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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Initiative Status Report (February 28th, 2006)

This is another new regular feature that we're rolling out here on the Official Blog. The Initiative Status Report will regularly provide updates about the status of the biggest right wing initiative campaigns and their signature drives. Thanks to people like Tim Eyman, filing and running initiatives and or referenda has become a year round cottage industry - so don't expect this feature to be seasonal.

Report Right Wing Signature Gathering Activity


On the Radar Screen
Initiative 917
Sponsor: Tim Eyman and his cohorts Mike and Jack Fagan
Filed: January 9th, 2006
Ballot Title: This measure would cap motor vehicle registration charges at $30 per year, repeal taxes and fees exceeding the $30 limit, calculate vehicle taxes and fees based on purchase price, and retire certain bonds. Should this measure be enacted into law?
Concerned With: Gutting about $2.5 billion in statewide transportation revenues, including critical funding for everything from Amtrak Cascades to highway safety. Repeals most of the money in the 2005 Transportation Package that was not threatened by Initiative 912.
Opposition: Permanent Defense
Additional Note: Paid petitioners have been observed collecting signatures for I-917 at several major retail outlets and urban centers in Western Washington. If you're asked to sign I-917, please decline.

Initiative 920
Sponsor: Dennis Falk (working with a small gang of anti-tax zealots)
Filed: January 9th, 2006
Ballot Title: This measure would repeal Washington’s state laws imposing tax, currently dedicated for the education legacy trust fund, on transfers of estates of persons dying on or after the effective date of this measure. Should this measure be enacted into law?
Concerned With: Wiping out Washington State's estate tax, which is currently dedicated towards public education. The estate tax was restored by legislators and Gov. Gregoire last spring after the previous version of it was struck down by the state Supreme Court.
Opposition: Washington Defense

Initiative 924
Sponsor: Brian Janssen
Filed: January 10th, 2006
Ballot Title: This measure would require, beginning with the 2007-2008 school year, that school districts spend at least 65% of “operational expenditures” on “classroom instructional expenditures,” as defined by the initiative, with certain waivers available. Should this measure be enacted into law?
Concerned With: A foolish proposal to direct how revenues collected for public education should be spent (with the belief that this iwll improve education). The idea has been derided already by several editorial boards and harshly denounced by the Washington Education Association (WEA).
Opposition: WEA

Initiative 933
Sponsor: Dan Wood (on behalf of the WA State Farm Bureau)
Filed: January 26th, 2005
Ballot Title: This measure would require compensation when any government regulation damages the use or value of private property, forbid regulations that prohibit existing legal uses of private property, and provide for exceptions and conditions. Should this measure be enacted into law? (Learn more about this ballot title in this post from David Goldstein at HorsesAss)
Concerned With: Rolling back the state's landmark growth management laws, creating loopholes for developers to exploit, making it more difficult for communities across the state to manage land use.
Opposition: Community Protection Coalition, Permanent Defense

UPDATE: We've received word that coalitions are being organized to fight both Initiatives 920 and 924. There is likely to be a lot of overlap since they both negatively affect public education. The right wingers are awfully busy this year, but we're going to mount a vigorous defense to protect our collective quality of life in Washington State.

Since the right wing controls neither chamber of the Legislature nor the Governor's mansion, their only real outlet for changing public policy is the initiative and referendum process. And they won't hesitate to hijack it and use it to try and slow down or thwart the progress that Olympia is making in tackling our state's toughest problems (transportation, equality, funding education, etc.)

Mounting a vigorous defense this year and defeating this assortment of right wing initiative efforts is critical if we want to move forward. In addition, we can go on offense with at least one proposal by supporting the Energy Security Initiative.

Senator Pam Roach Responds

In a recent NPI post from February 3rd, 2006 I described my meeting with Washington State Senator Pam Roach regarding her position on SB6499, a voter re-registration act she co-sponsored that had many negative implications for Asian Americans. ("Washington's Roach Speaks Plain English.")

Senator Roach has responded, and I promised her a fair chance at a reply, to be posted where I posted my blog piece.

In the spirit of fairness, here is her response without further editorializing.

"February 28, 2006

Senator Pam Roach, (R-Auburn), is a member of the Senate International Trade and Economic Development Committee. She has traveled to South Korea; China; Thailand; Taiwan; Singapore; Bali, Indonesia; and East Timor. Sen. Roach has four children who are fluent in a second language. She is the founder of La Escuela de Esperanza (School of Hope) in Honduras, where she promotes foreign language development at an early age.

While Andrew felt he had a hard time getting in my office, let me point out in his blog he says he only called on February 1st for an appointment. In fact, on February 2nd, without an appointment, he barged into my office on the coattails of three other Asian Americans, who did. Unfortunately, he was not turned away at the door as he might have been. It is hardly polite to act as he did, camera in hand, inside my office snapping pictures without a request. Snap as you like on the street corner, but in someone’s office serious reporters ask.

My session aide, Shane, who took Mr. Tsao’s initial phone call, could only take his call and forward an appointment request to my scheduler. Shane is former U.S. Military staff and treats every phone call the same. Shane was stationed in South Korea in 1998 and 1999. His wife lived off base in Wonju. He lived among the Korean people and is a Christian who respects everyone. I suspect Mr. Tsao was angry before he even picked up the phone!

In the meeting I turned the conversation to Senate Bill 6815 (studying whether to require Spanish and Chinese language instruction in secondary school). To my friend of twenty years I turned and said, "Frank, if you had learned English as a child you would not have had an accent." Frank was laughing because he was enjoying the conversation and he knew what I was saying was true.

Mr. Tsao, on the other hand, continued to take pictures and was more interested in nailing me for something than he was in hearing my proposition: #1 American-born children should learn other languages from the elementary grades, #2 parents who were raised speaking a language other than English should be encouraged to teach that language to their own children and, #3 to compete in a global economy our country needs people who are fluent in multiple languages. I would think the story would be that innovative and positive message.

I had presented these ideas January 10th in my televised response to the Governor’s State of the State address. And, as I had mentioned in my office, I had spoken three days earlier, January 30th, and promoted early learning foreign languages (Mandarin & Spanish) at the International Education Leadership Summit at the Rainier Club in Seattle.
Four of my own children are fluent in languages other than English. In the spirit of wanting what is best for our country and in wanting profitable experiences of our next generation, I would hope Mr. Tsao would join me in an effort to increase language proficiency. We should care enough about ourselves and other nations to learn a second language from early grades."

Monday, February 27, 2006

2004 Gubernatorial Election is Wikipedia's Featured Article for Today

I was somewhat surprised when I stopped by Wikipedia's main page earlier today and saw what the featured article of the day was (here's the teaser from the front page):
The Washington gubernatorial election of 2004 was a dramatic event, gaining national interest for its legal twists and turns and its extremely close finish. Three parties, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Libertarian Party, fielded candidates. It is notable for being among the closest races in United States election history; the winner, Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, was elected after a second recount turned the election in her favor by a margin of 129 votes, or 0.0045%. Although Gregoire was sworn in as Governor of Washington on January 12, 2005, her opponent Dino Rossi did not formally concede and called for a re-vote due to concerns about the integrity of the election. The Republicans filed a lawsuit in Chelan County Superior Court contesting the election, in which the trial judge decided against the Republicans. Rossi chose not to appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court, thereby conceding the election on June 6, 2005.
That teaser (which is currently still on the Wikipedia Main Page) is actually a pretty good factual summary of what happened - and the article itself is pretty well written.

One of the contributors (it wasn't somebody from NPI) even inserted links in the end "References" section to Pacific NW Portal and (un)SoundPolitics, which I was pleased to see. It does say something about the role blogs played during the recounts, and especially later during the election challenge.

If you look back in the Archives for the Official Blog for May 2005-June 2005, you'll find at least three posts a day during the trial focusing on the gubernatorial election challenge. It's some of the most continuous, in-depth analysis I've ever written.

As I noted yesterday, since being inaugurated, Governor Christine Gregoire has proved to be an outstanding leader, capable of solving tough problems and sheparding landmark bills through the legislative process to her desk. If she can keep it up - and I have no doubt she can - she will be able to make a very strong case for why she should be reelected in 2008.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Governor Christine Gregoire provides outstanding leadership

AP writer David Ammons, the dean of the Olympia press corps, wrote one of his finest columns this weekend, taking a look at the outstanding leadership that Christine Gregoire has been providing in just thirteen months as the Governor of the State of Washington:
Gov. Chris Gregoire is turning out to be state government's negotiator-in-chief.

This past week, she cracked open long-stalled talks between docs and lawyers over medical malpractice legislation. The two sides had been barely able to sit in the same room, but with Gregoire playing the peacemaker, they finally laid aside their rhetorical arms and agreed to deal.

The previous week, the governor brokered a landmark Columbia River water plan that had eluded negotiators for 30 years.

Before that, she signed a gay civil rights bill that passed after 29 years of trying. Her quiet personal diplomacy was credited with putting it over the top.

Next up: Gregoire is working with House Speaker Frank Chopp and other key leaders and representatives of business and labor to write a new unemployment insurance bill that both can support. More heavy lifting.

Her fingerprints are all over the new state budget. In "three corners" negotiations with the House and Senate leaders, Gregoire helped shape a budget that will leave at least $900 million in reserves. She put sideboards around the budget, guarding against a runaway Legislature, and is helping the two houses bridge their touchiest differences.

Last year, her deft touch at just the right moment spelled victory for the largest transportation package in state history.

Even Republicans are singing her praises as negotiator-in-chief, and her fellow Democrats don't seem to mind her big-footing issues they haven't been able to solve before now.

Gregoire, clearly in her element, credits her successes to her decades of lawyering and learning how to bring warring sides to the table and find common ground.

"That's my strong suit," she says.
Like her or not, the Governor is a hardworking, industrious leader who believes in moving forward and making progress. As Ammons noted, under Gregoire's watch, we've enacted a landmark civil rights bill and a landmark transportation package.

Gregoire has been a trailblazer in brokering compromises and bringing people together to reach new heights - and for this especially, we commend her.

There's a lot of work to be done if Washington is to have a truly sustainable future, but we're definitely pointed in the proper direction.

Here's to at least three more years of outstanding leadership.

Forecast: Raining Frogs

Last week we reported the grim side of the state's new Six Year Outlook and presented the following chart regarding the mid-term prospects for the state's finances.

For NPI's guess, I used an arcane construction of rolling weighted averages of the state's big three taxes: Property, Sales and B&O. And I said I would be asking the state's Office of Financial Management (OFM) to define why their projection of 5% growth in revenues after 2009 and five-plus in some intervening years is reasonable.

I have the response back from the state. You may want to shield your eyes if technical details are an anathema to your brain's smooth operation.
Irv Lefberg, Chief of Forecasting, Office of Financial Management, sez:

The basis for the 5% revenue growth assumption after 2009 is as follows

Annual long term population growth forecast = 1.3%
Annual long term inflation forecast = 2.5%
Annual real per capita income forecast (productivity) = 2.0%

TOTAL PERSONAL INCOME GROWTH FORECAST = 5.8%
(sum of above three components)

Rate of revenue growth as percent of personal income growth (revenue elasticity) = 90% (historical average)

Revenue growth = Elasticity X Personal Income growth = 5.8% x 90% = 5.2%. We rounded it down to 5% for the six year outlook.

Please note that the revenues referenced in the six year outlook are General Fund State revenues only. Federal revenue is not part of the projection.
[Which eliminates my conjecture that federal moneys were part of the strong growth assumption - a.]Historically major taxes have growth faster than 5% annually.

The official state economic and revenue forecast for the 2007-09 Biennium, produced by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, assumes a slowdown in the housing market. Including the slowdown, they also forecast revenue to grow at about 5% annually.

Please call me if you have additional questions.
I will be calling you, Irv, because there's some difficulties.

The historical average of taxes over the ten years 1995-2004 (which I used, since they were at hand in the Tax Reference Manual) was not 5%, but significantly below 5%. To wit, 4.1 for Sales, 3.5 for B&O, and 3.6 for Property. While Sales is twice as important as the other two combined, 4.1 is not 5, and the last time even the Sales Tax saw plus-five was in 2000. Beyond this, the Eyman initiatives have cut us off from historical trends, so looking backward at them now is a bit like looking through the rear window when you're driving. Not safe.

Second, while personal income is a good thing to mark from if you have a personal income tax, we don't, and we are not likely to get one soon, so maybe we'd better use something that tracks our kind of tax system better, like median income. Median income is stagnating, even while total personal income is going up, because a few at the top are doing very, very well. ["Revenue elasticity" seems to be "kinda" term. It's kinda close. Maybe it's standard. Irv would know better.]

Thirdly, the 2.5 percent inflation. We have no idea what inflation will be. It depends on energy prices, Fed policy, and whether the rest of the world will keep treating us nice. Wouldn't it be better to just figure things out in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, since inflation is built in to both expenditures and revenues? Unfortunately, we don't do it that way. I need to ask Irv about that. But in OFM's balance sheet, we seem to assume different things with regard to inflation depending on which side of the ledger we're on. On the Expenditures side we assume 2% adjustments for state employee COLAs. On the Revenues side, according to Mr. Lefberg, we're hoping for 2.5%. Nice work if you can get it. Point five percent can be $75 million or more a year.

There's more, of course, but what is fascinating to me is like filling one's head with cement to others. I'm trying to liven it up by throwing chairs at Irv, but witnessing disputes between economists always end up like watching fish wrestle.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

GOP Pollster: Public prefers Dems over Bush on national security

I was surfing the Internet earlier this evening, and for some odd reason I decided to check out NewsMax and WorldNetDaily (I was bored, I guess).

Nothing unusual at NewsMax, but when I got to WND and started going through their news archive, I was a bit surprised to see this headline:
ARABIANS AT THE GATE
Survey: Massive hit on Bush over ports
For 1st time ever, Americans prefer Democrats in Congress over president on national security
I kid you not. I couldn't believe it. I started laughing because I wondered why WND would have such a headline on their front page. I decided to see what it was about. Get this:
New polling information reveals only 17 percent of Americans favor the deal to turn over control of U.S. ports to a state-sponsored company in the United Arab Emirates, and shows a major blow to President Bush's perceived leadership in the war on terror.

Rasmussen Reports says 43 percent indicate they trust the Democrats more on national security today while 41 percent prefer Bush.

"From a political perspective, President Bush's national security credentials have clearly been tarnished due to the outcry over this issue," notes the polling agency. "For the first time ever, Americans have a slight preference for Democrats in Congress over the president on national security issues. The preference for the opposition party is small, but the fact that Democrats are even competitive on the national security front is startling."
More about the poll:
The phone survey of 1,000 adults was conducted Feb 22 and 23. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 4 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Political affiliation of those surveyed was 37 percent each for Republicans and Democrats, and 26 percent stating no affiliation.
Now keep in mind this is a Republican pollster - it's Rasmussen Reports, which as many of you know, also does a lot of polling on Congressional races around the country.

