Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Radio Alert

I'll be on 710 KIRO tonight with David Goldstein talking about initiative process reform and HB 1087. Tune in on your radio at 9 PM or listen via the live stream from KIRO's website. TJ from Loaded Orygun is supposed to be on during that hour as well to talk about Oregon's ban on paying petitioners by the signature, which Beaver State voters enacted in 2002.

Postscript: TJ never called in but we did have a great hour long discussion about Friday's hearing and reforming the initiative process in general. Senator Eric Oemig joined us for one segment by phone to talk about related bills in the Senate. (He represents NPI's home district, the 45th.)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Demystifying Simple Majority for Schools

One of the most important items on the Legislature's agenda this year is a proposed change in the requirements for the passage of school levies and bonds. Currently, in order for either type of proposition to become law, what is known as the 60/40 rule must be satisfied in a special, primary, or general election:
  • Voter turnout (or validation) must be at or above 40%
  • Approval of the levy or bond must be at least 60% (a supermajority).
Conversely, a simple majority would be approval by 51% of the voters, regardless of voter turnout. Simple majority voting would bring schools into parity with the current requirements for voter approval of jails, libraries, museums and stadiums.

A school levy designates usage of property tax revenues for public schools. Levies can be used for improving class size, creating academic programs, providing books/supplies, etc. There are two types of school levies:
  1. State school levies: Approved and paid for by all Washington property owners, the revenue from these levies is distributed to school districts throughout the state.
  2. Special levies: Approved and paid for by voters in a specific school district, revenues from these levies are used only for the school district that approved them. A local school district’s only option for raising local tax dollars is asking voters for approval of a school levy.
A school bond is long-term debt issued by the school district. The bond is sold to raise funds to pay for school construction and improvements. School bond funds can only be spent on capital improvements. They are repaid over a period of years from local tax revenues.

Schools get money through a convoluted, arcane process involving state budgets, bonds, levies, old rules that were grandfathered in long ago for some regions, and, for all I know, your grandfather.

On top of that, declining state revenue has forced school districts to be more reliant on local school bond and levy dollars.

This increased dependence widens the disparity between wealthier districts that pass their school measures and poorer ones that frequently fail school measures. Yet all students are being held to the same academic standards whether their school districts have local bond/levy dollars or not. There is an amazing array of Simple Majority bills on the floor this year:
  • HJR 4201 / HJR 4204 / SJR 8202 / SJR 8207 – Amending the state Constitution to provide for simple majority authorization of school levies. HJR 4201 had a hearing in the House Committee on Education on January 19th. It is now awaiting committee action. SJR 8207 has received a public hearing in the Senate Education Committee. It now passes to that chamber's Rules Committee for a second reading.
  • SJR 8203 - Amending the state Constitution to provide for simple majority authorization to approve school bonds. SJR 8203 has been heard in the Senate Education Committee, and it received a "do pass" recommendation.
  • SB 5028 - Providing for a simple majority authorization of school district bonds. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education, had a public hearing on January 15th, and is currently awaiting committee action so it can move forward.
The bills for constitutional amendments require:
  • A 2/3rds vote of both houses of the Legislature, and (assuming this occurs)
  • Approval by a simple majority of the voters in November.
While bills have passed the House of Representatives numerous times in the past, we have never been able to meet the supermajority requirement in the Senate. With your support, let's make this the year we get this legislation through so the people of the Evergreen State may decide.

Dwight Pelz reelected as Chair of the Washington State Democrats

I'm live at the state party reorganization meeting in Olympia, where just moments ago (with no opposition) Chairman Dwight Pelz was unanimously reelected as the leader of the Washington State Democratic Party by vote of acclamation. He received a standing ovation from the audience. Newly reelected Chairman Pelz thanked the Central Committee and touted the party's successes in 2006.

I'll update this post with the full slate of officers elected at this meeting shortly.

UPDATE: There is a competitive race for Vice Chair - Eileen Macoll, the current VC, is being challenged by Rosalinda Guillen. I'll post on the outcome of this race as soon as the votes are counted, tallied, and announced.

UPDATE II: This is not related to the Democratic meeting, but Luke Esser has reportedly just been elected the new Chairman of the State Republican Party. The vote of their Central Committee was 71-43. Defeated Chairwoman Diane Tebelius immediately left the meeting as Esser took over. As of this update (2:29 PM) he's still presiding over the Republicans' meeting in Tukwila.

UPDATE III: Macoll has been reelected, 86 to 68.

UPDATE IV: Also semi-unrelated: David Postman, who is in Tukwila, reports that Doug Roulstone told him that he and the GOP candidates in the 1st, 3rd and 9th congressional districts for the 2006 midterms have committed to running again. They would be challenging Reps. Larsen, Inslee, Baird, and Smith, respectively.

UPDATE V: Luis Moscoco, the current Secretary of the Party, is being challenged by the President of the State Young Democrats, Krystal Wood. The tally committee is counting the votes in this race and we're waiting to hear the outcome.

UPDATE VI: Luis Moscoco has been reelected, 107 to 49. Chairman Pelz also announced the election of Luke Esser to the Democratic Central Committee.

UPDATE VII: Habib Habib has been unanimously reelected as Treasurer. The rest of the meeting is just party business (like reports from committees, the chair, DNC representatives, the raffle, etc.)

So the slate of officers remains unchanged: Dwight Pelz, Chair, Eileen Macoll, Vice Chair, Luis Moscoco, Secretary, and Habib Habib, Treasurer.

Executive Director testifies in support of HB 1087 and initiative process reform

NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve testified yesterday in support of HB 1087 before the House Committee on State Government and Tribal Affairs. His prepared testimony, with added commentary on the state of direct democracy, is as follows.

Chairman Hunt, Members of the Committee:

My name is Andrew Villeneuve. I am the Executive Director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a regional think tank headquartered in Redmond.

I am pleased to be here today to voice, in person, our organization's support for HB 1087, which would prohibit the compensation of paid petitioners on a per signature basis, and to thank Representative Appleton for sponsoring this bill.

In recent years, many in the state Legislature, not to mention a great number of citizens, have become rightly concerned about the use of the initiative and referendum to undermine the legislative process and representative democracy.

Both the initiative and the referendum, along with the recall, were established in the progressive era of the early twentieth century to circumvent political bosses, though the American tradition of direct democracy is more deeply rooted in the town meetings of New England dating from several centuries prior.

Citizen lawmaking originally spread across this country because state legislatures were unresponsive in creating laws that the people needed to protect themselves from special interests, laissez-faire economics, and the era's robber barons.

But in today’s day and age, the tables have been turned. Direct democracy has been corrupted and co-opted by the same special interests which have for decades been attempting to influence lawmakers and the legislative process.

Today’s special interests have gotten exceptionally clever at mounting P.R. campaigns to convince the general public they are grassroots and the ballot measures they are proposing are beneficial to the common good.

This faux populism, which is known as astroturfing, is practiced not only by long established interest groups but also a number of individuals masquerading as heroes for working families.

Several U.S. states, including this one, are home to one or several manipulative right wing ideologues who try to dominate politics and use the initiative and or referendum to change public policy, especially fiscal policy. They never run for office (instead they harshly criticize those who are elected), they are never satisfied and ready to call it a day, and they are unaccountable.

They are typically handsomely compensated by a wealthy backer and do not need to worry about earning a living. Thanks to their sugar daddies, they can afford to make a career out of attacking representative democracy.

It’s their full time job - they are paid politicians.

Occasionally, they show up and participate in the legislative process, usually to whine and pretend they’re a victim who is being attacked when lawmakers talk about reforming direct democracy.

In this state and others, initiative and referendum campaigns are rarely mounted any more out of genuine concern for the common good, the well being of society, or the health of our democracy. Nor are they launched by a true grassroots force or volunteer army of concerned citizens.

It’s been said you can qualify any proposal for the ballot – no matter your ideology, no matter your idea, no matter your proposition’s constitutionality – if you have enough money. Say just upwards of half a million dollars. And it’s true.

When a special interest has access to enough funds and they fail to qualify something they’ve put money into it’s almost always because of incompetence or laziness – not because people wouldn’t sign a petition.

Without any opposition present at the scene, a petitioner can easily persuade plenty of citizens, whether registered voters or not, to put their name and signature on whatever they’re hawking.

Direct democracy has become a big business and signatures have become a commodity. The process is no longer being used as its founders wanted and envisioned it to be. Instead of remaining an asset to our republic, it has become a tool for subversion. That’s why it’s in need of reform.

Opponents of this bill are here today making the argument that, if enacted, it would seriously harm, impede, or even destroy the people’s right to initiative. Such claims could not be more absurd or ridiculous. This bill is a commendable attempt to strengthen the integrity of the process.

Opponents are misconstruing it as an attack on free speech and an attempt to fix a nonexistent problem. Their assertions simply do not make sense.

