Dear Senators Cantwell and Murray and Rep. McDermott;

I’m writing to urge you to support Rep. Hank Johnson’s bill to limit and track military surplus* local police departments can receive. We’ve seen in recent days, and sadly plenty before that, that departments with this sort of military equipment treat their citizens as enemies in a war zone instead of people they have pledged to protect and serve. It has to end and Representative Johnson’s bill is a step in the right direction.

While this is important all across the country, as people who represent Seattle citizens, it should be especially important to you. After all, Seattle’s police in recent years have been found by the Department of Justice to have (pdf) a “pattern or practice of constitutional violations regarding the use of force that result from structural problems, as well as serious concerns about biased policing.” Those very same structural problems and bias will be worse when the Police Department uses surplus military weapons and equipment instead of standard, civilian policing.

Again, I hope you will do everything in your power to help move this bill. I realize that the legislative branch isn’t exactly moving forward very quickly on controversial bills these days, but it is still important to pursue.

Thank You,

Carl Ballard

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Fuck you Frank Blethen, Fuck You Up the Fucking Fuckhole

Out of the blue, because this is clearly the most important public policy issue facing 99 percent of Washingtonians, the Seattle Times editorial board has for the zillionth time editorialized in favor of repealing the estate tax. I think my headline pretty much says it all. But there’s always this:

Frank Blethen shoots dogs

Not sure why the Blethens are still jonesing on eliminating the estate tax now that their paper is virtually worthless, but Jesus Christ, let it go already.

UPDATE: More on this in the morning, maybe, but I just have to point out what an incredibly dishonest editorial this is, implying that the estate tax forced the McBride family to sell the last farm in Issaquah, when in fact if this was a working farm, it would have been exempt from the estate tax entirely. (The sale price of the land was less than the federal estate tax exemption, and all working farmland is exempt from the WA estate tax.) It once again shows incredible disrespect for their readers.

Actions Speak Louder than Words: State Senator Andy Hill’s Dismal Record on Reproductive Rights

In endorsing incumbent state Senator Andy Hill (R-45), the Seattle Times attempts to smooth over how poorly the Republican fits his otherwise Democratic district by stressing his alleged support for, amongst other things, “abortion rights”:

Hill represents his socially liberal district, supporting abortion rights, gay marriage and the state allowing students without legal residency status access to financial aid. In contrast to his data-driven approach, he shows a lack of curiosity about climate change and the overwhelming scientific consensus of its threats: “You can find scientists on either side.” He believes carbon should be tackled, however, to diminish U.S. dependency on foreign oil.*

And how do the editors know that Hill supports abortion rights? He told them so. And that apparently is good enough for them.

But actions speak louder than words, and in the only major abortion rights bill before the state senate, Hill has repeatedly voted to block the Reproductive Parity Act from going to the floor for a vote. So exactly what does Hill mean when he says he supports abortion rights, if he’s proven to be a reliable vote against it?

We’ve got no idea. Most candidates who truly support reproductive rights—possibly all candidates who support it—seek the endorsement of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. But not Hill, who has refused to fill out questionnaires from either. “If he is ‘pro-choice’ or supportive of ‘abortion rights’ like the Times claims,” asks Erik Houser of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, “then why didn’t he seek our endorsement?”

Um, because he’s not as pro-choice or supportive of abortion rights as the Seattle Times claims? Had Hill bothered to fill out Planned Parenthood’s questionnaire, voters would have a better idea of how nuanced Hill’s position might be. But he didn’t. Houser says they sent the questionnaire to him twice, but Hill ignored it both times.

Again, actions speak louder than words.

So voters will just have to go on Hill’s legislative record and his snubbing of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. He can talk all he wants about supporting abortion rights, but when it comes to the only relevant bill before the senate, Hill has already repeatedly voted no on reproductive rights, whereas his Democratic opponent, Matt Isenhower, is endorsed by both Planned Parenthood and NARAL. And for socially liberal voters in Hill’s socially liberal district, that’s all they really need to know.*

* Though that not believing in climate change thing is pretty off-putting too.