Quite frankly I'm amazed that WND put this up on their front page at all, but it's got to be quite a shock for our wingnut friends.

Remember how Karl Rove is going to make national security "THE ISSUE" this year? If Americans trust Democrats more than Bush & Co. on national security Rove's plan could end up backfiring.

Now, this is just one poll, but I think it says a lot about the growing disgust with the GOP mess in Washington D.C. These guys can't be trusted on ANY issue.

They're very good at running up deficits, rewarding their rich friends with tax cuts, and putting our country's bravest in harm's way for absolutely no good reason.

But they are terrible at governing.

And it looks like America is starting to wake up. Democrats in Congress need to turn up the heat and go after these guys. We're the party with the good ideas - Bush & Co. just steal them (like they did with the Department of Homeland Security).

Bush keeps making mistakes and the bad news keeps coming. I remember reading last fall that his advisers were scrapping 2005 and hoping to turn things around after the SOTU last month. Think that's happened?

We've already had the now infamous Cheney shooting his friend incident and now this fiasco over the Dubai Ports World deal, which is already being dubbed "PortGate". Bush did a little backtracking but it was too little, too late. He exposed himself too clearly. The public saw that he doesn't care about protecting America. And this poll reflects that. Democrats are the ones urging restraint, review, caution, thoughtfulness.

We need to capitalize on Bush's mistakes and force him into situations where he'll likely make more. This is not a time to be timid. It is time to stand up and hammer the administration really hard. I'm going to write my representative and Senators and Congress (I'm lucky to be represented only by Dems) and urge them to continue doing just that.

The economic model is broken

"A substantial amount has been done for the baseball and football teams. I'm here personally to find out whether the same is being considered fairly for the NBA,"
NBA Commissioner David Stern before the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.
It's a tag team match! Yes, the Seahawks' billionaire owner got a new stadium, and before that the Mariners' billionaire owner got a new stadium, but before that there was a mega-million dollar remake of the Sonics' home. Heck, the bonds on the Key (funny how they forgot the name) aren't even paid off. The fans and the taxpayers are getting the stuffing beaten out of them, and now we're supposed to feel guilty?

Seattle is not alone. The same edition of the Seattle Times that had Stern in the Local section had an article in Sports with the header "Blazers future uncertain." According to Portland Trailblazer owner Paul Allen's spokesman Lance Conn "all options are on the table" because "the economic model is broken."

Yes, the economic model is broken!
We're paying players and coaches literally millions of dollars a year and now we're supposed to pony up to build better suites for high rollers. It is just absurd.

It's the worst of all economic models, a monopoly run by millionaires where cities are manipulated into a financing contest with each other. "The team can't win unless we've got the money." Phooey. Let them play the game on the court, not in our wallets.

Restaurants are already taxed on everything that moves and some things that don't. Sales tax, B&O tax, lots of payroll taxes, syrup taxes, alcohol taxes, and probably some I don't remember. Meanwhile Ray Allen pays the same state tax on his $14.5 million salary (team total is $52 million) as the minimum wage busboy. The corporate honchos who rent the fancy new suites get a deduction. Even Key Bank writes off the cost of paying to put its name on the place.

If they really end up taking the team to Kansas City, I have an idea. A new league. Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Spokane, Fresno, Boise, San Jose. A cities group sells franchises for, say, a million. The maximum public investment is set, so big markets can't play George Steinbrenner and break the small markets. Maybe a salary scale for players is included.

And then we play basketball. What a concept.

We might even be able to watch people like Wil Conroy and Tre Simmons without having to go to Fargo or Marseilles.

FYI, there was one coherent voice in the house at the Ways & Means Committee.
Message Testimony of SEIU 775 President David Rolf
Senate Ways and Means

Members of the committee, my name is David Rolf. I am the President of SEIU 775, with 30,000 members in the long-term care industry, in every zip code in the state.

I cannot imagine a lower priority for the use of the public's money then the purpose this bill anticipates.

This contemplated act of corporate welfare takes place within the following context:

Incomes are stagnant or declining for 2/3 of households. Health care costs are eating up a greater percentage of employee paychecks and employer profits, even while benefits get cut and hundreds of thousands are uninsured. The average home price is now out of reach for an average income family in Seattle . Tuition costs put higher education out of reach for some working families. Fifty-two percent of all baby boomers have no retirement savings besides social security and their home equity. And, of course, the impoverishment of nursing home and home care workers threatens the quality of care for tens of thousands of elderly and disabled Washingtonians. The profitability of a sports facility should not be a higher priority than the health care of frail elderly people, or education, or housing.

The indirect transfer of public wealth to private, for-profit sports teams should not be a priority of our government, under any circumstances, at any time.

If you do pass this bill, we urge you to authorize the use of this tax for housing, health care, arts, education, and social services, but not to help subsidize the profitability of professional sports teams.

Thank you.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Anti-tax zealot sentenced to 13 years in prison

No, it's not Eyman, but Tim had better watch out...he seems to have a bad habit of attempting to explore the gray areas of the law with his multimillionaire-funded initiative factory. But it's good to see this guy's been hit with a sentence:
Irwin Schiff was sentenced Friday to more than 13 years in federal prison for advising people that no U.S. law requires them to pay income tax.

Schiff, 78, accused the government of trying to suppress the truth, while his lawyer argued he was mentally ill.

Schiff's earlier boast from the witness stand that he had helped thousands of followers avoid paying $2 billion in taxes was used against him at sentencing.

"Thousands of tax returns, millions and maybe billions of dollars lost," U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson said as he branded Schiff and his Las Vegas company, Freedom Books, "a flimflam operation" that encouraged others to evade taxes.

"He took their money and left them holding the bag," the judge said.

The judge also ordered Schiff to pay more than $4.2 million in restitution.

Schiff was convicted Oct. 24 of conspiracy, tax evasion and tax fraud. His defiance and ramblings while serving as his own lawyer at trial got him an extra year in prison for contempt of court.
Taxes are investments in the future of our communities and our nation. There is no free lunch. If we want police and fire protection, schools, libraries, parks, pools, safe transportation infrastructure - and countless other public serivces - then we must pay for them.

Of course, it's true that the federal government (under Bush) has wasted billions of dollars in taxpayer money with tax cuts for the rich, an unnecessary war in Iraq, and giveaways to corporate friends.

However, our tax dollars continue to fund some of the federal government's most important programs (like Social Security, or food stamps, for example). And we have a big chance to get back on the road to fiscal responsibility if we can retake Congress later this year. The GOP has made a terrible mess in Washington D.C. The sooner we can start cleaning it up, the better.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dubai offers to delay takeover of six U.S. ports

The administration and Dubai Ports World are obviously feeling the bipartisan backlash over what's being dubbed "PortGate". The AP reports:
A United Arab Emirates company offered Thursday to delay its takeover of most operations at six U.S. ports to give the Bush administration more time to convince skeptical lawmakers the deal poses no security risks.

[...]

Under the offer coordinated with the White House, Dubai Ports World said it will agree not to exercise control or influence the management over U.S. ports pending further talks with the Bush administration, Congress and local port authorities. It did not indicate how long it will wait for these discussions to take place.
I'm reminded of the old saying, "If you can't take the heat, get out of the oven." By delaying the deal, the administration and Dubai are attempting to put a damper on the furor that has been exploding over this issue in recent days. Bush & Co. continue to change their position - first the White House said Bush would veto any attempt to temporarily or permanently stop the deal, but now a delay is OK with them.

Congress must insist on holding congressional hearings to investigate this deal and provide the public with more information.

In Brief - February 23rd, 2006

In Brief is a new feature that we debuted last month. It's basically a bulleted list of news items that we want to mention to you but don't want to do a whole post on. We're not yet sure if In Brief will become daily or stay less frequent, but you can expect to see it often in the future.
  • David Goldstein explains on HorsesAss why the EFF's initiative to require all Washington State voters is illegal...and why the EFF wants people to respond to it.
  • In an investigative report, the Seattle Times discovers why the most unhealthful air in Washington State is in neighborhoods near ports.
  • Senators Murray and Cantwell are calling on the Bush administration to provide more information about the Dubai Ports World deal. They're also calling for congressional hearings. If that doesn't happen, they'll work with their colleagues in the Senate to block the deal.
  • Jon Stahl crows about getting a letter published in the Seattle Weekly expressing disgust over the Sonics' request for taxpayer money.
  • Victory for Oregon progressive activists: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld Oregon's ban on paying ballot initiative signature gatherers by the number of signatures they obtain. Carla has details at Loaded Orygun.
Something you want to share? Feel free to post it in the thread below.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

It may be Triple A, but it's the only game in town

Yes! I was accepted for the city services tax tacks ... er... task force! (We're still going to change the name.) This is like the only thing happening in the state in the realm of tax reform. I got a call informing me of my appointment along with an invitation to attend the Council meeting where they would be passing the resolution. It was quite the event.

The eleven of us arrived to a lukewarm greeting outside the Tacoma Municipal Building. Thirty or more picketers were crowded around the front door, union members not happy with a zero COLA and other elements of a contract proposal.

Inside, however, it was much warmer. There were nice seats reserved for us right up front in the Council chambers. We got to chat and exchange cards with each other and some of the Councilmembers came down to say hi. It was also tactful of them to put us first on the agenda and they had the grace to say some nice things from the dais into their microphones about our willingness to confront the daunting problems ahead and the seriousness of the mission and so on. Some of it sounded like encouragement for a suicide squad. Then we stood and introduced ourselves, and as a group turned to nod to whatever people might be seated behind us.

On a normal Tuesday at the Council meeting there are fourteen people in the seats, eleven staffers there for questions on ordinances and three citizens to take advantage of the open mike and free television exposure.

Imagine our surprise when we discovered that instead of fourteen, the place was packed. All those picketers and their families were now inside, holding their signs and looking at us. And they were happy to see us, too! I won't say they cheered or carried us from the room on their shoulders, but I do think it was more than polite applause.

Only later did I reflect that all those nice words from the Council may have been directed as much to them as us. Stressing the dire situation of the city's finances might have been a good way of softening up the opposition.

In any event, somebody indicated that we could leave if we wanted to, and we did. We congregated in the hallway outside, but pretty soon raised enough ruckus that the sergeant-at-arms came out and asked us to move along. We could show those union folks a thing or two.

This effort in Tacoma is just the first of many across the state, as cities get desperate enough to mention the "T" word (and I don't mean "task"). Eighty percent of Washington's municipalities face as grim a prospect as Tacoma, or worse. Many have had to make severe cutbacks already. And this is supposed to be a strong economy.

People do not realize the seriousness of the problem, but just as with the state's revenue picture, the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. Neither do people appreciate the importance of the services of state and local governments. These are not the accessories to our economy, but the frame, wheels and lubrication. You can't buy these out of the tip jar. Nor are they expendable. And they are good for the economy. Schools, roads, health care, police, fire protection, courts and the rest are "made in Washington."

We are lucky to have trade-related megamanufacturers like Microsoft and Boeing and Agriculture in our state, but even so, it has taken historic low interest rates and record borrowing to generate any job growth at all. Record personal borrowing. Record federal borrowing. It is not going to last.

We've got to come to some resolution of the problem of funding these most basic needs before the situation gets out of hand. Our new city manager in Tacoma has bailed us out with some skillful reorganization. At the state, the new governor is holding on with admirable determination to what little surplus she can find. We have about one more year. It's time to get to work.

Who Is Watching You?

Today's (2.22.06) Post Intelligencer headline covers the surveillance of peaceful activist groups here in the Seattle area. These groups include the Raging Grannies and the Quakers, known for their pledge of non-violence.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the article: if you read it carefully, there is one reference to the Pentagon's "Counterintelligence Field Office," and numerous references to "certain federal and local law enforcement agencies." The Penatagon did not return the PI's calls. Who are these anonymous federal and local law enforcement agencies?

Apparently, "unnamed" law enforcement agencies are working with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to gather information and perform surveillance on local peace groups.

We would like to know: who are these "agencies"? The FBI actually responded to questions from the PI, citing that they counseled against disturbing peaceful activism. However, the article cites:

"A law enforcement agency"
"An unknown local police agency"
The FBI's "domestic terrorism squad."
"...various federal and local agencies..."
And FBI report: "Yesterday (REDACTED) conducted surveillance at the boat launch on Alki Beach."

If you put together the chain of counterintellligence, you can see that the Pentagon's secret intelligence agency shares some, but not all of its informatiom with the FBI. "Local and federal" enforcement agencies send memos to the Pentagon's unit.

However, there is a missing link in the chain: who is supplying the information to the Penatgon and the FBI? The Navy has its own counterintelligence wing that investigates potential violations of Naval law. This has to do with protecting their vessels in Puget Sound. But they clearly are getting help. The Seattle Post Intelligencer should follow up and find out exactly who is doing the watching, and what their legal parameters are.

Connect this alarming situation with the Bush administrations adamant desire to sell six U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates. What conclusions can we draw?

We now have secret police among us, preparing memos for the Pentagon on groups who are advocating peace.

We have a President who is threatening to veto legislation preventing sale of U.S. ports to a country that has ties to terrorist organizations.

Study the situation in your own locality, and make your own decisions. Paranoia? Maybe. Maybe not.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

EFF wants to disenfranchise Washington voters en masse

Via the Oregonian:
Voters would have to prove they are U.S. citizens and reregister to vote under an initiative that supporters said they will file this week.

Conservative think-tank Evergreen Freedom Foundation [...] is backing the initiative that was expected to be announced Wednesday afternoon.

The group takes issue with the state's new $6 million voter registration database, which has been checking for duplicate and dead voters since last month.

"The database is capable of maintaining a clean voter list. It cannot create a clean voter list," Booker Stallworth, the foundation's spokesman, said Tuesday.
Where to begin?

Let's start here: This attempt to force every Washingtonian to re-register to vote and prove their citizenship is disgusting and un-American.

This brazen proposal is also likely in conflict with federal law.

Conservatives aren't for "freedom". They're for disenfranchisement - stripping voters of their rights. Whether that's challenging voters' registrations, introducing bills in the Legislature to make it more difficult to vote, or this initiative, the right wing is trying its hardest to take your Constitutional right to vote away. That's what they stand for.

Accountability? Responsibility? Opportunity? Equality? Not if the right wing gets its way. They're for democracy - so long as they're always winning and maintaining power. And if that means cheating people or the process, that's fine with them.

Disenfranchising thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of voters? If that's what it takes, then that is what they'll do.

Voters would be wise to decline to sign this outrageous attack on their rights and express their anger towards the EFF and its allies for this assault on democracy.

