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Monthly Archives: August 2011

U.S. Department of Justice files suit to block AT&T/T-Mobile merger

This news may come as as a nasty shock to Wall Street (which is used to sweet-talking regulators into getting what it wants) but to us, it is a very pleasant and welcome surprise:

The Department of Justice today filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to block AT&T Inc.’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA Inc.  The department said that the proposed $39 billion transaction would substantially lessen competition for mobile wireless telecommunications services across the United States, resulting in higher prices, poorer quality services, fewer choices and fewer innovative products for the millions of American consumers who rely on mobile wireless services in their everyday lives.

The department’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to prevent AT&T from acquiring T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom AG.

“The combination of AT&T and T-Mobile would result in tens of millions of consumers all across the United States facing higher prices, fewer choices and lower quality products for mobile wireless services,” said Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. “Consumers across the country, including those in rural areas and those with lower incomes, benefit from competition among the nation’s wireless carriers, particularly the four remaining national carriers. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that everyone can continue to receive the benefits of that competition.”

That is precisely the point we made when the deal was announced. Allowing AT&T to gobble up T-Mobile would reduce competition and leave the remaining smaller nationwide carrier (Sprint) vulnerable to a takeover, presumably by Verizon. That would result in only two carriers with nearly one hundred percent market share between them. An oligopoly market would become a duopoly market.

AT&T isn’t trying to acquire T-Mobile because it thinks the acquisition would be good for its customers (though it has made that claim in its marketing). The real point of the acquisition is to eliminate a competitor.

If T-Mobile disappears, that leaves AT&T as the only coast-to-coast GSM carrier (Verizon and Sprint use the CDMA family of wireless protocols). This is what AT&T wants, but it would be bad for consumers.

Craig Aaron, who serves as President & CEO of our ally Free Press, commended the Department of Justice for taking action to block the merger.

“It’s encouraging to see that federal regulators have not been snowed by AT&T’s promises and bluster,” he said in a statement.

“Its smoke-and-mirrors effort was a good front for a while, but when you get down to the facts of the matter, this was a bad idea from the start, and no amount of corporate spin can overcome that reality.

“AT&T has already invested untold millions in lobbying and campaign contributions, and it is going to play every card in the deck to try to get this merger done. Free Press and our network of 500,000 activists will continue to oppose it. But we hope instead that AT&T will drop this disastrous deal and invest in expanding its network and improving its woeful customer service.”

“Fighting this job-killing merger is the best Labor Day present anyone can give the American people,” added Public Knowledge Legal Director Harold Feld. “AT&T’s effort to recreate ‘Ma Cell’ by holding rural broadband hostage and threatening American jobs deserves nothing but scorn. The FCC should move as quickly as possible to follow the lead of the Department of Justice and reject the merger.”

Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski hinted the FCC may do just that in his own statement.

“Competition is an essential component of the FCC’s statutory public interest analysis, and although our process is not complete, the record before this agency also raises serious concerns about the impact of the proposed transaction on competition,” he said in a statement.

If the deal does not go through, AT&T will owe T-Mobile’s parent company upwards of a $6 billion penalty. So we can expect that AT&T and its lawyers will do all they can to persuade the courts that their acquisition should be approved. But they’re going to have a hard time trying to prevail against the U.S. government. The Department of Justice does not rarely file suit to block mergers. It would not have done so in this instance if Attorney General Eric Holder and his team didn’t have a compelling case to make against the acquisition.

We look forward to seeing this ill-conceived acquisition get scuttled.

Steve Jobs resigns as CEO of Apple

The man who cofounded Apple and led its remarkable turnaround, beginning in the late 1990s, announced this afternoon in a short, plainly-worded letter that he was resigning as Apple’s chief executive officer, presumably due to his health:

To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

Steve

Jobs has been on indefinite medical leave as CEO since January. Now his leave is permanent, rather than indefinite.

