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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Battle Between Vulnerable Tenants and Goodman Real Estate Gets To the Heart of What Kind of City Seattle Wants To Be

Posted by on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 4:11 PM

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  • AH
  • Lockhaven tenants hold a protest against Goodman Real Estate last month.
There's something deeply wrong with our city when even a local real estate developer, locked in a bruising fight with low income tenants who accuse it of unethically displacing them, is calling for stronger provisions in the law to protect tenants and preserve affordable housing.

Here's what's going on: The Lockhaven Apartments in Ballard have long been an affordable anomaly in city where rents have increased more over the past year than anywhere else in the country. Tenants paid between $650-$1,050 a month for their Lockhaven units, according to a survey by the Lockhaven Tenants Union, until suddenly, after the sale of the building, it was announced that rents would be hiked to $1,700-$1,900.

And Seattle-based Goodman Real Estate—which purchased and is renovating the Lockhaven apartments—admits it fucked up by sending 22 residents eviction notices last fall without informing them of their right to Tenant Relocation Assistance. Under state and city laws, low income renters—those making 50% of area median income or below, or roughly $31,000 per year or less—can apply for about $3000 in assistance to transition to new housing, the cost of which is split between the developer and the city.

"At my income level, there’s not a lot of housing out there," says Michelle Kinnucan, a single, middle-aged veteran reliant on disability insurance for her income, who's lived at the Lockhaven for five years. "I’m not John Goodman. I can’t throw down $100k and pick up a condo somewhere." Goodman, the tenants point out, has grown fabulously wealthy from the real estate business he founded, even amassing a stunning vintage car collection.

Continue reading »

Your Favorite Indie Shop Is Out of Business if $15-an-Hour Happens

Posted by on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 10:21 AM

LIBERTY BAR Businesses like mine survive on around a 5 percent net profit margin.
  • Kelly O
  • LIBERTY BAR Businesses like mine survive on around a 5 percent net profit margin.

Andrew Friedman is the proprietor of Liberty Bar and the soon-to-open Good Citizen. This piece is part of a series of minimum wage op-eds from activists, business owners, low-wage workers, and experts. If you have an editorial you'd like to submit, send it here.

A few weeks ago, I went to one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants and chose what I thought to be a simple tomato-sauce pasta dish. When it appeared, it looked beautiful and tasted great—so great that I wanted to re-create it at my house for my wife and birthday girl (1-year-old Baby Bowie). I was sure that I could do it—I mean, it was just a simple red sauce, right? But, when asking about the sauce and how to re-create it, I was surprised to find that it took three days to make, using a number of different kinds of tomatoes and ingredients I'd never heard of.

This $15-an-hour mess is just like my ignorant and ill-conceived belief that I'd easily be able to re-create this delicious pasta made by a professional chef. The pro-$15 people are me in that example: They look at an issue that appears simple but never get to the part where they ask the questions necessary to understand the complexities....

KEEP READING > > >

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Monday, March 31, 2014

15 Now Director Spars With Local Restaurant Owner Over Minimum Wage, Tip Credit

Posted by on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 4:34 PM

Again, unfortunately, there's no representative of the corporate behemoths—big businesses like Starbucks or Target—in this debate. But this Seattle Channel video from last Friday is worth a watch. It's a cogent, amicable discussion between Jess Spear, the organizing director of 15 Now, Bill Hobson, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, and Angela Stowell, owner and CFO of Ethan Stowell Restaurants:

Near the end, Spear and Stowell start talking past each other. Stowell suddenly accuses 15 Now supporters of having a "George Bush mentality," and Spear counter-accuses Stowell of backing poverty wages by not opposing tip credit (she does have a point).

As for how the wage increase is implemented (how one defines big business, the degree of exemptions, etc.), Stowell says she'd rather not see it go before the voters. "I'll leave it to the policymakers to figure out what that means," she says.

That stuck out to me: it sounds like an argument for apathy. The council has thus far not mustered the political will to do anything serious about foreclosures, another issue affecting low-income people. And there are 100,000 sub-$15-hourly workers in the city, according to University of Washington researchers, but none of them are on the city's Income Inequality Committee charged with drawing up a wage increase policy. Shouldn't working people have a meaningful say in this? Why should they "leave" the question of their wages to anyone else?

Seattle City Council's Foreclosure Task Force Proves Itself Useless at Stopping Foreclosures

Posted by on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 11:41 AM

SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL Theyre just totally useless.
  • Home foreclosure/Shutterstock.com
  • SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL "They're just totally useless."

So far, the Seattle City Council's approach to tackling the problem of illegal or unethical foreclosures by the banks has been a big fat can of nothing. Foreclosures—and foreclosure vultures—destroy people's lives. But a preliminary report by a city task force to the city council last week only downplayed the problem. The group will finalize its report in June, but unless it takes seriously the severity of the issue, don't expect it to offer any real solutions.

