The Hellhole – week of 9/25

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Can't make no demands
Fox News’ Kennedy called Seattle a “socialist hellhole” in a July 12 broadcast. We wish!

About the header photo: Fox News’ Kennedy called Seattle a “socialist hellhole” in a July 12 broadcast. We wish!

The intersection of money and politics is an old story, and frankly, we at the Hellhole are getting tired of telling it. The only thing keeping it from being trite is the new and interesting ways political figures and corporations find to show how much they love each other. We’ve got a few of those stories this week– in our city, you can use private money to buy cops, use public retirement funds to gamble on the stock market, and beg corporations to come to Seattle by promising piles of labor for no taxes. There’s some positive stuff in there too (we promise!), but your loyal Hellhole comrades are overcaffeinated and grumpy this week. Welcome to the Hellhole.

Dude, You’re Getting an IRA

On Monday, Mayor Tim Burgess released a proposed budget for Seattle in the upcoming year – most of it a continuation of policy from disgraced former Mayor Ed Murray. Burgess, however, added an “opt-out” “Seattle Retirement Savings Plan,” a pet project of his where employees in the city without access to retirement savings plans via employers would have contributions taken out of their paychecks and put into investment products chosen by a “special city board” and administered by a private firm.

Last year, Seattle spent over $37 million alone on the private market servicing its debt. Without a public or municipal bank (the likes of which Seattle City Council candidate Jon Grant includes in his platform), Burgess’ plan, regardless of its good intentions, funnels wealth from Seattle workers into private firms who then are free to sink it in the risky Wall Street speculation that helped precipitate the 2008 financial crisis. A public bank could instead take this investment and make the cash work for the city, eliminating the sorry business of selling off bonds. For the underbanked, a public bank could offer home, auto and student loans at low market rates. For these workers, public banking would mean responsible investment whose administration is not only cheaper but accountable to its stakeholders – Seattleites.

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Additionally, Burgess signalled in his budget address that he wants to work with King County to woo Amazon for its second headquarters, a prospect that could mean the siphoning off of even more public wealth via the tax extortion these companies use. In the last several years Amazon has paid a shameful combined 13 percent in local, state, federal and foreign taxes.

Your comrades at the Hellhole also learned this week that the Site Selectors Guild exists, which is a vulturous trade group that attempts to broker these sorts of deals between capital and governments. They were in town this week, where Governor Jay Inslee (D-Boeing) told them that Washington “was the best state for businesses,” citing a “light touch regulatory system” and “pro-business tax regime.” It sure is!

Rent-A-Cop

In classic “good news, bad news” fashion, we’ll start with the bad news– the SPD and the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) are currently being investigated by the FBI for allegedly fixing prices for off-duty police work and intimidating businesses employing officers.

Putting aside the (weird) idea that private businesses can rent the protection of an armed state employee by the hour, the practice is lightly-managed at best by SPD, and SPOG has ties to one of the largest employers of off-duty officers in Seattle (Seattle Security). The president of Seattle Security stated that officers can be paid over $200 an hour for their time. If that sounds like a recipe for corrupt behavior to you, you’re probably not a cop!

Now for the good(ish) news: interim mayor Tim Burgess has signed an executive order to create an SPD internal office to manage cops’ off-duty work. Wait– on second reading, technically, it’s an order to create a task force to do an investigation to make recommendations about how to create an SPD internal office, which makes sense for an order created by a former cop. Baby steps! SPOG, of course, had strong words (and multiple exclamation marks) about these baby steps, and threatened legal action. Hopefully Burgess (and whoever eventually replaces him) doesn’t back down.

