Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Monday, February 27, 2006

NASCAR in Fontana: Kitsap's Future?

If there were a NASCAR race or two in Kitsap County, it seems most of the economic benefit would be enjoyed by Pierce and King counties -- since that's where the fans would go for hotel rooms, restaurants, and tourist activities other than watching the races.

Fontana, California, may illustrate how a new speedway could affect Kitsap County. A speedway was built near Fontana nine years ago. According to Ontario's Daily Bulletin, Fontana is still hoping to see an economic benefit:

The economic impact of the track to the Inland Empire is $220 million a year with the two races, according to a 2003 report by Redlands-based economist John Husing.

"We wipe out virtually every hotel room in the Inland Empire with that Speedway,'' he said.

However, the lion's share of money from sales taxes and transient occupancy taxes does not go to Fontana, but to Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga instead because those cities have more hotels and sit-down restaurants, Husing said.

Now Fontana wants a bigger piece of the pie and is hungry for developments that can feed off the success of the track. Suggestions include building more hotels, a restaurant row, and even an auto-oriented entertainment complex.

"It is a major economic generator when one of those races goes on,'' Husing said. "The question is how do you lure people from the track into the restaurants and hotels and gas stations and into the city's boundaries.''

Even though the Speedway has been open since 1997, the window of opportunity for Fontana to recapture some tax dollars has not closed, Husing, city officials and planners agree.

For "Ontario" and "Rancho Cucamonga" substitute "King" and "Pierce," and for "Fontana" substitute "Kitsap." It's not a pretty picture for Kitsap County.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Property Rights and Newspeak

The only Democrat to toss his hat into the ring so far in the Kitsap County commissioner election is Josh Brown -- who is fluent in Newspeak.

As reported in today's Kitsap Sun, Brown had this to say about land-use regulations and property rights:

"Unfortunately, local politics have been under siege by special interests," he said. "I will fight to incorporate public policies which enhance our quality of life, while providing economic growth."

Asked what he meant by special interests, he said, "We have zoning and growth management policies in place that protect private property rights, and there are certain groups that want to dismantle decades of work.

"If you live in Seabeck or off Big Valley Road in Poulsbo and have a farm that your family has owned for a generation, if there weren’t zoning policies in place, someone who wanted to build an apartment building across the road would negatively impact your property. The point of zoning is to keep consistency."
(Emphasis added.)

He will go far in the Democratic Party with talent like that.

"Growth management policies...that protect private property rights" sounds almost like the man who would be his Republican opponent in the election of a commissioner -- if the would-be opponent can defeat the incumbent "Republican" commissioner, Patty ("Swing Vote") Lent in the primary election.

When the would-be opponent says "property rights," he refers to the right to use and develop one's property rather than having it set aside as wildlife habitat, or having it re-zoned to allow only one house per 20 acres to avoid "suburban sprawl" -- with no compensation from the public for this loss of use and value.

When Josh Brown says "property rights," he means the desire by those who got there first to keep others away so they can enjoy the feeling of owning significant acreage without actually buying it.

If Josh Brown and Jack Hamilton meet in the general election, you may need a program and a decoder ring to keep track of who said what, and what he meant when he said it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Civil disobedience is disobedience, isn't it?

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave a lot of space in its paper to what appears to be a non-story: law enforcement personnel actually checked to see if "non-violent protestors" may attempt to disrupt things.

Oh, the chilling effect! Their "right to protest" might be limited to lawful means of protest.

"Civil disobedience" is called that for a reason: It's a violation of the law.

A Credit To His Party

Jacob Metcalf, of the "Young Democrats" in Kitsap County, is a credit to his party.

Consider this comment of his on the "Tracking the Speedway" blog maintained by the Kitsap Sun.

He apparently also puts notches on his "political resume."

It's little wonder that people like Albert Armand Gore and Howard Dean are still considered to be prominent members and even leaders in that political party. A habit of spewing balderdash and bile may be considered a positive trait by their young acolytes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Of straw men and false analogies

A letter to the editor in today’s Kitsap Sun (fifth from the top) offers a strange and illogical argument against Initiative 933 (which would compensate landowners for the effects of some land-use restrictions enacted by government entities).

