Don’t Ride Alone

I really love that only 31% of people who work in downtown Seattle drive alone to work. Transit is still the largest category, and of course, there are plenty of jobs outside the urban core. None the less, the environmental impact of fewer cars, the health impact of fewer cars on the road, the congestion impact of fewer cars, the pedestrian safety impact of fewer cars is really great.

Still, there’s a lot more work to do. Public transit needs to better serve downtown, and the rest of the city and the region. There’s plenty of improvements to make walking and biking easier — even if you ignore my obviously correct idea of flattening some of the hills like they did in Belltown.

Former State GOP Chair Urges Lifting of Eyman’s Stoopid 1% Property Tax Cap

In a guest op-ed in the Seattle Times, former Washington State Republican Party Chair Chris Vance argues that the state needs to lift the absurd 1 percent cap on growth in revenue from property taxes:

Counties spend 70 to 80 percent of their general-fund revenues on law enforcement, and the growth of those funds are not keeping up with the rate of inflation and population increases. Part of the problem is due to the fact that so little sales-tax revenue is generated in unincorporated areas.

But the bigger issue is the 1 percent cap on property tax revenue. King County receives 43 percent of its general-fund revenue from the property tax. The math is obvious: Capping that revenue growth at 1 percent a year makes it virtually impossible for the county to even keep up with inflation.

It’s not Vance’s arguments that are so significant here; as he says, “the math is obvious,” and always has been. What’s new here is that these words are coming out of the mouth of a Republican. If Republicans are beginning to admit that strangling local government isn’t the solution to all our problems, then perhaps there is hope yet.

The rest of Vance’s column, I’m not so sure of. But you can be sure of two things: 1) He just pissed off a lot of people in his own party by voicing this heresy outloud, and 2) he wouldn’t be writing this if there weren’t already other people in his own party voicing these thoughts privately.

Autopay Error Hits 13,000 WA Health Exchange Customers (Including Me!)

I got an email this morning from Washington Healthplanfinder (Washington State’s Obamacare health insurance exchange) informing me that “an incorrect premium amount of $1229.61 was withdrawn from your bank account on Monday, Feb. 23.” And sure enough, it was. That’s exactly triple my actual monthly premium.

So I contacted the Exchange to find out how widespread this error was, and was quickly forwarded the following official statement from CEO, Richard Onizuka:

“On Monday, Feb. 23, the Exchange was made aware that a portion of Washington Healthplanfinder Qualified Health Plan customers had an incorrect amount withdrawn from their bank account during our standard monthly payment process. The issue affected 13,000 customer accounts that had previously set up automatic payment through their online account.

We are working closely with our system integrator, Deloitte, to reverse the incorrect withdrawals as quickly as possible, but no later than the next 48 hours. We have notified affected customers of this issue and will provide final confirmation when the payment issue has been resolved.

We apologize to our impacted customers and are working to correct the problem to minimize any further inconvenience they may have already experienced.”

Fortunately, I no longer work at The Stranger, and am no longer living month to month, so I had plenty of cushion in my checking account to cover this unexpected withdrawal. But I’m guessing a lot of the other 13,000 affected customers weren’t so lucky. I asked Exchange spokesperson Bethany Frey whether the Exchange would cover customers’ overdraft and bounced check charges, and she replied “Yes..”

… some of the banks may waive the fees automatically once the transactions are reversed. However, if the charges stand, customers can call our customer support center who will track the issue and send out a reimbursement.

It might be a hassle, sure. But it’s good to see the Exchange acting proactively.

Other than that, my experiences with the Exchange have overall been very positive. I initially signed up for Obamacare in the immediate wake of being fired, and received a generous federal subsidy and reduced deductible until I found full time work. The $409.87 unsubsidized premium I now pay for a silver plan with Group Health is a much better value than what I was previously able to buy on the individual market. (For various reasons I’m currently paid as a contractor, but in case you’re wondering, yes, my employer reimburses me for my monthly premium.) So I hate to see screw ups like this tarnish the reputation of a program that has benefited so many people.

Poll: 57 Percent of Republicans Hate America

Jesus Fucking Christ…

A majority of Republicans nationally support establishing Christianity as the national religion, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday.

The poll by the Democratic-leaning firm found that 57 percent of Republicans “support establishing Christianity as the national religion” while 30 percent are opposed. Another 13 percent said they were not sure.

It almost goes without saying that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits establishing of a national religion.

