Recognizing a Tyrant

Symptoms by which you may recognize a tyrant:

1. Fears losing their position; actions driven by this fear
2. Attempts to rise above the rule of law
3. Does not accept criticism
4. Cannot be called to account for their actions
5. Does not listen to advice from those who do not curry favor
6. Prevents those who disagree from participating in politics

If any of this sounds familiar, we are in trouble. By definition, a democracy rejects tyranny in all its forms.

[Paraphrasing Paul Woodruff, First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea]

Who's supporting the GOP Candidate in the 45th Dist. State Senate Election?


Source: Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

In Bellevue, the issues of the homeless shelter and safe injection sites are wedge issues promoted by scared Republicans

In Bellevue and other Eastside communities, there is highly partisan debate underway, online and at city meetings, about the proposed men’s shelter in Eastgate, and about King County’s plan to have safe injection sites for the most addicted opiate users.

The real reason for the fervency of the opposition on these issues is that Republicans need wedge issues to distract voters from Donald Trump and from the fact that the Republican-controlled state senate just raised King County homeowners’ real estate taxes by up to $800 a year.

Republicans have lost control of the eastside in the state legislature: all legislators in the 41st and 48th legislative districts are Democrats (and female). That fate was sealed last year when Democrat Lisa Wellman defeated Republican Steve Litzow for the 41st LD state senate seat.

Likewise, in the 2016 election, every single precinct in the 41st, 45th, and 48th LDs preferred Hillary Clinton & Tim Kaine over Donald Trump & Michael Pence. (Source: database downloaded from: King County Elections) Opposition to Trump is what probably sank Litzow, who even sent out campaign literature stating his opposition to Trump.

Finally, in the recent primary election in the 45th LD, Democrat Manka Dhingra beat Republican Jimyoung Englund by double digits. (source)  Check out this to see who’s funding Englund.

The real estate tax increase was a result of the need to fund education, to satisfy the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Even Republicans agreed that the state needed to raise revenue. Rather than taxing the rich, as the Democrats wanted to do with their proposed capital gains tax and their plan to eliminate tax exemptions, Republicans insisted on funding McCleary almost entirely by raising existing regressive taxes (“no new taxes”). Another reason for the budget deal was to make sure that King County would subsidize the (mostly Republican) districts in the eastern part of the state.

All six Democratic legislators in the 41st and 48th legislative districts voted against the budget deal. But Democrats have only a two seat majority in the state house, so the bill passed, hours before the deadline that would have shut down the government.

This is the background that explains what’s going on with the opposition to the homeless shelter and safe injection sites.

The Eastgate shelter site is beside a transit center, a public health facility, and Bellevue College but is otherwise in a non-residential area. The closest homes are 850 away. But many citizens say they’re worried that the shelter — which would be “low-barrier” — would bring drugs and crime to the neighborhood and would lower real estate values.

Likewise, there is debate about whether safe injection sites should be located in King County, as has been proposed by the King County Council. The Council agreed that such sites would be located only in cities that welcomed them. City councils in Bellevue, Auburn, and Federal Way have voted to oppose such sites.

On social networks such as, at town council meetings, in letters-to-the-editor, and at community meetings, some people are using their strong opposition to the shelter and the safe injection sites as wedges to attack politicians. There is a petition, I-27, to oppose heroin injection sites.

The petition and the opposition to the shelter are being driven by partisan Republican zeal to find wedge issues to win elections. Republicans are scared and need issues to win back votes.

The Seattle Times article Initiative proposed to ban heroin safe-injection sites in King County explains the origin of the safe injection petition:

The initiative campaign has been partly funded by major donors to Republican campaigns including Clyde Holland, Ken Fisher, Bruce McCaw and Skip Rowley. Signature-gathering began in Redmond and was focused on the Eastside suburbs, Sinderman said, though it was unlikely a site would be proposed there. And a spokesman for the I-27 campaign, Keith Schipper, is a former communications director for the Republican State Party…. Chris Vance, a former state Republican Party chairman, said he believes those leading the I-27 campaign sincerely believe safe-injection is bad policy. But they also see it as a way to make political gains. It is “absolutely the type of thing that’s been a wedge issue that allows suburban Republicans to differentiate themselves from Seattle Democrats,” said Vance, a former Metropolitan council member.

