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

Monthly Archives: December 2013

2014 should be the year of the worker

We’ve been in the post-recession recovery period for five years. It is time to shape what the next-generation work place needs to look like. The year of the worker needs to build on our new-found confidence that we can create a more fair economy, not just settle for what the economy used to be or what it became during this recession. We don’t want the status quo to become the norm. We need to remember that economic recovery is about redefining what the economy should look like when we’re not just trying to survive the collapse.

On New Year’s Day 2009, millions of Americans had already lost their jobs. And the worst of the terrible recession had not even struck. President-elect Obama’s first term had not yet begun, but he knew the next four years would be defined by how we endured an economy in free fall. Globalization had, by that point, been reshaping our economy for nearly twenty years. When the financial and economic crashes came, they were shock waves felt around the world.

How is everyone feeling today? The financial recovery of the stock market’s in full swing. Boeing’s share price went up 84% in 2013. Microsoft’s rose 43%, its best performance in at least a decade. If you’re a shareholder in the world’s largest companies, maybe you’re feeling like things are looking up.

If you’re a worker, or trying to find a job, things look profoundly different.

2014 should be the year of the worker. Here’s why.

Working men and women carried us all through the worst of the economic collapse and restructuring. They didn’t sit on the sidelines, wringing their hands. They took whatever jobs they could find to help feed their families.

They worked at the food banks and senior centers in every town and city in America. They helped their kids find the money to pay college tuition and let them live at home while holding a part-time job. They went back to school themselves, getting retrained in network management, healthcare IT, marine engineering, or electric vehicle maintenance and repair work.

Workers led the U.S. manufacturing recovery in the aerospace, auto, heavy equipment, shipbuilding, and medical technology industries.

Since 2010, the nation’s manufacturing sector has helped lead us out of the recession by creating jobs and expanding exports. We still make goods that people around the world want to buy, because our workers lead their industries in skills and commitment to building safe, high-quality products.

Workers lucky enough to hold onto jobs over the past five years stood with their employers in both the public and private sectors to hold down costs. They took furloughs and salary cuts. They agreed to cuts in healthcare, retirement, sick leave, vacation, and other benefits so that colleagues could hold onto their jobs.

I watched public sector workers at the Port of Seattle, King County, Pierce County, Port of Tacoma, University of Washington, Highline Community College, and Seattle Public Schools keep working as the economy stalled, froze, and lurched back into action. I saw the bottom literally fall out of the private sector’s architectural design and engineering, building construction, and nonprofit sectors of our local economies, where thirty to fifty percent unemployment rates became common. And then we collectively exhaled as these workers gradually got back to work.

Now is the time for workers to have a say in what economic recovery will look like. America’s families need and deserve economic security.

There’s work that needs to be done and the dignity of work happens in every community. The teacher, fireman, fisherman, police officer, building janitor, and the grandmother who reads to the children at the local Boys and Girls club — they all deserve economic security. Middle and low income families buy homes, shop at the local grocery store, stand in line at the corner bakery, depend on the dry cleaner to fix your favorite shirt, and keep the plumbers and mechanics in business.

Economic security is not just about the jobs we have. Economic security is about the quality of life we live. It’s not about expecting to have one job for our whole career. It is about having a job that lets us pay the rent, save for retirement and take some paid time off without living in constant fear of losing the job because we miss a day of work. Economic security can never be taken for granted.

But when given the chance to hold a job with a decent salary and deferred pay, workers will do the rest. They’ll save to buy a home, take a vacation, help pay for their kids’ college, and prepare for their own retirement.

By making 2014 the year of the worker, we can ensure that everyone shares in the recovery. Elected leaders and employers should be valuing the people who do the work, day in and day out, for all of us. Our region’s business owners should resolve to pay all of their workers a decent wage, providing some paid vacation time and paid sick leave. Everyone gets sick, and everyone needs a vacation.

We cannot be machines that just work until we break down.

Workers, in turn, should resolve to show up on time, treat colleagues and customers with respect, and do the job that needs to be done.

If there were ever a moment in modern history for us to make a break with the past, this is it. We are in the process of making healthcare available to many more Americans, regardless of where they work, how old they are, where they live, or whether they have a preexisting condition.

All employers will benefit from the implementation of the Patient Protection Act. Employers will be able to predict healthcare costs with much greater certainty. And workers will be able to pursue jobs anywhere, without having to worry about barriers like preexisting conditions or refusal to cover a family member.

