Category Archives: Politics

Race Matters: The Misrepresentation of Race In The Media

by Sam Louie

Courtesy NY Daily News
Courtesy NY Daily News

 

As an Asian-American therapist with a multi-cultural focus, I can attest that an ethnic person’s identity can be mired in self-hatred and self-loathing during the process of integrating into mainstream American society.

In therapeutic circles there’s a process known as the Minority Identity Development Model.   The first phase is one called the “Pre-Encounter Stage” where a minority member devalues himself, his ethnicity (i.e. culture, customs, the way he/she looks) in comparison to the accepted, mainstream culture.  In the U.S., minorities may think the country or region they live in is anti-minority or non-minority and may act or behave in ways to be more “American” as a means to fit in.

The complexities related to Elliot Rodger’s mental health is vast and speculative but from his writings it’s clear it hinges on three prongs: race, class, and gender.  Mainstream media has expounded on the class and male entitlement aspect of Rodger’s life but very little is mentioned on the racial component.

If anything, it seems race is the last subject they want to address.  While his Asian background didn’t directly lead to his carnage, according to his manifesto it was clearly one of the contributing challenges he faced as someone who struggled with his mixed Chinese heritage as early as nine years old.

On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with…my first act was to ask my parents to allow me to bleach my hair blonde. I always envied and admired blonde-haired people, they always seemed so much more beautiful.”

Rodger’s desire to fit into mainstream society and be accepted as a minority during this vulnerable stage can not be understated or ignored (like it currently is by the media).  He was looking for acceptance from numerous sources: blonde women, his father, and peers but felt rejected or “not good enough” without the acknowledgment that one the biggest rejections he was grappling was his rejection of self.

His struggle while ostensibly looking like a young man plagued with a number of mental health issues should not be relegated to that classification alone.  Instead, we as a society need to understand Rodger was a young man who was stuck in a process where he was not able to integrate his ethnic Chinese side with his Caucasian side.  His writing of his ethnic self-hatred is evident even if it’s cloaked by his veiled attempt to bolster himself with his grandiosity (itself a defense mechanism).

I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl! And white girls are the only girls I’m attracted to, especially the blondes. How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them?

This is why his race matters.  Because we as Asian-Americans hurt knowing he was never able to get to the second phase of the minority identity development known as the “Encounter Stage” where an ethnic minority learns to see himself as valuable, loved, and cherished not in spite of his culture but because of it.  In other words, minorities in this stage learn to embrace their heritage despite the surrounding that may convey contrary messages.

This explanation isn’t to simplify Elliot Rodger’s malicious actions, rather it’s to shed light and understanding to the public that race matters.

 

Sam Louie is an Asian-American psychotherapist with a private practice in Seattle and Bellevue.  He focuses on issues of culture, race, and addictions.  He is also a Los Angeles Emmy-Award Winning former t.v. news journalist and can be reached at:www.samlouiemft.com. sam@samlouiemft.com and on Twitter @SamLouieSpeaks  

Civic Salvos: We Can Get There From Here

by Sandra Vanderven

I went to The Evergreen State College, a place known for activist students who are nicknamed “Greeners”.  This is where I first realized that corporations and the wealthy were taking control of our democracy and that the media is complicit.  The symptoms of this situation are more than I can list here:  our climate is changing, our education system is being undermined, and most major life transitions now require tithing to banks which themselves are crime-ridden and impervious; to name just a few. Here To There

I went to Evergreen in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  I would come back to Seattle to visit my friends and family, where the change in context, from radical college town to mainstream middle class upwardly mobile city, made me uncomfortably aware of how few people had access to the kind of info I was absorbing there.

Fast forward to now, and things are different.  We in Seattle get it.  In fact, 75% of us think that a $15 minimum wage is a good idea.

A few years ago, I decided to change what I do in life to include activism and organizing.  It is the best thing I ever did outside of family, and I can’t believe there aren’t more people working on this stuff.  Where are the torches and pitchforks?

People are busy.  I get that.  I’m busy too.  With most of the people I know on the same page with me philosophically, I often wonder why people don’t get involved more deeply than clicking online petitions.

I think there are a few answers in play.  One is people don’t turn out if they don’t think it will make a difference.  It is a simple value judgment.  I have a certain amount of time, and it never feels like enough, so I won’t spend a minute of it on something I am not persuaded will change things. There is also a bandwagon effect, meaning people look to see what others are doing and decide on action or inaction based on that.  Right now, the norm is that we can volunteer in a soup kitchen and feel righteous, but if we work to make soup kitchens obsolete we are considered a little deluded.

