Thursday, July 7, 2011

Herald Need to Know Feature

Whoo-whee! People's Republic of Lynnwood got a mention in the Herald!

And I can't thank them enough, because it means more people will sit up and take notice as I continue to document the frankly unbelievable stuff that happens here on a continual basis.

Many thanks to Scott North and The Herald for giving this little blog a mention. Much obliged.

To paraphrase, and for your information, the Herald's Need-to-Know series is intended to report information and let their readers make of it what they will; "...gather information and then get out of the way," as they put it.  This is a great approach and I'd encourage all of my readers to give them a look-see and check out all of the information they're getting into the public eye with this feature. It's a real mixed bag of topics, and the approach encourages reader participation, which can only ever be a good thing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day Lesson for 2011

I've been saying for years that The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs should be mandatory indoctrination for electeds and government workers, so I was gratified to see a commentator on this opinion piece adopt the same position.

The problem is that even if elected and government workers understood the reasoning and wisdom behind that timeless and perennially applicable fable, the fact is that:
  1. They can just wave a magic wand and conjure up money out of nowhere;
  2. They know this, and;
  3. That's easier.
And as we all know, people who have no motivation take the path of least resistance whenever possible. Consequently, we have the farcical joke that is our government and civil service, because there is no motivation—no standards, no consequences, no incentives—for government workers to do anything other than the bare minimum that their job descriptions mandate… and depending on seniority, most of the time even that benchmark is unenforceable.

The rampant inefficiency, waste and incompetence that characterize government all begins with civil servants’ unions and ends with their aiders and abettors in the elected branches of government. The taxpayer who subsidizes these vast hoards of parasitical do-nothing bureaucrats is hermetically sealed out of this loop and is helpless to do a thing to effect reform of any kind.

Look no further than our perennially favorite example of Lynnwood. During the worst and most persistent economic collapse since the Great Depression, civil servants' unions repeatedly and relentlessly balked at even taking token measures like furlough days in an effort to show good faith with the taxpayers who were forcibly funding their lavish government-employee lifestyles. The unions would have none of it, and owing to the criminal fact that the city has contracts with those unions, there was little the city government could do....

.... Except that there was plenty the city government could do. "It's out of our hands" and boo-hoo-isn't-that-horrible was the bullshit story we were given, but the reality is that budget time presented a perfect opportunity to deal decisively with these parasitical, ungrateful, do-nothing bureaucrats in one fell swoop — by enacting the significant, long-overdue lay-offs that the Mayor proposed. It was a Golden Opportunity to make cuts to rampant frivolous spending in this city that were eons overdue and, more urgently, were persisting through an economic depression -- a time where there was no possible means of justifying their continuance.

And what happened?

"Do-Nothing Bureaucrats Local #666" and it's myriad counterparts came unglued and pulled out all the stops and then some in order to attack, smear, stymie, hobble and cripple the Mayor by *ANY* means possible. The City Council squealed with glee at the state of affairs, sold the citizens down the river by hopping straight into bed with those unions, rolled right over did their part as the unions' submissive tool — whatever it took to undo the Executive Branch and the check-and-balance it represented to their irresponsible use of their legislative power.

The process was complete when the Mayor — popularly elected by the voters not once but twice — was stripped of his executive ability to institute desperately needed lay-offs. Council proceeded instantly to arrogate that responsibility to itself and then laid off virtually nobody and imposed a frenzied orgy of taxes in order to continue to fund the mostly intact civil service. Naturally, the taxpaying residents, employers, and workers were presented with the bill.

And if those taxpayers were at the end of their financial ropes due to unemployment forcing the premature exhaustion of their savings and retirement accounts, and losing their homes, etc.? The message was clear: “Tough friggin’ luck, suckers. This is Lynnwood. Know your place. Shut up, pay up, and maybe we’ll consider reducing things when the economy rebounds.”

It's a sobering lesson and one worth remembering this Independence Day. We enjoin one and all to remember it well come November.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Red-Light Cam "Analysis," Lynnwood-Style

The Herald has been doing some first-rate reporting lately, shining a spotlight on Lynnwood's continued use of flagrantly extortionist photo-enforcement devices. Scott North's July 1st article should be required reading for anybody concerned about this issue.

North sums up the reality in a perfect one-line zinger: "Bottom line: It's premature for anyone to say red-light cameras have caused an outbreak of traffic safety in Lynnwood." (I would prefer to have substituted the word "impossible" for "premature," but let's not quibble.)

Now, on the face of it that doesn't really say anything that any intelligent and honest person didn't already know. So then why should this article be required reading? Because it highlights and underscores the extraordinary lengths to which this city will go in order to try to justify these devices and present them in a favorable light, despite basic common sense and overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Way back in the Paleolithic Era when I was a young lad in college, I majored in a fairly math-heavy discipline and statistics was a basic part of those studies. Consequently, I nearly laughed out loud when I saw Lynnwood's "analysis" document, which you can read for yourself at the above-linked Herald article (click on it and look for the Adobe Acrobat link near the top).

This is one of the most blatant and pathetic exercises in desperate spin-doctoring I've seen in a very, very long time.

Where to begin... Well, first off, you'll note that the city did not simply provide the base data and allow the reporter to draw his own conclusions. Rather, the city "helpfully" drew some conclusions for him in the form of percentage decreases in total collisions and total injuries.

This is a gloriously hamfisted attempt to influence the reporting! And to a statistician, it's nothing short of hilarious. I'm reminded of a child trying to make the case to his parents that pizza is actually a health food because it features all the major food groups, so of course we should have it every night for dinner, etc.

Specifically, the report concludes with two figures that show a 9% decrease in total collisions and a very dramatic-seeming reduction of 32% in total injuries, implying that these significant-sounding reductions are all thanks to the cameras. Who can argue against cameras that cause such significant-sounding reductions in collisions and injuries, right?

I can! First off, the cameras may well have contributed to the reduction in collisions and attendant injuries, but not for the right reasons. To the extent that they create an environment overtly hostile and predatory to motorists, they encourage potentially tens of thousands of people to avoid Lynnwood entirely. I guess I have to concede this point to the camera cheerleaders -- ensuring that there are fewer people on our roads is indeed a sure-fire way to reduce accidents. Of course, it's also a perfect way to sabotage the many businesses and employers that reside in this town, which is particularly counterproductive considering how catastrophically dependent the city is on sales tax and employee head taxes, but nevermind all that.

Secondly, there were no benchmarks presented at all -- just a few selectively chosen figures cherry-picked by the city. Without knowing how non-camera intersections have fared during these same time periods, or how other municipalities have fared, these figures don't say much of anything.

Thirdly, the percentage delta decreases mean absolutely nothing considering how small are the numbers of collisions and injuries. A figure like 32% sounds so significant! So huge! My God, it's a full third and that's just enormous!

Except that it's none of those things. It's 30 as opposed to 44, and distributed as it is among the numerous intersections in question, it only amounts to a half handful of reductions per intersection. Suffice it to say this reduction doesn't rule out mere chance -- and that's the understatement of the year.

And finally... how does the city explain those intersections where collisions or injuries increased after the installation of red-light cameras? It's right there in their very own figures.

I could go on poking more holes in this "analysis," but at the end of the day, the real bottom line is that all of this presumes that the figures presented are actually correct -- and considering Lynnwood's established reputation of misinforming people regarding the validity of photo-enforcement evidence against them, I have every reason to doubt the the veracity of these figures, right out the gate. (See Robert Mak's report from last December if you doubt that -- visit the link, click on the video and scroll ahead to 9:50 and see what David Andree's experience was -- talk about an eye-opener.)