Our region and our country are home to millions of people who have a strong progressive work ethic and aren’t afraid to work for a living. They ought to have the opportunity to make a living wage and support their families.

Seasoned Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene tapped to manage Healthcare.gov

Former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene, who has capably served as the president of the company’s Business division for many years, will take over management of Healthcare.gov, the Obama administration announced today at a meeting with top technology executives, including Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith.

DelBene will succeed Jeffrey D. Zients, who has been serving as a senior advisor to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. He announced his retirement from Microsoft earlier this year. DelBene is married to U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene, who represents NPI’s home congressional district, WA-01.

The White House disclosed the news in a readout of the President’s meeting with leaders from several well-known technology firms, including Tim Cook of Apple, Eric Schmidt of Google, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Reed Hastings of Netflix and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook. Microsoft was represented by Brad Smith, as mentioned.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius expanded upon the announcement a little later. In a blog post on HHS’ website, she welcomed DelBene to public service and explained what his role as a senior adviser would be:

Kurt will work closely with me, the White House, and the teams and senior leadership in place at HHS and CMS to see this project through its next important phase as the CMS team continues to build on their initial progress. He has agreed to serve in this role for at least the first half of next year.

Because of the site’s progress, his responsibilities, while similar to Jeff’s, will reflect an evolution of focus as we move on to the next phase.

First, Kurt will provide management expertise, operations oversight, and critical advice on additional enrollment channels, field operations, marketing and communications. The President and I believe strongly in having one person, with strong experience and expertise in management and execution, who is thinking 24/7 about HealthCare.gov. Kurt’s leadership and management of HealthCare.gov will be in consultation with CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and in partnership with the project’s general contractor, QSSI.

Second, Kurt will execute the plan in place, so that we can ensure the site’s performance is strong through the close of open enrollment on March 31, 2014. This will include a focus on increasing system stability, redundancy and capacity, and building on improvements to the user interface, while continuing to prioritize security and privacy issues in line with industry best practices.

Microsoft issued a statement shortly after the news was announced, lauding DelBene’s management skills and congratulating the administration.

“Kurt is a talented and capable executive, with a track record of successfully managing complex large-scale technology projects,” said Bill Gates, Microsoft’s founder and chairman. “Working with Kurt over many years, I know him to be a passionate advocate for using technology to solve difficult problems at scale. He brings deep expertise as a manager and engineer to his new responsibilities. I’m certain he’ll make an important positive contribution in his new role with HHS.”

Two of DelBene’s last major projects at Microsoft were the development and release of Office 365 and Office 2013. Office 365 is the company’s subscription-based office suite that runs in the cloud; while Office 2013 is the latest incarnation of Microsoft’s desktop office suite, succeeding Office 2010 and designed to run on Windows 8.

Aside from Windows, Office is one of Microsoft’s flagship products, and the consensus among observers and analysts was that it was was well-managed by Kurt DelBene during his tenure as president of the Business division.

I first met Kurt DelBene when Suzan was running for Congress against Dave Reichert in 2009. I was impressed that he found time to join Suzan on the campaign trail despite his responsibilities at Microsoft. He and Suzan have been consistently supportive of our work, and all of us here at NPI are very grateful for that.

DelBene’s experience helming complex projects will be invaluable. The Obama administration has made an excellent choice. It’s a real relief to know that one of the Pacific Northwest’s sharpest and most seasoned technology executives will be managing Healthcare.gov in the months to come.

We extend our congratulations and best wishes to Kurt as he transitions into this new role. America is very fortunate that he has volunteered for this challenge. It’s crucial that the Patient Protection Act be a success, and with Kurt DelBene as a senior adviser to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, there’s a greater likelihood it will be.

United States needs and deserves a budget that puts people – and the planet – first

Congress votes and the deal’s done. What does it mean?

Washington’s senior U.S. Senator Patty Murray and her negotiating partner Congressman Paul Ryan have averted yet another budget crisis heading into the 2014 budget negotiations. The Senate still has to vote, but the House has, by a surprisingly large margin, gone ahead and signed off on the modest deal.

The agreement doesn’t extend deferred pay for the unemployed or prevent us from getting close to another default in early 2014, but it will eliminate the threat of another government shutdown in the near future.

What happened? A bargain was struck, but what does it entail? Too much of the news coverage to date has been about the politics of the agreement, not the impact or the scope. The American people now have a chance to analyze the details.

