(Daily Clips will not publish Wednesday, January 29, so that the editor can attend the January meeting of the King County Democratic Central Committee. See you there.)
Sawant to take home $40,000 in pay out of her $117,000 City Council salary
During her successful campaign for Seattle City Council, Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant repeatedly promised to take accept no more salary than the average Seattle worker. Monday, in a press release, she announced what that specifically means—$40,000 a year after taxes—and what she plans to do with the remainder of her $117,000-plus salary. “After paying taxes, the remainder of my salary will go to a Solidarity Fund to help build social justice movements. Throughout the year I will be making donations from this Solidarity Fund to causes such as workers’ strike funds, and environmental, civil rights, and women’s rights campaigns.” Sawant promises “regular and transparent accounting” of her Solidarity Fund, and has already pledged two donations: $500 to Puget Sound SAGE and $15,000 to15Now.org. The Stranger, 1-27-14.
After the Machinists’ vote, labor seeks new directions
The idea of coming together in common cause is woven into Washington’s social fabric, especially into its union history. But labor has suffered reversals before, and it suffered a large one on Jan. 3, when the Machinists union voted by a narrow margin to abandon the Boeing pension plan. At stake was a key production line. Now union members and leaders are asking themselves – how can the labor movement recover when one of the strongest unions in the country buckled under the pressure? Seattle’s roots in the labor movement are deep. This was the site of the nation’s first city-wide general strike in 1919. The old Labor Temple in Belltown, with its mid-century features and famous neon sign, is still the central place where the labor movement comes together. KUOW, 1-27-14.
GOP-led Senate demotes Sen. Hobbs to co-chairman of committee
State Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44) accused the GOP-led majority of the Senate of playing politics Monday when it made him co-chairman of the Financial Institutions, Housing, and Insurance Committee. “This is the first step of them caving in to the right wing of their caucus,” Hobbs told reporters after the Senate voted 26-23 to remove him as chairman of the panel and make him and GOP Sen. Jan Angel (R-26) co-chairs. Hobbs speculated he was made co-chairman for several reasons, including his support for a measure–backed by Democrats and opposed by the GOP–that would require insurance companies to cover abortions. He also noted that both he and Angel are up for re-election this year. Seattle Times, 1-27-14.
House passes minority voting bill; prospects in Senate are dim
Democrats in the House of Representatives Monday passed HB 1413, that aims to expand minority voting rights, but the bill is likely to die in the Senate. On a 53-43 straight party line vote (2 Democrats absent), House lawmakers approved the Washington Voting Rights Act, which opens the possibility of court challenges to cities, counties, and school districts to push them to switch from at-large to district elections in areas where large minority groups are present. The measure now heads to the Senate, where it is not expected to pass. The Senate is controlled by a Republican-dominated coalition. Republicans in the House opposed the measure. At the heart of the measure is the history of elections in central and eastern Washington where the population of Latinos has grown but minority advocates say representation in local offices remains low due, the bill’s backers contend, to at-large representation. Associated Press (Tacoma News Tribune), 1-27-14.
Lawmakers question safety of crude-oil trains
As U.S. oil production soars and additional Canadian oil resources are becoming available stateside, crude oil is being shipped by rail through communities with greater frequency. Washington is no exception. Oil-laden trains carrying crude from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota pass through the South Sound every day or two, headed to refineries in Tacoma and Anacortes. Export terminals on the drawing board for Vancouver and Grays Harbor are likely to send even more trains across the state. Some may come through the South Sound. How many, how often, and along which routes are questions without clear answers. So far, the oil and rail industries are not saying much, which has stirred enough worry that Washington state lawmakers and local community leaders are starting to look into it. With that uncertainty in mind, Democratic Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-46) has proposed HB 2347. Farrell said she is seeking more sunlight on the operations of oil companies and railroads that are shipping crude oil by rail. She said she also wants to give the Department of Ecology and communities more tools so they can anticipate and respond quickly to spills. Olympian, 1-27-14.
Railroad tank-car safety questioned decades before oil concerns
Long before crude oil and ethanol were transported by railroads in large quantities in minimally reinforced tank cars, other flammable and poisonous materials were riding around the country in the same cars, threatening major cities and waterways. Federal regulators might be weeks away from issuing new safety guidelines for tank cars carrying flammable liquids, after a series of frightening rail accidents over the past six months. But the type of general-service tank car involved in recent incidents with crude oil trains in Quebec, Alabama, and North Dakota – the DOT-111-A – has a poor safety record with hazardous cargoes that goes back decades, raising questions about why it took so long for the railroad industry and its federal regulators to address a problem they knew how to fix. Bellingham Herald, 1-27-14.
Legislators like chances for toxics bill in Senate
The three North Olympic Peninsula legislators are hopeful a bill banning certain carcinogenic flame retardants from child products and upholstered furniture will make it through the state Senate after a strong showing in the House last week. HB 1294, also dubbed the toxics bill or the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, passed the state House of Representatives 72-25 Wednesday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (D-24), would prohibit the sale, manufacture, and distribution of children’s products and upholstered furniture containing a type of chemical flame retardant known as Tris. The bill passed by a wider margin Wednesday then it did last legislative session, when 53 Representatives supported it and 43 opposed it on an effectively party line vote. Van De Wege said he sees the number of Republican representatives crossing the aisle to support his bill Wednesday as a good sign. Peninsula Daily News, 1-26-14.
