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 2013

Happy Thanksgiving 2013!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Since World War II, Americans have gathered together on the fourth Thursday of November to celebrate the year’s bounty and blessings, sharing food, friendship, and — in many houses — football. This year, the fourth Thursday of November happens to fall very late in the month, and unusually, it also coincides with the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights). If you are Jewish, we wish you a very Happy Hanukkah in addition to Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving in North America has its roots in feasts of thanks giving held by early immigrants to this continent. The pilgrims who landed in Massachusetts in the 1620s held such a feast in 1621; the party apparently went on for three days. Thanksgiving became a federal holiday under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln; in 1863, Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving on November 26th.

During the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the date of Thanksgiving was fixed to the fourth Thursday of November. Most years, Thanksgiving falls on or before November 25th, but sometimes November 1st falls on a Friday or Saturday, and that makes the fourth Thursday fall late in the month.

This results in a shorter shopping season, because Christmas is always December 25th (and could be a reason why more retailers have chosen to open on Thanksgiving this year, a trend we very much dislike and oppose).

Thanksgiving ought to be about reflecting and enjoying the company of family and friends, not shopping and working. We don’t get enough leisure time or rest time in this country, and that’s a real shame.

From President Barack Obama’s Thanksgiving address:

We give thanks to everyone who’s doing their part to make the United States a better, more compassionate nation – who spend their Thanksgiving volunteering at a soup kitchen, or joining a service project, or bringing food and cheer to a lonely neighbor.

That big-hearted generosity is a central part of our American character. We believe in lending a hand to folks who need it. We believe in pitching in to solve problems even if they aren’t our problems. And that’s not a one-day-a-year belief. It’s part of the fabric of our nation.

And we remember that many Americans need that helping hand right now. Americans who’ve lost their jobs and can’t get a new one through no fault of their own. Americans who’ve been trapped in poverty and just need that helping hand to climb out. Citizens whose prayers and hopes move us to act.

We are a people who are greater together than we are on our own.  That’s what today is about. That’s what every day should be about. No matter our differences, we’re all part of one American family. We are each other’s keeper. We are one nation, under God.

That core tenet of our American experience has guided us from the earliest days of our founding – and it will guide us to a future that’s even brighter than today.

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

  • We’re thankful that voters in Washington overwhelmingly defeated Initiative 517, Tim Eyman’s most self-serving initiative ever. I-517 was crushed this fall with 62.71% of the vote, setting a new record for the failure of a Tim Eyman measure, percentage-wise. NPI helped organize the coalition against I-517.
  • We’re thankful for filibuster reform, and for Harry Reid’s courage in bringing forward a proposal to prevent Republicans from robotically blocking any of President Obama’s nominees from being confirmed. We’ve been longing to see the Senate return to operating by majority vote for a long time.
  • We’re thankful for the election of Pope Francis. In Francis, the Roman Catholic Church has a true leader focused on reform, a pontiff who cares deeply about economic justice and economic security for all.
  • We’re thankful that workers in Washington are demanding fair wages and benefits, and delighted that voters in SeaTac have passed Proposition 1, the Good Jobs initiative, which will raise the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour, which will make a big difference for many low income families.
  • We’re thankful that a military strike on Syria was averted with the creation of an international framework to dismantle the Assad regime’s chemical weapons arsenal. And we’re thankful that U.S. efforts to negotiate with Iran on its nuclear program have met with initial success.
  • We’re thankful that so many people keep the spirit of volunteerism alive in our neighborhoods, in cities big and small, and towns far and wide.
  • We’re grateful for the work of our partner organizations: Progressive Radio Northwest, Responsible Choices Washington and TaxSanity.org.
  • We’re thankful that activist friends in British Columbia are still committed to protecting wild places like Clayoquot Sound, which are truly some of our region’s most majestic natural treasures, worth preserving.
  • We’re thankful for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and for the increased protections it provides to Native American women and women who do not identify as heterosexual.
  • We’re thankful that marriage equality has come to California, New Jersey, Illinois, and Hawaii, and we’re grateful for the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the “Defense of Marriage Act” as unconstitutional.

Finally, we’re thankful for our servicemembers, particularly the sailors and aircrew that have been working in the Philippines to help survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan recover from one of the worst storms to make landfall in recorded history.

We hope your Thanksgiving Day is pleasant and enjoyable.

Pope Francis denounces income inequality and greed in new apostolic exhortation

The Vatican today published the text of His Holiness Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation, written by the Holy Father over the summer, which is Francis’ first major written work as Pope. It presents Francis’ views on issues of the day, somewhat like a political party platform, and clocks in at eighty-four pages.

Helpfully, the Vatican has posted it online for easy reading and translated it into English for those of us here in the United States, in Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and other English speaking countries. (Naturally, it is also available in other languages, like French and Spanish).

The document, titled Evangelii Gaudium (which means Joy of the Gospel) is addressed to the Catholic clergy and laity. It is a remarkable document, and is likely to further upset neoliberals and conservatives because it calls for right wing economic doctrine to be rejected. It is already being called a Magna Carta for church reform. At 51,000 words, it is a long read, but we’d like to share some the key excerpts with you here, while still encouraging you to read the whole thing.

We’ll start with an excerpt from the second chapter, titled No to an economy of exclusion. These paragraphs resonate strongly with us.

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion.

Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

Reading this passage reminded me of watching Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, which we post here on The Advocate every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The Story of Stuff is a forty minute video that explains the incredible cost and consequences of our throwaway, disposable culture – the same culture that Pope Francis is discussing here in today’s apostolic exhortation.

The Pope goes on to say unequivocally that right wing trickle-down economic theory has been proven in reality to be nothing but a recipe for greater inequality.

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

These words ought to be chiseled into the walls of the New York Stock Exchange and the headquarters of big Wall Street banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. So could these, which immediately follow and decry the “idolatry of money”:

One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols.

The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

Francis adds:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.

