Monthly Archives: November 2013

Remember the Fallen, Delicately

Last Thursday I was in Oregon City on business and had just turned the car onto the main road heading back to the office in Portland. I sat in the car waiting at an intersection, watching the windshield catch a light drizzle. Something was happening on the road ahead, as we weren’t moving. I soon noticed a couple of police motorcycles parked in the middle of my lane, their blue and red lights flashing quietly. Nothing was happening at all – until a few police motorcycles roared by at top speed – cutting through the silence and disappearing to my left leaving a wake of sirens blaring. A few more motorcycles followed – just as quickly – preceding a momentary silence. Then I watched unfold before me the floodgates which spilled forth what had to be one hundred police motorcycles passing piled up motorists gawking on both sides. 

Next, a helicopter descended from the heavens above pausing momentarily near my position at the precise moment that a shiny black vehicle appeared and then quickly disappeared, followed by police cars and black Suburbans trailing. The circling helicopter followed in the air as an ambulance, some more police cars, and even more motorcycles followed on the ground. I thought it could be none other than Barack Obama visiting this little suburb south of Portland! I hadn’t heard of a presidential visit and was momentarily stunned. To my left, I noticed for the first time a very large American flag hanging between two outstretched fire truck ladders that soared over the street as the procession flowed on the pavement below. More police cars. More ambulances. Then about twenty fire trucks drove by in tight formation.

Clearly this traffic jam was more than I could have guessed when those first motorcycles blocked my way so long ago. My car hadn’t moved an inch in the last ten minutes when I found a local news report on the radio, catching only the last half of a sentence describing a “funeral procession.”  Oh, now that you mention it, the shiny black vehicle did look like a hearse, so that makes sense. But I couldn’t imagine who would command such solemn opulence other than John F. Kennedy himself.

More time passed and the flood of police cars continued interspersed occasionally with a fire truck, some ambulances and other sorts of emergency vehicles. They seemed to have arrived from every city.  I sat in the car for 45 minutes. There was no end, they just kept coming until the last trickle of the flood of flashing lights passed and the road was finally reopened and traffic.

About this time I finally found a radio newscast reporting that this was the motorcade procession for fallen Oregon City Police Officer Rob Libke who had been killed in the line of duty earlier this month. I hadn’t heard of the tragedy, nor did I realize the entire region would be mobilizing this day to remember a fallen comrade.

I respect the work of police officers and intend no disrespect to the police in general or Officer Libke and his family, but this is unacceptable. The mobilization of hundreds of law enforcement personnel through the public way for a non-emergency, while probably costing the taxpayers a fortune, also has the misfortune of untold consequences in the immobilization of thousands of disregarded bystanders.  A memorial is good. Remembering is good. Even a procession is good –  but not at such a great cost to everyone else. I was only inconvenienced, but others may have been suffocated. Considering the public’s right to choose not to participate, the procession through the city could have been more delicate. 

While I was patiently waiting, I saw in my mirror an old man get out of the car behind me. He started wandering around. He seemed really confused and just left his car and walked away. I could imagine that some emergency might be taking place on the sidelines of this procession, and there’s nowhere to go. Is there a woman in labor unable to get to a hospital? Are there children peeing their pants? Am I going to pee my pants? Is this old man going to have a heart attack? He probably went to find a restroom.

Finally getting back on the road, I drove for a mile or so before hitting another log jam. Stopped like a normal day in Los Angeles. The procession advanced northward following I-205 then I-84 west into downtown Portland where the memorial service was to take place. This was the exact route I planned to take, so I had to reroute to avoid trailing. Traffic was so backed up in all directions that cars just sat like they had been parked for days. If it hadn’t been raining, more people would have been out of their cars socializing.

Sitting with the car in Park and the radio on, I listened to the host take calls from people at the scene. Drivers stuck in traffic called to say they were stuck in traffic and that they support the sacrifice this officer. The motorcade was such a wonderful thing. Others called in from the overpasses where they watched from above. Some had brought their children along, probably waving flags and signs, and used the moment as a teaching lesson to the honor those serving the country.