The simple truth is this: if paid petitioners are compensated on a per-signature basis, there is an incentive for fraud – because the more signatures you collect, the more money you make. Just because there isn’t a mountain of evidence in the Evergreen State doesn’t mean that fraudulent activity isn’t occurring. We don’t have obvious corroboration in Washington because we haven’t bothered to look.

But next door, just south of the Columbia, in Oregon, suspicious watchdog groups and government agencies did investigate, and they found fraudulent activity. The Oregon Department of Justice earlier this decade pursued two high profile cases against petitioners which resulted in convictions.

The first was the prosecution of Paul Frankel, who allegedly used a classic “bait and switch” technique. At Portland’s Lloyd Center, a shopping mall,. he used a fake petition which purportedly supported a measure that would lower gas taxes. He kept this petition at the top of his clipboard.

After convincing passerby to sign it, he would then tell them they were required to “verify” their signature by signing all the pages he had underneath – which were in fact real petitions for real ballot measures.

It was also discovered that Frankel had forged the signature of a Department of Justice investigator on petitions that were later found in the office of Bill Sizemore, executive director of Oregon Taxpayers United.

Sizemore is a perfect example of a right wing ideologue who set up shop to dominate state politics as an anti-tax crusader. Frankel was convicted of forgery in December 2001.

James Gurga, who worked with Frankel, was convicted of forgery the following year, in May of 2002. Gurga’s unethical practices included the outright forgery of signatures on petitions, the circulation of petitions with false signatures on them, the requisition of signatures from identified non-voters, the solicitation of duplicate signatures, the placing of false information on petitions, and obstructing signers’ access to legally required information.

Numerous other petitioners in Oregon have been suspected or accused of similar practices. Upon further investigation some were found to have criminal records or backgrounds – a definite indication that these individuals probably did not think fraud was beneath them.

It is time to discourage the incentive for fraud by making it illegal for petitioners to be compensated by the signature, and to provide for appropriate punishment if the law is violated, as Oregon has done.

Oregon’s law, in fact, was enacted by the people of that state through their initiative process. Measure 26 was approved by a three to one ratio. Opponents will make the argument that this legislation is unconstitutional. In 1994 a U.S. District court judge did invalidate a previous Washington State ban on those grounds.

But more recently, just last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is a higher federal court, upheld Oregon’s ban in the case of Prete v. Bradbury. The court found Oregon’s law to be a “lesser burden” on free speech, not a “severe burden”.

In its decision, the court referenced an earlier case heard by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2000 where North Dakota's ban on paying petitioners "on a basis related to the number of signatures obtained" was challenged.

The court observed that this case, Initiative & Referendum Inst. v. Jaeger, presented a better framework for analyzing Prete v. Bradbury than other cases involving money and free speech. An excerpt from the 9th Circuit’s opinion:
“In Jaeger, the court noted that the state had an "important interest in preventing signature fraud" in the initiative process, and that the state had supported that interest with evidence that paying petition circulators per signature encouraged such fraud. Further, the plaintiffs had ‘produced no evidence that payment by the hour, rather than on commission, would in any way burden their ability to collect signatures. The [plaintiffs] have only offered bare assertions on this point.’”
Indeed, opponents will claim HB 1087 would drive up the cost of qualifying an initiative or referendum for the ballot. That they are so concerned about the financial impact it might have on their campaign coffers is a clear signal that they are not representatives of some populist manifestation or grassroots cause.

A proposal that truly has popular support should be able to get enough signatures through a drive conducted mostly or completely by volunteers.

Volunteer drives are rare these days because most groups wanting to qualify an initiative or referendum find it much easier to raise money to pay for a signature drive than do the hard work to organize and mobilize volunteers - especially if they have access to a large back account and especially if their proposal is self serving.

These astroturfers want this cottage industry to remain unregulated. The free speech argument is a convenient cover they use to prop up or bolster their contentions. The cost of a signature drive is not a determinant which should factor into the Legislature’s deliberation over initiative process reform.

Consider that there are other elements which impact the cost of a signature drive, including political participation. Every four years, we elect a Governor, and the participation in that election is used as a basis to determine how many signatures will be required to qualify a measure for the ballot. For initiatives, it’s eight percent, for referenda, four percent of the number of votes cast.

Consequently, if turnout increases in a gubernatorial election, the cost of a signature drive does too because more signatures will be needed to qualify a ballot measure. Are moneyed interests going to campaign against increased political participation because it would make it more difficult for them to qualify future proposals for the ballot? Probably not.

In summary, because the great State of Washington has an interest in preventing fraud and protecting the people’s rights, its Legislature should enact House Bill 1087 as a safeguard over the objections of critics. Free speech, while one of America’s most important liberties, is not unlimited. If reckless or malicious speech is permissible our democracy suffers a result.

The Northwest Progressive Institute strongly urges this Committee, the entire Legislature, and the Governor to do everything they can to ensure the initiative process is used appropriately, ethically, and constitutionally. We emphatically support House Bill 1087 and recommend its passage.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Rove, Bartlett subpoenaed

Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett could be forced to testify in the trial of Scooter Libby, according to Newsweek.
Both Rove and Bartlett have already received trial subpoenas from Libby’s defense lawyers, according to lawyers close to the case who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters.

While that is no guarantee they will be called, the odds increased this week after Libby’s lawyer, Ted Wells, laid out a defense resting on the idea that his client, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, had been made a “scapegoat” to protect Rove. Cheney is expected to provide the most crucial testimony to back up Wells’s assertion, one of the lawyers close to the case said.

The vice president personally penned an October 2003 note in which he wrote, “Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the other.” The note, read aloud in court by Wells, implied that Libby was the one being sacrificed in an effort to clear Rove of any role in leaking the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of Iraq war critic Joe Wilson. “Wow, for all the talk about this being a White House that prides itself on loyalty and discipline, you’re not seeing much of it,” the lawyer said.
Of course, there's no blue dress involved so perhaps we're getting all excited about nothing. It's only about the lies and the honor of the office when a Democrat is in office. If only Rover had speculated in pork futures or something...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Rockefeller accuses Cheney of interference

A Democratic U.S. Senator is accusing Dick Cheney of trying to stall the investigation into false intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq.

From McClatchy Newspapers:
Vice President Dick Cheney exerted "constant" pressure on the Republican former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee to stall an investigation into the Bush administration's use of flawed intelligence on Iraq, the panel's Democratic chairman charged Thursday.

In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia also accused President Bush of running an illegal program by ordering eavesdropping on Americans' international e-mails and telephone communications without court-issued warrants.

In the 45-minute interview, Rockefeller said that it was "not hearsay" that Cheney, a leading proponent of invading Iraq, pushed Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to drag out the probe of the administration's use of prewar intelligence.
It's going to be a long two years for Republicans and their supporters.

The noise machine will try to claim this about "revenge," but of course it's not about revenge, as justifiable and delicious as that would be. It's about the rule of law, the Constitution and whether people in the executive branch can be held accountable for their misdeeds.

Cheney's role in this administration has usually been simply described as "active," or in some similar vein; what has been lacking is serious reporting on the role he took not only in pushing the fiasco in Iraq but in the deliberate abuse of civil rights.

This basically guarantees Cheney a lavish book deal, a consulting contract on cable and maybe an endowed chair somewhere. It's the American way. If this administration's members are ever held accountable, a political tradition that dates back to the end of World War II would come to an ignominious end. The fetching style of smear politics perfected by Dick Nixon, Joe McCarthy and Henry Kissinger won't die that easily; of that you can be assured.

Right Wing Initiative Watch: Hutcherson's understanding of direct democracy is poor

The bigoted pastor of the Antioch Bible Church, Ken Hutcherson, has sent an email to his supporters about an appearance he'll be making this Friday (tomorrow, January 26th) on satellite radio to defend the filing of his initiative to overturn the recent expansion of Washington State's civil rights law.

It includes an update on the status of the initiative Hutcherson filed which demonstrates he's in unfamiliar territory.

Courtesy of Eli Sanders:

Dear Prayer Warrior,

This Friday January 26th, I will be interviewed at 12:30 PST, by Michelangelo Signorile on Sirius Satellite Radio. Michael is a radio talk show personality who is gay and he has called to debate me regarding the initiative that I submitted to Olympia last week, to repeal HB 2661 (the sexual orientation/civil rights bill that was passed last January). This will be on the gay channel of Sirius Satellite Radio. Here is a brief description of his show:
Monday to Friday 2 pm - 6 pm EST Signorile puts sizzle in the afternoons with his provocative brand of hot talk that sends homophobes and right wing zealots running for cover! Michelangelo draws newsmakers and community leaders, as well as icons from pop culture to politics, to talk about the issues of the day, and you’re invited to join them live on the air.
Pray for me as I speak about the “Initiative to Repeal HB 2661," that I will speak clearly and concisely regarding the details of this initiative, and that the truth behind HB 2661 be evident to all who hear me. This show is one of the largest in the gay community, it will touch many people - remember “ONE LIFE.”

