Offering daily news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

How democracy saves Seattle schools from bad superintendents

With the departure of Jose Banda from the post of superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, we’ve seen the usual hand-wringing and recriminations over the future of the district. Banda’s departure led the Seattle Times to publish an article and an editorial decrying supposed meddling by the board in the operations of the district.

The editorial hinted at the Times’s true agenda – taking away power over the school district from the people’s elected representatives:

By the widest margin, most schools are overseen by school boards, not boards and mayors, or mayors alone. But the chronic melodrama on the Seattle School Board certainly stirs a curiosity for a change in governance.

The real story, the one the Seattle Times does not want to tell for fear of undermining their anti-democratic agenda, is one of repeated mismanagement by a succession of superintendents and of a central staff that is unresponsive or overtly hostile to the board and the general public.

For nearly 15 years Seattle has had superintendents who lost public faith through bad leadership or outright scandal. After the beloved John Stanford suddenly died three years after being hired, his successor, Joseph Olschefske, left after a financial scandal. Olschefske’s successor, Raj Manhas, quit after the school board listened to public anger over a flawed school closure plan he pushed through. The plan was quickly reversed when it emerged the district had badly erred in its student population estimates.

Manhas’s successor, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, was fired after another financial scandal. Her immediate successor was the interim Susan Enfield, who like Jose Banda left the district when it became clear that the board was not going to sit back and let them have free reign over the people’s schools.

Banda left scandal in his wake as well. Though the school district’s finances appear sound, the horrifying story of a Garfield High student who was raped on a school trip and failed to get justice from the district suggests that Banda was not quite an effective leader.

Banda cited the debate over math textbooks in his departure letter, but these are often contentious issues in any school district. A good superintendent would have navigated it more effectively, accepting the board’s decision and moving on. After all, math curriculum figured prominently in the 2011 school board campaign, and parents had been vocal in their call for a different approach. Rather than accept the verdict of the board that employs him and the public that he serves, Banda – already looking for the exit – used the issue as one of his justifications for leaving. He wasn’t a good leader. He was a quitter.

The common denominator here isn’t the school board. Instead it is poor quality superintendents who are not accountable to the board or the public, who believe the Seattle Times when they say the superintendent’s job is to do as they please.

These issues play out against the broader backdrop of an all-out national battle over the future of public education. Since 2001 the federal government, under both a Republican and a Democratic president, have pursued education policies emphasizing standardized testing, school closures, and mass teacher firings. These policies have created sizable public backlash in cities large and small, in districts urban and suburban.

Seattle has played an important role in this backlash. One of the largest boycotts of standardized tests took place in Seattle in 2013. A majority of the current school board shares the broad skepticism of so-called “education reform” policies, a stance shared by large swaths of Seattle parents and voters.

Which brings us right back to the Seattle Times’ attack on the school board. In cities like Chicago, control of school districts have been taken away from elected representatives who might oppose mass teacher firings, school closures, and teaching to the test. The districts have been instead turned over to the mayor, on the theory that a municipal executive can better oversee these unpopular reforms.

Mayoral control is thus a deliberate attack on democracy in order to force through reforms that might not survive the democratic process. No wonder that Tim Burgess and Reuven Carlyle, two of Seattle’s leading proponents of teaching to the test and undermining public schools through charter schools, are quoted extensively in the Seattle Times article attacking the elected board for doing their jobs.

As it turns out, mayoral control is extremely unpopular, and may cost Rahm Emanuel his job as mayor in next year’s election.

It is also not very effective. I’ve worked in a mayor’s office, serving in the administration of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn from 2011 to 2013. The idea that a mayor would provide close oversight of the schools is ridiculous and flies in the face of reality.

Seattle’s mayor oversees 11,000 employees in 27 departments. They include two huge utilities, Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, that would be big businesses were they privately owned. It includes the Seattle Department of Transportation, itself a huge responsibility. And of course, it includes the Seattle Police Department. Overseeing the police was nearly a full-time job for Mayor McGinn, just as it is for any mayor in any city.

If Seattle’s schools were under mayoral control, they would have to compete with all 27 other departments for the mayor’s attention. He or she would be able to devote only a brief amount of time to the schools. Instead real control would be exercised by a bureaucrat who is several steps removed from the voters.

In other words, power would really rest with a superintendent-like figure who would recreate all of the failings of Seattle’s recent string of school superintendents.

Seattle’s school district suffers not only from a series of bad superintendents. It also suffers from a central staff that is incompetent and contemptuous of the public and parents. Central staff were leading an effort to try and undermine the board’s math curriculum decision until Banda finally called them off. They badly mismanaged the process of drawing new school boundaries in the fall of 2013. They have failed to resolve longstanding issues with special education and advanced education. And as we are seeing with a federal Title IX investigation spurred in part by the Garfield rape case, the central staff are unable to guarantee the basic safety of students or compliance with federal civil rights laws.

The last thing Seattle needs is a superintendent who has too much power to implement their will. What we need is more democracy and a board that is even more involved. State Representative Gerry Pollet understands this well, as quoted in the Seattle Times article:

“There are some areas where I would encourage the board to delve deeper and manage more,” Pollet said, especially regarding the special-education department and the continued overcrowding of schools.

Seattle residents and parents care deeply about their public schools. They want them to be great. They have opened their wallets, repeatedly, to support public education. They’ve elected a school board that reflects the public’s desire to be engaged participants. A good superintendent will embrace this spirit, rejecting the undemocratic, unpopular, and ineffective “education reform” policies of punishing kids and teachers.

A good superintendent will instead emphasize the basics. They’ll clean out the central staff and replace them with competent people who treat the public with respect. The next superintendent will be a national leader in blazing a trail away from standardized tests and fads toward holistic education practices that ensure every child gets a good education.

Those are the qualities the Seattle school board – and the people of Seattle – should demand from the next superintendent. The board and the public should be full partners in the process, and should strongly assert their duty of oversight to ensure the superintendent and his staff get it right. A good superintendent will not be fazed by it.

