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Sawant needs to do more than raise her fist

Guest Opinion: If she wants to be an effective socialist, she needs a priority list. And a willingness to compromise.
Kshama Sawant responds to cheering supporters at her inauguration.

Kshama Sawant responds to cheering supporters at her inauguration. Allyce Andrew

As a veteran and practitioner of 1970s’ protest rhetoric — “Free the Panther 21: Off the pigs!” “Student rights for student power!” “Hey, hey, LBJ: How many kids did you kill today?”  — I sure enjoyed what the corporate media called the “blistering” inauguration speech of Kshama Sawant, Socialist and a new Seattle councilmember.

“In this system, the market is God, and everything is sacrificed on the altar of profit,” she said. Cool. A welcome blast from the past.

Now let’s get down to work.

Back in my day, all the Students for a Democratic Society kids got crew cuts so they could be one with the workers, who, anyone could tell you, hated the long hairs and hippies. It didn’t quite work out for SDS. The workers hated them as well.

Rhetoric, like haircuts, is symbolic, and symbols aren’t productive in terms of actually getting stuff done. So here’s eight practical items that Sawant should add to her agenda:

1) Fix the damned potholes. Love it or hate it, most workers drive to work, and too many of our Seattle streets look like logging roads. In addition to wear and tear, many groups—the cable companies, the construction workers hired by wealthy developers, even public employees looking for things like abandoned pipe shafts— dig up the streets, and their asphalt patches are like a capitalist’s acne. An added benefit of fixing the potholes is that bike riders won’t take tumbles, injure themselves, and then sue the proletariat.

2) Accept (reluctantly) the race to the bottom. Oh, how I wish our rhetoric alone could stop the international corporate conspirators from extorting money from the people. The big Boeing screwing of its machinists is a case in point. But the reality is that corporations have a gun to our head, and if we want our workers to have jobs, we’re going to need to join that race to the bottom for the foreseeable future — as the Machinists’ international leadership realized. Unless, of course, Sawant’s Socialist colleagues take both houses of Congress and the presidency in 2016. Since that’s not going to happen, she can best help the 99 percent by compromising and trying to get the best deal in a bad situation. Regarding the $15 minimum wage that Sawant advocates, Seattle needs to find the sweet point: The highest minimum before employers start laying off staff or moving to the suburbs. Maybe it’s $13 with an inflation escalator. Or a formula that limits the wage gap between the highest-paid and lowest-paid workers (and contractors); that might be unconstitutional, but it’s worth looking into.

3) Work with the cops. Richard Pryor, the great African-American comedian and social critic who died in 2005, told the story of a gig he performed at a prison. He said he wanted to be one with the men there, but he soon realized that, hey, these are mean dudes. They’re not nice. They committed crimes. Crime rarely affects the 1 percent behind their gated communities like Broadmoor. But the 99 percent need to be able to walk streets without fearing rape, or being accosted by a junkie, or being mugged. Sawant needs to build a rapport with the cops, who, I might add, are union workers. Work with and fund them so women can walk through Freeway Park at night without trepidation, or jog in Cal Anderson Park without being attacked. As a start, Sawant might want to consult with former Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran, who got unfairly slammed by her friends at the Stranger for trying to address these issues. (They also hounded out of office Norm Stamper, one of the nation’s most community-minded police chiefs.)

4) Give Seattle taxpayers a break. Yes, some of them are filthy rich. But most of them are like the folks in my 35-year-old condo building: middle-class workers or retired folks for whom property-tax increases are a burden. Can Sawant persuade her fellow council members, the mayor, and county officials to ditch the regressive property tax for progressive city and county income taxes? She’s already pissed off many officials, so until they come around, she should remember that property taxes hurt the 99 percent.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 5:27 a.m. Inappropriate

As was often said of the second half of the 1960s, "if you remember them, you weren't there," I would guess Mr. Glickstein wasn't there, and not for the obvious reason. As he writes, "As a veteran and practitioner of 1970s’ protest rhetoric — “Free the Panther 21: Off the pigs!” “Student rights for student power!” “Hey, hey, LBJ: How many kids did you kill today?”

LBJ left office in January, 1969, to be rplaced by another president who would go on to a certain domestic infamy I'm sure the author does remember.

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 7:23 a.m. Inappropriate

This comment pertains to the author's glib "#4" point.

1) Seattle's corporate taxpayers do not need "a break". They need to be taxed more heavily. That change is needed because of what the following chart shows about the states' relative taxing regimes:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/69/19237_TaxFoundation_v2.gif

2) Sawant spoke out earlier this week against hiking utility rates on individuals and families, and in favor of raising the rates on businesses relatively more. She's addressing some of what the author desires in that way.

