Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Looking Back at 2009: NPI Milestones

Just like that, another year has come and gone.

The first installment in our retrospective series looking back at the last twelve months is an overview of the year's most significant achievements, accomplishments, and noteworthy events. So as we look forward to what 2010 has in store for us, here's a look back at important events and achievements in 2009.

January 5th, 2009: NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve is quoted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in response to the filing of Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033, a scheme to trap Washington in a permanent recession by freezing public services at reduced levels.

January 20th, 2009: NPI covers the inauguration of President Obama live from the District of Columbia.

January 26th, 2009: NPI’s coverage of attempted extortion by Republican senators of Eric Holder’s nomination to Attorney General is mentioned by nationally syndicated talk show host Mike Malloy.

January 28th, 2009: Reporter Newspapers editorializes against Initiative 1033, quoting from NPI's early analysis of the consequences in its denunciation of Tim Eyman's plan to starve our common wealth.

January 31st, 2009: Pacific NW Portal, which serves as the white pages for the regional netroots community, celebrates its fourth birthday.

February 2nd, 2009: Permanent Defense celebrates its seventh year of fighting Tim Eyman’s anti-common wealth initiatives.

February 6th, 2009: NPI’s Executive Director testifies in Olympia in support of Senate Bill 5270, which is later enacted, moving Washington closer towards automatic voter registration.

March 17th, 2009: In Brief, NPI’s microblog, debuts, offering recommended links, quotations, and asides from staff.

March 23rd, 2009: NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve testifies in Olympia against HB 1393, a BIAW-drafted bill that the House ostensibly passed to help homeowners victimized by negligent construction. The Senate Consumer Protection Committee, at the urging of NPI and WashPIRG, later strikes the text of the bill and replaces it with a progressive version, but the legislation is never brought to a vote due to the interference of the BIAW and Senator Haugen.

March 26th, 2009: NPI covers the coming together of Susan DelBene’s campaign staff. The story is featured on DelBene’s campaign website.

March 29th, 2009: The NPI Advocate celebrates its fifth birthday, and its first under its current name.

April 6th and 7th, 2009: NPI covers the Smart Grid Conference in Spokane, a convergence of utility, governmental, and energy interests to recommend how the 4 billion dollars in the federal stimulus bill devoted to smart grid projects should be spent.

April 8th, 2009: The NPI Advocate is named one of the best state political blogs in Washington by The Washington Post’s The Fix.

April 15th, 2009: The Bellevue Reporter quotes NPI Outreach Director Rick Hegdahl as a counterpoint in its coverage of "tea party" rallies.

May 5th, 2009: NPI’s Executive Director moderates a candidate forum between King County Executive hopefuls Ross Hunter, Fred Jarrett, Dow Constantine, and Larry Phillips in Renton.

June 3rd, 2009: NPI liveblogs Sound Transit’s first end-to-end test run of Central Link light rail.

June 4th, 2009: Yuki Chen guest posts on The Advocate, recounting her personal experience in China during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The post is featured by several national blogs, including Crooks and Liars.

July 17th - 19th, 2009: NPI offers live and extensive coverage of the opening of Sound Transit's Central Link light rail system.

July 24th, 2009: The Bullitt Foundation commissions a report from NPI on new innovations in technology and their potential benefit to the Northwest's environmental justice movement.

August 6th, 2009: Permanent Defense is featured by the Sammamish Reporter in a story about Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033.

August 10th, 2009: NPI breaks the news that Senator Cantwell supports a robust public option in the healthcare reform bill.

August 12th - 15th, 2009: NPI staff attend the fourth annual Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, covering such events as former President Clinton’s keynote speech, a conversation with a top advisor to President Obama, and the closing speech by Darcy Burner.

August 18th, 2009: NPI covers Dow Constantine’s primary election victory live from his election night party at Kells Irish Pub.

September 4th, 2009: NPI cohosts, with Living Liberally, a book signing and social mixer for Jill Richardson, author of Recipe for America.

September 16th, 2009: NPI breaks the story that conservative King County Executive contender Susan Hutchinson strongly opposes I-1033.

October 14th, 2009: NPI's online organizing against Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033 reaches a key milestone when the NO on I-1033 Facebook page suprasses five thousand fans. Supporters of NO on I-1033 on Facebook eventually number more thirteen thousand by Election Day.

November 3rd, 2009: After months of relentlessly fighting I-1033, NPI and the No on I-1033 Coalition joyfully watch as the people of Washington overwhelmingly reject Tim Eyman's latest scheme to wreck Washington State. Referendum 71 is approved, Dow Constantine is elected to King County Executive, and Amber Waldref defeats Mike Fagan in the Spokane City Council election. The night yields progressive victories across the state. In the subsequent days, NPI sets a new seventy two hour traffic record.

December 9th, 2009: Dr. John Kitzhaber, former Oregon governor and current Oregon gubernatorial candidate, guest posts on the NPI Advocate.

December 14th, 2009: NPI breaks the story that state Senator Craig Pridemore is running for the seat being left open by Rep. Brian Baird.

December 19th, 2009: NPI covers the opening of Airport Link, the final segment of Sound Transit's Central Link light rail system.

Meet the hypocrites: Republican members of Congress

Knowing that the vast majority of Americans don't know which way their representatives in Congress vote on each issue, several Republicans have taken advantage of the situation. Despite voting no on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (commonly known as the stimulus package), and doing everything they can to paint it as a dismal failure, several Republican members of Congress are now touting the economic benefits of the stimulus back home in their districts.

You might recall that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is a hypocrite on this particular subject who we previously exposed to you. He declared $8 billion in federal spending on high speed rail in the stimulus package to be "wasteful", while at the same time that his administration's department of transportation was seeking federal funding for a high speed rail line from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

Now Governor Jindal has some company aboard his ship of fools. Congressmen Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Geoff Davis (R-KY) have all spent the past month praising the effects of the stimulus on projects in their districts, after voting no on the legislation.

Either these three have no principles and float upon the ever-changing political winds or they think their constituents are idiots who don't pay attention. That's right, the congressmen deemed the ARRA a failure and complained about pork, yet when their districts benefited from federal funds you can be sure all three congressmen were front and center, gripping and grinning, for the photo op (sure to be published on the front page of the local community newspaper) at each of the projects in their districts that the stimulus package funded.

Of course, as Think Progress noted, Congressmen Luetkemeyer, McCaul and Davis are only following the example of the Republican leadership in Congress.

So we're sure when health care reform passes without any Republican support, they will be quick to take credit when the folks back home start benefiting.

Yesterday, today, and the economic tomorrow.

Yeah, we've got our "Great Recession" going on, stemming from the housing bubble, toxic assets, derivatives, and all the other leveraged financial crap that transpired after Phil Gramm gutted the financial regulations that had kept all that stuff at bay since the Great Depression.

It's a mess, and people are understandably freaking out about it.

The thing is, the mess goes a lot deeper than many people think. What only a few particularly smart people have clued in on is that the Great Recession is triggering a restructuring of the global economy, one that is set to un-do many of the artificial advantages that American consumers have enjoyed for a long, long time.

I wish I were one of those particularly smart people--I'd have known what investments to short-sell when this whole mess started--but I'm not. I had it explained to me by this unusually cogent diary on DailyKos. As the diarist remarks:
The problem is that the American middle class is broke and unable to continue to over-consume.

He then goes on to lay out exactly why things aren't going to go back to the way they were. It is sobering reading. If this were more widely known, people would be freaking out about the economy even more than they are.

He also explains why some of the actions taken to remedy our current economic woes are fundamentally misguided. They're band-aid solutions that seem to be making things better but aren't really because at their core they do nothing more than prop up systems that are in the process of failing. They're just delaying the inevitable.

That doesn't make them useless; better to give ourselves more time to come to grips with whatever shape the global economy finally congeals into.

But those band-aid solutions come with their own dangers. Chief among them is that they create the impression that we can go back to how things were. We can't. Go read that DailyKos diary and see for yourself why the math just isn't there.

It's perfectly understandable that in times of turmoil, people look to the comfortable past and say "we want it to be like that again!"

Of course they do. The economy of yesterday was pretty nice for us Americans. Today's economy is a mess. I don't know what tomorrow's economy going to ultimately look like, except that it's not going to be anything like yesterday's.

We can sit around crying for the old days and vainly trying to step backwards into the past, but I don't think that's going to get us very far. Rather, we should face forward and do our best to figure out what tomorrow's global economy is going to look like, so we'll be ready for it when it gets here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy Kwanzaa

NPI would like to wish our African-American friends a Happy Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa, a week-long holiday honoring African culture and traditions, is celebrated between December 26 and January 1 each year. Ron (Maulana) Karenga, an African-American leader, first proposed the observance of Kwanzaa and it was first celebrated between December 1966 and January 1967.The holiday honors the culture and traditions of people of African origin.

Like Chanukah, one of the parts of Kwanzaa is candle lighting. But the holiday also celebrates seven principles (one for each day of Kwanzaa): Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith.

Here is the text of President and Mrs. Obama's Kwanzaa greeting:
Michelle and I send warm wishes to all those celebrating Kwanzaa this holiday season. This is a joyous time of year when African Americans and all Americans come together to celebrate our blessings and the richness of our cultural traditions. This is also a time of reflection and renewal as we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another. The Kwanzaa message tells us that we should recall the lessons of the past even as we seize the promise of tomorrow.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa - Unity, Self Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith - express the values that have inspired us as individuals and families; communities and country. These same principles have sustained us as a nation during our darkest hours and provided hope for better days to come. Michelle and I know the challenges facing many African American families and families in all communities at this time, but we also know the spirit of perseverance and hope that is ever present in the community. It is in this spirit that our family extends our prayers and best wishes during this season and for the New Year to come.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sea World visit disappoints

I lived an hour and a half away from Sea World San Antonio for almost fifteen years and only visited the park once. Animal lover that I am, watching an orca in a Santa hat, or a dolphin in a tutu jump through a hoop was never my idea of a good time.

Maybe the plentiful San Antonio sunshine softened my sun-deprived Seattle brain, but while I was in Texas for the holidays I finally volunteered to take my family to Sea World. (Strange, since we could have seen orcas in our own backyard in the Puget Sound.) Once we were there, I immediately knew why I could never stomach returning after that first visit over twenty years ago.

I always enjoy visiting zoos because I have convinced myself that they help the public learn about and learn to appreciate wildlife, in addition to doing important animal research. Zoo animals don’t do tricks.

They don’t perform silly skits to loud, tacky music.

The “Shamu Miracles” show we saw had nothing to do with orcas. In fact, the narrator never even told the audience what kind of animals these black and white beauties were, let alone anything about them.

Instead, we listened to twenty minutes of Christmas music while four or five orcas jumped and spun through the water.

(I’m sure some audience members thought they were watching whales, or even really big fish. Actually, orcas are the largest species of dolphin, a marine mammal.)

The sea lion show was just as bad.

At least none of the animals were wearing Santa hats, but they did shake their butts to “Jingle Bell Rock.” That would have been embarrassing for a human and it certainly didn’t generate any respect for marine life.

On the other hand, while the shows are degrading, at least they give these complex and intelligent animals something to do.

According to Naomi Rose of the Humane Society:
They [orcas and dophins] can travel 50 to 100 miles in the day... They live in family groups, they have a whole ocean, and a very, very rich environment that the ocean provides and then what you do in captivity because of their health concerns and because of hygiene, you put them into a swimming pool, into a sterile environment, and it's the best we can do for them in captivity and it's just not good enough...

And so to put them into a concrete environment where it is very monotone and there's simply no variety, no texture, no substance, no depth to the environment why use their echo location, they know where the four walls are, it's an extremely limited environment.
Orcas and bottlenose dolphins living in the "safety" of captivity don't even live as long as their wild relatives do.

The park offered visitors some information about the wildlife. They had a few signs, and trainers explained a bit about the animals’ size and feeding habits, but these were relatively weak efforts.

Sea World possesses and profits from some of the world’s most magnificent and intelligent animals. In order to justify holding them in tiny, chlorinated boxes, marine parks must prove that they are doing more than just entertaining humans.

They must prove that they are bettering the lives of the captive animals' wild brethren by educating people and fostering in them the value of wildlife preservation. From my visit today, I just didn’t get that.

An animal advocate speaking on PBS's Frontline explained it well:
They're learning, however, that it's okay to abuse nature.

So any intelligent person who sees a trained dolphin show whether it's Shamu or Flipper or Keiko or whatever, would have to conclude if they were honest, that what they just witnessed was a spectacle of dominance. That's what's wrong with it. It teaches us that dominance is good. Dominance is right, dominance works and that's the problem.
Seattleites remember the public debate over elephants’ rights that occurred when little Hansa, the Asian elephant, died at the Woodland Park Zoo in 2007. Many American zoos are now closing their elephant exhibits because of their poor success at keeping the animals in captivity.

This same discussion needs to be had about marine mammals. Sea lions singing “Jingle Bells” does nothing to protect animals, it only exploits them and gives park visitors a twisted perspective on marine life and on human's relationship with wild animals. Sea World needs to do a better job justifying its existence.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from NPI!

On behalf of all of us at the Northwest Progressive Institute, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice or some other holiday tradition, we want to wish you the best of the holiday season. We hope that no matter where you are or whatever way you celebrate, that you find yourself surrounded with caring friends and family, tasty food, and good cheer.

And as we celebrate our good fortune and good health this season, let us also remember those who are less fortunate, or who are away from their families (particularly our soldiers, sailors, and aircrew serving abroad in Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world).

Most of all, we hope that the spirit of peace found during this season will resonate in the hearts and minds of all humankind, and that in future years we, as a global community, can sing Happy Christmas (War is Over) and really mean it.

