Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for djw

rss feed

Enough with “the deep state”

[ 124 ] 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?”

Immigration and public opinion: Trump’s mistake

[ 158 ] January 28, 2017 |

Today runs very close to March 19, 2003, as the most shameful day to be an American citizen of my lifetime. I’m immensely grateful to all the people at the airport and other protests around the country: to anyone reading involved: thank you.

Today is also a day to grateful for Trump’s inexperience and incompetence. Trump as done and will do many awful things, and a lot of them will be unpopular. Restricting refugee and Muslim immigration, though, was one of the things that could be moderately popular. However, by executing this plan in such a ham-fisted way, our attention has turned not to an abstract ban, but to its actual enforcement, and in particular to the handful of lawful residents caught in limbo at airports around the country.

Layout 1

Antje Ellermann‘s research on the politics of immigration, in particular her 2009 book States Against Migrants: Deportation in Germany and the United States, is useful in making clear what a tremendous strategic blunder this is. Ellermann’s innovation is to stop treating public opinion about immigration in general terms, and disagregating it. In both of her case studies (Germany an the US), the politics of immigration is far more punitive and pro-deportation when couched in general, broad, sweeping terms; typically, at the moment of legislation. That doesn’t translate to public opinion about implementation, particularly as it relates to specific cases, where public opinion turns far more favorable to the plight of would-be deportees. A reviewer summarizes her findings on this front:

Ellermann repeatedly notes that although public opinion often contributes to the demonization of immigration that legitimizes restrictive immigration legislation at the macro level, even otherwise staunchly anti-immigrant members of the public will seek to exempt “deserving” and “well-integrated” migrants from enforcement efforts.

Trump structured his effort in such a way as to turn the public eye to “deserving” and “well-integrated” migrants almost immediately. At least one of the people detained today (now released) was Hameed Khaled Darweesh, an Iraqi interpreter for the US Army. This is a great opportunity to turn the public against what might have been one of Trump’s most evil and least unpopular initiatives into a political disaster. So far, happily, it appears that opportunity may not been wasted.

The stupidity of the electoral college, part infinity

[ 206 ] December 20, 2016 |

After yesterday’s embarrassment, it’d be nice to think we can just accept the obvious and deep moral and political idiocy of the “Hamilton electors” movement, accept it for what is was (essentially, a strategy to avoid facing reality for a few more weeks) and move forward. As Mark Stern observed yesterday, it’s important to keep in mind that The Federalist Papers are at once a great work of political theory and an at times quite cynical exercise in political propaganda, and some essays are much more one than the other, and #68 obviously leans to the propaganda side. Hamilton is too smart to not be aware of the glaring, obvious flaw in the logic: We’re in the greatest danger of electing someone dangerously unfit during moments of hyperpartisanship, when one party is captured by the demagogue. Since the electors will be selected by virtue of their loyalty to that party, they’re hardly likely to be the kind of people capable or likely to recognize the demagogue as such, in an actionable way, either because they’re under the demagogue’s spell, or because they’ve convinced themselves the other side is always worse. During less partisan times, of course, the obviously dangerous and unfit demagogue capturing a party will more likely dealt with by ordinary means; the voters will simply vote for the other party.

But since this is 2016, the fallout could be far worse. The following chain of events seems at least plausible going forward:

1. Washington fines the faithless electors, in accordance with state law. (Satiacum, at least, is practically begging them to do it. The other three were at least pretending to engage in some sort of Machiavellian strategery; he’s been telling anyone who’ll listen that Clinton will never get his vote, even if it’s the 270th one, for months.)

2. This provides a test case for faithless elector laws, and they are ruled unconstitutional. (This would hardly be a stretch; it’s a perfectly plausible and perhaps the most straightforward way to read the relevant constitutional language.)

3. By taking away a disincentive, faithless electors become a greater threat going forward.

4. This threat is, in the present political climate, asymmetrical, because for whatever reason, party activists on the Democratic side are more prone to approach through the lens of intra-party disputes, and be driven into madness by contested primaries.

Jacob Levy on “identity politics” and Trump

[ 389 ] December 14, 2016 |

Jacob Levy’s blog post today is a must read. The first half takes to task the pundit’s fallacy of “too much identity politics cost Clinton the election” and the second half makes the case for the vital necessity of identity politics for any kind of liberal politics. This is “read the whole thing” territory, but let me just highlight a couple of bits:

There is something particularly absurd in the post-election morality plays that say “whites [or white Christians, or white Christian men] have now learned how to do identity politics and how to vote like an aggrieved ethnic group, because that’s what other groups have been doing all these years.” White identity politics is a constitutive fact of American politics, and if an election in which the Republican got the normal share of the white vote counts as white identity politics in action, well, that suggests a deep problem, but it doesn’t suggest a new problem.

