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: February 2014

Republican Pedro Celis confirms he’ll challenge Suzan DelBene for U.S. House

With less than ninety days to go until the filing deadline arrives, the Republican Party has finally found a challenger for U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene: Pedro Celis, a fifty-four year old former software engineer who resides in Redmond. Celis worked for Microsoft for more than a decade and is now a member of the board of Plaza Bank, a local financial institution that serves the Latino community.

Seattle Times political reporter Jim Brunner spoke to Celis earlier today ahead of his official campaign kickoff tomorrow to get a sense of what Celis will be running on.

Celis predictably criticized DelBene’s support of the Patient Protection Act, no doubt having been told by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) that this should be his major theme. And he also condemned DelBene for supporting an increase in the minimum wage, to $10.10 an hour.

I can’t imagine that Celis isn’t aware that Washington State has the highest minimum wage of any state in the county and that voters here have welcomed opportunities to increase the minimum wage, most recently last year in SeaTac.

In fact, the reason that our state’s minimum wage is the highest of any state in the Union is that we started indexing it to the Consumer Price Index in 2001.

A few weeks after Celis began working at Microsoft (he started in September of 1998, according to his LinkedIn profile) voters resoundingly and overwhelmingly approved Initiative 688 by a margin of nearly two-to-one – 66.1% to 33.9%.

I-688 increased the minimum wage from $4.90 to $5.70 in 1999, and then to $6.50 in 2000, providing that it be indexed to the CPI thereafter. (It’s now $9.32 an hour). It ranks as one of the most popular initiatives in Washington State history.

Celis is certainly entitled to his opinion, but raising the minimum wage has been good for Washington families and our economic security.

Prior to I-688’s passage, lobbyists for numerous trade associations predicted that bad things would happen if it became law. Here is how the Seattle Times’ Jim Lynch characterized their opposition at the time:

Washington business groups call the November ballot measure a frightening prospect that could stick the state with unreasonably high wages and put it at a competitive disadvantage.

“Scary,” says Russ Goodman, spokesman for the Washington Restaurant Association.

Scary? Try successful.  I-688 has now been the law of the land for over fifteen years, and it has contributed to the economic security of thousands of Washington families. Lately, our state has repeatedly been ranked as one of the best states to do business, and our high minimum wage actually helps our competitiveness.

What Celis doesn’t seem to appreciate is that when workers (who are the real profit creators!) are paid a higher wage, they need less public assistance and can contribute to the economic security of their neighbors.

If Celis and his campaign team think that running against the minimum wage will help him appeal to voters, they are sorely mistaken. Dino Rossi tried that in 2008 in his rematch with Chris Gregoire, and it contributed to the failure of his campaign.

Given that Celis was a supporter of the Washington State DREAM Act, signed into law today by Governor Jay Inslee, I’d be curious to know what his position is on comprehensive immigration reform. Brunner’s story doesn’t discuss that issue, although that doesn’t mean Brunner didn’t ask Celis about it during their interview.

Celis’ campaign has registered several domains to be used in conjunction with the campaign, including pedrocelis.com, which a WHOIS search shows is currently held by the National Republican Congressional Committee’s senior digital strategist Christopher Hanks. Hanks also is the registrant for celisforcongress.com.

DelBene’s campaign did not mince words when asked for comment. Speaking on behalf of the campaign, Soundview Strategies’ Sandeep Kaushik told Brunner, “If you like the way the Republican Congress has forced the irresponsible government shutdown, advocates for privatizing Social Security and launched a war on women, and want more of the same, then Celis is your candidate.”

Arizona’s Jan Brewer vetoes anti-LGBT bill in landmark defeat for fundamentalist right wing

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed a bill that would have legalized discrimination in the 48th State on the basis of sexual orientation, after progressives and business groups mobilized against the bill following its passage out of the Grand Canyon State’s Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans.

The Arizona Republic reports that Brewer revealed her decision at a short news conference in which she took no questions. Brewer said the legislation, Senate Bill 1062, would have created more problems than it would have solved.

The Republican governor announced the bill was unnecessary legislation that threatened the state’s recovering economy by driving away high-profile events such as next year’s Super Bowl and corporations looking to relocate to Arizona.

Her veto – coming two days after state lawmakers sent SB 1062 to her desk – capped a week of escalating furor over the bill that once again catapulted Arizona’s political into the national spotlight.

The state’s Republican U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, hundreds of protesters and the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, which is preparing for the 2015 NFL championship game, all urged the governor to veto the bill, saying it could wreck the state’s post-recession recovery. National political figures such as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney also weighed in this week to urge Brewer to nix the measure.

Brewer was also asked to veto SB 1062 by several Republican state senators who originally voted for it, but changed their minds after its passage created a nationwide furor. Had they voted no when it was in their hands, it would never have made it to Brewer’s desk, as all of the Democrats were opposed.

Civil rights advocates praised the veto.

“We thank Governor Brewer for her decision to veto this outrageous measure — a law that if enacted would be bad for Arizona people and the Arizona economy. In doing so, she has stopped a bill that both cynically uses religion as a smokescreen to justify discrimination and insults people of faith who feel that discrimination is morally wrong. This decision sends a clear message that extremism is totally unacceptable to people of all political persuasions,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund.

We too applaud the demise of SB 1062, which would have allowed Arizona business owners to refuse to serve gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals merely due to their sexual orientation. Discrimination goes against the values of our country, and our laws should forbid it – not allow it or encourage it.

BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) finally headed to Windows Phone; will debut this summer

Dispelling recent reports in the tech blogosphere to the contrary, BlackBerry announced this morning that it is working to bring BBM, BlackBerry’s popular and increasingly cross-platform mobile-to-mobile messaging service, to Windows Phone, in partnership with Nokia. BBM will also be present on Nokia’s new Android-based Nokia X smartphone platform when it launches in a few months.

