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

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Federal judge blocks worst provisions of Arizona's fascist-style immigration law

Good news from the Grand Canyon State:
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton has issued a preliminary injunction preventing several sections of Arizona's new immigration law from becoming law, at least until the courts have a chance to hear the full case.

Key parts of Senate Bill 1070 that will not go into effect Thursday:
  • The portion of the law that requires an officer make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there's reasonable suspicion they're in the country illegally.
  • The portion that creates a crime of failure to apply for or carry "alien-registration papers."
  • The portion that makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit, apply for or perform work. (This does not include the section on day laborers.)
  • The portion that allows for a warrantless arrest of a person where there is probable cause to believe they have committed a public offense that makes them removable from the United States.
Unfortunately, renegade Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County has already decided to go ahead and mount a crackdown on Thursday (tomorrow), hinting he'll instruct police forces under his command to enforce the law's harsh provisions regardless of what Bolton orders. And ironically, he's threatening to jail those who interfere.

So basically, he's going to punish those who practice civil disobedience by locking them up, whilst pulling an Andrew Jackson himself. Yeah, that makes perfect sense (well, it does to a radical right wing reactionary whose only allegiance is to an uncompromising strict-father worldview).

The text of Judge Bolton's order is available from our document vault. It's pretty satisfying to open it up and see that the case is titled United States of America, Plaintiff, v. State of Arizona, and Janice K. Brewer, Governor of the State of Arizona, in her Official Capacity, Defendants.

In deciding to only set aside parts of SB 1070, Judge Bolton reasoned:
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded that allowing a state to enforce a state law in violation of the Supremacy Clause is neither equitable nor in the public interest. Cal. Pharmacists Ass’n v. Maxwell-Jolly, 563 F.3d 847, 852-53 (9th Cir. 2009); Am. Trucking Ass’ns, Inc. v. City of L.A., 559 F.3d 1046, 1059-60 (9th Cir. 2009). If Arizona were to enforce the portions of S.B. 1070 for which the Court has found a likelihood of preemption, such enforcement would likely burden legal resident aliens and interfere with federal policy. A preliminary injunction would allow the federal government to continue to pursue federal priorities, which is inherently in the public interest, until a final judgment is reached in this case. See Am. Trucking, 559 F.3d at 1059-60.
The White House has not yet commented on the ruling, with Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton telling reporters on Air Force One that "I don’t think that changes how ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] functions or how the Department of Homeland Security sees its role there."

The Department of Justice is, however, expected to react, and when a statement is available, I will update this post with the text of it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

LIVE from Las Vegas: Netroots Nation 2011 to be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis, here we come!

Organizers of Netroots Nation have just activated the registration site for next year's convention, to be held from June 16th-19th in Minnesota's largest city.

The selection will be announced shortly onstage at the Rio here in Las Vegas.

Netroots Nation was going to go to Providence, Rhode Island, for 2011, but those plans fell through because the would-be host hotel ownership is trying to break the union that represents the hotel workers.

In solidarity with UNITE HERE, Netroots Nation organizers looked elsewhere, and settled on Minneapolis, which is an inspired choice.

I'm excited because it means the convention is going to a new city and a region of the country that it hasn't been to before.

Minneapolis happens to be directly accessible via the Empire Builder from Seattle, which means NPI team members can take Amtrak to get to or from Netroots Nation 2011 if we want (and enjoy magnificent scenery along the way), instead of flying.

This is the second time the convention will have been held in June; the first YearlyKos was also in June. (The second was in August, the third was in July, the fourth was in August, and this year's, the fifth, was in July).

LIVE from Las Vegas: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faces the netroots

Alright, here we go... the session that everybody here at Netroots Nation has been (perhaps grimly) looking forward to... Ask the Leader Harry Reid.

The session will be moderated by our very own Joan McCarter, a contributing editor for Daily Kos who lives and works in Seattle.

Joan has just walked out on stage to introduce Senator Reid.

She reminded us that four years ago, when the first YearlyKos was being organized, Senator Reid was the first prominent elected Democrat to agree to speak to us, giving the convention valuable credibility and legitimacy.

She didn't explicitly say it, but the message to the convention hall seemed to be: Senator Reid respects us. So let's show him some respect.

And hopefully people will.

UPDATE, 3:35 PM: A humble looking Reid walked onstage after Joan's introduction, and began by doing something very, very, very classy: Recognizing Lt. Dan Choi, who is seated here with us at one of the front tables.

The convention gave Choi a standing ovation.

As Reid began speaking, the room fell completely silent, with attendees listening quietly and carefully in order to hear everything Reid said.

(The Senator is very soft-spoken, so his voice doesn't echo around the hall like Ed Schultz's or some of the other speakers that we have).

"There are times, I'm told, when I get on your nerves," Reid declared a few minutes into his speech, breaking the tension in the room.

He added, "And I'm here to tell you, you can get on my nerves."

Laughter and applause filled the room.

Reid went on. "You shine much-needed light on fear tactics and misinformation," the Majority Leader reminded attendees. "It's because of your voice that we've been able to do so much for so many."

Reid proceeded to defend his own record as Majority Leader, noting that he did get the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the Restoring American Financial Stability Act through the Senate (although, not without tremendous difficulty, and a huge expenditure of time). He mentioned his far right wing opponent, Sharon Angle, and expressed his hope to move energy legislation to the President's desk.

It looks like he's about to wrap up his remarks and join Joan at the table for the question and answer.

LIVE from Las Vegas: Undoing "Corporations United" and restoring grassroots democracy

Isn't it time that we amended the Constitution to establish that Congress has the ability to regulate corporations, rather than the other way around?

Yes, say the folks on a rather excellent panel organized by People for the American Way, called Undoing Citizens Corporations United: A Comprehensive Plan to Prevent Corporations from Buying Elections.

Moderated by Marge Baker, the panel includes Rob Weissman, Representative Donna Edwards, Representative Alan Grayson, and Lisa Graves.

It's an all-star lineup assembled to talk about a cause that's incredibly important: Reclaiming our democracy from corporations and fighting corruption.

As the panel's name makes clear, this is a discussion about what we can do to overturn and reverse the Supreme Court's "Corporations United" decision. Specifically, amending the Constitution.

As Rob explained, we can mitigate this boneheaded decision through legislation, but the only way to undo it is either to get a new Supreme Court which will re-interpret the matter, or to amend the Constitution.

Since waiting for the Roberts majority to become a minority is not a feasible option, that leaves us with the latter course of action.

Representative Donna Edwards spoke at length about the difficulty — and necessity — of getting an amendment passed.

We cannot allow despair to prevent us from doing the organizing and mobilizing we have to do to push back and restore uncommon sense.

Representative Alan Grayson echoed her comments.

"Once you lose democracy, it's gone," Grayson said. "But I don't feed that that's what's going to happen... We have to win, and we will win."

He told the story of being in the courtoom when the decision was handed down, explaining that he and Mitch McConnell were the only elected officials in the room, and that McConnell was fighting a smile after the verdict was handed down, which Grayson described as "frightening", to sustained laughter.

That, Grayson said, was when he knew just how awful the decision was.

Lisa Graves emphasized that we have to think about winning, about going on offense, even when we're losing. "We have to make some lemonade here," she said. "We get tied up in this conventional wisdom about what can't happen."

She's absolutely correct. Conventional wisdom and right wing control of our discourse (not just right wing media, but the prevalence of their ideas, their frames) is our greatest enemy. We're going to fall short if we allow ourselves to become disillusioned and not see what is possible.

It sure seems like the Supreme Court has backed American democracy into a corner. But fortunately — as history has proven many times — the enduring ideals that this country was founded upon have continued to inspire generations of Americans to rise up, fight back, and win. The abolitionists did it. The suffragists did it. The New Dealers did it. Now it's our turn.

LIVE from Las Vegas: Speaker Pelosi returns to Netroots Nation to take audience questions

Good morning from Las Vegas.

A somewhat tired group of conventiongoers (weary from late-night parties) has been trickling into the main pavilion here at the Rio Convention Center this morning to grab a table for Ask the Speaker, the first of the Saturday general sessions.

Our moderator, Cheryl Contee of Jack and Jill Politics, has just introduced Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who herself is now introducing Speaker Pelosi.

Schakowsky described the current Congress the most effective in history, and Nancy Pelosi a fearless leader. Considering the concessions and compromised compromises that have been put by Democrats into the major bills that the House and Senate have approved to date, that seems a bit farfetched.

It is true, however, that Nancy Pelosi is a remarkable leader who has the tough job of stitching together a philosophical majority from a very divided House Democratic caucus, which is nowhere close to being a hundred percent progressive.

Jan is about to welcome Speaker Pelosi to the stage.

UPDATE, 9:35 AM: The Speaker received a very warm welcome from the convention after appearing onstage. While Cheryl patiently waited, seated to Pelosi's left, the Speaker spoke briefly about her motivation for coming. She thanked the community for sending roses to her office (which were then brought to Walter Reed Army Medical Center) and hailed the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. She acknowledged, however, that there is more to do. Now there's an understatement. How about pledging to work for a public option?

She concluded her opening remarks by announcing that President Obama had recorded a message to Netroots Nation, which was then shown onscreen. Obama apologized for not being present in person in Las Vegas, but said he appreciated the community's support of his campaign in 2008, and stressed that "change is hard". He used a series of clips from Rachel Maddow's show to highlight some of the important things his administration has already accomplished.

(If more Americans were exposed to that message, perhaps the president would have a higher approval rating than he currently has. He urged the convention to hold him accountable, which is precisely what we all intend to do).