UPDATE: TJ points us towards an interview he did last year where he asked Assistant Secretary of State Steve Excell about a similiar proposal in the state Legislature:
On HB 2158, the suggestion that all voters be de-registered in order to refresh the rolls and verify people as they re-up: Bzzzzt. Excell began to discuss conflicts with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) provisions, but then I mentioned that this alternative might seek simply to inactivate the voter status, and request that registrants re-activate them. Quote, "That doesn't cut it, either." There are no Washington statutory grounds for inactivating a voter, except for non-participation in elections. Beyond the legal impossibility, Excell described it as a logistical nightmare, and a wide open door to fraud--"Imagine us trying to verify 3 million registrations all at once!"
The Secretary of State could provide more specifics, but it's obvious from their prior statements and responses to this initiative that they hate this idea. It's likely illegal and wholly impractical. The people at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation ought to be ashamed of themselves for latching onto this terrible idea.

Oregon Supremes Reinstate Measure 37

Via BlueOregon:
This morning’s unanimous Oregon Supreme Court decision overturns the ruling by Marion County Circuit Court Judge Mary James Merten and upholds the voter passed property compensation act as constitutional.

Of course, the court did not rule on whether Measure 37 was a wise policy choice for Oregon voters. Rather, their decision was limited to the right of voters to create Measure 37.
TJ has some of the best excerpts from the decision at Loaded Orygun. Oregon needs to act quickly to repeal Measure 37 before the Beaver State's quality of life takes a big turn for the worse. And we up here in Washington State need to work very hard to make sure the Farm Bureau and its allies are defeated again.

Monday, February 20, 2006

6-Year Outlook sees General Fund deficit

While the short-term state budget got another $160 million bump last week, the longer term is not so rosy, particularly if we apply some realistic assumptions to revenue projections.

On Wednesday last, the Office of Financial Management and the chief state revenue forecaster Chang Mook Sohn announced an upward revision of $158.9 million to the current biennial budget. On the same day OFM released its new Six Year Outlook. That report incorporates the latest legislative actions into projections of fund balances out to 2011.

The official numbers put the state's general fund in a $1.5 billion hole in 2011. That's 10 percent of annual revenue. My alternative assumptions deepen that hole to $2.6 billion, 16 percent of revenue. (see chart) And both of us are too optimistic.

Wherein lie the differences? Mine are in the assumptions for revenue growth. OFM sees a 2.2 percent increase in '07, then increases of 5.7, 5.5, 5.0 and 5.0 percent in succeeding years.

I have instead taken a rough weighted moving average of the historic increases for the major taxes -- Sales, B&O and property -- and applied it to the top line revenue number and extended it into 2008 and succeeding years.

For the sake of drama on this very dull stage, and even though some people are answering their phone on President's day, I'm publishing it here before I hear back from OFM. Maybe the burgeoning expenses of health programs come with a federal check. Maybe the inflation numbers make more difference than I think. I'll give you the verdict next week.

The Sales Tax provides roughly one-third of General Fund revenues. Federal grants are slightly less, but still close to one-third. All other taxes and fees comprise the other third. Of this last portion, the greatest contribution, about a third of the third, comes from the B&O Tax. The state's portion of the Property Tax amounts to a fourth of that third. And the remaining revenue sources make up the last ... let's see ... five-twelfths of the third (about 11 percent of total revenues).

All of which means: As goes the Sales Tax, so goes the revenue stream. Sales Taxes averaged a 4.1 percent increase 1995-2004, but the last five-plus percent was in 2000.

Why are even my assumptions too optimistic? First, because I accept OFM's for the first two years. Second, in the absence of regime change, federal grants will increase less than federal mandates. Third, I allow the Sales Tax rate increases of the past ten years into my average as if they were simple increases in economic activity. In fact, the Sales Tax is under downward pressure from Internet sales and will also suffer along with the Property Tax when housing cools off. (It will suffer not only because the purchase of home furnishings will slow, but also from the loss of the construction labor input, which is taxed under the Sales Tax.)

The good news? The next biennium is in balance, thanks to the set-asides from this year's surplus.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Lesson from the Heartland

It was minus twenty-six this morning. My loaner pickup didn't crank. I am visiting family in a small, snowy town in the upper Great Plains. The truck was supposed to carry me back to the Rapid City airport today. Right now I'm debating whether to drive Mom's car in and let my brother worry about the pickup later. It's supposed to get warmer over the next couple of days. Warm up fifty-five degrees to almost freezing.
A surprising number of people here are right-wing dittoheads. I say "surprising" because many of these people are otherwise intelligent folk. I saw Uncle Bob the other day and talk turned immediately to the weather. I prefer politics, so I said, "Sure, we've had a lot of rain out in Washington. There was a drought. Then we got a new Democratic governor. She declared a drought emergency. It started to rain and didn't stop for four months."

"Now, Al," said Uncle Bob, who was a math teacher before he retired and who recently restored an Allis Chalmers tractor from a pair of rusty fenders and a gear shift knob, "I don't think it was because she's a Democrat it started to rain."

"Well, Bob, you might have a point there. Democrats are competent, but not that competent."

"Ha, ha."

"You know how it is, Bob. They don't even let Republicans call the numbers at your Bingo games."

"Now, Al...."

Here between my brother and my uncle, I have discovered the core vulnerability of the Republican Right. Competence. They got none. Bush listened to years of ideologically heavy speeches and then tried to run the country. It was like trying to drive a plane after reading a couple of comic books. No wonder they're in the ditch.
As it turns out, my brother did expect me to go out there in his insulated Carhartts and start that truck. A cousin was going to drive the pickup back, she could have driven Mom's car, but ... Bro would do (and has done) a lot for me. But this is a right of sibling passage. Again, it has to do with competence. It's a test to see if the city mouse can get it done.

And I did. I was energized by the challenge. It was a bit complicated by not being able to get under the hood because the hood latch was frozen, but I stuck the oil pan warmers on it for 45 minutes and it opened. Got the charger hooked up to the battery, warmers stuck to the oil pan, and here comes the bro. It took him half a glance to figure out I was inadequate. He's out there right now running the charge out of the battery. His starter fluid didn't work, I guess. I wished he'd waited like I asked.

The lesson? A very valuable lesson: Only the other guy is incompetent. If we can get the multiple offenses of incompetence to stick to the Republicans, they will become the "other guys" in the hearts of the Heartland.

Just like right now I am perfectly able to criticize my brother (in my head). At the same time, to him I am still the city mouse, and he is the capable and self-reliant country mouse.
There aren't very many people in South Dakota, so if you want to have a very big family, or even a modest sized gathering, you have to include a variety of opinion. I don't convert any right wingers at these meetings, and us progressives just nod at each other's rants (even my dear old Mom's). The rest of the folks think politicians and their partisans are in a perpetual cat fight, and they talk about the weather or their medical problems. They vote, but they hold their noses when they do. Unfortunately it is these people we have to reach, and if we try to reach them with a line that the Radical Right is moving us quickly to an immoral, authoritarian, corporatist state, we're out of luck.

The correct line is: "These guys are stooges, the Keystone Kops, boobs, grinning boobs." The Heartland may not understand the grotesquery of Guantanamo or the looming danger of an imperial presidency, but they do understand that Medicare is screwed up, the budget is screwed up, Katrina was screwed up, military readiness is screwed up, energy markets are screwed up, et cetera is screwed up. They may not be willing to point fingers at Cheney or Rumsfeld (though they do call him "Dumbsfeld" at Ellsworth, the local Air Force base) or Gonzalez, but they do know when something is not being done right.

In the past, the Republicans have been able to paper over an inability to govern with a consummate ability to run a political campaign. Karl Rove in the Office of Character Assassination has done a particularly good job. A campaign becomes a trial government, and Presidential appearance, staying on message, and appropriate backdrops create a show of competence.

This was the genius of Bill Clinton. He was more ruthless, more capable, a better campaigner, and he kept the pressure on till their false fronts fell over and the shantytown behind was exposed for all to see. Clinton would win again, if we'd let him.
Inept Bush jokes. Gotta have 'em. For the Heartland.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The View From Cannon Beach

After weeks of working on projects for NPI, I've decided to take a rest and go on a relaxing vacation. But, like a good blogger, I brought my computer with me so I can check in and see what's happening in the news and what's happening around the regional progressive blogopshere.

I'm in Cannon Beach, which is one of my favorite places to relax. I like it because it's fairly laid back - quiet and serene, but also majestic.

Our extended family's beach house has a nearly unrivaled view of the scenery at Cannon Beach. See what I mean - here's a photo I took earlier this evening. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Cannon Beach

Last night, I attended the King County Democrats Honors Banquet, where I and fellow blogger David Goldstein were each honored with different awards for our work the previous year.

I think the fact that two of the recipients this year were bloggers says a lot about how important the Internet has become as medium for conveying information. Blogging is changing the face of the mass media - especially when it comes to accountability.

It's often been said that the traditional media acts a watchdog, sounding the alarm when the public is being taken for a ride by corporations, government officials, or some other special interest. But who is watching the traditional media and scrutinizing its reporting?

Bloggers are.

In this day and age bloggers are providing news, analysis, and investigative reports on just about anything, often being the first to break a story.

A fine example of the "digital muckraking" that's going on these days is an excellent piece by Noemie Maxwell at Washblog (Washington Farm Bureau misrepresents facts to support ballot initiative) which definitely deserves to be mentioned:
Washington Farm Bureau's President, Steve Appel, recently made public comments on the occasion of the kickoff for the land use initiative that organization has just filed.

[..]

In that kickoff speech, which is published on the website promoting the initiative, Mr. Appel tells about Bruce Ritter who owns a small amount of non-agricultural land (10 acres) and presents his case as an example of a property owner whose plight resembles that of thousands of others across the state who would be helped by the initiative.

This choice is a matter of some public interest. Why not a farmer? And why only one family?

Odder than this choice of a representative landowner, and more troubling, is the inaccuracy in Mr. Appels' statement about the Ritter property. Half of the assertions made by Mr. Appel are easily debunked. The other half are not substantiated and are, in fact, shown by the public record to almost certainly be untrue.
The Farm Bureau and its allies - the BIAW, the Realtors, and other special interests - are working very hard this year to destroy our state's growth management laws and create loopholes for developers via the initiative process.

As I wrote yesterday:
The initiative process itself has become a joke. If you have half a million dollars to spend you can buy your way onto the ballot - no matter what your issue or ideology is. Collecting signatures for a petition isn't much of an exercise in democracy these days - it's an economic activity. And many voters don't even know what they're signing.
The right wing assault on our state's quality of life, funded by special interests, is a threat to the sustainable future of Washington.

The regional progressive blogosphere will continue to work to expose the lies and distortions of groups like the Farm Bureau and individuals like Tim Eyman, who seem to be interested only in deceiving the electorate for their own benefit.

And we'll also be watching the region's traditional media outlets to make sure that they present these issues objectively - and not lend credibility to the falsifications of the Republican Noise Machine.

Inslee, McDermott, Larsen, Baird,Dicks, Smith...Burner

At an event on February 18, six Democratic Congressmen helped Darcy Burner raise funds for her campaign against Dave Reichert in Washington's 8th Congressional District.

Larsen, Inslee and McDermott took turns speaking about Burner's campaign, and Darcy herself spoke about why she is running and how she plans to beat Reichert.

McDermott predicted that the Republican election strategy will focus entirely on national security, predicting an international "crisis" from the Bush administration sometime before July 4, 2006.

Darcy took this issue head on by questioning Reichert's leadership on the Congressional Homeland Security Committee, pointing out inaction and refusal to adopt recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

Washington's 8th Congressional District is a pivotal seat on Congress, and Republicans are expected to fight tooth and nail to keep it.

Turning on the expected attacks of "Is she tough enough to protect you?" Burner asked Reichert in abstentia, "Dave, what have you done to make us safer?"

Darcy, a self proclaimed "military brat turned soccer mom geek" displayed a great deal of fire in her speech, seeming to relish taking on Sheriff Dave. If I were him I'd start worrying.

As far as the voting will go, Congressman McDermott pointed out that if every voter who is expected to help elect Darcy Burner gave ten dollars to the campaign she would have over 1.5 million in her war chest.

it is time for all Democrats to rally behind Darcy Burner and give generously of our time, our money, our passion for sending a seventh Democrat to Congress from Washington State.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rumsfeld and the War on Bad Press

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, explained the lack of US success in the war on terror. It seems Muslim extremists have better PR flacks.

In another example of a tried and true Bush administration tactic, Rumsfeld reasons that the media war needs to be fought better in order to win the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide.

It couldn't be policy, an illegal war, torture, disregard for the UN, unilateral arrogance, hypocrisy, or anything else. The reason much of the world views the US with such disdain could never lie at the feet our our national leadership. That is preposterous. Anyone who thinks otherwise is aiding terrorists and is no patriot.

Rumsfeld believes that better public relations messaging via the global media will help things along. He also reminded people that the negativity of the US media is an additional aid to terrorists.

What is most interesting about Secretary Rumsfeld's misguided assertions is how they reveal so much about the Bush administration's thinking. Never focus on substance, only message. Divert all attention from reality to image presentation. It matters little what the underlying policy is, as long as the selling of it is done right.

The Bush administration was able to get the Secretary of State in front of the entire world with a bunch of fake photos showing chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction. The results of that lie have been tens of thousands of deaths and a completely destabilized Middle East. Still, the messaging continues.

Notice has been served on multiple occasions to the American news media: you are too negative about the war. Pounding this message makes sure the American consciousness picks up on it. The reality becomes irrelevant. When the media tries to dig for more information, they are accused of a liberal bias. Toeing a jingoistic propaganda line is what the current administration believes the press should do.

A final note: the Bush administration spent 1.6 billion taxpayer dollars over 30 months on public relations. Despite this, Bush's poll ratings are now negative in 40 states, and appear in a free fall. Maybe your message just isn't getting though, Mr. Secretary.

Freedom of speech is not intimidation

Yesterday, Orbusmax linked to us with the headline "NPI INTIMIDATION TOWARDS WA SIGNATURE-GATHERERS?" prompting numerous conservatives to send emails accusing us of being communists, Marxists, Leninists, and socialists who are going to send our "Red Guard" out to intimidate paid petitioners and voters.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The other side seems to forget that the First Amendment does not belong solely to them. It belongs to us, too. One person wrote to us asking this question:
What happened to freedom of expression and the right to assemble?
We sure hope the First Amendment still means something. Lately our civil liberties have been under assault by the Bush administation, which has absolutely no respect for the Bill of Rights or, for that matter, the entire Constitution.

But this post is about the initiative process.

Just as the people working for Tim Eyman and Roy Ruffino have a right to urge voters to sign their petitions, we have the right to urge voters not to sign them. That's freedom of speech - not intimidation.

Will we be disruptive, violent, or engage in harassment? Of course not. We don't believe in that, even though we know that paid petitioners themselves sometimes cross the line (and break the law) in their attempts to get voters to sign.

Some petitioners make it impossible for voters to see what they're signing by folding the petitions over so you can't see the title. Another common tactic is to quickly give the voter another initiative petition to sign after they've already signed at least one, making it difficult to walk away.

