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

Documentary Review: “Breaking the Cycle” dares us to think differently about prisons

Breaking the Cycle” is a relatively short documentary that follows Jan Strømnes, warden of a maximum security prison in Norway, as he tours Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in New York.

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking the Cycle

There are really no comparisons to be made; it is all stark contrasts.

Halden Prison in Norway was established in 2010 and houses about two-hundred inmates, who are overseen by about three hundred and forty staff. Quaint by comparison to Attica, which has about two-thousand inmates, but a proportionally small staff of eight hundred seventy-five.

To the eyes of someone from the United States, Holden’s “cells” look more like a nice dorm room, or a micro-studio you would pay nearly $1,000 a month to rent in Seattle. Inmates have a bed, desk, closet, shelves, a small bathroom, a mini-fridge, and even a window.

Prisoners seem to be able to come and go from their rooms as they please, as there are communal kitchens where inmates prepare and eat meals together. There is an auto shop where guards work along-side prisoners, a newly-opened restaurant with an inmate as chef, and even a recording studio.

Halden staff think it just makes sense for prisoners to have enriching, educational, and vocational experiences. “They should be able to live a normal life that benefits them and society,” said Strømnes. Their focus is on trying to prepare inmates for when they get released, so that they can be normal, productive members of society, and “good neighbors”, as they say often.

Says one Halden inmate: “In Norway, we want to rehabilitate, not oppress people. I don’t think it’s too lenient, it creates opportunities. It reduces criminality. People realize that they are able to do other things than what they used to.”

By comparison, Attica does seem designed to oppress. One inmate comments on the cold, not just of the air and walls, but also the “vibe.”

“You have to be a strong individual to survive here.”

Strømnes is most disturbed by the cells, which are just like what we commonly see portrayed in movies or on TV: Three walls of cement and a full open front except for the vertical iron bars. Each cell has a small sink and toilet, but nothing to obscure this small bathroom area from full view of the guards in the hallway.

Strømnes asks the Attica Superintendent, Dale Artus, about this lack of privacy.

Artus gives an answer along the lines of “it’s always been this way” and says that inmates are allowed to hold a blanket over the bottom half of their bodies while they use their toilets, as if that makes it less invasive.

When Strømnes asks an inmate about the lack of privacy from the open cells, the inmate says it is inhumane and degrading. He says there is “no normalcy here” and that this “breeds a dysfunctional person.” Another Attica inmate says there is a culture of intimidation and oppression. But cameras installed throughout the prison have made things a little bit better, he notes.

Strømnes was surprised to hear from multiple inmates that there has been a reduction in the violence and harassment from guards since the cameras were added. I think his surprise was not from the reduction, but that this harassment was happening in the first place.

At Halden, staff interact respectfully with inmates all the time. In the film, we see a female guard playing a board game with a male inmate. She talks about how she is happy to feel like she is making a positive impact by working with these men and helping them to be better people when they are released.

Guards at Attica talk about how they are just happy to make in home safely at the end of the day. One wonders what they are afraid of, as they have weapons and power, and the inmates have neither.

Overlooking the exercise yard at Attica, guards are armed with an AR-15 and “chemical agents.” Artus seems puffed up with pride when he says they “haven’t deployed deadly force, the AR-15, in quite some time,” while they deploy the chemical agents a couple of times a year.

One of the Attica inmates talks to Strømnes about how many people leave prison with anger that has built up because of how they were treated in prison. He notes that it would be better for society if that didn’t happen, that people would then be more successful when they got out of jail and go back to society.

Another inmate notes that people in prison have additional issues, along with anger, that are not being addressed. Financial issues are a major issue, since if inmates don’t have money to get extra food from commissary, they are likely to be hungry, which just further fuels their anger.

Strømnes notes that the meals appear small, “not nutritionally sufficient for an adult male.” Lunch they day he toured consisted of a hot dog on a bun, an orange, soup, and coleslaw (the later two of which he noted most inmates declined, so they must be pretty poor quality for chronically-hungry men to turn down). So it’s understandable that when Strømnes told a small group of Attica inmates what Holden was like, one immediately asked, “Do you take international transfers?”

A Halden inmate explains, “We like to think that we are here as punishment, not to be punished. We already have our sentence and should not be punished more. There is no element of revenge. That’s the difference from the USA.”

After his trip, Strømnes says he met many people who want to change, even some of the executives at Attica, but, “I have also met many kind people who work in the wrong system. A good correctional treatment has a huge long-term impact on society. Many Americans don’t have that perspective. As a system, it is heavily based on punishment. That’s a shame.”

It is not just this belief there must be some punishment beyond the incarceration itself that prevents American prisons from taking better care of their inmates and actually attempting rehabilitation. It’s that fact that American prisons are often not run by the government, but are contracted out to for-profit corporations.

Feeding prisoners small, poor quality meals and not providing good educational, vocational, and rehabilitation opportunities definitely saves these companies money in the short term.

But long-term, the lack of rehabilitation and constant degradation that inmates face in prison makes it all the more likely that they will struggle after release, commit another crime, and end up back in jail, where companies are paid per prisoner.

This for-profit aspect of American prisons was not discussed in “Breaking the Cycle,” perhaps because it was too large of a topic to cover, since it indeed could easily be the topic of its own full-length film.

Nor was race ever discussed, and the way racism has shaped not only the prison population in the United States, but certainly the conditions of our prisons as well.

But even without addressing these issues, the film still brought up many important points and is worth watching, as long as you don’t mind reading subtitles when Norwegians are speaking. It is not a comprehensive look at all of the flaws in our prisons, but rather just a glance at some of the differences that are most glaring when compared to Norway’s respectful and humane maximum security prison.

“Breaking the Cycle” is available for streaming on Netflix.

Alliance for Gun Responsibility plans initiative for 2018 to restrict military grade weapons

NPI’s friends at the Alliance for Gun Responsibility announced today they intend to spearhead a measure for the November 2018 ballot that would restrict civilian access to military grade weapons in Washington State, also known as assault rifles.

Students across Washington and the United States walked out of class earlier today to protest the country’s failure to protect its people by implementing laws that would reduce gun violence. April 20th was chosen for a day of action in part because it is the nineteenth anniversary of the horror at Columbine.

“Gun violence is an avoidable epidemic and is far too common in our country and state. Too many people have lost their lives to violence; too many families, children, and communities are rattled to the core. The people of Washington — from the kids marching for their lives, to their parents and grandparents who are calling their elected officials – demand action NOW,” said Renée Hopkins, CEO of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, in a statement distributed to the press.

“We’re answering their call with a comprehensive ballot initiative to help ensure safer schools and neighborhoods and through extensive work with voters ahead of November’s election. We must elect more gun responsibility champions and do whatever we can to strengthen our gun violence prevention laws.”

“My son Will attended the house party that tragically turned into a mass shooting. I’m so thankful every day that he managed to get out alive. Three other students were not so lucky,” said Paul Kramer, Mukilteo resident and citizen sponsor of the Reduce Assault Weapon Violence Initiative.

“We need comprehensive reform when it comes to assault weapons. Teens should not be able to possess these dangerous weapons. We’ve seen what can happen when they do. We can’t let that happen again.”