The initiative is currently waiting to see how many signatures we are going to have to gather. Please be in prayer also for the money that we need to print and distribute the petitions for people to sign.

Your Pastor,
Hutch
Only someone who is clueless how direct democracy works would write a sentence that reads "The initiative is currently waiting to see how many signatures we are going to have to gather". Hutcherson either does not understand the initiative process - or he does, but he can't explain it.

Either way, this message makes him look bad.

Those of who know something about the initiative process are aware of how many valid signatures are currently required to make the ballot - 224,800. The deadline for submitting petitions this year is July 6th, 2007.

Any registered voter can sponsor an initiative (of which there are two types - this is an initiative to the people, and if it qualifies it would go directly to the ballot instead of to the Legislature, which is the other path).

Sponsors must file a printed or typewritten copy of the complete text of the proposed initiative or referendum with the Secretary of State. Each proposed measure, when filed, must be accompanied by a filing fee of five dollars ($5.00) and a sworn affidavit that the sponsor is a legal voter of Washington.

After filing, the initiative gets sent to the Office of the Code Reviser, which within seven days must do the following:
  • Review the draft for technical errors and style;
  • Advise the sponsor of any potential conflicts between the proposal and existing statutes; and
  • Return the proposal with the Certificate of Review to the sponsor with any recommended changes. All changes made by the Code Reviser are advisory and are subject to approval by the sponsor.
The sponsor then has 15 working days after the submittal of the initiative to the Code Reviser to refile the final draft of the measure with the Secretary of State, accompanied by the Code Reviser's Certificate of Review.

After refiling, the Secretary of State will assign a serial number to the proposed initiative and forward it on to the office of the Attorney General for formulation of the ballot title and summary.

The Code Reviser is reviewing what Hutcherson filed at the moment because the initiative does not yet have an assigned number. It is thus waiting to be finalized and refiled. It is not "waiting to see how many signatures we are going to have to gather."

It's amusing that Hutcherson is asking his supporters to pray for money to print petitions. Evidently the campaign coffers are pretty low right now. We'd be surprised if they can't scrounge together enough money to print petitions.

The real difficulty is getting enough signatures. It's hard to distort what this is about - legalizing discrimination - and most Washingtonians aren't interested in condoning bigotry. A signature drive that lacks a ton of money needs superb organization and coordination to make the ballot. At this juncture Hutcherson doesn't appear to have either, and that's good news. We'll be watching closely to see if he gets any help from someone who knows what they're doing.

CBS correspondent asks public to view story

Via Eschaton we learn that CBS's chief foreign correspondent, Lara Logan, has resorted to sending an email asking for help in getting one of her stories out to the public. From Media Channel Dot Org:
One would assume that Ms. Logan, as CBS chief foreign correspondent, has a fair amount of influence as to what stories she gets to cover, and that most of her important stories, once produced and delivered, will be broadcast. But when the story comes out of the mean streets of Baghdad, and doesn’t fit the officially-sanctioned narrative of Iraqis and US soldiers working arm in arm to help protect thankful Iraqi citizens, even chief foreign correspondents sometimes need to ask for help in getting it seen. Imagine our surprise recently when–over the digital transom–we received a copy of an email from a frustrated Lara Logan....

In it, Logan asks for help in getting attention to what she calls “a story that is largely being ignored even though this istakingplace everysingle [sic] day in Baghdad, two blocks from where our office is located.”

The segment in question–”Battle for Haifa Street”–is a piece of first-rate journalism but one that only appears on the CBS News website–and has never been broadcast. It is a gritty, realistic look at life on the very mean streets of Baghdad, and includes interviews with civilians who complain that the US military presence is only making their lives worse and the situation more deadly.
The Tiffany Network this guy worked for seems long gone.

If you're willing to deal with some seriously annoying commercials, you can watch Logan's report here. There are some graphic images, but the American people deserve to be told the truth about what is happening in Iraq.

City and Port of Vancouver endorse staff plan for new Interstate 5 bridge

Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard drew some headlines this week when he endorsed light rail and tolls for a new I-5 bridge. As regular readers know, the project goes by the somewhat cumbersome name Columbia River Crossing. A vote is likely next month by the 39-member task force on whether to move forward with the staff recommendations.

While the focus earlier this week in the media was on Pollard's forceful comments, equally important may have been a letter sent to the CRC by the City of Vancouver (PDF file.) It's worth a read if you are following the project, but briefly put it endorses the staff recommendations to build a new "mid-level" span that includes either light rail or "bus rapid transit." Among the reasons cited to reject other possible options, such as re-use of the existing structures or the construction of "arterial" bridges for local use are increased traffic downtown and the use of scarce land.

The Port of Vancouver also sent the CRC a letter (also presented in PDF format.) The port is likewise endorsing the staff recommendations, and the port presents a number of concerns about how best to ease mobility for port clients at specific intersections and interchanges. One issue the port raises is the possibility that aligning light rail or "bus rapid transit" along Mill Plain Boulevard could someday eat into capacity for use by the port.

One thing to note about the city of Vancouver: it's one of the members of the CRC's Project Sponsors Council. Which means this, according to the CRC web site:
The Project Sponsors Council will receive recommendations from the Task Force, public input, and advice from the Project Development Team and concur on whether to move forward based on those recommendations.
I'm certainly no expert, but it certainly seems like some very important "stake-holders," to use a term that is tossed around a lot, are lining up in favor of the staff proposal.

Over at Portland Transport, Chris Smith has been posting questions from the CRC open houses so people can discuss them. He seems to be posting a new one every day or so, which is great. It's like an internet open house. Kinda.

If you have time, it's interesting to get the opinions of people south of the river. There is a shocking lack of communication between residents north and south of the Columbia River, and maybe if you have time you can have a look. And be nice, for crying out loud. Portland Transport looks like a respectable place, not some flame war joint.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Free The Truth, sound the alarm

The Federal Way School Board last night ditched its ridiculous but temporary moratorium on Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, even as board members defended their actions using the cover argument that they did not want students to be blindly indoctrinated without hearing more than one point of view.

(Their pretense about hearing from all sides is completely moot in this case because there is no longer a scientific debate about global warming).

The boneheaded decision has caused some progressive minded citizens to contemplate challenging the incumbents on the school board, which would definitely be a good thing. The Federal Way School Board needs to be more representative of the community it makes decisions for.

Most of the current board members unsurprisingly have ties to the local right wing, including the ultraconservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation, an organization with a mission of destroying the public education system, one step at a time. (One of their immediate goals is union busting, or more succinctly, the destruction of the Washington Education Association).

Meanwhile, over in Yakima, the principal of Eisenhower High has unfairly stopped the school's environmental club from screening An Inconvenient Truth, saying the film must first go through the materials process (which consists of a committee review and then ultimate approval by the principal, who wields veto power) to determine if it has educational value.

The principal's action surprised the club and its adviser, who did not think the process applied to club activities. And why should it? Club participation is voluntary. Public school buildings across America are used for optional extra curricular activities that are not part of the school day nor the core curricula.

In fact, schools are often simply used as meeting spaces, lent out to individuals or groups whose business is wholly unrelated to education.

Eisenhower's principal, Stacey Locke, did not provide a satisfactory explanation for her actions (and we would not have expected her to be able to supply one). Eisenhower's environmental club should have the right to screen An Inconvenient Truth, and indeed, the film is not only completely appropriate in that setting, but it should also be shown in science classes.

Scotland's already doing it:
Former US vice president Al Gore's climate change film is to be shown in all of Scotland's secondary schools, it has been announced...Plans to show it were announced ahead of an event in Glasgow attended by Mr Gore and former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.
It's one of the most important and lauded documentary films of all time. It should be part of the curriculum. Even right wing media have been swayed by The Truth. As Fox Noise Channel's Roger Friedman says, "It doesn't matter whether you're a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative...your mind will be changed in a nanosecond."

Audiences across the country have been shaken to their core. The general public is more aware of and more concerned about global warming than ever before. Americans of all ages are eager to hear what Al Gore has to say.

Gore just this week came to the Pacific Northwest - to Idaho, and more specifically Boise - to give his slide show and extended, updated lecture on global warming. Julie from Red State Rebels has a terrific writeup of his appearance, which was nothing less than a giant hit:
The former vice president brought his famous "slide show" to BSU on Monday night, much of it the same as what he presented in the film An Inconvenient Truth. But Gore continues to update and tailor his presentation for each audience he's addressing - so here, for example, he highlighted how the incidence and severity of forest fires has increased with temperatures over the past decade.

He noted that he was in Japan last week for that nation's premier of An Inconvenient Truth, and observed how, in Japanese, the word crisis is represented by two symbols: one for danger, one for opportunity. To get to the opportunity, we must face up to the danger, he said.

