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: December 2011

After Internet outcry, Verizon backtracks, drops plans to charge $2 “convenience fee”

Chalk up another victory for the Internet:

Verizon Wireless has decided it will not institute the fee for online or telephone single payments that was announced earlier this week.

The company made the decision in response to customer feedback about the plan, which was designed to improve the efficiency of those transactions. The company continues to encourage customers to take advantage of the numerous simple and convenient payment methods it provides.

“At Verizon, we take great care to listen to our customers. Based on their input, we believe the best path forward is to encourage customers to take advantage of the best and most efficient options, eliminating the need to institute the fee at this time,” said Dan Mead, president and chief executive officer of Verizon Wireless.

A petition on Change.org demanding that Verizon Wireless drop the fee had already garnered around 100,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.

It’s now closing in on 130,000.

If Verizon was truly paying attention – and listening to its customers – it would never have attempted to introduce this ridiculous $2 “convenience fee” in the first place. Still, Verizon executives are clearly smarter than Bank of America’s head honchos. Instead of allowing the furor to fester for weeks, they’ve quelled it by reversing course and abandoning their plans quickly.

It really is absurd that financial institutions in this country are allowed to get away with slapping such high charges on transactions. When we at NPI accept a contribution from a donor, we don’t get to keep one hundred cents of every dollar. Instead, we have to pay a tax to Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover. And unlike real taxes, which fund needed public services, the de facto taxes collected by Visa and its rivals are pocketed as profits.

Sadly, it’s gotten to the point where a dollar is no longer a dollar in this country.

A merchant or nonprofit that takes credit cards either has to pass the per-transaction expenses along to donors or customers, or eat those expenses as a cost of doing business. Credit card processing fees are a not insignificant expense for any firm or organization that does ecommerce.

And big banks are only trying to make a bad situation worse. If they could get away with charging to process checks and even cash payments, they would.

Marko Liias exits congressional sweepstakes; other WA-01 candidates stay in

“[I]t’s often said that democracy is about voters choosing their politicians. But in the redistricting process, it’s politicians choosing their voters. And in many ways, those decisions can be more important than elections in some context.”

Nate Persily, Beekman Professor of Law and Political Science at Columbia University, commenting on the importance of redistricting in the United States.

With the release of Slade Gorton and Tim Ceis’ congressional redistricting proposal yesterday, participants and would-be participants in Washington’s 2012 congressional sweepstakes finally have an idea of what the political landscape is going to look like for the next decade… that is, assuming the Redistricting Commission completes its work on time as required by the state Constitution.

No district has been more reshaped under Ceis and Gorton’s proposal than the 1st (WA-01), which is currently represented by Jay Inslee. Only a few months after the Redistricting Commission began its work, Inslee formally launched his campaign for governor, which gave the Ceis and Gorton the freedom to relocate his district.

(By tradition, the four Redistricting Commissioners are supposed to avoid moving incumbents out of their current districts when redraw the lines… however, neither the Constitution nor the relevant statute – Chapter 44.05 of the Revised Code of Washington – requires this. Thanks to Dave Gibney for the clarification).

Following the launch of Jay Inslee’s campaign for governor, several Democrats declared their intention to run for Congress to succeed him, including Laura Ruderman (who served as one of the 45th’s state representatives for many years before unsuccessfully challenging Sam Reed for Secretary of State in 2004), Darcy Burner (who twice ran against Dave Reichert in the old WA-08, but came up short each time), Roger Goodman (one of the 45th’s two current state representatives), newcomer Darshan Rauniyar, Steve Hobbs (state senator from the 44th), and Marko Liias (state representative from the 21st).

All of the aforementioned candidates  – with the exception of Liias – have managed to end up in the new 1st. After thinking things over, Liias has decided to quit the congressional sweepstakes and seek reelection to the state Legislature. Here is the message he sent to his supporters earlier today:

I have some tough news to share with you. I will not be continuing my campaign for Congress.

My home, and the communities that I have represented in the State Legislature, were moved into existing congressional districts that already have strong representatives in Congress. The district where I’ve lived most of my life and hoped to represent in Congress, the First Congressional District, will now move east and become a large, more rural district that stretches from east of Lake Washington to the Canadian Border.

Some have suggested that I move to this new district and run anyway, but that is not who I am.

I started this campaign because I believe that the middle class needs strong, principled voices in Congress. And while 2012 will not be the year that I take our fight to Washington DC, that does not mean our fight is over. After taking some time to consider our options, Mike and I have decided that I should seek reelection to the State Legislature where I can continue the fight for a budget that preserves the safety net, funding for education, realistic transportation solutions and full marriage equality.

I am proud of all that we accomplished together in this campaign. In less than six months, we attracted support from over 3,000 individual donors, held over a dozen house parties, and we have earned endorsements from amazing community leaders and committed citizens. I could not be more grateful for your support and encouragement.

As I look forward to the upcoming legislative session, I know that there will be teachers and home care workers and small business owners that need a voice in Olympia, and that will be my task. I may ask for your help again in the weeks ahead, and I know that you will be there with me.

Thanks for everything.

All my best,
Marko

The other five candidates have all decided to stay in the race – and most of them are wasting little time asking for contributions. They may soon be joined by Suzan DelBene, who challenged Dave Reichert in WA-08 last year and nearly pulled even with him in a difficult year for Democrats.

Meanwhile, Denny Heck, who unsuccessfully sought to succeed Brian Baird as U.S. Representative from the old WA-03, is off and running in the new WA-10… and from his announcement press release, it sure seems like he has the Democratic nomination sewn up. Here’s an excerpt:

Heck is in a strong position to be elected the first Congressman from the 10th District. He has the endorsements of Congressman Norm Dicks in the 6th Congressional District and Congressman Adam Smith in the 9th Congressional District.

Heck has also been endorsed by Thurston County leaders including State Senator Karen Fraser, State Representatives Sam Hunt and Chris Reykdal, County Commissioners Cathy Wolfe, Sandra Romero and Karen Valenzuela and by Dylan Carlson, Chair of the 22nd Legislative District Democrats.

In Pierce County, Heck has been endorsed by Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, 28th Legislative District State Representatives Tami Green and Troy Kelley, 29th Legislative District State Representatives Steve Kirby and Connie Ladenburg, 27th Legislative District Senator Debbie Regala and 27th Legislative District Representatives Jeannie Darneille and Laurie Jenkins, former 25th Legislative District State Representative Dawn Morrell and former Representative and State Treasurer Dan Grimm, retired Pierce County State Senators Rosa Franklin, Marilyn Rasmussen, and Ken Madsen, and by Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and former Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma. Heck has also been endorsed by Don Green and Ken Stevenson, Chairs of the 28th and 2nd Legislative District Democrats.

