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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lisa Murkowski concedes Alaska senatorial primary to Republican rival Joe Miller

Incumbent Republican senator Lisa Murkowski has seen the writing on the wall:
Incumbent Lisa Murkowski has conceded to challenger Joe Miller in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

Speaking to reporters at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage, Murkowski said "based on where we are right now, I don't see a scenario where the primary will turn out in my favor."

The concession come after a day of counting absentee ballots in which Murkowski gained little ground on Miller, the Fairbanks attorney backed by former Gov. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express.
Murkowski's campaign has already brushed off calls for the Senator to run under the banner of a minor party, like the Libertarian Party. Alaska's Libertarians, who appear to be a principled bunch, have already announced they don't want Murkowski as their candidate, period.

Since Alaska has a sore-loser law, Murkowski cannot file to run as an independent. If she's desperate, she could run under the banner of the Alaska Independence Party - a fringe minor party that supports Alaska's secession from the United States - or she could run as a write-in. The former wouldn't be an option if the AIP follows the Libertarians in rejecting her as their nominee.

But it sounds like she's done:
During a speech in which her voice wavered at times, she said that once she completes her term, "I'm coming back home."

"I'm looking forward to coming back home with my family and looking forward to building this great future, a great future that will not only be with my family but helping to fulfill Alaska's promise, because there's still so much work that remains to be done.

"You are who I am," she told Alaskans.
If she wants, she could probably land a comfy lobbying gig working for an oil company like BP in the near future. Or she could retire quietly to the Last Frontier.

Whether's Miller victory will benefit the candidacy of Democrat Scott McAdams remains to be seen. It certainly shakes up the contest. McAdams is likely to get a boost in resources and buzz with Miller as his opponent. With Murkowski out, McAdams is competing for a newly created open seat.

President Obama's second Oval Office address leaves much to be desired

This evening, President Barack Obama spoke to the nation in his second address from the Oval Office, announcing an end to Operation Iraqi Freedom, which began in March of 2003 when George W. Bush unwisely ordered American troops to invade and occupy Iraq on false pretenses.

The nineteen minute address seemed to have three parts. The first acknowledged the price America has paid for invading Iraq, both in blood and treasure. The second was a defense of the escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan. And the third was a reminder — as if anyone needed one — that our economy is still mired in a recession, and that many working families are without living wage jobs.

The highlight for me was this particular passage, which soberly linked the occupation of Iraq to the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush error:
Unfortunately, over the last decade, we’ve not done what’s necessary to shore up the foundations of our own prosperity. We spent a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle-class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.
Conversely, the part of the speech I disliked the most was the line, "Yet no one can doubt President Bush’s support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security."

No one? Sorry, but my generosity has limits. I am unwilling to whitewash the past. I disagree with President Obama on all three counts.

I question George Bush's love of country — his patriotism — because he questioned mine while he occupied the White House. No true American patriot would suggest (as Bush and his cronies did) that those who oppose the policies of a particular administration are anti-American.

A real patriot prizes dissent, and doesn't fly the emblem of their political party above the Stars and Stripes, as Bush and his followers did.

A real patriot, in a position of serious responsibility, doesn't crack jokes like, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

I question George Bush's support for the troops because he sent our soldiers into battle without proper gear, and neglected to ensure quality care was provided for our servicemembers when they returned stateside. And he didn't bother to attend the funerals of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, because he had better things to do. Like clearing brush at his ranch in Crawford.

George Bush never demonstrated a commitment to our security (lip service doesn't count), so there's nothing to even question there. The Bush error left America more insecure in every respect. Bush's policies weakened our military, our government, our environment, our economy, our health and well being, our workforce, and our international standing. The damage Bush and his cronies inflicted is still being repaired, more than a year and a half into President Obama's term.

I understand that the President wants to move on. Bury the hatchet, so to speak. Leave the past in the past. Unfortunately, as the old adage goes, we are doomed to repeat history when we forget it. That's why we at NPI, like many other progressives, have no intention of ever forgetting the Bush error and the destruction it wrought upon our country.

At the same time, we want to move on as well. But, curiously, the President did not use his speech to look forward. Instead, his remarks dwelled on the present. The address was chock full of the same platitudes and generalities we regularly hear from the White House and from Congress. Nobody is against the generic and undefined platform of job creation, reform, and efficiency. Nobody is against "unleash[ing] the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurtur[ing] the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs."

The best intentions do no good if they are not backed up with action. Where is the concrete plan for getting Americans back to work? Why didn't the President at least talk about the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010, which Senate Republicans are currently holding up?

Americans already know that these are tough times. What Americans want to hear from Barack Obama is, how do we escape this slump? What, specifically, is being done to spur lending, keep tuition from becoming unaffordable, and protect public services at the state and local levels? How is Wall Street's greed being checked? Those are the kinds of questions Americans are asking and want answered.

The President could do a lot of good by developing and articulating a new strategy for economic recovery. It's time to throw in the towel and abandon the current plan, which isn't working. The President did not do a good job of choosing his economic team, which is a serious problem, because the Great Recession has been and continues to be America's worst enemy.

In particular, Larry Summers (the Director of the White House National Economic Council) shares part of the blame for grinding down the New Deal-era firewall, which could have blunted the severity of the financial crisis.

How can the President talk about not giving back the keys to the country to the architects of the collapse when he himself has already done so by allowing Summers to chart his administration's economic policy?

The President needs to start listening to respected economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, and stop relying on Larry Summers' bad advice, which has resulted in dithering and inaction. Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner need to be fired and replaced with sharper minds who can provide sound advice.

And the President needs to start writing his own speeches so he can deliver a more cogent and heartfelt message when he speaks to the nation during primetime.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Seattle's DPD: We can't save a tree or grove of trees if somebody wants to cut it down

Longtime readers and supporters of NPI know that one of the most important qualities that sets us apart from other organizations is that we really try to walk our talk, or practice what we preach.

We detest lip service because it is insincere and empty. Platitudes sound good, but they ultimately have no meaning, for actions speak louder than words. That's why we do our banking with a credit union, do most of our printing on recycled paper made from one hundred percent post-consumer content with solid ink, and rely on free software to power our network and our phone system.

For several years now, one of our board members — Steve Zemke — has been at the forefront of efforts to get Seattle Public Schools and the City of Seattle to walk their "green" talk. Steve is an veteran activist who has led initiative campaigns to protect ratepayers from being bankrupted by unnecessary nuclear power plants, encourage recycling of disposable containers, and automatically adjust the minimum wage so it is closer to a living wage.

In 2008, he discovered that Seattle Public Schools was planning to raze a grove of trees at Ingraham High School (which is publicly-owned property) to make room for a campus expansion. The project was among those included in a ballot measure approved by voters the previous year, known as the Building Excellence III capital bond. Unfortunately, as Steve quickly learned, there was and still is nothing excellent about the campus expansion that the district conceived for Ingraham.

Steve and his neighbors have been tirelessly fighting an uphill, multi-year battle to save the Ingraham trees, against great adversity. They've been bullied by Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's corrupt administration. They've been scorned by Seattle Public Schools' board of directors. And they've been ignored by the City of Seattle's Department of Planning and Development (DPD), which has repeatedly rubber-stamped the project instead of exercising its authority to require changes so Ingraham can get a new building without losing its trees.

District officials could have averted the whole battle by simply asking Ingraham High's neighbors for input before designing the project. But they did not. Instead of consulting with the community, they did all their planning behind closed doors, and then tried to dot their i's and cross their t's quietly, figuring that they could do what they wanted. And when neighbors, including Steve, did object, the district reacted defensively and arrogantly. Rather than admit they had make a mistake, district officials went to great extremes to invent excuses for why they could not change or modify the proposed expansion to avoid razing the tree grove.

After realizing that the district administration had no intention of listening, Steve and his neighbors created a petition to demonstrate the community's concern. The petition was signed by then-King County Executive Ron Sims and state Senators Ed Murray and Ken Jacobsen, along with numerous candidates for elected office.

After accumulating more than half a thousand signatures in just a few short weeks, the petition was presented to the Seattle School Board on April 9th, 2008. By that time, Steve had begun to suspect that the board had zero interest in flexing its oversight muscles and insisting that the campus expansion project go back to the drawing board. He appealed to the board member who represents the neighborhood where Ingraham is located, Peter Maier, with no success.

He was likewise given the cold shoulder by Steve Sundquist, who at the time was serving as the president of the board of Climate Solutions, one of the Northwest's best known environmental groups.

