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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Baird draws opponents for 2010

Two Republican candidates have stepped up to oppose Congressman Brian Baird in Washington's third Congressional district: Jon Russell and David Castillo.
A Republican city councilman from Washougal with a history of opposing gay rights has stepped into the ring to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Brian Baird.

[...]

Russell joins David Castillo, as the GOP challengers in the 3rd district, which runs from Olympia to Vancouver. Castillo is a financial adviser in Olympia, formerly served as state House Republican Caucus staff director, worked for the federal Department of Homeland Security and once was deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Jon Russell is a former Executive Director of the right-wing evangelical Faith & Freedom Network, and in addition to serving as a Washougal city councilmember, is the owner of the Columbia Gorge Medical Center.

Russell is so virulently anti-gay, that while making his point about his opposition to marriage equality, he ends up insulting heterosexual couples who have issues with fertility.
"Things that cannot reproduce or things that cannot provide that generational heritage are not a progressive value. Those are backwards values."
Way to go Jon. Marginalizing good people who, through no fault of their own, are unable to have children, is certainly a winning strategy. I wonder if Mr. Russell feels the same way about people who choose not to have children.

It gets better. On his Facebook political page, Russell looks to expand his base:
This race is about you, regardless of where you live in America.
By all means, go ahead and ask for votes in Oregon, Jon. And while you're at it, you might find a few votes in Idaho.

As for David Castillo, in addition to his other service listed above, he is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. Much like Russell, according to his website, he is running on the standard GOP fare of lower taxes and smaller government. It's actually part of a three sentence statement on his website, which is very heavy on the biography and completely lacking in positions on issues or any information that might give you an idea of what kind of Congressman he'd be. Castillo does have a blog, but it only has three entries and isn't updated every day.

It's going to take a lot more than these two pretenders for the Third Congressional District to have a new representative.

Senator Cantwell tells constituents at forum: "I support a public plan"

I'm in the back of the room listening to Senator Maria Cantwell's expert panel discussion on healthcare reform at UW Medicine.

Joining Senator Cantwell for today's event are representatives from Regence Blue Shield, Premera Blue Cross, AARP Washington, Group Health Cooperative, Washington State Labor Council, Physicians for a National Health Program, and Community Health Network of Washington. Also present are Senator Karen Keiser and Governor Chris Gregoire, representing state government.

We've just finished a lengthy hour of introductory remarks from all the panelists, and are just getting into questions. The first question was whether Senator Cantwell would support a public option for healthcare. The answer?

"Yes, I support a public plan."

But what exactly she means by that, well, we don't know. It sounds like she's not even sure herself. We do appreciate her going on the record in support of putting us on the path towards universal coverage for every American.

The devil, of course, is in the details. Getting universal coverage starts, minimally, with a robust public option that is available nationwide, immediately accessible on Day One, and answerable to the American people and Congress.

UPDATE: Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I asked Cantwell what she meant by the phrase "public plan". Apparently, Cantwell's definition of "public plan" is fluid; it could include some kind of government-backed health-care-cooperative system, as has been reported elsewhere. But a co-op scheme is not necessarily what Cantwell will be for. She indicated she would be following the lead of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.

Reading between the lines of her response, if Baucus can be convinced to support a real public plan, then Senator Cantwell will almost assuredly follow suit. Incredible, but polite pressure clearly needs to be brought to bear on Baucus to convince him that we need true healthcare reform, not quarter measures.

(Full measures would be legislating the creation of a single payer system; the public plan that many progressive groups and members of Congress are coalescing around could already be construed as half measures).

Congratulations, Senator-elect Franken

Half a year after his fellow freshman Senators took their seats in Congress, Minnesota's Al Franken finally and truly has been declared the winner in Minnesota's 2008 U.S. Senate race.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled: DFLer Al Franken beat Norm Coleman last year fair and square, and is eligible for an election certificate that will allow him to be seated in the United States Senate.

You can read the decision here.

Unfortunately, the decision does not explicitly order Gov. Tim Pawlenty to issue that certificate, so here's to hoping he won't see fit to play more dirty partisan games with Minnesota's second Senate seat.
The decision was unanimous.

Norm Coleman and Al Franken have both scheduled press conferences for this afternoon. Coleman's is first. Will he pull a Dino Rossi and announce he's not going to carry on this pointless legal battle any further, so that Senator-elect Franken can get to work for the people of Minnesota? We'll find out within the next hour.

UPDATE: Norm Coleman has conceded. "We are a nation of laws... The Court has spoken," Coleman said to reporters outside his home, confirming he will bring his legal battle to an end and allow Al Franken to be seated as Minnesota's new junior senator. "I called to congratulate [Al] and wish him the best," Coleman added. Franken will be holding his own press conference in an hour.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dear Associated Press: Please stop shilling for Tim Eyman - and get your facts straight

The Associated Press' Olympia bureau has done it again.

For reasons I can't fathom, the Associated Press has put out on the wire a short "news brief" (hard to call it a story, since it's so short) trumpeting the "news" that Tim Eyman spoke at a small gathering of conservatives in Olympia about his latest scheme to bankrupt Washington State.

Not only is this "news brief" a wasted effort, since there's really no news in it, but almost every paragraph of it is filled with factual or mechanical errors.

To be fair, the errors weren't originally made by the Associated Press, they were made by the reporter who wrote the article the "news brief" is derived from - Jeremy Pawloski of The Olympian, who actually wrote a longer story about a gathering of conservatives in our state's capital that contains errors.

This story was then clipped by the AP so it focused almost exclusively on Eyman, then slightly condensed, and finally redistributed for no good reason.

The Associated Press may not be the source of the errors but they are at fault for not doing any fact-checking of their own before they chose to put this out on the wire. Memo to the AP: Just because this ran in a newspaper doesn't mean it's one hundred percent accurate and doesn't need to be double checked for mistakes.

Let's start out with paragraph two of the AP brief.
Eyman is sponsor of Initiative 1033, which would reduce property taxes by limiting the growth of certain state, county and city revenue to annual inflation and population growth excluding voter-approved revenue increases.
This is misleading. Initiative 1033 does not actually reduce property taxes; it is intended to prevent them from increasing. That would choke government and drain our common wealth, leading to thousands of job losses as state and local government leaders find themselves with no other choice but to lay off public servants because they can't pay them.

Next paragraph:
Eyman said as of last Monday, supporters of the initiative had 270,055 signatures about 20,000 short of the 292,000 valid signatures required to put it on the ballot in November.
Wrong. The number of valid signatures required to reach the ballot is 241,153, not 292,000. 292,000 is the bare minimum that Tim Eyman would like to have to ensure he has a large enough cushion to offset the inevitable percentage of duplicate or invalid signatures on his petitions.

(Eyman claimed last week that he had 270,055 signatures now - which could be a made up number - and says he needs at least 22,000 more).

Next parargraph:
The deadline for collecting signatures is July 3.
Officially, that's correct, but in actuality, it's wrong. The date is actually July 2nd this year, because July 3rd is a holiday - Independence Day Observed. Tim Eyman himself has mentioned this to his supporters:
On every petition and in every email and letter and newspaper story, the signature gathering deadline was identified as Friday, July 3rd. That's what we were told by the Secretary of State when we first filed the initiative back in January.

However, the Secretary of State just sent out a letter that says that July 3rd is actually a government holiday and their offices will be closed on that Friday. That means the ACTUAL deadline is one day earlier, Thursday, July 2nd.
Next paragraph:
Eyman said other TEA Party rallies this year have been instrumental in collecting signatures for the petition. TEA stands for Taxed Enough Already.
First, this sentence is gramatically incorrect. "Collecting signatures for the petition"? "Petition", singular? Try initiative. That's the noun Pawloski no doubt meant to use. As for "TEA Party", who cares what that stands for? Again, this just isn't news.

Nothing newsworthy happened at this small gathering of conservatives, which was estimated to be in the "hundreds" (and there's no visual evidence documenting this figure that I've seen). It was clearly an identical sequel to the many events that were held on April 15th and promoted by the Republican Noise Machine.

A gaggle of different conservatives who variously dislike Barack Obama, dislike government, and dislike paying their membership dues in America (or maybe all three) got together to dress up in costume, hold signs, and chant slogans. Whatever - freedom of assembly's a great thing. But there's no news here.

Tim Eyman said a bunch of stuff he's been saying for six months and his admirers cheered and told him what a great guy he was.

I wasn't even there and I could have easily topped this "news brief" with an accounting of what Tim Eyman said; plus, I could have provided accurate background information and a couple paragraphs detailing the opposing view of I-1033, which is completely missing from this wire piece.

Shame on the Associated Press - which claims to be objective - for putting out a subjective, error-filled dispatch shilling for Tim Eyman.

And shame on the Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and The Examiner for reproducing it on their websites.

To those editors that chose to run this: If I want to know what Tim Eyman is doing, I can head over to his website and read his own words. Neither I nor anyone else needs Eyman's messaging crudely compacted and summarized for us.

The original thing is way more entertaining anyway.

Newspaper-quality journalism, indeed. I expect better from the world's largest wire service. Maybe my standards are just too high in an era when traditional media seems to be declining in almost every respect.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Susan Hutchison Unabridged: Transcript of her remarks at North Bend executive forum

Editor's Note: The following is a transcription of Susan Hutchison's entire remarks at the King County Executive candidate forum organized by Gary and Jennifer Fancher this past Thursday evening (and held in North Bend), which we liveblogged here on The Advocate and on Twitter.

We decided to transcribe Hutchison's remarks because so far she has chosen not to appear at almost any of the many public forums on this race that have been held across the county since the beginning of May, and attendees of those events have thus not had an opportunity to learn her views on the issues.

The following transcription is exact and provided without commentary... we'll let others critique and parse it in detail. The transcription was produced not from notes, but of the complete audio recording we made of the forum, so what you'll read is precisely what Susan Hutchison said.

Faithfully transcribing Hutchison's answers was often difficult, as I had go back over and over again to accurately capture Hutchison's stammers and faltering sentences. It's much, much easier to transcribe something that is smoothly spoken, but that's not how Hutchison's responses were delivered, so as a result, it took extra time to type it all out and verify its accuracy.

Enjoy.


QUESTION: What sets you apart from the other Executive candidates?

HUTCHISON: Thank you. Good evening, everyone. What sets me apart from my opponents... I would first like to say, that, as you know, for the first time ever, this race is nonpartisan.

The voters decided in November that that's what they wanted. Because they decided that the county issues did not have a D or an R next to them. And so I am a nonpartisan. I have never been part of the political process.

And uh... And I believe through the work I have done serving the people of this region for almost thirty years that the best way to get things done is not in a partisan way, but together, bringing people together, and working together to solve our complex problems. Since I am not a politician, I don't, uh, operate from the point of view of, uh, partisan politics.

And many of you know me from my years as a TV newscaster. And in those days, for twenty five years, I was invited into many of your living rooms. And... I delivered the news and the issues of this region to you... every night. Some people said I was invited into their bedrooms, and uh, I put them to sleep at night.

[LAUGHTER]

And uh... I don't quite know how to take that, but, uh...

Uh... For the last six years I've been the Executive Director of the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences. And we provide grants for arts, science, and education programs. And in that world, I have been deeply involved with so many of the not for profit organizations in this region. And it's been a tremendous privilege to be part of the social fabric of what matters to the people here.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to run for King County Executive. I make executive decisions every day. And uh... And I look forward to bringing the changes that an only an outsider can bring. Because I am not deeply entrenched in the problems that this county faces. Thank you.

QUESTION: Our current job seekers are competing with a global marketplace of highly educated individuals. Washington State's third largest institution of higher education, Bellevue College, has become a crowded four year school serving thirty five [thousand] students annually.

Do you agree with the need for a two year college here in East King County, and if so, what steps would you propose to take as Executive to encourage a community college campus development in this area?

HUTCHISON: I really am in favor of the community college system. I served on an advisory board for South Seattle Community College for several years. I took a course at North Seattle Community College in economics, uh, some years ago and I found that it was tremendously beneficial.

Uh... We get more value for, um, our education dollars in our community college systems and the ratios of student teachers are so much better, uh, for this, uh, entry level, uh, student, than you'd find at the University of Washington, for example. Um... This is... This is a great question and I think probably a number of the questions we're going to answer tonight will have a lot to do with both local and state, uh, jurisdiction. And... Hunter is right. The college system in... in this region is controlled by the state.

[Ross Hunter looks up at the audience, puzzled, mouths his last name, "Hunter", as if to ask, What's the deal with using my last name?]

There are other alternatives to setting up a new college. We could have satellite, uh, campuses. The Green River system... uh, community college... has put in a few satellite campuses. And uh... One of the things that's so outstanding about our community colleges is they are so agile and quick to respond to market forces.

For example, when we had a nurses shortage, uh, both Highline Community College and South Seattle were able to put in nurses programs very quickly to respond to the need. So as we look at our economic crisis, uh, there's nothing like education, to help build, uh, skilled people with skills that can be used in the marketplace right now. So, uh, if it means adding another campus here on the Eastside somewhere that's convenient to uh, a large number of students, I'm all in favor of it, and as I've said before at other forums, I see the King County Executive as someone who advocates for the citizens of this region. 1.8 million people have a voice in the Legislature through the King County Executive.

QUESTION: What changes would you propose to King County's Critical Areas Ordinance to permit long term sustainability over stagnation of areas such as Snoqulamie, Fall City, and North Bend?

HUTCHISON: Since I announced that I was running for King County Executive, I've spent a lot of time, uh, out in the county, uh, not talking, but listening. And that's what I prefer to do. And... And I've learned a great deal. And one of the things that comes out over and over again is... the way that our outer cities and, uh, and individual... citizens, feel toward county government.

Uh... there's tremendous animosity towards the county government, and for good reason. Uh... I am told by the citizens that the county is arrogant and disdainful, does not respect them, doesn't value their opinion, and moves in, in an arbitrary fashion. And... the Critical Areas Ordinance is, uh, a classic example of that.

Now, there are two things that I believe about all of you who live... out here. One is that you live out here because you love the natural beauty and uh, and resources, that you enjoy, every morning when you wake up, the... the hills, and the valleys, and the streams, and the mountains, and the fresh air, and everything that a rural environment gives you. And then the other thing that I believe about you is that if you own property here, you believe you own that property, and, uh, and you have some say over how you're going to use that property.

What has happened with the Critical Areas Ordinance is... it's a... it's a... a... a blanket ordinance that does not take individual, uh... properties into... in... as it analy... it doesn't even analyze at all.

Uh... it's... it's been arbitrarily, uh, enforced, and so many of you have spent a great deal of your time and energy fighting it that we've had critical sections of the ordinance shot down by the courts. So, uh... we need to go back to the drawing board. We need to ensure that we have good development... and it... or no development, as the case may be, in some places. But we also need to make sure that property rights are restored.

QUESTION: Under the current transportation system, the Eastside is unconnected, and left dependent on their own private vehicles, or face an hour and half, thirty five mile bus trip from North Bend to Seattle. It's not fun; I've done it. Under the current system, light rail, roads, and mass transit... bus authority... each have their own management and funding, and do not execute a plan for 5th District residents that includes light rail and mass transit support until the year 2020. Investing in infrastructure takes political courage. What specifically do you propose to solve our transportation needs to make sure these efforts are coordinated, strategic, and serve the East King County areas?

HUTCHISON: There is no more significant issue in this county than transportation, period. Uh... Last week, at, uh, our campaign launch, at a jobs fair, we had a fellow show up and hold signs with us who's a... who's a Metro bus driver.

