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: November 2011

Boeing, Machinists reach agreement to build next generation 737 in Renton

The Boeing Company announced this morning that it has tentatively reached a labor agreement with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) that will ensure the next generation of its 737 narrow-body jet (known as the MAX) will be built in Renton, Washington, where production of the current 737 is based.

Boeing's 737 Max

A depiction of the new Boeing 737 Max, which includes a new family of engines. (Image courtesy of The Boeing Company).

“The 737 MAX builds upon the legacy of the world’s best single-aisle airplane and continues to generate overwhelming response from our customers,” said Jim Albaugh, the head of Beoing Commercial Airplanes, in a statement.

“If our employees ratify a new agreement, building the 737 MAX in Renton will secure a long and prosperous future there, as well as at other sites in the Puget Sound area and in Portland, Ore., where 737 parts are built.”

IAM District Lodge 751 President Tom Wroblewski described the deal as an “extraordinary proposal.” “[This deal will] secure thousands of jobs while raising Machinists’ pay and pensions,” he said. “Hopefully it also signals the start of a new relationship that can both meet our members’ expectations for good jobs, while giving Boeing the stability and productivity it needs to succeed.”

A ratification vote on the agreement by Machinist members has been scheduled for Wednesday, December 7th. That’s exactly one week from today.

The IAM says the agreement negotiated with Boeing includes the following provisions concerning fair wages and benefits for its members:

  • Annual wage increases of 2 percent, plus cost-of-living adjustments;
  • An incentive program intended to pay bonuses between 2 and 4 percent;
  • A ratification bonus of $5,000 for each member;
  • Increases to the formula for calculating pensions in each year of the pact; and
  • Guarantees that new hires would continue to receive traditional pensions.

NPI congratulates IAM and Boeing on reaching this historic agreement. This is, without question, great news for the economic security of not just our Machinist brothers and sisters, but for all Washingtonians.

Aerospace has long been one of our state’s most important industries – it has justifiably been called the rock on which our state’s economy is built. And no company is more important to our aerospace sector than Boeing.

Governor Chris Gregoire was quick to praise the deal.

“I commend both Boeing management and the Machinists for coming to the table, negotiating in good faith and working together to reach an agreement. This tentative deal recognizes the talent of Boeing’s highly trained workforce, while providing the company the confidence it needs to assure its customers that planes will be delivered on schedule. And as this sector becomes increasingly competitive, this initial agreement shows a strong commitment by both sides to secure the future of aerospace in Washington,” she said.

Senator Maria Cantwell agreed.

“This is a tsunami-sized deal between Boeing and the Machinists union,” she said. “It is a transformation of the relationship between the company and workers to focus on quality, performance, and incentives.”

“This deal keeps jobs in the Northwest with the 737 MAX production and keeps the long-term skillset of building fuel efficient planes in the Northwest. The Puget Sound area wins because it means the Northwest will continue to be the epicenter of aerospace jobs long into the future.”

Senators Wyden, Cantwell ready to stand up to protect the Internet from censorship bills

In a matter of days, the United States Senate may be voting on an extremely dangerous bill backed by the entertainment industry that would allow powerful media conglomerates and other big corporations to censor the Internet at will.

This bill, S. 968, which we’ve previously written about, is officially known as the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 – PROTECT IP, or PIPA, for short.

Ostensibly, S. 698 is intended to protect “intellectual property”, as the title suggests. Executives at Hollywood studios, publishing houses, and record companies have long wanted to “cableize” the Internet, because it would give them control over the medium. They want to be able to decide when and how everyone timeshifts or spaceshifts content, and to what extent (if any) content may be shared with others.

(Timeshifting refers to the practice of recording programming for use later, or playing and reading on demand. Spaceshifting refers to the practice of making digital copies of content – for instance, ripping a compact disc and putting the resulting MP3 or Vorbis tracks on one’s portable music player).

If big media gets their way and the Internet gets cableized, it will cease to exist as we know it today. Net neutrality will be a thing of the past. Censorship will replace freedom of expression. Innovation will be stifled.

And netroots-powered organizations like NPI, which use the Internet to organize and mobilize for change, will no longer be able to exist.

This legislation is a grave threat to the Internet. It absolutely must be stopped.

That is why we’re so thankful that two courageous U.S. Senators from the great Pacific Northwest – Ron Wyden of Oregon and Maria Cantwell of Washington – have stepped up to lead the fight against it.

Ron Wyden has pledged to lead a filibuster against the legislation in the Senate if it reaches the floor in December – as we expect it to. (It’s already made it through the Judiciary Committee). Wyden is prepared to go to the mat to defend the Internet, and three other senators have agreed to stand with him: Maria Cantwell of Washington, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Jerry Moran of Kansas.

On November 17th, the four senators wrote to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, outlining their objections to S.698. They wrote:

Our fear, which is shared by many, is that S. 968 as currently written will have the unintended consequences of undermining our nation’s national security and our goals to encourage innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation.

As currently written, the Protect IP Act and the companion Stop Online Piracy Act legislation in the House unnecessarily risk an overbroad application of the new and unprecedented tools they provide to the U.S. Department of Justice and the private sector. An excessively expansionary application of these tools would undermine our national security and economic interests.