Think about that for a moment: only 30 percent of Republicans are sure that they oppose establishing Christianity as the national religion, a notion about as fundamentally antithetical to the American tradition as one could get. Of course, I suppose they could always get around the first ten words of the Bill of the Rights via a constitutional amendment repealing it, but then the rest of us would have no choice but to wage a bloody civil war in which to win our nation back. So there’s that.

Also, this.

Ten Years of the Seattle Chapter of Drinking Liberally

DLBottleThe Seattle Chapter of Drinking liberally turns 10 years old this Tuesday. Please join us in our celebration. There are rumors that founding hosts Nick and Lee will make an appearance. I’ll be handing out copies of “Drinking Liberally: 10 Years In Poetry.” There will be food. There will be drinks. There will be conversation. Will you be there?

We meet every Tuesday evening—birthday or not—at the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, 2409 10th Ave E, Seattle. Our starting time is 8:00 pm, but some folks stop by earlier for dinner.

Can’t make it to Seattle tonight? Check out one of the other DL meetings this week. Tonight the Tri-Cities chapter also meets. On Wednesday, the Bellingham and Burien chapters meet. The Woodinville, Kent, and Spokane chapters meet on Thursday. And next Monday, the Yakima and South Bellevue chapters meet.

There are 189 chapters of Living Liberally, including seventeen in Washington state, four in Oregon and two in Idaho. Chances are excellent there’s a chapter meeting somewhere near you.

Quick, Seattle Times: Hire Paul Constant!

I’ve no idea whether or not I agree with this Seattle Times editorial, because I just can’t get past this sentence:

After a hard-fought compromise that took months to broker, Mayor Ed Murray announced a compromise last summer.

Do you mean he announced a different compromise than the hard-fought one that took months to broker, or does somebody need to buy you a goddamn thesaurus? Jesus… doesn’t anybody edit the editors?

But you know who wouldn’t write a crappy sentence like this? Paul Constant! And great news for you, Seattle Times, he’s available, now that he’s the latest in a string of talented writers (and me!) to leave The Stranger over the past year.

So quick, hire Paul and give him a column before you print another sucky sentence like that again.

UPDATE: And by the way, Stranger, really? You couldn’t give Paul a goodbye post? I don’t know anybody who has written there who wasn’t grateful for the opportunity, but the way you just disappear us without comment is, well, childish. Paul deserved better than that.

5 Ways ShiftWA Reminds Us of Hitler

Corporate-funded, right-wing Republican smear site ShiftWA has a post up titled “5 ways Kitzhaber reminds us of Inslee.” (Hint: Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and Oregon’s disgraced governor both have strong environmental records. Horrors!)

Huh. Well, two can play at this bullshit random-association buzzfeedification of Washington politics game:

5 ways ShiftWA reminds us of Hitler

  1. They both have the letters “h,” “i,” and “t” in their name. (Spooky!)
  2. They both have ties to the Bush family.
  3. They both hate gay people.
  4. They both are funded by the Koch brothers.
  5. They both are shameless, lying propagandists.

I could have gone on and on. But, you know, this is the Internet, and attention spans are short.

Coming up next: “5 ways Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe reminds us of the angry pool of tar in Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1, Episode 23.”

Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza!

Mental Floss: Why does asparagus make your pee smell?.

Global Divestment Day: 2015.

Sam Seder and Cliff Schecter: The GOP civil war brewing between House and Senate Republicans.

Pap and David Pakman: The progressive solution to the student loan crisis.

Eight people who have accomplished more than you at every age.

America’s Racist Mayor:

Roll Call: Congressional hits and misses—Chuck Schumer edition.

Richard Fowler: Republican lawmaker wants to own women’s uteri.

To prison for poverty.

Sam Seder and Cliff Schecter: The wheels are falling off the Republican clown car.

Thom: The Good, The Bad, and The Very, Very Ugly.

Pap and Howard Nations: GOP mad scientists create a disaster.

Climate change elevator pitch: Ken Calderia.

2016 Clown Parade:

Mental Floss: Misconceptions from the internet.

David Pakman: Republicans about to go Benghazi on net neutrality.

Young Turks: Mother Jones catches Bill O’Reilly lying about Falkland Island War coverage:

Sam Seder: Watch this anti-net neutrality ad accidentally backfire on their message.

White House: West Wing Week.

Thom: Does the GOP want to starve poor people?

War Without End, Amen:

Obama’s lunar new year message.

Kimmel: The week in unnecessary censorship.

Young Turks: Judging Rush Limbaugh’s statements about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Lawrence O’Donnell: Was TX judge blocking executive order even legal?

David Pakman: Conservative convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza calls Obama ‘ghetto’.

