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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Was Dr. George Tiller murdered by a right wing eliminationist? Looks like it...

As most readers have probably already heard, Kansas gynecologist George Tiller was gunned down and killed at his place of worship this morning not long after service had begun. The slaying has already drawn widespread condemnation, particularly from progressives, who are justifiably outraged by this act of terror.

President Obama issued a terse statement a short time ago, saying:
I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.
Lauren Simonds, who leads NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, declared:
Dr. Tiller’s murder is shocking and gut-wrenching news; our hearts go out to his family during this devastating time. Having previously worked in family planning clinics, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Tiller on several occasions.

Despite the constant threats, the malicious protesters, the vandalism to his clinic, and the relentless political and legal attacks, Dr. Tiller refused to retreat and continued to provide women’s health care. He was truly a brave man, and we are deeply saddened by his death.
We don't yet know who is responsible for killing Dr. Tiller, or what his or her motive was. But as Sara Robinson writes at Orcinus, it's not unlikely that Dr. Tiller was murdered by a right wing eliminationist.
As I write this, police have a suspect in custody for Dr. Tiller's murder. There's no word yet on who the perpetrator is, or what motivated him; but it's a pretty sure bet that as the story comes out, he'll be found to be an anti-abortion True Believer. The fact that this killing happened on the sixth anniversary of Eric Rudolph's capture bears this out. The date was chosen with a message in mind. It seems very likely that the venue was, too.

I've often said that fundamentalism begins the minute you decide you have the One True Right and Only Way - and that you have a God-given duty to impose that way on the rest of the world. Because of this, fundamentalists have never been willing to recognize the legitimacy of other faiths. And certain factions on the far right have never had qualms about vandalizing mosques or synagogues in order to harass Muslims and Jews into political and social silence.

But they used to leave Christian churches pretty much alone. The fact that this shooting occurred in a church (again) suggests that this tactic is now being tried out on more closely related faith groups whose views don't comport with the fundamentalist party line. As Dave has often pointed out, bringing violence to houses of worship is usually an overtly eliminationist act. They are trying to terrify liberals by making us feel at risk and unsafe inside our own spiritual sanctuaries - the very places we go to feel the most security and peace. This is terrorism, plain and simple - Christian fundamentalist terrorism, committed by people Sam Smith has started referring to as "Jesus's Jihadis."
Cue the inevitable right wing excuse-making machine.

We'll hear phrases such as "we don't know all the facts yet" (true, but people who haven't been indoctrinated by right wing hate talk don't walk into churches on Sunday mornings and shoot doctors who happen to provide reproductive health services to women) or, "It was just one person" (as if the hate speech, bullying, and targeting exacted by right wing talking heads has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the killer's decision to commit this act.)

And of course we'll also hear "He got what was coming to him", undoubtedly from people who consider themselves Christians. What is it about the teachings of Jesus that these right wing fundamentalists just don't get?

Are they not intelligent enough to comprehend the New Testament? Did they just gloss over the part about "Love thy neighbor as thyself"?
You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

- Matthew 5:43-45
Did they decide the part about showing mercy wasn't applicable to them?
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

- Luke 6:32-36
The Gospels, like the U.S. Constitution, are evidently just scraps of paper to these people, documents that they can wave arrogantly in other people's faces, which ironically contain wisdom they have never bothered to absorb.

UPDATE: Tiller's murderer has been identified as Scott Roeder. Daily Kos has more on his background. As Hunter notes:
So a bombmaker, tax protester, member of the "sovereignity" movement, anti-abortion zealot and Operation Rescue member: the arrested suspect manages to fit every stereotype of right-wing militia teabagger.
It figures. Speaking of Operation Rescue, founder Randall Terry doesn't seem the least bit sorry that George Tiller is dead.

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced he is dispatching United States Marshals to offer protection to other doctors and clinics that offer reproductive health services around the country. Good to hear.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Alec Fisken launches campaign to return to Seattle Port Commission

Terrific news today for everyone concerned about responsible governance at the Port of Seattle: Former Commissioner Alec Fisken, who led the way earlier this decade in uncovering the abuses of the Mic Dinsmore regime, announced that he intends to file next week for the position that Lloyd Hara is vacating.

(Hara, first elected to the Commission in 2005, has decided to run for King County Assessor this year. He is hoping to succeed Scott Noble).

Fisken previously served on the Seattle Port Commission from 2004 up until the beginning of 2008. He narrowly lost his reelection bid in November 2007 to Republican businessman Bill Bryant, who spent twice as much money and campaigned aggressively in the last few weeks of the cycle.

"The Port of Seattle has so much to offer and I've lived and breathed these issues for much of my life," Fisken said in a news release, explaining his decision to run for Commission again. "I have the experience to ensure that taxpayers of this county not only get a fiscally responsible Port, but one that reflects their values for a clean environment, good working-wage jobs and transparent governance."

He noted that Hara was elected on a pledge to drill down into Port's finances. "Commissioner Hara scrutinized the Port's budget and was a champion for fiscal responsibility and sensible spending. I plan to continue his work and the progress that has been made to give the people of King County a responsible Port."

We're longtime fans of Alec's and we couldn't be more pleased that he is stepping forward to seek office again. The Port of Seattle benefited greatly from his critical eye, professional expertise, and pursuit of transparency earlier this decade. Now the people of King County have a chance to rehire Alec and put him back to work strengthening our Port.

We hope voters don't squander the opportunity.

Washington should expect its teachers to be effective

Teachers wish to be paid like the skilled professionals they are, but is this a fair expectation if they don’t face the normal pressures of the job market?

When lay offs happen at a typical company, new hires are often the first to get the ax, but employers usually take other factors into consideration as well, like their employee’s attitude, reliability, and productivity. In other words, their performance.

Not so with teachers. Faced with a severe budget shortage, the Seattle school district plans to save money by laying off 165 of its newest teachers under a “last hired, first fired” system. The longest serving teachers are protected, while the newest lose their job based on only one factor, and one that is out of their control, their seniority. If job performance was a criterion, many of those last hired educators would be sticking around and the long-timers would be hitting the road.

Seattle parents are understandably upset about the threat of seeing their favorite teachers leave their school, and many blame the teachers union for creating employment contracts that protect seniority above all else. Not willing to let this issue ride, a group of angry parents is calling for the school district and teachers union to prioritize teacher effectiveness. From their online petition, signed by almost 800 people:
In the new contract between the teachers’ association and the school district, change the layoff policy to prioritize effectiveness. Put in place a system that promotes, rewards and protects teamwork, expertise, best teaching practices and each site’s unique programmatic needs.
Maybe these parents have been reading the latest research that shows that giving students a great teacher is the best way to help them learn. From the Seattle P-I:
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent billions of dollars exploring the idea that smaller high schools might result in higher graduation rates and better test scores. Instead, it found that the key to better education is not necessarily smaller schools but more effective teachers.
Funny, I think I read the same conclusion in the legislature's Basic Education Task Force report released in December. The recently passed education reform bill was based on the recommendations of this task force. Unfortunately, its recommendations on "merit pay" didn't go over so well with the state teachers union, the Washington Education Association, and stalled reform only went forward after it stripped out all references to pay based on teacher effectiveness in order to placate the extremely cantankerous union.

Imagine if your next raise had nothing to do with how well you did your job, only that you showed up for it.

NPI supports labor unions and we believe that they can benefit both workers and their communities, but protecting some union members who have seniority, while hurting those without it, isn’t a successful strategy. It doesn’t incentivize good work or treat employees like skilled professionals. It doesn’t protect any more jobs, and above all, it doesn’t ensure that the most effective, highly skilled teachers are in the classroom.

If we really want to improve Washington’s schools, we need to start where we can make the most difference, with our teachers. We need to attract and retain the best teachers and reward them accordingly. Why should we expect less than the best for our kids?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

California's Proposition 8 decision on the wrong side of history

Yesterday's big news, of course, is that the California Supreme Court upheld the odious proposition 8, which stripped gay and lesbian couples of the right to marry. Much has been written dissecting the court's opinion.

I won't cover that ground in this post. I just want to say that in this, California is on the obvious wrong side of history.

Broadly interpreted, human history is the process of recognition, by degrees, that people are more the same than they are different, and that they all deserve the same rights. Jefferson summed it up famously, thus:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The edit is mine, to point out that even those uncommonly enlightened men who framed our Constitution couldn't see the full extent of their own vision.

Over the twenty two decades since the ratification of our constitution, we've come a long way towards truly fulfilling that vision.

Black people are counted as both human beings and citizens now. They can vote, own property, start businesses, and hold elected office.

Women, so long denied their voice, have had the vote for nearly a century now.

The law recognizes the complete invalidity of the "separate but equal" doctrine which kept public schools and facilities segregated for so long after the Civil War.

You can't discriminate (not legally, anyway), in employment and housing on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, disability, veteran status, and a host of other factors, including sexual orientation.

Taking a long view of human history, and even the comparatively brief view over American history, one cannot but come to the realization that in any argument over rights, the side arguing to deny a certain class of people their rights, invariably ends up being the losing side of that battle.

Every time.

Sometimes this process takes a long time. Sometimes the pendulum swings back and forth a few times before the issue is settled.

Yet, while miscegenation laws which forbade people of different skin colors from marrying were struck down in 1967, the love between same-sex couples is still not treated equally. Richard and Mildred Loving fought for the validity of their love regardless of skin type. In California, gay and lesbian couples are still fighting for the validity of their love regardless of body type.

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court let that pendulum swing back a bit, towards the losing side. Yesterday was a sad day for all who believe in the fundamental equality of all human beings in all things.

I recognize and appreciate the Court's efforts to limit the scope of their ruling and the adverse effects on gay and lesbian couples. The Court took pains to leave intact the substantive rights of gay and lesbian couples, but it denied them the legal use of the word "marriage".

It may just be a word, a label, but words matter. Without the label, all the substantive rights in the world don't add up to real marriage equality.

There's no two ways about it. Proposition 8 is on the wrong side of history. It's time Californians wake up to that fact and do something about it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Sotomayor nomination: Reaction to and resources for Obama's Supreme Court pick

This morning President Barack Obama announced he has chosen someone to succeed Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor.

In remarks at the White House, the President said he had sought a nominee with "rigorous intellect" and "recognition of the limits of the judicial role" - two important qualities that Sotomayor certainly has.
Over a distinguished career that spans three decades, Judge Sotomayor has worked at almost every level of our judicial system, providing her with a depth of experience and a breadth of perspective that will be invaluable as a Supreme Court justice.

It's a measure of her qualities and her qualifications that Judge Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court by a Republican President, George H.W. Bush, and promoted to the Federal Court of Appeals by a Democrat, Bill Clinton. Walking in the door she would bring more experience on the bench, and more varied experience on the bench, than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court had when they were appointed.
Responding to her nomination, Judge Sotomayor said (in part):
Thank you, Mr. President, for the most humbling honor of my life. You have nominated me to serve on the country's highest court, and I am deeply moved.

I could not, in the few minutes I have today, mention the names of the many friends and family who have guided and supported me throughout my life and who have been instrumental in helping me realize my dreams. I see many of those faces in this room. Each of you, whom I love deeply, will know that my heart today is bursting with gratitude for all you have done for me.
Activists, observers, and pundits have been mentioning Sotomayor as possible successor to Souter ever since the Associate Justice announced his retirement. Indeed, one of the very first emails I read after I heard the news of Souter's retirement suggested that Sotomayor would be his replacement.

If confirmed, she would be the first Hispanic justice in history, and only the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court (after Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominated by Presidents Reagan and Clinton, respectively).

Washington's senior Senator, Patty Murray, released the following statement in response to the nomination:
Judge Sonia Sotomayor is an unquestionably qualified Supreme Court choice and an unparalleled example of the true spirit and determination of the American dream. With her nomination, President Obama has responded to America’s need for a Court that is rich in service and experience and one that better reflects the people whose Constitution it is charged with upholding.

Judge Sotomayor has been nominated to judicial positions by Presidents of both political parties because of her record of fairness, moderation and independence. And she has proven that she can apply sophisticated legal doctrines to common sense, every-day application of the law.

The American people deserve a Supreme Court whose members understand that equal justice under the law means something powerful to every American, regardless of background or political persuasion.