The Northwest Progressive Institute Team

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Washington State in line for tenth congressional seat after the 2010 census

Great news for Washington State. New census projections show 13% population growth in Washington in the last decade, and if the numbers hold for the 2010 census, the state could add a tenth Congressional district.
The analysis, reflecting fresh population estimates from the Census Bureau on Wednesday, says if the numbers hold up in the 2010 Census, as expected, Washington will take the 435th of 435 House seats as a net gain.

[...]

So bottom line, it’s not official and could change in the final Census numbers next year, but for now, it looks like Washington will pick up a new congressional district. We got the new 8th District after the 1980 Census and the new 9th District after the 1990 Census.
If the census numbers hold up, things will get really interesting when the Redistricting Commission gets together to draw the new district lines. But, the additional representation in the other Washington will bring benefits to our state.

The Redistricting Commission is appointed by the Legislature and composed of four voting members and a non-voting chair.

Here is how the process will work in 2011-2012:
The four Republican and Democratic legislative caucus leaders each appoint one member to the commission, and these four elect a non-voting chair. The State Supreme Court appoints members if the leaders fail to do so, or if the four voting members cannot agree on a chair.

The Commission holds public hearings across the state and draws district boundaries for legislative and congressional districts, obeying an extensive set of criteria. It reports this plan to the Legislature, which can only amend the plan by a two-thirds vote of each house, and changing no more than two percent of any district’s population. The Governor cannot veto the plan. The Legislature cannot conduct redistricting on its own outside of the Commission process.
Current elected officials, current and former lobbyists (within one year of appointment for the latter), and current elected state, district or county party officials or those who have held those positions for two years prior to the appointment to the commission are ineligible to serve as commissioners.

In addition, commissioners cannot run for office (until two years after the redistricting plan is implemented), or actively campaign or support candidates for state or federal office. For more on the redistricting process please visit Secretary of State Sam Reed's website.

WA-03: "Clark County Politics" is wrong; Craig Pridemore is in and he's in to win

Full Disclosure: I am a supporter and volunteer for Senator Craig Pridemore's campaign to succeed Brian Baird.

Over at the conservative Clark County Politics blog, "Just a guy", a well known troll and Republican Party operative, says that sources are telling him that state Senator Craig Pridemore (D-Vancouver) is going to withdraw from the race.

This is erroneous. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As someone who happens to be involved in Senator Pridemore's campaign for Congress, I can report that last Friday night he attended the Thurston County Democrats' holiday party, where he introduced himself to the party faithful and executive board members and was well-received.

Though the party officially ended at 8 PM, Pridemore stayed until closer to 9 PM talking with voters in the northern part of the 3rd Congressional District and giving them an idea of where he stands on the issues. His Democratic competitors, state Representative Deb Wallace and peace activist Cheryl Crist were also in attendance.

I should also mention I'm in regular communication with the Senator (we exchange emails frequently) and I'm pleased to report that he's continuing to take the necessary steps for a successful campaign.

So perhaps "Just a guy" should stop sipping the tea and make a conscious decision to avoid starting and or repeating baseless rumors.

(Hat tip to NPI alumnus Jon DeVore at HA Seattle)

What does sea level rise mean for Washington?

Last week I wrote about the irony of what the climate crisis is going to do to Florida when sea levels rise, given that George W. Bush's brother played no small part in W himself becoming President. Given that the Copenhagen climate talks (or as some have dubbed them, the "Nopenhagen" talks) have ended with a pathetically watered-down set of agreements, let's take a look at what happens here in Washington, on the opposite corner of the continental United States.

See for yourself at this interactive sea-level map.

Many areas of our state will be impacted by that one-meter sea level rise that is present in even the most optimistic climate change forecasts. Here are the highlights for our state:

Columbia river basin: the sea reaches inland as far as Longview / Kelso, almost to where I-5 meets that north-flowing leg of the Columbia river. Expect storm surges and tidal forces to further ravage this roughly 50 mile stretch of river. Salt water intrusion is certain to mess up a whole lot of sensitive wetlands habitat along that stretch of river, too.

Long Beach / Ocean Park: expect serious beach erosion and property damage to tourist and resort areas here. Sections of Highway 101 and SR401, the only overland routes into this area, will have to be rebuilt or elevated to maintain access.

Hoquiem / Aberdeen: Parts of the waterfronts of these cities will be underwater, with larger areas of those cities becoming uninhabitable due to tides and storm surges. The river basin area around Chehalis will likewise become a saltwater marsh.

Port Angeles loses parts of its waterfront, and its coast guard air station will be underwater.

Sequim loses the Dungeness Spit, which currently shelters Dungeness Bay from the broader Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Old Town area of Sequim suffers substantial damage. The Spit can probably be raised, but building a seawall around Old Town is likely to be a much less feasible proposition.

Hood Canal: Ouch. Look for shoreline erosion and damage along the entire length of the canal. Flooding of low-lying areas will reach between 1 and 5 miles inland at Dabob Bay, Quilcene, and Belfair. The Skokomish Indian Reservation is particularly hard-hit, losing somewhere around one quarter to one third of its land.

The San Juan Islands: in terms of area, the San Juans get off relatively lightly because many of those islands have steep slopes leading down to the water. However, steep slopes indicate that the land is prone to vertical shearing as the ocean erodes it at the base, so we can expect a lot of landslides and cliff-face collapses. Sell your cliff-side vacation properties now before they fall into the sea.

Puget Sound: The sea crosses Interstate 5 between Fort Lewis and Lacey. At the Port of Tacoma, flooding extends inland up into Fife. The Port of Seattle Harbor Island area is similarly inundated, with flooding up the Duwamish river delta reaching as far as King County International Airport (a.k.a. Boeing Field).

Seattle metropolitan area: Seattle's waterfront is already well elevated in most places, although some low-lying areas such as Pioneer Square could see damage. The Ballard Locks will likely have to be re-enforced both to avoid property damage in Lake Union and Portage Bay, as well as to keep the sea out of Lake Washington. Or, we could fill in the Montlake Cut and restore Lake Washington's original outlet through the Duwamish River. That would work too.

Everett / Snohomish: Perhaps hardest hit of any heavily developed area in the state, this area stands to lose enormous amounts of land in the Snohomish River basin. The one-meter flood map of this area is particularly stark.

Skagit County: The areas around Skagit Bay and Padilla Bay--Stanwood, Milltown, LaConner, Whitney, and Edison--will be completely flooded out. The flood map here is no pretty picture either.

This is bad enough. One meter of sea level is no joking matter. But remember, this is presently the best case outcome. One meter is about what we're stuck with, so say the researchers, if we cut greenhouse gas emissions both quickly and aggressively. The best case, had Copenhagen produced a robust, worldwide binding agreement on emissions. Which it didn't.

Worst-case estimates are more like 10 meters--more than thirty feet--of sea level rise. And believe me, you don't want to see those maps. Seaside property in Vancouver, WA, anyone?

President Obama to Washington Post: "I didn't campaign on the public option"

File this item under how disappointing: Yesterday, when discussing the healthcare reform legislation in Congress in an interview, President Barack Obama became just another politician going wherever the political winds blow.

From the start of his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has always tried to maintain the moral high ground and portray himself as above the fray of partisan politics (which isn't even possible). But he crossed a line yesterday and showed that the change he promised to bring has not come to our nation's capital.
Obama said the public option "has become a source of ideological contention between the left and right." But, he added, "I didn't campaign on the public option."
Excuse me, Mr. President? Have you read the Obama-Biden health care plan published by your own campaign?

In it there are seven references to the "new public plan."
The Obama-Biden plan will create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals purchase new affordable health care options if they are uninsured or want new health insurance. Through the Exchange, any American will have the opportunity to enroll in the new public plan or an approved private plan...
Emphasis is mine.

Politicians break campaign promises all the time. What makes President Obama's words so hard to take is that he campaigned as something different than what we're used to getting. He could have said that he had hoped the bill would contain a public option, but in the interest of getting some reform it had to be dropped.

Instead, Obama chose to deny that he ever campaigned for a public option. In the end, that makes him no different than the rest.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gregoire statement on Tanwax Lake shooting

Governor Gregoire issued this statement earlier today, following the third attack on police officers in two months, which occurred last night near Tanwax Lake, north of Eatonville.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the two wounded Pierce County deputies, their families, friends, and the entire law enforcement community.

“I am deeply troubled by the recent series of attacks on our law enforcement officers. I ask that all Washington citizens join me in sending a clear message that these assaults on law enforcement officers will not be tolerated. The people of Washington and across America know that those who wear a badge show us the true meaning of service. They sacrifice their safety for ours. We owe them and their families our gratitude, respect and support."
During this holiday time when we reflect, with gratitude, on the blessings in our lives, NPI would like to add our support for our law enforcement officers and members of the armed forces who lay it all on the line every day so that we all can live in a safer world.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Signing off, for now

I have a quick housekeeping announcement to make this morning.

Effective immediately, I'm signing off from The Advocate so I can devote more of my time to several projects that we've got in the pipeline.

This means that this will be my last post for 2009.

The Advocate, however, will remain in the capable hands of the wonderful people I'm so fortunate to be able to work with at NPI.

Readers can expect continuing coverage of the contest in WA-03, the likely addition of several new guest contributors, our annual series looking back at the year, and a preview of the 2009 legislative session in the days and weeks ahead.

I'm not sure at this point when I'll be back but I would not characterize my sabbatical (if it can be called that!) as an extremely long break.

Before I go, I want to reflect briefly on the last twelve months.

I think the theme that most aptly sums up 2009 for NPI is ensuring sustainability. We have more tools and more overhead to deal with now than we did before the marathon 2008 election cycle, but we also have many incredibly strong supporters who have been eager to continue supporting our work. We're very grateful to them. We're in a pretty solid position heading into 2010.

We could always use more resources, but unlike any of the campaigns that have come and gone in 2008 and 2009, all the infrastructure that we've invested in remains in place and in service... ready for whatever comes next.

Speaking of campaigns, we're also grateful to the people of Washington State for wisely voting to approve Referendum 71 and defeat Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033 this year. We spent an incredible amount of time and energy educating voters about Initiative 1033, and we were very heartened to see our efforts pay off.

With that, I'll say so long. I'd like to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I'll see you on the other side in 2010!

Health bills would erode women's right to choose

Right now, if you are a woman and you are insured through an employer’s health insurance plan, it’s likely that you have abortion coverage. Like most women, you may never plan to use it, but in reality, each year around 1.3 million unintended pregnancies end in abortion. According to the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers:
If current rates continue, it is estimated that 35% of all women of reproductive age in America today will have had an abortion by the time they reach the age of 45.
These numbers mean that there is a shockingly high chance that you or someone you know will someday feel grateful for having that coverage.

No matter how you feel about abortion, it is a common medical procedure and an integral part of reproductive health services for women. Having access to abortion allows women to control the course of their lives, and this access is a hard fought right whose existence is constantly being jeopardized.

With the Senate days away from passing its health care reform bill, and with the passage of the Stupak amendment in the corresponding House bill, it’s looking like that right could be severely limited for millions more American women. Today, thanks to the Hyde amendment, the seven million women of reproductive age who are on Medicaid have no abortion coverage. These are the poorest of America’s poor. That’s right. The women least able to support a child or pay for an abortion aren’t covered, and if Congress passes its current health reform bills, they will be joined by millions more poor, and for the first time, middle class women.

The Congressional health care bills would create a new health insurance exchange where people can purchase quality, affordable health coverage, usually with the help of government subsidies. The Stupak amendment, a kick in the teeth from Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak to his Democratic base, prohibits insurance plans offered in the new health care exchange from including abortion coverage if they receive federal money. That limitation would actually exclude most plans from offering coverage because most customers will use government subsidies to purchase their insurance.

On its face, the Senate’s proposal looks better than the House’s, but it too would ultimately shut exchange consumers out of abortion coverage. The National Organization for Women opposes the bill:
A nearly 400-page Manager's Amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), being debated currently, contains a provision every bit as bad as the infamous House-passed Stupak-Pitts Amendment. The provision…is a complicated variation of Stupak-Pitts. It allows any state to prohibit abortion coverage in health insurance exchanges. In addition, all funds that would pay for abortion services would have to be segregated from other private funds and federal subsidies. This requirement would apply to the tens of millions of women who would buy their insurance under the new exchanges and, in the opinion of expert health policy analysts, would mean that insurers simply would not provide abortion coverage in the exchange plans. Eventually, insurers would stop offering abortion coverage altogether.
A George Washington University analysis of the impact of the Stupak amendment concluded that given the expectedly large number of participants in the insurance exchange, added to the abortion exclusion already in Medicaid, the health insurance industry will eventually reach a tipping point “toward a new norm of exclusion” as it tries to meet these federal regulations. In other words, it will be easier and more profitable to just exclude abortion coverage from all insurance plans.

So, in the worst case scenario, all women could lose abortion coverage, even in private, non-government plans, making what’s already a difficult procedure, even harder to accomplish.

So, who are the women who would receive their health care coverage in the new exchange? According to Planned Parenthood they are:
  • working mothers in families that earn up to $88,000
  • women who are self-employed and paying the entire cost of their coverage and don’t have access to employer-sponsored coverage
  • young women entering the job market for the first time who are the least likely to have employer-sponsored coverage
  • women who were insured through their husbands’ employers, but now are divorced and have to purchase coverage on their own through the exchange
  • women who work in small businesses whose owners decide to seek more affordable coverage through the exchange
To conclude, long-overdue health care reform is looking possible at long last, but at what price to women’s rights? Even Republican Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, speaking in opposition to the Hyde amendment in the 1970s, recognized that, "A right without access is no right at all." Is this a compromise that we are willing to make?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

WA-03: Heck maybe?

Full Disclosure: I am a supporter and volunteer for Senator Craig Pridemore's campaign to succeed Brian Baird.

