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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Looking Back At 2006: The End

In a few short hours, 2006 will be over and 2007 will be here. For billions, the new year has already begun. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, less than a quarter of the day is left until midnight arrives.

Every year has its share of disappointments, and 2006 was no exception. But 2006 was different. 2006 was the year that Democrats finally rebounded and surged to historic, massive electoral victories. 2006 also saw continued and unparalleled growth for the progressive movement, especially in the blogosphere.

Over a thousand posts were typed and published on this blog this year (totaling roughly around 732,000 words, or 3,648,000 characters), while the number of unique visits was four times what it was in 2005.

A year ago I wrote:
So ends 2005. Let us hope that the fortunes of the progressive movement - our fortunes - continue to rise in 2006.
And they certainly did. Overnight, we became the majority party and connected with the electorate. It took hard work to get all those wins and future battles are unlikely to be any easier.

In 2007, our podcast will be one year old, Pacific NW Portal will be two years old, the Official Blog will be three years old, NPI itself will celebrate its fourth anniversary and Permanent Defense will celebrate its fifth.

2006 is over. 2007 is upon us. As the new year dawns, we will look to build on our successes and learn from our defeats. The future is bright and filled with opportunities. It's our job to take advantage of them.

Drudge imitator all hung up over reactions to Saddam's execution

Local Drudge imitator Orbusmax is in a tiff because we don't share his view that Saddam's execution was a "great day for all". Normally we tend to ignore his bizarre commentary and accusations, but this little bit was just so over the top it was irresistible. Here we go, no emphasis or alteration:
TOO BAD IT COMES WITH MORE EXAMPLES OF EXTREMIST PARTISAN, LEFTIST HACKS WHO CAN'T HELP DISPLAYING THEIR IRRATIONAL HATE, RAGE, AND LOATHING OF THIS NATION. YOUR NORTHWEST 'BLUE WAVE', UNHINGED AND OUT OF CONTROL. IS THIS THE ONE-PARTY RULE OREGONIANS AND WASHINGTONIANS VOTED FOR?
Wow, quite a mouthful. Let's take it apart, shall we?

The first claim made is that we're extreme. Given that our views and values are in the mainstream and have been embraced by the electorate, that one's not true. The second claim is that we're partisan. That's true of many of us in the blogosphere. We at NPI are generally partisan (Democrats).

But then, so is the anonymity-loving individual who calls himself Orbusmax. Those who read his site know it's very partisan and very Republican. Rather than talk about hypocrisy, let's just say that cancels out, since Orbusmax obviously doesn't think there is anything wrong with partisanship.

Next is leftist. The words progressive and liberal, which we would use to describe ourselves, are also synonymous with the word "left", just as conservative is synonymous with right, or in Orbusmax-style, "righty".

Then on to "hacks". Often a word that partisans use to describe partisans on the other side. It can mean tool, but it also has other meanings. "Hack" can mean mediocre and disdained writer. This is certainly disdained (and we think mediocre) writing. Therefore, Orbusmax is a hack. Let's just cancel this one too.

Now on to the irrational hate and rage. The post tagged with these words was simply a calm and reasonable viewpoint which held that the Iraqi court was flawed and that a proper international criminal court should have been the venue for trying Saddam. That's neither irrational, hateful, or rage-filled.

I personally oppose the death penalty. I view it as immoral, and consequently I don't support any execution, even if it is the sentence from a fair trial. If I was someone who allowed hate and rage to drive my thoughts and feelings I would probably support the death penalty out of a desire for vengeance.

It wasn't necessary to execute Saddam to prevent him from "doing more harm". Putting him in a secure prison would have accomplished the same thing. We shouldn't operate by the principle of an "eye for an eye".

Then there's the pretense that we loathe America. Obviously not true, or we would all have moved to Canada by now. We won't accuse Orbusmax of hating his own country...though we will say he is obviously deluded.

As for...."unhinged and out of control"? Excuse me while I have a good laugh.

These comments are ironic given that they were presented in ALL CAPS (which on the Internet is considered equivalent to shouting), are clearly not humorous, and amount to nothing less than a grand stream of fictitious and provocative insults.

It seems the commenter (Orbusmax) is describing his own feelings. This tells us that he reacted angrily to what we and David wrote...and that's his problem, not ours. He could have simply disagreed instead of falsifying our views and tone.

Finally, why the victories Democrats won here and across the country last month were brought up is a mystery. We can only guess the midterms are still on his mind. What voters across this country voted for, Orbusmax, is a party that believes in government - effective, strong government.

This is exactly what the Framers recognized when they met in Philadelphia centuries ago to draft the document that would become the United States Constitution. The Articles of Confederation were not working. A stronger governing system was needed to secure democracy by and for the people...to preserve the fundamental rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Feel free to dwell on the failure of the conservative agenda all you like....we're going to move on ahead and begin the process of cleaning up the mess it has left.

Towards a better press

Steve Duin, The Oregonian's metro columnist, had an excellent review today about "The Race Beat" by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff. It's the story of how journalists covered the civil rights movement, and it sounds like a must read. I wanted to link to Duin's column but I can't seem to locate it on The Oregonian's clunky and outdated web site.

So here's a bit of the summary from the publisher:
Drawing on private correspondence, notes from secret meetings, unpublished articles, and interviews, veteran journalists Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff go behind the headlines and datelines to show how a dedicated cadre of newsmen—first black reporters, then liberal southern editors, then reporters and photographers from the national press and the broadcast media—revealed to a nation its most shameful shortcomings and propelled its citizens to act.

We watch the black press move bravely into the front row of the confrontation, only to be attacked and kept away from the action. Following the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision striking down school segregation and the South’s mobilization against it, we see a growing number of white reporters venture South to cover the Emmett Till murder trial, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the integration of the University of Alabama.

We witness some southern editors joining the call for massive resistance and working with segregationist organizations to thwart compliance. But we also see a handful of other southern editors write forcefully and daringly for obedience to federal mandates, signaling to the nation that moderate forces were prepared to push the region into the mainstream.
Duin's main point in his column was that, amidst growing anxiety and even gloom in newsrooms, reporters and editors have made a difference when they choose to report the correct side of a story. Most Americans were unaware of the pathological levels of violence to which African-Americans were subjected.

We're not in exactly the same situation today, but there are some parallels. The U.S. media has done a poor job in regards to the Iraq war and in covering politics in general. When conservative talking points are printed or aired unexamined, the media acts as a propaganda conduit. Sometimes this is intentional (Fox News) and sometimes it's not so readily intentional (most cable outlets and newspapers.)

Substituting balance for objectivity is a real problem, especially when it comes to official White House pronouncements. It's an objective fact that the Iraq war policy is a disastrous failure, with severe consequences for folks serving in the military and the cititizens of Iraq. But if Tony Snow trots out and claims one thing or another, the media tends to be quite deferential overall, with a few reporters like David Gregory of NBC mounting the occasional challenge.

This doesn't mean hectoring public officials just for the sake of it, either, and it doesn't mean taking right wing talking points and using them to attack Democratic public officials, which is another favorite game the press likes to play. ("You wanted balance, so look at this! The governor had a fundraiser and some lunatic filed a PDC complaint! See! They're all crooks!) That's just as bad, and it further erodes public trust in journalists.

If journalism is the first draft of history, then historical context and assigning some weight to the meaning of various alleged transgressions by public officials must be attempted, otherwise we're just left with Blue Dress equals Watergate or Obama Front Yard equals Jack Abramoff. Or most ominously, War equals Peace.

Realizing that regular citizens cannot possibly sort through every competing claim in politics is not the same as calling the public stupid. The American citizenry is actually quite capable of making good decisions, if they are given good information. Had the media presented objective facts about Iraq in 2002 and early 2003, rather than allowing itself to be used, we might have avoided the current debacle. At the very least public pressure might have forced the Bush administration to negotiate with our European allies over how best to proceed.

So in 2007, it's time for the U.S. media to stop pretending that the war in Iraq is anything but a disaster, and to stop covering talking points as if they are meaningful. Yes, Democrats will make mistakes, and yes, there will be vigorous debates in our ranks. It's healthy to expose the former and encourage the latter.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Jamieson nails it

P-I columnist Robert Jamieson, Jr. spent a month in the Philippines and Malaysia this year after a reader insisted that Muslims are "savages."

Jameison's column this morning about his experiences and religion in general is outstanding. This is one of the best columns I've read in a very long time, so I'm giving it the ultimate blog compliment: I'm not excerpting a word in the hopes you'll go read the whole thing.

Mighty Ethiopia

So while a certain national conservative blog tries to console itself with a cute little gallows graphic and another run to the store for Cheetos, world super-power Ethiopia is actually doing something about radical Islamists:
Ethiopian tanks rumbled south from Mogadishu to attack Somali Islamists on Saturday after the religious movement's leaders called on fighters and residents in the port city of Kismayu to cast off a foreign "occupation".

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, whose forces fled the Somali capital on Thursday, urged thousands of people gathered at a Kismayu stadium for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha to defend their nation and faith from Somali government troops backed by armour, soldiers and jet fighter planes from mostly Christian Ethiopia.
According to our own CIA the religious make-up of Ethiopia is much more balanced than that, with Muslims making up about 45-50% of the population. So to portray Ethiopia as a mostly Christian nation is grossly misleading.

The striking thing about this is that our strategy in the War on Terror, or what's left of it, now appears to be let Ethiopia do it. Pakistan, Afghanistan--whatever. Too complicated.

And yes, I know about "Blackhawk Down" and let's recall that it was George H.W. Bush who sent American forces into Somalia in December, 1992. So if we want to play the "blame Clinton game" then Bush I gets a piece of that prize, too.

Our country needs a coherent foreign policy. We don't have one. What we have is talking points layered on attack points layered on powdered-cheese coated foolishness, presented to the American people by blow-dried Twinkies. (I'm trying to make a junk food analogy here, work with me.)

If there was ever a set of Islamic radicals that deserve to have their collective behinds kicked and tried for crimes against humanity, it's the ones in Somalia. If failed states run by Islamist radicals represent a grave threat to our security, Somalia is the poster child.

Too bad our military has been used for a mission of personal revenge instead of in the national interest of the United States. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, since George W. Bush is misusing the Army, the country should like to borrow it for a while.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The play's the thing

History is such a messy thing.
Rick Francona, an ex-army intelligence lieutenant-colonel who served in the US embassy in Baghdad in 1987 and 1988, told the Guardian: "We believed the Iraqis were using mustard gas all through the war, but that was not as sinister as nerve gas.

"They started using tabun [a nerve gas] as early as '83 or '84, but in a very limited way. They were probably figuring out how to use it. And in '88, they developed sarin."

On November 1 1983, the secretary of state, George Shultz, was passed intelligence reports of "almost daily use of CW [chemical weapons]" by Iraq.

However, 25 days later, Ronald Reagan signed a secret order instructing the administration to do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq losing the war.

In December Mr Rumsfeld, hired by President Reagan to serve as a Middle East troubleshooter, met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and passed on the US willingness to help his regime and restore full diplomatic relations.

Mr Rumsfeld has said that he "cautioned" the Iraqi leader against using banned weapons. But there was no mention of such a warning in state department notes of the meeting.

Howard Teicher, an Iraq specialist in the Reagan White House, testified in a 1995 affidavit that the then CIA director, William Casey, used a Chilean firm, Cardoen, to send cluster bombs to use against Iran's "human wave" attacks.

A 1994 congressional inquiry also found that dozens of biological agents, including various strains of anthrax, had been shipped to Iraq by US companies, under licence from the commerce department.
Well, that little Reagan administration plan sure worked out well for everyone, didn't it? It sure would have been great if some famous English guy had ever written a play about treachery and revenge, maybe some of this didn't have to happen.

Ophelia Laura should really just stay away from all bodies of water for a while. Seriously. And Babs might want to stick to bottled water.

Saddam Hussein executed

According to Reuters, an Iraqi television station is reporting that Saddam Hussein has been executed.
U.S.-backed Iraqi television station Al Hurra said Saddam Hussein had been executed by hanging shortly before 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Saturday.

The former Iraqi president ousted in April 2003 by a U.S.- led invasion was convicted in November of crimes against humanity over the killings of 148 Shi'ite villagers from Dujail after a failed assassination bid in 1982.
Nobody should shed any tears for Saddam, but he should have been tried in The Hague, not by the seriously dysfunctional court in Iraq. But then, this administration probably doesn't want to talk about The Hague now, does it?

Who did we support in the Iran-Iraq War anyhow? Oh yeah, right. Mum's the word. These Friday news dumps are getting a tad ridiculous.

The suburbs shine - and we read newspapers

David has a post today at HorsesAss taking a shot at the King County Journal editorial board for declaring the Eastside to be nicer than Seattle:
I love irony.

You know, like when a snotty suburban newspaper like the King County Journal runs a divisively arrogant editorial bashing the region’s urban core (”While suburbs shine, Seattle seems shabby“)...only to learn a few hours later that they're being shut down by their new corporate owners.

Talk about shabby. At least some of us city folk still read newspapers.
The Journal is indeed shutting down, but a surprising number of suburbanites (including this one) won't really be missing it. The King County Journal is considered by a lot of Eastside residents to be a lousy paper.

We certainly do read daily newspapers out here...we just prefer the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Times.

The only thing those of us at NPI liked about the Journal was its news coverage of happenings in Eastside cities. That's likely something the Journal's children, so to speak, will be able to continue doing:
Kendall also said six of Black's newly acquired papers that now publish twice a month — the Auburn Reporter, Kent Reporter, Renton Reporter, Covington/Maple Valley Reporter, Bellevue Reporter and Redmond Reporter — would start publishing twice a week in late January.
One thing Black Press needs to improve on is subscriptions. Delivery of Horvitz's community papers has not been consistent or reliable. Many Eastsiders would love to get a twice weekly in their mailboxes and would gladly pay for it, too. Black Press needs to tap that market as well as making the papers freely available at various civic buildings like libraries or city halls.

The Journal never had much going for it. Its website was forgettable, it lacked the depth of its competitors (even newspapers of a more comparable size, like the Olympian, do a better job) and its editorials were awful - right wing, reactionary commentary. To give you a sense of how out of the mainstream they are - they were one of two newspapers in 2006 to endorse Initiative 933. (The other was the equally right wing Centralia Chronicle).

Finally, as for Seattle itself...I like the city a lot, with one exception...its roads and traffic lights. (I don't mind that there's often difficulty finding parking downtown. That I can live with and understand). But as someone who grew up driving on the Eastside, it is agonizing to sit at a red traffic light while the other direction has a green....but nobody's there.

It is equally frustrating to be bouncing up and down on roads that are filled with potholes and cracked pavement. It's not good on a car's suspension system. And on a bus, it's really awful, because the bus itself jolts as it starts, stops, or slows down. That's one of the reasons I'm looking forward to light rail. It'll be a much smoother ride on brand new track.

But unfortunately light rail can't extend into every neighborhood in Seattle. So until the city is done fixing its degraded roads and ancient traffic lights, the Eastside will have the edge in transportation infrastructure. Meanwhile, plenty of us in the suburbs need to start learning lessons about density and planning communities around people instead of automobiles.

Looking Back At 2006: Republicans and Conservatives In Their Own Words

Remember these quotes? Take a stroll down Memory Lane:

"The only way we can win is to leave before the job is done."

- George Dubya Bush, in another Bushism (November 4th, 2006)

"We thank God for those young people that do it every day and every night --to fight this enemy that's a taxi cab driver in the daytime, but a killer at night."

- Conrad Burns (August 25th, 2006)

"I don't want to face that eventuality because I don't think it's going to happen...I think it's going to be tough, but I think we'll do OK." [And jokingly:] "I think I'd just commit suicide."

- John McCain, on the prospects of the Democrats taking back the Senate in the November election (October 18th, 2006)

"This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great... Let's give a welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

- George Allen (August 11th, 2006)

"I'm not a scientist, I don't want to deal with global warming."

- Antonin Scalia, during oral arguments (November 29th, 2006)

"I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially...They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."

- Ted Stevens, trying to explain how the Internet works during a debate about Net Neutrality (June 28th, 2006)

"I have to say President Bush has a much healthier attitude toward this than I do. Because if I can get away with it, boy, I'd go in with a hand grenade."

- Bill O'Reilly, to on air guest Larry Sabato, expressing a desire to destroy the blogosphere (October 18th, 2006)

"God is the one who chooses our rulers....If you are not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."

- Katherine Harris (August 24th, 2006)

"And don't forget, Sherrod Brown is black. There's a racial component here, too. And now, the newspaper that I'm reading all this from is The New York Times, and they, of course, don't mention that."

- Rush Limbaugh, falsely stating Sherrod Brown's race (February 14th, 2006)

"You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math. I'm entitled to the math."

- Karl Rove, to NPR, talking about preelection polls (October 24th, 2006)

"Sometimes, based on the votes that get cast, you wonder whether they're more interested in the rights of the terrorists than in protecting the American people."

- John Boehner (September 12th, 2006)

"As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else.... It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S. You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States."

- Rick Santorum, comparing Iraq to the Lord of the Rings (October 19th, 2006)

"We're not going to tell you what our plan is, Jon, because you're just going to go out and blow it."

- Conrad Burns, on the "secret plan" he and Bush have (or had) to win the Iraq war, in a debate with newly elected Senator Jon Tester (October 17th, 2006)

"Thanks to all of you, SaveOur30Tabs Initiative 917 got enough signatures (300,353) to qualify for the ballot."

- Liar and failure Tim Eyman (July 7th, 2006)

"We're never been stay the course, George."

- George Dubya Bush, in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos (October 22, 2006)

"My No. 1 goal is to not go to jail."

- Minnesota Republican (and incoming freshman) Michele Bachmann, on her recent election to Congress (November 13th, 2006)

"I hate to tell you, but it's not always pretty up there on Capitol Hill and there have been other scandals as you know that have been more than simply naughty e-mails."

- Tony Snow, downplaying the Mark Foley scandal (October 2nd, 2006)

"I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.' I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way."

- CNN personality Glenn Beck (November 14th, 2006)

"Nick Handys claim that the July 7 receipt showed 265,806 signatures is demonstrably false. Sam Reeds people shouldnt be making false statements to cover up what happened they should be investigating what happened to the missing 34,000 voter signatures."

- Liar and failure Tim Eyman (July 23rd, 2006)

"As it turns out, Mr. Foley has had illicit sex with no one that we know of, and the whole thing turned out to be what some people are now saying was a - sort of a joke by the boy and some of the other pages."

- Focus on the Family chieftain James Dobson (October 6th, 2006)

"The momentum shift is clearly in the Republican direction on a national level - our base is 'coming home' and that is critical in the closing days of this election."

- State Republican chairwoman Diane Tebelius (November 6th, 2006)

One final entry from the end of the year is here.

Also see Media Matters' Most Outrageous Statements of 2006. Any more quotes to add? Feel free to add them in the thread.

Suing for baby Jesus

The Olympia realtor who demanded a creche in the state Captiol is now suing over the issue, with help from a Big Stinky-funded group.
Wesselius sued the state on Tuesday with help from the Alliance Defense Fund, which hosts a Web site called Save Christmas and advocates public displays of religion during the holidays. The Arizona-based organization frequently takes up religious speech cases.
Hmmm... I wonder who funds the Alliance Defense Fund? Off to Media Transparency.org once again....just the usual suspects, including the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation. Richard Devos is the founder of Amway and yet another ultra-wealthy mover in the GOP.
Like the F.M. Kirby Foundation, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation supports the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institue for Public Policy Research, and the Media Research Center. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation also supports the State Policy Network, an association of 40 conservative state agencies nationwide.
As is clear from the Olympian article, one of the problems with Wesselius's request was how late in the year it came. While it may be frustrating to parse out what constitutues an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and what does not, that is how our system works.

It's not clear from the article if Wesselius had any previous involvement with the Alliance Defense Fund or other uber-conservative causes, since Wesselius did not respond to a reporter's phone call requesting comment, according to The Olympian. Wesselius is entitled to his day in court, so we'll see how that shakes out. If the courts rule that having a creche is constitutional, then that's fine. More likely, the courts will find that a nativity scene depicting the birth of the Son of God is an overt endorsement of one religion, seeing as it such a pivotal part of Christianity.

The more salient point, of course, is that the ultra-orthodox Christianists in this country won't stop there. They will want creches and crosses and anything else they want everywhere they look, all the time. In the schools, in the malls, in the airports, and most importantly, in the government. Sadly for our country, they had their chance to rule wisely the last six years, and they proved beyond all doubt that mixing religion and government too closely is a recipe for disaster.

The U.S. will never be a theocracy, nor could it function as such. It's such an obvious point that it pains me to bring it up, but what happens when say, the Southern Baptists and devout Catholics have a small difference of interpretation? You can't have things like that screwing up the government, it's insane.

Why the religious fundamentalists in this country cannot see that the First Amendment protects them rather than oppresses them is beyond me. Frankly, they don't want to see it, because then they would have to admit that other people are allowed to believe as they wish. Deep down, actions like this are not attempts to affirm Christianity but rather a churlish resentment of the respect now afforded other religions in our society.

Pardon the interruption

Around 12:30 pm PST or so, with the Oregon State Beavers marching downfield but trailing Missouri 17-14 in the first half, CBS broke into the Sun Bowl for coverage of Gerald R. Ford's funeral. Instead of "The Beavs" viewers were treated to Katie Couric looking all serious about--Gerald R. Ford.

So right now the worst job in the state of Oregon by far is phone operator at KOIN-TV, the Portland CBS affiliate.

Nothing against Ford, but it's not like CBS couldn't stick one of those crawl things at the bottom of the screen.

In other news, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

As I post this, the teams have gone to halftime with Missouri leading 17-14. Luckily coverage may be resuming. Let's hope viewers won't miss singing sensation Rihanna at halftime.

Our media hates us.

Two Americas

There's a new twist to already excessive executive pay called "the golden hello." Via the International Herald Tribune:
The career path of (W. James) McNerney illustrates the phenomena. In late 2000, after losing out in the race to become chief executive at General Electric, McNerney jumped to 3M, where he received a pay package worth more than $34 million in guaranteed salary, bonus, option grants and restricted stock to make up for what he left behind at GE, according to an analysis of his compensation by Equilar, a compensation research firm in San Mateo, California.

Five years later, in the summer of 2005, Boeing, which had been rocked by scandals, was on the hunt for a squeaky-clean chief executive.

It offered McNerney, who was a director on its board, a pay package worth more than $52 million, which included $25.3 million of restricted shares and an additional $22 million in restricted stock to replace his 3M pension.

The use of such golden hellos is not new, but lawyers representing executives at the negotiating table are constantly coming up with quirky ways to make their clients whole. Matching salaries, guaranteeing bonuses and receiving millions of dollars worth of stock options are typical. On top of that, chief executives are made whole on lucrative pension benefits, often being credited at the new company for years of service elsewhere — a perk rarely available to non executive employees.
One analyst quoted in the article had this to say:
"Boeing has gone further into territory that even I have not seen before," said Paul Hodgson, a senior research associate at the Corporate Library, an institutional advisory firm in Portland, Maine. "Boeing shareholders are being asked to fund a pension potentially based on what 3M and GE paid McNerney, rather than what they themselves paid him. Such an arrangement would seem to take inappropriate to a new level."
The Democratic Congress intends to increase the minimum wage to something like $7 an hour, and you can be assured that predictions of economic disaster will promptly emanate from the GOP. Meanwhile, the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands continues unabated. It's not just bad for democracy, it's bad for the economy as a whole, as consumers struggle to swim in place.

One aspect of the failed "conservative revolution" was its insistence on destroying major New Deal reforms and concepts, including Keynesianism. Starting with "trickle down" economics in the 1980's and continuing with Republican and DLC corporatism in the 1990's, we now face a reality where there are, as John Edwards says, two countries. There are the super-rich and there is everyone else.

There's nothing inherently wrong with being rich, of course, and corporate executives who do a good job deserve to be fairly compensated. But regular people know that the the super-wealthy not only get to enjoy their lifestyles, which is fine, but they get to buy more democracy than the rest of us. That isn't fine. The right-wing think tanks (Big Stinky) aren't funded by people making $37,000 a year, or even by people making $500,000 a year.

It's always struck me as odd that we can talk about most anything in this country-sex, drugs, scandal, celebrity misdeeds, whatever-but you can't talk about class, at least in any meaningful way. It's nice to believe the fiction that class and income inequality is not a major problem in this country, but go ask the people in New Orleans about it. Stating the obvious is not the same as "engaging in class warfare" anyhow.

There are many fine individuals of great wealth who do very good things for people. The Gates family is an obvious example in Washington state. There are many other wealthy philanthropists in our state and nation that deserve applause for aiding all sorts of efforts in the fields of health, education and culture.

So the issue is not tremendous wealth per se, but rather how that fabulous wealth is used to distort our political system.

(And to be clear, the Gates family does not distort the political system, in my view. It's the Scaife's and the Kochs and the rest of Big Stinky that do that, and they do it quite methodically and deliberately. William Gates Sr. may have come out against the repeal of the estate tax, but his son, had he wished, could have thrown down against Frank Blethen's pro-repeal campaign quite easily.)

As we move forward with debates about public financing of political campaigns, income inequality and the basic issue of fairness in democracy should be kept in mind. The playing field in politics needs to be as level as possible.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Looking Back at 2006: NPI Milestones

What a year it has been.

The first installment in our retrospective series looking back at the last twelve months is an overview of the year's most significant achievements, accomplishments, and noteworthy events. So as we look forward to more growth in 2007, here's a look back at our 2006 milestones.

January 3rd, 2006: NPI announces the first ever David Neiwert Awards to honor the achievements and accomplishments of the Pacific Northwest's most active progressive bloggers for the previous year (2005).

January 5th-6th: The first ever Pacific Northwest Progressive Bloggers' Conference is held in Olympia, Washington, organized by NPI. It includes a forum on Internet communications and workshops for attending bloggers. Darcy Burner is the featured guest speaker.

January 18th, 2006: NPI releases its first ever podcast, hosted by Andrew Tsao, and announces the return of the Special Projects section, as well as the launch of the newly redesigned Audio Archive, to house NPI's podcasts.

January 31st, 2006: Pacific Northwest Portal celebrates its one year anniversary and NPI releases a commemorative podcast to mark the occasion.

February 4th, 2006: Permanent Defense celebrates its four year anniversary.

February 9th, 2006: NPI releases a minor upgrade for the Official Blog (Version 3.3), including the new Infocenter, which houses links to NPI's Atom and RSS feeds and allows readers to subscribe to an email digest of the blog right from the sidebar.

March 29th, 2006: NPI's Official Blog celebrates its two year anniversary.

April 6th, 2006: Markos Moulitsas mentions NPI's Pacific Northwest Portal on the Daily Kos front page on the eve of his arrival in the Pacific Northwest.

April 7th-8th, 2006: NPI helps coordinate and facilitate the Pacific Northwest segment of Markos and Jerome Armstrong's tour to promote their new book, Crashing the Gate. NPI later releases a podcast interview with both authors.

May 24th, 2006: NPI launches "Seaside" (Version 4.0), a major revamp of Pacific Northwest Portal. The new version of the website is sleeker, edgier, faster, and more reliable. Compatibility is greatly strengthened as the site is made more Mac and Linux friendly.

June 2nd-3rd, 2006: NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve live blogs the Washington State Democratic Convention in Yakima on the Official Blog.

June 5th, 2006: NPI welcomes new member Larry Kalb as its Senior Policy Analyst on Healthcare.

June 6th, 2006: NPI breaks the news that Tim Eyman has failed to gather enough signatures to put his pro-discrimination ballot measure, Referendum 65, on the November ballot.

June 8th-11th, 2006: NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve covers the first ever YearlyKos convention live from Las Vegas, Nevada.

July 19th, 2006: NPI and Permanent Defense break the news that Eyman's Initiative 917 may be in limbo until the end of September after the Secretary of State announces just a few days prior that Eyman may not have submitted enough signature to qualify for the ballot.

July 31st, 2006: NPI provides live coverage of President Clinton's visit to Seattle to raise money for Maria Cantwell and Jim McDermott.

August 3rd, 2006: Senator Maria Cantwell authors a special guest post on NPI's Official Blog announcing her opposition to a Republican attempt to sneakily cut the state's minimum wage. The post is subsequently picked up by dozens of other blogs and news aggregators.

August 23rd, 2006: NPI celebrates its three year anniversary as its executive director represents the organization in Olympia observing the signature verification process for Tim Eyman's endangered Initiative 917.

August 30th, 2006: NPI launches Northwest Roots (NWroots) an all in one service for e-mail, instant messaging (for real time conversations over the Net) and personal/event planning.

September 1st-3rd, 2006: NPI's Executive Director live blogs the WakeUp WalMart "Change Wal-Mart, Change America" tour from the road and at a Town Hall event in Seattle.

September 7th, 2006: NPI and Permanent Defense celebrate victory as Tim Eyman's Initiative 917 crashes in flames and fails to qualify for the ballot - leaving Eyman shut out for the year.

September 19th, 2006: NPI provides live coverage on primary election night and cheers the defeat of right wing attempts to take over the courts.

September 27th, 2006: The Democratic torchbearer in the 8th, Darcy Burner, posts to DailyKos about the importance of protecting Net Neutrality, pointing to NPI as an example of the power of an open, democratic Internet.

October 5th, 2006: Democratic 45th District state senatorial candidate Eric Oemig authors a guest post on NPI's Official Blog. Oemig later goes on to win in the general election against Republican Toby Nixon a month later.

October 10th, 2006: Darcy Burner again mentions NPI and its executive director in a debate with incumbent Republican Dave Reichert in Bellevue at the Meydenbauer Center. The event is later broadcast on TVW.

October 20th, 2006: Adding to its ballot measure positions and endorsed judicial candidates, NPI releases endorsements for federal and statewide offices, affirming its support for candidates such as Peter Goldmark and Darcy Burner.

October 26th, 2006: NPI's executive director live blogs a historic campaign rally featuring Barack Obama alongside Darcy Burner and Maria Cantwell at Bellevue Community College. Thousands of Democratic activists show up to attend the massive event. Barack Obama's official website later links to the coverage.

November 7th, 2006: NPI provides continuous live coverage of the 2006 midterm elections, which are nothing less than a titanic victory for Democrats and a resounding rejection of Republicans and right wing ideology across the country. In Washington State, Senator Maria Cantwell is reelected, right wing initiatives are defeated, and Democrats add heavily to their majorities in the state Legislature. In just seventy two hours - spanning Election Day, before, and after - NPI breaks all of its traffic records.

November 30th, 2006: NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve represents the organization at an FCC hearing on media ownership.

December 5th, 2006: NPI breaks the news on its podcast that Ken Hutcherson has filed a draft initiative to the Legislature to repeal ESHB 2661, the civil rights law passed in 2006 that outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

December 7th, 2006: Tim Eyman is dealt another defeat as Washington State's Supreme Court rules that Sound Transit was and is within its rights to continue collecting a local motor vehicle excise tax (MVET, or car tabs) despite the passage of Eyman's Initiative 776 in 2002.

December 27th, 2006: NPI releases its tenth and final podcast for 2006, focusing on reforming the Port of Seattle, the third in a series of podcasts looking ahead to 2007.

Ambassador source of Corner email?

In an update to yesterday's post about an old email purporting to be from a Marine in Iraq posted at the National Review's blog The Corner, we find via TPM Muckraker that it's worse than we thought.
Over at the National Review's blog, The Corner, Cliff May apologizes for posting a year-old anonymous forwarded email as news. May, let's note, was an adviser to the James Baker-led Iraq Study Group.

In his defense, May says it was shared with him by another adviser to the ISG, a U.S. ambassador. All the ISG experts, May explains, "[are] on a list-serve where we circulate what we view as significant articles and argue over them." May says the ambassador had forwarded the year-old anonymous e-mail to the list.
As TPM Muckraker notes, this means an expert advising the Iraq Study Group sent the group an anonymous list serve email for them to argue about.

Oy. But don't forget, if you are a liberal and you are shrill, you are the problem.

Oregon broadcasters chief says coverage adequate

Following up on Tuesday's post about a group that is challenging the license renewals of 8 Portland televisions stations because of the paltry coverage they provide of local elections, the head of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters made some rather astonishing comments in this morning's Oregonian.
Bill Johnstone, president of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, defended the stations' track record of political coverage, saying the 1 percent of newscast time devoted to state and local campaigns in October 2004 gave regular TV viewers "more than our fill."

He said asking stations to air more stories quoting mudslinging politicians would not serve the public interest. "Very few politicians can tell the truth," Johnstone said.

"Our coverage is certainly adequate," he added, "given everything else that the public has access to — the Internet, the ads they see and hear, the billboards, the unwelcome calls from candidates."
So the fact that our politics is filled with lies is not a reason to say, practice journalism, but a reason to ignore politics and public policy? Great. It's a good thing Sinclair Lewis didn't have to work for Oregon television stations.

They'd probably run a special segment called "Sausage - why you need 10 pounds per day." It's also interesting that the head of the broadcaster's association is basically encouraging people to stop watching television and seek information elsewhere.

While I'm happy to oblige, and have already done so to a great degree, we have to live in a society where many people look to television for their cues about what is important. The local stations seem to think that celebrity news and lifestyle reporting is important, so we have many citizens that can tell you what a J-Lo stands for but not name one member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is not the path to a healthy democracy.

It's not as if these decisions are insignificant. During the run-up to war, there were large demonstrations in Portland expressing concern.

The television stations mostly focused on traffic tie-ups, which were part of the story but not the story. There was hardly any background reporting about why tens of thousands of people might feel the need to try to stop the invasion of Iraq, which means most viewers saw the protesters as obstacles to be overcome rather than fellow citizens trying to issue an important warning. In this regard, the television stations are as complicit in the war in Iraq as Judith Miller herself.

