Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Monday, January 31, 2011

American cable providers have no excuse not to be carrying Al Jazeera English

Earlier today, The New York Times published a well-written article by reporter Brian Stelter about the availability (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) of Al Jazeera English, a news channel which White House officials have reportedly been relying on to stay abreast of developments in Egypt.

As most readers are aware, mass protests demanding an end to Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime have dominated international news for several days and become a popular topic of discussion around the world. Al Jazeera, the Arabic world's best-known television network, has provided some of the best coverage of the happenings in and around the Nile delta through its many channels, including Al Jazeera English. As the Times explains:
In recent days, the channel, an offshoot of the main Arabic-language Al Jazeera, has gained attention for its up-close, around-the-clock coverage of the protests in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities in Egypt.

While American television networks were scrambling to move reporters and producers into Cairo, the Al Jazeera channels were already there. The other networks have noticed: on the roundtable portion of ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Sam Donaldson looked at an Al Jazeera reporter and said, “Thank you for what you’re doing.”
Although Al Jazeera English began operations nearly half a decade ago, it hardly reaches any American households. That's because most U.S. cable and satellite providers refuse to carry it. We know this because Al Jazeera's executives have acknowledged publicly that they have repeatedly tried to convince the likes of Comcast, Time Warner, and DirecTV to pick it up, to no avail.

The telcos' corporate bureaucracies all seem to be responding to inquiries about the availability of Al Jazeera English with the same stupid, canned non-answer, which generally goes something like this: We get lots of carriage requests and we can't fulfill them all. Too bad, so sad.

The last time I checked, the cable line-up provided by Comcast consisted of several hundred channels, including a ridiculous number of subscription-only channels devoted to carrying hockey, baseball, football, and basketball games. Additionally, there is a large channel bloc that simulcasts selected terrestrial radio stations.

Since Comcast and many of its competitors now broadcast mostly digital channels (and not analog, which takes up bandwidth), they shouldn't have a problem adding Al Jazeera English to their lineups. They've got the capacity.

The question is, why are they holding back?

An even better question might be, why are so many Americans still paying for cable television? For the price that cable companies are currently charging, subscribers should be able to order channels a la carte, dress up the standard program guide with custom skins, and receive a subset of the many premium channels at no extra cost. But unfortunately, that's not possible.

The corporate bureaucrats at Comcast and its competitors are effectively unaccountable gatekeepers who have put themselves in charge of programming.

No wonder, then, that people are increasingly turning to the Internet for news and entertainment, and abandoning cable television. As long as net neutrality is in force, the Internet puts users in control, and that's a good thing.

The popularity of Al Jazeera English's live stream shows that there is in fact demand for the channel in the United States. Open-minded Americans want access to perspectives from abroad, and they should be able to get them without having to hook up their television sets to computers.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

NPI's Rob Dolin elected as Secretary of the Washington State Democratic Party

Congratulations are in order to one of NPI's boardmembers, Rob Dolin, who I've just learned was elected as Secretary of the Washington State Democratic Party at the party's quarterly meeting at the Red Lion Hotel in Olympia.

Initially, there were several other folks seeking the Secretary position, but by the time the state committee had assembled in Olympia, Rob had no rivals left.

Rob succeeds Luis Moscosco, who himself was elected to the state Legislature in November, defeating Republican Heidi Munson in a come-from-behind victory.

The Secretary's official duties, according to the party bylaws, are to prepare the minutes of all meetings of the state central committee or its executive committee, plus the state convention, as well as keeping "all records" of the state central committee. That's about it. The bylaws also stipulate that the Secretary may perform "other duties" delegated by the state committee or the chair.

Speaking of the chair, the state central committee has chosen to keep Dwight Pelz on in that position, to nobody's surprise. He faced only token opposition from Whatcom County's Natalie McClendon, who serves as county party chair there.

Pelz can say that the party accomplished its primary objective for 2010 — reelecting Patty Murray to the U.S. Senate — but on his watch the party also lost a congressional seat (WA-03) and Republicans significantly narrowed Democratic majorities in the state Legislature. The party has an arguably more difficult challenge awaiting it this cycle: Keeping the governor's mansion in Democratic hands. No Republican has held the position since John Spellman in the 1980s, but Republicans will be fielding their most formidable candidate in years: Rob McKenna, who has already been elected statewide twice (as attorney general).

Besides that, Maria Cantwell's seat needs to be defended, and there will be a new congressional seat up for grabs. Complicating matters is that nobody presently knows what the political map is going to look like, not even the Redistricting Commission (because it hasn't drawn up any boundaries yet).

In other reorganization activity, the state committee elected Valerie Rongey as Vice Chair and reelected Habib Habib as Treasurer.

Neither of those positions were contested.

Once again, congratulations to Rob on his election as Secretary. We're proud of him for running and we're glad his campaign was successful.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2011 State of the Union recap

President Obama's State of the Union address tonight was reminiscent of a similar speech given by Governor Gregoire on the second day of the legislative session. The commonality between the speeches: the use of right-wing frames and talking points to discuss policy issues in ways that would make Republican pollster and wordsmith Frank Luntz proud.

The casual viewer surely heard the typical aspirational language and platitudes of this yearly address and may not have noticed the conservative rhetoric, however, with the demographic change in Congress, it is clear that President Obama is getting in touch with his biconceptual side. His efforts to reach out to Republicans in the name of bipartisanship have failed in the past, leading to bad public policy such as the continuing welfare program for millionaires known as the Bush tax cuts.

Let's examine the President's words to get a glimpse of where the policy discussions are headed. Below are excerpts from the President's speech, as prepared for delivery.
Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.
This right-wing frame follows from the GOP talking point that government is the problem, and the free market, or business, is the solution. However, what truly drives innovation is the investment made in public institutions of higher learning for research and development. Making college education affordable for all students via financial aid and funding higher education infrastructure (teachers and facilities) is what leads to innovation and new businesses.
But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.
How many conservative politicians or talking heads have your heard use this most famous of talking points? All that's missing from this right wing meme parroted by President Obama is that we need to "tighten our belts."
So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.
Ahh, government spending. It's the evil most detested by Republicans, except when the money is going to defense contractors and investment bankers.
Still, I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.
If not for omitting the words "greedy trial lawyers" President Obama would have nailed this Republican meme that health care costs are high because of the damages that patients receive when they successfully sue a provider for malpractice. Though the Supreme Court has the words "Equal Justice Under Law" on its face, it's surprising that an attorney like President Obama would join Republicans in limiting access to the courts.
We shouldn't just give our people a government that's more affordable. We should give them a government that's more competent and efficient.
Here President Obama reinforces the Republican mantra that government is an incompetent, inefficient money pit. I can't tell you how much it means to me when political leaders demean the job that I and my fellow government workers do every day, despite the view of some that all we do is sit at our desks, eat donuts and collect a paycheck (and we don't even do that competently).
There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there's my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked.
And here the President continues on his tirade against government. Are there efficiencies and improvements that can be implemented in government? Of course there are. But to characterize government in these terms, as a bloated bureaucracy, and then to make a joke about it with regard to smoked salmon, makes me question why Mr. Obama wants to lead the government that he claims is so terrible.
And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren't larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.
The Brookings Institution, the venerable public policy think tank, informs us that less than 1% of the federal budget is earmarks, yet President Obama seizes on a top GOP priority.
But dramatic calls for an abolition of earmarks, by law or presidential veto, are futile and counterproductive. Congress has the constitutional power of the purse and legitimately defends its authority to allocate public resources.

[...]

Earmarks constitute less than 1 percent of the federal budget. In most cases, they don’t add to federal expenditures but merely allow Congress to direct a small fraction of program funding that would otherwise be allocated by formula or grant competition. Abolishing all earmarks would therefore have a trivial effect on the level of spending and budget deficits. While earmark reform and reduction is a worthy cause, it is a relatively minor one. It would do nothing to slow the rate of federal spending or improve our long-term budget outlook.
In other words, the GOP has a policy priority that won't do anything and the Democratic President just signed on to it. Why?
A 21st century government that's open and competent. A government that lives within its means.
Here the President revisits the Republican refrain of open government and government that is competent (as opposed to the current incompetent government?). Live within its means? Is this the State of the Union or am I listening to talk radio? It's hard to tell.
And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC.
Finally, as the speech came to an end, the President embraced one final item on the Republican policy agenda.

On the whole, the speech was not the solid vision for how we go forward that Congressional Democrats have said it was. Nor was it the doomsday scenario that conservatives and tea party activists will make it out to be. It certainly was not the lofty rhetoric, that inspires us to reach to new heights, that President Obama has used in the past. All in all, it was a mixed bag, but clearly we are disappointed that the President reinforced conservative viewpoints.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Kirby Wilbur replaces Luke Esser as chair of the Washington State Republican Party

The Washington State Republican Party has a new leader.

