Seattle hypocrisy: We talk idealism while catering to corporate bullies

Commentary: Seattle looks down on other regions for going along with big companies' abuses. Do we ever look in the mirror?
Amazon's logo on a company building

Amazon's logo on a company building Flickr user simone.brunozzi

Seattle always falls in love with bullies.

Like Boeing, which threatens us like an abusive spouse over jobs and subsidies.

And Starbucks, the scourge of the independent coffee house.

Or Microsoft, once the poster-child for anti-trust laws.

Now Amazon, wielder of saps to the skull of publishers, authors, booksellers.

Corporations, our Supreme Court says, are people too. Just not very nice ones.

It's funny that many of the things that we've come to identify as quintessentially Seattle — aerospace innovation, online retailing, software, coffee houses, a city of readers — are largely brand images shaped by brutally competitive ethics and tactics. 

Welcome to Seattle, the city that carries an Emerald Sledge-hammer. Meet Boeing the extortionist, Starbucks the litigator, Microsoft the would-be monopolist.

And Amazon, the latest perp. The company is fighting with publishing giant Hachette, blocking customers from pre-ordering the publisher's titles — such as J.K. Rowling's latest —  in a fight over the pricing of eBooks and the split the retailer will receive. They've also apparently slowed down deliveries of Hachette titles that people have already ordered, making folks wait extra long for books by authors like Sherman Alexie. "How is this not extortion? You know, the thing that is illegal when the Mafia does it," asks Dennis Loy Johnson of Hachette's Melville House, in The New York Times.

And they say Seattle isn’t a mafia town.

To add to the picture, consider that Jeff Bezos is obsessed with space ships. He's exploring building an air force of drones. He's assembling an army of robots. What’s next, a private super-villain lair atop of the Space Needle like Dr. Evil?

Seattleites, good liberals that we are, look askance at red state conservatives who support the business folk who exploit them. Why do those miners in West Virginia work for guys who endanger their lives and rot their landscape? What's wrong with the people of Kansas who have forgotten their prairie populism? Why do those Alaskans want to devastate their fish runs? Those who wonder such things should take a glance in the mirror. We, too, are enamored by bosses who aren't looking out for us.

Boeing's feasting on tax breaks effectively raises taxes on the rest of us and makes solving our problems — like funding education — even harder. Starbucks has inured us to the idea of the $4 coffee and poisoned the global atmosphere with too much Kenny G. Microsoft has made thousands of local millionaires, and spun off a billionaire or two, yet it has helped render the city nearly unaffordable for most of us. Amazon has helped to shutter your neighborhood bookstore and is slowly tearing the pages out of that thing Guttenberg first popularized. They are all boon and bane.

These corporations, er, people, are everything Seattle isn't supposed to be. They provide the warm-and-fuzzy self-image of Seattle as a coffee-fueled bastion of the creative class, but their "success" is often won by corrosive behavior at someone else's expense.

You can say it was ever thus. We stole land from the Indians, we cut the timber, we dug the coal, we polluted the Duwamish and Puget Sound, we erased the hills and forests, all to build New York Alki. Yet, while doing all that, we burbled that we lived in "God's Country." We might have shifted from a "resource" economy to a "knowledge" economy, but coal trains and oil trains and pipelines and tankers aren’t the only things around here that come at great cost.

Our current self-image is wrapped around the idea that we're better than other people, that we're more idealistic, more humane, more fair. Some of that is pure snobbery.

Some of it is idealism, a genuine desire to do good and do better. Mayor Ed Murray has said that he wants Seattle to be a role model for progressivism in the world, and the mayors before him, Mike McGinn and Greg Nickels, were largely on board with a similar agenda. But to accomplish that, we’d have to get a whole lot better at looking at the real costs and true values of all those economic engines we embrace. It’s time to reconsider our corporate heroes in a fresh light. 

(Disclosure: The writer's life is heavily entwined with all of the companies he disparages above. He often rides Boeing jets, patronizes the Madison Park Starbucks, wrote this piece using Microsoft Word, and his new eBook, "Roots of Tomorrow" is now available on Amazon.)

