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Kitchen Notes: Previous ETA program notes are archived below, under “Columns.” Each week, you can listen to Eat the Airwaves live, from 8:30-9:00 AM Saturdays on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle, or at http://kexp.org.
Sorry this is late – real life intervened!
This week’s menu:
Local elections: Who filed for what for the August primary (and Tim Burgess wasn’t on the list)
Campaign fundraising totals for April
New proposed health insurance rates for Washington State
SSD wants to close Indian Heritage school despite civil rights complaints
The fake Obama administration scandals
Study on student loan debt
Remember Pablo Pantoja
European clothing retailers sign a plan to improve worker safety in Bangladesh
Another delay, another deadly Asian apparel factory collapse
…and some groups pushing US companies to give a shit
Friday at 4:30 PM was the filing deadline for city candidates entering this August’s local primary, and the big news was who didn’t file: Tim Burgess, the leading fundraiser in the race at over $230,000 raised, and since 2009 the local monied establishment’s choice to put that interloper McGinn in his place come 2013. The word on the grapevine is that Burgess’ internal polling was weak, and there’d been recent shakeups on his campaign staff, but still – most people haven’t started paying attention yet, and even in a crowded field, a quarter of a million dollars – and probably more than double that come early August – can buy yourself an awful lot of votes. See, for example, Suzan delBene, who last year polled poorly in a crowded primary field for the First District congressional race right up until the final week, when she used her personal fortune and connections to other people with money to buy a whole bunch of advertising. She beat out all her competitors, and she’s now in Congress. Welcome to modern politics, where money isn’t everything, but it’s damn close – and since Burgess had it, and had a line on more, either some back room deal got cut, Burgess has some sort of personal skeleton threatening to disinter itself, or some other factor out of the public’s view almost certainly came into play.
The mayor’s race also added two new last-minute filers, bringing the final number of primary candidates to nine. Joey Gray is a well-known and respected local environmental activist, and West Seattle attorney Doug McQuaid ran a losing campaign for Washington State Supreme Court in 2012. All four city council incumbents are, at this point, heavily favored, and only two face serious challenges. Redlining advocate Richard Conlin, who has been doing developers’ bidding on council since roughly the Denny Party, is facing an unusually strong challenge from socialist Kshama Sawant (who also did unexpectedly well running against Frank Chopp in 2012) and from Brian Carver. And environmentalist Mike O’Brien is facing a business lobby-funded challenge from Albert Shen.
The other two council incumbents, Nick Licata and Sally Bagshaw, could run off to the Himalayas together for the next six months and still get elected. The progressive Licata drew a Socialist Workers Party challenger, Edwin Fruit, while downtown business functionary Bagshaw got a Republican nutcase named Sam Bellomio. That doesn’t even make sense! Both will skip the “top two” primary and advance to the November election.
That, too, is part of modern politics: incumbents have enormous advantages, nowhere more so than in Seattle, one of the only remaining major US cities that relies exclusively on at-large districts to elect its legislations – a consituency far too large, in a city of 620,000, for underfunded competitors to be viable based on hard work or a localized base. The money factor, more than any other reason, is why Seattle keep reelecting politicians a lot of people are either deeply ambivalent about or can’t even name because the incumbents have never done anything of note. –G.P.
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For those who’ve already been campaigning, the campaign fundraising numbers for April are in, and there’s some good news and bad. First, the good news: statewide initiative I-522 to require labeling of genetically modified food in Washington State has taken in more than $1 million for its campaign. But the bad news is that the local Seattle initiative to change City Council elections from at-large to district elections is deeply in debt, so that even though it has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, there’s not much money to run a campaign.
As for the mayoral candidates, here’s the totals through April 30 in descending order:
1) Tim Burgess (who quit the race, even though he was ahead moneywise) with $231,979
2) Mike McGinn with $181,133
3) Charlie Staadecker with $152, 354
4) Ed Murray with $123,973
5) Bruce Harrell with $112,559
6) Peter Steinbreuck with $80,669
7) Kate Martin with $3,254
Notably, Ed Murray’s total is only what he collected in last two days in April, since he’s prevented by law from fundraising during the legislative session in Olympia. When the May totals are in, his two-week haul will be closer to $200,000 or more. And Staadecker, who is not nearly as well known as the five candidates who’ve won previous local elections, has gotten very little local media attention but clearly has some rich friends.–M.T. & G.P.
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On Tuesday, the state insurance commissioner’s office released the new proposed health insurance rates for the Washington health insurance exchange that’s due to open on October 1, 2013. The Affordable Care Act—more commonly called “Obamacare,” (which actually sounds kind of nice, like Obama really cares about you) specifies that each state will set up an exchange where individuals who don’t have insurance through their employer can compare and purchase health insurance coverage. Any states that have elected not to set up their own exchanges (e.g., many of the ones controlled by Republicans) will have one set up by the federal government. Washington State has chosen to set up and oversee its own exchange and, as part of that process, the state insurance commissioner solicited bids from several health insurance providers for plans that have comparable benefits.
