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Washington state needs Jobs, Steve Jobs

The upcoming election is a reminder that corporate checkbooks and conventional thinking are not going to get us out of worsening messes.

Steve Jobs at an Apple Developers conference

Steve Jobs at an Apple Developers conference acaben (Ben Stanfield)/Flickr

Next week's election feels like a plodder. It's hard to get enthusiastic about anything, even the important stuff. 

The Seattle City Council races are heavily favored toward the incumbents, who ideologically are a colorless lot. We've got "maturity" but also groupthink. I'm reminded of Emmett Watson's critique of the city councils of the '50s and '60s. "Taken singly, they were decent, upstanding people. Put together as a governing body of Seattle they...had a bad effect on each other, like too many maple bars stuck together in a single bag."

The race is so dull, political junkies are already focused on the mayor's race in 2013.

The statewide initiatives are likewise disturbing as they are mainly about how much money Costco will make selling booze (I-1183), or which Bellevue real estate mogul will make out if rail is or is not built to the Eastside (I-1125). Will downtown Bellevue thrive in the coming years by remaining de-railed and car-centric, or will the advantage swing to transit-oriented development in the Bel-Red corridor? The outcome is significant, but the deep pockets driving the race with little but self-interest and checkbooks are as depressing as they are effective at defining the policy debate with little consideration for public merit.

The most interesting political dramas are taking place away from, I was going to say the voting booth, but that's now anachronistic. Away from the ballpoint pen on your kitchen table? 

First, there's a European economic crisis that looks like the financial equivalent of World War I, about to drag us all in, and potentially down. Here at home, the Occupy movement continues to keep the general moral argument for fairness alive, but permanent demonstrations too easily become part of the background. Still, there has been an impact on re-shaping the national debate for 2012 toward fairness, the good side of "class war."

In Olympia, the question is what to do about the budget and the new, massive revenue shortfall (up to $2 billion) that must be faced. We are experiencing a failure of Olympian technocratic leadership. Gov. Chris Gregoire is completely at sea and is talking about raising revenues way, way too late in the process — a fee here or a tax bump there — maybe.

She could have been doing this all along. Better, she could have been leading, shaping a vision of the future that gets outside the box — a fairer tax system that is less regressive, less shaped by special interest tax breaks, and less reliant on an odious B&O that hurts business. Her listless support of the income tax initiative was a lost opportunity.

The death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach is too grim. What state politics needs is a Steve Jobs who, now that he's dead, can be used as a metaphor or example for anything. In this case, you can either follow the death spiral path of incremental retreat or you can reinvent your way out of a problem. Do we really want to see Seattle in a race to the bottom for jobs with South Carolina? Can the Apple State instead become the Apple of states, committed to a functional, sleek, beautiful future that is user-friendly? We've long tried the prestige model. We're on the path to abandoning that now. But you can both pare down and get better, if you have some vision and focus, if you innovate.

Both of next year's gubernatorial candidates could seize this mantle. Jay Inslee has been a champion of such thinking by being way ahead of the curve with his New Apollo Project concept. McKenna is a conservative who believes in investment in higher-ed and seems open to out-of-the-box thinking.

Will either of them show us a way out? Can we craft a state government that's lean, affordable, and effective? Good ideas will have to come from a broader spectrum than party bases or big business. Seattle State Rep. Reuven Carlyle has argued that this is about more than new programs, but "a new attitude" in how government and business work together. It's about acting more cooperatively, and more courageously.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Nov 2, 5:23 a.m. Inappropriate


Meet the New State : Proud , Independent farmers paying such low unsustainable wages for so many years that the poor , subsisting on low wages and seasonable opportunities , end up being locked up at an unproportional rate .
Then we store them up , maybe out in the woods somewhere , like the Olympic Peninsula , guaranteeing that they will be permanently populating the " the way less than the 99% " .
Then , when Independent farmers are deprived of their source of illegal laborers , Our Good Governor offers up her supply of " illegals " from out in the woods somewhere for $22.00 an hour , with guards and transportation .
I wonder how many of our " forest volunteers " would have been in the prison system to begin with ? I wonder how much better off Grant County would be if the orchardist and packing houses would have paid more equitable living wages all along ? I think the State has lost it way .

