Sunday, October 31, 2010

Beginning of End for George Benson Streetcar

As 'twas to be expected, the George Benson Streetcar tracks are being raised, a short section here, and then maybe a short section there, but in reality, of course, those rails are toast, having been fitted into exactly none of the plans for what comes next.

Arguably the best place for a trolley, the historical streetcar may not be the best trolley for the place. Being historical, the cars are old-fashioned, and if any great volume of traffic is to be carried, modern street-level boarding may be preferred. There are other places to put a historical streetcar in Seattle.

Some of us are streetcar people, some of us are historical people- how many of us are either remains to be seen. Working with Nickels and Paul Allen, Seattle DOT did a very credible job of working up a route and overseeing the installation of the South Lake Union line. Hopefully a little institutional memory will remain of the Nickels years when the DOT was instructed to sketch some trolley lines- and did so.

Quite possible we'll have to wait until the end of the McGinnteregnum to see any more progress with streetcars. Simply getting a new streetcar line shown in the plans and drawings for the new waterfront would be important, because the old one will be lifted for construction, to be sure. Like the phoenix, the streetcar must rise renewed from its own destruction.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More Third Republic Stuff

How the Third Republic fell is a different matter from why the Third Republic fell. The majority of the French supported the Popular Front, but the Front was fissiparous. The reactionary opposition, was uncompromising and willing to unleash stormtrooper mobs in the streets, and the battles in the streets deligitimized the government, as unable to maintain order. Cabinets in crisis formed and dissolved frequently, preventing any single policy from maturing.

That is the 'how' of the matter, but the 'why' of the matter is that high unemployment created a crisis and unemployment furnished the men for the mobs. Waiting far too long, France's adherence to the gold standard bankrupted her before she finally climbed down. In this state of bankruptcy, the government could do little to alleviate the misery of the unemployed.

In Germany, Hitler simply conscripted the unemployed and set them to work. In Britain, the English went off the gold standard early and mastered their finances well enough to maintain trade and provide a dole. In America millions were put to work building schools, hospitals, roads- all of the basic infrastructure that would pay off in spades after WW II.

But today, our memories have faded, and very few liberals can explain in clear and moving terms why we should pay taxes, and what we should be paying for. We find ourselves, like the Third Republic, unable to believe that we can provide social welfare, or relieve unemployment, and have, in short, bankrupted ourselves mentally while our finances, in real terms, are not that bad.

This confusion only gets worse when it is proposed to fight unemployment by building a freeway. With the greatest change in the history of humanity hanging over us, our responses need to be coherent. Above all, they must be funded, but there are many ways to do that- if the investment is a sound one.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Melmoth and Ahab Meet Uncle Sam In A Bar...

The U.S. resembles some overladen, aging, polar explorer of the 20th century, pulling a sleigh grotesquely overloaded with baubles, doomed to collapse and die on a desperate journey to reach 'the Pole'- and all for naught, as we already know where the Pole is, we know it is of no strategic value, and we know that a picture or account of the Pole will reveal a desolate wasteland of ice and snow, indistinguishable from a thousand such views in the general vicinity.

So we continue to plan for a bleak 'recovery' of yet more misery, continued unemployment, and poor health as we continue to drag our sleigh, laden with our much-ballyhooed 'lifestyle' of cars and large houses, in the wrong direction, away from the principles of justice, charity, and reverence, towards the great delusions of power, glory, and omnipotence. As with Hitler, seeing America assume its rightful place in the hierarchy of nations (a place much smaller than we had imagined it to be) has driven us mad, and we rage about our superweapons which will allow us to keep ruling them.

And we applaud an increase in home building and build more roads with 'stimulus funding'- the very activities that got us into these problems. We're going the wrong way and the companies that profit from us are spending hundreds of millions to ensure we don't change direction. If you were to put baboons in charge of flying a 747, in mid-air, the baboons would not be afraid, and our rightwing mobs are no more afraid than those baboons.

In a word, this sucker is going down. If you close your eyes and scream, you'll miss the majesty of the moment.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

It's Really That Simple

The Constitution derives its power from....the Constitution. The power is organic, derived from the consent of the governed as expressed in regular republican and democratic manner.

Our inalienable rights are not a gift from God- small need of a government if that were the case!- but are created by our having formed a government to define and protect them. This is not only the theory but also the fact of the matter.

