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

Monthly Archives: November 2012

What greed and instant gratification look like: Inside a Georgia Wal-Mart on Black Friday

Throughout the past week, in honor of Thanksgiving and in protest of Black Friday, we’ve been taking a critical look at excessive consumerism and the consequences it portends for ourselves as a society and planet Earth.

We’ve covered the plight of Wal-Mart’s underpaid and poorly treated workers (some of whom have gone on strike), talked about the tremendous environmental damage that’s been caused by our “use it up and throw it out” culture, and expressed our displeasure with major retail chains like Target for making employees come into work on Thanksgiving instead of observing the holiday.

But nothing we’ve published so far this week sums up how we feel about Black Friday as ably as these videos, which were shot inside of a Wal-Mart in Moultrie, Georgia earlier today. 

The videos depict people shoving, pushing, and screaming incessantly at each other as they scramble to get their hands on a crate full of smartphones (presumably being sold by Wal-Mart at very low prices).

It’s an ugly, pathetic, and embarrassing scene. This is apparently what we’ve been reduced to: a society so obsessed with greed and instant gratification that we’re willing to toss patience, politeness, and common courtesy out the window for handheld computers ensconced in brightly-colored boxes.

What stood out to me as I watched the footage was the people shown turning back into the crowd with merchandise in hand, eager to push others out of their way in their hurry to get to the checkout line (or perhaps to snag other items for sale).

To me, the behavior captured in these videos symbolizes the selfish, uncaring attitude so many people seem to have these days. There’s so much screaming and yelling in this video that I can’t make out any coherent dialogue. But the body language is clear: I’ve got mine, now get out of my way! 

Whatever happened to humility? Goodwill towards others? Has consumerism so consumed us that we’ve forgotten the message of timeless works about the true meaning of the holiday season – like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

Those of us who consider ourselves to be Christians would do well to remember what Jesus said about the accumulation and worship of worldly possessions. Like this passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

— Matthew 6:19-21

Or this passage from Luke:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

— Luke 12:13-15

More than a decade ago, our good friend John de Graaf sought to give a name to our modern epidemic of greed and instant gratification. He came up with affluenza, which he defined as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

Affluenza is particularly bad this time of year – and has been since before the turn of the century. As de Graaf writes in the first chapter of the book of the same name:

Most Americans tell pollsters they want less emphasis on holiday spending and gift-giving. A third cannot even remember what they gave their significant other the previous year, and many cannot pay off their Christmas debts until the following summer, if then. Yet the urge to splurge continues to surge. It’s as if we Americans, despite our intentions suffer from some kind of Willpower Deficiency Syndrome, a breakdown in affluenza immunity.

And it’s only getting worse. Wal-Mart is triumphantly claiming tonight that this year’s Black Friday sales were the strongest the megachain has ever had. It seems the urge to splurge is more powerful than ever.

And no wonder: Just look at how heavily “Black Friday” has been promoted on the news and in television, radio, print, and Internet advertising. Americans have been constantly encouraged to go shopping for weeks, and millions did just that, thinking today was the day to score the best deals (except it wasn’t, as we know thanks to research by outfits like Decide.com).

Modern mass media equivocates the pursuit of stuff with the pursuit of happiness. But stuff – whether it’s electronics, cars, clothes, toys, big houses, or anything else – won’t make us happy. We believe true happiness comes from living a purposeful live, from alleviating suffering, from learning to be selfless, and from improving the human condition. That’s why our objective, as an organization, is to raise America’s quality of life. We all do better when we all do better.

And we can start doing better by rejecting the unsustainable tenets of consumerism in favor of the values that have made our nation great.

Stay home and sleep in this weekend: The Black Friday madness isn’t worth it (literally!)

This weekend is Thanksgiving weekend, traditionally one of the longest weekends of the year (owing to Thanksgiving always falling on a Thursday).

It’s also traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and is thus a very important time of year for retailers.

Since the turn of the century, major retail chains have gone to increasingly extreme lengths to draw in foot traffic the day after Thanksgiving, a day that has come to be known in the United States and around the world as Black Friday.

Many readers may not be aware that the term Black Friday originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s, and initially referred not to merchants passing the break-even point (climbing out of the red and into the black), but to the heavy traffic on the city’s streets, which created headaches for law enforcement.

Philadelphia businesses didn’t like the connotations of the nickname “Black Friday”, and for a time, they promoted a different moniker: Big Friday.

But their alternative never caught on with the press or the public. Black Friday stuck, and nowadays, retailers are among its biggest promoters. Many chains spend significant resources advertising their Black Friday sales. They open their doors early (like at 4 AM) and offer what have become known as doorbusters – big-ticket or hot items that they sell at a loss in order to entice people into their stores.

Executives at some chains are so eager to see Thanksgiving weekend sales get started that they’re ordering employees to report to work on Thanksgiving.

No, I’m not making this up:

Remember the halcyon days of 2011, when Thanksgiving involved turkey, giving thanks and hanging out with your family all day — and then lots of people got up at the crack of dawn the next day for Black Friday shopping?

Apparently those were the good old days.

Target and Walmart will both be opening the evening of Thanksgiving to kick off holiday shopping deals, with Target announcing Monday they’ll open at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving; Walmart and Sears will do the same thing, but an hour earlier — starting their “Black Friday” deals at 8 PM on Thanksgiving.

So much for Thanksgiving being a family holiday.

Thankfully, Target and Wal-Mart’s decision to force their employees to come into work on Thanksgiving has resulted in a backlash. More than 30,000 people have signed a Change.org petition urging Wal-Mart to cancel its plans to open on Turkey Day. A similar petition to Target has amassed ten times as many signatories.

On a related note, many Wal-Mart workers are joining part in an effort to threaten a strike on Black Friday. Wal-Mart executives have become increasingly concerned about the possibility of a widespread strike, and have now ironically filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents workers at many of Wal-Mart’s competitors and has been trying to organize Wal-Mart for years.

(NPI stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters at UFCW; we salute them for all their efforts to hold Wal-Mart, the Beast of Bentonville, accountable).

The Canadian nonprofit AdBusters, which gave the Occupy Wall Street movement its name, is once again urging its supporters to not shop at all on Friday and instead observe “Buy Nothing” Day. Their pitch:

Until we challenge the entrenched values of capitalism – that the economy must always keep growing, that consumer wants must always be satisfied, that immediate gratification is imperative – we’re not going able to fix the gigantic psycho-financial-eco crisis of our times.

The journey towards a sane sustainable future begins with a single step. It could all start with a personal challenge, such as this: make a vow to yourself to participate in Buy Nothing Day this year. This November 23rd, go cold turkey on consumption for 24 hours … see what happens … you just might have an unexpected, emancipatory epiphany!

We think the concept of “Buy Nothing Day” is compelling, given our society’s unhealthy infatuation with consumption. But for those who are not as socially and environmentally conscious, there’s actually another good reason to stay home, sleep in, and skip the dark, cold, and (very possibly) rainy lines in parking lots: Research shows the best deals of the season aren’t available on Black Friday.

Decide.com, a research firm specializing in tracking the prices of electronics, has analyzed years of price data and concluded that Black Friday – along with its digital counterpart, “Cyber Monday” – are overrated:

Planning to get in line for Black Friday? Expecting to spend next Monday glued to your computer? Boy, have we got some big advice for you: Sleep in on Black Friday and skip the Cyber Monday hype.

