KEXP “Eat the Airwaves” Program Notes, March 23, 2013
Kitchen Notes: Previous ETA program notes are archived below, under “Columns.” Also, due to the new paywall, we are no longer linking to Seattle Times stories in our notes.
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Very rarely do you get city council members being openly nostalgic for the days when the coloreds literally knew their place, and they couldn’t live anywhere else anyway because the banks wouldn’t lend to them outside their infamous red lines. Or, in the case of Washington’s notorious Alien Land Law, they were legally barred from owning or leasing land – a law that was only repealed in 1966, and then only by initiative, because far too many white legislators liked that arrangement just fine.
Legislators who, if they lived 50 years later, would sound a lot like four-term Seattle City Council member – and former council president – Richard Conlin.
At a council committee hearing Monday, Conlin astonished onlookers. The Stranger put it this way:
Conlin made the case to his colleagues for focusing subsidized housing “along the light rail line in Rainier Valley” where it’s cheaper to build instead of the “very hot neighborhood” of South Lake Union, where potential new zoning rules will actually generate the money to build that low-income housing.
Of course, the council could just force developers already building in South Lake Union to build the affordable housing units they’re already legally required to provide – but hey, why quibble?
When Conlin first came on council 16 years ago – a veteran of the environmental movement and the invaluable Yes! Magazine – progressives had high hopes for him. Conlin has instead spent the last 16 years dismantling any such illusions. It turned out he was a progenitor of the unfortunate breed of environmentalist, now ascendant in Seattle politics, that cares far more about justice for whales than justice for human beings, and whose climate-change-combatting drive for “density” manifests as blank corporate welfare checks to encourage enormous developers to tear down affordable housing and replace it with much more expensive new condos (density!!). Conlin puts an even more problematic twist on it by apparently genuinely believing he’s a great advocate for social justice – it’s just that he knows best, not any of the people actually affected by the policies he supports, to whom he has throughout his career oozed condescension.
Conlin, as perhaps the council’s most loyal errand boy of Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., has of course had everything to do with making “South Lake Union” (once Cascade, a quirky neighborhood of light industry and affordable housing) a “hot neighborhood,” underwriting the costs of Allen’s investment with everything from utilities to a streetcar line to multiple rezonings, most recently allowing 40-story buildings in the neighborhood.
A city program called Incentive Zoning is supposed to ameliorate this sort of loss of affordable housing by requiring that developers set aside a certain percentage of their units as affordable housing. That program has been a dismal failure. The council included a provision in its Incentive Zoning law allowing developers to pay an “in lieu of” fee into a city fund rather than building the affordable units themselves, thus preserving the fancy new buildings for The Right Kind of People. (Set aside, for now, the reality that the city’s notion of “affordable” is also a joke, as is its notion of “poor” – a family of four earning between less than $64,000 a year qualifies as “poor” for this purpose.)
The city, naturally, badly underpriced the “in lieu of” rates, so that what developers pay comes nowhere near the actual cost of building new affordable units – which, in turn, is far more expensive than if we’d kept the old affordable housing instead.
That housing is what Richard Conlin wants the city to shuffle off to the south end, far away from the Beautiful People whose landlords and developers are now bankrolling Conlin’s career. He’s running for re-election again this year. Donate to his far better opponent, Kshama Sawant, here.
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Fortunately, on this issue at least, the council is not a monolith. At next Monday’s meeting of the South Lake Union Committee – composed of all nine council members – four different proposals, from Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Nick Licata, and Mike O’Brien, will address Incentive Zoning and the other details deferred when the council pushed through Vulcan Inc.’s upzoning of South Lake Union earlier this month.
Licata’s proposal, not surprisingly, is the best of the batch, increasing the pay in lieu fees by nearly 1000% (from the current rate – which the mayor has proposed for South Lake Union – of $15/15 per n.s.f. to $120 per n.s.f.), and requiring that half of the “affordable units” be affordable for families at 60 percent of Average Median Income (AMI) rather than the city’s current 80 percent requirement (the $64,000 for a family of four).
O’Brien’s proposal is more cautious, increasing pay in lieu fees by about 50 percent for both residential and commercial units (to $22 and $29, respectively) – which sounds good until you realize that the original Incentive Zoning legislation was so badly written that such a change really only covers inflation since then. Clark and Burgess make that link more explicitly, proposing tying the pay-in-lieu fees to the Consumer Price Index (in Clark’s case, this would be an “interim” measure while the council spends additional years contemplating why the program is such a dismal failure at its stated goal).
