Archives for February 2010
There’s something about old media trying to do new media. Sometimes it works wonderfully, but usually it comes off as an editor heard about one of those “blogs” or “twitters” and asked the tech guy to set one up. The Seattle Times’ Ed Page blog falls into the later category. Infrequently updated, clearly not edited, and as biased toward the status quo as anything in print, the Ed cetera blog manages to combine the worst parts of blogs and newspapers in one convenient package.
They have a weekly feature, Civil Disagreements, where Lynne Varner representing as far left as the Times allows and Bruce Ramsey representing curmudgeonly libertarian basically agree on an issue and argue about the details. This week’s issue is the debt. Varner comes out strong saying yay for a toothless commission, I hope it recommends working the elderly to death:
The panel is expected to come up with a deficit reduction plan by Dec. 1. But the part of this commission’s charge I like best is their promise to recalibrate American expectations around money and social benefits. For example, one suggestion is to raise the age people can collect Social Security and slow the growth of those benefits. Another is raising taxes on a larger portion of the populace, those making under $200,000. It will be interesting to see what this group comes up with.
Work harder grandma! And tax increases targeted to lower income people. (I think that’s what she’s getting at, but “those making under $200,000” is a strange construction, I assume she means everyone making under $200,000.) You know liberalism. I’d prefer a 50% top marginal rate, but start it at incomes above $30 Million. These are made up numbers, of course, but something out of the range of normal Americans, or even their crazy expectations.
Shockingly Bruce Ramsey is less wrong. After pointing out that the toothless commission would probably be toothless, he says that it’s important to cut the deficit the right way. Although, it’s not a great solution either.
As for the ideas menationed [sic]: sure, some of them make sense. I’m a small-government guy, so I like spending cuts lots more than tax increases. If we keep the present Social Security system, it has to be balanced. And the best ways to do that are to allow the tax cap to rise faster and make the benefits formula less generous over time. I am not so high on raising the retirement age. It might work for desk jockeys like you and me, but blue collar workers are done by 67, and many of them well before that. You can’t expect an ironworker, a sheet metal worker, a pipefitter, etc, to work to age 70 in order to get full benefits. Anyway, if we’re going to cut payments from the government, let’s cut them to people who don’t work, not to people who worked a lifetime.
I’m not sure what exactly “it has to be balanced” means; Social Security is the largest part of the budget that isn’t swimming in red ink, it seems strange to focus on it. There is also no mention from either of them, why the deficit is more important than, say, job creation, or even desirable in a recession. Of course neither of them say if we want to balance the budget, we’re going to need to tax the people with the most money, shrink the military significantly (yes including Boeing’s contracts) and take concrete steps to grow the economy that probably include government spending in the short term.
Rereading my previous post, I realize I never clearly enunciated what it is that bothers me so much about the Seattle Times’ editorial bent. It’s just that they make the notion of running government on less money sound so easy. In fact, not just easy, but downright obvious. I guess that explains why they feel no need to explain how to do it.
Once again, take for example DNR’s Natural Heritage Program. Faced with declining revenues and no stomach for tax increases, the governor and the legislature cut DNR funding about 22 percent from the previous biennium to the current. About two-thirds of DNR’s budget comes from royalties generated from timber, grazing, farming etc. on the public lands it manages, but declining commodity prices have meant declining revenues there too. Altogether, DNR’s budget has shrunk from $325 million in the 07-09 biennium, down to $267 million for 09-11.
You wouldn’t know it from reading the Times op-ed page, but DNR, like other state agencies, has responded to substantial cuts in revenue by substantially cutting spending. In addition to attrition and hiring freezes and stuff like that, DNR has gone through three rounds of honest to God layoffs, shedding 114 full-time employees — you know, warm bodies… real live people — or roughly 9 percent of the department’s current workforce. And these weren’t for the most part Olympia bureaucrats; these layoffs occurred in small towns throughout the state, where losing just a half dozen jobs or so can be a real blow to the local economy.
A tough revenue forecast makes for tough decisions, and one of the tough decisions DNR made was to stretch its limited resources by offsetting part of the cost of the Natural Heritage Program with user fees from the timber companies, developers, and government agencies who use it. I suppose DNR could have reprioritized, leaving NHP’s funding intact (and services fee-free) at the expense of other programs and services, but you know, for every NHP there’s… well… there’s another NHP. Are the cuts going to come at the expense fighting forest fires? Regulating clear cuts on steep slopes? Barring a new revenue source, the cuts are going to have to come from somewhere.
