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

Sunday, January 31, 2010

WA-03: First Democratic candidate forum takes place in Lewis County

Full Disclosure: I am a supporter and volunteer for Senator Craig Pridemore's campaign to succeed Brian Baird as U.S. Representative in the 3rd District. My opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Pridemore for Congress.

Last Thursday night at Centralia College, the Lewis County Democrats played host to the first candidate forum for the Democratic party candidates in the 3rd Congressional District. This was the first opportunity for candidates to introduce themselves to the party faithful and explain why they are running for the seat being vacated by Brian Baird.

According to the e-mail, from Chair Bob Schroeter, that went out advertising the forum, each candidate was given five minutes to state their reasons for running for election, followed by each candidate being given one minute each to respond to a minimum of three standardized questions.
A list of twelve possible questions (from which the three would be selected) was provided ahead of time to each of the candidates.

One question asked of candidates was regarding their thoughts on the annual budget deficits that the federal government has been running since the beginning of the Bush presidency. The responses ranged from the sensible (Craig Pridemore) to the off-the-wall, scratch your head (Maria Rodriguez-Salazar). Here's Pridemore:
"There’s only one time the federal government should ever deficit spend and that’s a time when the economy is sluggish and we need something to get things moving again, and that’s a time like now. As soon as those times are over we have to get back to a time when the budget is balanced."
And here Rodriguez-Salazar's response to the same question:
“I’ve moved on from the Bush Administration. Don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to go back and want to go forward.”
Huh? I think all of the candidates would agree with that statement, but it doesn't explain Ms. Rodriguez-Salazar's thoughts on budget deficits, nor does it inspire confidence in her ability to do the job.

Another question inquired about why each of the candidates believed they were more electable than the others, especially since a strong Republican campaign and expensive race for the seat is expected.

While all of the candidates highlighted their strengths, it was Senator Pridemore who skillfully explained how to win a swing district in a tough campaign.
“Barack Obama won the 3rd Congressional District this past presidential election. He didn’t do it by turning away from the Democratic Party's values, or apologizing for them or pandering to corporations. He did it by appealing to our values and things we believe in. He did it by engaging young people and getting them out to work tirelessly during the campaign, and that is literally what is going to be required from us to hold this seat. We need to inspire those same people who turned out for Barack Obama in this upcoming election and if we don’t we’re not going to hold this seat, it’s not possible.”
Though this was just the first candidate forum of this campaign, NPI plans to bring you live coverage from future events with the candidates.

Pacific NW Portal celebrates fifth anniversary

Five years is a long time in the history of the Internet, but as of today, that's how long Pacific NW Portal, one of our most important projects, has been around.

Launched on January 31st, 2005, the Portal has become an indispensable tool for navigating the local progressive blogosphere. The original Portal was just one page, but has since grown by leaps and bounds to include additional resources.

It's been through a lot of changes, especially early on its history, when we were rolling out new features or strengthening existing ones every other week.

The Portal's current architecture dates to Version 4 (Seaside), which went live in May 2006, and admittedly, it's gotten a bit creaky.

Although we're not rolling out any improvements today, we want to assure readers that we do plan to address the situation before long.

Today, though, we're proud to celebrate sixty months of bringing the regional netroots community together. Here's to another solid five years of operation!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Apple's iPad: An overhyped, underwhelming gadget that's defective by design

So the big, breathlessly announced news in the technology industry this week is that Apple is going to sell a tablet computer called the iPad, which will basically be a supersized version of the iPhone with a stunningly cool interface that we're all going to want to buy. At least that's what the traditional media has been implying.

I see both the forthcoming iPad and the coverage of the launch of said device to be deeply flawed. Some tech pundits (or should I say Apple fanboys?) are acting as if Apple has just revolutionized computing by introducing the tablet. In actuality, the iPad is not even Apple's first tablet, let alone the first tablet computer.

Admittedly, tablets have never really taken off, but why are people assuming that this device will automatically be popular?

Because Apple is selling it? Come on.

It's true the iPod and iPhone were hits, but Apple has had plenty of duds throughout its history. If all the products Apple has previously introduced had been as successful as the iPhone, Microsoft as we know it today wouldn't exist.

Odds are, the iPad won't be a total flop. But nor is it likely to sell as well as the iPhone. The iPhone is appealing because it packs a lot of power in a small form factor. It's small enough to be carried around in a pocket. It can take photos, play music, make calls, check email, browse the Web... and permit a user to do an infinite number of other useful things while on the go. (Of course, so can Research in Motion's BlackBerry devices, which continue to outsell the iPhone).

The iPad is basically just a bigger touchscreen, minus the camera, which will sell at a higher price point than the iPhone. A price point that many believe is too high:
"Maybe you live in a different America. There is 15% real unemployment, taxes keep getting higher, home equity has evaporated," said Robert Kotick, chief executive of videogame maker Activision Blizzard Inc. "Five hundred bucks is a lot of money. You should get out more."
What's more, five hundred bucks is only half the cost of a MacBook, and a hundred dollars less than a Mac mini. For the price of two iPads, a user can get a fully functional computer that isn't much bigger and can do a whole lot more.

The iPad's deficiencies go beyond the lack of a camera. The device can't multitask. It doesn't have HDMI output, which means it can't be easily hooked up to a flat screen television. Adapters will be required to hook up USB devices and SD cards. Adobe Flash won't be installed or supported, so forget about watching embedded video on websites. It's mostly incompatible with T-Mobile's network, meaning AT&T is the only choice iPad users have for cellular connectivity. The 4:3 screen ratio means films presented in widescreen won't look so great.

And, like the iPhone, the iPad will lack a removable battery. No, I'm not kidding. (This particular deficiency is one of the reasons I own a BlackBerry instead of an iPhone. If my BlackBerry becomes unresponsive, I can force it to reboot by removing the battery. I can also drop in a replacement battery if I need power and can't recharge the original).

But all of these drawbacks pale in comparison to a bigger, more overarching flaw: the iPad's proprietary design. The Free Software Foundation explains:
DRM [Digital Restrictions Management] is used by Apple to restrict users' freedom in a variety of ways, including blocking installation of software that comes from anywhere except the official Application Store, and regulating every use of movies downloaded from iTunes. Apple furthermore claims that circumventing these restrictions is a criminal offense, even for purposes that are permitted by copyright law.
Remember when Amazon pulled copies of George Orwell's 1984 that users had downloaded onto their Kindles? That fiasco made it painfully clear that the Kindle had been engineered to be under Amazon's control, not the user's. The iPad will likewise be under Apple's control.

People who buy iPads will essentially be purchasing a slick slab of plastic, glass, and metal, and simultaneously gaining the ability to rent Apple's software, which won't permit the installation of applications that have not been approved by Apple.

Let me rephrase that: If you buy an iPad, you will only be allowed to install applications that somebody in Cupertino has decided are okay for you to use, as is the case with the iPhone. (Which, incidentally, is yet another reason I own a BlackBerry: I can freely download and install applications that are compatible with my phone, even if Research in Motion hasn't signed off on them).

I think Leo Laporte is right when he suggests the iPad should be considered an "appliance", not a computer. The iPad has been designed to allow America's media conglomerates - movie studios, record labels, and publishing houses - to make money off of us while restricting our rights.

I have no interest in participating in that swindle.

Seriously: Why should I pay to watch, read, or listen to rented content on rented software? I'd rather just buy a book to add to my library shelf, or buy a CD (which I can then use to rip the tracks to my computer in a free format like Vorbis.)

The iPad to me is an overhyped, underwhelming gadget that's defective by design. If I had five hundred bucks to spend on a cross between a smartphone and a laptop, I'd rather get a nice, well-engineered netbook running Ubuntu, which wouldn't restrict my digital freedom.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee advances 2010 Homebuilding Revitalization Act

Earlier this evening, the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee (chaired by Senator Jeanine Kohl Welles, D-36th District) reported SSB 6701 out of committee with a "do pass" recommendation, subject to signature.

SSB 6701, prime sponsored by Senator Adam Kline, is the 2010 version of the Homebuilding Revitalization Act, previously known as the homeowner's bill of rights. The bill has seven Democratic cosponsors. Voting to refer the bill to Rules were Democratic Senators Kohl-Welles, Kline, Keiser, and Franklin. Voting no were Republican Senators Honeyford, Holmquist, and King.

SSB 6701, in a nutshell, would extend the same protections that condo owners currently enjoy to homeowners, who have no right of recourse if something goes wrong with their home. NPI has been fighting to correct this injustice for many years, and as Sandy Levy said on Tuesday when he testified before the committee, we're still at it. And we will be until we have succeeded.

If history is any indication, SSB 6701 will be placed on the fast track through Senate Rules (as its predecessors were in years past) and be added to the floor calendar for consideration in short order. SSB 6701 must then pass out of the Senate by February 16th, 2010 at 5 PM to remain alive.

Senate votes to reconfirm Ben Bernanke; NW senators evenly divided for and against

The United States Senate has just voted seventy to thirty to reconfirm Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The vote, which came after a successful motion to cut off debate, featured an unusual alliance of progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans sick of the lack of accountability at the Fed.

The Pacific Northwest's ten United States Senators were evenly split (although not along partisan lines), with an equal number of ayes and nays.

VOTING AYE: Baucus, Tester, Murray, Wyden, Murkowski
VOTING NAY: Cantwell, Merkley, Crapo, Risch, Begich

In California, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer also parted ways, with Feinstein happily supporting Bernanke and Boxer casting the informed and responsible no vote. (Boxer did, however, support ending debate on Bernanke's nomination).

Senator Cantwell is currently speaking to her vote on the floor of the Senate, saying she has heard loud and clear from her constituents - especially small business owners - that they feel abandoned by the federal government.

"How is it that we can act immediately to save the AIGs but we can't act immediately to save companies like Vancouver Iron and Steel?" Cantwell asked.

"The Fed Chairman has to realize the urgency with which the big banks have been saved... That urgency has to apply to Main Street," she declared. "I urge the Fed now... and the Treasury... to make this their number one priority."

That's our Senator... Maria Cantwell! She proudly works for us, not Wall Street. And we're incredibly proud of her for the heroic, tireless work she does to improve economic security for families across Washington and America.

Washington State to receive more than half a billion in federal dollars for high-speed rail

Hurrah! This is great news for our region:
Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, announced that $590 million in federal funding will go to Washington state for high speed rail upgrades in the Pacific Northwest Cascades corridor.

The funding is part of a major high speed rail initiative that Senator Murray helped include in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Since the Pacific Northwest was named one of the 10 potential regions to receive funds for high speed rail in April 2009, Senator Murray has worked with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to build support for states like Washington where the groundwork for high speed rail lines has been underway through previous state and federal investments and where improvements would help provide an alternative to congested roadways and spur economic activity.

Secretary LaHood called Senator Murray yesterday to inform her that Washington would be among the state’s receiving high speed rail funding.
We're thrilled by this news, and we share Senator Murray's excitement for improving rail service throughout Western Washington and Western Oregon. Doing so will make Amtrak Cascades (and the Coast Starlight, which goes all the way down the Left Coast to Los Angeles) more attractive to commuters and travelers journeying between many of the Pacific Northwest's major cities.

It's about time that we started putting serious money into high-speed rail, instead of wasting it on highway widening, which only encourages more people to drive and does not provide an alternative to traffic.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

WA-03: Gregoire endorses Heck, Labor Council releases voting records

Full Disclosure: I am a supporter and volunteer for Senator Craig Pridemore's campaign to succeed Brian Baird as U.S. Representative in the 3rd District. My opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Pridemore for Congress.

Governor Gregoire weighed in on the 3rd Congressional District today, endorsing Denny Heck, along with Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, former Congressman Don Bonker of the 3rd District and former Governor Booth Gardner.

Though lauding the other Democratic candidates as "fine public servants", for some reason (perhaps a longstanding relationship from her days in the Gardner Administration serving with Denny Heck) Governor Gregoire was compelled to interject herself into a Democratic primary. It's disappointing to say the least that the Governor didn't wait to endorse until after the primary.

It will be interesting to see if Governor Gregoire's endorsement is helpful or a hindrance to the Heck campaign in Lewis County, Cowlitz County and parts of Clark County, where the governor is less popular in more rural areas.

In addition, today the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO released the voting records of the three leading Democrats and leading Republican on issues that matter most to working families. Among the Democrats, Senator Craig Pridemore came in first with a 98% voting record, with State Representative Deb Wallace trailing at 82% and Denny Heck a distant third at 72%.

Of course, Republican Jaime Herrera scored a 24% voting record.

It should be noted that according to the WSLC report, Senator Pridemore has only voted on the wrong side of working families (as perceived by the organization) once.

As it turns out though, the governor did more today than just endorse Heck. She also sent out a questionable fundraising letter (WAC 390-17-400 governs the fundraising activities of state officials) asking people to financially support the Heck campaign. An earlier e-mail version of the appeal which has since been sent to NPI, embarrassingly asks for financial support for "Danny Heck".

We at NPI hope the governor will avoid these kinds of distractions and return her focus to the important work of the legislative session.

State of the Union 2010: President Obama delivers another eloquent call to action... but will there be any action?

Minutes ago, President Obama finished delivering a beautifully crafted, endurance-themed State of the Union Address that called on Congress (but perhaps more specifically, the Senate) to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to responsibly govern our United States of America.

The speech was very unlike either of the past two addresses the President made to Congress (January and September 2009). It touched on several major policy directions, from healthcare to economic security to national defense.

Notably, Obama asked Congress to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, provide thirty billion dollars of repaid TARP money to help community banks make loans, and a vaguely-defined National Export Initiative to help farmers and small businesses reach untapped markets around the globe.

Like past State of the Union addresses, this one was heavy on platitudes and light on concrete details, but it was nevertheless uplifting.

One of the more subtle aspects of the speech that stood out for me was that the President deliberately made the effort to single out and praise the House of Representatives for acting on his administration's priorities.

He did this not one, not two, not three, but four times:
  • "The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay."
  • "The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back. "
  • "I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families."
  • "And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. "
Not surprisingly, he got spirited cheers from the House Democratic caucus at each of the moments where he spoke the words excerpted above. The White House cleverly took advantage of the speech as an opportunity to create a juxtaposition between the House (which has been moving legislation to better the country) and the Senate (which has failed to accomplish much of anything during the past year) without explicitly condemning the Senate for seemingly endless dithering.

Although Republicans allowed their lack of enthusiasm for the President's agenda to clearly show during the first half of the speech, their resolve to stay seated eventually withered, and many of them were joining in on the applause lines by the end. There were no shouts of "You lie!", although there was grumbling and mumbling when the President talked about needing to solve the climate crisis.

The speech ended up being more sobering than soaring. It managed to be both optimistic and realistic about the challenges that confront our country. It was, to be sure, an eloquent call to action. The question is, will it lead to any action?

President Obama has spoken eloquently before, to disappointing results. If 2009 taught us anything, it is that great speeches do not equal great legislative achievements... or even substantial progress. The White House is simply going to have to provide some parental supervision in the Senate if it wants to get Congress' dysfunctional half to confront our nation's challenges.

Climate change in the Northwest: Monster waves edition

What to write about today? The much-anticipated iPad launch? The ever-shifting fates of the health care bill? Yesterday's election in Oregon, which shows that with the right message people will support paying for effective governance by raising state revenues? Or maybe the fact that Washington State Treasurer Jim McIntire is worried that the state could literally run out of cash before October?

No. How about monster waves, like this one from Oregon State University's Flickr stream:



Note the high point of the wave coming up about even with the top floor of that condo building.