First, the writer, Linda Museus, set up a straw man and later attempted to knock it down:

People (almost exclusively landowners) who support Initiative 933, the initiative which will require taxpayers to pay any landowner whose property drops in value due to land-use changes, apparently feel that an investment in real estate, unlike investments in any other commodity, should be guaranteed.

Of course, no one argues that a real estate investment’s value should be guaranteed. The argument in favor of compensating landowners centers on the use of government power to deny landowners the use of their property.

Arguing by analogy is often difficult, since analogies are rarely perfect – and opponents tend to pick at the imperfections. But, arguing by presenting a false analogy is simply illogical – and that is what the writer did:

People who owned limited partnerships in the early 1980s (most of which involved large sums of money) saw their investment decrease and, in some cases, become worthless after Congress passed a law which turned the advantages of owning a limited partnership into a great disadvantage. Yet, no one proposed, and would have been laughed out of town if they had, that the U.S. taxpayer indemnify those investors for their losses.

The limited partnerships to which the writer referred were “tax shelters” – entered into primarily for the purpose of avoiding federal taxes on income that was unrelated to the partnership.

This article explains the history of limited partnerships in the 1980s and the effect of changes in federal tax law to eliminate those tax shelters.

There is no similarity between the elimination of tax shelters and the imposition of restrictions on the use and development of real estate. There being no similarity, there is no valid analogy from which to argue against I-933.

Finally, the writer states: “I really would like someone to tell me why I should subsidize an investment if it decreases in value.”

The straw man might be knocked down, but the actual argument in favor of compensating landowners remains untouched.

Landowners should be compensated when government imposes restrictions that significantly reduce the utility of the land and thereby reduce its market value – all for a purported public purpose or benefit.

For example, when King County prohibits landowners out in the suburbs and beyond from even removing the natural vegetation on two-thirds of their property, those landowners ought to be paid by the public. The use of their land has been taken from them for the benefit of other county residents, yet the cost of that public benefit is borne only by the affected landowners.

This has nothing to do with guaranteeing or subsidizing the value of the investment in that land. It has everything to do with respect for property rights and the obligation to pay for what you take.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Holocaust Denier Gets Prison

Should he have perhaps gone to Denmark rather than Austria to make speeches?

An AP article in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer gives some of the details:

Monday, February 20, 2006 · Last updated 1:07 p.m. PT
Holocaust denier gets three years in jail
VIENNA, Austria -- Right-wing British historian David Irving pleaded guilty Monday to denying the Holocaust and was sentenced to three years in prison, even after conceding he wrongly said there were no Nazi gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

I wonder: What makes Irving "right-wing" in the reporter's opinion? The Nazis were leftists, so if his efforts at minimizing their murderous acts form the basis of her opinion, she's wrong.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Suquamish Indian Tribe Wants Millions From State

On the editorial page of today’s Kitsap Sun is an article submitted by Leonard Forsman on behalf of the Suquamish Indian Tribe – offering a seemingly lame explanation of why the state of Washington should contribute millions of dollars toward the cost of capital projects planned by the tribe.

Apparently, Forsman anticipated the publication of several letters to the editor from people who opposed this use of state funds. So far, there appears to have been one letter.

The letter was prompted by this article in the Kitsap Sun about the efforts of state representative Sherry Appleton (D – Poulsbo; 23rd Legislative District):

Legislator Requests Funding for Suquamish Tribe's Projects
 Rep. Appleton hopes an early-learning center will be a top priority.
By Derek Sheppard
February 14, 2006
Suquamish -- A North Kitsap legislator is requesting $6 million to help the Suquamish Tribe build a longhouse, early-learning center and welcoming pole.

The “welcoming pole” would be a “decorative totem” pole – something that is not a part of the Suquamish culture, but might be an attractive decoration for the entrance to their reservation.

Note that Forsman’s article doesn’t mention any taxes paid by the tribe to the state of Washington. His only reference to taxes paid by the tribe is to federal taxes:

A few people question the use of public money for tribal governments because they inaccurately believe we do not pay taxes. It is true that we do not pay taxes on tribal lands because our government predates state and county taxing authority. However, the tribe is subject to employment and Social Security taxes, both for its government employees and the employees of its businesses, including $3 million in federal income taxes and $1,4 million in Social Security taxes annually from our casino alone.

