Too Bad There’s No Regulatory Authority to Protect UberX Drivers

I hate to say I told you so, but… no… wait… I actually kinda love saying I told you so:

Some UberX drivers in Seattle are no longer working for Uber as a way to protest how they’ve been treated by the transportation company.

About 100 drivers from a new group called Seattle Ride-Share Drivers Association gathered Wednesday to show their frustration with a recent price reduction Uber has implemented.

[...] The Seattle Ride-Share Drivers Association, which has 500 members, said Uber’s claim that its drivers are making more overall income is “unfounded.” It noted how some drivers, when expenses are accounted for, are actually now losing money when accepting a ride.

“No sensible person would stop working if he or she is making more money,” association board member Jamal Ahmed told GeekWire.

One of the more insulting and Orwellian attacks on me for advocating a more gradual and regulated entry of so-called “ride share” into Seattle’s taxi and for-hire market, was the charge that I was “anti-driver”—that I was shamelessly (and perhaps racistly) shilling for exploitive taxi owners at the expense of the city’s largely immigrant for-hire work force.

Well, you tell me: who is exploiting who?

Yes, under the old system we had a regulated monopoly with legal barriers to entry, but at least we had government regulators charged with looking out for the interests of drivers and consumers. But when Uber and Lyft are done with their creative destruction, there will be one, maybe two out-of-state for-profit monoliths dominating the market and dictating terms to drivers and customers alike.

Uber is going to have to do something to justify its $17 billion market capitalization. And as UberX drivers are beginning learn, that something will come at their expense.

Meanwhile, the lack of caps leaves aggrieved drivers nearly powerless to wage a meaningful protest. With over a thousand drivers in its system UberX apparently suffered no slow down in pick up  times due to the labor action. It’s like UberX has a virtual scab feature built right in. Hooray for progress!


Nobody Is Forced to Join a Union

So, I’m not going to link to them again (because why drive them traffic?), but the ironically named Freedom Foundation seems intent on drawing me into a pissing match. In their latest web video, their scruffy faced young spokesdude asks me (and you can tell he’s just an average Joe from his facial hair and his closet full of plaid shirts): “How does forcing someone to join a union spell freedom? Answer us that, Goldy.”

Well, as spokesdude very well knows, I can’t answer that. Because it’s a trick question. Nobody is ever forced to join a union.

Under federal law, the most a worker can be required to pay the union is an “agency fee” that covers the worker’s fair share of the cost of collective bargaining, contract administration, and the grievance process. No contract can require workers to join a union, or pay the fees that cover the union’s political activities. And yet nonmembers are still fully covered by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the union and the employer, receiving all of its benefits. Sweet!

What the Freedom Foundation is fighting for in its “right to work” initiatives is the freedom for nonmembers to get an entirely free ride: all of the benefits of the union contract, without paying any of the costs of negotiating or administering it. They are counting on narrow self-interest to drive individual workers to opt out of paying agency fees, bankrupting the union in the process. It is a calculated exercise in the tragedy of the commons.

So that’s the short answer to the specific question: nobody is forced to join a union.

As for scruffydude’s larger implication that being forced to pay one’s fair share of the cost of negotiating and administering a union contract is somehow a violation of one’s personal liberty, I guess the most direct response is: grow the fuck up!

I don’t get to opt out of paying for wars I oppose, or roads I don’t drive on, or a prison-industrial-complex predicated on the racist policy of jailing black men for petty crimes at much higher rates than we imprison whites. In addition, there are plenty of actual line items deducted from our paychecks to fund programs that, as individuals, we may or may not support; if you are a non-union-member employed in a unionized workplace, the agency fee may be one of them. So answer me this, spokesdude: How would paying an agency fee be any more a violation of your personal freedom than the portion of my paycheck funding Predator drone attacks and domestic NSA surveillance is a violation of mine?

Through our laws we make all sorts of collective decisions that inevitably run counter to the desires of individual members of the republic. One of those decisions, which coalesced during the previous Gilded Age, is that it would be beneficial to society to enable workers to organize collectively in order to at least partially balance the inordinate power of capital. The result was an expansion of wealth and economic opportunity unprecedented in all of human history.

That you oppose this policy, scruffydude, is clear. That the Freedom Foundation and its ALEC co-conspirators and the Koch brothers et al. who fund your cute little videos would like to free corporate America to dictate the terms of employment entirely unencumbered by government regulation or union organizing, is no secret. And you are free to pursue your agenda.

