Friday, October 31, 2014

Tim Cook... iAssassination Dream?

Yesterday Tim Cook spoke up, publishing a statement where he proudly promoted himself from the title of "CEO" to the more descriptive and meaningful title of "Gay CEO".  Rumors concerning Cook's sexual orientation have bubbled up from time-to-time, so the news is not necessarily a surprise, although the announcement seems noteworthy.

The piece is remarkably focused on the self.  6.7% of the words in the piece (54 of 801) are "I", "me", "myself" or similar.  Over of 75% of the sentences (31 of 41) are self-referential, and all 10 of the paragraphs contain a reference to the writer.  This would be expected, since the piece is about Cook's own sexual orientation, but it does seem to contrast with the moral reasons he includes for writing this piece, and for publishing it at this time, which he states is to follow Dr. Martin Luther King's challenge of "What are you doing for others?"  Cook appears to be writing this for himself.

The nod to MLK would be in keeping with the Apple branding campaign "Think Different."  This campaign is referenced again in the final paragraph, as Cook pairs MLK with RFK, adding in Robert F. Kennedy and making reference to the posters of both men that adorn the office space at Apple's headquarters.  Cook doesn't "pretend that writing this puts [him] in their league."

What league are these two prominent public figures both members of?

Well... not only were the lives of both MLK and RFK stopped short by the bullet of an assassin, but the period between these two tragic events includes a memorable eulogy of Dr. Luther's life given by Robert Kennedy shortly after the first of these two murders.

Assassination is arguably the most prominent connector between the lives of these two men in the public's memory of them.  Search for "dr martin luther king AND robert f kennedy" on Google.  On the first page of results the word that appears most often (after filtering out their names) is "assassination".

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What does this mean?  The combination of the self-focused nature of the editorial and the inclusion, out of many impressive choices, of two famous persons that are persuasively linked by assassination makes it possible that Tim Cook hopes the public announcement of his sexual orientation will put him in the crosshairs of an assassin and thus earn him a spot in the vaunted ranks of revered, deceased pop-celebrities.

Perhaps this is how Cook intends to step fully out of the shadow of his predecessor...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ensuring Government Provided Preschool

The City of Seattle has figured out a fabulous way to ensure that the city residents support and pay for publicly organized pre-school.

Our ballots for this November ask Seattle residents to vote on Propositions 1A and 1B.  Both concern providing funding for and creating regulations of pre-schools in the city.  1A was added to the ballot through the collection of signatures.  1B was added by the city council.

The city council also decided that these two initiatives were in competition.  Rather than an up-or-down vote on each initiative we have a two-question ballot:

  1. Should either of these measures be enacted into law? [Yes / No]
  2. Regardless of whether you voted yes or no above, if one of these measures is enacted, which one should it be? [Proposition 1A / Proposition 1B]

We can choose to pass 1A, pass 1B, or pass neither... and the city has stacked the deck in favor of increasing government provided preschool by reducing exposure to the idea that voters can in fact vote "No" across the board... that the third option of rejecting both is actually available to the voters.

Seattle Municipal Code lays down the guidance that the city must produce an election pamphlet prior and mail it out the city.  Regarding initiatives, SMC 2.14.010.A.1 states that the pamphlet shall contain:

For each measure, the identification by serial number, the ballot title, the text, an explanatory statement, and arguments for and against the passage of the measure;

Since the two propositions are bundled together on the ballot, the pamphlet contains the explanatory statement for 1A, the explanatory statement for 1B, statements in favor of and in opposition to 1A, and statements in favor of and in opposition to 1B.

Notice what's missing?

The pamphlet does not contain statements in favor of and in opposition to the first question on the ballot.  The "Please do not allow the city government to become more deeply involved in the provision of preschool!" viewpoint is not represented in the pamphlet.

The absence is telling.

By deciding that these two propositions are in direct competition and combining them on the ballot the city council has reduced the likelihood that the voters will consider whether either of these initiatives is worthy at all.  The conversation in the pamphlet is about choosing between 1A and 1B, (and that is likely the case in the public discussion as well), and all voters are asked to select their preferred proposition, even if their answer would otherwise be "No" to both individually if they were presented with the option.