Why give state revenue to a “sovereign government” (as Forsman calls the tribe) which pays no property or excise taxes to the state?

The tribe’s campaign donations would really be worthwhile, as far as the tribe is concerned, if they get millions in return. Is that one of the reasons why the tribe donates to political campaigns?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Indian Casino Money and Political Corruption

In the U.S.A., casinos run by Indian tribes often profit from a monopoly -- a monopoly granted and protected by government.

The Indian tribes have more than an ordinary interest in influencing politicians, so they try to protect their interest by giving part of their casino profits to politicians.

This situation invites corruption of our legislative process.

According to The Seattle Times, the tribes might not be able to give so generously in the future, if a bill introduced in Congress is enacted. They would instead be treated much like corporations:

Fallout from the Abramoff controversy has prompted a House bill that would bar tribes from making campaign donations directly from casino revenues, by far the largest source of money for many tribes.

The bill would make tribes follow the same political-donor rules as corporations, which are banned from giving their revenues directly to campaigns.

"With a group that has so much business before Congress that they even have their own congressional committee, they need to have the same rules as we do," said Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of the National Association of Convenience Stores, which has clashed with tribes over tax policy on gasoline and cigarettes sold on tribal lands.

"They shouldn't have undue influence."

The Abramoff case may engender some needed reform.

As has been said for ages: "It is an yll wynde that blowth no man to good." -- John Heywood (c.1497-1580)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

State Employees on Medicaid?

In the unions' efforts to hobble Wal-Mart, they are pushing for enactment of SHB 2517 in the Washington legislature which would require certain expenditures for employee health benefits.

One of their weapons has been a leaked report showing the number of Wal-Mart employees who receive subsidized health care from the state government.

Now, it appears from an article in The Seattle Times that the state also has employees who receive Medicaid assistance -- roughly as many as Wal-Mart.

Earlier state reports showed that an average of 3,180 Wal-Mart workers in Washington were on Medicaid or received the benefits for their dependents in 2004, with a few hundred more on the state-funded Basic Health Plan.

An estimate prepared by nonpartisan state Senate staffers pegged the annual cost of those benefits at about $12 million for the state.

The information released Monday shows that an average of 3,127 state government workers either received Medicaid or had dependents on the joint state-federal health program in 2004.

That cost to taxpayers was estimated at more than $14.7 million.

So, who's the big bad oppressor of the working class?

In the state's defense, the article notes that the state has a lower proportion of employees on Medicaid compared to Wal-Mart:

But state government employs more than 100,000 people, while Wal-Mart has about 16,000 workers in Washington state — making the Arkansas-based retailer's percentage of workers on Medicaid much higher than the state's.

This might be a valid point to make, except that the state's employees include mostly people who work in jobs that generally pay more than the bulk of Wal-Mart jobs. How many retail clerks and "stock boys" do you think work for the state?

Let's see a comparison of the proportion of employees on Medicaid when only the lower-skilled state jobs are included. Granting that the state generally pays more than the private sector in most occupations, it would still be a more valid comparison.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Record NYC Snow

It's one for the record books. According to The New York Times:

Big Snowstorm Sets Record in New York and Disrupts Travel

By Christine Hauser
Published: February 12, 2006

A record amount of snow fell in Central Park in New York today as a major storm inundated the Northeast, closing regional airports, canceling hundreds of flights and for several hours virtually paralyzing normal traffic for city residents who took to the snow-caked streets in snowshoes and skis.

The National Weather Service said 26.9 inches of snowfall was measured in Central Park at 4:10 p.m., exceeding the previous record of 26.4 inches, set in December 1947.

Must be that global warming we've heard so much about, huh?

Don't expect it to get the kind of play that this did. Brian Williams on NBC News attributed the warm January in the U.S.A. to global warming, but of course it had zilch to do with global warming.