"The banks are violating the law all the time. The crisis is not over," Northwest Justice Project attorney Lili Sotelo told the council towards the end of the session, in response to comments by the task force's main presenters—two members of the city's Office of Housing, who labored through their presentation amid questioning by a clearly frustrated council member Nick Licata and yells of protest by homeowners in the audience. If you need a reminder of malfeasance by the banks, here's yet another example: Wells Fargo (which is the bank used by the city of Seattle) was accused last week of instructing its lawyers on how to fabricate missing documents in order to foreclose and boot people from their homes.

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  • AH
  • ANTI-FORECLOSURE PROTESTERS Outside a Beacon Hill Bank of America on a chilly December evening.

Here's the task force's presentation (PDF). It reviews statistics from real estate firms showing that the housing market is rebounding and rules out the possibility of the city using eminent domain to purchase mortgages—somehow the City Council of Irvington, California voted 6 to 1 to do just that last week—as legally unfeasible. Instead, its primary recommendations are that existing services collaborate better and do more to reach out to homeowners.

Mayor Murray, for his part, spoke at a dinner gathering of local mortgage bankers on March 18 and delivered the following message, according to spokesman Jeff Reading: "The Mayor doesn’t support the idea and made a clear statement that the City, at least for the next four years, would not be using eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages."

"There's no arguing with the fact that foreclosures have diminished in Washington and across the country," Sotelo told me later, "but we're still at elevated levels of foreclosures [compared to pre-recession levels]...The numbers don't tell the full story. Services like mine are getting a steady number of calls or an increase. Outreach is always important, but outreach can't solve the problem."

"Our feeling with this is that we had the last three months wasted," said Chris Genese, an anti-foreclosure activist with Washington CAN. "The IDT did not come back with any solutions around principal reduction or anything at the necessary scale to prevent foreclosures around the city."

And Josh Farris, an organizer from Standing Against Foreclosure And Eviction (SAFE), was more blunt about the council's ineffectiveness when it comes to protecting distressed homeowners—disproportionately low-income and minority residents—from the banks: "They're just totally useless, man."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rep. Adam Smith Slams "Shocking" Conditions at Immigrant Detention Center

Posted by on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 12:42 PM

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  • Alex Garland
  • Protesters outside the Northwest Detention Center.

In an interview yesterday with The Stranger, Representative Adam Smith (D-9) said conditions at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma—where hundreds of jailed immigrants launched a hunger strike this month and one remains under medical observation—were "shocking" and "very, very tough" when he visited last week. As a result, Smith intends to introduce legislation to create minimum standards under which immigrants can be detained. The hunger strike has since gone national.

"I'm trying to put pressure on them to get the conditions changed however possible," Smith said. Which makes sense, seeing as his district, stretching from South Seattle to Federal Way, is one of the most diverse in the country. Immigrants make up 16 percent of his constituents and about half of all kids in the district have at least one immigrant parent. Smith said he's voiced his concerns both in a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and verbally to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Rations at the jail are "wildly inconsistent, and sometimes inedible," Smith said three hunger strikers told him during his visit. The detainees are also protesting high prices for commissary items and $1 per day wages for menial work within the facility.

"It is really problematic," Smith continued, "having a private company running this." He pointed out that not only is the center run by the private prison company GEO Group, but that GEO uses subcontractors to handle meals for the detainees and other other aspects of running the 1575-bed facility. "So I can imagine that the less they pay for the food, the more money they make."

Continue reading »

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Kshama Sawant and Tim Burgess Say You Should Read This Piece on Minimum-Wage Hikes

Posted by on Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 1:01 PM

At this morning's city council briefing, Council Member Kshama Sawant passed around copies of this New York Times opinion piece, on some evidence favoring higher local minimum wages, for her colleagues to read; Council President Tim Burgess had already linked to it on Facebook and called it "insightful."

And where will its authors, Michael Reich and Ken Jacobs of U.C. Berkeley, be this Thursday? Why, right here in Seattle, at the all-day Income Inequality Symposium convened by the city, with a host of politicians, academics, local business leaders, and other people who the city likes to classify as "stakeholders" in this minimum-wage debate. See more details and register for the free event right here.

From the NYT:

One city we have studied in detail, San Francisco, has passed a dozen labor standards laws since the late 1990s. After adding the effects of other local laws mandating employers to pay for sick leave and health spending, the minimum compensation standard at larger firms in San Francisco reaches $13. Our studies show that the impact of these laws on workers’ wages (and access to health care) is strong and positive and that none of the dire predictions of employment loss have come to pass. Research at the University of New Mexico on Santa Fe’s floor (now $10.66) found similar results.

These are not isolated cases. Research on the effects of differing minimum wage rates across state borders confirms the results of the city studies. But how can minimum wage increases not have negative effects on employment? After all, according to basic economic theory, an increase in the price of labor should reduce employer demand for labor.