We are particularly concerned that the proposal authorizes the use of remedies that will undermine the infrastructure of the Internet. The nation’s leading technologists and security experts say these provisions will kill our best hope for actually making the Internet more secure against cyber attacks. We take seriously the alarm expressed by the nation’s leading investors in new online startups who say the proposal will dampen interest in financing the new ideas and businesses of tomorrow, and to legal and human rights experts who caution that the proposal enables the silencing of speech.

We thank each of these senators for signing their names to this letter and pledging to defend the Internet – the most democratic, revolutionary medium for communication ever invented.

An unprecedented coalition, to which NPI belongs, has come together to fight S. 698 and its equally disastrous companion, the “Stop Online Piracy Act”, which would user in an age of censorship, where our nation’s law enforcement agencies (which already have overly broad surveillance and police powers) would become henchmen of big media conglomerates like News Corporation, Time Warner, Sony, The Walt Disney Company, and Viacom.

A couple of weeks ago, the coalition organized American Censorship Day, which NPI participated in, to raise awareness of these destructive bills. Thanks to American Censorship Day, many more people are now aware of this threat to the Internet. But our work is far from finished. We need to build opposition to this bill in both houses of Congress – especially the Senate.

If ever there was a bill that deserved to die by filibuster, this would be it.

Please take a few moments this week to call your representative and senators and let them know you oppose these bills. At StopCensorship.org, you can add your own name to the list of names opposed to the bill. Senator Ron Wyden plans to read this list into the congressional record during the filibuster against the bill, instead of reading out of a phone book or a novel.

Join us in making your opposition to these job-killing, innovation-stifling, free speech-wrecking bills loudly known.

Fitch threatens to downgrade America’s credit unless deficit accord is reached by 2013

Following in the footsteps of Standard & Poor’s, which downgraded U.S. credit to AA back in August, another one of the big three Wall Street rating firms has decided to play the ultimatum game, after Congress’ “supercommittee” failed to agree on a plan to implement spending cuts last week.

Fitch Ratings gave the United States until 2013 to come up with a “credible plan” to tackle its ballooning budget deficit before it downgrades the country’s coveted AAA rating.

The ratings agency said on Monday it revised to negative from stable the outlook on the U.S. credit rating after a special congressional committee failed last week to agree on at least $1.2 trillion in deficit-reduction measures.

“The negative outlook reflects Fitch’s declining confidence that timely fiscal measures necessary to place U.S. public finances on a sustainable path and secure the U.S. AAA sovereign rating will be forthcoming,” the ratings agency said in a statement.

Fitch has some nerve lecturing the U.S. government on fiscal responsibility. Fitch and its fellow Wall Street rating houses Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s precipitated the very economic crisis that continues to drag on to this day. They handed out AAA ratings like candy during the run-up to the collapse of September 2008.

And they still haven’t learned their lesson, as Bloomberg’s Robin Farzad points out in this edition of Businessweek.

On Nov. 21 a court-appointed trustee estimated that at least $1.2 billion is unaccounted for at failed brokerage MF Global. Sunk by some risky bets on European sovereign debt, the firm run by former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late last month, the eighth-biggest failure in U.S. corporate history.

While that’s tragic for some clients, it’s an outright embarrassment for the three largest ratings firms, Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service, and Fitch Ratings. They all rated MF Global investment grade a week before its bankruptcy.

“Where is the outrage?” asks James H. Gellert, chief executive officer of Rapid Ratings, which had rated MF Global at junk for two years. “Things have gotten absurd.”

We’d argue that absurd is actually an understatement.

Fitch, S&P, and Moody’s didn’t see MF Global’s collapse coming, just like they didn’t see the downfall of AIG or Lehman Brothers coming, just like they didn’t see Enron’s failure coming… or Tyco’s… or WorldCom’s. In fact, these self-appointed experts have failed to forewarn us of pretty much every major U.S. corporate collapse during the last decade. We can’t trust their ratings. So what good are they?

Ironically, if Congress continues to deadlock on fiscal matters, our deficit problem will begin to solve itself. In part, that’s because the Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year, but there’s more to it than that. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated “doing nothing” would reduce the deficit by $7.1 trillion over ten years. This bears repeating: If Congress lets tax cuts and other measures expire, the deficit will go down by $7.1 trillion over ten years.

So what we need is not “timely fiscal measures” to “place U.S. public finances on a sustainable path”. Rather, we need the opposite.

We need Congress to not continue what it has been doing for the last few years: Borrowing and spending while cutting taxes at the same time. That’s the irresponsible, reckless behavior that has caused our deficit to get too high.

The federal government’s budget deficit, incidentally, isn’t the bogeyman it is often made out to be. The United States has actually run a deficit for most of its history, and it hasn’t caused us to self-destruct. In fact, Andrew Jackson was the only president who ever succeeded in zeroing out the deficit.

Our persistent deficit hasn’t stopped our economy or population from growing. It hasn’t stopped us from developing an extremely powerful, technologically advanced military. It hasn’t stopped scientific research, space exploration, the expansion of our safety net, or efforts to clean up and protect our environment.

America has climbed out of a depression with a deficit, defeated fascism with a deficit, and outlasted the Soviet Union in a decades-long “Cold War” with a deficit. We’ve already proved that our deficit is something we can live with.

