Saturday, February 07, 2009

January's lost jobs: Like laying off Portland

The numbers associated with this recession are tough to grasp.

The latest is 598,000.

That’s the number of folks who lost their jobs in January.

It might help — if that’s the right verb — to know that the population of Portland is 576,000.

In other words, this economy threw the equivalent of the entire Rose City out of work in one month.

And what’s happening this month?

Is Seattle being laid off even as you read this?

Another “Deep Recession” note: We are hearing the term “deep recession” more and more. It’s transitional nomenclature that elides into where this is clearly headed — deep-ression.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Rip City asks, "Recession? What Recession?"

Which one doesn’t fit?

a) Housing prices are falling. Bye-bye equity.

b) Car dealers can’t give away inventory.

c) The unemployment rate is soaring.

d) The Blazers are raising their ticket prices 6.7 percent

The correct answer is d) ... I guess.

It’s all a matter of supply and demand, sports reporter Jason Quick of The Oregonian tells us today.

The supply part I get. The supply of seats in the Rose Garden is fixed. The Blazer franchise finally has managed to hire law-abiding, yet competitive players. The place is selling out — at current prices.

It’s the demand part I can’t figure.

Blazer fans apparently don’t turn the pages from the sports section to the business section. Or open their 401 (k) statements.

If they did, they would join the rest of us in thinking about how to hack away at discretionary spending. You’d think Blazer tickets would be right up there at the top of the cut list — along with a spur-of-the-moment trip to Paris, a new car and a five-course dinner in the Pearl.

You’d think. But you’d be wrong.

When it comes to sports fans, we are in the world of fanaticism and fantasy. What do reason and a bank statement have to do with the thrill of victory on hardwood or turf?

The economy can be tanking, but as long at the Blazers are on a Rip City tear, Blazer owner Paul Allen can jack up his prices — the real world economy be damned.

For the ’09-’10 season, that means that the best seats in the house will go for $140 a pop, up from $130. The whole season will cost a cool $6,160.

It’s anybody’s guess what Paul will be asking for beer and parking.

If there is any consolation, it’s that the nose-bleed, blue collar sections won’t cost more next year. For the pleasure of watching ant-sized millionaires race around on a court the size of a playing card, you still will pay $9.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A $300,000/year compensation cap for all

I hope that those who read the quote by James F. Reda in today’s New York Times recognize Reda’s words as representing a huge part of the problem facing this country.

Reda, the founder and *managing director of James F. Reda & and Associates, a compensation consulting firm, was asked what he thought of the Obama Administration’s plan to place a $500,000 cap on compensation to executives at companies receiving federal bailout money.

He responded:

“That is pretty draconian, $500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus…And you know these companies that are in trouble are not going to pay much of an annual dividend.”

I don’t know about you, but to me $500,000 is absolutely a lot of money. It is more than 10 times what the average worker makes. Make that “made.”

Annual compensation of a half million dollars is “not a lot of money” only to the few, powerful and self-indulgent living in a world of Riviera mansions, Aspen ski chalets, private jets and pearl-handled toilet plungers.

The article lists some of them. Kenneth D. Lewis, head of the hat-in-hand Bank of America, took home more than $20 million in 2007. The clearly clueless Richard Wagoner, head of GM, raked in $14.4 million. (Don’t get me started on college football coaches and NBA point guards.)

A story in last Friday’s New York Times tells us that in 2006 (the last year for which the figures are available) the 400 wealthiest Americans made, ON AVERAGE…are you ready for this?…$263 million.

That’s on average in one year.

The motives, wisdom and competence of those allowing themselves to be paid so lavishly should immediately be suspect.

They have lost touch with reality — yours, mine and that of the vast majority of Americans.

So let’s just put it out there—and, Mr. President, note that I am reducing your cap number here. It means a cut of $100,000 in your own presidential salary of $400,000.

Bailout money aside, no one should be compensated at a rate of more than $300,000 a year. That’s enough. Actually that’s more than enough, as 98 out of 100 know, but we have to start somewhere.

If a company has more money available for executive compensation, it should rework its numbers. The money should used to raise the wages of everyone else, starting at the bottom — from the secretaries to the janitors, to assembly-line workers to the accounting clerks and sales staff.

As for James F. Reda — fire him.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Finding Ernie Pyle and Frank Sinatra — for $5

Yesterday, I paused on a four-mile urban hike to drop in on the William Temple Thrift Store on NW Hoyt. The store benefits a good cause, and the donated merchandise is fun and occasionally surprising to peruse.

Strange, but before going into the store I never had cause to associate Ernie Pyle, the legendary World War II correspondent, with Frank Sinatra, whose voice still sings through my remembered tender teens.

After 15 minutes with bric-a-brac, used tableware. cast-offs and donated books, I walked out of the store with two biographies, “Why Sinatra Matters” by Pete Hamill and “Ernie Pyle’s War” by James Tobin. Total price:$5.


This on Sinatra and the press:

“Sinatra’s idea of paradise is a place where there are plenty of women and no newspapers,” said Humphrey Bogart, who was sixteen years older than the singer and a kind of hero to the younger man. “He doesn’t know it, but he’d be better off if it were the other way around.”

This on the public’s reaction to Ernie Pyle’s death in the Okinawa campaign of April 1945:

Through Pyle’s eyes they had watched their “boys” go to distant wars and become soldiers—green and eager at the start, haggard and worn at the end. Through his eyes they had glimpsed great vistas of battle at sea and they had stared into the faces of men in a French field who thought they were about to die. So no one thought it strange for President Truman to equate the deaths of Franklin Roosevelt and a newspaper reporter….

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Round-trip with Questions

Coming back from a 645-mile, one-day marathon to Baker City and back, I sucked up and snapped away at dim scenery on a less-than-postcard-perfect afternoon and evening.

Question: while driving on a lonely stretch of interstate, is it more dangerous to yammer on the cell phone or snap digital photos?

Do we need anti-photography/driving legislation?

Moving right along….

By the time I got to the Gorge on this westward return leg, shadows hid the chasm's cascades and cliffs.

The most compelling images came earlier, to the east of the Gorge. Twilight near Boardman offered power pylons, grain elevators, probing semi headlights and the flickering of my lane’s white lines .

It’s been several months since I’ve traveled I-84. The biggest change is the proliferation of wind farms along ridges. The slow. graceful rotors signal progress. But 75 years ago, so too did the big dams on the Columbia.

Unintended consequences.

Let’s hope that the whirling white monoliths don’t do to the the flyways what the dams have done to salmon runs.

Are these rows of whirling blades technological follies or are they salvation from global warming?

The big semis were another surprise. In this economy, what could they be carrying besides debt? Had I not been in a hurry to get home, I’d have lingered at a truck stop to gather the road gossip. “Just what are you hauling, partner?”

For a feel of the trucker’s life on the road, I recommend John McPhee’s “Uncommon Carrier.”

My 12 hours on I-84 was a journey of questions.

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