That’s not the whole story, though. A full analysis must include the variety of other ways labor costs might be absorbed, including savings from reduced worker turnover and improved efficiency, as well as higher prices and lower profits. Modern economics therefore regards the employment effect of a minimum-wage increase as a question that is not decided by theory, but by empirical testing.

Go read the rest.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bank Intern Dies After Working 72 Hours in a Row

Posted by on Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 12:24 PM

Details from the Guardian:

Moritz Erhardt, the 21-year-old Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern who was found dead in a shower at his London flat after working for 72 hours in a row, died of an epileptic seizure, an inquest has found.

The coroner Mary Hassell said fatigue could have been a trigger, but there was no proof of this and it was possible that the seizure was something that just happened.

Erhardt, from south-west Germany, was found dead in a shower cubicle at his temporary accommodation in east London in August. The death of the dedicated student as well as reports of extreme working habits in investment bank led to a debate about a culture that effectively forces interns into working 100-hour weeks in an attempt to break into the lucrative industry.

Erhardt was a week from completing a placement at Bank of America Merrill Lynch's London offices, and was due to be offered a job at the bank.

The whole thing is disturbing: Interns giving away their labor to businesses that turn around and sell it*; the fact that internships (especially time-intensive ones) are heavily weighted in favor of those who already have access to wealth, lowering the possibility of wealth mobility; even the possibility that a bank has just worked a 21 year-old intern to death. (The corner was cautious and inconclusive, of course—but it's not hard to imagine putting a thumb on the scales for "inconclusive" with the massive bank and the legal ramifications hanging in the balance.)

But the most disturbing part of the story comes at the very end:

One City intern, who wanted to be known only as Alex, told the Guardian at the time of Erhardt's death that working for more than 100 hours was normal, but said that despite the pressures he and other interns enjoyed the experience.

"On average, I get four hours' sleep about 70% of the time … [but] there are also days with eight hours of sleep," Alex said. "Work-life balance is bad. We all know this going in. I guess that's the deal with most entry-level jobs these days."

He added that despite the amount of time spent in the office, he "enjoyed it greatly".

"That's the deal" these days—give away your labor, give away your "free time," let them sell it at a massive markup, and enjoy it.

The story also reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin. What does the imp offer the woman? To make the labor she gives away more productive. What does he want in exchange? Her child.

Sounds like a rotten deal, doesn't it?

* This is something I can't help thinking about when business owners, even small-business owners say: "I create jobs! My employees need me! I'm doing all my employees a favor!"

That's not actually true.

Your employees are selling you their labor, which you sell at a markup, and you can have nice things: nice cars, nice condos, trips to tropical beaches, and so on. (Or at least that's the goal.) Really, your employees are doing you a favor. If you can't run a business that pays its (very generous) employees a fair wage, maybe you're not cut out for business.

Socialism, Kshama Sawant, and Town Hall

Posted by on Mon, Mar 17, 2014 at 8:38 AM

Huffington Post:

Listening to conservatives at the CPAC conference last week is a remarkable experience. It might make you laugh, it might make you cry, or most likely both. It will probably give you a headache and raise your blood pressure if you listen too long, so do be careful. But if you listen to the underlying ideas, one thing comes through over and over again, which is that any form of government involvement in the economy to help working families or lower income folks — from the minimum wage to Social Security, from Medicare to feeding hungry children — is Socialism with a capital S.
In my thinking, these are forms of socialism. But something like the minimum wage is best understood as the form of socialism that's concerned with the distribution/management of socially produced wealth. Universal health insurance, on the other hand, is what I call the cosmic form of socialism—the socialism that's concerned with the realities of luck and bad luck. The cosmic form of socialism also participates in the management of wealth, in the sense that it recognizes and addresses/corrects this other reality: luck and bad luck play a big role in who is rich and who is not.

But this is just one way of explaining socialism. Another way is certainly held by the Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and this will be indeed the matter of a conversation with her tomorrow at Town Hall. The big questions: What is socialism and why is it meaningful today? Educator and political theorist Deepa Bhandaru will lead the conversation.

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  • Kelly O

For more socialism, go and see the film Northern Lights at Grand Illusion.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Go to the $15 Minimum Wage Rally Saturday!

Posted by on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 4:01 PM

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  • IMAGE USED WITH PERMISSION FROM 15NOW

Seattle's first big demonstration for a $15 an hour minimum wage is tomorrow, March 15, at 1 p.m. in Judkins Park. You should go.

The mayor's Income Inequality Advisory Committee is currently hashing out a proposal for raising the minimum wage, and the mayor is expected to hand down that proposal to the city council this spring. The proposal will either be robust (a bill that would guarantee $15 to all workers as soon as possible) or weak (a bill that would that exempt whole classes of workers and contains so many loopholes that it's gutless). Here's a list of the leading exemptions on the table.