After all, that’s how good public schools are run in a functioning democracy.

House Republicans authorize John Boehner to file baseless lawsuit against President Obama

John Boehner and his caucus continued their political theatrics on a grand scale today by forcing the United States House of Representatives to vote on a resolution authorizing John Boehner to initiate litigation against Barack Obama for failing to properly discharge his duties as President of the United States of America.

All but five Republicans voted in favor of the resolution, resulting in its passage by a vote of two hundred and twenty-five to two hundred and one. No Democrats voted aye. Three Democrats and three Republicans did not cast votes.

In a lengthy floor speech opposing the resolution, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi eviscerated John Boehner and the Republicans for wasting the American people’s time and money on a baseless lawsuit designed to score political points with the far right. Here’s an excerpt from her remarks:

The lawsuit is only the latest proof of the House Republicans’ contempt and disregard for the priorities of the American people.

It is yet another Republican effort to pander to the most radical right-wing voters at taxpayers’ expense: $2.3 million spent defending DOMA – a doomed case – defending DOMA, more than $3 million on the Select Committee to exploit Benghazi – and by the way, something that had been investigated again and again, at the very admission of leaders on the Republican side. Why are we doing this? And then this, which we don’t have a price tag on that they will reveal to us.

But again, why would you sue somebody unless you want to prove something? And why would you go down that path unless you wanted to do something about it?

But the fact is: Republicans in Congress have no standing on this suit. Most constitutional scholars have, or do, admit that. Even your expert witnesses have in the past said you don’t have standing on it.

Middle class families don’t have time for the Republican partisan grudge match with the President.  They know this is – it’s a funny thing – well funny in one strange interpretation of the word ‘funny’: but a couple of weeks ago, on the steps of the Capitol, House Democrats were there to launch our ‘Middle Class Jumpstart’ about some of the issues I raised: job creation here in the US, affordability for college, early childhood education, all of those things, equal pay for equal work, raise the minimum wage.  We were doing that on the steps of the Capitol.

And in the Capitol building, the Republicans were launching their lawsuit against the President. What could be more different in terms of addressing the needs of the American people? We made the point that this was all happening on the same day.

In Kansas City, Missouri, President Obama echoed Pelosi’s comments, slamming House Republicans for their hypocrisy (they refuse to do their jobs while charging that he isn’t doing his). From the transcript of his speech at the Uptown Theater:

But think about this — they have announced that they’re going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people.

So they’re mad because I’m doing my job. And, by the way, I’ve told them — I said, I’d be happy to do it with you.

So the only reason I’m doing it on my own is because you don’t do anything. But if you want, let’s work together.

I mean, everybody recognizes this is a political stunt, but it’s worse than that, because every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you. When they have taken fifty votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was time that could have been spent working constructively to help you on some things. And, by the way, you know who is paying for this suit they’re going to file? You.

The roll call vote from the Pacific Northwest on the resolution broke down strictly along party lines and was as follows:

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

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

The five Republicans who voted against the resolution were Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Paul Broun of Georgia (a member of the Tea Party faction), Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and Steve Stockman of Texas.

The Democratic National Committee and the party’s two congressional campaign committees have already been using the threat of the lawsuit to raise record sums of money this cycle from donors, and are already using today’s vote as fodder to raise even more. An email from DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has just gone out urging Democratic donors to “chip in” to fight the Republicans.

“I just walked off the floor of the House after the Republican majority voted to sue the President of the United States for the first time in our history,” the email, signed by Schultz, begins. It goes on to say, “I wish I could say it was surprising, Andrew. But frankly, with these folks, endless stunts and empty-headed wastes of time have become the norm. After today’s vote, it couldn’t be more clear that it’s time to elect Democrats and send this shutdown/lawsuit crowd packing.”

Jason Ritchie, who is among four Democrats challenging Washington State’s incumbent Republicans for House this cycle, condemned his opponent Dave Reichert (who has claimed in the past to be an independent thinker) for voting in lockstep with the House Republican leadership. (There exists, if you haven’t seen it, a great clip of Reichert admitting that he does what he’s told when he’s back in D.C.).

“The people of the 8th District want an end to partisanship and gridlock. Instead Congressman Reichert voted to spend taxpayer money suing the President. He and his D.C. friends are wasting taxpayers’ time and money on a frivolous lawsuit when they could be addressing real economic issues like infrastructure and immigration,” said Ritchie in a statement sent to NPI.

Republican Party trying to drive down support for Matt Isenhower with attack mailers targeting 45th’s Democratic voters

In an apparent attempt to make the high-profile contest between incumbent Republican Andy Hill and his Democratic challenger Matt Isenhower look less competitive, the Senate Republican caucus (of which Andy Hill is a member) has begun sending out attack mailers to Democratic voters in the 45th District, trying to discredit Matt Isenhower by claiming he is really a Republican – which is not true.

I actually received both of these mailers myself. The first one arrived mid-week and the second hit my mailbox just yesterday. Both mailers feature a smiling picture of Matt next to readily available images of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and contain lines like “Matt Isenhower volunteered in the Bush White House. Now he says he’s a Democrat… Matt Isenhower: NOT WHO HE SAYS HE IS.”

Here’s the front and back of the first one:

Front of Republican Party attack mailer against Matt IsenhowerBack of Republican Party attack mailer against Matt Isenhower

And here’s the front and back of the second one:

Front of the second Republican Party attack mailer against Matt IsenhowerBack of the second Republican Party attack mailer against Matt Isenhower

The mailers say they are paid for by the “Good Government Leadership Council.” What they don’t say is that the “Good Government Leadership Council” is a shell political action committee (PAC) created by The Leadership Council, and that The Leadership Council is a Republican Party PAC. In other words: These mailers were produced and sent to Democratic voters by the Republican Party.

