Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I've Stock in Friendship!

My latest obsession: I've gone from doing a couple hundred sudoku per day to spending way too much time trying to invite friends to a certain internet social network.

Actually, that's a little misleading. I'm really building a virtual fiefdom as "Knight Wes" and I'm trying to man and woman my fiefdom with vassals so I may better raid and pillage other less prepared fiefdoms and become a Baron, then Count, then King, and eventually Emperor of The Known World. Inviting friends to the certain internet social network is just part of my evil plan of ultimate conquest.

Happily, world events are playing into my hands. This morning it looks like we're in for some more bad news in the stock market -- good news for me!

You see, I don't have a whole lot of rich friends. I can count my rich friends with my thumbs. They talk to me in alternate decades, usually from a distance. They never treat me to lunch. They won't give me their cell phone numbers. When I get them on the regular phone, it's all "Wes who?" and "Can't talk now, I'm buying Rhode Island", or a voice says, "I'm in San Tropé right now, but if you leave a message after the beep, I'll answer it next Spring."

For a long time, I thought the problem was I just wasn't trying hard enough to make friends with rich people. I needed to get out more and travel among the stinking rich. So I went to art openings and concerts and loitered in airports next to guys in suits and Italian shoes, with good teeth, checked luggage, cuff links, and briefcases. I brought offerings of Grey Poupon. I carried conspicuous copies of the Wall Street Journal. Eventually, I had to accept that the real problem was the stinking rich weren't trying hard enough to make friends with me. In fact, they weren't trying at all.

All that's set to change. Sure, the government is bailing out the super rich, so I'm probably never going to be friends with Charles Schwab. But that still leaves a whole lot of "low hanging fruit" out on a limb and dropping. And that means, I won't have to bother with all the "cross-class" alliance business we love to do here at Real Change. Instead of me reaching out to the other classes, the other classes will come to me!

A report this morning noted the recent sharp increase in homelessness and said nearly half are middle class people homeless for the first time. Well, then, they aren't middle class any more, are they? I have a new pool of friends! And I'm not yet ready to write off all the billionaires either. I'm sure Bill Gates has no need of a parachute -- he can do a power landing in any economic crisis -- but I'm not so positive that the rest of his gang hasn't overused their credit lines buying toys.

Our future may be one of poverty and despair, but, hey! Look on the bright side! Everything will get simpler!

In poverty, choices narrow, and life gets much simpler. At Christmas, for example, what do you get the kids to play with? Before, you had to choose between My Baby's First Cadillac and My Baby's First Summer Cottage. Now the choice is between My Baby's First Stick and My Baby's First Fistful of Nothing. Before, planning dinner could take hours and would often require the services of a paid professional staff. Now, it's "I've got a can opener, and you've got a can of garbanzos and a spoon, so let's eat."

When that happens, my Grey Poupon is going to start looking pretty damn fine. "These garbanzos sure could use some spicing up." "Have you tried them with Grey Poupon?" "Why no, I have not." "Well, if you'll be my friend, I'll let you have some."

Then, I will have them where I want them, ready to become my vassals.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mayor Fails Sherbert Test

Let's talk about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)!

A 1963 Supreme Court case decided that a Ms. Sherbert who was fired for not working on her Sabbath day was entitled to unemployment benefits, establishing the 4 part "Sherbert Test" to help courts determine when religious freedom trumps a law: If 1) a belief is sincere and if 2) the law places a significant burden on the practice of the belief, then the government must prove 3) it's acting in furtherance of a "compelling state interest," and 4) it has pursued that interest in the manner least restrictive, or least burdensome, to religion. If 1) and 2) hold and 3) and 4) can't be proved by the government, then the government needs to step off.

Well, that decision, made by a liberal 1963 court, was whittled away by later liberal courts appointed by different presidents. So finally Congress had no choice but to pass the RFRA in 1993 to get their Sherbert back.

Why do I, Wes Browning, care? I'm getting to that.