These budget negotiations were about sequestration and who gets what share of the federal discretionary budget. What’s the discretionary budget? It is the $1.5 trillion out of a total budget of $3.8 trillion proposed by the Obama Administration to run our federal government agencies in 2014.

The Republican game plan for the discretionary budget is consistent at least: squeeze more blood out of the civilian agencies and public employees that have been bled dry as a result of two overseas entanglements, two rounds of tax cuts for the wealthy, and the recent effects of sequestration.

Democrats seem to be in a “hold the line” stance, which essentially institutionalizes the draconian blows to health, education, housing, and environmental funding absorbed during the past thirteen years.

What if we demanded real budget negotiations where both sides argue for a budget that achieves meaningful gains for the American people and see who offers a fair deal? Just look at the way today’s budget rewards U.S. military and intelligence agencies. They win fifty-seven percent of the discretionary budget.

Every other federal mission gets peanuts. Education and veterans? Six percent each. Housing and health? Five percent each. And get this: international affairs (State Department and the United Nations), energy and environment, science, and transportation get just three percent each, or twelve percent collectively.

A budget is a moral document. It is a statement of choices.

Today’s federal budget reflects a clear choice: fund the military while forcing our other vital public services to compete for the leftovers.

The Congressional Budget Office has explored ways to rethink how to spend tax dollars. Instead of cutting $25 billion from unemployment benefits and foregoing the potential creation of almost 200,000 living-wage jobs, we could reduce military combat units to generate $552 billion through 2023.

Or, let’s examine those generous corporate tax loopholes and deductions that make it rare for corporations to pay their fair share of a thirty-five percent corporate income tax rate. If the rate were increased by just one percent – at a time when corporate profits are at an all-time high – our available discretionary tax dollars would grow by $113 billion. These numbers have a way of changing the way we define “success” in a budget negotiation, don’t they?

These are examples of how to change the way we think about funding the critical needs of our people and nation. Just a few months ago, intransigent Republicans manufactured a sixteen-day federal government shutdown.

Few in Congress seemed to feel the shocks to ordinary Americans, but the rest of us sure did. Furloughs, layoffs, and delinquent paychecks meant millions of families held their breath and hoped for an end to the crisis before their rent or mortgages came due. It is a good moment to ask: what are we doing to ourselves?

Cuts to bloated military budgets will not hurt our nation’s long-or short-term interests. But hikes to student loan rates along with indefinite sequestration cuts hurt all of us. According to Inside HigherEd, the effects of sequestration alone have been catastrophic: $1 billion in cuts to universities means lost research into new cancer treatments, the causes of Alzheimer’s, and cures for HIV/AIDS.

In contrast, just imagine the impact of reallocating $100 billion from military and intelligence budgets to fund early learning and higher education initiatives that expand research, increase student aid, make college loans more affordable, and pave the way for universal preschool in all fifty states.

More than twenty-five years ago, a Pentagon official requested my help. His office was trying to figure out how Soviet leaders would react to proposals to cut strategic nuclear arsenals by fifty percent. Back then, we never talked about how much money the United States was spending on its strategic military power. It is time to start talking about it. The U.S. military budget is consuming our common wealth.

Yet the debate revolves around how to spread the losses across agencies and programs already in free fall. Details matter. It is time to stop inflicting more pain. We deserve and must demand that the next budget deal hold promise for all of us.

Scam alert! An unknown entity, the “Labor Standards Compliance Office”, is trying to sell labor posters with letters that look like bills

An unknown entity calling itself the “Labor Standards Compliance Office” is mass mailing deceptive letters to Washington businesses and nonprofits that appear to be bills from the government, but are in reality solicitations for labor posters that can be freely obtained, the Northwest Progressive Institute has learned.

One of these suspicious-looking letters showed up this afternoon in our mail, and after reading the fine print, we called the Department of Labor & Industries and Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office to ask if they were aware of the letter.

It turns out that a lot of other business owners and nonprofit leaders have received identical letters. The Department of Labor & Industries says many businesses have called in confused… so many that they felt compelled to publish a news release:

Scores of businesses are contacting the Department of Labor & Industries to report they have received an official-looking letter that implies they must buy required workplace posters or face fines.

L&I did not send the letters, but wants to remind companies that the workplace posters are available for free.

The mass mailing has confused many business owners, who assume it’s from L&I. The letters say “final notice,” are addressed to individual businesses, and include a payment stub to purchase the posters for $295. It’s true that the state and federal governments require certain posters be placed at job sites. While private vendors may sell the posters, the government provides the posters at no cost.

