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

Spring Fundraising Gala 2010 LogoBuy tickets to our 2010 Spring Fundraising Gala on Wednesday, June 9th, featuring John de Graaf, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Suzan DelBene, State Representative Hans Dunshee, and Seattle Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton. Learn more about the event...

Monday, May 31, 2010

Deeptrouble, May 31st, 2010: Relief well drilling said to be ahead of schedule

Welcome to the second installment of Deeptrouble, an NPI Advocate special series intended to visually chronicle the immense devastation wrought on the Gulf Coast by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Gooey petroleum washes ashore in East BayToday's photo is another taken by Jeffrey Dubinsky for Gulf Restoration Network from aboard an aircraft flying over Lousiana's Redfish Bay last Thursday. (Click on the thumbnail to see a full size version of the image).

Here's a brief recap of what happened in the Gulf the past twenty four hours.

The White House announced this afternoon that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is in the middle of his eighth trip to the Gulf Coast, supposedly to oversee BP's disaster response operations, but also to show solidarity with the federal scientists feverishly working to measure the scope of the disaster and contain the oil.

Meanwhile, Transocean's Development Driller III rig is working on the first of two relief wells, at a depth of more than twelve thousand feet. Drilling progress is said to be around ten days ahead of schedule. Another Transocean rig, the Development Driller II, is working on a second relief well.

The progress of the relief well drilling is important because it's the only proven way to stop an underwater oil gusher. Unfortunately, it could be weeks, possibly months, before the relief wells become operational.

Favorable weather conditions also permitted another controlled burn today. That means there's less oil in the ocean, but more global warming pollution in the atmosphere. It's too bad we can't harness that release of energy.

Since today is a Monday (and normally the beginning of the working week) we'll end this installment of Deeptrouble by listing the latest numbers on the disaster as provided by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center:
  • More than 20,000 personnel are currently responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife and cleanup vital coastlines.
  • More than 1,700 vessels are responding on site, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels to assist in containment and cleanup efforts—in addition to dozens of aircraft, remotely operated vehicles, and multiple mobile offshore drilling units.
  • Approximately 1.95 million feet of containment boom and 1.85 million feet of sorbent boom have been deployed to contain the spill.
  • Approximately 13.5 million gallons of an oil-water mix have been recovered.
  • Approximately 950,000 gallons of total dispersant have been deployed—740,000 on the surface and 210,000 subsea.
Missing from that list of numbers is the rate at which oil is gushing upwards from beneath the seafloor, because that figure is disputed.

Who's really in charge of the response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster?

In remarks to our nation's traditional press corps last week, delivered in the East Room of the White House, President Obama declared unequivocally that his administration is in charge of the response to the Deepwater Horizon mess:
The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort. As far as I’m concerned, BP is responsible for this horrific disaster, and we will hold them fully accountable on behalf of the United States as well as the people and communities victimized by this tragedy. We will demand that they pay every dime they owe for the damage they’ve done and the painful losses that they’ve caused. And we will continue to take full advantage of the unique technology and expertise they have to help stop this leak.
If he's right, then why does the government show all the backbone of a mall security guard when trying to rein in the shifty behavior of BP?

For example, over two weeks ago the Environmental Protection Agency said that it had no power to force BP to use a specific chemical dispersant to break up the oil globules. That doesn’t sound like taking charge. A week later the EPA changed gears, announcing that it had given BP a directive to stop spreading the chemical dispersant Corexit, 750,000 gallons of which have already been released into the Gulf, and to identify a less toxic product.

BP answered this demand with a flimsy response: there isn’t a less toxic product available in such large quantities, and it kept right on spraying Corexit. At least one dispersant manufacturer counters their claim, saying that its product, Dispersit, is available. Dispersit is rated by the EPA as being twice as effective and one-third as toxic as Corexit, but Dispersit isn’t manufactured by chums of BP:
Members of Congress suggested this week that BP chose Corexit because of links between the oil industry and the manufacturer, Nalco Holding. Nalco has a former BP executive on its board.
Not willing to let BP run total roughshod over it, last Tuesday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson declared that her agency would launch its own investigation into alternative dispersants and told BP to scale back its use of Corexit.

If BP won’t fulfill an EPA directive, then the EPA will just have to do the work for it.

British Petroleum displays an unbridled arrogance that is probably the result of years of experience in getting what it wants from the government. The Obama administration should pull off the kid gloves and show Americans that it is working for them and not working to keep BP happy.

Join veterans everywhere in honoring those killed in action on Memorial Day

I've previously recounted in posts here on The Advocate, how, during my campaign for Seattle City Council, I had individuals inform me that they would never vote for me because I was a veteran. I had people tell me that they didn't believe I was strong enough to represent them because I had not refused to deploy to Iraq.

Well, people are entitled to their opinions, and I would never hold anything against someone for speaking their mind openly.

What did hurt was the idea of the friends I lost in Iraq hearing those words.

One can never speak to the motivations of another person no matter how well you know them, but I can write about the soldiers I knew.

There was nothing cold or savage about the way they played spades at night, no cruelty in their voice as they lamented how much they missed being able to kick back and enjoy themselves. Readers, if you were there, you would've seen genuine kindness in a face burned red by the sun and rubbed raw by the sand as he handed a young Iraqi kid a bottle of his own water ration. And, on cold nights when there was no one around for miles but your unit, you'd hear him talk about his family and the pain in his voice would tell you just how much his country meant to him.

Did my friends die senseless deaths participating in a senseless occupation?

Smarter men than me have and will continue to debate that, just like they continue to do for every conflict that has ever been fought. But I do have one humble request to make this Memorial Day, and that is... please, on this one day, regardless of your politics or views on violence, please try to see things through their eyes.

Would they say now — if they could — that the war is senseless? Who knows. I doubt they would say that using their own body to shield another's was senseless. Or that the love for the flag they proudly wore on their arm or for their fellow soldiers was senseless. These men and women knew just how much that they and their families would sacrifice for their country, and it meant something to them. Put yourself in their shoes and let it mean something to you!
I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.

I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the
United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.
- U.S. Army Soldier's Creed

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Deeptrouble, May 30th, 2010: No end in sight as colossal ecological disaster gets worse

Welcome to the first installment of Deeptrouble, a new NPI Advocate special series intended to visually chronicle the immense devastation wrought on the Gulf Coast by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

As readers know, it's now been more than a month since this colossal ecological catastrophe began, and there is still in no end in sight.

The purpose of this series is to help keep this tragedy fresh in our minds, and in our civic consciousness, as the days stretch on and the disaster gets worse. For those of us here in the Pacific Northwest, living thousands of miles away from the Gulf, it's hard to fully comprehend the scope of the calamity through words alone.

That's why, starting today, we will be bringing you a new image of the spill every day, along with a quick review of the latest developments, until the gusher that is polluting our ocean has been stopped.

Gooey petroleum washes ashore in Redfish BayToday's photo was taken by Jeffrey Dubinsky for Gulf Restoration Network from aboard an aircraft flying over Lousiana's Redfish Bay last Thursday. (Click on the thumbnail to see a full size version of the image).

So far, repeated attempts to shut off the flow of oil from the seafloor using a variety of different ideas have all resulted in failure, which means that millions of liters of gooey petroleum continue to rise to the surface every day. And that gooey petroleum is leaving a horrible mess when it washes ashore. Just looking at it is disgusting.

In a statement released by the White House last night, President Obama disclosed that the administration has authorized Baleful Petroleum to move forward with the latest scheme for stopping the gusher: cutting the riser pipe and fitting a containment structure over the leak.

"This approach is not without risk and has never been attempted before at this depth," the President observed. "That is why it was not activated until other methods had been exhausted. It will be difficult and will take several days."

"It is also important to note that while we were hopeful that the top kill would succeed, we were also mindful that there was a significant chance it would not. And we will continue to pursue any and all responsible means of stopping this leak until the completion of the two relief wells currently being drilled."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

U.S. House votes to authorize eventual repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy

Good news from our nation's capital tonight: By a vote of 234 to 194, the House of Representatives has voted to move ahead with the repeal of the congressionally-mandated "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which sanctions discrimination against our men and women in uniform based on sexual orientation.

The vote took the form of an amendment offered by Patrick Murphy to a defense appropriations bill (H.R. 5136) and would permit the Department of Defense to abolish its discriminatory practices before the end of this year.

The Pacific Northwest's House delegation was split strictly along party lines. Voting aye for equality were the region's eleven Democratic representatives: Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Brian Baird, Adam Smith, Norm Dicks, Jim McDermott, David Wu, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader, and Walt Minnick.

Voting nay were the region's seven Republicans homophobes from the Graveyard of Progress: Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert, Greg Walden, Mike Simpson, Denny Rehberg, and Don Young.

