Thoughts on King County’s Failed Proposition 1

While most of the coverage for Proposition 1 read nice, there was not a lot of data shown to back it up the claims.

This is frustrating because once you starting digging into the data, you find things like the fact that since 2001 operating costs per vehicle hour have increased 17%1 (when adjusted for inflation).

The $19.70 difference accounts for an additional $68.95 million in operations costs per a year (assuming 3.5 million annual service hours2 ).

Why are per hour operations costs increasing by 17%?

And then there’s the fact that only up to 60%3 of the presumed $1.3 billion4 that would be raised over 10 years with Prop 1 would actually go to Metro. The remaining 40% (and potentially more!) would go to “transportation improvements and to the county for unincorporated area road purposes.”5

This wasn’t a squabble over anyone trying to save a few pennies, I think there is some serious lack of fiduciary understanding and education going on with regard to how Metro operates. After the early returns showed the measure losing, Dow Constantine put it pretty well, “The voters are not rejecting Metro; they are rejecting this particular means of funding Metro.”

Danny Westneat also makes a good observation regarding the campaign itself:

From seattletimes.com:

But I wasn’t surprised it failed. Nobody explained what positive changes you’d get for your money, only what you might lose. This was electioneering by threat: Vote yes or I’ll shoot this puppy.

Now the anti-transit crowd will spin this as proof voters have had their fill of transit. And that officials should focus on roads next time.

I don’t buy it. If anything, it was the $50 million in yearly roads repair money in Proposition 1 that had the feel of a slush fund. What would it be used for? Nobody said. It was just to be spread like political butter across 40 cities and towns. The website of the campaign didn’t list a single specific road or bridge that would get fixed using this money.

Oran Viriyincy, a frequent contributor on the Seattle Transit Blog, has provided an excellent breakdown of the actual vote by legislative district as well as a cartogram.

" Prop 1 Election Night Results  By legislative district" by  Oran Viriyincy (https://www.flickr.com/photos/viriyincy/13988403042/) CC-BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

” Prop 1 Election Night Results By legislative district” by Oran Viriyincy

"Cartogram of KCTD Prop 1 Election Night Results" by  Oran Viriyincy (https://www.flickr.com/photos/viriyincy/14005019794/) CC-BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

“Cartogram of KCTD Prop 1 Election Night Results” by Oran Viriyincy

Given the huge amount of support in the Seattle area, I would suspect the planned Seattle-only initiative would pass overwhelmingly.

From kuow.org:

The proposal would raise $155 million from Seattle property owners over six years. Friends of Transit said that money would be used to buy back endangered routes from King County Metro.

Buses that spend 80 percent or more of their time operating inside Seattle’s limits would be eligible for the reprieve.

If the initiative is approved by the city clerk, supporters will need to gather more than 20,000 signatures to put it on the November ballot.

As an interesting side note, if all the districts that had a majority in support of the Prop 1 had double their turnout the the measure would still have failed, but only by 36 votes (out of 512184 theoretical votes), a 0.0070% margin.

Here’s the data: Prop1Votes.xlsx

  1. http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/reports/annual-measures/financial.html 

  2. http://metro.kingcounty.gov/planning/pdf/2011-21/2013/metro-2013-service-guidelines-report.pdf 

  3. http://your.kingcounty.gov/elections2/contests/measureinfo.aspx?cid=47942 

  4. http://kuow.org/post/new-bus-initiative-filed-seattle-only-prop-1-continues-fail 

  5. http://your.kingcounty.gov/elections2/contests/measureinfo.aspx?cid=47942 

The Day We Fight Back

I-do-not-consent-stickerBSix months ago, primarily in light of the issues concerning the NSA’s use of what I believe to be unconstitutional searches I started the process of moving my email system (which is also the email system my family and extended family uses) away from Google Apps.

Last week, I completed the technical transition to the new mail system provided by FastMail.

Today, the fight continues. I called both my Senators, as well as my Representative…yes, I called them. On the phone.

I talked to a live human being and I told them what I thought:

I’d like my Senator / Representative to support and co-sponsor H.R. 3361 / S. 1599, the USA Freedom Act. I would also like my Senator / Representative to oppose S. 1631, the so-called FISA Improvements Act. Moreover, I’d like like my Senator / Representative to work to prevent the NSA from undermining encryption standards.

