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Monday, August 31, 2009

Will Referendum 71 make the ballot? Results of litigation, not Reed's office, will decide

The verification of signatures for Referendum 71 is just about over.

After a month of checking (and rechecking...), Secretary of State Sam Reed's office has determined that Referendum 71 has enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. But that announcement - which is not so unexpected - means little, because a lawsuit has been filed by Washington Families Standing Together challenging the acceptance of signatures which were allegedly submitted fraudulently by sponsor Larry Stickney and his collaborators.

The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court (see all the pleadings on this page) asks that the Secretary of State be enjoined from determining that Referendum 71 has qualified for the ballot, and that two classes of signatures be stricken from the total number of signatures accepted by the Secretary of State as valid:
  • Signatures on petitions whose circulator did not identify him or herself, and/or did not sign the declaration required by state law
  • Signatures of voters who were not registered to vote at the time that they signed a Referendum 71 petition
Judge Julie Spector will issue a ruling on WFST's motion seeking a temporary restraining order on Wednesday morning (September 2nd).

Washington Families Standing Together argues:
Referendum 71 should only be on the ballot if it has qualified based on legally valid signatures. In order to ensure that it is not put on the ballot in error, we needed to file a legal challenge at this point.

We have waited because we wanted to give the process a chance to work, but we did not want to wait so long as to interfere with the Secretary of State’s ability to produce election materials in a timely manner.
We agree. For far too long, the Secretary of State has used Attorney General Rob McKenna's flawed opinion from several years ago to justify its practice of accepting petitions that lack completed declarations. Incredibly, the Attorney General's office believes that state law only requires that the declaration be printed on the petition... it doesn't have to be signed.

Washington Families Standing Together refutes this argument in its pleadings:
There can be no dispute that the Legislature, intended, at least, that the signature-gatherer write his or her name between the words "I" and "swear". The AGO supports the importance of this identification space by emphasizing the absence of a signature space and by requiring rejection of petitions that omit the declaration. If it is essential that the declaration be printed on the back of the petition, then it is equally essential that the demanded identification be provided, to tie the signature-gatherer to any misconduct, to make that connection clear to her, and to assure that she has addressed her attention to the warnings in the declaration.

Likewise, the Secretary and the AGO ignore the declaration's explicit requirement that the signature-gatherer "swear or attest" to the truth of the statements. Even if no signature is required, this is an "oath", defined as "an affirmation and every other mode authorized by law of attesting to the truth of that which is stated." RCW 9A.72.010(2). A written statement is made under oath if it was "made on or pursuant to instructions on an official form bearing notice, authorized by law, to the effect that false statements are punishable." RCW 9A.72.010(2)(a). That is just what the Legislature required here.
Reed's excuse for accepting petitions with incomplete declarations - as well as accepting signatures of voters who weren't registered to vote when they signed - is basically that, gee, we think people in this state should be able to vote on things, and our priority is to do all we can to ensure that that happens, even if that means fudging the Revised Code of Washington (RCW).

This position is problematic because it makes the Secretary of State biased in favor of initative or referendum sponsors, rather than being a neutral authority that dutifully carries out the laws of the State of Washington.

It also creates a serious constitutional quandary in our view. The Secretary of State does not have the power to make law. That power belongs to the Legislature and to the people. The Legislature has decided that petitioners must attest to the veracity of the petitions they have circulated. But Sam Reed is acting as if this law is meaningless because he and his Elections Division do not like it.

Imagine if we could all simply ignore laws that we didn't like...

In short, Reed's bias shows blatant disrespect towards the spirit and the integrity of the instruments of direct democracy, which the Secretary or his staff have said on multiple occasions that they believe in protecting. We hope the courts take the opportunity to compel Reed and McKenna to carry out the law like they're supposed to and put an end to the unjust favoritism we've been witnessing.

Disney to buy Marvel for $4 billion

Really? Didn't see this deal coming...
Walt Disney Co. agreed to buy Marvel Entertainment Inc. for about $4 billion in cash and stock, adding the comic-book characters Iron Man and Spider-Man to its lineup of princesses and live-action stars.

Marvel investors will receive $30 a share plus 0.745 share of Disney stock, the companies said today in a statement. The deal is Disney Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger’s second- largest following the $8.06 billion acquisition of Pixar in 2006. The companies expect the transaction to close this year.
Well, if it's approved by antitrust regulators, that is.

It will be interesting to see what Disney does with Marvel's franchises if the deal goes through. Marvel has deals with a number of other movie studios (with Sony for Spider-Man, with Paramount for Iron Man, and with Twentieth Century Fox for Fantastic Four) as well as deals with rival theme park operators.

Disney could decide not to renew such agreements in the future, although for the present it can reap licensing profits.

We can't say we're happy about big media getting even bigger, though. Disney was already too big before this acquisition.

Deals like this are just making a bad situation worse.

Scranton, PA, is holding a health reform read aloud

Let’s hear it for Scranton, the oft-derided hometown of my parents! Rising way above my parental criticism, this Wednesday, dozens of Pennsylvanians will dare to read in its entirety what most of us are content to just allow others to read for us, H.R. 3200. That's our one-thousand page health reform bill.

Not willing to take the word of Betsy McCaughey, Rush Limbaugh or Senator Orrin Hatch (R - UT) on the merits of the bill, these citizens will conduct their eleven-hour reading marathon in Scranton's courthouse square, beginning early in the morning. Daily Kos diarist “the girl” will be there, along with her nine-year-old son.

The take-away message from this event: don’t let others do your research for you. If health care reform matters to you, then dig a little deeper. Get more information from trusted sources, from multiple sources, and then compare the information. Does anything ring false? Take a look at this thorough fact-checker from Media Matters.

And if Betsy McCaughey has a problem with page 16 of the House bill, take a look at page 16 yourself. It's not easy reading or fun reading, but if you want the truth, you don't have to take someone else's word for it. Be an informed citizen so that you can participate in our democracy armed with the facts, not lies and propaganda.

Cheers to Scranton activists for taking back our health care bill. It’s not the death-knell document that the right-wing portrays it to be, and we can see that for ourselves.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Join NPI and Recipe for America author Jill Richardson this Friday

Tired of a food system that puts big corporate profits ahead of consumer safety, family farmers, and our environment?

Then please join us this Friday evening for a conversation with Jill Richardson, industry expert, activist, and author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Borken and What We Can Do To Fix It. Jill has been blogging for years about these issues as OrangeClouds115 on Daily Kos, and her diaries there are undoubtedly familiar to many of our readers.

Here's the details of the event:

Book signing and social mixer with Jill Richardson
Fx McRory's
406 Occidental Avenue S in Seattle's Pioneer Square
Friday, September 4th, 2009 at 8 PM
Sponsored by the Northwest Progressive Institute and Living Liberally
Open to the media and the public

Buy Recipe for America online from Powell's right now for $12.95.

We at the Northwest Progressive Institute are pleased to cosponsor this event with Living Liberally, the national progressive social network best known for its organization of Drinking Liberally.

Fx McRory's will be serving a number of vegetarian specials, and even an organic version of its new local cocktail, Finamoré Pineapple Express.

So come by, join us for some very tasty refreshments, meet Jill, and learn what we can all do together to fix our broken food system.

South Sound and Eastside readers can also catch Jill in Tacoma next Saturday at King's Books (3 PM) or in Duvall at the Grange Cafe on the 7th (also 3 PM) for Slow Food Snoqualmie Valley's Labor Day Eat-In.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

President Obama's eulogy of Senator Ted Kennedy

The full text of President Obama's eulogy of Senator Ted Kennedy is below.
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery

Eulogy for Edward Kennedy

Boston, MA

August 29, 2009

Mrs. Kennedy, Kara, Edward, Patrick, Curran, Caroline, members of the Kennedy family, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

Today we say goodbye to the youngest child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy. The world will long remember their son Edward as the heir to a weighty legacy; a champion for those who had none; the soul of the Democratic Party; and the lion of the U.S. Senate – a man whose name graces nearly one thousand laws, and who penned more than three hundred himself.

But those of us who loved him, and ache with his passing, know Ted Kennedy by the other titles he held: Father. Brother. Husband. Uncle Teddy, or as he was often known to his younger nieces and nephews, "The Grand Fromage," or "The Big Cheese." I, like so many others in the city where he worked for nearly half a century, knew him as a colleague, a mentor, and above all, a friend.

Ted Kennedy was the baby of the family who became its patriarch; the restless dreamer who became its rock. He was the sunny, joyful child, who bore the brunt of his brothers’ teasing, but learned quickly how to brush it off. When they tossed him off a boat because he didn’t know what a jib was, six-year-old Teddy got back in and learned to sail. When a photographer asked the newly-elected Bobby to step back at a press conference because he was casting a shadow on his younger brother, Teddy quipped, "It’ll be the same in Washington."

This spirit of resilience and good humor would see Ted Kennedy through more pain and tragedy than most of us will ever know. He lost two siblings by the age of sixteen. He saw two more taken violently from the country that loved them. He said goodbye to his beloved sister, Eunice, in the final days of his own life. He narrowly survived a plane crash, watched two children struggle with cancer, buried three nephews, and experienced personal failings and setbacks in the most public way possible.

It is a string of events that would have broken a lesser man. And it would have been easy for Teddy to let himself become bitter and hardened; to surrender to self-pity and regret; to retreat from public life and live out his years in peaceful quiet. No one would have blamed him for that.

But that was not Ted Kennedy. As he told us, "...[I]ndividual faults and frailties are no excuse to give in – and no exemption from the common obligation to give of ourselves." Indeed, Ted was the "Happy Warrior" that the poet William Wordsworth spoke of when he wrote:

As tempted more; more able to endure,

As more exposed to suffering and distress;

Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.

Through his own suffering, Ted Kennedy became more alive to the plight and suffering of others – the sick child who could not see a doctor; the young soldier sent to battle without armor; the citizen denied her rights because of what she looks like or who she loves or where she comes from. The landmark laws that he championed -- the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, immigration reform, children’s health care, the Family and Medical Leave Act –all have a running thread. Ted Kennedy’s life’s work was not to champion those with wealth or power or special connections. It was to give a voice to those who were not heard; to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity; to make real the dream of our founding. He was given the gift of time that his brothers were not, and he used that gift to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow.

We can still hear his voice bellowing through the Senate chamber, face reddened, fist pounding the podium, a veritable force of nature, in support of health care or workers’ rights or civil rights. And yet, while his causes became deeply personal, his disagreements never did. While he was seen by his fiercest critics as a partisan lightning rod, that is not the prism through which Ted Kennedy saw the world, nor was it the prism through which his colleagues saw him. He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect – a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots.

And that’s how Ted Kennedy became the greatest legislator of our time. He did it by hewing to principle, but also by seeking compromise and common cause – not through deal-making and horse-trading alone, but through friendship, and kindness, and humor. There was the time he courted Orrin Hatch’s support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program by having his Chief of Staff serenade the Senator with a song Orrin had written himself; the time he delivered shamrock cookies on a china plate to sweeten up a crusty Republican colleague; and the famous story of how he won the support of a Texas Committee Chairman on an immigration bill. Teddy walked into a meeting with a plain manila envelope, and showed only the Chairman that it was filled with the Texan’s favorite cigars. When the negotiations were going well, he would inch the envelope closer to the Chairman. When they weren’t, he would pull it back. Before long, the deal was done.

It was only a few years ago, on St. Patrick's Day, when Teddy buttonholed me on the floor of the Senate for my support on a certain piece of legislation that was coming up for vote. I gave him my pledge, but expressed my skepticism that it would pass. But when the roll call was over, the bill garnered the votes it needed, and then some. I looked at Teddy with astonishment and asked how he had pulled it off. He just patted me on the back, and said "Luck of the Irish!"

Of course, luck had little to do with Ted Kennedy’s legislative success, and he knew that. A few years ago, his father-in-law told him that he and Daniel Webster just might be the two greatest senators of all time. Without missing a beat, Teddy replied, "What did Webster do?"

But though it is Ted Kennedy’s historic body of achievements we will remember, it is his giving heart that we will miss. It was the friend and colleague who was always the first to pick up the phone and say, "I’m sorry for your loss," or "I hope you feel better," or "What can I do to help?" It was the boss who was so adored by his staff that over five hundred spanning five decades showed up for his 75th birthday party. It was the man who sent birthday wishes and thank you notes and even his own paintings to so many who never imagined that a U.S. Senator would take the time to think about someone like them. I have one of those paintings in my private study – a Cape Cod seascape that was a gift to a freshman legislator who happened to admire it when Ted Kennedy welcomed him into his office the first week he arrived in Washington; by the way, that’s my second favorite gift from Teddy and Vicki after our dog Bo. And it seems like everyone has one of those stories – the ones that often start with "You wouldn’t believe who called me today."

Ted Kennedy was the father who looked after not only his own three children, but John’s and Bobby’s as well. He took them camping and taught them to sail. He laughed and danced with them at birthdays and weddings; cried and mourned with them through hardship and tragedy; and passed on that same sense of service and selflessness that his parents had instilled in him. Shortly after Ted walked Caroline down the aisle and gave her away at the altar, he received a note from Jackie that read, "On you the carefree youngest brother fell a burden a hero would have begged to be spared. We are all going to make it because you were always there with your love."

Not only did the Kennedy family make it because of Ted’s love – he made it because of theirs; and especially because of the love and the life he found in Vicki. After so much loss and so much sorrow, it could not have been easy for Ted Kennedy to risk his heart again. That he did is a testament to how deeply he loved this remarkable woman from Louisiana. And she didn’t just love him back. As Ted would often acknowledge, Vicki saved him. She gave him strength and purpose; joy and friendship; and stood by him always, especially in those last, hardest days.

We cannot know for certain how long we have here. We cannot foresee the trials or misfortunes that will test us along the way. We cannot know God’s plan for us.

What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose, and love, and joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can strive at all costs to make a better world, so that someday, if we are blessed with the chance to look back on our time here, we can know that we spent it well; that we made a difference; that our fleeting presence had a lasting impact on the lives of other human beings.

This is how Ted Kennedy lived. This is his legacy. He once said of his brother Bobby that he need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, and I imagine he would say the same about himself. The greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy’s shoulders because of who he was, but he surpassed them all because of who he became. We do not weep for him today because of the prestige attached to his name or his office. We weep because we loved this kind and tender hero who persevered through pain and tragedy – not for the sake of ambition or vanity; not for wealth or power; but only for the people and the country he loved.

In the days after September 11th, Teddy made it a point to personally call each one of the 177 families of this state who lost a loved one in the attack. But he didn’t stop there. He kept calling and checking up on them. He fought through red tape to get them assistance and grief counseling. He invited them sailing, played with their children, and would write each family a letter whenever the anniversary of that terrible day came along. To one widow, he wrote the following:

"As you know so well, the passage of time never really heals the tragic memory of such a great loss, but we carry on, because we have to, because our loved one would want us to, and because there is still light to guide us in the world from the love they gave us."

We carry on.

Ted Kennedy has gone home now, guided by his faith and by the light of those he has loved and lost. At last he is with them once more, leaving those of us who grieve his passing with the memories he gave, the good he did, the dream he kept alive, and a single, enduring image – the image of a man on a boat; white mane tousled; smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for what storms may come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon. May God Bless Ted Kennedy, and may he rest in eternal peace.

Ted Kennedy funeral beautiful, poignant

Another programming alert for readers: Ted Kennedy's funeral - a beautiful, beautiful Catholic mass - is being broadcast live now on C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, and locally, NWCN (Northwest Cable News).

It is also being streamed online.

Ted Kennedy, Jr. and Patrick J. Kennedy will offer remembrances, while President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy. A final commendation will be made by Archbishop Sean P. Cardinal O’Malley.

In attendance are some fifteen hundred guests, including former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, and their spouses, besides the current President and Vice President of the United States, and their spouses, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.

Celebrants of the Mass include the Rev. Donald MacMillian, Chaplain of Boston College, Fr. J. Donald Monan, S.J., the Chancellor of Boston College, Fr. Gerry Creedon, the Pastor of Saint Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, Virginia, Fr. Percival D’ Silva of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Kensington, Maryland, the Rev. Mark R. Hession, of Our Lady of Victory, Centerville, Massachusetts, and the Very Rev. Raymond Collins, C.SS.R. Pastor, Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Among the musicians present to provide accompaniment to the Mass is famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, with James David Christie on the organ, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

The Prayers of the Faithful, which are the intercessions offered after the homily at a Catholic Mass, were offered by Kennedy granchildren. The prayer that got one of the loudest responses was read by Max Allen: That all Americans have healthcare as a right and not a privilege. Amen.

That's what Teddy spent his life fighting for. The struggle is not over, but for all whose causes have been his concern, the work goes on...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ted Kennedy memorial service on now

A quick programming alert for readers: Senator Ted Kennedy's memorial service is currently being broadcast live now on C-SPAN, MSNBC, and CNN from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Massachusetts.

The program is as follows (courtesy of TedKennedy.org):
  • Paul G. Kirk, Jr.
  • Father Gerry Creedon, S.J., Opening Prayer
  • “God Bless America,” Boston Community Chorus
  • Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II
  • Senator Christopher J. Dodd
  • Nick Littlefield
  • Governor Deval L. Patrick
  • Senator John McCain
  • Video Tribute Directed by Ken Burns and Mark Herzog
  • Senator John F. Kerry
  • Senator Orrin G. Hatch
  • “The Impossible Dream” sung by Brian Stokes Mitchell, soloist
  • Mayor Thomas M. Menino
  • Senator John C. Culvfer
  • “Just A Closer Walk with Thee,” sung by Boston Community Chorus
  • Vice President Joseph R. Biden
  • Caroline Kennedy
Tune in to any of those channels to watch the service. There is also a live stream.

C-SPAN is probably the best bet because it has no commercials and doesn't interrupt its coverage with punditry or other unwanted commentary.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Washington State PTA joins the ranks of groups opposing Tim Eyman's I-1033

The Washington State Parent Teacher Association gets it. Earlier this month, its board of directors voted unanimously to oppose Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1033 which, if passed, would lock our state government into its current thin-as-tissue-paper budget.

