Computing Overtime

November 17, 2014

Every business owner must be aware of the Department of Labor’s method of computing overtime.  Some businesses are paying the correct amount of money and being assessed substantial penalties.  A common example of this is an employer who employs someone six days a week.  The employer give a fixed amount for the six days.  This amount may include time and a half for the hours worked over forty hours each week.  This meets the Washington State and federal requirements for payment of overtime, but not the recordkeeping requirements of the federal enforcement agency, the Department of Labor.  The DOL will take the position that the pay check does not include overtime and treat the check as payment for six days at the regular hourly rate, then make as assessment equal to the number of overtime hours times fifty percent of the hourly rate which it has computed.  This amounts to a payment  for overtime more than twice the amount due the employee.  The DOL can assess double the amount that it deems underpaid and is authorized to recommend criminal action.

There is no legitimate argument that businesses should not be paying overtime but the means of enforcing the law creates a trap for vulnerable businesses which are paying overtime.


Water Rights: Let the Buyer Beware.

November 4, 2014

Water rights issues are cropping up with increasing frequency as water becomes a diminishing commodity. In the Puget Sound area this is a somewhat ironic concept, as flooding seems to have been on the uptick and the drizzle for which the area is renown has certainly not disappeared. Flooding however is often attributed to logging and development which causes rainwater to become surface water, rather than groundwater, available through wells. The expansion of the population beyond areas served by water systems has created a proliferation of wells, drawing from largely unknown underground estuaries. This increased burden on the supply of water diminishes the quantity of water available to wells, sometimes with disastrous results.

Care must be taken when purchasing water rights or acquiring property with water rights. The value of property is often dependent on water rights but too often property is purchased without a thorough investigation of those water rights. Scrutiny of a title report may give the buyer false confidence in the availability of water.

In verifying the validity of a water source the inquirer enters into the Byzantine realm of Washington water rights, which defy easy explanation. Broadly speaking there are three levels of inquiry. First water systems must be permitted by the State Department of Ecology. However, there are certain exemptions from state permitting requirements and water systems that predate the water code of 1917 need not be permitted. Roughly 166,000 systems claim to have originated before 1917 but very few claims, if any, have been adjudicated. Next the county determines compliance with health requirements and conducts routine inspections. This is usually a fairly straight forward inquiry for the purchaser.

The last common level of inquiry relates to the assignment of water rights. The right to draw water is assignable. As to any water source that is off-site, the validity of the transfer of water rights must be verified. If there is a well on site, all documents transferring rights to others, or allocating rights of use, must be verified. When creating a joint-use well a great deal of difficulty can be avoided by carefully delineating each user’s rights and duties. This warrants as much care as the determination of the rights and regulations governing a home owners’ association.


Selling and Financing Real Estate

November 13, 2008

On November 8, the Washington Post wrote this about the real estate market:

In soft and declining housing markets, lenders are making a big deal of “comps,” the comparable sales of properties used as benchmarks in home real estate appraisals. Some sellers are forced to renegotiate lower prices with buyers, even after they have a signed contract. Rather than accepting sales of similar properties that closed as much as six to 12 months ago, lenders and mortgage investors are demanding that appraisers include only the freshest comps, ideally those closed within the previous 90 days, to support their valuations. In Richmond, appraiser Perry Turner of P.E. Turner & Co. said his firm has seen numerous cases where using newly mandated 90-day or more recent comps, as opposed to those six months or older, has contributed to valuations lower than the price on the sales contract. Turner said that in 95% of those cases, the listing and selling agents have gotten together and renegotiated the contract rather than lose the deal

Both buyers and sellers should be wary of prices based on comparable sales more than 90 days prior to the appraisal or “market survey.” Sellers need to be wary because a listing based on even six month old sales might be artificially high so that even if a buyer is found, financing may not be available.

In this eroding market, it behooves buyers to be sure that there is a good contingency for financing and to put little down as a deposit. Sellers on the other hand are motivated to get a large deposit. Financing contingencies are sometimes rather unclearly written, so both sides should be quite clear about the meaning of this part of the agreement.


What is Conservatism?

November 12, 2008

I’ve been hearing a lot about where this country is politically and I have to confess that I do not understand much of what is being said. Yesterday I heard a Republican say that “America is right of center.” I sincerely do not understand what that means. I presume that it was intended to mean that Americans support the Republican agenda, but the election offered little to support that position and polls uniformly show that the majority of us support the political issues advanced by so called “liberals” such as opposition to the Iraq war, health care revision, regulation of financial institutions, and establishing a trade balance.