Insurance company CEO’s fought tooth and nail against Obamacare, saying that the health insurance exchanges would lead to huge rate increases of up to 200 percent. The actual rates, however, are looking very good. For most people, particularly people over 40 years old, the rates will go down. For people under 40, rates will go up, except for people who earn less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($94,000 per year for a family of four), who will qualify for federal subsidies that will make their insurance rates cheaper. In addition, people under 30 will be able to choose a high-deductible, catastrophic coverage plan at a cheaper rate, which makes sense if you’re young and in good health.
Another gripe that naysayers had was the fear that only one or two insurance companies would offer plans in the exchanges, leading to higher prices and lack of choice. Happily, that’s not the case in our state. In most counties, at least five companies have offered plans, including Premera, Lifewise (owned by Premera), Group Health Cooperative, BridgeSpan (owned by Regence Blue Shield), and Molina Healthcare of Washington. In some counties there are many more options available.–M.T.
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Before last Wednesday’s Seattle School Board meeting, a couple hundred people attended a rally outside the Glass Palace – aka The John Stanford Center for Excellence in Displaying Our Contempt of the Public – to protest the district’s proposal to close the Indian Heritage School, the city’s only public school designed – at least historically – to meet the unique challenges of educating Native American youth. As with many Seattle alternative schools, the district has been de-funding and de-fanging Indian Heritage for several years now, all part of the district’s current general antipathy for any curriculum that doesn’t focus solely on teaching to the interminable standardized tests now bombarding public school students.
(A small victory came on that front when the district announced this week that individual high schools will be able to opt out of the district’s infamous MAP tests next year – a direct result of the nationally prominent teacher boycott of the tests led by faculty at Garfield High School. Alas, elementary and middle school students will still be faced with it, as will high school students in schools whose administrators either think it’s somehow valuable or simply want to curry favor with district leadership or avoid rocking the Glass Palace boat.)
The years-long atrophy at Indian Heritage has included transferring out most of the Native teachers, adding non-Native students, de-emphasizing and the ending Native-focused curricula, and most recently, a proposed move to Northgate and a non-Native environment.
What makes the proposed closure even more remarkable is that it comes at exactly the time the federal Department of Education has launched a formal investigation of civil rights violations in the Seattle School District against Native students. Beyond the erosion of IHS, Native students in Seattle schools have the worst test scores, the highest discipline rates, the highest ropout rates, and the lowest college admission rates.
That the district’s response to this is to propose to end the one program desgined to directly address these problems is one of the purest expressions of the institutional contempt the Seattle district has expressed toward parents, students, teachers, staff, and the public for years – decades, really. Superintendents come and go, board members come and go, but senior staff, and a culture of arrogance and insularity, remain.
With this latest development, the Indian Civil Rights Commission is, in their words, “seriously considering” filing a civil righrts lawsuit against the district. Maybe that would get its attention. Maybe.–G.P.
National news this week has been dominated by a series of alleged Obama administration scandals, promoted by Republican partisans and faithfully parroted by a credulous corporate media, that really are much ado about not very much: Benghazi, the IRS, and the AP’s phone records. They really aren’t worth the time to debunk in details – though there’s plenty of people doing just that – but, in order:
Benghazi: This is almost entirely a complaint that former UN Ambassador Susan Rice lied on the Sunday morning political talk show circuit, along with a complaint that when President Obama labelled the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi an “act of terror,” he didn’t call it terrorism. (Really. That’s what they’re saying.) Former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus testified to Congress last year that Rice’s talking points were approved by the consensus of the entire senior intelligence and foreign policy leadership, which didn’t want to tip its hand in the ongoing investigation. In other words, the sort of thing that happens all the time, especially in volatile conflict and criminal investigation situations that are still unfolding (this is both). And if lying on the Sunday shows is now somehow a major scandal, John McCain should be coming up for trial at The Hague any day now, since he has a permanent cot in the Green Room at each of the shows in which he can relax while memorizing his lie of the week. Petraeus’ testimony should have put any controversy to bed almost six months ago, but constant Republican parroting, stenography and horserace coverage masquerading as journalism, and the lack of any real scandals in the Obama administration with which to excite viewers and readers has somehow kept this idiocy alive. That, and a coffin filled with soil from the Republican base’s native planet, in which the lie sleeps during daylight hours.
