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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Server move complete!

A quick housekeeping note: For the last few days, we've been working on moving NPI's network to a new virtual home, and as of a few hours ago, we severed ties with our old host and pointed our domain name to our new one.

This change should be pretty transparent (meaning nothing will seem different than before, except that our site should load more reliably), but it's possible that some things have inevitably gotten broken in the process.

We'll try to fix those in the days ahead.

The new DNS continues to propagate as of this hour, but most folks should be getting routed to the correct place when typing in www.nwprogressive.org. Anyone reading this post is definitely browsing our site at its new digs.

We made this move mainly because we wanted to entrust our site to a provider that offered better technical support and more robust software for network administration. Hopefully, the payoff will be that we spend less time wrangling with computers and more time working to advance the common good.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Big insurance companies belatedly dumping money into BIAW's Initiative 1082

It took them some time to get on board, but a bevy of big insurance companies has finally begun pumping money into the Building Industry Association of Washigton's initiative to destroy our publicly administered industrial insurance system, which protects workers who get injured on the job.

Liberty Mutual, to date the BIAW's main partner, recently tossed another $200,000 into the Initiative 1082 coffers, bringing its aggregate total to half a million dollars. That's nearly as much as the BIAW itself put in.

Meanwhile, The Hartford Financial and Farmers Services LLC (the latter a a Zurich subsidiary) have pumped in $150,000 and $125,000, respectively. They are now the third and fourth largest contributors to the measure.

Other insurance companies that have gotten involved include Seabright Insurance and Alaska National Insurance Company. Each has contributed $50,000.

And two industry trade groups — the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America — have put up nearly a combined $120,000.

The following chart — from StopGreed.org, NPI's newest project — visually depicts all of the contributions I just mentioned. This is actually a snapshot of an interactive chart that we've been updating it as more industry money flows in. To see the most up-to-date version, check out StopGreed.org's Visual Analysis page.

Contributions to I-1082, as of September 29th, 2010

The BIAW's I-1082 fund now has close to a million dollars available to spend with just a couple of weeks left until ballots drop.

Fortunately, the broad coalition fighting I-1082 hasn't waited to spring into action. It has already launched its third television ad, called "There for me".

The ad features firefighter Brian Hurley, who explains that our publicly-run system took good care of him after he was injured in the line of duty.

But, as he says, our publicly-run system is now under attack by insurance giants, who shamelessly want to make money off of injured workers. Our publicly-run system was designed to take care of people, not make money, so it doesn't delay and deny claims like private insurers in other states.

NPI joins with Brian and thousands of other working men and women in urging Washingtonians to stop insurance industry greed and vote NO on Initiative 1082.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Camera shy Dave Reichert won't agree to any debates with Suzan DelBene

Dave Reichert, who many political observers consider to be one of the most vulnerable House incumbents, has apparently decided that he simply won't be accepting any offers to debate his Democratic challenger Suzan DelBene.

The Tacoma News Tribune picked up on a press release recently sent out by the state Democratic Party, taking Reichert to task for holding a fundraiser at a undisclosed location with Rudy Guiliani but not making time for voters. The News Tribune managed to get in touch with campaign spokesman Darren Littell, who reporter Lewis Kamb quoted as saying:
"As far as the debates," Littell told me yesterday, "they waited to request anything until very late and Congressman Reichert’s schedule had already filled up."
Somebody should tell Littell that the citizens his boss works for aren't as stupid as he thinks they are. This is definitely one of the most pathetic excuses I've ever heard from any Republican operative, ever. It's beyond lame.

Suzan DelBene's campaign waited all of forty eight hours after Secretary of State Sam Reed had certified the August 17th election to send a debate proposal to Dave Reichert. That was September 9th. Several weeks later, Reichert and his team have done nothing more than acknowledge that they received the letter.

There were fifty two days remaining until the deadline to turn in ballots passed at the time the letter was sent.

Reichert only has to be in the District of Columbia for five days in October. He managed to fit debates into his schedule when he ran against Darcy Burner in 2006 and 2008. But not this year. He just doesn't have the time.

What's different? What gives?

The answer: Reichert has become so lazy that he hasn't even bothered to memorize talking points to explain the votes he's taken in Congress. He's simply unprepared to face the voters.

“Congressman Reichert knows his record of fighting for Wall Street barons and opposing tax breaks for small businesses is indefensible,” said Scott Whiteaker, communications director for Suzan DelBene. “Why else would he refuse to talk about his own record? Voters deserve to see candidates stand side-by-side in an open and direct debate and address the issues they face. Unfortunately, Congressman Reichert doesn’t see it that way.”

Littell or somebody else working for Reichert apparently realized that Littell sounded ridiculous, so five hours after the News Tribune had published the quote above, Littell again went on the record and said something quite different:
"Nothing has changed since yesterday," Littell said. "We’re not ruling out the debates. We’re continuing to work to arrange things to accommodate different requests."
So now they've gone back to stalling. Littell is right about one thing: Nothing has changed. He and Reichert's other handlers can say what they like — and stonewall Team DelBene until the cows come home — but the truth is, the entrenched Republican politician they work for just doesn't want to debate.

Murray campaign announces another October rally, this time with Bill Clinton in Everett

Elvis is coming!

Minutes ago, Patty Murray's campaign announced via email that the big dog himself — Bill Clinton — is coming to Washington State for a memorable get out the vote rally with supporters. The event will be held on Monday, October 18th, at the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett.

"In 1992, our nation faced so many of the same challenges we face today," Senator Murray observed in a press release sent to NPI. "I worked with President Clinton to build the foundations for a thriving economy and record budget surpluses. That legacy was squandered by the failed policies of the Bush administration, but we now have the chance to move forward on a new path that will put middle class families first."

"President Clinton has always been a strong advocate for middle class families – the ones who work hard and play by the rules – and I am proud to stand by his side and we work on building a stronger America to help those families succeed.”

Clinton is the third Democratic all-star that is making a trip to the Evergreen State on Murray's behalf. Vice President Joe Biden will be here on October 8th, and First Lady Michelle Obama will be here on October 25th.

Clinton's visit will fall neatly in between those two events.

Murray's campaign is making a smart decision by bringing Biden to Pierce County and Clinton to Snohomish County. If Murray carries King's two swing neighbors on November 2nd, she is guaranteed of victory over Dino Rossi.

Clinton will undoubtedly appear at a closed-door fundraiser or two for Murray while he is here. Details of such events have not been released.

No events with the First Lady have been officially scheduled yet, but the Murray campaign has confirmed that they will have something to announce soon.

Monday, September 27, 2010

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion introduces PlayBook, a new tablet computer

Ontario-based Research in Motion, which revolutionized mobile computing by making business-friendly handhelds ubiquitous, confirmed today that it is diversifying beyond its line of smartphones by introducing a new tablet computer.

It's called the BlackBerry PlayBook, and it will hit stores during the first quarter of 2011, if all goes as planned. The device is much bigger than a smartphone, but smaller than many other tablets currently on the market (it's about half the size of the iPad). The initial model won't have mobile broadband capability built in, but it can access the Internet when there is no Wi-Fi available if it is tethered to a BlackBerry smartphone. (And tethering can be done via Bluetooth!)

Here are the specs:
  • 7" LCD, 1024 x 600, WSVGA, capacitive touch screen with full multi-touch and gesture support
  • BlackBerry Tablet OS with support for symmetric multiprocessing
  • 1 GHz dual-core processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • Dual HD cameras (3 MP front facing, 5 MP rear facing), supports 1080p HD video recording
  • Video playback: 1080p HD Video, H.264, MPEG, DivX, WMV
  • Audio playback: MP3, AAC, WMA
  • HDMI video output
  • Wi-Fi - 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • Connectors: microHDMI, microUSB, charging contacts
  • Open, flexible application platform with support for WebKit/HTML-5, Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR, Adobe Reader, POSIX, OpenGL, Java
  • Ultra thin and portable:
    • Measures 5.1"x7.6"x0.4" (130mm x 193mm x 10mm)
    • Weighs less than a pound (approximately 0.9 lb or 400g)
  • Additional features and specifications of the BlackBerry PlayBook will be shared on or before the date this product is launched in retail outlets.
No word yet on how much internal storage the device will come with, or whether it will be equipped with GPS. Hopefully, it will have a removable battery like BlackBerry smartphones do, so that its users will have the option of being able to keep it going with a second battery rather than being forced to find an external power source when juice gets low.

Research in Motion also announced a new open source platform for developers called WebWorks, which enables developers to build applications for the both the PlayBook and BlackBerry smartphones running OS 6 (like the new PlayBook) in Web languages like HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS3.

I've invested a lot of time learning the aforementioned languages, so WebWorks is welcome news to me and to the rest of the team at NPI.