Recently, Oregon State University released an analysis of wave data from deep-water buoys floating in the waters off the Pacific Coast of Washington and Oregon. Specifically, they wanted to know whether the buoy data supported previously accepted estimates of maximum wave heights. In a word, no:
The new assessment concludes that the highest waves may be as much as 46 feet, up from estimates of only 33 feet that were made as recently as 1996, and a 40 percent increase. December and January are the months such waves are most likely to occur, although summer waves are also significantly higher.
To be clear, these are storm-driven waves. Waves that originate from the action of wind upon the ocean's surface. These are not tsunami waves, which are a whole other phenomenon. And this study is only concerned with the outer coast. Waves within the Puget Sound are driven almost entirely by local wind phenomena within the Sound.

The study also reports that the height of a "100-year event" wave could exceed 55 feet. Surf's up!

But 100-year events, which are common in the insurance industry as a measure of the worst thing you'd expect to happen every century or so, are kind of hard to wrap your head around. Between wind storms, heavy rains, and the occasional blizzard we in the Puget Sound are much more familiar with what to expect on a scale of about 5 years (about as often as those kinds of events happen). I asked OSU geoscientist Peter Rugerrio what the 5-year expected wave height would be:
A value of about 45 feet would approximate the 5-year event for the outer coast. [...] There is a lot of variability, but with the same assumptions used [in the study] a 45 foot 5-year event would be reasonable.
Note, even that is considerably higher than the previous 33 foot estimate. Why should we care? From the OSU news release:
Increasing wave heights [...] have had double or triple the impact in terms of erosion, flooding and damage as sea level rise over the last few decades.
In other words, bigger waves mean a double-whammy of damage along with that from now-inevitable sea level rise. When high offshore waves reach land, they dissipate incredible quantities of energy as they break. Of particular concern is "swash," the water that a breaking wave forces onto dry land. Like this:



That image, also courtesy of OSU, is from a storm in 2008. Imagine if that swash had one of those 45- or 55-foot offshore waves backing it up.

These large waves are primarily driven by weather patterns, such as El Nino events, which are expected to ramp up as the Earth's climate warms. We'll get El Nino events more often and more severely than before, which means more waves, more coastal erosion, more damage to sensitive coastal ecosystems, and more damage to human property as well.

The point of all this is not to be a doomsayer or get everybody down. We just need to recognize that climate change is real. It is now. And it is here.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oregon voters approve new revenue with apparent passage of Measures 66 and 67

Voters in Oregon (a state with an even higher unemployment rate than Washington) tonight rejected the personal greed and cynicism promoted by tea partiers by overwhelmingly approving two ballot measures to raise revenue.

As of about 9 PM, Measure 66 – an increase on taxes to households with incomes at and above $250,000 (and individual filers with income over $125,000) – was passing with 54.17 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Measure 67 - which raises Oregon’s corporate minimum tax, business minimum tax, and corporate profits tax – was passing with 53.71 percent of the vote.

Support for the measures was strongest in urban counties like Multnomah (home to much of Portland's population) and Lane (home to Eugene) as well as coastal counties like Tillamook, Lincoln, and Clatsop.

Together the two measures generate an estimated $727 million, which has already been budgeted by the 2009 Legislature in support of education, health care, public safety, and other services.

Tonight's results from Oregon are nothing less than excellent news for progressives, and a welcome relief from last week's slew of bad news.

The twin victories show that voters are willing to raise revenue – even in the midst of a recession – to pay for badly needed public services. Unfortunately, those of us who live north of the Columbia River are unlikely to be given the opportunity to say yes to the kind of revenue proposals that were put in front of the people of Oregon.

Oregon has a progressive state income tax – something that’s sorely needed in Washington but which we aren’t likely to have anytime soon – and at least part of what drove the vote in Oregon is the idea of asking those who have made the most money to pay back their fair share in taxes.

Measure 66 adjusted the tax rates to only the top income earners, and conservatives will be quick to spin this as a vote to “soak the rich.”

Measure 67 addressed corporate taxes, and a similar approach in Washington would be opposed with the same argument that was used in Oregon: that draining money from business and industry would damage the state's economy.

But our neighbors to the south have wisely rejected that argument. Given the chance to protect their quality of life and strengthen their common wealth, they took it. Democratic legislators in Washington State should take the outcome of today's special election to heart in the days ahead as they work on offsetting proposed budget cuts with new revenue.

Homebuilding Revitalization Act would protect innocent owners and honest builders

Editor's Note: Sandy Levy is a Seattle-based attorney the firm Levy von Beck & Associates who has worked heroically with us for the past few years to pass a Homebuilding Revitalization Act that would protect innocent homeowners and honest builders from the horrific damage caused by negligent, shady contractors. The following is a polished transcript of the remarks he delivered today before the Senate Labor, Commerce, & Consumer Protection Committtee on SB 6701, the 2010 version of the Homebuilding Revitalization Act.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I want to address Senator King, who told a story... There are two things that could have happened that would have been different, and would have protected both the architect and the builder. If an architect is asked to design something that the architect thinks is fatally flawed, all the architect needs to do is write a letter that says, I accept no responsibility for this fatal and flawed design.

The contractor, under law, can also require the owner to accept sole and complete responsibility for a flawed design. That's one letter, one paragraph, eliminates all liability. That's one way that they can deal with it.

But let's say that nevertheless, the owner wants to insist on this and causes litigation. Under existing law, the aggrieved contractor, or the aggrieved architect, has no right to recover attorneys' fees. Under this bill - Section 9 - in a judicial proceeding under this section, it says the court the court may award reasonable attorneys' fees and costs to the prevailing party.

So, where you have an irresponsible owner who tries to take advantage of a contractor, now suddenly, there's actually a remedy.

And the attorneys' fees situation is a substantial remedy and a deterrent to irresponsible action by a homeowner.

As most of the senators here understand, we've been at this for years. Senator Honeyford asked me several years ago, Shouldn't the focus of attention be on the inspectors? And you know, you wrote in a provision - or the committee did - several years ago, and the municipal inspectors came in and said they just won't inspect anymore. They don't want liability.

Now, there's only one potential innocent party in a construction contract situation. That's the owner, who doesn't have the professional expertise (and, if he buys a completed house, has no ability to inspect what's behind the walls). He's not allowed to open walls, he's not allowed to do any inspection that does any damage. That buyer buys a house innocently and has no means of affording himself protection. This bill simply equalizes that playing field.

And to me, it's very interesting today. I feel like the homeowners are like the franchise auto dealers dealing with General Motors and the other manufacturers. We're caught as homeowners - the engine drivers of the economy - buying the products, but we don't have any rights. We have no right to enforce the building codes in the State of Washington.

So the State of Washington might require that a house be safe, secure, not leak... but if it doesn't, and it was approved by the building inspectors, the homeowners have no right of recourse. On the other hand, the builders have a hundred percent recourse. Why? Because by contract, right now, they require all their subcontractors to indemnify them. One hundred percent. By contract.

By contrast, current builders - when they contract to sell a home to a Washington buyer - typically, they require the homeowner to waive all implied warranties under the law. And by contract they can require them to agree to a thirty day statute of limitations if they want, and they can force them to agree to standards of poor quality built into the contract, so that the only thing that constitutes a defect is something that causes the house to fall down, and then the warranty period is very limited. The builder, on the other hand, can require his contractors to indemnify him and pay him attorneys' fees.

Also, the builders can require by contract, that all the subs and all of their key employees go through a training program. Homeowners have no such rights.

Even if, as the builders say, this has some impact on the construction industry, why should the homeowners who innocently buy homes be the ones to have to support the construction industry remodel program?

[That's] what the homeowners have to do, when they have to pay out of their own pocket to fix the houses they bought, which should have been built in accordance with the building codes and in a workmanlike way in the first place.

Thank you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Community leaders support early education

Last week I traveled to Olympia to attend a public hearing for a bill I support. If you haven’t been to the legislature during the legislative session, I recommend that you make a trip before the session ends on March 11. The “other side” is there and on display (just last week there was a massive pro-life rally and an Evergreen Freedom Foundation rally on the Capitol steps) and we want to show lawmakers that we have just as much passion and conviction as they do, not to mention better ideas.

The hearing I attended focused on early education, which these days includes education from a child’s very earliest days to age five because researchers have found that giving children a rich environment when they are very young is crucial to their success in school and in life. My legislator, Representative Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), sponsored the bill that most attendees were speaking up for, HB 2731, or the Ready for School Act. This bill proposes making early education a part of basic education and therefore constitutionally protected from budget cuts. We can absolutely see this year that programs that aren’t protected by either a constitutional or federal mandate are vulnerable in times of revenue declines. Goodman’s bill also directs the state Department of Early Learning to create “community-based services and programs for children ages birth to three years and their parents and caregivers.”

The hearing room was already fairly crowded with members of child advocacy groups and other activists, but heads turned when a pair of burly Mason County sheriffs walked into the room. Their testimony was one of the reasons that I was glad to have made the trek down to Olympia. It’s great to have the opportunity to hear from people who can see the direct effects of legislation.

The first sheriff described to the House Early Learning Committee members the cycle of events that he has seen play out over and over in his decades in public safety. The sheriff regularly goes into “troubled homes” where small children live. Years later, he sees these same kids getting into trouble themselves on the streets. A little later, he sees many of these kids end up in jail. The law enforcer took the time to testify that day because he wants to see this cycle broken. He wants those small children to have a better future, and he believes that early education and training for young children's parents will help them get it.

The second sheriff testified about a successful program for teenage moms that he has seen that is similar to those proposed in the Ready for School Act. When this program for teens was eliminated due to budget cuts, he saw the negative effects: the teens “moved away” from school and the positive lessons that they were learning about parenting. They were left to become another sad teen mother statistic.

A bit later, a businesswoman testified, in part to rebut the anti-tax rhetoric that floats around her business community. She told the room that her typical response to conservative tax critics is that it is important where our tax money goes. Money spent on preparing the future workforce, that is, early childhood education, is invaluable.

The most imaginative testimony came from a woman who sits on the board of many non-profit organizations. She allowed us to see for ourselves what school is like for kids from a “troubled home:”
Imagine if you were at your first day of kindergarten. You can’t sit still during circle time. You take toys away from other kids. You can’t wait to play with the dollhouse or blocks and get in trouble with the teacher for jumping up and leaving the group. The teacher knows by the end of the day that you won’t graduate from high school...Imagine knowing at age five that you are already expected to fail.
The Ready for School Act easily passed out of the House Early Learning Committee will be discussed in the House Ways and Means Committee tomorrow. This committee will consider the financial effects of the bill and if they’ve got good data available, they’ll see that early learning more than pays for itself. Protecting it in the state budget as a part of basic education will ensure that during future bad times Washington will continue to help families give their kids a strong start, which is good for our society.

The work of Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economics professor James Heckman makes the decision clear:
Professor Heckman studied decades worth of data from early childhood development programs that break the cycle of disadvantage by giving disadvantaged children and their families resources for the early nurturing, learning experiences and physical health that lead to future success. Professor Heckman’s value analysis of these programs reveals that investing in early childhood development for disadvantaged children provides a high return on investment to society through increased personal achievement and social productivity.
Early education is the most basic type of education and should be included in the state's definition of the basic education that it provides.

It pays to work for Rob McKenna

State Attorney General Rob McKenna, the likely Republican standard-bearer for governor in 2012, approved nearly $600,000 in bonus payments last year to members of his staff while other state workers were facing pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs, the Northwest Progressive Institute has learned.

In recent days, NPI staff reviewed documents that revealed:
  • Total bonus payments within the Attorney General's office exceeded those of any other state agency. Of the $1.9 million awarded as bonuses to state employees during FY 2009, nearly one-third - $599,000 - went to members of the McKenna's staff (McKenna has been Attorney General since 2005).
  • The AG's office awarded larger than average bonuses. While the average performance award for a state employee was $204, members of the AG's office were awarded bonuses averaging $664 with 55 staffers getting bonuses of $3,000 each.
  • Bonuses were widespread. The AG's office awarded a total of 901 bonuses to its staff of 1321 staffers, including 55 awards of $3,000 each.
  • Most awards were given during the economic downturn. In fall 2008, Governor Gregoire advised agencies to withhold performance recognition awards, and most agencies complied. However, the AG awarded the vast majority of his awards in February 2009, just as the Legislature was making draconian spending cuts to education and public health programs in an effort to balance the state budget.
The figures come from the Department of Personnel's Washington State Government Performance Incentives and Bonuses.

The document sheds some valuable light on the misplaced fiscal priorities of Washington’s most prominent statewide elected Republican.

The AG's office gave out more tax dollars in the form of bonuses in FY 2009 than any other state agency. Although the Washington State Department of Transportation came close, their payments were spread out among 6,399 awards, while Rob McKenna approved $599,000 in bonuses to just 901 employees.

Bonus Chart
The report was submitted by the Department of Personnel in fulfillment of the annual reporting requirements of ESHB 2049, and outlines the 9,323 bonuses awarded by 24 state agencies.

Rep. Larry Seaquist (D–26th District) is sponsoring House Bill 2998, which is aimed at suspending monetary awards and salary increases through June 30th, 2011.

The bill is scheduled for public testimony at today’s hearing of the House Committee on Ways & Means, and for executive action tomorrow at 3:30 PM.

UPDATE, 3:30 PM (Andrew): Rob McKenna's office has responded to our story, and tells NPI the decision to award bonuses a year ago - for work done between 2007 and 2008 - was not made lightly. Additionally, performance pay has been indefinitely suspended, at least until the economy recovers.

"The performance management program, including performance pay when budget allows, is a fiscally responsible and highly accountable form of recognition, allowing our agency to reward high performers – from office assistants to assistant attorneys general (AAGs) - on a yearly basis with no carry-forward budget implications," said Janelle Guthrie, McKenna's Communications Director.

"Tying compensation to strong performance serves the public interest by holding employees accountable for their performance year after year," she added.

It's a fair argument, but unfortunately it doesn't jibe with McKenna's public position on the state budget. Here's an excerpt from a guest editorial he coauthored with Sam Reed and Republican legislative leaders a few weeks ago:
The state must also look at how its employees are compensated. As the Dec. 14 Seattle Times editorial "Gov. Gregoire's state budget has merit" noted, the state can no longer afford to allow its employees to pay only 12 percent of their health-care premiums while most private-sector workers pay more than 20 percent. Remedying this inequity saves more than $100 million this biennium.

Taxpayers should also be spared from funding $83 million in planned pay raises for 21,000 state workers. Most state employees would contribute more to their health insurance benefit or forgo raises if it meant a chance to save their jobs.
These paragraphs beg the question: Why weren't taxpayers spared from having to fund nearly $600,000 in bonuses to Rob McKenna's staff last year? It's all well and good that there won't be any bonuses this year. But everyone knew state revenue had fallen off a cliff well before February 2009, when bonuses were distributed.

Guthrie argues the AG has been careful with its budget and came to the decision that the bonuses were appropriate. "As of December 2008, agency spending was nearly $20 million under budget... representing a roughly 10 percent savings," she told NPI. "The bulk of those savings were passed on to our clients in the form of reduced legal rates but as you point out, roughly $600,000 was used to pay compensation we felt legally obligated to provide to deserving staff."

We can appreciate the argument that state employees are valuable, should be fairly compensated for their work, and rewarded when they go above and beyond the call of duty. We also appreciate that keeping work in house can save money.

The problem is that Rob McKenna and his fellow Republicans are trying to have it both ways. They are not practicing what they preach.

We've lost track of how many times we have heard Republicans both inside and outside of state government claim that state employees are too well paid and that government is wasteful. And yet, here we have a situation where state employees working for a Republican were given bonuses well after it had become painfully clear that we were facing an unprecedented budget crisis.

Is this "living within our means"? We don't think so.