Heck starts 2012 with more than $550,000 cash on hand, raised from more than 1300 individual donations to the campaign. He is proud to have the support of the Washington Machinists Council, Electrical Workers IBEW Local 77, Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, AFSCME Council 2, Laborers Local 252, Boilermakers Local 502, Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 66, Operating Engineers 302, APWU American Postal Workers’ Union, Asbestos Workers Local 7, Plumbers and Pipefitters, and the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council.

It is not clear yet what the Democratic field will look like in the new WA-03 or WA-08, though one Democratic candidate has been preparing to challenge Reichert in the latter district – Karen Porterfield. Incumbent Democrats Rick Larsen, Norm Dicks, Jim McDermott, and Adam Smith are expected to seek reelection in their newly redrawn districts, which have become more Democratic.

In eastern Washington, Republicans Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers are expected to seek reelection. The Democratic Party has recruited a former U.S. Marine, Jay Clough, to challenge Hastings; however, the party doesn’t appear to have a candidate lined up to take on McMorris Rodgers.

Slade Gorton, Tim Ceis unveil proposed congressional district map for 2012-2021

At last, we have a map!

During a short meeting of Washington’s four member Redistricting Commission on the Capitol Campus this morning, former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton and former Seattle deputy mayor Tim Ceis – who had been tasked with drawing new congressional district boundaries on behalf of the four-member commission – unveiled the proposal they’ve been working on for the first time.

I think it’s safe to say that it is not what most people were expecting.
Proposed Congressional District Map for 2012-2021

We’ve been going over the proposal in some detail, and it is very striking. Here is a profile and partisan breakdown for each district.

The new WA-01 is a swing district, not safe for either party. It includes the northern Eastside in King County (anchored by Kirkland and Redmond), rural Snohomish County towns like Monroe, Sultan, and Granite Falls, and rural Skagit and Whatcom counties as well. Ceis and Gorton claimed during their presentation that it is possibly the most evenly divided district in the United States.

It looks like most of the candidates who have been planning to run in the proposed WA-01 will be able to run there without having to move.

Declared candidates who are in the new WA-01:

  • Roger Goodman (Kirkland)
  • Darcy Burner (Ames Lake/Carnation)
  • Laura Ruderman (Kirkland)
  • Steve Hobbs (Lake Stevens)
  • Darshan Rauniyar (Bothell)

Declared candidates who are not in the new WA-01:

  • Marko Liias (Lives in Edmonds, which is in the proposed WA-07)

Republicans will likely field John Koster as their candidate. Koster, a right wing Snohomish County commissioner, has run for Congress before. He has run against Rick Larsen twice, most recently in 2010, so he has strong name recognition across a large swath of the district. However, he is unknown in King County.

In addition, the Points communities (Medina/Clyde Hill/Hunts Point/Yarrow Point) are in the new WA-01, so Suzan DelBene would be able to run in that district as well. Suzan is presently not a declared congressional candidate.

The new WA-02 leans Democratic. It could well be called “the saltwater district”. It includes Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, and Brier (but not Mill Creek or Bothell, which are in the proposed WA-01… or Edmonds, which joins WA-07) as well as Everett, Mukilteo, Marysville, Whidbey and Camano Islands, the San Juan Islands,  Stanwood, and Bellingham. It does not touch the Canadian border by land. Rick Larsen should be able to hold the new WA-02 with ease.

The new WA-03 is more friendly to Republicans. It is still a southwest Washington district, but it no longer includes urban Thurston County. Other than that change, it is mostly the same as it was before. Vancouver and Clark County will now be the undisputed population center of WA-03. We would classify it as “lean Republican”, not safe Republican. A strong Democratic candidate might be able to take WA-03. But it isn’t a district that a lazy Democratic Party can win.

The new WA-04 remains a safe Republican district. It stretches from the Canadian border to the Oregon border, covering Okanogan, Douglas, Grant, Adams, Franklin, Benton, and Yakima counties. The two major urban areas in the district are Yakima and the Tri-Cities. It no longer includes Lake Chelan, Ellensburg, or Wenatchee (which are in WA-08, see below). We don’t foresee Doc Hastings having much of a problem holding this district.

The new WA-05 likewise remains a safe Republican district. It covers Asotin, Garfield, Columbia, Whitman, Spokane, Lincoln, Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties, and part of Walla Walla County, including the City of Walla Walla. Cathy McMorris Rodgers should be easily able to hold the new WA-05.

The new WA-06 isn’t much different than the old WA-06; it leans Democratic. It is comprised mostly of the Olympic Peninsula, and takes in all of Kitsap County (presently, part of Kitsap is in WA-01). Norm Dicks’ 2012 reelection bid will likely be pretty smooth sailing in this new WA-06.

The new WA-07 is safe Democratic, centered on Seattle, like the old WA-07. But it now stretches into Snohomish County, taking in Edmonds, Woodway, and Shoreline. At its southern end, it includes Burien and Normandy Park. Nevertheless, it remains urban and liberal. Jim McDermott should be able to hold it.

The new WA-08 is a district that leans Republican. It is more rural than urban or suburban, stretching across the Cascade Mountains to include Kittitas and Chelan counties. There are only a few King County cities in the new WA-08; they include Sammamish, Issaquah, Covington, Maple Valley, Black Diamond, Snoqualmie, and North Bend, along with Algona and part of Kent. Major cities and towns in the eastern part of the district are Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Wenatchee, Leavenworth, Cashmere, and Chelan.

The new WA-09 is a a safe Democratic district, and the state’s first majority/minority district. It includes Seattle’s Rainier Valley, Renton, Tukwila, SeaTac, Des Moines, Kent, Federal Way, and the northern neighborhoods of Tacoma. It also includes Newcastle, Mercer Island, and Bellevue. Adam Smith will have to get to know many new constituents, but he should be easily able to hold this district, which is entirely urban and suburban.

Last, but not least, the new WA-10 is a district that leans Democratic. It is centered on Olympia, and also includes Shelton, Tumwater, Lacey, DuPont, Steilacoom, University Place, and Lakewood. Would-be U.S. Representative Denny Heck has already indicated that he plans to waste no time in launching a campaign in WA-10, but he may have some Democratic competition.

So, in summary, here is what we think the breakdown is:

  • There are two safe Democratic districts (WA-07, WA-09),
  • There are two safe Republican districts (WA-04, WA-05)
  • There are two districts that lean Republican (WA-08, WA-03)
  • There are three districts that lean Democratic (WA-02, WA-06, WA-10),
  • There is one district that is up for grabs (WA-01).

Assuming Democrats can keep the five blue-tinged districts and take the evenly-divided WA-01, Democrats would have six of the state’s ten House districts. If Democrats could manage to capture one of the districts that leans Republican, they’d have seven of ten, which is probably the best the party can reasonably expect to do in 2012. (WA-04 and WA-05 are unlikely to elect a Democrat, but WA-03 and WA-08 might). If Democrats ran the tables, they’d have eight seats.