As of three days ago, Brad Shannon reported in The Olympian that former legislator Denny Heck was still considering running for the 3rd Congressional district seat being vacated by Brian Baird, noting that he had filed campaign finance papers and lent $100,000 of his own money to a potential campaign. Heck himself said he'd set a hard deadline of this weekend to make a decision. As of this morning, we still haven't heard if Heck is going to join the race.

However, in addition to what The Olympian reported, it appears that Denny Heck has also parked a domain for a potential campaign website. A Who.is search shows that dennyheckforcongress.com is registered to one Christopher Hedrick of Dulles, Virginia. So what's the connection?

Hedrick is a Board Member of the Digital Learning Commons here in Washington state, was founder and CEO of Intrepid Learning Systems where Denny Heck is a Board Member, and is former technology advisor to Governor Gary Locke. And both Hedrick and Heck have served on the board of Trustees for The Evergreen State College in Olympia. Coincidence that a man named Christopher Hedrick has parked the dennyheckforcongress.com domain? Probably not.

My guess is Denny Heck is running for Congress, but is waiting for a better news day when more people are paying attention to make his announcement. If Denny Heck wanted it in the Sunday newspapers he would have made the announcement already.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Getting from a plane to a Central Link train (or vice versa) is simple and easy

Following this morning's ceremony marking the opening of Airport Link light rail, we at NPI decided to do readers a favor and test ourselves how long it took to walk from baggage claim inside the airport to the station.

Critics have claimed the walk would be long and tedious, but we found the opposite to be true. From the mezzanine level of Sea-Tac Station to the escalator inside of the terminal is a mere three minutes and ten seconds. A walk from the platform to the United Airlines ticket counter is six minutes and thirty seconds.

Even the from baggage claim number one, below the ticketing counters for international flights at the far end of the terminal, the walk is not bad. It clocked in at thirteen minutes and three seconds. Of that, eight minutes and thirty-five seconds was spent just getting to the northern end of the terminal.

We walked at the pace a tourist or out of town visitor might walk. We carried backpacks and looked for signs of Link. We stopped briefly to simulate the amount of time it might take to ask for directions.

Unfortunately, signs referring to Link are mostly nonexistent or confusing. Especially in southern end of the terminal (near baggage claim number one) the signs were small and in a suboptimal spot for travelers.

Rather than having signs on the walkway on the side of baggage claim, the small signs announcing service were present on the periphery of walking, only viewable to people looking waiting for their luggage or going up to a skybridge.

In addition, the Metro and Sound Transit display cart did not have any mention of light rail. The only map with Link on it that we saw is between claims eight and nine. On some signs, the words "public transportation" adjoin signs with arrows pointing towards the bus stop at the southern end of the terminal, but of course the passageway to Link is on the northern end.

The easiest way to reach the passageway is to walk north through the terminal to baggage claim number sixteen, go up the escalator, and walk across the skybridge. From there, it's almost impossible to get lost. The Port of Seattle did a wonderful job on visibility and maps showing where to go in the parking garage.

A few banners and larger signage could do wonders for people confused where the station is. Should be easy enough to fix.

Other than a few signage problems, the walk was painless. Again, remember that the walk from the security checkpoint to the end of the A gates is longer than the walk from the terminal to the Link station.

And once visitors arrive at the Link station, it is stunning. The artwork and architecture of the station is amazing. On a summer day, I can imagine an awesome view of the airport and surrounding areas from the elevated platform.

The Port of Seattle really did an excellent job integrating the terminal with Airport Link. Because the main terminal is so compact, the walk from the Link Station to any part of ticketing or baggage claim is just not that far. It is less than the walk from my house to the nearest bus stop.

All that's really missing now is some signage.

The Port of Seattle, by the way, is committed to integrating with the community of SeaTac. The skybridge over International Boulevard fits perfectly into the plan for a multimodal transportation station at the airport. When the buses move to International Boulevard in February, not only will they have a shorter route, they will be located outside the airport and right next to the Link Station.

The Port also is planning to extend the D gates to connect with the N gates, moving the airport's activity towards the Link station.

I'm personally looking forward to riding Link on my next trip to the airport. It will be much easier than parking a car or taking a taxi.

Sound Transit inaugurates service on Airport Link, bringing light rail into SeaTac at last

Six years, one month, and eleven days after Sound Transit broke ground on Central Link, construction of the region's first light rail line has finally been completed with the opening of Airport Link, which brings reliable train service right into Seattle Tacoma International Airport.

Elected leaders speak at the grand opening of Airport Link
Amidst a backdrop of misty white clouds, the first train open to paying passengers rolled into the station about ten minutes after ten this morning, accompanied by whistling and cheers. The first train arrived at the conclusion of a ribbon cutting and a long speaking program which featured:
  • Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels
  • County Councilmember Julia Patterson
  • Congressman Adam Smith
  • Congressman Jim McDermott
  • Regional FTA Administrator Rick Krochalis
  • Governor Gregoire's chief of staff Jay Manning
  • Representative Dave Upthegrove
  • Port Commissioner John Creighton
  • SeaTac Mayor Ralph Shape
  • King County Executive Dow Constantine
Ribbon is cut for Airport Link
Sound Transit Executive Joni Earl also unveiled two bronze plaques that will be added to the SeaTac and Mount Baker stations to commemorate the leadership of Greg Nickels and the other Sound Transit Boardmembers who oversaw the construction and opening of Central Link. Then, with the help of the Rockettes, the ribbon was cut in front of the skybridge to the parking garage, and elected leaders went up the escalator to the platform to greet the first train to go into service.

And just like that, Tukwila International Boulevard Station ceased to be the southern terminus of the line. (Sound Transit's shuttle buses will continue to run for the rest of the day today, but then they will be discontinued.)


Many riders of the first train north, including yours truly, got off at Tukwila to catch the first train that would actually pull into SeaTac/Airport Station. Waiting on the other side of the platform to ride were over a dozen people with luggage, ready to catch a flight and head out of town.

The first SeaTac-inbound train was warmly greeted upon arrival into the station, and shortly thereafter, the crowds that had filled the station began to disperse.

Link train rolls into the station
For those who didn't come to the grand opening ceremony this morning, here's an overview of the station and how to access it.

The station itself comprises two levels, both of which are aerial. The first level is the mezzanine, which is where the entrances are. There are several entrances, including two skybridges. One connects to the airport's parking garage; the other spans International Boulevard and connects to a small transit parking lot.

The mezzanine level is home to ticket vending machines, seating, the luggage cart drop-off, and several art displays. The platform is just a short escalator or elevator ride away. Both levels offer great views of Concourse D, which exclusively serves Alaska Airlines, itself headquartered in SeaTac.

The ride to Tukwila International Boulevard Station takes three minutes and parallels the road for which the Tukwila station is named after.

Because the station was built out on the perimeter of the airport (next to the parking garage) it will relatively painless and easy to expand the tracks when construction begins on South Link.

The next expansion of our region's light rail system will be in 2016 when University Link is completed. That extension will add two more stations to Central Link: Capitol Hill and University of Washington.

That's six years away, but at least for now, we have a light rail line that connects our region's biggest transportation hub with downtown Seattle.

Congratulations to Sound Transit and its construction partners for making this project happen and even inaugurating service in time for Christmas 2009.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cantwell, McCain team up to introduce bill that would restore Glass-Steagall Act

Washington's own Maria Cantwell and John McCain of Arizona - the 2008 Republican presidential nominee - are teaming up to introduce a bill that would restore the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, the two senators announced today.

Glass-Steagall (officially known as the Banking Act of 1933) created the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission and barred bank holding companies from doing business as commercial and investment banks under one roof.

This provision was regrettably repealed in 1999, over the objections of one Senator Byron Dorgan, who memorably stated at the time:
I think we will look back in ten years' time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930's is true in 2010... I wasn't around during the 1930's or the debate over Glass-Steagall. But I was here in the early 1980s when it was decided to allow the expansion of savings and loans. We have now decided in the name of modernization to forget the lessons of the past, of safety and of soundness
Dorgan's shockingly prescient words remain as remarkable today as when they were first unearthed in the weeks following the collapse of investment banking house Lehman Brothers. Dorgan was one of only a handful of senators to vote against the repealing legislation, known as Gramm Leach Bliley (so named for its Republican proponents, who are no longer serving in Congress).

The other Senators were Democrats Barbara Boxer, Paul Wellstone (peace be upon his memory), Barbara Mikulski, Tom Harkin, Russ Feingold, Richard Bryan (who retired in 2001), and Republican Richard Shelby. A fellow Republican, Peter Fitzgerald, voted "present", while John McCain did not vote on the legislation at all.

Cantwell's seatmate, Patty Murray, voted in favor of Gramm Leach Bliley, which was signed into law by Bill Clinton on November 12th, 1999. (Cantwell was not in the U.S. Senate at the time; her predecessor, Slade Gorton, also voted yes along with Murray and every other senator from the Pacific Northwest).

The bill introduced by Cantwell and McCain has been titled the Banking Integrity Act of 2009. It would reinstate the provision of Glass-Steagall requiring the separation of investment banking from commercial banking.

"America can’t afford another financial crisis," Cantwell declared at a press conference announcing the bill. "With big banks using depositor money to gamble on Wall Street, it’s only a matter of time. Banks need to be lending to small businesses and homeowners, not fueling risky Wall Street investment schemes. We must return stability, security and confidence to commercial banking for the American public. The first step is this bill."

"I am pleased to be working with Senator Cantwell on this important issue," McCain said. "My reasons for joining this effort are simple: I want to ensure that we never stick the American taxpayer with another $700 billion – or even larger – tab to bailout the financial industry."

He added: "If big Wall Street institutions want to take part in risky transactions – fine. But we should not allow them to do so with federally insured deposits."

Specifically, the Banking Integrity Act of 2009 (which is likely to become more popularly known as Cantwell-McCain) would, according to the Senators:
...prohibit commercial banks from affiliating in any manner with investment banks and vice versa; prevent officers, directors, and employees of a commercial bank from serving as an officer, director, or employee of an investment bank and vice versa; prohibit commercial banks from engaging in all insurance activities; and establish one year from date of enactment as the deadline for financial houses to transition and separate their commercial and investment banking operations.
This is a terrific proposal that we at the Northwest Progressive Institute are proud to support. We thank Senators Cantwell and McCain for showing real leadership by proposing and standing behind this idea.

We also heartily thank Congressman Maurice Hinchey and Jay Inslee for their work to restore Glass-Steagall in the House of Representatives. Hinchey is prime sponsoring a bill that closely resembles Cantwell-McCain in the House of Representatives. It is cosponsored by several Democrats, including Inslee, Jim McDermott, Peter DeFazio, Marcy Kaptur, John Conyers, and John Tierney.

"When I voted against the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, I did so because I feared that consolidation in the financial industry could wreck the economy," Inslee said in a news release announcing his co-sponsorship. "That fear was substantially realized and today we should adopt one principle – never again."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the bill yesterday at the daily press briefing and wasn't very forthcoming about whether the administration will be supportive of the idea or not.
QUESTION: What does the President think of Senator McCain and Senator Cantwell's proposal to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act to make sure there are no future bailouts?

MR. GIBBS: Sure. I have not talked to him specifically. I don't - I have not seen what specifically of that they've proposed. I would say this: I think the President believes that what the House passed in terms of financial reform takes many of the necessary steps that the President sees are important for ensuring that the type of crisis that happened can't happen again, and that we can address in ways - potential catastrophes to our economy in a way that won't harm others, meaning through resolution authority that would allow us to deal with a problem - break things apart and deal with a problem without it infecting larger parts of the economy. And I think that's something the President hopes will pass the Senate and come to his desk soon.
The passage of Gramm Leach Bliley in 1999, incidentally, was the twelfth serious attempt undertaken by members of Congress to roll back Glass Steagall. It was strongly supported by Bill Clinton's economic team, including then-Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who now works for President Obama.

The ensuing, predictable ramifications had, ironically, already been predicted by that time by the Congressional Research Service, which warned in a 1987 report:
Securities activities can be risky, leading to enormous losses. Such losses could threaten the integrity of deposits. In turn, the Government insures deposits and could be required to pay large sums if depository institutions were to collapse as the result of securities losses.
Congress now has the opportunity to rectify its mistake by restoring the Glass-Steagall Act. Yes, it will mean that megabanks like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup would have to split into smaller independent companies, but that would be a good thing. "Too big to fail" is too big.

The aforementioned banks, by the way, are three of the five that control more than fifty percent America's bank owned assets and a whopping ninety five percent of the risk in the derivatives market. That risk amounts to about $600 trillion, according to Senators Cantwell and McCain.

The American people have no interest in bailing out Wall Street again. Megabanks have been getting a free ride at taxpayer expense.

Well, no more. Break 'em up!

LIVE from Link: Taking the train into SeaTac

This morning Sound Transit was kind enough to invite representatives from local media outlets (including NPI!) aboard for a special ride to preview Airport Link, which will inaugurate service in just forty eight hours.

The trip began at Tukwila International Boulevard Station, which will soon relinquish its title as terminus of the line. We simply walked on an arriving train after the paying passengers got off. Ironically, as we did so, the loudspeakers blared This train is going out of service. For the public, yes, but not for us!

View of the terminal skybridge from the station mezzanine
We got underway and three minutes later, we had cruised into our destination: SeaTac Station. The entire Tukwila to SeaTac segment is aerial track, which means the train can run pretty swiftly since it's in its own right of way.

Unlike Tukwila, the SeaTac Station's platform is the center (between the tracks) so catching a train is really straightforward. Until South Link opens, trains will only run northbound. Eventually it'll be possible to take the train south from SeaTac into Des Moines, Federal Way, and beyond. (South Link is part of the Sound Transit 2 package, which voters approved last year).

Artwork inside the new SeaTac Station
The SeaTac Station is large, open, and airy. It offers great views of its surroundings. There's a clear view of the road going into the terminal, so any future traffic backups will be visible to riders on their way to or from the station. Two skybridges provide convenient access for riders; one connects to the airport's mammoth parking garage and the other connects to a small parking lot on the other side of International Boulevard.