Mental Floss: 80 facts about the 1980s.

Thom with more Good, Bad, and Very, Very Ugly.

Last week’s Friday Night Multimedia Extravaganza can be found here.

Civil Liberties Roundup

In a recent article at Vox, Dara Lind and German Lopez looked at the various theories for why crime has declined so much over the past two decades, based on a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice. One of the commonly accepted explanations is the trend in “broken windows” policing, the idea that aggressively focusing on smaller quality-of-life crimes lowers the incidence of crime overall. In looking at the evidence, however, they conclude:

The bottom line: Too difficult to tell. Ultimately, different departments define “broken-windows policing” differently and implement it in different ways — and, again, often alongside other changes. It’s true it’s hard to tell why crime declines in cities, but that applies to broken-windows policing as much as it applies to other macro explanations.

Furthermore, one of the main proponents of the broken windows success story, Malcolm Gladwell, has started to back away from that conclusion.

The Brennan Center report also comes down hard on the idea that mass incarceration is beneficial for reducing crime.

One thing that characterized both the broken windows and mass incarceration trends is that they were disproportionately used against minority communities. The protests in the second half of 2014 and into this year are a reaction to that. Minority communities feel harassed and victimized by police. Eric Garner’s last words “I Can’t Breathe” struck a chord for many people across the country who’ve dealt with it.

I’ve never bought into the idea that broken windows has any benefit. The idea that you can create order through fear and intimidation is a delusion. The combination of broken windows and mass incarceration with a society where so many little things are criminalized, from jaywalking to selling loose cigarettes to pot possession, inevitably ends up with increased antagonism between the police and the public. We’re now at the point where trying to measure the benefits of these crime prevention strategies needs to be accompanied with efforts to measure their drawbacks.

News items from the last two weeks…
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Spokane Police Need To Do Better

In January a trans woman was assaulted in Spokane. It’s pretty horrible stuff, and you can read the details here. It’s pretty unsettling, but the relevant bit for the police is:

Scamahorn said responding officers treated her with disrespect and referred to her as a man throughout their investigation.

One officer said Scamahorn appeared to be intoxicated, but witnesses disagreed, and she said fluid buildup in her throat after the beating made it difficult for her to talk and breathe.

She also said police would not allow the bartender to help her as she lay on the floor in her own blood and vomit.

Now the police have investigated how the police acted and found the police did nothing wrong, and now a Spokane city council member wants the Human Rights Commission to apologize.* For the fact that a trans woman spoke out about her treatment. It’s pretty gross.

But leaving that to one side. Also leave aside the fact that cops claiming an assault victim was drunk seems pretty damn unprofessional on its face. Even if “the police officers on the scene were not acting inappropriately” as Spokane City Council Member Mike Fagan says, the officers certainly left the impression with her that they called her a man and didn’t allow the bartender to help her. It seems like officers should be able to not leave that impression if they’re doing everything right. Of course, I’m more inclined to believe her than the cops, but I haven’t read the report.

And to be clear, they caught the people who did this. That’s probably progress from a few decades ago. But there’s still further to go.

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Note to Republicans: $12 an Hour Is the Compromise

The serious people keep using that word. But I do not think it means what they think it means.

Enter Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, a former Democrat, with what he calls a “grand compromise.”

Miloscia dropped a bill Tuesday, SB 6029, that would scrap local authority to raise the minimum wage — meaning it would nix Seattle’s $15 per hour minimum wage approved last year. Instead, Miloscia’s proposal would index the wage to both urban inflation and personal income growth.

So, um, how exactly is this a “compromise,” grand or otherwise? God I hate it when politicians speak to us like they think we’re morons.

Miloscia and his crowd have already lost the minimum wage debate. Seattle has passed a $15 minimum wage, and polls consistently show that voters overwhelmingly support Democratic efforts to raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour. In fact, polls show that voters are willing to go much higher—and public support spikes again when we add in paid sick leave! So Miloscia’s proposal that we give all these gains away in exchange for just tweaking the index by which the state minimum wage is already annually adjusted, well, from our perspective, that sounds a lot more like a capitulation than a compromise.

But in the spirit of Miloscia’s creative interpretation of the word, I’d like to respond with a counter offer: How about, if the legislature refuses to raise the state minimum wage to $12  in 2015, we “compromise” by going to the ballot with a measure that raises it to $16 in 2016? Because what Miloscia, his fellow Republicans, and WA’s business establishment need to start wrapping their minds around is that $12 is the compromise. We could get much more than that at polls. So don’t say we didn’t warn you.