White identity politics has moreover been a constitutive fact of the illiberal expansion of state power. The effect of some of the oldest instances of this are still with us, as is seen in the recent struggle over placing the Dakota Access Pipeline on lands that were reserved to the Sioux nation in an 1851 treaty that was subsequently violated but never voided. The effects of the decades-long white welfare state and the redistributive subsidizing of white wealth accumulation through housing policy are very much still with us in the wealth gap between whites and blacks, to say nothing of the enduring effects of racially discriminatory housing and urban policy on the shape of American cities. But the most currently politically salient effect of white identity politics as a source of state power is the combination of policing, imprisonment, crime policy, and drug policy.


The point generalizes. Until 2003, many states criminalized a variety of forms of sexual behavior between consenting adults. There were identity-neutral ways of describing the illiberal wrong of this. But the laws weren’t identity neutral in intent, and often weren’t even formally identity-neutral; they were criminal prohibitions on homosexual sexual activity that legitimized routine police harassment even when they weren’t enforced. The laws were unjust according to liberal principle, but would never have been repealed (in many states) and struck down (in the rest) without the identity-conscious political mobilization of gay and lesbian activism.

Identity politics at its best, in other words, isn’t just a matter of being on some group’s side. It’s about fighting for political justice by drawing on the commitment that arises out of targeted injustice, and about having the intellectual resources to let us diagnose that targeted injustice. It lets us spot the majority group’s identity politics rather than treating it as the normal background state of affairs, and to recognize the oppression and injustice that it generates.

Bold mine; this is the core insight. It’s often targeted injustice that helps to create, or intensifies and makes salient the very identities that provide the resources to fight against them. This essay has helped me think through and clarify in my own mind more precisely what I find so pernicious the anti-identity politics mode of left/liberal commentary, particularly in the politics of the nightmare political environment of the age of Trump. All such critiques acknowledge (usually very quickly, to get it out of the way) that of course identity politics has accomplished some very good and important things, the problem is just that it’s gone too far. This is unsurprising, as identity politics is a category so broad it ostensibly encompasses the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act, and that one time some college students overreacted to a perceived insult. But in turning them into one big thing, and turning that thing into (primarily) an object of derision and contempt, and the unwitting cause of our nightmarish new normal, is particularly dangerous because of the circumstances of our new normal, in which core civil rights accomplishments themselves might be under serious attack. The rhetorical project of categorizing all anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc into a concept most frequently associated with perceived alienating excesses could end up helping to minimize and de-legitimize opposition to the rollback of the racial progress of the civil rights era. As some research linked the other day by aturner339 shows, white people, including liberal white people, can be swung to racist positions relatively easily, as long as it’s not overtly explicit. It’s clear enough that a great deal of public opinion is top-down, and there’s really very little reason to doubt that Trump’s presidency is going to not just make America a more racist place, but will also make the American public more racist. It’s relatively obvious and straightforward how this is going to work with respect to his followers, but the post-election boomlet of anti-identity politics may be giving us some clues about how that process will unfold amongst those who ostensibly oppose him.

The Batman needs our help: update on SEK

[ 69 ] November 17, 2016 |

Our readers who follow SEK or LGM on facebook may already be aware of this, but for the rest of you: the vile monster we’ve come to know as “2016” has come for one of our own. For well over a decade now, a non-trivial portion of what makes the internet awesome has been Scott’s writing, here and at many, many other blogs, as well as The Raw Story and Salon, on matters political, philosophical and literary. He’s done battle with trolls the likes of which we may never see again, a larcenous, taunting University library, a Honda Civic, cancer, and then there’s this. (See also this.)

The monstrous, vile beast known as 2016 came for Scott with both barrels. What seemed at first an ordinary illness turned out to be a serious infection involving multiple organ failure, and landed him in the ICU in Houston well over a month ago. I was in Houston a few weeks ago and was able to pay him a visit. It was bad timing–because of a minor procedure he was coming out of sedation and less lucid and awake than usual, but I was able to convey some well-wishes and meet with some of his family and friends. The good: Houston is home to Scott’s parents, brother, and sister, he’s surrounded by the extraordinary medical resources of the Texas Medical Center (if you’ve never been, it’s quite literally the largest medical complex in the world; it’s like a small city of nothing but hospitals), and while there have been some setbacks, there has been progress in the right direction. And foster parents have been arranged for the Oldmen.

Another bad: He’s still very sick, and has a long way to go. Furthermore, it turns out a career of studying literary appropriations of evolutionary theory and visual rhetoric, teaching english composition, and writing about politics and culture on the internet does not leave one with the kind of obscene wealth that would be required to cover the medical bills associated with months in an ICU. In that spirit, Scott’s family and friends have set up a gofundme to help him cope with the expenses. If you can help Scott out, he (and we) would be most grateful. Please share this far and wide–I know Scott has many friends and admirers all over the internet, and the more of them we can reach the better.