I will evaluate Judge Sotomayor’s nomination based on the same standards I use for all judicial appointments. Is she ethical, honest and qualified? Will she be evenhanded, fair, and independent; and will she uphold our rights and liberties? I want to know that when an individual comes before the Court, that he or she will receive a fair hearing and that justice will be rendered according to the law.

I look forward to a swift, reasoned and respectful discussion of her qualifications, experience, and expertise.
We recommend the following links for more resources and reaction to Judge Sotomayor's nomination. It's been a pretty busy morning:
One more tidbit: Here are the names of the seven (still serving) Republican senators who voted to confirm Sotomayor back in 1997.
Thad Cochran (Missisippi), Susan Collins (Maine), Richard Lugar (Indiana), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Jesse Helms (North Carolina), Judd Gregg (New Hampshire)
Arlen Specter also voted for Sotomayor in 1997. He released a very tepid statement in response to her nomination today, once again demonstrating that Pennsylvania needs better representation in the U.S. Senate.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Just In: Lloyd Hara says he wants to succeed Scott Noble as King County Assessor

Seattle Port Commissioner Lloyd Hara, who has been contemplating a run for King County Assessor for the last several days, just notified his supporters via email that he's reached a decision: He's going to leave the Port Commission and run for King County Assessor. Here's the text of the statement he released:
I was saddened by the drunk-driving incident and subsequent plea by King County Assessor Scott Noble. I am just thankful no one was killed.

I am also concerned that Scott's expected resignation as King County Assessor creates an abrupt vacancy in a critical post, at a critical time.

Over the course of the last several weeks and this Memorial Day weekend, I've had a number of people step forward and urge me to run for King County Assessor. It has been truly humbling.

County taxpayers are hurting. Thousands have been laid off from work and are finding it hard to find a new job to pay their mortgage and taxes. Others have taken pay cuts or seen their pay dramatically reduced.

At the same time, their property values have plunged. But these new, lower property values are not reflected in their King County property taxes. Taxpayers are being taxed as if the market was still appreciating at a double-digit clip. It isn't.

Taxpayers deserve a fair shake from the County Assessor. If there has been an across-the-board reduction in property values, local property taxes should reflect that. It is only fair.

Taxpayers count on King County government to treat them fairly and honestly. That, in part, is the paramount duty of the Assessor.

I am proud of my years as both Seattle City Treasurer and Seattle Port Commissioner. I always put the interest of taxpayers first. The same would be true if I was selected as King County Assessor.

And because I have previous experience running a public office, including as King County Auditor, I am ready to lead the office from Day One. I will submit my name for consideration of the interim appointment, along with running for the office countywide. In addition, I intend to fill out my term on the Seattle Port Commission.

I look forward to meeting people across the County, answering their questions, and asking for their support to be their next King County Assessor.
Hara's decision to run for Assessor creates a second opening on the Seattle Port Commission (fellow Commissioner Pat Davis announced her retirement some time ago). Three seats are up this year, so that leaves only one incumbent, John Creighton, seeking reelection.

It will be interesting to see who files for Hara's position. Will any of his 2005 opponents jump into the race? Time will tell.

Memorial Day 2009: Paying our respects to those who have died for our country

"Those who rest in these fields fought in every American war. They overthrew an empire and gave birth to revolution. They strained to hold a young union together. They rolled back the creeping tide of tyranny, and stood post through a long twilight struggle. And they took on the terror and extremism that threatens our world's stability."

- President Barack Obama, at Arlington National Cemetery, May 25th, 2009

Today, on Memorial Day, we commemorate and honor the many brave Americans who have died in the service of this great country so that we could all be free.

Here's a roundup of some of the better Memorial Day-related posts and articles we've come across:

Have something to add? Please leave a link in the comment thread.

Democrats should listen to reason, not fear

After battling Republicans over his economic stimulus plan last winter, President Obama responded to a question about working with Republicans in the future by saying, “I’m an eternal optimist. That doesn’t mean I’m a sap.”

Obviously it’s Congressional Democrats that are the saps. Last week, when given the opportunity to support Obama’s intention to close down the Guantanamo Bay prison camp they linked arms with the likes of Senators Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), and far-right talk show host Sean Hannity and chanted, “Not in my backyard.” Metaphorically, of course.

What Obama needs from his fellow Democrats right now is a little spine.

You’d think that they would have already learned their lesson. Fear-mongering and a win at any costs mentality got us into Iraq, resulted in torture of people in our custody, and led to warrantless eavesdropping on Americans.

Whenever Republicans conjure up the image of a future terrorist attack, Democrats start shaking like Chihuahuas and visualizing the direct mail pieces that Republican interest groups will send about how they protect freedom-hating terrorists.

Or so it seems.

Come on. Obama needs Congressional Democrats to fight for him when he takes on the Herculean task of passing health care reform this year.

If what we’ve seen this week on Guantanamo is any indicator, Republicans, big-pharma and the health insurance lobby will win that one, since Democrats roll right over when faced with the Republican scare machine.

I admit that Dick Cheney alone is enough to scare anyone.

Let’s deal with the facts and not exaggerated fears. As President Obama stated in Thursday’s national security speech:
Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal, supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Republican Lindsey Graham said, the idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.
Guantanamo's mere existence is a recruiting tool for terrorists. Holding prisoners off our shores in order to avoid placing them in the American legal system is an abrogation of the basic American principles of justice, fairness and the equal application of the law.

President Obama wants to put principles over fear.
I have confidence that the American people are more interested in doing what is right to protect this country than in political posturing...If we continue to make decisions within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes.
Let’s work on correcting the thoughtless, devious, and mistaken policies of the Bush error instead of creating new problems for ourselves.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Right wing talk show hosts subjects himself to waterboarding, decides it's torture

Well into the future, there will surely be conservatives (ahem, Dick Cheney and Sean Hannity) who will claim that waterboarding is not torture, but as of today, this right wing talk show host won't be one of them:
And so it went Friday morning when WLS radio host Erich "Mancow" Muller decided to subject himself to the controversial practice of waterboarding live on his show.

Mancow decided to tackle the divisive issue head on -- actually it was head down, while restrained and reclining.

"I want to find out if it's torture," Mancow told his listeners Friday morning, adding that he hoped his on-air test would help prove that waterboarding did not, in fact, constitute torture.
But instead...
With a Chicago Fire Department paramedic on hand, Mancow was placed on a 7-foot long table, his legs were elevated, and his feet were tied up.

Turns out the stunt wasn't so funny. Witnesses said Muller thrashed on the table, and even instantly threw the toy cow he was holding as his emergency tool to signify when he wanted the experiment to stop. He only lasted 6 or 7 seconds.

"It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke,"Mancow said, likening it to a time when he nearly drowned as a child. "It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back...It was instantaneous...and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture."

"I wanted to prove it wasn't torture," Mancow said. "They cut off our heads, we put water on their face...I got voted to do this but I really thought 'I'm going to laugh this off.' "
He certainly wasn't laughing after it was over.

It's too bad he had to go through that experience to realize what liberals already know: strapping someone to a table and forcing water into their nose and mouth is torture. It's immoral, inhumane, and un-American. It is never, ever justified, no matter what the circumstances are.

And those that condoned it - told the Central Intelligence Agency and the American military it was okay - must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Get ready to Travel Light

On July 18th, less than two months from now, the Regional Transit Authority - better known as Sound Transit - will inaugurate service on Central Link, its much awaited light rail line connecting Tukwila to downtown Seattle.

It's a day I've been looking forward to for a long time... ever since I became an activist, in fact. I got involved in politics back in 2002 to save Central Link from being destroyed by Tim Eyman, and although the project successfully broke ground way back on November 8th, 2003, I've always felt that victory would not be achieved until light rail opened to the people of this region.

Victory - complete victory over Tim Eyman - is now just a few weeks away.

Travel Light - The Journey Begins July 18th 2009

For five years, I've watched and tracked the progress of Central Link's construction. I've seen the Emerald Mole in action (and signed my name to it before it started digging the Beacon Hill tunnels), toured Sound Transit's new maintenance facility in South Downtown, inspected some of the new stations, and gone for a test ride with many of the elected leaders on the Sound Transit Board.

I've pointed out the new tracks soaring above Highway 518 when picking up guests at Seattle Tacoma International Airport, proudly telling them, "Soon we're going to have a fine rail transit system just like every other major American city."

Link light rail is going to be a great blessing to this region. There's nothing like the reliability and convenience of a train.

At peak commute times, a Central Link train will arrive at a station about every seven minutes. Riders won't have to worry about "missing" a train, because no matter when they show up at the station, there will always be a train just seconds or minutes away, to carry them north or south to their destination.

When Sound Transit broke ground back in 2003, it was hoped that light rail could be extended to SeaTac Airport by 2011.

Instead, the Port of Seattle and Sound Transit figured out how to get it done by the end of this year, so that shuttles will only have to run between Tukwila International Station and the airport for a few months.

Beginning in December, it will be possible to walk directly from the terminal to the Link station and get on a Westlake bound train.

It's hard not to be envious of those who live along the Central Link line - they're getting light rail in just a few weeks while those of us who would use North Link, East Link, and South Link if those lines existed today have to wait. But alas, that's the price we have paid for not building rail decades ago. Thank goodness we are not making that same mistake now.

The opening of Central Link will be a memorable event. If you're not able to make it for some reason, you can rest assured that you'll find live and comprehensive coverage of all the festivities right here on The NPI Advocate.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Photos from today's climate action rally

At midday today, activists attending the Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Seattle gathered together with other Northwest progressives outside of the Bell Harbor Conference Center for a big climate action rally at noon. The event, organized by the Sierra Club and Climate Solutions, drew quite a few people.

Here's a few photos that I took at the scene.

Inside the crowd at rally for climate action
That's from inside the crowd at the rally, looking towards the stage.

A simple yet colorful sign I saw calling for climate progress
Here's a simple yet colorful sign I saw calling for climate progress.

Looking towards the crowd from beside the stage
This is another crowd snapshot, taken from beside the stage. The Seattle skyline is visible in the distance.

Aerial shot of the rally taken from atop the Bell Harbor Conference Center
This is an aerial shot of the rally taken from atop the Bell Harbor Conference Center. This doesn't show the whole crowd, so...

Another rooftop rally photo
...here's another one from the rooftop. This shows most of the crowd. The rally filled the space between the conference center and Anthony's at Pier 66, which is in the top center of this photo.

It was a pretty lively event; in some respects it felt more like an outdoor party with lots of signs and decorations. Activists are still getting used to the idea that the Environmental Protection Agency is freed from the chains of the Bush administration and able to actually carry out its mission again, which it has not been able to do since Bill Clinton left office.

There was sunshine and a light breeze blowing in from Elliott Bay - the organizers could not have asked for better weather.

LIVE from Bell Harbor: EPA listens to testimony on climate crisis findings

All today the United States Environmental Protection Agency is holding a hearing to gather public input on its Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act (wow, that's a bureaucratic mouthful). In other words, the EPA is holding a meeting to get public reaction to its conclusion that global warming is real and our planet is threatened by a climate crisis.

As you might expect, the prevalent theme of all the testimony so far today has been it's about time. During the Bush error, the EPA was unable to effectively carry out its mission, and many commenters alluded to that in their remarks, expressing relief that the Obama administration is now in charge.

Since convening at 9 AM this morning the EPA has heard from Governor Chris Gregoire, State Representative Dave Upthegrove, State Senator Phil Rockefeller, Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, and the head of Washington's Department of Ecology, Jay Manning, along with speakers representing the state's environmental community and many socially responsible businesses.

EPA Hearing in Seattle
Above: EPA staff listen to testimony at Bell Harbor Conference Center

The governor was first to speak, and less than an hour after her she testified, her office announced she was issuing an executive order to reduce greenhouse gases and battle the climate crisis. Said Gregoire: "This executive order benefits our economy as much as our environment. It will protect our natural resources, while creating thousands of green-collar jobs and strengthening our state’s competitiveness in the global race for a clean energy economy."