Many members of the mayor's committee are business lobbyists who actually funded the mayor's campaign last year. For example, committee member and Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce CEO Maud Daudon maxed out $700 to Mayor Ed Murray's campaign in 2013, according to reports filed with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. Seattle Hotel Association president David Watkins also maxed out $700 to Murray's campaign and sits on this committee. Committee member and Tutta Bella owner Joe Fugere, too, maxed out $700 to Murray's election campaign and gave another $100 to an independent PAC supporting Murray. Fugere gave another $250 this year to Murray's "office funds," the elections reports show. Meanwhile, committee member and Ivar's CEO Bob Donegan contributed $333 to Murray's election campaign, and committee members Dave Meinert, Craig Dawson, Ronald Wilkowski also gave generously to Murray's campaign.

It's a no-brainer to say that the strongest resistance to raising Seattle's minimum wage are business owners and business associations presidents—who gave money to elect the mayor and now sit on the mayor's panel crafting that very policy on the minimum wage (undoubtedly a policy that favors businesses). To be fair, I trust that many of these business leaders want to give workers a fair shake, and union activists who support the $15 an hour wage sit on the committee, too.

Still, the truth is simple: The mayor's committee doesn't strongly represent workers.

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  • POLLING BY EMC RESEARCH, JAN 2014
No minimum-wage or low-wage workers serve on the committee at all; their interests are represented by labor advocates and city council member Kshama Sawant.

But this march, being organized by 15Now, does represent workers. This march sends a message to the committee and lawmakers that they need to craft a solid ordinance that that creates a $15-an-hour minimum wage for as many people as possible, as soon as possible. If they don't, if they pass a weak bill, workers and activists will eclipse it on the ballot this November with a robust initiative. It would be a brutal ballot fight that the mayor and council would be wise to avoid. Polling we reported on last month shows a stunning 68 percent of Seattle voters support a $15 wage without exemptions. So let's avoid that ballot fight by going to the march and pressing city hall to pass the strongest, doable wage law possible.

WHEN: 1 p.m., Saturday, March 15.

WHERE: Folks meet in Judkins Park in the Central District at 1 p.m. and head up to Seattle Central Community College on Capitol Hill. Here's the march route.

WEATHER: It looks like it's gonna be Seattle out there, so wear a coat or a poncho or something.

WUT? There's more info on the march's Facebook page.

The FBI Won't Do Criminal Background Checks on Prospective Washington Pot Sellers

Posted by on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Which is odd:

SEATTLE (AP) — The FBI is refusing to run nationwide background checks on people applying to run legal marijuana businesses in Washington state, even though it has conducted similar checks in Colorado — a discrepancy that illustrates the quandary the Justice Department faces as it allows the states to experiment with regulating a drug that's long been illegal under federal law.

Washington state has been asking for nearly a year if the FBI would conduct background checks on its applicants, to no avail. The bureau's refusal raises the possibility that people with troublesome criminal histories could wind up with pot licenses in the state — undermining the department's own priorities in ensuring that states keep a tight rein on the nascent industry.

The bureau won't explain the discrepancy, saying only that it is working on a "consistent" national approach.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Wealth Gap Will Continue to Widen and Little Tweaks to Taxes, Wages, and Education Aren't Going to Change That

Posted by on Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 2:56 PM

That's the conclusion Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics has come to in his new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. The New York Times has a sharp—and terrifying, in that deep, dull feeling of watching something you fear is true being proven—review and interview with Piketty:

What if inequality were to continue growing years or decades into the future? Say the richest 1 percent of the population amassed a quarter of the nation’s income, up from about a fifth today. What about half?

To believe Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics, this future is not just possible. It is likely...

His most startling news is that the belief that inequality will eventually stabilize and subside on its own, a long-held tenet of free market capitalism, is wrong. Rather, the economic forces concentrating more and more wealth into the hands of the fortunate few are almost sure to prevail for a very long time.

It is possible to slow, or even reverse, the trend, if political leaders like President Obama, who proposed that income inequality was the “defining challenge of our time,” really push.

“Political action can make this go in the other direction,” Professor Piketty told me. But he also adds that history does not offer much hope that political action will, in fact, turn the tide: “Universal suffrage and democratic institutions have not been enough to make the system react.”

According to Piketty, the pessimism of Dickens and Marx were well-founded—the invisible hand is not your friend.

Read the whole thing. Then go read the Q&A with Piketty, excerpted below.

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Higher Minimum Wage Wasn't a Job Killer

Posted by on Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 11:21 AM

Credit where credit is due: Seattle Times reporter Lynn Thompson, who I've criticized plenty in the past, has a helpful story that dispels a common myth about raising the minimum wage. San Francisco raised its minimum wage from 6.75 to $10.74 over the last decade, and researchers examined wage hike:

What have the effects been on employment?

Almost none, according to economists at the University of California, Berkeley, who have studied San Francisco, eight other cities that raised their minimum wages in the past decade, and 21 states with higher base pay than the federal minimum.

