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[ 32 ] June 30, 2017 |

Management is making inquiries regarding the sudden disappearance of disqus. In the meantime, we encourage the wordpress partisans of the commentariat to please enjoy this brief (hopefully?) respite from the inexorable march of progress.


What next?

[ 67 ] June 1, 2017 |

In light of today’s shameful action by the Trump administration, people who care about their future grandchildren have to essentially hope for this: the rest of the world stays together and continues to press forward with Paris’s emissions targets and indeed ratchets them up, while blue states proceed with their own targets and plans as if we were still on board. These states demonstrate to the rest of the country that compliance need not be particularly costly, making it politically easier

Thankfully, largely due to the continued decline in the cost renewable energy, this isn’t wildly implausible. (It’s been suggested that one reason big Oil wants the US in is to serve as a drag on the rest of the world pushing for more aggressive targets.)

My purpose here is to put on your radar another 2017 election that matters, potentially a good deal, for the above scenario. Obviously, California is the most important state for climate politics, but another medium-sized state with political conditions that make aggressive climate action possible is Washington. It’s a priority for Governor Inslee, but the Senate is controlled by Republicans (+1 “Democrat” who caucuses with them) with a 25-24 majority. In November, 45th district Republican senator Andy Hill, re-elected to a 4 year term, died of lung cancer. Hill himself was very popular, but his district isn’t safe Republican territory–the same district is represented by Democrats in the House, and the popular Hill only won by 6 in a very good Republican year and with a personally well-liked incumbent. Furthermore, the 45th is the kind of district–suburban, highly education, upper middle class–with little love for Trump (carried comfortably by Clinton) and generally supportive of environmental initiatives.

For the 2017 session, former State Senator, failed Republican Senatorial and Gubernatorial candidate, and all-around slimeball Dino Rossi was appointed to fill his seat. But for the 4th and final year of Hill’s term, a special election will be held as part of the November 2017 general election. The control of the Washington State Senate hinges on this election.

There will be no meaningful primaries; the Democrats and the Republicans each have a pretty good-on-paper candidate, and both are fundraising hard for what will surely be the most expensive state Senate race in the state’s history. (Hopefully, the Republican candidates’ affiliation as a McMorris Rodgers aide can be used against her, she’s pretty much gone full-Trump) The DLCC recognizes the significance here and is in hard for Manka Dhingra, the Democratic candidate. She seems fine, but this isn’t really about her; it’s about giving people who care about the planet control of the state government.

Update: Inslee, Brown, Cuomo announce “climate alliance.” Would be great to see more Governors join: Ige, Brown (OR), Hickenlooper, maybe Malloy seem like good targets.

Incompetence or Malevolence? (Washington State Republican Party edition)

[ 50 ] May 17, 2017 |

The Seattle Subway collective has a good headline, but I wonder whether incompetence is the most likely explanation.


1. As part of legislative horse-trading last year, Republicans provided votes to pass a law to authorize Sound Transit to take to the voters a new package to extend the current light rail system and various other mass transit projects, and taxes to pay for them. The agency’s legislative ask included a mix of income sources other than the highly unpopular motor vehicle exise tax, or MVET–a type of tax that was the subject of a devastating and successful tax rebellion almost 20 years ago the state budgets have still not fully recovered from. Republican legislators make them use the MVET.

2. Sound Transit uses the legislative authority to put together a sizeable package, funded in party by the authorized MVET. It passes easily, despite the unpopular tax.

3. The depreciation schedule used to determine the MVET (and currently in use for a smaller MVET from the first ST package) differs from blue book value, exaggerating the value of late-model cars while underestimating the value of older cars. 2-10 year old cars are taxed at a value anywhere from 20-50% greater than Kelly Blue Book. Again, this is what the legislation authorized, and how the existing MVET has been collected for a decade.

4. With a major assist from the consistently anti-transit Seattle Times, Republican opponents of public transit attempt to whip up a tax rebellion about the MVET, claiming Sound Transit misled voters about the nature of the taxes. (ST’s website, throughout the campaign, featured an ST III tax calculator, which accurately included the MVET at the legislatively approved depreciation schedule. To carry the charade forward, phony show-trial “hearings” will now be held about how Sound Transit misled voters. This accompanies legislation that looks likely to pass that would “fix” the MVET without replacing the lost funds, putting post-2002 ST’s exemplary record of finishing projects on time at risk. (Democrats control the House, but several Democrats from parts of the ST taxing region that didn’t support the package* are freaked out by the tax rebellion, and are willing to play the compromise role between “full-on assault on Sound Transit” and “respect the clear will of the voters.”)