The Public Disclosure Commission’s website actually lists The Leadership Council in its caucus committees section, and that’s because its operatives answer to the Senate and House Republican caucuses, of which Andy Hill is a member. The top five contributors to The Leadership Council this cycle are as follows:

  • Farmers Employees and Agents PAC: $50,000
  • Washington Restaurant Association PAC: $40,000
  • Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW): $30,000
  • George W. Rowley, Jr.: $25,000
  • Washington State Dental PAC: $25,000

The mailers ought to have listed the above entities on its mailer as the top five contributors To The Leadership Council in accordance with Washington State law. But they don’t. That’s because in addition to trying to conceal the fact that the Republican Party is responsible for producing and sending the mailers, its operatives are also dishonestly attempting to hide the identities of their top donors. That’s the only reason they set up the “Good Government Leadership Council.”

If you check PDC records, you’ll see that 100% of GGLC’s contributions came from The Leadership Council, in the form of three checks (so far, anyway). For those who haven’t heard the term, shell PACs are so named because they function somewhat like a crustacean’s shell. They provide a convenient, innocuous-looking and sounding cover for the real entity underneath that’s trying to influence voters.

The Leadership Council could arguably itself be considered a shell PAC because it does not carry the Republican name (unlike its siblings listed here), but it is definitely a Republican PAC run by the Washington State Republican establishment.

It might seem ridiculous and stupid that the Republican Party is trying to influence Democratic voters by attempting to link Matt Isenhower with Bush and Cheney, but remember that they are desperate to keep control of the Washington State Senate and Andy Hill is their most vulnerable incumbent.

Hill has raised more money than any other legislative candidate this cycle and is sending out his own mailers, but the Republican Party evidently views Matt Isenhower as a formidable challenger, which is why they’re spending time and money targeting Democratic voters with these mailers. The objective  appears to be to drive down Matt Isenhower’s share of the vote in the August Top Two election to make the race seem less competitive going into the autumn.

This is hardly the first time the Republican Party or a Republican candidate has done something like this, and sadly it probably won’t be the last time, either.

In 2007, when founding NPI board member and current NPI vice president Gael Tarleton was running for Seattle Port Commission, her Republican opponent Bob Edwards sent out an attack mailer targeted at progressive voters in King County which tried to associate her with Dick Cheney. Happily, the mailer backfired and Gael went on to win. I debunked that attack piece here in October 2007.

Before I discuss the content of the mailers and respond further, I want to disclose, for those readers who do not already know, that in addition to serving as NPI’s executive director, I am involved in the Democratic Party as the 45th LD Democrats’ State Committeeman and am also a volunteer for Matt Isenhower’s campaign.

While NPI as an organization does not endorse candidates or get involved in electioneering for or against candidates, many of us at NPI do so in our individual capacities as activists. I wanted to make that clear, because we believe in full disclosure here at NPI. We’re committed to it; our code of ethics requires it as part of our publications’ coverage, whether of electoral politics or another subject. The views I am expressing in this post are my own, and not those of NPI.

Now, as I’ve said already, the Republican Party is going to a lot of trouble to discredit Matt Isenhower with Democratic voters. They are doing so because they view Matt’s candidacy as a serious threat to their continued control of the Senate, which they got in a post-election power coup that they engineered with Democratic defectors Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon. (Tom is retiring; Sheldon is seeking reelection).

I learned a long time ago that when you get singled out for attack, it’s because the other side views you as a threat. Otherwise, why would they bother?

Here, in plain text, are the false and incredibly disingenuous things that that the Republican Party is saying about Matt Isenhower. From the first mailer:

Matt Isenhower volunteered for George W. Bush in the White House and gave their [our] candidate money.

If Matt Isenhower is a Democrat, then Rush Limbaugh is a liberal. Matt volunteered in the George W. Bush White House and his wife worked for Dick Cheney for years.

But now that Matt wants a seat in the State Senate, he claims he’s a Democrat. If he’s a Democrat, then there really are weapons of mass destruction hidden somewhere in Iraq.

If Matt Isenhower is a Democrat, then Dick Cheney is a pacifist. Matt moved into our area a short time ago determined to run for political office. He looked around and decided it was better to claim to be Democrat. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, willing to say anything to get elected. Just like his mentors: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney [our candidates for President and Vice President in 2000 and 2004].

Matt Isenhower will say anything to get elected. We deserve better.

Matt Isenhower: NOT WHO HE SAYS HE IS.

The second mailer uses slightly different wording but says the same things:

Matt Isenhower volunteered for George W. Bush in the White House. Now he says he’s a Democrat.

If Matt Isenhower is a Democrat, then Bellevue Square is a homeless shelter. Matt volunteered in the George W. Bush White House and his wife worked for Dick Cheney for years. But now that Matt wants a seat in the State Senate, he claims he’s a Democrat.

If Matt Isenhower is a Democrat, then Jay Inslee is in the Tea Party. Matt moved into our area a short time ago determined to run for political office. He looked around and decided it was better to claim to be Democrat. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, willing to say anything to get elected. Just like his mentors: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney [our candidates for President and Vice President in 2000 and 2004].

Matt Isenhower will say anything to get elected. We deserve better.

Matt Isenhower: NOT WHO HE SAYS HE IS.

In the progressive blogosphere, we call this sort of thing concern trolling.

I do have to say, I’m amused to see an arm of the Republican Party describing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as people “willing to say anything to get elected”. I guess Bush and Cheney are expendable now that they’re out of office. If you ask me, that phrase also describes quite a few other Republican candidates… including Andy Hill, the intended beneficiary of these attack mailers.

Matt Isenhower, on the other hand, is a man of integrity and honesty.

What Republicans don’t want voters to know is that Matt grew up in the 45th and is one of the strongest candidates for office the Democratic Party has ever fielded on the Eastside. He is a Navy veteran, an experienced business leader, a devoted father, and an alum of Redmond High School (also my alma mater).

