Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Mitt Romney seeks to pillage Utah’s commonwealth

Despite the dire financial circumstances that most of the fifty states find themselves in, there is at least one Republican presidential candidate who would like to see Utah recklessly spend money like a sailor on leave. That’s right, Mitt Romney wants the state of Utah to spend anywhere from $2.5 million to $3 million to move its presidential primary from June 26, 2012 to a date earlier in the spring. The reason for this move would be to benefit Romney’s candidacy for President and give him an early win from which to build momentum. It’s a crass political move and former Governor Mitt Romney should know better than to raid the precious resources of a state government in the name of personal ambition.

Mitt Romney’s Utah advisers are working to try to get the state’s Republican presidential primary moved up, from late June to earlier in the spring where it might play a bigger role in the nomination process.

[…]

However, it could also end up costing taxpayers between $2.5 million and $3 million to stage the primary.

Right now, the Utah Republican Party is planning to hold its presidential primary on June 26, 2012, the same day as the statewide primary election for other Utah offices.

There are a couple of problems with this strategy. The first issue arises with Romney’s belief in the good polling numbers he’s received so far. As our readers know, we at the Northwest Progressive Institute strongly believe that the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day. True, Mitt Romney has strong poll numbers in Utah, and even polls ahead of the state’s former Governor Jon Huntsman, but there is no guarantee that those poll numbers will translate into a win for Romney in the primary.

The other problem is that Mitt Romney is a candidate whose own website lists “fiscal responsibility” as one of his top issues. While we won’t link to the Romney campaign website so as not to drive traffic there, here is what the website says:

The mission to restore America begins with getting our fiscal house in order. President Obama has put our nation on an unsustainable course. Spending is out of control. Yearly deficits are massive. And unless we curb Washington’s appetite for spending, the national debt will grow to the size of our entire economy this year.

So how about that fiscal responsibility thing? Pressuring Utah to hold its primary earlier while spending $2.5 to $3 million to benefit his presidential campaign, when those funds could be spent on health care, education or other vital services that benefit the people of Utah isn’t even close to being fiscally responsible. It’s a blatant, selfish act in the name of political expediency; an obscene campaign contribution drawn from the commonwealth of the people of Utah.

Sam Reed confirms retirement; Jay Manning resigns; catching up with Lt. Gov Brad Owen

Confirming reports that he will not run again in 2012, Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed told reporters and his staff this morning that his next eighteen months in office will be his last – though he will remain involved in politics.

“This is a bittersweet decision for me and my family,” Reed said in a statement.

“I have such love and respect for this office and for the opportunities to serve the people of Washington every single day. I came to Olympia as a young man to answer a call for a new breed of leaders, and was honored to work for Governor Dan Evans and to be appointed assistant secretary of state by Secretary Lud Kramer at age 28.  Later, I thoroughly enjoyed being Thurston County Auditor for 23 years and now have had the distinct pleasure of being Secretary of State for three terms, including presiding over the nation’s secretaries of state.”

He added, “In all, it has been quite a ride – forty-five years in public life, including thirty-five in elective office. It is true, there is `a time and a season’ and for Margie and me, it is time to move on at the end of the term.”

In a message to staff, Reed summarized many of the things he has advocated for as Secretary of State – for instance, moving to vote-by-mail elections, asking courts to preserve access to the names of people who have signed ballot petitions under Washington’s public records act, and, of course, the “Top Two” winnowing election, which we at NPI believes violates political parties’ First Amendment right to free assembly and is therefore unconstitutional.’

State Senator Jim Kastama (a Democrat) and Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman (a Republican) are said to be considering running for Secretary of State, and may launch their campaigns soon.

Meanwhile, in another sign that the 2011 legislative session has taken its toll on Chris Gregoire’s administration, the governor’s chief of staff, Jay Manning, revealed today that he is leaving to pursue other opportunities. His last day will be Friday, July 15th.

“There are a number of reasons why I have decided to resign,” Manning said in an email to colleagues. “I have a number of interesting professional opportunities that I want to pursue. There are some real financial pressures that I need to attend to. I’m a little worn out and am not confident that I would bring the level of energy and creativity that is necessary to do the Chief of Staff job at the level I believe necessary to be successful.”

“I am not leaving because of the Governor’s decision not to fun for a third term,” he explained. ” To the contrary, her decision will enable the administration to do more – to accomplish more – in these next 18 months than it could if she were running for a third term. I fully support the Governor’s decision. I am also not leaving to run for elective office. I have no plans to run for anything in 2012.”

