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: July 2011

Seattle Post-Globe calls it quits

Two and a quarter years after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased print publication, one of the Web startups that emerged in its aftermath is closing down:

It’s been an eventful two years – sometimes fun, sometimes a mountain of work, but always worthwhile. And now it’s time for the PostGlobe to say goodbye and thank you. It’s time for us to move on.

We started as a nonprofit news site created by laid-off staffers of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer after the 146-year-old paper printed its last edition on what for others was a festive St. Patrick’s Day in 2009. More than 100 journalists lost their jobs as the paper scaled down its staff and went online-only. Some ended their journalism careers that day, as newspaper jobs nationally continued to evaporate – nearly 15,000 other print journalists lost their jobs that year.

Post-Globe cofounder Sally Deneen noted that advertising never generated any meaningful revenue, and that donations have fallen off. “[A]s a volunteer-run site, we’ve run out of helping hands as unemployed journalists have left for jobs. (Which is a good thing!),” Deneen added later in the goodbye message excerpted above.

On behalf of the team at NPI, I want to add our thanks to that of the well-wishers who have commented on Deneen’s goodbye message. I myself have experience building an organization out of nothing with volunteer labor, and I know how hard it is. I’m glad Kery and Sally and the other people who helped establish the Post-Globe were able to keep it going as long as they did.

I’m also glad to hear that the site will be preserved online as an archive. It’s important that the stories and opinion pieces that the Post-Globe published remain available and accessible, and not simply disappear.

Since this blog, The Advocate, began in March of 2004, the media landscape has undergone some profound changes, leaving the future of journalism uncertain. For instance, many of the political reporters I got to know after becoming an activist have since retired or gone onto other jobs. Some of my favorite publications, like the Seattle P-I and the Christian Science Monitor, are now only available online. Others have closed down forever.

Though it is hard to discern what the next few years have in store, I think it’s likely we will continue to see a great deal of change taking place. The Post-Globe will not be the last of the media outlets that we see come and go.

County Council hopeful Richard Mitchell gaining strength as August 16th approaches

Full Disclosure: I personally support Richard Mitchell’s campaign for county council in my capacity as Second Vice Chair of the King County Democrats. NPI does not endorse or make financial contributions to candidates for elected office.

Only a few days remain until King County Elections begins mailing out ballots for the August 16th winnowing election. One of the most important races on the ballot will be the contest for 6th County Council District, which will be decided by residents of Bellevue, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Medina, Clyde Hill, and other Eastside cities.

The contest pits incumbent Republican Jane Hague (who has a troubled past) against three challengers: Seattle Port Commissioner John Creighton, former Bellevue City Councilmember Patsy Boincontri, and first-time candidate Richard Mitchell, who, despite not having run for office before, has plenty of experience in the political arena (he served as Chris Gregoire’s general counsel during her first term).

Mitchell may not be as well known as his opponents, but he is one of the most impressive candidates that Democrats have fielded for local office in years. He has three degrees from respected universities (in law, urban planning, and architecture) and currently serves on the boards of the King County Housing Authority, Seattle University, and King County Bar Association.

Though Hague and Creighton have been attracting most of the region’s institutional support to date (they are both incumbents in offices elected at the regional level, so that’s not too surprising) Mitchell has managed to land several key endorsements, including the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Sierra Club.

And his campaign’s momentum continues to build.

Early this afternoon, the Municipal League released its ratings for candidates seeking local office. Michell was the only candidate to earn the League’s highest rating of “Outstanding”. (Jane Hague and John Creighton received ratings of “Good”; Patsy Boincontri was rated “Very Good”).

And just hours later, he picked up the endorsement of The Seattle Times, which is rarely bestowed on a progressive candidate:

RICHARD Mitchell is the most accomplished and promising challenger to Jane Hague on the Metropolitan King County Council, and earns The Seattle Times’ endorsement. In our interviews with the four candidates for this seat, he stood out for his quick mind and grasp of detail.

Mitchell still has a big hill to climb. He doesn’t have the name recognition that his opponents do, or the same access to easy money. But he appears to be running a strong campaign that is getting stronger by the day. Democratic activists have been saying since the early days of his campaign that he would be an extremely compelling addition to the county council if elected.