“Our staff has received lots of calls regarding what appears to be a bill for government posters,” said Anne Foote-Soiza, Assistant Director of L&I’s Division of Occupational Health and Safety. “L&I wants everyone to understand these posters are free for the asking. Please let other business owners know about it, too.”

The free state-required posters are available from any L&I office or by calling 1-866-219-7321 or downloading from the L&I website.

The letters do not include a telephone number, fax number, or email address, or the name of an actual person. The letters are, as the above news release mentions, addressed to individual businesses and nonprofits.

The return address reads as follows:

LABOR STANDARDS COMPLIANCE OFFICE
Business Compliance Department
1201 Pacific Avenue, 6th Floor
Tacoma, WA 98402

1201 Pacific Avenue is the address for Wells Fargo Plaza, one of the highrise commercial office buildings in downtown Tacoma. It is managed by Unico Properties. Commercial real estate firm Kidder Matthews, which sells office space in the building, calls it “Tacoma’s premier Class A office building”.

A search by us of the Secretary of State’s Corporations Database for “Labor Standards Compliance Office” yielded nothing. A search of databases maintained by the Departments of Revenue and License also yielded nothing.

It seems that the “Labor Standards Compliance Office” is doing business in Washington State without being properly licensed or registered. How ironic. It also appears that they mined publicly available business records for the purpose of sending this solicitation. The Secretary of State makes the entire Washington corporations database available in XML and text formats.

Anyone can build a list from those records. State law requires that individuals requesting certain public records (like from the PDC or one of the state’s universities) certify that they will not use the records for commercial purposes. However, it isn’t clear to us whether the corporations database is similarly off-limits. There doesn’t seem to be a warning on the Secretary of State’s website.

This same outfit – the “Labor Standards Compliance Office” – appears to be operating in other states, too. Just a couple of weeks ago, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne published a news release warning about identical letters sent to businesses in the Grand Canyon State. Here’s his statement:

Attorney General Tom Horne is today warning Arizona consumers and small businesses to be wary of solicitations that appear to be an official notification from a government agency.

There is currently an official looking mailer being sent out by the “Labor Standards Compliance Office” requesting a fee (generally $295) from consumers in return for providing up-to-date notices for businesses to post to comply with the State of Arizona and the Federal Government. This sender is not affiliated in any way with the government, but is instead a private non-governmental business.  Small businesses are not required to purchase these posters and should be wary of the “FINAL NOTICE” and “DUE NOW” claims stated on the mailer.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office advises consumers to read all fine print, do research on companies that are listed on mailers, and be cautious about the authenticity of mailings that appear to be from a government agency.

California’s Department of Industrial Relations released a similar warning back in September (PDF). It looks like the people behind this letter have been targeting businesses in multiple states west of the Rockies. We assume they are also operating the website located at laborstandardscomplianceoffice dot com, which advertises a phone number (1-888-755-3386) but no address. The domain is registered with NameCheap through the registrar eNom.

The letter is a one-page, two-sided production. The front side looks like this:

Front side of a letter from the "Labor Standards Compliance Office"

The back side looks like this:

Back side of a letter from the "Labor Standards Compliance Office"

The fine print on the front and back is the real giveaway that the letter is not from the government. On the letter we got, this paragraph appears just above the bottom third of the page, which is designed to be detached and remitted with an enclosed return envelope. It says, in ALL CAPS (decapitalized here for readability):

This is not a bill. This is a solicitation you are under no obligation to pay the amount stated above unless you accept this offer. This product or service has not been approved or endorsed by any government agency and this offer is not being made by an agency of the government.

The letter may not be a real bill, but it is cleverly designed to look like one. (Evidently, that’s why there are disclaimers on both the front and the back).

The fine print is so small that even a person with good eyesight could not make it out without holding it at a very close distance.

The letter comes in an official-looking envelope which states, “This notification is concerning your labor law compliance… Immediate response requested.” Below that is the number 2013, rendered as if it were lifted right off an IRS form:

Envelope containing letter from the "Labor Standards Compliance Office"

If you ask us, this letter is the snail mail equivalent of a phishing email. Phishing emails are messages that look like they come from a business or the government but were really sent by scammers. The emails urges recipients to follow a link and input passwords, contact information, or credit card account numbers into a form on a website the scammers control. Recipients are often told the agency or business that is being spoofed needs the information to safeguard them (which is a lie).