When I posted that quote on nextdoor, someone responded by telling a sad story about her niece dying in the hospital from liver failure due to drug use. I responded:

So sorry to hear about your niece. That’s why society needs to set up various kinds of treatment options. Surely you don’t think the supporters of safe injection sites like opiate use? Injection sites are one of many options for treatment, and only for the most addicted people. Besides, as the article points out, and as others have said, Bellevue and other Eastside communities are very unlikely locations for such a site. The City Council voted unanimously against it. Mostly, the issue is a wedge issue and a distraction from more pressing issues. For example, you point out “There are no beds. Medicare does not have coverage.” Why do you think that is? It’s because of our regressive, unfair tax system and corrupt political system. People are misled by propaganda. The issues of safe injection sites and the homeless shelters are distractions from more important issues.

Jared Nieuwenhuis, candidate for Bellevue City Council, used the issues of the shelter and safe injection site in his (nasty and dishonest) campaign literature. Here’s an image of the flier I got in the mail:

Campaign flier for Jared Nieuwebhuis attacking Karol Brown

In theory the city council elections are non-partisan. In practice, they are anything but. Look at the highly partisan campaign literature distributed by Jared. What does “Loyal to Seattle Special Interest Groups” mean? It falsely claims that Karol Brown will bring heroin injection sites; she opposes them. I can’t speak for whether Ms. Brown supports an income tax, but she should, and so should you, because our regressive tax system is very unfair to the middle class. Indeed, real estate taxes in Bellevue are going up about $800 next year because the Republicans refused to support a capital gains tax and refused to eliminate tax breaks for corporations and rich people.

Many experts and informed politicians think there is a role for safe injection sites.

“An article published this week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine addresses the massive scope of opioid addiction in the United States, and discusses numerous benefits of giving drug users a supervised place to inject–something other countries have put into practice all over the world.” See “Opioid Activists Are Going Rogue To Prove That Safe Injection Sites Save Lives” (Opioid Activists Are Going Rogue To Prove That Safe Injection Sites Save Lives)

Safe injection sites are a radical new approach to battling addiction

Yet I myself do not think Bellevue is the right place for a safe injection site. Besides, the issue is settled in Bellevue, since the city council has voted to oppose the site. Nor do I have strong opinions about the location of the homeless shelter.

I just think the massive opposition to safe injection sites, and to the homeless shelter, is blown way out of proportion. Both are being used as wedge issues. If people are so concerned about drug abuse, please support funding for other solutions to these problems.

How can we address the opiate crisis, homelessness, pollution, traffic, and our grossly unfair, regressive tax system that burdens the middle class and causes increasing concentration of wealth? Those are the real issues we face.

Review of Martin Nowak's Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed

How can cooperation emerge in a world of selfish individuals ruled by a Darwinian competition for survival?

This is the question that Martin Nowak, Professor of Mathematics and Biology at Harvard University, discusses in Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed.

Nowak and his collaborators have published a series of articles in major scientific journals that give partial answers to this question. The book provides a gentle overview of the technical results, with frequent comments about the implications for politics and economics. For example, Nowak repeatedly mentions climate change as an example of something requiring cooperation among humans.

The hope is that if we understand, mathematically, how cooperation emerges, we can better design policies and structures to promote cooperation and deter selfishness.

I propose that “natural cooperation” be included as a fundamental principle to bolster those laid down by Darwin. Cooperation can draw living matter upwards to higher levels of organization… Cooperation makes evolution constructive and open-ended.

Super Cooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed

The book has a few simple mathematical formulas, but the educated layman should be able to understand the gist of the arguments, thanks to generous use of example, analogy and simplification. Indeed, the book’s readability benefits from the aid of Roger Highfield, an author of popular science books, who helped Nowak with the writing.