Members of the party's state committee today tapped former talk radio host Kirby Wilbur to take over from ex-state senator Luke Esser, who has served as chair for the last four years. Esser was seeking a third term, and had the strong support of Attorney General Rob McKenna (the presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2012) but he was defeated on the first ballot, receiving only thirty-six votes to Wilbur's sixty-nine.

Wilbur is well-known and liked by the state's right wing. For many years, he was employed by Fisher Broadcasting. His morning talk show could be heard regularly on 570 AM (KVI) up until his ouster a couple of years ago. (KVI has since ceased to carry any conservative political programming; it now broadcasts oldies music).

Wilbur has been consistently active in the Republican Party (as a convention delegate and a PCO, for instance) making him no stranger to the one hundred-plus men and women who serve as the party's legislative body.

Wilbur was tactful in a news release officially announcing his victory:
I am greatly appreciative of the years of service Luke Esser gave to the Republican Party. This should not be seen as a personal repudiation of Luke, but simply a change of direction to further build on his accomplishments of the past four years. Luke is my friend, has been my friend, and will continue to be my friend.
I've already seen a couple blog posts characterizing Wilbur's victory as a big setback for Rob McKenna. I don't think that's the case. Republicans weren't voting on a campaign manager for Rob McKenna. They were deciding who their party chair was going to be for the next two years. McKenna may have had a favorite, but the state committee was not obligated to honor his wishes.

They opted to make their own choice.

They evidently felt Wilbur made a more compelling sales pitch for the job, because they gave him nearly twice as many votes as Esser in the first round.

I've already been asked if Wilbur's election is a good thing or a bad thing for Democrats. I think that's a nonsensical question. As a Democrat, and as a Democratic party leader, I personally don't think about the decisions that Republicans make in regards to their internal affairs as being good or bad for my party. I believe my party has the ability to shape its own destiny and win regardless of what the other side does or does not do.

One more thing I wanted to mention... Curiously, neither Kirby's personal biography (which can be found on his website) nor the press release announcing his election as state party chair mention his most recent gig — serving as the local operative for "Americans for Prosperity", a corporate front created by the Koch brothers to obstruct Barack Obama's presidency.

As their point person in the Evergreen State during the 2010 midterms, Wilbur was in charge of disbursing Koch money against targeted Democratic incumbents running for state Legislature, Senators Eric Oemig and Randy Gordon.

Wilbur, however, failed to report his expenditures as required by law, and his (likely illegal) electioneering activities are presently being investigated by the Public Disclosure Commission. (The investigation was triggered by a complaint filed in early October by the Sierra Club and the Washington State Democratic Party).

Wilbur's excuse is ignorance; he says he didn't know any better. I find that hard to believe given how long he has been active in state politics. If his knowledge really is that incomplete, he should avail himself of any and all training opportunities the PDC offers, so he understands the rules and complies with them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Keith Olbermann abruptly departs MSNBC, says Countdown has come to an end

Countdown is no more.

The program that drove MSNBC's renaissance has broadcast its last episode, host Keith Olbermann announced earlier this evening, just before 6 PM Pacific Time.

No advance warning was given to viewers or the press.

Little was offered in the way of an explanation for the departure in Olbermann's cryptic farewell address, in which he solemnly thanked loyal viewers and reflected on Countdown's success. At the same time Olbermann was saying goodbye on air, MSNBC was releasing a statement confirming the news. It read:
MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.
The question everybody seems to wondering as of this hour is whether Olbermann quit or was forced out. More likely, it was a combination of both. It's not a secret that Keith and MSNBC executives didn't get along so well. An already fragile relationship was further damaged back in November when MSNBC chieftain Phil Griffin suspended Keith for not getting the network's approval before making donations to several candidates.

There's already been speculation that Countdown's termination was ordered by Comcast, which was given permission to take control of NBC Universal less than a hundred hours ago. Although we count ourselves among those who regard what corporate P.R. departments disseminate with deep suspicion, we think it unlikely that Comcast had anything to do with this.

Consider the timing: it doesn't make sense. Comcast spent vast amounts of money hiring lobbyists to soothe opposition on Capitol Hill to its deal with General Electric. They had a lot riding on the transaction. The last thing they'd want, after weathering criticism for buying the regulatory approval that they needed to assume control of NBC, would be another controversy. Why would they want to purposefully expose themselves to heavy fire for forcing out the best-known progressive broadcaster in cable television?

Perhaps the reason Keith isn't presently being more forthcoming about his exit is that MSNBC is paying him not to say anything. NBC similarly bought Conan O'Brien's silence exactly a year ago today, ironically, when it agreed to terms releasing the Tonight Show host from his contract.

Conan walked away with tens of millions of dollars, but was barred by the agreement from even "being funny on television" for a time.

Some of Keith's critics are already celebrating the news, apparently forgetting that in the past, they've denounced the removal of commentators of their own ideological persuasion as censorship. They should be decrying Countdown's termination as censorship, too, since they are assuming that the network pulled the plug on the show. But, revealingly, they're not.

Fans of Keith ought to consider the possibility that the decision to end the show may have been his as much as it was MSNBC's. If, as we suspect, Keith wished to escape from 30 Rock and move on, then we're happy for him. His show lasted for nearly eight years, spanning more than 1,400 episodes. That's a long run for a television program. And, keep in mind, Countdown was a live production that ran five nights a week in an hour-long timeslot.

A great many people get tired of holding a particular job or responsibility after so many years of duty. Supporters of Keith can hardly blame him for opting in favor of a change in scenery if that's what he wanted.

The bottom line is this: We need to avoid rushing to judgment until we hear from Keith. And it may be a while until we do.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Seattle Area Happiness Initiative launches survey to measure our region's well-being

Earlier this week, the Seattle Area Happiness Initiative — organized by our good friend John de Graaf (the keynote speaker at our last Spring Fundraising Gala) — launched a survey to learn how well we're doing in the nine domains of happiness mapped out by researchers around the world:
  1. Psychological well-being; 
  2. Physical health;
  3. Time or work-life balance;
  4. Social connection and community vitality;
  5. Education;
  6. Access to arts, culture and recreation;
  7. Environmental quality and access to nature;
  8. Good governance;
  9. Material well-being.
We've already tweeted links to it a couple of times on our Twitter feed, but we wanted to mention it here on The Advocate as well.

The introduction page explains the payoff for taking the the survey:
When you complete this survey, you will receive an instantaneous well-being score (!) for each of these domains and you will be able to compare your score with the median results for others who have taken the survey. You will find that the 135 questions in this survey will encourage you to think about your life in new ways and about what you can do to be happier.
I attended a presentation about the model the survey is based on — the Gross National Happiness Index — at last year's Seattle Green Festival, and found it very compelling. I can't do it justice in a blog post, but more information about the methodology is available from the Center for Bhutan Studies.

Conservatives may scoff at this effort, but that just goes to show how little they value the pursuit of happiness, which is one of the "unalienable rights" mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, one of our nation's most sacred documents.

We urge you to take the survey and find out your own well-being score. Personal data collected will be kept confidential and not shared with third parties.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kent Conrad announces retirement; Joe Lieberman expected to follow suit tomorrow

The 2010 midterms are only a few weeks behind us, but already incumbent members of Congress are starting to reveal their plans to run for reelection (or lack thereof) just a few days after the convening of the 112th Congress.

North Dakota's Kent Conrad, sixty-two, became the first incumbent senator to announce his retirement. "After months of consideration, I have decided not to seek reelection in 2012," he said in a statement. "There are serious challenges facing our State and nation, like a $14 trillion debt and America's dependence on foreign oil. It is more important I spend my time and energy trying to solve these problems than to be distracted by a campaign for reelection."

Conrad's decision will likely make it more difficult for Democrats to keep control of the Senate in 2012, as North Dakota is a difficult state for a Democrat to win. However, there are several well-known Democrats in North Dakota who could conceivably hold the seat, including Earl Pomeroy, who lost his seat in the House of Representatives in November. Former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp is another possibility, although she has not expressed any interest in running.

Joe Lieberman is likewise expected to confirm tomorrow that he will not seek reelection. Lieberman was ousted from the Democratic Party in 2006 by a spirited challenge from cable executive Ned Lamont. Lamont won the primary, but lost the general election to Lieberman, who created his own political party and rode a wave of Republican support to victory.

Lieberman and his friends undoubtedly know that they wouldn't be able to pull off that stunt in 2012 if they tried. Neither major party wants Lieberman as their nominee, and the Republicans would rather attempt to capture the office for themselves instead of helping Lieberman beat another Democrat.