One conservative who wrote to us tried to cite RCW, apparently thinking our intention is to harass petitioners and voters (it's not). This is the section of RCW he referred to:
Every person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor who:

(4) Interferes with or attempts to interfere with the right of any voter to sign or not to sign an initiative or referendum petition or with the right to vote for or against an initiative or referendum measure by threats, intimidation, or any other corrupt means or practice.
We are only interested in exercising our free speech rights - not engaging in intimidation or making threats. And we sincerely hope that the petitioners who are out there collecting signatures will be following the law as well. It's worth noting that RCW also says that signature gatherers cannot promise voters money or gratuities for signing their petitions.

Additionally, RCW says the following:

The legislature finds that paying a worker, whose task it is to secure the signatures of voters on initiative or referendum petitions, on the basis of the number of signatures the worker secures on the petitions encourages the introduction of fraud in the signature gathering process. Such a form of payment may act as an incentive for the worker to encourage a person to sign a petition which the person is not qualified to sign or to sign a petition for a ballot measure even if the person has already signed a petition for the measure. Such payments also threaten the integrity of the initiative and referendum process by providing an incentive for misrepresenting the nature or effect of a ballot measure in securing petition signatures for the measure.
Conservatives would do well to remember that every American is entitled to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly - not just them. The initiative process itself has become a joke. If you have half a million dollars to spend you can buy your way onto the ballot - no matter what your issue or ideology is. Collecting signatures for a petition isn't much of an exercise in democracy these days - it's an economic activity. And many voters don't even know what they're signing.

We aim to exercise our free speech rights and let our fellow citizens know about the consequences of these initiatives.

Ultimately, it's up to each individual voter to make his or her own decision whether to sign a petition - but our goal is to give voters more information before they make that decision.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Now back to the real world

John Edwards was not impressed that Big Oil will pay no (zero) royalties on $65 billion in oil and natural gas pumped from federal territories. Edwards is chief lobbyist and apologist for the special interest group lately identified as “those lacking a pot to piss in.”

The recent Democratic VP candidate is a friend of mine, I guess. I get “Dear Friend” e-mails from him quite regularly. And he always signs them, "Your friend, John." As close as we are, though, I doubt he would have supported my recent rant on the need for high energy prices to rectify the massive market failure that subsidizes global warming.

“Theory is good,” I can hear him saying, dripping with diplomatic North Carolina charm, “so long as it can be converted to nutritional sustenance.”

Still, he gets compassion. And he understands how energy prices are built in to all prices. On the president's plan to give up $7 billion in royalty payments for the exploitation of federal lands, he draws the appropriate context:
“Every day, I meet families who are struggling with high gas prices and soaring home-heating costs. Every day, prices go up for the things we all need because the price of fuel goes up. Meanwhile the big energy companies are hitting all-time record high profits. So why do they need another giveaway. They don’t. And they certainly don’t need another giveaway while oil prices climb to $70 per barrel.

“This boondoggle is unfolding just as the Administration is pushing for its budget – an immoral document if I ever saw one. Once again, their budget lavishes tax breaks on millionaires while it slashes programs that help the most vulnerable among us. ... 300,000 pushed off food stamps; 19,000 fewer children will go to Head Start; and low- and moderate-income people will lose $36 billion in Medicare.

“Everything people need to get ahead, let alone get by, is on the chopping block – student loans, vocational training, child care, Social Security benefits for widows, and more.”
But John, if I had my way, we’d specify what prices the oil companies could charge, make them produce on a sustainable schedule, and collect enough off the top to finance all those programs and more besides. But the price. The price has got to go up. You've got to think long run.

"As your favorite economist used to say, Al, 'In the long run we are all dead.'”

It’s Alan. I guess we’re not that good of friends.

Mehlman hosts fundraiser for McGavick

Look who's in town:
The National chair of the Republican party, Ken Mehlman, in Seattle for a Lincoln Day dinner, told KOMO 4 News that despite the need to spend nationally to maintain control of the House and Senate that he expects significant support for McGavick in what he called "a winnable race."
Republicans may spend as much as $20 million attempting to defeat Senator Maria Cantwell this year.

During last night's fundraiser, McGavick also invited Bush to visit Washington State, saying, "The president is the president of our country and the head of our party. And if the president wants to visit Washington State, that would be wonderful."

Responded Dwight Pelz, the Chairman of the State Democratic Party:
We would be thrilled to have George Bush come here in person to campaign for lobbyist Mike McGavick. It would give Washington voters a clear chance to see how closely Bush and McGavick are aligned, and to see their identical vision for our nation.

But if the President is going to come to Washington to support McGavick, he needs to answer some questions about his repeated wrong choices for Washington State, including his new budget that will hurt our citizens even more.

When insurance lobbyist Mike stands with the likes of Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, who are responsible for some of the nastiest, most under-handed campaigns in history, it’s clear that his repeated call for civility is nothing but a sham.
And in fact, McGavick's only real theme so far - which he's been repeating at his endless series of "kickoff" events - has indeed been "we need more civility". That's not very impressive.

Lobbyist Mike is going to have a difficult time explaining why Maria Cantwell needs to be replaced - because Cantwell has been a hard worker in the U.S. Congress fighting for the people of Washington State.

Report Right Wing Signature Gathering Activity - Add A Button to Your Site

Yesterday, I wrote the following:
Progressive activists should be on the lookout for signature gatherers collecting signatures for Initiative 917 and other right wing initiatives.

If you see petitioners collecting signatures for any right wing initiative, please use Permanent Defense's new reporting tool to tell us about it so we can more efficiently organize and mobilize.
Permanent Defense now has buttons available that you can add to your own blog or website pointing to the reporting tool. The smaller version of the button is now on the Official Blog's sidebar (to your right) while Permanent Defense's main page is using the larger version.

Feel free to download either or both:

Report Right Wing Signature Gathering Activity
(Smaller version - 14 KB)

Report Right Wing Signature Gathering Activity

(Larger version - 16 KB)

The more people that know about the reporting tool, the better. If progressives keep their eyes and ears open and report signature gathering activity when they observe it, that will help us to track how the right wing signature drives are going and allow us to mobilize volunteers that we can send out to exercise our free speech rights.

Telling voters who might sign these petitions the other side of the story is extremely important if we want to stop Eyman and his right wing cohorts from deceiving the public. Thanks to everyone who adds a button to their site for their help.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

DECLINE to SIGN Initiative 917!

Tim Eyman announced today in an email to his supporters that he's sent out petitions for Initiative 917 via snail mail.

Additionally, NPI and Permanent Defense have received reports that paid signature gatherers are already out collecting signatures for Initiative 917. According to the state, I-917 would wipe out some $2.5 billion in revenue, including money intended to upgrade Amtrak Cascades service, fund freight mobility programs, and pay for highway safety projects.

Eyman already has the money he needs for a paid signature gathering campaign. His sugar daddy, multimillionaire Michael Dunmire, seems intent on providing the hundreds of thousands of dollars required for Eyman and his small band of cohorts to buy their way onto the ballot.

The paid signature gathering campaign itself seems to be headed by Roy Ruffino of "Citizen Solutions" which boasts it has been "Qualifying Initiatives & Referenda for Over 15 Years". Eyman has paid Ruffino and his partner to collect signatures for previous initiative campaigns.

Petitioners employed by Ruffino are paid by the signature and therefore have an incentive to collect as many signatures as they possibly can (in order to earn more money). See how direct democracy has become a cottage industry?

Progressive activists should be on the lookout for signature gatherers collecting signatures for Initiative 917 and other right wing initiatives.

If you see petitioners collecting signatures for any right wing initiative, please use Permanent Defense's new reporting tool to tell us about it so we can more efficiently organize and mobilize.

Republican '08 Convention in Seattle or Portland?

Via the AP:
More than two dozen cities have been invited to submit bids to explain why they would be the best choice for the 2008 Republican National Convention.

The 31 cities were announced Wednesday by the Republican National Committee, which also has asked to hear from cities not on the list but interested in playing host to the convention.

[...]

Cities that received requests for convention proposals are: Anaheim, Calif.; Atlanta; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Houston; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Kansas City, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.; Miami; Minneapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; New Orleans; New York; Orlando, Fla.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento, Calif.; San Antonio; San Diego; San Francisco; Seattle; St. Louis, Mo.; and Tampa.
Thanks, but no thanks. The Pacific Northwest doesn't need to play host to the Republican National Convention. Besides, Seattle and Portland are known for being very progressive cities. The GOP delegates wouldn't feel welcome.

It would be great to have the Democratic National Convention here, though.

State Route 520 floating bridge to be closed for repairs

The bridge was damaged in the windstorm we had the weekend before last:
State bridge engineers say they must replace a part on the Highway 520 bridge damaged in the Feb. 4 windstorm and bridge closures are planned.

Engineers said they must replace the steel assembly that supports a guide roller under one corner of the east drawspan of the bridge. They said the damage was similar to what happened following a storm seven years ago.

"In 1999, after a similar storm, we experienced damage to one of the vertical guides," said DOT bridge preservation engineer Harvey Coffman. "Looking for the same kinds of problems this time, ultrasound testing results have turned up a small crack in a steel casting that holds one of the guide roller assemblies for the drawspan. It if isn't fixed and the casting should fail, the drawspan will not operate smoothly." He said the pontoon may even rock so drivers might think they hit something on the roadway.

He said the DOT has a spare assembly in stock, which weighs about five tons, and the installation will take place over two weeks.

Short closures are scheduled from 2 to 4 a.m. Thursday and Feb. 22. However, when the assembly is actually replaced, the bridge will be closed for 29 hours, from 5 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, to about 10 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 26.
The state still got lucky. The damage could have been much, much worse. Hopefully these closures will serve as a reminder to WSDOT and all Washingtonians that we must move forward with replacement of the Evergreen Point floating bridge.

And we cannot do that unless we are willing to invest in transportation funding.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Lawyer shot by Cheney suffers heart attack

No joke, unfortunately:
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The 78-year-old lawyer shot by Vice President Dick Cheney in a hunting accident has some birdshot lodged in his heart and had "a minor heart attack" today, hospital officials said.

The lawyer, Harry Whittington, was immediately moved back to the intensive care unit for further treatment, said Peter Banko, the administrator at Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi-Memorial in Texas.
Though there's been a lot of humorous banter over this incident, it's also wise to remember there is a very serious angle to all of this. In this morning's Charlotte Observer, hunter Scott Denham had some words for the Vice President:
It is unfortunate that upland bird hunting has gotten this kind of bad press because of irresponsible hunting practices by a prominent member of the upper class. Hunting preserves open spaces for use by all; hunting connects younger generations with the land and with traditions; hunting is about conservation. As a hunter and conservationist, I feel misrepresented by Cheney and his ilk. They portray hunting as a sport for the rich, carried out on vast private lands, where pulling the trigger takes priority over everything else.
Read his whole column - it's a good one. If you don't know that much about hunting, you'll enjoy this piece even more.

The strategic price of gasoline

Governor Gregoire ought to go after Big Oil the same way she went after the tobacco companies. The cases are directly parallel, except when when this patient dies, we all go with her.

For years Big Oil has sponsored quasi-science and employed politicians such as the current president to delay and disrupt action on global warming. I'm willing to bet that, unless they’ve been destroyed, memoranda exist in the files of these companies which display the same cynical disregard for science and for human life we saw with Big Tobacco.

Costs of global climate change are incalculable, but a judgment of any scale against Big Oil would at least double the price per gallon.

Those who think the price of gasoline is too high are like cattle complaining about the discomfort of a boxcar carrying them to slaughter. The price is actually too low, and it is going to the wrong place – the vaults of megacorporations whose business it is to prey on the demise of the planet.

The pump price includes the costs of extracting, refining and distributing the product – getting it to our cars – plus the taxes that build roads without which the product would be useless. The pump price does not include the tremendous costs of pollution, greenhouse gases, and of course, the geopolitical strife inherent in securing the resource for the megacorporations.

This is a massive failure of the market.

Price is the key to getting anything done. [I am particularly frustrated by environmentalists who prefer bureaucratic regulation to price adjustments or direct government intervention.]

Oil prices do not include all costs, not by a long way. We are subsidizing the consumption of oil. Price determines consumption. It is ludicrous to subsidize the poisoning of the planet, but that is what we do.

Stability in oil prices is more important than the level of prices. When prices bounce up and down, people get stuck with SUV’s when they want hybrids. Businesses which count on one cost of manufacturing or distribution in their planning phase get stuck with a different cost at production time. Alternative energy projects are denied financing because of the risk. If energy can be produced at the equivalent of $2.25 per gallon, for example, and the price drops to $2.20 instead, very little of the alternative will be sold, and this only to granola eaters. This is a problem with biodiesel, in particular, but for all alternative energy. (How do you manage a stable price without direct government intervention? You don’t.)

High prices will ultimately be better for the economy, so long as the revenues are directed to a comprehensive energy solution. Why would that be? First, again, higher prices discourage the consumption of fossil fuel and prolong the useful life of the planet. Higher prices make alternatives more economically attractive. Alternatives involve technological development and investment; many would be produced domestically. Good. All good. High prices which serve to inflate Oil company profits are not so good, so without the stipulation that revenues be directed to a comprehensive energy solution, the price level by itself produces a far weaker and less reliable benefit. Plus we continue to send money off to Saudi Arabia and to finance wacko Texas oilmen.
A rational price is the key. Without it our market economy will march along oblivious to its epic miscalculation and down the road to our own destruction.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Before jumping to conclusions over Hackett's decision to withdraw...

Read what Markos has to say first. Some words of wisdom:
To make something clear, Hackett is complaining about betrayal. Yet Rahm was trying to get him to become one of his candidates. In other words, Rahm was recruiting him. That's not a bad thing. That's a flattering thing.

To be clear -- Hackett didn't stand a chance. He had a tenth of Brown's money, and that was before party people allegedly tried to stop Hackett's donors from giving. His field operation in the special election was literally put together and implemented by Dan Lucas. Who is Dan Lucas? Sherrod Brown's campaign manager. Hackett's netroots effort in the special election was put together by Tim Tagaris. And while Tim is now at the DNC, he helped put together Brown's netroots operation.

So it was Brown's people who helped put together the nuts and bolts of Hackett's special election campaign, and they were now working for their boss -- Sherrod Brown.

To be further clear, Brown announced his candidacy before Hackett did. Yes, Reid and Schumer were urging Hackett to run, but he wouldn't commit to running. Labor Day, the traditional announcement day for most candidates, came and went with Hackett refusing to say what his plans were. So after waiting and waiting and waiting, Brown essentially said "f**k it" and got in. It was only after news of Brown's impending announcement were leaked that Hackett decided to commit to the race.
Bottom line? Hackett didn't stand a chance, he wasn't backstabbed by his party since Brown's candidacy was announced before his was (if he'd only committed sooner, Brown might've stayed out), and the party wasn't out to screw him, they were out to get him to run in the House.
The attacks on Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Rahm Emanuel, and even Howard Dean have already begun. One activist on MyDD is now demanding that Sherrod Brown leave the race. These attacks are uncalled for and will not lead to anything productive.