Darwinian evolution is based on competition for survival, for resources, and for mates. Winners reproduce, losers leave few offspring. Due to mutations, individuals vary in their fitness. Over many generations, fitter (configurations of) genes proliferate, while weaker ones disappear.

In fact, fitness is defined in terms of ability to reproduce, so the fact that fitter individuals reproduce is something of a tautology.

Similarly to evolution, in an economy, people often act selfishly, trying to get paid as much as possible for what they sell, whether goods or their services, and trying to pay as little as possible for what they buy.

It would appear that cooperation is difficult to explain in a pure, evolution-based model or in a selfish profit-based economy. You’d expect that selfishness would always win out. But it’s clear that cooperation is common, both among non-human animals and among humans.

The basic reason is that, in the long run being nice pays off, for you or for your children, kin, or neighbors.

In the context of this book, cooperation basically means: an individual is willing to sacrifice some short-term benefit in exchange for a longer-term reward, either for itself or for related individuals (e.g., children or kin or members of the same group). In other words, cooperation is a form of reciprocity, or reciprocal altruism. This sense of cooperation isn’t as pristine or as self-sacrificing as some religious traditions’ ideals of pure selfless love. But even Christianity relies on a promise of reward and punishment in the afterlife to motivate moral behavior.

Albert Einstein once said, “If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

Unfortunately, from the point of view of biology, all we seem to have is punishment and reward, where reward means reproductive fitness: produce descendants who survive and who likewise reproduce. (It is not sufficient to have children: if your kids are too weak to survive, or if they don’t reproduce, your reproductive fitness isn’t really high.)

Yet the bearer of fitness (the entity getting the reward or punishment and that gets to reproduce) isn’t necessarily the individual of a species. Richard Dawkins famously suggests that the unit of competition and survival may be the gene: animals exist to promote the interests of their genes, not the other way around. Moreover, genes, as well as gene networks, span individuals and species.

There are also theories which say the unit of the reward is the group: related kin, or cooperating subgroups, or (at a higher level) cooperating species who live in symbiosis with one another.

Indeed, group-based reciprocity seems to be the essence of cooperation.

We are all in it together.

We are interdependent.

Nowak thinks cooperation, and not just competition, is a fundamental force in evolution.

I have argued that evolution “needs” cooperation if she is to construct new levels of organization, driving genes to collaborate in chromosomes, chromosomes to collaborate in genomes, genomes to collaborate in cells, cells to collaborate in more complex cells, complex cells to collaborate in bodies, and bodies to collaborate in societies.

A set of genes working together is an example of cooperation. And in the primordial soup, sets of cooperating chemical reactions led to the origins of life.

Within biology, there have been attempts to explain cooperation in terms of kin selection (in which an individual is willing to sacrifice itself to aid close relatives who share many genes with it). The social insects are prime examples of cooperators; the worker ants who build and defend the nest are closely related to the queen.

A related notion is group selection (aka multi-level selection), according to which groups which are more fit (e.g., due to being better cooperators) out-compete groups which are less fit.

The idea of group selection seems intuitively correct, and Darwin was aware of the role of cooperation in evolution and of the apparent presence of group selection, both in biology and in culture (where ideas or what are now called “memes” reproduce).

But there are heated disagreements among professional biologists about whether the phenomenon of group selection really occurs and about the extent to which it occurs. Richard Dawkins has famously ridiculed both the idea and the biologists who support it. Nowak seems to be among the latter group.

Examples of cooperation among humans include: lending a cup of sugar to a neighbor, taking the bus instead of driving the car, paying taxes instead of cheating, contributing to the donation plate, bringing in your neighbors’ and garbage bins from the curb, as well as more dramatic examples such as risking your life to safe someone who has fallen onto train tracks. Most parents would instinctively risk their lives to save the lives of their (small) children.

In the mathematical and computer models of cooperation, various individuals interact with other individuals, either in a well-mixed pool; in a network of connections such as on social networks; in various sets of interests groups; or on a grid. Whenever you interact with another individual, each of you decides whether to cooperate or whether you will defect (be selfish). You are rewarded or punished accordingly.