So we shouldn’t be worried that our government has a deficit. What we do need to worry about is whether we’re keeping it in check. And we haven’t been.

Most of the recent fiscal insanity that we’ve experienced was caused by a Republican president and a series of Republican-controlled congresses, who saw fit to increase expenditures while simultaneously decreasing revenues. (And the money they borrowed wasn’t even spent improving Americans’ lives. It was spent invading other countries, building a bigger police state with unprecedented surveillance powers, and rewarding their corporate buddies with subsidies and tax breaks).

It’s their bad example we need to stop emulating. If our common wealth (comprised of our collective tax dollars, our membership dues in America) keeps shrinking, we’ll have no ability to pay for the public services that we want and need.

Many of the same Republicans who are preaching the let’s live within our means gospel now were voting for precisely the opposite when George W. Bush was in charge. Not that they’d admit that. Republicans these days act as if the Bush error never happened. Well, we haven’t forgotten it. And we won’t.

The real danger we face is the prospect of Republicans gaining control of the Senate and the presidency. If that happens, they’ll have the ability to pick up where they left off during the Bush error, and they will take us down the road to fiscal ruin. That’s the scenario that Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P should be warning the country about. But evidently they can’t see that tragedy playing out in their heads.

Just like they didn’t see the warning signs that foretold of the collapse of the casino that is Wall Street and the ensuing economic slump we’re dealing with now.

Barney Frank to retire from Congress

Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, announced today that he will not run for reelection in 2012, ending a career in the U.S. House that began in 1981.

“I will not be a candidate for reelection to the House of Representatives in 2012,” Frank said in a news release announcing his decision to retire.

“I began to think about retirement last year, as we were completing passage of the financial reform bill. I have enjoyed — indeed, been enormously honored — by the chance to represent others in Congress and the State Legislature, but there are other things I hope to do before my career ends.”

“Specifically, I have for several years been thinking about writing, and while there are people who are able to combine serious writing with full-time jobs, my susceptibility to distraction when faced with a blank screen makes that impossible.”

Frank also said he felt it made sense to retire now given that his congressional district in Massachusetts has been redrawn. At a news conference in Newton, he made it plainly clear he was tired of campaigning and tired of the growing acrimony and discord that has come to characterize Congress.

“If I were to run again, I would be engaged full-fledged in a campaign, which is entirely appropriate,” Frank told reporters. “Nobody ought to expect to get elected without a contest. But the fact that it is so new makes it harder in terms of learning about new areas, introducing myself to new people. And I have other obligations; one is to continue to serve the people I currently serve.”

Reaction to Frank’s announcement came quickly.

“This country has never had a Congressman like Barney Frank, and the House of Representatives will not be the same without him,” said President Barack Obama in a statement. “For over thirty years, Barney has been a fierce advocate for the people of Massachusetts and Americans everywhere who needed a voice.”

“He has worked tirelessly on behalf of families and businesses and helped make housing more affordable. He has stood up for the rights of LGBT Americans and fought to end discrimination against them. And it is only thanks to his leadership that we were able to pass the most sweeping financial reform in history designed to protect consumers and prevent the kind of excessive risk-taking that led to the financial crisis from ever happening again. ”

“Barney’s passion and his quick wit will be missed in the halls of Congress, and Michelle and I join the people of the Bay State in thanking him for his years of service.”

“A generation of Bay State residents have known Barney Frank for his wisdom, wit and passion for service,” added Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

“Barney’s leadership, on issues ranging from civil liberties to financial system restraint, will be sorely missed. He has earned the good wishes of the people of the Commonwealth.”

“No one’s ever doubted for a minute what Barney Frank thinks or where he stands, and if you weren’t sure, trust me, he’d tell you,” agreed Senator John Kerry.

“That’s the special quality that has made Barney not just beloved and quotable, but unbelievably effective as an advocate and a legislator.”

“He’s brave, he’s bold, and he’s ridiculously smart. People have marveled for years about what a quick and witty debater Barney can be, but many overlooked his secret: he has a core. He’s the same advocate I met in the 1970s stumping for Father Drinan, only he’s taken that fight and that same sense of fundamental fairness to battles over equality, affordable housing, and fishing in New Bedford. ”

“Barney is who he is, no matter the issue. His voice will be deeply missed in the Congress and in our delegation, but true to his word he’ll be taking his perspective to a new arena where his impact will continue to be felt just as deeply.”

“[I] will miss Barney Frank’s voice in Congress. He’s a fierce champion of the little guy in a town where the big guys hire armies of lobbyists,” U.S. Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

Speaking of  armies of D.C. lobbyists, Frank made it explicitly clear today he has no intention of joining their ranks after he retires. He plans to write and teach, and comment regularly on public affairs, but he has no intention of walking through the Beltway revolving door once his term ends.

POSTSCRIPT: The Boston Globe, which once called for Frank’s resignation from Congress, has a nice editorial  in its Wednesday, November 29th edition praising him for his years of service to Massachusetts.

Happy Thanksgiving 2011!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Today we celebrate a uniquely North American holiday steeped in tradition – a holiday that began centuries ago as a simple harvest celebration in colonies like Massachusetts and Virginia, and is now a day when millions of families across this continent come together to share a meal and count blessings.