Susan Bysiewicz, the former Democratic Secretary of State for Connecticut, had earlier announced her plans to seek the party's nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012. With Lieberman now out of the picture, she will likely have some serious competition from Representative Chris Murphy.

"My interest in running for Senate in 2012 is well known in the state, and I expect to announce my decision very soon," Murphy said in a news release. "All I can say now is that this is going to be a pretty busy few weeks."

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, who is one of the more reasonable and coolheaded minds in the caucus, announced he would seek a seventh term. His announcement was no doubt prompted in part by the knowledge that right wing extremists are already plotting a strategy for denying him the Republican nomination.

Lugar spoke about the challenge of having to fend off a "tea party" opponent this morning at an event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Lugar's decision isn't necessary good news for Democrats, but the country undoubtedly benefits from having at least one sane person in the Senate Republican caucus who isn't ignorant of international affairs.

FCC thoughtlessly approves Comcast/NBC deal in blow to media diversity

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission today rubber-stamped Comcast's proposed agreement to acquire a controlling stake in NBC Universal, which is currently a division of General Electric. The deal which will give the nation's largest cable company majority ownership in one of the nation's largest entertainment conglomerates, is a disaster for diversity and for consumer protection, as our friends at Free Press have described it.

“Such power concentrated in the hands of a single company is deeply troubling," Free Press CEO Josh Silver said in a statement.

"Access to information from a variety of independent sources is essential to an informed citizenry and a functioning democracy."

"While the FCC has adopted conditions, they are insufficient short-term or voluntary fixes that will fail to prevent permanent harm to competition, consumer choice and the future of the Internet. This deal will drive up cable and Internet costs for subscribers, while further eliminating diverse, independent media content that is already woefully lacking in the commercial media."

The FCC approved the deal on a four to one vote, with only Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps voting no. Commissioners Julius Genachowski and Mignon Clyburn voted with the Republicans to give Comcast what it wants. And so, yet again, the public interest is harmed because federal regulators didn't have the nerve to tell corporate lobbyists no.

Ars Technica's Nate Anderson did a good job of describing the scope of the agreement in a post highlighting Michael Copps' opposition:
The size of the deal leaves mere mortals reaching for thesauri. The new company will control Comcast's US-leading cable network, 234 NBC affiliate stations, the Telemundo Spanish-language network, the NBC television network, TV production studios, the Universal movie studio, the Universal theme parks in LA and Florida, channels like MSNBC and CNBC, and a stake in Hulu. Comcast already controls its own empire of content, including TV channels like E! and G4, and it runs the Philadelphia Flyers NHL franchise and the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers.
In 2008, when he was still running for president of the United States, Barack Obama spoke out against big media in an e-mail exchange with Broadcasting & Cable's John Eggerton, stating unequivocally that he believed that more concentration was a bad thing. Here's an excerpt:
Q: What prompted you to weigh in on media ownership and diversity at an FCC field hearing in Chicago last year?

A: I strongly favor diversity of ownership of outlets and protection against the excessive concentration of power in the hands of any one corporation, interest or small group. I strongly believe that all citizens should be able to receive information from the broadest range of sources. I feel that media consolidation during the Bush administration has had the effect of eliminating a lot of the diversity of information sources available to persons who have to rely on more traditional information sources, such as radio and television broadcasts and newspapers.

Q: What ill effects has the country suffered from media consolidation, if any?

A: This country’s media ownership rules that both chairman [Michael] Powell and chairman Martin have wanted to dismantle protect us from excessive media concentration. However, even under current rules, the media market is dominated by a handful of firms. The ill effects of consolidation today and continued consolidation are well-documented — less diversity of opinion, less local news coverage, replication of the same stories across multiple outlets, and others. We can do better.
That statement was made only two and a half years ago. It's now January 2011, and we're not doing better. Instead of acting as a watchdog, the FCC is meekly plodding along, wasting valuable time and ultimately doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists, which is exactly what it did during the Bush error.

If Barack Obama meant what he said, why didn't he intervene and tell the two Democratic commissioners that he appointed to the FCC to torch the deal? Why didn't he put his words into practice by speaking up and speaking out?

There's no question that this deal consolidates more power in the hands of Comcast's executives, who not long ago tried to buy the Walt Disney Company.

Somebody must have brought this merger to his attention at some point during the last year. (It's been pending since it Comcast and General Electric first announced their intentions in December of 2009). But he did not intervene.

We can only conclude, then, that his comments to Broadcasting & Cable were just lip service to an ideal he doesn't truly care about.

That's what makes this all the more painful. It shows, once again, that we can't trust Obama to walk his talk. Instead of forcing the establishment to change, he has let the establishment change him. And in the process, he has betrayed many of the people who worked so hard to elect him.

Catastrophe averted: Bomb placed along MLK Day parade route in Spokane safely disarmed

An unattended backpack left near the route of Spokane's MLK Day parade route yesterday contained a potentially lethal bomb that could have killed several people had it gone off, federal authorities have confirmed:
The FBI confirmed Tuesday that the Swiss Army-brand backpack contained a bomb that could have caused “multiple casualties” and credited Spokane city employees who noticed the suspicious bag and alerted authorities in time to re-route the parade. A $20,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

“It definitely was, by all early analysis, a viable device that was very lethal and had the potential to inflict multiple casualties,” said Frank Harrill, the special agent in charge of the Spokane FBI office. “Clearly, the timing and placement of a device – secreted in a backpack – with the Martin Luther King parade is not coincidental. We are doing everything humanly possible to identify the individuals or individual who constructed and placed this device.”
Let's hope those responsible are found and brought to justice. We owe a debt of gratitude to the city employees who found the bomb and alerted police. Thanks to their quick thinking, a catastrophe was averted.

It's hard to analyze the motives of the person or persons behind this attempted act of terrorism without knowing who they are. But given that the objective seems to have been to kill and wound people at a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s enduring legacy, we're guessing that the individual or individuals involved are right wing eliminationists who hate the notion that America has become a more free and more equal country in the decades since the 1960s.

This is actually the second bomb that has been found in downtown Spokane in the last year. A previous explosive device was found last March outside Spokane's U.S. Federal Courthouse, named for former Speaker Tom Foley. It was also disarmed and removed from the scene before anyone was hurt.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has posted a copy of the FBI's Information Wanted poster and the photographs of the backpack and two of the T-shirts inside.

Redistricting Commission sworn in

The Redistricting Commission is finally off and running.

Redistricting Commission is sworn inThe four men tapped to serve on this decade's incarnation, which has the weighty responsibility of redrawing legislative and congressional district boundaries, were all sworn in this morning by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen prior to their first official meeting, according to Secretary of State Sam Reed's office, which sent out a news advisory.

The Democratic Party is represented by former Seattle deputy mayor Tim Ceis and former House administrator Dean Foster. The Republican Party is represented by former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton and former House budget chairman Tom Huff.

The four men will choose a fifth, nonvoting member to act as their chair. They should seriously consider a young woman of color, ideally from Eastern Washington, to add some balance and diversity.

Over the course of the next year, they are charged with putting together a new political map for the State of Washington.

They must adjust the boundaries of the state's forty-nine legislative districts to reflect population changes, and they must decide where to put the new tenth congressional district that Washington has earned.

(Each legislative district sends two representatives and a senator to Olympia; each congressional district sends a representative to the District of Columbia).

The Commission is expected to launch its own website soon. We'll let you know when that happens, and when a public meetings schedule is finalized.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr.: No American is an outsider in the *United* States of America

Since today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I'm posting an excerpt from Dr. King's Letter From Birmingham Jail. Here he is explaining that no American is an outsider in his or her country. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," he concludes. (Typos are contained in the original manuscript.)
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.

Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.

Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
Take a few minutes today to read the whole thing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Michael Steele out at the RNC

Well, it looks like we won't have Michael Steele to kick around anymore.

Tacitly acknowledging that he does not have the votes to win a second term, Steele dropped out of the balloting today, saying, "I will step aside because I think the party is ready for something different." What he meant, of course, is that he's stepping aside because Republican National Committee members think the party is ready for someone other than him to be running it.

Steele's successor is Reince Priebus, the chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party, who was elected after seven rounds of voting. He received a ninety-seven votes out a hundred and sixty-eight cast, according to news reports.

Steele made it through three rounds before conceding defeat. He asked RNC members to vote for Mario Cino, but they opted for Priebus.

His biography states that before he became the chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, he was a state Senate candidate, committee clerk for the state Assembly's Education Committee, and law clerk for several courts, including the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. He studied law at the University of Miami.