Apple wasted no time in announcing the appointment of Chief Operating Officer (COO) Tim Cook as its new CEO. Cook will join Apple’s board immediately, and Jobs will assume the duties of chairman, immediately.

No doubt Apple waited until after the close of trading to announce all of these changes so that investors could get digest the news throughout the early and late evening. Since the board has already acted to appoint Cook as CEO and Jobs as Chairman, there won’t be any uncertainty about who will be running Apple tomorrow morning. The board is obviously hoping to mitigate fears that Apple’s future will not be as bright without Jobs running the company.

Still, Apple’s stock was down in after-hours trading:

U.S. stock futures declined after Steve Jobs resigned as chief executive officer of Apple Inc. (AAPL), the world’s second-largest company by market value.

Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures lost 0.4 percent to 1,167.60 at 6:59 p.m. in New York. Nasdaq-100 Index futures fell 1 percent. Apple shares dropped 6.6 percent to $351.35. Jobs said he’s resigning and recommended Tim Cook be named his successor. Jobs said he would like to continue as chairman.

Apple’s short-term trajectory is unlikely to be affected by Jobs’ resignation. Long-term, however, the company’s future will become more uncertain the eyes of many analysts and investors, because Jobs will not be at the helm micromanaging decisions. But if Apple is to survive, it will have to make do without Jobs at its helm. Apple’s shareholders and board of directors have always known this.

Earthquake strikes near D.C.: Nation’s capital gets a taste of a major hazard we live with

An hour ago, a significant earthquake struck near one of the United States’ most populated areas, causing minor damage, disrupting travel, and prompting evacuations of buildings. But unusually, the populated area that this quake affected was not in California, or on the Left Coast, or even west of the Rocky Mountains, where earthquakes are an unwelcome part of life.

The tremor, centered under Mineral, Virginia, instead shook the District of Columbia, the Atlantic seaboard, and parts of New England.

Naturally, cable TV news (which is largely based in D.C. and New York) is having a field day with this. So are the East Coast’s major newspapers. The Washington Post’s website carried a headline which read: “BREAKING NEWS: 5.8 magnitude earthquake shakes Washington.”

The short story linked from this headline shows a picture of people (some presumably Post employees) milling around outside of its offices.

The photograph itself is evidence that people on the East Coast are unused to earthquakes and lack the knowledge of how to stay safe in the aftermath of one.

The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

The above excerpt is from FEMA’s earthquake page, which advises Americans against loitering outside of buildings following an earthquake.

Given that the real Washington – Washington State – is earthquake country, the Post could have been more precise in announcing the news by reporting that an earthquake had struck D.C. (the District of Columbia).

We here in the great Evergreen State did not feel the quake, though we can sympathize with those who were scared or caught off-guard, since tremors are a hazard that we simply have to deal with as Washingtonians.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is reporting that the quake was actually a magnitude 5.9 tremor (it was apparently upgraded from 5.8). The quake struck at 1:51 PM local time – 10:51 AM Pacific Time. The actual location was listed as 37.975°N, 77.969°W. The location uncertainty was listed as horizontal +/- 10.9 km (6.8 miles); depth +/- 7.4 km (4.6 miles).

Buildings across the nation’s capital were evacuated in response to the earthquake, including the White House and the Pentagon.

Alarms reportedly went off at the headquarters of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Area airports, including Joint Base Andrews, also evacuated their control towers and halted flight operations.

A nuclear power plant located near the epicenter was also automatically brought offline as a precaution.

The plant is safely running on backup power for the time being.

It has been a long time since the East Coast was shaken by an earthquake this significant. Perhaps the millions of people who live there can now better appreciate the threat of seismic destruction that we on the Left Coast live with constantly. When earthquakes strike here, they can easily cause major damage and claim lives.

Geologists tell us that we are overdue for a major earthquake here in the Evergreen State. It could strike at any time and we would have no warning.