We at NPI hope today is a day of peace and joy for you and your family.

From President Obama’s Thanksgiving proclamation:

Though our traditions have evolved, the spirit of grace and humility at the heart of Thanksgiving has persisted through every chapter of our story. When President George Washington proclaimed our country’s first Thanksgiving, he praised a generous and knowing God for shepherding our young Republic through its uncertain beginnings. Decades later, President Abraham Lincoln looked to the divine to protect those who had known the worst of civil war, and to restore the Nation “to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

In times of adversity and times of plenty, we have lifted our hearts by giving humble thanks for the blessings we have received and for those who bring meaning to our lives. Today, let us offer gratitude to our men and women in uniform for their many sacrifices, and keep in our thoughts the families who save an empty seat at the table for a loved one stationed in harm’s way. And as members of our American family make do with less, let us rededicate ourselves to our friends and fellow citizens in need of a helping hand.

Here are some of the things we’re thankful for:

  • We’re thankful that voters defeated Tim Eyman’s I-1125, which would have jeopardized important transportation projects like the new Evergreen Point Floating Bridge and Sound Transit’s East Link light rail.
  • We’re thankful that two reform-minded education activists, Sharon Peaslee and Marty McLaren, will be joining the board of Seattle Public Schools in December, replacing incumbents Peter Maier and Steve Sundquist.
  • We’re thankful that Bellevue Collection owner Kemper Freeman, Jr. failed to knock out Bellevue City Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and John Chelminak with dishonest attack mailers.
  • We’re thankful that progressive activist John Stokes remains ahead of Aaron Laing in the contest for Position #1, an open seat.
  • We’re thankful for Current TV, the cable network co-founded by Al Gore, which is now the home of Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Current will be adding two great new shows within the next few weeks: The Young Turks with Cenk Ugyur, and The War Room, with Jennifer Granholm.
  • We’re thankful that we have an amazing, articulate champion for working families in Elizabeth Warren – who is now speaking truth to power as a candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.
  • We’re thankful that Oregon Senator Ron Wyden stands prepared to lead a filibuster against a terrible bill moving through Congress that would destroy the Internet as we know it. (Learn more about SOPA and PROTECT IP).
  • We’re thankful for the Occupy movement, which has sparked a much-needed conversation about corporate power in the United States as well as around the world… and inspired people to move their money away from Wall Street banks to credit unions and community banks.

Finally, we’re thankful for all of the wonderful supporters who joined us at our two major events this year: our Spring Fundraising Gala at the Mercer Island Community Center, and NPI’s FallFest at Newmark Tower in Seattle.

Our donors make the work we do possible, and we are very grateful to every progressive who has helped sustain our projects and research.

Again, Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Oregon governor John Kitzhaber announces moratorium on executions

The execution of a Oregon man convicted of two murders – who has been on death row for some time – will not go forward as planned on December 6th, Governor John Kitzhaber announced this afternoon, invoking his authority under the Beaver State’s Constitution to block prison officials from putting Gary Haugen to death.

But Kitzhaber didn’t stop there. He also said that he has has decided to impose a moratorium on all executions while he remains governor.

His courageous action is a major victory for civil liberties in the Pacific Northwest, one that is deserving of recognition and applause.

Speaking at a packed news conference, Kitzhaber explained that he could not, in good conscience, allow the state he leads to put another prisoner to death on his watch. Here’s an excerpt from the substantive, thoughtful remarks he delivered.

The reality is that Oregon’s death row is an extremely expensive life prison term, likely several times more expensive that the life terms of others who happen to have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole — rather than the death penalty.

And while it may be convenient to blame lengthy and expensive death penalty trials and appeals on inmates “working the system,” the truth is courts (and society) continue to reinterpret when, how and under what circumstances it is acceptable for the state to kill someone. Over time, those options are narrowing.

Courts are applying stricter standards and continually raising the bar for prosecuting death penalty cases. Consider that it was only six years ago that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed itself and held that it is unconstitutional to impose capital punishment on those under the age of 18. For a state intent on maintaining a death penalty, the inevitable result will be bigger questions, fewer options and higher costs.

It is time for Oregon to consider a different approach. I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor.

Emphasis is ours.

Abolitionists in Oregon and across the United States hailed the news.

“This action, while courageous on the part of Governor Kitzhaber, also is in line with movement across this country for states to either repeal their death penalty, lessen the use of the death penalty and or create opportunities to study the death penalty. Governor Kitzhaber has shown great leadership with this announcement,” said Rob Steiner, Board Chair of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

We at NPI strongly commend this decision. State-sponsored killing is immoral, unjust, and costly. It is a barbaric practice that needs to end.

We thank Governor John Kitzhaber for intervening to save the life of Gary Haugen and Oregon’s other death row inmates. While the moratorium announced today does not mean that so-called capital punishment has been abolished, it at least means that the State of Oregon won’t be killing anyone in the near future.

We urge the Oregon Legislature to join Governor Kitzhaber in taking a stand for civil liberties by approving legislation outlawing the death penalty in Oregon.

POSTSCRIPT: The Eugene Register-Guard has a nice editorial supporting Kitzhaber’s decision and calling for reform of the criminal justice system.

