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December 14, 2010 01:19 PM

So what does the UO's complicated restructuring plan really mean?

Nike billionaire Phil Knight, the UO mega donor who some critics have said has too much power over the public university, told the Oregonian Dec. 5 that it's about going private and raising tuition.

Knight told the paper that he supports and was consulted on the restructuring plan the UO is lobbying for in the state legislature. "It's to take a step - I hate to use the word because it's an oversimplification - but to take a step toward becoming more of a private university."

As more of a private university the UO president "can set his own tuition. He's hamstrung in the sense he can't charge more tuition than the Legislature will let him do for in-state kids."

The UO had a plan for privatizing the university and raising tuition in response to dramatic budget cuts in the early 1990s, but the plan failed in the state legislature. The Register-Guard reported in 1993 on a study of UO privatization in a story headlined: "Making UO private would save little money; A legislative report says that higher tuition would drive away students and force cuts in faculty."

The legislative report found that the plan would about quadruple in-state tuition. Such a dramatic increase would out-price about 60 percent of students causing a big reduction in enrollment, according to the study. The loss of students would force the UO to lay off large numbers of faculty and staff who would take their federal grants with them, the RG reported.

Privatization "would not only sharply reduce access to Oregonians but also have wrenching consequences for the economy of Lane County," the RG quoted the report.

The UO has not said how much tuition would increase under its new restructuring plan. The UO has also changed significantly since 1993 with higher out of state tuition increasingly making up for reductions in state funding. Knight told the Oregonian: "It's become the University of California at Eugene. That's the result of the current Legislature's policies."

The state university of New York (SUNY) chancellor has proposed an autonomy/restructuring plan similar to the UO's proposal. A hedge fund billionaire raised "hackles" this year when he made a big donation conditional to approval of the plan, the New York Times reported. But recent press reports have the SUNY plan failing in the legislature due to concerns from unions and fears that tuition increases will reduce access to higher education.

This week, the Oregonian reported that the Oregon State Board of Higher Education opposes the UO autonomy plan, instead favoring an autonomy plan of their own.

December 13, 2010 07:19 PM

Who is the leader of the Democrats in Washington, D.C.? At a caucus meeting last week, it wasn't President Barack Obama.

All but one of the Democrats at the packed meeting voted for a resolution by local Rep. Peter DeFazio to oppose the President's deal with Republicans to give billions of dollars in tax breaks to the super wealthy.

Since then, DeFazio has been a hot item on cable TV and national newspaper accounts of the tax break melt down. Before DeFazio ran off for a satellite uplink to MSNBC and a flight back to the tax cut smack down in the nation's capital, we caught up with the 12-term local Congressman at the shinny courthouse in Eugene and asked him just what's going on. The feisty populist didn't even need a question to start his outrage over the deal rolling.

DeFazio: First thing you got to keep in mind is the price tag for this package, with the Christmas tree ornaments being added by the Senate, is almost $900 billion dollars. That means we'll add about $450 billion dollars to what are already projected to be record deficits in the coming year-all borrowed money, a lot of it borrowed from China.

We must do what is absolutely necessary and prudent and the things that are the most effective at putting people back to work and helping those that are hurt by the bad economy like helping those who's unemployment is about to expire. But we can't afford the ornaments and some of the additional expenses that have been added, now by the Democrats in the Senate but previously by the Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell when he dictated the terms of this agreement to President Obama. I'm pretty tired of being blackmailed by the minority in the Senate and having them do things that are not in the best interests of the American people and the American taxpayers.

There's a few fairly expensive additions from the Senate-$20 billion for income over $250,000 a year. Now remember, a lot of people got this wrong. If you earn $500,000, you're still getting a tax break on your first $250,000 under the original Obama proposal, what he has now abandoned. So everybody, no matter how high their income, would have been getting a tax break under the Obama proposal. It's just income over $250,000 would be taxed at the Clinton era rates.

If you think back to the Clinton era and the tax rates of the Clinton era-which a lot of people screamed bloody murder about and no single Republican voted for-we actually had a booming economy and people were investing and not sitting on piles of cash. So it's hard to make the case that somehow this would be destructive to capital formation and the creation of jobs.

Then the two additional provisions, the continued reduction in capital gains tax and dividend tax, another $15 billion, and then the really big ornament or perhaps the star on top of the Christmas tree is a huge reduction in estate taxes for estates over $10 million. Remember the whole fight over the estate tax over the years has been about small business. We don't want to destroy small business. I agree with that. The House passed a version of the estate tax which would have forgiven all estate taxes up to $7 million and then had a graduated rate after that. Under the Senate proposal there would be no estate tax up to $10 million per estate and then a lower rate on all estate taxes over and above that. That's another $30 billion.

So if you just look at those four provisions, some people can make an argument that the capital gains or the dividend might produce jobs. People have been trying to make an argument that taxing upper income people at the Clinton era rates would hurt jobs. But no one is saying that giving a tax break to estates over $10 million is going to create a single job. That is $65 billion borrowed, put on the tab, that we'll be paying off for the next 30 years. If they called this a stimulus bill instead of tax cuts, the Republicans would be screaming bloody murder, because we would be borrowing every penny. These things are excessive, unnecessary, help those who don't need help and are going to put ultimately the burden on the majority of American people.

The extension of unemployment benefits costs about half what the tax breaks cost for the upper income people. So if we wanted to not borrow money, we could extend unemployment benefits and we could just take the house version of the estate tax and part of the upper income taxes, and we would be revenue neutral. We wouldn't have borrowed the money and we would have helped those most in need.
I believe the Republicans are bluffing. I don't believe they would have gone home for Christmas fighting for tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and told millions of Americans, who's unemployment has expired or is about to expire, tough luck. I don't think they could have withstood the hit they would have taken. So I don't think that was any concession on their part.

