Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I'll Be Your Despot

Last Friday, our very own Mayor Greg Nickels shared top honors with some Indiana dude in the 2008 Mayors’ US Conference of Mayors/ Wal-Mart Stores Climate Protection Awards Program for his "outstanding and innovative practices to increase energy efficiency... and to help curb global warming." Learning of this, suddenly it all became clear. All his strange behavior lately, his obsession with banning plastic bags, plastic bottles, polystyrene, and beach bonfires, and his pushing compact fluorescent light bulbs, was all an angle to get a Wal-Mart Stores award. What? Does it come with a Weber Grill and a lifetime supply of charcoal?

We still have the gun ban, the trolley, and the crazy drive to keep the greenbelts to the squirrels to explain. A lot of people say that if you dig deep enough you'll find that on every issue Greg Nickels is in the pocket of big business, getting both a personal hand up and a hand out, if you know what they mean, but I think there's a very real possibility that Greggers is just keen on making Seattle the bestest gleaming city in the whole wide world, and he's thinking, "gosh, I'm the mayor of Seattle, so I can get it done."

[Below: Nickel's dream for Seattle.]

So we get an order banning handguns at Seattle Center. This is an improvement to Seattle! Now, when someone shoots someone at Seattle Center, they will be guilty of violating a mayoral order. That's something they don't have in other cities.

Naturally Greg wants the greenbelts cleared of homeless people, because doing so drives them to band together in tent cities for protection, and Greg Nickels knows that tent cities are good for Seattle. He's improving Seattle by making tent cities more necessary than ever. By the end of summer Seattle will even have a shantytown called Nickelsville, actually named after the mayor in honor of all that he has been doing to endanger homeless people. Not every mayor can boast a tent city named after him. OK, some people are calling all of New York City, Bloombergville, but it's not the same.

The point is, he genuinely wants to improve Seattle, and I can't argue with that. I also want Seattle improved. We want the same thing! I'd just prefer different methods, such as transparency, constitutional governing, consultation with the people, democracy, and some other silly things like that, and I would select and prioritize improvements differently.

A few ways that I, Copyright Dr. Wes Browning, would improve Seattle if I, rather than Greg Nickels, were your despot:

There would be a Separation of Sports and State. Instead of giving sports franchises public funds, we would exempt them from taxes, as we would any other cult. Ticket prices would have to be voluntary tithes, but failure to pay could be grounds for "excommunication." We would expect a season's ticket to reasonably go for 10% of one's income during that season. Refreshments ("sacraments") would have to be free.

I have always thought that what this country needs to do is reorganize into city states, like the Ancient Greeks had. I would strive to achieve independence of a Seattle City State from the US, while seeking alliances and federation with other city states for as long as it serves our interests, and otherwise crushing competing city states, looting and burning them, and enslaving their people, especially the Redmondites and the Lynnwoodians.

Gun Control: I would arrange for only my friends to have guns. Unlike Nickels, I tell you that up front.

Environment: There's no point in improving an environment if you don't have environs. "Environs" means room or space in which to move around. Downtown should be an environs for people, not cars. I will allow my friends to shoot cars downtown.

Mass transit: Metro knows where I live (we've corresponded.) I will tell them where I like to be. They will take me there when I say, and bring me back when I say. That is my promise.

No cake! Pizza!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Superior Kachiku

I get the Seattle Times every day for the sudoku. The P-I has one, but the one in the Seattle Times has superior "kachiku" ("cattle.")

"Sudoku" means "pointless." You fill a grid with the digits 1 through 9, so rows, columns, and some 3x3 blocks have no repeated digits. When you're done, it spells a magic word! Ha! No! When you're done you have a grid filled with digits.

Also pointless is arguing with Seattle Times editors. It's like arguing with beanbag chairs that blow when you sit on them. But they blew smellier than usual last Thursday with an editorial entitled "Tent City: pointless," and the stench propels me. There are misleads and lies throughout.

In the first paragraph we're told 100 people live in the Eastside Tent City ("Tent City 4", managed by SHARE/WHEEL) "rent-free." The mislead: In fact, the residents pay rent in labor to maintain the grounds and keep them secure.

The second paragraph is a piece of propaganda worthy of Goebbels. They say the small size of Tent City 4 proves "This is not New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina." From that they conclude "there is no public emergency here."