A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

Rarely have we seen such a powerful, concise and thoughtful critique of right wing economic dogma. Francis’ word choice is superb (at least in the English translation!) Note the phrase “deified market” in the last sentence. Francis is observing that our economy has become oriented around the success of markets constructed for the benefit of a wealthy few, particularly the top one percent. And that has resulted in widespread income inequality and increased economic injustice.

Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person.

In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside of the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement.

Ethics – a non-ideological ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.

A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case.

Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.

Money must serve, not rule. If we start to heed these sage words, we will begin to enjoy a more peaceable world, greater economic security, better environmental protection, increased educational opportunities, and improved healthcare.

Francis says he is praying for political leaders to emerge who will take these words to heart, and act on them. From a later passage in the exhortation:

I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans? I am firmly convinced that openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society.

I could go on excerpting the exhortation – there are so many remarkable passages in it – but I’d urge you to read the whole thing for yourself. It will take time, as it is a long document. But it is worthy of study and contemplation.

The exhortation does not outline new stances on social issues like reproductive rights, or LGBT rights and marriage equality. Nor does it open the door to a future where women are permitted and encouraged to serve as clergy. That’s not surprising, and progressive Catholics should not feel disappointed that Francis has reaffirmed the teachings of his predecessors.

We have become too accustomed to instant gratification and forget that meaningful, necessary progressive change can take time.

We can and ought to be grateful that we finally have a pope who thinks long-term and cares deeply about the well-being and happiness of humanity.

Francis has not been in charge for even a year yet, but already he is setting a good example. His actions are in harmony with his words. He is a people’s pope. He stresses that he speaks with affection, apart from any political ideology, but it is clear that he believes in a nurturant church and nurturant politics, just as progressives all over the world do. What’s more, he speaks as a progressive ought to speak, with a hand of friendship and welcoming outstretched:

My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth.

We would all do well to reflect on what Francis has to say. Whatever your faith tradition is (or even if you have no faith tradition at all), the Evangelii Gaudium is worth your time. If you aren’t able to read it today, carve out time to read it over the Thanksgiving weekend. You’ll be glad you did.

President Barack Obama rolls into town for another fundraising-only visit

Barack Obama has landed in our Washington for his first second-term visit as President of the United States, after a flight lasting a little less than five hours from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. As with past visits to our state, the President has no public or official events scheduled, just fundraisers for the DNC and the DCCC, making this just the latest in a series of cash ‘n dash visits.

Unusually, Air Force One touched down at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport instead of Boeing Field, which meant normal operations had to be temporarily paused until the President was off and away in his motorcade. The President emerged from the distinctively-painted Boeing 747 he usually travles in to decidedly nicer weather than what he left behind, as recounted in the pool report:

Air Force One touched down at 4:16 Pacific Time in Seattle, and the President gave a little wave as he walked out of the plane twelve minutes later. The sunset casting a pink glow on Mount Ranier, combined with the relatively balmy fifty degree temperature, made it feel downright tropical compared to that frigid other Washington the president just came from.

We’re en route to the first fundraiser, for the DNC, at a private residence. Expected drive about half an hour.

The President’s first stop will be the home of Tom and Sonya Campion. The event they are hosting will benefit the Democratic National Committee. Around thirty supporters attended, contributing up to $32,400.

Tom Campion is the co-founder of Zumiez, which sells apparel primarily to young people. Aside from being major Democratic donors, Tom and Sonya are also philanthropists and champions of environmental protection. Tom serves on the boards of the Alaska Wilderness League and Conservation Northwest; while Sonya serves on the boards of Seattle-King-Snohomish County YWCA, Whitman College Board of Overseers and Funders Together to End Homelessness.

The President’s second stop will be at the home of Jon Shirley in Medina. This event will benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). The White House has indicated it will make available a transcript of the president’s remarks at this event, and reporters will be allowed inside for just that part.

The event at the Campions’ is closed press and no transcript is expected to be made available of the President’s conversation with DNC donors.

SR 520′s Evergreen Point Floating Bridge is expected to be closed by mid-evening so that the presidential motorcade can make it over to Medina for the 7:10 PM DCCC fundraiser. Following this event, the President will return to Seattle and spend the night at the Westin, where he has stayed before.

The President will depart for San Francisco tomorrow at 8:50 AM. His motorcade will be on the road during the 7 AM and 8 AM hours.

If you commute to work on I-5 or SR 99/509 between Seatac/Des Moines and Seattle on weekday mornings, be aware that traffic tomorrow could be snarled, as one of those highways is almost certain to be closed so that the President’s motorcade can get back to Sea-Tac Airport. Traffic will probably also be worse than usual on other highways too due to the domino effect caused by the closure.

UPDATE, 6:45 PM: KIRO just aired a report on the president’s visit. The network’s Chris Legeros reported that many people watching from the windows clapped as Air Force One touched down and snapped pictures.

Legeros asked a few people if they were bothered by the flight delays but apparently no one was upset. One man said he had taken video of the landing and planned to do some work on his laptop before boarding his delayed flight. Another man showed Legeros the pictures he’d taken through the windows with his Canon DSLR, saying he’d never been so close to Air Force One.

Deal reached with Iran to limit its nuclear program; President Obama to speak shortly

Breaking, historic news tonight. From the New York Times:

The foreign policy chief of the European Union and Iranian officials announced a landmark accord Sunday morning that would temporarily freeze Tehran’s nuclear program and lay the foundation for a more sweeping accord.

After marathon talks that finally ended early Sunday morning, the United States and five other world powers reached an agreement with Iran to halt much of Iran’s nuclear program. It was the first time in nearly a decade, American officials said, that steps had been taken to stop much of Iran’s nuclear effort and even roll some elements back.

The freeze would last six months, with the aim of giving international negotiators time to pursue the far more challenging task of drafting a comprehensive accord that would ratchet back much of Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it could be used only for peaceful purposes.

The Times story, by Michael Gordon, sketches out a more detailed outline of the deal. It was negotiated in Geneva, Switzerland by top diplomats from the United States, the European Union, and Iran. The head of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, has already confirmed on Twitter that a deal has been reached.