They all sounded the same, until one woman called to say this is a bunch of baloney and a waste of money. The enraged host didn’t even let her finish and pretty much bit her head off as he hung up on her. The subsequent callers for the next hour spent just as much time describing her as the devil himself as they did in paying respects to the fallen officer. They said it doesn’t matter how much something like this costs. How can you think about that right now?

The caller was the lone voice of dissent but didn’t show any sensitivity. However, she has the right to voice her opinion, and the host and the others have the right to hate her for it, I suppose.  But let’s separate hate from sound economics. What happened this day had nothing to do with a fallen hero and everything to do with public exploitation. Sadly this is an analogy for how our country does most things. Spending other people’s money and time while caught up with emotions, reverence, and patriotism, the true costs of any action are disregarded. Choices are made because it’s worth it damn it, or that’s what he would have wanted. Those who say otherwise are burned alive. The moment, this very short-sighted moment defeats the weight of all the rest of time.

The old man behind me was Sumner’s Forgotten Man. Many hypothetical people were forgotten simply because they are hypothetical to people looking at their own nose. The pregnant woman sobbing in labor pains was forgotten. The boy with a gushing leg wound who couldn’t get to the hospital in his mom’s minivan was forgotten. The man trying to arrive at a job interview on time, was late. He didn’t get the job. He was forgotten. The thousands of people on the freeways and side streets who have no real interest in these proceedings, though not malicious or disrespectful, are just trying to go about their day – and they are forgotten. 

I salute Oregon City Officer Rob Libke for his sacrifice in serving his community, taking action to respond to a threat and to possibly save lives. But I don’t think he would be any less respected or memorialized if he had been remembered more delicately.

Mystery Portland Grocery Store

The city of Portland might sell a long-vacant parcel of land on the corner of NE Martin Luther King Blvd. and Alberta Street way below cost in order to attract a grocery store. What amounts to a $2 million subsidy is so shady and ill-advised that the proposed store has asked not to be identified until the deal has closed. It’s hard to run a successful business, but who wouldn’t reach out for some free cash? They should be embarrassed. And it’s easier to criticize the deal before we know the store involved, since no doubt that store is dear to our food-loving Portland hearts. 

The land is said to be worth $2 or $3 million dollars, and has apparently been for sale for some time but no one wants it at that price. The neighborhood is considered a risky investment with a history of racial tensions, but is often targeted for bigger and better things. The land might sell for only half a million.

The Portland Development Commission really, really wants a grocery store to go in here, so they’re willing to take a loss to make it happen. But as pointed out by the Oregonian there are plenty of other groceries stores nearby, so there is low demand for another. The development only pencils out with a large subsidy. This means the land and the potential opportunity aren’t worth very much, so semi-interested tenants are looking the other way until a big enough bag of money hits them in the back of the head.

In his book Economics In One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt outlines situations very similar to this, and warns against this kind of government intervention as never ending with a net positive outcome. This northeast Portland property is a great example to illustrate his point. The land had already been purchased with taxpayer money, so the city as a whole has entrusted their money to the City in the hope that some good will come out of it. But seeing as the money doesn’t belong to them, it doesn’t surprise me that the PDC is reckless with the investment of other people’s money. They have their minds on high ideals such as helping the public, saving a blighted neighborhood, and even bringing in a much desired tenant such as Trader Joe’s (or whomever this mystery grocery store turns out to be). They might think, “It’s what the people want – right? We’ll making it happen. It’s worth the cost.”

But really, Portland would be giving away a store. They would take taxpayer money and give it to a private company to spend on a business in a location that no one has been willing to build. Then the profits go to that business – not the taxpayers. That is $2 million dollars that could have been spent on something else. Anything else. Portlanders are exactly that much poorer as a result. If the money has to be spent on something, it could be spent on something that is actually worth $2 million dollars. If taxpayers still had the money in our pockets, having not been taxed, we would have exactly that much more money in our pocket when we shop at this mystery store. We could spend it on a bag of chocolate covered pretzels. Now we can’t and there will be fewer bags of chocolate covered pretzels sold.