Forcing ST to use an unpopular tax provides two strategic benefits to the anti-transit Republicans: it makes the package less popular to the voters, but if that doesn’t work, it’s still there to launch a cynical attack on the government agency with (and they know they’ll have the full support of the region’s major newspaper for this project.)

* Also Bob Hasegawa, who represents a transit-reliant, strongly STIII-supporting district in South Seattle. Bob Hasegawa is running for Mayor of Seattle. There are now a number of promising candidates for Mayor. Please don’t vote for Bob Hasegawa.

The Republican Party, 2017

[ 104 ] May 15, 2017 |

There are a number of potentially vulnerable Republican members of Congress whose loss I’d find not just politically salutory but emotionally satisfying. Shooting towards the top of that list with a bullet is Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11):

The most powerful congressman in New Jersey, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, wrote a fundraising letter in March to a board member of a local bank, warning him that a member of an activist group opposing the Republican worked at his bank.

The employee was questioned and criticized for her involvement in NJ 11th for Change, a group that formed after the election of Donald Trump and has been pressuring Frelinghuysen to meet with constituents in his district and oppose the Trump agenda.

“Needless to say, that did cause some issues at work that were difficult to overcome,” said Saily Avelenda of West Caldwell, New Jersey, who was a senior vice president and assistant general counsel at the bank before she resigned. She says the pressure she received over her political involvement was one of several reasons she decided to leave.

The form letter, on campaign stationery, asks Frelinghuysen’s supporters to donate two years ahead of his next election because he is under attack. “But let’s be clear that there are organized forces — both national and local — who are already hard at work to put a stop to an agenda of limited government, economic growth, stronger national security,” the letter says.

Above the word local, there’s a hand-written asterisk in the same blue ink as Frelinghuysen’s signature. At the bottom of the letter, scrawled with a pen, is the corresponding footnote: “P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!”

Attached to the letter was a news article that quoted Avelenda. She says her boss presented her with both the letter and the news article. She was not fired, but she says she had a lot of explaining to do.

NJ-11 is trending in the wrong direction for Frelinghuysen: McCain won by 9, Romney by 5, and Trump by just 1. Let’s hope this appalling act of intimidation is successfully used against him in 2018.

Books I didn’t read this semester

[ 24 ] May 2, 2017 |

It’s early May, and I’ve got stacks of exams and papers to grade, a book manuscript and overdue book chapter to put finish up, and a host of other annoying end-of-semester tasks that make the next few weeks seem daunting. One ritual of this time of year, for me, is the mass return of interlibrary loan books accumulated throughout the semester. In other words: giving up.

Dayton’s library, while respectable enough, doesn’t have most books I might want, but requesting a book from any University library in Ohio is free-to-me and easy; a few keystrokes and it shows up in my mailbox in a few business days on a renewable six week loan. I rarely return these books during the semester, unless they’re recalled (you can renew them online) but make an effort to return most of the ones I have no immediate use for, so that I don’ accumulate an unwieldy quantity of them. There are essentially four reasons I might request a book, listed here in order of frequency:

1. Seems to be potentially relevant to some current or planned future research project
2. Seems to be potentially relevant to some current or planned future course I teach
3. Seems interesting
4. ???

It will probably surprise few readers that many, indeed probably most, of these books go back to the library largely unread. Some are literally unopened, others briefly skimmed or mined for a specific citation. So anyway, this delivers on an idea for a post I’ve toyed with doing for years: some scattered notes and thoughts on some books I failed to read this semester.

Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (Yale, 2016)

I read a few bits and pieces here and there. It’s not a (1) because the slavery and freedom paper is done and published, and I have no immediate plans for a follow-up. I expect I thought I might find some excerpts to use in my “Slavery, Freedom and American Political Thought seminar, in which we spend a couple of weeks on white abolitionists. Sinha seeks to disrupt the received conventional wisdom of white abolitionists and economically conservative bourgeois paternalists and moralists, not because the received wisdom is entirely wrong, but because it’s profoundly incomplete, and is conducive to a narrative about 19th century abolitionism that ignores the slaves themselves. Of particular interest to me is black abolitionists’ role in the decline of the popularity of the ACS and its “free them then deport them” politics in abolitionist circles. This looks like a fantastic book, and I’ve ordered a used copy, to be read in parks, coffee shops, and beaches over the summer and on my upcoming sabbatical. Adam Rothman wrote an excellent review at The Atlantic a year ago.