Finally, a Cogent Explanation of Why There Are So Few Funny Conservatives

Back when I had my old talk radio show on 710-KIRO, I used to reserve an hour on Saturday nights to interview local comedians, and one of the first questions I asked them was why are there so few funny conservatives? I mean, there’s satirist P.J. O’Rourke, who certainly influenced my development as an essayist back during his glory days at the National Lampoon. And I guess I’ve heard the likes of Bob Dole and Allan Simpson occasionally crack a funny line. But comedians will tell you that their profession overwhelmingly leans toward the left. And it’s hard to argue with the evidence that every conservative attempt at competing with the likes of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert has failed utterly.

But why?

In explaining why “there will never be a right wing Robin Williams,” comedian Katie Halper finally offers a satisfying explanation. The missing ingredient from conservative comedy? Empathy.

The left, however, have comedy. And that’s because, though it’s not often brought up, comedy, or good comedy, at least, is based on empathy, something the right, in general, lacks (see: immigration, affirmative action, rights of any disenfranchised groups). And that is why the right will never produce their own version of Robin Williams.

All good comedy requires empathy. Because a good comedian cares enough about people to observe them and their behavior and get into their heads. And in no area of comedy is empathy more needed than in impersonations, which requires a comedian to literally become someone else. A bad comedian impersonates someone in a way that merely makes fun of them. A good comedian can do it in a way that humanizes the person.

Thanks, Katie, for making it all make sense.

Don’t Tax, but Spend

It’s great to see the editors at the Olympian calling for more state money to fight and prevent wildfires:

The federal government’s firefighting budget for 2014 is likely to be depleted by the end of August. The state is in even worse shape: It has already spent $91 million fighting wildfires this year, which means the money in the budget year that was supposed to last until next July 1 is already spoken for, according to state Department of Natural Resources officials.

As the West heats up and fire season lengthens, we must redouble our efforts in the area of wildlife [sic] prevention. In the current two-year state budget, Gov. Jay Inslee asked for $20 million to fund fuel reduction projects in the woods. Lawmakers allocated $4 million. When forest health is neglected, dead branches and limbs accumulate and become fuel for the next fire. Trees killed by insect infestation add to the fuel load.

Now if only the editorial boards at the Olympian and other newspapers would advocate for raising the tax revenue necessary to pay for things like fighting and preventing wildfires. Just sayin’.

Cowardly NRA Still Not Returning Calls Two Weeks After Calling Jews “Stupid”

Gosh, the NRA has been awfully quiet these days:

A call to NRA lobbyist Brian Judy, whom we last wrote about when he told I-594 opponents gun control caused the Holocaust, went unreturned. Likewise, a call to Chris Cox, the NRA’s executive director for lobbying and who is listed as campaign manager for Washingtonians Opposed to I-594, did not return a call seeking comment.

These are people whose actual paid job it is to speak to the press regarding I-594, yet the NRA has maintained radio silence ever since I released the audio of Judy calling Jews “stupid” for supporting gun control. Weird. I mean, a campaign manager who won’t return calls about money is the equivalent of listing your campaign address at a rural mail stop you never intend to check.

Cowards.

The very least I’d expect from the NRA would be for them to stand their ground. But you can’t shoot bad publicity, so I guess they’re defenseless.

Open Thread 8/14

- Explain all that and then explain to me why the hell we should be anything less than angry.

- If you want, you can fit plenty of people on gondolas.

- The National Religious Broadcasters make their awards worthless when they give them out to racists.

- Women in the Workplace: Joanne Ort CPA

- As much as Mark Driscoll not being invited to Act Like Men conferences surely is a good thing, the problem is still that his ideas make Act Like Men conferences a thing.

- I think we can all agree that Rick Perry is awesome having no better judge than Rick Perry.