And he said to me afterwards... the Metro bus drivers can't stand the traffic. We're so tired of the congestion.

[AUDIENCE CHUCKLES]

And... I quickly got his phone number. I said, I need to talk to you some more, I want to hear more of, uh, of uh, what you have to say and how you want to solve the problem. The people who live further out from the city have this long commute on our highways and then they have this excruciating commute on the byways. The... they sit in traffic for a half hour over a two mile stretch.

And, uh... and that takes time away from their families, their children, and it certainly affects their quality of life.

The Regional Transportation Commission that was set up by the governor with a bipartisan leadership - Norm Rice and John Stanton - presented a two... uh, a... a study... and, I've read it, it's about a half an inch thick. And in it, after they conducted their study, they made this recommendation, that all of our transportation agencies needed to fall under one authority.

That information then went back to Olympia... and no one did a thing. Nothing has changed. And everyone in our region is so frustrated with the gridlock on the highways and the gridlock in the political arena when it comes to transportation that they voted an exorbitant tax increase for Sound Transit in our last election. And it has all the policymakers scratching their head.

And the reason why they don't understand is that the voters finally said, Do something. And if it has to be Sound Transit, that's what it'll be.

This is a subject we could talk about all night, and I just want to tell you, that we have some initiatives planned from my campaign, and we'll be announcing those in the next few weeks.

QUESTION: Small business is the backbone of our local economy; however, many of our businesses are moving out of King County to other lower cost areas in the region and the state.

What will you do as King County Executive, specifically, to help retain the existing business in King County plus attract new business to our area?

HUTCHISON: We are in a recession, we don't know how deep it's going to go, we're certainly not on the up-tick, and, uh, our citizens are suffering. People have lost their jobs and businesses are closing. This is a profoundly important issue. The best way to invigorate an economy is to grow jobs. And the best way to grow jobs is to help our small businesses thrive.

Last week I proposed a number of initiatives to help our small businesses thrive. One of them would involve spending time in Olympia and working with our Legislature to increase the threshold of the B&O tax on our small businesses. This is a gross income tax. It is gross, but it is also on gross revenues.

And uh... And it hurts small business because they have to pay taxes even sometimes before they've made a profit.

It's not fair to them and it's certainly is something that we as a, as a county of 1.8 million people can go to Olympia and, uh, and lobby for. If it will help turn around our small business climate, I will do everything I can to ensure that this state works with this county to change the small business environment.

It's time for us to hang up the Open for Business sign on the county, for all business, not just small business, but also businesses such as Boeing and Microsoft and others that are so integral to our economy.

You know, there are such onerous, uh, regulations that are on our businesses today in the county. A woman on Vashon Island recently said that she was going to have to move out of the county - Vashon happens to be in King County - and she was going to move because she couldn't conduct her business there.

It's a problem that's so severe we have to have to have a total change in attitude about business in this county.

QUESTION: Many businesses have laid off workers, frozen salary increases, and some have even reduced employee pay in order to retain jobs and meet company expenses. Going forward, all levels of government, like as at home, must live within our means. Yet, the King County Executive office positions received four percent raises over each of the last two years - 2008 and 2009. If you were the King County Executive, how will you change the county budget priorities and the process to prevent the budget shortfalls that we're currently having?

HUTCHISON: Well, the question was specifically about the Executive office and the Executive office pay raises. And I'll tell you who's, uh, madder than the citizens about it: it's a couple of the departments in, uh, in county government who bore the burden of the pay... of the cuts, the budget cuts, in 2008. And that's the prosecutor's office and the sheriff's department.

Uh... They had to make the cuts in their people, while the Executive office continued... uh, and the Council office as well... uh, continued to operate, uh, business as usual, at the status quo. And so, it is time, uh, as everyone has done in their companies and in ther homes, to tighten up the spending in, uh, county government. This is the way you get through an economic downturn.

Uh... the governor... I made a couple trips to Olympia since I announced that I was running and I've, I had some time with the governor last week. And, uh, she talked about the hard decisions she made in January to, uh, freeze salaries. There were no pay increases. And uh... that earned her the ire of unions and Democrats... people who had been her traditional supporters. And I believe it was a statesmanlike thing that she did, and uh, and a good thing.

And... and we are going to have to make some tough decisions in county government. And we are going to have to make them countywide.

We're going to consi... we have to, uh... have to make this part of a shared sacrifice, that all departments are going to have to... to give up, not just the prosecutor's office, and not just the sheriff's office. And uh... and there are, uh, excess people in the Executive office after twelve years, with one Executive, who has provided jobs to support his purposes, and, uh, I am very willing to trade some of those jobs for sheriff's deputies any day.

QUESTION: Water resources are becoming scarce, [as] competing municipalities such as the City of Seattle and other interests seek out additional capacity. What is your long term plan to protect the watter resources of the upper and lower Snoqualmie Valley watershed for the residents of this area?

HUTCHISON: Water is a very complex issue, and uh, I know it matters to those of you who live here because you know you're sitting on a gigantic aquifer, and it's important to you. And I think that part of the intention of the question is, uh, is the eight hundred pound gorilla of Seattle going to, um, demand our water?

And uh.. And I just want to assure you, that uh, even though county government is located right downtown and tends to be Seattle centric... um... I want county government to be very receptive to the entire county, to all of our residents. And uh... And to pay attention particularly to the needs of those of you for whom, uh, county government is your government.

Uh... that's the premier job of the county at this point, is to be the government of the, uh, of the unincorporated areas.

And so those of you who live in that area have to turn to King County for your governmental needs. And I want to assure you that I will be committed to you as your King County Executive, to make sure that, uh, we serve you.

On the issue of, uh, of water... and there are probably many good ideas that will come out of this panel tonight... but I do think that conservation is the key. Conservation is very important to, uh, uh, protecting our water. Uh... There's some very creative things going on now with water reclamation, and using non-potable water for watering golf courses, and... and other such uses.

Uh... There's a new facility in Carnation that's been built for water reclamation, uh, which is, uh, one of those creative new ideas that, uh, we need to embrace.

And uh... And we need to involve all stakeholders in all decisions. Um... As I said earlier, I want to bring people together. We need to bring all the people to the table and let everyone be heard, so that the people who have a stake in these sorts of issues have something to say and are heard by our county government.

QUESTION: In light of the recent report from the State Auditor in regards to King County performance... The results reported that county officials should improve oversight and safeguards over its cash receipts, expenditures, and its assets. In many instances, oversight and safeguards were impaired by lack of sufficient monitoring to ensure policies are complete, followed, and the county staff is adequately trained to operate within those policies.

And the question, the two part question is this: The fiscal accountability Of King County is the ultimate responsibility of the Executive.

If elected, how do you propose going about overhauling King County government's fiscal practices and its culture? And what specific changes are you willing to make in how King County operates?

That's question one, sort of. And the next one, to wrap it up, is, what also will you do to make sure that King County government is in touch and responsive to the needs of the East King County residents?

HUTCHISON: Well, there is no question that the performance, or the accountability, audit report, uh, was dismal. And, you know, basically, the report was that an audit was attempted, but could not be completed because the different divisions and departments could not provide the information that was needed.

So, um... Taxpayers should very dismayed about this. But... I will say that I was not surprised, because a few years ago, Ron Sims appointed me to the King County Elections Task Force, and our job was to take a look at the Elections Division.

Uh... This was right after the 2004 gubernatorial election that was so disputed here in King County. Take a look at the Elections Division, and figure out what to do in the future, to restore public trust in elections.

And what we found, when I served on that task force, is exactly what this audit reported: there was no oversight, there was no accountability, there was no transparency, there were no safeguards.

And so we made a series of recommendations, uh, to the King County Executive, and uh, to, improve the situation in the Elections Division. None of them was acted on for six months. And so, our chair and our vice chair had to go back to the Executive, and demand that he make some changes. And fortunately, one of them, uh, in fact, a number of them, have gone into effect.

But one of them, uh, you know very well, because this year, we elected for the first time, our King County, uh, Elections Director. And now we are like all the other counties in the state, with an elected elections director.

So, the issues in the county, are um... everything appears to be in disarray. I don't think there are any exaggerations up here, as we've discussed, uh, the situation in county government. And, uh... things need to change.

And what I plan to do is put together a management team that has a totally different view of county government.

And we're going to make the changes that are necessary to be accountable, and transparent, and... and, uh... accountable to you, as the taxpayers.

CONCLUDING STATEMENT: Thank you very much. We're now going to go to three minutes for each candidate to make their closing statements.

HUTCHISON: I want to thank the Fanchers for their hard work putting this together, thank you, and to everyone else who was involved. Uh... the hour is late, so thanks to our audience for hanging in there with us.

Um... I will admit to you that I, uh, don't find this particularly satisfying, that we sit up here, for an hour and a half, and talk to you. I would much prefer to be down with you and listening to what you have to say. And uh... and I... that's because I think what you have to say is really important to our county government, and certainly leadership should be listening to you.

One of the things that I've done in the last two and a half years is I stepped into, uh, into a position at the Seattle Symphony as Chairman of that institution. And uh... They were close to bankruptcy. In fact, at our executive committees, it was discussed almost at every meeting, what we were going to do, and we were looking at the bankruptcy option. So they asked me to step in as Board Chair, and we began the process of turning that organization around.

And it required, first of all, doing an analysis and research as to what the real issues were, and then we began to work with all of our stakeholders. We had a union of players that we had to, uh, work with, bring together, the issues that they were struggling with, with union and management.

We went to the city, because the city owns Benaroya Hall, and we needed to work with our, our closest family member for, for, uh, obvious purposes.

And we, um, began to work with corporations and citizens throughout the area, our ticket buyers, and our staff. We built a leadership team and we began to turn that organization around. And uh... We balanced the budget the first year, and the second year, we made up another structural deficit and balanced the budget the second year. And that experience was beneficial for all of us at the Seattle Symphony, but it was also a real good, uh, opportunity for me to work with some great people and bring terrific leadership to bear on a problem of, of a, of a budget and a, uh, organization, that was disintegrating.

So... uh... we've got that situation in the county now, in a... in a very big way, as we've discussed today. And I just want you to know that my approach to this problem solving is... is what I consider leadership.

And it is, uh, judgment and courage. It's the ability to make good decisions by bringing together great people and making those decisions together, but it takes the courage to implement them, and that's the hard work, because you always are are criticized, and you're always going to get push back.

And... As I close tonight, I just... just want to share with you that one of my heroes is in the audience. And he came in a little bit later, and it's Joe, one of the local residents here. And the reason I know Joe is because he was in my dad's fire squadron in Vietnam, back in the, uh, sixties, and Joe was shot down, uh, and, was in the Hanoi Hilton for five and half years.

And so, uh, I always consider it a great privilege when I see Joe, because of what he represents, and, uh... we have something in common, because both have us have lived all over, but we chose to come to this region to settle down.

And so, uh... for that, I am grateful for this beautiful place we live, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Open government means freedom of information, not opaque data

The Obama administration has been a "significant failure" when it comes to making the spending of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars transparent and accessible to the public, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
Also absent from the new instruction is a requirement to make raw data public. By not including raw data at Recovery.gov, transparency is dramatically reduced. Sunlight has argued strongly for raw data in machine readable formats as the starting point for Recovery.gov. This is a significant failure by the Administration to live up to its promise for full and complete disclosure. Significant failure.
A healthy level of transparency is in the best interests of our government and our citizens. By making raw data available for things like procurement, over/under budget projects and time lines, our public servants can benefit from the constructive feedback of a fully-informed populace.

Making this data machine-readable will enable entities inside and outside of the government to build software, new media, and web applications that will ensure that money and time are being used effectively.

We are getting closer and closer to a more open and transparent government. Progress is being made. The challenges we face domestically and abroad can be solved more quickly and comprehensively the more we work together. So let's continue to advocate for more openness and more transparency, more quickly.

U.S. House passes Waxman/Markey bill to address climate crisis by a vote of 219-212

Whew, that was close.

By a margin of just seven votes - one less than the total number of Republicans who crossed the aisle to vote for the bill - the United States House of Representatives voted in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known informally as the Waxman/Markey bill, H.R. 2454.

A total of two hundred and nineteen Members voted aye on the bill, including all six of Washington's Democratic Representatives (Brian Baird, Adam Smith, Jim McDermott, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, and Norm Dicks). Joining them was Republican Dave Reichert, one of only eight Republicans to vote yes. Reichert had previously been noncommittal on the bill; NPI Outreach & Advocacy Director Rick Hegdahl visited his office in Washington, D.C. earlier this week to urge him to vote yes.

Republicans Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings predictably voted nay on the bill. They were joined by one hundred and sixty six of their fellow Republicans, and disappointingly, forty four Democrats.

Two of those forty four are very progressive Democrats who should have been in the yes column: Dennis Kucinich and Peter DeFazio of Oregon.

President Barack Obama, moments after the vote, hailed the bill as "a bold and necessary step" in remarks to reporters at the White House.

"This bill is a huge victory for Washington state," declared Representative Jay Inslee in a statement emailed to NPI.

"In the Northwest, neither the melting Cascade snowpack, nor acidifying ocean waters, nor beetle-ravaged North Cascades forests could have waited much longer for us to act. The price of inaction is too high. Thankfully, today, America has begun a New Apollo Project to move the country toward a clean energy future and away from outdated fossil fuels," Inslee said.

"Since coming to Congress, I have worked to harness America’s innovative genius to create new, clean energy jobs in our state, break our country’s dependence on foreign oil and make this country the world leader in clean energy technologies."

Representative Brian Baird said of his aye vote, "This bill will empower American ingenuity to create millions of jobs and drive our economy for generations to come. In its initial draft, the bill severely limited private forest products and completely prohibited anything from federal land from counting towards biomass energy. I am proud I was able to change that."

"Allowing federal, state and private forest products to be used to meet the renewable energy standard will save Northwest jobs."

Governor Chris Gregoire has chimed in as well, saying "I extend my congratulations and thanks to the Obama administration, and to the U.S. House of Representatives, for their vision and strength in moving the United States closer to truly harnessing a clean energy future. In particular, I thank Washington's Congressional representatives who voted to move the bill forward."

We're working on getting more reaction and will update this post as we have more details.

Michael Jackson: 1958-2009

Yesterday, the world lost one of its most incredible and legendary performers: Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop" was pronounced dead at a Los Angeles hospital after apparently suffering cardiac arrest. Further details about what happened are not yet available, but the Los Angeles Police Department is investigating, as is usual when a high profile celebrity dies in the City of Angels.

The media frenzy over Jackson's death has been incredible in scope, with cable news channels devoting almost exclusive attention to the news, and newspapers carrying giant headlines on their websites. Twitter and the AOL Instant Messenger network experienced such a large spike in traffic that both services were brought down temporarily, as chatter in response to the news rose dramatically in volume.

It was a welcome relief to find last night's Daily Show with Jon Stewart free of references to Jackson's death, although it will doubtless be covered on Monday.

We at NPI will remember Michael Jackson in much the same way that millions of other people will remember him: as a troubled person who created great music.

Hits like "Thriller", "Black & White", "Beat It", "Heal the World", and dozens upon dozens of others still remain some of the greatest pop songs ever produced. Jackson's albums "Off the Wall", "Thriller", "Bad", and "Dangerous" are some of the bestselling records in the history of modern music, and they will continue to be. Indeed, as of this writing, the top fifteen bestselling CDs on Amazon.com and the top ten at Barnes & Noble were all Michael Jackson albums.