Posted Wed, Nov 2, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Here are a couple things that would help Washington get out of this mess:

- The reason why so many start-ups opt for Seattle (including in their day Amazon.com and Microsoft) is that the metropolitan Seattle area as a highly educated work force; something like 60% of people in Seattle have at least a bachelor's. This is why cutting education funding *at all,* even in amid a horrible recession, is exactly the worst possible thing to do. K-12 math and science scores are middling in these parts, and our kids are not starting at local colleges at what professors consider minimum postsecondary levels. We are cutting higher ed to the point that it will be unaffordable for many, many students for the next decade. We are cutting off our fingers to save our nose, and in the long run, this is the wrong run. Start-ups can't start up here if we aren't producing the highly educated work force we are known for. So the first rule to nurturing the next Steve Jobs around here is funding, funding, funding education.

- B&O; tax reform is sorely needed. Most people don't know that new businesses owe taxes on gross receipts, even if they aren't making a profit yet. The legislature and local governments pass piecemeal loopholes all the time favoring this or that company once established, but in reality the way to nurture startups would be to replace B&O; tax with a tax on profits or another mechanism that doesn't make it harder to get started, or penalize you for starting a business in the first place as the B&O; tax now often does.

- Quality of life and a strong "creative class" is what gives Seattle the draw to start-ups and highly employable people nationwide. We need to find ways to encourage the arts and the creative scene and nightlife and leverage our existing cultural heritage to continue to draw the best and brightest young people from around the country (and around the world). You can poo-poo arts funding all you want, but it's a quality of life issue that has a strong, direct impact on companies' abilities to attract the best employees here.

- Quality of life also relates to public transit: Seattle's roads were designed to get people to and from downtown and to and from Boeing plants. Instead what we need now are reliable, high-frequency public transit options that easily connect neighborhood hubs and suburban hubs. Now, people used to the old model of transportation don't like transit talk, but in reality the next generation of Steve Jobses and the employees who will build those companies will (and already do) see transit as fundamental. Light rail is a step in the right direction. But we need longer-range foresight on this issue.

- Internet access and speed is going to be a make-it-or-break-it issue for business and the economy in the near future. Currently the fastest Internet access Seattleites have access to, and at great cost, is Comcast's increasingly outdated cable Internet service. Meanwhile other countries have Internet speeds from three to ten times faster than that, at a lower cost. (Finland even recently passed a law saying fast Internet access was a right, and in a digital age we ought to start embracing that notion.) We need new, upscalable, much faster Internet around here to attract and keep business, long-term.

Those are issues that a candidate could build a solid campaign on, of either party.

smacgry

Posted Wed, Nov 2, 3:14 p.m. Inappropriate

It's always instructive to take a quick peek at an article's underlying assumptions, which usually don't become explicit until the final paragraph or two. In this instance:

--First, that we are somehow off the track, as if our conventional trajectory were actually leading us someplace else; and

--Second, that we deserve a future that is "an inspiring place".

There is surely a serious argument to be made that we are squarely on a track of our own making which is leading us straight to a dismal future. And if we made this mess ourselves, it hardly makes sense to say that we deserve something better.

I'm not necessarily promoting the inevitability of this bleak alternative assessment. But I am suggesting that Mossback at least needs to ponder a few of his unexamined premises. If the problems turn out to be structural and endemic, fixing them will require more than finding a few good Rainier Club boys who can "think outside the box." It may require reinventing the box itself.

woofer

Posted Wed, Nov 2, 6:13 p.m. Inappropriate

I wonder who has access to the wording of Obama's infrastructure edict or executive order? Is there any hope of expanding the scope of the program he was promoting today? Who could gain a hearing about adding a proviso to include nurserymen, and landscapers as beneficiaries before they start to pour the concrete for new bridges, and roads?

Here is my idea. Insist that air quality can be considered an important part of the infrastructure of a livable city.
There is atmospheric science that supports the use of conifers along transportation corridors to filter diesel fuel particulate. These large particles of debris lodge in the lungs of children as well as adults causing upticks in asthma, and lung cancer. Oregon nurseryman suffered a 9.4 decline in sales last year. Oregon has most of the wholesale nurseries in the country. IF IT WERE MANDATED that ports and major transit corridors had to be landscaped- the endgame being reducing cancer risk- those businesses that employ landscapers one of the least well paid profession, would also be given a leg up.

sf

Posted Wed, Nov 2, 8:27 p.m. Inappropriate

We deserve who we elect and we've been electing 40 watt bulbs for 100 watt positions for a long time. Nothing on the horizon leads me to believe that will change. The Steve Jobs of the world won't be found in government, their focus in on making things happen and kicking over the apple carts in the way of their vision. In short, the Steve Jobs are unelectable because, they are who they are, shakers and movers. Elected officials are twitchers and creepers.