Gore is not afraid to face the skeptics, the ranks of whom he said are dwindling faster than glaciers. What if your child had a fever, you went to the doctor, and the doctor told you to take action - but you said, "Well, I read this science fiction book and I'm not sure what you're saying is true"?

Gore said folks who still question global warming are those who, if their child's crib was on fire, would declare their child flame-retardant.

To the skeptics, he shows evidence of glacial earthquakes in Greenland - seven in 1993, quadruple that in 2005. He shows studies that revealed how, of 928 peer-reviewed scientific studies, none disputed global warming - but 53% of 636 articles in the popular press did so (including this morning's Page 1 story in the Idaho Statesman).

He also roundly debunks the false choices between a vibrant economy and a healthy environment, noting how growing legions of CEOs are embracing the idea that we can have both.
Read the whole report and the diary at Daily Kos. Julie also has a good roundup of the news stories about Gore's visit.

It's time to free the truth. Political will may be, as Al Gore says, a "renewable resource", but we will not be able to summon the strength to deal with this crisis until a greater number of us understand the threat. And that's where An Inconvenient Truth comes in and why it is so critically important. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film:
In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.
It is not acceptable for school administrators and school boards to block, ban, or mire this film in bureaucratic red tape. The truth needs to be free, no matter how inconvenient it may be.

Obama should take on Fox Noise Channel

News Hounds reports that Keith Olbermann has hit upon the perfect moniker for Fox: "Fox Noise Channel."
On "Countdown" on Tuesday (January 23, 2007), Olbermann referred to FNC as the "Fox Noise Channel" while bestowing his "Worst Person in the World" award on Fox News' John Gibson, host of the "Big Story."

Gibson won the award for sticking with the fake story promoted by right-wing media outlets, including the Fox News, or Nothing, or Noise Channel, about Barack Obama having attended a radical Islam school while a child living with his mother and step-father in Indonesia.
Atrios has been banging this drum for a while.
This is a point I've returned to repeatedly, but the mainstream media - the "serious" media - really needs to figure out how to handle outlets like Fox. Aside from their complete lack of ethics or standards, they also imagine (or claim to imagine) they're correcting an imbalance which doesn't exist.
At Daily Kos, Devilstower chimes in with this:
As usual, no one on the right seems to be interested in facts when they've got a good character assassination underway, especially if they can sling mud at Obama and Hillary at the same time. Stopping now would be slander interruptus.
Doubtless the Fox types will start howling about their First Amendment rights, so it's worth noting that while Fox has considerable leeway under the doctrine of free speech to criticize public figures, there are some limits. Whether Fox and Insight Magazine crossed that line is a question for lawyers.

If the answer to speech one disagrees with is more speech, it is incumbent upon media outlets who consider themselves respectable to condemn outlets who disregard even the most basic notions of fairness and accuracy. People who work at Fox Noise Channel are no more the colleagues of serious journalists than those at supermarket tabloids. There are superficial similarities, as tabloids are printed on paper, but it's hard to imagine that Pulitzer Prize winning reporters consider people making up stories about UFO's to be in the same line of work. Making up vicious stories about Democrats out of whole cloth is just as disreputable.

The real problem, of course, is that there are people in this world who either won't or can't distinguish between the blatant lies of Fox Noise Channel and reality. When the Swift Boating starts, a certain segment of the population believes it, making rational discussions about issues and candidates that much more difficult. Most readers probably know someone who watches Fox Noise Channel a lot, and it's like talking to someone who lives in a different country sometimes. As the GOP continues its downward slide, these bitter-enders are likely to become increasingly more desperate and outlandish.

Just as entertainment celebrities eventually became fed up with the supermarket tabloids, the smear against Obama should be the final straw. Obama is sometimes criticized in progressive circles for not having much record of accomplishment, but this might be a golden chance for him to do something profoundly helpful for the cause. Who would be a more articulate person, whether in the court of public opinion or a court of law, to once and for all expose Fox for what it is? Think of it as a Scopes Monkey Trial for the media.

Obama should call them all out: Gibson, O'Reilly and Hannity, and see if they are men enough to debate him. Just sayin'.

Republicans filibuster minimum wage bill

Hear that, working America? The GOP doesn't think you deserve a pay raise:
On a 54-43 vote, Democrats lost an effort to advance a House-passed bill that would lift the pay floor from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour without any accompanying tax cut.

Opponents of the tax cut needed 60 votes to prevail.
Well, well. Looks like we've got ourselves a merry band of Republican obstructionists! Weren't these the same guys who were complaining about Democratic filibusters not so long ago?

There's just one difference: this bill is in America's best interest. But it's been blocked...because the wealthy get nothing out of it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid forced a vote and most of the Senate Republican caucus has shown their true colors.

They don't care one iota about working families. A minority of the chamber has stymied legislation that would greatly benefit lower and middle income families (see our white paper on the minimum wage, released several weeks ago).

Among those supporting the filibuster was Oregon's Gordon Smith, an endangered Republican who needs to go in 2008. Smith's unacceptable vote is a slap in the face to the people of the Beaver State. Following orders from the GOP leadership is apparently more important than truly representing his constituents.

This action by Smith and his fellow Republicans is appalling - but par for the course.

UPDATE: TJ has more on Smith at Loaded Orygun.

More nonsense from New Hampshire

It seems New Hampshire's elected officials are throwing another fit about the possibility of being upstaged in the presidential sweepstakes by not just Iowa, but gasp - Nevada! - as well. The horror! The tradition will be ruined!

We've written about this previously (see New Hampshire's tradition of arrogance and Haughty New Hampshire wants to stay on top). We only hope the DNC refuses to allow this absurd pompousness to continue. The presidential primary process needs to be reformed and improved whether New Hampshire and Iowa like it or not.

Kerry won't join presidential sweepstakes

According to an official who asked to remain anonymous, Senator John Kerry will formally announce later today that he does not intend to seek the Democratic nomination for President in 2008 and will instead run for reelection as one of Massachusetts' two senators. It's a wise move, one that will benefit the party and free Kerry from worrying about the toll another campaign would take.

Since Kerry is not going to run it will be interesting to see if he decides to endorse his former running mate, John Edwards, or perhaps stay out of the sweepstakes altogether and make no recommendation at all.

Baird town halls set

The media advisory for Brian Baird's town hall meetings is out. In addition to the one Thursday evening in Vancouver, which I mentioned yesterday, there is one scheduled for Friday in Napavine.

Town Hall Meetings on the Budget and the War in Iraq
Fort Vancouver High School Auditorium (5700 E 18th Street, Vancouver - Map It!)
Thursday, January 25th, 2007 - 7:00 PM

Napavine Elementary School, Cafeteria (209 E. Park, Napavine - Map It!)
Friday, January 26th, 2007 - 7:00 PM
Note that Google Maps doesn't seem to like the address of Napavine Elementary, and tries to take you to Chehalis. So you're on your own there, but the "Map It" link will take you to Google Maps. Try typing in "Napavine Elementary.

Both events are sponsored by Representative Brian Baird's office and open to the media and the public. Bloggers are encouraged to come.

Clearing up confusion about the Columbia River Crossing project

Here's a good illustration of how terminology can impact public perception.
For months now, officials from the project -- a joint operation of Oregon and Washington -- have been saying the bridge will have three through lanes in each direction, not counting onramps, offramps and breakdown lanes.

But now, official descriptions of the proposal say the bridge will be have "five or six lanes." That doesn't mean lanes were added; it's just a switch in terminology.

"It's the wording," said Danielle Cogan, task force spokeswoman.

Yes, it will still have three through lanes, but now the onramps, offramps and breakdown lanes are included when counting lanes. Five or six lanes will cross the bridge in each direction, Cogan said, although one may be, for example, an exit-only lane to eastbound Highway 14 in Washington, or an exit to southbound Interstate Avenue in Portland, or a place to change a flat tire.
The article goes on to note that the CRC has received a lot of comments complaining that we would be spending $2 billion to build a bridge with the same number of lanes as the existing bridge. That's simply not the case. A new bridge would involve at least three "through lanes" and any number of "exit" lanes.

Leaving controversial transit questions aside, it seems clear that efforts are being made to address safety, interchange and overall design issues. Put simply, the 1917 highway technology would be replaced, as it stands in the current staff proposal, by 2007 highway technology. It's still cars, but it would be a drastic improvement. Having "drop-off" lanes that serve Hayden Island and downtown Vancouver, for example, would free up a lot of room.

There are tons of issues to be sorted out, but this was a smart move by the CRC. People were misunderstanding the proposal, thinking it would only involve three total lanes in each direction. While there are legitimate arguments to be made about the staff proposal, it's important that everyone at least understand what it is.