There was another proposal that I find very problematic, which was for the first time we're going to violate the sanctity of the Social Security trust fund for the first time since it was created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. We're going to give a payroll tax holiday, all well and good-pretty expensive, about $67 billion dollars more to borrow next year. We give a payroll tax holiday which goes to all income levels, including members of Congress who will get over $2,000, millionaires, billionaires will get at least $2,000, if their spouse works they'll get $4,000. This is a very expensive tax break, having a payroll tax holiday. It raises concerns about the future of Social Security. So they said, ‘Oh, don't worry, we will borrow the money from China or somewhere else.'

I predict what will happen two years from now or a year from now is they'll say, ‘Oh my God, we can't afford to keep subsidizing Social Security and borrowing money to do it.' And if Obama proposes to reinstate the full tax, they'll say, ‘Oh, he's increasing taxes on working people.' This is a very elegant trap, I believe, set by the Republicans. They know it's fiscally irresponsible, and next year they are going to come back for the other half, which is massive reductions in programs which are important to a majority of the American people, and in all probability, box in President Obama coming up in the next election to make all these things permanent.

This is a bad deal, we could have had a better deal. That's why I offered my resolution in the House Democratic caucus. I've been in Congress 24 years. We have never ever before taken a caucus vote on an initiative of a President, particularly a president of our own party, and voted nearly unanimously in opposition. I heard one ‘no.' There may have been people that didn't vote, but the room was packed and most people shouted "aye" and supported my resolution. We in the House believe this is a bad deal for the taxpayers. It's not targeted in a way that is going to put people back to work or help those most in need, it's going to borrow a lot of money to help those who have already done very well and do not need additional assistance, particularly with borrowed money.

EW: So if the caucus supported you're resolution and in effect not the President's resolution, does that make you the top Democrat in Washington then?

DeFazio: Chuckles...Well, you know, I could see what was happening here, there's a lot of people, a lot of, first off we're still reeling from the election. It's a confusing situation because people who were lame ducks get to vote on this and the few new members we have, nine, don't get to vote on this so there's a lot of confusion and anxiety. But there was just a tremendous amount of chatter, this is not good, why are we going along with this. Why are we letting ourselves be rolled by the Senate, and this time just be rolled by the minority leader of the Senate who unilaterally negotiated with Vice President Biden. Vice President Biden came to the caucus, he cut the deal with Mitch McConnell while our negotiator was in another room. So this was really a dictate. We were hearing some things that, well we got some things that we really like and all these other things we really don't like, and I figure that what was going to happen was we were going to role over again. So I decided, for once, that I would force the caucus to stand up, to stand up to the President and to push our own leadership to opposing the President because they have facilitated him too much in the past, particularly when he has made massive concessions to the Republicans. So it doesn't make me anything other than someone who is willing to take the initiative and lead in the caucus for a vote in the caucus to take a stand.

EW: What was that caucus meeting like?

DeFazio: It was in the largest room available outside the floor of the House, and it was packed. It was a bit raucous. There was some like cursing over on one side, I couldn't hear that. It was a bit noisy. But when I stood to offer my resolution was when this chant of ‘just say no' broke out. Reporters down the hall even with the closed door could hear that. I asked for time to then speak to my resolution, and someone in the back yells, ‘Can't you hear, you've already got the votes, just move the question.' So I said okay, I just move the question, and there was a huge roar of "yes," and one valiant sole said "no," supporting what she said were her beliefs that we can't do better.

EW: If the Republicans argue that if you don't do this now, we can just do it in January, why would they want to do it now?

DeFazio: These are the new fiscal conservatives. So If they are fiscal conservatives, then I would assume that if they want to reduce revenues they are going to want to match that with reductions in spending. That would be $450 billion. We're part way through the budget year, so they would have to reduce spending over the coming months about 60 percent across the board, that includes the Pentagon. There are certainly places where we can cut and save money, but it would be an impossible task. So their first act would be to borrow an additional $400 billion or more as fiscal conservatives, and much of the money would be borrowed from China. I think they would be putting themselves in a very difficult spot. I can't believe that that is what they would do. I think they would have to minimize the costs and meet the most essential needs.

EW: So this way they get to blame the Democrats for the deficit spending?

DeFazio: Yup. Sure, look at the Obama deficit next year, $1.75 trillion dollars. That's what they'll talk about. They won't say, ‘Oh, by the way, $450 billion of it is something that we insisted on.' At least the new members can say we weren't even here and didn't vote on it. I think this is a very elegant trap that they are constructing and it's going to lead to massive cuts in programs that are very important to many American families and its probably going to lead to the permanent imposition of these tax cuts and make the tax code less progressive.

EW: Would it have been better, as a political strategist, to do this before the election?

DeFazio: Sure, absolutely, it should have happened before the election. The pundits in the White House are saying well, that was Congress's call. Well, not exactly, I don't remember the President standing up, pushing, giving a speech or hitting Congress, batting Congress around a little bit, and saying let's move on with these tax cuts now. The House had already acted substantially on this without the Social Security cuts, without the new estate tax give always, without the upper income. The House had already acted, it was the Senate that had failed to act, and I didn't see the President push the Senate.

EW: So you think in the future that these will be permanent, that as part of the 2012 election, they'll say you're raising taxes by cutting our tax break?

DeFazio: Vice President Joe Biden said that he could assure us that the President would not go forward. He would not approve the continuation of these tax cuts, particularly for the wealthy. If he can't do it in a non-Presidential election year-after he ran on it as a candidate, after he campaigned for it two years as President and then suddenly it's a done deal, and it can't be discussed, it's take it or leave it-who can believe that he'll be able to stand up to the pressure. You're looking at, ‘Mr. President you're talking about the largest tax [increase] in the history of America by restoring the Social Security tax, by increasing the tax on estates over $10 million, by having income over $250,000 taxed at Clinton-era rates. You sir, are a tax and spender, you are running the largest deficits in the history of the world in the United States of America.' And he's going to stand up to that?

