by Jon DeVore, 12/31/2008, 8:53 PM

I would like to use my extra second to note that Samuel J. Wurzelbacher is an uninformed, hypocritical right wing douche and he can eat me. Just for the record.

God bless 2009.

by Goldy, 12/31/2008, 3:51 PM
Dead road turtle at S. Morgan & Seward Park Ave. S

Dead road turtle by the curb of S. Morgan & Seward Park Ave. S

No doubt the snow storms and sub-freezing temperatures that iced over our roads for much of last week were frustrating to a region unaccustomed to and unprepared for ice and snow, but in the end, it was only a week, and it was only the first time since 1990 that such wintry conditions survived for more the a few days, before being melted away by our typically warmer and rainier weather. So while I was as inconvenienced as anybody—not even the Postal Service was willing to brave it up and down my hill for seven days—I’m not particularly angry or concerned about the way the city responded to the mess.

Shit happens, and as Mayor Nickels acknowledged today, the city is ready to reevaluate its snow clearing procedures and work with Metro to provide more reliable service during future storms.  But if it’s another 18 years before shit like this hits the region again, I’ll be neither surprised nor disappointed if the city’s performance isn’t any better.

But those of you demanding truckloads of salt and an army of steel-tipped snowplows to scrape the streets clean the next time a couple of inches of white stuff blankets the region better be prepared to deal with the consequences, because even the city’s minimal response has created or exacerbated damage that will take months, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair.

Case in point, the hundreds of reflective “turtles” lying dead and dismembered on the sides of our roads, their shells cracked and broken in the wake of even rubber-tipped plows.  As a transplant, I’ve learned to love these turtle markers, visible even on rainy nights, and ready to provide a rumbling warning when you  stray over the line.  We had plenty of salt and snowplows back in Philadelphia, but few turtles, as few would survive a typical winter of frequent plowing.  Given the rarity of extended snow events here in Seattle, I’d choose the turtles over the plows, and while I don’t have any numbers to support my assertion, I’m guessing so would traffic safety statisticians.

You don’t get something for nothing, and there are costs to salt and plows beyond the cost of the actual salt and the plows.  Of course we could do a better job clearing the roads, but I’m just not sure it’s worth the tradeoffs.

by Jon DeVore, 12/31/2008, 2:47 PM

Time Warner and Viacom are behaving badly:

Viacom Inc. (VIA) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC) appear unlikely to reach an agreement on carriage fees before the New Year, according to a source familiar with the talks, meaning popular networks Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon may be pulled from the cable company’s system, which include large parts of New York City and Los Angeles.

And now the Insight Bowl is on the lame-ass NFL channel, which gives customers a handful of crappy NFL games (and now a bowl game!) for an extra $380 or something.

As it is, Beck plans to watch the game from his home with family members. For other KU fans and alumni eager to watch their college football team trounce (they hope) Minnesota, they’ll have to settle for watching it at a subscribing friend or family member’s home, at a sports bar that carries the network, or they can just pony up and purchase the Cox sports tier before the game begins.

And of course there is Comcast and the Portland Trailblazers. This is from Dec. 11 but I saw a whiny Comcast ad the other day, so I suppose they are still being wieners about their own lame-ass sports channel.

Since there was quite a bit of talk in the Blazers Forum the other day about Comcast Sports Net and the satellite companies striking a deal, I fired off an email to CSN to find out whether or not this was true. Tim Fitzpatrick of CSN says that while there is nothing new to report, negotiations continue.

We used to have a concept in this country called “anti-trust laws.” Guess not so much any more. Why cable companies should be allowed to use their market position to threaten each other while punishing consumers is beyond me. Right now all the Viacom channels are running crawls about the dire threat posed by Time Warner, as if it’s some kind of 9-11 of the airwaves. It’s absurd.

I never have understood why there is an artificial distinction made between over the air broadcasters, who are considered to be using the public airwaves, versus satellite and cable providers, who are also granted the use of public resources in the form of other radio frequencies and rights of way.

The cable tee-vee industry far too often winds up resembling those old photos of New York City when a hundred phone companies all tried to string their own lines. It’s a basic regulatory function of government to bring and maintain order in markets where monopolies and oligopolies tend to exist.

by Goldy, 12/31/2008, 12:44 PM

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced today that the city has reversed its policy against using road salt to combat ice and snow.  Sorta.

The mayor set certain conditions for using salt: on hills, arterials or snow bus routes, and on routes to hospitals and other emergency facilities when at least 4 inches of snow is predicted, if ice is predicted, or if extreme cold is expected to last more than three days.

So they’ll use salt on some roads, every few years or so, when the conditions warrant.  There.  Is everybody satisfied?

by Goldy, 12/31/2008, 9:52 AM

A final decision due this week on replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct has been postponed, so that transportation officials can reconsider the option of a deep-bore tunnel.