UPDATE: Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, who is certainly not shy about speaking his mind, declared his support for light rail and tolls yesterday during his "State of the City" speech. From The Oregonian:
Pollard, delivering his annual State of the City address, embraced light rail, saying he wouldn't support an Interstate 5 bridge replacement plan that didn't include it. He said vehicle tolls would be essential to pay for the new bridge. And he said that a $20-per-vehicle license tax would be needed for new transportation projects elsewhere in the city.
As the article notes, at least one city council member and two county commissioners were not exactly jumping for joy.

It's an interesting development, to say the least. The city and county have clashed repeatedly over growth-related issues, especially annexation. An article in The Columbian about the speech has Pollard "hinting" that it might be time for Vancouver to chart its own course when it comes to transit.
During his speech, Pollard hinted that it might be time for Vancouver to break away from C-Tran and form its own transit agency.

Afterward, Pollard said he made that comment because county commissioners appear ready to use their power to veto C-Tran decisions and block the transit agency from backing a bridge project should it include light rail transit.
One more thought about tolls: if the new Interstate 5 bridge is tolled, what implications does that have for the existing Interstate 205 bridge not far upriver?

Sacrifice

The rats are leaving the ship.
When the White House press secretary publicly absolved Rove in the leak but later refused to clear Libby, Libby sought Cheney's help in defending himself, Wells said.

"They're trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb," Wells said, recalling Libby's end of the conversation. "I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected."

And why wouldn't they, Wells asked the jury, because Rove was Bush's chief political adviser, "the man most responsible for making sure the Republican party stayed in office. He had to be protected."
My crystal ball needs a new vacuum tube, but it's possible that in a few short months (or less) there will be something of a mad scramble to the lifeboats at the White House.

When Bush talks about "sacrifice," this may not be what he had in mind.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth nominated for Oscars

Former Vice President Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim, was nominated today for Academy Awards in two categories: best documentary feature and best original song. The critically acclaimed film, a huge hit with audiences across the country, is the third highest grossing documentary in the United States to date and has brought the crisis of global warming to the forefront like never before.

An Inconvenient Truth is available on DVD and you can also purchase the companion book which nicely complements the documentary. If you have not yet seen the film, what are you waiting for? You owe it to yourself, your family, and your friends to see the truth.

State of the Union Liveblogging

The 2007 SOTU has just kicked off.....here we go. Observations and updates will be posted regularly below throughout the speech.

Think Progress has the embargoed text of the speech.

I: Bush kicked off this year's address by congratulating Nancy Pelosi on her ascension to the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives....and then proceeding to acknowledge the "Democrat" majority in Congress. What a phony show of respect from the leader of the Republic Party.

II: Dubya called balanced budget and spending restraint...but who has done nothing as deficits have skyrocketed and millions of Americans have suffered in poverty? Oh yeah....that'd be the Decider, Missing From Action.

III: As for earmark reform...Dubya's got a double standard, and his health care "plan" would cut funding from hospitals. Health savings accounts with no real savings - that's sure going to help patients and their doctors.

IV: Bush is obviously not serious about investing in renewable energy, or he wouldn't be supporting an increase in domestic oil production. He didn't even deliver on last year's promises. It's also worth nothing that dependence on foreign oil has actually increased during his occupancy of the White House.

V: CNN just cut to John McCain...who seems to be asleep! Condoleeza Rice, meanwhile, looked bored and both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry appeared to be wishing they were somewhere else.

VI: Once again, Bush feigns interest in Middle East democracy. As for escalation, that policy has already been tried...and it's failed. Sending more American troops to Baghdad and environs will not quell the violence in Iraq.

VII: Bush is now going into a long drawl about diplomacy, the United Nations, and his strategy for a peaceful world - yadda, yadda, yadda...

VIII: Bush is ending his speech with anecdotes about Americans who exhibit traits or characteristics that his speechwriters found to be compelling.

IX: Completely absent from the speech, unsurprisingly, was any mention of Hurricane Katrina or the challenges facing New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Now, for something better. Something that makes coherent sense. Here's the text of of the Democratic response, delivered by Senator James Webb of Virginia.
Good evening.

I'm Senator Jim Webb, from Virginia, where this year we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown - an event that marked the first step in the long journey that has made us the greatest and most prosperous nation on earth.

It would not be possible in this short amount of time to actually rebut the President's message, nor would it be useful. Let me simply say that we in the Democratic Party hope that this administration is serious about improving education and healthcare for all Americans, and addressing such domestic priorities as restoring the vitality of New Orleans.

Further, this is the seventh time the President has mentioned energy independence in his state of the union message, but for the first time this exchange is taking place in a Congress led by the Democratic Party. We are looking for affirmative solutions that will strengthen our nation by freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil, and spurring a wave of entrepreneurial growth in the form of alternate energy programs. We look forward to working with the President and his party to bring about these changes.

There are two areas where our respective parties have largely stood in contradiction, and I want to take a few minutes to address them tonight. The first relates to how we see the health of our economy - how we measure it, and how we ensure that its benefits are properly shared among all Americans. The second regards our foreign policy - how we might bring the war in Iraq to a proper conclusion that will also allow us to continue to fight the war against international terrorism, and to address other strategic concerns that our country faces around the world.

When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.

Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts. Our manufacturing base is being dismantled and sent overseas. Good American jobs are being sent along with them.

In short, the middle class of this country, our historic backbone and our best hope for a strong society in the future, is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through painful experience. Our white-collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as their jobs start disappearing also. And they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace.

In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy - that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.

And under the leadership of the new Democratic Congress, we are on our way to doing so. The House just passed a minimum wage increase, the first in ten years, and the Senate will soon follow. We've introduced a broad legislative package designed to regain the trust of the American people. We've established a tone of cooperation and consensus that extends beyond party lines. We're working to get the right things done, for the right people and for the right reasons.

With respect to foreign policy, this country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years. Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world.

I want to share with all of you a picture that I have carried with me for more than 50 years. This is my father, when he was a young Air Force captain, flying cargo planes during the Berlin Airlift. He sent us the picture from Germany, as we waited for him, back here at home. When I was a small boy, I used to take the picture to bed with me every night, because for more than three years my father was deployed, unable to live with us full-time, serving overseas or in bases where there was no family housing. I still keep it, to remind me of the sacrifices that my mother and others had to make, over and over again, as my father gladly served our country. I was proud to follow in his footsteps, serving as a Marine in Vietnam. My brother did as well, serving as a Marine helicopter pilot. My son has joined the tradition, now serving as an infantry Marine in Iraq.

Like so many other Americans, today and throughout our history, we serve and have served, not for political reasons, but because we love our country. On the political issues - those matters of war and peace, and in some cases of life and death - we trusted the judgment of our national leaders. We hoped that they would be right, that they would measure with accuracy the value of our lives against the enormity of the national interest that might call upon us to go into harm's way.

We owed them our loyalty, as Americans, and we gave it. But they owed us - sound judgment, clear thinking, concern for our welfare, a guarantee that the threat to our country was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defending it.

The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed.

The war's costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.

The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.

On both of these vital issues, our economy and our national security, it falls upon those of us in elected office to take action.

Regarding the economic imbalance in our country, I am reminded of the situation President Theodore Roosevelt faced in the early days of the 20th century. America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening revolt.

Roosevelt spoke strongly against these divisions. He told his fellow Republicans that they must set themselves "as resolutely against improper corporate influence on the one hand as against demagogy and mob rule on the other." And he did something about it.

As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. "When comes the end?" asked the General who had commanded our forces in Europe during World War Two. And as soon as he became President, he brought the Korean War to an end.

These Presidents took the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling on this President to take similar action, in both areas. If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way.

Thank you for listening. And God bless America.
Much better than the lame State of the Union address we just heard.

2007 SOTU Impression

Forget what's on your TV. The real State of the Union action has already happened - and you can watch it on YouTube.
James Adomian is back with his fantastic Bush impression and another pre-emptive satirical strike on this year's State of the Union address. And the Democratic response at the end is hilarious!
For more comedy from Adomian & Company, check out Patriot Facts.

You may also be interested in Drinking Liberally's SOTU Bingo, or a drinking game (please drink responsibly) or the SOTU eating game.

It's time we changed our transportation focus

Last Friday, Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck gave a powerful speech arguing against a new viaduct during a special meeting of the council. Here's an excerpt from it, courtesy of The Stranger's Eric Barnett:
We will be a laughingstock. We will be an embarrassment. We will not be able to stand on our leadership. We will not be able to be taken seriously when we talk about sustainability and the environment if we do this. There is a solution that’s more cost-effective and more financially responsible that we can develop.

It would save the state money if they would just free us from this stranglehold of focusing on auto capacity. Twenty-five years from now, if we proceed with this plan, this elevated structure will be congested, backed up to West Seattle the day it opens. If we don’t take steps to address our transportation problems now, it will be gridlock.