We may end up developing a WebWorks app or two ourselves at some point in 2011. Specifically, we'd like better tools to assist us with forthcoming research projects we do out in the field. (As advanced as today's laptops are, they're just not suitable for collecting and uploading data while on the go.)

We already use mobile blogging apps for live event coverage, but it's hard to type out a blog post with any depth on a phone. The PlayBook has the potential to help make news gathering and information gathering much easier, serving as a bridge between the notebook and the mobile phone. The prospect of being able to tap out a blog post on the PlayBook and then publish it wirelessly through the BlackBerry phone in my pocket is pretty tantalizing.

And being able to do video editing on the PlayBook would simplify publishing of footage that we shoot with its built-in HD cameras while out and about.

Read Reuven Carlyle's guest column opposing Tim Eyman and BP's Initiative 1053

These days, it's rare for the Seattle Times to publish anything on its opinion pages that isn't moldy or stale, besides David Sirota's syndicated column. So when it does print something refreshing, it's worth a blog post.

Such is the case today. Our good friend Reuven Carlyle — who ably represents several of the activists who serve on NPI's Board of Directors in the state House, has penned a must-read piece which presents a well-argued case against Tim Eyman and BP's Initiative 1053, relying upon the arguments we've been making since January to eloquently deconstruct the measure. Here's an excerpt:
On a deeper level, this initiative isn't really about taxes. It's about your democratic right to fairness.

Under the undemocratic I-1053, 17 legislators are encouraged and empowered to join forces to effectively seize control of our state revenue process. It prevents a majority of your 147 bipartisan citizen-legislators from prudently managing our finances. Despite our state's substantial challenges we still maintain the highest bond rating possible — saving taxpayers tens of millions — because of our fiduciary ability to responsibly balance the $32 billion budget.

I-1053 allows 17 legislators to block a new user fee as small as 25 cents for 911 emergency services, or to provide financial aid for college students or supplies for teachers. Realistically, it would also have the effect of locking in each and every existing corporate tax break, loophole and special-interest deal. Forever.
Reuven also mentions that I-1053 is unconstitutional, a point that simply hasn't been repeated enough. Our founders knew that democracy requires majority rule, so they gave us a Constitution that explicitly says that the threshold for passage of all legislation is a majority vote. That means fifty percent plus one.

No more. No less.

Three of I-1053's cosponsors are right wing Republicans who are dead set on wrecking government so that it can't work for us: Pam Roach, Don Benton, and Janea Holmquist. They're all state senators.

I-1053 gives them and fourteen of their colleagues in the Senate the power to block any revenue increase that they don't like. Even if every single one of Washington's one hundred and thirty other lawmakers disagreed with them.

I-1053 is the antithesis of what democracy is really about. No surprise, then, that powerful corporations like BP, ConocoPhillips, Tesoro, Shell, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and USBank are the reason I-1053 is on the ballot.

They put up the money so Tim Eyman could force the rest of us to vote on his scheme to sabotage majority rule. They win under I-1053 because they can go to the likes of Holmquist, Benton, and Roach, and instruct them to block any bill that repeals their special tax breaks, or requires them to pay their fair share in membership dues to our state.

On or before November 2nd, uphold our Constitution and vote NO on I-1053.

Southwest Airlines announces acquisition of AirTran, its biggest deal ever

Low-fare pioneer Southwest Airlines disclosed this morning that it has reached an agreement to acquire AirTran, a mostly regional airline based in Orlando, Florida. If the $1.4 billion deal is approved, it will be the largest acquisition in Southwest's history, and will allow Southwest to better compete with the older "legacy" carriers, particularly Delta, American, and United, in the eastern regions of the country.

AirTran serves a total of thirty eight cities that Southwest does not serve, and Southwest serves thirty seven cities that AirTran does not, so the merger will significantly expand Southwest's presence if it goes through.

Most notably, Southwest will be able to serve Atlanta, the largest American city that it currently does not fly to. AirTran has a major hub at Atlanta, offering nonstop flights to many other cities in the northeast, southeast, and mid-Atlantic states out of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Southwest has set up a website touting the virtues of the deal
. The website doesn't mention that AirTran, which was originally born in 1993 as ValuJet, has a very rocky and troubled history. ValuJet's first few years of existence were filled with accidents, oversights, and safety violations due to corner-cutting.

The airline's problems eventually culminated in disaster.

Three years after it was founded, ValuJet suffered a near fatal blow when one of its flights crashed into the Florida Everglades as a result of a fire in the cargo hold which was entirely preventable.

One hundred and ten people were killed.

ValuJet's reputation was so damaged by the disaster that it merged with a smaller competitor: AirTran. ValuJet adopted the AirTran name, even though it was the nominal survivor of the deal, because it wanted to remake itself. There have been two notable incidents since the Flight 592 disaster. Both occurred in 1998; neither incident resulted in a fatality.

Today's AirTran is obviously run by more competent people, but context is important, which is why I mention the history. Had the FAA gone ahead and permanently grounded ValuJet in 1996 — like it considered doing — it might have gone out of business and never merged with AirTran.

Southwest will have some strategic decisions to make as a result of the merger. It will have to decide whether to serve all of the markets that AirTran currently servies. It will have to decide if it wants to continue offering international service to Mexico and the Caribbean, as AirTran does today. Southwest will also have to figure out how to integrate AirTran's fleet. Like Southwest, AirTran flies an all-Boeing fleet, but several dozen of its aircraft are 717s, not 737s. Production on the 717 (originally the MD-95, itself a derivative of the DC-9) ended in 2006, so it is likely the 717s will be gradually phased out over time.

The two airlines expect to be fully integrated within two years.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vice President Joe Biden returns to Washington to campaign with Patty Murray

Vice President Joe Biden will return to Washington State in two weeks to stump for and with Patty Murray, the senator's campaign team announced this afternoon.

Biden will headline an October 8th rally at the University of Washington Tacoma. Registration will begin at 9 AM. The rally is free and open to the public.

“I am very honored to welcome Vice President Biden back to Washington state in October," Murray said in a news release. "He has been a true champion for middle and working class families across our state and nation."

"This election is about continuing to move our country forward and take care of families and businesses on Main Street. There's no one better to help us get out the vote than a good friend of Main Street, our Vice President. I look forward to joining him in Tacoma next month."

The Vice President will likely also appear at one or more fundraisers for Murray, although details of any such events were not made available in the release.

First Lady Michelle Obama is additionally scheduled to appear on Murray's behalf later in the month, on October 25th, as part of a broader swing on behalf of Democratic incumbents around the country.

Biden previously appeared on the senator's behalf back in February, at a fundraising luncheon inside the Westin's grand ballroom.

DISCLOSE Act becomes latest victim of Senate Republicans' obstructionism

A bill to increase transparency and accountability in American elections became the latest victim of Senate Republicans' obstructionism today, failing to advance on a party line vote of fifty nine to thirty nine.

I don't need to break down the vote. Every Democrat voted aye, every Republican voted nay. Two Republicans did not vote. There were no exceptions.

The bill, officially known as the DISCLOSE (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) Act, is comprised of seven principal ideas, as outlined by Senators Feingold, Leahy, and Schumer:
  1. Enhance Disclaimers: Make CEOs and other leaders take responsibility for their ads.
  2. Enhance Disclosures: It is time to follow the money.
  3. Prevent Foreign Influence: Foreign countries and entities should not be determining the outcome of our elections.
  4. Shareholder/Member Disclosure: We should allow shareholders and members to know where money goes.
  5. Prevent Government Contractors from Spending: Taxpayer money should not be spent on political ads.
  6. Provide the Lowest Unit Rate for Candidates and Parties: Special interests should not drown out the voices of the people.
  7. Tighten Coordination Rules: Corporations should not be able to “sponsor” a candidate.
All of these are excellent, uncommonly sensible ideas. Together, in the form of the DISCLOSE Act, they constitute a basic, measured initial response to the Corporations United ruling. Unfortunately, this legislation isn't going anywhere because not even one Republican apparently has the courage to buck their party.

Of course, Democrats shouldn't need any Republican votes to advance this legislation. Fifty nine votes represents fifty nine percent of the Senate. That's easily more than a majority. But it's not enough to invoke cloture.

The Senate's stupid, backwards, and arcane rules are standing in the way of the correct functioning of American democracy. Majority rule is being sabotaged for the benefit of a privileged few. In the past, the Senate's rules were not such a hindrance, because that body has never had a minority caucus that was as belligerent and obstinate as this Congress' Senate Republicans. It's a miracle that Democrats have been able to get anything done at all.

It's cliche to say this, but if our founding fathers were alive today, they'd be aghast to see this sorry state of affairs. Our founders considered requiring supermajorities to be completely undemocratic.