“I think the governor would say that if we could make the numbers work, that is probably the most viable option,” Judd said. “But that option is going to mean that there has to be a real meaningful partnership with the city and county and Port [of Seattle] to make it happen.”

Meaningful partnership? In other words, Seattle taxpayers are going to be asked to pony up the extra bucks needed to pay the extra cost of a tunnel over the less expensive surface/transit option… which I suppose would be fair, if Seattle taxpayers actually preferred the tunnel… which they don’t.  Whether the money comes from the county, the city or the port, it still comes from us taxpayers, and I betcha if you put the two options on the ballot with the cost to local taxpayers clearly stated, the pricier tunnel option gets buried in a landslide.  That’s why, if chosen, you won’t see this on a ballot.

Oh, but wait… the Discovery Institute’s Bruce Agnew, the main advocate of The Big Bore, says the tunnel would actually cost less than engineers have previously estimated:

“We’ve always felt that, given the advances in deep-bore tunnels and the ability to build a deep-bore tunnel without interfering with the economy downtown and, given the experience we have in the region with deep-bore tunnel, specifically Beacon Hill, it would be a real tragedy to take it prematurely out of the running.”

Yeah, but then again, these are folks who don’t believe in evolution, so forgive me for taking their claimed scientific and technical expertise with a grain of salt.  As I wrote on this subject over a year ago:

In a city where completion of a 1.3 mile vanity trolley line is feted like some transportation miracle, the very notion that local voters might commit more than a half billion dollars a mile to an untested technology is a dramatic tribute to Discovery’s primary mission of promoting the exercise of faith over reason.

Of course, what Discovery really has faith in is the invisible hand of God—ie, the divine power of the free market to make gobs of money for themselves and their well-heeled friends—and buried along with their tunnel proposal is the notion that the extra cost will be paid for via some sort of “public-private” partnership… you know, taxpayer money heavily subsidizing a for-profit venture.  So now that we’re seriously talking about a deep-bore tunnel, get ready for the talk about privatizing it.

by Goldy, 12/30/2008, 5:36 PM

DLBottle Get your New Years Eve drink on one day early tonight a the Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally, which meets every Tuesday night from 8PM onwards at the Montlake Ale House, 2307 24th Avenue E. As always, some folks will show up earlier for dinner.

If you’re not in the Seattle area, no worries. check out the Drinking Liberally web site for dates and times of a chapter within snowshoeing distance from you.

by Goldy, 12/30/2008, 10:01 AM

Sweet…

A lawmaker from Wenatchee says he’ll introduce legislation to name Aplets & Cotlets the official candy of Washington.

Rep. Mike Armstrong says the powdered-sugar-covered cubes of nuts and apple and apricot gelatin made by Liberty Orchards in Cashmere since 1920 identify the state to confection lovers worldwide.

The bill is likely to revive the battle with backers of Almond Roca. In 2001 a state candy bill was introduced to crown the crunchy chocolate-almond treat made by Brown & Haley in Tacoma since 1912. It failed to pass.

Because… um… there isn’t anything more important to battle over in the coming legislative session.

by Goldy, 12/30/2008, 9:03 AM

… Maybe it’s just me, but aren’t editorials supposed to express an opinion?

by Jon DeVore, 12/30/2008, 5:02 AM

A sales tax for thee but not for me.

Adding, Brunell is probably right that it’s bad to excessively tax capital and research investment with a sales tax.

So what does that tell you about the tax system in this state? That’s right, it’s so stupid, regressive and beyond broken that we have to create special tax exemptions to lessen the stupid brokenness. It helps a lot if you have lobbyists.

It’s not just the bidness guys and gals who are impacted by the regressive nature of our tax system, it’s everyone. Now go to the Legislature in January and see if they will give you a sales tax exemption to invest in your house or car, and good luck with that. What, your personal lobbyist is not available? Sucks to be you.

Shhhhh! I know you’re thinking “gee, there must be some other kind of tax that isn’t regressive, could apply to both individuals and corporations and be graduated based upon how much money an individual or business actually earns.” For shame.

You’re not allowed to think about that, because then we might wind up having a realistic discussion of the tax system rather than the usual “divide and conquer” situation pitting labor versus business, private versus public and so on. What kind of Legislative session would that be?

BORING.

I’m looking forward to whatever sex offender-NASCAR stunts the Republicans will dream up this time, like tying public sector unions to the Tate murders or High School Musical 3.

Besides, our sales tax should work wonders in a continued deflationary spiral. As prices and wages fall, sales tax revenue takes a double hit!

Rinse, repeat.

by Lee, 12/29/2008, 6:52 PM

The Obama-Biden Transition team has come around for Round 2 of Open Questions at change.gov. Which drug policy question will they dodge this time?