Seattle Times Blames Public Employee Unions for “Disastrous Run Up in State Spending” that Never Happened

There’s a lot to ridicule in this Freedom Foundation blow-job from the Seattle Times editorial board, but for the sake of brevity, I think I’ll just focus on this single sentence:

These agreements are among the reasons for the disastrous run up in state spending during the bubble years of the 2000s.

Forget for a moment the editor’s ridiculous assertion that our public employee unions are somehow to blame for our state’s budget woes. Instead, I’m just going to rip into the underlying premise. For in fact, there was no run up in state spending during the 2000s, disastrous or otherwise. And unlike those lying liars at the Seattle Times, I’ll show you the data to prove it:

The chart above was copy and pasted directly from the pages of the Washington State Office of Financial Management (OFM), and while it does show a modest rise in spending from a low of $187.73 per $1,000 of income in 2000 to a mid-decade high of $205.75 in 2004, it only comes on the heels of a steep eight-year decline from a peak of $224.37 in 1993, followed by an immediate drop to $196.41 by 2006. Viewed through any reasonable time frame, this is nothing more than a blip.

But in fact, the “disastrous run up” the editors are really referring to is the 2007-09 biennial budget, in which Governor Christine Gregoire briefly restored voter-approved teacher COLAs, as well as COLAs for other state workers who hadn’t seen a raise in years. Squint closely and you can see it on the chart. That’s what the Seattle Times has been bitching about all these years.

Indeed, if there’s anything remarkable about the 2000s, it’s that state spending remained relatively flat compared to the more erratic oscillations of the previous two decades. State and local expenditures pretty much track the 50-state average (though slightly below) throughout the decade, fluctuating right along with the economy.

Seriously, take a look at that chart, and show me the “disastrous run up in state spending.” You can’t. Because it’s not there. And it’s not there for a very good reason.

The OFM chart above tracks Washington state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income, and not surprisingly, tells a similar story to state and local expenditures. Because, you know, one pays for the other.

In this case, taxes peaked at just below $125 per $1,000 of personal income in 1989, settled to about $119 over the next few years, before falling into an eight-year decline that bottomed out at $98.91 in 2002. Tax revenues did recover over the next few years to $109.43 in 2006, before falling off the cliff during the great recession. By 2011, the latest year for which OFM provides data, taxes had dropped to under $95 per $1,000 of personal income, the lowest effective average tax rate in the 31 years charted!

And again, throughout the 2000s, Washington’s state and local taxes largely track fluctuations in the 50-state average, if quite a bit below it. In 2011, Washington’s tax “burden” ranked 37th nationwide.

Now I know what some of you right-wing skeptics are thinking: lies, damn lies, and statistics, amirite? Goldy’s talking state and local expenditures and taxes as percentage of personal income in an effort to obscure some inconvenient truth.

Well, no. Taxes and spending as a percentage of personal income is a metric that inherently incorporates the impact of both economic and population growth, as well as inflation, thus presenting the most accurate picture of relative taxes and spending over time. And if you’re worried that OFM’s inclusion of local taxes muddies the picture, considering that the editors were only talking about state spending, well, you’re kinda right. When you break out just state taxes, the decline per $1,000 of income becomes even starker:

There’s your run up in state taxes for you—from a half-century low, up slightly mid-decade, and then off the cliff again. Disastrous! Just not in the way the Seattle Times implies.

And if you’re still not convinced that there hasn’t been some sort of secret hidden run-up in state spending that would prove the editors’ claim, just take a gander at this:

State workers are in fact the state’s largest expense, but do you see any sort of run up in state hiring during the 2000s? No you do not. In fact, the gap between population growth and state FTEs widened slightly throughout the first half of the decade before the state started madly shedding government workers during the Great Recession.

Go to the OFM website. Look at all of the charts. By any reasonable metric the “disastrous run up in state spending” that the Seattle Times has been pouting over for years, simply did not happen! The entire premise upon which the paper has built its relentless attack on public employee unions—that state spending is out of control—is entirely unsupported by the data. Indeed, what these charts actually show is a structural revenue deficit that has left state government unable to grow state services and investments commensurate with our needs.