It's easy to resort to believing that the "party establishment" has wronged Paul Hackett. Read Markos' explanation - which makes a great deal of sense - before you start jumping to conclusions.

No shame: House GOP front organization continues its dirty tricks

You'd think that after the strong negative reaction to last month's series of dirty tricks designed to make Democrats look soft on sex offenders, the House GOP leadership would have told its hacks (and professional trolls - ahem, Kevin Carnes) to stop orchestrating filthy and blatantly outrageous smear campaigns.

But instead, they've apparently been authorized to keep it up:
A Republican political action committee is sending automated phone calls to voters in swing districts targeting Democratic incumbents for opposing a vote on a bill to repeal Washington's estate tax.

Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, said her constituents began receiving the calls Thursday. "It's ugly, partisan game-playing that we don't need," she said.

[...]

Kevin Carnes, executive director of The Speaker's Roundtable, acknowledged that his office paid for the calls to voters in four legislative districts, including Wallace's 17th District.

The Speaker's Roundtable, which raises money for House Republicans, orchestrated a controversial campaign last month that used phone calls, radio and TV ads and fake sex offender postcards to accuse House Democrats of being soft on sex predators.
This latest round of attacks comes after Republican Rep. Ed Orcutt (who sits on the House Finance Committee) forced the chamber to vote on a procedural motion to bring his bill to repeal the estate tax directly to the floor without a hearing. The motion, of course, failed on a 53 to 45 vote.

And within a few days Washingtonians in four different legislative districts (presumably districts the Republicans believe they can win) were getting robocalls with the message that Democrats are in favor of hurting small businesses because they won't support repeal of the estate tax.

House Republicans, of course, (like Rep. Orcutt) have failed to provide any evidence that small businesses are forced to shut down because of the estate tax. That's obviously because they can't find a single example.

And guess what - the same is true nationally! In his 2003 pamphlet, Winning Responses to Tough Tax Quesions, Marty Liebowitz notes:
Conservatives fueled opposition to the estate tax with the myth that keeping the estate tax would cause the loss of large numbers of small farms and family businesses. The conservative Center for Tax Policy wrote, “Many family farms must be sold off to pay the federal taxes due on the property.”

It sounds good, but it’s just not true. When reporters, and even conservative supporters of repealing the estate tax, looked for small farms or family businesses that were lost because of the estate tax, they couldn’t find any. Neil Harl, an economist whose tax advice has made him a household name among Midwest farmers, said that he had not found a single case in which a farm was lost because of estate taxes. “It’s a myth,” said Mr. Harl. “M-Y-T-H.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which supports repeal of the estate tax, was unable to provide a single example of a farm that was lost because of estate taxes. Even after the American Farm Bureau Federation sent out an urgent call to all Farm Bureaus saying, “It is crucial for us to be able to provide Congress with examples of farmers and ranchers who have lost farms due to the death tax,” they still couldn’t find a single example.
The Republicans have lots of rhetoric but they have zero examples to back up their absurd claims.

And now they're attacking Democratic legislators on false premises.

What's even more egregrious is that they're attacking Democrats who voted for Rep. Orcutt's motion:
Wallace said she voted in favor of bringing the bill to the House floor on Tuesday.
So what did Kevin Carnes have to say about that?
"If she wants to be pragmatic about this, maybe (Wallace) should encourage her caucus to take a vote on this," Carnes said.
It's too bad that all you're good at is making up lies, Kevin. You and your cronies have no honor, no moral compass, and no respect for your fellow human beings.

As you might expect, Rep. Orcutt played along, pretending to be clueless:
Orcutt said he knew nothing about the phone calls. He said Wallace probably should not have been targeted if she voted in favor of bringing his bill to the House floor.
Representative Orcutt, if he has any honor at all, ought to personally apologize to Representative Deb Wallace and her colleagues for the defamation they've suffered.
And if the members of the House GOP have any collective honor left, they will demand that Kevin Carnes be dismissed from his positions of power immediately. But we won't be holding our breath waiting for that to happen.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Forecast: Iraq graft will top $10 billion

Because their is no Congressional oversight, more than ten billion dollars will be lost to direct corruption in Iraq. This is not a facile prediction, nor an easy one. It is based on the first law of economics, "When the cost goes down, people buy more."

In this case, the cost of corruption is very, very low. A handful of contractors and a few military officers have been charged in some small-scale operations. Rumsfeld points the finger at the Iraqis, but the failure to prosecute American corporations, the construction and security contractors, will match the Iraqis and add a factor of two.

I am not talking about incompetence, which must be rampant for the infrastructure to still be down after all these years. I am talking about war profiteering on a scale never before seen in our history.

Democrats controlled Congress and the Presidency during the Second World War. Virtually the entire economy was dedicated to war materiel and support. But it was a Democrat in the Senate who led the investigation and exposed shoddy manufacturing, crooked contractors, procurement waste, and more. His committee went outside the lines of traditional politics. Its investigations were thorough, vigorous and completely out in the open.

Their findings embarrassed Congressmen and ruined dishonest businessmen. But he was not muffled by his party, nor by president Franklin Roosevelt. Instead FDR drafted him as his running mate. The head of that Senate committee was the junior senator from Missouri, Harry Truman.

We will never see integrity and energy like that with this president nor with this Republican Congress. Coverup, secrecy and disinformation are the hallmarks of the Bush administration, both here an abroad. Ten billion dollars is not a modest number -- ten thousand millions -- and I could easily have aimed lower. On the other hand, it's not the only pot of money in the running and we will be there a long time.

Instead of defending what is obviously a speculative number, and one you may have a better line on, I'd like to draw a further contrast between this reconstruction effort and the Truman era, namely the extremely successful reconstruction effort after World War II, the Marshall Plan.

George Marshall, the "great man" as Truman called him, twice Time's man of the year, once during the War and once afterward, constructed a European-based rehabilitation of Europe. He did not impose US companies and workers to rebuild Europe for them. Europeans identified the needs of their regions, organized the projects, ran the projects and depended on the US for technical assistance, material and machinery, and food.

The process organized and employed a devastated population and co-opted a strong anti-capitalist movement. (Much is made of the fact that Europeans, unlike Iraqis, have a history of democratic government and thus were more tuned to American efforts, but the Marshall Plan engaged the communists and the whole society in its own reconstruction. When you hear "Social Democrat," think in terms to their direct forebears, the communists.)

A Marshall Plan for Iraq would look nothing like the corporatist boondoggle we are now confronted with. At a minimum, such a plan would identify the credible political and industrial leadership in the domestic population, put them in charge, and provide the material and technical help to do what they identify as needing to be done. By empowering labor, technocrats and business types in this way, we at least provide a basis for stability, a stability which cannot be found in our current focus on political/religious leaders. The employment of the people in productive enterprises would be the biggest step possible toward peace and stability.

The problem of such a scheme lies not in the risk of further corruption, it lies in the probable partition of the country that would result, or at least a very loose federation of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states. The alternative to partition, unfortunately, is .... well, there is no alternative, is there? The outcome of the current mess is partition, whether before or after a subsequent civil war.

The outcome is not ours to control, and is not going to be what we might choose, but it would be far healthier, both in terms of the society's base and of that society's political independence from surrounding nations, if it came as result of our help to the people rather than in spite of our frustrated manipulation of them.

Of course, had we listened to George Marshall, we wouldn't be in this mess today. He adamantly opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Perhaps we should listen to him now, rather than continue to model corruption and hypocrisy for the world's people, even as we self-righteously declaim on the virtues of democracy.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

SR 520 Floating Bridge Makes Forbes' List of Worst City Choke Points

Forbes Magazine has published a list of America's worst urban choke points - and guess which Evergreen State roadway made the list?

That's right - State Route 520. Specifically, the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge over Lake Washington. As Forbes notes:
Seattle is more water than land, and there's the rub. Bridges are just so wide and no wider. Like the bridges crossing from San Francisco to Oakland, this is a necessary passage for many, and its vulnerability at peak times can be a disaster.
The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge is old and getting older - as I pointed out in a recent post, it's decaying and it needs to be replaced with a new, safe structure that offers HOV lanes, a pathway for pedestrians and bikers, standard shoulders, and capacity for Link light rail.

The floating bridge is the North Eastside's link to Seattle. It's especially a transportation lifeline for the City of Redmond and neighboring communities like Kirkland, Bellevue, Woodinville, or Samammish.

And it's not just the floating bridge that could use some upgrading. There are large sections of the roadway on the east and west sides of the bridges that lack adequate shoulders or HOV lanes. Traffic flow could also be improved.

None of this can happen unless we're willing to move forward and invest in transportation. If we want quality public services, then we have to pay for them. There is no free lunch.

It's time we take action to ensure that the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge won't be appearing on future lists of America's most unsafe structures or congested roadways.

Sonics Redux

The Sonics are setting up the town and the legislature for a $225 million renovation to Key Arena, to be paid for by the grunt taxpayers. It would be one thing if this were for the benefit of the average fan, but the average fan can't even afford parking, much less a ticket.

No, this whole thing for the benefit of high-rollers. The owners are high rollers, the players are high rollers, the improvements are for suites for guys who averaged $100,000 in tax breaks from George W -- that's a high roller (and they don't pay anyway, they charge it off to the company which deducts it from taxable income).

But we have to do it, Ollie, so they can buy the best players and coaches. There's competition from the Seahawks and Mariners who have this fancy stuff and now the guys with dough want it at the Arena. The Sonics might run off to ... ah ... Kansas City. Besides, you want us to win the championship, don't you? Our Sonics.

Right. Mr. Sonic is coaching the Portland team because they gave him a $27 million contract. If not for a salary scheme that encourages it, a lot of these multimillionaire players wouldn't be here either.

It happens year after year. Here or somewhere else. Pay up or we'll leave. These national sports leagues extort new facilities for the benefit of their players and owners. They may have psychological needs that make them thrive on the competition of the game, but they never really lose. The only real losers are the cities and their taxpayers. The race for the championship is a one-up game, a race to the top for the team, but a race to the bottom for the city.

The Sonics say they are losing money, but if they sold the franchise today, they would recoup every penny they've spent and pocket a bundle besides. I went over it in a post last year.

It's time for a National Basketball Cities Group, a cartel of cities so they can talk on the same level to the NBA owners and the NBA Players Association. Competition on the court is fine, but competition between cities on who can give away the most money? No. The group could set a standard for the support they're going to give these teams. If the teams didn't like the standard, let them build their own arena. What a concept. If they moved, that city could offer the arena to a team in the other league for free.

You've got it all wrong, chile. There is no other league. The other league is the CBA. Guys there don't make but one percent of what they make in the NBA.

No other league? Man, that looks like an opportunity to me.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Cantwell leads the way in protecting the NW

The Bush administration continues to snub state and local governments across the nation, choosing to ignore regional concerns and breaking its own promises. For instance, we learned yesterday that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was blindsided by President Bush's disclosure of new details about a foiled 2002 terrorist plan to destroy the city's tallest building.

This week, we also learned that the Bush administration is pursuing a plan to reverse a decades-old Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) policy of using revenue from surplus power sales to lower electricity rates for consumers in the Pacific Northwest.

Senator Maria Cantwell is leading the way in opposing the administration's plan to screw the Pacific Northwest:
In a letter to the president’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—the agency in charge of the president’s budget proposal—the senators called for the immediate cessation of efforts to circumvent Congress and implement the ill-advised plan.

“This backdoor rate hike would cost jobs, weigh our economy down, and hurt working families throughout the Northwest,” said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Energy Committee. “Just a week after the president said lower energy prices are the key to moving our economy forward, he’s proposing a nearly $1 billion rate hike that our economy simply cannot afford.”

In their letter to OMB, Senators Maria Cantwell, Larry Craig (R-ID), Patty Murray (D-WA), Conrad Burns (R-MT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Gordon Smith (R-OR) called on the president to abandon the plan, which they said would undermine decades of regionally-based decision-making on issues critical to the Northwest economy.

“We ask that you immediately cease efforts to administratively implement this plan,” the senators wrote. “Northwest ratepayers continue to recover from high power costs resulting from the Western energy crisis, which increased regional wholesale electricity rates by 46 percent. …The latest OMB proposal [sets] a dangerous precedent of unwarranted, administrative micromanagement when it comes to decisions that must be based on Northwest consensus.”

Currently, BPA has the authority to sell surplus power to customers both inside and outside the Northwest. BPA then uses the revenue from these surplus power sales to lower electricity rates throughout the region. About 70 percent of the electricity consumed in the State of Washington is BPA power.

The proposal included in the administration’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget would prevent certain surplus sale revenues from being used to lower power prices for BPA customers, and could raise Northwest power rates by an estimated $924 million over the next 10 years — depending on the amount of surplus power BPA sells and the market price of power.
NPI applauds Senator Cantwell for leading the way in protecting the Pacific Northwest from getting shafted by the Bush administration's poorly devised policies.

Last year, the regional Congressional delegation was successful in stopping a similar proposal in the budget that would have directed the Bonneville Power Administration to abandon its historic system of cost-based rates—costing the Northwest more than 13,000 jobs.

A preliminary analysis estimated that this plan would lead to a loss of 1,120 jobs.

After the defeat of the 2005 proposal, Bush's Energy Secretary, Samuel Bodman, promised not to attempt to implment similiar proposals without the approval of Congress. But it's clear that the Bush administration doesn't care about keeping its promises - or listening to regional concerns. The Bush team is good at stealing elections and deceiving the public, but they aren't good at governing.

Today, Senator Cantwell launched an online petition that gives Washingtonians the ability to let Bush know their opinion on the backdoor rate hike he has proposed in his budget. To sign the petition, please visit Cantwell's Senate website.

And yesterday, Senator Cantwell and Representative Jay Inslee of Washington's 1st Congressional District commended Governor Christine Gregoire's decision to join other western states in a legal challenge to the administration's attempts to trash the Roadless Rule.

Washington State's national forests alone have some two million acres of roadless areas which have been protected under the Roadless Rule:
"Instead of protecting our most pristine public lands for the economic, environmental, and recreational benefits they provide, this administration is intent on opening up tens of millions of acres to road-building, logging, and mining," said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

"It’s wrong to push roads through untouched forests against the wishes of a majority of Washingtonians. We need to strike a responsible balance and preserve America’s last wild lands for the collective enjoyment of current and future generations."

"The day will come when Congress stands up for our national forests," added Inslee, who sits on the House Resources Committee.