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, May 29, 6:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Okay, take away Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft, etc. and we'd have a West Coast rural Alabama. We may not like the "new" Boeing, but the old one not only put us on the map, but provided our grandparents and parents generations good jobs that enabled them to educate their children. And while you may rant against Starbucks, they provide jobs that pay more and offer better benefits than those independent stores. The rank hipocrisy is due to the fact that without these economic powerhouses, we would be too poor to engage in the liberal navel-gazing that afflicts this area. It's a luxury only the well-off can afford.

Seasoned

Posted Fri, May 30, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Really? This is the best you've got? It's a re-tread of the horse-and-sparrow parable: "If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows."

No, "seasoned" -- the overly-regressive taxing policies and public spending that disproportionately benefits profitable businesses are NOT justified because of the oats those corporations leave about.

crossrip

Posted Thu, May 29, 6:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Hypocrisy is not inevitable, Knute. The true Seattleite who lives up to the progressive hype makes other choices. Buy coffee at your neighborhood coffee joint. Why anyone drinks that burnt S-bucks stuff escapes me. Use OpenOffice instead of MS Office. It's powerful, monopoly-free, and costs zero. Sell your ebook through Smashwords and buy books at Indiebound. Sherman Alexie endorses it. The Boeing airplane thing is harder, especially flying overseas. But domestically, you should be taking the train. Once you do all these things, you can wear your Seattle self-righteousness, with, er, self-righteousness.

Posted Thu, May 29, 7:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Knute Berger has hit the nail on the head. The ongoing assault by Amazon against Hachette should be a rallying call for publishers to collectively rise up and take action. All publishers should stop selling books to Amazon. And it truly is time for the public to boycott Amazon for their bullying and anti-competitive tactics. Buy your books at your local independent bookstores. If your local bookstores have been driven out of business, buy them online from anyone but Amazon. The same goes for purchasing any product: Boycott Amazon.

Amazon has made it perfectly clear that they intend to continue their scorched earth policies. The only way to stop them is for all of us to take clear and direct action against Amazon. Now is the time to stand up and let them know that we are fed up and won't take it anymore. It is time - past time - for a boycott.

Posted Thu, May 29, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

The only way to stop them is some entrepreneur coming up with a better business model. Amazon suceeds because they cater to those who cannot be bothered with doing their own shopping.Would I want someone else to choose my produce? Would I want to purchase clothing without personally checking the fit and construction? No, but evidently many others do.

Seasoned

Posted Thu, May 29, 10:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Those who cannot be bothered with doing their own shopping could take the true next step and stop excessive consumption in its entirety—also the most effective way of all to wear one's self-rightousness self-rightously.

afreeman

Posted Thu, May 29, 1:03 p.m. Inappropriate

I do my own shopping. I just happen to do it online, sometimes when I'm standing in line at the grocery store. (Most people will still buy produce from the grocery store or shirts from the mall, but you don't need to "try on" a book or a video card.)

Anything I can do to spend more time with my kid instead of using up gas and clogging the roads to see if the mall has the book or tool I'm looking for is worth it to me. I can find what I'm looking for in less than a minute, and I can do it while my kid is working on a math problem or when I'm on the bus home from work.

talisker

Posted Fri, May 30, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

I do see your point. Even though I don't shop from them, there are good reasons why some do. So we have a sucessful business model which has improved the quality of life for many and employs many at good wages. How evil is that?

Seasoned

Posted Mon, Jun 2, 3:37 p.m. Inappropriate

The libraries have thousands of books which you can reserve online and pick up at your convenience. Why spend money on books which you have to store or give away?
Shopping online and comparing prices is easy and you can find a local merchant who stocks the item. You won't pay the shipping charges for a diesel-spewing delivery truck to bring it to you.

Merry

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 9:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Ummm Kate, you just need to quit spending money shopping online to boycott any company like Amazon. It's easy, individual and doesn't need a group hug.

Posted Thu, May 29, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate


1 of 2

Great observations in this piece.

State and local government heads around here also are abusive. They act improperly and unlike their peers in ways designed to inflict undue financial harm on individuals and families of modest means. Here are two examples:

1) The most regressive state and local taxing structure in the country. Absolutely NOTHING is progressive about the taxing policies state and local legislators here adopt. As this piece notes, they provide billions of dollars of tax breaks to Boeing and other rich corporations and push regressive tax hikes again and again. That's their unvarying and reprehensible m.o.

