Friday Funnies Open Thread

About two months ago, I was at the Northgate Park & Ride helping a UW transfer student from Sydney figure out which bus to take back to the University. She’d just arrived in the U.S. that morning and was buying basic supplies at Target. I recognized her accent and knew she was an Aussie right away. She seemed surprised that people she’d talked to earlier in the day thought she was English. I just replied “Americans are stupid.” She says, “You’re the second person to say that so far.” If what’s happening in Olympia isn’t enough proof, here’s more:

UPDATE: My god, people! Get a grip on yourselves. When I said “Americans are stupid” to her, it was said in a joking fashion to someone who was overwhelmed by being in this great country for the first time. The notable thing was that I wasn’t the first person to say that to her.

The bottom line is that Americans ARE pretty stupid (arguably the better world is ignorant) when it comes to knowing about the rest of the world. Survey are survey confirms this. The numbers are terrifying:

Take Iraq, for example. Despite nearly constant news coverage since the war there began in 2003, 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate the country on a map of the Middle East. Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel.

Nine in ten couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.

And 54 percent were unaware that Sudan is a country in Africa.

I’m reasonably certain that commenter Puddybud could find Afghanistan on a map of Asia. That means that he’s arguably more knowledgeable about the world than 90% of young adults. If that doesn’t send chills down your spine about what’s going on, nothing will.

Policy trumps politics for a handful of Dems

I’ll save the venting for tomorrow night’s show when The Stranger’s Josh Feit will join me in studio to give his first-hand account of the proceedings at yesterday’s special session, and the inevitable fallout from the Dems’ boneheaded political blunder. But I just want to take time to thank those Democratic legislators who stood up to the political pressure, and voted against rashly reinstating I-747′s unsustainable and irresponsible one-percent cap on regular levy revenue growth.

Yesterday I wrote, “I’d be surprised if a majority of the Seattle delegation didn’t vote to approve the governor’s plan,” and, well… I was wrong. There are six legislative districts that represent Seattle, for a total of twelve representatives and six senators. Of those, only one senator and four representatives voted for the bill, with two representatives excused and not voting. A total of eleven Seattle legislators cast votes against the bill: Senators Ken Jacobsen, Adam Kline, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Joe McDermott and Ed Murray, along with Representatives Mary Lou Dickerson, Sharon Nelson, Jamie Pedersen, Eric Pettigrew, Sharon Tomiko Santos, and Helen Sommers. I was particularly proud that my entire 37th Legislative District Delegation — Kline, Pettigrew and Santos — voted against the bill.

Only a handful of non-Seattle legislators bucked the governor’s pressure to quickly pass dumb policy. In the House, special kudos go to Rep. Geoff Simpson of Covington, who voted his conscience despite the fact that his district overwhelmingly supported I-747, and despite the fact that he feared this vote could potentially end his political career.

“I’m not here to make decisions based on whether or not I’ll get re-elected,” he said. “I’m here to make decisions that are good public policy … 747 is not good public policy.”

Simpson said local government can’t be expected to provide high quality services when revenues are not keeping pace with the rate of inflation.

While he was aware of the risks, Simpson said he hoped voters in his district would consider the sum of his voting record, not just this one vote.

That’s what representative democracy is all about. In the Senate, Craig Pridemore of Vancouver made a similar principled stand, again, knowing the political risks coming from a district that overwhelmingly supported I-747:

“I’m a former county commissioner. I know the impacts this will have on local government, law enforcement abilities, and all of the other critical local services. I can’t vote yes for that,” he says.

No doubt Pridemore and Simpson’s opponents will attack them as arrogant and out of touch, but this is exactly the sort of principled leadership voters so often decry as missing in our elected officials. If we want our legislators to mimic the polls rather than make informed decisions, we might as well just eliminate the Legislature entirely.

Morning Roundup: Whoa…that was intense!

Good morning HAs! On this the final day of the penultimate month of 2007, heading into yet another season of Merry this and Happy New that, I can think of nothing cheerier than just 417 days remaining till 1.20.09, the inscription I wear on the tattered baseball cap I use to cover my aging bald head in the hope that it keeps hope alive.