The WSPTA is a one hundred year old organization with one purpose: working to improve the lives of children and youth. It has no other agenda or political affiliation. It makes it decisions based on the best interests of Washington’s young people.

In a July 2009 memo from WSPTA Executive Director Bill Williams to the PTA's board, Williams wrote:
I-1033, if adopted, could be problematic for the state as a whole and for K-12 education in particular.
He went on to conclude that the initiative:
...would have significant detrimental impacts on state and local governments, and particularly in the area of education.
Starting in 2010, this infrastructure-destroying initiative would freeze Washington’s general fund budget at its current recession-starved level, with annual adjustments based only on inflation and population growth.

Since Washington’s public schools receive between 76 and 93 percent of their funding from the state general fund, the PTA has understandable concerns about this proposal. Among them is the fact that the economic crisis-based 2009-2011 budget would become the baseline for future state budgets. This budget has already caused school districts to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, put off maintaining their buildings and buying new textbooks and buses,and cancel music and athletic programs.

If I-1033 were to pass, state budgets would only get tighter in the future. This would be a good year.

The WSPTA also objected to the imprecise indexes for measuring inflation and population growth that the initiative requires in order to calculate budget growth, and to the lack of flexibility in resources the state, its counties and cities would have to handle an unforeseen emergency like a major earthquake or swine flu epidemic.

The bottom line is that schools would receive less money, as noted by the state’s Office of Financial Management. If Washington values education and its youth it won’t vote to cripple our schools. The 2009-2010 public school budgets are disasters. Why would we vote to make them permanent?

The Republican Stages of Grief

First, a couple of words about health care. I had this great post in mind for today about how we should start calling the Public Option the "Kennedy Option", but David Waldman totally stole my thunder, and probably said it better than I would have anyway. It's great framing, right on the heels of George Lakoff's suggestion last week that we should start calling the health care bill the "American Plan", because after all who wants to be seen as unAmerican by voting against it?

So take this new slogan to your local town hall meetings: We want the American Plan with the Kennedy Option!

Speaking of town halls and health care, have you noticed how downright angry the right-wingers seem to be these days? Yes, all the shouting down of meaningful health care reform is just an astroturf effort by the insurance industry, but I don't think the industry's efforts would have generated quite the response they got if there weren't an underlying pool of right-wing anger for them to tap into. Couple that with reports of right-wingers with guns starting to show up at some of these town hall meetings and even at some of President Obama's public appearances, and that's not something we can ignore.

These people are angry.

On the surface, it's pretty scary. But digging down a little, I don't think it's something to get all that alarmed about (well, unless you work for the Secret Service, in which case I hope you're very alarmed about it and taking appropriate measures to deal with it). Here's why.

There's a model of psychological response called the "Five Stages of Grief." It was developed by analyzing the typical emotional responses people have when faced with life-threatening or terminal illness. The pattern is: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

This model turns out to apply very, very broadly to anybody's response to unpleasant news of any kind. The more surprising and severe the news, the more severe are the five-stage reactions, and the longer it takes to get through them.

The rest of us saw it coming, but last November, Republicans received what was for them a very surprising piece of very bad news: your fundamental ideology isn't appealing to mainstream Americans anymore.

This is essentially a life-threatening situation for them, as a party and a movement, because it puts their core identity in direct opposition with their very survival. It's a terminal illness, because they're dead either way: if they hold onto their failed identity, the party will die. But if they change their identity, then what they are today will also effectively die.

Response? Straight into the five stages. Last winter and into the spring we saw endless, amusing posturing and finger-pointing within the Republican elite amounting to a whole bunch of denial. The talking heads basically went around for months trying to figure out which individual, flawed Republicans to blame for the party's collective electoral failure. As if to say "Our movement is fine, we just have a few bad apples." They went around looking for scapegoats because they were in denial about the underlying systemic problems with their core ideological identity. (Interestingly, this too ties in with one of Lakoff's central ideas about the inability of the political Right to understand deep, systemic problems with anything, whether it's the environment, the economy, or themselves.)

Now in the summer of 2009, we see denial giving way to anger. The Republicans can now see that they have a problem. A big, ugly, likely-fatal problem. They are, understandably, angry about it. The health insurance industry is savvy enough (or at least, they pay enough to hire sufficiently savvy consultants) to see that they can tap this anger in an attempt to torpedo the very reforms that the majority of Americans are clamoring for. (Interestingly, this is a five-stage response too: the health insurance industry is in deep, deep denial about their need to make meaningful changes to the way they do business, and this astroturf town-hall screaming strategy is how their denial is manifesting.)

I don't know how this whole health care thing is going to turn out (although I hope Larry Wohlgemuth has it right), but I can tell you what's next for the Republicans: Bargaining.

Bargaining is when the Republicans will attempt to cut deals with anyone they see as having the power to fix their problem. People with terminal illnesses often bargain with God to make them better: "let me live, and I promise I'll be good for the rest of my life!" The question in my mind is what form will Republican bargaining take? Who will they plead with to save their political life? It's a puzzle to me, because ultimately there is no higher power--not Obama, not Congressional Democrats--who can save them. Ultimately, they're in charge of their own fate. The Republican Party itself is the only entity with any ability to save the Republican Party.

Actually, I kind of hope they figure that out. Because if they do, it will be endlessly amusing to watch them try to bargain with themselves, looking for a solution by which they can have their cake (keep their existing ideological identity) and eat it too (survive). That's the one combination they can't have.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Light a candle tonight for Teddy

Remembrances and condolences continue to pour in from all around the world as the United States marks the death of one of its greatest Senators ever.

President Barack Obama has issued a proclamation ordering all flags flown at half staff in Kennedy's honor. Progressive activists are urged tonight to light a candle tonight in a window to memorialize Teddy and pray for the Kennedy family.

Memorial arrangements are as follows:
  • Tomorrow and Friday, Teddy will lie in repose at John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, after his body arrives in a motorcade from Hyannis Port. Public viewing will begin at a yet unannounced time and stretch on through Thursday evening. It will resume on Friday morning at 10 AM and end at 5 PM.
  • Kennedy's funeral will be held on Saturday morning at The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston, Massachusetts. President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a eulogy. The funeral will be invitation only, although it will probably be broadcast on television.
  • Afterwards, Kennedy's body will be transported to Logan International Airport and then flown to Arlington National Cemetery, where Kennedy will be buried next to his brothers John and Robert (JFK and RFK). The service, which will take place at 5 PM on Saturday, will be private.
In lieu of flowers, the Kennedy family has asked that contributions be sent to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.

Mourners may also share remembrances at TedKennedy.org, a special website set up by the family to honor Teddy's legacy.

Thanks, Republicans

Republicans across the country are offering very gracious statements on what is a very difficult day for Democrats and progressives, who have lost a great hero in Ted Kennedy. Here's Massachusetts GOP Chair Jennifer Nassour:
I am deeply saddened by the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. He was a tireless champion of the weak and forgotten, and our nation has lost a true statesman and devoted public servant.

For five decades, Senator Kennedy defended the causes of justice and peace on the floor of the US Senate. Today is a day to put politics aside and our great state and country first, and recognize Senator Kennedy's remarkable leadership and service to his constituents of Massachusetts.

As someone who has lost a father and a brother I love, I know Senator Kennedy's passing represents a great loss to his family and friends. I send my condolences to the entire Kennedy family and, on behalf of Republicans of the Commonwealth, we give thanks for his extraordinary life of service.
RNC Chairman Michael Steele:
I am saddened to hear of the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Vicki and the entire Kennedy family. For close to five decades, Senator Ted Kennedy followed in his family’s long tradition and served his country with great distinction. His legacy should serve as an inspiration to anyone interested in public service.
Senator John McCain:
My friend, Ted Kennedy, was famous before he was accomplished. But by the end of his life he had become irreplaceable in the institution he loved and in the affections of its members. He grew up in the long shadow of his brothers, but found a way to be useful to his country in ways that will outlast their accomplishments.
John Boehner, the House Minority Leader:
Ted Kennedy was my friend. While there were few political issues on which he and I agreed, our relationship was never disagreeable, and was always marked by good humor, hard work, and a desire to find common ground. Ted Kennedy was also a friend to inner-city children and teachers. For the better part of the last decade, Ted and I worked together to support struggling Catholic grade schools in inner-city Washington. By helping these schools keep their doors open and helping them retain their committed teachers and faculty, this joint effort made a positive difference in the lives of thousands of inner-city children, who otherwise would have been denied the opportunity for a quality education. It wouldn’t have been possible without Senator Kennedy and his genuine desire to give something back to help inner-city students in the city in which he’d served for so many years.
We may not be seeing the same grace in comment threads, but to all the Republicans who are making an effort to shame those who are being disrespectful, thank you. And thanks to all of the Republican leaders who are offering kind words today. They are appreciated.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Senator Edward Kennedy, America's progressive voice, dead at 77

Extraordinarily grievous news tonight from the State of Massachusetts: Senator Ted Kennedy, one of America's foremost and beloved progressive champions, who never shied away from a fight and proudly identified himself as a liberal, died due to complications from brain cancer, his family announced.

He was seventy seven years old.
Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him.
The United States has lost a great leader; America's progressive movement has lost one of its strongest and most tireless voices. This is a very sad day for our country, and for all of humanity.

NPI extends its deepest condolences to the Kennedy family and friends at this difficult time. We share in your great sadness at the immeasurable loss of one the most legendary statesmen America has ever seen.

President Barack Obama's statement follows. The President is scheduled to deliver a eulogy at Kennedy's funeral mass, according to the White House.
I wanted to say a few words this morning about the passing of an extraordinary leader, Senator Edward Kennedy.

Over the past several years, I've had the honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor, and a friend. And even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread.

Since Teddy's diagnosis last year, we've seen the courage with which he battled his illness. And while these months have no doubt been difficult for him, they've also let him hear from people in every corner of our nation and from around the world just how much he meant to all of us. His fight has given us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you -- and goodbye.

The outpouring of love, gratitude, and fond memories to which we've all borne witness is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives. His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives -- in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education's promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just -- including myself.

The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party. And at times, Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks. But in the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle. His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth, and good cheer. He could passionately battle others and do so peerlessly on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintain warm friendships across party lines.

And that's one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy.

His extraordinary life on this earth has come to an end. And the extraordinary good that he did lives on. For his family, he was a guardian. For America, he was the defender of a dream.

I spoke earlier this morning to Senator Kennedy's beloved wife, Vicki, who was to the end such a wonderful source of encouragement and strength. Our thoughts and prayers are with her, his children Kara, Edward, and Patrick; his stepchildren Curran and Caroline; the entire Kennedy family; decades' worth of his staff; the people of Massachusetts; and all Americans who, like us, loved Ted Kennedy.
In a statement sent to NPI, Senator Patty Murray offered these thoughts:
When I was young Ted Kennedy was larger than life. I could not believe it when I first walked out on the floor of the Senate and he walked over to welcome me. From that day on, he became a valued friend, a courageous partner, and a personal mentor.

From my earliest memories in the Senate when I watched him patiently and passionately argue to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act, to his last moments when he led the charge to pass legislation that guaranteed equal pay for women and encouraged Americans to serve and give back to their country as he did, Ted never once stopped fighting for those who couldn't fight for themselves. The country is indeed a better place because of him.

His loss is very personal to me. I will miss him. Our country will miss him.

My thoughts and prayers, and those of all Americans, are with his family at this difficult time.
Governor Chris Gregoire added:
I am saddened by the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy – the nation lost a true leader last night. Growing up with a single mother, it was families like mine that Senator Kennedy fought so hard to protect. He was a true champion for civil rights and economic justice, and Congress will sorely miss his voice.

I greatly admire his resolve in pushing to improve our health care system, even as his own health was failing. This was typical of how Sen. Kennedy placed his concern for others above himself as he served our nation for decades.

Mike and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the Kennedy family during this difficult time.
Senator John Kerry, Kennedy's seatmate, declared:
We have known for some time that this day was coming, but nothing makes it easier. We have lost a great light in our lives and our politics, and it will never be the same again. Ted Kennedy was such an extraordinary force, yes for the issues he cared about, but more importantly for the humanity and caring in our politics that is at the center of faith and true public service.

No words can ever do justice to this irrepressible, larger than life presence who was simply the best -- the best Senator, the best advocate you could ever hope for, the best colleague, and the best person to stand by your side in the toughest of times. He faced the last challenge of his life with the same grace, courage, and determination with which he fought for the causes and principles he held so dear. He taught us how to fight, how to laugh, how to treat each other, and how to turn idealism into action, and in these last fourteen months he taught us much more about how to live life, sailing into the wind one last time. For almost 25 years, I was privileged to serve as his colleague and share his friendship for which I will always be grateful.

Teresa and I send all our love to Vicki, Teddy Jr., Patrick, Kara and their family, and to the entire Kennedy family for whom Teddy was always a rock at times like this. Massachusetts and our entire nation shares their loss and grieves with them.
Senator Russ Feingold, another progressive champion in the Senate:
Senator Kennedy was a hero of mine both before and after I came to the United States Senate. Senator Kennedy was one of the greatest Senators in American history and serving alongside him in the Senate is one of the great honors of my life. His unyielding dedication to equality, justice and improving the lives of his fellow citizens was unmatched and his loss is immeasurable. He championed civil rights and worked to expand the rights of voters and working Americans. Children are healthier and young Americans have more educational opportunities because of Senator Kennedy’s decades of service. And we will achieve real health care reform thanks to the groundwork he laid. Senator Kennedy’s legacy will live on in the Americans who walk through doorways he opened through his lifetime of countless achievements. Like the millions upon millions of Americans whose lives he touched, I am deeply saddened by his passing and my thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.
In Brief will feature additional quotations from statements on Kennedy's passing throughout the day. As Senator Kerry said, words really cannot do justice to Teddy's incredible life and legacy. But we can and will try.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Knocking on doors for health reform

Last Saturday I decided to jump off the sidelines and do something to offset all the crazies with guns who are shouting down health care reform. Answering the call of Organizing for America, the Democrats’ network of volunteers promoting President Obama’s agenda, I joined a good-sized group going door-to-door in and around Bellevue, Washington, in an attempt to drum up and gauge support for the president’s health reform principles.

I wish I could say that I was cheered by the result, but I was not.

We were sent out into neighborhoods to deliver pamphlets and find out if voters, a mixture of Democrats and independents, supported the president’s three core reform principles:
1. Reducing costs
2. Guaranteeing choice
3. Ensuring quality care for all
Sounds simple right? Who could argue with these reasonable concepts? In fact, few people did argue. Most of the people we met who opposed Obama’s plan just said so outright and closed their doors without quibbling. One person said that he didn’t believe that all people should have access to health care.

On the other hand, there were a few people that emphatically supported Obama's principles and were OK with being publically listed as doing so. Those folks left me with a warm feeling of camaraderie.

The frustrating part was that the bulk of people I talked to were either not well informed about, or uncomfortable with the proposed changes. They didn’t disagree with Obama’s principles, but worried about how the reform would actually be “implemented.” I got the impression that there was a lack of trust in the government's ability to make health care reform work effectively, and without penalizing some people.

I don't think that the Obama administration is getting through to Americans. Last week, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that when addressing health reform, Obama “comes across, far too often, as a dry technocrat.” Where's the inspirational speaker that we remember from Obama's dynamic campaign this time last year?

Finally, by laying out these three core reform principles, Obama is starting to do what he should have done in the first place, promoting a simple message that Americans can understand at a personal level. The problem is, the right-wing has already beat him to it, lobbing hyperbole and hate at an apprehensive American public.

I’m willing to knock on hundreds more doors in order to pitch Obama’s principles and the American option to my neighbors. In turn, President Obama must use his mighty powers of oration and send Americans a simple, persuasive message on health reform, giving Americans confidence in a government solution.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Boise State University President favors American option

Last week a new SurveyUSA poll was released showing public support for an American option on health care at 77 percent. While we don't take a lot of stock in polls here at the Northwest Progressive Institute, the number of people supporting a choice between a system that utilizes the common wealth to deliver care to the people who need it, as opposed to a private system that denies care in order to pad the bottom line for shareholders, remains consistently high.

And in a place where you might expect the most conservative of opinions on health insurance reform, it appears that even in Idaho, an American option is on the table. While delivering his State of the University Address last week, Boise State University President Bob Kustra (himself a Republican and former Lieutenant Governor of Illinois), deviated from his prepared remarks and spoke of the death of his son and the need for an American option.
“Over the course of the last 15 months, that we fought this battle, we saw close up what’s at stake in the current health care reform debate,” Kustra said. “We are living proof of how for-profit insurance companies and HMOs target people who are sick and who are ill and raise their premiums and raise their premiums until they can effectively kick them off of the rolls.”

[...]

“When we hear the 'public option,' and we hear the president thinking about dropping it from the plan, it worries me greatly that we would leave health care to the profit motive in America,” Kustra said.

[...]

“It doesn’t make any sense that this Faustian bargain that went awry should land in the laps of our most vulnerable citizens,” he said. "I know that I’m supposed to be skilled at politics ... but there’s no way that anyone should remain silent in the face of this injustice."
The right to affordable, quality health care is not solely for those who can pay for it, the chosen ones or even those who belong to one political party instead of another. It's a widely recognized human right, despite what naysayers like Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) say. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948 (over 60 years ago), states:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
It doesn't matter whether you live in Idaho or California; urban America or rural America. It doesn't matter if you vote Republican or vote Democrat. Without an American option the corporate oligarchs will continue to choose profits over delivery of services. And just like Steve Kustra, son of a Republican former politician, more will become statistics under that system.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Larry Phillips admits defeat, says he'll run for reelection to county council

Another one of Dow Constantine's rivals has conceded defeat in the primary.