“BBM continues to grow in popularity as millions of people use our mobile platform for chatting and connecting with friends or colleagues, and we are very excited that we will soon welcome Windows Phone and Nokia X users to the BBM community,” said John Sims, President, Global Enterprise Solutions at BlackBerry in a statement.

“Today marks an exciting moment for Nokia,” agreed Bryan Biniak, Vice President and GM of Developer Relations, Nokia Corporation. “By bringing BBM to the Windows Phone and Nokia X communities, our customers will be able to experience this popular global messaging app.”

BBM, which is short for BlackBerry Messenger, was first introduced by Research in Motion (now BlackBerry Limited) several years ago as a secure and private mobile-to-mobile messaging service for BlackBerry users, building on the earlier PIN messaging capability included in the company’s handsets.

(A PIN is an eight-character personal identification number consisting of letters as well as numbers. Each BlackBerry handset is assigned its own unique PIN at the time of manufacture, in addition to industry-standard identifiers).

BBM has always utilized the PIN system. In the BlackBerry universe, PINs are the equivalent of screen names. They’re akin to public keys. If you know the PIN of the person you want to chat with, you can send an invitation (or friend request, in Facebook parlance) to him or her. If he or she accepts the invitation, you’re then connected, and it becomes possible to initiate and carry on a conversation.

In its early days, BBM could only be used for two-way text conversations. But BlackBerry has since added a lot of new capabilities to BBM, including groups, channels, attachments, integration with other applications, voice calling, video chat + screen sharing, and as of last week, stickers through the new BBM Store.

BBM is superior to text messaging in many ways. It works over Wi-Fi, it’s totally independent of mobile telephone numbers, and there is no one hundred and sixty character limit. Most importantly, messages are confirmed as delivered (D) when they land on the recipient’s device, and confirmed as read (R) when opened by the user. The D’s and the R’s alone make BBM extremely useful.

Last May, at the final BlackBerry Live conference, the company announced it was taking BBM cross-platform, and would make the service available to iOS and Android users in the fall. High anticipation and a leaked version of the app messed up the initial launch plans, but BlackBerry ultimately got the rollout back on track and BBM saw a huge number of downloads in its first few days.

On non-BlackBerry phones, new BBM users are assigned a PIN when they launch the app, since they don’t have a BlackBerry handset with a preassigned PIN.

BlackBerry has continually sought to improve the BBM experience on iOS and Android platforms since the launch last fall. BBM 2.0 for those platforms debuted earlier this month, improving the feature parity with BBM for BlackBerry handsets by introducing BBM Voice and BBM Channels.

In addition, BlackBerry recently figured out how to make BBM available to people still stuck on Gingerbread (the Google code name for an older incarnation of Android). Now BlackBerry is conquering the next frontier by bringing BBM to Windows Phone. It’s a very smart move and it will give true meaning to the slogan #BBM4All, which the company uses on Twitter.

It would be nice to see BBM debut on the desktop later this year as well. Currently, BBM only works on handsets and on BlackBerry’s PlayBook tablet (when the PlayBook is bridged to a BlackBerry smartphone).

Since Windows Phone is getting BBM, maybe Windows (and hopefully Mac and GNU/Linux distributions) won’t be too far behind.

How Jay Inslee can stand up for Washington’s kids

In the wake of the Washington State Senate’s remarkable, bipartisan revolt against standardized testing mandates, the issue has rocketed to the top of the state’s political agenda. It was a prominent issue across the state yesterday at the various legislative town halls.

Education reform groups are mobilizing to reverse the Senate’s decision, voicing concern that as much as $38 million in federal grants may be lost unless Washington teacher evaluations are linked to student test scores – even if parents do not want such a link to be made. And today Governor Jay Inslee, in Washington D.C. for the National Governors Association meeting, will sit down with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss the issue.

Duncan is not going to simply back down without being forced to do so. But by taking away Duncan’s leverage and calling his bluff, Washington State political leaders can protect our kids from being overtested.

It’s worth thinking about how bluffing works. The entire point is for the bluffer to turn a weak position into a winning one by making the other side quit because they are afraid of what the bluffer might do – whether it’s laying down a straight flush and taking the pot, or yanking millions in federal education funds. A bluff works when the other side believes you, doesn’t want to take the risk, and folds. Bluffing fails when the other side doesn’t believe you and refuses to be intimidated. Especially when they know they, not the bluffer, have the winning hand.

Education reformers like Duncan have consistently failed to get Washington State to directly link teacher evaluations to test scores. Parents, teachers, and students have resisted such a link because they know it will erode the quality of classroom instruction by “teaching to the test.” These attitudes are bipartisan and cross the ideological spectrum. Public anger at standardized testing is producing a nationwide backlash as parents demand schools focus on instruction and not on testing.

Several years ago Washington legislators arrived at a sensible compromise, requiring districts to include measures of student growth in their evaluations of teachers – but leaving it to the districts to decide what that actually meant. It’s a good system that should be given time to be properly implemented. But Duncan insists that teacher evaluations be directly linked to specific test scores, even where states have chosen not to do so.

Education reformers and their Republican allies are trying to make this issue not about teacher evaluations and standardized tests – they know they’ll lose on that ground. So instead they have reframed the debate as whether Washington will lose out on as much as $38 million in federal funding.

That’s no small amount of money – except in comparison to the billion-dollar tab of complying with the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. The Legislature is already under strict court order to come up with $1 billion to adequately fund K-12 education. The Legislature should simply tell the U.S. Department of Education it has no problem adding another $38 million to that bill. It’s easy, affordable, and worth every penny given the restoration of local control over education policy that comes with it.

Such a step only becomes necessary if Duncan carries out his threat. If Governor Inslee and the Legislature tell Duncan that Washington will simply backfill any lost federal funding, standing firm in the face of federal demands, Duncan will have to fold. Especially since his remaining cards are very weak.

The other threat the U.S. Department of Education has made is that it will revoke the state’s waiver from the odious No Child Left Behind law. This is their most obvious bluff. Without the waiver, schools not meeting the requirement that 100% of students be meeting test score standards will have to send letters home to parents explaining that their kid attends a “failing school.”