Good news and glad tidings abound today. We need look no further than Olympia for an inspiring monument to legislative productivity: The “emergency” passage of I-747′s recently ruled illegal 1 percent cap on annual property tax increases. Wow…that was intense. Hey, the next time anyone complains about government lethargy, ineffectiveness and sclerosis, just remind them of Nov. 29, 2007, when in just 1 day, not even that really, 10 hours or so, the Legislature passed and the governor signed into law major legislation affecting the future welfare of the entire state! So let’s not talk about “lazy politicians” and “government inaction” here. Our folks showed they can really get the lead out…provided it’s the holiday season and they’d rather not be working, provided an election year is approaching, and provided political expediency obviates any real need to consider the implications behind what they’re doing. Somehow in all the hand waving and bombast, the real issue of a tax cap in a worsening recession (the P-I quote from the Gig Harbor homeowner who somehow thinks his house is worth more at the end of the day than when he woke up going stupefyingly unchallenged) just never quite made it to radar. Ah well. Gotta get back to the home district and finish the Christmas shopping…

Speaking of housing, we regrettably inflict on you dear readers the latest woeful stab at coverage of the Seattle affordable-housing rat’s nest. Today’s P-I has a long piece on quote affordable housing that somehow never manages to answer the musical question, What Is Affordable? Now you will find, if you stick with the package long enough, a reference to affordability based on median income: “Apartments would be affordable to a single person earning $43,600 a year or a family of four bringing in $62,320 a year. Condos or homes would be affordable to a single person making $54,500 a year or a family of four bringing in $77,900.” But there’s no translation of this to real-life application, e.g., how many square feet for that single person or that family of four? How much of that income is assumed to be for ‘housing.’ And what does ‘housing’ constitute in the income formula.

As HA’s own astute readers have noted, yes I’m talking about you Roger Rabbit (if that is indeed your real name), housing costs a lot more than just a roof and four walls. Do those income figures include property taxes…maintenance…utilities and other costs of being ‘housed’?

The real problem, of course, is that income-based indices in today’s economy are a moving target, moving faster all the time. Virtually all costs of living are going up onerously while income, especially at the so-called “affordable” level, is frighteningly stagnant. Those teachers and firefighters and cops and service workers who cannot “afford” to live in Seattle are finding it harder to afford even the suburbs. The rule of thumb used to be that housing should take up no more than a quarter of one’s take-home salary. Now it’s up to half for many. Which might be reasonable except that other costs are taking up a fatter part of the equation. Transportation alone now accounts for a quarter or more of many worker incomes. In California, some municipalities have to go without police and firefighters because they simply cannot afford to live anywhere near the jurisdiction.

So yeah, let’s start with how big and where an “affordable” unit would be in our fair city. And then let’s pencil out the numbers, and see whether a single on $43k or family of four on $62k…wait a minute, a family of four in an apartment? OK, you see how ludicrous the game already becomes, simply by failing the sniff test.

And the whole fight is over 3 to 7 percent of the housing?

Memo to news desk: All those folks supposed to fill those thousands of new jobs that we’re building these warehouses in the sky for can’t afford to live there. Talk to them about affordability, don’t go by artificial and patently unrealistic bureaucrat definitions. Then you might be able to publish a story that shows some street sense and actually explains issues and conflicts to the readers you are supposed to be serving.

OK, stepping down off the pulpit, it was with sadness that we read of Benella Caminiti’s passing. In my days of yore as an environmental reporter, I had the great privilege (and learning experience) of working with Benella on a few stories. You always knew it was Benella on the line when, without even identifying herself, she launched into her latest update on her current crusade in diction and detail so refined your head began to swirl. You knew letters and boxes of documents soon were to follow. Benella was a reporter’s best resource: Someone with energy and passion and an unswerving belief in the rightness of her cause, but with the dedication and chops to document and source each iota of outrage she imparted. She made our job so much easier, a concept difficult to fathom in today’s world of paid PR spin and the Orwellian doublespeak of officialdom, where the goal is to make a reporter’s task so convoluted, befogged and enervating as to thwart, if not entirely prevent, real journalism from being done at all. RIP Benella. You made a lot of us better people, and the world a better place.