President Obama will address the nation shortly from the White House to discuss the historic agreement. The White House scheduled the address for 7:15 PM but it’s likely it won’t happen for at least several minutes after that, particularly since news networks don’t seem to be ready. (CNN broke into its programming first, MSNBC took several minutes to interrupt “Lockup” with live coverage).

The Associated Press has tweeted that one of its sources has said the deal does not recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium, but of course Iran may portray the agreement somewhat differently.

(Technically speaking, the United States doesn’t recognize that other nations have a “right” to enrich uranium. Most of the world’s nations do not have nuclear weapons programs, or even nuclear power plants).

Historic tweets:

We have reached an agreement.

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) 6:03 PM Pacific – 23 Nov 2013

#EU High Rep #Ashton: “We have reached agreement between E3+3 and Iran.”

— Michael Mann (‏@EUHighRepSpox) 5:55 PM Pacific – 23 Nov 2013

Agreement in Geneva: first step makes world safer. More work now. -JK [John Kerry] #IranTalks

— Department of State (@StateDept) 5:55 PM – 23 Nov 2013

Are Senate Republicans – including Rodney Tom – telling top nonpartisan staff to get lost?

This is disturbing news. From Andrew Garber at The Seattle Times:

Senate Democrats raised concerns Friday that the GOP [Republican]-led majority in [the] Senate is getting rid of top non-partisan committee staff managers.

Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said it was her understanding there was pressure from the GOP [Republican]-led majority caucus to “hire some political-type individuals into the non-partisan staff. Interviews were done. Those individuals were not hired … I’m very concerned that may be the underlying cause of this” action to let the managers go.

Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia, sent an email to the Democratic caucus Friday afternoon saying, “I am stunned to let you know that the MCC [Republican] Leadership have advised (the committee services director and deputy director) that their services are no longer needed and they should find other opportunities by early January. My understanding is that Senators Tom, Parlette, and Fain consulted in advance and made this decision.”

Garber says he reached out to Rodney Tom and Linda Evans Parlette to ask them about this. They both declined to comment. Garber also reported that he left a voicemail for Joe Fain which has not been returned… at least not yet.

The News Tribune has posted the full emails from Nelson and Fraser.

Tom and Parlette’s silence says something in and of itself. If they felt what Senators Nelson and Fraser were saying was wrong, misleading, or inaccurate, they’d surely want to correct the record. But they had nothing to say.

We can only conclude, then, that they are indeed telling nonpartisan staff to get lost. Presumably this is because they want people more loyal to them and their agenda in several of the top jobs. This is disturbing because the nonpartisan staff is supposed to be, well, nonpartisan. The caucuses have their own staffs, but the Senate also has a nonpartisan staff so senators from both major parties can get answers to questions from a neutral, professional source. Nonpartisan staff conduct research and field inquiries, but they do not advocate.

Democrats are justifiably concerned about Senate Republicans’ personnel moves, particularly since it appears they weren’t consulted. The notion of nonpartisan staff serving at the whims of the majority – any majority – does not sit well with us, given that the nonpartisan staff are supposed to serve all legislators.

Perhaps state law needs to be changed to give House and Senate minorities more input into hiring and personnel oversight decisions.

Remembering President John F. Kennedy

Fifty years ago in Dallas, our nation lost one of its greatest presidents: Democrat John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who led America through the early 1960s.

JFK, as he came to be known, was young, charismatic, and bright. He challenged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” He was elected in 1960 as America’s first Catholic president over Republican Richard Nixon, succeeding Dwight Eisenhower as commander-in-chief.

Major events during Kennedy’s administration included the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (where Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech), the birth of the Apollo space program to land a man on the moon, the negotiation of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the creation of the Peace Corps.

Kennedy called his agenda for the country The New Frontier. Many of the goals of The New Frontier went unrealized until after Kennedy was killed; his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, moved a tremendous amount of legislation through Congress that helped make The New Frontier and Johnson’s “Great Society” a reality.

Kennedy was assassinated November 22nd, 2013, at 12:30 PM Central time. The Warren Commission, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, concluded Kennedy was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald, firing a 6.5 mm Carcano Model 91/38 carbine from the Texas School Book Depository in Dealey Plaza.

Oswald was never brought to justice for his alleged crime due to his killing by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. However, the evidence (and multiple scientific experiments carried out years later) suggest that Oswald acted alone, not as part of some larger conspiracy. Many Americans may find it comforting to believe that some such conspiracy existed; we at NPI are not among them.

In this post, however, we’d like to pay tribute to Kennedy, the man, and his legacy, not debunk conspiracy theories or attempt to answer questions posed by skeptics of the Warren Commission’s conclusion.

President John F. Kennedy with Warren Magnuson and Al Rosellini

President John F. Kennedy walks with Washington’s U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson and Governor Al Rosellini at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in 1953 (Photo courtesy of the Washington State Archives)

Kennedy is perhaps best remembered through his speeches, so I’m going to excerpt ten passages from ten different speeches that resonate with us.

Our first selection is from Kennedy’s American University speech, delivered June 10th, 1963 at the university’s commencement ceremonies (Listen to it here).

I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.

Some say that it is useless to speak of peace or world law or world disarmament, and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitudes, as individuals and as a Nation, for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward, by examining his own attitude towards the possibilities of peace, towards the Soviet Union, towards the course of the cold war and towards freedom and peace here at home.

First examine our attitude towards peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

Our second selection is from Kennedy’s “I am a Berliner” speech, delivered June 26th, 1963, in the City of West Berlin. (The people gathered to hear this speech, incidentally, did not think that Kennedy was referring to himself as a jelly doughnut; that is an urban legend. His grammar was correct.) Watch the speech here.

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in — to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say on behalf of my countrymen who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride, that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last eighteen years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for eighteen years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope, and the determination of the city of West Berlin.

While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system — for all the world to see — we take no satisfaction in it; for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.

Our third selection is from Kennedy’s address on civil rights, delivered June 11th, 1963, from the third of Kennedy’s great speeches that month. The following is from the published remarks; it is not a transcript. Watch this speech here.

The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.