That was the results of our exhaustive research into historical prices of holiday items over the past two years. We found that the deals you see aren’t deals at all. Nine of the 11 major consumer product categories averaged a lower price during this week leading up to Black Friday and the week right before Christmas.

We tracked millions of price movements from dozens of the top retailers—including Amazon, Best Buy, Sears, Walmart and more– during the 2010 and 2011 holiday shopping season. From all that data we compiles a list of products you’re better off buying at other times during the holidays.

Decide’s team says that the best time to buy cameras, televisions, vaccums, hot toys, and espresso machines is before Black Friday. (So, days like today). The week before Christmas is the best time to buy many kitchen appliances and laptops. That said, Black Friday is a good time to buy home fitness equipment and video games.

But those two categories are the only exceptions.

Retailers love that many people are obsessed with the idea of getting great deals on Black Friday by camping out early or getting in the door first, and have done everything they can to encourage people to make shopping their religion.

People like this Florida woman:

Itzaida Diaz plans to spend more than $1,500 at Best Buy on Black Friday, and she’s willing to camp out in front of the store for nearly a week to make sure she gets the best deals.

“We’re really doing it for my son who landed second in line last year. He has a very competitive spirit,” said Diaz of east Orange County, who set up two tents outside the East Colonial Drive electronics retailer Saturday night. “He wants a Toshiba 40-inch flat-screen TV, and we’re also getting tablets, Sony PlayStations, Blu-ray players and other things.”

Since Diaz and her family are first in line, they’ll receive tickets to Best Buy’s limited-quantity doorbuster deals when the store opens Thursday at midnight.

“I know this is crazy, but we’re actually spending quality time together, and we can save up to $200 at the same time,” said Diaz, who is taking off time from work as an accountant.

Here’s an idea, Itzaida: Why don’t you pack up the tent, go home, prepare a hearty meal for Thanksgiving, enjoy that meal, and play a board game with your son and other family members? Then, if you feel like shopping later on, power up your computer and browse for prices on electronics online. Do some research (use Decide.com). Make a purchase or two if you’re convinced you’ve spotted a good deal. But don’t blow that much money on one day at one store in the wee hours of the morning. Don’t spend your holiday in front of a big box store.

Retailers have every incentive to make us all believe that our holiday weekend is best spent at the mall, in their stores, loading up our credit cards with debt and buying as much stuff as possible. The implication is that buying stuff will make us happy. But the holiday we’re celebrating this week is Thanksgiving – not Black Friday. And Thanksgiving is an occasion to be content, not greedy.

Too many people seem to have lost sight of what Thanksgiving is all about, not least the executives of Wal-Mart and Target. I’m happy to say I don’t patronize those chains. I prefer to shop local, to shop union, and to shop organic whenever I possibly can. (That’s why PCC Natural Markets – which will be closed for the entire duration of Thanksgiving – is my favorite place to spend money).

We at NPI believe Thanksgiving is, or should be, primarily about three things: giving thanks, spending time with family, and contemplating the improvement of the human condition. There are many people on this Earth who simply do not enjoy the freedoms or creature comforts that we Americans have, and Thanksgiving is as good an occasion as any to remember that there are millions of people living without shelter, clean water, or adequate food.

This Thanksgiving weekend, if you’re fortunate not to have to work, consider donating to a charity like MercyCorps and relaxing at home instead of fighting the Black Friday crowds at Bellevue Square, Southcenter, or Alderwood Mall. You’ll save money, and you’ll have the chance to make the most of your time off, too.

“Seattle’s Progressive Talk” to be shut down; CBS Radio converting AM 1090 to sports

Last week, as we reported a few days ago, Clear Channel pulled the plug on progressive talk radio in Portland, converting AM 620 KPOJ (“Portland’s Progressive Talk”) to a Fox Sports affiliate after more than eight years of serving as a home for popular hosts like Thom Hartmann, Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, Norman Goldman, Rachel Maddow, Al Franken, and Sam Seder.

Now we’ve received confirmation that CBS Radio will be doing the same thing with AM 1090 in Seattle as of January 2nd, 2013.

On January 2nd, CBS (which used to be known as Viacom before it spun off several of its business units as a separate company called Viacom) plans to convert KFNQ, formerly KPTK, to the sports radio format, along with many other stations around the country. The apparent objective is to create a stronger network of sports radio stations so that CBS can better compete for national sports programming contracts.

Seattle, of course, already has plenty of stations offering sports talk. These include KRKO (broadcasting as Fox Sports Radio 1380), KIRO (broadcasting as 710 ESPN Seattle) and KJR (broadcasting as Sports Radio 950).

But CBS executives don’t care. As far as they’re concerned, AM 1090’s current format isn’t making enough money – so they’re going to completely trash it, just like Clear Channel did with AM 620 in Portland.

CBS hasn’t yet officially announced the change, and they haven’t authorized an on-air announcement or an explanation for AM 1090’s website, but staff in Seattle have been told that it is happening. And they have communicated the news to people they know (including many of AM 1090’s most loyal listeners).

So we know this isn’t a rumor.

Management at CBS claims that although progressive political talk has a dedicated core audience, the overall audience has been declining, both in our region and nationally. We haven’t seen any numbers backing up that assertion, but that is part of the justification for the format change that CBS Seattle staff have been given.

Those unfamiliar with the radio business might be surprised to know that AM 1090 has been through a lot of format shifts before. AM 1090 is Seattle’s third oldest-radio station; it began broadcasting in 1927 as KVL.

In 1947, Dorothy Bullitt launched KING AM on the frequency. KING AM was initially a NBC News affiliate; it also broadcast traditional pop music, jazz, and swing. In the 1970s, 1090 became “Musicradio 11 KING”, principally broadcasting hits from Billboard’s “Top 40″ chart. KING AM shifted to soft adult contemporary music in 1980, but ratings remained low, and two years later, the station stopped broadcasting tunes entirely due to the growing popularity of the FM band.

The station was relaunched in 1982 as KING NewsTalk 1090, with a slate of hosts that included Mike and Candace Siegel, Randy Rowland, Jim Althoff, Carl Dombek, Jeff Ray, and Pat Cashman (later one of the stars of Almost Live!). Fourteen years later, in 1994, the station quit paying all of its local talent and instead began carrying the Associated Press’ All News Radio. Not long after, the station was sold by the Bullitt family, and its call letters were changed nearly half a dozen times.

By 1996, 1090 AM was broadcasting country music, and it was bought by Infinity Broadcasting, which later became CBS Radio (a unit of Viacom, now CBS Corporation). Infinity experimented with a news talk format again after the turn of the century (with local talent such as Bob Rivers and Ron & Don), but pulled the plug after less than a year. 1090, which was by this time known as KYCW, returned to country music, and continued broadcasting that until October 2004, when it became KPTK (“Seattle’s Progressive Talk”).

Now the geniuses at CBS want to convert 1090 AM to a sports format. They figure the audience for sports programming is larger, and the station will be able to make more money by competing for that audience.

We wonder if they’ve done their homework. This is not a market that is currently under-served.

KJR already has Husky football and basketball; KIRO (AM + FM) has the Mariners, Sounders, and the Seahawks, and both stations also carry plenty of sports commentary and analysis in addition to games.

And as of a few weeks ago, sports fans in the Pacific Northwest have even less incentive to listen to games or analysis on the radio.