It seems they’re not the only ones who feel that way.

Parents, teachers, students go to court to get Tim Eyman’s I-1053 overturned

A coalition representing parents, teachers, students, and lawmakers announced this morning that it has filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court asking that Tim Eyman and BP’s Initiative 1053 be fully stricken from the Revised Code of Washington because it is blatantly unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs include the League of Education Voters, Washington Education Association, State Representatives Sam Hunt, Reuven Carlyle, Cindy Ryu, David Frockt, Deb Eddy, Chris Reykdal, Mike Sells, Jamie Pedersen, and former Chief Justice Robert Utter.

The suit contends, as we have for years, that I-1053 violates Article II, Section 22 of the State Constitution, which holds that the standard for passage of legislation shall be a majority vote, in keeping with the intentions of America’s founders. It asks that I-1053 be abolished in its entirety, and our state’s Constitution upheld.

“Washington’s constitution makes it clear the state’s paramount duty is to ‘make ample provision’ for the education of every child,” said Chris Korsmo, chief executive of the League of Education Voters in a release announcing the action.

“This statute, and similar measures enacted in recent years, hamstrings our state’s ability to invest in the quality public schools our children need to succeed in life.”

“Our state Constitution is the ultimate expression of the will of the people. Making sure our laws – whether passed by the legislature or by citizens through the initiative process – abide by the constitution is critical to protecting democracy and the rule of law,” added state Representative Jamie Pedersen, chair of the House Judiciary committee.

We at NPI hope the suit will be successful, but if history is any indication, our courts will try to shirk their responsibility to defend our Constitution and wash their hands of this matter, as they have in the past.

The Supreme Court of Washington has dismissed – on technicalities – a grand total of three prior lawsuits that justifiably sought to invalidate I-1053’s predecessors, I-960 and I-601. (These cases were, in chronological order, Walker v. Munro, Futurewise v. Reed, and Brown v. Owen. They were decided in 1994, 2007, and 2009, respectively).

The Court has never decided the constitutional question that is at the heart of this lawsuit. Maybe it will do this time. But we won’t be too surprised if it doesn’t. We’ve watched the court dodge having to deal with this matter before. That’s the unfortunate precedent they’ve set.

This suit represents the fourth attempt to get the Court to do its job — upholding the Constitution. Interestingly, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in this case – Paul Lawrence – also argued Walker seventeen years ago.

From what I can tell, Lawrence has attempted to draft a complaint that anticipates the kinds of objections the courts have raised before. The portion of the complaint that addresses standing notes, “Plaintiffs have standing to bring this action on multiple alternative grounds.”

In part, this is because a number of the individuals bringing the complaint are harmed in multiple ways. For instance, State Representative Chris Reykdal is a school board member in addition to being a state representative.

Homegrown Norweigan terrorist is a right wing eliminationist, authorities say

Although fewer than one hundred hours have transpired since the world learned of the horrific terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utøya, we’re already starting to get a clearer portrait of the man who Norwegian authorities say was the mastermind behind the cold-blooded spate of killing and destruction.

Anders Behring Breivik, thirty-two, appears to be the worst kind of person there is: A bigoted eliminationist who underwent a dangerous, yet unnoticed, transformation from fanatic fundamentalist to terrorist.

He is among a cadre of frightening individuals who believe that slaughtering innocent people will bring about some sort of good in world.

Breivik purportedly authored a pair of manifestos  – one is a document and one is a video. The Associated Press summarized the former as follows:

Breivik’s manifesto chronicled events that deepened his contempt for Muslims and “Marxists” he blamed for making Europe multicultural. He suggested his friends didn’t even know what he was up to, and comments from several people who had contact with the quiet blond man indicate he was right.

From September 2009 through October 2010, Breivik posted more than 70 times on Dokument.no, a Norwegian site with critical views on Islam and immigration. In one comment, he entertained the idea of a European Tea Party movement.

The AP quotes the editor of the aforementioned website as saying he had no idea of Breivik’s murderous plot. Evidently Breivik kept his plans to himself. If he had co-conspirators, there weren’t very many of them.

In the document Breivik styles himself as a Christian conservative, patriot and nationalist. He looks down on neo-Nazis as “underprivileged racist skinheads with a short temper.”