Jackson will be remembered as a humanitarian; he financially supported some thirty nine different charities during his lifetime.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters this morning at the daily press briefing that President Barack Obama remarked to his aides that Jackson was "a spectacular performer". Here's an excerpt from the transcript of the briefing:
Q: Okay, I will ask. The President has talked a lot about his love of music. He hosted Stevie Wonder here. He has talked a great deal about what's on his iPod to Rolling Stone Magazine. Well, what's his reaction to the death of Michael Jackson?

MR. GIBBS: I talked to him about it this morning. Look, he said to me that obviously, Michael Jackson was a spectacular performer, a music icon. I think everybody remembers hearing his songs, watching him moonwalk on television during Motown's 25th anniversary. But the President also said, look, he had - aspects of his life were sad and tragic. And his condolences went out to the Jackson family and to fans that mourned his loss.

Q: Why not a written statement, then?

MR. GIBBS: Because I just said it.

Q: And you say he did send condolences to the family -- did he call the family personally?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of.
The Hill is reporting that the House of Representatives paused for a moment of silence this morning to honor Jackson's memory.

A zillion celebrities have already paid tribute to Jackson, either on their blogs, on Twitter, or in statements released to the media.

Hunter has posted a well-written obituary at Daily Kos that says more eloquently what any of us might be tempted to write about Jackson's life.

So long, Michael. Rest in peace and thanks for the music.

Susan Hutchison: "No opinion" on Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033

Last night at the King County Executive Forum in North Bend, NPI asked Susan Hutchison what her position was on Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033, a measure that will likely be on this November's ballot that would have a devastating impact on county and city governments. More precisely, Initiative 1033 a jobs killer: it would cause thousands of public servants to be laid off across the State of Washington.

Should I-1033 qualify for the ballot, its passage would dramatically alter the government and common wealth of King County, and not in a good way. Whoever becomes King County Executive will most certainly be grappling with the consequences if the measure passes. More importantly, however, voters deserve to know what the people seeking to represent them think of this idea.

All the Democrats in the race have already stated their unwavering opposition to Initiative 1033 - Susan Hutchison is the only other major candidate not on the record. That's why we made a point of asking.

Unfortunately, Hutchison demurred from taking a position, saying she had "no opinion" because she's not familiar with the details of Initiative 1033. However, she did say, "Washington State has a very important initiative process and Tim Eyman is a very important part of that process."

That answer has just enough susbtance to be very, very, very troubling. Hutchison would do well to remember that this county has rejected every single Tim Eyman initiative that's ever been on the ballot... with the exception of I-900, which did not attempt to cut taxes or gouge our common wealth.

Candidates who can't form opinions about ballot questions that the people of this state may have to decide are not fit to hold public office. If this is going to be Susan Hutchison's answer from now through August 18th, the people of King County know who not to vote for in the upcoming primary election.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

LIVE from North Bend: A conversation with Dow, Ross, Susan, Fred, Alan, & Larry

Good evening, NPI Advocate readers!

Daniel and I are out in picturesque North Bend tonight to watch and listen to six of the candidates for King County Executive talk about the most challenging issues that face our state's largest local government, and how they would solve them if they were in charge. In attendance are Dow Constantine, Ross Hunter, Susan Hutchison, Fred Jarrett, Alan Lobdell, and Larry Phillips.

(Hutchison and Lobdell are Republicans; the other four are Democrats, though as Susan Hutchison repeatedly pointed out in her response to the first question, it's now ostensibly a "nonpartisan" race).

The candidates have been given two minutes to respond to each question, which allows for some depth to the answers. However, it also means that it takes twelve minutes to get through each question, which doesn't really allow for more than half a dozen questions in total. No time has been provided for opening statements, which sort of turned the answers to the first question into opening statements.

I've already had the pleasure of moderating a forum between four of the candidates on the stage, so I'm most interested at this event in listening to Susan Hutchison's and Alan Lobdell's responses, and that's what I'll be focusing on while liveblogging.

So far, Hutchison is about what I expected. In her first chance to speak, rather than offering a critique of the Sims administration with some substance (as her rivals did) she spent her two minutes repeating two or three points:
  1. This is now a nonpartisan race,
  2. She is not a partisan (uh huh), and
  3. She was for many years a television anchor who had the privilege to be invited into many people's living rooms and even bedrooms.
Asked later how to improve the county's Critical Areas Ordinance, Hutchison first cited "tremendous animosity" on the part of unnamed "citizens" (perhaps the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights?) that the county government is arrogant and unresponsive to their concerns.

"We need to go back to the drawing board. We need to make sure we have good development, or no development as the case may be," she said, concluding by declaring that we need to restore "property rights".

UPDATE, 7:45 PM: Getting ready to move into the second hour of the forum. I haven't written much about Alan Lobdell yet, but I'd say he's been using his time well. Two words that I think describe his responses are steady and sincere. You can tell that Alan's somebody who has at least given some thought to the issues he's being asked about, even if his "solutions" are nonstarters... like the idea of a new "bypass highway" around Seattle and Bellevue. (There's a reason we haven't built Interstate 605, Alan: We like having farmland and open spaces in our county's rustic eastern valleys, rather than exurban sprawl).

Alan's Democratic rivals are more polished, but that's to be expected - they've all been through campaigns before, and have served in office for many years.

UPDATE, 8:05 PM: What do you know, Susan Hutchison supports the Rice/Stanton transportation governance scheme to create an all powerful board of transportation czars to centralize decisionmaking in the hands of an unaccountable few who would have the power to set transit fares, decide routes, and determine which capital projects the region will build. Yikes. Another reason why King County simply cannot afford Susan Hutchison as its next Executive.

UPDATE, 8:15 PM: Susan Hutchison's "solutions" to invigorate the economy are to ask the state Legislature to cut taxes - particularly the B&O tax - and um, change our attitude about business in this county. Whatever that means.

Oh yeah, there was also something about "onerous regulations"... but she didn't explicitly call for repealing any. And she didn't cite any specific examples.

Taking a cue from Dino Rossi, Hutchison then claimed she knew a woman on Vashon Island who moved out of King County because it is apparently such a terrible, awful place to do business.

(That certainly explains why so many people choose to call King County home; and why the county continues to grow in population).

UPDATE, 8:26 PM: Hutchison jumped on a question about the pay of employees in the county executive's office as an opportunity to disdainfully criticize the way King County has been run. She said she met with Governor Chris Gregoire last week and praised the governor for freezing the salaries of state employees. She also implied the state Legislature's awful 2009-2011 budget - which Gregoire presided over the creation over - is something to be emulated.

UPDATE, 8:40 PM: Responding to a question about the water supply, Hutchison referred to Seattle as an "eight hundred pound gorilla" that controls the decision making process in King County. She contended that we need an executive who will ensure that concerns of residents who live outside of cities get more attention.

UPDATE, 8:49 PM: The candidates are talking about the recently released performance audit conducted by Brian Sonntag and his legion of hired accountants. Hutchison reminded the audience that Ron Sims appointed her to serve on a elections task force following the contested 2004 gubernatorial election.

"What I plan to do is put together a management team that has a totally different view of King County government," Hutchison said, being as non-specific as possible about how she would make the county more effective and transparent.

Alan Lobdell, for his part, correctly pointed out that hired accountants don't necessarily understand the intricacies of providing public services.

CLOSING STATEMENTS: Alright, I'm going to give each candidate his or her due and summarize what they said in their closing statements.
  • Ross Hunter: We have many hard decisions to make in the next few years about land use, transportation, and our county's budget. A new regionalism is needed. It's time to bring the cities into the conversation. The cities have more and more of the population. We all need to hang together, or we'll all hang separately. Let's hire an executive who's thoughtful, strategic, and practical, someone with management experience. We need an outside voice that wasn't involved in creating these problems.
  • Susan Hutchison: Admits she doesn't find doing forums particularly satisfying. She'd rather listen to what people in the audience have to say. Mentions her decision to step in as Board Chair of the Seattle Symphony, at a time when the organization was facing the possibility of bankruptcy, and says she takes credit for turning the organization around. Says the qualities of leadership are judgment and courage. Is grateful to live here and for the opportunity to serve.
  • Fred Jarrett: Appreciates the opportunity to talk about issues at length, rather than in sound bites. The fundamental problem is that we do not have a system in place that holds people accountable for what they do. Instead, we measure effort and we reward effort. The county's permitting process needs to be drastically improved. We need transportation to be integrated. Has many years of private sector management experience.
  • Alan Lobdell: Finds it interesting how people say the United States is the most beautiful place to live while we Americans disagree on so much whenever we meet to talk politics. Will fight for a balanced budget as fast as possible. Will streamline departments so they work faster and more efficiently. Wants to improve customer service. Wants better communication with the public and with smaller cities. Smaller cities should not feel ignored or neglected by King County. It's going to take a lot of money and a lot of time and the best engineers we have to solve our toughest problems.
  • Larry Phillips: Drew his first breath in King County. Improving quality of life for all is why he ran for office. We need to recover our local economy and ensure that jobs are plentiful. Making basic public services work, and taking care of the most vulnerable among us, is a top priority. Energy needs to be refocused in the exeutive's office. It's time for a leader with a nuts and bolts approach, someone who can set an agenda and execute it. Promises to come back to the public on a regular basis to make sure that everyone is a part of county government and has a voice.
  • Dow Constantine: "I'm a Democrat." And a believer in environmental protection. Only candidate supported by the Sierra Club and the Cascade Bicycle Club. A progressive who believes in changing the status quo, abandoning institutions when they no longer work and creating new institutions that do. Would rather work with county employees than force them to hunker down and wait out the clock in a pointless, protracted battle over cutting costs.
And with that, we're done. Thanks for following along... good night!

New student loan program helps college grads bear loan debt

If President Obama hadn’t published two best-selling books which brought in a nice heap of cash, he and Michelle might still be paying off their hefty college debt. Unfortunately, most college graduates can’t expect to experience that kind of good fortune.

Today, two-thirds of four-year college students leave school with debt, crowding out many of their options and dreams like buying a home, starting a business or taking enough time to find the job they trained for instead of taking any position just to pay their mounting bills.

Luckily for new grads entering the worst job market in many years, a provision of a bill passed in 2007 and supported by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will give many college graduates a way to lessen their college debt burden.

Starting on July 1, the Income-Based Repayment program will allow federal student loan holders to ask the government to limit the payment on their loans to fifteen percent of their income. The program applies to federal student loans made under either the Direct Loan or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program and can be applied to new or existing loans.
The new program sets monthly payments based on adjusted gross income and family size. Unpaid principal and interest is generally added to your loan amount. Any debt remaining is wiped out after 25 years - or after 10 years if you work in the public or nonprofit sector.

If you are unemployed, low-income or have a very large debt, you could qualify.
If you are an Ivy League grad with a high-paying job but with an even higher student debt like the Obamas, you are still in luck, as there is no income limit.

If you graduated in May or June and the hostile job market is making it hard to find a good job in your field, you won’t have to start loan repayment until November or December, giving you extra time to keep up the job hunt.

Considering the rising cost of tuition at Washington’s public universities (an increase of about thirty percent over the next two years) and an unwelcoming job market, this program comes not a moment too soon. Families’ economic troubles are helping to push student loan defaults to their highest rate since 1998.

Students who owe money on private student loans won’t receive such good terms. Private loans have soared from seven to twenty three percent of all student loans, and there is no limit on the interest rate and fees that their lenders can charge. It is almost impossible to get out from under private student loan debt even by filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy due to recent stricter bankruptcy law.

The escalating cost of a college education shouldn’t scare off students who want to improve their lives through education. Giving college graduates a fair deal on their student loan repayment gives them the freedom to pursue their dream jobs or start saving for a home or a family.

It's about time that students receive some support from the government instead of obstacles.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Meet the Hypocrites: Governor Mark Sanford

For the better part of the last thirty years the Republican Party has claimed the mantle of family values, as being a party morally superior to others.

And once again that image has taken a hit, as Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) has followed the same path of Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, Rudy Giuliani, John Ensign, David Vitter, Larry Craig, Mark Foley and others by admitting to having an affair with a woman from Argentina. The State, South Carolina's most widely read newspaper, has uncovered a steamy e-mail exchange between the two, saying it will release the full exchange for tomorrow's print edition.

Sanford, who voted for the impeachment of President Clinton when he was a member of Congress, reacted angrily when confronted with the news that Speaker-designate Bob Livingston had cheated on his wife in 1998.

Indeed, then-Rep Mark Sanford was pretty clear about his views of President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky and that of Mr. Livingston.
While serving as a U.S. congressman, Sanford was incredibly critical of his colleagues’ marital misdeeds, including the affairs of former congressman Bob Livingston and President Bill Clinton:
“The bottom line, though, is I am sure there will be a lot of legalistic explanations pointing out that the president lied under oath. His situation was not under oath. The bottom line, though, is he still lied. He lied under a different oath, and that is the oath to his wife. So it’s got to be taken very, very seriously.” [Sanford on Livingston, CNN, 12/18/98]

We ought to ask questions…rather than circle the wagons for one of our tribe.” [Sanford on how the GOP reacts to affairs, New York Post, 12/20/98]

“I think it would be much better for the country and for him personally (to resign). I come from the business side. If you had a chairman or president in the business world facing these allegations, he’d be gone.” [Sanford on Clinton, The Post and Courier, 9/12/98]

The issue of lying is probably the biggest harm, if you will, to the system of Democratic government, representatives government, because it undermines trust. And if you undermine trust in our system, you undermine everything.” [Sanford on Clinton, CNN, 2/16/99]
Perhaps my favorite quote by the hypocritical Governor Sanford, is one where he parrots the Republican party's family-values mantra, is this:
Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said he would be "struggling" during Christmas over whether to support Livingston, even though the speaker-designate had not broken the law. "We as a party want to hold ourselves to high standards, period," Sanford said.
Way to uphold those high standards, Governor Sanford. Leaving your wife and sons on Father's Day to fly to Argentina to spend several days with your lover shows just how much stock you put in your "family values."

And with today's revelation, Governor Sanford has admitted to committing a crime (not just against the laws of his God, but against the laws of his state).
SECTION 16-15-60 Adultery or fornication. Any man or woman who shall be guilty of the crime of adultery or fornication shall be liable to indictment and, on conviction, shall be severally punished by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than five hundred dollars or imprisonment for not less than six months nor more than one year or by both fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the court.

SECTION 16-15-70 "Adultery" defined. "Adultery" is the living together and carnal intercourse with each other or habitual carnal intercourse with each other without living together of a man and woman when either is lawfully married to some other person.
It will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds as talk of impeachment and resignation has already started. But that's one less pretender that President Obama will have to deal with in 2012.

The Bizarro World of the Republican Party

At the risk of alienating fans of Superman, let me suggest that the character of Bizarro ranks very high among the stupider plot devices and antagonists ever dreamed up in DC Comics' long-running, flagship comic book series.

For those not up on their super-villain lore, Bizarro is from Bizarro world, where everything is backwards. Good is bad, right is wrong, et cetera.

Hokey as that may be, Bizarro World turns out to be a remarkably effective metaphor for understanding the modern day Republican Party. If you understand how Bizarro World works, you have at your disposal the secret decoder ring for understanding the statements and actions by the party and its officials.