As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist, No. 22:
[W]hat at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison. To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser. Congress, from the nonattendance of a few States, have been frequently in the situation of a Polish diet, where a single VOTE has been sufficient to put a stop to all their movements.
For those who don't know what "Polish diet" means, Hamilton is referring to the eighteenth century Polish parliament (the Sejm), which, at the time of the American revolution, was incapable of doing anything unless there was unanimous consent. A little background from Wikipedia:
From the mid-17th century onward, any objection to a Sejm resolution — by either an envoy or a senator — automatically caused the rejection of other, previously approved resolutions. This was because all resolutions passed by a given session of the Sejm formed a whole resolution, and, as such, was published as the annual constitution of the Sejm, e.g., Anno Domini 1667. In the 16th century, no single person or small group dared to hold up proceedings, but, from the second half of the 17th century, the liberum veto was used to virtually paralyze the Sejm, and brought the Commonwealth to the brink of collapse. The liberum veto was finally abolished by the May Constitution of Poland in 1791.
The way things are going, we're slip-sliding towards oligarchy and away from democracy. The filibuster rules are to Republicans what the liberum veto was to the obstructionists in the Polish Sejm in the 1700s. We've got to put a stop to this madness and change the Senate's rules.

Or gridlock will continue to ensue, as Hamilton foresaw:
If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.
Tedious delays. Contemptible compromises of the public good. Those phrases certainly serve as apt descriptors for the situation we find ourselves in today.

James Madison, our fourth President and the Father of the Constitution, also condemned the notion of supermajorities in The Federalist, No 52:
It has been said that more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum; and in particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a decision. That some advantages might have resulted from such a precaution, cannot be denied. It might have been an additional shield to some particular interests, and another obstacle generally to hasty and partial measures. But these considerations are outweighed by the inconveniences in the opposite scale. In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.
In this passage, Madison is explaining why the Constitution does not require that more than a majority of the House and Senate be present for a quorum. Requiring a supermajority is undemocratic because it allows a minority to prevent business from being transacted, when there is in fact a majority present.

If the founders had wanted forty one senators... or thirty five senators... or five senators... or just one senator to be able to hold up legislation, they would have put a clause to that effect in the Constitution. They did not. They expected that the House and Senate would operate democratically. They did not spell out each chamber's rules in the Constitution itself, because they understood that the rules might need to change over time.

While it is true that majority rule goes hand in hand with minority rights, the latter are protected in the Constitution itself. That's why we amended the Constitution during the Civil War. Incredibly, some Republicans are talking about modifying or repealing amendments from that era. That is how backwards they are. They seem to want a country where only white male property owners can vote.

The imposition of such a regime would require undoing every hard-won advance towards universal suffrage in American history.

Sadly, right wing Republicans want to take America back. We want to take America forward — because we know that freedom doesn't stand still. If we don't work to continually expand freedom, radical paleocons, theocons, neocons, and corporate cons will try to contract it. The DISCLOSE Act is an attempt to expand freedom, but it's being undemocratically held hostage by a group of extreme partisans who do not represent the majority of this country.

Until Senate Democrats act to fix the Senate's broken rules, America will continue to be harmed by the obstructionism of Senate Republicans.

Lip service to America

Oh look, House Republicans finally have an agenda. Well, sort of:
House Republicans offered their “Pledge to America,” a combination campaign platform and legislative agenda, on Thursday morning, saying that jobs will return if spending slows and tax rates are kept from rising.
Funny, they've been saying that for the last twenty months. Is there anything new in these twenty one pages that we haven't heard before?
“We are here today to put forth a new governing agenda built by listening to the American people and offer a new way forward,” Mr. Boehner said. “Our pledge to America is that Republicans stand ready to get it done.”
In other words... no. Nothing new to see here.

The American Prospect's Paul Waldman has already come up with a fitting adjustment to the agenda's title: The Pledge to Whine at America. That's pretty good, although I'd say Lip service to America is also accurate in describing the shallowness and hollowness of the document.

Republicans aren't ready to do anything except pick up where they left off under Bush. They desperately want to continue running this country into the ground. If they were honest, an outline of their plan would look something like this:

Contract on America: The Republican Pledge
  • Shredding the Social Safety Net: Goodbye Social Security, goodbye Medicare, goodbye Medicaid, goodbye Head Start, goodbye Pell Grants!
  • Deregulating Markets: Rules are for losers. They put a crimp on profits. Let's just let dishonest traders and brokers do whatever they want. If they break the economy, taxpayers can foot the bill.
  • Generous Subsidies for Already-Wealthy Corporations: Our common wealth must be used to help fatten the bottom lines of the likes of Exxon and Wal-Mart. Working families can fend for themselves!
  • Destructive Exploitation of Natural Resources: Drill and mine like there's no tomorrow, and don't worry about the consequences. Conservation and environmental protection are nothing more than personal virtues.
  • No Privacy: Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy. It's okay for our government to spy on us without our knowledge, invade our homes at will on any pretext, and prevent American women from making their own reproductive decisions.
  • State Religion: Freedom of religion means the freedom to practice only Christianity. Any faith that is not an established denomination of Christianity doesn't count. Especially Islam.
  • Schools: Until the public schools system can be dismantled, fundamentalists should be able to decide what is taught or not taught to our children. "Science" must never conflict with conservative dogma.
  • War on False Pretenses. Any country that is home to natural resources we might want to exploit can be preemptively attacked and invaded at will. We are justified in occupying any place on Earth that we want to occupy because we're the adult. All other nations are subservient to us.
That's the real right wing Republican agenda.Now, if you take a look through Lip service to America, you won't find any of the clauses comprising the list above. That's because Republicans know if they're brutally honest, they won't win. People aren't willing to vote for an agenda that will result in America's eventual implosion.

So Republicans pay a lot of lip service to basic ideals that sound appealing. But there's nothing useful or sensible underneath. And that's because the Republican Party is firmly under the control of the right wing. They are against pretty much every conceivable progressive policy direction that there is.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tacoma News Tribune opposes Tim Eyman and BP's Initiative 1053

In an editorial to be published in tomorrow morning's edition, the Tacoma News Tribune is joining teachers, caregivers, first responders, working families, and activists in saying NO to Tim Eyman and BP's unconstitutional scheme to sabotage our cherished tradition of majority rule:
I-1053 would give a minority party outsized power to block tax increases while also disavowing the painful choices forced by hits to existing revenues.

The majority could go directly to the voters for approval – at the risk of waiting months for a budget patch that may never materialize. The Legislature, given the magnitude of the state’s fiscal problems, needs to act more nimbly than that.

The News Tribune editorial board recommends a no vote on I-1053.
I-1053 has been purposely designed to prevent future Legislatures from pursuing a balanced approach to solving future budget crises. I-1053 allows just seventeen state senators to block any proposed budget that incorporates new or even restored revenue to keep our vital services operating.

When Washington's founders wrote its Constitution, they explicitly specified in Article II, Section 22 that a majority vote was the threshold for passage of all legislation. They did so because anything less or anything more than fifty percent plus one is not majority rule, which is the key underlying principle of democracy.

I-1053's sponsors (several of whom are Republican legislators) know that their unconstitutional, undemocratic idea of requiring two thirds votes for all revenue-raising bills would never pass if it was required to meet its own 66.6% threshold. So instead of introducing their scheme as a constitutional amendment like the Constitution requires, they're running an initiative and pretending that the document which serves as our plan of government just doesn't exist.

They and their corporate lobbyist allies want to change the rules so they can be in control even when they're out of power.

Seventy five percent of the money behind I-1053 came from a corporation. Some of America's greediest and most profit-hungry corporations are on I-1053's donor list. BP. ConocoPhillips. Tesoro. Shell. Bank of America. Wells Fargo. USBank. Liberty Mutual. Sierra Pacific. Boise. These corporations all want the security of knowing they can go to just seventeen right wing senators (three of whom are I-1053 sponsors) who will happily kill any bill that attempts to remove their special tax breaks or tax loopholes that they're exploiting.

I-1053 is part of one of the biggest corporate power grabs in Washington's history. I-1053 is not on our ballot because of some uprising against state government. It is on the ballot because a cabal of corporations collectively ponied up more than half a million dollars to buy the required signatures.

They bought their way onto the ballot.

It's time to send them a message: Washington is not for sale.

On or before November 2nd, uphold our Constitution and vote NO on Initiative 1053, as well as the four other corporate initiatives on our ballots.

Bill Gates Senior gets dunked - literally - in new Yes on 1098 television ad

The Yes on 1098 campaign has just announced the launch of its second television ad, which is one of the funniest and most effective ads I've ever seen.

The spot features Bill Gates, Senior, once again explaining how I-1098 will help strengthen our common wealth so that education and healthcare coverage will be spared from truly catastrophic cuts. As it begins, we see Gates sitting amidst a leafy green backdrop. The view widens and we see that he's really sitting on a dunk tank seat, talking about 1098 while kids are throwing baseballs at a target. At the end of the ad, the target is struck and Gates slides into the tank. He emerges, dripping wet, and enthusiastically urges viewers to vote yes on 1098.

