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: September 2011

Washington’s minimum wage to rise to $9.04 an hour beginning in January

Washington State’s minimum wage will rise thirty-seven cents an hour to $9.04 beginning in January, the Department of Labor & Industries announced today.

Initiative 688, which voters overwhelmingly passed in 1998, requires the Department of Labor & Industries to adjust the minimum wage annually to account for inflation. (I-688, which NPI’s Steve Zemke was involved with, remains one of the most popular initiatives in state history).

In a news release, L&I explained how it calculated the new minimum wage:

The 37-cent increase reflects a 4.258 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI­W) since August 2010.

The CPI-W, which is used in this calculation, is a measure of the average change in prices over time of goods and services purchased by urban wage earners and clerical workers. Goods and services are determined as those things people buy for day-to-day living such as food, clothing, shelter, and fuels, and services such as doctor visits.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ news release, over the last 12 months the prices of most categories of consumer goods rose. The largest cost increases occurred for fuels and the lowest cost increases were for education and communication services.

Oregon is also set to raise its minimum wage in 2012, to $8.80 an hour, as required by Measure 25, passed by voters in 2002. (Measure 25 is Oregon’s equivalent of Initiative 688). Since the mid-2000s, Washington and Oregon have consistently maintained the highest minimum wages in the country.

Economists regard the minimum wage as one of the best examples of a price floor – a legal minimum price imposed on a market by government.

Although price floors (and price ceilings) do not always make sense, the minimum wage does because it prevents wage abuse. We, as a society, have an interest in preventing private businesses from engaging in an unchecked race to the bottom. Our collective economic security is not well-served when businesses treat their workers like indentured servants.

As the late Paul Wellstone once said, We all do better when we all do better.

While markets are efficient and useful in many respects, they do not guarantee that people will be fed, clothed, or sheltered. The market doesn’t care about the well-being of a starving, homeless worker who can’t find a job, the aspiring student who can’t afford a college education, the family that cannot pay its bills while also taking care of sick relatives. But we as a society ought to care. And that is why government regulation of markets is essential.

Left to their own devices, markets can fall apart or fail… catastrophically. That’s because markets are human inventions – they can only self-regulate to a certain extent. Markets are fairer and more stable when they are properly regulated and policed by government.

Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” He could have said the same thing about mixed-market economies.

We need only look at history to see why safeguards like the minimum wage are necessary. We at NPI are proud that Washington has the highest minimum wage in the United States, and we look forward to seeing working men and women who make minimum wage get a raise beginning on January 1st, 2012.

Poll Watch: Where do things stand in the Republican presidential race?

The 2012 Republican presidential race has been nothing if not entertaining, as the writers for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart will undoubtedly attest.

A new poll commissioned by Roger Ailes’ Fox Noise network, conducted from September 25-27, finds that Mitt Romney is now the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. The poll showed Romney at 23 percent, Texas Governor Rick Perry at 19 percent, and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain in third with 17 percent.  Fox had Perry ahead with 29 percent almost three weeks ago. At the time, Romney had 22 percent, while Herman Cain was not in the top five.

Next week, the former Massachusetts governor will take the stage at the annual Values Voters Summit, an event organized by a group of religious right-wing leaders and activists. Among those expected to be in attendance is Bryan Fischer, the issues director of the American Family Association, who could probably contend for the title of most bigoted political operative. Here’s Mother Jones:

He has said that Muslims should be banned from serving in the military; that a whale at Sea World should have been stoned to death for killing its trainer; that inbreeding makes Muslims stupid and violent; and that gay sex is a form of domestic terrorism. So naturally, he has been invited to speak to a huge gathering of conservative political activists this weekend, alongside such GOP luminaries as Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Rick Perry, considered by the media to be Romney’s most formidable rival, once talked about Texas seceding from the union, but he recently denied ever using the word secession in an appearance on Sean Hannity’s show.

When Hannity asked why his use of the word was so heavily reported he replied, “I have no idea, to be real honest with you, because it was never a really factual piece of reporting. It was shouted out by an individual at an event — at a Tea Party, actually — and I said ‘Listen, America is a great country. We have no reason why we would ever dissolve this union.’”

Perry has also disavowed a book he wrote only a few months ago – a conservative manifesto titled “Fed Up”. A campaign spokesman has claimed the book “is not meant to reflect the governor’s current views.” What the spokesman really meant to say is that the book was conceived and published before Perry realized he wanted to be a presidential candidate.

Are these guys the best the Republican Party can do? Their field looks pretty weak. No wonder much of the party’s base seems to be pining for another candidate they can rally around. If they could somehow resurrect Ronald Reagan and run him against President Obama, they probably would.

Bank of America announces $5 monthly penalty for debit card use

Bank of America Bank of Greed, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, announced today that it will begin charging customers who use a debit card tied to their checking account a $5 monthly penalty. (BofA is calling it a fee, but of course it’s really a penalty). BofA is planning to introduce the penalty early next year.