Also, don't look for much attention to this aspect, as reported by NOAA:

The record high temperatures helped reduce residential energy needs for the nation as a whole. The Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index (REDTI) (an index developed at NOAA to relate energy usage to climate) fell to its lowest January value on record. Using this index, NOAA scientists determined that the nation's residential energy demand was approximately 20 percent less than that which would have occurred under average climate conditions for the month. For early winter (November 2005-January 2006) the REDTI was third lowest on record.

Want to cut carbon dioxide emissions? Reduce the need for heating homes and work places during the winter -- just as this unusually warm winter has done so far.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The View From Over There

According to an article by Sarah Baxter of the London Times, Hillary Clinton (Should that be "Hillary Rodham Clinton," or has she put that side back into hiding?) has a viable opponent within the Democratic Party:

The Sunday Times February 12, 2006

Governor Nobody sneaks up on Hillary
Sarah Baxter, Manchester, New Hampshire

HILLARY CLINTON would make an excellent president, according to Meg Hirschberg, whose husband runs a hugely successful organic yoghurt company in New Hampshire: “She’s amazing and brilliant and smart and lovely.”

So that’s a vote for Clinton in 2008, then? Not at all. Hirschberg is thinking of backing Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia, a likable, low-key, moderate Democrat who won a traditionally Republican state and, by all accounts, ran it competently. At this stage, it is enough of a recommendation.

“I don’t know a thing about him and I don’t care,” Hirschberg said last week as Warner listened to her husband explaining the finer points of organic farming. “I just want somebody with decent values who can win. It’s nothing to do with Hillary personally. It’s irrational and unfair, but she is polarising.”

Sounds good for Warner, huh? (And maybe good for the rest of us, if it's a valid indication of things to come. Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to be the feminine side of Albert Armand Gore. Saints, preserve us! If the GOP doesn't come up with a good candidate for 2008, at least let us have someone nearer the center of the political spectrum than Hillary running as a Democrat.)

This isn't the first time Sarah Baxter has noticed Warner. Here's her article in The Times back in November:

The Sunday Times November 13, 2005

‘New Bill’ emerges to thwart Hillary
Sarah Baxter, Washington

THE God-fearing governor of a southern state who has been described as America’s “new Bill Clinton” could end up fighting Hillary for the Democrat presidential nomination.

Mark Warner, who is compared to the former president for his “crossover” appeal to voters, is emerging as a top contender to stop Clinton’s wife from winning the Democrat ticket in 2008.

It seems that Baxter's beat includes handicapping the presidential race in the U.S.A. Here's her take on John McCain:

The Sunday Times November 20, 2005

Republicans turn to McCain the maverick
Sarah Baxter, Washington

THE state that buried Senator John McCain’s presidential hopes in 2000 was expected to welcome him back with open arms today in a remarkable turnaround that suggests his fortunes among Republicans are on the rise.

The last time McCain visited South Carolina he was called the “fag” candidate because he had met a group of gay Republicans. He offended evangelical Christians by denouncing the decision of his rival, George W Bush, to speak at Bob Jones University, a college known for its ban on inter-racial dating.

Now he is back with a 65% approval rating in the polls, dominating the pack of Republican presidential candidates in one of the “must-win” states. Marshall Whitman, a former McCain supporter and Christian Coalition organiser, said: “In many ways the movement is coming to him.”

And, there's even a nice article about the Clintons:

The Sunday Times August 07, 2005

Interview: Sarah Baxter talks to Bill Clinton
The Comeback Kid isn’t finished

All political careers end in failure, the saying goes, and for a while Bill Clinton seemed destined to follow that path. He won two American presidential elections — a breakthrough for the Democrats — yet he let himself down over Monicagate and baffled his greatest supporters by issuing pardons to shady characters on his way out of the White House.

Hillary would have been perfectly within her rights to have left him, and at one stage the $10m (£5.6m) advance for his memoirs looked ludicrously over the top. Who would want to read about his handshakes with Yasser Arafat after the suicide pilots of Al-Qaeda struck?
And look at the pair of them now: popular, prosperous, buoyed up not by one but two stupendous autobiographical bestsellers; as much the emblematic power couple as ever with a fair chance of moving back into the White House in 2008. Their political comeback is an achievement topped only by Bill’s amazing ascent to the presidency from the little town of Hope, Arkansas.