And all the cutting and slashing that’s been going on at DNR has been going on at nearly every other state agency as well. You wouldn’t know it from reading the Times, because that doesn’t fit in with their lazy waste/fraud/abuse meme. No, the Times never writes about the thousands of state employees who have lost their jobs — further depressing our local economy — because they’re too busy expressing outrage that the remaining state employees still enjoy the same kind of health care benefits newspaper employees used to enjoy as recently as a decade ago.
For the most part, the Times doesn’t really want government to be smaller, they want it to be cheaper… or it least, if they do want a substantially smaller state government in terms of the scope of services it provides and infrastructure in which it invests, the Times doesn’t have the balls to say so. Instead, they just harp on the government’s refusal/inability to cut costs, all the while ignoring the huge cuts that have already taken place, and the very real impact these cuts have produced.
Which just strikes me as lazy.
Righties like to accuse liberals like me of being tax and spend Democrats, and I suppose, to some extent I am.
See, as a liberal, I believe in using government to improve our collective quality of life by providing services and investing in infrastructure. But, I also believe that we need to pay for these services and investments by responsibly raising the necessary revenue… you know… we need to raise enough taxes to pay for what we spend.
In that sense, “tax and spend” is both liberal, and fiscally conservative.
The Seattle Times, on the other hand, appears to be embracing a less responsible philosophy of government, one which I have dubbed “no-tax and spend.” Like your run of the mill politician, the Times ed board is much more enamored of cutting taxes than it is of cutting services. For example, it’s latest rant against a bill that would allow the Department of Natural Resources to charge timber companies, developers and others a reasonable fee for accessing valuable data that collects.
The other bad bill, Senate Bill 6747, would allow the state Department of Natural Resources to charge exorbitant fees to citizens for access to the agency’s Natural Heritage Program, which includes a database of species and ecosystems that are a priority for conservation. The costs could be as high as $6,000 for an annual subscription or $100 per request plus a $75/hour charge.
Money throughout state agencies is tight, but charging hefty fees for information intended to be public is an irresponsible solution. If the DNR imposes such fees, expect more agencies to follow suit with public-request-killing fees.
Of course, the Times is either befuddled or befuddling or both, as this bill has nothing to do with public records requests, and does not authorize similar fees from other agencies. What it does do is allow DNR to continue the Natural Heritage Program by offsetting crippling budget cuts with a fee comparable to that being charged for a similar program in neighboring Oregon.
NHP has already seen a more than 50% cut in its biennial budget, from $1.38 million to $585,000, and further cuts would jeopardize an additional $240,000 in federal matching grants. The proposed fees would not cover the full cost of running the program, but it would stabilize funding enough to keep it going at current levels.
The Times and I both acknowledge that the NHP provides a valuable service, the difference is how we propose to pay for it. Personally, I’d prefer an adequate and fair broad-based tax system that provides sufficient and sustainable revenues to pay for services like the NHP, without resorting to user fees. But barring that, I’m not philosophically opposed to offsetting part of the cost of the program by charging timber companies, developers and other users the going rate for such services.
The Times, on the other hand, would prefer to pay for programs like the NHP by pulling wads of money out of a leprechaun’s ass. Or something like that.
Yeah sure, the Times has enunciated a few cost-saving proposals, most of which involve fucking the state employee unions, but in general there has been a remarkable disconnect on its op-ed page between its reflexive support for popular government services, and its knee-jerk opposition to the taxes and fees necessary to pay for them. As the Times points out, the state isn’t the federal goverment… “it cannot print money or borrow from China.” So something has to give.
When it comes to the NHP, I say “tax and spend,” whereas the Times simply says “spend.” You figure out for yourself which one of us is being more fiscally responsible.
Sensible Washington is disappointed that the ACLU of Washington is refusing to support I-1068. We believe that in so doing the group is ignoring the wishes of many of its members and contradicts its years of support for marijuana drug reform. We find it especially ironic that the organization which initially promoted legalization and reform in Washington State should retreat from its last 10 years of work on that front.
We are especially disturbed by the characterization of I-1068 as irresponsible based upon lack of regulation when the ACLU of Washington is well aware that the initiative could not include a regulatory scheme. Federal preemption issues make a comprehensive tax and regulate scheme impossible and the single issue rule for initiatives in Washington State does not help either. Those restrictions limit the scope of any initiative to removing criminal penalties for adults. If I-1068 is passed this November it will fall to the State Legislature to provide a legal framework for adult marijuana use, possession and cultivation. The ACLU of Washington has been involved in developing such frameworks, making its current position on I-1068 even more curious.