It is true that Matt comes from a Republican family and has Republican roots. His wife did work in the Bush administration, and he did once donate to a Republican candidate for statewide office (Dino Rossi, in 2004) on his wife’s behalf.

But Matt is his own person. He is the one running for Senate. And for the record, his wife April enthusiastically supports his candidacy as a Democrat.

The attack mailers seem to imply that Matt worked in the Bush White House as a political operative. In reality, after graduating from the Naval Academy, Matt was asked to help put together a briefing memo for Bush on Washington State issues, and out of a sense of duty to his country, he agreed to do so.

We in the 45th District Democrats knew all this from the very beginning, because Matt has never tried to hide anything from us – or from the public. He has been candid and upfront with us before and throughout the campaign. Matt is a team player and supports other Democratic candidates and causes. He shares a campaign office with State Representative Cyrus Habib, running for Senate in the 48th LD.

As longtime political observers are well aware, it used to be that progressives could be found in both major political parties. Had I been alive in the 1970s, I believe I could have found a home in either the Washington State Democratic Party or Dan Evans’ Washington State Republican Party as a progressive activist.

Nowadays, there’s just only one major political party that shares my values and principles…. and that’s the Democratic Party.

Matt Isenhower came to the same realization while at the United States Naval Academy, which he was nominated for by Washington’s senior United States Senator, Patty Murray. (Senator Murray, by the way, is enthusiastically supporting Matt’s campaign, and singled out Matt for praise during her speech at the 2014 Washington State Democratic Convention in Spokane).

Matt decided to become a Democrat because his values mattered more to him than his party identification, like other progressives abandoned by the Republican Party.

I so appreciate that, because it means Matt and I can work together to advance our shared values, instead of working at cross purposes. So do organizations like the Washington Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, the Washington State Labor Council, and Democracy For America, all of which have endorsed Matt’s campaign for Washington State Senate.

In February, after thoroughly vetting Matt, the 45th District Democrats’ Endorsements Committee unanimously recommend him for endorsement. He was subsequently unanimously endorsed in February and then unanimously nominated in June. The Democratic Party has unequivocally determined that Matt Isenhower is in fact a Democrat, and chosen him to be its candidate for state Senate in the 45th.

That ought to be good enough for the Republican Party, which is completely and totally unqualified to advise Democratic voters on how to vote.

Sadly, it’s not, because the Republican Party cares more about winning and maintaining power than governing well or campaigning honestly.

I myself am a lifelong Democrat, but like Matt, my loyalty is to my values, not to any figure in the Democratic Party, or to the party as an undefined entity. I am a Democrat because the Democratic Party embraces my values. I stand with Matt and will be working to ensure that he becomes my next state senator.

In closing, I’d like to deliver a special message to Republican Leader Mark Schoesler and State Republican Chair Susan Hutchison, who I hold responsible for this disingenuous and dishonest attack mail campaign.

Speaking as a longtime Democratic activist and a member of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, I want you both to know that we in the Democratic Party are quite capable of doing our own vetting and nominating of candidates on behalf of our voters without any assistance whatsoever from you or your operatives. Matt Isenhower is ours and we are proud that he is our candidate for State Senate. You, on the other hand, have Andy Hill – and you’re stuck with him.

LIVE from Detroit: NSA Surveillance Reform: Pitfalls and Opportunities

Panel description: A recently launched campaign in Europe calls on individuals to “vote for [their] digital rights.” However, no such movement has caught on in the United States, despite the upcoming election cycle. Rallies and events—including the Rally to End Mass Surveillance and the Day We Fight Back—have demonstrated wide support for surveillance reform. By educating the public about surveillance issues, digital rights activists can ensure voters understand where their elected leaders stand on defending our privacy and Constitutional rights. The election year also offers an opportunity to engage with Congress members directly on surveillance. This panel will discuss the political environment around surveillance reform, including grassroots engagement and the potential for leadership on the issues. The panel will conclude with a discussion of the ongoing challenges faced in communicating to the public audience on the so-called “balance” between national security and civil liberties.

This panel is moderated by Amie Stepanovich who is Senior Policy Counsel at Access. Amie is an expert in domestic surveillance, cybersecurity, and privacy law. At Access, Amie leads projects on digital due process and responds to threats at the intersection of human rights and communications surveillance.

Americans do get that surveillance is happening even though Obama says it’s not. However many Americans believe that it doesn’t directly affect them. The real problem in America is that many believe that “If I am not doing anything wrong, I should have nothing to worry about.” So there is work to be done in order to make NSA surveillance an election issue.

One success in fighting NSA Surveillance was an amendment, the Massie-Lofgren Amendment, added to an annual defense spending bill to end backdoor spying and sabotage commercial software with backdoor entry points. But more work needs to be done. The unfettered surveillance has a chilling effect on our democracy.

Since 9/11 there is a lot of sharing of this information going on. Your personal information that the NSA collects can go all the way down to the “bungling local cop”.

JTTF, or Joint Terrorism Task Force has secret contracts with local law enforcement which essentially draft local law enforcement into acting as part of the federal anti-terrorism force.

Fusion Centers were created by US DHS to facilitate sharing the collected personal data. All this data can be used to profile individuals. For example, a Muslim who makes many calls outside the US could be labeled as a terrorist suspect.

President Obama’s planned reform of data collection will immunize corporations. It is actually an expansion because not only will call metadata be collection, but cell phone connections will be logged. For instance, just cell phones being in the same room, being in range of each other will be logged.

One violation of the law that is currently happening is that if someone is being investigated, queries to the NSA database will return all information logged within the previous 5 years. This includes all indiscriminate data.

Another problem is that not all congressmen have access to what is going on in the intelligence agencies. Congressmen who don’t have access are told to just go along with those members who are on the Intelligence Committee, because “they are the ones who have the information”. However, those on the Intelligence Committee are not sharing much information with other congressional members.