Five Republicans from other states did break ranks to join the two hundred and twenty nine Democrats voting aye on the amendment. Unfortunately, twenty six Democrats, most of them Bush Dogs (er, Blue Dogs) joined the rest of the Republicans in voting against equality in the armed services.

Authorization to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" also moved forward in the Senate, with the Armed Services Committee voting 16-12 on a similar amendment. Except for Mark Begich (who voted aye), no Pacific Northwest senators serve on the Armed Services Committee. Susan Collins of Maine voted aye with the Democrats on the amendment; James Webb of Virginia voted nay with the Republicans.

President Obama congratulated both houses of Congress in a statement.

"I have long advocated that we repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, and I am pleased that both the House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee took important bipartisan steps toward repeal tonight," the President said.

"Key to successful repeal will be the ongoing Defense Department review, and as such I am grateful that the amendments offered by Representative Patrick Murphy and Senators Joseph Lieberman and Carl Levin that passed today will ensure that the Department of Defense can complete that comprehensive review that will allow our military and their families the opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process."

"Our military is made up of the best and bravest men and women in our nation, and my greatest honor is leading them as Commander-in-Chief. This legislation will help make our Armed Forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity," the President concluded.

Suzan DelBene, who is challenging Dave Reichert in Washington's 8th, has already registered her disappointment with her opponent's vote against equality on Twitter, and is likely to issue a longer statement tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NPI's 2010 Spring Fundraising Gala is just two weeks away... Buy tickets today!

Progressives know that they have to make investments in media. What they tend not to know is that they have to make investments in framing and in language. The big advantage we have is this: Whereas it took more than thirty years, billions of dollars, and forty-three institutes for conservatives to reframe public debate so the debate occurs on their turf, we have the advantage of having science on our side. Through cognitive science and through linguistics, we know how they did it. And we know how we can do the equivalent for progressives in a much shorter time and with many fewer resources.

- George Lakoff, Don't Think of An Elephant
For far too long, progressives have been debating America's challenges with conservatives on the right wing's turf, because we lack the ideas and frames we need to clearly articulate our values.

No one has diagnosed the difficulties we face more accurately than George Lakoff, who has written several books about the political mind.

Acquiring an appreciation for cognitive science by reading Lakoff's works is one thing. As anyone who has tried knows, it is much, much harder to actually put the lessons those works contain into practice.

That's because reframing simply isn't easy: it's an art that takes patience and persistence to master. But it is critically important. To think proactively, we have to know what our values, principles, and policy directions are, and we have to be able to explain our vision concisely and quickly to biconceptuals (people who use both the conservative and progressive moral systems in different areas of their politics). It's not enough merely to understand what we are fighting against.

To master the art of reframing, we progressives have to build centers of political thought, to hone ideas, refine frames, and train activists. NPI is such a center; one of the very few that our movement has. Unlike most think tanks, however, NPI started out with nothing: no angel investors, no office building, no assets of any kind. NPI itself was an idea. Now it's something more: it's a Swiss Army knife for the progressive movement in the Pacific Northwest.

Considering that we started with no resources, what we've built at NPI to date is pretty amazing. But it's only the beginning. With your support, we can expand the scope of our work and become much stronger.

That's why, in exactly two weeks, we're holding our second Spring Fundraising Gala.

We want to not only give you an opportunity to support us, we want you to have a good time. That's why we're putting on a gala instead of doing a fundraising drive. That would simpler and easier to organize, but let's face it, it's not as much fun. This event is your chance to come and enjoy some great food, network with fellow progressives, learn about what we're doing firsthand, and hear speakers like John de Graaf, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Suzan DelBene, Gael Tarleton, and State Representative Hans Dunshee (the architect of the Jobs Act of 2010).

We strongly encourage you to secure your tickets for the gala now... space at this event will be limited and we can't guarantee last-minute availability.

There are two rates available: Individual ($45) and Household ($75).

The latter is easily the better value for any family. The household rate was rather popular at our first gala, and we're happy to be able to offer it again.

Use this button to buy a ticket at the individual rate:


Or, use this button to buy a ticket at the household rate:


We hope to have the pleasure of seeing you on June 9th!

We had it coming

When I bought my first brand new car, I bought a stick shift. Why? Because I learned to drive on a stick, and I enjoyed it. Shifting gears is more fun. More interactive. Pushing the engine's power curve to maximize that feeling of acceleration was fun. On some level I knew it was dangerous, but I did it anyway.

It wasn't until I spun out while merging onto a wet freeway and bounced off a Volvo that I changed my behavior. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

These days I drive an automatic, I don't try to pretend I'm Mario Andretti, and I'm a much safer driver.

By my reckoning, it has been about thirty years since worries over global warming started to enter the scientific mainstream. I remember articles in Science Magazine on carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect as far back in the early '80s. We've had three decades now where we've known that, collectively, burning up fossil fuels is dangerous.

Three decades of driving too fast, pushing the curve of energy use to maximize that feeling of economic development. Dangerous, but fun.

And now we have untold millions of gallons of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, and no solid plan for stopping it. There's a Twitter account that has gained 44000 followers in about a week that does nothing but put out snarky, satirical statements posing as BP's global public relations arm. Greenpeace has a competition going on Flickr for re-designs of the BP logo. Everywhere you turn, people are concocting new meanings for BP's acronym: "bad people," "big poison," "big pollution," "burning planet," "boycott petroleum."

(For the record, BP started life as "British Petroleum," but a few years back undertook a branding exercise and greenwashed themselves into "Beyond Petroleum." Nice one, guys!)

I understand people's anger. BP hasn't exactly come out blazing to Do The Right Thing here. The Gulf will never be the same again. The economic damage wrought by this utter disaster could well push us into a second recession. Talk about kicking us when we're down.

But I can't say we didn't have it coming. Yes, this leak is BP's fault. And TransOcean's, and Halliburton's. (Halliburton: the company that just keeps on giving!) But it's also the fault of every member of Congress or Parliament who let the politics of the day override long term concerns for the future. It's the fault of every voter who let themselves be distracted away from the big picture by comparatively trivial wedge issues. It's the fault of every one of us who hasn't stood up to demand better. To demand energy that won't destroy the planet.

I needed a wakeup call--a loud and ugly one--to change how I drive. We--the big "we", humanity--needed a wakeup call to refocus us on the big picture. The long term. On what matters. I only hope the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico is loud enough and ugly enough to finally change the world's attitude to oil. I hope so. At least then some good can come out of this horror.

How ironic: should that come to pass, BP will have lived up to its branding exercise and finally done something to push us once and for all beyond petroleum.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Heckuva job" redux: Deepwater Horizon mess reveals more corruption from Bush error

Why should any of us be surprised by the actions of Bush administration officials anymore? Perhaps it's because we grew accustomed to eight years of cronyism and cozy, usually unethical, relationships between administration officials and businesses that were regulated by federal agencies.

And as inept as Bush, Cheney, Brownie and company were in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, wouldn't you know that they would figure in screwing the Gulf Coast one more time? Besides being an environmental disaster, the Deepwater Horizon mess is adding to the legacy of disaster and ineptitude that is the Bush administration.

Kathleen recently noted that U.S. regulators were at fault for allowing the industry to make decisions for them. But that's not all they were doing. According to a new report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Interior, it has now come to light that not only were federal regulators shirking their decision-making authority, they were being bought off by the oil industry.
E-mails for MMS inspectors from the Lake Charles office revealed that in 2005, 2006, and 2007, various offshore companies invited MMS personnel to events such as skeet-shooting contests, hunting and fishing trips, golf tournaments, crawfish boils, and Christmas parties. Some e-mails confirmed that MMS inspectors attended these events.

In an e-mail dated January 3, 2006, to other MMS employees, the former MMS inspector at the Lake Charles office stated, "The 40 to 3 ass whipping LSU put on Miami was a lot more impressive in person. My daughter and I had a blast". The next day, the inspector sent another e-mail attaching pictures, including the plane on which he, and an oil and gas production company official, and others flew to Atlanta for the 2005 Peach Bowl game.
What's a government regulator to do when the Bayou Bengals and the U are playing in the Peach Bowl? "Geaux Tigers" isn't exactly what comes to mind.
He explained that he was a “big LSU fan,” and he could not refuse the tickets.
For obvious reasons, including the quote from the regulator above, we're big fans of government serving as a watchdog against corporate fat cats whose only allegiance is to shareholders. As shareholders in our common wealth, we expect government regulators to serve us, the people, and not corporate masters. In this matter, the Bush administration failed us.

With the investigation complete, it's long past time for anyone still working for the Minerals Management Service who took part in these activities to be fired. And then it's time for indictments to be issued. Not only should BP be held accountable for its part in this disaster, but the regulators who turned a blind eye to the industry's operations and accepted these bribes should also be held responsible.

The full text of the Inspector General's report can be found here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Washington should take another look at charter schools

In competing for federal Race to the Top education dollars this year, Washington made significant changes to its public school system but it left one thing unchanged. It held fast to its ban on charter schools.

