Police Chronicles: The Opossum Incident

The Burger Barn on Northeast Union Avenue was a late-night gathering place for Portland’s black citizenry. To some of Portland’s Police Department it was a hangout for the disreputable.

In the spring of 1981, two of PDX’s finest deposited four dead opossums at the front entry to the black-owned business. Witnesses said four police cars and seven other cops were present. News of this prompted protest marches through downtown. Charles Jordan, the city commissioner in charge of the Police Bureau, fired the two officers. An arbitrator later reinstated the two officers with thirty-day unpaid suspensions. Hundreds of angry cops marched on City Hall. The Burger Barn filed a $3.4 million suit against the city but eventually settled for $64,000.

Continue reading “Police Chronicles: The Opossum Incident”

When Ofays Riot

“I am urging the parents of white youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing LL Bean.”

Seaside is a small town on the northern Oregon Coast, an hour-and-a-half drive from Portland. It has long been a popular destination for vacationing families and spring-break revelers. It’s home to skee-ball, bumper cars and Lewis and Clark’s salt works.

A fight broke out among several young males in Seaside during the Labor Day weekend in 1962. When police moved in to break it up, hundreds of young white people went on a rampage, bombarding police with rocks and beer bottles, full and empty. (Yes, alcohol was involved.)

Firefighters trained hoses on the rioters; the rioters took knives to the hoses. The hoses they didn’t slash, they turned on the firefighters. Storefront windows on Broadway were smashed, cars were vandalized. The thirty-foot-high lifeguard tower was pulled from the beach. Police reinforcements came from Astoria and Portland. Sixty people were arrested.

Continue reading “When Ofays Riot”

Remembering Christo and Jeanne-Claude

“It will give shape to the wind. It will go over the hills and into the sea, like a ribbon of light.”
– from environmental-impact report for Running Fence

Lost amid the whirlwinds of news—COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd and resultant demonstrations, opportunistic rioting and looting—is the obituary of the artist Christo, who has died at age eighty-four.

With Jeanne-Claude, his wife and collaborator, Christo gave the world wondrous, larger-than-life art installations in public spaces. All were open to everyone at no cost; Christo and Jeanne-Claude financed the projects themselves. They were all temporary, gone without a trace after a couple weeks, with no environmental damage and no public expense.

Christo & Jeanne-Claude in Central Park
Continue reading “Remembering Christo and Jeanne-Claude”

Saudi Arabia: Friend and Ally

The current occupant of the White House is looking to burnish his self-proclaimed reputation as the world’s greatest deal-maker with another arms sale to Saudi Arabia. To get rid of any distractions, he has fired the Inspector General who was looking into last year’s artful eight-billion-plus-dollar deal that sent weaponry to the Kingdom last year, over the strenuous objections of Congress.

The Bush family, too, were long-time friends and business partners with Saudi Arabian potentates.

Continue reading “Saudi Arabia: Friend and Ally”

Doing Business in the Pandemic

“The market has seismically changed.”

We are at the edge of a full-on depression thanks to COVID-19 virus and our government’s mis-handling of it. Many businesses, restaurants in particular, will not reopen. Some will, but maybe not for long under the new social-distancing reality. “Non-essential” businesses are gasping for air, trying to stay afloat. Highly-leveraged companies such as J. Crew and Hertz are trying to save themselves through bankruptcy protection.

Newspapers, already struggling in the new media landscape, are suffocating from even less income as shuttered businesses stop buying advertising.

Some operations are doing well. Supermarkets’ sales are up. Walmart and Target are enjoying increased business. Amazon is overwhelming landfills with packaging material and is getting closer to becoming the only place we can buy anything. The Amazon overlord may also be the owner of the last operating newspaper.

It probably surprises no one that alcohol sales are up. Sequestered people are drinking more. Alcohol-delivery sales have increased five-fold. That’s good news for the spirits trade. But not for the entire industry. The big guys are doing well; the small producers, not so much. Sales for craft distillers and brewers have fallen precipitously. We may be drinking more, but we’re drinking the cheap stuff. One example: Anheuser-Busch is selling a lot more of its Bud Light “beer.” The local craft brewer is reckoning how to stay solvent.

As a craft-distillery owner put it: “There’s a difference between feel-good booze and pandemic booze. Craft distillers make lovely spirits meant for savoring and sharing with friends. If you’re unemployed or don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from, craft is perceived as a little bit of luxury.”

Support your local craft producer

National brands also have the advantage with beverage distributors. The small guys have little leverage. The nationals can pay for premium placement on liquor store websites and shelves. In the retail business, it’s known as a “slotting fee” and is normal practice for a new product to get shelf space. (In Alan Freed’s era, it was called “payola” and earned him a Congressional investigation and a ruined career.)

The wholesaler has a stranglehold on distribution. In many states producers are not allowed to sell directly to the consumer. Now-archaic post-Prohibition laws mandate a three-tier system: distiller or brewer to distributor to retailer.

Restaurants were an important outlet for craft producers. Now that is gone and is unlikely to come back as it was.

A new world is evolving. We don’t yet know what it will look like.

Baker City Election Results

Direct Democracy in action

Citizens of Baker City in northeastern Oregon, population not quite ten thousand, cast their ballots, giving overwhelming approval for sale of a twenty-five-year-old backhoe the city decided it no longer needed. An archaic provision in the municipal charter requires voters’ approval for the city to sell any equipment or vehicles with a value of more than $10,000. ($5,000 for land or buildings.) The 1995 Case backhoe’s estimated value is $16,000.

The sale was approved with 92% voting “Yes.” (One wonders what reasons the other 8% had to disallow the equipment’s sale.) Baker City’s public works director admitted that a few years previously a street sweeper may have been sold in violation of the law, although no record was kept of the sale price. (An obvious coverup!)

Baker City surplus – 1995 Case backhoe

In the same election, residents also voted, by a 65% to 35% margin, to amend the city charter putting some limit on direct democracy. The city in the future will be allowed to sell surplus equipment without obtaining voters’ consent. This will simplify the possible sale of a Case excavator and a 1988 International dump truck, each valued at more than $10,000.

A third measure on the ballot would have discontinued the stipend paid to Baker City’s commissioners. Perhaps voters feared that it would be a step toward plutocracy. The measure was defeated. The seven city-council members will continue to receive their ten dollars per meeting.