The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, and Retractable

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., first used the quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” in 1958. The quote itself dates back to 19th Century abolitionists. Now, in the 21st Century, it is once again in doubt.

This week’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., inevitably is provoking a fair amount of “How Far Have We Come?” and “How Far We Have Come!” commentary. But more disturbing, for our nation and the world, is where the most prominent facets of Dr. King’s moral universe – racial and economic justice and Gandhian nonviolence – are going. Many of the signs are not good.

In commemorating the anniversary, the New York Times today included a front-page photo of the Lorraine Motel, the inner city motel where King was shot and killed. What the Times article didn’t mention was what has happened to the Lorraine itself and the area around it. City leaders used the Lorraine to site a new National Civil Rights Museum, which in turn has been used, despite community protests, to gentrify the surrounding neighborhood and drive out its historically poor, black residents.

In other words, a city seeking to turn an awful historical event into tourist dollars – and that only this decade, after years of community pressure, took down its Confederate statues – is monetizing Dr. King’s death for real estate developers. It’s s grim twist to the sort of economic displacement going on in central city areas across the US, leading to chronic shortages in affordable housing – and record levels of homelessness – among the people Dr. King championed most.

This is not an isolated development. On issue after issue, a half-century after a white supremacist shot and killed Dr. King (probably, as a Memphis jury later decided, as part of a broader conspiracy), King’s greatest achievements are being rolled back, from voting rights to economic opportunity to basic economic and public health indices.

The process began the same year Dr. King died, when Richard Nixon used his now-infamous “Southern Strategy” to win the presidency. The white supremacism Nixon appealed to has since steadily grown in power, to the point where it is now the unifying ideology of a political party that controls not only all three branches of the federal government, but 31 of 50 state governments and the vast majority of our country’s non-urban counties. Democrats have the upper hand in only four states not on the Western or Eastern seaboards – Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, and New Mexico, all of which have large urban centers that control their states. Everywhere else, the corrosive influence of white supremacism has given the lie to the belief that King’s legacy is secure.

To be sure, there have been periods of pushback, most recently in Barack Obama’s election and the explosive growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. But it’s a measure of how much we’ve lost that the #BLM movement – a movement launched during Obama’s presidency – explicitly branded itself around black peoples’ right even to exist.

The triumph of Obama’s election led directly to the presidency of Donald Trump, a living embodiment of the rejection of Dr. King’s legacy who first rose to political prominence with the explicitly racist birther conspiracy. Control of federal law enforcement now rests with the neo-confederate Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a man whose federal judicial nomination was rejected – one of only two such rejections in US history – because his overt racism was, in the Reagan era, too much even for the Republicans of the day. Now such racism is Republican orthodoxy, voter suppression and racist gerrymandering are the norm in Republican states, and the Voting Rights Act is dead.

The good news is that while Republicans have seized power, a majority of our country’s people, and the majority of its wealth, are in its cities, which generally reject that Republican orthodoxy. But even as Democrats are poised to make major gains in this year’s elections, it’s essential that they campaign not just against the general train wreck of the Trump Presidency, but explicitly against the hatred, fear, and bigotry that propelled it to power. Dr. King’s other legacy was his championing of Gandhian nonviolence – an ethos diametrically opposed to the bitterness and hatred that now dominates all facets of American politics across the ideological spectrum.

Democrats need to be explicitly rejecting not just racism and the policies it has spawned as a cornerstone of their campaign efforts. They also need to make clear that they care about all Americans, including poor and middle class whites being ripped off by Trump’s oligarchy. Otherwise, the politics of division will simply be America’s politics – the final rejection of King’s moral universe. And the groundwork for more white supremacist gains in the future will be securely in place.

That ethic of universal dignity and love is what made Dr. King a figure of global inspiration. It is now also in retreat in much of the world, a victim of predatory global capitalism, the rise in influence of anti-democratic kleptocracies like China and Russia, and the battle for resources made scarcer by population growth and climate change.

In the end, King’s vision is not only morally just, but may be the key to our survival as a species. That arc, his legacy, and human survival are by no means guaranteed.

Olympia Update

What legislators got done this year was important. What they failed to get done was important, too.

For the first time in what feels like living memory, the state legislature in Olympia is not going into special session to pass its budget bill this year. That means, under our state constitution’s archaic, 19th Century tradition, that our “part time” legislators needed to wrap up all of the state’s pressing business in 60 days this year so that they could embark on the arduous journey back home, on trains or their horses and buggies, in time to plant this year’s spring crops. Seriously.

Washington is not alone in this. While we are one of the most populous of the states with a part-time legislature, fully 41 states have them, almost all of them a relic of original state constitutions and unable to keep pace with the demands of federal requirements, a modern economy, or any of a host of societal problems. Each year, our state’s legislators generally are confronted with between two and three thousand bills, with only 60 days to consider them – or 90 days in the years when they must also pass a highly time-consuming biennial budget.

Between a limited legislative calendar and legislators’ own limited time and interests, only a fraction of that firehose of bills passes in any given session – and if it’s not an emergency (or being pushed by a small army of lobbyists, as with anything beneficial to Boeing, Microsoft, or Amazon), it often gets left behind. This year, for example, a badly needed bill to create an ombudsman position for the Department of Corrections passed with broad bipartisan support. This was the tenth consecutive year the bill had been introduced. Olympia is littered with such stories.

Here, then, is a quick look at how some bills of particular interest to Seattlites fared this year – ones that passed, and ones that didn’t make it.

The biggest items were also the most notable examples of what can get done when Republicans aren’t forcing legislative gridlock: the budgets. The legislature passed its supplemental budget on time, as well as a capital budget – something it was unable to do last year. And the supplemental budget came up with the money to finally comply with the education demands of the state supreme court, by moving the teacher pay raise in last year’s compromise education funding deal from Fall 2019 to Fall 2018. For Seattle area teachers whose pay has been eroding for two decades, that’s a big deal.

On the single biggest emergency issue facing the Puget Sound region – affordable housing – Olympia did manage one important reform. It passed a bill, similar to the law Seattle passed last year, that prohibits discrimination by landlords on the basis of income source. For fixed income renters, especially seniors, the disabled, or welfare recipients, who need to compete for limited affordable housing with full time workers, this can be the difference between living in a modest apartment and living under a bridge. That will make a difference. But once again, more sweeping reforms, like statewide impact fees, investments in public housing, or (gasp) allowing local jurisdictions to impose rent controls, never got serious consideration.

Legislators also managed modest progress on gun reform, by banning bump stocks in the wake of last October’s Las Vegas mass shooting. Reform demands in the wake of the more recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida came too late for introduction of new bills – so even modest changes like raising the minimum age for purchase of automatic, military-grade weapons will have to wait for a special session, or, more likely, next year. Even then, such measures will be a heavy lift; the National Rifle Association spends more money electing sympathetic legislators in Washington than in any other state, and that includes some key Democratic votes. Maybe next year.

Another failure this year, despite full Democratic control of Olympia, was some form of the carbon tax that has been proposed by Gov. Inslee for the last several years. This year, a carbon tax proposal at least got a hearing in both chambers, but again, not all Democratic (and no Republicans) were on board. This may not need to wait for next year, however; as soon as the legislature adjourned last Friday, environmental groups announced that they would try to get a carbon tax initiative on November’s ballot. Their chances of getting the necessary signatures by July are good.

The need to fund public transportation (and move away from fossil fuels) also killed a modest proposed tax break on car tabs,which would save car owners money by using the Kelly Blue Book valuation as the basis for car tab fees. The problem? Democrats couldn’t figure out how to replace the lost revenue that would create for Sound Transit light rail expansion.With the Trump Administration’s proposed infrastructure plan and budget, which would gut federal funding for such projects, the state simply couldn’t afford the tax break without coming up with a replacement revenue source. Maybe next year, unless Tim Eyman isn’t too busy with his legal problems to get such a measure on this year’s ballot.

One more highly publicized measure that failed was abolition of the state’s death penalty. The abolition bill had bipartisan support – at least some Republicans object to the high cost of trying capital cases – but despite coming closer than it has in many years, it fell victim, like so many other bills, to the firehose of legislative business.

One measure that did pass was a compromise bill that finally changes the state’s uniquely impossible standard for prosecuting on-duty law enforcement killings. The previous standard required prosecutors to prove not only that the officer wasn’t acting in “good faith,” but that he or she harbored “personal malice” for the victim. I-940 had already gathered the signatures to put an initiative ending this standard onto this year’s ballot, but its sponsors, other stakeholders, and Democratic lawmakers crafted a replacement bill that ends the personal malice standard and redefines, more broadly than I-940 did, the good faith requirement. But pro-law enforcement Republicans objected to the legislative jujitsu Democrats used to replace the initiative, and are demanding that the new law, I-940, or both still appear on November’s ballot. We’ll see if they take that demand to court, and, if so, whether they prevail.

There was much more – a compromise bill to phase out commercial salmon farming, for example – but urgent major needs, like reforming the state’s antiquated tax structure, are hard to pull off in only two months. Or three. This is a major reason (along with gridlock and lifetime political sinecures) why so many such issues wind up being the targets of initiatives. It’s not the best way to choose among competing priorities – that’s the job of legislators. But it’s the system we have. Next year.

Important Personal Health Update

I need to trade some teeth for a kidney

As some of you know, I’ve been living on borrowed time for a number of years. In 1994, I received a then-experimental double organ transplant – kidney and pancreas – that, if everything went right, was supposed to extend my life for a few years.

That was 24 years ago. Despite some serious complications along the way, my non-native organs have lasted far longer than me, my doctors, or anyone else expected. It’s been miraculous.

But the clock has always been ticking. The underlying disease, the various illnesses that come with immunosuppression (which prevents organ rejection), and the toxic drugs I need that create immunosuppression all take their toll over time. This week I’ve been dealing with two major personal health developments.

The first is that my non-native kidney has finally deteriorated to the point where I am now eligible to be listed for another kidney transplant.

This has been coming for a while, but it’s still something of a shock to have that eventuality become real and present. Transplants carry a lot of risks, and recovering from my first one was a long, arduous process. And I was a lot younger and stronger then. Going through another transplant now is a prospect that’s … daunting. But we do what we need to in order to survive.

I’ve already taken and cleared most of the tests and procedures needed to actually get on the wait list for a kidney. The one major one remaining is that I need a fair amount of dental work done. Transplantees need a pristine mouth because of the high risk of infection.

The second bit of news this week has been that after a number of delays, I finally got a detailed treatment plan and cost estimate for the dental work needed to clear the wait list requirements. It comes to $2,951.00.

This is actually an improvement from the first estimate I got, which was over $7,000. And it’s probably the best I can do. I need some specialized work due to the immunosuppression. Even without that, the only major remaining charity dental care program in our area for low-income patients has a wait list, too, of over 3,500 people. (Surely many more local people than that actually need such care.) And now time is a factor – the sooner I get on the list, the likelier I am to get a transplant before my kidney fails completely. Dialysis can be a stopgap, but for various reasons I don’t do well on dialysis; I likely wouldn’t survive more than a few months on it.

Ironically, Medicare and insurance will cover most of the costs of the transplant itself. (At least for now – by the time of my surgery, who knows what Trump and his minions will have done? But first things first.) However, to become eligible for that care I need to come up with thousands of dollars out of pocket, because for some insane reason – and yet another feature of the American health care system found nowhere else in the world – we don’t treat dental or vision care as health care.