If they subscribe to Comcast cable, Frontier FiOS, or Dish Network, they can watch all the games that the likes of ESPN and Fox don’t decide to carry on the Pac-12 Networks, a family of television channels created by the Pacific 12 conference.

The Pacific 12 conference, as many readers know, consists of twelve schools, including Washington and Oregon’s four largest public universities. The schools collectively decided a couple of years ago that they could better monetize their athletic events by creating a broadcasting arm under their direct control.

Now that the Pac-12 Networks are live, college sports fans can watch far more games on TV than they could before. Each region of the conference has its own channel, and there’s also a national Pac-12 channel as well.

This is what CBS is up against. They’re making an extremely risky bet. By converting AM 1090, they lose the station’s current loyal audience and all the goodwill they have tried to cultivate over the years through “Precinct 1090″ and annual town hall forums. No other station in Seattle broadcasts progressive talk, which means that AM 1090 – in its present incarnation – has a niche.

And it has boosters, too. Many local activists have promoted the station for years with AM 1090 bumper stickers or window decals on their vehicles.

CBS executives are mistaken if they think this community of listeners, which their Seattle staff has worked hard to build, are going to stick around once the company turns its back on them by junking “Seattle’s Progressive Talk”.

At least CBS hasn’t made the switch yet, unlike Clear Channel. If you’re an AM 1090 listener who wants progressive talk to stay on the air in Seattle, you can voice your displeasure regarding CBS’ plans to its corporate office.

CBS RADIO
1271 Avenue of the Americas FL 44
New York, NY 10020

There’s also a Facebook page called “Keep Progressive Talk in Seattle” which you can become a fan of. The creator of the page is urging people to send postcards to CBS headquarters protesting the format change.

Randy Dorn says I-1240 is unconstitutional; he may go to court to overturn the initiative

Washington Superintendent of Public Schools Randy Dorn is contemplating legal action against I-1240, the charter schools initiative financed by Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Jeff Bezos, Q13 Fox’s C.R. Douglas reported last night.

“Creating a new agency under the governor’s office to oversee ten to forty public schools, to me, is a clear violation of the Constitution,” Dorn told Douglas, one of Seattle’s most respected political reporters.

Dorn, whose reelection was assured after he received more than fifty percent of the vote in the August winnowing election, seems intent on moving forward with a lawsuit. He says he wants to talk to the attorney general’s office before he makes a move. But the A.G. is responsible for defending initiatives that the voters pass. They’re required to do that. They would have to defend against any suit Dorn files. So we’re not sure why Dorn would consult with them about legal strategy.

If Dorn wants the initiative overturned, he’ll need to engage his own counsel, like the Democratic lawmakers who filed suit to have I-1053 thrown out as unconstitutional. (They and the other plaintiffs retained Paul Lawrence of the Pacifica Law Group to represent them in court).

Dorn does not have to do this on his own… he could partner with the Washington Education Association and other groups to mount a legal challenge.

Both Governor Chris Gregoire and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark have seen fit to retain their own counsel to represent them when they disagreed with current Attorney General Rob McKenna’s position.

For instance, Chris Gregoire is represented in the case against I-1053 by Michele Radosevich. Gregoire wants the courts to decide whether I-1053 is constitutional or not, rather than dismissing the case against the measure on a technicality, which is McKenna’s preference. Radosevich has articulated this position in both King County Superior Court and the state Supreme Court on Gregoire’s behalf.

Peter Goldmark, meanwhile, hired David A. Bricklin to take Rob McKenna to court two years ago because McKenna had refused to file an appeal on Goldmark’s behalf as he was obligated to. (Bricklin ultimately won the case for Goldmark).

Dorn is not the only one who thinks I-1240 is unconstitutional. Respected scholar Hugh Spitzer, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Washington, also holds that view. And we find Spitzer’s arguments compelling.

Article IX of our state Constitution uses some surprisingly specific language in spelling out how the state is to provide for the education of Washington’s youth. Consider Section 2 of that article:

SECTION 2 PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.

The authors of I-1240 claim that their initiative does not violate this provision of the Constitution. They even inserted that claim into the text of the initiative:

(m) Public charter schools, as authorized in chapter . . . Laws of 2013 (this act), are “common schools” and part of the “general and uniform system of public schools” provided by the legislature as required by Article IX, section 2 of the state Constitution.

But the existence of this language in I-1240 does not magically make I-1240 constitutional. As Spitzer wrote last month:

The State Supreme Court wrote that the Constitution’s drafters meant for Common School Fund money to be applied exclusively to schools that were uniform in character and controlled by local school boards and county superintendents who picked the principals and teachers. Justice Stephen Chadwick wrote that a common school must not only be open to all children but must also be “subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to selected qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.” Justice Chadwick pointedly added that the Legislature’s calling a school a “common school” didn’t make it one.

Emphasis is his. We concur that I-1240 attempts to set up special schools that don’t actually fall within the “general and uniform system of public schools” the Superintendent of Public Instruction is supposed to oversee. And that brings us to Article III, Section 22, the basis for Superintendent Dorn’s comments:

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.

Note the presence of the words “shall” and “all”.

The Superintendent is to have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools. Period. That is what the Constitution says.

If the charter schools I-1240 sets up are in fact public schools (as proponents have claimed they are), then the Superintendent must have authority over them. But guess what? I-1240’s language puts a brand new commission in charge of supervising the charter schools that I-1240 would create. The Superintendent of Public Instruction is given no role at all. Take a look:

NEW SECTION. Sec. 208. WASHINGTON CHARTER SCHOOL COMMISSION.

(1) The Washington charter school commission is established as an independent state agency whose mission is to authorize high quality public charter schools throughout the state, particularly schools designed to expand opportunities for at-risk students, and to ensure the highest standards of accountability and oversight for these schools. The commission shall, through its management, supervision, and enforcement of the charter contracts, administer the portion of the public common school system consisting of the charter schools it authorizes as provided in this chapter, in the same manner as a school district board of directors, through its management, supervision, and enforcement of the charter contracts, and pursuant to applicable law, administers the charter schools it authorizes.

(2) The commission shall consist of nine members, no more than five of whom shall be members of the same political party. Three members shall be appointed by the governor; three members shall be appointed by the president of the senate; and three members shall be appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives. The appointing authorities shall assure diversity among commission members, including representation from various geographic areas of the state and shall assure that at least one member is a parent of a Washington public school student.

(3) Members appointed to the commission shall collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance; management and finance; public school leadership, assessment, curriculum, and instruction; and public education law. All members shall have demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.

(4) Members shall be appointed to four-year, staggered terms, with initial appointments from each of the appointing authorities consisting of one member appointed to a one-year term, one member appointed to a two-year term, and one member appointed to a three-year term, all of whom thereafter may be reappointed for a four-year term. No member may serve more than two consecutive terms. Initial appointments must be made no later than ninety days after the effective date of this section.

(5) Whenever a vacancy on the commission exists, the original appointing authority must appoint a member for the remaining portion of the term within no more than thirty days.

(6) Commission members shall serve without compensation but may be reimbursed for travel expenses as authorized in RCW 43.03.050 and 43.03.060.

(7) Operational and staff support for the commission shall be provided by the office of the governor until the commission has sufficient resources to hire or contract for separate staff support, who shall reside within the office of the governor for administrative purposes only.

(8) Sections 209 and 212 of this act do not apply to the commission.