Here's the script:
GATES: Some people say Initiative 1098 is about soaking the rich. But it's really about doing something for the next generation. You see, state cutbacks have put our kids at risk — and we can't just sit here and do nothing about it! 1098 will dedicate two billion dollars a year for education and healthcare. And only the wealthiest 1.2% will pay more.

[Gates gets dunked as kids laugh]

GATES: Vote yes on 1098... it's good for Washington!
What this ad does is deliver a very serious message in a lighthearted and fun way. It's a playful counterattack to the solemn scare ads that Defeat 1098 is running. Whoever came up with this idea deserves a lot of credit for creating a memorable spot that shows once again that progressives are the folks with a sense of humor.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

President Obama, Senators Murray and Cantwell congratulate Seattle Storm

At last Friday's victory celebration for the Seattle Storm at KeyArena, elected leaders representing the state (Sam Reed), county (Dow Constantine) and city (Mike McGinn) read from proclamations honoring the team for winning their second WNBA championship title. Their remarks, which were a highlight of the event, were warmly received by the five thousand plus on hand to savor the championship with the Storm's players, coaches, and ownership.

Today, their praise was echoed by elected leaders at the federal level, who recognized the Storm for their incredible season:
Readout Of The President’s Call With the WNBA Champion Seattle Storm (Courtesy of the White House)

Earlier today, President Obama called members of the Seattle Storm organization, to congratulate them on winning the WNBA Finals for the second time, on their success during the regular season and their undefeated run in the playoffs. The President told them that they are an inspiration to everyone, especially his daughters. Members of the Storm organization on the call told the President that they appreciated his call and that it was a highlight for their organization. President Obama said he looks forward to congratulating them in person at the White House.
Senators Murray and Cantwell, meanwhile, introduced a resolution in the Senate commending the Storm on their season and their title.

The "resolved" part reads as follows:
Resolved, That the Senate—
(1) commends —
(A) the Seattle Storm for winning Women’s National Basketball Association championship; and (B) the people of Washington State for their support of the team;

(2) recognizes the achievements of all the players, coaches, and support staff who were instrumental in the success of the Seattle Storm during the 2010 Women’s National Basketball Association season; and(3) requests the Secretary of the Senate to transmit an enrolled copy of this resolution for appropriate display to the Seattle Storm.
“I want to extend my heartiest congratulations to the players, coaches, and owners of the Seattle Storm,” Senator Cantwell said in a joint news release distributed to NPI and other media outlets this afternoon. “The women of the Storm performed brilliantly and Washington State is celebrating their well-earned success.”

"The Seattle Storm put forth an impressive team effort in an exciting, memorable victory in the WNBA Finals," Senator Murray added.

"The players, coaches, and management of the Storm deserve great praise for putting together a powerhouse with unlimited potential. Washington could not be prouder of our two-time champion Storm."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Steve Ballmer, Jeff Bezos join Tim Eyman and Frank Blethen's free lunch league

The list of wealthy captains of industry who talk a good talk about investing in vital public services but aren't willing to put their money where their collective mouths are keeps getting longer. And longer.

Its two newest members are Microsoft's chief executive officer, Steve Ballmer, and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. Both have now contributed $100,000 each to the coffers of the campaign that's trying to defeat Initiative 1098. (I-1098, for those unaware, is Bill Gates Sr.'s uncommonly sensible proposal to levy an income tax on high earners and dedicate the revenue to public schools and healthcare coverage.)

As I have often written here on The Advocate, actions speak louder than words, and Ballmer and Bezos are sure failing to practice what they preach by helping the folks who want to starve our common wealth.

Not a decade ago, Ballmer went on record as saying, "Taxpayers in this state have to come to grips with the notion that says we need to invest more in our education system overall." (That sentence is a direct quote from a speech he gave at an alumni breakfast for one of our underfunded public universities).

This is exactly what Initiative 1098 is all about: Embracing the notion that we need to invest more in our education system overall. But evidently, when Ballmer was talking about "taxpayers in this state", he wasn't including himself.

Initiative 1098, if enacted, would begin to mend our horribly broken, regressive tax system. All it does is slightly level the playing field. Sadly, many of our wealthiest citizens, who were let off the hook during the Bush error, can't abhor the thought of their taxes going up even one penny.

Some of them - Ballmer, Bezos, Barry Ackerly, John Stanton, Martin Selig, John Nordstrom, Jeff Carnevali, Kemper Freeman Jr. — are so selfish they're willing to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to prevent themselves from being subject to a modest tax increase.

They want everyone else to carry the load even though they are the most well-off. Their sense of entitlement is simply appalling.

They used America's infrastructure, paid for by the taxpayers of America, to make their money, yet they are unwilling to give back.

If they truly loved their state and country, they'd realize it's patriotic to be a taxpayer. A real patriot happily pays his or her membership dues in America, with the knowledge that our qualify of life depends on a strong common wealth.

Admittedly, there are folks on the far right who are honest about wanting to get rid of public services as well as the taxes that pay for those services. But they do not tend to be candidates for office, captains of industry, or even initiative pitchmen. Conservatives falling into such categories want to at least appear respectable and credible to biconceptuals, so they pay lip service to progressive ideals, or, failing that, they keep their message fixated on the costs of government and ignore all the benefits, hoping that no one will challenge them.

I became an activist eight and a half years ago because I realized the free lunch league was going to keep on winning as long as they could succeed in deceiving voters and injecting ignorance into our political discourse. I could not, and still can't, abide the thought of them succeeding in turning Washington into a ruin. That was why I began to fight, and it is why I continue to fight today.

I realize that many folks out there feel disillusioned and frustrated that the economy hasn't turned around faster, that the change promised by President Barack Obama hasn't fully materialized.

I'm angry, too. I think these tough times call for something bolder than creeping incrementalism. That said, I know the worst thing we can do is follow the pied pipers of the free lunch league right off the cliff and into the abyss.

Want to punish greed? Want to use that ballot to vent? Then vote NO on the corporate initiatives — I-1053, I-1082, I-1100, I-1105, I-1107 — and YES on I-1098. Take satisfaction in the knowledge that your vote is crucial to helping spoil corporate lobbyists' cocktail parties on November 2nd.

Right wing desperate to win 2010 midterms at any cost: They'll even break the law!

Progressives in Wisconsin announced this morning that they have uncovered an alarming plot by the right wing to dishonestly and illegally influence elections by suppressing votes. The scheme involves Wisconsin Republican Party, Americans for Prosperity, and tea party groups, who are jointly planning to disenfranchise voters who they think will vote Democratic.

The tactic — which is illegal — is called voter caging:
Voter caging is a notorious voter suppression technique used to challenge the registration status of eligible voters to prevent him or her from voting in an election

Usually, caging occurs when an official-looking, non-forwardable piece of mail is sent to a group of registered voters, often to minorities and students. The parties involved in caging then compile a list of voters whose mail was returned as undeliverable. On Election Day, these organizations will use the undeliverable mail to challenge voters at the polls, utilizing law enforcement and attorneys to support their challenges.

The goal of caging is two-fold. First, is to force as many voters as possible to cast provisional ballots, which require voters to follow-up the day after an election for the ballot to be counted. Historically, about 35% of all provisional ballots are never counted. Additionally, voters whose registration is challenged at the polling place are unlikely to have the required material to complete an Election Day registration, meaning the voter will be turned away at the polls.

The second goal is to create long lines at the polling place as the caging operation challenges voter after voter. Many people cannot afford to sit in line to vote for hours on end. Long lines discourage voters and many simply leave without casting a ballot.

Voter caging is a violation of the Help America Vote Act and is illegal.
Available for download at SaveWisconcinsVote2010.org are a copy of the plans and a transcript of a tea party meeting where the plans were discussed in greater detail, along with the audio from that meeting.

One Wisconsin Now, a ProgressNow state affiliate, has asked law enforcement to initiate an investigation into the activities of the aforementioned groups, to determine whether they've already broken the law and to stop their nefarious, undemocratic scheme from going any further.

We'll keep you apprised of any updates about this plot.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Montana Republicans: criminalize being gay

The Montana Republican Party, taking a page from its intolerant, self-righteous, American Taliban brethren in the South adopted language in its platform in June that calls for keeping "homosexual acts illegal", despite the Montana Supreme Court striking down such laws as unconstitutional in 1997.
The party adopted an official platform in June that keeps a long-held position in support of making homosexual acts illegal, a policy adopted after the Montana Supreme Court struck down such laws in 1997.

[...]

But going against the grain is the Montana GOP statement, which falls under the "Crime" section of the GOP platform. It states: "We support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal."

Montana GOP executive director Bowen Greenwood said that has been the position of the party since the state Supreme Court struck down state laws criminalizing homosexuality in 1997 in the case of Gryczan v. Montana.
Republicans and tea partiers often talk about limited government with regard to public policy. However, when it comes to personal relationships and consensual acts in your bedroom, they become a voyeuristic Big Brother, angling for ways to have government impose their beliefs on everyone else.

