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The Truth

When Republicans worry more about staying in government than about limiting government, they get thrown out of government.

Riding In The Nanny-State Rain

When I bike to campus and back, I don’t wear a helmet. This is a conscious choice — I’m aware of the risks and I own a helmet. But I like the freedom of riding without a helmet. Helmets feel stifling, and I probably wouldn’t bike much if I actually had to wear one. This was the one thing I thought I liked about Seattle — my understanding until recently was that although King County had an ordinance requiring helmets, Seattle had an exemption. I thought that was just grand, and often wished that my hometown, Bellevue, would have also exempted the city limits. However, I just learned that in 2003, Seattle made bicycle helmets mandatory. So, officially, there is no longer anything for me to like about Seattle. That is unfortunate.

More unfortunate is the UW’s new campus safety campaign, “Look Up!” I ride a bike for convenience — so when the UW implements new rules that make biking to class less convenient, that makes me unhappy, and, honestly, less liekly to bike at all. They claim it is for safety — but I have never hit or endangered anyone on campus, and I only rarely endanger my own life while biking around campus. Let me state for the record that I would not be opposed to a fine or some other punishment for running into somebody. What I am opposed to is being punished for what someone else may (or may not) have done at some point in the past. When I bike I am conscious of others, and I avoid hitting them — I think that is all I should be required to do.

Instead, I am now told I will have to frequently dismount at certain places on campus (“whenever pedestrians are present,” which means always), I am supposed to yield to all pedestrians and motor vehicles (except when a signal gives me a right-of-way [ie, the driver waving me by isn’t good enough]), and am given the clear message that there is no speed limit, but that “any speed deemed unreasonable is a violation.” Who decides what is unreasonable? It’s all a bunch of crap that makes riding less enjoyable. Basically, it is going to suck to ride bikes around campus for a while, until they forget about this or I find out if its easy to ride away from cops — or if its not easy, until I end up in University Jail, or wherever they put violators.

Now get this. On the next page of the pamphlet where I read the announcement of screwing-over-all-bicyclists, I read about a program designed to get more people to ride to campus, called “Ride in the Rain.” They have a competition about who rides to campus more (I ride every day), with prizes and a party at the end of the rainy season to encourage riding. Well I have some advice for these people-in-charge: maybe if you didn’t make it so inconvenient to ride, more people would ride to campus of their own accord, and you wouldn’t need a whole office full of people consuming my money to encourage me. And people wonder why education costs keep going up.

Ryan’s Reccomendations — Election 2006

Bernie referenced it as he beat me to the punch, and now it has been formally requested (yes, I consider comments “formal”). Presenting, Ryan’s Reccomendations for the 2006 election:

Initiative 920 — Repeal Washington’s Estate Tax — I am voting Yes

I am generally against taxes, and this here is a tax. However, the issue is a lot more subtle than that. The estate tax (called the “death tax” by its oppoenents) is one of the more sound taxes theoretically. After all, few things make lives worthless as qucikly or as thoroughly as inheritting a large sum of money. Furthermore, the children of the rich are generally the very best prepared to contribute to society and thus produce wealth for themselves — they do not need the help of inheritted money. So, why do I oppose this tax? The problem isn’t theory — its application.

There are more than enough loopholes for anyone with enough money and a tax advisor to pass their money on anyway. So, in the end, its not the super-rich that really get laid out with this tax — its the hard working small business owner who dies in an untimely manner and didn’t have all the tax shelters set up. Then its the family that has to try to take over and while grieving find a large chunk of cash to pay the tax, or as usually happens, sell the business to pay the tax. The rub is, of course, that all the money they use to pay this tax has already been taxed when it was earned.

Bear in mind that the current system — even without the help of estate taxes — is not somehow terribly broken. The large majority of the rich in this nation got there without major help from inheritance, and most family wealth is lost within several generations.

Initiative 933 — Require Compensation When Government (Partially) Takes Land — I am voting Yes
This initiative is far from perfect — in fact, I’m pretty sure it will lead to some future headaches. Fortunately, the law is a malleable thing, and these headaches can be dealt with as they are recognized. But I’m still very much in favor of this initiative because it is a neccesary reaction to the insane land-use restrictions that have been put into place in several parts of Western Washington — including right here in King County.

