What’s the matter with Kshama Sawant?

October 21, 2016

Meet Kshama Sawant: Seattle councilmember. Socialist firebrand. Enfant terrible. For as big a hit as she’s been in Seattle, I’ve never felt that she really got this town. Oh she gets a part of it, all right. The young part, certainly. The tech part. The hip part.

But not the human part. Not the part that’s who we really ARE.

She says she’s for The People. She keeps using that word. I do not think that word means what she thinks it means. The People is not some big blob that always acts or thinks or feels a certain way or can be predicted according to some theory. It’s not even a bunch of blobs. Ultimately, it’s just a collection of more or less like-minded individuals, each of whom has his own worldview and his own unique set of needs, abilities, and aspirations.

But when Sawant she says she’s The People’s Councilmember, she doesn’t mean “people” as in the actual human beings living in District 3, or even in Seattle generally. What she means is The Poor and Downtrodden People. You know. The Wretched of the Earth-type people – as she defines them. In a word: The Masses. That’s her demographic. Don’t believe me? Google her. Or ask her yourself. Her phone number is 206-684-8587 and her e-mail is kshama.sawant@seattle.gov.

In Sawant’s universe – that is, the socialist universe – politicians represent the socioeconomic class from which they come, whether they acknowledge that fact or not. That’s not merely the way it is, that’s the way it has to be. At least for now. The socialist model holds that until we arrive at a classless society – which is what all socialist fantasize about – the rich and poor must keep slugging it out. Whether the slugging takes place in the halls of government or behind the barricades doesn’t matter: The class struggle must go on!

Given these assumptions, it is crucial for a class struggler and social justice warrior like Sawant to know your socioeconomic background, so she can understand where you’re coming from and what your motivations are. If you’re speaking to her, she needs to know one thing up front: Are you rich or poor? Are you an oppressor? Or a victim? In other words, where are you on the Big Struggle-Go-Round? Once she’s sussed that out, she’ll know how to treat you. Should she ignore you? Should she to listen to your concerns and incorporate them into her program? Or should she give you the you’re-a-hater spiel and send you on your way? Of course, one cannot always tell which side another is on just by their skin or the way they dress; Sawant’s sophisticated enough to get that. And that’s where the ideological acid test comes in. That test has just one question: Do you support her programs or don’t you? If the answer is yes, you’re cool. If no, then shut up and get the hell out of the way why don’t you? You’re holding up progress.

An Authentic Kshama Moment

Let’s see how this works in action. Last week I was at City Hall covering a rally. That action, which was attended by maybe 40 people, was to protest a proposed homeless encampments ordinance that Sawant and other councilmembers were supporting. I’ve covered the ordinance elsewhere, so I won’t get into it in detail here. I will say that there are reasonable people lined up on both sides. The protesters were against it – as am I – because they feel it will lead to more homeless people camping in our Seattle parks, which is something that even the supporters concede is true, because, after all, that’s what the bill is designed to do. Opponents say it’s not any kind of a solution to homelessness and will lead to a great big mess. Supporters say that, mess or no mess, it’s the humane thing to do . . . at least until such time as we get a better handle on the problem.

After the rally, the protesters went upstairs to a City Council meeting on the bill, where many of them spoke against the bill during the public comments period after the meeting. Meanwhile, other anti-bill people had filtered in, and there were a large number of pro-bill speakers there as well. Long story short: Everyone who wanted a turn at the mic got a turn, and no one got shut down or heckled – with the exception of Ms. Sawant, who went outside the agenda and started making a speech after it was time for the public comments to start. I left the meeting early myself, on the assumption that it was going to be another classically boring and wonkified Council session. Which it turned out to be.

Later that day, a friend sent me this. It was Sawant’s take on what had happened, posted on her Facebook page:

Needless to say I was rather shocked to read these words. Even for Sawant, this was strong stuff. Who was she talking about here, I wondered? I thought back to the protest rally in the lobby, before the Council meeting. Was that who she was talking about? It couldn’t be. But she couldn’t be talking about the public comments either, because I knew those were going to be tame. (I checked them out later and yes, they were tame.) So who the heck is she talking about with this “anti-poor” stuff? I still don’t know. But let’s review what happened at the rally and the comments, just to be sure.

The Rally

The rally had been organized by a group calling itself the Neighborhood Safety Alliance (FB: here). The NSA is a Magnolia-based group that arose out of the Council’s push to put several large homeless camps and “safe RV parking lots” in their neighborhood. I’d been kibitzing with them for a a few weeks now, and they don’t strike me as being a particularly hateful or disgusting bunch. (Couple of them rescued three young children from a filthy encampment just this week, in fact, with an able assist from the Mayor’s office. I’ll give you more on that story in another post.) 

The people NSA brought to the rally certainly weren’t haters either. They were just the ordinary folks you see around any NW residential neighborhood: conservationists, soccer moms, Little League kids. They talked about how they’d  been impacted by a wave of trash, hypodermic needles, and sketchy people camping out in their parks. Take this kid, for example. He was there with his football team and coach . . .

He was talking about how his team couldn’t use the the Interbay football field anymore because of homeless people camping out in the end zone and leaving hypodermic needles on the field. He had to stand on a chair to look people in the eye, and was so nervous he couldn’t finish. Cute little guy. Is this who Ms. Sawant is disgusted by? Does he look like someone spouting anti-homeless, anti-poor rhetoric? If so, I really do not get that.

Here’s another speaker at the rally, a classic Northwest type named Tom Kelly . . .

Tom’s an ecology buff who does park restoration work. He loves his fellow man plenty well enough, I think. He just doesn’t like seeing endangered native plants and fragile wildlife habitats being destroyed by people throwing tents up wherever they want. He doesn’t want the City encouraging that; he wants them to stop it. He sent me a copy of his speaking notes. Here they are.