These attitudes have lots of causes.  Most of the progressive organizations wielding an email list have found that they can get people to click with a message of doom and gloom.  This gives them good short term results, but at the same time, our collective perception of whether we have a shot at making a difference is eroded.  People get overwhelmed.

It isn’t a part of our culture right now to engage politically.  Our country has been influenced by an anti-intellectual movement, and by a cult of fierce independence. Both of these things have undermined who we are fundamentally, and by that, I mean as a species.  We are social.  Interdependence is part of our makeup.  But deeply antisocial forces have turned us against our own intrinsic natures—turned us against the instincts that in the past have allowed us to thrive.  So now here in Seattle, the friendliest of climates in the world of organizing, a place where so many of us understand how the oligarchy is shaking us down, when we picture organizing or activism, the image that pops to mind is not of ourselves.

It isn’t accidental that people are skeptical about making a difference, and they won’t discover they can be effective by accident, either.

How do we change “I” to “we”?  How do we move from fierce independence to fierce cooperation?  How do we sear into minds the image of people doing better by working together?

For a start, we need a beacon to rally around and push towards.  We need to talk more about the world we want—what makes a life well lived, and how can we all have access to that, not just stomp our feet and yell about our corporate rulers being mean to us.  We, the movement builders, need to do a better job of demonstrating what we are working towards, showing glimpses of the future we are trying to attain.  Second, we have to give people a sense that we can make a difference, because as it turns out, we can.  Third, it has to be fun.

If we are going to win, it will take a movement that belongs to all, not just us Greeners.

Sandra Vanderven is a Senior Organizer at Fuse Washington and Board President of the Backbone Campaign. She can be contacted at sandra@fusewashington.org

 

The Clash Of Views On Government

 

Govt Clashingby Marilyn Watkins

 

Recent headlines highlight what conflicting attitudes we Americans tend to hold about government. The still-unfolding tragedy in Oso, the debates over school and transportation funding, and the Supreme Court ruling on campaign contributions all underscore just what a messy process democracy is.

We expect a lot from our government – protection from bad actors and natural disasters, high quality education and infrastructure, far-sighted leadership that still represents us. But we also want to be able to do as we please and pay as little as possible in taxes.

Mixed in with news accounts of individual heroism and community solidarity from the Oso landslide are questions of whether public officials could have prevented loss of life. Should the state have banned logging on that hilltop – and on every unstable slope in Washington? Should Snohomish County have prohibited building homes in the slide zone – and on other private property at risk of landslide or flood? Should we invest in a monitor and alert system – and who should pay?

Oso and Darrington aren’t just scenic retreats. They’re working-class  communities where logging is still an important part of the economic base. And the demand for lumber is driven by us city folk, even while many of us condemn clear-cutting and the ugly scars it leaves on our views.

We elect our city and county council members, state legislators and governor, Congress members and president. They pass the laws, with industry lobbyists, environmentalists, union reps, policy experts, and individual constituents arguing conflicting points of view. Then those oft-reviled government bureaucrats – or public servants – try to enforce usually imperfect laws with limited resources.

And the next expensive election campaign is always just around the corner. A well-financed opponent can outshout a true people’s representative, and easily twist a vote for the most thoughtfully-crafted legislation in a way that plays on voters’ fears.

A vote intended to protect lives and the environment is portrayed by opponents as a job-killing attack on property rights. A vote to ensure long-term funding for quality education, or modernized transportation infrastructure, is framed as greedy politicians taking more money out of your pocket. A vote requiring corporate shareholders and wealthy individuals to pay their fair share for public services is pronounced class warfare.

All the special-interest money in politics, and the fact that the Supreme Court has just allowed the wealthiest 600 or so Americans to make even larger campaign contributions, wouldn’t be so bad if voters had the leisure and inclination to be well-informed about the issues and candidates. But even professional policy wonks understand the ins and outs of only a handful of issues. Most people are too caught up with their kids’ activities, their parents’ declining health, and trying to pay the bills to have much energy for political engagement.

Therefore, public debate usually happens in sound bites. That enables those with the most money to have the most freedom to speak. Consensus based on true understanding of different perspectives rarely emerges.

Our government isn’t perfect, but under the circumstances functions remarkably well. Our schools educate most kids, our food and water is generally safe, our cities don’t crumble to rubble in earthquakes, firefighters and police show up and display heroism.

The only way to make government better is for more of us to be engaged, to learn about the issues, to share our views with candidates, to hold elected officials accountable for representing us and the common good, to be willing to pay our fair share of taxes to assure opportunity for the next generation. In the end, democracy is an on-going process that requires us all to participate.

