Saturday, December 30, 2006

December Progress Report on the Ideal Plug-In Hybrid Diesel-Electric Vehicle

More updates on the progress being made in the industry to produce my ideal plug-in hybrid diesel-electric vehicle (previous update here:

I've purchased a 1987 Mercedes 300TD Turbo Wagon to replace the Saturn in the interim between now and post-2010, when more advanced diesel-hybrids are expected to hit the U.S. Market. I plan on making some modifications to "Eleanor," as she has been named, which will allow her to run on either regular petro-diesel, biodiesel or straight vegetable oil, in any combination, in her main fuel tank -- as well as modifications to perhaps hydrogen-charge her engine for greater fuel efficiency, increased power and decreased emissions.

A British company has developed a diesel-hybrid 5-door compact that gets 45-88 mpg and tops 120mph.

Thanks to their recent purchase of a 5.9% stake in Isuzu, Toyota has announced plans to produce a diesel-hybrid subcompact for the Japanese market by 2010. No word yet on when a diesel-hybrid powerplant might make its way into the rest of their lineup.

More to come soon. :-)

Meet Eleanor -- the new 1987 Mercedes-Benz 300TD Turbo Wagon

So, we went for it & picked up a new Mercedes on December 16th (2006). We've decided to name her Eleanor.

She's a 1987 300TD Turbo, which is a 7-seat turbo diesel touring wagon, originally from Germany, but imported into the U.S. by her original owner while he was in the service. We purchased her from his nephew. She's got a wonderful & comfy velour interior that matches her bronze-copper exterior. Her stereo has been upgraded to feature a CD player & an aux-in port for an external device (.mp3 player or whatever).

We plan on upgrading her to run off of either biodiesel, straight vegetable oil or regular diesel, but when we purchased her she still had a tank full of petrodiesel. Right now, after driving her up to Portland (Oregon) and back for the holidays and fueling up with as much biodiesel as possible along the way (including some B99 in Santa Rosa), she's running on what probably amounts to B60.

Now, it's just a matter of finding the right buyer for the Saturn. We spent all day on Sunday the 17th cleaning both vehicles thoroughly, inside & out -- really detailing them. Eleanor because she needed it, and the Saturn in anticipation of showing to a potential buyer. The Saturn has been a great vehicle, but my beautiful yet not quite fearless girlfriend Carryh has deemed it to be "too fast!" So, it's out with the Saturn and in with Eleanor.

Another modification that I'm considering for Eleanor is to install a hydrogen-boost system, such as this one. The idea is that a line from the alternator powers an electrolysis tank, which electrolyzes straight water into hydrogen ion (and oxygen ion). This output is fed directly into the air intake of the engine. Once inside the cylinder, it mixes with the diesel fuel, causing it to combust more rapidly. The principle has been explained this way: Imagine a prairie brush fire, moving in a line through dry grass. It moves at the speed that it can jump from blade to blade. Now, imagine if a line of gasoline is laid in front of it. Once it reaches the gasoline, it combusts more quickly than it did with just the straight prairie grass. The hydrogen ion acts in much the same manner with the diesel fuel, causing it to combust more quickly, and thus at a slightly higher temperature. The effect is to produce more power per stroke, meaning less fuel is needed to perform the same work. The net effect should be increased fuel economy, increased power and decreased emissions (since the fuel is combusted moe fully within the cylinder).

We shall see if this proves to be the case with Eleanor. First, I must sell the Saturn. Then, I can invest a little bit more in the new vehicle.

Some notes on how she operates now: After giving her an oil change and replacing/repairing some of the vacuum tubes under her hood, she drove the 1400 round trip miles between San Francisco and Portland like a dream... like floating on air. No real problems to speak of (knock on wood). Her 148 horsepower turbocharged 6-cylinder engine brought her up to speed quite nicely, and kept her there without trouble. Only thing is, she weighs 3388 pounds empty (1.7 tons), so on some of the mountain passes, she slowed down considerably... from 80 mph to 65 mph or a bit less. Much of this was because I'm a bit reluctant to use the kickdown gears just for the sake of speed, since I know how much fuel that causes her to use! She can pull up a hill at 75 mph if she's floored and drops down into 3rd gear, but that's got to really suck the diesel for a 5 mi long hill! Better to let her cruise up it at 65mph or 60mph, then make up the time on the downhill side or the straightaway, and save a little fuel.

One final note about her fuel tank: The hose doesn't go all the way down to the bottom of the tank. It apparently stops short, about 3/4 of the way there. We ran out of diesel the first day that we took delivery of her, because we decided to cruise up to Fairfax in Marin County for lunch and back, with a bit les than half a tank of fuel in her. Well, on Hwy 101 on the big hill before the tunnel on the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin side, we were trucking along at 75 in the fast lane... and then 65.. and then 40... and pretty soon, Carryh was leaning out the window and I had the 4-way flashers on and we were pulling over to the exit ramp just shy of the crest of the hill. Couldn't even make it over the summit! She just plain petered out. Called the previous owner, and sure enough -- out of fuel with 1/4 tank showing on the guage still! Luckily for us, a nice couple had followed us onto the ramp, and they offered me a ride back into Mill Valley to get a spare tank of fuel and bring it back. They were sure our guardian angels that day, as we needed to make it back to my place to play host to a MoveOn showing of Al Gore's _An Inconvenient Truth_!! (Ironically fitting somehow, huh?)

More news is sure to come on this latest chapter in vehicle adventures. I always said that my next vehicle should outperform the Saturn in every way. Well... I meant my next *new* vehicle. Though, Eleanor may still find a way to meet that criteria yet, if the Hydrogen Boost kit is installed and able to perform wonders for her fuel efficiency!!

And finally -- I look forward to doing all my own work on her (or as much as will be possible given my lack of a full service shop or any professional mechanical training). Especially after paying $125+ an hour for service at the Saturn dealer on the Satty!! The oil change and the vacuum hose servicing was just the tip of the iceberg... I can't wait to dive in & keep her in tip-top shape!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bicycle Congestion on the Hawthorne Bridge. Possible Solutions?

It has been pointed out that the Hawthorne Bridge is currently experiencing a bit of bicycle congestion, especially considering the new lane stripings. Various solutions have been proposed to fix this issue on the Hawthorne, by dividing up the available space differently. (It has also been suggested that the Morrison Bridge will get bike lanes soon, and that perhaps a new bike-only bridge is needed.) Here's what the new striping looks like on the Hawthorne:

I think the best solution here is to just expand the pie, not try to make the slices smaller.

Hawthorne seems set to me. It's got bicycle access, ped access, probably will get a trolley, already has buses, cars, trucks, etc. Set. No problems there, really. It's approaching perfection in many ways.

The problem is lack of parallel bike crossings, which results in too many people using Hawthorne who could be using another bridge if one existed that was convenient to bikes.

I remember when the Morrison had temporary bike lanes, during the temporary closure of the Hawthorne for the retrofit during the 90s. I believe it was a two-way lane on the south side of the bridge, if memory serves, and it worked well. Something like that in 2008/9 (when the Morrison is due for a retrofit itself) should provide a little bit of bicycle congestion relief to the Hawthorne.

Another idea, which it seems people are tip-toeing around, is to construct a new Salmon Street Bridge that would be bike/ped only. My suggestion: Make it extra-wide, say 40-60 feet or so. Use the extra space for retail. Even been to Venice or Florence, Italy? They've got retail bridges there. Like the Ponte Vecchio:

It's an amazing experience to go shopping on a bridge. Bikes could get lanes on the outside of the brige, peds could walk through the center of the bridge and shop. The rent from the shops could be bonded against and used to construct the bridge. Call it a public/private partnership. The Portland Spirit dock would need to be moved, and a new I-5 crossing would probably need to be figured out on the east side to get Salmon Street bike boulevard users across the f('ing)-way, but I think it could work. Here's what the Ponte Vecchio looks like from the pedestrian perspective:

That'd be WONDERFUL. Call it the Cadillac (or Mercedes) solution to bike/ped river crossings. Only issue: It would need to raise up and down. Would shops be willing to make the ride, or would it need to have a central plaza between the shops for the lifty bit?

Third solution: The Caruthers Crossing. It will probably be built sometime in the teens, given current trends, though by 2010 isn't completely out of the question yet. 2012 is more likely and 2014 realistic. When it gets constructed, bike/ped access should be an absolute *requirement*. This will help everybody coming from Division street or further south get across the river. However, it's going to have a bit of a slope to it, so there will be more of a hill to get up over -- it won't be a lifty bridge, so it'll need to be high enough to allow ships to pass beneath it unimpeded, as per Coast Guard regulations. But, that sure would help the SoWa neighborhood get more connected to the hip east side, too!! Here's a photo of what it's supposed to look like:

Maybe shops & retail could also go on the new Caruthers bridge... I think it's certainly an idea worth exploring. Yet another opportunity for a public/private partnership.