Clement Fatovic, America’s Founding and the Struggle over Economic Inequality (Kansas, 2015)
Probably a combination of (2) and (3); mostly (3) since the topic is a bit off-theme for my APT class and I overstuff the Founders’ weeks as it is. Fatovic makes the case that the debates about the problems of economic inequality were much more central to the political thought of many of the founders than contemporary representations and reputations would suggest, and he seeks to unearth them, with particular attention to Paine, Jefferson, and Webster. Paine’s Lockean anti-government moments are most likely to make it into anthologies and the popular imagination, so his chapter rescuing Paine from the libertarians and those who would surrender him to them and sketching Paine’s (still largely Lockean) case for what amounts to a reasonably robust welfare state, at least by late 18th century standards.

That’s the only chapter I read with any care. I also skimmed chapter four is also of some potential interest to those who followed the Lin-Manuel Miranda inspired conversation about the proper role of Alexander Hamilton in the progressive imagination. In this chapter Fatovic argues that Hamilton’s reputation as a champion of the plutocrats is less a reflection on what Hamilton actually thought and more a reflection on the success of Hamilton’s much longer-lived adversaries, who promoted this view of his work. His three major reports (Public credit, the National Bank, and Manufacturing), his occasional remarks about the ignorance and folly of “the multitude” and his not-undeserved reputation for as a grasping social climber made it easy for his opponents to caricature him as little more than a plutocrat-apologist, which obscured greater depths and complications. Fatovic certainly comes up with a fair amount of textual evidence from beyond those sources Hamilton was concerned about economic inequality, and was willing to endorse federal measures to attempt to address excesses of inequality; as a champion of increasing pay for the lowest rung of federal workers, and more importantly by keeping taxation as progressive as popular by taxing wealth and luxury items rather than general taxes or taxes on necessities.

Lorna Finlayson, The Political is Political: Conformity and the Illusion of Dissent in Contemporary Political Theory

(1); I’m writing a paper for APSA on the uses, abuses, and shortcomings of the “realist” turn in political theory, with particular attention to David Miller’s (dubious and revealing, I will argue) invocation of a realism in his new book the political theory of immigration. Her paper on the seemingly accidental conservatism of self-described realists in the European Journal of Political Theory is excellent and I wanted to see more of what she has to say on the topic.

This is an odd, scattered book, with what appear to be moments of brilliance. It purports to offer simultaneous critique of the dominance of liberalism in contemporary analytic political philosophy on three levels: methodological, philosophical, and political. The whole field, she wants to argue, is structured to discredit alternatives and herd political philosophy into a relatively constrained political space, focusing on narrow issues within a broader Rawlsian/liberal framework. I say “wants to argue” because it looks like the sum total is likely to add up to less than I think she suggests it does. Her tone is unique and at times refreshing, veering between the professional standards for political philosophy and humorous, snarky, and irreverant asides, which can be jarring, but amusing and refreshing. (Example: “There is a good deal of controversy as to the extent to which the transition from Rawls’ first major work, A Theory of Justice, to the later Political Liberalism marks a decisive break in his thought, as opposed to a harmonious development or shift in emphasis. I cannot stress enough how little I care about this question.”)

I’m going to give more time and attention to chapter three (“Foul Play: the Norm of Philosophical Charity”), because she offers there her “defense of uncharitable readings,” which I’m temperamentally inclined to resist. The centerpiece of her case is a Raymond Guess’ infamous remark that John Rawls’ political philosophy is “generically the same kind of thing” as the governing philosophies of George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice. I’m not particularly Rawlsian (I quite like some of her critiques of Rawls’ use and abuse of the concept of “reasonable” in the previous chapter) but this nonetheless strikes me as a good example of all that’s wrong with uncharitable readings

She also has a chapter arguing against the Austinian re-interpretations of MacKinnon’s feminist case against pornography (like I said, a scattered book), which needs to be singled out for the cleverness of the title: “How to Screw Things with Words.”

