Crosscut columnist and onetime LBJ aide Ted van Dyk (has van Dyk ever mentioned that he once worked for President Johnson?) has a column in the Wall Street Journal in which he pretty much blames President Obama and his fellow Democrats—exclusively—for partisan gridlock in the other Washington:
Mr. Obama was elected in 2008 on the basis of his persona and his pledge to end political and ideological polarization. His apparent everyone-in-it-together idealism was exactly what the country wanted and needed. On taking office, however, the president adopted a my-way-or-the-highway style of governance. He pursued his stimulus and health-care proposals on a congressional-Democrats-only basis. He rejected proposals of his own bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission, which would have provided long-term deficit reduction and stabilized rapidly growing entitlement programs. He opted instead to demonize Republicans for their supposed hostility to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Yeah, whatever. That's pretty much van Dyk's shtick: Trading off his half-century-old stint in the Johnson White House (van Dyk's model of a "modern Democratic president") to justify his past quarter century of bashing Democrats via his well worn "I don't recognize my party" meme. We've heard it all before, for example when van Dyk endorsed Republican Bob Dole (in the Wall Street Journal, of course) against President Bill Clinton in 1996, or when he endorsed Republican Susan Hutchison for King County Executive in 2009, deriding Democrat Dow Constantine for his "low-politics tactics."
Republicans love it. Hence van Dyk's access to the WSJ's op-ed page. But as long as van Dyk is trading off his Johnson-era White House credentials as the basis for his current claimed status as a wise old defender of Democratic Party values, it's only fair to remember what van Dyk did immediately following Richard Nixon's ascension to the White House. Van Dyk went to work as a milk industry lobbyist, where he allegedly became embroiled in the Watergate scandal through a scheme to deliver suitcases full of $100 bills to Nixon:
A new study in this month's Prison Legal News shows that private prisons incarcerate a higher percentage of people of color than state-run prisons. (To prevent skewing the numbers, the authors excluded federal detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other high-immigration facilities.)
Prisoners of color in California: 75% in the public prisons, 89% in the private ones.
In Texas: 66% in public, 71% in private.
In Arizona: 60% in public, 65% in private.
From the study:
Our research indicates that although people of color are already overrepresented in public prisons relative to their share of state and national populations, they are further overrepresented by approximately 12 percent in state-contracted correctional facilities operated by for-profit prison firms.
So prisoners of color are being systematically routed to for-profit prisons. (The state of California, for example, makes it a policy to send prisoners with immigration issues to for-profit prisons, which has a much bigger impact on prisoners of color.) What does that mean?
Take it away, Dr. Lisa Wade of Occidental College:
Companies that house prisoners for profit have a perverse incentive to increase the prison population by passing more laws, policing more heavily, sentencing more harshly, and denying parole. Likewise, there’s no motivation to rehabilitate prisoners; doing so is expensive, cuts into their profits, and decreases the likelihood that any individual will be back in the prison system. Accordingly, state prisons are much more likely than private prisons to offer programs that help prisoners: psychological interventions, drug and alcohol counseling, coursework towards high school or college diplomas, job training, etc.
If prisoners of color are being systematically siphoned off to for-profit prisons and for-profit prisons are less likely to offer education and other programs, prisoners of color are being systematically denied those programs.
Any lawyers out there looking for a class-action discrimination lawsuit?
The scale of dissatisfaction in the City emerged in a global survey of finance professionals by recruiters Selby Jennings, which uncovered similar gripes in New York and Singapore.Recall the history of paper. It began in China a century after the death of Christ. 650 years later, there was a war between the Chinese and Ottoman Turks. During a major battle, Chinese paper makers were captured and taken to Baghdad, where the knowledge of paper production was transferred from the Chinese world to the Arab one. From the Arab world, it entered Europe. Our knowledge of Aristotle is connected with this transference. Now, can you imagine a war where bankers are captured and forced to teach some foreign power the things they know about financing? It is precisely the social uselessness of this profession that inflates its sense of importance.