Anyways, food for thought.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Infrastructure for Employment: National Rail System

I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with Joel Kotkin. However, in his most recent LA Times op-ed piece, he advocates for a new national infrastructure project, as a way to create jobs and rebuild the economy -- ala the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s Depression, or the Eisenhower's freeway initiative of the 1950s.

I couldn't agree more.

Except that I think that the specific infrastructure program that is needed is this:

* Build a national high speed rail system (200+mph) to connect the major cities with one another along the logical national corridors (West Coast, Vancouver B.C. to Tijuana; East Coast, Maine to Florida; Texas to Chicago via Kansas City; etc.).
* Make each station both a major transfer point to local transit, and a major focus for transit-oriented development
* Build out local baby-bullet services (120mph or so) to connect up the national high-speed rail backbone service with other nearby cities. For instance, in the Portland region, the High Speed Rail stop would be downtown. Salem and Eugene would probably also receive stops (and maybe Oregon City, if they committed to enough TOD to turn themselves into a place worth stopping at). However, baby-bullet services would allow passengers to transfer once and get to... Hood River, the Dalles, Pendleton, St. Helens, McMinnville, etc.
* Expand supporting transit services to complement both the baby-bullet and the high speed rail services
* Make all the trainsets in America, preferably at multiple locations so that many regions get these jobs
* Hire American firms to do the work
* Use start-up incubators in many of the TOD locations to really give a shot in the arm to these station areas.

I'm not sure that this represents a winning political platform for any politicians seeking election... but if any sitting politician really wants to leave a legacy (ala Eisenhower or Roosevelt), they should seriously give this vision some thought.

Otherwise, it's going to probably be a long time before I'm electable to an office that would allow me to implement this as my own vision!! I'd like to be able to actually ride this system a long time before that!

NASA: New Permanent Moon Base Coming Soon!

According to this article, NASA plans to build a new permanent base on the Moon (of Earth) by 2024.

Having read Ben Bova's fantastic 1998 novel _Moonwar_, as well as its sequels and every other book related to it... I think this is a fantastic idea. As Bova lays out in his science-fiction scenario, nanotech is essentially banned on Earth due to a confluence of environmentalists and fundamentalists who are afraid of it for very different reasons. As a result, the Moon is the only legal place for nanotech research to continue, and as a result, the economy on the Moon flourishes. To the point that it declares independence from the Earth and becomes its own country/independent political entity. It is able to do so because it becomes mostly self-sufficient, and only needs to import mostly non-essential items from Earth.

So, the common complaint about science fiction is that, well, it's fiction. This presumes that it is not likely to become reality.

However, the very name "science fiction" involves some rooting in reality. And I think that the common theme, as we move deeper into the 21st century and continue to experience technological innovation, is that of science fiction becoming science fact. And sometimes, political and social fact, to the extent that science fiction has often been used as a vehicle for social and political analysis (just about as often as it has been used as a vehicle for the proposal of future technological innovations, actually).

So, I hereby raise a toast to our future moon base. And after that, the independent nation of Luna.


Progress Report: My Ideal Hybrid-Electric Vehicle

Reports are emerging that GM is working on a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle, one that would run primarily off an electric engine, but also use a diesel or electric engine as a generator. According to this LA Times article, a prototype may be revealed at the North America Auto Show in Detroit in early 2007, but production would be a ways off after that.

Even if GM delays or doesn't actually come to produce this particular vehicle, this is a good sign. Lithium-ion battery development has made plug-in hybrids into a very feasible alternative to the traditional internal-combustion vehicle, and the batteries just keep getting better.

Ford also appears to be heading in this direction, according to recent promotional materials.

So, it now appears that Ford & GM are the top front-runners in the race to produce my ideal diesel-electric hybrid vehicle. Unless Toyota announces plans to upgrade their hybrid system significantly, make a plug-in electric version, and make a version that runs on diesel, that is...

This just in: A British company has taken a Mini Cooper, tossed out the engine, transmission, exhaust system, transaxle and braking system, and replaced them with electric wheels (electric engine on each wheel) plus capacitors, batteries, central computer, in-vehicle display... and a very small fixed-RPM internal combustion engine, which acts as a generator. The thing can apparently go at least 30 miles purely on electricity, outrun a Porsche 911 off the line, get up to 150mph top speed, and average 60-80mpg when running in mixed mode off the battery. Capacitors, apparently, are the key to the vehicle, as they allow electricity from braking to be stored and then released immediately at 10x the rate of batteries, allowing for kick-arse acceleration and braking power. Note that I didn't mention brakes? The electric engines *are* the brakes, and special software allows them to provide both anti-lock braking and anti-skid acceleration!!

Another update:
This blog post is a nice, articulate cry for more diesel-electric hybrids. I think a lot of people are now coming to realize that diesel-electric hybrids really will bring the best of both worlds, and allow for the greatest versatility. Especially if they're plug-in diesel-electric hybrids.

So, the technology is slowly coming together, folks. The vehicles of the future are almost here. My 2000 Saturn SL2 may finally be eclipsed by a vehicle that outperforms it in every way, including fuel economy, acceleration, deceleration, passenger/freight capacity, and ability to traverse rough terrain/high clearance areas.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What If Treasure Island Sinks?

There's been a lot of buzz recently about the Treasure Island Redevelopment Plan, which seeks to build about 6,000 new homes, bringing 13,500 new residents to the island, along with shops, services & supporting features.

Treasure Island was completed in 1938 for the 1939 World's Fair, then taken over by the Navy during World War II. It was created by filling in the bay, or actually by constructing a stone sea wall and filling it with sand and gravel dredgings from the bay and the Sacramento River Delta. (The name comes from the assumption that there would be gold in the dredgings.) The entire island (Treasure Island, that is -- not including the attached Yerba Buena island to the south, which is a natural island made mostly of solid rock that sits several hundred feet above sea level) is generally around four to six feet or so above sea level.

The Redevelopment Plan would put giant concrete columns around the edge of the island driven deep into the bay much to shore it up and stabilize it, so that during an earthquake, liquifaction would not cause it to sink into the Bay or cause its buildings to topple.

However, new urban neighborhoods, to be truly sustainable, must be built to last. Every effort has been made to make the new Treasure Island Revelopment Plan as sustainable as possible by building a carbon-neutral community, with an organic farm, solar and wind power, congestion pricing and limited parking to reduce automobile use. But once global warming kicks into full swing, and places like Greenland and the non-floating portions of Antarctica begin to melt, the sea level will begin to rise rapidly. By the end of this century, the sea level is currently projected to have risen by between 1 and 3 feet -- and that's the conservative estimate. By 2150, the sea level could be perhaps as much as 18 feet higher than it is today, given historical high-water marks for inter-glacial periods.

So, this is the question: What will need to be done to prevent Treasure Island from slipping beneath the waves during the lifetimes of our grandchildren, if current trends continue, the planet continues to warm, and sea levels continue to rise? Should planners now be thinking about a Treasure Island with a more Venetian layout, with canals between the buildings and tall buildings whose lower floors could be sealed against the water as it continues to rise, without rendering the entire structure useless or uninhabitable?

Or is this just so much useless speculation?

Post-Republican Era Marshall Plan Needed for the United States

The Bush Administration and the Republican-led Congress have been a disaster for the United States, on par with a war or a major natural disaster. As such, we need to come up with a Marshall Plan to re-build our country in the aftermath. It needs to deal with taking the money out of politics, cleaning up elections by mandating paper trails and possibly nationwide vote-by-mail, removing corruption from the halls of government, and rebuilding our nation by instituting an initiative such as the construction of a nationwide high-speed rail system that will tie together our regional economies, create employment and act as a dynamo for economic, social and political change throughout this great landscape.

I think it's important to have a focus on re-building our own country, as well as to re-focus our foreign policy to a true re-building of the rest of the world.

I'll continue to post more on this thread soon, but I wanted to get this thought out into the void for discussion now.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Regional Transit Smart Card for Portland

Recently on the blog BlueOregon, it was suggested that Tri-Met (or somebody) should consider instituting a regional transit smart card in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan region, modeled after the Octopus card in Hong Kong. (Note: Hong Kong's Octopus card, developed I believe by ERG, is widely hailed as the best-implemented transit smart card in the world. It is the flagship implementation that ERG and other consultants use to sell the concept to new customers worldwide.)