Time and time again, we see that the best way to understand what the Republican Party's underlying motives are is to listen to how they attempt to frame their opponents. Time and time again, we see that the best way to predict what a prominent Republican figure is likely to do is to listen to the kinds of actions they rail against -- or in equivalent Bizarro World mechanics, to listen to the kinds of things they profess to support and then predict the opposite.

Want to know what the Republican environmental agenda is (was)? Look no further than the mere names of the "Healthy Forests Act" and the "Clear Skies Act," and assume the opposite.

Want to know what the Republican view of supporting your country is? Look no further than the people they call un-patriotic -- all the progressives fighting for health care, fighting for the survival of the middle class, or merely voicing their opposition to war -- and take the opposite.

Want to know what the Republicans' real agenda is in the "war on terror"? Look no further than their proclivity for slapping anyone who opposed that agenda with the "terrorist sympathizer" label, while their own policies did nothing for eight years but foster an environment in which terrorism spread.

It's Bizarro World on Earth. Thank god these people are no longer in charge of all three branches of government.

So, decoder ring in hand, it should come as no surprise whatsoever to see Governor Mark Sanford (R-Bizarro) outed this week in for having an affair with an Argentinean woman. After all, Republicans are the "Family Values" party, right?

Larry "Wide Stance" Craig, Mark "Turning over a new Page" Foley, David "Diapers" Vitter, and John "Campaign Staff" Ensign are, if nothing else, testament to the deep commitment to "Family Values" in today’s Republican party.

And yes, I know that Democrats are imperfect too, and some of them commit affairs. The difference is Democrats don't go around sanctimoniously preaching "Family Values" while simultaneously seeing how far and wide they can spread their naughty bits.

The Republican Party leadership is no doubt, at this very moment, scrambling to come up with a statement on the Sanford affair. Somewhere in between the predictably treacley statements of support for Sanford and his family in these difficult circumstances, and the predictably pro-forma condemnation for the affair itself, you can bet that there will be an implication that Sanford's affair represents nothing more serious than a failing by one individual. An implication that Sanford's actions should in no way tarnish the Republican Party's image or platform as a whole.

Which might wash if we didn't have to hear the same tired excuse over and over and over again. But we do. With almost clockwork regularity.

This is not an isolated point-failure of Republican "values." This is the inevitable outcome of thinking you can get away with being as greedy, selfish, lascivious, and downright bad as you want to be so long as you and your equally disgusting cohorts maintain a unified front of bald-faced lies. This is the predictable result of a cynical and systemic effort to fool all of the people all of the time.

Even P.T. Barnum knew better than to try that.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Got rocket fuel?

If the Defense Department, the Navy and various defense contractors have their way, you will. This coalition has petitioned the White House to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating perchlorate in drinking water.
The Pentagon and the defense industry is lobbying the White House to prevent U.S. EPA from tightening a health advisory for a rocket-fuel chemical.

Representatives of the Defense Department, the Navy and aerospace and defense companies have met with the Office of Management and Budget this month to discuss a pending EPA decision on the chemical, perchlorate.

[...]

Perchlorate contamination of drinking water, which is linked to DOD and contractor activities at rocket test sites, has been documented in at least 35 states and the District of Columbia. The chemical can inhibit the thyroid gland's iodine uptake, interfering with fetal development. [emphasis mine]
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, perchlorate isn't a welcome condiment (like, say, a slice of lemon) for your drinking water. Check out the facts:

Perchlorate is a chemical that occurs naturally in the environment and is also used in explosives, fireworks, road flares, and rocket propellant. A combination of human activity and natural sources has led to the widespread presence of perchlorate in the environment.

Previous CDC studies have shown that nearly everyone in the U.S. is exposed regularly to low levels of perchlorate. People are exposed through eating food, and drinking milk and water that contain perchlorate. Trace levels of perchlorate have been found in both breast milk and infant formula.

High levels of perchlorate (thousands of times higher than the doses estimated to result from consumption of infant formula or breast milk) affects the thyroid gland by blocking its ability to use iodine. The thyroid gland needs iodine to make thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is important for proper development of fetuses and infants, and regulates how the body uses energy.

As noted above, perchlorate has been found in baby formula and has also been found in the breast milk of nursing mothers.

The background here is that in January 2009, EPA issued an interim health advisory regarding perchlorate contamination of drinking water. EPA is seeking input from the National Academy of Sciences, and from the public, prior to making a final regulatory determination on whether or not it will issue a national regulation for perchlorate in drinking water.

I understand why defense contractors are lobbying the government not to regulate perchlorate. For them, it's all about the money, and after the presidency of George W. Bush, they need to be weaned from the government teat. But why is it that government agencies feel the need to lobby against policies being formed by another government agency, that are in the interest of the public health and welfare? After all, if you poison all of the people with rocket fuel, eventually there will be nothing left for the Department of Defense, Navy and defense contractors to defend.

It's time for the President to step in and side with the people, and give orders as Commander-In-Chief to the Department of Defense and Navy to cease their lobbying efforts.

Tim Eyman claims he has 270,000 signatures for jobs-killing Initiative 1033

This morning, in his latest electronic screed to supporters and the press, initiative profiteer Tim Eyman declared that his buddies Jack and Mike Fagan (the latter of which is running for Spokane City Council) tabulated all the signatures they have on hand for Eyman's latest scheme to wreck Washington State, and they came up with the number two hundred and seventy thousand.

(241,153 valid signatures are required to qualify an initiative for the ballot this year, up from 224,880 signatures last year thanks to the high turnout in the 2008 gubernatorial election. Initiative sponsors must submit an ample cushion to offset a varying but inevitable percentage of duplicate and invalid signatures).

Eyman's decision to disclose a number is interesting, but the number itself is completely meaningless. Eyman has a long history of deceiving the press and lying to his own supporters. His accounting just can't be trusted.

That was made painfully evident to some of Eyman's own supporters in 2006 when Eyman accused Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed's office of "pilfering" petitions for his ill-conceived Initiative 917, after the Elections Division disclosed it had received far fewer signatures than what Eyman announced he had submitted.

Eyman immediately accused the Secretary of State's office of lying (pot, meet kettle) and claimed he had proof that his number was accurate. As it turned out, his "proof" was a farce - it was simply a piece of paper with Eyman's number of 300,353 on it, stamped by the Secretary of State's receptionist at his request.

A complete check of Initiative 917's petitions, completed in early September 2006 (which I had the opportunity to observe for several days in late August) showed that Eyman had not submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The measure's implosion remains one of the most spectacular failures in Eyman's career as an initiative profiteer.

Later that summer, Eyman sent out a message to his supporters trying to explain what had happened. He included a week-by-week internal tally of signatures, hoping to convince his supporters to believe his story. Ironically, by doing so, Eyman trapped himself in another lie, which NPI uncovered and promptly reported.

So if history is any indication, Eyman's number today is meaningless. The only number that has any significance is the number of signatures the Secretary of State reports receiving next month. If Eyman does not submit a substantial cushion of signatures, it's not unlikely Initiative 1033 could fail the five percent random sample check and possibly be in danger of not qualifying for the ballot.

We don't see that happening. We think Eyman will submit enough signatures. We'd love to be wrong, of course. But we don't expect to be, and that's why we're laying the groundwork for an aggressive fight to beat back Initiative 1033. It's a jobs-killing scheme that Washington State just can't afford.

LCV to U.S. House: No endorsement in 2010 for those who vote no on Waxman-Markey

Our Outreach & Advocacy Director, Rick Hegdahl, is in The Other Washington this week helping the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) lobby for passage of H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman/Markey bill. This morning LCV made some waves by announcing in a letter to U.S. Representatives that it will not support any member for reelection in 2010 who votes against the bill on final passage. Here's an excerpt from their letter:
In light of the tremendous importance of this legislation, LCV has made the unprecedented decision that we will not endorse any member of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election cycle who votes against final passage of this historic bill.

Of course, support for H.R. 2454 alone is not enough action to secure an endorsement from LCV. As always, we will consider many other factors, including viability, vulnerability, recent and lifetime LCV scores, and demonstrated environmental leadership, in our final endorsement decisions.

After far too many years of inaction, missed opportunities, and major steps backwards, H.R. 2454 will begin to move our country toward a new energy future by putting a firm limit on global warming pollution, improving energy efficiency, and investing in renewable energy.
H.R. 2454 has been described by many in the environmental movement as imperfect but necessary.

The bill, which admittedly isn't very ambitious or inspiring, is really the only viable vehicle available at the present time for getting something halfway decent to the President's desk. Partly that's because solving the climate crisis seems to be nobody's first priority. At least nobody's on Capitol Hill.

(Which is a shame, because, as the good folks at the Alliance for Climate Protection have pointed out, economic security and environmental protection go hand in hand. We could heat up our economy and cool down our planet in one stroke if we were willing to act. Trouble is, industries that don't like the idea of weaning ourselves off of the fossil fuel products they sell have allies in Congress who are experts at obstructing progressive legislation.)

Incremental progress, in the end, is better than no progress at all. That's why LCV and NPI are supporting Waxman/Markey, and why LCV is putting so much on the line to ensure the success of this bill. Winning passage in the House will be tough, but the battle in the House is merely a warmup act for the truly difficult fight: getting Waxman/Markey through the U.S. Senate.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Americans must pay a fair price for health care reform

Hit hard by the recession, Americans have learned a lesson about over-spending and don’t want to see their government make the same mistakes they’ve made. In a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, only four in ten people are willing to pay more for universal health care coverage, although a significant majority of people want it. This discrepancy is explained by the fact that six in ten people think reform can be achieved without spending more money. Obviously they believe that there is waste in the system that can be gutted out before any more money is spent.

For Obama to get a serious plan for health reform past the anticipated ugly media campaigns of his opponents: business, the health care industry and the right-wing, he must forge a plan that covers a vast majority of the 47 million uninsured, while at the same time, doesn't cost the average American much money. Sounds like a tall order, right?

There are definitely ways to reduce costs in the current system, but there are also changes that can be made to the tax code that could be more fair (i.e. more progressive) and that could provide more money for health care coverage.

The Washington D.C. based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recommends two such changes. The first, limiting the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored insurance, is supported by a chief Senate health policy maker, Max Baucus, (D-MT). It would allow the workplace health insurance plans of the highest wage earners to be taxed. Right now, these plans are a huge exception to the rule of taxing all employer compensation, in fact, the CBPP calls this exemption “the largest single subsidy in the tax code.”

Eliminating this exemption is additionally attractive since it packs a big punch. The potential revenue from this source beats any other idea currently being floated in Congress.

Another of Obama’s proposals supported by the CBPP is making itemized deduction levels more equitable. Under current law, federal tax rates for high-earners will increase to 36 and 39.6 percent in 2011, increasing the amount of tax deduction the wealthy will receive.

In a real-world description of this tax's impact, this means that if a teacher in the 15 percent tax bracket and an executive in the 36 percent bracket both donate $100 to their favorite charity, the teacher will receive a tax refund of $15 on the donation, while the executive will receive $36 back. This hardly seems fair.

Obama’s proposal, to limit itemized deductions to 28 percent, has raised quite a bit of opposition. The CBPP suggests that a more feasible alternative might be to maintain the status quo, with deduction levels staying as they are when tax rates rise in 2011. This option could raise $68 billion over ten years.

Tax policy may not be very sexy stuff, but it’s going to take a whole raft of revenue sources and cost savings to be able to provide all Americans with the health coverage that they deserve, and in the process, we may straighten out some of the more unfair tax policies that the U.S. has on the books.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Response to Iran elections illustrates the pros and cons of worldwide Net activism

As new tools of civic and civil protest evolve - as in Iran, where protesters are using social networks to keep the rest of the world apprised of the response to that country's recently held elections - they present both new opportunities and new challenges for freedom of speech.

Twitter has been singled out as the key communication platform for protesters and those watching them since last week's election. It has enabled people around the globe to read real time accounts of the happenings.

It has also enabled people around the globe to participate in the protest in ways some have never seen before.

Such armchair activism has included setting up proxy servers to help Iranian tweeters get around government blockades of the site.

Another example was the attempted DDOS attacks on Iranian web servers from abroad (DDoS stands for Denial of Service, a method of hacking that involves sending lots of web requests every second with the hopes of overloading a web server and rendering a website unusable/unavailable).

Principally, the inclusion of non-Iranians in these protest efforts is a good thing. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. However, these particular actions raise serious ethical and legal questions that must be thought through.

As interested activists and citizens, we must be prudent in our actions to ensure they help more than hurt.

For instance, are we comfortable with the idea of private citizens using private networks to engage in network "warfare"?
By doing so, do we make our civilian network infrastructure a valid target to an adversary? What risks are associated with a group of private citizens sending an unintended message to a potential adversary in the form of a coordinated network disruption?
Perhaps we are, but I don't think that's the case.

Earlier this year, Russia basically did this to Georgia, and caught a lot of flack for it. This sets a precedent that is dangerous, especially if we don't understand its consequences.

Another question: if the attacks were actually successful, wouldn't we be destroying the only portals we have into the very place we're so interested in?

After all, foreign journalists have been banned from covering the demonstration, and many have been jailed and/or beaten. To choke off an authentic supply of information would be strategically foolish.

Technology is an increasingly powerful and important part of our society and our culture. As it expands to touch more parts of our lives, we must be ever-mindful of its drawbacks as well as its benefits.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Seattle Municipal Mental Health Court turns ten

This week, Seattle Municipal Court's Mental Health Court celebrates its tenth anniversary. Mental Health Court is what is referred to as a "therapeutic" court within the criminal justice system.

It is designed to secure housing and treatment for mentally ill persons who commit crimes in significant part because of their mental illness.

Seattle's Mental Health Court began operating in March of 1999. It was the first Municipal (city) Mental Health Court in the nation, and the fourth one overall. There are now over two hundred such courts.

The Mental Health Court "team" includes prosecutors, public defenders, social workers, other Masters level mental health professionals, police, probation, the judge and court staff, and its clientele of severely mentally ill people who need intensive supervision and opportunity to turn their lives around.

Happy anniversary!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sound Transit's SoDo operations base offers state of the art train care

How many brake systems does a Link light rail trainset come with?

(Three, to be exact).

That and many other questions were answered for reporters this morning by Sound Transit's Paul Denison, who led a guided tour of the agency's Operations & Maintenance Facility in South Downtown for the press.

Loyal readers may recall that Sound Transit offered NPI a behind the scenes look at our region's new Central Link light rail system almost exactly a year ago, which I documented for The Advocate. Much of that tour took place inside the operations base, where Link cars are stored when they're not in service.

I went inside the base again last November to attend Sound Transit's post-election press conference following the passage of Proposition 1, so today's tour felt sort of like making a return trip to Disneyland (the kind of place that always feels fun to come back to.) While on the tour, I managed to get some very different shots that nicely complement the pictures I took last year.

Before I get to the pictures, let me elaborate a bit about the question I asked and then answered at the beginning of this post.

Link light rail trainsets do indeed have a total of not one, not two, but three braking systems for safety purposes.

First, there are the dynamic brakes, which effectively slow the trains down to between about ten to twelve miles an hour.

Dynamic brakes work by reversing the electrical current, causing the motor to exert torque in the direction opposite to which the train is traveling. Link's dynamic brakes happen to also be regenerative, which means they return electrical power to the overhead lines instead of releasing the energy as heat.

Second, there are the hydraulic disc brakes, which are also found in cars. Hydraulic disc brakes use friction to slow down the wheels. These brakes are used to bring Link trains to a complete stop.

Finally, there are the track brakes, which are only used in emergency situations. These brakes are deployed by releasing metal shoes onto the track, giving operators another way to slow a speeding train.