Gregoire has not announced a replacement for Manning, but she will need to find a new chief of staff quickly, since Manning is taking off in mid-July.

Finally, it’s been brought to my attention that Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen is, in fact, planning to ask voters for another term in office (I characterized his plans as unknown in my post yesterday). He has already filed paperwork for his reelection bid with the Public Disclosure Commission.

First elected in 1996, Owen served alongside Gary Locke for both of his two terms and will have served with Chris Gregoire for both of hers at the end of 2012. However, he has a ways to go before he becomes the longest-serving Lieutenant Governor in state history. That record is held by John Cherberg (for whom the Senate office building is named).

Cherberg served for thirty-two years, or eight terms. Albert Rosellini was governor when he took office; Booth Gardner was governor when he left office.

Unlike many other states, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor in Washington do not run together on a ticket, meaning that individuals from different parties can simultaneously hold the different offices.

Consequently, Owen’s prospects are not tied to those of Jay Inslee, the likely Democratic standard-bearer for governor. As in past cycles, Owen is certain to have opposition in 2012, but very unlikely to have anything more than token opposition.

Sam Reed not running again in 2012?

A few weeks ago, we started hearing speculation that incumbent Secretary of State Sam Reed, who has held the position for several terms, was thinking about retiring and not running again in 2012. We don’t care much for repeating unsubstantiated rumors, so we didn’t report it here on The Advocate, but today, we got word from multiple people that Reed may publicly announce his plans as early as tomorrow.

Reed’s retirement would create an open seat in a third statewide race next year, which would make 2012 all the more interesting. (Chris Gregoire is not seeking another term as governor, and Rob McKenna is vacating the office of attorney general to run for that job). Several Democrats are said to be interested in running if Reed doesn’t, and they will have to decide quickly if they want to move forward, should Reed confirm his retirement tomorrow.

Other independently elected members of Washington’s executive branch are planning to ask voters for another term, including State Treasurer Jim McIntire and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.

State Auditor Brian Sonntag has made noise about running for governor, but it’s already a crowded field, with Rob McKenna a virtual lock for the Republican vote and Jay Inslee a virtual lock for the Democratic vote.

To our knowledge, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn hasn’t said whether he intends to run again, and neither has Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen hasn’t come to a decision either.

Republicans have controlled the position of Secretary of State even longer than Democrats have controlled the governor’s mansion. The last Democrat to serve as Secretary of State was Vic Meyers; he left office at the end of 1964, meaning that the state’s top elections official has not been a Democrat in almost half a century.

Naturally, Democrats are anxious to end the Republicans’ streak, just as Republicans want to end the Democratic Party’s hold on the governorship. That is partly why there’s a lot of interest on the Democratic side. We’ll see how the race shakes out. It could be very memorable.

Earth to the tech punditocracy: Research in Motion is still very much alive

It seems that hardly a day goes by now when I don’t stumble across an article predicting the decline or even the death of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, which revolutionized the handset with an array of unmatched messaging capabilities (push email, BlackBerry Messenger) in the early 2000s.

While it is certainly true that company faces stiff competition from the likes of Apple and Google these days, RIM and its BlackBerry platform are still very much alive, contrary to what the self-anointed tech punditocracy would seemingly have us all believe. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard RIM described as a sinking ship doomed to oblivion (or some similar metaphor).

The pundits who have written RIM off all seem to have a double standard. They are easily impressed by anything Apple or Google do, but completely unimpressed by anything that RIM does. They say BlackBerry is dead, or on the verge of being dead, even though RIM still has a healthy share of the smartphone market.

Their criticism might have a shred of credibility if RIM was idling, not bothering to develop any new products or improve the quality of its services. But that is just what the company is doing. RIM knows it has to compete, and compete aggressively, if it wants to survive. It has to innovate more quickly than it has in the past. But it also needs to do a better job of polishing new devices before putting them into the hands of reviewers and marketing them to loyal customers.

It’s a tough balancing act. But RIM seems to be embracing the challenge, seeking to reinvent itself without compromising its traditional strengths.