A legitimate business does not attempt to sell products or services by pretending to be the authorities. This “offer” is a scam, and we wonder whether the promised service (which supposedly includes a “certificate of compliance” and a “serial number”) will even be provided to the people who send checks or money orders for $295 to the sixth floor of Wells Fargo Plaza in Tacoma.

We assume somebody with premises there is operating a virtual office or mail forwarding business of some kind, which the people behind these letters are using.

If you have received one of these letters and you remitted payment along with the stub to the “Labor Standards Compliance Office” believing that you were responding to a government notice, please file a consumer complaint with the Attorney General’s office immediately.

Simply follow this link to the online form, or download this PDF and return it by mail. Provide your contact information and your story so that the Attorney General can investigate this scam and ascertain who might be behind it.

Pope Francis is TIME’s Person of the Year

A worthy choice:

These days it is bracing to hear a leader say anything that annoys anyone. Now liberals and conservatives alike face a choice as they listen to a new voice of conscience: Which matters more, that this charismatic leader is saying things they think need to be said or that he is also saying things they’d rather not hear?

The heart is a strong muscle; he’s proposing a rigorous exercise plan. And in a very short time, a vast, global, ecumenical audience has shown a hunger to follow him. For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is TIME’s 2013 Person of the Year.

If we had to choose a person of the year, it’d be Pope Francis, and Edward Snowden would be our other choice. Snowden and Francis have each had a big impact on humanity and the world community in 2013. Both of them have demonstrated courage and resourcefulness. Francis has taken over as the head of one of the world’s oldest and largest religious institutions, the Catholic Church, while Edward Snowden has taken on the world’s most powerful signals intelligence outfit, the National Security Agency, which has been operating above the law for years.

Popes have been chosen as TIME’s Person of the Year before; one could argue Francis was the safe choice. But the Catholic Church has not had a non-European pope for centuries. It has not had a pope in recent years who put the needs of his flock above theology. Francis is a true minister, not just a pontiff, and that is what makes him such a great leader, worthy of our respect.

TIME observes:

The papacy is mysterious and magical: it turns a septuagenarian into a superstar while revealing almost nothing about the man himself. And it raises hopes in every corner of the world—hopes that can never be fulfilled, for they are irreconcilable. The elderly traditionalist who pines for the old Latin Mass and the devout young woman who wishes she could be a priest both have hopes. The ambitious monsignor in the Vatican Curia and the evangelizing deacon in a remote Filipino village both have hopes. No Pope can make them all happy at once.

But what makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all. People weary of the endless parsing of sexual ethics, the buck-passing infighting over lines of authority when all the while (to borrow from Milton), “the hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed.”

In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church — the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world — above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were professors of theology. Francis is a former janitor, nightclub bouncer, chemical technician and literature teacher.

For so many people, Francis is the pope they have long yearned for.

I recently joined the now-retired pastor who founded my family’s parish community for his eightieth birthday celebration. I asked him what he thought of Pope Francis. He grinned and told me, “He should have come fifty years ago!”

I wasn’t around fifty years ago, but I agree: Pope Francis’ arrival was long overdue. Now that we have him, I hope that we get to keep him for a long while. At least a decade, and hopefully much longer than that.

Right-wing think tanks plotting Eymanesque campaign against our cities and counties

Last week, reporters for The Guardian pulled the curtain back on a network of well-funded, well-organized right-wing think tanks and their extreme agenda.

Documents obtained by The Guardian show the blandly-named State Policy Network is working to undermine education, healthcare, and revenue collection in nearly every state in the country. Their specific proposals are extremely radical, from privatizing schools to gutting public healthcare.

The Guardian’s report also shows how this network’s Washington affiliates plan to launch the next phase of their attack on our economic security and our democracy.

The State Policy Network is a creation of the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and is funded by right-wing donors including the Koch Brothers to impose extremist policies at the state level, bypassing a federal government where Democrats remain powerful enough to block this radical agenda.

Here in Washington, the State Policy Network has two affiliates: the Freedom Foundation and the Washington Policy Center.

Both of these groups are well known for their right-wing policy agenda and their desire to dismantle and destroy Washington’s progressive achievements.

The Guardian’s reporting details two new lines of attack we can expect from these think tanks, based on grant requests they submitted to the State Policy Network. The Freedom Foundation wants to launch a new campaign claiming that cities and counties are somehow “borrowing beyond their means” – trying to bring the logic of austerity to local government, demanding we cut back on spending to address some supposed borrowing problem that does not actually exist.