With that question answered, let's move on to the pictures.

Where light rail trains go to get painted
This first shot shows the inside of the base's painting facility. This is where trains are painted and repainted when necessary.

Where light rail trains go to get washed
This second shot shows the train wash. It looks kind of like a car wash, except it's for trains. According to Denison, trainsets are only washed when it's really necessary, and ideally not more often than once a week. The vehicles are designed to last for three decades. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

A train resting on hydraulic lifts
Here's a train that's resting on hydraulic lifts next to the truck shop. The lifts make it possible for workers to detach the wheels and brakes for service.

Sound Transit personnel at work in the truck shop
Finally, this photo shows Sound Transit personnel at work in the truck shop.

A few other interesting facts about Link trains: Each vehicle weighs about one hundred and six thousand pounds, and can carry two hundred people comfortably. Trains have floor heating as well as air conditioning from above, to keep passengers warm or cool depending on the season.

Closed circuit cameras are installed in the ceilings in every vehicle, recording footage to onboard digital video recorders. And the doors are all ADA accessible - no ramps are necessary to board because the trains have low floor designs.

Here's one last tidbit of interest: Unlike buses, trucks, or other rubber tire vehicles, Sound Transit's light rail trains are never operated in reverse. This is possible because the vehicles have cabs on both ends. To move a train in the other direction, the operator simply walks around to the other cab.

That's Link for you... always moving forward.

The duties of citizenship

Most people, at one or another time in their lives, have been summoned to perform Jury Duty.

That little post-card with the tear-off edges appears in the mailbox, telling you the date and place at which you are to appear to perform your civic duty.

I’ve gotten my share of these—three times, in fact, since I’ve turned 18. Every time, the reaction I get when I tell people I’ve been summoned is the same: sympathy. I get some variation on "What a drag", or "That sucks, man!"

I’ve never quite understood that reaction. I mean, I’m as unhappy about the disturbance to my comfortable daily routine as the next fellow, but I also know it’s an important part of civic life in America.

I was put in mind of this recently when I was at the Redmond public library. I passed a couple of women talking in hushed tones at a nearby table. One of the women was quizzing the other for a U.S. Citizenship examination, and I overheard her ask "What are the duties of citizenship?"

That is, what are you Constitutionally obligated to do by virtue of your status as an American citizen?

Not much, really. Just two things. One is to vote. The other is to serve on juries when called.

Sadly, Jury Duty has taken on such a burdensome connotation in our society. Somewhere in the bureaucracy and bother involved with explaining to your boss, getting down to the courthouse, and waiting around to be selected or dismissed, we’ve lost that sense of meaningful obligation to our fellow citizens.

Jury duty is a big deal. Jury trials are the cornerstone aspect of our legal process that keeps Americans relatively free—"enemy combatant" status notwithstanding—from being summarily pulled off the streets and thrown in jail forever.

The right to be judged by a jury of your peers—that is, by ordinary citizens rather than by a tribunal of elites—is a big deal. It’s such a big deal that Thomas Jefferson specifically called it out as a motivating reason for the colonies to go to war with England. Among many other offenses, King George was criticized:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury

In its earliest forms, this right dates back almost 800 years to the Magna Carta, which in 1215 first codified the concept that people should be tried by their peers.

And think about it: if, god forbid, you should find yourself hauled into court, would you rather be tried by a jury or subject only to the legal findings of a judge? Whether guilty or innocent, wouldn’t you want people who live in similar circumstances to yourself judge whether you deserve to go to jail? Or in Washington State, sadly, even be put to death?

If it were me, I’d certainly hope my jury was stocked with people who appreciate what their role is, both to weigh the facts against the law and to render a verdict, from a perspective that understands what it is like to live as an ordinary citizen in America today.

I think most people, if they spent a moment to think about it, would wish the same.

And if they spent another moment thinking about it, I suspect most people would realize that this means they have, as the Constitution spells out, a duty to do the same for other citizens who should find themselves on the docket.

Yes, Jury duty can be a pain in the neck. But if the Founding Fathers were willing to go to war for the right to serve on juries—and be judged by them—then surely the least we can do is treat it as an honor, rather than a bother.

iFail 3.0: Apple users, take your time upgrading that iPhone

Today marks the release of the latest software upgrade for the iPhone. Many iPhone users are experiencing difficulties upgrading their phones to the latest software. The activation servers are apparently overloaded due to demand.

It's not a repeat of the iPocalypse, but the inability to activate the upgraded phones means the new features can't be used... which pretty much defeats the point of upgrading now. So best advice to iPhone users... be patient.

Wait a day or two for the crush load on Apple's servers to subside and then get the new version. Not only will you have a smooth upgrade, but you'll be able to join all us BlackBerry users as relaxed spectators in the stands on iPhone Upgrade Day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Meet the hypocrites: Senator John Ensign

Let me see if I've got this straight. Senator John Ensign (R-NV) is so worried about perceived threats to his marriage that he supports a constitutional amendment that would deny gays and lesbians the right to marry. But earlier today Ensign admitted to engaging in extramarital liaisons with a paramour who was a campaign staffer and married to one of Ensign's Senate office staffers. Who is the bigger threat to marriage (two of them), Ensign or gays and lesbians?

And let's not forget what a big fan John Ensign is of marriage.
“Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded. For those who say that the Constitution is so sacred that we cannot or should not adopt the Federal Marriage Amendment, I would simply point out that marriage, and the sanctity of that institution, predates the American Constitution and the founding of our nation. Marriage, as a social institution, predates every other institution on which ordered society in America has relied.”
Oops. Another hypocritical gasbag strikes a blow against the sanctity of marriage.

I think the answer is obvious. If Ensign is allowed to marry and screw up marriage(s), why should anyone be denied the right? It seems between David Vitter, Larry Craig, Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, and John Ensign, the so-called party of family values has the market cornered on failed marriages. And I'd be willing to bet that the amount of marital discord between same-sex couples would be no higher than us heterosexual folk.

Then there is this matter of then-Representative Ensign calling on President Clinton to resign after his admission of an affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. Ensign even voted to impeach Clinton. Yet in his statement today, Ensign showed no signs of being willing to step aside for committing the very same actions for which he criticized President Clinton.

And speaking of Senator Larry Craig, he of the toe-tapping, bathroom sex soliciting fame, Senator Ensign even called for his resignation, though he didn't call for Senator Vitter to do the same. The reason: Larry Craig admitted guilt and David Vitter never did.

So by his own standards, Senator John Ensign should be tendering his resignation. But because he is a man whose actions don't match his rhetoric on several levels, Senator Ensign is the latest subject of our "meet the hypocrites" feature.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Entrepreneurs need health care reform

This weekend, The Seattle Times wished to recognize the one hundred top-performing public companies in the Northwest in their annual Northwest 100 ranking. Not surprisingly, yet still sad, it seems that for the first time in the eighteen-year life of the list, less than one hundred companies qualified for the honor. The list topped out at only 87 companies.

Should this news make us worry that our region is losing its competitive edge or that we are no longer a center of innovation? Or perhaps the change in the Northwest economy is indicative of what's going on in other parts of the country?

One thing is for sure, if any region wants to nurture the fledgling businesses necessary to flesh out our country's emaciated job market, it will need to solve the problem of health care. The high cost of insuring their employees is reported to be the number one problem small businesses face.

Ever-rising premiums squelch small companies’ growth potential and can make starting a new business a non-starter for those entrepreneurs who can’t risk potentially going without health insurance. Attracting good employees is hard for small businesses that can’t afford to offer competitive health care plans because they have to pay higher insurance premiums than their larger counterparts.
Small businesses typically pay 18% more for health insurance than big companies, which can use their purchasing power to drive down the cost of coverage, according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund, a health policy research foundation. And the number of small firms that provide health insurance to their employees has been shrinking every year: 59% in 2007, down from 68% in 2000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Of the 46 million uninsured in the U.S., 27 million are small business owners, their employees or their dependents.
America admires entrepreneurs, people who work hard and take risks, but the ranks of our entrepreneurs will grow even thinner if we ask them to risk their health and that of their employees in order to start a new venture.

Health care reform is necessary for the well-being of Americans, but it is also necessary for the well-being of America's economy. Progressives are advocating for a single-payer system. It would certainly give new business owners one less thing to worry about.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bellevue School District to lose its librarians thanks to Legislature's irresponsible budget

A couple weeks ago, when I walked into a Bellevue School Board meeting, I could tell something was amiss. Many people were holding signs declaring "Support Bellevue School Libraries!" At least half of the nearly two hundred or so people at the meeting were there for the meeting were there for the libraries.

Libraries are where students go to find help with homework and class assignments, do research, and collaborate on group projects. Naturally, every library needs a good librarian to keep the place clean, quiet, and well maintained.

The stated mission for the Bellevue School District is to "provide a top of the line college preparatory program for all students." Yet the district has decided it doesn't have the money to employ librarians next year.

The district's decision to lay off librarians has drawn widespread condemnation from parents, teachers, supporters, and community members.

As one college professor declared at the meeting:
It's inconceivable to me that students in Bellevue, Washington will not have access to a high quality school librarian...it's a scorched earth policy with regard to libraries.
Scorched future policy might be more accurate.

The board member who ran the meeting started by acknowledging the problems caused by laying off the district's librarians.
We really heard the message. We know that there are really powerful undeniable reasons to not redirect [the money]...But [this is] a desperate move given desperate circumstances...We will continue to look at the situation to see if we can do anything about it.
The district is also considering getting rid of elective classes if revenue continues to deteriorate. No thanks to the Legislature, whose members chickened out of giving the people of Washington the power to stave off some of these cuts.

Stephen Miller, a history teacher at Odle Middle School and former head of the Bellevue Education Association, noted that the decisions the district is weighing stem from decisions already made at the state level.
Class sizes are going up next fall, since about sixty teachers have already lost their jobs in Bellevue. Not only do we need librarians, but we need nurses in schools everyday and enough counselors to serve all the students needs. The State Legislature and Governor have failed to amply fund public school and meet the paramount duty of our state.
For the district to continue employing its librarians, it would have to lay off an additional twelve teachers, increasing class sizes even further.

While the Bellevue School District tries to figure out what to do - with only painful options available - lawmakers that represent the area in the state Legislature (Representative Ross Hunter, Representative Deb Eddy, Senator Rodney Tom) are telling constituents they voted for a "responsible" budget.

And when asked why the Legislature didn't empower the people to decide whether state revenue should be increased to offset budget cuts or not, they offer excuses, citing unfavorable polling. Since when has it made sense to use polling as the basis for decisions about our qualify of life?

If, as Representatives Hunter and Eric Pettigrew have claimed, there were twenty five Democratic votes for a revenue option, those twenty five Democrats should have refused to vote for the budget until their colleagues agreed to allow the people to decide. That would have been the courageous and responsible thing to do.

Stephen Miller wants the community to know who deserves the blame:
We need to understand that this is Olympia's fault. Ross Hunter, Rodney Tom, and Fred Jarrett spent all their time this session creating an education [reform] bill which is useless because they are not funding it. What good is an education bill that doesn't address funding now and in the future? We are in the bottom five nationally in class size and aiming for dead last.

Ross, Rodney, and Fred could have taken leadership roles in raising the levy cap for the district, but they failed to do so. If they had taken a leadership role thirty jobs could have been saved, maybe even the librarians. To solve this problem in the long run we need to really look at our tax system.
Tax reform will be key to solving our revenue problem. Unfortunately, it's unlikely the Legislature is going to do anything about this problem on their own. They'll keep on dithering in future sessions while school districts such as Bellevue may be forced to lay off additional staff.

As a high school student in Bellevue, the prospect of libraries closing is more than dismaying. If this a sign of even more horrifying things to come, I fear the consequences to our common wealth could be catastrophic.

Patty Murray draws opponents for 2010

For her 2010 re-election bid, Senator Patty Murray has drawn two challengers. One is Republican Dr. Sean Salazar of Seattle. Salazar, a U.S. Navy vet and chiropractor, previously ran for Congress in 2001 in California's 53rd district, raising a paltry $6556 in his failed attempt.

Plastered prominently on Sean Salazar's website is a photo of RNC Chair Michael Steele, who we can only hope will exert some influence on Salazar's candidacy and stump for him.

Senator Murray's other opponent is Wayne Glover of Spokane Valley, who does not list a party affiliation on his website and promises "Real Change". However, a close look at Glover's recommended reading list shows a Who's Who of right-wing authors and media blowhards.

Interestingly enough on Glover's website, he notes personal issues similar to those of Senator Cantwell's previous opponent Mike(!) McGavick:
As a young adult I battled alcoholism, although there were no scrapes with the law, I did make many errors in judgment which details are sketchy but since June 1994 I have not used alcohol.
Details are sketchy? Is that because you blacked out and don't remember, or because you really don't want to talk about it, Mr. Glover? And if it's the latter, why mention it at all?

By all accounts, neither of these candidates is of the quality necessary to beat Senator Murray, and will not pose a serious challenge to her reelection.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Digital media literacy part of Washington's groundbreaking broadband plans

Promoting Internet adoption, digital inclusion, and digital media literacy is essential making universal broadband access successful. We don't put drivers behind the wheel without training. Likewise, we shouldn't give away Internet access without providing the tools & training to take advantage of it in productive, responsible, beneficial and entertaining ways.

During this most recent tough legislative session, our state took a big step towards achieving this thanks to the passage of House Bill 1701 which authorizes the state Department of Information Services (DIS) to move us closer to universal broadband adoption. This victory for technological equality was made possible thanks to the leadership of Representative Bob Hasegawa and the tireless effort of advocates like Reclaim the Media Executive Director Jonathan Lawson.

Funded in part by Federal ARRA dollars, the law has 3 pillars:
  1. Digital Literacy: It establishes a Community Technology Opportunity Program (CTOP) to promote Internet adoption, digital inclusion and digital media literacy in low-income and underserved areas of the state. Such a program has no precedent in its scope, and it is predicated on the principle of empowerment as a key component of adoption. According to Lawson, CTOP will operate in ways similar to the City of Seattle's Community Technology Center program.

  2. Digital Inclusion: It establishes the Council on Digital Inclusion, giving a new title and mandate to the State's High-Speed Internet Working Group. The Council members will be from both the public and private sector, and they will focus on adoption and usage of broadband in addition to deployment.

  3. Coverage Mapping: It tasks DIS with the current availability of broadband throughout the state and work with other agencies to identify the communities most in need of new or additional broadband Internet services. There was contention over whether these maps should be public or remain the property of private entities assisting in the process, but in the end no mandate was included to make this information public.
The law goes into effect on July 1st, 2009.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

American doctors support the public option for health care reform

While Congress is still circulating numerous, half-baked ideas on health care reform, the most progressive proposal still standing, a public option, has the support of a key stakeholder group as represented by Doctors for America. This national grassroots organization, which organizes doctors in support of health care reform, held a press conference today in conjunction with the Center for American Progress in order to make it clear that doctors across the country strongly support the public plan option.

Since a single payer plan is no longer “on the table,” a public plan is the second best progressive solution to providing all Americans with access to affordable, quality health care. This plan would provide government-run health insurance to compete with the plans offered by private insurers, and would be open to all Americans.