McLeary, anybody?

And while none of these charts speak directly to the editors’ claim that public employee unions are bankrupting the state by extorting extravagant contracts through secret negotiations, given the context, where exactly are all these overpaid state workers? More than 45 percent of state general fund spending goes toward K-12 education, and yet the National Education Association reports that Washington state teachers—already paid well below the national average—actually saw their inflation-adjusted wages fall by 8.5 percent from 2002 through 2012. Are they really arguing that we should cut teacher pay even more?

And if it’s not the dastardly teachers union that is to blame, then who? Is it our state troopers who are overpaid? The men and women risking their lives fighting fires in Eastern Washington? The evil, evil members of perpetual Seattle Times boogeyman SEIU 775 NW, who now earn an extravagant starting wage of $11.06 an hour to wipe the poop off your grandma—a modest pay hike earned not through some secret back room deal, but through binding arbitration?

As I have said for years, there is a legitimate debate to be had over the proper size and scope of government, but the Seattle Times editorial board refuses to engage in it honestly. Instead, they obstruct debate through dog-whistle attacks on public employee unions and the relentless repetition of an out-of-control-state-spending meme that is entirely contradicted by the facts.

It is not state spending that is the problem, but state revenue. You could bust the public employee unions, convert their pensions to 401Ks, slash their health care benefits, and freeze their pay, and you still wouldn’t have enough money to fully fund McCleary. Even worse, in another ten years or so, we’d be right back to where we started. Because that is the nature of a structural revenue deficit. And no amount of lying or union-bashing can ever change that.

Old Pent Red 8-12

- #TwitterFail: Twitter’s Refusal to Handle Online Stalkers, Abusers, and Haters

- This litigation, admittedly, does seem to be based on a principle that has been around for nearly two decades; namely, Judge Costanza’s dictum that it’s not a lie if you believe it.

- I wonder how much of Seattle’s pretty good but could be improved pedestrian safety is on drivers and how much is on the pedestrians (and other factors). I mean it’s the only big city I’ve lived in where people don’t expect to jay walk. On the other hand, the people who do jay walk are really, really bad at it by and large.

- It’s embarrassing for everyone saying that this is all about humanitarianism to pretend that oil isn’t in the equation.

- Torture was torture, and it’s a shame the New York Times wasn’t more on top of that.

- I could use a Universal Converter Box.

You Can’t Distort a Labor Market that Doesn’t Exist

Socialists like Kshama Sawant like to argue that market capitalism isn’t working for the rest of us. But I’m beginning to wonder if it is actually working at all:

The American Trucking Associations has estimated that there was a shortage of 30,000 qualified drivers earlier this year, a number on track to rise to 200,000 over the next decade. Trucking companies are turning down business for want of workers.

Yet the idea that there is a huge shortage of truck drivers flies in the face of a jobless rate of more than 6 percent, not to mention Economics 101. The most basic of economic theories would suggest that when supply isn’t enough to meet demand, it’s because the price — in this case, truckers’ wages — is too low. Raise wages, and an ample supply of workers should follow.

But corporate America has become so parsimonious about paying workers outside the executive suite that meaningful wage increases may seem an unacceptable affront. In this environment, it may be easier to say “There is a shortage of skilled workers” than “We aren’t paying our workers enough,” even if, in economic terms, those come down to the same thing.

Adjusted for inflation, truckers are now earning 6 percent less, on average, than they did a decade ago. And yet trucking executives would rather leave business on the table than raise pay to attract more truckers. “It takes a peculiar form of logic to cut pay steadily and then be shocked that fewer people want to do the job,” observes the New York Times’ Neil Irwin.

So much for supply and demand.