Councilmember Larry Phillips, the first candidate to jump into the race to succeed Ron Sims, acknowledged in a long letter to supporters yesterday that the campaign is over and he won't be moving on to the general election. He wrote:
There's no crying in basball [sic], and in my campaigns, there will be no tears either. As long as our effort was based on a love of King County, as long as we came together and gave everything could muster for a better local government, and as long as we have our connections to each other (now better for the experience), let me offer my thanks, the heartfelt appreciation of my family, and the commitment that we will accomplish much together again.
Then, revealing how heavily he had gambled on making it to the general election (he professed himself to be Hutchison's opponent), Phillips added:
I was left with a modest debt – a debt I agreed to accept from my own modest family savings – but I am hoping you might give one more time to help me out. The disappointment in losing will always be there, but going to the bank and seeing the mothballs in our savings account makes it more painful. The rules for paying off debt are tough: I must raise anything I can in the next 31 days: one month from now. I can only accept up to $800 minus what you have already given. Unfortunately we had $65,000 in dollars raised from people who maxed out for the primary and the general but PDC regulations state that money must be returned for that portion over $800.
Some of the debt could undoubtedly be canceled more expediently if Phillips could get Cathy Allen to refund (or waive) part of her consulting fees.

Phillips also assured supporters he's staying involved in local politics:
We will go forward together again; I am still on the King County Council and intend to run for re-election in two years. We will just have to figure out what projects, challenges and commitments to sustainability we will choose to keep us together.

I never made a promise during the campaign, but I will make this one: I promise we will stay together and continue to good for this County we love.
Never made a promise during the campaign? Hmm...

Phillips has been a great county councilmember, a stalwart defender of Sound Transit's mission, and an unwavering voice for a more progressive county. His knowledge is impressive and his energy, at times, seems boundless. We're glad he's staying on the Council. Both the Council and the Sound Transit Board will need stability with a new King County Executive and Mayor of Seattle coming in.

As for Phillips' other unsuccessful rivals - who are also winding down their campaigns - here's a little bit of advice from the team at NPI:

To Ross Hunter: Why not run for County Council in two years against Jane Hague (or for the open seat if she steps down?) Much of the criticism you leveled during your campaign seemed directed at the County Council. Plus, you're a legislator: why not join the county's legislative branch and work to fix its problems from there? Larry and Dow both made the jump from the Legislature to the county council, and they seem to have no regrets. In the meantime, working on tax reform would be an awfully good way to burnish that legislative record. Talk to the King County Democrats Legislative Action Committee about it.

To Fred Jarrett: As State Senator for the 41st LD, you're in a good position to become a strong advocate for the region in the statehouse. Ensuring that the state follows through on its obligations to support the construction of East Link across Interstate 90 would be a great way to help King County. The State Senate could also use a champion for real tax reform; consider partnering with the King County Democrats Legislative Action Committee to work on bringing good ideas to fruition. Alternatively, if Dow Constantine comes knocking for a good chief of staff, don't hesitate to answer the call.

Friday, August 21, 2009

BREAKING: Greg Nickels concedes primary

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is delivering a prepared statement at a morning press conference, acknowledging his apparent loss in the primary election and congratulating his two rivals, who lead in the vote count.

"This morning I called Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan and congratulated them on advancing to the general election. One of them will be Seattle's next mayor," Nickels said early on during the press conference. He added, "I will work with the new mayor-elect to ensure a positive transition."

Nickels defended his tenure as mayor, saying that he didn't regret taking tough stands and making decisions over the objections of critics, noting that it's impossible to please everyone. "Seattle today is stronger better and kinder than the Seattle of yesterday... Our house is in good order," he declared.

He expressed considerable pride in the completion of Sound Transit's Central Link light rail line, and said that the agreement with the state and county to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct was critically important.

He hinted that Mallahan and McGinn would have a harder path ahead of them now that they can no longer use him as a punching bag.

He seemed a bit sad at the prospect of leaving the job, but noted he has over a hundred and thirty days left before he leaves office.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More low-income kids could be college bound

Washington is having great success so far with a new program designed to get low-income kids planning early for a college education. The state-wide program is called College Bound, and even though it has only been around for two years, it has already seen its enrollment double since last year. By catching kids early in their school career, while they still have time to get prepared for college, College Bound promises middle school kids who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch a scholarship covering tuition and books at Washington’s two- and four-year public colleges and universities, and many of its private schools too.

Washington recognizes the fact that the children of parents who never attended college are the least likely to go themselves, and that achieving a college education creates wealth not only for the graduate, but also for their community.

Planning for college starts early: students must choose their high school classes carefully, keep their grades up, and come up with the means of paying for their higher education. If low-income kids don’t think they will go to college, they don’t do the necessary things throughout high school that will get them there.

College Bound motivates students to plan ahead. Basically, it asks students to sign up for the program by the end of eighth grade, maintain at least a 2.0 high school grade point average, graduate from high school “crime free,” and be accepted to an approved degree or certificate program. The hope is that with a promising future to look forward to, these kids will stay in school and stay out of trouble.

State-wide, there are 90,000 kids who qualify for the program, and in only its second year, forty percent of those kids have signed up. It’s too soon to tell how well College Bound will keep these at risk kids in high school and moving onto college, but it removes a couple of huge obstacles that now stand in their way: the high cost of higher education and inadequate preparation for it. The students' parents can be more supportive of their college ambitions, knowing that its major costs are being paid for, and the kids can go through high school with this goal in mind.

In just three years, the first students who entered the program will start college and then we’ll have a better sense of College Bound’s success. Education is always a wise investment though, and investing in low-income kids should pay huge dividends for Washington. With college costs escalating, higher education is becoming even more out of reach for many families.

College Bound gives the kids least likely to go to college, the opportunity to make a better life for themselves. Let's hope it is successful.

Is Greg Nickels finished?

It's not looking good for Greg Nickels.

Thursday numbers are in from King County Elections, and the latest tallies show Nickels with a slightly larger percentage of the vote than he had yesterday. But Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan also improved, negating Nickels' gains, and (in Mallahan's case) then some. Take a look:

Yesterday
Mike McGinn: 20,880 (26.48%)
Greg Nickels: 19,864 (25.19%)
Joe Mallahan: 21,101 (26.76%)

Today
Mike McGinn: 27,586 (26.69%)
Greg Nickels: 26,416 (25.56%)
Joe Mallahan: 28,126 (27.22%)

Mallahan now enjoys a more comfortable lead over second place, while the gap between McGinn and Nickels increased by over a hundred votes. It's looking increasingly likely that the general will be a contest between McGinn and Mallahan.

What surprises me are how many people there are who are surprised by this result. Anger and resentment over the Nickels administration's treatment of neighborhoods and political opponents has been festering for a very long time. Had Team Nickels acted proactively and early to address Seattleites' concerns, they might have earned enough support to fend off at least one of Nickels' challengers.

But they didn't. Their unresponsiveness only worsened the perception of City Hall as out of touch with the people of Seattle. And so, in this election, the mayor's faults ended up overshadowing his accomplishments (including the July completion of Sound Transit's Central Link light rail line).

Mallahan and McGinn were only too happy to take advantage of the situation, offering relentless criticism that they honed and sharpened as summer wore on.

A Nickels defeat would leave a gaping hole on the Sound Transit Board that has benefited from the mayor's courageous leadership. (Nickels is the current Board Chairman). More embarrassingly for the city, however, it means the United States Conference of Mayors will need to choose a new President, as Nickels will presumably be forced to relinquish the position if he is not reelected.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

King County Elections releases Wednesday numbers; mayor's race way too close to call

King County Elections has released its first patch of post-primary day numbers.

In countywide races, not too much has changed, although Dow Constantine's percentage of the vote climbed a little while Susan Hutchison's fell. It's safe to say that Larry Phillips, Fred Jarrett, and Ross Hunter, as well as the three perennial candidates who filed, have been eliminated.

Rob Holland and Max Vekich (the Port Reform slate of candidates) also gained, which is good news. Holland is completely dominating his race with a majority of votes, while Vekich is pulling away from third place finisher David Walker. Vekich will face the well connected Tom Abro, while Holland will face David Doud.

The contest for Seattle mayor essentially remains a three way tie. Joe Mallahan has pulled into the lead ahead of Mike McGinn, but not by much (two hundred and twenty one votes). Meanwhile, Greg Nickels continues to languish in third place; over a thousand votes separate him from McGinn.

Tomorrow's report promises to be very suggestive. If Nickels' position doesn't improve with Thursday's numbers, he is probably out. He would be the second straight mayor of Seattle, after Paul Schell, to have been booted out in a primary.

The Nickels campaign gambled that negative attacks would blunt the momentum of McGinn and Mallahan in the days leading up to the primary. Those attacks appear to have backfired, energizing the campaigns of Nickels' opponents.

We could tell that Nickels was in trouble when he started dumping money into advertising knocking his opponents. Why didn't he stress what's positive about his own record, to give people a reason to vote for him?

If Nickels' staff didn't understand that the people of Seattle are unhappy with the mayor, they surely got that message on Tuesday night.

If Nickels does manage to survive the primary, he will face an uphill battle in the general election against either Mallahan or McGinn.

How many lives is your Senator worth?

Hope is a wonderful thing. It can keep us going when times seem bleak. Hope got us a new president who promised us health care reform. It's a good thing for hope, because right now hope is about all I have left for health care reform.

I hope Senate and House Democrats can get their act together. I hope they realize there's no benefit in paying the slightest attention to the Republican "death panel" noise machine. I hope they learn (quickly, please) that there's no down-side at all to simply ignoring them. I hope, for one single shining moment of history, that they'll listen to the angels of their better natures and act on the deep and certain knowledge that providing my family and yours with quality, affordable health care is in fact more important than letting health insurance lobbyists rig the game to the profit of their clients.

I hope, just this once, that our elected Senators and Representatives will do the right thing. The just thing. In fact, the only moral thing to do here: Tell the insurance industry to stuff it and give us a damn public option.

I hope.

And I know I'm not the only one.

But hope is also a dangerous thing, because hope for a better option tomorrow can cause people to delay seeking the care they need today.

President Obama talks a lot about preventing illness both to improve quality of life and to contain costs. He's right: a disease avoided is obviously better and cheaper for everyone all around. Avoiding disease is something we can do if we remove that Damoclean sword of pre-existing conditions, dropped coverage, and skyrocketing premiums from over everybody's heads.

But how many illnesses are going un-detected, right now, because people are stuck trying to make the impossible choice between seeking medical care now because they suspect something is wrong with them, or not, because they know that to do so would probably cause financial ruin for them and their families?

How many illnesses--how many early-stage cancers, how many borderline cases of diabetes, how many nascent cases of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or AIDS--are going undiagnosed and untreated right now, in the days and weeks when diagnosis and treatment would make the greatest difference in long-term outcomes, because those people are holding on to hope that Congress is going to do the right thing?

How many, Congress? How many?

To every blue-dog in our bicameral national legislature, I ask, "How many?"

When you go home to your states and districts to run for re-election next time, trumpeting the petty claims you're building for yourself based on your objection to non-existent "death panels" or whatever made you think it was a good idea to be an obstacle betwee the American public and what we need, you'd better know that your claims come at the cost of real human life and suffering.

So you'd better have an answer to "how many," because if you think for one second that marginally improving your chances for re-election are worth even one person's suffering, I guarantee you that you're going to find yourself in a fight with your constituents (not to mention your challengers) that you simply cannot win.

Honestly, I don't care whether you're motivated by a desire for honest public service or by a simple, venal desire for power. As long as you do the right thing for the people, I really don't care. In this case, doing the right thing for the people is also the right thing for your own career ambitions. I only hope you're smart enough to understand that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels in danger of becoming the next Paul Schell

Is Greg Nickels going to make it through the 2009 primary election?

Several months ago, that question might have seemed a bit silly. Certainly, Seattleites are unhappy with Nickels (that's what evidence suggests), and the idea that he might not get the most votes in the primary wasn't farfetched, but surely he wouldn't be eliminated like Paul Schell was in 2001, right?

Well, it looks like he might be.

As of the first returns tonight, Nickels is running slightly behind the two men who have emerged in recent weeks as his biggest rivals and critics: T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan and former Sierra Club leader Mike McGinn.

Both have waged fierce anti-Nickels campaigns. Nickels could still make it through, but the numbers simply do not look good for him.

Mike McGinn: 16,810 votes (26.56%)
Joe Mallahan: 16,334 (25.81%)
Greg Nickels: 15,859 (25.05%)

City Councilmember Jan Drago, who several established political observers had confidently predicted would make it through the primary with Nickels, couldn't even surpass former Sonics basketball player James Donaldson, proving that name ID isn't everything. (He has about ten percent of the vote; she's got less than eight).

In City Council races, Sally Bagshaw and David Bloom are the apparent finalists for Position 4, while Mike O'Brien and Robert Rosencrantz are the finalists for Position 8. Incumbent Nick Licata will face Jessie Israel as expected.

Seattle voters, sadly, are also voting to reject the bag fee by a lopsided margin. Just another outcome purchased by oil industry marketing dollars.

LIVE from Kell's: Dow Constantine celebrates big primary election victory

Welcome to NPI's 2009 primary election night coverage.

I am currently at Dow Constantine's party at Kell's Irish Pub in Post Alley. Tonight's the night we learn who will be the finalists in several key local races for County Executive, Mayor of Seattle, and City Council.

As volunteers were setting up for Dow's party, I talked to Angelina, an intern on Dow's campaign, about why she supports Dow. Angelina told me:
I support Dow because he has the right values and is right on the issues. As a student I support him because he is pro-environment and in support of public transportation. He is the kind of person who I see to have great leadership and I trust to handle the issues with the right mix of charisma and intelligence.
As we were speaking, another campaign volunteer walked through the pub, high-fiveing supporters and cheering, "The time is Dow."

At 8:07 I received the first results, told a member of Dow's campaign and he rushed to see the results. There were whispers of 22% throughout the room with sporadic cheering until a campaign member went up on stage and announced the results. This led to enormous cheering and a long chant of "Dow Now".

As Andrew has reported, with 16.65% of eligible ballots tallied, Dow Constantine is at 22.38%, Fred Jarrett is at 12.04%, Larry Phillips is at 11.72%, Ross Hunter is at 10.90%, and Susan Hutchison has 37.40% in the King County Executive race.

Not long after the results were posted, the man of the hour, Dow Constantine arrived. He took off his jacket and tie and started his speech by stating "We got early results that are very very positive."

He then summarized his campaign by declaring that he will "stand up for what's right, persevere, and good things are going to happen."

Then, to loud applause, he said, "I'm proud to be standing here tonight as one of the two top vote getters in this primary... we are headed to the general election!"

After congratulating his three Democratic rivals (Larry Phillips, Ross Hunter, and Fred Jarrett) Dow proceeded to blast his general election opponent. "Susan Hutchison is simply too conservative, too out of step with the mainstream to be King County Executive."

He added that Susan's experience as a television news anchor does not qualify her for the office of Executive. Especially because her campaign is "nothing but platitudes and tired right-wing talking points."

Dow ended on a lighter note stating "We will remake county government consistent with our values and ready for the challenges of a new era." This was followed by cheers of "Dow Now" from supporters.

It's a good night for Dow Constantine... and for progressives in King County.

Constantine, Hutchison apparent victors of primary for King County Executive

With just under seventeen percent of ballots cast per registered voters, it looks like we know what the outcome of the race for King County Executive is going to be, even though these are only the first numbers.

As of 8:10 PM Pacific Time, Dow Constantine had captured 22% of the vote, with Susan Hutchison, as expected, running ahead at 37%. Fred Jarrett is third with just over 12%, Larry Phillips has close to twelve percent, and Ross Hunter is last with less than eleven percent. The other three candidates, all of them perennials, are splitting about four percent of the vote.

So it looks like the general election will be a contest between Dow Constantine and Susan Hutchison. Big congratulations to Dow for a well run campaign, and achieving the apparent honor of becoming the Democrat who will carry the banner of our party through to the general election in the state's most important local race.

In Port Commission races, Rob Holland has strong command of the field for Position 3, with a whopping fifty plus percent of the vote. His challenger will likely be David Doud, who has thirty three percent.

In the other race, Tom Albro has close to forty percent of the vote, leading the pack. The contest for second place, between Max Vekich and Robert Walker, is where the action is. Vekich has 26.75%, Walker stands at 24.73%. If Vekich can hold off Walker, he'll move on to the general election to face Albro.

Primary Election Day 2009 has arrived - don't forget to drop off that ballot!

Today is Primary Election Day 2009 across Washington State. In King County, it's the first time a primary election has been held without any polls open.

Voters have until 8 PM tonight to get ballots postmarked by the Post Office (ballots MUST be postmarked today or they won't count). Alternatively, ballots can be dropped off at one of several collection sites, no postage required.

Already mailed in that ballot? Check the status of it online.

Here's a list of drop site locations in King County. Please note that ballots cannot be dropped off at all libraries, only the ones below!
  • Auburn Library, 1102 Auburn Way S., Auburn, 98002
  • Library Connection @ Crossroads, 15600 NE 8th St., outside of Suite K-11, 98008
  • Black Diamond Library, 24707 Roberts Dr., 98010
  • Covington Library, 27100 164th Ave SE, 98042
  • Des Moines Library, 21620 11th Avenue S., 98198
  • Fall City Library, 33415 SE 42 Pl., 98024
  • Federal Way Library, 848 S 320th St, 98003
  • Kent Regional Library, 212 2nd Ave N, 98032
  • Renton, King County Elections, 919 SW Grady Way, 98057
  • Lake Forest Park Library, 17171 Bothell Way NE, 98155 near the lower level mall entrance
  • Seattle, King County Administration Building, 500 Fourth Ave., 98104
  • Seattle, White Center Library, 11220 16th S.W., Seattle, 98146
  • Woodinville Library, 17105 Avondale Rd NE, 98072
  • Ballard, 5604 22nd Ave NW, 98107
  • Delridge, 5405 Delridge Way SW, 98106
  • Central, 2301 S Jackson, 98144
  • Lake City, 12525 28th Ave NE, 98125
  • Southeast, 3815 S Othello St, 98118
  • University, 4534 University Way NE, 98105
Pacific NW Portal and the Official Blog will feature live elections coverage in partnership tonight. Coverage begins after the deadline for turning in ballots.