The webcast ended, and the Speaker and Cheryl Contee sat down together to begin the Q&A. The first question concerned the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, and Pelosi committed herself to passing ENDA, as soon as Congress has given the military the authorization to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". When asked which members of Congress the netroots should target, the Speaker suggested we should instead give positive encouragement to members who are willing to listen.

The next question was about the Youth Promise Act, which seeks to increase the educational standards in our country. Pelosi talked about the difficulty in passing legislation that will be taken up by the Senate and said, "We don't know what can pass in the Senate. Ever." She explained that House may pass the Act in pieces, in order to make it easier for the Senate to pass the legislation.

Pelosi was then asked about protecting Medicare and Social Security, and about whether she supported raise the retirement age. She talked about cleaning up the system and preventing fraud, but was to quick to point out that taking a meat axe to Social Security won't reduce the deficit. Keeping Social Security solvent and reducing our debt are two different challenges.

"When you talk about reducing the deficit and Social Security, you're talking about apples and oranges... to change Social Security to balance the budget, that isn't the same thing in my view," Pelosi said.

Congress can move faster, she said, on priorities like universal healthcare, ENDA, and enhancing Social Security, if activists turn their determination into action. And while it's true that politics should be bottom-up, not top-down, we still need leadership from the top. Authentic, courageous progressive leadership.

(Alan Grayson knows a thing or two about that).

UPDATE, 9:50 AM: The conversation moved to economic security. Pelosi talked about Congress' job creation strategy, increasing the manufacturing jobs throughout America, easing the ability of manufacturers to access raw materials, and preventing companies who use Chinese material and labor from bidding on government contracts, in order to cultivate a more robust manufacturing sector in the United States.

A question about the climate crisis again gave Pelosi the opportunity to talk about the difficulty of passing bills in the Senate. The House is ready to act, she said. "Sooner or later this [climate legislation] has to happen."

On fair election legislation, Pelosi once again talked about outside mobilization in order to get the votes that the legislation needs. "It's about the people's interests, it is about removing the perception of the public mind that people who have large amount of money have special access... Make your voices known."

On the stated homogeneity of the Republican agenda from the Bush era to now, Pelosi said, "We're not going back."

UPDATE, 10:15 AM: Cheryl exercised her privilege as moderator to ask Pelosi one last question after time had expired. Her question was about the difficulty of running for office as a woman. Kind of a softball for Pelosi, who actually wrote a book about the subject called Know Your Power.

Pelosi (who had been ready to stand up and leave) sat back down and reflected on female empowerment, telling the story of how it felt to be the first woman to sit at the power table in the White House (as the House Democratic leader).

She wrapped up her remarks by saying, "We strive to find common ground...we measure our progress through the progress of the American people."

She reiterated, "We're not going back."

Kudos to the Speaker for coming to Netroots Nation and taking our questions. We're willing to trust her judgment if she's willing to keep pushing forward, and not allow her caucus to rest on their laurels. There's just too much that's still broken in this country. We need a Congress that answers to the American people, a Congress that will put our common wealth to work for the common good. If anything, that's the message we want Speaker Pelosi to take with her when she leaves.

Friday, July 23, 2010

LIVE from Las Vegas: Advancing the cause of civil rights in the twenty first century

It's lunchtime here at Netroots Nation 2010 in Las Vegas, and we're midway through our program on civil rights in the modern era, featuring Eliseo Medina, Kate Kendell, Tim Wise, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood, with Mike Lux as moderator.

The lunch program actually began with speeches from the podium by each of the panelists, who addressed us one by one. We're into the panel part of the program now, with the folks mentioned above seated in easy chairs around a coffee table on the main stage. My appetite for the panel was whetted by the speeches delivered from the podium by Eliseo, Kate, Tim, Lennox, and Mike. Each of them brings a different perspective to this topic — a perspective that is valuable and important.

Eliseo (who serves as Executive Vice President for SEIU) honed in on the challenges facing immigrants, observing that people who are new to this country are not going to be able to stand up to intolerance and bigotry by themselves. "The only way we're going to win is to build our power, and our power is our votes," he declared.

Kate reviewed some of the LGBT community's recent court victories (like Doe v. Reed, a case which originated in Washington State) and shared her own life's story with attendees. She made a strong case for bridge-building, arguing that the civil rights movement will be stronger through collaboration. (For instance, the organization she leads has been reaching out to help LGBT migrant farm workers).

Tim Wise used his speaking time to eloquently connect the dots between racism and the decline in popular support for public services that help the unemployed or disadvantaged. He didn't mention Majora Carter's presentation from last night, but he (perhaps unintentionally) drew a parallel with it, noting that our present economic woes began with banks preying on low-income minorities. "If the predatory lending/subprime mortgage crisis had been addressed when it started in communities of color, we'd all be better off," he said to applause.

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, who serves as President of the National Hip Hop Caucus, echoed Kendell's call for unity. "We will not be successful in the progressive movement segregated," he asserted. He urged the convention to spend its time organizing and mobilizing for change, doing real advocacy and outreach, and not merely monitoring and responding to the likes of Glenn Beck. He's got a point. Media response is defense. Infrastructure building and organizing is offense. And we need more offense.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Moneyed interests hijack initiative process

In a report to the Public Disclosure Commission earlier today, staffer Tony Perkins made note of the obscene amount of money that's gone into statewide initiatives this year. Thus far over $10.4 million had been raised, and over $9.1 million spent, to support statewide initiatives this year. Of that, over $6.7 million was spent on signature gathering.

Of course, while this doesn't come as a surprise to us at NPI, Perkins' conclusion should spur all reasonable people into action to stop greed in 2010:
“The citizen initiative was once seen as a remedy for the domination of industry and other powerful interests over the legislative process. Today, contribution and expenditure reports filed with the PDC reveal that these same well‐funded interests—corporations, unions, trade and professional associations—use paid signature gatherers to accomplish their goals.”
One look at our Rogues Gallery, and you'll find those responsible for the hijacking of the process and for the money that has flowed into the extremist right-wing initiatives in Washington this year. Many of these donors aren't even based in our state. In addition, the Political Action Committees that are the beneficiaries of the deep-pocketed interests' largess, are set up with deceptive names, meant to fool voters, such as: Citizens for Responsible Spending (I-1053), Modernize Washington (I-1100), and Save Our Jobs WA (I-1082). Each of these committees represents a corporate power grab.

Clearly, the citizen's initiative no longer is the province of the citizen. Unless, of course, you think like the United States Supreme Court does. As we learned in the Corporations United decision, a majority of our nation's justices equate business interests to citizens in the political process.

It's time we took back our democracy.

LIVE from Las Vegas: Ed Schultz takes on the establishment; Brian Schweitzer lifts spirits

We're now into the second half of the Netroots Nation 2010 opening ceremony, starting with MSNBC's Ed Schultz. Ed is angry. Really angry. Angry at Republicans, but even more angry at Democrats who he says are "negotiating with themselves."

In his self-aggravandizing style, he bluntly stated that he isn't afraid to take on Democratic members of Congress, and invited the netroots to join him.

"If I got the balls to say it, you better have the balls to write it. It's time we hold this party accountable," Schultz boomed.

But he didn't stop there.

"We have to do our vetting process. You are either with us or you're against us in the progressive movement in America," Schultz shouted, sounding very much like the last person who occupied the White House.

"We are in an ideological fight for the country," he continued, repeatedly asserting that the right wing may have money and infrastructure and access, but it doesn't matter, because as Ed says, "I've got the truth on my side."

Of course, the problem is, one person's truth is another person's fiction. The "truth" will not set us free. If we want to win over hearts and minds, we have to reframe, which is more difficult than pumping a fist and declaring war on the political establishment. (Incidentally, Ed made sure to look in the camera and direct his provocative Bushism to the White House).

Now, we don't really have any qualms with Ed's ends (no pun intended). We're populists too, and we want an America that is more democratic and just. As Schultz said: "We are the party of the people. We are the movement of equal rights, civil rights, social justice, all of the great foundations that make our country great."

But our means are different from his.

We may not like the establishment, but we also don't like dealing in absolutes. You're either with us or you're against us is one of the most criticized things that George W. Bush ever said, for a reason. It's polarizing and divisive.

Anger is a powerful emotion. It's easy to feel rage, resentment, or contempt. It's also not difficult to express those feelings — Schultz is doing a fine job of that at the moment. But it's difficult to channel such feelings into something positive. There's nothing wrong with feeling determined, but people who let their fury get the best of them aren't going to be able to accomplish much.

UPDATE: Ed has finally finished yelling and yielded the stage to our own Markos Moulitsas, who was the major keynote speaker at the first Netroots Nation (then YearlyKos) four years ago. Markos reflected on how much has changed since that first convention, also in Las Vegas.

He opined that while we've made a lot of headway in the last few years, it's in part thanks to the fact that the Republicans self-destructed.

"We don't have a genuine progressive majority. The conservatives worked for thirty years for their infrastructure, and we've had it for six," he said.

He's motivated to win the 2010 midterms because he wants to see the tea party demoralized. "They are convinced they're going to take back the House and the Senate," he reminded the audience.

He then proceeded to introduce Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who is about to walk onstage. Schweitzer is the final speaker of the night.

UPDATE II: Governor Brian Schweitzer just arrived on stage and he is rocking the house. In stark contrast to the speakers from the South Bronx, or Berkeley, or other urban areas generally considered to be liberal, Schewitzer's from Montana. Naturally, he opened with a story about the 4H club and steers.

He used the story (which was very funny, and will soon be available from the Netroots Nation video archive to drive home his point that the most important lesson he's learned from life is that "it is more important to be lucky than good".