Just a few weeks ago, Bank of America alerted customers in Washington and Idaho by U.S. Mail that it was imposing new terms and conditions for its financial “products”, including checking and savings accounts.

Under the new terms, monthly fees are the norm unless customers take action to prevent them from being collected.

Wells Fargo and Chase are also “testing” debit card penalties on unlucky customers in certain areas, though neither of those banks has confirmed that such penalties will become part of their nationwide policies.

One reason Wall Street banks are looking for ways to extract more of their depositors’ money is because a new regulation is going into effect that caps the fees that they can charge merchants for processing transactions made with a debit cards. Since banks have lost some of their power over merchants as a result of this regulation, they’re leaning on their depositors to make up the difference.

Although Wall Street banks are among the biggest, most powerful corporations on the planet, there is no law that says any of us have to keep our money with them. We at NPI strongly urge all of our readers to go bankless and join a credit union if you haven’t already. Credit unions offer benefits banks simply can’t match, like better rates, lower fees, and superior service.

Since credit unions are owned by their members, there are no outside stockholders to pay. All profits get returned to members.

The Pacific Northwest is home to many fine credit unions. Some credit unions have very few restrictions on membership; BECU, Watermark, and Qualstar are open to anyone who lives and works in the Evergreen State, for instance.

Fred Finn announces retirement; two Democrats announce plans to seek his seat

Democratic State Representative Fred Finn, who has represented Washington’s 35th LD since 2008, announced recently that he will not be running for reelection in 2012, leading two Democrats to announce their intention to seek his seat.

Finn’s district includes Mason County as well as parts of Grays Harbor, Kitsap, and Thurston counties. He served as a United States Army veteran, and is a Shelton and Olympia-area businessman, involved mostly with commercial banking.

Among those vying for the seat is Mason County Commissioner Linda Ring-Erickson, and Port of Olympia Commissioner Jeff Davis. Both Davis and Ring-Erickson are Democrats. No Republicans or independents have declared yet.

Ring-Erickson said in a statement last week that her top three issues will be jobs, jobs, and jobs, echoing a refrain Denny Heck used in his unsuccessful congressional bid. This is Ring-Erickson’s first bid for the Legislature.

Davis, unsurprisingly, is also concerned about Washingtonians’ economic security. He told the Bellingham Herald, “We have to get back to finding ways to bring jobs into the state, and I think we can do it on a local level successfully.”

It appears that lowering unemployment will be a hot topic in 2012, although none of the candidates has released any specific plans for getting our state economy back on track. Neither candidate has held a state-level office before, though both have experience at the local level. We’ll be watching to see what, if any, ideas Ring-Erickson and Davis put on the table as part of their campaigns.

President Obama arrives in Seattle for first (and maybe only) visit of 2011

Following a four and a half hour cross country flight from Joint Base Andrews, President Barack Obama touched down in the real Washington late this morning to begin a multi-day Left Coast fundraising tour.

This is Obama’s third official visit to the Evergreen State as President; he made two trips out here last year (in August and October) on behalf of Senator Patty Murray, who defeated perennial Republican office-seeker Dino Rossi in the state’s November 2010 U.S. Senate contest. (Rossi has since disappeared from public view).

Air Force One lands at Boeing Field

Air Force One taxies to the tarmac at Boeing Field following a cross-country flight from Joint Base Andrews. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Obama was greeted at Boeing Field by Governor Chris Gregoire, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, along with U.S. Representative Norm Dicks. After talking with them for a couple minutes, Obama jogged over to shake hands with the assembled welcoming committee – a crowd of about fifty or so people behind metal barricades next to the press riser.

One child even got a high-five.

President Obama waves

President Obama waves to the crowd at Boeing Field after landing in Seattle to begin his third trip to Washington State. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Obama then climbed into the presidential limousine (nicknamed “The Beast”) and his motorcade took off for his first fundraising event in Medina – a brunch at former Microsoft executive Jon Shirley’s residence.

The brunch drew sixty-five people, we’re told. Assuming at least thirty couples paid $35,800 to get in, that means the event raised at least $1,074,000.

Among those in attendance: Bill Neukom, the San Francisco Giants general manager; Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco, and Gerald Grinstein, strategic director Madrona Venture Group, previously CEO of Delta.

In his remarks to donors at the event (which took place in what was described to NPI as an “airy, vast rectangular space, like entering a wing at a contemporary art museum”, President Obama warned that America cannot afford to elect a Republican as president. Doing so would usher in “an approach to government that would fundamentally cripple America in meeting the challenges of the 21st Century,” he said. Obama pointed to the ongoing budget debate in Congress as part of “a constant ideological pushback” that he has had to deal with since his inauguration.