It seems to me that the notions of conservative and liberal are indistinct to say the least with conservatives proposing dramatic changes to the society at least over the last eight years (I’m thinking tax reduction during a war, the “Bush Doctrine” which permits attacking other countries that might be a threat in the future, domestic warrantless surveillance, rendition, Guantanamo and the related human rights issues, abdication of federal oversight of financial institutions, stuff like that) and liberals advocating a return to a balanced budget and trade balance, and rolling back many of the recent changes implemented by the administration.

Another instance of this confusion about what is conservative and what is liberal is the recent Supreme Court case, argued Tuesday, in which the Court heard arguments about the FCC’s right to penalize “fleeting profanity.” The FCC for example fined PBS for airing interviews with old blues men who sometimes used the “s” word.

During oral argument it appeared that the “conservative” judges favored upholding the FCC’s right to control the use of any bad words, while the liberals seemed to disfavor this relatively mild form of censorship. In the courts conservatism is not marked by a philosophical opposition to governmental intrusion into our lives, as conservative judges tend to favor this type of censorship, to favor expansion of the police power and generally to disfavor using civil rights to limit the powers of government. At least in cases involving these competing interests the conservatives are more likely to be on the side of the government. On the other hand when government interferes with business, they are more likely to be on the side of business and the limitation of government.

This reminds me that when the constitution was adopted there was no bill of rights, to Thomas Jefferson’s great disappointment. The conservatives, who generally had opposed the inclusion of a bill of rights, coalesced into the Federalist Party which favored a strong federal government. Federalists were also much more pacifist than Jefferson’s following. I guess the conservatives on the bench take inspiration from John Adams and the Federalists at least in part. The conservatives of that era were for radical changes in the government to centralize and strengthen the power of the federal government.

The just finished presidential election illustrates the blur between conservative and liberal, as these terms are commonly used. McCain could not effectively distinguish his policies from those of Bush. McCain could not identify any bright lines that distinguished his policies from Obama and appealed to the voters. Eventually he seemed to stake his campaign on “character” issues, which to some degree is a euphemism for personal attacks. He did this is substantial part because he could not find the “right of center” where Republicans say most of us reside.


Seattle Ramming Through Measure for Business over Livability

November 11, 2008

While we’re still experiencing the buzz of the election, let’s chanel that into some attention to local politics.  There is a local issue coming to attention of the Council this week that influences everyone living here.

At issue are rather classic competing concerns about the City.  On one side are the people who live here who would like to  enhance its livability and on the other side are people interested beautifying the Westlake area where it intersects the Mercer Corridor.  The issue is whether $30 million is best spent construction a 6 block boulevard or whether it can be put to better use.

The City Council is trying to rush the boulevard approval through without considering a variety of relevant issues including alternative uses of the money.

The City Council’s Budget Committee this week l will consider whether to authorize spending $30 million for the Mercer Corridor Project in 2009 without first receiving the financial and environmental information it requested in Ordinance 122686 (passed in May 2008) as a necessary condition for the Mayor to proceed with the Mercer Project.

Nick Licata is leading the “livability” concerns and is joined by the following groups:

Magnolia Community Club
Rainier Beach Community Club Executive Board
Queen Anne Community Council
Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council
Othello Neighborhood Association
Columbia City Community Council
North Seattle Industrial Association
Aurora Avenue Merchants Association
Fremont Chamber of Commerce
Ballard District Council
Seattle Community Council Federation
Northeast District Council
Metropolitan Democratic Club
Seattle Marine Business Coalition
36th District Democrats
46th District Democrats
43rd District Democrats
BINMIC
Queen Anne Neighbors for Responsible Growth
University District Community Council

Expressing Concerns

Feet First (supports dedicating surplus commercial
parking tax revenues to fully funding healthy transportation choices equitably across Seattle rather than going to the Mercer Project)

The money is on the “boulevard” side, as you might guess, with Paul Allen’s people seeing this as a nice enhancement for their South Lake Union project, businesses in the Mercer area favor it as an enhancement that is likely to help business.  Many people in the Queen Anne area also favor the project as it enhances their neighborhood, while others there are eager to see the money used for other more broadly beneficial. (There is a discussion of the alternative uses here on September 30).  Generally speaking the moneyed interests favor investing the money to make Seattle a better place to drive to.  It is important to understand though that this measure is not to relieve traffic but to add aesthetic value to the drive.

To find out more you can contact any of the groups listed above or read the previous entries here or contact the City.  Please register your thoughts with the Council members who operate without the benefit of a great deal of public input.