While this might bring many benefits to the region over time, there may also be many pitfalls in the implementation process. For an example of this, I look to the nearest system to Portland to attempt to implement a Smart Card, the San Francisco Bay Area (as opposed to some metro area halfway around the world). The Bay Area has been attempting to implement the Translink Smart Card system to integrate fare collection for its 24+ transit operators... since the early 1990s. (The original pilot program for TransLink debuted in 1993 with mag-stripe cards, but it didn't work reliably due to problems with keeping card-readers operational on buses with high levels of constant vibration.) Currently, upwards of $150 million has been spent on the system (depending on how you calculate the costs), and it still is not operational for the core regional transit service: BART. (As of November 2006, it is up and running on Golden Gate and AC Transit services, and there is a planned eventual roll-out to the rest of the transit operators.)

But at what cost?

For the Bay Area -- which is admittedly a much larger region than Portland, with many more transit operators -- the cost is broken down as follows:

Phase 1 (Pilot Program for 6,000 users on BART, AC Transit, MUNI & Golden Gate Ferry, began in 2002 following the signing of a contract with Motorola/ERG in 1999. Users reportedly loved it!): $19 million
Phase 2 (Initial roll out using existing fare structures of the 24+ transit operators): $77 million
Agency Integration (between the two consultants-- ERG for MTC, and Cubic for BART -- & the various transit operators): $27 million
Design Changes: $17 million
Site Preparation: $5 million
Technical Support: $4 million

Grand total: $149 million (not including $77 million or so for a new set of faregates for BART that as delivered was not Translink-compatible, even though BART knew about the need for Translink as well as its specific design and technical requirements prior to ordering their faregates)

On the flip side, the operating cost for each transit operator will be about $0.04 per ride, which does not include the capital investment. This represents more or less a break-even fare collection cost to operators vis a vis their current fare collection systems.

TransLink is projected to serve 600,000 daily customers (1.2 million trips/day), or about 420 million transactions per year. In the future, it will offer limited use paper tickets for infrequent users, as well as explore the possibility of offering a Regional Transit Pass and integration with parking meters in participating jurisdictions throughout the region. Other future avenues of exploration, following final implementation of the transit fare card on all 24+ transit operators, may include payment of taxi fares and rewards programs with participating sponsors.

The TransLink rider experience gets rave reviews. TransLink automatically calculates rider discounts to give the rider the best deal possible -- monthly passes or other discounts first, then the E-cash second. It will auto-load when the balance dips below $10 in e-cash; as well as loading a new monthly pass the first time that the card is tagged during a month. Anonymous cards are available, but they cannot be replaced if lost (replacement cards are $10 for registered users). The maximum amount of value at one time on a cards is $300, due to on-board memory limitations.

As for operations: Translink is currently operational for a transit agency with a tiered (zoned) fare structure, but there's a hitch: Golden Gate Transit buses operate through six zones, but they do all loading and unloading through the front door only (the rear door is reserved for disabled passengers). All other current Translink-using bus operators operate within a single fare zone. This means that the particular implementation issues that Tri-Met would have if it decided to adopt a smart card with is existing fare structure (riders having to tag on and off each bus via either the front or rear doors) have not yet been fully tested.

Caltrain, which operates a commuter rail service mainly between San Jose (Silicon Valley) and San Francisco, represents the equivalent of MAX light rail operations, but it will not roll out TransLink service until late 2007. Riders will tag in at their origin platform, board the train, then tag out once they reach their destination platform. They will be charged the maximum Caltrain fare when they tag in, then the difference between the maximum and their actual fare will be given back to them when they tag out. This is probably the closest equivalent to the system that Tri-Met would implement, so Portlanders should watch its implementation closely.

I bring this up for two reasons:

1) Portland needs to very carefully examine the lessons from the Bay Area before embarking down the path of smart-card fare payment. I think that if you ask the Tri-Met managers about this, they will tell you that they are letting other regions take the lead on this issue, to see where the pitfalls are before they commit any of their own capital to the idea. And rightfully so. I'd much rather see one more streetcar, light rail or frequent bus service added to the system -- real additional functionality -- than a bunch of money wasted on what amounts to basically just a different way to collect the fare.

2) When all is said and done, the Translink system will be a *HUGE* benefit to the riding public in the Bay Area. It is currently *extremely* confusing, time-consuming and expensive to attempt to make multiple-operator trips from one part of the region to another. Heck, it's a P.I.T.A. just to travel on ONE operator, BART, due to the complexities of their own paper-ticket fare-collection system and the byzantine fare-collection machines, fare gates and unfriendly station agents associated with it. Translink will definitely help to simplify all this, and when I was a participant in the pilot program and able to use it for travel between selected stations on BART, when it worked, it worked satisfyingly well.

That is to say -- there is a benefit from these smart card transit fare collection systems, but there are also enormous pitfalls associated with implementing them. Aside from the initial capital expense, there is the difficulty of navigating entrenched bureaucracies who are wedded to the current way of doing things, as well as the ongoing operating expenses and the pitfalls of dealing with international consultants who may have their own agendas.

Tread this road with extreme caution, for the promises of benefit are huge and the potential for averse consequences even larger.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Vision for Removing I-5 from the East Bank of Portland

Over on BlueOregon, Ron Buel has posted a piece advocating for putting I-5 into a tunnel underneath the central East Side of Portland. Ron is one of the folks who helped get Harbor Drive turned into Waterfront Park, back in the day.

However, while the tunnel idea sounds fab... I think I'd have to side with the folks advocating for complete I-5 eradication on the eastside. I like the proposal to keep a portion of the Marquam as a sculpture, monument, perhaps outdoor park & market... and get rid of the rest of it.

As far as I can tell, I-405 through downtown could actuall be upgraded to three through lanes in each direction, plus auxiliary lanes for the exits, if a couple of on- and off-ramps are removed. The way I see it, this could basically be one large phased project:

1: Cap I-405, in the process removing some of the exits and upgrading it to three through lanes in each direction. (This might be a good opportunity to study making that third lane a High Occupancy Toll lane, or some other limited-access lane, though I'm not necessarily saying that these are good options -- it would just be a window of opportunity.)
2: Once I-405 has been sufficiently upgraded, remove I-5 from the East Bank. Demolish the part of the Marquam that is not slated to remain, remove the freeway from the east bank as well as all of the exits, and re-route I-84 such that two lanes in each direction flow towards the Fremont Bridge and I-5 North. Re-brand I-405 as I-5.
3: In the room created by the removal of I-5 from the East Bank, dig a big ditch and create a new underground R-O-W for through rail traffic, extending from the Steel Bridge to somewhere around Division Street.
4: Perform HazMat cleanup of the entire area
5: One lane in each direction from I-84 would flow towards a new East Bank transportation system -- either a new one-way couplet or a new parkway (ala Naito Parkway). Personally, I'd prefer to see a one-way couplet with a block of development in the middle, as I think that traffic would flow better on a couplet, and it would be better for development. The couplet/parkway would extend from the Convention Center area down to OMSI.
6. The couplet/parkway could potentially link up with a new Caruthers Crossing Bridge, which would probably have a lane (two max) of auto traffic in each direction, light rail/streetcar, and wide bike/ped paths on each side.
7. Fill in the remaining developable land with... extensions of the eastside street grid, new development, parks, daylighted creeks, bicycle/pedestrian paths, etc. Perhaps a few skinny towers, but mainly buildings in keeping with the existing character of the neighborhood, i.e. 3-12 stories or so.
8. Potentially protect the existing Eastside Industrial District through a historic/industrial/entrepreneur protection zone, or set up business incubators in some of the buildings, or explore other ways to keep the existing neighborhood funky while also allowing some new development in the land vacated by the freeway & railway.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Open Letter to the SMART Board: Funding Options

For some of us, it was not all good news following the November 7th, 2006 election.

Case in point: The sales tax measure to fund construction and operation of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) commuter rail service failed, attaining only 65% of the vote, not the 66.6% necessary to achieve passage. This measure would have funded the construction and operation of a new commuter rail service from Cloverdale, at the northern edge of Sonoma County (just over the hill from Mendocino County) all the way to the edge of the Larkspur Ferry Terminal in Marin County, which would put passengers within a quick high-speed ferry ride of downtown San Francisco.

The measure also would have funded the construction of a (mostly) Class 1 (off-street) bicycle facility, parallel to the entire alignment.