Finally, cheers to all of the progressive candidates who have been working hard to turn out people to vote over the last few weeks.

Jeers to Pete von Reichbauer, Susan Hutchison, the Municipal League, and all who were involved in last year's campaign (funded by wealthy conservatives) to convince voters that we would be better off with "nonpartisan" elections. It was a grevious mistake to approve that charter amendment. It took away our right to know.

"Nonpartisan" elections and our ridiculous statewide "top two" primary have succeeded in reducing voter choice and removing information about candidates from our ballots. These changes are not good for democracy, and ultimately, to protect the public interest, they need to be repealed.

Healthcare reform: The choice

Following up on Kathleen's post about the language of health care reform, and how Democrats have failed to effectively communicate during the debate, it's time to redouble our efforts as progressives to provide all Americans with affordable, quality health care, and not just the privileged few.

Unlike when he was on the campaign trail, President Obama has been largely absent from the health care debate, sidelining his gift for bringing people together in common cause. "Yes we can" seems to have become "we don't have the votes". As Paul Krugman noted yesterday:
Partly it’s a matter of style — as many people have noted, he has been weirdly reluctant to make the moral case for universal care, weirdly unable to show passion on the issue, weirdly diffident even about the blatant lies from the right.
This is not the Barack Obama that we voted for.

Conservatives, on the other hand, have been following the Karl Rove playbook: fearmongering at every turn.

Between talk of "death panels" and "pulling the plug on Grandma", they've played on every human's worst fear of the health care system.

The problem is, the bogeyman of which Republicans speak already exists, though in a different form than they will admit. As our Executive Director eloquently reminded the Northwest Progressive Institute team in a message last week:
Insurance companies are private governments that have an incentive to deny people coverage or benefits because it increases their profits.

Public governments, like ours, serve the common good, so there is no profit motive. Instead of focusing on costs, a public healthcare plan can focus on delivering care to the people who need it.
Who do you want assisting you with making critical decisions in your life, an interest that focuses on delivering the care you need, or a monied interest concerned only with maximizing profit for shareholders? If you'd prefer the conservative vision for health care, here is what you're looking at:
Long before anyone started talking about government "death panels" or warning that Obama would have the government ration care, 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan, a leukemia patient from Glendale, Calif., died in December 2007, after her parents battled their insurance company, Cigna, over the surgery. Cigna initially refused to pay for it because the company's analysis showed Sarkisyan was already too sick from her leukemia; the liver transplant wouldn't have saved her life.
Emphasis mine.

The "company's analysis"? Excuse me, but I'd prefer my doctor to diagnose my condition. And if the company analysis doesn't kill you, how about revocation of your health insurance? Wellpoint has rewarded employees for cancelling insurance policies of patients who were sick.
The evidence released by the House subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations shows that WellPoint, the nation's largest health insurer, rewarded employees for canceling coverage of sick patients. Employees earned high points on "performance reviews" for retroactively canceling policies - a practice known as "rescission."

According to documents obtained by the subcommittee, one employee of Blue Cross, a subsidiary of Wellpoint, received a perfect score of "5" in a company performance review after saving the company nearly $10 million through policy rescissions. Three insurance companies - WellPoint, Golden Rule (owned by United Health) and Assurant - rescinded more than 20,000 policies over five years and refused to pay for more than $300 million in medical expenses, according to documents uncovered by the committee.
That corporate health care system advocated by conservatives sure sounds a lot like Sarah Palin's "death panels". I can see the boards of directors for the insurance companies now: "Item three on our agenda is whether or not Mary Jane Smith should be allowed Vicodin after her major surgery.

You know, we can save money and increase the patient's pain tolerance by not giving her the medication. All in favor, say aye."

Republicans don't want a public option because it provides a credible alternative to rampant corporatism and the profit over people mentality.

Their system rewards the select few who get rich off of the pain, misery and suffering of the masses. A public option promotes the general welfare (as stated in the preamble to our Consitution) utilizing our common wealth. And as the late Senator Paul Wellstone used to say "We all do better when we all do better."

Kathleen noted that George Lakoff has suggested that the "public option" framing Democrats are using should be dropped in favor of an "American option", something with which I agree. After all, in the United States of America all men are created equal (women and children too), that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Affordable quality health care for all is not a privilege, it is an American right. It's time we demand what's ours.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Democrats need to speak in language that Americans understand

Debate on health care reform has been raging all summer, but I have to wonder what most Americans have really learned about the serious proposals that Congress is wrangling over? If you asked a random person what they know, they’d probably tell you that they've heard about “death panels” and “pulling the plug on Grandma” and that they are worried about the government taking over the health care system.

What’s going on here? Haven’t Democrats been on the offensive all summer trying to educate voters about the improvements they are trying to make to our broken health care system?

The answer is that they have been trying and failing. Here’s what the American public hears when congressional Democrats explain their health care reform legislation: "...public option…blah blah blah…competition…blah blah blah.” Not too riveting, is it? Understandably, Americans are not very excited about the poorly framed Democratic proposals, and are susceptible to the more succinct and emotional balderdash coming from the insurance lobby and their defenders, the Republicans.

Cognitive scientist and author of Don’t Think of an Elephant, George Lakoff, has a prescription for what ails the Dems: speak about what the public already knows, in other words, give them “the truth that they’ve experienced.” Don’t list policies, instead, remind people about the problems they’ve had with the current system: the insurance company that denied their claim, the long wait times to see a specialist, or the difficulties they've had in getting health insurance with a pre-existing condition.

The right-wing defenders of the insurance giants are using the future threat of these scenarios to scare us, but these things are already happening, right now. Are we so easily fooled?

To win in hand-to-hand combat with Republicans, we must use the strategy that they are already proficient with: go for the gut. Democrats, including President Obama, must speak to the American public at the gut level, the emotional level. There is plenty they could say about the current situation and their plans to fix it that is honest and powerful, in order to help the public understand just how high the stakes are and how the Democrats are the ones that really have their back.

Lakoff suggests one good place to start. Why should we have a “public option?” Wouldn’t it be better to instead have an “American Plan?” Not even a Republican can argue with that bit of messaging.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

LIVE from Pittsburgh: Darcy Burner closes out Netroots Nation 2009

Andrew and I are here at the closing session of Netroots Nation, watching Darcy Burner give the closing keynote address. Darcy was treated to a very generous introduction by Markos Moulitsas, who said her loss last year was one of the losses that stung the most for him in the 2008 cycle.

Darcy began her speech to enthusiastic applause opining that it would be a really good idea if more women ran for public office. Then she launched into a key part of her stump speech from the campaign, talking about why she ran for public office in the first place. Her perspective on politics and government changed in January 2003 when her son Henry was born and Darcy began to wonder how she could give Henry the kind of future she wants him to have.

Then, two months later, Darcy's brother Jason went to Iraq as part of the United States' invasion force.

She came to the realization that no set of choices she could make as a parent would give Henry the life she wanted him to have. That she must be a part of fundamentally changing the way we do things in Congress and in America.

She went on to talk about a deeply personal event in her life that wasn't in her stump speech. Shortly after Darcy was married, she gave birth to a daughter who was born in the twenty fourth week of pregnancy and only lived for week. The child was born one week after the only doctor Darcy's health insurance plan would permit her to see had dismissed her concerns about her pregnancy and told her she was being paranoid and should rest easy.

Darcy explained that this traumatic experience taught her two things:
  1. You cannot rely on people in authority to make things right.
  2. Sometimes you get only one chance at something.
These lessons, Darcy said, matter in the fight to pass healthcare reform. "We have been called to take our country back, and now it is finally time to take it forward," she said. As citizens of this great democracy, "We can't rely on people in authority to make everything right... we have to do the hard work of governing."

Darcy told us that the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are adamant that they are doing everything in their power to make a difference, but they need the grassroots to help and put pressure on Congress to act.

Darcy then gave a dire warning that "If we loose this battle [on healthcare] we will have virtually no chance to win anything from here on out."

Darcy ended by urging the community to take action, a message we've heard from pretty much every guest speaker here. Blog, write letters to the editor, make a viral video, attend a townhall meeting. In Darcy's words: "Find your courage, find your conviction. Dust yourself off and go into battle now."

And with that, Netroots Nation 2009 came to an end.

If you've been following our live coverage throughout the past three days, thanks so much for following along. We're signing off... so long for now!

BREAKING and LIVE from Pittsburgh: Netroots Nation 2010 to return to Las Vegas

Netroots Nation Executive Director Raven Brooks has just announced that next year's convention will return to Las Vegas for its fifth anniversary... as has been rumored over the last few days.

The first Netroots Nation, which was originally organized as YearlyKos, was held in Las Vegas in June 2006 at the now-demolished Riviera. Next year's convention will be at the Rio Las Vegas from July 22nd through July 25th.

A little bit about the Rio (from Wikipedia):
The Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino is located off the Las Vegas Strip in the unincorported area of Paradise, Nevada, USA. It is better known as The Rio and is owned and operated by Harrah's Entertainment. The Rio was the first all suite casino in the Las Vegas area. It was named after the city of Rio de Janeiro, and has Brazilian culture as a main theme.

The hotel towers are covered in the signature purple and red glass. The Rio hotel's 2,563 suites range in size from 600 to 13,000 sq ft (56 to 1,210 m2) and have floor to ceiling windows.

The complex includes a wine cellar that has more than 50,000 bottles.[1] The Rio Pavilion convention center has a total of 160,000 sq ft (15,000 m2) of space. A Race and Sports Book is also available.
Early bird registration begins tonight at the rate of one hundred and ninety five dollars, twenty dollars higher than the early bird rate for Pittsburgh.

LIVE From Pittsburgh: Blending online activism and offline activism

As Netroots Nation began to wind down, I went to a particularly motivating panel discussing how blogging can contribute and help field campaigns.

The panel was caled Yes We Did? How Blogging Can (and Can't) Support a Field Campaign featured Jeremy Bird, Karl Singer, Katherine Haenschen, Pamela Coukos, Janice Caswell, and was moderated by Sean Quinn.

Blogging and field campaigns each start with a fundamental problem: they both compete for time. A good blog post takes time away from phonebanking or canvasing. Likewise, some good bloggers are silenced when they work on campaigns because they just don't have the time to blog.

Both blogging and field work are important and can be beneficial to each other. Blogging can raise awareness of a candidate and can reach voters and donors in different ways. For example, Darcy Burner would never have gotten vast financial support from the netroots without becoming involved in the community, including blogging on Daily Kos. However, if everyone was blogging instead of canvassing and phonebanking, the candidate would surely lose.

So while blogs are important means of communication, they're not all important. Blogging can never replicate the power of person-person contact. Not everyone is on the Internet reading blogs. The people who need to be convinced in a field campaign probably are not reading blogs. Therefore to reach them, field work is critical.

The panel came to the conclusion that in a battle to enact policy, such as healthcare reform, blogging is not as effective as calling people, lobbying members of Congress, and educating neighbors about an issue.

The panel came to the conclusion that online activism and field work coexist and can bolster the investment of time into the other.

So in other words, bloggers should get off their computers once in a while and do a bit of offline organizing. And people who do not spend much time on blogs should log on more often and become involved in the conversation online.

LIVE from Pittsburgh: The path to restoring America's economic security

Here in Pittsburgh, we just finished a lunchtime panel about economic security called Building a Twenty First Century Economy with Dean Baker, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, and SEIU's Anna Burger, moderated by Kevin Drum.

The discussion, as you might expect, focused around the collapse of the financial system last fall and what policymakers need to do to speed a recovery. Several ideas were explored at length. They included:

Passing the Employee Free Choice Act. America's union movement, over the course of many decades, helped to create a larger, more prosperous middle class, lifting many families out of poverty. But thanks to anti-worker policies implemented by Republicans (notably under Reagan) and efforts by greedy executives in the private sector to keep workers from organizing, the percentage of the workforce that is unionized has been in decline. This has weakened America's economy. Removing the barriers that have been set up to prevent workers from organizing would allow workers to bargain for better pay and benefits, which would boost consumer spending and home ownership.

Creating a second stimulus package. The Obama administration's first stimulus package may have saved jobs and kept the economy from cratering, but more work needs to be done. A second stimulus, targeted especially towards the states, could prevent horrific budget cuts over the next biennium, staving off layoffs and keeping public services funded at a critical time.

Regulatory reform. Today there is no central agency that is focused on protecting and educating consumers. We have the Food & Drug Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, and other agencies policing industries, but that's not the same as having an EPA for consumer protection, which we sorely need. The panel also agreed that it's time to reinstate the Glass Steagall Act, or implement new restrictions to prevent bank deposits from being used to enable speculation on a grand scale.

Making some changes at the Fed. The Federal Reserve, which wields an extraordinary amount of power, is dominated by its member banks. Making the Fed more accountable to the American people would help end some of the bad business practices that contributed to the onset of the Great Recession.

This ended up being one of the better panels at this year's Netroots Nation, and the topic was a great choice. We've got a couple of afternoon panels left, then the closing keynote, which concludes this year's convention.

LIVE from Pittsburgh: A conversation with Valerie Jarrett, top adviser to the President

It seems hard to believe it's Saturday already, but we are indeed heading into our final day of Netroots Nation 2009 here in Pittsburgh.

Our first event for this morning is a conversation with Valerie Jarrett, facilitated by Baratunde Thurston of Jack and Jill Politics. Valerie has known the Obama family for many years and is one of the President's most trusted friends and advisers. Her official title is Senior Adviser and Assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Baratunde's first few questions concerned Jarrett's role in the White House, what she really does there (a lot of different things, more than her title covers, as it turns out) how it feels to work in an office used by Karl Rove (it was also used by Hillary Clinton, Jarrett said) and whether President Obama ever has any private outbursts (he gets angry, but never raises his voice, she said).

What's in like to get to work in the White House?

"There isn't a single day that I don't come to work that I don't pinch myself... about the opportunity we have to change this country," Jarrett said.

How seriously does the President take the "teabaggers"?

"There's a small segment that's trying to scare people, and I'm particularly ticked because they're trying to scare elderly people... I think it's an example of what we're fighting against." She added, "I think they underestimate the American people," noting that there have been many peaceful meetings about topics such as healthcare reform, which the media don't cover because there is no controversy.

Has ethics reform (specifically, the "revolving door" prohibitions) made it difficult to hire good people to work in the Obama administration?

Not really, according to Jarrett. They had so many applicants to choose from that they felt they were able to hire the people that they really wanted. Jarrett also explained that traditionally, lobbyists would bring their clients to the White House to introduce them to the administration; Jarrett has abolished this practice, and lobbyists aren't happy about it, to her satisfaction.

Now we're getting to the tough questions, finally... I won't cover all of them, but here's a running digest of some of them.

Will President Obama tell the Blue Dogs that they can forget about federal stimulus money in their districts if they don't sign onto healthcare reform?

Jarrett smiled as the room applauded for nearly half a minute, and then proceeded to say that that's not how President Obama operates.

The President, Jarrett says, wants the pressure on members of Congress to come from the grassroots and the netroots.

Is the President committed to a public option? Will he a veto a bill that is not built around a public option (which is what the Blue Dogs want)?

Jarrett said that she spoke to the President yesterday about this issue, knowing that she was coming to Netroots Nation, and reiterated that President Obama is firmly committed to a public option. That is what we wants. But she said talk about what the President will or won't veto is premature.

What about civil rights? Repeal of DOMA and Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

Jarrett said the President is absolutely committed to repeal, and that Department of Justice memos aside, it will take acts of Congress to repeal those policies.

Baratunde moved on to the topic of economic security, wanting to know what policies the administration is seeking to prevent another Great Recession and control dangerous businesses that are irresponsible.

Jarrett said "Regulatory reform is something that we're going to be asking for your support [as it moves through Congress]." She also explicitly mentioned that the President remains committed to creating a new consumer protection agency, an idea that has faced opposition from the chiefs of the FDIC and the SEC.

Jeffrey Feldman wanted to know if the President reads blogs (and if so, which ones). And whether he owns a Mac or a PC.

Jarrett confirmed that yes, Obama, reads blogs, but she refused to identify which ones or what kind of computer he owns (state secrets, she said jokingly).

The final question Baratunde asked was what the President would request of the netroots community. The answer? To keep on doing what we're doing, basically. To soldier on as activists, building infrastructure, lobbying members of Congress, working for change. Turning ideas into policy.

"We want to harness that energy, we sense your sense of urgency. We depend upon you and your energy and your network. Stay engaged, push us, have a constructive conversation. We need you, we need you out there," Jarrett said.

Jarrett didn't say this, but I think she wanted to say that our involvement is all the more important because the grassroots force that galvanized around Obama's campaign seems to be sleeping, and the White House is having difficulty reactivating it, although Jarrett claims the administration is just getting started.

Well, we'll see. The President may need to adjust the grand strategy he's pursuing to tackle challenges like healthcare reform.

This is our biggest opportunity to get things done, but it certainly feels like we are in danger of blowing it. Jarrett may be confident in Obama's plan, but this community - not being in the position she is in - is far more anxious.

Friday, August 14, 2009

LIVE from Pittsburgh: Inslee urges netroots to help get Waxman/Markey through Senate

The first of today's afternoon Netroots Nation panels that I'm attending is called Setbacks in Environmental Policy and the Law: Reversing the Trend. I chose the panel because it sounded like a good topic, but perhaps more importantly, to support two great leaders from the Pacific Northwest who are speaking on the panel: Denis Hayes, the President & CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, and Representative Jay Inslee, my voice in the United States House of Representatives.

The panel, moderated by the Alliance for Justice's Nan Aron, naturally gravitated towards a discussion of the Waxman/Markey bill passed by the House of Representatives back in June.

Representative Inslee expressed his concern that inaction could doom chances for worldwide progress on reducing emissions. (Representatives from leading nations are due to meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December for a critical meeting to discuss replacing the Kyoto Protocol).