Like Steven Horsford, Schweitzer believes in the importance of public education, because, as he says, "I can't change the heart of a thirty or forty year old man, but I can change the mind of his kid if I get there soon enough."

"If we can start early enough, we can equalize the opportunities for everyone."

Then, Schweitzer told us — in amazingly rich detail — about one of his constituents named Walt, who is now the world's oldest living man. This actually wasn't just one story, it was a whole series of fascinating, well-told stories about Walt's life, which enthralled the room.

Reflecting on why Walt has lived so long, Schweitzer observed that he has done a lot of volunteering during his one hundred and thirteen years on planet Earth.

"When you help other people, it's good for your soul," Schweitzer said. We agree. That's what being a progressive is all about.

Schweitzer also talked about stopping "Real ID" in its tracks, and about his decision to pardon the people who were wrongly arrested or prosecuting for violating the Sedition Acts during World War I nearly a century ago.

He ended his address by concluding that our greatest challenge in these unusual times is breaking our addiction to foreign oil.

"If we get this right, we will be the greatest generation. If we get this wrong, we will send our kids to another war," he said.

And, just like that, after two fun-filled hours, the opening program is over.

Good night, readers!

LIVE from Las Vegas: Opening session kicks off with mix of comedy and activism

Well, here we are at the end of our first full day in Las Vegas. Netroots Nation 2010 is turning out to be an marvelous convention, and we're not even a third of the way through it yet. After a full day of panels and an excellent reception sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, we have gathered together in the main pavilion for the convention's opening session, hosted by Elon James White, who we're listening to now. He seems at ease on stage, which always helps lighten the atmosphere. He's certainly one of our community's best comedians.

(Quick programming note: We're also microblogging on Twitter and In Brief... be sure to follow along there for quotes and short takes on the opening session).

7:47 PM: The opening session seems to have been planned to showcase the great diversity of the progressive movement. We've heard from Nevada State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, AFSCME Associate Director of Public Affairs Gregory King, Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead, and the wonderful Majora Carter, who is incredibly inspiring. Four speakers already, not counting Elon.

Horsford spent roughly half of his speech defending President Obama's record and the other half urging the community to live up to its ideals.

"I am a proud progressive Democrat. It doesn't matter where we are in the polls, we are committed to making things better," Horsford declared, asserting that elected leaders and activists must not be afraid to be authentic. He identified strengthening public schools as his perhaps his greatest passion in politics.

AFSCME, America's largest public sector employees union, was up next. The union made a big splash last year in Pittsburgh when it exhibited this old fake PSA which is heavy on profanity but very, very funny.

This time around, the union's public affairs department had prepared a powerful video showing Fox Noise hosts trashing and lying about public sector employees. Following the video, Gregory King took the stage to share a message of solidarity with the convention attendees. "Attacks on unions attack the philosophy that government can be a positive influence in our life," King reminded the audience.

"The time has come to be strong and of good courage. To fight back, to defend our values, to sustain our vision, and to lead our country forward."

Then we heard from Lizz Winstead, co-creator of the Daily Show, a founder of Air America, and a great standup comedian.

Reminiscing about how she came to incorporate politics in her comedy, she told us a story from the early 1990s, explaining that she went out one day on a blind date to a movie with a guy she'd been urged to hook up with.

She was ready to head home immediately after the movie (the guy had fallen asleep midway through, she said) but she acquiesced to his request to go out for drinks. At the bar, the news was on, and it was about the conflict in the Persian Gulf. The guy's response to the footage, she said, was something along the lines of, this is awesome. That was when she realized something was wrong.

As she put it: "Is this media showing me a war or selling me a war?"

Then Winstead confirmed why we are here. "The point of this weekend is to show we are the voice of sanity, we are the majority, we are the progressive movement."

Winstead humbly tiptoed offstage to enthusiastic applause and was followed by acclaimed activist Majora Carter, who was momentarily overcome with emotion at the podium after meeting Winstead backstage.

She recovered, however, and launched into her presentation, highlighting the work she has been doing through her Green the Ghetto initiative.

We saw from her slides that environmental inequality is an injustice she's been working to correct for many years. "If we located our [dirty industries] near rich people we would have had a clean and green economy a long, long time ago," Carter concluded, drawing sustained applause.

Then she made a connection which has never been explained to me:
Proximity to fossil fuel emmissions causes learning disabilities. We find them in poor communities. Poor kids who do poorly in school have a better chance of going to jail than to higher education.

It is a form of violence. It produces violent reactions.
Majora is one of the most accomplished young activists our movement has. It's wonderful to see her up on stage talking about her work. Kudos to the organizers for giving her an opportunity to address the entire convention.

And now, on to Ed Schultz!

LIVE from Las Vegas: Achieving a progressive future for California, the "ungovernable" state

Good afternoon from the Great Southwest! I'm listening to the final minutes of an outstanding panel about the troubles facing the Golden State, called, "California's Challenge: From 'Failifornia' to Progressive Laboratory".

This is one of the more focused panels that I've ever attended at a Netroots Nation, and I think the specific focus is a key reason why the discussion — moderated by a great friend of NPI (Robert Cruickshank) — has been so fascinating.

The panel identified California's broken initiative process as the root cause of many of its problems. Past right wing ballot measures, for instance, are standing (like zombies!) in the way of marriage equality, simple majority for budgets, a stronger common wealth, and a fairer criminal justice system.

We in Washington State are used to Tim Eyman sponsoring toxic ballot measures, but there's a key difference between Washington and California that is worth keeping in mind. In California, initiatives — or propositions as they're known down there — can be used to not only amend statutes, but the Constitution as well.

Our Constitution, conversely, requires a supermajority vote of the Legislature and a simple majority vote of the people to approve an amendment. This protects the basic democratic idea of majority rule with minority rights. (Or, at least it's supposed to. The Constitution is just a document, it only has meaning if we respect it).

Once California fixes its basic plan of government, it ought to lock in the reforms by following Washington's example and making it impossible for the Constitution to be changed by proposition. It's just not a good thing for corporations to be able to have the ability to buy an election and thereby obtain changes to the supreme law of America's most populous state that are not in the public interest.

I really appreciated hearing the panelists describe their vision for restoring the California Dream. The Golden State is one of the most heterogeneous places in America, not only demographically, but geographically. It has towering redwoods forests, hot, dry deserts, beautiful ocean beaches, a mighty mountain range, and fertile valleys. The state's natural features truly are as diverse as its people.

But instead of celebrating their diversity and coming together to build a better future, Californians have spent many of the last few years bitterly squabbling about the state's challenges, and dithering instead of taking action. As mentioned earlier, right wing ballot measures prevent California's Democratically controlled Legislature from effectively responding to problems, and Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn't exactly been a force for progressive change either.

Unfortunately, these right wing ballot measures have thrown California into a vicious cycle. By making government not work, they have destroyed the public's faith and confidence in government, which has made California ungovernable. Reversing this situation will, I think, require a huge outreach commitment.

But I believe it can be done. The group of people I'm listening to is smart, well-spoken, and motivated. There's no question that these folks will be in the vanguard of the effort to give California the progressive future it deserves.

LIVE from Las Vegas: How do we move Net Neutrality forward and make it the law?

For me, the Internet represents the ultimate expression of democracy in the modern world. A person can exist without ever being judged by race, class, or gender and only be judged by what they say and do in the virtual world.

The Internet has autocratic governments running scared. Regimes in China, Iran, and elsewhere are trying to restrict their citizens' access to the marketplace of ideas, afraid of the medium's democratic potential.

The government United States is no autocracy, but autocratically run corporations based in the U.S. are scheming to impose the same kind of controls and restrictions on the Internet, albeit for different reasons.

Net Neutrality — the idea that content on the Internet is equal and should be served equally — is one of the most important policy directions that progressives are working on. But it's not getting the attention that it deserves.

The crux of the issue is that access to the Internet is classified presently as Title I under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Recently, a federal appears court found that the FCC has no authority to referee the Internet under Title I, meaning that the FCC cannot prevent the likes of Comcast and Verizon from deciding which websites and activities their customers can or can't access (or access quickly).

Currently, small businesses and independent programmers are being treated equally; big companies don't have an advantage on the Internet. But if the FCC doesn't have the authority to enforce Net Neutrality, big telecoms will have the power to become a law unto themselves. This will disproportionally impact the poor and people of color, and will continue to have unforseen effects on the restructure of both new media and the increases of global socialization.

The road to prevent this has already been paved.

Federal courts have stated that it is within the FCC's power to reclassify broadband access under Title II, which would give them regulatory power.

Despite both the President's and FCC's statements in support of Net Neutrality, it hasn't been done. Unfortunately, the forces against it are powerful. They include not just the telecom companies themselves, but trade groups and fronts they've created for lobbying purposes. And they have the best access to Congress that money can buy. It will take heightened public pressure and increased visibility of the issue to get our government to fufill promises it has and continues to make.

LIVE from Las Vegas: Ray LaHood discusses DOT's increased support for public transit

Welcome to our live coverage of Netroots Nation 2010!

The second round of panels is underway here in Las Vegas. I am attending Transportation Policy for a New Economy with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, moderated by David Alpert.

In his opening remarks, Alpert summed up the panel's topic, noting that transportation is an incredibly important part of civic planning. "It's how we get to work, how we get to the store, how we got here to Vegas."

It's been more than fifty years since Eisenhower signed into law the bill creating interstate highway system, and Alpert argues it's time we move transportation policy into the twenty first century.

Secretary LaHood began with his personal story: he started as a Republican from Peoria and somehow became an important member of President Barack Obama's Cabinet. "I've never seen an administration take on more problems more effectively than the one I am honored to serve in today," he declared.