Agree or disagree as you like; the question isn’t whether he’s right or wrong. The question is whether he’s anti-poor and anti-homeless. Does he look anti-poor to you? You know what he looks like to me . . . ?

Here are some of the signs the anti-encampments bill people were holding. The rally speakers all stuck to the messages on these signs, as did pretty much all the anti-speakers in the public comments. Nearly all the comments fell into the category of either “protect our parks” or “what you’re doing now isn’t working so please don’t do more of it.”

I didn’t hear one person at the rally saying things like: No homeless in our town! or Just arrest them! Instead, they talked about having shelters be open 24 hours, and having more of them. Some of them wanted more emphasis to be put on getting homeless people into housing, jobs, and drug-treatment programs, as opposed to just letting them hang out in our parks indefinitely. (Yes, the park campers are supposed to be offered “services.” No, they don’t have to accept them.)

There was a general sense among the rally crowd that the City’s current policies weren’t working and that the proposed bill just represented more of the same. I heard anger and frustration in some of the remarks, but it was clearly directed at government policies. It was not directed at individual politicians and certainly not at homeless people.

The Public Meeting

After the rally, everyone filed into the Council chambers for their meeting, and those who wanted to speak after the meeting was over signed in on a sheet. If you listen to the comments all the way through, you will see that the public commenters on both sides are being polite and calm, like I said. Check it out for yourself in the video below. Public comments start at 1:45:07.

The pro-encampments people spoke first since they’d gotten there during the rally and signed up first. After them came the anti-encampments comments, which went on longer. Interestingly enough, Ms. Sawant left the room less than halfway through the public comments, so she didn’t even hear a lot of the anti- comments. Yet she claims that the anti- crowd was “emboldened” and had a “day at City Hall.” Where did she get that?

Sawant characterizes this as a takeover of the meeting by one side, but that is not what happened at all. The pro-encampment bill crowd was out in force, too. Camp boss and “homeless advocate” Scott Morrow was there with several of his folks, for example. You can see them standing in the back of the room with signs. And among the pro- speakers, there were at least six professional advocates. These are folks who were either getting paid to get up and speak in favor or who had a direct political interest in the bill passing. Their number included two speakers from the ACLU, which proposed the legislation; a woman named Allison Eisinger from the Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness; and Sharon Lee, Executive Director of the Low Income Housing Institute, which gets City money to run homeless camps around Seattle. Lisa Daugaard was there as well. She founded a government-supported program that keeps heroin users out of jail until such time as they decide they want to get addiction treatment. (Some people feel that Daugaard’s program is contributing to the epidemic of heroin needles in the parks and other public spaces.) Along with the other pro-encampments speakers, the paid advocates got a turn at the mic . . . just like they always, do because they always come to these meetings.

Contrast this with the anti-encampments crowd. Yes, there were more of them, but none of them was getting paid to be there. And other than Bill Bryant – who’s running for governor as a Rotsa-Ruck Republican – no one on the anti- side had a political or financial stake in the bill being killed.

Does Heckling = Hating?

Ms. Sawant got heckled by a few people before the public comments got started. (That starts around 1:43:30 and goes sporadically for less than a minute.) As I said, people weren’t heckling because of her politics; they were heckling because she was talking out of turn and hogging the mic. She was making a pitch for one of her proposals (“Let’s build a thousand homes instead of a new police station!”) that was not even on the agenda, and this was after CM Sally Bagshaw had already started the public comment period. Bear in mind that people had been sitting there for two hours or more, waiting to speak. They were understandably frustrated by this.

Ministry of Information

As I compare Sawant’s strange words with what I saw, I get that feeling that’s doing her us-versus-them thing again, that this is just another iteration of the socialist feedback loop. It’s almost like the rest of us don’t even need to be there for it. Look at the logical construction of her post. See how she starts off in one place (anti-homeless, anti-poor) then proceeds to another (“our movement” – Who’s she talking to here, exactly? Surely not her constituents. ) and ends up in a third (renters rights). Honestly, how do you go from homeless haters to renters rights in less than a hundred words?

Notice how half-way through, she shifts focus from the public commenters to her colleagues in government. (She doesn’t name anyone, it’s just “certain elected officials.”) She then tries to hitch this up to a different topic which is not strictly related to the matter at hand, just like she did with her “build a thousand homes” speech at the end of the Council’s business meeting. It seems she’s got some kind of renters rights bill that is being held up by those darn “anti-poor” elected officials, who are in league with the anti-poor neighborhoods. You see, it’s all part of some vast anti-poor conspiracy. And it’s being led by people like these kids here. And the Gorton’s fisherman guy.

What we’re seeing here, in all its glory, are the mental gymnastics of an ideological hack, trying to fit everything she sees and hears into a tidy little box of rich people vs. poor people. Of oppressor vs. victim. Everything she needs to know about people can be inferred from whether they support her program. Either you support her bills, demonstrating that you’re with her and the downtrodden, or you’re evil. Period. When read this stuff, when I hear her speak, I really wonder whether I’m listening to the Councilmember for District 3 . . . or the Cuban Minister of Information.

Are all socialists like this? Or is it just her?

For all my problems with socialist theory, I don’t think that’s the problem here. Look at Bernie Sanders. He’s a socialist, and he doesn’t treat people this way. Whatever else you ay about Bernie, at least he’s got some respect. And some experience. But Sawant? No. No respect. And not that much experience either. Not in the human relations category anyway. A good word for her would be “callow.” Which is another way of saying immature, and unlearned. Like a child. I hope she can get over that, but the signs aren’t good.