Darcy Burner’s edge

Eli Sanders looks at the Darcy Burner–Rep. Dave Reichert race in Washington’s 8th congressional district and asks, “What makes important people think that Eastside Democrat Darcy Burner can win in November 2008 the same congressional race that she lost last year?”

Sanders asked DCCC chair Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) who was in town to raise money for Burner this week. Van Hollen provides a number of reasons that don’t seem to completely convince Sanders…until he gets to this:

The most significant thing Van Hollen noted during the conference call was that the National Republican Congressional Committee, which last year spent about $2.5 million to help Reichert win, currently has only $2.5 million total cash on hand to help Republicans around the country. Contrast that with the $29.2 million that Van Hollen currently has to offer Democrats and you see not only a snapshot of the hurt that Bush has put on the Republican Party as a whole, but also a clear path to a Burner victory.

The Republican money deficit is far, far more serious than these figures tell. As Andrew Tannenbaum points out:

So far, 22 representatives have announced they are not running. Of these, 17 are Republicans and five are Democrats, and all five Democrats are from safe districts. [...] Four of the Republican seats are safe (AL-02, CO-06, MS-03, and WY-AL), but the other 13 will be battlegrounds. In addition, there there are half a dozen seats the Republicans held in 2006 by tiny margins and will have to pour money into to defend. An example is NC-08, in which a totally unknown high school teacher with no political experience, no money, and no support from the national party, came with[in] 329 votes of unseating a wealthy four-term Republican congressman. There are a few Democratic freshmen who come from hostile districts such as Brad Ellsworth in IN-08, but most of them won by decent margins and have voted fairly conservatively in Congress and most are raising money like there is no tomorrow. For example, freshmen Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-20), Ron Klein (FL-22), and Joe Sestak (PA-07) have all raised $1.5 million or more already. The median at this point for all 435 representatives is about $400,000.

NRCC chair Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) will have an enormous cash disadvantage with many open, currently Republican, seats to defend. Unquestionably there will be better investments for the NRCC’s limited funds than WA-08.

Dave Reichert is almost certainly going to have to find most of his own money this election. And given that his recent Bush-headlining fund-raiser raised more money for Burner than for his own campaign, he’ll have to find a strategy that doesn’t shoot himself in the face foot.

Light bulbs and moose farts

Mayor Nickels launched his “Save Santa” campaign, which included the handing out of lots of energy efficient light bulbs the day after Thanksgiving.

The Washington Policy Center made some claims to counter Nickels. They cite “moose farts” as a great threat to the environment. Yeah, “moose farts.”

That reminded me of one of my favorite Ronald Reagan lines:

“Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.”

Fascinating. Not to be outdone, civic ass-pimple Ken Schram decided to give the Mayor an award of his own. A Shrammie:

So, for seizing the moment to mesmerize yourself with the sound of your own voice; for verbally wagging a political finger at some folks who were just looking to get into the Christmas spirit and for conjuring up the inane idea that you should lead the charge to save Santa by handing out energy efficient light bulbs, take a bow Mayor Nickels, because this “Schrammie” is for you.

Ken Schram tries to work in a reference to “secularism gone wild” whenever he can because, well, that’s all he’s got. I don’t think the Mayor should take it too hard, since getting a Schrammie means, at the very least, that you’re not Ken Schram.

That said, did you know that the “Full of Shit” Schram is supposed to be the liberal counterbalance of John Carlson’s new show, “The Commentators”? With friends like The Schramster, who needs enemas?

Special session update

The Gregoire/Eyman bill passed the House 86-8, while an amendment proposed by Sen. Eric Oemig that would have put it up for referendum in 2008 failed to pass through the Senate Ways & Means Committee. I think Postman is dead on in summing things up:

The special session is a victory for Republicans, those in the Legislature and the one running for governor, Dino Rossi. They were out front calling for the emergency session and the governor and Democratic lawmakers followed.

