Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monthly Archives: January 2012

Tomorrow’s anti-SOPA/PIPA blackout will be an unprecedented event

We are less than a few hours away from the beginning of the biggest virtual grassroots protest the Internet has ever seen.

As you may have heard, the Web – or at least a sizable fraction of it – is going on strike to protest two destructive bills pending before Congress that would allow giant media conglomerates to start using the Department of Justice like their own private law firm, blacklisting and disconnecting any sites they accuse of perpetuating or facilitating copyright infringement. These bills are known as SOPA (the “Stop Online Piracy Act”) and PIPA (the “Protect Intellectual Property/IP Act”). They have many supporters in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

To raise awareness of the harm these bills would cause and highlight why they must be stopped, a number of major websites are planning to go on strike tomorrow, replacing their normal home pages with a call to action against SOPA and PIPA. Reddit launched the day of action last week, and it has since snowballed, with Wikipedia committing itself to participate yesterday. Since then, dozens more companies, nonprofits, and services have confirmed their intent to join in in some way, going either completely or partially dark.

WordPress (which powers many of NPI’s sites), The Internet Archive, Diaspora*, and Identi.ca are among the latest notable services to commit, joining thousands of other sites, including NPI’s network.

Other progressive organizations shutting down their sites include the Netroots Foundation (which organizes Netroots Nation) and Raw Story.

Other sites are staying online, but posting alerts or notices for their users, urging them to take action to defeat SOPA and PIPA. Craigslist has already placed a prominent alert on its many metro hubs. Scribd, which calls itself the world’s largest online document repository, plans to activate an anti-SOPA/PIPA popup that visitors to its network will see when attempting to access documents.

And OpenDNS, the world’s largest independent DNS provider, has announced it will join in the protest by randomly censoring results returned by the OpenDNS guide.

Google plans to participate in its own way. The company is not taking any services offline, but it will be putting a link to an anti-SOPA page on google.com (likely underneath the search box) which is bound to receive millions of clicks.

Meanwhile, the list of opponents to SOPA and PIPA in Congress continues to grow. Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts declared his opposition today, as did Democratic Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio.

Washington’s two largest technology companies have not been at the forefront of the fight against SOPA and PIPA, but in statements sent to GeekWire today, Amazon and Microsoft have made it clear they are also opposed.

A number of prominent musicians, breaking with the RIAA and MPAA, have declared their solidarity with opponents of PIPA and SOPA, including Peter Gabriel and MC Hammer. Gabriel is blacking out his own site tomorrow as part of the strike.

In concert with the blackout, several groups are organizing in-person protests to lobby members of Congress. The New York Tech Meetup will be holding an emergency gathering tomorrow outside of the offices of Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer (who are both cosponsors of PIPA) in Manhattan to urge them to reconsider their positions. A similar gathering is being planned in San Francisco.

Happily, the blackout appears to already be achieving its intended purpose. The MPAA, now chaired by former senator and Hollywood tool Chris Dodd, has just released a statement denouncing the protest, calling it “another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials.”

So by choosing to exercise our First Amendment rights, we’re punishing our elected leaders? Causing mayhem? By that logic, what is the MPAA’s incessant lobbying of our elected leaders equivalent to? Torture?

2012 Democratic National Convention shortened from four days to three, Obama to accept nomination in larger venue

This morning, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz made two important logistical announcements about the forty-seventh quadrennial meeting of the Democratic Party, scheduled to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina, during the first full week of September.

At a media event in the City of Trees, Schultz revealed that the Democratic National Convention will run for three days instead of four, and also unveiled the party’s plans for the convention’s final night, when Barack Obama is expected to be renominated by the party as its candidate for president.

To make the convention more open and accessible, the organizing committee (with the blessing of the Obama campaign) has decided to hold the final night of the 2012 Convention at the unfortunately-named Bank of America Stadium, which, like Denver’s Invesco Field, is a venue designed for football.

Readers who remember the 2008 Democratic National Convention will recall that Invesco Field hosted the final night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. President Obama delivered his acceptance speech there before a record crowd of 84,000; NPI covered the event live here on The Advocate.

Bank of America Stadium – originally known as Carolinas Stadium – has a capacity of 73,778 seats. It is much roomier than Time Warner Cable Arena, where the other two nights of the convention will he held.

“We want this convention to be about more than just the pageantry and speeches you see on television. This is about engaging Americans in a meaningful way,” said DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a news release explaining the decision.

Presidential nominating conventions usually begin on a Monday and run for four days. But the Monday of convention week this year is Labor Day. Rather than schedule a night of speeches, the party has decided to hold Labor Day celebrations at Charlotte’s Motor Speedway. A specific schedule of events has yet to be announced, but will no doubt be forthcoming before too long, along with the themes and the speaking lineups for the three following days.