Sure, when it's politically expedient, these conservatives will recite the Constitution and throw in warnings to opponents using buzzwords like "activist judges" and "strict construction". However, just as quickly, these same people will cast aside the Constitution, violate your civil liberties with the Patriot Act and its warrantless wiretaps and violate your human rights by waterboarding you.

In this case, the Montana Republican Party would insist on following you into your bedroom to ensure that your personal relationships meet their standards, because in their strict-father worldview you need to conform to their beliefs and their version of morality.

The good news is that legal experts say that the Montana Supreme Court's decision in 1997 and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, make the Montana Republican Party's platform statement only an expression of their extremist views that has no chance of ever becoming the law in that state.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's official: Elizabeth Warren tapped to put together Consumer Protection Bureau

This morning, the White House confirmed what has been an open secret for many hours: Elizabeth Warren has been chosen to put together the new Consumer Protection Bureau created by the Restoring American Financial Stability Act. Warren is the only logical choice, given that the agency was largely her idea, and she is a strong advocate for consumer protection.

To avoid having a nomination stuck in limbo, the President has opted to appoint Warren to be a special adviser to both himself and to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who has ironically been the subject of Warren's criticism.

The President appeared this morning with Warren in the Rose Garden to discuss her appointment. Here are the last few paragraphs from his remarks:
Secretary Geithner and I both agree that Elizabeth is the best person to stand this agency up. She was the architect behind the idea for a consumer watchdog, so it only makes sense that she’d be the -- she should be the architect working with Secretary of Treasury Geithner in standing up the agency.

She will help oversee all aspects of the bureau’s creation, from staff recruitment to designing policy initiatives to future decisions about the agency. She will have direct access to me and to Secretary Geithner, and she will oversee a staff at the Treasury Department that has already begun to work on this task.

She will also play a pivotal role in helping me determine who the best choice is for director of the bureau. And given the importance of these economic issues, I also want Elizabeth to have a role as a White House advisor as well as advisor to Secretary Geithner on consumer issues.

Elizabeth understands what I strongly believe — that a strong, growing economy begins with a strong and thriving middle class. And that means every American has to get a fair shake in their financial dealings.

For years financial companies have been able to spend millions of dollars on their own watchdog — lobbyists who look out for their interests and fight for their priorities. That's their right.

But from now on, consumers will also have a powerful watchdog — a tough, independent watchdog whose job it is to stand up for their financial interests, for their families’ future. And I am proud that we got this done, and I'm equally proud that Elizabeth Warren will be helping to make her original vision a reality.

So we are extremely proud of you, Elizabeth. Good luck.
Well said! President Obama has hit a grand slam with this appointment. This is one of the best moves the administration has made in a long time.

Republicans are already protesting bitterly, but they have no one to blame but themselves. They have done everything they can to prevent the Senate from transacting business, including the consideration of nominations for executive and judicial offices. They should not be surprised that the President is using his lawful authority to move forward and get the Consumer Protection Bureau set up.

Warren does not even want to be the director of the new agency, so it makes little sense to nominate her. What she wants to do is use her expertise to get it going, and then help select a permanent director.

She evidently doesn't want to be tied down for too long — Markos keeps talking about her running against Scott Brown in 2012 — but it's possible that she has plans that don't involve seeking office or even public life at all.

We're just grateful for the services she has already rendered to our country, and thrilled that she is getting the opportunity to actually build this agency from the ground up. There is no one more qualified for the job.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Congratulations to the Seattle Storm!

The team at NPI would like to extend our congratulations to the Seattle Storm, who capped the most remarkable season in franchise history with their seventh consecutive postseason victory, winning the 2010 WNBA championship title.

I know we don't usually blog about sports here on The Advocate, but we'd be remiss not to congratulate the Storm on their championship. Capturing a league title in Seattle — any league title — is a pretty big deal. The Storm deserve all the goodwill that the city can bestow on them. They're an incredible team, the best in WNBA history. They also have the best record of any pro club in Seattle history.

Appropriately, there will be a big parade tomorrow evening at seven o'clock. The WNBA's website has a map of the parade route, as well as details on the free victory celebration that will be held at KeyArena immediately following the parade.

Even the envious Mariners are getting in on the fun. They'll be honoring the Storm this Sunday at Safeco Field. The Storm will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the Mariners play the Rangers.

The two ballclubs that play across the street from the Mariners, meanwhile, quickly tweeted their congratulations. Sounders FC wrote:
WNBA CHAMPIONS = @SEATTLESTORM!! Congratulations to all involved in bringing a second championship to Seattle.
And the Seahawks wrote:
Thanks to the @seattlestorm for brining another WNBA Championship to Seattle! An inspiring season all of Seattle is proud of.
Seattle Mayor McGinn has not yet issued a statement on the Storm's championship win, but if he does, I'll add it into this post.

Flashback: Once upon a time, the Seattle Times supported levying a state income tax

The Seattle Times is at it again.

Yesterday morning, the geniuses who publish Washington's "independent, locally owned" newspaper of record produced another editorial bashing Initiative 1098, which (besides Referendum 52), is the only measure on this year's ballot that would strengthen our state's treasury rather than depleting it.

The Times has been on a crusade against Initiative 1098 ever since activists, concerned citizens, small businesses, and working families announced last spring that they were teaming up to qualify the measure for the November 2010 ballot. Hardly a month has gone by since when the Times hasn't sneered and jeered at Initiative 1098 or its sponsors.

That includes Initiative 1098's chief proponent, William Gates, Senior, who the Times labels a "salesman". If Gates — a World War II veteran, cofounder of a respected law firm, University of Washington regent, and co-chair of one of the biggest philanthropic organizations in the world (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) — is a no-good "salesman", what does that make the Blethens?

They sell fish-wrappers!

You'd think the Times — which falsely asserts that Initiative 1098 will drive businesses out of Washington — would have more respect for the father of one of the world's most successful capitalists, and a successful capitalist in his own right.

But no. Frank Blethen and Company simply can't stand the idea of strengthening our common wealth. In theory, they want great public services. But when push comes to shove, they are against investing in anything, whether it's transit, quality public schools, or healthcare coverage for our most vulnerable.

My generation probably can't remember a time when the Seattle Times' editorial page wasn't so disconnected and unreasonable.

But as it turns out, once upon a time, The Times had a more progressive worldview. Even as recently as the 1990s.

I illustrated this a couple of years ago when I used the Seattle Times' 1996 editorial in favor of Sound Move (Sound Transit 1) to debunk the Seattle Times' 2008 endorsement against Sound Transit 2. At the time, The Stranger's Dan Savage called the post (which was a joy to write) "required reading".

Today, NPI is going to take you back in time again, to an even earlier era... an era when the Seattle Times had the wisdom and the courage to recognize that Washington needed an income tax to accomplish the objective of real tax reform.

I hope you enjoy the journey, because putting this post together required many hours of research. Most of the Seattle Times' archives are not freely available (except through a public library), and searching the archive prior to 1990 is difficult. Articles are simply not available in text (ASCII) format.

One quick note before we get started: To put the Times' views of today and yesteryear into starker relief, we will be repeatedly flashing back and forth between now and the years following the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ).

So we'll be examining excerpts from very recent editorials and contrasting them with editorials published in the 1960s and 1970s. (The older editorials are not available for convenient viewing at the Times' website, but you can read them by clicking on the thumbnails to the right of the excerpts).

Let's begin in 1969.

In those days, Dan Evans was governor of Washington State, John Cherberg was lieutenant governor, and progressives could be found in both the Democratic and Republican parties. The state House was controlled by the GOP; the Senate by the Democrats. The Legislature only met in odd-numbered years, and statewide general elections were only held in even-numbered years.

In 1969, the State of Washington was facing many of the same challenges it is grappling with today — which just goes to show what a lousy job we've done of addressing root causes of problems rather than their symptoms.

Governor Dan Evans and the 1969 Legislature decided to tackle what was then and now our state's most difficult challenge: how to fairly and equitably pay for the vital services that Washingtonians rely on.

To avoid any possibility of having the centerpiece of their efforts nixed by the courts (as happened in the 1930s), the Legislature and Governor Evans decided to play it safe by amending the Constitution.

This meant crafting a proposal that would have the support of at least thirty three senators and sixty five representatives, for the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of each house to put an amendment before the people.

Not surprisingly, the Legislature could not get it done before the regular session ended in March. (Back then, sessions in odd-years only ran for sixty days, which is how long they are now in even years). Consequently, Governor Evans called a special session, so the Legislature could finish its work.

In an editorial on March 16th, 1969, entitled Special-session priorities, the Seattle Times, then headed by John A. Blethen and W.J. Pennington, opined:
In convening the special session that opened Friday to attend to the unfinished business of the regular 1969 Legislature, Governor Evans outlined several of the most pressing matters that must be resolved if the state's essential requirements are to be met.