Tim.Burgess@seattle.gov
Sally.Clark@seattle.gov
Richard.Conlin@seattle.gov
Jan.Drago@seattle.gov
Jean.Godden@seattle.gov
Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov
Nick.Licata@seattle.gov
Richard.McIver@seattle.gov
Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov

Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office.
http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm


Celebrations in DC and Seattle

November 10, 2008

Here’s an email from my daughter Amy, who works in Washington DC and was somewhat overwhelmed by the Tuesday night post-election celebration there. Below that is a copy of my reply to her  about the celebration here.

From Amy:

DC on election night was absolutely amazing.

I watched the election at a friend’s house in Maryland, then headed back into town after the speeches. As we got close to DC, we heard yelling and honking, that got louder as we rolled into the city. When we hit Capital Street, we decided that we should joint the celebration, so we rolled down the street honking, yelling, and waving to passing cars. Everyone in the cars were looking for people to shout to and didn’t seem to miss any opportunities. It was certainly the most collegial honking I have ever encountered in this city.

We parked the car at my apartment then walked up to U-Street. For people unfamiliar with DC, U Street is an historically African American that was a cultural center for much of the 20th century. It was Harlem before Harlem. It was also the center of the DC race riots, when many of the U Street businesses were destroyed. It was particularly poignant to see the celebration there on Tuesday night.

We spent two hours walking down U Street. When I say we walked down U Street, I mean we walked right down the middle of it (I’m talking yellow line). People drove their cars onto U Street then stopped them, leaving radios blaring. Cars were stopped on both sides of the street with people sitting and standing on top of the cars cheering and holding signs and chanting and honking. Walking down the street we walked by the cars high fiving everyone and cheering with them. Pedestrians were hugging, high fiving, and just erupting into spontaneous cheers together. (I haven’t hugged so many strangers since the 1995 playoffs.) People were chanting O-BAM-A, Yes-We-Can, and Si-Se-Puede (all, conveniently the same number of syllables I couldn’t help but notice), as well as general celebratory yelling. If someone started yelling or chanting, everyone around him/her would yell or chant in response.

A couple drummers set up shop on a corner and a huge group of people were jumping up and down (my kind of celebration) and chanting. It wasn’t aggressive jumping at all, just everyone celebrating together. I could go into the group do some jumping then come back out again. It was very cool. In the middle of another block, a giant ring of people, probably four or five people deep, were chanting O-BAM-A. I snuck in to get a closer look and two guys were break dancing to the chanting. They would pause and encourage the crowd to chant louder, then start dancing again. A young skinny white guy jumped in the middle of the group and started doing some decidedly un-break dancing and everyone cheered and chanted for him too.

It was without a doubt the most diverse celebration I have ever seen. It was diverse in every sense of the word. Beyond the racial diversity, I saw all kinds of people out–from goths to grandmas, and everyone was celebrating together, and happy. I saw parents out with their little kids (only three or four years old). A grandma-aged lady was in the in the front row of people watching and chanting for the break dancers. It was clear that everyone wanted to celebrate, but also to be there and experience history occurring. There seemed to be a feeling that everyone was experiencing something much bigger than themselves.

It was truly one of the most memorable and moving scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I took some pictures. They aren’t impressive photographically, but perhaps you can get a sense of the what was going on. http://picasaweb.google.com/amykoler/YesWeCan#

Amy

My reply:

It would be interesting to have a study of the celebrations in the different communities, then make bold generalizations about the places where the celebrations occurred. Seattle had a celebration break out on Broadway, near Seattle Central CC. There was merrymaking aplenty with a crowd of similar diversity, although weighted toward younger people and there were many fewer than the number of DC celebrants. When the police showed up and got out of their cars, people feared a confrontation, only to discover that many of the cops had left their vehicles to join in the dancing. Led by a drag queen, the throng marched to the area of the market to continue its revelry.

Startled and rather proud of this exhibition of politically correct glee, news media swarmed the group of celebrants, as SUVs and smart-looking vehicles arrived from the nether regions with occupants eager to join in the event. Encircled by media with periodic infiltration for an interview, the celebration became self aware and dissipated eventually. Nonetheless this may have been the first spontaneous street gathering and unlicensed parade since the Vietnam War. (I’m not counting the WTO activity as an unlicensed parade.) I can’t think of a time that the police joined such a party, except maybe at the end of the Second World War.

Alex, who was working as the Smith Tower night watchman, said that he saw groups of men walking by weeping, most of them homeless people on their way to the mission down the street.