The Obama Administration has no desire to see this actually happen. President Obama has already pledged to fix No Child Left Behind. He also has spoken out repeatedly against standardized tests:

Don’t label a school as failing one day and then throw your hands up and walk away from it the next.

And don’t tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test.

President Obama knows that it would be bad politics for those letters to get sent home, and so he’s been looking for a way out. The waivers are not just leverage to get states to adopt policies they have otherwise refused. They’re also an essential escape from a serious political problem for the president.

After all, California has shown this strategy is successful. Governor Jerry Brown and the California legislature faced a similar threat from Duncan, who vowed to revoke the NCLB waiver and take back millions in federal funding from California schools if the state went ahead with a one-year delay in administering a certain standardized test. California rejected the demand and so far, Duncan has not followed through on his threat.

The lessons are clear. Rather than approaching Duncan as a supplicant, Governor Inslee and the state legislature should be calling his bluff. They should pledge to backfill any federal grants that are taken away if Washington insists on protecting students from classrooms that teach to the test. They should stand with colleagues in other states that are also pushing back on flawed federal education mandates. Instead, they should collaborate together on sensible policies that will ensure our students get a good, comprehensive, holistic education that prepares them for life, rather than for bubble tests.

Washington should follow California’s lead and resist flawed federal education demands

Next week Washington Governor Jay Inslee will meet with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss the state’s waiver from the requirements of the failed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Last year Duncan’s department threatened to revoke the waiver unless the state legislature mandated that districts include student test scores in teacher evaluations. Currently districts have flexibility on how to define “student growth” measurements and can refuse to base teacher evaluations on test scores – which is a good move for teacher morale and ensures comprehensive, quality instruction for our students.

The Inslee-Duncan meeting was caused by the State Senate’s wise rejection of a bill that would link scores to evaluations. Seven Republicans joined the Democrats in voting down SB 5246, bucking their caucus to side with a growing national revolt against the culture of standardized testing.

But before Governor Inslee meets with Secretary Duncan, he should place a call to his colleague in California. Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature faced a similar threat from Duncan, who vowed to revoke the NCLB waiver and take back millions in federal funding from California schools. California rejected the demand and so far, Duncan has not followed through on his threat.

The situation in California was similar, though not precisely the same, as in Washington State. California is moving to a new statewide standardized testing system aligned with the Common Core curriculum. That system will not be ready until the 2014-15 school year. It made no sense for the state to force teachers to give students the now obsolete STAR test. So the California Legislature adopted AB 484 to suspend STAR tests for the 2013-14 year.

Secretary Duncan spoke out against this bill, but Governor Brown was not moved:

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown, said Tuesday in a statement, “We support the legislation.”

“There is no reason to double-test students using outdated, ineffective standards disconnected from what’s taught in the classroom,” Evans added.

California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson rose to defend California’s ability to make its own laws regarding student assessments:

“I’m disappointed someone in Washington would want to interfere in the legislative process in California,” Torlakson told The Bee.

California and Washington are not the only states pushing back against federal education mandates. New York is pressing the pause button on the Common Core standards mandated by the U.S. Department of Education. The backlash to these mandates is bipartisan and spans the ideological spectrum.

States are traditionally laboratories of innovation. Washington State has innovated a sensible approach to teacher evaluation that is a fair compromise between many of the different positions in the debate. No parent wants their child’s education to be focused solely on test scores. Nor do they want their child’s curriculum to be narrowed to exclude subjects that aren’t on standardized tests. Washington should continue down its own path, rather than have to give in to a federal mandate that will lead schools to teach to the test rather than teach to the child.

Governor Inslee should stand firm in his meeting with Secretary Duncan in defense of Washington’s innovative model. He should enlist support from his fellow governor in Sacramento, and from others around the country who are growing concerned at a lack of collaboration and an unwillingness to respect local control on the part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Washington State Senate revolts against teaching to the test in key vote

Ever since Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon facilitated the coup that gave Republicans control of the Washington State Senate, true bipartisanship in that body has been a rarity. Tom’s disciplined right-wing caucus have battled Senate Democrats over everything from reproductive rights to transportation choices to the state’s constitutional obligation to fully fund our public schools.

So it came as a surprise to many observers when seven Senate Republicans bolted from the right-wing caucus to kill a bill sponsored by one of their own.

Republicans brought up Senator Steve Litzow’s SB 5246, which would require school districts to link teacher evaluations to student test scores as their very last item of business before the 5 PM cutoff for non-budget bills.

The “five o’clock bill” is typically one that the majority wishes to highlight, one that the majority is confident they can pass.

Republican Senators expressed their shock that SB 5246 failed, and several media outlets shared that view. But nobody should have been surprised at this outcome.

The Senate’s rejection of SB 5246 is part of a growing national uprising against bad education policies that, in the name of data and accountability, have turned classrooms into test prep centers, eroding quality education in favor of a too-narrow and demoralizing focus on test scores.

Although Washington media outlets have been slow to notice this growing movement of parents, teachers, and students, it is gaining national prominence as legislatures and school officials begin to resist these flawed policies.

In recent years, many states have mandated that student test scores be used as a primary factor in evaluating teachers – including whether or not they keep their jobs. Despite criticisms that such requirements ignore specific needs or issues students may have that are outside teacher control, and reports that these rules disadvantage low-income and minority students, states have pressed ahead with these policies.

One of the results is a teaching profession that feels demoralized as their curriculum is narrowed to focus solely on test scores.

Studies have shown students are learning fewer subjects, with less instructional time in subjects like art, music, history, and science so that teachers can keep their jobs by focusing only on what will be on the test.

In some extreme cases, teachers and administrators have been caught rigging test scores to prevent layoffs and school closures tied to low scores. Michelle Rhee linked teacher evaluations to test scores when she ran the District of Columbia’s school system. She claimed the policy led to dramatic gains in test scores.