EW: So they New York Times says you don't have much leverage here. Do you think that's true, that things could improve if it was voted down now, that you might be able to have more leverage in January?

DeFazio: Oh yeah. The leverage you have in January is that you have just elected what purports to be a fiscally responsible, new House of Representatives with fiscal conservatives in charge. Are they going to start by reducing the income by $450 billion for the government? They are going to be in kind of a tough spot because they can't find $450 billion in cuts.
The most radical vision for the United States of America is basically having just a Defense Department, a Justice Department, I would assume they would include Homeland Security and some other things. They can't get there with cuts, not in one year, not in two.

EW: Do you think Republicans really care about the deficit? They ran on that.

DeFazio: They're hypocritical. They want to reduce taxes and deal with the deficit. So we could at least point to their hypocrisy. Then it would be they who created the largest record deficit in the history of the United States and the world for a nation, not the Democrat majority still governing and the Democratic President.

EW: Is this going to pass by the end of the week? Some people have said its inevitable.

DeFazio: The greatest pressure that's always exerted is, ‘Well, do you want to go home for Christmas or not.' I would say, ‘Yeah, I do, but I'll stay.' But there are others who will just want to get out of town. The Senate may pass the bill and leave town. That's how they've done a bunch of these things previously. We'll see, but as one, one out of 435, I did the best I could by giving my leadership the tools to go back down to the Whitehouse and say look, this is unprecedented, the caucus has never spoken this way before, virtually unanimous, things got to change.

EW: So why did the Democrats get the shellacking?

DeFazio: The greatest reason is the dismal economy and the huge numbers of unemployment and declining incomes which go to a huge host of issues which we failed to address meaningfully. And it will go back, as I said, to the stimulus. If we had taken a fraction of the money we had spent on tax cuts and invested it instead on infrastructure, we could have put 5-6 million people to work, and you would have been providing a benefit to future generations and improving the productivity of the nation. We have not dealt meaningfully with the failures of our trade policy and unfair trade by China and others.

I think people kind of looked and they didn't see that we were offering them hope of better lives for themselves and their kids with the policies and the things we'd implemented so far, perhaps with the exception of healthcare. But that was four years down the road. As one guy said to me during the election, he said, ‘Congressman, it's really great next time I lose my job and my health insurance four or five years from now, I'll be able to keep my health insurance. But right now, it doesn't do me any good, does it.'

December 8, 2010 05:46 PM

Local Congressman Peter DeFazio today strongly opposed President Obama's proposed deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax breaks for the rich.

DeFazio released this statement:

"President Obama has announced a deal on tax cuts for millionaires with Senate Republicans that will cost average Americans dearly. The Republican demands to extend tax cuts on income above $250,000 a year and to lower taxes on estates over $10 million will add $250 billion over two years to the federal budget deficit. Just think what we could do with $250 billion - we could put it towards our burgeoning deficit, we could fully fund a COLA for seniors for 2 years, we could extend unemployment benefits for an additional 18 months, and still have $100 billion left over to defray the federal deficit or we could take that $100 billion and spend it on transportation and infrastructure investments and put millions of Americans back to work in the private sector in the construction, engineering, manufacturing and related industries. This is a bad deal for the American people. The President has allowed himself to be blackmailed by the Senate Republicans and I will not support it. Compromise requires give and take, but once, again, the middle class gave and the millionaires took."

December 7, 2010 01:21 PM

A local movement for a city income tax on upper incomes to help local schools has run into opposition from The Register-Guard and conservatives who argue that it is unlikely to pass.

But a very similar income tax passed in Eugene this year by a three-to-one margin. In January, the state Measure 66 income tax increase on those earning more than $250,000 passed with 73 percent support in Eugene.

In addition, local voters have repeatedly shown strong support for schools, repeatedly passing local tax increases by two-to-one margins. A web survey by School District 4J last month found three-fourths of the 1,999 respondents supported a city tax for local schools.

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy has announced a public forum on the possibility of a city tax for local schools on Tue., Dec. 14 from 7-9 pm in the council chamber at City Hall.

The forum will examine the possibility of a sales tax instead of an income tax (city property taxes for schools are legally prohibited). But sales taxes hit the poor harder than the wealthy and have failed over and over in Oregon and Eugene by wide margins.

Statewide sales tax measures have failed nine times in Oregon, often by huge margins. In the last attempt, a state sales tax targeted at school funding with reductions in property taxes, exemptions for groceries and tax credits for the poor failed by a three to one vote statewide in 1993 and by a two-to-one vote in Lane County.

In 1993 a Eugene sales tax on restaurants failed by a 20 percent margin with strong opposition from restaurant owners.

Sales taxes take a larger share of income from the poor than the wealthy as the poor tend to spend all their incomes, while wealthier people have the luxury of savings and investment, research has found.

There's also some discussion of a less progressive local income tax that would reduce rates on the wealthy by targeting the middle class. Saving upper income people money may win a few conservative supporters, but could lead to defeat at the polls, especially with lower-wage people struggling in the recession. In 1999 a flat income tax proposal from Lane County to fund the jail by targeting the poor and middle class failed by a wide margin.

A city income tax on incomes above $100,000 would raise roughly $14 million for each percentage point of tax, according to EW estimates based on state tax data.

While, there's some discussion on exactly what tax to propose, there appears to be broad support for the importance of saving local schools from draconian budget cuts.

A city press release on the City Hall forum next week states: "Good public schools keep a city vibrant and healthy. Businesses need them, both as an immediate source of workers and as a means to attract employees to Eugene. Professionals considering relocation here often focus as much on the quality of the schools as on salaries and benefits being offered. Good schools raise property values and help reduce crime."

November 2, 2010 08:34 PM

Right-wing Lane County Commission candidates appear to be leading in very early returns, but thousands of ballots remain uncounted.