Marilyn Watkins is policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonpartisan policy center  focused on building and economy that works for everyone.

 

Civic Salvos: Washington State Hunger Strike Goes National

by Miriam Xiomara Padilla and Su Docekal
Seattle, WA

An unprecedented hunger strike by 750 of the 1,200 detainees in Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center started during breakfast on March 7. The strikers’ demands for an end to deportations and inhumane conditions in the privately-owned prison has made national headlines and drawn broad community support. On March 17 the strike spread to the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas. Both jails are run by the GEO Group, Inc., this country’s second largest for-profit prison corporation.

protestersThe Tacoma hunger strike was inspired by a dozen undocumented Washington State residents and supporters who locked themselves together at the entrance of the detention center on Feb. 24. The #Not1More activists sat down in front of a bus to block it from transporting detainees to the airport to be deported, a strategy modeled on similar recent actions by undocumented protesters in Chicago, Phoenix and Atlanta.

Daily demonstrations have been held at the Tacoma facility since the strike began and on Tuesday, March 11 over 200 people rallied in solidarity with the hunger strikers and their families. They chanted and made lots of noise to let those inside know that they had support outside.

AT A MARCH 19 PRESS CONFERENCE in front of the Tacoma detention center, Maru Mora Villalpando of #Not1More began by saying, “Obama can stop the deportations, but he has chosen not to.” She introduced several family members of the hunger strikers, who explained that their husbands andt were taking this action to expose the abuses in the detention center and to stop the deportations.

One of the strike leaders, Jose Moreno, who had just been released, spoke on behalf of those inside, saying that mistreatment by officials, as well as poor food and medical care are among the abuses the strikers are protesting.

Sandy Restrepo, an attorney with La Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, has been visiting the strikers regularly and reported that 13 detainees remain on hunger strike. Ramon Mendoza Pascual and Jesus Gaspar Navarro are in medical isolation, while the remaining 11 are in general population.

THE GEO GROUP, which reaps enormous profits from its prisons and detention centers, has a long history of unjust treatment. In 2008 at its Reeves County Detention Center in Texas, Jesus Manuel Galindo died at 32 after suffering an epileptic seizure in solitary confinement. Galindo was thrown into “the hole” after he complained about his medical care.

The GEO Group is also politically active in promoting laws that will keep its for-profit prisons full. The corporation took part in the task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which pushed bills for “truth-in-sentencing” that reduce paroles and “three strikes” legislation that increases life sentences.

ACROSS THE COUNTRY undocumented immigrants, especially women, youth and detainees, are putting their bodies on the line to demand an end to endless deportations. It is a dramatic change from the go-slow “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR) strategy promoted by immigration reform organizations closely tied to the Democratic Party.

The Dignity Campaign, which is endorsed by dozens of grassroots organizations, including the Freedom Socialist Party, called the CIR strategy a “deal with the devil” in a March 2014 statement:

“The CIR trade-off — giving up immigrants’ civil and labor rights to get legalization — has always been an unworkable strategy for immigration reform. The CIR bills serve the interests of employers. Whether they’re looking for farm workers, construction workers or high tech workers, the corporate objective is to ensure that wages go down as workers compete for insecure jobs.

While CIR languished in Congress, community and labor activists, mostly young, have refused to wait or compromise, and instead have organized on the ground to win rights and equality.

The hunger strikers in Washington and Texas provide stirring leadership for this new wave of militant activism. At the March 19 press conference, strikers Pascual and Navarro sent encouraging taped messages to the hunger strikers in Conroe, Texas. “We’re not doing anything wrong, we’re demanding our rights. You should keep going forward, and not yield,” said Navarro, followed by Pascual who added, “Don’t be afraid, we must keep going, so that we are heard and so that we can be free.”

How you can help

SIGN the online petition to support the hunger strikers at the Northwest Detention Center.
SEND donations to La Colectiva Legal del Pueblo so that they can help detainees and their families communicate with each other. Mail checks to 645 SW 153rd Street, Suite C3 Burien, WA 98166. Email: info@colectivalegal.org.
PARTICIPATE in the National Day of Action against deportations being planned across the country for April 5th. There will be a rally at the Tacoma detention center that day from noon to 5:00pm. Anyone interested in carpooling from Seattle, please contact the Freedom Socialist Party at FSPseattle@mindspring.com. Learn more about the national campaign at notonemoredeportation.com.
JOIN the #Not1More protests in front of the Northwest Detention Center that take place every day from noon to 5:00pm leading up to the April 5 rally.

Late breaking news: On Monday, March 24th 70 detainees in Tacoma rejoined the hunger strike.