We therefore have a great appreciation for federal agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and NOAA’s National Weather Service. Just this spring, House Republicans proposed devastating cuts to these agencies.

We at NPI hope today’s quake leads to greater pressure on the Republicans to drop their horribly shortsighted, extremely counterproductive schemes to weaken the vital public services that I just mentioned.

POSTSCRIPT: Marcy Wheeler has more on this (CantorQuake: Trembling at the Heart of GOP Claims We Don’t Need Government).

NO on I-1183 campaign gets big boost from Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America

The effort to protect Washington State from Costco’s newest liquor privatization scheme (Initiative 1183, which will be in the November ballot) has just received a massive resource boost from a powerful national trade organization.

Last week, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America wrote Protect Our Communities (the campaign to defeat I-1183) a series of checks totaling $3.6 million. The contributions represent more than ninety-five percent of the total raised, with the remainder coming from organized labor and the Democratic Party.

The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America say they oppose Costco’s Initiative 1183 because it “is designed to disable an effective regulatory structure that balances consumer demand with appropriate control over the distribution of alcohol and the licensed players in the Washington state market.”

The wholesalers’ statement also noted: “A similarly ill-considered deregulatory initiative backed by Costco was rejected just last year, but they have chosen to ignore the message delivered by the citizens of that state and their elected representatives who drafted legislation to allow for limited privatization while maintaining strong regulatory control.”

In 2010, Protect Our Communities successfully defeated two liquor privatization schemes with the help of the beer industry, which wrote multiple seven-figure checks to finance an extremely effective campaign that hit the airwaves early.

Costco and its alcohol profiteer allies can hardly complain about the contributions. After all, their initiative is no grassroots uprising; they bought the signatures they needed (either with outright cash or with in-kind labor) and they will doubtless put up more money to fund their own advertising campaign in the autumn.

NPI strongly opposes Initiative 1183 and urges supporters and readers to stop greed by voting NO on 1183 this October or November.

New coastal radar now online near Copalis Beach; local meteorologists thrilled

Thanks to the tireless efforts of our two U.S. Senators – particularly our junior senator, Maria Cantwell – the Pacific Northwest finally has a state-of-the-art Doppler radar station located on the coast, capable of assisting meteorologists in preparing more accurate and useful forecasts for our region.

The radar station, which has been undergoing construction since mid-spring, was activated for the first time two weeks ago on August 8th. Because it is in testing mode and will continue to be until the end of September, forecasters do not have continuous access to data from the system. But when it is on, it sends information to National Weather Service personnel in Seattle and Portland.

Today, it produced some nifty images showing that a strong front is moving in. Here is an image recorded not long before 9:30 AM, which clearly depicts heavy precipitation occurring just offshore:

Rangerings from Langley Hill coastal radar

A demonstration of the capabilities of the Pacific Northwest's new coastal radar (Image courtesy of Kirby Cook, Science and Operations Officer, NWS Seattle)

Testing on the new Langley Hill station should be done in time for the storm season this year, which means that weather forecasts for the coming winter should be more accurate than they have been in the past.

Though we have long had a Doppler radar installation on Camano Island, it can’t see much of the coast due to the Olympic Mountains. That has left coastal towns and inland cities vulnerable to incoming storms.

With this new station, we’ll be able to be better prepared.

“Too often in the past, our weather radar coverage gap meant that forecasters didn’t have the most complete data set possible to help Pacific Northwest communities prepare for big storms,” noted Senator Cantwell in a news release celebrating the station’s activation.

“This new, state-of-the-art radar technology will enable Washingtonians to better prepare for the impact of the big Pacific storms on businesses and homes.”

Readers interested in seeing a chronology of the radar station’s development and construction should check out the comprehensive overview that Cliff Mass has assembled at his University of Washington site. It’s extremely informative.

