Monthly Archives: December 2014

Media Follies 2014! – Local

Happy New Year! It’s a holiday season tradition…here, for the 19th year, is my list of overhyped and underreported local stories of the year. We’ll start here with the local stories, and add national and international later this week. My thanks as usual to my colleague Maria Tomchick, with whom I’ll be reviewing these stories on our “Eat the Airwaves!” segment of KEXP’s Mind Over Matters (this Saturday at 8:30 AM Pacific Time).

As usual, there’s no shortage of candidates.

2014’s Most Over-Hyped Local Stories

One Word: Seahawks. Yeah, Seattle hasn’t had a sports championship roughly since they discovered gold in the Yukon, and it’s a big deal. That’s a sports and cultural story – instead, Paul Allen’s football toy has dominated local news headlines and especially newscasts all year.

Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon are not local companies: For them, the Puget Sound is another push pin on a world map. Each company is a global empire that’s been outsourcing jobs for years. Stories that assume we should root for these companies’ success because they’re “ours” are laughably provincial.

Plus, as usual, car crashes, fires, violent crimes, big (or not) weather “events,” heartwarming stories of photogenic kids overcoming adversity, and every other staple of Chuckle-Buddy News. Every time you watch local TV news it lowers your IQ.

2014’s Most Underreported Local Stories:

Real estate prospects masquerading as transportation initiatives continue to dominate local budget priorities. Almost all of Seattle’s discretionary transportation money goes to a streetcar folly that simply moves existing transit riders into a new mode, at much higher costs per mile. Just like the Mercer Mess and the downtown tunnel, it’s all about increasing property values.

Speaking of the downtown tunnel, it was only at year’s end, as Murray’s Fault opened up under Pioneer Square, that the general public (and local media) began to understand what anyone paying attention knew at the start of the year: that the downtown tunnel project is in deep, deep trouble.

Meanwhile, existing transportation infrastructure is a mess: Bus ridership is at record levels, but Metro in 2014 narrowly avoided draconian cuts. While the city builds streetcars, there’s a ten-year backlog of repairs to city roads. Some bridges, like the Magnolia Bridge damaged in the Nisqually earthquake fourteen years ago, are in real danger of collapsing. Local leaders’ disinterest in addressing critically needed infrastructure investment was a complete non-story.

Seattle rent increases were the highest in the country. Again. 2014 was the fifth consecutive year that Seattle had the highest increases among the 50 largest US cities, with much of this money going to out of town property owners. These sky-high rents are the result of intentional public policies (density!) that use an environmental vaneer to mask a faith in free market principles that would make Ayn Rand blush. Except, of course, that public money heavily subsidizes all this expensive new property development, which is far outpacing the city’s infrastructure in transportation, schools, sewage, and much more.

Meanwhile, working class residents are forced to flee to the suburbs in search of somewhat less insanely expensive housing, which has both created more sprawl and intentionally remade Seattle into a wealthier, whiter, less diverse city.

Local homeless population explodes: One side effect of tearing down existing affordable housing stock to build all those shiny new buildings is that the number of people sleeping on friends’ couches, in cars, and in tent cities has gone up dramatically. The annual One Night Count was up 14 percent in 2014, which likely undercounts the homeless by quite a bit. Welcome to the New Gilded Age.

Seattle Public Schools leadership is as bad as ever, with another superintendent driven off by senior staff and the school board, and a relentless campaign to teach to meaningless tests and defund programs and alternative schools that don’t conform to standardization. The feds are now investigating Seattle for its disproportionate discipline rates of both African-American and Native American students.

State and local governments sabotaged pot legalization: While Colorado had its system up and running early this year, our state’s Liquor Control Board, dominated by drug warriors, issued just 21 retail permits for the entire state (vastly less than demand) and repeatedly delayed even those permits. Local governments tried at every turn to block implementation as well. And to think that without Costco’s liquor privatization initiative, the state would have had a ready-made network of retail stores instead.

Premera Blue Cross killed the state’s “All Payer Claims” database, which would’ve let every person in Washington state compare prices and effectiveness ratings for different procedures performed by doctors and hospitals in the state.

State Republicans are just as unhinged as their national counterparts, doing exactly what their colleagues in Congress did: manufacturing a crisis to force passage of a terrible budget, and blocking almost everything else. Including, for the second year in a row, adequate education funding (in defiance of a state Supreme Court order) and any transportation budget at all.