Part of Breivik’s manifesto was taken almost word for word from the first few pages of the anti-technology manifesto written by “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, who is in federal prison for mail bombs that killed three people and injured 23 others across the U.S. from the 1970s to the 1990s.

David Neiwert, a respected journalist and friend of NPI who has written extensively about right wing eliminationism and its triggers (he has even authored books on the subject), weighed in an hour ago with his thoughts at Crooks & Liars.

Breivik’s manifestoes remind me a great deal of the manifesto left behind by an American right-wing terrorist who tried to embark on a similar rampage targeting as many liberals as he could kill, but who was considerably less successful: Jim David Adkisson, the Knoxville church shooter, who exhorted his readers to “Go Kill Liberals”. His manifesto was functionally the logical absurdio ad reductum of the hatred spewed daily by the Fox News talking heads and radio pundits whose works filled his library — whose wording it rather closely reflected in the leadup to the exhortations to violence.

Likewise, Breivik’s work is largely a regurgitation of ideas and claims that have been circulating on the Right for a long time, including mainstream sources such as Fox News and Andrew Breitbart. There’s nothing original here — except that he, like Adkisson, simply takes the “logic” (as it were) of the cultural warriors he parrots and ratchets it up the next logical step into violent action.

We know that hate speech is a precursor to violence. Intolerance has a way of leading to more intolerance. It’s time that we, as a society, stopped permitting the right wing to spew so much filth over the public airwaves. There is no room in our discourse for hate speech. Contrary to what the right wing hate talkers may say, there is a connection between their rhetoric and the destructive actions of fanatics like Breivik. Their rhetoric is what influences the thinking of the Breiviks of the world, who go on to commit mass murder. So they are indirectly responsible.

When a tragedy like the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Breivik occurs, the inevitable question, How could someone do something like this? is always asked. The answer is that when a person’s mind becomes filled with fear and prejudice, he or she can become capable of doing some very evil things. If we want to stop future atrocities, then we have to stop the hate speech. Prolonged exposure to hate speech does terrible, awful things to a vulnerable mind.

Combating hate speech is difficult. That is because there are no easy remedies. For instance, even if the First Amendment permitted the banning of certain kinds of speech, a ban would be ineffective.

Perhaps the place to start is with our hapless media, which equates terrorism with Islamic fundamentalism. In truth, a terrorist is not an angry Muslim, but rather, any person who uses violence or the threat of violence to further some agenda. One troubled person can do a great deal of damage if he or she takes the trouble to.

If our media ownership wasn’t so concentrated (and we had more media diversity), perhaps hate speech wouldn’t be so prevalent. The reason the Glenn Becks of this country can get on air and find a following is because their shows make money for the media conglomerates that distribute or syndicate them.

If media ownership wasn’t so concentrated, there would be more nonprofit and locally-run media outlets broadcasting better programming.

Reversing the trend towards concentrated ownership could do wonders for our discourse in so many ways. We ought to make it a top priority.

RE: Grassroots missing from this year’s initiatives – What about last year?

Nearly one hundred years ago, progressives succeeded in amending the Constitution of Washington State to provide for three powers of direct democracy: The initiative, the referendum, and the recall.

The purpose of establishing these three powers was not to supplant or replace our republican form of government, but rather, to give the people a way to get the gears of representative democracy turning in case they got stuck.

A century later, the reverse is happening. Corporations and wealthy interests are hijacking the initiative process and using it to force votes on schemes that would pad their profits or advance their agenda at the expense of the rest of us. And apparently, the Seattle Times has only just noticed this.

I say this because the Blethens’ mouthpiece published a strange editorial this morning halfheartedly bemoaning the fact that the three initiatives likely to appear on this November’s ballot were guaranteed placement thanks to the use of paid signature gatherers by the sponsors:

Business, labor or cottage-industry initiative writers are behind all three proposals. Consider, for example, the labor effort to boost training and payments for home-health-care workers, backed by the Service Employees International Union. Think, too, about, the Costco-backed measure to get the state out of the liquor business or the anti-variable-tolling measure, advocated by Tim Eyman and heavily underwritten by Bellevue businessman Kemper Freeman.