Inslee pleaded with attendees of the panel to devote some time, every day, to lobbying senators to vote for Waxman/Markey in the Senate.

Hayes spoke eloquently about some of the atrocious decisions that were made in the Reagan years (especially the dismantling of the funding for the Solar Energy Research Institute (now the National Renewable Energy Laboratory).

Hayes also mentioned having a conversation with Jared Diamond shortly after the release of Collapse (a rather excellent book about how societies choose to survive or fail) in which he asked Diamond if there was any common factor that united the case studies in his book.

As Hayes recalled, Diamond suggested that there was, and that it was the growth of a large disparity between the haves and the have-nots, where the haves gained the ability to wield enormous power without suffering any consequences.

Much of the question and answer part of the panel focused on strategy and tactics for trying to get a bill out of Congress by the end of the year. Inslee opined that the energy that fueled President Obama's campaign last week has dissipated, and the absence of activist ground troops is making it difficult to make progress on both climate and healthcare reform.

LIVE from Pittsburgh: Joe Sestak says he wants to pay back the people of Pennsylvania

After Senator Specter left to call Senator Grassley, Representative Joe Sestak stepped up to the stage to answer questions from the netroots community. Perhaps not surprisingly, he received a louder reception than Senator Specter.

The first question that moderators Ari Melber and Susie Madrak posed to Specter was about an analysis done by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com showing that Sestak's votes are very similar to Specter's.

The question for Sestak: Why do you consider yourself a progressive?

Sestak says that he believes his core values - which were instilled in him during his time in the military - make him a progressive. "The principles of the Democratic Party - practical or progressive - are ones I got in the military."

Speaking specifically to healthcare reform, he added, "I got into politics because I believe that everyone should have what I have." He later proclaimed that he is "one hundred and fifty percent behind the public option."

"The public healthcare option is a necessity... an economic necessity."

And on the topic of solving the climate crisis, Sestak registered his disappointment with the Waxman/Markey bill, asserting that while it is absolutely critical that we pass a bill, the legislation passed by the House simply isn't strong enough. (That's a criticism that many in the netroots community share). He also expressed his support for investing in geothermal and wind power.

When pressed on what differentiates himself from Senator Spector on the healthcare reform, Representative Sestak observed that "eight weeks ago on Meet The Press he was against it, now he supports it."

Representative Sestak further differentiated himself from Senator Sestak by talking about leadership. "Leadership [means being] out there doing it not at a moment of crisis, but at preventing crisis."

Sestak also challenged Congress to repeal the "Defense of Marriage Act" and Don't Ask, Don't Tell before the end of the year.

"I've been to war with men and women who I know are gay. How am I to go home and tell them they can't have equal rights?" he said to applause.

In his closing remarks, delivering his elevator pitch, Representative Sestak explained why is so motivated to win the primary.

After many years of service to the United States Navy, during which he attained the rank of Rear Admiral and commanded a battle fleet, he wants to give back to the people of Pennsylvania as a public servant. "This is the most strategic moment we've had since the Great Depression and I want to be part of the leadership, accountable leadership. We need to lead America again."

"I just want Pennsylvania to have leadership in the future that's working for them and I promise to do it every day," Sestak said with a smile.

LIVE from Pittsburgh: Senator Arlen Specter tackles tough questions from the netroots

We're back in Hall B for the Pennsylvania Leadership Forum, the second of today's keynotes. The two candidates, Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak, are appearing separately in the forum to talk with Pennsylvania blogger Susie Madrak and The Nation's Ari Melber about their campaigns for U.S. Senate.

Our first guest is Senator Specter, who left the Republican Party join the Democratic Party after voting yes on the stimulus in February. He was thrown a fairly open-ended question to begin with: "Who are you and why are you here?"

Senator Specter responded in a canned and monotone voice "I am a fellow who has a good job he'd like to keep, running for reelection to the United States Senate." Now there's a persuasive stump speech.

Specter went on to note that he is working diligently to put together healthcare reform legislation built around a robust public option.

Specter continued rambling on at some length before being interrupted by Ari, who reminded Specter that Netroots Nation is not the United States Senate, where filibusters are permitted. Specter was subsequently asked why the people of Pennsylvania should trust him. He officiously replied, "Trust me because I have a record for being candid, and honest, and trustworthy. Trust me because Joe Biden knows me very well, and trusts me."

When asked whether he supported the Waxman/Markey bill to tackle the climate crisis, Specter provided one of the best sound bites of the convention by declaring, "I support climate change". (This brought guffaws and chuckles from the audience.)

Asked whether he would vote in favor of ending debate in the Senate on the Employee Free Choice act, healthcare reform, and cap and trade, Specter affirmed that he would. "Yes, there is no doubt about those three issues."

Specter discounted critical analysis of his voting record, saying he didn't care much for generalizations. He also explained that switching away from the Republican Party makes it easier for him to take progressive votes. "I say that you have to take a look at the individual votes... As a Democrat, I don't have to look over my right shoulder, and that is very comfortable."

Asked what he could do to combat the lies coming from former conservative allies about healthcare reform, Specter suggested, "I can be helpful with Senator Grassley, Seantor Collins, and a whole bunch of other Republican Senators."

(Grassley, of course, recently embraced the Palin "death panel" lies. Specter assailed his position as "not correct" and pledged to call Grassley from backstage to talk about Grassley's position).

What about the hate speech coming from the Republican right, Madrak asked. Voices like Glenn Beck, who are poisoning our discourse? What can be done about them?

An indignant Specter replied, "Well, Glenn Beck is not close to me. I don't know Glenn Beck and I don't care about Glenn Beck."

Madrak and Melber next wanted to know if Specter would support reconciliation for getting healthcare reform through the Senate. Specter said that he would as a last resort, but that achieving cloture was more desirable.

"You can't get the entire bill in reconciliation. That can only be done by cloture. We will be able to get cloture on healthcare. There are sixty votes on health, sixty if I include [Maine Republican Olympia] Snowe in there."

Specter closed by delivering an "elevator pitch" for his candidacy which lasted a lot longer than a typical elevator ride. "Support me because I have a lot of experience... and when tough issues come up and Obama needs a spokesman to go out and face tough crowds, I can do it effectively," Specter declared.

LIVE from Pittsburgh: Rx for Reform with netroots hero Howard Dean

Hello and welcome to NPI's second day of live coverage of Netroots Nation. Governor Howard Dean is here in Pittsburgh with us this morning to talk about healthcare reform. Mike Lux and Tanya Tarr are moderating the discussion, which not only features questions from the audience in the room but also participants who are twittering questions using the hashtag DeanNN.

Among the responses so far that have received the most applause was Governor Dean's answer to a question about the right wing rent-a-mobs who are storming meetings and shouting down their members of Congress.

Dean observed that the extreme right wing wing is not angry about healthcare reform, but angry that America is changing. "We're not having a debate about healthcare, we're having a shouting match." But even with all the fearmongering that's going on, Dean asserted, "We're winning this debate."

Dean is optimistic that we're ultimately going to win the fight for healthcare reform, but he thinks that the final bill Democrats run with will not receive a filibuster proof majority in the Senate (which is sixty votes), and will thus have to be pushed through the Senate using reconciliation.

What about co-ops? Dean assailed co-ops as a political compromise, not a policy compromise. They are simply too small to do any good and we've tried them already with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Dean noted. Co-ops are a political compromise to get this out of committee, but they will not work. Co-ops are not a public option.

Another question concerned framing the debate about reform. Dean said it's all about empowerment: Do we want the American people to have a full range of choices or do we want Congress and the insurance companies to decide or us? And if Congress doesn't want to give us the public option, we need to remind them that the American people voted for change last November and we want choice.

We need a system of care that focuses on providing care, not costs. That's want doctors, want too. They don't like practicing medicine with pay for service and quotas of patients to see. We don't like the quality of primary care now, and they don't want to be part of a complicated, inefficient healthcare system dominated by big corporations, which is what we have now.

Dean suggested that the biggest change we need to make in healthcare is the move from an illness model of medicine to a wellness model of medicine. That means a shift to preventative care, which keeps people out of emergency rooms, is less expensive, and reduces the amount of discomfort that patients have to deal with.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

LIVE from Pittsburgh: President Clinton!

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the 42nd President of the United States!

As those words boomed out over the loudspeakers, Bill Clinton strode up the stairs and onto the stage at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to a standing ovation to deliver the opening keynote at Netroots Nation 2009.

President Bill Clinton Addresses Netroots Nation
His voice a bit hoarse (he noted he'd been spending a lot of time on airplanes lately, to great applause) he began by thanking the community for engaging hundreds of thousands of Americans in an ongoing conversation about our nation and our world's future, which are inextricably linked.

"It matters a lot... that we have taken a new approach in our relationship with the rest of the world," Clinton declared. "We would like to lead the world in a progressive way, not dominate it, and we know we can't."

He touched extensively on politics and policy in his speech, stressing the connections between the two. He presented a crash course in recent electoral history, beginning with the 1966 midterm elections (which Democrats lost) and concluding with the most recent presidential election of Barack Obama.

Referring to the sweeping victories Democrats have won over the last four years, Clinton remarked, "We have entered a new era of progressive politics - which if we do it right - could last thirty to forty years."

He referred again and again to the nation's growing diversity, crediting the beginning of a multiracial America as a reason the progressive movement has been able to muster newfound strength in recent years (against incredible adversity) in the tireless effort to remake America for the better.

The future the United States chooses will affect the entire globe, Clinton asserted. "We know that we live in an interdependent country in an interdependent world."

Clinton was interrupted partway through his speech by blogger Lane Hudson, who demanded that the President talk about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Clinton appeared only mildly surprised by the disruption. Pointing a bony finger in Lane's direction, he welcomed the confrontation and proceeded to thoroughly explain how he acted to prevent the Republican controlled Congress from making a bad situation even worse. He drew applause as he reminded the audience that he was forced to deal with Newt Gingrich and Company beginning in 1994.

Clinton proceeded to speak at great lengths (and perhaps that is an understatement) about two priorities that he believes are paramount for America to be successful: Accomplishing healthcare reform and addressing the climate crisis.

President Obama, Clinton said, needs the help of the netroots in dispelling and stamping out right wing untruths about healthcare reform. People have to understand the cost of inaction (which would be staggering), what's good about the President's plan, and that Republican criticisms of the plan are phony because the bad things they say are in the plan simply aren't there.

On attacking the climate crisis, he noted that huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved through efficiency alone. Weatherizing homes, retrofitting public buildings, and insisting on strict green standards for new construction can reduce energy demand and get us on the path to meeting the targets for lower emissions that we must reach if we are to cool Earth's fever.

The President ended his remarks by praising the tenacity of the netroots community and its ability to harness technology to bring people together. "You hold the seeds of a genuine revolution in our public life," Clinton said, adding somewhat wistfully that he has been waiting all of his life for this moment.

"We have to preserve this progressive majority," he stressed. "This could be the most exciting time in human history."

LIVE from Pittsburgh: A salute to participatory democracy at Netroots Nation

After a long day of panels, workshops, and trainings, it's finally time for the opening ceremonies here at Netroots Nation.

Our keynote speaker will be the one and only President Bill Clinton, a giant in Democratic politics and a true American statesman, whose recent mission to North Korea negotiate for the release of American journalists held by Kim Jong II's regime has once again put him in the headlines.

President Clinton will be addressing us at approximately 6:30 PM Pacific. If you are reading at home, remember that you can follow along live on C-SPAN.

The crowd at Thursday night's opening keynote
So far we have heard from Chuck Rocha of the United Steelworkers, who delivered a passionate, heartfelt speech about the importance of people powered politics. AFSCME greeted us with a very funny and friendly video that emphasized the need for healthcare reform, and Netroots Nation Executive Director Raven Brooks introduced two great progressive leaders, Judd Legum and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, to speak briefly about the strength and the accomplishments of this amazing community.

Simon Rosenberg of NDN lamented that the netroots community did not exist when Bill Clinton took office in January 1993. Despite enormous obstacles placed in his way by obstructionist Republicans, Rosenberg noted that Clinton was successful in creating jobs, growing the economy, and generating a surplus during his eight years in office as President.

And we were welcomed to Pittsburgh by the mayor of Braddock and the executive of Allegheny County.

Adam Bonin, the Chairman of Netroots Nation, is currently introducing Congressman Brad Miller, the only sitting member of Congress to attend the first YearlyKos Convention in Las Vegas back in 2006.

LIVE from Pittsburgh: "Democracy Without Newspapers" draws a crowd

It looks like my choice for the last session of the day here at Netroots Nation is one of the convention's most popular panels.

"Democracy Without Newspapers", moderated by New York based freelance journalist in Susannah Vila, is a discussion about the future of news media and the consequences for our political process. The panel is exploring the question of whether the decline of newspapers is a threat to the health of our republic or rather the best thing that could happen to our democracy.

Democracy Without Newspapers

The panelist who I've found most riveting so far is Michael A. Fuoco, who works for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is the only working newspaper journalist on the panel. Fuoco delivered perhaps the panel's most memorable line in his opening remarks, declaring slowly to the audience, "Some of you may not see the need for me, but I see the need for you." He expressed the hope that his employer would at least last long enough for him to put his son through college, and pointed out some of the advantages of a traditionally organized newsroom (namely, that there are people and resources available to gather news, verify facts, and polish stories).

However, Jay Rosen (professor of journalism at New York University) asserted that everyone should participate in the verification of facts. "Everybody is capable of understanding that we have to verify things," he said, although he admitted, "We do have to spread to more people the ethic of verifying what you say." (But he didn't acknowledge that it takes time and energy to do that, and while volunteer participatory journalism is a great thing, it's not possible to raise a family on a salary of reader comments. The "psychic income" problem is still a problem.)

Nick Beaudrot, who organizes Seattle Drinking Liberally, asked the panel (and specifically Fuoco) asked if the decline in ad revenues was leading to cutbacks in hard local news coverage. Fuoco responded that the paper hasn't been scaling back its coverage (rather, it's just trying to accomplish more with fewer people) and noted that the Steelers' World Series victory and the Penguins' Stanley Cup have bolstered sales of newspapers, which has helped the Post-Gazette stay afloat).

Karl Frisch of Media Matters noted that the advent of the Internet has destroyed walls that used to stand in the way of people getting information. It's no longer necessary, he said, for someone wanting to do a story on travel by members of Congress to have to travel to Washington, D.C. because that information is available online: anyone with an Internet connection can find it.

The Q&A is starting to focus on how to create a sustainable business model for journalism, after a lengthy question from one of the folks behind ePluribus Media. A couple of the possibilities mentioned by the panel in response were creating more publicly funded news operations (the BBC, PBS, and NPR being examples at least on the broadcast side) and foundation grants.

Someone else also wondered if perhaps it's time for a universal online code of conduct that everyone can agree to so there are standards for what is published. This question didn't get much discussion, with the only response coming from Karl Frisch, who asserted that traditional media doesn't bother with standards itself except when reporters are caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar.

We're about out of time here, so I'll sign off for now. This panel has affirmed to me how useful it is to have a diverse mix of views represented when the objective is to facilitate a serious exploration of a topic.

Panels that don't have a mix of views ought to be labeled presentations by Netroots Nation organizers to distinguish what are essentially briefings from sessions like these, which do feature discussions that are intellectually provocative.

LIVE from Pittsburgh: We're in the news

President Clinton's keynote speech at Netroots Nation tonight is causing a number of traditional media outlets to take notice of our convention. Here's a roundup of some of stories that have been published so far:
USA Today also mentions Netroots Nation in its "Looking Ahead" roundup.

LIVE from Pittsburgh: What's the best way to empower young progressives?

Hello everyone! As you've probably read by now, I'm with Andrew in Pittsburgh for Netroots Nation 2009. Our plan is to go to as many different panels as we can so we can take in more of the convention. So while Andrew was at Scaling Obama, I attended a panel about empowering progressive youth.

The panel featured many youth leaders who came together to talk about how far the young people have come, but also what challenges are ahead.

One of the core beliefs that young progressives share is that we're all in this together, and we have to think about our impact on others before we act. Thus, we're not focused on policy directions that will help us get ahead, but rather how proposed legislation will affect our communities.

The panel suggested that this philosophy is very different than the philosophy of young progressives from bygone decades. Many of today's decision makers are the people who grew up during the sixties and seventies, and they respond to different message than the new generation. In other words, a message that makes sense to a baby boomer may not resonate at all with a millennial.

Naturally, young progressives are the ones who know how to reach other young progressives most effectively. Unfortunately, few young activists have the kind of resources that established progressive groups (such as unions have). Young people just don't have the money to pay for projects they want to do. And, when everyone sits at the decision making table, young people often have no voice.

But where the youth movement does not have the money, we certainly have the people. By 2012, an astonishing twenty five percent of the voter population will under thirty six, although the promise of greater democratic participation is unlikely to be fulfilled without an increased emphasis on civics in our schools.

People aren't going to care about issues if they're not exposed to them. Hands on political education is critical to getting youth engaged.

The panel believes that young people need to realize three objectives in order to succeed in giving the progressive movement the strength it needs: (1) Train and equip new leaders, (2) develop plans of action based on our values, and (3) acquire the funds necessary to implement those plans.

Gee, sounds like what we're doing here at NPI...

I'm looking forward to more panels and the keynotes. I'll post again soon with more reflections on the convention.

LIVE from Pittsburgh: Veterans of Obama campaign discuss lessons from 2008

We've moved into our second group of sessions here at Netroots Nation. At this moment I'm listening to a panel about applying lessons from the Obama campaign to state and local races. The panel has mostly focused on reviewing Obama's use of new media and technology as opposed to providing advice to candidates and volunteers waging campaigns at the local level.

Still, it's been a good discussion.