Immediately following news of the measure's close defeat, SMART officials vowed to place a new tax measure on the November 2008 ballot, and spend the next two years making a better case for it.

Since I definitely feel that SMART is something that really would be to the benefit of the entire Bay Area (and not only because I'd want to ride my bike on the adjacent trail, but because I used to work in Petaluma and do understand that an alternative is needed to the Hwy 101 corridor.), I've offered the following brainstorm as to ways that SMART might be able to fund the construction and operation of its service without having to resort to another vote on a sales tax measure.

Comment that hopefully will be relayed to tomorrow's (Wed., Nov. 14, 2006) board meeting:

Has SMART really considered all funding options thoroughly? Is the sales tax the only way to raise the necessary local match funds for this project? Or, are there other alternatives that should be reviewed at this time?

Other possible funding alternatives:

* Two county bond measure, levied by the SMART district. Bond measure might only need to receive a 50% +1 vote to pass.
- Could bond against general funds of Marin & Sonoma Counties
- Could bond against a combination of future passenger fares, future freight service charges and future TIF (Tax Increment Financing) assessments around the individual stations along the line.

* Use Tax Increment Financing in other creative ways to leverage the potential increase in real estate value due to the startup of transit service and the ensuing transit-oriented development around the stations.

* Aggressively pursue transit-oriented developments around each station. Levy transit surcharges on all such developments, front-load the development timeline such that most developments come online around the same time as the inauguration of train service, and thus have the most capital available to purchase rolling stock, rehabilitate tracks & construct station platforms.

* Create an Employer Payroll Tax district for the two-county area, and bond off of the proceeds to raise construction capital. Ongoing payroll tax receipts could cover operating deficit.

* Pursue other private financing options that involve borrowing money from banks/Wall Street and paying it back with a combination of TIF and transit development fees on new construction.

Oregon's Next Senator -- 2008

The question:

Who can take out Gordon Smith (R) in 2008, and be chosen by a majority of Oregonians statewide to represent them in the United States Senate?

Earl would probably be my 1st choice for taking out Gordo and picking up a Senate seat for the Dems. His district is definitely safe for the Dems (the only question is which bicycling liberal Portlander would replace him), and he could probably win in a statewide race based on his record and his straightforward style.

I like the Randy Leonard idea, too -- nothing like a former firefighter to get support in red counties. Sure, he's been a maverick on the Portland City Council, but as far as I can tell, that's mostly turned out to be a good thing.

Pete DeFazio -- too important for him to hold down his own district, keep his committee chairmanship, and keep that seat blue. Ditto for Hooley.

Kitzhaber would wipe the floors with Gordon Smith, but he really doesn't want to go live in D.C. for any portion of the year, or so he claims. If he could be persuaded that it's worth his while to do so; further, if he could be persuaded that it is his DUTY to his fellow Oregonians to do so, he would become my favorite and probably everybody's favorite to take out Smith in 2008. The question, however, is if he could be persuaded to run.

There's probably other potential choices, but I agree that name recognition is the key for this race, and we should focus on those people that everybody in the state knows, and most people approve of.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Tax Reform Ideas (for Oregon)

Recently, Governor Kulongoski of Oregon announced that, after the education system, his next target for reform is the tax system.

I'll back the governor on this one.

But I still don't like the idea of a sales tax, and I never will. I bring this up because the governor has brought up the idea of a statewide sales tax in the past. I support local restaurant sales taxes, such as Ashland's, and wouldn't mind too terribly much if, say, Portland decided to go this route as a means to raise additional revenue for city beautification efforts.

I'd much rather see a wholesale goods transfer tax (wholesale delivery tax), however -- that is, a tax on wholesale items that is levied somewhere along the wholesale supply chain, either at point of delivery or somewhere else.

The point would be that items that get delivered via trucks or rail would be taxed, partially to pay for the impact of the fact of their delivery on the transportation system, and, perhaps, partially to help hold up the general fund.

Consumers wouldn't see a point-of-sale tax, however. The price of goods would go up, where the market could bear the increase, but it would be up to businesses to pay the tax. Also, items not subject to wholesale delivery would not be subject to the tax (i.e. wines sold at a winery, beer sold at a brewery, chocolate sold at the chocolate factory, etc.).

It would also make sense to raise the gas tax a bit, and index it to inflation. I know that Oregon has been studying the idea of switching from a gas tax to a mileage-based tax; however, I think that the good ole' gas tax is a better way to go for now, simply because it is the most efficient way to tax the consumption of fossil fuels. If people want to buy hybrids or ride their bicycles to escape this tax, great -- the state should be encouraging this behavior anyways. As a part of tax reform, the wholesale delivery tax mentioned above could help to offset any future lost revenue from general societal shifts away from petroleum usage.

A good question is this: What is the difference between a wholesale delivery tax and a value-added tax (VAT)? I'd attempt to answer this by saying that a wholesale delivery tax is an attempt to be more progressive than the VAT, though I have no analysis to back up this assertion yet.

Closing corporate tax loopholes should also be a part of any tax reform strategy, as well as individual tax loopholes whose only function seems to be to benefit wealthier individuals.

Might legalizing marijuana, in order to tax it, also bring in a pretty good amount of tax revenue to the state? Arguably, this requires a change in federal law, but what better way to push the issue than to first legalize it at the state level, then use that as a vehicle to broach the subject in the U.S. House of Reps?

Finally, there's the somewhat separate issue of how to finance an expansion of a statewide passenger rail system, which I think would best be financed by bonding off of a combination of expected TIF (Tax Increment Financing) revenues in station areas plus system access charges (passenger fares plus any cargo fees for cargo shipped on a new system).

Other ideas for tax reform? I'm looking for ideas that don't necessarily reduce the existing tax burden on anybody (I think all citizens should do their part in keeping the state running), but do focus on progressive taxation (taxing those with a greater ability to pay more highly, and taxing those activities which have a detrimental impact on society or the environment more highly).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

New Island Reported in the South Pacific

Wow, this is just one of those exciting news weeks.

According to news reports, a new volcanic island has been reported in the South Pacific, near Tonga.

A private yacht first encountered the island, and posted pictures on their weblog.

They reported sailing through a sea of pumice, then seeing lightning and fire in the sky, and finally seeing a view of the new peak rising from the ocean. More pics are available at the original blog.

What a wild experience. I've been wanting to sail through the South Pacific ever since reading Kon-Tiki; this just heightens my desire even more. To check out a new island! Imagine!

I wonder who will be the first group to actually set foot on the island?

Repeal Oregon's Measure 37

According to recent polls, "Oregon voters now oppose Measure 37 by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. That's a shocking reversal from just two years ago the measure won 61 percent support."

I think it's time for Oregonians to start thinking about a repeal effort. There seems to be a pattern of people in the Green State having to vote twice on controversial measures: assisted suicide, term limits, etc. Why not vote twice on something as critical as land use law reform?

I expect to see an effort along these lines come together in time to put something on the November, 2008 ballot (if not before then). HOPEFULLY, it will be a product of Governor Kulongoski's BIG LOOK on Land Use, and represent a comprehensive plan to bring Oregon's land use laws into the 21st century. If not, a simple repeal of 37 would be enough to satisfy me.

Who's going to sign on to help make this happen?


P.S. 1000 Friends of Oregon may be one of the groups to try to repeal this measure.
Now that Oregon will have a Democratic House, Senate and Governor come January, this is extremely possible. Check their website for more info on their efforts.

End of the road for traffic lights?

Reports have been coming out of Europe for some time: traffic lights do more harm than good. Indeed, even stop signs may no longer be the best approach. Some say that lane markings are also not helpful.

Why is this?

Apparently, by removing the devices that give motorists a sense of security, a sense of risk is introduced into the equation. And with risk, motorists tend to slow down and take fewer chances.

So, what's the solution?

Replace traffic lights and stop signs with roundabouts and other street furniture. Rather than telling traffic what to do with a sign or a signal, show them what to do with a curb, a traffic circle or other street furniture. Give pedestrians and bicyclists a separate path through the intersection, and let everybody sort it out on the scene.

How well would it work in a major city?

That remains to be seen... but I suspect that, outside of a downtown one-way grid, it would work extremely well. And, who knows -- in a one-way grid, it still might work out just fine.

But which major city would have the balls to try and pull it off?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Congratulations, Democrats of America (Oregon: let's have a pint!)

*** warning: this is a meandering, multi-subject post ***


It appears that the Democratic Party has pulled off something of a historic stunt, by re-capturing the United States House of Representatives, and at least pulling even in the Senate, if not actually capturing control of it, as well. Big Dick Cheney may still have the tie-breaking vote (or not, we shall see) -- but come January, 2007, it will be a lot better than the situation has been since January, 2003!