We often hear the right wing say everything would be so much better if government was just run like a business. Perhaps they should be more specific and say that they mean that it should be run like a Wall Street investment bank.

Friday, January 22, 2010

NPI advises Legislature to reform initiative process to safeguard direct democracy

Editor's Note: Yesterday the Senate Government Operations & Elections Committee held a hearing on SB 6449, prime sponsored by Senator Joe McDermott, which would require paid petitioners to register with the Public Disclosure Commission and allow the Secretary of State to disqualify initiative petitions that a signature gatherer has not certified as having been properly circulated. The following is a polished version of my notes on that bill, which served as the basis for my comments.

Madam Chair, Members of the Committee:

Good afternoon. For the record, my name is Andrew Villeneuve. I am the executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a Redmond-based strategy center working to advance the common good through ideas and action.

I want to begin my remarks by thanking Senator McDermott for sponsoring this bill and initiating a discussion about protecting the spirit and integrity of the initiative processes. I'd like to offer some brief thoughts on the bill and suggest some improvements that could be incorporated as amendments.

First, we would urge the Committee to amend this bill to change the penalties so that signatures are not invalidated due to misconduct by petitioners. We believe that appropriate penalties are fines and revocation of the business license of a signature gathering firm that employs repeat offenders.

Second, we would urge the Committee to take a look at Win v. Warheit, the 1993 decision that found that a Washington statute requiring petitioners to publicly disclose themselves as signature gatherers to be unconstitutional.

The Committee should consider exempting a registry of signature gatherers (if such a registry is created) from the public disclosure law to avoid running afoul of the 9th Circuit's decision in that case.

Finally, I would like to observe that when the initiative process was first conceived, there was no such thing as a signature gathering industry.

Signature gathering has become a big business and signatures have become a commodity. The State of Washington has a public interest in regulating the initiative and referendum process to ensure that it is fair.

Thank you and I'm happy to answer questions you may have.

I also testified on SB 6665, sponsored by Senator Jeanine Kohl-Welles, which would raise the initiative filing fee from $5 to $250. The following is a polished version of my notes on that bill, which served as the basis for my comments.

Madam Chair, Members of the Committee:

Once again, good afternoon. I'd like to briefly speak to Senate Bill 6665, which would raise the filing fee in Washington State to $250.

Since the initiatrive process was first created ninety nine years ago, the fee to file an initiative in Washington State has remained at five dollars. The cost of a marriage license, the cost to incorporate, and the cost of providing countless other legal documents to the state, meanwhile, have gone up.

Our state currently faces a huge budget crisis. At a time when we lack the revenue to pay our expenses, it is unfathomable that we have let the initiative filing fee languish at five dollars. Every little bit counts.

What's more, we frequently hear the argument that people who use a public service offered by the state should pay their way. For example, citizens are not entitled to free or discounted copies of materials from the State Archives.

They have to pay a reasonable fee.

In the case of the initiative process, five dollars is not reasonable. Five dollars does not cover the state's costs. Five dollars is so low that an individual who wishes can repeatedly file near identical drafts of their proposal in the hope that the Attorney General's office will create slightly different ballot titles for each. Then, the sponsor can re-file the draft with the language that he or she will result in the best ballot title. This is known as ballot title shopping.

We've looked at filing fees in other states and found none so low as Washington's. Alaska's, for example, is $100. Wyoming charges $500 and so do Florida and Mississipi. California charges $200. States with no filing fee, we've found, require a minimum number of citizen cosponsors, public hearings, or other prerequisites before a signature drive can begin.

In summary, in these challenging times for our state, we believe it makes fiscal sense to raise the filing fee to cover the real costs of filing an initiative.

Thank you.

Senate Republicans oppose spending cuts

Two bills that trim a total of $69 million from the state payroll were approved by the Senate today without a single Republican vote between them.

Senate Bill 6382 will extend the salary freeze for many state employees that was approved last year and prevent agencies from handing out bonuses. It passed on a party-line vote of 29-14.

Senate Bill 6503 give agencies until May 15 to develop plans to cut $69 million from their budgets. Agencies that fail to submit plans would be required to effectively shut down one day a month for 13 months to save payroll costs. It passed on a vote of 27-17, with Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-35th District) and Sen. Karen Fraser (D-22nd District) voting with the Republicans.

These are painful cuts. In spite of what most conservatives will tell you, state employees are real people, and freezing their pay or actually cutting it through furloughs means real people suffer. They have less money to spend, and that doesn't help our consumer based economy.

Democrats put these cuts on the table - as painful as they are - because there are no pain-free cuts left to make to a state budget that has already been cut to the bone. But where are the Republicans?

It is obvious by their actions that conservatives in Olympia are not interested in governing. They claim our state spends too much and doesn't need additional revenue while refusing to put forward an all-cuts budget of their own.

And now they even refuse to bite the bullet and vote for bills that cut millions of dollars from what they claim is a bloated budget!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's time Washington State got rid of the sales tax exemption for candy

There’s absolutely no difference between feeding your child a bowl of M&Ms or a bowl of oatmeal – at least not when it comes to sales tax in Washington.

That’s because candy and gum are currently exempt from Washington's 6.5 percent sales tax and local add-ons.

Washington is one of only twenty one states that are under the illusion that candy is a basic food group worthy of a tax exemption, but that could change if Representative Jim Moeller (D-49th District) and Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36th District) are successful in repealing the exemption for candy.

House Bill 2388 and Senate Bill 6189 eliminate the sales tax on candy and gum and dedicate the revenue to public health. The core of the proposals lies in a model already established by several other states, using a definition of candy established by the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board. Under the proposals, sweets containing flour, like cookies and cakes, would not be taxed, nor would anything needing refrigeration like ice cream.

According to Department of Revenue estimates, extending the sales tax to candy and gum would raise $28 million in its first year, barely even a drop in the bucket when it comes to the state’s $2.6 billion budget shortfall, but an investment in healthcare, which is where Kohl-Welles and Moeller want the money dedicated.

Needless to say, there are people speaking out who have a vested interest in maintaining a sales tax exemption on their products. For instance:
  • Pierson Clair, the Chief Executive of Brown & Haley, the Tacoma company that makes Almond Roca and other candy products, told KOMO News that “Cocoa butter is a positive dental influence.
  • Joe Whinney, the founder and CEO of Theo Chocolates in Fremont, opposes a sales tax on candy, including the 3 oz. “Origin Bars” he sells for $5.00 each; incredibly ironic considering that their website claims that they belief “there is no luxury in products that benefit us today, while jeopardizing future generations ability to meet their needs."
Let’s take some time out for a reality check here.

There are some things that should not taxed, and food – real food – is at the top of the list. It’s such a basic necessity of life (water and shelter being two others) that we shouldn’t even go there. But candy?

Yes, chocolate does have anti-oxidants that are good for us – but that doesn’t make it food. I’m sure Almond Rocca uses only the finest nuts Washington state has to offer, but that doesn’t make it food, either.

When I worked at the Legislature I kept a large bowl of M&Ms on my desk available for anyone who stopped by, and although many of my colleagues may have felt like this was an essential part of their diet during the stress of session, there isn’t anyone I know who mistook the multicolored chocolate for food.

Food – real food – is an essential necessity that too many people are struggling to afford enough of these days, and should be exempt from sales tax.

But anyone who can afford candy can afford to pay a little bit more for it – whether that’s a candy-bar from the checkout line in the supermarket or a $5.00 delicacy made from responsibly-sourced, Fair Trade Certified cacao.

House Bill 2388 is scheduled for a hearing and possible action in the House Committee on Finance tomorrow at 1:30 PM. Readers, if you agree that it's time to get rid of this unnecessary tax exemption, please contact the members of the Finance Committee and let them know of your support.

Air America Radio shuts down

Air America Radio is no more.

In a statement posted on its website this afternoon, the company - which would have been six years old this spring - announced it is permanently closing its doors due to "the very difficult economic environment", effective immediately.
National and local advertising revenues have fallen drastically, causing many media companies nationwide to fold or seek bankruptcy protection. From large to small, recent bankruptcies like Citadel Broadcasting and closures like that of the industry's long-time trade publication Radio and Records have signaled that these are very difficult and rapidly changing times.
The network's website has been replaced with the text of the statement which I just excerpted from, and today was the last day that live programming will be distributed. "Encore programming" will be provided through this coming Monday, January 22nd, to "affiliates, listeners, and users."

My first response to this news is to say that this has been a pretty rotten day. And a lousy week, too. Not sure how it could get much worse, though our troubles are nothing compared to the suffering of those in Haiti.

Air America's collapse, however, does not mean the end of liberal talk radio, much to the chagrin of conservatives. Affiliates like KPTK - better known as AM 1090, Seattle's Progressive Talk - will remain in business.

In fact, KPTK is only losing Ron Reagan's show, which coincidentally was originating at their studios. And Ron's show may not be off the air for long if he can find another network willing to syndicate him.

Although it's sad for us to see Air America go, we are comforted in the knowledge that the network will be so well survived. For instance, one of its stars (Al Franken) is now a United States Senator; another (Rachel Maddow) has become a widely respected primetime television host on MSNBC.

More important, however, is the market that Air America pioneered. When the network launched back in 2004, not many progressive talk shows existed. Now there are a healthy number, syndicated by several different distributors. Among them are shows that used to be on Air America but made different business arrangements at some point. Those shows will continue broadcasting, and they comprise the lineup of former Air America affiliates like KPTK.

So long, Air America. Thanks for pioneering progressive political talk during the height of the Bush error, and showing that the format was viable.

Conservative Supreme Court majority gives corporations unlimited power to buy elections

This will go down as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time:
Sweeping aside a century-old understanding and overruling two important precedents, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.
That one paragraph pretty much says it all, right there. Five people - Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy - have decided (PDF) that corporations should be able to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections. Corporations still cannot contribute directly to candidates, but there are no longer any limits on independent expenditures. Consider, for a moment, what that means. Campaign finance, law as we know it, has just been destroyed. It's meaningless.

This ruling was not unexpected. Nor was its dissent, led by Justice John Paul Stevens, who blasted the majority's decision, along with his colleagues Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.

The White House was quick to respond. In a statement to the media, emailed to NPI, President Barack Obama declared:
With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.

This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington - while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates.

That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.
Thank you, Mr. President. A Supreme Court decision this awful and this mistaken certainly deserves a forceful, immediate, and sweeping response.

Here's Senator Russ Feingold:
Presented with a relatively narrow legal issue, the Supreme Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president.

Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns. Just six years ago, the Court said that the prohibition on corporations and unions dipping into their treasuries to influence campaigns was ‘firmly embedded in our law.’ Yet this Court has just upended that prohibition, and a century's worth of campaign finance law designed to stem corruption in government.

The American people will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections. In the coming weeks, I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible
Senator Feingold is correct. This must not stand.

Whether by new federal statute or constitutional amendment, President Obama and Congress must move speedily to reverse this terrible decision.

Five conservative white guys have just made it legal for corporations to buy elections. I'll repeat that: Five conservative white guys have just made it legal for corporations to buy elections.

To say this is an outrageous attack on democracy would be a great understatement. A nation of corporations is not what our Founding Fathers envisioned for America.

Perhaps the next step is just to get rid of voting. Instead, we can have big corporations bid on which candidates they dislike the most. The candidate who is least disliked by the corporations takes office. Such an auction would be a cheaper and more expedient way of deciding who leads us in the new order that our conservative Supreme Court evidently wants to create.

UPDATE, THURSDAY EVENING: The New York Times has published a must-read editorial slamming the decision, declaring the conservative majority to be "deeply wrong on the law." We couldn't agree more. We've also been posting additional reaction from public interest groups and legislators, as well as quotes from Justice Stevens' dissent, over at In Brief under the tag "Corporations United Fallout".

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

If they know what's good for them, Apple and Microsoft will team up to take on Google

The January 25th, 2010 edition of BusinessWeek (one of the few publications I subscribe to) features an incredibly rich illustration of two men standing back to back, each holding mobile phones in their hands.

One man is wearing a black turtleneck shirt, the other a blue dress shirt with a red power tie. Both have serious expressions on their faces, and are looking downwards, towards their handhelds.

The two men are Apple's Steve Jobs and Google's Eric Schmidt. They, and the companies they lead, as BusinessWeek's cover story explains, are increasingly becoming rivals in every possible sense. A decade ago, Google was just a search engine, and Apple was a computer maker just starting to find its footing after having badly stumbled through the 1990s. But today, the two giants of Silicon Valley are at odds, mostly because Google continues to "enter more of Apple's core businesses" as Jobs diplomatically put it last year.

Google's ambitions seem to know no bounds. The number of products and services the company has launched just since in the last half of this decade (which began in 2001 and will end with the arrival of 2011) is staggering.

Google's products have been explicitly designed to provide a bigger and more dangerous window into the lives of users. Through its search engine it can log queries. Through Google Analytics, AdSense, and widgets embedded on countless websites, it can quietly track surfing behavior.

Through Google Checkout it can obtain and store credit card numbers. Through Google Talk, Google Voice, and Gmail, it can monitor personal communication. Through Android and the Nexus One, it can capture mobile phone numbers. Through applications like Latitude and turn-by-turn maps, it can discern a user's location. Through YouTube it knows what people are watching and what they like to watch. The forthcoming Chrome OS will automatically upload copies of anything on a drive that's plugged in to Google's datacenters.

Then there's Google's plot to get its hands on millions of orphaned books.

I could go on. And on. Google's endgame seems to be a world in which we connect to it to do everything... a world without user privacy and a world in which there is no competition. Forget choice in the marketplace. How about no marketplace at all? Think about it. A person who avails herself of every product and service Google has to offer simply isn't going to spend much time anywhere else. There's no need.

Don't forget that Google has its own social network (Orkut) its own wannabe Wikipedia (Knol) and its own network of blogs (powered by Blogger).

Google's "cloud based" office productivity suite, Google Docs, is slowly morphing into what many tech bloggers are calling GDrive; the company is now allowing users to store up to a gigabyte of data (with more storage space to come) and a wide array of different filetypes are now supported.

Part of what makes Google so cunning is that they have maliciously subverted free software (i.e. GNU/Linux) to further their own ends.

To understand how they can get away with this, an understanding of free software is required. The philosophy behind free software is as follows:
Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program's users have the four essential freedoms:
  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
Free software licenses aim to maintain these essential freedoms by requiring improvements and modifications to be released under the same license.

But most licenses have a loophole that allows companies like Google to keep the modifications they make to themselves as long as they don't redistribute the software. In other words, Google can use modified free software to power its products and services running on its own servers, but withhold the modified source code. The Affero GPL addresses and closes this loophole, but it is not yet in widespread use. Naturally, Google doesn't want it to be.

Microsoft veteran Keith Curtis has accurately described Google as "a black hole of free software: innovation enters but never leaves."

Those who scoff at the notion that Google wants to replace the Internet with a Googlenet aren't paying attention. What else explains Google's activities? Why is a search and advertising company invading so many product categories?

Every giant for profit company aspires to be a monopoly, and attaining total domination of an industry is not as formidable an objective as it may seem. Throughout American history there have been a considerable number of successful monopolies, many even aided and abetted by the government.

Who has the power and the clout to check Google's invasive growth? Certainly not public interest organizations. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and EPIC are excellent watchdogs, but they don't have regulatory authority. The federal government (and the states, to some extent) do, but there's no guarantee they will act (although they should, and should be pressured to).

There is, however, another force out there that has the potential (notice I used the word potential) to check Google, and that is Google's competition.

Who are Google's strongest competitors, at this point? Microsoft and Apple. Each company seems to have now independently come to the conclusion that Google is its worst enemy. And they're absolutely correct.