Want to help beta test Pacific NW Portal 5.0?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that we’re getting close to finishing the next version of Pacific NW Portal, codenamed “Newport”. Our plan is to have it ready to go live next month – most likely the week before Christmas.

We are in need of people to help us test out the new Portal, so we can more quickly identify any bugs or glitches that need to be taken care of prior to launch. If you’d like to help us beta test Newport, please drop us a line and let us know.

Newport’s major theme is speed. When we set out to modernize Pacific NW Portal several years ago, we made optimizing performance one of our biggest priorities… and the results really speak for themselves.

One of the things you’ll probably notice about Newport right away is that the site has faster, more predictable load times. The difference is especially noticeable if you’re using a DSL, dialup, or 2G/weak 3G mobile connection.

We’ve also improved usability, accessibility, and compatibility. Interestingly, Newport is the first version of Pacific NW Portal to have been jointly developed from the ground up on multiple operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS X, and Kubuntu. Newport is also the first version of the Portal to have undergone thorough testing on mobile platforms, including iOS and BlackBerry OS.

Newport is also jam-packed with new and useful features that we think you’ll enjoy, which make it easier to stay up to date with the news that matters to you.

Again, if you’d like to be among the first to try the new Pacific NW Portal, we invite you to drop us a line and let us know you’re interested in helping us beta test.

Seattle Times again duplicitously portrays itself as a champion of public education

They’re at it again.

Two months after launching a disingenuous public relations campaign to urge the state Legislature to properly fund higher education, the Blethen-controlled Seattle Times has devoted more than half a spread at the end of its Sunday A section to not one, not two, not three, but four unsigned, buzzword-filled editorials demanding that our schools and universities be spared from further budget cuts in the upcoming special session of the Legislature that Governor Gregoire has called.

As with his “Greater good” ad campaign, Frank Blethen is dishonestly trying to portray himself and the newspaper he owns as noble-minded champions for public education. In reality, as we’ve pointed out before, he is the worst friend that Washington’s students, parents, and teachers could possibly have.

Since the economy began cooling back in late 2007, Blethen has twice supported unconstitutional Tim Eyman initiatives (I-960, I-1053), intentionally written to wreck our system of representative democracy and prevent the Legislature from democratically acting to protect vital public services in bad times.

Blethen has also fiercely opposed progressive ballot measures that would have provided a badly needed boost to our schools and universities (I-1098, R-52).

Through his editorial page, Blethen has repeatedly argued that state spending must match the revenues at hand. (Those italicized words are taken directly from a Seattle Times editorial published last year).

At the same time, he has argued that slashing more dollars from public universities or pinching pennies on early-learning programs are false economies. (That’s from one of the four editorials published today).

These two positions, of course, are irreconcilable – if lawmakers don’t raise revenue (which Blethen says is bad), there’s no way they can prevent further cuts to education (which Blethen also says is bad).

So which position does Blethen really hold? The former. The stances he’s taken on ballot measures at election time make it pretty clear he is firmly opposed to raising revenue – even revenue explicitly dedicated to public education.

So it’s not surprising that none of the editorials published today even mention the word revenue. It’s just not there. If you search for it, you won’t find it.

Since his editorial writers know that discussing possibilities for raising revenue is taboo, all they were able to come up with for this morning’s Sunday edition was a large pile of platitudes, bereft of any useful counsel the Legislature can act on.

I have no doubt that they could have squeezed Frank’s empty sentiments into just one editorial, but they were apparently under orders to come up with four, so they dutifully generated more than a thousand words worth of corporate memo-style lip service to public education. Pretty pathetic.

I know I speak for many fellow students, as well as teachers and parents, when I say that the last thing our schools and universities need right now is more lip service. We are in the midst of a crisis. As a state, we face two choices: Either we raise revenue to protect vital public services like education, or we enact more brutal cuts and promulgate a vicious cycle of austerity that will ultimately destroy Washington as we know it. There isn’t a third option. Anyone who pretends otherwise is preventing us from having a frank dialogue about what’s at stake.

POSTSCRIPT: THE BEGINNING OF AN NPI ADVOCATE INITIATIVE… From this day forward, each time the Seattle Times runs another faux pro-education editorial, we’re just going to make this post sticky at the top of The Advocate for a day. That way, we can respond to future dishonest editorials without having to expend valuable time and energy repeating ourselves. We’ll keep a running tally below of which editorials and Blethen columns this post constitutes a response to.

This post is a reply to…

John Stokes gets a little more breathing room in extremely close Bellevue City Council race

After watching his slim lead over opponent Aaron Laing grow even slimmer for several days in a row, progressive activist John Stokes is finally rebounding.

The contest between Stokes and Laing (who is backed by Kemper Freeman, Jr.) to succeed Grant Degginger has captured the region’s attention due to its closeness.

Stokes’ lead increased by twenty-nine votes in today’s count, going from fifty-nine to eighty-eight. That’s not as wide as it was at one point last week (or even on election night) but as far as his campaign team is concerned, it’s certainly progress.

Stokes’ percentage of the vote now stands at an even fifty, while Laing’s percentage diminished slightly to 49.70%. Oddly enough, the number of write-ins for Position #1 (0.25%) is exactly equal to Stokes’ lead… eighty-eight.