Would having Puerto Rico statehood help the Democrats in the Senate?

I wonder if we can induct Puerto Rico as a state, and add two more senators into the mix, just for kicks? Whatever happened to that Puerto Rico statehood initiative, anyways? Looks like a report has been generated recommending that Puerto Ricans are authorized to take a series of votes on the issue, first to decide whether they like the status quo or want a change, then secondly to assess, if they want a change, whether they would prefer statehood or independence. Wow, that'd be an interesting election, I'd bet!!

Voter Fraud: Vote-By-Mail is the answer.

While I don't think that the 2006 election has spelled an end to the problems of voter fraud/disenfranchisement of voters in the United States, it has at least seen a slight curtailing of the ability of Republicans to use these issues to win election by denying Democratic-leaning voters the right to vote. I believe that the ultimate solution should be to just go to vote-by-mail for all United States Elections; that is, for the nation to adopt the Oregon system of voting. Oregon has registered, to my knowledge, zero incidents of voter fraud with regards to the actual voting process of its system (there have, however, been reports of Republican operatives shredding voter registration forms, rather than turning them in, which has nothing to do with vote-by-mail but is an issue which needs to be addresses), which has been operating successfully for over a decade. It also has a voter turnout that is much higher than the national average. Expect to hear more from me on this issue soon, but suffice to say that none other than the Washington Post has endorsed Oregon's system of voting as fraud-free and easy.

Californians attain Beervana by visiting Portland and having a few good pints.

BTW, Portland's beer scene has been noticed by Californians living in the Bay Area.. This article came up in the Travel section of a number of ANG newspapers in the Bay Area, and may have also been printed in the Los Angeles Daily News.

Proper crankypants Oregonians will, of course, exclaim "great, just another reason for those freakin' Californicators to come up to Oregon, decide they like the place, and drive up our housing prices while clogging up our roads, driving around in their BMWs, talking on cell phones and changing lanes without signalling."

While this is a valid point, I might also point out that beer tourism looks like it is growing into a substantial subsector of Portland's tourist-based economy. When you live in Beervana, apparently, you should get used to folks from other places, like California, dropping in to sample all the delicious ales and lagers that get produced locally.

Hey, crankypants Oregonian, maybe you'll get lucky, and they'll decide to just go back home and open up their own brewpub! ;-)

(full disclosure: I am myself a crankypants Oregonian, temporarily transplanted to the foreign land of San Francisco for employment-related purposes)

Here's the full article:

Brew mood
Portland has vibrant beer culture, pubs to match
Inside Bay Area
Article Last Updated:
PORTLAND, Ore. - DECISIONS, decisions.

A visitor to Rogue Ales is confronted with a sign behind the bar listing microbrews available on tap. On this day, it numbers 24, which is nothing short of daunting.

Pale ale, amber ale, red ale, English brown ale. Pilsner, porter, bitter, Belgian.

Then there are the names! Shakespeare Stout, Dad's Little Helper, Old Crustacean Barleywine ... and a real head-turner, Dead Guy Ale.

For the uninitiated, the same puzzlement will play out all over Portland. According to the Oregon Brewers Guild, there are 80 beer-brewing facilities in the state, 30 of which operate within city limits (this for a town with a little over half a million residents).

At each, it's not unusual to find taps sunk into two dozen diverse offerings, not one of which you've ever seen advertised on a national football telecast.

It reflects a convergence of tradition, opportunity, appetite, a spirit of experimentation and a healthy dose of brewer one-upsmanship.

"In Portland, the culture helps that," said Karl Ockert, brewmaster at BridgePort Brewing Co. "It's an open-minded, fiercely local crowd. It latched onto the good coffee movement, the good bread movement, the organic vegetables movement. People here want food with flavor, beer with flavor. All that falls into that general category — enjoying the good things in life."

Portland's love affair with beer goes way back, at least to the mid-19th century and a fellow named Henry Weinhard. When the city's Skidmore Fountain was due to open in 1888, Weinhard offered to pump beer from his Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Co. through the city's fire hoses to the fountain's nozzles. City fathers rejected the idea, not because they thought it too lowbrow for the civic image, but for fear citizens along the way would poke holes in the valuable fire hoses in an attempt to hijack the cargo.

That thirst doesn't seem to have abated much today, and as a result, brewers experiment like alchemists to produce ever-more-exotic varieties. They work with prime Pacific Northwest ingredients: hops from Oregon's Willamette Valley and Yakima, Wash.; barley from eastern Oregon and Washington; even yeast from a laboratory in Hood River, Ore. The municipal water source, meanwhile, is the Bull Run Watershed east of town, rainwater so clear and soft that you don't have to waste money on bottled water while visiting this city.

And even with all those breweries, the people making the beer engage in a surprising amount of cooperation, eschewing the customary cutthroat practices of the business world.

"It's a slacker mentality with a creative edge," said Tom Bleigh, lead brewer for Pyramid Breweries. "It happens on the music scene as well. It's a sense of fraternity that lends itself to experimentation."

It also contributes to a roster of microbrews that can be downright perplexing.

One way to navigate your way through it is to inquire about a sampler, an assortment of six or so tastes, offered at most of the brewpubs. Bartenders will also provide a tasting sample of a particular beer, if asked. And it never hurts simply to inquire as to a particular pub's best seller — its flagship, if you will.

But perhaps the best orientation to Portland's vast society of suds is the Portland BrewBus tour, which rolls on occasional Saturday afternoons (and some Sundays), visiting four or five of the city's most noteworthy breweries. You might get abrewery tour to hear how it all comes together, but the real treat is sampling a broad spectrum of Portland's microbrew offerings, with running commentary provided throughout.

Best of all, someone else drives.

"Your heads will buzz with brew knowledge," tour guide Jim Long promised as our group of 15 set out one recent Sunday afternoon in a bright-yellow school bus. In five hours, the tour made five stops, calling at Pyramid Breweries' MacTarnahan's Taproom, Lucky Labrador Beer Hall, BridgePort Brewpub, Amnesia Brewing and Roots Organic Brewing. Along the way we sampled and learned about 20 beers, from light and creamy Apricot Weizen at MacTarnahan's to molasses-scented Black Lab Stout at Lucky Labrador.

Fortunately, Long handed out tasting-note forms at the outset and encouraged us to write down our impressions. It was a good call, because, uh, memory can turn a little fuzzy on this trip.

On our sheets, terms such as "bite," "bitter aftertaste," and "mediciny" showed up — it's all part of the educational process.

But we also found ourselves enthusing over the "crispness" of Curve Ball Kolsch at MacTarnahan's, the "robust flavor" of No Pity Pale at Lucky Labrador, and the "floral bouquet" and "apple aftertaste" of Hop Harvest Ale at BridgePort. The latter is what is called a seasonal beer in Portland brewing parlance. When a particular ingredient is fresh in the fields — in this case, hops in the Willamette Valley, in late summer — the brewers rush out to get it, then make a special beer with the greens.

"We'll actually start the brewing, drive down and get them, then come back and put them in," BridgePort's Ockert said later. "You have to hope there aren't any traffic jams."

Throughout the tour, Long, who sports a long, gray, braided ponytail and is partial to Pacific Northwest hippie garb, dispenses statistics, history and insight about each offering. As we sipped one of three India pale ales on the excursion, he said, "This is the beer that saved the British Empire. The beer would get warm and go bad on ships. They started adding more hops to it to preserve it."

The brewery settings can be as interesting as the beer flowing from the taps — whether you're on the bus tour or exploring independently.

For example, McMenamins, one of Oregon's largest brewpub operators, houses one of its family-friendly establishments in a converted World War I-era elementary school. A visit to the Kennedy School can unleash a torrent of memories, but with Lewis Carroll twists.

Remember how kids who got caught smoking were sent to detention? Well, here the Detention Room is now a cigar lounge. Remember the trouble you could get into for eating in a classroom or in the auditorium? In its current incarnation, the Kennedy School's classrooms are banquet rooms for birthday parties and wedding receptions, and first-run movies are shown in the auditorium — and you're free to carry a plate of pizza, a glass of wine or a frosty beer in there to enhance your enjoyment of the film.

The wide hallways have glass cases exhibiting memorabilia from the school's history, and the walls are hung with photos that tell its story.

McMenamins has yet to meet the building it didn't deem suitable for one of its pubs: an old movie theater, a triangular building downtown, a chapel and the power station of the former Multnomah County Poor Farm.

