04 Aug

Wyden approaches Iran nuclear deal from many different directions

Barack Obama called Ron Wyden Thursday.

The Oregon senator, like many others, has a policy of not discussing conversations with the president. But at a time when the issue of Congress upholding or rejecting the anti-nuclear treaty with Iran is all over Capitol Hill and the presidential campaign trail, it’s not hard to imagine what came up.

Sometime in about 50 days – which Congress will spend mostly on its August recess – the Senate and House will vote on the treaty. In all likelihood, both houses, controlled by Republicans, will reject it, Obama will veto the rejection, and it becomes a matter of enough Democrats standing with the president to prevent a two-thirds override of his veto.

It seems like something for a president and a senior senator to talk about, especially when it’s coming up a lot in other places.

“We’re getting a lot of calls at the office” – besides the ones from the White House – “and a lot of questions at town meetings,” said Wyden last week, which doesn’t even count a TV ad campaign against the agreement blasting across national television.

“People ask about it in the grocery store,” he reports. “I’ll be out and about in August listening to people, and I think I’ll get a pretty good cross-section of Oregon’s views.”

Plus occasional calls from the president, although Wyden carefully says, “I wouldn’t characterize it as pressure.”

The Oregon senator starts out with the same clear position that everybody else in Congress does.

“A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable,” he says. “Iran has a long history of providing support for bad actors in the region.”

But he also comes at it from some particular positions of his own.

“I’ve got a long history of supporting diplomatic intervention,” Wyden points out. “I voted against going to war with Iraq. I was very supportive early of cutting off support for the war in Afghanistan.”

But listening to rhetoric from Iran, and especially from its Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, about wiping Israel off the map reminds Wyden of another part of his record.

“My family came to America in the 1930s, and not everybody got out,” Wyden remembers. “We lost some at Theresienstadt,” the Nazi death camp in Czechoslovakia. It causes Wyden to listen to Khameini “on the basis of my family’s experience.

“Supporters of the treaty will say (Khameini’s comments are) just for domestic politics. But it doesn’t sound like he’s just mouthing off.”

The image became more prominent in the argument last week when GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, charged that with the deal, Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the doors of the oven.”

Even the Israelis objected to that.

The Israelis, of course, also object to a lot of things about the treaty. The treaty could, presumably, leave Iran in a position to become a nuclear power in 10 or 12 or 15 years – although as former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas said in Portland last week, “In the absence of an agreement, Iran would have become nuclear within months.”

There are also objections that the end of sanctions would provide billions for Iran to continue to make trouble – although the rejection of the deal might cause some of the other negotiators, such as China, Russia and the Europeans, to jump off the sanctions wagon.

Wyden has some other questions, such as the news last week that side agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Commission had not yet been read by Secretary of State John Kerry.

So far, the congressional divisions seem largely partisan, with just about all Republicans sounding opposed, and some Democrats coming out in support. Last month, Oregon’s junior senator Jeff Merkley called the agreement “a significant milestone in the effort to preclude Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon,” while he pledged to “be deeply engaged in examining the details in preparation for the upcoming review by Congress.”

Wyden gets another view from his position as second-ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, which involves both questions on the enforceability of the agreement, and relations with unhappy Israelis after the agreement went into effect.

“On the intelligence committee,” he says, “you go twice a week into a room that almost feels like it’s locked, and you get reminded that it’s a dangerous world.”

Unfortunately, you can never quite know what will or won’t make it more dangerous.

It seems like something worth discussing with the president.

And that Wyden, and other Senate Democrats, will get lots more opportunities to chat.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 8/2/15.

04 Aug

In a classified ad for Portland baseball, billionaire wanted

Dear billionaire,

I’m sorry to address you so impersonally, but Forbes magazine says there are more than 400 of you in the United States, so it’s hard to write you individually. No disrespect intended; I’m a big fan, and I’m writing on behalf of one of the politest cities in the country – well, unless you’re a Republican presidential candidate.

(You could probably stop reading now, Mr. Trump.)

But seriously, you’d find us really polite and friendly. If two Maseratis arrive at a four-way stop in Portland at the same time, it can take forever for them to decide who goes first.

That’s the kind of place we are – the place where you now have the chance to become a major league baseball owner.

And really, it won’t cost much more than a 250-foot yacht.

The idea came up at this year’s All-Star game, when new baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said he was interested in expansion, and listed Portland among his top possibilities. We’re not saying we’ve ready to start printing tickets – as people say after losing an Oscar, it’s a thrill just to be nominated – but the possibility is now out there.

True, we don’t have a stadium, or an obvious place to put one. But if we had a billionaire owner, all that might fall into place. (We’ve had some experience with local billionaires, and we tend to get along just fine. We make a point of it.) I’m not saying that there wouldn’t be some lively public hearings, and maybe some street theatre on the issue, but we could work it out.

We might even get you declared a local improvement district. Certainly, we could get you a tax break by having the outfield designated as a bioswale.

A major league team and a stadium in Portland could have all kinds of options nobody else has imagined. You could have the first stadium with parking for thousands of bicycles – which would also help you get project approval from the City Council.

(Bike lanes on the basepaths would probably be going too far.)

And forget hot dogs and crackerjacks. Throughout the stadium, at every entrance to the field, we could have food carts. It wouldn’t be just a ballpark; we’re talking a three-level cart pod. For the first time in baseball history, someone could hit a foul ball into a bowl of Belize chicken stew.

A Portland major league team would challenge other ways major league baseball operates. In a system stuck for decades with just afternoon games and night games, the Portland Tree Huggers could express our culture with weekend brunch games.

Scheduled for 11 a.m., but always running late, the games would feature Bloody Mary vendors, and along with the starting lineups, managers would post that day’s specials. We could assure you a line running out the stadium door; Portlanders are accustomed to lining up for brunch.
There would, of course, be a rule against hitting umpires with poached eggs.

And for later in the week, we could move up the time of night games to make them Happy Hour games, starting at five, with discounts on ballpark quiche. On the field, we’d have doubles for the price of singles.

With the right bartenders, we could lead the league.

Don’t worry about selling naming rights to the stadium. The Blazers and the Timbers have both easily sold naming rights to health care providers, and the whole alternative medicine field – very big here – is completely untouched.

And we’d be a much better place for you to own a team than the other U.S. cities mentioned by the commissioner. In Charlotte, N.C., you’d never be bigger than Michael Jordan. In Las Vegas, you’d never be bigger than Blue Man Group, or even Wayne Newton. In northern New Jersey … you don’t want to go to northern New Jersey.

But here, you’d be loved. (It’s our policy.) And as our other teams have shown, you don’t even have to win to be loved. Just show up, and you’re grand marshal of the Grand Floral Parade, we’re prepared to be flexible on parking, and Portlanders will cheer when they see you on the JumboTron.
Try that in northern New Jersey.

(It would help if you’d say you really wouldn’t want to own a team in Seattle.)

So call baseball commissioner Manfred (212-931-7800), and say you’re interested in an expansion team in Portland. When money talks, the commissioner listens.

Then call me, and we’ll talk about details.

Or at least we’ll have brunch.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, 7/29/15.