Businesses absorbed the costs through lower turnover, small price increases at restaurants, which have a high concentration of low-wage workers, and higher worker productivity, the researchers found. The average increase among cities raising the minimum wage was 40 percent. The average step increase for a phased-in pay hike was 17 percent.

“Our data show that an increase up to $13 an hour has no measurable effect on employment,” said Michael Reich, a Berkeley economics professor with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Brace yourself. During Seattle's discussion about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour later this year, we're going to hear this a lot more: Pretty much any policy that helps workers will hurt "job creators" and "kill jobs."

Of course, we've heard hat providing sick days would kill jobs—jobs actually went up. We've heard taxes on the rich are a job killer—also bogus. We're told that providing better health care is another job killer—yeah, a tiny number of jobs people didn't want and held to pay for overpriced health care. In San Francisco, small businesses were given a couple years to phase in the policy, something that's also on the table in Seattle.

Professor Reich didn't make the promise that Seattle's proposed jump to $15 would have an equally low impact as San Francisco, but research from Reich and others makes a pretty strong case: When people reflexively claim that raising the minimum wage is a wholesale job killer, it's a talking point from conservative business lobbies, not necessarily a fact.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

You Are Alive As Long As You Are Paying Bills

Posted by on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 1:41 PM

CNN:

For years, the payments went out of the woman's bank account.

Nobody batted an eyelid. Bills were paid. And life went on as normal in the quiet neighborhood of Pontiac, Michigan.

Neighbors didn't notice anything unusual. The woman traveled a lot, they said, and kept to herself. One of them mowed her grass to keep things looking tidy.

At some point, her bank account ran dry. The bills stopped being paid.


A person employed by the bank discovered her mummified body in the garage. Money was all the system needed for her death to continue in peace. "Nothing remarkable [was] found in the home," said a police officer. The cause of her death has yet to be determined.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Budgeting the American Universe

Posted by on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 12:03 PM

The one and only...


Monday, March 3, 2014

The History of Capitalism in 138 Words

Posted by on Mon, Mar 3, 2014 at 9:18 AM

The words come from Costas Lapavitsas, a professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and the author of a meticulous analysis of financialization called Profiting without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (Verso). Costas Lapavitsas:

Financialization represents a new historical period in the development of capitalism. Marxist political economy typically recognizes three great periods: laissez-faire capitalism around the middle of the 19th century, monopoly capitalism toward the end of the 19th century and imperialism that lasted perhaps until the Second World War. The 70 years since the war have been very difficult to categorize, not least because of the extraordinary Long Boom that lasted until the early 1970s, with unprecedented growth rates, rising incomes and greater equality. The Long Boom has been followed by four decades of indifferent growth, often stagnant incomes and rising inequality. In my view, financialization is a term that adequately characterizes this period. Its dominant feature has been the extraordinary rise of finance, which has come to penetrate areas of economic and social activity previously relatively distant to it.

This explanation takes us all the way to 2008. After that year, neoliberalism (the social form) and neoclassical economics (the academic form) died but returned as zombies. No one believes in these things or ideas anymore, but they are very much alive, very effective, and indeed making loads of money for a tiny group of people on this planet. This is the land of the aftermath.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Republican State Senator Shocks Colleagues, Kills Funding for Homeless Programs

Posted by on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 2:55 PM

You know where American Democracy™ fails? In little rooms in Olympia where petty politics play out, the poor get trampled upon, and it's all hidden from view. Yesterday afternoon, after TVW turned off its cameras at a Senate Financial Institutions, Housing, and Insurance Committee hearing, State Sen. Jan Angel (R-27 26) suddenly, to the astonishment of her colleagues, killed off a bill that funds most of the state's homeless programs by ending the hearing before bringing it up.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom called Angel and told her to table the bill, Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44) says, adding that Tom told him that directly. And rumors abound that Tom did it merely to perturb Speaker Frank Chopp. "There's those theories out there," says Hobbs. "He didn't say he wants to poke Frank Chopp in the eye, but I think everyone knows what Frank Chopp's thing is." Housing has long been Chopp's signature issue.

Here's how the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance describes the bill (ESHB 2368):

Washington State has embraced the use of modest recording fees on some real estate related documents as a significant source of funds for homelessness programs. These effective state and local programs help transition people off the streets into shelters and homes. The fees are the state’s most significant funding source for homelessness programs, representing almost half of all funds.

This fee is set to reduce by $10 in July 2015 and then reduce by another $20 in July 2017. This would result in a loss of 62.5% of total current funding for homelessness. If this happens, effective homelessness programs across the state will experience severe cuts or will close. This could seriously set back the progress we’ve made in decreasing homelessness in Washington.

Here's how the bill-killing went down (audio here):

Angel: The executive session is now closed and the meeting is adjourned.

Sen. Don Benton (R-17): Whoa whoa whoa. Madam chair, what about 2368?

Angel: The meeting is now adjourned.

