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

Monday, January 31, 2005

Iraqi Elections - Now What?

Yesterday's vote in Iraq was an historic and hopeful advancement for democracy in the country. While it is too soon to offer a complete assessment of the elections, the higher than expected turnout bodes well for the legitimacy of the new government that will emerge in the coming days. However, the Bush administration must not simply claim victory, as tough hurdles remain. Two years after the invasion, the administration still has no strategy in place for winning the peace and bringing the troops home.

Security problems remain. Efforts to train Iraqi security forces to assume responsibility for securing the country have been slow and plagued by desertion and equipment shortages. Although the administration continues to claim that 120,000 Iraqis have been trained, the real number is more like 14,000, with only one-third of them battle-ready. Yesterday's vote was marked by dozens of attacks throughout the country – authorities report that at least 44 persons were killed.

Sunnis must be represented. Aas anticipated, a majority Shiite government is expected to emerge. Sunnis largely stayed away from the polls in response to calls for a boycott and insecure polling sites. Over the next twelve months, the new assembly will form a government, draft a new constitution, and prepare for a second vote in December. If not managed carefully, the country could easily slip into civil war.

Elections don't fix economies." Significant reconstruction hurdles remain. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies warns: "We do not see coming out of this any of the elements of economic stability… that underpin the election." Less than one-fifth of the $18 billion dollars in aid that the United States pledged two years ago has been disbursed in the country, which is plagued by high unemployment and low levels of development. Unless the new government can deliver on improving Iraqis' everyday lives, the post-election honeymoon will be short-lived.

Pacific NW Portal launches

The Pacific Northwest has a new information gateway and media center for progressives and Democrats.

Pacific NW Portal has just launched online at www.nwportal.org.

The portal features a "newswire" for Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and the United States, as well as the callsigns and station numbers for all the regional Air America stations.

It also allows visitors to see the latest 4 posts from 12 different blogs - 4 in Washington, 4 in Oregon, and 4 in Idaho - a total of 48 posts, all on one page!

From Washington, the portal features the NW Progressive Institute blog, HorsesAss.org, Evergreen Politics, and Pacific Views.

From Oregon, it features Blue Oregon, Scott Jensen's Blog, Basie, and RoguePundit.

From Idaho, it features Red State Rebel, from Red, to White, Then Blue!, 43rd State Blues, and BrightMind.

The portal also has a calendar, and a directory of progressive blogs and websites for all three Northwest states.

And on top of that, it has an extremely comprehensive media directory for Washington, Oregon, and Idaho - including newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations.

If you like in the Northwest, Pacific NW Portal is designed for you. Find out what like minded bloggers in your state or region are saying. Browse the latest headlines from your state or enjoy easy access to forward thinking blogs and websites. From a single page, access dozens of newspapers/TV and radio stations in Washington, Oregon, or Idaho.

See how easy it is to stay connected with politics from one web page!

Check out Pacific NW Portal now at www.nwportal.org.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

NPI endorses Firefox

We've been in admiration of the Mozilla Foundation's newest offering - the new Firefox browser - ever since it was officially launched back in November 2004.

Now, we're officially endorsing the browser as an alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The software giant, based right here in Redmond, has stopped supporting IE for anybody who doesn't own the latest copy of Windows. This misguided policy seems to be crafted in the hopes that it will force more people to buy Microsoft software.

Microsoft has already announced the next version of IE won't be available to anybody without the latest edition of Windows. And Service Pack 2, which was supposed to address a number of security issues, was only provided to users running Windows XP.

IE's development has lapsed. It's full of security holes, and much of what powers IE is susceptible to attack, such as the built in ActiveX technology.

In contrast, Firefox has few, if any, security problems. It features built-in search, tabbed browsing, improved bookmarks, support for Favicons, and support for web standards. It's also open source, so anybody can join in the development of the source code. Developers around the world can work on Firefox at any time of the day.

Read more in NPI's newly expanded Technology section.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Berendt Reelected as State Party Chair

Paul Berendt, the leader of the state Democratic Party since 1995, has been reelected to another term.

Berendt won 100 of the 169 votes cast Saturday, said Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirstin Brost. King County Chairman Gary Rodriguez followed with 44, while Snohomish County activist Bill Phillips had 18 and Kat Overman, former Snohomish County chairwoman, had eight.

Berendt was strongly backed by Christine Gregoire and the Thurston County delegation. While Berendt is a good fundraiser and seems to have done a good job supporting Democratic Party candidates, he needs to do a better job with public affairs. In fact, the entire Democratic Party needs to do a much better job of defending itself and its candidates.

As long as the Republicans are out there feeding the electorate misinformation and the Democrats are not loudly refuting it, people are going to buy it. We need to give people another perspective and not allow the GOP to drown out the truth - because they will. Republicans have shown they will say whatever it takes to win the battle of public opinion.

So Democrats need to fight back with a powerful and unified message. And Paul Berendt must make sure this becomes a very important priority for the party. Otherwise, there may very well be consequences in two years. A US Senate seat and the state Legislature are at stake.

State Republicans reelect Vance

Chris Vance, the chair of the Washington State Republican Party, has been reelected for another term as the party's leader, the WSRP announced Saturday. The next term runs through 2005 and 2006.

Freddi Simpson, former Chair of the Chelan County Republican Party, was elected to serve as Vice-Chair.

The state Republican Party had been meeting in Tukwila on Saturday to reorganize the party and elect leadership positions.

Vance had been coming under attack from a group known as the "Reagan Wing" yesterday, which hoped to replace him as chairman. But Vance had the backing of former GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, who asked him to stay on as the leader of the party.

Though Vance has certainly been effective at spreading GOP propoganda and battling furiously for a revote, he has fortunately been unable to prevent Christine Gregoire's inauguration as Governor of Washington State. In the meantime, Vance's most immediate priority seems to be drowning counties in endless reams of paperwork with a gubernatorial election challenge. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for next Friday, February 4th.

A Humorous Look at Red vs. Blue

A friend sent me this hilarious look at what really distinguishes the Red States from the Blue States. Take a look:
With the Blue States in hand, the Democrats have firm control of 80% of the nation's fresh water, over 90% of our pineapple and lettuce, 93% of the artichoke production, 95% of America's export quality wines, 90% of all cheese production, most of the US low-sulfur coal, all living redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools, plus UC-Berkeley, Stanford, CalTech and MIT. Not to mention all the garlic, San Francisco Sourdough Bread and good grapes to go with all our cheese and wine.

On the other hand, the Red States now have to cope with 88% of all obese Americans (and their projected health care cost spike), 92% of all US mosquitoes, 99% of all Southern Baptists, 100% of all Televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Grover Norquist and the radical, appalling presidency. In essence, we can live simply but well, enjoying the fruits of our tax dollars. Is it any wonder that Seattle, a solidly progressive city, was named the nation's most physically fit? The runners up were Boston, Honolulu, and San Francisco. Needless to say, Houston - the fever swamp of conservative reactionism - was ranked the fattest city in America the fourth year in a row. Mississippi - the state in which 86% of residents voted to ban gay marriage - is the fattest state, with a 35% obesity rating.
Feel any better now?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Major International Effort Needed on Global Warming

Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday called on the United States to take action to address the mounting crisis of global warming. "If America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda too," Blair said. At a time when the Bush administration is still questioning the reality of global warming, Blair called for specific steps to fight the problem as outlined by The International Climate Change Taskforce, a project co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress and chaired by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and British MP Stephen Byers. The recommendations include:

Mandatory caps on carbon emissions in the U.S. and other developed nations. All developed countries should introduce national mandatory so-called "cap-and-trade" systems for carbon emissions, harnessing market forces to curb pollution. Governments should also increase investment in energy efficient technologies and practices through such measures as the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies and requiring export credit agencies and multilateral development banks to adopt minimum efficiency or carbon intensity standards for projects they support.

Establish a long-term climate objective and build momentum to stop the rapid increase in the earth's temperature. A long-term objective should be established to prevent global average temperature from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) above the pre-industrial level, to limit the extent and magnitude of climate-change impacts. A global framework should be set up that builds on existing international agreements, and enables all countries to be part of concerted action on climate change at the global level in the post-2012 period.

A focus on developing renewable energy sources and more sustainable forms of agriculture. G8 governments should work to establish national renewable portfolio standards to generate at least 25 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. G8 governments should also increase their spending on energy research and development and shift agricultural subsidies from food crops to biofuels while safeguarding sustainable agriculture and biodiversity.

WA Democratic Party Reorganization

The Washington State Democratic Central Committee will re-organize on January 29th, 2005 at the Red Lion Hotel in Olympia. The main order of business will be the election of executive officer and Congressional District Executive Board members for 2005-2006.

The state party chairmanship is up for reelection. Three candidates are challenging current party chair Paul Berendt. You can learn more about the candidates at the 46th District Democrats' website.

Want to go? Here's the address:
Red Lion Hotel in Olympia
2300 Evergreen Park Dr., Olympia, WA

Third columnist was paid by Bush administration

Officials in the Bush Administration have shown they are willing to sink to any depth to promote the administration's outrageous policies. Now the media is reporting that a third conservative columnist accepted money from DHHS. The news comes on the heels of admissions that two other columnists - Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher - were paid to promote the Bush agenda.

The AP (via Seattle P-I):
Columnist Mike McManus received $10,000 to train marriage counselors as part of the agency's initiative promoting marriage to build strong families, said Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families.

The disclosure came as the Government Accountability Office sent a letter to the Education Department on Friday asking for all materials related to its contract dealings with a prominent conservative media commentator.

Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., had requested the GAO to expand a continuing inquiry into the matter.

"The issue here isn't just whether a journalist violated ethics, but whether the Bush Administration broke the law," Lautenberg said Friday. "If the GAO finds that the payment to Armstrong Williams was an illegal use of taxpayer dollars, then the money should be returned and Education Department officials should be held accountable."

USA Today first reported the McManus contract Friday.
The bottom line is that the administration needs to stop paying conservative columnists to promote its agenda. It's a flagrant violation of the seperation that needs to exist between the media and the government.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Democrats unite to oppose Gonzales

The Democratic senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee are showing some stiff backbone. All eight of them united to vote against Alberto Gonzales' (the infamous author of of the torture memo) nomination for Attorney General. The unified opposition meant that the vote went down along party lines.