Washington’s Redistricting Commission to unveil proposed congressional map tomorrow

With its deadline for submitting new congressional and legislative district maps fast approaching, Washington’s four Redistricting Commissioners announced at a short, ten-minute meeting today that they are making significant progress in drawing up new maps, and expect to have preliminary proposals to make public tomorrow.

The four commissioners – Slade Gorton, Tim Ceis, Tom Huff, and Dean Foster – are each working with a commissioner from the other party on the new maps.

Gorton and Ceis have been drawing up a proposal for the congressional districts, while Foster and Huff have been drawing up a proposal for the legislative districts.

Presumably, Foster and Huff’s proposal will concern legislative district boundaries in eastern Washington. (On December 16th, the Commission released draft legislative maps for western Washington. Ceis and Gordon’s proposal covered Puget Sound and the Cascade foothills, while Foster and Huff’s proposal dealt with southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula).

Ceis and Gordon’s congressional district proposal, however, will be the first such draft released by the commission. It won’t necessarily be the final proposal, but it’ll be credible grist for speculation, unlike the individual maps the four commissioners each came up with back in the autumn.

Its unveiling is expected to be the highlight of tomorrow’s meeting, with will convene at 11 AM in at the John A. Cherberg Building in Hearing Room 4. (This is the state Senate’s office building; it is located across from the Legislative Building on the Capitol Campus, which is adjacent to South Capitol Way).

Redistricting Commission staff say that the public is welcome to attend in person or watch and give comment during the interactive webcast on their “Get Involved” page. TVW will also be streaming the meeting live on its website.

Overview of the Improvements in Newport (Pacific NW Portal Version 5.0)

After many years of development, Pacific NW Portal Version 5.0 (Newport) is finally ready for your browsing pleasure. The following post constitutes our official changelog for Version 5.0; it describes the changes we made to the Portal and our reasons for doing so. Please feel free to leave questions, suggestions for future versions, or other thoughts on Newport in the comment thread.

Thanks and enjoy!

Overall Site Improvements

  • Speedier loading. Newport is easily the fastest version of Pacific NW Portal ever. The site has been re-engineered from the ground up for quicker initial loading and faster refreshes. We no longer use JavaScript to display feeds (or any content, for that matter). Our server does the heavy lifting of processing and rendering feeds, instead of your browser. Users of older browsers and platforms, in particular, should see an improvement in page loading times.
  • Better accessibility; minimal use of JavaScript. As mentioned, the amount of JavaScript used on Pacific NW Portal has been vastly reduced. We’ve taken a progressive enhancement approach as far as JavaScript goes: having it enabled adds a little extra magic, but it isn’t required to make things work. This allows users who choose to have JavaScript disabled to still make nearly complete use of the Portal. It also allows users on older devices that do not support JavaScript to begin with to use the Portal.
  • Reliability improved…again. Pacific NW Portal’s new Cache Service keeps a copy of all feeds crawled by our aggregator until the next successful crawl, instead of reading feeds on the fly. The Cache Service virtually eliminates lag and helps ensure reliable page loads, so you don’t see error messages or empty space where feeds should be.
  • Optimized for wider screens. The Portal’s dimensions onscreen have changed. The site is now designed for screens with a resolution of at least 1024 by 768 pixels. Pretty much every flat screen monitor out there has a native resolution of 1024 by 768 or higher (this is also true of tablet screens!) Those still using CRT monitors have the ability to boost their resolution to 1024 by 768 without any image degradation, so nobody should be seeing horizontal scrollbars as a result of this change.
  • Edgy facelift. A beautiful new set of graphics for page titles and headings have been rolled out, featuring imagery from across the Pacific Northwest (most of it from NPI’s photo library). The last traces of Garamond are gone; Book Antiqua and Trebuchet MS are now the only fonts in use.
  • Intelligent troubleshooting. If for some reason a feed won’t load, Pacific NW Portal will display a friendly error message explaining that there was a problem and suggest troubleshooting steps.
  • Easier feed reading. Individual items are now generally displayed site-wide as lists, with bullets denoting each item. Hyperlinks are also often emphasized in boldface. We hope this makes browsing the Portal easier.
  • Valid HTML5. All of Pacific NW Portal’s pages now use the HTML5 doctype and validate as HTML5 – which means the Portal should render smoothly in any modern, standards-compliant web browser.

Front Page

  • New design. The front page has undergone a major redesign. It’s more  colorful than it used to be, while managing to be cleaner at the same time. Borders, on-focus highlighting, and gradients have been added to help organize the content and make it more readable.
  • Welcome carousel. At the top of the front page, under the navigation, is a new slider, or carousel, which explains what Pacific NW Portal is and offers tips on how to use the site. One of the slides contains a mini-video which demonstrates how to make use of the new What’s this? tooltips.
  • Stronger emphasis on NPI’s work. Three new sections underneath the nameplate and welcome carousel allow readers to keep up with all of NPI’s projects and publications. In Depth offers the latest commentary and analysis from The Advocate, In Focus presents announcements and updates from NPI projects like Permanent Defense, and In Brief contains news and links curated by NPI’s staff, board, and contributors.
  • Stories organized by scope. The front page now presents news organized by level – Federal, State, and Local. Each level has its own column. The Federal column primarily features stories about national politics, the State column primarily features stories about regional politics, and the Local column has stories about city, county, and community politics. Indexed sources include newspapers, blogs, television networks, and radio stations committed to traditional journalism or progressive advocacy journalism.
  • Context is just a click away. The front page is admittedly pretty packed with feeds, and can feel to overwhelming to a new user. So we’ve added some really nifty What’s this? tooltips to provide a description for each feed. Simply click on the heading for any feed on the front page, and a tooltip will pop up with an explanation of what that feed is. Note that this is an advanced feature and requires JavaScript to be enabled to work.
  • Say hello to Campaign Buzz, Occupy Radar and the PNW Topic Hotlist. At the bottom of the front page are three new columns. One tracks the latest posts from Democratic campaign blogs. The second compiles updates from the Occupy movement in all major Pacific Northwest cities. And the third shows blog entries sorted by noteworthy current events, as curated by the PNW Topic Hotlist.