Properly, Evans assigned the greatest urgency to passage of a thorough and equitable plan — for submission to the voters — to overhaul the tax structure. A single-rate income tax, adequate safeguards against rocketing property tax and appropriate reductions in other taxes must be devised if the state is to meet its budgetary needs and solve the school support dilemma.
That second paragraph sure sounds like Initiative 1098, doesn't it? An income tax (though levied only on the wealthy), an adequate safeguard against increasing property taxes, and appropriate reductions in other taxes (specifically, the elimination of the business and occupation tax for most small businesses). That is precisely what has been devised and submitted to the voters to help the state meet its budgetary needs and solve the school support dilemma.

Is Initiative 1098 a panacea? Of course not. There is no silver bullet. But it moves us forward. It gets us closer to the objective of real tax reform.

And yet, the Seattle Times of today is against it:
If Bill Gates Sr. and the SEIU push I-1098 past the voters, they will succeed only in bringing California's luck here. And that would be a sad day.

What this state needs is investment in new ideas and new work — and a tax system that smiles upon it.
Notice the bipolarity in those two short paragraphs?

In the same breath, the Times is saying, we can't afford to invest in our vital services, and then implying that we can't afford not to. Huh? How do we invest in "new ideas" and "new work" without a vibrant common wealth?

The Times has already staked out its position against I-1098 in four misleading editorials. There will surely be more, including one actually intended to serve as an endorsement, which will presumably contain the words "vote no" somewhere.

In 1970, however, the Times' ownership had the wisdom and the courage to get behind tax reform. They put their name and their credibility behind that constitutional amendment, which appeared on the ballot a year and a half after it won approval in the state House and Senate.

Here is their endorsement. All emphasis is mine.
As we view the ballot, House Joint Resolution No. 42 is by far the most important issue to be settled. On its outcome will hinge many things - the quality of our society in respect to the environment, the proper functioning of health and welfare services, the human needs of our state's population, together with the recreational niceties which we hope to enjoy.

Baldly stated, this state income-tax proposition poses the question for decision as to whether we as citizens are willing to pay for the kind of society in which we all would like to live. The Times people do not hold an illusion that approval of No. 42 would not, over a period of time, result in a higher level of public expenditures than if it were rejected. A new access to public funds would be opened up for approval.

But we do see valid reasons for opening this revenue source, anyway. Property, sales, business and other excise-taxing sources are bearing too heavy a share of the public-expenditure load. Yet vast amounts of fluid wealth in the form of income escape state taxation. This should begin to bear a fair share of the burden. If H.J.R. 42 is defeated, the additional burden on property and excise tax will become unbearable. For these reasons we recommend approval of No. 42.
Prophetic and wise words from The Times. It's really a shame that readers can't find such insight on the editorial page these days.

Sadly, the people of Washington overwhelmingly voted down House Joint Resolution (HJR) 42; the campaign for passage did not make a convincing case, despite having the weight of a popular governor behind it.

But Dan Evans was determined not to give up. He didn't stop believing that tax reform was important. He resolved, admirably, to use what political capital he had to get the matter back before the people.

I'll continue the story of what happened then in a moment.

But first I'd like to draw another parallel.

By editorializing repeatedly against the measure, resorting to a message built on fear and intimidation, Frank Blethen has made The Seattle Times one of Initiative 1098's most high-profile opponents. If his newspaper's editorials sound desperate, that's undoubtedly because Frank is feeling desperate. He's already lost one initiative battle over progressive taxation (I-920 four years ago). He does not want to lose another. He is as determined to kill progressive tax reform in Washington as Dan Evans was to achieve it in the 1970s.

So he has run unsigned editorial after unsigned editorial, trashing a a cause that his uncle championed. Initiative 1098 would be a disaster, we're told, because it robs us of a marketing slogan: No income tax here.
Washington is one of nine states with no tax on wages and salaries. This is a big advantage in recruiting people to work here, and in keeping people from leaving here. When Gov. Chris Gregoire went to the Paris Air Show in her first term to recruit aerospace companies to Washington, the first item of her sales pitch was: no state income tax.

It's a selling point. An asset. And more than that: It's a bonus for living here.
We're also told that I-1098 would be a jobs-killer:
On top of the $808-million-a-year tax increase the Legislature has just imposed on the people — and they have not yet had to pay — the Gates proposal would pile another $1 billion net in new taxes. Adding this weight on the private economy would prevent the creation of thousands of jobs the state desperately needs.
What's missing in these editorials is the admission that without new revenue, state government itself will be forced to shed thousands more jobs. We know the next Legislature will face a huge budget deficit; the numbers just got worse this morning! I-1098 provides a badly-needed shot in the arm for our public schools and social safety net. It will help keep teachers and case workers employed.

Simply put, I-1098 is a jobs-saver.

By parroting the myth that I-1098 will drive entrepreneurs out of business, the Times is playing the role of a sinister villain, helping right wing millionaires jeopardize our future. They claim tax reform will wreck our state's business climate.

In reality, our state's business climate will be wrecked without tax reform. What business wants to set up shop in a state where everything is falling apart?

If Frank Blethen really cared our making our public schools the best they can be... if he really believed what his own editorial page prints about the value of a quality education... he'd be for I-1098. But he seems incapable of thinking about the happiness and prosperity of anyone except himself. And his heirs.

Today's Seattle Times suffers from the worst vices of any entrenched institution — chiefly a hostility for imaginative thinking and innovative ideas.

There are very few people that I know who have any respect left for the Times' ownership, let alone editorial content.

Conversely, during Dan Evans' time, Frank Blethen's uncle John — who controlled the newspaper's megaphone — used the editorial page to advocate for progress.

A year and a quarter following the defeat of HJR 42, the Seattle Times published an editorial encouraging Governor Evans and the Legislature to put an income tax back on the ballot. Here is a key excerpt from their January 9th, 1972 editorial, entitled, The task ahead at Olympia. All emphasis is theirs.
A new effort in tax reform must be undertaken and submitted to the electorate for approval or disapproval in next November's elections.

Events now on the horizon leave no doubt but that the state administration and the Legislature will be negligent if they do not permit the voters another opportunity to make a judgment on a state income tax and interrelated fiscal policies.

Fiscally, the state is drifting toward shoals; time is running out for it to continue to fund basic responsibilities in public services with its jerry-built tax structure; nor can the state's businesses and industries develop the immense number of new jobs needed to accommodate the present jobless as well as the younger generation now phasing into the employment market.
It's amazing, isn't it, how much sense is contained in those paragraphs. When I read them I can hardly believe they appeared below the Seattle Times' masthead.

But they did, nearly thirty nine years ago.

Twenty-one months after the above editorial appeared, Governor Dan Evans and the Legislature succeeded in putting an income tax back on the ballot, in the form of House Joint Resolution No. 37.

The measure appeared on the ballot on November 6th, 1973.

The Friday prior, The Times weighed in on the measure, "regretfully" recommending a no vote and concluding that, "the proposition would write into constitutional law innumerable trade-offs by which certain segments in the business-industrial community would be advantaged at the expense of others in the redistribution of the tax burden."

They made plainly clear, however, that they were still proponents of tax reform:
The Times has been a strong advocate of the principle that a state income tax should be instituted as a means (1) to distribute the tax burden more equitably, (2) to gear public revenues more responsibly to economic growth, (3) to reduce pressures on present tax sources, and (4) to provide education with more dependable revenues.
1973 was before our time, so we do not know what position NPI might have taken on HJR 37. We might have likewise felt there were flaws in the measure, but we might have also felt the amendment was worth approving anyway.

In spite of the efforts of Governor Dan Evans and his chief legislative ally in that campaign — the late Senator Martin Durkan, the father of the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, Jenny Durkan — HJR 37 went down to defeat.

Evans' popularity was not diminished by the loss, but he never succeeded in convincing voters that an income tax would be a fairer and more equitable way to raise revenue for our common wealth.

Which brings us to today.

The days when the Seattle Times could be counted upon to dissect and examine the issues in good faith are long gone. But the wisdom contained in The Times' past editorials is still with us. I've resurrected them because the team at NPI believes they add to the debate about Initiative 1098, and disprove the contention that the Seattle Times has always been as stodgy as it is today.

I urge you to forward this post to your friends, family, and neighbors, so that they can study the history of this issue and learn something before they vote.

We have an opportunity in a few weeks to take an important first step towards a fairer and more equitable tax system. Previous generations squandered such opportunities, and we are paying the price. We can do ourselves and our children a favor by resolving not to make the same mistake. On or before November 2nd, help bring real tax reform to Washington: Vote YES on Initiative 1098.

Progressive economists: Don't kill jobs and growth in the name of deficit reduction

This morning, several leading progressive thinkers released a statement signed by more than three hundred economists and civic leaders urging President Obama and Congress not to sacrifice jobs and growth in the name of deficit reduction.