UPDATE: I just submitted a variation of my question from the last post. You can find it by searching for “challenge that decision”.

UPDATE 2: In related news, thank God for Senator Webb.

by Goldy, 12/29/2008, 11:26 AM
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy

I was at a party over the weekend when somebody asked me if a woman had actually been elected county executive.  I was a little confused by the question, and had to think about it for a moment, but replied yeah, Pat McCarthy had just been elected Pierce County Executive.  Well, that should have been big news, the party guest informed me, wondering why she hadn’t read anything about it in the Seattle and Everett newspapers, as that would make McCarthy the first female county executive in state history.

Actually, it makes McCarthy the second female executive in state history, though the first in Pierce County, and yes, I suppose it should have been bigger news outside of Pierce itself, considering what an exclusive men’s club the executive office has been up until now.  And McCarthy’s exception that proves the rule victory highlights a curious anomaly regarding the gender imbalance in Washington state politics.

While the percentage of women in the state Legislature has fallen in recent years—now standing at only 32%, nearly nine points off the historic high a decade ago—Washington women have had great success running for local and state legislative offices over the past few decades, especially compared to most other states.  Women have yet to achieve electoral parity, but there’s nothing remarkable about a woman running for and winning a seat in the Legislature, or on a local school board, council, or board of commissioners.  And while women have had less success at the Congressional level, both our US Senate seats have been held by women for the past eight years.

But while Washington women have done relatively well running for legislative and judicial offices, at the executive level, not so much.  Sure, there’s a smattering of female mayors throughout the state, but for the most part that has defined the height of the executive branch glass ceiling.  In addition to McCarthy being only the second woman to win a county executive race in state history, Gov. Chris Gregoire is only the second woman to win the governor’s mansion.  In fact, over the past forty years, the period during which women have made their most dramatic electoral gains, only six women have been elected to any of Washington’s nine statewide executive offices:  Gov. Dixy Lee Ray, Gov. Chris Gregoire (also AG), Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer Belcher, Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn, and Superintendents of Public Instruction Judith Billings and Terry Bergeson.

And as far as I know, these may have been the only Washington women to win statewide executive office, ever.

I’m not sure why there is such a disparity between the executive and the other two branches when it comes to women winning elected office, I just know that it exists.  And I don’t see many other folks paying attention to it.

by Lee, 12/28/2008, 4:52 AM

Last week of the NFL season, here’s what matters:

Miami (10-5) at NY Jets (9-6) – Chad Pennington comes back to the Meadowlands to face his old team. If the Dolphins win, they win the AFC East after going 1-15 last year.

New England (10-5) at Buffalo (7-8) – The Bills looked like the team to beat in the AFC East in the beginning of the season. Now they could end the Patriots playoff hopes.

Jacksonville (5-10) at Baltimore (10-5) – The Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win against the Jaguars.

Denver (8-7) at San Diego (7-8) – Whoever wins this game will be the winner of the AFC West and one of the worst playoff teams of this decade.

Chicago (9-6) at Houston (7-8) – The Bears and the Vikings are tied for the NFC North title going into today. The Bears needs to beat the Texans and hope the Vikings lose.

NY Giants (12-3) at Minnesota (9-6) – The Giants have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but the Vikings win the NFC North with a win.

Oakland (4-11) at Tampa Bay (9-6) – The Buccaneers need to win and have the Eagles beat the Cowboys to get the last playoff spot.

Dallas (9-6) at Philadelphia (8-6-1) – If the Cowboys win, they get the last playoff spot. If the Eagles win, they need the Buccaneers and either the Bears or the Vikings to lose to make it in.

Detroit (0-15) at Green Bay (5-10) – If the Lions lose, they’ll be the first ever 0-16 team in NFL history. Mitch Albom excoriates what has become the most embarrassing front office in pro sports.

by Lee, 12/27/2008, 7:00 PM

Last week’s winner was our good friend Daniel K. It was the Plaza de Toros in Murcia, Spain. Here’s this week’s…good luck!

by Jon DeVore, 12/27/2008, 6:58 PM

Good times.

Yet even by WaMu’s relaxed standards, one mortgage four years ago raised eyebrows. The borrower was claiming a six-figure income and an unusual profession: mariachi singer.

Mr. Parsons could not verify the singer’s income, so he had him photographed in front of his home dressed in his mariachi outfit. The photo went into a WaMu file. Approved.

“I’d lie if I said every piece of documentation was properly signed and dated,” said Mr. Parsons, speaking through wire-reinforced glass at a California prison near here, where he is serving 16 months for theft after his fourth arrest — all involving drugs.

While Mr. Parsons, whose incarceration is not related to his work for WaMu, oversaw a team screening mortgage applications, he was snorting methamphetamine daily, he said.