Miriam Xiomara Padilla is a high school student and a leader in the Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado in Seattle. Su Docekal is an immigrant rights activist and Organizer for the Seattle branch of the Freedom Socialist Party.

A Pragmatic Approach To A Fair Minimum Wage

by Marilyn Watkins

People who toil away at jobs we all depend on shouldn’t live in poverty. But would a $15 minimum wage work in Seattle?

Here’s a look past the rhetoric at what the research shows.

Washington’s minimum wage of $9.32 isn’t enough to cover the basics. Affording a one-bedroom apartment in King County required working full-time at $17.54 an hour in 2013, according to a study by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and the Department of Commerce. But tens of thousands of local workers in fast food, restaurants, retail, childcare, hotels, and other common occupations, typically earn less than $12.50.

The average cost of a one-bedroom shot up 55% in the past 4 years within a 10 mile radius of Seattle, a period when inflation – and the state minimum wage, rose just 7.5%.

Inequality has been on the rise for three decades, and it is causing economic instability and job-killing recessions. If minimum wage had kept pace with productivity gains over that period it would now be above $16. Since the start of the recession in 2008, corporate profits have climbed steadily, but the share of our national economy going to workers wages has declined, with more of total wages going to CEOS, hedge fund managers, and software engineers – and less to everybody else.

We need to do something about low wages. But, will raising the minimum wage to $15 force businesses to cut jobs and in some cases close altogether as opponents contend?

Twenty-one states now have minimum wages above the federal level. We have lots of data to test the theory that raising the minimum wage decreases hiring.

The most recent, economically sophisticated studies that actually use all these data have concluded that all the minimum wage increases of the past 25 years had no significant impact on jobs. The increases did raise monthly incomes for low-wage workers and decrease turn over.

When workers stay in their jobs longer, employers have lower hiring and training costs, and productivity increases. This helps explain why employers can pay higher wages without cutting jobs.

Other cities have set their own minimum wages. In the fall of 2013, Washington, DC and two Maryland counties acted to raise their minimum wages in steps, to reach $11.50 by 2016 or 2017. San Francisco’s minimum wage is $10.74, and the city also requires businesses to provide paid sick days and health insurance. A study just out from UC Berkeley concludes that employers made the adjustment to higher workplace standards without cutting jobs, in some cases modestly raising prices along with enjoying the benefits of less turnover and higher productivity.

The minimum wage increases in these studies were all less than the 60% raise that jumping straight to $15 would be. We don’t actually know what would happen with a quick increase of that scale. It’s not just the corporate fat cats who are worried, but owners of some local shops and restaurants operating on small margins, and childcare centers and social service agencies who don’t have the option of raising prices.

Taking all the data into account, here are my recommendations:

  1. Move to $15 in several steps. Workers need more in their pockets immediately, but a gradual increase gives small business owners time to adjust.

  2. Keep it universal. Some have suggested a small business exemption, and the Restaurant Association is clamoring for tip credits, or worse, “total compensation” (that means counting all benefits – health insurance, sick leave, meals – toward the minimum wage). All workers deserve a living wage. Employees shouldn’t have to rely on the whims of customers’ voluntary contributions. We hear anecdotally about bartenders and waiters at trendy nightspots who earn $40,000 to $70,000 a year. Well, why shouldn’t they? Their employers are bringing in plenty, and well-heeled customers buying $13 cocktails and laying down big tips would pay higher menu prices, too. But the truth is, most tipped workers are serving customers with modest incomes, often work part-time hours and slow shifts. Allowing employers to deduct not only tips but the “cost” of benefits, including every cup of coffee and bathroom break, provides new opportunities for wage theft and could result in some people seeing their paycheck go down.

Low wage workers are all ages. Some support families, or are trying to put themselves through school in the face of skyrocketing tuition. Others are college grads forced to move back in with mom because they can’t afford rent.

Low wages do not induce businesses to hire more workers – more customers do. So let’s go ahead and give Seattle a raise.

Marilyn Watkins is policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonpartisan policy center  focused on building and economy that works for everyone.

Civic Salvos

by Young Han

The national discussion on wealth disparity and social mobility has taken center-stage in recent months.  In line with the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” address (http://www.npr.org/2014/01/04/259646707/fifty-years-later-did-the-u-s-win-the-war-on-poverty), as well as the success of avowedly progressive-to-radical political candidates in recent years (http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-video-mayor-inauguration-speeches.html), mainstream publications such as the New York Times have begun to report on the problem of escalating inequality with increasing gusto.  Some of the more thought-provoking (if not fear-engendering) findings of this reporting, at least to a Seattleite such as myself, have come out of the city of San Francisco.  Even with its storied progressive history and reputation for inclusiveness, the city has undergone the same economic changes affecting the rest of the country, if it has not led them.  And, from the steady stream of recent reports, it appears that even the identity of the city may be on the line.