“It is not just a national crisis it is an international crisis that we’ve been managing for the last three years,” the President reflected. “Domestically, we still have a lot more to do to heal this economy and to deal with some of the structural problems that existed even before the financial crisis hit.”

“My hope when I came into office that was because we were in crisis that the other side would respond by saying now is the time for all of us to pull together,” he said. “That was not the decision they made so from the moment I took office what we’ve seen is a constant ideological pushback against any kind of sensible reforms that would make our economy work better and give people more opportunity.”

He added, “We’re seeing it even now. As we speak there’s a debate going on in Congress about whether disaster relief funding should be granted as part of the overall budget to keep the government open.”

“What makes it worse is that some of the Republicans who are opposing this disaster relief it’s their constituents who’ve been hit harder than anyone by these natural disasters.”

The President said his message to Republicans is simple: “I’m prepared to work with you but these games have to stop.”

He ended his remarks by talking about the upcoming presidential election.

“This is going to be especially hard because a lot of people are discouraged and a lot of people are disillusioned. … But I’m determined because there’s too much at stake. The alternative, I think, is an approach to government that would fundamentally cripple America in meeting the challenges of the 21st Century and that’s not the kind of society that I want to bequeath to Malia and Sasha, and your children and your grandchildren.”

The President’s remarks lasted about ten minutes, we’re told. After spending less than an hour in Medina, the motorcade departed the Eastside and swept onto State Route 520 for a ten minute trip to Seattle’s Paramount Theater, where eighteen hundred supporters had gathered for a fundraising luncheon.

CONTINUED: At the Paramount, the President was introduced by by Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens, two of the Seattle SuperSonics’ most prestigious alumni.

The President had to say thank you a grand total of six times before the enthusiastic Democrats in the audience were willing to take their seats.

Due to a technical problem of some kind, the President was unable to use the teleprompter that had been set up onstage to give his address. But he didn’t seem to need it. He thanked Russell and Wilkens, recognized Governor Chris Gregoire, and several of the state’s U.S. Representatives, including Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee, and Jim McDermott. (Neither Patty Murray nor Maria Cantwell was in attendance, or else they would likely have received a shout-out as well).

The President wasted almost no time in issuing a condemnation of Republicans’ views on the economy, castigating the right wing for continuing to support an agenda that has clearly failed America.

“The question is not whether this country has been going through tough times,” the President said. ” The question is where are we going next. ”

“We can either go back to the same ideas that the other sides is peddling — old worn-out ideas that were tried throughout the last decade, where corporations get to write their own rules, and those of us who’ve been most fortunate get to keep all our tax breaks, and we abandon our commitment to caring for the vulnerable, and we abandon our commitment to investing in the future and investing in infrastructure and investing in education and basic research — or we can build an America that we talked about in 2008.”

Obama then began highlighting some of the accomplishments of his presidency. He reminded the audience that his administration successfully rescued the auto industry (in 2009, GM and Chrysler were on the verge of collapse, but were saved by the taxpayers).

He also touted several key pieces of legislation he has signed into law: the  Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill, and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Much of his speech consisted of a pitch for the American Jobs Act, introduced during a joint address to Congress earlier this month. Obama wants the bill passed immediately, but House Republicans have signaled they want to bury it, because it doesn’t jibe with their rigid ideological views.

Those views, of course, do not reflect traditional American values… and the President was, thankfully, happy to point that out.

“This notion that the only thing to do to restore our prosperity is to eliminate environmental rules, and bust unions, and make sure that we’re giving tax breaks to the folks who are most fortunate and tell everybody else that they’re on their own — that’s not who we are.  That’s not the story of America,” Obama said at one point.

The President ended his remarks by trying to rally the crowd.

“I need you guys to shake off any doldrums.  I need you to decide right here and right now — and I need you to talk to your friends and your neighbors and your coworkers — you need to tell them, you know what, we’re not finished yet.  We’ve got more work to do.”

“We are tougher than the times that we live in. We are bigger than the small politics that we’ve been witnessing. We are a people who write our own destiny, and it is fully within our power to write it once more.”

After stepping away from the podium, the President shook hands for several minutes before departing the Paramount. His motorcade was on its way out of Seattle just twelve minutes following the conclusion of his speech.

Motorcade pulls up to Air Force One

President Obama and his entourage board Air Force One following their afternoon in Seattle and Medina. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The procession of vehicles arrived at the Boeing Field tarmac at 3:37 PM. By 3:48 PM, Air Force One was ready for takeoff, though it did not depart immediately, in order to keep the airspace clear for a LifeFlight that we understand was inbound to Harborview Medical Center. Shortly before four o’clock, Air Force One lifted off for a two-hour flight to San Jose, concluding the President’s visit.