Politics is a messy sport.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Toll of Improper Attribution

The WSJ published an interesting article Tuesday about the growing use of toll roads to enhance traffic flow in and around the major metropolitan areas in Texas.

The following paragraph purports to explain the funding issue that is leading to the choice of tolls vs. taxes to pay for the road-building:

The toll boom is taking place in part because a primary source of highway-construction funding in the U.S., a federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline, hasn't changed since 1993.  Many states also haven't raised state gasoline taxes for decades, including Texas, which hasn't increased its 20-cents-per-gallon tax since 1991.

Note that these statements are presented without any attribution.  No research study was referenced.  No budget documents were referenced.  No public hearings were referenced.  No politicians' statements were included in quotes.

We the reader are supposed to simply understand that toll roads would go away if only the citizens would agree to raise these specific taxes, and there are no other factors involved.

By not including some attribution, the paragraph above becomes the opinion of the authors (Miguel Bustillo and Nathan Koppel) and should be relegated to the Opinion section.  It allows the reader the opportunity to assume the authors would encourage the government to raise taxes.  It's possible the statements about fuel taxes are true and were validated by presentations at referenced public meetings, but by excluding attribution the authors deprive their readers of that truth.

The lack of attribution even proposes the possibility that the authors are engaging in a one-sided argument with the citizens impacted by the increase in toll road development, especially considering that one local man is quoted in the immediately preceding paragraph:

"We pay taxes for roads and bridges, and if that's not enough, if you can't afford it, don't build it."

News articles should be news, and the WSJ has an obligation to ensure the quality of the journalistic product of their authors.  A correction or follow-up is appropriate.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The PC Left Eats Its Own...

Last night NPR's Fresh Air program ran an interview with Ed Norton, promoting the new movie Birdman.   In a discussion of a fight scene, Ed Norton referenced a Dorothy Parker quote:

"Scratch an actor... and you'll find an actress"

The implication of the quote, as used in context (a discussion of a fight scene) was obviously that actors (male) were actually soft, over-emotional, perhaps even weak... like actresses (women).  In short: Women are weak, and men who act are actually weak as well, the men merely wear a costume of masculinity.

The conversation about the fight scene begins at 9:00 in the audio.  The Dorothy Parker quote happens at 10:22. (Audio of the interview is available at the top of the article linked above.)

Interviewer Terry Gross pounces on Norton's use of the quote and doesn't let go easily.

"Can you explain that to me?  I don't get that, honestly I don't get it."
[Pause, as Ed Norton mumbles]
"Is that that actors are effeminate? Is that the joke?"
[Norton responds a bit...] 
"Oh, so we're equating women with vanity, are we?"
 It was a pleasure to listen to Ed Norton attempt to dig his way out of that thread, and you could almost hear the sigh of relief when Gross moved on to the next topic (finally!)

I've not run into the quote before, but it seems a perfectly reasonable one... as long as you are someone that takes a traditional, and I would say reasonable view on the inherent differences between men and women generally.

But tread carefully if you want to be 'in the club' on the Left...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Initiative Measures of Insanity

The ballots in the State of Washington for this November's national elections will include three initiative measures. I took my first hard look at the three of them this weekend, after receiving my voters' pamphlet from the state.

All three initiatives make me very sad.

The initiative process itself bothers me. Why go through the effort of ensuring we have a representative form of government with careful assignments of authority and subject to regular election if we reserve for the people the right to overrule the government with a simple majority?

The presence of an initiative process would seem to dilute the seriousness of the elected government. Why should our elected representatives work hard to make the laws sound and reasonable when the people can write any rule they want into law themselves?

Initiatives would also seem likely to radicalize the government. As the use of the initiative process flourishes, the voters would begin to realize that it really doesn’t matter too much who gets elected (we can just overwrite the laws they pass!)  The politicians won’t need to tap into the pool of politically moderate voters to win elections, so they need not temper their messages or build compromises.