First, in 2007, the Justice Department ruled, without notifying me personally, that the RFRA meant that the government can go ahead and give my tax money to faith-based organizations that only hire people of their own religious persuasions, even though the same Congress that passed the RFRA specifically said no to the practice. The Justice Department said, basically, a general vague yes from Congress that they like overturns a specific clear no that they don't like. If the Justice Department's Mommy said "you don't always have to do what Billy wants," and also said "don't hit Billy," the Justice department would decide it could do what Billy didn't want, namely punch Billy silly.

It so happens it's against MY religion to give one dime of my taxes to any organization that only hires Christians to do charity work that Animists could do just as well. But the Justice Department decided that my religious claim on how MY money is spent in MY name doesn't mean SQUAT, because these religious charities that can collect all the money they want from public donations TAX-FREE would be SERIOUSLY burdened by not having my money, too.

[Left: This animist can label and stuff envelopes for a donation drive as well as any Baptist or Presbyterian. All he needs is a chance to prove himself.]

Well, OK, I'm not going to be a sore loser. So long as that same low bar applies everywhere.

Last week, Nickelsville, the world's pinkest tent city that wants to be a shantytown, was forced onto the parking lot of University Christian Church, northwest of the University of Washington, by the persecution of Mayor Nickels and his administration. You'd think they'd be safe on church land. But Nickels has told the church and everyone else concerned that putting Nickelsville up in the parking lot violates Seattle's land use laws.

What does Sherbert say? Let's see.

1) Does host sincerely believe that their religion requires they give sanctuary to the poor? Yes. It's in their Bible.

2) Would making the church clear the parking lot of tents, or produce a replacement parking lot within days, significantly hinder the practice of said belief? Duh! (It might be different if they were granted a reasonable amount of time to provide alternative off-street parking, but Nickels is in a big hurry. He's got to screw'm while he's got the itch.)

3) Does the state, i.e. the city, have a compelling interest? They have an interest in ensuring that people can park on the streets. But compelling? Parking? Compared to survival? Give me a break.

4) Is evicting Nickelsville and/or fining everyone involved $150 the least restriction of the church's freedom to exercise its beliefs in this case?

Hardly. If a mission that only hires Christians can have my taxes, and never pay them back, there's no reason the city can't let a church limit my parking for a lousy month or two, for the sake of homeless people, when every developer in town can do the same for the sake of building bigger and better homes for the rich.

Nickels needs to step off.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Jails Are Seattle's Future

There's been a lot of talk recently about Seattle's need for a municipal jail. But not everything has been said on the subject that could be said. For example, no one has suggested that the new jail could be designed with futuristic sweeping curved lines, stand 600 feet up, be painted orange, and revolve, and so be a lovely tourist attraction and Seattle icon. Even though a new jail would create many new jobs and require new housing and supporting retail, no one has said there should be a street car going there. No one has come up with a good slogan, like "Invest In Your Future -- Invest In Prisons."

[Above: Without one of these, how are people supposed to get there?]

I'm going to say those things and more. I'm going to tell you what no one else at Real Change wants you to hear: We need this new jail!

Real Change doesn't want you to know that jailing people is Seattle's last hope to have a surviving economy and clean empty streets. Real Change doesn't want you to know that scapegoating the poor for the problems of the middle-class pays.

Now, right away, I'm sure that some of you liberal losers are thinking, "Wouldn't it be cheaper to build more traditional shelters, rather than spend all that money on constructing and maintaining a jail complex?" On the surface, that sounds sensible. The city is paying, right now, just about $10 per person per day for shelter and transitional housing, while just the maintenance cost of a new jail is expected to be more than $110 per person per day. But when you scratch deeper it sounds like mairzy doats and dozy doats. Scratch deeper than that, and it takes your arm off.

What did I just tell you in the first paragraph? This is Seattle's chance to create a whole new thriving industry! We've been Jet City. We've been Amazon Central. We've been Latteville. Now we can be Jail Town, USA!

[Left: Jail made Elvis famous. Elvis made the Seattle World's Fair famous. The Seattle World's Fair made Seattle famous. Therefore Jails already have made Seattle famous. Let's cut out the middlemen!]

There are only two things we have to do to guarantee our preeminence as the world's greatest jailers, and we are well our way to accomplishing both of them.