It just isn’t getting much recognition for its efforts. Take this dismissive paragraph from Boy Genius Report’s Jonathan Geller:

The real problem with RIM is that it hasn’t innovated for years. In that time, RIM’s entire product portfolio has been arguably lackluster, reduced to meaningless hardware upgrades and meaningless software upgrades. The company has tried to right its path by transitioning to QNX, an OS it purchased that will not only run the company’s tablets but smartphones as well in the next year to two. And the PlayBook by itself isn’t a bad product — but compared to the iPad, it’s a non-starter.

I’m not sure if Jonathan has bothered to try out the PlayBook, but I’ve got one, and I would describe it as a well-designed, 5.1 by 7.6 inch tablet with a lot of promise. Despite a slew of unenthusiastic reviews, the PlayBook has been selling reasonably well, in part because it has unique capabilities that the iPad does not.

For instance, it has a Flash-ready browser capable of rendering websites like a desktop or laptop. It has an HDMI port, which means it can be effortlessly connected to a modern flat panel television, no adapter required. And it ships with several thoughtfully designed native apps, including an Adobe PDF reader and a word processor that can accurately display most documents.

I can attest that the PlayBook is a joy to use. And because it is smaller than the iPad, it is much lighter and more portable.

Since launch day, RIM has pushed out several updates to the BlackBerry Tablet OS, correcting bugs and introducing new features. Several updates have arrived this month, including one a few weeks ago which consists of a number of significant improvements.

But there is more to come. RIM has confirmed that several extremely exciting updates are in store for the PlayBook, which will correct almost all of the flaws identified by reviewers. These include:

  • Native email, calendar, and tasks. Presently, the PlayBook has no standalone personal information manager apps, though it can display messages, events, and to-do items from a BlackBerry smartphone via BlackBerry Bridge. But native apps are on the way for those who need them.
  • Support for Android and traditional BlackBerry apps. Presently, there isn’t a huge selection of apps available for the PlayBook, because the operating system that runs the tablet is so new. That will change when RIM ships a compatibility update allowing the PlayBook to run Android and traditional Java-based BlackBerry apps.
  • 4G radio. Presently, the PlayBook is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth only; there’s no built-in radio that can connect to a cellular network. Many PlayBook owners don’t mind this, since they can pair their PlayBook with their BlackBerry smartphone or standalone mobile hotspot to get connectivity. However, RIM is planning to launch a version of the PlayBook with a radio built in to cater to customers who want connectivity everywhere that cell signals reach without needing a second device.

Jonathan also had unkind, dismissive words for RIM’s efforts to improve the software that runs its BlackBerry smartphones.

RIM’s BlackBerry OS 7 (also known as BlackBerry OS 6.1, also known as the same OS as BlackBerry 6, also known as the same OS as BlackBerry OS 5, also known as the same OS as BlackBerry 4.7, also known as the same OS as BlackBerry 4.5, also known as the same OS as BlackBerry 4.3, also known as the same OS as BlackBerry 4.2, also known as the same OS as BlackBerry 4.0…) isn’t an overhaul, but just another stop-gap solution until QNX.

This derogatory characterization makes no sense.

How are the incremental updates that RIM has made to BlackBerry OS any different than the incremental updates that Apple has made to iOS, or the incremental updates Google has made to Android?

BlackBerry 7 may not be radically different than its immediate predecessor, OS 6, but it is radically different than OS 4, which came out years ago, when the much-touted iOS didn’t even have copy and paste functionality.

I can’t imagine that anyone asked to try out a handset running OS 4 and then a handset running OS 7 in a store would say the phones have the “same OS”. By Geller’s logic, Windows 7 is the “same OS” as Windows 2000.

OS 7 actually promises to be much snappier and more powerful than its immediate predecessor because it will run on much better hardware. Consider the specifications for RIM’s forthcoming BlackBerry Bold Touch, which marries the outstanding qualities of RIM’s most successful phone to a fast processor and a high resolution touchscreen, and will likely be sold by all three of the major carriers.

RIM is also said to be developing a refreshed version of the Torch, its first slider, which debuted on AT&T last August, though that has not been officially announced.

The team at RIM undoubtedly knows that they need to bring the Bold Touch, Torch 2, and other revamped phones to market soon to keep loyal users happy, and give users of other platforms reason to consider getting a BlackBerry. Google’s partners are constantly coming out with new Android phones, and the fifth iPhone is due out in a few months, as Apple confirmed the first week of June.

Whether the Bold Touch and Torch 2 sell well remains to be seen. There’s a good chance that the Bold Touch (which we know for sure is on the way) will be a hit, though. It could especially appeal to folks who like having a physical keyboard for fast typing, but want the benefits of having a touchscreen, too.