The Republican Party will be holding its 2012 convention the week before in Tampa, Florida. Both Florida and North Carolina are expected to be fiercely contested battleground states in this year’s presidential election.

NPI to participate in Internet strike against SOPA and PIPA on January 18th

Readers who are regulars at Reddit or who closely follow technology news may have heard that the social news site is leading the way in fermenting what’s being called an Internet strike against two destructive, anti-Internet bills being pushed by Hollywood on Capitol Hill (the so-called “Stop Online Piracy Act” and the “Protect IP Act”). The bills have been moving towards the respective floors of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House for months with little public debate.

Thanks to the efforts of an unusually diverse and strong grassroots coalition comprised of progressives, conservatives, and libertarians, support for these ill-conceived bills is finally on the wane.

But the fight is not over yet.

Last Tuesday, Reddit’s administrators threw down the gauntlet and announced that on Wednesday, January 18th, they would be blacking out the site – in other words, going on strike – from 8 AM Eastern until 8 PM Eastern:

We’re as addicted to reddit as the rest of you. Many of you stand with us against PIPA/SOPA, but we know support for a blackout isn’t unanimous. We’re not taking this action lightly. We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t believe this legislation and the forces behind it were a serious threat to reddit and the Internet as we know it. Blacking out reddit is a hard choice, but we feel focusing on a day of action is the best way we can amplify the voice of the community.

As we have seen yet again in the fight against PIPA/SOPA, the best ideas come from our community. We all have just over a week to figure out exactly what to do with our extra cycles on January 18th. Please join us in the discussion in the comments here and in /r/SOPA.

Since Reddit announced its decision to go on strike, dozens of other sites and organizations have announced that they will join in the blackout. The list now includes Boing Boing, the Cheezburger network, Minecraft, Wikipedia, and hundreds of other websites. Mozilla, Tucows, the Free Software Foundation, Free Press, and many other organizations are also taking part.

We at NPI have decided to join in the strike. On Wednesday, January 18th, our normal home page, The Advocate (this blog!), In Brief, and Pacific NW Portal will be blacked out and replaced by an anti-SOPA/PIPA action center. The action center will also be prominently featured on Permanent Defense and the Olympia Newsriver.

In addition, we’ll be posting strike updates throughout the day on our Twitter and Facebook feeds, encouraging all NPI supporters and followers to join us in expressing our opposition to these bills to Congress.

We are strongly opposed to SOPA and PIPA because either of these bills, if passed, would endanger Internet freedom. And that’s something that matters to us more than just about anything else. Before NPI existed physically or legally, it existed as an idea on the Web. Like other netroots organizations and tech startups, NPI’s roots are virtual. If the Internet hadn’t been invented, NPI would never have come into being. The same goes for the rest of the netroots community.

The Internet is the first modern medium for communication that is not controlled by gatekeepers who run Hollywood studios, theater chains, broadcast media empires, big box stores, record labels, and publishing houses. That is because it is decentralized and open: there is no central authority dictating who gets access. Compared to other media, the barriers for entry are low. Anyone who wants to set up a site of some kind, or participate in a community set up by someone else, can do so without needing a ton of money or connections.

Media executives have long viewed the existence of the Internet as a threat to their power. That’s why they have been trying to sneak legislation through Congress that would allow them to use the Department of Justice as their own private law firm. They want the ability to censor the Internet as they see fit. And that means attaining the power to disconnect websites without due process.

We cannot let the MPAA, RIAA, and the media conglomerates they speak for win. We have to stop these bills. Nothing less than our First Amendment freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition – are at stake. We need to set a good example for the world to follow. That means keeping the Internet open and democratic, as it was designed to be.

We invite you to join us in this day of protest by contacting your members of Congress and letting them know you are strongly opposed to both SOPA and PIPA.

Western Washington lowlands receive first (and maybe only) major snowfall of winter

It’s snow time!

After several weeks of mostly dry/sometimes wet weather, Puget Sound and points to the north and the south are seeing some significant snow… perhaps the only major snow event of winter 2012.

The National Weather Service forecast for today and the next few days calls for plenty of snow showers. Temperatures will remain fairly cold until Wednesday morning, when things will begin to warm up, creating what University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass is calling “slushmageddon.”