Congratulations are in order to National Weather Service on getting this new radar installation up and running, and again to Senator Maria Cantwell for securing the funding. This is a vital emergency preparedness investment that has long been overdue. This radar station is an excellent example of a crucial public service that was only made possible thanks to our tax dollars.

When we pool our resources together to create a common wealth, we can do amazing things. Kudos to everyone involved in this project!

Winnowing election update: Not many ballots tabulated today; little to report

It looks like the turnout in the August 2011 winnowing election has crested.

In the days following election night, we saw steady improvement in the ratio of ballots cast to registered voters. But the numbers hardly changed at all today. On Friday, the turnout ratio in the King County Council District #6 race was 30.37%. Today, it only reached 30.69%. So we’re guessing that final turnout countywide for this election is probably going to be somewhere in the vicinity of 32%.

Here’s where things stand in the county council race:

Ballots Cast/Registered Voters: 37173/121139 (30.69%)
Patsy Bonincontri: 7.24% (2,541 votes)
Richard E. Mitchell: 30.11% (10,568 votes)
Jane Hague: 37.92% (13,309 votes)
John Creighton: 24.33% (8,538 votes)
Write-in: 0.39% (137 votes)

Richard Mitchell has once again strengthened his lead over John Creighton and narrowed the gap between himself and Jane Hague – but only by a little.

Because so few ballots were tabulated today, hardly anything has changed in the city council races or school board races either.

The King County canvassing board is due to convene on August 31st to certify the final election results. Returns will continue to be updated each weekday until then, but if today is any indication, Friday was the last significant update.

King County Elections expects a trickle of ballots between now and the Wednesday after this one, many of those coming from overseas.

About 11,000 ballots cast in the 2011 winnowing election have signature issues, NPI has learned. A fair number of those have already been taken care of, but there are some that elections workers are still working on.

Although turnout in this election is low compared to what we’ve seen in recent general elections (2008, 2009, 2010) it’s high compared to previous winnowing and primary elections held in odd-numbered years.

Turnout in the 2009 winnowing election was only 31.56%. Turnout in the 2007 primary (which was a real primary) was even lower, at 24.92%. The 2005 primary was 29.68%, and the 2003 primary was 29.54%.

So, if we end up at around 32% or slightly less, we’ll have surpassed turnout for an odd-year winnowing or primary election going back to at least the 1990s… despite not having many high-profile contests on the ballot. Not a bad showing!

End of the week numbers are in for August winnowing election: Mitchell still gaining

Good afternoon! King County Elections has opted to update results for the 2011 winnowing election a bit early today – so, happily, we’re able to break down new numbers sooner than we otherwise would have.

In the contest for King County Council, District #6, Richard Mitchell continues to climb… and Jane Hague continues to slide. Mitchell now has more than 30% of the vote, up from 27.87% on election night. Hague, meanwhile, has dropped below 38%, down from nearly 40% a few nights ago.

Here’s where things currently stand:

Ballots Cast/Registered Voters: 36786/121139 (30.37%)
Patsy Bonincontri: 7.21% (2,506 votes)
Richard E. Mitchell: 30.05% (10,438 votes)
Jane Hague: 37.97% (13,190 votes)
John Creighton: 24.39% (8,472 votes)
Write-in: 0.37% (128 votes)

Mitchell’s lead over John Creighton (the third-place finisher) is now 1,966 votes. While increasing his lead over Creighton, he has narrowed the gap between himself and Jane Hague to 2,752 votes.

Not much has changed in other races in King County, though there has been some settling in certain contests. The margin of approval for Referendum 1 in Seattle has dipped slightly, but the measure is still passing easily, with 58.42% voting Approve.

And in Kirkland, political newcomer Jason Gardiner has widened his lead over right wing incumbent Bob Sternoff. Gardiner now has 48.24% of the vote, to Sternoff’s 45.85%. That’s pretty impressive…. though perhaps not so surprising, considering Sternoff’s political baggage.