There's an old saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Since Google now represents the biggest threat to Microsoft and Apple, it makes a lot of sense for the folks who run the show in Redmond and Cupertino to start viewing each other as allies. Undoubtedly, that is what has led to the recent rumored talks to make Bing the default search engine on the iPhone and possibly Safari.

Apple may at some point want to develop its own search engine, but in the meantime, it is certainly not in its best interest to be helping Google.

Apple and Microsoft are already closer than one might think. They each build software that runs on the operating system distributed by the other (Office for Mac in Microsoft's case, QuickTime and iTunes in Apple's case).

Additionally, Apple offers Base Camp to Mac users, enabling Microsoft Windows to run alongside Max OS X on Apple-built computers.

Together, Apple and Microsoft could make a powerful alliance, with the resources and the ingenuity to successfully take on Google, which has staked out a reputation as the company most hostile to user privacy in the history of technology.

It's true that Apple and Microsoft are no angels themselves; their privacy practices leave a lot to be desired. But they are not the endemic threat to privacy that Google - or should I say Big Brother - is.

Anyone reading this post who uses Firefox can see what I mean. Just install the NoScript add-on (one of the ten best for Firefox) and start surfing. Click on that little "S" icon in the bottom right corner, and see for yourself just how many websites have Google code embedded. It's a lot. Even the Seattle Public Library - which should know better! - uses Google Analytics.

Apple and Microsoft will certainly be doing what's best for their own futures by teaming up to take on Google. But they'll also be doing netizens worldwide a valuable favor. If they're really smart, they'll even incorporate better privacy safeguards in their own products and services, providing a stark alternative to Google's increasingly invasive offerings.

Bipartisanship torpedoed Coakley

Last night, our own Ken Camp wrote an insightful piece on the Coakley / Brown Senate race in Massachusetts, in which Republican Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's old senate seat. I agree with much of what Ken says about Coakley's half-hearted electoral effort, but I don't think that's the whole story.

The New York Times chimes in with a piece saying:
"Still, Ms. Coakley’s defeat could easily be seen as evidence that the Obama White House is out of step with much of the American public — pushing through a health care plan at a time when many voters are primarily concerned about unemployment"

Which in my opinion also misses the mark. Sure people are upset about unemployment, but I don't think that's what this is about. Washington's own Darcy Burner, who now heads the Progressive Caucus Policy Foundation, comes closest with this brief quote she sent out on Twitter yesterday morning:
Perhaps if the Democratic base doesn't show up to elect Coakley, party leadership should consider *trying to appeal* to the base...

And I think that nails it. In 2008, the Democratic Party base busted its butt to elect a Democratic president and solidify Democratic control of both houses of the Congress, a trifecta of progressive government control we haven't seen in a really, really long time.

What were we promised, for doing this? A bunch of stuff, really, but most notably health care reform. That's what has topped the legislative news for almost all of the past year. Health care reform.

Americans are sick and tireddying of paying through the nose to insurance companies that take their money and then stab them in the back when they're most needed. We were promised, in very clear terms, that this would end. That we'd get better oversight, regulation, lower premiums, and what was that other thing? Oh yeah, a public health plan that anybody could join.

So we gave the Democrats as many seats as we could give them. We gave them the bully pulpit of the presidency, and we put a man behind that pulpit who is as smart and eloquent as anybody since MLK. We put the Republican Party on the ropes.

And what did the Democrats do with these advantages? They pissed it all away in pointless pursuit of bipartisan solutions with an opposition minority who isn't sincere in its negotiations and never has been.

Once Al Franken took his seat, there was literally nothing stopping Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi from ramming the most stridently progressive Health Care bill the world has ever seen through the Congress. Nothing at all. And don't say "Joe Lieberman." He cares about only one thing: his own position. Had Obama and Reid held his feet to the fire, he'd have voted with the majority. You know he would.

But by trying to reach out for a compromise solution that would be acceptable to both sides but still do right by the American people--a solution that exists only in the minds of leprechauns, unicorns, and Democratic Party leaders--they enabled an extraordinarily small minority of obstructionist senators to turn populist reform into an insurance industry wet dream: they get a government backed mandate for everyone to buy insurance from the same rapaciously greedy, immoral, death merchants who created this mess, no competition from a public option that would force them to make meaningful changes to their own practices, and no mandate for lower premiums.

What do we get? We get this steaming pile of offal shrouded in a fig leaf of token concessions around pre-existing conditions. Whoop-dee-%!*#-ing doo. It's not nothing, but it sure isn't what we were promised.

So I can understand Massachusetts voters being just a wee bit pissed off at the Democratic Party generally. I know I am. I expected more. We all did. And I won't blame Massachusetts voters for expressing some of that ire at the ballot box.

If nothing else, Coakley's loss sends a pretty strong message. I can only pray the Democrats who are left in Congress will have the brains to hear it. Appeal to your base, you jackasses. Your base is strongly behind an agenda which contains much that is genuinely good for themselves, for the nation, and for the world.

Back the base's agenda, and the base will back you. You've got the majority. It ain't 60 seats, but that doesn't matter. Go ahead and put up the most hard-core, pure populist health care package you can dream up. Watch public opinion numbers for it shoot through the roof. Watch the Republicans threaten to filibuster.

Then let them. Call their bluff. Let's see if they have the stones to filibuster a health care package with a true public option, coverage for all, affordable premiums, no co-pays, no denials, specialists whenever you need them, and everything else a truly world-class health care system offers. Let's see them filibuster that. We can even start a pool on how long they can keep it up before their own numbers drop lower than George W. Bush's.

Get with it, Dems, while you still have the majority. Tell the minority to stuff it, and do the work of the people. That's why we sent you there in the first place.

Don't tell me the best you can do is to let corporate-owned politicians like Lieberman, Snowe, and Collins run the whole show. That's a load of B.S., and you know it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Brown defeats Coakley in Massachusetts

The news out of the Bay State isn't good tonight. Republican Scott Brown has defeated Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley in the race to succeed deceased liberal icon Ted Kennedy, a seat that Democrats held since 1962. The win by Brown decreases the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate to 59-41, bringing the filibuster back into play for Republicans.

With tonight's victory, conservatives are sure to crow that the tide has turned and this is an indication of what is to come in 2010.

What's disturbing for Democrats is that this is the second time in recent months where President Obama has come to help out a flailing candidate in a major statewide race but couldn't salvage anything. (The first time was Creigh Deeds last autumn, who also ran an uninspired and complacent campaign).

But Republican claims of winning based on better ideas,or a repudiation of Democratic policies or President Obama simply don't hold water.

Just as in Virginia, this election was won by a Republican because an anemic Democratic campaign didn't do the necessary work to win. One diarist on Daily Kos has suggested Coakley's loss is due to infighting within the Massachusetts Democratic Party, which certainly could have been a major contributing factor. Circular firing squads don't tend to produce electoral victories.

Even in liberal Massachusetts, wrapping yourself in the Kennedy cloak does not a Senator make. Last time I checked Kennedy was not spelled C-O-A-K-L-E-Y, nor was anyone named Kennedy on the ballot for the Democrats.

But it seems that Martha Coakley thought that strategy would lead her to victory. She ended up being done in by troubles she created for herself.

And she failed to effectively counter the always-on Republican Noise Machine, which provided a big propaganda assist for Brown.

Democrats running in 2010 would do well to build strong field programs and reach out to voters both online and in-person. Without George W. Bush to kick around (or even with him), it simply isn't enough to have a D next to your name and win. Campaigns are essentially a job interview. Those who want to win need to work hard each and every day and communicate with voters.

Voters don't appreciate being taken for granted by lazy, uninspiring candidates like Creigh Deeds and Martha Coakley. They want to be represented by someone who's going to go to bat for them against the powers-that-be. Scott Brown has just managed to fool a lot of people into thinking he's that someone.

Here's hoping he gets a strong challenge in 2012 from a Bay State Democrat who knows how to run a real campaign.

Closer than expected election in Bay State highlights danger of not being proactive

One of the biggest special elections in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is taking place today to decide who will succeed Ted Kennedy as junior United States Senator (John Kerry is now the senior senator).

The contest between Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley and Republican State Senator Scott Brown has drawn national attention in its waning days, with pundits and talking heads breathlessly trying to interpret election results that don't yet exist. It's true that polling can offer hints as to an electoral outcome, but it's also true that polling can be wrong. The only real poll is on Election Day.

That's not to say that Scott Brown won't win, or can't win. He has a solid chance at winning this special election. So does Martha Coakley... but therein lies the problem: Coakley should be the heavy favorite and she's not, because she failed to wage an aggressive campaign early on.

Instead, she coasted after her primary victory, going on vacation and waiting until after the holidays to do any serious organizing.

More recently, she has shied away from doing retail politicking, rather than seizing every opportunity to meet and greet future constituents. She should have made getting out and about an integral part of her daily campaign schedule. But she didn't. She's also committed several verbal gaffes which have become fodder for Bay State political commentators (including spelling Massachusetts wrong in the text at the end of a television ad).

By appearing aloof and distant, she ceded momentum to Scott "I've Got a Pickup Truck and it Proves I'm An Average Guy" Brown, whose operatives have been working feverishly to turn out independent voters, especially those disenchanted with the Obama administration and Congress. Coakley also missed an opportunity to strengthen her campaign's appeal by promising to be an anti-Joe Lieberman who would work to improve the healthcare reform bill before giving it her support.

Instead, she simply promised to be the sixtieth vote for the legislation... not a very inspiring campaign platform, especially considering that her Democratic base is feeling a bit disillusioned after a disappointing 2009 on Capitol Hill.

Coakley's missteps remind me of the Washington State Democratic Party's failure to effectively fight the message battle in the court of public opinion following Chris Gregoire's gubernatorial victory in 2004. Democratic lawyers eventually won a brilliant victory in a court of law that destroyed Dino Rossi's election challenge, but for six months, Republicans did an incredibly good job of convincing Washingtonians that Gregoire's victory was not legitimate.

I'm also reminded of the many unsuccessful campaigns against Tim Eyman initiatives that started too late and did not effectively reframe the debate after Eyman had taken control of it. I very much feared that that would happen last year with Initiative 1033, but fortunately, the coalition effort came together at the last possible moment, and we won a historic victory.

Still, the coalition put Washington's future at unacceptable risk by failing to engage Eyman early and often. That mistake must never be made again.

If we want to consistently beat the right wing, then we have to maintain vigorous, year-round opposition to the likes of Tim Eyman, and we have to create and sustain a proactive offense to further our own policy directions.

We can't let our guard down after we win a victory, and we can't allow someone as crafty as Eyman to go unanswered for the better part of a year. It's a recipe for failure. We at NPI and our allies have been counseled in the past not to respond to Eyman, out of the erroneous fear that doing so only gives him more attention. We have always rejected that advice because we know that Eyman gets the publicity regardless, and we lose by staying silent.

The special election to determine Ted Kennedy's successor has always been Martha Coakley's to lose, since she emerged as the Democratic nominee over a month ago. And there is a very real danger that she could lose.

We'll know in a few hours whether she and the Massachusetts Democratic Party swung into action soon enough to stop Scott Brown in his tracks, or whether complacency caused the preventable loss of the seat held by one of America's most liberal and principled Democratic senators for over three decades.

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

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

Strange though it may sound, the Superior Court, which is primarily a trial court, also hears appeals from District and Municipal Courts. When acting in an appellate role, the Superior Court is referred to as the RALJ (pronounced "raldge) court. RALJ refers to court rules created by the Washington Supreme that govern appeals from District and Municipal Courts.

A party that wants to appeal a ruling by a District or Municipal Court files a "notice of appeal" in the District or Municipal Court that handled the case. That starts the appeals process, and the RALJ Court takes it from there.

If the appeal happens before the case has been concluded, it is referred to as a petition for a writ, rather than an appeal. If the case has been concluded, the party is filing an appeal.

In appellate matters, the party filing the appeal is the "Appellant" and the other party is the "Respondent". In writ matters, the party that wants the writ is the "Petitioner" and the other party is the "Respondent.

RALJ opinions are not binding on any court other than the District or Municipal Court that handled the matter, and only with respect to that matter.

The next rung on the ladder of our judicial system is the Court of Appeals, which has three divisions. Division One covers Seattle and, generally speaking, the areas north and northwest of Seattle. Division Two covers Pierce County and points south. Division Three covers the eastern part of the state.

An appeal to the Court of Appeals must be filed in the Division in which the matter being appealed took place. All appeals from Superior Court matters, including RALJ opinions, go to the Court of Appeals. As with RALJ appeals from Courts of Limited Jurisdiction (i.e., District and Municipal Courts), a criminal defendant in a Superior Court matter has an automatic right to appeal, and to do so free of charge if he/she cannot afford an attorney.

The rules for when and how a case may be appealed in the Court of Appeals are strictly enforced, and can get rather complicated.

Finally, there's the Supreme Court, the highest appellate court in the state. Opinions of the Supreme Court are binding on all courts in the state - Courts of Appeal, Superior Court as a trial court, Superior Court as a RALJ court, and District and Municipal Courts.

There is no automatic right to have a matter heard by the Supreme Court; the Court chooses what cases it wants to accept for "review". Members of the Supreme Court are referred to as justices. Members of the Courts of Appeal, the Superior Court, and District and Municipal Courts are referred to as judges.

There are nine Supreme Court justices, and it takes five of the nine to issue an opinion. Those that disagree with the majority write what is called a "dissenting opinion". Sometimes a justice agrees with the result, but for different reasons than the majority. That justice will often write a "concurring opinion."

These first two installments have provided a broad interview of the court system in Washington State. The next installments will explain the more technical aspects of the courts, including subject matters and how the courts structure themselves.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr.: A man with the courage to put tension to work for posterity

Since today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I'm posting an excerpt from Dr. King's Letter From Birmingham Jail. Here he is explaining that tension is often necessary to force a painful but necessary conversation about injustice in society. (Typos are contained in the original manuscript.)
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?"

You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension."

I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
Take a few moments today to read the whole thing.

When "bipartisan" isn't...

Many people believe that "bipartisanship" is a good thing - but what does it mean? How often does a legislator need to work with fellow legislators on the other side of the aisle to be considered "bipartisan?"

What about legislation? Exactly how many members of each party need to sign on as cosponsors to a bill before it can seriously be considered a "bipartisan proposal?" What proportion of members from each party need to vote in favor of a measure before we can seriously say that it passed with "bipartisan support?"

Ironically, it's often possible to discern the politics of a supposedly "nonpartisan" organization by how they skew their use of bipartisan.

Last week, the conservative Washington Policy Center - not to be confused with the progressive Washington State Budget & Policy Center - published a piece entitled "Bipartisan 72-hour budget bill introduced," referring to legislation sponsored by five Republicans and one Democrat.

(UPDATE: the list of co-sponsors to HB-2872 has grown since this piece was written).

The word bipartisanship invokes the noble idea of unity over division, which may explain why groups like the Washington Policy Center attach the word to describe bills they support. It leaves me wondering if they'll characterize the budget as "bipartisan" if a single Republican votes for it?

I'm a progressive, but that doesn't mean that I think the Democratic Party has a monopoly on good ideas. Progressive Republicans may be scarce, but they still exist. There's value to be found in ideas from both sides of the aisle, and the best ideas - at least the simple, noncontroversial ones - will garner support from members of both parties most of the time.

Republicans, and right-wing media, are being disingenuous when they breathlessly ascribe the label "bipartisan" to a bill with a token Democratic cosponsor. Likewise, Democratic bills that pass the Legislature with one or two Republican votes aren't really "bipartisan" either.

I think most people picture balance and consensus when they read the words "Bipartisan 72-hour budget bill."