Not surprisingly, the authors of I-1240 also put in language that tries to make the initiative look like it complies with Article III, Section 22:

(5) Charter schools are subject to the supervision of the superintendent of public instruction and the state board of education, including accountability measures, to the same extent as other public schools, except as otherwise provided in chapter . . ., Laws of 2013 (this act).

This language is meaningless. How is the superintendent in charge here, given that the authors of this initiative have set up a separate, “independent state agency” that has the power to “administer the portion of the public common school system consisting of the charter schools it authorizes”?

Administration of public schools is the Superintendent’s job. The Constitution is specific: “The superintendent… shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools.” The founders went out of their way not to be vague. Consider how powerful that sentence is. The word choice is unequivocal.

But the authors of I-1240 clearly made a deliberate decision to ignore the Constitution because they do not want Randy Dorn having any control or involvement in the administration of these new schools. The text of I-1240 acknowledges that the position of superintendent exists and has authority over all schools, but it’s a sop. Section 208 of the measure awards power to oversee the charters to a commission the superintendent has no authority or control over.

We believe I-1240 is unconstitutional on multiple grounds and deserves a legal challenge. If such a challenge is brought, we will enthusiastically support it.

We need to put an end to initiatives bought and paid for by powerful interests that do an end run around our Constitution. Our plan of government has to mean something, or before long, it’s just going to be a scrap of paper.

Occupy offshoot launches “Rolling Jubilee”

Last week an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street launched Rolling Jubilee, a new project billed as “a bailout for the 99%”. The project, which has been generating considerable interest in the financial press, aims to help out ordinary Americans by purchasing and abolishing their debt. It’s a novel idea:

Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then turn around and try to collect the full amount from debtors. The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it. We’re going into this market not to make a profit but to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities. Think of it as a bailout of the 99% by the 99%.

Rolling Jubilee will hold a formal launch event this Thursday at Le Poisson Rouge. The event is already sold out, but will be livestreamed at rollingjubilee.org.

So far, over $143,000 has been raised to wipe out $2,871,186 in debt. If Rolling Jubilee can get to $1 million, it will be able to wipe out more than $20 million in debt, which would be no small feat. If it could somehow manage to raise $10 million, it could theoretically cancel $200 million in debt.

What’s really striking about this (no pun intended) is that an individual contribution goes a long way. For every $1 donated, $20 of debt can be purchased.

Got $10 to spare? We’ll liberate someone from $200 of debt.

Throw us twenty bucks and we’ll obliterate $400 of a struggling American’s debt. $100? We’ll take the weight of two thousand dollars off someone’s back.

Many people have raised questions about Rolling Jubilee, especially in regards to the tax implications of forgiving debt (there’s an active comment thread about that over at Reuters’ site). Rolling Jubilee says it will earn no income from buying and abolishing debt, so it will not have to file 1099-C forms with the Internal Revenue Service. We understand that Rolling Jubilee has received some counsel on this matter from attorneys who specialize in tax preparation.

What about people who will benefit from the project?

Supposedly, they’re covered too. IRS Publication 4681 declares, “Generally, you do not have income from canceled debt if the cancellation or forgiveness of the debt is a gift.” And that is the business Rolling Jubilee is going into: Gift-giving. Unlike megabanks, Rolling Jubilee wants to abolish debt, not profit from it.

Rolling Jubilee may, however, want to obtain a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service affirming that people whose debt is forgiven have received a gift and therefore don’t have to pay taxes on cancellation of debt (COD) income.

What we find appealing about Rolling Jubilee is that it turns finance on its head, much in the same way that the GNU General Public License (GPL) turns copyright on its head. The GPL uses copyright law to keep free software free, a concept known as copyleft. Users of free software are required to abide by the license: if they distribute the software, they have to distribute the source code. And if they distribute modifications, they have to distribute the modified source code.

Rolling Jubilee is essentially doing something similar. The project is taking advantage of the fact that banks sell debt. RJ will legally buy the debt, but instead of trying to collect the debt, it will cancel it.

It’s a very progressive, very unconventional idea.

Rolling Jubilee aims to be transparent. The people behind the project want prospective donors to know there will be almost no overhead at all:

All contributions go to The Rolling Jubilee Fund, a non-profit 501(c) (4) organization with the exclusive mission of buying and abolishing debt. 100% of the money raised will go to the process of buying and abolishing debt (a process that includes some associated costs such as paperwork, accounting, and legal fees). The volunteers managing the fund receive no compensation. In the interest of transparency, a full accounting of funds received and spent will be reported on our website.

If you’re interested in participating in Rolling Jubilee, follow this link to learn more.

U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene sworn into office as our newest member of Congress

All of us at NPI would like to extend our warmest congratulations to our good friend Suzan DelBene, who, as of today, is the newest member of Congress from the great state of Washington, succeeding our governor-elect.

Suzan, as most readers likely know, was easily elected to serve out the remainder of Jay Inslee’s term in the old 1st District as well as winning a full term in the new 1st District (which stretches from Redmond, Kirkland, and the Points communities in King County to the Canadian border).

Today, shortly after 4 PM Pacific Time, she took the oath of office and officially became a U.S. Representative. The oath for members of Congress is as follows:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

DelBene’s swearing in was attended by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and members of Washington’s congressional delegation. She was introduced by outgoing Congressman Norm Dicks, the longest-serving member of the delegation. Her prepared remarks were as follows:

Thank you to Congressman Dicks for the kind introduction. 

Mr. Speaker, Leader Pelosi, members of the Washington Delegation, members of the 112th Congress, it’s truly an honor for me to be here today.

I’d first like to thank all those who have supported me throughout this journey, in particular my family, my husband Kurt, who’s up in the gallery and my children Rebecca and Zachary who are both in college. I’m grateful to share this moment with them.

It is a great privilege to represent the people of Washington’s 1st District, both the current and future versions of it. I’m honored to have been given this opportunity by the voters of Western Washington and I appreciate their support. I will work hard to meet their expectations and serve them well.

I look forward to working with all of you and I’m honored to be able to serve alongside the distinguished members of Washington’s delegation.

I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and get to work right away.

Doc Hastings, the longest-serving Republican member of Congress from the Evergreen State, also offered words of welcome for DelBene.

DelBene was sworn in prior to certification of the election because it is clear she is destined to be the winner. In fact, a Koster victory in the old 1st District (drawn in 2001) is now mathematically impossible.

Two additional freshmen will begin their service in January: Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck, who be representing the 6th and 10th Districts, respectively.

Kilmer, DelBene, and Heck all participated in a press conference led by Nancy Pelosi earlier today. The purpose of the event was to introduce the Democratic freshmen of 2012 to the Washington press corps.

DelBene does not have a House website yet, but she is expected to soon. She will have to put her office together quickly because there are several important matters coming before the House this month and next.

Research in Motion to launch new BlackBerry 10 smartphones on January 30th, 2013

Big news out of Waterloo, Canada today: Research in Motion has just announced via press release that it has set a launch date for BlackBerry 10, the company’s next generation mobile-operating system, which BlackBerry fans like us have been anxiously awaiting for many months.

BlackBerry 10 marks a clean break from RIM’s older BlackBerry OS, which first debuted at the end of the 1990s and initially powered BlackBerry pagers.

Though the existing BlackBerry OS was modernized significantly in 2011 with the 7.x series (all BlackBerrys currently for sale run the 7.x series), RIM has known for some time that it needed to start fresh with a more powerful foundation.