Biskupski and Pula, eds, Polish Democratic Thought from the Renaissance to the Great Emigration: Essays and Documents.
(3), Scott and I open ch. 6 of our book manuscript with an brief discussion of the liberum veto, a convention that makes the modern Senate look downright reasonable. Any member of the Sjem, the legislature of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (a “gentry democracy” (5-7% of the adult male population, on one estimate were franchise eligible members of the gentry) with an elected King that was imagined to be considerably less powerful than he actually was) could invoke this veto and invalidate the work the legislative session entirely. On the positive side of the ledger, the liberum veto is credibly associated with greater-than-average levels of religious freedom during the relevant era. On the other hand, the veto provided a way for hostile foreign interests to mess with Poland, arguably making a considerable contribution to the downfall of the commonwealth in 1795.

The book contains five thematic historical essays on Polish democratic thought during different eras, spanning the 16th through the 19th century, and a number of primary text documents of relevance, including defenses of the liberum veto as a central and crucial aspect to a free and democratic polity, not just because is promotes consensus politics but because it protects against the tyranny of a law you oppose.

Polish democratic theory during this era seems fascinating and probably unreasonably neglected in the history of political thought. I would have liked to have read more of this book.

Jonathan Lamb, The Rhetoric of Suffering: Reading the Book of Job in the 18th Century.

(4). One cold day in January, this showed up in my mailbox at work. I went online and confirmed that I did, in fact, place an interlibrary loan request for this book. It appears I did. I have absolutely no idea why. For the last four months, it’s sat on the corner of my desk, taunting me. Every so often I’d pick it up, look over the table of contents or index, trying to find some clue about why I thought I wanted to read it. Nothing resembling a clue was ever found. Today it will begin the journey back to its rightful home on the shelves of the library at the Winebrenner Theological Seminary, where (if the checkout stamps are to be believed) it had quietly resided, unmolested by human hands, for 16 years prior to my inexplicable decision to summon it to me.

Personal finance lessons for the new gilded age

[ 77 ] March 11, 2017 |

Struggling with crushing educational debt? You’re not alone. Fortunately, the crack journalism team at Business Insider has published an article profiling one Ebony Horton, who paid off her $220K student loan balance in three years. Lots of helpful tips here! Some highlights:

She had toyed with the idea of moving back in with her parents to save on rent, and when her father had a stroke in 2013, she knew it was time to make the transition.

Back home in Joliet, Illinois, Horton took a job as an operations manager at the nonprofit her mother runs.

Horton’s mother gave the couple a condo that she had purchased at an auction for $13,000 as a wedding gift. It became crucial in wiping away the hefty student-loan tab.

Horton and her husband lived in the condo for three months, but then they decided to move in with her grandparents down the street and started renting out the condo to bring in extra income.

When Horton’s grandparents moved south, she returned to her parents’ house, refusing to live in one of her rental properties because they were bringing in extra income.

And now for the coup de grace, the cherry on top that makes this column so of the moment:

To anyone who feels overwhelmed by the prospect of taking on student loans — or paying back any debt they’ve incurred — Horton has a simple message: “I just want them to feel empowered that they can pay if off. If I can do it, anybody can.

States, populations, and legibility

[ 34 ] March 1, 2017 |

The absurd reactions to “Trump performs banal Presidential ritual” all my colleagues here have commented on has reminded me that I meant to link to Jason Kuznicki’s smart article last week, riffing on Scott’s Seeing Like a State, authoritarianism and legibility:

In his landmark book Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott described states as being better able to see some parts of the societies they governed, and less able to see other parts. Thus states can control some things more easily than others.

This unevenness of vision is a problem, as states came to realize. Soon they began taking steps to make the people and places they governed easier to survey – and thus to control. States’ efforts to measure us have produced many familiar parts of the modern world. Scott writes:

The permanent patronym, which most Westerners have come to take for granted, is in fact a comparatively new phenomenon. The invention of permanent inherited patronyms was, along with the standardization of weights and measures, uniform legal codes, and the cadastral land tenure survey, a vital technique in modern statecraft. It was, in nearly every case, a state project designed to allow officials to identify unambiguously the majority of its citizens. The armature of the modern state: tithe and tax rolls, property rolls, conscription lists, censuses, deeds, birth, marriage and death certificates recognized in law were inconceivable without some means of fixing an individual’s identity and linking him or her to a kin group. The permanent patronym was, in effect, the now long superseded precursor to modern photo-ID cards, passports, fingerprints, personal identification numbers, fingerprints, iris scans, and, finally DNA typing.