This is not a choice about my political future. If I could trade this job today and stop that elevated freeway I would do it in a flash. It is that important to our city, this beautiful place, the environment we live in that is so envied by people the world around.
Building a new viaduct would certainly be a mistake, but Steinbrueck really hit upon something that is more important in his remarks which eschews the viaduct debate - and that is that we need to change our transportation focus from moving cars to moving people.

We're just not there yet.

Case in point: While elected officials, activists, and citizens in Seattle and King County argue about how to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Evergreen Point floating bridge (a debate which is also sucking up oxygen in Olympia) WSDOT bureaucrats and the folks working on the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) package are unbelievably considering asking voters to fund a new cross-base highway down in Pierce County as part of the proposal.

That's right. A new highway. State Route 704 would cross an imperiled ecosystem that supports some of the rarest wildlife in the western half of the Evergreen State. It would be accompanied by a widened 176th Street, a two-lane road that starts where the freeway would end.

That's not how you solve congestion. A new highway isn't even capacity replacement, it's new capacity.

New pavement is nothing short of a giant encouragement for more people to drive - and it almost always leads to more sprawl.

Despite all the evidence that it does not work, the political establishment and many interest groups are still stuck in the wrong mindset. The following excerpt from the book Suburban Nation describes this phenomenon in better depth.
The simple truth is that building more highways and widening existing roads, almost always motivated by concern over traffic, does nothing to reduce traffic. In the long run, in fact, it increases traffic. This revelation is so counterintuitive that it bears repeating: adding lanes makes traffic worse.

This paradox was suspected as early as 1942 by Robert Moses, who noticed that the highways he had built around New York City in 1939 were somehow generating greater traffic problems than had existed previously.

Since then, the phenomenon has been well documented, most notably in 1989, when the Southern California Association of Governments concluded that traffic assistance measures, be they adding lanes, or even double-decking the roadways, would have no more than a cosmetic effect on Los Angeles' traffic problems. The best it could offer was to tell people to work closer to home, which is precisely what highway building mitigates against.

Across the Atlantic, the British government reached a similar conclusion. Its studies showed that increased traffic capacity causes people to drive more - a lot more - such that half of any driving-time savings generated by new roadways are lost in the short run. In the long run, potentially all savings are expected to be lost. In the words of the Transport Minister, "The fact of the matter is that we cannot tackle our traffic problems by building more roads."

While the British have responded to this discovery by drastically cutting their road-building budgets, no such thing can be said about Americans.

There is no shortage of hard data. A recent University of California at Berkeley study covering thirty California counties between 1973 and 1990 found that, for every 10 percent increase in roadway capacity, traffic increased 9 percent within four years' time. For anecdotal evidence, one need only look at commuting patterns in those cities with expensive new highway systems.

USA Today published the following report on Atlanta: "For years, Atlanta tried to ward off traffic problems by building more miles of highways per capita than any other urban area except Kansas City...As a result of the area's sprawl, Atlantans now drive an average of 35 miles a day, more than residents of any other city." This phenomenon, which is now well known to those members of the transportation industry who wish to acknowledge it, has come to be called induced traffic.

The mechanism at work behind induced traffic is elegantly explained by an aphorism gaining popularity among traffic engineers: "Trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt." Increased traffic capacity makes longer commutes less burdensome, and as a result, people are willing to live farther and farther from their workplace.

As increasing numbers of people make similar decisions, the long-distance commute grows as crowded as the inner city, commuters clamor for additional lanes, and the cycle repeats itself. This problem is compounded by the hierarchical organization of the new roadways, which concentrate through traffic on as few streets as possible.
The authors of Suburban Nation used Atlanta as one of their examples, and indeed Atlanta's problems are well known. So well known that the famous standup comedian and Daily Show regular Lewis Black started off one his appearances there by complaining about the city's transportation disaster:
Nice to be back in Atlanta, nice to see that you've really worked out your traffic problems. You don't [care] about it, do you? I guess this must be my sixth appearance here and every time I've begged the audience, I'd plead with you...do something...and nobody seems to [be concerned]...I've tried as hard as I can to explain that you're living a psychotic lifestyle and you don't care.

Six lanes, six lanes of traffic....and nobody moves. I mean, that's just unbelievable. And what's truly extraordinary is those signs you put up, over the road. The electronic ones. The ones that say, "Oh, you have 4.5 miles to go from Point A to Point B, and it'll be 45 minutes." Why do you do that to yourselves?

There are too many cars everywhere. Nobody seems to deal with this reality. It's beyond belief. And you guys? Public transportation? You're just like, "Ha, ha, ha, ha! Who needs it!?"

But there are too many cars, and there's going to come a point where, I'll tell you, one morning, you'll get in your car, and you won't be able to back out of the driveway. There'll be cars on every inch of the road. You know, there'll just be a complete meltdown.
New pavement is counterproductive, so why is Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg so eager to build this new highway?

There are other foolish examples as well. Some Eastside lawmakers keep talking about further widening Interstate 405. What is that supposed to accomplish? Have these people forgotten that Interstate 405 was built in the first place as a bypass for the already crowded I-5? Now I-405 is considered to be one of the most, if not the most, clogged highway in all of Washington State.

We built Interstate 405 and traffic hasn't gotten any better. Instead, it got worse, like it has in other cities. But the solution to the mess has stayed the same. Albert Einstein once allegedly said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It's time to change the way we look at transportation. If we think about moving people instead of moving cars, then the obvious solution is not building new highways and laying fresh pavement. It's constructing effective transit systems and giving people a choice. If walking, biking, or taking mass transit is convenient, people will do it. So let's make those options realistic and practical.

We've already made some progress. Sound Transit, a favorite target of the local right wing, is one of the best things that's ever happened to Puget Sound. Its express bus and commuter rail services are allowing a huge number of metro residents to feel comfortable abandoning their automobile.

I'm one of them. When I go to downtown Seattle, I often take Sound Transit's 545 Express because it's quicker and more convenient than driving.

You don't have to worry about parking - and when State Route 520 is congested, as it so often is, you roll right by the metered onramp lines and slow moving traffic jams in the HOV lanes.

Sound Transit is actually proposing an increase in the frequency of service on Route 545 because it is so popular. I can attest to that - I saw riders turned away on a November trip I took during peak hours because the bus I was on was simply too crowded to hold them. There appeared to be more people standing than sitting.

And light rail? Central Link is under construction and on track for completion in 2009. When it's finished, it will provide a seamless connection between SeaTac International Airport and downtown Seattle.

Tacoma Link, a shorter line which has already been operating for several years, has already exceeded ridership expectations. Central Link is perhaps the smartest transportation project this region has ever embarked on.

Already planning is underway to extend the line to serve more urban neighborhoods. Puget Sound voters will be asked this November to approve additional funding to extend light rail in several different directions as part of Sound Transit's Phase 2 proposal.

Our dollars are most wisely spent investing in transit systems and taking advantage of redevelopment opportunities that arise from their construction or expansion. Replacing unsafe structures such as the Alaskan Way Viaduct or the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge should be a top priority, but building brand new highways or widening existing ones is not a sensible course of action.

Special Baird town hall on war and budget

I've learned that Brian Baird is planning a special town hall meeting on Thursday in Vancouver to discuss the war in Iraq, the federal budget and other topics.

There is some chance that bad weather elsewhere in the country could disrupt Baird's ability to fly west, according to Kelly Love with Baird's Vancouver office. Barring that it will be a good chance for citizens to express their opinions about this infernal war and the infernal escalation.

As an aside - I know I'm supposed to be on a blog break until tomorrow, but I thought this information warranted a brief post. I'll be officially back tomorrow.

The event details:

Town Hall Meeting on the Budget and the War in Iraq
Fort Vancouver High School Auditorium (5700 E 18th Street - Map It!)
Thursday, January 25th, 2007 - 7:00 PM
Sponsored by Representative Brian Baird's office
The event is open to the media and the public. Bloggers are encouraged to come.

Monday, January 22, 2007

In Brief - January 22nd, 2006

Here is today's quick news digest:
  • A new coalition of progressive interest groups called They Work For Us has been formed to instill discipline in congressional Democrats. The coalition includes SEIU, the United Steelworkers, MoveOn, the American Association for Justice, and Kos Media. It will target renegade Democratic lawmakers whose priorities are out of step with their constituents with primary challenges. As organizer Steve Rosenthal put it, "our PAC will encourage Democrats to act like Democrats - and if they don't - they better get out of the way."
  • Puget Sound Energy has been fined to the tune of nearly $1 million for illegally selling customers' private data to an outside marketing firm. The utility admitted in a settlement earlier today that it transferred 65,000 plus phone calls from new or relocating customers to company that then attempted to sell them telephone service, lawn care, or newspaper subscriptions.
  • P-I columnist Joel Connelly's column this morning (Sexism's alive and well on the right) is a must read and surely one of Joel's finest. Using a plethora of examples, he observes that prejudice is a favorite weapon of the Republican Noise Machine, a weapon that's unlikely to be laid down anytime soon.
  • The Washington Post's Peter Baker and Jon Cohen have an analysis of the political mood going into tomorrow's State of the Union address. The second headline of their article cryptically reads "Iraq Overshadows Domestic Outreach". The article sifts through the results of a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, which say Bush's approval rating is at is lowest level ever and that most Americans no longer trust him to provide leadership in a time of crisis. It's no wonder the public is unhappy. The conservative agenda has been exposed very clearly as nothing less than a complete disaster and we're paying the price - not just figuratively, but literally too.
Finally, don't forget to check out NPI's improved homepage.