Through state referendums and initiatives, Washington voters have repeatedly told lawmakers that they don't want charter schools. NPI has shared this view; we endorsed the Reject Referendum 55 campaign in 2004. but we certainly believe that they are not the panacea that their supporters say they are.

So what is a charter school? Charters are an unusual type of public school. They operate without many of the regulations that usually apply to public schools, giving them the freedom to innovate, yet they are held accountable to their state or school board for high results. If they don’t perform adequately they can have their charters revoked, and parents have the choice of whether or not to send their children there.

The Obama administration is emphasizing charter schools in its vision to improve America’s education system. Last summer, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters that:
States that do not have public charter laws or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools will jeopardize their applications under the Race to the Top Fund. To be clear, this administration is not looking to open unregulated and unaccountable schools. We want real autonomy for charters combined with a rigorous authorization process and high performance standards.
Delaware and Tennessee were the only two states to win the first round of RTTT. Both states allow charter schools. In fact, Tennessee reconvened its legislature this year to remove its cap on the number of charter schools it allows.

Looking at the short term picture, one reason to support charters is their financial benefit; Washington could bring in $250 million for K-12 education if it qualifies to win RTTT. To put that in perspective, Washington cut $120 million in state funding from K-12 education for the 2010 – 2011 school year. A grant of $250 million could fill our education budget hole for a couple of years, sparing a lot of pain in our school districts.

In addition, Race to the Top is the first, but is probably not the last time charters will be considered when the Obama administration doles out federal education funds. As a presidential candidate, Obama touted the strengths of charter schools, and as his administration continues to roll out its education plan and reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind), states without charters will be at a disadvantage.

If we look at what charters could do for Washington in the long term, the research is mixed. We see that in some places charter schools are doing fine work turning around the lives of America’s most troubled students. Charter schools like the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy and California’s Making Waves are sending 90% or more of their disadvantaged students on to college. Getting higher education is a sure-fire way to break the cycle of poverty.

In a recent Harvard-MIT study of Boston-area students, charter school students outperformed their peers who lost the charter school entry lottery and remained in regular public schools:
At both the middle- and high-school levels, students who'd won the charter lottery subsequently scored impressive gains, both in math and English skills, compared with students who'd lost and remained in the regular public schools.
But other research draws more subdued conclusions. According to a recent RAND Corporation study, on average, charter school students perform about the same to slightly better than traditional school students. As Brookings Institute scholar Ben Wildavsky writes, “Charter schools have been highly uneven in quality." He also adds, “In a number of high-profile cases, they have done a lot of good.”

Charter schools probably won't be a central solution to raising America’ mediocre test scores, but it is fair to recognize their frequent success at helping the most disadvantaged children succeed. Washington should put aside its suspicion of charters and test the waters by supporting a limited number of highly accountable nonprofit charter schools to serve disadvantaged kids. Providing charters would both improve Washington’s standing with the Obama administration and offer families school choice. And if they don’t perform, both parents and the state could always opt out or pull the plug.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thoughts on the future of Mozilla Firefox

Has Mozilla Firefox lost its momentum?

Lately, that's a question I've seen posed (and answered) by an increasing number of tech writers, who wonder if the world's most popular alternative to Internet Explorer has possibly reached its zenith. Many of these posts have been inspired by a discussion at an Internet gated community called Quora, which bills itself as "a continually improving collection of questions and answers". The Quora discussion began with the question, Will Firefox have double-digit market share in 3 to 5 years?

Not surprisingly, John Lilly (Mozilla's CEO) said yes, but developer (and current Facebook employee) Blake Ross — who cofounded the Firefox project while at Mozilla with Dave Hyatt — said no. He wrote, "I think the Mozilla Organization has gradually reverted back to its old ways of being too timid, passive and consensus-driven to release breakthrough products quickly."

In one sense, he's right: the wheels do seem to turn slowly at Mozilla, as far as development on the main products goes, which has resulted in long waits for new releases of the Foundation's flagship products, Firefox and Thunderbird. But, as far as I can tell, that seems to be the way it's always been.

As Ross knows, the program that became known as Mozilla Firefox wasn't written from scratch overnight. It evolved from the Mozilla Application Suite (which, incidentally, is still maintained today as SeaMonkey by the Mozilla community). The browser's first stable release was on September 23rd, 2003, but it wasn't until mid-2004 that the browser started to pick up steam. (That was about the time when I discovered Firefox and began using it.)

It took another two years for Firefox to crack ten percent of browser market share (according to Net Applications). These days, Firefox's market share is closing in on the twenty five percent mark, which is pretty impressive.

I mention this because I think it's important to recognize that Firefox's relative growth has been slow and steady, just like the pace of innovation at Mozilla.

Mozilla has made some solid improvements to Firefox over the years, introducing features I now take for granted, like automated crash recovery, instant personalization, and the ability to reopen accidentally closed tabs.

While I truly believe such features have made Firefox more dependable and helpful, as a power user, I'd like to see development focus heavily on two priorities: performance and speed. I put Firefox through a lot: when I'm researching several things at once (as is often the case) I often have more than a hundred tabs open. What's more, I've got close to a dozen add-ons enabled to protect my privacy and security, and backup my data.

So I can't blame Firefox for consuming a large amount of memory. Nor can I blame the browser for ocassionally hanging and freezing; that's what happens when you test the limits of an application. No other browser out there can do for me what Mozilla Firefox does. No other browser offers as many extensions. All the same, it would save me time if Firefox could carry a heavy load more adeptly.

Fortunately, the fine folks over at Mozilla seem to have realized the direction they need to be heading. Case in point: Coming in a future automatic update to Firefox 3.6 is functionality that stops Adobe Flash, Apple QuickTime, or Microsoft Silverlight from taking down the whole browser in the event one of those plugins happens to crash. Instead of having Firefox conk out on them, users will see a friendly notifcation prompting them to restart the plugin by simply reloading the page.

And Mozilla's Mike Beltzner has outlined a vision for the next version of Firefox which sounds pretty sweet. Earlier this month, he wrote:
Today, I presented an early product plan for Firefox 4 to the Mozilla community (live, over the web!) to share our vision for the next version of Firefox, and what projects are underway to realize it. Then I invited everyone to get involved by joining our engineering or product development efforts.

The primary goals for Firefox 4 will be making a browser:
  • Fast: making Firefox super-duper fast
  • Powerful: enabling new open, standard Web technologies (HTML5 and beyond!),
  • Empowering: putting users in full control of their browser, data, and Web experience.
Beltzner's presentation has convinced me that the answer to the question, Has Mozilla Firefox lost its momentum? is a big no. I believe Mozilla is making the proper adjustments to its road map to keep up with the demands of users like me.

I know there are people out there who swear that Chrome is the best browser around, but I don't agree. My biggest problem with Chrome is that Google distributes it, and I don't trust Google. I don't like that they invade the privacy of their users without their consent (remember the Buzz catastrophe?)

The code that Google Chrome is based on (Chromium) happens to be open source, however, so it is possible to install a non-Google version of Chrome on one's computer which lacks all of the proprietary spyware Google slaps on to its distribution. And I've done that, testing out a Chromium build called ChromePlus, which doesn't appear to me to be any faster than Firefox.

As I noted earlier, what I love most about Firefox is that I can lock it down. I can selectively control which websites get to execute JavaScript, place cookies on my machine, or make requests to external domains for content. I can effectively and thoroughly block "web bugs" and beacons, and stop plugins from running amok.

And I can securely back up my browsing history and bookmarks using a killer add-on called Weave, developed by Mozilla itself. Weave is one of the many projects in development at Mozilla Labs, the Foundation's innovation playground.

I think the fact that Mozilla has a Labs is proof that it has not turned into slow, passive organization as Blake Ross suggests. I was one of the first users of Weave, and in just a few months, it has improved by leaps and bounds. It is a must-have extension. What it does is encrypt your bookmarks, browsing history, passwords, preferences, and tabs, then continuously synchronize them between all of your different instances of Firefox.

Let's say you're using Firefox on Ubuntu at a cafe while waiting for a friend to show up for coffee. You stumble across a web page you really like but you don't have time to read it. So you bookmark it. When you come home, you turn on your desktop monitor and unlock Windows. You maxmize Firefox from the taskbar, open the Bookmarks menu, and voila... there's that web page you saved earlier! The bookmark you created in Firefox on your laptop now exists in Firefox on your desktop too, because you have Weave in each of your Firefox installations.

Weave is basically to bookmarks what IMAP is to email. It is so stable now that it is no longer considered to be experimental. Consequently, it is scheduled to be rebranded soon as Firefox Sync. It looks like it is on its way to possibly being incorporated into the browser's core code like Personas was.