My suggestion here is to flip Scott’s script: Populations also judge states by metrics that are legible—to populations. Populations can see some things better than others, and they judge states according to their own uneven vision. This remains true, and may even become more true, in the ages of mass and social media.

It should be no surprise that states have begun to respond. They have begun to hide the things that matter, and to make more legible the things that are popularly associated with democracy, but that do not matter very much.

The media, of course, is a, if not the, crucial mechanism by which some aspects of the state become legible. I’d say from the inauguration through last night, media coverage of the Trump administration has probably exceeded my low expectations. (Some of this is perhaps an artifact of the jarring effect of administration’s belligerent and abusive treatment of journalists, and of course all these juicy leaks falling in their lap probably helps too.) The current moment is a reminder of how fleeting that could be.

Intentional walks and game length

[ 111 ] February 23, 2017 |

I’m not the kind of baseball fan who can plausibly call himself a “traditionalist” or “purist.” I’m a fan of the DH and booth review. I adhere to no just-so story about some sort of “golden age” that just happens to correspond to my childhood when the game was better in some unspecified way than it is today. While I share many of Erik’s concerns about the possibility that the coming round of automation will have some ugly social and economic consequences, I would eagerly and enthusiastically welcome the automation of calling balls and strikes. So I don’t seem like the kind of person who would seem to care much about the elimination of the throw four balls wide requirement for an intentional walk, and in fairness I don’t care *much*, but I find myself mildly annoyed by it. My initial efforts to make sense of my annoyance pointed to those moments when things go wrong, which can be highly entertaining. It seems cruel to say, but I really do find pitcher control meltdowns bad enough to lead to a WP on an IBB highly entertaining. But this can’t really annoy me too much, since we’re talking about a once a season kind of event.

I think the source of my annoyance is well captured by Anders Jorstad, whose sentiments I largely endorse:

While many may have issue with this rule as a fundamental aspect of the game — such as arguing that throwing those four balls are important — my argument is much simpler: stop trying to shorten the game.

Rob Manfred seems to be under the impression that people don’t like baseball because the game is too long. He’s partially right about the game being long, as a recent study estimated that an average game lasts just under three hours and contains only 18 minutes worth of “action.”

However, football — the “true American pastime” — is actually 10 minutes longer on average and contains half as much “action.”

The truth is this: people who don’t like baseball just don’t like it. Many might say the game is too long or boring. But small changes like a pitch clock or an automated intentional walk aren’t going to move the needle for anyone who already dislikes the sport.

The only way to dramatically shorten the game of baseball would be to fundamentally change the way the sport is played. The game will always be nine innings, will always include six outs per inning, and will always have a sizable amount of time between pitches. The game will never be fast. If it becomes fast, it will have become something that isn’t baseball.

So perhaps what Manfred really needs to do is to stop trying to pitch the game to non-baseball fans. He’s not pleasing anyone by making these changes. Stop trying to turn the game something it isn’t and instead focus on making the game better for those who already care deeply about the sport.

I say “largely” endorse because there are some measures to shorten games I would wholeheartedly embrace. From a purely fan-experience perspective, shortening breaks between innings would be fantastic! But of course I understand the need for revenue. More plausibly, cracking down on granting batters ‘time’ would be most welcome. And steps to speed up booth review. But I wouldn’t endorse these steps because they shorten the game, exactly, but because they’d improve the rhythm and pacing. Manfred’s criminally stupid “runner on second in extra innings” rule suggests that he’s under the impression that the problem is the raw length of games. But that’s absurd. What’s annoying is a ordinary 9 inning game with ~15 hits and ~5-8 runs that drags on for four hours because the rhythm is unnecessarily slow. A 4 hour 12 inning game is not a problem. Many exciting things in baseball extend the length of the game. If you don’t enjoy a 10+ pitch battle between a power pitcher and a power hitter, I don’t know what to tell you. Of course baseball seems boring if you don’t like baseball, but a) so what? and b) that’s not going to change is you somehow manage to shave 8 minutes off the average game.