Our Legislature is composed of roughly two-thirds Democrats and one-third Republicans. If someone is going to call a bill "bipartisan," isn't it reasonable to expect "bipartisan" to mean something approaching a similar ratio?

Let's be clear: if the standard for "bipartisanship" is to have a single member of the opposition co-sponsor or vote for a bill, then much of what the Legislature does is "bipartisan." If the threshold for calling something "bipartisan" is so low, the adjective is essentially meaningless.

And the last thing we need is more meaningless political commentary.

On your mark, get set, GO

Democrats may be less than enthusiastic about President Obama’s Afghanistan troop surge, or his failure to deliver a health insurance public option, but there’s one area where Obama is getting it right -- education. If Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy was a magnifying glass, making the academic achievement gap between upper and lower income kids visible, then Obama’s Race to the Top (RTT) initiative is a toolbox, giving students, teachers and administrators the tools they need to make America’s kids the best in the world.

The timing is right. Just as states such as Washington are struggling to support their schools in a time of massive budget deficits, the U.S. Department of Education is offering states the opportunity to earn a chunk of its $4.3 billion Race to the Top funds. Unlike the federal stimulus money that softened the blow of the state budget ax last year, these funds aren’t free. Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are playing hard ball here, and strings are firmly attached.

We all know that change takes time. (How long have we been waiting for health reform?) President Obama is able to move serious, game-changing reform quickly through state legislatures by taking advantage of the current financial crisis and dangling money in front of states' noses.

Applications for the first phase of the Race to the Top program are due tomorrow, but there will be a second round closing on June 1. Competing states will be graded on how well they meet four parameters: adopting common standards and assessments, building data systems that measure student progress, training and developing great teachers and principals, and turning around low-achieving schools.

To be truly competitive for this award, Washington will have to pass legislation that even goes beyond the basic education reform passed last year. For a strong application, Washington will have to reconsider how it recruits and evaluates teachers, increase its standards for high school graduation, and allow the state to intervene in low-performing schools. That’s a tall order for one short legislative session.

Even if Washington fails to secure a piece of the RTT funds, Obama’s education goals aren’t going away. The Department of Education will continue to tempt and prod states to move down the path of reform. Race to the Top is just one part of the president’s plan to improve the American education system. Investing in early learning and making higher education more accessible are the other key pieces.

President Obama may not have been leading the charge for health reform, but on education he is way out in front: shaking up the status quo and motivating states with Democratic and Republican-led governments alike, to see who can out-reform the other.

Now that’s a change agent. That’s real leadership.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

WA-03: Money isn't everything

Full Disclosure: I am a supporter and volunteer for Senator Craig Pridemore's campaign to succeed Brian Baird as U.S. Representative. My opinions (as expressed here) do not necessarily reflect those of Pridemore for Congress.

If money is the best measure of who is viable in political campaigns, then why aren't we following the lead of the Republicans and turning over the keys to government to corporate leaders and investment bank moguls?

After all, they've got plenty of money.

Apparently, Daddy Warbucks Richie Rich Denny Heck feels the need to continue to remind us all that he's a rich guy from Vancouver Olympia who is running for Congress. It isn't even the end of the quarter when fundraising reports are typically due for campaigns, but a few days ago Heck decided to jump the shark and tell us all how much money he's raised, after only one week in the race. His total includes $100,000 that he loaned to his campaign.

Federal contribution limits are $2400 per election, meaning donors can contribute up to $4800 for the race ($2400 each for the primary and general election). Divide Denny Heck's $115,000 raised by $2400 (assuming everything donated so far was for the primary), and that means Denny Heck's 48 rich friends (probably not all living in the 3rd Congressional District) have donated to his campaign. Sorry Denny, but it's going to take more than 48 people outside the 3rd District to win the race.

The press release on the fundraising totals follows Heck proclaiming himself the only "practicing capitalist" in the race (whatever that means), and a campaign announcement that screams "look at how much money I have."
Heck was an original investor in Real Networks, the digital entertainment company that pioneered streaming media on the Internet. He co-founded Intrepid Learning Solutions, a Washington State-based worker-training and learning business-services company with offices in several states. Today, Denny serves on the company’s board of directors.

Heck is also the co-owner of Bruin Development and is the lead investor and chairs the Board of Directors of Digital Efficiency, a company that provides electronic medical records solutions to health care providers.
No doubt, Denny Heck has been responsible for creating jobs in our state. But just because he has the ability to buy his way into a race, based on his corporate endeavors, doesn't mean he should be anointed the next congressman of the third district, as some in the Democratic party seem willing to do.

And local party leaders, PCOs,and politicos would do well to remember that money might bring you to the table, but ideas, hard work, and most importantly, the support of voters will get you across the finish line.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cut, cut, cut... just not in my district, Washington State Republicans say

The header on a January 12th press release from State Representative Gary Alexander (R-20th District) declares, “The temptation for continued deficit spending is too great for some to resist.”

Indeed, it seems the “some” he refers to are his Republican colleagues.

On her homepage, Val Stevens (R-39th District) brags about getting “a little more help for Highway 2 – although not nearly enough” right after complaining about the spending of “the Democrat (sic) majority.”

Stevens also brags about her bill to create a pilot project to contract-out much of the work done by Child Protective Services, saying it’s “almost as good as breaking up DSHS.” Someone should tell Sen. Dan Swecker (R-20th District), who has a video up on his homepage rationalizing the continued existence of the Green Hill juvenile rehabilitation facility, which just happens to be in his district.

“It would have a devastating effect on the economy because we have a large number of employees in Green Hill,” says Swecker. “I don’t believe in just holding something open just because of employment...” he continues, proceeding to extol the virtues of the great work done by the state employees at Green Hill School.

Meanwhile, Sen. Cheryl Pflug (R-5th District) applauds the “many victories” enjoyed during her eleven years in the Senate, including “major highway improvements, expansion of youth athletic facilities, improvements in school instruction and funding, flood relief and habitat restoration, wilderness preservation and much more.” Someone in the Republican Caucus should remind her that Washington has a “spending problem.”

Among the many things Rep. Jan Angel (R-26th District) wants to do for her constituents is “expand higher educational opportunities within the district; improve our local transportation system; ensure a reliable, affordable ferry service…” or, in other words, things that cost money. Lots of money.

Last year, Jan Angel even had the nerve to send out a press release bragging about a $1 million state grant for a wastewater treatment plant improvement project in her district – a grant that was approved before she even took office.

She glosses over that by promising to "put in a request for an additional $2.5 million from the state's capital budget,” which sounds suspiciously like an endorsement of the kind of stimulus spending that Republicans oppose – at least when it’s proposed by Democrats. Let’s get a few things straight:
  • We do have a very serious issue with the state budget – thanks to a drop in revenue caused by a worldwide recession that’s affecting red states and blue states alike.
  • Republicans insist that what we have is a “spending problem,” yet fail to either endorse the Governor's “all cuts” budget or to propose cuts to anything other than “budget dust.”
  • Meanwhile, many of those same Republicans brag about and/or fight for state spending in their districts.
Given these brief examples, it’s clear that Republicans aren’t sincerely interesting in good-faith participation in the legislative process.

Rather, they’re all about blaming the “Democrat (sic) majority,” inflating the value of cutting “budget dust,” and appeasing an increasingly radical fringe movement of tea partiers by telling them what they want to hear.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Suzan DelBene seems set as presumptive Democratic nominee for WA-08

One year after launching her campaign to unseat Dave Reichert in Washington's 8th Congressional District, Suzan DelBene seems to have the Democratic nomination - and the other spot on the general election ballot - all but locked up. Her campaign announced today it had secured the endorsements of Chris Gregoire, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott, and Adam Smith.

DelBene, who began campaigning a year ago, has been fundraising at an aggressive pace, traveling throughout the district, and introducing herself to the Democratic Party's grassroots. (Those efforts seem to be paying off; she recently gained the endorsements of the 2nd and 47th Legislative District Democrats.)

Although Democratic and Republican voters will not be officially choosing nominees in this August's primary (no thanks to Sam Reed, Rob McKenna, and The Grange for doing all they possibly could to deprive Democratic and Republican voters of their First Amendment rights), it seems very likely that DelBene and Reichert will emerge as the winners.

However, there are other candidates running. One is tea partier Ernest Huber who is running on a "conservative" platform advocating a military coup against President Obama and claims that, if elected, he "will move to abolish the EPA and all Departments of Ecology." Uh huh. Another contender is Tom Cramer, a perennial candidate for office who identifies as a Democrat. His campaign has been virtually nonexistent; he barely has a web presence.

Reichert, of course, is the odds-on favorite to get the most votes in the primary. He was first elected in 2004 and narrowly beat Darcy Burner in 2006 and 2008. We at NPI keep track of his important votes at the Reichert Report. He is an atypical Republican, only breaking ranks to offer lukewarm support for environmental legislation now and again, with the blessing of his party leaders.

Reichert's opposition to the stimulus and healthcare reform are among DelBene's primary criticisms of him, and they have undoubedtly helped her secure endorsements from prominent Democrats, who are not finding Reichert to be much of a partner in the other Washington. In a statement to NPI, about her endorsements, DelBene noted:
Creating jobs, promoting innovation, and delivering affordable healthcare must be our priorities. These endorsements stand as a reflection of a shared vision for our future and are an important step forward for my campaign.

I welcome the opportunity to work with these leaders to tackle the many challenges we face. They are some of the most dedicated elected officials we have, representing voters from across the state, and I'm extremely grateful for their support.
The DelBene team is gaining momentum and working on voter outreach. By locking up the endorsements of key members in the Washington State Democratic Party, DelBene has solidified her position as the candidate most likely to appear opposite Reichert on the general election ballot this November.

Haiti quake: why you should donate money rather than food

I was working on another post related to last week's The return of local, but then Haiti got hit yesterday by an awful earthquake. I'll get back to the local thing next week, but somehow Haiti seems more important to talk about. It is not, however, completely unrelated.

Even in a place like Haiti, in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster, local still matters.

That's why, if you're inclined to help Haitians through this experience, you would do well to text "HAITI" to the cell number 90999. Do so and a $10 donation, which will be charged to your phone bill, will end up in the hands of the Red Cross. (See also President Obama's statement and explanation.)

Permit me a brief digression into the not-so-distant past to explain why money is more helpful than goods.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the '70s and '80s will recall that it was a time of intense famine in many parts of Africa. Our televisions were plastered with ads from relief agencies urging us to donate to them so they could send food, blankets, medicines, et cetera. We saw pictures of emaciated children, their bellies bloated with gas. We heard stories of people so hungry they took to eating clay just to feel full for a while.

Relief agencies, many with assistance and backing from the U.S. Government, sent millions of tons of supplies. I still remember pictures of huge warehouses, stacked floor-to-ceiling with burlap bags of rice, destined for Africa.

Predictably, we then heard news stories about corruption, supplies being diverted from their intended destinations, and all other manner of distribution problems.

What none of us realized at the time--although in hindsight it's bloody obvious--is that sending material aid is fundamentally the wrong strategy for dealing with humanitarian crises.

What none of us realized is that famine in Africa wasn't a matter of insufficient local production. It still isn't today; they actually do grow food in Africa. Famine is mostly an economic problem of the people needing the food not having the money to buy it.

When people can't buy food, you can do one of two things: send them food so they don't have to buy it, or send them money so they can buy it.

Sadly, we sent food. Anybody who was awake for an introductory economics class should have been able to predict the results: the problem only gets worse.

When we send millions of tons of free rice into a country, even if that rice doesn't get distributed the way you hoped, you destroy the livelihoods of farmers in the region. When we flood the market with free food, even the people who do have money stop buying food. They'll take the free rice too and spend their money on other things.

Result: we destroy the farm economy. There's no demand for locally farmed food when there's free American rice all over the place. We fed some people for a day, at the cost of destroying their country's ability to feed itself for tomorrow.

Brilliant move, America.

If we send money instead, it's the opposite. Sure, there will be some inflation, but more people will be able to buy some food at all. That doesn't destroy demand, it *creates* demand. That, in turn, pushes more people into the business of farming, which helps the local supply and drives prices back down.

Result: when the foreign money dries up, there's more local food available and more people have livelihoods producing it than before. Win/win.

So that's how we royally screwed over about a billion Africans in the '70s and '80s. Let's not do the same to Haiti, where getting by is already hard enough. Haiti is a much smaller place, but there's no reason the same economic laws wouldn't apply to it, too.

Some relief aid in the form of food, tents, medicines, blankets, et cetera is certainly warranted. I'm not saying that. But the worst thing we could do would be to drown them in relief supplies that only destroy the local economy and leave everyone worse off in the long run.

So send money. Text "HAITI" to 90999. Enable Haitians to rebuild their local economy, by literally investing in them to do so. Whatever they can still produce locally, they will buy locally if we help them do it. Whatever they can't, they'll buy from foreign sources but only until their local production comes back online.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Massive earthquake strikes Haiti, leveling much of Port-au-Prince and its suburbs

Tragedy strikes again, in a country that has been repeatedly battered by hurricanes, widespread poverty, violence, and deforestation:
A 7.0-magnitude quake which hit south of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince is feared to have killed hundreds of people across the Caribbean country.

In the space of a minute, Haiti's worst quake in two centuries wrecked the HQ of the UN mission, Haiti's national palace and numerous other buildings.

A "large number" of UN personnel were reported missing by the organisation.

Describing it as a "catastrophe", Haiti's envoy to the US said the cost of the damage could run into billions.
According to news reports and eyewitness accounts, many of Port-au-Prince's major buildings, including the Presidential Palace, the city's Roman Catholic cathedral, the National Assembly's meeting place, Montana Hotel, and aforementioned U.N. headquarters have collapsed. A huge cloud of dust could be reportedly seen in the aftermath of the quake and its many aftershocks, many of which registered above 5.0 in magnitude.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this earthquake," President Barack Obama said in a statement sent to NPI and other media outlets. "We are closely monitoring the situation and we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti." The White House said the President had first been briefed on the disaster at 5:52 PM Eastern, and had immediately directed federal agencies to begin preparing humanitarian aid.

The extent of the destruction is suspected to be widespread and horrific, but no specific details are available to qualify or quantify the scope of the damage at this time. What communications infrastructure Haiti had working before the quake (which wasn't much) is now damaged or overwhelmed.

Most of the pictures the traditional media have obtained have come from wire services (The Associated Press, Reuters) or from social media. Bomgoclub has some striking pictures from Haiti on Flickr (like this one); many of these are being rotated on the cable news channels as part of their coverage.

Local charities, including Mercy Corps of Portland and Medical Teams International, are calling for donations to support disaster relief, and are scrambling to mobilize personnel to head to the scene:
"We will be sending out a team today or tomorrow, assuming we can fly into the airport," said Medical Team International President, Bas Vanderzalm. "We are in touch with a number of our partners in Haiti to see how we can help with emergency supplies."

Volunteers Dr. Joseph and wife, Linda Markee, an RN, have agreed to go to Haiti to help families in need. The Markees, from Vancouver, Wash., are veteran volunteers for Medical Teams International.
Doctors Without Borders, which maintains facilities in Haiti, confirms that serious damage has made travel and communication with the outside world all but impossible.

Governor Gregoire: State of the State is dire

Earlier today, Governor Gregoire gave her State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature. Her remarks repeatedly emphasized the need for compassion and leadership in this time of crisis.

The Governor issued a strong call to action to the House and Senate, urging them to act in the best interests of posterity.
For all of us who are called to public service, I would suggest that NOW is the time for leadership — it is the most important time to serve. For as difficult and challenging as the decisions that lie ahead of us will be, now is the time to be decisive, and now is the time for compassion.

