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Politics and Business in Seattle – CounterPunch



Photograph Source: CommunistSquared – CC0

I am in Seattle for an academic conference, having last been here about ten years ago.

Seattle is a beguiling place, as most who have visited it will know. Since I was born with an aversion to sightseeing and what’s called “tourism”, it is the intertwining of politics and business (capitalism, really) that interests me when I visit a place.

Here Seattle does not disappoint. It is home to Amazon (approx. 25,000 employees), Microsoft (approx. 42,000 employees), Boeing (approx. 80,000 employees), and its other big employers are Joint Base Lewis-McChord (approx. 56,000 employees, both civilian and military), and the University of Washington (approx. 25,000 employees).

In addition, Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the Seattle metropolitan area are Starbucks (#131), Nordstrom (#188), freight-forwarder Expeditors International of Washington (#429) and the timber products company Weyerhaeuser (#341).

All have benefitted from political largesse at the local, state, and federal level, including the University of Washington, which became an internationally-renowned research university in the 60s and 70s thanks in part to the huge amounts of “pork” the powerful senator Scoop Jackson– a Democrat and notorious Cold War hawk– was able to acquire for Washington state.

Seattle is also the fourth-largest container-port in North America.

This intertwining of business and local politics can be problematic.

The late Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks football franchise (as well as the Portland Trailblazers basketball franchise), while noted for his philanthropy, paid to put the construction of a new stadium for his football franchise to a referendum in order to set-up a public-private partnership that would pay for the construction cost of $430m. The vote went in Allen’s favour, the partnership was set-up, and it required Allen (estimated worth $16 billion) to contribute a mere $130 million of the project’s cost, while the city (i.e. Seattle taxpayers) coughed-up the remaining $300 million. Local media report that some taxpayers consider themselves to have been stiffed by this deal.

Allen also donated $100,000 to defeat the I-1098 Tax the Rich statewide initiative in 2010.

I-1098 would impose an income tax on individuals making over $200,000 a year ($400,000 for a couple) to pay for health care and education.

At that time (2010) Washington state had the most regressive tax structure in the country. The poor paid 17.3% of their income in taxes while the rich paid only 2.6% percent of their income in taxes.

The latest figures (2018) show that Washington is still the most tax-regressive state in the country– the poorest fifth of residents pay 17.8%, the top 1% only pay about 3% of their income in taxes.

Allen is not alone in using money to exert a disproportionate influence on local politics.

A record $4 million was spent on last year’s city council elections, $1.5 of this coming from Amazon. Last week Seattle city Council moved on legislation, almost certainly to be challenged in court, to limit corporate contributions in city elections.

The legislation would limit all contributions to the political-action committees (PACs) that corporations, unions, and other entities use when spending money on elections.

Campaign financing is a legal minefield, so the strategy espoused by the Seattle Council is to align its own legislation with the federal law banning foreign influence in elections.

The Council would ban contributions from corporations with a single non-American investor having at least 1% ownership, two or more non-American investors owning at least 5%, or a non-American investor taking part in decision-making concerning American political activities.

Amazon would fall within the scope of this legislation once it is enacted, but has so far not commented on it.

The target in election spending by Seattle-based corporations has been the independent socialist council member Kshama Sawant, who led a grassroots campaign for an “Amazon Tax”, which was passed unanimously and then repealed a month later.

Jeff Bezos, certainly in the top echelon of those seemingly reluctant to pay even a penny of tax, made strenuous efforts to block this tax. He halted construction on a new skyscraper in an attempt to put economic pressure on the City Council. His other move was to contribute $350,000 to the 2017 election campaign of the mayor Jenny Durkan. Durkan orchestrated the repeal of the Amazon Tax when she won that election.

Sawant—whose campaign slogan is “Who runs Seattle –- Amazon and big business, or working people?”– survived the machinations of the corporations, and won her election.

The legislation limiting campaign contributions may provide politicians of Sawant’s persuasion with better protection from fat-cat adversaries like Jeff Bezos.

The other big item of news in Seattle while I was there concerned the release of internal documents from Boeing to a Congressional investigation regarding the construction and design of the now-grounded Boeing 737-MAX aircraft.

The investigation comes after 2 crashes in which 346 people died, with the blame focused on the aircraft’s flight-control software meant to prevent stalling.

The scandal-ridden Boeing’s contribution to the US economy is massive. The US’s largest export manufacturer, Boeing supports 8,000 suppliers across the US and its troubles have an effect on the economic fortunes of the entire country.

For instance, on Friday last week the aircraft parts manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems announced it was laying off 2,800 workers at its facility in Wichita, Kansas, due to the grounding of the MAX. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, Boeing’s troubles in 2019 cut gross domestic product from March through June by 0.4%.

The released employee documents are shocking– not just for the often ribald language in trash-talking emails which mocked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), overseas aviation regulators, the supplier of the MAX simulator, airline customers, and colleagues– but for the widespread culture of deceit within Boeing. To quote The Seattle Times:

“While some of the more memorable quotes may be dismissed as bravado — nothing more than hard-charging guys who “blew off steam” after work, as the lawyer for the lead pilot put it — other, more sober internal emails reveal the pressures the pilots were under from the MAX program leadership. They suggest a troubling Boeing culture that prioritized costs over safety.