Here is the full NWS forecast for the next seventy-two hours:

This Afternoon Snow showers likely. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 35. West northwest wind around 5 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. Total daytime snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.
Tonight Snow showers likely, mainly before 10pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 26. Calm wind becoming south southwest around 5 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.
M.L.King Day A 50 percent chance of snow showers. Cloudy, with a high near 34. Calm wind becoming south around 6 mph. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.
Monday Night Snow showers likely. Cloudy, with a low around 30. South southwest wind around 9 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.
Tuesday Snow showers likely. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 34. South southwest wind between 8 and 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of around an inch possible.
Tuesday Night Snow showers. Low around 29. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.
Wednesday Snow before 10am, then rain. Snow level rising to 1000 feet. High near 38. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of around an inch possible.

And here is the Winter Weather Advisory the NWS issued this morning:

…WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY IN EFFECT UNTIL 10 PM PST THIS EVENING…

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN SEATTLE HAS ISSUED A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW…WHICH IS IN EFFECT UNTIL 10 PM PST THIS EVENING.

  • SOME AFFECTED LOCATIONS…SEATTLE…TACOMA…BREMERTON… AND SHELTON.
  • TIMING…SNOW SHOWERS…LOCALLY HEAVY…WILL PERSIST INTO THE EVENING HOURS.
  • TOTAL SNOW ACCUMULATIONS…UP TO 3 INCHES.
  • IMPACT…NEAR OR BELOW FREEZING TEMPERATURES WILL RESULT IN SOME ICY ROADS THIS MORNING.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW IS ISSUED FOR THE LOWLANDS WHEN 1 TO 3 INCHES IS LIKELY TO FALL IN 12 HOURS.

Pacific NW Portal’s Extended Weather page has a pretty thorough compilation of winter weather preparedness tips, including links for school closures, transit rider alerts, and road advisories. Many people have contacted us over the years to thank us for assembling this information, and we hope you’ll find it useful too.

White House signals that administration opposes SOPA and PIPA as currently written

Responding to a pair of petitions calling on President Obama to take a stand against two bills that threaten Internet freedom (the so-called “Stop Online Piracy Act” and “Protect IP”), three administration officials have published a position paper on the White House website which suggests that the administration does not find SOPA or PIPA acceptable as currently written – but unfortunately stops short of explicitly condemning either bill. The post appears to be an attempt to acknowledge opponents’ grievances without offending the powerful trade associations (MPAA, RIAA, etc.) that want the ability to start censoring the Internet at will.

Here’s an excerpt:

While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.

Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small. Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected. To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity. Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing.

We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.

The three cosigners of the position paper (Victoria Espinel, Aneesh Chopra, Howard Schmidt) conclude by urging all sides to work together to pass legislation to curb copyright and trademark infringement in 2012, demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the politics surrounding SOPA and PIPA.

SOPA and PIPA are before Congress because a cartel of media conglomerates and their industry mouthpieces are obsessed with trying to restrict digital freedom. The Internet is the one medium they don’t own, because it was designed to be decentralized. Like many other activists, users, and entrepreneurs, we believe the Internet’s decentralized design is its greatest strength – it’s what makes the Internet open and democratic, allowing for true two-way communication.

But media executives don’t like what they can’t control. They claim that online sharing of movies, books, music, and television shows is destroying their profits, and they want to stamp it out. That’s the justification they’ve offered for SOPA and PIPA. But that’s not what they are really after.

They don’t say so publicly, but their ambition is to cableize the Internet, or in other words, alter its design to make it more like cable television.

See, as long as the Internet remains decentralized, online sharing will be impossible to stamp out, and it will likewise be impossible to restrict how people timeshift and spaceshift content. Media conglomerates want to dismantle the Internet and replace it with a Medianet they can control.

That’s what SOPA and PIPA are really about: beginning the process of altering the Internet to make it more like cable television. The reason so many of the bill’s provisions seem harmful to free expression, e-commerce, and innovation is because they’re supposed to be. It is no accident that these bills were written without input from Internet engineers, entrepreneurs, or users.

The MPAA and RIAA have been hoping to avoid a big public debate about this legislation, (correctly) fearing that it would lead to insurmountable opposition.

But despite their efforts to advance SOPA and PIPA as quietly as possible, opposition is growing by the day, and lawmakers the RIAA and MPAA had previously signed up as supporters are starting to back away.

We have no interest in attempting to find common ground with the likes of the RIAA and MPAA because we cannot trust them. They have already acted in bad faith by writing this legislation themselves and trying to ram it through Congress without a public debate. Besides, we don’t believe that online copyright and trademark infringement is a problem that can be solved through legislation.

We would not be opposed to thoughtfully drafted legislation intended to alleviate or mitigate infringement. But there’s nothing thoughtful or sensible about SOPA or PIPA. These bills have been crafted to damage and undermine the Internet by corporations that fear the Internet. They must be stopped.