The station includes a corral for luggage carts so that riders can easily transport their bags into the terminal after getting on or off the train. There are plenty of ORCA kiosks and card readers to facilitate fare payment, plus seats for those who get weary of standing.

Entrance to the terminal skybridge at SeaTac Station
The walk from the station to the terminal through the parking garage is neither as long or as onerous as critics of Link have suggested. Strolling at a leisurely pace, it only takes two and a half minutes to get from the station's mezzanine level to the first terminal skybridge, which leads directly to United Airlines' ticketing counter (on the upper level of the terminal) and baggage claim (on the lower level).

The walkway between the terminal and SeaTac Station
And the walk is on an entirely level and surprisingly smooth surface. There are no stairs, no ramps. It's true that riders will have to go up either an escalator or an elevator to reach the station platform from the mezzanine, but then, the same is true for moving about through the airport.

Compared to other cities, we've got it good.

The passageway is well lit, wide, and segregated from the parking garage by a sturdy mesh metal barrier which stretches from floor to ceiling. It's very comfortable and pleasant to walk through.

Coming from the terminal, there's a sweeping and panoramic view of the station, so it's easy for would be riders to see where they're walking to.

The Port of Seattle really did an outstanding job on the project... we really have to hand it to them. We do think there should be more signage within the terminal itself with directions on where to go to get to the station. There's some already, but there should be more. For Saturday's inauguration of service, Sound Transit plans to have staff and volunteers stationed to help people find their way.

A Link light rail train on its way into SeaTac
We're on our way back from the airport now, returning to Tukwila International Boulevard Station, where this tour began.

As soon as we get back, I'll update this post with pictures from the event.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Progressive support for Senate's current incarnation of healthcare reform bill collapses

The Obama Administration's months-old decision to let the likes of Max Baucus, Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson to dictate the shape and the language of the Senate's version of healthcare reform is having serious, major repercussions.

Hours after Harry Reid and the White House agreed to Lieberman's demand that the idea of a Medicare buy-in (which he has long supported) be dropped from the bill, progressive support for the whole Senate enchilada began swiftly collapsing.

Howard Dean appeared on Vermont Public Radio and Countdown with Keith Olbermann yesterday to declare that the Senate version should be scrapped, and that Congress should start over on healthcare reform. (He subsequently penned an op-ed for the Washington Post, putting his thoughts into print).

Darcy Burner, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Policy Foundation, made the same argument at OpenLeft, which was crossposted at Huffington Post.

The leadership of the AFL-CIO and the SEIU announced they were holding emergency meetings today to decide whether they could continue to support healthcare reform, considering the awful mess the Senate has come up with.

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that support for healthcare reform has sunk to its lowest level ever, following days and weeks of news coverage about the abandonment of the public option, which itself was a compromise.

Senator Bernie Sanders, arguably the most progressive legislator in the United States Senate, told Fox's Neil Cavuto he can't vote for the bill as written:
I’m struggling with this. As of this point, I’m not voting for the bill. … I’m going to do my best to make this bill a better bill, a bill that I can vote for, but I’ve indicated both to the White House and the Democratic leadership that my vote is not secure at this point. And here is the reason. When the public option was withdrawn, because of Lieberman’s action, what I worry about is how do you control escalating health care costs?
And tonight, Keith Olbermann broadcast an eloquent, forceful Special Comment imploring Obama and Reid to at least drop the mandate out of the bill if they weren't willing to stick with a public option.
The mandate in this bill under which we are required to buy insurance must be stripped out.

The bill now is little more than a legally mandated delivery of the middle class (and those whose dreams of joining it slip ever further away) into a kind of Chicago stockyards of insurance. Make enough money to take care of yourself and your family and you must buy insurance — on the insurers terms — or face a fine.

This provision must go. It is, above all else, immoral and a betrayal of the people who elected you, Sir. You must now announce that you will veto any bill lacking an option or buy-in, but containing a mandate.

And Senator Reid, put the public option back in, or the Medicare Buy-In, or both. Or single-payer. Let Lieberman and Ben Nelson and Baucus and the Republicans vote their lack-of-conscience and preclude 60 "ayes." Let them commit political suicide instead of you.
Amen.

Activists are sick of excuse-making and the White House's seeming obsession with shaking down progressive lawmakers instead of putting pressure on Blue Dogs. We've tired of hearing the uncreative spiel that Obama and Gibbs have to offer every time they're asked about hurdles and barriers to healthcare reform. We know this issue is difficult and that we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

But the version of the bill the Senate has come up with is unworkable long term. Why? Because it keeps us shackled to a failed, broken for-profit healthcare system, which is immoral. Certainly there are good provisions in the bill, even without a public option. But the mandate - sans a government-sponsored plan - is a major dealbreaker. The whole point of the public option was to give Americans a choice, to allow people to get coverage through the government rather a faceless, heartless corporation. Since that's not in the bill, the mandate shouldn't be either.

WA-03: Fraser and Williams not running

Full Disclosure: I am a supporter and volunteer for Senator Craig Pridemore's campaign to succeed Brian Baird.

A source in the Thurston County Democratic Party has confirmed to NPI that State Senator Karen Fraser (D-Olympia) and her seatmate in the 22nd Legislative District, State Representative Brendan Williams (D-Olympia), have both decided not to seek election in the 3rd Congressional District.

Fraser is the lead on the Capital Budget for the Senate Ways & Means Committee, a powerful position within the Senate.

Even in lean budget years the capital budget is normally a bastion of hope, but these troubled economic times make that less certain.

Rep. Williams announced earlier this year that he will not seek re-election and retire from the legislature at the end of his term.

UPDATE: The Olympian has Fraser's thoughts on why she decided not to run.
"A lot of people have encouraged me to take a look at it. I did do some investigation and I thought a lot about it," Fraser said. "I think I could do a good job, but I’m not going to do it for a practical reason. You have to get your campaign organized and your initial funding in place by spring. That is when (the state legislative) session is, and I wouldn’t have time.'
UPDATE II, December 17th: Here is the complete text of the statement Representative Williams provided to NPI earlier today:
State Representative Brendan Williams (D., 22nd District) today announced he will not seek the Third Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Representative Brian Baird. "My family cannot afford a self-financing arms race, nor can I afford the pre-occupation of campaigning while my 22nd legislative district is at peril from cuts during the 2010 session. Since I sought office, my first priority has been others."

Data from the Public Disclosure Commission and Federal Elections Commission shows that, just since 2004 when Williams first ran for the House of Representatives, Williams and his wife, Nicole, have personally contributed $47,823.88 to state political causes and campaigns recorded by the PDC (of which only $1,519.40 went to Williams), and $11,400 in contributions recorded by the FEC.

"I would rather support others than finance an ego trip," stated Williams. "Through developments during the health care debate, and through decisions like granting huge tax breaks to publicly-traded homebuilders while leaving mortgage-paying citizens facing default, we've seen big money is all that matters in Congress. And I'm nobody's yes-man."

While not endorsing any announced, or prospective, candidate yet, Williams stated, "I look forward to working with Senator Pridemore this next session in overcoming oil polluters, and their two State House friends among the announced candidates, and pass House Bill 1614."

Both Representatives Jaime Herrera (R., 18th District) and Deb Wallace (D., 17th District) voted with the oil industry against stormwater-cleanup HB 1614 in a 51-45 House floor vote on April 25, 2009.

Prior to endorsing, Williams stated, "I want to see how debate unfolds on issues urgent to working families. And upon leaving the House after next year I look forward to again enjoying our democracy's highest title: 'Citizen.'"
The field was already getting crowded without Fraser and Williams, so it's not like their decisions not to run will diminish competition in the primary.

Bernanke renomination in trouble?

Well, this is refreshing... it looks the Senate might finally push back against the Obama administration on something.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said he was leaning against voting for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to have a second term at the helm of the central bank.

McCain said he would favor either former Fed chief Paul Volcker or John Taylor, an ex-Treasury official and now an economics professor at Stanford University, to replace Bernanke.

He joins at least three other Republicans who plan to oppose Bernanke’s renomination. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) have also said they plan to vote against Bernanke.
Merkley, who hails from our beautiful corner of the country, released a statement today explaining his decision.
Tomorrow, I will vote against confirming Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. The reason, in short, is that as Chairman, Dr. Bernanke failed to recognize or remedy the factors that paved the road to this dark and difficult recession. Following our economic collapse, it is also apparent that he has not changed his overall approach to prioritizing Wall Street over American families.

My decision is based on my fundamental belief that our economy cannot recover if we do not put Main Street first.
Our thanks to Jeff Merkley for taking a strong and principled stand in favor of economic security for the American people. As Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke has essentially been a yes man for the executives who run America's biggest banks. He has not forced Wall Street to be more accountable and responsible. Rather, he has been in the habit of signing an endless series of blank checks.

New leadership is sorely needed at the Fed.

President Obama made a mistake in renominating Ben Bernanke; unfortunately, it doesn't appear that he recognizes the negative ramifications of this decision. The Senate should force the President to reconsider by refusing its assent.

The tragic irony of the climate crisis

Reports are that things aren't going so swimmingly well at the Copenhagen climate change conference. In fact, as one NPR person put it this morning, this last round of negotiations may have created more disagreements than it solved.

Then again, maybe it is going swimmingly well, if swimming is your thing. And with basically every non-denier in agreement that sea level will rise by at least one meter during this century, a whole lot of people are going to have to either move or learn to swim.

What kills me, and what will actually kill billions of people during this century, is that we wasted eight years during the Bush administration, not fighting this problem. The Bush administration, you'll recall, did absolutely nothing about the climate crisis.

You're right. That's not true. I should give them credit for what they did, which was to make it worse. They rejected the Kyoto treaty, just for starters. Then, not content to sit idly by while the world burns, they proceeded to promote a variety of astonishingly short-sighted energy policies around coal and oil which are in fact making the problem worse.

It kills me to think of what might have been. Had Gore become President in 2000, you know damn well he'd have ratified the Kyoto treaty and pushed for adoption of its protocols in our economy. He'd have invested in clean, renewable energy instead of fighting wars for oil and advancing mountaintop-removal coal mining in the Appalachians. I can't doubt that a President Gore would have made the problem better, not worse.


Which brings me to Florida. Here is a picture of what Florida will look like when the sea has risen one meter. Miami is an island. Tens of billions of dollars worth of homes, businesses, and infrastructure will be gone. Vast stretches of inland areas will be uninhabitable due to salt-water encroachment on the land and into the water table.

The whole state, not to put too fine a point on it, looks as though it has been circumcised.

Build a dike, you say? Sorry. Geologically speaking, Florida is a giant sieve. It's mostly made of limestone, which water goes right through. Build a wall if you want to, but the sea will flow under it, right through the land, and flood you out anyway.

Still, it's hard to feel much pity for the poor Floridians, whose state is responsible for giving us President George W. Bush in the first place. That's irony for you. Tragic irony, not the faux "rain on your wedding day" irony. It is also, perhaps, ironic justice that of American states Florida stands to suffer among the most from the disastrous policies they allowed to happen.

If you own so much as a popsicle stand in Florida, sell it now while you still can.

WA-03: Campaign finance law to consider

CORRECTION, December 15th: State rules, crafted to interpret the law, actually allow legislators who are running for federal office to raise campaign funds immediately before, during, and after, legislative session, contrary to what this post (which can be found below) originally asserted.

So any state legislator running to replace Brian Baird is free to file with the FEC and start raising money as soon as they can get their act together.

Thanks to a well-informed reader who saw the post for letting me know the fundraising freeze isn't applicable for federal campaigns. For other readers' reference, here's an excerpt from WAC 390-17-400, which states:
7) State officials may do the following. During a legislative session freeze period, the activities in which state officials may engage include, but are not limited to:

(a) Soliciting or accepting contributions to assist his or her own campaign for federal office
Emphasis is mine.

At the Northwest Progressive Institute, we always do our best to make sure we're presenting factual information. Thanks to the reader who wrote in for the correction. We regret the error and any confusion it may have caused.

The original post was as follows:

With the retirement of Congressman Brian Baird, and the names of several state legislators on both sides of the aisle being mentioned as possible successors, it's important to remember that state law will temporarily setback the fundraising operations of any potential congressional campaign. RCW 42.17.710 states:
1) During the period beginning on the thirtieth day before the date a regular legislative session convenes and continuing through the date of final adjournment, and during the period beginning on the date a special legislative session convenes and continuing through the date that session adjourns, no state official or a person employed by or acting on behalf of a state official or state legislator may solicit or accept contributions to a public office fund, to a candidate or authorized committee, or to retire a campaign debt. Contributions received through the mail after the thirtieth day before a regular legislative session may be accepted if the contribution is postmarked prior to the thirtieth day before the session.

(2) This section does not apply to activities authorized in RCW 43.07.370.
What this means is that state legislators who decide to run for Congress right now are prohibited from raising funds starting on December 12th (the 2010 legislative session begins on January 11th).

This prohibition is not problematic if both Republicans and Democrats have state legislators running for the seat. Then, it becomes like the Cold War arms race between the Soviets and the U.S., a tit-for-tat sort of affair.

If Republicans Jon Russell and David Castillo stay in the race, they'd be free to fundraise while the state legislators were forbidden to do so, as would any Democrat who wasn't a state legislator.

The only way a legislator would be able to fundraise during the legislative session would be to resign his/her seat. The "freeze", as it's commonly called, does not make it impossible for a legislator to win a campaign, but it sets them at a disadvantage with other candidates who are not subject to its limitations.

With Rep. Jaime Herrera appearing at this point to be the Republican establishment candidate in the race, it's doubtful Castillo and Russell would raise enough money even during the legislative session to matter.

For the Democrats in the statehouse who are considering a run, a county commissioner, mayor or city councilmember entering the contest could pose problems because of the comparatively early start they'd get in raising money.