Everyone understands what sales taxes and car tab taxes are, right? They are taxes on being poor:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/09/in-the-south-and-west-a-tax-on-being-poor/

That blog entry centers for the most part on the regressive taxing structure in the south, but it’s as bad or worse here. The government heads in this state are worse about imposing regressive taxes than their peers in the deep south.

Some US Census data shows how many poor Seattle households are targeted disproportionately-heavily for tax impacts:

The bottom 20 percent of Seattle households subsist on a paltry $13,000 a year, while the top 5 percent earn an average of $423,000.

http://blogs.seattletimes.com/fyi-guy/2014/01/17/income-inequality-how-bad-is-seattle/

Studies show how the party that has been in effective control in Olympia for over a generation has established abusive taxing policies. Here's one:

http://www.itep.org/whopays/ .

That shows the state legislature here has created a state/local taxing structure that is more regressive than anywhere else in the US. The state legislators “won” the race to the bottom of the states on that score. The wealthy and profitable corporations are not taxed nearly enough, in comparison to how all the other states' legislatures do it:

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

That shows how policy makers here won a second “race to the bottom”.

crossrip

Posted Thu, May 29, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

2 of 2

Here's another example of government heads acting abusively towards most people around here as a matter of course.

2) The judiciary routinely puts municipalities above the laws that are supposed to protect individuals as taxpayers.

In the “big money” cases the justices invariably sanction unlawful practices that unduly harm the financial interests of individuals and families.

Any judges or lawyers read Crosscut? Let's discuss that bench's deviant conduct.

Here are the four most significant opinions from the supreme court over the past quarter-century in the area of individuals' rights as taxpayers as against municipalities:

1) Sane Transit v. Sound Transit, 151 Wn.2d 60 (2004);

2) Sheehan v. Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, 155 Wn.2d 790 (2005);

3) Larson v. Seattle Popular Monorail Authority, 156 Wn.2d 752 (2006); and

4) Pierce County v. State, 159 Wn.2d 16 (2006).

Here is an essay describing what the majority did in each of those:

http://susan-owens.webs.com/

The dishonest techniques the majority employed are crass:

-- It repeatedly misrepresents the legal claims that actually were raised by the individuals.

-- It ignores the meritorious legal challenges laid out in the briefing.

-- It invents lame legal arguments for attribution to the parties it wants to lose.

-- It ignores fundamental legal principles in order hand out unjustified case law to the rich entities in whose favor the justices are biased.

This is the worst-kept secret in Washington government. The judiciary is biased, and it acts on those biases.

A couple of years ago Kemper Freeman brought some intentionally-lame claims to try to get case law cover for WSDOT's plan to transfer vast amounts of I-90 corridor highway infrastructure to Sound Transit. The justices got the case, and sure enough they again disregarded the relevant facts and controlling law in order to hand WSDOT exactly the legal “cover” it desired:

http://freeman2lawsuit.webs.com/

As usual the majority acted dishonestly. It used the specious arguments presented to frame its holdings and did not identify the key facts that should have been addressed. That opinion also ignores the controlling legal authorities that should have been used to protect the interests of people here in ongoing access to all that highway infrastructure.

So, why do government heads here now routinely act in such aberrant ways? It's a function of their legacy institutional mindset: this state's geographic isolation kept the deviant precursor behaviors hidden from the '60s through the '80s, and the local press has incentives to enable these kinds of abuse of the public.

crossrip

Posted Thu, May 29, 9:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip, if "progressive" tax schemes were effective, then Oregon's economy would be blossoming and San Francisco/Los Angeles would be veritable Edens for the working poor. Are they?

Seasoned

Posted Thu, May 29, 12:48 p.m. Inappropriate

1) What that question presumes – without any support – is that the overly-regressive state/local taxing structure here somehow might be responsible for this state's “economy . . . blossoming”, and that such economic “blossoming” would not take place here if regressive taxes were reduced and progressive taxes imposed. Care to try providing support for those claims you've implied? Betcha can't . . ..

If the state/local taxing structure were more progressive Boeing still would manufacture jets here, Amazon still would run its website from here, and Microsoft still would employ tens of thousands of code monkeys in cubicles east of Lake Washington.