Today in absurd false equivalence and normalization

[ 118 ] November 16, 2016 |

Newsweek, ladies and gentlemen.

This is going to continue to get worse before it gets better.

Avoiding the circular firing squad

[ 271 ] November 9, 2016 |

Since I’m sure it’s already beginning in the comments here and elsewhere.

Here are two stories you’re going to see a lot of in the coming days and weeks, often pitted against each other:

“The shameful treatment of Hillary Clinton—creating corruption and ‘scandal’ narratives out of little more than thin air, characterizing her political positions and career in a misleading, if not dishonest manner (“center-right,” neocon, etc), and holding her to all manner of sexist double standards—played some real role in her narrow defeat. It was expected and inevitable from Republicans and some segmetns the media, but shamefully and recklessly many on the left propagated much of this nonsense as well, which likely contributed to her defeat.”


“In an election when the mood of the electorate was distinctly anti-establishment, Hillary Clinton was a terrible choice—the wrong candidate for the moment. This was clear enough during the primary, and those who ignored and supported Clinton over Sanders bear significant responsibility for this loss.”

Please consider the following:

*As more and better data becomes available, consider both of these possibilities in light of emerging evidence about the 2016 electorate a) dispassionately, without regard to which better fits with the case for your preferred candidate, and b) with an eye toward the future, rather than recriminations for the past.

*Be aware that they aren’t necessarily opposed to each other—they could both be accurate, and they could both be more or less false.

*Screaming these at each other is probably counterproductive.

As a form of self-care I probably won’t be in the comment thread here much if at all (or any other election-related comment threads) for at least a few days, so if you have some comment you really want me to see, contact me directly.

Some scattered thoughts after an afternoon of canvassing

[ 155 ] November 5, 2016 |

This is really exhausting for an introvert like me, but it kind of helped with the low level constant anxiety/fear/stress I’ve been feeling for weeks now. I’m sure I’ll be back to my dyspeptic self tomorrow, but for now it helps.

Talked to many dozens of people, mostly but not all from a list of registered Democrats (who haven’t early-voted as of yesterday). Zero Trump supporters (indeed zero non-Clinton supporters) but then I doubt many Trump supporters would be willing to drive through West Dayton, let alone live there.

Mostly talked to older African-Americans. When I launched into the boilerplate about how this is likely to be a very close, very important election, etc etc etc, they’d often give me a raised-eyebrow look that said, very clearly, “do you really think I don’t understand what’s at stake with this election?” and we’d quickly move on to logistics–polling locations, early voting hours, etc.

White people, on the other hand, are exhausting. Only talked to handful, but they all wanted to talk about at least one of their “issues” (EMAILZ make me sad, wasn’t Bernie dreamy?, IjustdontlikeherforsomereasonIcantputmyfingeron, random 90’s references, etc) before committing to doing the sane, responsible, necessary thing. As exhausting as this was, working a white neighborhood would be probably be much more so.

The GOTV machine I was a cog in seems to be functioning at such a level that it seems unlikely very few votes getable votes on the table in West Dayton. It’s impressively efficient, well-staffed with volunteers, and well-organized.

Early voting is a BFD. In talking to busy people with complicated lives, it makes it a lot easier to make a plan to vote they can commit to. I knew this, intellectually, but it was really driven home today. Absolutely worth fighting to defend and expand.

Only a few people want to take advantage of the captive audience to talk politics, but one woman, just getting home from a double shift as I arrived to her house, was pure gold. I’m going to reconstruct my favorite part of her rant as faithfully as possible, but I’m not doing is justice–it was just a marvelous, angry, hilarious rant. The gist of it:

Look, I get it, you white people* had a hard time with Obama being president so you need a racist president. I get it. I don’t like it but I get it. But what I don’t get is why you needed a racist who is so goddamn crazy and stupid! Couldn’t you find a racist who could actually know how to run the damn government? I mean, I wouldn’t vote for him–he’d still be bad for people like me–but at least he’d know what he’s doing? What good does it do the damn white people when Trump shits the bed? It’s not like there’s some other special country they move to when he takes this country down. We get a black president and he does a pretty good job, and your response is murder-suicide? You white people need to get smarter about how you do this racism thing.

*she interjected caveats about how her use of “you white people” should not be construed to include people such as myself and Obama/Clinton supporters generally, so this didn’t come off as hostile or accusatory as the words on the page might make it appear.

Politics is the strong and slow boring of hard boards, Washington climate bill edition

[ 34 ] October 19, 2016 |


A reader asked for a post on I-732, a carbon tax on the ballot in Washington State. I’ve been avoiding writing about it because the story is too depressing, but it should be done. A series of loosely connected observations and commentary on 732 and related issues follows.