Among the best practices the speakers have touched on:
  • Tools are not as important as how they are used. It's better to have a good plan for making use of a tool then to breathlessly experiment with the latest gee-whiz technology, setting up one thing after another.
  • Don't write off "old" means of online communication (like email). Not everyone is on social networks, for instance. That said, there's no reason not to be on Facebook and niche social networks, as that is a potential low overhead way to recruit supporters for a cause.
  • How time is allocated is often far more important than how money is allocated. This is especially the case in low budget campaigns for city council or school board that rely mostly on volunteers.
  • Organizers need to be able to tell a story and have a consistent message. Integration across different media (for example, yard signs and websites) is really important.
The panel spent a lot of time discussing the proliferation of mobile phones and text messaging, a means of communication that has been widely embraced by young people. The market is so saturated that seniors have become the fastest growing demographic that is adopting text messaging.

This panel will be wrapping up before long, and then it'll be lunchtime. I'll check in again as the afternoon panels get underway.

LIVE from Pittsburgh: Netroots Nation 2009 kicks off with morning panels

Good morning from Pittsburgh!

It's a busy scene here at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in the Steel City's cultural district, where thousands of activists are gathering for the beginning of the fourth annual Netroots Nation Convention.

As in past years, the convention's first events are an array of panels tackling diverse topics, from the climate crisis to marriage equality to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm currently listening to a presentation by the United Steelworkers about their blending of offline and online organizing techniques. It's turned out to be more like an informational briefing than a traditional panel (especially concerning the use of prerecorded video), but that's okay.

The USW has historically relied heavily on phone calls, leaflets, and faxes to communicate with its members and with elected leaders. Recently the Steelworkers have begun to utilize Flickr, Twitter, blogs, and downloadable toolkits that their members can access from their website.

Today, the union is doing its best to use the Internet to put more boots on the ground more quickly and more efficiently than before.

One intriguing fact I've learned so far: The Steelworkers are one of the few unions whose members directly elect the International President. The parent union also does not make endorsements (although its locals do).

There's also some convention news from overnight to share. The organizers of Netroots Nation have announced that the closing keynote will be delivered by none other than our very own Darcy Burner, who now works in the District of Columbia as the American Progressive Caucus Policy Foundation:
After three days of strategizing around progressive change, Burner will close out the convention with a message on how we make that a reality after everyone has left Pittsburgh. She believes activists must strike a balance between applying sophisticated pressure on their elected leaders and amplifying their efforts to create space for progressive policy.

Two of Pittsburgh's own will also speak, Pennsylvania State Senator Jim Ferlo and Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO. Ferlo is a respected progressive leader in Pittsburgh and a strong advocate for a single-payer healtch care system. Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer of AFL-CIO and candidate to become its next President, gained notoriety in the 2008 election by confronting head-on the challenges faced by the nation's first African-American Presidential Candidate, Barack Obama.

Netroots Nation staff will also reveal the host city for 2010, and CREDO Mobile will announce the winners of the first annual CREDO/Netroots Nation Blogger Awards.
Darcy's closing keynote will be delivered during the 2 PM hour on Saturday for those of you back in the Pacific Northwest. As with the other keynotes, we'll cover it live, so be sure to check in here at that time if you'll be around.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Baird to host town hall meetings after all

Today Congressman Brian Baird (D-Vancouver) changed course and announced that he will host five town hall meetings in the 3rd Congressional District during the August recess.
]"I have always been a huge advocate of town halls" said Congressman Baird, who has hosted more than three hundred town halls since taking office. "Frankly, I have had concerns about how we can have constructive dialogue and, unfortunately, in response to some of the things we've been seeing across the nation I have said some things myself that I regret. I want to express that regret directly and announce that we will be holding a series of five town halls so people can express their opinions and ask questions. My hope and trust is that we can have the kinds of informative exchanges that I have valued for so long and that reveal the very best of public discourse."
In addition to the town hall meetings, Congressman Baird will meet privately with health care professionals, small business owners and others to discuss health insurance reform. While the full schedule of public meetings has not been released yet, the first will be held in Vancouver at Skyview High School from 7 to 9:30 PM on August 18.

If you live in the the 3rd Congressional District, please consider attending one of the five town halls and let your voice be heard. At this point, Congressman Baird isn't committing to voting for or against a bill that isn't in final form. He's also not making strong statements in support of a robust public option.

That's not to say he won't vote for a bill or won't support a public option, but we need to voice our opinions as his constituents.

You can find the complete text of Congressman Baird's statement here.

Explore our majestic national parks for free this weekend

Looking for something to do this weekend? Go take a hike.

One of the benefits of summer in the Pacific Northwest is the many opportunities we have to for outdoor recreation. This weekend is the last of three opportunities this year for you to visit our national parks and not pay an entrance fee.

While we may have had some rain in the early part of the week, the forecast for the weekend (at least in Washington) is for sunnier weather. Why not take the opportunity to visit one of our national parks and see what they have to offer?

Click on a state below to get more information on parks in the Pacific Northwest or to plan your trip.

Washington | Oregon | Idaho | Montana | Alaska

Greetings from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This week in the Keystone State, thousands of progressive activists will be converging on Pittsburgh for the fourth annual gathering of the worldwide netroots community, Netroots Nation. Daniel and I have arrived in town and checked in at the Westin, where we'll be staying for the convention.

Beginning tomorrow morning we'll be offering live and ongoing coverage of the happenings here in Pittsburgh, including Bill Clinton's keynote, the Specter/Sestak forum, and the Q&A with Valerie Jarrett. Because of the time difference, those of you in the Pacific Northwest will need to checkk earlier than what's posted on the Netroots Nation website if you want to follow along live.

Here is a quick schedule of important events in Pacific Time:
  • Bill Clinton's Keynote: Tomorrow at 5 PM
  • Rx for Reform (Health Care Town Hall with Gov. Howard Dean): Friday August 14th at 6 AM
  • Pennsylvania Leadership Forum with Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak: Friday August 14th at 8 AM)
  • A Conversation With Valerie Jarrett, moderated by Baratunde Thurston: Saturday, August 15th, 2009, 6 AM
We'll be covering all of these. And yes, we know the latter three are pretty early in the morning!

All of the keynotes will be covered live on C-SPAN or C-SPAN2. So if you have cable or satellite, you can watch in real time as well as reading our live reports. There's also an Internet stream available.

In between, we'll be offering our thoughts and reflections on some of the panels we're going to, as well as a roundup of convention coverage.

If you have any questions about the convention or tips on what you want us to go to, please leave a comment or drop us a line and let us know what's on your mind.

Netroots Nation Washington attendees who have preordered 2009 Washington Progressive Blogroll t-shirts can pick theirs up at tomorrow's Pacific Northwest caucus in the Exhibit Hall, or by appointment with us (again, just drop us a line!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Holding town halls when a fringe minority has promised to hijack them is a waste

Jason Mercier of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center, recently took Congressman Brian Baird to task for deciding not to hold a town hall meeting with constituents to discuss health care during the August recess, as did his neighboring colleague Congressman Adam Smith.
It should not surprise elected officials that when they push controversial policies, there will be some heat back home. Assuming the policy is well thought out and the typical member of Congress understands what he is advocating, he should have no fear answering even the most hostile question.

Whether a union packs a town hall or tax protesters, these individuals are still constituents and, more important, they are Americans participating in representative government.

Although some in Congress may prefer that town hall meetings be more like an echo chamber, it appears Smith has not lost sight of the fact that all of his constituents have the right to be heard and not just those who agree with him.
As a resident of the 3rd Congressional District, I agree that it is counterproductive and anathema to democracy for elected officials to constantly meet with groups of like-minded people who share their opinions, as George Dubya Bush did when he was in power. This is not what Brian Baird is advocating.

Congressman Baird is not avoiding constituents by not having a town hall meeting. Indeed, Congressman Baird has continuously visited every corner of the 3rd District, even facing critics like myself who loudly disagreed with his position on Bush’s escalation in Iraq. According to The Olympian, Baird has held 305 town hall meetings in the 11 years since he was first elected. To say he is ducking his constituents isn’t fair.

There is a place for dissent in our democracy. A loyal, vocal opposition keeps the majority honest. However, shouting down members of Congress and engaging in unruly behavior and painting swastikas on their office signs is not democracy. It’s mob behavior, criminal in some cases, and has no place in a civilized society.

To be clear, teabaggers and deathers are not looking for reform. They’re trying to subvert democracy by turning town halls into chaos. They’re not interested in civilized conversation that leads to compromise and better public policy. They want more of the same fearmongering and inaction on the most important issues that we’ve had for the last eight years.

In fact, on a private conference call they’ve said as much.

There is no reasoning with unreasonable people. And for those who do want to engage in conversation with their member of Congress, their engagement in democracy is ruined by the bad apples who are intent on causing mayhem. Congressman Baird is right to decline to meet the wingnuts on their terms. And he is holding a tele-town hall meeting which should prove to be more orderly.

If you live in the 3rd District and want to have a conversation with Congressman Baird about health care, write him a letter or send him an e-mail and let him know what you think. I’ve always received a response from him, even when we’ve been on opposite sides of an issue.

Monday, August 10, 2009

State Treasurer launches modern website

Tired of an outdated, nineties-era website serving as the virtual face of his office, State Treasurer Jim McIntire recently set into motion an effort to bring his site into the twenty first century. The redesigned site launched today, and it looks much better than the old one. It's better organized with a smooth graphic layout.

Among the rotating pictures is a photo of McIntire and Governor Chris Gregoire sitting at a desk, both with glasses on, wholly engrossed in the business of the people of Washington. Interspersed are pictures of Evergreen State scenery.

State Treasurer's New Website
The state's bond rating is prominently displayed - currently it's AA+ - and information is offered for specific audiences (State Agencies, Local Governments, Investors and Financial Institutions).

"I’m pleased to launch our new site," McIntire said in a statement released to NPI. "Whether you are an investor or taxpayer I hope you find the added statistics and reports helpful when you evaluate how Washington State manages its finances."

McIntire's redesign leaves Washington State's lieutenant governor, Brad Owen, as the statewide officeholder with the most antiquated website.

(Randy Dorn's site, though, still looks too much like it did during the Terry Bergeson era... time for a facelift there if you ask us).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Senator Maria Cantwell tells Bill Press: "Yes, I do" support a robust public option

It looks like the question of whether Senator Maria Cantwell is really for a public option or not has finally been answered.

On Friday, Washington's junior senator appeared on the nationally syndicated Bill Press Show to talk healthcare reform. Bill asked her, explicitly, why a public option wasn't on her list of healthcare priorities, and then asked her to confirm that she is, in fact, for a robust public option (as opposed to just being "open" to the idea).

Cantwell went on the record as saying that she likes the language in the bill drafted by the Senate HELP Committee, and wants it to be a model for the bill the Finance Committee ultimately comes up with. Here's the transcript from the show:
BILL PRESS: Senator Maria Cantwell, from the State of Washington, our guest here on the Bill Press Show. Senator, I have your website up on my computer this morning. I checked it out. Under Senator Cantwell's healthcare priorities... and when you click to that page, you've got a list of them: Preserving Medicare for Washington seniors, helping children get quality care, Medicaid, healthcare for those who need it most, ensuring rural access to care, using technology better, small business health insurance, expanding the health provider workforce, recruiting and retaining nurses... all good stuff! What's missing is a public plan option! Why isn't that on the list?

SENATOR CANTWELL: Well, it should be. Because we certainly believe that cost containment... and getting health insurance costs down [is critical]. If you look across the country, there are health insurance plans that, you know, are forty or fifty percent of the market...

BILL PRESS: Right!

SENATOR CANTWELL: ...in which case they have very little competition. And if we are going to get true competition for the health, uh, the... for premiums, to drive down costs, a public option is the best way to do that.

BILL PRESS: So, do you support the public plan option? Yes or no?

SENATOR CANTWELL: Yes, I do. And I think that the HELP Committee did a good job of outlining it in their bill, and I think that we should try to get similar language in the Finance Committee... And we're going to be working with Senator Rockefeller and others to do that.

BILL PRESS: And uh, the Chairman, your Chairman [Max Baucus] has said... I saw again this morning... he says, basically, that um, Democrats ought to just forget about the public plan option.

SENATOR CANTWELL: Well, I disagree, in the sense that the public plan... if you think about what Medicare has been able to do, or you think about what, you know, competition really can do if we would have put the prescription drug benefit under Medicare, it would have driven down price. And the concentration of the insurance companies in these markets... and they have made... so while our, while individual wages may have gone up twenty four percent, healthcare costs, as I've said, have gone up a hundred and twenty percent over a ten year period of time. But insurance profits have gone up four hundred and twenty eight percent over that ten year period of time. So obviously, there's something going on here, where they're making a lot of money, and not driving down costs. And competition from a public option would help do that. And I think as we get into the heart of the debate, I think we can make this point, and I think we will be successful in picking up people who, who understand how important... Now, I talk to Republicans who don't want to cover people, who say, I do want to cover the uninsured, and the forty seven million people... I think when they look at this, they're going to see that having a public option is gonna be a very... the best way to provide competition.

BILL PRESS: Well... I'm glad to hear you say that, and I certainly hope you're right, I hope that that... position prevails in the end. But I'm worried about, you know, Senator Conrad, also, who's a good friend, neighbor here on Capitol Hill, who's come up with this idea of the co-op. And it seems that's the way that he and Chairman Baucus wanna go. The co-op is just... let me ask you the question: Do you think that's an acceptable option to the public plan option, or alternative?

SENATOR CANTWELL: Well, I think the devil's in the details. And I think right now, the way that they're probably looking at a co-op, is probably not the aggressive form of a public option that many would like to see, including myself. And so... I think that's going to be part of the debate.
Hallelujah. Well, that's one less progressive senator we have to worry about waffling on the public option. We're not sure why she couldn't make this crystal clear months ago, but we're glad to hear it now.

Press, incidentally, mentioned Cantwell's appearance on his show last night at AM 1090's forum in Kent at the ShoWare Center, assuring the audience that Cantwell had clarified her support for a strong public option, to great applause.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Moving Forward as the Majority: AM 1090 forum discusses progressive governance

Tonight in Kent AM, 1090 is holding its annual progressive talk forum to discuss our nation's most pressing challenges. This year's theme, following the historic 2008 elections, what Democrats should do to move America forward now that we are in the majority. As might be expected, healthcare reform has been a key topic so far, although there have been many others.

I won't do a play by play in this point - exhaustive liveblogging makes it difficult to absorb what the speakers are saying - but here is a quick overview of topics that have been touched on. The panel is Thom Hartmann, Mike Malloy, Stephanie Miller, Bill Press, and Ron Reagan (most of them were at last year's forum). Former Seattle Times chief political reporter David Postman is moderating.

Healthcare reform. The hosts have hope that President Obama, who won election in part thanks to his political chess skills, is maneuvering to push Congress to pass meaningful legislation that includes a public plan and will move us closer to a day when no one in America will lack access to healthcare. When right wing rent-a-mobs disrupt town hall forums about healthcare reform, progressives ought to respond by chanting "USA" or reciting the pledge of allegiance.

Prosecuting the crimes of the Bush error. The panel agreed that America has an obligation, under treaties we have signed, to bring to justice the people who authorized and condoned torture on persons that we captured as part of military operations to hunt down terrorists. Bob Alexander's effort to ask all local prosecutors throughout America to file charges against George Dubya Bush was recognized and praised. The panel concluded that it's unlikely anything is going to happen, in part because so much of our government is under corporate control.

Corporate Personhood. Thom Hartmann talked at length about the Supreme Court's upcoming argument in an important case that could reshape our country by doing away with some of the few regulations that protect us from unchecked corporate ability to influence elections or lobby government. The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, is set to be re-argued this September by former Solicitor General Ted Olson, described by Hartmann as one of the most toxic men in America. Chief Justice John Roberts' objective in having the case re-argued appears to be to set the stage for a sweeping decision that will overturn restrictions on corporate speech. The consequences could be either disastrous or positive depending on how Congress and the American people react.

Getting Involved in the Party. Becoming active in the Democratic Party at the local level is an important way for progressives to get the ear of our federal lawmakers, both representatives and senators. Showing up, volunteering, even running for office, is extremely important, because we have no right to complain about how awful things are if we're not willing to do anything about it.

President Clinton to deliver opening keynote at Netroots Nation 2009

This is pretty cool:
In June, a dozen or so bloggers got a chance to meet with President Bill Clinton for a candid discussion on a range of topics, ranging from the environment to health care to the role of today’s new progressive era.

Reading about this meeting of got us to thinking: What if President Clinton came to Netroots Nation to discuss this new progressive era? After all, governance and grassroots activism is a huge focus of our convention this year.

Well, we are thrilled to announce that President Bill Clinton will join us in Pittsburgh to help kick off our fourth annual convention on Thursday night.
In 2006, we had Harry Reid and Howard Dean. (Dean proceeded to show up each subsequent year because he believes in people powered politics). In 2007, we had Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, and Mike Gravel. Last year we had Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore.

This year, we get President Clinton.

It'll be the first time that a former president has put in an appearance at our convention. (Not that there are that many for the organizers to make an appeal to... President Carter would be the only other possibility).

I was hoping for a surprise appearance from Joe Biden (he missed the presidential leadership forum in 2007) - who knows, maybe that'll happen too, or if not, then there's next year - but this is pretty sweet. Elvis, in person. What a treat.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Industry funded right wing rent-a-mobs aren't just poisoning public discourse

Much has been written over the past couple of weeks about the right wing rent-a-mobs that are being ginned up by opponents of healthcare reform to disrupt Democratic town halls. National progressive blogs are tracking developments across the nation, cable television news is devoting plenty of coverage, and local and national columnists alike have weighed in.

Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid, have gone out of their way to correctly point out that these ugly bands of right wing "protesters" are indeed rent-a-mobs, primarily organized by fake grassroots operations run out of D.C. Here's the Center for American Progress:
Despite these attempts to make the “movement” appear organic, the principle organizers of the local events are actually the lobbyist-run think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. The two groups are heavily staffed and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests:
Freedom Works staffers coordinate conference calls among protesters, contacting conservative activists to give them “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country.”

Freedom Works staffers apparently moved to “take over” the planning of local events in Florida.

Freedom Works provides how-to guides for delivering a “clear message” to the public and media.