Three more unions endorse Richard Mitchell for King County Council

King County Council hopeful Richard Mitchell, who pulled off a very strong showing in the August winnowing election thanks in part to the enthusiastic support of the Democratic Party, has just received the support of three key unions with significant membership in King County, his campaign announced today.

Several weeks ago, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local #587 became the first union to throw its support behind Mitchell, before it was even clear that he would be moving on to the general election. Not long after, SEIU Local #6 joined the Mitchell camp, and now UFCW Local #21, Aerospace Machinists District Lodge #751, and Teamsters Joint Council #28 have followed suit.

“Today’s announcement further solidifies why I will be a voice for working families on the King County Council,” Mitchell said in an email to supporters.

“There is a desire for new leadership on the Council and unlike my opponent, whose 17-year record speaks for itself, I am willing to stand up for working families, fight to protect living wage jobs, and focus the County on improving our local economy.”

Mitchell is also endorsed by all of King County’s Democratic congressmen and many Democratic legislators, including Representatives Ross Hunter and Roger Goodman, who represent parts of the 6th County Council District.

Hague is backed by the King County Republicans and a number of former or current Republican elected officials. Her reputation took a hit in her last reelection campaign, when it was discovered that she had been arrested for driving under the influence and faked academic credentials.

Governor Chris Gregoire calls special session to deal with latest revenue shortfall

Governor Chris Gregoire will call a special session of the Legislature beginning the Monday after Thanksgiving to deal with Washington’s latest revenue shortfall, her office confirmed this morning. The session could go for as long as thirty days.

“Congressional gridlock, the European debt crisis and high unemployment continue to take their toll on consumer confidence and our state’s economy,” Gregoire said in a statement. “Once again, we are facing a budget shortfall and once again I’m calling the Legislature back into special session to address the state’s budget.”

“My only option is across-the-board cuts, and that option is unacceptable. Solving this budget crisis will require the Legislature to act.”

“We are committed to making the most of the coming weeks to help find solutions,” Senate Majority Lisa Leader Lisa Brown and Senator Ed Murray said in a joint statement. “Before we reach a special session, we will work with the governor as she develops an initial proposal to bridge the budget gap.”

“And we will continue to review alternatives and engage with our Republican colleagues as we seek responsible actions to balance our budget.”

“Over three years, we have reduced public service levels across the board, from support for kindergarten education to supervision of offenders in our communities,” they continued. “As we approach special session, we must recognize that more cuts – however necessary mathematically – will impact Washingtonians, their families and their communities.”

“As legislators, we have many tools for balancing our budget – including giving the voters the option of approving new revenue to pay for the services they want. We strongly encourage our colleagues in both parties, in the House and Senate, to avoid drawing lines in the sand and instead to arrive in Olympia in November prepared to offer solutions and to be ready to discuss all the possibilities.”

The same point was made by Jay Inslee, who hopes to succeed Chris Gregoire as governor beginning in January 2013.

“Our state budget has been battered by this recession, $10 billion has already been cut – more than $1.5 billion out of education just last session,” Inslee said.

“Our children can’t afford it. Our parents can’t afford it. Our state’s future can’t afford it. We know education is the key to job growth in this state.”

He added, “I hope the legislature seriously addresses the questions about how we put ourselves on a long-term path to economic recovery and how to preserve priorities like education that create economic opportunity, and make responsible investments in our families and future. There are still options for the Legislature to pursue including finding savings by closing ineffective corporate tax loopholes, such as the exemption for out-of-state banks.”

Unfortunately, Initiative 1053 unconstitutionally prevents our legislators from using a balanced approach to respond to this crisis. It only takes fifty one representatives and twenty five senators to agree to eviscerate services, but it takes sixty five representatives and thirty two senators to agree to save public services by raising revenue. That’s wrong, and that needs to be changed.

There is a lawsuit pending in King County Superior Court that seeks to invalidate Initiative 1053, but that suit is unlikely to be decided before the special session. Even if the court struck I-1053 down, the decision would undoubtedly be appealed to the state Supreme Court, which won’t be in a hurry to resolve the matter. The last three times the Supreme Court has had the chance to declare I-1053′s predecessors unconstitutional, it passed. It didn’t issue an opinion on the merits of the case. The justices simply did a duck dive instead.

I-1053 is choking our common wealth and our public services. We need to destroy I-1053 before I-1053 destroys us. That much is clear from this latest revenue forecast.

FUTHER INFORMATION: See Permanent Defense’s response to Tim Eyman from last Friday (RE: Given the state’s latest revenue forecast….)

Georgia executes Troy Davis after U.S. Supreme Court refuses to halt his killing

Troy Davis, the Georgia man convicted of murder on questionable evidence two decades ago, has just been executed by state prison officials, we’re hearing.

Attorneys for Davis, who abolitionists have been fiercely rallying to save, had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and grant an eleventh-hour stay only hours ago. Sadly, the court refused, giving Georgia the go-ahead to put Davis to death.