Should Hillary become America’s first woman president, all verdicts on the Clintons will have to be rewritten. Whatever their motivation — call it deeply personal, deftly political or a dash of both — it is a remarkable vindication of their decision to stay together.

It might be interesting to keep tabs on Baxter's view from over there in the U.K. as the horse race gets going.

Is "Sprawl" Any Worse Than "Smart Growth"?

The Washington Growth Management Act embodies many of the ideas of so-called "Smart Growth." That is, it attempts to concentrate property development and population increases in "urban growth areas," rather than permit them to occur wherever the market demands.

Supposedly, it's more efficient to concentrate growth in urban areas, and thus less expensive.

Why, then, is Senate Bill 6686 making its way through the legislature? That bill would take part of the state sales tax and give it to cities that annex areas in their designated urban growth areas. The diversion of state funding would be for the purpose of paying the costs of providing municipal services to those newly annexed areas for 10 years afterwards.

Is SB 6686 needed because there is actually no greater efficiency in concentrating growth into urban growth areas?

Or, is it just another way for King, Pierce and Snohomish counties to grab more state funding for themselves? Note that the bill wouldn't authorize this diversion of state revenue to cities unless the cities are located in counties that have populations greater than 600,000. Those three counties are the only ones who fit that requirement.

No other county need apply, no matter how similar the situation may be.

If it's a good idea in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, why is it not a good idea in other counties? Don't they elect a sufficient number of Democrats in those other counties?

Then there is House Bill 2670, which is an effort to divert state sales tax revenue to the city of Gig Harbor in Pierce County.

That city belatedly figured out in 2005 that the pending commercial developments near state highway 16 would overload the roads. The result was a delay in permitting the construction of a much-needed hospital.

Let's see: Urban area, planned growth, and a typical demonstration of the human inability to plan beyond tomorrow unless there is a profit to be made or a loss to be suffered as a result of that planning. In other words, the more power given to government to engage in planning, the higher the probability of "SNAFU."

Lest you think that SNAFU is too harsh a term, here's what the people who want to build the hospital noted:

Importantly, the anticipated traffic problem in Gig Harbor North will occur even without the hospital, according to the city’s traffic study.

To quote that report: “Nine developments are approved or pending in the [Gig Harbor North] area, which include Costco and other commercial and retail developments. These developments are referred to as pipeline traffic, and will produce large increases in traffic above existing conditions regardless of the hospital. … If the nine pipeline developments are built, five of the eleven study intersections will fail to meet the level of service standards of the City of Gig Harbor or WSDOT [Washington State Department of Transportation]. As a result, the traffic backup could be over three-quarters of a mile long at the SR 16 westbound off-ramp and over a mile long at the eastbound SR 16 off-ramp, affecting mainline traffic operations. Substantial mitigation measures will be required to bring the transportation system up to adequate operating conditions.” [Emphasis added.]

As the Tacoma News Tribune noted in its editorial:

Franciscan Health System has state approval and lots of community support to build an 80-bed hospital in north Gig Harbor. But the project has been stymied by the city’s discovery last year that the area where Franciscan wants to build needs $40 million in road improvements before it can handle more traffic.

Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, thinks the state can afford to chip in given how much it stands to benefit from the area’s development, which would include not only the hospital but also a Costco store and 1,000 new homes.

The "state can afford to chip in" sounds good, but why doesn't that apply everywhere? HB 2670 is even more restrictive than SB 6686: It applies only to Gig Harbor and that city's desire to permit the construction of a new hospital.

Are these two bills illustrative of problems with "growth management"? If so, what problems do they illustrate?

Both involve concentrating growth into urban growth areas, but one (SB 6686) involves areas that apparently are already developed while the other (HB 2670) involves a growing area.

Would "smart growth" advocates claim that one is the dreaded "sprawl" aborning while the other is "sprawl" from years past?

Does it matter? There seems to be no solution other than diverting revenue from other areas in the state to fix perceived problems in particular places.

Where's the efficiency from growth management? Is it supposed to be just around the corner, so that we shouldn't be so impatient as to wonder whether the purported savings will ever occur?