His most important task as RNC chair will be to help whoever the Republican Party nominates for president attempt to deny President Obama a second term. Before he can do that, he'll have to repair the finances of the Republican National Committee. That shouldn't be too hard, since the party has already demonstrated that it is willing to do Wall Street's bidding. A few fundraisers with corporate lobbyists should take care of the debt and then some. If Priebus is any good at stroking egos, the RNC should have plenty of money in no time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

John Creighton, Richard Mitchell make it official: They're running against Jane Hague

Two men who had previously expressed an interest in running against Jane Hague, the lone Republican up for reelection this year on the county council, confirmed today that they're launching their campaigns.

They are Seattle Port Commissioner John Creighton, forty five, and former general counsel to Governor Chris Gregoire Richard E. Mitchell, forty four.

Creighton was first out the door. He is distributing a three page long press release announcing his intent to run and outlining his campaign platform.

Disturbingly, the first thing he talks about is reducing the size of the county council from nine to seven seats. We're strongly opposed to this idea because it would decrease representation. County council districts are already huge — each one encompasses more than one hundred and ninety thousand people.

By population, King County's council districts are among the largest of any type in the state; only congressional districts are larger.

What's more, the size of the county council was reduced not long ago, thanks to the jail guards' union and their hired consultant Tim Eyman (who doesn't live in King County). The present council is about two-thirds of the size of the previous incarnation, which had a total of thirteen members.

We don't have an objection to reducing councilmembers' pay, which Creighton also proposes; it's high compared to what members of other legislative bodies in the state receive. His suggestion is a bit ironic, though, for we understand that one of his motivations in leaving the Port Commission and joining the county council is to obtain a better-paying job.

Many of Creighton's other "ideas" are vague and not well-defined. One of the items comprising his stance on transportation is "Completing the South Park Bridge Project as soon as possible with no more delays."

Well, who's against that? Nobody we know of. We all save money if transportation projects are completed on time and under budget.

Then there's "Moving decisions on bus service and light rail away from political negotiations to decisions based on ridership and engineering recommendations."

If Creighton becomes a councilmember, he isn't going to be participating in much of the decisionmaking around Link light rail or Express bus service unless he is appointed to the Sound Transit Board — which seems unlikely, given that nearly half the county council is already on it (Julia Patterson, Larry Phillips, Joe McDermott, Pete von Reichbauer). Sound Transit's federated board actually does make decisions based on ridership and engineering recommendations, as anyone who regularly attends board meetings knows.

The King County Council does have responsibility for Metro, however, and Metro could use help figuring out how to maximize service with minimal revenue.

Creighton also says he supports "reducing overhead for both Sound Transit and Metro and reducing duplication of the agencies."

Maybe Creighton doesn't fully realize this, but Sound Transit is a municipal corporation which is not part of King County government. It has its own sources of revenue, its own budget, and its own headquarters. As one of the most heavily audited agencies in the state, headed by one of the most skilled chief executives working in the public sector today (Joni Earl), Sound Transit is already operating rather efficiently and effectively.

Because it serves a very different purpose than Metro, there really isn't any "duplication" to eliminate. Many people don't know that Sound Transit does not hire its own operators. Instead, it contracts with King County Metro, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) for personnel to run its vehicles (buses, trains, and streetcars).

Sound Transit itself is a planning agency. Its job is to thoughtfully design and implement projects approved by voters, particularly East Link, North Link, and South Link, the next phases of our light rail system.

Any changes to Sound Transit's governance or purpose would have to be made by the state Legislature; for only it has the authority.

Before Sound Transit 2 was approved by voters in 2008, repeated proposals were made to merge Sound Transit into a larger, more bureaucratic agency governed by a board of transportation czars. We lobbied against these proposals, and watched them repeatedly die in committee with great satisfaction. We will continue to oppose any attempts to mess with Sound Transit. The last thing ST needs right now is more interference, no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

Creighton will undoubtedly be seeking the support of Democrats in his campaign to unseat Jane Hague. He may find winning endorsements to be difficult, since he has repeatedly contributed to the coffers of the state and local (King County) Republican Party in recent years.

Richard E. Mitchell, who served as Chris Gregoire's legal counsel during her first term, appears to have stronger Democratic credentials. He was a delegate for Barack Obama during the caucus and convention cycle in 2008, and appears to have financially supported only Democratic candidates and causes. He is listed as a donor for Ron Sims' and Dow Constantine's campaigns for county executive. He has also donated money to the state Democratic Party several times.

Mitchell doesn't have a website yet (that we know of) but we look forward to learning more about him and his campaign platform.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords will survive, doctors say

Thank heavens:
Just three days after a bullet passed through Representative Gabrielle Giffords’s brain, and one day before the president was scheduled to come here to address the shooting rampage in which she was wounded, doctors said Tuesday that Ms. Giffords’s chances of survival were certain. She is able to breathe on her own, although she remains on a ventilator as a precaution.
Dr. Peter Rhee, the medical director of the University Medical Center's Trauma and Critical Care unit (where Giffords is being cared for) said at a news conference that she had a "one hundred and one percent chance of surviving."

"She will not die. She does not have that permission from me," he said.

Giffords is able to move both of her arms, and doctors say that her eyelids have flickered, indicating she is attempting to open her eyes.

Two doctors brought in to consult concluded that Giffords was receiving the best possible care, according to a news release issued by University of Medical Center (UMC), a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Arizona.

“Everything we’ve seen reflects the highest quality care,” said Dr. James Ecklund, medical director of neurosurgery for the Inova Health System.

“Dr. Rhee’s team’s aggressive resuscitation and Dr. Lemole’s team’s precise surgical intervention saved her life. Her ICU care is equally outstanding, providing the optimum environment for brain healing.”

We at NPI are thankful that Representative Giffords is expected to recover. This senseless attack has already claimed enough lives. We pray that her recovery is swift and full, and that she has many happy and meaningful years ahead of her.

We look forward to seeing her back in action in Congress.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Surprise! Tim Eyman not planning on running initiative in 2011, will refile I-1053 in 2012

As he has done for the last several years, Tim Eyman staged a press conference in Secretary of State Sam Reed's office this morning to mark the beginning of initiative season. In the past, Eyman has used the press conference to announce (or re-announce) his initiative for the year. Unusually, that was not the case this time.

Instead of announcing a new scheme for this year, Eyman simply confirmed his intention to run a clone of Initiative 1053 in 2012.

"We may do another initiative besides this one, but we don't know that for sure. We know this one, for sure, we're going to spend the next two years organizing for," Eyman told KOMO's Keith Eldridge, one of the few reporters who attended his media event. (The Associated Press and KING TV also sent reporters, but that was about the extent of it. KING's camera crew only caught the middle of the press conference, and it appeared they were just shooting B-roll footage).

Why isn't Eyman planning on doing an initiative this year?

Our guess is it's probably because he hasn't been able to find seed money for any of the schemes he'd like to force a vote on (for instance, slashing vehicle fees, or gutting the state-run liquor stores, which voters just voted overwhelmingly to keep). See, Eyman needs big bucks to keep his initiative factory running, since he doesn't have a real grassroots base of support.

For years, Woodinville investment banker Michael Dunmire provided most of the cash for Eyman's coffers. But it appears — at long last — that he's tapped out. Dunmire did not contribute to Initiative 1053 last year, and Eyman evidently hasn't been able to convince him to turn the cash spigot back on, else he'd be attempting to qualify something for the ballot this year.

A true grassroots campaign actually does have to start years in advance if it wants to be successful, because qualifying a measure for the ballot requires a lot of work. You simply can't afford to be lazy... unless you know a millionaire or billionaire who can supply you with bucketfuls of money, so you can buy the signatures you need to force a vote on your initiative.

We've said for years that money greases the gears of Eyman's initiative factory. Tim's press conference today just proves our point. Without a powerful special interest on his side, he's just a bankrupt salesman, in every respect.

Naturally, his bravado remains undiminished. He had the audacity to set up a couple of his whiteboards in the middle of the rotunda — right over the state seal — shortly after his dog and pony show had concluded.

Predictably, nobody who showed up to listen to Eyman's Glenn Beck-style briefing asked a question that was even remotely challenging. The few reporters in attendance simply let Eyman ramble on about how terrible and evil our state government is, and draw on the whiteboards he'd brought.

Within a couple hours, the Associated Press had produced an obligatory six paragraph promotional blurb for Eyman, devoid of any opposition perspective, which the Seattle Times, Seattle P-I, and Olympian have all seen fit to put on their websites, for reasons I can't fathom.

That and whatever cameos KING and KOMO's producers decide to give Eyman on tonight's television broadcast appear to be extent of the coverage he'll get. I rather doubt either station will give Eyman an extended segment.

All he did was announce that he's doing the same initiative he did last year, but next year. Not even this year. My guess is that he'll get a few seconds of screen time and that'll be it, mercifully.