So of the Democratic candidates under consideration, it would appear that since Brendan Williams has already decided to leave the Legislature, he would have the least to lose by resigning early from the state House of Representatives to kick off his congressional campaign fundraising operation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

WA-03: Pridemore enters the race

Add state Senator Craig Pridemore (D-Vancouver) to the mix in the 3rd Congressional District race. Pridemore, a U.S. Army vet, former Clark County Commissioner and two term state Senator announced his bid for the seat being vacated by Brian Baird earlier today.
“Look around this district; we are suffering the highest unemployment in the state.Too many people are suffering in this economy,” said Pridemore.“I see families, veterans, and senior citizens all struggling to stay afloat.It is high time that our leaders in Washington DC focus on our jobs crisis right here at home.”

A decorated Army Intelligence analyst, Pridemore enlisted in the military while a student at the University of Washington and served four years in active duty stationed with the 3rd Armored Division and 202nd MI Battalion. If elected, he will be the only veteran in the Washington Congressional delegation.

“Too many military personnel are returning from overseas duty to find jobs gone, health care services inadequate, and lives disrupted,” said Pridemore.“This is unacceptable. I will fight to protect our veterans and honor the sacrifice they have made for all of us.”
In addition, as expected, State Representative Jaime Herrera (R-Camas) also announced her candidacy, bringing the total to four Republicans and four Democrats in the field.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner flies at last, to the delight of the whole Pacific Northwest

Earlier today, The Boeing Company's next-generation jet airliner, the 787 Dreamliner, finally took flight amidst a backdrop of cloudy gray sky. The test flight, which began after 10 AM this morning, came to an end just a few hours later when Dreamliner No. #1 touched down at Boeing Field - also known as King County International Airport - in Seattle.

Elected leaders were quick to issue celebratory comments about the test flight, with Senator Maria Cantwell being the first out of the gate. Here's an excerpt of her statement, sent to NPI earlier today via email:
I want to offer a special congratulations to Boeing’s exceptionally productive and skilled work force in Washington state who made this historic first flight a reality. Watching all their hard work take flight today is truly evidence that American workers can compete and win to build the best products in the world.

The Dreamliner adds to the long list of breakthrough Boeing aircraft created in Washington, including the 707, 747 and the 777, which revolutionized commercial air travel. Thanks to composite material, the 787 will be the world’s most efficient and environmentally friendly aircraft, helping both the consumer as well as the environment.
Senator Patty Murray appropriately focused her praise on Washington's aerospace workers, who were slighted by Boeing just weeks ago when the company announced its decision to build a second 787 production line in South Carolina:
I want to congratulate all of the dedicated Washington state workers who have spent so many years making today’s historic flight a reality. From the engineers who created this groundbreaking design, to the Machinists who put this plane together piece by piece, everyone has had a hand in writing this new chapter in our state’s proud history of technological leadership and innovation. As today proves, when it comes to our state’s workers, the sky is not only the limit, it’s often the destination.
Governor Chris Gregoire released a statement from Copenhagen, where she is participating in the worldwide climate summit, saying:
Congratulations to the men and women of the Boeing Company on this historic day. The graceful takeoff of the 787 on its maiden voyage is a testament to the vision of the company's leadership, the ingenuity of its engineers, and the skill of its machinists. I am also looking forward to maiden flights of the 747-8 and hopefully the Air Force's next mid-air refueling tanker to build on the success of this great day. The climate change summit in Copenhagen has highlighted for me the need to emphasize new technologies in the future that improve energy efficiency, and the new 787 is just such a plane.
Even Boeing's chief competitor, Airbus, graciously extended its congratulations. The company's vice president of communications, Clay McConnell, said in a news release:
Airbus salutes the people of Boeing on this important day in their history. The first flight of the 787 is a real achievement and it underscores the continual advancements in commercial aircraft that come about because of healthy competition.
SPEEA, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, has also released a statement, which is available on their website. We haven't heard from the Machinists yet but we wouldn't be surprised if they update their website shortly.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lieberpoison said to be wrecking healthcare reform to revenge himself upon netroots

So this is what it's really all about...
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Uh, let's talk about this thing with Harry Reid and Lieberman. I call him "Joe the bummer" as in "Joe the plumber," because he's brilliantly timing this thing. 'I'm not for this, I'm not for the public option, now I'm not for the buy-in on Medicare,' the H-55. He's just killing these guys.

HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, I talked to his spokesman today, I said, look, I'm going on Hardball, give me your side of the story. Okay, their side of the story is, it's a principled thing, there's many parts of the bill he believes in, the Medicare buy-in is an add-on because there's already subsidies. And the guy gave me a lot of plausible stuff. Okay. And I half believe it. I'm sorry ...

CHRIS MATTHEWS: What's the other half of your beliefs?

HOWARD FINEMAN: The other half is it's personal with Joe, not with Obama, 'cause don't forget that Obama, the President, supported Lieberman in the fight in the party in Connecticut. It's the grassroots left of the Democratic Party ...

CHRIS MATTHEWS: That enjoyed his torture.

HOWARD FINEMAN: That enjoyed his torture and this is payback to them. Obama, excuse me, the President's caught in the middle here. That's my take on it.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: So he wants Markos Moulitsas to take a hit.

HOWARD FINEMAN: He wants Moulitsas, he wants Firedoglake, he wants all those people who rode around on the bus of the challenger, who defeated him in the Democratic primary.
What a statesman. Connecticut's got a United States senator who puts his own personal vendettas ahead of what's best for the country. And President Barack Obama has a chief of staff (Rahm Emanuel) who lets him get away with it, instead of punishing him for his obstruction and obfuscation.

Meanwhile, the Senate Democratic Caucus' leader, Harry Reid (who is reportedly disgusted with Lieberman), is so weak-kneed that he can't stand up to the White House and tell them to quit meddling. Even though Reid's political survival in 2010 may depend on him doing just that.

As a result, healthcare reform - President Obama's top policy objective - is turning into a massive giveaway to insurance companies and HMOs. (Maybe that's the way Rahm wants it, which could explain his interference.) The Senate version has degenerated from mildly promising legislation into a piece of garbage.

This is sausage making at its finest. All of the good ideas that were in the Senate version have been gutted at the insistence of Senator Lieberpoison and ConservaDems like Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln, who are holding the whole effort hostage. They're a tiny minority of the caucus - Lieberpoison isn't even a Democrat - and yet they're dictating the evolution of the bill.

What's happening on Capitol Hill is so ridiculously outrageous that it's difficult to think of words that could do this injustice justice.

Many activists are already calling for the bill's defeat. We say it's too early for that. Let's work with House progressives... give them a chance to weigh in and turn the tables on the White House and the Senate.

If the Congressional Progressive Caucus holds together and demands a better bill, it would force the administration to stop covering for the likes of Lieberpoison and Lincoln. The administration wants a bill more than anything else, much as Lieberpoison values his chairmanship above all else.

The administration will cut Lieberpoison loose if they have to, in order to get a bill. For that to happen, House progressives will have to play hardball with the White House. They'll have to be resolute and unflinching.

It'll take political courage, but if there was ever a time for elected progressives in the House to show serious backbone, this is it.

Breaking - WA-03: Maria Rodriguez-Salazar running

According to sources, earlier tonight at the Clark County Democrats meeting Maria Rodriguez-Salazar, an active member and local and national leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), announced her candidacy for the 3rd Congressional District seat being vacated by Brian Baird. A mother of three, Salazar currently hails from Vancouver but will be moving to Battle Ground.

This story from KATU in Portland, confirms Salazar's candidacy announced tonight.
"My friends have already heard that I am running for congress. With support from my family and the grace of the lord I have made that decision. There are so many serious issues facing our country today that the American family finds it difficult to believe in the American dream. It is for those families that I believe I must step up."
Democrats currently running for the seat are State Representative Deb Wallace, peace activist Cheryl Crist, and Salazar. Republicans vying for the seat include Washougal Councilmember Jon Russell, former House Republican Caucus staffer David Castillo and teabagger John William Hedrick.

Stay tuned for more announcements from candidates. We expect State Senator Craig Pridemore to make his intentions known as early as tomorrow, and the word on the street is that former state legislator and TVW founder Denny Heck will do the same in the next few days.

Republicans defeat attempt to appoint Joe McDermott to King County Council

The King County Council has just voted on - and defeated - an amendment to name Joe McDermott as the appointed replacement for Dow Constantine, who resigned as Councilmember upon becoming County Executive.

The vote was four to four, with all the Democrats (Julia Patterson, Bob Ferguson, Larry Gossett, Larry Phillips) in favor and all the Republicans (Jane Hague, Kathy Lambert, Reagan Dunn, Pete von Reichbauer) opposed.

The amendment was offered by Julia Patterson, who delivered an impassioned speech on McDermott's behalf. Councilmembers Gossett, Ferguson, and Phillips echoed her remarks, saying McDermott's record as a state legislator, his familiarity with the district, and his skills as a consensus builder made him the ideal choice.

But they could not convince any of their Republican colleagues to join them in naming him as Constantine's successor. Indeed, when the time came to vote, the four Republicans were so quiet that their replies of "no" could barely be heard when the roll was called. The Democrats, in contrast, made their "ayes" loud and clear.

The Council is currently in recess. We'll let you know if any other noteworthy developments occur tonight. For now it looks like the Council is deadlocked. The Democrats want Joe McDermott on the Council and the Republicans don't.

UPDATE, 6:30 PM: The Republicans on the Council just attempted to name outgoing Seattle City Councilmember Jan Drago as the appointed replacement for Constantine. This time, it was the Democrats' turn to vote no. So that plan has failed, and the Council remains deadlocked.

Over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (in the comments), former Representative Toby Nixon has some sage advice to the Republican councilmembers:
The Republicans need to keep in mind that the time may come when Kathy Lambert or Reagan Dunn (just a couple of examples) are elected to higher office and the council will be choosing their successor -- and the Democrats on the council will remember well what is happening right now.
Very good point. The Republicans need to stop playing obstructionist games and let the Council get on with the business of actually appointing a successor.

Ecuador wants to "keep the oil in the soil"

Located deep within the Amazon basin, Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park is not only home to the world’s largest living rodent (a dubious honor), it also contains some of the world’s most endangered and beautiful animals, the jaguar and the ocelot. Although it’s a small country, Ecuador is one of the most biologically diverse, with fifty percent more plant species than in all of North America.

It is an unfortunate coincidence that such treasures lie above Ecuador’s largest undeveloped oil reserves, the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil block. Ecuador's thirty years of experience with the harmful effects of oil production have inspired environmental activists and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to create a unique campaign to keep those reserves in the ground, or as they like to say, "to keep the oil in the soil.” It’s an unusual plan that involves getting paid to keep carbon sequestered in the ground, in order to protect natural resources and to help push the world into a post-oil economy.

Ivonne Yanez, an environmental activist from Ecuador, spoke about the plan with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman in Copenhagen last week. Yanez explained that in exchange for leaving around one billion barrels of oil under the ground, Ecuador is asking wealthy nations to pay it $350 million per year, about half of Ecuador's expected annual revenue from the reserves, or to excuse that amount in national debt. She considers the exchange to be "a contribution to humanity.” Spain and Germany have already agreed to donate, but the United States is under pressure from the oil industry not to commit.

If the plan succeeds, and Ecuador leaves “the oil in the soil”, the plan would protect not only Yasuni’s forests, but also the local water quality and the existence of some of the Amazon’s last indigenous people. Copenhagen climate conference attendees will be glad to know that it would also prevent approximately 430 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

Is oil more valuable underneath the soil than in barrels? Ecuador is gambling that it is.

President Correa leads a country where six in ten people live in poverty despite a large oil economy. He is taking a chance that the world will put a higher value on biodiversity and reduced carbon emissions than on fuel, and at the same time he is looking for a way to whittle down Ecuador’s over $10 billion in foreign debt. Just today, Correa surprised investors by announcing that he may default on this debt. President Correa said at a news conference:
A country that spends twice as much on foreign debt as it does on education cannot develop.
Ecuador is full of surprises. While defaulting on debt involves risks, its innovative plan to “keep the oil in the soil” and its advice to other nations to “keep the coal in the hole” and “the tar sands in the land” could nudge nations to take another look at the real costs of oil production and consumption. The world is better off just leaving some oil where it is (like that in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) and working harder to develop new sustainable energy sources. Fossil fuels are finite and we are getting closer and closer to the day when there won’t be enough to meet the world's energy needs.

I like the idea of a small nation leading the others to solve two of the world’s biggest problems: climate change and vanishing fossil fuels. It’s a gutsy move.

WA-03: Pridemore for Congress?

It looks like state Senator Craig Pridemore (D-Vancouver) is getting ready to throw his hat into the ring in the race to replace Brian Baird in the 3rd Congressional District. Pridemore is not up for re-election to his Senate seat in 2010, and his campaign website has remained dormant for a number of months since his last re-election, but as of this morning it is now "under re-construction."



Why else would a potential candidate re-do their website, if not to run for election to another seat?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cherisse Luxa, 1947-2009

This morning, Washington's netroots community lost one of its most wonderful and spirited activists when Cherisse Luxa, the founder of Burien Drinking Liberally, succumbed to stomach cancer. Cherisse was sixty two. She resided in the 34th LD, known for its strong and vibrant Democratic Party organization.

Over at Daily Kos, Cherisse's friend cafecito writes:
If you have ever attended Drinking Liberally, you almost certainly know of Cherisse’s incredible energy and her unstoppable drive to make our community a better place. From her decades as a King County Sheriff’s Deputy to her impressive track record as an activist an advocate, Cherisse made a huge difference, both for Burien and for the broader community.

Cherisse, like many of us, got religion with Howard Dean's run.