It’s the time to make a real difference for people.

It’s the time to truly shape the future of Washington.

In the best of times, people forget legislative sessions. In the worst of times, history shows decisiveness is what is remembered.

We must have the courage to make hard choices — and to plan for tomorrow while making decisions for today.
The Governor stressed that Washington's economy needs new jobs. In 2009, 475,000 Washingtonians signed up for unemployment benefits and some areas of the State are at 14% unemployment. Governor Gregoire:
We need to get Washington back to work.

We owe it to our families to provide job opportunities. I have a plan to create as many as 40,000 new jobs this year.
She will be releasing the full plan on Thursday.

The Governor took pains to disavow the "balanced" budget she released in December, saying she wants to "buy back" many of the proposed cuts.
In December, I presented a balanced state budget as required by state law.

It is said that budgets are state policy. But they are much more than that. The budget reflects who we are as a state and the values we hold.

The December budget was balanced, but it would force us to abandon the values that define this state: fairness and compassion.

It would be unjust, unwise and unfair to abandon our friends and neighbors when they need us the most.
And to renege on the state's paramount duty to provide for the education of young Washingtonians:
Education is the single best investment for our future and the key to the success of our kids.

The balanced budget takes away health care for 70,000 individuals and 16,000 children. That’s not fair. We must not deny health care to families and kids and then pass the costs on to the insured.

The balanced budget eliminates early learning for 1,500 kids and would eliminate state funds for all-day kindergarten. That's not wise.
The Governor is calling upon the Legislature to new revenue. She says that it is "not wise" to let our state fall apart out of fear of raising taxes.

There are plenty of places that she and the Legislature can look to for revenue, such as getting rid of tax loopholes for big corporations.

The current budget is unacceptable and would tear apart our common wealth. It's our hope that our state's Democratic majority will find the courage to protect and preserve the vital services that the people of Washington depend on.

McGinn suspends enforcement of ordinance banning private park and rides near light rail

Newly inaugurated Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn deserves big props for moving quickly to fix a recently publicized problem resulting from enforcement of a Seattle city ordinance intended to promote mixed use development.

The problem was that the city had been telling private landowners who own lots adjacent to stations that they could not sell all-day parking permits to would-be Link light rail riders. That's because one of the objectives of the aforementioned ordinance is to prevent the further proliferation of parking lots, which take up valuable space that could be occupied by homes and businesses.

Enforcement of the ordinance, however, was resulting in an unnecessary city crackdown on private parking. This isn't new parking we're talking about; the all-day parking spaces that were being sold (before the city showed up) to riders already exist. Why not let people take advantage of them?

At the price of, oh, say, thirty dollars a space, the parking is hardly "free", so it doesn't encourage automobile use, nor does it promulgate the myth that there is no cost to society when we drive everywhere.

As Mayor McGinn acknowledged in a press release yesterday evening, "We don’t want the primary land use around those stations to be parking, and we certainly don’t want businesses to be torn down for parking... [but] it’s good for local businesses and commuters to be more flexible now."

We agree. Kudos to Mayor McGinn for reversing the city's course and pledging to develop a smarter parking policy in the coming days. This is the kind of responsive and accountable government that we like to see.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Right-wing distortions under the spotlight

Part of NPI’s mission is to counter the dubious “facts” that right-wing organizations spray like machine gun fire into the public debate. Take this quote from an Evergreen Freedom Foundation newsletter that recently showed up in my inbox and that has popped up in various publications around the state:
Just for starters, you and I pay $27,000 for a Poet Laureate. State lottery advertisements will get $11 million and we will pay $800 million for light rail art in Seattle. Are you happy about the $145 thousand we will spend rescuing derelict crab pots?
Inflammatory stuff. The author of this list, and those who are perpetuating it, go on to imply that the state budget is riddled with waste and that increasing state revenue in order to maintain public services like education and health care is unnecessary. They say all we need to do is cut out these wasteful expenses.

Too bad that some of the items they list are not even state expenses, and others are actually valid expenditures.

Let’s look at these claims, one by one.

For starters, after initial start up costs of $30,000 spread over the years 2007- 2009, the state poet laureate position is paid for by “gifts, grants and endowments from public and private sources,” not the state. Forty other states have a poet laureate.

The state lottery collects almost $500 million per year and spends about $12 million of that on advertisements and marketing, meaning advertising costs are about 2.4% of collections, near the average ad expediture for U.S. businesses.

Seattle’s light rail system is administered by the regional Sound Transit agency and is primarily funded by local sales tax. Any money spent on art in light rail stations is spent by Sound Transit, not by the state.

Thousands of derelict crab pots, which are pots that are no longer in use, litter the floor of the Puget Sound. One derelict pot can catch and waste from 10 to 72 crabs a year, in addition to other sea life. Derelict crab pots threaten the health of the Puget Sound and are a hazard to boaters. The state is just one source of money for the crab pot removal program, while the federal government, foundations and non-profits also contribute.

Shedding a little light on these claims make them a lot less offensive, although the spreading of half-truths still offends me.

NPI advocates for removing non-performing state tax breaks before cutting services or raising revenue, but we also understand that this alone won't fill the state's $2.6 billion dollar budget gap and preserve the essential services that we rely on for a good quality of life. Services on the chopping block, like education, mental health programs and public safety, are too vital and already weakened by last year’s cuts to hack into further.

The right-wing can't use deception to justify its crusade against government. The public deserves the truth.

Traditional media turns out in force to hear Tim Eyman sell his 2010 do-over of I-960

Tim Eyman proved this morning that he still has the ability to command the attention of what's left of the Olympia press corps by holding a well-attended "news" conference in Secretary of State Sam Reed's office to promote the 2010 version of his recycled scheme to wreck government.

Joining Eyman were his faithful cohorts Jack Fagan and Mike Fagan (the latter just ran for Spokane City Council and, happily, lost to a great progressive, Amber Waldref) as well as right wing state Senators Pam Roach and Janea Holmquist, who want to preserve their power to unconstitutionally and undemocratically block Washington's Democratic majority from raising revenue.

Not surprisingly, the press conference ended up clocking in at thirty two minutes and forty seconds as Eyman and Company kept talking... and talking... and talking... and talking. Every well-tested Republican sound bite on taxes got used, repeatedly and thoroughly. Eyman's motley crew wasted no opportunity to disrespectfully attack the Democratic Party and its leadership, with Holmquist repeatedly referring to "my Democrat colleagues." Eyman, meanwhile, took aim at the news organization that has been most fearless in taking him on, muttering at one point: "Thank God the P-I is gone now."

(Psst... Tim... The Post-Intelligencer is still alive and kicking; its print edition may have ceased publication, but the online edition is more widely read than ever.)

Tim Eyman press conference
Most of the reporters attending stuck around to hear all thirty two minutes and forty seconds (from the time Eyman walked in the door to the moment he ended his talk show by saying, "Thanks for coming") but left without sticking around to hear Eyman's opposition speak.

The principal exceptions were KIRO TV's Essex Porter, The Seattle Times' Jim Brunner, and the Tri-City Herald's Michelle Dupler, who gave us (myself and our good friend Steve Zemke of MajorityRules.org) a fair opportunity to respond.

Sadly, Steve and I were the only representatives of last year's unprecedented coalition to beat back Initiative 1033 who showed up to counter Eyman. At first we hoped we might be joined by others from the Rebuilding our Economic Future Coalition, but to our regret, it ended up that we were not just the only organized opposition present, but the only opposition, period.

It's a good thing we were in attendance, or there would have been no rebuttal at all to the Tim Eyman Half Hour, hosted by Secretary of State Sam Reed's office.

Ironically, Eyman spoke amidst a backdrop of banners celebrating Washington's progressive women, including Governor Chris Gregoire (the state's first female attorney general) and Patty Murray (its first female U.S. Senator). The banner he was directly standing under depicts Nena J. Croake (Washington's first female State Representative, elected in 1913 as a Progressive) who was a staunch advocate for the minimum wage, as well as pensions for abandoned mothers.

NPI and MajorityRules are releasing a joint statement on Eyman's new scheme following our media availability this morning; I'll review the major problems with Eyman's I-960 do-over in a subsequent post.

Citizen's guide to lobbying the legislature

With the state legislature going into session for sixty days starting today, we'd like offer you some tips on how to effectively lobby your legislators on the issues that matter most to you.

First, remember that this is a short session, with a compressed timetable to get legislation passed or to keep it from passing. Go to the Legislative Information Center on the first floor of the LEG Building (the Capitol) and pick up schedules of committee hearings and other legislative meetings each day.

Call to schedule an appointment with a legislator early in the session. Make an appointment with the senator or representatives that represent your district or the chair of the committee that your proposed legislation or issue you care about is assigned to. These legislators are the most likely to meet with you. Don't try to meet with every legislator as they are all busy meeting their constituents or attending committee meetings. Besides, your legislator is elected by you and you are their constituent. Meet with both your Senator and your representatives (there are two per legislative district), since all legislation has to pass both legislative bodies and be signed into law by the governor.

When you meet with a legislator remember that their time is limited and valuable. Most only schedule appointments in 15 minute blocks during session. Be concise, to-the-point and leave some time for the legislator to ask questions. If you bring handouts, make sure you have copies for the legislator and any staff who might be present. If you bring a multi-page handout, be sure to attach a bullet-point summary to it. During session, legislators and staff don't have time to read dozens of pages of a manifesto on any given subject.

With the dire budget situation, do not expect to get legislation passed this year if it requires funding. It's important to note that most legislation of consequence does not pass the legislature in one year. Sure, there are exceptions, but the majority of legislation is a multi-year effort.

Also, always remain polite and respectful of the position your legislator holds, even if you don't agree with them. Legislators are human beings like the rest of us, and don't take too kindly to being berated or rude behavior.

Finally, it's a good idea to follow-up your meeting with a thank you note or an e-mail.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Voter registration deadline is tomorrow

NPI would like to remind our readers that in order to vote in the February 9, 2010 special election, which has a number of school district levies on the ballot, you must be registered to vote by tomorrow.

According to the King County elections website, and state law:
To be eligible to vote, you must be registered to vote at least 29 days in advance of an election. If registering by mail, your application must be postmarked by the 29-day cutoff or it will not become effective until after the election.
With the bleak economic outlook and the legislature making cuts to the budget, your local school districts need you to support the levies that help fund them. Make sure you're registered to vote to have a voice in your community.

Dr. No

Congressman Doc Hastings wants you to die. Yes, you read that right. Congressman Hastings, of Washington's 4th Congressional District, could care less if your health care coverage is less than adequate or affordable. Regardless of what form the final health care reform bill takes, Doc Hastings is voting no.
Democratic leaders in Congress have yet to negotiate a final bill for health care reform, but regardless of what the House and Senate ultimately agree on, Rep. Doc Hastings is sure he will vote no.
Much like the rest of his party, Congressman Hastings doesn't need to know details of legislation in order to oppose it. His rigid stance, marching lockstep with his party leadership, stems from an inability and unwillingness to do anything of consequence for the people who elected him. It doesn't matter if the legislation helps his constituents or not, if Democrats support it then Hastings is voting no. And as a result, if the recklessly omniscient Doc Hastings has his way, people will die.

Is this the kind of leadership the people of the 4th District deserve, where doing the right thing for your constituents takes a back seat to rigid ideology?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dow Constantine appoints three new members to the Sound Transit Board

King County Executive Dow Constantine's office has just announced that he has appointed several new members to the Sound Transit Board. They are Bellevue city Councilmember Claudia Balducci, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, and King County Councilmember Jan Drago.

With the appointment of Balducci, Executive Constantine fulfilled his campaign promise to choose someone from Bellevue to serve on the Board. The city is one of the municipalities that will be most affected by the completion of Sound Transit 2.

Planning for East Link, one of the biggest projects in the ST2 package, is stirring up lots of controversy, which mostly revolves around which alignment Sound Transit will choose for downtown Bellevue. The Sound Transit Board has the authority to decide which alignment would best serve the communities it runs through, whether it be surface, tunnel, or elevated.

Executive Constantine had this to say about his new appointments:
Councilmember Balducci has long been a leader on light rail issues on the Bellevue City Council, and her participation on the Sound Transit Board will be important as the board makes critical decisions on the East Link alignment through Bellevue in the coming year

[...]

Mayor McGinn is a strong supporter of transit and I am pleased to nominate him... I am also pleased to nominate Councilmember Drago, who succeeds me in District 8 on the County Council."
Executive Constantine also renominated King County Councilmember Julia Patterson, King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, and Issaquah City Councilmember Fred Butler.

Each member of the Sound Transit Board is appointed for four years. With University Link, South Link, North Link, and East Link coming up soon, the next few years promise to be an important time in Sound Transit's history. NPI looks forward to working with our many friends and allies to ensure that Sound Transit has the ability to successfully deliver on its promises to voters.

Budget dust

Editor's Note: We are very pleased to welcome our newest staff member, Steve Breaux, to the Northwest Progressive Institute team. Steve has previously worked for the Senate Democratic Caucus as a communications specialist. He also worked on behalf of Derek Kilmer's successful Senate campaign in 2006, and has served as a volunteer international elections observer. This is his first post here on The Advocate, with many more to come.

During yesterday's Associated Press Legislative Forum in Olympia, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown threw down a gauntlet, challenging anyone who thought the Legislature could balance an all-cuts budget to put specific items on the table for elimination.

It’s a good idea – especially given that the Republican minority consistently says our state doesn’t need any additional revenue and with equal consistency refuses to identify the specific cuts necessary to balance the budget without new revenue.

The minority does a great job of pointing out what Brown referred to yesterday as "budget dust" – numerous items that could be cut from the budget, but don’t add up to much in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, what looks like small change in a multibillion dollar budget is real money to most of us, and the Legislature should always be looking for efficiencies in government simply for the sake of making government more efficient and saving money.

But for the Republicans to say the Legislature can balance the budget by eliminating “budget dust” is farcical. There simply aren’t enough “little things” to account for the savings the Legislature needs to find if they want to avoid revenue increases. If the Republicans disagree, then they should take up Brown’s challenge: make a comprehensive list and put it on that table.

In an opinion piece in yesterday’s Seattle Times, the conservatives came up short. Minority leaders Mike Hewitt and Richard DeBolt, along with Rob McKenna and Sam Reed, presented “...a few more ideas that, if implemented, will help protect struggling Washingtonians from new taxes when they can least afford them.”

That’s nice – but they go on to concede that their handful of ideas "won't solve the entire budget challenge."

Looking backwards, complaining about being in the minority, and putting only token budget cuts on the table while refusing to even discuss revenue enhancements isn’t good-faith participation in the legislative process.

If they want to be taken seriously, the Republicans in the Legislature and elsewhere need to do more than complain.

They need to articulate a comprehensive plan that clearly demonstrates what they say can be done: balancing the budget without new revenue while still ensuring essential public services and protecting the most vulnerable in our society.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Breaking: WA-03 - Rep. Brendan Williams endorses Craig Pridemore

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

State Representative Brendan Williams (D-Olympia), who has been a great progressive champion in the legislature and will retire at the end of the year, just posted on his Facebook status update that he is supporting State Senator Craig Pridemore for the 3rd Congressional District seat.

You can add Rep. Williams to the list of endorsements Pridemore has picked up this week, including those of former state Representative Bill Fromhold, state Representatives Jim Moeller and Jim Jacks and Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart (who himself was rumored at one point to get into the race). Fromhold, Moeller and Jacks are all from Pridemore's 49th Legislative District.

If you'd like to learn more about Craig Pridemore, contact his campaign or make a donation, you can go to his website.