Announcing the Commonwealth Protection Act: An unorthodox initiative for tough times

Early this morning, I made the trek to our state capital in Olympia to file — in person! — my first initiative to the people of the State of Washington.

The measure doesn't have an official number or ballot title yet (those are forthcoming), but it does have a name: the Commonwealth Protection Act.

With help from the folks I'm privileged to work with here at NPI, I devised the measure to alleviate the harm caused to our state's treasury by the passage of Tim Eyman and BP's Initiative 1053 last November.

As readers of The Advocate are undoubtedly well aware, Initiative 1053 undemocratically and unconstitutionally requires a two-thirds vote to raise any new revenue (excluding fees). Initiative 1053's language has been interpreted to mean that the removal of any tax exemption is a revenue increase.

This effectively makes it impossible for the Legislature to responsibly balance the budget, because seventeen right-wing senators (including three of Initiative 1053's cosponsors) can prevent the Democratic majority from democratically acting to repeal outdated tax loopholes and giveaways.

The Commonwealth Protection Act solves this problem by explicitly redefining the "raises taxes" definition in 1053 to clarify that repealing any kind of tax preference is a restoration of lost revenue — not a tax increase.

This would permit the Legislature to offset the next round of budget cuts by repealing some of the most egregious tax breaks on our books — beginning in 2012, if this initiative somehow gets on the ballot and is approved by the people of this great state.

The Commonwealth Protection Act also extends the "logic" of Initiative 1053 by requiring a two-thirds vote to create new tax preferences. This would permit seventeen progressive senators to hold up future tax loopholes and giveaways desired by corporate lobbyists.

I'm personally of the opinion that this provision is just as unconstitutional as similar requirements in I-960 and I-1053, which we fiercely campaigned against.

However, voters approved those measures, and the state Supreme Court has, to date, refused every opportunity it has been given to do its job and nullify the offending language, which clearly violates Article II, Section 22.

I would like nothing better for the Court to change its mind and take up this matter, striking down any and all provisions present in the Revised Code of Washington which unconstitutionally abridge majority rule.

Until then, however, we need some balance. It makes no sense that a two-thirds vote is required to get rid of a tax preference, but a majority vote remains sufficient to create one. Let's be consistent and require an undemocratic supermajority in both instances. That will hopefully help ensure that any new tax preferences which are created are in the public interest.

That's the extent of the Commonwealth Protection Act. To recap, it is a single-subject measure which does two important things. It makes it harder to create new tax preferences, and it changes the definition of "raises taxes" to specify that repealing a tax preference is not considered a tax increase.

Although my name is on this initiative, I had a lot of help putting it together. I want to thank my staff and fellow boardmembers for their invaluable advice and assistance putting this together.

We at NPI consider this incarnation to simply be an initial draft or a first stab, and we're looking forward to making it better with your input.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

TRAGEDY: Gunman opens fire on Gabrielle Giffords, injuring her and killing others

We're just getting details of a horrific, detestable tragedy that has occurred in Tucson, Arizona, this morning. Several people, including John Roll, chief judge for the United States District Court in Arizona, were killed, and another eighteen people were injured at a "Congress on Your Corner" constituent event held by Arizona Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was among the injured.

Giffords was rushed to the hospital after being shot in the head. She was listed in critical condition after being operated on by a team of neurosurgeons. Doctors say they are optimistic that she will make a full recovery.

The gunman is suspected to be twenty-two year old would-be soldier Jared Lee Loughner, who purportedly posted videos talking about terrorism and revolution on YouTube under the screen name "Classitup10".

We don't know what the shooter's motivations were, so we'll refrain from speculation until we know more. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has Loughner in custody. If he is indeed responsible, we hope he gets life in prison. And counseling. We need to understand what drove him to commit this act of evil. He killed a young child, a federal judge, and seriously injured a member of Congress.

Also killed was a member of Giffords' staff — her district director.

Laughner apparently tried to escape after opening fire with his weapon, but he was tackled to the ground by a brave bystander and captured by police. The individual who tackled him deserves an award of merit for his act of courage.

President Barack Obama quickly issued a statement in response to the shootings, and later spoke at greater length about the calamity from the White House's State Dining Room at 4:46 PM Eastern Standard Time:
I’ve spoken to Arizona governor Jan Brewer and offered the full resources of the federal government. A suspect is currently in custody, but we don’t yet know what provoked this unspeakable act. A comprehensive investigation is currently underway, and at my direction, Director Bob Mueller is en route to Arizona to help coordinate these efforts. I’ve also spoken to the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House.

Gabby Giffords was a friend of mine. She is not only an extraordinary public servant, but she is also somebody who is warm and caring. She is well liked by her colleagues and well liked by her constituents. Her husband, Mark Kelly, is a Navy captain and one of America’s valiant astronauts.

It’s not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does — listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors. That is the essence of what our democracy is all about. That is why this is more than a tragedy for those involved. It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country.

What Americans do at times of tragedy is to come together and support each other. So at this time I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping all the victims and their families, including Gabby, in our thoughts and prayers. Those who have been injured, we are rooting for them. And I know Gabby is as tough as they come, and I am hopeful that she’s going to pull through.
"Congresswoman Giffords is a brilliant and courageous Member of Congress, bringing to Washington the views of a new generation of national leaders. It is especially tragic that she was attacked as she was meeting with her constituents whom she serves with such dedication and distinction," added House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Her counterpart, John Boehner, was equally appalled.

“I am horrified by the senseless attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and members of her staff. An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society. Our prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords, her staff, all who were injured, and their families. This is a sad day for our country."

“I am shocked and saddened by the news of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. An unthinkable tragedy has occurred injuring this bright, talented Congresswoman," Senator Cantwell said in a statement sent to NPI. “She is an incredible leader on important 21st century issues of clean energy, border security, and the innovation economy. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends, and Congressional staff. And our prayers also go out to all those who lost their lives or have been injured by this senseless shooting."

More to come...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Feds subpoena Twitter, demand details for select number of WikiLeaks volunteers

In the latest sign that the federal government has gone into full-blown status quo preservation mode in the wake of Cablegate, Twitter has confirmed that it received a subpoena demanding details for a select number of WikiLeaks volunteers who maintain accounts with the popular microblogging service.

The order (PDF), signed by Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan, whose jurisdiction is in Virginia, demands "all postal mailing addresses, billing data, connection records, session times, IP [Internet Protocol] addresses used to connect with Twitter, all email addresses, and 'means and source of payment,' such as bank account information and credit cards," Boing Boing reports.

Individuals named in the order include Julian Assange (surprise, surprise), Bradley Manning (the purported source of the cables), Jacob Appelbaum, Birgitta Jónsdóttir (who happens to be a member of the Icelandic Parliament) and other individuals associated with WikiLeaks' own Twitter account.

Jónsdóttir, one of the first to reveal that she had been notified by Twitter about the court-approved order, hasn't been sitting still since learning the feds are after her information. She's already contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation (the preeminent defender of our digital freedoms) and Iceland's Minister of Justice for legal advice. She says she is resolved to fight the subpoena.

Twitter's legal team, we've learned, did what it could to resist. The original order, issued on December 14th, was sealed, undoubtedly by design.

Rather than simply complying with the government's demands — which would have meant turning over the information without telling anyone — Twitter requested that the order be unsealed. It was.

Consequently, Twitter was able to notify the targeted users that the feds were after them, plus we're able to see the order for ourselves.

Which is as it should be.

It's pretty ironic that our government is trying to secretly crack down on the people who are exposing many of its shameful secrets.

The Obama administration has far better things to do than pick on the hardiest defenders of open government and freedom of information.

This campaign of harassment and intimidation that the Justice Department is evidently undertaking against volunteers and supporters of WikiLeaks is embarrassing and abhorrent. We call for it to end. Immediately.

As progressives, we believe in a government that is open, straightforward, and accountable to the people it serves. This is a democracy.

We, the people of America, have a right to know what is being done in our name, and to whom. There is no moral justification for the corrupt culture of data-mining, surveillance, and secret-keeping that the political establishment of this country has created, sanctioned, and perpetuated over the years.

When Barack Obama ran for President, he ran on a platform of change. He promised to end abuses of power, and govern more responsibly.

But unfortunately, instead of changing D.C., he has let D.C. change him, in his zeal to avoid confrontation and acrimony.

What Obama doesn't seem to understand or appreciate is that you can't upend the establishment by singing Kumbaya. You have to be confrontational.

WikiLeaks has been effective because it has dared to share, and even publish, what others wouldn't or couldn't. If its volunteers shied away from confrontation, it wouldn't be on anybody's radar. We would be unaware of the covert and illegitimate activities of our government that they have exposed.