At this point, my non-native kidney could last several more years, or give out next month – it’s notoriously hard to predict in situations like mine. But the sooner I get on the transplant list, the better my chances of survival are.

Every few months for the last couple of years I’ve needed to appeal to friends and readers for financial help to meet basic expenses (and bless all of you who’ve helped over that time). This is not that. My personal cash flow for living expenses is actually fine this month. But like most people, I don’t have an extra few thousand lying around. No money, no dental care … no waiting list … no new kidney … and, sooner than later, no Geov.

It’s ridiculous, but people die in this country due to fiscal absurdities like this all the time. I don’t want to be one of them.

I’ve set my first dental appointment – the extractions – for Thursday, March 4, because time matters and in the faith that, somehow, I’ll be able to have the necessary funds in hand by then. (Payment is due up front, of course.) I have a few prospects for friends and family that can help, but almost nobody I know has that kind of money lying around; mostly, I’ll need to crowdsource raising the necessary money.

I’m happy to share the treatment plan or other details anyone would like offline, but the bottom line is, if you can help me raise a nearly $3,000 bill in the next two weeks, it literally would mean the world to me. There’s a PayPal button at the bottom right of my geov.org home page that I’m using for this fund; PM me if you want to make other arrangements for a donation.

Whatever you can do, either yourself or by sharing this with others, I’m profoundly grateful for.

As I’ve written before: In the end, in Trump’s America, all we have is each other. And caring about and for each other is the best rebuke we have to the New Cruelty his regime champions. Thanks for reading!

P.S. Feel free to share widely!

Inquests on Trial

In Washington State, police officers may soon lose their right to shoot and kill people with impunity – except in King County

On January 8, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced a moratorium on the county’s unique inquest process for fatal on-duty law enforcement shootings. The moratorium will extend until a task force, named by Constantine in December, reviews possible reforms to the process. That task force’s recommendations are due in March.

Changes in how King County reviews fatal police shootings are something community activists have been demanding for decades. The format of the inquest process – in which a six-person jury is led through a narrowly defined “fact-finding” series of questions, and then asked solely to decide whether the shooting was “justified” or “not justified” – is not meant to determine criminal or civil liability. But in practice, it’s virtually guaranteed to return findings that appear to exonerate law enforcement officers. Of the several hundred such shootings since King County adopted its current system in 1971 – including ten in 2017 and over 70 in the last ten years – only once has an inquest jury concluded that the shooting was “not justified.” That was the notorious 2010 killing of Native American woodcarver John T.Williams.

That one exception proves the rule: the inquest process is stacked against victims’ families and against any attempt to hold officers accountable for questionable shootings. There are a number of reasons for this trend, but two of the most basic are defense attorneys and cross-examination.

Jurors hear from witnesses, who testify under oath – but those witnesses don’t face any cross-examination. That means attorneys for the law enforcement officers involved in the shooting can coax a narrative out of the officers and any supportive witnesses (e.g., other cops) with no critical scruntiny. Jurors are left to choose between what the officers say and what anyone else might say if it’s contradictory – and in that circumstance, officers’ testimony will almost alway be given more weight.

The narrowness of the questions that witnesses receive, and that jurors must answer, doesn’t include an assessment of what might have been done differently. “I had no choice but to shoot” is an unassailable statement if jurors aren’t told that there were, in fact, other choices. And that doesn’t even get to larger questions about police training, possible patterns of past abuses by the officer, or any of a number of other possibly critical factors. The jurors simply aren’t told.

Moreover, in navigating that unusual and frustrating process, families of shooting victims are on their own. Unlike a criminal trial, in which public defenders represent defendants who can’t afford a lawyer, the county doesn’t provide an attorney for the families of police shooting victims. This means that for what may be a family’s only opportunity to get sworn testimony about what happened to their loved one, a family who has already faced that lost also has to pay for legal representation to help find out what happened. Having an attorney doesn’t mean there will be any accountability – but not being represented virtually guarantees that from a family’s standpoint, nothing useful (like testimony that can be used in a later civil case) will come out of the inquest.

Instead, an inquest jury’s finding of a “justified” shooting invariably is used in the defense against any subsequent civil case. And this is why, despite the inquest system’s having been a target of criticism for over a generation, the need to reform or replace it has gained sudden urgency. It appears likely that I-940, the De-Escalate Washington initiative that would change our state’s absurdly impossible standard for criminal prosecution of bad law enforcement shootings, will make it onto this year’s ballot for statewide voters. If it passes, it would, for the first time in modern history, make the prosecution of law enforcement killings possible in Washington State.

Except in King County.

Because in King County, if an unreformed inquest process continues to return “justified” verdicts with near-automatic precision, prosecutors have to weigh that result in deciding whether to bring charges in a controversial shooting. And even if the statewide standard for such prosecutions is relaxed, most prosecutors are unlikely to try to bring a case that has already been through a testimony and jury process that returned what police invariably characterize as an “exoneration” of their officers – even if the current inquest process was never meant to, and cannot possibly, provide that sort of a definitive judgment.

In other words, the passage of I-940 risks making prosecution of law enforcement officers easier in 38 other counties, but not in the county – ours – that accounts for by far the largest number of fatal law enforcement shootings.

In that context, what Constantine’s task force decides to recommend, and how King County Council members respond to the issue, becomes critical. And there’s no guarantee that any changes will be made at all. We’ve been here before, most recently in 2008, just before Constantine replaced Ron Sims as County Executive. Sims also appointed a task force to review possible reforms to the inquest process. That committee was unable to agree on any recommendations, and no changes were made.

This time, the five committee members publicly announced include two African-Americans – attorney Jeffrey Beaver and retired King County sheriff’s deputy Fabienne Brooks, who in 1999 became the first black woman in KCSO history to be promoted to the rank of Major; King County Superior Court Judge Dean S. Lum, who has in the past been willing to rule against the police in some criminal and civil cases; former Seattle Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) director Sam Pailca, who in six years (2001-2007) of running the civilian OPA was highly limited in her effectiveness by, among other things, the OPA’s inability to collect its own evidence or compel testimony; and Native American activist Rick Williams, who, as John T. Williams’ brother, witnessed first-hand the truly nightmarish process in that shooting’s inquest. And that was the only instance, out of hundreds, in which the process “worked.” (Those five members were charged with picking a sixth, final committee member.)

In particular, Williams’ presence on this committee will be critical. King County’s charter archaically limits membership on a County Executive-appointed committee like this one to “long time property owners and business owners,” a restriction that for this issue rules any renters – and most of the family members of the disproportionately lower-income (and non-white) victims of police violence. Williams could either provide a valuable reality check or be exploited as a token cover. Or both.

In either scenario, it’s hard to imagine Constantine’s group can generate anything more than modest proposals in only the three months they’ve been given. Most likely, they’ll confine themselves to long-planned legislation introduced in King County Council this month that would, finally, provide legal representation to families of victims. That would surely help, but it would still leave in place a format that doesn’t allow for any real examination of culpability. And even that relatively benign change faces opposition. Even before the task force had met, the county’s largest police union, the predictably reactionary Seattle Police Officers Guild, tweeted that “SPOG does not believe that the current inquest process should be changed.”

Why would it, when that process has “exonerated” officers almost without fail for nearly half a century – and
would continue to do so, whether I-940 passes or not?

[Author’s note: I’m poor, permanently disabled, and dedicated (despite financial and chronic health pressures) to reporting and commentary from and for those of us fighting for our rightful place in a city that has increasingly turned its back on many of us.

If you find my reporting and commentary valuable – and would like to see me spending more time doing this and less time stressing over how I can pay for food, rent, and medical care myself – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on geov.org’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish]

Dr. King and Mr. Trump

”The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have turned 89 today. He has been dead for a half century, far longer than he was alive. As his living memory fades, replaced by a feel-good “I have a dream” whitewash that ignores much of what he stood for and fought against, it’s more important than ever to recapture the true history of Dr. King – because as we live in the era of an openly racist president and his proudly racist supporters, much of what he fought against is resurfacing or still with us today.

As we lose, each year, more of the people who personally witnessed King’s career, his impact is also being steadily minimalized – not just by a president who, today, became the first president since the King holiday was established to pointedly ignore it (Trump went golfing instead), but also by a White America that has little beyond the most basic notion of what King did and why, and by a new generation of black activism that draws more from the legacy of Malcolm X and especially the Black Panthers than it does from Dr. King. At this point, the King history is in danger of being reduced to a context-free ritual, its invocations of a post-racial society sounding less like a lofty vision and more like a cruel joke.

Even before Dr. King’s assassination, in the mid-’60s virtually every major city in the US saw riots. Those riots were centered in its black ghettos and frequently fueled by systemic police violence against its residents.

In 1973, only five years after King’s death, a young Donald Trump represented his father’s real estate company, Trump Management, against a sweeping Department of Justice lawsuit alleging that the Trumps systematically discriminated against blacks in renting their New York City apartments.

Another 13 years later, in 1986, an Alabama attorney named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions became only the second nominee since World War Two to have his nomination for the federal judiciary rejected – explicitly because of Sessions’ overt racism.

Now, an unrepentant Sessions, as head of the Department of Justice, has along with his Congressional allies taken sweeping measures to try to undo much of the legal framework of non-discrimination that was the signal accomplishment of the Civil Rights era. Sessions oversees, among other things, housing discrimination complaints, suppression of black voting (now done with computer-aided precision unthinkable when King fought Jim Crow), and investigations of local police brutality against non-whites in cities across the US.

Sessions was picked for that job by the same Donald Trump who inherited a local real estate empire built on discrimination, and who won the presidency in large part with explicit appeals to racism.

Just how long does that arc need to be before justice takes hold?

King’s faith-based optimism in the moral goodness of humanity may, after a half-century that has seen tremendous progress as well as widespread regression, seem quaint and naive at best, irrelevant at worst. But his moral vision is not the only reason he is remembered today, and it’s not the only lesson the history of his spectacular, all-too-brief career offers as we confront Trump’s America.

The Forgotten History

King, the man, is internationally revered on the level of Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela as last century’s most champions of nonviolence and human dignity – even though, unlike Gandhi and Mandela, he spent relatively few years in the public eye. Dr. King spent his life defying authority and convention, citing a higher moral authority, and gave hope and inspiration for the liberation of people of color on six continents. King is not a legend because he believed in diversity trainings and civic ceremonies, or because he had a nice dream. He is remembered because he took serious risks to his own life (and eventually lost it) fighting for a higher cause.

King is also remembered because, among a number of brave and committed civil rights leaders and activists, he had a flair for self-promotion, a style that also appealed to white liberals, and the extraordinary social strength of the black Southern churches behind him. And because he died before he had a chance to be widely believed a relic or buffoon.

Most importantly, King was a brilliant political tactician. He never held public office, but as a private citizen became the leader of tens of millions of Americans widely thought to have no power, showing how they could, along with white allies, exercise power effectively enough to win. He exploited divisions in his racist white opponents, pitting the die-hard segregationists against white-owned businesses crippled by economic boycotts. He gained allies in long-time segregationists like Lyndon Johnson, who was responding to King’s power politics, not his moral appeals. That’s a part of King’s legacy that’s squarely relevant today for marginalized communities of all types.