Mathematically, cooperation is formalized in the form of such a two person game. The standard game of this sort is is called The Prisoner’s Dilemma.  It models the situation where two prisoners who have been arrested by the police and are being interrogated separately. Each prisoner gets to choose, independently, whether to cooperate (keep his mouth shut and deny the crime) or defect (accuse his partner of the crime). If they both cooperate they each get only one year in prison on a lesser charge, because the police have insufficient evidence. If they both defect, they each get two years in prison. If one person cooperates with his partner and the other person defects, then the first person (the cooperator) gets three years in prison and the second person (the defector) gets off free.

From the point of view of each prisoner, it seems the smartest thing to do is defect.

Suppose the other person cooperates and stays mum. Then you should defect, because you get off free.

On the other hand, suppose the other person defects and accuses you of the crime, then you better defect too. For if you cooperate with your partner, you get three years in prison, whereas if you defect you get just two years in prison.

What could prevent defection is loyalty, or the knowledge that in the future, after you’re both out of prison, the other person could punish you. Likewise, in a future similar situation, where cooperation might help he will remember your betrayal.

The tragedy of the commons is a similar scenario.

In the more general game, where rewards and punishments can take the form of money or some other outcome, there are likewise four possible outcomes: Cooperate-Cooperate, Cooperate-Defect, Defect-Cooperate, and Defect-Defect. Each outcome has a (possibly different) payoff for each of you. If you both cooperate, you both get the same reward R for cooperating. If one person cooperates but the other person defects, the first person is punished (S for Sucker) bad but the other person wins a big reward (T for Temptation) If you both defect, you’re both punished slightly (P). Depending on the relative values of P,R, S, and T, and on the structure of interactions — specifically, whether you can learn about the reputation of the person you’re interacting with — cooperation may or may not emerge.The standard Prisoner’s Dilemma game has

T > R > P > S.

Yet cooperation can emerge. This result is non-intuitive, because given the inequalities above, the values P, R, S, and T guarantee that in the short-term the smartest thing to do is to defect. Here’s why. Your opponent is either going to cooperate or defect (and you won’t know which he does til after you make your move).

Assume he cooperates. Then you can win big by defecting. Here’s why. If you cooperate, you get only R. But if you defect, you get T and T>R. So, it seems you should defect.

Likewise assume he defects. Then you better defect too, because if you cooperate, then you’ll get only S, but if you defect you’ll get P, and P>S.

So in either case, the best thing to do, in the short run, is to defect.

But in a community of people playing the game repeatedly, there are benefits from cooperation. A group of cooperating individuals will have a higher fitness (reward) than a group of turncoat defectors, because R>P.

If the last time I interacted with you, you cooperated, and if I remember that, I can try cooperating again, in the hopes that you will reciprocate.

So in the presence of repeated interactions, and memory, cooperation can emerge.

Cooperators are rewarded with help from other cooperators. Defectors are punished by future defection. If cooperators gain a benefit as a group that is unavailable to defectors, then cooperation can flourish. But cooperation is always susceptible to exploitation by defectors: a population of trusting cooperators can be taken advantage of by a few defectors.  Such invasions by defectors are visible in computer simulations.

Cancerous cells can be modeled as defectors.  So can tax dodgers and alleged welfare moms who drive Mercedes.

Using the formalization of Prisoner’s Dilemma, Nowak was able to prove mathematical theorems, and run computer simulations, that show under what conditions cooperation can flourish.

He showed that cooperation emerges if you meet the other person often enough in the future and can remember the previous interactions, so you can punish or reward him. It also helps if people have a reputation that is is public knowledge or that is shared between individuals (indirect reciprocity). Furthermore, it helps if people are organized into small groups; this allows cooperators to shield themselves from being taken of advantage of by nasty defectors; large groups are difficult to police. Finally, it helps if it’s possible to move between groups, to escape defectors.