As long as Mozilla keeps pushing forward, I don't see Firefox's market share being siphoned off by Chrome (or another browser). Chrome's growth to date has not hurt Firefox. For every Firefox user who has switched to Chrome (it seems almost every Chrome convert has an ancedote about coming from Firefox), there is an Internet Explorer user who has switched to Firefox.

In other words, the growth of both Firefox and Chrome is happening at IE's expense. The numbers support this. Two years ago, IE had 76% market share, according to Net Applications. Now it's dropped to 59.79%.

In the same time period, Firefox has gone from 19.07% to 24.63%, while Chrome has gone from 0.37% to 6.79%.

Microsoft is working on a new version of Internet Explorer which is supposed to be better in almost every respect (especially in its support of web standards). But IE 9 won't be available for Windows XP users, much like IE 7 was not available to users of Windows 2000. So that leaves Mozilla with an oppotunity to continue poaching IE's market share. It will be able to offer a better browser because IE has no future on Windows XP; it's already as good as it's going to get.

I think the success Firefox has achieved to date is perhaps the best evidence that it is headed up, not down. There are a lot of people who care about making this software better, and I'm one of them. As long as Firefox has users who care about its future, it will most assuredly have a future.

FCC gives Verizon the all-clear to exit Washington State, transfer lines to Frontier

A month after Washington's Utilities & Transportation Commission signed off on Verizon's plan to sell its Washington landlines to a small rural telecom provider, the Federal Communications Commission has followed suit (PDF):
Today, the Federal Communications Commission approved the transfer of 4.8 million lines in primarily rural and smaller-city areas to Frontier Communications Corp. from Verizon Communications Inc. This transaction -- which includes significant deployment commitments from Frontier -- will help advance the goals of the National Broadband Plan by bringing broadband to millions of consumers, small businesses, and anchor institutions in 14 states across the West, Midwest, and South.

The Commission issued the Order after carefully reviewing the record, requesting extensive additional data from the applicants, and accepting substantial commitments offered by Frontier and Verizon to mitigate potential harms and ensure public interest benefits.
For those who can't read between the lines (bureaucratese can be a bit confusing), here's a translation of the announcement in plain English:
Today, the Federal Communications Commission once again rubber stamped a tax-exempt, unjustifiable megadeal between a big telecommunications company (Verizon), which selfishly wants to concentrate on providing service to denser, wealthier neighborhoods and a smaller communications company (Frontier) eager to triple in size overnight by buying the bigger company's assets in fourteen states. This transaction — which was cooked up more than a year ago — is being allowed to proceed because we at the FCC are easily persuaded to believe that for-profit companies will put the public interest first if we let them do what they want.

(Also, we simply don't know how to say NO.)

The Commission issued the Order after carefully reviewing what Verizon and Frontier's executives had to say, requesting a lot of documents so we could say we did our homework, and allowing the applicants to proceed after getting them to agree to a set of wimpy conditions which we hope will prevent affected customers from being screwed.
In all seriousness, that rewritten excerpt is a more honest summary of what's going on. The FCC represented the last hurdle for Verizon and Frontier's transaction, which has already been approved at the state level by all the regulatory agencies with jurisdiction. The deal is expected to close this coming July 1st.

Verizon and Frontier Territories in the Pacific Northwest
Washingtonians, Oregonians, and Idahoans who currently receive service from Verizon will soon find themselves dealing with a different company. The majority of Frontier's new customers in the Pacific Northwest are telephone and DSL subscribers, but there are a significant minority who are FiOS subscribers.

Comcast has been trying to capitalize on potential confusion created by the deal by running ads in local newspapers proclaiming that "Verizon FiOS is Leaving Washington". (Similar ads are being placed in Oregon newspapers).

Technically, that's true, but Frontier isn't going to come in and pull the plug on its new FiOS customers; that would make no sense. Homes and businesses that already have FiOS probably don't have much to worry about. Those who should be really unhappy with this deal are the folks who don't have FTTP (fiber to the premises), because it's unlikely that Frontier will have the resources to bring FiOS service to additional neighborhoods in the Pacific Northwest. They're going into debt in order to pay Verizon for all those landlines.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

U.S. Senate passes Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

By a vote of fifty nine to thirty nine, the United States Senate this evening passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009, which is supposed to make financial markets slightly less rigged and crooked.

The Senate version's major provisions call for:
  • the establishment of a consumer protection division within the Federal Reserve (the opaque, notoriously secretive private government that controls U.S. monetary policy) which will be tasked with setting and enforcing new regulations to stop predatory lending practices,
  • the formation of a council of "systemic risk" regulators that will serve as a watchdog against threats to the stability of the nation's financial system,
  • an audit of the Federal Reserve, conducted by the GAO, or Government Accountability Office (something many progressives and libertarians have passionately lobbied for these past few months),
  • tougher rules for derivatives (the sophisticated financial agreements used to hedge risk, generally categorized as swaps, futures, and options) which two key progressive Democratic senators still don't consider to be tough enough (more on that in a moment),
  • the ability of the the federal government to seize and liquidate giant "too big to fail" financial institutions deemed to be in danger of doing under, so that American taxpayers don't get stuck with the bill later on.
The vote for and agaisnt was bipartisan, with four Republicans voting aye and two Democrats — including our own Maria Cantwell, who had earlier joined a Republican filibuster of the bill — voting no. (The other was Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who, like Senator Cantwell, believed the bill wasn't strong enough).

Democratic senators Robert Byrd and Arlen Specter did not vote.

The Pacific Northwest's other Democrats — Mark Begich, Patty Murray, Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, Max Baucus, and Jon Tester — were all ayes. Republicans Lisa Murkowski, Mike Crapo, and Jim Risch were all nays.

In a statement sent to NPI, Senator Cantwell elaborated on the rationale behind her "no" vote on H.R. 4173, and her opposition to ending debate:
While this bill takes much needed steps to help prevent a crisis of this magnitude from ever happening again, it fails to close the very same loopholes in derivatives trading that led to the biggest economic implosion since the Great Depression.

Throughout this debate I have fought hard against efforts to weaken this legislation as well as to pass language to strengthen it further. But the fact of the matter is, without key reforms in derivatives trading, this bill does not safeguard America’s economy from a repeat of this crisis.

It sets up a process for responding the next time we have a financial crisis, but it doesn’t prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again. We have to stop these kinds of dangerous activities. We need stronger bans on banks gambling with depositors’ money. We need bright lines – like Glass-Steagall – that separate risky activities from the traditional banking system.

We need to refocus our financial system away from synthetic bets and get more capital into the hands of job creators and Main Street businesses. There are good, strong provisions in this bill, and I’m proud of the work we did to get them in there, but I fear that without closing the loopholes primarily responsible for this economic meltdown, we are missing the entire heart of the matter.
Senator Murray, in contrast, was more upbeat about the passage of the legislation, characterizing it as a net win for Washingtonians:
This bill provides Washington families with the strongest consumer protections in our history. It finally adjusts the playing field to put families and their finances before big banks, credit card companies and mortgage lenders. And it guarantees that Washington taxpayers will never be on the hook to bail out Wall Street again.

I have heard from so many people across our state whose stories demonstrate the need for us to act. Families facing foreclosure due to mortgage fraud, seniors who have lost their retirement savings, small businesses that can’t hire because they can’t borrow, and those who have lost everything due to Wall Street’s "anything goes" rules. These families deserve not only accountability, they deserve protection. Standing by and doing nothing is not an option.
H.R. 4173 was previously known as S. 3217 while it was being shaped in committee and before passage. H.R. 4173 is the House's version of the legislation, approved close to half a year ago, which is different from the Senate's.

Lawmakers will now attempt to resolve their differences by appointing a conference committee, which must merge the two versions together. It could take weeks for Congress to agree on a compromise that each chamber can accept.

Dave Reichert, fake environmentalist

Over the last few years, the fine people over at The Seattle Times have scarcely missed an opportunity to try to con Washingtonians (and especially residents of the Eastside) into believing that Republican Dave Reichert is an independent minded guy who thinks for himself and doesn't take marching orders from party bosses.

As readers of The Advocate know, Dave Reichert has a habit of being a lot more honest. At least, when he thinks he's in front of a friendly audience. Nearly four years ago, when Republicans were still in power, Reichert spoke to the Mainstream Republicans at their Cascade Conference, and recounted what he had told a conservative voter who was thinking of voting for the Libertarian candidate:
I wanted to… I wanted to explain to this person how things work a little bit back in Washington D.C. and why certain votes have to be taken.

Sometimes the leadership comes to me and says, Dave, we want you to vote a certain way. Now, they know I can do that over here, that I have to do that over here. In other districts, that's not a problem, but here I have to be able to be very flexible in where I place my votes.
Yes, very flexible.
And so, when the leadership comes to me and says Dave, we need you to take a vote over here because we want to protect you and keep this majority, I... I do it.
You see, it's all about strategy.
I know that the leadership is already planning to protect me… right? They’re going to develop a bill that increases money for education that I can vote on later, and I can come back and say, "I do support teachers." Now, that’s kind of… I mean, that’s the everyday strategic kind of battle that you… that you play out, that plays out, back in Washington, D.C.
I know the leadership is already planning to protect me... wow, that sure sounds like a guy who thinks for himself!