As Washington approaches the 100th anniversary of its initiative process in 2012, it is fair to say this year is no exception. The process has been shifting from bottom-up governing to essentially initiatives as part of bigger lobbying efforts.

The process has been shifting“? We’d say the shift took place a long time ago. Where has the Seattle Times been?

We’ve been pointing out for years that Tim Eyman runs on big money, not small dollar donations. Nearly every single one of his initiatives has been underwritten by a single wealthy guy or a cabal of corporations, including last year’s Initiative 1053. The top donor to I-1053 was actually BP, one of the greediest and most irresponsible corporations on the planet. Other major donors included ConocoPhillips, Shell, Tesoro, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo.

I-1053’s lack of grassroots support didn’t bother The Seattle Times. The Blethens and their editorial writers enthusiastically endorsed Tim Eyman’s unconstitutional plan to sabotage majority rule without disclosing to its readers who had paid for it. Nor did the Blethens register any concern about who had bought and paid for I-1082 and I-1100, two other measures we targeted as part of our StopGreed campaign. (The BIAW was behind I-1082; Costco was behind I-1100).

We can only conclude, then, that corporate hijacking of the initiative process really doesn’t bother them. If it did, it would factor into their endorsement decisions, and they’d be using their editorial page to advocate for initiative process reform.

Tellingly, the editorial they published this morning calls for no reform at all. It just ends by stating the obvious: The initiative process has become a way for powerful interests to force votes on laws they want passed.

The editorial that they’ve published might best be described as the written version of a shrug. It lacks conviction and concern.

The author suggests that the demise of the citizen initiative is a bad thing, but his or her response on behalf of the paper basically amounts to indifference.

What a weak commentary on a serious dilemma.

Tragedy in Norway: Explosions, shootings injure or take lives of dozens

Inexplicable, unexpected tragedy has struck again, this time in Norway:

Norway suffered dual attacks on Friday when powerful explosions shook the government center here and, shortly after, a gunman stalked youths at an island summer camp for young members of the governing Labor Party. The police arrested a Norwegian in connection with both attacks, which killed at least 87 people and stunned this ordinarily placid nation.

The explosions, from one or more bombs, turned Oslo, a tidy Scandinavian capital, into a scene reminiscent of terrorist attacks in Beirut or Baghdad or Oklahoma City, panicking people and blowing out windows of several government buildings, including one housing the office of the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who was unharmed.

Details are still coming together, but this definitely sounds like an act of terrorism. Media outlets in Norway are reporting that the alleged perpetrator of the shooting, thirty-two year old Anders Behring Breivik, had links with right wing extremist groups (surprise, surprise). His residence has already been searched by police.

At this time, authorities are not sure who was responsible for detonating the bombs. As mentioned, police have Breivik in custody.

As the bombs in Oslo were going off, he was apparently making his way to a Labour Party summer camp on Utøya, a privately owned island not far from the capital, deliberately intending to kill as many people as he could.

He reportedly lured many of his victims into shooting range by posing as a policeman and then opening fire on them when they got close.

What kind of human being does such a despicable, evil thing?

At the White House, President Barack Obama offered his condolences to the people of Norway in a joint appearance with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

“I remember fondly my visit to Oslo and how warmly the people of Norway treated me,” the President said. “And so our hearts go out to them, and we’ll provide any support we can to them as they investigate these occurrences.”

“I echo your sympathies and concern for that situation in Norway,” Prime Minister John Key added moments later when it was his turn to speak. “If it is an act of global terrorism, I think what it shows is no country, large or small, is immune from that risk. And that’s why New Zealand plays its part in Afghanistan as we try and join others like the United States in making the world a safer place.”

Senate needs to move forward on confirming new chief for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

There’s good news and bad news for American consumers this week.

The good news is that on July 21 the landmark Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) takes over as the nation’s chief consumer bank regulator – it will supervise mortgages, credit cards, other bank loans, and fees such as those charged for overdraft protection. The failure of other regulatory agencies to stop predatory Wall Street practices is widely recognized as a primary cause of the 2008 mortgage meltdown that triggered the current recession, and the CFBP has been widely recognized as an essential tool to prevent another economic catastrophe.