Jay Bozievich leads Jerry Rust 55 to 45 percent in the west Lane County race . But about a third of the ballots appear to not yet have been counted, based on historic voting levels for commissioner races.

Sid Leiken leads Patt Riggs-Henson 56 to 44 in the Springfield commissioner race, but less than half the votes appear to have been counted so far.

In some past local elections, early election results have favored conservatives, but progressives have won when all the votes are counted.

October 18, 2010 02:28 PM

So who's behind all those mysterious attack ads against local Congressman Peter DeFazio?

The answer is a reclusive, conservative Wall Street mega-millionaire who installed a $2.7-million toy train set in his mansion and spent $28-million to buy up adjoining Manhattan apartments for his daughter and would get hit by taxes on large Wall Street speculators proposed by DeFazio, according to reports in the Oregonian, Washington Post and Willamette Week.

Just who was behind "Concerned Taxpayers of America," the group funding the attack ads, was a secret until Friday when the group was legally required to report its donors. The report listed just two "concerned taxpayers"— a Maryland concrete baron who has bankrolled opposition to a Maryland congressman and $200,000 in contributions from secretive hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, a major contributor to DeFazio's right-wing opponent Art Robinson.

The ads have helped Robinson—an irascible, fringe chemist who has called for the elimination of public schools, the EPA and social security and claimed global warming is a hoax and radioactive waste has health benefits—pull within six points of DeFazio in a recent Republican poll. The revelation of who funded the ads now comes after many may have already returned their ballots in Oregon's vote-by-mail election.

October 13, 2010 03:00 PM

Honestly, I'm still not sure what exactly spiced rum has to do with American tattoo icon Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, but it's Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum that's presenting this evening's (21+) screening of the documentary Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry at the Bijou. The film centers on Collins, but is as much a story of a place and time in the way it looks at Hawaii during WWII. It's not all a pretty picture — and a few of the attitudes espoused by some of the old-school tattoo artists are downright cringeworthy — but director Erich Weiss keeps things moving at a steady clip, interviewing those who worked with and learned from Collins. Colorful characters narrate their experiences with Collins, who combined traditional American tattoo style with the influence of Japanese tattoo masters, and whose work was majorly influential both in terms of style and more technical aspects (the stories about Collins' purple ink are particularly entertaining). Rough-voiced and heavily inked, the men who came after Collins — the most charming of which is easily California tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy, though other guys provide more laughs — speak both reverentially and dryly about Collins' work, politics and gruff personality.

You don't have to be a tattoo junkie to find this story fascinating (says the inkless writer) as a vivid, historical look at a subculture and the way it has developed, expanded and — though this is less of Weiss' focus — become commercialized. The old-school dudes (yeah, it's a sausage fest; women mostly appear in old footage as prostitutes, or for decoration) have a hearty skepticism for the ranks of "black T-shirt" kids they see as taking over their art now, and the film ends with a suggestion that before long, it'll be establishment to have tattoos, and rebellious not to. Popularity comes in cycles; Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry traces one story from the upswing of tattoo culture.

Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry screens at 7 pm tonight, Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the Bijou. See here for more details.

October 12, 2010 05:42 PM

Some people use "cute" as a pejorative. I don't. So when I say that the new Ascetic Junkies video is the cutest goddamn thing EVER, what I mean is it's the cutest goddamn thing I've seen in some unspecified period of time. Just look at it! Look at the way the little animated Kali Giaritta goes all frowny and slightly evil when the song rocks out! Look at the way the music appears in squiggled lines! Look at the banjo player's fluffy white cloud of a beard! JUST LOOK AT IT!

Why Do Crows? from Ascetic Junkies on Vimeo.

If you were to click over to that Vimeo page, you'd find that the video was hand-drawn by Junkies bassist Cole Huiskamp, who sometimes has devil horns poking through his cap. In the video, I mean.

The Ascetic Junkies celebrate the release of their new CD, This Cage Has No Bottom, at 9:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 16, at Sam Bond's Garage (21+, $5). I wrote about the band back in January and found, when it came time to preview this week's show, that I basically wanted to say all the same things. It's all true. All of it. (But there'll still be a new preview in this Thursday's paper.)

October 5, 2010 04:36 PM

This coming weekend, Portland’s convention center once again hosts Wordstock, a weekend (and more!) of readings, signings, discussions and other literary events. All this week on EW! A Blog, we’ll review books by authors appearing at the festival, which is super-affordable, should you happen to be a book-nerd with weekend plans that involve PDX: $7 per day, or $10 for both festival days.

If memory serves — and it doesn’t always — my introduction to Throwing Muses was the video for “Bright Yellow Gun,” from the Boston band’s 1995 album University. In hindsight, the concept of a Throwing Muses video seems faintly absurd, but I’m glad it was out there. University was an eerie blessing of a record, resonant and cryptic in all the right ways, and it led me to singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh’s solo album, even more oblique and beautifully ungainly, and to a summer spent wearing out the Muses’ Red Heaven, which still sounds like the background noise to getting my feet under me as a sort-of adult.

I was 19 then. Hersh was just 18 when she had one hell of a year — a year that’s the subject of her fantastic memoir, Rat Girl (Penguin, $15). In a brief intro that comes across as if she’s a little suspicious of herself, Hersh explains that Rat Girl is based on a diary from that year. “That girl isn’t me anymore,” she writes. “Now it’s just a story.”

It’s a really good story. Hersh weaves together the narrative of her year with snippets of song lyrics and scenes from her childhood with the hippie parents she refers to as Crane and Dude. She’s telling a straightforward story about a young band that finds its first successes, but she’s also telling a complicated, emotional tale about a young woman grappling with mental illness and major change.