Turnout now stands at thirty percent. It will continue to inch closer to forty, but the final turnout is likely to only be in the mid-thirties by our approximation.

The next update is due on Monday afternoon.

Elizabeth Warren forms exploratory committee to consider U.S. Senate bid

In a move that is sure to brighten the spirits of progressives across the United States, consumer protection advocate and respected law professor Elizabeth Warren has announced that she is forming an exploratory committee to consider running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts as a Democrat:

“I think this was always part of the plan,” said Doug Rubin, a Democratic political consultant helping Warren with her pre-campaign analysis. “The whole point is for her to engage with people and listen to their concerns. This just allows her to do more of that.”

Warren has been traveling around Massachusetts this week conducting a self-described “listening tour.”

She had two sessions Monday, three Tuesday and Wednesday, and two today in Framingham and Shrewsbury.

Warren filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission listing her husband, also a Harvard professor, as the committee’s treasurer.

Records also indicate that she is being advised in legal matters by one of Seattle’s best known law firms, Perkins Coie, which provides counsel to the Democratic National Committee and President Barack Obama.

Warren has also launched a website, which currently only serves to accept supporter signups or online contributions.

Democratic activists in Massachusetts have had good things to say about Warren’s listening tour, which will continue in the wake of today’s announcement.

One activist wrote:

Warren wowed our group in Arlington today. The mood of the group was summed up by one veteran activist’s question on why Warren had not yet formally announced her candidacy for Senate: “So what are you waiting for already?”

Warren’s answer was spot on – if I run, she told us, it has to be from the grassroots. Campaigns are about a lot of people coming together. She told us that she needs to know that her message about fighting to preserve the middle class will resonate and that Massachusetts activists are with her. Judging by what I saw today, I think she need have no fear on that score. Go Elizabeth!

If Warren chooses to move forward and run, she will be able to tap some $100,000 in funds raised by the Progressive Campaign Change Committee’s “Draft Warren” effort, which has been going for weeks.

She will also be able to count on the support of EMILY’s List, which raises a considerable amount of money for pro-choice Democratic women each election cycle. (EMILY, for those who don’t know, does not refer to a person; it is an acronym which stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast).

“The EMILY’s List community has been telling me loud and clear that they want Elizabeth Warren in the race to beat Scott Brown,” said the organization’s president, Stephanie Schriock. “Today, they got a little bit closer to getting their wish.”

“I’m thrilled that Elizabeth is pursuing this next endeavor with the thoughtfulness and respect that’s been such a hallmark of her career. Starting a listening tour is not only a great way to find out what folks need, it’s a perfect contrast to Republican Scott Brown, who has yet to hold a single public town hall.”

Warren’s entry into the race could cause other Democrats to rethink their own plans, though it is unlikely she would be unopposed for the nomination.

Her candidacy will likely attract national attention – Democrats in Massachusetts and across the country are still sore about losing Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat a year and a half ago, and seem willing to back Warren with the same enthusiasm that Al Franken enjoyed when he successfully sought to reclaim the seat once held by Paul Wellstone in Minnesota from Republican Norm Coleman.

Richard Mitchell again widens lead in county council race; John Creighton admits defeat

Less than an hour ago, King County Elections updated unofficial results for the August 16th winnowing election with a batch of freshly-tabulated ballots. The new numbers confirm that Richard Mitchell will be moving on to the general election with Jane Hague in the 6th County Council district race, as we projected yesterday. Here’s how the race looks now:

Ballots Cast/Registered Voters: 34019/121139 (28.08%)
Patsy Bonincontri: 7.17% (2,299 votes)
Richard E. Mitchell: 29.68% (9,522 votes)
Jane Hague: 38.33% (12,295 votes)
John Creighton: 24.51% (7,862 votes)
Write-in: 0.31% (101 votes)

As of this afternoon, Richard Mitchell is now ahead of John Creighton by 1,660 votes, up from 1,225 yesterday. He is also continuing to inch closer to Jane Hague, with 29.68% of the vote, up from 29.06% yesterday.