Although I am generally in favor of some local land use regulation, I think it should be apllied fairly to everyone. Unfortunately, here in King County, a Seattle-controlled majority is telling rural land owners to the east what they can and cannot do with their personal property. For example, a rural land owner who owns land on a slope cannot develop two thirds of the property. I’d be unhappy, but morally ok with this law if it also applied to Seattle as well as rural King County. In other words, if Seattle had to restore two thirds of its sloped property to its natural state then this would be a fair law. Of course, Seattlelites would think that this is as ridiculous as rural owners currently think it is. How the current system is actually working is that Seattle gets to stay the way it is and just tell other people what they can’t do to thier property. Yet among the guarantees of Washington’s Constitution are that “No private property shall be taken or damaged for public or private use without just compensation having been first made” (Section 16). With today’s land-use laws, the result is often the same as if the government had taken two thirds of an owners property, but no compensation is currently being made. I-933 corrects this problem.

Initiative 937 — Require Energy Companies Meeting Arbitratry Number to Pay Arbitrary Fines — I’m voting No
Today’s alternative energy will become readily available — and therefore no longer “alternative” — as soon as it makes economic sense. I have no doubt that this will happen in my lifetime. And I’m not entirely opposed to governments pushing in that direction. However, I think government should approach the issue intelligently — not as this initiative does with arbitraty numbers or fines. I’d be more in favor, for example, of a consistent flat tax on all carbon dioxide release. That way, there is always an incentive for all power production to produce less carbon dioxide. This initiative, on the other hand, creates no incentives to small eletric utility companies to do anything, and raises electricity costs to most people with no social benefit (most likely, all the “non-alternative” power, including hydroelectric, would still be produced the same old way, but shipped to California).

House Joint Resolution 4223 — Ammend Constitution to Raise Exemption Limit — I’m Voting No
Constitutions, in my opinion, should be changed little. This seems far too minor an annoyance to warrant the change, especially when the correct thing to do is eliminate the tax that this would raise the exemption for.

King County Proposition No. 1 — Authorization to Sell Certain Real Property — I’m Voting No
But there is no real good reason for that, except that I refuse to rubberstamp county will. Also, the percentage voting yes on this one (as well at HJR 4233) helps me gauge the number of sheep in the county/state.

King County Proposition No. 2 — Public Transporation Sales Tax — I’m Voting No
I believe that Public Transportation, as present constituted, is not the answer to traffic woes. It is especially unfair to force rural king couty voters, who get no bus service, to pay for this. Do we really need more empty busses?

United States Senator — I will follow the lead of a friend and rank them in preference:

  1. Bruce Guthrie (L) — Guthrie has tacked ar left to influence the election, but he is a true libertarian at heart. That means less federal government, which will make people on the right and the left happy. Libertarians are the real center.
  2. Mike McGavick (R) — The moderate right-leaning candidate, talks tough on spending and goes light on the social issues. Also knows how to make hard decisions — like firing people — for the greater good — like saving an entire company.
  3. Maria Cantwell (D) — The competent left-leaning incumbant who narrowly defeated Slade Gorton 6 years ago and looks poised for another victory.
  4. Robin Adair (I) — Weird, but does not embrace bad ideas wholeheartedly, like…
  5. Aaron Dixon (G) — As John Evans said, “Is proud of some bad ideas.” Also, like a watermellon: Green on the outside, Red on the inside. Sure, its a joke, but its far too true.

Congressional District No. 8 — Dave Reichart
Dave Reichart has carried on the moderate-right legacy of the very popular Jennifer Dunn that represents his district well. As the Seattle Times puts it, though, “it is hard to discern where Burner differs from the Democratic Party line.” East King county, a moderate district, would not be well represented by Darcy Burner.

Legislative District No. 41
Position 1 — The incumbant Fred Jarret (R) is the better of two bad choices.
Position 2 — Erik Fretheim (R) provides a more fiscally responsible choice than incumbant Judy Clibborn.