I like the idea of reserving for the people the ability to override their government when it goes astray, though. So perhaps an initiative process that would only be valid if sustained by a super-majority or more of the voters. Something that requires a significant uprising of the people to generate change outside of the normal legislative process.

Nonetheless, here we are. The three initiatives in Washington State this year are:

  • I-1351: Changes the allocation of state education funds to school districts and establishes new standards for teacher- and staff-per-student ratios in K-12 schools.
  • I-591: Prohibits the government from confiscating guns without due process and eliminates background checks for gun purchasers unless mandated by federal law
  • I-594: Requires private-party sales or exchanges of guns to complete the transaction with a third-party, licensed gun dealer who would perform a background check on the purchaser.
I-1351 is incredibly complicated, with tiers of funding allocation based on the wealth of the community or grade level or type of program, specific changes to staffing-to-student levels for eleven different class of educational personnel, changes to funding for services and materials, and a detailed schedule mandating when portions of the law must be implemented over a four-year span.

The complexity of the law illustrates why we hire (elect) a representative legislature, in the same way that we might hire a contractor to renovate our kitchen.  We simply can't spare the time and don't have the expertise, so we outsource the task.  This initiative is a great example of minimizing the importance and value of the legislative branch of government.

I-591 is deceptively simple.  I must say I am very attracted to the brevity of the language and that the law restrains the authority of the state as opposed to most laws that impose restraints upon the citizen.

However, on closer inspection it appears that this law will not accomplish much: The government can't legally take property without due process (so if they already were doing so, they wouldn't pay any more attention to this law than existing law...) and it appears our state laws for background checks already align to federal laws requiring the same.

Perhaps the language will protect a citizen gun-owner in some future case... but by using the initiative process, we are just as likely to see an initiative in the future that overrules this one, as the simple majority shifts over time.

I-594 is a great example of the majority attempting to enforce its whims on the minority.  If we were talking about an initiative promoted by white people to exclude black people from education or jobs or similar the people would be up in arms resisting this effort as racist.  This law is a different form of popular vs. unpopular competition, albeit with a similar result: Otherwise law-abiding citizens have their ability to transact business restrained by the power of the state at the behest of an oppressive majority.  The American form of government is supposed to establish a reasonable balance between the power of the majority and the rights and freedom of the minority.  So much for that.

This initiative is also very complicated to execute.  It adds new sections to state law, and revises specific lines and wording of the existing law.  Similar to I-1351, the average citizen, recognizing that they have neither the time nor expertise to consider the implications of these detailed changes, hired their legislators to provide the requisite expertise and debate the issues on their behalf.

I'm inclined to vote no on all three.  We'll see what happens when I crack open the envelope containing my blank ballot in a few weeks.

Perhaps we can start a new initiative to amend the state constitution and require a 3/4ths majority to pass any future initiative measures.  Would be fun to watch the majority vote away its own power in favor of a healthier state government, no?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Politician Approaching The Truth?

Paul Ryan wrote an opinion piece ("A Better Way Up From Poverty") published by the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, August 16th.  The piece contains a remarkable public acknowledgement: He was wrong.

Mr Ryan, a Republican congressman from the 1st district in Wisconsin and Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick in the 2012 elections, is well known for his efforts to inspire and bring about positive, constructive economic reform in the federal government.  He continues that effort in this recent piece.  He proposes a path forward in a continued attempt to reduce citizen dependency on the government and ultimately to eliminate poverty in America.

Here is where is piece is noteworthy: He begins by describing how a single question posed to him by a supporter of his political opposition led to a realization that he was viewing entitlements incorrectly.

He had been using the phrase "makers and takers" in order to highlight the idea that some citizens were generating more tax revenue than they were using, and some were doing the opposite.  A moral judgment is inherent with the use of this phrase.  The Makers are the good guys who should be honored and given respect for their self-sacrifice and hard work.  The Takers are the bad guys, lazy, good-for-nuthin's that live off the hard work of others while sitting on the couch clicking the remote.  The moral component is little considered by the small-government, conservative side... because it would require the 'good guys', those who think they are the makers, like Paul Ryan and his supporters, to realize that they are not so pure as they originally thought.