• Rather than try to offer my own summary, I’ll begin by simply assigning Dave Roberts’ piece on the history and the politics. It’s very good. Go read it.

• First things first: whether your sympathies lie with the alliance or CarbonWA, vote yes.

• Seriously, vote yes. If you don’t believe me listen to these climate scientists.

• A few months ago I was much angrier and would have written very nasty, snide things about, the Sierra Club, and Jay Inslee, had I written this post then. Now, I’m feeling a bit more appreciative of the tragic nature of the alliance/carbonWA split. At most points in time over the last six years, there have been plausible and sympathetic reasons to support both sides and both approaches.

• That said, that CarbonWA was able to agree on the text of an initiative and get it on the ballot and the Alliance hasn’t yet agreed on exactly what their initiative would look like is revealing: coalition politics are vital and important, but for the purposes of constructing an initiative designed to win statewide but also satisfy all key coalition-partners with diverse goals can be debilitating.

• With this in mind, while I obviously wasn’t privy to the December negotiations between the two groups, the claim reported by Roberts that internal polls and research showed the Alliance approach had a better chance of passing should be treated with a great deal of skepticism. For one thing, they were comparing an actual initiative vs. a theoretical one, and it’s easier to disguise the warts of the latter.

• Furthermore, there’s a decent case to be made that the median voter in Washington is a suburban white affluent moderate who is susceptible to anti-tax, anti-big government rhetoric but nevertheless concerned about the environment. A revenue neutral tax re-structure might be necessary to win them over. The alliance people are almost certainly correct that revenue neutrality won’t win over actual Republicans, but that’s beside the point. There’s a population of once-R-leaning, now probably D-leaning moderates who are still all too easily spooked by tax increases, especially general ones.

• That said, if I were designing a bill from scratch, I might have aimed for a slightly revenue positive bill, with the increased revenue earmarked for clean energy projects. That probably would be just as, or slightly more, appealing to the median voter in Washington state. But evaluating an actual proposal against a perfect one in one’s head isn’t a reasonable standard for initiatives.

• There’s a part of me that can’t help but see the desire to use a climate bill as the kludge to DO ALL THE PROGRESSIVE THINGS like fix the tax structure, fund McCleary, deal with the whole “most regressive tax structure of all 50 states” problem and so on is a way of not taking climate change sufficiently seriously. This is particularly the case in a state in which previous efforts with full Democratic control of state government manifestly failed. I’m old enough to remember when Ron Sims ran against Christine Gregoire for in the Democratic primary for governor in 2004 on a revenue neutral to the state, positive to the taxpayer income tax, and was trounced by his status-quo supporting opponent by a better than 2-1 margin. Granted, she had some advantages over him and was likely to win regardless, but that was still a clear rebuke of a tax overhaul. Climate change policy can’t solve all our problems, and it’s hard not to conclude that the alliance was treating it as something of a magic bullet.

• It’s worth keeping in mind that while 732 doesn’t fix the fundamentally regressive nature of state taxation, it does make the tax code less regressive than it currently is—in fact it does more on that front than has been accomplished by anyone else in Washington politics recently.

• Also, as the California example demonstrates, when the time and the politics are right a carbon tax can be revisited to emphasize other progressive priorities.

• If this fails and the alliance moves forward with an initiative in two years just in time for the Hillary backlash election, God help us.

• Also, if you’re in the ST zone and care about the climate please vote yes on ST3. There’s lots of details about for us transit nerds to be frustrated with, but it’s a) really pretty good overall, especially by North American standards, and b) the only realistic alternative is a delayed, cheaper version of what’s currently on offer. And one of the reasons I’ve come around on prioritizing rail to emptier parts of suburbs over rail in the city is at least there’s a chance for dense development there–the first round of light rail in the city has demonstrated that moderately dense established Seattle neighborhoods just have too many politically powerful wealthy homeowners who know how to play anti-upzone politics, while some suburbs (Lynnwood and Shoreline in particular) are proving more enthusiastic about station-adjacent upzones than Seattle has been. Hell, there are still empty lots less than a quarter-mile from light rail stations that opened in 2008 zoned for 2-3 stories.

• Also, if you actually care about not cooking the planet, you can’t really justify anti-density activism. If you commute via Hummer 200 miles a day or whatever, that’s bad, but what DiCaprio et al are trying to do is infinitely worse—you’re forcing many thousands of present and future people to pump more carbon into the air for many decades to come, including some people who would choose not to, if allowed to make that choice. If parking inconveniences, or not having to look at newer and taller buildings than you’d prefer for aesthetic reasons are more important than the future of the planet, fine, but own that preference ordering.

Page 1 of 5512345...102030...Last »