Suzan DelBene enters congressional sweepstakes in Washington’s new 1st District

Ending weeks of speculation as to whether she would join the crowded field of Democrats and Republicans who want to represent Washington’s new 1st Congressional District, Suzan DelBene has officially declared her candidacy for U.S. House, saying she has the experience and the vision to represent suburban and rural King, Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatom counties.

“The 1st Congressional District is a diverse district that has been hit hard by the Great Recession,” DelBene said in a news release.

“It needs a representative in Congress who has the experience and the innovative ideas that will get our economy back on the right track and create jobs, and I believe I offer those qualities. In Congress, I plan to work with President Obama and with members of both parties to break the hyperpartisan gridlock in D.C. in order to strengthen oversight of Wall Street, protect consumers and assist those in need.”

“I did not make this decision lightly. I did my homework before deciding to enter the  race. I believe I have the right skills and experience to represent the 1st Congressional District, and I am fully committed to winning,” DelBene said.

DelBene faces strong competition. Fellow Democrats Darcy Burner, Laura Ruderman, Steve Hobbs, Roger Goodman, and Darshan Rauniyar are already in the race. Burner has previously run for federal office twice, while Ruderman, Hobbs, and Goodman have all run successfully for state Legislature multiple times and won.

Only Rauniyar is a newcomer.

 

Let’s build a constructive future for our region in the Port of Seattle’s second century

Editor’s Note: The following are the remarks that NPI’s President, Gael Tarleton, delivered at the first regular meeting of the Seattle Port Commission for 2012, following her election as President of the Commission for the remainder of the year.

Thank you, fellow Commissioners, for the opportunity to serve this coming year as President of the Port of Seattle Commission.

We are indebted to Commissioner Bryant for his three years serving as Commission President. He led the Commission and Port with dignity through a tough recession and a period of important institutional reforms. He ended his term on a high note with the Port’s Centennial celebrations. We are all grateful to you, Bill.

Now the Port enters its second century.

Every year there are new challenges to meet and milestones to mark. As we confront the changes that will inevitably come, we can reflect on eras past when technology revolutionized trade and travel by air and sea.

This second decade of the 21st century has the feel of another era fifty years ago – the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. In 1962, Seattle’s World’s Fair bumped SeaTac passenger traffic from 400,000 to 2,000,000 travellers.

The shipping container revolutionized the maritime shipping industry and Terminal 5 began construction as the Port of Seattle’s first container terminal.

And in December 1962, the Port dedicated Shilshole Bay Marina.

2012 is shaping up as one of those years that feels like a defining moment for local ports competing in a local economy.

  • We’ll know what the future of container trade in Puget Sound looks like as global shippers redefine global trade routes in the Post-Great Recession Era. Cargo, like water, seeks the path of least resistance. We cannot be in a race to the bottom – we must be in the race to build our future.
  • We’ll learn the plan for cleaning up the Lower Duwamish River – home to salmon, wildlife, ancient native traditions, and 80,000 jobs. As we seek to balance many needs, let’s resolve to find solutions that “first, do no more harm” and in the long run, “protect the best” of what we have here.
  • We’ll keep focused on the City of Seattle’s Shoreline Master Plan revisions – a 10-year covenant we make to balance the needs of a working waterfront with sustainable urban communities.
  • We’ll launch our Century Agenda campaign to generate 100,000 port-related jobs – one hundred thousand jobs – in King County and the broader region in the coming twenty-five years.
  • We will commit to continuing the Port’s role as an economic engine – and an engine of equal opportunity – for the 2 million residents of King County.

Open government is here to stay in Washington State – and finally, web-based technology makes it possible for the Port of Seattle to live up to the expectations and promise of what transparent, accountable open government looks like.

We have built a twenty-five year vision for sustaining a working seaport and airport in the midst of urban Pugetopolis, along the shores of one of the most biologically diverse inland seas in North America, the Salish Sea – more commonly known as Puget Sound. Ten years from now, we’ll look back on the start of our race to the future – and maybe, we’ll see this:

  • Washington companies leading a national export recovery.
  • A city and county whose sense of place comes from its connection to the mountains, rivers, salt water, and an urban port; and whose citizens and visitors are free to explore anew in the era beyond the viaduct.
  • An urban waterfront trail connecting neighborhoods old and new – 11.9 miles from Shilshole Bay to Fishermen’s Terminal to Smith Cove Cruise Terminal to the Lower Duwamish and West Seattle – bringing the people back to the waterfront they own.

All that we do in the coming year is just one more building block towards a 21st century future where the Port of Seattle is still the place where the world comes to us, and we go out to the world. Let’s keep doing our part.