Another problematic issue is that with Obama’s reform, secrets classifications can be awarded to those outside of the government, such as bankers. This would mean bankers and people in other corporations could have access to your personal information that the NSA has collected.

Executive order 12333 is also problematic because there is no oversight, either by congress or the courts. Even though the executive order involves collecting overseas data, a lot of domestic data is collected through this as well. Even Feinstein, who defends the collection of surveillance data including cell phone meta data, has said that there are no privacy protections built in.

NSA lost its push for the Clipper Chip in a previous battle to enable backdoors in encryption, however, the NSA is still working on putting backdoors into encryption standards. One driving force for this in a “surveillance state” is money. There is a lot of money to be made in surveillance technology.

Call to action: call your representatives out on the NSA Surveillance issues. Impress upon them on how important the issue is to you. It is essentially a virtual “stop and frisk” policy that violates your rights. Use tools to protect your own privacy from surveillance. There are many options, but to get started, you can check out “Reset the Net” Privacy Pack.

LIVE from Detroit: Turn on the water! Panel addresses city’s unconscionable shutoffs

Peter Hammer, a law professor from Wayne State University opens the discussion. He began by introducing the concept of the “three R’s of Detroit” which include “Race, Regionalism, and Reconciliation.” He spoke most about “Spacial Racism” and demonstrated by showing a map of Detroit areas color coded to indicate varying level of economic opportunities. Areas of black population is overlayed on the map showing that these areas lay in the low economic opportunity areas. Hammer said, “In southeast Michigan and so many other cities, the segregation of race is also the segregation of wealth.”

Over half the people in Detroit could not pay their property taxes. 6,000 properties were up for foreclosure due to taxes due. Another 4,200 are in danger of foreclosure.

The best you can say about Detroit Water and Sewage is there is an extreme lack of empathy. He stresses, that we need empathy when dealing with these problems. Work is being done to stop evictions and foreclosures.

Abayomi Azikiwe spoke representing Moratorium Now Coalition that was formed in 2008 in response to the tsunami of foreclosures in Detroit. Detroit has the highest rate of home ownership in the country. The crisis really began in the late 1950s because that is when the loss of jobs and the loss of population of Detroit began.

The retirees in Detroit are under attack in the restructuring process. Predatory lending and refinancing took its toll on Detroit’s residents. Resulting foreclosures hurt Detroit’s revenue. There was a call to make the responsible banks pay. Azikiwe stressed “We need a sustainable recovery plan in Detroit. It’s not going to be done through privatization… We can’t allow anyone to tell us that we don’t own the water.”

A sustainable recovery plan is needed in Detroit, not forced bankruptcy and “Emergency Managers”. Azikiwe: “We need real jobs. Therefore, we need a real jobs program.”

Monica Lewis-Patrick spoke on behalf of a coalition “We the People of Detroit” that was formed in 2008 to fight mayoral control of the education system. They are fighting against the draconian, reptilian law called “Emergency Management”.  Lewis-Patrick: “We need to work and re-invent ourselves in this moment because we are finding that we are fighting the same battles again that were fought 50 years ago… We need to become a community that supports each other through these hard times”.

Meredith Begin is with Food and Water Watch. They believe water is a human right and it is a violation of that right to be shutting off water to Detroit residents. Begin asserted that “Corporations across the globe see water as the next oil.” Begin: “Lack of access to water and sanitation poses a huge health crisis. We’ve called on President Obama to declare a public health emergency here in Detroit and turn the water back on. We all need water for survival.” Lack of water is a real health crisis. Not only is water essential for life, lack of water is the source of disease.

Joan Ross from National Nurses United also spoke: “Look at where you are in the country right now. 21% of the world’s fresh water is here: in the Great Lakes region. We can’t afford to waste that and not give it to people who need it.”

The panel session closed with Maureen Taylor from Michigan Welfare Rights. She referred to the people in Detroit who are suffering without water. Some have been without water for a year. “We can’t keep looking at these mothers who are crying… This is insane.”

Referring to the audience, Taylor said: “You gotta leave here changed. You gotta leave here different…. I want to leave you with this message: You can’t stay like you were two or three hours ago…. Whatever it is that got you here at 9:30 this morning, you can’t go on the same.”

Taylor concluded the session with a reference to Spock from Star Trek: “I’m so proud to be in a room full of activists and visionaries… We can’t just think about this. Water is a human right. The needs of the many must always outweigh the needs of the few.”

LIVE from Detroit: Keynote with Debbie Stabenow, Mark Schauer

Good Morning from Detroit! This is the last day of the conference and we are beginning the day with keynotes from Mark Schauer, candidate to replace Snyder as governor of Michigan, and Senator Debbie Stabenow.

Lisa Brown is Schauer’s running-mate. Schauer promises to repeal “Right-To-Work-For-Less” and to support unions. Schauer promises equal pay for equal work. Schauer will work for affordable health care and will work with Obama and Stabenow on strengthening the auto industry in Michigan.

Stabenow welcomes Netroots to Detroit and thanks them for choosing Detroit for the location of the conference. “Detroit is a great city with great hard-working people who are working to turn Detroit around”. Stabenow thanks Betty Wiggens for creating gardens in the public schools in Detroit.

Michigan is #1 on clean energy patents. Michigan has created 70,000 jobs, but still has work to do to get employment back to where it was. Stabenow says it is an outrage that thousands in Detroit are without water.

“The game is still rigged for the majority and only benefits the few at the top”, say Stabenow and makes reference to the Koch brothers. “What we need is to raise everyone up with good jobs, healthcare, Social Security”. Stabenow says that everyone deserves a fair shot at getting ahead in Michigan.

“If a fair shot can work 100 years ago, a fair shot can work today”, Stabenow said in reference to the beginnings of the auto industry when good wages were paid.

“Too many students are left with only one choice for education and are left with mounds and mounds of debt.”  Stabenow reinforces the need for “equal pay for equal work”, good healthcare and Social Security.