The IRS: I’ve been Executive Director of both 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 nonprofits, and the (c)4 groups, primarily educational, have very strict limits on the minimal percentage of their activity that can be political. The Citizens United decision opened up a floodgate of anonymous conservative money funding new Tea Party groups, which the IRS was taking a close look at because political advocacy was expressly why they existed. The real scandal here was not that the IRS was overstepping its bounds, but that it should have denied all of those applications for 501(c)4 status, since virtually without exception all of these groups were violating the limited political activity requirements.
Instead, they chickened out – almost surely to avoid exactly the sort of squawking now taking place – and approved every single one. And the Tea Party types are complaining anyway. (Really. That’s what they’re saying.) The Inspector General found no wrongdoing, but, as with the Petraeus testimony, that’s apparently irrelevant. And, depressingly, the Obama administration has made things worse by continuing their pattern of throwing people under the bus – this time, the IRS director – over a nothingburger of a crisis. Shirley Sherrod was not a one-time aberration.
<B >The AP phone records: It is, in fact, disturbing that the Department of Justice overreached in subpoenaing a media organization’s phone records to track down a destructive leak – using post-9-11 powers initiated and avidly supported by the Republicans now criticizing them. But if any case demanded scrutiny, it’s the leaking of operational details in an unfolding intelligence operation involving an undercover field agent and multiple foreign intelligence agencies. In this case, the agent was working undercover in Al Qaeda-Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, and the leak happened at a time when AQAP was planning an attack and the US was planning a drone strike (later successful) on an AQAP leader. Because of the leak, the agent’s cover was blown at risk to his life (and he and his family had to be extracted in a hurry) and a valuable undercover asset lost, relations with Britain and Saudi Arabia, partners in the operation, were complicated immensely (especially Britain, which still has a quaint law, like the US did not so long ago, prohibiting foreign assassinations), and AQAP was tipped off that they’d been compromised, and how.
The administration had a real and urgent need to find out who the leaker was so that other sensitive operations would not be compromised in the future – and the question of who leaked that information, and why, is far more interesting than the AP story. But that would put the focus not on the Obama administration, but on someone who apparently doesn’t like it, and that’s not nearly as useful to Republicans.
Because that’s what this is all about: Republican partisans trying to tarnish what has actually been the most scandal-free administration, either party, in modern history, and double points if (as in Benghazi) they can drag the name of presumptive 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton through the mud as well. Throw enough of that mud against the wall, the thinking goes, and some is bound to stick, especially in our servile media climate. And attention paid to such faux scandals is attention not paid to the brutal impact of the sequestration forced by Republicans, how unpopular and reality-challenged their policies are, or how batshit crazy most of them have become. That is the real story here. –G.P.
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This week the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released a study on student loan debt. Total student loan debt in the US has reached nearly $1 trillion and is the second largest source of debt in this country after home mortgages. Nearly 40 million current and former students owe an average of $25,000 each. More disturbingly, the study found that 20 to 30-year-olds with student loans are less likely to have other types of debt, including home mortgages, auto loans, and credit card debt. In other words, if a lot of your disposable income is going to pay down your student loan debt, how can you qualify for, much less pay for, a new car, a condo, new clothes, electronics, or meals at restaurants. In other words, student loan debt has become a significant drag on our economy.
Think about where that money is really going. For a former student with a good job, but also a large student loan debt, a significant portion of each paycheck isn’t going into consumer spending to boost the economy. It’s going to big banks, who are paying their CEO’s, executives, and top salespeople billions in compensation every year. It’s also going to shareholders (think about today’s high-flying stock market in the face of an economy in the doldrums). Of course, students take out loans to pay that money to the university, but not to pay huge salaries to professors. No, it goes to fill in the enormous hole left by federal and state budget cuts. On the federal level, those budget cuts are from two ruinous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus two consecutive tax cuts for rich people. On the state level, the budget cuts are from a lack of revenue, because the economy is in the doldrums. In Washington State, that means lower sales tax revenue because people are spending less. It’s a vicious cycle.
And it’s the same cycle as the housing market meltdown: banks hook homeowners on huge piles of debt, then punish those who can’t keep up their payments with foreclosure and bankruptcy, thereby ensuring that few people have the disposable income to prop up the economy.
The report can be found here. Click on the link “Student Debt” to open a pdf copy of the report. –M.T.
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Fleeing the alternate universe: The Republican National Committee is among the leadership bodies in that party alarmed that demographic changes might make the GOP a permannt minority party nationally and that its poor showing among non-white voters is due not to the overt racism of many Republicans, nor to their policies consistently being a bad deal for such voters, but because of poor messaging. The Latino population in particular – now the largest minority in the US, surpassing African-Americans, and growing rapidly – is in the Republicans’ sights. Many Latinos are culturally conservative, family oriented, hard working, and deeply religious. Why, they should love the GOP, which stands for all those things!