By choosing to persecute whistleblowers, the Obama administration is betraying our finest traditional values, and wasting an opportunity to shake up the status quo. What they're trying to do to WikiLeaks is beyond troubling. It's appalling.

And it needs to stop.

David Goldstein joins the staff of The Stranger

One of our region's best-known bloggers, David Goldstein of HA Seattle (or HorsesAss) is joining the staff of The Stranger as a full-time news writer beginning in February, news editor Dominic Holden announced this afternoon.

"Sure, we don't embrace all of his positions—puritanical on liquor, longtime fan of Kim Jong Il — but at least we'll finally have an unbiased, nonpartisan, Seattle Times-approved journalist in the office," Holden joked.

Goldy himself hasn't yet confirmed the news on his own blog, but I suspect that it won't be long before he does. What happens to HA Seattle now is unclear; because Goldy will be working full-time for The Stranger (and presumably writing for the print edition in addition to blogging at Slog), he won't be able to keep HA Seattle going himself. But hopefully, he'll find someone who can take it over and continue publishing it. He's got a few weeks to figure it out.

We at NPI are rather heartened by this news. Goldy has made no secret of the fact that he couldn't continue supporting himself solely through the generosity of his readers. Now that he's joining Seattle's most popular weekly, he'll have stable employment. We may not always agree with Goldy, but there's no question that he is a very entertaining and talented writer, and we're glad that he's still going to be writing about state and local politics. Of all the publications around these parts where he could have landed a job, The Stranger is perhaps the best fit. We're certain its pages (and virtual pages) will benefit from his wit.

Congratulations, Goldy. Best of luck in your new role from everybody at NPI, and thanks for all you've given to the movement these last few years.

POSTSCRIPT: Goldy has posted on the news at HA.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Drupal 7 has promise, but don't upgrade existing installations just yet

The team behind Drupal announced today the availability of Drupal 7.0, the latest incarnation of the popular free and open source content management system, which powers more than one percent of the world's websites.

Today's release is the culmination of a development cycle that lasted more than two years, including three betas and four release candidates. More than one thousand people reportedly pitched in to help shape this release.

"Drupal 7 sports an improved new user interface, accessibility improvements, better image handling capabilities, support for rich content metadata, security features, scalability and database interoperability enhancements, a suite of 30,000 automated tests to ensure stability, and more. In short: it's a tremendous leap forward for the project," said core maintainer Angie Byron in a press release.

More than two hundred and fifty launch parties are taking place around the world this Friday, including one in Portland (7 PM, at the Lucky Lab, 1945 NW Quimby St, Portland, OR 97209) and one in Seattle (3 PM, at Elliot's Oyster House, 1201 Alaskan Way, Pier 56, Seattle, WA 98101).

While there's no question that Drupal 7 is more usable and scalable than its predecessor, I've concluded the new version still isn't ready for production use, based on testing I did today. Regrettably, I encountered errors both when trying to populate a new installation of Drupal 7 with content, and when trying to upgrade a Drupal 6 site to Drupal 7.

I wouldn't classify any of the errors as showstoppers — they didn't make Drupal unusable from the frontend — but they did impair administration.

So my advice to individuals and organizations that rely on Drupal to power their website is: Hold off on upgrading for now. Give the developers time to make the upgrade process more seamless, and for maintainers of add-ons to make their themes and modules compatible with Drupal 7.

But do make an effort to start getting acquainted with Version 7.0 now by setting up a dummy installation, so the new administrative interface won't seem so daunting when you finally do upgrade your established sites.

Gregoire's plan to revamp education administration is unconstitutional

This morning, Governor Chris Gregoire unveiled a plan to change how public schools in the State of Washington are administered. The plan — which is partly billed as a cost-saving move — would combine several state agencies into one Department of Education, led by a secretary appointed by the governor.

Gregoire's policy brief argues (PDF):
Our students deserve a world-class education at every step in the process — in preschool, elementary through high school, an apprenticeship program or college. Their future and personal success rely on it. Our economy and way of life depend on it.
If that's true, then we'd better abolish Tim Eyman and BP's Initiative 1053, and fast. Its undemocratic, unconstitutional shackles are slowly going to squeeze our common wealth to death. Without our common wealth, we have no way of providing any kind of education to our youth, period.

This document predictably does not address any of the underlying issues that are threatening our ability to collectively fulfill our paramount duty as a state. Instead, it is concerned with (over)emphasizing the value of making governance changes, which would have nothing more than a cosmetic effect on the real problems. Consequently, this proposal is more of a distraction than a solution.

We're all for optimizing government, but that's not what this proposal is about. Its architects use corporate jargon like "world-class" and "system" to dress up what is essentially a power grab. They contend, somewhat convincingly, that students are not well-served by the current administrative structure that we have in place for our many schools and universities:
But we do not have an education system today. In fact, our multiple education entities — including early learning, kindergarten through 12th grade and higher education agencies — spend too much time trying to coordinate work and connect policies. Priorities are often not shared. Because of this, students are not at the center of every decision made and every action taken.
(Emphasis is theirs).

It's certainly possible that we might be able to save some money by simplifying governance, but this proposal is not going to drastically improve our schools. Ultimately, it's small potatoes. As I said above, a distraction rather than a solution.

The authors nauseatingly use the word system some fifteen times, mostly in boldface font, as if they're afraid people reading the six-page policy brief are going to suddenly forget their chosen theme. (And no, I'm not kidding... you can count the number of instances yourself).

The phrase "school system" isn't inherently awful (we've used it ourselves) but "system", by itself, is not an appropriate descriptor of our schools. To us, the word system evokes an assembly line at a manufacturing plant. It's industrial-sounding. It's not what we would use to describe our vision for public education.

Similarly, the use of "world-class" in the first sentence and "now, more than ever" several paragraphs later stick out like sore thumbs. It's not unusual for policy briefs to be filled with buzzwords and cliches, but we see them so often that we've become rather sick of them. Longtime readers know that we have a strong aversion to platitudes; it's why we're so fond of the Banished Words List, which we post every New Year's Day. ("World class" happens to be an oldie, and it actually appeared on the Banished Words List twice — once in 1982, and again in 1993; whereas "now, more than ever" was banished in 2003.)

This plan might have had some merit if it wasn't primarily about consolidating the governor's power. It probably would have turned out much better if Gregoire and her team had consulted with Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn before finalizing it. But they did not. They kept him in the dark.

Probably they did so because their proposal, if enacted, would basically strip Dorn of his authority, transferring it to Gregoire.

Not surprisingly, Dorn isn't too thrilled. From his statement, issued in response to Gregoire's press conference:
I’m concerned, first of all, that I heard the proposal the same time as the media did. The conversation I had with the Governor this morning did not reflect what she said in her press conference. And in fact, members of the media were given more specific information than I was given by the Governor.

More than that, though, is that this isn’t a new idea. I’ve been a legislator, and every governor I’ve known has wanted more power. They’ve tried to abolish offices. That is not in our Constitution. Ours is direct election by the citizens of this great state.
And indeed, our Constitution is very clear in specifying that the Superintendent of Public Instruction is in charge of public education. From Article III:
SECTION 22. SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION, DUTIES AND SALARY. The superintendent of public instruction shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools, and shall perform such specific duties as may be prescribed by law. He shall receive an annual salary of twenty-five hundred dollars, which may be increased by law, but shall never exceed four thousand dollars per annum.
All emphasis is mine. (That last sentence has a line through it because it was repealed by constitutional amendment. Since the 1980s, the Superintendent's salary has been set by a citizens' commission.)

If Gregoire wants to streamline administration and eliminate redundancy, why doesn't she simply propose creating a Department of Education led by the Superintendent of Public Instruction?

There is precedent for such a structure: the Commissioner of Public Lands (currently Peter Goldmark) heads the Department of Natural Resources.

The answer is that she wants more power. If you look at the last page of her policy brief, you'll see a chart outlining the new "system" she and her advisors want to create. The top level in the chart reads "GOVERNOR". The three levels under it are:
  • K-12 Education Omsbudsman (appointed by the governor)
  • Secretary of Education (appointed by the governor)
  • State P-20 Education Council (governor appoints)
Notice a pattern?

The Superintendent of Public Instruction, amazingly, isn't even on the chart! It's as if Gregoire and her team want to pretend that that office doesn't exist any longer.

In trying to draw Randy Dorn out of the picture, Gregoire is committing the same sin as Tim Eyman: Ignoring the clear and unambiguous provisions in our Constitution which comprise our plan of government.

The changes Gregoire wants to make cannot legally be done by statute. This proposal, to avoid an immediate and well-founded court challenge, would need to be implemented via constitutional amendment.