Mitchell’s campaign declared victory yesterday evening, but Creighton and his team waited until this afternoon to concede. Creighton had confidently predicted that he would overtake Mitchell and advance to the general election around lunchtime yesterday, but a few minutes ago, he admitted defeat.

I have been blessed to have been chosen by the voters twice to represent them on the Seattle Port Commission, and know that you win some and you lose some in politics. Despite losing, I am extremely proud of my campaign team and the campaign we ran, focusing on the issues that matter to voters. I want to thank my many volunteers and supporters who gave generously their time, effort and resources to the campaign. I look forward to continuing representing King County residents and working on important regional issues as a Seattle port commissioner.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on this race in the days ahead. It’ll be interesting to see how far apart Richard Mitchell and Jane Hague are when the results are certified and become official. The spread may only be six or seven percentage points.

Richard Mitchell solidifies lead over John Creighton, will move on to general election

Moments ago, King County Elections updated last night’s returns to reflect newly tabulated ballots. The updated figures show Democrat Richard Mitchell gaining ground in the contest for King County Council District #6, with all of his rivals – incumbent Republican Jane Hague included – losing ground.

Mitchell’s percentage of the vote went from 27.87% to 29.06% in less than twenty-four hours. His lead over John Creighton, the third-place finisher, is nearly twice what it was last night in actual votes (1,225 instead of 625).

The complete numbers:

Ballots Cast/Registered Voters: * 29432/121139 (24.30%)
Patsy Bonincontri: 7.16% (1,986 votes)
Richard E. Mitchell: 29.06% (8,059 votes)
Jane Hague: 38.78% (10,754 votes)
John Creighton: 24.64% (6,834 votes)
Write-in: 0.36% (100 votes)

Creighton’s campaign had held out hope that they would be able to overcome Mitchell and capture the second place spot. In a statement posted to his website earlier today, Creighton described the race as “virtually tied”, and added:

It is my belief that the swing voters that cast their ballot in the final weekend of the election will break strongly in my favor and we will advance to defeat Jane Hague in November. Our goal has always been to dethrone the 17-year incumbent. It is my belief that I am the only candidate that can achieve this goal – I expect the returns in the next 48 hours will give me that opportunity.

So far, the opposite is happening: Later ballots are breaking even more strongly in favor of Richard Mitchell than earlier ballots, putting Mitchell closer to incumbent Jane Hague and further ahead of John Creighton.

Given the trend we’re seeing, it’s a safe bet that Mitchell is headed to the general election. If Mitchell continues to improve his showing at today’s pace, he should crack 30% of the vote tomorrow.

Seattle decisively votes to bless construction of deep-bore tunnel for State Route 99

The State of Washington’s project to replace the aging, crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct has just received its final political green light.

After enduring several months of debates, forums, and advertisements, Seattle voters have resoundingly chosen to bless the construction of a deep bore tunnel under downtown. Early returns indicate a landslide victory for Let’s Move Forward, the pro-tunnel campaign, which is commanding almost 60% of the vote.

The news was almost immediately welcomed by Governor Chris Gregoire, who has been defending the state’s decision to move forward with the tunnel for months.

“Seattle voters sent a message loud and clear with this vote – enough is enough,” the governor said in a statement.

“After ten years of debate, hundreds of public meetings and technical studies, and thousands of public comments, it is time to move forward without delay.”

“We are committed to this partnership and will continue to work with the public, the city of Seattle, King County, Port of Seattle, the contractors and many others to ensure that we complete the tunnel on time and on budget,” the governor added.

The lopsided returns seemed to catch the anti-tunnel campaign, Protect Seattle Now, off-guard. As of 10:30 PM, NPI had yet to receive an official statement from the campaign commenting on the results via e-mail.