NPI’s Gael Tarleton elected to serve as President of Seattle Port Commission

Earlier this evening, the Seattle Port Commission concluded its first meeting for the year 2012, at which Commissioners Bill Bryant and Gael Tarleton (one of NPI’s founding board members) were sworn in for their second terms in office, following the certification of the November general election a few weeks ago.

The Commission also elected its officers for the next twelve months, and I’m delighted to report that Gael was elected as the commission’s president for the first time. (Gael also serves as NPI’s president, and has since March 2011).

John Creighton was elected to the position of vice president, and Tom Albro was elected to the position of secretary. Creighton is in the midst of his second term on the commission, while Albro is halfway through his first.

Later in the meeting, commissioners authorized Chief Executive Officer Tay Yoshitani and his staff to move forward on several matters under a consent calendar, including the execution of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the Port and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 9 through December 31st, 2014. (The contract is with aviation operations and security workers, who are represented by ILWU).

Commissioners also approved a motion acknowledging that tomorrow is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Human trafficking is a serious (and under-reported) crime that victimizes more than ten thousand people each year. It is the twenty-first century version of slavery, and it must be stamped out.

As I mentioned back in November, 2011 marked the first election cycle in more than a decade in which the people of King County did not turn any incumbent port commissioners out of office. I think voters have recognized that the Mic Dinsmore era – a sad and shameful chapter in the history of the Port of Seattle – is over. The Port’s new leadership (of which Gael is a part) has improved the Port’s business practices, introduced new measures to ensure accountability and transparency, and strengthened ties to other local governments.

The Port still has work to do. It especially needs to lessen its environmental footprint and help lead the cleanup of the Duwamish River. Thankfully, it is now in a position where it can begin making progress on those issues. During the Dinsmore days, it wasn’t, and we are extremely thankful that those days are behind us.

Mitt Romney projected to win New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary

Although most precincts have yet to report in, the traditional media has already declared Mitt Romney the winner of the 2012 Republican primary in New Hampshire… and Romney has taken to the stage to deliver an arrogantly-worded victory speech filled with bold promises that he has no ability whatsoever to fulfill, along with a generous serving of scorn directed toward President Barack Obama.

As of 5:35 PM, Romney had around 35% of the vote, with Ron Paul in second place and Jon Huntsman in third. Iowa wunderkind Rick Santorum finished fifth, behind Newt Gingrich, who once again managed to come in fourth. Finishing last among the major candidates was Rick Perry, who had less than one percent of the vote.

Mitt Romney: 35.3% (15,121 votes)
Ron Paul: 25.0% (10,705 votes)
Jon Huntsman: 16.8% (7,194 votes)
Newt Gingrich: 10.3% (4,410 votes)
Rick Santorum: 10.1 (4,342 votes)
Rick Perry: 0.7% (292 votes)

It’s worth noting that the total number of votes received by all the candidates is less than the population of a medium-sized city (like the City of Redmond). This election is being decided by a fairly small electorate.

The next nominating contest will be held a week from this Saturday in South Carolina. It will likely be Rick Perry’s last stand – if he doesn’t at least finish in the top three, he will be in a poor position to continue.

Very few delegates are at stake in the four January nominating contests (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida), but it’s likely that the field will be significantly narrowed before the states with the most delegates at stake hold their caucuses and primaries, because presidential campaigns need money to run and money tends to dry up when a candidate is losing.

Frank Blethen, self-proclaimed champion of higher education, doesn’t want Chris Gregoire intervening in lawsuit against I-1053

A few days ago, Governor Chris Gregoire let it be known that she intends to ask the courts to rule on the constitutionality of Tim Eyman’s I-1053, which was challenged by a group of parents, teachers, and lawmakers in a lawsuit last spring. Gregoire is a defendant in the lawsuit (which is being defended by Rob McKenna’s office) but it’s no secret that the governor opposes I-1053 and believes it to be unconstitutional.

Gregoire does not intend to join plaintiffs in formally asking that I-1053 be declared unconstitutional, but she does intend to petition the courts actually take up the question and not punt on it, as they have in the past.

In response, the Seattle Times – which is owned by the Blethen family and controlled by Frank Blethen – has chosen to publish yet another intellectually dishonest editorial in support of I-1053, whining that Gregoire’s courageous and justified course of action is “ill-chosen”. We at NPI disagree. The governor is well within her rights to ask that the courts resolve this important constitutional question. Nothing less than our survival as a republic is at stake.

After chiding the governor for choosing to stake out a position independent of Rob McKenna’s position, the Times goes on to concede that I-1053 may indeed be unconstitutional… which indicates that whoever authored this unsigned editorial recognizes that our arguments against I-1053 have merit.