Therein lies Gregoire's problem. Even if the governor could convince every Democratic legislator to back her proposal, she still wouldn't have enough votes. To submit a constitutional amendment to the people for ratification requires a two-thirds vote of each house, which means Republican votes would be necessary. But Republicans are sure to oppose this proposal. They'll say it's a power grab. And considering how it was drafted, they won't be wrong.

Whenever we at NPI evaluate policy, we consider carefully the future ramifications. We're long-term thinkers. And long-term, we don't like the idea of the governor having so much power over public education. Our Framers thought education was so important that they created a position in the executive branch specifically to oversee our schools: the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Who are we to dismantle the checks and balances they created?

Gregoire may legitimately want to improve public education, but she is going about it in the wrong way. Her proposal doesn't acknowledge that while the governor's mansion has been occupied for a Democrat for nearly three decades, that won't necessarily be the case in the future. Does she really want a Republican politician like Dino Rossi or Rob McKenna (who wants to be her successor) to have the power to appoint all the people who oversee our schools!?

As far as we're concerned, this proposal is dead on arrival. It's a nonstarter. Creating a Department of Education led by the Superintendent of Public Instruction is an idea that we could support. As I said earlier, we're all for optimizing government. But this is not a well-thought out plan for making government more effective. It's an unjustified power grab. And it ignores our real problems.

Dorn says it well:
What troubles me most, though, is that this feels like a smokescreen. The most pressing issue we face is lack of funding. In February 2009, a King County Superior Court judge ruled that basic education is underfunded in the state – and that ruling was based on financial data from two years before. Since then, education has been cut even further. Consolidating commissions and eliminating agencies isn’t a bad idea, but it takes time and energy away from much more pressing issues.
Exactly. We are in perilous times, and we need our elected officials to provide unconventional leadership. Gregoire is unfortunately fixated on gimmicks and shortcuts which won't do much except temporarily alleviate symptoms. We need her to be focused on tackling the root causes of the problems afflicting our economy, our environment, and our well-being.

Sadly, it appears she's not up to the challenge.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Olympia Newsriver launches next week

As many readers undoubtedly know, the 2011 legislative session will convene in Olympia in just a week. Because this session takes place in an odd-numbered year, it will run for one hundred and five days (not counting weekends) and the principal task at hand will be crafting a budget for the next two years.

To help bolster our movement's legislative advocacy efforts, we at NPI have created a new website which makes bill tracking easy. It's called the Olympia Newsriver. It's been in development for a few months, and our goal is to have it ready to go by next Monday, when the session officially kicks off.

What the Newsriver does is track bill activity by topic, obviating the need to check dozens of different bill pages for updates.

Let's say your primary focus as an activist is ensuring that Washingtonians have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. Instead of having to memorize the various bill numbers and visit the half-dozen or more bill pages that correspond to the 2011 environmental priorities, you can simply go to the Newsriver and browse the latest actions for Our Environment, in reverse chronological order.

Actions are simply things that happen to bills during their life in the legislative process. For instance, a bill is introduced. Or a hearing is scheduled on the bill. Or it is given a "do pass" recommendation in executive session.

The Newsriver will track priority bills that are considered likely to have a chance of being moved during session (in other words, bills that are not guaranteed to simply die in committee). If you're not sure whether the Newsriver is tracking a particular bill, you can check the master list on the sidebar. If you know of a bill that it is not on the list but should be, you can request that we add it.

Each bill action report will look something like this:

HB 1021 — Action #01 – December 13, 2010 – Prefiled for introduction.

The first element is the bill number. House bills start with HB, and Senate bills start with SB. The second element is the action report number; this refers to the action's place in the sequence of events. The third element is the date of the action, and the fourth describes the action.

Bill numbers are always linked for easy access to the Legislature's website. To see what a bill is about, simply mouse over the action item, and a hidden description will magically appear, like so:
Official summary: Concerning persons appointed by the court to provide information in family law and adoption cases.
Bill descriptions are hidden by default to make the Newsriver more compact, but they're always there when you need them.

The magic is made possible by cascading style sheets (CSS), so if you browse with Javascript disabled, don't worry. The mouseover will still work.

The Newsriver is not intended to replace the Legislature's website. It is an aggregator, like its sister project Pacific NW Portal, which turns five this month. The Newsriver was created to do the hard work of sifting through the Legislature's website for you, so you can spend more time lobbying or taking care of responsibilities and obligations.

We hope you'll enjoy the project and help us make it even more useful.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Don't feed the trolls

Any progressive who has spent time trying to cultivate an online community is familiar with the adage Don't feed the trolls, which has been adopted either informally or formally by many blogs and discussion forums as an actual rule.

Don't feed the trolls basically means don't spend all your precious time and energy trying to deal with people who want to disrupt and divide your online community (trolls), because they're insatiable. They will consume all of your attention if you let them. And that is often their goal: To distract you from your real work.

This truism is lost on the ignoramuses at the Seattle Times, who published an editorial this morning applauding newly-elected Governor Neil Abercrombie's declared intention to do something to squelch the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii. Abercrombie means well — like us, he's disgusted that there are people in this country who will cling onto any allegation of illegitimacy aimed at an elected official who doesn't agree with their views — but he too is incorrect in believing that producing more documentation will make things any better. To the contrary: It will only add more fuel to the fire.

At this point, the best thing to do is to just ignore the birthers. There is no reasoning with them. Liberals and progressives often make the mistake of believing that everyone thinks rationally, and if we just confront the other side with "the facts", we'll be able to set the truth free.

As George Lakoff has shown, this isn't the case.

People simply don't think this way. "To be accepted, the truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off," Lakoff writes in Don't Think of An Elephant.

If Abercrombie and other Democratic leaders take the birthers seriously, the birthers will get attention they do not deserve. They should have been ignored at the outset, but thanks to the toxic Republican Noise Machine and our brain-dead traditional media, their stupid and baseless allegations were turned into a "story" during the first months of Barack Obama's presidency.

Thankfully, the traditional media ultimately became bored with the birthers' nonsense and their bogus claims stopped dominating the national discourse.

We do not need to reignite a phony debate by trying to debunk the birthers. Fresh documentation will only embolden them and convince them that they are right. They are troublemakers, and they are simply not worth the trouble. We have enough problems to deal with right now without worrying about them.

If Abercrombie is smart, he'll realize this, and appreciate that there is nothing he can do to shake the birthers of their belief that President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sadly, with the exception of Lance Dickie, the Seattle Times editorial board seems more ignorant than many of the know-nothings they criticize. They allow comments on their articles online; they ought to know about trolls. But they don't. Evidently, they don't spend much time in their own garbage-filled comment threads. Much of what passes for discourse there would never be allowed on the editorial page in the letters to the editor section. So why is it allowed on the cyber version of their publication? Do they think newsprint is simply more sacred?

There's no question that the First Amendment — which gives the birthers the right to spew their nonsense — is a wonderful thing. But the First Amendment does not require that free speech also be responsible speech. Those who want responsible speech have to set the example. And that means not feeding the trolls.

Neither NPI nor the Seattle Times Company has the power to shut up the birthers, even if we wanted it. But we do have the power to police what our own readers say. We can insist on responsible speech in our own publications.

And we should.

Banished Words for 2011

Every year since 1971, Michigan's Lake Superior State University has released a thoughtful and humorous "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness." Here is the 2011 (and thirty sixth annual) edition, for your reading enjoyment on this New Year's Day:
VIRAL — "Often used to describe the spreading of items on the Internet i.e. 'The video went viral.' It is overused. I have no objection to this word's use as a way to differentiate a (viral) illness from bacterial." — Jim Cance, Plainwell, Mich.

"This linguistic disease of a term must be quarantined." — Kuahmel Allah, Los Angeles, Calif.

"Events, photographs, written pieces and even occasional videos that attracted a great deal of attention once were simply highly publicized, repeated in news broadcasts, and talked about for a few days. Now, however, it is no longer enough to give such offerings their 15 minutes of fame, but they must be declared to 'go viral.' As a result, any mindless stunt or vapid bit of writing is sent by its creators whirling around the Internet and, once whirled, its creators declare it (trumpets here) 'viral!' Enough already! If anything is to be declared worthy enough to 'go viral,' clearly it should be the LSSU Banished Words list for 2011!" — Lawrence Mickel, Coventry, Conn.

"I knew it was time when the 2010 list of banished words appeared in Time magazine's, 'That Viral Thing' column." — Dave Schaefer, Glenview, Ill.

"I didn't mind much when 'viral' came to mean an under-handed tactic by advertising companies to make their ads look like pop culture. However, now anything that becomes popular on YouTube is suddenly 'viral.' I just don't get it." Kevin Wood, Wallacetown, Ont.

"Every time I see a viral video on CNN or am asked to 'Let's go viral with this' in another lame e-mail forwarded message, it makes me sick." — Lian Schmidt, Bandon, Ore.