What little history TV will give us around King’s holiday this year is at least as much about forgetting as about remembering, as much about self-congratulatory patriotism that King was American as self-examination that American racism made him necessary; that government, at every level, sought to destroy him; and that the type of men who ran those governments have seized power again. We hear “I have a dream”; we don’t hear King’s powerful later indictments of poverty, the Vietnam War, and the military-industrial complex. We see Bull Connor in Birmingham; we don’t see arrests for fighting segregated housing in Chicago, or the years of beatings and busts before Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize. We don’t hear about the mainstream American contempt at the time for King, even after that Peace Prize, nor the FBI harassment or his reputation among conservatives as a Commie dupe.

Pop culture’s MLK has no politics, no history, and even no faith. We don’t see retrospectives on King’s linkage of civil rights with global liberation. We forget that he died in Memphis lending support for a union (the garbage workers’ strike), while organizing a multi-racial Poor Peoples’ Campaign that demanded affordable housing and decent-paying jobs as basic civil rights transcending skin color. We forget that many of King’s fellow leaders weren’t nearly so polite. Cities were burning. Selma got the movie, but Watts, Newark, and Detroit made a difference, too.

We Could Each Be Dr. King

Sixty-three years after the Montgomery bus boycott catapulted a 26-year-old King into prominence, blacks are being newly systematically disenfranchised in our elections. Affirmative action and school desegregation are dead. Urban school districts across the country are as segregated and unequal as ever. A conservative US Supreme Court has helped usher in a new era where possible redress for discrimination has been steadily whittled away.

Gifted African-Americans like Barack Obama can achieve at a level unthinkable in King’s day. But the better test of a society’s marginalization of discriminated-against groups is not how the most talented people of each group fares, but how the mediocre do. A black mediocrity like George W. Bush could still never, ever become President of the United States. A wealthy black con artist like Donald Trump would be doing hard time.

Resisting Trump requires that we acknowledge that the overt racism of Montgomery in 1955 is still a central feature of America in 2018. It shows up in our geography, in our prisons, in our schools, in our voting booths, in our shelters and food banks, in our economy, in our law enforcement, and in the very earnest and extremely white activist groups that often carry the banner on these issues.

King used the moral outrage of white Americans to force change; in a new, far more cynical century. We don’t go much for moral outrage any longer. It’d take a whole lot more than Bull Connor’s police dogs to make the news today. And social media has transformed activism – elevating the voices that are the most eloquent and incendiary, often at the expense of organizing that can change public policies (or prevent past public policy victories from being gutted).

But in 2018, we also have strengths not available to Dr. King. The forces of racism and hate notwithstanding, ours is now a far more multi-cultural society. Far more people have personal relationships with people of other races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, or classes. Appeals to abstract moral principles mean something, but injuries to people we know personally mean more. And social media’s impacts are also positive – enabling s new generation to be not only interconnected in ways unthinkable in King’s time, but able to quickly organize and to resist injustice at a scale he could never have imagined. The 1963 March On Washington took months to organize, drawing between 200,000 and 300,000 people to witness King’s most famous speech. Last January, after the newly installed president enacted a Muslim travel ban, a similar number swarmed airports across America in hours. A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin never dreamed of such possibilities.

But the saddest loss in the modern narrative of Dr. King’s career – and the aspect with the most transformative power – is the story of who he was: a man without wealth, without elected office, who managed as a single individual to change the world simply through the strength of his moral convictions. His power came from his willingness to act at enormous personal risk to do what he knew to be right. That story could inspire many millions to similar action — if only it were told. We could each be Dr. King.

MLK has become an icon, not a historical figure (distorted or otherwise). History requires context; icons don’t. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., nonviolent martyr to reconciliation and justice, has become a schlocky greeting card, a warm, fuzzy, feel-good invocation of neighborliness, a literally whitewashed file photo for sneakers or soda commercials, a reprieve for post-holiday shoppers, an excuse for a three-day weekend, a cardboard cutout used for photo ops by dissembling politicians of all colors.

His image is misused in these ways precisely because he was powerful. The movement he led and inspired gained power not just because its cause was just, but also because of the risk-taking, courage, and determination of both King and millions of other less well-known people.

How they demanded change, and won it though the exercise of power nobody thought they had, should inspire all of us. Now more than ever, their story needs to be told. As it inspires us to action, that arc might just start bending back toward justice again.

Media Follies 2017

It’s a holiday season tradition! Here, for the 22nd year (!), is the list of overhyped and underreported stories of the year. After a year when “fake news” became a cliche and a “reality” TV star joined a new series in which he plays the president, we can only hope it gets better. Let’s start with the local stories; national and international to follow.

2017’s Most Over-Hyped Local Stories

Was Ed Murray a Creep 30 Years Ago?: Yeah, probably. But even so, timing is everything in politics, and given that Murray’s scandal broke six months before Harvey Weinstein’s accusers kicked off the #MeToo tsunami, he might still have survived decades-old allegations had he not been such an unrecalcitrant bully this year. Murray’s insistence on attacking the character and personal histories of his accusers – and, by extension, every young, old, gay or straight survivor of abuse who has been subjected to similarly dismissive, revictimizing attacks – underscored to too many Seattle voters that he wasn’t the kind of leader they wanted. That was the real story, and a major factor as to why the top four finishers to replace Murray were all women.

Murray was coasting to re-election when the scandal broke, and he took a full month to conduct private polling before deciding to drop his bid. That was plenty of time for Seattleites to take a long, hard look at the present-day actions and character of their mayor under pressure. And even then, it took another four months, and an accusation from a white family member, to finally be rid of the man.

Fun With Homelessness Numbers, and Other Transparent Horseshit: You may have already forgotten, but Murray’s delayed, much-touted $75 million Navigation Center to solve our homelessness pandemic opened in 2017. By year’s end, the city-run “Navigation Teams” meant to fan out across the city, directing the unhoused to housing, had – depending on whose reports you believe – placed somewhere between one and twenty people in permanent housing. In case you’re counting, if the whole purpose of the “Pathways Home” program is housing placement – see the “Underreported” stories below for more on that – you could buy entire apartment complexes for what it’s costing the city to house each person. But that isn’t stopping officials from predicting the city will place over seven thousand people in permanent affordable housing in 2018, a number arrived at by a combination of a creative definition of the word “permanent,” a creative definition of the word “affordable,” a creative definition of the word “housing,” and…uh…pure, ass-covering fantasy.

Plus, as usual, car crashes, fires, violent crimes, big (or not) weather “events,” heartwarming stories of photogenic kids overcoming adversity or reuniting with pets, and every other staple of Chuckle-Buddy News. Every time you watch local TV news it lowers your IQ.

2017’s Most Underreported Local Stories:

Sigh. There’s dozens to choose from, many stemming directly from the down sides of an economic boom our region seems utterly unprepared for:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Seattle’s rapidly growing population has masked an unmistakable demographic trend: the immigrants are younger, whiter, and much, much wealthier than existing residents, many of whom are being forced to leave the city in search of more affordable areas. This wholesale change in the character of who lives here has countless cultural and political implications, but local media has not only mostly ignored the trend, but has been happy to keep on featuring articles that drip with child-like wonder over real estate prices. In general, local outlets have kept right on reporting local development issues like it’s 2000 – or, in the case of the Seattle Times, 1950.

In Ayn Rand We Trust: Regardless of who Seattle’s new residents are, they need public services. Utilities, infrastructure repair, transportation, schools, parks, libraries, social services, public safety, and all of the other things governments do. In our region’s case, even though the growth is a direct result of government policies – especially corporate welfare for enormous employers like Amazon and Google – those same policymakers seem to think the free market will take care of everyone’s needs. There’s been no significant investment in any of these issues outside special operating levies, opting instead to use our city’s general fund budget to finance splashy vanity projects like tunnels and streetcars while ignoring basic needs. And even those levies – for light rail, housing, parks, libraries, and first responders, among other things – have been wholly inadequate to meet the demand. At some point voters, especially ones new to the area, are going to hit their limit in regressive taxes.

The City of Seattle desperately needs more revenue: Seattle’s problem isn’t tax-averse politicians. It’s that the limited taxing options allowed by state law – mostly property, B&O, and sales taxes – are already close to maxxed out in terms of what many individuals can afford. So is bonding capacity and Seattle’s ability to pass special levies for ordinary needs. In 2017, the city’s two attempts to enact major new taxes stalled: a high-earners’ income tax passed in June is on hold while challenges to it work their way through the courts, and an employer “head tax” proposed this fall was successfully forestalled by business-friendly council members. Some sort of head-tax type proposal will get considered again next spring, though, because the needs are overwhelming and because that’s where the money is.

Even if successfully enacted, those new taxes won’t be nearly enough. The impossible choice for local leaders will be between cutting programs brutally, and finding the courage to tax local businesses (especially real estate and big employers) and close tax loopholes, and to tax wealthy local residents at a higher rate than the rest of us, rather than simply trying to pile on more regressive sales taxes. The state can’t even fund basic needs, and the federal government is destroying government programs as quickly as it can. Our city has largely chosen to ignore such needs in favor of funding other things, usually for the direct benefit of developers and major employers. That will have to change in 2018.

Seattle Public Schools is overwhelmed with students: Seattle’s troubled school district is also now hemorrhaging money, and the state still isn’t providing adequate funding even for SPS’s existing students. But of course, Seattle’s population boom – largely made up of young professionals of family age – is pouring ever-more students into a district where, away from local media attention, overcrowded, underfunded schools are already the norm. A newly elected progressive majority on the school board will have its work cut out for it.

Seattle’s War on the Homeless: The second full year of the City of Seattle’s “State of Emergency” on homelessness was pretty much conducted as through, in response to a devastating earthquake, city leaders scrambled to invest in new technology to set off bigger, more destructive earthquakes. Ed Murray oversaw an unprecedented, relentless, destructive program to “sweep” unsanctioned encampments (and often illegally seize their residents’ few, most essential possessions). This, even though the city was fully aware there weren’t adequate shelters or affordable housing to even remotely meet the demands of the city’s homeless – let alone all the other city residents pressured out of their existing homes by ever-rising rents.

Nevertheless, the city has insisted that placing people in these phantom affordable units – see the “Over-Hyped” entry above – justifies punishing those undeserving souls too morally repugnant to get with the program. By year’s end, under the guise of “data-driven” preferences for services that direct the homeless to their new nonexistent homes, the city reduced or ended funding for most of its emergency indoor shelters in 2018, along with essential support services like restrooms, showers, and help for domestic violence survivors. That “data” counts as “permanently housed” anyone who receives a three- or six-month voucher for rent in market rate housing – even though most recipients won’t be able to afford the rent afterwards, and there’s no follow-up. The entire approach – to be continued under newly elected Mayor Durkan – is deeply dishonest and cruel. And deadly – by year’s end, a record-shattering 100 people will likely have died living on Seattle’s streets. That’s one or two headline-grabbing train derailments or mass murders every month – not that anyone in local media is counting.

The Obvious Link Between Housing Costs and Homelessness: Once again this year, Seattle’s exploding housing costs got a lot of local media attention, as a good thing. So did the steadily worsening homelessness crisis, as a bad thing. But Murray and other city officials who’ve done their best to promote the real estate frenzy work hard to treat the two issues as entirely separate, and media, shamefully, mostly follows suit. Numerous studies in the U.S. have concluded that regardless of city, an increase of about $100 in median rents correlates closely with a ten percent increase in homelessness. So long as Seattle rents keep exploding, so will our homeless population.