The forthcoming initiative would, as described by the Alliance, do the following:

  • Raise the minimum purchase age to 21 for all semi-automatic weapons.
    • In Washington, it is currently easier to buy an assault weapon than it is to purchase a handgun because assault weapons are treated the same as hunting rifles. This must change.
  • Create an Enhanced Background Check at the time of purchase including:
    • A local law enforcement check identical to the one we currently require for handguns.
    • Requiring the purchaser show that they have completed a safety training course within the last five years that includes basic safety and safe storage rules, safe handling, and an overview of state and federal firearms laws.
  • Dangerous Access Prevention.
    • Holds gun owners responsible if a child or other prohibited person accesses and uses an unsafely stored firearm to harm themselves or another person.
  • Ensure continued eligibility to possess or purchase an assault weapon.
    • Requires the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) and the appropriate law enforcement agencies to work together to develop a process to ensure that purchasers continue to be eligible to possess a firearm.
  • Require informed consent at the point of purchase about the inherent risks associated with the presence of a firearm in the home.
    • Requires the notification at the point of sale that owning a firearm increases one’s risk for injury, death by suicide, domestic violence and homicide.
  • Establish a waiting period up to 10 days for the purchase of an assault weapon.

While the measure does not ban the sale of military grade weapons, restricting their purchase to persons age twenty-one or higher and requiring a waiting period would be an improvement over the status quo. We can expect that the NRA and other gun enthusiast groups will fiercely oppose this measure, but we overcame their opposition to pass I-594 in 2014 and I-1491 in 2016.

The filing has not yet appeared on the Secretary of State’s website, but we imagine the text will be available soon. The next step will be for the measure to be assigned a number, then a ballot title. After any ballot title challenges are resolved, signature gathering can begin. The Alliance will have about eight to nine weeks to qualify the measure for the November 2018 ballot. About 350,000 signatures will needed to make the measure eligible for a random sample check. (259,622 valid signatures are required, and a cushion of 25% is recommended to ensure qualification).

This year, the signature deadline is the close of business on July 6th.

Cantwell, Murray back push for vote of no confidence in Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA chief

A record number of United States Senators have signed on to a resolution expressing no confidence in Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s anti-environmental Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chieftain, according to the offices of Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

“Under Administrator Pruitt,” the resolution says, “the Agency is hemorrhaging staff and experts needed to protect the health, safety, and livelihood of millions of people in the United States, with more than seven hundred employees of the Agency having left or been forced out of the Agency during his tenure as Administrator.”

The resolution adds: “Pruitt has continually overridden the recommendations of scientists of the Agency in order to provide relief to industry, leaving in place the use of harmful chemicals, pesticides, and policies that are directly impacting the health and well-being of millions of people of the United States.”

With thirty-nine cosponsors, the Senators say this resolution has achieved the distinction of bearing the largest group of names in United States history formally supporting a resolution calling for a cabinet official’s resignation.

The resolution lays out many reasons why Pruitt must go, including:

  • The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office determined that the EPA violated federal law by purchasing a $43,000 phone booth for Pruitt’s office – and then hiding that purchase from Congress.
  • Pruitt entered into a sweetheart housing deal to rent a Capitol Hill condo from the wife of a lobbyist – paying just $50 a night, and only paying for the nights he slept there.
  • Pruitt has racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills for luxury travel perks, including booking lavish first class and charter flights to Europe and elsewhere, staying in luxury hotels, and traveling with a huge entourage of staff and security.
  • Pruitt has reportedly reassigned or demoted EPA staffers who questioned his spending habits – at the same time that the EPA Inspector General is investigating him for giving unusual pay raises to favored aides.
  • Pruitt has deployed EPA enforcement officers to provide round-the-clock security with questionable justification.

There has never been anyone less qualified to run the EPA than Scott Pruitt, which is why it’s so awful that he was put in charge of the agency, which has a vital role in protecting America’s air, water, and soil, not to mention the public health.

Forget about the old adage about the fox guarding the henhouse… this is worse. Much worse. Scott Pruitt is a saboteur who happens to have control of the organization he’s sabotaging. He is actively working to destroy one of the United States’ most important public services from the top down with the blessing of his boss, Donald Trump. But, like Tom Price, he’s so much of a jerk that he’s even reportedly managed to irritate Trump, which is somewhat remarkable.

Scott Pruitt needs to be gone from the EPA, and yesterday. We’re glad to see so many U.S. Senators stepping up to forcefully say that.

Washington State squares off at the Supreme Court with tribes, feds over culvert removal

Tomorrow morning, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Washington State v. United States of America, a case that concerns treaty-granted tribal fishing rights and barriers to the exercise of those treaty rights… specifically, culverts that impede salmon from spawning in Northwest streams and rivers.

This is a case that goes back many years — a case that has been a losing one for the State of Washington — but which is still being litigated because Attorney General Bob Ferguson doesn’t want to throw in the towel, even though he should.

Here, courtesy of SCOTUSBlog, is a basic synopsis of the dispute, which pits Washington against the federal government and sovereign tribal nations:

Do tribal fishing rights guarantee some degree of protection of salmon populations — thus precluding actions, like the state of Washington’s maintenance of under-road culverts, that may harm salmon runs — or do the treaties merely guarantee a share of otherwise available fish? Because the case dates all the way back to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s time on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in the 1980s, Kennedy is recused, and only eight justices will participate.

The 9th Circuit ruled against the state, upholding an injunction requiring culvert removals — to the tune of over $2 billion, according to Washington, though that amount is contested.

Before the Supreme Court, both sides’ briefs are strongly written, and each casts the other’s position as outlandish. Washington, echoed by other states and businesses, decries the 9th Circuit ruling as a threat to commerce and a blow to federalism.

It argues that the 9th Circuit created an “extraordinarily broad new treaty right” that will “make virtually any significant future land use decision in the Pacific Northwest subject to court oversight,” and adds that the state ought not be liable for culverts that the federal government itself approved decades ago, particularly when many of the culvert removals “will have no effect on salmon.”

A group of 21 tribes, joined by the federal government as their trustee, argue that Washington far overstates the harm it will face, and that the state’s interpretation would render the treaties meaningless. The treaties, they argue, did not merely provide the tribes with “the opportunity to ‘dip their nets’ into empty waters.”

“Tribal treaty rights are vitally important,” Ferguson said last year when he announced he would appeal the decision of the Ninth Circuit to the U.S. Supreme Court. “I appreciate and share the goal of restoring salmon habitat, but the State has strong legal arguments that the Ninth Circuit decision is overbroad. We are working with tribes to resolve this matter, but we needed to file this appeal today to preserve our ability to challenge aspects of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion.”

Washington Solicitor General Noah Purcell will represent the Evergreen State before the Supreme Court, while Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General Allon Kedem will represent the United States. Attorney William M. Jay will represent the tribes.

The briefs, including the many amicus briefs, are available through SCOTUSBlog, which is (for those unfamiliar) an indispensable resource for following the Supreme Court of the United States, which is where the “SCOTUS” acronym comes from.

In our view, the state’s legal arguments are not particularly compelling, and we disagree with Attorney General Ferguson’s decision to appeal this case to our nation’s highest court. We ought to get on with the work of replacing the culverts that we know are a problem instead of prolonging a fight with our sovereign tribes. Our fisheries are one of our region’s greatest resources, but they are threatened. If we don’t act swiftly to protect them, we could lose them. That would be tragic.

As Lorraine Loomis wrote back in 2016:

The state has a duty to protect and restore habitat for the salmon, treaty tribes and everyone else who lives here. Denying that responsibility, and the treaty rights it represents, hurts tribal and state efforts to work together for salmon recovery. We ask Inslee and Ferguson to take a stand in the best interests of all citizens in the state and end the long, misguided attempts to deny our treaty rights.

Unfortunately, Ferguson did not heed that request.

But at least Governor Inslee listened.

Gov. Jay Inslee does not support the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, his spokeswoman, Tara Lee, wrote in an email to The Seattle Times. “Gov. Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson discussed this case and they don’t agree … the governor supports discussions to settle.”

And the state’s lands chief gets it, too.

Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands at the Department of Natural Resources, filed an amicus brief with the court calling for respect for the tribes’ treaty rights and stepping forward with habitat repairs to sustain salmon runs not only for tribal fisheries, but for all Washingtonians.

Tomorrow’s oral argument will provide a window of sorts into the justices’ thinking about the case. Attorneys like to say that ninety percent of a case comes down to the briefs, but sometimes interesting tidbits can be gleaned from observing oral argument. Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court does not allow its proceedings to be televised, so there’s no way to watch without being there.

However, a transcript is expected to be published fairly quickly afterwards. We’ll let you know when that transcript is available for download.

WEDNESDAY POSTSCRIPT: Here’s the transcript.

There’s also an audio recording with transcript if you’d rather listen as you read.

Tim Eyman restarts his war on Sound Transit — this time, he claims, with seed money

Disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman declared this morning that he’s ready to have another go at whacking Sound Transit and WSDOT’s Amtrak Cascades, exuberantly telling his followers that he’s launching an initiative to slash vehicle fees to thirty dollars and deprive Washington of billions of dollars in transit funding.

I-976 is a measure to the 2019 Legislature, not to the people for 2018, so it won’t appear on this November’s ballot. The signature deadline is in late December.

“Yup, that’s right. We’re off and running to get the required number of signatures to get Initiative 976 on the ballot,” wrote Eyman, who recently announced that he would try to qualify an unrelated measure, Initiative 977, for 2019.

I-977 sought apply the Public Records Act, as currently written, to the Washington State House and Senate, which have historically asserted they’re exempt.

It appears I-977 has already been abandoned after less than two weeks, which has to be a new record (usually, Eyman’s time-to-fail is measured in months, not days).

What accounts for the sudden change in plans? In a word, money. What else?

Eyman tried twice in 2016 to force a vote on gutting funding for Sound Transit and Amtrak Cascades. Both times, he failed. Then he tried again last year, investing more time and energy into his attempt. But he came up short, again.

I-976 represents his fourth attempt in three years to qualify.

“We failed to qualify… for a vote last year,” Eyman acknowledged in his message, not bothering to mention the two 2016 attempts that preceded that failure.

“There’s two reasons we fell short: 1) We needed more time. 2) We needed a whole lot more money to hire paid petitioners to supplement our volunteers.”

Actually, all he needed was that money.

With enough money, it’s possible to get anything on the ballot with a quick multi-week signature drive. Even an initiative to ban that dangerous substance dihydrogen monoxide — also known as, ahem, water — would be easy to qualify in Washington State. Though many locally-based petitioners won’t have anything to do with Eyman and are reasonably discriminating about who they will work for, out of state signature gatherers will happily carry petitions for an Eyman measure.

And Eyman is happy to bring them here.

Despite what Eyman says in the excerpt below, newfound access to money is the only reason why it makes sense to reattempt a measure that has already failed to qualify three times, and hastily abandon the plan to go ahead with I-977.

There’s two reasons why we’re trying again this year:

  1. We have more time. Last year, we started in mid-July — this time we’re starting in mid-April. That’s an extra 3 months. So for I-976, we have from now until the end of December to collect the 350,000 signatures needed — that’s 8 full months starting now.
  2. We already have half the money we need, but it’s absolutely critical that we raise the other half as soon as possible. Having $500,000 at the beginning of the signature drive for I-976 allows us to hire paid petitioners right away (they were actually out collecting signatures over the weekend). But to keep them out there, we gotta raise another $500,000 as soon as possible.

LET US BE CLEAR: we still want our volunteers to collect signatures because every signature you collect is one less signature we have to pay a professional to get. But we didn’t make it last year with just our volunteers. We fell short. So we need professional petitioners and that requires raising a lot of money.

On Friday morning, the paid petitioning guys picked up 20,000 petitions from a local printer to get started.

If Eyman’s claim of having half a million dollars in seed money isn’t a fabrication, then he is on his way to restarting his initiative factory with I-976, despite facing four lawsuits from the State of Washington for public disclosure law violations.

Eyman’s recent fundraising from small dollar donors has been absolutely anemic, so the $500,000 he claims to have (if he really has it) would have to have come from a wealthy benefactor. In the past, Eyman has received huge sums for his schemes from whales such as investment banker Michael Dunmire (now deceased), Bellevue Collection owner Kemper Freeman, Jr. (who also despises Sound Transit), real estate developer Clyde Holland, and hedge fund manager Kenneth Fisher.

Eyman said nothing about the source of his money in today’s email. Public disclosure law requires that Eyman identify who his benefactor is within several weeks so that Washingtonians can know who’s trying to influence their vote (or obtain their signature), so Eyman won’t be able to keep the source of his money a secret for very long. Unless he brazenly violates the law again, that is.

It’s a shame to think that someone has once again made the mistake of entrusting Eyman with a lot of money. He has proved time and again that he can’t be trusted with money. But some people, as we have been reminded a lot recently, never learn.

At NPI, we know the price of progress is eternal vigilance, which is why we maintain a project called Permanent Defense. To have the highest chance of success, an opposition campaign to a destructive Eyman initiative must start immediately. Today, therefore, is the first day of the NO on I-976 campaign. We will be working hard to assemble a broad coalition to protect our voter-approved transit projects and investments in freedom of mobility, which benefit communities across our state.

If you encounter a petitioner who asks you to sign I-976, please report your encounter to us immediately through our Permanent Defense project.

Book Review: Author Christian Davenport, for one, welcomes our new “Space Barons”

The Space Barons is the longest and best-written press release I’ve ever read.

The Space Barons by Christian Davenport

The Space Barons, by Christian Davenport

When, in the ending acknowledgment, author Christian Davenport thanked the billionaires so gracious with their time, including his own ultimate boss at the Washington Post (Jeff Bezos), it became much clearer how such a long work of this genre had come about and my disappointment resolved itself into a numb acceptance.

The title the publisher chose promised a very different sort of book, more critical and honestly probing than an employee can reasonably be expected to write of their employer while maintaining employment. In a world where journalism continues to desiccate because its lifeblood is disappearing into the distended bellies of Facebook and Google, all journalism resembles tech journalism.

Oh golly, wow! Which public-private space company is going to be the neatest going forward? is about as much as a person could reasonably ask for, and the competing book Rocket Billionaires by Tim Fernholz ended up with the more serviceable title and possibly the original premise.

However, the title I had was The Space Barons, and I was not prepared for the sincerely fawning devotion to a cyberpunk dystopia that I discovered myself to be reading. Now, on the progressive left, I fully acknowledge that race, gender, and class criticism can veer from valuable tool into a hammer in want of a nail too easily. Not every book has to be about those things to be useful or is best served by being analyzed on those terms.

But the myopia of The Space Barons is beyond parody. The most extreme example of this is the introduction to Elon Musk and the straight-faced description Davenport allows Musk’s brother Kimbal to give of their upbringing.

“It’s pretty rough in South Africa,” Kimbal told Esquire. “It’s a rough culture. Imagine rough — well, it’s rougher than that. Kids gave Elon a very hard time, and it had a huge impact on his life.”

The anecdote goes on to relate that the boys attempted to open a video arcade as teens without telling their parents, who were furious the boys did so without asking and wouldn’t sign the permits.

I am entirely fine with providing Musk’s background as a way to understand him, and I’m not in any way opposed to describing the difficulties of a non-neurotypical person struggling in society with bullying or abusive parenting.

I am, however, fairly certain I can imagine conditions more difficult than would be in effect for a white South African during apartheid without even needing to leave South Africa for the comparison.

Similarly, I can empathize with Richard Branson’s experience of dyslexia and struggles with school but this is not quite the same thing as an underdog story, not quite accurate to characterize him as overcoming a hardscrabble childhood, when his learning disability was in the context of a top-tier private school that his family could afford in the first place; his path to knighthood is something less of a surprising achievement when his grandfather Sir G.A.H. Branson was also knighted and a judge on the high court of England and Wales.

Davenport references another book about Jeff Bezos, The Everything Store, and something that comes across there but not in this is how much Bezos’s success is due not just to his own drive and hard work, not even just to the fortune of world events, but to the wealth of his family.

They could afford to send him to Princeton University, where he could get an excellent education, make connections, and go and work on Wall Street to make more money and connections. He took advantage of these opportunities by making good impressions, but he still had to have family members willing and able to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in the idea of for it to get off the ground and make good on its potential.

These are exceptional people, to be sure, but they also had the exceptional means to be able to capitalize on it. Narratively, it’s more satisfying to root for an underdog than someone who started off with advantages they didn’t squander, but that doesn’t mean every story is that or needs to be that. The Bible has many archetypal conflicts; not all are David against Goliath.

If any of these men had been less wealthy to start, or been identified as an undesirable social group, it’s difficult to imagine how they would have overcome the barriers to their success even with their particular brilliance and hard work.

South Africa is ninety percent black; the Zulu and Xhosa-born geniuses of Musk’s generation could not legally open an arcade to fail or easily emigrate to some other country. Likewise, had any been women, it’s unlikely their personalities would have allowed them to have success as the heads of their companies.

There is no non-pejorative equivalent to “playboy” for a grown woman. Women who act as demanding or ruthless as Bezos or Musk typically aren’t respected as confident, exacting bosses, but as shrews and worse.

Women, in general, appear very rarely in the narrative of The Space Barons except as props, such as an offhand reference to a man on an island who already had sex with every woman younger than sixty there or wife who misses her overworked husband as he tries to complete a project or bosomy Pamela Anderson falling out of her dress during an event with Virgin Airlines.

The one real exception isn’t even an exception: Davenport quotes SpaceX president and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell multiple times for her perspective going as far back as the seventh employee of the company but without ever receiving any explanatory biography or showing any interest in her except in her capacity to explain Musk.

This is in stark contrast to the chapter he devotes to an inconsequential billionaire gambler notable only because his attempt at a private space organization completely failed before the others, or even multiple paragraphs of backstory to a helicopter pilot who crashed a plane carrying Jeff Bezos.

Bezos and Musk like to imagine themselves as heirs to the dream of Star Trek and other science fiction utopias, often quite literally. Through their companies, both have obviously done much to improve the world in certain ways.

But unlike the book Davenport sometimes references, The Everything Store by Brad Stone explores the power and innovation of Amazon without ignoring how it behaves nightmarishly to weaker startups or to its own employees and contractors, particularly warehouse workers.

It’s all fine and good to remark how Bezos dreams of perhaps, you know, one day moving all industry to space to make the surface of the earth something closer to a global park, but we don’t typically judge people on the things they’d like to do, just what they’ve done repeatedly and are doing.

Being asked to work seventy-three hours a week to get a company off the ground then being fired for organizing labor isn’t a cute quirk. Yelling at employees on a factory floor when you’re their billionaire boss isn’t just an example of the unique pluck of startup culture: it’s abuse. Wanting to track every moment of rest a laborer has, steal their wages from when they’re forced to stand in line for the job, and hiding billions in profits to avoid taxes isn’t savvy. It’s exploitative.

I don’t think Captain Picard ran the Enterprise on the basis of everyone signing non-disclosure agreements. We can believe these barons would like to some day behave in a different way, but that doesn’t mean ignoring how they actually treat people under their power now, in the present.

Journalism, to be good, doesn’t have to be strictly negative, but it does have to include more than one point of view before it arbitrates truth.

If you read a work uncritically relating how the Soviet Union made superior advancements in the Cold War space race by subordinating the value of individual cosmonauts’ lives to common needs of its people’s space program while deriding how the United States and NASA got hung up on bureaucratic safety precautions due to being overly sentimental to its astronauts’ safety, this would make sense in the context of Pravda but not really an objective chronicle of truth.

Private space companies are willing to cut costs because something will be “a whole lot cheaper and probably work just as well”; that’s fine, except that NASA has been responsible for the deaths of people and apparently has the opinion human lives in the space program are intrinsically valuable.

Risking the lives of pilots with a spaceship that’s “unsafe, insufficiently tested, and poorly understood” in order to get a big contract and advance technology isn’t necessarily the wrong long-view to have. In the end, the benefits may bear out to be worth it. But I’m not convinced there’s anything brave about Sir Richard Branson staying on as CEO because he had the courage to let someone else die in order to make his company even more valuable later.

Bezos’s company Blue Origin is exhaustingly praised throughout The Space Barons for its motto that “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”, but NASA’s unwillingness to put human lives in danger is treated as bureaucratic intransigence.

I am less bothered by this being the conclusion the book comes to than that the book never bothers to treat the startup cult’s disregard of actual people as anything deserving a second thought.

Again, this is tech journalism and reporting under patronage in a nutshell. With private companies working to take more of a share of satellite Internet, perhaps it’s future communication in a nutshell, too.

If we aren’t willing to demand more from the companies and billionaires we have while they’re still largely limited to the terrestrial sphere, we may not be able to ask more from them in the future.

Disturbing Senate confirmation hearing shows why Pompeo should not be confirmed

This morning, Mike Pompeo — who is Donald Trump’s choice to replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State — gave testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in advance of the full Senate’s vote on his confirmation.

Some Republican senators were satisfied with general answers Pompeo gave regarding his administrative skills in how he has managed the CIA.

Others had serious concerns about how Pompeo would perform as Secretary of State, which is one of the country’s oldest and most important positions, dating back to the administration of George Washington.

Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts was particularly distressed with Pompeo’s response regarding a question on North Korea. Pompeo was willing to say that he could see circumstances in which America would have ground troops occupy North Korea. Senator Markey seemed horrified at that response.

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey seemed concerned that Pompeo would not be forthcoming to Congress regarding the intentions of the President.

Pompeo refused to answer when the Senator asked him about a private meeting with Trump. Menendez asked if Trump had discussed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with him. Pompeo said flatly: “ Senator, I’m not going to talk about private conversations I’ve had with the President.”

When asked again later in the hearing regarding the private meeting said that he could not recall the conversation, remembered there was a meeting, remembered the date of the meeting, but could not recall what the President said in the meeting. He insisted the President did not ask him to do anything improper.

When asked how he would know that if he cannot recall the conversation, Pompeo gave a circular and convoluted response saying that he would have recalled if the President had asked him to do something improper.

Senator Cory Booker seemed particularly concerned with Pompeo’s relationships with extremist right wing radio personalities who have spoken openly and publicly about their Islamophobic sentiments.

Booker first thanked Pompeo for his deference and respect in visiting his office prior to the hearing, and then brought up specific topics of conversation from that meeting that he felt concerned and uncomfortable with.

Booker stated that Pompeo had implied that Muslim people had a responsibility to speak out against any act of terror performed by a Muslim person, and if they did not, then they were complicit in that act of terrorism.

Pompeo struggled to to articulate his position. He insisted that he is accepting of all people regardless of religion, and told Booker that what he meant was that Muslim leaders had an “opportunity” to speak out against terrorism.

He had a hard time explaining himself as Senator Booker brought to the hearing quotes from Pompeo making disparaging remarks about people who worship different gods, people of the Muslim faith, and his quote that Muslim people had a “special obligation” to speak out against terrorist attacks.

Pompeo stuttered and shifted uncomfortably as he described himself as a man who accepts all people from different faiths or those who choose to have no faith, and that all people had a responsibility to speak out against terrorism.

Senator Booker stated that he was happy to hear Pompeo say this out loud in in the hearing. “Words matter,” Booker said. Actions are also important, and Booker stressed that Pompeo needs to understand that his past actions and relationships give the appearance that as Secretary of State he may not be motivated to uphold America’s values, including freedom to practice any faith tradition.

Senator Booker then pressed Pompeo on his position on the freedom to marry.

Pompeo made it very clear that he felt marriage equality was wrong, but insisted that he accepts LGBTQ+ people and that his position does not mean that he supports discriminatory policies against people who don’t identify as straight heterosexuals. Booker asked very pointedly: “Do you think that being gay is a perversion?” But Pompeo refused to take back his previous statements.

“I stand by my position on this issue,” he said.

Senator Booker concluded his line of questioning by noting his concerns about Pompeo’s position that Muslim people have an obligation to speak out against terrorism, and his positions on religious freedom and the right for people of same sex to marry. Booker stated that the Secretary of State must uphold the Constitution and that the positions of the Secretary of State matter.

Senator Rand Paul was dissatisfied with the responses that Pompeo gave regarding his willingness to use military force around the world.

Paul asked if Pompeo believed that the President should be able to enter into a conflict, and noted the power to declare war rests with Congress, not the President.

Paul quoted the Constitution to Pompeo, who seemed to disagree with Paul’s interpretation of the powers the President of the United States has to enter into  conflicts. Senator Paul expressed serious concerns about Pompeo’s position on remaining in Afghanistan. Paul pointed out that all of the people who were involved in the September 11th attacks are gone, and: “We are now sending people to war who were not born when 9/11 happened.” Senator Paul compared the quagmire of Afganistan to Vietnam and drew comparisons. Pompeo disagreed with Paul’s comparison and reiterated his position of the powers of the President.

Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii had a similar line of questioning as Senator Paul. He asked specifically what limitations he believes are applied to the President by Article II of the Constitution. As Pompeo shifted uncomfortably, he implied that he is not a constitutional law expert, and this particular issue has been debated for some time.

Senator Schatz reminded Pompeo that he had served in Congress, and that his job as Secretary of State would require him to answer to Congress, and requires a commitment to diplomacy and international norms.

Schatz later tweeted: “I will be voting no on Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be Secretary of State. Diplomats should believe in diplomacy. America’s top diplomat must be passionate about diplomacy. Mike Pompeo has not demonstrated that he values diplomacy, diplomats, or the State Department itself.”

Pompeo seems to favor military solutions, take a very right wing and executive branch centered perspective to foreign policy.

That’s a problem. Secretaries of State must be committed to diplomacy across the world and embrace the freedom and democracy that America stands for.

As Senator Booker stated, “Words matter.”  The words that Pompeo spoke today demonstrate that he is willing to keep information from Congress and the American public. He is willing to make foreign policy decisions without input from Congress.

Pompeo does not respect the basic precepts of the Constitution, including the First Amendment, which provides that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Pompeo seems more interested in pleasing Donald Trump and hiding whatever members of the Foreign Relations Committee want to know about their secret meeting regarding Mueller’s investigation. He should not be confirmed.

Paul Ryan calls it quits: He’s abandoning the House Republicans at the end of 2018

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Mr. Speaker.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday that he won’t seek re-election, an announcement that rocked the 2018 campaign cycle and signaled a close to the twenty-year congressional career of one of Wisconsin’s defining 21st century political figures. Ryan, R-Janesville, told reporters that he will serve the remainder of his current term but will not seek another one in the November election.

Ryan’s departure deprives the chaotic Republican House caucus of its singular unifying figure and sets up a contentious succession scramble that will likely pit  Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise against each other.

Ryan had attracted multiple credible Democratic challengers back home in his Wisconsin district, including Randy Bryce, better known as “Iron Stache”.

After Ryan’s retirement announcement came down, Bryce celebrated with a message declaring: “We repealed Paul Ryan! Now it’s time to replace him.”

(Bryce’s “Repeal and Replace Paul Ryan” slogan is a riff on the empty Republican promise to “repeal and replace” the Patient Protection Act.)

Bryce has embarrassed Ryan by out-raising him in the first quarter of 2018.

“We outraised Speaker Ryan in the first 3 months of 2018 by $1.75 million! Incredible! And unlike Ryan, we aren’t taking corporate PAC money or cashing $500,000 checks from the Kochs,” Bryce noted yesterday.

Democrats said that Ryan’s decision to retire showed that the House was not only in play, but ripe for a Democratic takeover…. and that Ryan knows it.

“Speaker Ryan sees what is coming in November, and is calling it quits rather than standing behind a House Republican agenda to increase healthcare costs for middle class families while slashing Social Security and Medicare to pay for his handouts to the richest and largest corporations. Unfortunately, for the many vulnerable House Republicans that Paul Ryan is abandoning, his historically unpopular and failed policies will hang over their reelections like a dark cloud,” said Democratic Congressional Committee Campaign spokeman Tyler Law.

“Stay tuned for more retirements as Republicans increasingly realize that their midterm prospects are doomed,” Law concluded.

As if on cue, another Republican promptly announced his retirement. Dennis Ross of Florida, who has served four terms, has decided to call it quits too.

“Eight years takes its toll on you. When you feel like a stranger in your hometown, it’s time to say, ‘There’s got to be an exit strategy at some point,” he told the Tampa Bay Times.

Thirty-nine Republicans have now decided to retire, and as the DCCC noted, there could be more Republicans heading for the exits very soon.

Happy Passover 2018!

Passover Seder

Passover Seder (Photo: Edsel Little)

If you are observing Passover, which ends tonight at sundown, please accept best wishes from all of us at the Northwest Progressive Institute.

Passover is one of the most important Jewish holidays. Along with Shavuot and Sukkot, it is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals — so named because the ancient Israelites were commanded to journey to the Temple in Jerusalem by the Torah to worship and participate in festivities held as part of each holiday.

Yesterday was Shvi’i shel Pesach (שביעי של פסח) — the seventh day of Passover; today is Acharon shel Pesach, the eighth day of Passover, which is celebrated by some Jewish denominations, but not all. On these, the last days of Passover, Jews commemorate the Crossing of the Red Sea, when Scripture says the Israelites escaped their Egyptian pursuers thanks to divine intervention from YHWH.

This passage from the Book of Exodus (Shermot 14:15-29) tells the story of that escape. The English text appears first, followed by the Hebrew text.

[T]he Lord said unto Moses: ‘Wherefore criest thou unto Me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.

ויאמר משה אלהעם אלתיראו התיצבו וראו אתישועת יהוה אשריעשה לכם היום כי אשר ראיתם אתמצרים היום לא תסיפו לראתם עוד עדעולם

And lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thy hand over the sea, and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground.

יהוה ילחם לכם ואתם תחרישון

And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall go in after them; and I will get Me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.

ויאמר יהוה אלמשה מהתצעק אלי דבר אלבניישראל ויסעו

And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten Me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.’

ואתה הרם אתמטך ונטה אתידך עלהים ובקעהו ויבאו בניישראל בתוך הים ביבשה

And the angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them;

ואני הנני מחזק אתלב מצרים ויבאו אחריהם ואכבדה בפרעה ובכלחילו ברכבו ובפרשיו

and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud and the darkness here, yet gave it light by night there; and the one came not near the other all the night. 21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.

וידעו מצרים כיאני יהוה בהכבדי בפרעה ברכבו ובפרשיו

And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

ויסע מלאך האלהים ההלך לפני מחנה ישראל וילך מאחריהם ויסע עמוד הענן מפניהם ויעמד מאחריהם

And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

ויבא בין מחנה מצרים ובין מחנה ישראל ויהי הענן והחשך ויאר אתהלילה ולאקרב זה אלזה כלהלילה

And it came to pass in the morning watch, that the Lord looked forth upon the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of cloud, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians.

ויט משה אתידו עלהים ויולך יהוה אתהים ברוח קדים עזה כלהלילה וישם אתהים לחרבה ויבקעו המים

And He took off their chariot wheels, and made them to drive heavily; so that the Egyptians said: ‘Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.

ויבאו בניישראל בתוך הים ביבשה והמים להם חמה מימינם ומשמאלם

And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Stretch out thy hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.’

וירדפו מצרים ויבאו אחריהם כל סוס פרעה רכבו ופרשיו אלתוך הים

And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.

ויהי באשמרת הבקר וישקף יהוה אלמחנה מצרים בעמוד אש וענן ויהם את מחנה מצרים

And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, even all the host of Pharaoh that went in after them into the sea; there remained not so much as one of them.

ויסר את אפן מרכבתיו וינהגהו בכבדת ויאמר מצרים אנוסה מפני ישראל כי יהוה נלחם להם במצרים2

But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

Readers interested in Passover-themed reflections may want to read Rabbi Elliot Kukla’s ruminations on creating spaces in one’s life to grow. Ordained in 2006, Rabbi Elliot Kukla is part of the longest-serving rabbinical team in the greater San Francisco area, working out of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center. Rabbi Kukla has a history of organizing for economic justice with the Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice (CLUE), and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Prior to becoming a rabbi, he worked as an arts journalist in the Toronto area.

Passover reads:

Again, Happy Passover!

State Representative Kristine Reeves to speak at NPI’s 2018 Spring Fundraising Gala

We are just two days away from NPI’s 2018 Spring Fundraising Gala in Renton on Saturday, April 7th. With the big evening quickly approaching, we are delighted to announce that our speaking lineup is complete. State Representative Kristine Reeves of Federal Way (D-30th District) will be our closing speaker this year.

State Representative Kristine Reeves

State Representative Kristine Reeves

Representative Reeves is easily one of our best and brightest state legislators, and she additionally serves our communities as the Director of Economic Development for the Military and Defense for the State of Washington.

Representative Reeves will close out our speaking program on a high note by speaking to some of the incredible accomplishments we saw during the recently-concluded short session in the Washington State Legislature, including the Dream Act 2.0, the Reproductive Parity Act, the DISCLOSE Act, the Access to Democracy package, and so much more.

Previously a staff member for Senator Patty Murray, Representative Reeves was first elected to the Washington State House of Representatives in 2016 by the voters of the 30th Legislative District along with Mike Pellicciotti. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Washington State University and a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University. Kristine lives with her husband, Camron, and their two young children in Federal Way.

Representative Reeves joins a speaking lineup that includes our original gala speakers from ten years ago, when we held our very first Spring Fundraising Gala.

State Representative Kristine Reeves speaking at Clover Park Technical College

State Representative Kristine Reeves speaking at Clover Park Technical College

Our reception host will be hydroplane legend Chip Hanauer, who is one of the winningest drivers in the history of powerboat racing. Chip is a longtime supporter of NPI who spoke at our very first Spring Fundraising Gala ten years ago.

Our master of ceremonies will be Buttonsmith CEO Darcy Burner, a small business owner and progressive strategist who has helped many progressive organizations take flight, including NPI.

And we will be presenting Major General Paul Eaton (Ret.) with a Lynn Allen Award for indispensable contributions to progressive causes.

Our dinner buffet will feature dishes prepared by Mediterranean Kitchen, one of the Eastside’s best and most beloved restaurants. Founded in 1982, Mediterranean Kitchen has won many accolodates over the years for its food.

Having Chip, Darcy, and Paul back at the gala is going to be so much fun. It will be a a ten-year reunion worth witnessing. We hope you’ll consider joining us on April 7th. If you haven’t yet bought your ticket yet, we urge you to do so now.

A household ticket admits all the members of an immediate family and is a good value if you plan to attend with your spouse or children. (The gala is a family-friendly event, and young people of all ages are welcome!).

These are our ticket rates:

  • Individual ($75, admits one person)
  • Household ($120, admits an entire family)
  • Living Lightly ($25, for students and activists on limited incomes)

Here are the details for this year’s gala:

  • What: NPI’s 2018 Spring Fundraising Gala
  • Where: Renton Community Center
  • When: Saturday, April 7th, 2018 | Reception at 5:30 PM; program at 7 PM
  • Who: Join the NPI team, hydroplane legend Chip Hanauer, Master of Ceremonies Darcy Burner, and honoree Major General Paul Eaton (Ret.)
  • Why: Because an effective resistance needs organizations testing progressive ideas and building permanent infrastructure

Be inspired to continue working for a progressive future for our region and country: join us this Saturday, April 7th at the Renton Community Center! Follow this link to securely buy your individual, household, or living lightly ticket.

We hope you’ll help us make our biggest event of the year a success by buying your ticket and joining us in Renton. See you on Saturday!

Sinclair Broadcasting should be broken up, not allowed to become even bigger

This past weekend, the fine folks over at ThinkProgress and Deadspin did Americans a great service when they each posted frightening videos showing anchors of a plethora of Sinclair-owned television stations across the country reading off the same Trumpian script on orders from their corporate overlords in Hunt Valley, Maryland, where Sinclair is headquartered.

Anchors reading off Sinclair's script

Anchors reading off Sinclair’s script

The videos have become a sensation and have been viewed by millions, drawing reactions from many elected officials and celebrities.

“News anchors looking into camera and reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it, isn’t journalism. It’s propaganda. It’s Orwellian,” tweeted Dan Rather. “A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses.”

“This is extremely dangerous to our democracy,” agreed Jimmy Kimmel, whose show airs in late night on many of Sinclair’s stations.

Rarely have we seen a pair of videos that so powerfully demonstrate the terrible harm that comes from unchecked media consolidation and concentration in our country, a highly destructive trend that has been continuing unabated for years, resulting in fewer journalists, fewer newsrooms, and fewer local owners.

Sinclair — which HBO host John Oliver calls the largest media conglomerate you’ve never heard of — owns dozens upon dozens of local television stations across the country, including several in the Pacific Northwest it acquired when it bought up Fisher Broadcasting in 2013. NPI opposed Fisher’s sale to Sinclair, but regrettably, the acquisition was approved by the Obama administration.

Fisher is thus no more, and its stations, Seattle’s KOMO and Portland’s KATU among them, are now cogs in Sinclair’s machine. Not only are they forced to carry the right wing propaganda produced out of Sinclair HQ, management occasionally tries to skew their news coverage. The Seattle Times’ Mike Rosenberg explains:

KOMO journalists say it is rare for Sinclair to give them story assignments.

But they occasionally happen. Two KOMO journalists recalled a Seattle Times editorial that railed against the Sinclair purchase of KOMO in 2013. Sinclair then immediately told KOMO to run a “smear” piece on the Times, the KOMO staffers said. (The story as envisioned never ran; staffers say they refused to do it, but KOMO did run a piece on the decline of newspapers around that time).

Another former KOMO staffer recalled submitting a story about a Seattle City Council vote over a non-essential project requiring taxpayer funds. They interviewed several people during “man on the street” reporting and found no one was against the funds being used.

But the KOMO director in charge said Sinclair had encouraged reporters to find opposition when covering those types of stories, to pump up the idea of taxpayer waste.

The KOMO director said, “Corporate is watching, and they need this angle,” a former KOMO staffer who worked on the story said. “And I wouldn’t do it. It’s completely planting the news.”

The worst, some KOMO staffers fear, is yet to come. One told Rosenberg:

“We have midterms coming up,” a journalist there said, referring to the November elections. “Who’s to say what’s going to come from (Sinclair) when that rolls around. This is not going to be the last effort by corporate to try to disseminate their message.”

Local TV forced to denounce ‘one-sided news’ by America’s largest media company

America’s airwaves are part of its commons and belong to the public, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that by looking at the media landscape we have.

Sinclair has been allowed by the our government to control way too much of our public airwaves. And right now, Sinclair is trying to get even bigger. It wants to buy out Tribune and add a choice group of television stations to its portfolio.

That planned acquisition should be blocked (as should AT&T’s proposed deal for Time Warner), and Sinclair should be broken up as part of a trustbusting campaign to diversify our country’s media ownership along with Disney, Comcast (which owns NBCUniversal), CBS, Twentieth Century Fox, and other large media conglomerates.

It must be noted that unchecked media consolidation isn’t just bad for traditional forms of media like newspapers, television, and radio. Big media is also a serious threat to Internet freedom. The bigger big media gets, the more influence it has, and the more concentrated ownership of digital properties get.

The Internet is not immune to the harms caused by media concentration, and it will not save us from a future in which programming and editorial decisions are dictated by a small number of wealthy, powerful people who are primarily concerned about their corporate bottom lines as opposed to the well-being of the country.

That is why action must be taken to break up companies like Sinclair. America needs a twenty-first century update of its antitrust laws to get the ball rolling, and that should be one of the first orders of business under a newly-elected Democratic Congress, should voters choose to fire the Republicans this autumn.

Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34th District) to seek reelection to the House, won’t run for Senate

Yesterday, State Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34th District: West Seattle, Vashon Island), announced that after thinking the matter over, he has decided not to seek the position held by his mentor, State Senator Sharon Nelson, and will instead run for reelection to the House, where he serves as Chair of the Environment Committee and the House Democratic Campaign Committee (HDCC).

Nelson surprised many last week when news broke that she had informed her colleagues of her decision to retire. She became Senate Majority Leader less than six months ago, following Manka Dhingra’s victory in the 45th District.

Fitzgibbon made it clear that his announcement, which came yesterday — was not an April Fools’ joke by putting a disclaimer at the end of his statement.

After much consideration and receiving much advice, I believe the place I can be the most effective for my district and the issues I care about is in the House of Representatives. I’ll be running for reelection to the House this year, not for the Senate.

2019 can be (and needs to be) a watershed year in the Washington State Legislature on fighting climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There is great energy and leadership around climate priorities in the Senate right now, and staying in the House lets me focus on building momentum for climate and clean energy progress in our chamber. I’m also motivated to make progress in the House on gun safety, death penalty repeal, multimodal transportation infrastructure, restoring habitat for salmon and other endangered species, and fixing our upside-down tax code.

I also love the team-oriented culture of the House and want to remain a part of a great team, the House Democrats, that I know and love well. I’m confident that our district will choose a great new senator to represent us, who can make the 34th district proud and serve the Senate and the state well.

Thanks to all who provided advice and input as I made my decision. I’d be honored to have your support as I run for reelection.

(not April Fools)

As mentioned, Fitzgibbon currently serves as the chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee (HDCC), and the House Democrats would undoubtedly have needed to find someone else to serve in that role had Fitzgibbon decided to run for the Senate. With Fitzgibbon staying in the House, the HDCC gets to keep its energetic chair, and the House Democrats retain an outstanding legislator who has been a champion for transit and environmental justice in Washington State.

And it also means that the contest for Nelson’s seat could attract a lot of candidates. The 34th is a safely Democratic district, and Senate seats in very safe Democratic districts don’t come open very often. It would not be surprising if two Democrats wound up making it through the August Top Two election and squaring off in November for the opportunity to represent the district for the next four years.

Happy Easter 2018!

An Easter cross

An Easter cross (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

If you are observing the Easter holiday today, please accept best wishes from all of us at the Northwest Progressive Institute.

Easter is the most significant holy day for Christianity’s many denominations, although not all of them are celebrating it today. Passages like the following excerpt from the Gospel of Mark (16:1-7) are commonly read during Easter services and liturgies as part of Christian communities’ observance of the holiday, as they are considered authoritative accounts of the Easter story by Christians.

When the sabbath was over,
Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome
bought spices so that they might go and anoint him.
Very early when the sun had risen,
on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.
They were saying to one another,
“Who will roll back the stone for us
from the entrance to the tomb?”
When they looked up,
they saw that the stone had been rolled back;
it was very large.
On entering the tomb they saw a young man
sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe,
and they were utterly amazed.
He said to them, “Do not be amazed!
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.
Behold the place where they laid him.
But go and tell his disciples and Peter,
‘He is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him, as he told you.'”

Readers interested in Resurrection-themed reflections may want to read this year’s Easter homily from Michael G. Ryan. Father Ryan has been the pastor of St. James (the Cathedral Church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle) since 1988, and has publicly championed many progressive causes from the pulpit, including climate action, immigration reform, and gun responsibility. Every year, he posts his Easter homily for the enjoyment of people around the world.

Easter news reads:

Again, Happy Easter!

Documentary Review: LA 92 tells the story of the riots that tore apart the Southland

More than twenty-five years after the beating of Rodney King sparked a wave of protest, riots, and fire in Los Angeles, the underlying combustible conditions that led to this explosion of violence remain.

LA 92 Release Poster

LA 92
Release Year: 2017
Directors: Daniel Lindsay, T. J. Martin
Running time: 114 minutes
Watch trailer

National Geographic’s film “LA 92” starts with footage not from 1992, but from 1965.

The Watts riots were sparked by frustration over police brutality towards the black community, and lasted almost a week.

“So serious and explosive is the situation, the August riots may be only a curtain raiser to what could blow up one day in the future,” says a somber reporter for CBS, quoting the McCone Commission report on the riots. “What shall it avail our nation if we can place a man on the moon, but cannot cure the sickness in our cities?”

The commission accurately predicted that the Watts riot would not be the last, and the 1992 riot had a cause much the same as the one in 1965.

The Los Angeles Police Chief, Daryl Gates, led a department that many accused of policy brutality and excessive force.

On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was pulled over for a traffic violation and ended up on the ground, getting hit, kicked, stomped, and struck with batons a total of fifty-six times by four officers, after already being shocked with a Taser. A man who lived across the street from where the stop occurred noticed the commotion and started filming the assault. If not for this video, one might wonder, would anyone have known about this case at all? Would the police officers have been charged?

Probably not, as news footage from the time featured in the film states that the ACLU received fifty-five calls a week regarding incidents of police brutality.

King was just the first person to have it happen to him on tape, forcing the police department and the public to accept the fact that people of color’s complaints about racism and brutality at the hands of police were legitimate.

There was another aspect of the frustration with the justice system that contributed to the next year’s riot which I was not aware of until seeing this film.

On March 16th, 1991, less than two weeks after King was beaten and the video went public, a fifteen-year-old black girl named Latasha Harlin was shot in the back of the head by a Korean store owner, an incident that was clearly visible on the store’s surveillance cameras. The owner claimed she thought Harlin was trying to steal a bottle of orange juice.

This incident stoked ongoing tensions between the black and Korean communities in LA. There were many Korean-owned businesses in black neighborhoods, and some people felt like Koreans were unfairly profiting off of the black community.

The store owner was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, with a recommended sentence of sixteen years. The white woman who was the judge in the case, however, used her discretion to reduce the sentence. The punishment was community service, a small fine, and time served.

People were understandably outraged.

An unidentified man said in a news interview, “Racism is not the Korean killing her, racism is the court system that allows her to kill her,” perfectly highlighting now racism is a systemic and structural issue as much as it is an issue of individual bias.

There were protests to demand the dismissal of the judge, but she kept her position and the reduced sentence was upheld in April 1992, a week before the verdict in the trail of King’s assailants and the riot.

So by the time of the trial for the officers charged with the assault of King, the frustration of the black community was already at a breaking point.

During the trial, the defendants used now-familiar language that has since been used by people like the killers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. They said they feared for their lives (at the hands of an unarmed young man, even when in King’s case, he was on his knees or laying on the ground throughout the entire assault). They said he was acting like an animal. They said that, despite all the pain he must have endured from their repeated blows, it seemed like it wasn’t effecting him.

All the racist tropes of black men being inherently dangerous, incredibly strong, animalistic, inhuman, and not able to feel pain in the way white people do were trotted out for the predominantly-white jury.

And, like all the cases of the last few years, it worked.

On April 29th, 1992, the jury of ten white people, one Asian person, and one Latino person, found all four officers not guilty on all but one charge, for which a mistrial was declared. The men who were caught on camera beating King while he lay defenseless on the ground went free. They rushed to leave through a volatile crowd mixed with their supporters and the frustrated supporters of King and justice.

Protest rapidly broke out at police headquarters and at the Los Angeles County courthouse (the trial took place in the 88% white, 1.5% black, Simi Valley, thirty-five miles north of downtown Los Angeles).

At the First AME Church in South Central, people were invited to come for peaceful protest and speeches by faith and community leaders.

But outside, others did not feel like peace was the answer.

At an intersection in South Central, people started to gather as police arrested a couple of men. Many people were yelling at the police and protesting the arrests. Multiple police cars were there, but after they put the men they arrested in the back of their cars, orders were given for all officers to leave the area.

After the officers left, groups of young men started throwing things at cars that passed by, targeting white and Asian drivers.

A liquor store was looted. And police and fire crews were under orders not to respond in the area, which allowed the turmoil to continue and grow.

Downtown, what had started as non-violent protests escalated to building windows being broken, cars turned over, and trees and cars being set on fire.

The next morning, there were protests outside of the White House.

The Congressional Black Caucus held a press conference, and when asked if there had been any conversation with President George H.W. Bush, Congresswoman Maxine Waters was direct and to the point.

“President Bush does not talk to us. Let’s be straight about this. We have no access to the White House… There is no relationship.”

Waters continued: “I am angry, and I have a right to that anger. And the people out there have a right to that anger. We don’t want anybody killed, none of us believe in violence. But there are some angry people in America, and young black males, in my district, are feeling at this moment, if they could not get a conviction with the Rodney King video available to the jurors, that there can be no justice in America.”

As we have sadly learned through repeated acts of violence and death at the hands of police over the years, no video is apparently enough proof to convict a police officer for their acts of violence against people of color.

In Los Angeles in 1992, violence, looting, and fires continued for days. A city-wide, dusk-til-dawn curfew was implemented on the night of April 30th, but forty fires were still burning the next day. Aerial footage shows whole blocks burned out, with just the concrete walls standing.

On May 1st, King made a public statement asking people to stop the violence.

“It’s not right… It’s not gonna change anything… We’ve got to quit,” he said in a shaky voice, clearly emotional.

Over the next few days people came out and stared cleaning up the considerable damage that has been done around the city.

The unrest officially ended on May 4th when the Mayor lifted the curfew.

This review gives a much abridged version of the events, and I highly recommend watching the film to learn more details and to see the stunning and, at times, unbelievable footage.

The film ends with a montage mixing together audio and video from Watts in 1965 and Los Angeles in 1992, and leaving us again with the message from the McCone Commission: that we have a sickness in our cities, so serious that it could blow up in our faces. That sickness is racism. White supremacy is embedded in many of our institutions, including our criminal justice system, and we must work to eradicate it.

“LA 92” is currently streaming on Netflix and can also be screened on the National Geographic Channel’s website with credentials from a qualifying cable or satellite television subscription.

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