The NY Times reports:
The Judiciary Committee's narrow endorsement, a day after many Democrats attacked Condoleezza Rice on the Senate floor over her nomination for secretary of state, signaled the minority party's willingness to do battle with the White House over another high-profile nomination, and Republicans acknowledged their disappointment over the strong show of opposition.

"I would like to have avoided a party-line vote," said Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who leads the committee. He said the vote could undercut Mr. Gonzales's strength as attorney general and attributed the close vote in part to "a very, very heavy aura of politics in the air" in Washington.

One by one, the eight Democrats at the committee meeting attacked Mr. Gonzales's record at the White House, saying he had devised policies that led to prisoner abuses in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Mr. Gonzales was too much of a "blind loyalist" for Mr. Bush to be an independent attorney general.

Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, surprised some colleagues by voting against the nomination. Mr. Feingold, the only Democrat on the committee in 2001 to vote in support of John Ashcroft's nomination as attorney general, had traditionally given the president broad deference to pick cabinet secretaries. But like other Democrats, Mr. Feingold said he found Mr. Gonzales's testimony at his confirmation hearing earlier this month "deeply disappointing" and said his actions at the White House on torture policies called into question "his commitment to the rule of law."

"Time after time," Mr. Feingold said, "Judge Gonzales has been a key participant in developing secret legal theories to justify policies that, as they have become public, have tarnished our nation's international reputation."
The Democratic caucuses in the House and the Senate are learning how to effectively play the role of the loyal opposition. While not in the majority, we must be effective as a minority so that the Bush administration and the GOP congressional leaders cannot drown this country's future under a flood of bad legislation, bad executive appointments, and bad policy.

In other news Thursday, the White House announced it was dropping its effort to relax media ownership rules, an important victory which is a step towards keeping media consolidation in check and preserving independent media.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

New initiative a publicity stunt

Tim Eyman has filed a new initiative.

Surprise. Since "Citizen" Tim didn't get much press coverage a couple weeks ago when he filed I-900, he's filed another initiative to see if he can squeeze any more coverage out of the Olympia press corps.

Here's what Permanent Defense had to say about that:

Eyman acts to prevent initiative reform
Permanent Defense News Release

Initiative profiteer Tim Eyman, desperate for more media attention and hoping to preserve the status quo of an initiative process currently manipulated by special interests, announced he was filing an initiative Wednesday to stop lawmakers from tinkering with the initiative process - even though legislators aren't currently attempting to make any drastic changes.

"If Tim files too many more initiatives, he's going to become the laughingstock of the state. What he's doing now is reacting to something that don't even exist," said Permanent Defense Chair Andrew Villeneuve.

"Eyman says legislators are making subtle attacks on the initiative process. But legislators know that Tim Eyman isn't a force in Olympia any longer. They're not worried about the initiative process because they have more important things to be concerned with."

This latest announcement is nothing extroadinary. Eyman has been incapable so far of getting any initiative on the ballot for the last couple of years without needing special interest money.

Eyman's initiative is all about preserving the status quo of a manipulated initiative process and stifling reform that could put the power of the initiative back in the hands of ordinary citizens.

But with his recent 0 for 4 record, it's clear this latest Eyman initiative is all hype and no substance. It's headed for the landfill.

"Tim Eyman's recent record on qualifying initiatives for the ballot and passing them speaks for itself. He isn't going to be able to manage getting this or his performance audits initiative on the ballot this year," Villeneuve concluded.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

PDC fines Eyman

Permanent Defense Press Release
PDC FINES EYMAN FOR VIOLATING PUBLIC DISCLOSURE LAW

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005

OLYMPIA - The state Public Disclosure Commission, acting on a complaint filed August 26th, 2004, by Permanent Defense, TaxSanity.org, and Taxpayers for Washington's Future, fined Tim Eyman and his associates a total of three hundred dollars for again violating Washington's public disclosure law at an enforcement hearing Tuesday morning.

The complaint accused Tim Eyman, his associates, and his three PACs of a broad array of campaign finance and public disclosure violations.

The PDC fined Eyman one hundred and fifty dollars each for two occasions on which PDC staff found that Eyman, his associates, and his PACs had violated the public disclosure law:
  • By failing to timely disclose an in-kind contribution received from Tim and Karen Eyman in the amount of $1,500 for a poll conducted in October of 2003.

  • By failing to timely disclose an in-kind contribution received from the Voters Want More Choices PAC in the amount of $2,109 for a mailing.

Permanent Defense Chair Andrew Villeneuve called the enforcement action significant. "Tim Eyman has a long history of violating the public disclosure law, and he somehow thinks that it doesn't apply to him. The PDC is making clear once again that his careless disregard for the rules will not be tolerated."

"Eyman also claims, and continues to claim, to his supporters that his committees are completely separate from each other, but the boundaries between them seem to be pretty transparent."

He noted that Tim Eyman made the following comment last September in a letter to the PDC regarding the complaint: "Our campaign committee [Voters Want More Choices] pays for these mailings and the accounting and other costs associated with our compensation fund [Help Us Help Taxpayers].”

"It's just been a continual pattern of infractions, both petty and significant, which continue to land Eyman in trouble," concluded Villeneuve. "He wouldn't be getting fined if he would just follow the rules like everybody else."

More Information: Permanent Defense

Monday, January 24, 2005

Constitutional issues key in challenge

From the Associated Press (via Seattle P-I):

Dead voters won't count in Rossi's election challenge
Constitutional issues will be key instead

Allegations of dead voters and election fraud elicit gasps from outraged voters and pundits, but they won't really matter in the legal challenge to the Washington governor's election.

As legal arguments unfolded in court last week, it became clear the case will turn instead on a close reading of the state constitution. Who has jurisdiction over election challenges -- the courts or the Legislature? What is an "illegal vote"? What kind of proof does the constitution require to nullify an election?

These questions lack the sexy sparkle of voting felons, true, but the answers will determine whether Gov. Christine Gregoire stays in office.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Coming Demise of American Labor

Labor unions have been one of the most instrumental forces for progress and economic justice in America since they first came to fruition in the mid-19th century. Since then, labor unions - often to the chagrin of the press, the corporations, and the political establishment - have put their muscle behind countless reforms that we now take for granted.

The eight-hour workday, bans on child labor, worker safety regulations, bargaining rights with an employer, improved access to healthcare, the minimum wage, overtime pay, Clinton's Family and Medical Leave Act, housing and childcare support, the legal right to sue, inflationary currency, and the progressive income tax were all hard-fought battles that courageous unions managed to win. It is redundant to say that labor unions are the only organizations standing between economic justice and corporate exploitation of the working class in the name of "globalization."

Though some unions have unfortunately been influenced by the Mafia, the vast majority are honest, accountable organizations that stand above all for the worker's right to a decent living. Governments are notoriously flat-footed and reluctant to change the status quo; it is simply not in the interests of elected officials to advocate change on behalf of the least among us. Labor unions, therefore, are crucial in filling that voiding by providing a potent medium for average citizens to voice their concerns, challenge corporate chicanery and malfeasance, and fight for their economic interest.

And yet not all is well in the labor department. Since the unionbusting "reforms" of the oh-so-saintly Ronald Reagan, union membership has declined in the private sector from 25% in 1980 to only 9% in 2003. Predictably, real wages for workers have actually declined during that same period of much-touted prosperity - prosperity, that is, for those whom unions are petty annoyances standing in the way of their stock options, for people who actually benefited from the Bush tax cuts.

Here is a telling excerpt from Christopher's influential article in In These Times, a progressive labor-oriented publication:
Here’s something to consider: It’s a concrete possibility we will wake up one morning and there won’t be a single American labor union left. For 30 straight years, American organized labor has been hemorrhaging members, power and influence.[Fifty years ago, 35 percent of workers belonged to unions, today just 12 percent do (and only 9 percent in the private sector).] There are already 22 states in which “right-to-work” rules effectively outlaw collective bargaining; the National Labor Relations Board, entrusted with the sacred duty of protecting the human right to organize, has been turned into just another way station for GOP corporatist hacks; and the American manufacturing sector, once the backbone of the movement, has been eviscerated by globalization.

Faced with the possibility of permanent irrelevance, different factions of the AFL-CIO have recently been engaged in a knock-down, drag-out fight over what is to be done. Despite occasional coverage in the mainstream media, this has drawn just a smattering of attention in liberal publications and the blogosphere. But progressives everywhere need to realize that they have a powerful stake in its outcome: Without the American labor movement there is no American left, and the debate taking place right now could very well determine if the movement survives.
Progressives, now is the time to take action and save the labor movement before it is utterly defeated, as it has been already in large part, by the corporate aristocracy that pulls the strings of government. It is the time to challenge common middle-class prejudices against unions, take the Social Darwinist right wing to task, and confront hypocritical press coverage. Please take action now before it is too late.

Bush Falls Flat on Second Term Vision

President Bush's second inaugural address yesterday was filled with lofty rhetoric and idealism (some noticeably liberal in orientation) yet contained no hint of the very real challenges facing the nation. Bush promised to spread liberty and democracy and eradicate tyranny but made no mention of terrorism, Iraq, al Qaeda, Iran, or North Korea. He had nothing to say for the thousands of American soldiers who have died or been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. His domestic vision was a thinly veiled defense of wealth and power and trickle-down economics neatly wrapped in language about "ownership."

President Bush talks about freedom yet refuses to acknowledge the new dangers that his Iraq policies have created. As Bush waxed eloquently about freedom and democracy, more reports emerged of massive violence and unrest in Iraq just days before the elections. In the past few weeks, Americans have learned definitively that there were no WMD in Iraq. We have seen startling evidence that Iraq is now a top terrorist breeding ground. And we know our nation's military is near breaking point and severely overcommitted. Yet not a word from the president about how to deal with any of these issues.

Handouts for the wealthy disguised as opportunity and ownership for the masses is no vision of democracy. President Bush's domestic agenda amounts to little more than stale, trickle-down economics. Over the past four years, Bush has systematically shifted retirement and health care costs and risks onto individuals while making sure financial services and health care providers get billions in new fees and services. His plan for privatizing Social Security will leave the elderly at the mercy of financial markets, while private financial management firms will collect an estimated $940 billion windfall in new fees. And his permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of earners will shift even more of the tax burden onto middle class workers.