The challenge question, as Mr. Ryan wrote about the encounter with the unnamed Democrat:
"The makers and the takers," he said. "I know who the makers are, but who are the takers? Is it the person who lost a job and is on unemployment benefits? Is it the veteran who served in Iraq and gets medical care through the VA? When you talk about the takers, who exactly do you mean?" 
And Mr. Ryan's considered response:
Who is a taker?  My mom, who is on medicare?  Me at 18 years old, using the Social Security survivor's benefits we got after my father's death to go to college.  My buddy who had been unemployed and used job-training benefits to get back on his feet?
In many political arguments, this is the moment when the progressive left catches us in a trap we conservatives set for ourselves.  We have a moment of discovery... "Omigosh, we are the Takers, too...,"  We don't want to think we are the bad guys... and so we believe we have lost the moral high ground and must necessarily stand down, sit down, shut up, and let the left win the policy debate.

Mr. Ryan is able to see his own failing though, and realize that the Makers and the Takers are all the same.  This is a remarkable characteristic, especially for a politician.  Acknowledge his fault, accept his share of personal responsibility for the problem, do so publicly, ... and then continue to attempt to find a constructive solution for the problem, anyway (because it still needs to be solved!)
Like many of the challenges we're facing, the tipping point we're approaching is the result of a liberal progressive mindset that seeks a larger, more active government and lets bureaucrats decide what's best for everyone instead of allowing citizens to govern themselves.  
For as much progress as Mr. Ryan has made with his argument, this paragraph demonstrates there is more road for him to travel.  He states that the liberal progressive is seeking a larger government that decides for the citizen.  His proposed antidote is that the citizens should be allowed to decide for themselves...

...which presumes that the liberal progressive big government types have the authority to allow or disallow the free decision-making of the citizens.  The citizens do not need anyone's permission to govern themselves.  We own that as a God given right.  We citizens need only accept our responsibility, step forward, and seize that Natural authority for ourselves.

Another issue is present that deserves attention: Why does the liberal progressive seek a larger government where bureaucrats decide what's best?  The best answer I can come up with (and one that I was knocking around in a previous post) is: Because they seek power.  It is an irrational goal, but it appears to be the goal.

These two thoughts work together.  The citizens own their own right to govern themselves.  To ensure they always maintain that right, I propose requires the citizens to do two things:

  1. Always make their own decisions; and
  2. Ensure no law, if passed, could be used to undermine rule #1.

Mr. Ryan does do something remarkable.  He listens to an opponent's argument, applies the moral case of the argument to himself, finds himself wanting, acknowledges his failing, and thoughtfully revises his policy.  He does all of this publicly.  We are all better off for his efforts of self-improvement, and his willingness to continue to fight for what he knows is right.

I hope that he can make these next further steps and recognize that the citizens already have a natural authority to govern their own affairs and the efforts of the modern liberal progressive types are irrational attempts to control their fellow citizens.  I think this will allow him to advance his argument to the natural endpoint: Federal entitlement programs must be reduced and in most cases (if not all) eliminated.

I am impressed with Mr. Ryan's efforts so far, and may have to read the book he promotes with his piece.  This is the type of leadership we need to help all of us stand and resist our political opponents and their efforts to sap our freedoms and exert control over our daily lives.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Warming Up to Corruption

Back in April, Washington State's Governor, Jay Inslee, initiated an effort to develop a cap-and-trade style 'solution' to global warming.  These efforts recently came to my attention and caused me to wonder what we can do politically to push back, slow, delay, resist, or even squash similar efforts related to saving the planet from Global Warming.

The answer?  I don't know... yet.  The draw of Global Warming (or Climate Change, or whatever it's called today...) seems irresistible to a certain segment of the population, a very large segment of the population here in the Pacific Northwest.  That provides a lot of political space for folks like Inslee to operate.