Stabenow has introduced the “Bring Jobs Home Act” and asked everyone in the audience to call their Senators and Congressmen and ask them to support this bill. Stabenow says that we need to bring back the jobs that were off-shored.

Stabenow: “I need Gary Peters in the Senate” in calling for people to help organize and campaign to help Peters win the election.

Stabenow closes by reinforcing the need to keep up the good fight for progressive values.

Live from Detroit: Detroit, Rocked City: How the Bankruptcy Led to Retirement Attacks that Could Spread Nationwide

This panel is moderated by David Sirota. Panelists include Gwendolyn Beasley, Reesa Kossoff, and Diane Oakley.

Public pension attacks are happening nationally and are being driven by the Koch Brothers.

401k plans have not proven to save tax payer money over a Defined Benefit plan, in fact there are cases where state liability has increased. Pension plans also encourage employees with experience, which is good for public sector jobs such as teachers, police, and firefighters.

There are interest groups that are interested in Defined Benefit plans to push the investments into more aggressive plans. 401k plans have other interest groups that want to push investments into certain mutual funds, etc. All of this is a move to benefit Wall Street.

In Detroit, 1 year ago today, bankruptcy was officially filed. Bankruptcy was eventually approved. It was ruled that bankruptcy law trumped the Michigan Constitution meaning that pensions were not protected from the bankruptcy. The average pension in Detroit is $19K per year.

In the “Grand Bargain”, not only would pensions would be cut, it meant that healthcare benefits would be cut as well.  $125 stipend was offered for retirees to pay for their healthcare, which was not enough. The new plans also had a high deductible which hurt retirees. Detroit also claimed that they didn’t have enough money for dental and eye care. Detroit promised that by 2028 they will try to restore the retirees’ benefits.

Pensions have become underfunded because state and local governments haven’t been paying the contributions to the plans. The Sanctity of pension contracts is not being respected which ironically, big banks claimed that executive pay could not be cut during the bailout because of the sanctity of the contracts that these executives had.

Even though state governments such as New Jersey say that they don’t have the money for pensions, the government spends billions on corporate subsidies. It is a wealth transfer from retirees to the corporations and the rich.

One of the problems with Detroit is that it entered an extremely complex interest rate swap. Wall Street won in the deal and Wall Street was first in line in the bankruptcy to get paid.

More information can be found at the National Institute on Retirement Security and the National Public Pension Coalition.

LIVE from Detroit: Why Net Neutrality is a Social Justice Issue

This panel is moderated by Marissa Valeri who is Common Cause’s digital strategies manager. Panelists include Kim Lehmkuhl, Lauren Wilson, and Andi Zeisler.

From the panel description:

Earlier this year, a court overturned the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) common sense net neutrality rules, which guaranteed the right of users to connect to the websites, blogs, and social platforms of their choice. Now, corporate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are free to block anything online, for practically any reason at all. So there’s nothing stopping your ISPs from censoring your access to the blogs and organizing tools you rely on every day. Each organization represented on the panel organized to restore net neutrality, culminating in the delivery of 1.1 million signatures to the Federal Communications Commission in January.

The battle for Net Neutrality faces many obstacles. Once issue is getting the public to understand what Net Neutrality means. Essentially it means equal access to content, which prohibits providers for giving some sites the fast lane and other sites the slow lane according to who pays to be on the fast lane.

Big telecom companies always find it cheaper to hire lobbyists that work to improve the bottom line at the expense of Net Neutrality. To help fight this issue one should blog about it, write editorials, support candidates that support Net Neutrality, and push to get the right people on the FCC who are knowledgeable and supportive of Net Neutrality.

One member of the audience brought up the issue of potential content filtering using deep packet inspection. It seemed that the panelists didn’t understand what he was referring to. Deep packet inspection is the process of opening the chunks of data that are traveling over the internet and inspecting the data contents. This is a technology that is used for legitimate purposes such as load balancing. However, it could potentially be used by ISPs to slow down or block content, which would certainly be a Net Neutrality issue.

Another from the audience brought up an issue related to deep packet filtering and how it would affect private networks, particularly VPNs. VPN traffic is encrypted which would prevent deep packet inspection, so does this mean VPN traffic would always be put in the slow lane? Certainly a valid question if Net Neutrality is lost.

Another audience member asked the panelists about how the proposed trade agreements would impact Net Neutrality and what their position is on it. The panelists responded that they do not have a position on that yet and eluded to a battle that they are having internally regarding that issue.

LIVE from Detroit: The Rise of Janet Yellen: Why the Fed Matters

The Federal Reserve wields great economic power; it is often said that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve is the second most powerful person in America. In 2013, a ragtag coalition came together to fight for economic justice and work on an unprecedented campaign: to influence who would become the Chair of the Federal Reserve. Now the challenge is how to work with the new leadership of the Federal Reserve to promote a progressive economic agenda.

The Federal Reserve had mainly ignores the mandate of trying to keep “full employment” in the American economy. Within the last couple of years the Fed has started to pay more attention to employment. The Fed is doing this by keeping short term rates low and by buying long term bonds to keep long term rates low.

The deregulation that the Fed was a contributor to helped make our economy for financially oriented. The Fed has essentially been a failure in keeping our economy healthy.

Larry Summers was being considered for the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. There were many concerns over this including concerns over his attitude towards women. Janet Yellen was an alternative choice who was seen as a much better candidate for the position. With President Obama leaning toward Summers, a grass roots movement began to push for Janet Yelllen.

Janet Yellen has said that we must keep interest rates low while unemployment is high. However, the solution to preventing bubbles is not putting on the brakes as the economy begins to improve. The solution is more bank regulation.



LIVE from Detroit: Netroots Nation 2015 will be in Phoenix, Arizona next July 16th – 19th

Continuing a tradition begun last year in San Jose, Netroots Nation executive director Raven Brooks has chosen to reveal the location of next year’s convention on opening night so that early-bird ticket sales can begin while this year’s convention is still underway. Netroots Nation 2015 will be held in Phoenix, Arizona, from July 16th – 19th, and immigration reform will be a major topic of discussion.

