Monday, September 21, 2009


A behind the scenes look at the budget process of local government in these “interesting times”.

When the pirates on Wall Street and their friends
in goverment finished raping and pillaging the economy, they left an ugly trail of despair and desperation in their wake. Their victims are showing up at shelters, soup kitchens, emergency
rooms and tent cities that are mushrooming across the nation. They include the well educated and the victims of our more recent military adventures. The job market, never robust during the Bush years, is shrinking at an alarming rate. All this is happening at a time when States, Counties, Cities and Communities, charged with their care, are experiencing huge revenue shortfalls.
In King County WA, which includes the city of Seattle, Council Members are trying to solve the shortfall by channeling Ronald Reagan. Close parks, shut down 911 emergency services and allocate zero dollars for human services. Give law enforcement a raise and hope for the best. The ugly phrase “public/private partnerships’ was bandied about by one council member. A smug euphemism for transferring even more of the public wealth to the private sector.

The shortsightedness and brazen inhumanity of these budget decisions are incomprehensible. How can one human being say to another that their need is of no consequence? When people are granted power, is it a requirement to have one’s humanity surgically removed?
Dismantling welfare programs (400+vendors) always ends up costing more than any short-term savings. The ensuing chaos created by slashing vital services costs is exponentially more expensive than maintaining current levels of service. The social costs continue far beyond the temporary budget crisis.
When the people making these proposals take home $120,000 of taxpayer’s dollars every year, the process becomes obscene.

The sad and sorry fact is that even in good times King Country has never allocated a set amount to HHS. Law enforcement and the Courts are mandated expenses but not the simple, sensible act of helping those in need. The desperate and adrift have always had to rely on the crumbs from short-term revenues.
In the same budget session King Country managed to find federal dollars to help “stabilize” real estate prices by offering first time homebuyers down payment assistance but no one even mentioned looking for federal dollars to help with the HHS shortfall.

A group of determined citizens showed up a recent budget meeting to voice their displeasure at their cold-hearted approach to the victims of Wall Street’s unchecked greed. Church leaders spoke about being cognizant of their own vulnerability and mindful of the suffering of others. Others questioned 73% of the general fund going to law enforcement and courts, demanding that a paltry 3% be allocated to helping the most vulnerable.
While the council members were “feeling our pain” and fretting about how difficult it was to solve this problem, the man next to me silently held a sign aloft; “tax the rich”.
This common sense message failed to penetrate the consciousness of the Council. There are many profiting from "disaster capitalism".
There are systemic problems in the tax structure that are impacting the current crisis. Too many responsibilities have been off loaded onto local government and too few Federal dollars are returned to the States.
In the end, Council members recommended a 1% mandate HHS, about six million dollars. That leaves law enforcement about 438 million to scrape by on.
The King County Council called their paltry recommendation a “political victory” for us. It was a telling phrase. When Council Members have to make choices they don’t consider the problem, they consider the politics of the problem. What interest groups will make the most noise if they negatively impacted and which populations have little or no power? That is why politicians instinctively reach for the worst possible solution in a crisis, screw the poor and vulnerable.
That is precisely how the powerful become separated from their humanity.
That is how people who exercise power become dangerous to the society they live in.
Carol DW

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Judge Bybee: Coming to a Court Room Near You

From time to time Seattle has the dubious honor of hosting Judge Bybee, one of the infamous authors of the torture memos.
He sits on the 9th District Court, a lifetime appointment awarded to him by President Bush for providing legal cover (albeit thin) for the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices. Since the date of these memos, more than a hundred people (that we know of) have died in US custody. Many more have been permanently injured in mind and body.
There is evidence that "enhanced interrogations" were used to provide justification for the extra legal invasion of Iraq.
Under domestic and international law, torture is always crime. There are no mitigating circumstances and no statute of limitations. Conspiring to commit torture ( Bybee's gig) bears the same punishments as torture.
To his credit, Bybee has expressed regret for having written the memos. Regret is not the same as doing time for doing the crime. It is a stain on the character of our new president (or worse) that that Bybee continues to sit in judgment instead of in a cell.
A dozen or so patriotic citizens decided to provide a welcome for Judge Bybee outside the courthouse where he was presiding. It would be a small demonstration that including pictures of Bybee's victims, a large paper mache statue of Justice, peeking through her blindfold and a motley assortment of peace and justice folks. The most aggressive thing planned was to hand out literature and postcards addressed to the Attorney General.
When the demonstrators arrived, Homeland Security was waiting. In addition to the usual courthouse security , there were SEVEN white vans each containing uniformed, armed guards ssurrounded the building. Several were parked in right in front of the demonstration. There was an assortment of plain clothes officers looking like Mormon missionaries. There were no terrorists for Homeland Security to sniff out and the most dangerous person, aside from themselves, was Bybee.
How they knew we were coming is puzzling. It was an ad hoc event put together through frantic phone calls and last minute email messages. Were they reading our email, listening in on our cell phones or is there a mole?
How would Homeland Security react if we were to stand around in front of their headquarters
with guns strapped to our hips and a cadre of men in black suits with cell phones clapped to their ears. How much did it cost tax payers to provide that much intimidation?
My apologies to good cops everywhere, but I have yet to encounter a situation where police involvment didn't mean that things were going to get a lot worse. This was no exception.
About 40 minutes into the demonstration the man in the picture took out a camera and began aggressively photographing all the demonstrator's faces, including myself. When I began photographing him, he and his ICE badge hot-footed it up the stairs. He looked haunted.
A short time later this same man had a short middle aged woman arrested. Two armed Homeland Security officers grabbed her roughly by the arms and marched her up the steps into the building. She was charge assault??? and banned from court property.
During the Bush years I had read accounts of demonstrators being harassed and spuriously arrested. Riding rough shod over citizen's constitutional rights was one of Bush's favorite pastimes. It was outrageous but not surprising.
In my wildest dreams I never imagined that this would continue under a new administration. It had all the stupid militancy of a Banana Republic, legitimizing itself by force. The message was clear: "sit down and shut up, or else". This is not the America I know and care for.
This was a journey to another country; one I wish I had not taken.
Carol DW