That’s why, in 2010, the company bought QNX Software Systems from Harman International. QNX is a proprietary, Unix-like operating system that is widely used in the industrial sector. Users of QNX include General Electric, Honda, the United States Postal Service, General Motors, Cisco, Land Rover, Chrysler, and Caterpillar.

QNX is especially popular in the automotive sector, as is evident from looking at the names of the companies I just listed.

It is very powerful despite being very light, or compact.

RIM began adapting QNX for use in mobile devices not long after it acquired QNX Software Systems from Harman.

The following year (2011), RIM released the first device running a QNX-derived operating system: the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. The PlayBook’s Tablet OS has seen several upgrades since the device’s debut, which have greatly enhanced its featureset and addressed most of the shortcomings flagged by reviewers.

Now RIM is bringing this new codebase to its smartphone line. On January 30th, the first smartphones running BlackBerry 10 will be publicly unveiled to the world. It’s not clear when the new devices will go on sale; however, it’s unlikely to be more than a couple of weeks following the launch event. Developers have had access to prototype devices running alpha and beta versions of BlackBerry 10 for several months, but the general public has not.

Two phones are expected to be introduced on the 30th. One will be a “full touch” slate phone, similar in form factor to the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy S III, which are two of the top-selling smartphones in the North American market. The second will be a “QWERTY” phone with a physical keyboard for people like me, who can type a lot faster (and more accurately) with physical keys.

Specifications for the new phones are of course not out yet. But BlackBerry enthusiasts have high hopes for the hardware as well as the new BB10 software. The new phones are expected to have dual core processors and at least 1 GB of memory, perhaps more. The new devices are also expected to support 4G LTE wireless bands, the latest revisions of the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi standards, and Near Field Communication (NFC) in addition to older 3G bands like HSPA and EV-DO.

Historically, unlike Apple, RIM has designed its smartphones so users can upgrade their capabilities. For instance, batteries are removable and replaceable, and micro SD card slots are available to expand the phones’ storage capacity.

BlackBerrys also make use of micro USB for charging and transfer of data, obviating the need to carry proprietary connector cables. The new BlackBerry smartphones are expected to have these advantages as well.

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has promised that important apps and features will be available at launch. BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, is said to be getting a significant upgrade, for example, while retaining compatibility for older devices.

But the heart and soul of the new BlackBerry 10 OS is undoubtedly the “hub” and “flow” user interface that the company has been demonstrating at its popular “Jam” sessions, such as the one held in San Jose in September.

The hub is essentially a conversation manager. In some ways it resembles the email client introduced with Version 2.0 of the BlackBerry PlayBook OS, with which it probably shares some code. The hub lets a BlackBerry user easily view and sort all incoming messages, whether they be emails, texts, emergency alerts, or BBMs.

The Hub also natively supports the messaging systems of all of the major social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) and provides a preview of upcoming meetings and events from the calendar. It can be accessed by simply swiping up from the bottom, and then over to the right.

The hub in BlackBerry 10

The Research in Motion team shows the hub, off one of the key features of BlackBerry 10, which acts as a conversation manager. Messages in the global view, seen to the right, can be filtered by type or by account, as seen on the left. (Courtesy of Research in Motion Ltd.)

Flow is the word RIM executives have been using to describe how the new BlackBerry 10 phones can be manipulated.

Traditionally, smartphones have been controlled by going to a home screen and calling up an application. But in BlackBerry 10 (as on the PlayBook), users can move between applications by swiping with a finger. There’s no need for a home button. It’s even possible to “peek” at another application without switching over to that application and giving it control of all the screen real estate.

It would be an exaggeration to say that RIM has totally reinvented the smartphone with BlackBerry 10. But BB10 certainly will break new ground with its user interface.

BB10 phones will also support technologies other smartphones do not – notably Flash. RIM collaborated with Adobe to bring Flash to the PlayBook, and it is one of the tablet’s strongest selling points. BB10 phones are supposed to support Flash as well. While HTML5 has partially displaced Flash, there are plenty of sites still out there that only offer video via Flash. With built-in Flash support and 4G LTE, watching a livestream or prerecorded clip on a BlackBerry smartphone will be as easy as doing so on a desktop or laptop. Or PlayBook tablet.

Speaking of HTML5, BB10 offers full support for the newest revision of the Hypertext Markup Language. RIM’s Tablet OS (for the PlayBook) currently bests all other tablets when it comes to HTML5 support, according to the Sights consultancy. BlackBerry 10, meanwhile, is tied with the open source Tizen OS in the larger mobile category for best HTML5 support. (Development of Tizen is sponsored by the Linux Foundation; Tizen is descended in part from Palm’s webOS).

It remains to be seen if the new BB10 phones can be competitive with the plethora of Android devices available, or the iPhone, in the United States. RIM’s reputation and market share in North America have taken a beating over the last two years despite remaining strong elsewhere. (BlackBerrys are extremely popular in countries like Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria, which are growth markets). RIM’s big challenge is marketing. Once the new phones go on sale, RIM needs to be able to make sales in tandem with its carrier partners. More than fifty carriers are currently testing BB10, and Verizon, the largest U.S. carrier, has already indicated it plans to be a launch carrier. AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile will probably follow suit.

We look forward to the January launch event and the future of BlackBerry. As a nonprofit that values security, privacy, and effiency very highly, we remain committed to the BlackBerry platform.

The self-appointed technology experts at TechCrunch, AllThingsD, and the New York Times may not be rooting for RIM, but we are.

Clear Channel kills progressive talk in Portland; activists rallying to bring it back

Clear Channel has struck again.

Last Friday, without providing any explanation, the radio and outdoor advertising conglomerate trashed the entire programming lineup for KPOJ 620 AM (“Portland’s Progressive Talk”) and converted the station into a Fox Sports affiliate.

The sudden format change means Randi Rhodes, Mike Malloy, Thom Hartmann, and other progressive hosts can no longer be heard over the air in Portland, Oregon’s largest city. Carl Wolfson’s live and local progressive talk show, which aired in the mornings, has also been cancelled.

KPOJ was one of the now-defunct Air America’s original affiliates. It carried shows like Unfiltered (with Rachel Maddow, Lizz Winstead and Chuck D) Morning Sedition,  The O’Franken Factor (later The Al Franken Show) and the Majority Report (with Sam Seder and Janeane Garofalo). Like CBS Radio’s AM 1090 in Seattle, KPOJ was largely unaffected by the 2010 breakup of Air America because it was airing progressive talk shows syndicated by other companies.

Clear Channel, which was taken private in 2008 by Bain Capital, is one of the largest media conglomerates in the United States. It has become infamous among media critics for censorship, abrupt format changes (like this one) operating many of its stations remotely and robotically, and paying actors to call into its talk shows.

Clear Channel spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every election cycle on political contributions to candidates. Republicans have typically received more Clear Channel money than Democrats, though Democrats received a greater share in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles because the party controlled Congress at the time. The company primarily gives money to incumbents as opposed to challengers.

Clear Channel owns dozens of stations in the Pacific Northwest. Most are located in Washington. Five are in Oregon, all in the Portland area (including KPOJ). Another eight are in Idaho (Pocatello, Idaho Falls, and Twin Falls).