(Sundquist is still on Climate Solutions' board, and we have long wondered why somebody who serves as an officer for an organization committed to advocating "practical and profitable solutions to global warming" would sign off on the needless destruction of more than five dozen mature douglas fir and western red cedar trees on public property he oversees).

Eight of Seattle's nine city councilmembers subsequently sent a letter to the Seattle School Board asking Sundquist, Maier, Sherry Carr, Michael DeBell, Mary Bass, Cheryl Chow, and Harium Martin-Morris to consider alternative designs that would allow the campus to expand while leaving the tree grove intact and undisturbed. But still the board did not act.

Meanwhile, Ingraham neighbors continued to find evidence that the district's rationale for razing the tree grove was phony. As Steve wrote in May 2008:
The Seattle School District does not need to cut down any large trees to build the addition at Ingraham High School. The North side of Ingraham High School has an open grassy lawn that the school district has actually identified as a future building site in their master plan for Ingraham High School. Considering the magnitude of the impact on the current site that clear cuts 2/3 of a magnificent grove of trees, most reasonable persons would scratch their heads and ask, "Why don't you build the proposed addition there and save the trees?"
In August 2008, district officials withdrew their building permit applications with the City of Seattle and hired Weiss Tree Company to raze the grove. "As long as these applications are not pending, no city permits are required for removal of the trees, as none of those trees constitute 'exceptional trees' under city codes," Facilities Manager Fred Stephens wrote in a letter to neighbors.

Left with no other option, the neighbors sued the school district in King County Superior Court. The district moved to cut down the trees in the interim so that the case would be moot, but Judge John Erlick issued a temporary restraining order halting the tree-cutting. Two weeks later, while NPI staff were in Denver covering the Democratic National Convention, Erlick granted the neighbors an injunction which remains in effect today. The injunction prohibits the district from razing the grove until it obtains a master-use permit from the City of Seattle.

Instead of rethinking the Ingraham campus expansion, the district responded by simply refiling its permit application, still intending to displace the tree grove.

In early 2009, Seattle's Department of Planning and Development approved the district's plans, which Steve and his neighbors subsequently challenged. The City Council, meanwhile, passed an interim tree protection ordinance designed to close the loophole in city codes that the school district tried to exploit when it withdrew its building permit applications. Reflecting on the limitations of the city council's good intentions, Steve wrote in February 2009:
Once developers decide to build somewhere, saving trees is not a high priority of the city's Department of Planning and Development. In most cases trees always lose out to construction and development. The job of the DPD is to assist developers in their plans for construction and to gain approval for their projects. The interim tree ordinance still allows trees to be cut down during the development process, even if they are exceptional.
Steve's observation was prescient, because DPD is currently seeking public review and comment on proposed tree regulations that the City Council asked it to develop in May 2009. DPD's final report will be submitted to the City Council by Mayor Mike McGinn this autumn.

The proposed regulations are unfortunately a complete farce:
The proposal calls for ending all protection for mature trees in Seattle. It would rescind Director’s Rules 16-2008 which protects exceptional trees in Seattle.

It would also repeal the interim tree ordinance passed last year by the City Council which among other things protected tree groves and limited the number of trees which could be cut down in any given year. DPD’s proposal runs counter to Resolution 31138, passed by the Seattle City Council last year calling for strengthening trees protections, not weakening them. And it ignores most of the problems identified by the City Auditor in 2009 entitled “Management of City’s Trees Can be Improved.”
DPD's attitude is aptly summed up by the title of this post.

Basically, they're saying, we can't save a tree or a grove of trees if somebody wants to cut it down. Since when have the objectives of protecting urban canopy and fostering smart growth been mutually exclusive?

Reading through the frequently asked questions DPD produced (PDF) as an accompaniment to its proposed report, I was reminded of something I'd read in Suburban Nation a few years ago:
Like many state departments of transportation, Virgina's discourages its state roads from being lined with trees, which are considered dangerous. In fact, they are not called trees at all but FHOs: Fixed and Hazardous Objects. [Virgina Department of Transportation Regulations, 8/95 edition, table A-3-1. The manual adds that "every effort should be made to remove the tree rather than shield it with a guardrail."]
See the similarity? Virgina's DOT considers trees to be dangerous; Seattle's DPD considers them to be a nuisance. DPD's report basically recommends that property owners be encouraged to protect or plant trees, but not be required to. Forbidding property owners from cutting down exceptional trees, as well as requiring permits for tree-felling, "would place a substantial burden on property owners and could create a disincentive to retaining such trees", DPD says in its FAQ.

This is utter nonsense.

It's like arguing that requiring rigorous safety and environmental protection safeguards for offshore rigs would place a substantial burden on oil companies and could create a disincentive to drilling safely. The whole point of having and enforcing regulations is to minimize harm to the public interest.

Because trees can't be restored once they have been chopped down, it makes sense to require a permit for their removal.

A mature tree takes decades to grow. Many species of trees can live for centuries or even millennia. Some of the trees at the Ingraham grove, for instance, are older than the dilapidated school buildings they shadow.

Since DPD has no interest in protecting Seattle's trees, that responsibility should be given to another agency. Steve has suggested the Office of Sustainability and Environment, which seems like a natural choice. OSE could become DSEP... the Department of Sustainability and Environmental Protection, responsible for issuing tree permits and conducting environmental reviews of proposed development, leaving DPD free to concentrate on what its employees obviously consider to be their mission: helping property owners develop their property.

The Ingraham campus expansion serves as an ongoing case in point.

DPD continues to willingly rubber-stamp Seattle Public Schools' every move. The district is still stubbornly pursuing its ill-founded aims after more than two years of litigation. Although Steve and his neighbors succeeded last year in convincing a hearing examiner that DPD had violated Seattle Municipal Code in signing off on the destruction of the tree grove, that did not stop the district from resubmitting its plans yet again (with slight modifications), nor stop DPD from approving them.

The latest incarnation of the plans received the okay last month from the same hearing examiner who had previously scuttled them.

Steve and his neighbors plan to appeal the hearing examiner's decision in King County Superior Court... which is once again their last recourse.

Hopefully a judge will sensibly do what Maria Goodloe-Johnson's underlings, the SPS' board of directors, Mayor McGinn's DPD, and hearing examiner Ann Watanabe did not: Ensure the protection of the majestic trees at Ingraham High School. It's time that the Emerald City started saving the few green spaces it has left, rather than mindlessly permitting the destruction of valuable urban canopy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Patently ridiculous: Paul Allen sues Apple, Google, Netflix, eBay, Yahoo, and Facebook

Looks like one of Seattle's richest is declaring war on Silicon Valley. Via TechFlash:
A tech licensing company controlled by Paul Allen is suing eleven Internet and retail giants — including Google, Apple, Facebook, Office Depot, Yahoo, YouTube, Netflix and eBay — alleging that they're violating patents on “fundamental web technologies” developed by Interval Research, the now-defunct Silicon Valley lab that Allen created with Xerox PARC veteran David Liddle in the 1990s.
Wired adds:
The four patents at issue allegedly cover basics of online commerce, including recommending products to a user based on what they are currently looking at, and allowing readers of a news story to see other stories based on the current one. Two other patents relate to showing other information on a web page, such as news updates or stock quotes.
I'm not a lawyer — let alone an expert in patent law — but these sound like bogus software patents to me. The United States Patent & Trademark Office has been criticized — deservedly so, in my view — for groundlessly issuing patents to unscrupulous people who then turn around and try to extract large sums of money from individuals and companies allegedly violating the bogus patent(s).

For example:
U.S. Patent No. 6,687,746, now held by Hoshiko, LLC, claimed to cover the method of automatically assigning Internet subdomains, like "action.eff.org" for the parent domain "eff.org." Previous patent owner Ideaflood used this bogus patent to demand payment from website hosting companies offering personalized domains, such as LiveJournal, a social networking site where each of its three million users may have their own subdomain.
The above-mentioned patent was squashed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the world's leading digital rights organization, as part of its Patent-Busting project. EFF probably won't get directly involved in this case, since there are so many high-profile defendants who can afford to hire their own lawyers and analysts to dispute Allen's claims, but it might submit an amicus brief.

It is unclear what Allen hopes to gain by going to court. Not included among the defendants in Interval's lawsuit are Pacific Northwest tech giants Microsoft (which Allen cofounded) and Amazon.com (whose new headquarters in South Lake Union was developed by Allen's investment powerhouse Vulcan, Inc.)

If all the companies Allen is suing have really violated his patents, then so did Microsoft and Amazon.com.

But like I asserted earlier, I think Allen's patents are bogus.

U.S. patent law states that a patent may not be granted if the supposed invention is obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the art.