Republicans win by portraying Democrats as weak, and it sure doesn’t help us when we prove them right.

More and Better Democrats

As the state legislature meets in special session to reinstate I-747′s irresponsible one-percent annual cap on growth in regular local levies, I’d like to remind members of the Democratic caucus that the rallying cry of the progressive netroots — “More and Better Democrats!” — has two clauses. So while the leadership may safely if cynically gamble that bloggers and other grassroots activists would never dare threaten their majority over something as petty as, well… getting totally fucked… individual members should not feel so secure.

Yes, the modern progressive movement is still in its nascent stages, and yes, I agree with Carl that it is not yet clear that we have the strength in numbers, resources or influence to successfully primary a Democratic incumbent… but that doesn’t prevent us from trying. The state House in particular is in many ways a shit job that doesn’t pay nearly enough money to do it right, but it would be all the more shittier if incumbents faced a serious primary challenge every two years. All that fundraising, doorbelling, coffee klatches and boring, boring meetings… it doesn’t leave much time to earn a decent living, let alone enjoy your family. See, we don’t have to actually win a primary to be effective. We just have to make the incumbent’s life miserable.

Clearly the governor has no qualms about screwing her party’s progressive base, a political miscalculation mired in a profound lack of understanding of what it is, exactly, the base actually does. (Hint: we don’t just vote.) But our local representatives, who are, theoretically, more in touch with their constituents… they should know better. I’d wager there isn’t a legislative district Democratic organization in Seattle that would endorse reinstating I-747, and yet I’d be surprised if a majority of the Seattle delegation didn’t vote to approve the governor’s plan. I’ll be counting. And I won’t be the only one.

Oh, it’s not like most of us progressive activists would ever abandon the party, or refuse to cordially work with representatives who cross us, it’s just that I want to make it absolutely clear that those who accuse bloggers like me of being “tools of the Democratic Party” have it exactly backwards: the Democratic Party is our tool, and we intend to use it to enact our agenda. And that’s how it should be.

I know there are many who are disheartened by the Democrats’ ill-advised capitulation on I-747, but it only makes me more defiant, and even more committed to the cause of “More and Better Democrats.” In presenting the history of the phrase, Daily Kos diarist Major Danby sums up the mix of passion and political pragmatism that drives our movement:

I see support for the motivating principle of “More and Better Democrats” as being a lot like the commitment to freedom of speech: it is most important when it is hardest to justify.

It’s easy to support free speech when things are going your way, when nothing offensive is being said, etc. Most people can do it, across the political spectrum. It’s easy to profess because it’s meaningless, it’s ineffectual, it’s cheap words. What matters is how much you support free speech when it’s hard, when it means being confronted with something offensive. [...] That is when free speech is most in danger; that is when you just have to take a breath, buckle down, and do it.

It’s important to believe it then — to believe that when we get tackled we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work — because it is at that exact moment when support for the principle is in greatest danger. It’s when people are screwing us over, acting like the “Republicrat Party,” that we have to tell them that there is nothing they can do to keep us from making sure that, ultimately, we will not only have enough Democrats to keep the other side out of power, but enough good Democrats to enact our own agenda.

In Mozambique’s drive for political independence from South Africa, the slogan was “A Luta Continua” (“the struggle continues.”) In the Spanish Civil War, it was “¡No pasarán! (they shall not pass)” Of course, often they do pass, and the struggle often continues for decades or more. But the battle cry — for us, “More and Better Democrats,” meaning “we will keep on doing what we are doing until we defeat you” — sustains the movement. Yes, it involves a willful suspension of disbelief, it involves the prospect of complicity with those who fail us. But those, I submit, are better than ironic detachment or self-immolation, because in our world there is nowhere else to go. We need more and more people on our side. Better and better ones.

Given the political reality, there is only one way to enact a progressive agenda in both Washingtons: more and better Democrats. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but our goal is nothing less than seizing control of the Democratic Party and putting it back in the hands of the people… people who are willing to use a legislative majority, and not just build it. More and better Democrats, that is what we are fighting for, and those Democratic representatives who don’t fit the bill will eventually have to start looking over their shoulders.

