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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back at 2008: Curtains

Within a couple hours, 2008 will be over.

So much has happened this year, too much to adequately summarize in one post. It's been both a year of anguish and a year of joy.

In November, we celebrated as Barack Obama won election as the next President of the United States, cheered as Chris Gregoire triumphed over Dino Rossi, and reveled in countless other victories, like the passage of Sound Transit Proposition 1, Peter Goldmark's win, or the defeat of Tim Eyman's I-985.

In April, we lost our Senior Managing Editor, Keith Deshaies, to a heart attack. We miss him terribly but we know his spirit remains with us.

In September, we watched, crestfallen, as Seattle-based Washington Mutual, the nation's oldest savings and loan, was seized by the federal government and turned over to JPMorgan Chase for the paltry sum of less than $2 billion.

All throughout the autumn, we watched our economy slide downhill, even as John McCain claimed the "fundamentals" were strong, while media outlets kept us angry with fresh stories about the greed and excess of the Bush error.

And no matter what the season, it was a bad year to be a Seattle sports fan. The Mariners were bad, the Seahawks were bad, the Sonics left town, the Husky football team was winless, the Cougars weren't much better.

2008 was a year of growth for the Northwest Progressive Institute. We are several staff members stronger, daily readership of our online network is higher, and we have more resources thanks to the generous financial support of many kind friends.

While we have much to be thankful for, we're worried and concerned about the future of our country. There is so much at stake and so many challenges that need solving. These are tough times that will test even our most capable leaders and leaders-to-be. More than anything, we need an end to the uncertainty and gloom that seems to be hanging over our country. Barack Obama is the president-elect, but as his spokesman constantly reminds the traditional media, we only have one president at a time. The Bush error won't officially end until January 20th, 2009.

We got much of what we wished for at the end of last year... but we also had to deal with a lot of unpleasantries that we didn't ask for.

We're ready for a new administration and a brighter future. We're ready to leave 2008 behind and ring in a new year, a year that will slam the door of a sad and shameful period in our nation's history and usher in the beginning of a new era.

Here's to 2009. See you in the New Year.

The truth about texting

Did you know that about 2.5 million text messages have been sent worldwide this year? And did you know that your cellular provider is hiding the true cost of text messaging from you? The companies would like you to believe that sending and receiving text messages is more expensive than it would seem. And Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) is working to get to the bottom of it.

He was curious about the doubling of prices for text messages charged by the major American carriers from 2005 to 2008, during a time when the industry consolidated from six major companies to four.

So, in September, Mr. Kohl sent a letter to Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, inviting them to answer some basic questions about their text messaging costs and pricing.

All four of the major carriers decided during the last three years to increase the pay-per-use price for messages to 20 cents from 10 cents. The decision could not have come from a dearth of business: the 2.5 trillion sent messages this year, the estimate of the Gartner Group, is up 32 percent from 2007. Gartner expects 3.3 trillion messages to be sent in 2009.

The written responses to Senator Kohl from AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile speak at length about pricing plans without getting around to the costs of conveying text messages. My attempts to speak with representatives of all three about their costs and pricing were unsuccessful. (Verizon Wireless would not speak with me, either, nor would it allow Mr. Kohl’s office to release publicly its written response.)
In the age of the Wall Street meltdown and corporate malfeasance and greed, do we really expect cellular providers to play ball with Congress? They haven't asked for a financial rescue package yet, so they're not feeling compelled to give answers. Apparently, the true cost of text messaging is a corporate trade secret which would bring about financial ruin if it ever came out publicly.

If we're going to pay for texting as consumers, or if we someday have to pay in the form of corporate welfare, I think we're entitled to know what we're paying for and why. I know that's a radical idea to some in Washington, D.C. It's a little thing called accountability, and Senator Kohl should be commended for his efforts to protect consumers from gouging and bringing light to these odious business practices.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking Back at 2008: NPI Milestones

Just like that, another year has come and gone.

The second installment in our retrospective series looking back at the last twelve months is an overview of the year's most significant achievements, accomplishments, and noteworthy events. So as we look forward to what 2009 has in store for us, here's a look back at important events and achievements in 2008.

January 3rd, 2008: Barack Obama wins the Iowa caucuses, setting the stage for a long six month battle for the Democratic nomination between himself and Hillary Clinton. NPI's caucus coverage receives significant traffic.

January 24th, 2008: NPI Outreach & Advocacy Director Rick Hegdahl testifies in Olympia in support of the Homeowner's Bill of Rights, NPI's top 2008-2009 legislative priority. The Homeowner's Bill of Rights would allow Washingtonians whose builder erred in constructing their house to seek justice in a court of law, which is currently illegal.

January 30th, 2008: David Goldstein announces that his weekend radio show on 710 KIRO has been canceled by station management. NPI drafts an Open Letter to 710 KIRO protesting the cancellation of the show. Within a week, well over a thousand people add their vocies to the Open Letter as signatories.

February 8th, 2008: NPI sends six staff members to cover the Stand for Change Rally with Barack Obama at a packed KeyArena, teeming and packed to capacity with Obama supporters. NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve appears on Portland, Oregon's Air America affiliate (AM 620 KPOJ) to talk about the Washington precinct caucuses, scheduled to occur the next day.