Enough with “the deep state”

[ 126 ] February 20, 2017 |

I’ve been mildly confused and dismayed by the speed with which dark musings about “the deep state” have found their way into mainstream political conversation. I’ve been relieved of the need to write something about this by this excellent column by Rafael Khachaturian at Jacobin, which I heartily endorse. A few choice cuts, but read the whole thing, etc:

The deep state concept is harmful in two key ways.

First, invoking the deep state implies a misleading view of the state as a monolithic, unitary actor. While the deep state is usually said to be a network of individuals and agencies, it is assumed that these component parts are held together by a common will or mission (in this case, something like defending the “national interest” against Trumpism). This leads to a reification of the state as an autonomous and internally coherent force.

Yet modern capitalist states are more fragmented than they appear. First, they are composed of class fractions and coalitions that have frequently clashing interests and are motivated by short-term considerations. Often, these internal differences arise from the pressure exerted by various economic interests (such as the competition between the financial, manufacturing, and small business sectors).

In addition, these class forces are intersected by other factors, including the different social bases of support behind the major political parties (including voter cleavages based on urban versus rural interests, racial and gender attitudes, and “populist” appeal), the mass media’s role in shaping certain ideological narratives, and competing visions of foreign policy and geopolitical strategy.


The state–civil society binary is one of the fundamental bases of liberal political theory. But this distinction is largely a byproduct of the way that political power has represented itself, rather than a social fact.

Where the state ends and civil society begins has always been permeable and contested — in other words, subject to politics and political struggle. The state is not an entity standing over and above society, but instead one premised upon the social forces that bring it into being.

Loose talk of the “deep state” misses this crucial point, advancing instead a facile vision of institutionalized power that constitutes its own foundation, and is therefore opaque, mysterious, and beyond the reach of citizens.

This being Jacobin, the sociology of the state on offer here is a bit more singularly focused on class than I might have described it, but that doesn’t change the general picture here. Great piece, I wish I’d written it. More like this, please, Jacobin.

Today in Texas

[ 115 ] February 20, 2017 |

So two hunters (not just hunters but hunting guides) shoot at each other, lie about it and blame undocumented immigrants “ambushing” them.

The punchline:

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller cited the shooting as “proof” that the border wall proposed by President Donald Trump was needed.

When confronted about previous inaccurate Facebook messages, Miller said his social media posts shouldn’t be held to the same standard as those of a news organization ― but then cited a news organization in defense of himself.

“It’s like Fox News,” Miller told KUT radio. “I report and you decide if it’s true or not.”

#MIPL and the death of shame

[ 45 ] February 15, 2017 |

mercer island

For today’s story of the death of shame among the privileged, we need to start with some background:

The above is an image of Mercer Island. For those unfamiliar with the topography of the Puget Sound region: Seattle is a long, thin city; around 20 miles from its northern to southern border but about 3-6 miles East to West, bounded by water on either side: Puget Sound to the West, and Lake Washington (which extends slightly beyond Seattle both North and South) to the East. This lake sharply separates Seattle from its Eastern suburbs, which have for some time been the location of many (but not all) of the wealthier sections of the region, with the middle class and historically more downscale suburbs generally located to the North and South of the city. Lake Washington has but one island: Mercer. At approximately 13 square miles and a population of around 25,000, Mercer Island is the most populous island on a lake in the United States. Culturally and economically, Mercer Island belongs squarely on the Eastside, as it has become one of the wealthier towns of its size in the country, with an average household income well north of 130,000 and an average home value of 1.4 million. It enjoys excellent schools and parks, and is made up almost entirely of low-density single family homes.