Gregoire's office says the executive order directs state agencies to:
  • Develop emission reduction strategies and industry emissions benchmarks to make sure 2020 reduction targets are met.
  • Work with TransAlta to reduce emissions from the company’s coal-fired power plant near Centralia by more than half.
  • Ensure Washington has trees to capture harmful carbon, while creating financial incentives for the forestry industry.
  • Work on low-carbon fuel standards or alternative requirements to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector.
  • Join with neighboring states and the private sector to implement a West Coast highway accessible to electric and alternative-fuel vehicles.
  • Address rising sea levels and the risks to water supplies.
  • Increase transit options, such as buses, light rail, and ride-share programs, and give Washington residents more choices for reducing the effect of transportation emissions.
  • Continue to work with six other Western states and four Canadian provinces in the Western Climate Initiative to develop a regional emissions reduction program design.
  • Work with the Obama Administration to help design a national program that is strong, and reflects state priorities.
The Environmental Protection Agency is represented here today by Rick Albright, Rona Birnbaum, Dina Kruger, and Jason Samenow.

UPDATE, 11:50 AM: Mayor Greg Nickels just spoke. People can say what they like about his record as mayor, but his remarks were powerful, polished, and extraordinarily concise. He did a really good job of reviewing the harmful impacts the climate crisis will have on Seattle and Washington State. I'll try to post a transcript of what he said later.

My favorite speakers so far have been Terri Glaberson and Kristen McCaa from CoolMom (who brought their very well behaved kids!), KC Golden of Climate Solutions, and Gifford Pinchot III of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (yes, he's the grandson of the first leader of the United States Forest Service).

UPDATE II, 12:21 PM: It's lunchtime! I'm going to head outside to check out the rally, and then home afterwards. For continuing coverage. follow David Roberts on Twitter... he's microblogging what's going on.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The essential ingredient California needs to make a new Constitution work

Has the State of California become ungovernable?

That's a conclusion that many in the Golden State seem to be reaching these days. Via Calitics (where we at NPI go when we want to know what's happening in California), we hear that momentum is building for a Constitutional Convention to repair the state, rebuild its common wealth, and save it from financial ruin:
We think it is undeniable that California’s government suffers from drastic dysfunction – our financing system is bankrupt, our prisons overflow, our water system teeters on collapse, our once proud schools are criminally poor, our democracy produces ideologically‐extreme legislators that can pass neither budget nor reforms, and we have no recourse in the system to right these wrongs.

Most of these problems are a byproduct of the outdated system and rules of governance enshrined in our current constitution. California’s constitution was always meant to be a living document that could adjust to the times, but it hasn’t been systematically reformed since 1879. Our constitution needs serious structural reforms, chosen and authorized by the people, and a Constitutional Convention is the only politically viable means to achieve those reforms.
We agree with that assessment.

If you ask us, California's biggest problem - the root cause of a great number of its current challenges - is that its Constitution is too easy to change.

Conservative Californians have succeeded, at different times, in amending the Constitution to undermine both majority rule and minority rights.

A founding document that can be amended by the people on a whim at an election is not a founding document that will stand the test of time.

Think about it: if the Constitution of the United States could be changed merely through a nationwide ballot initiative, would it still be the revered document that governs the oldest modern democracy in the world today? Of course not.

Democracy inevitably crumbles or breaks down when we forsake our cherished tradition of majority rule plus minority rights. Think of it as an equation: you can't get to democracy (the sum) without both parts.

Taken to the extreme, either part eventually leads to something (maybe ochlocracy, maybe oligarchy) that is not democracy.

This is why we have a Constitution that is separate from the body of our laws. The idea of majority rule should govern lawmaking; the idea of protecting minority rights should govern the process for changing our founding documents.

The United States Constitution is difficult to amend for this reason. Since it was initially agreed upon, it has only been modified twenty seven times.
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
Similarly, Washington State's Constitution is not easy to amend.

This is a good thing. Imagine if Washington was like California... Tim Eyman would have probably succeeded in wreaking havoc upon our Constitution by now.

What a nightmare that would be.

In Washington, any changes to the State Constitution must originate in the Legislature. Once an amendment has received two thirds support of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, it can be placed on the ballot for ratification by the people. Ratification requires a simple majority vote.

This process, described in Article XXIII, has silently thwarted all kinds of conservative mischief over the years.

And, as far as we up here in Washington are concerned, our process - which has served us well - is there for the reusing. If and when Californians hold a Constitutional Convention, we hope they copy it.

Without such a provision, they can never hope to come up with a Constitution that's anything better than what they already have, because it could simply be trashed the next time Golden State voters say yes to a right wing ballot measure.

Credit card reform doesn't go far enough

The Obama administration has been talking a lot these past couple of weeks about credit card reform. I'm glad they're doing it, because frankly, credit card companies have been allowed to get away with far too much for far too long.

However, the reform bill, H.R.627, doesn't go far enough.

The basic structure of the bill is to amend the existing Truth in Lending Act to add some additional rules and empower an oversight board to actually determine how those rules should be implemented. The main new rules include:

  • Limiting how and when credit card companies can raise your rates.

  • Mandating that if they use factors like your payment history or credit rating to determine that they need to raise your rates, they must also periodically re-evaluate your account and lower your rates if you have improved on those same factors.

  • Limiting late fees and other "oops" charges to be "reasonable and proportional" to the error.

  • Restricting rate and fee increases to apply only to future balances, not existing balances.

There's a bunch of other little things in there too, but those are the big changes. In all of these new rules, no specific numbers are given. These are left to that oversight board to determine. The bill gives the board 9 months to figure out the specifics (e.g. what "reasonable and proportional" penalties really means).

I'm sorry to say that I don't see this as much of a reform. Call me cynical, but I'm not going to hold my breath that the board is going to come out, nine months from now, with a set of specific numbers on each of these rules that is going to actually make much difference in the day-to-day experience of credit card use for the vast majority of Americans. It just feels like there's too much wiggle-room, and too much opportunity for the credit card companies to influence the decision makers on this board to come out with a really watered-down implementation of the rules set forth in H.R.627.

And that, really, is what it comes down to: the day-to-day experience of using credit cards.

I think that daily experience, combined with the lack of transparency about how much you're really paying for your credit card, is really where the root of the problem lies.

Ultimately, using a credit card is a trade of money for convenience. When you use your credit card, you're agreeing that you prefer the convenience of not having to use cash or not having to write a check enough that you're willing to pay--let's pick a hypothetical credit card rate--15% percent more for everything you buy.

That adds up. And it's not at all obvious at the point of purchase that this is the case. You sign the credit card slip for whatever amount you owe the store, but when all is said and done and you've paid your credit card bill, you will have sent 15% more money to the credit card company than the sum of all your purchases.

It's just not obvious that this is the case.

To me, real credit card reform would make it obvious to consumers what they are really paying for what they buy. Let's say you go to Target, and load up your cart with everything from new socks to toothpaste. Your total at the cash register (Heh. "Cash". How quaint.) comes to a nice round $100.00. Real credit card reform would mean that when the cashier hands you the slip to sign, instead of it showing a total of $100, it would show you the total, plus the $15 surcharge that you're going to eventually pay to the credit card company for the convenience of not conducting that transaction by cash or check. Before you sign, you would have the opportunity to say "hey, wait a minute. This isn't that convenient!" and whip out your checkbook instead.

This would not be difficult to implement, either. Your credit card already gets authorized (or rejected) at the time of the purchase, which means that the merchant's credit card terminal contacts the credit card company to see if the card is good for the amount of the purchase. When the credit card company's computers send back that "authorized" code, it could just as easily also send with it a surcharge-amount calculated according to your card's actual terms and interest rate.

That would be real credit card reform.

The problem of credit cards is the difference between the easy, carefree experience of using them, and the actual cost they hit you with on the back end. In behavioral terms, the pain credit card inflict on you is so removed from the behavior that causes that pain, that you lose the opportunity to learn from your mistake. To fix this problem, any meaningful credit card reform needs to address this disconnect.

In H.R.627, I don't see that happening.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kennedy to return to the Senate, cancer in remission

This is certainly great news, bringing a key Obama Administration ally back to the Senate in time for the health care reform debate.
Sen. Edward Kennedy’s brain cancer is in remission and he is expected back in the Senate after the Memorial Day recess to spearhead healthcare reform, according to Democratic colleagues.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he spoke with Kennedy’s wife, Vicki, in the past few days and was told the 77-year-old lawmaker is “doing fine.”

[...]

He is expected to lead a markup of highly anticipated health reform legislation in his first month back - one of the biggest bills of the year and a signature domestic initiative for President Obama.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a senior member of the HELP Committee, said that Kennedy is scheduled to return to the Senate full time the week after Memorial Day recess to chair the committee markup.
In the past year since his diagnosis with brain cancer, we've seen a lot of legacy pieces in the media and books and references to the "lion of the Senate", all with the common assumption that Senator Kennedy would likely not be back in the Senate. As someone who lost an uncle to this particularly nasty version of the disease, with the diagnosis comes odds that are not favorable for the patient. But just as he has approached his job as a United States Senator, fighting for lost causes and giving voice to the voiceless, the Ted Kennedy we've come to know has fought his latest battle with the same vigor that he brings to the legislative arena and is seemingly getting the better of the enemy.

We wish Senator Kennedy continued good health and we're happy to have him back in the Senate fighting for all Americans. It will be great to have him back in the Senate health care reform debate countering the corporatist inclinations of Senator Max Baucus.

UPDATE 5/20/09 6:57p.m.: Senator Reid is now backing off of his statement that Senator Kennedy's cancer is in remission. While it's clear that Senator Kennedy still faces personal health care challenges, we're still glad to see him returning to the Senate.

Congress cracks down on some of the credit card industry's most abusive practices

This is welcome news:
The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to put new restrictions on the credit card industry, passing a bill whose backers say will make card-issuers spell out their terms in fewer words, using plain English, and treat customers more fairly.

The 90-to-5 vote, following a 357-to-70 vote in the House on April 30, made it likely that President Obama will have a measure on his desk before the Memorial Day recess. The differences between the House and Senate versions will have to be worked out, but given the political atmosphere it seems likely that the House-Senate negotiations will move quickly.
Every single Northwest senator voted yes on the bill, H.R. 627, titled the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2009.

H.R. 627 won't legislate predatory lending and bank trickery out of existence, but it does provide a new level of protection for Americans who have credit cards. Some of the provisions have already been mandated by the Federal Reserve, but H.R. 627 goes further and codifies all of the rules into law.

For example:
  • Banks would no longer be able to charge an extra fee for paying credit card bills over the phone or online;
  • Credit card agreements would have to be published on the Internet so customers can more easily access the terms;
  • Cardholders would be able to pay their bill up until five o'clock on the evening of the due date, or the next business day if the due date is a Sunday/holiday;
  • Banks would have to notify cardholders forty five days in advance of any increase in interest rates, and explain the reason for the increase;
  • Banks would not be able to increase rates on an existing balance due to a late payment unless the payment is more than sixty days late;
  • Banks would not be able to sign up Americans under twenty one for credit cards unless young people can demonstrate they have the ability to repay what they borrow.
  • Banks would not be able to collect over-limit fees if they authorize a charge that would max out a customer's card, unless a customer has opted to go over limit.
These changes have all been long overdue. (They are not yet final; the House and Senate have to reconcile their differences in the next couple of weeks).

It's no surprise that banks don't like them, but given the overwhelming support in Congress for reform, there's not much banks can do. Pretty soon they'll turn on a dime and start citing the new rules in their advertising. Because that's how Corporate America rolls. Big banks, just like big auto companies or big chemical firms, have to be dragged kicking and screaming along the path to more responsible business practices.

There is the possibility that banks, deprived of ways to profit off the backs of their most struggling customers, will increasingly turn to their best customers instead, hiking fees and slashing benefits. They're already starting to do this, so that's not a good argument against this legislation.

Those who have accounts in good standing with big banks like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, or Citigroup should bring their balances down to zero and get a card from a local credit union. Most credit unions will happily lend to Americans who have a good credit score, and they have every reason to treat their customers fairly: they're owned by their customers.

Monday, May 18, 2009

NPI signs onto effort to disbar torture lawyers

Earlier today, Velvet Revolution, a coalition of over one hundred different and diverse progessive organizations, launched a campaign to disbar twelve Bush administration attorneys who authored or approved legal opinions justifying torture in deliberate violation of U.S. and international laws.