New pages

  • Introducing Breaking Now. The Highlights and Regional Wire pages have been completely replaced by Breaking Now, which takes over the job of providing unfiltered updates from the Portal’s broad array of sources in reverse chronological order. Breaking Now is divided into two categories, Breaking Locally and Breaking Nationally. Each category is further subdivided into two feeds: one comprising progressive media outlets and one comprising conventional media outlets. These feeds collectively show the latest eighty posts from all of the sources that we index.
  • Say hello to NW Life. NW Life replaces what used to be called the Toolkit. It tracks business, local nonprofit, and labor headlines, weather reports, and traffic conditions. All weather data, including the forecasts and radar imagery, are now provided directly by the National Weather Service instead of a for-profit intermediary like AccuWeather.
  • A real Toolkit for users in need of assistance. Although NW Life has replaced what used to be called the Toolkit, the Portal now has a proper Toolkit, which exists to help users troubleshoot any problems they may be experiencing with the Portal. The Toolkit also contains bookmarking utilities and an explanation of technical terms.

Regional Blogs Directory

  • Blogs now organized by city. Blogs listed in Pacific NW Portal’s Regional Blogs Directory are now organized by city of publication, with cities listed in alphabetical order. Seattle, Portland, and Boise naturally have more blogs compared to other cities in their respective states, because they are the region’s biggest population centers.
  • Major directory update. Since the directory was last checked for accuracy from top to bottom, many local progressive blogs have sadly gone dormant or disappeared altogether. We have removed the dead blogs so that only active ones are listed, and added all of the new ones submitted to us. In 2012, we hope to launch an online archive of the deleted blogs so that their authors’ works can remain accessible and available.

State pages

  • Idaho finally has its own page! Idahoans, rejoice. We now have three state pages… including one for the Gem State. The Idaho Digest, which has been a planned addition for a very long time, has joined the Washington Outlook and Oregon Bulletin, with all the same features.
  • Syndicated blogs moved to state pages. All syndicated blogs may now be found on our state pages. Eight progressive blogs are now syndicated for each state, for a total of twenty-four. New posts from syndicated blogs also appear in chronological order with posts from other progressive and traditional media sources on Breaking Now and the front page.
  • Expanded newswires. Next to the syndicated blogs on each state page is the Newswire for that state, which presents the latest stories about state-level politics published by traditional media sources, including newspapers, radio stations, and television networks. Sophisticated filters ensure that the Newswires only contain political stories.
  • More and better local newsfeeds. State pages now have a total of seven local newsfeeds each. The ten most recent stories indexed are shown for each state’s largest city (Seattle, Portland, Boise) while four stories are shown for the other cities. Stories from all twenty-one cities also appear on the front page under the Local column.

Recommended browsers

Pacific NW Portal is best experienced using a modern browser. We have thoroughly tested the new Portal in all of the latest versions of the leading major browsers:

  • Firefox 9 (Firefox is, in our opinion, still the best browser out there, despite strong competition. We highly recommend both the desktop version for Windows, Mac, and GNU/Linux, as well as Firefox Mobile for Android).
  • Internet Explorer 9 (The Portal also works in Internet Explorer 8, but unfortunately IE 8 is missing support for some of the site’s more advanced features. Those will degrade gracefully if you’re using IE 8).
  • Chromium 18 (Note that we recommend against using Google Chrome for privacy reasons. Chrome = Chromium + proprietary Google software designed to track user behavior. To enjoy Chrome without being spied on, use a non-Google build of Chromium like ChromePlus).
  • Opera 11.60 (Desktop only, please note that Pacific NW Portal 5 looks very broken in Opera Mini. We advise sticking to your native browser if you are an iPhone, Windows Phone 7+, or BlackBerry OS 6.0+ user. If you are an Android user, we recommend Firefox for Mobile).
  • Safari 5 (Note that some features do not work optimally in Safari; however, there are no showstopping bugs you need to worry about).

Although we did minimally test Newport for compatibility with Internet Explorer 6 and 7, we cannot guarantee that any of Newport’s advanced features will work. If you’re fond of Internet Explorer, please upgrade to IE 8, or ideally, IE 9 (unfortunately IE 9 is only available to users of Windows Vista or Windows 7).

Alternatively, switch to Firefox. The latest version of Firefox works on Windows XP. (Amazingly, it also works on Windows 2000, which is more than a decade old).

In addition to testing Newport on all the major desktop browsers and smartphone platforms, we also tested it extensively on tablets, including Apple’s iPad, RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, and Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Newport was built on your ideas

Many of the new features or changes we’re unveiling today were suggested by readers like you who have loyally supported Pacific NW Portal for many years. For example, the Cache Service was proposed by our good friend Kari Chisholm, the idea to create NW Life came from Rowan Wolf, and the improved navigation bar (which is consistent on every page) was suggested by Daniel Kirkdorffer.

If you have an idea for the next incarnation of the Portal, please share it with us. Chances are pretty good that it could be included!

Pacific NW Portal 5 (Newport) is now live!

The big day has arrived!

Moments ago, we retired the old Pacific NW Portal, which has been online in its current incarnation for over half a decade, and replaced it with Version 5.0, codenamed Newport. (Pacific NW Portal releases are named after cities and towns on the Oregon coast. The last major release was Seaside).

Yaquina Bay Bridge

The Yaquina Bay Bridge is Newport's most recognizable landmark. It first opened in September 1936 and cost more than $1 million ($16+ million in today's dollars) to build. It consists of steel arches and reinforced concrete. (Photo by Trout, reproduced under a Creative Commons license).

Newport is dedicated to the memory of founding NPI board member Lynn Allen, who was a great mentor and kind friend to me and the rest of our staff for many years. We lost Lynn to cancer almost exactly ten months ago and miss her still.

I actually first became acquainted with Lynn a few days after Pacific NW Portal initially launched on January 31st, 2005. From the beginning, she was incredibly supportive of the project, and it became one of her favorite things.

Lynn Allen

Founding NPI board member Lynn Allen (Photo: Lincoln Potter)

On February 5th, 2005, only a few days after Pacific NW Portal was first unveiled, Lynn sent a short note to NPI’s staff offering her congratulations. “Even a few days later, the buzz around your site has been tremendous and rightly so,” she wrote. “What a great idea to further the knitting together of progressives from the entire region.”

A few months later, at Daily Kos, she expounded on those sentiments.

There’s something wonderful happening in the Pacific Northwest and particularly in “blue” Washington State.

Because we have a Democratic governor and a (just barely) Democratic Legislature, we are able to show the country what good government really means. We have strong activist environmental and women’s and social justice groups. We have a robust progressive grassroots. We have a history of being practical and real.

Now, just this year, we are growing a strong liberal blogosphere that is helping tie all this together across three states and Pacific NW Portal is key to this. Just as Daily Kos and TalkingPointsMemo and others national sites have become a national spokescenter for the liberal blogosphere, so too is Pacific NW Portal doing that for our region. It is a very important central information clearinghouse and allows the rest of the progressive blogs to have an echo chamber that amplifies what we are able to report and focuses the grassroots on the critical issues of the day, the week, the year.