Davis, who has always maintained his innocence, was originally scheduled to be killed several years ago, but his attorneys successfully forced the state to put off its immoral plans to kill him by challenging his death sentence in court.

Outrageously, none of the courts or parole authorities who heard the appeals filed by Davis’ lawyers were willing to intervene to save his life. Consequently, the state has just put a man to death simply because a jury decided some years ago that he committed a crime and should lose his life as a punishment – and nobody with the legal authority to overturn that verdict has had the courage or willingness to do so.

Davis’ killing is most definitely a travesty. But the bigger travesty, in our eyes, is the failure of our justice system to stop it. There is no question that humans make mistakes – this is an indisputable truth that we know about ourselves. We are capable of making mistakes as individuals and also as groups. Any witness, jury, or judge can make a mistake because all witnesses, juries, and judges are human.

The evidence that the prosecution originally presented in Davis’ case has been clearly shown to have been flawed. Seven of the nine witnesses called by the prosecution recanted part or all of their testimony, we understand. And yet, Davis’ conviction was not overturned. It could have been, and it should have been.

But it wasn’t.

The cause of justice is not served by America’s use of the antiquated, immoral “eye for an eye” principle from the Code of Hammurabi. It is time for us as a people to stop permitting our government to act like an oppressive regime and stop playing God. The death penalty is immoral and barbaric.

It can and it must be outlawed.

The United States of America cannot be a beacon for human rights and civil rights as long as it is putting people to death. Especially innocent people.

Tonight, we extend a prayer for Troy Davis and his family, the victims of a broken justice system. And we reaffirm our steadfast commitment to achieving the total and complete abolition of capital punishment in every U.S. jurisdiction.

Governor Gregoire steps up to mediate negotiations to end Tacoma teacher strike

After seven days without school for thousands of Tacoma students, Gov. Chris Gregoire has stepped up to mediate talks between Tacoma Public Schools and the Tacoma Education Association.

After failing to reach an agreement today, the governor called for school district officials and members of the teachers union to negotiate in her office. Members of both sides filed into her office this afternoon between 2 and 3 p.m.

According to Rich Wood, the spokesman for the union, both sides were close to a settlement when the school district abandoned further negotiations. He told the Tacoma News Tribune, “It threw our team for a loop. They truly believed we were close to settlement. I think that’s still true from our perspective this morning.”

Gov. Gregoire does not have direct oversight over the state’s school districts, however, she has been putting pressure on the two sides to reach an agreement so that Tacoma’s youth can return to school.

Tacoma Public Schools is the third largest school district in the state.  Some of the main issues that the school district and teacher’s union are haggling over include pay, class size, and teacher transfers.

The Tacoma Education Association is defying a court order for them to return to work. According to Forbes, Pierce County Superior Court Judge, Bryan Chushcoff, has been considering permitting the school district to replace teachers who strike. The next court hearing is expected to be on Tuesday, but if a settlement can be reached soon, an emergency order to that effect would not be needed.

Iran frees Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal – two U.S. hikers it has imprisoned since 2009

Iran’s autocratic regime today freed two American hikers that it has held in prison for more than two years in a move it called a “humanitarian gesture”.

Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both twenty-nine, were allowed to leave Iran’s infamous Evin prison and taken by a diplomatic caravan to an Iranian airport. They were then flown to the Sultanate of Oman, which helped secure their release. There, they were met by their families.

“We now all want nothing more than to wrap Shane and Josh in our arms, catch up on two lost years and make a new beginning, for them and for all of us,” the families said in a joint message distributed to the press.

President Barack Obama hailed the news.

“I welcome the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal from detention in Iran and am very pleased that they are being reunited with their loved ones,” the President said in a just-released statement. “The tireless advocacy of their families over these two years has won my admiration, and is now coming to an end with Josh and Shane back in their arms. All Americans join their families and friends in celebrating their long-awaited return home.”

“We are deeply grateful to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the Swiss government, and to all our partners and allies around the world who have worked steadfastly over the past two years to secure the release of Shane and Josh,” added the President.

“It is a welcome – if long overdue – step that the Iranian authorities have finally seen sense and released Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal,” agreed Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, who serves as Amnesty International Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa. Sahraoui pointed out that the Iranian regime has held the two men for more than two years for no good reason.

“All available evidence strongly suggests that the Iranian authorities have known all along that these men were not spies and should have been released. They should now release all prisoners of conscience held simply for peacefully expressing their views,” Sahraoui said in a statement posted to Amnesty’s website.

More information about Shane, Josh, and their ordeal is available at FreeTheHikers.org, a website set up to chronicle their plight and explain how they came to be in the clutches of the Iranian regime in the first place.