And even though the netroots may have been originally skeptical of a (former) Republican being appointed Secretary of Transportation, LaHood was greeted very warmly by the conference. He is one of us now.

During Secretary LaHood's tenure, a shift has been made from directing resources exclusively towards bigger and badder highways to investing in alternative options. LaHood says DOT is committed to making "more affordable, efficient, and sustainable options in addition to our state of the art highways."

He added, "We're paving highways... but we're also taking the needs of cyclists and pedestrians into account."

In our region, DOT is walking its talk. DOT is not only helping with highway and road projects... it's also putting money into Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn's bike and walk initiative, Sound Transit's Link light rail, and Metro's RapidRide.

In addition to micro-solutions such as sidewalks, Secretary LaHood talked about about macro-solutions... namely, high speed intercity rail.

The administration is backing a $500 billion interstate rail project. "The day will come... [when], over the next 25 years, with the right investment, eighty percent of America will be connected [with intercity and intracity connections]."

In other words, an investment in high speed rail that matches the initial interstate highway system outlays of the Eisenhower era.

Locally, the DOT has crafted agreements with freight companies (perhaps BNSF) to upgrade freight lines to permit high speed passenger trains. According to Secretary LaHood, the agreements will be announced shortly.

In regards to high speed rail, I asked Secretary LaHood what his definition of high speed rail is. Specifically, I wanted to know, is it 79 MPH, 110 MPH, or 250 MPH. (As the Communication Workers of America like to say, speed matters).

He replied that there is no current standard, and that we should start building the infrastructure now and later on decide on a benchmark for what constitutes high speed rail. I was hoping for a less evasive answer, but it's often hard to get concrete answers from public officials. They prefer platitudes over specifics.

Staying on the topic of public transit, LaHood mentioned that DOT is working with Congress to support operations assistance for metro bus systems across the nation. The current bill is written to provide funds that roughly correlate with ten percent of the average budget for a major urban transit agency.

This is significant because the federal government has traditionally only provided transit agencies with money for capital projects.

LaHood's other initiatives are mostly straightforward ideas, such as reducing distracted driving and supporting increased consumer safety and protections of airline travelers. LaHood wants to limit the time an airline is allowed to make you sit on the tarmac waiting to take off, increased compensation for bumped passengers, and reimbursement of baggage fees if a passenger's bags don't arrive with them when they reach their final destination.

Secretary LaHood wants us to join him and stay active promoting sustainable transportation. Facebook friend him, follow him on twitter, and check out his blog.
distraction.gov (focusdriven) faceook friend him, and follow him on Twitter.

The other members of the panel focused mainly on their visions for sustainability. Specifically, Duncan Black (Atrios) discussed the many myths of the car culture, such as the mistaken notion that suburban sprawl has resulted from the "free" market responding to the desires of consumers.

This is factually incorrect. As Black noted, we subsidize suburbia by building highways and roads. In addition, the federal policy of mortgage backed deductions gives an incentive for people to buy single family homes.

Another myth he brought up concerned density. Downtowns with towering skyscrapers are not the only densely populated places in our country. Mixed use transit-oriented development, Black argued, is dense too. Just not as much.

Perhaps the most important insight which came from the panel is that we are at a crossroads between the past and future. We can choose to go back to traditional town planning and build walkable neighborhoods with transit and bike paths &mdash: so that people have alternatives to driving — or we can continue to allow construction companies to tear down forests for new exurban development.

The former is sustainable. The latter isn't.

It's our job to make sure we choose the former.

LIVE from Las Vegas: Primaries matter!

Good morning from Fabulous™ Las Vegas, Nevada!

The fifth annual Netroots Nation Convention is just kicking off here at the Rio All-Suites Hotel, where thousands of activists have gathered to talk about — and work on — strengthening the progressive movement.

My first panel for today is Primaries Matter, which features Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, DFA's Arshad Hasan, PCCC's Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, Adam Green, A.J. Carrillo (the campaign manager for Elaine Marshall, the Democratic Senate nominee in North Carolina) and Ilyse Hogue of MoveOn.

I'm not sure if this will be the case with all the panels, but in the room I'm in (Brasilia 6), the panel is not actually behind a table. Instead, they're in easy chairs behind a coffee table, living-room style.

It's a friendly and inviting setup.

The basic premise of the panel is that we can't achieve our objective of more and better Democrats without challenging entrenched incumbents in primaries.

"Primaries are a core part of our identity," said Arshad Hasan, in his introductory remarks. "We want to build a better party," he stressed.

"General elections are set up to be a race to the bottom... a contest of the lesser of two evils," Ilyse Hogue suggested in her opening. "Primaries allow us to tell a story separately from the Democratic Party."

Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter drew applause when it was his turn to speak. He thanked the room for the netroots community's support, and reviewed some of the highlights of his campaign, which, although it was unsuccessful, made the corrupt Blanche Lincoln more accountable.

Gesturing to the panelists next to him (Ilyse and Arshan), Halter reflected, "It is really amazing what these folks and the organizations they represent... were able to accomplish in an incredibly short time in political terms."

"Literally, a primary campaign was put together from the day of the announcement to the day of the vote in just eleven weeks."

"Over 11,000 individuals made a contribution to the campaign," he added.

Arshan posed only question of his own to the panel before opening up the floor to audience questions. One attendee asked Halter to talk more about why his campaign couldn't seal the deal with Arkansas voters, and whether there was anything the netroots should do differently next time. Halter replied that as far as he was concerned, the community did the best it could, and he didn't think any one specific thing (like Bill Clinton stumping for Blanche Lincoln) was responsible for his loss. He expressed remorse for not having started earlier, however.

Another question was about the "Top Two" primary system (which Washington has). The panelists agreed that the "Top Two" system disenfranchises Democratic voters and makes it easier for wealthy candidates and politicians with large personal followings to win, whilst hurting grassroots politics.

(That is precisely NPI's position; I have authored several posts here on The Advocate arguing that "Top Two" is bad for grassroots democracy).

Another question I really liked concerned how we deal with the narrative coming out of the 2010 midterms. Conservative Democrats in right wing districts are most likely to lose their seats to Republicans, and of course if that happens, the media is going to frame the election as a defeat for the Democratic Party.

The panel agreed that what progressives need to do is work to elect our champions (like Elaine Marshall), who are electable, so that we can point to such successes as evidence that voters are looking for progressive change.

The panel ended with a short discussion about the policy directions that progressives should run on, sparked by a question from the audience. Specific policy directions that were discussed included Medicare for All (or, a public option) and holding big banks accountable through a second financial reform bill.

LIVE from Las Vegas: Science, the truth, and the fiction that surrounds it

We live in one of the greatest technological ages in the history of humankind. Even as recently as eighty years ago, the things that the average ten-year old can do were inconceivable. Yet, our distrust of science and its findings seems just as high as it has ever been. Why that is (and how do we change it?) was the fundamental question that this Netroots Nation panel set out to answer.

The panal opened with Dr. Greg Dworkin, who reviewed the H1N1 pandemic flu crisis and the public's continued mistrust of vaccinations.

He began by showing a picture of a woman sneezing and challenged the audience to look at the photo and question the need for preventive care.

Yet many people continue to disregard the advice of the scientific and medical communities, in part because they are told not to by great scientific minds like Glenn Beck. Unfortunately, this has resulted in preventable outbreaks of disease, like the spike in whooping cough, which caused six infant deaths in 2006.

A lack of education is one of the reasons why these issues continue to persist, and that's what the next speaker — Josh Rosenau — spoke specifically about. He says we need to ensure that evolution is taught in our science classrooms.

Surprisingly, in many areas of the country, that's not happening.

I myself was not taught evolution until I started college.

In an age where so many advances are being made in biology, medicine, and genetics, it's critical that we at least teach the theory of evolution to young people. People can decide for themselves what they want to believe about how our world came into being. That's their right in a free country.

Not teaching our kids this fundamental concept is a mistake. If we're not teaching science in our science classrooms, how are we going to lead the world in the environmental revolution? Or any other future science-driven revolution?

But our challenge goes beyond strengthening education.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, who followed Rosenau, have written a book called Merchants of Doubt, which looks at how big corporations have tried to discredit the actual science behind the climate crisis and the toxicity of tobacco,

Naomi listed four key problem area: (1) money, (2) ideology, (3) scientists, and (4) media. The last two stood out to me.

As far as scientists themselves go, what really matters is not so much what they are doing, but how they do it. Many scientists are uncomfortable in the spotlight, and are not attention seekers. They also rarely receive training in media and public relations in the course of their own studies and research.

And of course, the media itself is a major problem.

Naomi Oreskes explained that while researching their book, they discovered that sixty to seventy percent of Americans believe global warming is real, and a little over fifty percent believe that humankind is the cause. Yet repeatedly the American people are portrayed by the media as uninformed and unwilling to consider change.

While this is happening the media continues to suggest that there is a war going n in the scientific community about the issue, even though a consensus was establish decades ago and has been reaffirmed every decade since.

While presenting the climate crisis in this fashion may make the issue more exciting, it is extraordinarily misleading and makes it more difficult to achieve change.

The panel's message boiled down to this: To solve problems like the climate crisis, we need well educated scientists and centers for scientific research.

Erik Conway put it best: "Physicists discover fundamental laws about our universe and engineers take those laws and make useful things from them." Useful things like computers or smartphones, which is what you're using to read this very post.

And we all need to remember that investing our common wealth in scientific research isn't just good for people and the planet. It's good for business, too.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Live coverage of Netroots Nation 2010 this week from fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada

Just a quick programming alert for readers: Beginning tomorrow afternoon, NPI staff will be arriving in Las Vegas, Nevada to participate in the fifth annual Netroots Nation Convention. The Convention officially begins Thursday morning, which is also when our live coverage will kick off.