Seattle’s Housing Affordability Crisis Isn’t Just a Homelessness Problem: While people forced entirely out of housing are the most vulnerable and visible part of the problem, anyone in King County not making a six-figure income is now scrambling to find a rental unit they can afford. And I mean rental – nobody at or below that income level is generally going to be able at all to afford home-buying, once a routine expectation for the middle class in this country and a major source of upward mobility through increasing real assets. (A half-century and more ago, a young 20-something couple’s goal was to buy a house and start a family. The house-buying part now seems like a historical fantasy.) At the largest level, this country’s gutting of the middle class, and its concentration of wealth in very few hands, is directly reflected a Seattle housing market which caters almost entirely to the affluent.

The First Year of Seattle’s Groundbreaking “Democracy Vouchers” was a resounding success: The program, the first of its kind in the country, aimed to attract more candidates and more resources for candidates not beholden to special interests by allowing them to qualify for matching city funds after meeting a threshold based on number of donors. This year, only two seriously contested positions – City Attorney and the city council seat vacated by the retiring Tim Burgess – were eligible. In both cases, the winning candidates participated in the program; in the council race, which attracted a number of strong candidates in the primary, the top two finishers made heavy use of the vouchers. It remains to be said whether, by the time the program is fully implemented in 2019, Democracy Vouchers will be enough to counter the enormous corporate and individual wealth being generated in Seattle’s booming economy – some of which will inevitably be invested in the best candidates money can buy. But based on this year’s experience, the vouchers will at least give candidates who don’t want to auction themselves off to the highest bidders a fighting chance.

The closing window for progressive politics in Seattle: One of those growth-related trends is that the remarkably progressive tone of this year’s city council likely won’t last. The infusion of money into local politics – and tens of thousands of new, financially comfortable voters – all but guarantee it. After much noise about the triumph of grass roots politics this year, Jenny Durkan coasted to her election as mayor by tapping into that wealth; so did the two winning city council candidates. It would have been even worse without the Democracy Vouchers, but regardless, there’s a lot more of this coming.

Did I mention that SPD is still a problem?

2017’s Most Over-Hyped National Stories

Donald Trump’s Twitter Account: We get it. The most powerful man in the world is an insecure, belligerent narcissist and blowhard who is less well-informed that your average drunk at the end of the bar. It used to be that a president’s words meant something, but in less than a year Donald Trump has changed that norm, too. Much of this country and all of the rest of the planet understand that he’s an idiot – but since his tweets don’t carry any legal weight, their media coverage inevitably boils down quickly to I-Can’t-Believe-He-Said-That pundit hand-wringing that serves useful no purpose at all. This is particularly true because Trump has an established pattern of creating relatively frivolous controversies (e.g., his attacks on war widows or on NFL players protesting the national anthem) to divert media attention from far more important, and damaging, stories. Try covering what Trump actually does instead.

Speculation on the 2018 Midterms. I understand. Really, I do. The coming year’s elections may be our last best chance to restore some measure of sanity to our country’s leadership. But first we have to get through the year, and as we’re already learned, a lot can happen in ten months.

Any story with the word “Hillary” in it: Determining whether Donald Trump and his extended crime family broke the law before and/or after his election does not require relitigating the 2016 election. Double that for any story that also includes the word “Bernie.” That ship has sailed. We’ve got bigger problems now.

2017’s Most Underreported National Stories:

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch: Remember in 2016, when Republicans in the Senate refused to even consider Barack Obama’s centrist Supreme Court nominee? Yeah, neither does American media. The unprecedented ploy worked, Trump got Neil Gorsuch a lifetime appointment as one of his very first acts, and media moved on. But Gorsuch didn’t – he’s turned out to be perhaps the most reactionary zealot on a high court that already has several of them, and he’ll be with us for decades. Examining what, exactly, Gorsuch has done in his first year has enormous political import, but you have basically had to read law journals to get any sense of it.

Donald Trump Drains the Federal Treasury: A lot of things about Trump’s ascent to power have been unprecedented but given a veneer of normalcy, mostly out of inertia and institutional respect, by a lazy media. Trump’s Cabinet appointments mostly have gotten attention either when they’re verbally fellating Trump or when they’re rumored as about to quit, but the unprecedented mix of billionaires, fringe zealots, Russiaphiles and incompetents have been busy all year gutting their departments and looting the federal treasury. It’s been hard to single out a particularly outrageous appointment because almost all of them have been outrageous – but that trend simply mustn’t be mentioned in polite media circles.

The Protests That, At Least Temporarily, Saved Obamacare and Prevented DACA Deportations: It wasn’t just the pussy hats in January. Grass roots protests in red states throughout the year were instrumental in pressuring enough Republicans that multiple Congressional attempts to gut ObamaCare and seal the fate of DACA immigrants failed. Those issues are still very much in doubt – but the fact that they’re in play at all is due largely to popular revolt.

Federal Courts Consistently Ruled Against Trump: Most visibly on his assorted Muslim immigration bans and transgender military ban, lower federal courts throwing out unconstitutional presidential edicts have been a major, and surprising, check on the power of a man who really, really wants to be the kind of gold-plated dictator common in the business world but antithetical to democracy. But we can’t expect that trend to last, both because Trump’s people are getting smarter about how they draft such edicts, and because Trump and Congress have been working overtime to stack the courts with a new generation of ever-more-reactionary judges. Their handiwork will eventually take a generation or more to undo.

#Russia/Trump Has Become Shorthand For What Appears to Be a Bewildering Variety of Major, Indictable Crimes: Most of the media focus has been on the Trump Campaign’s… odd … relationship with Russia, and its endless succession of now-disproved lies about that relationship. But thanks especially to the newly rediscovered art of investigative reporting (see below), we now know so much more is also rotten in the state of Trumpland – from allegations of endless fraudulent tax schemes to mob connections to financial improprieties to illegal foreign dealings to tax fraud to alleged rape and sexual assault to an international business model that looks increasingly like a glorified money laundering scheme. And that’s not even counting the variety of ways the Trump family is using his office to directly enrich themselves.

And all that, sadly, doesn’t include being a racist xenophobic bully, which is still entirely legal. Even now, as Trump’s multiple foreign conflicts of interest and allegiances to Russia come under question, media has somehow forgotten that buried in last year’s Panama Papers and this year’s Paradise Papers scandals of international high end money laundering were numerous details of Trump campaign guru Paul Manafort’s financial ties with Russian billionaires and crime bosses. Trump’s past is dripping with this stuff, and his profile for decades has been one of an extremely wealthy con artist whose primary victims are the people he gets to front him money, time and again. Does the American public know or care? And if not, why not?

Investigative Reporting Is Suddenly In A New Golden Age: It’s been nearly a half-century since “All the President’s Men” made muckraking sexy for a time. Since then, technology and media consolidation had combined to all but kill investigative reporting…until 2017. Much of what we already know about #Trump/Russia hasn’t come from either Congressional investigations or Robert Mueller’s team. They’ve largely been confirming what we already knew from the Steele dossier and from intrepid reporting by not just the New York Times and Washington Post, but consistent scoops from at least a couple of dozen different media outlets. It’s little wonder Trump has been the most aggressively hostile anti-media politician in US history – and that’s a very high bar. It’s also why a big reason why the loss of net neutrality is such a concern – when Trump consolidates his dictatorship, it won’t be government that enforces censorship. It will be telecommunication companies seeking Trump’s favor.

Who Are Those Racists, Anyway?: Charlottesville and its fallout have likely permanently wed Trump’s image with the ugliest strains of neo-fascism. But this is not your great-grandfather’s racism. The core of Trump’s support isn’t either racist rednecks (the liberal caricature) or laid off steel workers (the even more idiotic Beltway Pundit caricature.) Polling data consistently shows that Trump’s base has been and remains largely older suburban white guys without a lot of education but relatively financially comfortable. And it’s their kids who are showing up at places like Charlottesville – a lot of those proudly racist marchers were under 40, educated and financially comfortable. Their goal has been and remains (think Steve Bannon) to make white nationalism a respected part of our country’s ideological spectrum. In Trump, their strategies have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Dismiss them as stupid at your peril.

U.S. To Puerto Rico: Fuck Off: Climate change resulted in three different record-setting Atlantic hurricanes making landfall in the US: Harvey, which led to a week of record-shattering flooding in Houston; Irma, which devastated the Caribbean before pounding much of Florida; and Maria, which crippled Puerto Rico. Texas and Florida’s federal relief efforts were flawed but relatively orderly.

Puerto Rico has been another matter entirely. The island – surrounded by a really big ocean, let’s not forget – first had to remind Americans, especially the president, that its 3.5 million residents are actually American citizens. Three months after Maria, at this writing, a third of the island is still without power, and in some areas it won’t be restored until May. The initially tiny storm-related death toll is now well over 1,000, especially due to the impact of disease because so much of the island spent weeks and even months without safe drinking water. The relief effort was chaos because while there were workers and supplies on the ground, the federal coordination was disastrous. The relief effort has also been marred with scandal, like the pricey, sweetheart deal for power restoration given to a two-person company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zimke’s small home town in Montana.

To top it off, Congress has decided to punish Puerto Rico for making Donald Trump look bad by suffering and all. Buried in the Republicans’ year-end tax grift bill is a provision declaring Puerto Rico a foreign country subject to a 12 percent import tariff on all goods – a move that will permanently cripple the island’s already devastated economy. In response, the island’s Republican-aligned territorial governor is vowing a voter education campaign to get the Puerto Rican diaspora across America to vote Republicans out of office. This isn’t over – even if America’s media, like Trump, moved on to newer, whiter natural disasters months ago.

2017’s Most Over-Hyped International Stories

The one traditional exception to American media’s disinterest in the world’s other six billion people comes when there’s a major terrorist attack in Israel or a NATO country. If that same terror attack, however, comes in a country enjoying the fruits of Pax Americana (Afghanistan, Iraq), or anywhere in the remaining, irrelevant world (Africa, say, or Asia – one of those places), it’s a non-story. And even when such attacks are covered, usually because they’re in Europe, good luck finding any context.

This year. there’s also a new category for American media to hype: stories in which Donald Trump has offended one or another world leader or country. Look: with exactly two exceptions – Russia and Israel – every other country is both alarmed and appalled by Trump’s unique (but oh-so-American) combination of power, ignorance, and narcissism. It’s a given. Which country is particularly appalled on any given day is strictly a minor detail.

That Kim Jong-Un Sure Is Crazy: Oddly enough, in most of the world, Kim is considered only a relatively minor (albeit concerning) threat to world peace. Trump, on the other hand, terrifies everyone.