Johnstone's comments are a brutally honest revelation of the attitude many broadcasters have toward the public's need for accurate information-they don't give a rip. The sense of entitlement the stations have is breathtaking, as if the way they do news is the only possible way.

Frankly, if Johnstone's comments are indicative of the sentiments of most television journalists, then a lot of them need to find different work, because they have no business being on the air. If they have that much contempt for democracy, then they shouldn't be allowed to use a public resource.

While the odds of the FCC taking any meaningful action soon are remote, Democrats should put broadcasters on notice that we intend to look after the public's interest in the future. The airwaves are public property, and in return for the use of that space the public deserves better.

Troops not so sure about escalation

When it comes to the troop "surge" or swell or crescendo or whatever it is, the troops are maybe not so enthused. From the AP via the San Jose Mercury News:
Spc. Don Roberts, who was stationed in Baghdad in 2004, said the situation had gotten worse because of increasing violence between Shiites and Sunnis.

"I don't know what could help at this point," said Roberts, 22, of Paonia, Colo. "What would more guys do? We can't pick sides. It's almost like we have to watch them kill each other, then ask questions."

Based in Fort Lewis, Wash., the battalion is part of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division. Deployed in June, its men were moved to Baghdad from Mosul in late November to relieve another Stryker battalion that had reached the end of its tour.

"Nothing's going to help. It's a religious war, and we're caught in the middle of it," said Sgt. Josh Keim, a native of Canton, Ohio, who is on his second tour in Iraq. "It's hard to be somewhere where there's no mission and we just drive around."
There are, of course, soldiers who believe otherwise, as the AP article notes.

Of course, as Americans, they have the same rights as all of us, and are free to form their own opinions. But these soldiers were willing to put their names behind their comments, so these statements have more meaning than suspect "friend of a friend" messages so commonly passed around by the right wing.

The "surge" is about covering for the fact that George W. Bush won't admit his mistake. One has to wonder how long military families are willing to pay the price for that. They've already endured a lot, and in some cases soldiers and Marines are on their third tours of duty in Iraq.

Democrats owe it to all Americans, but especially the families of service personnel deployed to Iraq, to oppose the "surge."

The George W. Bush presidential library is not worth anyone's life. The policy is a failure, just like the movement and president who enacted it. We can't get out of Iraq until more people come to grips with that. It's an unpleasant and harsh reality, but that's what happens when you go to war based on lies.

Koch owned Georgia Pacific wants government help on rail line

Problems with a private railroad tunnel on the southern Oregon coast are causing problems for forest products companies. A short line south of Florence is closed due to a tunnel collapse, negatively impacting area producers.

So what does mighty Georgia Pacific, which Koch Industries purchased in 2005 in a deal valued at $21 billion, do when there's a need to repair a private third party railroad? Come running to the government, of course. From the Coos Bay World:
While the tracks are privately owned, G-P at least has been ringing phones all the way up to the governor's office. On Friday, the company's Portland-based lobbyist also called up Rep. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, and suggested that if times get too tough, G-P's Coos Bay mill, which employs 140 people, may cut operations. Two-thirds of that company's lumber heads out on rail.
Dedicated observers of the right wing noise machine will recall that Charles and David H. Koch are among the wealthiest and most active supporters of "Big Stinky," which is a shorthand term I've chosen for the seemingly endless number of right-wing think tanks that busily pump hard right and pseudo-libertarian views into the American media. The Cato Institute is one example. But there are many more.

A 2004 Center for Public Integrity report details some of Koch's activities in the political realm.
Despite its size and political largesses, Koch is able to dodge the limelight because it is privately-held, meaning that nearly all of its business dealings are known primarily only by the company and the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, it is the second largest private company in the country, trailing only food processing giant Cargill.

Koch also prefers to operate in private when it comes to politics and government.

Although it is both a top campaign contributor and spends millions on direct lobbying, Koch's chief political influence tool is a web of interconnected, right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups funded by foundations controlled and supported by the two Koch brothers.

Among those groups are some of the country's most prominent conservative and libertarian voices including the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Federalist Society. All regularly beat the drum in official Washington for the causes the Koch's hold dear—minimal government, deregulation, and free market economics.
Until, of course, their profits are threatened.

Then it's up to taxpayers to bail them out. The pseudo-libertarian views espoused by the Kochs and Big Stinky are just a ruse.

It all sounds good to Rush Limbaugh listeners, clutching their sidearms and Viagra while desperately worrying that some planning official is going to deny them a permit to expand the Cheetos Den, but in the end Big Stinky isn't there to serve the rank and file wingnuts.

The Kochs will gladly take as much money as Oregon will offer to fix the railroad, with nary a thought to the beneficial free market lessons they are so intent on teaching the rest of us.

This sort of thing puts progressives in something of a tough spot. The first impulse is to tell Georgia Pacific to fix the darn thing themselves, but of course we are always the ones who have to be grown ups and realize it wouldn't be fair to the hundreds of real families in that area who depend on decent wage jobs.

And since railroads, be they private or public, are still a vital piece of the region's economic infrastructure, then the responsible position is to encourage Oregon elected officials to see what practical measures can be taken. (It's a somewhat complicated engineering challenge, so far be it for me to offer technical advice.)

In the end, the next time you hear some blathering radio host drone on about "free markets," you can think of our good friends at Georgia Pacific and their owners the Koch brothers, and how they are the first ones in line demanding government do something when they have a need.

To shorten the equation, "takings" are bad, but "givings" are good. Neat trick. Irony is so special and wonderful.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ford said Iraq war not justified

Bob Woodward writes in tomorrow's Washington Post that Gerald Ford thought the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.
Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. "I don't think I would have gone to war," he said a little more than a year after President Bush had launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford's own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously.

In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.
It is too bad Ford didn't say this publicly, but unless I'm mistaken ex-presidents are not comfortable doing such things, and tend to avoid doing so, realizing the position it would put the incumbent in.

But the fact he would say them at all is pretty revealing about what an old-school, non-insane Republican thought about the invasion of Iraq.

Ford also had some pretty choice comments about Henry Kissinger, saying Kissinger had "the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew." In essence, Ford was saying Kissinger would never admit to a mistake. Sound familiar?

It's worth noting that the source of this interview is Bob Woodward, so you can take all of it with however much salt you deem appropriate. But it's listed as page A-1 for Thursday's Washington Post, so it may get a teensy bit of attention.

A look back at the year that was

Starting tomorrow, we'll be doing a special series taking a look back at 2006 and what we accomplished this year. Then, after the new year, we'll continue to move forward. We have ambitious plans for 2007 and we are confident we're ready for the challenges that it will bring.

No longer a rumor: Edwards throws his hat in

John Edwards is going to be running for president in 2008. That's not a rumor, that's not speculation...it's confirmed. His campaign website is clearly up and running, adorned with a banner that reads "John Edwards 08".

UPDATE: Apparently, it was an accidental announcement:
The North Carolina Democrat's campaign accidentally went live with his election Web site a day before today's announcement that was scheduled to use hurricane-ravaged New Orleans as a backdrop.

The slip-up gave an unintended double-meaning to his campaign slogan on the John Edwards '08 Web site: "Tomorrow begins today."
Ah well. That's the way to do it these days.

NPI is not supporting any particular aspirant for the Democratic nomination, but Edwards is one of the better candidates, and we'll be following his bid for the presidency throughout 2007 with interest.

NPI releases tenth podcast

We've released our tenth podcast - a critical review of the Port of Seattle, its operations, its leaders, and their decision making, with background information, an assessment of recent controversies, and analysis of the two upcoming Port Commissioner races which the voters of King County will be deciding in 2007.

If you have comments or suggestions for the podcast, or ideas for future episodes, send us a note. If you have information or insight you can share with us about the Port, we’d like to hear from you.

If you want to subscribe to our Media RSS feed to be notified immediately when new podcasts are released, follow this link.

Members of NPI - Northwest Progressive Institute - Northwest Progressive Institute

If you are an iTunes user and want to subscribe to our podcast in iTunes, click the button above to do so directly.

Stop lying

To follow up on a post below about Rich Lowry's column, via TPM Muckraker comes further evidence that the National Review folks live in their own little fantasy world at best. At worst they are deliberately spreading lies.

From a post today at The Corner, the blog of The National Review, comes a post purporting to be the comments of a Marine serving in Iraq:
Morale: [M]orale among our guys is very high. They not only believe that they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted. They are inflicting casualties at a rate of 20-1 and then see shit like "Are we losing in Iraq" on TV and the print media. For the most part, they are satisfied with their equipment, food and leadership. Bottom line though, and they all say this, is that there are not enough guys there to drive the final stake through the heart of the insurgency, primarily because there aren't enough troops in-theater to shut down the borders with Iran and Syria. The Iranians and the Syrians just can't stand the thought of Iraq being an American ally ...
Of course, you can find the exact same quote here and here. So TPM Muckraker is correct in pointing out this particular piece of rubbish has been circulating on conservative blogs since at least 2005.

It would be simpler to dismiss these kinds of "emails" as the feverish work of conservative fiction writers, except that people tend to send them around the internet tubes, with the unfortunate result that some people believe them. Maybe a Marine did write that email in 2005, maybe he didn't. Since The Corner simply posted it without explanation, we have no way of knowing.

The National Review tells lies, and the American media prints those lies. I don't know if the Seattle papers carry Rich Lowry's column, but as I mentioned in the post below, The Oregonian carries it. So as far as we've come in the last few years, editors still choose to pump conservative agit-prop out there.

Must be nice work if you can get it. Most workers would be fired for such gross incompetence. Imagine how long a secretary or brain surgeon or truck driver would last performing their job so poorly. But in the upside-down world of American journalism, being wrong is the gold standard. "Hold still, sir, in order to provide "balance" to this operation, we are going to remove half of your temporal lobe."

Spice up the jargon

In following the Columbia River Crossing project I became aware of WSDOT's Good to Go! program, which is something akin to New Jersey's E-Z Pass toll collection system. WSDOT intends to use Good to Go! on the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the SR 167 HOT lanes between Auburn and Renton.

First, the exclamation point! is very 2006. It didn't work for Mike! and WSDOT should just stop it. Really.

Second, what the heck is a HOT lane? It's a carpool lane with a toll. I suppose "HOT," for "high occupancy toll" works okay, but they really need to make this clear to people.

Third, in general, bureaucrats need to spend less time thinking up cute names for things, and the names they come up with need to be related to the thing they are naming. So "HOT" kind of works, "Good to Go!" doesn't work at all. Many people in Washington have probably heard of New Jersey's E-Z Pass because we get so much media from New York and environs. So how about calling it "WA-Pass" or something?

And really, WSDOT need to be a little more creative with their slogans. I mean, anyone could think up "Good to Go!" or "make a run for the bridge" or "think outside the single occupant vehicle commuter model by utilizing multi-modal transportation options in conjunction with new facilities that increase capacity, relying on new revenue streams generated by electronic collection of user fees."

I thought jargon had been outlawed or something.

Rich Lowry wrong 1,460 times and counting

Shorter Rich Lowry: it's the military's fault.
In Iraq, Bush has been deferring to generals of widely varying quality. Some deserved deference, others didn’t. The question of troop levels might seem a mere tactical issue, but it has vast strategic implications — without enough troops, it is impossible to provide the security to the population that is one of the foundations of a sound counterinsurgency strategy. As it became clear that the military strategy in Iraq wasn’t working, Bush stuck with it, partly on grounds that he didn’t want to gainsay his generals, when he should have been firing them.

Now that he might order a surge, Bush will have to backtrack on his conviction that generals are best left alone. As he does, he should go back and understand the source of his mistake — a misinterpretation of Vietnam.
I'm trying to think of how many jobs exist where one could be wrong every day for say, 1,460 days in a row, and still be employed.

Apparently Rich Lowry has one such job.

It doesn't matter which treatise Lowry cites extolling the virtues of counterinsurgency, whatever slim chance there was to build a "stable, democratic Iraq" is long gone, buried under the incompetence and corruption of the CPA. To now try to shift blame to the uniformed military is pretty sleazy. But then, conservatives are never wrong and never held accountable for their actions in this country by the media.

Lowry's pap is frequently printed in The Oregonian, which I suppose in journalamism world is justified by "hearing all voices." But the big problem this country faces, one best exemplified by the shallow and careless analysis of Lowry, is that we simply must stop believing what we want to believe, no matter how many times writers like Lowry offer up a salve.

The ridiculous term "surge" is another obvious tip-off that there is nothing more in the offing than talking points.

Remember how the righties were always pontificating about how Iraq was Normandy, Little Round Top and the Blitz all rolled into one? (Never mind who was doing the Blitzing, of course.)

Did we "surge" the beaches at Normandy? Yeah, didn't think so. That's because nobody had ever heard the idiotic term until a few weeks ago, and odds are Frank Luntz thought it up.

It's a troop increase; people can argue whether it represents an "escalation" all they want; the insurgents will decide whether the conflict escalates. That's not "taking their side," it's stating the obvious: the U.S. has lost all initiative in Iraq.

The media can start loving America again by pointing out the obvious: conservatives don't know what they are doing in regards to Iraq, and continuing to take their advice is lethal. Especially for the brave men and women who have volunteered to serve in the armed forces. Do we really have to do this for another 1,460 days in row?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gerald R. Ford dead at 93

Former President Gerald R. Ford has passed away.
Gerald R. Ford, who picked up the pieces of Richard Nixon's scandal-shattered White House as the 38th and only unelected president in America's history, has died, former first lady Betty Ford said Tuesday. He was 93.

"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather has passed away at 93 years of age," Mrs. Ford said in a brief statement issued from her husband's office in Rancho Mirage. "His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."

The statement did not say where or when Ford died or list a cause of death. Ford had battled pneumonia in January 2006 and underwent two heart treatments -- including an angioplasty -- in August at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Ford was a fundamentally decent man and did a good job - the best job he could trying to restore the confidence of the American people in their government after the nightmares of Vietnam and Watergate.

The future is Link

Sound Transit has made considerable progress towards finishing the construction of its new Central Link light rail line, which when completed, will run from SeaTac International Airport into downtown Seattle.

Earlier this month the agency unveiled its new light rail cars, which are due to begin service when the line opens in 2009. Here's a glimpse:

Sound Transit Link Light Rail

More information about Link:
Light rail is fast, frequent and reliable. It will operate free of delays from congestion and weather. Trains will run every few minutes, 20 hours a day. The projected 2020 daily ridership for the 15.6-mile light rail segment that is currently under construction between downtown Seattle and the airport is 45,000. The University Link project alone will likely increase the regional light rail system’s 2030 ridership to more than 114,000 a day.
Each new Link light rail car has:
  • capacity for 200 riders, 74 seated
  • comfortable seats with cloth covers
  • low floors for easy, level boarding
  • 4 wide doors on each side
  • spaces for 4 wheelchairs and 2 bicycles
  • air conditioning
  • a maximum and cruising speed of 55 mph
Link light rail cars are:
  • 95 feet long, 8.7 feet wide, and 12.1 feet tall
  • able to operate in trains of 1 to 4 cars
  • reversible, with driver cabs at both ends
  • double articulated, with 3 sections riding on 6 axles
  • powered by electricity using a 1500-volt DC traction power system
  • able to operate at street level, on elevated trackways, and underground.
Over thirty more cars are due for delivery to Sound Transit in the coming months. The cars are serviced and stored at the agency's Operations & Maintenance facility in south Seattle. They will begin carrying riders in two years.

License challenge puts spotlight on scant election coverage

Via OPB comes word that an Oregon watchdog group is challenging the broadcast licenses of 8 Portland television stations, saying that political coverage is so scant that the stations are not acting in the public interest. From a PDF file of a press release from the Money in Politics Research Action Project:
Portland broadcast television stations, with little election coverage and even fewer issue- oriented campaign stories on locally produced news programs, fail to meet the public interest test required to justify a renewal of their Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted licenses.

“Voters are not served by broadcast TV news programs that provide little or no coverage of political campaigns,” said Janice Thompson, executive director of the Money in Politics Research Action Project (MiPRAP). “This trend is in stark contrast to the dollars earned by TV stations on political advertising and is why we have filed a license renewal challenge with the FCC.”

MiPRAP, in cooperation with the Oregon Alliance to Reform Media, the Campaign Legal Center, and the Media Access Project has filed a petition with FCC to deny the licenses of all the Portland commercial broadcast TV stations because of a market wide failure to provide voters with information needed to make educated decisions on issues and candidates on their ballots. Broadcast television stations use public airwaves without paying any fees for the FCC-issues licenses in exchange for serving the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Licenses renewals occur every 8 years, which means that the next opportunity to object on these public interest grounds will be in 2014.
Naturally, the broadcasters are having none of it. From the OPB story:
The stations reject Thompson's claims. "Hogwash" was the reaction from Bill Johnstone, president of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters. He says Portland stations actively cover election news. In Johnstone's words, "If it's newsworthy it's covered."
Hard to argue with that. If it's been stabbed, shot, run over, run into or had various foul crimes committed upon it, it's certainly covered.

On the other hand, if people in Portland think the television stations do a rotten job with covering Oregon politics, imagine what it's like north of the river. It used to be a long-running joke in Clark County that the only way for a Washington campaign to get on Portland television was to get in a high speed chase or something.

During the recent windstorm, a Portland television reporter was briefly trapped in her news van by fallen power lines somewhere in Clark County. They put her on the air via cell phone shortly after she was freed, and she couldn't even describe where in Clark County she was. It was pathetic, and while the reporter can be forgiven for being shaken, it was obvious she didn't have a clue about our community.

(By the way, one of the reasons TV stations do so much crime reporting is that it's easy, cheap, and almost any reporter can do it. You don't have to be a veteran).

It's worth understanding that there are historical reasons why Portland and Vancouver tended to have somewhat separate media. While the situation seems odd compared to many other metro areas in the country, Portland and Vancouver were once two fairly distinct cities. With suburbanization and massive population growth, it's basically one big city now.

Vancouver used to have its own radio station, and a lot of the radio stations in Portland claim to be serving "Portland-Vancouver-Salem," which is laughable. But when it comes to television, Portland has always had a monopoly and the powers that be in Clark County have made sure that public access cable never gets adequate funding to actually produce local content.

So it's good to see someone trying to hold the Portland stations accountable. As MiPRAP points out:
Portland broadcast TV stations aired 41,072 political ads from January 1 through the November 2004 general election at a cost of almost $27 million ($26,847,634). During the non-presidential election year in 2002, $9 million was spent on political advertising from January 1 through the general election that November. This data is from the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) compiled by the Alliance for Better Campaigns (now the media program at the Campaign Legal Center).
The local stations make a killing on politics and then fail to provide the public with much decent political reporting at all. That needs to change. I can't imagine the current FCC doing anything about it, but hey, there's another election in two years.

If the stations are smart they will start to mend their ways, and it wouldn't hurt to temporarily base some reporters in Clark County once every two years. (And no, setting up a feed at The Columbian, like KATU, does not count. The Columbian already has a virtual media monopoly as it is.)

Hopefully the challenge to these stations' license renewals will send a wake-up call through the industry.

No driving in circles

The odds of a NASCAR track being built on the Kitsap Peninsula don't look very good. From yesterday's News-Tribune:
Not a single state legislator from the Kitsap Peninsula supports proposals for using state dollars to help finance a NASCAR racetrack in their area.

“Given the pulse of the Legislature, it’s a dead duck,” predicted Rep. Bill Eickmeyer, a Democrat from Belfair.
Leaving aside the culture war aspects of NASCAR, the days of sports franchises feasting on tax dollars is probably over for a long, long time in this state. If the Sonics can't get funding I don't see why NASCAR would.

Personally, I'm not as opposed to public financing of things like stadiums and race tracks (NPI's position is that the public should get a lot out of a venue that is built with taxpayer dollars). Claims of economic benefit are almost always bogus and inflated; the truth is these things are symbols. I don't make it to Safeco more than once a year usually, but when I go, I always enjoy being there.

As for auto racing itself, I figure if people like attending then that's fine. I don't get it but then a lot of people never understood my fascination with hitting a little white ball towards a little hole in the ground. (Notice I didn't say the ball would actually ever go in the hole in the ground, that would imply skill.) At one point there had been talk of a NASCAR track in Oregon, but if government financing is the condition, then they probably aren't going to do well over there either.

Monday, December 25, 2006

In Brief, Christmas 2006 Edition

Since you're online and reading this now, and not too busy spending time with family/friends or enjoying Christmas gifts, here's a few links of interest.
According to PSE, here's the latest information on power restoration efforts:
We're now in the final stages. Crews have been assigned to all circuits with known outages, and virtually every neighborhood where power is still out will have crews working in them this weekend. We expect nearly all our customers to have their power back today – with any remaining outages likely numbering a couple of hundred.

Where we've completed repairs to our system, any customer still without service should notify our Call Center (1-888-225-5773) and we'll dispatch a service crew.

In some instances, our service crew may find that the storm damaged power equipment belongs to the homeowner, such as the weather head. If that is the case, PSE can't legally fix the damage, and the homeowner will need to hire a licensed electrician to make repairs. Once these repairs have been completed, the customer should notify our Call Center at the number above and we will dispatch a service crew to make permanent connections and restore power.
That information is current as of yesterday - Christmas Eve. Once again, a very merry Christmas and seasons' greetings from NPI to you.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

To all of our Christian readers...may you have a very merry Christmas, and best wishes from all of us at NPI. Reflect, feast on some good food, and enjoy the company of family, friends, or both.

Other than one or two brief posts we'll be on break for the rest of the next forty eight hours or so taking in the holiday and the season.

A 49 district strategy

This just in from the AP: the internet tubes are important.
Campaigns are eager to substitute online video for a broadcast version.

"Clearly online video is rapidly chewing away at traditional TV time," said Nikko Mele, Dean's campaign webmaster from 2004. "We are taking time usually spent watching television and watching the Web. It's not clear how campaigns are going to take advantage of that."

The heaviest users of the online video are people age 18-34, according to an Associated Press-AOL poll from this summer. It is an age group with a low, not high, voter turnout record. Also people in this group generally do not give major donations to campaign. But they are the ones who can create a buzz.

"Every trend that existed four years ago exists double-so, triple-so now," Mele said. "There is plenty of opportunity online. It's going to require innovation, risk taking."
We might add that it's also going to take careful selection of candidates.

The big difference between 2004 and 2006 is that we learned not to give our money to someone like John Kerry, who is still sitting on a ton of money, but to give directly to candidates that otherwise would have had difficulty competing. When people talk about the expansion of the playing field, that was a big part of it.

The same general principle holds true at the state and local level. Progressive blogs and people who donate via progressive activities, whatever they may be, don't necessarily help well-established candidates all that much.

Sure, it's nice to reward our friends, but the real action is in supporting quality candidates who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

At one level, politics is really simple. If we have better candidates than the Republicans, we generally win. Granted, there will always be tough losses.

That's just how things go.

One long term goal is to take the "50 state strategy" and create a "49 district strategy" at the state level. Sure, we have huge majorities right now, but that can't last forever. Republicans shouldn't get a pass at any seats on the west side of the state, for starters, especially in growing suburban districts.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Run, Dino, run

A post at Strange Bedfellows, the P-I's political blog, reports that a mid-November poll is pretty favorable for Governor Chris Gregoire. A little dated, as the fellows in the bed note, but still kind of interesting.
A poll conducted for the Muckleshoots by Peter Hart Research Associates revealed some interesting numbers for Gov. Chris Gregoire.

This poll of 506 voters was conducted in mid-November, so it is a little stale, but not a lot has happened since then. Gregoire was viewed positively by 52% and Dino Rossi - her presumptive GOP opponent in 2008 - by 37% of Washington voters
Only 34 percent were ready to re-elect Gregoire, but interestingly head-to-head Gregoire bested Rossi 51 percent to 40 percent.
Strange Bedfellows has the poll questions, although they are hard to read (which is also acknowledge by Strange Bedfellows.)

Obviously it's a long ways until 2008 and the old crystal ball is in the shop again. Many things could happen.

But it would be enormously satisfying to witness a nice blowout, where Dino Rossi gets creamed by Governor Gregoire. There are still people walking around this state who think that there should have been some kind of local Orange Revolution, in case anyone has forgotten that bit of absurdity.

Strangely, sometimes it seems like nobody remembers all that, and that it doesn't matter how many lies were told in an effort to hijack the office of governor, nor that the court result in Chelan County came out the way it did.

Odd, the way that works. If you're a Democrat, don't sneeze, if you're a Republican, well, it's just good aggressive tactics.

The Christmas (cash) cow

Unsurprisingly, the phony "war on Christmas" is a cash cow for the radical right.
The American Family Association, a conservative activist group, has rung up more than $550,000 in sales of buttons and magnets stamped with the slogan "Merry Christmas: It's Worth Saying."

Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm affiliated with the religious right, has taken in more than $300,000 with its "Help Save Christmas Action Packs." The kits include two buttons, two bumper stickers and "The Memo that Saved Christmas," a guide to defending overt religious expression, such as a nativity scene in a public-school classroom.
Further down in the article, a Zogby International poll is cited that says 46% of Americans are offended if a clerk wishes them "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Zogby, which does not enjoy a reputation for pinpoint accuracy, also supposedly found that one-third of Americans have resolved to not go back to a merchant because the clerks "didn't show enough Christmas spirit."

These attitudes are the unfortunate result of several years of noise machine propaganda. I would consider it good manners not to make assumptions about total strangers' religious beliefs, but I guess that's just an old-fashioned notion. Far more modern to just jam religion down everyone's throat, and if anyone refuses to participate for any reason, create some false "crisis" over the thing.

Part of this is common sense. If I'm buying chocolate Santas, a wreath and a package of Christmas cards, it's okay with me if the clerk makes an assumption that I can be wished "Merry Christmas." If however, I am purchasing a cordless drill, that assumption may not be so easy to make. I bet even the Joos need power tools.

Why someone would be offended at being wished "Happy Holidays" is beyond me. Those who are so offended must have pretty weak faith in the first place to feel so threatened by good wishes. You'd think those who want to examine the role of Christmas and faith this time of year might want to bring up the whole money changers in the temple deal, but then, that might upset the folks at Wal-Mart headquarters or something.

It's enough to make you want to hear a certain Christmas carol.

Misinformer of the year

Media Matters has named ABC Misinformer of the Year.
This year saw ABC air The Path to 9/11, a two-part miniseries that placed the blame for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Clinton administration and whitewashed some of the Bush administration's failures leading up to the attacks. Additionally, the network's news coverage frequently reported Republican spin as fact, passed on falsehoods propagated by conservatives, and missed numerous opportunities to challenge or question the administration's actions during solo interviews with Bush and key members of his administration.

These examples, and many more, earned ABC the distinction of being named Media Matters' Misinformer of the Year for 2006. The selection of an entire network for the honor represents a change from previous years, when individual media figures -- Fox News' Bill O'Reilly in 2004 and MSNBC's Chris Matthews in 2005 -- received the award. But a look at some of its most flagrant examples of conservative misinformation confirms that ABC won the Misinformer of the Year the old-fashioned way: The network earned it.
Maybe we need a state/local version of this award?

Can't think of any obvious choices; it's not like any Washington state media outlet actively donated to right-wing campaigns or engaged in blatantly biased coverage of any race. Editorial boards in this state are beyond reproach.

It's hard to write good editorials that contradict everything you ever wrote in the past, and it's doubly hard to get away with being biased "moderators" of debates in front of all those television cameras. It's triple-doubly hard to ignore the fact that your chosen candidate refused to answer a question on your own pet issue. Somehow, though, it was done, and anyone who brings it up is just engaging in "sour grapes." So I'm not bringing it up, that wouldn't be nice during the holidays.

OK, scratch the state/local version of this award idea. It's no contest.

Friday, December 22, 2006

ALG has very few donors

Via Postman on Politics comes new information about the financial backing behind Americans for Limited Government, Howie Rich's group.

From the Center for Public Integrity's Taking Initiatives Accountability Project:
Americans for Limited Government, the tax-exempt organization that bankrolled a series of controversial ballot initiatives this year, raised 99 percent of its $5.4 million in total contributions in 2005 from just three donors, the Center for Public Integrity has learned.

The number of ALG’s major donors in 2005, but not their identities, was disclosed in financial statements obtained by the Center.

New York political activist Howard Rich, the organization’s high-profile chairman, did not respond to the Center’s requests for information about ALG’s financial affairs, including a question about how much of his own money, if any, he has given to the group. Rich has repeatedly declined to disclose the identities of donors to ALG and eight other tax-exempt organizations that share common management.
That's some kind of movement the Farm Bureau got in bed with on I-933. Money equals speech in this country, but you shouldn't be able to hide behind anonymity. ALG's money could have come from magic unicorns, the Russian mob or people who collected eleventy billion soda cans; the point is we don't know.

It also could have been donated by fellow billionaire travelers in the "destroy all government" pseudo-libertarian movement, some of whom have vested business interests in Washington state.

The point, again, is that we simply have no idea. If anyone ever found out who donated the money, and published that information, I'm sure the Pulitzer people would be suitably impressed. Not trying to be flippant, either; it would be a real tough nut to crack. But it would be a valuable public service.

Naughty and Nice 2006

The Center for American Progress has published its 2006 "Naughty and Nice" list, a fun recap of positive and negative events and individuals. You can see the entire list here at the Progress Report. And a reminder that if you're still looking for a last-minute gift, a subscription to The Progress Report is free!

That bigot lady

Via The News Blog comes this unsettling little tidbit about Judith Regan, the book publisher fired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation over the OJ Simpson book.
According to the executives and another person involved in the incident, Ms. Regan was investigated in the spring of 2003 after an editor complained that she had boasted of removing the scrolls from her neighbors’ mezuzas and replacing them with torn pieces from dollar bills.

A mezuza is a small slender case containing a scroll inscribed with a prayer that many Jewish families place beside their front doors.

The two executives said the company’s investigation had corroborated the employee’s account and Ms. Regan was reprimanded at the time.
What kind of person thinks that would be okay? Why would you do such a thing to your neighbors? Remember, Regan was one of Murdoch's stars. She only went too far when she decided it would be good to make money off of murder.

Menorah envy

This sounds like a case of menorah envy, this time involving the state capitol and a request that a nativity scene be placed there.
Ron Wesselius, a real estate agent in Olympia, then proposed a creche, a display depicting the birth of Jesus that is the religious basis for Christmas.

“I had been thinking about it, but it’s one of those things – you don’t want to create waves,” Wesselius said Wednesday, “but when I saw the menorah was there, I thought, ‘Hey, why don’t I ask?’”
Ok, for starters, everyone read this.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
And yes, it gets complicated. That's what happens when courts try to sort things out. And no, it doesn't always make perfect sense how they sort it out.

But really. Doesn't this guy have something better to do? He saw a menorah, which made him want to top it. That's pretty pathetic.

So what happens when devotees of the Flying Spaghetti Monster see the creche? There's no place for this nonsensical religious competition to end. So unless you want the Capitol walls covered in marinara, this needs to stop.

After the Sea-Tac Christmas tree dust-up, which revealed just how many nasty anti-Jewish bigots there are in the Pacific Northwest, this is about the last thing that we need to hear about.

As for freedom to practice religion, there are approximately ten thousand churches within 5 miles of where I sit right now.

Nobody is being prevented from worshiping and practicing their religion however they wish (within certain legal boundaries, like how many wives one can have.) People need to stop it with the Christian triumphalism, it's starting to border on supremacy. That's not how this country was set up.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

It burns

You may have heard about the awful letter sent to constituents by Virgil Goode, a Republican Congressman from Virginia-05.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran the letter in its entirety.
Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and "In God We Trust" are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, "As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office." Thank you again for your email and thoughts.

Sincerely yours,

Virgil H. Goode, Jr.
Democratic Congressman-elect Keith Ellison (MN-05,) to whom Goode is referring in his letter, was born in Detroit.

NBC News reported on-air that Ellison can trace his ancestry to slaves brought to this country in the 18th Century.

So unless Goode can trace his ancestors further back than say, 1780 or so, he should pack his bags, huh?

Free public relations tip of the day for southern white Republicans: don't go on the nightly news and say stupid things. People will think you are a stupid.

States can pursue energy claims

The U.S. Ninth Circuit has ruled in favor of three states, including Washington, in cases involving the very first act of perfidy by the Bush administration: the electricity crisis. Remember? From The Progressive States Network:
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of California, Washington, and Nevada consumers in two cases relating to energy deregulation and price manipulation during the energy crisis at the beginning of this decade. As the New York Times reported, the three judge panel "took the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to task for refusing to even consider whether ... customers may have been gouged by Enron and other energy traders."

The move is a major victory for consumers and for states. It is now well-known that Enron and other companies took advantage of utility deregulation to manipulate markets and gouge consumers. The manipulation was no coincidence. Enron waged a massive campaign to lobby state legislators to embrace the deregulated framework that would allow the company to manipulate markets and gouge consumers. Under the court's decision federal regulators will be required to reconsider whether consumers were extorted. If so, individuals in these states may be able to get out of long-term contracts signed during the manipulations.
Looks like Grandma Millie might have the last laugh.

Seriously, as a California state attorney quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle notes about one of the cases, the heart of the issue is that FERC simply didn't do its job.
Saltmarsh, the state lawyer, said the critical point is that FERC will be barred from relying on the free market as a safeguard of fair contracts unless the agency looked at the contract when it was signed and determined that the terms were reasonable and the market was competitive. Otherwise, he said, the agency must consider the contract as it exists and decide if it is fair to the buyer.
The electricity crisis doesn't get talked about much because it happened before Sept. 11, 2001, but in any other time period it would rank as a huge scandal. We got ripped off big time here on the West Coast, and the people in Texas were laughing their heads off about it. I bet Ken Lay isn't laughing so hard where he is at.