Doctors for America wished to quell doubts that doctors do support a public plan option. It would be easy to come to that conclusion considering the American Medical Association’s public opposition to such a plan, yet that association has a long history of opposing health reform and their current opposition is just more of the same:
Despite a lofty reputation and purported commitment to universal coverage, AMA has fought almost every major effort at health care reform of the past 70 years. The group's reputation on this matter is so notorious that historians pinpoint it with creating the ominous sounding phrase "socialized medicine" in the early decades of the 1900s.
The 12,000 plus members of Doctors for America joined the organization because they see the urgent need for change in their own practices and in their own interactions with patients. When asked how Doctors for America can counteract opposition to a public plan by enormous groups such as the AMA and the AARP, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the group's president, said that his organization represents the voices of its members “on the ground” all across America, not just the opinions of its leaders.

Here’s an example of what some of its members are saying:
Dr. Elizabeth Powers, Enterprise, Oregon: In the current system, what frustrates me the most is time and money spent on paperwork and bureaucracy.

I want health reform that is patient centered, allowing patients to get the care they need when and where they need it. We must measure the efficacy of any new system by the health of our entire population. Inequities based on race, socioeconomic status, insurance status, etc. must be eliminated.
Doctors for America has four big goals for an improved health care system: provide affordable coverage, provide high quality care, expand access to care, and allow for physician practice environments that allow doctors to focus on patient care.

This group won’t let organizations such as the AMA speak for all doctors. The AMA is just one more group that is protecting the status quo and the insurance industry and doesn't have the best interest of Americans in mind. It can't succeed again.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Republican Susan Hutchison: "I don't have anything to say to the voters"

Chalk up a big victory today for King County Executive hopeful Dow Constantine:
Susan Hutchison, the front runner in the race for King County executive, fired back at County Councilman Dow Constantine Wednesday afternoon after he said she's too conservative for local voters and ducking an honest debate.

In a telephone interview with seattlepi.com Hutchison called Constantine a liar.

[...]

"I don't have to say anything to the voters," said Hutchison, a long-time local television personality. "They've known me for 20 years on the air. They've known me for another seven years as someone who has served in the community."
Thanks, Susan, for reminding the people of King County why it would be a mistake to elect you as our Executive. You don't have anything to say to the voters? That's fine. We can decide that we want nothing to do with you.

The last thing this county needs for a leader is an arrogant Republican who thinks people should just cast their votes based on personality and likability.

Hutchison's response to Dow Constantine's press conference calling her out this morning for running a stealth campaign is making Constantine's move look brilliant. Not only did Constantine manage to score earned media and attention for his campaign, but he provoked Hutchison into supplying a priceless quote that he and the other three Democrats in the race can use over and over and over again between now and August 18th. And perhaps even beyond into the fall.

"I don't have anything to say to the voters" truly does symbolize the Hutchison campaign so far. Arrogant, aloof, mostly invisible, and almost completely inaccessible. If Hutchison expects voters to take her seriously as a candidate, she needs to make herself available. That means showing up to candidate forums and not hiding her positions on the issues.

Four paragraphs of vague allusions to progressive policy directions on a campaign website does not constitute a campaign with rich, fresh ideas.

(To be fair, it's not like the Democratic candidates have much on their websites talking about the issues either. But unlike Susan, they're making lots of public appearances and answering questions without hesitation. I've had the chance to talk to all four at length about a whole range of issues).

Anyone can promise to lead by bringing people together, as Hutchison is doing. Delivering on that kind of promise requires a lot of tactfulness, diplomacy, and people skills, which Hutchison appears to lack, based on her testy response. She called one of her opponents a liar and then said nothing to justify that extraordinary allegation. If that's any indication of how she'll act as King County Executive, we'd all be wise to steer clear of her candidacy.

What you don't know about unemployment insurance could cost you

I got laid off from my job a couple of months ago, thanks to this "economic downturn" we're in, so for the first time in my life I've had to learn my way around the state's unemployment insurance program, run by the Employment Security Division (ESD).

I've learned some unpleasant lessons in that process that I'd like to share, in the hopes of helping our readers avoid making the same blunders as I have.

Lesson Number One: the Alternate Base Year

To qualify for unemployment benefits, you have to have worked a particular number of hours in the job you got laid off from in the previous year. I don't recall the exact number, but it's around 600. Thus, if you got hired late in 2008 and laid off in 2009, you may not have worked enough hours in 2008 to qualify.

However, you can file for benefits under an Alternate Base Year which doesn't correlate exactly with the calendar year. In my case, the base year for calculating whether I've worked enough hours was shifted forward one calendar quarter, to catch the hours I worked from January through March.

The Gotcha: The ESD website makes no mention whatsoever about the Alternate Base Year mechanism. So when you go to fill out the online unemployment insurance application (and why wouldn't you? Beats calling them and listening to their crackly, 80s-mix on-hold music for an hour while waiting for someone to take your application over the phone), you won't know there is such a thing. You literally cannot indicate that you want to file under an alternate base year, using the online form. If you didn't have enough hours in 2008, you'll get an automated rejection letter in the mail within a few days telling you that you're hosed. That letter, too, will mention nothing about alternate base years.

This makes absolutely no sense. Why even have an on-line application form if it doesn't offer the same set of choices as the phone-based application? Regardless, if you need this mechanism, you MUST call and tell them you need an alternate base year.

Lesson Number Two: self-employment

To receive benefits, you must log on to the ESD website every week and file a claim indicating that you did, in fact, do your best to find a job in the previous week. (You must also log and track your job-search efforts, too, but that's a well documented process that you'll learn all about if you ever need to file for unemployment benefits.)

Part of the web-form for filing your claim asks whether you engaged in any self-employment activities during the week. That is, did you earn any money on your own by hook or by crook? They ask this because if you're drawing unemployment benefits and getting money from outside sources, you're sort of double-dipping. So they reduce your weekly benefit amount to compensate.

I can understand that. But even so, this economy being what it is, why wouldn't you take an odd job if one came your way?

Who would turn down the opportunity to make a few bucks?

The Gotcha: Well, unless it was a BIG odd-job that paid a lot, any sane person would in fact have to say "sorry, I can't do your odd job." Why? Because the state, in its infinite wisdom, will reduce your weekly unemployment benefit amount by more than you earned. They don't ding your check dollar-for-dollar as would make sense, but at a far more punative ratio.

How punative? In my case, I did an odd-job for my mom's company, and earned ninety-eight dollars. Woo hoo! My reward for being honest and reporting this scrap of income to the state? That week, ESD reduced my benefit amount from $568 to $45. And no, I didn't forget to type another zero on that amount.

This makes absolutely no sense. I simply cannot understand why the state would want to discourage people to work. Why punish people for being self-motivated and taking whatever work they can find? Worse, why incentivize people to lie by not reporting the odd jobs they do take? It's ridiculous.

The lesson: don't do side-jobs while you're claiming unemployment benefits. Unless the job pays more than your weekly benefit amount, you're better off sitting on your couch watching daytime soaps.

And if you do find a big side-job, call ESD to double-check that you're not going to get yourself in some other kind of trouble if you do. Yes, you'll spend an hour on hold, but this is bureaucracy you're dealing with. It pays to play it safe.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tim Eyman borrows another $250,000 against his home to fund I-1033 signature drive

It seems that Tim Eyman is desperate for cash to bankroll his latest scheme to wreck Washington's common wealth.

Im a message to his supporters this morning, the initiative profiteer acknowledged he's taken out another $250,000 against his home to pay for Initiative 1033's signature drive. Apparently, he's having a hard time convincing his wealthy financier Michael Dunmire to write him another check. (Dunmire donated $300,000 to Eyman's campaign coffers in March). Here's an excerpt from the message.
I jumped off a steep $250,000 cliff -- please help catch me.

To date, we've raised a total of $649,553 (which includes my $250,000 loan). When the required number of signatures was 225,000 (from 2005 through 2008), the average cost to qualify for the ballot turned out to be $700,588. Now that the number of needed sigs has increased to 241,000 starting this year, that average cost to qualify will no doubt increase also. So we've still got a ways to go in fundraising before the fast approaching July 3rd deadline.
Back in January, Eyman said he was borrowing $50,000 against his home to get started on I-1033, even though he hadn't repaid a loan he took out last year to boost I-985. However, it looks like Eyman has since repaid a big chunk of the loan he took out last year for I-985. PDC reports for February of 2009 show loan payments from Eyman's I-985 campaign committee to Eyman, totaling $175,000, before the committee was shut down. That would explain how he's able to borrow $250,000 for Initiative 1033 now.

How did Eyman manage to pay off the loans in February?

He got two big checks from Michael Dunmire totaling $280,000 on February 6th, 2009. The checks were written to Eyman's I-985 campaign committee and were apparently intended to cover the loan Eyman took out last year.

If Dunmire is willing to repay Eyman's loans, why is he forcing him to take them out in the first place? Is this just an Eyman publicity stunt?

Or does Dunmire really have limits, and is only willing to give Eyman so much at a time? Since Eyman doesn't actually have the huge grassroots base he claims to have, he would have no choice but to find the money himself if Dunmire refused to help him when he needed a boost. Unlike Dunmire, he doesn't have a ton of cash lying around, so he's going into debt. But perhaps only temporarily.

If Eyman's financial troubles lead to him being unable to get an initiative on the ballot next year, that would be a great blessing for Washington State. So long as Michael Dunmire is willing to repay Eyman's loans, however, he remains a threat.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mentoring new teachers puts proven tools into their hands

When I have a problem, I like to go to someone who has had the same problem and knows how to deal with it, someone I can quiz until I get the answer I need.

Many new teachers feel exactly the same way. Keeping up to thirty distractible young people on task for six hours a day takes skill and expertise, the kind of skill and expertise not usually taught in teacher college. There are plenty of days that new teachers question just why they ever got into teaching in the first place.

One Oregon high school teacher might not be teaching today if it weren’t for her state’s new teacher mentor program. Erica Wherry teaches at Forest Grove High School, and when she started out, she didn’t feel prepared for the challenges of the classroom:
Like many new teachers, I was assigned an overwhelming number of classes and students. I had to learn how to transition between Advanced Placement students, students who spoke limited English and students with severe learning disabilities. I knew very little about how to plan lessons or deal with behavioral problems.
An education degree often does little to prepare teachers for the realities of the classroom, which is why nearly 27 percent of new teachers in Washington opt out of the profession within the first five years.

What a waste of time, money and a passion for teaching kids!

What turned Erica’s job around was Oregon’s new Beginning Teacher and Administrator Mentor Program. The program’s goals are to increase student achievement and retain new teachers by having a veteran teacher visit the new teacher’s classroom and provide them with feedback on a regular basis. Erica tells how her mentor, Scott, helped her:
After one particularly tearful meeting, Scott spent an entire day teaching me how to find resources and make lesson plans that engage my students at all ability levels. That one day changed me from a struggling new teacher with struggling students to a much more effective and happy teacher. I immediately saw a positive change in my students' attitudes and scores in class.
Washington has recently begun a small, pilot mentorship program whose results have been promising. When added to national research supporting the value of teacher mentorships, it becomes clear that that if the most important thing we can give our students is a good teacher, then we need to help struggling new teachers get the support they need to be confident and effective in the classroom and stay in the profession.

The first version of the education reform bill which passed the legislature this winter included a new career ladder for teachers with mentorships on its bottom rungs. Unfortunately, in the legislature's hesitancy to enact sweeping changes, that provision was scaled back to “consideration of how to establish a statewide beginning teacher mentoring and support system.” This is slow progress, but we’ll take it.

Because of the state’s budget problems, Oregon’s new teacher mentor program could take a seventy five percent cut next year, even though it saves school districts millions of dollars per year in reduced teacher turnover costs. Instead of cutting effective programs' funding, Oregon should invest its education dollars in programs proven to save money.

Washington can look to Oregon’s success with teacher mentorships when planning its own program. The state's pilot program is a good start, but all new teachers need the support that comes from a mentor. With class sizes increasing in our schools for at least the next two years, the sooner they start the better.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Filing Week 2009: A look at who's filed in key races as of Friday afternoon

June and the 2009 filing period for elected office are finally upon us. All this week, elections officials around the state will be accepting formal declarations of candidacy from Washingtonians who have decided they want to run for office.

King County in particular has a number of important contests on the ballot this year, (as I've previously observed) so we'll be keeping a close watch on its filings. This post is the fifth and last in a series of Filing Week reports we've be bringing you at regular intervals until the close of filing today at 4:30 PM.

County Executive
Susan Hutchison and perennial office seeker Stan Lippmann have filed for County Executive. The final field will comprise no less than eight candidates.

Port of Seattle
Alec Fisken has officially withdrawn from the race for Position 3. An astonishing total of three people all filed this morning to join Thomas Albro for Position 4: Robert Walker, Juan Paraiso, and Max Vekich. John Creighton remains unchallenged for Position 1 but he may not be for long if Chris Cain files for his seat.

Cities
In Redmond, City Councilmember Kim Allen has drawn a challenger: Sally J. Chen. Pat Vache and John Stilin remain unopposed for Positions 2 and 6.

In Seattle, Dorsol Plants and Thomas Tobin have joined the race for Position 4. Marty Kaplan has joined Jessie Israel in challenging Nick Licata for Position 6.

Joe Mallahan, meanwhile, has filed for Mayor of Seattle.

In Kirkland, Karen Tennyson and Matt Gregory have filed for Position 5, joining Amy Whalen in seaking the open seat currently held by Jim Lauinger.

Brad Larssen and John Smiley have joined Penny Sweet in seeking the position that Mary-Alyce Burleigh is vacating (Position 3). Finally, Martin Morgan is challenging Joan McBride for Position 3. So all the Kirkland City Council races are now contested (as are Bellevue's and Seattle's).

School Districts
No one is challenging Michael DeBell for Position 4 on the Seattle School Board. Mary Bass has filed for reelection to Position 5. In addition to the two challengers who had already filed against her she now has a third: Joanna Cullen.

Greg Wong and Wilson Chin have filed for Position 7, which Cheryl Chow is vacating, bringing the total number of candidates in that race to four.

In Federal Way, Bill Pirkle and Steve Skipper are challenging Ed Barney and Angela Griffin, respectively, for Positions 1 and 4.

In Lake Washington, Julie Wright is challenging Doug Eglington for Position 4.

Mixing new media & government is hard

The Center for American Progress recently released a report analyzing the Obama administration's use of social media and Web 2.0 tools thus far.

They concluded that the administration has not lived up to the high expectations it set during the campaign, mostly due to the realities & restrictions of how the federal government operates. The report identifies four primary obstacles to large-scale government adoption of new media tools.

I see a fifth that is perhaps more meaningful than the first four.
  1. Staff
  2. Scale
  3. Clearance
  4. Authorization
  5. Understanding
Staff
During the campaign, Obama for America employed almost two hundred staff working on new media across the country. That staff was then supplemented by hundreds of volunteers (including myself in Seattle). The White House New Media staff has only ten employees. It is difficult if not impossible for this smaller and more centralized staff to meet the increased responsibilities and demand of President Obama (compared with those of candidate Obama).

One reason the campaign was so successful in new media was because it valued and funded the work. It will take time for that to happen at the White House.

Scale
During the campaign, the staff had to reach tens of millions of voters. From the White House, the requirement is to serve hundreds of millions of citizens. That's a big difference, and making up that difference with a fraction of the staff isn't feasible. These larger numbers also mean more participants. Online forums that would have had had hundreds of participants now have hundreds of thousands. This is both a staff capacity and technical capacity (read: servers) issue.