What I find ironic about the negative coverage of RIM by tech blogs is that it very much resembles the behavior of rating and click obsessed traditional media outlets, who love to pick winners and losers. Blogs like TechCrunch and BGR do their readers a disservice by emulating the behavior of tabloids and cable news networks. How about less favoritism and more grounded analysis for a change?

Marriage equality finally becomes a reality in New York with historic vote

Moments ago, in an incredibly close vote, the New York State Senate joined the New York State Assembly in voting to make marriage equality the law of the land in the Empire State. The roll call was thirty-three to twenty-nine.

The final approval of the Marriage Equality Act of 2011 concludes an intense effort by pro-equality activists to convince a handful of undecided Republican lawmakers to vote yes on the legislation. The four Republican votes were crucial to passage of the bill, since Republicans narrowly control the Senate, and one member of the Senate Democratic caucus (Rubén Díaz, Sr.) fiercely opposes marriage equality.

The bill now goes to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who worked carefully behind the scenes to ensure that it would receive a vote in the Empire State’s upper chamber. With his signature, New York will become the sixth state where marriage equality is the law of the land, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, and the District of Columbia, where LGBT couples can already wed.

The law is expected to go into effect by midsummer, which means couples can start making plans now for summer weddings.

NPI congratulates our brothers and sisters who call New York their home on this landmark civil rights victory. This is a great moment for not only the people of the Empire State, but for all of the United States of America. Whenever a blow is struck against discrimination and intolerance, it is a great cause for celebration.

Who will be next? Who will follow New York’s lead?

Perhaps it will be us.

In just a few short years, our Legislature has banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, permitted LGBT couples to register as domestic partners, and then expanded their rights under an “everything but marriage” law, which voters upheld in November 2009 to the great dismay of the forces of bigotry. Marriage equality is now our final frontier. And unlike many other states, to get to marriage equality, we don’t have to un-amend our Constitution… because it was never tarnished with an anti-equality provision to begin with.

Until the day when we, too, enjoy marriage equality, the work to win over hearts and minds continues. Many people across this country who previously opposed marriage equality have finally begun to realize that allowing LGBT couples to wed does not threaten any heterosexual couple’s marriage. The change in public opinion that we are witnessing is very welcome and heartening.

POSTSCRIPT: Governor Andrew Cuomo has just signed the legislation. He evidently didn’t want to waste any time following the vote. Thus, the Marriage Equality Act will go into effect one month from today.

Jay Inslee confirms he’s running for governor in 2012; kickoff to be on Monday

As reporters and activists have long expected, Jay Inslee has decided to run for governor of our great state of Washington in 2012.

Inslee’s campaign issued a media advisory an hour ago inviting reporters to next week’s series of kickoff events, which will begin in Seattle.

Refreshingly, the release was very straightforward. It didn’t say, Jay Inslee to Make Special Announcement, or Jay Inslee to Discuss Plans for 2012. It simply said, Jay Inslee to Announce Run for Governor.

The first kickoff event will take place Monday in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood at 9 AM. It will be followed by an event in the Yakima Valley (where Jay was first elected to office) the same day. On Tuesday, Inslee will stop in additional cities (Tacoma, Vancouver, and Spokane) to meet with supporters.

Inslee’s official entry into the race creates a matchup with Republican Rob McKenna that promises to be one of the fiercest contests for governor Washington has ever seen. Inslee and McKenna are widely expected to secure the nominations of their respective parties prior to the winnowing election in August 2012, where they are very likely to be the two candidates that advance to the runoff in November 2012.

(I say runoff because the “Top Two” system the Grange and Sam Reed brought us in 2004 with Initiative 872 is not a primary. In a real primary – whether open or closed – voters identifying with a political party get to do the nominating for their party’s candidates).

The advisory released by Inslee’s campaign notes that he will be unavailable for interviews or for comment until Monday. That makes sense, since otherwise the official kickoff would be preempted. A campaign has to be in control of its own message, and it looks like Jay’s is.

We look forward to Jay outlining his future for Washington on Monday.