Other brewpubs are found in more conventional settings. Our favorite was the recently opened Lucky Labrador Beer Hall in the city's northwest quadrant. It's housed in a big, airy warehouse with a rough concrete floor. There is an outside seating area where patrons can bide time with their dogs.

At MacTarnahan's, in an industrial region of northwest Portland, you can peer in at huge, gleaming, hand-hammered copper kettles. And a side patio is a nice place to relax with a pint when the rain lets up.

BridgePort, in the Pearl District, offers the most upscale setting of the lot — exposed brick, mood lighting, dining fare that is a cut above the usual pub grub and, frankly, a little bit of attitude at the tap.

Amnesia, in a slightly tawdry neighborhood north of downtown, has a wonderful vibe, with long picnic tables outside and an open grill that will entice you with its scents of meats cooking.

Roots Organic, in Portland's emerging southeast neighborhood, reflects a playful South Seas theme, with palm trees, tiki gods and surfboard handles on the draft taps.

The real benefit of being in a small city with so many brewpubs, however, is the opportunity to find your own neighborhood hangout. On our stay, this turned out to be Rogue, housed in a former dairy in the Pearl District.

After a couple of visits — and the education that the BrewBus afforded — that list of two dozen beer offerings was much less intimidating.

Honey Orange Wheat? Sure, that should be refreshing after an afternoon of walking around the city. A seasonal offering of Imperial Porter? Let's see what kind of chocolaty notes the malts have imparted to this one. India Pale Ale? We'll of course order it as "IPA" to sound as if we know what we're talking about, and then debate its degree of "hoppiness."

And the Dead Guy Ale? Well, why not?

"Portland seems to have a little more of an educated beer drinker," said Bleigh, the brewer for Pyramid. "They know all the styles and want to experiment. There is cachet in having these beers that no one else is making.

"You just have to jump in there and see what you like and don't like."

If you go

-Portland BrewBus. The five-hour tour, offered on some Saturdays and the occasional Sunday, costs $34.95 per person, which includes transportation, beer samples and some appetizers. It departs at 1:30 from the Doubletree Hotel, 1000 NE Multnomah Blvd. (in the Lloyd Center). Information and reservations:; (503) 647-0021.

-Amnesia Brewing. 832 N. Beech St.; (503) 281-7708.

-Bridgeport Brewpub. 1313 NW Marshall St.;; (503) 241-3612.

-Kennedy School. An outlet of McMenamins. 5736 NE 33rd Ave.; (under pubs, look for Courtyard Restaurant at Kennedy School); (503) 249-3983.

-Lucky Labrador Beer Hall. 1945 NW Quimby St.;; (503)517-4352.

-MacTarnahan's Taproom. An outlet of Pyramid Breweries. 2730 NW 31st Ave.;; (503) 228-5269.

-Ringlers. Outlets of McMenamins Pub is at 1332 W. Burnside St.; (503) 225-0627. Annex is housed in a triangular building at 1223 SW Stark St.; (503) 525-0520;

-Rogue Ales Public House. 1339 NW Flanders St.;; (503) 222-5910.

-Roots Organic Brewing. 1520 SE Seventh Ave.; (503) 235-7668;

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day 2006: A Close Call, or a Stolen Election?

I've been participating in a program called Call For Change, organized by MoveOn Political Action. I've hosted house parties at my house, where people come over with their cell phones and call voters in other districts, as a part of a massive, nationwide Get Out The Vote (GOTV) effort. This effort continues through the close of polling today, which I plan on participating in. I encourage you to do the same, if you're reading this on Election Day:

Call For Change

However, there have been reports and indications that the Republicans have conspired to steal the 2006 election by denying the right to vote to Jews, Hispanics and Blacks in contested districts throughout the country. They've slipped in language to a federal vote-reform bill that requires voter rolls to be matched from the local level to the federal level -- and then did not update the federal rolls in a timely manner. Where it is legal to require photo ID at voting precincts, the names must match *exactly*, and Republican lawyers will be out en force at the polls to attempt to deny the vote to targeted groups for any possible reason, including mis-match of names on IDs (I'm guessing that this could be stuff like having an initial for a middle name, rather than the entire thing spelled out. Or, for Hispanics, only including one rather than both surnames).

The full story is re-printed here (below), because the link to the original is only up sporadically. I don't agree with the conclusions of the author, however (he says that if Democrats can't win with greater than 51% of the vote, they don't deserve to, and if they can get greater than a 2% lead, they will win). I'm certain that the Republicans, if they are engaging in this sort of election-rigging, will target it in those races where it will make the most difference, and they will shoot for denying more like 10-20% of the vote in these districts -- which may then give the appearance of them winning by only 1-2%.

I'm hoping that the MoveOn and other GOTV efforts will prevail over these Republican dirty tricks, but this article sure isn't very inspirational towards that hope. So, to counter the bad news from the Republican front, here's some good news, in the form of inspirational quotes, from MoveOn:

"I'm writing to tell you that the Democratic candidates in the tightest, neck-to-neck races in the country are counting on you to pull them through to victory with the energy, spirit and passion that define MoveOn."—Bill Clinton(1)

"This morning, I joined the team and made some calls...I know it's easy to feel like your calls will be drops in a political ocean. I'm here to tell you that they're not. I know a thing or two about close races where a few hundred "drops" make all the difference. And the margins in many of these races are even closer. You could personally turn out the voter who tips the balance."—Al Gore(2)

"Through Call for Change, you're reaching out to folks who have been told they should keep quiet for so long, they almost believe it. They want a different direction for our country, but they've been disappointed, and ignored, and they need a reason to hope. You're calling to give them that reason—to let them know that this week, their vote has the power to turn it all around."—John Edwards(3)

"As a disabled veteran who is greatly affected by this administration's failure to properly fund VA health care and mental health programs for active duty troops and veterans, I urgently ask all my readers to help work for change in America."—MoveOn blogger Mike(4)

"I don't normally post politically themed topics, but this is too important to not talk about. This election day, on Nov. 7, the Democrats have a solid chance of taking back Congress...Help and sign up as a volunteer to call people and make sure they get out to the polls."—MoveOn blogger Ari(5)

"In the most sophisticated phone banking program ever produced in American politics, has created a program to call [five] million key voters in 50 key House districts and more than half a dozen Senate is amazing stuff."—Chris Bowers, MyDD(6)


1. Bill Clinton's letter to MoveOn members, November 6, 2006

2. Al Gore's letter to MoveOn members, November 2, 2006

3. John Edwards' letter to MoveOn members, November 4, 2006

4. "Time for Change for veterans and Congress," MoveOn blogger Mike, October 29, 2006

5. "Call for Change," MoveOn blogger Ari, October 29, 2006

6. "Call for Change,", October 18, 2006

And now for the bad news (skip reading this until after the election if you'd like):

Published by Greg Palast November 6th, 2006 in Articles

by Greg Palast

for The Guardian (UK), Comment is Free
Monday November 6, 2006

Here’s how the 2006 mid-term election was stolen.

Note the past tense. And I’m not kidding.

And shoot me for saying this, but it won’t be stolen by jerking with the touch-screen machines (though they’ll do their nasty part). While progressives panic over the viral spread of suspect computer black boxes, the Karl Rove-bots have been tunneling into the vote vaults through entirely different means.

For six years now, our investigations team, at first on assignment for BBC TV and the Guardian, has been digging into the nitty-gritty of the gaming of US elections. We’ve found that November 7, 2006 is a day that will live in infamy. Four and a half million votes have been shoplifted. Here’s how they’ll do it, in three easy steps:

Theft #1: Registrations gone with the wind

On January 1, 2006, while America slept off New Year’s Eve hangovers, a new federal law crept out of the swamps that has devoured 1.9 million votes, overwhelmingly those of African-Americans and Hispanics. The vote-snatching statute is a cankerous codicil slipped into the 2002 Help America Vote Act — strategically timed to go into effect in this mid-term year. It requires every state to reject new would-be voters whose identity can’t be verified against a state verification database.

Sounds arcane and not too threatening. But look at the numbers and you won’t feel so fine. About 24.3 million Americans attempt to register or re-register each year. The New York University Law School’s Brennan Center told me that, under the new law, Republican Secretaries of State began the year by blocking about one in three new voters.

How? To begin with, Mr. Bush’s Social Security Administration has failed to verify 47% of registrants. After appeals and new attempts to register, US Elections Assistance Agency statistics indicate 1.9 million would-be voters will still find themselves barred from the ballot on Tuesday.