It hasn’t helped that Sawant lived most of her life in a very different political culture than this one (India). Or that she’s got a large and adoring fan club, and the uncritical support of a star-struck left-wing press. Sawant, a political neophyte, roared into office in 2013 on the strength of her status as as an outsider and her spirited advocacy of a revolutionary $15 minimum wage, the highest in the nation. Oh, and then there’s the whole socialist thing, too. That gave her a certain cachet, a product advantage over the other “progressive Democrat” that she was running against. It wasn’t just a gimmick either. After the new wage was approved and it became clear that she wasn’t going to sell-out and become another wonky, establishment type, her star continued to rise. I believe it has now reached its apogee. Class war will only get you so far in a town like this, and even then, you have to keep an eye on your constituency. The street addicts and tramps whose cause Sawant is taking up with this encampments bill are not going to help her cause in the long run. They don’t vote, they don’t make campaign contributions, and they don’t show up in Council meetings – which is a good thing for all of us. If she quit the Council and went to work an addiction clinic or outreach center, I’d admire her. Otherwise, I’m just counting the days until the next election, when she will certainly get dumped by the voters of District 3, whose neighborhoods she has done much to uglify, along with the rest of the city.

If nothing else, I’ll grant that Council meetings aren’t boring anymore. I’ll concede that Sawant has a certain radical charm about her, too. Of the kind I found quite attractive back in my college days. And yet at the same time there’s something decidedly creepy about her. Something not quite right. She often looks withdrawn and disconnected, like an Asperger’s person. She spends much of her time at meetings looking down at her phone or scribbling notes, rather than looking around making eye contact, like a normal pol would do. When someone else is talking (even if it’s one of her fans) she doesn’t seem to be listening. When answering a challenging or hostile question, she talks at such a clip that it’s difficult to follow what she’s saying, and when she speaks to a crowd, she drones.

When you study her arguments, and you see how she stuffs people she doesn’t know into these theoretical boxes of hers – as she does in the Facebook post – the total impression is not that of a visionary leader but rather delayed adolescent, cloaking her frustration and loneliness in this sophomoric ideological rebellion. I believe this is how others on the Council see her, only, this being Seattle, they’re just too nice to say so.

In Sawant’s absurd and hackneyed characterizations of us, she reveals little that’s true of our character, but much that is true of her own. If she wants to stay a force in Seattle politics, she’ll need to reflect on her behavior, tone done the ideology, and start seeing her constituents as individuals. To swipe a line from Hamlet . . . There are more things in heaven and earth, Kshama, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

–Essay by David Preston, with thanks to Harley Lever and Cindy Pierce


Photos: Kshama pointing: Elaine Thompson/AP; Kshama in chains: Ramy Khalil; Kshama fist: WorkingWA; football team: Gretchen Taylor. All other photos by David Preston.
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Seattle Shelter Contracts

October 18, 2016 – The document below is a summary report of Seattle’s homeless shelter and outreach contract payments for 2015. It was sent to me by one of my readers (Thanks, Deena!) who got it from Seattle’s Human Services Department (HSD) through an informal public disclosure request. What it shows is a vendor-by-vendor, program-by-program list of monies that City of Seattle paid for specific services related to homeless services. Have a look!


You can also download the original Microsoft Excel spreadsheet document here. The Excel document has more data and is also in a different format that the report above. Note: You must have MS Excel to view this document on your computer. Continue reading

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If you see something, trash something.

October 10, 2016

IRONY ALERT! This ad on a Seattle bus tells people to call in if they see trash dumped on the street or sidewalk. I’ve called the number myself, many times; however, the trash I called in about wasn’t taken care of until several weeks later, after I’d followed up with calls directly to the mayor’s office. Meanwhile, the city council is debating legislation that will effectively prevent the City from removing homeless camps from public land. These camps are already the #1 source of trash piles on city streets, and this is certain to get worse if the legislation passes.

Photo: Pamela Staeheli

Below is a sample of photos taken by government clean-up crews as they moved about the city this past year. There’s already a months-long backlog on clean-ups, and the problem is getting worse by the week.

You can find many more such pictures here.

Six months ago, Seattle councilmember Lisa Herbold – who happens to be a good friend of Mr. Scott Morrow of SHARE fame – came up with the idea for the city to distribute trash bags to homeless camps. (More on that story here.)

The assumption was that campers really want to be tidy and that they would gladly pick up their own trash if only they had some bags to put it in. When the bags filled up, campers could just set them out on the curb and trash trucks would pick them up on a regular schedule, just like they do on residential streets. This seemed like a good idea to me, but I guess it didn’t pan out. At the start I saw that a few bags had been filled up and set out on the curb, and the areas where this was happening were cleaner for a while. Things soon got back to the way they were before, though, and I haven’t heard much about the program since then. So I guess we can scratch that idea . . .

–David Preston


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Risky Business: Is Seattle’s Encampment Bill un-Constitutional?

October 7, 2016

A hot mess gets hotter

In each of the past several years, ever greater numbers of homeless people have been camping out on publicly owned land in Seattle. Conditions around the encampment areas have steadily deteriorated, and in February of 2016, the situation reached a head when five people were shot (two fatally) in a no-man’s land area around downtown Seattle known as “the Jungle.” In response to the Jungle shooting, Mayor Ed Murray began stepping up removal of the camps. In August, the American Civil Liberties Union (the ACLU), worried about the campers’ rights, threatened a lawsuit. The ACLU and some self-styled progressives on the City Council then proposed a bill that, if passed, could effectively tie the Mayor’s hands. See the text of the bill here.

Continue reading

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Ask the Experts

September 24, 2016

Seattle’s Task Force on Homeless Encampment Clean-up had one of its weekly meeings at City Hall Wednesday. I attended at the invitation of a friend who’s on the task force. It was not encouraging. But it was enlightening.


This summer Mayor Ed Murray directed Seattle police and sanitation workers to begin “sweeping” a group of homeless encampments along the I-5 corridor, collectively known as the Jungle. In response, homeless advocates, backed by the ACLU, appealed to the City Council to make him stop. The Council sees encampments not so much as a matter of law as a human rights issue, so their collective arm didn’t need much twisting on this. They proposed legislation requiring the City to provide 30 days of social service “outreach” before it could remove any camp of five or more people, and after the 30-day outreach period, the City would have to provide “adequate housing” to campers before moving them.