POSTSCRIPT: JayInslee.com has just been relaunched, and the banner features the tagline, Building a Working Washington. That sounds like it just might be the campaign theme. If so, I’d say it’s a good choice.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich to speak at NWroots 2011 in Seattle on July 9th

Having already made multiple trips to Washington State this year, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich will return on July 9th for the 2011 NWroots Conference in Seattle. Kucinich has been making frequent visits here, presumably in preparation for a redistricting that may leave him without a congressional district to represent. Speculation is that he could settle and run in Washington’s tenth, first, seventh, eighth, or even third district. Demographics for each of these districts will not be fully known until redistricting is complete.

The Tenth District will likely be an open seat. The Eighth may or may not include Mercer Island, where incumbent Dave Reichert currently lives. The First District will be vacated due to Jay Inslee’s bid for governor. The Third is currently a swing district and not safely in Republican hands. There is talk that Jim McDermott may be appointed Ambassador to India, which would leave the Seventh open (although I talked to a McDermott staffer last week who said the rumor that McDermott is angling for the India ambassadorship is complete nonsense).

There are problems with any scenario which includes Kucinich as a candidate, and it is not at all certain he would be a good fit anywhere in Washington.

State Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz recently made it clear in a phone conversation with Kucinich that he’d rather the Congressman not poke around the state in search of a district to serve.

Regardless, Kucinich obviously sees potential in Washington. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. One thing Kucinich was clear about when I had dinner with him last month is that he won’t run against an incumbent Democrat anywhere. If he has to relocate it will be in a district where he can run in an open seat, or against an incumbent Republican. He will not take on an officeholder from his own party.

Kucinich will join Congressmen Jim McDermott and Jay Inslee, former Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, and Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson at NWroots 2011 on July 9th.

NWroots is a regional conference for liberal bloggers, activists, and citizens interested in progressive public policy. The event will feature keynote speakers, panel discussions, documentaries, and a candidates social.

The closing keynote address will be delivered by Ujjal Dosanjh. In last month’s Federal election, Dosanjh lost his seat in Parliament and announced his retirement from politics. He has previously served as Health Minister in Paul Martin’s cabinet, Premier of  British Columbia, and B.C.’s Attorney General.

The conference will be finished off with a special performance by the Total Experience Gospel Choir.

NWroots, which is being organized by NPI and the NWroots Fellowship, will be held at the Comedy Underground in Pioneer Square. Breakfast and lunch are included in the registration price of $50 ($25 students). An after-party will take place one block away at the historic Central Saloon. It should be a fun and interesting day.

I hope you’ll join me and the NPI team at NWroots on July 9th!

Greetings from the Empire Builder!

Good morning from the prairies of North Dakota!

Though Netroots Nation 2011 may have ended on Saturday evening, our adventure to Minneapolis and back has not. After spending a full day exploring greater Minneapolis yesterday, we made our way to Midway Station last night to board Amtrak’s Empire Builder for the trip home to Washington State.

Patrick and I opted to return to the Evergreen State by train so we could enjoy the journey (as the Amtrak slogan goes) and because we wanted to stop in Glacier National Park along the way. (We’ll be there on the longest day of the year!)

We are currently on our way to Rugby, having left Devils Lake less than an hour ago. If you’re a rail buff, you may know that Empire Builder service has been disrupted recently due to flooding at Devils Lake.

Had Netroots Nation been held one week earlier, we would have been affected and forced to change our plans. Luckily for us, service resumed the day we got to Minneapolis, and the Empire Builder pulled out of Minneapolis on schedule last night.

Around the same time that Amtrak was resuming full service between Chicago and Seattle (the east and west terminuses of the line, respectively), a deal was struck in the District of Columbia to rebuild trackway at Devils Lake, which is susceptible to flooding. The Devils Lake Journal reports:

The state and federal coalition, along with Amtrak and BNSF Railway officials, met Wednesday in Washington and have apparently agreed to split the costs of a nearly $100 million project  to rebuild a 17-mile stretch of track and two bridges near Churchs Ferry.

BNSF and Amtrak apparently each agreed to pay a third of the cost while state and federal governments will pay the other third, said Sen. Kent Conrad, who arranged the meeting.

Devils Lake Mayor Dick Johnson and Ramsey County Commissioner Joe Belford were at the meeting. Johnson was unavailable for comment early today but Belford was willing to speak.

“It’s good news,” he said. “All the main people were there and they all were willing to work and maintain the rail lines. It’s not official yet, but there was kind of an agreement to pay one-third apiece and we were assured they were all committed to making it work. I think we won.”