King County Elections will release updated counts four more times before November 29th, when the canvassing board will convene to certify results. Final results will be posted on November 30th – however, results for this race are unlikely to be final, because it’s probable that the margin of victory for whoever wins will be so small that an automatic recount will be triggered.

So it’s unlikely that we will know who has won for sure until well into December.

The results of Bellevue’s other city council races are not in doubt, and will become final on November 30th. Incumbent Jennifer Robertson ran unopposed, and has been reelected, while incumbents Claudia Balducci and John Chelminak (who each drew one challenger) won in a landslide.

NO on I-1125 vote reaches 53% statewide

A week ago, I mentioned here on The Advocate that I was asked at the NO on I-1125 election night party what I thought final spread on I-1125 would be, and that my guess was that the no vote would eventually surpass 53%.

Today, with just under two weeks to go until the 2011 election is certified, that’s just what happened. NO on I-1125 managed to reach 53% of the vote in only a week thanks to the two factors I cited: the strong no vote in King County and the weak yes vote in many eastern Washington counties.

On election night, the vote against I-1125 in King County stood at an impressive 60.37%. Over the course of a week, it has climbed three whole percentage points, to 63.36%. And it’s still getting stronger!

At the same time, the vote for I-1125 has been weakening. Adams and Spokane counties joined the no column a week ago, Pierce has continuously been inching closer to the point where its voters will be evenly split, and key swing counties like Whatcom and Snohomish have become more solidly NO.

In most eastern Washington counties (excluding the three that are against I-1125), the vote in favor is not particularly lopsided, as has been the case with past Eyman initiatives. For instance, in Ferry and Stevens counties, which are among the most conservative places in Washington, I-1125 is only receiving 54% of the vote.

I-1125′s defeat leaves Eyman zero for four in trying to rewrite state transportation policy. In 2000, he tried to convince voters that it would be a good idea to forcibly require ninety percent of our transportation budget to go to roads. The people said no. Eyman didn’t listen; in 2002, he attempted to run a similar initiative to the Legislature but the effort ran out of gas (pun intended) and Eyman did not submit the necessary signatures to get it before the House and Senate.

In 2008, Eyman proposed Initiative 985, which, like I-1125, contained tolling restrictions. It also would have opened high occupancy vehicles to solo drivers during most hours of the day. Voters resoundingly rejected it.

Now I-1125 has fittingly joined that pile of failures.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Eyman from trying to spin it as a success. In emails to his followers, he’s been claiming that by forcing a vote on I-1125, he’s made tolls “more radioactive”. In reality, he accomplished just the opposite.

If anything, I-1125 has made tolling a less contentious policy direction in Washington State… because it failed. In defeating I-1125, the voters have put their stamp of approval on the Legislature’s plans to improve our highways.

Those plans do not, as we pointed out during the campaign, call for a sudden and immediate imposition of tolls everywhere, on every state route or interstate.

Rather, the shift to tolls as a major revenue source for projects will happen gradually, on a facility by facility basis.

As we’ve repeatedly noted, only two facilities in Washington State are currently tolled: SR 16, which crosses the Tacoma Narrows and SR 167, home to the experimental HOT lanes project. Tolls have been authorized on a third facility, the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, but that’s it.

There’s been talk of tolling other facilities as well, but talk is not the same as authorization. Talk doesn’t even translate to intent… it just means discussion.

And when the time does come for action, it will happen within the legislative process. That’s because sate law prohibits WSDOT or the Transportation Commission from imposing tolls where there are none now. Only the Legislature can authorize an expansion of tolling. So that list of tolled facilities isn’t going to get any longer until the Legislature votes to make it longer.

Peter Maier falls behind challenger Sharon Peaslee in key Seattle school board race

It looks like another incumbent school board member may end up getting ousted by Seattle voters, after it initially appeared that only one would lose his job.

Though he was able to maintain an edge in the contest for school board director in District #1 for nearly a week, incumbent Peter Maier is now in serious danger of losing his seat. Today, he relinquished the lead to challenger Sharon Peaslee, who has claimed a surprisingly large share of the late ballots.

Peaslee is now ninety-one votes ahead of Maier, after having trailed by two thousand, nine hundred and ninety-two votes only a week ago.

If she prevails, she will join fellow challenger Marty McLaren on the Seattle School Board. (McLaren is now well ahead of incumbent Steve Sundquist after claiming an early lead on election night, and is the likely victor in the race for District #6.)

The two other incumbents who sought reelection this year, Sherry Carr and Harium Martin-Morris, appear to have been reelected to new terms, though Carr’s lead over challenger Kate Martin has shrunk significantly since last week.

Maier and Sundquist’s departure would significantly alter the composure of the board, which has made a number of bad decisions in recent years.

Maier and Sundquist provided two of the five votes in July of 2010 to extend the contract of ex-Superintendent Maria Goodloe Johnson, who the board unanimously ousted this last spring after it was discovered that her administration had failed to prevent three district officials from stealing a quarter of a million dollars from the district. (King County prosecutors have charged the three people responsible with felony theft; two of them have pleaded not guilty).

Maier and Sundquist also refused to help protect a grove of trees at Ingraham High School, which the school district chopped down after a protracted fight with the neighboring community, led by NPI board member Steve Zemke.