Clearance
When the government makes a statement, it is official United States policy. When a candidate [or a volunteer or a surrogate] makes a statement, they are speaking for themselves alone. The beauty of new media is its inherent ability to empower individuals. This clashes against the need for opinions, positions, and policy to be cleared with any relevant government agency before release. The report has a good example that talks about how a campaign can use the words of an expert as a talking point, but the White House must be much more careful.

Authorization
Similar to clearance, actions on behalf of the government must be authorized by the government. In the campaign, ad hoc, decentralized volunteer work worked to the advantage of the Obama for America organization. They gave only minimal direction and let people act independently on their behalf.

This is a much riskier proposition now because the government is responsible for the words and deeds of the people it dispatches.

Understanding
More than any other challenge, an understanding of this technology must be disseminated from the White House New Media team to the rest of the Federal Agencies. There are smart employees doing important work who are unfamiliar with these new tools and their potential.

Exposure, examples, and training on new media techniques will help address the other concerns and, most importantly, give more people a chance to innovate in exciting ways. The White House has already begun placing new media directors at some agencies (like the Departments of Interior and Commerce).

There will surely be more.

These roles are important in changing our government in ways that reflect more closely how people interact & communicate, and in ways that will make them more visible, relevant, and useful to the public they serve.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Twenty years from Tiananmen

Editor's Note: The following comes to The Advocate courtesy of a friend of mine, whose astonishing bravery I had no idea of until today, when I heard her tell this rememberance of events around the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

The Northwest Progressive Institute extends its heartfelt thanks to Yuki Cheng for allowing us to share her story with our readers.


June 4, is a fateful day for me. It was a turning point in my life’s trajectory.

On this day 20 years ago, the gun shots near Tiananmen Square challenged my principles, and in turn put my life on a new course.

It was a cloudy day. An invisible hand was squeezing me, made it so hard to breathe that I felt like I would burst any moment. Only the day before, I had met some senior students from the class I was teaching, at the east gate of our university.

"Miss. Cheng," they told me, "We are going out to flatten the bus tires to block the path of Army. We don’t want autocracy with guns! We want freedom of speech! We want to end corruption!" At that time we still had hope.

I knew they were taking a big risk. I told them "If you see anyone peeking at you from around corners, turn away from him. Turn your back, so they cannot identify you. Be careful!" I worried, because if a soldier saw them, they could be killed. I kept praying in my heart that they would be safe.

At 1pm, the next day, I was called to the department office. My department head told me "We received some information from the Public Security Bureau. We suspect some students from your class damaged public property. Go and figure out exactly who did it. Report back as soon as possible!"

An hour later, I had a meeting with my students. 241 people were dead in Tiananmen Square, and over 7000 wounded. My students were lucky. All thirty people were sitting in my classroom. We were all stunned by what had happened in Tiananmen Square. Half of them had blank faces, their eyes focusing on some faraway place. The other half only looked down, so I could only see their black hair. It was as quiet as an empty room. I looked at them, one by one.

These were my students. My friends. They had trusted me.

I said "The Security Bureau thinks some of you damaged some public property. They want me to report on you. Well, I think it is almost the end of the school year. I know you are all working hard to earn your credits for graduation. So I believe everybody must be too busy with your final projects, or preparing for exams. I don’t believe anyone would have time to do anything else. Besides, I don’t remember seeing anyone go off campus. This is what I think. If any of you, or somebody you know in this classroom went off campus and illegally damaged public property, please raise your hand and report to me. Right now."

I slowly scanned the room. The class leader, who talked to me yesterday at the east gate, was looking back at me. Uncertainty flickered in his eyes. Then he blinked it away and said, "You are right, Miss Cheng. We are all too busy studying. Do we still have exams?" Nobody could talk about what happened the day before, but everybody knew what he meant. Would exams be canceled because of the massacre? "Everybody still wants to graduate. We just want to go back to our hometowns safely. Everybody agree?" He looked to his classmates for confirmation.

Everyone nodded. I said, "Since nobody raised a hand, I will report that no students in my class did any illegal activity. I am proud of you! Now, get back to your studies!"

Next day, my department party secretary handed me a photo. It showed a flag with our class logo beside a bus, and some students’ backs. there were no faces in the picture. I looked back blankly at the secretary.

I told him, "I confirmed it was no one from my class. Anybody can make that logo. And I cannot recognize any person in this picture. I will be happy to work with you if you can provide more specific evidence."

I felt numb for all of Summer break. I went back to school in the fall, but the normal classes were cancelled. The first month was arranged for pure political document study. Since the senior students I was in charge of had graduated already, I was appointed to lead a new freshman class.

The first day, I told the students "Today our task is reading one piece of news from Voice of America. We know nobody died in Tiananmen Square, so obviously Voice of America is lying. Study the truth provided by our central government, and write an essay to criticize the malignancy of America Imperialism."

Next day: "Today our task is reading one piece of news from BBC, and then analyzing the lie according to the truth provided by our central government."

We did this for the whole month.

My country is dear to me. I was born there. I grew up there. But I don’t want to continue living like this, hiding something that I know, being forced to say something that I don’t believe.

Now, I live here, in America. One year ago today, I received my U.S. Citizenship. So June 4th is the day my life changed course forever, both 20 years ago, and one year ago. America is not perfect either. But I appreciate the most important thing I learned from that day 20 years ago: freedom. I hope you also treasure it.

Filing Week 2009: A look at who's filed in key races as of Thursday afternoon

June and the 2009 filing period for elected office are finally upon us. All this week, elections officials around the state will be accepting formal declarations of candidacy from Washingtonians who have decided they want to run for office.

King County in particular has a number of important contests on the ballot this year, (as I've previously observed) so we'll be keeping a close watch on its filings. This post is the fourth in a series of Filing Week reports we'll be bringing you at regular intervals until the close of filing on Friday at 4:30 PM.

Countywide
Sue Rahr has filed for reelection as King County Sheriff. All county level offices now have at least one candidate who is running.

County Council
Councilmember Reagan Dunn (who represents the 9th County Council District) has attracted a second opponent, Beverly Harison Tonda of Maple Valley. Tonda's candidate filing amusingly lists Facebook.com as the campaign website.

Cities
Amy Walen has withdrawn from the race for Kirkland City Council Position 7 (against Tom Hodgson) and has refiled for Position 5, currently held by Jim Lauinger, who has not yet filed for reelection.

In Seattle, Nick Licata has filed for reelection to his City Council seat (Position 6) while Tom Carr has filed for reelection as City Attorney.

None of the three candidates who have filed to run for Redmond City Council (Pat Vache, Kim Allen, John Stilin) have any competition yet.

School Board
Andre Helmstetter has filed for Position 5 on the Seattle School Board, joining Kay Smith-Blum. Position 5 is currently held by Mary Bass, who has not filed for reelection. Unfortunately, no one has stepped forward to challenge any of the incumbents on the Federal Way School Board up for reelection this year. The three (Ed Barney, Angela Griffin, and Tony Moore) are currently unopposed.

THURSDAY EVENING UPDATE: A number of candidates filed this afternoon, including Ross Hunter (who currently represents the 48th LD in the Legislature) and Goodspaceguy Nelson for King County Executive. Each of the major candidates are now formally declared with the exception of Republican Susan Hutchinson.

In Seattle, James Donaldson and Mike McGinn have filed for Mayor. And David Ginsberg has filed to run against Richard Conlin for Position 2, which means all Seattle citywide races are now contested. Hurrah for democracy.

In Auburn, these are now a total of four candidates for mayor: Frank Lonergan, Virginia Haugen, Shelley Erickson, and Pete Lewis (the incumbent). Lonergan and Haugen are the two who filed this afternoon.

America gets to know the Muslim world

Ever since I finished reading Three Cups of Tea, I’ve observed happenings in Pakistan with a watchful eye. The irony of that watchfulness is that the life’s work of the book's author, Greg Mortensen, is to use education to counter ignorance in South Asia, but by acquainting Americans with the people of Pakistan through his book, he is also countering some of our own ignorance of the Muslim world.

By learning a little bit about Pakistan, I now feel a thin connection to it. In other words, I now care, and caring means wishing the best for Pakistanis.

With his trip to the Middle East this week, President Obama is performing the same kind of diplomacy as Mortensen. Although Obama went to the region in order to strengthen America’s relationship with the Muslim world, he is also trying to help Americans understand a people that have been demonized by our media and the Bush administration. As Obama told listeners at his speech at Cairo University today:
And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.
Obama went on to list the contributions of Islam to human civilization and Muslims' contributions to American society.
As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam -- at places like Al-Azhar -- that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment.
In the early '90s, after losing his way while climbing the world’s second largest mountain, Greg Mortensen was nursed back to health by villagers in a remote Pakistani mountain village. Mortensen formed a tight connection with his caretakers, and seeing that the village children were studying outdoors on the cold ground, he pledged to build them a school.

Since that first school was built thirteen years ago, Mortensen has built seventy-eight more, educating 33,000 children. Through building schools, he has come to the conclusion that ignorance is the real source of terrorism. Ignorance allows the seeds of hatred and fear to grow and flourish. It allows people to remain in poverty with no hope for a better future. As Mortensen said:
If you fight terrorism, that’s based in fear. But if you promote peace, that’s based in hope. And the real enemy I think is ignorance. It’s ignorance that breeds hatred.
When Obama and Mortensen make connections with Muslims overseas, they help to create a positive, more accurate image of America in Muslim minds. When Americans read Mortensen’s book, they meet admirable Muslims who want the best for their children, and ambitious girls whose education takes them to new places.

Mortensen drinks a river of tea whenever he is among Pakistanis. Describing how tea drinking is a metaphor for building relationships, Mortensen says:
With three cups of tea … the first cup you’re a stranger, second cup a friend, and the third cup you become family. That doesn’t mean you just go around drinking tea, having peace in the world. But what it means is that first we have to build relationships and get to know each other.
If geographic differences make it hard to drink tea with a Pakistani, then pick up Three Cups of Tea or listen to Obama’s bridge-building speech in Cairo, Egypt today. We could all use a little education.

Miss last night's candidate forum for Port Commission candidates in South Park?

Last night candidates for Seattle Port Commission gathered together in South Park for a candidate forum sponsored by a long list of progressive and civic organizations, including a number of local unions and environmental groups.

The forum, moderated by former Seattle Post-Intelligencer Kristen Young, featured five candidates: Al Yuen and Rob Holland (who have filed for Position 3), John Creighton (running for reelection to Position 1), Thomas Albro (running for Position 4) and Chris Cain (who doesn't know what position he's running for yet).

David Doud was the only candidate who has filed who did not participate, excluding Alec Fisken, who regrettably announced last night that he is withdrawing from the race and won't run for Port Commission.

I wasn't there last night, but fortunately, Daniel went and covered the event for us, and from his reporting, it seems like it was fairly informative.

I'm told the Port candidates only had thirty seconds to answer questions, which seems way too short. From my experience moderating the King County Democrats' Executive Candidate Forum, one minute is definitely the bare mimimum for allowing candidates to provide substantive answers.

Here's the link to Daniel's coverage at In Brief, The Advocate's sister station (so to speak) if you're interested in reading further.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Filing Week 2009: A look at who's filed in key races as of Wednesday afternoon

June and the 2009 filing period for elected office are finally upon us. All this week, elections officials around the state will be accepting formal declarations of candidacy from Washingtonians who have decided they want to run for office.

King County in particular has a number of important contests on the ballot this year, (as I've previously observed) so we'll be keeping a close watch on its filings. This post is the third in a series of Filing Week reports we'll be bringing you at regular intervals until the close of filing on Friday at 4:30 PM.

Cities
Bobby Forch and Mike O'Brien have filed for Seattle City Council Position 8. Councilmember Richard Conlin has filed for Position 2.

Kirkland City Councilmember Tom Hodgson has attracted two challengers for his seat (Position 7): Doreen Marchione and Amy Walen.

There's still only one candidate in each of the Redmond City Council races.

Nothing to report at the county level
There were no new filings for countywide offices or County Council as of midday today. Incumbent Sheriff Sue Rahr has still not filed for reelection. And so far the only contested county races are for offices that have been or will be vacated.

WEDNESDAY EVENING UPDATE: Some news to report... first, Mark Greene, a perennial candidate who runs his own political party, the "Party of Commons" has filed against Reagan Dunn for the 9th County Council District.

Rob Holland has switched to Position 3 for Port Commission, taking the place of Alec Fisken, who has decided to withdraw (although he hasn't officially withdrawn his name yet). In Seattle races, Jan Drago has filed for Mayor, while Jordan Royer and Rusy Williams have filed for Seattle City Council Position 8.

LIVE from Link: First end to end test run of Sound Transit's new light rail system

Good morning! I'm liveblogging from onboard the first end to end test run of Sound Transit's new Central Link light rail system.

Link Train in Downtown Transit Tunnel
Above: A Sound Transit Central Link train passes by the platform at Westlake Station in Seattle's Downtown Transit Tunnel

We are currently traveling through the Rainier Valley on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, having started our journey at Westlake, the northern terminus of the line.

If you're wondering how it's possible for me to liveblog from a train, it's all thanks to the magic of mobile broadband... Internet service provided from cell phone towers, which allows NPI to cover breaking news wherever it happens.

Inside Link Light Rail in Motion
Above: View of the interior of a Central Link light rain test train heading southward to Tukwila International Station

We've traveled through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, through Sodo, through the Beacon Hill Tunnels, and are now cruising through Columbia City.

On this test train are Sound Transit personnel, reporters from a number of different media outlets, and Sound Transit Board members (Greg Nickels, Larry Phillips, and Dow Constantine, who all coincidentally are running for office this year).

This is honestly a blast - it feels like we're flying through Seattle. Except we're on the ground. The ride is unbelievably smooth - a stark difference from the jolts and bumps that can be felt when riding the bus.

View of Mount Rainier from Central Link
Above: A glimpse of Mount Rainier from inside Link, taken as we climbed into the air on the elevated trackway north of Tukwila

Mayor Nickels has been narrating the test ride with trivia as we go along, sharing stories from the various phases of construction and information about each of the stations. As I type this we are approaching the last station in the Rainier Valley - Henderson Street. (When I began this post we had just left the Beacon Hill Tunnels). Shows you how quick and efficient Link Light Rail is going to be when it finally launches. What fun this is! (And yes, pictures, are coming soon!)

Another Link train approaches on parallel tracks
Above: A shot of the elevated trackway just north of Tukwila International Station, showing another approaching Link train on parallel tracks

UPDATE: We turned around at Tukwila International Station (well, more like walked around to the other car coupled behind us, and started up again in the other direction). We've passed back into the Rainier Valley. The whole journey, from Westlake Station to Tukwila International Station, took just thirty two minutes, counting our simulated stops, or dwells.

Looking inside the cab of a Link light rail train
Above: A view inside the driver's window from the platform at Tukwila International Station, showing the train's controls

We got up to a top speed of fifty five miles an hour along the stretch of track that parallels Interstate 5. (And we did pass by cars and trucks on the highway).

Mayor Nickels joked on the way down that in a few weeks people are going to jealously watch the trains go by with riders during rush hour and wish they were on board. Until SeaTac service begins at the end of this year, Tukwila International Station will be the southern terminus of Central Link.

Doors of a Link light rail train
Above: Looking inside a train car from the Tukwila International Station platform. Note the route map above the door.

There's nothing quite like riding the rails. There's been no light rail for decades in Seattle to ride, but starting on July 18th, there finally will be!