Progressives should stand strong against conservative policies and show Americans that there's a better way to do business. Progressives have a better way to manage the economy, tackle big challenges abroad, and promote the national interest. By focusing on community, fairness, and equal opportunity for all, we can show Americans a different path to success and assert a stronger set of principles for moving the country forward.

Michael Powell to resign

FCC chairman Michael Powell, who has long pushed an evil agenda of deregulation and censorship, is expected to resign his post soon.

The Seattle P-I:
WASHINGTON -- Michael K. Powell, who called for an easing of regulations when he became the Federal Communications Commission's chairman but later supported levying the largest-ever fines for broadcast indecency, plans to step down, officials said Friday.

Powell, who has held the job for four years, planned to issue a statement Friday but was not expected to hold a formal news conference, these officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Powell, the son of departing Secretary of State Colin Powell, does not plan to step down immediately, the officials said. However, he will leave soon.

Jonathan Cody, a friend of Powell and his FCC adviser on media ownership issues, said Friday that Powell planned to step down in March, but said he did not know the nature of his plans.
This announcement is welcome news for all America. Thankfully, one of the most arrogant and disruptive people in the Bush administration is resgining. Next to go should be Donald Rumsfeld.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Counter Inaugural

Dubya has been re-inaugurated. So let the counter inaugural begin! You can find out more about what's happening at CounterInaugural.org, Turn Your Back on Bush, and Billionaires for Bush.

Bush's Second Inauguration speech focused on his belief that to enjoy freedom at home and peace abroad, Americans must support the "spread of freedom" throughout the world.

"The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world".

Many critics have already pointed out the hypocrisy in selectively spreading freedom, of going to war in Iraq to replace a tyrant with (hopefully) a democratically elected, representative nation, while we support oppressive undemocratic regimes in Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, etc., as well as confer Most Favored Trading status on a repressive one-party state like the People's Republic of China.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Check Out Dean Baker On Progressive Social Security Reform

It would be utterly redundant to simply state the abhorrent and destructive nature of Bush's Social Security privatization plan. Not only would it eliminate Social Security's revenue base - that is, payroll taxes of working people and especially those of the top 2%. It would also completely ruin America's seniors.

Consider that most "private accounts," meaning those gambled on Wall Street, yield only a 10% profit in a good economy, and assuming that the average person needs around $40,000 a year to live comfortably, it would take at least a $400,000 investment to even hope to survive. Most seniors don't even come close to meeting the requirements of living off of stock yields.

Needless to say, the Bush Administration hopes to repeal the New Deal, perhaps the most instrumental source of America's modern prosperity, and return the United States to a 19th Century standard of living. You remember, back in the 1920s, when everyone relied on the stock market for their financial security. Do you remember how sustainable that was? Read Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas to hear more about how morally bereft the conservatives are who promote this regressive policy....And they haven't even started on their national sales tax yet!

Stock markets were never designed to be people's primary source of income, but rather as a rich-man's supplement. Although nearly 50% of Americans now own stock, this is hardly an endorsement of the stock market's security or even its sustainability. Investments on Wall Street are still a very risky form of gambling, and this is exactly the reason we have Social Security in the first place, because stock markets are inherently unstable and unsuitable for the elderly to live on. The basic ideals of FDR's New Deal are about to be supplanted by the most monstrous scheme in recent memory. God forbid, if Bush's privatization passes, any hopes of the government working for the public benefit will fall by the wayside.

Perhaps the most revolting facet of Bush's privatization plan is its ugly Social Darwinist undercurrent. If Social Security is fully privatized, as the Republicans desire, then the powers that be will be able to justifiably condemn the poor for their own poverty! After all, if America really is the land of opportunity, why can't the poor schmucks simply lift themselves out of poverty. Boy, does history repeat itself. This is a direct parallel to that wonderful period in American public policy known as the Gilded Age, in which regulation and government aid to the disadvantaged were nonexistent and scorned. Corporations roamed free of any constraints and ferociously oppressed their workers, the environment, and the general public with absolute impunity. This was also the period when popular middle class lore held true to a Horatio Alger story, where every poor man, woman, and child, could lift themselves up by their bootstraps and join the wealthy...if only they had just a little more entrepreneurial spirit, that is. Parts of the dreadful Gilded Age have already resurfaced; note that the gap between rich and poor began widening again with the "reforms" of the Reagan Administration, and now the wealthiest 5% control 34% of all wealth in America, while the poorest 20% control only 3.2%. Please, let's hope that the last tenet of financial security in American economics, the last hope of the New Deal, will still stand.

But don't let my pessimism crush your spirit. Read the Center for American Progress's Dean Baker on social security reform.
http://www.americanprogress.org/site/pp.asp?c=biJRJ8OVF&b=292195

White House Forces Social Security Administration to Mislead Public

The Social Security Administration is supposed to be a neutral institution focused on serving the American public and staying above partisan politics. Not any more. According to the New York Times, the Social Security Administration recently developed a new "tactical plan" to help the White House market its all-out campaign to convince Americans the system is in crisis. Internal documents show Social Security officials told employees to get the word out that "Social Security's long-term financing problems are serious and need to be addressed soon."

The White House is using the Social Security Administration to mislead and confuse Americans. The new crisis-marketing plan also said Social Security managers should "discuss solvency issues at staff meetings," "insert solvency messages in all Social Security publications" and spread the word at places like farmers' markets and "big box retail stores." Another internal document "encourages the agency's public affairs specialists to spread the word that 'Social Security reform is a presidential priority' and personal accounts are an essential element of his approach."

The Social Security Administration is not another propaganda tool of the White House. In 1994, Congress passed legislation to establish a three-person, independent oversight board for the Social Security Administration, removing it from the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates as part of the politically minded White House. The bipartisan bill – which passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate – was supported across the board by nearly every organization with an interest in Social Security, including the AARP, the National Council of Senior Citizens and the AFL-CIO.

Americans have seen this ploy before on Medicare and education – use scare tactics to push unsound policies and then use taxpayer money and government employees to back up the claims. The White House pulled this same routine to force through a prescription drug program that was a huge windfall for the drug sector. The administration also diverted money from the critically underfunded No Child Left Behind to pay conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to shill for its education policy. President Bush should stop using Social Security trust fund money to promote his efforts to radically undermine the most successful social program in U.S. history. Americans shouldn't have to pay for the demise of their own retirement security plan.

From The Center for American Progress

Rice Still Doesn't Get It

In confirmation hearings yesterday, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's nominee for Secretary of State, sidestepped multiple opportunities to reveal some depth of moral and intellectual concern for the grave situation in Iraq. At every turn, her response was simply that things are going great and that history will be kind to President Bush.
  • Rice confirmed that the Bush administration has no viable exit plan for Iraq. Rice yesterday refused to offer any idea if and when American troops might be withdrawn from Iraq. Citing concern among Iraqi and American officials that the U.S. plans to cut and run in Iraq, Sen. Biden (D-DE) asked Rice if there was any "reasonable possibility that the United States would withdraw the bulk of its forces before the end of 2005." Rice replied, "I can't judge that."
  • Rice drastically overstated the number of trained Iraqi forces. Any viable exit strategy for Iraq must included hundreds of thousands of trained Iraqi armed forces. Due to the administration's early mismanagement of the war, and its inability to bring in international support for training efforts, we are nowhere near that number. Yet, Rice yesterday estimated that the number of Iraq trained forces was "somewhere over 120,000." Biden, who was recently in Iraq, sharply contradicted her: "I think you'll find, if you speak to the folks on the ground, they don't think there's more than 4,000 actually trained Iraqi forces."
  • Like Alberto Gonzales, Rice refused to condemn torture committed by Americans. Rice declined to make a clear statement against the use of torture yesterday. Citing instances of forced nudity and simulated drowning as interrogation techniques, Sen. Dodd (D-CT) asked Rice, "What are your views on that, is that torture, in your view, or not?" Rice "declined to characterize" the abusive methods, saying such determinations were made by the justice department and that it wouldn't be "appropriate" for her to comment.
From The Center for American Progress

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Rice faces tough questions

At her confirmation hearing today, Secretary of State nominee Condoleeza Rice faced many tough questions over the Bush administration's policies on Iraq and the war on terrorism. Rice was questioned by Senators Joseph Biden, John Kerry, and Barbara Boxer, who leveled a number of important questions that Rice tried to dodge. Rice referred to charges made by Senator Barbara Boxer, D-California, as "an attack on her integrity."

Here's some of the excerpts from Boxer's exchange with Rice:

"So in your statement it takes you to page three to mention the word "Iraq." Then you mention it in the context of elections -- which is fine -- but you never even mention indirectly the 1,366 American troops that have died, or the 10,372 who have been wounded -- many mentally, as a report that I read over the weekend that maybe a third will come home and need help because of what they saw -- it's been so traumatic to them. And 25 percent of those dead are from my home state. And this from a war that was based on what everyone now says, including your own administration, were falsehoods about WMDs, weapons of mass destruction. And I've had tens of thousands of people from all over the country say that they disagree -- although they respect the president -- they disagree that this administration and the people in it shouldn't be held accountable." - Sen. Barbara Boxer

"Senator, I have to say that I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything. It is not my nature. It is not my character. And I would hope that we can have this conversation and discuss what happened before and what went on before and what I said without impugning my credibility or my integrity." - Condoleeza Rice

"I want to read you a paragraph that best expresses my views, and ask my staff if they would hold this up -- and I believe the views of millions of Californians and Americans. It was written by one of the world's experts on terrorism, Peter Bergen, five months ago. He wrote: "What we have done in Iraq is what bin Laden could not have hoped for in his wildest dreams: We invaded an oil-rich Muslim nation in the heart of the Middle East, the very type of imperial adventure bin Laden has long predicted was the U.S.'s long-term goal in the region. We deposed the secular socialist Saddam, whom bin Laden has long despised, ignited Sunni and Shi'a fundamentalist fervor in Iraq, and have now provoked a defensive jihad that has galvanized jihad- minded Muslims around the world. It's hard to imagine a set of policies better designed to sabotage the war on terror." This conclusion was reiterated last Thursday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank, which released a report saying that Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of professionalized terrorists. That's your own administration's CIA. NIC chairman Robert Hutchings said Iraq is, quote, "a magnet for international terrorist activity." - Sen. Barbara Boxer