If you have something to add, please leave a comment.

NPI's homepage revamped

It's time our front page was revised and improved to clean out outdated material and allow for a cleaner presentation - so we gave it a makeover. The new version (1.8) is now live and available for your viewing pleasure.

Expect the Orwellian in State of the Union

George W. Bush will appear before Congress tomorrow evening to give the annual State of the Union speech, and we'll be following it live here on the Official Blog with updates, observations, and analysis.

Expect to hear a lot of empty rhetoric that sounds good on delivery but won't be backed up with any kind of subsequent action. In other words...expect the Orwellian. For example, Bush's speech writers love to insert language about investing in renewable energy, but this is never followed by any meaningful investment.

The Center for American Progress provided evidence for such an observation this morning when it referenced an article from the conservative Washington Times which noted that "of the 12 initiatives that he proposed or called on Congress to pass in 2006, the White House can claim complete success on just three." (And that was with Republican control of both chambers!)

The Center's four part series on the State of the Union is available through the following links: Environment, National Security, Healthcare, and Economy.

Finally, don't be surprised if Joe Lieberman is mentioned when Bush talks about "bipartisanship" and assume you'll be hearing some defense of the administration's escalation policy, and perhaps an answer to the House Democrats' successful "100 Hours" agenda, which has put the administration and Republicans on the defensive.

Jim Webb will deliver the Democratic response after Bush has spoken. Fellow Virginian Tim Kaine (who was elected Governor in 2005) had the honor of responding last year.

Bill expanding high school completion programs passes the state House

Congratulations to Representative Dave Upthegrove and all who lobbied in support of House Bill 1051, which opens pathways to higher education for many students who might otherwise become discouraged and drop out. The bill passed the House of Representatives today, 73 to 21 (see the roll call).

Here's a more detailed analysis of the bill from legislative staff:
Finds that the state's commitment to providing a basic education for all public school students under the age of twenty-one should continue until a student earns a diploma.

Therefore the legislature intends to expand high school completion programs at community and technical colleges for older students who have not yet received a diploma but are eligible for state basic education support.

Provides that, in accordance with this act, each community or technical college shall make available courses or a program of study, on the college campus, designed to enable students under the age of twenty-one who have completed all state and local high school graduation requirements except the certificate of academic achievement or certificate of individual achievement to complete their high school education and obtain a high school diploma.
HB 1051 now moves on to the state Senate for consideration.

Alaskan Way Tunnel...back from the dead?

The Governor has slightly altered course again:
Gov. Christine Gregoire this morning left the door open to replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel.

Without committing herself to a course of action, the governor said she wants to hear what voters say in a March 13 election in Seattle on the viaduct.

"There is no question that the next big issue is what do the voters say," Gregoire said at a news conference today.

[...]

"The end of the legislative session is the final say because we're moving forward with one of the two options we had in December (the elevated highway or the $4.6 billion tunnel) or whatever the Legislature may choose alternatively," Gregoire said.
Or whatever the Legislature may choose alternatively? So that means if the Legislature wanted a surface/transit option, that's what we would get? That's what the Governor would support? Well, it is good to know that our state's chief executive has respect for the legislative branch - unlike that other guy occupying the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue until January 2009.

What's really funny about today's development is what it does to all those news headlines from last week. The P-I and the Times hurried to declare the tunnel's death in boldface at the top of their websites and then in print the next morning. But the tunnel still has a shot in Olympia, apparently.

We know that Speaker Chopp and some in the Seattle delegation are decided (on a new viaduct) but they can't have their way unless the Senate and the Governor agree (and that's assuming they can muster a majority in the House). And even if the legislative and executive branches unanimously agree on a new viaduct, the city could still fight it, and opposed citizens could file lawsuits to block it.

But that conflict is most definitely postponed until the after the advisory vote, which is guaranteed to be one of Seattle's most high profile special elections in recent memory. Let the campaigns begin!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Tackling the daunting environmental challenges we face, one step at a time

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) recently moved the minute hand of their Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight (which represents the figurative end of civilization) in acknowledgment of several major environmental challenges that affect the entire world, including nuclear proliferation and global warming.

Whatever you think of the Doomsday Clock, there's no denying that we are facing some serious problems. As Representative Jay Inslee recently said, "if we don't solve global warming, nothing else will matter."

Priorities for a Healthy Washington recently presented a workshop outlining this year's priorities for the 2007 legislative session:
  • Clean Air and Clean Fuels
  • Enhancing the Wildlife and Recreation Program
  • Saving Puget Sound
  • Eliminating toxic PDBE Flame Retardants
All the priorities are important, but given that the clean air and clean fuel proposals address the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (the cause of global warming) they are perhaps the most significant. Two bills have been introduced that address the emissions problem by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

HB 1303 (sponsored by Representative Mary Lou Dickerson) would create the Clean Diesel Initiative, a school bus replacement incentive program, a clean fuels initiative, and a plan to reduce emissions of the state's motor pool. This bill is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources on Wednesday, January 24th, at 8:00 AM.

SB 5287 (sponsored by Senator Phil Rockefeller) encourages the development and use of renewable energy. State agencies would be required to meet certain energy consumption targets beginning in 2009. The bill has been referred to Water, Energy & Telecommunications, but no public hearing has been scheduled yet.

On the federal level, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007 (H.R. 6) as part of the caucus' "100 Hours" program. The legislation is unlikely to make it past the White House and Bush's veto, but at least Congress is making an effort to act in America's best interest.

Richardson joins presidential sweepstakes

The New Mexico governor has decided he's going to be in the running:
"I am taking this step because we have to repair the damage that’s been done to our country over the last six years," Mr. Richardson said in a statement. “Our reputation in the world is diminished, our economy has languished, and civility and common decency in government has perished."

He highlighted his experience, from United Nations ambassador to state governor, as making him uniquely positioned to tackle a range of international and domestic tasks, from getting American troops out of Iraq to improving the economy and energy independence.
Richardson's competition includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards (those three constitute the probable top tier) as well as Tom Vilsack, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd, who are in the race but unlikely to capture the nomination. The field is only going to keep getting bigger.

Richardson's most important advantage is probably that he's a governor, not a senator. No senator has won a race for the White House since JFK in the 1960s. That's not to say it can't be done, but it hasn't been happening in recent decades. The only other governor in the race thus far is Vilsack, who isn't likely to become the nominee. Richardson has a better shot at getting into the top tier and defeating Obama, Clinton, and Edwards, the front runners.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Right Wing Initiative Watch: Hutcherson refiles to overturn civil rights law

Ken Hutcherson, the bigoted leader of the Antioch Bible Church, has refiled his proposal to overturn Washington's recently expanded civil rights law, ESHB 2661, as an initiative to the people. Hutcherson used his own name to file, but unlike last time (when he filed an initiative to the Legislature) he used an Olympia post office box instead of Antioch's own address.

Hutcherson's initiative is essentially the same thing as last year's Referendum 65, which Tim Eyman failed to qualify for the ballot.

Initiatives to the people currently require at least 224,800 valid signatures from citizens registered to vote in Washington. The actual number of signatures needed is significantly higher (270,000 is probably the minimum number required) because a certain percentage is always invalid. Fail to collect enough extra, and you won't make the ballot - which is what happened to Tim Eyman's I-917 last year.

Permanent Defense will soon be reactivating its system for reporting the activity of right wing petitioners so that the the signature drives of Hutcherson, Eyman, and others can be monitored. Data from the system last year allowed Permanent Defense to accurately forecast that I-920 and I-933 would make the ballot, and later, confirm that Tim Eyman shut down I-917's signature drive in early June at about the same time he failed to qualify Referendum 65.

Another initiative which purports to protect traditional marriage has been filed by Seattle resident Gregory Gadow, but it's not what you'd suspect it is. Here's a description of what the initiative is supposed to do from Gadow's website:
Marriage will be restricted only to those couples able to have children together....Couples married in Washington will have three years from the date of their marriage or 18 months from the date the initiative becomes law, whichever is later, to either have children together or provide documentation that they have fulfilled the primary purpose of marriage.

Failure to comply would result in the marriage being annulled.