None of this is particularly opaque- if you've actually read the document. If not, make some time and do so- it is probably the single most important document in all of history.

Those Whom The Gods Would Destroy...

.....they first make mad. And, herewith, the simple story of a jury clerk who, after ten years in her position, simply began removing from the jury rolls eligible jurors over the age of 80.

She had, it seems, become so comfortable and so familiar with her job that she simply 'streamlined' the process without even asking her boss whether it would be a good idea. She simply lost all sense of proportion and could no longer see the jury system as a cornerstone of law as we know it. She awoke as though from a trance when her activities were discovered, and now views with regret and dismay what she did.

It could happen to you or me. In fact, in some form or another, it probably already has.

The Coming Drought

Our economy depends so greatly on the grain industry that we do whatever it takes to keep the grain flowing- even when we know we shouldn't. We make fertilizer from oil, to eventually leech into our streams and drinking water, because our topsoil, which should nourish the grain, continues to wash into the Gulf of Mexico. Most importantly, we have drawn down the vast natural aquifers which formerly lay under the broad center of America. If drought comes- when drought comes- for it is already here in places- the grain crop fails.

And it is becoming more certain that drought is coming on a worldwide scale heretofore unknown by humanity. It is coming with almost incomprehensible speed, grave by 2030, possibly fatal by 2060. In relation to our society and economy, drought is the bowling ball and we are the pins.

It's easy to say there's no need to panic, and easy to see that maybe there is. This is Kuenstler's 'Long Emergency' in practice, a too-big-to-fail part of our industry that we simply can't write a check to revive.

The Mormons have a program of storing a years worth of grain for their families, and this, while not perfect, should at least get you to a time of army-controlled rationing and food distribution. Don't forget salt in your emergency supplies!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How Will Elders Get Around?

How will elders get around? They'll move!

A somewhat vacuous discussion at the NYT, which you may access here, suggests that elders want to stay in their homes and assumes they will always need cars to get places. In reality, many elders are willing to move- they are, after all, no longer anchored by a job or a child's school enrollment- they just don't want to move to a place that's worse than where they are now. When elders say they want to remain in their home, they mean their home, and not a nursing home or a rental in a government "project".

The NYT "discussion" was, in fact, doubly vacuous by 'assuming' that the full panoply of support that created and maintained suburbia will remain in place long enough to make it necessary to invent automatic cars. Get a clue, people! The age of the automobile is ending, and the only real remaining question is how it ends.

Wasting tens of billions on efforts to build automatic cars is a good way to ensure that it ends badly.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bad Prohibitionist Math

Recently, Prohibitionists attacked Prop 19 supporters in California, claiming that a Rand study showed legalizing would only cut 40% of the Mexican drug cartels profits instead of 80%.

Instead of cutting 40% of the profits of Murder Inc, Prohibitionists say, it's better to keep in place policies that might protect the 1-2% of pot smokers who have a 'bad reaction'. Or, at least, these polices might protect them if the policies worked and people didn't smoke pot. Because, basically, American 'experts' in drug policy don't care that much how many foreigners are killed by our policies.

It's not the pot smokers who are reality-challenged here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Blend The Narrative

We don't need a climate crisis to tell us we can- and must- do things more cheaply, wisely, and better. As a society we can provide ourselves with prosperity, but only if we take advantage of the economies of scale we can achieve as a society.

These are the economies that, combined with the outright theft of a continent, made us prosperous- a large internal market coupled with large internal resources. Imagine how much of this would have been wasted if those several American states had spent their entire histories making war on each other in European fashion. Now the benefits of size can be turned to big projects, a lucky thing for us, as we have quite a bit to do.

And it's a fortunate thing we don't need climate change tell us what to do, because you can't see it. The "climate" is a statistical construct of events, each of which may with equal justice be totally random. We can see the results, but not the "climate".

So take your best shot. If you think we could save energy by walking to work, flesh out that vision with some good examples or ideas and then tell us. None of us will get exactly what we want, but we can make some real improvements. Don't just sit around and wait for the same people who got us into this mess to come up with a plan for getting us out.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Transit Forecast- More Of The Same

In 25 years, using transit in Seattle will feel much the same as it does today. It can't really feel much slower, and crowding will be greater, but there'll be no revolution in quantity or quality to disturb your sedate preminiscences of the future.