State Supreme Court
Position 2 — Challenger Stephen Johnson is a better choice for judging based on laws as they are written as opposed to how they “should have been written,” as Susan Owens seems to do all-too-often. Owens also fails to show at scheduled debates.

District Court Northeast Position 2
Everyone running for this position is bad. I haven’t figured out who I am voting for yet.

You Shouldn’t Have…

Hey Seattle, this is what you get when you vote against Ryan’s reccomendations. At the time that Pat Davis was reelected, I said (emphasis added):

Incumbent Pat Davis lies through her teeth on her statement, claiming that she helped reduce the port tax rate by 33% — the opposite is true. Any property owner who has statements dating back a few years can show you the large jump the port taxes took under Davis’ watch. I don’t know why so many newspapers support Davis, but she also has lots of support from within the Port community, something to be wary of in my opinion. Jack Jolley has run his campaign as an advocate for those that just want a self-sufficient, accountable port.

And now, from the Seattle Times, Pat Davis shows us why she had strong support from the port, and why taxes under her kept going up:

Mic Dinsmore is paid more than any other top executive at a major U.S. port, and he’s due to retire in less than six months.

Today Port of Seattle commissioners are due to consider awarding him a 6 percent raise that would boost his annual salary by $16,400 and lock in an extra $3,000 a year in future state pension benefits.

If he gets the raise, the 61-year-old Dinsmore would have a final pay packet of $339,841 a year — substantially more than his peers at other big ports — and more than double the $150,995 Gov. Christine Gregoire earns as chief executive of the state.

Commission President Patricia Davis said she thinks he’s earned an annual raise, and she is confident the commission will give it to him.

But several commissioners said Dinsmore’s performance as chief executive officer doesn’t merit such an increase.

Yeah, she’s advocating a large raise to a guy who is already overpaid (almost $100k more than comparable ports like L.A., Boston, and New York), a guy who is vastly underperforming (falling tonnage and revenue) and is about to retire anyway (so there isn’t even a need for an incentive to keep him here, even if we were doing a good job).

Amazing. Yet most of y’all out there voted for her. Shame on you.

An Armed Society is a Polite Society

Victim fatally shoots downtown assailant

By Jonathan Martin

Seattle Times staff reporter

A bizarre case of what appeared to be justifiable homicide rattled the heart of Seattle’s swanky downtown shopping district late Saturday morning.

Seattle police are still piecing together what happened, but this much is known: A young man was killed on the crowded sidewalk outside Westlake Center, and the confessed shooter was allowed to walk out of a police station.

The case, according to police and witnesses, began at 11 a.m. Saturday with a 911 call.

Witnesses reported a man in a yellow shirt acting erratically, insulting and threatening passing pedestrians at Pike Street and Boren Avenue near the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, said Seattle police spokeswoman Deb Brown.

A half-hour later, a man matching the same description was reported near Westlake Center. At the same time, a second man, described by witnesses as balding and wearing a leather jacket, was walking through the nearby plaza after finishing his lunch.

Neither man’s identity was released by police on Saturday.

The man in the yellow shirt apparently focused in on the second man, saying, “I am going to kill you,” Brown said. He then began punching and kicking the second man until the man fell to the sidewalk.

“He was down there, minding his own business. There is nothing to think he was anything but a random target,” Brown said.

The victim happened to have a concealed-weapons permit, Brown said, and he was carrying a handgun. He pulled out the gun and fired once, hitting his attacker in the abdomen.

“It looked to me like he shot him in self-defense,” said Linda Vu, who was across the street from the shooting, handing out fliers for political activist Lyndon LaRouche. “It’s kind of crazy.”

No, “kind of crazy” is the LaRouche supporters. This event does not qualify.

The man in the yellow shirt died after being taken to Harborview Medical Center. The King County Medical Examiner was trying to determine his identity, a task complicated by the fact that the man carried no identification.

Several nearby Seattle police officers heard the gunshot. When they arrived at the shooting scene, the victim, sitting on a streetside planter full of purple pansies, handed the gun to them and said, “I am the one who did this,” according to Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel.