And, so, the RNC hired respected local conservative activist Pablo Pantoja as its Florida Hispanic Director, charged with coordinating efforts to tell his fellow wetb – er, Latinos the Good News about the GOP. That was last month.
This week, Pantoja announced that he was not just quitting his job, but leaving the party, and joining the Democratic Party instead. Why? Because the lifelong Republican encountered so much overt racism from his fellow Republicans that he not only could no longer in good conscience represent them, but concluded that they must be opposed.
The next time you hear a Republican bloviating that the only non-whites who vote for Democrats are “takers” who want “free stuff” – because otherwise, they’d all be Republicans, the Party of Lincoln, blah blah blah – remember Pablo Pantoja. –G.P.
At least six people died and over 100 were injured Wednesday in yet another Asian sweatshop disaster, this one in a shoe factory outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia, when a floor piled dangerously high with shoe components collapsed from the weight, trapping those in lower floors.
Just as in the catastrophe in Bangladesh April 24, it was no surprise to the workers or the locals: The Phnom Penh Post, a daily newspaper, reported on March 22 that workers from the plant had stopped work and blocked a main road for about an hour in a protest over wages and working conditions.
Meanwhile, after three weeks, the search for bodies in the collapsed garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh finally ended early this week, with the final, probably conservative death toll put at 1,127 – the worst garment industry disaster in the history of the world.
In separate responses to the disaster – and the dozens of strikes and demonstrations in the capitol city of Dhaka that have followed – the Bangladeshi government on Sunday raised the minimum wage for garment workers from the current rate of about $37 a month, among the lowest such wages in the world; and on Monday, the Bangladeshi cabinet removed the provision of the country’s trade union organizing laws that required unions to get the permission of factory owners in order to attempt unionization – a permission that has almost never been given. The Savar factory’s owners ignored dire safety warnings and worker concerns, and also illegally adding floors to the structure and then installing heavy equipment on those upper floors.
What else do the destroyed Cambodia and Bangladesh apparel factories have in common? They sell primarily to big American-based retailers like Wal-Mart, Disney, and Target. Those companies have had almost no accountability for the practices of their contractors, and if wages and regulations inspired by massive loss of death become too onerous, they’ll simply find another country that hasn’t had a headline-grabbing catastrophe yet. The only way for those countries to be held accountable is at the source – by American consumers nad stockholders. You know. Us. –G.P.
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Meanwhile, more than 30 European clothing retailers signed onto a plan to improve worker safety in Bangladesh. The plan calls for independent and rigorous inspections of factories, mandatory repairs, renovations for fire safety, and a fund to pay for improvements with money from the clothing retailers. The plan gathered steam when budget retailer H&M agreed to sign on. They were quickly followed by Carrefour, Mango, Primark, Benetton, Marks & Spencer, Inditex (which owns the Zara chain), and many others. Only two companies in the US, however, have signed on: Abercrombie & Fitch and PVH Corporation, which owns Calven Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. The Gap and Walmart have both dug in their heels, saying they’d rather do fire safety inspections themselves. And The Gap says they’re worried about being sued if they sign on – as if they couldn’t be sued for not signing on. (I hope at least one lawyer is reading this.)–M.T.
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For people who are interested in working on factory safety and workers’ rights in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, and other countries, here’s a list of good groups you can check out:
IndustriALL Global Union drafted the worker safety plan for Bangladesh; also check out The Workers Rights Consortium; the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility; Avaaz; and one of my favorite groups, United Students Against Sweatshops, whose local UW chapter has a Facebook page.
And we need to remember that online petitions won’t get the job done. The Gap, Walmart, Sears, Target, JC Penney and others need to hear directly from customers that they don’t want clothing made in dilapidated buildings by young women earning less than $2 per day. Informational pickets and protests – bodies on the street – are the best ways to put pressure on the big chain stores. Personal boycotts help, too: tell all your friends to choose other sources for their clothing purchases.–M.T.
Sat. May 18, 2-5 PM: Solidarity BBQ forprotesters arrested on May Day. Wildcat Cafe, 1105 23rd Ave., Seattle.
Thu. May 23: Noted University of Sydney economist Steve Keen is in town for two events. 11:30 AM-1:30 PM: “Money, Monetary Policy, and Financial Repression,” tickets $29 general, $14 students, includes a light lunch; to register to attend, go here/. Then, at 6 PM, Keen on “The Great Financial Crisis and The Great Recession: How We Got Here and the Way Out.” Tickets for the 6 PM presentation are $5; both events are at Town Hall, 8th & Seneca, downtown Seattle.
Thu. May 23, 6:30-7:45 PM: Local activist Joe Staiano presents slides and a talk from his recent trip to Palestine. Ballard Library, 22nd & 56th NW, in bustling downtown Ballard.