If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

Our fourth selection is from Kennedy’s May 1961 speech to Congress on urgent national needs, which included a call to action to create what later became the Apollo manned spaceflight program. Listen to the speech here.

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.

No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight.

But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

Our fifth selection is from Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech, delivered January 20th, 1961 in the District of Columbia. Watch the speech here.

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.

I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Our sixth selection is from Kennedy’s address to the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 27th, 1961. This excerpt seems particularly relevant now in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extraordinary surveillance regime created by the National Security Agency. Listen to the speech here.

The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.

Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.

That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.

Our seventh selection is from Kennedy’s address at the University of Washington on November 16th, 1961, just over forty-nine years ago. This speech was delivered here in the great Pacific Northwest, in the heart of Seattle, on a November day not so unlike this one. Listen to it or read the transcript here.

We possess weapons of tremendous power–but they are least effective in combating the weapons most often used by freedom’s foes: subversion, infiltration, guerrilla warfare, civil disorder.

We send arms to other peoples–just as we send them the ideals of democracy in which we believe–but we cannot send them the will to use those arms or to abide by those ideals.

And while we believe not only in the force of arms but in the force of right and reason, we have learned that reason does not always appeal to unreasonable men–that it is not always true that “a soft answer turneth away wrath” — and that right does not always make might.

In short, we must face problems which do not lend themselves to easy or quick or permanent solutions. And we must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient — that we are only six percent of the world’s population–that we cannot impose our will upon the other ninety-four percent of mankind–that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity — and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.

Our eighth selection is from Kennedy’s 1962 State of the Union address, delivered on January 11th, 1962. Listen to the speech here.

If this Nation is to grow in wisdom and strength, then every able high school graduate should have the opportunity to develop his talents. Yet nearly half lack either the funds or the facilities to attend college. Enrollments are going to double in our colleges in the short space of ten years. The annual cost per student is skyrocketing to astronomical levels — now averaging $1,650 a year, although almost half of our families earn less than $5,000.

They cannot afford such costs–but this Nation cannot afford to maintain its military power and neglect its brainpower.

But excellence in education must begin at the elementary level. I sent to the Congress last year a proposal for Federal aid to public school construction and teachers’ salaries. I believe that bill, which passed the Senate and received House Committee approval, offered the minimum amount required by our needs and–in terms of across-the-board aid–the maximum scope permitted by our Constitution.

I therefore see no reason to weaken or withdraw that bill: and I urge its passage at this session. “Civilization,” said H. G. Wells, “is a race between education and catastrophe.” It is up to you in this Congress to determine the winner of that race.

Our ninth selection is from the Cuban missile crisis speech, delivered by Kennedy on October 22nd, 1962 and carried by television and radio. Listen to it here.

My fellow citizens: let no one doubt that this is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No one can see precisely what course it will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred. Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead — months in which our patience and our will will be tested — months in which many threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our dangers. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.

The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are — but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world.

The cost of freedom is always high — and Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission. Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right — not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.

Our tenth and final selection is from Kennedy’s Independence Hall speech on July 4th, 1962, delivered in Philadelphia at the site where the Constitution of the United States was put together. Watch the speech here.

Because our system is designed to encourage both differences and dissent, because its checks and balances are designed to preserve the rights of the individual and the locality against preeminent central authority, you and I, Governors, recognize how dependent we both are, one upon the other, for the successful operation of our unique and happy form of government.

Our system and our freedom permit the legislative to be pitted against the executive, the State against the Federal Government, the city against the countryside, party against party, interest against interest, all in competition or in contention one with another.

Our task — your task in the statehouse and my task in the White House — is to weave from all these tangled threads a fabric of law and progress. We are not permitted the luxury of irresolution.

Others may confine themselves to debate, discussion, and that ultimate luxury — free advice. Our responsibility is one of decision — for to govern is to choose.

President Kennedy governed for far fewer years than most American presidents. He was not able to complete his first term in office, or pursue a second, due to his life being cut short so suddenly fifty years ago in Dallas. But his legacy and his speeches live on. Today, we remember him and his administration and the lessons he sought to share with us. May we benefit from his words of wisdom in the years ahead.

U.S. Senate’s Pacific Northwest delegation votes along party lines to reform the filibuster

As mentioned, Democrats set up a historic vote today on curbing the filibuster, which Republicans have been using to prevent the United States Senate from considering President Obama’s executive and judicial nominees. The vote was a success, with fifty Democrats and two independents backing the rules change.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid orchestrated the vote by bringing one of President Obama’s stalled nominations for the D.C. Circuit back to the floor for consideration. Republicans robotically filibustered as expected, and at that point, Reid moved to change the rules by appealing a parliamentary ruling.

Three Democrats refused to back the rules change: Carl Levin of Michigan (who is retiring), Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Every Republican voted to keep the filibuster as is, and every other Democrat, plus Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, voted to reform it.

Consequently, the vote of the Pacific Northwest delegation broke down strictly along party lines. Here is the roll call, for the record:

Voting Aye (to keep the filibuster as is): Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska

Voting Nay (to reform the filibuster): Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon, Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska

Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, who has been a leader in the effort to reform the filibuster, released a statement in the aftermath of the vote, celebrating the rules change as a huge step forward. Here is the text of his statement:

Today’s rule change is a victory for the American people. The endless abuse of the filibuster on nominations has done great damage to the independence of our courts. The minority party has filibustered too many qualified nominees to our Executive and Judicial branches, not because of any character or qualification issues, but because they were nominated by our current President. That is just wrong.

Nominees deserve up or down votes. These filibusters have been contrary to the spirit of our Constitution, which envisions coequal branches of government.

The nominees that the Senate minority has blocked over the past year were nominated to positions that affect the American people and the economy in vital ways, including the nominees to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.  The judges on the D.C. Circuit Court rule on issues that directly and deeply impact middle class families, like health care, workplace safety, and clean air and water rules.

Moreover, the endless filibusters have taken up endless weeks of the Senate’s time, better spent on boosting manufacturing, investing in our infrastructure, and improving education.