When conservatives talk about the "free market," you have to remember that this is what they really mean: corporations like Enron must be free to price gouge and engage in monopolistic practices in order to have "free markets." And anyone who tries to point that out, like during the manufactured electricity crisis, is at best a simpleton who does not understand economics and at worst a commie-socialist-librul-pinko-hippie.

Plus it never matters how many scandals there are, nor how many of them go to jail. That was then, and they were very sorry they got caught, so let's go ahead and "save" Social Security in the same manner. It's as if insane people are running the federal government. Well, for another couple of weeks anyhow.

Progressive populism is centrism

Commenting on the news that independent Republican Joe Lieberman is quitting a Senate insiders' clique only to start a new one, Markos writes this morning:
So this is how Lieberman remains relevant? He quits a "centrist" group designed to fashion "bipartisan solutions" (where were these Republicans when they had the majority, one wonders), in order to create a new group whose sole state mission is to have more DC cocktail parties?

Only in DC would people think the problem is too few cocktail parties...

Look, the problem here is a distinct lack of understanding of what the word "centrism" means. If it means, "Where the majority of the American people live", then there is already a "centrist" organization.

It's called the "Democratic Party".
Progressive populism, progressive values, and the progressive movement are in fact mainstream political thought, whether the establishment or the right wing like it or not. The future of American democracy is people powered politics.

Another victory over right wing activists

Advocates of land use mayhem lost again today as the Supreme Court announced its decision in 1000 Friends of Washington, et al. v. McFarland (Rodney).

The case concerned whether Rodney McFarland and his right wing citizens group had the right to file a local (not statewide) referendum to overturn anti-sprawl and critical areas ordinances passed by King County under the auspices and requirements of the Growth Management Act (GMA).

The court ruled that the ordinances McFarland & Co. sought to overturn are not subject to county referendum because the GMA is a statewide law.

Justice Tom Chambers authored the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Susan Owens and Bobbe Bridge, as well as Chief Justice Gerry Alexander. Concurring in separate opinions were Justices Charles Johnson, Barbara Madsen, and Mary Fairhurst. Predictably, Justices Richard Sanders and Jim Johnson, who rarely stray from their facts-don't-matter ideological perch, dissented.
We accordingly hold that King County has established sufficiently that KCO 15052 and 15053 were passed pursuant to the GMA's requirement that critical areas be designated and protected. RCW 36.70A.040(2); .170 (requiring counties to designate and protect critical areas); .050 (requiring consultation); .060 (establishing procedures); .172 (requiring use of the best available science). Thus, these ordinances implement state policy and are not subject to local referenda.

[...]

The people of this state, through their legislators, recognized that each local area is unique and placed considerable power and responsibility onto counties to develop comprehensive land use plans according to procedures that required an enormous amount of deliberative public participation. Local exercises of power are often subject to rejection by local referenda. But while the GMA places considerable power and responsibility in local hands, it is still a state power that is being exercised to further state mandates.

The legislature certainly could decide that local ordinances implementing the GMA should be subject to local referendum. But it is for the legislature, not the courts, to amend GMA procedures.
Rather than participate in the process and seek mitigation for his concerns, McFarland and his fellow zealots tried to force a repeal of all the rules by asking the voters of King County to nullify the ordinances.

Their attempt to take deregulation to the extreme has failed and the state Supreme Court has once again ruled in favor of common sense and representative democracy as we would expect it to.

I-5 bridge needs wider options

Earlier this week I posted about a forum scheduled for January 4th, 2007, concerning the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) task force, which is charged with making recommendations about a possible replacement for the I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver.

One of the co-sponsors of that forum is Friends of Clark County, a non-profit group that works on "smart growth" issues.

The CRC task force received staff recommendations (PDF file) in late November. According to the executive summary, staff proposes advancing three options to the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) process.

The three options are the required "no build" option, build a new bridge with bus "rapid transit" or build a new bridge with light rail. So more creative ideas are in the process of being rejected, or so it would appear.

Lora Caine, the president of Friends of Clark County and someone I worked with during my days as a volunteer for Washington Conservation Voters, was kind enough to respond to some email questions I posed to her recently. Her response was so informative that I wanted to post it here, with her permission. By way of explanation, she's following up a series of emails where I had inquired about the "no-build" option, which as I understand it would be required to seek federal funds.
The only way "no build" would happen is if there were absolutely no money to build the project, and not for a very long time. The study still wouldn't end up with "no build" as its recommendation but would be shelved giving it a defacto "no build" ending.

The U.S. Coast Guard is a permitting authority - meaning they have a say whether this project gets built or not. Any new bridge placed in the river will need to have their approval of safety for marine traffic.

The marine channel right now is not deemed the safest as it is laid out in an "S" curve. The railroad bridge downstream has a swing span close to the Washington shore and the I-5 bridges have the lift span more in the center.

Any bridge built between would place pier supports in the river for marine traffic to navigate. If the bridge is closer to the I-5 bridges (assuming they would be left in place), then the piers could match the current pier supports. If the bridge is built near the railroad bridge then the bridge would have to match the channel there but be far enough away to avoid the swing of the bridge.

Likely, the U.S. Coast Guard would want to have a new bridge that incorporates the rail lines if the decision were to place the bridge addition that far downstream - thus avoiding more hazardous marine navigation. Adding railroad lines to the supplemental bridge builds a bigger bridge similar to the proposed replacement bridge. Adding light rail would also make it wider. All bridge options include bike and pedestrian lanes, too.

Three problems with a bridge further downstream that I see: 75% of the peak hour traffic in the 5 mile stretch of I-5 gets on and off within that area. A bridge further downstream would not necessarily alleviate the current traffic. Second, a bridge downstream near or even below the railroad bridge would connect to the Portland side - for what purpose? To make it even easier to work in Hillsboro/Beaverton and live in Clark County - the continued bedroom community of the future?

Third, freeway connections to return to the I-5 corridor from the new bridge will entail impacts to homes, businesses and industry - just the same as building a replacement bridge next to the current bridges. No easy solution, huh?

One area planning expert suggested adding lanes between the bridges. The bridges would need to be lifted, as he suggested, or the new lanes would need to be incorporated into a new span lift configuration. The bridges were not engineered to add the extra weight of more lanes (as staff pointed out from my question).

Lifting the bridges would also be costly in my estimation as anything done to the bridges like that will also require retrofitting them for seismic safety - more costs to be borne. And getting the traffic onto a new bridge before lifting the piers would also mean the need for at least the same capacity on the new bridge as is available now. Freight movement is a big piece in this complex puzzle necessitating the need for at least the current capacity. All this will take years, of course.

I can see advantages in every suggestion and problems, too. That's why I am not ready to decide how to vote. I DO want the low cost option in the final study even if it is to get the staff to try to be careful and frugal in their cost estimations for the final options.
As I've stated before, I don't envy the CRC folks their task. We don't want to viaduct this thing to death.

But if 75% of the traffic comes from the area near the bridge, it might be worth preserving for study the option of some kind of "local use" bridge, most likely the current spans. I'm certain there are problems with that idea as well (like what is to be done about Hayden Island impacts,) but hey, that's why we study things, isn't it?

Here's a link to a page about the forum from the Coalition for a Livable Future.

Federal judge smacks down groups over orcas

Yesterday, the BIAW and the Farm Bureau got their heads handed to them by a federal judge. The groups were trying to prevent the listing of Puget Sound orcas as an endangered species. From the News-Tribune:
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly’s ruling was greeted as an early Christmas present by orca fans, who said it clears the way for actions to revive the remaining population of about 90 killer whales.

On the other side of the dispute, attorney Russell Brooks, who filed the lawsuit for the Washington State Farm Bureau and the Building Industry Association of Washington, said his clients still have legal options, including appeal.

In his decision, Zilly said the builders and farmers don’t have the legal right to challenge the federal government’s decision to protect the orcas as endangered because lawyers failed to provide evidence that the listing harms the two groups. That didn’t please Brooks or his clients.

“Why in the world do we have to wait until someone actually loses their livelihood?” asked Brooks, who works for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which specializes in property rights cases.
Ah yes, they must mean this Pacific Legal Foundation, a classic and fairly important cog in the right wing stink tank apparatus, or as I have decided to call the huge collection of conservative think tanks, Big Stinky. (Hey, we already have the shorthand Big Pharma: we need one for these people, too.)

According to MediaTransparency, Pacific Legal Foundation has some lovely donors.
Between 1985 and 2005, the PLF received more than $5 million in grants from right wing foundations. Unlike most mainstream press reports on the Supreme Court hearing, which were satisfied to identify the Pacific Legal Foundation as a conservative legal group and leave it at that, Jennifer Millman took a closer look at the organization's funding stream. She found that amongst the organizations consistent and largest benefactors were five influential and aggressive right wing foundations: the Scaife Family Foundations, the Castle Rock (Coors) Foundation, the now-defunct John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
One must note that the noxious collaboration between BIAW, the Farm Bureau and Big Stinky isn't working out so well for them this year. I-933 went down in flames and Republican state legislators got hammered at the ballot box. That Supreme Court thing didn't go so well either.

It's probably better for progressives if Big Stinky and their allies keep pursuing their reckless agenda, since the public seems wise to them. But honestly, at times I'm hard pressed to understand what actually motivates groups like BIAW and the Farm Bureau. Okay, so they have some complaints.

Maybe they should get in line and see if being reasonable works for a change. Their quest to gut basic environmental protections is doing them more harm than good. If I were a small homebuilder or farmer I'd be asking myself exactly why these extremist groups get to speak for me.

To oversimplify, people will still want houses and food, and costs are always passed on to consumers one way or another. If the citizens/consumers want environmental protections, and they do, why keep trying to undo them in such an aggressive manner? But hey, if BIAW and the Farm Bureau want to squander what credibility and influence they have left, that's fine with me.

At any rate, no post that involves orcas would be complete without a link to Orcinus. I hope David Neiwert weighs in on the court case when he has a chance, because it's always great to get his take. The News-Tribune article seemed to suggest that an appeal is unlikely to succeed.
Among those celebrating Zilly’s order Wednesday was former Secretary of State Ralph Munro, who was among the parties who sued the federal government to protect the whales.

Munro, and others, discounted the likelihood of an appeal by the builders and farmers.

“Tom Zilly is a highly respected judge. I would be surprised if they appeal. This is – from their point of view – a kind of nail in the coffin.”
Good for Munro. Kinda makes up a little for these unfortunate comments.

UPDATE 7:00 PM Dec. 22, 2006-- David Neiwert did find time to comment here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Puget Sound Energy recovery progress

As of 11:30 AM today here are the latest updates from Washington State's largest private electric utility on power outages and restoration:
  • With nearly 500 (496) Puget Sound Energy crews continuing to make good progress restoring power – repairing transmission lines, re-energizing substations, and moving deeper into damaged residential neighborhoods – we're able to make increasingly detailed and refined projections on when – at the very latest – all PSE customers in given communities should see their lights come back on.

  • As of late this morning we have restored power to just over 600,000 of the 700,000 people who lost power from the windstorm. We believe nearly all our customers still without power will have their service back no later than Friday or Saturday … and most will have power before then.

  • However, repairing the exceptional damage in a couple of rural pockets in north and east King County could take longer – perhaps up to two or three days. It now appears possible that power may not be restored until Sunday or early next week for a very small number of customers, in the hundreds, within the Cottage Lake area east of Woodinville, and outlying areas around Duvall.

  • We're regularly updating our outage-restoration projections for specific communities and circuits within communities. Customers in many areas can now get specific restoration projections by calling PSE's Call Center (1-888-225-5773), and entering their phone number or PSE account number in our automated system. More and more circuit-specific projections are steadily being entered into our system.

  • Significant progress was made again yesterday and last night to restore customers' power. We've now re-energized 158 of the 159 substations that lost power from the fierce windstorm. The only remaining substation without power, serving Duvall, should be re-energized today. And we've now repaired 70 of the 85 transmission lines that lost power from the storm.

  • As our crews in Thurston, Pierce, and Kitsap counties complete their restoration efforts there over the next couple days – we hope to complete restoration in Pierce County today – they will join the 350 crews we now have in King County to finish the massive repair effort.

  • In the hardest-hit areas of King County – where about 90 percent of the remaining outages exist – the record-setting storm's damage was so extensive around Woodinville, Duvall, Carnation, North Bend, and Snoqualmie that we're literally having to rebuild the electric system from the ground up in much of that area.

  • Our crews have fully restored power to the 57,000 customers who lost power in Whatcom, Skagit, Jefferson, Island, and Kittitas counties, where storm damage was extensive but not as severe as central Puget Sound. (It's possible an isolated outage or two in remote areas could still exist; please call PSE if your power is still out.)

  • Another storm with wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph is predicted to hit the region tonight. We hope it does not cause additional outages. Parts of our restored system remain fragile, with permanent repairs coming later.

  • Updated information is being placed on our Call Center's recorded message line and PSE Web site for customers to obtain updates on local restoration progress, and plan accordingly.

  • We continue to appreciate the public's understanding and patience. We are working with community agencies to assist those who are still without power; this includes working with community EOCs for things such as traffic control and security patrols. We continue to ask people to pull off the roads and let our crews get into damaged areas.

  • Please stay away from downed, electrified power lines – and don't ever assume that a downed line is NOT energized. We have implemented a process to address customer reports of wire down. If people see a utility crew repairing damaged lines, we ask that they not try to ask the crew questions about when a neighborhood's power will be restored. Our crews are extremely busy … and your questions will slow the repair effort.
If you're still without power, hang on...they're trying to get it back to you. Call 1-888-225-5773 and select Option 1 for more info.

Kessler to sponsor property notification bill

State Rep. Lynn Kessler, D- 24th District (Jefferson, Clallam and part of Grays Harbor Counties) is sponsoring a bill that would require local governments to notify property owners about efforts to acquire their land.
When she learned that private property owners could lose their land without even being notified, state Representative Lynn Kessler (D-Hoquiam) was stunned.

“In America?” said Kessler. “That seemed unbelievable to me.”

But sure enough, state and federal court rulings had decided a government agency was not required to actually notify property owners of its pending decision to condemn their land – they could simply post a meeting agenda on a web site.

“Who is going to monitor web sites on a regular basis just to see if their property is going to be condemned?” Kessler asked.

As a result, she is sponsoring legislation that will require a local government to send a certified letter to those property owners, notifying them that their land is being considered for acquisition. A short legal notice published in the local newspaper is also required.

“This is a simple matter of fairness,” Kessler said.

Governor Gregoire and Attorney General McKenna have included this legislation in their requests to the 2007 Legislature.
It's a common sense idea that's had to argue with. The rest of the news release mentions that Kessler is one of the sponsors behind a bill that would create a committee to look into exemptions to the Public Disclosure Act.
“The right of people to know what their government is doing is vital in a democracy,” Kessler said. “The Public Disclosure Act was passed by the people in 1972, and at that time there were only ten exemptions – now there are at least 300. That’s ridiculous.”
Indeed. Making sure government is, whenever feasible, required to disclose its activities are very worthy objectives. Democrats are often portrayed by the right wing as some kind of slavish defenders of bureaucracy and government, but the truth is that we want effective government. That means transparency, openness, and fairness. Which is what Kessler's bill is about.

Lieber-lies revisited

Via Daily Kos comes the stunning revelation that the Lieberman campaign lied big time on primary election day.

And the "steno press," as Kos refers to them, ate it up.
Will Yoon and other media outlets that reported on the "hacking" now update their stories? Don't hold your breaths.

If there's one rule of media and politics -- and this is what's truly Rovian -- is that the steno press (with a few exceptions) will uncritically parrot your talking points, smear attacks, and accusations, without you suffering the indignities of having that (horse hockey) exposed for being the (horse hockey) it is.
This is a large problem in politics. While it's truthful to report that accusations are being made, too often those accusations are made at the last minute, or with slim to no evidence, or the evidence has been manufactured by political operatives in the first place. Then there is always the horror of Democrats buying houses and yards, usually described as "land deals," as if the very act of Democrats buying houses and yards is suspicious.

Don't know what can be done about it, other than being shrill in an attempt to, you know, point out the truth. Sliver of land does not equal Jack Abramoff. But you'd never know that sometimes. Which is how the GOP wants it, because if all politicians are "a bunch of crooks" then it both excuses their behavior and causes more people to not care any more.

The Year of Racism

Ok, this settles it. 2006, the Year of Racism. (Did Slog first come up with that term? I can't recall, I think they might have. But I'm not going to waste time using Google, that could take minutes.)
In a December 18 column headlined "Barack Hussein Obama: Once a Muslim, Always A Muslim" and posted on her website, right-wing pundit Debbie Schlussel argued that because Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) middle name is Hussein, his late, estranged father was of Muslim descent, and he has shown interest in his father's Kenyan heritage, Obama's "loyalties" must be called into question as he emerges as a possible Democratic presidential candidate. In the column, Schlussel asked: "So, even if he identifies strongly as a Christian ... is a man who Muslims think is a Muslim, who feels some sort of psychological need to prove himself to his absent Muslim father, and who is now moving in the direction of his father's heritage, a man we want as President when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be?" She ended her column by asking if Obama becoming vice president instead would be acceptable. Answering her own question, she wrote: "NO WAY, JOSE ... Or, is that, HUSSEIN?"
As Atrios comments:
Schlussel, of course, is a fairly regular contributor to our mainstream media discourse, appearing on Fox and MSNBC multiple times over the past year.

The mainstreaming of bigotry and racism has been one of the more depressing developments over the past few years.
Indeed. And the U.S. media wonders why we are shrill, to kind of riff on how Atrios usually responds.

If you ask me, the best response to conservative stupidity and racism, short of injuring one's head by banging it on the desk, is to be as shrill as possible. I know, it's the holidays, so we're not supposed to be shrill, but now and then the righties' true colors come showing through. And it's always pathetic how they don't even realize they are racist morons. See, there I go again.

Ouch, head meet desk.

Delta Park bottleneck

Oregon will start work in 2008 on the Delta Park bottleneck, a continual source of frustration for Clark County commuters:
The plan calls for:

Widening I-5 to three southbound lanes along 1.2 miles from Delta Park to the North Columbia Boulevard entrance ramp.

Widening the northbound shoulders and inside median.

Widening freeway bridges over the Columbia Slough and Columbia Boulevard to make way for the third southbound lane and the northbound shoulder.

Realigning and lengthening onramps and offramps at Columbia Boulevard and North Victory Boulevard.

Building a new bridge at the Columbia Boulevard southbound onramp.

Cost of the I-5 improvements has been set at $69 million, set to come from federal and state sources.

But neither the budget nor the time line has been set yet for improvements planned for nearby streets. These include replacing the North Denver Avenue viaduct over Columbia Boulevard and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, replacing the Denver Avenuebridge over the Slough, and reconstructing the Denver Avenue-North Schmeer Road intersection.
This is pretty much the first thing that had to happen. Clark County residents who work in Portland justifiably point to the narrowing of I-5 as a pressing issue.

Yes, it's long overdue, but it looks like it will finally get started. So as the process to do something about the Interstate Bridge moves forward, at least the bottleneck is being addressed.

Budget play

Things were neglected in this state for decades because a certain political party found it a convenient winning formula to be against spending on education and infrastructure, so Democrats have to be responsible now and take action.

Corollary: Conservatives, media outlets and reactionary think tanks don't get to kvetch endlessly about "selling the kids short" and then start trashing the budget when someone tries to do something to improve math and science scores. Well, they do get to do it, because we have free speech, but it should be obvious to anyone who has followed things over time that one reason the 520 bridge is just going to sink one day is because of the GOP's and Tim Eyman's endless kvetching. Despite efforts to increase teacher pay and lower class sizes, there's still some work to be done on the education front as well.

Being in the kvetching business myself, I have a certain fondness for it, but really, who the hell cares about a minor shortfall that may or may not happen in 2011 or whenever? Those economic forecasts change every ten minutes anyhow. I'll fix your revenue stream for you, pal-- in one easy constitutional amendment. Right here.

This is a serious budget to deal with serious problems that have built up over time. People want their kids to be properly educated and they want to be able to get home from work to see them before bedtime, and they have always wanted that. Too bad we didn't do more things starting in say, 1990. But it was easier to kvetch endlessly about taxes than actually do something. Anyone remember when the House was tied?

Things that some conservatives don't like are not waste simply because they don't like them. Media outlets and conservative think tanks should think longer about who they put forward to kvetch and whether the kvetching has any merit. Otherwise the best thing to do is pat them on the head and tell them it will all be ok in the end.

You know, the same thing you do with the kids. "It's okay, the grown-ups will handle things, you just go play with your grant money and see if that nice Seattle Times fellow will show you his inheritance tax."

And wash your hands, I heard those right wing think tanks have cooties.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Van Hollen tapped to lead DCCC

Time will tell, but at the moment this looks like a really good choice:
Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will tap Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to "chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2008 campaign cycle," reports Roll Call.

"While Van Hollen was seen as a favorite in the race to replace outgoing Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who said he would not serve another term, the Maryland lawmaker is not viewed as a Pelosi loyalist."
In terms of his voting record, he is rated is 90% on Progressive Punch, which is pretty solid. He is the 40th most progressive member of the House of Representatives (note this is the 109th Congress). Hopefully he will listen to the grassroots and the movement as he crafts a strategy and a game plan for extending the Democratic majority in the House in 2008.

Forum on I-5 bridge slated for January 4

Last week we reported on a forum about tolling and a new I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver that featured speakers recruited by The Discovery Institute's Cascadia Project.

One of the co-sponsors of that event was Identity Clark County. My main lament isn't that the bidness guys 'n gals get together and slap backs, or that certain politicians slap right along, it's that their version of reality is often the only one present in public discourse.

And while the concerns of business are important, they shouldn't be the only concerns that are given consideration.

So it's nice to see that groups representing other voices are planning a forum of their own for January 4th in Portland. The panelists are not yet all confirmed, so I won't post those yet, but here's most of the text of a forwarded email I received from Lora Caine, who is President of Friends of Clark County.

(And one of the most well informed people you will ever meet when it comes to planning issues, by the way.)
You may have read in the paper recently that the options being studied by the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) Project - a transportation project focusing on the 5-mile stretch of I-5 that spans the Columbia River - are narrowing.

Projected to cost a whopping $2 billion to build, and $1 million/month to plan, the proposal on the table is to get rid of the old bridges and replace them with one huge span. What are the implications for our health and our neighborhoods?

What sort of economic impacts can we expect? What can we really afford? What other ideas should be considered?

Come learn about this project and engage in a discussion about the pros and cons of the staff proposal. CRC staff will present their proposal followed by a response panel and open discussion.
Columbia River Crossing Forum
New Columbia Community Education Room, 4625 N. Trenton St (Portland, OR)
Thursday, January 4th, 2007 - 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
Sponsored by Coalition for a Livable Future, Environmental Justice Action Group, Friends of Clark County and the Columbia Group of the Sierra Club.
The event is open to the media and the public. Bloggers are encouraged to come.

If you're coming from Vancouver, you can take TriMet line #6 to line #4

For more background on the project, go to the Columbia River Crossing page.

It's still early in the game, relatively speaking, on the I-5 bridge issue. But the process is moving forward, which is good, but so far I'm not so sure that the general public realizes what is going on here. Major decisions are being made, or will be made in the next year.

To comment briefly again on just one idea that is being bandied about, congestion pricing and tolls may work well for trucking firms who need to move goods and for executives who need to get to the airport quickly.

But low and middle income workers might not see $5 or $7 tolls as a bargain, but rather as a threat to their existence. These things need to be hashed out, otherwise there is the risk of a massive public backlash.

I'll post information about panelists as they are confirmed.

Here's contact information for the Coalition for a Livable Future in Portland:
Jill Fuglister
Co-Director
Coalition for a Livable Future
310 SW Fourth Ave., Ste. 612
Portland, OR 97204
voice: 503-294-2889
fax: 503-225-0333
Sounds like a good idea to have the forum. Let's hope it presents some real discussion about how this will affect the average citizen.

The gift that keeps on giving all year

Believe it or not, the head of Goldman Sachs has received the largest bonus ever paid on Wall Street.
Goldman Sachs paid Lloyd C. Blankfein, its chairman and chief executive, a bonus of $53.4 million in 2006, the highest ever for a Wall Street chief executive.

Added to his $600,000 salary, the bonus means that Mr. Blankfein will make $54 million this year, up from $38 million last year. The bank’s compensation committee awarded him $27.3 million in cash, $15.7 million in restricted stock and options to buy Goldman stock valued at $10.5 million.

The payout comes a week after Goldman reported a record profit of $9.5 billion, or $19.69 per diluted share, in 2006. Its stock price is up almost 60 percent for the year, and the firm’s market capitalization is nearly $90 billion, more than triple its value when it went public in May 1999.
Let's hope Blankfein didn't enroll Goldman employees in a jelly of the month club.

Public infrastructure (like storm drains) costs money to maintain and repair

A few local conservatives are putting up stupid headlines after an analysis and eyewitness accounts indicate that dysfunctional storm drains on East Madison Street may have caused the death of well-known voice-over actress Kate Fleming, who unfortunately drowned in the basement of her house.

"Government incompetence kills again", eh?

Government in general is both an attack target and a favorite scapegoat of conservatives when something goes wrong. Isn't it interesting how the right wing is so in favor of tax cuts and deregulation, but then is so swift to blame the government for something that goes wrong - when they're not (mis)managing it?

We have to put up with Paul Guppy and Tim Eyman whining about careful investment of the state's budget surplus, which is all a jar of nickels and quarters compared to the poorly written federal budget - which Democrats are going to have to tackle when they pick up the gavels in January.

Why don't these ultra right wing zealots focus their energies on ending the war in Iraq, since that is costing us such a fantastic amount of money?

Just look at the ever increasing Cost of War counter.

It's because they're not really in favor of fiscal responsibility. They want to defund public services and destroy government, but when their fellow Republicans are in charge they conveniently overlook abuses and contradictions.

It's the government's fault because Seattle isn't run by a bunch of wingnuts.

As far as the storm drains itself, what happened is extraordinarily regrettable. This is the kind of thing that happens when you don't have enough money for infrastructure. Roads and drainage systems don't just cost money to build, they also cost money to maintain and repair when they get broken.

I've driven on a lot of streets in Seattle and the number that are cracked and bumpy is staggering. It's easy to imagine the additional problems that aren't so visible, like faulty storm drains.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has asked the city for records regarding the East Madison Street drains, but Andy Ryan, spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities, said utility officials wouldn't comment or release the records until they have reviewed them. The utility is hiring a hydrological firm to investigate the incident, Ryan said.

"This was an extraordinary hydrological event," he said.

It is possible the storm was so large it simply overwhelmed the capacity of the drains, and Seattle's old storm water system, experts said.

"It is difficult to speculate in any particular situation. Someone needs to go out and do the things you've started to do, backtracking what happened, and looking at it from an engineering standpoint," said Steven Kramer, a geotechnical engineer at the University of Washington.
(Emphasis mine). Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure.

Anyone who has ever played SimCity knows that when you decrease the transportation budget, potholes start appearing in the roads and all kinds of problems start happening that hamper mobility and lead to other mini-disasters (for example, fire trucks can't put out fires because they can't reach the blaze).

A significant number of the individuals who are tsk, tsking about "government incompetence" at this very moment are the same ones who campaigned in favor of right wing proposals like Initiative 776, which destroyed funding for infrastructure improvements in four of Washington's 39 counties.

Tim Eyman's own hometown of Mukilteo, in fact, lost $160,000 from street maintenance funding in 2003 due to I-776 and had to cut back on popular events such as the Lighthouse Festival. Eyman apparently doesn't care since he lives in an affluent development which is reportedly gated.

In Lake Forest Park, King County, $120,000 in street funding was axed. And thanks to Initiative 776, an estimated $40,000,000 of the state's two-year highway budget was lost. Just a few examples.

Infrastructure...costs...money. Just like your home. Over time your roof wears out, and you have to replace it. Over time, your appliances break and they need fixing. Over time, your sinks may start leaking and you may need to call a plumber to get the pipes repaired. Often these things are unexpected, but it helps to budget and anticipate them. Seattle hasn't really been doing that.

The people who told us to vote for I-776, again, are many of the same people who are now talking about "government incompetence". They have zero credibility. Their insulting comments are an unwelcome postscript to this tragedy.

We have the power...finally

Puget Sound Energy has at long last restored power to headquarters. My home office is thankfully warm and cozy again...and there is power to run the computers, telephone, and fax machine, which I'm truly thankful for.

Residential Redmond now looks much more inviting, with houses cheerily lit up by holiday lights (or Christmas lights if you prefer. I'm starting to take a liking to seasonal lights, though).

If your power isn't back yet, rest assured that PSE is working on it. This storm has had them really spread out and thin, and there are so many broken parts in the lines that restoring customers' power has simply not been an easy task.

If you have Internet access through your phone line or the cell network and you can read this post, or if you're researching for friends and family from a neighboring community or out of state, follow this link to see updates on power restoration.

You may also call 1-888-225-5773 (select menu option #1) for outage information.

Gregoire releases budget plan

Governor Chris Gregoire has released her budget plan. There's a lot to consider, but first, here's some quick highlights from The Spokesman-Review:
The first-term Democrat says her top priority remains education.

Gregoire wants to pour more than $2 billion more into public schools, expanding voluntary all-day kindergarten in high-poverty areas, boosting teacher pay, promoting math and science learning, shrinking class sizes and increasing special education programs. Her school construction proposal - $809 million – would be the largest in state history.

Gregoire is also pushing about $1.5 billion in raises for state workers, particularly in hard-to-fill jobs like prison guards and nurses, and billions of dollars more for transportation projects throughout the state.

Other big-ticket items: Puget Sound cleanup, more buildings and student slots at the state’s colleges, more health care for children, a two-year freeze on community college tuition and a cap on tuition hikes at the state’s four-year schools.
NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve had this to say in a news release sent to Washington media outlets:
"Taxes are really public investments in our future. Voters are sick and tired of the rhetoric of right wing demagogues who attack our elected leaders for the courage to put together a budget that backs up our vision with real action. NPI has this message for our Governor and state legislators: Keep doing what you've been doing. Keep investing. It's working and voters like the leadership they're seeing."
For too long this state has ignored infrastructure. The damage from that neglect, caused by the knee-jerk political pandering of Republicans and short-sighted initiatives, is going to take a long time to repair. For crying out loud, the 520 bridge is in terrible, terrible shape.

But we have to start now. Sure, there will be negotiating, jockeying and criticism of Gregoire's proposal--that always happens. But the main focus, funding things that are truly vital to our future economy, is clear. It's a sound budget proposal, and now the process will proceed in the Legislature, with all its give and take.

Since Democrats have large majorities in each chamber, that debate is going to often be between Democrats. Some will try to paint normal, healthy debates as division, but that would be a mistaken analysis.

Various views of ideology, regional needs and personal expectations will come into play, and even if debates become a tad heated at times, we're confident that our strong legislative leadership will forge a strong package in the end.

So enjoy the holidays, legislators, starting in January you've got a lot of work to do.

Draft Obama group forming in Oregon

There's a draft Obama group forming in Oregon. From OPB:
The next presidential election is two years away. But some Oregonians have already picked their candidate - they've just formed a local branch of a national Draft Barack Obama group.

The Democratic U.S. Senator from Illinois is contemplating a run for president in 2008.

Jason Owens, a computer engineer in Portland, says he's already laying the ground work for an Oregon campaign for Senator Obama.
The article transcript is a little short on details (it's always amazing how little information can be conveyed by the spoken as opposed to the written word,) but apparently this Owens fellow is not connected to the Democratic Party nor Obama. If it's a case of a normal person getting involved, that would be one positive aspect of Obama's candidacy. A healthy democracy needs lots of normal people involved, to keep us political junkies in line.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Happy Hanukkah

Since we're midway through the Festival of Lights, we'd like to take this opportunity to wish our Jewish readers a very happy Hanukkah (or in Hebrew, חנֻכה). Even if you don't have any electric lights, a power outage won't stop a menorah from shining brightly. Here's hoping your celebration is enjoyable and memorable.

Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning

An important message from the Governor and health officials:
Carbon monoxide poisoning may be to blame for as many as three deaths since last week’s windstorm. It is estimated that over 1,000 people in Washington have been seen at hospital emergency rooms with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning over the past four days.
Said the Governor:
"I urge all Washingtonians to stay safe and take care of themselves and their families as we dig out from the most recent storm. You can help by checking in with friends and neighbors to share this information and make sure they are okay."
More background information:
Many of these recent cases have resulted from the indoor use of charcoal briquettes for cooking or heating. When burned, charcoal releases carbon monoxide, which is odorless and colorless.

Generators are also dangerous if not used properly. They should never be used inside the home, in an attached garage, or near an open window or air intake.

The Washington Department of Health and local health departments are working together to get this information out, but they are having trouble reaching everyone.
Secretary of Health Mary Selecky says many people are still without power or phones so it is very difficult to reach them with this important message. Your help is needed!

Important Facts About Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is found in combustion fumes produced by burning charcoal and wood, small gasoline engines, stoves, generators, lanterns, and gas ranges. It can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces and can quickly poison people and animals.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern or camping stove inside the home.
  • NEVER use generators indoors or in a garage, carport or basement. Keep generators outdoors and well away from windows, doors and air intakes.
  • Always open flues when fireplaces are in use.
  • Do not use ovens and gas ranges to heat your home.
  • Do not use unvented gas or kerosene space heaters in enclosed spaces.
  • ]Install battery-powered CO detectors in your home.
How to Recognize Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning
  • Exposure to CO can cause loss of consciousness and death.
  • The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.
  • People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms.
  • If CO poisoning is suspected, immediately move the person to a place with fresh air and get medical attention right away.
If you know friends and family who are without power and can't get this message, please pass it on to them. The Department of Health has a printable fact sheet here. They're also available in several other languages: Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Power restoration information from PSE

Puget Sound Energy now has information available about power restoration efforts in specific communities (North & East King, South King &, Pierce, Vashon Island, Whatcom & Skagit, Island, Kitsap & Jefferson, Kittitas, and Thurston).