2) San Francisco and Los Angeles are not “veritable Edens for the working poor”. The fact that the state/local sales tax rates there are at about the same high level as here may well play a role in that unfortunate state of affairs. Unlike here though, California does have a state income tax, and it has been a very good thing for that state. California now is running a large budget surplus -- it is billions of dollars in the black -- and it was that state's income tax that caused that good development:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/us/californias-new-problem-too-much-money.html?_r=0

A state income tax should be part of the revenue-raisers Washington uses. It should target profitable corporations, and only the top 15% of individuals and households. Couple that with some moderate payroll taxes on large employers and reductions of the sales taxes the democrats here have been so fond of imposing, and we'd have a more balanced set of revenue-raisers. Businesses would continue to thrive here, and governments would obtain more ample funding from more diverse sources. What's not to like about that? Go ahead . . . try arguing that would be a disaster, and not far preferable to the status quo ante.

crossrip

Posted Thu, May 29, 4:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Problem is - folks just don't want to pay taxes of any kind. Given the votes from the Eyman parasite clan and his ilk - politicians have gotten the message loud and clear. How long do you think one would last if he came to the floor with a bill for a state income tax and getting rid of a sales tax. My bet is not very long.

We can complain and complain - but the way we vote is another story.

Treker

Posted Thu, May 29, 7:34 p.m. Inappropriate

“[P]oliticians have gotten the message loud and clear. How long do you think one would last if he came to the floor with a bill for a state income tax and getting rid of a sales tax?”

The democrats here could impose an income tax and reduce sales taxes no problem. That would be an easy sell to people:

Shelly Sterling reached an agreement Thursday night to sell the Los Angeles Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion, according to an individual with knowledge of the negotiations.

http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2023718112_apxclipperssterling.html

What is it you don't understand about that?

crossrip

Posted Fri, May 30, 7:23 a.m. Inappropriate

But you can't show that this would benefit the "working poor" in any fashion, which was your initial argument. The main thing you tout is "fairness", which frankly, is a concept for the toddler set, not adults.

Seasoned

Posted Thu, May 29, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

I moved to Seattle in the aftermath of the 70s Boeing 'crash'. It was a great place to live AND work. Then. For a long time, I've felt that a little deflation would not be a bad thing at all and it would not mean we are rural Alabama. For one thing, its not that hot and humid here.

Our electeds run scared from any 'threat' posed by not giving away our land our resident's taxes with no strings. At times, I've even noted council run scared and provide give aways while visualizing threats of lawsuits, or calculating that 'business will leave' or 'developers wont build'. Most jurisdictions attach strings, and are willing to stand up and take the consequences. Certainly, if the majority of the Boeing workers had been in town to vote, I believe they would have stood up to Boeing.

Our electeds need to be willing to set the terms and tell them 'take it or leave it', because now what we have is taking and taking and taking from the rest of us. I can deal with them 'leaving' and leaving space for small local businesses and community developers. It might mean the community comes together to pay for what we really want. It might mean a state bank to finance what we really need. It might mean we GET what we really need.

Posted Thu, May 29, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh -- and I do not read e-books. I do not order from Amazon. I buy books in the bookstore, order from the bookstore or order direct from the publisher.

Posted Mon, Jun 2, 3:49 p.m. Inappropriate

I use Amazon for book and product reviews, but never order from them.
I object to their tax-avoidance schemes.

Merry

Posted Tue, Jun 3, 10:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Actually, if you live in Washington State, Amazon charges you Wa. State Sales tax.
Their tax avoidance schemes, while real, are directed at other states, where they can deny they have a bricks and mortar presence.
They have admitted they have an on the ground presence here, however.

Ries

Posted Thu, May 29, 1:35 p.m. Inappropriate

The wages that Boeing pays and the services and material it buys from local businesses has generated a ton of tax dollars.

Starbucks has also dumped a ton of tax dollars into the local economy, and has created an entire industry. There were only a few good coffee houses in Seattle in 1975. Now you can find one almost anywhere you turn.

Microsoft's millionaires have revitalized declining neighborhoods, restored some beautiful old homes, and have contributed massive amounts of money to charities and churches and schools. Their money has been spent with local businesses, increasing employment across the region at every wage level. And lots of new businesses were started, not just tech businesses but retail stores and wineries and restaurants, as Microsoft millionaires retired and followed their dreams.