As a progressive region, we are becoming a model for the rest of the country and Pacific NW Portal can become a model for other regional blogospheres as well.

Pacific NW Portal is now nearly seven years old (its birthday is only a month and a week away). It has aged greatly since its last major release – Version 4.0, or “Seaside”, in May of 2006 – despite receiving minor updates in the intervening years. And that’s because the Web is a fast-changing medium. Five years might as well be five decades… the Internet seems to have its own time.

But as of tonight, Seaside is history. It has been superseded at last.

I want to stress that we did not develop its successor (Newport) in a vacuum. Pacific NW Portal 5 is a site built for the 2012 web, not the 2007 web. It uses the HTML5 doctype, WebM video format, and, in many places, takes advantage of CSS3… while still managing to be backwards-compatible enough so it doesn’t look like a mess in older browsers. It was also tested on smartphones and tablets in addition to desktop operating systems.

In 2012, we will be following Mozilla’s example and adopting a rapid release cycle for Pacific NW Portal. While we don’t plan to raise the version number by an entire integer every six weeks (we don’t see that as necessary), we do plan to release updates and improvements incrementally, just as Mozilla now does with Firefox. So you can rest assured that more updates will be forthcoming on a regular basis. Think of Newport as a beginning, not an end.

We cordially invite you to explore the all-new Pacific NW Portal 5 and share with us your comments, questions, and suggestions.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Pacific NW Portal 5 launches tomorrow!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! On behalf of the team at NPI, I’m very excited to announce that development and beta testing of the next version of Pacific NW Portal, codenamed Newport,  is coming to a close.

Tomorrow, we will launch the new site… just in time for the Feast of the Nativity and the Festival of Lights (and New Year’s after that). It will then be yours to enjoy through the remainder of the holiday season and beyond.

A great deal of work has gone into this release. We’ve completely re-engineered Pacific NW Portal to make it faster and more reliable… and tested it extensively on tablets and smartphones in addition to desktop operating systems to ensure compatability across platforms. Readers who run GNU/Linux on their desktops will be pleased to hear that much of the development and testing for Newport was done on computers running Kubuntu and Debian.

Our thanks go out to everyone who was involved in this project… every blogger who made a suggestion, every reader who helped us beta test, and every supporter who responded when we asked How can we improve Pacific NW Portal?

Tomorrow, we retire the old Portal (Version 4.0+, codenamed Seaside) for good after half a decade of service, and introduce its successor … Newport. We hope you’ll join us here on The Advocate for the launch festivities.

If you’d like to preview the new Pacific NW Portal before it goes live, you’re welcome to join us for the final night of beta testing. Just let us know!

House Republicans formally block payroll tax break “compromise” bill from consideration

As expected, in a series of votes earlier today, House Republicans formally blocked legislation overwhelmingly approved by the U.S. Senate a few days ago that would temporarily extend the one-year payroll tax break enacted by Congress last year (S. Amdt. 1465 to H.R. 3630) for another two months.

The House’s action threatens the compromise on the payroll tax break worked out by Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, the respective leaders of the Senate Democratic and Republican caucuses — at John Boehner’s request, no less:

When asked Friday night whether he had received assurances from Boehner that the short-term extension would pass, McConnell did not give an explicit “yes” but seemed to indicate things were in good shape.

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to do well in the morning, and obviously I keep the Speaker informed as to what I’m doing,” McConnell said as he left the Capitol.

The 48-hour tectonic shift is indicative of either a miscommunication between Congress’ two top Republicans or a miscalculation on Boehner’s part that he would be able to rally enough votes. Boehner had told McConnell and Reid to come up with a solution.

In a statement released a short time ago, Reid castigated both House and Senate Republicans for putting the payroll tax break extension in jeopardy.

“First Senator McConnell would not let the Senate vote on the House’s payroll tax cut bill because he knew it would fail, now Speaker Boehner won’t let the House hold an up-or-down vote on the Senate’s bipartisan compromise because he knows it would pass,” Reid said. He also indicated that he is not interested in reconvening the Senate to address the objections of Boehner and his rebellious caucus.

“I have been trying to negotiate a yearlong extension with Republicans for weeks, and I am happy to continue doing so as soon as the House of Representatives passes the bipartisan compromise… but not before then,” Reid said.

The White House is siding with Reid on the matter.

President Obama interrupted Jay Carney’s weekday briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at 11:07 AM Pacific to denounce the vote and call on House Republicans to pass the legislation approved by the Senate.

“The clock is ticking; time is running out,” the President told reporters.

“And if the House Republicans refuse to vote for the Senate bill, or even allow it to come up for a vote, taxes will go up in eleven days.”

“I saw today that one of the House Republicans referred to what they’re doing as, ‘high-stakes poker.’ He’s right about the stakes, but this is not poker, this is not a game — this shouldn’t be politics as usual.”

We think the President has this backwards. Usually, cutting taxes or extending tax cuts is something that Congress can agree on… even when there is no evidence that doing so will really improve Americans’ economic security.

The fact that this blog post is concerned with the politics surrounding the extension of a payroll tax break — rather than, say, the politics surrounding legislation to boost a recovery by strengthening our common wealth and investing in badly needed public infrastructure — is proof that politics as usual has been prevailing all along in the District of Columbia, to the detriment of us all.

As Dean Baker says:

It was essential that Obama keep leading the charge on stimulus, explaining to the country the cause of the economy’s weakness was a lack of demand. This story is counter-intuitive so it requires the voice of the president, along with many others, to constantly explain the logic to the country. People had to understand that we are poor because the country as a whole is spending too little to keep the workforce fully employed, not that the government is spending too much.

This is the context in which we are arguing over extending the reduction in the Social Security payroll tax for another two years. As stimulus, this is not an especially good measure. On a per-dollar basis, tax cuts will be much less effective, especially with people carrying so much debt, than direct spending. Furthermore, many of these tax dollars will go to better off taxpayers who are less willing to spend than moderate-income families. The Making Work Pay tax credit was much better targeted.

Modern macroeconomics teaches us that investment by our federal, state, and local governments is the most effective form of expansionary fiscal policy (or stimulus) we can pursue. But instead of using the bully pulpit of the presidency to champion increased investment in America, our Commander-in-Chief and his team have mainly been pushing tax cuts… and discovering, to their chagrin, that Republicans are only interested in cutting taxes if they can so do on their terms.

Hence, the current standoff. Every season is now silly season in in our nation’s capital, since Republicans insist on flying the elephant above the Stars and Stripes.  And since they have control of both houses of Congress (Senate Republicans have de facto control of the Senate thanks to the threat of the filibuster) they can hold up the people’s business for as long as they like. And they have. Repeatedly.

If we had to sum up 2011 legislatively, we’d give it the title, “The Year of Gridlock.” 2012 won’t be much different… except that Congress probably will be in session fewer days out of the year, partly due to the presidential election.