No, there is a public emergency, with more than 2600 people unable to find either housing or shelter every night. The fact that Tent City 4 is so small is not proof there is no emergency, but more evidence of the nature of it. It would be much larger if the response to the emergency were adequate. But, just like New Orleans after Katrina, the government has failed, and SHARE/WHEEL can only do so much in the face of community opposition, such as the vicious, poisonous, lie-laden opposition of the Seattle Times.

"There are always people with private emergencies, and we help them with shelter beds." The Seattle Times is a newspaper. It reports fact. The Seattle Times editorial staff has the job of reading their own paper. Their own paper has kept them informed of the fact that there are shelter beds for only half the homeless in Seattle. I know they do their job well so I know they know that. So when they say, "and we help them with shelter beds," they are purposely lying. Shame.

"We don't need to use tents — and nobody thought of it until some political activists at SHARE/WHEEL devised Tent City eight years ago." The Seattle Times editors don't need to use tents, I'm sure, but when they use the editorial "we" in this case they are knowingly (they're writers!) and deliberately implying the public "we." It's a propaganda technique designed to divide those who do need tents to survive from the rest of the public. It goes along with defining their emergencies as private.

SHARE/WHEEL didn't invent tents. They were needed long before Tent Cities were invented. SHARE/WHEEL brought them together to help each other be safe, first and foremost.

[Above: Maybe Mathew Brady invented tents.]

"The point of it is politics. It is to have homelessness in the face of well-housed people to make them feel guilty." Politics to call attention to an emergency is no vice. The people need to do politics to be heard. The powerful, like the Seattle Times management, would silence the politics of the oppressed. The purpose of Tent City isn't to create guilt but to educate and inspire further action. AND to survive.

"Now... There are shelter beds. There are opportunities for work." The majority of Tent City residents are employed, and still can't afford rent. There are NOT shelter beds enough. (To the Times: You keep on repeating lies, and we'll keep on repeating the truth, and we'll see who wins in the end.)

"Itinerant tent camps are not acceptable in a modern city." Homelessness is not acceptable in a modern city.

Questions To Question By

1. "Why don't you say what you mean, Wes?"

2. "Kachiku?"

3. If homelessness were private would it be homelessness?

4. Exactly how are private and public opposites?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Zoned Out

Today our ongoing History of Poverty is continued with Parts R1, R2, R3, and Parts U1 through U6: Zoning ordinances. Let the hilarity ensue!

Last time we danced around construction regulations. We said those have deprived poor people of the kind of cheap housing they've used in times past. To the degree that is so, the government (that means all of us -- it's our government) is responsible for that much homelessness and has a moral obligation to correct the negative effects of those regulations.

That in itself justifies increasing subsidized housing in this country. But the government has not only meddled in the housing market by regulating construction. There is also zoning, the institutionalization of across-the-board NIMBY-ism: Not In My Backyard, Not In My Neighbor's Backyard, Not In Anyone's Backyard.

I know all about zoning, having spent 1998 in a cave playing Classic Sim City 18 hours a day until I became emaciated. The trick is to put commerce between the residential and industrial zones. Duh.

You might think they'd been around since the reign of Henry III, but actually city-wide zoning ordinances didn't happen in this country until the time of WW I. They were first enacted in New York City to help preserve sunlight for residents finding themselves too much in the shadows of newly built skyscrapers.

Zoning was controversial then. Some thought it violated the Constitution, amounting to a taking without due process. In fact a court struck down the zoning law of Euclid, Ohio, as unconstitutional. But the ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court, which decided in 1926 that Euclid's zoning ordinances were Okey Dokey after all. I tried to read the ruling so I could explain it here, but it's all "averred this", and "alleged that", and appell-ees, and appell-ants, and nuisances and such, and I had appointments to keep with my life, so I gave up. But the gist seems to be the court upheld restrictions on industrial uses, while saying little to nothing about restrictions on residential uses, on account of those not being at issue in that case.

[Above: From zoning maps on the website.]

Still, the Supreme Court had said the Euclid, Ohio, model was fine, and a precedent is a precedent, so just about every other town and city in the country latched onto the Euclid model, so that now everybody's zoning ordinances are called "Euclidean," and we're pretty much stuck with them, including the residential restrictions the court didn't have to address.