A Triumph of a Foundational Belief

November 5, 2008

Our country has come a remarkable way in my lifetime.

I was born in a racially segregated country with laws impairing the black’s right to vote. There were neighborhoods in Seattle with covenants that made it unlawful for blacks to live there. When I was in college, black people could not buy property in my parent’s neighborhood. For that matter they would not even sell to Jews. In the 1960’s there were people living who had been slaves and several who had parents who had been slaves. Society was racially segregated and racism was rather obvious.

I’ve see the Supreme Court declare racial segregation to be unconstitutional. The civil rights movement was an enormous effort by many, many people and the experience became deeply imbedded in the participants’ consciousness. There was a sense of camaraderie among the participants in the movement not unlike the what happens among troops in a war. There was real grief over the assassinations of civil rights leaders and people still get deeply moved hearing Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. It was truly a profound experience full of struggle and violence and doubt and faith.

The country has made mighty efforts to overcome the ghetto-ization of the descendants of the slaves. Every step was marked with controversy, extremely high emotions, and great uncertainty about the benefits of the undertaking. The resistance to the movement included outspoken racists, but far from only those people.

Many, many people were not remotely racists but worried about the preservation of the fabric of society, going too far and too fast. Many of the “civil rights” efforts seemed artificial and meaningless. Many felt that the efforts were going way too far and penalizing non-blacks by usurping opportunities precious to struggling whites. Emotions always ran high with everyone on all sides seeing himself or herself fighting against injustice on the other side and saw the risk of the country’s doom hovering above everything.

It seemed to me that everyone in the last few decades has been fighting for opportunity as that person perceived it. Beneath all the squabbling was a foundational belief that this is the land of opportunity.

Many on the left despaired that with the demise of affirmative action, we were shirking our moral responsibility. Many felt that with the reduction in social services assured the further decline of people in the cycle of poverty. Many saw the Bush administration as having put us back toward the inequities of the 1960’s.

Out of this seething cauldron of accusations, distrust, blame, failed hope and sharp division steps a black president, calling for unity. For me he represents, not a triumph of the civil rights movement, but a triumph of the American experiment. People on the right who opposed the civil rights “social engineers,” who opposed formulaic affirmative action should feel vindicated. Out of the impossible tangle of competing ideas we have elected a black president, something no industrialized western country has done. Thirty-five years ago this was utterly inconceivable. Our foundation belief in opportunity has triumphed.


Checks and Balances

October 23, 2008

Here is an interesting campaign strategy. Senator Elizabeth Dole presents a picture of Obama in the White House and a Democratic Congress. She argues that this threatens the constitutional system of checks and balances and that she, as a Republican, ought to be elected to avoid the excesses of a single party controlling the executive and legislative branches of government.

Throughout Bush’s presidency this of course was not a concern ever expressed to my knowledge by Senator Dole or any other Republican. Republican campaigns were asserting the opposite argument, claiming that this (a Republican majority in Congress) gave Republicans better access to the president and a far better opportunity to work together with the president to get things done.

Dole argument, however disingenuous, is probably closer to the truth. With a Republican Congress Bush has been able to implement a disastrous foreign policy and substantial remove domestic regulations of the financial industry and many others as well. While you would not know it from the 2007-08 Congress, a Democratic majority might have made a difference.

On the other hand the Democrats do not seem to band together as tightly as Republicans. Carter was unable to get his tax reforms through a Democratic Congress. In Washington State the Democrats seem to control everything and get remarkably little done. Part of my problem is that I cannot figure out what in fact it is the defines the Democratic Party. Is pragmatism a defining quality of a political party? If so, it leaves a person with little ability to predict what Democrats will do because we can’t tell with much certainty what will be expedient at the time a decision is required.

So, while I agree with Senator Dole in theory, it’s hard to imagine these Democrats doing very much in a coordinated manner.


We’ve seen Crashes

October 23, 2008

Please forgive the sports fans in Washington State if they are less shaken by recent Wall Street events than people elsewhere.  This is the epi-center of disaster as announced by Mount St. Helens twenty some years ago.  The only good news a sports fan has had in the men’s sport arena is that Clay Bennett left town with the Sonics.  (The Seattle Storm stands alone as local fun and exciting team.)

Sports fans here are familiar with the feeling of the bottom dropping out of things.  The way we look at it the stock market still has 60% of its former value, what’s to complain about? That’s not a crash, more like fender bender. Heck, the Huskies football team has not won a single game since mid season last year. If you combine all of the wins of the football teams of Washington, Washington State and the Seahawks you get two, both of which occurred it seems like months ago.  That and one of those wins was against an intramural team.