Cherisse touched thousands of lives and was a role model for many of us. We will sorely miss her.
Here's to a pioneering netroots activist, Cherisse Luxa. May she rest in peace. We'll always be grateful for the work she did to make our state a better place to live.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Hanukkah!

Tonight marks the first night of Hanukkah, one of the most joyous Jewish holidays. Most people know that Hanukkah lasts eight nights, and that children receive gifts as part of the holiday.

What many may not know is that Hanukkah is about strength of character, a willingness to maintain hope when hope seems nonexistent, and celebrating as a family and as a community.

The story of Hanukkah began with the Seleucid Empire sacking the Judean Temple. A group of brothers, known as the Maccabees, helped reclaim the Temple.

One little known Jewish tradition that plays an important role in the Hanukkah celebration is the “eternal light”. If you enter a synagogue you will see a tiny light over the cabinet – known as an “ark” - that holds the sacred Torah. That is the eternal flame, which is never extinguished.

In the days of the Maccabees the eternal flame came olive oil. According to the history of the holiday, there was only enough olive oil to last one night, and it was an 8-day journey to bring back more olive oil. Somehow, the eternal flame remained lit for those 8 days.

While Hanukkah may be rooted in the Jewish religion, the notions of character, hope, and the joys of family and friends are universal, as President Barack Obama declared earlier today:
Hanukkah is not only a time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but for people of all faiths to celebrate the common aspirations we share. As families, friends and neighbors gather together to kindle the lights, may Hanukkah's lessons inspire us all to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy, to find light in times of darkness, and to work together for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.
To our Jewish readers, and anyone else who is celebrating the holiday, we wish you a very blessed and happy Hanukkah.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The real War on Christmas

I should probably say something about the whole health care thing, except that I'm pretty depressed about it so I won't. Instead, because of my obsessive need to point out hypocrisy wherever I see it, I'm going to talk about that whole "War on Christmas" thing.

You know, the one where conservatives get all hot and bothered with their outrage-o-meters cranked to 11 because progressives dare to suggest that maybe we be sensitive to the traditions and feelings of non-Christian people too.

This was brought to mind because of a story I read somewhere online a couple of days ago about Giving Trees. There's one in the lobby of my workplace right now. It's an artificial tree, decorated with cards that list the Christmas wishes of children whose parents can't afford to get them anything for the holiday. The idea is that people with jobs can take a card off the tree, go buy whatever's listed there, and put it under the tree with the card attached. The Giving Tree people then collect the stuff and distribute it where it's needed.

The Grinches in conservative-land probably think these wishes are all for Barbie dolls and skateboards and other materialistic crap that, honestly, nobody needs. That it's just a way for poor people to be greedy. And sure, some of the cards are for Barbie dolls. But not most of them.

Most of them are for stuff like winter coats. Jeans to wear to school. A new pair of shoes. Most of the wishes aren't for materialistic luxuries, but for things that fall closer to the necessity side of life.

The Giving Tree story I saw--and I'm kicking myself that I didn't save the link to share with you--was all around the fact that submissions to Giving Tree programs all over the country are up this year. I don't remember the figures in the story, but they're way, way up.

Here we sit at what is hopefully the bottom of the "Great Recession." No surprise that a lot more families are hurting this year than last year. No surprise, then, that a lot more parents are sucking up their pride and submitting their kids wishes in the hopes that more fortunate strangers can help give them a merry Christmas morning.

The part I want to remind everyone about is how we got into this recession to begin with. Remember, it all started with a whole lot of unconscionably greedy and wealthy investment brokers, inventing all those crazy mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps, and so forth. People former president George Bush once referred to as "my base." People whose kids never have and never will have to worry about having a merry Christmas.

These investment brokers were aided and abetted by conservative members of Congress like Senator Phil Graham who allowed their palms to be greased in exchange for repealing the very regulations that had, for the previous several decades since the Great Depression, made that kind of financial funny-business illegal.

The real War on Christmas is that for millions of American kids, Santa isn't going to be bringing them very much this year because of the greedy, reckless behavior on the part of a very few who already had more than they'd ever need, who broke the entire nation's economy so they could get their hands on even more, and didn't give a damn about Main Street families whose kids' wishes are now up on the Giving Tree as a result.

The next time the pundits get all red in the face over people saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," the next time they start crying "War on Christmas!" as if anybody actually has it in for that particular holiday, remember that. Remember what the real War on Christmas is and who perpetrated it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

WA-03: Baird not running for re-election

Congressman Brian Baird (D-Vancouver) announced earlier today that he won't seek re-election for his seventh term in the House of Representatives, citing family reasons. Below is the text of his statement:
Congressman Brian Baird Announces He Will Not Seek Reelection

Washington, D.C.--Serving our country and representing the people of Southwest Washington in Congress has been the highest honor and greatest responsibility of my life.Since the time I first announced I would seek election in November of 1995, I have done my utmost to work hard, tell the truth, listen, and do what was right for our nation.I am proud of the record of achievements for our district and I am incredibly grateful to the voters who have entrusted me with this responsibility. I am also appreciative to my staff, all of the friends, supporters and volunteers who have helped along the way.

The time has now come to pursue other options, other ways of serving.Hence, I am announcing today that I do not intend to seek reelection to Congress in 2010.This is not an easy decision to be sure, but I believe it is the right decision at the right time.

I look forward to serving the remainder of this Congress with the same level of commitment I have always given the people of this district.There is much yet to be done for our region and our nation and I fully intend to be part of that work during the remainder of my term in office and in new ways when that term has ended.

Again, I want to thank my family, friends, supporters, staff and most importantly the people of Southwest Washington.
Baird has previously drawn the ire of progressives, including NPI, for his support for President Bush's escalation of the war in Iraq and for his recent failure to vote to support health care reform. We believe Congressman Baird's retirement presents an opportunity to elect a more progressive candidate to the congressional seat.

Despite two Republicans having already entered the race: Jon Russell, a Washougal City councilman, and David Castillo, a former staffer for the Washington state House Republican Caucus, the leading Republican to emerge in the race is the state Representative Jaime Herrera of the 18th Legislative District. Herrera is a former staffer to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and former legislative intern to state Senator Joe Zarelli.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Deb Wallace, Rep. Brendan Williams (who isn't running for reelection) and Sen. Craig Pridemore are all said to be in the mix.

Kitzhaber: I'm running for Governor of Oregon to help make Americans healthier

Editor's Note: We are pleased this afternoon to welcome Oregon gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber to the NPI Advocate to briefly talk about what motivated him to run for office again, seven years after he left the statehouse. His successor, Ted Kulongoski, elected in 2002, is ineligible to seek a third consecutive term because of Oregon's statewide term limits.

My name is John Kitzhaber.

Before serving two terms as Oregon's governor, I was an emergency room doctor. I'd like to take a moment of your time to talk about health care.

As the national debate health care reform debate intensifies, it is important to remember the objective here is not just to finance and deliver medical care - the objective is to improve the health of Americans.

And to date the congressional debate has been focused largely on insurance reform rather than on health care reform.

We certainly need insurance reform - and all Americans need financial access to the health care system. But the cost of health insurance is ultimately a reflection of the underlying cost of health care and unless we can reduce the cost of health care itself we will fail to solve this problem.

From my experience as an emergency room doctor and as a governor it is clear to me that the real problem here is not how we pay for health care but rather what we are buying; how that care in organized and delivered; and what relationship that has to health. Simply reforming the insurance system, while important, will neither reduce cost nor make people healthier.

I spoke with National Public Radio about this problem last week. (Read more and listen to the story at NPR.org.)

While you may not be lucky enough to live in Oregon, you should care about what happens here - in our election next year for Governor, and beyond.

Oregon has always been a national leader in health care innovation. As the author of the groundbreaking Oregon Health Plan, I'm running for Governor again in part because I know that Oregon can and will face up to the challenge of fundamentally reforming the health care delivery system which is crucial if we hope to reduce cost and improve the health of Americans.

Our federalist system encourages states to be the "laboratories of democracy," trying and testing innovative solutions. Whatever the results of the current health care debate in Congress, America is going to need innovation and new thinking from the states to solve this most critical challenge.

I hope you'll connect with my campaign and keep an eye an Oregon. We're ready to lead the way on health reform, and I would like you to be a part of it.

Dr. John Kitzhaber was Governor of Oregon from 1995 to 2003. Visit JohnKitzhaber.com to learn more and get involved – and connect via Facebook and Twitter.

Governor Gregoire unveils 2010 supplemental budget with jaw-droppingly awful cuts

Governor Chris Gregoire is currently speaking to a roomful of reporters in her conference room at the statehouse to outline the 2010 supplemental budget that she's prepared. This budget, which is required by law, has to be balanced without any new revenue, meaning that the cuts pretty much have to correspond to the amount of the shortfall, minus any available cash on hand.

The governor wasted no time in getting down to details, outlining some of the more horrific choices she's had to make to come up with this "balanced" budget. The governor intends to propose her own budget in January which would restore many of the cuts outlined below.

Here's what's on the chopping block in this "balanced" budget:
  • Some corrections institutions to be closed
  • School districts levy lid lift to be increased to 30%
  • Basic Health Plan to be ended
  • General Assistance for the Unemployable to be ended
  • Prescription drug assistance for 85,00 seniors to be suspended
  • Maternity support for 50,000 pregnant mothers to be suspended
  • Hospice assistance to be cut
  • Financial aid to over 12,000 low income students to be ended
  • Levy equalization to be suspended
The list doesn't end there. It goes on... and on... and on... and on.

"Anything that's large had to be cut," Gregoire told reporters during a question and answer session following her prepared remarks.

She stressed that the "balanced" budget she's proposing in accordance with state law "does not reflect my values."

"I do not support this budget," she declared at one point, explaining that she is trying to identify new revenue sources to restore many of the cuts above.

Here's a quick breakdown of how the $2.6 billion shortfall will be closed:
  • $900 million from one-time sources such as the rainy day fund will be tapped
  • That leaves a shortfall of about $1.7 billion
  • The governor would like to reduce the total amount of cuts that have to be made to $1 billion. That means she and legislators will need to find around $700 million in new revenue.
  • That $700 million, once found, would then be applied towards restoring the worst of the cuts so that we don't end up destroying our social safety net.
The governor did not elaborate on what her own budget (which will include new revenue sources) will look like a month from now. Asked about particular revenue sources by reporters, she said she's unlikely to increase the business and occupation tax, and unlikely to increase the property tax. A sales tax increase is on the table and is something she is looking at.

The governor stressed that she wants to close uneeded tax loopholes and unecessary exemptions, which is something we at NPI have long been urging to do (in fact, we wrote a letter to her a year ago on that subject).

Gregoire also said during her remarks that she'd like to address "tax fairness issues", but did not elaborate on what she meant.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Martha Coakley wins Democratic primary in Massachusetts for U.S. Senate

A standard bearer to succeed Ted Kennedy has been chosen:
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has won the Democratic nomination in the special election for Senate -- close to a win in the general election itself, in this Democratic state, in the race to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

With 94% of precincts reporting, Coakley has 47%, well ahead of her nearest opponent, Rep. Mike Capuano, with 28%. Coakley will face Republican state Sen. Scott Brown in the general election, which will be held on January 19, and in which the Democratic candidate will be heavily favored.
Although there are certainly Democrats in Massachusetts who would have happily voted for another Kennedy to succeed Teddy, no one from the family wished to be a candidate. Vicki made it known months ago she had no interest, and Joe Kennedy likewise opted out of the race, though he had both name recognition and $2 million in leftover campaign funds.

Although Coakley won an overwhelming victory in the primary today, she doesn't have time to slow down and enjoy her win. The special election is a little over a month away, and she ought to hit the campaign trail starting tomorrow if she wants to beat the Republican nominee, Scott Brown, by an equally impressive margin.

Washingtonians know what it's like to have a short turnaround between a primary and a general election. Our primary used to be in mid-September, like Massachusetts' normally is,, before we moved it to late August.

A late primary leaves only a few weeks between the two elections... not much time for the finalists to mount their campaigns. Even so, plenty can happen in a few weeks. Martha Coakley shouldn't take this special election for granted.

U.S. Senate defeats Ben Nelson's anti-choice amendment to healthcare reform bill

Good news from the District of Columbia: The U.S. Senate has just voted fifty four to forty five to table an amendment offered by Ben Nelson of Nebraska that would have inserted Stupak-Pitts language into the Senate's version of the healthcare reform bill. The motion's passage basically means that Nelson has been defeated.

(Stupak-Pitts is the anti-choice amendment that got into the House version of the healthcare bill thanks to Republicans and Blue Dogs. The amendment has become best known as simply "Stupak", after its sponsor, Democrat Bart Stupak, who has used disingenuous arguments to defend it.)

The vote for and against the motion was bipartisan. Maine's two Republican senators voted aye on the motion to table, while Democrats Evan Bayh (of Indiana), Bob Casey (of Pennsylvania), Kent Conrad (of North Dakota), Brian Dorgan (of North Dakota), Mark Pryor (of Arkansas), Ted Kaufman (of Delaware) and Nelson himself voted nay.

Senators from the Pacific Northwest were strictly divided on party lines, with Murray, Cantwell, Merkley, Wyden, Begich, Tester, and Baucus voting aye while Crapo, Risch, and Murkowski voted nay.

Of the Democrats who defected, Kaufman was perhaps the most surprising. (He is Joe Biden's successor, but will be leaving the chamber at the end of 2010 when the state picks a new U.S. Senator).

It's good to know that the Stupak-Pitts amendment won't be in the Senate's version of the healthcare bill. But since the language is in the House version, there is still the danger that it could be reconciled into the final bill when the two versions are merged. That would be a travesty. Democratic negotiators must ensure that language is removed in conference so that healthcare reform does not have the costly side effect of rolling back a woman's right to choose.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Judiciary 101: An overview of how our court system is organized (Part I)

Unless you are an attorney, there is a strong probability that the court system is a mystery to you. This is the first installment in series describing the different types of courts, their functions, and how people become judges.