This is a pity. I think we all agree it's reasonable that pulp mills, which stink, should not be built next door to me, Dr. Wes Browning. Other uses of property that I'm sure all will agree should not be allowed next door to me include slaughterhouses, and fish canneries, which likewise both stink, airports (too loud), fire departments (too loud), dog parks (too many wet dogs), flower gardens (make me sneeze), and nail-care shops (too strip-mall-ish). But is it right, really, that my city government should be able to pass a law prohibiting my neighbor from renting a room out?

That's what we have now in the descendants of the Euclid zoning ordinances. Cities and towns tell us all where we can build apartments and where there must be single family housing. In Seattle, single family housing has its own god and he lives in our zoning law, and he makes it illegal for poor people to be housed in rooms rented by home-owners.

The wrong people sued the city of Euclid. Instead of a business suing, it should have been a class-action suit by all the homeless people of today, visited upon the Supreme Court of 1926 by time machine.

Pregnant Exercises

1. If the test case for zoning law had involved Sim City, wouldn't most of the zoning ordinances in use today be called Simian? Ha.

2. The ancients believed that if you could name a god you could destroy it. Do us a favor and name the god of single family housing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Shock and Elves

Every week this column is undertaken in the spirit of a challenge. Generally, that challenge is: Out of which gaping chasm of Hell will my allotted 666 words spew? This week's gaping chasm is called the Kellogg Brown & Root Company, or KBR.

Don't confuse KBR with the other Kellogg-named company that has brought us such delightful mascots as the Keebler Elves, their cousins Snap & Crackle & Pop, Toucan Sam, and Tony the Tiger.

When it broke away from Halliburton in April, 2007, KBR took over as the company having the largest contract with the US Government in Iraq. If KBR had mascot elves they'd all look like Dick Cheney. They'd suck when they whistled. Instead of making you hyper, their cereal would give you the runs. It would cost thousands of dollars per box, transferred from your pockets to theirs by the IRS.

Where to begin discussing this giant leech of a company? For help I went to the Wikipedia article on the subject, because I'm too lazy to do actual research. I found out that the giant leech is even sucking the sense out of Wikipedia. The article reads like a PR release by the company.

So I'll begin by recalling that this is the same KBR that three years ago took $385 million for a no-bid contingency contract to build prison labor camps in the United States to help Homeland Security "in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs." That sounds alarming until you find out how KBR operates. They take the money and don't deliver. So, not to worry, we're out the $385 million, but the camps probably won't be built.

KBR was contracted to help rebuild New Orleans after Katrina. To help the Texas-based company, George Bush, the Vice Vice President, suspended labor laws and government contract regulations to allow KBR to hire workers at substandard wages. To help themselves, they saved more profits by just not paying some workers at all. But, not to worry, New Orleans wasn't really rebuilt by KBR. So the contract was paid, but at least there's still hope for the city to recover. If KBR HAD rebuilt it, it would be a shambles now.

In March, KBR was accused of providing our troops in Iraq with contaminated water. Soldiers were coming down with skin disorders and intestinal diseases. To help the Texas-based giant leech meet these accusations, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell advised our serviceman to not drink the water, adding, "Ha, ha!" Unfortunately for our troops, they hadn't been drinking it. The skin & intestinal disease had come entirely from bathing and laundering with the stuff.

[Aside: Geoff Morrell was a weekend White House correspondent for ABC News in 2003 and one of the consistent media cheerleaders for the prewar propaganda. His appointment to the Pentagon position last year looks, walks, and quacks like a reward.]

Recently another problem with KBR's operations in Iraq got some media attention, when a Green Beret was electrocuted in his shower by an ungrounded electrical circuit under KBR's oversight. The electrocution-in-showers story was actually a repeat. Servicemen have been getting electrocuted in showers in Iraq because of shoddy workmanship of KBR or their subcontractors for years now. The company has known about it since at least 2005.

They blamed the problem on some of those subcontractors. The Wikipedia whitewash offers the additional excuse: Their Iraq contract didn't cover "fixing potential hazards." It only covered repairing items after they broke down.

It's a whole new way to look at the phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." To, "What doesn't kill you, makes you better," we can add, "If it does kill you, that's no reason to say it's broke." Hey, people are supposed to die over there! It's a war!

To the GIs in Iraq wanting showers, I say: Not to worry, if they ever fixed it, they'd only break it worse.

[Below: The Iraqis said to have installed the Chinese pumps in this CNN story had to have been subcontracted by KBR. KBR was responsible for their work.]