15 January, 2011

Asinine violation of rights: Tacoma student sent home for wearing Steelers' shirt?

Not sure if you heard about it, because it wasn't exactly national news. But in Tacoma, yesterday, a middle-school student was sent home from school for wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers' uniform shirt, on a day where students were permitted to wear their Seahawks' shirts. This was at a school where there is typically a standard dress code. For the purpose of "Seahawks' Spirit" there was an exception to this dress code.

Apparently, only Seahawks' colors were permitted.

I feel that this is a violation of this child's rights. First of all, Tacoma is not even part of Seattle, so technically the school was permitting their dress code to be broken, already, for a purpose that was unrelated to school- or city-spirit. For this student to act on his wish to show his spirit for the Pittsburgh Steelers seems completely within the realm of acceptable expression. It's especially innocuous because the Steelers were not even opposing the Seahawks, so this should not have been considered inflammatory by anyone (not that this should make any difference).

There are so many things that are important, and should be enforced in schools. And seriously, this was not one of them. It was a petty act on the part of the school administration, and the message it sends to youths is that authority is all about petty demonstrations of power.


14 January, 2011

Windows Phone 7 supporters more fanatic than iPhone supporters

Over the years, I have posted many blog entries flaming the iPhone for its various shortcomings and annoyances. The manner in which I did it was informal, crass, and impulsive. Often, after making those posts, I would later realize that I was just in a bad mood that day, and taking out my frustrations on an inanimate object. But never once did my posts about the iPhone lead to anonymous verbal assaults for my expressing opinions on here.

A few weeks ago, I decided to post a blog entry about the new Windows Phone 7. My intent was not to be inflammatory, and it was not done out of knee-jerk reaction. Actually, it was a "formal" review of my experience with the Samsung Focus. The intent of the blog was to share my experiences with others online. And part of the reason for this was because I felt that the handful of posts that were already out there on the web were completely inconsistent with the experience I was having, slanted heavily toward the "cheerleader" angle. In fact, most of what I read felt like it was written by people who had an agenda. So, I was merely trying to give a different perspective.

The result?

I've received hate mail. Some of which I've published as comments, and some of which I have omitted. People have told me that I should just not post such things like that anymore (apparently, they feel that expressing one's opinion online is something that only some people should be allowed to do). I've also received messages directly attacking me as a person. That's entertaining and, of course, says far more about the mindset of the people posting than it does about me.

I'm not sure when it became unacceptable to dislike something, and let others know about it. Would it be better if we went to sites like Yelp! and saw nothing but positive reviews of restaurants? Would it be useful if we went to Amazon.com and saw every product rated with a 5-star rating? It's true that sometimes people's reviews are colored by bias, and sometimes reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt. But it's the reader's right to decide which are which.

07 January, 2011

Tax savings = Lost revenue (or is that not obvious to you)

Have a look at this website. It's one of Tim Eyman's "things."

At the bottom of the page, they spout off with great pride how they've saved Washington taxpayers over $15 billion with the three initiatives that they've passed (I-695, the $30 tabs; I-747, the 1% property tax cap; and I-776, also related to tab fees). Sounds great, huh? We've got $15 billion more in our pockets that we can use to buy shit that we don't need. You'd think that this would be good for everyone, right? Saves us all money, right? Well, the property tax initiative doesn't help anyone who doesn't own property. And the tab fee initiative saves more money for people who drive more expensive cars (who, ironically, would not be impacted in the least by the higher tab fees - if you can afford to drive a goddamn Escalade, you can pay $500 a year to keep it on the road, if nothing else than as a punishment for such an environmentally unfriendly choice). But no. That would be unfair, right? People (even rich ones) should not be penalized for the choices they make, right? Why should they carry a higher burden?

So now, over the last 8-10 years, what it all means is that we've had $15 billion less in revenue that could have been used for getting things done in this state that we can't afford to get done. I wonder how many services were cut? Aid to homeless? Elderly? Health care? Education? Road maintenance? I wonder how much you could do with $15 billion dollars?

But we should be thankful, because Tim Eyman and company gave it back to the taxpayers.

Thank you, Tim.

Legislative accountability? Or getting things right? Which is more important?

Tim Eyman (along with a couple of independent groups) is going to fight the tolls being imposed on SR-520. The grounds for the battle are that the recently passed Initiative 1053 dictates that any new "fees" be voted on by the legislature. The proposed toll, Eyman argues, is a fee (I'd prefer to call it a "tax" but we're splitting hairs). Therefore, the Transportation Commission should not have the power to impose the toll on their own.

It's an interesting quandary, actually. For starters, I am not a fan of Tim Eyman. I don't understand why he's so popular, except for the fact that he repeatedly promises people they'll pay less if they support his initiatives and, since people are inherently selfish, they find his ideas appealing. I also am not entirely sure why he bounced back so gloriously from the illegal activities he engaged in previously (diverting money to himself from funds raised). But there you have it with Eyman.

The thing that is interesting to me is that I see his point here. Why should taxes be imposed with no vote? There are a few reasons for this: (1) The will of the people is not considered (I'll come back to that one), and (2) Our legislature gets to skip-out on accountability for such taxes.

The second item above is the one that bothers me. The legislators obviously know that to fund the SR-520 project, we either need to raise taxes (somewhere, e.g. toll imposition) or cut elsewhere in the budget (I don't think state governments have the same luxury of running massive deficits like the federal government does). The legislators who would oppose the toll would anger people whose services are ultimately cut. Conversely, the legislators who favor the toll would anger people who don't want to pay a toll. One can argue that they should at least have to take a stance, and not think purely about their next election bid.