All the messages from the leaders of the MAX program “are about meeting schedule, not delivering quality,” one employee laments in a 2018 email”.

One email said the MAX had been “designed by clowns. Cost-cutting was the primary consideration, as Boeing’s own software designers were replaced by much lower-paid sub-contractors whose credentials were not scrutinized properly (proper scrutiny would have added to costs).

Another cost-cutting measure was flight-simulator training on operating the new flight-control software, which could have prevented the 2 crashes. However, training on simulators costs money.

The released documents show how Boeing made concerted efforts to block any regulatory necessity for airlines to train their pilots in a simulator on the differences between the MAX and its predecessor the 737 NG.

Boeing insisted, falsely, that the MAX and the NG were so similar that experienced pilots could be trained on their differences in a 1-hour session on an iPad—and of course avoiding training on a simulator saved yet more money.

The released documents also show Boeing executives ridiculing the FAA, which, to an alarming degree, allowed Boeing to do its own safety checks during the certification process. One Boeing pilot who gave a presentation to FAA officials during the certification process mocked their poor technical knowledge: “It was like dogs watching TV”.

Boeing sacked Dennis Muilenberg, its CEO, last month, allowing him to walk away with a $62.2 million golden parachute. Sacking him, and hauling a few rogue employees over the coals, is not going to resolve the shambles that is Boeing today.

Making heads roll and holding people accountable is necessary, of course, but Boeing has given little sign that from now on safety is going to be more important than profit margins.

The culture of deception and duplicity fostered in Boeing also arose in a political context that made lax oversight the norm.

Here the omens are not propitious– Donald Trump has used 2 executive orders to reduce regulatory supervision and hand more of that task over to corporations.

The administration’s 2019 budget proposed an 18% cut to the transportation department.

Those airline passengers who fly regularly (as I do) will probably have one piece of advice for the airlines which transport us: for the foreseeable future, buy Airbus instead of Boeing.

A close up of a newspaperDescription automatically generated

Front page of The Seattle Times (January 11, 2020). Photo: Kenneth Surin.


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New EU Asylum Rules: Even the Bare Minimum Will Require Radical Politics – World – ReliefWeb



Claudia Meier
Julian Lehmann

For the past five years, European Union leaders have tried but failed to reform the block’s rules on asylum. The main bone of contention was the Dublin Regulation, in particular the rule of first entry, which specifies that the first EU member state that an asylum seeker enters is responsible for hosting them and processing their asylum claim. Because of fundamental disagreements on how to reform ​“Dublin”, all other reform proposals have gathered dust on shelves in Brussels. Meanwhile, thousands of asylum seekers still languish in dangerous camps at Europe’s borders.

On Wednesday, the EU Commission finally unveiled the Union’s new reform ideas. On responsibility for asylum applications, they aim to replace the rules of the Dublin Regulation by – drumroll – the rules of the Dublin Regulation. In other words, the basic rules will continue to apply, with some tweaks like member state cooperation in the event of numerous asylum seekers arriving at one member’s borders at the same time. Fundamentally, the proposal cements the sad truth that the EU’s asylum policy has become a sinister race to the bottom on who manages to host the least asylum seekers. Even this lackluster proposal on distributing responsibility was met with immediate and fierce opposition in some member states – including by Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who declared it dead on arrival.

But the EU has few alternatives to reform. In 2015 and 2016, when the numbers of asylum applications spiked, illiberal political parties all over Europe were swift to exploit them for political gain. And they will do so again if member states fail to break the deadlock and sensibly reform the Dublin Regulation. Indeed, the current system leads to frustration everywhere: the EU’s border states like Greece will repeat their mantra of being left overburdened, while others like France or Poland will complain that most asylum seekers who end up further north should have been accommodated in the countries of their first arrival.

Given this protracted situation, the upcoming negotiations on the proposed new laws will have to address two questions: What is the bare minimum that would make a reform better than no reform? And how can the champions of this bare minimum mobilize a majority for it? We think that, above all, a new governance would have to stand the test of being a more solidary system. But reaching – and salvaging – such a compromise will require radical political action.

Call the bluff with a different resettlement option. The EU Commission proposes that states who are unwilling to host asylum seekers as part of a relocation effort ​“in times of crisis” can instead contribute to collective effort by organizing returns of asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected (“return sponsorships”). This idea could prove a slippery slope into a situation where virtually every member state wiggles out of a commitment to admit asylum seekers – a recipe for more disasters and human rights violations like the ones the world is currently witnessing in Moria, Greece. To prevent this, the EU should cap the total number of such ​“return sponsorships” to 10 percent of all asylum seekers who are being relocated in the EU. Member states that still refuse to accommodate asylum seekers could be offered the alternative to accept the equivalent of their share of recognized refugees from outside the EU. Refugees are recognized as such by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, so that this compromise would call the bluff on the argument that redistribution creates a ​“pull factor”, as well as popular claims that only the most resourceful people manage to reach the EU.