 

San Francisco, perhaps more than any other city in the US, represents what the new information economy may look like.  The city, much like Seattle, has a highly educated population and a substantial proportion of its workers in the technical or managerial professions.  Companies like Adobe, Twitter, and Wells Fargo call it home, while others such as Apple and Google are headquartered nearby. When business or political elites talk about the economic future of America, particularly in discussions about “free” trade or international competition, this is what they envision to be the ideal outcome.  As the logic of globalization leads industrial production (and traditional working-class jobs) out of the country, workers will move into engineering, biotech and finance jobs—well paying, intellectually-satisfying and hierarchical flat.  This is, fundamentally, the idea of comparative advantage.

 

San Francisco shows that it doesn’t exactly work that way.  The narrative found in both official statistics and media reports is less one of a New Economy lifting all boats than that of growing conflict and displacement (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/7/classes-clash-assanfranciscansblametechforrisingrents.html).  Sound familiar?  While the latest boom for technology companies, to use one stark example, has given the city an enviably low unemployment rate, filled its public coffers, and created tens of thousands of jobs paying over $100,000 per year, it has also led to median monthly rents of over $3,400, a triple-digit increase in the rate of evictions, and pages of anecdotes regarding unprecedented levels of status consumption (http://www.npr.org/2013/12/03/247531636/as-rent-soars-longtime-san-francisco-tenants-fight-to-stay).  It is now possible, for instance, to pay $8 for two slices of toast and $2,400 a year to hobnob in a private nightclub.  Together, these facts have led many to ask how people employed in traditional middle-class occupations, entrepreneurs without venture financing, activists, and artists can still manage to relate to the new San Francisco, much less call it home.

 

More recently, anxieties related to the dramatic changes have led to no small degree of ugliness.  Protests against private buses provided by Silicon Valley employers to ferry high-tech workers from their homes in San Francisco have served as a lighting rod for frustration, however misdirected.  For many, these buses represent a further enclosure of public services into private hands.  The buses represent both a failure to invest in transportation accessible to all, but also, given their use of congested public bus stops without remuneration, a kind of noblesse oblige.  A few activists have taken to blockading the buses and sometimes even vandalizing them.  The class war, however, has certainly not been one-sided.  Rants by notable members of the tech community, in particular, have recently lit up the blogosphere.  One equated people in the “lower part of society” with animals and suggested they ought to know their place when they strayed outside their own poor or working-class neighborhoods (http://valleywag.gawker.com/happy-holidays-startup-ceo-complains-sf-is-full-of-hum-1481067192).

 

As a Seattleite, these developments concern me as the dynamics in play in San Francisco exist here, as well as across the country.  Within the city of Seattle, increased demand for housing by those with the means to pay premium rents have raised the median price of a studio, over the past two years, by between $306 and $434 in its core neighborhoods (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021673014_rentincreasesxml.html).  At the same time, workers who provide essential services, such as healthcare support and custodial services, typically earn less $15 an hour (http://livingwage.mit.edu/places/5303363000).  This is 20% less than the minimum wage in 1968 (http://www.epi.org/publication/lagging-minimum-wage-reason-americans-wages/) had it been indexed for productivity and inflation.  It is certainly not a rate of pay conducive to either saving money, paying for more education, or getting new skills.  As a city that prides itself on its progressive politics and a commitment to inclusion, we must ask whether we too may become a place that primarily edifies the well-to-do, one whose service-sector attendants live physically outside its boundaries or marginally inside it.

Ultimately, this question is about values, but more importantly, it is a question about policy.  It is less productive to blame specific companies, sectors, or individuals for responding to incentives than criticizing the perverse political and economic context that created them. The success of companies that hire employees with technical skills has brought great benefits and it is absolutely essential for well-diversified economy.  After all, after deindustrialization and massive structural changes in the economy, Seattle doesn’t look like St. Louis or Detroit.  We are in a position of relative strength.  At the same time, the economic dynamics that have transformed San Francisco, and threaten to do the same here in Seattle, are not natural or inevitable outcomes.  Policies regarding taxation, money, and who controls knowledge and culture have redistributed political and economic power upward.  We need to understand this and ask if this is what we want.

Young Han is a Columbia City resident interested in economic history and the economics of technological change as well as an advocate for cooperative development, and expanding economic democracy