Kari Chisholm, a friend of ours and the founder of BlueOregon (which is indexed by Pacific NW Portal) has launched a petition to Clear Channel to bring KPOJ back. The petition reads:

620 KPOJ was a respected and profitable station with dedicated listeners and advertisers. KPOJ’s local programming also played an important role in our community, connecting elected officials and advocates with listeners across the region.

We strongly urge you to bring back progressive talk radio in Portland, Oregon.

On BlueOregon, Kari explained that he was motivated to act after receiving phone calls from anguished listeners. “As someone who appeared nearly every Tuesday morning on KPOJ for seven years – and was their longest-running weekly guest – I’m well aware of the power and reach of KPOJ. It really was a critical gathering spot for our progressive community… I believe that we can reverse this decision.”

“It won’t be easy, and it won’t be fast. But by demonstrating that KPOJ’s progressive audience is dedicated and large, we can get Clear Channel to reverse course. And if they won’t budge, then we’ll demonstrate to another company, another station that there’s an audience here for progressive talk. ”

If you agree, consider signing on to Kari’s petition at SaveKPOJ.com. Especially if you live in Portland, Beaverton, Tigard, Gresham, America’s Vancouver, or their suburbs – the area that KPOJ’s signal reaches.

We at NPI launched a similar site in the aftermath of the cancellation of The David Goldstein Show more than four years ago. That site, Letter to 710 KIRO, remains online as an NPI archive. It had over one thousand signatories, which demonstrated that David’s weekend show had a surprisingly dedicated and loyal audience.

We hope Kari is successful in his efforts to begin a dialogue with Clear Channel. But we wish media conglomerates didn’t have this kind of power. When a group of executives sitting in a boardroom in Texas have the authority to choose what over-the-air programming is available to people in cities like Seattle and Portland, something is wrong. If it wasn’t for National Public Radio (NPR) and its affiliates, practically the entire medium of radio would be controlled by companies like Clear Channel, which care about money and power, not community or sustainability.

Rob McKenna concedes gubernatorial race; congratulates Governor-elect Jay Inslee

Republican Rob McKenna is finally throwing in the towel.

After having spent several days maintaining that there was still a viable path to victory over Jay Inslee, McKenna and his campaign team have come to the same conclusion that we reached when we assessed the race during the last few minutes of November 6th: Jay Inslee is going to be Washington’s next governor.

Rob McKenna’s campaign announced in a conference call with reporters that McKenna called Democrat Jay Inslee a short while ago to concede the 2012 gubernatorial race and congratulate Inslee on his victory.

McKenna’s staff have updated the campaign website to prominently feature a thank-you video from the candidate. The transcript of this video is as follows:

Friends, today we come to the end of a long journey.

Despite the extraordinary efforts of our volunteers, donors, staff, and everyone who’s been part of Team McKenna, it appears we will fall short of victory when the last ballots are counted. After seventeen months of hard work, that is a very disappointing result.

I’ve just placed a call to Congressman Inslee to offer my congratulations, and to wish him the best as Washington’s next governor.

The new administration will face many vexing issues – not least, how to adequately fund and reform our schools. And I’m hopeful that all of Washington’s elected leaders can work together to move us forward.

I’m proud of the campaign we’ve run, of our top-notch campaign team, and of the thousands of volunteers who got involved because they saw an opportunity to make our state better than it is and as good as it can be.

Running for governor of Washington has been a profound privilege, and has taught me much about the people of this great state. It has been a thoroughly enriching and gratifying experience, even though it ultimately has not resulted in the opportunity I sought to serve you as your next governor.

The most gratifying aspect of running has been meeting thousands of people in every corner of our state. They don’t all share the same experiences, or exactly the same views about government and society, or about how we can best meet the challenges our state faces, but they are all Washingtonians through and through, and they love this state.

My supporters among them have been the bedrock of my campaign throughout this contest. Together, we contacted more voters, raised more money, received more endorsements, and had the broadest outreach of any gubernatorial campaign in at least a generation. That’s something of which we can all be proud.

To those of you who knocked on doors, made hours of phone calls, put up yard signs, held fundraisers, and reached out to your friends and family to explain why you supported me, thank you, from my the bottom of my heart. It has meant so much to me, to Marilyn, and to our entire family, and it is very humbling to all of us that you have invested so much of your own blood, sweat, and tears into this effort. I will never forget you.

I’d also like to thank all of the coalitions that came together to work with me to support my campaign and to create outreach into our state’s many varied communities. Groups like Asian-Americans for McKenna, Latinos for McKenna, our veterans’ coalition, Women for McKenna, and Democrats for Rob included some of my most energetic supporters. Other key support came from hundreds of small business owners who expressed their frustrations about state government to me and who worked with me for a day when the state will actually make it easier for them to succeed and to grow.

Those of you in the law enforcement community have been among my staunchest backers, always, and my dearest friends, and it has been my privilege as Attorney General to assist you in making our state safer.

And then there are my friends working for education reform and for a state that will fully fund our schools. You’ll also always have my gratitude. Groups like Stand for Children and the Public School Employees of Washington are working hard every day to make our schools, our education system better. I applaud you for your work, and I thank you for your support as well.

I also owe a deep debt of gratitude to my family for their incredible love and support over the years. Being a public official and running for office – especially statewide – are not nine-to-five jobs. They require a lot of long days and weekends on the road – but my family, especially my wife Marilyn and our four amazing children, never wavered and are always there for me and for each other. I love you all very, very much.

As the year draws to a close, my service as Attorney General is also winding down. What an incredible eight years it has been, both professionally and personally. I will always cherish the friendships I have made in my office, and throughout the attorney general community nationwide, as well as our achievements together on behalf of the best clients a lawyer could hope for: the American people themsleves.

My vision eight years ago was to lead the Attorney General’s office to become the best public law office in America, and we have achieved that goal. To my colleagues there, please, continue working hard for Washington’s people, and please continue being the best at what you do. Our office’s leadership may be changing, but being the best will always begin with each of you.

Many of you may be curious about what I’ll do next, and right now, that’s up in the air. But public service is a part of my DNA, as you know from the stories I’ve told about my parents. So you can be sure that I will continue to stay involved in my community, for example, by working for education reform, in Rotary, through the Boy Scouts, and working in every way I can to create a better future for our young people.

Thanks again to all of you watching this for all you have done for my family, my campaign, and me, and for the leadership you’ve shown throughout this amazing journey. May God continue to bless America, the State of Washington, and each of you.

Thank you very much.

Though the Washington State press corps have expressed an interest in doing a postmorterm with McKenna, the candidate has no plans to speak with reporters, according to his campaign manager Randy Pepple.

McKenna’s concession has no legal significance, but it does represent the continuation of an important tradition in American politics: acknowledging the winner of a popular election and accepting defeat with grace.

In about two months, Jay Inslee will be sworn in as Washington’s twenty-third governor. He is the fourth Democrat to be consecutively elected to the state’s highest office (his predecessors were Booth Gardner, Mike Lowry, Gary Locke, and Chris Gregoire). Democrats have controlled the governor’s mansion for twenty-eight years, and will now hold it for at least another four.

Inslee held a news conference Friday evening at his campaign headquarters on Rainier Avenue in Seattle to celebrate with his team and pledge to serve one hundred percent of the people of Washington State.

Dwight Pelz, the enigmatic chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party, was quick to react to McKenna’s concession.

“I couldn’t be more excited that, after running a fantastic campaign and providing such a strong vision for our state, Jay Inslee is going to be our next governor. Washington now has a great opportunity to be a leader in the 21st Century economy, improve our education system, and build on the state’s incredible resources to move forward,” Pelz said in a statement.