Ending the abusive filibuster on nominations is a big step toward restoring the functionality of the Senate, and that matters for all of us. I hope we continue to look at ways to make this legislative body work better. We face big challenges as a nation, and we need a Congress that can take on those challenges.

The Senate is expected to begin confirming President Obama’s D.C. Circuit nominees (Patricia Millet, Nina Pillard Judge Robert Wilkins), beginning next week.

At least through 2014, President Obama will now be able to nominate qualified individuals to serve on his executive team or on the federal bench without having to worry about Republicans blocking them from even receiving a vote. Republicans, of course, have even more reason now to want to retake the Senate majority in 2014.

It’s done! Senate Democrats have – at long last – voted to implement filibuster reform

After years of talk, filibuster reform has finally become a reality.

Today, the United States Senate took a huge and momentous step towards becoming a more democratic body. By a vote of fifty-two to forty-eight, senators voted to change Senate rules to abolish filibusters of executive and judicial nominations, except Supreme Court nominations.

The move means that Republicans will no longer be able to prevent President Obama’s nominees from receiving a vote on the Senate floor.

“It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” Reid declared before the vote, on the floor of the Senate. Aware of what was about to happen, nearly every senator was in the chamber, giving Reid and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell an unusually large live audience.

“The American people believe Congress is broken. The American people believe the Senate is broken. And I agree,” Reid added.

At the White House, President Obama took to the podium inside the James M. Brady Press Briefing Room to praise the vote, saying the time had come for reform.

“I’m a former senator. So is my Vice President. We both value any Senate’s duty to advise and consent. It’s important, and we take that very seriously. But a few now refuse to treat that duty of advise and consent with the respect that it deserves.  It’s no longer used in a responsible way to govern. It’s rather used as a reckless and relentless tool to grind all business to a halt. And that’s not what our Founders intended, and it’s certainly not what our country needs right now.”

“Public service is not a game,” the President added. “It is a privilege. And the consequences of action or inaction are very real.”

“The American people deserve better than politicians who run for election telling them how terrible government is, and then devoting their time in elected office to trying to make government not work as often as possible.”

Angry Republicans promised that Democrats would “rue the day” they decided to take a stand in favor of making the Senate operate more democratically.

“You’ll regret this, and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” fumed Mitch McConnell, who only a few years ago, in concert with Bill Frist, was on the verge of engineering a vote on a similar rules change. McConnell has previously said if Democrats voted to limit the filibuster, his caucus would do away with it entirely if they regained the majority. Of course, further limiting the filibuster would actually allow majority rule to prevail more of the time, which would be an improvement.

Republicans are correct that Democrats have used the filibuster to block nominees before, most recently George W. Bush’s. But Democrats’ use of the filibuster – and every previous Senate’s use of the filibuster – pales in comparison to Republicans’ use (or abuse) of it, as this chart from Senator Harry Reid’s office shows:

Filibuster abuse in context

Republicans’ unprecedented obstructionism has hurt the United States of America. Something had to be done. Our founding fathers believed in majority rule. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton both wrote in The Federalist that majority rule was key to a functioning legislative body. Majority rule goes hand in hand with minority rights, of course. But we have the Constitution to protect minority rights. The filibuster is not in the Constitution. It’s only in Senate rules.

If Republicans wanted to keep the filibuster, they could have, by not abusing it. But they do not believe in the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency and do not want him to be able to fill vacancies on our courts. Their position is ridiculous, outrageous, and unacceptable. Today’s vote ensures they will no longer be able to prevent the Senate from providing advice and consent when the President nominates someone to serve on his team or serve as a judge in our federal judiciary.

This is a great day for America. We at NPI applaud this historic vote and thank our Pacific Northwest Democratic senators for being a part of it. As a result of the courage of Senate Democrats, the Senate will begin to function more like a real legislative body again. More filibuster reform is needed, but today’s rules change is so very welcome. Kudos to Senator Reid for putting it together.

Sharon Nelson chosen to succeed Ed Murray as new Senate Democratic Leader

Senator Sharon Nelson (D-34th District, Maury Island) has been selected by her colleagues to serve as the new leader of the Washington State Senate Democrats, the caucus announced today. She succeeds Ed Murray, who, as of next Tuesday, will officially be the Mayor-elect of the City of Seattle.

Nelson, sixty-two, represents West Seattle, Burien, Vashon Island, and Maury Island in the Senate. She previously served as chief of staff to Dow Constantine, when he was a county councilmember. She later ran for state House when Joe McDermott moved over to the Senate, and then took McDermott’s seat in the Senate when Joe took Dow’s seat following his election as county executive.

Nelson is known for her progressive work ethic. She is kind and treats people with dignity. She is also smart and capable. She’s clearly earned the respect of her colleagues. Four years ago, when she was in the House, she was honored by House Democratic legislative aides as Legislator of the Year. That award speaks to her bridge-building skills and her ability to draft and improve legislation.

“I am honored to have been elected as leader by the Senate Democrats,” Nelson said in a statement released not long after caucus staff tweeted the results of the leadership election, held today in Olympia.

“We have a diverse caucus, but I believe I was elected by my colleagues because my foremost goal is to do what I was sent here by my constituents to do - work for them. I demonstrated my inclusive leadership style during the budget negotiations last year, and I intend to make that a focal point of my tenure as leader.”

We at NPI extend our congratulations to Sharon on her election as Leader. In the past, we have worked with her on legislation to help victims of shoddy/negligent construction, and we found her to be an excellent listener and an able legislator. We’re pleased to see that she will be taking the helm of the Senate Democratic caucus, and we commend her for pledging to be tough but fair.

Filibuster reform might really, actually, finally be on the verge of happening in U.S. Senate

Great news from Greg Sargent:

With Senate Republicans blocking a third Obama nomination to the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, a senior Senate Democratic leadership aide tells me Reid is now all but certain to move to change the Senate rules by simple majority — doing away with the filibuster on executive and judicial nominations, with the exception of the Supreme Court – as early as this week.