No wonder Republicans were always screaming about sex offenders. It diverted attention from the tweekers running amok in the house building, financing and selling industry. At least in the 1980′s it was just cocaine.

by Lee, 12/27/2008, 4:50 PM

Juan Cole looks at the ten biggest myths about Iraq.

by Lee, 12/27/2008, 12:17 PM

Here’s a compilation of Troll’s funniest lines (and that’s just December…).

by Goldy, 12/27/2008, 10:07 AM

Following up on Jon’s post from yesterday, the Seattle P-I joined the Columbian in abusing state employee unions for fighting Gov. Gregoire’s proposed freeze on scheduled wage increases.

Hmm.  Sure, the governor and the editorialists have a point that during hard budget times, everybody should be expected to sacrifice, and it’s just common sense for the unions to consider postponing wage increases if the alternative would be thousands of their members losing their jobs.  But… these wage increases the governor proposes postponing are part of a negotiated, legally binding contract, so shouldn’t the governor have negotiated with unions to roll them back before including them in her budget?

I mean, a contract is a contract, right?  So if the state is willing, able and right to violate the terms of their labor contracts, just because it’s having trouble balancing its budget, shouldn’t it be willing, able and right to violate the terms of other contracts as well?  Surely there are tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars to save by trimming a couple percentage points from the cost of contracts with the state’s many vendors and contractors… so why aren’t these on the table?  Why just the union contracts?

Huh.

by Lee, 12/26/2008, 11:18 PM

When I first set up my old blog, I had the following quote at the top of the page:

“Surprise is the base of all humor, and nothing is more surprising than truth”

It’s by Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, and it’s cartoons like this that demonstrate it.

by Goldy, 12/26/2008, 1:00 PM

I’m not much into the “cat blogging” phenomenon, but I couldn’t help but pass along this fascinating piece of cat behavior.

I turn my furnace off at night, and during cold snaps like this one the inside temperature will often drop below 50 degrees, so my cat has taken to spending much of his morning patiently sitting in front of the air vent in my office, just soaking in the heat.  Of course, I rarely set the thermostat above 60, so the cat’s forced hot air paradise only lasts so long.  And when it does stop, he places his paws on the wall above the vent and gently kneads it, as if trying to coax out a little more warmth.

Kinda cute.  And a little pathetic.

by Goldy, 12/26/2008, 11:45 AM

So, it turns out homeowners often see their property taxes rising faster than I-747′s one percent limit on existing construction.

In the seven years since voters statewide slapped a 1 percent limit on the annual increase in regular property taxes, plenty of homeowners have seen their taxes rise a lot faster than that.

Geez… I guess voters must be pissed.  Looks like we might have another property tax revolt brewing, right?  Um… maybe not:

[T]he biggest reason is voters themselves: They’ve shown a notable willingness to support tax increases put before them on the ballot, which are exceptions allowed to the 1 percent cap.

Holy crap… how the hell did that happen?

“When voters consider these things, their passage rate is pretty high,” King County Assessor Scott Noble said.

In November, Seattle voters approved two “lid lifts,” which are proposals to increase property taxes beyond the 1 percent annual limit, or lid: One will raise $73 million over six years for repairs to Pike Place Market, and the other will generate $146 million over six years for improvements to parks, playgrounds and museums. Together, the two measures will add $125 to the annual tax bill of the owner of a $450,000 home.

But that’s just a couple of property tax levies… you know… a bunch of goddamn, ungrateful renters voting to raise taxes on their landlords.  The majority of folks would never vote to raise taxes on themselves…

Beyond that, voters in the urban areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties agreed to an increase of 0.5 percentage points in their sales tax rate to finance the expansion of Sound Transit’s light rail system. Although not subject to the same kind of cap as property taxes, most local sales tax increases also require voter approval.

And in recent years local voters also approved a host of other property tax levies, plus a sales tax increase to fund expanded bus service, while statewide voters overwhelmingly rejected repeals of both the estate tax and a gas tax increase.  So I’m guessing by now our politicians are starting to get the message…

Jan Drago, a 15-year veteran of the Seattle City Council, said she was surprised that all three of those tax increase proposals won voter approval.

That’s because Drago spent too much time listening to conventional wisdom, and not enough time listening to actual voters.  Still, in hindsight, she pretty much nails it:

But she said, “If you present a problem and a solution, and articulate the problem and the solution, Seattle voters are very generous.”

That’s right… voters are willing to tax themselves to pay for the government services and infrastructure they want, if they believe they’re going to get the services and infrastructure they’re being asked to pay for, and at a reasonable cost.

So before the Democratic majority in the Legislature agrees to slash funding for K-12 and higher education, simply because there’s no alternative, they might want to consider whether, if they asked voters for a little more money for these popular services, voters might actually say “yes”?

You know, it’s not like your Republican opponents aren’t going to run against you accusing you of raising taxes, regardless of what you do.