But don’t worry: those holding passports from their ski vacations to Switzerland are doing just fine. And that’s the point. It’s not the number of voters rejected, it’s their color. For example, California’s Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson figured out how to block 40% of registrants, mostly Hispanics. In a rare counter-move, Los Angeles, with a Hispanic mayor, contacted these citizens, “verified” them and got almost every single one back on the rolls. But throughout the rest of the West, new Hispanics remain victims of the “Jose Crow” treatment.

In hotly contested Ohio, Kenneth Blackwell, Secretary of State and the Republican’s candidate for Governor, remains voter-rejection champ — partly by keeping the rejection criteria a complete secret.

Theft #2: Turned Away - the ID game

A legion of pimple-faced Republicans with Blackberries loaded with lists of new voters is assigned to challenge citizens in heavily Black and Hispanic (i.e. Democratic) precincts to demand photo ID that perfectly matches registration data.

Sounds benign, but it’s not. The federal HAVA law and complex new ID requirements in states like New Mexico will easily allow the GOP squads to triple the number of voters turned away. Rather than deny using these voter suppression tactics, Republican spokesmen are claiming they are “protecting the integrity of the vote.”

I’ve heard that before. In 2004, we got our hands on fifty confidential internal memos from the files of the Republican National Committee. Attached to these were some pretty strange spreadsheets. They called them “caging lists” — and it wasn’t about zoo feeding times. They were lists (70,000 for Florida alone) of new Black and Jewish voters — a very Democratic demographic — to challenge on Election Day. The GOP did so with a vengeance: In 2004, for the first time in half a century, more than 3.5 million voters were challenged on Election Day. Worse, nearly half lost their vote: 300,000 were turned away for wrong ID; 1.1 million were allowed a “provisional” ballot — which was then simply tossed out.

Tomorrow, new federal ID requirements and a dozen new state show-me-your-ID laws will permit the GOP challenge campaign to triple their 300,000 record to nearly one million voters blocked.

Theft #3: Votes Spoiled Rotten

The nasty little secret of US elections is that three million ballots are cast in national elections but not counted — 3,600,380 not counted in 2004 according to US Election Commission stats. These are votes lost because a punch card didn’t punch (its chad got “hung”), a stray mark voided a paper ballot and other machinery glitches.

Officials call it “spoilage.” I call it, “inaugurating Republicans.” Why? According to statisticians working with the US Civil Rights Commission, the chance your vote will “spoil” this way is 900% higher for Black folk and 500% higher for Hispanics than for white voters. When we do the arithmetic, we find that well over half of all votes spoiled or “blank” are cast by voters of color. On balance, this spoilage game produces a million-vote edge for the GOP.

That’s where the Black Boxes come into play. Forget about Karl Rove messing with the software to change your vote. Rather, the big losses occur when computers crash, fail to start or simply don’t respond to your touch. They are the new spoilage machines of choice with, statistically, the same racial bias as the old vote-snatching lever machines. (Funny, but paper ballots with in-precinct scanners don’t go rotten on Black voters. Maybe that’s why Republican Secretaries of State have installed so few of them.)

So Let’s Add it Up

Two million legitimate voters will be turned away because of wrongly rejected or purged registrations.

Add another one million voters challenged and turned away for “improper ID.”

Then add yet another million for Democratic votes “spoiled” by busted black boxes and by bad ballots.

And let’s not forget to include the one million “provisional” ballots which will never get counted. Based on the experience of 2004, we know that, overwhelmingly, minority voters are the ones shunted to these baloney ballots.

And there’s one more group of votes that won’t be counted: absentee ballots challenged and discarded. Elections Assistance Agency data tell us a half million of these absentee votes will go down the drain.

Driving this massive suppression of the vote are sophisticated challenge operations. And here I must note that the Democrats have no national challenge campaign. That’s morally laudable; electorally suicidal.

Add it all up — all those Democratic-leaning votes rejected, barred and spoiled — and the Republican Party begins Election Day with a 4.5 million-vote thumb on the vote-tally scale.

So, what are you going to do about it? May I suggest you… steal back your vote.

It’s true you can’t win with 51% of the vote anymore. So just get over it. The regime’s sneak attack via vote suppression will only net them 4.5 million votes, about 5% of the total. You should be able to beat that blindfolded. If you can’t get 55%, then you’re just a bunch of crybaby pussycats who don’t deserve to win back America.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “ARMED MADHOUSE.”

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The New German Army: Is it really ready?

Recent scandals have called into question the ability of the modern German Army to be a useful asset to the United Nations in bringing peace to war-torn regions of the world. Germans serving in Afghanistan have been caught taking photos with human remains, which is a no-no. And now, they have been caught displaying the palm tree and iron cross on their military vehicles, a symbol which was apparently originally used by the Nazi's Desert Fox (a German commander, General Erwin Rommel) in North Africa during World War II.

This raises grave questions about the ability of the German Army to operate in a non-offensive manner, and just generally be helpful, while in foreign countries trying ostensibly to keep the peace. There is apparently a national debate currently raging in Germany over what exactly the role of the modern German military should be, in light of these allegations.

We in the United States should know about the potential pitfalls of sending young men full of testosterone off to foreign lands in the name of... whatever crusade happens to be in vogue at the moment. Certainly, displaying a symbol on an off-road military vehicle that may be somewhat hazily linked to a symbol, not the swastika, once used by the Nazi army... is not the same as raping and murdering young Iraqi girls while serving in the U.S. army, torturing victims being held in custody, or any of the other innumerable offenses that our own armed forces have committed in recent years while in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Cuba (at Guantanamo Bay).

Indeed, it's hard to uncouple this particular news item with reports coming from Japan that it is again building up its military, this time in response to the report of a nuclear test by North Korea. The fact of Japan's current military buildup is reportedly making the leadership of South Korea a little bit worried, and it's definitely a bit worrying to me as well.

All in all, the first six years of the 21st century have had a little bit too much war and terror for my tastes, and I don't really see any sign of abatement right now. I'm hoping that the Democrats will be able to perform miracles in the 2006 mid-term elections, and somehow be able to right the United States and perform a course correction that will, in turn, begin to lead the rest of the world back to a more peaceful path. But, I'm aware that this is a pretty far-fetched dream, and don't really know what you and I can do to turn it into reality, aside from campaign like hell for the Dems between now and next Tuesday!!


Bus of the Future?

I recently came across an article about a new diesel-hybrid bus that is currently under development in Detroit by AutoKinetics. It apparently can get 12-15 mpg, and will have a more comfortable ride than existing buses. It also has wrap-around rear windows, and of course has low-floor boarding for easy access.

My question is -- how long before we can see one of these deployed by Tri-Met?

Condo Parking: Spaces vs. Private Garages

In a discussion over on Portland Transport, the topic of parking in condos came up. Specifically, Portland is apparently on the cusp of passing an ordinance requiring condo builders to un-bundle parking from condos. So, rather than purchasing a $300k condo with an included parking space, buyers would get a $270k condo and then have the option of forking over an additional $30k for the parking space. It is argued that this will give people pause, as to whether they really want that additional space, or even want to own a car at all, for that much additional cash.

I thought that this would be a good opprtunity to bring up an additional point, which is this:

Parking spaces in condo buildings don't have to just be for cars. If they're made wide enough so that you can open your doors entirely within them... then walls can be constructed between them, rather than painted white lines (doesn't need to be anything fancy, just some sheetrock over a mesh fence for security) and garage doors installed. Presto -- for, say, $30k, a condo buyer can add the option of a private garage, which they can use for either storing their single car -- or for storing ten bicycles, their skis, their camping equipment, a bike trailer, some snowboards, and their old vinyl record collection.

Catch my drift?

I'm not sure that this belongs in a City Council ordinance, except that it would be cool if it made it in as an option to encourage developers to absorb the up-front costs of building the walls, installing the doors and making the spaces wide enough to drive a car in and open the door wide enough to get groceries in and out on one side and a person out on the other.

I, for one, would much prefer a private garage to a plain private parking space. Sure, it's nice to have a place to tuck away the ole' car, but it's much preferable to have room for all the other stuff (bicycles, etc.) Plus, in a garage, somebody could perhaps have the best of both world -- a Mini Cooper in one half, and the bikes, etc. in the other.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

PDX Transportation Issues of Concern

As a part of Metro's RTP update, they're soliciting feedback from community groups. One such group is the Coalition for a Livable Future, which has asked for a list of transportation-related issues of concern.

Here is my response:

- Lack of regional rail connectivity to all the regional and outlying town centers. Where is the commuter rail link to McMinnville, Hood River, St. Helens, Forest Grove, Oregon City, Salem, etc.?