Benton: Okaaay. That is abrupt and very disappointing. We worked very hard on this affordable housing bill. And we had an agreed-to amendment.

Sen. Steve Hobbs: I too am greatly disappointed, madam co-chair... We had the votes. We had a Republican Senator work with a Democratic house member. This is bipartisan, bicameral... I believe Representative Benton and Representative Sawyer did make the bill to a point where all parties were not opposed to the bill...

Angel: That is not correct. All parties are not in agreement, and therefore I have adjourned the meeting. So we'll continue to work on this during interim...

Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34): Madam chair I'm also wanting to express my disappointment. This will affect homeless individuals. It will affect the 10 year plan in King County that is critical to providing them shelter... To abruptly adjourn this meeting without protecting the homeless really, really bothers me and it will affect those who need a voucher just for housing over their heads on a cold day.

[Applause]

Angel: Thank you, your comments have been so noted. Thank you.

"It's not clear if Rodney Tom did this as a favor to bankers and realtors or out of political retribution," says FUSE Washington's Collin Jergens. "This is a new low for Rodney Tom."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

While We're Talking About Things to Do In Tandem With Raising Seattle's Minimum Wage...

Posted by on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 6:00 AM

A number of people (including me, last week, at around 25:00) have pointed out that it's not going to be enough to just raise the minimum wage in Seattle.

We need to raise taxes, too. So here's the tax I think we should be looking at: a Seattle income tax.

Yes, we'd need permission from the legislature to do this. But, as Mayor (and former State Senator) Ed Murray pointed out in his State of the City address:

Every year since 2000, the top 20 percent of income earners in Seattle have brought home more than the bottom 80 percent combined.

Murray used this inequality to argue for increasing the minimum wage in Seattle to $15 an hour, but it's also a strong argument for instituting an income tax here.

So: If the mayor is concerned about income inequality, and if he also shares Danny Westneat's concern about keeping social services running amid a minimum wage increase, then he should be campaigning for a minimum wage increase while at the same time lobbying Olympia to let us have an income tax. (Like, oh, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Philadelphia...)

Candidate Murray promised he'd be a great mayor because his legislative experience would help him get Olympia to do what's right for Seattle. Here's one way he could come through on that promise.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Required Reading: Low Wages and Capitalism

Posted by on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 2:13 PM

In Doug Henwood's important book Wall Street, which was written in 1997, you will find this important and relevant passage:

[T]he minimum wage [is] almost universally regarded by economists to be a job-killer. Their reasoning is pure Econ 101 — raise the price of something (and a wage is the price of labor), and you depress demand for it. Therefore, boosting the minimum wage has to result in an employment decline for low-end workers. But in surveys of employers taken just before and after changes in the minimum wage, David Card and Alan Krueger showed that this just isn’t true. They paused for a few pages in the middle of their book, Myth and Measurement, to review some reasons why the academic literature has almost unanimously found the minimum wage guilty as charged. They surmised that earlier studies showing that higher wages reduced employment were the result of “publication bias” among journal editors. They also surmised, very diplomatically, that economists have been aware of this bias, and played those notorious scholarly games, “specification searching and data mining” — bending the numbers to obtain the desired result. They also noted that some of the early studies were based on seriously flawed data, but since the results were desirable from both the political and professional points of view, they went undiscovered for several years.
The wage issue does not have an economic core but a political one. Indeed, the reason why members of the neoclassical school call themselves economists, which they are not, and are so keen to claim that issues like low wages are economic in nature is precisely because the world has forgotten the real or original name of the profession they usurped: political economy.
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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cow Economics Finally Gets Real

Posted by on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 1:41 PM

We know what happens to two cows under socialism, communism, capitalism, and so on. But nothing will ever beat what happens to two cows in our economy, the economy dominating the world, financialized capitalism:


ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND (VENTURE) CAPITALISM

You have two cows.

You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of

credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a

debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all

four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.

The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a

Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who

sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.

The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on

one more.

You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States , leaving

you with nine cows.

No balance sheet provided with the release.

The public then buys your bull.


There it is.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Raising Minimum Wage AND Keeping Small, Independent Businesses in Seattle

Posted by on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 10:15 AM

Over the weekend, Danny Westneat interviewed a lefty restaurateur about what a poorly crafted $15 minimum wage law would do to his business. The restaurateur's first thought: He'd have to close.

It would be a huge loss to the city if we lost local, independently owned businesses that can't absorb a 60 percent wage hike the way that chain businesses can. We can raise the minimum wage and keep our independent business alive if we do this correctly. Small and independent businesses need time to manage the financial impact of a wage increase as large as this. Otherwise, big chains who can leverage their labor and supplies nationally and internationally will have an unfair advantage.

It's not like there wouldn't be restaurants left in Seattle if a poorly planned $15 increase goes through—it's just that they won't be the ones who care about our community and sustainability.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Richer the City the Greater the Inequality

Posted by on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 8:09 AM

Cities are, of course, the main generators of a nation's wealth...