First, we need lots more misdemeanants. This is being arranged. Our mayor is finding new ways to enforce bad laws. Using methods that were pioneered in the Deep South during the Reconstruction, Mayor Nickels has been finding innovative ways to make the inescapable conditions of homelessness illegal. Meanwhile, our president and congress have done us the favor of ensuring that we will have an ever-increasing number of homeless people to convict. It has been estimated that by the end of 2012 every formerly housed single man, woman, and child in Seattle who does not have a high-level government job will have been foreclosed upon, or be a barista.

We need to make more drugs and herbs illegal. I recommend aspirin, tylenol, and ibuprofen; that will make it more illegal than ever to hurt. We need to expand the no-smoking ordinance to prohibit smoking anywhere within 25 feet of a hard surface, and we need to enforce it with jail time, and add a three-strikes provision.

Second, we need funding for it. We need funding to build it, funding to keep it going, and extra funding to line the pockets of the lobbyists for it, to make it worth their while.

We can do this, too, Seattle! We just have to think big! We have to become the experts on jailing that the world comes to see and learn from! We have make Seattle synonymous not with gray skies, but with gray bars.

Let's get Rem Koolhaus to design it. Let's build a world-class park around it, and charge for tours. Let's build a new college to train incarceration professionals and to teach politicians how to write laws that can't fail to be broken.

Century 21 has been used. Let's call it Century 22, and dazzle America and the rest of the World with our vision, our innovation, and the experience we will have achieved.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I'm So Privileged

Greg Nickels [our mayor] has me so royally peeved, I'm tempted to just write "Greg Nickels is an arrogant, narcissistic, fool" 75 times and turn that in. I've been told by the editor I could get away with that sort of thing. He's said no one would notice any difference in the quality of my writing, so "what the hell."

I won't though, because I wouldn't want to abuse my free speech privilege. Sarah Palin, who aspires to be Vice President of the United States, a job that requires upholding our Constitution, has reminded us lately that freedom of speech is a privilege that the press should not abuse. Indeed, I clearly recall how in 8th grade history we learned the first ten amendments to the Constitution (they formed what was called the Bill of Privileges), and that the first privilege listed after the Privilege of Religion was the Privilege of Freedom of Speech.

Another privilege we learned about was the Privilege of the People to Peaceably Assemble. I'm sure that if Sarah Palin ever gets to be president she'll keep us on the straight and narrow there, too.

[Right: Some women peaceably assembled to ask politely to be granted privilege to vote. "Please, sirs, with sugar on top!"]

Our activist Supreme Court, abusing its privilege to interpret the Constitution, declared decades ago that people retain privileges of association, asserting they could not otherwise exercise their speech and assembly privileges. Palin has clearly understood how wrong this is.

When Palin accused Barack Obama of associating "with terrorists who targeted our own country" she referred to the fact that Bill Ayers, who helped found the Weather Underground when Obama was 8, and Barack Obama have both worked on the same two non-profit boards. Palin would regard that as an abuse of the privilege of association.

She's absolutely right. Suppose I'm helping put out a fire, at, say, a kindergarten, and I know that the guy passing me buckets of water is none other than Bill Ayers, who blew up a critical Pentagon file-cabinet once. I should walk away from that fire because associating with known terrorists is always wrong, wrong, wrong. The kindergarteners would understand, when they got older, if they weren't burned to a crisp. If they were burned to a crisp, they'd have to ask themselves in the afterlife what the heck were they doing going to a kindergarten in the same neighborhood with a known terrorist?

[Above: President Lyndon B. Johnson shakes hands with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the signing of the landmark Civil Privileges Act of 1964.]

As if just to show you don't have to be republican to have the same kind of grasp of law on privilege as Sarah Palin, this past weekend the administration of our Democratic Mayor Greg Nickels put out a Notice of Land Use Violation threatening to fine a long list of individuals and associations for their support of Nickelsville, at least one of whom was listed for the sole crime of having emailed his support to another of them.

The Notice of Violation notably lists SHARE/WHEEL, the homeless grassroots organization that was NOT responsible for Nickelsville, as a supporter, and includes mention of its Vancouver, Washington, office. But the Vancouver WA office is that of an entirely different organization that just happens to have the name Share.