But in reality, much of the gains were the product of cheating that Rhee is alleged to have covered up, as teachers and principals feared for their jobs.

Linking employee evaluations to scores and specific data outcomes is uncommon in the private sector. Microsoft abandoned its reviled stack ranking system after finally admitting it was doing more damage to morale than it was helping the company.

The combination of parent outrage at students being overtested, concern about the narrowed curriculum, and anger at seeing teachers quitting the profession because they’re told to teach to the test has led to a broad-based, bipartisan public revolt against standardized testing policies.

Last month NPR examined the pushback against teaching to the test and found remarkable bipartisan agreement on the need to deemphasize testing, especially as it relates to the new Common Core standards:

But there’s growing backlash to Common Core, and conservatives and liberals increasingly are voicing similar concerns: that the standards take a one-size-fits-all approach, create a de facto national curriculum, put too much emphasis on standardized tests and undermine teacher autonomy.

[...]

“This is a set of standards that does not reflect the experience of many groups of students served by public education, does not reflect the concerns that many parents have for what they want to see in their education, and that really doubles down on a testing-and-punish regime that has proven to be the wrong approach to improving public education,” Karp says.

[...]

“From the conservative side, there is an understanding of the dangerousness of standardization. And from sort of a libertarian perspective, there’s suspicion of government control of what students learn that really resonates with me as a teacher who wants some autonomy,” Cody says. “I don’t want to be so tied to filling their heads with this predetermined list of things.”

The backlash has materialized in several states that span the spectrum from red to blue. In 2012, Idaho voters resoundingly rejected laws that tied teacher performance to test scores. In New York an outcry against testing from parents across the state forced the legislature to begin revising the state’s approach to testing last month. The Washington Senate’s rejection of SB 5246 is part of this truly bipartisan resistance against these flawed and unpopular laws.

SB 5246 was touted as a necessary move to satisfy a federal Department of Education mandate that teacher evaluations be linked to test scores or else lose $38 million in funding. In a guest column published in the Seattle Times last month, I argued that this mandate was likely a bluff and that Washington legislators should follow the lead of their colleagues in California, where legislators rejected a federal testing demand without consequence.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn responded in the Times last week trying to rally support for linking teacher evaluations to test scores.

But his arguments failed to persuade senators who have a more important audience: their own constituents. Democrats have suggested that Republicans brought the bill to a vote despite knowing it would fail in order to use it as a campaign issue:

State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said Republican leaders knew the bill would fail but brought it up anyway so they could use the vote in the upcoming midterm elections.

That’s possible, but if true, it would be a foolish strategy for the Republicans. As we’ve seen, the culture of standardized testing in our schools is becoming deeply unpopular. Voters from across the political spectrum are turning against policies that link teacher evaluations to those test scores.

Any candidate, regardless of party, that runs on a platform that includes mandating such a link is not likely to fare well this fall.

By rejecting bills like Litzow’s, Washington legislators can get back to the real task at hand: complying with the McCleary decision and fully funding our public schools as required by Artice IX of our Constitution. That would include restoring voter-approved Initiative 728, which sensibly requires smaller class sizes.

Latest spat between Republicans in the Washington State Senate proves Rodney Tom’s “majority coalition” is a fiction

In the wake of the Washington State Senate’s speedy vote in favor of an improved version of the DREAM Act, several of the more uncompromising members of the Republican Caucus have decided to declare their independence from Rodney Tom’s so-called “Majority Coalition Caucus” by having their names scrubbed from the MCC’s website, the Seattle Times’ Brian Rosenthal is reporting.

Janea Holmquist Newbry, Pam Roach, Don Benton, and one other Republican senator are evidently still mad about last week’s surprise vote, in which a bipartisan majority of the Senate voted to approve legislation that would allow the state to provide financial aid to new young Americans who want to go to college here but lack citizenship because they were brought into the country illegally.

“I will not participate in the Majority Coalition Caucus when they promote things that are in opposition to standard Republican ideas,” Don Benton told Rosenthal.

The obnoxious Benton went on to slam Tom as “the worst majority leader in twenty years” according to a tweet posted by Rosenthal.

We find Benton’s fuming amusing, considering that he has previously taken credit for Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon’s power grab. In late 2012 Benton released a statement saying how proud he was that his narrow victory over Democrat Tim Probst made the coup possible. (Voters had elected a Democratic majority to govern both the House and the Senate just a few weeks prior).

For her part, Roach told Rosenthal that she and other hardline Republicans plan to reassert control by bringing forth an amendment to caucus rules requiring that any significant bill get a roll call vote within the caucus before being sent to the floor. Supposedly, that proposal came up for consideration this afternoon.

This public infighting validates what we have been saying about Tom’s power grab since day one. There is no “majority coalition caucus” because there is no coalition and no majority. There is, rather, a very uneasy power-sharing agreement, which has produced disastrous results, especially for the people of Washington State.

It’s clear that Republicans like Pam Roach and Don Benton do not consider Rodney Tom to be their leader. They’ve become quite accustomed to getting their way since late 2012, when Tom and Sheldon sold out their Democratic colleagues and agreed to become enablers of Republican extremism.

Last week was one of the few exceptions to that. We have rarely seen suburban Republicans break ranks and join Democrats to pass sensible legislation.

Roach, Benton, Holmquist Newbry, et al. undoubtedly view the power sharing agreement with Tom and Sheldon as a temporary alliance of convenience.

If Republicans had just one more seat in the Senate, they would actually have outright control over the chamber and wouldn’t need to put up with Tom or Sheldon, who is president pro tempore under the power sharing agreement. They could name their own majority leader and relegate the pair to the back bench.

Conversely, Democrats need only two seats to regain the majority in 2014 and put Republicans back in the minority.

Tom’s seat is considered one of the most likely to flip, since the 48th LD is among the most Democratic of Washington’s suburban districts. Democrats are fielding former Kirkland City Councilmember Joan McBride in that race.