Djinn

Posted Wed, Nov 2, 9:40 p.m. Inappropriate

I wish people would quit comparing 'leaders' in business like Steve Jobs to 'leaders' in government. Government and business are 2 completely different worlds.

Business is a secretive, hierarchical, non-democratic world driven by money and aggressive, dominant leaders like Steve Jobs.

Government is (supposed to be) public, transparent, non-hierarchical and democratic that is supposed to be driven by the will of the people.

The problem today is not that government isn't enough like Big Business. It's that it's too much LIKE Big Business.

Posted Wed, Nov 2, 11:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Woofer and Borkowski, you are spot on in your analyses. Djinn: I'm not sure why you expect a 20-watt public to elect a 100-watt candidate. That we get 40-watts might be the best the romanticized public can expect. The "public" is not some thwarted intelligent body that is the victim of deceptive politicians and a corrupt system--they created and maintain it--that's the dreary part.

bkochis

Posted Thu, Nov 3, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Thx bkochis. In many ways Mayor McGinn is just like Jobs. Argumentative, forward thinking and not inclined to back down. How's that working out for the city?

Don't forget the sorry, sad, propagandist state of our 5 watt corporate media.

Posted Thu, Nov 3, 4:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually I think McGinn is doing a good job with what he has. We are in a serious economic crisis and the city seems to be moving along. We have had some "bad cop" actions but nothing compared with Chicago or Oakland. The population is up, but driving is down, in part due to the alternatives to driving that the city is building. (transit & bicycling & walking)

I totally admit that Prop 1 is a disastrous way to tax people but that's nothing new. And that the city for the last 20 years has failed to repair the roads at the rate they needed to, but that's not all McGinns fault. He's running things during a time of cutbacks not outragous growth of services. And he did advocate to not waste 2 Billion on the waterfront tunnel.

GaryP

Posted Fri, Nov 4, 6:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Since we're talking light bulbs, I liken a lot of present day politicians to those spiral CFLs. They say they're about efficiency, but they actually cost a lot and they give you a headache.

dbreneman

Posted Fri, Nov 4, 11:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Extending your spiral CFL analogy, alot of present day voters (and politicians) only look at short term cost rather than long term value.

The problem isn't the politicians. The problem is the money.

Posted Sun, Nov 6, 1:27 p.m. Inappropriate

What shallowness. No wonder the Seattle Smugsters are about to have their asses handed to them on a platter, with the impending defeat of Proposition 1, the impending passage of I-1183, and very possible victory of I-1125 and defeat of "Families and Education."

You'll lose at least two of those, quite possibly three, and maybe all four. And several school board seats will turn over. The only area where you've got a point is with the City Council. I'm going to be suggesting that the "No on Prop. 1" group consider, as its next act, a proposition that would oust the entire city council and bar any of them from holding council office again.

Elections are like buying real estate. You can only buy the houses that are for sale, and you can only vote for who or what is on the ballot. I do realize that, with your multiple defeats imminent, your Smugster crowd wants to minimize the importance of what's coming. Good luck with that.

In fact, this is going to prove to be the warmup to a wider blacklash next year. McKenna will be governor. The Republicans might take the legislature. The U.S. senate seat could go Republican. Then, my dear Smugsters, will you look back and ask yourselves just how you managed to so thoroughly turn off the voters that they turned WA State red on you?

You might begin by not being such jerks to anyone and everyone who might disagree with you. By not being such overweening intellectual snobs. I know how hard that will be, but it's interesting to watch what electoral defeats will do.

What's coming is more significant than you want to see. Denial is a very strong human trait. So you'll tell yourselves that nothing happened. You'll keep doing that until suddenly, as if out of nowhere (!), you are buried in November 2012. And then, sure as night follows day, you blame it on someone else.

Posted Sun, Nov 6, 1:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh, and by the way, we need a new Steve Jobs? What, we need someone who starts by building a device that allows people to steal communications services, then steals a major corporation's patents, and then convinces a bunch of sheep to pay way too much for toys made in China?

That's what we need here, you say? Oh boy.

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