--again refused to hear the Schindler's appeal.

And then we come to Thursday, a day grim and symbolic for many different and opposed reasons.  For the cynical and opportunistic, the day became Black Thursday as Terri Schiavo finally passed from non-consciousness to death.  The patron saint of cynical and opportunistic politicians, Tom DeLay--who had previously called the Schiavo case one of "medical terrorism" and "judicial murder"--used the occasion to threaten the judiciary: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today." 

Not that anyone much noticed, but Thursday was Black for the United States for reasons documented in a 601-page report to the President.  In it, special commissioners called intelligence on Iraq "dead wrong."  They refused to comment on Bush's culpability in forcing the invasion (he commissioned the report, after all), but they did note that the American response to 9/11 has been marked by sloth and incompetence.  They highlighted this by referring Bush to the country's response following Pearl Harbor, wherein the following three years there saw the US invade the correct countries and bring peace to Europe and Asia.

So let us consider Black Thursday for my perspective.  In the three years following 9/11, Bush and the GOP have invaded an innocent country (innocent of our charges, anyway), thereby creating a far greater terror risk, they've failed to properly fund or equip local responders, and they've used the event as a rhetorical tool to advance an extreme and bizarre agenda.  And, on the day a federal commission announces the country's post-9/11 failures, Americans don't notice because they are too busy watching the House majority leader threaten judges in the name of a woman whose life had become a perverse symbol to the GOP of America's inner immorality. 

Friday was April Fool's Day.  Apparently we celebrated it a day early.

Finally, on Saturday, Pope John Paul II slipped into a hazy half-sleep while his organs began shutting down.  Heading the Catholic Church is by default a political position, but we do a disservice to this man if we think of his life and actions as political.  He was first and always the holder and embodiment of the religion.  As the world watched, John Paul used his own death as his final teaching.  I don't know what that's called in Catholicism, but we call it skillful means in Buddhism.  There was a lesson in his death for us all.

  • (Show?)

    (similarly confused lefties might recall his first name when seeking an explanation: “Reverend”)

    Because of course no religious people thought everyone should just leave she and her husband alone?

  • (Show?)

    The bizarre nature of the "culture of life" outed itself this week in ways I never thought we'd see.

    I wrote about this today on my blog...but how does a group claiming to "err on the side of life" square itself up with such a vocal advocacy of the death penalty in Texas (and other states) where defense attornies are egregiously terrible?

  • (Show?)

    Because of course no religious people thought everyone should just leave she and her husband alone?

    Many, many religious people thought that, but I'd bet the number of ordained Baptist ministers with political affiliations who did approaches zero.

  • andrew (unverified)

    Jeff: It was nice to see a mention of Iraq on this site again. I was beginning to think that blugonians were falling in line behind the "patriots" applauding January's "election success" and ready to proclaim that democracy is nigh in all of the Middle East. Now that we've awoken from this mid-winter snooze, can we all get back to calling for an end-date to this madness and demanding some accountability from our DC delegation as well as the Governor? (He could follow Montana's lead right now, if party activists supported him) Here's hoping this site will be part of that movement.

  • Jim Hansen (unverified)

    Teaching an old dog new tricks: Oregon Mutual Utility is using securitization legislation let PGE customers buy PGE with the cheapest money available. All the profits of the company are returned to the customers. Mutual ownership has many advantages over PUD due to access to capital and rate stability. The Enron trustee shares the same love for Oregon that Jeff Alworth has for Sean Hannity. Before Enron gets a chance to punt the PGE football, OMU is going to block the kick and give the ball to the hometown fans. It works in Green Bay.

    I've grown tired of telling out of towners that we're so clever becuase with thought of the bottle bill. It's 2005.

  • (Show?)

    Well, Jim, some might observe that the city is fairly local, too. I haven't read much on your group's proposal--just what's in the papers--but I will. Count on it.

  • Jim Hansen (unverified)

    We met with Eric Sten before we thought of the mutual utility idea or recruited any of our team. The City wants local ownership, local control, to keep the headquarters in Portland, keep the charitable/leadership loci associated with a large corporate headquarters here, and have lower stable rates. We now meet or exceed all these requirements.You're not going to hear us saying anyting negative about the City or the State proposals. We don't think that the City should stop their efforts. If either of the other proposals fail to get Enron's attention, the City option is preferable to a distribution to creditors. These are all intriguing ideas that warrent further consideration.

    Our common enemy is a distribution to Enron creditors. We will receive all the disadvantages of the TPG proposal WITHOUT any rate credits, conditions or stipulatioins. Likely we'll get to got through this process again in a few years with another TPG after the company has been stripped.