Big Coal takes a big hit

The Washington Department of Ecology shot down a key permit needed to construct what would be the largest coal export terminal in North America on Tuesday. The agency’s director, Maia Bellon, tweeted that the “harm to the environment would be too great,” and then went on to name a laundry list of negative environmental impacts the terminal in Longview would have caused, including adding another 1,680 vessels to the fragile Columbia River. One report notes that the construction of the terminal and the associated combustion would be the equivalent of adding 8 million cars to the road. The decision is also a major win for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, which has been saying since at least October of last year that moving 44 metric tons of coal annually through a sensitive river ecosystem is phenomenally stupid for environmental reasons and threatens their homeland and fishing rights. If “coal … piled eight stories high and 50 football fields wide” isn’t the stuff of nightmares, we don’t know what is, but luckily this nightmare is over. The merciless pursuit of profit at the expense of the environment is alive and well elsewhere though, and the Puyallup Tribe is currently locked in a vicious battle against a proposed natural gas facility at the Port of Tacoma. Demonstrators, lead by tribal leaders, stormed 13 Puget Sound Energy offices last week to protest the facility’s construction.

Bobby Fergs goes after ‘Big Pharma’ too

Last week we told you about the city of Everett’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the massive pharmaceutical company that makes OxyContin. This week, we’re telling you about how the the entire state has joined them, becoming the latest state — along with Louisiana, West Virginia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina — to file a lawsuit seeking to hold Big Pharma accountable for drugs that have destroyed tens of thousands of lives. Reuters reports the city of Seattle on Thursday filed a separate lawsuit against Purdue, as well as units of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, Johnson & Johnson, Endo International Plc and Allergan plc. Seattle now joins Everett and Tacoma on the list of Washington cities that have levied suits against Purdue and other drugmakers.

“Purdue has made billions of dollars by fueling Washington’s opioid epidemic by knowingly deceiving doctors and the public about the risks of long-term opioid use,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said during a press conference announcing the suit.

“Blinded by pursuit of profits — billions and billions of dollars — they ignored what was going on in our communities all across this country for their bottom line.”  According to the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, around 700 people in the state die from opioids each year, and about 10,000 have died since 2000.

EPIC Win

A coalition of groups including Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) and No New Youth Jail won a victory this week, when a King County appeals court determined that the county was incorrectly calculating funds collected from a ballot proposition seeking money for a “Children and Family Justice Center.” This means the ground broken at 12th and Alder will lie fallow as the funding has been stopped, for now. In the meantime, King County had filed suit against the City of Seattle, EPIC and more than 60 other organizations including Block the Bunker and Buddhist Peace Fellowship for stymying the facility’s construction. Late Thursday, the county dropped all defendants except Seattle and EPIC, saying, “We apologize for the confusion or anxiety this has caused our community.”

The WPAS 10

After nearly five weeks, OPEIU Local 8 reached a Tentative Agreement with Mercer Island-based Welfare and Pension Administration Services, Inc. WPAS employees administer health care and pension benefits for union members throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The Stand reports workers won their fight by keeping seniority rights, sick leave benefits and a cap on healthcare costs. But despite the gains, the union reports that WPAS owners fired 10 employees, many of whom had worked for the company for more than 15 years and one person who had been with the company for more than 30. The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge and grievances. Some Seattle DSA members provided support at the picket line during a portion of the strike.

What we listened to this week

Socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was on this week’s Delete Your Account podcast. Hosted by journalist Roqayah Chamseddine and Kumars Salehi, the episode explores Sawant’s journey into city politics, major wins such at the $15 minimum wage and the high-income earners tax, and how to build resilient leftwing movements in the face of conservatism and neoliberalism. While you’re at it, listen to the episode with DSA member and City Council Pos. 8 candidate Jon Grant, too.

Class enemy of the week: Twitter

The worst website on the internet got worse on Tuesday after Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted that the service was experimenting with allowing some users to craft 280-character tweets instead of 140. We can only hope that Donald Trump, who went on an excruciating rant about the NFL on Tuesday, is not one of those people. And to make you feel even worse, long before this 280-character business, Twitter has been a-okay with fascists and neo-Nazis using their platform for a very long time. Here’s to (actually) logging off forever.

 

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