But when you crusade against the institution that won American workers the weekend, the eight-hour workday, paid overtime, workplace safety standards, workers compensation for on-job injuries, unemployment insurance, paid vacation time, the minimum wage, paid health insurance, and any number of other benefits and reforms we all now take for granted—don’t you dare pretend that it has anything to do with securing workers their freedom.

Open Thread 8-28

- The best way to make sure McCleary is enforced is to make sure that there are no penalties on anyone.

- Tim Eyman said that the biggest lie of his life was when he paid himself when he told people he was campaigning out of the goodness of his heart. But I think the idea that there’s any traction, even statewide, to repeal Seattle’s $15 minimum wage is a bigger lie of his lifetime.

- More Than ‘Just Women’s Issues’ in Moral Week of Action

- I like the idea of time limits on Sunday parking.

- Probably was cited for something more serious than parking in the bike lane.

Because Elections Have Consequences on Elections

The Seattle Times on “How to fix Yakima’s racially polarized elections“:

Legislators should also rectify this un-American disparity, too common in the state, and pass the Washington Voting Rights Act, which empowers local jurisdictions to solve problems of voter exclusion at the local level.

No doubt. But also, you might want to stop endorsing all those Republican senators who are blocking passage of the Washington Voting Rights Act. Just sayin’.

Not a Coincidence

In the aftermath of Ferguson, it was reported that the St. Louis area has one of the largest gaps between white unemployment and black unemployment in the country. What hasn’t been talked about much is what exactly drives that, other than a general sense of racial bias.

Here are some numbers that help provide some more context on how it happens. These figures are from the ACLU’s 2013 report on the racial disparity in marijuana arrests. These were the 7 worst states (including D.C.) (page 20). The figure is the ratio of black arrests to white arrests

Iowa 8.34
D.C. 8.05
Minnesota 7.81
Illinois 7.56
Wisconsin 5.98
Kentucky 5.95
Pennsylvania 5.19

Now here is the list from the National Urban League [PDF] this year showing the cities with the highest gaps between black employment and white employment (page 43). The cities that are within the states above are bolded

1. Madison, WI
2. Lancaster, PA
3. Milwaukee, WI
4. Minneapolis, MN
5. Des Moines, IA

6. Baton Rouge, LA
7. Cleveland, OH
8. Chicago, IL
9. Washington, DC

10. St. Louis, MO

A city-by-city comparison would be even more telling, since St. Louis by itself was an off-the-charts 18! But just looking at these stats alone makes it awfully clear what causes the employment gap. When police are more aggressively saddling people with criminal records for something as common as marijuana use, it becomes harder and harder for those people to find employment.

Because If I Hope to Achieve Anything Here on HA, It’s Whoring the Links of SEO Clients

What do you think? Sounds like a great opportunity to improve the quantity and quality of content here on HA, doesn’t it?

Dear Sir/Madam,

How are you? I hope you don’t mind that I contact you today. I am emailing to ask if you would be interested in accepting articles for your site.

I have a campaign I am currently running for which I feel that your website would be a great fit. My client is a respected provider of online casino. I am looking to provide you with an informative, entertaining, and well worded article which contains only one text link to the page of my client and does not look like advertising.

We are keen to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with you. Could you please let me know if you would be interested?

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Kind Regards,

Juliette Duprès
Marketing Specialist – Omnibuzzmedia

I get these sort of emails all the time. Yes, an “article” from a “respected provider of online casino” would be a “great fit” on a blog like HA with a long history of passionate screeds against expanding legal gambling. Makes me wonder how much of the Internet is composed entirely of advertorial link spam?

That said, I am always open to taking on new contributors. So if you’re a great local writer looking for your big shot at the minor leagues, let me know and I’ll give you read.

Will Washington State Be the NRA’s Waterloo?

The recent infusion of $3 million from local zillionaires Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, and Nick Hanauer, has drawn national attention to Washington’s Initiative 594, which would close the so-called “gun show loophole” by finally imposing universal criminal background checks on all private gun sales in the state. And it’s got national pundits wondering if the NRA has finally met its match.