The text — coauthored by Dean Baker of CEPR, Robert Borosage and Roger Hickey of the Institute for America's Future, and Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect — lays out a succinct case against austerity measures, which could forestall or prevent a full economic recovery. An excerpt:
The President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform [also known as the Catfood Commission] has set a goal of reducing the Federal deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2015. It is not clear that this arbitrary target can be met without damaging our recovery. In any case, the goals of economic policy must be far broader.

The most important question is this: What will drive economic growth, job creation and prosperity in the years to come? Conservatives argue that we should simply reduce deficits and wait for the next economic boom. But the last boom was built on a bubble, inflated by unsustainable household debt and financial speculation. If we focus merely on cutting spending and raising taxes, the economy could shrink again – or stay stuck in a permanently low level of growth and high levels of unemployment.

President Barack Obama has called on us to build a new foundation for the economy. This requires making investments vital to our future – in education and training, in research and development, in a modern infrastructure for the 21st century. It requires ending our addiction to oil, and capturing a lead role in the green industrial revolution, creating the next generation of green jobs.
The full statement is available at DontKillJobs.org, along with an impressive list of signatories. Many work at America's leading universities, including the University of Massachusetts, Rutgers University, Cornell University, Harvard University, University of California, and Yale University.

Our own region is represented: signatories hail from Lewis & Clark, Evergreen State College, the University of Portland, Portland State University, the University of Oregon, and Shoreline Community College.

(Note that the signatories did not sign the statement on behalf of the institutions that they work for; institutions are listed for identification purposes only).

We at NPI strongly concur with this statement. The most important thing we can do to restore our economy is invest in America's needs. The Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a start, but it is not enough.

The last time that right wing Republicans controlled the executive and legislative branches, they ran up huge deficits without a second thought.

It is disingenuous for them to now claim that expenditures are out of control, and insist that deficit reduction be our nation's top priority.

George W. Bush inherited a surplus when he succeeded Bill Clinton. Why wasn't that surplus used to pay down the deficit?

Because Republicans didn't want to reduce the deficit, that's why.

They wanted to put as much on America's charge card as possible, hoping that it would give them an excuse to destroy our country's social safety net.

But as it turns out, the services that our government provides to help disadvantaged or vulnerable Americans are very popular, and Republicans ran into trouble attempting to dismantle them (not that they didn't try).

We join with the many signatories of this statement in calling on President Obama and Democrats in Congress not to be swayed by the empty rhetoric of the other side. Austerity measures will not lead to a recovery. Progressive values must be the basis for our economic security policies, not right wing lip service.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Now, let me get this straight about tax cuts…

Good grief. With all the hand-wringing in D.C. over tax cuts, it’s getting so it’s hard to tell the players without a scorecard.

It doesn’t help that much of what’s passing for “debate” back east is so inherently self-contradictory as to be laughable. But let’s try.

We have Republicans raising hue and cry about deficit control. “We can’t spend money on anything when we’re running such a high deficit!” Uh, guys? Remember, it was you who voted for these deficits back when Bush was President and you authorized these tax cuts (oh, and two occupations) in the first place.

We have polls showing overwhelming nationwide support for letting the Bush tax cuts expire. You’d think the Republicans would be smart enough to smell a loser issue, and Democrats smart enough to smell a winner, when the polls were so clear.

And yet...

We have Senate and House Democrats each arguing that the other chamber should go first in shining the spotlight on Republican demands for tax cuts for the rich, while Republicans clamor to extend or make permanent the Bush tax cuts for the rich, arguing against the very "sunset" provisions they themselves voted for and that President Bush signed into law.

They also conveniently neglect to mention that extending any of the Bush tax cuts will have dire consequences for the deficit they’re supposedly so concerned about.

They say they want to stimulate the economy by giving giant bucketfuls of money to the rich so the rich can theoretically use it to create jobs. They continue to believe that "trickle-down” economics works, even after it's been repeatedly discredited during the thirty or so years since Reagan popularized the idea.

And although you’d think that at least the issue of tax cuts for the bottom 98% of Americans would be a non-controversial issue for all concerned, nevertheless, Democrats have to form some committees to discuss the phrase “Obama tax cuts” — that is, whether attaching the President's name to this is a good idea, when the President is the only prominent Democrat who has been out there past couple of weeks trying to put Democrats on stronger footing going into the election.

Sheesh!

So let me get this straight.

Republicans are arguing that a very tiny fraction of Americans should get to divvy up a very large mountain of money that they don't even need, money which the U.S. of A will have to borrow in order to give them, ostensibly so they can create jobs by spending it, when they're already not spending the mountains of cash they currently have. Yeah, that makes perfect sense.

Democrats, faced with overwhelming public support for letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire as scheduled AND passing the Obama tax cuts for everyone else, are too chicken to do anything unless somebody else goes first.

Have I got that right?

Thought so.

Hey congressional Democrats: This isn’t rocket science.

Let the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule. Then pass the Obama tax cuts for the other 98% of us who actually do need the money and are far more likely to stimulate the economy by spending it. Like, right away.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A quick look at primary results in New York, New England, Maryland, and Wisconsin

While Christine O'Donnell's upset of Mike Castle is undoubtedly the story of the night, Delaware wasn't the only state holding a primary election tonight.

Here's a quick summary of contests in other states.

New York
  • Kirsten Gillibrand easily captured the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate (she had one Democratic rival). Her Republican opponent will probably be Republican Joseph DioGuardi.
  • Tea party favorite Carl Paladino — who has made headlines for sending out inappropriate emails — has decisively beaten also-ran Rick Lazio for the gubernatorial nomination. Paladino will face Andrew Cuomo in the general.
  • Kathleen Rice and Eric Schneiderman are running neck and neck in the contest to succeed Cuomo as Attorney General. Nobody sought the Republican nomination, so whoever wins the Democratic primary is New York's next attorney general.
  • Embattled incumbent Charles Rangel, who is seeking reelection to the U.S. House, managed to pull in 52% of of the vote, more than all of his challengers combined.
Maryland
  • Most of Maryland's Democratic incumbents faced challengers in the primary, but none are in danger of losing their respective nominations. In the gubernatorial race, Robert Ehrlich defeated Brian Murphy for the Republican nomination. He is now set for a rematch against Governor Martin O'Malley.
  • Donna Edwards, one of the House's most progressive members, was among the incumbents who easily dispatched her opponents.
Massachusetts
  • Bill Keating won the Democratic nomination in MA-10, succeeding retiring incumbent Bill Delahunt as the party's standard-bearer. Keating will face Republican Jeff Perry in the general.
  • Mac D'Alessandro, meanwhile, came up short in his bid to unseat Stephen Lynch (one of the Democrats who voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). He only managed to get get 35% of the vote in MA-09.
Wisconsin
  • Julie Lassa won the Democratic nomination in WI-07, the seat currently held by David Obey, with a commanding 85% of the vote. She will face Republican Sean Duffy in November.
  • Tom Barret, meanwhile, was overwhelmingly chosen by Democratic voters to succeed retiring Governor Jim Doyle as their standard bearer. Barret's Republican opponent will be Scott Walker.
Rhode Island
  • Providence mayor David Cicilline overcame three other challengers to capture the Democratic nomination for Patrick Kennedy's seat. If he wins in November, he will be the fourth openly gay member of Congress.
  • John Robitaille won the Republican gubernatorial primary. He is seeking to succeed Donald L. Carcieri, who was term-limited out of office. Robitaille will face Frank Caprio in November.
Finally, in early returns from the District of Columbia, Mayor Adrian Fenty is running behind his most serious challenger, Council Chairman Vincent Gray.

Perennial fringe Republican Christine O'Donnell defeats Mike Castle in Delaware

A fringe right wing radical who was soundly beaten by Joe Biden two years ago (and who unsuccessfully ran against Tom Carper before that) tonight defeated Delaware's best known elected Republican for the party's Senate nomination.

Christine O'Donnell, forty one, has a 3,533 vote over seventy one year old U.S. Representative Mike Castle with 99% of precincts reporting.

The upset — suspected by many in the netroots community but pooh-poohed by establishment pundits — will undoubtedly shake up the contest for U.S. Senate in Delaware. The conventional wisdom was that Castle was a lock in the general election, giving Republicans a key pickup: Vice President Joe Biden's old seat, currently held by Ted Kaufman, who was appointed after Biden resigned.

Of course, the conventional wisdom was wrong. Castle couldn't even secure the nomination of his own party after decades of service in the House of Representatives, so it's pointless for pundits to continue to say that he would have been the victor in a matchup against Democrat Chris Coons. We'll never know who would have triumphed in a Castle/Coons matchup.