We'll each be reporting on the different sessions we go to, and of course, we'll be liveblogging the keynotes as a team.

The convention promises to be a great event. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be showing up to take our questions. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer will open the convention, and Minnesota Senator Al Franken will close it. Besides those keynotes, there will be dozens of panels, workshops, trainings, and caucuses. There are also several evening after-parties.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Elizabeth Warren will be joining us for panels, as will Senators Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall, and Ben Cardin.

House progressives will be ably represented by Alan Grayson, Raul Grijalva, Jared Polis, Donna Edwards, and Jerry Nadler.

Readers who have questions about the convention that they'd like us to answer can leave a comment on any convention blog post, or ask on Twitter by directing a tweet to @nwprogressive.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Congratulations to Sound Transit: Central Link light rail celebrates first anniversary!

Congratulations are in order today and tomorrow to Sound Transit, which successfully inaugurated service on our region's first light rail line a year ago.

We provided extensive coverage of the opening weekend, which was a pretty big deal. As many readers know, I got involved in politics to save this project, standing beside Sound Transit and against Tim Eyman back when few would in 2002.

Eight years ago, light rail for our region was only something that existed in colorful exhibits sitting on easels at community meetings.

Now, it's reality. It's a dependable and convenient way to get around.

The opening of the Airport Link extension in December — which brought Central Link into SeaTac — has made it possible for travelers to get to and from downtown without having to worry what traffic conditions on our roadways are like.

In a news release on Friday, Sound Transit estimated that during its first year, Central Link carried six million riders, with forty three million passenger miles traveled. By riding the train, those riders avoided burning an estimated 1.8 million gallons of gasoline. That's pretty amazing.

"This is a great achievement for a region that has embraced light rail after years of waiting," said Sound Transit Board Chair and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. "Thanks to light rail, the people of this region have saved time, money and precious natural resources. We’ll only see those savings grow as we expand the system to the north, east and south."

Well put. For once, we as a region are actually planning ahead. Instead of building Central Link and stopping, Sound Transit has simply switched gears and is working on expanding the system so that Link will come to more neighborhoods faster. When University Link opens in 2016, trains will reach the University of Washington, serving Capitol Hill along the way. East Link will bring light rail all the way out to NPI's hometown of Redmond. North Link will take it to Lynnwood.

And South Link will bring light rail to Federal Way.

That's the planned future of the system.

But the future is not assured. Kemper Freeman, Jr., Tim Eyman sugar daddy Michael Dunmire, and other reactionaries have sued to keep trains off the Interstate 90 floating bridge. We don't anticipate that their lawsuit will be successful, but there's always a chance it will be. Even if it is not, they may resort to the initiative process to try and kill East Link, as Tim Eyman did in 2002.

We must be on our guard. We can't afford delay and obfuscation. Our region needs light rail expansion to be delivered on time and on budget.

POSTSCRIPT: The Seattle Times has a story about Central Link's anniversary today, by Mike Lindblom. It's actually a nice article, except for this one paragraph, which should have been left out because it doesn't add anything:
Seattle transit analyst John Niles — who favors bus rapid transit over rail here — points to the bittersweet side of this story, that the regional rail system was conceived almost two decades ago, funded by voters in 1996, and has still reached only a startup phase.
Niles may be a glass half-empty guy, but we say that having only one light rail line in operation today is better than having none. We chose not to build rail when we rejected Forward Thrust decades ago. We've been paying the price for that ever since. Fortunately, we are not making that mistake again.

It's funny... Niles was against building Central Link. Now that we've got it, he says it's a shame that it took so long to construct. Well, we did it, didn't we? Sound Transit got it together and completed the project with few complications. No thanks to the people (cough, Rob McKenna, Tim Eyman, Maggie Fimia) who tried to stop Central Link with ill-conceived lawsuits, ballot measures, and cynical P.R.

The reason we're building Link is that an effective transit system needs a rail spine that can move people efficiently through corridors. This is what Niles & Co. just don't understand. Buses — whether they share a road with other vehicles or they have their own fixed guideway ("bus rapid transit") — are complementary to rail. Not a substitute. It's like how apples and oranges are different types of fruit. Trains and buses are different types of transit.

Friday, July 16, 2010

War! King/Snohomish Master Builders sue BIAW for breach of fiduciary duty

Looks like a full-scale war has erupted between the Building Industry Association of Washington (the state's most powerful right wing lobby) and its biggest local:
The Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBA) today filed a lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court against the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) for breach of fiduciary duty, unfair competition under Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, breach of contract, declaratory judgment and other actions related to BIAW’s management of the Return on Industrial Insurance Program (ROII). The MBA filed the complaint on behalf of the association and its members who participate in BIAW’s ROII program.
That's from a Master Builders news release sent to NPI.

Regular readers are undoubtedly familiar with the BIAW and its long history of attempting to influence elections in Washington State.

The BIAW spent millions trying to unsuccessfully install Dino Rossi in the governor's mansion, twice. It's behind this year's Initiative 1082, which is intended to destroy our publicly administered industrial insurance system, which protects workers who get injured while on the job. It has previously sponsored ballot measures to kill new ergonomics rules (Initiative 841) and undo improvements to our unemployment insurance law (Referendum 53).

The BIAW's electioneering war chest is ironically derived from the insurance pool it operates. Washington law requires that Evergreen State employers carry industrial insurance, to take care of workers who get injured on the job (in return, employers cannot be held liable for workplace injuries and illnesses.)

The BIAW wants to tear this system — which has served us well for many decades — apart. They're so greedy that they think they can profit even more by privatizing industrial insurance. This is what Initiative 1082 is all about.

But in the meantime, they continue to profit from the current system (as they have for years), by exploiting a loophole in the retrospective rating (a.k.a. ROII) program, commonly known as retro.

Retro was created by the Legislature many years ago, and is overseen by the Department of Labor & Industries. It allows employers to get back some of the money they put up for industrial insurance if they had a safe year.

Businesses are allowed to participate in the program individually, but most join pools, to share and minimize their risk. The BIAW happens to operate the largest and most successful pool in the state, serving builders. But instead of distributing one hundred percent of the refunds it gets back to its members, however, BIAW keeps a certain percentage to use for electioneering.

It's a perfect example of greed. The BIAW is exploiting a progressive idea to achieve destructive right wing ends. The whole point of retro is to provide an incentive for worker safety, and reward businesses that make worker protection a high priority. The BIAW is manipulating the system and cheating its members.

Regrettably, efforts to put an end to this abuse have never gone anywhere. Nevertheless, retro reform continues to be one of NPI's legislative priorities.

In 2009, the state Senate passed a bill which would have had the effect of forcing the BIAW to ask permission and stop withholding a portion of the retro refunds from its members. Unfortunately, the House did not pass the legislation.

Recently, however, the BIAW's largest local chapter, long uneasy over the way the BIAW has run its retro pool, took matters into its own hands and re-formed its own pool, called GRIP (Group Retrospective Insurance Program).

The Master Builders allege (PDF) that BIAW retaliated almost immediately after they announced that they were creating GRIP earlier this year:
On February 12, 2010, at the direction of Defendant [Tom] McCabe, Tom Kwieciak, BIAW's Administrator of Insurance Programs, wrote to the local association Presidents and Executive Officers and made the following threats:
Local associations that choose to participate, cooperate and/or market MBA's Plan (or any other competing group retrospective rating program) will not be permitted to participate in any BIAW marketing activities (including BIAW's EOC marketing meetings), nor will they be privy to weekly ROII marketing/enrollment reports and/or information that BIAW has forwarded to the local associations in the past.

In the future, any local association participating, cooperating, and/or marketing MBA's plan (or any other competing group retrospective rating program) will not receive Marketing Assistance Fees from BIAW.
This memorandum ended with a "Non-Compete Agreement" that the chief executives of each of the locals were required to sign as a condition to receiving Marketing Assistance Fees mandated under the Trust Declaration.

The Master Builders refused to sign BIAW's non-compete agreement. Thus, in June 2010, BIAW began to withhold MAF from the Master Builders, while paying the required full 10% to all other local associations, except Master Builders Association of Pierce County (which also refused to sign), pursuant to the Trust and Participation Agreement terms.
The Trust Declaration is an agreement which dates from 1994, made between the BIAW and its locals. The Declaration basically sets out how much money the locals get from the retro pool operated by the BIAW.

The Master Builders are contending that the BIAW is withholding funds that are owed to them under the agreement. Consequently, they are suing the BIAW to get their money because asking nicely didn't work. (Gee, wonder why?)

The Master Builders are asking the Court for the following:
  1. For a judgment against BIAW, BIAW's officers, Defendant McCave, and the Trustees, jointly and severally, for damages in an amount to be proven at trial;
  2. For a declaration that BIAW's, BIAW's officers', Defendant McCabe's and the Trustee's actions violate the Trust Declaration and Participation Agreements,
  3. For injunctive relief requiring BIAW, BIAW's officers and Defendant McCabe to cause the Trustees, and requiring the Trustees, to comply with the Trust Declaration in accordance with the Court's declatory judgment, and to desist from distributing any funds due and owing to the Master Builders to any third parties;
  4. For appointment of a Custodial Receiver of the WBBT assets including all payment due and owing to the Master Builders, and all proceeds related thereto, regardless of location or form;
  5. That the Court order Defendants to deliver and deposit proceeds in controversy in this action to the Thurston County Superior Court Registry;
  6. For an award of the Master Builders' costs and attorneys' fees against BIAW, BIAW's officers including Defendant McCabe and Trustees, jointly and severally, under inter alia, RCW 11.96A.150, and RCW 19.86, et seq,;
  7. For such other and further relief as this Court deems just and equitable.
Knowing how vengeful and angry the right wing ideologues who run the BIAW are, it's a sure bet that they are infuriated by this lawsuit.