Rat Girl is never sentimental; Hersh might not be capable of sentimentality. She’s perpetually wary, certain that while she and her bandmates like her band, there’s no reason for anyone else to feel the same way about them. Ordinary things have unexpected outcomes: An apartment fuels the songs she hears with “an evil energy.” The songs, she explains, started to come after “a witch” hit Hersh with her car. In the hospital with a double concussion, she began to hear noise that later resolved into notes, melodies and words. “It’s not me,” Hersh writes. “I don’t talk that way because I’m not always ‘right now.’ A song lives across time as an overarching impression of sensory input, seeing it all happening at once, racing through stories like a fearless kid on a bicycle, narrating his own skin.”

Hersh’s observations about music scenes, music writers and the recording process are fascinating and specific, and all the more so for Muses fans. Her tone is never gossipy, though, and she leaves out identifying details, opting instead for impressions and entertaining descriptions (one music writer is referred to as the Newspaper).

Right in the middle of the book — which runs 1985-1986, roughly spring to spring — Hersh becomes manic. There's no build-up and no romanticization: "I'm falling into a hole in my head — been tripping over my brain not working, a mess." It's not long after she's diagnosed as manic-depressive (doctors use the term, then explain that it’s not called that anymore; she has bipolar disorder) that Hersh finds herself pregnant. The pages leading up to her hospitalization are frenzied, scary and beautiful, but there’s little context for the pregnancy. “Some boys like little rat girls,” she writes quietly in explanation. “Not many, but a few. I’ve always been grateful for the ones that did. Now I’m not so sure.”

Rat Girl is a book like a Throwing Muses song is a song; it starts in unexpected places, is full of peculiar and unforgettable images and has deceptive staying power once it gets under your skin. You might pick out pieces of the narrative and think it’s about a band, or a musician, or a mental illness, or being a teenage mother with a record deal, but it’s a book about the particular way a talented, sometimes troubled young woman walks through the world — a coming of age story, comforting, disconcerting, intense, unfamiliar and, amid all the vivid descriptions of sound and color and light, relatable. Hersh’s world doesn’t look or feel like everybody else’s — for better and for worse. Rat Girlisn’t tidy and inspirational, but chaotic and true.

Kristin Hersh reads at 3 pm Saturday, Oct. 9, at Wordstock’s Columbia Sportswear Stage.

Also at Wordstock and (semi) recently reviewed in EW: Eugene native Robin Romm reads at 11 am Saturday, Oct. 9, at the Powell’s Stage, and Portland writer Robin Cody reads at 1 pm Sunday, Oct. 10, at the Mountain Writers Series Stage #1.

All listed Wordstock events take place at the Oregon Convention Center, Portland.

September 28, 2010 02:57 PM

Here's a video from the Washington Post of local Congressman Peter DeFazio unsuccessfully trying to track down who's funding TV ads against him:

The Post story quotes DeFazio:

"Is this a corporation? Is it one very wealthy, right-wing individual? Is it a foreign interest? Is it a drug gang?" DeFazio said. "We don't know."

September 23, 2010 02:28 PM

Yes, MFNW continued! And continued to be great! And then I got sick and had Chow to finish and ... and ... and ...

And suddenly it's September Twenty-freaking-third and I'd have to do some serious brain-wracking to figure out how we got this far into the month, but ANYWAY, let's just relive the magic of MFNW just a little bit longer, and then I'll shut up about it until next year.

(Saturday's Late Start Due to Food was courtesy of the incredible breakfast at Screen Door, which, for the record, lived up to the hype. I love it when that happens.)

So, thanks to the magic that can happen when you complain about stuff on Twitter, I got my MFNW on a little early on Saturday — starting at noonish at the OPB Music day party at Mississippi Studios. I gotta be honest: This thing kind of made me feel like a rock star. You walk in and there's an espresso cart. Voodoo Doughnut detritus is everywhere. At the bar on the venue side, a guy in a House Spirits shirt is making an endless stream of aquavit bloody Marys and delicious Salt & Peppers. He sets them on the bar. You walk up and take them. Magic. The fact that you're doing this while waiting for some of the most charming of Portland bands to play makes everything just fucking golden.

I missed most of And And And's set, but what I saw — madcap, multi-member, dancing-in-the-crowd, excitable child of indie and drinking rock tunes — was enough that I made a note to go see them later at Backspace. I saw a little more Typhoon, packed in as tightly as the audience at the bar's outdoor patio, and then claimed a great spot in the balcony for Tu Fawning, who just get better and better and better. My showgoing company explained them to someone by saying, "Sometimes they sound like Portishead — but they actually sound like Portishead, unlike all the other bands that people say sound like Portishead."

But they only sometimes sound like Portishead. The band's four members all constantly switch instruments; Corrina Repp and Joe Haege (who I never tire of pointing out is also in the excellent 31 Knots, assuming they still exist) swap lead vocals as elaborate percussion, an extraordinarily long trumpet, delicate keys and more layer into their atmospheric songs, which sometimes are for a little bit of dancing and more often are for swaying hypnotically in time.

We wandered in and out of the Mississippi main room and the back patio of the attached Bar Bar, watching Portland rock royalty stand around and running into former Eugenean Peter Dean, once of the Fast Computers, who now has a handful of projects and had a summer gig doing sound effects for the totally entertaining Trek in the Park.

Then it was time for The Thermals. Again. Still awesome. Wunderkind drummer Westin Glass had a giant green crystal around his neck; was it for mystical purposes, or is he secretly the Green Lantern? Singer/guitarist Hutch Harris was none too pleased with the monitor sound at the show’s start — “Could you make it not sound like shit up here?” he hollered after the first song — but by the end, even he had broken into a smile. The room had been loosely full up until the Thermals set, but everyone in the place seemed to pack in for the party’s grand finale. A couple of people in the front rows even started dancing. A little. The set was too short, mostly new songs plus “Pillar of Salt” and “No Culture Icons” — and from where I was standing upstairs I could see they cut two songs as the show went on — but it was transporting nonetheless. Kathy Foster bobs on her toes and smiles her enigmatic smile; Harris brings a focused ferocity; and Glass just smiles and smiles and smiles, tipping back on his drumstool at the end of a song as if he can hit the snare even harder with his feet off the ground.