All fifty states have two general categories of courts: appellate and trial. An appellate court decides whether a trial court made some kind of mistake when it decided a case. The phrase "trial court" is really misnomer; trial courts do much more than conduct trials. They hold preliminary hearings, give rulings on motions, approve settlement agreements (both civil and criminal), hear divorce and other family matters, and on and on.

There are three types of trial courts. The first two, District and Municipal, are almost, though not quite, identical. They both handle misdemeanors (crimes punishable by a maximum of up to ninety days in jail) and gross misdemeanors (crimes punishable at least ninety one days but no more than three hundred and sixty five days in jail).

District Courts are created by the county, and hear criminal cases that occur in unincorporated territory. They also hear civil cases where the amount of money sought is less than $70,000, traffic ticket cases, name changes, small claims court, and requests for anti-harassment orders.

Municipal Courts are created by cities, and hear criminal cases that occur within the city limits. They also hear traffic infraction cases, but do not hear any of the other matters that a District Court does.

Because their jurisdiction is limited in scope, District and Municipal Courts are referred to as Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.

The third type of trial court is the Superior Court. It hears everything that a District or Municipal Court cannot. Examples include divorces, business disputes, felony crimes (punishable by three hundred and sixty six or more days in prison) as well as civil lawsuits involving sums of more than $70,000.

In the next installment, I'll touch on appellate courts and what they do.

Washington and its schools depend on levy dollars

In my spare time last week, I made phone calls on behalf of my school district’s levy campaign. I would rather scrub toilets than phone voters, but I powered through it because I know how serious the consequences would be if my school district’s levy and bond measures were to fail.

Washington’s schools depend heavily on local levies and bonds in order to plug budget gaps caused by inadequate state funding. Even though state law requires Washington to fund a basic education for all students, and our constitution considers education to be the state's “paramount duty, the money delivered by the state doesn’t cover school necessities. Originally created to allow districts to pay for “enhancements" to their school programs, school levies now contribute up to one quarter of districts’ budgets. The “enhancements” that levies cover include textbooks, supplies, buses, athletics, support staff and special education. These all sound pretty basic to me.

On February 9, school districts across Washington will be asking voters to approve levy and bond measures. Most of those measures will just be renewals, that is, they will renew existing funding that is expiring, and therefore most homeowners won’t see much of a change in their tax bills if their levies win approval. My school district, Lake Washington, is growing, so it will also be running a new bond measure to build two new schools for the added students they expect to teach. Students aren't stackable - our buildings have to keep up with enrollment.

My purpose in contacting voters last week was not to persuade, but to find out which voters support the levy and bond measures. If I was allowed to persuade, I would have had a lot to say to the mother who told me that she wasn’t sure if she would vote to renew our district’s levies because “her children go to Catholic school.” On the surface, her viewpoint may seem reasonable. She is already paying for her children’s education, why should she also pay for schools they don't attend?

The thing is, when we give tax dollars to our schools, we are supporting the whole school system, not just our own kids, just like when our tax dollars go to our city to pay for police and fire protection. If we decide to hire a security guard or to install a fire sprinkler system in our home, that doesn’t mean that we stop supporting our community’s public safety. We do care about the well-being of our neighbors. The public grief over the Lakewood police tragedy makes that obvious.

But not only that, when we support our schools, police or fire departments, we are helping and protecting those in our community that we rely on: our teachers, doctors, bus drivers, grocery stores, credit unions and others.

It’s in our own best interest to keep our communities safe and strong, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to educate children. Poorly educated people consume more public dollars in social and law enforcement services than the better-educated do, plus they contribute less in tax dollars.

What kind of future do you see for kids without a good education? A low-paying job, health problems, crime? These kids won’t start new businesses or design the next-big-thing that creates jobs for our economy. What a waste of potential and a drain on society.

What I wished I could tell the private school mom is that she can take her children out of the public education system, but as a member of our community she has a responsibility to put some resources in. It’s in her best interest.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The state of Washington's working families

With the economy still struggling, unemployment increasing, and a continued strain on social services dealing with budget constraints while demand for services skyrockets, the Economic Opportunity Institute recently released a report on the status of working families in Washington in 2009. Some background from the report:
Compounding the economic stress on families, over the course of the decade fewer employers provided health insurance and other benefits, more health care costs were shifted to individuals, college tuition shot up relative to median income, and the cost of buying a home skyrocketed.

While the majority struggle, a few are doing extraordinarily well. Some highly paid fields, most notably computer software publishing, have grown briskly since 2000. Those at the top of the income spectrum have by and large prospered. Workers earning at the 80th percentile and above have enjoyed real increases in their incomes over the past decade despite the roller coaster economy. Thus inequality has continued to grow, as it has since 1980. In contrast, throughout the middle decades of the 20th century inequality lessened while the middle class grew. Now wealth is once again as highly concentrated in the hands of a few as it was in the late 1920s.
To be fair, the report also notes that comparatively speaking, Washington residents have generally fared better than those of other states. But if no state is doing well in this recession, and none are, is it better to be the best of the bad or the best that we can be? At the Northwest Progressive Institute, we subscribe to the Paul Wellstone ideal that "we all do better when we all do better." That means that being the best of the worst isn't good enough for us or the citizens of our state, which is why we fight for a better tomorrow.

So how do we get there? The Economic Opportunity Institute came to the following conclusions in its report:
  1. Expand investments in education from early learning through college and roll back excessive tuition increases that have limited access to higher education for some.
  2. Restore cuts to the state's Basic Health Plan, establish Retirement Investment Security Accounts, mandate paid sick leave by employers, as well as, funding and expanding the family and medical leave insurance program yet to be fully implemented or funded by the legislature.
  3. Generate new revenue immediately by taxing various products such as gum, candy, baked goods, pop syrup and by taking steps to reform the tax structure of the state.
Nothing drives the economy like a well-educated, well-trained workforce. In order to have that workforce, there must be opportunity and access to an affordable, high-quality education system for the masses, not just for preparing young people for careers but also for providing job re-training for older, more established workers. Cutting opportunity and access to education, by increasing tuition, only makes it harder for the economy to rebound.

With regard to taxes, we would add that a comprehensive review of all state giveaways of the common wealth (commonly called tax incentives) must be completed to determine which are providing a concrete benefit to the state and those that are not should be immediately eliminated. Our common wealth should not be squandered if our communities or state receive no benefit.

The silent costs of battle: Talking about PTSD

I have nightmares at night, and sometimes I get maybe a handful of hours of sleep for a couple of days straight.

This is one of the many marks that battle leaves on the human mind.

During my campaign for city council, I was terrified people might think I was ‘crazy’. That The Stranger, or Publicola, or The Times would get word that I’m still startled by loud noises and conclude I was some how unstable. This is a very common fear, one that isolates veterans, and it’s leading to a lot of men and women hurting themselves or hurting others.

Last week I learned that a friend from childhood, also an Iraq veteran, was suspected of killing two of his friends in a violent act that could only be related to his experiences at war. He was a good kid, raised by an amazingly devoted family and he like many of us had signed up to serve his country for all the right reasons. It is my hope that he is found innocent, but whether he is or not, we need to have a conversation about the mental effects of battle on our troops.

The military lifestyle is difficult even during times of peace. You spend days away from family and friends, training and drilling constantly. Within the last eight years that rigorous schedule has been topped by deployments of a year and longer.

This time is spent in an environment that does not often believe in mental illness. The idea is that if you can’t see the scars then it’s not a real injury. Soldiers who seek treatment are often times laughed at or ridiculed for reaching out for help.

Those who aren’t are reminded that the symptoms of PTSD are good for the battlefield, a place where it truly does pay to be hyper alert, slightly paranoid, and ready to kill at a moment’s notice.

When I returned from Iraq the first time I was asked two questions: "Do you have thoughts of harming yourself?" and "Do you have thoughts of hurting others?" I was informed that if I answered ‘yes’ to either of those I wouldn’t be allowed to go on leave but would have to stay and go through mental evaluations.

Luckily, I had thoughts of neither and was allowed to go home, but I wonder if everyone coming back was being told the same thing I was.... and if they were getting the help they needed?

It's essential that as our President looks to increase troop levels in Afghanistan that we press him to protect our soldiers from the increased demands on them and their families. We need to see military leaders continuing to receive training and being pressed to understand and recognize PTSD, and slowly working to a military culture that accepts wounded warriors regardless of their wounds.

We also need greater access to VA and non-VA related mental health services, and better supervision of counselors to prevent the just suck it up mentality that does exist in some VA hospitals.

Finally, we as a society must do a better job educating ourselves. We need to understand what it is that soldiers go through during deployment and what they deal with when they get home... so we can empathize.

For me, being a veteran in the Northwest is a very unique experience. I’ve met individuals who supported the invasion of Iraq and thanked me, I’ve met people who did not support the invasion and pitied me, and I’ve even had aggressive people yell and curse at me simply for having served.

It’s wonderful for people to have their own opinions and to express them, but as I watch a woman carrying a baby doll covered in blood around the Federal Building I often ask myself, is that a mark against me or war itself?

I wouldn't ask any progressive to stop protesting the occupation of Iraq. I no longer support the occupation myself. But I would urge activists not to protest veterans themselves. Half the time the things that might get said by protesters are nothing compared to the things a returned soldier tells himself when he wakes up in the middle of the night.

I didn’t choose to invade Iraq. We were ordered by the President of the United States to go into Iraq. We were duped like the rest of the country. Remember the phrase "weapons of mass destruction"?

The only way to combat the effects of war and PTSD is by having a welcoming and supportive environment to come home to. I was lucky, and I had that. Not everyone does, and part of the only way to fix that is for us to start talking about it.

I'm a veteran and I have PTSD. I am not alone.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Brightening up the riverside: Grand balloon display greets participants at RedmondLights

Every December, for the past eleven years, the City of Redmond has held a community celebration called RedmondLights to mark the coming of the winter season, including the holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year's.

It's one of my favorite holiday traditions because it revolves around people coming together, getting some good exercise, and sampling tasty food.

I just returned from this year's RedmondLights and wanted to congratulate the organizers for making the 2009 celebration the best yet. It was bigger and better than ever in almost every respect, despite the recession.

That's a tough feat to pull off.

Historically, RedmondLights has begun at City Hall with a stage choir, tree lighting, Santa's arrival, and a welcome from the Mayor of Redmond, followed by a walk along the illuminated Sammamish River Trail to Redmond Town Center, where local restaurants have booths set up offering free food and goodies.

Participants are always given little blinking lights at the beginning of the walk. Originally green and red lights were distributed in the shapes of Christmas trees and stars; then, for a few years, the lights were ball-shaped and could double as tree ornaments. More recently, organizers have selected blue and yellow star shaped lights. (This year's were exclusively blue). Along the trail, decorative lights, musicians, and a kayaking Santa usually enthrall walkers.

RedmondLights Grand Balloon Display
But in addition to the usual festivities, this year's RedmondLights included a grand balloon display at the trail's end, which was a huge hit.

The balloons were parked in a field not far away from a Living Nativity and hot chocolate stand, and they made for a picturesque scene, brightening up the riverside as walkers made their way into the heart of Redmond Town Center.

Everyone I talked to about the organization of this year's event raved about the balloons. I urge the organizers to make them a permanent fixture in the years to come. They're a great sight to see at the end of the RiverWalk.

Those who missed RedmondLights this year can feel free to mark their calendars for next year; the celebration is typically the first weekend in December. It has been on Sunday for most of its history, but was on Saturday for this year.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Higher education, Kafka-style

There's plenty of chatter on the Net this week about President Obama's Afghanistan speech on Tuesday, so I'm going to talk about something else.

Funding for higher education in America.

Presently, we have a system only Franz Kafka could love. It's a system that literally undermines the American Dream, which is the simple idea that people who work hard and play by the rules ought to get ahead.

Case in point: On Tuesday, I heard a story on NPR about a student loan case that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court. Yes, that's right. Some poor schmuck has had to defend himself all the way to the highest court in the land over a student loan. Tell me how that makes any sense?

So basically, there was this guy Francisco Espinosa, who was a baggage handler for America West. Not the world's greatest job, right?

But he's a hard worker, so he figures, why not go to college? He got a student loan, got a degree in computer drafting and design, but then like happens to so many people, couldn't find a job in his field.

No fault of his own. Then America West got into financial troubles, and cut his pay. Also, not his fault. Espinosa is a responsible guy - he plays by the rules - he didn't drive a flashy car or live in a home worth more than he could afford. In fact, he didn't have any debt at all, except for that student loan, which he couldn't keep up on with his reduced wages.

Creditors started hassling him, calling him, his mother, demanding payment. He's still working as hard as he can, still playing by the rules to the best of his ability, but now he's got people hounding him over this loan.

So he filed for bankruptcy. The court put him on a new payment plan he could afford, and he paid off the loan. He even got a letter from the court verifying that he had satisfied his obligation to the lender.

He thinks he's good, right? All is said and done? Except no, after all this, the lender filed suit saying tht the court was out of bounds in the payment plan it had constructed, and that Espinosa still owed them four thousand dollars. Except that the lender had been notified of the court's proposed terms, twice, and had never raised an objection.

How incredibly bizarre, and completely mind boggling. Civilized nations offer support to their children in pursuing higher education. In some countries, like France, Argentina, and Denmark, any kid who wants to go gets a free ride. In Sweden and Germany, you don't even have to be a citizen!

But not here. Not in America, the richest nation in the world. Here, we make you accept indentured servitude to predatory lenders for the privilege of knowledge, we show no mercy if your life hits a hard patch, and come after you again anyway even after the court says you've fulfilled your obligations.

This disgusts me and the entire team at NPI. It really does.