The man was arrested, but after questioning him and other witnesses, detectives determined they did not have probable cause to book him into the King County Jail. The man was released. Police said they were withholding his name as a crime victim — of the assault.

It will be up to the county prosecutor to determine whether the man will face charges. But Pugel said, “It could be considered justifiable homicide.”

“Could be?” What kind of question about the incident is there? Was he just supposed to take the beating and pretend it wasn’t happening? I think this is clearly justified. End of story.

The shooting stunned Jim and Edith Welsh, tourists from Australia who’d just left the Nordstrom store across the street when police arrived. Peering across the police tape draped across Pine Street, Welsh hugged his wife. “I think we’re going back to our hotel right now,” he said.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Oh noes! Crime stopped in its tracks by an armed citizen? What could be more disturbing?!

Initiative 933: It’s about fairness

Initiative 933 It’s about fairness

By Bruce Ramsey

Seattle Times editorial columnist

Initiative 933 is about your rights to your property. Under I-933, when government takes away some of your rights over your land and makes your land go down in value, it would have to pay you.

Government could still stop you from creating a hazard or a nuisance to your neighbors without having to pay. That won’t change. What will change is that if government wants to stop you from such things as clearing brush, filling in a pond, cutting a tree, building a house or putting in a garden, and the rule it wants to impose on you was created after Jan. 1, 1996, it would have to pay you for depriving you of a right.

The initiative is sponsored by the Washington Farm Bureau. It is of particular interest to farmers, who have been complaining for years of the compulsions imposed on them by city people. But really, it would give extra protection to all owners of land.

Politically, I-933 is a response to city people’s efforts to protect wildlife and natural beauty and to make rural people pay for it. Rural people see this as unfair, because the benefit is for everyone, but the cost falls on them. As former Environmental Protection Agency head Bill Ruckelshaus said earlier this year, “If people think the government has come along and taken part of their land away to address a national problem, they think it’s unfair. And they’re not totally wrong, by any means.”

Here is an example. In 1977, Edwina Johnston bought land south of Interstate 90 at Preston in rural King County. In 1991, the land was zoned for one house on five acres. Johnston still has 30 acres, which should accommodate six houses. But since 1996, she says, King County government has imposed a wide buffer around two seasonal streams. Of these streams, she says, “One is two inches wide and the other is about a foot wide, and neither has any fish.” That doesn’t matter. No building is allowed in a buffer.

In addition, she says, the county’s Critical Areas Ordinances mandated that 65 percent of each lot remain untouched and that no more than 10 percent be covered by waterproof surfaces like roofs or pavement. Requirements for scientific studies have made dividing 20 of the 30 acres so complicated that it would eat up most of the property’s value.

This means, she says, that the county has taken away much of the value of her land. She is 73. “I bought this for my retirement,” she says. “I have no pension.”

If Edwina Johnston had a pension, it would be unconstitutional for the government to take it from her. You might think the same would hold for her rights to her land. The Washington Constitution of 1889 says, “No private property shall be taken or damaged for public or private use without just compensation having first been made.” The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1791, says, “Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

That would seem clear, but the courts have had great difficulty defining the word “taken.”

The question came to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 in the case of a South Carolina builder. David Lucas had paid almost a million dollars for two waterfront lots. The lots were zoned for beach houses, many of which were there already. Shortly afterward, however, the state said it needed to protect the sand dunes, and forbade any more beach houses.

Had the state taken Lucas’ property? He thought so. State officials thought not; they had only regulated him. He still had his lots. He could pitch a tent on them or spread out a blanket and have a picnic on them. The court, however, ruled that the thing for which he had paid a million dollars — the right to put up a house — had been taken, and that the state had to pay for what it took.

From this case came the rule that if government takes all the economic use, it has to pay. In the years since 1992, governments in many states, including ours, have learned to take part of the economic use and pay nothing.

King County did this with its Critical Areas Ordinances, which were designed to get as close to the Lucas rule without triggering it. Seattle has done the same by declaring seasonal mud puddles of 100 square feet to be “wetlands,” and imposing no-build buffers around them.