Actually, infuriated is probably an understatement.

But they brought this upon themselves through their unethical and deplorable conduct. As we've long suspected, Tom McCabe and his buddies aren't merely unyielding ideologues or political hacks. They're crooks.

The complaint makes that plainly clear.

The Master Builders wouldn't be bringing this lawsuit if there wasn't any merit to their accusations. They've been wronged and they naturally want justice.

What they may not realize is that they are doing all of us a favor. By filing suit against the BIAW, they are helping to expose more of the BIAW's corrupt dealings. As Justice Louis Brandeis once said, sunlight is the best of disinfectants.

We'll be following this case with interest. Expect to see follow-up posts here on The Advocate when there are further developments.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

U.S. Senate passes final version of H.R. 4173 (Restoring American Financial Stability Act)

Earlier today, by a vote of sixty to thirty nine, the U.S. Senate passed the final version of H.R. 4173, officially known as the Restoring American Financial Stability Act, but commonly known as the financial services reform bill.

The vote for and against final passage was bipartisan, but just barely. Three Republicans — Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Scott Brown — voted aye, while one Democrat, Russ Feingold, voted nay. Senators in the Pacific Northwest broke for and against the bill strictly on party lines.

Feingold had earlier voted against the Senate's incarnation of the bill, as did our own Maria Cantwell, but unlike Senator Cantwell, he refused to change his vote, saying that he didn't feel the measure went far enough.

"With today’s vote in the Senate, the United States Congress has now passed a Wall Street reform bill that will bring greater economic security to families and businesses across the country," President Obama said in remarks delivered from the White House's South Driveway.

"The financial industry is central to our nation’s ability to grow, to prosper, to compete and to innovate. This reform will foster that innovation, not hamper it. It’s designed to make sure that everyone follows the same set of rules, so that firms compete on price and quality, not on tricks and traps," the President added.

"It demands accountability and responsibility from everybody. It provides certainty to everyone from bankers to farmers to business owners to consumers. And unless your business model depends on cutting corners or bilking your customers, you have nothing to fear from this reform."

The Pacific Northwest's Democratic senators, who all voted aye, were quick to release statements celebrating the bill's passage.

Senator Murray got out the door first:
With this vote today, the era of taxpayer-funded Wall Street bailouts is officially over. This bill is going to make sure that Washington state families and small business owners are protected from predatory Wall Street tactics. And it will guarantee that American taxpayers will never again be on the hook to bail out the big banks. I was proud to stand up for my state’s families today and against the Wall Street lobbyists and special interests who were fighting so hard to protect big banks and maintain the status quo.
Murray's release also included a statement from John Collins, the President of the Community Bankers of Washington State, evidently intended to deflect criticism from her opponents (particularly Dino Rossi) that this bill doesn't improve economic security for small business owners.

Senator Maria Cantwell, for her part, took to the Senate floor to thank Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut (who isn't seeking reelection) for addressing her concerns about derivatives by throwing his support behind an amendment she authored that imposes severe penalties for evading the clearing and exchange trading requirements for derivatives.

(Cantwell recently sought and received an opinion from the Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Gary Gensler, who assured her that he believed a significant portion of the derivatives market would be subject to the mandatory clearing requirement present in the final version of the legislation. Following the receipt of this letter, Cantwell announced her support for H.R. 4173.)

"For the first time, over-the-counter derivatives will have to be exchange traded, which means there will be transparency," Cantwell declared. "It’s the first time over-the-counter derivatives will have to be cleared, which means a third party will have to validate whether there is real money behind these transactions."

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley likewise touted his own contribution to the bill:
I am pleased that the final bill includes the Merkley-Levin amendment that will ban high-risk trading inside the banks and put an end to conflicts of interest, where giants like Goldman Sachs bet against the very securities they were selling to their customers. This provision will encourage banks to return to the days where their main focus was lending. I can’t thank Senator Carl Levin enough for his tireless work to ensure that our banks won’t engage in high-risk trading and put our entire financial system at risk.
The bill arguably addresses most of the symptoms wrought on our economy by the financial meltdown, but it stops short of taking aim at the causes. Still, incremental progress is better than no progress at all.

H.R. 4173 sets up several new entities with long names intended to protect consumers and force big banks to be more responsible. These entities are:
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Housed within the Fed, this agency will have the authority to create, examine and enforce regulations for large financial institutions, including banks, credit unions, and lenders. It will be headed by an independent administrator appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate; its budget, however, will come from the Fed.
  • Financial Stability Oversight Council. This body will be chaired by the Treasury Secretary, with most of its other voting members coming from Alphabet Soup Land. Er, sorry, I meant these eight agencies:
    1. Federal Reserve Board,
    2. Securities & Exchange Commission,
    3. Commodity Futures Trading Commission,
    4. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation,
    5. National Credit Union Administration,
    6. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency,
    7. Federal Housing Finance Agency,
    8. and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    The tenth member will be an independent appointee with insurance expertise. Basically, it has the ability to make recommendations to the Federal Reserve, require nonbank financial companies to stipulate to Federal Reserve oversight, and approve Federal Reserve decisions. In my opinion, it looks more powerful on paper than it will be in action.
  • Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. As the name suggests, this agency will work to ensure that regulators aren't just a bunch of white guys. It will also provide assistance to businesses in the financial sector that are owned by women or minorities.
  • Office of Credit Ratings. This will be part of the Securities & Exchange Commission, responsible for watchdogging the ten Nationally Recognized Statistical Ratings Organizations currently recognized by the SEC. "NRSRO" is basically a ridiculously long bit of jargon that describes what Standard & Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch's are.
  • Federal Insurance Office. This agency will gather information about the insurance industry for the Department of the Treasury. It doesn't appear that it will have any kind of regulatory power.
The legislation also shuts down the Office of Thrift Supervision, which is widely considered to be dysfunctional. Its authority will be transferred to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

This post would get ridiculously long if I tried to describe the various rules and regulations that are in the bill. There are a lot of them. Some are vague, while others are more specific. Some seem well-intentioned but toothless.

For instance, one provision says shareholders have the right to vote on executive pay packages. But it also says that CEOs and boards have the right to ignore (or continue ignoring) such votes, which will only be non-binding.

Other parts of the bill are designed simply to create less chaos in the event of a future catastrophe. For example, the "funeral arrangements" provision says that really, really big financial companies must regularly submit plans that detail how they will quickly and efficiently wind down their operations if they go under. Companies that refuse or neglect to turn in satisfactory plans will be subject to growth and activity restrictions and they may have to divest certain assets.

H.R. 4173, as a whole, is unquestionably a response to the 2008 financial meltdown. Whether it will successfully prevent or lessen the severity of future meltdowns remains to be seen. The main question I have after studying this bill is, why aren't we further along than this already? Seriously.

Democrats could have saved the country a whole lot of trouble by writing many of the provisions that are in H.R. 4173 into the legislation that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), otherwise known as the bank bailout. But instead, they mostly voted to write a blank check to Wall Street.

This bill should make Wall Street more accountable. But it's a beginning, not an end. More work is needed. For instance, Congress needs to restore Glass-Steagall, to rebuild the firewall between commercial and investment banking that was unwisely torn down at the end of the 1990s. That didn't make it into H.R. 4173.

It's telling that banks and bank holding companies have donated an average of thirty five percent more to the campaigns of senators who voted against H.R. 4173 (in other words, Republicans, because Russ Feingold was the only Democrat voting against, and he wanted the bill to go even farther).

Bank lobbyists may have failed to stop the bill, but they did succeed in significantly watering it down in many ways. We are reminded that if we ever want a Congress that is committed to putting the public interest first, we're going to need to reduce corruption by ending money's toxic grip on our politics.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Should NASA be helping America build bridges with the rest of the world? Yes!

This past week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden took some heavy fire from right wing talk show hosts for an interview he did with Al Jazeera where he said:
When I became the NASA Administrator, (President Obama) charged me with three things. One, he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.
Immediately, conservatives jumped on this, declaring that it was just more evidence proving that President Obama is secretly a Muslim and is bent on destroying the United States from within. The talking heads on FNC (ahem, Charles Krauthammer) and elsewhere are once again just trying to needlessly scare people.

They seem to be against international cooperation because they are afraid that it will result in us losing our edge in military and industrial technology.

Never mind the fact that we've long had a partnership with the Russian Space Agency, and that during the grounding of the shuttle fleet, we were relying on Russian spacecraft exclusively to resupply the International Space Station.

Furthermore, our astronauts will once again be relying on Russian spacecraft to venture into space once our shuttle fleet is retired, because we don't have a replacement for the shuttle program ready yet.

So what were Bolden's comments to Al Jazeera really about?

Perhaps his comments reflected the reality that after several decades, we finally have an administration capable of understanding that science and technology are best used to improve people's lives.

Environmental science and sustainability research, in particular, promise to help us one day find enough food and clean water for everyone.

Science, in general, is about finding the answers to all those basic questions children everywhere wonder the answers to. Like, "Why is the sky blue?", "Are we truly alone in the universe?" or "Where did that come from?"

Islamic children ask the same questions that Christian and Jewish children do. It is a mistake to think that scientists only inhabit one hemisphere or continent. We need only look to history to see that Islamic scientists are responsible for many of the world's great scientific advances.