The coalition lodged disciplinary complaints with state bar licensing boards in four states and the District of Columbia against John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Stephen Bradbury, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher, William Haynes II, Douglas Feith, Michael Mukasey, Timothy Flanigan, and David Addington.

The complaint seeks a suspension of the twelve's licenses to practice law "for advocating and causing the torture of war detainees" as attorney Kevin Zeese, who represents the coalition, phrased it.

In announcing the complaints, the coalition noted:
We have asked the respective state bars to revoke the licenses of the foregoing attorneys for moral turpitude. They failed to show “respect for and obedience to the law, and respect for the rights of others,” and intentionally or recklessly failed to act competently, all in violation of legal Rules of Professional Conduct.

Several attorneys failed to adequately supervise the work of subordinate attorneys and forwarded shoddy legal memoranda regarding the definition of torture to the White House and Department of Defense.

These lawyers further acted incompetently by advising superiors to approve interrogation techniques that were in violation of U.S. and international law. They failed to support or uphold the U.S. Constitution, and the laws of the United States, and to maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers, all in violation [of] state bar rules.
The Northwest Progressive Institute supports this effort to hold key figures of the Bush administration accountable for their illegal, unethical, and immoral conduct.

We have joined this effort as a signatory because we do not believe that justice is served by allowing those who condoned torture to freely continue on with their legal careers as if they did nothing wrong.

We cannot merely express regret over what these people did and move on, as President Obama has suggested. We can't forget what happened. We have to prevent it from happening again. For that, we need as close to a full accounting as we can get of the crimes that were committed in our name, and we need to prosecute those responsible for breaking the law and abusing their powers.

It's time to start the discussion on state tax reform

Years of Republican anti-tax tirades have made their mark on Washingtonians. We have stubbornly resisted reforming our most-regressive-in-the-nation tax system, and we have even passed damaging Tim Eyman initiatives limiting our state’s ability to improve its schools and react to crises like the global economic meltdown.

Until now.

Time and again, as I attend meetings across King County, the topic of tax reform arises. And each time it is declared imperative and urgent.

In a vote by almost 6,000 people from around the state for the best question of those submitted by citizens to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, one of the most popular questions addressed the state income tax. The discussion is starting.

Democratic legislators say that polls don’t show support for a state income tax, that supporting tax reform is too politically risky for them. What is risky to them and to us is the prospect of facing another enormous budget deficit in 2011-2012, if our economy hasn’t improved by then, without the benefit of a three billion dollar federal stimulus package. Without Obama's aid this year, our new budget would be an even bigger disaster.

When people spend less, our state revenue is less. That means less money for schools, the justice system, health services and environmental protection. That’s what depending on sales tax does to our state. Sales tax is not a stable form of income.

Democratic legislators say that any change will have to come from the grassroots, meaning that citizens will have to push for reform themselves. NPI will be involved in the effort and we hope that you will too.

Some legislators aren’t waiting to see which way the wind is blowing and are standing up for what’s best for Washington. Senators from both sides of the state, Lisa Brown (D-Spokane) and Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), and Representative Maralyn Chase (D-Shoreline) advocated for a state income tax during the recent legislative session.

It’s not enough to say that citizens must do it themselves. Tax reform is a huge issue and leadership from Olympia would give it both credibility and visibility. It's going to take support from every quarter in order to make it happen.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Whose side is Max Baucus on?

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has held three roundtable discussions on health care reform (May 12, May 5, and April 21), even going so far as to say that no option for health care reform is off the table, including the option known as "single-payer" or "the public option".
“Some people say ‘kick the public option off the table.’ The public option’s on the table,” Baucus said. “Nothing’s off the table. The public option might be off to the side a little bit, but it’s still on the table."
But is the public option really on the table? Chairman Baucus hasn't allowed a single advocate for single-payer to testify before the committee, and some have been arrested for protesting this injustice. Yet health insurance companies, drug companies and HMOs have all had a seat at the Finance Committee table.

Even Montana's other Democratic Senator, Jon Tester, is open to at least considering the public option.
"The devil's in the detail on all this stuff. My key is accessibility and affordability. Those are the two things, but I think everything should be on the table," said Tester.
So why do the actions of Senator Baucus not match his words? It's simple: Max Baucus is bought and paid for by the very same people who are testifying before his committee. Over the course of his career, guess who makes the top five donors list for Senator Baucus?
Lawyers/Law Firms - $1,579,973
Securities & Investment - $1,458,035
Insurance - $1,170,313
Health Professionals - $1,016,276
Pharmaceuticals/Health Products - $734,605
[emphasis mine]
Hospitals/Nursing Homes come in at #9 with $541,891 in contributions. And since this post is about health care reform, I won't even go into the $1.4 million in contributions from the same people who caused the economic meltdown in this country.

Given such investment by big moneyed corporate interests, when Senator Baucus says no option is off the table, it's a lot like Joe Isuzu saying, "You have my word on it."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A look at what will be on the ballot this year in Martin Luther King Jr. County

2009 may be what's known as an "off" election year, but just because there aren't any federal-level contests this year doesn't mean there's nothing important on the ballot... quite the contrary, especially for the 1.8 million people who call the state's largest county, named after Martin Luther King Jr., home.

With filing period rapidly approaching, now's as good of a time as any to take a look at what we're going to be voting on in just a few months. (The general election isn't until November, but the primary election is almost exactly three months away).

Statewide ballot measures
At the top of the ballot in King County will be any initiatives and referenda that qualify for the ballot. We expect Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033 to be on there, thanks to Michael Dunmire's money, which is being used to pay mercenary petitioners.

Permanent Defense is already gearing up to ensure voters understand destructive impact I-1033 would have on Washington's economy.

There's also the possibility the right wing will qualify Referendum 71, an effort to force a vote on the recently passed domestic partnerships expansion legislation, but that is less likely. Nevertheless, Equal Rights Washington is preparing to mount a decline to sign campaign and galvanize support to protect the new law.

Countywide races
The marquee race of the year will be the competition for King County Executive. It's a crowded field: Four elected Democrats want the job, along with Republican Susan Hutchinson, formerly of KIRO TV, and the five of them will doubtless face other candidates with less name recognition in the primary.

King County voters must also decide who will be our sheriff for the next four years. (The incumbent Sheriff, Sue Rahr, has announced she's seeking reelection.)

It's not yet clear whether will voters will additionally need to select a new Assessor... it depends on what happens to the incumbent, Scott Noble, who is being prosecuted for two counts of vehicular assault. If Noble is convicted, he will be forcibly removed from his position. So far, he has refused to resign, despite repeated calls from all directions for him to step down.

Finally, a majority of the positions on the Seattle Port Commission will be up for election this year. Commissioners John Creighton and Lloyd Hara are running for reelection; Commissioner Davis has wisely decided to retire.

Three candidates have announced plans to run for Davis' seat so far: Rob Holland (who has already been endorsed by the King County Democrats), Thomas Albro, and Thom McCann (who unsuccessfully ran for Port Commission in 2007).

County council races
The five odd numbered county council positions are all up for election this year. Republicans Pete Von Reichbauer, Reagan Dunn, and Kathy Lambert are expected to seek reelection, as are Democrats Bob Ferguson and Julia Patterson. No serious challengers to any of the incumbents have yet materialized.

Mayoral races
Voters in Auburn, Beaux Arts Village, Black Diamond, Duvall, Enumclaw, Hunts Point, Issaquah, Kent, Milton, Seattle, Skykomish, Snoqualmie, and Yarrow Point will choose someone to represent them as their city or town's chief executive for the next several years. Of the mayoral races, Seattle's is easily the most high profile.

Incumbent Greg Nickels is seeking a third term; his challengers currently include Joe Mallahan, Michael McGinn, James Donaldson, and Norman Sigler. City Councilmember Jan Drago is reportedly thinking about jumping into the race.

City council
Most cities and towns in King County have at least one or two city council races this year. We'll especially be keeping an eye on council races in Seattle, Redmond, and Bellevue here on the NPI Advocate. We'll try to cover what's happening in other cities as well, particularly cities on the Eastside, which receive little coverage from the Seattle Times and Seattle TV stations.

There are quite a few folks running for Seattle City Council this year. The major declared candidates are:
School district
Most school districts will be holding elections for some of their director positions, including the Seattle School District, which has been woefully mismanaged by its current board (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D). Federal Way is another school district that could use some new directors.

Special district
Residents of rural King County may not have city races to be concerned about, but they will be electing (or, more likely, reelecting) commissioners for an array of fire protection, water, sewer, and utility districts, plus a couple parks & recreation districts. Voters on Vashon Island will decide who will represent them on the board of commissioners for their own airport district, which for some reason is called the King County Airport District.

(Just so there's no confusion, this district has no jurisdiction over Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. SeaTac is governed by the Port of Seattle).

Judicial and prosecutor
King County voters will probably retain Anne Ellington in her capacity as Court of Appeals Judge for Division 1, District 1. Voters in Federal Way, Kent, and Renton will get to decide who they'd like to have sitting on their municipal court benches (assuming those positions are contested).

Lastly, Seattle voters will decide who will be their City Attorney through the end of 2013. (Thomas Carr is the incumbent).

Anything I missed?
Feel free to mention it in the comment thread.

So there you have it - that's what is on the ballot this year in King County. We may not be voting for President this November, but 2009 will still be an exciting election year. Nothing less than the future of King County is what's at stake.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Jenny Durkan nominated to be next U.S. Attorney for Western Washington

President Barack Obama today nominated six lawyers to serve as U.S. Attorneys for six of the nation's ninety three judicial districts.

Among the six is our very own Jenny Durkan, a longtime friend and adviser to Governor Chris Gregoire. Readers may recall that Durkan was one of the lawyers who successfully defeated Republican Dino Rossi's gubernatorial election challenge in 2005 (along with David McDonald and Kevin Hamilton).

Durkan was recommended for the post several months ago by Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she will become the federal prosecutor for all of Western Washington, including King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, where much of the Evergreen State's population lives.

The current U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, Republican Jeff Sullivan (who was tapped to replace John McKay, who was fired by George W. Bush during the Attorneygate scandal), has the option of remaining with the office as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and has disclosed that he intends to do so.

Governor Chris Gregoire released this statement in response to the nomination:
Washington state’s judicial system and the public will be well served by Jenny Durkan as head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington. I congratulate Jenny on her much deserved nomination today, which would make her the area’s top federal prosecutor.

Jenny's excellent credentials make her amply qualified for this important federal position.

Jenny is known for her wide-ranging legal experience and her successful criminal and civil litigation practice. In addition, she is highly regarded for her civic leadership. I am so pleased the Obama administration also recognizes Jenny’s leadership and experience, and nominated her for this important position. I hope the Senate will act quickly on the nomination to confirm her.
We agree. Kudos to President Obama for making a solid pick, and congratulations to Jenny on her nomination. We're confident she'll make an excellent U.S. Attorney, and we're looking forward to seeing her in action following her confirmation.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cutting costs is a good way to start fixing our health care system

Can we put the goal of attaining universal health care coverage on hold for just a bit and instead focus on something that should ultimately get us there, cutting and controlling health care costs?

Cutting costs is a practical, politically palatable first step to universal coverage and could improve the quality of care Americans receive when universal coverage is eventually adopted.

According to the New York Times, President Obama’s health care team has only two politically viable options in its struggle to find the $120 billion a year needed to insure the 47 million Americans without health care coverage: raise taxes or cut health costs.

While most Americans support raising taxes in order to provide guaranteed, universal coverage, the best place to do it, by capping the tax deduction on employer-provided health insurance, has strong Congressional opposition and puts Obama in the awkward position of supporting a John McCain idea which he blasted in campaign ads last fall. Policy reversals aren't popular, even when they are the right thing to do.

Controlling costs looks like step one in the guide to a better health care system.

From the New York Times:
During the campaign, Mr. Obama emphasized universal insurance more than costs. Since taking office, he has shifted his focus somewhat. “What we have done,” Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, told me this week, “is raise cost control to the same level as expanded coverage.”