That last sentence is basically a bit of legal mumbo-jumbo which effectively means that an invention which could naturally occur to many different people working in a particular field or industry cannot be patented.

Allen's "inventions" seem to fall under this category.

For example, Patent 6,263,507 appears to describe a website such as NPI's Pacific NW Portal, which aggregates blog posts, podcasts, tweets, and so forth:
In a particular application of the invention, the content of audiovisual news programs is acquired from a first set of one or more information sources (e.g., television news programs) and text news stories are acquired from a second set of one or more information sources (e.g., on-line news services or news wire services). In such a particular application, the invention can enable the user to access the news stories of audiovisual news programs in a random manner so that the user can move quickly among news stories or news programs. The invention can also enable the user to quickly locate news stories pertaining to a particular subject.
Another patent concerns "alerting users to items of current interest" and appears to describe possibly related posts/stories widgets (sometimes carrying the label, You may also be interested in...). Such widgets can be found on hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of websites.

The final two patents concern functionality that serves to capture a user's attention (many scripts for displaying intrusive ads would seem to fall under this description). Again, such widgets can be found on millions of sites.

The issuance of bogus software patents, and bogus patents in general, can have a chilling effect on economic development and prosperity, as explained by Michael Heller in The Gridlock Economy:
The changing rights environment hasn't just affected the behavior of existing firms. It has catalyzed the emergence of its own brand of modern-day robber barons, firms often called "patent trolls." These firms do not invent or make anything; instead, they often seek out and buy control of relatively low-value, weak patents that may be infringed by valuable products. MAD [mutually assured destruction] does not deter this last group. Their business model depends on leveraging defects in the patent system: trolls make money because litigation is chancy, court-ordered remedies exceed the probabilistic value o the litigated patents, and settlements can be coerced from successful product manufacturers desperate to avoid injunctions that shut down their businesses.
In this excerpt, Heller is describing one of the symptoms of patent gridlock — the bane of software developers and drug makers.

Patent gridlock results in something Heller calls the "tragedy of the anticommons", which he defines as "any setting in which too many people can block each other from creating or using a scarce resource."

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office — and similar agencies in other countries — have gotten into the dangerous habit of rubber stamping applications that seek to patent inventions already in widespread use. "We programmers are often amazed by the simplicity of the ideas that real software patents cover - for instance, the European Patent Office has issued a patent on the progress bar, and one on accepting payment via credit cards. These would be laughable if they were not so dangerous," Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman wrote in 2005.

The Foundation for Free Infrastructure maintains that patents for software — like the kind Allen holds — should not be granted at all, because copyright is more than adequate for protecting ownership.

We support this view. It is our hope that Paul Allen's lawsuit ends in failure and results in the revocation of his bogus patents.

That would be the best outcome for the common good.

When companies or individuals are constantly under the threat of patent litigation, they can't innovate or bring new products to market. Gridlock ensues as companies retaliate against patent lawsuits by filing their own lawsuits. Most of the biggest tech companies in the United States are both plaintiffs and defendants in ongoing patent lawsuits. Oracle is suing Google, Apple is suing HTC (a maker of phones that run Android). Patent troll NTC previously sued Research in Motion and extracted a large settlement out of the BlackBerry maker.

I could go on, but I've made my point. There is a reason no country in the world has a purely "capitalist" economy. Too much ownership actually thwarts innovation, cripples markets, and prevents economic growth.

Michael Heller observes:
Private property can no longer be seen as the end point of ownership. Privatization can go too far, to the point where it destroys rather than creates wealth. Too many owners paralyze markets because everyone blocks everyone else. Well-functioning private property is a fragile balance poised between the extremes of overuse and underuse.
Progressives seek to maintain such a balance, while conservatives seek to upset it, naively believing that we'll all benefit if we privatize, privatize, privatize. In reality, we need government to provide a level playing field to prevent the overuse and destruction of scarce resources.

Unfortunately, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office is not exercising due diligence when reviewing patent applications. That leads to the approval and existence of "patently ridiculous" patents like Allen's, which in many cases sit undefended for years before their "owner" decides to cash in. This abuse could be potentially stopped or at least mitigated by reorganizing the patent office under new management and procedures instead of attempting the more arduous task of rewriting patent law.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Former Justice Phil Talmadge is not a liberal

Over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Strange Bedfellows, Chris Grygiel has a post up commenting on an analysis just published by the right-wing Washington Policy Center which asserts that the Supreme Court is likely to strike down Initiative 1098 as unconstitutional if it is passed. (For those not aware, I-1098 is the one progressive initiative on our ballots this year. It would levy an income tax on high-earners, which would be dedicated to education and healthcare).

Skimming through the post, something Chris wrote caught my eye. The beginning of the fourth paragraph describes the author of the analysis — ex-Justice Phil Talmadge — as "a former Democratic state senator who is considered a liberal."

Considered a liberal... by whom?

Certainly not by people who are actually liberal. The last few times Phil Talmadge's name has come up in a conversation which I took part in was in a negative context.

A real liberal would never provide cover and credibility for a right wing think tank, or write legal opinions on behalf of big oil companies, or endorse the state Supreme Court's two most right-wing justices for reelection, or attempt to thwart the voter-approved expansion of Sound Transit's Link light rail system.

Talmadge doesn't even appear to be a loyal Democrat. Here's a disturbing tidbit from the end of a 2006 Seattle Times article about the contest to replace Party Chair Paul Berendt, who headed the Washington State Democrats for many years:
Talmadge said that until he heard from [State Senator Margarita] Prentice, being party chairman was "the last thing I would have decided to do."

He says he will begin to contact party members. But first he is waiting to hear what Gov. Christine Gregoire thinks of his candidacy.

Talmadge dropped out of the governor's race because of medical issues. He was a tough critic of Gregoire's. During his campaign, he shared opposition research on Gregoire with key allies of Gregoire's opponent, Republican Dino Rossi.

Talmadge said he asked Prentice to check with Gregoire personally to make sure the governor approved. "I wouldn't be foolish enough to do this if the head of the party in effect was someone who couldn't work with me," he said.
Emphasis is mine. Apparently Gregoire was none too happy with the idea of Talmadge heading the party, because less than seventy two hours after the above was published, Talmadge took himself out of the running.

To be fair, Talmadge was a state senator and a justice long before I became an activist, so maybe he was a liberal at one point. But he evidently did not hold firm convictions, because he's working for the other side these days. As I wrote when I reflected on Joe Miller's attack ads against Lisa Murkowski, real liberals do not expend time, talent, and treasure undermining or opposing progressive policy directions. Talmadge, unfortunately, does.

Whatever he is ideologically these days, it can't be accurately described as liberal.

POSTSCRIPT: I guess it's not a surprise that a right wing think tank that manipulates and distorts data would contend that an income tax is unconstitutional based on a bizarrely reasoned Supreme Court decision from the 1930s while failing to acknowledge or admit that Tim Eyman's I-1053 — like I-960 before it — is blatantly unconstitutional. Coincidentally, Phil Talmadge was part of the majority that struck down Tim Eyman's first unconstitutional initiative... I-695.

Shirley Sherrod was fired, Van Jones was forced out... but Alan Simpson gets to stay

Proving that its critics were correct in asserting that it has a double standard, the White House yesterday declined to take action in response to former Senator Alan Simpson's offensive comments about female seniors. President Obama's deputy communications director Jennifer Psaki told reporters: “Alan Simpson has apologized and while we regret and do not condone his comments, we accept his apology and he will continue to serve.”

Let me see if I have this straight.

When an individual targeted for takedown by the Republican Noise Machine gets slimed and taken out of context by the likes of the blowhards at Fixed Noise Channel, senior administration officials unceremoniously abandon the individual in question and send him or her packing without thinking twice about it.

But when a former Republican senator appointed by the President to serve on a task force working on an issue of great importance to the country shoots his mouth off, they let it slide. What gives? What's up with that?

The IOKIYAR rule strikes again.

I could understand keeping Simpson on, despite his inflammatory and derogatory remarks, if the same courtesy had been extended to Shirley Sherrod and Van Jones. But it wasn't. President Obama's senior staff punish loyal people the right wing goes after by cutting them loose.

But they don't take action when an ageist, sexist Republican (who doesn't share our values!) crudely describes Social Security as "a milk cow with three hundred and ten million tits" in a rude email reply to an advocate for seniors.

And Robert "Those people ought to be drug-tested" Gibbs wonders why many on the left aren't happy with the Obama administration.