Even if we can explain cooperation biologically, in terms of kin selection, or group selection, there is still a problem: how inclusive is the in-group?  Does it include people of a different race or nationality? How about individuals of a different species?

As indicated above, the biologically inspired notion of cooperation is somewhat unsatisfying, because it still relies on a form of reciprocity, albeit at the group level. If someone chooses not to identify with the group, then why should they cooperate?

Indeed, conservatives are the consummate defectors: individualists who detest and ridicule cooperation and community endeavors, at least by governments. Conservatives detest the United Nations. They detest the International Court of Law.  Conservatives avoid paying taxes,  but typically like spending money on wars, both domestic (e.g., the wasteful and disastrous war on drugs) and foreign.  Conservatives oppose laws and regulatory agencies that deter their antisocial behavior. They under-fund the IRS, encouraging tax cheats. And they under-fund Congressional staff, so that lawmakers are dependent on lobbyists and outside groups for information.

Like parasites, conservatives destroy the body politic, all in the name of “freedom.”

Conservatives and their ideology can be defeated only when enough people wake up to the lies and the half-truths behind their movement,  and when enough people realize that we’d be better off in the long run by cooperating on building a government that works for everyone, that makes sound environmental, health, and safety policies, and that makes sure tax cheats pay their fair share.

The end of fossil-fuel powered cars

Strangers are poisoning you and your families with toxic chemicals.

Even if you don’t agree with the vast majority of climate scientists about human-caused climate change, you should believe what the American Lung Association says about the effects of vehicle exhaust on health.

In Living Near Highways and Air Pollution, The American Lung Association says living near a highway is bad for your health:

The number of people living “next to a busy road” may include 30 to 45 percent of the urban population in North America, according to the most recent review of the evidence. In January 2010, the Health Effects Institute published a major review of the evidence by a panel of expert scientists. The panel looked at over 700 studies from around the world, examining the health effects. They concluded that traffic pollution causes asthma attacks in children, and may cause a wide range of other effects including: the onset of childhood asthma, impaired lung function, premature death and death from cardiovascular diseases, and cardiovascular morbidity. The area most affected, they concluded, was roughly 0.2 to 0.3 miles (300 to 500 meters) from the highway.

Dementia in the elderly is also correlated with living near highways.

In short, driving a gas-powered car is like smoking a cigarette in an infant nursery.

But the solution isn’t for people to relocate away from highways, because that leads to sprawl and long commutes.

The solutions include: public transportation, more efficient vehicles, carpooling, electric cars, bicycling, shorter commutes, smarter walkable communities where residential areas aren’t separated from shopping and business areas. Instead of driving to big box stores to shop, people should walk or bike to the corner market, or at least drive shorter distances. Walkable communities are more pleasant to live in and tend to result in higher real estate values.

If you take public transportation, not only do you help save the environment and protect your and others’ health, you also get a chance to read books.  Taking the bike, even to the bus stop, gives you exercise.

Cities should be built for people, not for cars.

A generation ago it was considered acceptable for people to smoke cigarettes in restaurants. Nowadays society has recognized the dangers from second-hand smoke and has restricted cigarette smoking in public places.

A generation from today society is likely to regard driving a gas-powered vehicle with similar disapproval. Indeed, the UK will ban sales of new gas and diesel cars by 2040. Petrol and diesel ban: How will it work?: “Poor air quality is the ‘biggest environmental risk to public health in the UK’ – thought to be linked to about 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK – the government says.”

Quickie Link: Walmart Workers Cost Taxpayers $6.2 Billion In Public Assistance

Report: Walmart Workers Cost Taxpayers $6.2 Billion In Public Assistance

Walmart’s low-wage workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing, according to a report published to coincide with Tax Day, April 15.

Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of 400 national and state-level progressive groups, made this estimate using data from a 2013 study by Democratic Staff of the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“It found that a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year, or between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers.”

"another $500 million regressive sales tax increase"

The Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet for the primary election in King County includes statements for and against Proposition 1, which would impose a 0.1% increase in the sales tax in order to fund arts, science and cultural enrichment programs.