HELLO AGAIN: We're in Sodo - South Downtown. We're waiting to enter the Downtown Transit Tunnel, to be more precise. I'm told by Sound Transit safety personnel that trains won't normally have to stop at lights in the Rainier Valley for more than thirty seconds, which is pretty cool. They've got a whole set of procedures to follow in case of a collision or other mishap.

New development in the Rainier Valley
Above: Colorful shot of new development in Seattle's Rainier Valley from inside a moving Central Link train

Although a collision can delay trains, most of the tracks in the Rainier Valley are raised in the median. The only place where trains and cars are supposed to cross paths is in the intersections, and there aren't that many intersections. Most of the line is in its own exclusive right of way, which is a good thing.

Looking over the train driver's shoulder
Above: A view over the driver's shoulder of the elevated track ahead

WE'RE BACK: Just detrained at Westlake. Less than a minute after we were all off, the train left the platform, to make way for buses behind us going northbound. Seattle is, incidentally, the only city in North America where trains and buses share a transit tunnel with stops.

(Pittsburgh has a transit tunnel, but there are no stops in it.)

Being one of the first people to ride the whole line from the northern terminus to the southern terminus and back was amazingly cool.

One of the best parts was watching the bemused expressions on people's faces as they watched our train come to a stop at the Downtown Transit Tunnel Stations. No doubt they were wondering why the train was packed full of people since there are signs posted on the windows explaining the trains are not in service.

Inside a Central Link Train in the Transit Tunnel
Above: View of the interior of a Central Link light rain test train heading north through the Transit Tunnel to Westlake Station

But perhaps some of them could tell from all the video cameras and cameras we were carrying that it was a media tour.

I think it's safe to say that everyone who came along for today's adventure thoroughly enjoyed themselves. We certainly made good time!

Speaking of cameras, I took a few hundred photographs with our Olympus and will post some of the best shots up here on The Advocate shortly. I've got video too, although that will take longer to put together.

POSTSCRIPT: I've added selected photos taken this morning throughout this post depicting the Link trains and surrounding scenery. Enjoy!

RE: Washington State's so-called "progressive think tank deficit"

Yesterday at HorsesAss, David Goldstein wrote a short post lamenting an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about tolling that he said basically turned into a discussion between two guys who work at local conservative think tanks.

In his post, titled "Washington’s progressive think tank deficit", he wrote:
I’m not saying that Matt and Michael don’t make any reasonable arguments, but really, is this the best we can do? Two conservative think tanks duking it out over creating state transportation policy that will largely impact the predominantly progressive Puget Sound region?
What David didn't mention is that there are progressive think tanks in Washington that Seattle P-I reporter Aubrey Cohen could have consulted for his article. Namely, this think tank (which is uniquely built and sustained by activists). Or Sightline Institute. Or the Economic Opportunity Institute. Or the Budget & Policy Center.

I think it's safe to say that staff at any of those four would have been happy to give Cohen background and quotes for his article if he had asked. (We at the Northwest Progressive Institute certainly would have been).

So we've got progressive think tanks. What we haven't got is progressive think tanks with comparable resources to our counterparts on the right (like the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, Discovery Institute, Washington Policy Center).

And that's partly because progressive donors and foundations (especially historically) have been loathe to invest in the political machinery and infrastructure that are needed to develop and refine ideas. As George Lakoff wrote in his 2004 book Don't Think of An Elephant:
The right wing think tanks get large block grants and endowments. Millions at a time. They are very well funded. The smallest effective think tanks on the right have budgets of four to seven million dollars a year. Those are the small operations. The large ones have up to thirty million dollars a year.

Furthermore, they know that they are going to get the money the next year, and the year after that. Remember, these are block grants - no strings attached. Do what you need. Hire intellectuals. Bring talent along. One of the think tanks is putting up a new building. It is going to be an eight-story building with a state-of-the-art media auditorium, and one hundred apartments for interns who cannot afford apartments in Washington.

[...]

There are very few grants like this from progressive foundations. Progressive foundations spread the money around. They give twenty-five thousand dollars here, maybe fifty thousand, maybe even a hundred thousand. Sometimes it is a big grant. But recipients have to do something different from what everyone else is doing because the foundations see duplication as wasting money. Not only that, but they are not block grants; the recipients do not have full freedom to decide how to spend the money. And it is certainly not appropriate to use it for career development or infrastructure building or hiring intellectuals to think about long-term as well as short-term or interrelated policies.
Lakoff also notes:
On the left, the highest value is helping individuals who need help. So if you are a foundation or you are setting up a foundation, what makes you a good person? You help as many people as you can. And the more public budgets that get cut, the more people there are who need help.
One of the reasons conservatives are so enthusiastic about cutting taxes is that they know the resulting budget cuts will constrain the amount of money that progressive donors and foundations are able to spend on infrastructure. In other words, conservatives relish the thought of forcing progressive nonprofits to spend their resources helping people who should be getting assistance from our common wealth and our social safety net. (Lakoff refers to this as privatization of the left).

It's fine to want to help people who have been cut off and have nowhere else to turn. But if progressives don't invest in infrastructure - especially think tanks - we'll never have the ability to bring about the political change we want.

We'll never have the capability to make our government as effective and useful as we know it could be and should be.

We've already seen that big Democratic majorities in the state Legislature don't translate into bold progressive policy directions.

This past session was a disappointment on almost every front except for civil rights, which don't really cost money to expand.

We need infrastructure to make the infeasible feasible. Merely pleading with lawmakers to address the causes of our most challenging problems won't work. Especially if there's a perception that solutions will be politically unpopular.

The groundwork has to be laid first. Particularly at the state level, asking the Legislature and the Governor to take action must be the last step.

The first steps are to hone the ideas, gather expertise, and build public support. That takes infrastructure. Well developed and well funded infrastructure.

It's just really, really hard for progressive think tanks to go on offense when resources are scarce. There's always some right wing attack that needs fending off. For example, the right wing is working on two ballot measures at the moment: Initiative 1033 and Referendum 71. It remains to be seen whether either will make the ballot but chances are very good that at least Tim Eyman's I-1033 will be.

As far as resources go, we at the Northwest Progressive Institute can be pretty effective with very, very little. That's because we know how to strech our dollars; we've always had to do that out of necessity.

But we can't broaden the scope of our work, afford new equipment, or even keep what we've already built going without some seed money.

If you're as hungry as we are for real political change in the Pacific Northwest, we invite you to make a donation to support us.

Make an investment in the future of Washington's progressive movement, and help erase that resource deficit that's tilting the field in the right wing's favor.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Starbucks settles latest labor complaint

For a company that touts its business ethics and global corporate responsibility, Starbucks continues to do its best to keep up with Wal-Mart and prove on a regular basis why the Employee Free Choice Act is badly needed. Today, Starbucks settled its latest labor complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
Pursuant to the settlement which stems from charges filed by the IWW Starbucks Workers Union, the corporation must cease engaging in a slew of illegal measures including threatening to call security to interfere with protected activity, prohibiting workers from discussing the union, and expelling union sympathizers from company stores. Today’s settlement is the first since a Labor Board judge found Starbucks guilty last December of similar rights violations in the first ever trial between baristas and the coffee chain.
This complaint is one in a growing series of charges by workers facing intimidation and union-busting tactics. Similar complaints have been filed with the NLRB over the past few years.
Last year the federal agency accused the coffee chain of firing an East Grand Rapids worker for supporting unionization efforts, as documented by the Michigan Messenger. Two years ago the NLRB’s New York office leveled 30 labor-law violations against the company.
Join over 14,000 other people and sign the memo to Howard Schultz today, and send a message that the Pacific Northwest, the home of Starbucks, insists that harassment, intimidation and termination of workers who seek to unionize cease immediately.

Filing Week 2009: A look at who's filed in key races as of Tuesday afternoon

June and the 2009 filing period for elected office are finally upon us. All this week, elections officials around the state will be accepting formal declarations of candidacy from Washingtonians who have decided they want to run for office.

King County in particular has a number of important contests on the ballot this year, (as I've previously observed) so we'll be keeping a close watch on its filings. This post is the second in a series of Filing Week reports we'll be bringing you at regular intervals until the close of filing on Friday at 4:30 PM.

King County Executive
Two more candidates have filed - Democrat Larry Phillips and Republican Alan Lobdell. They join Dow Constantine and Fred Jarrett.

King County Council
Councilmembers Bob Ferguson and Kathy Lambert have filed for reelection. They represent Districts 1 and 3, respectively.

Seattle Port Commission
Rob Holland has filed for Position 4 (which Pat Davis is vacating).

Cities
Norman Zigler has filed for Mayor of Seattle. Jessie Israel has filed for Position 6 and Robert Rosencrantz has filed for Position 8 on the Seattle City Council.

Patsy Bonincontri and Kevin R. Wallace have filed for Bellevue City Council Position 4. Don Davidson and Michael Marchand have filed for Position 6.

School Districts
Michael DeBell has filed for reelection to Seattle School Board Position 4.

UPDATE: The Spokesman-Review reports that one of Tim Eyman's partners in greed, Mike Fagan, has filed to run for Spokane City Council against incumbent Al French. Eyman himself has vowed never to seek elected office, presumably so he can avoid the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of his ill-conceived initiatives. Eyman's latest initiative, I-1033, would have a devastating impact on the City of Spokane. It is co-sponsored by Mike Fagan.

We hope that Spokane voters and civic groups take advantage of every opportunity to ask Mike Fagan on the campaign trail what public services he would vote to cut as a Spokane City Councilmember. Citizens of Spokane ought to hear specifics. What does Fagan want to get rid of?

Should the city ditch park maintenance? Close half of its firehouses in response to Initiative 1033? Lay off part of its police force?

Fagan is a candidate now. He can no longer say "That's not my problem." The horrible consequences of his own initiative will be his problem if Spokane voters make the mistake of electing him to City Council.

TUESDAY EVENING UPDATE: Brian Carver and David Bloom have filed for Seattle City Council Position 4, bringing the total of candidates in that race to four.

Kay Smith-Blum has filed for Seattle School Board Position 5, currently held by Mary Bass. Bass has not yet filed for reelection.

Other than that it was a pretty quiet afternoon in major King County races. Ross Hunter and Susan Hutchinson remain the only candidates formally undeclared in the Executive race. No challengers have yet materialized for any incumbents on the Redmond and Kirkland City Councils, and only person has filed for the few positions that are being vacated. Meanwhile, no one has filed for King County Sheriff.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Filing Week 2009: A look at who's filed in key races as of Monday afternoon

June and the 2009 filing period for elected office are finally upon us. All this week, elections officials around the state will be accepting formal declarations of candidacy from Washingtonians who have decided they want to run for office.

King County in particular has a number of important contests on the ballot this year, (as I've previously observed) so we'll be keeping a close watch on its filings. This post is the first in a series of Filing Week reports we'll be bringing you at regular intervals until the close of filing on Friday at 4:30 PM.

King County Executive
So far, two candidates have filed - Dow Constantine and Fred Jarrett.

King County Council
Only Councilmember Reagan Dunn has filed so far. He's running for reelection for Position 9.

Seattle Port Commission
Alec Fisken has filed for Position 3 (which Lloyd Hara is vacating) and Tom Albro has filed for Position 4 (which Pat Davis is vacating).

Cities
Kim Allen and Pat Vache have filed for reelection to their Redmond City Council positions. Greg Nickels is so far the only person to have filed for Mayor of Seattle; David Miller and Joshua Caple are likewise the only individuals to have filed for Positions 8 and 4 on the Seattle City Council, respectively.

Thomas Carr has drawn an opponent for City Attorney, Pete Holmes.

In Bellevue, Conrad Lee and Vicki Orrico have both filed for Position 2. Don Davidson has filed for Position 6. In Kirkland, Penny Sweet has filed for Position 3, currently held by Mary-Alyce Burleigh.

A total of three candidates have already filed for Newcastle Council Position 7, (Jean Garber, Kandy Schendel, and John D. Dulcich) guaranteeing that somebody will be eliminated in the primary. It's so far the only contest that appears to have attracted more than two candidates.

Not too many people are filing early this year.

MONDAY EVENING UPDATE: A couple more incumbent county councilmembers have filed for reelection (Democrat Julia Patterson, Republican Pete von Reichbauer, the latter the architect of the scheme to make county elections ostensibly "nonpartisan".) John Creighton has filed for reelection to the Seattle Port Commission, Position 1, and Alec Fisken has attracted two challengers: David Doud and Al Yuen. One of them will probably be eliminated in the August 18th primary.

Sally Bagshaw has filed for Seattle City Council Position 4, joining Joshua Caple.

Vying to succeed Cheryl Chow for Seattle School Board Position 1 are Charlie Mas and Betty Patu. (Mas is a resident of Beacon Hill and father of two students in the district; he writes the well regarded Seattle Public Schools Community Blog).

John Stilin has filed for Redmond City Council Position 6, currently held by Nancy McCormick, who is retiring.

Innovation will be critical to the success of a new General Motors

General Motors's new survival plan, presented to the public today, was strong enough to win President Obama's confidence and the federal government's commitment of an extra $30 billion toward its process of renewal.

In today’s White House press conference, held shortly after GM filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, President Obama recognized that "the collapse of these companies would have been devastating for countless Americans and done enormous damage to our country beyond the auto industry."

He went on to say that the rebuilding and retooling of the auto industry is "good for American workers, good for manufacturing and good for the American economy."

Not wanting to throw additional taxpayer money after a plan of more of the same from GM, Obama approved GM’s plan to streamline its brands and clean up its balance sheet, giving the company a chance to become competitive again.

An attractive part of that plan is the goal of building more cars, including fuel efficient cars, "right here at the home." The hope is that a greater percentage of cars sold in the United States will also be manufactured here, reversing a decades-long slide that has benefited foreign automakers.

The future won’t be easy for GM employees. Members of the United Auto Workers can expect to see their pay further reduced, along with their health benefits, and today, General Motors is announcing its intention to close eleven manufacturing facilities and idle another three.

As a reward for returning to Washington with a sensible restructuring plan, the administration is pledging "a significant additional investment of about thirty billion dollars…an investment that will entitle American taxpayers to ownership of about sixty percent of the new GM."

Does that mean that the federal government will be running GM?
The federal government will refrain from exercising its rights as a shareholder in all but the most fundamental of corporate decisions. Our goal is to get GM back on its feet, take a hands off approach and get out quickly.
So that's a no. Maybe. President Obama's approach to GM so far has been anything but hands off. The administration did dismiss CEO Rich Wagoner, after all.

Obama reassured owners and potential buyers of GM products that their warranties would be safe and guaranteed, although he didn't say much to alleviate the anxiety that General Motors employees are surely feeling right now.

Film director and Michigan native Michael Moore, meanwhile, has a different vision for a new GM, one that involves building things, but not just cars.

Reminding us that sixty percent of GM will belong to taxpayers, he is urging President Obama to put shuttered auto factories to more progressive uses, like building the transportation of the future: light rail, hybrid and electric cars, and alternative energy devices such as wind turbines and solar panels.

There is a skilled U.S. workforce ready to do the work. Says Moore:
Please, please, please don't save GM so that a smaller version of it will simply do nothing more than build Chevys or Cadillacs. This is not a long-term solution.
It looks like Obama’s tough line with General Motors and Chrysler has saved the American auto industry from total collapse and our economy from greater peril, but does this solution further his other goals of reducing climate pollution and creating a world-leading clean energy industry that will free us from the shackles of fossil fuels?

The industry's labor and capital can be put to better use than just building the Chevys and Cadillacs of yesterday.