3) There is a wide range of taxes other than income taxes that are progressive. The author seems to have a blind spot about that, which is a strikingly common deficit among policy makers, media editors and pundits around here.

Take transit funding. Around here the democrats who control revenue-raising policies are one-note-Charlies: sales taxes and car tab taxes only are hiked (again and again). We have it worse here than anywhere else in the country.

Other places use progressive revenue-raisers. In the New York City area farebox and toll revenues cover over half of the MTA’s revenue needs:

http://www.tstc.org/101/mta.php

Further, only about 3/10 of the MTA’s total revenue comes from dedicated taxes and fees, with the other 7/10 the product of fares, tolls on MTA bridges, and local and state subsidies.

http://www.mta.info/mta/investor/pdf/2012/MTADTF_2012A_OS_10-18-12.pdf

Farebox revenue now covers only about 17 percent of Metro’s operating and capital costs, and almost all the rest comes from sales taxes and its property tax. Why does Metro’s management perform so poorly on that score?

We have the most regressive taxing structure in the country, including an unconscionable 1.8% sales tax for transit and a Sound Transit car tab tax.

On pages 8 and 14 (16 and 22) of that .pdf file linked above are descriptions of the components of the MMTOA and the MTTF, which are the primary tax sources for the MTA. They include:

-- Payroll tax
-- Taxes on petroleum businesses
-- Some vehicle registration fees
-- Progressive Taxes on Businesses (franchise taxes)
-- Mortgage Recording Tax
-- Real Estate Transfer Taxes (the “urban tax”) ( see http://www.mta.info/mta/news/books/docs/2013_04_budgetwatch.pdf page 3)
-- A modest 3/8 of 1 per cent sales tax

If transit services providers around here needed more tax revenue – and they do not – they should look to general taxing that targets the rich corporations that are the primary beneficiaries of bus and train service. That's how the peers do it.

So Don: you get this, right? You mischaracterized progressive taxing as imposing an income tax, which for a number of reasons is not practical at the city level and nothing the city council could do. In contrast, if you are going to advocate for a more fair taxing structure you'll need to identify appropriate progressive taxes. Maybe your social justice advocacy skills need some of the rust scraped off?

crossrip

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

It's been a whopping what? 2 weeks since she's been in office. I think a little more time, like a year, is needed to see what the new chikie on the block can do.

Yep we have regressive taxes in WA. That's the way voters want it. Voted out car tabs and the flexibility of almost any legislative approach. So now we tolls, user fees, and a more regressive tax system. Just what we voted for.

An income tax? - DOA - state or local. Voters have made that very clear.

Lily32

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 9:24 a.m. Inappropriate

The people here do not want what we have: the most regressive taxing structure in the country.

When did the public select the 6.5% state sales tax? Oh yeah, never. When did the public select the 1% county/city sales tax? Oh yeah, never. When was the public given a choice of a progressive transit tax? Oh yeah, never. The government heads in this neck of the woods are a different story: they always select and push relentlessly for higher and higher sales taxes and car tab taxes.

An income tax? - DOA

Remember the flawed initiative for a statewide income tax Bill Gates the elder floated several years back? It was intentionally defective. That faux effort by Gates the elder was meant to be a loser -- none of his business associates or social acquaintances want an income tax.

That initiative was rejected by voters primarily because nobody trusted the state legislature not to lower the kick-in level after two years. Moreover, it would have been unconstitutional under longstanding case law. The proper kind of income tax -- one that only hits the top 10% of households, is indexed for inflation, targets profitable corporations more than individuals and families, and is constitutional -- could be effectuated by a constitutional amendment.

Hey "Lily" -- I'll note here that you and Don Glickstein are spreading the same misinformation (to the effect that an income tax is the only appropriate progressive tax). Want to explain that congruent falsehood? That's the tack we're going to be seeing from all the flacks for the business interests benefiting from the overly-regressive taxing policies here?

You need to work on your talking points. They need a really big upgrade.

crossrip

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 7:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Voters have consistently voted no for any legislative flexibility on taxes. You get what you ask for. No more shinning please.

Treker

Posted Sat, Jan 25, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Voters have consistently voted no for any legislative flexibility on taxes.