I guess I'll have to buy "Sprawl: A Compact History" and see if it offers any answers.

Washington Children Are Stupid, Says the State Legislature

It appears that our legislators have turned tail.

The Washington Assessment of Student Learning ("WASL") has repeatedly shown during the past few years that approximately half of Washington's children don't have what it takes to earn a high school diploma.

Our legislators are soon going to cancel the requirement to pass the WASL as a condition to receiving a diploma -- before the requirement even becomes effective. (This year's sophomores were the first class that would have been required to pass the WASL.)

According to the Seattle Times:

The state Senate passed Senate Bill 6475 by a 33-10 vote Friday. It would set up alternative routes to graduation for some students, such as putting together a portfolio of work. The House passed a similar measure late Thursday.
Even this abandonment of the WASL as a graduation requirement doesn't make the teachers' union happy:

The Washington Education Association (WEA) doesn't support SB 6475, or the House version, House Bill 2785, setting up alternatives.

"We know going into it that the WASL is not an appropriate assessment for some students, so to require them to take it is poor professional practice," said Charles Hasse, president of the WEA, the state's largest teachers union.

His group contends that grade-point average should count more than the WASL in deciding whether a student should graduate.

The union knows that, so long as the WASL is around, the dismal academic performance of the children will be apparent.

Note that the union wants the grades assigned by teachers to count more than the WASL. Then consider that the "inflated" grades given by teachers to children who haven't earned them helped create the need for a standard test like the WASL.

Grades still count. The children do, after all, need to pass their classes to advance to the point at which they take the WASL; then they must pass their classes in the 11th and 12th grades to graduate.

It seems that the masses of the common people would rather pretend that children are being educated than admit that too many are not. A test of academic achievement that requires a 9th grade education to graduate from high school is just too much for them to bear, since half the children are not achieving even that level of education.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Seattle's Stadium and Ballpark Hurt Business

Oddly, there are businesses in the vicinity of the Mariners' ballpark and Seahawks' stadium that want tax relief to help them withstand the negative impact on business resulting from game-day crowds.

House Bill 3251, if passed, would give the establishments in Seattle's "Chinatown/International District" a tax cut -- eliminating the extra 0.5 percent sales tax on food and beverages used to pay for part of the cost of constructing those athletic facilities.

In the House Bill Report is this interesting testimony for the bill:

Information from the business improvement area indicates that, for certain restaurants, receipts dropped by between 40 and 100 percent on recent Seahawk game days. One of the additional tools for the stadia financing is the additional 0.5 percent sales tax on restaurants in King County. We're asking that for the 70 or so restaurants within this district that the tax be converted to a state-shared tax to lift some of the burden off of these folks. This would help make whole a small fragile community that is disproportionately affected by the stadia.

Back when the public financing of those facilities was being advocated, the positive impact on businesses in the area was touted.

Who is benefiting from the crowds of fans going to and from the stadium and ballpark, if not the nearby businesses?

What would a NASCAR speedway in Kitsap County do for local businesses? Is there a safe distance from the crowds where a business could benefit rather than suffer?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Democrats nix NASCAR speedway in Kitsap

Is this the first step in choosing up sides? According to the Kitsap Sun, the Democratic Party's Central Committee has resolved to oppose public financing of construction costs for a NASCAR speedway in Kitsap County.

As noted earlier, a key Democrat, Senator Prentice, has vowed that the proposal will not get past her Senate Ways & Means Committee.

Is there a GOP position on this issue? Not that I've seen.

Kitsap County Commissioner Jan Angel (R-South Kitsap) appears to favor the proposal until shown that it is not good for Kitsap County.

Her colleague, Commissioner Patty Lent (R-Central Kitsap) signed the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council's "Green Flag" proposal to the NASCAR folks in the spring of 2004, but that wasn't supposed to be made public. Now that things are out in the open, and the NASCAR folks have postponed until 2007 their push for legislative approval, "Swing-Vote Patty" reportedly stated she is relieved that she won't have to take a position on the issue prior to this year's general election.

If this isn't an issue on which candidates and parties ought to take sides and inform the voters of their leanings before the primary and general elections, what is?