"But Senator Boxer, we went to war not because of aluminum tubes. We went to war because this was the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a man against whom we had gone to war before, who threatened his neighbors, who threatened our interests, who was one of the world's most brutal dictators. And it was high time to get rid of him, and I'm glad that we're rid of him." - Condoleeza Rice

"And here's the real kicker. On October 10th, '04, on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, three months ago, you were asked about CIA Director Tenet's remark that prior to the war he had, quote, "made it clear to the White House that he thought the nuclear-weapons program was much weaker than the program to develop other WMDs. Your response was this: "The intelligence assessment was that he was reconstituting his nuclear program; that, left unchecked, he would have a nuclear weapon by the end of the year." So here you are, first contradicting the president and then contradicting yourself. So it's hard to even ask you a question about this, because you are on the record basically taking two sides of an issue. And this does not serve the American people." - Sen. Barbara Boxer

"Saddam Hussein was a threat, yes, because he was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And, yes, we thought that he had stockpiles which he did not have. We had problems with the intelligence. We are all, as a collective polity of the United States, trying to deal with ways to get better intelligence. But it wasn't just weapons of mass destruction. He was also a place -- his territory was a place where terrorists were welcomed, where he paid suicide bombers to bomb Israel, where he had used Scuds against Israel in the past." - Condoleeza Rice

While Rice's confirmation is no doubt inevitable, it is reassuring to see that senators like Barbara Boxer, John Kerry, and Joseph Biden are willing to go on the record and ask the tough questions that need to be asked.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Permanent Defense launches Homestead Exemption Center

NPI's Permanent Defense last week launched its Homestead Exemption Center, opening up its 2005 campaign to enact real tax reform for Washington State. On the Center's main page is a description of what the Homestead Exemption is:

The Homestead Exemption is tax reform legislation - basically, it's a proposal that would shield from all state and local property tax a portion of a household's primary residence, equal to 20% of the local county's median property value.

A Homestead Exemption would reform the tax structure because middle and lower income families currently bear most of the tax burden. This proposal would deliver tax relief to the majority of homeowning taxpayers in Washington State.
We encourage you to take a look at the Homestead Exemption Center and see what Permanent Defense is doing to oppose Tim Eyman and fight for tax reform.

HorsesAss.org having problems

One of our fellow progressive Washingtonian bloggers was having some problems: the HorsesAss.org blog (run by David Goldstein, a.k.a Goldy) temporarily crashed Sunday evening but was partially back up just a couple hours before Monday, January 17th. It was fully back up early Monday morning.

As of 11:05 PM Sunday evening, all of the comments for HorsesAss.org whad been down but regular posts were back up and viewable after all of them had disappeared. Comments were restored shortly after 12 AM.

The blog had been displaying errors when trying to load:
Warning: fread(): Length parameter must be greater than 0. in /home/httpd/vhosts/horsesass.org/httpdocs/lp_source.php on line 35

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/httpd/vhosts/horsesass.org/httpdocs/lp_source.php:35) in /home/httpd/vhosts/horsesass.org/httpdocs/lp_source.php on line 56

Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/httpd/vhosts/horsesass.org/httpdocs/lp_source.php:35) in /home/httpd/vhosts/horsesass.org/httpdocs/lp_source.php on line 87

Database error: [Can't open file: 'wp_comments.MYD'. (errno: 145)]
SELECT ID, COUNT( comment_ID ) AS ccount FROM wp_posts LEFT JOIN wp_comments ON ( comment_post_ID = ID AND comment_approved = '1') WHERE post_status = 'publish' AND ID IN (379,378,377,376,375,374,373,372,
371,370,369,368,367,366,
365,364,363,362,361,360) GROUP BY ID
The blog's calendar and poll were also temporarily disabled but they are once again visible on the site.

The blog is fully operational again.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Right attempting to destroy Growth Management

An ugly, fearsome combination of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), the state Grange (responsible for the backwards primary system), the Bainbridge Citizens United, other groups, such as Citizens Alliance for Property Rights (King County) - and Tim Eyman - met in Olympia just this last week to consider running an initiative that would basically destroy our state's Growth Management Act, which currently prevents developers from putting Wal*Marts, condos, and shopping centers all over the countryside.

These so-called "property-rights" advocates (as if property somehow had rights) want to force the government to compensate landowners for the amount of money their property would have been worth if they were to have, say, built a Wal*Mart on it. They (the King County anti-CAO activists) are really mad because Seattle has less development restrictions. But Seattle isn't the countryside.

A few quotes from today's Seattle Times article (AP):

Washington state's initiative king, Tim Eyman, is offering support to groups interested in a version of Oregon's controversial land-use law, which stresses private-property rights and can force government compensation to landowners.

"The conclusion was the time was ripe for such an initiative," said Gary Tripp of a group called Bainbridge Citizens United. "We are going to draft an initiative ASAP."

Eyman said he went to offer support for a property-rights initiative, not to lead one. But he figures there's no "if" about an initiative — it's just a question of when.
Both NPI and Permanent Defense will be heavily involved in the fight against this ridiculously senseless idea. We'll join groups like 1000 Friends of Washington and the Sierra Club to prevent these people from taking out the state's anti-sprawl measures. We'll be posting a lot more on this issue later.

The fight this year has just begun.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

A Much-Needed PR Offensive Against Wal-Mart

From the January/February issue of The Humanist:

What good is $250 billion in revenue if nobody loves you? Yesterday, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott launched a public relations campaign aimed to restore the company's tarnished image. He's begun lashing out at the company's critics, claiming Wal-Mart is the victim of a misinformation campaign. Displaying its trademark light touch, Wal-Mart placed 100 full-page advertisements in major newspapers laying out its side of the story. The advertisement declares, "everyone is entitled to their own opinions about our company, but they are not entitled to make up their own facts." But Wal-Mart presents an incomplete and dishonest account of how it treats its employees. Here's the straight story:

DENYING HEALTH CARE BENEFITS: Wal-Mart brags about the generous benefits package it extends to employees. But the company fails to mention that "only 40% of the company's one million U.S. employees are currently enrolled in its healthcare plan, leaving close to 600,000 of its employees acquiring health insurance elsewhere — or not at all." Part of the reason behind this embarrassingly low uninsured rate – the national rate for insured employees at other large companies is 66 percent – could be the obstacles Wal-Mart places in front of workers seeking access to the health care plan. In spite of an astounding 60 percent annual turnover rate for its employees, the waiting period for enrollment eligibility was increased to six months for full-time employees and two years for part-time employees. If part-time employees make it over this hurdle, they still cannot buy coverage for spouses or children. It's also a wonder why their employees would even want to sign up for the health insurance plan as Wal-Mart "shifts much of the health care costs onto employees."

LEECHING OFF GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE: In the advertisement, Wal-Mart continues on to praise itself for paying "almost twice the federal minimum wage" to its hourly store associates and listing the many benefits that come with employment. However, wages for many Wal-Mart employees are so low that they are forced to rely on government assistance – especially for health care. In Washington State, subsidized insurance for the workers who aren't covered by their employers costs taxpayers "several million dollars annually." Some state lawmakers have had enough. Legislation has been drafted that would "force big business to help pay for the state's Basic Health Plan." The legislation has been nicknamed the "Wal-Mart bill." And not without justification – of those enrolled in the taxpayer subsidized health plan who are employed, more work at Wal-Mart than anywhere else. Citizen interest in the bill "drew crowds of people to a hearing last week in Olympia." In Georgia, a new AFL-CIO study found 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees were enrolled in Georgia's public health insurance program. As comparison, the next highest employer was Publix, with 734 children enrolled.

ABUSING HOURLY EMPLOYEES: Wal-Mart claims that "seventy-four percent of [its] hourly associates in the United States work full-time." What the company chooses not to address is the nearly 40 wage-and-hour lawsuits currently filed against them. In Washington state for example, a class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart alleges that the corporation routinely "engaged in a 'systematic scheme of wage abuse'" in which it "pressured hourly employees not to report all their time worked, failed to keep true time records…failed to give employees full rest or meal breaks, threatened to fire or demote employees who would not work off the clock, [and] required workers to attend unpaid meetings and computer training." (Be sure to read about other ways Wal-Mart keeps its employees after hours and takes their hard-earned and dutifully deserved wages.)

DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN: The self-aggrandizing advertisement also highlights the claim that Wal-Mart promotes "from within." It just doesn't get into the messy details of who gets the "tap on the shoulder." According to a report citing findings from a 2003 article in The Financial Times, "two-thirds of the company's hourly workers are female [but] women hold only one-third of managerial positions and constitute less than 15 percent of store managers. And June 22 marked the certification of Dukes v. Wal-Mart as a class-action lawsuit brought against Wal-Mart for discriminatory practices in its wage payments and promotion decisions. The judge determined that the sex discrimination suit "presented largely uncontested statistics that women are paid less than men in every region, pay disparities exist in most job categories, that the salary gap widens over time and that the higher one looks in the organization, the lower the percentage of women.'" Up to 1.6 million current or former female employees stand to benefit from the suit.

DENYING WORKERS THE RIGHT TO ORGANIZE BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY: Of the many "perks" that should come with being employed at Wal-Mart, workers' right to organize – internationally "recognized as a core labor standard and a basic human right" – is not mentioned. This glaring absence is not a mistake: "Wal-Mart has consistently stated that it will not bargain with any union, and has repeatedly taken drastic steps to prevent workers from organizing in stores across North America." Managers at Wal-Marts even have a "hotline to call so that company specialists can respond rapidly and head off any attempt by employees to organize." The various strategies that Wal-Mart has employed to get around unions have resulted in the company being hit with over 100 charges, complaints, and rebukes by United Food and Commercial Workers, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the United States government. Despite facing grand jury investigations, National Labor Review Board judges, and class action suits, behind closed doors, Wal-Mart applauds its "union avoidance strategy."