If you visit AFDN today, you will see a small large banner that will help you contact your Senators and Representative to do the same.

“I Do Not Consent to the Search of this Device / EFF.org” image used under Creative Commons License from EFF


It’s a Politicans Problem

This shutdown of the government is not an issue with Republicans. It’s not an issue with Democrats. It’s an issue with a group of people who transcend both parties: politicians.

The potential good news?

From www.gallup.com:

Amid the government shutdown, 60% of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. That is the highest Gallup has measured in the 10-year history of this question. A new low of 26% believe the two major parties adequately represent Americans.


Parallel Construction

One of the largest concerns I have with things like the NSA listening and reading everything I do is that they would share that information without clearly establishing its legitimate source.

The receiver of such information would need to have a plausible back story for how they came in to this information and that what “parallel construction” is.

Remember back in grade school when your friend Dave “accidentally” overheard a secret that Jane was going to kiss Tommy on the playground under the slide during the next recess? No Big Deal, except that just yesterday Jane had promised to marry you after you both graduated 5th grade.

Of course, this was a secret and Dave made you promise not to tell anyone. But you also couldn’t Tommy intervene with your plan to marry Jane.

What’s a first grader to do?

No problem, you’ll just “happen” to be playing with your trucks under the slide during next recess, “the sand under there perfectly recreates the muck most front loaders excavate during mining operations,” you’ll tell Jane.

Then you “suddenly” notice Tommy and with an inquisitive look on your face (that you spent all of lunch practicing), you cock your head to the side and ask, “what are you and Tommy doing here?”

Jane drops Tommys hand: busted.

But now parallel construction is happening for real:

From www.reuters.com:

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.

In the past, the mere fact that parallel construction occurs from secretive places no one talks about would likely be quashed by the “states secret” privilege. Fortunately, it appears that judges may be having second thoughts about allowing the government to indiscriminately exercise the “states secret” privilege as evident in Judge White’s ruling1 on the motion for partial summary judgment in Jewel v. NSA:
From www.eff.org:

In the ruling, Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California federal court agreed with EFF that the very subject matter of the lawsuit is not a state secret, and any properly classified details can be litigated under the procedures of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Unfortunately, the NSA are likely collecting everything, contents word for word, everything of every domestic communication in this country, including content from Supreme Court Justices:

From www.pbs.org:

The NSA were targeting individuals. In that case, they were judges like the Supreme Court. I held in my hand Judge Alito’s targeting information for his phones and his staff and his family.

  1. No. C 08-04373 JSW 

NSA Mass Surveillance is Criminal

Jennifer Stisa Granick (director of civil liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society) and Christopher Jon Sprigman (professor at the University of Virginia School of Law) make a point in their NYTimes Op-Ed, “The Criminal N.S.A.“,  that I have not seen from many others: “It’s time to call the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs what they are: criminal.”

To date, most arguments I have come across claim that what the NSA is doing should be illegal, but currently isn’t (at least for reasons currently unknown to me). The other argument I’ve seen a lot on the Internet is citizens crying foul that the government would ever be able invade their private space (somehow ignoring the provisos of the 4th Amendment).

Granick and Sprigman’s article is worth pointing out because it argues that what the NSA is doing is currently and has always been illegal, while also acknowledging the provisos of the 4th Amendment.

Unfortunately, the opinion piece itself is lacking some grit, which I find frustrating as it seems to drag on without adding more substance. Here are the relevant points:
From www.nytimes.com:

Congressional watchdogs – with a few exceptions, like Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky – have accepted the White House’s claims of legality. The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, have called the surveillance legal. …. This view is wrong – and not only, or even mainly, because of the privacy issues raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and other critics. The two programs violate both the letter and the spirit of federal law. No statute explicitly authorizes mass surveillance. Through a series of legal contortions, the Obama administration has argued that Congress, since 9/11, intended to implicitly authorize mass surveillance. But this strategy mostly consists of wordplay, fear-mongering and a highly selective reading of the law.

Legal issues with the PATRIOT Act :

The government claims that under Section 215 [of the PATRIOT act] it may seize all of our phone call information now because it might conceivably be relevant to an investigation at some later date, even if there is no particular reason to believe that any but a tiny fraction of the data collected might possibly be suspicious. That is a shockingly flimsy argument – any data might be “relevant” to an investigation eventually, if by “eventually” you mean “sometime before the end of time.” If all data is “relevant,” it makes a mockery of the already shaky concept of relevance.