The bad news is that because no director has been confirmed, the Bureau will not be able to effectively protect consumers in the financial marketplace that includes payday lenders, mortgage companies, and credit bureaus. Without a director, America’s newest consumer cops won’t have the political presence and clout needed in regulatory battles with Congress, other bank regulators, and the banks themselves.

Last fall the President selected Professor Elizabeth Warren to build the new agency. Warren gets the credit for creating and pushing the idea of a consumer watchdog and is a highly-respected academic expert and popular author on consumer finance. She worked tirelessly to hire and manage a variety of staff – selected from business, other agencies, academia, and consumer groups (some hires listed here) – to set up the new bureau so it would be ready on July 21.

The President has announced his intention to nominate one of Warren’s first senior hires – former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, the current enforcement chief at the CFPB – as its first director. Cordray has a well-balanced record as an AG who worked to protect the people of Ohio, recovering over $2 billion dollars from Wall Street in the past two years to repay Ohio’s wrongly-foreclosed homeowners, the state’s looted pension funds, and cities and counties that lost money once guaranteed by Wall Street.

Although Cordray is well qualified to protect American consumers as the first director of the CFPB, his confirmation by the Senate is not guaranteed. Republicans, who hold a minority in the Senate, have already written to the President indicating that they will filibuster any nominee – regardless of qualifications – unless the Bureau’s powers are first gutted.

It is hard to imagine that Senators who oppose even highly-qualified nominees are putting the interests of the American people ahead of special interests on Wall Street. Simply put, these Republican senators are attempting political extortion on behalf of the big banks that have invested millions to oppose any meaningful reform to financial oversight.

If the Senate finds the former Attorney General qualified, they should honor their responsibility and allow the confirmation process to proceed. If they shirk their responsibility by blocking a vote, the President should act in the interests of consumers and use his authority to appoint a director in August.

The battle over appointing someone to lead the CFPB is part of an ongoing war being waged by powerful special interests against ordinary Americans, and it’s a battle the President should fight on behalf of Americans struggling keep their financial heads above water in a recession caused largely by Wall Street greed.

Congress asked taxpayers to bail out the banks immediately after the economic collapse, but waited nearly two years before finally passing the historic Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to protect consumers from a repeat of the nightmare. To make that promise real, a strong consumer ‘cop on the beat’ is needed to protect average Americans.

It’s certainly good news that we now have a new financial police department focused solely on looking out for consumers. It will be better news when that police department has a sheriff to lead it.

Note: NPI contributor Steve Breaux is a public-interest advocate for the Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG), which works to protect consumers, encourage a fair and sustainable economy, and foster responsive and democratic government.

Borders prepares to liquidate

Borders, the second largest bookstore chain in the United States, will soon be going out of business. The company announced today that it had run out of time to reorganize itself and would wind down its operations.

Borders said in a news release that it will proceed with a proposal by Hilco and the Gordon Brothers Group. That liquidation plan will be presented to the federal judge overseeing the company’s bankruptcy case on Thursday.

What is left to unwind are Borders’ 399 stores, about two-thirds of the locations it operated when it filed for bankruptcy in February. It currently has 10,700 employees.

Borders will begin closing  its remaining stores as soon as Friday, and the liquidation is expected to run through September.

The company has ten stores around Puget Sound, including one in downtown Redmond, NPI’s hometown, and another half-dozen stores in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Two (in Federal Way and Tacoma) were already in the process of closing, and now it looks all the others will be gone in a matter of weeks.

Borders’ demise will result in the loss of more than ten thousand jobs.

Although the Internet will undoubtedly be cited in many Borders obituaries as the cause of its demise, the reality is that the chain was doomed by poor management and questionable decisions. It didn’t collapse overnight; it’s been ailing for years. Half a decade has now gone by since Borders had a profitable quarter.

Borders could have survived, if it had closed underperforming stores earlier, not outsourced its online operations to Amazon, and done a better job of anticipating and controlling costs. But, like Circuit City and Blockbuster, it didn’t make the moves that it needed to in order to remain a going concern.

To put it more succinctly, the rise of ecommerce is not what killed Borders. Missed opportunities are what killed Borders.

U.K. police chieftain resigns as his officers arrest Murdoch confidante Rebekah Brooks

Things just got worse for former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks:

Rebekah Brooks has been arrested by police investigating allegations of phone hacking by the News of the World and allegations that police officers were bribed to leak sensitive information.

