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A follow-up to the Seattle restaurants/minimum wage story

[ 27 ] March 18, 2015 |

A reader sends along a link to this Bethany Jean Clement piece in the Seattle Times.  Clement, in a refreshing act of journalism against her employer’s editorial interests, asks the restaurant owners about this, and all four openly repudiate the assertion that the coming minimum wage increase is a ‘factor’ in their decision. One owner in particular expressed some annoyance at being made a poster child for right wing nonsense:

We were never interviewed for these articles and we did not close our … location due to the new minimum wage,” Kounpungchart and Frank said in an email. “We do not know what our colleagues are doing to prepare themselves for the onset of the new law, but pre-emptively closing a restaurant seven years before the full effect of the law takes place seems preposterous to us.”

Frank went so far as to send a note to the author of the Washington Policy Center post saying: “Our business model is conducive to the changing times and we would appreciate it if you did not make assumptions about our business to promote your political values.”

As a point of clarification, the absurdity of the original Seattle Magazine story becomes even more clear if we look at the implementation schedule. The minimum wage in Seattle is presently 9.47, up from 9.32 on January 1st (Washington has an annual inflation adjustment for the minimum wage). On April first the implementation of Seattle’s minimum wage begins, but for employers with under 500 the minimum compensation goes to 11.oo an hour, but the minimum wage for tipped employees only goes to 10.00. So it’s a 53 cent increase in most cases, and 1.53 in the case of non-tipped employees making bare minimum.

Are Seattle Restaurants Closing in “Record Numbers”? (Spoiler: No.)

[ 98 ] March 15, 2015 |

Since the initial story about Seattle restaurant closings is making its way through the right wing blogs at the moment, prompting one wingnut outlet to declare that Seattle restaurants are closing “in record numbers,” let’s take a loot at the actual evidence provided in the story that launched the chain reaction. Before we begin let’s note despite long having one of the highest minimum wages in the country, while being located in one of only a handful of states with no ‘tip credit’ for wages, Seattle still manages to have the highest density of restaurants anywhere in the country, except for San Francisco and the greater New York City area.

What’s the evidence? The Seattle Magazine article that started this game of telephone identified four (4) restaurants that have closed or will close between February and May 2015. (A 5th restaurant is seeing its award winning chef resign to move to Spain; the alleged relevance here is unclear.) Included in these four restaurants is one that remains open at its original location, shifting its focus back to their original model, another is owned by one of Seattle’s most successful and celebrated restaurateurs, who continues to own five thriving establishments and is in the process of opening two new restaurants. The owner of the third closing restaurant  (easily the most over-hyped Indian restaurant openings I’ve ever seen), identifies the reason for closing as a poor fit between format and location, which seemed pretty obvious to me when they opened. The space the fourth restaurant occupies will be immediately replaced by another new restaurant.

What isn’t included is any analysis to suggest openings are failing to keep pace with closings. Given the short typical lifespan of a restaurant and the size of Seattle, we should expect annual openings and closings to be in the hundreds in a typical year. Identifying four closing restaurants over a four month period is evidence for the thesis in the same way finding a bunch of Democratic voters who don’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton is ‘evidence’ her campaign is in trouble. Indeed, the right wingers are hoping you don’t read the original article, which closes by refuting its own highly speculative thesis:

Despite these serious challenges, however, brave restaurateurs continue to open eateries in Seattle, which, remembering basic supply and demand, also naturally accounts for closures we’ve already seen and more that will come. Capitol Hill alone is carrying on an unprecedented dining boom, and in mid January, Capitol Hill Seattle announced that Nue, Chris Cvetkovich’s modernist global street food joint, was the neighborhood’s 100th food and drink opening in three years.

Other major Capitol Hill additions from the last few months include Stateside, (Eric Johnson’s long-awaited French-Vietnamese outpost), Tallulah’s (Linda Derschang’s [of Smith and Oddfellows] casual neighborhood café) and Serious Pie Pike (Tom Douglas’s third location of his pizza joint, now open in the new Starbucks Roastery). Moreover, just this week on the Hill, we’ve got news of Lisa Nakamura opening the Gnocchi Bar in the Packard Building on 12th Avenue (formerly the Capitol Hill D’Ambrosio Gelateria Artigianale) at the end of March.

Those keeping score at home will note that the article identifies more restaurants opening than closing.

I have no idea what impact, if any, Seattle’s minimum wage increase will have on total employment in the restaurant industry. It’s well worth watching, because knowing at what point more aggressive minimum wage increases have this kind of impact may be useful for shaping future policy. It’s also important because business owners and ideological opponents of the minimum wage will lie and obfuscate to create a false impression of negative impacts, whether they exist or not.

Let’s be fair to SAE

[ 165 ] March 13, 2015 |

This Daily Kos diary is an unfortunate rush to judgment. Sure, it might appear as though SAE implemented the promise of their traditional song with extreme prejudice. But before we rush to conclusions about racial bias motivating their manslaughter for sport, we should check to see if there’s any racial pattern to the victims; the body count is sizeable enough that we ought to be able to detect a pattern. Besides, they’ve now banned manslaughter for sport because the liability insurance was out of control they realized it’s very, very wrong.