Amazon is shifting book publishing from the environmentally unsustainable practice of chopping down forests to print 1 million copies of the latest Rush Limbaugh book. My daughter will be able to have a library of a thousand books by the time she moves out of the house, and she won't even need to take her e-book reader to read them - she can read them on her phone or her computer or her tablet. And more writers are finding an audience today because the cost of printing and binding are either non-existent or paid by the consumer for a print-on-demand service.

Seattle was founded as a business-oriented city from the very start. The Denny's didn't come here to build a worker's utopia. They came here to sell lumber to San Francisco.

Yes, the businesses can be tough and demanding, but the fact is they all provide services and products that their consumers like and think are worth the price.

talisker

Posted Thu, May 29, 7:40 p.m. Inappropriate


Shorter version: "Trickle-down economics is good for you. Trust me."

Who pays you to post this tripe? Is it the Downtown Seattle Association?

crossrip

Posted Fri, May 30, 7:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Okay, show where none or some of the statements are not true.

Seasoned

Posted Thu, May 29, 1:36 p.m. Inappropriate

It isn't hypocrisy. The same people aren't the ones who are holding two positions simultaneously.

talisker

Posted Thu, May 29, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

As so many of us have learned to our peril, to say anything genuinely critical about Seattle or Seattleites is to bring down on ourselves the same sort of hatefulness one might engender by burning a Confederate flag at klavern-meeting of the Ku Klux Klan.

And for a Seattleite to admit any of those criticisms might be valid -- or indeed that there is anything at all slightly amiss in Emeraldville or even in the state of Emeraldmyopia -- is damned as the rankest of heresies.

Mr. Berger will therefore pay a bitter and probably lifelong social price for his honest reporting -- which is what makes the above piece undoubtedly the most courageous column of his career.

I salute and applaud Mr. Berger accordingly.

Posted Fri, May 30, 7:26 a.m. Inappropriate

lorenbliss, I agree with you on this point. Sheer Babbitry.

Seasoned

Posted Thu, May 29, 1:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Good piece and good comments from several readers.

When I returned home to Seattle nearly 14 years ago I remembered it as a place which did not lose sight of poor and working people, owners of modest homes, and small businesses. Yet, as others have pointed out, we maintain a stunningly regressive tax system which punishes those least able to pay. State and local tax subsidies total three times the size of the state's biennial budget---leaving a huge revenue gap which must be filled with the same regressive taxes and which, also importantly, favor big enterprises with political clout over small businesses lacking it. Then there are huge public resources devoted to such projects as the Mercer Project, designed to conform with Vulcan's South Lake Union development plans (but not reducing traffic congestion at all) and Sound Transit light rail, another huge capital project which, when completed, will carry far fewer passengers to far fewer destinations at far greater cost than expansion of ordinary bus service would do right now. The historically significant Yesler Terrace is torn down to make way for yet another developer's plans.

We're not alone in this, of course. It all follows from politics' Golden Rule: That is, those with the gold rule. But we do this while maintaining the pretext that we are "progressive" and liberal. Liberalism is not just about marijuana legalization or establishment of more bike lanes. Please

Posted Thu, May 29, 10:44 p.m. Inappropriate

"those with the gold rule" = neoliberalism

Good post.

louploup

Posted Thu, May 29, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Amen, Knute. This "progressive"-face-while-sucking-up-to-the-money hypocrisy is just another side of the "Seattle Freeze" passive-aggressiveness.

Posted Thu, May 29, 5:20 p.m. Inappropriate

I am reading this piece (sympathetically) but can't really figure it beyond free-floating angst (and these days I have a lot of that too.)

Many of your gripes are private ones -- we pay for expensive coffee drinks. OK, so what to do about it? Shut down Starbucks? Amazon does a hell of a job at doing what people want it to do. What? Shut down Amazon? And Seattle alone didn't pay Boeing extortion; it was a statewide decision.

On the side of good gestures, though with unexpected consequences, we just voted decisively for $15/hr. And we have Costco. Costco surely does in fact meet our image of what Seattle should be. Excellent products, return policies, personnel/health policy? Right? (Though I wish Costco would upgrade its physical appearance a bit.)

So I am bit confused -- where is your "call for action"? Or shall we all meet at Starbucks to get marching orders?