The Metropolitan police said a 43-year-old woman was arrested at noon on Sunday, by appointment at a London police station.

Brooks, 43, resigned on Friday as News International’s chief executive. She is a former News of the World editor and was close to Rupert Murdoch and the prime minister, David Cameron.

A spokesman for Brooks said she did not know she was going to be arrested when she handed in her resignation.

Perhaps she didn’t know on Friday that her arrest this weekend was imminent, but she had to have had some inkling that the police were going to be closing in on her at some point. After all, she was in charge of the now defunct News of the World when most of the alleged crimes we’ve heard about were committed.

From our vantage point halfway around the world, the writing was on the wall.

Meanwhile, Britain’s top law enforcement official,  Sir Paul Stephenson, has announced his resignation from Scotland Yard.

“I have taken this decision as a consequence of the ongoing speculation and accusations relating to the Met’s links with News International at a senior level and in particular in relation to Mr. Neil Wallis,” Stephenson said.

(Neil Wallis is a former executive editor of the News of the World who was hired by Stephenson as a consultant  in 2009. The police recently arrested him in connection with the phone hacking affair).

However, he maintained that his integrity had never been compromised.

Separately, Labour’s Ed Miliband issued a call for new media ownership rules, saying he believed current regulations were outdated and new requirements are sorely needed to limit Rupert Murdoch’s “dangerous” and “unhealthy” degree of control over the media landscape in the United Kingdom.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats (who forged a coalition government with the Conservatives last year) said he would be “very happy to sit down” with the Labour leader to discuss ideas.

If Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree on a proposal, the Conservatives, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, may have little choice but to go along, since by themselves, they constitute a minority in Parliament.

Last week, Miliband led the way in insisting that Parliament hold a vote expressing its opposition to News Corporation’s BSkyB bid. When the Liberal Democrats made it clear they would vote for Miliband’s motion, it didn’t take long for Cameron and the Conservatives to decide they would follow suit. That created a united front against Murdoch in the House of Commons.

Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch are currently preparing to be grilled before the House of Commons’ Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee on Tuesday, according to news reports.

The Daily Telegraph has a rundown of who will be questioning the Murdochs. Among them is Labour’s Tom Watson, a dogged critic of News Corporation who has been after the company for years. Long derided by Murdoch’s papers, Watson has become a hero in Britain overnight for his courage. He stood up to Rupert’s evil empire at a time when others were afraid to.

The Guardian has an extremely well written story explaining how Watson became a critic of News Corporation and how he landed on the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee. It’s definitely worth a read.

If the last few days are any indication, the phone hacking scandal will continue to generate headlines for days to come.

This is like Watergate, only on a shorter timeline.

News of the World phone hacking scandal finally claims career of Rebekah Brooks

Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World editor who was subsequently promoted to a high-ranking position within News Corporation, has belatedly announced her resignation, bowing to significant pressure from Parliament, the public, and even the company’s shareholders:

Brooks announced her decision to News International staff in Wapping just before 10am on Friday, saying her resignation had been accepted by Rupert and James Murdoch. She said she no longer wanted to be a “focal point of the debate” surrounding the company’s future and reputation.

She stopped short of issuing a personal apology. “As chief executive of the company, I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt and I want to reiterate how sorry I am for what we now know to have taken place,” Brooks said in a statement.

Considering that News of the World and News International were for years engaged in a cover-up, her statement rings hollow. Where was her “deep sense of responsibility” when News of the World was trying to cover up its crimes?

The Murdochs obviously still have absolute confidence in her, as an excerpt from James Murdoch’s memo to News International employees makes clear:

Earlier today, Rebekah Brooks resigned from her position as CEO. I understand her decision and I want to thank her for her 22 years of service to the company. She has been one of the outstanding editors of her generation and she can be proud of many accomplishments as an executive. We support her as she takes this step to clear her name.

Outstanding? Maybe she was outstanding at publishing filth. She certainly was not accountable or responsible as either an executive or an editor.