Some students will find this of interest. With the main routes of our 'metro', or high-capacity main lines, being the current SoundTransit proposals, predicting neighborhood densities can be fun for the amateur and profitable for the investor. This, after all, is the real basis for building the system- that it will 'pencil out' and prove prosperous for all.

Part of the fun here will be that some time before our 25 years are up, we'll see a huge rise in oil prices. People will abandon cars for a transit system largely served by diesel buses, and a metro system largely designed around bus stops and garages for park'n'ride services. The labor costs of the buses will rise in tandem with the rise in fuel prices, essentially bankrupting the system we see today, which is already talking about using capital reserves to pay current operating costs. The best we can hope for with this one is that they will level this baby out somewhere below the 10,000-ft level, where atmospheric oxygen may restore their brain cells.

Sadly, all of the brain power n Seattle will be more of a hindrance than a help. Any full-court press to solve the problem will result in a dozen experts proclaiming that 'there's gotta be a better way'. All will hope that Seattle doesn't endure the ultimate shame and ignominy of simply adopting an existing solution that's been proven to work in some other city. Ironically, the Boeing move from Seattle may be a wonderful gift, freeing us from the burden of supporting Boeing's history of failure in building transit.

In short, an interregnum in this crisis of about five years is to be expected, from which a similar, but chastened and pruned transit system will emerge. The expenses will have been so great that no real expansion of metro service can be afforded, after the capital costs of converting many diesel runs to full electric have been accommodated.

Another interregnum will be the McGinn mayoralty in Seattle. He will anger many, and accomplish little, doing more harm than good to existing efforts to extend tertiary trolley services.

Fortunately, the longer Seattle waits, the cheaper the equipment becomes, as other cities around the world drive prices down by mass buying. The streetcar is a wonderful tool for cities that need to reinvent their civic economies. You may well live to see your dream streetcar line built.

And that's a fine speculation with which to end a fine afternoon.


Ok, let's all get global- it's the latest craze that's sweeping the world. Everybody's doing it!

You've all heard some variation of this, probably within the past 15 minutes. But there's nothing new about globalization. Just look at the history of Portland, or the Northern Pacific RR, built with foreign money to serve ranches and farms (latifundia, actually, thousands of acres in extent, not homestead farming) owned by Europeans. It wasn't until 1910 that Americans owned more of America than the Europeans did.

New York's perpetual ranking as #1 among American cities? Look at a sturdy leg-up from the time the New Yorkers stayed loyal to the Crown during our Revolution. At that time, Tokyo had a population of over a million, many employed making fine and artistic products for export.

And those earlier days of globalization were multi-polar. Europeans were dazzled by products like porcelain, calicos, and hot peppers. Japanese art went directly into important collections. The moment in which we exported finished goods and they exported raw materials has turned out to be a brief one.

And thank heavens for that. Americans thought that because we built shiny motor cars, we were not only qualified, but in a sense obligated, to rule the world and help other people be like us. It hasn't been a happy experience.

So, the next time you're being lectured about 'globalization', just ask yourself inwardly "Does this make any sense at all?" You may, perhaps, at least salvage a little intellectual interest form the otherwise all-too-predictable banging of the drum.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

So Whose Fault Is That?

Super-strong pot is the latest argument against legalizing marijuana. It's not true, but even if it were, whose fault would that be?

Those were good times, when the Mexican would shove the weed into a garbage compacter, and we would pick apart the resulting 'brick' and smoke it as we smoked tobacco. But the increasing legal penalties for weight, and the desire to shrink the size of the package, emphasized the virtue of stronger, lighter, and smaller pot. We learned not to smoke the leaves, and then we learned how to maximize the stoniness of a grow cycle.

Most people didn't get any more stoned- they just smoked less. And that's good too, to take two or three small puffs and be elevated in a fraction of the time. The cost per high stayed about the same, but that's always been moderate.

And that's the power of your federal government in action, making the product more powerful and compact. Good times, good times.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Inside-Out Imperialism

Today Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert take note of America's current inability to do anything. It seems preposterous now to think we are simply inferior to some other nations, but it should have seemed preposterous years ago. The problem we have is not bad workers but bad leaders.

The main reason goods are cheaper when made overseas would be the virtual slave labor employed in making them. This is the fruit of 60 years of the CIA and other agencies working abroad to kill labor leaders and beat working class parties at the polls. American goods are still competitive in America when they compete with products of organized labor overseas, and would be more so if we provided workers with some of the subsidies that help keep wage demands down in Europe.