...[T]his map built by Reddit user Alexandr Trubetskoy shows — in stark terms — how much of the country's economic activity (as measured by the gross domestic product) is focused in a remarkably small number of major cities.


But a recent study has shown that the most prosperous cities tend to have the greatest income inequality. Seattle is one of these cities..

The country’s big cities tend to have higher income inequality than the country as a whole. For instance, in the 50 biggest American cities in 2012, a high-income household — which the study measured at the 95th earnings percentile, putting it just into the top 5 percent — earned about 11 times as much as a low-income household, at the 20th percentile. Nationally, that ratio was 9 to 1.

The article opens by saying something that appears to be startling: If one wants to live in a more equal community, the place to go is a city whose economy is not growing. But this story lead is not as provocative as it sounds. To appreciate its substance one only has to look back to last week's popular posts and articles about how a black neighborhood in Portland rejected the convenience of a Trader Joe's grocery store precisely because many feared it would bring economic growth (or development), and this growth would attract the unstoppable forces of gentrification—a process that always leads to greater and greater income inequality in a neighborhood and, ultimately, a city.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Will You Boycott Fast Food Tomorrow?

Posted by on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 at 6:07 PM

Tomorrow, there's a citywide boycott on corporate fast-food restaurants as part of the campaign to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage.

An overwhelming majority of Seattleites support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But if activists don't mobilize and force politicians to push the wage-increase through, one of three things will happen: (1) it will be slowly phased in over years, during which inflation will continue to rise and dilute the power of the wage bump; (2) the wage increase will be watered down with all manner of exemptions, leaving sections of Seattle workers mired in poverty; or (3) the wage increase won't happen at all, due to well-funded opposition from businesses.

Grassroots organizing throughout last year—strikes and marches and electing a real socialist over an establishment Democrat—got us this far. But even 15 Now, the campaign for raising wages organized by Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative, is being marginalized, Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell pointed out in a council hearing yesterday. "There is this very significant grassroots effort and we’re just kind of ignoring it and I don’t think that’s a good idea," Harrell told Mayor Ed Murray's staffers during their presentation to council on the progress of the city's income inequality committee.

Here's one easy way to take action: Join the fast-food boycott tomorrow against the biggest burger chains—McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's. They're raking in billions in profits and could easily pay their workers $15 an hour. McDonald's, for example, earned $5.6 billion in profits last year while suggesting its employees sell their possessions and avoid paying for heating to survive. There's more info, including where and when people can join "boycott lines," over here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lindy West on This Garbage Video About Sex and Marriage: "We Aren't the Numbers. The Numbers Are Us."

Posted by on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 12:10 PM

So, Naomi Schaefer Riley at the New York Post has highlighted this little video on "the economics of sex," which she finds "refreshingly honest." It's all about the sex market and the marriage market, and how the pill fucked everything up and now sex is cheap and marriage is expensive. (Excuse me while I try not to hurl.) Interestingly, without any explanation or discussion, it moves forward on the assumption that everyone getting straight married is some totally agreed-upon societal goal, which, in 2014, is absolutely red-flag INSANE. Not just because it ignores that gay people exist and categorizes everyone as either male or female, but it also ignores the possibility that single people or long-term unmarried partners can be happy or stable, treating marriage as a universal goal.

But here, watch for yourself:


IF you could make it through without barfing—or even if you couldn't—and you are still left at the end SO RAGED OUT ON RAGE-AHOL, then kindly step right over here to Jezebel, where Lindy West will cleanse your brain. An excerpt:

Oh, but, of course, it's just about numbers. These are just the averages we're talking about. "Nobody's saying this is the way it ought to be. It's just the way it is."

Yeah, well, we aren't the numbers. The numbers are us. They don't dictate what we do, they reflect it. That is the entire point of activism—to change the numbers, to change the shitty, blatant, measurable ways we marginalize one other.

I really don't know how I'd survive the internet without Lindy.

Bank Holds the Right to Pay You a "Personal Visit"

Posted by on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 8:50 AM

This was inevitable:

“Hello, it’s Capital One, can I come in? I brought lemonade!”

That’s something credit card customers of the Capital One bank are worrying they might hear on their front doorsteps. The credit card issuer said in a recent contract update to cardholders that it can contact customers “in any manner we choose.”

That includes calls, emails, texts, faxes or a “personal visit,” reports the Los Angeles Times. The company has also reserved the right to suppress its caller ID and identify itself however it wants, a tactic known as spoof calling.