Cost control has the political benefit of appealing to the 85 percent of people with insurance. And it has enormous economic benefits, too. If costs can be reduced, the price of covering the uninsured will come way down. Put differently, the only way to have a sustainable universal health care system is to control costs.
Robert Reich, Clinton’s former secretary of labor, prescribes the same treatment for fixing the looming Medicare trust fund insolvency:
…the problem is not really Medicare; it's quickly rising health-care costs. Look more closely and the real problem isn't even health-care costs; it's a system that pushes up costs by rewarding inefficiency, causing unbelievable waste, pushing over-medication, providing inadequate prevention, over-using emergency rooms because many uninsured people can't afford regular doctor checkups, and spending billions on advertising and marketing seeking to enroll healthy people and avoid sick ones.
Since the U.S. spends more on health care than any other nation, but only has mediocre quality care to show for it, we obviously have a spending problem. We are living beyond our means when it comes to health care expenses, yet we are getting very poor value for our money.

Health care reform, like any reform, won’t happen overnight. A serious effort by all stakeholders to lower costs while maintaining or even improving quality will be a giant step toward the ultimate goal of high-quality, universal coverage.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

NPI makes a difference by giving a voice to the voiceless

I got involved with the Northwest Progressive Institute in 2006, during the Congressional election campaign season. At the time, it was a way for me to help a brave candidate - one Darcy Burner - get a chance to explain why she had taken the plunge and decided to run for Congress. Three years and another election later, NPI has become much more than that for me.

My particular journey from clueless young adult to politically active not-so-young adult boils down to a well-worn aphorisms: "Don't get mad, get even."

When I was younger I was very upset about what conservatives were doing to America. I was disgusted that they were wasting our common wealth by shifting spending from education, research, and infrastructure towards the military. I was mad, but only mad. I felt powerless to do anything about it.

There were no blogs in those days.

As I got older, the itch to do something about it grew stronger, until I was writing letters to congressmen and senators, letters to the editor, and briefly (in the proto-blogging days of the 2004 election) running my own political commentary site.

Then blogging happened. A classic "I wish I'd thought of that!" moment, if ever there was one. I discovered NPI, and in it, a way to finally scratch that itch. For me, the frustration hasn't been my lack of power to personally make laws or pass budgets or whatever. I don't see myself in that way.

What has frustrated me is that I didn't have any mechanism by which to add my ideas and views to the public discourse. When I joined NPI, I felt like at last I had a voice. The Advocate is not the loudest voice in the blogosphere, certainly, but it is a voice. A chance not just to get mad but to "get even."

As my involvement with NPI deepened, I began to see how I could be even more involved through NPI. As NPI's Research Director, I can look at issues in as much depth as I want, think hard about them, and help shape a body of ideas that will serve to advance the progressive cause - both here in the Northwest and nationally - for years to come. That's a rare and precious opportunity for anybody to have, and I'm honored to be able to contribute.

In the end, what the Northwest Progressive Institute means to me is perhaps best summed up by another aphorism: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

The change I want to see in the world is healthy, vigorous public dialogue about the issues of our day. I want that because from it will flow the changes in public policy and personal attitudes that will lead our state, our nation, and our world to a future that is sustainable and equitable for all.

To, as the Preamble to the Constitution puts it, a "more perfect" union, but a union more broadly conceived than our founding fathers dreamed of.

I have to do my part in making that a reality.

If I don't, then honestly, I have no right to complain about anything. NPI gives me a platform from which to speak. The rest is up to me.

NPI can give you a voice, too. This is a volunteer organization. We already fight for a wide range of progressive issues, but odds are good there's something you're passionate about that we just don't have the person-power to tackle.

If you want your own direct, public voice, if you want to be your own change for the world, all you have to do is apply. We're always looking for smart, energetic, and talented individuals to contribute their enthusiasm and unique viewpoint.

Of course, not everyone has the time to do that kind of volunteer work. We understand that. But everyone can help.

We run a tight ship on a small budget, but it's a budget just the same and we need our supporters to help keep the lights on for the upcoming year.

Can we count on you to make a donation to help keep NPI's voice active in the Northwest?


Just click the button above to donate $25 right now, It's that easy. You do not need to sign in to a PayPal, Amazon, or Google account to donate online. You simply need a credit card. (We accept Visa and MasterCard, plus American Express).

Alternatively, if you'd prefer to donate by check, you can mail a contribution to:

Northwest Progressive Institute
Post Office Box 264
Redmond, WA 98073

No amount is too small to make a difference. Any investment you can make will help us continue to build the progressive movement in our region. Please consider making a donation today.

Obama to block release of torture photos

This isn't change we can believe in. It's more of the same. President Obama has decided to try to block a court order demanding the release of photos of U.S. troops abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said the abrupt reversal of his position came out of concern that the pictures would "further inflame anti-American opinion" and endanger U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House had said last month it would not oppose an appeals court ruling that set a May 28 deadline for releasing dozens of photos from military investigations of alleged misconduct. But American commanders in the war zones have expressed deep concern about fresh damage the photos might do, especially as the United States tries to wind down the Iraq war and step up operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
It's not like the terrorists are going to fold up their tent and go home since President Obama has decided not to release the photos. If Osama is indeed sitting in a cave in Afghanistan, he's not praising Allah for the infidel Obama's wise decision to back down, he is planning his next attack.

Americans will still be targets, regardless of whether or not President Obama allows the release of the photos. And if American commanders are so concerned about the damage that will be caused by releasing the photos, perhaps they should have been more concerned when their troops were acting on orders to torture prisoners, in violation of international law.

By releasing the photos, we turn the corner from the Bush era when "equal justice under the law" was a fiction, a reminder of days-gone-by when respect for the rule of law actually meant something. But refusing to bring light to the ugly truth of the actions of those who represented our country abroad shows that our government hasn't learned from its mistakes and makes it no better than the terrorists. And the bullseye is still on America.

Redmond City Councilmember Kimberly Allen announces she'll seek reelection

One of three Redmond City Councilmembers whose terms expire this year confirmed yesterday that she'll be filing for reelection next month.

In a news release, Councilmember Kimberly Allen declared that she's seeking reelection because she wants to ensure that Redmond maintains its commitment to smart growth and environmental protection. "I'd like to continue to help guide the growth that will continue to come, in a way that preserves Redmond's character and environmental beauty while promoting green building practices," Allen said.

Allen was first elected to Position 4 in 2005, having previously served as Vice Chair of the Planning Commission. She easily defeated opponent Jack Bittner, capturing 63.71% of the vote to his 35.94%.

Since joining the Council, she has chaired the Public Safety Committee, coauthored the City of Redmond Government Guide (PDF), and served as a city representative to a number of regional organizations.

She has become known for demonstrating her commitment to sustainability, most notably refusing to ride in a Corvette during Redmond's annual Derby Days parade, which takes place each July. Instead, she bikes the parade route, with a sign bearing her name hanging from the handlebars.

To our knowledge Allen has no announced competition for Position 4. Filing period will commence on June 1st and run until the evening of June 5th. We'll be keeping an eye on this race to see if Allen gets any challengers.

The other two seats up for election, by the way, are Positions 2 and 6. Position 2 is currently held by Pat Vache. Position 6 is held by Nancy McCormick, who is expected to retire from the Council and not run for reelection.

We'll be monitoring those races as well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

NPI makes a difference by bringing you coverage you won't find elsewhere

As Kathleen noted in her post last week:
The slow collapse of our local news delivery system is just one of the reasons why the work of the Northwest Progressive Institute is so vital.
No media outlet can be everywhere at all times. What makes the Northwest Progressive Institute different is not only our progressive view of the world around us, but the varied coverage of local, regional and national events that we bring to you.

Just last week, while our own Executive Director moderated the King County Democrats forum for county executive candidates, our team was on the scene reporting live from the event.

Last August, NPI was on the ground in Denver bringing you live coverage of the Democratic National Convention. While others may have brought you celebrity sightings, funky hats and pin collectors, we tried to convey the historic nature of the convention and make you feel like you were there with us. And then when history was made and Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, we were there reporting from the scene.

In June 2008, NPI was there to bring you a tour of Sound Transit's Central Link facilities, a behind-the-scenes look at the new route that will link downtown Seattle to Tukwila and the SeaTac International Airport.

NPI has also had a presence at the annual gathering of progressives and netroots activists known as Netroots Nation (formerly Yearly Kos). From our Executive Director, Andrew Villeneuve, sharing our knowledge with others to build the progressive movement, to our team reporting from sessions and sharing knowledge gained with our readers, NPI is committed to learning from the experiences and best practices of other progressives and bringing that information to you.

The NPI team is committed to keeping you informed by bringing you informative original reporting from events in our region and beyond. While none of our staff is paid, there are costs associated with the work that NPI does. Can we count on you to make a donation to help us build the progressive future that we all want?

Just click the button above to donate $25 right now, It's that easy. You do not need to sign in to a PayPal, Amazon, or Google account to donate online. You simply need a credit card. (We accept Visa and MasterCard, plus American Express).

Alternatively, if you'd prefer to donate by check, you can mail a contribution to:

Northwest Progressive Institute
Post Office Box 264
Redmond, WA 98073

No amount is too small to make a difference. Any investment you can make will help us continue to bring you the coverage you've come to expect, while building progresive infrastructure in our region. Please consider making a donation today.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Schools face shrinking levy funds

Depending on where you live, the Legislature’s decision not to hold a special session, announced by the governor last week, will either be a blessing or an additional blow to your local schools.

Lawmakers would have addressed during the extra session Governor Gregoire’s proposal to allow school districts to temporarily lift their local levy caps. This change would have allowed districts to receive the same amount of money from their school levies that they would have received if their budgets weren’t massively cut this year.

Basically, on top of an unprecedented cut to their state funding, schools will take a hit from their local revenue source as well.

Most school districts must raise local money to pay for those things that the state doesn't provide enough money for, things like librarians, transportation and special education, by using levies. Most of these levies are capped at 24 percent of the amount school districts receive each year from the state and federal government. Since the state is sending $800 million less to its schools over the next two years, levies will be raising 24 percent of a much smaller package of funds.

Lifting the levy lid would have given seventy five of the state’s biggest school districts $67 million in extra funds. That’s a lot of teachers, buses and library books.

A twist in this funding situation is the fact that the ugly budgets for next year that school districts all over the state have been grappling with don’t even factor in this cut in levy money. Districts will receive the normal amount this year. It’s next year that their levy money will be reduced, as levy amounts are based on state funding from the previous year.

This year's dismal budgets are just a prelude to what will happen next year when the levy reduction will hit on top of the cut in state funding.

According to one school district superintendent:
Lake Washington Superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball described [his reaction to the funding situation] with one word.

“Disappointed,” said Kimball.

Kimball says if revenue streams stay the same he'll have to look at cutting another $1.5 million next year and $3 million the following year. That's on top of the almost $8 million he announced in cuts this week.

He was able to avoid teacher layoffs this year, but now he wonders what the future holds.

"There is no question in my mind, if we don't protest this levy base, there will be layoffs,” said Kimball.
On the flip side, the Legislature left Olympia before deciding to implement a $60 million reduction in levy equalization money designed to even the playing field between school districts who have the tax base to raise sufficient levy funds and those that don’t. This cut would have affected mostly smaller, poorer districts. They have gotten a reprieve, for now.

Public school students and teachers are facing a bleak year with or without the special session and the future looks even bleaker if the Legislature doesn’t figure out how to better fund the system right quick.

Education matters. Washington needs a well-educated work force to fill and create high paying jobs. We can't shortchange our schools.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

NPI makes a difference by training young progressives to become tomorrow's leaders

Since I joined the Northwest Progressive Institute at the beginning of this year, NPI has become a cornerstone of my life.

Our projects - from The Advocate, to In Brief, to Permanent Defense - are what I look forward to working on after school and during the weekends.

To me, NPI is more than a strategy center. It's a home. A place to live and learn, with people who share the same values I do. NPI is a family.

I became a contributing writer with NPI back in January and haven't looked back. Partly that's because of you, our supporters. There is nothing I love more than going out into the community and meeting you.

Recently, when I traveled north for Tulip Festival, I walked into the Skagit County Democrats' office and mentioned my work with NPI. I was pleased to hear that folks up there are following what we're doing and cheering us on.

Just this past Wednesday I was covering a county council meeting and Representative Marcie Maxwell told me that she reads The Advocate.

Nothing inspires me to be a better person and staff member than meeting readers and knowing that people care. Can you show you care with a donation to NPI?