We stepped into the sunlight confused. Daytime? Right. Daytime. Collect yourself and move along. Coffee, now, please. (Keep reading...)

Saturday night’s lineup was all over the place. I caught a few Laura Veirs songs, standing in the middle of Pioneer Courthouse Square, wishing I were seeing her in a small, intimate space, like when she played at John Henry’s, but liking the shifting backup band (Karl Blau! Chris Funk! And more!).

And And And packed the kids into the front half of Backspace, a spiffy all-ages venue right on the MAX line and just off Burnside. Members danced into the audience, the songs got shoutier and more exuberant and the crowd cheered madly when the singer introduced a new song called “I Want More Alcohol.” Also, I think there was confetti.

I caught a little bit of Tu Fawning’s second set of the day, over at Crystal Ballroom where they were opening for Menomena; they’d all dressed up and were looking remarkably hot, even if Haege kind of ruined the effect when he bent over the drums and revealed a monster hole in the armpit of his dress shirt. I saw Amy Klein — otherwise known as Amy Andronicus, and the author of quite a few wicked smart, well-worth-reading blog posts about rock and gender — of Titus Andronicus at that show and, later, spotted Hutch Harris squinting in the blinding glow of Smashing Pumpkin’s absurd stage lights. Always nice to see the bands out catching other bands.

Even when one of those bands is Smashing Pumpkins.

To open the door to the sold-out Wonder Ballroom, where the Pumpkins were already playing when we arrived, was to walk into a swampy miasma of damp, stanky man-funk. To our left, an oversized sound and lights board took up a serious chunk of the floor, but it was kind of irrelevant — the crowd was mashed up against the stage, watching Billy Corgan do his thing.

And can we talk about that thing? That thing is essentially cock rock. Maybe it was the arena-style lights giving me that impression — blinding, absurd, strobing things glinting off the gong behind the drummer — but the show had this strutting, overwrought ridiculousness that just grew more intense every time Corgan started on a guitar solo. Of which there were more than I remembered. They played “Today” second, and it didn’t even sound like itself. Poignancy? Gone. Delicacy among the distortion? Mangled.

It was kind of ... ugly, the whole thing. Abrasive, bombastic and cynical, and none of that in the good way. And totally discombobulating, coming after the involved, unironic And And And, the crisp layers of Tu Fawning and the cheery, intelligent bite of the Thermals. We lasted through “Drown” — which made me smile in the way that anything from Singles can make a certain kind of Northwesterner of a certain age smile — and then stumbled free.

We stumbled all the way back to backspace, where Titus Andronicus were closing out the night and sounding just as shouty and incensed and ferociously entertaining as they did at a house show earlier this year, and on a freezing-cold SXSW stage the month before that. The intensity never flags, even when you’re surrounded by six-foot-tall dudes who can’t even be bothered to head-bob.

That was the end of Saturday — I wanted to see Crooked Fingers, but Mississippi Studios was just too far — but Sunday had one last show in store: The National in Pioneer Courthouse Square. I sat on cold concrete and stared at Matt Berninger’s spiffy suit for two hours, willing him to take the jacket off so I could admire the vest. And also I loved the show. This is a band with their banter down, whether it’s about why they can’t move to Portland, or how their version of the Flaming Lips’ confetti is “Four dollars worth of shit!” — a few dozen glowsticks, haphazardly distributed.

The set was heavy on the High Violet tracks; the encore was exactly what it needed to be: “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” “Mr. November” and “Secret Meeting,” if memory serves. They played “England,” which was what I most needed to hear, and the sky grew dark gradually and then all of a sudden, swooping over the square so that the lights on the buildings gave everything a more magical glow. “What’s that building?” Berninger asked at one point. “It looks like a cake.”

It did. The National had a vibe like a band that’s been on tour almost too long: effortlessly in sync, but maybe a little worn. In the urban canyons, the guitars echoed just so — just a certain way — and I finally understood why people compare the band to U2 sometimes. Just a little. It rings out like it’s bigger than it is, and that makes some people dismissively call The National “dad rock” which other people, like me, find a place in that sound to sink in, curl up and remember. Is dad rock nostalgia rock? Is nostalgia always wrong? If it is, I don’t want to be right.

September 13, 2010 12:36 PM

Adventure Galley from traskblueribbon on Vimeo.

Though the news was pretty obvious last Thursday, when a camera crew was in attendance at their swiftly arranged WOW Hall show, it’s now totally official: Eugene’s Adventure Galley has won MySpace’s Rock the Space 2 contest. More than 17,000 bands entered a song apiece in hopes of winning a contract with MySpace Records (and $10,000 in Fender gear). After a couple of rounds of voting, AG’s “Addict” came out on top.

A little more than a week after they got the news, four of AG’s six members strolled into Monroe Street Café looking awfully calm. As keyboard and synth player George Schultz tells it, the whole thing was “just kind of out of the blue.” He saw an ad for the contest and figured it couldn’t hurt to enter. A few months later, the call came: The band had been selected — “by a judging panel made up of industry professionals and MySpace Records executives,” say the contest rules — as a semifinalist. In the semi-finals, bands faced off in bracket-style voting. AG made it to the finals, along with five other bands from around the country. “Last Tuesday,” Schultz says, “I was obsessively checking my email to see if we won, and logged off, and logged back on five minutes later and got the email.”