- Lack of regional Class 1 bicycle facilities: Where are the Spingwater Corridor-equivalent bicycle freeways linking the communities mentioned above, as well as Wilsonville, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Aloha, etc. to the rest of the system?

- Lack of pedestrian facilities on all streets. Where are the sidewalks, especially in suburban and rural residential areas?

- Lack of pervious surfaces on transportation facilities. Why not use the planting strip between the sidewalk and the street as a bioswale for most streets, to mitigate storm runoff?

- Exposed automobile infrastructure (freeways) -- why not bury I-5 through N/NE Portland and SW Portland, as well as I-84 in NE Portland and I-405 through downtown, or even I-205 and I-5 through the Central Eastside? Ultimately, all the freeways should be capped and placed underground, for three reasons:

1) Air Quality. If they're underground, their emissions can be "scrubbed" through fans & air filters (perhaps even biologically) before being released into the community

2) Real Estate. The freeways take up a lot of land. Their air rights could be sold to finance the capping project, and that space used for new developments, parks, open space, community facilities, etc.

3) Pedestrian/street network connectivity. Currently, most streets don't connect across freeways corridors. These street connections could all be re-established as a part of the capping process.


Other strategies for managing the Portland region's growth in population (projected at one million by 2030) and the increased demand on the transportation system:

- Increase allowable densities near high-quality transit systems, so that more of the growth in the region's population can take place within walking distance of attractive transit options.

- Build more commuter rail links to connect regional town centers, as well as town centers of nearby urban areas that are functionally a part of the metro region. Similar to the European system, this removes the need for an automobile for most trips. This could/should include rail/tram links to the coast and to Mt. Hood, so that people can also recreate without cars.


Strategies to get car owners to use their cars less, and make transportation options more convenient for people who don't own cars:

- More high-quality public transportation connections, especially new passenger/commuter rail lines, water taxis/ferries and trams so that all major attractions in the region and easily and quickly transit-accessible through timed-transfer links.


Strategies to improve the region's economy and livability:

- Build out a super-efficient regional mass transit system, including many more commuter/passenger rail links, light rail lines, streetcars, trams, trolleys, water taxis, ferries and BRT/high quality bus services, in tandem with the buildout of a regional high-quality bicycle infrastructure system, and make all of this the focus for high-intensity employment and residential focused development, with easy access both to other regional centers as well as greenspace. If design/build contracts are awarded locally, vehicles built locally, then this will provide a good shot in the arm to the region's economy.


Other strategies for supporting an efficient, sustainable transportation system:

- Make timed transfer centers an integral part of the regional transit system. In conjunction with running all transit service son time, this will allow transit to "pulse" out from these centers, so that passengers can remain in motion from their origin to their destination, minimizing wait time.


Strategies for reducing car crashes and improving pedestrian and cyclist safety:

- Create sustainable alternatives to driving, so that fewer people see driving as the only preferable option.

- Re-design street facilities so that the facility itself informs the speed of travel through it, i.e. bring back cobblestone streets for dense areas, narrow residential streets to slow down and limit through traffic, construct bulb-outs and curb extensions to ease pedestrian crossings, give bicyclists preferential treatment at intersections, etc.


Strategies for the funding of transportation in a fair manner:

- Use Tax Increment Financing to allow new transportation projects to help pay for themselves by getting a cut of the incremental increase in value that they bring to properties that directly benefit from their development.

- Increase the amount of freight movement that takes place using the regional rail system, and use fees from this to help pay for maintenance and operations of the system.

- Charge a wholesale delivery fee that taxes goods as they are sold from distributors to retailers, assessed for the maintenance and expansion of the transportation system used to deliver those goods.


Other ideas for helping the Coalition for a Livable Future to Shift the Balance:

- Make it fun. Make it exciting. Cooperate with the City Repair Project, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and other community-focused groups to really engage the community on these issues.

- Throw good parties, where people can come out and meet other folks to discuss the issues over beer & food, but also in combination with entertainment and perhaps related artsy/craftsy stuff.

- Encourage more community development exercises like neighborhood cob workshops to build benches near traffic-calming projects at intersections, and plant community gardens (small ones) in those planters.

- Encourage brewpubs, as the centers for neighborhood social activity, to be located in every village, town and regional center, especially right at transit stations and transit points, but also within walkable/bike-able neighborhoods.


If you'd like to take the survey, it can be found here:

If you'd like to receive updates on the Shift the Balance! campaign and learn how to be involved in shaping the 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, send an email to (and post your ideas in a rely to this blog)!


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

From warheads to coffee machines

From the creative re-use of former weapons of mass destruction department:

My housemate, the taxi driver, somehow came across this link and, knowing my fascination with both geography and coffee, passed it along to me.

The full story is quoted below (just in case the link goes away -- dunno if the BBC times out their stories like the NYTimes and other online publications sometimes do), but here's the synopsis: African (Ethiopian) man takes old artillery shells left over from the Eritrean/Ethiopian (civil?) war, and turns them into coffee machines.

My first thought is: "Oh man, that's pretty cool."

I wonder, though... they're pretty vague in the article about what type of machine it is that is produced. If it channels water, coffee and milk, does that mean that it's actually an espresso machine? I've never seen an espresso machine that channels milk. Espresso machines channel steam, sure, which is used to steam milk... but actually channeling milk? I kind of wonder how much this writer really knows about the subject. The finished product looks like a European espresso machine, but I wonder if the finished product photo really is one of *his* finished products, or just a generic shot of an espresso machine in a coffee

In any case, I would love to find out more about this topic, as creative re-use of any old thing into a new thing is of interest to me, whether it be turning toilets or cars into vegetable planters, or bombshells into coffee machines.

Here's the full story: (click on the link to access the original version, complete with photos)

From weapons of war to great coffee
By Amber Henshaw
BBC News, Mekele

In biblical times they said "turn your swords into ploughshares", now in northern Ethiopia a tradesman is bringing the saying into the 21st Century.

In his workshop in Mekele, just 200km from Ethiopia's border with Eritrea, Azmeraw Zekele is turning burnt-out shells into cylinders used in coffee machines.

Most of the shells are left over from the 1998-2000 war between the two countries.

The workshop is made up of three quite small ramshackle rooms that lead from one to another with sunlight coming through the gaps, but it is a hive of activity for Mr Azmeraw and his six staff.


"The shells were dropped in Ethiopia during the war with Eritrea. They were dropped so people hid them in their homes and now they sell them," Mr Azmeraw says.

He uses old mortar shells, which stand about one metre high, to make his coffee machines.

He cuts off the pointed ends, seals them and puts holes into the aluminium cylinder. The cylinder channels the water, coffee and milk.

He told me he got the idea nine years ago when he was doing maintenance work.

"I saw some shells being sold for a different purpose and I studied them.

"They were used for washing clothes or crushing things. After studying them I came up with the idea of using them as a cylinder for a coffee machine."

Coffee is a major export from Ethiopia and plays a big role in life.

After meals, the traditional coffee ceremony allows family and friends to get together to share news and discuss the issues of the day.

Coffee shops are also popular.

Fair price

Cafe owner Haile Abraha bought one of Mr Azmeraw's machines a few months ago.

"I had one other imported machine but this one is much better. It is relatively cheap. The price is fair. The machine is good and it makes good coffee."

But Mr Azmeraw says it can be difficult to convince people to buy because of the mortar shell.

"These shells have all been used. We all need peace and we don't want war but once these shells have been used, we should use our skills to do something with them.

"Sometimes I think about the fact they were used for war but I want to change them to do something good. They could be a symbol of war but I am doing something good out of the bad."

Since he started production five or six years ago, Mr Azmeraw has sold hundreds of machines - he cannot remember exactly how many.

Each one costs about $1,300. Most of them have been sold to people in the Mekele area.

But in the future he hopes to sell them more further afield - maybe even to coffee shops and restaurants in Eritrea.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/10/31 14:37:37 GMT

So, the article says that these machines are about $1300 each. That sounds like a commercial-quality espresso machine with double boilers to me, based on the current market prices of other espresso machines. For comparison, my home espresso machine, with a single boiler, is about $500, and it's made from all-new materials in Italy.

Adaptive re-use. My buddy was just in L.A., where an old pwer plant has been converted into a nightclub. The club is in the basement, with a chic bar and a stage set up apparently amidst the old generators and industrial equipment, all shined & cleaned up for the occasion.

How else can we take the out-dated relics of the 20th century military/industrial complex and re-use them for the 21st century's information society?