And, on that cheerful note, get out and make your own news in 2015. If this compilation suggests anything, it’s that we can’t rely on corporate media to push for change, or even to tell us when change is desperately needed. We’ll have to do both ourselves.

The Second Rule

The first rule of digging holes, as most schoolchildren know, is that when things are going badly – as hole-digging sometimes does – to stop digging.

Through no wisdom or planning of its own, the state, in its effort to replace the earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct, stopped digging its downtown SR 99 tunnel a year ago. That’s because “Bertha” – the whimsical name given to the unprecedentedly large deep boring machine charged with digging SR 99’s new home – broke down almost immediately when a bearing filled with grit and overheated, leaving Bertha’s cutter incapable of moving dirt. Designers, by all accounts, failed to account for the heat generated by such a massive machine. On December 6, Bertha celebrated its first anniversary of sitting idle somewhere under Pioneer Square, while Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), the contractor managing the hole-digging, tried to figure out what to do.

STP, however, has not been idle itself. They’ve been busy digging a second hole, a 120-foot vertical shaft meant to come out just ahead of where Bertha is stranded. The idea has been to dig the second hole, have the machine (if it can) punch through a concrete wall into the shaft, and then engineers can finally extract Bertha and try to fix the design flaws. Then – maybe – STP can start digging the tunnel again.

Except that now STP has stopped digging the second hole, too. On December 5 the state announced that the soil underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct had subsided by 1.2 inches. That will happen when you’ve got a massive hole underneath the viaduct, filling with groundwater and leakage from saturated soil during this fall’s heavy rains. A few days later, the state Department of Transportation also announced that soil under Pioneer Square had subsided an inch – again, due to groundwater being pumped out of the original tunnel and rescue shaft – and that some 30 builings in Pioneer Square would need to be inspected for cracks and other possible damage. (The building housing the offices of Real Change is among those affected.) And this week, a 15-foot crack appearing on King St., not too far from where several buildings had reported new cracks in their structures, lent new concern to the notion that WSDOT might turn all of Pioneer Square into a “cut and cover” operation.

Before it stopped digging last week, STP had excavated 84 of the 120 feet of Bertha’s rescue shaft. Workers are still pumping about 600 gallons of groundwater a minute out of the water table, so that the full 120 feet can be dug. Removing all that groundwater, which STP has now resumed doing, seems like an invitation for soil to settle further, but nobody seems to be talking about that.

Nobody, in fact, is talking much about what a fiasco the whole project has become. Some $1 billion of the original $1.44 billion STP was to be paid for digging the deep bore tunnel has already been paid out. With 70 percent of the money already spent, engineers are still struggling with how to fix the effort to fix a machine that may or may not even be capable of doing the job. The state is still insisting that the new SR 99 will be open for traffic in less than two years (already delayed from the original 2015 completion date). All things considered, that seems preposterously optimistic.

Meanwhile, remember those cost overruns that former mayor Mike McGinn was pilloried for worrying about city taxpayers having to pay for? The state senate in Olympia is now firmly controilled by the Republican Party, who just elected as their new Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville. Schoesler has had a relatively undistinguished record when it comes to Olympia issues not involving farm subsidies – except for his outspoken insistence on making Seattle pay for cost overruns. That’s been one of the sticking points in the senate’s failure, for two years in a row, to pass a state transportation budget. Suddenly, the prospect of Seattle taxpayers getting stuck with insane cost overruns for a real-estate development project turned white elephant seems all too plausible. And all of these problems – the unproven tunnel technology, the groundwater dangers, the prospect of severe cost overruns and delays – were foreseen by tunnel critics well before the project’s approval was rammed through by local and state leaders.

Oh, also – it’s now been nearly 14 years since the original Nisqually earthquake that damaged the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The soil underneath the viaduct is settling, and the viaduct itself is leaning ever-so-slightly toward Elliott Bay. With or without another earthquake, the viaduct is in no danger of collapsing. It’ll tip over first. Before that happens – or, more likely, before inspectors decide the viaduct is unsafe for traffic – the state had better figure out how it’s going to handle all the traffic that there won’t be a tunnel to accommodate. Because if the first rule of hole-digging is to stop digging, the second rule is to do something, anything else instead.