    So, it would be very wise for us all to keep our rhetoric to a minimum and send three very pretty potential brides to the ball; the prince has already indicated that he'd rather attend a ball in the neighboring kingdom, not too hard to understand given that he was tarred and feathered the last time he came...

    A couple other thoughts: as you go through the web site, take a close read of the core values. Most of the time this is something dreamed up by the PR department as an afterthought. These values were developed by the founders before we thought of the mutual idea. The values are basis for our concept and all the people involved know these and carry them with us.

    Also: we are from here. I went to Beaverton High and Oregon State. I've always been a PGE customer. Our company is not an investment bank. We didn't even know at first if we were a charity or research organization. And yes, we'd like to get paid for this. I've been working some days up to 22 hours and living off of savings. Any compensation for us will need to be approved by the PUC and will be part of any application. These kinds of transactions typically cost about $400,000 per month during the due diligence phase. We should be rewarded if we can minimize the time needed. Also, out of the 400K we need to pay our investment bankers attorneys and political advisors.

    Finally, we have been working hard for eight months on this project. We felt that we couldn't share any of our ideas publicly until the PUC issued its order. Unlike politicians, intervenors, and reporters we would be viewed as a commercial interest and would likely be sued by Texas Pacific Group for tortious interference of a bankruptcy proceeding. Because we were intentionally very quiet, from the public's point of view, we are going to go from 'noboby heard about us' to 'making an offer' very rapidly. So we need outreach bad. I can't spend all my time wblogin right now, but I'd love to get as many of your friends in room as we can get and have a chance to explain the whole thing. Also, if you or anyone reading this has any public outreach ideas call me. Anything! TV, radio, neighborhood groups, Rotary, Lions whatever...

    We are doing this one for the home team. My cell is 5033073164. Transparency is our # 1 value.

  • (Show?)

    Well, Jim, you've certainly demonstrated transparency. Yet at the end of the day, your proposal isn't exactly like public ownership. I'm happy to keep an open mind about it, but sometimes people disagree about policy, even if they're being above-board on process.

    Thanks for weighing in--

  • Jim Hansen (unverified)

    Ack! Sorry Jeff, I hope I didn't ever represent a mutual PGE as public ownership. It's not. This is a private-sector solution. The mutual PGE will be an investor-owned utility regulated by the PUC. The goal will be to make a lot of money for the investors. Now, granted, the investors are the customers, so this 'profit' will be realized by customers as lower rates, a 'REI style' dividend check, or a actual check.

    The real money to be made (or reduced rates for the customers, depending on how you choose to look at it) will come from making good power generating decisions over the next few decades.

    The advantage of being an investor owned utility is that it is easier to attract and retain the best employees and management in the industry. And there's better access to capital. In the next few decades, as the power grid becomes ever more complex, the key factor in making a profit (or in our case driving rates down) will be making correct generating and power contracting decisions. You need great people to do this!

    Already the Columbia Basin is at capacity. The Fed's are fighting for some kind of restructuring. It's just not certain that public power is going to have the same advantages that it once had in the thirties.

    Also, there are some REAL wildcards to soon be played. There are new technologies in fuel cells and advancements in geothermal and wind that could drive those costs much lower. An investor owned utility should have better access to capital to make these kinds of investments.

    Your readers who are realy progressive (and are students of quantum mechanics) should take a look at Blacklight Power to get a feeling for what I mean. This is the kind of thing that could really turn the world upside down and obsolete everything. How will PUD's deal with this if it ever happens? Better be thinking ahead...

    Well, sorry about confusing the issue. A mutual PGE may deliver more public benefit than PUDs, Coops, or municipal utilities, and it will likely have a lower cost structure than either of the proposed public solutions, and certainly it won't just transfer costs to other public sectors to gain 'cost savings', and it will definitely not have a political board -- the board will be elected by the customers -- not the public. So I agree with you and definitely think it would be unfair to characterize this as a public ownership solution. (egad! Please don't mention public power to my Republican friends, you'll spook 'em!)

    We should have a complete re-write of our Website in about ten days. I think that there has been some confusion that somehow our group, Oregon Mutual Utility Development, Inc. is somehow taking over PGE. Looking at our site I can see where the confusion came from. At one point we were thinking that PGE would be renamed to Oregon Mutual Utility (similar name to us but not us).

    Why change the name of PGE at all? It's costly. Maybe the new Board or the management may want to paint "a mutual company" in small print below PGE when the stationery runs out or they buy new trucks. We are just helping this process and think it's a great idea.

    Well, I'm always available for outreach if anyone wants to hear about this. Cell 503.307.3164.

connect with blueoregon