Therefore Nickels carries Sarah Palin's thinking a step further. Not only should people not do good things if the wrong people join in, they should also pay for having the wrong name. Again, this is as it should be. Share House, Vancouver, started in 1977. SHARE/WHEEL started in 1990. Share House has had 18 of its 31 years in existence to change its name. They have totally abused their privilege of name-having.

But Nickels went too far listing John and Jane Doe as "Persons Responsible For The Violations".

We know what he's doing. He's getting ready to fine everybody who so much as wrote a letter to the editor in support of Nickelsville, $150 a day, every day it exists.

Now we need everyone who cares about Nickelsville and the RIGHT of homeless people to survive to declare themselves to be John or Jane Doe -- I am John Doe.

[Below: I already posted this on my other blog Run Off, but it's worth posting again.]

Spartacus [I now think the subtitles are in Turkish.]

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Adventures at Nickelsville

Back in the 60s I was a rally chaser. Missing a rally or a march would be like missing an episode of Star Trek. An enormous sense of grief would come over me, made worse by the knowledge that there would be no summer reruns in the case of the rallies and marches.

[Above: May 5, 1970. I was there. The Yellow Indicatrix tells you where. I am NOT between the other protesters and the Tac Squad. I am on the northbound on-ramp. No friend of head trauma, I.]

Now, though, I just want to sit in my little corner in my tiny room and watch the world go by on CNN and the internet. When a public gathering presents an opportunity to be arrested it only strengthens my resolve to hide out in my room, owing to desmoteriophobia (fear of dungeons).

Not all of us have such fear. Saturday I opened up the Seattle P-I to find none other than my beloved Anitra "Smiling Buddha" Freeman gazing blissfully up at a policeman about to haul her radical-hippy ass off to jail. The possibility that this time they could just leave her there and forget to tell anyone either did not occur to her, or it goosed her, or she'd gone batspit crazy and thought the policeman was Wilford Brimley come to take her to Antarea, where she'd be young forever, and learn break-dancing from Don Ameche.

Anitra was getting arrested for refusing to leave alleged city land upon which Nickelsville had been set up. You may recall that two weeks ago Nickelsville was a homeless peoples' shantytown only in potentia. On Friday of last week it was very much concrete, and as Mayor Nickels wanted it to return to being an abstract idea, he sent the police to try to make it so.

Before Anitra got arrested there was a scene, broadcast on KING TV, of her telling residents of Nickelsville ("Nickelodeons") three options the police had laid out. I've watched the video over and over, trying to figure out the logic of the three options. It sounds like what she said the police were saying was the Nickelodeons' options were EITHER 1) stay and be arrested OR 2) go away and not be arrested, OR 3) go away with shipoopy, and no kiss.

I was actually there to witness that episode and the subsequent 22 arrests, in spite of my aforementioned phobia, because I'd spent the night before boiling peanuts for my sweetheart not considering that, what with her spending the night in a fuchsia tent at Nickelsville and then surely wanting to stick around to be jailed, and me without a teleportation device, I would have to go there to deliver her the peanuts. So I went, and it was just coincidence that the police vans were arriving from the donut shop just the same time I arrived by bus.

It's the story of my life. I boil some peanuts for someone, then I think, oops, got to deliver the peanuts. I get there just as the cops do. Oh, look, doggies!

It all worked out half well though. I did not get arrested. Anitra got caught and released. Governor Gregoire granted a reprieve to Nickelsville itself, letting the Nickelodeons cram as many tents onto a state owned parking lot as could fit, out of reach of the mayor. I got to talk to the people the mayor sent from Human Services to refer Nickelodeons to "proper" shelter in the system, and I tried to find out how they could do that with a straight face knowing that the shelters are full every night. Answer: they don't think about that. They just pass out referral cards to whoever takes them and call it a job done.

Here's your irony adventure: Some people took the cards and went to be referred to the shelter that the mayor keeps saying is there for them, and the referral agency gave them bus tickets and sent them back to Nickelsville!

Greg Nickels is like the owner of a row boat trying to bail it out with a Dixie cup after it's already sunk in 10 feet of water. Greg Nickels is a fool.