Long ago, Mercer Island was primarily rural. One of the first major projects was a Gilded Age opulent resort, the Caulkins Hotel, for Seattle’s elite. In 1908, a “Japanese houseboy” (sic) in the employ of the Caulkins took offense at some unspecified act of verbal abuse from hotel management, and in retaliation stuffed a large number of oily rags in a chimney, causing the hotel to burn down. Left behind, however, was an extensive dock that spurred some development in the island’s Northwest corner, which eventually incorporated as “East Seattle.” The island remained accessible by private boat and by steamboats such as the Atlanta, which connected Mercer Island to Seattle well into the 1930’s. A bridge to Bellevue on the Eastside was completed in 1928, and, following pressure from prominent islanders, the construction of the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial bridge, named for WSDOT’s second director and journalist Edward Murrow’s older brother, in 1940, then the largest floating bridge in the world. (Today, it is second only to the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, a second Lake Washington crossing that doesn’t connect to Mercer Island, just a few miles to the North.) In 1976, the bridge became part of I-90. A much wider second bridge was added in 1989, dramatically increasing capacity. This was Followed almost immediately by the sinking of the original Murrow bridge in a storm over Thanksgiving weekend–a dramatic event I recall watching live on television as a teenager. The Murrow bridge was repaired/replaced, at great public expense, by 1993, giving I-90 its current capacity. The 1940 bridge was largely paid for by a bond paid off by tolls, which ended after about 10 years. The new bridges were not.

Presently, these bridges and the freeway segment they form give Mercer Island residents, on average, the shortest commute times of any city in the region, a particularly remarkable statistic for an island connected to the mainland via a high-traffic bridge, with virtually no residents who work on the island itself. How do they pull off this remarkable feat? Location is part of it; the island is very close to downtown Seattle to the West and Bellevue, the largest city and second-largest job center on the Eastside, to the East. While traffic on the bridge can be quite brutal during rush hour, Mercer Island residents have a unique arrangement that allows them to access the HOV lands Westbound to Seattle as SOVs. This arrangement, codified via a memorandum of understand during negotiations over the construction and future plans for I-90 in 1976, was always meant to be temporary: the center lanes of the new bridge, reversible for increasing peak direction capacity, were designed explicitly with eventual light rail in mind. (The temporary nature of the arrangement was, in particular, highlighted by the Federal Highway Administration, whose regulations don’t generally allow for this kind of arrangement). Several decades later, the time has come: construction is scheduled to begin on Eastlink, which will take these center lanes for rail from downtown Seattle various Eastside locations, with a stop on Mercer Island.

Construction of Eastlink necessitates taking the center lanes currently used for HOV, and last month WSDOT told the city formally that their SOV freeloading days are over: they will no longer have uniquely privileged access to HOV lanes, and will be forced to access the city the way the rest of plebes do: in normal, high volume SOV lanes. (Or by bus, but who are we kidding?) The Seattle Times reported on this back in December:

Mercer Island officials insist they’re not asking for special treatment, but for the transportation agencies to honor agreements that date to 1976. Direct access to the express lanes and thick sound walls and a massive lid were part of a mitigation package agreed to after Mercer Island sued over the planned expansion of I-90 from five to eight lanes more than two decades ago.

The negotiated settlement was meant to compensate the island for the noise, pollution and loss of prime real estate at the north edge of its downtown, said Bissonette. The access was also an acknowledgment that I-90 is Mercer Island’s only connection to the surrounding region.


But the FHWA in August said it wasn’t a party to any of those agreements. Daniel Mathis, the agency’s Washington division administrator, in a letter to the city, said that allowing solo Mercer Island drivers access to the new I-90 HOV lanes would violate federal law that generally restricts access to transit, carpools and motorcycles.

The feds noted that Mercer Island has 15 entrance and exit points to and from I-90 and will have the same number once the new HOV lanes are completed.

The good people of Mercer Island, it should be noted, voted for the ST2 package that authorized and funded Eastlink in 2008, and have been paying taxes for it since 2009. But a couple of years ago, their discontent was becoming apparent. Sound Transit, as a regional agency beholden to various local politicians, has a habit of bending over backwards for the municipalities it serves, even at the cost of sensible transit policy (ie, routing near a freeway, rather than where people actually live and work, so as to “minimize disruption from construction), but Mercer Island’s requests have been remarkable. From two years ago, they included:

Permanent SOV access to HOV lanes
Permanent exemption from I-90 tolling
Resident-only parking at the Link Station
Complete abandonment bus transfers on Mercer Island
Dedicated and guaranteed seats for Islanders on Metro and Sound Transit buses