Tapping Simpson was a mistake to begin with. He has previously referred to seniors as "greedy geezers" and rambled on at length about how he can't stand people who want to protect Social Security for future generations:
Let me tell you, everything that Bush and Clinton or Obama have suggested with regard to Social Security doesn't affect anyone over sixty, and who are the people howling and bitching the most? The people over sixty. This makes no sense. You've got to scrub out [of] the equation the AARP, the Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare, the Gray Panthers, the Pink Panther, the whatever. Those people are lying... [They] don't care a whit about their grandchildren...not a whit.
Here's a thought: How about, in lieu of asking Simpson to resign, we just scrap the whole deficit reduction commission (also informally known among netroots activists as the "catfood commission"?) It isn't serving any useful purpose that we can see. To date all it appears to have accomplished is generate bad press for the administration. It never should have been created.

We don't need a commission to figure out how to bring the federal budget back into balance, because there are a number of obvious solutions: End the occupation of Afghanistan, lower our expenditures in Iraq, cut defense spending, let the Bush tax cuts expire, and raise additional revenue by closing corporate tax loopholes and ending subsidies for gargantuan companies that don't need them.

That's the way to reduce the deficit, responsibly.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Don't let that computer idle... put it to work for the greater good!

When I was a child, growing up in the rural West Virginia community where I was born, I learned that resources aren't limitless, and the smartest thing a person can do is use everything they have wisely and efficiently. This conservation ethic likewise served me well during my time in the United States Army. As a scout, I needed to be able to carry around anything I might need on my back. Wasting space wasn't an option. Reusing tools was a necessity.

Most of us aren't Army scouts, but that doesn't mean we have to be wasteful. Especially when it comes to our gadgets, which we own an increasing number of. A few folks are good at turning off their computers when they're not using them. But I suspect far more people just leave their computers on in an idle state when they're doing something else, like answering the phone or fixing a meal.

If you're somebody who falls into the latter group, there's something easy you can do to avoid wasting the energy your computer is consuming while it's idle.

First, a little background.

As many readers are aware, scientific funding in our country (whether public or private) can unfortunately be very limited and hard to find, especially during a recession. What a funding shortfall often results in is a lot of data without enough computers to process the information. This is where BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) comes in.

The program, started at the University of California, Berkley's Space Sciences Laboratory, is designed to tap the unused power of a personal computer.

What BOINC does is make use of your computer while it is idle to process through the backlog of scientific data. You can come back to your computer at any time and BOINC will stand down so you can resume whatever you were doing or start a new task. BOINC has already helped make possible several Pulsar discoveries important to the science of astrophysics.

Readers concerned about user privacy and the security of their computer need not worry about losing peace of mind by participating in this project, because BOINC is free software (free as in free speech, not free beer). That means it doesn't have any proprietary blobs of code "phoning home" to the likes of Google or Facebook.

I am fan of the Einstein@home project (which focuses on astrophysics) but there are many other projects out there that you can participate in which make use of the BOINC network. The UW runs such a project... Rosetta@home.

You can see a full list at BOINC's website.

The software can be downloaded from this page. Those who use any of the popular GNU/Linux distributions (like Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, Mandriva, or Gentoo) should be able to grab the software out of their distro's repositories.

Chances are, if you've got a computer, there's going to be times when it's powered on and running, but you're busy, away, or relaxing, as I noted earlier. Why not set up your computer to serve the greater good during those times?

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski trails challenger in Alaska primary

Surprising news from the Last Frontier this evening: Lisa Murkowski, one of only three incumbent Republican senators left in the greater Pacific Northwest, is running behind her Sarah Palin-backed challenger Joe Miller, who appears to have benefited substantially from tea party organizations based in the Lower Forty-Eight. As of midnight Pacific Time (11 PM Alaska Time), Miller led Murkowski by 2,881 votes, with two-thirds of Alaska' precincts reporting.

Republican primary for U.S. Senate (see current results)
Lisa Murkowski: 48.29% (40,577 votes)
Joe Miller: 51.71% (43,458 votes)

Alaska's Republican voters are very right-wing, so it figures that Miller's supporters tried to discredit Murkowski by calling her a liberal:
The California-based Tea Party Express reported spending $600,000 on behalf of Miller with ads that labeled Murkowski a liberal who is prone to voting with the Democrats.

Voters were getting robocalls until the last minute from Palin, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and former Alaska Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, saying the country is in crisis and Miller is the man to straighten it out. Those calls were financed by Miller, who raised $180,000 for his campaign.
I didn't think I would ever have an occasion to come to Lisa Murkowski's defense, but there's always a first time for everything. I agree heartily with Senator Murkowski that she is no liberal.

Real liberals support a strong common wealth that is wisely invested for the common good, well-regulated markets to ensure broader prosperity, mutual responsibility, civil rights for all, jobs that pay a living wage, walkable neighborhoods, clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, the conservation and stewardship of our public lands, police and fire protection, excellent public schools, and an effective government that is open and efficient.

Senator Murkowski does not agree with those policy directions, nor does she agree with the principles that underly them. She is unabashedly conservative. And yet her opponent's supporters are calling her a liberal.

I have to wonder... why'd they stop there? Why not be really dishonest and call Murkowski a Stalin-worshiping, Marxist-adoring Communist, since Miller's tea party crew obviously has no compulsion about lying to their fellow Republican voters?

If Murkowski doesn't bounce back in later returns, she will become the second sitting senator to have been ousted by her own party this year. Alaska is heavily Republican, so it's likely Miller would pick up Murkowski's seat, but if he emerges as the nominee, that could make Sitka mayor Scott McAdams' candidacy more attractive to Alaska voters in the general election.

In other news, Sean Parnell looks set to the Republican nominee in the gubernatorial race. His opponent will be Democrat Ethan Berkowitz, who is surviving a challenge from Democratic legislator Hollis French. Berkowitz previously ran against Don Young last cycle and nearly won.

Voters are also approving a right wing ballot measure that restricts the ability of young women to get an abortion. Under Measure 2, a girl younger than seventeen cannot legally abort a pregnancy unless her parents have been notified. Similar poorly-conceived laws are already on the books in more than two dozen states.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Apple leapfrogs Google, seeks patent for future device that would spy on its users

It appears that Apple has aspirations to overtake Google as the number one threat to user privacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports:
It looks like Apple, Inc., is exploring a new business opportunity: spyware and what we're calling "traitorware." While users were celebrating the new jailbreaking and unlocking exemptions, Apple was quietly preparing to apply for a patent on technology that, among other things, would allow Apple to identify and punish users who take advantage of those exemptions or otherwise tinker with their devices.
The creepy details are as follows:
Apple's patent provides for a device to investigate a user's identity, ostensibly to determine if and when that user is "unauthorized," or, in other words, stolen. More specifically, the technology would allow Apple to record the voice of the device's user, take a photo of the device's user's current location or even detect and record the heartbeat of the device's user. Once an unauthorized user is identified, Apple could wipe the device and remotely store the user's "sensitive data." Apple's patent application suggests it may use the technology not just to limit "unauthorized" uses of its phones but also shut down the phone if and when it has been stolen.
But it doesn't end there.
However, Apple's new technology would do much more. This patented device enables Apple to secretly collect, store and potentially use sensitive biometric information about you. This is dangerous in two ways: First, it is far more than what is needed just to protect you against a lost or stolen phone. It's extremely privacy-invasive and it puts you at great risk if Apple's data on you are compromised. But it's not only the biometric data that are a concern. Second, Apple's technology includes various types of usage monitoring — also very privacy-invasive. This patented process could be used to retaliate against you if you jailbreak or tinker with your device in ways that Apple views as "unauthorized" even if it is perfectly legal under copyright law.
This isn't a joke, folks. This is from a real patent application. Specifically, United States Patent Application 20100207721.

What is Apple's objective here? Are they trying to turn the iPhone into the eyePhone? Create a zillion telescreens that they can control from Cupertino?

Words really can't describe how wrong this idea is. It's just wrong.

Apple executives apparently envision a day in the not-too-distant future when it will become feasible for them to mass-produce this technology and build it into their devices (phones, music players, computers, tablets... and whatever else they sell). Why else are they trying to patent traitorware?

Whatever happened to the company that once told us — in a memorable ad announcing the Macintosh a quarter century ago — that it wanted to save us from the kind of world depicted in George Orwell's 1984?

Like Google, Apple is turning against the very ideals espoused by its founders in its pursuit of profit. Here's what Steve Jobs said back in 1984 about the 1984 ad:
It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers initially welcoming IBM with open arms now fear an IBM-dominated and-controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right?
How ironic that Apple is now trying to prove George Orwell right.