It is not a stretch to say that NPI has greatly sharpened my leadership skills. And my organizing skills. NPI recently sent me to Camp Wellstone so I could learn to be a better activist. I had the good fortune to be taught by some of the nation's best grassroots trainers. It's an experience I'll never forget.

The opportunities provided to me by NPI are innumerable and richer than I could have ever imagined. I mean, who would want to listen to me? I'm just a freshman in high school, why would anyone care what I have to say? What kind of institution would give me the opportunity to share my perspective, value what I think?

There aren't many organizations out there that would. NPI is one of the few. Without NPI I would just be another freshman in high school looking for his place.

I know my place now. I've found my calling. It is fighting for the common good, working to build a more perfect union for the benefit of those who come after us. We've got to leave this world better than we found it.

We need organizations like the Northwest Progressive Institute commited to furthering the vast progressive conspiracy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. You know, the good old American Dream: if you work hard and play by the rules for a living, you should be able to earn a living.

Without progressive infrastructure - without organizations like NPI working to revolutionize grassroots politics - I fear that my generation will lose what makes us progressive. I worry that my peers will slide into the nefarious hands of conservatives like Tim Eyman and become reactionaries.

That is not the future I want.

I want a future where progressives are strong, confident, and organized... a future where vibrant progressive institutions are not uncommon.

Make no mistake, the right wing would love to tempt young people into believing that wealth equals success, that government shouldn't help people who are struggling get back on their feet, that nature is there to be used and even abused if it means somebody can make a dollar.

The right wing would love to claim America's youth.

Our job is to make sure they never have a chance.

NPI has gone from almost nothing to something amazing in just a few years. Conservatives have snickered and laughed at us (well, they still do) but we've never been discouraged or intimidated.

We are the keepers of what you might call an almost-lost tradition in our state: that of the citizen volunteer revolutions that have provided vital blood transfusions to Washington's progressive movement at critical moments in time.

We are committed to pushing ahead. We know that remaking our country will not be an easy task. Look at what we're up against: untold numbers of special interests that will fight tooth and nail against the reform and change we need.

We're going to need every progressive idea factory we can get.

That's why your support is so critical. Twelve months ago, people like you donated to help NPI grow and become more effective at our spring fundraising gala.

A year has now gone by, and our resources are running low. It's rearmament time. Will you help us reach our goal of $5,000 by next Friday, May 15th?

With your support, the Northwest Progressive Institute can continue to provide opportunities to young activists, training them to become tomorrow's leaders.

Thanks for your consideration.

Acting progressively: A guide to putting your dollars to work for a better America

While roaming around the second annual Seattle Green Festival back in March, I spotted a clever sign hanging above a booth that warned of the consequences of seeking more money without concern for people or planet.

Warning! Use of this product may cause...

The sign, which showed a picture of a United States dollar bill, read:
WARNING! Use of this product may cause:
  • Apathy
  • Laziness
  • Selfishness
  • Ignorance
  • Loss of identity
  • Absence of individuality
  • Greed and gluttony
  • A false sense of empowerment
  • Manipulative behavior
  • Superficial values
  • Lack of spirituality
  • Environmental destruction
  • Racial tension
  • Self-centeredness
  • Murder & war
  • Impoverishment for others
Continuous and excessive use could render a permanent state of indifference to the welfare of those around you.

USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!
That sign reminded me that how we spend our money is important. We only get to vote in elections a few times a year, but we constantly vote with our dollars. By changing our habits and supporting businesses that are caring and responsible, we can get a much greater value out of every dollar we save or spend.

The following is a checklist of ten ways that each and every one of us can act progressively and put our dollars to work for a better America.
  1. Stop doing business with big banks like JPMorgan Chase. Switch to a credit union for all of your banking. Credit unions are local and owned by their members. They offer lower fees, better rates, and superior customer service. Credit unions can offer you all of the same services as banks: checking and savings accounts, a credit card, certificates of deposits, individual retirement accounts, and much more. Credit unions also match the convenience of banks through the Shared Branching Network.
  2. Shop for food and beauty products at local, organic cooperatives like PCC Natural Markets. Your dollars will stay local, benefiting many Pacific Northwest farmers. You'll eat healthier, too. (You can also shop at co-ops when you travel - check out the NCGA's site for a list.)
  3. Get out of your current wireless contract and switch to CREDO Mobile. They'll cover the cost of your early termination fee, all the way up to $200. A portion of all charges is donated to progressive causes. CREDO uses Sprint's network, so you'll still enjoy great coverage across the United States.
  4. Avoid using PayPal to accept donations online or collect payments for products. PayPal is not subject to federal banking laws and has a history of inexplicably locking out small merchants. Instead, try Click and Pledge, or get a a merchant services account from Dharma.
  5. If you currently belong to the American Automobile Association, cancel your membership and sign up with Better World Club for roadside assistance. Better World Club covers bicyclists as well as motorists. You'll get better service and your dollars won't be supporting a group that is hostile to mass transit and environmental protection.
  6. Next time you need to travel long distance, consider taking Amtrak instead of flying. You'll avoid long airport security lines and enjoy the freedom to move around. Plus, taking the train leaves a lighter impact on the earth.
  7. Buy books online from Powell's instead of Amazon. Powell's, based in Portland, Oregon is one of the largest and best independent bookstores in the United States, with an impressively large selection of titles. You can also become a member of the Progressive Book Club to get great discounts on the latest books by progressive authors.
  8. Help sustain progressive media by subscribing to magazines like The Nation and The American Prospect. Need some inspiration? Just search for the latest David Broder column for a reminder of the importance of alternatives to the drivel printed on much of America's op-ed pages.
  9. Buy handcrafted toys made in the United States, such as Old Fashioned Blocks. Sturdy American wood building blocks are extremely durable, safe, encourage creativity, and don't make a playroom look like a plastics factory. Find a longer list of toys made in the States at StillMadeinUSA.com.
  10. Rethink where you shop for all your bulk, garden and home improvement needs. Choose Costco over Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, McLendon's over Home Depot, patronize your local nursery for compost and starter plants, and skip over conventional mattress retailers like Sleep Country in favor of environmentally friendly vendors like Soaring Heart Natural Bed Company. (Their beds are more comfortable, too!)
We owe it to ourselves to not just talk about public policy based on our progressive values, but to practice those values every day in our lives.

We are Americans: we have the freedom to choose who we want to do business with. The more wisely we spend our dollars, the better our country will be.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

NPI makes a difference by giving worthy but neglected causes a boost

Hard times have come to our region’s newspapers, making it harder for citizens to stay informed about their government.

This spring, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped publishing its print edition, moving to an online-only format, and just recently, The Columbian filed for bankruptcy, putting Clark County’s dominant local news source in jeopardy.

The slow collapse of our local news delivery system is just one of the reasons why the work of the Northwest Progressive Institute is so vital.

We fill a gap in coverage of state issues - issues which directly affect the lives of people in the Northwest - but we also take it a big step further.

Not only do we report what's going on in our state's capitol, but we actively get involved in the issues dear to our hearts.

One good example of such an issue is the Homeowner’s Bill of Rights, a key legislative priority. Two years ago, the NPI team took notice when the state House killed a proposal to provide basic protection for Washingtonians who buy a new home. Currently, in Washington State, if something goes wrong with your home - like the roof is leaky or the foundation is cracked - you get stuck with the bill. You can't take a builder to court to compel them to come back and fix their mistakes.

We took a stand against this injustice, and have been working to push the Legislature to pass a Homeowner's Bill of Rights ever since.

As our Executive Director testifed last year:
For over a year, our organization has been hearing from Washington families who have, through no fault of their own, lost their life’s savings, their health, their ability to finance their children’s college education, and their prosperity because there was a defect or problem with the workmanship of their home.
NPI is one of the few progressive organizations in the state working to help distraught homeowners who previously thought that they were alone in their troubles. We're here to tell them that they're not alone.

We care about them and their plight.

NPI joined with the consumer advocacy group WashPIRG to support a safe homes guarantee for homeowners. We;ve worked with legislators to move a bill through the statehouse for two years in a row. Although we weren't successful in either 2008 or 2009, we view this as a multiyear effort. We're just getting started.

As champions for “regular folks” and for the common good, this year NPI also pushed for retro reform, which would stop abuse of our state's "restrospective ratings" system by powerful interest groups like the Building Industry Association of Washington.

We also supported bills updating our schools in order to give our students the skills they need for the 21st century.

The NPI team is committed to keeping you informed, to fighting for meaningful change, and to facilitating a broader conversation about where the state is going and how we should get there. None of us are paid to do any of this, but we still have bills to pay. Can you chip in to help keep us going for another year?


Just click the button above to donate $25 right now, It's that easy. You do not need to sign in to a PayPal, Amazon, or Google account to donate online. You simply need a credit card. (We accept Visa and MasterCard, plus American Express).

Alternatively, if you'd prefer to donate by check, you can mail a contribution to:

Northwest Progressive Institute
Post Office Box 264
Redmond, WA 98073

We are already looking ahead to the 2010 legislative session, preparing for a major push on legislative priorities like the Homeowner's Bill of Rights, retro reform, automatic voter regstration, and property tax reform. But we need your help to ensure we're at full strength for the fight ahead.

Even if you can only give a little, consider that a little adds up to a lot. If you care as much about our region's future as we do, put your money where your heart and soul is and make an investment in progressive infrastructure.

So much for the special session

It turns out there isn't going to be a special session after all. At least that's what the Associated Press is reporting as of this hour.

Both Governor Chris Gregoire and Majority Leader Lisa Brown had gone on the record recently saying they wanted a one day special session to try and get through some bills that were stranded in the regular session.

House Speaker Frank Chopp has been cool to the idea, and we'd be willing to bet his opposition killed the special session.

The Speaker can't stop the governor from calling a special session, of course, but once she calls one, she can't make it stop without agreement from the leadership of both houses of the Legislature. And since the governor doesn't want a special session longer than one day, she won't call one without such agreement.

The governor's office has not yet issued a statement confirming this news yet.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Marriage equality passes New Hampshire legislature

While right-wing fundamentalist bigots filed a referendum to overturn Washington's expanded domestic partnerships law earlier this week, earlier today Maine became the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage and the New Hampshire legislature passed a bill to allow same sex marriage in that state. Maine joins Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa as states where people of the same sex can marry. New Hampshire's bill now goes to the desk of Democratic Governor John Lynch for his consideration. Its fate remains unclear, as Lynch has previously made statements against marriage equality.

House Bill 436, which extends the state’s marriage laws to include couples of any sex, won House approval by a vote of 178-167. The bill’s wording differs from the version the House passed in March, but its effect is basically the same.

“Any person … may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender,” the bill states.

Gov. Lynch now has the final say on gay marriage. He did not reveal his next move when speaking with reporters. He has said that he thinks the word marriage should be reserved for a union between a man and a woman.

As opponents of marriage equality are rapidly becoming marginalized by virtue of views that are out of the mainstream of American society, more legislators are stepping forward to ensure equality under the law for all citizens. We applaud their efforts, and hope that Governor Lynch makes New Hampshire the sixth state to offer marriage equality to its citizens.

Help keep NPI going strong for another year: Donate to support our work

About one week shy of a year ago, we hosted the first fundraising event we'd ever put on at Redmond Town Center. Speakers included Chip Hanauer, Major General Paul Eaton (Ret.) and Darcy Burner, now the executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Foundation.

At that event, thanks to the generosity of readers like you, we were able to raise enough money to sustain our work for a year.

That year is now over and we need your help again to at keep the lights on, the bills paid, and ensure our website stays online.

So today, we're launching a spring fundraising drive.

Our goal is to raise five thousand dollars online by May 15th, 2009.

We know times are tough, and that's why we're not holding another big gala this May in a hotel. We want to be able to put more than ninety nine percent of all the funds we raise towards our operations, so that everyone who supports us can enjoy the greatest possible return on their investment.

Although we at NPI all work for no pay (NPI can't afford to provide any of its staff a salary, yet) and we don't have a big office building, we still have expenses.

It costs money to run our web network, or send staff to Camp Wellstone (which we did last week), or pay for our mobile broadband service, which allows us to cover important Northwest events from virtually anywhere, even from a boat or a train.

Without some money in the credit union, we can't do any of those things.