At a presser today, Reid told reporters he was taking another look at rules reform, but didn’t give a timeline. The senior leadership aide goes further, saying it’s hard to envision circumstances under which Reid doesn’t act. “Reid has become personally invested in the idea that Dems have no choice other than to change the rules if the Senate is going to remain a viable and functioning institution,” the aide says.

If this is true, then hallelujah. Democrats have tolerated Republican obstructionism and abuse of Senate rules and procedures for so long that many people have despaired of filibuster reform ever becoming a reality.

But it appears that Harry Reid and Senate Democrats may have finally, finally, finally had enough. In filibustering President Obama’s highly qualified nominees to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – for no reason other than because they want the vacancies to go unfilled so the court leans ideologically to the right – Republicans have succeeded in convincing Democratic senators previously opposed to voting to change Senate rules to curb filibuster abuse to jump on the reform bandwagon. Even long-serving senators like Dianne Feinstein:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said Tuesday she supports a rules change for nominees via the nuclear option after “unconscionable” GOP filibusters of three consecutive individuals to D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I do now,” she told TPM in the Capitol. “It is unconscionable for a president not to be able to have his cabinet team, his sub-cabinet team, and not be able to appoint judges.”

“I’ve been very shocked by the way very qualified nominees, particularly for the D.C. Circuit, have been filibustered,” Feinstein said.

And Patrick Leahy:

Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that he’d seen enough.

The filibuster of Judge Wilkins, he said before it inevitably happened, “will be a tipping point.”

“I fear that after tonight the talk about changing the cloture rules for judicial nominations will no longer be just talk,” Sen. Leahy said. “There will be action.”

Feinstein and Leahy’s willingness to change Senate rules is huge. They’re among the most senior members of the caucus, and have in the past expressed strong reluctance to pursue what’s alternately been called the nuclear option and the constitutional option. Barbara Boxer is on board too:

“I am very open to changing the rules for nominees,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told The Huffington Post. “I was not before, because I felt we could work with them. But it’s gotten to an extreme situation where really qualified people can’t get an up-or-down vote.”

Extreme, indeed. These days, Republicans abuse the filibuster in a very robotic way, to block anything and everything. Nominees. Legislation. Amendments to bills.

"I have the Senate bogged down in procedures..."

Michigan’s Carl Levin, among the biggest holdouts to filibuster reform, says he supports changing the rules, but only through a supermajority vote, as opposed to a majority vote. But that’s not an option.

If the rules are to be changed, it will have to be by majority vote.

The Democratic caucus consists of fifty-three senators plus the two independents who caucus with Democrats (Angus King and Bernie Sanders). King and Sanders are known to be supportive of filibuster reform, so aside from losing Levin, Reid could probably afford to lose four other Democratic senators and still have the votes to change Senate rules. Of the Pacific Northwest delegation, Jeff Merkley is perhaps the most supportive of filibuster reform, while Max Baucus is the most lukewarm.

NPI fully supports a majority vote in the United States Senate to end Republicans’ outrageous abuse of the filibuster. There is no reason not to make the change. If Republicans ever get the White House and the Senate back, they won’t hesitate to change the rules themselves to overcome Democratic filibusters of nominees. Democrats should go ahead and change Senate rules so Congress’ gridlocked upper chamber can begin operating democratically, at least some of the time.

Obama excoriates hypocritical Senate Republicans following today’s filibuster

Earlier today, for the third time in three weeks, Republican Mitch McConnell and his caucus refused to allow the United States Senate to proceed with considering another of President Obama’s nominees to fill one of the vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The unsuccessful vote on the motion to end cloture was fifty-three ayes to thirty-eight nays. (Harry Reid was one of the nays for procedural reasons; he switched his vote so he could bring the nomination back up later).

Of course, in a democratic body, the ayes would have had it, because they were the greater number. Unfortunately, the United States Senate is not a democratic body; it is controlled by the few instead of the many under arcane rules that conflict with the spirit, if not the letter, of our Constitution.

It must be noted that Republicans are not holding up the nominations because they believe the individuals Obama has named are unqualified or lacking in temperament for the bench. Rather, they want the vacancies to go unfilled.

In fact, they want Congress to pass legislation to downsize the court, to borrow a buzzword we often hear coming out of corporate boardrooms.

Why are they opposed to filling the vacancies? Why do they want to shrink the court? Because the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit currently has a right wing slant. Senate Republicans want to keep it that way, even though the American people just elected a Democratic president and Democratic Senate.

You may have heard of the term court-packing; what Republicans are trying to do here is the inverse. That is (and again, I’m not making this up) the only reason they are filibustering all three of President Obama’s highly qualified nominees: Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Judge Robert L. Wilkins.

A disgusted President Obama released a statement through the White House a short time ago, excoriating Senate Republicans for blocking all of his nominees from further consideration. The text of that statement was as follows:

I am deeply disappointed that Senate Republicans have once again refused to do their job and give well-qualified nominees to the federal bench the yes-or-no votes they deserve.

The D.C. Circuit, considered the Nation’s second-highest court, has three vacancies. These are judgeships created by Congress. Chief Justice John Roberts and the Judicial Conference of the United States believe that these vacancies should be filled, not removed. And my constitutional duty as President is to nominate highly qualified individuals to fill these vacancies.

Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Judge Robert Wilkins have all received the highest possible rating from the non-partisan American Bar Association. They have broad bipartisan support, and no one has questioned their merit. Yet Senate Republicans have blocked all three from receiving a yes-or-no vote.

This obstruction is completely unprecedented. Four of my predecessor’s six nominees to the D.C. Circuit were confirmed. Four of my five nominees to this court have been obstructed. When it comes to judicial nominations, I am fulfilling my constitutional responsibility, but Congress is not. Instead, Senate Republicans are standing in the way of a fully-functioning judiciary that serves the American people.

The American people and our judicial system deserve better. A majority of the United States Senate supports these three extraordinary nominees, and it is time for simple yes-or-no votes without further obstruction or delay.

Our good friends at the Alliance for Justice followed suit, issuing a strong condemnation of Senate Republicans following the vote.