"Meantime, we have to depend on the judicial system to stop the administration from damaging our forests by selling out to special interests. I’m appreciative the governor has joined the fight to protect the many places—like the Kettle River Range, Dark Divide and Lena Lake—that are the heirlooms of all families in Washington state."
Senator Maria Cantwell continues to work hard to protect the people and the environment of the Pacific Northwest from the Bush administration's misguided policies - and we are extremely appreciative of her efforts.

New blogs on the virtual block

The regional progressive blogosphere continues to expand at a fast pace. The next group of blogs to join Pacific NW Portal's Regional Blogs directory is already the largest ever. (We hope to update the directory soon at the same time we unveil an array of other new features and improvements).

But I want to point you to one blog in particular that was just started recently which covers some really good material. The Majority Rules Blog, run by Steve Zemke of Taxpayers for Washington's Future, covers everything from environmental issues to the initiative process to voting rights.

It covers both local and national politics and frequently has news items that I haven't seen elsewhere. I've added it to our blogroll and I urge fellow bloggers to do the same thing.

We're working very hard on the next version of Pacific Northwest Portal (and a number of other projects!) - so to all those bloggers out there who are waiting to be added to our directory - we ask for your patience. You have not been forgotten.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Who is counting the bodies here at home?

The AP counts the Americans who die in Iraq and Afghanistan, but is there anyone who counts the lives lost to the Bush incompetence here at home? With the Hurricane Katrina fiasco with Michael Brown at FEMA, the elimination of the long-promised but never delivered help on winter heating bills, the Medicare Part D debacle (overseen by Mark McClellan, brother to presidential spokesman Scott McClellan), and now the Scroogian budget cuts, Americans are making sacrifices not for principles or ideals, but for incompetence, elitism and cronyism.

These are real people, real lives, real suffering, and they deserve to at least be a number on a list somewhere, and not swept under the rug with the forgotten promises and pyrric victories.

All the damage is not accidental or a result of ineptness. Much of it is intentional, driven by ideology and hubris. CBPP reports that the president's budget cuts for 2007 are only the tip of the iceberg (or the fin of the shark, since the icebergs have melted). OMB omitted explicit information about the out years, those after 2007, from its budget documents, but CBPP obtained Administration computer runs that allowed it to piece together the story.

Relative to OMB's 2006 baseline:
Veterans programs would be cut $10.3 billion over the next five years, primarily health care services, a cut of 13% in 2011.

Energy programs touted in the state of the union get a big 29% cut by 2011

Environmental and natural resources cut by 22%, $28.1 billion over five years.

Education. Higher education cut 20%, K-12 and vocational education cut 13%, including community college funding and job training.

Health programs down 13% by 2011, a cut of $21.9 billion over five years.
And so on. Cuts in programs like this, also hurt the economy's base. These are economic depressants, or whatever the antonym to stimulus is. These cuts do not significantly alter the projected deficits, but they do give some wiggle room for more tax cuts.

Surprised?

In Brief - February 9th, 2006

In Brief is a new feature that we're debuting on the blog. It's basically a bulleted list of news items that we want to mention to you but don't want to do a whole post on. We're not yet sure if In Brief will become daily or stay less frequent, but you can expect to see it often in the future.
  • The state Farm Bureau has filed its initiative to destroy growth management and open loopholes for developers. The P-I has a good article about the initiative this morning. An excerpt: "Environmental groups, city leaders and even some farmers say the initiative -- similar to Oregon's Measure 37 -- would gut protections for everything from salmon to open space and threaten rural lifestyles. Most cash-strapped governments would simply choose not to enforce those regulations." The Times also has an article here. NPI's Permanent Defense division will be opposing this initiative in cooperation with the Community Protection Coalition. The Farm Bureau is likely to get support from the BIAW and the Washington Association of Realtors.
  • David Goldstein has a short post this morning noting the success of numerous school levies and ballot propositions, pointing out that taxpayers do indeed support increasing revenues to pay for quality services: "The steady popular support of school levies (what else consistently garners over 70 percent of the vote?) also demonstrates broad popular support of public education in general. I just wonder when our state’s lawmakers are going to realize this, and finally craft a populist package to increase basic funding of education? Voters are more than willing to pay for it… if you give them value for their money." In 2004, Permanent Defense conducted and published a special report showing that voters overwhelmingly support raising taxes to pay for local public services. To see the report, follow this link.
  • The Tri-City Herald published a good editorial last Sunday, entitled: "GOP attack campaign a shameful moment" condemning the House GOP caucus leadership (ahem, Richard DeBolt and his minions, including professional troll Kevin Carns) for their smear campaign accusing Democrats of being soft on sex offenders.
  • Seattle officials have announced that the Seattle Center monorail trains will be repaired for $3 million to $4 million without diverting money from other city services.
  • David Postman has an article this morning in the Times which mentions Darcy Burner's candidacy for the 8th Congressional District. It also references Mike McGavick's challenge to Maria Cantwell.
  • The Times also has an article from Knight Ridder which notes the Democratic Party's lack of a consistent message (and lack of national unity). The article includes references to the progressive blogosphere and even a quote from Chris Bowers of MyDD. The lesson from the article is that Democrats need to figure out how to work together and stop fighting each other. For instance, our strategy should be only challenging Democratic incumbents who really sell out to the other side (like Joe Lieberman or Henry Cuellar).
Something you want to share? Feel free to post it in the thread below.

Introducing the Infocenter

This morning we're launching another minor upgrade to our blog template. This revision is released as Version 3.3. It corrects a couple minor display issues in some browsers (not IE or Firefox) and introduces some design changes.

All of the really noticeable changes affect the sidebar.

The first thing you'll notice about the revamped sidebar is the new Infocenter, marked by a light blue background. The Infocenter is where you'll find links to all of our Atom and RSS feeds - for this blog, for our multimedia content, and for Permanent Defense.

The new Infocenter also allows readers to subscribe to receive an email digest delivered daily with links and summaries of recently published posts. If you're someone who likes getting alerts delivered to your inbox, this service is for you. Take advantage of it today.

You need only click the confirmation link in the email that gets sent to you and then you're set. You may also be interested in this option if you want to keep up with NPI usng your mobile device.

We've moved our Multimedia Feed aggregator up the sidebar just below the new Infocenter so you can easily access our most recent podcasts and multimedia content.

Finally, we have added some new links to the blogroll and recategorized the blogroll itself.

That's basically the extent of the changes.

While these are minor improvements, we hope they make the Official Blog more useful and accessible.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Permanent Defense Celebrates Four Years

Every year, in early February, (in what has become an annual tradition) I compose and publish a statement acknowledging the anniversary of the founding of Permanent Defense and reviewing what the organization accomplished during the previous twelve months.

Today's the day that I've released this year's statement. Four years ago, Permanent Defense was launched to oppose Tim Eyman's destructive initiatives and work for a healthier Washington. The organization started out as a website run by one man (me) but since then it has grown tremendously and now has hundreds of hard working supporters.

Permanent Defense has one of the state's oldest continuously operated political websites. If you look at the short history of the Internet, four years is like an age.

To put the site's existence in perspective, Permanent Defense is older than just about every blog in the local progressive blogosphere. It's also older than national blogs like Daily Kos (founded May 2002) or Atrios (founded in April of the same year).

In fact, Permanent Defense is even older than its parent organization, NPI, which was founded a year and half later (in August of 2003).

I'm often asked what prompted me to launch Permanent Defense in the first place. Four years ago, as many of you know, Tim Eyman admitted to taking hundreds of thousands of dollars supporters had donated to his initiative campaign - for himself:
Tim Eyman, who became a household name for pushing tax-revolt initiatives, admitted Sunday night that he has taken $45,000 in campaign contributions as salary and had intended to divert another $157,000 this year.

"It was the biggest lie of my life" that no donations had made their way into his personal bank account, Eyman told The Associated Press.

"The fact is, it is true that I made money in past campaigns and planned to make money on future campaigns."

[...]

On Friday, after the P-I first reported the massive transfers to Permanent Offense Inc., Eyman lied to newspaper, radio and television reporters, saying he wasn't personally benefitting from the separate organization.

Over the weekend, the weight of his lies caught up with him, he said on Sunday night.

"I was in lie mode," he said. "I became riddled with guilt. It was the biggest lie of my life and it was over the stupidest thing in the world. The biggest thing I'm guiltiest of is an enormous ego. Hubris."

[...]

"This entire charade was set up so I could maintain a moral superiority over our opposition, so I could say our opponents make money from politics and I don't."

Eyman said he became consumed with the heady power of running initiatives and felt the man-of-the-people angle was part of his cachet.

"It was addictive. I was getting deeper and deeper and deeper into this charade. I thought I found a way to make money off our initiatives without our opponents knowing it, or knowing it for sure. I was too clever by half. I just got deeper and deeper into this lie."
The day that the news broke, Eyman was the top story on all the local news broadcasts in the Seattle metro area. As someone who was sick of seeing Eyman's arrogance in the newspaper and watching his initiatives pass year after year, the admission of deception was deeply satisfying. Finally, the faux populist had been exposed.

The next day I was discussing the news with two good frends of mine. I was fairly shocked to discover that both were in support of Eyman and his initiative to destroy Sound Transit's light rail project (I-776). "We may not like the fact that Eyman took money from his donors for personal profit, but we support what he's doing," they said.

I was infuriated. How could any of my friends possibly support Tim Eyman, an admitted liar?

I had to respond - but how? At the time I had absolutely no political connections, and I didn't know what I might do. Then I realized there was one thing I could do: set up a website in opposition to Eyman's initiatives. And the rest is history.

To read my full statement commemorating the four year anniversary of Permanent Defense and reviewing what we achieved this year, follow this link.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Remember to vote

Residents of King County, remember that today is a special election day. Numerous school districts and hospital districts within the county have measures on the ballot asking for additional funding from voters. You can see which districts have measures here.

Most of the measures must pass under special rules - including the 60/40 rule, which requires 60% supermajority approval and 40% minimum turnout.

If you live within a district that has a measure on the ballot, please mail in your absentee or go to your local polling place to cast your vote. Thanks for doing your civic duty.

Washington State gets lucky again

Over the last weekend, Western Washington and the Pacific Northwest got hit by a sinister wind storm that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of local residents. The fierce winds also forced the closure of the world's longest floating bridge - the SR 520 span across Lake Washington.

SR 520 Bridge During February 2006 Storm

The bridge finally reopened on early Sunday morning:
Repairs are complete on the State Route 520 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge mechanical draw span system, and the bridge has is open to vehicular traffic. The bridge had been closed since 9 AM Saturday morning due to high winds and rough water on Lake Washington.

The bridge suffered minor damage to its mechanical draw span system and repairs were required before the bridge could open back up to traffic.

During yesterday’s wind storm, the 42 year old floating bridge endured steady winds of 50 miles per hour and gusts up to 75 miles per hour. Vulnerable to damage from heavy winds, the bridge was closed to traffic and the draw span opened to allow water to pass through the middle of the bridge.

Opening the draw span reduces the amount of potential damage to the bridge. Wind speeds varied between 40 and 50 miles per hour for most of the day. WSDOT bridge maintenance crews brought in specialized ultrasonic equipment to inspect the bridge as winds started to diminish and the inspections showed no major structural damage.
We dodged another bullet. Washington State got lucky again, but our luck isn't going to last. Sooner or later the SR 520 bridge will be out of commission. Redmond's lifeline to Seattle will be severed.

Of course, other Washingtonians in surrounding communities will be affected, too. But none more so than the citizens of Redmond, the state's 15th largest municipality - take it from one of them!

The Bicycle Capital of the Northwest lies at the eastern end of State Route 520, one of the state's busiest arterials.

If you've ever grudgingly driven your vehicle under the Interstate 405 interchange in midafternoon and joined the long (and slow moving) line to cross the floating bridge into Seattle then you know what I mean.

On bad days the line stretches all the way back to Overlake, where the Microsoft campus is located. (Take 520 eastbound into Redmond, and you'll see the headquarters of the world's largest and richest software company, visible along the sides of the highway).

The city is home to nearly fifty thousand people - and that's not counting the fine citizens who live in neighboring cities like Kirkland, Woodinville, Duvall, Samammish, and even Bellevue (which has Interstate 90 on its southern end) or unincorporated King County.

The city has a workforce of some seventy thousand, most working in the high-tech or financial sectors (surprisingly, only about a quarter of that number work for Microsoft).

The bottom line is that State Route 520 is an extremely important arterial. If the floating bridge were to become unusable there would be dire consequences, and not just for solo drivers.

Try sitting on the beach in Seattle's Madison Park and watch the traffic on the floating bridge during the middle of a weekday - and count the number of buses you'll see traversing the bridge in five minutes. There are a lot, including one of Sound Transit's busiest runs, the 545 Express.

I've ridden the 545 express myself from downtown Redmond into downtown Seattle. It usually beats taking your own vehicle. The trip is practically just as fast, (occassionally faster if traffic is bad) and you don't have to worry about parking or driving. It's so heavily used that Sound Transit has had to keep adding more buses to meet the demand.

But the 545 will cease to be an express route if the 520 bridge suddenly shuts down. WSDOT says travel time between Seattle and Redmond would nearly double from an average of 33 minutes to 55 minutes during the evening commute if the bridge were to be unavailable.

The floating bridge is old and crumbling. It has outlived its useful life. As the recent windstorm has shown, the danger of it being closed off is very real and very ominous.

Don't be fooled by the few naysayers out there. WSDOT says that crews have had to seal close to 30,000 linear feet of floating bridge pontoon cracks since 1993.

The state has already waited too long to replace the bridge. Even with the passage of the 2005 Transportation Package there still isn't enough money to replace it.

The perferred alternative, a six lane bridge, is estimated to cost between $2.3 and $3.1 billion to design and build.

The six lane bridge would include four general purpose lanes, two carpool/transit lanes, a bicycle and pedestrian path, shoulders built to current WSDOT/FHWA standards, and pontoons that would be able to accomodate high capacity transit, such as Sound Transit's Link Light Rail system.

But most importantly, the new floating bridge (when it's built, and no matter how many lanes) will be safe and not vulnerable to earthquakes, windstorms, or other hazards.

We're fortunate to have gotten lucky again - but our luck just isn't going to last. We can't afford to wait for a disaster to strike - unless we want to be the victims of a tragedy similar to what befell New Orleans.

Defeating Initiative 912 last autumn was the first step, but plenty of work remains. Tim Eyman must be stopped in his attempt to repeal the other half of the 2005 Transportation Package.

And voters in the Seattle metropolitan area must be persuaded to look to the future and approve the collection of additional revenues to pay for a new bridge.

We can't afford to continue the gamble. It's time to invest in transportation infrastructure in Washington State and replace the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Seahawks' Holmgren hits the nail on the head

Via the P-I:
"We knew it was going to be tough going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers," Holmgren told the fans at Qwest Field. "I didn't know we were going to have to play the guys in the striped shirts as well."
No kidding. I'm still mad about losing (to the refs) yesterday. Bill Leavy needs to be fired immediately.