Globally, 67.2pc of bankers were “unhappy with their overall remuneration package” for 2012, compared with 63.9pc in London. In both London and the global survey, 48.4pc of respondents said their pay was unfair even “when asked to take the current market conditions into account”.
Senator Elizabeth Warren was running her smart mouth yesterday! I mean that in the best way. She is wonderful. Here she is reprimanding regulators who wrist-slap banks with fines instead of criminally prosecuting them:
“If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you go to jail. If you’re caught repeatedly, you can go to jail for life,” Warren told regulators during a Senate Banking Committee hearing. “Incidentally, if you launder nearly a billion dollars in drug money, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night.”
That's from this Politico story, which you should read because it's full of quotes like that from her and other senators, and it also covers Attorney General Eric Holder's admission on Wednesday that the size of financial institutions makes it "difficult for us to prosecute them" if doing so would "have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy."
Aaaaaand #toobigtojail starts trending...
We've been getting outraged tips this week about an item in Magnolia-area public school Catharine Blaine K–8's school fundraiser auction this year. In among the "VIP Parking Spot" and "Kindergarten Movie Night" items, there's one that stands out:
THE FIRST ANNUAL WHITE TRASH TEA
We’re not in the 98199 anymore! Here's your chance to experience the "other side of the tracks" at Blaine’s First Annual White Trash Tea! Grab your trashiest girlfriends to sample the finest in Crock Pot cuisine, Twinkie trifle, a variety of fun cocktails and, of course, teas. Everything will be served on plates from Safeway's "Bonus with Purchase" collection, natch. The tea will be hosted at the not-so-trashy [name of place redacted], located on Capitol Hill.
Cost: $40 per person
Limitations: Up to 14 people
We e-mailed the PTA to ask if they were mocking the poor, as our tippers said, and they sent us a statement: "This event has, in fact, been pulled from the auction... There was never an intent to mock, as you say, any specific class of people, and as soon as there was concern from a parent, the event was pulled." They point out that it was never in any materials distributed to students, only parents, and that it was aimed only at adults. They also point out the truth: "Our PTA Board and Auction Coordinators are all parent volunteers who have worked tirelessly this year to raise the funds to gap the shortfall in both the money we receive from the district and the state."
So! There you have it. People have been asking, and we dutifully report. Y'all are adults, you shouldn't have made that joke, the outrage was predictable—and fair. Schools being broke is no excuse to be offensive; 11 percent of Blaine students are on free/reduced lunch, and those families are part of your school community. But really: LET'S ADEQUATELY FUND OUR MOTHERFUCKING PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM, HUH?!? Yeah.
Quartz just published a report indicating that American insurance companies are not planning realistically for the future:
Some numbers to keep insurance executives reaching for the Ambien in the dead of the night: Extreme weather driven by climate change cost the US insurance industry $32 billion in 2011. Superstorm Sandy alone led to some $25 billion in insured losses last year, the warmest on record. And today climate scientists released a study showing global temperatures have hit a 4,000-year high.
So one might think the insurance industry would be leading the charge on climate change, given its multitrillion-dollar exposure to property damage resulting from the hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and other weather-related calamities that are increasing in frequency and intensity as the planet warms.
Not exactly....[a recent] study found that only 23 of the 184 insurers have adopted comprehensive climate change strategies as part of their risk management operations. Of those 23 more forward-looking companies, 13 are foreign-owned.
It's totally okay, though. Those insurance companies are too big to fail. So everything's just fine!
I'm fairly competent at math, but I was initially baffled when I recently sat down to figure out the taxes and "fees" on my monthly wireless bill.
I'd received an email from an angry reader complaining about Washington's "second-highest in the nation" wireless taxes, and pointing me to a website that claimed we pay an astronomical 24.44 percent rate. That does sound high. But it didn't add up. A quick look at my latest AT&T bill showed that I paid $10.98 in taxes, surcharges, and fees on $74.29 in voice, data, and text charges. That comes to about 14.8 percent. Not inconsequential, but nothing like what the angry emailer claimed.