There are a couple of concessions to common sense in the ordinance, such as that camps will not be allowed at public schools or on sidewalks. Also, if conditions at a camp are found to be unsafe the camp can be cleared immediately, subject to the “adequate housing” provision.

Send in the Experts

Continue reading

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Anatomy of a Swindle: How a Rogue Non-profit Captured the Emerald City

September 13, 2016

The Set-up

For four years I’ve been investigating a publicly supported non-profit homeless group in Seattle called SHARE. SHARE runs 14 indoor shelters around Seattle, for which it annually gets several hundred thousand dollars from Seattle’s Human Services Department. Most of these shelters are owned by churches. Besides the shelters, SHARE operates a network of homeless camps known as “tent cities.” The group says that “up to 450 people each night find safety, shelter, dignity, and respect” its “self-managed” shelters and camps, but it has never provided any documentation for that figure. The group resists attempts to monitor its numbers or performance as an “invasion of privacy.” SHARE views homelessness as a valid lifestyle – a lifestyle of choice – and while it does get a number of people off the street temporarily, it makes no claim of getting them into jobs, permanent housing, or addiction treatment programs. “We are not a social service organization,” they declare. “We are a self-help group.”

Together, SHARE and WHEEL educate our community about the causes and effects of homelessness, build bridges with homed people to address those issues, and actively lobby to change policies that oppress homeless people.

–from the About Us page on SHARE’s Web site (9/10/16)

If you visit a SHARE tent camp or shelter you will meet people who have been homeless for years. As a rule, these people do not have caseworkers, and many/most have no definite plan for transitioning into an apartment. When they leave one tent camp or shelter, they simply find another. Or they go back to the streets. Or they move to another state. You might ask how an organization that has nothing to do with getting people into housing, could bite out such a big chunk of the city’s housing budget each year. How could it enjoy the continuing patronage of a government that’s trying to end homelessness? There seems to be a contradiction there, but it goes away when you understand that politics is the art not of doing but of seeming. And SHARE gives local politicians an easy way to seem to be doing something about homelessness, even as the problem worsens. SHARE is to the government as the corner panhandler is to the average citizen. Deep down, we know that handing the guy a buck won’t make a difference in his life. But that doesn’t matter, because it still makes in a difference in ours. Continue reading

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Tell the whole story please, Mr. B

September 5, 2016

On August 24, the Seattle Times ran a piece by columnist Daniel Beekman about the struggle between Mayor Murray and the city council over homeless folks collecting in hot spots around the city. In this post, I look at one aspect of how Mr. Beekman covered this story. Or rather, how he covered it up.

Beekman is usually a keen observer, but in this case he’s left out an obvious, and important, aspect of the homeless camp he visited. And in doing so, he misrepresented the story, not just for that camp, but for homeless camps generally. You can read the full article here; the part I’m concerned about is this:

The proposed ordinance could prevent officials from shutting down operations similar to Camp Second Chance. Since late July, about 20 people have been living together in tents on vacant city property near White Center.

The campers weren’t authorized to set up on the Myers Way South site, but their area is tidy, they’re out of the way and they have portable toilets.

Continue reading

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Why I’m voting ‘no’ on the Housing Levy

July 29, 2016

Proposition 1 is a tax levy on the August 2016 primary ballot for Seattle voters. The levy would double the total amount currently levied for “affordable housing.” See the King County Voter’s Guide description on this item here.

Untested Assumptions 

The assumption underlying Prop 1 is that homelessness exists because governments (read: taxpayers) aren’t doing enough to create affordable housing. It’s a classic let’s-throw-more-money-at-it approach.

Unfortunately, there is little to no research on the root causes of homelessness in this city and what the homeless demographic actually looks like. Among the many factors contributing to the problem – housing prices, unemployment, financial self-discipline, drug addiction, mental illness, government policy – no one knows how they interact to cause homelessness. In fact, nobody knows if it’s even possible to end homelessness in a place like Seattle, because it’s never been done under similar conditions. Seattle isn’t Spokane after all. Or Salt Lake City. This city is a magnet for people around the country. Lured here by the promise of good jobs, mild weather – or maybe even just cheap heroin – poor people are rushing here along with the “tech bros” and rich retirees, even as rents are zooming through the stratosphere.

Basic Questions Continue reading

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The True Cost of Eco-Babble

Someone chucked an empty FIJI water bottle in my yard this morning. Before recycling it, I took a minute to read the label. The packaging is clearly targeted at the “green” demographic. Can you see how? The wording wraps around an image of Planet Earth, tinted in blue and green. The word “earth” is used three times in the blurb and the word “nature/natural” twice. But the money word is “sustainable” (as in sustainable aquifer).

In fact, there is nothing sustainable about drinking water from a throw-away plastic bottle – especially when that water has been shipped half-way across the world. According to the article linked below, it takes a seven gallons of water and quarter of a gallon of fuel to produce and ship a bottle of FIJI water to the U.S. How is that sustainable? It’s not, obviously. But no matter. As long as they’ve got a picture of the planet in there along with the right wording, we’re good, right? Continue reading

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Rest Easy, Devin

At 2 AM on April 7, 2016 an unknown 16-year-old was whizzing downhill on Highland Park Way SW in a stolen car. The cops were on his tail. The odds were not in the kid’s favor, but he may have figured: What have I got to lose? The worst they can do is throw me in Juvey for a few months. A year tops.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old Devin Francis was driving uphill on the same long stretch of road. The 16-year-old swerved into his path, there was a crash, and both young people were killed instantly.

Devin’s people had a special gathering at this spot on what would’ve been his 22nd birthday a few weeks later, and when I stopped by a few days after that, I found all kinds of poignant little signs of how much people were hurting over this. Don’t know if anyone did a shrine for the other kid.

All photos by David Preston. Click to enlarge.