If we allowed some of the recent tax cuts enacted by Congress to expire, we could use the revenue recovered by our common wealth to pay down some of our debt, increase public investments, and strengthen our social safety net. In other words, by forgoing the weakest form of expansionary fiscal policy, we could pursue the two more stronger forms of stimulus without adding to our debt.

Unfortunately, at present, the people who supposedly represent us and claim to be looking out for our well-being are not even talking about doing that.

Los Angeles Times hires David Horsey

Longtime Seattle Post-Intelligencer cartoonist David Horsey, who also served as an editorial board member back when the P-I had a print edition, is leaving the P-I and Hearst Newspapers to take a job with the Los Angeles Times beginning in January, Times editor Russ Stanton announced today.

“He will work with 2012 campaign editor Cathy Decker and Asst. National Editor Steve Padilla as we re-launch ‘Top of the Ticket’ for the primary season. David will jump into the fray with an early visit to South Carolina, a pivotal state that holds its primary on January 21st,” Stanton said in a memo to LA Times staff.

Horsey is perhaps the Pacific Northwest’s most talented political cartoonist. He has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, and he has also released two books in the past decade (From Hanging Chad to Baghdad in 2003; Draw Quick, Shoot Straight in 2007). His nationally renowned cartoons have also appeared in many other works of nonfiction, including our good friend John de Graaf’s Affluenza, published around the turn of the century.

Horsey has yet to acknowledge the move on his P-I blog, but hopefully he’ll post a proper goodbye before he joins the LA Times.

His departure likely means that there will be one less person covering politics for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (at least on a full time basis). And it comes only a few weeks after Chris Grygiel’s exit. Grygiel had also been covering politics on an almost full-time basis for the P-I since its transition to an online-only publication; he left Hearst in October to take a position with the Associated Press.

AT&T throws in the towel, abandons scheme to buy T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom

For once, federal regulators have done their job and stood up to Wall Street:

AT&T said late on Monday afternoon that it had withdrawn its $39 billion takeover bid for T-Mobile USA, acknowledging that it could not overcome opposition from the Obama administration to creating the nation’s biggest cellphone service provider.

The company said in a statement that it would continue to invest in wireless spectrum, but could not overcome opposition by both the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission.

AT&T’s decision to throw in the towel means it now owes German wireless giant Deutsche Telekom (the owner of T-Mobile) a big breakup fee. AT&T said in a news release that will “recognize a pretax accounting charge of $4 billion in the 4th quarter of 2011″ to account for the amount owed to Deutsche Telekom.

T-Mobile, which is headquartered locally in Factoria (one of Bellevue’s business districts) will remain independent for the time being.

Consumer protection and media reform advocates hailed the news.

“This deal has been as good as dead for months because the facts never matched AT&T’s fabrications about the benefits of the merger,” Free Press CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. “As the public, the Justice Department and the FCC long ago recognized — and now even AT&T must admit — this deal would have only meant higher prices, fewer choices and tens of thousands of lost American jobs.”

“The Obama administration deserves praise and credit for standing up to AT&T’s relentless lobbying and propaganda,” he added.”

“And the American public can breathe a sigh of relief that this time the public interest trumped AT&T’s self-serving attempt to kill off what little competition remains in the wireless market.”

“In this age of cynicism, it is important for the American people to see that Washington [D.C.] does not always go to the highest bidder,” agreed Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge. “The Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission stood up to tremendous lobbying pressure as AT&T spent tens of millions of dollars trying to push this merger through.”

“We hope that AT&T and T-Mobile will focus on deploying the best, most competitive networks possible rather than trying to merge to duopoly. These businesses are fundamentally sound, and have what it takes to bring broadband and jobs to America on their own. We look forward to seeing them rethink what’s possible, rather than trying to rule the air.”

From the day it was announced, NPI has been strongly opposed to this merger, and we are very happy that it has been abandoned. Had AT&T and T-Mobile been allowed to merge, it would have set the stage for Verizon to potentially buy Sprint down the road – which would have left us with an anticompetitive, entrenched duopoly in the wireless industry. Now, that won’t happen.

Contrary to what AT&T has claimed, this deal was not needed for either it or T-Mobile to remain healthy. AT&T ironically just proved this by disclosing the signing of a new roaming agreement with Deutsche Telekom in its news release about the abandonment of the T-Mobile acquisition.

T-Mobile, meanwhile, will undoubtedly have opportunities to strengthen its competitive position. For instance, the CEO of Dish Network has publicly expressed interest in creating a partnership with T-Mobile to help it build a stronger nationwide network. (Dish owns some spectrum, but doesn’t have enough resources to build out its own wireless network).

Seattle Public Schools to get a chance for a fresh start with Enfield’s departure

Interim Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield, who took over management of the state’s largest school district after the board ousted Monica Goodloe-Johnson back in the spring, announced today that she will “neither seek nor accept” the permanent position of superintendent, which means she will departing the district midway through 2012 when her current contract expires.

Enfield, who previously served as the district’s chief academic officer, did not elaborate on the reasoning behind her decision, saying simply that she was leaving for “my own personal and professional reasons”.

Her announced exit follows the departures of board members Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier, who voters replaced last month with Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee. Incumbents Sherry Carr and Harium Martin-Morris were reelected.

Seattle Public Schools will now likely conduct a national search for a new permanent superintendent, possibly beginning next month. Whoever the board selects will be the district’s fourth leader in half a decade.

Enfield is at least leaving on her own terms. Her three predecessors (Joseph Olchefske, Raj Manhas, Maria Goodloe-Johnson) were unceremoniously shown the door after the community lost confidence in their ability to lead.

Enfield’s supporters may lament her departure, but we think it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. Seattle Public Schools already has a newly reshaped board as a result of the just-concluded November general election. Now it will be getting a new chief executive as well – someone who was not part of Maria Goodloe-Johnson’s irresponsible and unaccountable administration.

Melissa Westbrook suggested last week that it seems the district is entering a new era. We certainly hope so. The district needs leadership that truly listens to parents, teachers, and especially students. It needs leadership that makes thoughtful, well-researched decisions backed by community input, not just advice dispensed by so-called “education professionals”. How about letting young people have a say in what’s best for young people, for a change? That’s what we’d like to see.

Senate Republicans propose constitutional amendment to prohibit unfunded mandates

A group of Republicans in Washington’s state Senate, including Minority Leader Mike Hewitt and Republican floor leader Mark Schoesler, have teamed up with two Democratic senators (Nick Harper, Debbie Regala) to propose a constitutional amendment that would prohibit unfunded mandates.

(An unfunded mandate is an initiative that creates a new service or requires a service to be provided by the state, but does not specify a way to pay for it).