Follow this link to see the latest updates for your area.

Howie Rich's group leaves Illinois

The main financial backer of the failed I-933, the so-called "takings initiative," has left Illinois. From the Center for Public Integrity:
Americans for Limited Government, the Chicago-based tax-exempt organization that bankrolled a series of controversial ballot initiatives this year, has apparently been forced to move out of Illinois because it could not comply with the state’s charity laws, the Center for Public Integrity has learned.

Americans for Limited Government had operated from offices in Illinois since 2002, but just after the November 7 elections it quietly changed its address to the Virginia residence of one of its officers. At the same time, ALG created two new tax-exempt groups, the Sam Adams Alliance and the Sam Adams Foundation, which occupy its former Chicago address.

The chairman of Americans for Limited Government, New York political activist Howard Rich, was recently described by The Wall Street Journal as “a publicity-shy, libertarian-leaning businessman who has become the go-to man for supporters of conservative ballot initiatives.” Rich did not respond to the Center’s requests for information about the organization’s financial affairs.
In all, Americans for Limited Government spent at least $8 million in 2006 pushing takings initiatives and other ballot measures. The organization has repeatedly refused to disclose the sources of its funds.

Although charitable organizations that operate in Illinois are required to furnish state regulators with annual financial statements audited by a certified public accountant, Americans for Limited Government never did so, the Center has learned.
The ability of nutty, pseudo-libertarian millionaires to create havoc in states by abusing the initiative process is reliant on their ability to hide the actual sources of money used in those initiatives. It's ridiculous that Howie Rich can flaunt the law and then simply move his group, and/or form a new group.

Improvements in state and federal regulation are clearly called for. Citizens have a right to know who is messing with their state. We still don't know whether the money behind 933 was all Rich's. There is a complete lack of transparency in cases like this. And Rich's dupes at the Farm Bureau should still be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be used as a front group.

Props to DailyKos poster harto for the link.

4th power update from Puget Sound Energy

As of noon today here are the latest updates from Washington State's largest private electric utility on power outages and restoration:
The scope and severity of damage to Puget Sound Energy's electric system from Friday's windstorm is unprecedented. In many hard-hit areas, our crews are having to re-build the system from the substation to customers' doors – after downed trees and debris are cleared away. Crews now have successfully repaired the core backbone of the system – our high-voltage transmission grid – and as of midmorning Monday, they'd restored power to more than 525,000 of the 700,000 customers who lost power.

We're continuing to repair other portions of our transmission and distribution systems, with more than 420 crews, representing over 2,000 workers, involved in the restoration effort. Besides our local crews, PSE has enlisted nearly 170 additional crews from across the western United States and Canada to help restore customers' power, and two dozen more crews are arriving later today from Missouri. Because the storm's damage is so widespread, however, we believe it will take most of this week to restore power to everyone in the hardest-hit areas.

We plan to update this report twice daily – morning and evening – as restoration progress in specific locales proceeds and more refined estimates of final restoration times are known.
That's the latest update. If you have power, be thankful and conserve it, if you don't, please be patient and understanding.

Bridges, we need bridges

So there's a dire need for a new SR 520 bridge, but money is always an issue.
An estimated $4.4 billion, or perhaps as much as $5.3 billion, is needed to build a six-lane bridge to replace the four-lane span constructed in 1963. The world's longest floating highway is expected to wear out in 13 to 18 years, and engineers consider it to be as weak as the Alaskan Way Viaduct if an earthquake hits.

On Friday, Gov. Christine Gregoire endorsed a six-lane replacement. The announcement was overshadowed by her call for a Seattle-only public vote on whether to replace the viaduct with an elevated highway, or a tunnel.

Current proposals for 520 would generate only $2.1 billion — from $552 million in state gas taxes and some car-tab taxes; $700 million in expected tolls; and $800 million from a regional car-tab and sales-tax proposal likely to be on next fall's ballot.
I'm going to continue to refrain from offering much comment on Puget Sound area transportation questions, although I find the questions involved with 520 superficially similar to the ones facing the Portland-Vancouver area with the Interstate Bridge. How much, what kind, what else, etc.

While tolls are certainly not something that have existed to a large extent in Washington state and Oregon, usually having been confined to pay off bridge construction costs, in other parts of the country they are just a fact of life. Congestion pricing makes sense from a planning standpoint, but you can't be charging people an hour's worth of wages to get to work, either.

Not that this could ever happen today, but I always found it fascinating how northern California residents stepped up to pay for the Golden Gate Bridge.

That took guts.

Matt Stoller and bar fights

As if often the case, Matt Stoller at MyDD makes a lot of sense, this time in discussing possible Democratic nominees for president. Stoller's analogy is simple: who would be on our side in a bar fight?

Well worth the read if you have the chance. Here's a snippet:
The way to gain my support in 2008 is to show that in a bar fight, your sympathies are with liberals and are set against the bullies that have been running the country for so long. You can run on anything you want, you can talk of unifying the country or any sort of conventional wisdom chatter. You don't have to speak to me directly all the time with everything you say. You can pander on video games or ethanol, or whatever you need. But you have to speak on some critical point, some piece of entrenched power, and promise that you are going to gore that conservative ox.
It's an intriguing post that articulates a lot of progressive concerns going into 2008.

The party is a big tent, but you have to be willing to fight for progressive values in the end. We can compromise on marginal tax rates and tons of other specific issues, but candidates need to reject the positions of corporate America or the religious right as the beginning and end of the discussion.

If the last three years or so have shown us anything, it's that we succeed when we define our own terms. While I'm not a huge Lakoff fan, the fact that he pointed out how to frame things was a hugely positive development.

But it's about more than "framing," it's about finding authentic voices for democracy, and to the extent possible, subverting and working around reactionary big media forces. To the extent blogs are useful for this, great.

Anything that helps regular folks participate and understand the process, and diminishes the control exerted by elites, is good. Blogs are probably just a small part of this chapter in our history.

Progressives must put themselves on the side of regular folks as much as possible (populism!), not trying to tell them what to do, but to "clear a path" for them to govern themselves, to borrow a phrase from Stoller's post.

Democracy by and for people.

We wouldn't have troops in Iraq right now if we hadn't experienced one of the worst episodes of yellow journalism in over 100 years, and the forces that created that yellow journalism in the first place are by and large still very powerful. The right wing stink tanks aren't going anywhere, and if anything most closely resemble a wounded but still dangerous animal.

Baird's "read the bill" proposal

Brian Baird wants Congress to read legislation before it is passed. From The Oregonian:
But even with Democrats moving into the majority next month, it's unlikely they will pass Baird's full proposal to post the bills on the Internet 72 hours before the House votes on them. Baird probably will receive a scaled-back compromise.

The Southwest Washington Democrat's fight illustrates the difficulty in making Congress even slightly more transparent. He said he expects some improvements in House procedure, but he isn't counting on his full proposal to pass.

"It's like everything back there," Baird said. "People become accustomed to the status quo."

Late-night, secretive votes have been a problem in the House for years. One recent example is the provision in a defense bill that eliminates the office of U.S. inspector general in Iraq. Many legislators said they didn't know that was in the bill until after they voted on it in September.
Baird has been after this issue for some time, and it's the kind of practical improvement he has often focused on while in Congress. Keep in mind Baird has never served with the majority party, as he was first elected in 1998, so it will be interesting to see how how he does now.

One possible problem on this issue, according to the Oregonian article, is that leadership may not want to give up the ability to make last-second deals. Which is understandable, but it's simply not acceptable to be passing bills when nobody knows what the heck is in them. The Republican House took that to new levels of absurdity.

It sounds most likely Baird will get half a loaf on this, which is still a step forward.

A nice story

Seeing as it's the holiday season, it's nice to read this Olympian article about folks hanging together through the power outages by making dinner for others.
Peggy and Don cooked a camp-stove stew for six with the last of their propane on the deck of their Tumwater Hill apartment.

Don held the flashlight and passed the salt; Peggy stirred and added spices.

“I’m putting in ground beef, canned tomatoes, some rice, some veggies — anything warm and filling,” Peggy said. The Lewellens moved a month ago from Vermont to be greeted with a snow storm, record rainfall and now a power outage. But they’re resourceful — the type to carry extra sleeping bags in their car.

“They’re very practical individuals. They’re from Vermont, where it snows a lot,” said Bonnie Dillabough.

The Lewellens moved to help with the Jan. 1 launch of Olympia-based PodStar Network, a worldwide pod casting company that Dillabough founded. They’ve spent their dark days doing what work they could and scouring stores for necessities such as propane, firewood and flashlights. They moved perishable items outside, where the near-freezing temperatures will keep them fresh.
It's a small story, but a nice one. It's the kind of thing that will be talked about in that neighborhood for years.

Despite our political differences, Americans can be amazingly kind. I know that any of my neighbors would do whatever they could to help out my family, and the reverse is true. We all may have different views, but in the end, we'll pull together.

The power outage story has faded somewhat from the national media, but clearly a lot of people in our region remain cold, tired and understandably in some cases, cranky. Here's hoping the certainly exhausted power crews can keep at it, and that many more folks get their power back by days end.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The swiftboating of Obama begins

Clearly Barak Obama is unfit to serve because he wanted a bigger front yard.
There have been no allegations that Obama, whose political fortunes are soaring as he mulls a run for president, broke the law or committed any ethics violations. He said he has done no government business with Rezko, who is facing charges in two unrelated criminal cases.
The most disturbing thing to me about this horrible scandal is how Obama is letting the media tell him what to do. He didn't do anything wrong, nobody alleges he did anything wrong (other than some good government types who are "concerned,") and yet The Washington Post decides to put it on page A6.

Look, there are lots of scummy people in politics. Shockingly, there are scummy people in Chicago politics.

Some would argue most people in politics are, in some way, untrustworthy. If you banned from politics everyone who did business with scummy people, most of the state legislatures in this country would be largely empty.

As soon as I heard last month about this terrible incident involving a bigger yard for the Obama family, I pretty much concluded the media would never let it go. And they haven't and they won't. See, it balances out. The Bushes are tied closely to the Saudi Royal family, and Barak Obama had some low-rent guy who wanted to run Panda Express outlets at the the Chicago airport try to butter him up. The Saudi Royal family and Mr. Panda Express guy are pretty much equivalent, huh?

And now Obama feels compelled to criticize himself for making a "bone-headed mistake."

So what happens next is the noise machine starts producing books about Whitewateryardgate, followed by serious editorials in leading newspapers about "judgement" and "lack of experience" and "legitimate concerns." Pretty soon half the country believes Obama is running a secret drug cartel from Central America. It's not like we haven't seen this play before.

People may be yearning for a more civilized discourse in this country, but that can't happen until the media stops it with the double standard. Has it occured to anyone at all that maybe Obama actually just wanted a bigger yard?

Meanwhile, the current occupant of the White House anwers to nobody, not even his Dad's advisers. Whether the Democratic Congress successfully changes that remains to be seen. If Obama wants to be president, he better figure out how to deal with a severely hostile, mostly incompetent and biased media.

Here's another quote from the Washington Post article:
Stewart, of the Better Government Association, said Obama took responsibility and did not shy away from questions. If there are no further revelations, he said, "it's going to wind up being a footnote," but "if anything further comes out, it's a different story."
Cute. So when it pops up on Drudge, there's the signal for everyone to attack.

What may be most remarkable about 2006 is that we won despite a press corps that holds Democrats to different standards than Republicans. In an age of unprecedented Repulbican corruption, they have to show their "objectivity" by turning an apparently insignificant land deal over a tiny slice of yard into a major national story. That's pretty pathetic. Obama isn't even my personal favorite, and that's another story, but he just got hosed by The Washington Post.

3rd power update from Puget Sound Energy

As of 5 PM this evening here are the latest updates from Washington State's largest private electric utility on power outages and restoration:
  • By later tonight, Puget Sound Energy crews will have restored electric service to approximately a half-million of the homes and businesses the utility serves that lost power from the fierce windstorm which hit the region two days ago. In all, about 700,000 PSE customers lost power from the storm.

  • Most of the nine counties that receive PSE electric service sustained tens of thousands of outages, with King County experiencing the most damage and outages – approximately 380,000 total. As of 4 p.m. today, a little more than half of these King County customers had their power back, with some 100 crews now working, ‘round the clock, in King County to restore service for the remainder.

  • In some communities where the storm damage was extensive but somewhat less severe, crews have now restored power for all but a small percentage (about 3 to 5 percent) of those who lost power. Only isolated pockets of customers remain without lights in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, Jefferson, and Kittitas counties. Sixty to 70 percent of the PSE customers in Pierce, Thurston, and Kitsap counties who lost power now have their lights back.

  • Even with our crews working nonstop to repair the massive damage, it's going to take several more days – and even longer in the very hard-hit areas – to get everyone's service restored. We encourage people still without power to plan accordingly.

  • We do know that the following areas of King County will remain without power throughout tomorrow and likely longer because of extensive structural damage to our transmission system caused by falling trees. These areas include: the Cougar Mountain area of Bellevue, rural Woodinville, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Duvall, Carnation, Issaquah, and Skykomish.

  • We've made good progress repairing the backbone transmission system. So far, we've repaired about half of the 85 transmission lines taken down by the storm, and by re-routing power loads, we've re-energized 129 of the 159 substations that lost power from the storm. As we continue to work on restoring the local power-distribution system, we will be able to develop more community-specific information.

  • Customers who have power back can help those who are still out by conserving electricity. Please use only the lights you need and minimize appliance use. This will help us prevent additional outages due to overloading on circuits as we continue to rebuild our system to restore electric service.

  • We appreciate the public's understanding and patience. We are working with community agencies to assist those who are still without power. We continue to ask people to pull off the roads and let our crews get into damaged areas.

  • We now have more than 350 crews working on the restoration effort, with another 50 crews arriving over the next two days from other states. Many of the local crew members worked 40 hours straight after the storm hit, and took a mandatory rest last night. Once the additional repair crews arrive, we'll have more than 2,000 people working in the field to restore customers' power.

  • "Outside" crews PSE has enlisted to help in the restoration effort are from: Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, California, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming. (Crews from Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa also could be brought in.)

  • Please stay away from downed, electrified power lines – and don't ever assume that a downed line is NOT energized. If people see a utility crew repairing damaged lines, we ask that they not try to ask the crew questions about when a neighborhood's power will be restored. Our crews are extremely busy … and your questions will slow the repair effort.

  • To help develop community specific restoration estimates, we have set up several "zones" within our service area. Each zone includes several substations that now have power thanks to our transmission-system restoration efforts. The zones also include a number of distribution circuits that are in need of repair. Crews have been deployed to each of these zones, and we expect to continue seeing the number of customers restored. The zones include Bothell, Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, Mercer Island, Kent, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent/Covington, SeaTac, Tukwila, Renton, and Sammamish Plateau. Additional zones are being developed while restoration continues across the system.
Those are all the latest alerts. If you have power, be thankful and conserve it, if you don't, please be patient and understanding.

Emergency preparedness is important

"Business as usual" has come to a halt these last few days as residents of the Central Puget Sound cope with the lack of power, heat, hot water, or all three.

My family has been without electricity since Thursday evening, which was almost seventy two hours ago now. Though power has been restored in much of downtown Redmond, most of the city's residential areas don't have it back yet.

For some people living without electricity is and has been really difficult. For me and my family, it's another exercise which demonstrates the value of emergency preparedness. We've not been thrilled with our lack of power and heat (we do have hot water) but we're not miserable, either.

In fact, compared to other folks whose stories I have heard, we're doing great.

That's partly because all of us are veteran campers. When we go on a road trip, we usually stay at campgrounds instead of hotels or motels. And that's because we like the great outdoors. We're not RV campers, either. We're tent campers.

And when you are tent camping, you don't have electricity. Sometimes you don't even have running water, let alone hot water. Key weapons in a camper's arsenal include a good cookstove (either one burner or two), a tinder box for starting fires, battery powered flashlights, a propane lantern, and a warm sleeping bag.

Frontcountry camping is more comfortable because normally you have access to running water, showers, and waste facilities.

You can drive up to the site and make use of your car and or trailer for storage, to charge cell phones or laptops if you have them.

In backcountry camping, which requires considerably more patience and tolerance, you don't have any of those luxuries. To go backcountry camping you need all the "camper's weapons" I described above, but they can't be big or heavy. Bringing a big two burner stove, for example, would be completely impractical.

Especially if you're going snowshoeing into the wilderness, you need a reliable backpacking stove such as the WhisperLite (I own one, and it works virtually anywhere). You also need a good sleeping bag designed for cold temperatures - a mummy bag. These have a distinctive shape.

They taper from the head end to the foot end, reducing the volume and surface area, and offer better heat retention properties.

Blow up air mattresses are out of the question. You'll need a durable sleeping pad, either a foam fold out or a self inflating pad, like a Thermarest.

You'll need a lightweight, portable tent that can weather snow, wind, and anything else the Earth might throw at you. (It can't be bulky either since it has to fit into your backpack). For cookware you'll want a set that can be stored inside its largest container, with collapsible pot handles and utensils, as well as a cleaning kit that includes biodegradable soap.

A water purifier is a really useful tool to have.

Preferred fuels for cooking and keeping warm are propane and white gas. They're easy to transport and they burn fairly cleanly.

You'll also need the Ten Essentials - a term referencing a list of important items originally popularized up by the Mountaineers, that famous hiking and conservation group based right here in Seattle. They are:
  • Map (for orienteering!)
  • Compass (for orienteering!)
  • Water (having a water purifier, as mentioned above, is excellent as well)
  • Extra food (you don't want to go hungry)
  • Rain gear and extra clothing (stay dry, stay warm)
  • Firestarter (preferably waterproof matches)
  • First Aid kit (prepackaged ones are good. Take a First Aid class too).
  • Pocket Knife (Swiss Army knife, for example, or multipurpose tool)
  • Flashlight (for orienteering, signaling, finding your way)
  • Sun protection (Sunscreen, sunglasses)
Other useful items, in addition: insect repellent, a whistle, duct tape, trash bags, extra batteries/bulbs, and talk about walkie talkies for communication.

Most serious backcountry campers practice Leave No Trace - a set of ethics which mandate respect for the wilderness. It's exactly what it sounds like: camping that leaves little, but preferably zero, impact on the environment. That means virtually everything you pack in must also be packed out.

The point I'm making here is that even people who are not elderly, very young, or ill - people who are simply too accustomed to living with numerous comforts and luxuries - can have a tough time of it when an emergency or disaster arrives, such as the windstorm we just had.

But when you've had some good experience camping a power outage doesn't faze you much. You've got the gear for staying warm, for cooking, for maintaining light. And you know how to use that gear. You know not to use a grill or stove inside, for example, because of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

If your house is cold, you're not too bothered, because after all, you've already slept in a tent where it's been that cold or even colder.

You're good at building and lighting fires, at preparing food without a microwave or oven (though Coleman does offer a few tantalizing frontcountry camping accessories we think are worth owning - a camp oven and a camp coffeemaker, for example). You're an expert at carefully packing your cooler and replacing the ice when it has partially thawed out.

Even if you're not interested in doing any camping, having the gear is still very important for emergency preparedness purposes. You'll want the Ten Essentials at home, battery powered radios and lanterns (electric for inside, propane ones for use outside next to your grill), candles, as well as fleece or wool clothing and blankets. More recommended items are here.

But the best gear in the world won't save you if you don't know how to use it. That's why it's good to get camping and survival experience and learn how to apply common sense to make good decisions so when you're faced with an emergency, disaster, or life-threatening circumstance, you can react and survive.

Phone outage in East King County

Another major inconvenience for residents of East King County and Vashon Island:
There has been a Century Telephone network outage in east King County, including the communities of Carnation, Fall City, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Snoqualmie Pass, and surrounding areas, and Vashon Island. Customers in these areas may not have telephone service.

Citizens who need emergency assistance and cannot get through to 9-1-1 should use their cell phone to call 9-1-1. In east King County, if cell phone service is not available, people should drive to the local fire station. In Carnation and the surrounding area, people can also go to Carnation City Hall for assistance.

Century Telephone is working to repair the problem. The repair time for this outage is unknown at this time.
For additional information, the public can contact Century Telephone at 1-800-201-4099.

2nd power update from Puget Sound Energy

As of 6 AM this morning here are the latest updates from Washington State's largest private electric utility on power outages and restoration:
  • Two days after a fierce windstorm hit the Northwest (as of daybreak Sunday, Dec. 17), Puget Sound Energy crews have restored electric service to more than 400,000 of the 700,000 homes and businesses that lost power.

  • Most of the nine counties that receive PSE electric service sustained tens of thousands of outages, with King County experiencing the most damage and outages – approximately 380,000 total. As of 6 a.m. today, about half of these King County customers still had no power, though steady progress is being made to bring their service back: more than 70,000 customers in Bothell, Kenmore, Juanita, Kirkland, Bellevue, Issaquah Plateau and neighboring areas regained their electric service Saturday night.

  • In other communities where the storm damage was extensive but somewhat less severe, crews working ‘round the clock have restored power for 80 to 95 percent of PSE's customers. Only a very small number of PSE customers remain without lights in Whatcom, Skagit, Jefferson, and Kittitas counties. About 60 percent of the PSE customers in Pierce, Thurston, and Kitsap counties who lost power now have their lights back. On Whidbey Island, where the entire island was darkened by the storm, more than two-thirds of the people now have electric service back.

  • Even with our crews working nonstop to repair the massive damage, it's going to take several more days – and even longer in the very hard-hit areas – to get everyone's service restored. We encourage people still without power to plan accordingly.

  • We do know that the following areas of King County will remain without power throughout tomorrow and likely longer because of extensive structural damage to our transmission system caused by falling trees. These areas include: the Cougar Mountain area of Bellevue, rural Woodinville, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Duvall, Carnation, and Skykomish.

  • We've made good progress repairing the backbone transmission system. So far, we've repaired about half of the 85 transmission lines taken down by the storm, and by re-routing power loads, we've re-energized 128 of the 159 substations that lost power from the storm. As we continue to work on restoring the local power-distribution system, we will be able to develop more community-specific information.

  • Customers who have power back can help those who are still out by conserving electricity. Please use only the lights you need and minimize appliance use. This will help us prevent additional outages due to overloading on circuits as we continue to rebuild our system to restore electric service.

  • We appreciate the public's understanding and patience. We are working with community agencies to assist those who are still without power. We continue to ask people to pull off the roads and let our crews get into damaged areas.

  • We now have 330 crews working on the restoration effort, with another 80 crews due to arrive in the next day or so. Many of these crew members worked 40 hours straight after the storm hit, and took a mandatory rest last night. Once the additional repair crews arrive, we'll have more than 2,000 people working in the field to restore customers' power.

  • Please stay away from downed, electrified power lines – and don't ever assume that a downed line is NOT energized. If people see a utility crew repairing damaged lines, we ask that they not try to ask the crew questions about when a neighborhood's power will be restored. Our crews are extremely busy … and your questions will slow the repair effort.

  • To help develop community specific restoration estimates, we have set up several "zones" within our service area. Each zone includes several substations that now have power thanks to our transmission-system restoration efforts. The zones also include a number of distribution circuits that are in need of repair. Crews have been deployed to each of these zones, and we expect to continue seeing the number of customers restored. The zones include Bothell, Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, Mercer Island, Kent, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent/Covington, SeaTac, Tukwila, Renton, and Sammamish Plateau. Additional zones are being developed while restoration continues across the system.
Those are all the latest alerts. If you have power, be thankful and conserve it, if you don't, please be patient and understanding.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Power update from Puget Sound Energy

As of 5:30 this evening here are the latest updates from Washington State's largest private electric utility on power outages and restoration:
  • Our crews continue making steady progress restoring customers' power in the wake of yesterday's devastating windstorm. As of 4 p.m. today, we've brought back electric service to almost half or more than 320,000 of the 700,000 customers who lost power when gale-force winds hit the region early yesterday.

  • Those who have power back can help those who are still out by conserving electricity. Please use only the lights you need and minimize appliance use. This will help us prevent additional outages due to overloading on circuits as we continue to restore electric service.

  • Two-thirds (more than 21,000 out of 37,000 customers) of Island County are back after everyone there lost power yesterday. In King County, which suffered the worst damage, where Puget Sound Energy had more than 380,000 customers without power, we've been able to bring back 85,000 customers or 22 percent. Progress is also being made in Kitsap – 56 percent restored; Kittitas – 52 percent back; Pierce – 49 percent back; and Thurston 35 percent back. Skagit has 18 percent back, Whatcom has about 500 customers out and Vashon Island remains without power.

  • We have 250 repair crews now working to restore power, with 150 additional line crews and 50 additional tree trimmers arriving over the next couple of days (from as far away as Kansas) to aid the restoration effort.

  • Although our crews will continue working around the clock to repair the massive damage, it's going to take several more days – perhaps even longer in the very hard-hit areas – to get everyone's service restored.

  • We've nearly finished repairs on the backbone transmission system. So far, we've re-energized 27 of the 80 transmission lines and 95 of the 150-plus substations that lost power from the storm. As we are able to focus more on restoring the local power-distribution system, we will be able to work on developing community specific information.

  • We appreciate the public's understanding and patience. For those who are still without power, we advise them to spend the weekend with family or friends that DO have service. We continue to ask people to pull off the roads and let our crews get into damaged areas.

  • Please stay away from downed, electrified power lines. If people see a utility crew repairing damaged lines, we ask that they not try to ask the crew questions about when a neighborhood's power will be restored. Our crews are extremely busy … and your questions will slow the repair effort.

  • Outages occurred throughout our nine-county electric-service area – and many customers in all nine counties have had their power restored. In addition to King and Island counties, extensive outages for PSE customers also occurred in Skagit, Pierce, Thurston, Kitsap, and Kittitas counties and, to a lesser degree, in Jefferson, and Whatcom counties.

  • More than half our entire high-voltage system -- more than 80 PSE transmission lines –– was damaged by the storm; these are the most critical parts of our system since they supply bulk power to the substations that serve individual communities and neighborhoods. We have been focusing on the restoration of this portion of our system, and this phase of the restoration effort is progressing well; by the end of the day, we expect this effort to be substantially completed in Kitsap, Pierce, Thurston, and Skagit Counties. At the same time, other crews have been working to repair key parts of our distribution system, particularly damaged substation circuits and feeder lines.

  • In order to concentrate restoration efforts and develop community specific restoration estimates, we have set up several "zones" within the service territory. Each zone includes several substations that now have power thanks to our transmission-system restoration efforts. The zones also include a number of distribution circuits that are in need of repair. Crews have been deployed to each of these zones, and we expect to see a steady increase in the number of customers restored. The zones include Bothell, Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, Kent, Des Moines, Federal Way, Kent/Covington, SeaTac, Tukwila, and Renton. Additional zones are being developed while restoration continues across the system.
Those are all the latest alerts. If you have power, be thankful and conserve it, if you don't, please be patient and understanding.

The situation on the Eastside

Here's a well written article by Debera Carlton Harrell of The P-I about conditions on the east side of the Puget Sound region.
Some residents tried to make the best of it. Eva Freeman, a nurse who like most Overlake Medical Center employees worked overtime during the storm, had the day off Saturday. But with the power still off, she headed to the nearest shelter in hopes of warming up and at least finding a hot cup of coffee.

That particular shelter, operated by the American Red Cross in the Bellevue High School gym, had electricity, heat -- and a functioning cafeteria serving hot meals.

Kathy Brasch, shelter manager, said about eight people stayed at the shelter Friday night, but more had come looking for "warmth and food." Some were also looking for hot showers -- another bonus at the site.
Most of us like to think we are prepared, but it's pretty jarring when things we take for granted are not available.

When the power went out here in Clark County at about 3:45 Thursday, I figured we might very well be without power for some extended period of time. Luckily for us, power crews got power back on in short order, and while the lights flickered all night, they never went out again.

These situations are most difficult on the ill, the very young and the very old. So hopefully power crews, who deserve a lot of thanks for their efforts, can get even more households up and running soon.

MORE-- The Seattle Times reports a somewhat astounding number of carbon monoxide poisoning cases in the region, most of them blamed on the use of charcoal grills indoors.

Goodness. Although it's unlikely someone who is reading this would be affected, you simply can't burn charcoal indoors or even in a garage. A neighbor who is a fire fighter once responded to a case of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the proximity of a charcoal grill to an open window that allowed the fumes to build up in the victims' residence.

Generators and propane heaters are other possible culprits.

It's better to be cold than dead. If someone is that cold, perhaps they can find a shelter somehow, or go to an open public facility for a while.

OREGON UPDATE-- The number of households served by PGE in Oregon without power is about 71,000, according to The Oregonian.
Meanwhile, 71,000 PGE customers remained without power by 2:30 p.m., down from almost 250,000 at the storm's peak. Power also was still out in Tillamook County, which was hit especially hard by Thursday's storm.

Edwards will announce later this month

John Edwards will be a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for president, according to the AP.
Edwards, who represented North Carolina in the Senate for six years, plans to make the campaign announcement late this month from the New Orleans neighborhood hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina last year and slow to recover from the storm.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to pre-empt Edwards' announcement.
It's become fashionable in the progressive blog world to declare that one is not going to take sides, but reserve the right to comment upon, object to and (my personal favorite,) ridicule statements made by prospective candidates. Which is all fine and dandy.

NPI's official position is that we most likely won't endorse a candidate in the primary, although that could change if circumstances change.

(Yes, that's a somewhat inconvenient position, but we don't even know for sure yet who might decide to get in the race.)

At any rate, my personal, non-official position is that Edwards deserves a good, long look by progressives. Yeah, okay, he'll be attacked for being a lawyer who tended to sue large corporations rather than defend them, but the insane right will just make stuff up and Jeff Greenfield will make "botched jokes" about any Democrat that starts to gain traction in any case.

The obvious factors that warrant a long look are Edwards' progressive populist message, his smart, lovely and articulate spouse, and frankly the Edwards' life story. Maybe the latter two shouldn't be such big factors, but the media environment is unlikely to change much in the next two years, however much we wish it would.

As for Edwards' southerness, which many list as another strength, I think it's fine but not crucial. This year's mid-terms clearly showed the way forward for Democrats is through the west.

Picking off a state or two in the south wouldn't hurt, but people who are told every Sunday that Democrats kill babies aren't likely to suddenly start voting for any kind of Democrat, southern or otherwise. That could change, however, as the war in Iraq goes on and the Republicans start looking at a massive nationwide defeat.

There's some chance that the GOP will only be able to count on a few states in the 2008 presidential race. Utah, Texas and Georgia come to mind. But for now we must assume the electoral map will more closely resemble the 2004 version rather than some kind of 1984-in-reverse.

As for the question thrown around lately about whether the U.S. would elect an African-American or a woman, or even an African-American woman, my opinion is yes, but only under the exact right circumstances.

The circumstances are that the woman, or African-American, or African-American woman, would need to be a cabinet level official with a love of classical music who is never held responsible for policy disasters during her tenure. Offhand, I can't think of anyone on the Democratic side that meets those criteria.

Which leaves, at this point, Edwards.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Senator Johnson still in critical condition

We have some details about his status and the surgery:
Surgery was performed by Vivek Deshmukh, MD a neurosurgeon with special expertise and subspecialty training in Cerebrovascular and Endovascular Neurosurgery. The surgical team included Anthony Caputy, M.D., Chairman, Department of Neurosurgery and Anthony Venbrux, M.D., Director of Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology

The surgery was considered a success. The surgeons evacuated the blood and stabilized the bleeding. The surgery also relieved the pressure on the brain.

Senator Johnson remains in the ICU in critical but stable condition. "Considering his initial presentation, his progress is encouraging. He is now stabilized and continues to show signs of responsiveness to the medical staff and the family" says Dr. Anthony Caputy.

Routinely patients with an intracranial hemorrhage experience post-operative swelling of the brain. "Much like a bruise, it takes time to heal," says Dr. Caputy.

Post-operative monitoring includes regular CT Scans. The most recent was done this morning.

Says Dr. Vivek Deshmukh "His most recent CT Scan shows that the pressure has been relieved from his brain and there is no further bleeding. Currently his brain pressures are normal and we will continue to monitor this closely for several days."

As a preventative measure doctors placed a filter in his vena cava last night. "Using state-of-the-art intravascular ultrasound at his bedside, we placed a removable MRI-compatible filter into his vena cava to reduce any risk of blood clots going to the lungs," says Dr. Anthony Venbrux.

It is anticipated that Senator Johnson will be in the hospital until brain swelling goes down and his overall condition improves. As he presented with weakness on his right side, doctors anticipate that physical therapy will be part of recovery.
It seems he's doing better, and that's excellent news.

Sucker play

It's not exactly escalation, at least by historical standards, but it doesn't seem to be causing great joy at the Pentagon either. From the BBC:
US President George W Bush is likely to boost troop levels in Iraq next year, an administration official has said.

Up to 25,000 more troops could be deployed to try to help end the violence, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The comments come a day after prominent Republican John McCain called for up to 30,000 more troops to be sent to Iraq.

Mr Bush had been due to announce a new strategy on Iraq next week, but has delayed his speech until January.
And further down in the article:
Military commanders, however, have been expressing scepticism that extra troops on their own will have much effect, our correspondent says.