….if my calculations are correct SAE comprises roughly 3% of the total collegiate population of fraternities. Since 2006, they account for 15-20% of fatalities associated with hazing and other fraternity rituals.

SAE at UW. The hits just keep coming.



Israeli election

[ 36 ] March 12, 2015 |

This is starting to get interesting. I’ve long had this vague notion that Likud would pull away just before the election, although I admit I can’t give a particularly compelling narrative about why, other than generalized pessimism about anything good ever happening again in that part of the world. But the polling seems pretty robust at this point, and time is very nearly up. At this point it seems pretty clear the speech stunt didn’t do him any favors. The man who may be kingmaker, Moshe Kahlon, seems to be playing it pretty close to the vest.

This is mostly just an Israeli election open thread. Is Bibi really in trouble? And what’s Kahlon’s deal? If he ends up in a position to choose the next prime minister, what sort of concessions might he seek to extract from Bibi, or Herzog?


[ 55 ] March 11, 2015 |

So this morning Bill Kristol went on television and said something profoundly stupid, offensive, and wrong. In other words, a pretty typical day. However, unlike the last several hundred times that happened, this one launched a gloriously hilarious twitter hashtag.

The Logan Act is an illiberal anachronism

[ 65 ] March 11, 2015 |

To state the obvious, the Republican letter to Iranian leaders is ridiculous and awful on both procedural and substantive grounds, and they deserve all kinds of scorn and criticism for it. But to attempt to suggest the letter is constitutes a criminal seems to have inspired some breathless pundits to revive the Logan Act (last seen in the hands of Ronald Reagan, threatening Jesse Jackson with persecution), an illiberal, speech-limiting anachronism that hasn’t actually been used in a prosecution in over 200 years. Here’s the relevant text:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

There’s a case to be made that Cotton letter appears to be in technical violation of this law. But there’s a much more important case to be made that this law deserves to stay dead and buried. Consider the following crank-penned missive, adorned with sufficient postage to make it to Sofia: “As a proud Bulgarian-American, I am dismayed to learn of the ongoing negotiation of the Bulgarian-American blah blah blah treaty. This policy would be a tragic, short-sighted mistake for both countries for reasons XYZ and I encourage you to abandon this plan.” The notion that sending this letter ought to be a felony is indefensible, but it’s as much a violation of the above standard as the letter.

I don’t know enough about first amendment jurisprudence to know if this statute would stand up to scrutiny. It shouldn’t, though, and given its longstanding disuse it would be a strong candidate for desuetude. Since obviously prosecution isn’t going to happen, there’s little to be gained to try to revive a terrible law like this. The Cotton letter can be criticized on several other less problematic but devastating grounds; there’s no need to revive sort of thing.

See also Brian Beutler.


….to clarify, since some commenters are missing this point, I am not making the argument that my cranky Bulgarian letter and the Cotton letter are ought to be seen as “equivalent.” There’s are important distinctions between them, all of which clearly make the Cotton letter more objectionable. My point is merely that as written the Logan Act fails to make this distinction. It’s not my suggestion they are equivalent, it’s the implication of this terrible, unconstitutional law that they are. If the Cotton letter should be illegal (and I don’t think it should, probably, but I take no argument on that here) we need a less overbroad, unduly speech-restricting statute.

Coates on Ferguson

[ 130 ] March 5, 2015 |

If you’ve been following him on twitter, you’ve waiting for this, which is excellent. No quotes, just read the whole damn thing. Have a stiff drink at the ready.

As the media and general public consume and digest the Justice Department’s report on the Ferguson PD, I very much hope we don’t make the mistake of focusing on the findings regarding Darren Wilson, or on the racist jokes the officers passed around so freely. The story we very badly need to focus on is that the Ferguson PD was, in effect, little more than a legal, open, ongoing conspiracy to expropriate black wealth and redistribute it to white people.

….Relatedly, Henry Farrell is correct to see Charles Tilly here.

Transit/urbanism links

[ 116 ] February 25, 2015 |

that I might be blogging about if I had time to blog at the moment.

It’s somewhat shocking that even in the one American city where it’s generally widely acknowledged a car is not necessary, we still have such absurd parking requirements. So this is very good news. Good for DeBlasio and the planning department; when it comes to housing costs parking minimums matter.

Speaking of housing costs: significant construction of new units and rent increases often occur simultaneously, providing a handy cum hoc ergo propter hoc for people who’d like their anti-development preferences to fit more comfortably with their broader political views and/or stated preference for the availability of less expensive housing. But the dodge doesn’t work; supply and demand matters. Even in San Francisco.

Although it relies on a single study from Australia a bit more than I’d prefer, this is a thoughtful reflection on the issue of ‘mode bias’ in public transportation. That riders prefer trains to buses is clear. What we should do with that information isn’t. The worst public transit fad of the last couple of decades, the return of the (toy) streetcars–expensive and shiny but stuck in traffic, and slower than buses–is a good example of overcompensating for perceived mode bias.  I would be curious to hear any SoCal readers thoughts on the characterization of the Orange Line–and its local perception–presented here.