Yesterday in the Daily Beast, columnist Cliff Schector suggested that in Bill Gates, “the NRA pissed off the wrong nerd genius.” And then last night on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell repeated the theme, ending with NRA lobbyist Brian Judy’s infamous background-checks-equal-Hitler audio. “I think the rule is, when you reach for Nazi Germany, you know you’re losing,” concludes O’Donnell.

To be clear, this has been a very bad month for the NRA, which has been running silent ever since I released Judy’s anti-Semitic comments back on July 28. A month later, local and national coverage of I-594 still leads with that audio, and the NRA remains speechless. At this point it’s not only preventing the NRA from fighting I-594, it’s also interfering with its ability to lobby Washington lawmakers in advance of the coming legislative session.

Generally, I’m not a fan of really rich people buying their issues onto the ballot. But I’m also not a fan of fighting a political battle with one hand tied behind my back. The NRA has enjoyed the money advantage for far too long. It is entertaining watching them run up against an even wealthier foe.

Fuck the NBA, Hello Hockey. Is Seattle Ready for NHL Expansion?

It may be too soon to pull on your Seattle Metropolitans jersey, but sports business journalist Howard Bloom says that the NHL is planning to expand by 2017, with four new teams slated for Las Vegas, Quebec, Toronto, and yes, Seattle. All that’s missing here is an owner and an arena (and an actual plan to expand, says NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who denies Bloom’s report), but that can’t stop local hockey fans from dreaming.

Bloom told Q13 that Seattle’s rich junior hockey tradition and geographic proximity to Canadian markets makes it an ideal expansion city. No doubt the lack of winter sport competition from the NBA wouldn’t hurt either as a new team worked to win fans’ hearts and wallets.

So Bloom thinks Seattle should strongly consider revising the Memorandum of Understanding on the Sodo arena deal, to allow for construction with an NHL team first.

“Look, it’s pretty simple Seattle. If you want to have a major winter sport in your market, the NHL is knocking on your door then you’re going to entertain the people that are coming to you.”

Yeah, except it’s not that simple. The politics have gotten more complicated since former mayor Mike McGinn’s defeat, and there’s no indication that would-be new Sonics owner Chris Hansen has any interest in building an arena without an NBA team in his pocket. Still recovering from our abusive relationship with the NBA, if there’s any big city politically primed to tell the NHL to fuck off, it’s Seattle.

Which is a shame. Because I was really looking forward to pulling on that Seattle Metropolitans jersey.

Because Guns Make Us Safer

I hope this girl learned a very important lesson at the gun range: adults are idiots!

A 9-year-old girl accidentally killed an Arizona shooting instructor as he was showing her how to use an automatic Uzi, authorities said Tuesday.

Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City, died Monday shortly after being airlifted to University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Mohave County sheriff’s officials said.

Vacca was standing next to the girl at the Last Stop outdoor shooting range in White Hills when she pulled the trigger and the recoil sent the gun over her head, investigators said.

I got to shoot a 38 caliber handgun when I was 11, and the first time I fired I hit myself in the head from the recoil. But at least my instructor was smart enough to only put a single round in the chamber. So I’m having trouble mustering up sympathy for the instructor. The poor girl, on the other hand, how could she not be scarred for life?

So chalk this up as two more victims of America’s insane gun culture.

Open Thread 8.26.2014

- #WeCareAboutFerguson

- I’m of 2 minds about Washington NARAL’s Men for Choice fundraiser. When I went to lobby day with them this year, there were like 10 to 1 women to men, and it is important to get men to show up. And it is important that these things not just be women’s issues. On the other hand, I’d rather more men show up at lobby day and at their other fundraisers than that. Still, if you want to go, I’m sure it will be a good event.

- The man a big believer in feck.

- More job killing by the $15 minimum wage and the sick leave/safe leave laws.

- Car-free “vacation”: Yakima

- SPD officers have a right to respond to criticism, of course. But this makes them look pathetic.

- Oh good, because the queue of books I want to check out from the library wasn’t long enough as it is.

In Which One Clause Contradicts the Other

I am sympathetic to those advocating for the Woodland Park Zoo to shutter its inadequate elephant exhibit and move its inmates to more humane sanctuaries. But I’m not sympathetic to stupid defamatory writing:

While the immediate cause of Watoto’s collapse will not be known until a medical examination is complete, it is hard to escape the sense that this was a preventable and premature death, and one for which the community bears a collective responsibility.

Shorter Seattle Times: “It would be wrong to speculate on the cause of Watoto’s death, but we’re going to do so anyway.”