February 9th, 2008: NPI's live coverage of the Washington State precinct caucuses shatter all previous traffic records, drawing thousands of readers an hour from all over the United States and around the world. Barack Obama's official website also links to NPI's coverage.

March 8th, 2008: NPI launches a special series to explain why the Evergreen State needs the Homeowner's Bill of Rights. The series, which ultimately includes ten installments posted over the span of twenty seven hours, features stories from Washingtonians victimized by negligent construction.

March 29th, 2008: NPI's Official Blog turns four. The same day, NPI launches a naming contest to give a blog "a proper name". The winning submission, "NPI Advocate" becomes the new name of the blog on July 14th, 2008.

May 17th, 2008: NPI holds its first ever Spring Fundraising Gala. Guest speakers include Mike West, Chip Hanauer, Major General Paul Eaton (Ret.), and Darcy Burner, with music by Don Mock. The event is a smashing success, drawing supporters from near and far.

June 13th-15th, 2008: NPI provides live coverage of the State Democratic Convention in Spokane, Washington.

June 20th-21st, 2008: NPI organizes the third annual NWroots Conference in Tacoma, Washington. Guest speakers include John Ladenburg, Peter Goldmark, Julie Anderson, and Eric Oemig.

July 17th-20th, 2008: NPI staff attend the Netroots Nation Convention in Austin, Texas, which includes a surprise appearance by Al Gore. For the first time, NPI hosts a booth in the Convention Exhibition Hall.

August 22nd, 2008: NPI celebrates its five year anniversary.

August 25th-28th, 2008: NPI offers extensive live coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, from the Big Tent, the PepsiCenter, and Invesco Field.

October 7th, 2008: NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve liveblogs from onboard the first successful test run of Sound Transit's Link light rail system. The test is the first open to non-engineers.

October 19th, 2008: NPI covers the Rally for Change with Joe Biden in Tacoma, Washington. During his speech introducing Peter Goldmark, Congressman Jim McDermott mentions his support of NPI's Downballot Project.

November 4th, 2008: A tidal wave of change washes across America with the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America and the strengthening of Democratic majorities in Congress. Locally, Chris Gregoire is reelected, Tim Eyman's Initiative 985 is defeated, Sound Transit Proposition 1 passes, Peter Goldmark ousts Doug Sutherland, Jeff Merkley topples Gordon Smith, and Jim McIntire succeeds Mike Murphy as Treasurer. NPI's elections coverage attracts an unprecedented number of readers.

December 20th, 2008: NPI Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve joins Reporter Newspapers as a regular columnist, making the leap to print media. His first column, "Ways to make your voice heard" encourages readers to share their feedback with national and state leaders.

Looking Back At 2008: Republicans and Conservatives In Their Own Words

Remember these quotes? Take a stroll down Memory Lane:

"Wait a minute. What did you just say? You're predicting four dollar a gallon gas? ... That's interesting. I hadn't heard that."

- George Dubya Bush, at a press conference (February 28th, 2008)

"Now, you want me to tell you my opinion on autism, since I'm not talking about autism? A fraud, a racket. ... You know what autism is? I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is."

- Right wing talk show host Michael Savage (July 16th, 2008)

"There's simply no excuse for you and the Washington state Department of Transportation to fail to prepare for I-985's new policies and priorities... You better prepare for that — signs need to be changed and shoulders prepared for this immediate, cost-effective reform."

- Tim Eyman, in a snotty September 2008 message to Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond, wrongly predicting that his Initiative 985 would pass

"Jews for McCain because Obama wants to gas the Jews, like the PLO wants to gas the Jews, like the Nazis gassed the Jews."

- Bill Cunningham (October 30th, 2008)

"You have to do things in logical sequence: you wouldn't put your coat on to go outside, then put your underwear on. Well, I don't know what you do with your underwear. [Laugh]."

- Ousted Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, to a female reporter (October 2008)

"Obama must condemn organizations like MoveOn and the Daily Kos if he truly wants to run without a race component. These are the people that are dividing Americans along racial lines. It is not a stretch to say MoveOn is the new Klan."

- FOX Noise bloviator Bill O'Reilly (July 23rd, 2008)

"That is what Barack Obama is. He is a steamy crap sandwich. He is a fraud."

- Right wing talk show host Chris Krok (August 7th, 2008)

"Our economy, I think, is still - the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

- Republican presidential nominee John McCain (September 15th, 2008)

"He wears a costume well, the cowboy-hat environmentalist, but he's a really bitter partisan kind of guy."

- Republican State Party Chair Luke Esser, attacking Democrat and Lands Commissioner-elect Peter Goldmark (April 17th, 2008)

"I am just telling you, if this guy were Dan Quayle - if he - can I channel Geraldine Ferraro? If Barack Obama were Caucasian, they would have taken this guy out on the basis of pure ignorance long ago."

- Right wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh (May 14th, 2008)

"Rossi 50.3% - Gregoire 49.6% (meaning we wait for d-a-y-s)."