Push through a low threshold for mutual support. The pact is vague on the criteria that would trigger any new mechanism in support of an overburdened EU state. For instance, it does not define the kind of ​“crisis” that would oblige member states to support each other. To address this flaw, the EU should set a threshold for each member state, depending on its economic power. This would send a signal of serious intentions to the states at the EU’s external borders. In addition, any mechanism for mutual support would have to kick in automatically. Anything else would be an invitation for anti-EU governments to blame the European Union once the numbers of asylum seekers go up.

Up the stakes for spoilers. The single most important leverage the EU has over its member states is its budget. EU leaders have just adopted a new budget for the next seven years, following a 90 hour-long summit. The ball is now in the European Parliament’s court – MEPs have yet to accept the carefully hatched proposal. One of the main points of contention is budget conditionality: many parliamentarians want the EU to be able to withhold funds when a member state does not comply with the principles of democratic rule of law. The EU parliament should explicitly include systematic violations of the rights of foreigners under EU jurisdiction – including during returns procedures – as part of its definition of democratic rule of law. This would finally give the EU leverage when a member state undercuts its minimum standards on asylum. It would also help to address the perverse incentive structure of the current system in which member states are ​“rewarded” for sub-standard asylum systems, because such systems bar the returns of asylum seekers who have traveled onward to other EU states.

Hammer home the message of international credibility. The EU’s current treatment of asylum seekers is harming its international standing when advocating for principles like cooperation on migration policy, democratic rule of law and human rights. In several African states, EU officials have had to deal with rebuttals and accusations of hypocrisy when trying to argue for upholding the human rights of migrants. In private, German Chancellor Merkel has shared how China’s President Xi – of all people – has also confronted her with the failings of EU migration policy. A new, more humane compromise on asylum policy is a crucial step for the EU to regain some of its credibility on the international stage.

The chances are slim that the ​“pact’s” proposal on the Dublin Regulation will lead to concrete reforms worth fighting for. But the moment is more promising than it has been for a long time. The numbers of asylum applications in the EU have shrunk by almost 50 percent when compared to their peak in 2015. Since then, governments should have learned that the EU cannot afford a perpetual political crisis on asylum – and asylum seekers even less so.

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Politics and relationships – Newsroom



Podcast: The Detail

Can you date, marry, or even just be friends with someone who holds the opposite political views to you? In the US that’s generally a hard ‘no’ – here, it’s a bit different

An Auckland political psychologist says New Zealand’s become more polarised in the Covid-19 era.

We’re not quite as divided along blue-red lines as the pro and anti-Trump brigades in the US but Danny Osborne says the tone of the debate has definitely intensified.

Osborne was born into a poor, Republican-voting family in a right wing city in California.

But when he discovered punk music as a teenager he switched politics.

It’s made for some awkward meals.

“You’re basically born into a party in the US,” says Osborne, associate professor at the University of Auckland’s school of psychology. “I’m a black sheep.”

He’s been in New Zealand for nine years, teaches political psychology, and is part of the team working on the 20-year-old Attitudes and Values study of 60,000 New Zealanders.

“Politics are all about identities,” he says. “So people are National supporters, they’re Labour supporters, they’re Green supporters. Same thing with the US which is an exponentially more polarised environment.”

Osborne talks to The Detail‘s Sharon Brettkelly about the growing polarisation of politics, what happens to families and friends when politics becomes more divisive, and the impact of the pandemic on attitudes.

The latest Attitudes and Values research, looking at political segmentation in the last 10 years shows that until 2018 there was very little polarisation, says Osborne.

But there are signs of Covid’s impact on peoples’ attitudes.

“Everything from managed isolation, to how we’re dealing with debt etc, it has really taken on a partisan flavour that I haven’t seen since I’ve been in New Zealand,” Osborne says.

“I think what the Trump election in 2016 shows us is that democracy is incredibly fragile and you know within the period of four years you can just completely change your way of thinking.

“We used to view the US as this paragon of democracy and in one administration that’s all changed. So I think the same thing can happen in New Zealand, we can very much see these issues start to polarise.”

Studies show that families tend to stick with the same party, says Osborne, though he fits with the small percentage who break the mould. His own close family members are Trump voters and Osborne says he was “a bit of an outcast” growing up in right wing towns in California. Any visits home to the family avoid political discussion.

Osborne cites a study published after the 2016 election which looked at cell phone data from people over the Thanksgiving holiday. It showed that people who had voted for Hilary Clinton, who were returning home to see family in Trump-voting counties, spent on average an hour less at the family home before they headed back to the “blue” counties.

He says as a general trend people are uncomfortable with cross-party conversations but he urges voters to keep having them to keep the debate alive.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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Politics Podcast: Trump’s Tax Returns Challenge His Successful Businessman Image – FiveThirtyEight



The New York Times reported on Sunday that President Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and no federal income tax in 10 of the previous 15 years due to reported business losses. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew weighs the potential political implications of the report. They also discuss what a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court would look like, given Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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