The Washington Policy Center is planning a campaign to take Tim Eyman’s unconstitutional 2/3 rule for tax increases to the local level, hoping to get more local governments to enact a supermajority requirement to raise revenue.

We don’t know whether the State Policy Network agreed to fund these campaigns, but they have funded other campaigns for these think tanks in the past.

Thanks to The Guardian, we know what they’re up to, and have an opportunity to anticipate these attacks and stop them before they succeed.

The Freedom Foundation’s attempt to smear the fiscal health of local governments is easily debunked. Local governments in Washington State have been borrowing money appropriately and their credit ratings remain strong.

Seattle and King County, for example, both have AAA ratings.

The Freedom Foundation seeks to destroy local public services through cuts to vital public services, but knows that Washingtonians like these services and do not want to see them undermined. In order to overcome that resistance, the Freedom Foundation knows they must portray cities and counties as in bad financial shape, which is why they want money to launch a campaign to concoct an entirely fictional story of local governments borrowing beyond their means.

Earlier this year the Supreme Court declared the two-thirds supermajority requirement at the heart of Tim Eyman’s I-601 clones to be unconstitutional. But it looks like the Washington Policy Center is undaunted by the LEV decision, as they are now seeking to impose the same undemocratic scheme on cities and counties.

We don’t have to look far to see how creating an undemocratic threshold for raising revenue can cause big problems.

Many cities in California are in dire straits because neither local elected officials nor voters can raise revenue without a two-thirds vote. Getting to 66.67% in any election is a tough hurdle, and in any other situation, anything that gets more than 60% of voter support is considered to have won in a landslide.

Yet just last year, a proposal to fund a major expansion of mass transit in Los Angeles “failed” because it got 66.11% of the vote, just short of the two-thirds threshold. If levies or revenue proposals in Washington required a two-thirds vote, decisions about funding vital public schools like schools or police, fire, and emergency medical response would end up in the hands of the few, not the many.

These proposed campaigns also show how Washington’s right-wing think tanks exist to advance the agenda of wealthy national donors, rather than the interests of the people of the Evergreen State. These think tanks have had a lot of success shaping the agenda in other states, and in places like Wisconsin and Michigan are key to the Tea Party’s war on economic security. They haven’t had as much success in the Pacific Northwest… yet. But they are coming for us.

We need to be ready to stop them.

Steve Sarkisian abandons his players and Husky football for USC’s top coaching job

Washington’s highest-paid employee is headed south for a more lucrative job.

Steve Sarkisian, who was hired to turn around a winless University of Washington football program five years ago, acknowledged earlier today that he has accepted the head coaching position at the University of Southern California, which is one of the most elite schools in the country and a traditional powerhouse in the Pacific 12 Conference (formerly the Pac-10). Sarkisian was an assistant coach for seven years at USC prior to being hired by UW, so his desire to return his understandable.

But the timing and circumstances of his departure are not becoming of a man who claimed for half a decade to bleed purple and gold.

Sarkisian is abandoning his players and the Husky football program he helped turn around less than a hundred hours after the UW’s 2013 Apple Cup victory.

I say abandoned because Washington’s season isn’t over yet. The Huskies are coming off an eight-win season and have earned a trip to a bowl game. They have an opportunity to become a nine-win team.

But it won’t be under Sarkisian, because he’s jetting off to southern California to be (re)introduced to the USC faithful at an afternoon press conference tomorrow.

Instead of getting his team ready to play Brigham Young University in the Fight Hunger Bowl (which is where the Huskies are likely headed) and recruiting for UW for next year, Sarkisian will be packing up his things and moving his family to sunnier and warmer climes in southern California.

Sarkisian now owes the University of Washington $1.5 million for breaking his contract (he was signed through the 2014 season) though it’s possible that USC is buying him out. They can certainly afford to.

Rumors are swirling that Sarkisian is attempting to take much of the Washington coaching staff with him, including defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who may now be offered the job just relinquished by Sarkisian.

As the UW’s Scott Woodward noted today, it isn’t unusual for college football coaches to move around, particularly when a prestigious university or a National Football League team comes calling with a head coaching opportunity.

But in allowing USC brass to approach him and then in accepting their job offer ahead of Washington’s bowl game, Steve Sarkisian is putting himself first, not the players he recruited and mentored, and not the university he has claimed to be proud and pleased to coach for. He’s behaving like a mercenary, not a Husky.