Well-known University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass is among those who campaigned actively for Maier’s defeat. In a post published to his weather blog on October 22nd, Mass summarized the contest between the two as follows:

Peter is clearly the weakest of the board members and was the member who knew about the financial problems and kept quiet about it. Didn’t seem to care about math education. Rubber-stamper. I have known Sharon Peaslee for years.  She has a real background in education, has kids in the schools, and has worked actively for improved math education. Sharon is strong-willed and will ask the hard questions.  She is supported by The Stranger and most of the local Democratic organizations, as well as Seattle teachers. Peter has a huge financial war chest and is running a huge number of advertisements. Let’s hope that money doesn’t decide this race.

Maier still has a chance to win, but Peaslee seems to have solid and steady momentum. If the trend we’ve been seeing continues, Maier will be joining Sundquist in exiting the school board at year’s end.

Progressive city council candidate Jesse Salomon overtakes opponent in Shoreline

This afternoon, a major shift occurred in one of the close city council races that we’ve been watching over the last few days. After having trailed opponent Robin McClelland for nearly a week, young progressive Jesse Salomon today took a twenty-two vote lead in the contest for Shoreline City Council Position #6.

Salomon, who works as a public defender in Seattle Municipal Court, was supported in his campaign for Shoreline City Council by the King County Democratic Party and a number of progressive organizations, including the M.L. King County Labor Council, Washington Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club.

McClleland, sixty-eight, is also a Democrat, and received the support of the Cascade Bicycle Club and the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington.

Here is where the race stands now after today’s update:

Jesse Salomon: 49.93% (6,876 votes)
Robin McClelland: 49.77% (6,854 votes)

Salomon’s comeback is rather impressive, considering where he stood only a week ago. On election night, he was managing only 46.65% of the vote, to McClelland’s 53.02%. By Thursday, Salomon had narrowed the gap, but was still behind by three hundred and sixty-five votes. Now, he’s ahead by twenty-two.

If the trend continues tomorrow, he’ll be able to put more distance in between himself and McClelland. King County is starting to run out of ballots to process, however, and it’s possible that the race will remain in recount territory when the time comes to certify the election.

Governor Chris Gregoire appoints Judge Steven González to state’s Supreme Court

Governor Chris Gregoire announced today that she is appointing respected King County Superior Court Judge Judge Steven González to the Supreme Court to succeed Gerry Alexander, who will be retiring from the bench at the end of the year.

The appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation, is the second Supreme Court vacancy that Gregoire has filled as governor.

(Previously, she appointed Debra Stephens in 2007. Stephens stood for a full term the next year and ultimately ran unopposed).

“I am proud to appoint Judge González to the state’s highest court,” Gregoire said in a statement announcing her decision. “He is a legal scholar with deep experience in court, both on the bench as a Superior Court judge and as an Assistant U. S. Attorney and Assistant City Attorney prosecuting cases of international terrorism, child prostitution and hate crimes. His experience with profoundly important issues, close study of the law and perspective as a trial court judge will make Judge González an excellent Supreme Court Justice.”

“It has been a great honor to serve on the Superior Court for the last ten years. I thank Governor Gregoire for the opportunity to now serve on the State Supreme Court,” González said. “I have known and admired Justice Alexander for twenty years, and it is a privilege to follow in his footsteps with his colleagues.”

González has an impressive resume. He practiced business and civil law with Hillis Clark Martin and Peterson for several years after earning his J.D. from the University of California Berkeley Law School in 1991. His public service began in 1996 when he became a trial attorney for the City of Seattle.

During the late 1990s, he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for Western Washington. While there, he was instrumental in prosecuting a very high profile case that readers are no doubt familiar with, United States vs. Ressam.

In March of 2002, González was tapped by Gregoire’s predecessor, Governor Gary Locke, to serve on the Superior Court bench in King County. Voters retained González as a judge the following November, and later reelected him for a full term in 2004 and again in 2008. Now, at the age of forty-eight, he appears destined to be one of the state Supreme Court’s eight associate justices.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen welcomed the appointment.

“Judge González is a highly regarded and experienced trial court judge, a former federal prosecutor and an acknowledged leader in improving access to justice for all in Washington,” Maden said in response to the news. “Judge González will be an outstanding addition to the Supreme Court and I am confident he will continue to serve the public with great energy and distinction.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine echoed Maden’s sentiments.

“Judge Steven González is a distinguished jurist who is deeply knowledgeable, open-minded, and fair,” Constantine said.

“He has served King County exceptionally well, ensuring access to justice for all, while understanding the racial disparities that still challenge our justice system. I am proud that he will be serving the entire state as a Supreme Court Justice.”

González has served on several boards and task forces during his time as a judge. Presently, he chairs the Washington State Access to Justice Board, and c0-chairs the Race and Criminal Justice System Task Force. He and colleague Mary Yu were recently recognized by the Washington State Bar Association as Outstanding Judges of the Year for their efforts to strengthen equal access to justice.

González will begin serving on the Supreme Court following the arrival of the new year, when outgoing Justice Gerry Alexander’s retirement will become effective. That will give him about a month and a half to prepare for his new duties.