Couples married outside of Washington who live in this state will have three years from the date of their marriage or 18 months from the date the initiative becomes law or 30 days from the date they move into this state, whichever is later, to either have children or provide documentation that they have fulfilled the primary purpose of marriage. Failure to comply would result in the marriage being unrecognized as a valid marriage until proper documentation is filed.
An interesting proposal, to be sure, but it's probably not headed anywhere.

Now, there's no denying that anyone who has the money can get anything they want on the ballot, but who is going to supply the half a million dollars it'll take to qualify this? Gadow's own website, in a dated statement from last year, says "we must raise at least $300,000 over the next ten months" which is an acknowledgment of the cost of a paid signature drive.

Three hundred grand probably won't cut it, though. Upwards of half a million bucks is the minimum a sponsor needs to buy his or her way on.

Hutcherson and Eyman appear to be the only right wing zealots serious about qualifying something this year....so far. We'll be keeping watch over the next few months to see if they're joined by anyone else.

Hillary Clinton announces she's running for president - to no one's surprise

The former First Lady says she's in, and in to win:
If successful, Mrs. Clinton, 59, would be the first female nominee of a major American political party, and she would become the first spouse of a former president to seek a return to the White House.

Her entrance into the race followed Mr. Obama’s by less than a week, and highlighted the urgency for her of not falling behind in the competition for money, especially in New York, her home turf, where the battle has already reached a fever pitch. It also set off rounds of e-mail messages and conference calls among both her allies and opponents.
The announcement comes as a shock to no one. The media has been talking about a Hillary run since before the 2004 presidential election. Clinton says she's determined to capture the nomination, but she will have strong competition. She is by no means guaranteed to become the standard bearer.

Meanwhile, the media's obsession with "centrism" reaches a new high.

Viaduct replacement chaos

A political war has reached a new climax in the Emerald City and the Evergreen State and it's not likely to get any less intense anytime soon. (For an overview of the latest developments, this Seattle Times story by Bob Young is a good primer). There are so many different factions in the fight that it's hard to see how there will ever be a consensus to reach a decision.

First there are the factions that support only one of the replacement options:
  • New elevated highway
  • Tunnel
  • Surface/Transit (Long term solution)
  • Remove the viaduct and implement a mitigation plan (short term solution)
Then there are factions that are more open minded and support more than one of the above options (for example, tunnel or new viaduct, tunnel or surface/transit). There is yet another faction making the ridiculous argument for a retrofit.

Mixed into this now are two new dueling factions - one of which wants Olympia to break through the political gridlock and the other which is defending home rule and Seattle's right to have a say. Along these new lines there's a third group, comprised of people from both of the above mentioned dueling factions, which supports moving the funds committed to the viaduct over to the State Route 520 bridge project if progress can't be made quickly.

Even more confusing, a number of people who were previously in one faction are now in another. (For example, the Governor previously was agreeable to a tunnel or new viaduct but now she apparently supports only the latter).

Local commentators in the traditional media, along with newspaper editorial boards, have been bemoaning the lack of action, but they, like everyone else, have an opinion on what should happen to the viaduct.

Is anybody really to blame? It's so easy to attack the Governor, or Mayor Nickels, probably the two highest profile figures in this political conflict. But the electorate appears to be on all sides of this too. Around the Web, on local websites, blogs, and forums, there is division and disagreement about the issue of the viaduct's replacement - reflecting what is happening between political leaders.

The Seattle City Council is divided, the House and Senate are divided - even the Seattle delegation to the Legislature is divided! Throw in the mayor and the governor, who are sticking to their guns, plus a whole army of activists and interest group leaders, and you have a recipe for chaos.

We can all agree on one thing - we need to do something (whether that means tear down the viaduct and replace it with a new structure, or tear it down because it's unsafe and see if we can mitigate its loss, or tear it down and implement long term solutions, or retrofit it). But we can't agree on what to do. Almost all of us are saying no action is not an option...and we're right.

Some people, like Speaker Chopp, now seem dead set on forcing a new viaduct through (which we think is a strategic mistake on his part). Trying to push large groups of people out of the way is not an approach that is likely to yield results. The City Council is hoping the advisory vote will lead to a way out, but there's no guarantee that Seattle voters will send a clear message.

If the March vote does not lead to a consensus, this battle may very well move into the judicial system with a storm of litigation in the not too distant future.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Taking some time off

I'll be away from the Official Blog until next Wednesday due to family celebrations. (Birthday, birthday, birthday, anniversary. Yeah, I know. It seemed romantic at the time. Now it just seems soggy on the way to the restaurant.)

Have a great weekend.

Greedy Sonics demand public assistance

Representatives from the group that owns the Seattle Sonics (led by Clay Bennett) yesterday told Governor Christine Gregoire and legislators they want $300 million in public assistance (i.e. taxes) for a new arena, as well as financial help from whatever city gets the new complex. The total cost is apparently between $340 million and $360 million with around $170 million more for land and parking lots.

What's in it for taxpayers, you ask? Apparently nothing:
While saying Sonics owners will pay part of that cost, Bennett wrote that he could not yet provide a number because owners are still calculating how much money they would make off the new building.
That's right - taxpayers are going to be asked to foot almost all of the bill so that Bennett & Co. can make money.

To that, we say: no thanks.

It's time for elected officials to just say no. A message needs to be sent to the sports industry that the free ride is over (at least in the Evergreen State). You want a brand new, shiny arena? Then raise the money to pay for the cost yourselves. Don't arrogantly approach the Legislature with the expectation that you'll get a treasure chest overflowing with money placed at your feet.

Amazingly, the Sonics' lobbyist tried to claim they weren't asking for a handout:
"This is not the Sonics and the Storm coming down here and asking the taxpayers to fund the facility, it's asking the Legislature to authorize King County to engage in an economic development project," said lobbyist Linda Hull, who represents the team.
You could have just admitted it, Linda. Instead you tried to deny it. You can dress up your proposal with all the spin you want, but it's still a handout.

We have more important priorities to deal with in Washington State. Education, transportation, environmental cleanup, healthcare...the list goes on and on. Government's responsibility is not to cover the cost of stadiums for privately owned sports teams. The Sonics are asking for more help than was given to construct either Qwest Field or Safeco Field. That is outrageous!

The Sonics need to understand, in no uncertain terms, that they need to take care of the financial burden themselves without public assistance. Their ownership group includes four billionaires. With so many concerns in need of attention, the last thing elected officials should be doing is paying any attention to this nonsense.

It's time for a Homeowners' Bill of Rights

"A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse.”

- Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Each year, hundreds of unsuspecting Washingtonian homeowners discover deficiencies with their new home. These problems include (but are not limited to) faulty design, code violations, cracked foundations, moisture problems that lead to toxic molds, substandard workmanship, and structural issues.

Many have already suffered great losses: their life's savings, their physical and emotional health, and home value depreciation.

Better regulations are needed to ensure the quality of homes and guarantee building contract security. Under current law, building contractors can be licensed in one day without passing qualifying tests, and Washington ’s building code enforcement process does not prevent lax inspections that overlook major building flaws. Once homeowners find defects, there is often no recourse.

Washington is one of the few states that does not recognize a common law cause of action for negligent construction. Therefore, losses can only be recovered if a building contract explicitly guarantees non-defective performance.

Buyers of older homes are doubly disadvantaged – not only do they lack legal recourse for construction defects, but they are not entitled to continue a home’s initial warranty to protect themselves.

Washingtonians have a right to expect to purchase a quality home and builders' compliance with the building code. The Evergreen State needs a homeowner's bill of rights. An overview of what's been proposed in the State Senate this session:
Negligent Construction Cause of Action: Creates a cause of action for residential construction defects and extends the statute of limitations for a right of action against a builder from six years to ten years – a more likely time period in which home defects are discovered. (SB 5046)

New Home Warranties: Creates a minimum standard for new home warranties and extends original buyers' home warranties to subsequent purchasers, regardless of when the buyer sells to the next purchaser. (SB 5049)

Notice to Cure Clarification: Clarifies the statute of limitations in condominium construction defect cases. If a claimant’s case is dismissed without prejudice for failure to give notice and opportunity to cure, the statute of limitations for the construction defect action will toll. (SB 5048)

Contractor Licensing/Surety Bonding Requirement: Requires builders to be licensed, to pass certain competency requirements, to be financially accountable for defects in work performed, and requires that they carry insurance for negligent construction. Rather than a mere $12,000 surety bonding requirement, bond amounts would reflect a more realistic estimate to ensure performance. (SB 5045; will be heard in the Labor, Commerce, Research & Development Committee.)
At a work session earlier this week, Senator Brian Weinstein and Democratic lawmakers heard stories from victimized homeowners while representatives from the ultra right wing BIAW tried to insist that new regulations were unnecessary. A recap and audio clips from the work session are available from the Spokesman-Review.

Hearings on the bills in the package are scheduled for January 18th, 23rd, and 25th. Most of the bills are coming before the Consumer Protection & Housing Committee. To get details on a hearing, follow one or more of the above links.