Under the Radar - Headlines You Won't Hear on Fox News or CNN

From The New Republic:

HOUSING – BUSH TO HUD: PACK IT UP!: One of the many controversial proposals in Bush's upcoming 2006 budget will "drastically shrink the Department of Housing and Urban Development's $8 billion community branch." While some of the programs are being slashed outright – economic development projects and rural housing programs – other anti-poverty efforts are bound to be lost in the shuffle when they are transferred over to the Labor and Commerce Departments, where they will be forced to compete for monies in a new arena with a budget that won't make room for them. Though administration officials claim the shift is meant to consolidate duplicates and eliminate the inefficient, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) revealed the truth behind the simply "appalling" proposal: "I'm always willing to look at consolidations, but clearly they're using consolidation as a shield for substantial budget reductions." Ultimately, the proposal could lead to HUD losing "a quarter of its $31 billion budget."

ENVIRONMENT – CLEAR SKIES MIGHT NOT BE SMILING FOR LONG: If the federal judiciary ever releases its block on President Bush's "Clear Skies" bill, we might have to retool some of the lyrics about "skies of blue" and "clouds of white" in Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." According to a preliminary report released by the National Academy of Sciences, an 18-member panel of academics and scientists found that "the Bush administration's bill to curb air pollution from power plans would reduce air pollution less than the current Clean Air act rules." Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT), "ranking minority member on the Environment and Public Works Committee," stated that the findings are just further evidence of the ill-conceived changes that the Bush administration has been making to the Clean Air Act. The Senator continued on to point out that "They want to replace existing programs…that have documented benefits, with a proposal that is weaker and slower when it comes to reducing emissions and protecting health and the environment."

SOCIAL SECURITY – HIJACKING FDR: A callous attempt to hijack the historical legacy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the name of Social Security privatization has been rebuffed by FDR's grandson. "My grandfather would surely oppose the ideas now being promoted by this administration and your organization," James Roosevelt Jr. wrote in a letter to Progress for America, a conservative advocacy group founded in 2001 by a political director of the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign. The group released an ad this week featuring images of Roosevelt and comparing the Bush administration's privatization plans to FDR's legislation creating the Social Security system. In his letter, Roosevelt Jr. charges, "[T]o compare the courage it took to provide a guaranteed insurance program for our seniors and the disabled to the courage it will take to dismantle the most successful social program in history is simply unconscionable."

IRAQ – "WE'RE LOSING": Outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell has issued his bleakest assessment of Iraq yet, just two weeks out from the country's first elections since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government. Relaying an account from former U.S. ambassador Chas Freeman, the Financial Times reports that Bush recently asked Powell for his views on Iraq. "'We're losing,' Mr Powell was quoted as saying. Mr. Freeman said Mr. Bush then asked the secretary of state to leave." The anecdote appears to confirm two recent developments regarding U.S.-Iraq policy. On the one hand, prominent Republican moderates like Powell are issuing increasingly downcast prognoses of the prospects for stability in Iraq even after the election, and are openly discussing the possibility of withdrawing U.S. forces. On the other hand, according to the insider D.C. tip sheet, the Nelson Report, President Bush is consciously refusing to consider unpleasant reports about the situation in Iraq. According to the report, "attempts to brief Bush on various grim realities have been personally rebuffed by the President, who actually says that he does not want to hear 'bad news.'"

HEALTH – REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS ROLLBACK: NARAL Pro-Choice America has released its 14th annual report on the status of reproductive rights in America, and the results are cause for concern. Among NARAL's findings: If Roe v. Wade were overturned, 19 states would quickly outlaw abortion, while another 19 could follow closely behind. In 2004 alone, state legislatures considered 714 anti-choice measures – an increase of 28 percent over the previous year's figure. Alarmingly, a bill banning abortions throughout pregnancy failed by just one vote in the South Dakota Senate, and is expected to pass this year.

Martin Luther King Day - Expressing Reverence Through Action

From the Center for American Progress:

Over the objections of Vice President Cheney and Senator Trent Lott, Americans will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday. King will be honored for many things, as "prime mover of the Montgomery bus boycott, keynote speaker at the March on Washington, [and America's] youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate." But it is important to recognize all the progressive challenges King laid out for America. Providing an inspiring example of how faith can be translated into the public realm, Dr. King used his pulpit to confront – besides racial inequality – poverty, war, civil liberties, hunger and global justice, among other things. "God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here," King said, "and his children who can't eat three square meals a day…This is what we have to do." King challenged Americans to surmount the "apathy of conformist thought," and stand up for a series of specific and connected progressive causes.

ECONOMIC JUSTICE: In the months immediately preceding his death on April 4, 1968, King turned his attention almost exclusively to the problem of poverty. He called for a guaranteed family income, threatened national boycotts, and spoke of disrupting entire cities by nonviolent "camp-ins." King was interested in more than charity; he wanted to effect structural changes that would guarantee a better chance for America's poor. "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar," he said, "it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." Thirty-seven years after King's death, the "edifice" still needs work. In the last four years, our supposedly "compassionate" president has rammed through three separate tax cuts for the wealthy, greatly increasing the burden on low- and middle-income Americans. The result? Under President Bush, poverty rates have risen for three straight years and the number of people without health insurance has grown to 45 million.

A CARING COMMUNITY: King worked to create an America where inequality – whether racial or economic – was seen as a moral issue. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," King said. "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." The Bush administration's position? Portray the poor as mentally unsound: "I do not believe being poor is a condition," said Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson, "it is a state of mind. Perhaps it is with this theory in mind that President Bush has failed to support programs benefiting America's least fortunate, like Section 8 housing and Medicaid. In addition, his administration has undermined programs designed to improve economic development in low-income areas, like the Community Reinvestment Act, and today announced it would "drastically shrink" the Department of Housing's $8 billion community branch.

GLOBAL JUSTICE: King was outspoken on the issue of global justice. He was worried about those with great wealth but little conscience, who invested huge sums of money in the world's poor nations "only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries." It's good thing King didn't get a look at Halliburton, the vice president's former company, now being investigated for bribing, overcharging and defrauding foreign governments from which it has hauled in huge profits. Today, the U.S. has made it easier for multinational companies to profit with "no concern for the social betterment" of their own country either, reducing corporate taxes and refusing to close the so-called "Bermuda loophole" that allows companies to move their offices offshore to avoid U.S. taxes.

FOREIGN POLICY: King vehemently opposed the Vietnam War, not just because he was against violence, but because he saw how the war could undermine America's credibility abroad. King could have been speaking of the quandary in Iraq when he warned, "The judgment of God is upon us today...We have alienated ourselves from other nations so we end up morally and politically isolated in the world." Polls show that since the Iraq invasion, America's reputation has plummeted worldwide. According to the report by the Defense Science Board published in November, the Bush administration's disdain for international bodies and treaties, its unilateralism and failure to communicate with other nations, has left America, precisely as King predicted it would, "morally and politically isolated in the world."

Friday, January 14, 2005

A Day On - Not a Day Off

As many of you know, Martin Luther King day is next Monday, January 17th. This should be more than a federal holiday, more than simply a nice, easy three-day weekend. Martin Luther King was one of the most influential reformers of modern history, and his enduring legacy is not something that should be taken lightly. In the words of our now ex-governor Gary Locke, Martin Luther King Day is "a day on, not a day off."

While we remember the monumental gains for African-Americans MLK helped to achieve and the millions of people he inspired to work for social and economic justice, we must also remember that his dream did not die with him on April 4th, 1968. The quest for social and economic justice, contrary to popular belief, has not yet been won. We must take Dr. King's immortal words, "I have a dream," to heart as we work for the benefit of all Americans, indeed all humanity. It is imperative that we take principled stands while not veering off into rigid ideological delusion, demagoguery, or political opportunism. Though reform and principled change may not be politically popular, they must be championed each and every day, lest King's ideals fall to the wayside. It is important to remember that King was publicly vilified for much of his career and was, in effect, rocking the delicate status quo of the 1950s that few wanted to disrupt. An important lesson can be learned here: what is right is not always popular, nor is that which is popular always right.

And here's where progressives can take charge. Alas, much of Dr. King's dream has been as yet unfulfilled. African-Americans are still more likely to find themselves in prison than they are in universities, more likely to be in poverty than any other ethnic group, and even today face discrimination everywhere from housing to the workplace. Other minorities lag behind in education and employment. King's message can be applied to poor whites as well, many of whom are a mere paycheck away from homelessness and starvation. Solving these dilemmas must be the mission of progressives everywhere if we are to remain a potent force in American politics.

So on Martin Luther King Day, don't simply revel in your day off. Get off your butt and do something in accordance with Dr. King's legacy. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, a nursing home, a daycare center, a park, anywhere you feel you can make a difference. MLK Day should be a day of community stewardship, not one of lethargy.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Conservative Opposition to Social Security Privatization Mounting

Conservatives in Congress are already peeling off from the president's still unspecified plan to kill Social Security. Their arguments? The system is solvent; benefit cuts will hurt seniors; and the country can not afford to add $2 trillion in debt given the current strain on the nation's finances.
Weekly Standard editor William Kristol stated that Republicans are "bewildered why this is such a White House priority." Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT) stated, "Why stir up a political hornet's nest . . . when there is no urgency?" Conservatives are right to challenge the motivation behind the president's scheme to dismantle the nation's most successful social program.

  • Privatization will not make Social Security solvent. The big lie behind the president's non-plan is that privatization will somehow shore up the Social Security trust fund and ensure future benefits. But private accounts will only speed up the financial problems and the system while exponentially expanding budget deficits that will threaten the overall economy.
  • Privatization is merely an ideological scheme to secure more voters and political contributions from Wall Street. The president's top advisors, including Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, admit the privatization plan is a political ploy to turn FDR's most enduring legacy into a GOP voter and money machine. They have no intention of fixing Social Security for the long term. They are out to dismantle guaranteed benefits in retirement by luring younger voters into the false notion that the stock market will answer all their retirement needs. Wall St. investment bankers—already huge donors to the president—are estimated to reap hundreds of billions of dollars in profits from the scheme.
  • Americans should support efforts to increase retirement savings—outside the guaranteed Social Security system. Social Security has always been a retirement supplement. Seniors also need private savings and pensions and the government should encourage Americans to save outside of the Social Security system. Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Gene Sperling has put forth a solid alternative plan of universal 401(k)'s that would help lower income citizens save additional funds, in addition to Social Security, to help secure a full retirement.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Difficult Issues Ahead for Next Homeland Security Chief

Michael Chertoff, President Bush's new nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security, faces many unresolved challenges in better protecting Americans at home. As a new report by the Center for American Progress argues, homeland security requires a greater sense of urgency and commitment of resources. The government must increase efforts to prevent catastrophic terrorism against targets where the threat and consequences of attack are most significant, primarily port security, air cargo, and chemical facilities. The private sector must be better prepared, since 85 percent of our critical infrastructure rests in private hands. And federal, state and local governments must work together to create more integrated and efficient security efforts.