Freedom Works has several domain addresses — some of them made to look like they were set up by amateurs — to promote the protests.

Americans for Prosperity is writing press releases and planning the events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states.
Media Matters has a profile of some of the big corporations that are funding the mob organizers. Corporate cons, meet the paleocons.

Another of these organizations, Conservatives for Patients' Rights, has even taken credit for manufacturing the furor, drawing a condemnation from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Republicans and spokesmen for the astroturf groups, meanwhile, are ardently pretending that this is a populist uprising that they have little or nothing to do with.

The evidence shows otherwise.

Are there people out there opposed to healthcare reform who are coming to the town halls of their own accord? Yes. But the purposeful unruliness and harassment is all part of the right wing's playbook.

The "rented mobs" are comprised of the people who have been instructed to show up and cause trouble, led and/or encouraged by by lobbyists. Not participate, not listen, not share opinions, but create havoc.

Writing in the New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman observes that some conservatives are trying to justify the manufactured havoc by claiming that progressives have been unruly in the past:
Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.

And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received.
One of these commentators, Jon Henke, tried to refute Krugman by selectively excerpting phrases out of a post I wrote in March 2005 about Dave Reichert's Social Security town hall. Here's the selective excerpt Henke patched together:
NW Progressive Institute, March 2005: "a boisterous crowd which frequently interrupted the discussion with shouts and hard nosed questions. ... Democrats in the audience who were interrupting the panel.... the crowd erupted in anger... Democrats in the audience started shouting him down again."
Henke didn't bother to provide his readers with any full context (other than linking to my post, so that people can read for themselves) but if he thinks that the town hall I went to disproves Krugman's assertion, he's dead wrong.

I remember that town hall very clearly. And it bears no resemblance to the appalling video we've seen featuring the tactics of the right wing rent-a-mobs.

Sure, Reichert's crowd was in, for the most part, a feisty, boisterous mood, but people were also respectful. Henke doesn't bother to explain to his readers that the person who got interrupted was one of Congressman Reichert's panelists - Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center - not Reichert himself.

When Reichert spoke, the room listened.

The reason audience members interrupted Guppy is because there was no one on Reichert's panel who represented their views. It was stacked with pro-privatization conservatives. Guppy was distorting the facts in his anti-Social Security "presentation", and so he found himself interrupted. He wasn't interrupted because audience members wanted to sabotage the event.

They just wanted to object to Guppy's rhetoric, much like a lawyer might rise from his or her chair during court proceedings and say, "Objection!".

The people who interrupted Guppy did not carry signs with swastikas or scream ugly slogans. There were no death threats. Nobody was violent. Congressman Reichert was not hanged in effigy. Audience members did not harass him as he walked out to his car after it was over. Nor did audience members assault him.

The town hall began and ended very peacefully; both progressive and conservative groups handed out literature and buttons.

The audience might have been quiet the entire time if the panel discussion had not been staged. Doubtless this decision was belied by advice from the Bush administration and Tom DeLay, but Reichert should have discarded it, since staged events just don't work when the audience has not been prescreened.

The rent-a-mobs, in contrast, are employing hate speech, death threats, and violence. They have come to town halls with the goal of causing trouble. It's thuggery, pure and simple, designed to prevent the free and open exchange of ideas. And it's being furthered by hate talkers, particularly Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Fox is promoting the dates and times of Democratic town halls.

Even reasonable conservatives can see this for what it is:
Monday night’s health care forum in Napa grew unruly and wild, with some critics of the current health care proposals seeking to derail the event, harming their cause and nearly destroying a meaningful forum on a critical topic for Napa and the nation.

The display was unwelcome — and unsuccessful if it was meant to move health care reform supporters toward considering the concerns of the critics. Several callers to the Register on Tuesday reported they were repulsed by the aggressive tactics of some members of the crowd.

To the degree the catcalls, chants and shouts were organized — and it appears from events around the country that they were — we strongly suggest that the organizers find more constructive ways to get their message out.
That's from an editorial by the Napa Valley Register, which backed John McCain in last November's presidential election.

In short, the right wing crazies are not just trying to poison the discourse, they're trying to incite violence with their hate speech. They are breeding eliminationism.

But they can be stopped.

Just as a few out of control, emotionally unstable righties can cause an ugly scene, a few empowered and motivated progressives can calm things down. The perpetrators of the hate speech need people to be riled up; their goals are furthered by violence, shouting, and pandemonium. Conversely, when discourse turns peaceful and fair, that's a win for progressivism.

Most people, including reasonable conservatives, do not want to be in the midst of an ugly scene for a reason. It's scary.

So efforts to restore calm when things fall apart are very important, because well behaved people will naturally respond to them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Big surprise: Big media wants to make bigger profits from the Internet

How fitting: the copyright-obsessed Associated Press has written a story about News Corporation's plans to charge for access to its websites:
Visitors to the Web sites of newspapers owned by News Corp. will have to start coughing up fees to read the news within the next year, Chairman Rupert Murdoch said.

It's risky for the company because a pay barrier could drive away Web traffic - and with it, advertising revenue.

"You don't want to be the first guy to put up a big pay wall when all other roads to content are open," said Ken Doctor, a media analyst with Outsell Inc.

Yet it is a move many news outlets will closely watch as they, too, consider charging users as the decline in print ad revenue far outpaces the growth of online ad dollars.
Good luck with that plan, Rupert. TimesSelect worked out so well for those other guys, didn't it? Let's hope they put subscription gates on the Fox Noise website so that its traffic will decrease.

There's nothing that Murdoch's News Corporation publishes that is really worth reading, except perhaps the business coverage in the Wall Street Journal, but there are alternatives even to that, like Bloomberg.

Here's a hint to media execs: Especially in this economy, expecting that people are going to willingly pony up cash to visit ad-infested news websites that sport mediocre content is not a smart assumption.

Rather, it's a great way to drive away users who will end up at other sites, bolstering their readership and subsequently the ad revenue too.

The Internet is an open medium; the barrier to entry is low. People have other choices besides traditional media for their news.

Hyperlocal neighborhood blogs are a fine example. Then there are social networks, a way for people to freely exchange information. Twitter and Facebook may run more ads in the future, but they won't charge for access.

As for the Associated Press, they arrogantly seem to think that there is no such thing as fair use. They have announced the introduction of a new scheme that they think will make it possible for them to find out who is using their content and where (and not just entire articles, mind you, but keywords and snippets) so that they can demand payment for it. They already have a website set up to collect voluntary payment from unwitting Americans who don't understand their fair use rights. This website will gladly charge you a fee for any sentence or phrase you put in it.

If all of this sounds pretty stupid, that's because it is.

The great minds who run the Associated Press seem to think their scheme is going to be enforced by a special "microformat". From their announcement:
The microformat will essentially encapsulate AP and member content in an informational “wrapper” that includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online and which also supplies the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage.
Whoever wrote this announcement for the Associated Press has no idea how the Internet works and probably couldn't explain what HTML stands for if they were asked. It's actually rather hilarious.

That's because what is described in that paragraph above - a "digital permissions framework" for news - is impossible to implement. Text published on the Internet cannot be forcibly contained in some mythical "wrapper" that contains a web beacon or tracking code. Any text that can be seen can be copied and pasted by a user to their heart's content, sans "wrapper".

But here's where things get really funny: the technology the Associated Press claims it will be using to "wrap" its content is actually just an open standard that's in development which allows content creators to put copyleft tags on their content!
hNews is funded by major foundations, and all of its tools and specs will be released as open-source software.

In what way does this scheme "wrap" and "protect" the news? It doesn't; it simply marks it up, and adding tags expressing a content creator's wishes on reuse has no bearing on someone's rights under US copyright law. What it does do is provide organizations that use hNews a way to release more rights than are granted under copyright—in essence, a sort of "Creative Commons" news license. In fact, hNews' "rights field" uses ccREL, the Creative Commons Rights Expression Language.
Incidentally, because I copied and pasted a few paragraphs above, the AP apparently believes that NPI owes them money. They have a history of making such threats to online publishers. Well, they won't be getting a dime from us. United States copyright law allows excerpting of their articles under its fair use provisions. The Associated Press is sorely mistaken if they think they can obviate United States copyright law with their own silly edicts.

Fortunately, not all big media companies are copyright and profit obsessed: Thomson Reuters Vice President for Media, Chris Ahearn had the good sense on Tuesday to urge the Associated Press to "stop whining." Well, now we know there's at least one executive out there who gets the Internet.

Senate confirms Sonia Sotomayor to Supreme Court by a vote of sixty eight to thirty one

With Senator Al Franken of Minnesota presiding, the United States Senate today confirmed Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the nation's one hundredth and eleventh Justice of the Supreme Court and first Hispanic justice.

The vote largely split along party lines; it was certainly that way in the Greater Pacific Northwest, where Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, Max Baucus, Jon Tester, and Mark Begich all voted aye (cheers to them!) while Mike Crapo, Jim Risch, and Lisa Murkowski voted nay (jeers to them).

Republicans crossing over included:
  • Kit Bond of Missouri
  • George Voivonich of Ohio
  • Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
  • Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine
  • Lamar Alexander of Tennessee
  • Judd Gregg of New Hampshire
  • Mel Martinez of Florida
  • Richard Lugar of Indiana
Cheers to them for breaking with the rest of their party.

Not a single Democrat joined with the twenty two Republicans who refused to support Sotomayor, John McCain and Mitch McConnell among them. That's a remarkable showing of party unity. Senator Kennedy, regrettably, could not be there to vote, or there would have been sixty nine ayes.

Following Sotomayor's successful confirmation, President Barack Obama declared, "[W]ith this historic vote, the Senate has affirmed that Judge Sotomayor has the intellect, the temperament, the history, the integrity and the independence of mind to ably serve on our nation’s highest court."

Senator Patty Murray, in a statement released to NPI, said:
I was proud to join with my colleagues in the Senate as we cast this historic vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as the next Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Judge Sotomayor is highly qualified for the position, and will be a smart, fair, and impartial member of the Supreme Court. She understands the struggles of working families and the importance of civil rights, and her record shows a strong respect for the rule of law. I have followed her progress through the Senate Judiciary Committee and am confident that she will evaluate each case based on its particular facts, and will protect the rights and liberties of all Americans.
Senator Jeff Merkley, also in a statement released to NPI, noted:
As as our nation’s first Hispanic Justice, this is a historic confirmation. Justice Sotomayor’s intelligence, experience on the bench and commitment to the Constitution make her a tremendous addition to the Supreme Court. Her diverse background and set of life experiences give her valuable insight into the real world application of the law and complement her careful, well-reasoned judicial approach. I’m very proud to have supported her confirmation.
Again, kudos to our Northwest D's for standing strong behind Sonia Sotomayor.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All healthcare is already "government run"

There is perhaps nothing more certain in the world of American politics (or even the whole world, for that matter) than the predictability of Republican talking points.

Anyone who has taken the trouble to dig into and understand the conservative ideology that the modern Republican Party is anchored to can appreciate the extroadinarily ability that ideology's followers have to paint a truly distorted, warped picture of reality... on practically any issue or topic.

In the case of healthcare reform, Republicans have whipped out the bullhorns and gotten busy trying to scare Americans into believing that progressive proposals to put people first by overhauling our healthcare system will actually make things worse. "Government run healthcare will ruin everything," Republicans charge, raising the specter of "government bureaucrats" making decisions about what kind of care Americans would get under a public plan.

Their dishonesty, ironically, is brought to us (bought and paid for in the form of campaign contributions) by the very people who are currently at the helm of our current government-run healthcare system. That's right, government run. As in private government: big insurance companies, big pharmaceutical companies, big HMOs (health maintenance organizations).

These corporations are the cold, uncaring powers-that-be that currently control nearly every aspect of our healthcare system. The reason they're cold and uncaring is simple: they are not accountable to patients nor doctors. They exist to make money for a small number of people - their investors.

Make no mistake, they are are analogous to governments. They are not, in any sense, persons. That the law treats them as such is the result of a serious misinterpretation of the Constitution by our Supreme Court.

The truth is, corporations are governments... bad ones. Undemocratic ones. The kind that make decisions by fiat. The kind that feature bloated bureaucracy, are completely impersonal and unresponsive at times, and incredibly wasteful.

Their modus operandi was brilliantly parodied in the hit Pixar movie The Incredibles, released in 2004. Remember InsuraCare? There are two great scenes in that film, set in InsuraCare's offices, between the protagonist, Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible, and the CEO of the company, Mr. Huph. The scenes beautifully tell the story of the car wreck that is our current healthcare system. The first:
MRS. HOGENSEN: [A customer] Denied? You're denying my claim? I don't understand. I have full coverage.

BOB PARR: I'm sorry, Mrs. Hogensen, but our liability is spelled out in Paragraph 17. It states clearly...

MRS. HOGENSEN: [stammering] I can't pay for this!

[...]

BOB PARR: Excuse me. Where were we?

MRS. HOGENSEN: [Sobbing] I'm on a fixed income, and if you can't help me, I don't know what I'll do! [Blows nose loudly]

BOB PARR: [Stands up and suspiciously peers outside of his cubicle] All right, listen closely. I'd like to help you, but I can't. [Hands notepad to Mrs. Hogensen]. I'd like to tell you to take a copy of your policy to Norma Wilcox on... Norma Wilcox, W-I-L-C-O-X. On the third floor. But I can't. I also do not advise you to fill out and file a WS2475 form with our legal department on the second floor. I would not expect someone to get back to you quickly to resolve the matter. I'd like to help, but there's nothing I can do. [Stands up]

MRS. HOGENSEN: Oh, thank you, young man.

BOB PARR: Shhh! [Shouts] I'm sorry, ma'am. I know you're upset! [Whispers] Pretend to be upset.

MRS. HOGENSEN: [Sobbing, departs]

[The CEO, Mr. Huph, walks in to Parr's cubicle with an ugly look on his face]

MR. HUPH: PARR! You authorized payment on the Walker policy!?

BOB PARR: Someone broke into their house, Mr. Huph. Their policy clearly covers...

MR. HUPH: I don't wanna know about their coverage, Bob. Don't tell me about their coverage. Tell me how you're keeping InsuraCare in the black. Tell me how that's possible with you writing checks to every Harry Hardluck and Sally Sobstory that gives you a phone call! [Departs in a huff].

PA SYSTEM (Background) Morning break is over, morning break is over.
And the second scene:
VOICE ON PHONE: [to Bob Parr] Request claim on claim numbers 158183...

[Another call cuts in, it's the CEO's Secretary]

MR. HUPH (Background): Haven't you got him yet!? Where is he!?

SECRETARY: Mr. Huph would like to talk to you in his office.

BOB PARR: [Sighs] Now?

SECRETARY: Now.

[In Huph's office, moments later]

MR. HUPH: Sit down, Bob. I'm not happy Bob. Not happy. Ask me why.

BOB PARR: [Dejected] Okay, why?

MR. HUPH: Why what? Be specific, Bob.

BOB PARR: Why are you unhappy?

MR. HUPH: Your customers make me unhappy.

BOB PARR: What, you've gotten complaints?

MR. HUPH: Complaints I can handle. What I can't handle is your customers' inexplicable knowledge of InsuraCare's inner workings. They're experts, Bob! Experts! Exploiting every loophole, dodging every obstacle! They're penetrating the bureaucracy!

BOB PARR: Did I do something illegal?

MR. HUPH: [Angrily] No!

BOB PARR: Are you saying we shouldn't help our customers?

MR. HUPH: The law requires that I answer no!

BOB PARR: We're supposed to help people.

MR. HUPH: [Yelling] We're supposed to help OUR PEOPLE! Starting with our stockholders, Bob. Who's helping them out, huh?
Those two scenes summarize pretty much everything that's wrong with American healthcare today. Profit is prioritized over people. Making money is more important than providing care. Lives are needlessly being lost, yes, lost because of the stupid, arcane, greed-driven system we've got now.

All run by massive corporations private governments that are totally unaccountable to patients, their families, and their doctors.

The government of the United States of America, in contrast, is a public government, of, by, and for the people of this great nation. It is a government that we have control over and a voice in. It exists to do what we ourselves cannot do in our seperate and individual capacities, as Abraham Lincoln once said.

This country was founded upon life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those noble words are found in the Declaration of Independence, and they are the principles that the best of America has always represented.

Life is not possible without access to quality healthcare. Neither is liberty, since the freedom to do virtually anything disappears when an American is unable to work or support their family due to a crippling illness.

Pursuit of happiness? Yeah, forget that one too.

The well being of our people depends on access to quality healthcare. It is vital. That is why healthcare must - must! - be a right and not merely a privilege for a wealthy few. The system we have today is unfair, un-American, and undemocratic. Ultimately, it needs to be abolished.

The President and progressive Democrats in Congress have called for the creation of a public plan that would cover millions of Americans who do not have health insurance a lifeline. The public plan will not not forcibly eliminate the private governments that have, literally, a death grip on healthcare today. Its creation will simply release their chokehold on all of us.

And it is a chokehold. The White House estimates that in our state alone:
  • Roughly 4 million people in Washington get health insurance on the job, where family premiums average $13,216, about the annual earning of a full-time minimum wage job.
  • Since 2000 alone, average family premiums have increased by one hundred and three percent in Washington.
  • Household budgets are strained by high costs: sxiteen percent of middle-income Washington families spend more than ten percent of their income on health care.
  • High costs block access to care: twelve percent of people in Washington report not visiting a doctor due to high costs.
  • Washington businesses and families shoulder a hidden health tax of roughly $1,300 per year on premiums as a direct result of subsidizing the costs of the uninsured.
Along with the creation of a public plan, the President has proposed a set of new regulations that will attempt to keep insurance companies honest, with the public plan itself providing the ultimate check and balance. Those Americans who like the health coverage they get today from private governments won't have to do anything. The President has explicitly promised their coverage won't change.

The next time you hear a Republican babbling out the evils of "government-run healthcare" just remember this: All healthcare is already government run. We can either choose to entrust our lives to a bunch of wealthy executives clad in suits, a la Mr. Huph, or we can take matters into our own hands and create a public plan that leverages our common wealth to provide opportunity to Americans who have been locked out and left behind. Please, let your representative and Senators know: We can't wait any longer for a public plan. Inaction is killing us... literally.