We are confused that the ACLU of Washington doesn’t seem to get that it is wrong for the State of Washington to continue to waste about $105 million a year in taxpayer funds to arrest, prosecute and imprison over 12,000 otherwise responsible citizens a year for marijuana-related offenses. We are confused that the ACLU of Washington would be willing to accept a state medical marijuana law which offers little legal protection to sick and dying patients. And we are utterly baffled that the ACLU of Washington does not get that the repeated failure of the Legislature to reform this state’s marijuana laws indicates that an initiative to the people is the only responsible method to achieve the kind of reform that the citizens of Washington State clearly desire.
I think the main stumbling block for the ACLU here is that they’ve become so enamored with having good relationships with certain powerful folks in the state that they’ve been willing to completely compromise on making any progress in order to keep that seat at the table. During the push to modify the medical marijuana law in 2007-2008, they ended up compromising so much that patients
ended up more likely to be arrested (see update 2) with the new law than they were before. The ACLU was prominent in those discussions. The I-1068 initiative is a recognition that trying to negotiate with the legislature is no longer a good strategy. This initiative is a way to force the legislature’s hand to deal with this problem head on and stop dicking around. And my own hunch (and it’s just a hunch) is that this made the ACLU uncomfortable. Otherwise, as Philip explains quite well in that post, their opposition to the initiative simply doesn’t make sense logically.
UPDATE: One additional aspect of this that’s worth noting is that the ACLU of Washington was the main driver behind the recent decriminalization bills in the legislature (which didn’t pass either the House or the Senate, despite merely trying to make our marijuana laws more similar to states like Ohio and Mississippi). Some of the folks who put together I-1068 had been very vocal in their criticisms of Alison Holcomb and the ACLU of Washington over not pushing for full legalization. Again, I have no idea exactly what drove Holcomb to come out against I-1068 (which has been endorsed by a broad range of folks already), but considering the ACLU of Washington’s track record in drug law reform, it’s probably a good thing they’re not involved.
UPDATE 2: After being challenged on the assertion noted above, I’m going to remove it from the post. This has been my perception from following a number of cases, but I don’t have any data to prove it, so I’m striking it from my original post. I do feel confident in saying that the revision of the law did nothing to prevent patients from being arrested, since the recent State vs. Fry court decision affirmed that the law does nothing to prevent patients from being arrested. My larger point that the attempts to work with the legislature were a complete failure still stands.
State Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, has dropped out of the race to replace US House Rep. Brian Baird, D-WA-03. That leaves two other major Democratic candidates, state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, and businessman and TVW founder Denny Heck.
The emails were flying fast and furious down here over the weekend, but I decided to hold off until Wallace herself decided to announce it, which she did in a news release this afternoon.
In that release, Wallace says she’s not endorsing any of the other Democrats, but hints at what she thinks:
Although Wallace is not making an endorsement for another candidate at this time she believes we need to elect a true moderate Democrat who has the wherewithal to win this election.
I hope Wallace means she’ll fight for moderate, mainstream American values like health care for everyone, protecting the environment, respecting the Constitution and making sure the banksters can’t wreck the economy again, because Pridemore is definitely that kind of moderate.
As I mentioned last week, I’ve been taking some time recently to teach myself how to program the iPhone, and while I can’t say I’ve completely wrapped my mind around Cocoa Touch and the Xcode IDE yet, I can say that I’ve made a ton of progress. I may not always be sure why it works, but I’m at the point where I can reliably build functional UI without banging my head against the wall, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got a good enough grasp of Core Data to build the innards as well. Not that this terminology means anything to most of you, but oddly enough, it means something to me now. I guess I’m a geek.
So my status hasn’t changed. Expect fits of light posting as I continue to obsess on teaching myself how to build a functional app.
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
From a Newsweek article in 1995:
After two decades online, I’m perplexed. It’s not that I haven’t had a gas of a good time on the Internet. I’ve met great people and even caught a hacker or two. But today, I’m uneasy about this most trendy and oversold community. Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.
Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.
Pridemore is one of only three US House candidates endorsed by Blue America so far this cycle. The others are Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, who has earned national renown for his blunt criticism of conservative lunacy, and CA-36 candidate Marcy Winograd, who is waging a spirited primary against Rep. Jane Harman, D-War Machine.
Blue America’s official endorsement page describes the group this way:
On this page are the candidates for office– the challengers and a tiny handful of incumbents– who we are recommending that our readers donate to. Each candidate has been interviewed and questioned about a handful of specific items: women’s choice, equality under the law for all Americans, campaign finance reform, issues of war and peace, and the bread and butter issues that seek to re-establish an equitable balance between ordinary working families and powerful Big Business interests. The Blue America PAC is especially looking for strong and independent-minded progressive leaders and critical thinkers, something at least as important as any single position.
So what does this mean? In a nutshell it means that regular people get to play, too, not just the wealthy and not just the insider elite. The netroots can be a great equalizer.
