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Politics and Business in Seattle – CounterPunch

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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.

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

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Study: Politics Outweighed COVID Severity in Reopening Decisions – Inside Higher Ed

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The political leaning of the county in which a college or university is located is the factor most closely associated with whether it offered in-person or remote instruction in fall 2020, research released Tuesday shows. The article, published in Springer’s Research in Higher Education, finds that the severity of the pandemic near a college and sociopolitical factors in its state were also associated with institutional decisions on how to offer instruction.

State political factors were a stronger factor for four-year public institutions than for four-year private or community colleges, while county political preferences had a stronger effect on four-year private and two-year public institutions.

“Given that in-person instruction was associated with increased COVID-19 incidence in the local area,” the authors write, “polarization, political identification, and institutions feeling compelled to operate as politicized entities (to stay close to the ‘in-group’) likely made the severity of the pandemic worse. These outcomes are aligned with the general findings [of previous research] that institutions seemed to give more weight to sociopolitical features over pandemic severity when choosing in-person instruction for Fall 2020.”

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Why American Politics Is So Stuck — and What New Research Shows About How to Fix It – POLITICO Magazine

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Why does American politics feel so stuck these days, with bipartisan bills vanishingly rare and solutions seemingly taking a back seat to constant attacks?

Our newly published research suggests an answer — and maybe a way to get un-stuck.

Most policies are rife with trade-offs. They have an intended outcome and some regrettable side-effects. Our recent studies suggest that political polarization in the United States runs so deep that it leads partisans to see the other side’s intended outcome as a ruse and the side effects as the real intention. In other words, Democrats and Republicans not only disagree about policy matters; they believe the other party’s agenda is intentionally designed to do harm.

We call this tendency the partisan trade-off bias, and it applies to both parties. To a Democrat, the purpose of an environmental policy that reduces carbon emissions, for example, is to preserve the environment, and a corresponding loss of coal mining jobs is an unfortunate side effect. But a Republican, our research finds, might look at that same policy and see a plot to eradicate jobs in the fossil fuels industry. Meanwhile, a Democrat might presume a Republican push to lower corporate tax rates is more about helping the wealthy and hurting the poor than fueling economic growth.

Of course, skepticism about motives is sometimes warranted. But, oftentimes, it is misguided, and the deeper it runs, the harder it is to get anything through the policymaking process. Unless politicians find a way to lessen the effects of the partisan trade-off bias, we’re likely to keep seeing stalemates on important policy issues.

We documented the partisan trade-off bias across five studies using online samples of a total of 1,236 participants, a mix of Republicans and Democrats. As an example, in one of our studies participants were randomly assigned to view a set of policy trade-offs, some proposed by Republicans and some proposed by Democrats. The policies dealt with taxes, environmental regulation, gun control and voting rights. Participants then rated how intentional they perceived the negative side effects of each policy to be. The more participants identified with the Republican Party, the more intentional they perceived the side effects of the Democratic-proposed policies to be, and the more participants identified with the Democratic Party, the more intentional they perceived the side effects of Republican-proposed policies to be.

In a nutshell, our studies showed that the negative side effects associated with different policy trade-offs are not interpreted by opponents as side effects at all, but as intended goals of the policy.

To date, the political science literature has shown that political polarization leads partisans not only to dislike each other, but to see the other side increasingly as a threat to the country. Our identification of the partisan trade-off bias reveals a psychological tendency that might help to explain this perception of threat. After all, how can you get along with someone who you perceive as intentionally trying to do harm?

The good news is that by identifying the partisan trade-off bias, our research points a path forward: Policymakers who pay more attention to this bias might be better equipped to achieve compromise. This means that rather than focusing only on the main goal of a policy, they need to communicate clearly to the public what is intentional and what is a regrettable side-effect of that goal.

Fortunately, our studies also suggest this might be achievable. The partisan trade-off bias happens not because people don’t understand a given policy, but because they don’t trust the policymakers who are pushing that policy. We found that the level of trust a person feels toward a policymaker proposing a policy is a crucial driver of the partisan trade-off bias. And when we were able to increase people’s trust in the policymaker in our studies, we saw the partisan tradeoff bias decrease substantially.

Existing research suggests there are many ways politicians can earn others’ trust, but one of the most powerful is also the simplest: making sure people feel their voices are heard and listened to before a policy is announced, including both those inclined to like and dislike a policy. When we told participants in our studies that a policymaker spoke with stakeholders from all sides of the political spectrum before rolling out a proposal, the partisan tradeoff bias subsided.

Practically speaking, these findings suggest that announcing a big policy goal, and then doing press tours and campaigns to tout its benefits, likely does little to build trust. What happens before the policy is announced is crucial to building broad support for the policy. Politicians need to make it clear that they are speaking with and listening to those likely to be affected by a policy’s side effects. In the context of climate policy, a politician might visit coal miners in West Virginia or oil and gas workers in Texas while in the process of formulating a plan to reduce emissions, for example. The more widely the politician can advertise these efforts — across multiple types of media and across the ideological spectrum — the better.