In our view, it is not clear whether the two-thirds rule is permitted by the constitution. The judges would be making new law and could go either way.

Wrong. Our courts would not be making new law, because there is already a precedent… a precedent set in Alaska, where the Supreme Court ruled that a proposed initiative similar to I-1053 was unconstitutional.

Alaska is not Washington, but state courts consider case law in other states to be relevant. Alaska’s Constitution is actually very similar to Washington’s, and in fact, some sections are almost identical.

Whoever wrote this editorial for the Times should be aware of this case law, because we went over it in a letter to the editor that they published back in June 2011.

We believe that if the courts actually consider whether I-1053 is constitutional, they will declare it not to be. The author of this unsigned editorial apparently agrees… and fears such an outcome, because he or she goes on to write:

Why ask? When asked before, they dodged the question. Why not respect their answer?

Because their answer was a cop-out, that’s why.

The judiciary has no higher responsibility than defending the Constitution… as the Constitution itself says in Article IV, Section 28:

SECTION 28 OATH OF JUDGES. Every judge of the supreme court, and every judge of a superior court shall, before entering upon the duties of his office, take and subscribe an oath that he will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Washington, and will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of judge to the best of his ability, which oath shall be filed in the office of the secretary of state.

The courts have a duty to protect our democracy from unconstitutional statutes like I-1053. The Constitution is our highest law; it may not be amended or circumvented by statute. The plaintiffs in the suit against I-1053 are simply asking that Washington’s courts fulfill their constitutional duty to uphold our Constitution.

Back to the Times’ editorial:

If I-1053 is struck down, there will be a public drive to put the two-thirds rule in the constitution, so that it is no longer time-limited. The drive will be led by the Republicans. Is that what Gregoire wants?

If there is such a drive by Republicans, it will fail… because amending the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote and it’s incredibly difficult to get two-thirds of each house of the Legislature to agree on anything!

Such a standard makes sense for amending our Constitution – it’s our highest law.

But Article II, Section 22 of the Constitution says bills shall pass by majority vote. Article II does not say supermajority vote…it says majority vote.

As in, fifty percent plus one. No more, no less.

Our founders knew when it was appropriate to require supermajorities; the Constitution spells out where and when a supermajority vote is required for something. Democracy cannot work unless minority rights and majority rule are in balance. That is why our founders gave us a Legislature that operates on majority rule and a Constitution that protects minority rights by requiring amendments to pass by a two-thirds vote of each house, plus a vote of the people.

Tim Eyman’s I-960 and I-1053 (like I-601 before them) have disrupted this balance, and our our plan of government has been undermined as a result… along with our quality of life. Bizarrely, the Times sees fit to defend Eyman’s unconstitutional, undemocratic initiative while simultaneously complaining that vital services like education are not being properly funded.

Frank Blethen (who we understand often micromanages his editorial board) doesn’t appear to comprehend that Eyman’s intent with I-1053 is to force state government – including our public schools and universities – to be dismantled, cut by cut. Perhaps some of his editorial writers get what Eyman’s real agenda is. But they have not spoken out against I-1053 under their own names.

Blethen and his editorial writers should know this: As long as I-1053 remains in place – in violation of Article II, Section 22, and arguably in violation of Article IX, Section 1 and Article VII, Section 1 – our public schools and universities will remain underfunded. Without new revenue, legislators have no way of  protecting education against further cuts, let alone reverse the damage that has already been caused by years of dithering and shortsighted decisions.

All of Tim Eyman’s initiatives hew to the anti-common wealth philosophy that Grover Norquist (Eyman’s role model) so memorably expressed a few years ago. Norquist said: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

This is the philosophy the Times is supporting by defending I-1053.

Help us track the action in the statehouse: Nominate a bill for the Olympia Newsriver

Regular readers may recall that around this time last year, we launched a younger sibling to Pacific NW Portal called the Olympia Newsriver, which has the ability to track what bills are moving in the statehouse on any given day. The Newsriver gets its name from Dave Winer’s concept of a river of news. It displays bill updates in reverse chronological order, simplifying the task of following legislation.

The Newsriver had a good first legislative session in 2011, but now we need to get it ready for 2012… and we could use your help!

The 2012 legislative session kicks off tomorrow, and priority bills are going to start dropping quickly. The more assistance we get identifying priority bills, the faster we can program them into the Newsriver.

(A priority bill is a bill that one or more communities within the progressive movement feels strongly about. It could be a good bill worth supporting, or a bad bill worth stopping. Eligibility is based on interest. When you nominate a bill, you’re letting us know there is interest in it).