The return of local

Last week you may recall I mused about how we're in for some tectonic shifts before we discover what the new reality of American economic life is about. At the time, I didn't have any idea what those shifts might entail, but after pondering it for a week I think the phrase the return of local sums it up.

Many forces are at play which, I believe, will push the world economy--not just the U.S. economy--back towards a model that is more heavily dependent on local consumption of locally produced goods and services, away from the present model of ultra-distributed production and consumption. Let's look at a few:

Energy: Right now our world is largely run on fossil fuels. That's starting to change, but to a first approximation this is still true. Fossil fuel energy only works at massive scale, with wide distribution systems that can move that fuel from where it is dug up to where it is burned. You can't, as it were, do fossil fuels locally. I don't have a coal seam in my back yard.

I do, however, have a roof. And as pressure to go with green energy mounts, and as technology advances to catch up with the resulting demand, new forms of micro-generation are increasingly available. It's getting cheaper and cheaper to put solar or wind generation up on my roof. All the trends in energy point towards a future based on carbon-neutral energy and increasing requirements that the entire energy system--from individual buildings up to whole cities and regions--be efficient. And that means local.

Food: Walk into your supermarket today and you can probably find apples from New Zealand, mangoes from the Philippines, and strawberries from Mexico. Never mind that those things are either totally out of season for our region, or not endemic to the northwest at all. You can get cheese from France, lobster from Maine, and on and on. The world's menu can be had at the local Safeway.

But that comes at a cost: this is only possible because our food system is run on the back of a worldwide distribution system based on just-in-time inventory practices. It's hugely energy intensive, and exposes us to ridiculous dangers: Chinese melamine tainting, nationwide e-coli recalls, et cetera. On top of that, it's underwritten by the same economic forces that allow Wal*Mart to stock its shelves with cheap crap made overseas.

Take away the artificially low prices (which as last week's post discussed, will happen), and we won't be able to afford food from around the world. At least, not on a regular basis. As luxury items, French cheese and Italian balsamic vinegar will still be available, of course. It'll just cost a lot more. But, people still have to eat, so where's that food going to come from? Somewhere local. Expect a return to local farming and regional cuisine in the future.

Manufacturing: Again, Wal*Mart's low prices are purely a function of the weird global economic forces which have kept the dollar strong against foreign currencies for so long. Those same forces are what has caused companies to outsource manufacturing jobs overseas. It's exactly why China and India are full of low-wage factories that mass produce everything from socks to silverware.

That's all going to come to an end. But people still need socks, and they still need silverware. So if it's too expensive to get it from China, where's all that going to come from? Somewhere local. As the economics change, expect manufacturing jobs to return to the U.S. Locally produced goods for local consumption.

It's all about the local: Yesterday Governor Gregoire announced that she will be unveiling a jobs creation initiative of some kind next week. That's great. We certainly need it. I would encourage her to see the writing on the wall, and make policy decisions that support the inevitable return to a local economy. Decisions that make it easier for small businesses to compete locally, in the same markets as large national and international corporations.

Someday we will have a local economy again, one in which the majority of our consumable goods (food and energy) come from within our region, and where our household goods come from within our national borders. The more ephemeral something is, the more locally it will need to be produced.

People like Governor Gregoire are in a position to help that happen, through smart policy choices that bring us smoothly to that local future. I hope she has the wisdom to do it. The alternative is a jobs initiative that kicks the can down the road by applying short term band-aid solutions that do nothing but prop up existing systems that are now beginning to fail.

You can't fight the future, and the future is local.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Randy Gordon looks set to be the new State Senator from the 41st Legislative District

I wanted to take a quick break from my break tonight to congratulate Randy Gordon on being overwhelmingly selected by the Democratic precinct committee officers of the 41st Legislative District to succeed Fred Jarrett as State Senator. (Jarrett recently resigned to go to work for newly elected King County Executive Dow Constantine, creating a vacancy).

PCOs from Bellevue, Mercer Island, Newcastle, and Renton gathered together earlier this evening for a special meeting of the 41st Democratic organization, chaired by KCDCC Chair Suzie Sheary, to select three names to forward to the King County Council, which must choose one as required by the Washington State Constitution.

Seventy three PCOs (out of ninety five) showed up to participate in the meeting. All cast ballots in the first round, and all but two cast ballots in the final round. Randy Gordon received sixty nine percent of the vote in the first round and seventy six percent in the final round.

Since he was the overwhelming favorite, it is highly likely that the King County Council will choose him for the job.

I first met Randy nearly five years ago when he decided to run for Congress in the 8th Congressional District. Though I ended up supporting Darcy Burner, I was impressed by Randy's resolve and dedication. He is an accomplished activist and a great progressive, and has faithfully served his LD for many years. Here's just a slice of his biography which highlights some of the very excellent work he has done:
Randy has been an activist in matters involving election integrity and campaign reform, serving as lead counsel in the case of Lehto, et al. vs. Snohomish County and Sequoia Election Systems, Inc. seeking to prevent Snohomish County from “outsourcing” our election process to electronic voting machine companies which provide unverifiable vote counting.

He also has represented citizen groups in a successful mandamus action compelling King County to count petition signatures in accordance with controlling state law and in ballot initiative language challenges.

He was active in referendum and initiative campaigns including the recent ratification of the Insurance Fair Conduct Act (R. 67) and the defeat of I-330, seeking to unbalance our civil justice system.
I can think of no one who deseves this honor more than he does. Congratulations, Randy! We look forward to seeing the King County Council officially name you as the next state senator from the 41st.

Representative Cody introduces tobacco legislation

According to the Washington Department of Health:
Forty-five children in Washington start using tobacco every day and one-third of them will eventually die from it.
Those numbers are almost as staggering as 2.6 billion, the number of dollars needed to fill our state budget gap.

Representative Eileen Cody (D – West Seattle), chair of the House Health Care and Wellness committee has a plan to address both problems during the upcoming legislative session. Today, Cody prefiled a bill, House Bill 2493, which would increase Washington’s cigarette tax by one dollar and bring the tax on other tobacco products up to comparable levels. The current state tax on a package of cigarettes is $2.025.

Most of the estimated $88 million raised by the tax would go into the state's general fund. The remaining $19 million would go to a Washington program that prevents kids from starting to use tobacco and helps adults quit. This program, the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program has been extremely effective since its inception in 1990. Unfortunately, its 2009-2011 budget has been halved, one more victim of the state's revenue problem.

Considering that tobacco use causes more deaths nationwide annually than AIDS, alcohol, drug abuse, car crashes, murders, suicides, and fires combined, money spent to prevent kids from starting this deadly habit will save thousands of lives. In 2004, smoking-caused health costs in Washington totaled almost $2 billion. So, not only does reducing smoking saves lives, it saves money too.

When the price of cigarettes goes up, fewer kids can afford to buy them. Tobacco company documents released during the tobacco lawsuits show that cigarette producer Phillip Morris was well aware of this fact:
Phillip Morris: Jeffrey Harris of MIT calculated…that the 1982-83 round of price increases caused two million adults to quit smoking and prevented 600,000 teenagers from starting to smoke…We don’t need to have that happen again.
Representative Cody’s bill deserves serious consideration as a deterrent to creating another generation of smokers, and as a method of raising revenue to support our state's vital services. Every little bit helps.

Pacific Northwest legislators named "Most Valuable"

Whether standing up to disgraced former Senator Ted Stevens who tried to send oil tankers into Puget Sound removing decades old restrictions, or taking on Enron for bilking Washington state consumers, or restoring the Glass-Steagall Act to protect consumers from unscrupulous financial institutions, here at NPI we know that The Nation made a great choice when it named Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) as its Most Valuable Senator of 2009.
She has come into her own, however, as Congress has wrestled with an internecine financial crisis. In October 2008 she was one of a handful of Democrats to oppose Wall Street bailout legislation, which she identified as fiscally unsound and lacking in accountability. "I am not for...turning the keys to the Treasury over to the private sector," said Cantwell. Since then, the senator has doggedly challenged fellow Democrats--in Congress and the Obama administration--to get serious about financial services reform. She has attacked the Treasury Department for defending loopholes favored by Wall Street and declared in November that she was not sure why Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner still had his job. Cantwell condemned House Financial Services Committee "reforms" that failed to crack down on derivatives trading. And she joined Sanders in proposing to use state gambling laws to regulate the $600 trillion derivatives market.
Congratulations to Senator Cantwell for this recognition. We look forward to her continued relentless pursuit of financial services reform, ensuring that the common wealth (and our personal wealth) is guarded from the corporate greed and excess that ran rampant during the Bush Administration and led us to this economic catastrophe.

We'd also like to congratulate Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon's 4th District, who was named Most Valuable Representative by The Nation. While Senator Cantwell has approached the economic debacle from a consumer protection standpoint, Congressman DeFazio has attacked the issue from a jobs and infrastructure perspective, proposing policies that would take money from monied Wall Street interests and invest in our communities.
If Obama is keeping score, he should recognize by now that DeFazio has tended to be more right about real-economy concerns than any of the president's advisers. A key player on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, DeFazio is Congress's most ardent advocate for spending more on job-creating construction projects and less on bank bailouts and distant wars. He was an early proponent of reclaiming TARP funds and using the money to address rising unemployment, an idea that caught on despite the fact that, as DeFazio noted, "the president has an adviser from Wall Street, Larry Summers, and a treasury secretary from Wall Street, Timmy Geithner, who don't like that idea."
Kudos to The Nation for recognizing the quality representation that Congressman DeFazio and Senator Cantwell provide for their constituents in the Pacific Northwest and their service to the nation.

Monday, January 4, 2010

National insecurity

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) may wave the flag and beat his chest, bloviating about patriotism and national security with the zealousness of Dick Cheney, every time something that reeks of terrorism comes onto his radar. But, despite bipartisan support for President Obama's nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Senator DeMint prefers to demagogue labor unions and keep a hold on the nomination of Erroll Southers, rather than keep America safe.

It's well known that American union workers are among the best trained. Sometimes unions fight to increase training standards for workers, sometimes they provide training to the workers on their own, and sometimes it's a combination of both. But rather than have a highly trained workforce at TSA, Senator DeMint would prefer to privatize airport security so that his corporate masters can make a buck at the expense of safe air travel. Without the unions to protect workers (and passengers) the bottom line can be padded at the expense of safety and worker training. And as we've unfortunately seen recently, perhaps better training is exactly what TSA needs. From SEIU International's website:

When it comes to the security sector, better training can go a long way. According to the 9/11 Commission, 85 percent of our nation's critical infrastructure is controlled by private security companies. Security officers are the "first" first responders during catastrophes. Though they provide crucial services, private security contractors aim to keep costs at a minimum and put officers on the job quickly, which can be at the expense of proficient training. Such low standards not only increase security risks, but it also contributes to the high turnover rates of officers that rival the fast food industry at up to 300%.

Through partnerships with employers and legislative efforts, SEIU members have established security officer training and education funds, helped pass laws that increase officer training requirements and won updated equipment standards.

So instead of doing whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of air travelers, Senator DeMint is demonizing labor so that his business buddies can cut their overhead in the name of the Almighty Dollar. Perhaps this should have been another "Meet the Hypocrites" post, since DeMint waves the flag and talks about national security every chance he gets, yet sells out to corporate interests that will make us less safe.

Tough legislative session ahead

One week from today, the Washington legislature will convene for its second recession-year legislative session. They will have just sixty days to solve state problems arising from the turbulent economic year. What can we expect to see from Olympia?

The central order of business will be the arduous task of filling a $2.6 billion budget hole. Will state services like education, health care for the poor and clean water programs get tossed into the hole or will it be filled, at least partially, with new sources of revenue? Based on Governor Gregoire’s supplemental budget proposal, there will be huge cuts to services and programs to the tune of $1.6 billion. This amount is on top of the $3.5 billion in cuts made to public services last year.

According to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown:
We already eliminated waste, froze salaries, made layoffs, transferred funds and made cuts to programs that aren’t considered essential. Now we’re getting down to basic services. And, while last year we could make high-impact cuts by, for example, not funding I-728 for smaller classroom sizes ($600 million) or cutting enrollments at our universities ($557 million), this year we don’t have those kinds of big increments available to us.
The governor plans to introduce a second budget this month that will rescue $700 million in cuts by raising revenue, probably by increasing the state sales tax.

Eliminating tax exemptions is still on the table. Last year, Tim Eyman’s Initiative 960 made canceling non-performing tax breaks politically impossible by requiring a legislative super majority vote to do so. Achieving a super majority would have required a bipartisan effort and Republicans weren’t willing to take a hard look at the impact of these loopholes. This year, I-960 can be modified with only a simple majority of the legislature, giving Democratic lawmakers less of an excuse not to examine tax breaks.

Gregoire’s proposed budget hits education hard. It makes cuts to preschool, kindergarten, and teacher professional development, and it increases class sizes. Education advocates like the Washington State PTA and the League of Education Voters will fight to protect these programs while also looking to the long-term. They will be pressing lawmakers for progress in implementing last session’s landmark education reform bill, HB 2261. Early education for at-risk children was stripped out of the final bill and ed advocates want it back in.

Environmental groups will fight to maintain the state’s commitment to protecting our environment. They will also promote the Safe Baby Bottle Act which would phase out the chemical bisphenol A from many consumer products, including baby bottles. Their Working for Clean Water bill aims “to create jobs by cleaning up polluted waterways.”

Labor will be keeping a close eye on Democrats’ performance on labor issues. After Democrats weaseled out on its top legislative priority last year, the Worker Privacy Act, the Washington State Labor Council made waves when it announced that it is forming a new political action committee in order to have more control over whose legislative campaigns it supports. Dems weak on labor issues can’t count on labor dollars this year.

It looks like the budget will dominate every moment of the session. It’s too bad that advocacy groups will be fighting to maintain the status quo, which is already a painful $3.6 billion reduction in state services from the previous biennium. The newest cuts proposed by the governor will make last year’s painful cuts look generous by comparison.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Idea deficit, tea partiers, and money woes threaten to haunt Republicans in 2010

As anyone who spends any amount of time watching cable television news knows, Republicans have been confidently boasting that 2010 will be the year they erase the Democratic gains that were made in the historic 2006 and 2008 election cycles, which resulted in the Democratic takeover of Congress and the White House.

Top Republicans - from John Boehner to Mitch McConnell to Michael Steele - have all recently claimed that Americans are ready to vote the Graveyard of Progress Party back into power. (Yes, the same party that willfully squandered our moral authority, common wealth, and natural resources for the better part of this decade before they were unceremoniously swept out of office.)

Democrats were handed the gavels in large part because it finally became painfully clear to voters that Republicans simply lacked the ability to govern.

Unfortunately, since taking over, Democrats have largely failed to push through the progressive reforms that our country so desperately needs. Republicans, naturally, are anxious to take advantage of this situation to their benefit.

But despite congressional Democrats' lack of discipline, inability to move with all deliberate speed on issues like the climate crisis, and unwillingness to stand up to powerful corporate interests (name just about any industry) - all of which leads to a demotivated Democratic base - Republicans don't enjoy the high ground.

That's because they're facing a lot of headwinds themselves.

First and foremost, the Republican Party is bankrupt of inspirational leadership and ideas. Take a look at the current Republican rhetoric on terrorism. Congressional Republicans and the RNC are chastising Obama for not using the right wing Bush error phrase war on terror. They're on air basically trashing the President over semantics. He's not using their frame! Oh noes!

Republicans spent pretty much all of 2009 trashing the President and Democrats in Congress without adding anything constructive to the national dialogue. Pick just about any topic. The phrase "The Party of No" is a truly fitting descriptor for the Republicans. They're not interested in bipartisanship, cooperation, or the public interest. In a nutshell, they want to regain power so they can waste time talking about making it unconstitutional to burn flags.