Continue reading

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Operation Blazing Sword

July 15, 2016

In the wake of last month’s mass shooting at an Orlando Florida gay nightclub, Erin Palette, a Daytona Beach-based transgender woman, founded the LGBTQ gun advocacy group Operation Blazing Sword. I contacted her through the organization’s page on Facebook, and she agreed to answer a few questions.

TBQ: How big is your operation and what do you do, exactly?

EP: Operation Blazing Sword is, at the moment, a database of firearms enthusiasts who are willing to teach the basics of firearm operations and safety to members of the LGBTQ community in the wake of the Orlando Pulse murders. Right now, if someone wants training, they go to our map, search for their hometown, find an instructor closest to them and make contact. We have plans to expand our remit once we become a 501c3 charity, but until then we are basically a matchmaking service between instructors and the gun-curious. Continue reading

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We are not amused: How politics kills our language and clouds our judgment

June 29, 2016

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

A front page Seattle Times story published on June 24, 2016  decries an attack on “transgender” activist Michael Volz that happened in Seattle two days earlier. Such attacks are a serious matter, deserving of coverage. However, the Times’ handling of this relatively minor story, at the same time they were neglecting a much ore important one, is evidence of a worrying new confluence of politics and journalism in the Emerald City.

New English

The attack victim, one Michael Volz – whom I’ll take to be a male because he has a male name and looks like a guy to me – announced to reporters that he has abandoned gender-specific pronouns in reference to himself . . . Continue reading

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Jungle Boogie, continued (and continued?)

June 29, 2016

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said today that there might not be enough people left in the Jungle to bother with kicking them out. Which is an understandable (if not exactly courageous) stance, given the amount of crap he’s gotten from the left just for threatening to kick them out. Six weeks ago, when Murray announced that Seattle police would be “sweeping” the Jungle, there were estimated to be over 300 people living there. But no large-scale sweep was undertaken and now, according to a staffer at the Union Gospel Mission, which was helping the Mayor find shelter for Jungle residents, there are only about 100 people left. Some of them are hold-outs who refused to work with Union Gospel, but many others are (ruh-roh) new arrivals. (See story here.)

In the meantime, one of my street-level informants sent me a federal search warrant application from April of last year. That document describes an Asian drug ring that operated in and around Seattle and used the Jungle as a transit point for drugs and weapons. In the 7-page extract below, I’ve highlighted references to the Jungle: Continue reading

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Can’t Buy Me Likes

Followers of this blog will recall that I have penned a handful of articles on Seattle’s own Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and its director, Sharon Lee. Ms. Lee runs a $50 million taxpayer-funded operation and hobnobs with the Mayor and City Council. Yet she refuses to respond to simple questions about just what LIHI does with the money. Naturally that makes me suspicious. Doesn’t that make you suspicious too?

May, 2016: Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray signs a tax levy proposal that will put tens of millions of dollars into LIHI coffers. Source: City of Seattle

I was suspicioning around the Internet the other day when I came across a tasty morsel about LIHI in the June 6, 2013 issue of Seattle’s Northwest Asian News. It’s all about a Facebook popularity contest that nearly scored LIHI a $250,000 prize from Home Depot. Unfortunately, it seems that somebody “sabotaged” the vote, which forced Home Depot to kick LIHI out of the contest: Continue reading

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No Strings Attached

June 18, 2016

A recent Facebook post from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is at once a study in courage and a window onto the political nightmare that is homeless policy in Seattle. Murray is currently getting skewered by the church-lady left for evicting the scattered homeless camps along the I-5 corridor downtown, collectively known as the Jungle. In local parlance, these short-order ejections by cop are known as “sweeps.”

Where are the 400-ish Jungle residents supposed to go after they’re swept? Shelters will take some, with the Mayor’s encouragement, but many others – perhaps even a majority – will pack up and move to assorted hidey holes around the city, where they may be even less safe than they were in the Jungle. (But hey, at least they won’t be trotting down the freeway auditioning for Mad Max.) Still others will end up blowing town for good. At that point, they will no longer be the Mayor’s problem.

Of course this wasn’t anybody’s happy ending, but realistically, the Mayor was all out of options. The Jungle had been getting bigger, wilder, and dirtier by the week. The violent murders last January showed that it was beginning to pose a threat to civil order as well. Continue reading

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Another SPD Accountability Fail

Seattle police detective Leslie Smith let several rape cases languish because she was “overworked.” As a result, an accused child rapist was allowed to stay on the streets. Ms. Smith has not been fired for incompetence but was instead promoted. Meanwhile, her supervisor and the union are making excuses for her:

Capt. Deanna Nollette said [Detective Smith’s] unsolved cases were reassigned to other detectives in January. “If I were going to fault the detective for anything, I think it would be for having unrealistic expectations of herself,” said Nollette, who now heads the unit where Smith was assigned. “I think, frankly, we mishandled our detective. “If there was any failing, it would be on the part of the supervision that put the detective in this position.”

Read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer story here.

Deanna Nollette
Source: Seattle.gov

Sorry, Capt. Nollette, but that doesn’t cut it. Having “unrealistic expectations” imposed on you by yourself or others doesn’t let you off the hook for not protecting the public. Especially where a child is concerned. Being a cop is about using good judgment, thinking on your feet, and getting your priorities straight. Both Detective Smith and her supervisors should be getting disciplined for this, but it’s looking like nobody will be punished for these screw ups. Unless you count the kids who got raped and their families.

–David Preston



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“Dear Scott . . .” Will SHARE ever fire Boss Morrow? Can they?

June 4, 2016

Today I got a nice surprise in my mailbox. It’s a letter from someone who claims to represent some two dozen Scott Morrow critics: disaffected homeless campers, SHARE insiders, volunteers. The letter is being circulated ahead of today’s “Power Lunch” planning meeting, to be held at one of SHARE’s two direct action protest camps located at the King County Administration Building in downtown Seattle. The camps were established when SHARE closed 15 indoor homeless shelters to protest recent funding cuts from King County and Seattle human services departments. According to SHARE there are 200 people staying there.