Nominating a bill for tracking is simple: just leave a comment on this post. Minimally, please provide a bill number. You may also describe your interest in the bill and let us know of any progressive organizations that have taken positions on the bill. You don’t need to provide a list of sponsors or bill text – we’ll see that information when we look up the bill.

Bills programmed into the Newsriver are categorized under one of five topics:

We will establish a sixth category for budget-related bills a little later into the session. It is likely that the Legislature will be debating putting a revenue package before voters in May. Any updates pertaining to bills that have something to do with a revenue referendum would go into the budget category.

We also welcome your ideas for how to improve the Newsriver. Leave a comment here, or contact us and let us know your thoughts.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Governor Chris Gregoire announces support for full marriage equality in 2012

In a major boost to Washington United for Marriage‘s efforts to make Washington the seventh state where marriage equality is the law of the land, Governor Chris Gregoire this morning declared her full support for legislation to overturn the state’s discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and permit gay and lesbian couples to legally wed — as they now can in six other states.

“It’s time, it’s the right thing to do, and I will introduce a bill to do it,” Gregoire said at a press conference in Olympia, flanked by Representatives Jamie Pedersen and Marko Liias, along with Senator Ed Murray. “I say that as a wife, a mother, a student of the law, and above all as a Washingtonian with a lifelong commitment to equality and freedom. Some say domestic partnerships are the same as marriage. That’s a version of the discriminatory ‘separate but equal’ argument.”

“Our gay and lesbian families face the same hurdles as heterosexual families — making ends meet, choosing what school to send their kids to, finding someone to grow old with, standing in front of friends and family and making a lifetime commitment,” the governor added.

“For all couples, a state marriage license is very important. It gives them the right to enter into a marriage contract in which their legal interests, and those of their children if any, are protected by well-established civil law.”

The governor told reporters she believes the state is ready for marriage equality, noting that Washington has been a journey towards full civil rights for people of all sexual orientations for more than half a decade now.

In early 2006, the Legislature enacted legislation banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That was followed by a bill establishing domestic partnerships in 2007, and another bill expanding domestic partnerships (the “everything but marriage” law) in 2009.

Voters upheld “everything but marriage” in November of 2009 by approving Referendum 71, and public opinion research suggests a majority of Washingtonians would be willing to vote to change the law to allow LGBT couples to marry.

We at NPI thank Governor Gregoire for taking this courageous, principled stand… we can’t applaud it enough. We wish she would do the same on other issues. If Gregoire would only renounce austerity the way she renounced the separate but equal argument against full marriage equality this morning, she could end her second term as governor on a high note, which we’d very much like to see.

POSTSCRIPT: The full text of Gregoire’s prepared remarks is available here.

President appoints Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Fed up with Republican obstructionism in the U.S. Senate, President Obama plans to announce that he is appointing his nominee for Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to the post effective immediately. Richard Cordray, fifty-two, previously served as Ohio’s forty-ninth attorney general before he was nominated by the President last July to run the CFPB, which was created and staffed by Elizabeth Warren, now a candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.

Unfortunately, the Senate has not acted on Cordray’s nomination. It didn’t even reach the Senate floor until December, and it when it did, it was bottled up there by the threat of a filibuster. Republicans have made it plainly clear they won’t allow the nomination to come up for a vote, because they know that if they did, Cordray would be confirmed by a majority of the Senate. And they want the CPFB to remain directorless. They know that without a director, it can’t exercise much of its authority under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, a law that all Senate Republicans (with the exception of Scott Brown) voted against.

The White House knows this too, which is why the President is making a recess appointment. The administration has nothing to lose. The appointment at least gives the Bureau a permanent director through the presidential election, which means it can finally flex its muscles. If the President is reelected, he can renominate Cordray and put pressure on the Senate to confirm the nomination. If not, the expiration of the appointment in January of 2013 won’t matter.

The President is to formally announce the appointment at an event in Cleveland, Ohio (Cordray’s home state) in a few hours.

Reaction to the decision came swiftly.

Not surprisingly, Republicans aren’t pleased at all (John Boehner has already called the appointment “an unprecedented power grab”, ignoring the fact that he spoke out in support of recess appointments made by George W. Bush). But consumer protection advocates cheered the news.

Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform. said the coalition (comprised of more than two hundred and fifty organizations) stood ready to help the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau begin fulfilling its mission.

“We commend the President for placing the interests of consumers and families first and rejecting the demands of the CFPB’s opponents, both on and off Capitol Hill, that the agency’s independence and power to protect consumers be gutted in return for allowing it to continue to exist. AFR will work together with the President, the CFPB and others who want to help rebuild confidence in our financial regulatory system,” she said in a statement.

Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the federation of state PIRGs (public interest research groups) agreed. “We applaud President Obama for standing up to Wall Street and its backers on Capitol Hill on behalf of families, seniors, servicemembers, students and other consumers who need protection from unfair financial practices,” he said in a statement sent to NPI by WashPIRG.

Elizabeth Warren’s campaign quickly created a page where donors and volunteers could send messages of support to Cordray as he begins his new job.

Thanks to President Obama’s recess appointment, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau gets its first director — and its full powers — with Richard Cordray.

For months, determined as ever to protect Wall Street and the big banks instead of you, Republicans stymied the agency from doing its job by filibustering Cordray’s nomination. But they cannot block this appointment.

Help celebrate the end of the Republican roadblock — and tell Richard Cordray we stand with him in this important fight for middle-class families.

The U.S. Constitution explicitly allows the President to make recess appointments, but it does not define what constitutes a recess. Many constitutional scholars would probably agree that Congress is in recess both between sessions and when it decides to go into an intrasession recess, but lately, Congress has not agreed to go into recess. Instead, the House and the Senate have been holding what are known as pro forma sessions, which consist of the banging of gavels and little else. (No business is transacted during a pro forma session, which might be more appropriately termed a phantom session).

The decision to appoint Cordray sets up a showdown with congressional Republicans about the legitimacy of pro forma sessions. The White House will probably argue that Congress is in a de facto recess and that President Obama is within his rights to make a recess appointment. They can point out that Congress has not actually met since the holidays began. Neither the House nor the Senate has achieved a quorum, and neither chamber has conducted any business.

The crux of the matter is whether having a lone representative or senator banging a gavel at a podium means that Congress is not in recess. That question might end up being litigated in court.

In the meantime, there’s little that Republicans can do about the appointment other than whine.

Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney win Iowa caucus

Fundamentalist Rick Santorum (a former U.S. Senator) and Republican establishment favorite Mitt Romney (a former governor) have prevailed in the first nominating contest of 2012, results released by the Iowa Republican Party show. With 99% of the vote counted, Romney and Santorum were almost exactly tied, separated by only a handful of votes, while Ron Paul trailed in third place.

Michelle Bachmann brought up the rear, finishing last with 5% of the vote, behind Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, who received 10.3% and 13.3%, respectively. A few caucusgoers voted for Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman, but Cain has left the race and Huntsman opted not to campaign in Iowa at all.

As of 10 PM Pacific Time, here were the results:

  1. Rick Santorum: 29,908 votes/24.6%
  2. Mitt Romney: 29,874 votes/24.5%
  3. Ron Paul: 26,097 /21.4%
  4. Newt Gingrich: 16,161/13.3%
  5. Rick Perry: 12,536/10.3%
  6. Michele Bachmann: 6,056/5.0%

Romney and Santorum have been trading the lead for much of the night, but neither has been able to pull away from the other. With nearly all of the votes counted, the caucus looks like it will end in a draw… an outcome that boosts both candidates, but particularly Santorum, who has far less money and notoriety than his rivals. Santorum is wasting no time in leaving for New Hampshire; he has at least one town hall planned for each of the next few days, sandwiched between media interviews and private fundraising events.

Rick Perry, meanwhile, said he would return to Texas to assess his next steps.

Ron Paul, not surprisingly, vowed that his campaign would continue, and suggested that Santorum’s momentum would disappear, making the Republican nominating fight a contest between himself and Mitt Romney. Here’s what his national campaign chairman (Jesse Benton) had to say about the Iowa caucus results:

The Ron Paul campaign is celebrating a great victory tonight.

There were three tickets out of Iowa, and Ron Paul earned one of them.

One of the three tickets, the one belonging to Rick Santorum, is a dead-end due to Santorum’s weak fundraising and lack of national campaign organization.

This is now a two way race between establishment candidate Mitt Romney and the candidate for real change, Ron Paul.

Ron Paul has a top notch national organization, tremendous fundraising prowess, and unequaled enthusiasm among his volunteers and supporters.

Dr. Paul has taken the first step towards earning the delegates it will take to be the GOP nominee and is the only candidate not named Mitt Romney with the ability to do so.

Ron Paul is now off to New Hampshire, South Carolina, Louisiana, Nevada, Maine, North Dakota, Washington, Colorado, and beyond.

See you on the campaign trail.

The next nominating contest will take place in one week, in New Hampshire. The Granite State’s primary will then be followed by South Carolina’s on Saturday, January 21st, and Florida’s, on Tuesday, January 31st.