A few weeks ago, Sarkisian was doing all he could to convince his players and Husky fans that he was happy at the University of Washington and intent on staying, building on comments he made in 2010, when he said he viewed the coaching job at Washington as one of the premier positions in college football, and not a steppingstone to something bigger and grander.

“People don’t understand it, but this is my dream job,” Sarkisian said then.

He echoed that statement ahead of the UW’s game against Stanford a few weeks ago, saying “This is an awesome place to be,” and adding:

I have great respect for USC and the rich history and tradition that they have. But I am proud to be the head football coach of the 15th-ranked team in America right now, and all the hard work that we’ve put into this program for the last five years to get to this point. To be in an awesome matchup on national television Saturday night against a national-championship contender in Stanford, that’s where my focus is.

He even told KJR his goal as coach was to run Washington’s football program one year longer than Don James did. James, who died a few weeks ago, is affectionately known as the Dawgfather and was the UW’s most successful football coach.

Just this weekend, in the wake of the Apple Cup victory, Sarkisian was expressing excitement at the thought of coaching the Huskies in a bowl game.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to play another game with this group, because I think they’ll go out and perform,” Sarkisian said in remarks reported by the Everett Herald. “They’ll prepare great and they’ll go out and perform, and I’m excited about the future of this program with where we’re headed.”

This morning, in a Tim Eymanesque-like fashion, he claimed on KJR FM that he had not “interviewed” for the head coaching job at USC.

But then word of his hiring got out and was swiftly followed by an official announcement that was only delayed so that Sarkisian could tell his players in person about his decision to leave Washington… and them. Of course, by then, they had already heard the news from Twitter or ESPN. Naturally, they feel blindsided.

“Don’t ever commit cus of a coach. Faker then a 3 dollar bill,” tweeted Husky quarterback Troy Williams, one of Sarkisian’s recruits. (He later deleted the tweet, presumably on the advice of teammates or coaches, but his point is well taken).

Sarkisian has not said much about why he decided to leave. He released a prepared statement saying he was excited to return to USC and “win championships”.

But he told UW players, including quarterback Keith Price, that he was taking the job at USC “for his family”. If Sarkisian truly is the kind of man who puts his family first, then why’d he accept the head coaching job at the University of Washington to begin with? He could have stayed at USC working under Pete Carroll and waited for Carroll to move on (which happened only a year after UW fired Tyrone Willingham).

Instead, he jumped at the opportunity to become a head coach. Sarkisian’s own ambition turned out to be more important.

It may well be that his family supported and accepted his decision to come to Washingtin in 2008, despite having misgivings or mixed feelings about it. If so, they have been far more loyal to him than he has been to either USC or UW.

It’d be nice if the UW’s next football coach were truly committed to building a great football program and mentoring Washington’s student athletes long term. After the turmoil of the Neuhisel, Gilbertson, Willingham and Sarkisian years, it’d be nice to have a coach who acts more like Don James as opposed to another mercenary who is only loyal to Washington until he lands a better gig.

Theft of Victoria Clipper IV demonstrates the need for stronger port security

Early yesterday morning, the newest high speed catamaran in the Clipper Navigation fleet, the Victoria Clipper IV, was stolen from its berth at Seattle’s Pier 69 by a registered sex offender who later told police he was trying to use the vessel to get to West Seattle. (Why he didn’t just walk or take the bus there is a presumably a question that police detectives have asked him or plan to ask him).

The theft was discovered by Clipper Navigation CEO Darrell Bryan, who happened to be in the company’s offices around the time the Clipper broke away from the dock and quickly realized that none of his captains were aboard piloting the vessel, as he recounted to the Seattle Times and the Victoria Times-Colonist.

Bryan alerted authorities and before long the Seattle Police Department and the Coast Guard were on the scene. After attempting to negotiate with the thief, , a SWAT team was able to board the Clipper IV and take Samuel K. McDonough into custody without further incident. He is currently being held in the King County Jail.

The theft of the Clipper IV is already a contender for the most bizarre story of the year. It’s not every day that an eight million dollar high speed passenger ferry is stolen. As Bryan wryly noted, it’s actually the first time in the nearly three decade history of the company that someone has taken one of its vessels.

But the incident is also a sobering reminder that we need stronger security measures in place to protect our ports, including the Port of Seattle.