They say that stability in Iraq can now only be had by political means.
For the record, George W. Bush is going to go against the advice of the so-called Wise Old Men (and woman) who were sent to salvage what they could from this train wreck of a presidency.

About the only question left, besides the regrettable and obvious one about how many people will die, is whether the D.C. press corps stops acting like lap dogs (attack poodles, in James Wolcott's memorable parlance.)

This is serious. Not only are we not making plans to get out, we are making plans to get in deeper, but the American people don't know what for. Well, deep down they know, and the answer is because this President is a failure who insists on sticking with his mistakes, no matter the toll.

The neo-cons lied about the reasons for war, they welcomed a climate in which anyone who questioned the way in which we went to war was smeared, and the Beltway pundits and reporters largely encouraged it. So if Papa Bush and James Baker are smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall, you have to wonder if there is some small chance that networks like CNN will, too.

On the other hand, this is a press corps that has been circling a hospital like vultures, hoping that their guys get back in power. They've been trained, like a love-starved puppy, to gratefully accept whatever attention they receive from their owners. So the big questions about um, what the heck is going on will go largely ignored, as we debate meaningless pop culture drivel and compare wardrobes.

Governor declares state of emergency

Governor Chris Gregoire today proclaimed a state of emergency in Western Washington counties due to widespread damages from the Wednesday/Thursday windstorm. Her proclamation covers most of the counties in Western Washington: Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Lewis, King, Mason, Pacific, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston, Wahkiakum and Whatcom.

Said the Governor:
"We can not control the weather, but we can make sure that we offer as much support as possible while families and communities work to recover from these storms. Just like all Washingtonians, I hope for a quick recovery so we can all have a happy holiday season."
According to the Governor's office:
The proclamation...directs state government to support emergency response activities in the affected counties, allowing state agencies to make expenditures and utilize resources to assist local communities in their recovery efforts, and authorizes the Washington National Guard to activate their resources. State actions are coordinated through the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Camp Murray.
The EOC is operated by the Washington State Emergency Management Division of the Washington Military Department twenty four hours a day and will be fully activated until further notice, the Governor's staff say.

Midday windstorm update

The storm is over, but what a mess it has left. The latest advisories:
King County District Court and nine Public Health – Seattle & King County facilities are closed due to power outages as a result of a severe wind and rain storm that swept through the region overnight. King County’s Wastewater Treatment system also suffered significant impacts due to flooding from the storm.

Numerous roads in King County are closed and could remain impassable into Friday because of fallen trees and power lines.

Executive Ron Sims signed an emergency proclamation this morning in response to the overnight wind and flooding occurring throughout the county. The King County Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) was activated overnight to monitor the situation and help coordinate the county’s response efforts.

Early indications are that King County is one of the hardest hit areas with power outages in the region. Puget Sound Energy is reporting 700,000 customers without power in their nine-county service area.

A number of King County operations are affected, including:

District and Juvenile Courts – The King County District and Juvenile Courts are closed today due to the inclement weather. King County District Court has no power in many of its courthouses and Juvenile Court is closed due to flooding. King County Superior Court is open.

Public Health – The following Public Health sites are closed until further notice because of power outages: Auburn, Federal Way, Springwood, White Center, Columbia, Eastgate, Northshore, Renton Dental and North Dental.
Many state highways are closed in places due to damage from the storm. WSDOT has a page with the latest alerts and information. This seems to be a once-a-decade or maybe once-in-two-decades storm.

One million households without power, four people dead, flooding in places, downed trees and power lines everywhere. Two thirds of Puget Sound Energy's customers are dark, including practically entire cities like Redmond where stores remain unlit and traffic lights are not operational.

The utility has called in extra crews from California and Nevada already to restore power as speedily as possible, but it will be a monumental task. If you live in outlying areas, better prepare to be without power for as long as a week.

(Then again, if you don't have power you probably can't read this message...but if you can, stock up and get ready).

Puget Sound Energy is assessing the damage with helicopters. Repairs can't be made on feeder lines until the transmission lines are repaired. (These are the major lines that carry power from sources like dams to substations).

90 MPH gusts were reported at Westport last night. SeaTac set a record with 69 MPH winds recorded. Tacoma reported 70 MPH winds.

And now, believe it or not, there are reports of snow showers coming in. And it's supposed to get colder. Haven't we had enough of this already!?

Gregoire wants Seattle residents to decide on viaduct

Washington State's Governor wants Seattle voters to make the ultimate decision on the Alaskan Way Viaduct's replacement:
Gov. Chris Gregoire said today that the residents of Seattle should decide how to replace the aging and earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Gregoire was expected to announce her decision about what should be done - either replace it with a tunnel or rebuild it. Instead, she called for a city vote between rebuilding the structure or replacing it with a tunnel. All other options - including tearing the viaduct down and having surface streets take the traffic - are off the table.

Another elevated highway is estimated to cost about $2.8 billion' a mile of tunnel would cost at least $4.6 billion.
OK, I'll confess to not knowing enough about this issue to be comfortable commenting, but it's obviously an important development, in case you didn't see it. Far better for Puget Sound area residents to weigh in.

Our Executive Director, Andrew, reported a power outage via battery powered carrier pigeon late last night, so hopefully he's got his power back and he's not sitting in his car trying to charge his notebook pigeon. I'm sure he'll weigh in as time and conditions allow.

UPDATE from the Executive Director: Power is still out all over Redmond, for homes and businesses. No working traffic lights, either, but my computer is recharged thanks to my car battery charger which I ran while I was running errands.

This is a smart move on Gregoire's part because it puts the onus on city leadership and tunnel backers to make the case to voters for a cut and cover tunnel. The governor says it has to be an either or vote: Either citizens have to vote for the tunnel or a new viaduct in an advisory vote which has to be held next spring (presumably in March 2007) before the Legislature adjourns.

If that's to be the choice then we unequivocally and without any reservations support construction of the Alaskan Way Tunnel. Of course, those in favor of a surface option aren't likely to give up so easily. We'll see what happens next.

Answer them on light rail

So to follow up a tad on yesterday's post about a poll done for the Columbia River Crossing project, the task force designated to work on possible new Interstate Bridge between Portland and Vancouver, here's a quick little thought.

Yesterday's Columbian article about the poll has already drawn 57 comments, which is probably some kind of record for that newspaper. And it's been dominated by winguttery. The most wingnutty comments are off the charts, at times drawing laments from innocent citizens who just want to throw in their two cents, and the less wingnutty but still conservative ones come from a Republican political operative who is busily attacking the poll itself.

Look, Clark County may have plenty of arch-conservatives, but they are not a majority by any means. They've had years of organization in their churches and plenty of practice attacking anything and anyone they disagree with, but if they were an actual majority Brian Baird would not be in Congress and we wouldn't have so many Democrats from Clark County in the state Legislature and Steve Stuart as county commissioner.

Just because some folks are too dense to realize that things won't always be the way they are today, and just because they personally won't ride light rail doesn't mean it's an invalid option to study. If I choose to ride light rail rather than drive, my car isn't in their way. You think they would like that, but their minds closed in 1995 and anyone who dares to bring up light rail is immediately attacked.

Anyhow, Clark County progressives have a long way to go in making their voices heard, but light rail might be a good place to ramp up the effort. One nice feature of doing that would be that it's still relatively early in the process, with a couple of years (in all likelihood) to go.

And to be clear, I know there are good folks out there working hard on things like this, it just seems to me that the naysaysers get to dominate the debate. Somehow, that has to change. Our side could be just as quick to comment, and if we left out the nastiness the wingnuts are so fond of, we might even win more people over on the merits. (And yeah, I kind of like throwing elbows sometimes, but that doesn't mean you have to do it.) Unless, you know, they deserve it.

Just a thought.

The ultimate weapon

Via Eschaton comes this TPM Muckraker item about robo-calls. And it's not what you think. Or is it?
Not long after Republicans harrassed tens of thousands of Americans with automated phone messages in November's election, news comes that the robo call, that staple of American democracy, is being deployed in Iraq. And it's literally terrorizing city residents.

---snip---

The Mahdi Army has also infiltrated police ranks, and run assassination squads. Fearing that the militia's inside men have access to wiretapping technology, ordinary Iraqis live in fear that their robocall will be picked up and intepreted as proof they are anti-Mahdi -- and face execution at the militia's hands. The call reportedly left one Iraqi woman in tears.
This almost has to be some Republican genius at work. It fits too neatly into their mental framework about Iraq. So now we've tried to give Iraqis a flat tax, stop smoking clinics and robo-calls.

No wonder they hate us. I wonder if Frank Luntz speaks Arabic, and how ordinary Iraqis feel about their estate taxes? Maybe Frank Blethen can put his lobbyist on it, see if they can help out.

O'Reilly smears Seattle

Rant alert!

Now Worst Person O'Reilly is lying about Seattle. From Huffington Post: (SP's are "Secular Progressives.")
In his sordid attempt to demean the city of Seattle, Bill said that the fact that they are SPs - which means they don't give to charity (all the polls say so...look it up) - including the annual Marine Toys for Tots drive.

And because of that, "The Marines can't collect any toys there," said Bill.

I know. It pissed me off too. Damn SPs keeping the needy children of the Starbucks region of the world waiting for their much desired bit of holiday joy only to have their hopes dashed by some sort of greedy liberalism that you just have to know the mainstream media and their hate for Christianity is behind. Somewhere the baby Jesus had to be crying™.

---snip---

I called the Marine captain in charge of the Toys For Tots program in the Seattle area.

So far this holiday season, they've given out approximately 300,000 toys. Hmm. Let me add that up. That seems a bit more than "not any."

Did they run short? Yes sir. Why? Because the Seattle SPs wouldn't donate? No sir. Because the demand was up this year. Oh my. You mean it wasn't because of SP selfishness? No sir.

So what did the Marines do? They went back and had more collection drives. And is that working?

Yes sir.
For the millionth time, why doesn't the traditional or corporate media (other than Olbermann) hold this guy accountable? Instead we get carping about Hillary and stupid comments about attire from the likes of Jeff Greenfield.

But remember, progressives, don't ever be "shrill" or you will be accused of lacking civility. There's a complete double-standard in this country. Conservatives get to just make stuff up, and they are "entitled to free speech." Progressives point out their lies and are "fringe partisans."

Goodness the media stinks to high heaven in this country, always being cute with who they can slam, slander and smear. Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha. And we gotcha even if we didn't getcha, all we have to do is say we gotcha. Far easier than actual journalamism.

If Fox and CNN were around when Clara Barton was alive, she would have been morphed into a gin-soaked floozy. OK, maybe that would have been how someone was insulted in the 1920's, not the 1860's, but you get the point.

Next thing you know the noise machine will resort to going after respected ex-Presidents or something. They wouldn't go that low. Would they?

Lesson: if you dare to disagree with established Washington, D.C. orthodoxy, we will attempt to tear you to shreds with our paid propagandists. Even if we don't succeed, we never go away and we will keep flinging poo, forever. And any journalamist who dares to either ignore or question our lies is a BIASED LIBERAL. Nice how that works out for conservatives. Heads we win, tails you lose.

The U.S. media is on the verge of becoming even more of a caricature than it already is. Let's just replace all networks with Fox and all newspapers with National Review and stop the pretense. At least then it would be clear to everyone what we already know: the media in this country is not objective, it never was and it never can be.

Those who control the tone and direction of the U.S. media are mostly courtiers and sycophants, and some of them are deeply, deeply stupid people who got all tingly about the prospect of war in 2003. They got even more tingly about the vicarious thrill they got from their proximity to the powerfully tingly neo-cons who were making the war tingles. It would all be amusing except for the fact that dead people don't feel tingles or anything else.

We can't have a vibrant democracy under these conditions, it's just not possible. With 75% of Americans now expressing reservations about the war in Iraq, it's the U.S. media elites and those who think they represent a valid method of reporting who are the fringe element.

My crystal ball is still busted, but I do know this: either the U.S. media changes its ways, or they are ensuring that more and more Americans will choose to ignore them and find alternative sources of information. The smearing and the double standard will only be tolerated for so long, as will the deliberate tipping of elections to candidates who meet their artifically conceived definitions of "qualified," which can change moment to moment based on Jeff Greenfield's taste in clothing.

Windstorm wreaks havoc on Washington; one million people without power

The Associated Press recaps the latest top news:
A one-two punch of howling windstorms and heavy rains left at least three people dead and more than 1 million homes and businesses without power across Western Washington early Friday.

One woman died after being trapped in the flooded basement of her home, while falling trees killed two others.

The Evergreen Point floating bridge across Lake Washington east of Seattle remained closed early Friday and numerous other highways were blocked because of high water or windblown trees. The Hood Canal floating bridge and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge were reopened early Friday after being closed Thursday evening.
That's like a sixth of the state's population affected by outages. When it comes to regional weather, we sure are going to be happy to see the end of 2006. It's been wacky, insane, and treacherous.

Many roadways are impassable, so plan your trips carefully before leaving. Most schools up and down the Puget Sound are closed. King County Executive Ron Sims has declared an emergency in King County:
Extensive wind damage reported around county

King County Executive Ron Sims has issued an emergency proclamation in response to the overnight wind and flooding occurring throughout the county. The King County Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) has been activated overnight monitor the situation and help coordinate the county’s response efforts. King County’s West Point Treatment Plant sustained some significant damages to their control operations due to flooding. Additionally, early indications are that King County may was one of the hardest hit areas with power outages in the region. Puget Sound Energy is reporting 700,000 customers without power in their nine county service area.

Morning commute:

The King County ECC is alerting the public to expect significant traffic delays during the Friday morning commute. Numerous roads in King County have been closed because of fallen trees and power lines and could remain impassable Friday morning. County officials recommend that commuters delay their morning drive until daybreak if at all possible. Increased visibility during daylight hours will make it easier for commuters to see hazards, water, and debris in the road and lessen the impact of what will surely be a slow morning commute.
You are advised to stay home if you can and make the best of your situation as possible. Please don't call 9-1-1 unless it is a life threatening emergency. The usual warnings about not touching or going near downed power lines are also definitely applicable.

A few "morning after" links

If you have awakened humming The Morning After, here are a few quick links that may prove of assistance this morning.

For getting around in Washington state, there's always WSDOT.

In Oregon, which reportedly has a ton of downed trees and power lines, a visit to TripCheck might be worth a moment before you head out.

And if you're tired of watching that stupid crawl thing on the television, you can always try FlashAlert.Net to check for school closures.

Gregoire presents higher education plan

Governor Chris Gregoire has rolled out her plan for higher education funding. From The Seattle Times:
Community- and technical-college students would get a break under a proposal by Gov. Christine Gregoire to cap tuition at current rates for the next two years.

That would keep annual tuition at the current level of $2,586. Tuition increased 5 percent this year at the state's two-year colleges. The proposal is part of a $172.9 million plan, released Thursday, that is largely focused on higher education in the state.

The governor's proposal would cap annual tuition increases at 7 percent at the University of Washington and Washington State University, and at 5 percent at all other four-year public universities.
The plan is drawing a generally warm response from state legislators, so that's a positive sign.

In the governor's news release, there's a point-by-point summary of what she hopes to achieve.
Supporting rural education networks, such as WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) and RIDE (Regional Initiative in Dental Education), so that more qualified doctors, nurses and dentists are able to practice, particularly in rural areas;

Freezing tuition at community and technical colleges for the next two years and limiting annual tuition increases to make college more affordable and accessible;

Providing thousands of new high-demand enrollment spaces in colleges and universities, and Regional Opportunity Grants for job training for local employment in order to address regional workforce needs;

Helping to turn research into products so that our state’s research universities can turn their work into commercially viable products; and

Supporting small business development so that more small businesses in Washington are likely to succeed and our economy continues to diversify.
A competitive economy requires quality colleges and universities. A well educated workforce is indeed a valuable resource.

Equally important is access to higher education, both as a matter of fairness and as a valuable facet of the state economy. The ability of workers to seek education is invaluable in an age when career paths may change multiple times, either by choice or by necessity.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Windstorm shuts down bridges, disrupts transit service and power

A warning for commuters from WSDOT:
High winds moving through Western Washington have cut power to several traffic signals on state highways and prompted WSDOT maintenance crews to close the Evergreen Point Bridge (SR 520) and the Hood Canal Bridge (SR 104).

We have closed the SR 520 bridge at 10:30 p.m. due to sustained winds up to 54 mph and gusts up to 63 mph. The bridge will remain closed to traffic until the storm passes, which could be as late as noon Friday.

Shortly after 8 p.m., WSDOT closed the Hood Canal Bridge in both directions due to sustained winds of 40 mph for more than 15 minutes. Gusts were clocked up to 74 mph. The reopening time of the bridge is not known at this time.

Crews continue to monitor the SR 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The storm is expected to intensify in the overnight hours.

Other State Highway Closures:

Jefferson County – SR 101 has multiple lane closures along the west bank of Hood Canal due to water over the roadway.

King County - The eastbound SR 520 on-ramp from Lake Washington Blvd. is closed due to fallen trees.

SR 203 is blocked by fallen trees south of Duvall (milepost 10.5).

Lewis County – SR 6 is closed between PeEll and Chehalis due to trees and power lines blocking the roadway.

Mason County – SR 302 is blocked in both directions just west of SR 16 due to downed power lines.

Pacific County – SR 101 the Astoria-Megler Bridge between Washington and Oregon is restricted for oversized loads.

Wahkiakum County – SR 4 is closed between Cathlamet and West Longview due to flooding and downed power lines.

Skagit County - SR 11 (Chuckanut Drive) is closed in both directions north of Burlington at milepost 3. Trees are blocking the roadway.

Snohomish County

SR 522 is blocked by fallen trees at Paradise Lake Road east of Woodinville

SR 531 is blocked by trees at McCrae Road west of Arlington

Traffic signals at intersections have lost power in several locations. Drivers are advised to watch for dark traffic signals. If a traffic signal is dark, treat the intersection as a four way stop.

Washington State Ferries is reporting ferry routes all operational, but boat captains are approaching ferry terminals with great care. This could affect ferry schedules.
If you need to go out tomorrow, please plan your trip accordingly. Metro and Sound Transit also have this rider advisory:
If the [State Route 520] bridge is closed, affected Metro Transit and Sound Transit routes will make regular stops in downtown Seattle or the University District, and then operate via I-5, I-90, and I-405. Stops at Montlake Freeway Station, Evergreen Point Freeway Station, and Yarrow Point Freeway station are missed. Stops between SR-520 and Bellevue Transit Center are served by shuttle vans operating from Bellevue Transit Center.Other east side stops are made as usual, although there are likely to be delays in service.
One final advisory: due to the severe weather in the region this evening, King County Emergency 911 centers are experiencing overwhelming high call volumes with non emergency calls. These non-emergency calls are blocking true emergency calls from reaching the 9-1-1 services.

Citizens with life threatening emergencies in need of an immediate police, fire, or medical response should call 9-1-1. All non-life threatening calls are urged to use an alternate phone number for the appropriate local agency.

Reporting in from Clark County

As might be expected, there are many power outages around Clark County. From The Columbian:
Clark Public Utilities reported 21,000 customers without power as of 9:07 p.m., including but not limited to areas in and around Battle Ground, Brush Prairie, north Camas, Cascade Park, Felida, Hazel Dell, Hockinson, La Center, Livingston Mountain, Orchards, Ridgefield, Walnut Grove, including the Vancouver Mall area, and Woodland. Police agencies also reported power outages in Yacolt.

At 8:55 p.m., Columbian weather columnist Pat Timm recorded a 60 mph wind gust in the Salmon Creek area. He said gusts should continue at this level for several hours and could increase by another 10 mph at around 11 p.m.
Northwest Cable News is running a crawl stating that an Amtrak train is trapped by fallen trees just north of Vancouver.

The wind picked up pretty fiercely in Vancouver this afternoon. Our household lost power shortly before 4 pm, and a friend of mine lost power around 3 pm. Our power was restored after about an hour.

Our family spent about 15 minutes this evening looking out a window watching what we took to be transformer failures erupt in a line from south to north.

Amazingly, we've only experienced the one power outage so far, although I will be surprised if we make it through the night without another one. Oregon is experiencing numerous power outages and downed trees as well.

If you have power tonight, count yourself lucky. And at the risk of seeming preachy, if you see a downed power line or are trapped by one in your car, be smart and call for help rather than take a chance.

More: KGW is reporting on air that some 225,000 PGE customers are without power right now, as are around 21,000 Clark PUD customers.

UPDATE from the Executive Director, 11 PM: There are also plenty of power outages up here in the Central Puget Sound, including here in Redmond where I am writing from now. Pacific NW Portal's Winter Weather Preparedness section includes tips on getting by when you're without power.

Beware of standing water on the roadways

The King County Department of Transportation reports heavy rain this afternoon is causing a variety of travel headaches as commuters head home.

The department's Road Services Division says extremely heavy rain has caused local flooding on roads all across the county:
While crews are attempting to respond to as many reports of water over roadways as possible, the sheer volume of calls is proving overwhelming for county forces. Residents can help reduce road and street flooding by removing debris from storm drains if they can do so safely. With high wind expected over the next several hours, this simple step can minimize flooding if the heavy rain continues.

Local street flooding is also slowing some King County Metro Transit buses. The weather, combined with added downtown congestion due to the Seahawks game, has made the commute out of downtown Seattle particularly difficult. Passengers should continue to anticipate transit delays until the storm is over.

Tonight's forecast is for continued high winds that may be strong enough to require closure of the Evergreen Point bridge (State Route 520) by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). It's likely WSDOT will close the bridge by 11 PM or earlier, depending on conditions. Crews are closely monitoring the bridge, weather conditions, and weather forecasts.

If the bridge is closed, affected Metro Transit and Sound Transit routes will make regular stops in downtown Seattle or the University District, and then operate via I-5, I-90, and I-405. Stops at Montlake Freeway Station, Evergreen Point Freeway Station, and Yarrow Point Freeway station are missed, as are stops between SR-520 and Bellevue Transit Center. Other Eastside stops are made as usual, although there are likely to be delays in service.

Other impacts of high winds such as power outages, roadway obstructions, and flooding can also delay or reroute service. Be prepared for such conditions and anticipate delays.

Throughout the storm, both motorists and passengers should monitor weather conditions and news reports, and adjust their travel plans accordingly.

All King County residents planning to travel should be aware of rapidly changing weather conditions and take appropriate precautions.
The forecast for the night, according to NWS and Pacific NW Portal's weather partner AccuWeather, is more rain, more wind, and in the mountains - more snow. Temperatures won't drop too low but the wind chill will make it seem colder than it really is. A high wind warning and a flood watch are in effect.

Update on Senator Johnson's condition

The latest, as of this afternoon:
"Senator Tim Johnson has continued to have an uncomplicated post-operative course. Specifically, he has been appropriately responsive to both word and touch. No further surgical intervention has been required."

- Admiral John Eisold, Attending Physician of the United States Capitol
Hopefully, he will continue to get better and will make a full recovery.

Poll commissioned about I-5 bridge issues

Following up on yesterday's post about the I-5 bridge and the possibility of tolls, the Columbia River Crossing project commissioned the Portland polling firm of Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall to do some polling about bridge options. From this morning's Oregonian:
The telephone poll of 400 likely voters in Clark County and an equal number in the Portland tri-county area was conducted Nov. 27 through Dec. 4.

On the light rail question, 74 percent of respondents said they strongly or somewhat favored extending light rail to Vancouver and north into Clark County. In the Portland area, 76 percent of voters favored it, and in Clark County, 68 percent favored it.
Generally favorable news. A lot of us have been wondering if attitudes in Clark County have changed in the last eleven years, since the 1995 shellacking of a light rail ballot proposal.

There's still some room for caution, though:
The survey found strong support for all the major alternatives: 76 percent favored adding a third lane to I-5; 76 percent favored replacing the existing bridge and adding transit; and 66 percent favored replacing the bridge. But when asked to rank the options according to which was the most appealing, adding lanes topped the list at 35 percent, followed by replacing the bridge and adding transit at 28 percent, and then extending light rail at 19 percent.

Support for tolling, which has been mentioned as a way to pay for a new bridge, was more mixed. As a general idea, 42 percent of voters supported tolling, but only 36 percent said they would be willing to pay $2 to $3 for a new I-5 bridge. Support rises to 51 percent if the toll is reduced after construction costs are paid off.
So adding asphalt is still the most popular idea, and tolls will be a tough sell.

Big picture, as Adam Davis, the pollster, kind of alludes to in the article, there may be an increasing awareness in Clark County that since Portland has developed a light rail system, it might make sense to connect to it.

There are problems, of course, with light rail, like constuction costs, safety and travel times, but if there was a genuine effort to work on those things, maybe it could fly in Clark County. Maybe. Trust me, the wingnuts in this town will never like it, and they are vocal out of all proportion to their numbers. Some of them will continue to insist that any option other than a Bridge to Nowhere is the only way to go.

High wind warnings for western WA and OR

Many areas of western Washington and western Oregon are under high wind warnings for this afternoon and evening. Rather than try to list them here, we're providing quick links to information provided by the National Weather Service offices in Portland and Seattle.

Here's the warnings page for watches and warnings issued by the Portland office of the NWS.

Here's the link for warnings issued by the Seattle office. And if you're not in one of those areas, once you go to one of those NWS pages there is a handy box near the top left where one can type in a city and state and it will take you there.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Fierce winds slam Puget Sound region

And there's more on the way. The latest bulletin from NWS:
Southwest Interior | East Puget Sound Lowlands | Everett and Vicinity | Seattle-Bremerton | Tacoma Area | Hood Canal | Lower Chehalis Valley Area | Olympics

...A HIGH WIND WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM THURSDAY AFTERNOON THROUGH FRIDAY MORNING..

A STRONG LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM COULD CAUSE DAMAGING WINDS ACROSS THE AREA THURSDAY AFTERNOON THROUGH FRIDAY MORNING.

SOUTHEAST WINDS WILL INCREASE THROUGH THURSDAY AFTERNOON...THEN SHIFT TO SOUTHWEST AND INCREASE FURTHER THURSDAY NIGHT. SOUTHWEST WINDS AROUND 40 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 65 MPH ARE POSSIBLE THURSDAY NIGHT.

A HIGH WIND WATCH MEANS THERE IS THE POTENTIAL FOR A HAZARDOUS HIGH WIND EVENT.
It will also be pretty rainy in some parts of Puget Sound tomorrow.

Today's winds, caused by a different storm than the one anticipated to hit tomorrow, have caused numerous power outages, ferry service disruptions, fallen trees, and downed power lines. Some of the buildings in the Seattle School District had to do without electricity, including Nathan Hale High School and KNHC 89.5, which went temporarily offline during the day.

A small craft advisory remains in effect for the Sound's seafaring residents.

Pray for Democratic Senator Tim Johnson

He's had a stroke:
Senator Tim Johnson was taken to George Washington University Hospital this afternoon suffering from a possible stroke. As this stage, he is undergoing a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team. Further details will be forthcoming when more is known.
Senator Johnson isn't that old, and hopefully, for his sake and ours, he pulls through this scare okay. Not only is he a good leader and representative for South Dakota, but were he to die or become severely disabled, the Governor of South Dakota would appoint a Republican to take his place - which would mean the U.S. Senate would swing back to the GOP.

Senator Johnson doesn't want that to happen and neither do we. Our prayers are with him, his staff, and his family.

UPDATE: The office is now saying it wasn't a stroke:
By the end of the day, after what his office called "a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team" at George Washington University Hospital here, a spokeswoman for Mr. Johnson said he had not suffered a stroke or a heart attack.
That's good. Hopefully whatever is afflicting him isn't serious. It's good to see wishes for a full recovery arriving from all quarters. From the comment thread:
Though as a Republican, I'd rather the Senate stay in the hands of the Republicans, certainly not at this price. Our prayers do go out for you, Senator Johnson.
We'll post another update later when more details are known.

UPDATE II (and bumped): Johnson is apparently undergoing surgery:
CBS 2's Chief Correspondent Jay Levine got reaction from Sen. Dick Durbin, a good friend of Johnson's.

Johnson is 59 years old, and a picture of health and vitality, came into the Senate with Durbin, and the two have remained close.

"Had his physical just last week, blood pressure 120 over 70 and something happened today. [I] don't know if it was a stroke or not. There's conflicting information. [He's] undergoing surgery right now, its a touch-and-go situation and my prayers are with him. I hope he makes it," Durbin said.
Meanwhile, the Capitol physician, Dr. John Eisold, has issued a statement following that made by Johnson's office which indicates it was a stroke after all:
"Senator Tim Johnson was admitted to the George Washington University Hospital today with the symptoms of a stroke. He is currently under the care of physicians at the George Washington University Hospital."
Talk about conflicting information and conflicting statements. Well, in any case, it seems his condition is serious. He could definitely use our prayers.

A modest proposal

It's nice when Democrats focus on things that help regular people out. Granted, a sales tax holiday is unlikely to win awards for "most exciting bill ever," but to the extent it helps poor and middle class families clothe and equip their children for school, why not do it?
Saying it is "an especially appropriate idea for our border counties," state Rep. Jim Moeller today (Dec. 12) said that in the upcoming 2007 session of the Washington Legislature he will sponsor a plan creating a sales-tax holiday for citizens and businesses.

"At least a dozen other states already provide their citizens and businesses a break from the sales tax for a couple days a year -- usually in August to help back-to-school shoppers," said Moeller, D-Vancouver.

Moeller's sales-tax holiday would apply to clothing, shoes, school-supplies, textbooks, computers and other school-related items. Washington shoppers and businesses would see the tax break the second weekend every August.

"This proposal would recapture a large chunk of the millions of dollars in revenue our stores lose to Oregon every year," Moeller predicted.

Businesses in Spokane and other parts of eastern Washington bordering Idaho face a situation similar to Clark County's predicament.

"My proposal is a modest but genuine and reliable tax break for average middle-class people," Moeller said. "These are the thousands of Washington families who do the best they can to buy school-supplies and still make ends meet before the start of every school year."

---snip---

His proposal would extend the tax break to clothing of no more than $150 an item, computers of no more than $2,000 each, and school-supplies of no more than $150 apiece.

New York state offered the first sales-tax holiday nine years ago. Other states that have recently provided the break include Alabama, Connecticut, Iowa, New Mexico and Texas.
We're probably going to have a regressive tax system in this state in at least the near future, so occasionally making it not regressive is a good thing.

While retailing has improved in Clark County over the last decade or so, mostly because it's insane to risk being caught in a traffic jam on the Interstate Bridge to save five bucks, the Jantzen Beach shopping center on Hayden Island in Oregon still fills up routinely with cars bearing Washington license plates. Recapturing a little bit of that business should help merchants on this side of the river as well.

Bush tries to censor U.S. Geological Survey

The Republican War on Science (which, unlike the phony war on Christmas, actually exists, and is being waged by political hacks within the administration on government and non government scientists) continues:
New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

[...]

Some agency scientists, who until now have felt free from any political interference, worry that the objectivity of their work could be compromised.

"I feel as though we've got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do. And to me that's a very scary thing. I worry that it borders on censorship," said Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist in the USGS field station at Santa Cruz, Calif.

"The explanation was that this was intended to ensure the highest possible quality research," said Estes, a researcher at the agency for more than 30 years. "But to me it feels like they're doing this to keep us under their thumbs. It seems like they're afraid of science. Our findings could be embarrassing to the administration."
Gee, ya think? This is an administration which wants creationism to be taught in science classrooms. In public schools. Which is skeptical about whether global warming is real...and whether it's caused by human activity, which is not even really a question in the scientific community any more.

(The answer is YES, IT IS!)

Science just isn't producing facts that fit their frame, the conservative worldview. That has led to a lot of inconvenient truths. Which is why there has to be a Republican War on Science. Any scientific conclusions that don't mesh with conservative values are simply "junk science".

The administration doesn't want to be embarrassed by its own scientists; hence this policy which essentially amounts to censorship of them. What else is a screen for? And such a policy cannot be beneficial to America because it means we could and probably will get cherry-picked information.

(Like, for example, the intelligence presented to lawmakers and the public before the disastrous preemptive invasion of Iraq).

As the Associated Press noted, "the changes amount to an overhaul of commonly accepted procedures for all scientists, not just those in government, based on anonymous peer reviews".

The commonly accepted procedure is for scientists to critique the findings of their colleagues to determine whether those findings ought to be published.

The administration is also trying to close libraries that contain tens of thousands of EPA documents and research studies. What's to hide? More inconvenient truths:
Unless you read the Federal Register, you may not be aware that the Environmental Protection Agency is quietly shutting down its 35-year-old national library system with unwarranted haste. EPA libraries are used by concerned citizens, universities and EPA staff to study critical issues such as air pollution, hazardous waste and threats to children's health.
These are unwelcome, unnecessary developments (and policies) that appear to be motivated by ideological politics. The public, and the 110th Congress, in its oversight role, should put an end to the Republican War on Science and force the administration to stop this nonsense.

Not Don Benton

Clark County has chosen the lobbying firm they wish to hire, and it's not Don Benton's.
Clark County has selected a Bellingham consultant to represent the county in Olympia and, to a lesser extent, in Washington, D.C.

County commissioners on Wednesday instructed County Administrator Bill Barron to negotiate a contract with MJB Consulting.

Commissioners interviewed five finalists before settling on MJB's Mike Burgess, who also represents Spokane County.
Benton's involvement in applying to be Clark County's lobbyist was just odd. Even The Columbian story today repeated that Benton never said he would resign from the state senate if he were chosen.

On what planet would it be ethical for a state senator to take taxpayer money from the county he represents? And goodness gracious, what would happen if Clark County needed to testify before one of Benton's committees? Would he have given testimony to himself?

It would look like one of those cars full of high school kids at a stop sign, where they all get out and change seats real fast.