Morning Roundup: Dignity in an undignified world

It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees, goes the quote attributed to Emiliano Zapata. It came to mind considering the case of the 14-year-old Jehovah’s Witness who chose to die rather than accept blood transfusions against his principles. Without a judge stepping in and saying the kid was old enough to make up his own mind, we might be back in yet another pointless, diversionary Terri Shiavo tug-of-war. Somehow the fact it never got to that says something about public opinion on the right to die. As Midnight Oil, reprising the Zapata quote in “Power and the Passion,” put it, “Sometimes you’ve got to take the hardest line.” And to think lead singer Peter Garrett has just been named Australia’s minister of the environment in the wake of Down Under’s anti-Bush election overhaul.

The kid knew what he was doing. He just wanted to die with dignity, his beliefs intact. You can argue endlessly about whether he was acting against his own eventual interests, whether he might, had he taken transfusions and survived, look back as an adult and be glad. But I’m not so sure. At 14 I was protesting the war and fighting the draft and listening to Dylan and pretty much had the mindset I do today, even if in a lot of ways I was completely clueless about life. So yeah, let the kid decide.

As an aside, searching the Zapata quote today (a far different experience than when I first researched it back in the day) says something about an incipient and encouraging youth awareness. A few years ago a Google search yielded only a few hits, and they all tagged Zapata (rightly so). Today the same search barely turns up the Mexican revolutionary’s name. Instead a raft of MySpace and other personal references show up, many posted by youth who obviously think the quote has some relevance to life in America today. As a meme, the phrase may give hope to aging lefties that hey, the kids are alright.

Richard McIver isn’t exactly walking tall himself, but another judge was probably considering dignity more than legal principle in (Times here, P-I there, both worth reading for their differences) withholding a video of the councilman taken the night of his arrest. The judge mumbled something about privacy rights and McIver not being informed he was being taped (like a camera or camcorder pointed in his face escaped notice?), but let’s face it, McIver is a decent guy who doesn’t deserve to be bandied about on the airwaves in a drunken stupor. Or whatever (since we probably will never see the thing). As for Jane Hague, potentially getting off on a technicality will do hardly anything to restore her dignity, which is pretty much shot forever.

The truth is, it’s near impossible to maintain dignity in public life these days, the Bush administration having so soiled the landscape. Public service has been turned into lackeydom and lickspittlehood, the latest evidence being the fearsome crusader called in to “investigate” Karl Rove. Turns out he is under investigation himself for all kinds of crap, including firing whistleblowers and “using government agencies to help re-elect Republicans.” And we are shocked, shocked at this revelation. Can you imagine this guy even getting up off his knees, let alone dying on his feet? I mean, just look at him. Orwell’s observation about people eventually getting the face they deserve comes to mind.

To end on a positive note, as we always try to do even in this season of commercialized, ersatz cheer, Obama’s comin’ to town! Now there’s a guy not only with dignity, but a face he deserves…


Talking to several people at Drinking Liberally yesterday, there’s a real question of where the local netroots should be headed. A lot of people are glad that the netroots got involved in the Burner-Tom primary (moreso than I was, as I was still undecided if leaning). And there is some discussion of primary challengers to entrenched Democrats in the legislature who aren’t pulling their weight.

Many Seattle Democrats and other Democrats in safe seats aren’t doing their part. It’s not just about liberal issues; most of the caucus from safe seats votes correctly most of the time. But too much of the leadership is coming from some more suburban swing districts. I’m not sure, for instance, why the impeachment resolution had to come from a suburban first term Democrat. I’m not sure why the leader on drug policy reform is a suburban first term Democrat. I’d like the safe Democrats to do more of this, and if they aren’t willing, I’d like to see them replaced.