2017’s Most Underreported International Stories:

US backs Arabian Peninsula power play: The world’s deadliest war is still in the Middle East, and it’s still a proxy war between America, Israel, and Saudi Arabia (on one side) and Iran and Russia (on the other) – but it’s no longer in Syria. The civil war in Yemen took horrifying turns this year as, well away from American media coverage, American arms and intelligence support backed Saudi Arabia’s direct entry into the war against Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels. By November, a week after a secret visit from Jared Kushner, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin-Salman launched what amounted to a double coup-d’etat, jailing dozens of rival members of the Saudi royal family on corruption charges while simultaneously kidnapping and forcing the resignation of Lebanon’s (Iranian-friendly) prime minister. American and Israeli fingerprints were all over these major long-term developments, as well as Saudi support for repressive Gulf State regimes suppressing their own democratic reformers, but it was all a bewildering and largely invisible mystery to American viewers.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: One aspect of foreign policy not transformed under Trump is the American proclivity to oppose democracy in Latin America, especially in Central America. Largely forgotten in America’s interference in that region’s civil wars of the 1980s (El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua) wass that America’s forward base for all of it was a repressive dictatorship we installed in Honduras. The U.S. was back in Honduras in 2009, backing a military coup against a leader Obama decided was too populist (and popular). Fast forward to this year, when the leader installed by that coup won “re-election” in a vote largely considered rigged, and the country, in response, erupted in protest this fall. As a consequence, Honduras is now under martial law, with a generous assist from…the Trump Administration. The irony of Trump’s war on (Latino) immigrants, many of which are refugees from Mexico and Central America, is that Trump has quietly doubled down on the economic and military policies that create those refugees in the first place.

The Three Men Donald Trump Admires Most Are the Guys Playing Him Like a Drum: Trump famously rips most world leaders – especially leaders of traditional US allies in Europe and East Asia – but there are three he reportedly thinks are just awe-inspiring: Vladimir Putin (of course), Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Ergodan, and China’s Xi Jinping.

The trio has a lot in common. They’re all dictators, but not just any dictators. Putin and Ergodan started as democratically elected before consolidating power (the path Trump likely imagines for himself); Xi this year got himself written into the Chinese Constitution, an elevation no Chinese leader has managed since the days of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. And all three have used flattery of The Donald to get what they want.

As former DNI James Clapper noted this month, Putin, a former KGB officer, handles Trump like an intelligence asset. Ergodan managed to get an actual intelligence asset (Michael Flynn) installed as U.S. National Security Advisor. (Flynn, of course, had also been working for the Russians.)

Remember early this year, when Trump first met Xi and enthused about how, in only ten minutes, Xi taught him everything to know about thousands of years of Korean history? In return and to show his gratitude, this year Trump basically abandoned Asia to the Chinese. Through withdrawing from the TPP, Rex Tillerson’s hollowing out of diplomats in the State Department, and especially in Trump’s bellicose “America First” speech at an APEC meeting in Vietnam, Trump largely has abandoned Asian trade and allowed China to expand its continental influence to a degree never before seen in its long, storied history. China had already invested heavily in resources, development and trade in Latin America and especially Africa; it’s now positioned as the most important economic player across the entire underdeveloped part of the planet, a swath that includes about three-fourths of the world’s population. That’s quite a gift from a grateful – and clueless – Donald Trump.

As for Russia: Trump’s election, as well as 2016’s Brexit vote, are both part of an internationally coordinated movement of far-right, openly racist/nationalist advances in Western democracies, a movement largely taking its cues from Moscow, not Washington. Trump and his proxies haven’t just been meeting with and fellating Russians; they’ve been meeting with and publicly praising authoritarian leaders in countries as varied as Poland, Hungary, and the Philippines, even while heaping scorn indiscriminately on traditional American allies. Trump’s aversion to democracy and his preference for authoritarian leaders mean he’s become a pawn in a very dangerous game. He’s a prominent pawn in it, but not a player. The only remaining question is whether Trump is too stupid to realize the full extent to which he’s being used, and how utterly dispensible he is to Putin’s or Xi’s end game.

Afghanistan is still a total, but forgotten, clusterfuck: The national army of Afghanistan is the Taliban. No one knows who’s a loyal member of the Afghan National Army and who’s a Taliban infiltrator. Meanwhile, aerial drone attacks have alienated most of the countryside, which never supported the corrupt, American-imposed puppet government in Kabul in the first place. That government is collapsing from its own corruption and greed now that the American military is supposedly in a “non-combat” role.

Climate change rudely ignores domestic US politics: The Trump cabal has already been quoted, redolent of the worst moments of George W. Bush, that they can say whatever they like because “we create our own reality.” Nature begs to differ. After yet another year of record heat and drought, wildfires across the US West, ocean acidification, more unprecedented extreme weather events, and endless scientific announcements that climate change is going to be worse than we thought and is proceeding at rates faster than our previous worst-case scenarios, the United States went and installed a president who thinks America’s biggest economic threat, biggest domestic policy threat, and biggest foreign policy threat is all a big hoax. Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords was just the most visible move in a year of gutting renewable energy programs (and investing in more fossil fuels), killing environmental regulation, and begging the planet to roast us faster. Climate change has already passed the point of irreversibility; now it’s a only question of whether humanity can mitigate enough of the damage to our biosphere in time to survive. If humanity does survive, it won’t remember the legendary “United States of America” fondly at all. What the United States government, which governs the country that remains the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, isn’t doing to respond to this crisis isn’t just a crime against humanity. It’s a crime against the entire biosphere, one of unprecedented scope and depravity.

And, on that cheerful note, get out and make your own news in 2018. If this compilation suggests anything, it’s that we can’t rely on corporate media to push for change, or even to tell us when change is desperately needed. We’ll have to do both ourselves.

Staying Power

Rumors of the death of Seattle’s political establishment were, it turns out, greatly exaggerated.

Just after the decisive victories last week of Jenny Durkan (Mayor of Seattle) and Teresa Mosqueda (At-large Seattle City Council) – both of whom raised record amounts of money for candidate seeking their respective positions – Interim Mayor Tim Burgess released the city’s long-awaited Growth Management Plan. That’s what Burgess’s office and local media are calling it. The formal name is the HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability Final Environmental Impact Statement, runs over a thousand pages, and the public can comment on it until November 27.

The plan, two years in the making under former mayor Ed Murray, includes dramatic upzones in 27 Seattle neighborhoods, of the sort that has already begun terraforming much of South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, and the University District. It not only continues but greatly expands the exact policies that have led to Seattle’s intertwined affordable housing and homelessness crises.

That includes allowing developers in the newly upzoned neighborhoods to continue to avoid including affordable housing as part of their developments by instead paying into a city-run fund to build such housing elsewhere, at a rate that covers only one-seventh of the actual cost per unit of building such housing. And that doesn’t even get into the city’s dubious definition of “affordable”…or developers’ ability to raise the rents on their “affordable” units to market rate after a year or two…or the city’s abysmal record of enforcing these weak requirements and even of collecting the inadequate fees in the first place.

Release of the Growth Management Plan (GMP) was precisely timed: two days after the election (so as not to hurt candidates like Durkan) but the week before city council starts to vote on next year’s budget, and two weeks before Durkan and Mosqueda are sworn in to replace the interim positions of Burgess and council member Kristin Harris-Talley. Public comment closes the day before Durkan is sworn in. If the GMP becomes controversial down the road, mostly it’s Murray and Burgess who will own it, not Durkan. It’s a very narrow window for a document two years in the making.

Burgess also helpfully took another hot potato off Durkan’s table this month by announcing a tentative contract agreement with the Seattle Police Management Association, one of two SPD unions that have been working without a new contract for nearly four years. The lack of a new contract for nearly the entire length of SPO’s federally mandated reform process has been the single biggest impediment to those reforms. Now that federal court supervision of SPD is winding down, the need for new contracts to win the approval of a federal judge is becoming less pressing. Given that every Seattle mayor involved, from Nickels to McGinn to Murray to Harrell to Burgess and now Durkan, has downplayed SPD’s chronic abuses, the delay also reads as another establishment move to outflank (and, in this case, outlast) community pressure.

The week before the election, over a thousand opponents of the establishment approach to Seattle’s growth turned out to attend a city council budget hearing and to mark the second anniversary of the city’s declared state of emergency regarding homelessness. These boisterous crowds have become normal at key council sessions, and have also translated into strong electoral showings by figures like Nikkita Oliver and Kshama Sawant. But this election, it wasn’t enough.

The staggering $937,410 raised by Durkan – and the nearly as formidable $438,800 raised by Mosqueda – neither figure including significant third-party spending by labor and other PACs – is a significant reason why Seattle’s political establishment can continue with business as usual even when such policies are clearly failing lower, working, and middle class Seattleites. The new Democracy Voucher program wasn’t used this year in the mayor’s race – but it was in Mosqueda’s race. The program was heavily used by challenger Jon Grant, and in a normal year the $330,175 he raised would have left him more than competitive. But compared to Mosqueda’s fundraising and the money spent on her behalf by virtually every labor PAC in the county, he was swamped. So was Cary Moon, despite her raising a respectable $347,734 in her mayoral campaign. Having the most money doesn’t always translate to electoral success, but it sure helps.

But beyond money, there’s another important dynamic on display with these numbers and announcements: The ability and willingness of experienced local political figures to use power effectively, and the collective inability of community activists to transcend their outsider status.

Setting aside the seven-week tenure of Harris-Talley, Mosqueda effectively replaces the retiring Tim Burgess, long considered city council’s most conservative member, on what was already the most progressive council in modern Seattle history. A labor candidate like Mosqueda should be less sympathetic to big business than she is, but she’s still significantly to the left of Burgess. Yet on the three issues our city council has been receiving the most activist pressure on – housing, homelessness, and police reform – this month’s developments have effectively narrowed council’s policy and budget options. The activists swamping council hearings have succeeded in drawing attention to their issues, and even have some successes to point to (e.g., minimum wage and tenant reforms). But in the big picture, Amazon and other big employers still get what they want, developers continue to get rich as housing costs skyrocket, more and more people find themselves living on the streets, and whole communities still don’t trust SPD. It’s hard now, under the new Durkan era, to see any of those baseline realities changing any time soon.

And then there’s 2019.

One of the reasons that Jenny Durkan won comfortably is that Cary Moon was unable to mobilize the kind of enthusiastic community support that fueled the improbable rise of figures like Oliver and Sawant. Despite all that money and community activism, turnout in this year’s election was anemic. In 2013, when the headlining mayoral race between Murray and then-incumbent Mike McGinn was essentially a contest between dueling cliques of developers, nearly 40,000 more votes were cast county-wide than this year. That’s also despite the county’s explosive population growth over the last four years.

Chances are good that one of the reasons for this year’s depressed turnout is the number of civically engaged, long-term residents who’ve had to move to more affordable locations outside Seattle – and who’ve been replaced by a huge influx of potential new voters with no real connection to local politics. Those newcomers are, on average, younger, whiter, and more affluent than the residents they’re replacing.

Our population growth, and exodus, shows no signs of slowing down. By 2019, when all seven district council seats are up for election, some of those new residents will be more invested in local elections. Whether their votes move Seattle more to the left or the center will play a large factor in what the last two years of Durkan’s term look like. If community activists want a seat at the table as Seattle grows in size and wealth, they’d better figure out how to not just protest, but to organize in a way that wields real power. The roadblocks to their vision of a more equitable and affordable city aren’t going away any time soon.

General Election Endorsements 2017: A Radical Opportunity

In the battle for Seattle’s future, the radicals might just win.

After this year’s general election on Tuesday, November 7, two important things will be certain about Seattle government:

1) Seattle will have elected a new mayor.

2) Seattle will have the most progressive elected city council in its modern history.