Pay in lieu fees have to be negotiated every single time there’s a rezone – there is no set rate. (McGinn proposed $15.15 for South Lake Union because that’s been the going rate since Incentive Zoning was first passed, but it’s not part of the law.) But because South Lake Union is by far the largest rezone in Seattle in the pipeline for at least the next decade – and because the opposition from developer errand boys like Conlin will be at its strongest with the city’s largest concentration of Paul Allen’s holdings involved – if even a watered-down version of the proposal from Licata can pass, it sets an encouraging precedent. What’s really needed is to scrap the “any price to keep the undesireables out” fees entirely – along with the mentality that certain parts of the city ought to be off-limits to many of its residents. But Licata’s measure would be an excellent step in the right direction. To let city council members know how you feel, contact them before Monday afternoon here.
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This past week, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a new law requiring any department wanting to use drones, cameras, or other surveillance equipment to get the acquisition, and a plan governing its use, approved by the council. The plan, in turn, would need to specify how cameras will be used and how, where, and for how long data will be retained, stored and accessed. It would also require the department (say, to pick a totally random example, SPD) to detail “the nature and extent of public outreach conducted in each community in which the department intends to use the surveillance equipment,” and explain “how the department’s use of the equipment will be regulated to protect privacy and limit the risk of potential abuse.”
All that, of course, is far better than the status quo, which saw SPD acquire both drones and a waterfront camera system while doing none of that. But such measures only work as well as the city council’s willingness to actually prioritize the public’s concerns over SPD’s desires. Historically that willingness has often been…lacking. And, seriously: not one council member thinks that the city having or using such equipment at all is a bad idea and should be banned?
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On Tuesday, King County Metro general manager Kevin Drummond told the King County Council that, above and beyond the looming 17 percent budget cuts Metro is facing this summer when 2011′s emergency two-year $20 car tab fee expires, Metro is also facing another serious loss of income. Some $32 million in state funds, intended to help Metro run more waterfront routes to mitigate traffic disruption during the construction of the SR 99 deep bore tunnel, will run out by fall 2014 – even though construction won’t be complete until 2016.
The irony is that these funding losses are coming even though Metro ridership is at record highs, and the frequency and number of bus routes in particular is grossly inadequate for the demand. Transit users are being caught between the city, which is doing everything in its power to discourage car use and push people into transit, bicycling, and walking, and politicians at the state, county, and city levels who aren’t interested in adequately funding the transit services they’re insisting people use. Since many people can’t bicycle or walk everywhere, the net effect – as with the affordable housing issue – is to make life more difficult for poorer people, in this case people who can’t afford (or don’t want to use) a car. And it’s compounded when council members also want to push those poorer folks as far away from job (and developer gold) centers like South Lake Union. In the end, such policies are only peripherally about transportation or affordable housing. Primarily they’re about helping the wealthy to get wealthier (why should they fund public transit or build inexpensive housing?) and to feel comfortable about it.
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We’ve talked a lot on our show about the various controversies dogging the Seattle Police Department, but they’re not the only local cop shop making news for the wrong reasons. This week the Bellevue Police Department was sued in US District Court by one of its own officers, Jan Auclair Trizuto, who alleges that a fellow Bellevue cop created a hostile workplace environment for her, including sending her sexually suggestive texts and talking openly about his sex life and (alleged) prowess, and that her superiors didn’t care. KIRO reports that a fellow officer supports her claims.
The suit is eerily reminiscent of a lawsuit filed last year by former King County Sheriff’s Office deputies and employees alleging rampant sexual harassment. Given that both KCSO and the Bellevue PD were led by women at the time of the alleged offenses, that speaks to a larger issue in local cop culture that will take more than new regulations to fix. It takes better cops, and then those better cops being willing to hold accountable colleagues who step out of line.
Good luck with that. Local law enforcement: to protect and serve, so long as you’re not female, or queer, or non-white, or poor. If this is how departmental Neanderthals treat their own colleagues, just think how they must treat members of the public.
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The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), the agency charged with enforcing state campaign finance laws, has finally launched (another) investigation into ethically compromised initiative guru Tim Eyman. This time it’s for alleged violations, first reported in local media last summer, regarding Eyman’s two 2012 initiatives, I-1185 and I-517.