The first item... well, that's one over which we can have a philosophical argument from now until the end of time. The question really is: Should we honor the will of the people, regardless of whether people know what's best for them or not? I'm not calling the average voter stupid. But I do think the average voter (often, myself included) thinks short-term and in their own self-interest. The beauty of democracy is that the will of the people is upheld. But the seedy underbelly of democracy is also just that: the will of the people is upheld.

People would call me socialistic, if I assert that it's better for a Commission to decide what must be done, for the good of all. But perhaps that's what is needed. At the federal level, the will of the people is required in every budget decision (with the exception of certain military appropriations, in case of emergency). However, some decisions are handled by the courts. A commission, is not unlike a court, but it's operating around a territory that overlaps with legislative areas. That's not that much different from the way that ballot initiatives are now overlapping with decisions that would typically be made by the courts (i.e. gay marriage, assisted suicide, etc.). We do not run our government in absolutes division of responsibility. There is crosstalk between branches. I'm not exactly sure what branch of the "government" the Transportation Commission belongs to? I am guessing it's probably Executive? Or is it not even part of the government? I'm out of my depth here.

The right thing to do here, given the situation we have, is to impose the toll. As I said below, I'd rather see the toll go on I-90 and SR-520, or for them to at least act quickly to toll I-90 if it clearly becomes a traffic nightmare. But it does bother me a little bit that our legislature doesn't have any accountability in this decision (as of yet).

Of course, if you want to know what I think would have really been the right thing to do, it would have been the damn income tax. Given that Washington has the single most regressive tax policy in the entire country (yet we're supposedly a liberal state), I think it should have been a no-brainer. And it should definitely have not appeared as a ballot initiative, for the reasons I mentioned above.

I guess we're back to me sounding like a socialist again.

06 January, 2011

Tim Eyman may actually be right this time

For the most part, I have considered Eyman to be a villain. An enemy of infrastructure, who seeks to work every angle to make sure that the state is strangled for funds. That's been my general attitude. But, on one particular topic, I think he may be correct.

The proposed tolls for SR-520 were to be imposed by the Transportation Commission. These are not elected officials. They are appointed officials. Given that a toll is a type of fee, the recent initiative (1053, penned by Eyman) would require that the legislature vote on all fee increases. He's now arguing, therefore, that the toll must be approved by the legislature. And he's probably going to be successful in making sure that it does go to a vote. Unfortunately, political pressure on members of the legislature will make it very unpopular for them to vote in favor of the toll. If the toll is rejected, then there will be a shortfall of funding in the state. How will they make up the gap? Probably, they'll have to make cuts in the budget, unless they run a deficit (which I'm not even sure the state is allowed to do, right?).

So, this would be bad, right? We need that toll! Or else we can't balance the budget and get the necessary projects completed.

True. But I think that what Eyman's initiative does is to force the members of the legislature to take a stance on what they support or do not support. They'd all be happy to sit "Mum" while the Commission imposes the tax, because then nobody's hands are dirty with making people pay more.

But wait! There's more... Seattle building largest tunnel ever!

If there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that any major project that the City of Seattle attempts to launch will experience all of the following: (1) It will encounter major efforts, via ballot initiatives, to block it from happening, (2) It will cost far more than estimated, and (3) It will likely create a massive disaster, and not turn out as planned.

The latest? The Alaskan Way Viaduct which, in truth, could crumble at the slightest shaking of the soft earth on which it resides, is going to be replaced. Rather than replace it with something that sounds conservative, such as, perhaps, another elevated roadway adjacent to the current one, they're going to dig under the ground. They're going to make the largest tunnel ever built. Fifty-seven feet in diameter. Everyone has always talked about how Seattle has the problem of most of downtown being built on landfill. But I guess they've got that all figured out. Actually, it doesn't really matter if they've got it figured out or not. Because, if shit goes wrong, they'll just keep paying the contractor, and the bill will go to the taxpayer.

I'm not opposed to infrastructure improvements. In fact, I am all for them. But I'm opposed to the obvious idiotic approach that this state seems to take, regarding all attempted improvements. They don't want to do small things to make our system better. They want to do big things. And they don't care if they do them well. They just need to be big. I suppose I should be grateful that, after living here 10 years, during which time there was nary an improvement to infrastructure, except for the start of the light rail system (which is a good thing, but it's too little, too late), they're finally taking on big projects. But what's it going to look like for the next five years while all this is happening? We're already looking at one diversion disaster with 520 traffic jumping over to 90. And one can imagine that there will be an overlapping period where 99 traffic will be jumping over to 5 (especially since, if you read the fine print, they're going to put a toll on the new 99 tunnel). The other thing that doesn't make much sense to me about this project is that they want to increase volume on this stretch of road, compared to the viaduct. But I don't see what good that will do, when you've got cramped two-lane roadways north and south of the viaduct, with odd exit-ramp setups. It's like replacing one section in a chain of Crazy Straws with a toilet paper roll, and thinking you can drink faster.


I know this is a rambling blog entry. And I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth. And you can't have it both ways. And I suppose it's better late than never. I'd just like to think that if someone moves to Seattle in 2017, and looks at the transit system: a new 520 bridge, a new 99, a light rail system that runs from North Seattle all the way to the Airport, perhaps they'll think "This is a city that got its act together."

We'll see.