Posted Thu, May 29, 7:46 p.m. Inappropriate

And Seattle alone didn't pay Boeing extortion; it was a statewide decision.

The statutory tax preferences adopted for Boeing were ordered by the state democrat leadership and its functionaries carried those orders out. Last November Inslee called the special session days after the general election, and Murray and the rest of the team trotted down to Olympia to rubberstamp the tax break legislation. The state democrat leadership is responsible for that bad policy. The democrat leaders are not "statewide", they are in a handful of offices in Olympia and Seattle.

Geography is not your strong suit.

crossrip

Posted Fri, May 30, 7:41 a.m. Inappropriate

And you missed my point. But I thank you for doing so with unexpected, relative brevity.

Posted Fri, May 30, 8:37 a.m. Inappropriate

David, he is one of those liberals who lie awake at night, unable to sleep, becuse there are some folks out there who have lots more money than he does. That somehow, the people who did not bother to complete high school, or get job training, or wait until they can afford to to have children, are more noble than those who worked hard, exercised self control and are now making good money and have a comfortable life. Because no matter how many big screen TVs and safety nets there are, some people are lazier, less future-oriented, and just have less luck than others.

Seasoned

Posted Fri, May 30, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Corporate giant Costco fails as a marketing model in terms of transportation. A single Costco induces 10x the fuel combustion compared to neighborhood stores or district shopping centers, while putting these out of business. Amazon and Boeing similarly fall short in these terms of transportation costs and impacts. A progressive carbon tax would bankrupt these (low-cost?) corporate giants. Meanwhile, Wsdot consistently constructs absurdly substandard highways. Seattle transit agencies fall short of national standards, nevermind world standards. BNSF plans to dedicate its rails to fossil fuel transport through the Pacific Northwest. And Seattle's economy is more dependent upon diesel-spewing global trade than any US port. Yeah, we could address global warming, but the subject of transport is too far down the list of concerns Seattlers hold dearly, never f'kn mind competent discussion among peers; so says this Oregonian.

Our ODOT was finished Your Wsdot boys in 2008.
Your guys also misled our Port authorities about the oval track on West Hayden and the Spagetti ramp hazard there. Washingtonian advice, in transportation matters is no longer accepted,
south of the Columbia River. Bertha must not proceed, period.
Drill-Fill Sea Fence? Not a good idea, period.
MercerWest QueenAnne Truck Route? How f'n dare you?
Meh..
Check out the WsDOT angle for retaining Battery Street Tunnel.
YOU WILL LIKE IT,
honest, trust me.
And BOX CUT-COVER/SEAWALL
DO NOT REJECT ITS STUDY.
Total fix plus adorbs.
;^)

Wells

Posted Fri, May 30, 8:03 a.m. Inappropriate

The deal that got things moving in Seattle was two property owners giving away 320 acres of their claims to convince Yesler to bring the first steam mill in Puget Sound to Seattle. They knew that giving away the land would make their own land more valuable, and they knew that the mill would bring in a ton of jobs and money to the area. This was a year after the Denny Party landed at Alki.

And Yesler was the same kind of businessman that the article is saying today's Seattle big businesses are. Bill Speidel called him "The Bastard" in Sons of the Profits, for good reason. And that story repeats itself over and over here over the last 160 years. It's pretty much the story of every city in the American west. Tacoma gave up huge tracts so the Northern Pacific would build its terminus there, for example.

Yesler's Mill was what made Seattle the region's economic leader. It attracted other businesses and residents, and the population it attracted is a key reason that we wound up with the territorial land grant that turned into the University of Washington.

Did Carson and Boren foresee that when they gave up their land? No, probably not. They just knew what it meant in the short term to have that mill adjacent to their property.

The big giveaways to Boeing, Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft have had pretty much the same result. And ever since Yesler's Mill, those giveaways have caused ripples that created jobs of every skill and wage level to support those businesses and the people who worked directly for them.

I'd rather that Seattle was the quieter, more modest city it was before Microsoft came along. But I'm enough of a pragmatist to know that isn't going to happen, and those days are gone. So if we're going to be facing growth then our best hope is to make sure people can live close to where they work and that the inevitable density that we'll need to do that is not something that Jacob Riis would write about.

talisker

Posted Fri, May 30, 9:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Trickle-down economics rears its ugly head in Seattle:

The big giveaways to Boeing, Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft have had pretty much the same result. . . . [T]hose giveaways have caused ripples that created jobs of every skill and wage level to support those businesses and the people who worked directly for them.