The campaign has, however, have admitted defeat to reporters who are at its party. (The scene there has been described as subdued, and I don’t doubt that’s the case).  Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, whose supporters helped engineer the referendum, was not at the Havana tonight, but his ally on the city council, Mike O’Brien, was, along with many of McGinn’s own staff.

O’Brien, at least, was gracious in defeat, acknowledging that voters had spoken decisively and that the project now needed to go forward.

For his part, McGinn issued a terse statement moments ago which simply read,  “I worked to give the public a direct vote on the tunnel. The public said move ahead with the tunnel, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Actually, McGinn did more than attempt to give his constituents a chance to weigh in: he tried to persuade Seattle to join him in condemning the project so he would have ammunition for future battles with the City Council and regional leaders.

But the vote he and his supporters engineered has backfired.

Instead of giving him the political cover he wanted to continue his onslaught against the tunnel, Seattle has blessed the effort to build it.

McGinn and O’Brien have suggested for some time that their colleagues (the eight Seattle City Councilmembers who support the tunnel) were out of touch with the people they represent. But now they’re the ones who look out of touch. They staked a lot on this referendum, and they lost big.

It is true that they were outspent, but that’s not the reason they lost (they were very visible despite having less money). They lost because they misread the electorate. They campaigned confidently and forcefully, but their enthusiasm was more impressive than their arguments. I witnessed this myself when I attended a CityClub forum on Referendum 1 a couple weeks ago.

I felt Mike O’Brien (who spoke for Protect Seattle Now) showed more passion in attacking the tunnel than Kate Joncas (who spoke for Let’s Move Forward) did in defending it. On that score, he won. He appeared more adept and sounded more polished. But while his energy and passion made him seem like the more effective debater, the points he made just weren’t that compelling.

He tacitly admitted that Protect Seattle Now was trying to use the referendum to start the process of deciding what to do with the viaduct all over again. He hurt his own cause by inviting his constituents to imagine another decade of bickering over the viaduct at the local, regional, and state levels.

And he never presented a concrete alternative to the deep-bore tunnel. He failed to answer the question, If not this, then what?

All he had to offer was a well-rehearsed critique of what the state, the region, and his eight other colleagues on the city council have already committed to.

I was left thinking, Why don’t you just direct your energy towards trying to improve this project? Get the Legislature to approve the transit funding that’s supposed to be in the plan. Hold WSDOT to its promises. Look out for city taxpayers. But watchdog the tunnel instead of trying to kill it.

For too long, McGinn, O’Brien, and their supporters have allowed themselves to be distracted from a great many other pressing issues because they have been so fixated on trying to undo the tunnel. As a consequence, I sense that many people view them more as critics than as leaders.

They have an opportunity now to reverse this unfair characterization by directing their energy towards more fruitful endeavors… like expanding Seattle’s streetcar network, or working on replacing the decaying waterfront seawall.

The tunnel is ultimately the state’s responsibility, not the city’s. The city certainly must and should be involved. But this project shouldn’t have a monopoly on Seattle’s political oxygen. The city faces many other problems that it needs its elected representatives – including Mayor McGinn – to solve. Hopefully, some of the other problems will now begin to receive more attention.

Richard Mitchell, Jane Hague emerge as finalists for King County Council District #6

Tonight, voters ended a lively four-way contest for a battleground county council district by sending the oldest candidate (a well known incumbent who has served several terms) and the youngest candidate (a first time office-seeker) on to the general election for a November matchup.

In the returns just released by King County Elections, Republican Jane Hague and Democrat Richard Mitchell hold the top spots. Hague is far and away the leader with 39% of the vote, but collectively, her opponents have 61% of the vote, which isn’t a good sign for her campaign. Mitchell, meanwhile, leads the group of challengers with 27.87% of the vote. John Creighton is close behind with 25.15% of the vote, and Patsy Bonincontri was a distant fourth with 7.30%.

