Childproof Seattle

Remember 15 years ago, when Mayor Charles Royer's "KidsPlace" project was supposed to keep Seattle safe and congenial for families? Congenial it certainly seemed. I remember one woman who moved onto Queen Anne from the East Coast in the late '80s and pronounced it "a Dick and Jane neighborhood"—a nice place to raise kids. Almost since Asa Mercer brought the brides, Seattle has cherished its image as a middle-class, green-grass, family kind of town. No more. KidsPlace now has fewer kids than Boston or San Francisco, even with their huge college and gay communities.

In a December 13 Los Angeles Times essay, urban-affairs pundit Joel Kotkin drops a bombshell, using data gleaned from UW demographer Richard Morrill: "In the last Census, [Seattle's] population had the lowest percentage of residents between ages 5 and 17—10.8%—of any major US city, followed closely by Boston, Denver, and San Francisco." This puts the city in the vanguard of famously successful, and increasingly childless, glamour towns. Their humming cultural and entertainment offerings, exquisitely rehabilitated inner neighborhoods, and general patina of sophistication make them magnets for singles, childless couples, gays, and empty nesters who will pay astronomical housing prices and not fret much about the schools. But for families, unaffordable housing + mediocre schools = a speedy escape to suburbia. (That woman and her kids soon fled Seattle, first for Bellevue, then Vashon Island.)

Royer's successor, Norm Rice, also banged the drum against this trend; he even launched his administration with a much-touted "Schools Summit." But keeping the city child-friendly doesn't seem quite the cause it used to be. This month Mayor Paul Schell (who's childless) announced an imminent triumph: Seattle would now be able to provide shelter for all its homeless women and children. He promptly qualified that statement: We'll have shelter for all homeless women with children, not for teenagers and other kids who are out there on their own.

But what the hey, getting rid of children makes running the city easier. As Kotkin notes, "Single people, gays, and other urbanites tend to be more tolerant of deviancy and dysfunctional government than families with children. They also tend to demand fewer traditional city services." But that relief comes at a price. "Urban life will continue to evolve in its postmodern form, but without the common touch of humanity that only the sight and sound of children can bring."

MIA: the MAI vote

This news didn't make the daily papers, even though its instigators on the King County Council sent out a press release. But two weeks ago, the Republican-dominated council unanimously passed a measure opposing the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI), an international accord earnestly sought by Wall Street and the Clinton administration. MAI backers hope it will do for the worldwide flow of capital what GATT and NAFTA have done for trade: break down national barriers, "level the playing field," and speed the process of globalization. Its opponents fear it will do for capital flows what GATT and NAFTA have done for trade: preempt national and local autonomy and trump labor and environmental standards, in part by empowering foreign corporations to sue local governments in international court over perceived investment barriers. King County joins San Francisco and Houston as one of the three big jurisdictions to come out against MAI. All this in the backyard of Boeing and Microsoft.

The outcome is a tribute to Washington Free Trade Campaign director Sally Soriano, who lobbied for the measure, and council member Brian Derdowski, its initial sponsor. It may also reflect the fact that this time the local trade establishment (which mobilized to scare Seattle out of its mild Burma-boycott bill) didn't show up. "We didn't tell them," quips council member Maggi Fimia.

Oil boycott du jour

Nothing drives a would-be conscientious consumer crazy like trying to figure out which Big Oil companies to patronize, and which are even more politically and environmentally culpable than the others and should be avoided. Unocal, for collaborating with the Burmese dictatorship on a gas pipeline that will ravage rain forest and minority homelands? Shell, for being the lead baddie in Nigeria? Texaco, for tagging along in Nigeria and Burma? ARCO, for prying open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge?

David Ortman, ever a font of creative anti-corporate subversions, has one for the oil companies: Boycott them all, in turn. Ortman urges a serial "Oil Industry Boycott Calendar." "The idea is simple. For two straight months everyone boycotts the same oil company's gas stations. That will put a major kink in their cash flow." He suggests an easy-to-remember alphabetical sequence—ARCO in January and February, BP in March and April, Chevron in May and June, Shell in July and August, and Texaco in September and October, then finish the year shunning Unocal (Union 76). You don't think consumer outrage carries any force? How many Exxon stations do you see around here since the Exxon Valdez spill made this area hostile territory?

But of course, such outrage has always been impossible to organize without such a flagrant incident. And where do you draw the line? Ortman spares Mobil.

With friends like these . . .

Bill Clinton gets support in the darnedest places. "We assure you, Mr. President, of our full support," reads one petition circulated at the recent anti-impeachment rallies. "Should this [Republican] coup d'etat succeed, not only the United States, but the entire world would be thrown back into a political condition such as existed before the American Revolution—with the worst possible consequences." Does that language, with its grandiose historicist sweep, sound familiar? Sure enough, after two paragraphs outlining the imminent "nuclear meltdown" of the "bankrupt . . . 'laissez-faire' economic system," the source becomes clear. The petition extols the "uncompromising action in behalf of a new, just world economic order" of the "highly esteemed" Lyndon LaRouche. And it concludes, "We appeal to you, President Clinton, to appoint Lyndon LaRouche immediately as economic adviser to your administration."

The petition is from the New Federalist newsletter of LaRouche, who ran his 1992 presidential campaign from prison. LaRouche, who started out with the Socialist Workers, attached himself to the SDS, and then ran under his own US Labor Party, spearheads a proclaimed "faction of the Democratic Party." No doubt the other factions are thrilled to have him. Watch out what you sign at rallies.

No, you swing a subpoena

You hate to credit the likes of Al Sharpton with anything, but he did deliver the best summation on the impeachment coup (as reported in David Korn's American Politics Journal): "You don't take a sledgehammer to kill a cockroach."

 
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