  1. The Bush administration is spending more to secure Iraq than it is to secure the American homeland. Unfortunately, the Bush administration up to this point has created a false division between homeland security and other dimensions of national security. The first order of business for Chertoff should be to raise the sense of urgency about critical gaps in our own security; set clear security standards and require mandates where voluntary approaches fall short; and seriously increase funding commitments to help plug these gaps over the long term.
  2. Preventing a catastrophic terrorist attack on our soil is our number one priority. Chemical and nuclear facilities, ports, air cargo and railways remain extremely vulnerable to terrorist attack. With potentially millions of lives and billions of dollars in the domestic economy at stake, we must take all necessary steps to increase security measures at our weakest points.
  3. America needs an integrated national security budget and strategic planning process to fully protect us at home and abroad. The administration should provide the Congress a consolidated national security budget (including the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security and other relevant agencies) to fully assess the trade offs and needs for genuine national security. The National Security and Homeland Security Councils should be combined to streamline strategic planning and a new national security strategy should be developed that recognizes challenges both at home and abroad.

Source: Center for American Progress

Governor Gregoire is inaugurated

We can finally call her Governor Christine Gregoire.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate was officially sworn in today as Locke's successor. Already, Gregoire is assuming the mantle of being the state's next governor. She has even taken over the Governor's website.

Here are her inaugural remarks to the state Legislature:


Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, distinguished justices of the court, honored officials, members of the Washington state legislature, members of the Consular Corps, and fellow citizens:

I am honored and humbled to be your new governor, and to have the opportunity to lead the people of this great state.

As I stand here today, I am mindful that this opportunity – like all the opportunities in this state – are the legacy of those who came before us.

And speaking of legacy – I am especially honored to have former governors Rosellini, Gardner, Lowry and Governor Locke and First Lady Mona Locke here today.

These are our state’s foremost experts on the subject of legacy, and every person in this state owes them a debt of gratitude.

I certainly have many people to thank personally for the legacy I was given.

I have my mom to thank.

As you may know, she was a short order cook and I am very proud of her.

I have her to thank for solid values – forgiveness, compassion, respect and caring -- for my work ethic, and the love she provided me.

She taught me to laugh and enjoy life.

She also taught me one thing over and over again: the importance of education.

I know her proudest moments came when I graduated from college and from law school.

I have Mr. Reis, my sixth grade English teacher, to thank.

Vernon Reis opened the world to me through books.

He taught me that while I was physically firmly planted in blue-collar Auburn, Washington in the 50s and early 60s, intellectually I could go anywhere, explore anything, and sample exciting new ideas simply by opening a book.

Mr. Reis, will you please stand?

I have Fred Faber, a Moses Lake businessman, to thank.

He was like a father to me, and made me a part of his family.

Fred taught me to pursue my dreams – he even paid my tuition to attend law school – and generously and wisely taught me never to let barriers get in the way of your dreams.

While he has passed away, his legacy lives warmly on in my memory and his family is my family.

Allow me to introduce the Faber family.

I have Dr. Chris Griffith, an Olympia surgeon, to thank.

In those dark days after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was truly blessed to have him for support, along with my family and church.

This talented, compassionate, caring surgeon really gets it when it comes to bedside manner, and I can’t imagine going through that terrible ordeal without him.

When I called Dr. Griffith to ask him to come today and thank him again for his support, he wisely noted, “we are all patients at some time in our lives.”

Dr. Griffith could not be with us today; he is in surgery, quite likely saving another life.

I have Father Michael Ryan, who gave today’s invocation, to thank.

Father Mike baptized our daughter Michelle, and to this day, he likes to whisper to me, in a voice loud enough so she can always hear, that if the baptism didn’t take, we can do it again.

Like many of you, my spiritual life guides me, and Father Mike helped me transform my religion into a living faith.

And Father Mike connected our family to one of the anchors in our lives – our church group.

Father Mike, and our church group, will you please stand?

And, of course, I have my family to thank.

I want to thank my wonderful husband and daughters, who, in the last year, have seen me through a bout with cancer, a long campaign, and two recounts.

I would like you to meet the first First Gentleman of this state, Mike Gregoire.

He is the best husband I could have asked for – an outstanding father to our two daughters, and proud veteran who served this country in Vietnam.

He is retired now, and plans to invest his time in working to improve the lives of his fellow veterans.

Our two daughters are Courtney, who is in her last semester at law school, and Michelle, a college sophomore. Mike and I like to say we are getting poorer by degrees.

For all you parents of teenagers, I have some good news for you. If you are as fortunate as Mike and I, you can look forward to seeing your relationship change from a test of wills with a teen, to becoming the best of friends.

And finally, I’d like you to meet some members of my extended family. Some have come from as far away as Florida and North Dakota.

I mention these vital people in my life because we all have a chance to have a positive influence in the lives of others.

We all leave personal legacies for the people we know and love.

And as elected officials, we have a special obligation to leave an even larger legacy of opportunity, prosperity, and optimism.

As we gather here today, it seems fitting to ask, what will our legacy be?

Will we leave a legacy of holding government accountable, cutting through the red tape and breaking down the barriers that hinder business development?

Will we leave a legacy of strong democratic institutions and faith in government?

Will we work to provide health care for every child in this state?

Will we dramatically lower our high school dropout rate, and help every young person fulfill his or her full potential?

That’s exactly what I’m here to do – not alone, but together with all of you, Republican and Democrat alike.

Think about the legacy we have inherited:

Our agricultural products are among the finest in the world.

We have Pacific Rim ports that are major economic engines for our state’s thriving international trade.

We are a global leader in aviation, high-tech, biotech, and health care.

Our state is a magnet for smart, creative people, and we have well-trained workers, and well-educated scientists and entrepreneurs.

We have fine universities, some on the leading edge of research and innovation, and one of the nation’s best systems of community and technical colleges.

In the last decade, our public schools and teachers have done heroic work to raise the academic achievement levels of our children.

We have a rich and diverse cultural heritage, vibrant arts, and a spirit of openness and inclusion.

We are also blessed with a unique legacy of natural resources and landscapes so beautiful they attract tourists from around the world.

We have so much to be thankful for.

It’s our responsibility to pass on what we inherited, not to squander it, but to build on it.

And frankly, I worry about the legacy we may leave.

When citizens don’t have confidence their tax dollars are being used efficiently and effectively, we have work to do.

When we lose 20 percent of our manufacturing jobs in five years, we have work to do.

When half a million people have no health insurance, we have work to do.

When children start kindergarten already behind because they didn’t get early education, we have work to do.

When a third of our high school students don’t finish high school on time, we have work to do.

And when Hood Canal, Puget Sound, Lake Roosevelt, and the Spokane River are polluted, we have work to do.

This is not an easy time to lead.

Much has been written about red states and blue states and the great political divide – not to mention the razor thin governor’s race here.

Many have asked how I can govern without a clear mandate from the voters.

I believe the voters have given all of us a mandate – a mandate to overcome our differences, and to solve problems.

Truly, the challenges we face are not Democratic challenges or Republican challenges.

In fact, they are not political challenges at all; they are fiscal challenges, and educational challenges, and the challenges of figuring out how to take care of each other and create a future worthy of our children.

It is healthy to have differences of opinion about how to rise to these challenges.

It is unhealthy to let those differences paralyze us.

We can leave our legacy only if we are willing to change – to go beyond partisan labels, and to solve the problems facing Washingtonians.

We can build the strength of the center of our political spectrum – that ground where left and right converge and move forward.

This is the imperative of our election.

Our divisions are not nearly as deep as others may think.

All of us basically want the same things: opportunity for our children, and prosperity for our families and communities.

We want state government agencies that are accountable, efficient and effective.

We want affordable health care and college tuition, and successful businesses that provide good jobs.

We want a wholesome culture that makes the most of our diverse heritage.

And we want a clean and sustainable environment that contributes to our quality of life.

Clearly the election recount ordeal of the last two months has challenged us, and among our challenges this session is election reform.

We want every vote to count – and to be counted right the first time.

I will, therefore, create a task force, chaired by Secretary of State Sam Reed, and former State Senator Betti Sheldon, to review our election process and report back to me and to the legislature with recommended reforms by March 1st.

This task force will travel the state and listen carefully to suggestions from citizens on how we can move forward with improvements in our election system.

Speaking of what government must do better, I believe we all agree there is a need for change in Olympia.

Change is here and more is coming.

Let me give you an example of where we are headed.

Today, businesses are regulated by, and pay taxes to multiple government agencies.

They face a blizzard of paperwork, threats of penalties, different due dates, and different definitions of who has to pay what and do what.

And if they have multiple locations or branches, government will multiply the number of forms and regulations they have to cope with.

So I want to make my views about this perfectly clear: No business in Washington should have to put up with all of that.

I believe that the vast majority of regulated businesses want to do the right thing, and we should make that easier instead of harder.

I will propose legislation to establish a new government management accountability and performance approach in state government -- GMAP for short.

We must hold state agencies accountable. We will require agencies to be more effective and efficient in achieving results, and ensuring that public tax dollars are being spent wisely.

This is a significant challenge. And change involves measured risk.

As Governor Booth Gardner once told me, if you are succeeding 10 times out of 10, you’re not taking enough risk.

So I want to say that I am willing to take risks, and willing to tolerate failure as long as we admit it, can learn from it and keep moving forward.

I will challenge agency directors to take good risks, and to pursue innovative changes that make life better for business and for our citizens.

There will be some failures, but we will learn from them and move on.

I will ask a lot of state employees because I intend to pay them fairly, and because I respect and admire them.

In the Attorney General’s office, I was proud that our employees contributed over $5,000 to tsunami relief efforts in 24 hours after that disaster struck.

They didn’t wait for the national appeals. They acted quickly, decisively and generously. They knew they couldn’t single-handedly overcome the tragedy of the tsunami – but they united to do what they could, and they made a positive difference.

We must do the same to address another overwhelming challenge -- political gridlock and escalating prices in our health care system.