Mostly due to the endless circus surrounding Seattle’s last elected mayor, the actual races in this year’s local election have had remarkably little buzz in the general public. Media coverage has been muted. Until very recently, visible reminders of an election such as direct mail, TV and cable ads, and yard signs have been bizarrely few in number.

Don’t let this fool you into not caring. A lot is at stake. Two pivotal contests will determine just how progressive our local government becomes. The mayor’s race features two wealthy white Democratic women: former prosecutor and US attorney Jenny Durkan and civic planner and activist Cary Moon. The citywide “at large” council position #8 features two grass roots activists, former Tenants Union director Jon Grant and labor organizer Teresa Mosqueda. Both are significantly more progressive than retiring councilman (and interim mayor) Tim Burgess, who held that seat for over a decade.

In both races, the candidates’ similarities mask important differences – and in both those and other, less well-publicized campaigns for city council, Port of Seattle Commission, Seattle School Board, and the state legislature, there is a collective opportunity for not just reform but radical change that Seattle hasn’t seen in anyone’s memory.

This opportunity may not last. Two years from now, in 2019, all seven district city council seats will be up for grabs. With the huge influx of new, often relatively young and affluent residents voting then, Seattle’s progressive gains of recent years could be reversed. Or, if those gains are built upon with a strong commitment to democracy and to economic, social, racial, and environmental justice, they could be the new normal which Seattle’s new residents cement into place for a generation. How the host of problems that have been worsened by Seattle’s extreme growth are addressed in the next two years will determine not just Seattle’s future, but the lives of people struggling to still call Seattle home right now.

So vote, dammit. And, remember the caveats I’ve added in each election for the 22 (!) years I’ve been doing this: what follows is just my opinion. Take it for what it’s worth, which is, well, one opinion. Do your own research. And don’t think for a second the job of changing the world, or even our city, will be over when you do. Social change comes from below. Voting becomes most powerful when people have already organized, not when we rely solely on the people we elect to act on our behalf.. Get out and make yourself heard all of the time, not just by mailing in a piece of paper.

As for which names to fill in the bubbles for…

THE TL;DR VERSION

Washington State Senate #45: Manka Dhingra
King County Executive: Dow Constantine
King County Sheriff: Mitzi Johanknecht
Port of Seattle #1: Ryan Calkins
Port of Seattle #3: Ahmed Abdi
Port of Seattle #4: Preeti Shridhar
City of Seattle Mayor: Cary Moon
City of Seattle City Attorney: Pete Holmes
City of Seattle City Council #8: Jon Grant
City of Seattle City Council #9: skip it
Seattle School District Director #4: Eden Mack
Seattle School District Director #5: Zachary Pullin DeWolf
Seattle School District Director #7: Betty Patu
Court of Appeals, Division #1, District #1, Position #2: Michael Spearman
Advisory Votes 16, 17, & 18: Maintained
King County Proposition 1: Approved

ELECTED OFFICIALS

State Senate, District 45 For years, Olympia has been gridlocked – not least on budgets and education funding – by Republican control of the state senate. That could change with this election, for two reasons. One is Donald Trump. The other is a special election in this suburban Eastside district.

Republicans currently have a one-seat majority in the state senate – but this traditionally Republican-leaning district (which stretches from Kirkland to Duvall) isn’t what it was ten years ago, and in this special election to replace the late Andy Hill, the Democrats have a real shot at winning. Control of the state senate is at stake, which is why over $3 million, mostly from outside the district, has poured into the race.

Whatever you think of Democrats, giving them full control of Olympia (they already control the House of Represenatives and the governorship) would, at best, get things moving in a much less reactionary and constipated way. At worst, it removes the excuses of some of Seattle’s state legislative deadwood. It also makes far more achievable the state action that’s necessary for important local goals from better transit funding to progressive tax reform to rent control.

This is a big deal. Even if you don’t live in the district, you can still volunteer or donate to the campaign of Democrat Manka Dhingra.

King County Executive: Dow Constantine wants to be your next governor, following the path of former King County Executive Gary Locke. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson also wants to be your next governor, following the path of former AG Christine Gregoire. (Jay Inslee took the third common route, via Congress.)

Ferguson has been busy for the last couple of years making headlines by taking on well-chosen liberal bete noires like Donald Trump, Tim Eyman, and Comcast. Constantine has kept a lower profile, but he’s up for re-election this year. It’s a measure of his power and the quality of his performance as County Executive that he’s drawn no serious opposition. In the primary, permanent wack candidates Stan Lippman and Goodspaceguy lost out to a new wack candidate: Bill Hurt, a retired Boeing engineer who admits up front that “My candidacy’s an attempt to attract attention to my blog.” That blog is solely dedicated to trying to stop the eastern expansion of light rail, and the Seattle-based Scary Brown People who might then ride it. The Republican Party, which not long ago fielded competitive candidates for this position, didn’t even bother this year. He’s had his flaws (c.f. youth jail), but in general Constantine’s done a good job, and for all practical purposes he’s running unopposed. Dow Constantine.

King County Sheriff: Incumbent John Urquhart has had his own sexual assault scandal this year, along with accusations of gender discrimination, reprisals against whistleblowing subordinates, and suppressing internal investigations of accusations against him.

I’ve been a fan of Urquhart for years, dating back to when, as the media liaison for KCSO, he was a rare straight shooter willing to criticize his own when appropriate. He brought that attitude – at least publicly – to the sheriff’s office when he was elected as a reform candidate in 2012. In that role, he’s generally been a breath of fresh air compared to the cops-vs.-the-world cronyism of his predecessors, Sue Rahr and the execrable Dave “Goodhair” Reichert.

Prosecutors declined to pursue a rape allegation against Urquhart due to lack of evidence and an expired statute of limitations. Word on the street has been that at least some of the other accusations against Urquhart have been unfounded. But it’s likely that some aren’t. And it really doesn’t matter now, because they’ve reached critical mass. In the five years since Urquhart was first elected, it’s a new world, thanks especially to Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, and now Harvey Weinstein. One of the most important jobs of anyone leading a law enforcement agency is to build and maintain community trust. Urquhart originally won election on that basis, but he can no longer credibly be trusted. There’s just too many suspicions, and too much damage.

That leaves Urquhart’s challenger, Mitzi Johanknecht. Just because Johanknecht is a woman doesn’t mean she’s an improvement. (One need only go back five years, to Rahr’s reign as Sheriff, for a counter-example.) And Johanknecht’s positions on some issues, like her opposition to safe injection sites, are troubling. But she’s decent on other things (immigrant and gay rights, restorative justice), and unproven on KCSO’s long history of, er, “issues” with excessive use of force against non-whites. At minimum, she has a chance to be a leader in improving KCSO’s relationship with the increasingly diverse communities it sserves. Urquhart, at best, has squandered that chance. At worst, he should be nowhere near any position of power. Mitzi Johanknecht.

Port of Seattle: Commissioner, Position 1: For literally decades, the Port of Seattle has been one of the most corrupt and insular public agencies in the state. With its own, independent taxing authority, the Port has long been run as an obedient subsidiary of the industries it does business with: cargo companies, airport vendors, and (more recently) the cruise ship industry. Senior staff, immune to public oversight, have been part of the problem. A succession of CEOs arrive, fit right in with the culture, and make bank until they leave, usually under the cloud of scandal. And for far too long, the Port of Seattle Commission – the one piece of this cozy arrangement that is in theory directly accountable to the public – has also been dominated by interests that at best are only too happy to go with the flow. Port Commissioners get paid poorly for what is supposed to be a part-time job – so, as with Seattle’s school board, it usually attracts candidates who are either independently wealthy or who have a vested interest in goosing the profitability of one of the Port’s customers. Or both.

It’s impossible to understand Port Commissioner races without this essential context. As such, with the exception of occasional reform-minded people who sneak onto the commission, it’s impossible to give the benefit of the doubt to almost any incumbent in a Port race. If you’re not part of the solution at the Port, you’re very definitely Part of the Problem. And with three Port Commission seats up for election this year – one of them open, the other two with POTP incumbents – and with environmentalist Fred Felleman having been elected to a four-year term in 2015, in theory the Commission could get a rare reform majority this year.

In Position 1, the incumbent is John Creighton. He’s by all accounts a nice guy, who has traded on business connections and a wealthy family to win three terms on the Port Commission. His record during that time isn’t terrible…but he’s seeking a fourth term as already the longest-serving member of the commission, and a former commission president. He claims to want greater accountability at the Port – but in a dozen years, there’s little or no evidence he’s made that a priority. It’s time for fresh blood.

An unusual number of primary voters seemed to understand this. Despite his huge advantages in money and name recognition, Creighton won his primary by less than 4,000 votes (out of about 381,000 cast) over challenger Ryan Calkins. And that was the primary – which skews more affluent, more conservative, older, and whiter than the larger November electorate. That primary electorate was Creighton’s wheelhouse. This time, when it counts, Calkins has a strong chance to win.

That’s a good thing. Calkins has a good mix of economic and trade understanding, nonprofit and union experience, progressive values, and a commitment to transparency that would be a clear upgrade over John Creighton. Can he make that mix work to help reform the port commission? Let’s find out. Ryan Calkins.

Port of Seattle: Commissioner, Position 3: Here, the incumbent is Stephanie Bowman. She’s…adequate. At best. But like Creighton, she’s shown little inclination to interfere with business as usual at the Port. Her challenger, Ahmed Abdi, is the real deal: a Somali immigrant with not just an inspiring life story, but a community organizer for immigrants and economic justice. He’s got good priorities, calling out the Port for its opposition to paying workers a livable wage and for its notorious invitation to Shell Oil two summers ago (which Bowman supported). And an immigrant, non-white voice on the Port Commission would itself be a breath of fresh air. Ahmed Abdi.

Port of Seattle: Commissioner, Position 4: This is the one open seat race, made notable by the surprise candidacy of Seattle City Council veteran Peter Steinbrueck.

Like anyone else who’s been around local politics for a while, I know and like Peter. For a decade, from 1997-2007, he and Nick Licata were often the lonely progressive voices on a council that was far more corporatized than today’s (and that helped lay the groundwork for our current homelessness and housing crises). Four years ago, he ran an unfortunate campaign for mayor that never really took off due to the odd combination of Peter and establishment consultant Cathy Allen. His record on council wasn’t perfect. But he’s still a really good guy, and a civic treasure.

And he’s not the best candidate for this job.

Honestly, I don’t know why Peter is running. Both professionally (he’s a well-regarded architect and urban planner) and on council, he hasn’t shown any obvious past interest in the Port of Seattle. The port commission doesn’t pass laws; his budget and oversight experience would translate, but only if he were more familiar with the Port itself. What Steinbrueck has done is work as a lobbyist for the Port – and as such, his campaign has attracted the extensive financial support of a lot of the Port stakeholders least interested in cleaning house.

Steinbrueck is the marquee candidate, but his challenger actually inspires more confidence when it comes to public accountability, transparency, and change. Preeti Shridhar has been an administrator in the city governments of Renton and Seattle, focusing largely on environmental and diversity issues. She’s a better fit for a Port (and port workforce) that looks nothing like it did when Steinbreck was first elected to public office 20 years ago. Between her, Calkins, Abdi, and Felleman, King County has the best chance it’s had in decades to transform the Port of Seattle from a nest of corruption and cronyism into an agency that truly serves all of us in this region. Preeti Shridhar.