The amendment, which is still in draft form, was prefiled today as Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 8218. We have added it to the Olympia Newsriver under Open Government & Elections, and we invite you to join us in tracking its evolution.

The amendment would add the following text to Article II, Section 1 under subsection (a), which describes the initiative power:

No initiative may be placed on the ballot if it is determined by the secretary of state that the initiative fails to provide a new or enhanced revenue source to pay for any increase instate obligations or duties that are created by the initiative. The office of the governor, or a subdivision thereof, in consultation with the secretary of state, the attorney general, and any other appropriate state or local agency, shall prepare a fiscal impact statement for an initiative. A fiscal impact statement must describe any projected increase or decrease in revenues, costs, expenditures, or indebtedness that the state or local governments will experience if the ballot measure were approved by state voters. A fiscal impact statement must indicate by fiscal year the impact for the remainder of the biennium inwhich the bill or resolution will first take effect as well as a cumulative forecast of the fiscal impact for the succeeding four fiscal years.

The Associated Press’ Mike Baker, who works out of the AP’s Olympia bureau, got reaction to the proposed amendment from Governor Chris Gregoire, SEIU Healthcare 775NW, and initiative profiteer Tim Eyman. Gregoire is supportive; SEIU has reservations, and Eyman is opposed (no surprise there).

NPI shares SEIU’s view.

Adam Glickman, a spokesman for the union that represents care workers and supported Initiative 1163, said his group was interested in new initiative rules, as long as they had similar restrictions for measures cutting the budget. For example, if an initiative eliminates a tax or funding source, the proposal would have to detail an area to cut.

“We’d be open to considering a change in the initiative process that required any initiatives to ultimately be budget neutral,” Glickman said.

In its current form, the draft amendment doesn’t require that initiatives be budget neutral – it simply prohibits unfunded mandates. But, as Glickman points out, that’s just one side of the coin. Initiatives that slash or squeeze revenue without specifying cuts (Tim Eyman’s favorite kind) are similarly problematic, and those ought to be prohibited as well, if we’re going to change the rules.

Washington State arguably has the fewest limits on the initiative process of any state in America (with one major exception: our initiative process cannot be used to amend our state Constitution). Most other states have more stringent requirements for getting statutory initiatives on the ballot than we do.

Utah, for instance, specifies that the sponsors of a proposed initiative must hold a certain number of public hearings in different regions of the state before their measure may qualify for the ballot. Maine, meanwhile, prohibits nonresidents from circulating initiative petitions, and requires that each sponsor find at least five other cosponsors before an initiative will be approved for circulation.

And Alaska’s Constitution says that initiatives may not “dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations, create courts, define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules, or enact local or special legislation.”

Alaska also requires that initiatives be “in proper form” before petitions may be printed. If Alaska’s Department of Law find that an initiative is not in proper form (e.g. it violates Alaska’s Constitution), the Lieutenant Governor (who serves as The Last Frontier’s chief elections official) may refuse to certify the initiative.

Washington’s initiative process is unquestionably in need of reform. It isn’t transparent or deliberative enough. We believe the following three reforms would strengthen the spirit and integrity of the process without dramatically altering it.

  • Legal review of initiatives. As mentioned, Alaska requires that initiatives be “in proper form” before they may be approved for circulation. When an initiative is submitted, Alaska elections officials forward it to the Department of Law, which analyzes the measure and then recommends whether it should be certified or rejected. We should do the same. We already scrutinize bills through the legislative process – we should also scrutinize initiatives.
  • Citizen cosponsors. We should require initiatives to receive a certain number of cosponsors (for instance, five hundred) before advancing to the signature gathering stage. A citizen could still file an initiative individually and get his or her idea out there, but it would not be able to proceed without cosponsors. This would make corporate astroturfing more difficult without hindering the momentum of efforts that are truly grassroots.
  • Provide opportunities for public input on ballot titles. An initiative’s ballot title is the text that appears along with the initiative number on the actual ballot, and precedes the question, “Should this measure be enacted into law?” The Constitution requires that the Attorney General’s office prepare ballot titles, but does not require that the Attorney General provide the public with opportunities to participate in the drafting of the ballot title language. As a consequence, ballot titles for most initiatives are written by just one or two of the state’s lawyers, with little to no feedback.

In addition to these reforms, we’d like to see more oversight of the signature gathering industry. We already have laws on our books that require firms to protect their workers, but it’s not clear that the signature gathering firms in this state are complying with those laws. We need to make sure that individuals who are being paid to circulate petitions are being treated fairly by their employers. Corner-cutting and flagrant violations of worker protection laws should not be tolerated.

While requiring initiatives to be budget neutral is an idea worthy of consideration, there are potential pitfalls – as exemplified by the current draft of SJR 8218.

First, 8218 makes the secretary of state responsible for deciding whether an initiative is an unfunded mandate. We don’t think that’s appropriate. Any legal review of an initiative should be carried out by the attorney general’s office.

Second, it fails to specify when this determination should be made. At the time the initiative is filed? At the time that initiative petitions are submitted for verification? The proposed amendment doesn’t say. Any legal review ought to be completed before an initiative moves to the signature gathering stage.

Third, it lacks an appeals process for challenging a determination. There needs to be one. That way, the executive branch is not the final arbiter of an initiative’s fate.

Thankfully, SJR 8218 is itself a resolution, not an initiative. Like other bills and resolutions, that means it has to go through the legislative process, where it will be analyzed, scrutinized, and critiqued. There will be opportunities for imperfections to be addressed if and when it moves forward. We need to create similar opportunities in our initiative process by making it more deliberative and transparent.

Olympus must rid itself of the crooks/yes men who betrayed its shareholders and customers

Ten years ago, corporate America was rocked by a series of accounting scandals that destroyed one of the world’s largest accounting firms (Arthur Andersen) and led to the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (Sarbox, or sometimes simply referred to as SOX). A number of well-known American companies – notably Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, and WorldCom – suffered a partial or total collapse as a result of mismanagement and breach of fiduciary duty during the 1980s and 1990s by their boards and top executive, who tried to cover up their misdeeds.

Though Enron and its contemporaries have since faded from the headlines, it has become clear in successive years that”creative accounting” was practiced at more than just a few firms. We do not yet know the full extent of the wrongdoing committed or perpetuated in the boardrooms of the world’s biggest companies during the “Excessive Eighties” and “Nifty Nineties”.

But with each passing year, we’re learning more.

The latest company to be tarnished by serious, substantiated allegations of accounting fraud is Olympus, a Japanese-based maker of imaging and medical equipment. Originally founded in 1919, Olympus is nearly one hundred years old.