Rainy Day Fund

"First, assume the can opener," said the economist to his fellow castaways. The motley group was tranded on a desert island, surrounded by miles of open sea, but blessed with the unlikely good fortune of having cases of canned goods float in on some wreckage. Unfortunately they had no way to open the cans. All the suggestions were messy or impractical, like hurling cans from atop the palm trees onto rocks or gnawing them open with their teeth. The economist penetrated the situation with logic.

You might say those of us who advocate a rainy day fund are like the economist assuming the can opener. We call for it when we need it, but forget about it when there is a surplus. (You might say that, I don't.) Here we have a budget shortfall. Wouldn't it be nice to have a rainy day fund so we don't have to raise taxes. Sheesh, of course, a rainy day fund instead of taxes. A no-brainer. So we set about creating a rainy day fund from our imagination. See how practical we are?

I was reminded of this when I was visiting Bellingham last weekend [to see a brilliant student production of Jean Anouilh's Antigone directed by Emily Harvey, a junior in the theater program there]. I stayed over with some friends, and the next morning opened the Bellingham Herald and found a piece by Dick Startz of the UW's Economics department.

Professor Startz does better than most. For example, he understands that job growth is the most reliable general-purpose economic indicator. He recommends not allowing a raid on the rainy day fund unless job growth is below 1%. That's fine.

But, a reminder: We don't have one to raid. Professor Startz implicitly suggests constructing one from the current state budget surplus. But as I've said here before, this surplus is really only a temporary cash flow anomaly. The "plus" now is from the housing boom. It will be a minus later, probably carrying over the same exclamation point.

Governor Gregoire has the right idea. Her $900 million in reserves does not constitute a rainy day fund, but a simple set aside for next biennium. Mandatory expenditures await us there that will swallow up the $900 million and come looking for more. (Did you see her State of the State speech where she was gesturing up and down to demonstrate the roller coaster. Made me queasy just to watch it.)

Now, on this stage, your humble servant is going to do what the economist on the desert island could not, what in spite of his endowed chair and many honors Professor Startz could not. I am going assume a rainy day fund that could actually come into being. Now. Today. Present tense. (Could. I'm not saying should.) Ready?

Debt-financed! Ta-da!

Yes. We borrow it now before interest rates get out of sight, and pay it back in good times.

Why is this better? One: We could have it when we need it. Two: Reducing state spending to fill the fund in good times, even if it were politically possible, would depress economic activity without a good reason. We might be forced to use our rainy day fund before we could even admire very long. State spending and services are key supports to our economy. The idea that government is a vampire feeding on the vigorous private sector economy is nuts. It is a story repeated often enough to gain currency among the easily persuaded, but it is still nuts. Three: It's cheaper to borrow in bad times. Not so much competition.

Objection 1: We cannot borrow like that. The state is required to balance its budget.

Wrong. Washington has a limit on the percentage of the budget going to debt service, and traditionally this has been reserved for capital construction bonds. But there is no constitutional requirement that the budget be balanced. (If you're about to rant about spendthrifty liberal pinko queers, check the federal budget deficit and your party affiliation, or log onto Tim Eyman and the Renegade Right. Then come back for a little liberal responsibility.)

Objection 2: You assume we can pay it back. With the current revenue architecture, that day will never come.

Touche. (Remember I said could?) It doesn't make sense to create a fund if we can't pay it back. And if you don't like debt financing, you're out of luck anyway, because we will never have a surplus big enough to fill such a fund. Our current revenues are barely adequate this year. They won't be in the next biennium and in all biennia thereafter. Budget drivers like health care costs on one side and eroding revenue from Eyman, et al, on the other, will open a gap that will never close.

Objection 3: We have no idea how big a rainy day fund should be. Downturns typically last more than a year. We want to get off the roller coaster, not just delay the drop.

Ouch. That's right. Some national groups have suggested five to fifteen percent of expenditures is a good size for a rainy day fund, but that not much more than an arbitrary, generalized guess. Individual states have idiosyncratic tax schemes and will thus have different variability from high to low. They have different economies as well, and different expenditure patterns. (The state with the biggest rainy day fund as a percentage of expenditures is Alaska. Alaska subsists on oil revenue, completely stable, not requiring any rainy day fund at all.)

I once calculated on the back of an envelope that Washington would need about 85 percent of its annual operating budget to completely iron out its historical ups and downs. That's $20 to $25 billion. Much more than the $5 billion that is most commonly talked about. Also much more than we could possible borrow for such a purpose.

But there is a concept that was once used at the federal level (when they knew what they were doing). It is called the "full employment budget." You may remember "structural deficits." Structural deficits were calculated from what revenues and expenditures would be at a level of "full employment," assuming away the current actual economic situation. This revealed the underlying adequacy of revenues (or excess of expenditures, if you like). The state of Washington has a structural deficit. A "structural budget" could tell us not only what size a rainy day fund should be, but would help us know what the baseline level of revenue should be.

A rainy day fund is only practical in the presence of a balanced and adequate revenue architecture -- the ultimate can opener.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Seahawks doomed by horrible officiating

Like other Seattle fans, I'm depressed that the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl, but I'm angry that we were robbed of any chance at victory thanks to horrible officiating.

As the AP's Dave Goldberg saw it:
-Darrell Jackson was called for offensive pass interference for pushing off Chris Hope on what would have been a 16-yard completion from Matt Hasselbeck. The call was a little ticky-tacky, but it was a penalty.

-A holding penalty on Chris Gray that negated an 18-yard completion from Hasselbeck to Jackson that would have given the Seahawks a first down at the Pittsburgh 23.

-A 34-yard punt return by Peter Warrick to the Pittsburgh 46 was called back by a holding penalty on Etric Pruitt. Although to be fair, there's nothing unusual about a penalty on any punt or kick in any game?

-Finally, some dubious clock management and play calling that forced Josh Brown into trying a 54-yard field goal late in the half. It was wide right, so the Steelers led 7-3 at intermission despite being outplayed for most of the half.

But that only was a preface for the mistakes in the second half - the Roethlisberger interception, a couple of more Stevens drops, then finally, the decisive penalty on Locklear.
And then, of course, there was that touchdown made by Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that was questionable in the first half.

The Seahawks were cheated out of a Super Bowl title by bad officiating. Just about every time the Seahawks made a key play, the referees called a penalty and Pittsburgh got a break. The Steelers were outplayed in the first half and even some in the second half. Yet they got points and the Seahawks didn't.

The Hawks also suffered from missed opportunities, like Josh Brown's missed field goals, and Jeramy Stevens' dropped passes. But what really doomed the team was the horrible, shameful officiating.

Michael Wilborn of the Washington Post noted:
...The Seahawks should have had a touchdown on Darrell Jackson's reception in the end zone, but the officials called an absurd offensive pass interference penalty on Jackson, wiping out the score.

The Seahawks should have been ahead by a couple of touchdowns, yet found themselves down 7-3 at halftime because the referees blew another call. Roethlisberger's third-down dive into the end zone simply was not a touchdown, though it was called that on the field. Because less than two minutes remained, the call was reviewed in the booth. And everybody in the stadium plus everybody at home could see, clear and conclusively, that Big Ben didn't get the ball across the goal line. It wasn't a touchdown, plain and simple. Yet, the call stood and the Steelers had a touchdown they shouldn't have had.

Another penalty assessed to the Seahawks early in the fourth quarter, which negated a gain that took the Seahawks to the 1, also never happened. A penalty against Hasselbeck for blocking below the waist when, in fact, he was trying to tackle the interceptor, was also erroneous.
Wilborn thinks it would be "irresponsible" to believe "the officials were intentionally cheating Seattle". I don't. The bias was painfully obvious. The officials kept handing break after break to the Steelers. At the party I was at, the last major penalty, which killed a Seahawks offensive drive, drew a loud, angry roar from the attendees.
The situation was best summed up by a fellow fan who belted out, "These referees SUCK!"

Bill Leavy & Co. should never be allowed to referee another Super Bowl. Or another playoff game, for that matter.

UPDATE: Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock writes:
Bill Leavy and his crew ruined Super Bowl XL. Am I the only one who would like to hear them defend their incompetence?
Read his whole column, "Throw a flag on these Super Bowl referees".

UPDATE II: KIRO TV has an article "Fans Enraged Over Officials' Calls".

UPDATE III: Another good column, this one from the Toronto Star: TV unveils zebras at their worst (Lousy officials simply hijacked The Big Game). Another good column here from Bob George, who asks: "Stealing a win? Is that why they're called the Steelers?"

Still another good column from Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times: "Not so Super officiating".

The consensus is in. The officiating was awful. According to ESPN's SportsNation poll, the last time I checked (12:50 AM PST), 39% of poll respondents said what they would remember most about Super Bowl XL was the poor officiating, which is the categorical leader.

According to the breakdown, a whopping 88% of the poll respondents who live in Washington State said they would remember poor officiating the most. Oregon clocked in at 60%, Alaska came in at 65%, and Idaho was 57% for that category.

Finally, The Chicago Sun Times has a look at three of the bad calls.

Bill Leavy and his crew (Umpire Garth DeFelice, line judge Mark Perlman, field judge Steve Zimmer, side judge Tom Hill and back judge Bob Waggoner) ought to be fired. Well, maybe not all of them. But certainly Leavy.

Well, there's my sports rant for the year. We now return you to your regularly scheduled political commentary. Better luck next year, fellow Northwesterners.

Guv douses lust for new revenue

"Not even remotely in the game," Chris Gregoire told Dave Ammons last week. Then she wrapped her lower lip around her upper teeth and squeezed, a determined (stubborn) expression I wish she'd get rid of for the sake of her facial contours. She was talking about something very close to my heart -- new revenue.

I was upset.

The erosion of the tax base is the major problem for state government, particularly with increasing demands foreseeable for the future. A second major problem is the fact that taxes now ride on the backs of the poor and lower-income. A third and still major problem is the very existence of the decrepit, upside-down Business & Occupation tax. The only way to close all the wounds is tax reform. Sadly, when I say "taxes," people think I'm talking dirty. It's not dirty, it's love.

Tim Eyman and his deadbeat dads have set in place a dynamic that is only going to get worse over time. Killing the MVET, limiting the property tax and continuing tax "incentives" (read "giveaways") is a three-part poison pill. After three years of recovery, a Boeing turnaround, a housing boom, and big new sin taxes, this year is the first "surplus." Even this one was bought by abandoning the cities.

As I say, it was rejection. I was upset -- but only for a moment.

I quickly remembered that governors and prominent citizens and blue ribbon commissions have a zero rate of success in getting anything done with regard taxes. The more popular the public figure, the less successful the effort. Dan Evans nearly got sainthood, but could never get much of a bump for his tax reforms. Bill Gates Senior will be remembered for putting his name on the Tax Structure Study Commission, but people will connect him only with the estate tax, not anything substantial.

Then I actually smiled.

Because I remembered the Guv thinks she is looking at a balanced budget. It is kind of balanced today, but it will not be balanced next year at this time. I smiled not because I like a good crisis, but if you've got your eyes closed, you need to hit the wall before you know it is there. If we are near the top of a housing bubble, revenues will not increase the 5% per year out into the biennia ahead, as estimated by OFM. The increase may well be a minus. ... And you know, if we do need new revenue, it would be good to get it set up soon, so the deficit doesn't get out of hand. Since we are speculating, politically speaking, the timing would be best the furthest it was from the reelection campaign. But stop me. I heard her. She said No.

I was not really upset, just taken aback for a moment.

I appreciate her being out front about this. My personal history is full of being strung along and then crushed. It is better to know how she really feels, that she does not secretly support such a thing. Out front is good. It tells us where we are. It's kind of like leadership.

Maybe I can get something going with Lisa Brown.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

GO SEAHAWKS!!

Seattle P-I columnist Art Thiel writes:
Someone who has had some non-interview contact with Seahawks players around town this week spoke slowly, to emphasize his words.

"The Seahawks ... are ... pissed."

He wasn't a Seahawks employee, and didn't want his well-known name used. He was offering more evidence to the inescapable feeling that the Seahawks resent the hell out of being street urchins at the kitchen door of the NFL establishment, begging for scraps.

Yes, the respect theme is overused. And the Seahawks have said little publicly about their dismay.

This time, it's real, albeit real quiet. From signs great and small, the Seahawks are honing their pique as sharply as their talents. The national media doesn't get it. Fans don't get it. Oddsmakers don't get it.

They'll get it Sunday, when the Seahawks win Super Bowl XL 27-24.

Sure, that reads like a hometown pick. But anyone who has been a regular reader here knows that local-team sentiment appears as often as eloquence in a Bush news conference.

[...]

The Seahawks' best asset is their most immeasurable, by standard football metrics. It was explained in another simple burst of light, this from Strong, whom you may know by now is neither braggart nor fool after 13 NFL seasons.

"We take pride," he said, "in being the smartest team in the league."
This isn't a sports blog - but nevertheless, the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl and that's a big news event - and a big deal for the Pacific Northwest region.

Art Thiel is right on. The Seahawks have what it takes to win tomorrow. They've proved it all year. They're tired of the disresepct and so are the fans. They're going to go out to Ford Field and put everything they've got into this game.

As a Seahawks fan, I am disgusted to see this kind of talk from a fellow progressive blogger:
Go Steelers!

We shouldn't invest our civic pride -- or our public treasure -- in a football team, or the eccentric, klepotocratic billionaire who owns it.

Like Jeff, I just can't bring myself to root for the Seahawks. Or at least, I wouldn't be able to if I gave a crap about professional sports or thought they had any relevance to anything whatsoever. I might watch the game tomorrow, but I doubt I'll be rooting.
If you don't care about football, Mr. Stahl - then why are you rooting for the opposing team? Why are you writing about the Super Bowl?

This city has been starved of professional sports championships for decades. We already built the stadiums. We already invested in the sports industry here. What's wrong with wanting a championship? The answer is nothing.

When I go to the East Coast later this year, I want to be able to step off that airplane wearing a sweatshirt with the words "Super Bowl Champions" on it. It's a statement of regional pride. Sure, we have other things to be proud of, but there's nothing wrong with adding your home football team to the list.

I'll leave you with two words before tomorrow's game:


Go Seahawks!!

The Globalization of Christine

Apparently I alone was disappointed in the Guv's trade missions this fall and winter. She liked it when she flew into China on a Boeing jet. She was impressed when she was driven past an office tower with Microsoft on the side. Then there was a Starbucks across the street from her hotel. Very cool. But best was when nobody in China had a problem distinguishing our state from the nation's capitol. In their eyes Washington is "like a small nation to itself," she said.

At some point in her travels she sat down with Flatworld Friedman and was wowed by the tremendous changes astir in the world, revolutionary changes. The bottom line is education, infrastructure, keeping us competitive in the global marketplace, keeping our citizens. Just wait till his next book.

Washington is a player. Christine is a player. The global industrial giants and brave new industries are players.