The public only can limit "legislative flexibility" by adopting constitutional amendments. None of those have been rejected. Why are you posting nonsense in this thread?

crossrip

Posted Sun, Jan 26, 11:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Why are you posting the same old dishrag? Tell me one "progressive" tax overhaul that has a prayer of passing the legislative booddoggle in Olympia or with the voters. Just one.

Lily32

Posted Mon, Jan 27, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Tell me one "progressive" tax overhaul that has a prayer of passing the legislative booddoggle in Olympia or with the voters. Just one.

I'll tell you about several progressive revenue-raisers that already are authorized by statute:

– City and county TBD's can impose charges on large commercial property owners and for land development activities: ( http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=36.73.120 );

– TBDs, port districts, and Sound Transit each can use LID's to raise money from urban property owners benefiting from municipal undertakings; and

– Sound Transit is authorized to impose a payroll tax.

The legislature could authorize more such progressive revenue-raisers, and the local government heads could impose them. Problem is, taxing the poor families here is SOOO much more satisfying to democrats.

crossrip

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 8:28 a.m. Inappropriate

The author is right about one thing: Kshama Sawant is so humorless (unintentional humor notwithstanding), she makes an iceberg like Maria Cantwell look like Carol Burnett. Not that it matters in Seattle, where people who say "Fight the Power" spend $4 for a cup of Starbucks, but even Mao understood that showing a lighter side does humanize even the inhuman. That'll be part of Rand Paul's downfall, too...good call on that one.

Then again, why should Kshama care when she's got a hubby pulling in six figures working for the richest man in the world? Talk about having it both ways.

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 9:07 a.m. Inappropriate

I have no particular feeling one way or another on Ms. Kshama- but the unfair smear about her rich husband is false and was put to bed a long time ago - she is separated and has no financial ties to him.

And the implication is that folks with money can't push policy that benefits low income people. Glad FDR didn't look at it that way.

Lily32

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

@ Don Glickenstein, your first paragraph refers to these late 1960's issues as happening in the 1970's. If you're too lazy to do the proper research to verify your own article facts, at least find time to do it now and correct your article. These were not 1970's protest rhetoric slogans.

"As a veteran and practitioner of 1970s’ protest rhetoric — “Free the Panther 21: Off the pigs!” “Student rights for student power!” “Hey, hey, LBJ: How many kids did you kill today?” —"

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 1:34 p.m. Inappropriate

This is Don replying: Just to clarify, I was in high school in 1967 when the first major Vietnam protest occurred, and in college until 1973. Believe me, there were plenty of protests in the early 1970s (I got gassed at one, although I participated in many) because the evil Nixon was still in power, and the war was still going strong. And there were plenty of us on the picket lines outside the White House demanding Nixon's impeachment.

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you Don. My point was not whether there were protests in the early 1970's. My point was that the specifics you quoted at being from the 1970's were not.

I can tell you miss your protesting days, but let's not reinvent new history dates in the process of reliving some of those memories.

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 1:01 p.m. Inappropriate

"Can Sawant persuade her fellow council members, the mayor, and county officials to ditch the regressive property tax for progressive city and county income taxes?"

No, she can't. The state Legislature has to authorize any tax assessed by a city or county, not the city and county officials themselves. And, most Seattle and King County officials already publicly support some sort of income tax to make the system more fair, so she wouldn't need to persuade anyone.

Can Sawant convince the Legislature to authorize an income tax on any level? I don't think persuasion is her strong suit.

Mannix

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 1:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Apparently she thinks she will get more results with fire than with reasonable persuasion.

She should try making a living in a commission based job and see just how far that style gets her.

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree with almost everything in this piece.

I doubt if Sawant agrees with most of it, however.

Even though I am mostly in agreement with the author, I always laugh at articles which presume to tell elected officials what they "should do."

Sawant got elected, not you, Don Glickstein. Don't you think it's just a tad presumptuous on your part to attempt to tell Sawant what she "should do"?

Lincoln

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 1:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Mostly good comments about becoming senile in the face of one's participation in history, or not.

I would add that Sawant needs to understand her opponents a lot better, learn how to be a councilmember, and effect change based data and evidence. Even Nick Licata is not going to stick up for her if she does not do this.

She has a lot to learn to effectively represent the people that matches the rhetoric.

Marksp

Posted Fri, Jan 24, 10:18 p.m. Inappropriate

I think that Sawant will find winning the election was an easy first step, and from now on the steps will get increasingly harder. She's going to learn that she is just one vote and will need to work within the framework of the city council. In time we'll know if she measures up to the tasks and goals she's espoused. I'm betting that if she gets 20% of her stated aims she'll be lucky.

Djinn

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