We at NPI join President Obama in thanking everyone who worked to secure Josh and Shane’s release. We are glad to know that they will be now be able to return to freedom here in the United States. Hopefully, when they feel up to it, they’ll be willing to share their story with their countrymen and give us a better idea of what happens to people that Iran’s regime arbitrarily decides to throw in jail.

NPI urges City of Redmond to adopt resolution opposing Tim Eyman’s I-1125

Editor’s Note: What follows are the remarks I prepared for tonight’s city council meeting in Redmond, NPI’s hometown. Redmond has been in a leader in opposing Tim Eyman’s harmful initiatives – the city was among the jurisdictions that adopted a resolution opposing I-695, Tim Eyman’s first destructive anti-tax measure, which sought to wipe out the state’s motor vehicle excise tax. City councils are permitted by law to adopt resolutions supporting or opposing statewide ballot measures.

Mayor Marchione, members of the City Council:

Good evening. For the record, my name is Andrew Villeneuve. I am a lifelong resident of the City of Redmond, the founder of the Northwest Progressive Institute, and a columnist for Reporter Newspapers. I am here tonight on behalf of NPI’s staff and board to urge that the City adopt a resolution within the next few weeks opposing Initiative 1125, which will be on the November ballot.

As many of you know, I became active in politics almost a decade ago because I wanted to help protect our city, our region, and our state from harmful initiatives specifically written to paralyze public services and wreck government.

I was motivated in part to step off the sidelines and become an activist because I was concerned that Redmond’s future was threatened.

Redmond’s well-being means a lot to me. Redmond is my home. It has always been my home. It will probably always be my home, because I can’t imagine living anyplace else. People who know me well know that I love to travel and see new places. But I also love being able to come home to Redmond.

I think I speak for many of my neighbors when I say this is a special place. Redmond has great public services, vibrant community festivals like Derby Days and RedmondLights, a trailblazing environmental ethic, and a city government that welcomes citizen input.

I have been to many forums and workshops over the years here at city hall, and they have all been good experiences.

City employees have always treated me with courtesy and respect, and gone out of their way to make sure my questions get answered.

Much of my work as an activist concerns issues that are statewide and regional, not just local. And like many residents of Redmond, I travel outside the city on an almost daily basis. So I appreciate the importance of the transportation system that we as a region and a state have invested in, through our common wealth.

Initiative 1125 threatens two key facilities that connect, or will connect, Redmond with other communities in Puget Sound, especially Bellevue and Seattle. The first facility is Sound Transit’s East Link light rail, which the people overwhelmingly approved in 2008 during an election that saw record turnout.

There is a provision in Initiative 1125 – Section 3 – that prohibits the state from transferring part of the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge to Sound Transit for light rail. Presently, that part of the bridge is the express lanes.

The sponsor of I-1125, Tim Eyman (who we heard from earlier tonight), and the person who provided more than 80% of the funding for this initiative, Kemper Freeman, Jr. – have acknowledged that this provision is intended to stop light rail from ever being put on I-90. My interpretation is that it would also block any future light rail across the new 520 bridge, as well.

I worked very hard to help ensure that Sound Transit got its first light rail line, Central Link, built. Because we got that done, we are now in a position where we can expand the system, and bring it to Redmond, so we have a reliable, dependable way of getting to Bellevue and Seattle no matter how bad the traffic is.

I believe East Link is critically important to our city’s future. We need to make sure that it stays on track and gets built. That means rejecting I-1125.

The other facility I-1125 threatens is State Route 520. I use 520 just about every weekday, whether I’m driving or riding Metro or a Sound Transit Express bus, and I know that I am hardly alone.

State Route 520 is our connection to Seattle. It is one of the most heavily traveled highways in the state. The aging Evergreen Point floating bridge carries 520 over Lake Washington, as you all know. Engineers have inspected the bridge and found that it is vulnerable to earthquakes and windstorms.

It is imperative that we replace it.

After years of discussion and debate, we are finally moving forward with the construction of a replacement span. Unfortunately, I-1125 would, as State Treasurer Jim McIntire put it, blow a hole in the financing plan for the project.

The state has long been planning to sell bonds to cover the cost of rebuilding 520, secured by toll revenues. But I-1125 would take away the Washington State Transportation Commission’s authority to set toll rates, which would imperil bond sales and thus the entire project.

The Office of Financial Management also warns we may have to repay several federal grants if I-1125 passes. That’s because I-1125 would outlaw variable tolling. Variable tolls have already been set for SR 520, but If I-1125 goes into effect, we would not be able to modify or adjust the rates. Nor would variable tolling be an option for other projects important to our region and to Redmond.

The fiscal impact statement goes into greater depth about the consequences of I-1125, so I would encourage you all to read that if you have not already.

I want to close by thanking you all for your service to Redmond as elected officials. I know you put in many hours every week on behalf of the people of this city. That’s a significant commitment. I honor you for that commitment, and hope you realize that your constituents are grateful for your service. I thank you for hearing my concerns and look forward to seeing you around town this autumn.