The numbers:

Ballots Cast/Registered Voters: 24517/121139 (20.24%)
Patsy Bonincontri: 7.30% (1,681 votes)
Richard E. Mitchell: 27.87% (6,420 votes)
Jane Hague: 39.30% (9,054 votes)
John Creighton: 25.15% (5,795 votes)
Write-in: 0.39% (89 votes)

Only six hundred and twenty five votes separate Mitchell and Creighton. While it’s possible that Creighton could make up the difference, it’s unlikely. This is a low turnout election, and there won’t be a huge flood of late ballots like we saw last year, with the potential to alter the outcomes of races.

Creighton needs to substantially close the gap tomorrow when the next batch of tabulated ballots are factored in to have a reasonable shot at catching up. Mitchell is assured of moving on as long as he doesn’t give up too much ground.

Today is Election Day: Don’t forget to vote!

Today is winnowing election day across Washington State. Although it’s possible that you’re one of our readers who lives in a jurisdiction where there is nothing on the ballot (and thus there is no ballot), chances are, you were sent a ballot with at least one contest on it. Please don’t forget to take your ballot either to a post office or drop box today if you haven’t already done so.

If you’re not sure where the nearest ballot drop box is, and you live in King County, check out this list from the Elections Division.

NPI strongly urges all readers who live in King County to vote to approve the Veterans and Human Services Levy (Proposition 1). This measure would:

… replace an expiring levy and fund capital facilities and services that reduce medical costs, homelessness, and criminal justice system involvement with half of proceeds supporting veterans and their families. It would authorize King County to levy an additional property tax of 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for collection in 2012 and authorize annual increases by the percentage increase in the consumer price index or 1%, whichever is greater, with a maximum increase of 3%, for the five succeeding years.

Our veterans – especially those who lack food, water, and shelter – need all the support they can get. By approving Proposition 1, we can let them know that we value their service and their economic security.

After the deadline to turn in ballots passes at 8 PM tonight, King County and other counties will post initial results for the 2011 winnowing election. We’ll be bringing you live coverage and analysis of the returns beginning around then.

Warren Buffett scolds the D.C. establishment: “Stop coddling the super-rich”

Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in the world and one of the U.S.’s most successful investors, has a must-read guest column in the New York Times this morning which takes America’s political leadership to task for not asking the nation’s wealthiest families to pay their fair share in membership dues to our country.

It is one of the best op-ed pieces I’ve ever read. We at NPI can’t thank Mr. Buffett enough for taking such a responsible, courageous stand in favor of protecting our federal common wealth. The opening alone is just beautiful:

Our leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

Buffett pulls no punches as he goes on:

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

What’s really striking about this op-ed is how much care was put into highlighting the absurdity that is our broken tax system. Buffett’s piece resonates because it combines a story – his story – with key numbers that reinforce the point he’s trying to make. He does not write in a language that only an account or a lawyer would understand. His words are plain and authoritative. At the same time, throughout his piece, he displays an appreciation for the intellect of his audience.

His message to Congress and President Obama is simple: Start looking out for our common wealth and the common good, not about the well-being of America’s most well-off. Insist that our nation’s most fortunate give back so that our nation has a future. Remind the people of the United States that it is patriotic to be a taxpayer.

As he brings his piece to a close, Buffett calls on the “super committee” set up in the legislation that increased the debt ceiling to look at raising revenue. He suggests:

I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

Congress should heed Warren Buffett’s advice.

For too long, lawmakers have bought into the right wing’s economic liberty myth, which is predicated on “trickle-down” economics. This myth posits that if we cut taxes on the wealthy, the wealthy will create more jobs. In reality, the only people who benefit when Congress coddles the super-rich are the super-rich.

There has never been a better time to restore sense and fairness to our tax code. We at NPI join Warren Buffett in renewing our call for our elected leaders to end costly and unnecessary tax giveaways to millionaires and billionaires.