City of Seattle: Mayor: The fourth Seattle mayor this year – and sixth in the last eight years – potentially can be the first not just to be female, but to not be a puppet of the developers and other local royalty (*cough AMAZON cough*) who’ve been running our city of late. But only if that mayor is named Cary Moon.

The other candidate, Jenny Durkan, is herself local royalty in good standing: a former U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, backed by a family of wealthy movers and shakers closely tied to real estate interests. Durkan talks a good game on a variety of social justice issues, including housing, homelessness, police oversight, diversity, and more.

At the end of the day, though, Durkan is simply Ed Murray’s second term minus the creep factor. Durkan was the last of the primary’s 21 (!) candidates to announce, jumping into the race only once her friend Ed had withdrawn. She’s relied heavily on Murray’s donors (and even some of his political staff), as well as her own family’s money and connections, for what instantly became the business community’s campaign of choice.

Since she has no public office record of her own to cite, we can only go by her close ties to the local law enforcement and justice system and her financial backers to judge how much her progressive campaign rhetoric really means. At a guess, it’s likely to mean that if you did well under Murray, you’ll still do well with Durkan. If our city’s serious issues with affordability, inadequate infrastructure, rampant cronyism, and demographic upheaval are bothering you now, it’s not going to get much better under Durkan – and could get a lot worse. And honestly, the last three elected mayors in this city have all eventually fallen because, quite simply, they were bullies. Just because Durkan is a woman doesn’t exempt her from being bully #4. She has that vibe.

Moon does not. People who’ve worked with her on activist campaigns praise her ability to take charge, but also to listen respectfully to a variety of perspectives – and incorporate them. That’s leadership, and it’s an even better thing in a big city mayor when that leadership is not filtered through an ego the size of Texas. Durkan has drawn some support from people concerned about Moon’s lack of formal leadership experience – but the leadership style Moon has shown, especially during this campaign, is far better suited than Durkan’s to embracing the fresh approaches Seattle needs.

More importantly, Moon doesn’t owe an of the usual suspects. She’s been willing during the campaign to think outside the box on a number of critical issues, most notably by aggressively taking on the foreign real estate speculation racket that’s been enriching a lot of local developers – and helping to drive up local housing costs – since British Columbia imposed a tax on such speculation. Moon wants a similar tax here – and much, much more investment in affordable public housing not subject to market forces. That housing would be paid for by taxes on corporations and capital gains.

These are radical solutions, suitable for a city that has yet to even remotely come to grips with the sheer amount of wealth now in its midst. To make our city affordable for all, and to help it catch up for what was already a decade-long backlog in infrastructure work even before this decade’s population explosion, requires that our wealthier companies and residents be pulling their fair financial share, rather than simply counting corporate welfare from the city as yet another income stream.

Most importantly, the scale of solutions needed to meet challenges like housing, homelessness, transportation, utilities and other infrastructure, economic inequality, a still-troubled police department, the accelerating local impacts of climate change – and far more – require collaboration and crowdsourced solutions. On many issues, Seattle’s city council is about to have a consistent majority (see below) that will also be able to take on civic leaders who still think Seattle’s shining moment was hosting the World’s Fair. And that council will also be much, much more responsive than ever before to grass roots organizing.

Kshama Sawant’s election in 2013, and the activist army that has helped her win battles from minimum wage to rental reforms to money for public housing, has been joined by the overlapping but more diverse People’s Party army mobilized by Nikkita Oliver’s mayoral campaign. Interim council member (and People’s Party activist) Kirsten Harris-Talley collaborated with Mike O’Brien (who also endorsed Oliver over his old Sierra Club colleague Mike McGinn) in much the same way Sawant tag-teamed last year with Licata protege Lisa Herbold on housing funding increases – and if Jon Grant wins that seat, those alliances likely hold up. An active, insistent grass roots presence promises to be able to pressure at least one of the remaining five council members on any of a variety of issues. If Moon is in place as mayor, appointing department heads, proposing her own solutions, and signing off on council’s, it’s suddenly possible to imagine a very different and much more radically oriented city government.

There’s no guarantee, but it’s easy to imagine Cary Moon playing her part in that scenario. It’s impossible to imagine Durkan being that collaborative, much less that willing to take on local monied interests.

Some progressive supporters of other candidates in the primary have been inclined to dismiss this race as “two wealthy white women.” It’s true that they share those characteristics. They also both have opposable thumbs, own kitchen appliances, and (I hope) use their library cards. But in both their approaches to leadership and their actual policy positions, they’re very different. And those differences matter. We have an opportunity that almost never comes along in a major American city, but only if Cary Moon wins.

City of Seattle: City Attorney: Pete Holmes first won this office in 2009 with the then-radical notion (at least in white Seattle) that SPD had major problems and needed a lot more public accountability. In the years since, he’s largely followed through on that promise. He was also a strong line of defense against the worst of Ed Murray’s power grabs. His record hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been good far more often than not.

His opponent is a fallen angel who goes by many names, among them Beelzebub, Satan, and the Prince of Darkness. He is listed on the ballot as “Scott Lindsay.”

Normally, a sitting city attorney doesn’t draw a well-funded opponent, but the original logic behind Lindsay’s campaign was to win so that Murray, after his then-inevitable re-election, would have a reliable ally in the city attorney’s office. For the last four years, Lindsay worked as a public safety advisor to Murray – meaning not only that he was a key player in Murray’s efforts to thwart meaningful SPD reform, but that he also oversaw Murray’s sweeps of homeless encampments.

Those sweeps – extensive, frequently capricious, and often unlawful – regularly resulted in the city stealing whatever few essential possessions our city’s most vulnerable residents could carry with them, and dumping them in landfills. In that capacity alone, Lindsay destroyed lives. On the campaign trail, he has seemed to think this somehow recommends him.

How can you tell someone to go to Hell when he’s already Hell’s landlord? Pete Holmes needs to be kept. Scott Lindsay needs to be swept. Pete Holmes.

City of Seattle: City Council, Position 8: As with the mayor’s race,, superficially, the candidates in this key open seat race have a lot in common as progressive organizers. Both are good but have significant flaws. One of them is guaranteed to replace retiring ex-cop Tim Burgess, moving our city council even farther to the left.

Teresa Mosqueda is a labor executive and former organizer who authored last year’s successful statewide minimum wage initiative, and who (not surprisingly) has the strong backing of local labor. She’s run an aggressive, well-funded, well-organized campaign that owes a lot to the past campaigns of Pramila Jayapal. But as with Jayapal, I have my doubts.

In a city where labor unions have happily lined up behind the construction jobs that come with letting developers run the town, being a labor leader isn’t the good thing it should be on housing affordability issues. On arguably the single most important issue facing our city, Mosqueda appears to be little more than an establishment hack, happy to let newly built, expensive market-rate housing dominate our landscape. That’s too bad. She has a lot of qualities that recommend her, and on council she’d be far from the worst. (That would be Debra Juarez or Rob Johnson.) But it’s hard not to contrast her priorities on housing issues with those of her opponent, Jon Grant.

Grant did surprisingly well when he ran against Burgess, a powerhouse incumbent, two years ago – and he did so by becoming the first candidate for any local office to talk, and talk, and talk some more about the then-quietly exploding issue of rising rents. Last year, he filed to take on Burgess again, probably contributing to Burgess’ decision to retire – and he’s run a more balanced campaign that has forged radical alliances on a number of fronts along the Sawant/Oliver axis.

Grant’s potential flaws are personal. Even in 2015, there were criticisms that as Tenants Union director, he was aloof, arrogant, and eager to take credit for others’ achievements. This year those criticisms have been more widespread and extensive, spread in part by Mosqueda’s surrogates in labor. And those criticisms may well be true. But that doesn’t change the equation I outlined (above) in the mayor’s race. It’s much easier to see Grant responding to grass roots pressure – or leading it – than Mosqueda. And if both he and Moon can win, radicals in Seattle don’t just have friends in high places – they have memberships in winning coalitions.

It’s possible that Jon Grant is not a nice man. It’s more likely, though, that Mosqueda, a smart, personable establishment liberal, would simply continue other such liberals’ past mistakes. Jon Grant.

City of Seattle: City Council, Position 9: Two years ago, Lorena Gonzalez sailed to election in an open seat, largely on the strength of a compelling life story and the connections she made as Mayor Ed Murray’s personal attorney. The concern, as she joined the council, was that she would be a devoted ally for a mayor intent on undermining any council ideas he couldn’t claim credit for.

Instead, Gonzalez has forged a much more independent path. She’s been friendly to business interests in some cases, in others a fierce advocate for the dispossessed. It’s been so strong a performance that when Ed Murray dropped out of the mayor’s race, she could seriously, credibly explore a mayoral run after only two years on council. (She sensibly declined – she’ll have plenty of opportunities, and more experience, in the future – and Jenny Durkan jumped intp the mayor’s race instead.)

Instead, Gonzalez is likely to sail to city coujncil re-election. Her opponent, neighborhood activist and small business owner Pat Murakami, veers between sensible proposals and wild (and often bigoted) innuendo. Small business owners and neighborhoods have both been victimized badly by our city’s civic enthusiasm for big money. They desperately need a strong advocate on council. But Murakami isn’t suitable for the job. At all. Gonzalez, in her time on council, has been only too willing to let developers terraform the University District and South Lake Union with almost no meaningful commitment to affordability. She’s ambitious and beholden, and likely to coast to re-election. It would be nice to lodge a protest vote here, but her opponent is even worse. Skip it.

Seattle School District 1, Director District 4: As mentioned, for decades the Port of Seattle has been the local public agency that is the most corrupt, insular, and contemptuous of the public it serves. And for decades, the Seattle School District has given the Port stiff competition in all of those areas.

Like the port commissioners, Seattle’s school board members are (supposedly) part-time, grossly underpaid, and given wholly inadequate staff support. Like the Port, Seattle School District has had an all-too-frequent succession of chief executives who were cynical manipulators. Like the Port, Seattle Schools are unrelentingly hostile to the people most reliant on them, in this case teachers, support staff, parents, and especially students. Like the Port, Seattle Schools have a serious problem with racial equity – a especially serious issue in a district with a majority of non-white students. Like the port commission, the school board occasionally gets reform-minded members, but more often its overwhelmed board members get led around by the nose by senior staff concerned primarily with protecting their own fiefdoms. Nauseatingly, where the Port glories in its culture of corruption, Seattle Schools justifies every depredation as being “for the kids.” Bullshit.

Like the Port, Seattle Schools needs a thorough culture change. And that starts with its board members. And – just like the Port – this year’s slate of candidates has the potential to help make that happen.

For District 4, Eden Mack is a longtime education activist who has forgotten more education policy than most current board members know. Mack wants to prioritize racial equity. Just as importantly, she has the chops to get that done. Her opponent, Herbert Camet Jr., is a former principal with no clear priorities. He’ll be a trivia question by mid-November. Eden Mack.

Seattle School District 1, Director District 6: Zachary Pullin DeWolf is the clear choice here. A Native American activist, he’s been on the board of both the Seattle Housing Authority and Gender Justice League, and has a long history of fighting for racial and gender equity. He’s what our schools look like, and he’s what our school board should look like. Zachary Pullin DeWolf.