Netflix announces its DVDs-by-mail business will now be called “Qwikster”

Two months after it announced that it was separating DVD rentals and streaming into separate plans (and automatically raising prices for customers who did not act to cancel one or the other), Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has finally admitted the company did a poor job handling the announcement.

In a blog post and in a email sent out to subscribers, Hastings tried to provide some context for the company’s decision to raise prices and separate plans, explaining the company is trying to redefine itself around what it does (provide home entertainment) as opposed to being defined by how it does that (DVDs vs. streaming). In Hastings’ words:

We realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.

Apparently Hastings and the Netflix board don’t think each business can “grow and operate independently” if they share the same name.

So they’re renaming the DVD rental business “Qwikster” – which just sounds to me like a cheesy name picked out by a conceited marketing consultant. Qwikster is getting its own website, which will presumably launch within a few weeks. The streaming business, meanwhile, will still be called Netflix.

If you ask me, turning the DVD rental side of Netflix into “Qwikster” makes about as much sense as turning the streaming side into “Streamster”.

Hastings’ announcement is just further proof that he and his executives don’t understand their own customers. Launching a new brand isn’t going to mollify upset Netflix customers (I know I’m still going to call the DVD rental service Netflix, no matter what domain name they use or what the envelopes say).

The reason Netflix customers were upset to begin with is because management forced everybody to either cancel part of their subscription – or be automatically subjected to a sixty percent price increase beginning September 1st, 2011.

It used to be that streaming was a free add-on to DVD plans. A year or two ago, Netflix opted to sell streaming service as the base package and make DVD rentals an add-on. Now, there are no add-ons at all.

There’s streaming and there’s DVD rentals. You can subscribe to one or the other, or both, but there’s no discount if you subscribe to both (streaming costs $7.99 a month, and the cheapest DVD plan is $7.99 a month).

What Hastings should have done is announced a credit for customers who accepted the price increase and encouraged the customers who did cancel part of their subscription to come back and bundle at a lower rate. If Netflix offered even a small bundling discount it would win back some customers.

What about a streaming + DVD rental package for $12.99? That’s about $3 more than what Neflix was charging before the price increase, and $3 less than what it costs to subscribe to both the streaming and the base DVD plan now.

Hastings could have soothed a lot of upset people by doing something along the lines of what I just suggested. But instead, he’s just announced a pointless cosmetic change that is probably just going to alienate more customers.

POSTSCRIPT: The comments I’ve seen on Netflix’s Facebook page reinforce my suspicion that this name change isn’t being received very well.

Doug Beall writes:

You have got to be kidding? Whoever thought up this idea needs to be canned…and those who approved it! Already canceled DVD service but lack of streaming selection isn’t worth $8 either. Canceled both now and go[ing] with Redbox at $1 ea, coming out ahead for me.

Bethany Hanan writes:

I wasn’t thinking of canceling the DVD plan, but now if I can’t integrate the two queues… I might just cancel the DVD service and just rent movies as-needed from iTunes or Amazon.

Greg Edmonds writes:

I am a recently new member (several months) and was likely to subscribe to the DVD by mail portion after starting with streaming only. I’ve ditched cable tv service so this was to be my only source of video entertainment. Thanks a lot, Netflix. I certainly will NOT be subscribing to the DVDs…I’ll just go to RedBox instead.

And finally, Samuel Todd says what I said, but in fewer words: “Netflix – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Just keep what you got going!”

POSTSCRIPT, KEN, 9:17 PM: Let’s be clear that now Netflix/Qwikster customers will have to log in to two different websites, using two separate logins (though we can probably assume that the user name and password can be the same for both sites) and face two separate charges on their credit cards. Not only did Reed Hastings wait too long to address the problems created two months ago, but now his company is making it more difficult for customers to get what they want. You don’t need a business degree to know that if you hassle your customers then they go elsewhere.

Echoing Andrew’s comments about the new name, Qwikster is such a poorly thought-out name it evokes images, for children of the 70′s and 80′s, of a bunny that drank a certain beverage by Nestle, or that pre-MySpace social networking site that never really took off called Friendster. It’s a terrible name and bound to fail.

Clearly, streaming content is the future. It’s not necessarily what Netflix is doing, but how it is doing it. They already shot themselves in the foot once, and now Reed Hastings shoots the other foot. In the case of the gang that can’t shoot straight, the best thing you can do is just get out of the way.  As a Netflix customer I’ll definitely be looking at other options.

Elizabeth Warren to make Massachusetts U.S. Senate bid official tomorrow

Consumer advocate and bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren, who recently formed an exploratory committee to consider a U.S. Senate bid in Massachusetts, has decided to make her candidacy official, according to a spokesperson.