The state of the State of the Union? It’s a mess
“I must say to you,” President Gerald Ford said to us, in 1975, “that the state of the Union is not good.” In the same spirit of candor, I must say to you that the state of the State of the Union is not good. I don’t mean tomorrow night’s speech. I mean the State of the Union Message as an institution. This may not rise to the level of economic inequality as a national problem, but the speech is no less in need of fixing. The litany of grievances about the State of the Union is as long as the litany of proposals, ideas, appeals, and admonitions that the speech always contains. George Will has called it “undignified … vulgar … a tiresome exercise in political exhibitionism.” To William Gavin, former speechwriter for Richard Nixon, it is “a national embarrassment.” The most common complaint is that it is a laundry list, which is an insult to laundry lists. It is more a laundry bag, a sort of national hamper, into which rumpled articles are stuffed. Other critics agree with Justice Antonin Scalia, who has called the event a “cheerleading session,” or object to the occasionally inspiring, but usually cynical or cloying, spectacle of the guests in the House gallery, who are typically veterans and first responders. The critics are right about nearly all of it. I say that as someone who was complicit in two State of the Union addresses, in 1999 and in 2000—some fifteen thousand words of text, not one line of which will ever be carved in granite. Jeff Shesol, New Yorker, 1-27-14.
Union membership gains nationwide; WA ranks 4th
The number of workers in unions in 2013 rose by 162,000, with the increase of 281,000 workers in private-sector unions offset by the decrease of 118,000 public-sector union members, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Strong gains in construction and manufacturing jobs were offset by what the AFL-CIO called “politically motivated layoffs of public-sector workers” last year. Washington state posted a strong increase of 106,000 total jobs in 2013 with union membership increasing by 33,000 members. In the state-by-state breakdown, Washington ranked No. 4 in terms of union density in 2013, with the state’s 546,000 union members accounting for 18.9% of the overall workforce — nearly one in five Washington workers – up from 18.5% the previous year. Only New York (24.4%), Alaska (23.1%) and Hawaii (22.1%) and have higher unionization rates than Washington. Neighboring Oregon ranks 12th in union density (13.9%). The Stand, 1-27-14.
Folk legend, political activist Pete Seeger dies at 94: 12 reasons why he ruled
For more than 70 years there were few other musicians who stumped at tirelessly for folk music as Pete Seeger. The reed-thin singer and songwriter best known for songs such as “If I Had A Hammer” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” died Monday at age 94 of natural causes, leaving behind a legacy of activism, charity, and community that will be hard to match. Seeger, who influenced several generations of activist singers — from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello — not only played folk music, but served as a kind of living museum of the genre, enthusiastically performing and promoting activist music until shortly before his death. Seeger, known for playing a well-traveled five-string banjo and singing with a smile, began singing in support of unions in the 1940s, playing benefit concerts for migrant farm workers in California. In addition to stumping for the labor movement in the 1950s, he also headlined countless anti-Vietnam rallies in the 1960s and marched and sang in support of the civil rights movement. His adaptation of the spiritual “We Shall Overcome” became a civil rights anthem. He continued his activism into the 1990s and 2000s, protesting the Iraq war and marching with activist at the Occupy Wall Street protesters while walking on two canes. MTV.com, 1-28-14.
The paranoia of the plutocrats
Rising inequality has obvious economic costs: stagnant wages despite rising productivity, rising debt that makes us more vulnerable to financial crisis. It also has big social and human costs. There is, for example, strong evidence that high inequality leads to worse health and higher mortality. But there’s more. Extreme inequality, it turns out, creates a class of people who are alarmingly detached from reality—and simultaneously gives these people great power. The example many are buzzing about right now is the billionaire investor Tom Perkins, a founding member of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Perkins lamented public criticism of the “one percent”—and compared such criticism to Nazi attacks on the Jews, suggesting that we are on the road to another Kristallnacht. You may say that this is just one crazy guy and wonder why the Journal would publish such a thing. But Mr. Perkins isn’t that much of an outlier. He isn’t even the first finance titan to compare advocates of progressive taxation to Nazis. Paul Krugman, New York Times, 1-27-14.
To Think About
Electric Shadyland: How power companies rip you off
Mabel Buford hadn’t been home from the hospital very long when a sales rep knocked on her door in Washington DC, and announced that she could save her some money. Buford, 72, a widow who is battling cancer, told the woman she didn’t feel well. But the sales rep wouldn’t leave. For the next hour, she urged, cajoled, and pressured Buford to show her one of her electric bills. Finally, exhausted and groggy from medication, Buford relented. “I just got tired of her,” she says. The sales rep put Buford on the phone with her company, Starion Energy, to sign up. Buford, a retired federal contracts officer, warned that she had a contract with another electric provider and wanted no trouble with her bills. “She promised it would be okay,” Buford recalls. “She honest to God stood over the stoop and hugged me. I told her, ‘Don’t play with me.’ But, see, she tried it anyway.” A few weeks later, Buford got two electricity bills—one from Starion and one from her old provider. Livid, she filed a complaint with the city’s consumer protection agency, which helped her escape Starion’s contract without the termination fee the company wanted. (Starion declined to comment.) Buford’s was one of a wave of complaints rolling in across the city—and throughout the 16 states with deregulated utility markets, where a host of new retail electric companies are chasing consumers with hard-sell offers to switch away from traditional utilities like DC’s PEPCO or New York’s Con Edison. A market that lacks both regulation and transparency, with a product everyone buys and few people really understand, has proven a target-rich environment for the kind of operators previously drawn to mortgage rip-offs, long-distance schemes, and multilevel-marketing (MLM) companies. Mother Jones, Jan-Feb 2014.