Oregon declared that an owner of rich farmland could not build a house on it if he earned less than $80,000 a year by farming it.

It was in Oregon that the reaction appeared. In 2004, Oregon voters passed an initiative much like I-933. Oregon is a liberal state; in 2004, it gave John Kerry 52 percent of its votes for president. That year, Oregon voters also passed Measure 37, the property-rights initiative, by 61 percent. The Oregon Supreme Court unanimously declared it constitutional and it went into effect a few months ago.

Statewide, Oregon property owners have made more than 2,000 claims under the new law, most of them family landowners in rural parts of the Willamette Valley. So far, all the claims that have met the standard of the law have been granted waivers.

The Oregonian in Portland reported that the first owners to build under a Measure 37 waiver in Clackamas County were Vern and Alice Waite, who had owned 15 acres since 1973. They had a barn but no house, and Oregon had passed a land-use code that forbade them for no good reason from building a house unless they earned $80,000 a year from the land, which they didn’t. Now they are putting up a house.

Opponents of I-933 are shouting that if government has to actually pay for what it takes from citizens, that will doom the environmental laws. This is environmentalist doomsaying. I-933 won’t touch any law, zoning code or rule passed before Jan. 1, 1996, and by that time there were quite a few of them. For newer rules, it will require payment — but only if the property value is reduced by the government’s rule. Sometimes it’s not reduced.

In some cases, potential payments might add up to many millions of dollars. But that is admitting that government wants to take people’s assets worth many millions of dollars and not pay for them.

I-933 would still allow government to protect wildlife or natural beauty, but it would make it more expensive for government to do it by imposing rules on landowners.

There are, however, other ways. Consider the Nisqually River. It flows out of Mount Rainier National Park and into the last undeveloped delta on Puget Sound. Salmon spawn in the river and elk migrate along it. These are large islands of habitat that would be much more valuable linked in a corridor, but there are too many human investments in that corridor to do that cheaply.

People found a different way. The Nisqually is being preserved with a 50-year agreement among government agencies, tribes and private landowners, many of them farmers. Seattle trade consultant Bill Bryant worked for several years on the Nisqually agreement, and argues that it is a superior alternative to top-down regulation. It is adaptive and flexible rather than bureaucratic, and it lends itself to win-win solutions instead of one group imposing its wishes on another.

In the Nisqually talks, owners have been asked to think how they could accomplish their long-term plans without harming wildlife. And they have cooperated. They like the idea of saving wildlife. They like the idea of being asked. Of course, it was done with the background possibility that they would have their rights taken away, and a few owners were wary about that. But Bryant says, “We haven’t had anybody say, ‘Hell, no.’ ”

A rule requiring payment for takings, says Bryant, would cause people to try a Nisqually-type agreement “much earlier in the process.” Owners would enter such negotiations with stronger rights, and a result that satisfied outsiders’ environmental wishes might cost environmental groups, or the public treasury, more. But the outcome would be fairer to all concerned.

Really, that is what I-933 is about: fairness. It is about government paying for what it takes. Of course it will cost something, but that it is cheaper to steal is not an argument for theft.

Bruce Ramsey’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is bramsey@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Pope Benedict XVI’s Controversy

Below I include the relevant portion of the Pope’s recent address

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on — perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara — by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between — as they were called — three “Laws” or “rules of life”: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point — itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole — which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason”, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that sura 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood — and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: “For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.” Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Muslim R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.

I have come to the conclusion that any large group of people that finds offense in these words is utterly moronic. I would be sorry for saying so, but every way I can parse it, there is no fight in these words. The Pope simply mentions a dialogue from ancient times where another person uttered one sound byte: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” which repeated oft enough and out of context has led vast swarms of people into frothing hysteria.

Certainly, there are Jews and Christains who react similarly when something that might reflect badly on their religion of choice comes up (Mel Gibson, anyone?), but in these cases they are not all unified in their idoicy (Michael Medved defended Gibson). Islam really very badly needs moderates to vocally oppose this lunacy if it wants to be taken seriously. Unless, of course, the oft-quoted quote is true, and that shocking truth is what has led to the current situation.