“There is much work to do, but Jay Inslee is the right leader for Washington. Rob McKenna ran a great campaign, and proved to be a very strong candidate in yet another tough contest. But we’ve always thought Jay had the best vision for our state, and the voters agreed.”

“Congratulations to Jay and the great team that helped in this effort.”

Rob McKenna’s camp still hanging on to hope of victory; Team Inslee says Jay will win

Today is the third “day after” the 2012 general election. Ballot counting continues in most of Washington’s thirty-nine counties, as county elections officials open mail, verify signatures, and tabulate votes. In the meantime, the outcome of several races remains uncertain (particularly the contest for Secretary of State).

The gubernatorial race is not as close as many pundits had expected it to be. Still, Rob McKenna is refusing to concede. His team is holding out hope that he will overcome Jay Inslee’s lead to become Washington’s next governor. McKenna’s camp entered Election Night seemingly prepared for a long haul.

Randy Pepple, McKenna’s campaign manager, even went to the trouble of releasing a memo to “interested parties” outlining what to expect on Election Night. This memo has since been published on McKenna’s campaign website.

In it, Pepple writes:

Given the apparent advantage among early voters, and the trend from our own tracking surveys which showed that advantage reversed by the end of last week, the McKenna campaign thinks it both likely that the returns counted on election night will favor Congressman Inslee, and that the final vote tally will ultimately be in McKenna’s favor. Once again it appears that election night in Washington State will not produce a definitive winner in our marquee statewide contest.

We can see from looking at the graph below why McKenna’s camp believes there is reason for optimism: Since Election Night, McKenna has been chipping away at Inslee’s percentage of the total vote. That trend may continue today.

Evolution of results in Washington's 2012 gubernatorial race

A chart showing the evolution of results in Washington’s 2012 gubernatorial race. Jay Inslee has maintained a lead over Rob McKenna since late on Election Night.

But he is still more than fifty thousand votes behind Inslee, and we just don’t see him making up the difference. More than three quarters of a million ballots remain to be counted statewide, so a McKenna victory is still within the realm of possibility. However, a very large chunk of those ballots are King County ballots. And McKenna is getting trounced in heavily Democratic King County.

Inslee’s percentage of the vote in King County has not changed too much.

On Election Night, it was 63.01%. On Wednesday, it declined slightly to 62.69%. And yesterday, it stood at 62.16%.

Inslee may be losing ground percentage-wise, but he isn’t losing much. And there’s no guarantee the current trend (which favors McKenna) is going to continue. Even if it does, the data we have so far indicates Inslee will still be ahead a few days from now, when the pool of outstanding ballots has substantially dwindled.

McKenna needs to get above the forty percent mark in King County to have a chance of winning this race. If he doesn’t make up significant ground today, it will be a clear sign that the McKenna camp’s faith in a comeback is misplaced.

Team Inslee, in partnership with the Washington State Democrats, released a memo of their own today which asserts that Jay will hold onto his lead.

Consistent with projections following Election Night returns, analysis of updated results continues to indicate a near certain win for Inslee. With over 75% of all expected ballots counted, the Inslee lead has expanded to more than 56,000 votes statewide, further diminishing the mathematical probability of an outcome in McKenna’s favor.

Of the ballots remaining to be counted, 51.45% reside in King, Thurston, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties where Inslee is currently receiving 58.23% of the votes to McKenna’s 41.77%. Conversely, only 12.01% of remaining ballots reside in counties from which the majority of the McKenna statewide vote total is derived — Benton, Clark, Spokane, and Yakima. In these counties McKenna is currently only receiving 57.08% of votes to Inslee’s 42.92%. Thus, following the historic trend of Democratic gains beyond Election Day, the Inslee advantage will continue to increase as the remaining ballots are counted.

We concur with this analysis.

If Rob McKenna’s campaign is willing to share the models or simulations they’re using to project an eventual McKenna victory, we’d be happy to take a look at what they have. But our suspicion is they’ll keep all of that private.

Congratulations, Gael!

Last night, as the first election results were released, one of our own learned that she will almost certainly be the next freshman state representative from Washington’s 36th Legislative District, which encompasses neighborhoods like Magnolia and Ballard as well as much of Queen Anne.

On behalf of all of NPI’s other board members and all of NPI’s staff and supporters, I want to congratulate our president, Gael Tarleton, for her decisive, well-deserved victory and wish her well as she prepares to undertake her new responsibilities.

As an organization, we do not endorse candidates or get involved in races for elected office. But as individual activists and Democratic Party leaders, we proudly stood with Gael because we know her. We know her work ethic, we know she is committed to progressive politics, and we know she unequivocally believes in the values we have been working to uphold for more than nine years.

We are well aware that there are folks out there who don’t think Gael is a true progressive. A number of organizations supporting Noel Frame made the unfortunate decision to attack Gael late in the cycle, questioning her commitment to progressive politics and calling into question some of the votes and policy positions she has taken as a port commissioner. Unions such as the Teamsters spent several tens of thousands of dollars on ineffective attack ads against Gael.

I use the adjective ineffective because the results plainly demonstrate that the attacks didn’t work. At present, Gael has a decisive lead over Noel, 57% to 42%. That margin may tighten or widen a bit, but the outcome of the race is apparent at this point. In my mind, there’s no mystery as to why Gael is doing so well: She is winning decisively because she worked hard and earned the voters’ trust.

I have long believed that races for elected office come down to trust. I have yet to meet anyone who claims that their vote is determined by some sort of mathematical calculus. And that’s because people don’t choose who to vote for based on endorsements, issue positions, or even self-interest. They fill in the oval for the person they trust and connect with. Authenticity matters in politics.

Authenticity is also very important to me.

I am a passionate progressive; I believe that progressive values are mainstream American values, the values this country was founded upon centuries ago. I believe in progressive policy directions that improve people’s lives. I believe that leadership means guiding people to new positions, not following polls. And I believe that an effective activist must be action-oriented, resourceful, and capable of thinking long-term… as do NPI’s other staff and board members.

We are trying to do something incredibly difficult at NPI: Build a center for progressive thought that revolutionizes grassroots politics through innovative research and imaginative advocacy. From the ground up… literally.

I started this journey alone more than ten years ago when I launched Permanent Defense to oppose Tim Eyman’s initiatives.

But these days, I’m blessed and privileged to have friends like Gael Tarleton, who have provided endless encouragement and support, inspiring me to keep going even when I’ve felt discouraged. I have worked with Gael for years and know her well; contrary to what some of her critics recently said about her in The Stranger, she is unquestionably a person of integrity and a true progressive.

I trust Gael… and so do the people of the 36th.

Gael believes that trust is earned. She had no intention of attempting to coast to a win based on her name recognition. She made the effort to ask as many people as she possibly could – personally – for their vote. Most candidates who run for Legislature do some amount of door knocking and phone calling, but Gael made a point of going to as many doors and calling as many people as she possibly could. She tries to connect with people because she cares.

It is a testament to her work ethic that she has not lost an election.

In 2007, as a Progressive Majority candidate, she defeated incumbent port commissioner Bob Edwards. Edwards’ consultant, Michael Grossman, tried to discredit Gael by sending out attack mailers to homes throughout King County with her picture next to Dick Cheney’s and the caption “Gael Tarleton might not look like the face of Halliburton, but her old company could be more dangerous to our Port.”