Problem is, that's not very appealing to voters. As lackluster as the Democrats have been, Republicans have offered no evidence that they will be more effective. In fact, they have made it plainly clear from their behavior that they will do a far worse job of legislating if they were to become the majority party.

But Republicans' problems don't end there.

The party's base, which is comprised of a not insigificant number of what I'll call tea partiers (they are also known as teabaggers) is not satisfied with many of the candidates that the Republican establishment has anointed to be their standard bearers. Take Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, who wants to be U.S. Senator. He's facing an intraparty challenge from tea party favorite Marco Rubio, who recently served as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

In California, the tea partiers have lined up behind Chuck DeVore as an alternative to ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who is seeking the Republican nomination to take on Barbara Boxer for U.S. Senate.

In New Hampshire, the right wing is backing Ovide Lamontagne against the Republican establishment's choice, ex-Attorney General Kelly Ayotte. In Virginia's 5th Congressional District, right wingers such as Laura Ingraham are promoting Laurence Verga over the "hand-selected NRCC" candidate Robert Hurt.

Many of these insurgent tea party candidates are getting help from an unlikely source: Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who apparently is not worried about taking flak from Mitch McConnell and Company.

Finally, money woes look like they could be a real problem for the Republicans. Democrats have done such a good job kowtowing to Wall Street so far that major corporations have no real reason to throw Republicans a lifeline. And after seeing their party take beatings in 2006 and 2008, individual Republican members of Congress seem to be in no hurry to share their own funds with new recruits:
The National Republican Congressional Committee, the key cog in helping to finance GOP campaigns, has banked less than a third as much money as its Democratic counterpart and is ending the year with barely enough money to fully finance a single House race -- no less the dozens that will be in play come 2010.

[...]

The fundraising disparity between the two committees is striking: The DCCC outraised the NRCC this year by more than $18 million, according to FEC figures at the end of November. The NRCC has only $4.3 million left in its campaign account — with more than $2 million in debt -- leaving it with just a pittance to fund the dozens of races it hopes to aggressively contest.
Republicans are running out of time to make up ground. Primary elections in many states are just a few months away. If the party establishment wants its hand-selected candidates to be the standard-bearers, its operatives and congressional power brokers will probably be compelled to spend in those races.

By the time the primaries are over, the general election will be pretty close, and it will be time to start plotting the narratives for the nasty, ridiculous, and unfair attack ads against Democrats. All those derogatory campaign commercials and mailers will cost a staggering amount of money, because electioneering has become a fairly expensive for-profit industry.

Republicans have made a lot of noise about Democrats retiring this cycle, but the number of Republicans calling it quits is actually greater on both the House side and the Senate side. That forces Republicans to play more defense.

Republicans will win some battles in the midterms, no question. But the party lacks the muscle to effectively assault the Democratic majority.

Barring some major turn of events, there's really no possibility that Republicans can take back Congress this year. They might even do their opposition a favor by taking out of some of the Bush, er, Blue Dogs that are weighting Democrats down.

WA-03: Looks like Denny Heck is in

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

Two weeks ago we reported that the dennyheckforcongress.com domain had been purchased by Christopher Hedrick, an associate of Denny Heck. At the time, entering the domain into your web browser brought you to one of those typical parked domain screens, like the one you can currently find at dennyheck.com.

Today, dennyheckforcongress.com has a simple message for those awaiting a campaign: "Coming soon." And Beltway insider website Hotline On Call notes that Denny Heck is expected to make his intentions known this week (though Heck himself has violated his own self-imposed deadlines for announcing his intentions at least once already).

So you can likely add another Democrat to the already crowded field (with House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt also reportedly considering the race) of candidates of both parties to replace retiring Congressman Brian Baird.

UPDATE: For supporters of Craig Pridemore and Deb Wallace, their campaign websites are operational (in the sense of being able to contribute to the campaigns). I expect the websites will evolve over the weeks and months ahead.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Banished Words for 2010

Every year since 1971, Michigan's Lake Superior State University has released a thoughtful and humorous "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness." Here is the 2010 (and thirty fifth annual) edition, for your reading enjoyment on this New Year's Day:
SHOVEL-READY - "Apparently, the generally accepted definition of this phrase is to imply that a project has been completely designed and all that is left to do is to implement it...however, when something dies, it, too, is shovel-ready for burial and so I get confused about the meaning. I would suggest that we just say the project is ready to implement.” – Jerry Redington, Keosauqua, Iowa.

"A relatively new term already overused by media and politicians. Bury this term, please." – Pat Batcheller, Southgate, Mich.

"Do I really need a reason? Well, if so how about this: I just saw it in tandem with 'cyber-ready' and nearly choked on my coffee. It's starting the '-ready' jargon. Makes me 'vacation-ready.'" – Karen Hill, Ann Arbor, Mich.

"Stick a shovel in it. It's done." – Joe Grimm, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

TRANSPARENT/TRANSPARENCY - "I can see clearly that this is the new buzzword for the year." -- Joann Eschenburg, Clinton Twp., Mich.

"In the lexicon of the political arena, this word is supposed to mean obvious or easily understood. In reality, political transparency is more invisible than obvious!" -- Deb Larson, Bellaire, Mich.

"I just don't see it." – Joe Grimm, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

CZAR - Long used by the media as a metaphor for positions of high authority, including “baseball czar” Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, appointed by team owners as commissioner-for-life in 1919. U.S. president Woodrow Wilson had an “industry czar” during World War I. Lesser-known “czar” roles in government during the last 100 years include: censorship, housing and oil czars in 1941; rubber czar in 1942; patronage czar (1945); clean-up (1952); missile (1954); inflation (1971); e-commerce (1998); bioethics, faith-based and reading czars (2001); bird flu (2004); democracy (2005); abstinence and birth control czars (2006); and weatherization czar (2008).

George W. Bush appointed 47 people to 35 “czar” jobs; Pres. Obama, eight appointments to 38 positions.

"First it was a 'drug czar' [banished in 1990]. This year gave us a 'car czar.' What's next? A 'banished words czar'?" -- Michael F. Raczko, Swanton, Ohio.

"We have appointed a czar of such-and-such; clearly that's better than a 'leader,' 'coordinator' or 'director'! -- Derek Lawrence, Thunder Bay, Ont.

“The president has been handing these "czar" positions out like party favors.” – Scott Lassiter, Houston, Tex.

TWEET - And all of its variations... tweetaholic, retweet, twitterhea, twitterature, twittersphere...

"People tweet and retweet and I just heard the word 'tweet' so many times it lost all meaning.” – Ricardo, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.

Mikhail Swift of Hillman, Mich. says the tweeting is "pointless…yet has somehow managed to take the nation by storm. I'm tired of hearing about celebrity X's new tweet, and how great of a tweeter he or she is."

"I don't know a single non-celebrity who actually uses it," says Alex Thompson of Sault St. Marie, Mich.

Jay Brazier of Williamston, Mich. says she supposes that tweeters might be "twits."

APP - "Must we b sbjct to yt another abrv? Why does the English language have to fit on a two-inch screen? I hate the sound of it. I think I'll listen to a symph on the rad." -- Edward R. Bolt, Grand Rapids, Mich.

"Is there an 'app' for making this annoying word go away? Why can't we just call them 'programs' again?" – Kuahmel Allah, Los Angeles, Calif.

SEXTING - Sending sexually explicit pictures and text messages through the cell phone.

"Any dangerous new trend that also happens to have a clever mash-up of words, involves teens, and gets television talk show hosts interested must be banished." – Ishmael Daro, Saskatoon, Sask., Canada.

FRIEND AS A VERB - Came into popularity through social networking websites. You add someone to your network by "friending" them, or remove them by "unfriending" them.

"I'm certainly as much of a Facebook addict as the next person, but I'm getting a little weary of 'friending' people and being 'friended' by them. My daughter talks of 'sending friend requests,' which doesn't rankle me as much, so maybe we should all take her lead." – John Wetterholt, Crystal Lake, Ill.

"'Befriend' is much more pleasant to the human ear and a perfectly useful word in the dictionary." – Kevin K., Morris, Okla.

TEACHABLE MOMENT - What might otherwise be known as 'a lesson.'

"It's a condescending substitute for 'opportunity to make a point,'" says Eric Rosenquist of College Station, Tex.

"If everything's a 'teachable moment,' we should all have teaching credentials, including the guy at the bar who likes to fight after one shot too many." – Kuahmel Allah, Los Angeles, Calif.

"This phrase is used to describe everything from potty-training to politics. It's time to vote it out!" – Jodi, Youngstown, Ohio.

IN THESE ECONOMIC TIMES... - Nominations concerning the economy started rolling in as the 2009 list was being put together last year, i.e. "bailout." They kept coming this year, in these trouble economic times. " South Park " warned us about what would happen if we angered The Economy.

"Overused and redundant. Aren't ALL times 'these economic times'?" -- Barb Stutesman, Three Rivers, Mich.

"In this economy, we can't afford to be wasteful…In this economy, we all need some security... In this economy, frogs could start falling from the sky...In this economy, blah blah blah... Overused for everything from trying to market products as inexpensive to simply explaining any and all behavior during the recession." – Mark, Milwaukee, Wisc.

"When someone prefaces a statement with 'in this economic climate,' its starts to sound like a sales pitch, or just an excuse on which to blame every problem. And if a letter or e-mail message from your employer starts with this phrase, usually it means you're not getting a raise this year." – Dominic, Seattle, Wash.

STIMULUS - "Everything in the news is about the stimulus packages...it is no longer a grant, it's stimulus money, stimulus checks, etc. I think it is just being over-used." Teri Heikkila, Rudyard, Mich.

"Overused by companies to advertise a promotion." – David Willis, Houston, Tex.

"What next, can I go down to the local bar and down a few drinks and call it a stimulus package?" – Richard Brown, Portland, Ore.

TOXIC ASSETS - We think we're going to be sick.

"Whatever happened to simply 'bad stocks,' 'debts,' or 'loans'?" -- Monty Heidenreich, Homewood, Ill.

"What a wretched term!" Lee Freedman, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

TOO BIG TO FAIL - "Just for the record, nothing's too big to fail unless the government lets it." Claire Shefchik, Brooklyn, NY.

"Does such a thing exist? We'll never know if a company is too big to fail, unless somehow it does fail, and then it will no longer be too big to fail. Make it stop!" – Holli, Raleigh, NC.

BROMANCE - "Have we really reached the point where being friends has to be described in a pseudo-romantic context? Just stop it already!" -- Greg Zagorski, Washington, D.C.

"I am sick of combined words the media creates to make them sound catchier. Frenemies? Bromances? Blogorrhea? I'm going to scream!" – Kaylynn, Alberta, Canada.

CHILLAXIN' - Nominated for several years. We couldn't chill about it anymore.

"Heard everywhere from MTV to ESPN to CNN. A bothersome term that seeks to combine chillin' with relaxin' makes me want to be 'axin' this word." – Tammy, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

"A made-up word used by annoying Gen-Yers." – Chris Jensen, Fond du Lac, Wisc.

"Horrifying overuse, even in face-to-face conversation… It should receive bonus points for its ability to exhort the opposite reaction from the receiver." – Bret Bledsoe, Cincinnati, Ohio.

OBAMA-prefix or roots? - The LSSU Word Banishment Committee held out hope that folks would want to Obama-ban Obama-structions, but were surprised that no one Obama-nominated any, such as these compiled by the Oxford Dictionary in 2009: Obamanomics, Obamanation, Obamafication, Obamacare, Obamalicious, Obamaland... We say Obamanough already.
Lists for previous years are available on Lake Superior's site.

We'd complete the list above by adding a couple more obnoxious phrases that we'd like to see banished for misuse and general uselessness:
OUR MENU HAS CHANGED - Frequently heard when calling many offices and technical support departments, immediately after the words Please listen carefully as... . Do the folks who set these things up really think customers have taken the trouble to memorize their phone trees?

RISK-FREE TRIAL - An oxymoron if there ever was one. All trials have risks. That's why they are trials and not sure things. For example, there's the risk a person could forget about canceling her risk-free trial, and end up getting charged because she's already given up her credit card number to test a product or service.
One more comment about the list: The LSSU's Banished Words Committee has historically been a bit too overzealous about banishing Internet-related terminology. They banished "online" in 1996 and "blog" in 2005, for instance, but there really aren't any adequate or memorable substitutes for those words.

In any case, overuse has declined as those words have become more firmly established over the years in the lexicon. They should be reinstated.

In fact, LSSU happens to have its own blog (which is infrequently updated). Their site map also contains the following:
Online Learning
Online Learning Assistance
If LSSU's using the word online, it must be safe for the rest of us to use as well. For irony that's less dated, check out LSSU's Twitter account:
Lake Superior State...now tweeting! Watch for Admissions Info, scholarship updates, and what's going on around campus. We take ?s too:)

7:34 AM Apr 16th, 2009 from web
Hm. That's the first tweet.

Looks like LSSU is again guilty of using their own banished words. There wasn't really any point in banishing tweet. It may be an annoying word to many people, but what will we replace it with? Micropost? Status update?

Tweet at least has the benefit of being specific.

The rest of the list is pretty solid, although we would have placed transparency on a one year moratorium rather than banishing it outright.

Happy New Year! :)

Happy New Year: Welcome 2010!

Well, it's official: With the arrival of 2010, we are finally just one year away from closing the books on this decade, which in many ways will probably be judged as rotten from start to finish. (That is, unless some truly great things happen this year, but I'm not holding out much hope for that).

The media has been acting like 2010 is the beginning of a new decade. It's not. It's just a nice, round number. If the calendar we follow was different, 2010 would be the beginning of a new decade, but it turns out the people who originally put together our calendar did not include a Year Zero. That means the ancient calendar went from the year 1 B.C. to 1 A.D.

The reason for this is the present system we use for counting wasn't invented until well after the time of Jesus. Prior to that, Roman numerals were used, and they don't include an integer for zero. So that's why there isn't any year zero.

(B.C., for those who did not pay attention in history class, stands for Before Christ; an E can also be added on the end of the acronym so it stands for Before Common Era. A.D. stands for Anno Domini, or, In the Year of Our Lord).

Consequently, since there was no Year Zero, every A.D. year ending in "1" is equivalent to "0". That means we have three hundred and sixty days to go before we leave the decade of the Bush error behind us. And yes, the absence of the Year Zero also means we celebrated the arrival of the third millennium one year early.

In retrospect, it's just as well since we frightened ourselves silly with "Y2K". As comedian Lewis Black (a favorite of many at NPI) joked back in 2000:
It was the worst New Year's ever. Ever!

We scared ourselves so badly... Seven year-olds, locked in a closet, by themselves, don't have the paranoid fantasies we came up with!

Don't go out! Don't go out! We don't know what's going to happen. We don't know! There could be giant ticks everywhere. We don't know!

Most Americans were so scared that they actually stayed home... and watched people in other countries have fun on television. By nine o'clock we knew this was nonsense. Nine in the morning we knew there was no "Y2K". I'm sitting there, I'm watching these people in Afghanistan - they don't have two sticks to rub together - they're having more fun than I'm going to have all year!
Because North America lies within the Western Hemisphere, we are among the last in the world to celebrate the New Year. Australia and New Zealand, for instance, entered 2010 more than eighteen hours ago.

In Sydney, it's currently mid-evening on a warm summer New Year's Day, and in Auckland, it's about a half hour or so past sundown.

The Left Coast does, however, get to ring in the new year ahead of Alaska and Hawaii. It's just after ten in Honolulu and just after eleven in Anchorage.

That's it for this first post of 2010. Happy New Year! Here's to the noble but unachieved goal of lasting peace and prosperity throughout the world.