Montana to get visit from Commander in Chief

Congratulations to Montana upon becoming the first state in the Greater Pacific Northwest to get a visit from President Barack Obama:
A Bozeman City Commissioner confirmed earlier tonight, President Barack Obama is coming to Bozeman on August 14 and will hold a town hall meeting at an airport hanger.

This marks the third time Obama has visited Big Sky country but its the first time he's visited as Commander-in-Chief.

The last time Obama was here was in May 2008 when he was campaigning for the White Hosue. Then-candidate Obama attended rallies in Bozeman, Billings and the Crow Indian Reservation. As candidate, he campaigned hard in this traditionally Republican stronghold.
Guess that means he won't be at Netroots Nation, which is happening that same weekend in Pittsburgh. (Obama's trusted advisor, Valerie Jarrett, will be stopping by the following morning for a question and answer session, however.)

The president's team made a good choice in selecting Montana for a visit. It's Max Baucus' home state. Perhaps the White House is trying to let Baucus know that compromising on the already announced principles for healthcare reform is simply unacceptable. The idea behind healthcare reform is to improve Americans' lives and end the stranglehold big corporations have over the doctor/patient relationship.

Baucus needs to understand, plainly, that any "deal" or "plan" that is not built around a robust public option is not reform. It's more of the same, only rebranded in a new slick package. That's not what the American people want.

Going to Pittsburgh? Join us for the Pacific Northwest caucus at Netroots Nation

Netroots Nation, here we come!

In just over a week, the netroots community will be meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for its fourth annual gathering to talk about infrastructure building, strategy, and blending tried and true methods of community organizing with new online techniques. Daniel and I are very much looking forward to representing NPI in the City of Bridges next weekend, and we're also pleased to announce today that NPI will host a Pacific Northwest caucus inside the convention on Thursday at noon.

The caucus is open to Washingtonians, Oregonians, and Idahoans, as well as any conventiongoer who is interested in talking about local, state, and regional politics with us. The caucus will focus on three things:

Increasing cooperation at the regional level. The Pacific Northwest has much in common, yet we don't often talk about issues across state boundaries. Learning to listen to each other better would be a good first step, as well as identifying several key issues where we'd like to collaborate (for example - and okay, granted, this is an easy one - preventing the Bonneville Power Administration from being used as a cash cow by the federal government).

2010 Electoral Landscape. In the next cycle, Oregon will choose its next governor, Washington will decide whether to send Patty Murray back to D.C. for a fourth term, Idaho will decide whether it wants Mike Crapo to continue representing the Gem State in the U.S. Senate, Walt Minnick will likely face a tough opponent in his bid to remain in the House, and Suzan DelBene will be challenging Dave Reichert in the Eighth Congressional District. We'll take a look at the 2010 electoral landscape and the implications for our region.

Creating an ongoing dialogue. We've only got an hour for this caucus, so it makes sense to talk about sustaining the conversation beyond one session at Netroots Nation. We'll explore ideas for staying in touch between infrequent in person gatherings, and we'll end the session by creating a master blogroll which will be sent to all participants consisting of the names and web addresses of any blogs represented at the caucus.

Again, the caucus is scheduled for noon in the Exhibit Hall on Thursday. We purposefully scheduled it then because there isn't much going on at that time. We don't want to force folks to choose between attending that cool panel and our regional caucus. We'll hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Unions urge voters to take a pass on Ross Hunter for county executive over state budget

The race for King County Executive is starting to heat up a bit.

A coalition of unions, represented by local consulting firm Moxie Media, announced this morning that they are launching an independent expenditure campaign against 48th District Representative Ross Hunter, whose brisk fundraising has eclipsed that of his Eastside rival, Senator Fred Jarrett.

Typical of independent expenditures, the campaign pretends that the the contest is a referendum on one candidate's qualifications for the job, and urges voters to "vote no on Ross Hunter for King County Executive".

The ad campaign rests its case on Hunter's support for the awful state budget passed by the Legislature this year, which made deep cuts to public services and used federal money as a crutch to avoid completely eviscerating state government. In fairness to Hunter, he wasn't the only one who voted for the budget. Pretty much every other Democratic legislator voted for it too, including all three of mine.

But Hunter is the chairman of the House Finance Committee. Could he have done more to craft a more responsible budget? We believe the answer is yes.

This organization, long ago, reached the point where we became sick and tired of the excuse making that emanates from the statehouse. The distinguished Washingtonians who serve there have gotten rather good at it over the years and, especially in the wake of the most recent session, it's gotten really old.

The phenomenon can be readily observed at town halls hosted by legislators; I've been to a fair share of them, and witnessed it firsthand. The excuses that are typically offered in response to constituent questions about "Why is [fill in the blank] still a problem?" or "What about trying [fill in the blank] to solve [fill in the blank]?" are so common they could even be sorted by category.

For example, one of my favorites is blame the leadership. A representative or senator, or a group of them, assures a constituent, Well, I/we wanted to do this, but leadership nixed it. Constituents have even been the recipients of a common refrain from the executive sector That's above my pay grade. Say what?

The Legislature punts so often, on almost everything, that it's a miracle when something good is achieved - like deciding to make the fee used to support our state parks opt-out instead of opt-in, to save parks from closing.

On virtually every issue, the Legislature has dithered rather than taking action. The climate crisis? Now is the time for bold action, but the House and Senate haven't taken any; they even ignored the governor's plea to act.

Helping homeowners? Efforts to give victims of contractor negligence a recourse have had defeat snatched from the jaws of victory repeatedly.

Transportation? Legislators have tried to dump the responsibility for urban highways onto local leaders in Puget Sound where it doesn't belong (remember RTID? And the shotgun marriage with Sound Transit which failed miserably?)

Public financing? The most we've gotten is a "local option" that allows clean elections to be implemented at the local level. The excuse for inaction on public financing is that there isn't any money. Uh huh.

Tax reform? The Legislature has done nothing of consequence. Taxes are regressive as ever. The Legislature, in late November 2007, stupidly reinstated Tim Eyman's Initiative 747, squandering a huge opportunity to fix our property tax mess. Ross Hunter voted for reinstatement of I-747. So did Fred Jarrett. We have not forgotten that vote. We remain as disgusted today as we were then with all the parties involved in that utter failure of leadership.

The larger issue of tax reform is something voters should be asking Ross Hunter about, because again, as mentioned earlier, he is the chair of the House Finance Committee. The issue is under his jurisdiction. Virtually no progress has been made, and he is now asking voters to trust him to run King County.

King County would benefit fiscally from tax reform. Why, when Ross Hunter was in a position to do something, was so little done? Why?

Now, it would be unfair to say that Ross has done nothing. He'll say that he has tried to help the county. And that's true. But he hasn't done enough. Voting for reinstatement of Initiative 747 certainly did not help King County or its thirty nine cities. (Readers, if you get the impression that that vote is an awfully sore point of contention with us, that's because it is.)

Although we might not like the way these independent expenditures have been worded, we think the concerns they highlight are valid.

The no-good budget produced by the Legislature was constructed out of a patchwork of bandages and a big infusion of federal money. No long term salve was applied to the state's fiscal problems. We have not heard Ross Hunter offer a good explanation for his budget vote, and that's because it's indefensible.

The budget the governor and Legislature put together was irresponsible.

Republicans are correct when they allege the state has deep-rooted fiscal problems; Republican dishonesty kicks in when they say spending is out of control and imply the situation would have been different had they been in charge. Not so.

The 2007 surplus would not have been invested or saved, it would have been wasted by them in the form of tax cuts. The state's fiscal problems stem from its broken tax structure, which no one (save for a few progressive legislators, like Senator Jeanine Kohl-Welles or Representative Bob Hasegawa) is willing to fix.

Were Ross Hunter among the small number of progressive legislators who have been working for years to fix our tax system, had he voted "no" on reinstatement of I-747, had he defended Sound Transit when it came under attack, and had he decided that in good conscience he simply could not vote for this year's budget, the independent campaign that was just launched against him would not exist. Period. Instead, he would be considered a progressive champion.

Furthermore, many of the endorsements that Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips have secured would probably have gone to him, in a flash. He's a smart, likable guy. He would have been able to campaign as a progressive candidate of change. A real progressive from outside of Seattle willing to tackle the county's problems.

Unfortunately, that's not his record, despite our fervent wishes to the contrary.

Referendum 71 invalid rate going up; chances of making the ballot going down

Secretary of State Sam Reed's office is continuing to report on the progress of signature verification efforts on Referendum 71, the religious right's scheme to force a public vote on the recently expanded domestic partnerships law.

As of yesterday, about eleven thousand signatures had been checked, for a cumulative invalid rate of 12.31 percent. Considering that the invalid rate on the first day of checking, last Friday, was only 11.34 percent, this is good news.

It doesn't mean we're out of the woods yet (especially since signatures are not being checked randomly) but the data we're getting suggests that the mathematical odds are in our favor. Here's a breakdown from yesterday:
Due to popular demand — the breakouts! yesterday’s number of signatures checked was 5,856, with 5,096 accepted and 760 rejected. there were 16 dupes, 40 no match of petition signature with what’s on file, 682 not found on voter registration database, 22 listed on the database as registered voters but missing a signature on the database and we’re checking back with the counties.

the cumulatives as of close of biz yesterday: 11,502 checked, 10,087 accepted, 1,415 rejected, including 23 dupes, 81 no match, 1,274 not registered voters, 37 missing signature and we’re checking.

Some of the final category, missing signature on the state database, can be shifted over the the accepted pile once we hear back from the counties involved.
For a signature to be accepted, the name of the voter next to it has to to first correspond to an entry in the voter rolls. If it doesn't, it's a Not Found. Next, the signature on the petition has to match the signature on file. If it doesn't, it's a No Match. If there is no signature to compare, it's a Missing. Those are all of the "invalid" categories.

Duplicates, of course, happen when people sign a petition more than once. The low number of duplicates found so far suggests that petitioners did a decent job of reminding people that they can only sign once.

What's tripping them up is that a sizable percentage of people they conned into signing petitions were not registered to vote.

It used to be that the Secretary of State would have to haul boxes and boxes of voter registration cards and filing cabinets to a large airy building, like a gym, and verify by hand, a time consuming process. Now it's done with computers in the basement of the Elections Division. I had an opportunity to witness the process as an observer back in 2006, when I monitored the verification of signatures for Tim Eyman's Initiative 917. (I-917 ultimately failed to qualify for the ballot).

So while I'm not ready to declare victory yet, I think it's the other guys who need to be on pins and needles. Their chances of making the ballot don't look so hot.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Reader Endorsements: Should we do it?

Over the past few days, we've been getting a number of e-mails from readers asking where our endorsements for the August 18th primary are.

I've been responding and letting people know that we've made a decision to exit the endorsements business because our objective as a strategy center is to advance the common good and build infrastructure for the progressive movement, not take sides in campaigns. Doing so makes bridge building more difficult.

Now, we'll still be staking out very strong positions on ballot measures, and our Permanent Defense project will continue to fight right wing initiatives. But we have decided to no longer endorse candidates for office.

With that said, the message we're getting from readers is that endorsements are very helpful when trying to decide who to vote for, and they serve a noble purpose. So how do we balance this need with our desire to focus our energy on our real mission? We think we've come up with a novel idea: Reader endorsements.

Instead of putting together endorsements ourselves, we are thinking of convening a five member panel of readers who have some experience in the trenches as activists... and have opinions about who should lead us into the next decade. This panel would meet online to share their thoughts and come up with a slate of candidates they recommend that fellow readers vote for, and we'd publish and disseminate those recommendations to all of our readers.

The recommendations wouldn't reflect the views of NPI's staff, but we think that would be a good thing. Our motto is revolutionizing grassroots politics, and this seems like a good way to shake things up... endorsements by our readers, for our readers. All we would do is facilitate the recommendations' creation; we would not influence what the picks are.

What we want to know is this: Should we do it? Take the poll:



(If you think it's a good idea, and you would like to volunteer to be on the panel, please drop us a line quickly and let us know.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Goodbye, Feedburner

A few weeks ago we stopped serving feeds through Feedburner as part of our initiative to stop relying on third party offerings (especially Google's) to power our network's services. For a month Feedburner was automatically redirecting visitors to those pages to our native feeds, but we've noticed that now it's just displaying an Obsolete: Feed has moved message.

If you're someone who has been subscribed to one of our feeds through Feedburner, you'll need to adjust your RSS reader if it hasn't adjusted itself. The Advocate's feed remains available in both Atom and RSS formats at our own domain, and our multimedia feed is available in RSS.

Within the past year, we've also eliminated the tracking code for Google Analytics and SiteMeter. Readers who are running Mozilla Firefox with NoScript installed may have already noticed this. Furthermore, in June, we successfully shut down the NWroots Services, which were offered through Google Apps.

We have two main goals in this effort to become more self sufficient. One is privacy protection. We ultimately want to be the only entity that is collecting information about our readers, so that there are no "third parties" involved.

We're disturbed by the trend we see towards ever greater information harvesting of users by Internet giants such as Google (and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft/Yahoo and AOL, which are not as powerful). We want to be at least a small bulwark against this trend, which we view as harmful.

Another goal is to strengthen our Net identity.

In experimenting with a a few third party offerings over the years, like Feedburner, we've come to the conclusion that we've forgotten, to some degree, the wisdom of keeping our virtual house neat and tidy.

One of the smartest decisions we ever made was choosing to publish this blog to our own servers, rather than hosting it at someplace like blogspot.com. We've never had to put up a "We've Moved" sign, because we have always published The Advocate here at nwprogressive.org.

Relying on third party offerings has the effect of diluting our identity and polluting our site's code with junk. For example, some of the external trackers include invalid characters which cause our pages to fail validation tests. In the case of Feedburner, we had no control over how the Feedburner landing pages looked. They had Feedburner's logo on them, not ours.

We are by no means finished with our sufficiency initiative.

In the weeks and months ahead, expect more of those external trackers and third party offerings embedded throughout our network to disappear as we clean house.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Seattle Post-Intelligencer gets a new skin, but still growing into its online self

This morning, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, or as some people call it now, SeattlePI.com, debuted a new look that Executive Producer Michelle Nicolosi says "makes it easier for us to showcase some of the new content we've been creating in the past few months." In many ways the new skin improves usability, but in some ways, it's a step backward from past designs. A few thoughts...

First, having some white space is a good rule of thumb in web design, but there's just too much of it in the new Post-Intelligencer; it has a blinding effect. The last P-I skin used darker background colors, which provided a clean contrast. The new P-I, so far, has used really big photo thumbnails, which helps make up for the all white background somewhat, but there's still too much white.

Second, an opportunity was missed with this redesign to do something more fundamental than repackaging the site's content in a new skin. The Post-Intelligencer is still employing the same content structure that was created back when it was a newspaper. It's a bit of a hodge-podge: some content is formatted and presented more traditionally as articles or columns, but most content seems to be appearing on what Nicolosi calls "staff blogs".

Which brings to mind a question: Is the Post-Intelligencer merely a network of blogs housed under one roof, or is it a groundbreaking online publication providing news to the people of Seattle and beyond? (If Hearst wants to build an audience long-term, the latter is what it should be aiming for.)

I ask this question because there are already plenty of blogs in existence, covering pretty much every topic imaginable. Whether they are authored by one personal or several, blogs are truly online journals, presenting their contributors' thoughts in backwards chronological order. This format is particularly well suited to analysis and commentary about a particular subject or range of subjects, but isn't necessarily the best fit for a news organization.

Particularly a news organization that is trying to innovate and make money.

My advice: Merge the staff blogs into the website so they no longer exist. Content created by the Post-Intelligencer's staff should be seamlessly presented by category: Local, Nation, World, Politics, Business, Sports, Entertainment, Arts, etc., with selected headlines on the front page.

This would give the site a more serious, newsy feel. It would also provide readers with a cleaner and simpler interface. Less confusion is a good thing.

Within each section, edited stories and columns should be presented on one side (anything original with depth should be published as a story or column with a byline) with asides on the other side. Asides are just what they sound like: quick observations. The following is a good example of an aside:
Stranger endorses McGinn for Seattle mayor

The Stranger has released its endorsements for the Aug. 18 primary.

The alternative newsweekly picked environmentalist Michael McGinn over incumbent Greg Nickels. In the King County executive's race The Stranger tapped Dow Constantine.

For City Council Position 4, Dorsal Plants was chosen; Position 6, Nick Licata; Position 8, Mike O'Brien. The paper also endorsed Referendum 1, which would uphold Seattle's proposed 20-cent per disposable grocery bag fee.

Posted by Chris Grygiel at 5:08 p.m. | Permalink | Comments (12)
Categories: Seattle City Council, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, Seattle politics
This short item appeared on the Post-Intelligencer's politics blog yesterday, sandwiched between two longer posts. It didn't contain anything original; it merely summarized The Stranger's endorsements for the August 18th primary. It's so short that excerpting it isn't really possible. It's an aside.

Instead of being presented between meatier content, the Post-Intelligencer should group asides together and list them chronologically.

In other words, each section on the P-I's website should have its own embedded microblog, separate from the regular content, although not styled or labeled as a blog. The idea is to borrow the basic concept and adapt it for a news site.

Back in March, we launched a microblog, In Brief, to serve as a companion to The Advocate. We regularly update it with links, quotes, and observations. Asides appear on the sidebar without cluttering up the content posted in this space, and they can also be viewed together on their own.

Finally, I've read comments that the advertising on the Post-Intelligencer's website has become more intrusive. I haven't verified this because I block scripting by default (it does wonders for keeping my computer free of viruses and spyware) but the ad behavior described sounds obnoxious. Ads should never get in the way of content or disrupt a reader's browsing experience.

Making ads bigger and flashier, having them pop up in new windows, and having them play sounds by default are all practices that should be avoided. Irritating readers is simply not a winning strategy for monetizing a website.