The statement against Proposition 1 states, “it is unwise and inequitable to impose another $500 million regressive sales tax increase on overburdened King County taxpayers.

The interesting thing about this statement is that one of the co-authors is state Senator Dino Rossi (45th LD), a Republican who ran for governor.  Republicans are, with few exceptions, adamantly opposed to fixing our regressive tax system.  In the latest session of the legislature, they refused to agree to a capital gains tax and instead insisted on raising real estate taxes to fund education. Real estate taxes are more regressive than a capital gains tax, though not as regressive as a sales tax.

It’s disingenuous for politicians who oppose progressive taxation to use an argument about regressivity to attack a ballot initiative that increases the sales or real estate tax.

At least they acknowledge that the problem exists.

I note, by the way, that the legislature, including Republicans, voted, in 2015 to raise the regressive gas tax by 11.9 cents.   See  and Gas tax increases by 7 cents in Washington state.

Republicans raised regressive taxes

Is K-12 education fully funded? Not so fast

In 2009 I voted against an “education reform” bill that, amidst devastating cuts, promised fully-funding K-12 education by 2018. As I asked then, how could we expect future Legislatures to possess the courage of our convictions if even we didn’t possess that courage?

The 2009 bill’s promise was to avoid litigation, now known as the “McCleary case,” over K-12 funding inadequacy. The Washington state Supreme Court saw through the smokescreen and, in August 2015, began imposing a $100,000 daily contempt-of-court fine upon the Legislature for not progressing toward its self-imposed goal.

This year’s never-ending legislative process produced what Gov. Jay Inslee proclaimed “a historic budget that fully funds our schools for the first time in more than 30 years.” Other Democrats echoed his exultations, labeling “Democratic” a budget borne out of a Republican Senate, a claim that ignores nine Senate Democratic no votes, and frothing in a press release that it “adds $7.3 billion to Washington schools.”

Not so fast: Education isn’t fully-funded.

The $7.3 billion figure reportedly fails to subtract billions lost from local property tax revenues. The Legislature has added by subtraction before, as it did in 2013 by shamelessly counting $295.5 million in denied K-12 cost-of-living increases toward a “$1 billion funding increase.” It’s doubtful the high court will be fooled.

 The budget also spreads new funding over four years, when truly meeting McCleary might require $5 billion more just by next year. It relies upon fickle property tax revenue and various gimmicks, like diverting $5.5 million from the litter account. It may also fail to fix a broken mental health system — where federal contempt-of-court fines have exceeded $21.5 million so far this year.

Political triumphalism is inevitable. But Carter McCleary was 7 years old when the McCleary litigation was filed. He graduated from high school last month. My son starts high school this fall. Am I wrong to feel impatient about the state meeting its constitutional “paramount duty”?

I also worry about the budget’s unsustainability. As a House member, I voted against budgets on that basis.

The 2007 budget, for example, was “balanced” by breaking a 1998 pension promise — largely for teachers. The state reacted to the Great Recession by decimating programs and denying state workers’ wage increases for eight years. It was heart-wrenching.

Washington continues to use baling wire and volatile revenue sources for budgets, and we are only ever a volatile president’s actions (perhaps tweets) away from another recession. The Washington state Supreme Court has, rightly, insisted on “dependable revenue sources” for K-12.

You can’t separate a budget from its shaky revenue foundation. So why should the public demand progressive tax reform if even Democrats claim progressive aims were “fully” achieved by regressive means? Settling for less is learned helplessness.

It happened in 2009, when I opposed cuts initially characterized as “cuts that will kill” — in a half-hearted case for new revenue — that rhetorically transformed into “cuts with a conscience.” The next year, Democratic super-majorities mustered courage and finally raised taxes upon … candy. Budget secrecy — culminating this year in voting on a budget no one had read — hardly helps make the tax reform case, either.

The public can handle honesty. While it might not serve the aims of political rhetoric, it would be honest to admit trying hard, as I know many legislators did, but falling short in key respects. The public must, again, hope for that honesty from the state Supreme Court.

Originally published at HeraldNet