As Shaner notes, each and every one one of these privileges would be entirely unique to Mercer Island: Sound Transit often has projects that disproportionately benefit residents of a particular community, but nothing in their mandate current configuration suggests they can or should restrict access based on the address of the user. The “bus transfer” issue is a particularly important one; for many Eastside bus routes headed for downtown, it will make more sense–providing shorter commute times for riders and saving service hours that can increase frequency or coverage–to terminate routes that used to go into downtown Seattle at an Eastlink station, and this has always been the plan. For a lot of Eastside routes, the easiest and fastest connection will be Mercer Island station. This, of course, would have auxilliary benefits for the Mercer Island transit user–their light rail station would also be a hub for one seat rides to a variety of Eastside destinations. (The Northlink line, under simultaneous construction, has a similar plan for buses coming from points North to Seattle; put the riders on the train at Lynnwood, and save them from being stuck in traffic on the bus. Mercer Island opposes this plan, however, because they don’t want to deal with the impact of bus transit. In contrast, Lynnwood openly embraces the good fortune of being a future transit hub, and has aggressively upzoned around the planned Lynnwood station, in hopes that the excellent transit access of there will create a node of dense walkability the sprawling suburb currently lacks. Mercer Island’s station will be located in their already-existing small downtown commercial area, and they’ve planned for light rail in a different way: downzoning their downtown area with a new two story limit on new construction, in order to protect their fair citizens from the horror of seeing any transit oriented development on their way to a comfortable, easy 10 minute commute into the center of Downtown Seattle.

Formal notification from WSDOT that, in compliance with FHA regulations, the special HOV access would end in June, when the center lanes are lost and HOV lanes are moved, came last month. On Monday night, Mercer Island’s city council voted unanimously to sue Sound Transit and WSDOT to stop Eastlink construction, a multi-billion dollar project in the works for nearly a decade that they themselves have voted for. There is no doubt this change will adversely effect traffic on the island and commute times for Islanders, but of course this simply means they’ll no longer get an exemption from living in a high-traffic, high-congestion city. No more special access for SOV polluters just for living in the richest city in the region.

The suit is pretty shameless, and is probably best understood as a stalling tactic and/or a shakedown to get more ST “impact” money toward a new ramp. Playing hardball, against the greater good, to fight for the interests of those you represent is politics. The staggering shamelessness comes from the actual citizens who showed up to the meeting. Erica C Barnett documented the atrocities via twitter, storified here.

A few of my favorites:

And now for the coup de grace. The award for outstanding achievement in the field of excellence in shamelessness goes to some unnamed Mercer Island resident whose comment Barnett correctly highlighted:

Hanging on to this award in the Trump era will not be easy, but this guy may just have a chance.


[ 213 ] February 8, 2017 |

I’m starting to see this on facebook, and I’m guessing it’s already happening here, so I’ll put this here rather than repeatedly in comments here and elsewhere:

I have a feeling we’re about to read a whole lot of “let’s devote resources to a primary challenge to Manchin in retaliation for the Sessions vote”, and much of the response to that will be “Manchin’s the best we can do in WV, so a primary just hands the seat over the Republicans” as a response. I’m sympathetic to both the demand and the response to it, but I think they both fail to think this through properly. If primary challenges from the left are a hammer, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all problems the Democratic party faces are nails. More specifically, a necessary-but-not-sufficient condition for “Primary!” to be the solution to the problem is an affirmative answer to the question “is the composition of the relevant Democratic primary electorate such that we might reasonably hope they’d prefer a standard Democrat to a Democrat who’ll throw his support behind white supremacy?” It seems relatively obvious to me the answer here is almost certainly “no”–WV has lots of conservative, white voters who are registered as, and in some sense still identify as Democrats, even as they’re increasingly unlikely to ever vote to send them to Washington, but would still be happy to turn out to help Good ol’ Joe defeat the race traitor before they abandon him for a Trumpist months later (as they surely would have done to Sanders, whom they helped win the primary, had he won the nomination). How much worse a hypothetical anti-Sessions Democrat’s chances would be in the general than Manchin’s, and is that a price we’re willing to pay, would be worth debating in a world where such a figure had a chance in hell of taking Manchin down. I’m not seeing it.:

….since many of the comments are unfolding in the fashion I predicted, let’s try this again:

The conversation everyone wants to have is “Should we stick a knife in Manchin’s gut, even if it might hurt us in the long run?” The relevant question is “Should we loudly announce our intention to stick a knife in his gut and let the chips fall where they will, then proceed to poke his belly with a plastic spork from the cafeteria?”

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