For instance, during the European Dark Ages, when philosophers of the age were being threatened or even burned at the stake for merely suggesting that the Earth might not be at the center of the universe, the Islamic world was taking and preserving the great astronomical and other scientific works of the ancient world that had survived at Alexandria. This painstakingly difficult task protected centuries of work that then became the foundation for the Age of Reason in Europe.

When Issac Newton talked about his work only being possible because he had 'stood on the shoulders of giants', he didn't just mean European scientists.

The people of the Middle East didn't magically lose their desire to know and understand the world around them. Rather, their thirst for knowledge has been suppressed through centuries of oppression, fear, and the darkness of superstition: we've even been seeing these desires emerging in the new generations of Iranians. This is not just in the protests and marches that took place during the Iranian election several months ago, but even within their own scientific community.

Iran has established its own space agency with the stated intent of achieving human spaceflight. In February 2009 the ISA launched its first domestically made satellite named "Omid," the Persian word for "Hope". Now, I don't believe that Iran's current theocratic leadership is well-intentioned.

Still, what this means to me more is that even inside of Iran there is this hope and desire to know more about the universe and to have a better life.

There's nothing wrong with building bridges through science and technology. During the height of the Cold War, we brought the "Space Race" to an end by cooperating with the Soviet Union to successfully complete the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. That was a major milestone.

We need to reach out to peoples of other nations if we are ever to achieve any true amount of homeland or global security.

As I've just pointed out, the concept of ideologically disparate countries coming together over space missions isn't a new idea.

By signaling our interest in peaceful, scientific collaboration, we are showing that we respect and wish to work with the Islamic world, rather than trying to destroy and convert it. This puts pressure on their clerical leaders and emboldens the people of countries like Iran to believe in progressive, American ideals like freedom.
"To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold- brothers who know now they are truly brothers."

— Archibald Macleish, after Apollo 8 reached the Moon
We are all better off working together than trying to kill each other.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

BP: Tim Eyman's newest corporate backer

How fitting.

One of the world's greediest, careless, and most despised megacorporations has just today been revealed to be one of the top financial backers of Tim Eyman's latest scheme to wreck representative government in Washington State.

Yes, you read that correctly: BP, the company responsible for the biggest environmental disaster in American history, is now underwriting Tim Eyman.

Bad People, Big ProfitsBP and Tim Eyman. Tim Eyman and BP. Now there's a foul pairing, if we ever saw one. Is BP's embrace of Tim Eyman ugly, stinky, or just plain disgusting?

(Answer: All three!)

The oil giant's North American subsidiary wrote a $50,000 check directly to Eyman's campaign committee on June 1st, 2010, matching the combined contributions given by Tesoro and ConocoPhillips the month before.

Those companies, meanwhile, each plowed in another $25,000. And just a week ago, on July 6th, Equilon sent Tim Eyman a $50,000 check.

But that's not all. BP also donated $15,000 to a separate pro-Initiative 1053 political committee called "Citizens for Responsible Spending". This committee has raised $309,000 from an array of different corporations over the last few weeks. Almost all of it ($299,500) was spent buying signatures from Citizen Solutions.

The oil industry is collectively the largest single funder of Initiative 1053, followed by a smattering of lobbying associations for other industries. They have taken over for Michael Dunmire, at least this year, as Tim Eyman's sugar daddy.

If you're wondering why oil companies spending heavily to assist Tim Eyman, the answer is simple. During the most recent legislative session, Washington's environmental movement urged the Legislature to raise the hazardous materials fee to provide more money for cleaning up polluted waterways, particularly Puget Sound. The oil industry's lobbyists in Olympia fought back hard.

They couldn't stop the idea from winning approval in the House, but they did manage to kill it in the Senate. Now, they're trying to prevent the Legislature from even considering the idea next year by dumping money into Initiative 1053.

If Initiative 1053 passes and takes effect, then all the oil lobbyists have to do is convince a third of each house (in other words, the Republican caucus) not to sign on any bill to raise the hazardous materials fee. And they can kill it.

That's what this is all about. These oil companies aren't sinking money into Initiative 1053 because they think it's good public policy. They're doing it out of greed. They're greedy, selfish, irresponsible polluters who don't want to have to foot the bill for the messes they create.

Naturally, Tim Eyman was only too happy to accept their checks; his greed matches theirs. He doesn't care who funds him, as long as he has a sugar daddy to keep the wheels of his initiative factory turning.

I doubt many readers have forgotten that Eyman previously pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign treasury for his own personal profit. He took his supporters' money for himself. He lied to them, just as he lies to the people of Washington every time he's trying to sell a new initiative. He's a first-rate snake oil salesman, the worst enemy Washington's common wealth has ever had.

We've got a huge challenge ahead of us. These oil companies have already bought the signatures they needed to force a vote on Eyman's initiative. They, along with Bank of America, Alaska Airlines, the Farm Bureau, the Realtors, and the Beverage Association, will no doubt continue to dump money into their own pro-Initiative 1053 political action committee. Their objective: Buy our votes.

It will not be easy to defeat them. But we must. Their greed threatens our state's well-being and our cherished tradition of majority rule.

Winning will require an incredibly creative and imaginative campaign. We're determined to do our part to wage such a campaign. We hope you are, too.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ask the Leader: Harry Reid to take questions at Netroots Nation 2010

Organizers of Netroots Nation announced today that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will once again welcome the netroots community to his home state of Nevada on the final day of the convention, which is once again in Las Vegas.

However, this time, instead of delivering a speech, Reid will be taking questions from the community. The discussion will be moderated by Daily Kos contributing editor (and friend of NPI!) Joan McCarter. Joan previously co-moderated Netroots Nation's presidential forum in 2007 with Matt Bai of the New York Times Magazine.

Questions can be submitted through either Facebook or Twitter. To submit a question via Facebook, post a comment on this Netroots Nation fan page note. To submit through Twitter, just add the hashtag #NN10Reid to the tweet containing your question. (The hashtag itself, plus a space before or after, is ten characters, so a Twitter question can only be one hundred and thirty characters).

Ours is as follows:
If you are reelected and the Democratic Party retains its majority in the Senate for the 112th Congress, will you commit to finding fifty one Democratic senators who will vote to change the Senate's rules on Day One, so that arcane, undemocratic procedures can no longer be used to routinely kill legislation that would address our nation's challenges?
Here's another one we like, from Free Press' Tim Karr:
While campaigning for the presidency, Barack Obama was an outspoken proponent of Net Neutrality, the principle that protects our right to chose what we do on the Internet. He appointed to chair the FCC someone who claimed to support this principle as well and pledged to put a lasting rule in place. Democratic leadership in the House and Senate have been supportive of Net Neutrality protections, as well.

But the rank and file in Congress haven't kept in line with dozens of Democrats defecting to side with the phone and cable lobby against open Internet protections. How do you propose to get members back in line in support of the Net Neutrality protections that millions of Americans have called for?
"Ask the Leader" will take place at 3:15 PM on Saturday, July 24th. Since Netroots Nation is back in Las Vegas for 2010, our live coverage will correspond with the official convention schedule for the first time in years. So, plan to have The Advocate open in your browser on July 24th at 3:15 PM for continuous updates.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Colton Harris-Moore captured in Bahamas

The teenage criminal who left Washington to find new stomping ground has finally — finally! — been nabbed by authorities:
"Barefoot Bandit" Colton Harris-Moore's well-publicized crime spree — two years in the United States and a week in the Bahamas — ended Sunday when he was arrested trying to escape Bahamian police in a stolen boat.

"It was like something you might see in the movies," said Ellison Greenslade, commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

Harris-Moore was arrested about 2 a.m. near Harbour Island following a brief high-speed boat chase. The capture unfolded at the Romora Bay Resort and Marina, where the suspect, carrying a gun and knapsack, told security director Kenneth Strachan, "They're going to kill me," according to CNN.

Harris-Moore, who had arrived on a 15-foot skiff, tried to steal a boat to leave the island, but ran aground and police shot out the engines, CNN reported.

"At one point, the boy threw his computer in the water and put a gun to his head. He was going to kill himself. Police talked him out of it," resort manager Anne Ward told CNN.
Now he's in custody and will hopefully stay there... for a long time.

I know from past conversations with folks who live on Whidbey, Camano, and the San Juans that Harris-Moore's capture will come as a great relief to the people of Washington's island communities. Harris-Moore was more than a nuisance; he was a highly effective criminal who caused a significant amount of property damage. He needs to be made to repay his victims to the maximum extent possible.

There is nothing heroic or chivalrous about what he did, and it's sad that some people are celebrating his success in eluding justice for so long. Our sympathy should be reserved for the people whose houses were broken into. And the people whose cars, boats, or planes were stolen. Home invasion and burglary are felonies.

It's likely, given that Harris-Moore committed crimes in so many different jurisdictions, that he will have to be charged in federal court where all of the cases against him can be consolidated. It'll be some prosecution. Certainly the governments of Island and San Juan counties will be involved, as will the FBI.

We look forward to the day when Harris-Moore is forced to appear in court and account for his crimes. He'll probably spend what should have been one of the best parts of his life in prison because of his poor choices and bad judgment. Too bad.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Initiative 1053 wouldn't fly in Sarah Palin's home state: What we can learn from Alaska

One of the unfortunate side effects that has resulted from John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 is the figurative beating that her home state of Alaska has had to endure. Many comedians and activists have become fond of cracking jokes about the Last Frontier in which Alaska is snidely portrayed as an ideologue-filled backwater inhabited exclusively by zealous reactionaries.

Although some progressives might find these jokes funny, as Northwesteners, we know that America's forty ninth state is not only home to many kindred spirits, but it's in the vanguard on several issues that are important to us.