Our two U.S. Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, have been pretty vocal over the years about the need to bolster port security, and the rest of us would do well to listen when they are speaking on the subject.

While we don’t know all of the facts of this case yet, police allege that McDonough sneaked onto Clipper Navigation’s premises, got aboard the Clipper IV, entered the ship’s wheelhouse, and started its engines… all without being stopped. Supposedly, he slipped into the restricted area of Pier 69 by jumping the fence adjacent to the sales kiosk, which is not topped with barbed wire.

And then, after he was aboard, he was able to get into the wheelhouse, which was apparently not locked – though it should have been, according to Bryan:

The vessel isn’t locked because it’s in a secure perimeter, but the wheelhouse should have been locked, he said.

“There is a locking mechanism, and you have to have the code to get in,” he said.

“Tomorrow morning we will be going through everything. We’ll be looking at the lessons learned and what can we do to prevent this from happening for another 28 years.”

That “secure perimeter” evidently wasn’t very secure, since it was breached by a mentally troubled sex offender in the dark of night.

In the future, Clipper Navigation shouldn’t assume it is okay to leave its vessels unlocked simply because they are in berths that are behind fences and watched by surveillance cameras. Had the Clipper IV been locked, McDonough would not have been able to simply walk on board and make his way to the wheelhouse.

Had the wheelhouse been properly secured, McDonough would not have been able to get inside and access the ship’s controls.

Worse, the key to start the engines was apparently in the unlocked wheelhouse… and maybe even in the ignition. (Bryan told The Seattle Times a key is needed to start the Clipper IV. He did not confirm whether the key had been left in the wheelhouse, but we suspect that’s what might have happened).

Bryan told Seattle television stations that the company will move quickly to fix the fence by the sales kiosk so it can’t be jumped anymore. That’s a good idea, but an even better one would be a top-to-bottom review of security procedures. Tough questions need to be asked and answered.

For instance, how is it that McDonough was not noticed until he was maneuvering the Clipper IV away from the dock, ripping off cleats in the process? (Security cameras aren’t very useful if someone isn’t monitoring them).

And why had the wheelhouse been left unlocked?

Does the rationale for leaving the vessels accessible when not in use make sense any more, given what happened yesterday? If the vessel had been secured, it could have stopped McDonough from making it to the unlocked wheelhouse.

The Clipper IV is one of the world’s fastest watercraft. Built in Bergen, Norway, and registered in Nassau – presumably for tax purposes – it is powered by a waterjet propulsion system and can travel at speeds of up to thirty-five miles per hour. It provides convenient ferry service between Seattle and Victoria, British Columbia.

The Clipper IV is a catamaran, meaning it has multiple hulls. It is said to be difficult to operate, and it can’t be started up just by turning a key.

McDonough apparently was clever enough to figure out Clipper Navigation’s equivalent of a preflight checklist and start up the ship. But he did not have the skill to drive it properly, and as a result it appeared as if the Clipper IV was adrift, going in circles. Authorities called McDonough’s short voyage a joyride.

I’ve ridden the Clipper before, and it is a very cool boat. It can traverse the waters between Seattle and Victoria very quickly. The crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca can be bumpy, but Puget Sound waters are reasonably calm most of the time.

Much attention has been paid in recent years to bolstering security procedures for air, rail, and marine passengers, to the point where (particularly in airports) we have security theater on a grand scale. It’s more for show than for effect.

Our approach to security has been far too reactive and not proactive enough. We respond to incidents to prevent repeats but we don’t think creatively to anticipate and prevent new incidents. We’ve spent billions to fortify the entrances to airport terminals, but even still, it’s been demonstrated that people can get through security with restricted items undetected. One fellow has even figured out how to build a gun out of items you can purchase after clearing airport security.

Clipper Navigation CEO Darrell Bryan might consider hiring the the equivalent of a hacker or team of hackers and seeing if they can penetrate the company’s defenses when most of the company’s workers are off-duty. Such an exercise could help the company better identify its vulnerabilities. A patched fence may stop the next Samuel K. McDonough, but what about someone who cuts through the fence, or approaches from the water in a kayak or rowboat?

Our ports are the gateways to our country and our continent for millions of people and for goods and materials made abroad. Their security ought to be of paramount importance, and it doesn’t seem like it is. When a multimillion dollar passenger ferry can be stolen from its dock by one man in the middle of the night despite being berthed in what’s considered a secure perimeter, it’s a sign that our port security is not robust enough. This is a serious problem we need to address, and soon.