This location is certainly not the neighborhood most deserving of a new grocery store, if one must be given away. So east Portland and the often discussed food desert lose out. Nearby existing grocery stores will lose some business. The people who live down the street will love it, but the entire city will take a loss on a bad investment, but especially those who live nowhere near the proposed sale. Another grocery store might have been interested at a lower sale price, but as explained by someone from Whole Foods as to why they were not interested in the food desert, “Selected sites must model profitably for us since we cannot fulfill our company’s overall mission without the profits our stores provide.”

Sure it’s just a couple dollars from me, and a couple dollars from you, and a couple dollars from everyone. But add this to the other couple dollars they’ll take for the next project. And the others. Is this really what you want to spend your money on? I doubt a new Whole Foods is about to appear here, but I’d love for a Trader Joe’s to be built at this location. It’s exactly one mile closer to my home than the one I usually visit and is bound to have better parking.

But even if the deal is good for some people as Henry Hazlitt says, we must look “not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

Virginia Libertarian vs. libertarian

Update: See end of post for update.

An odd-year election in Virginia wouldn’t normally hold my interest, but this year there’s an interesting subplot for the rest of us. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe battles Republican Ken Cuccinelli and they’re neck and neck.  In third place is Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, amazingly polling around 10%. Is this a glimmer of third-party glory cutting through the dust of the two-party sand storm? A good showing would help remind American voters that a third way exists.

As a resident of Oregon (not voting), I don’t know much about these three candidates in Virginia, but I had hoped Libertarian Sarvis would do well and finish with double digits on election night to bring attention to Libertarian Party. But then Ron Paul threw his support behind Republican Cuccinelli! Why would Ron Paul snub an exciting Libertarian challenge to the two-party statists? There must be less to Robert Sarvis than meets the eye, since Ron Paul doesn’t always feel like endorsing someone and could have easily continued his home schooling interview schedule. Then again, Ron Paul is a Republican and didn’t endorse 2012 Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson, so they’re not exactly blood brothers.

It turns out Libertarian Sarvis may not be so libertarian after all if you start comparing him to other folks who call themselves incidental libertarians. And Cuccinelli isn’t really all that Republican if you start comparing him to the business as usual over at the Grand Old Party where he’s seen as a libertarian. The quest for the Holy Grail of Virginia has become a race run by Big-L Libertarian vs. small-l libertarian vs. not libertarian.

Terry McAuliffe is the “not libertarian,” so I don’t have much to say about him. But Robert Sarvis now finds his ideological and party credentials called into question. Is he a Big-L or a small-l? Charles C.W. Cooke makes a good point that, “a politician (who) is not a Democrat but is nonetheless critical of the social policies of a Republican hardly makes him Murray Rothbard.” Read his well-reasoned problems with Libertarian Sarvis at the National Review Online.

Meanwhile amid the confusion, the entrenched powers of the two-party statists typically complain about the Libertarians taking votes from the Republicans. It should be noted, however, that Sarvis is a much more progressive libertarian than some, and is pulling a fair share of attention away from McAuliffe. He seems at odds with libertarian values in both social and economic issues, though he has landed the endorsement of Gary Johnson.

In conclusion, the Republican looks like a libertarian and the Libertarian looks like a progressive and the Democrat is the only one who isn’t confusing me. He’s buddies with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Ken Cuccinelli, while perhaps more libertarian in some ways than Robert Sarvis, isn’t really all that libertarian, identifying most clearly as a conservative. What is the libertarian voter to do? I expect in-fighting and intrigue on minor points, but this is most likely to occur within a single party.

Despite nay-saying by some, Robert Sarvis certainly is a Libertarian. Ken Cuccinelli is too socially conservative to be confused as a Libertarian. It’s all very exciting and we’re paying attention to this election – so there’s that. Don’t  judge a book by its cover – it may have been misshelved.

November 5th Update: The results are in. A majority of Virginians (52%) did NOT vote for winner Terry McAuliffe, and third place Robert Sarvis failed to break the 10% threshold which would have put the Libertarian party on the ballot.  Ken Cuccinelli didn’t win either. Libertarian FAIL.