As funny as it was at the time to discover that Reichert didn't know better than not to say such things, it's even more amusing to see that he hasn't learned his lesson. At a recent Republican gathering, Reichert tried to go "off the record" in a roomful of precinct committee officers to explain why he publicly purports to be in favor of environmental protection. Unbeknownst to him, somebody in the room was recording him using a smartphone audio microphone, and that somebody turned over the audio to David Goldstein, who didn't hesitate to transcribe the best parts.

In the clip, Reichert begins his off-the-record chat by asking:
Now, first of all, are there any reporters in the room? Does anybody recognize… are there any people in here that you recognize as strangers? So we know that all of us in here are family, right?
Evidently not.
Uh, I just wanted to be honest with you. You know Jennifer Dunn was an environmentalist, uh, in her votes, too. Uh, she was also pro-choice. I don’t know if most of you remember that now. But, but, if you want to hold on to this district, there are certain, there are certain things that you must, uh, do. This is a 50/50 district.
There are certain things you must do… like pretend to be an environmentalist. With the blessing of Republican Party leadership, who don't want to lose a key suburban district, one of the few blue districts to still be represented by an R.
I only have two to three percent to play with, every two years, and I have to raise three to four million dollars to stay in, to do it. I am a 90/10. 90 to 10, if you look at my votes. All the TARP votes are no, all the stimulus package votes are no, the health care I’ve been no all three times.
In four sentences, Reichert has managed to thoroughly vindicate every critical analysis we've offered of his voting record during the past five years.

The Sheriff goes on to explain that the whole point of embracing wilderness conservation is to neutralize Washington's environmental movement.
Wild Sky was a done deal. It was already in its process. It had been worked on for eight years before I even came to Congress. Jennifer Dunn endorsed Wild Sky, and I followed in her footsteps per her advice.

[...] So, uh, you know, it, it, it, was it was a good vote. It was a good move on my part to do that. … Because I’ve only, I’ve, supported Wild Sky, I’ve supported Alpine Lakes, because of the reasons that I just laid out to you. They are… what I’ve done is taken out I’ve taken them out of the game in this district. They’re out.
And by they, Reichert was no doubt thinking of the Washington Conservation Voters board members who recently co-hosted a fundraiser for his reelection campaign. Reichert's got them on his side, even though the League of Conservation Voters (the national equivalent of WCV) gave Reichert a D on its most recent report card. Last time I checked, a D was a failing grade.

But for some reason, a few influential environmental leaders have convinced themselves that they and their organizations can't appear to be aligned exclusively with one party, so they've chosen to embrace what they consider to be the best of the Republican incumbents. They're allowing themselves to be played.

If Republicans are correct, this is going to be a very tough year for Democratic incumbents. If we're correct, it's going to be tough going for incumbents from both parties (though not in all cases).

Considering that Republicans are in the minority and have fewer incumbents to defend, the environmental community would do well to invest as heavily as it can in Democratic challengers who have the best chance of taking out Republican incumbents, so that Republicans are forced to play more defense and can't go on offense as much. It's good strategy. Let's face it: nothing about the Republican Party is remotely progressive anymore. Republicans have to answer to their rabid right wing base. That's what Dave Reichert was doing when he was caught on tape.

If Republicans take back control of Congress, the environment will be threatened even more than it already is.

Why should Washington Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club's Cascade Chapter, or any other local environmental organization settle for Dave Reichert when they can have Suzan DelBene? DelBene happens to actually believe in environmental protection because protection is part of her moral system. She's authentic.

Dave Reichert is not authentic. Dave Reichert — the politician — is a fake. He's not who he appears to be. He doesn't think for himself. He's admitted when cameras were rolling that he does what he's told; that's what he's best at. He is fortunate to have a great staff and a newspaper publisher working on his behalf to make sure his unintentional honesty doesn't do him any damage.

If Reichert were an independent thinker, his record and his own behind closed doors conversation with party faithful wouldn't contradict what he told a room full of Washingtonians in town for Barack Obama's inauguration in January 2009: that he was "on board" with the President's new direction for the country.

I was one of the people in that room, and though I attempted to give Reichert the benefit of the doubt when I wrote up what he said (I was in a very forgiving mood at the time) I didn't seriously expect that Reichert would back up his words with action. It didn't take long for my suspicion to be confirmed.

Since Dave Reichert is only honest in front of Republicans, it'll probably be up to Suzan DelBene's campaign to enlighten the rest of his constituents that Reichert votes in lockstep with Republican leadership ninety percent of the time... by his own reckoning! … and that his efforts to protect the Alpine Lakes and Pratt River Valley are just a facade to keep environmental groups "out of the game".

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Effort to create high-earners income tax finally gets airborne as Initiative 1098

Real progressive tax reform in Washington State is finally taking flight this evening with the launch of Initiative 1098, the official reincarnation of Initiative 1077, which was announced last month by William Gates Sr. and the Main Street Alliance.

The Initiative 1098 coalition had a kickoff party this evening on the north shores of Lake Union, in the building where the campaign will be run from, to celebrate the availability of petitions and affirm that the measure is going forward.

William Gates Sr. Signs Initiative 1098I attended the party, and was impressed by the energy and enthusasim I saw. Rarely have I seen progressives so eager to collect signatures for ballot measure. Must be the pent-up frustration many progressives feel after years and years of inaction and dithering in Olympia, which has left us with a horribly regressive and utterly broken tax structure.

The limited batch of petitions that was printed before the party was seemingly gone in a flash; many activists left with fewer petitions than they hoped to pick up. (More are being printed, and will be available in the coming days).

For those not familiar with the initiative, I-1098 would establish a high-earners income tax on individuals who make more than $200,000 a year ($400,000 for couples). Business and occupation taxes would be eliminated for eighty percent of small businesses, and the state property tax levy would be lowered by twenty percent.

The estimated one billion dollars left over after these offsets would be dedicated to public schools and healthcare coverage.

The genius of I-1098 is that it isn't a hodgepodge of half-measures. It's a carefully drafted, thoughtfully construed proposal to strengthen our common wealth and attack the regressivity of our tax structure. It lowers taxes for small businesses and homeowners while increasing funding for our most important public services.

It's real progressive tax reform.

NPI is proud to support and endorse Initiative 1098. We strongly and emphatically encourage readers to not only sign I-1098, but help gather signatures for it. The Constitution only gives us until July 2nd, 2010 to gather 241,153 valid signatures. Time is short... we have six weeks to make this happen.

To obtain petitions, please contact the campaign.

Memo to Tim Eyman: Ballot title changes to I-1098 don't hurt the measure's chances

Over at The Olympian's Politics blog, reporter Brad Shannon has a recap of yesterday's happenings in Thurston County Superior Court, where Judge Richard Hicks ruled on the final ballot title language for Initiative 1098, the new version of the high-earners income tax proposal championed by William Gates Sr. At the end of his post, Shannon includes Tim Eyman's reaction to the ballot title challenge, filed by conservative Dick Schrock:
The measure, which is backed by Gates and others who want to spread the tax burden and help fund education, replaces an earlier version, I-1077, that did not take into account the tax and effects on domestic partners. The new version means that same-sex, registered domestic partners would pay the tax rates of married couples, [campaign spokesman Sandeep] Kaushik said.

Kaushik said his group wanted the income thresholds in the summary. But Tim Eyman, a tax critic, said he thinks Schrock and the income-tax foes won by inserting the words "state income tax" high up on the ballot item. Eyman said that will be a "stink bomb" for voters.

The AG's Office initially used a broader phrase "taxation" in hopes of avoiding future legal tangles around the single-subject rule that governs ballot measures, according to Jay Geck, deputy solicitor general.
The old statement of subject was:
Initiative Measure No. 1098 concerns taxation.
The new statement of subject is:
Initiative Measure No. 1098 concerns establishing a state income tax and reducing other taxes.
The concise description remains unchanged:
This measure would tax ‘adjusted gross income’ above $200,000 (individuals) and $400,000 (joint-filers), reduce state property tax levies, reduce certain business and occupation taxes, and direct any increased revenues to education and health.
And that simple change is supposed to be a victory for the right wing? We happen to like the new statement of subject better. It's more specific.

By the time Election Day rolls around, only a voter living under a rock will have failed to comprehend that I-1098 aims to establish a high-earners income tax. What's more, the words "tax" and "income" were always in the concise description, which appears on every voter's ballot as part of the ballot title.

Dick Schrock didn't win anything. Tim Eyman didn't win anything. This is one of the most pathetic attempts at spin I've ever seen.

How typical for a conservative to think that the presence and placement of a couple of words will scare the electorate silly and make a difference in their favor.

