Midday Scan: Wednesday's top stories around the region

In the news: San Francisco's traffic hell subsides, the supercommittee acts super secretly, Ron Sims gets an A in healthcare, Minnesota enters new-stadium limbo and Amanda Knox's defense lawyer's misstep.

In the news: San Francisco's traffic hell subsides, the supercommittee acts super secretly, Ron Sims gets an A in healthcare, Minnesota enters new-stadium limbo and Amanda Knox's defense lawyer's misstep.

Parochial Northwesterners have good reasons not to forsake Ecotopia and de-camp to the San Francisco Bay area ($900,000 starter homes, for example, and un-Lutheran hedonism fueled by excessive sunlight). And what about the misery of traffic congestion, idling for hours on the bay bridge? Well, not so much. As Michael Cabanatuan of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, San Francisco has tumbled down to number seven on the nation's traffic-hell index. "With the economy still struggling, traffic in the Bay Area may not be at a standstill, but traffic congestion is, according to an annual report released today," Cabanatuan writes.

So, for only the second time in nearly 30 years, the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area doesn't qualify as one of the five most congested regions in the country. (The top five are Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, and New York) Isn't that reason to celebrate? Not if congestion is a barometer of economic health. Cabanatuan notes, "it's mixed news for the Bay Area since traffic tends to rise and fall with the economy or, more specifically, the employment rate." However, could the drop also be thanks to new traffic-management strategies including more tow trucks and on-ramp metering lights? Seattle, alas, doesn't even break the top ten, though it does rank 12th (you can find a comprehensive rundown of Seattle's performance measures and traffic stats here). Maybe the Northwest's econony is fishtailing from too much livability?    

The supercommittee is acting super secret, according to Politico's Jake Sherman and Matt Dobias. It's crystallized in a remark by committee member Sen. John Kerry: "I don't want to discuss what we discussed." For scribes and pundits, no news is no news (which makes silence news). "It’s a remarkable show of secrecy after an election year that ushered in nearly 90 new Republicans who rejected the idea that sweeping legislation would be authored outside the public view," they write.

Yesterday marked the second closed-door session for the supercommittee, infuriating government watchdogs and restive journalists alike. Are deals getting struck? Will a profligate Pentagon get trimmed or will widows and orphans feel the brunt? "The secrecy is a departure — of sorts — from the prior deficit negotiations. Members on both sides of the aisle said the talks led by Vice President Joe Biden were productive, and Biden frequently held court after those meetings — as did House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — although neither of them let out many details. To be sure, this supercommittee is different because it is mandated by law," Sherman and Dobias write. The silence is bipartisan (perhaps a harbinger of good things to come)? and so far a promising testament to the work of supercommittee co-chair, Sen. Patty Murray.  

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat does a good job extolling former King County Executive Ron Sims' health-care efforts from six years ago and extending that example to today. Derided as nanny-state socialism, Sims' health-care plan now appears fiscally prudent and farsighted. "How did Ron Sims, the former King County executive who was wrong about some things and controversial about everything, get this one so right? More importantly, why isn't everybody copying it now?" Westneat writes. 

The sting of the nanny-state reproach has a residual effect: Lawmakers usually turn tail when it comes to substantive health-care reform (just as they rarely think years ahead). Sims' approach did in fact have a market-based component. Westneat notes that it first "tied workers' insurance costs to their health habits (they can get up to $1,500 a year per family if they sign up for a wellness program with some health coaching). Two, it turned patients into consumers by having them pay only co-pays and deductibles. There are no monthly insurance premiums."

Does this signal the beginning of Ron Sims' political rehabilitation? (He's already a Seattle-mayor-in-waiting). Whatever the case, perhaps Sims can take solace in the biblical proverb that "no man is a prophet in his own country."  

There must be uniform rules when it comes to stadium politics. As Doug Grow of the MinnPost writes, the debate regarding the future of Vikings stadium (and the potential loss of the team) is interminable and process-heavy.  "Experienced onlookers at the edges of the long-running Vikings stadium debate believe there's not going to be an end any time soon," Grow writes. It's a great read that echoes (a bit too painfully) the Northwest saga of all-things-stadium.       

Finally, in one of the more curious courtroom orations in recent memory, Amanda Knox's defense attorney compared the convicted murderer to the cartoon character Jessica Rabbit. As King5.com reports, Giulia Bongiorno was responding to the prosecution's portrayal of Knox as a kind of femme fatale. Would the male version of this argument be, "My client is the moral equivalent of good-looking Fred from Scooby Doo?" Note to self: Do not hire Amanda Knox's defense attorney.  

Link summary

 San Francisco Chronicle, "S.F. falls to no. 7 on list of congested cities"

Politico, "Supercommittee operating in secret"

Seattle Times, "Well, well: Sim' health-care plan works out"  

MinnPost, "Long-running Viking stadium debate could drag on for years yet"

King5.com, "Italian lawyer says Amanda Knox is no 'femme fatale'


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson