NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, September 13th, 2019

Behold, the Eymallot… a general election ballot packed full of Tim Eyman’s push polls

Here in Washington State, 2019 is supposed to be a local election year — a cycle when we focus on filling important offices close to home at the local level, like city council, port commission, school board, and even fire district or water district.

But it’s not going to feel much like a local election year when the time comes to open up that ballot and fill in all the ovals. That’s because — at least in King County, the state’s most populous subdivision — there won’t be a single local position on the front of the ballot. That’s right, not even one. 

Why is there no room for local races on the front of the ballot in a local election year!? Because this November, there are fifteen statewide ballot measures, twelve of which are not really ballot measures at all, but rather push polls mandated by an old Tim Eyman initiative that hasn’t been fully struck down yet.

In addition to the unprecedented twelve push polls, there’s one Tim Eyman initiative (I-976) plus a referendum to reinstate a Tim Eyman initiative (R-88).

This is why we call this year’s ballot “the Eymallot” — because it might as well have been designed by Tim Eyman himself. Eyman has managed to do something unprecedented: turn the ballot itself into a mechanism for the distribution of pure propaganda. That’s what those push polls are: anti-tax propaganda.

The only item on the front of the ballot that is NOT Eyman related is Senate Joint Resolution 8200, a bipartisan, uncontroversial housekeeping amendment to the Washington State Constitution that would allow the state’s emergency powers to be invoked in the event of a “catastrophic incident” (like a devastating earthquake), as opposed to the more narrow scenario of an “enemy attack”.

Now, it’s one thing for you to read all of this. It’s another thing entirely for you to actually see this year’s ballot. Yesterday, King County Elections completed work on the design of the ballot, and they were kind enough to send over a sample of the design to us. Now I can show you what I’m talking about.

Behold, this year’s general election ballot… the Eymallot!

The Eymallot

This is “The Eymallot”… a general election ballot that’s packed to the brim with Tim Eyman push polls.

The staff at Elections told us that trying to make everything fit on a single piece of paper was extremely challenging and they had to consider going to two pages. Ultimately, everything was made to fit on just one page. The three binding statewide ballot measures, plus the Eyman push polls, take up the entire front of the ballot. As mentioned, there’s not a single local race on there.

Every local race has been relegated to the back of the ballot.

It’s just appalling.

Were it not for the twelve Eyman push polls, most of what is on the back of the ballot could fit on the front along with the three real statewide ballot measures.

It is worth mentioning that the Legislature had a chance to put the kibosh on all of these push polls earlier this year, thus averting this stupidity.

Led by Andy Billig, Manka Dhingra, Rebecca Saldana, and bill sponsor Patty Kuderer, the Senate voted to abolish them, but the House of Representatives failed to act because ex-Speaker Frank Chopp wouldn’t bring the bill to the floor.

However, all is not lost. The bill remains alive and it could pass next session… if Washingtonians rise up and insist that their elected representatives act to remove propaganda from the ballot. The House of Representatives will have a new Speaker, Laurie Jinkins, who will hopefully permit this bill to come to the floor for a vote so that it can be sent to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk.

If you agree that 2019 should be the last year that we ever have to suffer through having our ballot turned into an Eymallot, then please take action now. Follow this link to send a message to legislative leaders. Let them know that you want Senate Bill 5224 passed by both houses in the 2020 legislative session. Then, share the call to action with your friends. Together, we can abolish Tim Eyman’s push polls.

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

Something wicked this way comes: Meet the terrible trio the right wing is bringing to town

As Labor Day 2019 disappears into the rearview mirror, General Election Day 2019 draws ever closer. Summer is ending and autumn is approaching. While the weather becomes cooler, though, state politics is heating up. With the November 2019 general election only a few weeks away, it’s fundraising season.

The Washington State Republican Party and the constellation of right wing organizations based around these parts have long used fall dinners with out of state guests to score cash for their operations. This year, the opposition is bringing a truly terrible trio to town to please their base: Failed Governor Scott Walker and bigoted Fox personalities Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro.

Scott Walker, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro

Scott Walker, Laura Ingraham, and Jeanine Pirro. All photos by Gage Skidmore; reproduced under a Creative Commons license.

Scott Walker

Walker will appear in Bellevue tomorrow night at the Washington State Republican Party’s Annual Dinner (which doesn’t have a name, other than “Annual Dinner”), which will be emceed by right wing radio personality Jason Rantz.

The dinner will be held at the Hyatt Regency, which is part of right wing donor Kemper Freeman Jr.’s “Bellevue Collection”. A VIP reception, replete with a photo line, will be held concurrently with a general reception from 6 to 7 PM.

The dinner and program will run from 7 to 9 PM.

Walker inflicted tremendous damage on the State of Wisconsin during the eight years that he was in power. He rammed through legislation aimed at breaking up the state’s public sector employee unions and rewarded his friends with sweetheart deals. Before leaving office, he also struck an economic development deal with Foxconn that turned out to be a complete sham.

“In his nearly twenty-five years in politics, Scott Walker has proven he will say anything and do anything to move up the political ladder,” the nonprofit OneWisconsinNow explains, assessing Walker’s modus operandi.

“The Walker Doctrine is simple: (1) Reward my donors, (2) Increase my power, and (3) Punish my enemies. This causes Scott Walker time and time again to misrepresent the facts, deflect responsibility and flat out lie about his record, his policies and the damage he has inflicted upon Wisconsin. There is only one place which ignores Scott Walker’s cronyism, corruption and incompetence, a magical alternate universe he has concocted called ‘Walker’s World.'”

In 2011, Walker was pranked by Ian Murphy, a New York blogger who was pretending to be the late billionaire David Koch. Murphy got through to Walker and fooled him into believing that he was Koch. Walker’s responses during the nearly ten minute phone conversation are revealing and worth hearing.

Laura Ingraham

Ingraham will appear at a different “Annual Dinner” — this one to benefit the so-called “Freedom Foundation”, a right wing group that is primarily dedicated to the destruction of the Pacific Northwest’s trade unions.

Like the WSRP’s dinner, this event will be held at the Hyatt Regency.

It will take place Friday, September 21st. A VIP reception is planned for 5:30 PM, followed by a general reception at 6 PM. Dinner will be at 7 PM.

Individual tickets cost $200. VIP tickets cost twice that… $400.

“Laura Ingraham is a former ABC News political contributor who hosts The Ingraham Angle on Fox News,” explains the watchdog group Media Matters. “She has used her Fox platform, her former radio show, and her podcast to smear refugees, immigrants, and LGBTQ Americans, as well as to demean school shooting survivors and mock deceased individuals.”

Media Matters has a compilation (including videos) of more than fifty racist statements made by Ingraham which goes back several years.

“We’re delighted and flattered to have someone of her stature share this special evening with us,” said “Freedom Foundation” head honcho Tom McCabe, an unapologetic militant who used to run the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW). McCabe and his cronies were in charge of the BIAW during the days when it was a political powerhouse thanks to the funds it was stealing from its members out of Washington State’s retro rebate program.

“Laura Ingraham has the ear of millions of Americans every day, and you earn that level of trust with an unrelenting commitment to honesty and credibility, combined with an infectious sense of humor,” McCabe added.

Honesty and credibility are sadly virtues that neither Ingraham nor McCabe know anything about. Ingraham has been savagely (and appropriately) parodied by Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon for her white supremacist views.

Washington’s labor movement plans to picket Ingraham’s appearance.

Jeanine Pirro

Pirro, one of Ingraham’s compadres at the Fox Noise Channel, will be the guest of honor of the King County Republicans on October 25th.

The venue for this dinner (which actually has a name — the “Liberty Dinner”) is… you guessed it… the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue.

Tickets start at $150 for general admission. The VIP rate costs $300 and facilitates access to a “special meet and greet” with Pirro.

“Jeanine Pirro served as a county judge for three years in the early 1990s and now hosts a weekly Fox show called Justice with Judge Jeanine,” explains Media Matters. “She has been a personal friend of Donald Trump for decades and acts as a sycophant for him on her Fox show, which premiered in 2011. In 2019, Pirro faced widespread backlash for bigoted remarks on her Fox show about United States Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota).”

Pirro, who is a white supremacist like Ingraham, has been brilliantly parodied on Saturday Night Live by repertory player Cecily Strong.

A few days ago, Pirro went on C-SPAN to pitch her new book; she took a number of calls during her appearance. It didn’t go well at all.

“Congratulations on your suspension from Fox,” one caller began.

You were suspended — you should share that with the audience — and before you attack the left about us and what we do to you conservatives, he gets negative coverage because he lies and distorts. Every single morning, every single day we have to tune in to a level of idiocy and instability that this nation has never seen on the left or on the right. Now, you, ma’am, and your network, you keep this alive. Recently, just last week, you said they are, the Democrats are trying to replace you. Now you’re saying this to a predominantly older, white audience — 1% of your audience is Black, probably less than that for your show.”

When Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat learned the King County Republicans had invited Pirro to headline their dinner, he was naturally incredulous. What was left of the Republican establishment was mostly gutted during last year’s midterms; there are no longer any Republicans representing King County in the Legislature or in Congress who reside in King County.

How does bringing Pirro to Bellevue rebuild the Republican brand in King County?

“Why, why, why, local Republicans, are you aligning yourselves with noxious stuff like this? Just the continued use of the word ‘illegals’ is low down, as it turns an adjective into a noun solely to dehumanize,” Westneat wrote.

What Pirro peddles isn’t red meat to fill seats — it’s rancid, Westneat added.

He concluded his column by opining: “It seems to me Republicans will struggle in elections around here until they can tell the difference.”

Thursday, September 12th, 2019

We’re watching the third 2020 Democratic presidential debate. Follow along with us!

Good evening, and welcome to NPI’s live coverage of the third Democratic presidential debate of the 2020 cycle.

NPI staff are watching and sharing impressions of the debate as it progresses, which will take place over the course of three hours in Houston, Texas.

ABC is the media partner for this DNC-sanctioned debate.

The format is as follows:

Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, “World News Tonight” Anchor David Muir, ABC News Correspondent Linsey Davis and Univision Anchor Jorge Ramos will moderate the debate on Thursday.

The presidential hopefuls will have one minute and fifteen seconds for direct responses to questions and forty-five seconds for responses and rebuttals. Candidates will have the opportunity to deliver opening statements, but there will be no closing statements.

Tonight’s lineup of ten candidates is as follows:

  • Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
  • New Jersey U.S. Senator Cory Booker
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
  • Former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke
  • California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris
  • Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobouchar
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

Our live coverage begins below.

UPDATE, 5:07 PM (Ruairi): Former Secretary Julián Castro opened the debate. He argues that the country needs “a bold vision” for the post-Trump era, while reminding everyone that first, Democrats need to win!

UPDATE, 5:08 PM (Caitlin): “I may not be the loudest person up there,” United States Senator Amy Klobuchar joked in her opening statement.

“But I think we have already got that in the White House.” She warned that Trump is running the country like a reality TV Show. “I don’t want to be president for half of America […] but for all of America,” she concluded.

UPDATE, 5:09 PM (Caitlin): Former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke warned about the “cost and consequence” of Donald Trump’s presidency during his opening statement and cited Trump’s racism as a contributing factor in the recent shooting in his home state of El Paso, Texas.

UPDATE, 5:11 PM (Caitlin): Cory Booker spoke about his time as a community builder in New Jersey during opening statements and stated that the differences among the different Democrats on stage are not as important as uniting as party, which is how he says he will lead the nation.

UPDATE, 5:12 PM (Ruairi): Andrew Yang criticized the influence of money in politics, describing voters as the “owners and shareholders of democracy.” He promises to give a “Freedom Dividend” to ten American families, arguing that voters know how to help themselves better than any politician.

UPDATE, 5:13 PM (Caitlin): Mayor Pete Buttigieg laughed in the beginning of his opening statement after his name was mispronounced. He cited his experience as a mayor and veteran as what will guide him as president. “We need ideas that are bold enough […] and big enough,” he said.

UPDATE, 5:14 PM (Ruairi): Kamala Harris starts with “a few words for Donald Trump, who we all know is watching.” She cited the divisive rhetoric and failed policies of Trump, and says that she plans to focus on the things that unite Americans rather than divide them, finishing with these words: “And now, Mr. President, you can go back to watching to Fox News.”

UPDATE, 5:16 PM (Caitlin): Senator Bernie Sanders opened with a blunt assessment of the political landscape. “It goes without saying, that we must and will defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in the history of this country,” he said. But we must do more, he continued. He warned of the progression the United States is taking towards oligarchy.

UPDATE, 5:18 PM (Ruairi): Elizabeth Warren focused on her family’s connections to Texas, including her four year degree at the University of Texas. She recapped her personal history, arguing that today the “path to the middle class” is narrower than it was for people of her age.

UPDATE, 5:24 PM (Andrew): Elizabeth Warren did a good job reframing when challenged. She articulately summed up the problems of the current system, which is not efficient or effective. Everyone watching who has employer-sponsored healthcare knows what the words “out of network” mean.

UPDATE, 5:25 PM (Ruairi): We’ve seen this movie before, so to speak. This debate, like the ones before it, began with a tussle over healthcare, with Biden on on side, supporting his plan to build on the Patient Protection Act, and Senators Sanders and Warren making the case for their Medicare for All plans.

UPDATE, 5:26 PM (Ruairi): Biden defended his plan, saying that anyone who likes their insurance can keep it. He repeatedly criticized his rivals’ plans on a cost basis. “It’s not a bad idea if you like it, I don’t like it!”

UPDATE, 5:27 PM (Ruairi): “I’ve never met anyone who actually likes their health insurance company!” Elizabeth Warren retorted. She pointed out that the problem is that insurance companies make profits by saying no to healthcare – her plan would guarantee care for all.

UPDATE, 5:30 PM (Ruairi): Responding to Klobuchar’s argument that Medicare For All will take away private insurance options, Warren stated that Americans will still have access to quality healthcare – because her plan cuts out the expensive middlemen in the healthcare industry.

UPDATE, 5:32 PM (Andrew): We’re about a half hour in and so far, this has been basically a debate over single-payer healthcare (should we have it or not), with most of the time going to Biden, Sanders, and Warren.

UPDATE, 5:32 PM (Ruairi): Kamala Harris was asked about her changing position on Medicare For All. She credited both Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, saying that her plan makes Bernie’s plan better. Her plan does not eliminate private health insurance.

UPDATE, 5:34 PM (Ruairi): Harris brought the conversation back to Trump. She lambasted his efforts to destroy the Patient Protection Act, from the legislative attempt thwarted by John McCain to the Department of Justice’s refusal to defend the law against court challenges.

UPDATE, 5:35 PM (Caitlin): Sanders countered Biden’s accusation that the funding needed for Medicare For All is unrealistic by arguing that one of the major reason Americans file for bankruptcy is because of disease and illness.

UPDATE, 5:36 PM (Ruairi): Biden says he is offering “Medicare for Choice,” that anyone can get. He again assailed Medicare For All on a cost basis. Bernie Sanders replied to Biden that the Patient Protection Act didn’t go far enough to help people, like those who are struggling with bankruptcy due to cancer.

UPDATE, 5:36 PM (Andrew): The ABC moderators have so far failed to steer this debate into new territory. They apparently wanted a clash that rehashes the merits of single payer healthcare. And they got that.

UPDATE, 5:36 PM (Ruairi): “I know about cancer,” said Biden, noting he lost his son Beau (also an elected official) to the disease only four years ago. He says that his plan will cover those with terminal illnesses.

UPDATE, 5:38 PM (Ruairi): Julián Castro recognized President Obama’s efforts on healthcare. He said that Biden’s plan leaves ten million people uncovered. He described his grandmother’s illness, noting she was lucky to have Medicare.

UPDATE, 5:38 PM (Andrew): Joe Biden seems shocked that Castro is attacking him and his record so aggressively.

UPDATE, 5:39 PM (Ruairi): Castro said the difference between his plan and Biden’s is that Biden’s require people to buy in. Biden disagreed. Castro made what was perceived on social media and in the debate hall as a subtle jab at Biden’s age: “Are you forgetting what you said just two minutes ago?”

UPDATE, 5:40 PM (Ruairi): Castro says “I’m fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama, and you’re not!” Biden retorts, “He’d be surprised to hear that.”

UPDATE, 5:40 PM (Ruairi): The candidates, spurred by Yang, exchanged comments about whether the back and forth on healthcare was useful or not.

UPDATE, 5:41 PM (Ruairi): Andrew Yang said: “I am Asian, so I know a lot of doctors.” He says the current system makes it too hard for doctors to get results.

UPDATE, 5:42 PM (Caitlin): Senator Booker closed out the healthcare section. “I believe in Medicare For All,” he said, adding: “But there is an urgency in this nation.” He explained that while he wants to get to Medicare For All, Americans need action now on health coverage and he’ll work with fellow Democrats to achieve progress, even if that means taking incremental steps.

UPDATE, 5:42 PM (Andrew): The Democratic field is fortunate that Cory Booker’s eloquence capped off that conversation about healthcare, smoothing over the rough exchange between Biden and Castro.

UPDATE, 5:42 PM (Ruairi): The moderators have ended the healthcare segment and moved on to the topic of systemic racism and social justice.

UPDATE, 5:44 PM (Caitlin): Beto O’Rourke was given the first opportunity to weigh in. As president, he said he would sign into law a reparations bill that would let us address systemic racism at its foundations. He finished by saying that we must not forget about the white supremacist in the White House.

UPDATE, 5:45 PM (Ruairi): Julián Castro commended Beto O’Rourke for his compassion at El Paso. He pointed out that the El Paso shooter targeted “people who look like me.” He cited his plan “to disarm hate,” and emphasized his proposal to reform the police force.

UPDATE, 5:46 PM (Andrew): Cory Booker once again shone in a debate answer with some powerful analysis about systemic racism. Good reframing.

UPDATE, 5:46 PM (Caitlin): Booker declared that we know Donald Trump is a racist and it’s important to call out racism, but it’s also important to work against the systemic racism that is “eroding our country.” He promised that as president, he would implement an office that was specifically designed to tackle white supremacy and systemic racism that touches all aspects of American life.

UPDATE, 5:47 PM (Andrew): “Harms compound,” says Pete Buttigieg, nicely adding on to what Cory Booker said about needing to dismantle systemic racism.

UPDATE, 5:48 PM (Caitlin): Pete Buttigieg stated that systemic racism preceded Trump, so we need a systemic approach to combat it. He characterized his plan as “the most comprehensive vision to tackle systemic racism in all areas.”

UPDATE, 5:49 PM (Ruairi): Kamala Harris is asked about how she has changed her views on criminal and social justice issues. Harris described herself as “born knowing” about the racial injustices in the justice system. She goes to her argument that she wanted to change the system from the inside.

UPDATE, 5:51 PM (Ruairi): “Was I able to get enough done, absolutely not!” Harris lays out the basic tenets of her new justice plan, which are popular with activists. She says she can do the job as an insider.

UPDATE, 5:52 PM (Andrew): The questions coming from the moderators in this second segment are better than the first segment. Props to ABC for creating questions that challenge the candidates on their social & criminal justice records.

UPDATE, 5:53 PM (Caitlin): Senator Klobuchar was asked about her record. She spoke about her time as prosecutor, working the community groups, to ensure those who murdered black children in her community were brought to justice. She spoke about how her office went after white collar crimes and worked with the innocence project around the accuracy of eye witness identification. She finished by promising to reform the criminal justice system in a holistic way.

UPDATE, 5:54 PM (Ruairi): Biden was asked about his criminal and social justice plan. Biden recalled his early days as a lawyer, during the Civil Rights era. He says that “the whole model should change.” He points to the Obama administration’s release of tens of thousands of nonviolent offenders.

UPDATE, 5:55 PM (Ruairi): In one of his better lines of the night, Biden declared: “When you finish your term in prison, you should not only be able to vote, you should have access to Pell grants,” and other benefits.

UPDATE, 5:57 PM (Caitlin): Booker opened with a quote that stated our criminal justice system “treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.”Booker argued that every candidate on the stage should promise that as president, they would release those who are behind bars unjustly, which he says is roughly 7000 people. He spoke of his record in the Senate to work to grant clemency to as many as possible.

UPDATE, 5:57 PM (Ruairi): Turning to the topic of gun violence, the moderators pointed out that survivors from El Paso are in the audience tonight.

UPDATE, 5:57 PM (Andrew): It’s always nice when a presidential candidate offers attribution before or after borrowing a good quote. “We have a system of justice that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent,” is one of Bryan Stevenson’s best quips.

UPDATE, 5:58 PM (Ruairi): Biden is asked why he failed to secure stronger gun safety laws in the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook massacre. He responded by saying that he is the only candidate to “ever beat the NRA,” with the Brady Bill. He says that gun safety has gone from “a cause to a movement.”

UPDATE, 5:59 PM (Ruairi): Biden quoted the statistics to make the case for stronger gun safety laws. Biden complemented that the way O’Rourke handled the massacre in El Paso, calling it “meaningful”, to huge applause.

UPDATE, 6:00 PM (Ruairi): Kamala Harris was asked about her plans to issue executive orders to address gun violence. Joe Biden (who was quoted in the question) interrupted to say: “You can do that for some things!”

UPDATE, 6:00 PM (Andrew): Kamala Harris neatly invoked the Obama campaign’s motto “Yes, we can!” to argue that executive action is a realistic means of curtailing civilian access to weapons of war.

UPDATE, 6:00 PM (Caitlin): Beto O’Rourke was complimented by former Vice President Joe Biden for the way he responded to the recent shooting in El Paso, when he left the campaign trail and met with the victims’ families.

Biden referred to him as “Beto,” before apologizing and calling him “Congressman.” O’Rourke laughed and told him usage of his first name was fine.

UPDATE, 6:01 PM (Ruairi): Harris recalls her time as a prosecutor, looking at murder cases, dealing with victims’ families. She points out that children are being drilled to be ready for mass shootings.

UPDATE, 6:02 PM (Ruairi): “Beto, God love you for standing so courageously in the midst of that tragedy,” says Harris. Turning to Trump, she says that the President is “tweeting out the ammunition” for mass shootings.

UPDATE, 6:03 PM (Andrew): Former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke is showing America what courage looks like as he makes the case that no civilian needs (or should possess) an AR-15 or similar weapon.

UPDATE, 6:05 PM (Caitlin): Beto exclaimed, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15 and your AK-47s” after explaining the horrific stories he heard recently in Texas after the shooting. He said that he also went to a gun show recently and was able to find common ground with those who sell these guns.

UPDATE, 6:07 PM (Andrew): Cory Booker is truly having a great debate so far. His comments about the need for empathy are so important and welcome. Empathy is a core progressive value.

UPDATE, 6:08 PM (Caitlin): Klobuchar was asked about her views on addressing gun violence. She declared that what unites us is bigger than what divides us. She stated that everyone on the stage believes in common sense gun reform. She pointed out that there is a bill she’s worked on sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk that keeps guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

She stated that she supports an initial voluntary gun buyback program, but if we want action now, we have to send a message to Mitch McConnell. We have to pass the gun control bills that are sitting on his desk right now.

UPDATE, 6:08 PM (Andrew): Starting with a voluntary gun buyback program — as Amy Klobuchar just talked about — is a sensible idea; gun buyback initiatives are known to be effective. The public is receptive to them.

UPDATE, 6:08 PM (Caitlin): Booker spoke passionately about the gun violence epidemic in his neighborhood. He argued that we need “more courageous empathy” and that he would lead change on this issue with a personal passion.

UPDATE, 6:09 PM (Ruairi): Elizabeth Warren is asked “what can you get done on guns” when working with Republicans. She reframed the issue as “a gun violence problem,” citing suicides and accidental shootings, which don’t get the press that massacres do, but certainly contribute to loss of life in our country.

UPDATE, 6:11 PM (Ruairi): Warren: “When we’ve got this much support across the country… why doesn’t it happen, and the answer is corruption, pure and simple.” She wants to “roll back the filibuster” in the Senate.

UPDATE, 6:11 PM (Ruairi): Warren declared that she wants a politics that “works for the people,” rather than big companies.

UPDATE, 6:11 PM (Andrew): Spot-on comments from Elizabeth Warren about tackling corruption and eliminating the filibuster in order to take action on gun violence and other issues. Smart reframing.

UPDATE, 6:12 PM (Ruairi): Sanders echoed Warren, saying “what we are looking at is a corrupt political system,” offering a holistic argument that the American politics is being held hostage by powerful interests.

UPDATE, 6:13 PM (Caitlin): Sanders was asked about ending the filibuster. He while he doesn’t support ending the filibuster, he argued that we would not wait for sixty votes to pass anti-corruption initiatives. He said that in terms of gun issues, what we are looking at is a corrupt political system, echoing Elizabeth Warren’s statements. He again touted his “F rating” from the NRA.

UPDATE, 6:14 PM (Andrew): Very disappointing to hear Bernie Sanders say, “No,” when asked if he supports getting rid of the filibuster. The filibuster needs to be abolished. It’s contrary to the values this country was founded upon.

UPDATE, 6:14 PM (Ruairi): Jorge Ramos asked Biden about immigration. In 2008, Biden supported border fencing. He asked if Biden and the Obama administration “made a mistake” with respect to their policy on deportations.

UPDATE, 6:15 PM (Ruairi): Biden strongly defended Obama’s record, pointing to DACA and Obama’s attempts to create a path to citizenship. Biden said he wants to change Trump’s repulsive border policies on asylum seekers.

UPDATE, 6:15 PM (Ruairi): Ramos pressed on, asking: “Did you make a mistake?” Biden opted not to directly answer the question. Ramos then turned to Castro, who also served in Obama’s administration as part of the Cabinet.

UPDATE, 6:16 PM (Ruairi): Castro says that, unlike Obama, Trump has “a dark heart” concerning immigration. He criticized Biden for trying to take credit for Obama’s work, while distancing himself from other aspects of Obama’s record.

UPDATE, 6:17 PM (Ruairi): Castro said his administration would “not give up protections for anybody.” Biden said that he stands with Obama, “all eight years.”

UPDATE, 6:18 PM (Ruairi): Warren was asked about her desire to get rid of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). She emphasized the importance of offering a path to citizenship. She added that the current immigration system does not keep Americans safer, or serve American values.

UPDATE, 6:19 PM (Ruairi): Warren stressed helping the nations of Central America. She blamed the current border crisis expressly on Donald Trump.

UPDATE, 6:20 PM (Ruairi): Andrew Yang was asked about legal immigration – would he increase the number of people admitted to the country from one to two million? Yang pointed to the value of immigrants to the U.S., including his father.

UPDATE, 6:21 PM (Ruairi): Yang wants to “compete for talent” with other countries, saying that the United States is a “magnet for human capital,” and changing that dynamic would irreparably change the country.

UPDATE, 6:22 PM (Caitlin): Mayor Buttigieg was asked about Trump’s racist rhetoric and policies around immigration.

“Anyone who supports these is supporting racism,” said Buttigieg.

He argued that those who support these policies mostly just are not familiar with immigrants personally. He stated that we need to being engaging the American majority on our values of welcome and faith.

UPDATE, 6:24 PM (Caitlin): O’Rourke was then asked about those who overstay their visas and he argued we have rewrite our immigration laws in the image of El Paso, Texas, one of the most diverse and safe cities in the United States. He said both Democrats and Republicans need to face the fact that both voted for ineffective and inhumane immigration laws. He cited the need to give DREAMErs citizenship now and that under his administration, the United States would never lock up undocumented children again.

UPDATE, 6:25 PM (Andrew): The debate has paused for a lengthy, multi-minute commercial break. ABC is teasing that the next topics will be “American jobs” and “foreign policy”. What about climate justice?

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

In memoriam, eighteen years later

Today is the eighteenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, which destroyed New York’s World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Americans.

In honor of those who died that day, we’re republishing a poem that we post annually here on The Cascadia Advocate.

New York's Twin Towers

Two thousand one, nine eleven
Two thousand plus arrive in heaven.
As they pass through the gate,
Thousands more appear in wait.
A bearded man with stovepipe hat
Steps forward saying, “Let’s sit, let’s chat.”

They settle down in seats of clouds,
A man named Martin shouts out proud,
“I have a dream!” and once he did
The Newcomer said, “Your dream still lives.”

Groups of soldiers in blue and gray
Others in khaki, and green then say
“We’re from Bull Run, Yorktown, the Maine”
The Newcomer said, “You died not in vain.”

From a man on sticks one could hear
“The only thing we have to fear…”
The Newcomer said, “We know the rest,
trust us sir, we’ve passed that test.”

“Courage doesn’t hide in caves.
You can’t bury freedom, in a grave.”
The Newcomers had heard this voice before
A distinct Yankee twang from Hyannisport shores.

A silence fell within the mist
Somehow the Newcomer knew that this
Meant time had come for her to say
What was in the hearts of the two thousand plus that day.

“Back on Earth, we wrote reports,
Watched our children play in sports
Worked our gardens, sang our songs
Went to church and clipped coupons
We smiled, we laughed, we cried, we fought
Unlike you, great we’re not”

The tall man in the stovepipe hat
Stood and said, “Don’t talk like that!
Look at your country, look and see
You died for freedom, just like me.”

Then, before them all appeared a scene
Of rubbled streets and twisted beams
Death, destruction, smoke and dust
And people working just ’cause they must

Hauling ash, lifting stones,
Knee deep in hell, but not alone
“Look! Blackman, Whiteman, Brownman, Yellowman
Side by side helping their fellow man!”
So said Martin, as he watched the scene
“Even from nightmares, can be born a dream.”

Down below three firemen raised
The colors high into ashen haze
The soldiers above had seen it before
On Iwo Jima back in ’44

The man on sticks studied everything closely
Then shared his perceptions on what he saw mostly
“I see pain, I see 20 tears,
I see sorrow – but I don’t see fear.”

“You left behind husbands and wives
Daughters and sons and so many lives
are suffering now because of this wrong
But look very closely. You’re not really gone.

All of those people, even those who’ve never met you
All of their lives, they’ll never forget you
Don’t you see what has happened?
Don’t you see what you’ve done?
You’ve brought them together as one.”

With that the man in the stovepipe hat said
“Take my hand,” and from there he led
two thousand plus heroes, Newcomers to heaven
On this day, two thousand one, nine eleven.

— by Paul Spreadbury, dedicated to the victims of September 11th

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

The Senate Republicans are responsible for the Sound Transit taxes they say are unfair

For nearly three years now, Washington State’s Senate Republican caucus has been waging a long-running misinformation campaign aimed at Sound Transit as part of a broader right wing effort intended to discredit the agency and overturn the 2016 Sound Transit 3 (ST3) vote, which authorized Puget Sound’s Regional Transit Authority to expand light rail, commuter rail, and bus service.

At the forefront of the effort are a trio of senators who we consider “road warriors” because they appear to believe that transportation dollars should only go to roads and highways: Steve O’Ban, Mike Padden, and Phil Fortunato.

Each of them has introduced or cosponsored bills with the barely disguised aim of either sabotaging Sound Transit’s work or gutting the agency entirely.

With their caucus out of power in Olympia, those bills have gone nowhere. But they aren’t giving up. Each of them has been busy during the legislative interim identifying other ways to advance their anti-transit, right wing agenda.

Fortunato has launched a gubernatorial campaign with an anti-transit plank, while O’Ban and Padden have involved themselves in a lawsuit that seeks to have the authority that the Legislature gave to Sound Transit to raise revenue through motor vehicle excise taxes in 2015 declared unconstitutional.

The Washington State Supreme Court heard oral arguments in that case today. While O’Ban and Padden did not bring the suit, they have filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs, who claim the Legislature violated Article II, Section 37 of the Constitution when it passed the 2015 Connecting Washington package.

The State of Washington disagrees, as does Sound Transit, and are asking the Supreme Court to affirm the trial court and dismiss the case.

I read O’Ban and Padden’s amicus brief last week; it was authored by O’Ban on behalf of both of them. O’Ban appears to have created the brief with the objective of introducing a slew of documents into the case file that attempt to impugn Sound Transit’s credibility and the agency’s compliance with state law.

O’Ban and Padden claim that Sound Transit misled the Legislature when the House and Senate were considering 2ESSB 5987, the revenue component of the Connecting Washington transportation package, because Sound Transit’s leaders did not pitch the authorization of additional revenue authority as needed for a package that would ultimately include $54 billion in planned expenditures.

But there’s a very good reason that Sound Transit didn’t throw around a $54 billion number at the time 2ESSB 5987 was being considered by the Legislature: the agency’s board hadn’t yet drawn up an ST3 plan to submit to the voters. That would have been putting the cart before the horse.

The agency’s leaders didn’t know then how big the package would be, as no decision had been made. Sound Transit asked for — and got — legislative approval to levy additional sales taxes, motor vehicle excise taxes, and property taxes to bring light rail, commuter rail, and bus services to more places in the region.

Those taxes represent only a portion of the $54 billion total. Most of the rest is funding obtained from financing — the sale of bonds.

The reason the package ended up being $54 billion was because Sound Transit found out from its public outreach that voters (and riders + potential riders) wanted to vote on a bigger package with a larger portfolio of projects.

Accordingly, Sound Transit’s Board of Directors opted for a more ambitious Phase III system expansion plan. And voters approved it just a few months later.

Though the ST3 opposition campaign failed to persuade voters that Proposition 1 should be rejected, it never really ended. It instead morphed into various other efforts, like the fake “investigation” Padden and O’Ban instigated two years ago into Sound Transit’s conduct, this lawsuit, and Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976. All attempts to overturn the will of the voters in a high turnout election.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, ST3’s opponents decided to regroup, adopting the mantra we lost a battle, but we’re going to win the war.

They launched a ferocious, multi-pronged series of attacks on Sound Transit, accusing the agency of misleading legislators and duping voters.

To date, none of their attacks have cost Sound Transit any revenue. But if either this lawsuit or Initiative 976 succeeds, then ST3 will be sabotaged.

And that is their objective: obliterate whatever ST3 funding they possibly can so the agency can’t deliver the projects that voters approved in 2016.

They have focused specifically on trying to nix Sound Transit’s motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) authority because they have assessed that the MVET is the ST3 revenue source that is easiest to manufacture outrage over.

Since 2016, Senator O’Ban has invested a lot of energy in stoking outrage over Sound Transit’s “unfair car tab taxes”. He even made Sound Transit’s vehicle fees the focus of a franked mail piece sent out by his legislative office back in 2017.

Contrary to what they seem to want everyone to think, it is not Sound Transit that decides what a car is worth. It’s the state agencies, like DOL, that carry out the laws approved by the Legislature of the State of Washington.

O’Ban and the Senate Republicans have some nerve blasting Sound Transit for “unfair car tab taxes” when they are the ones responsible for having decided that Sound Transit should use an old valuation schedule for calculating what taxpayers should pay, at least until the year 2028.

See, back in 2015, when the House and Senate were putting together the Connecting Washington package, O’Ban’s colleague Doug Ericksen of Whatcom County objected to the use of the older valuation schedule that has so often been assailed as unfair. Ericksen introduced an amendment to oblige Sound Transit to use the newer vehicle valuation schedule adopted by the Legislature in 2006.

On February 27th, 2015, Ericksen rose on the Senate floor to speak to his concerns and move his amendment, Amendment 53.

The Senate Republicans, who then held the majority, could have voted as a bloc to adopt Ericksen’s amendment. But they didn’t.

Instead, they split.

Some of them voted with Ericksen in favor of the amendment’s adoption. Others, like then-Transportation Chair Curtis King of Yakima, (who spoke against the amendment), voted it down along with most Democrats.

I’m told by legislators that O’Ban was among the nays on Ericksen’s amendment. It wasn’t a roll call vote, so I don’t know for sure. But if O’Ban *was* a nay, that makes his yapping about “unfair car tab taxes” all the more duplicitous.

Why would some of the Senate Republicans vote down Amendment 53? The answer is that they knew that Sound Transit was already receiving MVET revenue that had been pledged to pay off bonds using that older valuation schedule, and it really wouldn’t make sense to use one schedule to calculate part of a vehicle owner’s MVET owed while using a different schedule to calculate the rest.

Democratic Senator Marko Liias explained this during his brief speech against Amendment 53 on the floor. Sound Transit General Counsel Desmond Brown and Pacifica Law Group’s Paul Lawrence (attorneys for Sound Transit) explained it all over again, even quoting Liias, in their reply brief to the plaintiffs in the case that was heard today for the benefit of the Washington State Supreme Court.

Here’s Brown and Lawrence:

The Senate Transportation Committee bill report explained that “[t]he depreciation schedule remains the same as the MVET schedule in effect for the existing MVET until the bonds are repaid and then the schedule switches to the schedule that is in effect at the time the MVET is approved by the voters.

During the floor debate, Senator Ericksen expressed dissatisfaction with this approach and proposed Amendment 53 to make three changes: (1) repeal the existing depreciation schedule then codified in RCW 82.44.035, (2) enact a new depreciation schedule to replace the repealed RCW 82.44.035, and (3) eliminate Sound Transit’s authority to apply the 1996 depreciation schedule to the new 0.8% MVET.

Senator Liias spoke against the amendment explaining that because the existing 0.3% MVET must be calculated using the 1996 depreciation schedule until the bonds are repaid, “it didn’t make sense for the period of time that there are bonds overlapping for taxpayers to have two different values for their car based on the two different values that are in the statute….”

Senator Liias argued that the Legislature should “stick with the old table until the bonds are paid off and then switch to the new improved and upgraded tables for ease of collection and to make it more simple for our taxpayers as they pay these taxes…”

Amendment 53 failed a floor vote.

The Senate then passed [2ESSB] 5987.

At the House committee hearing, Representative [Matt] Shea introduced Amendment H2685.1, which was substantially identical to Senator Ericksen’s Amendment.

The House Transportation Committee rejected the amendment.

Thus, these two rejected amendments, one in the House and one in the Senate, would have repealed and replaced the existing depreciation schedule enacted in 2006 (RCW 82.44.035) and would have removed the requirement that the 1996 schedule apply to the new Sound Transit MVET authorized by the [2ESSB] 5987.

To reiterate, the Senate Republicans had the power in 2015 to insist on language in the Connecting Washington package that would have prevented the use of the older valuation schedule for the portion of the MVET that was slated to be increased with ST3. But instead they opted to keep the old schedule in use.

And for a sensible reason.

Disappointingly, rather than admit their part in this to the people who are upset about their post-2016 vehicle fees, the Senate Republicans have repeatedly attacked Sound Transit and made the agency their bogeyman, using Dori Monson and Tim Eyman’s well worn playbook.

They instructed Manka Dhingra’s 2017 Republican opponent Jinyoung Englund to make vehicle fees an issue in her campaign. She did, but to no avail, as voters in the 45th Legislative District handily backed Dhingra for the position.

And now they are supporting both this lawsuit and Tim Eyman’s I-976.

They hope at least one, or maybe both, will succeed so they can realize their goal of sabotaging Sound Transit 3. Of course, if I-976 is implemented, it would defund many state and local transportation projects, not just Sound Transit’s regional projects. But that’s a price that true road warriors will gladly pay.

The lawsuit, on the other hand, more narrowly targets the provision of the legislation that gave Sound Transit the authority to increase its MVET. Taylor Black is the first of the named plaintiffs, and so the case is known as Black v. CPSRTA.

Black and the other plaintiffs are represented by attorneys who have also represented disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman: Joel Ard and David DeWolf.

While Eyman enthusiastically supports their lawsuit, he’d prefer to overturn ST3 with I-976, because then he would get the credit for having sabotaged the expansion of light rail north to Everett, south to Tacoma, west to Ballard and West Seattle, and east to Issaquah and downtown Redmond.

Considering that the plaintiffs couldn’t convince a trial court judge to rule in their favor and considering that precedent appears to be on Sound Transit and the State of Washington’s side, our guess is that this lawsuit will end in failure.

Regardless, we expect Senate Republicans to continue attacking Sound Transit in the years ahead. They seem very eager to undo the transit portion of the Connecting Washington package while keeping the highways portion, essentially reneging on the deal they struck with Democrats to keep Washington rolling four years ago. All while failing to acknowledge to voters that they bear the responsibility for the decision not to change how vehicles are valued.

There’s way too much bad information about Sound Transit circulating, whether on social media, talk radio, or other venues. The Senate Republicans are responsible for a good chunk of it, and they must be held to account for it.

Monday, September 9th, 2019

Forty-eight states have launched a major antitrust investigation targeting Google

Search and advertising giant Google and its parent company Alphabet are about to face more regulatory scrutiny, but this time from the state level:

Fifty attorneys general are joining an investigation into Google over possible antitrust violations, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the initiative’s leader, announced Monday. The news confirms reports last week about the bipartisan investigation into Google’s practices.

The probe includes attorneys general from forty-eight states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and Montana are all on board. The only states that aren’t participating are California (where Alphabet is headquartered) and Alabama. The Los Angeles Times reports that California’s Attorney General declined to provide a rationale for why the Golden State isn’t a party to the probe.

That’s left many Google critics scratching their heads.

“I just do not understand why California is not a part of this effort,” said John Simpson, who served as the privacy and technology project director at Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy organization, until he retired earlier this year. “Google has monopolized the market and really needs to be held accountable for that.”

It is nonetheless remarkable to see Democratic and Republican attorneys general from the country’s other states (minus Alabama) teaming up to investigate Google. Regardless of their political views, privacy and fairness are on the minds of these AGs, as their statements to the press regarding the probe make clear.

“We have fifty attorneys general from across the nation who are involved in this investigation that we’re leading from Texas… This is a company that dominates all aspects of advertising on the internet and searching on the internet as they dominate the buyers’ side, the sellers’ side, the auction side and even the video side with YouTube.”

— Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican

“When there is no longer a free market or competition, this increases prices, even when something is marketed as free, and harms consumers. Is something really free if we are increasingly giving over our privacy? Is something really free if online ad prices go up based on one company’s control?”

— Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican

“The state attorneys general, they are an independent bunch… And they can be quite tenacious. So I’m very confident that this bipartisan group is going to be led by the facts and not be swayed by any conclusion that may fall short, if you will, if it’s inconsistent with our facts, on the federal side. So we’re going to do what we think is right based on our investigation.”

— District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, a Democrat

“There’s no question that Google is the dominant player when it comes to internet searches with nearly ninety percent of the [market’s] share… And there’s nothing wrong with being the dominant player if it’s done fairly. That’s what our investigation intends to uncover and reveal — whether Google is playing by the rules and acting fairly.”

— Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, a Republican

The reason the above quotes are mostly from Republicans, by the way, is that the press conference announcing the probe mostly featured Republican AGs. Which, again, is very significant considering that Republican elected officials are usually sympathetic to the country’s captains of industry and their armies of lobbyists.

NPI has been concerned for more than a decade about Google’s business practices and its persistent, unending efforts to undermine everyone’s privacy.

We’re glad to see others voicing similar concerns, especially small businesses.

The CEO of Basecamp, a small software firm in Chicago, helped set off the newly skeptical questions this week when he blasted Google for its policy of allowing anyone to buy ads related to a brand name; if someone searches Google for “Basecamp,” they might first see an ad for the company’s rivals.

“When Google puts four paid ads ahead of the first organic result for your own brand name, you’re forced to pay up if you want to be found,” Basecamp’s CEO Jason Fried said on Twitter on Tuesday.

“It’s a shakedown. It’s ransom.”

We agree. And it’s time for our elected representatives to do something about it. When a market becomes hopelessly rigged, intervention is required.

There’s no such thing as a “free” market, contrary to what groups like the Washington Policy Center assert. All markets are constructed for someone’s benefit, and it is essential that we continuously ask the question Who is this market serving when evaluating a market’s performance. At NPI, we believe markets should operate fairly and contribute to the broad prosperity of all.

Google has become synonymous with search, and it has used its dominant position in that market to create a lucrative advertising business. Small businesses wanting to be found by new customers have no choice but to play by Google’s self-serving rules. There are other search engines, but they have a very small market share.

This is something that is undoubtedly going to be a focus of the antitrust probe.

(Speaking of other search engines, we recommend switching your default search engine to DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t track you and offers superior results.)

The European Union has for years been the only public entity in the world really putting Google under a regulatory magnifying glass.

That now seems to be changing with the launch of federal and state level probes into Google’s business practices. In the 1990s, Microsoft came under similar scrutiny, and was ultimately taken to court over its business practices.

At one point, a federal judge ordered Microsoft broken up. Microsoft appealed that ruling and was able to avoid being split in two, but the litigation sparked reforms to the company’s business practices. In our view, the Microsoft of today is a better behaved company than the Microsoft of the 1990s and early 2000s.

We don’t see Google abandoning its “surveillance capitalism” business model on its own. Google needs an intervention so that it becomes a company less dominant in search and advertising and much more respectful of everyone’s privacy.

Here’s hoping it gets one.

Saturday, September 7th, 2019

ThinkProgress to power down, lose staff after Center for American Progress fails to sell it

The progressive media landscape is losing another useful publication.

Yesterday, The Daily Beast reported that the Center For American Progress Action Fund has decided to power down ThinkProgress, the editorially independent progressive news and commentary site founded by Judd Legum in 2005. ThinkProgress has for years been a respected source of breaking news and analysis of pressing issues, and its powering down is a blow to the progressive movement.

I say “power down” because the site won’t be going away. It’s just not going to be what it has been for so long. Here’s Sam Stein/Gideon Resnick of The Daily Beast.

Top officials at CAP had been searching for a buyer to take over ThinkProgress, which has run deficits for years, and according to sources there were potentially three serious buyers in the mix recently. But in a statement to staff, Navin Nayak, the executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said the site was ultimately unable to secure a patron.

“Given that we could find no new publisher, we have no other real option but to fold ThinkProgress back into CAP’s broader online presence with a focus on analysis of policy, politics, and news events through the lens of existing CAP and CAP Action staff experts,” said Nayak. “Conversations on how to do so are just beginning, but we will seek to reinvent it as a different platform for progressive change.”

A dozen ThinkProgress employees will be losing their jobs, a CAP aide said, as many who were on staff had already gone to work elsewhere and some were incorporated into the larger CAP infrastructure.

Those who are being laid off will be given a severance package that runs through the end of November and health care coverage that lasts through the year, said the CAP aide.

It’s very disappointing that the Center For American Progress Action Fund is taking this course of action. It appears from Stein’s reporting that the Center For American Progress got tired of financially supporting ThinkProgress.

That line “run deficits for years” really jumps out of Stein’s story.

ThinkProgress was not a business, yet it was apparently viewed within the Center For American Progress (+ CAP Action Fund) as akin to a money-losing corporate division. But ThinkProgress didn’t exist to make money; it existed to hold power accountable and ask questions that no one else was asking.

Later on in his story, Stein goes into more detail about how CAP/CAPAF officials had come to see the site as a money pit and a liability, rather than an asset.

The Daily Beast reported in June that ThinkProgress has been experiencing declining advertising revenue and fewer dedicated donations than in 2017/2018.

Rather than coming up with a viable long-term plan to sustain ThinkProgress, however, CAP/CAPAF decided to trim staff and cut the site loose.

They let it be known they were looking for a buyer to take it over.

When they couldn’t find one, they decided to lay off the remaining staff and fold the site back into the Center For American Progress Action Fund.

Hence, yesterday’s announcement.

By powering down ThinkProgress, the Center For American Progress Action Fund is squandering an opportunity to demonstrate sound stewardship of a newsroom in its care at a time when progressive media infrastructure is sorely needed.

ThinkProgress had credibility and readership built up over a period of many years. It had a lengthy track record of covering the issues thoroughly and well.

As Sam Stein and Gideon Resnick noted in their report:

At its peak, there were few more important pieces of unapologetically progressive, online real estate than ThinkProgress.

The site combined original reporting with an attack-dog mentality to target Republican lawmakers and conservative ideas.

A testament to its success is found in the list of prominent alumni currently working in politics and journalism.

That list includes Faiz Shakir, who now serves as Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager; Amanda Terkel, the D.C. bureau chief of the Huffington Post; Nico Pitney, the political director at NowThis; Alex Seitz-Wald, a top campaign reporter for NBC News; Ali Gharib, a senior news editor at The Intercept; and Matt Yglesias, one of the founding members of Vox.

ThinkProgress’ website and archives will remain available and new content will continue to be added by CAP and CAPAF’s remaining staff.

But the ThinkProgress newsroom is gone.

The final ThinkProgress staff roster was as follows:

Editor in Chief
Jodi Enda

Interim Deputy Editor
Stephanie Griffith

Senior Editor
Emily Hazzard

Senior Audience Engagement Editor
Patrick Smith

Climate Editor
Kyla Mandel

Deputy Editor
Adam Peck

Reporters
Luke Barnes
E.A. Crunden
Zack Ford
Lindsay Gibbs
Josh Israel
Danielle McLean
Casey Michel
Alan Pyke
Casey Quinlan
Joe Romm

Columnist
Sam Fulwood III

Video Producer
Hai Phan

Visual Editor
Diana Ofosu

Editorial Assistant
Kay Wicker

Business & Operations Manager
Ed Connors

Every time we lose a newsroom or a media organization, whether it be Governing Magazine, The Pacific Standard, or ThinkProgress, our democracy suffers.

Neither the progressive movement nor society at large is properly valuing quality journalism at a time when we sorely, desperately need it.

“I joined CAP in 2003 and was one of the first employees and I joined because I believed in the mission of creating permanent progressive infrastructure. It’s disheartening that CAP no longer believes that independent progressive journalism is worth supporting,” wrote ThinkProgress founder Judd Legum on Twitter.

“The decision to fold ThinkProgress back into CAP, in my view, is a mistake. It violates the spirit in which it has operated over the last fifteen years. It also underscores that this was ultimately about control, not money.”

“It also underscores my belief that we need more progressive media that is not only independent, but self-sustaining. Donors are great until they jump ship.”

And speaking of money and donors: “Just the money that Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg spent pointlessly dipping their toes into the presidential race could have probably funded ThinkProgress for years,” mused Mehdi Hasan.

We at NPI are committed to doing our part to addressing our growing journalism famine. It’s why we publish this blog, The Cascadia Advocate, and have since March 2004. We are committed to continuing to publish The Cascadia Advocate, and we welcome your help in order to meet that commitment.

The Cascadia Advocate enjoys the full support of NPI’s Board of Directors. Most NPI staff contribute content regularly and we are enthusiastic about continuing the site’s mission of providing excellent advocacy journalism and commentary on current events. We continue to add new features, like Last Week In Congress.

There are several ways you can support TCA’s continued publication:

Thanks for reading and caring about the future of progressive media.

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

Tim Eyman pleads with his followers for more cash: “I’m getting the crap kicked out of me”

Disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman basically owns the front of this year’s general election ballot, which will feature an initiative sponsored by him (Initiative 976), a referendum to reinstate an initiative sponsored by him (Referendum 88), and twelve of his wasteful, deceptive, and unconstitutional push polls.

But he’s not a happy man.

Why?

Well, for starters, he keeps losing skirmishes in his long-running legal battle with Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who is trying to hold him accountable for his repeated and willful violations of Washington State’s public disclosure law.

And if that weren’t bad enough, Eyman’s income has been falling. Since the beginning of the year, his monthly receipts have dropped significantly.

We don’t know the identities of all of Eyman’s benefactors, but we do know how much they’re collectively giving Eyman every month because he’s required to submit regular financial reports to the United States Bankruptcy Court.

(Eyman filed for Chapter 11 late last year in an attempt to stall Bob Ferguson’s campaign finance enforcement action against him, then tried to back out when that didn’t work, but has been kept in bankruptcy by Judge Marc Barreca.)

For January of 2019, Eyman reported monthly receipts of $29,626.16. Six months later, for July of 2019, Eyman reported monthly receipts of $7,984.08.

With his income having declined substantially, Eyman is now belatedly trying to cut his expenses. He’s still living beyond his means, though, which is something right wing candidates and elected officials frequently claim households never do.

In an attempt to boost his income, Eyman is asking his followers to take pity on him, telling them in an email today: “I’m getting the crap kicked out of me.”

What did he mean by that, since he’s been losing to Ferguson in a court on a frequent basis? What just happened to merit this woe-is-me email missive?

It turns out (and no, I’m not making this up) that Eyman’s feelings have been hurt by a few people who identify as right wing/conservative leaving comments on Facebook saying things like “Can’t stand him” and urging Eyman to own his many “errors” (Eyman’s political history is absolutely littered with a slew of own goals.)

In an era (error?) of Trumpian insults, those are some pretty tame criticisms.

And yet consider the effect those tame criticisms seem to be having on poor Tim, who responded with an eye-catching whine that (naturally) turned into a plea for money for himself: “I’m getting the crap kicked out of me.”

No doubt you’re under a lot of stress, but if you can’t take the heat, Tim, then, for goodness’ sake, why are you in the kitchen!?

You say you love politics, you say you’ll never quit pushing destructive initiatives that would wreck everyone’s quality of life, including yours and your own family’s, you delight in calling Democratic elected officials (and sometimes Republican ones, too) nasty names and impugning their motives. You’ve compared yourself and your followers on more than occasion to “junkyard dogs”.

But while you can dish out criticism with gusto, you clearly can’t take it.

You are in so many ways like your idol Donald Trump.

You don’t deserve anyone’s pity, or their money. What you deserve is justice — to be held accountable for your repeated and willful lawbreaking.

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

City of Everett approves resolution opposing Tim Eyman’s destructive I-976

With Labor Day behind us and most K-12 schools in Washington State back in session, signs of fall are all around us. Summer is almost over.

We are now less than sixty days away from the 2019 November general election, which will take place midway through the autumn season.

This year’s general election ballot won’t look like those of years past. The front will be utterly dominated by Tim Eyman measures: one Eyman initiative, one referendum to reinstate an Eyman initiative, and twelve Eyman push polls (“advisory votes”.) We call it the “Eymallot” for this reason.

The Eyman initiative, I-976, is easily the most destructive of the bunch. It would wipe out $4.2 billion in bipartisan, voter-approved transportation investments over the next six yeas, according to the Office of Financial Management.

Transportation funding in Washington at every level would be reduced: state, regional, and local. At the state level, the multimodal account would be gutted, jeopardizing the future of Amtrak Cascades intercity rail service.

The freight mobility account would get wiped out, too, hurting projects that would help farmers and manufacturers get their goods to market.

At the regional level, Sound Transit would lose billions in revenue, which would negatively impact the agency’s ability to borrow money to complete voter-approved light rail, commuter rail, and bus expansion projects. Sound Transit estimates I-976 could cost taxpayers as much as $20 billion.

And then there’s the local level.

Transportation benefit district funding relied upon by cities across Washington would be slashed too – from Washougal in southwest Washington’s Clark County along the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, to Elmer City located upstream of the Grand Coulee Dam just beside the Colville Reservation.

I-976 accomplishes all this devastation by repealing vehicle fees that were either previously approved by voters or by the elected representatives voters elected.

The sixty-two Washington cities that depend on vehicle fee revenue to fix potholes, widen roads, and repair bridges are gravely concerned — as they should be.

We do not want to see another critical infrastructure failure like the 2013 Skagit River Bridge collapse on I-5 between Mount Vernon and Burlington.

Thankfully, city councils throughout the state are beginning to take note of I-976’s destructive potential — from Vancouver to Bainbridge Island.

Tonight, Everett’s City Council adopted a resolution officially opposing Eyman’s I-976, officially putting Washington’s seventh largest city on the record against the measure. Everett is among the cities that would lose big if I-976 goes into effect.

Moments before the resolution’s passage, Councilmember Scott Murphy summed up his opposition to I-976 by stating: “I-976 takes a sledgehammer and tries to solve a very specific problem. What this issue really needs is a scalpel.”

“It would be really devastating to our own economic agenda,” added Councilmember Brenda Stonecipher.

The council’s resolution mentioned cuts to highway patrol funding, the State Multimodal Account, and Regional Mobility Grants as serious concerns.

You can see the full resolution below.

A Resolution Opposing Washington State Initiative 976

WHEREAS the City of Everett strives to maintain and continuously improve its transportation infrastructure for the benefit of its residents and employers; and

WHEREAS the City has long been committed to keeping its streets in top condition through a robust street overlay program; and

WHEREAS Everett residents have made a long-term investment in Sound Transit, including the delivery of light rail to Everett, which will provide fast, convenient, and reliable transit for Everett residents and workers to points throughout the Puget Sound region; and

WHEREAS the City Council and Mayor recognize that Initiative 976 would have extremely negative impacts on City, County and State transportation infrastructure, including the loss of Everett’s Transportation Benefit District, which typically provides more than half of the City’s $3 million annual street overlay budget; and

WHEREAS Sound Transit would lose approximately $7 billion for Sound Transit 3 projects if I-976 were to pass, which would put delivery of light rail to Everett at extremely grave risk; and

WHEREAS passage of I-976 would result in a nearly $2 billion loss of six years in State transportation funding for highways, the Washington State Patrol and other critical investments, impacting Snohomish County and every corner of the state; and

WHEREAS I-976 would strip more than $1.4 billion over six years from the State’s Multimodal Account, from which the City of Everett has received approximately $13.3 million over the past 15 years for projects including the 41st Street Overcrossing, I-5/41st Street Ramp, East Marine View Drive improvements and the 41st Street Freight Corridor; and

WHEREAS I-976 would jeopardize $100 million in biennial funding for State Regional Mobility Grants, which Everett Transit has used to help purchase electric buses and add Park & Ride stalls at Everett Station, and which also help fund sidewalks, bike infrastructure, Safe Routes to School projects and projects that benefit seniors and people with disabilities,

NOW, THEREFORE, THE EVERETT CITY COUNCIL DOES RESOLVE:

The City Council confirm its opposition to Initiative 976, which will be on the statewide ballot in November 2019, as it would cause extreme harm to the development and maintenance of our transportation infrastructure, thereby jeopardizing economic growth and quality of life in Everett and throughout the region.

Passed and approved this 4th day of September 2019.

The Economic Alliance of Snohomish County, Snohomish County’s countywide chamber of commerce representing over four hundred entities, is a member of the NO on I-976 coalition (of which NPI is also a member) working to defeat I-976. Erik Ashlie-Vinke, representing the EASC, made comments at the City Council meeting, making the point that TBDs contribute vitally to all sorts of programs, from Safe Routes to Schools to pothole repair.

The Washington and Northern Idaho District Council of Laborers, through Billy Wallace, also made a comment at the meeting.

Wallace emphasized that there are apprentices going through training programs that possibly will retire on the projects that ST3 funds, all the while making a solid family wage and building an equitable pension to a respectable retirement.

For the general public, Wallace noted it will also “take care of getting people home in time so that they can spend more time with their family.”

(Everett’s traffic, incidentally, was rated worst in the nation in 2018.)

Wallace emphasized we have to do what we can to get as much capacity as possible out of the infrastructure we can build, which is transit.

A few more notes from the resolution about Everett in particular:

  • Everett is one of the largest cities in the state with a Transportation Benefit District, which levies a vehicle fee as part of the $1,526,992 the TBD collected in revenue in 2017 – over half of the City’s roadwork budget, says the resolution. Roadwork on Beverly Blvd, Seaway Blvd, Colby Ave, and Marine View Dr were all conducted partially using TBD funding in 2017. You can see the good work the TBD’s funds were used for in 2017 through this link. Additionally, eleven out of the sixty-two total communities in Snohomish County use TBDs for road maintenance.
  • When Link light rail reaches Lynnwood in 2024, Snohomish County will be connected to the network for the first time. Further extension to Everett by 2036 was approved through ST3 but will be jeopardized by I-976. Council President Scott Bader made it clear: the region’s elected leaders have made a commitment to voters to deliver high-quality transit throughout the Puget Sound and they must deliver.

We cannot afford Tim Eyman’s I-976. Learn more about the impacts before your ballot shows up by visiting the Keep Washington Rolling coalition website.

Then vote NO on I-976 by November 5th, 2019.

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Sound Transit officially breaks ground on Lynnwood Link, delighting Snohomish County

Relief is in sight for gridlock-weary Snohomish County residents tired of fighting congestion on I-5 between downtown Seattle and Lynnwood.

Today, Sound Transit officially broke ground on Lynnwood Link, which will bring light rail across the King/Snohomish county line for the first time, extending the region’s high capacity transit spine northwards towards Everett.

Map of Lynnwood Link

Sound Transit’s map of the Lynnwood Link extension (Courtesy of Sound Transit)

At a ceremony at the Lynnwood Transit Center, the agency celebrated the long-anticipated milestone with a third of the state’s congressional delegation plus state legislators, labor leaders, and construction workers.

“Today’s groundbreaking is the culmination of more than a decade of planning and preparation,” said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff in a statement.

“From the beginning, this project has received enthusiastic support from the federal, state and local governments, our congressional delegation, the business and labor communities, and voters – a sign of the hunger for relief from the horrendous highway congestion facing travelers every day. This project will be a game changer for Snohomish County commuters. And in the years to come, we will be extending Link from Lynnwood all the way to Everett.”

Nearly everyone else who spoke joined Rogoff in touting Link’s planned northward extension to the seat and largest city of Snohomish County.

Getting Link to Everett was one of the centerpieces of the Sound Transit Phase III (ST3) system expansion plan in 2016. But Everett Link may not happen on time — or at all — if we don’t stop Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976, which is on the ballot this far. I-976 seeks to repeal one of the three principal funding sources for ST3, which would result in the loss of billions in revenue and severely impair Sound Transit’s ability to borrow money to finance the projects that voters approved.

I-976 is opposed by a broad and diverse coalition that NPI has been deeply involved in pulling together. The roster of participating organizations is growing longer by the day as more and more Washingtonians sign on to help defeat I-976. If you have not yet gotten engaged, you can do so at no976.org.

The fact that all three of Washington’s top three statewide elected officials showed up to this groundbreaking says a lot about what this project means to our region. When Lynnwood Link is complete and open to the public in just a few years, it will be possible to roll between Seattle and Snohomish County in a predictable amount of time, every day of the week, regardless of traffic conditions.

At present, the only transit service between Seattle and Snohomish County that doesn’t have to share the road with cars on frequently gridlocked Interstate 5 or arterials running parallel to I-5 is Sounder North, which does not make any stops between Edmonds and King Street Station in downtown Seattle and only runs during commuting hours except for special “Game Day” weekend trains.

Link will revolutionize transit in North King County and South Snohomish County, permitting Sound Transit, Metro, and Community Transit to extend the reach of the region’s transit network by reallocating bus service to underserved areas.

Is it any wonder, then, that Snohomish County leaders are positively delighted?

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers is thrilled. “The expansion of Link light rail will be transformative for Snohomish County and the region,” he said. “Too many of our residents are stuck in traffic for far too long every day. Giving them additional options to avoid driving – including light rail, bus rapid transit and heavy rail – will improve their quality of life and our region’s environmental health.”

Sound Transit has long been counting on federal funds to make Lynnwood Link a reality. Washington’s congressional delegation delivered, even with Donald Trump in the White House. Although United States taxpayers are making a significant and crucial contribution, it is important to note that local taxes still make up the lion’s share of the project’s funding. It is a true partnership in every sense.

Here’s the basics on what is being built, when it’ll open, and who will benefit:

Lynnwood Link light rail service is scheduled to begin in 2024. Sound Transit plans trains to operate every four to six minutes during weekday peak hours.

Commuters from the Lynnwood Transit Center will enjoy twenty-minute rides to the University of Washington, twenty-seven minute rides to downtown Seattle and sixty minute rides to Sea-Tac Airport. Trains from Lynnwood will also serve the Eastside and reach downtown Bellevue in fifty-one minutes. Sound Transit projects ridership to reach between 47,000 and 55,000 daily riders by 2026.

Emphasis is mine. Think about that: Trains will be running every four to six minutes during peak hours. No joke! Trains will come so often that riders won’t need to worry about schedules. Just tap that ORCA card, walk onto the platform, and board a Blue Line train that will ultimately go to the Eastside, or a Red Line train for points south of Downtown Seattle. You can zip by the traffic on Interstate 5 in a fully accessible electric light rail vehicle with no tailpipe.

In just two years, the northern terminus of our rail spine will move from the UW to Northgate with the opening of three new stations. That will put light rail nearly four and half miles closer to to the Snohomish County line. If construction goes as planned, Lynnwood Link will follow just three years later.

NPI congratulates Sound Transit on today’s milestone and wishes contractors Stacy & Witbeck/Kiewit/Hoffman JV, Skanska L300 JV, and our union laborers all the best as they undertake the work of bringing Link north into Snohomish County.

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Thanks, but no thanks: Dave Reichert takes a pass on challenging Jay Inslee for Governor

Dave Reichert is out. Again.

The former King County Sheriff and United States Representative declared today that he will not be a candidate for Governor of the State of Washington in 2020, saying that he enjoys his current work and deeply values his time with his family.

Reichert’s statement appears to be a refreshingly sincere and candid statement of his priorities. I think he’s finding retirement to be very pleasant, and, at Gordon Thomas Honeywell, he is working on a noble issue he cares a lot about.

Why walk away from that? There’s just no upside.

Here’s Reichert’s full statement.

I am honored and humbled to have recently been asked to consider running for Governor in 2020. After much thoughtful prayer and discussion with family and friends, I have decided not to run.

I am enjoying my current role at Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs helping Central American countries create missing person databases (through DNA) that will help to identify missing persons and prevent children from being abducted in the deadly world of human trafficking. I am eager to continue that work and save lives. My wife, kids and grandkids have made great sacrifices over my nearly five decades of public servanthood and we are now able to enjoy much quality time with each other.

I’m confident a quality Republican candidate will enter the race and I look forward to the first Republican serving as Governor of this great state since Governor John Spellman in 1985.

Notice that Reichert did not offer an endorsement of any of the Republicans currently running for governor. It would seem he’s holding out for a more credible candidate. So is State Republican Party Chair Caleb Heimlich, the person responsible for floating the Reichert for Governor trial balloon a few days ago.

Heimlich had thought Reichert might be his man.

But now that Reichert has taken a pass, it’s back to the shortlist, which I imagine is a very short list considering how thin the Republican Party’s bench is.

Reichert previously opted against running for Governor in 2015, so this is actually the second time he’s decided not to take on incumbent Jay Inslee.

Monday, September 2nd, 2019

Dave Reichert for Governor? Republicans can dream, but they can’t escape Trump in 2020

With 2019 two-thirds of the way over, and with the 2020 presidential elections fast approaching, the Washington State Republican Party is running out of time to figure out who to put up for most of the nine statewide executive department positions that are always contested in presidential years along with the presidency.

Out of power in Olympia and hampered by a thin bench, the party has yet to recruit credible challengers against most of the Democratic incumbents who will be seeking reelection. (Democrats hold six of the nine positions in the executive department, while Republicans have two. A ninth is officially nonpartisan.)

The Democratic Party’s likely ticket for executive races appears pretty much set.

Governor Jay Inslee has declared for a third term, and will be running alongside Cyrus Habib for Lieutenant Governor, Bob Ferguson for Attorney General, Hilary Franz for Commissioner of Public Lands, Pat McCarthy for Auditor, and possibly Mike Kreidler for Insurance Commissioner (unless he retires).

The party may also throw its blessing behind Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal’s reelection. Reykdal was once a Democratic legislator.

Additionally, Democrats already have a formidable challenger for incumbent Treasurer Duane Davdson, one of the two Republicans expected to seek reelection: the widely respected and well regarded State Representative Mike Pellicciotti of the 30th, who has already outraised Davidson three times over.

That just leaves Secretary of State, an office Democrats have not held in more than half a century. Incumbent Kim Wyman plans to run again and will be difficult to beat. State Party Chair Tina Podlodowski was Wyman’s last opponent and could not take Wyman out despite getting over 58% of the vote in King County.

As party chair, finding an opponent for Wyman is now one of Podlodowski’s many responsibilities. As challenging as that task might be, it utterly pales in comparison to the problems that State Republican Party Chair Caleb Heimlich is dealing with. That aforementioned thin bench makes the recruitment of appealing, credible candidates on the Republican side a very tall order.

Notice I said appealing, credible candidates. There’s no shortage of Republican activists and downballot officeholders who think they have what it takes to go up against Democratic incumbents. The militant, far right state senator Phil Fortunato thinks he’s gubernatorial material. So does Loren Culp, the police chief of Republic.

Top Republicans would prefer someone else at the top of the ticket… someone who could actually compete for votes in the state’s vote-rich suburbs.

The ideal candidate is someone who has run and won before and been elected in an area larger than a small rural county or a legislative district. Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier would qualify, but he doesn’t seem interested in vacating his current job for what could easily be a losing campaign for higher office.

And so Heimlich and other Republicans are turning to Dave Reichert.

The former King County Sheriff won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004 and was able to secure reelection in six successive cycles: 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016. In 2018, Reichert opted to retire rather than seek another term, and Democrats captured the seat, now held by Kim Schrier.

Reichert is now a lobbyist at Gordon Thomas Honeywell, and by all accounts, seems pretty happy there. Still, it’s always nice to be wanted, and Reichert has on several occasions expressed an interest in serving as governor.

Problem is, to become governor, Reichert would have to work very hard, putting in long days and doing a lot of travel. He would need to articulate at least a semblance of a platform or campaign for governing that would interest those voters who aren’t already planning to vote a straight or mostly straight Democratic ticket in 2020. But even if he did all that, his campaign might still be a pointless effort. There simply may not be enough voters in Washington who are willing to support somebody running alongside Donald Trump for high office next year.

If Governor of Washington State were an appointed position, I have no doubt Reichert would gladly jump at the opportunity to serve.

But it’s not an appointed position; it’s an elected one. Reichert would have to campaign, and vigorously. He’d need to invest serious time familiarizing himself with a bevy of state level issues in order to truly be a credible candidate.

And he’d need to figure out how to respond to Democratic criticisms of his record as a member of the United States of Representatives, especially his final two years in office, in which he was an enabler of the agenda of Donald Trump.

Reichert has considered undertaking such a journey before, in 2015. He ultimately decided to take a pass and Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant went on to become Inslee’s challenger. Inslee dispatched Bryant with ease in 2016.

The political climate for Republicans has not improved since then.

In fact, it’s gotten worse. Much worse. The Democratic Party cleaned up very nicely in the 2018 midterms, adding seven State House seats and three State Senate seats to its legislative majority in addition to capturing WA-08 for the first time ever, making Reichert’s successor a Democrat. Democrats remain offensively-focused in 2020. They’re planning on capturing even more legislative seats, defeating Jaime Herrera-Beutler in WA-03, and unseating Duane Davidson.

If Reichert says yes to running, it will make the 2020 gubernatorial race less boring for reporters and political observers, but it will not help the Republicans’ prospects considering that Trump is the head of their party. There are fewer and fewer voters operating on the basis of “I vote for the person, not the party” these days.

This “Trump card” may be the deciding factor for Reichert.

As I alluded to above, there is no escaping the vortex that is Donald Trump. He has remade the Republican establishment in his image with the wild enthusiasm of the people that same establishment have long considered their base.

Anyone who files for office as a Republican in 2020 is signing up to be part of Trump’s ticket and Trump’s party. “Prefers Donald Trump’s Party” would actually be an accurate and fitting descriptor for Republicans on next year’s ballot.

Understandably, Caleb Heimlich doesn’t want to simply concede next year’s state level elections to the Democrats, which is why he’s laboring to recruit somebody who has Reichert’s level of name recognition to run for governor.

But for Heimlich’s recruiting for governor and other state level offices to not be an exercise in futility, the Washington State Republican Party and its candidates would have to pull off what would seem to be an impossible feat: woo voters who don’t like what their party has become without alienating their Trump-loving base.

They couldn’t manage it in 2016. What’s going to make 2020 any different?

Sunday, September 1st, 2019

Documentary Review: “The Great Hack” shows how data insecurity impacts elections

As much as I consider myself a fairly well-informed and engaged activist, I did not closely follow the Facebook hearings and Cambridge Analytical data scandal that were prominent in the news throughout 2018.

I knew some unethical things had been done with data that allowed a lot of fake news and political ads to spread on Facebook, including in the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential election, but watching The Great Hack (now streaming on Netflix), my first response was, “Yikes! How was this allowed to happen and how has nothing been done to prevent these things from continuing?!”

Here’s a quick primer.

Cambridge Analytica got an app from a Cambridge University data scientist that had several hundred thousand Facebook users complete a survey which in the process gave access not just to their own Facebook data, but to all of their connections’ Facebook data as well. Therefore Cambridge Analytica got personal data on millions of Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.

They then used this data in their work with various political campaigns. Using the data, campaigns could target specific people in specific locations with specific ads that were the most likely to persuade that person, based on the data.

Poster for The Great Hack

The Great Hack
Release Year: 2019
Directors: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim
Running Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Watch trailer

While this may sound somewhat innocuous or like it couldn’t have much impact, when you learn more, it becomes clear how insidious and dangerous this technology is, especially in the context of elections.

“The Great Hack” is very effective in telling what happened and why it matters. The filmmakers start with David Carrol, an Associate Professor at the Parson School of Design, where he teaches classes on digital media and app development. He explains the basics of what data is collected on people and how it can be used.

“All of my interactions, my credit card swipes, web searches, locations, my likes, they’re all collected in real time and attached to my identity, giving any buyer direct access to my emotional pulse. Armed with this knowledge, they compete for my attention, feeding me a steady stream of content built for and seen only by me… What I like, what I fear, what my boundaries are, and what it takes to cross them.”

In the United States, Cambridge Analytica worked with Senator Ted Cruz in the Republican presidential primary, and were credited with helping him win the Iowa caucuses. Later, they worked with the Trump campaign, and because of their previous work with Cruz, they already had amassed fourteen months of data and research that they were able to hand over to the Trump team.

The digital branch of the Trump campaign was called Project Alamo, and they had an office that housed people not just from Cambridge Analytica but also from Facebook and Google (though when asked in a congressional hearing by Washington’s Maria Cantwell if anyone from Facebook worked with Cambridge Analytica on the Trump campaign, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he didn’t think anyone had). At its peak, the Trump campaign was spending over $1 million a day on Facebook ads.

Trump’s 2016 digital campaign manager, who is now his 2020 campaign manager, claims that they ran 5.9 million visual ads on Facebook, compared to only 66,000 for the Clinton campaign. While we can have plenty of discussions about campaign strategy and ad budgeting, it is not just the volume of ads that made the Trump campaign effective, rather it was the unethically-begotten data and potentially illegal ways they used that data that is the real problem.

Carole Cadwalladr is an investigative journalist at The Guardian in London who has been investigating Cambridge Analytica, especially how it was tied to the Brexit campaign. She got former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie to start talking with her. The film features a compelling video interview she conducted with him, in which she asks him about the way Cambridge Analytica collected data on people without their knowledge or consent.

At one point in the film, Cadwalladr asks:

“You didn’t ever stop and think, ‘Actually, this is people’s personal information, and we’re taking it and we’re using it in ways that they don’t understand?'”

Wylie replies:

“No. Throughout history you have examples of grossly unethical experiments.”

“Is that was this was?” Cadwalladr asks.

“I think that yes, it was a grossly unethical experiment,” Wylie says.

“You are playing with the psychology of an entire country without their consent or awareness. And not only are you, like, playing with the psychology of an entire nation, you are playing with the psychology of an entire nation in the context of the democratic process.”

At another point in the film, Wylie talks more about the nature of Cambridge Analytica, and one of its founders, Steve Bannon, former executive of ultra-conservative Breitbart News and key Trump strategist and advisor.

“He follow this idea of the Breitbart doctrine,” says Wylie, “which is that if you want to fundamentally change society, you first have to break it…[Cambridge Analytica] is the weapon that Bannon wanted to build to fight his culture war.”

“It’s incorrect to call Cambridge Analytica a purely sort of data science company or an algorithm company,” Wylie says. “It is a full service propaganda machine.”

Backing up this characterization is Brittany Kaiser, another former Cambridge Analytica employee, who was much higher up than Wylie, and much more hesitant to share her story. Once investigations started, however in both the United States and the United Kingdom, she started cooperating and sharing what she knew.

In a committee hearing in the United Kingdom, she said that the psychographics used by Cambridge Analytica were “weapons grade” and therefore should not be used without the permission of the government.

SCL, the British parent company to Cambridge Analytica, started out as a military contractor, including doing psychological operations (“PSYOPS”), or “communications warfare,” so it is not hard to believe that the company would use the same techniques in their other work.

In the fallout from the multiple investigations and a damaging undercover video of Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, the company shut down and filed for bankruptcy in May 2018. Some wonder if this was done to avoid more investigations, punishment, and to get rid of or to avoid having to release data.

Cadwalladr emphasizes that, although Cambridge Analytica is gone, there is still the much bigger and more worrying story that “our personal data is out there and being used against us in ways we don’t understand.”

She questions if any country can really have free and fair elections because of Facebook and how it can and has been used.

“These platforms which were created to connect us have now been weaponized,” she explains. “And it’s impossible to know what is what because it’s happening on exactly the same platforms that we chat to our friends or share baby photos. Nothing is what it seems.” Cadwalladr has a TED Talk that is well worth an additional fifteen minutes of your time to watch.

Even an early Facebook investor, Roger McNamee, has come out against the way Facebook is complicit in the demeaning of our democracy.

“Facebook is designed to monopolize attention. Just taking all the basic tricks of propaganda, marrying them into the tricks of casino gambling. You know slot machines and the like. And basically playing on instincts, and fear and anger are the two most dependable ways of doing that. And so they created a set of tools to allow advertisers to exploit that emotional audience with individual-level targeting. There’s 2.1 billion people, each with their own reality. And once everybody has their own reality, it’s relatively easy to manipulate them.”

Being informed media consumers is important, and especially so when on social media like Facebook. Don’t believe everything you read, and know that pretty much everything you see is determined by Facebook’s algorithms which favor content that they have been paid to put in your feed.

There are so many more details to this whole scandal and more interesting people that make for a fascinating story. I strongly recommend watching the film to get the full benefit. “The Great Hack” is now streaming on Netflix.

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

One night only! Lineup announced for third 2020 Democratic debate in Houston, Texas

This morning, ABC News (the Democratic National Committee’s media partner for the third officially-sanctioned candidates debate) confirmed that just ten candidates had qualified for the stage in Houston, which means that that the debate will only take place on one night instead of two like in the last rounds.

The debate is set for Thursday, September 12th, 2019 from 5 PM to 8 PM Pacific. Texas Southern University is the host venue.

The qualifying candidates are:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • New Jersey U.S. Senator Cory Booker
  • South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
  • California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris
  • Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • Former Texas U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke
  • Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

The candidates who didn’t make it, but previously qualified are:

  • Montana Governor Steve Bullock
  • Ohio U.S. Representative Tim Ryan
  • Hawaii U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard
  • Author Marianne Williamson
  • Former U.S. Representative John Delaney
  • Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet
  • New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

Former candidates who exited the race in advance of not qualifying are:

  • Washington Governor Jay Inslee
  • New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Massachusetts U.S. Representative Seth Moulton (never qualified)
  • Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
  • California U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell

Billionaire and late entrant Tom Steyer, meanwhile, also didn’t make the cut, although he may qualify for the next debate in October.

Although there’s no second night this time, the first and only night will be a long one, as ABC is planning a three hour debate lasting from 5 to 8 PM Pacific.

There will be four moderators, in keeping with the recent trend of having a large number of television personalities share moderation duties:

  • George Stephanopoulos, Chief Anchor, ABC News
  • David Muir, Anchor of World News Tonight
  • Linsey Davis, ABC News Correspondent
  • Jorge Ramos of Univision

Additionally, ABC plans to have pretty much all of its star pundits and reporters in Houston during the week of the debate. The ABC pundit roster (which is very heavy on neoliberals) includes buckraker Cokie Roberts and public opinion analyst Nate Silver plus Heidi Heitkamp, Rahm Emanuel, and Chris Christie.

There will be a one-hour “preshow” starting at 4 PM on the day of the debate and there will be post-debate coverage and analysis after it is over for anyone who wants to be glued to their television set for more than three hours.

With regards to format, ABC says there will be opening statements but no closing statements. The network did not reveal its plans for addressing often neglected topics like the climate crisis or affordable housing.

You’ve got lots of options for tuning in:

The ABC News Democratic Debate will air live nationally on the ABC Television Network and Univision (with a Spanish translation) and locally on KTRK-TV. ABC News will livestream the debate on ABC News Live – the network’s 24/7 breaking news and live events streaming channel – on Roku, Hulu, AppleTV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube, Apple News, Facebook, Twitter, and the ABC News, Good Morning America and FiveThirtyEight websites and mobile phone apps. Univision News will also livestream the debate on all of its digital platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Periscope.

NPI will bring you live analysis and reaction on debate night from 5 PM to 8 PM Pacific. Join us — at least during the commercial breaks! — if you’d like to see the debate broken down from a linguistics and framing perspective.

POSTSCRIPT: ABC News has released the podium order for the debate. Here are some impressions from our Presidential Electoral Analyst, Ruairi Vaughan.

Joe Biden is sandwiched by Warren and Sanders

Warren and Sanders got a real boost by working together in the last debate against neoliberal candidates, they are likely to bring that teamwork to bear against Biden, who they both need to knock down in the polls.

Biden has not faced Warren in a debate so far — they’ve been on stage different nights. Biden could be at a real disadvantage if he isn’t prepared to take her on, and his team will have a hard time working out how to deal with her.

Fewer neoliberals in this debate

The only other openly partial progressive candidate besides Biden is Amy Klobuchar. In the last debate, she didn’t have the fighting spirit of a Delaney or a Bullock (she opted for a more conciliatory tone), so it seems unlikely she would rush to Biden’s aid when he gets criticized, at least not in a combative way.

Texans together

Beto O’Rourke and Castro will be next to each other – can we expect another showdown in Spanish, like in the first debate?

The highest-polling candidates are also the oldest

ABC has put the oldest candidates at the center of the stage (because they are the highest polling candidates). This could create a strange pile-on against the center dynamic if the candidates are asked about age… Biden, Warren and Sanders might even have the opportunity to call out ageism together.

Will Kamala Harris rebound?

Kamala Harris got high marks for her first debate performance in June, but in July, she came across much more uneven. She faced the full wrath of Biden, plus attacks from neoliberal candidates, plus an unexpected swipe from Tulsi Gabbard.

This time, Biden will likely have his hands full tussling with Warren and Sanders, there aren’t any other combative neoliberals, and Gabbard isn’t in this debate.

That could create a favorable dynamic for Harris.