That said, I’m not as convinced about the netroots’ ability to turn a primary as some people. We’ve still got a fairly small audience, and while we can raise some money, we aren’t enough on our own. We can maybe influence some media, but we’re still only writing to a small number of voters. We’ll also almost certainly be more divided than in a general election contest, as some people will inevitably take the side of the incumbents who got elected for a reason, and more bloggers will stay out.

Finally, there’s the question of who to primary. Ultimately, it would be the choice of whoever is willing to run. But given the problems above, we couldn’t support it if all the deadwood got challenged at the same time. Some will be better candidates, and some will run against worse incumbents.

New poll: Sierra Club shits in its own sandbox

Photo Elaine Corets.

The folks at the Sierra Club are quite proud of their role in killing Prop 1, the Roads & Transit measure, grandiosely claiming:

“This is the first major public works proposal I know of to be defeated because it would worsen global warming.”

But according to a new poll conducted by EMC Research and Moore Information on behalf of Sound Transit… not so much. When asked to rate, from one to five, reasons for voting against the package, “global warming” came in dead last out of the eleven reasons offered, with only 20% of respondents rating it a four or five, compared to 75% for “blank check/no cost control” or 74% for “costs too much.” And when asked for the best reason to oppose Prop 1, only 1% of respondents chose the environment.



Yup, those cute kids in the polar bear costumes really got the environmental message out.

That’s not to say that the Sierra Club didn’t play an important role in defeating Prop 1 — it did — but it did so mostly by lending its name and credibility to the dishonest campaign of Kemper Freeman Jr. and the rest of the anti-rail/pro-roads camp. Cost and taxes were by far the top reasons given for rejecting Prop 1, a frame that makes passage of any future rail-only ballot measure all the more difficult. Rail isn’t cheap, and due to “sub-area equity” issues, Sound Transit can’t easily break it down into smaller projects. And when it comes to funding, Sound Transit is particularly hamstrung: only 23% of respondents support raising the sales tax to fund transportation improvements (compared to 51% for the MVET,) yet that is the only additional taxing authority available to Sound Transit under current law. Sure, there’s some talk of transit money eventually coming from congestion pricing (40% support,) but it would take years to implement such a plan, if ever.

The short term reality is that while light rail expansion remains popular in theory, its cost and available funding mechanisms do not, and it appears to be far from the region’s number one transportation priority, with 91% of respondents emphasizing the need to fix unsafe roads and bridges, compared to only 55% prioritizing building light rail east to Bellevue and Redmond. (Though ironically, only 57% of respondents prioritize replacing the 520 bridge. Go figure.) Light rail continues to substantially out-poll “bus rapid transit” in all five sub-areas, but without an adequate funding mechanism and a unified pro-rail campaign from the environmental community, it’s likely that BRT — whatever that ultimately means — might be all us common folk get.

How diesel buses choking in traffic on our existing roadways is supposed to save polar bears, I’ll never know. But if the ideological purists at the Sierra Club really have a viable plan for building a 21st century transit system in the Puget Sound region — and getting it approved by voters sometime before the 22nd century — now is the time for them to step forward and take the lead. They are the ones responsible for blowing apart the environmental coalition on transit, and they are the ones with the onus of putting it back together. If Sound Transit attempts to come back in 2008 with a rail-only proposition — and unless the legislature stops them, I’m not sure what choice they have other than gradually dismantling themselves — then the Sierra Club damn well better be prepared to spend the blood, sweat and money necessary to fix the damage caused by its collaboration with the Freemanites.

The poll was conducted by phone, November 11-15, and is based on 1,013 respondents, +/- 3.1%. You can read the key findings here.

Turning up down the heat on climate change

In an effort to reduce my own carbon footprint, I topped off my home heating oil tank with 242 gallons of B30 biodiesel… back on October 1 of 2006. It had been about a year and a half between refills, and I can probably make it through most of this winter with what I have left in the tank.