If you value our efforts to fight for legislation like the Homeowner's Bill of Rights, if you believe our region needs an organization working to bring new energy and creativity to progressive politics, if you agree our movement needs better ideas and a team of people fighting bad right wing ideas all the time (not just when elections happen), then we ask you to help us.

Every donation makes a difference, no matter how large or small.

Even $10 helps. One ten dollar donation is all it takes to renew our domain name, nwprogressive.org, for an entire year.

That's the power of ten dollars.

We've done what we can to make donating online easy. You don't need a PayPal account or an Amazon account - just a credit card. (We accept American Express as well as Visa and MasterCard). Once you fill in your billing address and credit card information, you're done. You can use this button to donate $25, right now:


Or head to our donation page to choose another amount. (At our donation page, you can also see what your dollars empower us to do).

If you prefer to donate by check, you may mail your donation to:

Northwest Progressive Institute
Post Office Box 264
Redmond, WA 98073

Over the next few days, you'll be hearing from other staff members about what the Northwest Progressive Institute means to them, and why they, like me, are committed to revolutionizing grassroots politics.

Our donation page is open 24x7; you have the freedom to make a donation at any level any time. Even if all you can give us is some spare change, that still helps us get a little bit closer to our goal of five thousand dollars.

Thanks for your support.

We can't continue our fight for progressive ideals without you.

How not to pick a curriculum

Today, Seattle's school board is making a hugely important decision: what textbook series will guide high school math education in Seattle for the next several years.

School boards don't make these kinds of decisions often - certainly not more often than the length of a high school education - so today's decision will affect quite literally a whole generation of Seattle students.

Unfortunately, so far the School Board's decision making process has been practically a case study in how not to make an effective curriculum choice.

They started by asking a group of people to review likely choices. Only, they forgot to include anybody with actual qualifications for the task. Instead, they filled the review committee with Seattle school district employees.

The panel is not chaired by a person with a math degree. The panel includes no mathematicians, although at least one mathematician did apply.

The panel includes no community members from technical fields who have practical experience in the type of math skills Washington's technology businesses - Boeing, Microsoft, Zymogenetics - need from the next generation of employees.

Experts - who needs 'em?

Next, they picked an early favorite in the form of the "Discovering Algebra and Geometry" series from Curriculum Press. This is a series that has been ranked as "mathematically unsuitable" by Washington State Board of Education consultants.

The Discovering series attempts to teach pretty much as the name implies: by leading students to "discover" the underlying principles and algorithms of algebra and geometry for themselves.

This reliance on self-discovery leads to many critical weaknesses in the overall development of math skills. The report on these books prepared by the State Board of Education found that, among other flaws, the Discovering series:
  • Leaves important math concepts undefined and assumed: you're supposed to figure them out yourself!
  • Relies on technology to an extent that leads to a lack of opportunity to develop basic algebraic skills
  • Short-changes students opportunity to practice working in logical systems by providing inadequate treatment of the fundamental axioms of geometry.
For reasons best known only to the selection panel, this is the curriculum choice they seem hell-bent on shoving down the throats of the next dozen or so years of Seattle high school students.

Their second choice is the Prentice Hall Algebra and Geometry series, which takes the same approach to teaching mathematics as used by nations with top math scores. It sequences math concepts in a logical and progressive fashion, with basic skills building up to mastery of complex mathematical abilities.

How this series could be the School Board review panel's second choice confounds me. Perhaps the review panel is demonstrating its own dearth of math skill by confusing the relative rankings of the ordinal values "first" and "second". That would certainly explain it.

The School Board will be making the choice today, and as far as anyone can tell, they're still leaning towards the wrong choice. But if they hear from concerned Seattle citizens who don't want their kids to grow up parroting that infamous Barbie doll from the mid 1990s (the one that said "math class is hard!"), perhaps they can be convinced to make the right choice.

Below are the e-mail addresses of the Seattle School Board of Directors. Let them know how you feel, right now, about making sure our kids have the skills they'll need to compete in the 21st century.

Mary Bass: mary (dot) bass (at) seattleschools (dot) org
Sherry Carr: sherry.carr@seattleschools.org
Cheryl Chow: cheryl (dot) chow (at) seattleschools (dot) org
Michael DeBell: michael (dot) debell (at) seattleschools (dot) org
Peter Maier: peter (dot) maier (at) seattleschools (dot) org
Harium Martin-Morris: harium (dot) martin-morris (at) seattleschools (dot) org
Steve Sundquist: steve (dot) sundquist (at) seattleschools (dot) org

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

LIVE from Renton: King County executive candidate forum continued...

Update from the King County executive candidate forum at 9:00PM:

Question: What will you do to support Sound Transit?

Constantine: The people of this region have spoken loudly and clearly that they want light rail. The mobility that it provides will drive the economy of the region and thus the state.

Jarrett: He worked in the Legislature for light rail funding. The real problem is that people want to funnel money away from Sound Transit to build roads.

Phillips: He ran for county council in order to bring light rail to the county.

Hunter: We get more support for transit locally, so keep the Legislature out of the picture.

Question: What would you do to ensure that our schools are the best they can be?

All of the candidates realize that the county isn't directly involved in school function, but each digs up a few ways that the county can make a difference to students.

Jarrett: He put together the recent education reform bill in the legislature. We need a good economy in order to have good schools. A good economy will allow the county to deliver services to students.

Phillips: His answer addresses the very near term - federal stimulus money that the county attracts will boost the economy.

Constantine: The county plays a secondary role in supporting schools. They are providing school transportation more and more often these days, plus they provide social services that help troubled youth, saving the public money in the long run and keeping kids from being a "guest in the public jail" down the road.

Hunter: The county actually can't do much. He suggest two small ways it can cost school districts less money.

There is applause as the candidates begin their closing statements.

Phillips: He has lead on many tough issues. We have an obligation to hire the best people to make good decisions and lead us forward. He has the experience that the county needs. It's about engaging your ideas and energy to make the best of King County.

Hunter: Jokingly, "Are you clapping for us or just because we are almost done?" We aren't just a bunch of middle-aged white guys. He offers practical solutions. He is proud of the landmark education reform bill that passed the Legislature this year and his gun safety bill. The job is not about just vision, but is about developing a concrete plan for the future.

Constantine: This race is not about who has been in office the longest, but about "who will throw open the doors of government to innovation and new ideas." We must get serious: about using proven programs that work and about having a government that can deliver. He will fight the tough fight.

Jarrett: King County doesn't have its fiscal house in order. Think Brightwater, think elections. We need to draw private sector jobs. He wants Metro to work and to be able to maintain our clean environment in spite of a growing population.

It's obvious who has been actively campaigning and who hasn't. Constantine and Phillips are already fine tuning their stump speeches. Jarrett is fairly conversant on the issues, while Hunter is still coming up to speed.

While the others' performances were about what we expected, Jarrett's was surprisingly strong. He demonstrated a very practical approach to governing and we look forward to hearing more from him, and from the other candidates for that matter, in the future.

In conclusion, the evening was a great way for the candidates to mingle with their party's leaders, toot their own horns and be compared against their competition. They must have been gratified by the amount of interest in the race displayed by the standing-room only, very festive crowd. It seems that Democrats are energized by the ascendancy of Obama, have recovered from his hard-fought campaign and are ready to get involved in the next big thing - the race for King County executive.

LIVE from Renton: King County executive candidate forum

It's a lively crowd at the Renton Carpenters Hall where the four Democratic candidates for King County executive, King County Council Chair Dow Constantine, 48th District Representative Ross Hunter, 41st District State Senator Fred Jarrett, and King County Council Member Larry Phillips are preparing to answer questions about the tough issues that they will face if elected.

The hall is packed with party regulars, supporters of the four campaign, and other interested citizens. There's hardly a free seat to be had.

All four candidates have strong backgrounds in public service and it will be interesting to see who makes it through our August primary.

King County Democrats Chair Suzie Sheary has just finished introducing the moderator, our very own executive director, Andrew Villeneuve, who is just walking up to the podium now to kick things off.

UPDATE: We are underway!

Ross Hunter was the first candidate to speak.

He touted his work in the Legislature working on the budget, passing education reform and also (proudly) gun safety reform.

Larry Phillips followed. He believes that we are at a "watershed moment" in the county (although he didn't specify what he thinks the watershed is). He also mentioned his relationships with cities within the county. He said he is proud of his work adding seven thousand acres to the county's green space and protecting the populace from the threat of swine flu.

Fred Jarrett is concerned with the efficiency of the Metro bus system (one of the "four things" he said he wanted to talk about tonight), yet he wasn't able to cover all the ground he staked out in his two minute opening statement because he didn't manage his time very efficiently.

Dow Constantine spoke of his work protecting green spaces, the time he spent as a lawyer, a state senator and now a county council member.

"We have to get past the old, tired politics of division. Rural, urban, suburban people need their government to work," Dow remarked.

He proclaimed himself ready to do the "heavy lifting" and gave what I'd say was the most inspiring introduction of the four.

UPDATE II: The candidates are now taking questions from the audience. Andrew is reading the first question, which was submitted in writing by an audience member. I'll try my best to summarize the responses.

Q: What will you do to get people more involved in county politics?

Constantine: It's our job as Democrats to make a "more perfect union."

Jarrett: Government must reach out to the people to include them and find out their needs. We need to focus on results.

Phillips: I have led the effort to reach out to the public with town hall meetings and budget meetings. Phillips opined that the most important thing he can do now is talk to people through his campaign. "We need your ideas for the future to make a better King County."

Hunter: People were excited by Sound Transit and Hunter wants to talk to people about the big issues, like transportation, that people really care about.

Phillips' answer was the most substantive and actually hews to the question.

Q: Do you support Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033, which would severely limit the revenue that local governments can collect?

Phillips: "Tim Eyman is just flat wrong about this."

Jarrett: We need to be able to tell people what the government is doing that is making their life better. "We have to take his issues away and defeat him straight on." Nice answer: let's tackle causes rather than symptoms.

Hunter goes along with the consensus. "It's a bad idea," he declares.

Constantine: We have a responsibility to take Eyman's issue away from him by addressing the cost of government and make it work as efficiently as possible. We need to engage with public employees to find out how to make their jobs better and more efficient.

Q: What environmental project would be your top priority and how would you fund it?

Hunter: He would make storm water runoff a priority. He supported what he called a worthy bill that failed in the Legislature that would have imposed fees on businesses that pollute in order to fund storm water cleanup.

Phillips: He says he would improve public transit. He argued it's the number one thing we can do for the environment, and would decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

Constantine: He would tackle sprawl. Land use management creates runoff problems. Dow wants to "slow the death by one thousand cuts that are made by our poor land use choices."

Jarrett: Also recognizes that stormwater is an issue. He is the only candidate who mentions what effect dirty stormwater has - it degrades Puget Sound.

Q: Would you consider assigning health and human services to other jurisdictions?

Jarrett: He aegues we have a very broken health and human services in the state. He is working on a system to improve services to children. The state should work better with municipal governments to deliver services.

Constantine: Notes that we need to decide what services we will provide, who will provide them and how we will pay for them. Dow said he wants to take this information to the Legislature and make it happen.

Q: How would you change our regressive state tax system?

Jarrett: Has worked on two initiatives to create a state income tax. Wants to build citizen's support for the income tax and get it onto the ballot in 2010. Ultimately, citizens have to make it happen.

Phillips: Reflects that he also has experience working for a state income tax. One of the major reasons that King County can't provide the services that it wants is that it is underfunded. Phillips doesn't seem as passionate as Jarrett about launching a campaign to create a state income tax.

Hunter: He's pessimistic about the idea. Says he's looked at polls showing the public is highly skeptical about adopting an income tax. Puts the onus on the governor to get it done.

Constantine: Agrees that the biggest problem in our state is our regressive tax system. We need to fix business taxes to encourage job growth.

Q: How will you improve services to unincorporated King County?

Hunter: Observes that it's not possible to provide the services to rural areas in the same way as to urban Seattle. That's why we have cities.

Constantine: Must annex rural areas to get taxing authority. "The county's tax system is like a two-legged stool - it stands on property tax and sales tax."

Phillips: We need to transfer the last remaining pockets of unincorporated King County to cities so they can receive better county services.

Q: How can we find a workable compromise on the Critical Area Ordinance?