A quick summary of the project:

Gov. Inslee's office laid out the initiative on April 29th by issuing Executive Order 14-04.  The order create's "The Governor's Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce."  The goal of the Taskforce is to "provide recommendations on the design and implementation of a carbon emission limits and market mechanisms program for Washington [State]."  The solution resulting from the Taskforce:

  • "...must establish a cap on carbon pollution emissions,"
  • must include "...binding requirements to meet our statutory emission limits,"
  • "...must include the market mechanisms needed to meet the limits in the most effective and efficient manner possible,"
  • "...must be designed to maximize the benefits and minimize the implementation costs, considering our emissions and energy sources, and our business and jobs."

In reviewing those objectives one senses the raw political power that Inslee is wielding here.  The goals are notably expansive, would likely impact quite a large portion of the population and businesses in our state, and may even be a bit contradictory.  A politician needs to be pretty confident that their position cannot be challenged before issuing a document with such boldly stated goals.

The executive order began with several statements of "fact" intended to validate the need for the document to follow. "Whearas" items counted up to nine, with more listed as sub-bullets.  The first was particularly stunning:

WHEREAS, the University of Washington, as required by statute, recently released its summary of existing knowledge regarding the causes, impacts, and effects of climate change on Washington State, concluding:
  • Human activities have increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases to levels unprecedented in at least the past 800,000 years; (...)
Wow.  A few words about the nonsense of Global Warming seem in order:

(A) The Error: Anthropomorphic Global Warming (AGW), the idea that humanity's daily activities are negatively impacting the environment, is professed to be scientifically proven fact.  In reality, though, it is merely a scientific consensus.  To be a scientific fact we would have to subject the theories of AGW to the scientific method.  The hypotheses would need to be testable through controlled experiments that generate consistent, predictable results.  In this case, we cannot re-create the environment of the Earth and all the myriad of inputs inside a laboratory.  We are left with mere hypotheses, unproven.  The hyptothesis does not magically convert to fact after crossing some imaginary level of consensus amongst scientists.

That does beg the question as to why scientists could be so caught up in the idea.  My take?  It's a bit of confusion resulting from the rejection of traditional western theology that is common in modern academic circles:

(B) The Theology: AGW is an expression of something very familiar to Christians: Original sin.  Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and we are all stained by the corruption of sin from birth.  AGW theory requires us to believe that simply by living a normal human existence we are damaging, perhaps destroying, the planet.  When we drive our car we emit carbon waste.  When we flip on a light switch we use electricity generated by a polluting coal plant.  Taken to an extreme, merely by breathing we exhale carbon.  AGW theory does not allow for any peace from this scourge of environmental sin, although True Believers would convince us all that we can earn our salvation by our good works: recycling programs, re-usable shopping bags, electric cars, state-wide carbon reduction regimes.

Then who are these people that are promoting such a flawed vision of reality?

(C) The Players: There are three types of people engaged in all of this AGW effort:

  1. True Believers: the people who feel redeemed by recycling that soda bottle instead of throwing it away, or by creating new regulations that force others to join them.  These are your rank and file soldiers (voters) for all of the pro-environment measures the Manipulators might propose; and
  2. The Followers: going along to get along, to be cool, to keep the pesky True Believers off their backs; and
  3. The Manipulators: the leaders that swoop in to take advantage of the guilty consciences of the True Believers and the weaknesses of the Followers.  By encouraging a concept of works-righteousness they strive to obtain wealth and power for themselves.
Odds are that Jay Inslee falls into this third bucket.  It is highly unlikely he is personally committed to Cap & Trade outside of his own political aggrandizement.

Returning to that sense of the Political Power being exerted by Gov. Inslee, as I read on through the executive order it became simply overwhelming.  With the swoosh of his pen on a document, our governor is seemingly moving heaven and earth and commanding all his citizens to march in step to his wishes.

And in that thought comes another clear indication of the foundational error of initiatives such as the governor's Taskforce to reduce carbon emissions:

(D) The Corruption: When most of us consider the idea of political corruption, we likely think of individual politicians lining their pockets or those of their friends.  That kind of run-of-the-mill graft is surely going to happen through the work of this task force.  A different sort of corruption leaps out of this document: corruption of purpose. 