“For the third time in as many weeks, the extremist minority in the Senate has filibustered a supremely-qualified nominee for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit,” said AFJ President Nan Aron. “By blocking Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard and now, Robert Wilkins, this minority has shown contempt for the Senate, contempt for democracy and contempt for the American people.”

“They have abused and exploited the rules of the Senate for nakedly political purposes, leaving senators of conscience no choice but to change the rules in order to restore faith in the democratic process and end the crisis in our courts.”

We at NPI agree. It became painfully clear years ago that the United States Senate is broken. To say that the filibuster is now abused on an incredible scale would be an understatement. Republicans have shown they will filibuster anything and everything in the U.S. Senate, unless it comes out of their own caucus.

There are those who like to argue that the filibuster protects minority rights. In our view, it is used now more to thwart majority rule than to protect minority rights from being trampled. Republicans use it constantly when the Senate meets.

At the very least, the filibuster needs to be reformed. Senate rules should be changed to prevent judicial and executive nominees from being filibustered.

It is ironic that Republicans were calling upon Democrats to give George W. Bush’s nominees an “up or down vote” only a few years ago.

On May 9th, 2005, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee delivered a speech in which he complained Democrats were “attempting to change 225 years of constitutional history” by standing in the way of George W. Bush’s nominees.

Here’s an excerpt from his speech, courtesy of the Congressional Record:

For most of the 20th century the same party controlled the White House and the Senate. Yet until the last Congress, no minority ever denied a judicial nominee with majority support an up-or-down vote. They treated judicial nominees fairly. They respected the Senate’s role in the appointments process designed by the Framers.

Before the recess, I came to the Senate to offer a compromise. That proposal was simple: Appeals court judicial nominees should get a fair, open, and exhaustive debate, and then they should get an up-or-down vote. Whether on the floor or in committee, it is time for judicial obstruction to end no matter which party controls the White House or the Senate.

Senate tradition is comprised of shared values based on civility and respect for the Constitution. I sincerely hope that Senate tradition can be restored. It is a matter of fairness. It is a matter of honor. It is our constitutional duty to give these nominees a vote.

So much for constitutional duty. (Emphasis is mine).

Bill Frist, incidentally, wasn’t the only one voicing such sentiments at the time. Here’s John Ensign of Nevada, May 11st, 2005. Again, emphasis is mine:

I believe that anyone who has been nominated by the President and is willing to put his or her name forward and be subjected to the rigorous confirmation process deserves a straight up-or-down vote on his or her nomination in both committee and on the floor of the Senate. Guaranteeing that every judicial nominee receives an up-or-down vote is truly a matter of fairness. It doesn’t mean that there is no debate or opportunity to disagree. It does mean fair consideration, debate, and a decision in a process that moves forward.

I say that today with the Republican President in the White House and a Republican majority in the Senate, but I know we will uphold the up-or-down vote when we eventually have Democrats back in control. That is because this is the fairest way to maintain the health of the judicial nomination process and the quality of our courts.

Truly a matter of fairness, eh? Your confidence in your colleagues was misplaced, Senator Ensign. Now that Democrats are back in control, Senate Republicans are reflexively opposed to nominees getting an “up-or-down vote”.

Here is Idaho’s Mike Crapo, who is still serving in the Senate and spoke on the same day as John Ensign. He voted to filibuster today. But in 2005, he said:

The question, as I see it, is, Does the Constitution contemplate that the President is entitled to a vote on his nominees? And if so, is that vote a majority vote or is it a vote of a supermajority, like sixty, or two-thirds?

It has been argued on the floor today that all the Constitution contemplates is some kind of a vote, whether it be a sixty-vote supermajority, a two-thirds vote, or a majority vote, that the Senate can decide, but all the Constitution contemplates is some kind of a vote. I disagree. I believe the Constitution contemplated that by a majority vote the Senate would give its advice and consent.

I believe the best way to operate this Senate is to utilize the principle of advice and consent as one in which we should give the President an up-or-down vote on those nominees who are able to get sufficient support to get out of the Judiciary Committee to the floor of the Senate. As I say, historically, never, until the last Congress, has the Senate operated in any other way.

Evidently Mike Crapo no longer believes that the best way to operate the Senate is to give the President’s nominees an up-or-down vote.

The hypocrisy gets richer. Here’s Mitch McConnell, who also voted to filibuster today and is now the Senate’s top Republican. From his May 23rd, 2005 speech:

The Senate, as we all know, works not just through the application of its written rules but through the shared observance of well-settled traditions and practices. There are a lot of things one can do to gum up the works here in the Senate, a lot of things you could do. But what typically happens is we exercise self-restraint, and we do not engage in that kind of behavior because invoking certain obstructionist tactics would upset the Senate’s unwritten rules. Filibustering judicial nominees with majority support falls in that category. Let me repeat, it could have always been done. For 214 years, we could have done it, but we did not. We could have, but we did not.

This excerpt is really something, isn’t it?

My favorite part is the bit about exercising self-restraint. Obstructionist tactics are about the only tactics McConnell and his caucus believe in now.

This paragraph by the way, is from a McConnell speech in which he was trying to justify a proposed change to Senate rules to provide for up-or-down votes of judicial nominees. McConnell claimed Senate Republicans were within their rights to alter Senate rules by majority vote, and went on for some time about how Democrats had altered Senate rules in the past with a majority vote.

If Republicans were consistent, they would have voted to invoke cloture today, allowing Judge Wilkins’ nomination to go to a vote.

But since they are out of power in the Senate and in the White House, they are no longer interested in giving the President’s nominees up-or-down votes.

In 2005, they were prepared to change the Senate’s rules to end what they saw as abuse of the filibuster. Democrats didn’t actually use the filibuster that much during the Bush years, but even when they did, Republicans cried foul.

Now, Republicans use the filibuster all of the time and react indignantly and angrily to Democratic talk of a similar rules change.

If Republicans ever control the White House and the Senate again, they are not going to hesitate to change Senate rules themselves in the event that Democrats try to block their judicial nominees. They will revert to their previous position so fast that even Orwell would be impressed. So there simply isn’t a good reason for Democrats to hold off on acting now. Democrats should vote to change the United States Senate’s rules to prohibit filibusters of judicial nominees.