There is just no reason why the richest nation in the world can’t provide health care to all its people.

This is a national problem that begs for a national solution.

We can’t truly solve this problem at the state level.

But we can make a difference.

We can expand access to affordable health insurance by providing a pooled state health plan to business, so they can afford to offer insurance to their employees. Every employee should have access to doctors like Chris Griffith.

We can make prescription drugs more affordable by pooling our purchases.

We can make importation of drugs from Canada legal.

And we can set a goal of all our children having health care coverage by 2010.

We all are united in the knowledge that we need to get Washingtonians back to work.

Since 2001, this state has lost nearly 100,000 jobs.

Toward that end, I am proposing the creation of a Life Sciences Discovery Fund to finance new research in two areas: debilitating diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancer – and improving the quality and yield of our agricultural crops.

Our state has earned a special bonus because of our leadership in the national tobacco lawsuit.

I want to combine those bonus dollars with private sector and foundation funding to create a $1 billion fund that has the potential to leave a huge legacy of better health, more and better crops, and new jobs and economic opportunity on both sides of the Cascades.

It’s been said that government doesn’t create jobs, business does.

For the most part, this is true.

But government creates the environment in which businesses can excel and expand.

Small businesses, like the one Fred Faber owned, are the backbone of our economy. I will propose tax relief for small and start-up enterprises.

I will make state government a more aggressive and savvy player in economic development, and I will work to bring new jobs to the communities in this state that need them most.

We must be ready to compete in a global economy.

So I will challenge our Competitiveness Council to think globally so we can succeed locally, in every community and every corner of our state.

A strong transportation system is essential to a thriving economy and we have important challenges throughout the state – be it freight mobility concerns in Eastern Washington or the viaduct and Lake Washington bridge issues in Seattle.

I am honored to have Oregon Governor Ted Kulongowski here today.
We already have talked about working together to address our interstate bridge issues, and we plan to work together on many other issues in the years ahead.

Like our neighbors in Oregon, we are all challenged by our commitment to high academic standards that prepare every student for good jobs in the 21st century.

In 1993, we passed a sweeping education reform measure that has led to rigorous standards and real school improvement.

The education reform act made our schools accountable for results.

Now we need to make sure we have necessary funding to ensure we will get the results we’re after.

Because this need is urgent, I intend to name a broad-based bipartisan commission to find and propose efficiencies and long-term funding solutions – for early education, K – 12, and our colleges and universities.

This is a very tall order. But education is the foundation on which our future must be built.

We must provide early childhood education and coordinate our early learning programs so that every child starts kindergarten ready to learn.

A mountain of research shows us that when kids start school already behind, many never catch up.

That’s why we must make sure that every child gets the early learning that is the foundation for a successful life.

We know the positive power of teachers like Mr. Reis to help every child thrive.

We also know the consequences when children lack that vital connection with a caring teacher.

We cannot keep the faith with our children if we betray our commitments to their teachers.

That’s why we need to fund cost-of-living pay increases to teachers – something voters overwhelmingly supported.

We also need to address an educational emergency. Today, nearly a third of our high school students do not graduate on time, with their peers.

High school dropouts earn half as much as graduates.

They often are chronically unemployed and dependent on government help, and they are at higher risk to end up in our jails and prisons.

That’s why we will design our middle and high schools so no student gets lost in the crowd and disconnected from his or her own potential.

And we can’t stop with high school graduation. Today, our two- and four-year colleges are all bursting at the seams.

We need to take down the no-vacancy signs that kept 1,500 students out of college last year.

And we need to give families some certainty about the cost of college education so they can plan for the future.

Surely no issue unites us more than our appreciation for our military personnel who are bringing aid to devastated countries, defending us against terrorism, and fighting to make a free election possible in Iraq.

When those soldiers come home – and we pray daily for their safe return – we must thank them and welcome them.

Our state has a special relationship with our military services.

Our military bases are an important part of our economy, and military retirees are a growing part of our population.

We are all proud of that.

But we can also do a better job of making sure that our veterans and their families get what they need and deserve from us.

My administration will make that a very high priority, and I can assure you that Mike will remind me, probably often, of that commitment.

I know that all I’ve talked about today adds up to a very ambitious agenda.

But we live in a time when anything less would be insufficient.

We need to set an ambitious agenda, but at the same time, we need to be honest.

We cannot achieve all our goals overnight.

We will need enormous patience and persistence, not just for a single legislative session, but for the long term.

We must not promise more than we can deliver.

Governing involves tough choices between important programs – especially now, when we face a $1.8 billion budget shortfall.

We will not be able to do all we want to do this year.

But we can make progress – on job creation and business growth, on improving our education system from early learning to graduate education, on health care, environmental protection and veterans’ issues.

These are all enormous challenges.

And whether we are Democrat or Republican, old or young, rich or poor, these are our challenges.

This will require change – change in the way we think about partisan politics, and change in the way we reach out to each other and reconcile our differences.

As Gandhi so famously said, we must all “be the change we want to see in the world.”

If we want unity, we must all be unifiers.

If we want accountability, each of us must be accountable for all we do.

It is up to us to live up to the legacy that was left for us, and to leave a legacy that is worthy of our children and of future generations.

We can do this. And we can start today.

Thank you very, very much.

God bless all of you, and God bless our wonderful state.

Republicans' double standard

Columnist Joel Connelly writes in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

That Was Then: Ten days after the November election, with Dino Rossi leading in the governor's race, state Republican Chairman Chris Vance intoned that voters -- not courts -- must decide elections.

"We are very disappointed and concerned that Christine Gregoire is resorting to desperate legal tactics that will drag this election process into court, just as the Democratic Party did in Florida four years ago," said "ChairmanVance."

"John Kerry did the right thing by choosing not to drag the presidential election into court. Slade Gorton made the same choice in the 2000 election. I hope Christine Gregoire will follow their example."

After judge-shopping, Republicans go to court in Chelan County on Friday to challenge the final recount that put Gregoire in office.
It's not a surprise that "ChairmanVance" has changed his rhetoric. The GOP is all about winning, and if they have to do an about face to pursue a strategy that will help them win, they'll do that. Before the Supreme Court ruling, the Republicans were for only counting "legal, valid votes". But after the ruling, which changed nothing at all, the Republicans turned around completely and started mixing things up by throwing allegation after allegation of voter disenfranchisement, blaming the counties for what they said were examples of fraud and incompetence.

The possibility of a win is what's driving this "Re-Vote" campaign. Republicans are confident that would Rossi would win if given another chance. Whether or not Rossi would be favored to win in a second election, the fact is that there shouldn't be another chance. There's just one election. This one may have been close, but it was conducted with professionalism and scrutinized closely. It is still being scrutinized closely.

So it's time for the state to move on. Republicans could do the the entire state a favor and drop their lawsuit. But they won't. Instead, they'll drag this out as long as possible in order to de-legitimize Christine Gregoire's administration. If they want to pursue an election contest, so be it. They will need more than allegations and accusations to win in court.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Legislature certifies election

Chris Gregoire will be inaugurated as Washington's next governor tomorrow (Wednesday). The Washington State Legislature voted to certify the election after a Republican motion to postpone certification failed.

The vote to delay failed on a 65-80 vote, with 80 members of the 147-member Legislature opposing the action.

A Chelan County court will hear arguments in the lawsuit contesting the election and filed by Rossi this Friday in Wenatchee.

Earlier this morning, about 1,000 Rossi supporters rallied outside the Capitol chanting "re-vote!" About 200 Democrats gathered in a counter-demonstration, calling Rossi a "sore loser."

Democrats Rally at the Capitol

The Washington State Democrats are asking any and every Democrat that can make it to come to the Capitol for a rally today. Here's the details:

Today, Tuesday, January 11th, the legislature is scheduled to certify Chris Gregoire as governor.

But Republicans are pulling out all the stops to block this. They have blanketed the state with a media blitz of television, radio and newspaper ads.

And they claim they'll have as many as 10,000 supporters at the State Capitol on Tuesday to protest and delay Governor-elect Gregoire's certification.

We need a loud chorus to challenge them.

Tell the Republicans it's time for Rossi to concede, and let the legislature know it's time to start moving Washington forward.

Here's how you can help:

  1. Come to the Tuesday rally in Olympia. Here are the details: Tuesday, January 11th 10:30 AM State Capitol, Olympia Washington Story Pole on the north side of the Capitol Campus
  2. Let your legislator know how you feel, either by calling the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 (hours 8:30am-4:30pm) by emailing your legislator by clicking here.
  3. Write letters to your newspapers and email your friends.

Republicans are working to undermine the legitimate results of the most accurate election in Washington's history. We need your help to stop them.

To RSVP or for questions contact Chris Hayler chrish@wa-democrats.org or (206) 328-2969

Monday, January 10, 2005

Iraqi Death Squads, Anyone?

According to a recent article in Newsweek, the Pentagon is actually considering the formation of Iraqi death squads to deal with the nationalists and insurgents in the Sunni Triangle. Never mind that we've been using foreign mercenaries since the beginning of the war. Now these guys don't even have to pretend to be following international law. When one White House spokesman was asked whether the regiments would respect the Geneva Conventions, he literally chuckled.
This tactic is certainly not new, nor is it uniquely American. Ronald Reagan used CIA-sponsored death squads extensively in El Salvador when we were occupying the country during its Marxist revolution. These death squads were right-wing, so-called nationalist forces combating the insurgents, and were notorious for burning villages to the ground and ravaging the civilian population. Yet Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and many of President Bush's closest neoconservative advisors hold El Salvador - one of the poorest, most destitute countries in the Western Hemisphere - as an example somehow applicable to Iraq. This is a frightening development. I'm amazed the jingoistic, fearmongering, conservative media haven't reported on it yet. Read the full scoop from the Center for American Progress:

"To deal with the skyrocketing insurgency, the Pentagon is considering creating secret death squads in Iraq. Now, the Pentagon's brave new solution for democracy in the Middle East is to revisit the reprehensible "Salvador Option," the clandestine operation implemented by the Reagan White House in the 1980s in El Salvador. Back then, faced with losing a war against the Salvadoran rebels, the United States government funded "nationalist" forces "that allegedly included so-called death squads" which killed scores of innocent civilians. Today, according to an explosive new article in Newsweek, the Pentagon dusted off that model and has a proposal on the table to "advise, support and possibly train" secret Iraqi squads, "most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria."