I KNOW you don't believe that fairy tale, and you certainly can not back it up with any facts.

Want the truth about those tax breaks, and the public spending that disproportionately benefits rich entities?

Reuven Carlyle wrote recently in Crosscut about how tax preferences may not be worthwhile. He pointed out that even state lawmakers have no way to verify that they are a good deal for the public:

http://crosscut.com/2014/02/02/politics-government/118477/reuven-carlyle-secrecy-tax-breaks-harming-state/

Indeed, there is ample research showing big state tax breaks are not the reasons companies stay in a particular state:

http://tinyurl.com/qfpksmc

Anyone think Ed Murray or Jay Inslee had any data or research to prove giving those huge tax breaks to Boeing last November would be worthwhile for 95% of the people of this state? Hint: they did not.

Boeing, Amazon and Microsoft are exceedingly profitable companies. Boeing for example has seen its stock price nearly double in the past two years. If Boeing and other profitable companies paid taxes to the state and local governments here at levels they'd pay elsewhere in the country their stock prices wouldn't be any different.

That's the thing about democrats around here: they're all about hiking taxes that target the lower middle class and giving preferential tax treatment to rich corporations.

What's interesting is how the propagandists for large corporations around here harp loudly on trickle-down economics as justification for the current state and local tax policies. Their refrain goes like this: "Big companies hire people who then can be taxed when they buy clothes for themselves and their children, so big companies and the ultra-rich should not be targeted for taxation!" Newsflash: trickle-down economics is no more valid now than when David Stockman floated it.

crossrip

Posted Sun, Jun 1, 2:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Best not to use Seattle history to make one's points when it is so easy for readers to let their fingers do the walking, e.g. HistoryLink story 1660 First White Settlers
http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file;_id=1660

No "Bostons" gave up much of anything, and that includes Doc Maynard, the guy who invented Seattle per Speidel. See his sequel, also Morgan, Jones, MacDonald, and most recently Klingle. The giving up was done on the Indians' behalf by the Federal Government. Domain claims, conveniently first available Sept. 27, 1850, were treated like capital in more ways than one by Seattle's first real estate opportunists.

Furthermore, even Maynard's ability to see around profit would not have amounted to much without the magnificent natural deep harbor, abundant natural resources, Indians willing to work hard for next to nothing, fertile river valleys and the easiest mountain pass close at hand.

Art Theil's characterization of Ballmer as "Seattle monetized" suggests that "giving up something of value" can be just that. Most certainly so for those tending nature's store who moved over and did the Bostons' bidding. And even more so in today's here-today-gone-tomorrow world of globalization/ neoliberalism

afreeman

Posted Fri, May 30, 9:23 a.m. Inappropriate

We don't have to remember that far back to remember the time when we almost rid ourselves of the bullying that Boeing allegedly engages in. In 1970 Boeing nearly went bankrupt and, it is reported, convinced the Department of Defense to accelerate payments on some contracts in order to remain solvent. Maybe Boeing was less of a bully then (it's a challenge to be a bully when you're broke) but I remember that most people around here were sad to think of Seattle without any Boeing at all. We were contemplating a west coast version of Buffalo or maybe Flint.

kieth

Posted Mon, Jun 2, 5:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Some of us remember 14% unemployment and the iconic sign by the airport: "Will the last person leaving Seattle turn off the lights."

Posted Fri, May 30, 10:14 a.m. Inappropriate

The computer market was a fat, stagnant shadow of what it could have been when Microsoft started to build its "monopoly." What they did was compete hard, but the reason they succeeded was because they did it better than anyone else.

Starbucks marketed an idea of a 3rd place more effectively than any company in history. They did this better than anyone else, and they did it with bare-knuckled fierceness.

Amazon is rough on publishers - but how were publishers on their authors BEFORE Amazon? Like Microsoft, Amazon saw an opening in the form of a complacent, stagnant market, and blew it open.