On the urban planning consequences of children mapping slums in India.

Pure, unadulterated evil

[ 135 ] February 12, 2015 |

I missed this during the superb owl of which we must never speak again, but McDonald’s current marketing gimmick is indescribably monstrous; in a remotely just or sane world everyone who approved this madness would have been fired by now, and unable to find marketing work in the future. My first reaction was to call it another entry for my “extroverts don’t understand introverts” file, but that’s grossly unfair to even the most clueless extroverts. I’d happily add a couple zeros to the cost of a McMuffin to avoid this horror. I struggle to imagine that I share a species with people who think this is a good idea. One particularly disastrous result:

 They said all I had to do is call a family member and tell them “I love you”.

The start of the f*ck up is calling my mother who knows that I had a brief history with depression and suicidal thoughts from high school bullies, the second f*ck up is starting the call with I love you.

She immediately started to freak out (mostly because I’m over 1000 miles away from her and the closest family is about 300 miles away from me) and was pretty scared that I was about to commit suicide. Over the course of the next 15 minutes I was on the phone reassuring her that I indeed wasn’t about to kill myself and make sure that she wasn’t on the next plane to arrive and come to visit. (Afterwards she also mentioned that it had given her a small asthma attack, but nothing her inhaler couldn’t handle.)

It’s always fascinating when a company becomes possessed of the notion that it can fundamentally transform itself through marketing gimmicks. I know I’m not alone in that every time I eat at McDonald’s or a similar chain, I’m quite likely to be in a foul mood. Entering such a restaurant is a de facto admission of failure. If I’d had my shit together to get to the grocery store; if I hadn’t been too lazy to cook a bowl of oatmeal this morning; if I’d planned enough time to get something better that takes a few minutes longer; if I had just a modicum of willpower to resist the temptation to eat greasy processed crap; I wouldn’t be here. And virtually every time I enter such a restaurant, I get the distinct vibe that everyone else in the building is more or less in the same boat as I (the employees, of course, are miserable for different and far more serious reasons). I would be, frankly, taken aback and a little troubled if the cashier were to so much as ask me how my day was going (which has never happened). I suppose I can see how one might reach the conclusion that desperate measure are required; unfortunately, the particular desperate measures they opted for merely demonstrate how contemptuous they are of their employees and customers, whose underpaid miserable labor and poor choices, respectively, pay their salaries.

“I made a personal choice for my family”

[ 279 ] February 8, 2015 |

I know, I know, snark, derision, and contempt aren’t effective. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be damned amusing.

Warren, public opinion, and inequality

[ 38 ] January 18, 2015 |

Paul Rosenberg has a good response to Amitai Etzioni’s rather lame attempt at a hatchet-job on Elizabeth Warren at The Atlantic:

Taking Norton and Ariely’s results seriously, we can say that the American people want a much fairer society than they live in, but that the means for articulating this desire—the stories, concepts, policy proposals, etc.—are in scandalously short supply, a de facto example of hypocognition thwarting what people want. Elizabeth Warren is particularly popular precisely because she provides some of the missing means that people are so hungry for—an antidote to the hypocognition that thwarts their desire for a fairer, more just vision of America, which respects both their hard work and their compassionate values. There may be relatively little polling to support this view (though there’s considerably more than you’d expect) but that’s partly just another example of how elites dominate the landscape of acceptable thought to protect their interests, as underscored by recent research by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page. Warren represents a clear alternative to this narrow-minded view. Her popularity derives in large part from her ability to shape narratives that reflect the hidden majority’s shared values and articulate them in policy terms, reversing a decades-long trend by which elites of both parties have turned their backs on the welfare of ordinary Americans.

While Rosenberg offers a much more accurate portrait of American public opinion than does Etzioni, there are reasons to think this offers an overly optimistic account. He’s right, of course, that Americans want a more egalitarian distribution of wealth and income than they’ve got. But it’s almost certainly the case that partisan identity is likely to significantly diminish the ‘hidden majority’ support for redistribution when it turns into an actual plan promoted by and associated with Democratic politicians (as the continued unpopularity of something called “Obamacare” demonstrates). Raising the minimum wage manages to remain broadly popular despite the partisan divide, so it’s important not to be too fatalistic about this. (I suspect one reason for this is the simplicity of the policy; it’s harder to spin or dissemble the basic fairness of it away.) But the lack of specific policy proposals cuts both ways–lots of inequality-reducing proposals could be quite popular in the abstract, but once they become “Democratic” proposals support is likely to conform to a more familiar partisan pattern.

“Should the sounds of sodomy echo through the halls of a Christian home?”

[ 66 ] January 5, 2015 |

Marriage equality in Ireland is on the ballot in Ireland in May, and the forces of discrimination and bigotry appear to have their work cut out for them. Opponents of marriage quality have produced a piece of political propaganda that instantly becomes a classic of the genre; unintentional hilarity worthy of Maggie Gallagher herself.

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