But for the life of me, I just couldn't get the numbers to add up, nor could I find useful online documentation. Finally, after a fair bit of algebra and some back and forth with the Department of Revenue, I think I've finally sussed it out, at least to within a penny or two. And it turns out that these various "taxes" aren't always what they first appear.
As a point of reference here's how my monthly AT&T Wireless bill breaks down (the tax and fee rates are not included on the bill; I had to figure that part out for myself):
The European Union has fined Microsoft $731 million for breaking a 2009 antitrust agreement in which it promised to offer Windows customers a choice of web browsers:
"If companies agree to offer commitments which then become legally binding, they must do what they have committed to do or face the consequences," Joaquin Almunia, the EU's competition commissioner, told a news conference.
"I hope this decision will make companies think twice before they even think of intentionally breaching their obligations or even of neglecting their duty to ensure strict compliance."
Microsoft said it took full responsibility for the incident, which it has blamed on a technical error. The board cut chief executive Steve Ballmer's bonus last year partly as a result.
I dunno, I'm pretty sure if I cost Tim $731 million I wouldn't be getting any bonus this year.
According to this video, a Harvard business professor asked more than 5,000 Americans the above question. Their answers weren't nearly pessimistic enough:
The Girls Gone Wild franchise has filed for bankruptcy. Unfortunately, that's not as good as it sounds. Girls Gone Wild shitball Joe Francis submitted the company for bankruptcy protection after a legal dust up with Steve Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts, after Francis allegedly ran up a $2 million gambling debt at Wynn's Las Vegas resort. Sadly:
Girls Gone Wild isn't going away, nor is its unseemly practice of persuading drunken women to take off their clothes for the cameras. Francis seems to be moving pots of money around and taking advantage of the legal system to avoid payment.
This could be an attempt to protect Francis's wealth from Wynn, who also won a $40 million defamation lawsuit after, among other things, Francis allegedly made claims that Wynn threatened to have him murdered over the gambling debt. If there is still any good in this world, Francis will not succeed. Either that, or this conflict will facilitate a death match between the two, in which the 71-year-old Wynn lands a decisive victory because he recently went vegan. Lastly, I am depressed to know any of this, but the headline grabbed me and I could not turn away. Now you know too. You're welcome.
Considering that Robin Kelly won a congressional seat in Illinois last night by running on a pro-gun control platform against a pro-gun NRA-hugger, why not market your business by telling the gun nuts to go fuck themselves with a giant banner in your window?
Flex Training Gym in Seattle was full of clients last night.
"The fuckers," says Slog tipper my dad. "For the GOP, everything's about money."
Banks are holding more than $200 million in insurance payments meant for victims of Superstorm Sandy, nearly four months after the storm made landfall, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.I've always thought this to be one of the most pronounced asymmetries between banks and consumers: If a bank is late paying what it owes you, it's not punished with fees; but, of course, if it's the other way around, if it's you or I who is late, the fees descend on us like a cloud of big-eyed flies.
The Cuomo administration said it has delivered letters to various banks and mortgage service providers asking they "use maximum discretion and effort to speed the release of funds."
WASHINGTON lawmakers should repeal the never-implemented paid-family-leave law.
The state should focus its limited resources on higher priorities, such as the state Supreme Court mandate for more education funding.
So if I'm reading this editorial correctly, the Seattle Times is urging lawmakers to repeal a never-implemented, unfunded paid-family-leave law so that they can focus these same nonexistent resources on education. Yup, that pretty much describes the Republican approach to McCleary.
It’s been 24 hours and not a single co-worker has complimented my Princess Diana commemorative plate that I have displayed prominently on my shelf. I think it’s because everyone is really uncomfortable about how rich I’m going to be.
My plate is titled Our Royal Princess and was purchased over the weekend in La Conner, Washington. I paid $12 for it, but I think the woman who sold it to me was a Lifetime Network style benefactor who really just wanted me to be so rich. I was so excited about my plate that I didn’t realize it came with paperwork—a certificate of authenticity plus an advertisement for a wooden plate frame—and a Styrofoam box.