[You can also see the letter here.]

I have not had time to authenticate this letter and I do not vouch for any specific claim it makes. With those caveats, I’ve decided to publish it anyway, on the theory that it may be timely and on the assumption that it represents at least one SHARE insider’s true feelings.

Continue reading

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The Doney Clinic

May 29, 2016

Every second and fourth Saturday, the Union Gospel Mission in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle hosts the Doney Memorial Pet Clinic. The clinic provides veterinary care and hands out donated pet food and supplies to homeless and very low-income people in the area. Yesterday I was there with my new friend Ruth. We spoke with folks in line to see if any of them lived in any of the soon-to-be-evicted Jungle camps, and, if so, whether they’d be interested in getting their pet spayed or neutered at a mobile clinic that will be visiting the area soon. We didn’t find any takers, but I did get a chance to speak with a handful folks about what their pets meant to them.

This is Samuel, an amiable guy. He was there with his girlfriend’s dog Baby, and told me he had two more back at the homeless camp where he’s staying.

What do your animals mean to you? I asked. Everything, he said.

Continue reading

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Nathan Nothing

May 25, 2016

King County has finally taken steps to defund the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) for failing to show that they can move homeless people out of tents and shelters and into permanent housing. SHARE has been protesting that move by closing down their indoor shelters and encamping at the King County Administration Building at 4th and James.*

[Photos by David Preston. Click to enlarge.]


SHARE claims there are 200 homeless people in these tents, but there certainly weren’t any 200 SHARE supporters speaking to the King County Council at open mic day last Tuesday. More like 8. Yet this Council meeting was just a stone’s throw from where these tents are.

Continue reading

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May 21, 2106

The Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE), claims to have fired their “accountant,” Steven A. Isaacson, after TBQ broke a story on Isaacson’s lack of credentials ten days ago. (See The Accountant Who Wasn’t There). On May 17, six days after the TBQ story went live, SHARE posted the following update on its Web site:


The statement may have been intended for consumption by SHARE’s sugar daddies at City Hall, but it was more likely intended to mollify a handful of institutional SHARE supporters who’ve become increasingly nervous about the group’s sketchy image: heavy hitters like the Seattle Foundation and the Satterberg Foundation. However, as is usual with SHARE’s official explanations, this one raises more eyebrows than it lowers. It opens, for example, by saying that SHARE heard just last Saturday and for the first time ever that their accountant may (!) have let his credentials lapse since they hired him 8 years ago.

. . . and of course SHARE was shocked to discover this. Shocked!

Continue reading

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Homeless Camps and Warrant Checks: Who’s minding the store?

May 16, 2016

al_the_copLike hundreds of cities around the country, Sammamish, Washington has developed special regulations for organized homeless camps. And just like other cities, Sammamish has rules saying that if you run a homeless camp, you have to do “background checks” on anyone moving into the camp, to make sure they’re not wanted by the police. But what happens when there’s a warrant out on the guy running the checks? Good question. Today I got the following anonymous tip through Guerrilla Mail:

On April 7, 2016, Perry Debell was arrested at the Tent City 4 homeless encampment at Mary Queen of Peace Church (MQP) in Sammamish. It is of note, because Mr. Debell was the “Resident Adviser” to the camp, and it was HIS JOB to run active warrant checks on incoming residents. In a public meeting held at the Church on December 30, 2015, Perry was introduced – along with a man named Sam Roberson – as part of a leadership team that was going to “clean up the camp” to avoid a repeat of what happened the last time Tent City 4 stayed in Sammamish, when there were serious meth problems at the camp. Debell’s presence at the camp with an outstanding warrant is a violation of MQP’s permit with the city of Sammamish. 

A public record request for the arrest of Andre “Andy” Abad from Janurary 9, 2104 will give you a 47-page document with witness accounts of the meth and heroin dealing inside the camp while at MQP from October 2013- January 2014. It will show you that the Executive Committee of TC4 was actively misleading police officers, allowing the drug dealing to continue.  Continue reading

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The Accountant Who Wasn’t There

May 11, 2016

Back Story: Gimme Shelter

The Seattle House and Resource Effort (SHARE) gets around a million dollars in government grants and in-kind donations each year. They ostensibly use this money to shelter homeless people, which they do through a network of small indoor shelters and larger homeless encampments. On it’s Web site, SHARE claims that “up to 450 people each night find safety, shelter, dignity, and respect in our 14 self-managed shelters and 2 Tent Cities.” Although the group is the subject of frequent scandals around its homeless camps, taxpayer money keeps flowing in because most of the government money is tied to indoor shelters and not the camps and because there is a general perception within government that SHARE is doing what other shelters can’t. SHARE provides the City of Seattle with hundreds of shelter beds at a per-bed rate of less than $7 per night, which is considerably cheaper than the rate for other providers. SHARE also runs a winter shelter program to bring large groups of people in off the streets during extreme weather. Records are not kept for individual winter shelter stays, so the money for those is budgeted by the shelter night rather than the bed night. That throws SHARE’s $7-a-night figure into question, because that number is based on regular shelter beds, and much of SHARE’s costs for those are defrayed by the local churches who are supplying the space and beds, and charging SHARE only for utilities. In the case of the church beds, the cost to the taxpayer may indeed be $7 a night. Or even less. But that is to the credit of the donor churches, not SHARE.

Christmas at SHARE’s Nickelsville homeless camp, 2013 ~ Photo by Kevin R. McClintic

It’s even harder to know what the real bed-night rate works out to, when you consider that SHARE’s claim about how many people it serves is not subject to meaningful scrutiny. Seattle officials don’t verify SHARE’s reported number; they just take it on faith. The same is true for SHARE’s shelter operating costs. If SHARE says it pays a certain amount for utilities – or transportation, or postage stamps – the City accepts that. The group’s financial officers, such as they are, do not respond to questions on their financials. I know that because I’ve tried asking them questions about specific items on their tax returns and about certain claims they’ve made to news reporters about costs. –Nada.