Warren will formally announce that she’s running tomorrow in communities across the Commonwealth. Her campaign says stops are planned in Boston, New Bedford, Framingham, Worcester, and Springfield.

Warren’s decision is sure to delight progressive activists in Massachusetts and across the United States who have strongly urged her to run.

A “Draft Elizabeth Warren” effort started by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee has already raised more than $100,000. ActBlue reports that total contributions to Elizabeth Warren have already exceeded $200,000 – and all of those came before her campaign became official.

Other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate include Herb Robinson, Alan Khazei, Jim King, Bob Massie, Marisa DeFranco, Setti Warren (no relation), and Tom Conroy. So it’s a crowded field. But none of these other candidates really has the higher profile that Warren has.

It’s no secret that big banks and insurance companies don’t like Warren, who is an unapologetically fierce advocate for consumer protection and for working families. Wall Street will likely spend a huge amount of money attempting to defeat her, as will the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

At Mother Jones, Rick Ungar notes that Republicans may be sorry that they promised to block any attempt by President Obama to nominate Warren to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

The possibillty of Warren’s election presents GOP senators with a rich dose of irony. Warren was the obvious and most deserving person to serve as the first leader of the CFPB, the consumer protection agency she almost single-handedly created. However, in an effort to protect their Wall Street cronies and financial backers, the Republicans in the Senate made it very clear that her nomination would never be approved.

As the administrator of the CFPB, Warren would have been under the thumb of Congress. As a member of the Senate, it will be a very different story.

If Warren’s candidacy is successful, extremist Republican senators will soon have to put up with her as a colleague in just a year and a half.

In memoriam, ten years later

Today is the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, which destroyed New York’s World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Americans. In honor of those who died that day, we’re republishing a poem that we post annually here on The Advocate.

The American flag is raised at the Pentagon on September 11th

Military servicemembers render honors as fire and rescue workers unfurl a huge American flag over the side of the Pentagon during rescue and recovery efforts following the Sept 11 terrorist attack. The attack came at approximately 9:40 a.m. as a hijacked commercial airliner, originating from Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport, was flown into the southern side of the building facing Route 27. (Photo: Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass/United States Navy)

Two thousand one, nine eleven
Two thousand plus arrive in heaven.
As they pass through the gate,
Thousands more appear in wait.
A bearded man with stovepipe hat
Steps forward saying, “Let’s sit, let’s chat.”

They settle down in seats of clouds,
A man named Martin shouts out proud,
“I have a dream!” and once he did
The Newcomer said, “Your dream still lives.”

Groups of soldiers in blue and gray
Others in khaki, and green then say
“We’re from Bull Run, Yorktown, the Maine”
The Newcomer said, “You died not in vain.”

From a man on sticks one could hear
“The only thing we have to fear…”
The Newcomer said, “We know the rest,
trust us sir, we’ve passed that test.”

“Courage doesn’t hide in caves.
You can’t bury freedom, in a grave.”
The Newcomers had heard this voice before
A distinct Yankee twang from Hyannisport shores.

A silence fell within the mist
Somehow the Newcomer knew that this
Meant time had come for her to say
What was in the hearts of the two thousand plus that day.

“Back on Earth, we wrote reports,
Watched our children play in sports
Worked our gardens, sang our songs
Went to church and clipped coupons
We smiled, we laughed, we cried, we fought
Unlike you, great we’re not”

National Guard at the World Trade Center

Two members of the National Guard stand beneath one of hundreds of American flags that have been hoisted or worn by rescue workers at the site of the World Trade Center (Photo: Andrea Booher/FEMA).

The tall man in the stovepipe hat
Stood and said, “Don’t talk like that!
Look at your country, look and see
You died for freedom, just like me.”

Then, before them all appeared a scene
Of rubbled streets and twisted beams
Death, destruction, smoke and dust
And people working just ’cause they must

Hauling ash, lifting stones,
Knee deep in hell, but not alone
“Look! Blackman, Whiteman, Brownman, Yellowman
Side by side helping their fellow man!”
So said Martin, as he watched the scene
“Even from nightmares, can be born a dream.”

Down below three firemen raised
The colors high into ashen haze
The soldiers above had seen it before
On Iwo Jima back in ’44

The man on sticks studied everything closely
Then shared his perceptions on what he saw mostly
“I see pain, I see 20 tears,
I see sorrow – but I don’t see fear.”

“You left behind husbands and wives
Daughters and sons and so many lives
are suffering now because of this wrong
But look very closely. You’re not really gone.

All of those people, even those who’ve never met you
All of their lives, they’ll never forget you
Don’t you see what has happened?
Don’t you see what you’ve done?
You’ve brought them together as one.”

With that the man in the stovepipe hat said
“Take my hand,” and from there he led
two thousand plus heroes, Newcomers to heaven
On this day, two thousand one, nine eleven.

- by Paul Spreadbury, dedicated to the victims of September 11th