Meanwhile, in Australia, where he is attending a conference of justice officials, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that a probe of News Corporation is getting under way. For now, it’s a preliminary inquiry:

“There have been members of Congress in the United States who have asked us to investigate those same allegations and we are progressing in that regard using the appropriate Federal law enforcement agencies,” Holder told reporters.

It’s kind of ironic that Holder made these comments from Australia, because that’s the country where Rupert Murdoch hails from, and where the News Corporation empire began. Murdoch’s Australian operations have not been implicated in the phone hacking scandal, but the chief executive of News Limited (the Australian arm of News Corporation) has pledged to conduct “a thorough review” of expenses over the last three years to confirm that all expenditures were legitimate.

FBI to investigate possible wrongdoing by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation

Good news: The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly launching an investigation into possible wrongdoing by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, only hours after Republican Representative Peter King followed several senior Democratic senators in asking the Department of Justice to look into the matter.

In response to requests from members of Congress and at least one news media report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New York on Thursday opened a preliminary inquiry into allegations that News Corporation journalists sought to gain access to the phone records of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, people briefed on the matter said.

The investigation is in its earliest stages, one of the people said, and its scope was not yet clear. It also was unclear whether the F.B.I. had identified possible targets of the investigation or possible specific criminal violations.

Meanwhile, over in the United Kingdom, police have arrested another former News of the World editor, Neil Wallis, who was actually hired by Scotland Yard following his tenure at the paper to be a consultant. (Wallis is the ninth person to have been arrested as a result of the scandal.) London’s Metropolitan Police are now in the uncomfortable position of having to investigate themselves due to their inability to run a clean force. The police’s handing of the phone hacking scandal is also to be probed by an official inquiry led by a respected judge, Lord Justice Leveson.

Also, in an abrupt about-face, Rupert and James Murdoch have written to Parliament (PDF) to confirm that they will obey a summons to testify before the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee, chaired by John Whittingdale, who has served as an MP since 1992. Their decision sets up what will be an extremely intense and closely watched hearing next Tuesday.

Their deputy, Rebekah Brooks, had already agreed to testify.

Each passing day seems to bring a new defeat of sorts for Murdoch and his media empire. They were forced to shut down the News of the World, they were compelled to delay and then drop their bid of BSkyB, and now, they’re agreeing to be grilled by MPs after initially refusing to appear. Not to mention being continually embarrassed by fresh revelations about the unethical and criminal activities that were taking place in the offices of their publications.

It is indeed appropriate that there is now an investigation on this side of the Atlantic. We need to know: Were the sorts of activities that were going on in the United Kingdom mimicked by News Corporation’s U.S. operations? Did Murdoch’s outlets try to hack into the voicemail boxes of September 11th victims? Have people working for Murdoch been trying to get celebrity dirt by illegally obtaining messages that should be the private property of actors and other public figures?

We know that the hacking in the United Kingdom was not perpetrated by just a couple of guys, as Murdoch and his executives initially claimed. Since we can’t trust them or take them at their word, we need an investigation. We need to know if the modus operandi of the News of the World became the M.O. or even just part of the M.O. at any of Murdoch’s American outlets.

And, of course, U.S. authorities should be looking into whether bribes paid to police officers in the United Kingdom by News Corporation subsidiaries violated our Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

It is time for Rupert Murdoch and his minions to be held accountable for the corruption and destruction they’ve caused.

Netflix subjects customers to “price change”; opt-out required to avoid paying 60% more

Yesterday, Netflix sent out an email to its millions of customers disclosing that it has decided to raise its prices, effective immediately for new customers and effective in September for existing customers. The announcement, also posted to Netflix’s blog and its Facebook page around the same time, has since drawn tens of thousands of comments, many from angry and/or dissatisfied customers.

What seems to have many people upset is that Netflix chose to disguise its price increase as a change in plans, rather than explaining why it needs to simply raise prices in the first place. In fact, the email was titled, “Price Change and New Plans.” In reality, Netflix isn’t offering anything new – unless by new it means less.

(To be fair, Netflix’s blog post did provide some background that explained the company’s decision. But the email didn’t. And it should have. )

Quoting from Netflix’s email:

We are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into two separate plans to better reflect the costs of each. Now our members have a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan, or both.