For example, Alaska has constitutional provisions that discourage and limit abuse of the initiative process, whereas Washington does not.

In early 2007, a few weeks after Tim Eyman had filed the paperwork for Initiative 960 (which Initiative 1053 is based on), the Alaska Supreme Court decided a case called Alaskans for Efficient Government v. State of Alaska (PDF).

The case concerned the rejection of a measure that had been filed in 2003 by Karen Bretz, a reactionary Alaska lawyer who apparently was a Grover Norquist clone much like Tim Eyman or Bill Sizemore. (I use the past tense because it doesn't appear that she has been very active in recent years).

Bretz' measure sought to bar the Legislature from raising revenue without a three-fourths vote (sound familiar?) Like Tim Eyman's Initiative 807 — which Eyman recycled in 2007 to create Initiative 960 — it failed to make the ballot, though not because Bretz and her cohorts couldn't gather enough signatures.

Rather, it failed because the Republican lieutenant governor at the time — Loren Leman — would not certify it. I'll let the Court explain the facts:
In 2003 Karen Bretz, an Alaska voter and organizer of a non-profit corporation called Alaskans for Efficient Government (AFEG), filed a petition that proposed a ballot initiative designed to curb new taxes. The initiative proposed: (1) to require a three-fourths (seventy-five percent) vote by the legislature (or a majority vote by the electorate) to enact or increase taxes; (2) to allow municipalities to use initiatives for limiting local taxes; and (3) to prohibit taxes on real estate transfers.

After consulting with the Department of Law, the lieutenant governor rejected the petition, notifying Bretz that the department had determined that the proposal "does not comply with the constitutional and statutory provisions governing the use of the initiative."
As the above excerpt implies, Alaska's lieutenant governor is also its chief elections officer. (In fact, prior to 1970, the position was known as Secretary of State). Alaska's Constitution specifies that the lieutenant governor shall certify an initiative petition "[i]f he finds it in proper form".

It further stipulates that "[d]enial of certification shall be subject to judicial review" (Alaska Constitution, Article XI, Section 11.2, Application).

So, just to recap, Bretz presented her petition to Lieutenant Governor Loren Leman, who rejected it after determining that it was blatantly unconstitutional and would have the effect of illegitimately changing the Constitution. Bretz subsequently sued and the issue landed before Alaska's Supreme Court, which ruled against her.

The Court summarized the matter as follows:
Alaska law usually requires an initiative to be enacted before its provisions become subject to challenge but allows a pre-election challenge if the initiative conflicts with a constitutional provision that limits the initiative process. Here, we conclude that the initiative’s supermajority requirement conflicts with Article II, Section 14 of the Alaska Constitution, which requires bills to be enacted by a majority vote. Since Article XI, Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution does not allow an initiative to amend a constitutional requirement, we hold that the initiative was properly rejected for violating constitutional restrictions on the initiative process.
Unlike Alaska's Constitution, Washington's doesn't explicitly instruct the Secretary of State to certify an initiative "if he finds it in proper form."

Consequently, when Tim Eyman filed Initiative 960 three and a half years ago, Sam Reed's office allowed it to move forward even though it was blatantly unconstitutional. Had a measure with language nearly identical to Initiative 960 (or I-1053) been filed in Alaska, it would have been rejected, obviating an underhanded attempt to use democracy to abolish democracy.

Our courts, however, did have the opportunity to preemptively nullify Initiative 960... because several weeks before Eyman submitted signatures for it, Futurewise and SEIU 775NW filed a legal challenge seeking to block the measure, inspired by the Alaska ruling, which had been released in February.

Their legal challenge was basically a mirror opposite of the one filed by Karen Bretz in Alaska. Bretz had petitioned the courts to unblock her measure, whereas Futurewise and SEIU were asking that Initiative 960 be denied placement on the ballot.

Longtime readers may remember that the case first came before King County Superior Court, which refused to grant injunctive relief. Futurewise and SEIU 775NW appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

But instead of adopting the precedent established in Alaska, as Futurewise and SEIU 775NW urged it to, the Court defied uncommon sense and allowed I-960 to go forward, agreeing with the argument that a constitutional challenge was not appropriate until and unless the initiative was approved by the voters.

It was (albeit narrowly) and several months later, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown arranged and brought a second legal challenge against the measure, anticipating that the Court would finally consider whether I-960 was constitutional or not.

But again the Court chickened out, dismissing the case on a technicality.

And so, here we are in 2010. Tim Eyman is running the third incarnation of a blatantly unconstitutional measure that would take away our cherished tradition of majority rule because the nine people charged with upholding our Constitution and protecting us from this kind of nonsense essentially refused to do their jobs.

Alaska's Supreme Court, on the other hand, saw fit to look at the constitutionality of Karen Bretz' measure, decisively concluding that it was illegitimate because it attempted an end-run around Alaska's Constitution.
In the state’s view, the majority-vote clause of Article II, Section 14, restricts the use of an initiative by establishing that, except when otherwise provided in the constitution, a majority vote of both houses is the exclusive method for enacting a bill.

Under this view, since a majority vote is a constitutional requirement and, as such, under Article XIII, is not subject to change by initiative, a proposal to adopt a supermajority vote by initiative is barred because it conflicts with constitutional provisions that place the topic off limits to the initiative process. As the state puts it:
The Alaska Constitution requires only a majority vote of each house of the legislature to enact legislation. The measure proposed by the AFEG initiative, however, would establish new, additional requirements for enactment of taxation legislation. Specifically, the proposed measure would require a 75 percent majority vote of both houses of the Alaska legislature, or approval of a majority of the electorate, to enact legislation that would impose or increase state taxes.

Such a fundamental change to the constitutional requirements for enactment of legislation constitutes an amendment to the Alaska Constitution. Under the Alaskan constitutional restrictions on initiatives, the initiative process cannot be used to amend the constitution.
Tim Eyman has claimed — as Karen Bretz did when her case was being argued before the Alaska Supreme Court — that the language stipulating that bills shall pass by majority vote is only a "minimum baseline" ... in other words, only a floor and not a ceiling. But Alaska's Supreme Court recognized that a supermajority is tantamount to a minority veto; and is thus inconsistent with their Constitution:
AFEG insists that the negative phrasing of Section 14’s majority-vote clause — “[n]o bill may become law without an affirmative vote of a majority” — should be read as signaling the framers’ intent to set a floor, not a ceiling: to require at least a majority vote while allowing laws imposing stricter requirements. If the framers had intended to require no more than a majority vote, AFEG contends, they would have drafted the clause to read: “Any bill may be enacted by an affirmative vote of the majority of the membership of each house.”

But as the state correctly observes, other courts interpreting constitutional language have wisely refrained from attributing any automatic significance to the distinction between negative and positive phrasing. Here, for example, had the framers said “any bill” rather than “no bill,” AFEG’s logic would just as readily compel the anomalous conclusion that section 14 was meant to set a ceiling but not a floor — that a majority vote would be the maximum needed to enact any bill, but the legislature would remain free to specify a sub-majority vote as sufficient to enact laws dealing with specified subjects, as it saw fit.
Translation: Requiring a supermajority to pass certain types of bills makes as much sense as allowing a submajority to pass certain types of bills: a procedure stipulating either standard gives a minority of lawmakers power over the majority. And that is not how democracy is supposed to work.

Proponents of Initiative 1053 who have made it to this point might be tempted to refute this post by claiming that Washington's Constitution is not the same as Alaska's, so what I've just discussed is inconsequential.

Actually, the relevant sections of each state's founding documents are remarkably similiar. Compare them yourself. Here is Alaska's:
Section 2.14 - Passage of Bills. The legislature shall establish the procedure for enactment of bills into law. No bill may become law unless it has passed three readings in each house on three separate days, except that any bill may be advanced from second to third reading on the same day by concurrence of three-fourths of the house considering it. No bill may become law without an affirmative vote of a majority of the membership of each house. The yeas and nays on final passage shall be entered in the journal.
And here is Washington's:
Section 22. Passage of Bills. No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.
Emphasis in both excerpts is mine.

Let me further demonstrate that the similarity of our highest law and theirs is no mere coincidence by comparing the first sentence from Article VII, Section 1 of Washington's Constitution with Article IX, Section 9.1 of Alaska's Constitution.

Washington's says:
Section 1. Taxation. The power of taxation shall never be suspended, surrendered or contracted away.
Alaska's says:
Section 9.1 - Taxing Power. The power of taxation shall never be surrendered. This power shall not be suspended or contracted away, except as provided in this article.
Ironic, isn't it? Alaska's Constitution — and ours — flatly states that we the people do not have the right to decide to stop pooling our resources for the common good. Yet that is what Tim Eyman's initiatives are all about: Getting us to the point where we have essentially suspended and surrendered the power of taxation.

One of our Constitution's greatest weaknesses is that it does not place substantive limits on the initiative process to deter and prevent abuse, as most other states that permit ballot measures do. In Alaska, there are a number of subjects which their Constitution explicitly says are off-limits for initiatives. These are:
[Article 11] Section 11.7 - Restrictions. The initiative shall not be used to dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations, create courts, define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules, or enact local or special legislation. The referendum shall not be applied to dedications of revenue, to appropriations, to local or special legislation, or to laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.
I can think of several Eyman initiatives that probably would have run afoul of such a provision if it existed in our Constitution.

But we don't have such safeguards, and we have paid a price for it. This year's crop of corporate initiatives offers ample proof that the instruments of direct democracy have been corrupted. We need reform to protect the spirit and the integrity of the initiative process. And we need to reject Tim Eyman's latest attempt to sabotage our Constitution by voting NO on Initiative 1053.