Legal issues with the FISA Amendments Act (FAA):

Like the Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments Act gives the government very broad surveillance authority. And yet the Prism program appears to outstrip that authority. In particular, the government “may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of the acquisition to be located in the United States.”

The government knows that it regularly obtains Americans’ protected communications. The Washington Post reported that Prism is designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s “foreignness” – as John Oliver of “The Daily Show” put it, “a coin flip plus 1 percent.” By turning a blind eye to the fact that 49-plus percent of the communications might be purely among Americans, the N.S.A. has intentionally acquired information it is not allowed to have, even under the terrifyingly broad auspices of the FISA Amendments Act. […] James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, told Andrea Mitchell of NBC, the N.S.A. uses the word “acquire” only when it pulls information out of its gigantic database of communications and not when it first intercepts and stores the information.

Why what the NSA doing is illegal:

The Fourth Amendment obliges the government to demonstrate probable cause before conducting invasive surveillance. There is simply no precedent under the Constitution for the government’s seizing such vast amounts of revealing data on innocent Americans’ communications.


How to Defeat Terrorists

I was having dinner with family and some good friends, one of whom is an engineer several scores my elder. One of the topics that came up was how engineers see the world differently. This can be a potentially prickly question, especially since engineers are often considered to lack adequate social skills.

I have always been a “glass is twice as big as it needs to be” kind of guy — neither optimistic nor pessimistic…things just are.

The Boston Marathon Bombing a month ago was a horribly tragic event. In the aftermath, I felt powerless. I was scared that I no longer had sufficient control or predictability in my life, that at any moment a bomb may go off and I would be the one killed.

As I let that sit, the conclusion my mind settled on is remembering that life is unpredictable. We can guess what will happen next with relatively good accuracy. And for everything else there is typically various forms of redundancy.

In the end, things just seem to work. Except when they don’t.

Redundancy provides a statistical reduction in probability of failure through investment. It could be considered a form of insurance since it’s a risk shift through payment.

Redundancy is not free, and may often go unused. Sometimes we misjudge the risk and bad things happen.

Bruce Schneier is one of my favorite authorities on system security and once again provides great insight:

From www.theatlantic.com:

It’d be easy to feel powerless and demand that our elected leaders do something — anything — to keep us safe.

It’d be easy, but it’d be wrong. We need to be angry and empathize with the victims without being scared. Our fears would play right into the perpetrators’ hands — and magnify the power of their victory for whichever goals whatever group behind this, still to be uncovered, has. We don’t have to be scared, and we’re not powerless. We actually have all the power here, and there’s one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: Refuse to be terrorized.

Empathize, but refuse to be terrorized. Instead, be indomitable — and support leaders who are as well. That’s how to defeat terrorists.

I disagree with Bruce on being scared, in my opinion feeling scared is valid, especially immediately after something like the Boston Marathon Bombing. What I believe Bruce is getting at is our long-term stance, and I agree that in the long-term we must choose not to be scared. We need to understand the bigger picture and choose to not be terrorized. Far to many of those whom we have elected (and continue to elect) are scared, even if they are only are only scared of losing their next election.

We must make better choices. We must choose to be indomitable. We must choose to support leaders who are not afraid. We must choose to make appropriate choices in the redundancy of our systems. We must not let the terrorist win.


Bloomberg: The Largest U.S. Banks Aren’t Really Profitable At All

This makes me frustrated. No one should ever be “too big to fail”. That’s a poppycock soundbite to maintain the status quo. How do we, as everyday citizens, bring about actual change for things like this?

From www.bloomberg.com:

“In other words, the banks occupying the commanding heights of the U.S. financial industry — with almost $9 trillion in assets, more than half the size of the U.S. economy — would just about break even in the absence of corporate welfare. In large part, the profits they report are essentially transfers from taxpayers to their shareholders.1

  1. Emphasis added 

How to Improve American Presidential Elections in Four Steps

It’s obviously never as easy as it sounds, but I think there are some good ideas here. In particular, I would be in high favor of amending the Constitution to move our election system to Instant Runoff Voting (or similar) system.

While such a system could be done at the Electoral College level, my opinion is that it would be better to abolish the Electoral College entirely if we moved to an IRV (or similar) system.

via Alex King