Enter, The Accountant Continue reading

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Derelicts: How a huge Seattle non-profit left a tiny homeless camp to rot

May 5, 2016

Back Story

If you follow this blog, you’ll already know a lot of the Nickelsville Dearborn story. That’s the camp at 1010 South Dearborn Street near downtown Seattle that sheltered between 35 and 50 homeless people from the late 2013 to the early 2016. The camp was beset by problems from the outset and saw two rebellions against non-resident camp manager Scott Morrow over the course of a year. The second rebellion was successful, but ultimately led to the eviction of the camp by Seattle police and the scattering of its residents.

In two recent articles, I examined an $87,000 property tax exemption that was granted the owner of the Nickelsville site by the Washington State Department of Revenue. The exemption was granted under Washington law RCW 84.36.043, which gives landowners a tax holiday if they allow their property to be used for transitional housing (read: homeless camps). In Washington, such camps generally require a church to sponsor them, and in this case, the church of record was the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd under Pastor Steve Olsen. When Olsen applied for the tax break, he committed to do certain things to ensure that the camp was genuinely helping people to transition into permanent housing (hence the term: transitional housing). Unfortunately, most of the things Olsen committed to doing never came to pass. For example, he claimed that the entire site would be used for a homeless camp, but in fact, two thirds of the tax-exempted property sat fenced off and empty for the entire time. According to what campers told me, they were forbidden even to set foot on that part of the property (story here). Olsen also committed to give “pastoral counseling” to the campers, but according to the ones I spoke with, that never happened either (story here).

Pastor Olsen also said, in his application for tax exempt status, that a local housing non-profit group called LIHI (the Low Income Housing Institute) would provide case management services for the homeless campers to ensure that they were getting the help they needed transitioning to permanent housing. And that’s where we rejoin the story . . .

What was LIHI supposed to do at Nickelsville?

Continue reading

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The Not-So-Good Shepherd

RCW 36.01.290 “Authorizing religious organizations to host temporary encampments for homeless persons on property owned or controlled by a religious organization”

–This statute was enacted by the Washington State Legislature in 2010. It grants churches the right to set up temporary homeless camps on any property they own or lease, as an expression of the church members’ religious faith. The effect of this law is that church-sponsored camps must be permitted by local jurisdictions as long as they meet basic health and safety requirements. A non-religious organization would not be allowed to host such a camp, because the camp would typically violate a number of zoning laws and ordinances.

Nickelsville: Dream vs. Reality

In the fall of 2014, Pastor Steve Olsen of Seattle’s Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd leased eight parcels of undeveloped land near downtown Seattle – probably for a trivial fee – from real estate developer Chris Koh. The lease was undertaken for the purpose of the church sponsoring a temporary homeless camp on the land under RCW 36.010.290. The camp was to be called Nickelsville and would be run by Olsen’s associate Scott Morrow and his non-profit Nickelsville organization. (Morrow also directs another, much larger, organization called SHARE, which receives over a million dollars in government grants and in-kind subsidies annually, in addition to tens of thousands of dollars’ in cash and in-kind donations from private donors.) Casework-type services were also to be provided another large non-profit that Morrow co-founded: the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI).

Continue reading

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The Case of the Missing Homeless Camp

April 13, 2016

Do you see a homeless camp in this picture? –Yeah. Neither do I.

So why was the landowner granted a two-year “transitional housing” property tax exemption on this pricey patch of real estate near downtown Seattle? Good question. Let’s take a look . . .

In December of 2014, landowner Chris Koh (dba ABCD Trust, Inc.) applied for and got a two-year tax exemption on the land in this picture, as well as land nearby. The exemption was granted under a Washington state law (RCW 84.36.042) that rewards private landowners who use their property to create emergency and transitional housing for homeless people. The RCW defines transitional housing as “a project that provides housing and supportive services to homeless persons or families for up to two years and that has as its purpose facilitating the movement of homeless persons and families into independent living.” The project has to be supervised by a qualified non-profit organization.

Continue reading

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Whose park?

March 28, 2016

A homeless person sleeps on equipment at Othello Playground, half a block from Seattle’s newest city-sanctioned homeless camp, Othello Village.

One of the questions surrounding homeless camps – sanctioned or otherwise – is whether they attract homeless people to the neighborhoods around the camps. No studies have been done on this that I’m aware of, but with the camp located in my Highland Park neighborhood I noticed that there was a noticeable increase in the number of people loitering about in the area of the camp during the two and a half long years it was there. In some cases, these were people who slept in the camp but spent their days panhandling; in others they were people had been ejected from the camp for drugs or behavior issues and who chose to stick around in the vicinity, usually because they had friends in the camp who helped them in some way, with donations of food, for instance. In still other cases, homeless people migrated to the area because they’d heard about it on the news and because they assumed that the neighborhood was amenable. [Read a related story here.]

Continue reading

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It takes a trash-heap to make a Village

March 25, 2016

A homeless man rummages through trash in an alley behind Seattle’s newest “sanctioned” homeless camp, Othello Village. The camp is run jointly by Seattle’s Human Services Department and the Low Income Housing Institute, a local non-profit group that oversees two other camps under contract with the city. I asked the neighbor who sent me the photo if this trash was the result of the homeless camp moving in. He said, “Oh, no. It’s always been like this. That’s just the neighborhood.”

Unfortunately, city officials did not poll the Othello neighbors as to whether siting a homeless camp here was wise. Neighbors were simply summoned to a community meeting and told that the camp would be arriving in a matter of days. [See that story here.] As I reported earlier, some neighbors objected to siting the camp in this spot because of chronic problems with crime in the area. It now appears that sanitation could also be added the list of pre-existing neighborhood issues.