EPIC — More than one nominator says the use of 'epic' has become an epic annoyance.

"Cecil B. DeMille movies are epic. Internet fallouts and opinions delivered in caps-lock are not. 'Epic fail,' 'epic win', 'epic (noun)' -- it doesn't matter; it needs to be banished until people recognize that echoing trite, hyperbolic Internet phrases in an effort to look witty or intelligent actually achieves the opposite." — Kim U., Des Moines, Iowa.

"Over-use of the word 'epic' has reached epic proportions." — Tim Blaney, Snoqualmie, Wash.

"Anything that this word describes in popular over-usage is rarely ever 'epic' in the traditional sense of being heroic, majestic, or just plain awe-inspiring." — Mel F., Dallas, Tex.

"Standards for using 'epic' are so low, even 'awesome' is embarrassed." — Mike of Kettering, Ohio.

"I'm sure that when the history books are written or updated and stories have been passed through the generations, the epic powder on the slopes during your last ski trip or your participation in last night's epic flash mob will probably not be included. This may be the root of this epic problem, but it seems as if during the past two years, any idea that was not successful was considered an 'epic-fail.' This includes the PowerPoint presentation you tried to give during this morning's meeting, but couldn't because of technical problems. Also, the ice storm of 'epic proportions' that is blanketing the east coast this winter sure looks a lot like the storm that happened last winter." — DV, Seattle, Wash.

FAIL — One nominator says, "what originally may have been a term for a stockbroker's default is now abused by today's youth as virtually any kind of 'failure.' Whether it is someone tripping, a car accident, a costumed character scaring the living daylights out a kid, or just a poor choice in fashion, these people drive me crazy thinking that anything that is a mistake is a 'fail.' They fail proper language!"

"Fail is not a noun. It is not an adjective. It is a verb. If this word is not banned, then this entire word banishment system is full of FAIL. (Now doesn't that just sound silly?)" — Daniel of Carrollton, Georgia.

"When FAILblog.org went up, it was a funny way to view videos of unfortunate people in unfortunate situations. The word fail is now used by people, very often just to tease others, when they 'FAIL.' Any time you screw up in life -- a trip up the stairs, a bump into a wall, or a Freudian slip, you get that word thrown in your face." — Tyler Lynch, Washington, Iowa.

"Mis-used. Over-used. Used with complete disregard to the 'epic' weight of the word. Silence obnoxious reality TV personalities and sullen, anti-establishment teenagers everywhere by banishing this word." — Natalie of Burlington, Ont.

"It has taken over blogs, photo captions, 'status' comments. Anytime someone does something less than perfect, we have to read 'FAIL!' The word has failed us all." — Aaron Yunker, Ishpeming, Mich.


WOW FACTOR — "This buzzword is served up with a heaping of cliché factor and a side order of irritation. But the lemmings from cable-TV cooking, whatever design and fashion shows keep dishing it out. I miss the old days when 'factor' was only on the math-and-science menu." — Dan Muldoon, Omaha, Neb.

"Done-to-death phrase to point out something with a somewhat significantly appealing appearance." — Ann Pepper, Knoxville, Tenn.

A-HA MOMENT — "All this means is a point at which you understand something or something becomes clearer. Why can't you just say that?" — Audrey Mayo, Killeen, Tex.

BACK STORY — "This should be on the list of words that don't need to exist because a perfectly good word has been used for years. In this case, the word is 'history,' or, for those who must be weaned, 'story.'" Jeff Williams, Sherwood, Ariz.

BFF — "These chicks call each other BFF (Best Friends Forever) and it lasts about 10 minutes. Now there's BFFA (Best Friends For Awhile), which makes more sense." — Clare Rabe Forgach, Ft. Collins, Colo.

MAN UP — "A stupid phrase when directed at men. Even more stupid when directed at a woman, as in 'Alexis, you need to man up and join that Pilates class!'" — Sherry Edwards, Clarkston, Mich.

"Another case of 'verbing' a noun and ending with a preposition that goes nowhere. Not only that, the phrase is insulting, especially when voiced by a female, who'd never think to say, 'Woman up!'" — Aunt Shecky, East Greenbush, NY.

"Can a woman 'man-up,' or would she be expected to 'woman-up?'" — Jay Leslie, Portland, Maine.

"Not just overused (a 2010 top word according to the Global Language Monitor) but bullying and sexist." — Christopher K. Philippo, Glenmont, NY.

"We had to put up with 'lawyer up.' Now 'man up,' too? A chest-thumping cultural regression fit for frat boys stacking beer glasses." — Craig Chalquist Ph.D., Walnut Creek, Calif.

REFUDIATE — "Adding this word to the English language simply because a part-time politician lacks a spell checker on her cell phone is an action that needs to be repudiated." Dale Humphreys, Muskegon, Mich.

Kuahmel Allah of Los Angeles, Calif. wants to banish what he called 'Sarah Palin-isms': "Let's 'refudiate' them on the double!"

MAMA GRIZZLIES — "Unless you are referring to a scientific study of Ursus arctos horribilis , this analogy of right-wing female politicians should rest in peace." — Mark Carlson, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

THE AMERICAN PEOPLE — "These politicians in Congress say 'the American People' as part of what seems like every statement they make! I see that others have noticed it, too, as various websites abound, including an entry on Wikipedia." — Paul M. Girouard, St. Louis, Mo.

"No one in Washington can pontificate for more than two sentences without using it. Beyond overuse, these people imply that 'the American people' want/expect/demand all the same things. They don't." — Dick Hilker, Loveland, Colo.

"Aren't all Americans people? Every political speech refers to the 'American' people as if simply saying 'Americans' (or 'people') is not enough." — Deb Faust, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

I'M JUST SAYIN' — "'A phrase used to diffuse any ill feelings caused by a preceded remark,' according to the Urban Dictionary. Do we really need a qualifier at the end of every sentence? People feel uncomfortable with a comment that was made and then 'just sayin'' comes rolling off the tongue? It really doesn't change what was said, I'm just sayin'." — Becky of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

"I'm just sayin'...'I'm not sayin'''…Actually, you ARE saying…A watered-down version of what I just said or intended to say... SAY what you are saying. DON'T SAY what you aren't saying." — Julio Appling, Vancouver, Wash.

"Obviously you are saying it… you just said it!" — Catherine Wilson, Granger, Ind.

"And we would never have known if you hadn't told us." — Bob Forrest, Tempe, Ariz.

"When a 24-hour news network had the misguided notion to brand this phrase as a commentary segment called, 'Just sayin', I thought I was going to wretch." — Casey Conroy, Pleasant Hill, Calif.

FACEBOOK / GOOGLE as verbs — "Facebook is a great, addicting website. Google is a great search engine. However, their use as verbs causes some deep problems. As bad as they are, the trend can only get worse, i.e. 'I'm going to Twitter a few people, then Yahoo the movie listings and maybe Amazon a book or two." — Jordan of Waterloo, Ont.

LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST — "It's an absurdity followed by a redundancy. First, things are full or they're not; there is no fullest. Second, 'live life' is redundant. Finally, the expression is nauseatingly overused. What's wrong with enjoying life fully or completely? The phrase makes me gag. I'm surprised it hasn't appeared on the list before." — Sylvia Hall, Williamsport, Penn.
Lists for previous years are available on Lake Superior's site.

We'd complete the list above by adding a couple more obnoxious phrases that we'd like to see banished for misuse and general uselessness:
YOUR CALL IS IMPORTANT TO US — Another one of those annoying, meaningless filler phrases that companies include in their automated phone greetings, which only delays the amount of time it takes to reach a living, breathing person. If customer feedback is genuinely important to a company, the company's customer support team should show it rather than say it. Actions speak louder than words.

PARTIAL ZERO EMISSIONS VEHICLE — Seen on the back of some cars, notably Subarus, next to a symbol of a leaf. Refers to a category of vehicles defined by authorities in California, which was created when the California Air Resources Board struck a deal with automakers to postpone the date when production of zero emission vehicles would become mandatory. Zero, however, means nil. Zip. Zilch. Nada. There is no such thing as partial zero; nothing can't be something. Whoever came up with this ridiculous term needs a math lesson.
This year's list from LSSU is remarkably strong. "Wow factor" is unquestionably my favorite inclusion. Like Dan and Ann, I've become rather tired of hearing this trite phrase... on television, in marketing materials, and even in conversation.

I am also glad to see not one, but two "Palinisms" make the list. I nominated "refudiate" myself, and would have tacked it on to my own mini-list above if it hadn't made it onto LSSU's. Thankfully, it did, and so did "mama grizzlies". (By the way, two other Palinisms — "maverick" and "first dude" — were banished in 2009.)

Happy New Year 2011!