Your current $9.99 a month membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs will be split into 2 distinct plans:

Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs, 1 out at-a-time (no streaming) for $7.99 a month

Your price for getting both of these plans will be $15.98 a month ($7.99 + $7.99). You don’t need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.

In other words, people who want to continue enjoying the same service from Netflix they’re getting now will have to pay sixty percent more per month, or $71.88 more per year. What’s more, Netflix customers are going to be automatically subjected to this price increase. To avoid paying the extra $72 per year beginning in September, they have to opt-out by changing their plan.

The new plans will actually result in a slight savings for people who only want to stream movies, or who only want to rent DVDs.

But for folks who want the best of both worlds, this announcement really sucks. They can’t enjoy the service they enjoy now without paying more. And that’s why Netflix is getting an earful.

One customer summed up my thoughts on the change this way:

Why are you being weasely about the price increase? It takes effect Sept. 1, but I don’t want to take part, so I have to go in and change my service, but that takes effect immediately. So, if I don’t want you to raise my prices in September, I have to turn the streaming off now or remember to log in on August 31. There’s no way to make the change effective with the next billing period. Bad play, Netflix.

Other customers are threatening to defect altogether:

Given the rather large price increase you suffer with the 1 DVD + Streaming plan, I’ll probably just end up switching to Amazon Prime’s instant streaming. A real shame, too, since I’ve always enjoyed Netflix, their selection, and their customer service.

Netflix is leaving many of its loyal customers with the impression that it just doesn’t care about them. The company should act fast to atone for this mistake before it loses any more goodwill… and business.

News Corporation drops bid for BSkyB, citing overwhelming public opposition

Victory!

Rupert Murdoch’s media group News Corporation bowed to pressure from the public and parliament on Wednesday and withdrew its bid to take full control of pay-TV company BSkyB.

All three main political parties were poised to call on News Corp to abandon its offer in a vote in the House of Commons later on Wednesday.

The move leaves News Corp’s key strategy for UK corporate growth in tatters. The proposed £8bn deal has been in train for more than a year, with the first offer tabled in June 2010.

News Corporation does still own nearly forty percent of British Sky Broadcasting, however. The conglomerate should now be required to sell its remaining stake (which the Murdochs don’t want to do) so that BSkyB can be fully independent.

Oddly enough, shares of both News Corporation and BSkyB are up this morning following the behemoth’s announcement that the deal was off.  It just goes to show how much the human mind fears uncertainty more than anything else.

Meanwhile, the chief counsel for News International (News Corporation’s British subsidiary) announced that he is resigning from his post after twenty-six years:

Officials at the company said that the lawyer, Tom Crone, had been the lawyer chiefly responsible for clearing controversial stories published in The News of the World and another paper in the Murdoch stable, The Sun. His resignation made him the first senior executive of News International to quit in the scandal.

News International increasingly looks like a sinking ship. Will News Corporation sell it, or spin it off, as many investors are suggesting? Or will Rupert Murdoch hold on to his British papers, even if they’re threatening to drag down his entire conglomerate?

Save the Date: NPI’s 2011 FallFest will be September 8th in Seattle

One of the most frequent questions we get asked when we request feedback from longtime readers and loyal supporters living on the west side of Lake Washington is, When are you going to hold a fundraising event in Seattle so I can drop by and show my support for NPI without having to fight rush hour traffic?

Well, this morning, I’m pleased to announce that we have finalized details for our first-ever FallFest, to be held Thursday, September 8th at Newmark Tower in Seattle (at Pike and Second) from 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM.

Think of FallFest as the autumn version of our Spring Fundraising Gala, except smaller and without all of the formalities.

So it’ll be like house party meets happy hour – only better.

There won’t be a speaking program, but NPI will provide a brief post-Labor Day update on what’s going on, particularly in regards to this year’s crop of ballot measures.We are not selling tickets at a fixed price, either… a ticket can be had for a donation of $20 or more. (Folks who RSVP in advance will receive a special gift as a thank-you from us for pledging to attend).

And, like, our gala, there will be great company, music, tasty refreshments, and Washington Progressive Blogroll t-shirts for sale.

We are still hammering out details for FallFest, but for now, please mark this event on your calendar, especially if you live on the west side of Lake Washington. And stay tuned for additional announcements about this event.

We hope to have the pleasure of seeing you there!