Seattle School District 1, Director District 7: Over the last decade, only one school board member has been consistently fighting, frequently alone, to get the district to improve its long-standing, shameful record of de facto discrimination against its non-white students. Betty Patu is an icon. We need her on the school board for another term. Betty Patu.

Court of Appeals, Division #1, District #1, Position #2 (I know, right?): Incumbent Michael Spearman has been a judge for three decades and has every endorsement that counts. His opponent, Nathan Choi, presumably is running for some compelling reason, but it’s hard to discern from any of his campaign materials or statements what that might be. Michael Spearman.

BALLOT MEASURES

Advisory Votes No. 16, 17 & 18: Only the obsessively diligent need worry about the actual content of these measures, which are the utterly pointless “advisory” votes some idiotic Eyman initiative requires state government to put on the ballot every single time it raises a tax or fee. The legislature then completely ignores the results, which are always “maintained” anyway, largely because so many voters understand that this is a pointless exercise. (For a dude who claims to oppose government waste, Eyman’s initiatives sure waste a fuckuva lotta government money.)

But if you insist on judging the actual merits: #16 is an increase in the cost of commercial fishing licenses, and #17 removes a sales tax exemption for bottled water, reduces an exemption for biofuels, and adds sales taxes to online sales.

#18 is higher profile – this is the legislature’s Faustian bargain with obstructionist Republicans who’d been blocking the court-ordered mandate to adequately fund our state’s public K-12 schools for five fucking years. Finally, with the clock ticking in late June on a state government shutdown, they forced a compromise in which the money was raised by raising property taxes on more valuable properties – most of which are in the commie counties of Puget Sound, the ones that actually give a shit about educating kids.

All of these taxes are regressive AF, but changing the state’s antiquated tax structure is a much larger discussion for another time. For the moment, if we want to fund essential services, the legally available solutions are almost all regressive AF. And this is hardly the place for registering opposition to that, since the legislature would just interpret it (if it cares at all, which it won’t) as a general anti-tax sentiment. Maintained.

King County Proposition No. 1: This is a levy for veterans and social services, yet another in the endless string of city and county ballot measures for special levies to fund things that ought to be basic government functions.

It’s basically a shell game, wherein voters approve stuff it’s hard to argue against, while the more controversial public spending – like all that corporate welfare for developer and real estate interests – gets buried in annual general fund budgets.

Ya know what? The week this ballot got mailed out, our city was busy threatening to sweep homeless vets out of a makeshift encampment near the VA hospital on Beacon Hill. It’s almost like they wanted to remind us, just in time for this vote, that veterans in our society (and city) continue to get treated like crap. But we already knew that. Approved.

[Author’s note: I’m poor, permanently disabled, and dedicated (despite financial and chronic health pressures) to reporting and commentary from and for those of us fighting for our rightful place in a city that has increasingly turned its back on many of us.

If you find my reporting and commentary valuable – and would like to see me spending more time doing this and less time stressing over how I can pay for food, rent, and medical care myself – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on geov.org’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish]

What’s the Magic Number?

Reading the political Interwebz today has been profoundly depressing. It’s exactly the same talking points on all sides, with zero apparent chance anything at all will be done to prevent the next tragedy.

In many ways Barack Obama’s reputation as a humanitarian was… overblown. But increasingly over his two terms, and especially after Orlando last year, he fairly shook with the moral outrage that is the only sane response to these recurring horrors. It was far more sensible than the “thoughts and prayers” pablum coming from Trump and so many other Republicans today, while their political allies blame everything BUT a nation that allows weapons of mass murder to be sold in every strip mall. With such a stalemate, no meaningful political action is likely.

So what would it take for that dynamic to change? By both Nevada law and common sense, this was a terrorist attack. In 2001, a terrorist attack caused a Republican president to launch two trillion-dollar wars and completely.revamp and give more power to America’s domestic surveillance industry. So 3000 dead definitely counts on all sides as a big deal. Apparently a mere 59 dead (and 519 wounded, with both numbers still likely to rise) isn’t enough to count. Neither was 49 dead in Orlando, or 25 dead (20 of them schoolchildren) in Sandy Hook, or 32 dead in Blacksburg. That’s the four deadliest mass shootings in American history, all in the last 10 years. With many more “lesser” outrages along the way. Someone is likely planning the next one right now.

So how many people does some motivated nut job have to kill before the debate shifts? A hundred dead on some crowded downtown street? 500 killed during Monday Night Football? 1000 murdered in Times Square on New Year’s Eve? WHAT’S THE MAGIC NUMBER? I’d like to know, so that when “only” 25 or 49 or 59 die, we can save our outrage for another day when it might matter.

Or maybe it isn’t a number. Maybe the Vegas dead don’t count because what happens in Vegas stays there. And the 49 in Orlando didn’t count because they were queers, and the kids in Sandy Hook were too young to vote, and the terrorists responsible were all “just” Regular Guys With Issues, and none of them brought down iconic buildings in a global financial center. (Just like some hurricane victims are more important than other, less white ones.)

I hope not. I hope it’s just a magic number. Whatever it is, I want to know when this country will join the civilized world in getting serious about controlling the ownership of weapons of mass murder. Because the dead themselves really don’t care about these kinds of distinctions.

My Interview of Judge Roy Moore

Last night, Roy Moore, the twice-removed former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, made national headlines by decisively winning Alabama’s Republican primary to replace Jeff Sessions in the US Senate. Moore won despite – and because of – the entire Republican congressional leadership’s all-out support for Moore’s opponent, interim senator Luther Strange. And they supported Strange because even by what now passes for Republican orthodoxy, Moore is an alarmingly unhinged lunatic. Now, unless Moore loses to the Democratic nominee in December, he’s in. That the Democrat even has a chance to win (he does) tells you just how beyond the pale the notion is that a guy like Moore could serve for years in the US Senate.

But it’s not like Moore’s an unknown quantity. For nearly two decades he’s been a folk hero on the Christian far right for his insistence that God’s law – his God’s law – his interpretation of his God’s law – supercedes the US Constitution. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Moore taking any oath of office with a straight face, since his entire career is built on his enthusiasm for some sort of American racist redneck version of Sharia law. He shouldn’t be able to reconcile, on the one hand, swearing (on a Bible) to defend our Constitution, with, on the other hand, “Thou Shalt Not Lie.”

But he can, and very likely will. Moore grew up in a Jim Crow culture where white racists used Bible verses to defend slavery, lynching, and segregation (among other things). Years later, that’s still Moore’s version of “Christianity.” And in Donald Trump’s America, it might just carry him to the US Senate as one of the 100 most powerful legislators in the country.

Back in 2003, Moore was forced out of office for the first time, for installing a monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state supreme court, and then refusing a federal court order to remove it. To capitalize on what he (of course) called his oppression as a Christian, he toured the country with, and in fact was offered the 2004 presidential nomination for, a small collection of far-right proto-fascist fanatics called the “Constitution Party.”

Moore’s politics were exactly the same back then – but instead of touring the wilderness with a fringe group of nuts, he’s now the Republican nominee for the US Senate. That’s how far Republicans have changed in 13 years, despite a near-continuous record of policy failures whenever they’ve had power at the state or federal level. But modern Republicanism is all about who you hate, and Roy Moore hates whomever his imaginary sky friend tells him to hate – fags, sure, but also much, much more. Judge Roy Moore, like Joe Arpaio and so many of these other figures, is a world class hater.

So when Moore came to Seattle in 2004 as part of that wilderness tour – at an event that got almost no local media coverage – I went. And I interviewed him, one-on-one, for a full hour.

Now, it so happens that I spent some significant years of my childhood in South Carolina, with parents dedicated to making sure I wasn’t gonna be subject to no desegregation. So I’m bilingual – I speak fluent redneck. As such, despite living in a den of godless liberals and personally showing skepticism over some of his claims, I was still, for this 2004 interview, a middle-aged white guy with a suddenly resurgent accent. We got along just fine.

Here’s my take on that interview, originally published nationally by Working Assets on July 2, 2004. Thirteen years later, my last sentence from that column now makes my skin crawl.

Here Came the Judge

I came. I saw. And, last Wednesday night, I left, still not one of the Believers.

I hope I never am. But still…

The event was called “America’s Call to Honor God,” and my attendance was something of a setup. One of the two featured speakers was Chief Justice (Forcibly Retired) Roy S. Moore, the Alabama judge who was removed from his state’s highest judicial post by a federal court late last year after he refused to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he’d had installed in the rotunda of the state Supreme Court.

Moore was a repeat offender. He’d been elected Chief Justice due to the popularity of his earlier stand as a state circuit judge in Gadsden, when he defied a lawsuit against his posting of the same Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall. After his latest legal loss in November, there has been talk that the politically ambitious Moore’s next step is to run for governor.

And there he was, in a suburb of Seattle, along with Constitution Party presidential candidate Michael Anthony Peroutka. (The Constitution Party, in case you’re not up on your right wing fringe parties, was born a few years ago as Howard Phillips’ US Taxpayers Party, accused of some unsavory links to militias and bigots and the like.)

The whole event drew 500 the previous night in Spokane, but only about 100 of the faithful came on a sunny Seattle evening.

And at this point, I suspect editors and readers would expect that I’d launch into some sort of a narrative wherein I relay how horrified I was to be in the midst of a bunch of people who were nuttier than fruitcakes.

Except that I can’t. Because I wasn’t, and they weren’t. (Bigoted and delusional, though? Hell yeah.)

Granted, I found plenty to disagree with, some of it hair-curling. Both Moore and Peroutka inveighed against America’s secular enemies, in a worldview that came at times perilously close to confusing devout with paranoid. As when we learned, at one point, that virtually all government programs designed for the greater good, from social works to environmentalism to health care to seat belts, came straight out of the Communist Manifesto.

The evening went on like that, its political content filled with some observations I found abhorrent, some (e.g., criticism of out-of-control federal spending) I completely agreed with. But in both the speeches and in conversation, I found Moore and Peroutka both to be men worth giving a respectful, if skeptical, hearing. And here’s why:

They have both given up good, comfortable, powerful jobs because they refused to compromise their moral beliefs. And on this Independence Day weekend, I respect that.

Granted, alarm bells tend to go off whenever I hear anyone inveigh, as Moore did, The Truth, as something he has and his critics don’t. I find that a lot easier to take when people aren’t trying to impose their version of The Truth on others. That’s exactly what got Moore into trouble in Alabama.

But I couldn’t help but wonder, as I listened, about how our political and social world might differ if more people in our country made moral values the center of everything they did

For example – and let’s pick on Michael Moore, since everyone else is – how different would our political world look if everyone who has flocked to see Fahrenheit 9/11 had done so not simply to feel good and entertained about hating George Bush, but as part of a lifestyle whose job and leisure time choices were devoted to an understanding of what actions could help each of us make a better world.

Plenty of people, of course, do make those kind of choices – the teachers and nurses and social work types who get paid a relative pittance but justify it as valuable work, for example, or those who volunteer their off hours for worthy causes. But far more of us just do whatever we need to in order to get by and feel better. We don’t think much about, let alone take guidance from, those larger issues.

Roy Moore did. He took a stand I disagree with, but I find it far more valuable, all in all, that he took a stand in the first place. He risked something for his beliefs.

Good for him.

And I hope he never becomes governor.