Port of Seattle's CEO doesn't want a raise

Full Disclosure: Gael Tarleton, who represents the people of King County on the Seattle Port Commission, is a member of NPI's Board of Directors.

Earlier today, I noticed that multiple media outlets had picked up on a media advisory issued yesterday by Puget Sound Sage (originally the Seattle Alliance for Good Jobs and Housing for Everyone), which was sent out with this eye-catching subject: Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani, second highest-paid public employee in state, poised to receive 4 percent raise while workers face layoffs, decreasing wages.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Publicola were among those that picked up on the Sage release, summarizing its contents and mentioning today's Port Commission meeting without bothering to dig deeper. I figured there was more to the story, since I've spent a not insignificant amount of time learning about the Port and how it operates. (I hear regularly from more than one commissioner, and not long ago, I actually participated in a Port retreat as an observer).

As it turns out, Puget Sound Sage failed to provide some important context to the reporters and bloggers that they reached out to with their release.

Specifically, they did not explain that the Commission is required — by Article II, Section B of the Port's bylaws — to evaluate the CEO's performance and salary annually, and to approve the CEO's objectives for the next year. This annual evaluation and review has taken place at the end of August the last few years.

The Sage release made it sound like the Commission is so happy with Yoshitani that they wanted to give him a raise, when in fact they were obligated to look at his salary — as well as his past performance and plans for the future — during this meeting. The release likewise made it sound like Yoshitani was quietly seeking a raise, when in fact he does not want one.

How do I know? Because prior to today's meeting, the CEO preemptively requested that the Commission not consider a salary increase for him today or at any future meeting within the next year. Yoshitani did the same thing in 2009 — this will be the second consecutive time he has explicitly asked that he not be given a raise.

It is true that Yoshitani could have been eligible for a raise — and was — because the Commission rated his performance as CEO "Outstanding". However, the Commission was not obligated to up Yoshitani's pay as a consequence of giving him high marks. (Commissioner John Creighton seemed to be under that impression; consequently, he abstained from the performance vote).

Sage could have found all this out if they had waited to comment, like I did, but they did not. About an hour after the Commission meeting had convened, they issued a new release declaring that "the pay raise vote had been canceled".

It included this cryptic paragraph:
Charla Skaggs, port corporate media officer for external affairs, said an evaluation of Tay’s job performance remained on the agenda but the subsequent pay raise agenda item was removed. When asked why, she said news reporters and members of the public would need to ask that question directly to commissioners.
I suspect that Charla wasn't more forthcoming because the Commission was in the midst of a public meeting and had not yet gotten to the relevant agenda items, which were slated to be discussed near the end. The Port's bylaws require that the conversation about the CEO's performance, salary, and future plans must happen in public. By opting not to elaborate to Sage, Charla was honoring the Port's bylaws, and deferring to the popularly elected Commission, which governs the Port.

So, contrary to what Sage suggested to reporters and editors, Port CEO Tay Yoshitani was not "poised" to receive a raise because he didn't want one.

It would have been nice of them to acknowledge that rather important fact.

POSTSCRIPT: The Seattle Times' Keith Ervin has written a solid, well-researched story about today's Port Commission meeting, which clearly explains that Yoshitani didn't want a raise. Kudos to the Times for providing that context, upfront. Erica Barnett has likewise followed up for Publicola.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Surprise! Studies show pesticides cause ADHD

Proving once again how stupid it is that we use millions of pounds of pesticides to "cleanse" our crops of insects and other pests, several new studies have found a link between a class of chemicals called organophosphates and ADHD:
Organophosphates are a set of common pesticides that work by attacking the nervous systems of insects. When people are exposed to high levels of the chemicals, they can develop anxiety, confusion impaired concentration, and other serious symptoms. More recently, scientists have started to wonder how chronic exposure at low levels might be affecting people, especially kids, whose nervous systems are still developing.

To find out, Eskenazi and colleagues followed up on a long-term study that has tracked more than 300 Mexican-American women in an agriculturally intensive region of California since they first became pregnant in 1999 or 2000. When the women were pregnant, the researchers measured levels of pesticide breakdown products in their urine. More recently, they collected urine samples from the kids and evaluated measures of attention.
Here's what they found:
By age five, the team reported in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, kids who had been exposed to higher levels of OP pesticides in the womb were five times more likely to have an attention deficit disorder. The finding was stronger for boys.
We already know that drugs and alcohol can seriously interfere with a pregnancy... but people don't seem to appreciate that toxic chemicals are likewise toxic and not appropriate for consumption by anybody, let alone pregnant women. That's probably because we don't see the chemicals. But they're still there.

If I went into a grocery store and slapped toxicity stickers on all of the produce that came from fields sprayed with pesticides, I'm willing to wager that sales of such produce would dwindle to almost nothing. Most people would opt to buy organically grown produce, even if it costs more. (They might eat less as a consequence, but that might not be a bad thing, either).

Because pesticide residue lingers on fruits and vegetables, the findings suggest that people either buy organic or take the time to wash their produce well.

Washing "conventionally grown" produce throughly can help remove pesticide residue on the surface of fruits and vegetables, but it doesn't eliminate systemic pesticides, which are contained within the plant.

That's why it's important to buy organic, locally-grown food whenever possible, either through a farmer's market, or from a store like PCC. (PCC maintains a handy chart depicting when local, organic produce is in season).

We in the Pacific Northwest are lucky to have several terrific organizations working to promote and strengthen sustainable agriculture, particularly the Oregon and Washington Tilth Associations. Follow the links to their websites to learn more about gardening and farming naturally.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to disable Facebook Places

If, like me, you have no desire or intention to continuously broadcast your location to the world through Facebook — or permit others to do so for you — I strongly encourage you to join me in disabling Facebook Places.

Big Brother AvatarDespite having been advised repeatedly to make its data-collecting "features" function under an opt-in model, Facebook, under the "leadership" of Mark Zuckerberg, continues to do exactly the opposite. Consequently, netizens wishing to protect their privacy must take action.

Props to the ACLU's dotRights Project for their efforts to hold Facebook Big Brother accountable. In typical Facebook fashion, it's not possible to shut down Places by clicking one master off switch. Instead, you have to uncheck a box here and change a setting on a dropdown menu there. This is by design, of course.

The instructions:

Adjusting Check-In Visibility, Turning “Friend Check-Ins” and “Here Now” Off
  1. Go to your privacy settings page and select “customize settings.”
  2. Adjust your settings:
    1. To adjust who can see your check-ins, use the pulldown next to “Places I Check-In.”
    2. To disallow friend check-ins, disable the "Friends Can Check Me In To Places" option.
    3. To disable Here Now, uncheck the “Include me in 'People Here Now' after I check in” box.
Preventing Your Friends’ Apps From Receiving Your Places Info
  1. Go to your privacy settings page and select “edit my settings” under the “Applications and Websites” title.
  2. Select “edit settings” next to “info available through my friends.”
  3. Uncheck the "Places I've Been" box.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center and Electronic Frontier Foundation have also weighed in with their concerns about Facebook Places.

FutureLawyer, meanwhile, offers a compelling reason to turn off Places:
I can see the litigators salivating now. The first question in every deposition will now be: "Do you have a Facebook Account?" And, the next question will be: "Do you have the Facebook Places location service turned on?" Of course, to use a person's wanderings in litigation, relevance and materiality objections will have to be navigated. However, in a discovery deposition, you may ask questions that solicit any answer that may lead to the discovery of relevant evidence. I have a modest proposal for you; tell your kids, and your significant other, and your clients, and anybody you know to politely decline Facebook's kind offer to track your location, and the location of all of your Facebook friends. It could get ugly out there.
Ugly might be an understatement, because Facebook didn't create adequate safeguards to prevent people from adding homes to its Places database.

Here's Ars Technica:
Sex blogger and educator Violet Blue posted a transcript of Facebook's announcement wherein Zuckerberg was questioned over whether users can remove their homes as a "place" if others have added it to the database without the user's consent (during a party, for example). The response is fumbling at best—a Facebook engineer said that people should only be adding places that are public, duh — and Zuckerberg said the only recourse is to flag it for removal. However, if only one user flags an item, it's unlikely to be removed, therefore exposing a user's address to anyone else on Facebook indefinitely.
Ready, fire, aim! That seems to be Facebook's motto. They still haven't learned their lesson after the last dustup. Leaving defensively-worded comments on blog posts about Facebook Places isn't an effective way for the company to build goodwill, either. Why don't they try listening for a change?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Patty Murray thanks volunteers at campaign HQ — dressed in jeans and tennis shoes!