This is, in essence, bundling for the little people, and the fact that Pridemore is being mentioned in the same breath as Winograd and Grayson means he’s on the national radar big-time. It couldn’t happen to a better candidate.
Rachael does CPAC:
(And there are nearly fifty more media clips from the past week in politics at Hominid Views.)
At the World Economic Conference in Davos, Switzerland, Microsoft’s chief research and technology officer made a rather startling proposal for dealing with the security issues plaguing the online world: a sorta driver’s license for the Internet.
What Mundie is proposing is to impose authentication. He draws an analogy to automobile use. If you want to drive a car, you have to have a license (not to mention an inspection, insurance, etc). If you do something bad with that car, like break a law, there is the chance that you will lose your license and be prevented from driving in the future. In other words, there is a legal and social process for imposing discipline. Mundie imagines three tiers of Internet ID: one for people, one for machines and one for programs (which often act as proxies for the other two).
Now, there are, of course, a number of obstacles to making such a scheme be reality. Even here in the mountains of Switzerland I can hear the worldwide scream go up: “But we’re entitled to anonymity on the Internet!” Really? Are you? Why do you think that?
What a great idea, I mean, if you’re the government of Iran or China, seeking to track dissidents and discourage public discourse. And I suppose it might be an intriguing proposition to a company like Microsoft, which would be in a great position to profit off the creation and administration of such a government mandated authentication system.
But I honestly can’t think of anything more antithetical to the American spirit.
Anonymity — or at least, pseudonymity — holds a long and cherished place in American history, dating back well before our nation’s founding. Benjamin Franklin honed his skills as a journalist writing under a number of pseudonyms, and Thomas Paine’s highly influential and historically revered Common Sense was originally published anonymously in 1776. And then of course there are the Federalist Papers, which were published under the pseudonym Publius, though authored by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay.
I mean, if anonymity is good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me.
Yeah sure, there are those who abuse the privilege, as evidenced by the sewer that is my comment thread, but Democracy is a messy thing, especially the nearly inviolable right to free speech that guarantees it.
Yet listening to Ross Reynolds and David Brewster — two journalists — discuss Mundie’s proposal on KUOW yesterday, I was struck by how… well… how damn credulous they sounded. A revocable license to post content on the Internet should be a facially ridiculous and offensive proposal to anybody who cares about the First Amendment, and yet Brewster refused to dismiss it as the absurdity it is, while Reynolds kept coming back to the point that maybe it should be required if you accept money online?
Really? Your right to free speech ends the minute you accept payment for it?
My guess is that Mundie and Reynolds/Brewster were focusing on two different issues. Despite the ungenerous headline, I’ll be generous enough to assume that Mundie is merely attempting to address the technical security issues that plague the Internet, to which end I would suggest that Microsoft focus on producing better software, rather than shifting the security burden to the enduser. Reynolds and Brewster on the other hand, seemed to start from the premise that anonymity poses some sort of threat to the world of words and ideas in which they make their living.
Again… really? Do anonymous writers really pose that big a threat? KUOW and Crosscut are free to require registration before allowing a commenter to post; hell, I keep threatening to move to some sort of registration system as a remedy for HA’s chronic troll infestation. But a government issued Internet license? That’s fascism.
What I think we really see here with the type of conversation we heard yesterday on KUOW, and in similar lamentations throughout our news and opinion industry, are the traditional media gatekeepers expressing their discomfort with the way the Internet hasn’t just enabled the rabble to crash through their gates, but has torn these gates from their hinges entirely.
And yes, the inevitable result of this new technology is that there is an awful lot of crap on the Internet. In fact, it’s mostly crap. But to suggest that the credibility of ones words should be so closely tied to the identity of the author, displays both a lack of trust in intelligence and judgment of the reader, and a remarkable disregard for the inherent value of the words themselves.
I don’t write anonymously, but if I did, what would be the difference? Let the unsigned editorialists at the daily newspapers hide behind the presumed credibility of their mastheads; as for me, I’m proud to simply let my writing speak for itself.
Faced with a choice of protecting the interests of oil refineries, and protecting the interests of 40,000 children on Basic Health, I’ll go with the oil refinery every time.
– Another local overzealous prosecution of a medical marijuana patient goes down in flames.
– Olympia’s Mayor Pro-Tem arrested on suspicion of marijuana trafficking.
– California researchers have found that marijuana is effective for controlling neuropathic pain and muscle spasms.
– The Drug War Chronicle has a summary of the rogue DEA agents in Colorado who are ignoring the Obama Administration’s publicly stated policy and going after individuals within the state’s legal medical marijuana framework.