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) made a decision in 2009 to reroute its freight trains through a different subdivison due to the persistent flooding problems, and it has offered to let Amtrak use the same tracks.

But Amtrak has continued to run the Empire Builder through Devils Lake, in part because North Dakota’s congressional delegation (including Kent Conrad) doesn’t want existing cities on the line to lose service.

It’s all well and good that money has been found for track work at Devils Lake. But it’s regrettable that money never seems to be available for this kind of project until there’s a serious problem that jeopardizes service. Amtrak trains would have much better on-time performance if we were not in the bad habit of deferring track work, station upgrades, and acquisition of new rolling stock.

Though it’s true that Amtrak has benefited from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, most of the ARRA dollars seem to have been spent on maintenance and improvements that should have been made years ago.

Speaking of station upgrades, within the next two years, Amtrak will likely be abandoning the out-of-the-way, unremarkable station building that we departed from last night in favor of St. Paul’s Union Depot, which is being restored to its former splendor. In addition to getting the Empire Builder in 2012, the depot will begin to be served by Metro Transit’s new light rail line starting in 2014, which will make it a true rail hub once more.

As many readers know, Seattle has undertaken similar restoration projects. Union Station was restored a decade ago to become Sound Transit’s headquarters, and is served by Central Link. King Street Station, which sits across 4th Avenue South, is being carefully restored so it looks like its designers intended it to again.

While the renovations are ongoing, King Street continues to serve as a terminus for Sounder commuter rail and Amtrak’s Empire Builder and Coast Starlight. (It is also, of course, a key stop for Amtrak Cascades).

It is very reassuring to see these projects taking place. We made a costly mistake decades ago when we destroyed much of our rail system at the behest of car companies and oil companies. Streetcar systems were torn up, historic old stations were demolished, and service to many communities was ended.

Amtrak took over the most popular intercity passenger routes (and operates thirty-four in total at present), but it has been underfunded since its inception.

Reversing these bad decisions has cost us a huge amount of money. While Amtrak struggles just to get Congress to provide it with the funding it needs to keep trains like the Empire Builder running, Europe and Asia have invested in modern high speed rail networks that provide clean, fast, and reliable service.

It’s time we followed their example.

LIVE from Minneapolis: Netroots Nation 2012 to be in Providence, Rhode Island

A canal in downtown Providence

A snapshot of the sights of downtown Providence, the host city for Netroots Nation (Photo: J. Stephen Conn/Reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has just taken the stage here in Minneapolis to announce that the next Netroots Nation will be held in Providence, Rhode Island, from June 7th to June 10th.

We had guessed that the convention would be in Providence, mainly because we already knew that organizers wanted to bring NN to Providence last year. They ended up not being able to due to a labor dispute at the Westin Providence, one of only a couple of unionized hotels in the city.

Consequently, this year, the convention went to Minneapolis.

But the dispute between the hotel workers and the management has since been resolved successfully, so next year, Netroots Nation will be in Providence.

To be more specific, it will be at the Rhode Island Convention Center, which has a 100,000+ square foot exhibit hall, 20,000+ ballroom, twenty-three meeting rooms, and is connected to the Providence Westin (the host hotel for 2012) via skybridge.

Netroots Nation has never been to New England or the Atlantic seaboard for that matter – the farthest east the convention has gone was to Pittsburgh in 2009. It’s exciting to see that the convention will be somewhere it has never been before. Providence is an inspired choice for this community’s 2012 gathering.

Out of touch

Not since former President George H.W. Bush, who famously could not figure out how to use a price scanner at a grocery store, have we seen a politician so out of touch with everyday people, as Mitt Romney was today. Mr. Romney, in a phony, pathetic attempt at empathy, informed voters today that he, too, is unemployed.

Mitt Romney sat at the head of the table at a coffee shop here on Thursday, listening to a group of unemployed Floridians explain the challenges of looking for work. When they finished, he weighed in with a predicament of his own.

“I should tell my story,” Mr. Romney said. “I’m also unemployed.”

Forget the audacity of hope. This is the audacity of dope. The dope is a man whose net worth is reportedly over $200 million, a sum that  none of the Florida voters Romney met with will likely ever get close to seeing in their own bank accounts. Simply removing his tie for campaign events, while still wearing designer suits and joking about not working, does not make Mitt Romney an average American.

And just how did Mitt make his fortune? Check out this piece from the conservative New York Post.