As you can tell, I’m pretty stingy with the heat, but I don’t feel like I’ve sacrificed all that much comfort. It’s 55 degrees in my living room right now, but with a rugby shirt, a fleece pullover, and a flannel shirt on top, plus my signature fisherman gloves (fingertip free to allow me to type) I’m cozy enough. I turn the thermostat up to about 62 degrees when my daughter’s around, and she sleeps with one of those little oil-filled electric space heaters in her bedroom, but the furnace is off all night with nothing to keep me warm in bed on most nights than a thick down comforter and a dog. I sometimes heat the house back up to around 60 in the morning, but except during the occasional cold snap I keep the furnace off most of the day when I’m home alone.

No doubt my friends and family think I’m a little nuts, but I’ve grown accustomed to the cool temperature and the $3.40/gallon it saves me. And while I don’t really expect many others to go to such an extreme, my own example does illustrate how rather small lifestyle changes are much easier than people expect. Most Americans balk at the simple energy saving tip of turning the thermostat down to 68 degrees during the winter, but that’s only because they haven’t really tried tried acclimate. Put on a sweater and dial it down to 62 degrees for a few weeks, and 68 will feel like a fucking sauna. Really.

As the climate forecasts grow gloomier and the immensity of the impending catastrophe sinks in, there is a tendency for folk to simply give up in despair, but in fact there is something we can all do to at least mitigate the impact of climate change, if not prevent it altogether. We can substantially reduce our individual carbon emissions without spending much money or dramatically reducing our standard of living. And if we all reduce our own carbon emissions a little bit, we’ll reduce worldwide emissions a helluva lot.

Morning Roundup: You figure it out

Part of the frustration with reading local daily media is, as HA denizens know, the failure of perspective. It’s sort of like hiring a contractor to build you a deck, and the guy shows up with the tools and supplies and lumber and says, with a wave goodbye, “Figure it out yourself, bub.” So when the P-I and The Times both run stories that a judge has released police reports on Councilman McIver’s arrest, one would kind of like to know why the reports were not released in the first place. That might be a topic worth explaining. And why, if they were withheld before, they’re being released now. This all falls under the heading of media transparency, which means media as well as the cops and courts should be working for you and me, the reader and the public, and not for the privileged and powerful. What the McIver case has become is a poster child for domestic abuse prosecution. The Weekly stirred this pot a few weeks ago, but dailies updates on the case show almost no sense of a larger context: OK, reader, you figure it out. Goldy and I have both observed that in another metro this probably would not be the case; it certainly isn’t in S.F. and Philly.

The housing crisis is another huge local story with virtually no enlightened reporting. Yes, we’ve got the guys showing up with the boards and bricks. The P-I took a stab last Saturday, even including a nearly useless “What’s A Townhouse?” sidebar, and again today with a report on Seattle slipping from No. 1 in housing price increases. One nugget worth noting: “The 4.7 percent change is healthier and more sustainable than the double-digit appreciation the Seattle area saw in prior years, Crellin said Tuesday.” Funny, I never saw a reference to “unhealthy” and “not sustainable” in real-estate stories during the boom years.

To be fair, Seattle is a trailing edge indicator. Housing nation-wide is in a precipitous plummet, down 4.5 percent for the quarter in the worst drop since at least 1988. It was almost spooky during my recent Bay Area visit to hear and see almost no signs of home construction. For years the sawing and hammering and cement trucking has been incessant and pervasive. If Seattle goes as S.F. goes, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The problem with stat-based reporting is the unavoidable data latency. No one walking around Seattle’s once-hot neighborhoods actually believes prices are going up 5 percent. They’re already in decline, and with all the still-unfinished (an unpainted, girder-visible condo on Phinney that just got glass in the windows has a hilarious banner, “Move in this December!!!!”) housing coming on the market, they’re not going back up any time soon. Year-to-year comparisons disguise this, of course, giving no sense of street trends and acceleration. (The stat to watch for, which apparently the locals don’t understand, is number of sales and time on market. Housing prices may hold, but if there’s huge inventory and little turnover, as can happen in a tony neighborhood, the real truth is a cancerous psychology.) And then there’s a bogus inflation index (Krugman has been nailing this in the NYT, pointing out how figures ignore staples like bread and gas), which undermines supposedly inflation-adjusted graphs like this one, skewing the housing boom even more.