Yelling and running around the room ensued. Not that you’d guess these guys do a lot of yelling and running around. Over the course of a 30-minute conversation, Schultz and drummer Brock Grenfell do most of the talking; vocalist David Mills — he of the impressive moustache —  barely says a word but smiles faintly; guitarist Aaron Johnson, behind sunglasses and flaking streaks of yellow face paint, breaks in to tell the story of how he and Mills originally formed the band. Though none of the bandmembers are older than 21 — the “elusive” sixth member, Grenfell’s brother Forrest, is still in high school — they project an attitude of mellow confidence. Schultz is the gregarious one, the one who’ll tell all the stories; Grenfell reins him in when those stories get maybe a little too colorful for a young band that’s about to land in a much bigger spotlight.

The attention began with their Thursday night show at the WOW. Though the band couldn’t come out and say they’d won the contest until today’s official announcement, they could, Grenfell says, “hint very heavily” that there was a reason for the quickly scheduled show, which was filmed for a promotional video (earlier in the contest, the group shot a similar video atop the Lorax Manner). Next, Schultz says, “We’re going to be signing a contract, and so in the next nine months we’re going to start working on an album and probably have that released in the next year or so.”

The album will be the band’s full-length debut. Thus far, they’ve only released an EP, The Right Place to Be, eight songs of their energetic, danceable, synth-decorated brand of indie rock. Asked to put AG in a genre, Schultz says, “I think technically it would be post-punk.” “Addict” is thick with catchy melodies and half-shouted singalongs, all set to an insistent beat and embellished with a synth part that twines through the song, giving it an airy feel despite Mills’ sonorous tone. It’s a little like The Killers, a little like Franz Ferdinand, and entirely infectious.

Adventure Galley began, Johnson says, when he, Mills and two other musicians recorded three songs “and did nothing with them.” Without a drop of self-consciousness, Johnson says, “People thought it was the coolest stuff ever.” But the band, in that incarnation, played only two shows, both in Bend. That’s where they found Grenfell. Schultz, already a fan of those three songs, met the band at a UO college party about two years ago and joined soon after. A year ago, the band’s bassist left and was replaced with Jesse Suihkonen, who played his first show with the band on the Fourth of July last year. “I feel like everything has come together a lot better since he came in,” Schultz says.

Grenfell and Schultz are aware that signing with a label means they may have to give up a certain degree of control, but they’re optimistic about the people from MySpace Records being “artist-friendly.” Grenfell says, “As far as I understand it ... we mostly just get to pick what we want to do, and they just have to put their stamp of approval on it.” The grand prize includes a “standard recording agreement” with MySpace records, with a $10,000 advance and $10,000 in Fender gear. The latter probably comes as an awfully nice touch for a band that’s had their own gear stolen twice in the last two years. “We’re due for good karma,” Grenfell says.

Though a contest win is no guarantee of success, last year’s winners, California’s Call the Cops, have been out on multiple tours since winning, including a month on this summer’s Warped Tour. Adventure Galley’s goal — apart from “taking over the world,” which they joke was the theme of the WOW Hall show — is pretty reasonable: They hope to play the Sasquatch Music Festival next spring. “Even if for the first year we do it we’re just on a small stage or something like that, just getting onto the festival circuit, getting the name out there so that the next year when we come back we can take it by storm,” Grenfell says.

With such a major opportunity in their lap, it’s possible Adventure Galley won’t be a local band for long. Though both Grenfell and Schultz are UO students, they say they’d take time off to tour. “You can go to school when you’re older,” Grenfell says.

“It’s our big shot,” Schultz says. “Why not take advantage of it?”
Adventure Galley’s next Eugene show is a house show with Pony Village and the Blimp at 9 pm Saturday, Sept. 25, at the Basement (13th & Washington). Their EP is available at House of Records. "Addict" is also in EW's Next Big Thing contest.

Additional reporting by Vanessa Salvia.

September 11, 2010 05:14 PM

The theme of MusicfestNW — this year for sure, but probably every year — is apparently Getting a Late Start Due to Food. It's just awfully hard to resist Portland's culinary delights, even when you're forced to choose between rock and a sausage. Wait, that sounded weird.

Friday began late for us with Hosannas, who used to be Church (and were briefly Ape Cave, sort of) at Mississippi Studios, where I've basically taken up a permanent location in the balcony. The view from above makes Hosannas more fun; their button-pushing and knob-twisting songs are more interesting than engrossing, and all the more so when you're upstairs watching the glowy lights and the guy with the bare feet triggering stuff on one of his many, many, many pieces of equipment. It felt awfully cerebral, especially without a stiff drink.

Next, we climbed the stairs to the Crystal Ballroom against such a dense flow of downstairs traffic that we thought Okkervil River was already done. Nope — people just weren't into the strangely sloppy/beautiful/sloppy show bandleader Will Sheff was choreographing. Well, some people were: For whatever reason, the place seemed to be full of slightly fratty, more then slightly wasted dudes who chose the oddest moments to pump their fists. The people-watching was more than distracting, especially since the band kept breaking into a nearly goosebump-eliciting song, only to crush it into shreds — and not the good kind — within minutes. Yes, "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe"! No! It's run off the tracks!

It was an odd scene.

Down at Berbati's, Richmond Fontaine was easily charming a late-night crowd with the least ironic, most straightforward, always narratively fascinating set of the weekend. If at least 70 percent of the bar didn't have some kind of crush on singer-songwriter Willy Vlautin, well, you could've fooled me. (Is it the sweetly scruffy voice? The Nathan Fillion-ish profile? The spare and sympathetic hard-luck novels? All of the above?)

The set wasn't quite as perfect as the band's afternoon show at Pickathon, which felt like rock 'n' roll preschool, with much of the crowd sitting cross-legged on the barn's concrete floor, but it still ended with "Four Walls." Wistful, building, sentimental, lovelorn, wishful, longing — it's a song for silent rooms and shivering lighters, late nights and long pours of whiskey. It belongs on every crushtastic mix CD ever made.