In some ways the Mariner season was a foreshadowing of the Market crash.  The ownership spent extravagantly on players with no intrinsic value.  Our general manager speculated that our single power hitter, Richie Sexon, was going to come back after a miserable season to the form he showed the first year of his contract. The general manager believed that Richie’s performance continue to improve, failing to recognize that all cycles must end and Richie was closer to receiving social security than a home run crown.

Some teams have a retro game where the players wear uniforms from a by-gone age.  The Mariners had a retro season where we got to relive the pleasures of watching the team during its expansion phase.

The Mariners announced there new general manager in the newspaper today.  The announcement began with the most dreaded words in the team’s forlorn history:  “Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong decided.”  I couldn’t read on.

There is a rule that a team may not make announcements during the world series.  This is viewed as a distraction from the game apparently.  There are two exceptions to the ban on announcements: (1) the league gives its approval; or (2) the announcement is not significant. It is not clear which of the two exceptions applied to the Mariner announcement. Maybe both.

This proclamation did not rate coverage by the New York Times, and you have to hunt for it on the sports web sites.  In terms of substance and understanding the reasons for the selection, these announcements are a lot like reading the transcript of a presidential debate.

Being as how this guy is from Milwaukee it’s a little like the Pilots or a small piece of them is returning to Seattle.  But who wanted the Pilots back?


Sarah Vowell in Seattle

October 17, 2008

On Monday at Town Hall Sarah Vowell read from her recent book “Wordy Shipmates.”  I attended the reading but had not read any of her books.  There are four previous books.  “Assassination Vacation” was probably the most popular.  It was on on the overstock table at Elliot Bay which means that the publisher expected a lot of sales and carries a vague hint of disappointment.

Sarah Vowell, as you probably know, early in her career worked with David Sedaris on Ira Glass’s show “This American Life,” and still occasionally does a piece for the radio show.  I find her little autobiographical pieces side-splittingly funny and her books have been highly recommended to me but have just never made it to the top of my reading list.

For all her public speaking and television and radio appearances, she is quite shy and reserved in public, at least on this stop of her book tour.  Nonetheless her reading and discussion afterwards was very enjoyable and made me bump her new book to the top of my reading list.

I’ve just started but can already recommend the book as a very engaging and unique look at American colonial history.  The breadth and originality of her associations with early writings and historical events is almost mesmerizing.  Pop culture, contemporary events and Puritanical doctrine seem to somehow blend in a way that enriches the reader’s understanding of all of them.

One of the things that has struck me is how two threads of the colonist’s doctrine have been unwoven from that fabric, one has been largely abandoned and the other used to justify things far from the minds of the Puritans.

The Puritans advocated a rich inner life of learning, reading, appreciation of history, science and literature (mostly Biblical).  They were creatures of the Age of Reason and avid writers, committed to the exchange of ideas.  They saw the colonies as a refuge from hostilities between nations.

This developed into our founding fathers’ abhorrence of “entangling liaisons” with other nations.  This prioritization of scholarly learning and the development of our understanding of science and literature does not seem to have taken a firm grip on today’s society.  Nor does the notion that in the interest of fostering this enrichment we ought to avoid becoming entangled with other countries.

The other thread was probably thought of at the time as a benign Christian notion.  I guess it still is but it has lost some of its “benign” luster.  Sarah Vowell’s book discusses the Massachusetts Bay colony, which was founded by Puritans faithful to England, people full of doubt and second thoughts about leaving.  They were fleeing persecution but searching for a Godly justification for the trip.

The official seal of the colony, brought over from England, has on it an Indian and the words “Come over and help us.”  A person glancing at the official documents of the day might get the impression that the trip was motivated by a heathen’s call for help.  Things certainly didn’t work out that way.

This call for help has echoed down the course of American history and heard at opportune times by our leaders.   It was heard by William McKinley who sent gunboats to Manila to Christianize Filipinos.  The ardor of this vision was not abated by the discovery shortly after arrival that the Philippines had been Catholic for two hundred years.  John Kennedy heard the same plea from the Vietnamese (at least from the ones at the south end of the country) and sent aircraft carriers to “help freedom defend itself.”  George W. Bush and Dick Cheney heard the same pleas.  Bush heard the people of Iraq crying to him for freedom and Cheney knew that we would be greeted as liberators.   Sarah Vowell reminds us that we have been hearing this for a long time.