Certainly word choice and framing matter, but the words "income tax" don't signify a bad idea, they signify a good idea: A more progressive tax system where the wealthy pay their fair share. And voters have already demonstrated they want a progressive tax system. When Washingtonians weighed in on an effort to repeal the estate tax four years ago (Initiative 920), they resoundingly opted to keep the estate tax, which is dedicated to the Education Legacy Trust.

Tim Eyman is very fond of boasting that voters are smart. If that's true, than voters will examine this proposal on its merits, and they won't automatically reject it simply because its core is an idea that the right wing fervently opposes.

Deconstructing the May 18th primaries

So yesterday's primary election results in Arkansas and Pennsylvania were pretty interesting. In Arkansas, challenger Bill Halter forced Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln into a runoff election, as third candidate Morrison picked up enough votes to keep both Lincoln and Halter from reaching 50%.

In Pennsylvania, voters refused to accept long-time Republican, short time Democrat Arlen Specter's recent party switch as genuine, and have put the veteran legislator out to pasture.

Much is being made of these results. What does it all mean? Well first, I think they are very, very good results. Halter's strong showing in Arkansas, if nothing else, keeps pressure on Blanche Lincoln serve the people, rather than her corporate masters. That is, it provides her with great incentive to actually do her job.

What a concept.

Arlen Specter's loss shows that voters are looking beyond party labels for once, which is long, long overdue. So that's all good.

Now we can expect the pundits and bloggers to take their respective positions on whether this represents a true populist uprising, with voters rejecting corporatist candidates, or whether it's proof of the anti-incumbent mood many have suggested exists and that Republican candidates are no doubt praying really does.

To be honest, I'm not sure that's the whole story.

There's probably some truth in each of those positions. But I don't think last night's primary results actually give us good data about that.

The Arkansas race had three candidates in the mix, meaning it was unlikely that any candidate was going to get to 50% anyway. The third candidate in that race, Morrison, took 13% of the vote, leaving 87% for Halter and Lincoln to divide amongst themselves. Do the math, and to reach 50% among the electorate as a whole, Halter or Lincoln would have had to win by a 57/43 margin within those non-Morrison voters. A pretty tall order by any stretch.

No, the Arkansas race won't really tell us much about populist-vs-corporatist or challenger-vs-incumbent sentiments in the electorate until the runoff, when we can measure how those Morrison voters will break.

Side note: this is a great example of why simple "pick one" voting sucks compared to any of the "ranked-choice" voting methods such as Instant Runoff voting. If Arkansas allowed voters to rank the candidates, rather than just naming their favorite, we'd have this answer now and there would be no need for a runoff election. Just think, the money saved by not holding separate runoff elections could go towards improving Arkansas's schools.

I mean, I'm just saying…

The Pennsylvania race has its own pair of side-factors in play. First, Pennsylvania Democrats have had many past elections in which to get used to seeing Arlen Specter on the ballot with an (R) next to his name.

I don't think they ever really believed his party switch was a matter of heart, rather than a political hail-Mary play.

Given the choice between Arlen "Democrat by necessity" Specter, and Joe "Democrat at heart" Sestak, it was easier to vote against Specter even with his long record of incumbency.

Second, I think age played a factor. Not to mince words, but Arlen Specter is getting old. Joe Sestak is no fuzz-faced youth, but he is certainly a younger, more vital person. Look at the difference in pictures of the two men on their respective campaign websites. Couple that with the massive Democratic voter registration efforts from the 2008 Presidential election, and you get an electorate with a lot of new, young voters in the ranks.

They look at Specter and see an old guy who, both demographically and with his Republican record, represents why we're presently in the mess we're in. They look at Sestak and see someone much more like themselves: a younger guy with the strength and vigor to help get us out of the mess.

Seriously, who would you vote for?

I'm happy as heck to see Bill Halter's campaign continue. I think his chances look excellent in the runoff (If Morrison's voters were at all inclined to vote for Lincoln, why wouldn't they have done so yesterday?). I'm delighted that a great candidate like Joe Sestak will be going toe-to-toe with his Republican counterpart this fall.

But do these results mean anything for other races around the country? Probably not. Each one will have to be judged on its own merits.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oregon Democrats pick Kitzhaber as their gubernatorial nominee in uneventful primary

The primary season for the 2010 election cycle is in full swing as Oregon voters went to their mailboxes and ballot dropboxes and voted in their primary.

On the Democratic side, the biggest contest was between former Governor John Kitzhaber and Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, who each sought the Democratic nomination for governor. With 55.3% of precincts reporting, Kitzhaber has nearly two thirds of the vote and will be the Democratic nominee for Governor.

The Senate race was an easy blowout for Senator Ron Wyden, who beat his primary opponents nearly nine to one. He will face Republican Jim Huffman, who received 40% of the Republican vote and beat out four other contenders.

In the general election (for governor), Kitzhaber will likely face Chris Dudley, whose claim to fame is playing basketball for the Portland Trail Blazers. Dudley is currently leading Allen Alley, a well known right wing business executive.

There were no closely contested primary contests for U.S. House on the Democratic side. However, Republicans are still waiting to find out who their nominee to challenge Representative David Wu in the 1st will be. Currently, Robert Cornilles is leading by 8%. He will probably be the Republican nominee.

In addition, voters approved Measures 68 and 69 which allow greater flexibility for schools and universities to use bonds.

Basically, it's a way for public schools to save money on interest.

So no major surprises in Oregon, but then again, none were expected. The major action is happening back East, where voters are in a feisty, populist mood.

Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln forced into runoff against Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter

Voters sure are in a feisty, anti-incumbent mood tonight.

In another blow to the D.C. political establishment, the Democratic electorate in Arkansas refused to give incumbent Senator Corporate Proxy Blanche Lincoln the support she needed to avoid a runoff election in three weeks.

Instead, a majority of Arkansas Democrats cast a vote for one of Lincoln's two biggest rivals: Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter (who currently trails Lincoln very narrowly) and businessman D.C. Morrison.

UPDATE: Results as of midnight Pacific:

Democratic primary for U.S. Senate
Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter: 42.41% (109,504 votes)
U.S. Senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln: 44.04% (113,718 votes)
D.C. Morrison: 13.55% (34,996 votes)

In Arkansas, if a frontrunner fails to capture more than fifty percent of the vote in the primary, he or she moves on to a runoff election three weeks later with his or her top challenger. That means people-powered champion Bill Halter has three more weeks to pound away at Blanche Lincoln, who had been hoping to sew up the nomination tonight. Whoever gets the most votes on June 8th will be the Democratic standard bearer for U.S. Senate in the Natural State.

Both Halter and Lincoln claimed victory in appearances before supporters at parties in Little Rock, the state's capital and largest city. Halter spoke first:
In remarks earlier Tuesday, Halter said a runoff would be a victory for him because he is not the incumbent.

"At three weeks from today, we're going to finish the job," Halter said to loud applause.

He called this a "very, very good night" with results looking "absolutely great."

"Today you proved that your vote and not their money are going to determine the future of Arkansas and the future of America," Halter said.
Lincoln wasn't far behind:
Flanked by her husband, her two sons and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, Lincoln entered a ballroom full of supporters at the Holiday Inn Presidential Center shortly after 10:30 p.m. Lincoln told her supporters she surged to win more votes than Halter after being "written off" a month ago.

"But tonight we have proved by winning the popular vote we cannot be written off and we wont' be," she said. "Tonight we begin out countdown to victory, folks."
Written off? Um, say what? Lincoln had the D.C. establishment — from the White House to the Chamber of Commerce to former President Clinton — on her side. She's not the underdog, Halter is.

And as for the popular vote, Lincoln may have captured a plurality, but she doesn't have a majority. That's why she's heading to a runoff.

At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall observes:
Lincoln is speaking right now. And I must say, she's got the sound of a loser in this speech. She seems kind of shell-shocked. She started off saying that she'd been written off and now is back. But I mean, that's not true. The consensus was that she'd win tonight with a good margin and quite possibly win outright and avoid a run-off. Now she's got a real fight on her hands.
Indeed. Lincoln is in serious trouble; Halter's supporters have every reason to feel even more energized and turn out again for him in three weeks. Lincoln is not running a grassroots campaign, so she faces the challenge of trying to convince the party's faithful to back her in a low turnout election.

It would sure be something if organized people could beat organized money on June 8th, and throw a monkey wrench into the machinery of our country's powerful and corrupt incumbent protection racket.

Senator Arlen Specter concedes defeat in Pennsylvania to Representative Joe Sestak

Voters in Pennsylvania today decided to end the legislative career of longtime Senator Arlen Specter, who defected from the Republican Party last year and became a Democrat in the hopes of improving his chances of reelection.

Specter conceded the race to Representative Joe Sestak, his Democratic challenger, about an hour ago, at 10:20 PM Eastern (7:20 PM Pacific).