And its not just the trucking industry. As the housing market recovers, the construction industry is facing a looming worker shortage, even against the backdrop of persistent six-plus percent unemployment. Here in Washington State, produce is left rotting in the fields for want of enough farmworkers at harvest time. Pay them and they will come, Econ 101 teaches. But in industry after industry, the masters of capital simply refuse.

Whether through collusion, or habit, or sheer ill will, a labor market that effectively suspends the rule of supply and demand isn’t really a market at all. And if there is no functional labor market, then capitalism really isn’t working for the rest of us. Really. In fact, it is fair to question whether market capitalism is working at all. For surely there must be more to the promise of capitalism than the mere accumulation of capital.

Minimum wage opponents like to argue that wage floors distort the natural efficiencies of the market. But you can’t distort something that doesn’t exist.

Drinking Liberally — Seattle

DLBottlePlease join us tonight for an evening of politics over a pint at the Seattle Chapter of Drinking Liberally. While our primary election is over, there are some interesting primary elections going on in Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Minnesota tonight.

We meet tonight, and every Tuesday evening at the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, 2409 10th Ave E, Seattle. The starting time is 8:00 pm, but some folks show up before that for dinner.

Can’t make it to Seattle? Check out another Washington state chapter of Drinking Liberally over the next week. The Tri-Cities, Vancouver, WA, and Redmond chapters also meet on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Bellingham chapter meets. The Spokane chapter meets on Thursday. And next Monday, the Aberdeen, Yakima and Olympia chapters meet.

With 205 chapters of Living Liberally, including eighteen in Washington state, three in Oregon and three in Idaho, chances are excellent there’s a chapter meeting somewhere near you.

Beast Mode!

I love football. And ice hockey. Two fairly brutal sports. But can we please stop presenting professional athletes as role models?

The Bellevue Police Department is investigating an allegation of assault and personal property damage involving Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch alleged to have occurred early Sunday morning.

Yes, it’s just an “allegation,” but would it be a surprise if an athlete celebrated (and fabulously rewarded) for violence on the field, has trouble switching off “beast mode” in his private life?

Is the Freedom Foundation Plotting to Transform Washington into a “Right to Work” State, One City at a Time?

After years of congressional and legislative gridlock, the most exciting development in politics has been the shift toward implementing progressive policy at the local level. Of course, the City of SeaTac’s historic $15 minimum wage initiative comes to mind. But here in Seattle, recent moves toward mandatory paid sick leave, a $15 minimum wage, and universal preschool provide a replicable roadmap for achieving a progressive agenda one city at a time.

But I guess, what’s good for the goose is good for the far-right-wing corporatist union-busting asshole.

The execrable Freedom Foundation has been kvelling in recent weeks about a pair of anti-labor initiatives that have been filed in Sequim, Shelton, and Chelan, that would severely curtail the rights of public employees to organize. One initiative would require that all contract negotiations with public employee unions be open, a Freedom Foundation fetish that has no discernible function other than to disrupt the negotiating process. The other initiative would permit public employees to enjoy all the benefits of a negotiated contract while opting out of paying any union dues—essentially transforming these cities into so-called “right to work” cities for public employee unions, with the goal of destroying the public employee unions entirely.

Both initiatives are boilerplate ALEC proposals, the same good people who brought you “Stand Your Ground,” “Voter ID,” and other reactionary legislation.

It’s a strategy that has so far slipped by under the radar, because honestly, who in their right mind would read the Freedom Foundation’s blog (and you thought my Seattle Times editorial page reading habit was weird)? But it’s a strategy that organized labor and its allies would be advised to push back against before it gains any traction.

[HAtip: Randy]

Public Health’s Funding Crisis Is the Latest Symptom of Our Ailing Tax Structure

I certainly agree with the Seattle Times editorial board in lauding the work of Public Health – Seattle & King County director David Fleming, who is stepping down today after seven years on the job. Under Fleming’s leadership, Public Health has been one of the most proactive and effective agencies in the region.

But what I do take issue with is the editors’ envisioned role for Fleming’s successor.

There is much work to be done.