Jarrett: Believes we should give landowners the latitude to meet the regulations in creative ways.

Constantine: He lead the county council through the adoption of the CAO. He argues reisdents need to preserve their property for its future owners.

Phillips: Most of our work is behind us on the CAO. The guidelines are sound.

Hunter: "People hate it, fight it and don't think it's fair." He likes Jarrett's method of meeting its requirements creatively.

That's it for this post. More coverage on the way as the forum continues!

King County Executive candidate forum happening tonight in Renton

Interested in getting to know some of the people who are running for King County Executive a little better? Well, here's your chance.

Tonight the King County Democrats are holding a forum with four of the declared candidates for Executive: Ross Hunter, Fred Jarrett, Dow Constantine, and Larry Phillips, all who have won election to office as a Democrat.

The event is free and open to the public. I'm particularly excited about it because I've been asked to moderate. There's nothing that I like more than a good exchange of ideas, and that's exactly what's going to happen tonight.

The competition to succeed Ron Sims is already shaping up as the marquee race of the year. Whoever wins will assume leadership of the nation's thirteenth largest county and be responsible for representing more than 1.8 million people.

If you live in King County you owe it to yourself to make an informed decision in this race. Tonight's an unbeatable opportunity to become more acquainted with the four Democrats who are seeking your vote. I hope to see you there.

If you can't make it, I invite you to check back here tonight for live coverage of the forum. NPI staff will be liveblogging and live microblogging throughout the evening, here on The Advocate and over at In Brief.

King County Executive Candidate Forum
Renton Carpenters Hall (231 Burnett Avenue N, Renton, WA, 98057)
May 5th, 2009, 7:30 PM (social hour begins at 6:30 PM)
Sponsored by the King County Democrats Central Committee
The event is open to the media and the public. Readers are encouraged to come

Monday, May 4, 2009

NPI ally wins huge victory in fight to save trees at Seattle's Ingraham High School

A nefarious plan by the Seattle School District to raze a grove of trees standing majestically on the northwest corner of Ingraham High School's campus was foiled again today by a grassroots coalition that has been fighting tenaciously for years to save the unique forest from being destroyed.

Steve Zemke and his neighbors have been battling for years to stop the school district from chopping down the trees, which are older than Ingraham High School itself. At every turn they've had to put up with obfuscation, arrogance, and threats from district officials, not to mention a hostile school board that has rubber stamped the district administration's every move.

The district has long claimed that the seventy plus Douglas fir, Pacific madrone, and Western red cedar trees that comprise the grove are in the way of an expansion of Ingraham that Seattle voters agreed to fund years ago. Neighbors have pointed out that there's room on the property to expand without disturbing the trees.

The district has cited various reasons why it can't build the expansion anywhere else, which appear to be contrived given that the schematics for the district's own "master plan" (not adopted) show the outline of a two story building labeled "classroom addition" where there is currently just grass.

The district has repeatedly refused to listen to reason and redesign the project, even after its scheme to withdraw the permits for the building permit and simply cut down the trees collapsed in King County Superior Court last year.

Instead, the district has tried to bully Steve and his neighbors, hoping they'll eventually run out of money and patience and just go away so the district can hire a bunch of guys to unleash chainsaws on the grove.

But today the district's scheme was thwarted (at least temporarily) when Deputy City Hearing Examiner Ann Watanabe ruled that the grove is an uncommon plant habitat and should be protected. The ruling overturned an earlier decision that would have allowed the school district to proceed with the project.

"In this case, DPD [the Department of Planning and Development] did not require and apparently did not evaluate whether the location or the structure footprint could be altered to avoid or minimize impacts on the northwest grove, and this was an error in light of SMC 25.05.675.N.2.," Watanabe wrote in her ruling.

"The proposal would reduce by half an uncommon habitat that the city's SEPA policy says must be protected. Given the difficulty or impossibility of replacing this amount of habitat on the site, avoidance or reduction of impacts on the grove is required if such measures are reasonable or capable of being accomplished."

The ruling remands the matter to the Department of Planning and Development, which must now require the district to mitigate the impact of the building expansion by relocating it entirely or reducing its intrusion into the grove. The latter may prove difficult, as we understand the district has already scaled back its plans once. (Originally, almost a hundred trees were to be destroyed).

Ingraham High's namesake would no doubt be cheering the improbable triumph of Save the Trees Seattle were he alive today. Edward Sturgis Ingraham was not only the first superintendent of the Seattle School District, he was an avid mountaineer who helped lead the campaign to create Mount Rainier National Park. (A glacier on Washington's mightiest mountain is named in his honor.)

He would also surely be appalled by the ignorance and arrogance exhibited by the district's current leadership, who have tried to dismiss public support for leaving the trees alone and building elsewhere on the campus.
Over 1000 Seattle citizens have signed petitions urging the Seattle School District to move the project and save the trees. Signers include Ron Sims, Senators Ed Murray and Ken Jacobsen; Representatives Mary Lou Dickerson, Phyllis Kenny and Scott White. Eight of the current Seattle City Council members signed a letter urging the Seattle School District to move the Project.
We at NPI extend our heartiest congratulations to our good friend Steve Zemke and the many other Save the Trees activists who have fought so hard and so tirelessly to protect this valuable urban forest.

We rejoice in their success, and we call on the Seattle School District to stop wasting taxpayer dollars trying to justify needless environmental destruction.

State Parks spared from budget axe

You won't have to cancel your trip to a Washington state park this summer thanks to some actual creative thinking by the Legislature.

In March, Washington State Parks announced the possible closure of up to forty parks as a way to deal with a $23 million park budget cut.

From a system of around 125 parks, that would have put about a third into "mothball," or low maintenance state, greatly reducing the number of places that Washingtonians could go to escape the stress of the world of people and to capture the peace of the world of nature.

Deception Pass State Park, Island County

In just two speedy weeks, a bill to capture the money needed to keep all of our state parks open passed both chambers of the legislature and was sent to the governor. House Bill 2239 changed the current five dollar state park donation "opt in" feature on car and truck registration renewals to an "opt out" feature. Vehicle owners will now have to choose notto donate five dollars to fund state parks.

Yes, this method could seem slightly deceptive, but it is still a voluntary fee only affecting those that have the means to own a vehicle. Since Washington doesn't charge a day-use fee at its parks, your five dollar donation is a reasonable price to pay for unlimited daytime park usage over the course of a year.

Think of it as a membership fee for one of the most cherished treasures of our state, our wild places. In times of anxiety, parks give us an inexpensive place to free our minds and spend memorable times with family.

Washington's state parks annually host forty million visitors, supporting local economies that rely on the visitors for their business.

Since you get lots of bang for your buck at state parks, they are bound to be a popular destination during this summer of saving, and with 125 to choose from, you don't have to go far to find one. Our parks are an important part of the common wealth, an example of public investment that benefits everyone and a necessary component of a healthy society.

Ironically, with more people with free time on their hands lately, park volunteerism is going strong, with volunteers restoring Depression era Works Progress Administration structures. It seems that President Roosevelt's own federal stimulus projects are still valued today, and in economic downturns, investment in our public spaces is still a smart expenditure.

While we applaud legislators for finding a creative way to continue to fund our parks, we don't see why we should stop there. We challenge legislators to keep thinking of ways to fund other essential public services like education and healthcare. Where there's a will, there must be a way.

Construction, express lane closures snarl traffic for miles on Interstate 90

It's looking like a pretty rough commute this morning for people who need to get to the west side of Lake Washington. As of 8:45 AM, traffic was stop and go all the way from Issaquah and Lake Sammamish to the shores of Lake Washington, with State Route 520 looking like it normally does on weekday afternoons - a nearly solid black line stretching from Interstate 405 to the water.

Backup due to construction and lane closures
Traffic might not be so bad if fewer people had decided to drive today, but alas, it doesn't seem like warnings about the severity of the express lane closures were heeded very closely. Perhaps tomorrow we'll see more folks taking transit.

Remember, Metro and Sound Transit Express buses are able to utilize the HOV lanes on Interstate 90 and State Route 520 for most of the stretch of highway that's backed up. If you take the bus, you'll get to where you're going faster.

It's a shame there's no cross lake light rail, but eventually, it'll be possible to get from Seattle to Bellevue and back on the train without long delays.

We just have to get East Link built.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Interlake students take time to appreciate the arts and celebrate grassroots culture

What do high school students do on Friday nights?

Head to the theater to see latest blockbuster movie? Go cosmic bowling? Hang out at the mall? Play the latest and greatest games at home on Xbox?

What about have a philosophical discussion about the issues of the day?

Twice now, students at Interlake High School in Bellevue have gathered together to participate in what's been called the "Interlake Coffeehouse" - a forum modeled after the polis center in Ancient Greece where Socrates taught his students, people gathered to debate Socrates, and discussed life's great mysteries.

The Coffeehouse provides an opportunity to celebrate the arts (poetry, music) and test skills (there's a chess tournament). At the first Coffeehouse there was even free coffee, courtesy of Starbucks.

Interlake students hope to make the Coffeehouse a regular monthly event next year. The first two have already laid the foundation for a great school tradition.

Wesley Zhao, a junior and organizer of the event, says the Coffeehouse gives students an opportunity to build stronger ties with each other.
Many high school students complain about their situation and how they could improve their school. I believe the only way to address these complaints properly is to address the core of the problem. They complain that there is not enough spirit or pride, and the core of that problem is unity. A free community event like the Coffeehouse is made so that students who normally would not see each other now have a chance to find something in common and interact together. A small thing like the Coffeehouse contributes to my initiative to create pride and spirit through unity. By creating a strong community, you create unity.
Unity is an elusive concept in a high school where there are so many cliques and divisions. How can you create unity without creating a community first?

Creating unity around culture is the idea of appealing to people's better selves. And it's a way for students to blow off steam and relax without doing anything dangerous. (As opposed to drinking illicit beverages, students can drink coffee and tea while studying.) The Coffeehouse is for students, by students, as Wesley says.
The Coffeehouse is to enrich the lives of students. Not often is there a cultural activity in the suburbs, therefore it is important for students to make culture for themselves. Instead of staying home on a Friday night, we can build community around scholarship.
Community around scholarship.

A time and a place where students can further friendships and solidarity at their school while making learning fun. It is much more effective to learn about Langston Hughes and Robert Frost while playing chess in a social setting than to study poetry at eight o'clock on a weekday morning.

The Coffeehouse is an example of what could be called grassroots culture ... the idea that activities which support the arts and higher learning do not have to be led by people with money and authority, but can be organized by ordinary people through teamwork.

The Interlake Coffeehouse is an example of this; another example might be a school musical or a book group. Outside of schools, there are progressive salons, improvisational theaters, comedy clubs, and the like.

We need more of that.

If there are few opportunities to appreciate the arts and talk politics where you live, consider getting involved to change that. Don't just hope that someone else will step up and do it. Take it upon yourself to create the change you seek. Remember, we are the ones who we have been waiting for.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Now that there's a flu pandemic...

...Governor Gregoire is talking about reversing some of the cuts she and the Legislature made to health and human services:
"I want to make sure we're ready," Gregoire said during an interview Friday afternoon with seattlepi.com. "The locals across the state, as far as I can see, have all cut public health. This pandemic is an indication that, to me, we may have to go back and replace that $4 million (during a probable special legislative session). Because the state at least has to have the infrastructure to deal with public health in the state."
It sure is amazing how disasters, catastrophes, and unforeseen crises can suddenly trigger a change in people's attitudes.

It would be nice if we always valued our common wealth as much as we do when there's a big emergency. But that mindset is largely lacking in our state's capital.

State leaders did not demonstrate courage in dealing with Washington's budget shortfall these last few months. Instead, they procrastinated, relied extensively on federal help to stave off the very worst once the stimulus money was appropriated, and then decided to pass a budget that left the people responsible for delivering services to Washington families high and dry.

Now the consequences are coming. School districts are asking parents for feedback on which priorities they should eliminate in their budgets, for example.

And there's a flu pandemic threatening our collective wellness.

Good thing the governor seems prepared to call the Legislature back into special session. Maybe when the House and Senate reconvene, the wiser minds in the two chambers will try to foster a discussion about putting together a revenue package to send to voters that would offset more cuts.

It's not too late to give the people of Washington that choice.