Bellevue City Council votes to approve East Link agreement with Sound Transit

Sound Transit’s East Link project has just moved one major step closer to becoming a reality. After many months of discussion and negotiation, Bellevue’s City Council has voted unanimously to authorize the city to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Sound Transit regarding the project, one of several major expansions of the Link light rail system approved by voters in 2008.

When East Link is completed, it will be possible to travel by train from Seattle through Mercer Island and Bellevue to NPI’s hometown of Redmond – or vice versa.

In a statement, King County Executive Dow Constantine, who also serves on Sound Transit’s board of directors, praised the council for its unanimous vote.

“I applaud the Bellevue City Council for their action tonight to move forward as planned with East Link,” Constantine said. “Bellevue voters have consistently supported the expansion of light rail as a way to link businesses, residential neighborhoods, and cities throughout our region”

“Tonight’s vote reflects the negotiated outcome between Bellevue and Sound Transit that brings us one step closer to construction. I look forward to continuing our work together for a stronger economy and regional mobility.”

Sound Transit’s board has already authorized Sound Transit’s chief executive officer, Joni Earl, to sign the agreement on ST’s behalf. Tonight’s vote was the last hurdle to making the Memorandum of Understanding formal.

The MOU, which runs twenty-four pages, is a detailed, legally-binding agreement which stipulates how Bellevue and Sound Transit will go about financing and constructing East Link’s alignment within the city limits.

Crucially, the agreement has settled the dispute over East Link’s alignment through downtown Bellevue. Under the terms of the MOU, Sound Transit and the city have agreed that East Link will go underground through downtown, with the city helping to cover the added expense of constructing a tunnel. The city has agreed to make a contribution of up to $160 million to the cost of the project.

In East Link planning documents, the proposed tunnel alignment is referred to as Alternative C9T. Here is how it is described in the East Link Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS for short – what a mouthful):

Preferred Alternative C9T begins on the east side of 112th Avenue SE and then transitions to the west side of 112th Avenue SE at SE 6th Street. Preferred Alternative C9T then travels at-grade on the west side of 112th Avenue SE before turning west at Main Street to enter the tunnel portal. The tunnel continues on the south side of Main Street before turning north under 110th Avenue NE.

To maintain access to the Surrey Downs neighborhood, this alternative includes realigning SE 4th Street through Surrey Downs Park to connect to 112th Avenue SE further south, forming a four-way, signalized intersection at SE 6th Street.

Preferred Alternative C9T includes the Bellevue Transit Center Station at 110th Avenue NE, with a station entrance at NE 2nd Place and south of NE 6th Street and an optional entrance on the southwest corner of NE 6th Street and 110th Avenue NE. From this station, Preferred Alternative C9T continues north to NE 6th Street, where it turns east, exits the tunnel, and transitions to an elevated profile in the center of NE 6th Street, and then swings to the north side of NE 6th Street to cross 112th Avenue NE, I-405, and 116th Avenue NE.

Preferred Alternative C9T then turns north along the BNSF Railway right-of-way to cross NE 8th Street and reach the elevated Hospital Station.

While building a tunnel does increase the cost of building East Link, we agree with Bellevue and Sound Transit that it’s a good investment. Having a tunnel alignment through downtown reduces travel time and eliminates the problem of pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorists turning into the path of a train. A tunnel alignment also makes it easier for Link to operate through downtown in bad weather.

Building a tunnel will require years of street work in downtown Bellevue, which some businesses and residents are already dreading.

However, Sound Transit has pledged to work with the community to mitigate construction impacts. The agency has learned a great deal from building Central Link, and Bellevue will benefit immensely from that institutional knowledge.

Sound Transit still does not have the money to get East Link all the way out to downtown Redmond. At present, funding only exists to get the line to Overlake, which is home to Microsoft’s main campus. We consider the extension to downtown Redmond to be extremely important, as do Microsoft and the city of Redmond, and we hope the money can be found to build it.

This unfunded section of East Link is known as Segment E in planning documents, but as Sound Transit works on getting it funded, it might easily become known as Redmond Link, just as the last segment of Central Link (which opened in December 2009) became known as Airport Link.

Tonight’s vote also represents another victory for progressives on the Eastside over Bellevue Collection owner and Tim Eyman benefactor Kemper Freeman, Jr. Freeman, who fiercely opposes East Link, has gone to extreme lengths to block the project.

In 2008, he spent thousands of dollars trying to defeat Sound Transit 2 (and lost). Then, he tried to convince the Supreme Court to bar the state from transferring I-90′s transit lanes over to Sound Transit so tracks can be installed on them.

When that didn’t work, he bankrolled Tim Eyman’s I-1125 (which included a provision intended to prevent light rail from ever crossing Lake Washington) and tried to install more candidates sympathetic to his views on the Bellevue City Council. Happily, I-1125 is failing and all three of the candidates Freeman backed in contested city council races are losing.

NPI has been fighting for nearly a decade to stop Freeman, Eyman, and their road warrior friends from interfering with the construction of Link light rail. It’s been a long, long journey, and it’s not over yet. But, as with today’s vote, we continue to surmount the obstacles they’ve put in front of us. Our region desperately needs light rail, and we remain committed to helping Sound Transit ensure that it delivers on its promise to build the system the voters approved.