My Princess Diana commemorative plate is hand numbered and is, it says, the second issue in the "Diana: Queen of Our Hearts" collection, which was, “produced on hand-fired porcelain in an edition limited to a maximum of 95 firing days and crafted to the exacting standards of The Bradford Exchange.”
You hear that? Second issue. The Bradford Exchange.
I just wish someone would tell me how rich I am going to be, now that I have this plate in my life. Please let me know.
Not sure why it should be so surprising that the school district serving the largest, most expensive city in the state would be building some of the state's largest, most expensive schools, especially at a time when it is in the midst of an over-enrollment crisis. Do the math.
But what really jumped out at me from the article was this little political tidbit:
The proposal comes as lawmakers are once again debating how to better fund the public-school system. Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom has said school districts should focus less on construction and more on what takes place inside the buildings.
Um... actually, it is Rodney Tom who should be focused less on construction and more on what takes place inside the buildings, since it is funding the latter that is the state's paramount duty. As for local school construction levies, that's really none of his fucking business. I mean, it's not like we could use that money to pay for teachers or anything, because the state caps how much we can raise from our operations levy, and Seattle pretty much always maxes out that capacity. So what we spend on construction has nearly zero impact on the money available to run our schools.
I can only assume that Tom understands this, and so his conflation of capital levies with operations funding was an intentional effort to mislead.
First Canada kissed their maple-leafy pennies goodbye. Then Paul orchestrated a legally binding Slog poll on whether we should scrap pennies, and then yesterday, a reader announced he'd made a petition to the White House begging them to kill the penny.
It all reminded me of this video from 2010 by John Green, young-adult author/professional nerd, in which he calls pennies "disgusting bacteria-ridden disks of suck that fail to facilitate commerce," points out that coinage reform is too boring for politicians to take up, and also loses it and starts screaming about how terribly inefficient pennies are. Here, watch:
Slog reader Aaron writes:
Inspired by your (legally binding) Slog poll yesterday, I went looking on the White House's page to see if anybody had created a petition for Obama to kill the penny. Nobody had, so I made one. I thought I'd pass it along to the Slog, and maybe the troops would rally.
I looked into it, and apparently, even though Slog polls are legally binding, an overwhelming victory in a Slog poll does not technically count as a petition to the White House. There's a long way to go to hit the threshold of 100,000 signatures, but surely there are a hundred thousand Americans who think we should investigate following Canada's lead and eliminating the penny? Spread the word!
The Canadian penny has been dead for two days, and Canada is still there. Should the United States follow suit?
Amazon.com has announced that they're creating a new virtual currency, Amazon Coins, for their customers to buy apps and make in-app purchases. The Verge has a great article looking at potential reasons why Amazon wants to get into the digital minting business. These reasons range from mundane (other game developers have their own currencies and it's a financially smart decision for them) to the disturbing ("proprietary currencies have lots of advantages for their issuers, especially when the issuer is attempting to build a proprietary economy"). We'll find out more when Amazon launches Amazon Coins in May, but I urge you to read The Verge piece, which includes a reference to "standalone virtual currencies such as Flooz and Beenz," which "flopped miserably." Flooz and Beenz!
"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders."
—Michael Dell on Apple, shortly after Steve Jobs' return in 1997
After years of stagnant growth and declining stock prices, Dell Computer has been taken private in a $24.4 billion leveraged buyout led by founder Michael Dell. Microsoft will loan Dell $2 billion as part of the deal.
I'd say that Apple's Steve Jobs got the last laugh on Dell, but Jobs is dead and Dell isn't, so, um, no.
It's encouraging to see a Seattle Times editorial columnist acknowledging that we are systematically underinvesting in crucial social services:
Washington has more mentally ill patients in jail than in hospitals. It ranks last in the country in community psychiatric beds per capita, with ward after ward closing because reimbursement rates don’t come near to their costs.
Now if only the editorial board would stop fighting every effort to raise the tax revenue necessary to pay for the services they acknowledge we need.