However, the former private equity firm chief’s fortune — which has funded his political ambitions from the Massachusetts statehouse to his unsuccessful run for the White House in 2008 — was made on the backs of companies that ultimately collapsed, putting thousands of ordinary Americans out on the street. That truth if it becomes widely known could become costly to Romney, who, while making the media rounds recently, told CNN’s Piers Morgan that “People in America want to know who can get 15 million people back to work,” implying he was that person.

Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, bought companies and often increased short-term earnings so those businesses could then borrow enormous amounts of money. That borrowed money was used to pay Bain dividends. Then those businesses needed to maintain that high level of earnings to pay their debts.

In other words, Mitt Romney is a corporate raider who made his fortune off of putting people out of jobs and destroying companies. He clearly knows nothing of the pain of average Americans and the sacrifices they make when they lose their jobs. And profiting off of others’ misery mixed with false empathy surely won’t endear Mr. Romney to voters.

LIVE from Minneapolis: That’s a wrap… Day One is officially done!

The first day of Netroots Nation 2011 has come to a close.

It was a long day, but a good day. We’ve met up with many old friends from conventions past, and made new ones. We attended several thought-provoking panels, explored the exhibit hall, and became experts at navigating Minneapolis’ Skyway system. And, of course, we joined the thousands of other activists who are here for the opening keynote featuring Russ Feingold.

To say that Russ was well worth the price of admission would be an understatement. It was one of the most compelling speeches I’ve ever heard. If you didn’t catch it on C-SPAN or the live stream, you’ll definitely want to check it out when it becomes available in the Netroots Nation video archive.

Here’s a roundup of some of the traditional media’s coverage of the happenings today, as well as a few preview-style stories published yesterday on the eve of the convention:

Tomorrow, there will be a Q&A session with White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, more panels, workshops, and trainings, a big LiUNA rally at the Stone Arch Bridge, and a lunchtime discussion of economic inequality in America. We will continue bringing you live coverage starting early in the morning.

For now, good night… and good luck. :)

LIVE from Minneapolis: Building a stronger netroots community abroad

Here in the United States, we don’t always hear about efforts abroad to utilize social media and develop new ways of organizing online, because we don’t give our neighbors in the world community much attention.

But we ought to, because progressives in other countries are trying to make use of the Internet to bring about change, too.

Some efforts begin spontaneously and develop into more mature communications channels out of frustration with cuts in essential public services, as in Portugal, and some are planned out for the long term, such as Sunny Hundal’s Liberal Conspiracy and its ally UK Uncut,  which aims to deconstruct the Conservative government’s narrative about the economy.

Mr. Hundal, who played a critical part in organizing  the first Netroots UK this year, emphasized during the panel the need for organizations and projects that do training (such as Wellstone Action, based here in Minnesota), which give activists the tools that they need to let their voices be heard.

John Aravosis, one of the moderators of the panel, highlighted a story mentioned by panelist Johann Ulvenlov, illustrating the importance of repetition in making narratives effective. The story goes that a relatively low-profile blogger in Sweden decided to write about her mother being kicked off of Swedish healthcare because of actions taken by the conservative government.

The experience she chronicled was amplified by the netroots community, and soon caught the attention of the national media, which covered both the story and the creative methods used to distribute it, such as a viral video which imagined a conversation between this blogger and the conservative prime minister.

Paula DeSilva, a panelist from Portugal, spoke about the use of the Internet as just another way to utilize word-of-mouth, with the focus on reaching the people. Her perspective provided valuable insight on the relational aspect of grassroots organizing, and the difficulty (at least in Portugal) of translating grassroots interest on the internet into lobbying efforts aimed at the officials who make the decisions.

The conversation then drifted towards examining how to organize a conference, which seemed to be very important topic to the international bloggers who are here on a State Department program (many from countries without an organized netroots community), and then came back to the need for international support for bloggers abroad, emphasized by a comment by a blogger from Kyrgyzstan, who explained the difficulty of language barriers and how, in countries who generally use regional languages, you either write in your native language and get no international support, or write in English and go completely over the head of citizens actually living in the country concerned.

This question wasn’t entirely resolved, with most of the panelists generally saying to merely double-post, one post in English and one post in the local language. Of course, only multilingual authors can do this.

The panel ended with intriguing conversation around the repression of civil and political rights in Bahrain.

It seems that there are many more international bloggers at the convention this year. There is an international blogger meet-and-greet later on during the convention, and we’ll try to compile a blogroll from the participants so you can see for yourself what progressives abroad are writing and doing.