Up until three weeks ago, Specter's chances of holding on seemed decent. But once Sestak began to air television ads showing his opponent with George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, and implying that he was nothing but an opportunist, Specter's support began collapsing. Polls indicated that voters were turning to Sestak.

Sestak did a good job of getting Democratic voters to ask themselves why Specter was on their ballots, and then answer that question by concluding that Specter's primary motivation was self-preservation, not a desire to advance Democratic ideals and progressive policy directions.

Sestak must now fend off a challenge from likely Republican nominee Pat Toomey (who ran agaisnt Specter in the Republican primary four years ago). The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Specter was gracious in defeat:
He said he called Sestak to congratulate him and tell him "I think it's vital to keep this seat in the Democratic Party and I will support him."

In brief remarks at his Sheraton Philadelphia City Center election headquarters, he said: "It's been a great privilege to serve the people of Pennsylvania and it's been a great privilege to be in the United States Senate. I'll work very very hard for people of the Commonwealth in the coming months."
As of 8:30 PM Pacific Time, results were:

Democratic primary for U.S. Senate
Joe Sestak: 53.7% (501,117 votes)
Arlen Specter: 46.3% (432,710 votes)

Republican Rand Paul, Democrat Jack Conway have early lead in Kentucky primaries

Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, we now have the first results from today's multi-state primary elections spree, which features several noteworthy (and unusually fierce) intraparty battles for U.S. Senate.

Early returns from the Bluegrass State suggest decisive victories for Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jack Conway. Paul's victory, while not unanticipated, is nevertheless a stinging rebuke of the Republican establishment, which had lined up behind Mitch McConnell's man, Trey Grayson. Paul, who is the third child of presidential also-ran Ron Paul, is in many respects a Grover Norquist clone much like Tim Eyman or Bill Sizemore; he has chaired an anti-public services organization called Kentucky Taxpayers United since 2004.

However, Paul is a libertarian, so he has some progressive positions. For instance, he has previously spoken out against the Patriot Act, the Wall Street bailout, and the occupation of Iraq. That's not to say he would be a progressive senator, but he wouldn't be Mitch McConnell's lapdog either.

Meanwhile, Democratic voters appear to have chosen Attorney General Jack Conway to be their standard-bearer, instead of Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo. Conway previously ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in 2002; he narrowly lost to Republican Anne Northrup, who was herself unseated by Democrat John Yarmuth in 2006.

So it looks like it'll be Conway vs. Paul this fall. The winner becomes the next Senator from Kentucky, succeeding crazy old Jim Bunning, who has become notorious for holding up the Senate's business by abusing the chamber's rules.

UPDATE: As of 5:30 PM Pacific Time, results were:

Republican primary for U.S. Senate
Trey Grayson: 34.45% (45,602 votes)
Bill Johnson: 1.42% (1,877 votes)
Gurley L. Martin: 0.66% (879 votes)
Rand Paul: 61.44% (81,343 votes)
Jon J. Scribner: 0.61% (809 votes)
John Stephenson 1.42% (1,875 votes)

Most of the networks and major Kentucky newspapers have called the race for Rand Paul; he has almost twice the support Grayson is getting.

Democratic primary for U.S. Senate
James Buckmaster: 2.85% (6,466 votes)
Jack Conway: 52.60% (119,319 votes)
Daniel Mongiardo: 35.29% (80,044 votes)
Darlene Price: 5.33% (12,083 votes)
Maurice M. Sweeney: 3.93% (8,918 votes)

SECOND UPDATE: The Democratic primary is being called for Conway, who many activists consider to be the strongest of the Democratic candidates. Conway held on despite losing most of the padding in his lead as the evening wore on.

TVW launches iPhone application

TVW added to its coverage of public affairs in Washington yesterday when it launched an iPhone application.
If you have an iPhone or web-capable iPod Touch, check out TVW’s web site now. It’s optimized for mobile devices and allows you to instantly access thousands of hours of programming — including hearings back to 1997, live webcasts and any of our produced shows — instantly.
The announcement by TVW also claims that its website has been optimized for mobile devices. But that's not exactly true. My BlackBerry Curve 8300 is no smartphone dinosaur, yet TVW's website isn't what I'd call optimized. Nor was it ideal for a co-worker's Samsung device.

If TVW really wanted to make a splash with this announcement, it would have tested its website with several of the leading wireless devices to make sure its website was optimized, and releasing a BlackBerry application at the same time it released the iPhone app would have been a very savvy move.

Instead, it looks like a halfhearted attempt to serve mobile users.

Kudos to TVW for making its content more accessible on Apple's glitzy platform, but could you please include all of us and not just iPhone users?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ken Jacobsen retires; Scott White vies to succeed him, David Frockt to run for House

One of the State Senate's longest serving Democrats has announced his decision to retire from public service, three weeks to the day before the 2010 filing period begins. Senator Ken Jacobsen, who represents the 46th LD (north Seattle) revealed in a statement released earlier today that he has opted not to run again.
After careful thought and consideration I have decided that this year will be my last year serving as a state legislator. Therefore, I will not be seeking re-election to the Washington State Senate.

It has been an honor and privilege to represent the 46th Legislative District for the past 28 years. The job has been wonderful, but at times very stressful. My high blood pressure has forced me to reassess my priorities, especially after it was responsible for a brief stay in the hospital this past October. I'm proud of my work on behalf of veterans, the environment, higher education, holocaust education, gender equity in college sports and helping to solve my constituents' problems.

This has been the best job of my life, and I'm honored that voters of the 46th Legislative District have supported me for so long. I have strived to serve with dignity, integrity and passion.
Jacobsen represents one of Washington's bluest legislative districts, so his departure does not put another seat into play for Republicans. However, it has touched off (figuratively speaking) a prearranged game of musical chairs within the 46th. Scott White, who was elected to the state House last cycle, has declared his intention to seek Jacobsen's position, with the blessing of Jacobsen's Democratic challenger David Frockt, who will now be running for the position Scott White is vacating.

Frockt issued his own statement this afternoon, congratulating and thanking Senator Jacobsen for his many years of service, and endorsing Scott White for the position he was previously seeking. He reflected:
Despite all of these new developments, one thing remains the same – the 46th District deserves a strong voice in the State House that will lead on economic development, full funding of our public schools, protecting our natural environment and moving us toward a clean energy economy. I intend to work each and every day on behalf of North Seattle should I have the honor of serving in the State House of Representatives.

I have visited nearly 4,000 voters since launching my campaign, and I intend to continue doorbelling across the district in the coming months as I campaign for the State House. I will hit every precinct in the district by the time the campaign is over. My goal is to earn the support of this district by demonstrating, through my campaign, how hard I will work for the people of North Seattle if I am elected.
White also issued his own press release, stating "David Frockt is an outstanding candidate. I am pleased to endorse him for the House of Representatives, as I know he will represent the citizens of the 46th district well."

The timing of all the announcements — which were released in quick succession — suggests that Jacobsen told White about his plans to retire, and that White and Frockt subsequently decided to change their own plans and endorse each other in advance. Assuming no other Democrat decides to run against White and Frockt, the arrangements make for a fairly orderly transition in the 46th.

The developments in the 46th LD bear some similarities with what is already happening in the 34th: Joe McDermott is leaving the Senate to run for Dow Constantine's county council seat (currently held by Jan Drago) and Sharon Nelson is running to succeed McDermott.

Representative Nelson previously succeeded McDermott when he moved from House to Senate after the retirement of Senator Poulsen.

Three Democrats are running to succeed Nelson; among them is her legislative assistant Joe Fitzgibbon. (The others are Marcee Stone and Mike Heavey).

We at NPI also want to thank Senator Jacobsen for his many years of service to our state, and for his vocal opposition to Tim Eyman's nefarious schemes. We wish him nothing but the very best as he retires from the Legislature.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Here's how to join the Facebook backlash

Readers who maintain accounts on Facebook may have recently noticed that Mark Zuckerberg and Company continue to make unilateral changes to Facebook's privacy defaults without the consent (or in many cases, knowledge) of users.

A few days ago, on In Brief, we linked to an interactive graphic created by an IBM engineer which shows how more and more of a person's account information on Facebook has been made public by default (instead of private) over the years.

Eroding privacy on Facebook profile MoveOn has likewise created an image which starkly shows how Facebook has eroded its users' privacy.

It would be one thing if Facebook simply provided its users with greater sharing capabilities, and allowed them to opt-in and use those capabilities if they chose. But instead, Facebook has chosen to make more and more user data public, and has forced its users to opt out if they don't want to share.

It is these deceptive and manipulative practices which are now being loudly protested in seemingly every neighborhood of the Internet. On Twitter, people are contemplating leaving Facebook. Bloggers are ridiculing Facebook's Orwellian response to the concerns that have been raised. Commenters are decrying the company's inability to learn from its past mistakes.