In the nearby 45th, the party is backing Navy veteran and Amazon product manager Matt Isenhower to take on Andy Hill. In the 28th, meanwhile, Democratic State Representative Tami Green is challenging freshman Republican Steve O’Ban.

Comcast plans to acquire Time Warner Cable for $44 billion; FCC and DOJ should veto deal

Media and telecommunications conglomerate Comcast, the nation’s largest provider of cable television and the owner of NBC Universal, has just announced it has agreed to acquire the nation’s second largest cable television provider, Time Warner Cable, in a $44 billion plus all-stock megadeal. Bloomberg reports:

Comcast is paying about $159 a share in the transaction, which will be announced this morning, said the people, who asked not to be named because the negotiations were private.

Comcast beat rival Charter Communications Inc. (CHTR) to what is the second-largest cable-television acquisition by equity value, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Stamford, Connecticut-based Charter, the fourth-largest U.S. cable company, had offered about $132.50 a share to Time Warner Cable’s management, a bid that was rejected.

If the deal goes through, Comcast would utterly dominate the cable television market as a near monopoly, with nearly three quarters of paying customers. That’s according to the National Cable Television Association.

But the deal should not go through. It is an attempt by Comcast to become ever larger and more powerful… and Comcast is already too large and too powerful. As Rupert Murdoch’s The Wall Street Journal has noted:

The deal faces high regulatory barriers. Comcast not only serves more pay TV customers than any other company in the U.S., nearly 22 million video subscribers, but it also owns entertainment company NBCUniversal, parent of the NBC broadcast network and several big cable channels as well as Universal film studio.

Time Warner Cable serves about 11 million video subscribers, although as part of the deal, Comcast has agreed to divest three million subscribers, the people said. Those divestitures will keep its ownership of the pay TV market below 30%, the people said.

Comcast hopes to convince regulators that because cable companies don’t compete, their deal should go through.

The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice should put a stop to this deal, just as they successfully opposed AT&T’s anticompetitive plan to acquire T-Mobile. Regulators must not forget that Comcast is much more than a cable company. It is a phone, television, Internet, and media company with vast holdings and a venture capital arm with investments in dozens of other companies, as you can see from Columbia Journalism Review’s Who Owns What.

Our friend Craig Aaron, who serves as President of Free Press, succinctly explained why this tie-up should not be allowed in a statement released a little bit ago:

In an already uncompetitive market with high prices that keep going up and up, a merger of the two biggest cable companies should be unthinkable. This deal would be a disaster for consumers and must be stopped.

This deal would give Comcast control of more than a third of the U.S. pay-TV market and more than half of the U.S. triple-play market for video, voice and Internet service.

Comcast will have unprecedented market power over consumers and an unprecedented ability to exert its influence over any channels or businesses that want to reach Comcast’s customers.

No one woke up this morning wishing their cable company was bigger or had more control over what they could watch or download. But that — along with higher bills — is  the reality they’ll face tomorrow unless the Department of Justice and the FCC do their jobs and block this merger. Stopping this kind of deal is exactly why we have antitrust laws.

Americans already hate dealing with the cable guy — and both these giant companies regularly rank among the worst of the worst in consumer surveys. But this deal would be the cable guy on steroids — pumped up, unstoppable and grasping for your wallet.

We agree. The FCC and DOJ must put a stop to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts’ empire building. They have allowed Roberts to continue enlarging Comcast through acquisitions for too many years. It’s time they objected and said no more.

U.S. Senate breaks Ted Cruz’s filibuster, joins House in voting to pay nation’s bills into 2015

Well, that was fast.

Less than a day after the United States House of Representatives voted to give the Department of the Treasury the authority to continue paying the nation’s bills into March 2015, the Senate followed suit, in the process breaking a filibuster staged by Tea Party darling Ted Cruz of Texas, who is upset that Republicans aren’t using the threat of default to wring policy concessions out of President Obama.

The vote to invoke cloture was sixty-seven to thirty-one, and the vote on final passage was fifty-five to forty-three.

The roll call on cloture from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

Voting Aye: Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray (WA); Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR); Mark Begich (AK); Jon Tester and John Walsh (MT); Republican Lisa Murkowski (AK)

Voting Nay: Republicans Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (ID)

On final passage, the roll call broke down along party lines, as it did for the whole Senate, with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joining Jim Risch and Mike Crapo in voting no. Two Republican senators – Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma – did not participate in either vote.

Aside from Murkowski, the other Republicans who voted to invoke cloture were Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, John Cornyn of Texas, John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, John Thune of South Dakota, and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Initially, it looked like Cruz’s filibuster would not be broken, as not enough Republicans were siding with Democrats to overcome the undemocratic sixty-vote threshold. Reluctantly, Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn stepped in to break the filibuster, bringing several Republicans along with them.

They then withheld their votes on final passage and the legislation passed solely with Democratic and independent votes. It now heads to President Obama.

The White House has yet to comment on the Senate vote but we’ll update this post when they do. It’s nice to know that we don’t have to worry about the United States defaulting later this month. But Congress still needs to abolish the debt repayment ceiling. If they make appropriations, Treasury needs to be able to pay those bills. Otherwise no one will have confidence in our federal government.

UPDATE: President Obama himself has commented on the vote:

I’m pleased that Republicans and Democrats in Congress have come together to pay for what they’ve already spent, and remove the threat of default from our economy once and for all.

The full faith and credit of the United States is too important to use as leverage or a tool for extortion.

Hopefully, this puts an end to politics by brinksmanship and allows us to move forward to do more to create good jobs and strengthen the economy. Instead of wasting time creating new crises, Congress should be focused on creating new jobs and opportunities.

That’s what the American people deserve from their representatives in Washington [D.C.], and that’s what they should get.

Well said, Mr. President. Well said.

House of Representatives votes to continue paying America’s bills past midterm elections

With the memory of last autumn’s disastrous manufactured fiscal crisis and completely unnecessary federal government shutdown still fresh in their minds, the leadership of the U.S. House Republican Caucus today allowed a bill to come to the floor to authorize the U.S. Department of the Treasury to pay the nation’s bills for another year, through the midterm elections and into March 2015.