American industry, in short, has been trashed by businesses that want to use us as a large market, but have no other interest in America. It is, in short, a sort of inside-out imperialism, in which the powerful central country exports money, and weaponry to suppress unions abroad, but nothing else, importing the manufactured goods formerly imagined to be the exports of the central economy. As far as these people are concerned, things will be fine as long as we keep forking out the cash- regardless of whether we fall to number 27 or 41 on the list of world living standards.

And, thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision, these businesses are now free to buy as much, or as little, of our government as they require. Things could get quite a bit worse before they get better.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This Just In- Pot Calls Kettle Black

With a personna vastly eclipsing irony, Glen Beck sees Hitler in many places- except himself. In reality, Beck and Fox News are the closest thing to the Nazi movement we can see in the modern landscape.

The common story of the interwar period in Germany describes unhappy Germans rioting in the streets, turning in greater and greater numbers to the Nazi Party, and elevating Hitler to power, transforming him from a civilian failure to a masterful national leader. Murkier are the means by which Hitler gained power, with some photos of party rallies generally standing in for details.

Actually, Hitler did it the old-fashioned way- he used money. He used a party newspaper to raise money, and he spent the money on organizers, and printing more newspapers. More organizers enlisted more members, who paid more dues. In addition, Hitler got money from millionaires, and at times this was critical, but probably the basic money-machine structure provided the needful most of the time.

Hitler didn't just hire organizers, he also hired thugs and bought officials. If the success of a rally or demonstration seemed doubtful, brownshirts and stormtroopers would be moved to the spot, and, being mercenaries, naturally impressed onlookers with their assurance and discipline. (Everyone knew that brownshirt rioting and destruction was not indiscipline, but , instead, was exactly what they were paid to do.)

Hitler was, in short, a brilliant organizer and gangster, paying thugs who could be trusted, not only to extort money from storekeepers, Jews, and industrialists, but also to keep paying dues. In the 20s this nexus of the press, public fear, and gangsterism made Hitler a rich man, and in the 30s it made him and many others fabulously wealthy- except, of course, for the working class, whose living standards gradually fell for the entire decade.

And yet, for most of that decade, Germans felt good about themselves- such is the power of advertising. Like Fox News, the Nazi papers served up a distorted view of the world, and every year there were fewer other papers to offer alternate views. The linotype press, the radio, the movies- these tools of the 20th century achieved new heights of expression in German hands, from the monster rallies to the Berlin Olympics.

By 1939 the grinding poverty of Hitler's Germany (hardly anyone in Berlin could afford to buy an orange) had worn thin with the German people, and Bill Shirer reports an essentially sullen and distrustful populace viewing the beginning of war with no enthusiasm at all. Ironically, the greatest gangster of the 20th century had no talent for governing.

There are many examples in the world of people acting badly, and in South America it is common for the press to believe they can overthrow democratically elected governments. But nowhere, as far as I know, is the urge to overthrow democracy so seamlessly blended with a national press and the ability to mulct the followers, as at Fox News, with Glen Beck. He is, indeed, a key to understanding Hitler.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Business At The Same Old Stand

In The Growth of the American Republic Morrison and Commager argue that the Republican Party, in the later 19th century, consistently increased pensions for veterans in order to spend off the funds collected by tariffs. They were afraid people would want to end the protective tariffs if the government became too prosperous to need them for revenue.

And here, as reported in The American Prospect are three conservatives running the same game in the pages of the Wall Street Journal:

"Even with the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, this year the Department of Defense will spend some $720 billion -- about 4.9% of our gross domestic product, significantly below the average of 6.5% since World War II...

We should be vigilant against waste in every corner of the budget. But anyone seeking to restore our fiscal health should look at entitlements first, not across-the-board cuts aimed at our men and women in uniform."

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Friday, October 1, 2010

I Was Wrong- Bicycle Edition

Since panning McGinn's pander, I've been catching up on my reading with this article from Yes! magazine, and, yes, you do need to make a substantial investment to harvest that bicycle-riding fruit. Like the tracks of a streetcar, investing in special bicycle routes and facilities shows citizens the plan is firm and they can rely more on their bicycles and less on their cars. Go, read it.