If you are somebody who wants to join in the backlash and make your voice heard, there are several things you can do, both on and off Facebook.
Big Brother Avatar
  • Protest through your avatar. I've changed mine to the graphic you see to the right; the words "big brother" against a background of Facebook's blue hue. Feel free to copy this graphic and use it as your own avatar. Or make your own.
  • Delete all of your personal information. Edit your profile and copy the information there to your own computer, then delete all of your Activities, Interests, Favorite Books, Favorite Movies, and Favorite Television Shows, as well as workplaces and schools. Remove any relatives you have listed, erase your current city, hometown, religious and political affiliations, change your gender to "Select Sex" and do not list a dating preference. Uncheck the box that says "Show my sex in profile" and then change the dropdown menu so "Don't show my birthday in profile" is selected. Save changes.
  • Unlike groups and pages (this could take a while, if you've been in the habit of accepting invitations to be part of causes you support).
  • Sign up for Profile Watch. This application will show you just how much information you're publicly sharing on Facebook. It's a great tool for testing and validating your privacy settings.
  • Pledge not to login on June 6th. The organizers of this protest are asking those who disagree with the changes Facebook has made to its “privacy” policies to commit to not logging in or interacting with Facebook in any way.
  • Quit Facebook entirely (after doing all of the above!) A group of disaffected users are planning to deactivate and/or delete their accounts on May 31st.
  • Finally, pledge some money to Diaspora*. As I wrote last Wednesday, Diaspora* is a student-led effort to build a privacy-smart, open source, decentralized successor to Facebook, beginning this summer. It has already raised over $170,000, becoming the largest project ever to date on Kickstarter. (The original goal was only $10,000!)
If you've got a suggestion I didn't think of, feel free to leave a comment.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Huge labor endorsements for Pridemore

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.

The great news just keeps rolling in for Craig Pridemore's congressional campaign.

Yesterday, Craig was endorsed by UFCW Local 21, which notes on its website that it is "the largest private-sector union in Washington, with over 35,000 members working in grocery store, retail, health care, and other industry jobs."

Today, delegates to the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO convened for its COPE Endorsing Convention. We at NPI were not surprised to hear that delegates voted to endorse Craig Pridemore for Congress in the 3rd District.

What do these endorsements mean for the Pridemore campaign?

Besides being an affirmation of Craig's work on behalf of working families, it means a lot of support for his campaign.
Also unlike corporations and business groups, which outspend unions 15-to-1 on politics, labor's support doesn't just come in the form of a check. It also comes in the form of volunteers who do worksite leafleting and make personal (not automated) phone calls to fellow union members. Plus, it includes direct mail and other forms of political outreach intended to explain why endorsed candidates and ballot measures have earned labor's support.
In a people-powered grassroots campaign, the foot soldiers and other resources that the Labor movement brings to a campaign are critical. Corporate interests continue to flock to "practicing capitalist" (I guess that's synonomous with being bought and paid for by Corporations United) Denny Heck, so it's of vital importance that we the People continue to stand with Craig Pridemore.

And it makes sense that Washington's unions would stand with Pridemore. After all, Craig has a lifetime 97% voting record on issues that affect working families, while his opponent, Denny Heck, has a less-than-stellar 72% voting record during his stint as a state legislator from 1977-1984.

For his part, Heck will point to labor endorsements like that of IBEW Local 77. However, Heck's labor endorsements are more the work of a couple of activist supporters who work in the Labor movement, than they are indicative of Heck's overall labor record. Heck may not be a far-right Republican in disguise or an enemy of working families, but he's no Craig Pridemore.

So the question that is to be settled in the primary is would you rather have someone who stands with you nearly all of the time (Craig Pridemore), or would you rather have a representative in Congress who kowtows to corporations and stands up for you only when it's politically expedient?

Given the choice, I believe that Craig Pridemore is the best choice to represent the 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Mount St. Helens should become Washington's fourth national park

This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the most disruptive geological event in Washington State history, which claimed the lives of fifty seven people and thousands of animals, as well as causing over a billion dollars in damage and destroying four billion board feet of timber.

The eruption was before my time, but like many other Washingtonians, I've journeyed out to the 110,000 acre National Volcanic Monument to view the aftermath firsthand. The Monument, established in 1982, is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It encompasses Mount St. Helens itself, the entirety of the volcano's immediate blast zone, plus Spirit Lake, Coldwater Lake, and Castle Lake.

Although the monument is popular with tourists, it has long been chronically underfunded. The Forest Service doesn't have the money and manpower, for instance, to keep the Coldwater Ridge Visitors' Center open (the facility cost more than $10 million to build), or to maintain the monument's network of hiking trails.

When Coldwater was initially closed back in 2007, Senator Maria Cantwell was quick to call for the creation of a national park, though she ultimately joined Norm Dicks, Brian Baird, and Patty Murray in setting up an advisory committee to study how to best manage, preserve, and protect the area.

The committee last year recommended keeping Mount St. Helens a national monument, under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, with the stipulation that Congress do a better job of providing funding. We can't concur with that recommendation because we don't see that happening. What's more, we don't think the Forest Service is best-suited for the task of administering a popular tourist attraction like Mount St. Helens. The Forest Service's mission to sustain America's forests, and close to half of its annual $5.5 billion budget is spent fighting forest fires.

The National Park Service, in contrast, has experience running the most popular natural attractions throughout the West, from the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone. Three mountainous areas of the Evergreen State — including Washington's tallest peak — are already protected as national parks.

What's more, NPS already manages several volcanic areas: Craters of the Moon (in Idaho), Hawaii Volcanoes, and Lassen Volcanic National Park (in California).

Why not give Mount St. Helens the same honor and recognition?

The principal objection seems to be that some local authorities and residents don't trust the National Park Service. In its final report issued last summer, the Mount St. Helens Advisory Committee concluded:
While the National Parks model has the advantages of being a part of the NPS system – and the name recognition that designation brings – the majority of the committee still felt that the U.S. Forest Service model is [the] best fit. This also reflects the overwhelming majority of the public’s input.
Committee members Mark Plotkin and Mark Smith, however, provided a dissenting view at the end of the report. They wrote:
During the local public hearing process we heard from the same few local citizens and representatives of special interest groups. Their support for the USFS was based on their being able to continue their use, fearing that a management change could stop their activities. They showed little concern to preserving the natural features or economic benefits of the Monument. For the most part we heard that taxpayers did not care who ran the monument, they just wanted to make sure they were able to hunt and recreate on it and that it was open, accessible and maintained.
That certainly jibes with our perspective. We suspect those in favor of sticking with the Forest Service wish to do so because that agency is (to use a figure of speech) the devil they know. It makes more sense to us to place Mount St. Helens under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service — and address concerns about recreational opportunities and land use in the legislation making the mountain a national park — rather than trying to restructure the Forest Service for the monument's benefit as the committee suggests. That won't be easily accomplished.

Plotkin and Smith also observed in their dissent that the committee had not really taken the time to study the possibility of creating a national park.
We feel that there is validity to the UW Economic Report, the GP task force, NPCA and many local and regional newspapers' recommendation supporting a National Park. The stable line item funding, economic potential, recreation and visitor facility development make it an option that should warrant a more detailed review and consideration.
We agree.

The committee acknowledges that establishing a national park might not lead to all the ramifications critics of the idea worry about. It notes, "Supporters of the National Park model did suggest that the recreational opportunities in a Park setting could be provided for in the charter." The committee listed the following arguments against Mount St. Helens remaining under USFS control in its full report:
  • not as much money from tourism industry than if NPS
  • less money than a NPS
  • history of past Monument management
  • notoriety – NPS is a brand
  • NPS has an established funding mechanism in place
  • perceived lack of protection under USFS
  • NPS has a proven tried model of management
  • USFS culture
Given that funding and management have been serious problems, these seem like pretty compelling reasons not to stick with the Forest Service. That doesn't mean, of course, that the federal officials currently in charge of Mount St. Helens must be displaced; rather, they might very well be the best candidates to oversee the conversion of the monument into a national park, since they understand the needs of the surrounding communities.

Later on its report, the committee recommends reopening Coldwater Ridge Visitors' Center and turning it into an overnight destination with accomodations, so that Mount St. Helens won't be thought of simply as a place to go on a day trip.

Essentially, they're calling for the creation of a park lodge, and ironically, that's another reason why Mount St. Helens should be transferred to the care of the National Parks Service. NPS knows something about constructing park lodges and hiring contractors to provide guest services; it has such facilities at Mount Rainier and Crater Lake National Parks. A thoughtfully designed park lodge is a common, defining feature of many of America's greatest national parks.

We look forward to the day when we can call Mount St. Helens a national park. We urge Washington's congressional delegation to join with Senator Cantwell in recognizing that the current plan for the area is not working. If The National Parks: America's Best Idea taught us anything, it's that local fears about the creation of national parks tend to be unfounded or exaggerated.