Twenty eight Republicans joined with one hundred and ninety-three Democrats to send the legislation to the United States Senate. The overall vote was two hundred and twenty-one to two hundred and one. Two Democrats (John Barrow of Georgia and Jim Matheson of Utah) sided with the remaining Republicans.

“Tonight’s vote is a positive step in moving away from the political brinkmanship that’s a needless drag on our economy,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in a statement following the vote. “The American economy is moving forward, but there is much more to do to ensure that more middle class Americans – and those striving to get into it – can get ahead.”

“Congress can start by raising the minimum wage so that no one who works full time raises their family in poverty, restoring emergency unemployment insurance for the 1.7 million Americans searching every day for a job who need this vital lifeline to support their families, and taking additional steps to strengthen our economy and restore opportunity for all Americans.”

The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

Voting Aye: Democrats Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Jim McDermott, Adam Smith, Denny Heck (WA), Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader (OR); Republicans Doc Hastings and Dave Reichert (WA)

Voting Nay: Republicans Jaime Herrera-Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), Greg Walden (OR) Mike Simpson and Raúl Labrador (ID), Steve Daines (MT), Don Young (AK)

With the exceptions of Dave Reichert and Doc Hastings, the entire Republican side of the Pacific Northwest’s congressional delegation irresponsibly voted not to authorize Treasury to pay the nation’s bills. Shame on all of them.

U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene, who represents NPI’s home district in Congress, explained her aye vote in a statement released to media outlets a short time ago.

“The House’s bipartisan vote today ends the risk of America defaulting for the next year, helping us move past another manufactured fiscal crisis that could have been addressed months ago,” she said. “Failure to raise the debt ceiling would have resulted in serious consequences for our economy and the middle class.”

“Today’s vote was the responsible action to take.”

We agree, and we thank her and the other Democrats from the Northwest, along with Dave and Doc, for their aye votes.

It is notable that Democrats supplied eighty-seven percent of the aye votes for this legislation. It just goes to show that even when Republicans are in charge, they’re incapable of governing. They dither, bicker, and squabble until the eleventh hour, and then they fracture once it’s do-or-die time. As the New York Times explained:

Mr. Boehner stunned House Republicans Tuesday morning when he ditched a package that would have tied the debt ceiling increase to a repeal of cuts to military retirement pensions that had been approved in December and announced he would put a “clean” debt [repayment] ceiling increase up for a vote.

Enough Republicans had balked at that package when it was presented Monday night to convince the speaker he had no choice but to turn to the Democratic minority. It was another startling display of Republican disunity, fueled by the political ambitions of members seeking higher office and personal animus that burst into the open.

Angry right wing groups are calling for Boehner to be removed as speaker. That’s unlikely to happen, but it shows that the divisions within the Republican Party are deepening. Boehner and Cantor had no choice but to take a couple dozen Republicans with them and partner with Democrats to vote out this bill.

They know that further hostage-taking will only hurt their party’s standing. They simply can’t afford a return to the headlines of last October.

They were willing to side with the Republican Party base last fall because they thought they could best the White House in a game of chicken. But, unlike in the summer of 2011, President Obama refused to yield to their demands.

In mid-October, Republicans were forced to agree to end the completely unnecessary government shutdown they caused and allow Treasury to pay the bills for a few more months without having extracted any meaningful concessions.

We had wondered since whether they would try to once again use the threat of default as leverage for a grab bag of goodies. It certainly seems that many of them wanted to. But John Boehner correctly concluded there was nothing to gain and everything to lose. He and Eric Cantor thus allowed the Republican caucus to fracture, relying on Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats to provide the crucial votes needed to keep the United States of America from defaulting.

Democrats control the Senate, so assuming Republicans’ attempt to block this legislation from consideration can be overcome (Ted Cruz has, unsurprisingly, promised to filibuster it), it will soon be on President Obama’s desk.

Governor Inslee halts death penalty: “During my term, we will not be executing people”

Governor Jay Inslee this morning imposed a moratorium on capital punishment while he is Washington State’s chief executive, declaring at a news conference in Olympia that after much reflection and discussion with victims’ families, police, and prosecutors, he had come to the conclusion that equal justice wasn’t being served.

“If a death penalty case comes to my desk for action, I will issue a reprieve,” Inslee told reporters. “What this means is that those on death row will remain in prison for the rest of their lives. Nobody is getting out of prison, period.”

“I have previously supported capital punishment,” he went on. “And I don’t question the hard work and judgment of the county prosecutors who bring these cases or the judges who rule on them. But my review of the law in Washington State and my responsibilities as Governor have led me to reevaluate that position.”

“With my action today, I expect Washington State will join a growing national
conversation about capital punishment. I welcome that, and I’m confident that our
citizens will engage in this very important debate.”

This is truly a great day for the State of Washington. We extend our deepest and most heartfelt thanks to Governor Inslee for this just, moral, and wise decision. Our state has long been in need of elected leaders who are capable of real leadership. It takes courage and good judgment to be a real leader.

Jay Inslee showed both courage and sound judgment today, and for that, we applaud him. This is one of his finest hours as our state’s chief executive.

While the death penalty in Washington still needs to be repealed, placing a moratorium on executions is a crucially important first step towards outlawing this barbaric and inhumane practice. The death penalty simply has no place in a modern society. It goes against our state’s finest traditional values. It needs to end.

The evidence shows that the death penalty does not deter crime, nor does it provide closure to the families of victims. The taking of life simply does not justify the taking of further life. Furthermore, the risk of executing an innocent person cannot be eliminated. On that basis alone, the death penalty should be abolished.

Senator Jeanine Kohl-Welles, who serves with NPI President Gael Tarleton in the Legislature from the 36th District, called Inslee’s move “simple and profound”.