The attacks backfired, and Gael won.

Last year, she sought a second term on the Port Commission. At the close of filing, she was opposed by both current 37th District Democrats Chair Michael Wolfe and perennial candidate Richard Pope, but Wolfe wisely withdrew just a few days later, and Gael went on to easily defeat Pope.

After Representative Mary Lou Dickerson announced her decision to retire back in the spring, Gael made the decision to run for the state House. She finished in first place in the August winnowing election, well ahead of all the other candidates, including all of her Democratic rivals. And in this general election runoff, she has once again prevailed with a clear and convincing majority behind her.

Thankfully, the cycle is now ending and the results will be certified in a few weeks. Come January, Gael will be sworn in as a member of Washington’s House of Representatives, and will begin serving at the state level.

I am confident that Gael will serve her constituents well in Olympia. I hope that, in time, the people who have convinced themselves that Gael is not on their side will realize – or at least begin to realize – that they have misjudged her.

And I hope to see Noel Frame run for office again. We need more young progressives like Noel stepping up and volunteering for public service.

Secretary of State contest very close: Democrat Kathleen Drew trails, but could reclaim lead by end of the week

Over the last few days, I’ve heard several people predict that Washington’s 2012 gubernatorial race would likely be as tight as the 2004 contest between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi, which dragged on for weeks as ballots were counted and recounted. It doesn’t look like that will be the case; Jay Inslee has a lead of 50,209 votes as of this morning, and we think his lead is only going to grow larger.

But there is another statewide race that’s very close.

Democrat Kathleen Drew and Republican Kim Wyman are each vying to succeed Sam Reed as Secretary of State (the state’s chief elections officer) and they each have roughly half of the vote as of this morning. Wyman took the lead midway through the evening last night and hasn’t relinquished it, but she doesn’t have much of an edge: Drew is only 14,243 votes behind her.

We project that within the next few days, Drew will catch up with Wyman and then go on to reclaim the lead. 

What’s the basis for this projection? It’s simple, really. If you look at the county-by-county breakdown, you can see that Drew is winning in some crucial swing counties, especially Snohomish and Whatcom – but also Jefferson, Grays Harbor, and Pacific. She’s not winning by much in any of those places, but she is ahead, and that matters a great deal… because in vote-rich King County, she’s crushing Wyman.

As regular readers of The Advocate know, I often say that statewide races are not won or lost in King County. They are decided in the all-important swing counties, where much of the state’s population resides.

Sometimes, the swing counties are uniformly aligned against King County, and when that happens, King County gets outvoted. But when the swing counties are divided, as is the case in this race, King County often gets to decide who wins.

We saw this dynamic at work four years ago in the race for Commissioner of Public Lands. Democrat Peter Goldmark eked out a victory over Republican Doug Sutherland primarily by winning Snohomish, Jefferson, and Whatcom. Goldmark lost many of the same swing counties Drew is currently losing to Wyman. But it didn’t matter. He did well enough in north Puget Sound to allow King County voters to decide the race. Sutherland was kicked out of office and Goldmark took over.

Goldmark’s percentage of the vote in 2008 in King County closely correlates with Drew’s percentage of the vote in King this year (61.88% vs. 61.71%).

If Drew can protect her lead in the five swing counties she’s currently got, King can put her over the top. That’s our forecast.

Wyman, of course, can’t be counted out. She is doing well in her home county of Thurston, and she has decent-sized leads in important swing counties like Pierce and Spokane. She also has commanding leads throughout eastern Washington. But in other swing counties, her lead is not so impressive.

In Kitsap, she’s only seven hundred and seventy-nine votes ahead of Drew. In Cowlitz, she is only ahead by five hundred and fifty-seven votes.

Drew has competed well enough outside of King County to win this race, Goldmark-style. And we think she can do it.

If she pulls it off, she will become the first Democratic Secretary of State in more than fifty years. And Democrats would hold all ten statewide positions for which party affiliation is listed on the ballot: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, lands commissioner, insurance commissioner, attorney general, and the state’s ten U.S. Senate seats.

Record number of Democratic women headed to U.S. Senate for 113th Congress

Exactly two decades after the 1992 presidential election, sometimes called the “year of the woman” or “year of the women”, the American people have made history by electing a record number of female candidates to the nation’s upper legislative chamber. Nearly all of them are Democrats.

Voters enthusiastically reelected Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington, Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Dianne Feinstein of California.

Joining them in 2013 will be new group of Democratic women: Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Republicans, meanwhile, have partially offset the retirements of Olympia Snowe in Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas with Deb Fischer’s victory in Nebraska. Fischer will join a Republican caucus with three returning women senators: Susan Collins of Maine (not up for election this year), Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. (Murkowski is technically an independent; she won reelection as a write-in candidate, but caucuses with Republicans).

The Democratic caucus will have four times as many women senators. There are six Democratic women serving in the U.S. Senate who were not up for reelection this year: Our own Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer of California, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. Together with the ten Democratic women elected or reelected tonight, they will make a group of sixteen.

We are still a ways away from having a Congress that looks like the United States of America, and does the public’s business in public. But as of this January, for the first time, one fifth of the members of the U.S. Senate will be women.

That’s an important milestone for our democracy.

Institutions – whether they be public or private – function better when the leadership is diverse. Last July, Bloomberg observed that companies with women on their boards outperform companies that are run almost exclusively by old white guys. The U.S. Senate will certainly benefit from the presence of strong women leaders like Elizabeth Warren, Mazie Hirono, and Tammy Baldwin.

We look forward to seeing them get to work in our nation’s capital.

Democrat Heidi Heitkamp prevails in North Dakota in upset of the night

Who says Democrats can no longer win in the prairies of the Midwest?

The Democratic Party’s energetic, personable, and people-focused nominee for U.S. Senate in North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp, appears to have won a surprising victory in one of the nation’s most conservative states.

Republicans had thought the Senate seat currently held by Kent Conrad was theirs for the taking when Conrad announced he wouldn’t run again. But their candidate, Rick Berg, is now 2,994 votes behind with 100% of precincts counted.

As of 1:45 AM Pacific Time, the results were as follows:

  • Republican Rick Berg: 49.31% (157,758 votes)
  • Democrat Heidi Heitkamp: 50.25% (160,752 votes)

On Twitter, Heitkamp declared victory, tweeting, “I am confident I am going to be the next United States Senator from North Dakota.”

Congratulations flowed in from supporters, though Heitkamp’s Republican opponent Rick Berg had yet to concede defeat.

Heitkamp’s campaign received attention from several national media outlets (including the New York Times) for its heavy emphasis on retail politics.

It’s evident from the results that Heitkamp worked pretty hard to secure votes for her candidacy. Mitt Romney crushed Barack Obama in North Dakota, 58% to 38% – and yet, North Dakotans are sending a Democrat to the Senate who has pledged to work constructively with the president, rather than adding another suit to Mitch McConnell’s obstructionist caucus.

Heitkamp’s victory is an unexpected hold for the Democrats. Our own Patty Murray, who was tasked with chairing the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee in 2012, had argued that Democrats were poised to do well in 2012 despite having a difficult map to work with. The results have vindicated her strategy and recruiting.

Murray’s job was made all the harder by the retirements of Conrad, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Jim Webb of Virginia, Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. But Democrats appear to have held on to all of those seats, except Nelson’s, which is pretty impressive.