Following is a list of each of the state and regional governing bodies tasked with additional responsibilities by Executive Order 14-04:
  1. Office of Financial Management
  2. Department of Commerce
  3. Department of Ecology
  4. Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission
  5. Northwest Power and Conservation Council
  6. Department of Transportation
  7. Regional Transportation Planning Organizations
  8. Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board
  9. Transportation Improvement Board
  10. County Road Administration Board
  11. Washington State University
  12. WSU Energy Program
  13. State Building Code Council
  14. Department of Agriculture
  15. Northwest Combined Heat and Power Technical Assistance Partnership for Washington
  16. Bonneville Power Administration
  17. Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance
  18. US. Department of Energy
  19. Department of Enterprise Services
  20. Results Washington
  21. Sovereign Tribal Governments
  22. Pacific Coast Collaborative
  23. Department of Health
  24. Department of Fish and Wildlife
  25. Department of Natural Resources
  26. Office of the Attorney General
  27. Office of the Insurance Commissioner
A few of those departments exist to address issues related to energy and environment, such as the the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.  Organizations such as the Office of Financial Management would surely have a natural role in any new policy being proposed.  But most of the organization listed above...

...The Department of Transportation gained numerous mentions in the document.  It seems to be repeatedly assigned a leadership role and made responsible for marshalling the cooperation of other departments towards supporting key objectives.  This is a corruption of purpose.

WSDOT is on this planet for a specific purpose...
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is the steward of a large and robust transportation system, and is responsible for ensuring that people and goods move safely and efficiently. In addition to building, maintaining, and operating the state highway system, WSDOT is responsible for the state ferry system, and works in partnership with others to maintain and improve local roads, railroads, airports, and multi-modal alternatives to driving.
...and that purpose is something very unrelated to saving the planet from destruction via carbon pollution resulting from man's existence.

Organizations like WSDOT are created to facilitate efficient solutions to complex problems that are best solved through specialization.  This department allows the state to designate resources and round up talented personnel to provide for a specific need of the people of the state.  This executive order diverts transportation systems experts from their normal duties of ensuring traffic will flow smoothly on our highways (etc.) to making sure the planet doesn't sweat too much some fifty years in the future.  Money that would otherwise be budgeted to expand a bridge, open a new waterway, or ensure the smooth functioning of the airports is going to be redirected towards initiatives of questionable return.

An argument could be made that WSDOT isn't being taken off course.  The department already incorporates many factors into its projects that go beyond getting a road laid straight.  An example might be the overpasses recently constructed above WA-520 on the east side of Lake Washington that are virtual forests atop concrete.  An impressive amount of beautification.  Although planting those trees might be a sidebar to the function of moving traffic efficiently, that beautification generates immediate benefits.  Each of us that travels over or under that highway bridge enjoys the fruits of these WSDOT efforts to make something more than merely a bare pathway for vehicles.

There is an honesty and simplicity to creating the Dept. Of Transportation.  Here is a mechanism for the people to address an important common objective with clarity.  There is no mystery.  The head of the WSDOT and all the staff under him has one clear mission: ensure the efficient movement of people and things around the state.  The Governor can relax a bit knowing that the details of this challenging undertaking have been delegated to knowledgable experts, allowing him to turn to other pressing problems requiring his leadership.  The citizens of the sstate can rest easy in the knowledge that this work has been properly assigned and will be addressed by people properly accountable to the political process.

If the Dept of Transportation is going to be tasked to accomplish something other than meeting the transportation needs of the citizens of Washington State, then perhaps the department should be re-named something else entirely, allowing us to vote in the creation of a Dept of Only Transportation (seriously, and this time we mean it!) to replace the old corrupted entity and to manage our roads and byways.

Or perhaps we could recognize the corruption of purpose that is inherent in an effort like The Governor's Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce and direct our government to use limited state tax funds more effectively.

Which brings us back to the pressing question: How do we shift the political reality away from the nonsense of Global Warming and towards the common sense of managing to the daily needs of our state?  Hopefully this dialogue can help us develop meaningful solutions to that problem.