But this isn't the first goofy and somewhat unseemly thing Benton has attempted. Remember Benton's news aggregator service that only cost $565 a year? A real value in the age of Google and RSS readers.

Look, if Benton isn't making enough money being a state senator, and the pay is admittedly lousy, then nobody would hold it against him if he resigned to pursue more lucrative ventures.

The Discovery Institute and tolls

Yesterday in Vancouver there was a forum about using tolls to pay for road projects. The event was put on by the Cascadia project, which is the "better transportation" part of the Discovery Institute, as opposed to the creationism/intelligent design part of the Discovery Institute.
Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center is pleased to sponsor another forum as part of our Transportation/Technology series—this time in Vancouver, Washington. The forum is hosted by Identity Clark County and the Portland Business Alliance.

Local and national tolling experts, including representatives from Booz Allen Hamilton and HNTB, will come together for a free-flowing panel discussion on the future of tolling in Southwest Washington. Specifically, the forum will examine tolling options on the I-5 bridge, the potential for public private partnerships in Metropolitan Portland, new technologies for tolling transponders, and the effect of tolling on demand management between Oregon and Washington.
I was kind of wondering whose bright idea it was to involve the Discovery Institute in our little I-5 bridge discussions down here. It figures-Identity Clark County is a Chamber outfit.

I know, I know--Cascadia is a separate project from the overtly political attempts by Discovery to ram creationism in disguise down the throats of Kansans and others. Cascadia uses seemingly legitimate experts, etc. But still, how many groups on the left get to influence public policy like this? It must be nice to have all that non-profit money to promote your views, and then say they aren't political.

Leaving that aside, what did the experts hired by the non-Discovery Institute have to say to their business-group hosts?
Panelists agreed that money sources for new roads and bridges are growing scarce in the United States as the federal government steadily reduces its contributions. Common options include tolls, gasoline taxes and vehicle fees.

Tax money should be used on local streets and roads, providing services for the bulk of the public that is generating that revenue, said panelist Harold Worrall, an engineer and founder of Transportation Innovations Inc., a consulting company in Oviedo, Fla.

Tolls are a possible method of paying for a new $1 billion to $2 billion Columbia River crossing that is likely to replace the Interstate Bridge. And Worrall said tolls -- not gas taxes -- should be the key financing source for new freeways and freeway bridges, noting those projects help freight movement.

"That's probably why you're considering this (toll) here in Oregon," said Worrall.

Panelist John A.A. "Jack" Opiola, a principal of the London consultant Booz-Allen-Hamilton, dismissed the notion that the public reflexively rejects paying tolls. Motorists of all income classes understand that faster movement can be had for a price.

"If I'm facing a $1 or $2 toll, rather than a $20 charge from day care" for showing up late to retrieve a child, Opiola said, the toll is "worth the value."
Alert! Alert! For future reference, these are not "left wing radicals" proposing tolls. These are the experts brought in on behalf of the business guys 'n gals. We need to be very clear about that.

Nothing that was reported of the Cascadia/Discovery event is radical, so don't get me wrong. But the real issue seems to be that we are moving towards an outcome in which the process is geared so favorably towards new road construction (ie, a new bridge geared mainly toward vehicle traffic) that maybe we ought to take another look.

The Oregonian recently profiled transportation guru Jim Howell, who is legendary in Portland for his decades of work and activism. If you say "Tom McCall Waterfront Park" or "light rail" in Portland, you really should say the name Jim Howell. And he's not so certain the bridge task force is on the right track.
Howell has tirelessly promoted the idea that the panel should also study an arterial bridge -- a secondary span -- to carry local traffic and light rail.

Although his plan hasn't gotten much traction, he's not been defeated by the appearance of a done deal, citing his experience with thwarting such "done deals" as Harbor Drive.
Now, I've certainly had a lot of sympathy for the 39 members of the Columbia River Crossing task force. Theirs is no easy job.

But there are a few things that are becoming clear. First, there is support on the task force for a new bridge. Second, there is support for a transportation component, be that light rail or bus rapid transit. Third, this will have to be paid for by someone, and as nearly everyone hates taxes, or being assailed about taxes, tolls offer one way to pay for things.

Tolls are a legitimiate user fee, and people on large task forces probably don't have the luxury of piecing this together with an eye to the political landscape, but I'm going to issue a warning here. Regular citizens are not tuned into this project yet. Sure, it gets a little coverage here and there, but by and large the issue of what to do about the Interstate Bridge has not hit critical mass with the broader public.

One day people are going to wake up and hear the words "new bridge" followed by "light rail" and "toll" and some of them are going to have a cow, at least in Clark County. Most of them will be fine with the new bridge part, but the prospect of light rail juxtaposed, in the public mind anyhow, with tolls will not go over well in Clark County.

So what to do? For starters, political leaders in Clark County (I can't really speak for Oregon residents) need to realize that people outside of the business world might have some good ideas, too. For far too long, decision making in Clark County has been conducted as a charade. Public meetings are held, but the outcomes are pre-determined.

It's no secret, either, how this happens. Business groups and think tanks funded with millions of dollars have the money and staff to promote their preferred outcomes as full time jobs, while environmental, justice and other progressive groups in Clark County generally don't. There are some incredibly dedicated volunteers, but they have to eat. So unless public officials come up with something so awful that there is a gigantic outpouring of public outrage, the outcomes tend to be ones the planning staff and business groups work out. And if a bone is thrown to the neighborhoods or the enviros or some other non-business constituency, why they should be grateful.

I'm not sure yet what would be the best way to handle the problem of the I-5 bridge. But we shouldn't be pulling practical options off the table yet, and we should listen more to people like Jim Howell, who has been proven correct repeatedly in Portland.

As a friend of mine who is extremely well-versed in planning issues put it in an email discussion we are having about the Columbia River Crossing project:
I don't know the future--will cars be used less and less as oil becomes less available? Will building to today's model of 24 year traffic prediction make sense therefore? Will current growth of population and freight in the area make it necessary to expand the lanes to the 6 each way for the bridge anyway, no matter the future transporation modes?
Good questions, ones that deserve to be asked. Hopefully there will be forums where regular people (as opposed to just business folks and transportation experts paid for by a think tank) get to ask these kind of questions. I know of one such forum that is in early planning stages, and as events warrant I'll post further.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ciro Rodriguez wins in Texas

He's going to the House of Representatives:
Democratic former Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez upset Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla in a House runoff election Tuesday in southwestern Texas’ 23rd District, pushing the Democrats’ net gain to 30 House seats and concluding Campaign 2006 with one final stunning come-from-behind victory for the new House majority party.

Rodriguez, who served in the House from 1997 to 2005 in an adjacent district, scored a surprisingly strong 55 percent of the vote with 97 percent of precincts reporting (results). Bonilla, who was seeking an eighth term, had 45 percent of the vote. Bonilla fell well short of the nearly 49 percent he received in the Nov. 7 “blanket primary” that set the matchup for Tuesday’s runoff.
It's a terrific victory and a great last surge for the blue wave of 2006.

One reason we have regulation: Dr. Brinkley and goat testicles

I listened to a history of music on American radio, covering the last century, on OPB. It's all very interesting, but nothing much can top this. It hurts just to think about it.
Shows like the Opry and the WLS Barn Dance were usually squirreled away to just a couple of hours on the weekend, but there was one powerhouse station keeping old-time music alive all week long. How it got there is one of the most unlikely stories in the history of radio.

Dr. Brinkley: And ladies and gentlemen, you're again listening to the voice of Dr. J.R. Brinkley of the Brinkley Hospitals. And I trust that I may have your attention for the next few minutes regarding some matters of vital importance to you as a healthy man and healthy woman.

New regulations gave Washington the ability to shut broadcasters down. Bill Crawford is co-author of "Border Radio."

Bill Crawford: One of the first people is a guy named Dr. John R. Brinkley and he had a station called KFKB, Kansas First Kansas Best, which was one of the most popular stations in the Midwest.

Dr. Brinkley: And you know you're sick. You know your prostate's infected and diseased. And you know that unless some relief comes to you, that you're going to be in the undertaker's parlor on the old, cold slab being embalmed for a funeral.

Crawford: Dr. Brinkley had made a fortune doing something he called the goat gland proposition. An early form of Viagra in which he would take a sliver of a goat gonad and insert it, transplant it, into a man's personal equipment. He claimed it would "Make any man the ram what am with every lamb."

Brinkley did thousands of these quack operations. They were shockingly popular. He built the station at first to entertain recovering patients waiting to get back on their feet and give their new virility a test drive. He also found it was a great way to advertise all sorts of novel procedures and patent medicines. Federal regulators were falling all over themselves to shut him down.
Sometimes it's interesting to reflect on why regulations came about in the first place. I knew the story of Brinkley, but I had kind of forgotten about it. Not that it means anything, but country music would not have turned out the same without Dr. Brinkley and his radio station. And thank goodness, because you just don't get too many opportunities to write the words "goat testicles."

Conservatives like to moan about "excessive regulation," but there was someone implanting goat gonads in men and using his powerful radio station, heard in all states, to promote it. We tend to forget what things were like before the FDA.

We have people on the radio today who do the intellectual equivalent of transplanting goat gonads into the public discourse. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Lars Larson and the dozens of other national and local noise machine talkers are political quacks, nothing more.

The companies that distribute and benefit from their shows need to clean up their act. Dr. Brinkley, the Kansas goat testicle guy, fled with his "practice" and radio station to Mexico. That option probably isn't open today.

As Democrats prepare to take power, we need to think about Constitutional ways to ensure our public discourse is elevated rather than diminished. The public airwaves have been hijacked largely by one ideology promoting its own profit and views over the best interests of the people.

Anyhow, I don't mean to sell the program short, there's plenty of other interesting stuff. You can find a link to listen to it here.

Savage to appear on Colbert show

According to Slog, Stranger editor Dan Savage will appear on The Colbert Report tonight. Or at least he was on the way to the studio in New York.
P.S. Seconds after I first posted this at 11:20, Savage yanked it down from wherever he is in NYC, fearing the hype will somehow “jinx” something. (He hasn’t taped the show yet.) Then I called him a pussy and he said I could put the post back up. But if Dan gets struck by a cab on his way to Colbert’s studio, it’s all my fault.
Should be entertaining.

Benton interviewed for lobbyist job

Sounds like state senator Don Benton's interview to be a lobyist for Clark County went well. From The Columbian:
Commissioners sounded as though it were a foregone conclusion that Benton would resign if hired. Commissioner Marc Boldt, who was elected with Benton to the Legislature in 1994, mentioned resignation when asking how long it would take before Benton could go to work.

"I'll start working for you as soon as you start paying me," Benton replied.

Benton did indicate he likely would not run for county commissioner in 2008 if hired as the county's lobbyist.

"If I want to work for the county, I don't think I would be interested in that," he said.

Benton said he believes he could easily make the transition from lawmaker to lobbyist, including taking direction from commissioners.

"What I want personally doesn't matter if I work for an employer," he said. "I am not here to give you my opinions, unless you ask for them."

Benton did his best to soothe over past political conflicts, including what he described as a sometimes rocky relationship with Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

"We don't see eye-to-eye, but we have developed a mutual respect for each other," he said.
They wouldn't. Would they? Allright, they would. It's Clark County we're talking about here. Whether they actually hire Benton remains to be seen. I would think former state senator Don Carlson would be a safter choice.

The county commissioners are supposed to make their decision in open meeting, probably today. I still can't imagine how it serves the county to hire someone who generated so much ill-will in Olympia, but if Benton resigned there would be a special election in the 17th to replace him. More fun and games in everyone's favorite Clark County legislative district!

Gregoire to unveil rainy day fund plan

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire will unveil her plan for a rainy day fund today. From The Olympian:
(Democratic Sen. Margarita) Prentice did not know the specifics of the plan, and Gregoire's spokeswoman, Holly Armstrong, said details would not be released until today's news conference in Seattle.

Last year, Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, first raised the idea of setting up a rainy-day account through a constitutional amendment. Last week, he sent out a news release saying he would be pushing the legislation again.

Under his plan, 1 percent of the general state revenue each year - about $120 million - would be put into an account that could only be tapped by a three-fifths vote of the Legislature during good economic times. Under his measure, the fund could be tapped with a simple majority of the Legislature during economic downturns, when employment growth is less than 1 percent.

Zarelli said that Gregoire's plan is comparable to his, with the only changes addressing what to do once the fund reaches about 10 percent of the budget.
My only concern would be that allowing a minority party veto power could prove a problem after a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but it's probably not a deal breaker. Evening out the endless boom and bust cycle of the state budget is a worthwhile goal, both from an economic and political standpoint.

On the political front, long time observers may recall what tends to happen. When times are tough, needed programs like education suffer, leading to a build up of political pressure. So when things improve, Democrats face enormous choices from constituent groups with real needs. Which can lead to overspending at times, and resentment by folks who feel their legitimate issues are being neglected.

Hopefully, over time, when economic downturns occur, the impact on services will be lessened if there is money in reserve. And if we get a rainy day fund through a legislative process followed by a vote of the people, as would be required for a Constitutional amendment, then the result should be practical and serve the state well. Beats the heck out of poorly conceived and poorly written initiatives.

Plus, co-opting an opposition idea is just smart politics. Democrats will probably never compete effectively in Zarelli's 18th District, at least not as it stands now, so why not? Let him take as much credit as he can. Most people outside Clark and Cowlitz Counties will never know anyhow.

UPDATE--The P-I has an AP article with a few more particulars from this morning.
The account could only be tapped by a three-fifths vote of the Legislature. In case of a natural disaster, or if a state of emergency has been declared, the money could be available with a simple majority vote.
There's a hint of concern about the fact that it would be a Constitutional amendment, though:
House Appropriations Chairwoman Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, said that while she liked the idea of the rainy day fund, she didn't like the idea of a constitutional amendment.

"I agree with the concept, but not with the restrictions if you put it in the constitution," she said Monday. "Once you write it into the constitution it's not flexible."
Ah, the process. Should be interesting to see how this is dealt with in the Legislature.

The Sea-Tac Tree Flap: Beyond Ridiculous

Well, it's been a good few days now since the news broke initially that the Port of Seattle had decided to remove its Christmas, holiday, or whatever you want to call 'em trees out of SeaTac International Airport.

The Port is now sheepishly putting them back, and its excuse about responding to a lawsuit has collapsed like a house of cards.

Putting the specifics of this dispute, and the harmful backlash it's caused against Jewish organizations aside, it's appalling that this is the kind of the thing that so easily dominates the media, and society's collective consciousness.

Port officials didn't exercise much restraint...or common sense... but it doesn't end there. Unhappy airline employees took it upon themselves to stir up a media controversy. Local TV stations eagerly gobbled up the story, and it exploded from there. And now it's the topic du jour.

The story is - not joking - top news on major news aggregators as of this morning. Close to eight hundred stories from almost as many news sources by one count. Right wing media, especially FOX jumped all over the story yesterday, and the traditional corporate media followed suit.

How can so many people be in an uproar all because a bunch of fake, plastic trees were removed from public display? The horror! For shame!

There's absolutely nothing wrong with decorations, but the way people have reacted, it's as if there had been a series of terrible monstrosities committed. It's ridiculous that real tragedies happening abroad get just passing mentions in the press while idiotic controversies like this are the top headlines in newspapers and at the top of the hour on television and radio stations.

Not just in Seattle, but across the country.

If Jesus Christ were here and among us, in the flesh, he would not be concerned with the question of whether or not plastic trees are displayed in an airport. Just think for a moment about all the suffering and disparity in the world, amid so much wealth, and it's easy to realize what we should really be concerned about - what Jesus wants us to be concerned about.

"Love thy neighbor as thyself?" Hardly reflected in the Bush administration's domestic and international policies, even though many of the people running the executive branch in this country profess themselves to be devout Christians.

Instead of goodwill during these weeks before the day when billions will celebrate the Nativity of the Lord (myself included), a surprising number of people are throwing a fit about plastic trees. So where is all the outrage about what's happening in Darfur? Where's the sense of urgency about bringing peace to the Middle East? About doing something to stop global warming?

If so many people can get all hot and bothered over whether a few large, green, cone-shaped decorations are on public display, then surely there is a human force strong enough summon the will to do something about the great problems which confront us and the planet we are slowly polluting...and destroying.

There is no "war on Christmas" but there are real wars, real conflicts happening around the world which are taking innocent lives and inflicting tremendous damage upon the Earth.

We Americans really don't understand how good we've got it. True, not every American is well off, but quite a large percentage of us are abundantly blessed compared to the rest of the world's population. The holidays (notice the plural - even most Christians celebrate New Year's, also a feast day for Mary) are indeed a time to celebrate and give thinks, but also to reflect.

How can we be content when we know that so many people are starving, that there are still so many languishing in poverty, that valuable ecosystems and habitats are being lost or destroyed daily by unthoughtful carelessness?

When I think about challenges like those, a brouhaha over the display of plastic trees in an airport pales in comparison. That there has been such a storm of controversy over this, much of it manufactured or encouraged by right wing media, is regrettable and beyond ridiculous.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas trees going back up at Sea-Tac

And just as quickly, it's all over.
Port of Seattle staff will be reinstalling holiday trees later today at Sea-Tac Airport, after having removed them late last week under threat of a federal lawsuit to be filed by the Central Organization for Jewish Education Lubavitch. Port officials received word from Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky late this afternoon that his organization will not file a lawsuit at this time over the placement of a menorah at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Given that, the holiday trees will be replaced as quickly as possible.
But it didn't happen before a nasty little cyber-pogrom happened in the KING-5 comment threads. (Props to Josh Feit at Slog for catching that. You expect that sort of thing at LGF or whatever, not on a television station's thread. To their credit, KING closed the thread.)

There were also reportedly tons of threats made against rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky and some Jewish organizations unaffiliated with Chabad-Lubavitch. This is what happens when demagogues like The Worst Person in the World spew their poison for years. A certain number of morons are going to buy into it, and use the sanction of the right wing noise machine as justification for their bigotry.

So thanks, hate-mongers, for reminding me why progressives must oppose you politically at every opportunity. People who would make threats over Christmas trees are neither Christian nor credible.

The ghost of Christmas future

Climatologists are concerned that in 30 years the North Pole will be open water.
The Nasa-funded US team of researchers said the ice retreat is likely to remain fairly constant until 2024 when there will be a sudden speeding up of the process.

In between 30 and 50 years, they concluded, summer sea ice will have vanished from almost the entire Arctic region.

Their finding may, however, already be out of date and something of an over-optimistic forecast, said Professor Chris Rapley, head of the British Antarctic Survey.

He said a recent study by the Global Carbon Project suggests emissions are rising more than twice as fast as in 2000 which is likely to speed up ice-loss even further.
So the real threat to Christmas isn't the lack of trees in an airport, it's the alarming possibility that Santa Claus will fall into the sea and drown!

Dave Reichert better hurry up and finish investigating whether global warming is real or not...'Cause nobody wants Santa to die.

Tom DeLay starts a blog, but he can't handle the comments

Believe it or not, disgraced Republican power magnate Tom DeLay has decided to become, of all things, a blogger. Apparently the Republican Noise Machine hasn't been doing a good enough job for him...wonder why.

Ironically, DeLay, who is the ultimate establishment figure, tried to position himself as a grassroots conservative hero. But he quickly began learning that the blogosphere is a different world than the U.S. House. Here is a sampling of the feedback left for him before the non-fawning comments were deleted:
High [sic] Tom I was just wondering what you thought of certain a Congressman who tried to get a bill passed claiming the war is "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States"

[...]

Such unmitigated gall.

Your 3 First Principles "Order, Justice, and Freedom" obviously don't include Honesty, Integrity, or Ethics. I particularly like the way the House Ethics Committee chairman, Joel Hefley, was removed after rebuking you 3 times. Yes, he was replaced by Delay groupie Doc Hastings, with a couple other groupies connected with your PAC. Sorta make sure no more untoward rebukes occur.

It's good that you're no longer a Representative; the stench of the 109th Congress will take a long time to fix.

[...]

What a magnificently, terrifically boring and irrelevant blog. Honestly, who on earth cares what you have to say?

[...]

To paraphrase you: You WERE the Federal Government...now you're a nothing.

The fact that you are trying to keep your name alive by starting a stupid blog is actually kind of pathetic and sad. Please just go away.

[...]

How pathetic you are, Mr. Delay. You are a criminal, and you should be serving time in jail alomg with your buddies Abramhoff and Cunningham.

The damage you have done to this country is reprehinsible [sic].

Do us all a favor and just disappear, you sorry excuse for a person.

[...]

Tom, you corrupted the conservative cause and brought disgrace to our party. We can never forgive you for that. Please crawl back into your hole.
There are tons more like this, and you can view them all right here. To Tom DeLay and the unfortunate people who have decided to waste their time running his website we will only say: good luck dealing with the irreverent spam that will surely test the very limits of your blogging software...and your patience.

L. Ron made me post this

Ok, I'm trying not to read/listen to the Invasion of the War of the Worlds of Christmas Assault on Sea-Tac Airport, but in order to do that one would have to hermetically seal one's self off from the world for the next few days.

Which sounds ok, but now and then actual policy issues break out regarding education and such (see the previous post). I'm not having much luck. Last I checked there were about 479 stories about the victimized Christmas trees on Google News, more than were listed about the Iraq Study Group.

So here's my demand:

Either the Port of Seattle puts a volcano by the Christmas trees by the menorah, or I'm filing a lawsuit. My attorney will arrive by spacecraft tomorrow evening. And she knows Xenu personally.

Finally, I say what Dan Savage said, who said what Atrios said.

'Nuff already.

Gregoire proposes math and science funding

Governor Chris Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson have unveiled their proposal to improve math and science education.
Gov. Chris Gregoire today urged lawmakers to plow nearly $200 million into Washington's classrooms to help students who are struggling with math and science.

The governor's sweeping proposal includes smaller middle school and high school math and science classes, recruiting hundreds of new math and science teachers, offering master teachers up to $10,000 in annual pay bonuses, and expanding tutoring and other help for struggling students. She also wants to beef up local districts' curriculum to "world-class" standards and then design achievement tests accordingly.

The proposal is a major new initiative in the state budget that Democrat Gregoire will send to the Democratic-controlled Legislature next week. The education plan is the first of a series of budget rollouts planned this week across the state.
The article says one goal would be to reduce the average size of middle and high school math and science classes to 25. That's a laudable and sensible goal.

All the conservative angst about delaying the WASL graduation requirements is unfounded. Nobody is "giving up" on education, this Democratic governor seems intent on improving it. Smaller class sizes in math are a very good goal.

There are also professional development incentives for teachers in the package. If you want good teachers you need to compete in the labor market for them.

We'll see what the reaction will be in the Legislature. Money is always an issue, but if we're serious about quality math and science education, it's a good investment in our future.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Columbian falls down on the job

Last week, I noted that an arson at a restaurant in Vancouver included spray-painted racial graffiti. Anti-Arab slogans, along with other offensive words and symbols, were found at the scene. It's still not clear what exactly happened. As I said in that post, it's possible that someone was trying to obscure some other motive with racist slogans.

But what is The Columbian talking about? Well, managing editor Lou Brancaccio seems most concerned about offending readers rather than getting to the truth of the case.
On Thursday, we ran a follow-up story on an arson case that involved racial slurs and threats. We knew what was written but did not automatically decide to print it. And we eventually decided -- at this point -- not to print it.

I was asked about why we didn't print it, and my initial response was pretty simple: We try to keep inappropriate stuff out of the paper. But it really isn't that simple. So I explained further:

"Clearly there are certain things that are said or pictured that we wouldn't put in the newspaper. A graphic swear word. A sexually explicit drawing. Graphic detail on exactly what happened during a rape.

"But there are other things we would consider if it helped readers understand the crime, but it wasn't overly offensive.

"Demeaning a nationality could fall in either of these categories.

"The other factor could be the media would wait until there is an official charge of a hate crime. So, we might not use something in the first story but may come back and use it in the second story."
Or it could be that Brancaccio is a gutless wonder. There are many ways real journalists could approach the story. They could research the background of the two people arrested.

They could interview the victims. They could talk to state legislators about hate crime laws and human rights commissions. They could do...something.

The Columbian is a joke.

Whether that is by design or by accident is irrelevant. You get a building torched with anti-Arab slogans painted all over it, and the local newspaper worries more about whether someone might be offended over their corn flakes than whether the people behind the arson actually had a racist motive. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't, but we're most likely to find out when a Portland journalist does their job.

Respect for others is not an attack

And now we get to have a big old hullabaloo over Christmas trees in an airport.
The airport managers ordered the plastic trees removed and boxed up after a rabbi asked to have an 8-foot-tall menorah displayed next to the largest tree in the international arrival hall.

Port of Seattle staff felt adding the menorah would have required adding symbols for other religions and cultures in the Northwest, said Terri-Ann Betancourt, the airport's spokeswoman. The holidays are the busiest season at the airport, she said, and staff didn't have time to play cultural anthropologists.

"We decided to take the trees down because we didn't want to be exclusive," she said. "We're trying to be thoughtful and respectful, and will review policies after the first of the year."

The decision, made in consultation with the Port's elected board of commissioners, interrupts a decades-long tradition at the airport. No sooner had the trees come down than their removal spread something less than holiday cheer across religious groups.

Elazar Bogomilsky, the rabbi who last month asked that a menorah be displayed, said he was "appalled" by the Port's reaction to what he believed to be a simple request. There are public menorah lightings at the White House and cities across the Northwest, he said. Next week, Gov. Christine Gregoire will help light a menorah under the Capitol Dome in Olympia.
I don't know about everyone else, but I'm tired of this discussion and I imagine a lot of other people are as well.

Yes, free speech issues are important, and yes, in this particular matter it seems things could have been handled better all the way around.

There is no end to it. Certain elements in American Christianity insist on having their beliefs validated at every turn and in every place, as if an hour or two away from symbols of their faith will somehow weaken it.

On one level, it's an airport, for crying out loud. It's there to transport people, although you can probably hear the Lord's name frequently if you listen carefully in the concourse just past the security checkpoints.

Traditions are nice, and decorations are nice. Most people don't have a problem with Christmas trees or menorahs being displayed.

In a larger context, Christianity is not under assault in this country, although doubtless Worst Person in the World Bill O'Reilly and others will run their same tired play regarding this particular matter.

Christianity and Christmas have arguably never been stronger in this country. People are free to worship as they choose, when they choose and pretty much where they choose. Which is as it should be.

Of course we should respect other religions and allow them to be represented, even if the delay by the port is unfortunate. It's not just a legal matter, a long time ago it might even have been called good manners.

Instead of getting locked in media wars over cultural supremacy, our society might even have taken an interest in the beliefs and customs of other religions, especially one so closely linked with Christianity as Judaism.

But then that would require a genuine interest in and respect for others. How did we get things so wrong in this country, where trying to be polite and even (gasp!) respectful of others constitutes some kind of grave attack?

Thanks, Republican Noise Machine.

Brace yourselves, Port of Seattle officials. You have committed an offense far worse than say, launching a preemptive war, you have dared to consider how best to respect everyone, and you were slow about it.

For this you shall be dragged through the valley of the shadow of the Worst Person in the World, and then it will be Christmas, and then everyone forgets about it until this time next year. Happy holidays.

Got lobbyists?

The Washington Post has a long but fascinating article that illustrates how the system of legalized bribery we call "campaign finance" works using, of all things, the tale of how one individual milk producer was targeted for special legislation and penalized.

There's really no decent way to excerpt it, but if you have time it's well worth the read. Imagine this kind of conduct spread over multiple industries, and it should be clear to any sentient person that talk about "free markets" is pretty much nothing more than talk.

Sure, our system often allows a good deal of competition based on supply and demand to occur, but it also involves tremendous government subsidies, back room dealing and favoritism. And when the people who are supposed to be doing the regulating get in bed with industry, the losers, as always, are the regular citizens.

Agriculture policy in particular has been allowed to become a horror show. Policies and systems designed for Depression-era farmers are now used to enrich giant agri-business corporations, as the Post story clearly shows. Plus a system that encourages the use of high-fructose corn syrup in seemingly everything is not exactly smart health policy.

The article could be construed as being somewhat unfavorable to Harry Reid, but in my view he was simply playing the game as it exists and looking out for his state. In the big picture, as time goes on, Democrats will need to start work on reforming things like this. But that's a luxury we may not be able to afford politically any time soon, as you can bet your bippy that Big Agra won't take kindly to their gravy train being examined.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

AP picks up on Hutcherson's initiative

We broke the news earlier this week on our podcast that Antioch Bible Church pastor Ken Hutcherson has filed an initiative to repeal ESHB 2661, the civil rights bill that was passed into law earlier this year, outlawing discrimination against Washingtonians on the basis of sexual orientation. Yesterday, the AP followed suit, putting out a short brief on the local wire:
A pastor opposed to new civil rights protections for gays and lesbians has filed an initiative to the Legislature to overturn them, but it's not likely to go anywhere since he would have to gather nearly 225,000 signatures by the end of the month.

Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, filed the initiative on Nov. 28. The initiative, which has not yet been given a number and whose language has not yet been reviewed by the state code reviser's office, would remove the sexual orientation aspect of the state ban on discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and credit.

State lawmakers passed the gay civil rights bill in January after nearly 30 years of failed attempts by several longtime legislative sponsors. The law took effect in early June.

Hutcherson is out of the country until next week and was not available for comment.
Hutcherson is in Latvia, and has been sending near-daily "Notes from the Prayer Warrior" out to his supporters providing vague details of what he's doing over in Eastern Europe.

Obviously Hutcherson has no plans of attempting to qualify his initiative to the Legislature, but is clearly and quietly signaling his intentions. It's a draft run. He'll refile something that looks similar in January as an initiative to the people, or someone else will on his behalf.

Part of the reason he filed when he did seems to be to send a message to other figureheads in the local religious right that he intends to lead any effort to overturn the amendment to the anti-discrimination law. He's positioning himself. Whoever is seen to be in charge will likely get a media spotlight (that's why Tim Eyman rushed so quickly to file Referendum 65).

Hutcherson has done this before. He appeared in newspapers during the legislative struggle to get ESHB 2661 and its predecessor, ESHB 1515, approved in the first place, arguing against it, of course.

He tried to claim victory when Microsoft backed away from its decision to support the bill outright, saying a boycott he had threatened scared the company. Microsoft then came under pressure from equal rights groups and activists, and relented. We'll be keeping a close eye on his activities in the near future.

Small town hits rock bottom

Normally, the travails of one relatively small town in Southwest Washington would not warrant coverage on a state-wide blog. But Ridgefield, a growing community in northern Clark County, has fallen so far that maybe it will become an object lesson in what happens when powerful people are not held to the same standards as everyone else.

This fall, Ridgefield stood by its decision to fire city manager George Fox.
The Ridgefield City Council has affirmed its decision to fire George A. Fox as city manager, nearly a year after suspending him amid racism allegations and five months after an investigation into those charges resulted in his termination.

Council member Scott L. Hanson, with whom Fox had private business dealings while city manager, voted against the resolution firing Fox. Hanson, who could not be reached for a comment Friday, said he did not want to retain Fox but that the timing of the resolution was wrong, said Gaylynn Brien, Ridgefield's finance manager, who attended Thursday night's council meeting.
That whole thing was a mess and it wasn't handled quickly or well. It dragged on and at one point the FBI was supposedly looking into it. Not exactly the kind of attention the nice, conservative folks in northern Clark County tend to appreciate.

Then Hanson, the city council member, was arrested for DUI this week. From The Columbian:
Police arrested Ridgefield Councilman Scott Hanson Thursday on suspicion of driving under the influence and hit-and-run driving, after he allegedly fled the scene of a collision he caused on Interstate 5.

According to the Washington State Patrol, Hanson, 46, tried to drive his white pickup truck between two other vehicles in I-5’s northbound lanes near Carty Road late Thursday afternoon. Hanson’s truck crashed into a guardrail and lost its right front wheel before continuing north on three. No one was injured.

A few moments later, Ridgefield police found Hanson and his heavily damaged truck at the Circle K gas station off of Exit 14. Police “smelled a strong odor of alcohol coming from Hanson” and found in his pocket a small metal tube and copper steel wool with burnt residue, equipment commonly used to smoke drugs like crack cocaine and meth.
Ok, nobody got hurt, but they could have. The guy tried to drive between cars. One of the other vehicles was a van belonging to the father of a disabled child, according to the article, so now presumably that family can't transport their daughter, at least until an insurance company ponies up or rents a suitable vehicle.

According to both yesterday's Columbian article and the following excerpt from The Reflector, an arch-conservative weekly in north Clark County, Hanson had been acting very strangely: (via Google cache; The Reflector pulls its stories down each week:)
Early in the meeting, council member Scott Hanson announced that he was ill. Hanson said he wanted to clear the air because rumors are flying about his health. He did not name his illness.

Other council members assured Hanson of their support.

During public testimonies, Lindsay Warren, an accountant at Ridgefield City Hall, said that as a citizen and employee, she “could remain silent no longer.”

Warren said council members swear an oath to make impartial decisions, but cannot do so when not in full control of their mental faculties. She said she was embarrassed and offended by Hanson’s behavior Nov. 8 when he took a walk with Fox during a city council executive session.

To Hanson, Warren said, “Please seek help for what ails you.”

Hanson said he wasn’t aware of what happened that morning because he had accidentally taken more medication than prescribed. “I got up to go to the bathroom, but instead went to the store with George,” he said.
Yikes. If you can't remember leaving a city council meeting, you shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Hanson has, apparently, tried to get help.
Hanson, a developer and businessman, has become increasingly controversial since joining the council in 2005.