Originally reported this afternoon by WSJ.com (subscription), the suit will reportedly accuse S&P of fraud concerning its A-OK ratings of mortgage bonds that helped lead to financial crisis. Up until last week, the Justice Department had been in settlement talks with the agency, until it learned that the department would seek a settlement in excess of "10 figures." That's at least one billion dollars, to us plebeians.
Prosecutors, according to the people, have uncovered troves emails by S&P, employees, which the government considers damaging. Portions of those emails are likely to be disclosed in the government’s complaint against S&P.
Well, shit-howdy, this actually put me in a good mood on my shameful, workaday bus ride home, even though they'll probably find a way to dump it all back onto the shoulders of the workingman. Or not. (I'm trying to be less cynical these days.)
Remember last summer, when Senate Republicans shot down the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was supposed to increase protections for women filing employment discrimination suits? Well, Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) just reintroduced it last week, and now this week, Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has just gone and proposed a Fair Pay Act as well.
There are a lot of statistics demonstrating women's continued pay inequity (still just making 77 cents on that manly dollar). The landmark Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed in 2009, and we have an Equal Pay Act from 1963, right? If you're like me, perhaps you are thinking, "Yay! But what are these new bills, exactly? And why can't we come up with more distinct names?" (I'd go with the Fucking Pay Me, Bro, or I'll Period Everywhere Act, but whatevs.)
Therefore I am thankful that Katie J. M. Baker over at Jezebel has helpfully broken down what these bills are and how they might strengthen current fair-pay laws.
Take it away, Baker:
The Paycheck Fairness Act deals with overt cases of discrimination, where, for example, two attorneys who are equal in education, productivity, seniority, etc. are paid differently based on gender... The Fair Pay Act deals with the systematic devaluing of "women's work," like nursing, teaching, administrative work, etc., by requiring companies to disclose their pay scales for each job category, and requiring employers to provide equal pay for jobs that are comparable in skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions...
Video after the jump.
A US pension fund with nearly $2 billion in assets is considering selling its holdings in some of the world's biggest oil and gas companies because of the threat posed by climate change.
In what investor advocacy groups say would be the first divestment of its kind, the Seattle City Employees' Retirement System is to discuss on Thursday a request from Mike McGinn, the city's mayor, to sell out of companies including ExxonMobil and Chevron.
The fund currently has about $17.6 million invested in Exxon and Chevron. And while cynics would surely dismiss such a divestment as mere symbolism, leadership's gotta start somewhere.
UPDATE: Renee Hopkins of the Seattle Police Foundation says they're also discussing divesting from firearms companies. Again, leadership!
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a progressive DC-based think tank, just released its latest edition of “Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States,” and congratulations: Washington state still leads with the most regressive tax structure in the nation! And by far.
According to the latest data, the bottom 20 percent of Washington households—those earning less than $20,000 a year—pay a crippling 16.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes, whereas the top 1 percent—those earning more than $430,000—pay only only 2.8 percent. Hooray for the job creators! Fuck the poors!
The culprit: Washington state's absurd over-reliance on the sales tax. Our sales and excises taxes generate over 61 percent of state and local tax revenue, compared to a national average of only 34 percent. And since the lower your income the more of it you spend on taxable goods and services, the higher your effective tax rate.
No income-tax states like Washington, Texas and Florida do, in fact, have average to low taxes overall. Can they also be considered “low-tax” states for poor families? Far from it. In fact, these states’ disproportionate reliance on sales and excise taxes make their taxes among the highest in the entire nation on low-income families.
Yeah, anytime you find your state lumped in together with Texas and Florida in anything but grapefruit production, it generally isn't very good news.
The Seattle Times editorial board, which loves to rail against budget "gimmicks" that stave off deeper cuts to social services, has finally found a gimmick they like:
Last week, the House adopted a plan to increase the debt limit for three months. HR 325 also requires both chambers to set a budget by April 15 or its members will not get paid.