“Capital punishment can never bring about justice, as it is a far harsher punishment to victims’ families, communities and taxpayers than it ever could be for the perpetrator,” Kohl-Welles said in a statement praising Inslee.

“There is nothing straightforward about this issue. But I hope the governor’s moratorium will give us the necessary pause to re-evaluate the way we think about crime, punishment and crime prevention in Washington.”

Reuven Carlyle, the 36th LD’s other state lawmaker, voiced the same sentiments.

“I deeply appreciate Governor Inslee’s actions today and leadership around the importance of an open, healthy, vibrant public dialogue about converting our death penalty into life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” Carlyle said.”

“As the sponsor of legislation for the past five years on this topic I feel a profound sense of moral responsibility to elevate the dialogue in our state. It is a powerful indication of the changing sentiment in Washington State and nationally when we see eighteen states that have outlawed the death penalty and seven states have imposed a moratorium. For all of us in public life, the pain of knowing the suffering of victims must be balanced with an equitable, enforceable public policy.

“I believe the death penalty is below us as a civilized society and I look forward to a respectful, authentic public conversation about legislation on this issue.”

Kohl-Welles and Carlyle have for years sponsored legislation to repeal the death penalty in Washington, which we at NPI appreciate.

“Governor Inslee’s action today announcing his moratorium on the death penalty was a courageous act of leadership based on practical considerations of its enormous costs and its unfairness,” said the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, adding, “Who receives the death penalty depends more on geography and economic means than anything else. The ACLU congratulates the Governor and looks forward to working with the Legislature.”

Over the last few years, six states have done away with the death penalty, and we look forward to the day when Washington joins them.

With Governor Inslee’s courageous action today, we at least know no one will be put to death by the state over the next three years.

Move King County Now! Local leaders prepare to go to the ballot to save Metro, bypassing Rodney Tom, Andy Hill, Senate Republicans

Making good on last month’s promise to act in the event that the Republican-controlled state Senate continued to block legislation allowing King County to save Metro and KCDOT from evisceration, county lawmakers voted unanimously today to take the first step towards putting a fallback plan before voters in April.

The Council used its existing authority under state law to create what’s called a Transportation Benefit District… TBD for short. TBDs can be formed by cities and counties to pay for transportation improvements within their jurisdiction. Through the TBD, the county can go to voters with a proposal to protect Metro Transit service and address the county’s immense road maintenance backlog.

The proposal the county intends to submit to voters was formally unveiled last month at a news conference headlined by County Executive Dow Constantine.

It is informally known as “Plan B” because the county was supposed to receive the authority to levy a motor vehicle excise tax as part of a statewide transportation package so it could invest in Metro and KCDOT.

Unfortunately, the Washington State Senate, which is controlled by Rodney Tom, Andy Hill, Curtis King, and Senate Republicans, is hopelessly gridlocked due to internal squabbling and hasn’t put any transportation plan up for a vote.

Metro will have to begin slashing service later this year if it doesn’t get help. That’s why the Move King County Now effort (which NPI is a part of) was formed.

“With formation of a countywide Transportation Benefit District, King County now has a potential tool for funding preservation of Metro Transit service and maintenance of local roads and transportation infrastructure,” said Council Chair Larry Phillips in a news release explaining the council’s vote.

“Without new revenue, King County faces transit service cuts of up to seventeen percent and at least a $50 million annual gap for the maintenance of county roads.”

King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski added, “As we move forward, I am committed to ensuring that the TBD uses the authority granted by law for rebates of vehicle license fees to low-income taxpayers to ensure that any funding measure is as progressive in nature as possible.”

The nine-member King County Council, consisting of five Democrats and four Republicans, will serve as the TBD’s board, and will have the power to actually turn “Plan B” into Proposition 1 in time for the printing of ballots for the April 22nd special election. (State law allows local jurisdictions to hold special elections on fixed dates in either February or April, or concurrently with the winnowing or general elections in August and November of each year).

The Legislature has a very small window of time left to act before the TBD sends Proposition 1 to the ballot. But no one seems to think they will. And if history is any indication, they won’t. The House proposed a transportation package last spring, and actually voted it out, but in the Senate, it was amateur hour all year long.

As I noted on Friday, Senate Republicans simply can’t agree among themselves on a package… in part because some of them are reflexively opposed to any new taxes to pay for anything. House Democrats and Governor Inslee have said they’re done negotiating until Republicans get their act together. But that’ll happen when George W. Bush admits his administration invaded Iraq based on false pretenses.

“Plan B” is thus really “Plan A”, because the Legislature has not produced even an outline of a statewide transportation packages that both houses could agree to.

The inaction in the statehouse may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Many legislators are what we like to call road warriors – not the kind of people who love to travel and work from wherever they are, but the kind of people who like to spend money constructing new highways or arterials and making existing ones wider.

We can’t afford to keep doing that.

What was on the table on 2012 was mostly road projects. Even the House’s transportation plan was auto-centric. Move King County Now, on the other hand, is a much more sensible plan. It would save all of the Metro routes that are on the chopping block, and it would fund basic road maintenance (think snowplows, resurfacing, replacing structurally deficient bridges).

We at NPI strongly believe in a “Safety First” approach (it was the motto of the political action committee we formed to help defeat I-912 in 2005) and we commend King County leaders for stepping up and showing real leadership to address our transportation funding crisis. We can’t wait any longer.

Since the Senate won’t act, it’s time for us to take matters here into our own hands. We have a chance both to save our Metro bus service and get KCDOT on the road to recovery (pun intended). Let’s make it happen. Let’s Move King County Now!

State Senate Republicans set new date to finish negotiating with themselves on transportation plan they don’t have votes for

Top lawmakers in Washington’s dysfunctional Senate Republican Caucus said today they still plan to release their own revised statewide transportation package, despite blowing past another self-imposed deadline to get it done.

Speaking with The Olympian’s Brad Shannon a day after the new proposal was supposed to have been released, Majority Leader-in-Name-Only Rodney Tom said, “We’re going to look at it and tweak it. What we are trying to do is get this process kick started and get back to the table.