We do not want to be a player. Being a player means there are people in the stands. Those among us who are not endowed with the intellect, resources, or interest in the latest technological movement are just left to watch, sad victims of our own inadequacy. This includes continents full of people. It includes teachers and nurses and bus drivers, who are just quasi-players, assistant players, would-be players.

Friedman's Flat World is sandwiched between grotesque mass poverty below and a collapsing environment above. (You'll remember Friedman. He is the NYT columnist who was a major intellectual apologist for the Iraq invasion. He's given up on trying to explain how that misbegotten adventure might have turned out okay, if only.... Now he's gone back to his stock and trade in globalism. Friedman is not an economist. He took one class in college, and I'm not sure he passed it. He is a journalist).

No doubt this high-tech Flat World is going to be very profitable for some, but it is not going to be satisfied with Washington (state) unless we keep upping the ante. Outsourcing and developing new crops and revolutionary drugs and information architecture are in their most essential essentialness portable. Investment will turn a profit, and that profit will go wherever it's given the best deal. Citizens there can man the drive-up windows or trim the hedges or whatever.

Gregoire should remember her fight with the tobacco companies. Corporations have no loyalty except to themselves. A basic amorality is built in. Look at Boeing. Headquarters in Chicago. Look at North Carolina. Gutted its own business taxes and in so doing gutted them for every state. Phooey.

China is the big deal now, but where are they going? They make stuff for us, and we want to make stuff for them. They add the equivalent of two New Englands to their power grid every year. They pump untold tons of pollutants into their environment every day. Their rivers are sewers. Their aquifers are dropping like the drain plug has been pulled. They make everything cheaper because they're discounting the future as much as we are and they're paying their people less.

The technology we need is for clean water, clean air, rail and schools and roads for those who have none, for a transportation scheme that does not suck the life out of the planet, and for an energy technology not based on poisonous gases. Not just in Redmond, in Africa. Let's leave nobody in the stands.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Washington's Roach Speaks Plain English

On February 2nd, I attended Asian Pacific American Legislation Day at the State Capitol in Olympia, Washington. An annual event, it drew a large, organized crowd of Asian Americans from all over Washington. People heard Governor Gregoire give an upbeat speech, and afterwards disbursed in the drizzle to seek out their district representatives. The idea was to put the concerns and interests of a diverse Washington Asian American community into the hands of citizens, and send them to meet face to face with their representatives.

Before attending the event, I studied the APA Legislative Agenda, which outlined issues important to immigrants and minorities across the state.

I came across and item called SB 6499, which was sponsored by Pam Roach, the State Senator from the 31st district. It called for new voter identification laws, including birth certificates and proof of citizenship in order to vote.

Then I saw something really interesting.

According to the APA schedule, there was no meeting set with Senator Roach to discuss this issue, which is of paramount importance to Asians and other immigrant and minority groups.

On February 1, I called the Senator’s office. A staffer didn’t know what APA Legislation Day was.

I asked for clarification. Potentially two thousand Asians from all over Washington, the Governor speaking, Senator Roach sponsored SB 6499, and you don’t know what it is?

I was told that no one had asked for a meeting with Senator Roach. I checked with APA. I was told they had requested a meeting, but had not heard back yet. I left my name and number with the staffer. No return call.

The morning of February 2nd, as I drove down Interstate 5 in the early morning downpour, I called the Senator’s office again.

I re-introduced myself. I was told no one had told them about APA Day until someone called yesterday. I explained that someone was I. I was assured no one else had asked for a meeting.

I was told Senator Roach had a very busy schedule. I asked if that meant no meeting would be scheduled. I reiterated the concerns about the Senator’s bill, and how it would affect thousands of her constituents.

I was told to stop by around 1:30 PM. It was suggested by the staffer we might catch her between meetings.

Indeed, Senator Roach was gracious enough to meet with members of APA, including Maxine Chan and Kelli Nakayama of International Community Health Services, and Franklin Yi of the Korean American Voters Alliance.

After explaining to us that SB 6499 was essentially going nowhere, she assured the group that her concern in such legislation was making sure it was valid citizens who voted in elections. After the 2004 Washington Governor’s race, there was a lot of activity in Olympia involving voter verification.

Maxine Chan explained that there already existed specific social and logistical barriers to immigrant and minority voters, and additional bureaucracy could disproportionately affect that group. She also mentioned the language barrier, which often resulted in discrimination and difficulty at polling places.

That was when the whole thing turned into a bad horror film.

Senator Roach responded by saying she was sympathetic with the whole language barrier, and that no one should be discriminated against at the polls. She went on to explain that she was an advocate of early English proficiency education, particularly for immigrant children so that they might grow up accent free. She spoke of a future of no accents, which would alleviate a host of problems.

By shedding foreign sounding accents, she thought people would face less discrimination. It was in their best interest.

She then turned to Franklin Yi, a Korean immigrant whom she knew as a constituent, and pointed out his foreign accent. However, she jokingly vouched for Franklin, because she knew him.

I, Maxine and Kelli sat stunned. Franklin laughed. I’m not sure what his laughter meant.

We thanked her for meeting with us, and she thanked us for coming, saying her door was always open.

We went out and stood in the rain, dumbfounded. Had she really said that? Did I just hear what I thought I heard?

Clearly, Maxine, Kelli and I were “okay” with Senator Roach because we had shed our foreign accents. Is that what had earned us the right not to be discriminated against?

I began to think back on some of the well meaning, institutionalized racism I had encountered in my life as an “accent free” Chinese American.

“You didn’t sound Asian on the phone.”

“You don’t act like a foreigner.”

“I’m not talking about you, though. You’re different.”

“You’re so Americanized.”

And so on, and so on.

What perhaps is most frightening about this story is that I believe Pam Roach loves her country and loves democracy. What does that say about how far we have come, how far we have to go?

Maria Cantwell deserves our support

In recent weeks I've been hearing from a number of activists who are clamoring to figure out a way to get rid of Washington State's junior senator, Maria Cantwell, who they feel isn't doing a good job of standing up to the administration and isn't progressive enough.

Some people are even trying to draft Jay Inslee to run against Cantwell in the primary (and our friends on the right shouldn't get excited, because there is zero chance that Jay is going to do it). So far, the only person who has declared he's running against Cantwell is perennial candidate Mark Wilson.

David Goldstein explains why activists ought to give Cantwell their support:
...Taking her entire term as whole, she has been a good senator… a hard working senator… an effective senator… and a surprisingly more progressive senator than many people give her credit for. According to Progressive Punch, Cantwell has a progressive voting rating of 88.73 percent, ranking her in the Senate’s top 20, only a couple notches to the right of Sen. Patty Murray.

But most importantly, she is an incumbent, Democratic senator, and she absolutely will be the party’s nominee in November.

Yet I keep hearing from whiners complaining that they can’t support Cantwell because of this vote or of that… suggesting that real Democrats should support real Democrats… like, you know… former Green/Libertarian candidate Mark Wilson.

Get real.

First of all, even if Wilson had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the Democratic nomination – and he doesn’t – there is absolutely nothing to suggest that he possesses the qualifications to serve as a US senator. But even more importantly, there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that he’d be even remotely as progressive as Cantwell!
Maria Cantwell isn't a perfect Senator (who is?) but her voting record speaks for itself. She has a good reputation. Local officials I've talked to here on the Eastside, when I've asked about Maria, have told me that Cantwell has been attentive to their concerns and is a very hard worker.

Time and again, Maria has risen to the occasion to fight for her constitutents against some very powerful business interests (including Enron and big oil conglomerates).

And her voting record shows it. She's more progressive than the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, who is widely admired by activists around the country (Reid comes in at 81.35% compared to Maria's 88.7% - the closer to 100% you are, the more progressive your voting record).

We know that Republican Mike McGavick will have a well funded campaign with plenty of resources and party backing at his disposal (heck, the party's already endorsed him).

To those Democrats who are contemplating not supporting Cantwell, I ask you: would you rather have Mike McGavick representing you? That's your other choice.

There's no way we're going to be able to take back the United States Senate if we don't support our own progressive Democratic incumbents. We need to keep Maria in Congress working hard for the people of Washington State.

I've said this before and I'll say it again now: This organization is certainly ready to do what it can to help reelect Maria Cantwell in 2006.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

This is the good stuff

The connection between Kitzhaber and Gregoire on evidence-based medicine was confirmed recently in a hearing before the House Appropriations Committee. John Kitzhaber is former governor of Oregon who is mounting a full-scale promotion of organized, sane health care. Chris Gregoire is the new Washington governor bent on making changes that make sense.

The podcast link to that hearing is here. The Appropriations Committee does it in other media too. It's great stuff. It is also leadership, figuring out where we need to go and setting about getting there.

I guess I'm behind the curve on this. I didn't realize drugs weren't measured against each other to gauge effectiveness. They're measured against a placebo. Part of evidence-based medicine ("evidence of effectiveness and benefit") is setting up comparisons between drugs and drugs or drugs and other procedures.

Surgical procedures are analyzed for effectiveness. The gastric bypass, for example, was determined to be effective, but only for the morbidly obese.

Providers are judged, too. If one clinic has a significantly higher success rate than another, why are we not funneling state business to that clinic?

What makes most sense is having independent analysts examine the material, the studies. People without a horse in the race judging providers, discounting biased trials and phony findings. They're doing this at the Oregon Health and Sciences University. John Santa from that school's Center for Evidence Based Policy was there to testify.

While Kitzhaber has said, "It's too late for incremental change," a good first step is getting state capacity in this area. State Health Care Authority administrator Steve Hill estimated 25 to 30 percent of the $4 billion spent on health care annually is wasted (compare to $350 million per year total budget for projects under the 9-cent gas tax). Only a fraction of this waste is in administration, the rest is "overuse, under use, and misuse in health care treatment."

Administrative savings in the health care field can be found aplenty, too. But don't look at government programs. That address is Private Corporate Health Care Insurance Company, Inc. For a good look at the enormous waste of private sector providers, see the folks at Health Care for All - Washington

Podcast reminder

If you haven't subscribed to our podcast yet, you should. We just released our second episode on Tuesday, commemorating the one year anniversary of Pacific Northwest Portal and explaining how to use it as a resource.

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State primary moving to August

I've talked to numerous people in recent weeks who have assured me that the Legislature wasn't going to do anything to move the primary up from where it is now - in mid September. The reasoning, of course, is that the Legislature has failed to do anything about the primary in years past. So why this year?

But I was sure this was the year the primary was going to be moved, and it looks like it's going to happen:
Along with backyard barbecues, camping and summer vacation, you can add voting to your August to-do list, starting next year.

After years of angst over whether to change the timing of the state's mid-September primary, one of the nation's latest, lawmakers are poised to move up the election by a month, starting in 2007.

The Senate, which has been a graveyard for the primary-moving bill in previous years, gave the August primary a surprisingly strong bipartisan sendoff, approving it 37-11 on Wednesday. The House is expected to follow suit.

Secretary of State Sam Reed, the county auditors, the military and others have long advocated moving the primary to an earlier date. They said the seven-week window between the September primary and the November general election doesn't leave enough time to count ballots, deal with any recounts or contested elections, and get out the absentee ballots for the general election.

The House has previously endorsed the move, so the bill is considered a done-deal this year. The governor supports the change.
We don't actually start voting in August until 2007. This year's primary, unfortunately, remains in September. But change is on the way. All that remains is for the House and the Governor to act.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

House passes bill to outlaw GOP dirty tricks

The state House unanimously passed a bill today to outlaw the mailing of fake sex offender notification postcards. HB 3238 reads as follows:
Sec. 1. The legislature finds that attempts to unduly alarm the public using fake sex offender notifications is reprehensible and disgusting. Our world is a scary enough place without opportunistic individuals or groups using phony boogeymen to scare children and other vulnerable persons. It is the intent of the legislature to protect our communities from the very real threats posed by violent sex predators and from those that would seek to exploit those threats by terrorizing the population with bogus notifications.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 2. A new section is added to chapter 9A.84 RCW to read as follows:(1) A person is guilty of distributing a false sex offender community notification bulletin if, with the intent to alarm, harass, or intimidate any other person, he or she distributes information, designed to resemble a sex offender community notification bulletin knowing that it is not a sex offender community notification bulletin. (2) Distributing a false sex offender community notification bulletin is a class C felony. (3) For purposes of this section, "sex offender community notification bulletin" means a bulletin created by law enforcement for the purpose of notifying the public about a registered sex offender under RCW 4.24.550.
Even Representative DeBolt, leader of the GOP caucus, voted for the bill, which passed with 97 yeas and one representative excused. The state Senate ought to act quickly to send the legislation to the Governor's desk so it can be signed into law. Carl over at the Washington State Political Report has some thoughts about DeBolt's support for HB 3238.

Another argument for building the Alaskan Way Tunnel

The Seattle Times editorial board, which supports the viaduct "rebuild" option should rethink its support, especially after this article from the Times' own reporter, Susan Gilmore:
These are the four options the state is considering. All envision construction starting in 2008:
  • "Tunnel complete": Build a tunnel along the central waterfront, replace the sea wall along the north waterfront, add a walkway over Highway 99 from Victor Steinbrueck Park to the waterfront, widen curves in the Battery Street Tunnel and lower Aurora Avenue North north of the tunnel. Cost would be $3.7 billion to $4.5 billion and would take seven to 10 years to build.
  • "Tunnel core": Build a tunnel along the central waterfront and a bridge up to the Battery Street Tunnel, with no lowering of Aurora or changes to the tunnel other than safety improvements. The sea wall would be partially replaced. The cost would be $3 billion to $3.6 billion, and construction would take seven to 10 years.
Both of these tunnel options assume a complete closure of Highway 99 for 18 to 42 months. The longer the closure, the shorter the construction time.
  • "Rebuild complete": Rebuild the viaduct along the central waterfront. This option includes complete sea-wall replacement and a lowered Aurora Avenue. Cost would be $2.6 billion to $3.1 billion, and construction would take 11 to 12 years.
  • "Rebuild core": Rebuild the viaduct and sea wall along the central waterfront. No lowering of Aurora. The cost would be $2 billion to $2.4 billion and construction would be 11 to 12 years.
Rebuilding would take longer than a tunnel because the roadway would remain open, at least during peak hours, during construction, Dye said.
Not only is the tunnel a much safer option, but it will lead to an attractive waterfront and it won't take as much time to build. (And Seattleites can manage without that arterial for a few years - by the time construction begins, Sound Transit's Central Link light rail line should be open or about ready to open, which will help).

Yes, the tunnel is more expensive than the rebuild option, but it's about time people started looking at factors other than cost. The cheapest solution is often not the best solution.

It's like investing in renewable energy. The startup costs are high for say, solar equipment, but once you get over that hurdle you have free electricity. Americans seem to have a tendency to look at short term costs and ignore long term gains. The Seattle Times editorial board and others should support the only sensible option for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct: the construction of a safe, modern tunnel.