“We haven’t yet won on this legislatively and we haven’t yet won with the Obama administration,” noted Brooks. “We’re mindful that we’re about to launch into the 2016 presidential cycle and it’s time to step up as a movement on this issue.”

“We want everyone aspiring for office in 2016 — from the President to the Senate to Congress to local elected offices – to know that if you don’t support taking real action on immigration reform, then you won’t win our community’s support.”

Next year’s convention will be the fourth held west of the Rocky Mountains. Previous gatherings took place in Las Vegas (2006), Chicago (2007), Austin (2008), Pittsburgh (2009), Las Vegas (2010), Minneapolis (2011), Providence (2012), and San Jose (2013), prior to Detroit this year.

Interestingly, the convention has never been held in a city observing Mountain Time. Arizona falls within that zone, but the time there corresponds to the Pacific time zone in the summer, spring, and autumn because the state doesn’t bother with daylight savings time like most of the country.

The average high in Phoenix in July is one hundred and three degrees Fahrenheit, so it will be plenty hot outside, but the convention will, for the most part, be in an air-conditioned building. Netroots Nation organizers have not yet announced the host hotels or official venue, but presumably it’s the Phoenix Convention Center.

LIVE from Detroit: Netroots Nation 2014′s opening night, in photos

Good evening from the Motor City, where the first day of Netroots Nation 2014 has just concluded! The team at NPI is unwinding after a long day of panels, trainings, and finally, keynotes, capped by an incredibly inspirational speech from Reverend Dr. William Barber II of North Carolina.

When we have more time, we’ll be sharing more highlights and perhaps even transcripts of tonight’s speeches. For the time being, we’ve put together a photo collage of tonight’s speakers for your enjoyment. We hope you enjoy these pictures. As you can see, Netroots Nation is a gathering of Americans who look like America. All of these photos were taken by Rennie and myself.

Chris Savage

Chris Savage of Electablog welcomes attendees of Netroots Nation to Detroit

Cristina Jiménez

United We Dream cofounder Cristina Jiménez explains that families torn apart by deportations can’t wait any longer for justice.

Joel Silberman

Joel Silberman of Media Talent 2.0 talks about the problems that stem from concentrated media ownership.

Ilyse Hogue

Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, explains what progressives are doing to overturn the Supreme Court’s awful Hobby Lobby decision.

Chuck Schumer

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer implores Netroots Nation to put pressure on House Republicans to demand a vote on comprehensive immigration reform this year.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia

National Education Association President-elect Lily Eskelsen Garcia denounces the education industry and its attempt to privatize schools and force standardized testing on parents, teachers, and students.

Representative Stacey Adams

Representative Stacey Adams, the Democratic Leader in the Georgia General Assembly, explains what needs to be done to turn states in the Deep South blue (educate, activate, and agitate!)

Reverend William Barber

The Reverend Dr. William Barber II provides a history of civil rights advances throughout American history, beginning with the first reconstruction in the wake of the Civil War, and a powerful, eloquent pitch for bold progressive action to address injustice and poverty.

A quick programming note: Tomorrow, the great Senator Elizabeth Warren will be the featured speaker at the morning general session, which begins around 7 AM Pacific Time. We’ll be bringing you live coverage and you can also watch the speech online from home on UStream if your Internet connection supports streaming.

LIVE from Detroit: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses Netroots Nation 2014

Welcome to our continuing coverage of Netroots Nation 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. This afternoon, for the first time in the history of the convention (which began in 2006), the Vice President of the United States will be speaking to the thousands of activists who reunite every year to coordinate the building of a stronger progressive movement in the United States and around the world.

The speech is Biden’s third stop of the day. Previously he attended an event for the Michigan Democratic Coordinated Campaign Committee at the Westin Book Cadillac. He then visited the Step IT Up America program at Wayne County Community College with Mayor Michael Duggan. His speech at Netroots Nation will be his last official event of the day before returning to the District of Columbia.

We are currently waiting for Biden to arrive. He’s late, but there’s apparently a very good reason for that. Most attendees have at least a smartphone or tablet to keep them occupied, if not table companions.

UPDATE, 4:15 PM: The motorcade has arrived and we should be getting started in a few minutes. What follows will be a recap of the Vice President’s speech.

Biden was introduced by ProgressNow’s Arshad Hasan, who repeatedly praised the vice president for his candor and determination, before asking the convention to give the vice president a roaring welcome. And the crowd certainly did.

A jovial Biden made his way to the podium as he received a raucous standing ovation. Thanking Hasan for his introduction, he joked that he could “almost hear the press salivating.” Addressing his remarks on Meet the Press supporting marriage equality, which Hasan had referred to and which preempted President Obama’s ABC News interview on the subject, he said his comments were not planned, but he likes to be direct when he gets questions.

Biden told attendees that what he loves about the netroots is our passion. Discussing the recent advances made by advocates for LGBT civil rights, Biden said he didn’t free the LGBT community, they and many decent straight people deserved the credit for the forward momentum on marriage equality and civil rights.

Biden explained that he was nearly an hour late arriving for his speech because he had been dealing with the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which went down in Ukraine today. Some three hundred lives were lost, and the plane was apparently deliberately shot down. Biden explained that he had been on the phone with the Ukrainian President regarding the tragedy. A passenger manifest has not confirmed yet, but plane may have been carrying American citizens.

Joe Biden studies the audience at Netroots Nation during his Thursday afternoon keynote. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Joe Biden studies the audience at Netroots Nation during his Thursday afternoon keynote. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Shifting gears, Biden said that one thing he has learned in his many years in politics that showing up is half the battle. He thanked the netroots for showing up and making change, and for reframing the debate… for example, helping Americans recognize that healthcare is a basic right and not a privilege. “We share a commitment to the values that made this country exceptional,” Biden told the audience. He added that when he gets asked abroad what makes America great, he responds that it is our sense of fairness and caring for others.