And the editors don’t stop their uninformed opinionating there. In maligning the Woodland Park Zoo for “keeping the world’s largest land mammals in confined spaces, in inappropriate climates,” the editors point out: “In the wild an elephant might live 20 years longer.”

Okay. Maybe. But 20 years longer than what? Captive elephants in general? Woodland Park Zoo elephants in particular? Watoto herself? I mean, if you’re going to burden Seattleites with collective guilt for the “premature death” of Watoto, I presume you’ve got the elephant actuarial tables to back you up. Well, no:

The researchers found that the median life span for African elephants in European zoos was 16.9 years, compared with 56 years for elephants who died of natural causes in Kenya’s Amboseli park. Adding in those elephants killed by people in Africa lowered the median life span there to 35.9 years.

Again, I’m all for moving Woodland Park’s elephants to more elephant-appropriate facilities. But let’s be fair. Compared to her fellow African elephants, 45-year-old Watato lived a pretty long and healthy life—nearly three times the median lifespan of your typical zoo elephant, and almost a decade longer than the median life span of elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli park. So given these numbers, it’s not even accurate to characterize Watato’s death as statistically “premature,” let alone blame Woodland Park zookeepers for it.

Also, it’s just one elephant. Hardly much of a statistical sample.

Yes, in the wild, elephants can live to be 70. But the oldest documented human was 122-year-old Jeanne Calment of France. So to say that Watoto “might” have lived 20 years longer in the wild is kinda like saying that recently departed 89-year-old Lauren Bacall “might” have lived 30 years longer in France. She might have. But it wasn’t likely.

The first rule in reading a Seattle Times editorial is that when they use a number, they’re probably using it deceptively (or at least, wrong). But the irony is, this deception wasn’t even necessary. First, just look at those median life expectancy numbers: Zoo elephants live less than half as long as those on African reserves, and less than one-third as long as those wild elephants that die of natural causes. That’s awful! And a powerful indictment of elephant zoo captivity on its own. Second, go to Woodland Park Zoo. Take a good hard look at the elephants. Then take a good hard look at the size of their enclosure. Tell me if that looks right to you?

But barring some sort of damning evidence from the medical examination, Watoto’s death at age 45 is about as strong an argument for shutting down the zoo’s elephant enclosure as the sale of the estate-tax-exempt McBride “Farm” is for repealing the estate tax. Even when the facts are on their side the editors would obviously rather manipulate and mislead their readers than treat them with respect.

This Is What a Losing Political Strategy Looks Like: “Seattle’s Agenda Is Not the Agenda for the Entire State”

Okay, so the Seattle Times editorial board has endorsed zillion-term Democratic incumbent state Representative Frank Chopp over his Socialist challenger Jess Spear. No surprise there. But there is one line from the endorsement that jumped out at me:

Seattle’s agenda is not the agenda for the entire state.

Huh. That may be true. But Chopp doesn’t represent the entire state. He represents Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District. And I’d argue that much of the discontent that many rank and file Seattle Dems feel towards Chopp and the rest of the Seattle delegation stems from a desire that they more forcefully represent the partisan interests of Seattle.

Same goes for our discontent with the Seattle Times editorial board, for that matter.

Politics is an adversarial process, and while you certainly need to be able to negotiate and compromise to get shit done, effective negotiation starts from the point of what your side wants, not from the point of what you think the other side needs. I mean, levy equalization and levy swaps, for example, might be the right thing to do for rural schoolchildren, but what do Seattle’s underfunded school kids get in return? Bupkes!

When the Seattle delegation is focused on doing what’s good for the entire state while the rest of Olympia is focused on fucking Seattle, Seattle’s interests ultimately get fucked.

And Chopp’s role as “representative” is further undermined by his role as House Speaker, where his primary responsibility is to build and maintain a Democratic majority. Kudos on that, Frank. But in the process, the 43rd LD has effectively been left with only two legislators instead of three.

No, Seattle’s agenda is not the agenda for the entire state. But our delegation’s failure to promote and defend our agenda in Olympia as vigorously as legislators from the rest of the state promote and defend theirs, has left Seattle at a political disadvantage.

Drinking Liberally — Seattle


It’s the last Tuesday in August, so it must be election day somewhere. In fact, there are primaries in Arizona, Florida, and Vermont and runoff elections in Oklahoma. So join us for some election night punditry and political pontification over a pint at the Seattle Chapter of Drinking Liberally.