Any one who studies economics soon learns of the information asymmetry problem: It is in the bank's interest to know everything about a borrower's life, and it is in the borrower's interest to hide key pieces of information about his/her life. This is the game they must play. It is a game with real risks. Banks, however, are not really about markets but about capitalism, and so they want the power to do business without any risks. Capitalism is a market whose risks have been minimized by the state.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Capitalist Democracy: The More Money You Make, The More Votes You Get

Posted by on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 11:03 AM

On the main page of CNN:

Tom Perkins suggested Thursday that only taxpayers should have the right to vote — and that wealthy Americans who pay more in taxes should get more votes.
The venture capitalist offered the unorthodox proposal when asked to name one idea that would "change the world" at a speaking engagement in San Francisco moderated by Fortune's Adam Lashinsky.

"The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," Perkins said. "But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?"

That would be a great idea if only for one important fact: The social greatness of many of the humans in the past, present, and future has been undervalued by money. Monetary wealth is simply a poor measure of social worth.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Financialization and the Death of American Innovation

Posted by on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 4:53 PM

The death is found not so much in the decline of corporate R&D...



...But in the fact that the very people who reap the rewards of share buybacks do everything they can not to pay taxes, hide their money, and provide financial support to politicians who work tirelessly to cut government spending in R&D and other important social programs right down to the bone.

Another Argument Against Shipping Coal to Asia Through Pacific Northwest Ports

Posted by on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 6:00 AM

In today's New York Times, a physicist and writer who lives on Orcas Island says the environmental concerns are real, but...

...much larger issues of national and global concern are at stake. The low-sulfur Western coal, strip-mined from federal lands, is valuable public property. The federal government’s leasing of these lands at low cost to strip miners made some sense a few decades ago when the United States needed low-sulfur coal to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide that was being emitted by coal-burning power plants and causing acid rain. But today, as utilities convert to cheap natural gas and American coal use declines, mining companies are seeking customers in China, Japan and Korea.

Shipping this subsidized coal to Asian countries to help them power their factories, which undercut American manufacturers, makes little sense. Yes, this coal will help those countries produce cheap consumer goods for sale in stores across the United States. But it will also promote the continued transfer of industrial work to Asia, especially if the Trans-Pacific Partnership goes through. Is that good for American workers?

Returning to the environmental concerns, and to one of the countries that wants to import a lot of this US-taxpayer-subsidized coal: "Severe pollution in Beijing has made the Chinese capital 'barely suitable' for living, according to an official Chinese report."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Judge Overturns Bank of America Foreclosure

Posted by on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 2:06 PM

Here's some great news: Marysville's Jacob Bradburn, a 32-year-old crane operator, won a pre-trial summary judgement against Bank of America last week overturning his 2009 foreclosure. Snohomish County Superior Court judge George Bowden ruled that Bank of America's actions had been "unfair and deceptive" and voided the foreclosure. Bowden writes:

I was troubled... that [Bradburn] was told that he should stop making his mortgage payments so that he could qualify for refinancing with Bank of America (BANA) and that once he fell behind he not only wasn’t approved for that refinance but then found himself unable to bring his mortgage loan current or resolve what he believed was a dispute about how much he was behind.

"They called me every day asking me if I wanted to refinance or get caught back up on the loans," Bradburn told me by phone today. "I’d say yeah, whatever it takes to save my house. And they would never tell me how to do it... I never qualified for loan modification." The scenario is reminiscent of Phyllis Walsh, a south Seattle woman who, according to her suicide note and family members, thought she was refinancing her mortgage with US Bank, but was actually being foreclosed upon. As I reported in October, Walsh killed herself two days before she was to be evicted from her home.

Continue reading »

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What The State Can Do Today to Help Renters

Posted by on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 1:38 PM

This guest post is by state senator David Frockt (D-46) about new tenants rights legislation.

Like many communities across our state, Seattle faces an affordable housing crisis. We’ve heard from tenants about unfair rents, short notice on rent increases and renovations, and high costs for actions as routine as filling out a rental application. People are facing these challenges every day, and they deserve action from the Legislature now to help address these issues.

The first step in getting housing is the application. A survey by Solid Ground found that the average renter pays $166 on screening fees for rental applications before they find housing, when most of those screening reports provide duplicative information. I’ve sponsored (joined by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles) Senate Bill 6291 to create a standardized comprehensive screening report to allow a prospective tenant to pay one fee and use that report to apply for multiple rentals for up to 30 days. If a landlord wants a special screening report different from the standardized report, they can do that, but the landlord would pay that cost.

Screening fees are expensive for everyone, but they’re an especially large barrier for people trying to get on their feet. I met a young woman just the other day—a barista—who had paid hundreds of dollars in screening fees before being accepted into a decent rental. A standardized single report would have helped her find a place sooner at lower cost.

It’s not enough to help people find affordable housing—we have to help them keep it. Right now, rent can increase nearly overnight. Renters receive little warning of rent increases or renovations and they don’t get enough relocation assistance when it happens. Especially when tenants are senior citizens or people with small children, it can be tough to move on short notice.

Continue reading »

Thursday, January 30, 2014

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Monday, January 27, 2014

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

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Growth!

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

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Friday, January 10, 2014

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The Best Democracy

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

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