All 3 of these companies now have this culture ingrained in them, and they bring it to the city they call home. I don't think this culture is conducive to building public institutions and public goods, but I don't think we should blame these companies for having this culture. It worked for them.

Seattle's PEOPLE and its GOVERNMENT should blame THEMSELVES more than corporate overlords for the maladies of their city. I love this city, and am a 4th generation inhabitant. But I'm not blind to the fact that we've screwed ourselves more often than any corporate interest has. We spent some decades resisting growing denser and more populous, apologizing to rural co-inhabitants of our state, not flexing our muscle to be urban, with urban solutions too much. Now we're doing everything at once - getting denser, going our own way on transit, minimum wage, taxation, etc. And if feels chaotic... because it is. Because we did nothing about this for decades and now we're trying to do it all at once.

Growing up is hard to do. Especially when you deny it's happening for a generation. While Amazon, Starbucks, and Microsoft were growing - while Boeing and Nordstrom were securing their places in their industries - Seattle's people were voting down transit, resisting development, voting down the commons, ignoring the viaduct and streets maintenance, watching and complaining while property values got prohibitive for more and more people. While our companies become unapologetic leaders, we sat in the back seat complaining and dozing off. Our bad, not theirs.

nullbull

Posted Fri, May 30, 9:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Corporate giant Costco fails as a marketing model in terms of transportation. A single Costco induces 10x the fuel combustion compared to neighborhood stores or district shopping centers, while putting these out of business. Amazon and Boeing similarly fall short in these terms of transportation costs and impacts. A progressive carbon tax would bankrupt these (low-cost?) corporate giants. Meanwhile, Wsdot consistently constructs absurdly substandard highways. Seattle transit agencies fall short of national standards, nevermind world standards. BNSF plans to dedicate its rails to fossil fuel transport through the Pacific Northwest. And Seattle's economy is more dependent upon diesel-spewing global trade than any US port. Yeah, we could address global warming, but the subject of transport is too far down the list of concerns Seattlers hold dearly, never f'kn mind competent discussion among peers; so says this Oregonian.

Our ODOT was finished with your Wsdot boys in 2008.
Your guys also misled our Port authorities about the oval track on West Hayden and the Spagetti ramp hazard. Washingtonian advice, in transportation matters is no longer accepted south of
our Columbia River. Bertha must not proceed, period, end of story.
Drill-Fill Sea Fence? Not a good idea, period.
MercerWest QueenAnne Truck Route? How f'n dare you?

Check out the WsDOT angle for retaining Battery Street Tunnel.
YOU WILL LIKE IT, honest, trust me.
BOX CUT-COVER/SEAWALL, do not reject/neglect its study.

In your languagification experientialness:

Total fix plus adorbs;^)

(TOTAL FIX PLUS ADORBS W/FACE)

Wells

Posted Mon, Jun 2, 11:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Corporate giant Costco fails as a marketing model in terms of transportation. A single Costco induces 10x the fuel combustion compared to neighborhood stores or district shopping centers, while putting these out of business.

----interesting - have any links to the data for us? If one were talking about efficiencies in energy, transportation, use of space, etc. wouldn't you have to use some type of per unit metric for comparison rather than raw totals? I think so.

And I KNEW there you'd find a way to say cut-and-cover, no matter what the subject at hand. Cheers.

Treker

Posted Mon, Jun 2, 5:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Name me one big contemporary succesful city without one or two ethically challenged big industries.

Posted Tue, Jun 3, 8:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Skip's Disclosure totally sums it up. Seasoned's term "hipocrisy" (even if inadvertent) is absolutely perfect.

"The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Crack-Up", Esquire Magazine (February 1936)

Posted Tue, Jun 3, 4:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you. it actually was inadvertent - I have a hard time spelling whilst typing, as I have become too dependent on auto spell check. But maybe, as Freud said, there are no accidents.

Seasoned

Posted Thu, Jun 5, 9:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute, it's time for you to get a shave and see if the fresh air perks you up. You're far to negative.

Posted Tue, Jun 10, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

There may be no one in this city having a more "idealistic, more humane, more fair" self-image than the author of this.
Maybe that is why he has trouble seeing that others using appeals to these qualities pursue ignorant policies.

Posted Tue, Sep 16, 5:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Jeff Bezos as Dr. Evil on top of the Space Needle.

gcneill

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