Disproving the assertion of talking heads on cable television that Democrats are up against a big "enthusiasm gap" this election cycle, volunteers and supporters of Patty Murray excitedly packed her headquarters in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood to cheer on the Democratic ticket as the deadline passed to turn in ballots for the August 17th election.

Many had spent the evening phonebanking and chowing down on pizza from Zeeks, but stuck around to cheer on Washington's senior senator, who will be battling with Dino Rossi over the next eleven weeks.

The atmosphere in here is pretty electric. President Obama's visit today seems to have infused some energy into our local Democratic base, if this party is any indication. The common area looks festive, too. There's balloons and streamers and red signs with Murray's name in white, above the tagline, Solving Problems / Helping People. Several television cameras are set up against one wall.

Murray has already appeared several times to thank everybody. Volunteers have also taken to chanting, Six more years and Patty!.

Other Democratic elected officials have stopped by to show their support, including King County Councilmember Larry Phillips and U.S. Representatives Jay Inslee and Jim McDermott. State Party Chair Dwight Pelz is also with us.

At one point, Murray went around the room shaking hands with her supporters and personally thanking them for their efforts.

She certainly knows how to engender goodwill.

Patty Murray thanks supporters
Unlike her opponent, who always seems to look like a slickly dressed salesman, she was simply attired, in a blue shirt, jeans, and yes, tennis shoes.

"All you know that many years ago, I put on my tennis shoes and I told you I was gonna go to work every day and make sure that I fought for all of you," Murray told the assembled volunteers after being introduced by NPI's Outreach & Advocacy Director, Rick Hegdahl (a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom).

"I listen to what you have to say, and I go back, twenty five hundred miles away. to Washington D.C., to be your voice and to say what you would say if you had the opportunity to do what I've been so fortunate to do," she added.

Murray covered some of the highlights of her third term in office, which concludes at the end of this year. Some of the accomplishments she cited that she is most proud of include the creation of the Wild Sky Wilderness, improving healthcare and job opportunities for returning veterans, passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and, most recently, securing federal funding to avert teacher layoffs and Medicaid shortfalls.

"I will take on anybody, including my own administration or any administration, if they come between my state and what's right," Murray declared. "I know with your help... and your support... and your backing, I can do it."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reichert under 50%; Suzan DelBene easily coming in ahead of all other challengers

Full Disclosure: I am a supporter and volunteer for Suzan DelBene's campaign to replace Dave Reichert as U.S. Representative in WA-08.

Good evening from Renton! I'm stationed in Renton at Suzan DelBene's campaign headquarters. The big story of the night is that Dave Reichert is failing to capture more than fifty percent of the vote even though he spent more money and is the three term incumbent. Voters here are familiar with Reichert. But they're just getting to know Suzan DelBene, who started early and is easily finishing second despite having spent very little money on advertising.

Reichert's share of the vote in King County is only 47.35%, while in Pierce County, he is barely managing 50%. Reichert is actually receiving a smaller percentage of the vote than he did in 2008 and in 2006, despite this being a low-turnout election in a year when the conventional wisdom is that Democratic voters are disillusioned.

Although Suzan is only receiving 26.5% of the vote, she is happy because "we got to save our resources for the general election," as she put it.

DelBene was also not the first Democratic candidate on the ballot; that distinction belongs to Tom Cramer. He raised little money and did little serious campaigning, yet is pulling in around 10% of the vote. A slew of other candidates identifying with other parties — or no party — are running behind him.

It remains to be seen who will pick up their votes in the general election. Voters who feel dissatisfied with Reichert could potentially break strong for Suzan DelBene, but there's no guarantee of that.

Suzan and her team have chosen not to mimic what Darcy Burner did in the last two cycles (namely, going up on television before the August "primary") so as to have a bigger war chest going into the autumn.

So far, their strategy seems to be paying off. To defeat Reichert, they'll need to turn out every last reliably Democratic voter they can find.

In a close race, every little bit counts.

Returns are in for the first stage of Washington's general election

Although many counties have yet to report, enough ballots have been tabulated and reported for us to have some idea of what the outcome will look like in federal and judicial contests once the August 17th election has been certified.

In the battle for U.S. Senate, Patty Murray and Dino Rossi have emerged as the finalists, to nobody's surprise. Murray has about 46% of the vote; Rossi has about 34%. No other candidate has more than 1% of the vote, except tea party darling and federal subsidy-taker Clint Didier, who is capturing just over 12%.

The two contested races for Supreme Court have also failed to yield any unexpected outcomes. Incumbent Justice James Johnson, the BIAW's man on the Court, is easily winning reelection, with more than 60% of the vote. His challenger, Stan Rumbaugh, has only 33% of the vote, and isn't capturing any of the counties that have reported in yet. That includes King. Rumbaugh has no hope of winning without carrying King, so he's finished.

However, Johnson's colleague, paleoconservative Richard Sanders, won't be able to claim victory tonight. His opponents — Charlie Wiggins and Bryan Chuschoff — have a combined 52.4% of the vote, to Sanders' 47%. Since Wiggins is in second place, he now heads into a runoff with Sanders. They will face off again in the general election on November 2nd.

There is little drama in the congressional races. Jay Inslee appears set to face Republican James Watkins, while Rick Larsen will go up against John Koster (again). Denny Heck and Jamie Herrera will square off in the 3rd. Doc Hastings' opponent will be former Marine squad leader Jay Clough, and Norm Dicks will be running against Doug Cloud (who he has beaten before). Adam Smith, meanwhile, will be on the ballot with Republican Dick Muri.

However, something unusual is happening in the 5th: The Democratic Party's nominee, Clyde Cordero, is coming in fourth. Two other self-proclaimed Democrats are ahead of him: Spokane television personality Daryl Romeyn and precinct committee officer Barbara Lampert.

It appears very unlikely that Cordero will move on, so the Democratic Party will need to decide whether to get behind Cathy McMorris Rodgers' challenger.

McMorris Rodgers isn't facing competition from any other Republicans, and consequently, she's netting more than sixty percent of the vote in the 5th.

President Obama visits Washington on first official trip out to the Evergreen State

A year and a half after taking office, President Barack Obama has finally made his first official visit to the great State of Washington.

Air Force One touched down at Boeing Field at eleven o'clock this morning, making two turns before coming to a halt on the tarmac.

Moments after the Lift-a-Loft was wheeled over to the door, the President himself appeared, to cheers and whistling, accompanied by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, also our immediate past governor. The President and Secretary Locke were greeted by Senator Murray, Congressmen McDermott and Dicks, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

President Obama waves upon arrival in Seattle
Before getting into his armored Chevrolet Suburban, the President walked over to the viewing area and shook hands over the barrier, taking his time to greet everybody. He was upbeat and cheery, to the delight of the fifty or so people gathered to welcome him to the Emerald City. A few minutes later, the motorcade was ready to leave, and sped away from Boeing Field to Pioneer Square.

President Obama waves upon arrival in Seattle
There, the President stopped for lunch and held a roundtable with Gillian Allen-White of Grand Central Bakery, Tiffany and Brady Turner of the Inn at Discovery Coast, and Joe Fugere of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria. He bought a turkey sandwich and a locally-grown salad with a sweet treat for the road, after assuring the cashiers (Andrea and Rachel) that it would not be appropriate for him not to pay.

"You gotta ring me up," he said with a laugh.

After meeting privately for the better part of an hour, the President addressed national and local reporters. He took aim at Republicans for obstructing the progress of the small business aid bill, and praised the business owners he'd met with for pursuing their dreams in the face of adversity, particularly a tough economy.

"When you listen to these three business owners and you talk to small business owners across the country, it’s clear that we’ve got to do more," the President said, after reflecting on some of the benefits provided by ARRA.

"And that’s why I’m urging the Senate once again to approve a jobs bill that will do two big things for small businesses: cut more taxes and make available more loans. That’s what folks like the three people standing behind me say would be helpful. That’s what I’ve heard from small business owners across America."

"The bottom line is this: America’s small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of our communities," the President declared. "The folks who own them work hard, meet their responsibilities — as Gillian pointed out, nobody here is getting too fat and happy; everybody here is operating on very lean margins, and they are constantly thinking about their employees and their obligations and responsibilities to them. So in the same way that they’re looking out for their employees, we need to be looking out for these small businesses."

The President did not take questions after concluding his remarks due to his tight schedule. He left Pioneer Square not long after noon, arriving at The Westin at 12:40 PM, to address a packed fundraising luncheon for Patty Murray, attend mostly by state's Democratic establishment. The cheapest tickets were sold for $500, and many wealthy Democrats paid much more.