In July 2005, he was spotted driving erratically along the Pioneer Street S curves east of town. A Ridgefield couple saw him and, fearing a drunken driver, notified police. Police waited four months until Election Day to forward the complaint to the city prosecutor, and Hanson ultimately pleaded guilty to second-degree negligent operation of a motor vehicle, an infraction. Hanson also had two drunken-driving arrests as a young man in Alaska.

After the 2005 incident, he underwent an inpatient substance abuse rehabilitation program, according to court records.
This stuff had been reported this past summer.
The week before appointed Ridgefield City Councilman Scott Hanson filed for election in July, he was spotted weaving and driving erratically just outside of town.

But police waited nearly four months, until Election Day, to tell prosecutors about the incident, ensuring that voters wouldn't find out until after the election.

Witnesses told police Hanson appeared drunk, and the city prosecutor agreed alcohol was a factor, according to a police report.

But police never saw him driving drunk, and he pleaded guilty in January to a driving infraction, less than a misdemeanor.

No city officials could explain why it took so long for charges to be filed for a simple traffic offense.
The public is tired of being held to one standard while elected officials and other powerful people are not held to the same standard. If this had been a day laborer framing houses, they wouldn't stand a chance of geting such a break. It would have been slam, clink, pay the man after he gives you a lecture. And good luck keeping your job, it's now illegal for you to drive anywhere.

And now comes word a Ridgefield council member is stepping down, and while he doesn't overtly suggest that he's fed up with Ridgefield government, the timing is interesting, to say the least. (While it's not clear from news reports, it seems likely Sessions announced his resignation before Hanson's little drive on I-5, as Hanson was arrested Thursday afternoon. So I'm not trying to suggest that Sessions is reacting to the arrest of Hanson, we don't know that.) Nonetheless a notable development:
Chad Sessions, a member of the Ridgefield City Council for less than a year, announced his resignation Thursday saying he grossly underestimated the amount of time needed to do the job.

“I feel that my time and energies are best served focusing on my family and occupation,” he said in a letter presented to the council Thursday night. “I will of course stay involved in the Ridgefield community and give ongoing support as a proud Ridgefield citizen.”
Really, who could blame Sessions? Ridgefield is a complete wreck. And Sessions wouldn't be the first elected official who found that the job was eating up all of his family time, that's very common, so I certainly don't question that.

You hear a lot of informal comments in Clark County about how Ridgefield is "a good old boys (and gals) club." If that's the case, the "good old boys" have messed things up pretty badly. But then there's a lot of that going around in the world right now.

Rock bottom indeed.

Note- I have deliberately chosen not to post about Hanson's past partisan political donations, which are substantial, as which party he favors is not really the point. This is a tragedy for the victims of the wreck and now the community of Ridgefield. And for that matter the Hansons. Here's hoping the guy gets some help, and the citizens of Ridgefield can find some leaders who will serve them well.

Sales tax deduction survives

It took until the last minute, but Congress saved the sales tax deduction.
The House acted first, approving the bill by a lopsided 367-45 vote. All nine House members from Washington voted for the bill. The Senate passed it 79-9 and sent it to President Bush for his signature. There was widespread bipartisan support for extending expired tax breaks, including the research-and-development tax credit for businesses; sales tax deductions for people in states without income taxes; the tax deduction on college tuition; a tax credit for hiring welfare recipients and others facing difficulties finding jobs; and tax credits for alternative energy producers and purchases of solar energy equipment by homeowners and businesses.
While it's good that we aren't going to get hosed when we do our taxes, keep in mind this extension is only for two years.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was a prime backer of the measure. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was disappointed the extension was for only two years.

"We should not have to face this battle every two years," Murray said in an interview. "Our constituents deserve to have the ability to know when they save all those receipts every year in their shoeboxes they don't wait for us around Christmastime to decide whether it's real or not. This should be permanent."
Hopefully the Democratic Congress will, at some point, be able to make the sales tax deduction permanent.

Friday, December 08, 2006

One last lump of coal

Doc Hastings' do nothing committee in the do nothing Congress will do nothing about the Mark Foley scandal.
Republican leaders did not break any rules in handling reports of ex-Rep. Mark Foley's improper advances to former male pages but they did not take adequate steps to protect the teenagers, the House ethics committee concluded in a report issued this afternoon.

"No matter how busy we are, we must always resolve first things first," committee chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said this afternoon. He said the panel "intended to let the report speak for itself."
Translation: we lost the election, but we are going to cover for each other one last time, because we are lumps of coal.

A fitting end to the Worst Congress Ever. When the noise machine kicks in about Democrats doing crazy, corrupt things like buying houses to live in, we need to remind people of this. The GOP did nothing to stop Mark Foley from preying on young people, and they still won't take responsibility for their actions.

It's an amazing spectacle to watch, surely one of the greatest political disasters in Congressional history, and the GOP response is 500 pounds of paper and nothing else. Incredible. No wonder they can't run a war, they can't even run Congress.

And oh yes, the fact that the ethics committee is "bi-partisan" proves nothing. Hastings was put on that committee to make it inoperable, and that seems to be the only thing Hastings is good at. Too bad for the folks who live in WA-04, they deserve better.

MORE-- CREW, the ethics watchdog group, says the ethics committee is ignoring that a rule was broken in the Foley scandal.
In fact, Rule XXIII of the House Ethics Manual requires all members of the House to conduct themselves “at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House.” This ethics standard is considered to be “the most comprehensive provision of the code.”

When this section was first adopted, the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct of the 90th Congress noted that it was included within the Code to deal with “flagrant” violations of the law that reflect on “Congress as a whole,” and that might otherwise go unpunished.

This rule has been relied on by the Ethics Committee in numerous prior cases in which the Committee found unethical conduct including: engaging in sexual relationships with congressional pages as well as the failure to report campaign contributions, making false statements to the Committee, criminal convictions for bribery, or accepting illegal gratuities, and accepting gifts from persons with interest in legislation in violation of the then gift rule.
Ok, it's a pretty broad rule. But remember, these are House rules, not statutes used for criminal prosecution. The standard is ethical behavior, not criminality.

Remember when the Foley scandal broke, and suddenly every Republican was an expert on Gerry Studds?

It's not clear to me what rule was used to censure Studds and Republican Daniel Crane, but if it involved Rule XXIII the GOP has some 'splanin' to do.

Smith will no longer support failed war policy

Via Eschaton CNN reports that Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican, can no longer support the war in Iraq. From CNN:
In an emotional speech on the Senate floor Thursday night, Sen Gordon Smith, a moderate Republican from Oregon who has been a supporter of the war in Iraq, said the U.S. military's "tactics have failed" and he "cannot support that anymore."

Smith said he is at, "the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up the same bombs, day after day.

"That is absurd," he said. "It may even be criminal."
Criminal indeed. One by one, some people slowly come to their senses.

This is not a happy time, but a time for sober reflection. It's time to stop pretending the emperor has clothes.

Lars Larson blames the Kims

Conservative KXL radio talk show host Lars Larson was on Larry King last night, talking about the ordeal of the Kim family. I guess Lars just couldn't help himself. To be fair, this quote is from a segment where King was also interviewing survivors of other wilderness ordeals, but the show was about the Kims, and what Larson had to say is pretty insulting to the Kim family:
KING: Once again, Lars, the human ability to cope.

LARSON: It's an amazing ability, Larry. And what we need is, I think we need more of that in this country. We need people who are prepared to take care of themselves when they go into situations like this. I mean, I try to warn my family members to make sure they have on board in their vehicles everything they might need if they ended off on a side road.

This is what happens when you go out into areas where you're going to get stuck and nobody knows where you are and they're unlikely to find you.
But authorities don't see it that way.
(Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg) Hastings stressed that the Kims "did nothing wrong" before or after they became stranded Nov. 25 en route to Gold Beach on the Oregon coast."He was making decisions, and she was too, that they thought would be the best for their family to survive," Hastings said. "We should all ask ourselves what we would do in that situation. He was trying to save his family."
And there has been plenty of press coverage in Oregon about Bear Camp road, the now infamous Forest Road 23.
There but for the lack of snow went Geeno Valdez, who says he would have become a local version of the Kim family tragedy had his ordeal on Bear Camp Road not been in the summer.

Valdez, a retired teacher living in Medford, said road maps and poor signs lured him, like they did the Kims, onto the now infamous route for a trip between Grants Pass and Gold Beach.

Trying to follow signs pointing to Gold Beach, Valdez and his wife got lost several times and spent the night in their car before eventually finding their way home safely.

"It's misleading that the maps and the signs say that road goes to Gold Beach," Valdez said Thursday, a day after James Kim's body was discovered in a creek near where his family's car was stranded.

"I followed the signs that family did and the same thing happened to me, only it was summer," Valdez said. "Thank God."
And that's from someone who lives in Medford. Those of us who are either from the Northwest or have lived here a long time tend to know what Forest Service and BLM roads are like. Most areas of the United States don't have logging roads, obviously.

The Kims are from another state, and it's irrelevant what state they are from. Various media outlets have also interviewed people from the east coast who had problems with that road.

And from a letter to the editor in this morning's Columbian, we get a particularly nasty sentiment:
If you need to go somewhere in the winter, stay on the main roads. If you venture off into the wilderness and get lost, you should have to pay for the cost of search and rescue. If children are involved and you choose to endanger their safety, consideration should be given to taking them away from you as an abusive parent.
Nice. Are Larson and the writer of the letter so afraid of death that when misfortune strikes someone they have to prove to themselves their own supposed superiority?

That's a pretty telling and pretty twisted way to look at the world. The family took a wrong turn, thinking they could get to the beach. It ended horribly. People with an ounce of compassion in their cold hearts would not try to add to the family's misery. But then, there are ratings to obtain and newspapers to sell.

It's bad enough when regular reporters have to cover stories like this, and most do their jobs professionally and with as much caring as can be accomplished given the circumstances. Where things go awry is when sell-outs like Larson go into their acts. And believe me, Larson is an act.

He used to be a real reporter, then he sold out and started pretending to be a nut case, so that the real nut cases will listen to his radio show.

And that's what's wrong with the media landscape today. You can profit from being a sell-out professional jerk like Larson, and then if anyone criticizes the prevalence of such trash on the airwaves, we get a bunch of hoo-ha about the First Amendment.

And yes, one has an absolute First Amendment right to be a sell-out jerk, but that doesn't mean you deserve any respect.

Ban the robo-calls

Jonathan Singer at MyDD thinks Democrats should consider banning robo-calls. He's referring to a CQ Weekly article for which, sadly, there is no link, but it discusses the fact that a lot of states (but not Washington to my knowledge) are considering some form of legislation. From MyDD:
Not only are these states right in moving against these bad faith practices, the new Democratic Congress should seriously think about regulating robo-calls as well, whether outlawing the use of them in altogether or for those on teh do-not-call registry or alternatively placing strict requirements for those financing the calls to clearly identify themselves and who they are supporting at the beginning of the calls.

But even aside from this, it's not clear to me that robo-calls -- the more up front kind (rather than the more duplicitous variety) -- are as effective as many believe. It is true that they are extremely cheap and thus allow for a high volume of voter contacts without a large investment. At the same time, they irritate a lot of voters.

In my personal campaign experience, I would probably opt not to spend money on robo-calls in the future even in the absence of new legislation prohibiting or limiting their use (boy, did I enjoy the calls I received on my cell phone from voters wholly opposed to prerecorded phone messages!).
While there are plenty of more important issues to move forward, whether in Congress or in the Legislature, it would be good for Democrats to put themselves on the side of regular people, who hate automated calls.

I suppose back when I was a campaign worker, if robo-calls had been prevalent, I might have been one of those people worrying about whether we should ban a campaign tool that is so cheap.

People can argue endlessly about their effectiveness, but at the end of the day, robo-calls are an insult to regular voters, even if they present relatively above-board messages. One thing politicians and campaign operatives need to do is stop putting their wishes ahead of the people's.

If all robo-calls are banned, then nobody gets an advantage one way or the other. I would, however, stop short of making the use of robo-calls a "third strike," although maybe in the case of the BIAW we could make an exception...

Side with the regular people, Democrats. Ban robo-calls. It would be a nice bill for an incoming freshman. Good press and the eternal gratitude of most voters sounds like a good thing to me.

And to be clear, we're not talking about school, emergency or employer-related systems used to convey useful information. We're talking about political calls.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Republican Noise Machine goes into emergency attack mode across the U.S.

Republican pundits and partisan media hacks across the country have gone into a collective emergency attack mode in response to yesterday's release of the Iraq Study Group report. For instance:
  • FOX, otherwise known as the official Bush Echo Chamber(TM) tried to go after NBC News journalist David Gregory for pressing White House mouthpiece Tony Snow on the administration's Orwellian doublethink.
  • The New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, ran a silly, completely ridiculous headline on its front page: SURRENDER MONKEYS. Yes, because withdrawing from Iraq and giving that country back to its own people is surrendering to the terrorists!
  • Rush Limbaugh and his dittohead clones denounced the Iraq Study Group report on their radio talk shows and vilified the commission and its members, even though none of them were prominent prewar critics and even though many of them are friends of Bush.
Meanwhile, Media Matters for America has identified six findings in the Iraq Study Group's report that major news outlets have largely overlooked.

They include: that the Pentagon has significantly underreported the extent of violence in Iraq, that U.S. officials possess little knowledge about the sources of the ongoing attacks, and that the situation in Afghanistan has grown so dire that U.S. troops may need to be diverted there from Iraq.

Media Matters also has a recap of another right wing talking point now being employed: that the fiasco in Iraq is the fault of...believe it or not...the Iraqis.

Republicans and the administration are trying to revise history, but we sure aren't going to let them. Right wing propaganda needs to be harshly dismissed and refuted. Reframing has never been so important.

The do nothing Congress does nothing

Patty Murray calls out the Republicans for failing to pass needed measures. From Oregon Public Broadcasting:
In a speech on the Senate floor Murray said failure to pass a new federal budget would cost more in the long run. She blames Republicans who are still in charge of the lame duck session.

Patty Murray: Everywhere you look we're going to pay a price if we fail to do our job. The Republican's mismanagement will hurt my state of Washington from the fight against drugs and gangs to the clean up effort at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Murray said the lack of a new budget threatens to delay Hanford's vitrification plant.
Yesterday OPB had this item about how rural counties in Oregon will be devastated by the petty recalcitrance of the GOP.
For six years the federal government has provided about a half billion dollars annually to rural Western counties to help make up for a smaller federal timber harvest.

Oregon counties get almost half the funds and they're critical to rural county budgets.

But Oregon Representative Greg Walden says it's unlikely Congress will renew the so-called "county payments" program in the lame duck session.
So much for the old "progressives are city slickers who don't care about rural issues" line of argument. It's the Republicans who are refusing to act, and Democrats who are trying to address real issues.

If a rural county needs help because of economic conditions beyond its control, we should help them. Democrats won't hold up funding real people need out of spite, that's wrong and un-American.

Honestly, people are talking about how George W. Bush is probably the worst president in history, but this Congress is pretty awful in its own right. Corrupt, venal and incompetent--people need to take a good last look. Hopefully we'll never see a Congress like this again in our lifetimes.

Another defeat for Tim Eyman, another victory for Sound Transit and taxpayers

As already noted in an earlier post, the Washington State Supreme Court today sealed the deal on 2006, making it quite possibly Tim Eyman's worst year - ever.

The court ruled that Sound Transit was and is within its rights to continue collecting a local motor vehicle excise tax (MVET, or car tabs) despite the passage of Eyman's Initiative 776 in 2002.

Sound Transit won, we won, and taxpayers won (the taxpayers inside the boundary of Sound Transit's district rejected Initiative 776 in 2002).

Initiative 776 was the first initiative that NPI's Permanent Defense ever opposed. And while it narrowly passed at the ballot box, we have classified it as a failure because it did not achieve its main intent (according to Eyman) - ending Sound Transit's Link light rail project. Today's court ruling only strengthens that classification.

Light rail is now under construction and Tim Eyman is mired in a deep slump. So far this year, Tim has been beset with the following setbacks:
  • Failed to qualify Referendum 65 in June
  • Saw I-747 ruled unconstitutional in June
  • Failed to qualify Initiative 917 in September
  • Opposed Mayor Nickels' Seattle roads package, but it passed anyway
  • Lost the court battle against Sound Transit over collection of the MVET
That comes on top of an earlier string of defeats from immediate years past, including the failure of I-912 (which Eyman strongly backed publicly but otherwise didn't have a hand in) the failure of I-892, I-864, I-807, and I-267.

Justice Madsen, who wrote the 8-1 majority opinion, stated in part:
"The crux of (tax opponents') argument appears to be that the people, through initiative, have the right to repeal taxes, pledged as security for capital intensive projects such as highways and bridges, when they no longer want to pay such taxes."

"However, the contract clause of our state constitution guarantees that 'No law impairing the obligations of contracts shall ever be passed'."
Three years ago, in a split decision, the court upheld the constitutionality of the initiative as a whole but did not settle this dispute over Sound Transit's collection of its MVET. That went back to the lower courts for resolution, but eventually got appealed to the state Supreme Court again.

But now it has been decided. Sound Transit and its revenue sources are safe.

Sound Transit has argued all along, even before passage of I-776 (and we have agreed), that it would be able to continue collecting its MVET, because it had been pledged to pay off bonds. The Constitution, as Justice Madsen and her colleagues noted, is quite clear on that point.

The entire text of the ruling is available from Permanent Defense.

And Merry Christmas to you too, Dina

Dina (Elizabeth) Hovde at The Columbian advances the war on straw.
November was a nasty month for conservatives, who watched Republicans fall on the sword of world problems for which there seem to be few solutions. And as is typical in heated election seasons, we heard some of the same old falsehoods about conservatives from their liberal contenders.

The basic criticism goes like this: Conservatives are stingy, selfish and only interested in getting ahead, getting oil and getting tax breaks. Conversely, liberals and Democrats lavish praise on themselves for being the party for the poor, the saviors of the streets, the liberators of the lost. When the Democrats took control of Congress, pundits everywhere predicted policies that would bring about a kinder, gentler society in which the little guy would get further than he could under the rule of those crusty, conservative Republicans.
So in two paragraphs Hovde neatly absolves Republicans from any responsibility for their actions ("the sword of world problems") and sets up a straw-man argument.

Then, as the purpose of this column seems to be to both diminish any possible feelings of doubt or guilt amongst conservatives, and to show how ultimately superior conservatives are to liberals, she turns to the writings of Arthur C. Brooks, a professor of public administration and columnist for The Wall Street Journal.
Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks is sending a message no liberal likes to hear: They're not walking their talk when it comes to helping others. Using 15 sets of data, Brooks found that conservatives who practice religion, live in traditional families and eschew government income redistribution are the most generous Americans. Secular liberals give far less to charity. The pattern held true despite income level and even after excluding a person's religious contributions (such as tithe to a church).
This is where the concept of "rejecting the premise" comes in for progressives. First of all, a professional cog in the right wing noise machine doesn't get to decide what my walk is. She just doesn't. I reject utterly Hovde's right to judge me in any fashion. I'm not the one who gets paid to write conserva-tarian propaganda.

The flip side to Hovde's assertion that liberals are parsimonious is that conservatives think giving guilt money absolves them of broader societal obligations. So the argument, a nonsensical one to begin with, is right back where it started.

Not only should we reject her premise, we should point out that a lot of the money that is supposedly "charitable" is, in fact, used for political movement building by the far right. Anyone can head over to Media Transparency.org and see just how corrupt and incestuous the world of conservative "charity" has become. Tons of tax-exempt money flows to thoroughly conservative political outfits like the Heritage Foundation. Real magnanimous stuff, Dina. How much of it flows to your buddies at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation?

But Hovde isn't finished.
The most irritating thing about Brooks' message in his just-released book, "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism" --a great Christmas gift for the trash-talking liberal in your life -- is that Brooks cannot be dismissed as a darling of the right. The academic has registered in the past decade as both a Democrat and a Republican. Now, he tells reporters, he's an independent and, like many of us, feels uncomfortable pledging allegiance to any party. A review of his Wall Street Journal columns found no consistent political bent.
Excuse me while I roll around on the floor for a while. The "trash-talking liberal in your life?" A Wall Street Journal columnist who "considers himself an independent?" Ok then, pass the potatoes.

I wonder if someone at the Thanksgiving table had a few choice words for Hovde? She seems particularly bent out of shape now that conservatism is being rejected by the American people. Time to teach those loud-mouth liberals a lesson in print! We are too better than them! Talk about petulant.

The need to claim conservatives are better people than everyone else is a long-running subtext of the failed conservative movement. You see, if progressives disagree with the awful things that are done in the name of conservatism, it means we either don't understand the world or we are really hypocrites. There can't be that third, terrible alternative--conservatism as it is currently constituted is an ideology of death, destruction and greed. All that ucky war 'n torture stuff, we can't control that, but we threw some coins in the kettle, so deep down we're better than you. Pass the turkey.

I keep hoping The Columbian will realize that they are never going to regain credibility with Democrats until they, at the very least, place someone on their editorial board to provide a counter balance to Hovde's ceaseless and insulting acclamations for the conservative meme du jour.

I'd say it's rather uncharitable of the only daily in Clark County to shut Democrats out of the editorial room so completely.

Some judges give me rulings

David Postman reports the Washington Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling regarding the constitutionality of Tim Eyman's I-776.

A quick look back at I-776, courtesy the web site of the Municpal Research and Services Center of Washington:
This measure would require license tab fees of $30 per year for cars, sport utility vehicles, motorcycles, motor homes, and light trucks. It would also repeal certain laws allowing local governments to impose taxes or fees on motor vehicles for transportation purposes, including voter-approved excise taxes on vehicles for high capacity transportation services. The measure states that the people expect bonds previously issued for light rail to be retired using reserve funds and other sources.
You can head over to Postman's to read parts of the majority opinion. Eyman can't seem to write constitutional initiatives, big surprise.

But you can't help but laugh at what Postman noticed in Richard Sander's lone dissent. Note the footnote.
In principle, I admire the Lochnerian rigor with which the majority defends the sanctity of contractual obligation. Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S.45, 25 S. Ct. 539, 49 L. Ed. 937 (1905). Unfortunately, its proposed remedy finds no support in the law. In contracts, as in love, "you can't always get what you want," but the law of remedies ensures "you get what you need."8
...

8 The Rolling Stones, You Can't Always Get What You Want, on Let It Bleed
(ABKCO 1969).
Eyman supporters must be Shattered.

In Brief - December 7th, 2006

Here is today's quick news digest:
  • Al Gore yesterday called the invasion of Iraq "the worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States" on the Today show on NBC (following his Tuesday appearance on Oprah). We couldn't agree more. You can watch a clip from Gore's appearance at Crooks and Liars.
  • Some Republicans are grumbling that the House Democratic leadership plans to get rid of the three day workweek and the long, abundant recesses which have characterized the current 109th Congress. Incoming Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said to reporters: "I have bad news for you...Those trips you had planned in January, forget 'em. We will be working almost every day in January, starting with the fourth."
  • The AP's analysis of the Iraq Study Group report, released yesterday, includes a good quote from Lawrence Korb at the Center for American Progress. The Center has done wonders in its three plus years of existence and its staff or fellows are starting to appear more regularly in the traditional media, especially on cable.
  • Dan Bartlett, Bush's "counselor" and a frequent administration mouthpiece, told CNN's Anderson Cooper last night that he believes "we're winning" in Iraq. Anderson, who seemed surprised, was skeptical and pressed Bartlett, but to no avail. Apparently reality hasn't sunk in yet. Bush is trapped in the Iraq quagmire he created, and it doesn't appear that the 2006 midterms have had any meaningful impact on his position. Nor has the Iraq Study Group, whose recommendations Bush was careful to avoid endorsing when he spoke to reporters earlier today.
One last item of note. Ex-State Senator Luke Esser, who will no longer represent the 48th Legislative District in January, is mulling a run against Diane Tebelius for party chair. Tebelius is evidently running for reelection and confident of victory (just like she was confident the momentum was on the Republicans' side before the election).

Neil Modie, as usual, has a very thorough article in this morning's Post-Intelligencer which looks at the looming intraparty battle.

He notes that Tebelius and some of the state Republicans' high profile figures are not close. Tebelius' relationship with Dino Rossi has been rocky, and she was a rival to Dave Reichert in the 2004 primary for the 8th District race...although so was Esser. Esser, however, likely has a better relationship with AG Rob McKenna since they worked together in the past.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This is a very sad story

A respected CNET senior editor is no longer with us:
The body of San Francisco father James Kim was found in Oregon's snowy coastal mountains on Wednesday, searchers said.

Kim's body was at the foot of the Big Windy Creek drainage, a half mile from the Rogue River, where ground crews and helicopters had been searching for days.

It appeared he traveled about seven miles from his car. He set out on foot Saturday seeking help for his family, stranded nearly a week on a road through the mountains.

"He was very motivated," said Brian Anderson, undersheriff of Josephine County. "We were having trouble in there. He traveled a long distance."
The Kims apparently got stranded when they missed the turnoff to Oregon State Route 42 (which leads to Gold Beach) after exiting Interstate 5. According to News.com, the Kim family has asked that it not be contacted, and that flowers and donations not be sent at this time. Once the family has decided how they want Kim to be honored, CNET will release details.

We offer our deepest condolences to the staff of CNET and the Kim family.

Vancouver arson included anti-Arab graffiti

An arson at a Vancouver restaurant appears to contain elements of a hate crime. From KGW (registration often required):
The Vancouver Fire Department said "hate graffiti" was found spray painted inside a restaurant that was set on fire.

Sprinklers doused most of the flames early Monday at the Galilee Cafe in east Vancouver. But there were also anti-Arab slogans painted on the walls.

Police arrested Andrew Morrow and Joshua McClelland on arson, robbery and harassment charges.

The owner is from Israel, and his wife is Mexican, police said.
In their on-air report, KGW showed things like "die Arabs die" and "KKK" painted on the walls, as well as an anarchy symbol. An adjoining business owner was understandably distraught, and noted the owners are Catholic. Some area residents were already leaving notes of support for the owners.

It's not certain yet what the true motivation was behind this arson.

I'll reserve judgment, as there is always some chance that whoever did it had a different motivation and tried to obscure it with racist graffiti. Still, this is a shocking and despicable crime, and if the arsonists actually did have racist motivations, then Vancouver is going to need to confront the bigots among us... head on.

Racism doesn't get talked about a lot in Clark County, and that needs to change.

Congratulations to Senator Oemig

State Senator-elect Eric Oemig, who represents NPI's home legislative district, has received his committee assignments. He will serve as vice chair of the Senate Government Operations & Elections Committee, and will sit on three other committees when the 2007 legislative session convenes in January:
The Government Operations & Elections Committee considers issues including land use and the Growth Management Act, emergency preparedness, and ensuring fair, accurate elections. Oemig said land use issues and clean elections will be his focus as vice chair.

Oemig also will serve on the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee; the Water, Energy & Environment Committee; and the budget-writing Ways & Means Committee.

Among Oemig’s top legislative priorities is to help write a smart, performance-based state budget that makes targeted investments in education, transportation, health care and the environment. He hopes to help improve state investment performance as a member of the Ways & Means Committee.
A vice chairmanship and a spot on the Ways & Means Committee are great assignments for an incoming freshman. We have been among Eric's earliest supporters and we can't wait to see him in action in Olympia, helping tackle Washington State's tough problems with sensible solutions.

Iraq Study Group report released

You can read the entire thing at this link. Here's a couple reactions:

Representative Jay Inslee:
"It is refreshing to see a report on Iraq that is not through rose-colored glasses, but this is not enough. We must declare in clear and certain terms that we're going to start bringing our sons and daughters home now. Otherwise, Shiites and Sunnis won't have the incentive necessary to forge political compromises that are necessary to form a real government.

It's time for our troops to stop fighting while the Shiites and Sunnis squabble over oil revenue. If the factions don't reach a deal on oil, we could be in Iraq for 50 years and our effort wouldn't ultimately work."
And incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi:
"The bipartisan Iraq Study Group has concluded that the President's Iraq policy has failed and must be changed. As the November elections clearly demonstrated, that is an assessment shared by the American people.

Months ago, House and Senate Democratic leaders suggested to the President that he implement one of the Study Group's chief recommendations - to change the primary mission of U.S. troops in Iraq from combat to training and support, which would enable the redeployment of U.S. forces to begin. Now that the Study Group has endorsed this proposal, I hope that the President will recognize that he must take our policy in Iraq in a new direction.

If the President is serious about the need for change in Iraq, he will find Democrats ready to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to find a way to end the war as quickly as possible. We are committed to ensuring that the ideas of the Iraq Study Group, as well as the ideas of other thoughtful people inside and outside of government, are given full consideration in that process."
It's a harsh and realistic assessment of the administration's failed policies. It echoes much of what progressives have been saying for years. Among the findings:
  • The situation is bleak - or as the report says, it's "grave and deteriorating",
  • The U.S. is losing its ability to influence what's happening inside of Iraq
  • The actual level of violence in Iraq is significantly underreported
  • U.S. intelligence does not clearly understand the warring factions or the civil war. This disconnect is a problem.
  • Diplomacy and a dialogue are needed if stability is to ever become a reality
  • Most U.S. forces now in Iraq should be withdrawn over the next 12 month
Bush is going to be under a tremendous amount of pressure now to give up his stubborn, divisive rhetoric and accept the advice from not only this report, but also other experts who have been saying this for years. Not to mention that this is a pretty bitter pill for Bush's blind and loyal supporters to swallow.

Turnout above average in Washington State

The Secretary of State has certified the 2006 election results. Some highlights:
In the 2006 November Election 2,107,370 ballots were cast statewide, equaling a 64.6% turnout – the second highest turnout of an even-year, non-presidential election in recent history behind a 66.72% turnout in 1982.

Voters cast 1,881,782 ballots by mail, equaling 89.3% of the total ballots cast. King and Pierce Counties are two of the five counties that continue to operate polling locations. In King County 71.5% of the total ballots cast were voted by mail. In Pierce County 84.4% of the total ballots cast were voted by mail.

In Spokane County , a mandatory machine recount has been conducted for the 6th Legislative District position 1. The final results have the candidates, Don A. Barlow and John W. Serben, at a 260 vote difference. Don A. Barlow was declared the winner.

A machine recount is required when the difference between the top two candidates is less than 2,000 votes and also less than ½ of 1% of the total number of votes cast for both candidates. (RCW 29A.64)

In Wahkiakum County , the race for County Commissioner came down to a difference of one vote, triggering a manual recount. The manual recount resulted in the two candidates, Blair Brady and Mark Lindquist, being tied with 890 votes each.

State law indicates the election to then be determined by lot, in this case by a flip of a coin. (RCW 29A.60.2211) Lindquist, the incumbent, was declared the winner.
Added Secretary of State Sam Reed: "The 2006 election really highlights the importance of each and every vote. With rainstorms, snowstorms, and some races coming down to only a few vote differences – citizens can be confident that election officials will do all they can to ensure your constitutional right to vote."

Talking to the people

In a very positive sign, Democratic elected officials are soliciting input from educators and parents. As The Daily News (of Longview) reports:
Throughout Tuesday, district officials grappled with hot education topics alongside 19th District Sen. Brian Hatfield and Rep. Brian Blake, as well as representatives for Gov. Chris Gregoire, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and 3rd District Congressman Brian Baird.

The two districts --- in cooperation with the Washington State School Directors' Association --- urged legislators this session to:
  • Provide enough money for basic education requirements. Local schools use most of their bond and levy dollars to pay for basic requirements, such as special education.
  • Phase in WASL graduation requirements. The districts recommend the class of 2008 pass the writing and reading portions of the test to graduate, the class of 2011 to pass the math portion and the class of 2014 to pass the science portion.
  • Avoid "unfunded mandates." In other words, provide enough money for new education requirements and programs.
  • Keep school board seats elected positions, not appointed positions.
  • Take steps to change the 60 percent (super majority) requirement for passing levies and bonds to a simple majority (more than 50 percent voter approval).
  • Provide more money for school construction projects.
Legislators said they would attempt to meet educators' needs but must balance education issues with health care and crime issues.

"We're going in with a lot of folks on the same page," Hatfield said. "Everybody is ready to move forward."
These ideas sound very sensible to me. In the comments section of The Daily News article, one can see that conservative haters of public education will still spout their nonsense, but luckily for Washingtonians public education stands to benefit from Democratic control of the government.

It's easy to criticize schools, but the rest of us need to focus on how best to educate our children to meet the demands of this century.

People can honestly differ about the wisdom of having the WASL. There are people whose opinions I value that think it's a good thing, but needs some changes, and there are those who like to see it just go away.

One legitimate concern is the extent to which teachers are forced to "teach the test." WASL has come to so dominate classrooms that other activities suffer. There needs to be a balance.

As for eliminating the super-majority requirement, hopefully the Legislature will quickly see fit to allow us to vote on that. There's no logical reason for the super-majority any more, and it's absurd to have districts struggle with bond measures when receiving 58% of the vote.

In return, school districts should accept that there will likely be even more intense scrutiny of their money measures. But that scrutiny needs to be above board and intellectually honest. You can't just run around claiming there is "wasteful spending" unless you can cite specific examples and back them up.

And no, paying teachers competitive wages is not "wasteful;" it's not only the right thing to do, it is a necessary thing to do.

Conservatives who constantly demand "high education standards" cannot then turn around and refuse to invest in education.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Eyman, Hutcherson reveal plans for 2007

In our just-released podcast, I talk about two right wing initiatives that are likely coming our way next year. The first is Tim Eyman's latest recycled libertarian proposal to require legislative supermajorities for any revenue increase.

The second is Ken Hutcherson's initiative to legalize discrimination, which the Antioch Bible Church pastor filed last week.