“It’s hard to negotiate with yourself,” he added.

Tom’s comment certainly speaks to the sorry state of affairs in the Legislature’s upper chamber, which he singlehandedly caused with his power coup in late 2012. When you have to negotiate with yourself, you don’t know what you’re doing.

Ever since Tom and Tim Sheldon crossed over to formally join Mark Schoesler, Andy Hill, Don Benton, Pam Roach, and the Republican Caucus following the presidential election, it’s been amateur hour in the Washington State Senate.

On no front has that been more clearly apparent than on transportation.

There is widespread agreement that Washington has many unmet transportation needs, especially in the wake of the 2000 Legislature’s foolish reinstatement of Tim Eyman’s I-695, which wiped out billions in funding for ferries, roads, and transit.

But Senate Republicans haven’t been able to agree amongst themselves on a package. Last year, they were so consumed by internal squabbling that they weren’t even able to produce a plan in committee prior to the end of the second special session. Nor did they take up the proposal passed by the House of Representatives.

Instead, they declared they would hold a “listening tour” in the fall to find out what people wanted in a transportation package. Before and during the tour, they spoke of an end-of-the-year special session to address the state’s transportation needs.

But it didn’t happen, because when the time came, they didn’t have their act together. The most they’ve been able to do since the tour is outline what some of them want: a heavily roads-centric package that stupidly reduces funding for our public schools. Democrats, naturally, aren’t on board with that, and so nothing has happened except for pointless negotiations behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick, and King County leaders, fed up with the inaction in the statehouse, are working on a Plan B. They are moving to ask voters in April to raise revenue to prevent draconian cuts to Metro bus routes and give the beleaguered, heavily defunded county roads division a shot in the arm so it can address the county’s growing maintenance backlog.

If anyone thought Dow Constantine’s announcement last month would light a fire under Senate Republicans, they were mistaken.

Weeks have gone by since Constantine announced that the county was pursuing Plan B and Senate Republicans have yet to even schedule a vote, which Democrats want to see happen before they’ll resume negotiations. (Democrats don’t see the point of bargaining with a Senate Republican Caucus that can’t agree with itself).

It’s telling that Rodney Tom and Mark Schoesler both “questioned” the need for a vote when Shannon talked to them. Evidently they’re at least capable of basic arithmetic. Since they can’t agree amongst themselves, their only options are to admit that they are at loggerheads internally, or to go on stonewalling.

They have chosen the latter. House Democrats suspect they will go on stonewalling right through the end of session.

Referring to Curtis King, who is supposed to be the Senate Republicans’ point man on transportation, House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn observed, “He doesn’t want to say that they are not going to move anything, but they are not (moving anything). Every week he’s moved it another week (for announcing a new proposal) and we’re sort of at the end.”

“I’m not sure they want to have something,” she concluded.

Ironically, Senate Republicans’ ineptitude might ultimately lead to better public policy. If a roads-centric statewide package falls through this year and King County voters pass Plan B, pro-transit advocates will be free to push for a more multimodal package at the state level without having to worry about Metro’s fate.

All we have to do to defeat the Four Horsemen of the Buspocalypse is to pass Proposition 1 to Move King County Now. Then we’ll be in a position to craft a much smarter and more sensible statewide transportation package, freed from having our bus service as a pawn in Rodney Tom’s power games.

Huge snowstorm hits greater Portland and the Willamette Valley, causing massive backups

It’s a mess out there:

City officials have a simple message to Portland metro area residents in the midst of one of the biggest snowstorms the region has seen in years: Don’t drive unless you absolutely have to.

Anywhere from 3 to 7 inches of snow could hit the metro area by Friday, followed by a round of freezing rain over the weekend.

At a Thursday afternoon news conference at City Hall, officials advised residents to stay off the roads.

“ODOT does not recommend driving in these road conditions,” Oregon Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kimberly Dinwiddie said.

Highways throughout the greater Portland area were jammed this afternoon as commuters struggled to get home from work. Multiple collisions were reported, including a major pileup on Interstate 5 that temporarily shut down the highway between Salem and Albany. Schools are sure to be closed tomorrow, and many businesses may close as well.

Corvallis and Albany each received eight inches of snow, according to a tally compiled by NOAA’s National Weather Service. Eugene got two and a half inches, while Portland got around one and a third inches. The state capital, Salem, received only a quarter of an inch. Cities on the coast received snow as well: Newport reported two inches, while Waldport reported four and Alsea six.

It will be a while before conditions return to normal, the NWS says.

SIGNIFICANT SNOW ACCUMULATIONS CONTINUE THROUGH THIS EVENING AND THEN EASE SOME TONIGHT. A SIMILAR SETUP WILL KEEP A DECENT CHANCE OF SNOW AT TIMES THROUGH THE WEEKEND… AS THE COLD AIR NEVER REALLY LEAVES THE AREA. FINALLY A MORE ORGANIZED SYSTEM WILL WARM US UP EARLY NEXT WEEK…BUT THERE MAY BE A MESSY TRANSITION ANYTIME BETWEEN SUNDAY AND TUESDAY. THE COLUMBIA GORGE WILL BE THE LAST TO WARM UP…BUT BY MIDWEEK IT APPEARS THE WHOLE FORECAST AREA WILL BE BACK TO MILDER TEMPERATURES WITH PERIODS OF RAIN…HEAVY AT TIMES…FOR THE REST OF THE WEEK.

For the time being, local and state authorities are advising Oregonians to stay at home. If that’s not possible, they suggest taking transit. If that’s not possible, leave extra time for the trip and travel prepared.

The Seattle area could see some snow this weekend, but the probability of snow flurries is only at thirty percent for Friday evening, Saturday morning, and Sunday. Any snow accumulation is not expected to be more than inch. This particular weather system ended up zoning in on the Willamette Valley and on southwest Washington, missing Puget Sound. We ought to keep that in mind before we complain about how cold it is. It could be a lot worse.