So, yeah, it would've been a lovely place to end the night, but the Someday Lounge was on the way home, and there, the nine? ten? (19 are listed on the band's MySpace page) members of Typhoon were crowding the stage. I've only seen Typhoon live — several fractions of shows, now — but if their ramshackle heartache holds up on record, I've got some shopping to do. Every time I hear this band, I think of the Register-Guard's Serena Markstrom, talking, as we walked through their Pickathon set, about male singers who sound like what a mouth looks like when it's blowing a bubble. Round, wobbly, earnest, self-aware — I think that's what she was going for. I think. Typhoon calls its sound "epic indie rock" across the top of the band's website; they sound like carefully orchestrated yearning to me. I think they should come play Sam Bond's immediately — pack us in, sweaty and uncomfortably close together, and fill the space with sound until we forget the details.

And that was Friday. Today has already been the super-extra-delightful OPB Music party at Mississippi Studios; the delight will continue with Laura Viers, Titus Andronicus, And And And and more. There will also be a Smashing Pumpkins show. Whether "delight" is a word even faintly applicable to such a thing remains to be seen.

September 10, 2010 04:53 PM

MusicfestNW 2010 began, for me, with cocktails and pickled things at Secret Society. Sorry, Phantogram, who I wanted to see; it’s just that I had a feeling sustenance would be needed over the next few hours.

Phantogram were opening for Ra Ra Riot at one of the Nike Wonder Ballroom shows, which you know are Nike shows because the TVs on the sides of the stage just show big swooshes until the band starts. (This is an improvement over ... last year? The year before? when a giant wooden structure thing took up a chunk of the floorspace and had something to do with ... something brand-y.) The Wonder wasn’t as packed as I’d expected — expectations based on the line for RRR’s SXSW show — but it gradually filled in, dudes in plaid button-ups sharing floor space with dingy kids who were trying their hardest to look like they hadn’t washed their hoodies in several years.

It was a funny crowd and a funny show. Ra Ra Riot’s albums are sweet, swoony things, fully deserving the “chamber pop” tag, thick with cello and violin and dominated by singer Wes Miles’ earnest choirboy voice. The lyrics tend to the sweet, honest and self-deprecating (“My life is dull and my body aches,” Miles repeats on the first song on the band’s new record, The Orchard), but there’s pep in the airy arrangements and insistence in the drums.

So why did the show seem so one-note? It wasn’t just Miles’ tendency to the occasional really literal gesture, or the imbalanced sound that lost a lot of the strings unless you were standing right up front. Something just seemed off. I haven’t seen a lot of bands in the last few years with singers that mostly just sing — it takes some serious charisma to stand in front of crowd nearly empty-handed, singing your heart out, and Miles seemed happy but unprepared. No one was carrying the show; there wasn’t a sense of band energy, either, except from violinist Rebecca Zeller, who seemed more engaged. It wasn’t a bad show. It was just uninspired — though a few tracks, like “Too Dramatic” and “Ghost Under Rocks,” had a little more snap.

We caught just a little bit of Past Lives at the Crystal, but while the song we heard the end of was energetic and angry and interesting, the next three — the last three of the set — were oddly forgettable. It’s not a word I expect to apply to former Blood Brothers members, but there you have it.

And then: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists! Leo has been doing his steady thing for so long now that — confession time — I like him (musically and on Twitter) without really knowing his stuff. I just know that I like it. (And I love “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?”) It’s punk rock but it’s not: If you watch Leo, pacing the stage with his wristbands and his spiky short hair, he looks like a punk rock boy. But what he plays is this giddy, endless stream of smart, solid rock songs, jangly and jaunty and a little bit frenetic. The show was the opposite of Ra Ra Riot: Propulsive, sweaty, over too fast.

But since it was over in order for The Thermals to take the stage, you won’t hear any complaints from this corner. The tone of the Thermals show was set when their perpetually smiling drummer, Westin Glass, came out to soundcheck, and left the stage only after high-fiving as many people in the front rows as he could reach. The word of the night, despite the intensity of the band’s new album, Personal Life, was, to my mind, gleeful. Every time I’ve seen the Thermals, there’s a wash of delight coming from somewhere, or maybe everywhere — from the band members, the kids dancing up front, the smiling people in the bar who seem on the verge of tossing their drinks in the air and busting out some strange dance moves.

This show was no exception. The songs were all just right. The older songs, especially from the political and pointed The Body, The Blood, The Machine, sat perfectly next to Life’s, well, more personal content (for more on that, take a peek at Willamette Week’s interview with singer-guitarist Hutch Harris about what it all means, or the Mercury's super piece, in which Personal Life is rightly called the "finest breakup album since Frightened Rabbit's The Midnight Organ Fight").

“A Pillar of Salt” was a highlight; the bitterness of “Not Like Any Other Feeling” was cathartic and gorgeous and intense; but it was the double perfection of the encore that sealed the night: Weezer’s “My Name is Jonas” — you could hear everyone in the crowd singing along as the last ssss of “Jonas” faded — and “No Culture Icons,” which, impossibly, gets better every time they play it.

I left the Thermals with a shit-eating grin on my face (as the stragglers walked out, Glass was once again on the edge of the stage, signing things and talking to fans) and went to meet Todd at the Roseland, where Major Lazer was rattling the doors like they may never have been rattled before. Nobody was getting in, though — not the drunk guy with a scratch above his ear, or the drunk girls advising each other to “stick out your boobs” in an attempt to charm the door guy, or the two dudes on bikes asking why there were so many V-necks on the men lingering around the door.

Didn’t matter. The Thermals win MFNW. Again. (Look for Todd’s photos from the crazy Major Lazer show soon, though.)

Tonight: Okkervil River? Hosannas (formerly Church)? Shaky Hands? Jared Mees and the Grown Children? One thing I know for sure: At midnight I'll be drinking whiskey and watching Richmond Fontaine. See you there!