A couple of months ago, Olympus unexpectedly fired its chief executive officer,  Michael C. Woodford, after just two weeks on the job, claiming he was “unable to understand that we need to reflect a management style we have built up in our ninety-two years as a company.” (Prior to Woodford’s selection as chief executive, which was engineered by Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, Olympus had been run exclusively by a succession of Japanese businessmen).

The strange decision surprised analysts, because Woodford has been billed as the company’s new global face only days earlier. Something seemed wrong.

And indeed, something was wrong.

It turns out that Woodford was fired because he started asking too many questions after he was promoted – and because he used his authority as chief executive officer to begin inspecting the company’s books, which he correctly suspected were cooked. Woodford’s actions created a huge problem for Kikukawa, who hastily arranged for Olympus’ board to get rid of Woodford. Following Woodford’s ouster, Kikukawa had himself reappointed as president and chief executive officer.

But Woodford did not go quietly into the good night. He delivered a trove of incriminating data to the press and to authorities, in the United Kingdom, United States, and Japan (Olympus has holdings in all three countries). And he publicly assailed Kikukawa and the board for his unjustified sacking.

In the wake of his ouster and disclosure, Olympus’ share price dropped like a rock, and several investment banks suspended their coverage of the company.

Initially, Kikukawa and several of Olympus’ other directors tried to fight back and refute Woodford’s allegations; they even threatened legal action. Woodford dismissed the threats, telling The New York Times he believed Kikukawa and his cronies were getting desperate. And he was correct.

On October 26th, Kikukawa resigned as president and CEO, though he continued to deny any wrongdoing. The company’s board appointed director Shuichi Takayama as his successor. An outside committee appointed by Olympus determined in early November that the excessively large merger payouts that Woodford had questioned had indeed been used to cover up losses on investments.

Olympus subsequently fired Hisashi Mori, one of Kikukawa’s deputies, who was involved in the accounting cover-up. Takayama admitted publicly that there had been “inappropriate dealings”, but continued to downplay the allegations, even as the Tokyo Metropolitan Police launched an investigation of the company.

On November 10th, Olympus disclosed that the release of its second-quarter earnings would be delayed for a second time while the company completed an investigation of its own finances. The Tokyo Stock Exchange responded by threatening to delist Olympus’ stock if it failed to submit its report by December 14th (which is less than a week from today).

Major shareholders, meanwhile, began joining Woodford in demanding that the entire board step down. Woodford – who remained a board member following his ouster, because only shareholders can dismiss directors – announced in mid-November that he would return to Japan to confront Olympus’ board at its next regularly-scheduled meeting.

Prior to his arrival, Olympus announced that Kikukawa, Mori, and Olympus auditor Hideo Yamada had all left the board, in addition to having departed from the company’s executive suite. Olympus’ remaining directors also made public a pledge to follow suit and leave once the company had recovered from the scandal. But they provided no timeframe for following through on their promise.

After a dissatisfying meeting with the board, Woodford announced on November 30th that he would resign as a director of Olympus, but vowed to work with stakeholders and shareholders to construct a new board. Woodford had previously offered to return to Olympus as its chief executive officer to lead a turnaround, but the board evidently had no interest in reinstating him.

On Tuesday of this week, an outside panel appointed by Olympus to investigate the scandal released its findings, excoriating Kikukawa and his cronies and vindicating Woodford. The report described Olympus’ most recent management as “rotten to the core”. It “infected those around it”, the investigators concluded.

Woodford praised the report, and renewed his call for change in a statement to employees, shareholders, and the press.

Let us hope that the findings announced today by the third-party panel will help catalyze positive change at Olympus. My overriding concern is the welfare of Olympus employees and their family members, of Olympus’s long-term shareholders, and of Olympus’s customers. That concern will be first in mind as I carefully evaluate the content of the report that was issued today.

The panel’s report has made one thing painfully clear: the massive scale of the malfeasance from which the present directors and statutory auditors persistently averted their gaze. I sought to call attention to the wrongdoing through a series of six letters in English and Japanese, copied to all the members of the board, and through the submission of a damning report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Yet not a single director stood up in support of my efforts to expose what had taken place.

Olympus and its shareholders would have incurred far less damage if the current directors had acted appropriately on the clear signs of misconduct that I had explicitly brought to their attention. Now, the work of revitalizing Olympus can proceed only under the leadership of untainted executives.

We at NPI thank Mr. Woodford for his courage and his commitment to Olympus’ well-being. NPI has been a loyal Olympus customer for years, so this scandal is of real concern to us. (We use Olympus cameras to produce our photojournalism and Olympus recorders to create podcasts and transcribe interviews).

We believe that Mr. Woodford is the right person to lead a turnaround of Olympus. Thanks to his years of experience as a manager, he knows the company inside out, and he cares about its future. But more importantly, he has demonstrated that he is a man of integrity. He dared to speak the truth when no other Olympus director would. In choosing to challenge Kikukawa, he took a stand for the company’s shareholders and customers. And last week, he sensibly resigned from Olympus’ board after concluding that it wasn’t going to listen to reason.

We agree with Woodford that Olympus can recover from this disaster – but only if it rids itself of the crooks and yes men who betrayed its shareholders and customers.

As he put it: “Olympus remains a great company that boasts a proud history, superior human resources, distinctive products, and unparalleled technology.”

As loyal and satisfied customers, we want to see Olympus get back up on its feet, rebuild its reputation, and move forward into a new era under new management and a completely new board of directors.

We will continue to monitor developments in the coming weeks and months, and support Mr. Woodford’s efforts to make Olympus whole again.

John Stokes wins extremely close election for Bellevue City Council Position #1

It’s over, at last: After a two-day mandatory recount triggered by an extremely close final spread in the contest for Bellevue City Council Position #1, we finally have a winner: progressive activist John Stokes, whose final margin of victory ended up being just fifty-four votes. That’s less than the population of one precinct.

Stokes, a retired attorney and education activist, will take office next month, joining Claudia Balducci, John Chelminak, Kevin Wallace, Don Davidson, Jennifer Robertson, and Conrad Lee on the Bellevue City Council.

Stokes succeeds incumbent Grant Degginger, who announced back in the spring that he would be retiring from the council. Degginger subsequently endorsed Stokes for his position – as did the King County Democrats, Washington Conservation Voters, Amalgamated Transit Union, M.L. King County Labor Council, and many other progressive organizations.

Stokes’ victory is yet another defeat for Tim Eyman benefactor Kemper Freeman, Jr., who funded I-1125 and tried to unseat Balducci and Chelminak as well as opposing Stokes. We can now say that Freeman was unsuccessful on all counts.

Prior to the automatic mandatory recount that began yesterday and ended today, Stokes had a lead of fifty-one votes. He gained three as a result of the recount.

Because the mandatory recount was a hand count (as opposed to a machine tally), there is no further possibility of recounts.

That means the election is over and Stokes is the victor.