Continue reading

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Help Wanted: Social Justice Manager

March 20, 2016

It’s too bad Seattle can’t bottle self-righteousness, because if we could it’d be the biggest thing since pale ale.

Seattle Smug™ is certified fair-trade, locally sourced, gluten free, organic, carbon-neutral, and non-GMO. And best of all, it’s renewable, so we’ve got an inexhaustible supply. First there was WTO. Then gay marriage. Legal pot. RV safe lots. Transgender bathrooms . . .  Now it’s our turn once again to show America how it’s done. I’m talking Social Justice, people. This is the Holy Grail of Smug.

The City of Seattle just created an actual job of Social Justice Manager. And at 110K per year, Justice has never been so sweet. Check it out:

Key Roles and Responsibilities

Visionary, strategic leadership and oversight. Continue reading

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Outrage for Hire

March 13, 2016

Since Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign pulled ahead of the GOP pack last month, critics to his left and right have been increasingly calling him a fascist. As evidence of this claim they cite footage of protesters – usually minorities – being manhandled and even assaulted as they are removed from Trump rallies. [See here for example.] Sometimes the scenes will be mixed with clips of Trump at the podium, ridiculing the protesters or encouraging his supporters to rough them up.

Photo: Reuters

Is this fascist behavior? Well, kind of . . . but not really. At least, not in the historical sense of fascism. Yes, beating people up is something fascists do, but real fascists have gangs of roving thugs, and those thugs don’t wait for protesters to come to their rallies to start roughing people up. They actually go out on the streets looking for victims. Also, when you get beaten up by fascists, you get messed up pretty bad. Or killed. And that is not something we see happening at Trump events.

When people get tossed out of Trump rallies, they’re not getting tossed because they’re Mexican, or Muslim, or whatever. They’re getting tossed because they’re heckling the speaker, or are engaging in some behavior that is clearly rude and disruptive. While Trump doesn’t have the right to tell his fans to beat people up, he does have the right to ask disruptive people to leave, just as surely as a bar keeper has the right to bounce drunks.

Continue reading

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The End of Camp Dearborn

March 11, 2016

Today Seattle police moved to evict the small group of homeless campers who continued to occupy the Dearborn Street site formerly known as Nickelsville. This move was taken in response to a request from Chris Koh, who owned the land the camp was on, Pastor Steve Olsen, the camp’s religious sponsor, and Sharon Lee of LIHI, the camp’s fiscal sponsor. [See that letter at the end of this post.]

On January 27, Nickelsville had voted camp boss Scott Morrow out of his position. But Morrow, in addition to being good friends with both Lee and Olsen, is the one who set up the land deal with Mr. Koh. As such, he could cancel that deal at any time. Although the campers’ grievances against Morrow appeared to have merit, it was unlikely that the new “Camp Dearborn” would long endure without Mr. Morrow’s patronage. And it didn’t.

poverty_pimpThe 2016 rebellion at Nickelsville is strangely similar to one that took place almost exactly a year earlier. In that case, however, Morrow and his associates had the rebel leaders removed and Morrow reinstated, after Morrow told the campers that they’d have to reimburse him for all the services he’d been providing to the camp . . . paying for trash pick-up and port-a-potties, and what-not. A few months after this happened, I heard that the City of Seattle had actually been the one paying for many of these services, so I began pressing public officials to intervene and keep Mr. Morrow from bullying the vulnerable people under his care. Unfortunately, the City was having none of it. We just hand out the money, they told me. We don’t take responsibility for overseeing the camps. And by the way, we think Mr. Morrow is doing a fine job. [paraphrasing]

Camp boss Scott Morrow unloads supplies at the entrance to Nickelsville Dearborn in September 2015. Campers told me he spent just one or two hours there per week.

After the second (2016) rebellion at the camp, Morrow started in with the eviction threats again, so I began pressing my contact at City Hall – one Michael Taylor-Judd – to tell me exact amount of money the City had been spending on the camp. After three or four e-mails back and forth, Taylor-Judd finally leveled with me, admitting that the City had spent some $30,000 on the camp in 2015. So that’s $30,000 of taxpayer money Seattle spent on this camp in one year, and yet the City has STILL taken no steps to hold the camp operator accountable for the way he runs his camps. (Besides Nickelsville Dearborn, Morrow controls at least three other homeless camps in Seattle, most of which are funded almost entirely by the City. He also manages two other camps outside the city, as well as several dozen shelter beds scattered around Seattle. His organization, SHARE receives about a million and a half dollars annually in cash grants and subsidized bus tickets.)

Below is the breakdown of Seattle taxpayer support for Nickelsville Dearborn’s services, directly from Michael Taylor-Judd at Seattle’s Human Services Department. These are services that Mr. Morrow and Ms. Lee have claimed to the homeless campers, the media, and the public that they were paying and that’s what gave them the right to evict campers en masse if they desired.

Re: Trash Pick-up at Nickelsville Dearborn


[ . . . ] What I have in my notes is the following breakdown of a little over $30,000:

January-April 17, 2015

$9,474.90 Northwest Cascade (HoneyBucket expenses)
$3,818.39 Recology (Dumpster pick-up)

May-July 2015

$3, 844.00 Northwest Cascade
$5,909.24 Recology

June-October 2015

$7,868.48 Northwest Cascade

Payments stopped after that as the Humans Services Department was finally prepared to contract with service providers and needed to retain limited dollars for the new [homeless camps] being established, which I believe was the stated intention of the City Council ordinance.


Michael Taylor-Judd
Assistant to Division Director
Administrative Specialist III, Community Support & Assistance Division
Seattle Human Services Department

O: 206.684.0266 | michael.taylor-judd@seattle.gov


Here is the eviction request letter delivered to Camp Dearborn after the second rebellion:


–Story and Nickelsville photo by David Preston

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