LIVE from Minneapolis: Drew Westen, Tate Linden discuss keys to effective messaging

Good morning from Minneapolis! Today is the first day of Netroots Nation, and the NPI team’s first full day in the Twin Cities. I’m at a breakout session called Get the Message?, organized by Darcy Burner and featuring Drew Westen and Tate Linden. The session was advertised as a panel, but it’s really been more like a pair of presentations (by Drew and Tate), emceed by Darcy.

The premise of the presentations is that Democrats and progressives don’t do a good job telling their story, and that as a consequence, Democrats do not enjoy the popular support that they should. To be more specific, the quality and consistency of our messaging is poor, and if we want to reach voters, we need to change the way we communciate.

One of the highlights of Drew Westen’s talk was his slide on narratives. According to Drew, there are three narratives that the Obama administration should have presented to the American people after taking office, but didn’t. These are:

  • Why the economy is a disaster and how the Republicans caused it.
  • Why deficit spending is necessary when the economy is spiraling downward
  • An alternative narrative on government to Ronald Reagan’s, “government is the problem, not the solution”

Drew contends that if these narratives had been presented, Democratic losses in the 2010 midterms would not have been so great, because Republicans would not have been able to get away with portraying Democrats as out of touch and irresponsible – which they did, even though their destructive agenda caused the Great Recession.

Drew believes, as we at NPI do, at progressives need to work on making their ideas sticky, or memorable. Sticky ideas, as explained by Chip and Dan Heath, have several common traits that give them staying power. They are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and expressed in the form of stories (as opposed to facts and figures).

Many, if not most, progressive ideas are naturally sticky, because they are based on the logic of progressive values. But our ideas can’t stick when we don’t communicate them properly. Drew says it’s time for us to rethink the way we connect with people. That includes rethinking how we talk about our own ideas. For instance, Drew says that instead of talking about univeral healthcare (which is a more abstract concept that invokes negative connotations for some), progressives should talk about favoring “a family doctor for every family.”

Drew’s presentation was followed by Tate Linden’s. Tate focused his remarks on alignment – not electoral alignment, but alignment between speech, actions, and thought. “When our motivations are aligned with our words and deeds, we feel a definite sense of happiness, and a sense of being comfortable with our own skin. This Gandhian alignment [Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you are in harmony] is a critical first step toward developing a powerful identity with the potential to create change.”

Up-and-coming progressive leaders may be known only by what they say or do, Tate said. That makes them vulnerable to right wing attacks. “Since their motivations haven’t been developed or shared, it’s easy for the opposition to slip in a substitute motivation that serves their own purposes.”

And indeed, we have seen that happen over and over again.

Perception of intent matters. We need to make our values, principles, and motivation for being involved transparent, so that it’s difficult to impossible for the right wing to question our intentions. If we can better establish our own credibility, we can add to the credibility of our ideas, strengthening how people perceive our vision for America and allowing us to be much more effective at implementing policy directions that will make a real difference in people’s lives.

Jay Inslee to speak at NWroots 2011 in Pioneer Square on July 9th – be there!

As many NPI readers may know, possible Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee will be joining Congressman Jim McDermott, former Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, and Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson at NWroots 2011 on July 9th.

NWroots is a regional conference for liberal bloggers, activists, and citizens interested in progressive public policy. The event will feature keynotes, panel discussions, documentaries, and a candidates social.

Congressman and presumptive gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee will kick-off the event as opening keynote speaker. Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson will follow Inslee. Johnson is expected to address the role of labor in Democratic politics and the changing political strategy.

Ujjal Dosanjh will deliver the closing keynote address. Former MP Dosanjh lost his seat in Parliament serving Vancouver South Riding in a near sweep of Liberals in last month’s federal election. He has previously served as Health Minister in Paul Martin’s cabinet, Premier of  British Columbia, and B.C.’s Attorney General. Congressman Jim McDermott will speak ahead of Dosanjh.

The conference will be held at Comedy Underground in Pioneer Square, with breakout sessions close by. Breakfast at Swannies and lunch at Fx McRory’s are included in the registration price of $50 ($25 students). An after-party will take place one block away at the historic Central Saloon.

The NWroots Fellowship is incredibly thankful for the support NPI has provided in organizing this conference. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I hope you’ll join me and the NPI team at NWroots on July 9th!