As I explained in the podcast:
NPI has obtained a copy of the text of this initiative, which does not yet have a number assigned. It was filed on November 28th, which was last week. It’s something of a clone of Tim Eyman’s failed Referendum 65, which tried to force a public vote on ESHB 2661.
Oddly enough, Hutcherson used his own name and Antioch's church address to file the intiative. After Referendum 65's failure last June, some evangelicals had talked about trying again in 2007 with an initiative.

But they'll find that selling it to voters will be pretty tough. Most Washingtonians are not interested in making bigotry the law of the land.

As for Tim Eyman, he's stayed on his predictable cycle - every three to four years he recycles some old idea from the shelf and turns it into an initiative, with various modifications. His latest anti-government initiative strongly resembles I-807, which Eyman failed to qualify for the ballot in 2003.

It's an old pattern. I-917, which failed to make the ballot earlier this year, was built on top of two previous initiatives which were three to four years apart (I-695 and I-776). While Eyman is an opportunist who is willing to latch on to any libertarian or conservative cause that appeals to him, he generally sticks to a stale assortment of tax cuts or spending limits.

This proposed initiative is not a new idea. It is uncreative, unoriginal, and useless. It's designed to obstruct representative democracy from working. Eyman will probably claim it's "wildly popular" (all of his recent initiatives, most of which have failed, have been "wildly popular" - or so he says).

The electorate is sick and tired of anti-governmentism.

The public understands that quality public services - first responders (police, fire, paramedics), libraries, parks, pools, and public schools cost money. So does public infrastructure (like mass transit and roads). These are things the public overwhelmingly wants and supports.

Eyman has absolutely zero successes to speak of this year. It's been very rough sailing. If his wealthy multimillionaire backer (Michael Dunmire) chooses to sink a few hundred thousand into this, it'll get onto the ballot.

If that happens, we will mount a very strong, vigorous campaign to defeat it. Then again, we'll have to see if Eyman is competent enough to buy his way on first. He couldn't manage it this year despite widespread expectations to the contrary.

NPI releases ninth podcast

We've released our ninth podcast - a close look at what may be ahead in 2007 on the Evergeen State's direct democracy battlefield, including Tim Eyman's latest assault on representative democracy, Ken Hutcherson's attempt to legalize discrimination, and the upcoming transportation package which Sound Transit and the RTID will likely be sending to voters in the Central Puget Sound.

If you have comments or suggestions for the podcast, or ideas for future episodes, send us a note.

If you want to subscribe to our Media RSS feed to be notified immediately when new podcasts are released, follow this link.

Members of NPI - Northwest Progressive Institute - Northwest Progressive Institute

If you are an iTunes user and want to subscribe to our podcast in iTunes, click the button above to do so directly.

Al Gore sounds the alarm on global waming

The former Vice President appeared on Oprah to talk about the message from An Inconvenient Truth:
Gore was in Franklin, Wisconsin on Sunday, filming a spot for the show that will highlight things people can buy for the holidays to help the environment, said Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider.

Gore took a film crew into the Franklin Lowe's Home Improvement store, where he suggested purchasing a programable thermostat, compact fluorescent light bulbs and energy efficient appliances.

"It's exciting to have Mr. Gore at our store," said manager Jeff Willis. "And it's good that he's helping people save on their energy bills."
His appearance included numerous excerpts from the slideshow, either presented live by Gore or in clips from the documentary.

If you don't own An Inconvenient Truth on DVD yet, get it today.

Back to basics in math

There is an interesting Washington Post article about a new proposal from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:
It says the typical state math curriculum runs a mile wide and an inch deep, resulting in students being introduced to too many concepts but mastering too few, and urges educators to slim down those lessons.

Some scholars say the American approach to math instruction has allowed students to fall behind those in Singapore, Japan and a dozen other nations. In most states, they say, the math curriculum has swelled into a thick catalogue of skills that students are supposed to master to attain "proficiency" under the federal No Child Left Behind mandate.

The report urges teachers to focus on three broad concepts in each grade and on a few key subjects -- including the base-10 number system, fractions, decimals, geometry and algebra -- that form the core of math education in higher-achieving nations. Some are calling Focal Points the most significant publication in the field since the 1980s.
I went looking for information about Washington's math standards, and found this draft PDF of grade level expectations, or GLE's, that one can download from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. It's um, 40 pages.

As the debate moves forward in this state, nominally about the WASL but in reality about how best to educate children, we need to listen to teachers. They're the ones doing the work, and while we parents certainly demand and get a seat at the table, the education system has been inundated with top-down requirements, leading to greater bureaucracy and inefficiency. The national "No Child Left Behind" act has become a sort of sad lament among many parents.

The WASL is a ticking political time bomb, and perhaps an educational time bomb as well. Our family is fortunate to live in a good neighborhood with good schools, and when parents of straight-A students are concerned that the WASL might mess up their kids' lives, politicians best sit up and take note. My informal "cul-de-sac" polling may be anecdotal, but I'm telling you, there is serious and wide-spread concern out there about the WASL.

You would think most folks would be willing to take a look at a proposal that seeks to re-focus math education on a core set of skills. It's unfortunate that, in some circles, efforts to apply common sense towards standardized testing are declared "giving kids a pass." It's an easy swipe for political columnists to take, but it's too easy and ignores the reality of the situation. Our children are not guinea pigs and they're not political props.

The national math teachers' proposal raises the possibility that we're not going to get good results under the current system, because the unrealistic demands presented by high stakes testing make it difficult to develop the core skills needed to succeed.

For all you math people out there, that's called irony.

Challenging the students

The Puyallup school board has decided eighth grade instructors will continue to teach the Ernest J. Gaines novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
The Puyallup School Board voted 5-0 Monday night to uphold an earlier decision by a district committee requiring eighth-graders to read the novel.

The board made the decision in considering an appeal from a parent and a group of six teachers who challenged the requirement. The challengers said that while the novel is a valuable and compelling account of its period, its complicated content, including implied incest and rape, and heavy use of racial slurs made it inappropriate for eighth-graders.
This case is interesting because it doesn't seem to involve the usual fundamentalist attempts to censor material, but rather earnest concerns about adult themes and racial epithets.

There's a lot of talk right now about challenging students in light of proposed modifications to WASL requirements. While math and science are important, if we're going to have a high-quality educational system that means everything, including presenting students with challenging and even controversial literature. Although I'm a little unclear why Jane Pittman qualifies as controversial. Slavery and Jim Crow were horrid, ugly, despicable institutions. If you're going to tell the truth about them, well, there are going to be ugly parts.

In a 2002 interview interview in Sojourners magazine, Gaines had this to say about his work:
Brown: Gordon Thompson, a professor of African-American literature, says, "Gaines writes about the small minded and misguided only if he can love them." You are startlingly evenhanded in your books. You complicate characters like the white jailer, Paul, in A Lesson Before Dying. We're all set to see a stereotype and you jar us with a good white person.

Gaines: When I first went to California, we were living in government project housing, and there were different races there—white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American—all there together. I met some bastards, but I met some white guys who would just do anything to help; some of them would bend over backwards to help you. I've known "Pauls" who have come back to Louisiana to teach.

Brown: You don't really have heroes and villains. Even the good people have flaws, and the bad folks have their moments of grace.

Gaines: Sure. Someone criticized the ending of A Gathering of Old Men because of my treatment of Luke Will. They said I was helping the KKK because of Luke Will's speech asking someone to look after his wife and kids. "Why'd you make him so human at the end?" someone asked. Well, he is human. He just cannot accept certain things. He cannot accept this black man, but he loves his own little child. He's a human being.
Sounds to me like the Puyallup school board is to be congratulated for making a tough but good call. This is how we wind up with quality education. Number two pencils are all well and good, but in the end filling in the oval only goes so far.

More-- For all the other old dudes and dudettes out there who remember, yes, Cicely Tyson was incredible in the 1974 television adaptation. And no, you probably couldn't get that film made today, at least not for network broadcast.

Taking a tax holiday

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire has proposed a tax holiday for worker's compensation. From the subscription-required Spokesman-Review:
Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislative leaders are proposing a six-month "rate holiday" in workers' compensation premiums for the second half of 2007, a move that would save companies and workers an estimated $315 million.

The change would come on top of an estimated $89 million in savings next year due to already-approved lower premiums for unemployment and workers' compensation rates. Total savings: $404 million.

"That's money we hope will be reinvested in business and reinvested in the economy," Gregoire said at a morning press conference at the state Capitol. Hearings on the plan will be held this month, including one in Spokane at 10 a.m. Dec. 14 in the Ridpath Hotel. The Legislature is expected to vote on the proposal in the next session.

Under the plan, a builder with about 25 full-time workers would save roughly $22,000. A farmer with the same number of workers would save about $5,300. Many workers would also see slightly higher paychecks.
Immediately after the election, a frequent and bitter complaint from some conservatives was that Democrats would now raise taxes, because that's what Democrats live for. Which is and has always been a patently absurd claim to make.

Gregoire is pursuing a sensible course of action by seeing that surplus money stays with workers and businesses and is thus re-invested into the economy. Hardly the act of a radical "socialist-commie" or whatever nonsense the far right loons want to tag Gregoire with.

I am starting to understand why conservatives told so many lies during the recount: they must have known, deep down, that Gregoire would govern in an able manner and have a very succesful first term. That's what is unfolding right now. Her approval ratings are through the roof and she's taking care of business. Competence and intelligence are such valuable qualities in an executive. At least we have that at the state level.

More-- Here's an article on the topic from The Olympian. It's a better article and it's not behind some idiotic subscription service.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Goodbye, Bolton - and good riddance

Now that he's resigned, can we get someone more honorable to represent us at the United Nations? Someone who actually believes in diplomacy?
Bush reluctantly accepted the resignation of the United Nations ambassador, John R. Bolton, on Monday, conceding that the envoy could not win Senate confirmation and signaling that the administration was unwilling to make another end run around Congressional opponents in order to keep Mr. Bolton in his job.
As the host country to the United Nations, we should be demonstrating to the international community that we have faith in the organization and a strong commitment to diplomacy.

The administration squandered all of the goodwill we gained after September 11th on the foolish, reckless, and unnecessary preemptive invasion of Iraq.

As a further insult, Bush chose to appoint someone who doesn't even believe in the United Nations as America's representative to the United Nations.

Any bloc of Senators or Representatives who persist in challenging the administration's agenda are always labeled "obstructionists" - as if they were somehow standing in the way of progress. What progress? The administration's agenda - the conservative agenda - has been a complete failure. That's especially evident right now given what's happening in Iraq.

The United States is too important not to be represented by a serious diplomat...and John Bolton was not a serious diplomat. So it's with pleasure that we say goodbye and good riddance to him.

New alt publication in Vancouver

Another alternative publication is publishing in Vancouver, acccording to The Oregonian.
The Vancouver Voice issues its third edition this week, confident the area is ready for an alternative news voice.

"Any major metropolitan area is an alternative-weekly kind of place," said James Walling, editor in chief. "It's just waiting to be cultivated."
The Vancouver Voice has a limited web site up, but it includes a list of where one can obtain a copy of the publication.

James Walling and his brother Stephen both wrote for the now defunct Vanguard, which published valiantly for around two years. My column in Vanguard ran for about a year.

When I met Erick Anderson, who published Vanguard, I knew nothing about the world of alternative weeklies. My casual, layperson observations were that quality content costs money and distribution is a key challenge. Large grocery chains don't seem to cotton to start-up alternative publications, and while some readers will go out of their way to find it, most won't.

I also don't know much about either Wallings' politics, as I never had any long conversations with either of them. Hopefully over time Voice will develop its own, um, voice as a counter-weight to the endless inanities put forth on the editorial pages of The Columbian.

One challenge that faced Vanguard was a lack of reporters. I used to kid Anderson that he made Vanguard look so good people thought he had a big staff, which was hardly the case. It was a tiny operation.

I pitched in where I could, writing far more articles than I intended and, on one occasion, actually breaking a big political story on the Vanguard blog. (We were the first in the state to report on the Speaker's Roundtable fake sex offender postcards.)

I bring all this up to point out something working journalists already know: reporting, at least quality reporting, is a lot of hard work. Anyone who is going to do a lot of it is going to want to be paid, if not well, at least something approaching a living wage for their efforts. That's a key challenge for any new publication.

Many on the progressive side have spent several years now discussing how we need to nurture institutions. It's something our side has neglected for decades, so it's not going to be solved over night. While blogs are important, not everyone is going to read them and efforts like Vanguard and now Voice could play important roles. Vancouver is a nearly perfect place to test such ideas, given the lack of media competition. Many people are starved for real information about their community.

In a general sense, developing sources of seed money and other assistance for efforts to communicate progressive views would be a valuable effort. Now, I don't know if the Voice will turn out to be very political at all. That's for the Wallings to decide. But the broader progressive movement needs to turn some attention to cultivating media alternatives.

War training on I-5 this week

If you see an unusual amount of military convoy activity on I-5 around Fort Lewis this week, it's an exercise.
Stryker Brigade convoys will be moving heavily up and down Interstate 5 and state Route 507 starting today as Fort Lewis is used to simulate the bustle of Baghdad for a training exercise.

All this week, the communities around Fort Lewis also will experience more noise from helicopters and airplanes.

Army officials said the convoy movements will continue through Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, soldiers will conduct search operations and raids, set up traffic control points, and practice creating forward operating bases.
Most of us have largely been insulated from the fact that we are in a war in Iraq. Maybe a bunch of military vehicles driving around will get some folks attention.

I certainly can't begrudge our military personnel extra training. Unfortunately they are likely to need it.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A few notes about the FCC hearing

Thursday's FCC hearing has received a lot of attention in the blogosphere, and almost everyone has linked to my liveblogging coverage, which all of us at NPI gratefully appreciate. If nothing else I wanted to give people who couldn't be there a taste of what was going on and what was said.

Josh Feit over on the Stranger's Slog had a post yesterday with his take on the hearing, and I first want to respond to some of the things he said:
I had to leave shortly after the public testimony started, but judging from the first round I did hear...and from the effusive and always too-easily-impressed- with-liberal-rhetoric Andrew (over at Northwest Progressive Institute, it went as expected: A redundant chorus of lefties denouncing big media.
I would surmise that Josh got that first notion from reading my writing, but it isn't true that I am "easily impressed" with "liberal rhetoric". As far as the hearing is concerned, I was not impressed by all the speakers.

And I would not characterize the entire hearing as "a redundant chorus of lefties denouncing big media". I don't think that's accurate, and furthermore, I see it as an unncessary put down. It reads as an elitist insult to me - oh yeah, the long-winded rabble repeating the same thing over and over again.

In my liveblogging, I merely tried to summarize the points that speakers were making. I didn't have time to do more then. I was listening and typing for several hours without rest. I knew that analysis and critiques can come later. If you're not paying attention at the moment, you can miss something.

So while it may appear to Josh that I am easily impressed, the truth is that I have heard so many speeches and read so much commentary over the years that the opposite is really true. I have a high standard.

I'm simply not in the habit of publicly pinning fellow progressives, liberals, or Democrats to the wall with a barrage of criticism.

Nor I am interested in doing so. So when I write about an event, convention, etc. I naturally like to focus on the highlights and the positives.

I'll admit that I tend to cringe when I have to listen to a speaker who is stumbling or rambling on and on without making any point. But I also know from experience that public speaking isn't that easy. It's hard to be polished.

And I'll admit that at some points during the hearing I felt like closing my eyes and taking a rest. There was redundancy. There were people speaking who didn't seem sure of what they wanted to say. But I expected that. And I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity I saw. Demographically, geographically, ideologically.

It wasn't a Seattle-only crowd. It wasn't just a "chorus of lefties", either.

As far as net neutrality is concerned, it was mentioned at several points during the hearing. In fact, a couple of concerned citizens nailed it really well. There was one individual representing the Online Video Service who explained how critical it was in very sharp, clear language. And another speaker reframed the issue, saying it's about preventing "net discrimination".

Kathy Gill from the University of Washington dedicated much of her time to talking about net neutrality. And she had more than two minutes of time in which to speak.

Jeff Hoyt brought both the Internet and radio together in his remarks about Voice of Vashon, a community operated Internet radio station. Net neutrality is a critical issue for his group.

I believe the commissioners are acutely aware of the issue. And while I believe the Internet is extremely important, I disagree with Josh's contention that the real issue, or the real question, somehow wasn't addressed.

Speaker after speaker noted that big media companies own a ton of Internet portals. Ruper Murdoch's News Corporation, for example, owns MySpace. Hearst owns significant parts of Genealogy.com, Drugstore.com, and Hire.com. Time Warner, the biggest, owns AOL, which owns properties such as Moviefone, MapQuest, Winamp, Singingfish, Weblogs, Inc (including sites like Engadget, Autoblog, Cinematical, or TVSquad) XDrive, and Netscape.

That's just the tip of the iceberg.

Guess who owns CareerBuilder LLC, the largest online job site in the United States? The Gannett, Tribune and McClatchy newspaper companies. (Tribune also owns BlackVoices.com and Zap2It.)

AutoTrader.com is a majority-owned subsidiary of Cox Enterprises. CBS owns SportsLine. Then there are all the portals that are associated with traditional media - for example, ESPN and ESPN.com, owned by Disney, or NYTimes.com and the New York Times, owned by the company of the same name.

Consolidation and concentration is a problem that affects every medium, including the Internet, though the Internet is less susceptible because the barrier to entry is lower (at least right now it is, and hopefully will continue to be).

It's not easy to start your own newspaper or TV station, but it is pretty easy to put up your own website. However, that doesn't mean you can compete with the conglomerates on their level.

So preventing further media consolidation in general, and making net neutrality a key part of our commerce laws, are both extremely important. That's the message that got sent at the hearing.

I would have enjoyed the hearing more if the three Republican commissioners had been there listening to all of that public testimony. It was great to have Commissioners Copps and Adelstein, but we need to find a way to corner the other three and ensure that they hear directly from the concerned public.

GOP state senator Benton interested in lobbying job

According to The Columbian, state senator Don Benton, R-Vancouver, has applied to become the chief lobbyist for Clark County. Other notables applying for the job include former state senator Don Carlson, who represented the 49th District for many years as a Republican.
State Sen. Don Benton is one of the five finalists who will be interviewed during the next two weeks to become Clark County's primary lobbyist.

Benton, a Republican legislator for the past 12 years, presumably would resign his 17th Legislative District seat if selected to represent the county.

Benton could not be reached for comment Friday.

Other finalists for the county job include a newly formed partnership between Don Carlson, a former state legislator, and Randy Mueller, who was campaign manager for this year's library bond measure and co-director of 2005 C-Tran sales tax campaign.
The article touches on rumblings that Benton is interested in running for the county commission seat currently held by alleged Democrat Betty Sue Morris. I've heard those rumors too, but this is the first time I recall seeing them in print.

I won't even try to handicap the odds of Benton getting the Clark County lobbyist position. It's hard to see how that would be a smart move by Clark County, given Benton's acerbic history and the large Democratic majority in the state senate.

The United States is not a theocracy

It seems that some conservatives are upset because newly elected Democratic Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, has decided to use the Qur'ān for the ceremonial swearing in instead of the Bible.

Predictably, this has gotten conservatives all riled up:
The decision by Ellison...to use the Muslim holy book for the ceremony...triggered an angry column by Dennis Prager on the Townhall website this week.

Headlined, "America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on," Prager argued that using the Quran for the ceremony "undermines American civilization."

"Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible," he wrote. "If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress."
This column is filled with some of the most ridiculous sentences I have ever read. Two of the most ludicrous were in the above excerpt.

"Undermines American civilization?" He can't be serious. America is a nation that was founded on principles such as freedom of religion, not Christianity or any particular Christian denomination.

Our society includes people of many different faiths and people with no faith at all. The great thing about America is that discrimination is against our laws and every citizen is free to belong to whatever religion he or she pleases...or not.

Honoring the "Bible of this country", indeed.

As far as the laughable notion that "America is interested in only one book" (a phrase which, taken out of context, is hilarious given that hundreds of thousands of books are authored, published, sold, and enjoyed by Americans every year) anyone who looks at the Constitution can see that nowhere is a Bible required in the ceremony:
The Presidential oath of office is described in Article II, section 1 of the Constitution. Nothing in the section requires that the oath of office be taken on the Bible. Neither do the words "so help me God" appear in the oath. While Presidents often include this phrase in their inauguration ceremonies, the words are customary; they are not required by the Constitution and have no legal significance.

Additionally, we note that the words required by the Constitution are described as an "Oath or Affirmation," and that the President is allowed to simply affirm his faithfulness to the Constitution. The word "affirmation" was inserted in this section precisely to allow Presidents to avoid swearing oaths to God as a condition of taking office. This provision seems particularly intended for Quakers (who had religious objections to taking oaths), but it is worded broadly enough to encompass any person who objects to taking an oath, including non-theists.
The founders of this country were clearly intent on ensuring separation between church and state. They were wise and they knew what they were doing.

Keith Ellison was elected to Congress by the people of his district, who are now his constituents. That should be enough for Dennis Prager. America is not a Christian or Islamic theocracy. It is not a nation founded on any divine authority. It is a democracy where there is no requirement to adherence of any religion whatsoever.

No elected official is obliged to use the Bible in their swearing in ceremony. Nobody should be upset that Keith Ellison has chosen to use the Qur'ān. It's his choice. That's what freedom of religion is all about.

Perhaps Jamie Raskin, professor of law at American University, put it best:
"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."
And if any newly or reelected elected official wants to use another spiritual text, or no spiritual text at all, there's nothing wrong with that.

UPDATE: ThinkProgress points out that if a Bible or any spiritual text is ever used, it's not part of the official ceremony - just in a photo-op:
Prager’s column is based on one other glaring error: the swearing-in ceremony for the House of Representatives never includes a religious book. The Office of the House Clerk confirmed to ThinkProgress that the swearing-in ceremony consists only of the Members raising their right hands and swearing to uphold the Constitution. The Clerk spokesperson said neither the Christian Bible, nor any other religious text, had ever been used in an official capacity during the ceremony. (Occasionally, Members pose for symbolic photo-ops with their hand on a Bible.)
Another fabricated controversy, of course, just like the manufactured "War on Christmas". Someone ought to remind Dennis Prager that the Ninth of the Ten Commandments is "thou shalt not bear false witness".

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Complaints against Eickmeyer dismissed

Republican-backed complaints against Democratic state Rep. William Eickmeyer of Belfair have been thrown out by the Legislative Ethics Committee.
The board, in a decision released this week by its attorney, Mike O'Connell, found no basis for the allegations brought by Mason County activist Mary Hrbacek. She is a former county Republican chairwoman and worked with the campaigns of two Eickmeyer opponents.
Readers may recall this separate example involving bogus claims made about Rodney Tom during the campaign as well. Of course, such tactics seem to have had little effect. Eickmeyer won easily, and Tom moved up to the state senate.

I don't have an easy solution to the problem of this kind of misuse of the ethics complaint system. As Eickmeyer noted in The Olympian article today:
"It's nothing more than to be able to ask the question, 'are you under investigation?' " Eickmeyer said.
And no, both sides don't do it. It's yet another example of how little regard for the truth that some Republicans have. Fake sex offender postcards, lying robo-calls, bogus ethics charges--it's all part and parcel of the Rovian madness that has infested the GOP for far too long.

I'd like to believe that there will be some voices in the GOP who will call for an end to the scummy tactics their operatives and activists employ, but I'm not going to hold my breath. Most likely things will pick right back up when the 2008 campaigns are in full swing. If people expect civility in politics they can more carefully examine how the Republican Party conducts itself. When progressives make noise and expose untruths, that is not swift boating.

Online voter registration in the works - Reed announces 2007 election reforms

Secretary of State Sam Reed yesterday announced a four-part, 2007 election reform package:
Reed’s elections proposals allow Washington citizens to register to vote online, ensure that voters who fail to check a party box on their Primary Election ballot will still have their votes counted, authorize a primary voters’ pamphlet, and eliminate the unaffiliated ballot in the presidential preference primary.

Reed’s legislation allowing electronic voter registration would make Washington a national front runner in modern election practices.

“People already enjoy the ability to file their taxes online, renew car tabs and a driver’s license online, make travel arrangements from a website, bank at home from their computer, and handle stock transactions through the internet,” said Reed. “Giving citizens the option to register to vote electronically would take Washington ’s voter registration system into the digital age.”

Citizens who have a Washington State driver’s license or state identification card would be able to register to vote online. The online registration process would require citizens to supply their first and last names, dates of birth, addresses, and driver’s license or state identification numbers.
While we are nowhere near being able to have elections over the Internet, allowing citizens to register to vote online is a good step forward. Most citizens who are eligible to vote have a driver's license or state ID, and those who do not can still be registered via other methods. Previously, it was possible to download a registration form from the Secretary of State's website, fill it out, and mail it in. That option will likely be retained but being able to submit voter registration information over the Internet is taking the logical next step.

People who are comfortable banking, filixing taxes, and shopping online over a secure connection will very likely also be comfortable registering to vote online, if they are not registered already.

Reed is also proposing a solution that permits counties to count the partisan votes in cases where a voter fails to mark a party, but continues to vote a straight party ticket. Approximately 9% of those who cast consolidated ballots failed to check a party box in the September primary election.

We like Reed's fix and commend him for making it part of his reform package. It preserves the open primary and it benefits the electorate.

The two other changes are authorizing a statewide voter pamphlet for primary elections in even numbered years, and eliminating the unaffiliated ballot in the presidential preference primary.

(The unaffiliated ballot is for voters who choose not to identify with any political party. Reed is recommending eliminating the unaffiliated ballot because historically, the political parties have not counted votes on the unaffiliated ballots.)

Reed's reforms are common sense and welcome. In addition, as he noted, previous changes he has advocated which were adopted by the Legislature and approved by the Governor have been beneficial and successful.
“Since 2004 Washington has adopted and implemented many elections reforms. The Legislature and county elections officials have done an outstanding job of addressing problems to improve our elections process. The 2006 Primary and General Elections went very smoothly. This shows the progress our state has made and that the improvements to our elections system are working.”
Well said, Mr. Secretary.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dynamic content may not load

We're aware that some of the dynamic content on our network (such as feeds) is temporarily failing to load. This problem is especially affecting Pacific NW Portal. We are working to resolve it as quickly as we can and we appreciate your patience.

4:35 PM UPDATE: Problem fixed. Dynamic content should be loading now.

A media tautology in A flat

Note-- Below is a compilation of media views culled from a variety of sources regarding Democrats and especially Nancy Pelosi.

Any resemblance between this post and actual journalism, living or dead, is strictly coincidence. And a happenstance.

Before the election, Democrats (and especially Nancy Pelosi) didn't have a plan. This was so because we ignored what they said, which proved they didn't have have any goals.

After Democrats won the election, and especially because Nancy Pelosi is Nancy Pelosi, we re-read the plan they didn't have, and we've noticed that they may not be able to implement pages 311 and 417 of the 9-11 Commission Report, which they pledged to do as part of their objective.

Before the election, we hadn't mentioned the House Intelligence Committee in over five years, because Democrats and especially Nancy Pelosi didn't have a plan for it. After Democrats and especially Nancy Pelosi won the election, we noticed that the House Intelligence Committee is the most vitally important committee in all the universe, so we demanded to know what Democrats and especially Nancy Pelosi intend to do with it.

But now that Nancy Pelosi has appointed Sylvestre Reyes to head the vitally important House Intelligence Committee, we wonder what his plans are.

Homeland Insecurity, or you are what you eat

If you've gone abroad in the last four years, you've probably been given a "terrorist risk" score.
Without their knowledge, millions of Americans and foreigners crossing U.S. borders in the past four years have been assigned scores generated by U.S. government computers rating the risk that the travelers are terrorists or criminals.

The travelers are not allowed to see or directly challenge these risk assessments, which the government intends to keep on file for 40 years.

The government calls the system critical to national security following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Some privacy advocates call it one of the most intrusive and risky schemes yet mounted in the name of anti-terrorism efforts.

Virtually every person entering and leaving the United States by air, sea or land is scored by the Homeland Security Department's Automated Targeting System, or ATS. The scores are based on ATS' analysis of their travel records and other data, including items such as where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered.

The use of the program on travelers was quietly disclosed earlier this month when the department put a notice detailing ATS in the Federal Register, a fine-print compendium of federal rules. The few civil liberties lawyers who had heard of ATS and even some law enforcement officers said they had thought it was only used to screen cargo.
Our country is being run by idiots. What kind of meal they ordered? "Excuse me, flight attendant, I'll have the Islamo-fascist Bacon, Champagne and a side of Boxcutters, please." I wonder if there is a field for "Saudi Arabian nationals who want to learn to fly jumbo jets but aren't interested in take offs nor landings?"

My guess is probably not.

The real heroes are the front-line law enforcement people who alertly catch people trying to bring explosives into the country during the Millenium celebrations. We need more like that, and fewer morons in Homeland Security wasting money on ineffective boondoggles.

They spend billions on this kind of stuff, and for what? So that law abiding citizens get cavity searched because they ordered a vegan meal or something?

Always low benefits

When it comes to health care for Wal-Mart workers, state taxpayers continue to subsidize the company.
Wal-Mart again has been listed as having more workers on Medicaid and Washington's Basic Health Plan than any other private employer in the state.

According to a state compilation of enrollments in June, Wal-Mart had 3,194 employees in the two taxpayer-subsidized health care programs out of 16,000 employees in the state, while McDonald's was second with 1,932 and Safeway - also with a work force of about 16,000 in Washington - was third with 1,302.

[...]

The report presented to legislators Thursday estimated that assistance for Wal-Mart employees will cost the state around $9 million this year out of a total of $600 million for all workers in Washington who receive such aid.
The article notes that a Maryland law that would require large employers to spend 9% of their payroll on health care was overturned in federal court. So that approach may not be viable.

Here's what I don't understand, and I believe Atrios originally made this point a very long time ago (in blog time, anyhow) on Eschaton: why isn't the U.S. business community demanding that health care be taken off their hands?

Whether one thinks a single payer plan or some other reform is best, if all businesses in the United States no longer had to worry about directly funding health care as a condition of employment (or not, as the case may be,) then the playing field is level, at least amongst U.S. corporations. Yes, businesses and thus consumers would still bear costs, but the current system rewards the least responsible companies.

The overhead to adminster health care benefit plans is staggering. Nobody likes the current system, except maybe some insurance companies. The duplication of effort and multitude of rules that vary from insurer to insurer and even patient to patient is terribly inefficient, not to mention maddening to millions of patients. Health care should be between patients and the care-givers, not between employers and insurance companies.

It's reasonable to expect patients to pay part of their health care, so let's nip that old canard "socialized medicine" right in the bud. It's not reasonable to expect people to work at or near minimum wage with no health care coverage.

People who work for a living should not have to worry that a serious illness or injury will wipe them out financially. Surely we can come up with a better way.

PDC proposes limits on independent spending

The PDC is proposing new limits on independent expenditures.
The state Public Disclosure Commission unanimously threw support Thursday behind limits on spending in political campaigns by corporations, unions and trade associations.

If the recommendation to the Legislature is adopted, it would ban spending from a union, corporate or trade group's general-treasury either in favor or against candidates for state Supreme Court, the Legislature, statewide offices and appellate courts.

"They've taken the bull by the horns, but I think it's going to be a bull ride," predicted state Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton. Haigh said she'll give the proposal a hearing in the House State Government Committee she chairs, but can make no promises about passing a measure that could have plenty of enemies from both parties.

"We actually would be anxious to hear the PDC's ideas for limiting the amount of money that seems to be proliferating in politics," added Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, who chairs a committee that oversees elections matters. "I think the Senate will give it a hearing."
Further down in the article, it becomes clear that interest groups on both sides are not happy about the proposal:
Jim Oswald, lawyer for the Service Employees International Union and Washington State Labor Council, said the PDC was out of line to take an advocacy position on this issue, and he faulted the agency for not leaving hearings on the subject to lawmakers.

Oswald compared it to a police agency that wants to say what the laws should be instead of enforcing the ones on the books.

On the other hand, he said the moves toward greater disclosure are good ideas.

The Building Industry Association of Washington, which had a prominent role in backing property-rights lawyer John Groen against Chief Justice Gerry Alexander in one Supreme Court race, said the money helped the public grasp what was at stake.

"People knew who they were voting for and understood the issues," BIAW lawyer Timothy Ford told the commissioners.
Oh, please. There's no "Right to Be a Complete Jerk" Amendment in the Bill of Rights. What always happens with large independent expenditures is that someone lies, or walks so close to the line that the ads are basically lies, and then the candidate they want to help disavows the ad.

It's dishonest, it's ridiculous and people are sick of it.

Conservatives are busy giving Democrats warnings about "not overreaching," but I have one friendly caution for Democrats, both in the Legislature and in Congress: put yourselves on the side of regular people. It is not in the public interest to have campaigns awash in independent expenditure money.

And for goodness sake, don't resist efforts at reforming the political system. Regular people know it's a cesspool and they don't care about the "rights" of groups to make stuff up and throw it at the wall.

As long as proposals are found to adhere to the First Amendment, we shouldn't have a problem trying to reign in the worst excesses.

That being said, people can debate the PDC proposals and see if they need to be tweaked, and almost everyone is in favor of greater transparency.

One thing that's not immediately clear to me is if anyone is working on the problem of out-of-state entities funding not only independent expenditures but campaigns themselves. There's no transparency at all when it comes to folks like Howie Rich.

It's an intriguing idea, but not necessarily something we will end up supporting. Whether it would pass legal muster, and whether it would even work is up for debate. And there will be a discussion. We believe it would be prudent to address the cause of this problem rather than merely attempt to treat a symptom. What the PDC has proposed may not be ideal.

Lawmakers, Governor Christine Gregoire and the Public Disclosure Commission should all give serious consideration to public financing of elections as a solution.