"It is good to be in Washington!" the President declared after stepping to the podium. "Seattle just looks terrific. I just want to go take a stroll. But Secret Service said no," he said to laughter.

"As I look out on the crowd, I see a lot of people who helped so much during the course of the campaign," he continued. "You were with us when we were up and you were with us when we were down. But you always were there, understanding that we were at a critical point in our history and we needed to make some fundamental changes in order to deliver that promise to the next generation."

"And so, to everybody here who supported me during my campaign and helped me become the President, thank you so much for your outstanding efforts."

Turning his attention to our senior senator, the President reflected, "When I was in the Senate, I sat next to Patty on the Veterans Affairs Committee. And I can tell you there is no fiercer advocate for our veterans than Patty Murray. Nobody. Whether it was keeping three VA hospitals open here in Washington, or helping a World War II veteran break through the bureaucracy so he could receive his Purple Heart, no problem is too big, no problem is too small for Patty to fight for you."

Demonstrating his respect for the Democratic Party's nominating process, the President added, "I want everybody to understand I’m asking you to cast a primary vote today — I know she is unopposed, but it doesn’t hurt to practice."

(Murray, of course, does have token opposition on the actual ballot, but the President is correct in that she has no rival within the Democratic Party).

Later on, mocking Republicans, Obama joked, "You remember our slogan during the campaign, Yes, we can? Their slogan is, No, we can’t.No, we can’t. That’s really inspiring. This vision they have for the future... gives you a little pep in your step when you hear it."

Obama referred to Dino Rossi only once during his speech, and not by name. It was towards the end, after the President had did his standard bits about refusing to make decisions based on polling, and using the analogy of a car stuck in a ditch to describe America during the Bush error.

Sounding amazed (and repulsed at the same time), the President said, "They voted en masse against Wall Street reform — and now Patty Murray’s opponent has earned the distinction of being the first candidate in the country to call for repeal of Wall Street reform. Think about this. He wants to go back to the old rules and the lack of oversight that caused the worst crisis since the Great Depression. That is — don't you think that's strange?" Laughter filled the room.

After concluding his remarks at 1:34 PM, the President headed back out to his motorcade, which swept up Olive Way, guarded by an army of police motorcycles. Obama arrived at RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser's home in Madrona at about 1:40 PM. He stayed for approximately an hour and twenty minutes, speaking to a group of about sixty people with Lake Washington as his backdrop.

President Obama's motorcade rolls through Seattle
He covered a lot of ground, repeating much of what he said at The Westin.

But he also sounded some different notes.

"It’s an unbelievable privilege to be President," Obama said. "In fact, this is the time when you want to be President, because we are at one of these inflection points in our history, where, after for decades putting off tough challenges, for decades not addressing problems that were structural in our economy, in how we are training our young people for the 21st century economy, we now have the necessity to step up and do right not just for the next election, but for the next generation."

The President cited Patty's leadership in securing fiscal aid for states to avert teacher layoffs and protect Medicaid coverage.

"If it hadn’t been for Patty, states like Washington would have had to lay off tens of thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers. Because of Patty, we were able to get help that states and local governments needed."

"I’m also always sympathetic to Patty because she was always trying to catch the plane back home and when the votes went late, she’d be looking at her watch and thinking, 'Well, that one just left, and there’s one more, and I've got ten minutes, and [Republican Senator] Jim DeMint is talking.'"

He concluded his remarks by saying, "If you stay with us, if you’re willing to see this thing through, I’m confident that we’re going to be able to look back, despite all the ups and all the downs, we’re going to be able to look back and say that what we did mattered; that this was a moment that counted; and that you were standing there to be counted at that critical moment in this country’s history."

Initial estimates are that Murray's campaign and the state party raised a combined $1.3 million. A good percentage of that will doubtless be spent on consultants, cycling the money back through the state's Democratic establishment.

The President departed Madrona at three o'clock in the afternoon for an uneventful trip back to Boeing Field, arriving exactly a half hour later.

Air Force One took off at 3:40 PM for Columbus, Ohio, ending the Commander in Chief's first official visit to the Evergreen State.

Election Day has arrived: Have you dropped off or mailed in your ballot?

Today is Election Day... the first stage of the 2010 general election in Washington State. (Sam Reed's office calls it a primary, but it's unfortunately not a real primary, so we are trying to avoid calling it that). If you have not yet voted — and are able to — we at NPI urge you to make some time to fulfill your civic duty today. Several contests for judicial office may or will be decided, and Democratic and Republican precinct committee officers will be chosen.

Your ballot must be postmarked by today for it to count, so if you are planning on going to the post office, don't wait. You also have the option of taking your ballot to a drop box if you live in downtown Seattle, Bellevue, or Tukwila, or have business in one of those cities during the day today. Drop boxes are located at:
  • Tukwila, King County Elections, 9010 East Marginal Way S, 98108
  • Bellevue City Hall 450 110th Avenue NE, Bellevue, 98009
  • Seattle, Union Station 401 S. Jackson St, Seattle, 98104
Each of these drop sites will be accepting ballots until 8 PM tonight.

King County Elections will release results tonight at 8:15 PM; other counties will be on different release schedules. We'll be bringing you live coverage of the returns beginning shortly after 8 PM.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gotta catch 'em all: Yet another dishonest Reichert search ad materializes

Last night I reported the discovery of a second dishonest Reichert ad placed as a "sponsored link" with search engines, forty eight hours after Suzan DelBene's campaign alerted the media to the first one. The team at NPI has now discovered a third ad, showing up on Bing and Yahoo (and possibly Google).

This one isn't about environmental protection or equal pay for equal work, however, which I jokingly suggested would be next.

Instead, it's about economic security:
Serve-Protect-Strengthen Dave Reichert.com
Reichert for U.S. Congress: Learn How He's Fighting to Create Jobs!
Except he's not. Reichert hasn't lifted a finger to help working families in the 8th Congressional District, or anywhere else for that matter. Early in his current term, he made it plainly clear whose side he's on when he voted against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the stimulus.

The legislation — which Reichert challenger Suzan DelBene supports — has preserved or created hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide.

More recently, Reichert voted against Senate Amendment 4567 to H.R. 1586 on August 10th. That amendment will provide billions of dollars in federal aid to avert teacher layoffs and protect Medicaid coverage for our most vulnerable citizens. Without it, Washington State would be grappling with a much deeper budget shortfall. But Dave Reichert voted NO. Because that's how Dave rolls.

Reichert isn't even for saving jobs, let alone creating them.

When is the lying going to stop?

If you'd like to see the ads for yourself, go to one of the three big search engines (we suggest Bing or Yahoo, since Google is evil) and type in "Dave Reichert", "Suzan DelBene", "Tim Dillon", or "Tom Cramer".

You should see Reichert's ads. It turns out his operatives bought ads to run above searches for the names of three of his opponents as well as Reichert's own name. Curiously, no ads for Reichert appear when searching for the names of his other opponents. Then again, Suzan, Tom, and Tim are the ones who appear to be most visible... they've got yard signs up around the district.

We'll stay on top of this and let you know if any more blatantly false Reichert ads materialize on search engines.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Multiple, dishonest text ads for Dave Reichert now showing up on Bing, Yahoo, and Google

A couple of days ago, Suzan DelBene's campaign announced that they had discovered a dishonest text ad placed by Reichert's operatives, which was appearing as a "Sponsored Link" above Google search results.

The ad's description reads, "Dave Reichert | Leading Through Challenging Times - Learn How He's Fighting Wall Street" — which is a lie.

As I explained in my post on Friday, it's a lie because Reichert hasn't done anything to stand up to Wall Street. There isn't even a tiny, itty bitty hook he and his operatives could hang that claim on.

Well, as it turns out, the ad DelBene's campaign found is apparently just the beginning. We've now seen in the ad in multiple search engines, and what's more, we've found another ad, which is just as dishonest as the first.


Screenshots of Dishonest Reichert Ads on Search Engines
Dishonest Reichert ad on GoogleDishonest Reichert ad on YahooDishonest Reichert ad on Bing
Ad on GoogleAd on YahooAd on Bing


The second one — which is running on Bing — reads as follows:
Dave Reichert DaveReichert.com
Learn How Congressman Dave Reichert is Working to Improve Healthcare
First Dave was fighting Wall Street, now he's working to improve healthcare... gee, what'll be next? Learn How Dave Reichert is Taking On BP and Protecting Our Coasts? Or will it be Leading Through Challenging Times - Learn How He's Demanding Equal Pay For Equal Work?