Reportedly, Eyman tried to force his campaign signature contractors to force their employees to collect for free signatures for the less popular I-517 as a condition of employment for gathering signatures for I-1185 (the 2/3 supermajority for tax increases measure, which historically has had solid public support). This, of course, would be blatantly illegal. Hard to believe coming from Tim Eyman, but there it is. Thank goodness the PDC is getting to the root of all this, four months after the election is over.
This week, federal housing insurer Freddie Mac sued a number of the world’s largest banks for fraud, violations of antitrust law, and breach of contract, coming out of last year’s LIBOR scandal. LIBOR – the London Interbank Offered Rate, a joint product of 15 transnational banks that supposedly represents the average rate at which the banks lend money – was revealed last summer to have been kept artificially low to increase the profit margin for banks who were actually lending money at higher rates, but then using the LIBOR rate to set lower rates on financial instruments with vendors like Freddie Mac. The LIBOR scandal got little media notice last year – perhaps because at this point everyone assumes that big banks are stealing everyone blind at every opportunity – but it’s easily the largest financial scandal in history, allowing banks to have overcharged on a truly unfathomable $800 trillion in contracts. (That’s $800,000,000,000,000.00, for those of you balancing your checkbook at home.)
Freddie Mac is seeking unspecified damages for financial harm, as well as punitive damages and treble damages for violations of the Sherman Act. The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Inspector General had previously recommended that both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae file suit over the estimated $3 billion that the two agencies alone are thought to have lost to the banks’ fraud. Citigroup, JP Morgan, Barclays, and a number of others are named in the suit.
The banks and their well-compensated lawyers, of course, are claiming Freddie Mac has no right to sue. And it’s not like anyone’s been held accountable (except for government “settlements” involving micropennies on the dollar) for the massive crimes committed. Nor has LIBOR itself been reformed. We know the banks are too big to fail, and too big to jail. Are they also too big to be sued?
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Newly declassified tapes from the Lyndon Johnson administration this week revealed that Ronald Reagan, when he cut a deal with Iran revolutionaries to prevent release of their US embassy hostages until after his 1980 election against President Jimmy Carter – the origin of the term “October Surprise” – was simply stealing the idea from…Richard Nixon.
Johnson, never one to mince words in private, called Nixon “guilty of treason” and said he had “blood on his hands” after learning that Nixon’s campaign had been working with the South Vietnamese government to sabotage Vietnam War peace talks until after the 1968 election. Johnson, however, did not make the information public – even though it would have destroyed Nixon’s campaign – because it would have revealed that the NSA was bugging the South Vietnamese ambassador. We also learn from this that Johnson was recording his own White House phone calls – an idea that, after he won the election, Nixon borrowed, much to his later dismay.
The 1968 campaign revolved over who would be better at ending the by-then wildly unpopular war. Nixon, of course, won, and then expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia and prolonged it another six years, with the vast majority of Southeast Asian and American casualties coming on his watch. “Blood on his hands,” indeed. But then, every US president in the last century – and most of them before that – have had bright red, dripping hands. Nixon was simply getting some early practice for his White House years.
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Might Senate Democrats, mid-session and having had the need for it yet again beaten into their insensate skulls by the Chuck Hagel and Rand Paul fiascos, finally do something to amend the Senate filibuster rules that continue to allow the Senate’s Republican minority to block pretty much everything?
Senior Democratic senators are now reportedly in discussions to, finally, work up the nerve to do exactly that. But, notes the Talking Points Memo article on the talks, “The source said conversations are still too preliminary for Democrats to lay out publicly potential avenues of recourse just yet. And the last thing leaders want is to create the expectation that they will change the filibuster rules in the middle of the current Senate session…”
Oh, don’t worry. You’re safe. We’ve got no expectations at all. None.
A moment of silence for Chinua Achebe, one of the truly great writers and anti-colonialist voices of the 20th Century.
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President Obama was in Israel this week. His biggest diplomatic accomplishment was getting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue a long-demanded apology to Turkey for Israel’s unprovoked use of deadly force in 2010 against a peace flotilla, with numerous Turkish citizens, seeking to break Israel’s blockade and deliver desperately needed humanitarian supplies to Gaza. The apology, oddly, will go a long way toward thawing relations between the two biggest non-oil economies in the region.