The department faces an estimated $15 million budget hole this fall caused by federal budget constraints. The next director will have to balance fewer resources with the demands of a fast-growing, diverse population.

Fleming’s successor should pick up where he left off by advocating for policies and funding in areas where data show the highest need and investment can have the highest impact:

That’s right: the editors want Fleming’s successor to “pick up where he left off,” but with “fewer resources,” despite the increased costs of serving our “fast-growing” population. It’s no secret that his department’s budget squeeze contributed to Fleming’s decision to step-down—the Seattle Times reported as much. And yet in the same breath in which they acknowledge the important work that Public Health does, the editors simply state as fact that the new director will have to serve a growing population with shrinking resources.

More sound public policy advice from the something-for-nothing crowd.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Whatever the loss of federal funds, the city and county could backfill this money with local revenue—assuming I-747′s stupid fucking 101 percent limit wasn’t gradually drowning local government in a bathtub. About 45 percent of the county’s general fund revenue comes from the property tax, yet as I have previously explained, thanks to the 101 percent limit on growth in regular levy revenue, the property tax can’t even keep pace with inflation, let alone population-plus-inflation (not to mention economic growth, with is the most accurate measure of growth in demand for public services). To further complicate matters, another 14 percent of county general fund revenue comes from the sales tax, a tax base (the sale of goods) that has been steadily shrinking as a portion of the overall economy for more than 60 years.

What we have here should be familiar to anybody who is willing to honestly discuss Washington’s state and local tax system: a structural revenue deficit.

The editors’ advice—always—is that government must recognize this new fiscal reality and reduce the size and cost of its operations to match its reduced revenues. But it can’t work. For even if you believe that this new fiscal reality is more appropriate than the significantly higher relative revenue levels state and local governments enjoyed just a decade and a half ago, our ability to fund government services will continue to fall. That is the nature of a structural deficit.

If the Seattle Times really cared about maintaining public health, rather than simply urging the new director to magically do more with less (year after year in perpetuity!), the editors would take the lead in urging the repeal of the 101 percent limit, and replacing it with something more rational. The original purpose of the limit back when it was first imposed at 106 percent (or inflation, whichever was higher), was to prevent shocking annual increases in property taxes. But it was not meant to limit property taxes over the long run—that is the role of the statutory cap that limits the total amount of state and local regular levies to $10 per $1,000 of accessed value.

Tim Eyman’s arbitrary 101 percent limit is a perversion of this policy.

If Washington were a high-tax state this push for lower taxes might be understandable. But we’re not. As a percentage of personal income, Washington’s state and local taxes are now some of the lowest in the nation. And dropping. In this context, there is simply no rational argument for maintaining a 101 percent limit on local property tax revenue growth that is gradually starving local governments of the ability to meet their citizens’ most basic needs.

Everybody knows that Washington’s tax structure is immensely unfair. It is the most regressive in the nation. And by far. But it is also unsustainable. And we could really use some editorial leadership to help move us toward a solution before it is too late.

Open Thread 8-11

- If restaurant owners in Seattle are upset about our new minimum wage, they have the example of one Minnesota job creator.

- I had no idea who Brian Dunning was before this, but yikes.

- Put simply, there are two sets of rules: one for liberals and Democrats, the other for conservatives and Republicans. The former are supposed to be fair-minded and rule-abiding, as befits a tradition that harkens back to the likes of Jefferson, Madison, Montesquieu and Locke. The latter are expected to be Nixonian streetfighters—whatever they do is “just politics,” and “everybody does it,” so there’s “nothing to see here.”

- There is no Obama Doctrine, and that’s probably a good thing.

- I am excited about Romeo and Juliet at SAM Sculpture Park, but we as a society need to stop calling it “the greatest love story ever told.” You know what’s a greater love story? Literally any story that doesn’t end with a 13 year old girl killing herself.*

- I’m not much of a drinker or in particular a beer drinker, but even I noticed this at Mariners games.

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