The measure had bipartisan support — 43 percent of Democrats voted for it, including all three new Democratic members of Washington’s congressional delegation, Suzan DelBene, Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck. Also voting yes were Washington’s GOP Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Doc Hastings and Dave Reichert.
Sure, the “no budget, no pay” provision is a gimmick.
But what else can be done?
First, heretical as it may sound, I'd just like to point out that the federal budget is a completely bullshit document. Many appropriations are made off-budget, including much of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and emergency appropriations for disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. The federal budget is a guide at best—what truly matters are the individual appropriations bill, and they violate the budget all the time. Hell, Congress didn't even start passing budgets until 1921, and had no formal process for writing them until 1974. So yeah, compared to tax bills, appropriations bills, and debt ceilings, there's nothing all that meaningful about the budget.
With that out of the way... um... what exactly is all that useful about a gimmick that only impacts the few remaining middle-class members of Congress? Do you really think multimillionaires like Suzan DelBene and Denny Heck could give a shit about whether they get paid? Dave Reichert might, but I'd wager that he's not exactly living paycheck to paycheck at moment.
So yeah, this no-budget-no-pay gimmick is just that: A gimmick. And only the gullible would lend it any credence.
At the risk of flogging my own Slog posts, I'd just like to emphasize the obvious and utter financial absurdity of Senate "Majority" Leader Rodney Tom's campaign to close the GET program, Washington's prepaid tuition plan. From the Seattle Times editorial:
State lawmakers should be seriously concerned about a projected $631 million future shortfall in GET. The program’s $2.1 billion fund was set up to be self-supporting, as long as new investors continue to enroll.
[...] Closing GET to new enrollees would cause a $1.7 billion hit to the state treasury over an 11-year period. That’s because without new investors GET’s current fund balance is expected to be depleted by 2025. The state would then have to step in financially.
For the sake of argument, let's just assume that the editors' numbers are correct. If GET is facing a projected $631 million future shortfall, where's the sense in paying $1.7 billion to shut it down? That would just be stupid. Worst comes to worst, you'd think we'd be better off spending $631 million to make college more affordable than spending $1.7 billion making it less.
I mean, GET stabilizes once tuition stabilizes, and we've already been through the worst of the double-digit tuition hikes, right? Right?!
The Seattle Times editorial board makes "The case for closing GET, state’s prepaid tuition program." But fortunately, they're the Seattle Times editorial board, so they don't make a very good case for it.
THE state’s Guaranteed Education Tuition program is a special deal for people with the foresight and money to plan for college.
Hear that? GET is "a special deal" for elitists like me who had the "foresight and money" to save for our children's education. We're everything that's wrong with America. If only the impoverished masses would finally rise up against their slightly-better-off oppressors in the lower middle-class, college tuition would become affordable once again!
Given wildly escalating tuition in recent years, those credits are like gold.
Nail me to a cross of gold (credits).
First, here is how GET works: Parents saving for college can buy tuition units (100 units cover a year’s tuition) and then redeem them at one of Washington’s public higher-education institutions in the future — without having to pay more because of tuition increases. A tuition unit could be purchased in 1998 for $35 and today for $172. The investment yields a handsome return, especially because tuition has soared — more than double in the past five years — as state universities have struggled to make up for deep state cuts.
If you're going to start off a paragraph with the words "here is how GET works," you might want to make a genuine effort to explain, you know, exactly how GET works. For while it is true that "a tuition unit could be purchased in 1998 for $35 and today for $172," those figures intentionally misrepresent the so-called "handsome return" on investment. The actual return on investment is the GET payout value—currently $117.82—the amount one would receive if a GET unit were redeemed today.
That's still a pretty good return, but about a third less than what the editorial implies. And at an annualized return of 8.4 percent over the 15-year life of program, it's still considerably less than historical stock market returns. Indeed, over its first decade, GET barely returned more than 6 percent a year—it's only the recent out-of-control tuition hikes that have dramatically pumped up its payout value. So this "deal" only became "special" when lawmakers like Rodney Tom decided to fuck the current generation of college students by denying them access to the same affordable college education that they enjoyed.