Readers, here's an offer: If you discover a new dishonest Reichert ad on a search engine that's different from either of the two found so far — and you take a screenshot of it — we'll let you guest post your discovery here on The Advocate. The first person to contact us about each unique ad will get the honor.

I've said this before: Reichert's entire reelection strategy is built on name familiarity and personal likability. That's it. There is no substance. All he is in Congress is another vote for the Republican agenda. He doesn't have any notable accomplishments to his name. He isn't an elected leader.

He's just a tall, handsome guy who holds the office.

But the 8th District deserves more than a seatwarmer. The 8th deserves somebody who will bring the values of This Washington to That Washington. In my view, there is such a person running, and her name is Suzan DelBene.

Unlike Dave Reichert, Suzan is running on her values and her experience as a successful businessperson. She doesn't need to fool voters to win. More importantly, she doesn't believe in resorting to trickery to get ahead, because she knows it's unethical and immoral. She would have been a yes vote for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, unlike Reichert, who voted no and has offered no alternative. And she would have been a vote for the Restoring American Financial Stability Act, unlike Reichert, who voted no and has offered no alternative.

Letters, we get letters...

We get our share of unusual or strange letters here at NPI. Every so often, I like to publish particular missives that are quirky or amusing, just for fun. Here's such a message that we received only a few days ago:
I would like to have the voters approve that kids in school will wear uniforms.

All of the kids will feel equal. I am not usally a proponent of things like this, but the more kids worry about what they are wearing, the less that they are likely to work for an education. This should not be about who can wear the coolest clothes. I don't care if the stores make any money on school clothes. This should be about education!

Let's let them worry more about things that count, like their grades, and graduating from High School, and moving on to college.

I am tired of seeing kids that have to worry about how 'hip their clothes should be. Clothes should not be an issue, so when they wear things like each other, they will be more equal.

If they wear much the same clothing, the less they worry, and then, they can use their potential towards better grades, and a better life for themselves, and those around them.

Thank you for listening.
The person who sent this message was evidently under the impression that we're a conservative organization, rather than a progressive one.

(Oddly enough, this happens more often than you might think. It's amazing how illiterate many people are, especially right wingers who think having a university education makes a person stuck-up and elitist.)

There is no credible evidence that forcing students to wear uniforms increases academic performance, brings about desired changes in behavior, or makes "all of the kids [...] feel equal", as the author of this letter stridently asserted.

Research has simply yielded a different conclusion.

In a paper on the subject, written for the University of Notre Dame more than a decade ago, David L. Brunsma and Kerry A. Rockquemore found that mandatory uniforms have only a cosmetic effect:
Instituting a mandatory uniform policy is a change which is immediate, highly visible, and shifts the environmental landscape of any particular school. This change is one that is superficial, but attracts attention because of its visible nature. Instituting a uniform policy can be viewed as analogous to cleaning and brightly painting a deteriorating building in that on the one hand, it grabs our immediate attention but on the other, is, after all, really only a coat of paint.
The biggest problem we have with the idea of requiring students to wear uniforms, however, has nothing to do with effectiveness and everything to do with freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is part of our freedom to speak freely, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. As proponents of youth empowerment, we strongly oppose policies that prevent students from exercising their First Amendment rights.

Furthermore, as advocates of unconventional thinking, we reject what school uniforms represent: rigidity and conformity. As longtime readers know, we have our own "Washington Progressive Blogroll" summer t-shirt tradition, essentially a wearable guide to the blogs that comprise our local netroots community.

Part of the reason we've kept this tradition alive is so that we can give ourselves and other netroots activists something to wear that wasn't designed and marketed by Madison Street. It's a way we can exercise our right to free speech.

Nobody should dictate to students what they can wear when they go to school. That's not to say schools can't have a reasonable dress code, but administrators should not have the power to insist that students wear a particular outfit each and every day. The only "voters" who should have the option of adopting such a policy are the students themselves. Put the question to a vote before any public school's student body... our guess is that the vast majority would be against, every time.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Team DelBene catches Reichert operatives puffing up Dave's image with false Google ad

Dave Reichert's 2010 reelection campaign is getting more inept with each passing day, it seems. Less than a week after being slammed by The Seattle Times by failing to offer any rationale for siding with Wall Street and voting against financial services reform during his editorial board interview, Suzan DelBene's campaign has discovered that Reichert operatives recently bought at least one very dishonestly worded Google ad. Take a gander:

Dave Reichert's false Google ad
The text in the image above, if you can't see it, reads:
Dave Reichert
DaveReichert.com Leading Through Challenging Times - Learn How He's Fighting Wall Street
"The link just goes to his website’s splash page, which doesn’t mention anything about Wall Street or financial reform," noted DelBene communications director Scott Whiteaker, who forwarded the image above to reporters.

This ad, of course, is an outright lie. Sometimes campaigns will make claims that are misleading, but this goes beyond that. It's utterly dishonest. Reichert hasn't done anything to stand up to Wall Street. Not one thing. Just ask Reichert's former cheerleaders at The Seattle Times. They know he doesn't have answers:
On issues ranging from the wars to the economy, three-term Republican incumbent Reichert is unstudied and comes up short. After six years in office, this is unacceptable.

Reichert opposed financial reform, but was unable to explain what he did or did not like about the legislation. The 8th District deserves someone who is faster on their feet.
Reichert's operatives know their Google ad is a lie. They're just trying to whitewash Reichert's record in an attempt to fool gullible voters.

Perhaps they figured they wouldn't get caught.

If so, they were wrong. They and their clueless boss are up against a remarkable team of people who are determined to bring effective representation to the 8th Congressional District... Team DelBene.

Reichert has capitalized on name familiarity and personal likability to carry him narrowly to victory three cycles in a row, benefiting each time from late October attacks launched against his Democratic opponent by his allies.

No doubt those same allies will be asked to ride to Reichert's rescue again. But if Reichert's pals are counting on catching on Suzan DelBene off guard, they are in for a rude surprise, because DelBene knows how to counterpunch.

As a congressman, Reichert is an embarrassment, and unfortunately, there's really nothing at this point that he can do about it. He had his chance to stand up to Wall Street. And he had many, many chances to demonstrate that he doesn't do what John Boehner and Roy Blunt tell him to. He squandered those opportunities.

Now he has to face the voters and his operatives are trying to portray him as the opposite of what he is. Rewriting history might be an effective method of shaping public opinion in Oceania, but it isn't going to work here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Marriage equality to return to California next Wednesday, by order of Judge Walker

Fantastic news... Judge Vaughn Walker has ruled that the stay of his decision striking down California's Proposition 8 will be lifted as of next Wednesday at five o'clock in the evening. The delay is meant to give opponents of marriage equality time to ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay.

If the appeals court opts not to override the cancellation of the stay (which it could do by simply refusing to act), gay and lesbian couples will be able to once again obtain marriage licenses in the Golden State in just a few days.

In his ruling, Judge Walker opined that foes of marriage equality do not have standing to bring an appeal, since Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown are not interested in defending Proposition 8.

"As it appears at least doubtful that proponents will be able to proceed with their appeal without a state defendant, it remains unclear whether the Court of Appeals will be able to reach the merits of proponents' appeal," he wrote.

Progressive organizations immediately applauded Walker's action.

"Same-sex couples across California can once again share in the respect and personal significance of marriage, as well as the critical safety net of protections and responsibilities that marriage will bring to their families," said Evan Wolfson, Executive Director of Freedom to Marry, in a statement sent to NPI.

"All Americans agree that weddings matter and marriage is the foundation of strong families. Families and the institution of marriage itself can only be strengthened by the inclusion of more committed couples bound by unconditional love and enduring partnership," added Rick Jacobs, the founder and chair of the Courage Campaign.

Firedoglake has a good summary of what to expect when the case reaches the 9th Circuit, where it will likely be first looked at by a three judge panel.

It is our firm hope that as of next Wednesday, marriage equality will return to California for good. This is a democracy; and for a democracy to remain a democracy, majority rule must exist in harmony with minority rights. Without the former we eventually get oligarchy; without the latter, we eventually get mob rule.

Proposition 8 is not only unconstitutional because it took away LGBT rights. It's also immoral. Its popularity in California is irrelevant.

As I have noted here many times in discussing Initiative 1053 and Initiative 960, just because an idea is popular doesn't mean it is legitimate. Democracy cannot be used to abolish democracy.

Achieving marriage equality is in keeping with all of the great civil rights advances that have been made over the years. Marriage between gay and lesbian couples does not threaten or harm any heterosexual marriage. The contention that the institution of marriage will be harmed if gays and lesbians are allowed to marry is indefensible. We're glad to see that a federal judge agrees.