Saturday elections update: Less than 15,000 ballots now remain to be processed statewide

We are now into the second half of November, and the number of ballots remaining to be processed by county elections officials has now dwindled to 12,578 (estimated). More than three-fourths of this number are King County ballots.

King County Elections was open for business today, and released updated results this afternoon. As usual, some candidates lost ground while others gained, but no leads were surrendered in any of the close races we’re watching.

Here’s a summary:

  • Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant increased her lead over incumbent City Councilmember Richard Conlin in Seattle, continuing a trend that began November 6th. Sawant is holding a victory rally tomorrow to celebrate her historic and unprecedented win.
  • The gap between yes and no in SeaTac for Proposition 1 (the Good Jobs initiative) narrowed by three votes to forty-nine. There are just one hundred and ten ballots left to count in SeaTac.
  • Steve Kasner gave up all of the ground he had made this week in his city council contest in Bellevue against Kevin Wallace. Wallace is now ahead by two hundred and seventeen votes. It doesn’t look like Kasner will make it.
  • In Auburn, Nancy Backus remains ahead of John Partridge in the contest for mayor by only one hundred and thirty votes. Backus is losing the King County portion of Auburn, but winning big in the Pierce County portion of the city (it’s split). Consequently, she has a thin lead.
  • Also in Auburn, Rich Wagner is ahead of Michelle Binetti for City Council Position #6. Like Nancy Backus, Wagner is losing in the King County part of Auburn (which constitutes most of the city) but is winning big in the Pierce County portion. He’s ahead by just sixty-four votes overall.
  • In Kent, Bailey Stober remains behind Ken Sharp, who was charged with multiple counts of first degree theft earlier this year. Amazingly, Sharp has a two hundred and eighty-five vote lead over Stober, leaving us wondering if Kent voters just weren’t paying attention this year.

Ballot counting will resume on Monday and continue through the 26th, when the general election is due to be certified around Washington State.

Friday elections update: Richard Conlin concedes to Kshama Sawant in Seattle; SeaTac Proposition 1 still ahead

Acknowledging that he will not be able to overcome Kshama Sawant’s incredible and sustained late momentum, incumbent Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin conceded defeat this evening in a news conference at Seattle City Hall, admitting he was “surprised and disappointed.” He was flanked by Council colleagues and supporters, including former mayoral hopeful Tim Burgess.

He also released a statement with prepared remarks to news outlets.

“Unfortunately, it appears that my opponent has received a greater number of votes,” he said, in a nod to Sawant’s daily gains. “I hope that she will serve the people of Seattle effectively during her time in office.”

Sawant’s campaign, however, isn’t taking victory for granted.

“Even if Conlin concedes, votes left could trigger recount, cost the campaign $,” the campaign tweeted earlier today. “Help prevent that by volunteering & donating.”

A recount seems unlikely at this point given that Sawant’s lead continues to widen. Yesterday, it was 1,148 votes; today, it jumped to 1,640. The trend is clear and has been remarkably consistent. Sawant’s share of the vote has gone up and down with each batch, but it’s repeatedly been over fifty percent, day after day. That’s how she was able to turn what was a called race for Conlin into a late victory.

Congratulations to her and her supporters.

In other news:

  • Steve Kasner made up a little ground today against Kevin Wallace in Bellevue, narrowing Wallace’s lead to one hundred and eighty-five votes after Wallace had expanded it to two hundred and one.
  • SeaTac Proposition 1 (the Good Jobs initiatve) is still passing, but the yes vote is down to forty-nine after rising to fifty-three yesterday. There are only a few hundred votes left to count in SeaTac and it looks like Proposition 1 will pass. In anticipation of that outcome, opponents (including Alaska Airlines) have already gone to court to try and have it invalidated.
  • An estimated 23,851 ballots now remain to be processed statewide according to the Secretary of State. 20,782 of those are in King County. The other thirty-eight counties are pretty much done counting ballots.

Counties have until November 26th to finish counting ballots. By the 26th, election results must be certified and transmitted to the Secretary of State.

Thursday election update: Kshama Sawant pulls further ahead of Richard Conlin

Seattle City Council candidate Kshama Sawant’s momentum has sometimes slowed in the days since November 5th, but it has never stopped.

Moments ago, King County Elections published new numbers that reflect the latest batch of tabulated ballots. The fresh results show that Sawant is now ahead of incumbent City Councilmember Richard Conlin by more than 1,000 votes.

Yesterday, Sawant had a four hundred and two vote lead. As of today, she has a lead of 1,148 votes, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it was bigger tomorrow.

If she defeats Conlin, Sawant will be the first openly declared Socialist ever elected to the Seattle City Council. Owing to the adoption of Seattle Charter Amendment #19, she would serve only a two-year term. She could choose to run for reelection in the district where she lives or run for one of the at-large seats.

In the meantime, she’ll have an opportunity to shape how Seattle is governed.

It took more than a week for Sawant to actually overtake Conlin, bringing back memories of Sharon Peaslee’s upset victory in 2011 and the triumph of HJR 4204 in 2007 (simple majorities for school levies).

While the outcomes in other called races and other close races have not changed, Sawant has accomplished something remarkable: she has come from behind late in the eleventh hour to take the lead (and most likely win, too).

Meanwhile, in other close races:

  • After shrinking to just nineteen votes yesterday, the gap between yes and no on SeaTac Proposition 1 (the Good Jobs initiative) expanded to fifty-three votes today, a very good sign for the measure’s prospects of passing.
  • Steve Kasner continues to trail incumbent Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace in the contest for Position #6. Wallace had a two hundred vote lead of yesterday; he added one vote to his lead today.
  • Seattle Proposition 1 (public financing) remains behind by 3,106 votes.
  • Democrat Mary Hall remains ahead of Republican Gary Alexander in the Thurston County Auditor’s race.
  • Kitsap County has finally joined the Yes on I-522 camp (we’ll have more on this later tonight in a separate post).

King County Elections’ next update will be at around 4:30 PM tomorrow.