WHAT THE SQUADS WOULD DO: It's unclear whether the current proposed policy would direct the Iraqi squads to assassinate their targets or "snatch" them and send them to secret facilities for interrogation. In plain language: the squads would be either hit men or kidnapper/torturers. The United States has recently come under serious criticism for whisking suspects to countries with questionable interrogation techniques. Recently, for example, a German national was allegedly kidnapped by Macedonian authorities, turned over to the United States and flown to a prison in Afghanistan where he claims to have been repeatedly beaten, all because he shared a name similar to one of the 9/11 suspects. Other reports show the CIA has employed a secret private jet to ferry terror suspects to places with terrible human rights records, such as Egypt, Jordan, Afghanistan and Libya.

EL SALVADOR AS A TEMPLATE: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has held El Salvador up as a model for Iraq. And during the recent Vice Presidential debates, Vice President Dick Cheney stated, "Twenty years ago we had a similar situation in El Salvador. We had a guerilla insurgency that controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead. And we held free elections…And today El Salvador is a whale of a lot better because we held free elections." According to a 1993 U.N.-sponsored truth commission, however, up to "90 percent of the atrocities in the conflict" were committed by the U.S.-sponsored army and its surrogates, "with the rebels responsible for 5 percent and the remaining 5 percent undetermined." These death squads "abducted members of the civilian population and of rebel groups. They tortured their hostages, were responsible for their disappearance and usually executed them."

NEGROPONTE'S NEFARIOUS NEGLIGENCE: John Negroponte, the current U.S. Ambassador in Baghdad, is no stranger to death squads. In the 1980s, Negroponte served as the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras. At the time, he was "cozy" with the chief of the Honduran national police force, Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who also ran the infamous Battalion 316 death squad. Battalion 316 "kidnapped, tortured and murdered more than 100 people between 1981 and 1984." According to Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, "Negroponte publicly adopted a see-no-evil attitude to this army death squad."

ABRAMS, THE ATROCITY APOLOGIST: President Bush also appointed neocon Elliot Abrams to be his senior adviser on the Middle East. Abrams was also a staunch supporter of the Salvador Option in the 1980s: when newspapers "reported that a U.S.-trained military unit had massacred hundreds of villagers in the tiny Salvadoran hamlet of El Mozote, Abrams told Congress the story was nothing but communist propaganda." When confronted with the United Nations report that the vast majority of "atrocities in El Salvador's civil war were committed by Reagan-assisted death squads," Abrams's response: "The administration's record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievements." Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress about Iran-Contra in 1987 – he was pardoned by George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Call To Action!

Don't Let the GOP Win the Battle for Public Opinion

The Seattle Times reports that Dino Rossi and the GOP have filed a lawsuit today in court challenging the results of the election. NPI predicted at the beginning of this week that a challenge would likely be filed on Friday. Not surprisingly, the suit was filed in Chelan County Superior Court.

The Republicans' main charges are that dead people voted in the election (a charge the Seattle P-I has spent way too much time covering), that felons voted (another dubious charge) and that some voters cast multiple ballots (more likely by accident than intentionally). But the main allegation here is that an unknown number, (perhaps hundreds) of provisional ballots were improperly fed into voting machines on Election Day.

Republicans, however, despite all their claims, do have to prove that fraud was committed, and that it was committed in favor of Gregoire. That's going to be a hard thing to prove. Republicans instead are going to try and say that there is just too much uncertainty and so the election should just be thrown out.

A Democratic attorney:
An attorney for the Democrats said she doesn't think Republicans will find any strong evidence for an election contest.

"Suspicion is not proof," said Jenny Durkan, a Gregoire confidant representing the state Democratic Party. She is not worried about a judge throwing out the mishandled provisional ballots.

"There is a strong presumption in law that you don't throw out votes just because someone made a clerical mistake," she said. "There's not even a 50-50 chance a court would rule with Republicans to set aside this election."
We will continue to bring you the breaking news as it develops.

If we don't start acting to defend our candidate and the legitimacy of this election, the Republicans are going to seize the momentum and win the governor's race by tearing down people's faith in the election and pressuring lawmakers to do their will.

The recounting may be over, but it's absolutely foolish to stop campaigning now. The GOP just spent a lot of money on a radio ad buy, (you can listen to the ad HERE) and they are urging their activists to contact legislators, write letters to the editor, and contribute to the party's coffers.

They also have people signing a petition. No doubt they will be filing lawsuits soon. What are we doing in response? Sitting on our hands? Does anybody actually think Chris Gregoire is safe? She isn't.

We've got to defend both her and the legitimacy of our elections system, because the Republicans are doing everything they can to tear it down. Contact your legislators. Send them an email (go here to find your legislator's email address) or call the legislative hotline at 1.800.562.6000 to leave a message.

Write letters to the editor. We need to get our side's opinions out there. The following is a list of the state's major newspapers. Pick a couple and write letters to the editor. It really does make a difference. We have to increase the number of letters coming in expressing our side's point of view.

Seattle Times
E-mail: opinion@seattletimes.com
Fax: (206) 382-6760
Letters Editor
The Seattle Times
PO Box 70
Seattle, WA 98111

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
E-mail: editpage@seattlepi.com
Fax: (206) 448-8184
P-I Letters to the Editor
PO Box 1909
Seattle, WA 98111-1909

Spokane Spokesman-Review
E-mail: editor@spokesman.com
Fax: (509) 459-5482
Letters to the Editor
Spokesman-Review
PO Box 2160
Spokane, WA 99210

Tacoma News Tribune
E-mail: letters@mail.tribnet.com
Fax: (253) 597-8451
The Editor
The News Tribune
PO Box 11000
Tacoma, WA 98411

King County Journal
E-mail: letterstoeditor@kingcountyjournal.com
Fax: (425) 453-4233
King County Journal
PO Box 130
Kent, WA 98035

Everett Herald
E-mail: letters@heraldnet.com
Fax: (425) 339-3498
Letters Section
The Herald
PO Box 930
Everett, WA 98206

The Columbian (Vancouver)
E-mail: letters@columbian.com
Fax: (360) 699-6033
The Columbian
PO Box 180
Vancouver, WA 98666

The Olympian
Submit Comments Via Form
Fax: 360.357.0202
The Olympian
Letters to the Editor
PO Box 407
Olympia, WA 98507

Tri-City Herald
Submit Your Comments Via Form
Tri-City Herald
P.O. Box 2608
Pasco, WA, 99302-2608

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
E-mail: letters@ubnet.com
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
PO Box 1358
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Remember to include your name, address, and daytime phone number, or your letter probably will not be published. If we don't take action, we may end up regretting it for a long time. There is a battle for public opinion and we're not doing a very good job waging that battle right now.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Democrats slam revote

Hooray for the Democratic leaders in the legislature!

They're willing to stand up to all this pressure and say that all this talk about a revote is nonsense. The Republicans think that they are sly enough to get people to embrace the concept of a revote by leveling baseless charges at county elections officials all over the state.

Clearly Democratic legislators have the good sense not to listen to this. The Republicans are just interested in winning. That is their motive, just like in 2000 when Bush's motive was purely winning. The GOP doesn't care about counting every vote. It's a convenient mantra for them right now because they're behind.

The Associated Press reports:
"We are following the rules and we need to live by those rules, and not just call for a do-over because we don't like the results," said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, at The Associated Press's Legislative Preview on Tuesday.

Democrats hold a majority in the state House and Senate. On Tuesday they stood firmly behind fellow Democrat and Gov.-elect Christine Gregoire, who beat Republican Dino Rossi by 129 votes after a hand recount of 2.9 million ballots cast. Rossi, who won the first count and a machine recount, has not conceded and may contest the election in court.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, also a Republican, said there's no evidence of any systemic problems with the military vote. Every county in the state mailed absentee ballots to registered military voters by early October, Reed said, and the U.S. Department of Justice even watched over the process to make sure it was done right.

"We have a new governor," said House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.

Gregoire on Tuesday defended the legitimacy of her election, saying Republicans were unhappy with the process only because she won.

"The vote changed, I won, and now suddenly there's something wrong," Gregoire said. "I won by 129. It's time for us to put it behind us and move on."

While Gregoire said Rossi is free to contest the election, so far she believes "there is not a shred of evidence" to support a legal challenge.

She called the idea of a revote "absolutely ludicrous."
Gregoire should be commended for standing firm. Democrats don't give in to Republican demands just so that the GOP can have another shot at winning. They don't deserve a second chance. It was a close election, but the election is over and it's time to move on.

Donate to tsunami relief

The catastrophic earthquake and resulting tsunamis have killed thousands and left millions of families in Southeast Asia grieving, homeless, and vulnerable.

Mercy Corps emergency workers are deployed across three devastated countries - India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka - and helping lead relief efforts in what's being called "the largest humanitarian operation in history."
Your immediate donation will help them continue and expand our operations during this unprecedented crisis.

The most powerful earthquake in more than 40 years wrought widespread destruction across Southeast Asia last Sunday, triggering huge tsunamis that have killed more than 156,000 people. Millions of people throughout the region have been been displaced and left homeless as a result of the sudden catastrophe.

Mercy Corps needs your help as it mounts a lifesaving response to this tragic disaster. At this moment, over twenty Mercy Corps emergency team members are either already on the ground or on their way to affected areas. More are departing for India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka in the coming days.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Democratic Rep. Matsui dies

This is terrible news. While it is not a complete surprise, it is a very unfortunate turn of events. We will greatly miss Rep. Matsui, and we salute his years of public services and his commitment to the Democratic Party.

The Sacramento Bee has the details:
U.S. Rep. Robert T. Matsui, a Sacramento native and Democratic leader who had represented the region in Congress since 1979, died Saturday night in Washington, D.C., after being hospitalized last week for pneumonia. He was 63.

Matsui, who was re-elected to his 14th term in November with 71 percent of the vote, died at the Bethesda Naval Hospital at 10:10 p.m. while surrounded by his family, according to a statement his office issued earlier today.

Matsui was one of the most prominent and senior Democrats in the Congress, and was elected two years ago to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which seeks to elect Democrats to the House.
Rest in peace. We shall not forget you or what you have done for our country. And we will carry on the fight against the privatization of Social Security as you were so willing to do.