In a rebuke to former Vice President Dick Cheney, Biden proceeded to declare that he takes a back seat to no one on national defense. But he says that it is just as important to feed people in our country as it is to defend America.

Biden compared himself to Mikey from the Life cereal commercials when it comes his role brokering deals in Congress, which brought laughter from the crowd. He stressed the need for the progressive movement to define what is for and what it wants to accomplish both in the short and long term.

“We have to state without apology what we are for and why. If everything is equally important to you, then nothing is important to you… We have to be crystal clear on what the fundamental principles that this democracy is built on and stick to those fundamentals. Which includes LGBT rights [and] equal pay.”

“The abuse of power is the worst sin that can be committed. And the worst is for a man raising his hand to a woman including sexual assault on college campuses.”

Biden also told the convention that it is important for Americans to have unfettered access to the ballot box. “This is a fight that may not be on top of everyone’s agenda, but it is a very important fight,” he said.

Touching on the need for environmental protection, Biden emphatically stated, “Climate change is real… if we don’t control it we will be mortgaging the future of humanity.” He expressed confidence that America could lead on tackling the crisis. The people with the courage to move are the ones who are fueling America’s dynamism, giving the U.S. credibility on the world stage.

Commenting on income inequality, Biden reaffirmed his belief that every American deserves a fair shot at a job. Biden told Netroots Nation he believes in a nation of earned income as well as unearned income. Workers need to be respected as much as Wall Street investors. However, many employers are not respecting their workers, who have become the most productive workers in the world. They are not sharing in the wealth created by that productivity. The bargain between worker and employer is broken today, Biden lamented. He added that fixing that bargain is the President’s top priority, as well as his.

“When the middle class loses its faith in the system, we lose the glue that keeps the political and economic systems stable,” Biden said. “When we act as one America, we succeed. The middle class needs to know that when they put in they get included in the deal and not cut out. The poor need to know that when they try, there is a chance they can succeed.”

“In a country as big and as diverse as America there will be divisions. How do you define an American other than by a set of principles they believe in?”

“But our politics have become so cynical, so corrosive, that the American people are sick and tired of politics today.”

Nevertheless, Biden said we cannot give up.

“We can rise to what the American people demand. We can debate without being demeaning. We can make sure we are heard and demonstrate that we are willing to listen. The American people aren’t divided [and didn't create the divisions that are portrayed in our media]; American politics have divided America.”

Joe Biden waves

Joe Biden waves to the crowd at Netroots Nation after finishing his speech. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Biden said he has always been an optimist and that won’t change.

“It is within our power to innovate new energy technologies. Imagine not calling abuse ‘domestic’. Imagine a country that not only leads by example of power, but by power of our example. Your energy and passion will continue to be the force that drives debate. The American people have always been ahead (civil rights, for example). We need you. The country needs you.”

Biden’s closing thought was an appeal to the convention to believe in America and the American people. “Ordinary people, hardworking people are smart,” Biden said. “Do not condescend that they do not know what they need.”

LIVE from Detroit: Corporate Welfare and Tax Loopholes vs. Public Services: Who’s Winning?

This session is moderated by Mesha Williams, social media coordinator for the International Association of Fire Fighters. Panelist/speaker is Greg LeRoy from Good Jobs First.

About $70 Billion is spent per year on subsidizing business development. Taxes amount to only about 2% of the cost of doing business on average, so tax breaks have minimal effect on businesses.

The number of “megadeals” is high due to the demand from politicians for creating more jobs. Yet there is only a small amount of development being done that increases jobs. These megadeals pull money away from infrastructure investment and other state obligations.

As an example, Detroit has a revenue problem that began with automotive factory shutdowns. Michigan MEGA Deals were concentrated in outlying areas and ignored Detroit city itself, which contributed to the fall in tax revenues. Schools are the biggest losers with revenue shortfalls.

Taxpayers/workers win with transparency and full disclosure behind taxes and subsidy money spent on business development.

Good Jobs First has an “Accountable USA” page that shows, state by state, essential information on subsidy practices and controversies. Good Jobs First also tracks and aggregates subsidy data that can otherwise be difficult to find.

LIVE from Detroit: Workers Organizing Online: What We’ve Learned and What We’re Learning

This session at Netroots Nation is led by Elana Levin who is Director of Online Organizing at Make the Road Action Fund.

Kenzo Shibata began by speaking about the battle he led against Rahm Emanuel’s tactics in attempting to bust the teachers’ union in Chicago. Shibata created a video associating Emanuel with the Tea Party in an attempt to embarrass Emanuel over his anti-union tactics. The video cost very little but made a big impact.

Sara Steffens is speaking about working in social media for an organization. Many involved in social media within an organization many times find themselves becoming overwhelmed by requests. Typically only one person ends up handling all the social media for smaller organizations. The key is to try to spread the responsibility and train others on it so that efforts do not become bottlenecked, particularly if the responsible person is unavailable due to unforeseen circumstances.

Build social networking capacity by holding training sessions to teach others in your organization about hash tag activism (Twitter) and other useful social media activities. Take advantage of those in your organization who are active on Facebook and other social media platforms to utilize their skills for the organization.

When running campaigns or developing a new website, include money in the budget for training others in the skills to help support the effort.

Levin brought up an example of organizing low-wage bank workers. Online organizing, particularly on Facebook, was much more effective than traditional methods, such as doorbelling and phone banking. It is easier to find who works for a particular employer on Facebook because many share where they work on Facebook. Facebook pages created around a cause are still very effective even though recent Facebook changes limit the posts that the page fans see on their news feed. Facebook photos with memes are also very eye catching and effective.

Emailing platforms such as Salsa are very useful because they include tracking of emails and records who opens the emails. You can easily see how well your email posts are being read.

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