Similarly, it is a mistake to now declare that Coons will be a walk-in. Polls, forecast models, focus groups, and the like cannot accurately predict the outcome of elections. Collectively, public opinion research can indicate what may happen, but even then it is not conclusive. The media is so obsessed with outcomes, however, that it gives short shrift to issues in favor of attempting to report who's up and who's down (horse-race style coverage).

A person's gut instinct (or, as Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly calls it, seat-of-pants judgment) can amusingly be more accurate than polling, even though it's not scientific. My own personal experience has taught me this. Typically, when I've had bad feelings about a campaign that I've been involved in or paid attention to, that campaign has gone down to defeat. Conversely, when I've felt very hopeful about a campaign, it has usually won.

I don't care about being proved correct, so I generally avoid chronicling my feelings about a campaign. I'd rather advance a cause I believe in than comment on whether a particular candidate or ballot measure is going to succeed or fail.

Of course, if the traditional media — especially cable news executives — shared my attitude, they'd actually have to produce serious journalism.

POSTSCRIPT: MSNBC is currently airing Christine O'Donnell's victory speech. She is urging Delaware's Republican Party to unite behind her, which seems unlikely to happen given how hard the state Republican establishment worked against her after they became convinced she was a serious threat to Mike Castle.

Castle partisans were responsible for a hard-hitting last minute robocall featuring a former O'Donnell staffer, who did not have kind things to say about her ex-boss.
"I got into politics because I believe in conservative values and wanted to make a difference. But I was shocked to learn that O’Donnell is no conservative," says Murray, according to a script obtained by POLITICO.

"This is her third Senate race in five years. As O’Donnell’s manager, I found out she was living on campaign donations — using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt," she says.

Perhaps the most biting line in the call delivered by Murray: "She wasn't concerned about conservative causes. O’Donnell just wanted to make a buck."
O'Donnell and Tim Eyman must have a lot in common!

Tea party favorites O'Donnell, Lamontagne leading in early primary returns

The last primaries of the 2010 cycle are happening tonight in several states, including New Hampshire (which, humorously enough, prides itself on being first in the nation/), Delaware, and Maryland. In the former two states, right wing upstarts are vying against the establishment candidates for the Republican nomination.

And as of 5:20 PM Pacific Time, they're both winning... though it's still early!

Republican nomination for U.S. Senate; Delaware
Michael Castle: 47.7% (1,995 total votes)
Christine O'Donnell: 52.3% (2,186 total votes)

Keep in mind that only twenty five of three hundred and twenty five districts have reported in, and with each wave of new numbers so far, O'Donnell has dropped. If this trend continues, she'll soon be exchanging the lead with Castle.

Republican nomination for U.S. Senate; New Hampshire
Ovide Lamontagne: 52% (7,160 total votes)
Kelly Ayotte: 32% (4,492 total votes)

The media have trumpeted Sarah Palin's endorsement of Kelly Ayotte (because they're obsessed with Palin) but Lamontagne is the favorite of the fringe ultra right.

And right now, he's winning easily. Part of the reason is his strong support in the state's largest city, Manchester. The Concord Monitor has more.

UPDATE, 5:49 PM: O'Donnell is now holding steady at 54.6% with one hundred and thirty six out of three hundred and twenty five districts.

It's starting to look like Castle is doomed.

Small Business Jobs and Credit Act moves forward in U.S. Senate

Senate Republicans' opposition to the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 was overcome today when cloture was invoked on a substitute to the bill that passed the House of Representatives (H.R. 5297). The procedural vote to move forward was sixty one to thirty seven. Republicans constituted the entirety of the opposition; two of their members broke ranks to join the Democrats (George Voinovich of Ohio and George LeMieux of Florida).

Senators from the Pacific Northwest were split exactly along partisan lines, as is typically the case. That means Washington, Oregon, and Montana's six Democratic senators were "ayes", along with Mark Begich of Alaska.

Lisa Murkowski and Idaho's two Republicans voted nay.

“Today’s vote brings us one step closer to ending the months-long partisan blockade of a small business jobs bill that was written by both Democrats and Republicans," President Obama said in statement released by the White House.

"This is a bill that would cut taxes and help provide loans to millions of small business owners who create most of the new jobs in this country. It is fully paid for, it won’t add to the deficit, and small businesses across the country have been waiting for Washington to act on this bill for far too long," the President added.

He urged every senator to vote yes on final passage. Of course, that won't happen. None of the Republicans who voted against consideration of bill are likely to actually vote for the bill itself. It's telling that the two Republicans who did break ranks to support the bill are leaving the Senate at the end of this year.

The House will need to concur with the Senate's changes to the bill before it can go to President Obama for his signature, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi shouldn't have much trouble assembling the votes required for passage.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Washington could be trapped in a vicious economic death spiral without tax reform

Anticipating that the upcoming release of the updated state revenue forecast will confirm bad news for our state's common wealth, Governor Chris Gregoire signed an executive order today directing state agencies to make more across the board cuts. The specifics of her order are contingent on the numbers that will be in the report, issued by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

The governor and lawmakers had been hoping that the economy would rebound, sparing already weakened or reduced public services from further blows. Unfortunately, the outlook remains grim. The state is likely to face another massive budget shortfall in January, which could be significantly magnified by the passage of one or more of the five corporate initiatives on the November ballot. In the meantime, not enough revenue is flowing into the treasury to meet expenditures.

Our fiscal problems stem from Washington's dependence on consumption taxes. When Washingtonians aren't buying things (whether they be homes, automobiles, electronics, etc.), that depresses the amount of revenue that is collected. When our common wealth isn't healthy enough to cover projected costs, we end up facing a deficit, which lawmakers must close to avoid going into debt.

Revenue is thus linked to consumer spending and consumer confidence. And consumer spending is linked to unemployment. People who are out of work obviously don't have the means to spend much, but even people who have jobs are more likely to be frugal when unemployment is high.

Sadly, unemployment isn't falling. But it isn't because businesses aren't hiring. Here's the Economic Revenue and Forecast Council (PDF):
The Washington recovery seems to have lost momentum in the summer months after strong growth in the spring. In June and July, the private sector has added 5,500 jobs which is better than the national rate but still a little weaker than our last forecast. During the same period, however, state and local governments shed 4,700 jobs, offsetting most of the private sector gains.
Republicans might not think that government jobs are real jobs, but a pink slip has serious ramifications for the economy whether it's issued by a government agency or a private employer. We are doing ourselves no favors by laying off our public servants. The more we cut back, the more jobs we eliminate. Eliminating jobs keeps unemployment high or makes it even worse, which keeps a damper on consumer spending and thus further depresses revenue collection.

It's a vicious economic cycle which our elected leaders seem unable to cope with.

It's time to face reality: there is no returning to 2006. When the economy does rebound, people aren't just going to go back to their old ways and ramp up their shopping. Too many lived beyond their means during the Bush error.

Republicans (and some Democrats) like to talk about government living within its means, as if government was some kind of supersized household. Contrary to what Tim Eyman and right wing legislators claim, however, neither state revenue nor state expenditures are higher than they have historically been since the 1970s.

In fact, they're lower.

Washington State was not badly managed during the Bush error. We are collectively victims of the mismanagement that occurred at the federal level. But it doesn't matter that our state's leaders didn't cause the Great Recession. What matters is what they are going to do about our situation now. Lawmakers cannot expect much help from Congress in 2011. We are largely on our own.

I often characterize the Legislature's decision-making in conversation by saying that they like to take the lowest road. By that, I mean that legislators (and other elected leaders) tend to gravitate towards what feels like the most painless course of action, even if it makes little sense long-term.

Metaphorically, the lowest road is the path with the least elevation gain. It looks like the easiest route to travel, but it's really the most dangerous, because it is the most susceptible to mudslides and flooding. Inevitably, an obstacle materializes and the lowest road ceases to become a road at all.

Lawmakers and Governor Chris Gregoire need to quit holding out hope that consumer spending will soon revive and make their jobs easier. Their job is to govern as responsibly as they can, not merely decide how to spend whatever money we have. If they are responsible they will act to protect our state's public services, which are in danger of being eviscerated. That, in turn, means protecting our common wealth, which pays for those vital services which Washingtonians rely on each and every day. The key to protecting our common wealth is tax reform.

Gregoire and lawmakers can thank Bill Gates Sr. and Washington's labor movement for investing their own clout and their own resources into an initiative that would levy an income tax on high earners. Initiative 1098, which NPI strongly and unequivocally supports, can certainly help offset horrific cuts if it passes and survives a potential court challenge.

But it is only one piece of the puzzle.

In a followup post on Wednesday, I'll sketch out several ideas for strengthening our common wealth, retooling state government, and improving our state's economic security. We don't pretend to have all the answers, but what we do know is that the status quo is not sustainable, and that the right wing's answer — privatization and deregulation — will only make a bad situation worse.

We have to rethink how we pay for and provide the vital services that Washingtonians need without compromising our quality of life.