More likely, the state will plod ahead, pissing away billions while they pump all the groundwater out from under Pioneer Square. Maybe we’ll wind up with an at-grade replacement for the viaduct after all…only it’ll cost several billion dollars more than anyone expected, not including the bridge over the new Pioneer Square sinkhole, for us to get it.

Looking for your year-end suggestions

2014 will mark the 19th year (!) for my annual Media Follies list of the most over-hyped and under-reported Stories of the Year. The categories are local, national, and international; Maria Tomchick and I will go over our picks during the (usually) s-l-o-w holiday weeks coming up, and I’ll publish them here as well.

And, as usual, I’d like your suggestions. Over-hyped, sadly, is pretty easy again this year (“EBOLA!! OMG EVERYONE IS GOING TO DIE!!!”), and, sadly, there’s never any shortage of under-reported stories, either (“You mean thousands of people are continuing to die from Ebola, but they’re all in Western Africa? Oh, well, never mind.”)

What are your suggestions? Leave them in the comments or PM me, and stay tuned later this month for the usual depressing, hilarious, inspiring list..

This is either a cop or an exceedingly dangerous moron

Another black bloc Michael Brown/Eric Garner protest downtown tonight. It’s mellower (so far) than their unfortunate Nov. 28 excursion. But at least two reporters have tweeted that protesters are planning to target Niketown tomorrow night. The Stranger’s Heidi Groover quotes one such source as saying, “We must disrupt capitalism. That’s the only thing they listen to.”

First of all, if you’re gonna do that, DON’T ANNOUNCE IT TO THE MEDIA. That smacks of an agent provocateur tactic.

More importantly, if this IS legit, the protester likely still wasn’t toilet trained when attacking Niketown became a symbol, in 1999’s anti-WTO protest, of everything wrong with protesters. The window-breaking (notably at McDonald’s and Niketown) and video of protesters “looting” Niketown (in a very cursory way) were what legitimized, in the eyes of much of the public, the overwhelming police violence used before, during, and after those acts. For years afterward (until 9-11 made any other explanation unnecessary) it was what people thought of whenever cops beat the crap out of protesters in Seattle. Civic Seattle still has nightmares about protesters at Niketown. A similar incident during Occupy Seattle also signaled a sharp downhill turn in the public perception of those protests.

Most importantly, targeting “capitalism” (and Nike, a brand heavily promoted by black athletes – nice touch for #Black Lives Matter) is a complete distraction from why people across the country are protesting in the first place. Maybe you make that link, but 99.999 percent of the public doesn’t. To them, you’re masturbating. You’re not communicating a bold critique of the root causes of police violence; you’re communicating that you’re a thug (with all the racial overtones implied in that term) and a moron. And they’ve got a point. You’re also convincing them that police violence is legitimate when used against you AND ANY OTHER PROTESTER. And, quite often, it helps them conclude that the original police violence you’re ostensibly protesting must have been legitimate, too.

One last point: It’s not clear from media reports whether the protester/s planning to target Niketown etc. are white or not. And yes, it matters. The black bloc is overwhelmingly white. Because that sort of tactic discredits everyone else also protesting, if you’re not in the class affected in the original issue you have no moral right whatsoever to commit (or promote) acts that coopt and discredit the movement. And I don’t care how poor you are, or how much cops have harassed or hurt you, or how down you are with the cause. If you’re white you’re not the victim here. You still have a shitton of white privilege on this issue.

tl;dr: If the protesters being quoted here aren’t cops, they should be, because they’re doing the cops’ work for them. For free. And if they are cops, protest leaders need to get out in front of this and denounce those reports pronto.

Feet of Clay Dept.:

Obama tonight, regarding the Eric Garner case: “When anyone is not treated equally under the law, that’s a problem.”

So why has his administration never indicted any of the criminals responsible for crashing the global economy? Or the politicians responsible for policies that authorized torturing prisoners?

The Great National Whitewash Continues

More protests downtown tonight – with several hundred people – after another grand jury exoneration. We can’t even get these cases in front of a jury when there’s clear video evidence of homicide. The lesson millions of people and more than a few law enforcement officers are drawing: kill someone (especially if they’re a person of color) and police have complete impunity. The federal government has flooded local law enforcement agencies with military weapons, and a military attitude has come with that.

Law enforcement is about serving the public. Militaries are about killing and controlling the enemy. We no longer have law enforcement in this country – we have occupying armies, and with occupying armies comes widespread, inevitable resistance. This is not going to go away