We meet tonight, and every Tuesday evening at the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, 2409 10th Ave E, Seattle. The starting time is 8:00 pm, but some folks show up before that for dinner and election returns.

Can’t make it to Seattle? Check out another Washington state DL over the next week. They’re everywhere! The Tri-Cities chapter also meets this and every Tuesday night. On Wednesday, the Bellingham and Burien chapters meet. On Thursday, the Woodinville and Spokane chapters meet. And next Monday, the Yakima, South Bellevue and Olympia chapters meet.

With 203 chapters of Living Liberally, including eighteen in Washington state, three in Oregon and three in Idaho, chances are excellent there’s a chapter meeting somewhere near you.

With Zillionaires In It to Win It on Initiative 594, Should NRA Just Lay Down Its Arms and Go Home?

Local zillionaires Bill Gates and Nick Hanauer kicked in another $1 million each to Initiative 594′s coffers late last week, on top of the half million dollars each recently contributed by Paul Allen and the Ballmers. That’s $3 million in recent weeks, from four of the wealthiest households in the state, towards closing Washington State’s dangerous “gun show loophole.” And if past performance is any indication of future results, there’s a lot more money where that came from.

Hanauer’s total contributions to I-594 now stand at $1,470,000, the Gates at $1,050,000, the Ballmers at $600,000, and Allen at $500,000. Altogether, the I-594 campaign has now raised over $5.8 million from about 7,500 donors (an indication of strong grassroots support as well), compared to just $1.1 million for competing pro-guns Initiative 591 and a mere $25,000 for the National Rifle Association’s official “No on 594″ campaign.

It’s not like the NRA to bring a knife to a gun-control fight. But given the circumstances, it may be their only choice.

I-594′s universal background checks on all gun sales enjoys extraordinarily strong, broad, and steady support from Washington voters: 70 percent in a July Elway Poll, down only slightly from 72 percent in April. I-594 enjoys majority support from Republicans and Democrats alike, and surprisingly strong support in parts of Eastern Washington were you’d expect opposition to be fierce.

Given these numbers, it might not be impossible for the NRA to undermine I-594′s popularity, but with little more than two months to go before the election, it would take an awful lot of money. And I’m not talking dollar-to-dollar parity. The grocery industry spent over $22 million last year to defeat the far less popular GMO-labeling Initiative 522. But the No campaign’s nearly three-to-one spending advantage only bought it a narrow victory, with I-522 ultimately going down to a 49 percent to 51 percent defeat.

And the NRA can’t count on even that sort of spending advantage.

Many of the same local zillionaires behind I-594 were also principal backers of 2012′s odious charter schools Initiative 1240; and they gave both early and often. Bill and Melinda Gates gave a total of $3.15 million to I-1240, Allen $1.6 million, Hanauer $1.05 million, Connie Ballmer $500,000. The Yes on I-1240 campaign ultimate spent $11.4 million to pass charter schools, against a token opposition campaign of a little more than $700,000, a 16-to-1 advantage.

Did Gates and company need to spend that much money on I-1240? No. But they play to win.

And that’s the dilemma facing the NRA. If they want a shot at defeating I-594 they’re going to have to substantially outspend a handful of really motivated zillionaires who are willing and able to up the stakes dramatically. Twenty million dollars isn’t going to do it. Maybe not $30 million. Hell, $40 million may not even be enough, and that’s significantly more than the NRA typically spends on all of its political advertising and lobbying nationally in an given year!

Spend $30 to $40 million on defeating I-594, and the NRA won’t have a penny to defeat anything else. Spend $30-plus million and lose, and that would be political disaster, sending a clear message to legislators and congressmen that no amount of NRA money is enough to stem the popular tide of support in favor of stricter gun control. Better to spend nothing, and just write off this initiative as a wacky political outlier from the pot-smoking, gay-marrying, socialist-electing, $15-minimum-wage-paying Soviet of Washington.

No wonder NRA chief lobbyist and No on I-594 campaign manager Chris Cox has been refusing to return reporters’ phone calls. Indeed, it’s been almost a month since an NRA official publicly commented on I-594, and that didn’t go too well for the NRA, did it?

This is one confrontation where the NRA would be well advised not to stand their ground. And I’ve got an inkling that they won’t.