Giving people a voice in the process does not mean they will change their minds about the value of the policy. But it does increase the chances that they will see the policy as a sincere attempt to solve problems rather than a form of hidden malice. That, in turn, can help lower the temperature and de-escalate the cycle of polarization. The same lesson holds for those of us who are not policymakers but ordinary citizens who want to have better conversations about politics. If you think you know what the other side’s real intentions are, think again. What you see as malice might be an unintended side effect. And if you want someone to give you the benefit of the doubt, put in the work of making them feel heard before you make yourself heard.

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A new reason to move: politics – Yahoo Canada Finance

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Blue states will get bluer, and red redder, in coming years, as more Americans factor political issues into their relocation decisions and head for places with like-minded tribes.

That’s the forecast from real-estate brokerage Redfin, which included “more migration for political reasons” in its outlook for the housing market in 2022. The deepening political polarization of the country includes new city- and statewide laws likely to attract adherents and repel detractors, driving political issues deeper into community life. Texas this year passed the nation’s strictest anti-abortion law, for instance. A Mississippi anti-abortion law could lead the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal everywhere. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, states will once again be free to set their own abortion statutes, creating a drastic dividing line between permissive and restrictive states.

Another Supreme Court case, involving gun rights, could make it easier to carry concealed weapons in New York and 7 other states, eroding gun-control efforts propagated largely by Democratic governors and mayors. On the other hand, marijuana is now legal in 19 mostly blue and purple states. Cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York are experimenting with police reform meant to cut down on lower-level arrests. Public-school curricula is a new flash point between parents who want racial and social justice taught in schools, and traditionalists who feel threatened by “wokeness.”

A U.S. Supreme Court police officer walks past its building as rulings are expected in Washington, U.S. November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A U.S. Supreme Court police officer walks past its building as rulings are expected in Washington, U.S. November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Covid pandemic led to sharp disparities in masking rules, school opening policies and business restrictions among states and cities. That’s on top of longstanding differences in regulation and taxation between traditionally Democratic and Republican states. While there’s nothing new about regional differences in governing styles, policy polarization is making it easier for Americans to live in areas they find ideologically compatible. It’s also getting harder for liberals to find a comfortable enclave in conservative states, and vice versa.

[Click here to get Rick Newman’s stories by email.]

Moving patterns reflect politics

Americans seem increasingly likely to sort themselves into ideological groups by geography. “We know people are leaving blue counties and moving to red counties,” says Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. “I think this will start to happen at the state level and at the neighborhood level. After next year’s midterm elections, we’ll be able to see if neighborhoods become more polarized.”

Up till now, the migration from blue states to red states has largely been driven by affordability. Blue states along the coasts typically have higher living costs and taxation levels than, say southern red states such as Texas and Florida. More and more, however, moving patterns reflect overt political choices.

An October Redfin survey of people who recently moved, for instance, found that 40% said they would prefer or insist on living in a place where abortion is fully legal. The portion taking the opposite view—saying they would prefer or refuse to live in an area where abortion is fully legal—was 32%. It’s not unusual for survey respondents to express strong opinions on abortion, but it may be new for people to factor such views into moving decisions. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe and more states ban or severely restrict abortion, it could become a bigger factor in relocation.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 12: A newly sold home is shown on August 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Home prices have climbed during the pandemic as low interest rates and working from home has become more abundant. Home prices around the country continue to surge in the second quarter as strong demand continues to overwhelm the supply of homes for sale. Nationwide, the median single-family existing-home sales price increased by 22.9% in the second quarter. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 12: A newly sold home is shown on August 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Home prices have climbed during the pandemic as low interest rates and working from home has become more abundant. Home prices around the country continue to surge in the second quarter as strong demand continues to overwhelm the supply of homes for sale. Nationwide, the median single-family existing-home sales price increased by 22.9% in the second quarter. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A newly sold home is shown on August 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The Redfin survey of movers also gauged attitudes toward other touchy political topics. Larger percentages favored living in areas with liberal policies such as strong voter protections, gender anti-discrimination laws and legal weed. But 23% said they don’t want to live in places with strong anti-discrimination laws, 22% don’t want to live in a state with legal weed, and 16% don’t want to live where there are strong voter protections.

Americans consider many factors when deciding where to live, and some of those factors have political overtones. Many parents base home-buying decisions on the quality of schools, which drives up home prices in the best school districts and creates de facto segregation. The white-flight phenomenon has a similar effect, with whites who can afford to leaving urban areas for places where they consider quality of life better.

But those types of location decisions are based more on family-first attitudes than the liberal-conservative divide that’s taking root now. Americans choose a political tribe when they vote, donate money to political causes and decide which cable-news station to watch. Perhaps it’s only natural that Americans want to live among their political comrades, as well. Like much of America, real-estate listings are trending toward liberal or conservative.  

Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. You can also send confidential tips.

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