But for the future of Israel and Palestine, Obama’s visit was most notable for a speech he gave Thursday to students in Jerusalem. His basic message: a real friend of Israel doesn’t stand by quietly or uncritically while it commits suicide. Stop the settlements, stop the occupation, stop the deportations, stop the ongoing abuse of the Palestinians, and stop the settlers’ violence.
There’s two problems with this, of course. One is that Israel has elected repeatedly as its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has overseen and continues to enthusiastically advocate all of these things, and many members of his government are even more radical (and avowedly racist) than he is.
The other is that for all Obama’s professed concern – and this isn’t the first time he’s verbally scolded the Israeli government – US military and financial support for Israel has been at its greatest levels ever under Obama. So while Barack Obama may object to Israel’s various crimes against humanity, he has also helped make them possible, and his – our – government has also provided the political support necessary to prevent the moral outrage of just about every other country on earth from being translated into any actual international consequences. It’s one thing to say all the right words. It’s a very different thing to back them up, and what Obama has done over the past five years is exactly the opposite of what even he thinks a “real friend of Israel” – or a friend of humanity – should do.
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This week a number of US media outlets trumpeted reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in a recent missile attack on the town of Khan al-Aasal that reportedly killed 31 people and wounded more than 100.
The problem is, those allegations are simply not true – or at least, as this Christian Science Monitor story explains, there’s no known evidence that it’s true, and plenty of reason to think that if any chemical agent was used, it was a non-lethal irritant used in crowd control. (You know, sort of like the ones used on Seattleites during the anti-WTO protests.)
The better question is, why did such unproven – and unlikely – allegations get such traction in US media? The answer is simple: a lot of prominent US politicians – including Rep. Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee (sic), Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of its Senate counterpart, Sen Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain, its former chair and ranking member – jumped on the reports to call for US military intervention in the Syrian civil war. It’s also worth noting that the allegations emerged just before Obama’s trip to Israel, and what better way to pressure Obama, in his trip, to be more amenable to Israel’s bellicosity and crimes than a fresh example of the barbarity of Those Arabs Surrounding the Middle East’s Only Democracy ™”?
(Side note: for a number of years, NATO member and US ally Turkey has been a democracy. Egypt is now a democracy too, at least nominally. But since when did facts get in the way of people making excuses for Israel’s depredations?)
The Assad government, incidentally, immediately asked the UN to investigate the chemical weapon use reports – something it would never have done if it had actually, you know, used them.
It’s worth noting that these 31 deaths have evoked far more sympathy from US hawks than the estimated 70,000 or so previous casualties of the Syrian war. As ever, even in great numbers, in elite American politics and media the death of brown people do not matter – unless they can be used to further an unrelated agenda. (War profiteering, perhaps? Sucking up to Israel, anyone?) It’s also worth noting that Rogers, Feinstein, Levin, and McCain all voted to authorize the invasion and occupation of Iraq based – at least publicly – on similarly specious chemical weapons.allegations. There are far too many people in the US government’s policy elite who eagerly embrace aggressive, unprovoked war as the first and best response to any problem, no matter how apocryphal or inappropriate. (Out of toilet paper? Bomb them!!!) Especially if it’s a problem in the Middle East.
Finally, it’s very much worth noting that elite US media figures who did little to challenge this week’s Syrian allegations (particularly in a strikingly supine Wolf Blitzer CNN interview of Rogers and Feinstein), also learned nothing – absolutely nothing – from their shameful performance in the runup to Iraq. Indeed, most of the worst perpetrators in those days were richly rewarded for their faithful stenography of the lies. One might almost conclude that these media figures believe thta such stenography is their job. (Speak truth to power? Perhaps, at your next Georgetown cocktail party. But by all means don’t share that truth with anyone else.) As Mark Twain famously wrote, history does not repeat itself – but it does rhyme.
Wed. Mar. 27, 12-1 PM: On this day the US Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in a case seeking to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s notorious Proposition 8. Marriage Equality USA is sponsoring this rally as one of many across the country urging the Supreme Court to overturn these discriminatory, homophobic laws. Co-sponsored by Seattle Gay News, Pride at Work, and many others. Federal Courthouse, 700 Stewart St. in downtown Seattle.
Thu. Mar. 28, 7-9 PM: “The World’s Largest Open Air Prison: Gaza with longtime local Palestine activists (and friends of ETS!) Bob and Gerri Haynes. Common Good Cafe, University Temple United Methodist Church, 15th & 45th NE in the University District.