Media don’t really want to report dire real-estate news, since housing ads are one of the few revenue streams still buttressing the news business. So it comes as little surprise that the big story is being ignored: How does all this affect those bullish transportation and housing forecasts, fed in big part by Mayor Nickels’ insatiable boosterism of 50,000 new jobs and 22,000 additional housing units. For a stampede, I haveta say it’s awfully quiet out there.

Finally, as a coda to our Cyber Monday skepticism, there’s today’s joy and exultation over a 21 percent sales jump, put in true perspective only if you factor in a 38 percent increase in buyers. So sales increasing, but number of buyers increasing even more, means…guess you’ll just have to figure that out for yourself, bub.

But did God design a special place in hell for plagiarists?

(Cross-posted at Hominid Views.)

In talking about congestion pricing on my show Saturday night, I couldn’t contain a brief outburst over how our local media and political elite continue to take seriously the Discovery Institute’s transportation proposals in light of its embarrassing role in promoting Creationism Intelligent Design. My frustration stems not simply from the fact that Intelligent Design is ridiculous anti-science, or that it is part of a well planned and executed multi-year campaign to undermine science education in the US at a time we face growing global economic competition… but that it has been promoted in such a shamelessly dishonest manner.

The Discovery Institute has proven again and again that it makes no distinction between scholarship and propaganda, and that there is no ethical boundary it will not cross in the interest of foisting its Christianist agenda on the American people. This blatant disregard for the most basic rigors of academia — or even fair play — was highlighted recently by a virologist/blogger who discovered that DI fellows had stolen and manipulated a Harvard University/XVIVO video for use in their own presentations, without attribution, permission or license.

Here is the original Harvard/XVIVO video, “The inner life of a cell”, with its scientifically accurate narration intact:

And here is a clip from a Discovery Institute presentation that features an excerpt of the video, now redubbed and retitled “The Cell as an Automated City.” Notice how the presenter describes the video as “state of the art computer animation,” implying that it is somehow the work of the institute:

As ERV points out in his her post, this isn’t just a naive case of copyright infringement. The Discovery Institute has plenty of lawyers on staff and on retainer, so they sure as hell know that scrubbing the Harvard/XVIVO copyright and credits off the video is not only dishonest, but illegal.

Maybe they think it is ‘okay’ because they gave the animation a new title (’Inner life of a cell’ became ‘The cell as an automated city’) and an extraordinarily unprofessional new narration (alternate alternate title– ‘ Big Gay Al takes a tour of a cell!’). Harvard/XVIVOs narration, all of the science, is whisked away and replaced with a ’surrealistic lilliputian realm’– ‘robots’, ‘manufacturing’, ‘circuitry’, ‘nano moters’, ‘UPS labels’. Maybe they think it is ‘okay’ because they turned all of Harvards science into ‘MAGIC!’

Hmm. From my point of view, as a virologist and former teaching assistant, this isn’t just copyright infringement. This is theft and plagiarism. Taking someone else’s work without their consent, manipulating it without their consent, pretending it supports ID Creationists distorted views of reality, and presenting it as DI’s work.

ERV further points out that if the DI fellows responsible for this were at his her university, they would be expelled for their plagiarism.

But this is just business as usual at the Discovery Institute, and it raises a question: if the Discovery Institute can’t be trusted to produce independent academic scholarship on its signature issue, Intelligent Design, how can its Cascadia Center be trusted to produce independent academic scholarship on regional transportation planning? Of course, it can’t, and the media, business and political elites who ignore the institute’s established track record of distorting scholarship and science in the single-minded pursuit of its own private agenda, are little more than willful dupes.

Our region’s transportation planning is too important to be trusted to a faux “think tank” with such a shameful and embarrassing record, and every time one of our local media outlets unskeptically cites one of its reports or recommendations, it grants the Discovery Institute credibility it simply does not deserve. Unlike a real think tank, the Discovery Institute produces “scholarship” to support its existing agenda, not the other way around, and thus it cannot and should not be considered a trusted partner in planning our region’s transportation future.