We used to have robust financial assistance for aspiring scholars. We had Pell Grants, and student aid, and the like. Technically, we still have them, but thirty years of chipping away at them by right-wing administrations who would rather buy bombs than books has eroded this support to meaningless levels.

It's people like Francisco Espinosa who pay the price.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Domestic partnership law takes effect today following approval of Referendum 71

Readers, here's something to be cheery about as the holiday season gets into full swing: One of the greatest civil rights victories in Washington's history - the expansion of our domestic partnerships law - is, as of today, finally on our books following the certification of the 2009 general election.

The Secretary of State's office, which operates the domestic partners registry, says it is prepared for the "everything but marriage" law enacted by the Legislature and approved by the people as Referendum 71 to go into effect.

"Our office is ready for the new changes and is hard at work to ensure the registration process continues to go smoothly," Corporations Director Pam Floyd said in a news release.  "Couples needing assistance completing the forms should not hesitate to contact our office," she added.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler's office has also posted a Q&A for domestic partners and their families which covers insurance-related topics.

Since November 4th, there have been around ninety registrations a week, as compared to a past average of thirty seven or so per week, the office announced. Although it continues to handle registrations, terminations will henceforth be taken care of by Washington's courts "in similar fashion to a divorce proceeding".

There are now more than thirteen thousand domestic partners registered across Washington. The SoS is urging couples who have questions about the new law to contact a trusted legal advisor for assistance; only basic information about the expanded partnerships law is available online.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

State's environmental movement announces its priorities for 2010 legislative session

This evening the Washington Environmental Priorities Coalition - a combined effort of more than two dozen leading environmental groups based in the Evergreen State - announced its agenda for the 2010 legislative session.

The agenda, made public in advance at the end of every year, typically consists of three or four specific priorities which focus on tackling the climate crisis, reducing pollution, conserving our precious natural resources, or a combination of those overarching policy directions.

Here are the 2010 priorities, as described by the coalition:
  • Safe Baby Bottle Act: More and more evidence shows that the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is harmful to children’s health. Laboratory studies have linked BPA to cancer, miscarriage, obesity, reproductive problems, and hyperactivity. Yet manufacturers can still legally use BPA in products such as baby bottles, infant formula cans, and other food containers. The Safe Baby Bottle Act would address this problem by phasing out BPA in baby bottles, food and beverage cans, and other consumer products.
  • Working for Clean Water: [It's] about creating jobs, rebuilding our local economy, and cleaning up polluted waterways like Puget Sound and the Spokane River. Each year millions of gallons of petroleum pollute our water through storm runoff, a serious threat to our health and environment. This bill is a fee on polluters that will fund shovel-ready, local projects all over the state to stop this contamination. Now is the time to put Washington back to work by building storm water infrastructure that we’ll be proud of for generations.
  • Sustain Environmental Protections in the Budget: Our state is in the midst of an economic recession that threatens safeguards we all depend on, including core environmental protections. Washingtonians rely on protections that keep our families healthy: clean water to drink, unpolluted air to breathe, and the clean-up of toxic contaminations. Maintaining Washington’s clean environment also attracts business and qualified workers to our state, making us a driver in the new green economy.
The priorities are more modest and defensive in nature then they've been in past years, owing to the impact of the Great Recession, which has stretched our state's common wealth to the breaking point.

Let's not forget that environmental protection is a public service. It costs money to keep our air and water free of pollution, to research alternatives to fossil fuels, to maintain our parks, and clean up toxic waste spills, for instance.

Readers who'd like to support the 2010 Environmental Priorities are urged to attend the coalition's 2010 Legislative Workshop on January 9th and the Lobby Day on January 26th. Follow the links for more details.

Tim Eyman's 2010 scheme will be an Initiative 960 redux (or so he tells the Associated Press)

Not content to take a Christmas break from hawking bad ideas, initiative profiteer Tim Eyman has told The Associated Press that his 2010 initiative will be a redux of his 2007 measure, Initiative 960, which narrowly passed statewide two years ago and imposed unconstitutional limits on the Legislature's ability to raise revenue.

The wire service, which frequently acts like a promoter for Eyman, has obliged his request for publicity by putting out a "news brief" summarizing his "announcement". The "news brief" is all of five paragraphs and doesn't contain any direct quotes. The Seattle Times, Seattle P-I, and Longview Daily News have all run it on their websites so far.

We're not surprised that Eyman plans to run a more devious and destructive version of Initiative 960 as his 2010 initiative.

As longtime Eyman opponents, we're all too familiar with his habit of recycling the same harmful schemes over and over and over again.

Since Eyman's 2010 measure will be built on the same faulty premise as Initiative 960, it's already guaranteed to be unconstitutional on its face. The Washington State Constitution explicitly says that the Legislature is a democratic institution where majority rule shall prevail. From Article II, Section 22:
SECTION 22. PASSAGE OF BILLS. No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.
Emphasis is mine.

Eyman is once again demonstrating his contempt for the whole idea of representative democracy, the system of government our nation was founded upon. Since the Legislature won't kowtow to Eyman's demands, he means to try and force them to by undemocratically changing the rules, proposing a law that explicitly violates the Washington State Constitution.

In anticipation that allowing Initiative 960 to stand would set a bad precedent, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown initated a lawsuit during the 2008 legislative session which sought to have I-960 tossed out.

Rather than ruling on the merits of the case - the real Constitutional issues involved - the Court dismissed Brown's suit, filed against Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, on a technicality. (Owen was just as disappointed with the ruling as Brown; they had both hoped the Court would affirm that Initiative 960 is at odds with the supreme law of our land, and wipe it off our books).

However, the Supreme Court's refusal to strike Initiative 960 doesn't mean the measure passes muster with our Constitution. Tim Eyman might stupidly and naively claim that, but he'd be utterly wrong if he did.

The reason Eyman is running a "Son of 960" (as he will probably call it) is because Democrats now have the ability, as of this month, to amend Initiative 960 by simple majority vote of the House and Senate. Ironically, I-960's unconstitutional provisions were protected by the Constitution itself, which forbids the Legislature from modifying an initiative until two years to the date after it has gone into effect.

We have already been preparing to go to battle with Eyman again in 2010, so today's "announcement" really doesn't change much.

We are resolved to continue opposing his destructive schemes until he and his initiative factory are out of business for good.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In West Point speech, President Obama tries to justify escalation of Afghan occupation

Earlier this evening, in a major primetime speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point, President Barack Obama officially announced his decision to temporarily escalate the occupation of Afghanistan, and, unlike his predecessor, managed to defend his rationale for doing so without resorting to sloganeering.

"I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan," the President said. "After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan."

The President began his speech by outlining the history of America's presence in Afghanistan (which began as a response to the September 11th attacks) including the complications that resulted from the unnecessary and immoral occupation of Iraq. He then reviewed the actions he has taken in respect to Afghanistan since taking office at the beginning of the year, and explained that has made the decision to escalate the conflict because the status quo is not sustainable and he doesn't believe cutting our losses and leaving is a feasible option.

The President acknowledged - but did not dwell on - many of the factors that may interfere with the success of the strategy he's just committed us to.

(For example, the legitimacy of the Afghan government, which was chosen in an election "marred by fraud", as the President put it).

He also repeatedly denounced imperialism without admitting that our foreign policy for the better part of this decade has been imperialist.

"We do not seek to occupy other nations," Obama said. He continued: "We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours."

The problem is, we've done exactly that in the past, and we are still doing it. We are not fighting conventional wars in either Iraq or Afghanistan. We are occupying those lands because two successive administrations have deemed it to be in our interest. "National security" is a convenient umbrella term that masks the real reasons why we're in places like Afghanistan or Iraq.

There has never been a formal declaration of war by Congress for either "police action". Congress has voted twice on "authorization of force" resolutions, which have been conveniently viewed by the White House as good for eternity.

Regrettably, the House and Senate have followed up by repeatedly writing blank checks appropriating money that we don't have to fund both occupations, whilst failing to exercise stringent oversight over the executive branch.

But there are signs that that might be changing.

In his response to the President's speech tonight, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon voiced respectful skepticism, declaring, "I have a number of questions about whether the Administration’s goal in Afghanistan is realistic, and how that goal advances our national security." He elaborated:
How will our strategy overcome Afghanistan’s history of decentralized power exercised by regional warlords, its systemic corruption, the insurgents’ ability to use the presence of a foreign force as a rallying point, the geography and topography of the country, and the Taliban’s easy access to explosives and funding?

Does this strategy reduce or increase the number of extremists motivated to strike at our nation?

What will prevent al Qaeda from finding other safe havens in other places from which to plot attacks against the U.S.?

Are there other approaches that can meet our national security objectives?
Those are good questions, and none of them were effectively dealt with in President Obama's speech to the nation tonight. The President unfortunately seems preoccupied with trying to treat symptoms at great cost instead of looking at the root causes of our problems (in this case, terrorism).

We've often been told that al Qaeda hates our freedom and wants to destroy our way of life. But what the terrorist network really seems to be after is an end to our massive military presence in the Middle East:
Bin Laden is most enraged by the American military presence in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden was incensed when the Saudis invited U.S. troops to their defense after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Bin Laden — like many Muslims — considers the continued presence of these armed infidels in Saudi Arabia the greatest possible desecration of the holy land. That is why he sponsored bombings of the American military facilities in Saudi Arabia, why he has tried to destabilize the Saudi government, and why the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed on Aug. 7, 1998 — eight years to the day after the first American troops were dispatched to Saudi Arabia.
Of course, our forces are in Saudi Arabia (and Kuwait... and Quatar... and Iraq...) to protect our access to the fossil fuels that we have convinced ourselves we cannot live without. This situation has regrettably existed for decades.

Rather than committing all of our available resources towards the goal of energy independence, we have become further entangled abroad by allowing our addiction to petroleum to continue driving our foreign policy. Lip service is paid to the notion of energy independence, but not backed up with action.

Progressives everywhere have long dreamed of seeing our elected leaders commit to the development of renewable energy alternatives on a scale that is befitting of the urgency of the climate crisis (which threatens the health of our planet) and the recognition of how unsafe our fossil fuel addiction has made us.

But that hasn't happened.

We may have a president who believes in diplomacy and real partnership building, but that won't be enough. We need a president who will put our nation's common wealth where his mouth is. If our President is serious when he says it is not our intention to occupy other countries, then he needs to make sure we have no reason to by ending our dependence on fossil fuels. That will require nothing less than an unequivocal federal mandate backed up with cold, hard cash.

Oil companies are not going to lead us out of the fossil fuel age and into a green revolution, no matter what they say in their commercials. Heck, they keep touting the supposed benefits of drilling for oil and natural gas offshore. How is more drilling going "beyond petroleum"?

President Obama can talk about securing America from terrorists until he's blue in the face. Again, the truth is, we'll never be secure until we become energy independent. As soon as we manage that paramount objective, there will be no reason for us to act like we're trying to win a real life Age of Empires tournament. Terrorists, consequently, will have less interest in attacking us.

That is the future that we should be working towards.

Cantwell, Murray honor slain Lakewood officers on Senate floor

Earlier today, Washington's two United States Senators appeared on the floor of the Senate to remember and honor the four officers who were killed on Sunday in an appalling act of destruction.

Murray, who spoke first, repeatedly called the slayings senseless, and noted that they came on the heels of an ambush in Seattle on Halloween which resulted in the death of one Seattle police officer and injury to another.

"Mr. President, because of this senseless attack, nine children have lost their parents," Murray said. "These were officers... mothers and fathers... husbands and wives... who woke up every day, put on their uniforms and went out to protect our children, our communities and our safety. And Sunday, they didn’t come home."

She concluded: "No words are adequate to express the shock, anger and disbelief that comes with such a brutal crime. And no words will be enough to lessen the loss. Our law enforcement professionals put themselves between us and danger every day. Right now, in light of such horrible events, we hold them even closer in our thoughts and prayers." (Listen to the entire speech).

Senator Cantwell followed, saying, "I rise today to join my colleague Senator Murray in expressing my sorrow over a tragedy that has struck Washington state and the law enforcement community. I want to extend my prayers and condolences to the families, loved ones, and fellow officers of the four police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty Sunday morning in Lakewood, Washington."

She named the four officers and added, "Collectively, these veteran officers served 47 years in the line of duty. Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar describes them as 'outstanding individuals' who brought a range of talents to the five-year-old department. These heroes, who put their lives at risk for our safety every day, will be deeply missed and never forgotten."

Kudos to our Senators for making time to reflect on this tragedy. It is comforting to know that the people who represent us in our nation's capitol are so closely attuned to what is happening back here in the Other Washington.

Suspected killer of four Lakewood police officers shot dead in Seattle

One of the biggest manhunts in Washington history can now come to an end following the shooting of alleged killer Maurice Clemmons:
The man suspected of gunning down four Lakewood police officers in a suburban coffee shop was shot and killed by a lone patrolman investigating a stolen car early Tuesday.

The back-up poured in from every direction, but by the time police filled the narrow street with cruisers and other emergency vehicles, the danger was over.

The Seattle police officer, perhaps Maurice Clemmons' next intended victim, allowed his training and instincts to take over.

"He detected some movement behind him, got out of his car, says he recognized the person," said Assistant Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel.
Thanks to that officer's quick thinking (Benjamin Kelly), Clemmons no longer has the ability to hurt any more people. Clemmons' death was probably inevitable, since he had suffered a gunshot wound inflicted by one of the Lakewood police officers he attacked last week, and could not seek professional medical attention to treat it without being taken into custody. We'll know more once an autopsy has been conducted.

A gun belonging to one of the Lakewood officers was found on Clemmons' person after his death, which obviously ties him to the murder scene.

He'll never be prosecuted or convicted for his crimes in a Washington courtroom, but at least he's no longer around. He chose his fate by refusing to surrender when Officer Kelly ordered him to put his hands in the air.

Clemmons' accomplices, however, have much to answer for. Those who aided and abetted him should now be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.