- Eric Earling of (un)SoundPolitics (November 4th, 2008)

"I don't think homeless people should vote. Frankly. In fact, I have to be very honest. I'm not that excited about women voting, to be honest. I'm not. OK? You know?"

- Right wing talk show host Chris Baker (October 2nd, 2008)

"We are all tremendously enthused. [The convention] is going to be one that is going to be extraordinarily successful and I am now convinced that we are going to win in November."

- Former Republican Senator Slade Gorton, to the Washington State Republican delegates in Minneapolis (September 1st, 2008)

"Are you ready to win? Yeah, we are, aren't we? That's exactly what's gonna happen here. I tell you - I want to tell you this campaign has been amazing. [...] When I decided to do this again, and to finish what we started... and we are going to finish what we started, right? That's right!"

- Republican (or "Graveyard of Progress") gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi at the State Republican Convention (May 30th, 2008)

"I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion."

- Ex-Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (November 14th, 2008)

"There is no doubt that we have to work extra-hard in a wacko lefty state like Washington state to get our guys elected. They've got the crazies in Seattle. We've got to come up with more sane people outside of Seattle to make up for them."

- Tim Eyman, at a Republican precinct caucus (February 9th, 2008)

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening."

- Sarah Palin on Barack Obama (September 3rd, 2008)

Also see Media Matters' Most Outrageous Statements of 2008. Any more quotes to add? Feel free to add them in the thread.

Despite warnings by Senate leaders, Blagojevich to name successor to Obama

Maybe Rod Blagojevich is gambling that Harry Reid and Senate Democrats won't be able to defy his brazen appointment of a new U.S. Senator.

After all, the Senate Democratic Caucus hasn't been able to effectively stand up to George W. Bush for the last two years:
Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected today to name former Illinois Atty. Gen. Roland Burris to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.

The action comes despite warnings by Democratic Senate leaders that they would not seat anyone appointed by the disgraced governor who faces criminal charges of trying to sell the post, sources familiar with the decision said.
Illinois progressives we've heard from say that picking Burris is somewhat clever, because he's considered to be squeaky clean and well respected across the Prairie State. That might make it difficult for the U.S. Senate to refuse to seat him. (It looks like they have no legal authority to refuse to actually seat him anyway - though they could expel Burris after he is seated).

But how can Burris accept this appointment? Rod Blagojevich is one of the most corrupt governors in American history. According to the criminal complaint filed by the feds, he attempted to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat for his own personal gain. Surely Burris knows he'll be hit with a firestorm of guilt by association attacks the moment he says he accepts.

But if he refuses to accept, that opens the door for Blagojevich to simply name someone else, perhaps someone who isn't as respected as Burris.

It's too bad Blagojevich doesn't have the decency to resign.

UPDATE, 11:18 AM: Just in - the Democratic leadership responds:
It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic Senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety.

We say this without prejudice toward Roland Burris's ability, and we respect his years of public service. But this is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus.
It seems that they mean to hold their ground. Funny, they don't do that when Republicans are glaring at them. The question is - will they?

UPDATE, 12:05 PM: Roland Burris has just accepted the appointment at a news conference in Chicago. He's reading a prepared statement.

UPDATE, 12:22 PM: The Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White (who, like Burris, is black) says he won't certify the appointment.

The drama continues...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dear Israel: There will be no "war to the bitter end" in the Holy Land - only bitter war

Once again, blood is being shed in the Middle East:
Israel obliterated symbols of Hamas power on the third day of what the defense minister described Monday as a "war to the bitter end," striking next to the Hamas premier's home, and devastating a security compound and a university building. The three-day death toll rose to 364 on Monday, with some 1,400 reported wounded, according to Palestinian medical officials. The U.N. said at least 62 of the dead were civilians, and medics said eight children under the age of 17 were killed in two separate strikes overnight.
What are these Israeli strikes supposed to accomplish? Peace? Stability? Security? Because the only thing that attacks on Gaza will accomplish is an increase in hostility and hatred, on both sides. Violence begets violence.

Hamas is culpable, too. They could have done more to stop militants from firing rockets and mortars into southern Israel.

They share the blame for this ugly explosion of brutality. Neither Hamas or Israel seems to truly desire an end to the violence.

If they did, they'd stop attacking each other.

There can be no "war to the bitter end" in the Holy Land because there can't be an end. Not with the United States providing unconditional support to Israel, and not with Arab states like Saudi Arabia providing unconditional support to the Palestinians. Right now, there's enough fuel to keep this fiery conflict burning for centuries - well beyond all our lifetimes.

If Israel's leaders truly desire peace, they would not be directing the Israeli military to launch such ferocious attacks on Gaza.

Israel has now been choking the Gaza Strip for years, not only restricting the movement of people, but preventing food and supplies from reaching Gaza. Sometimes, the borders are opened to allow supplies through, but not often enough.

Consequently, about eighty percent of the population in Gaza is living in poverty, and people are dying because they can't get medical treatment.

And yet, Democratic leaders in the United States are busy releasing statements of sympathy and support for Israel. No condemnation of Israel's blockade of Gaza. No acknowledgment that there simply isn't a military solution to the hostilities in the Holy Land. We keep hearing, over and over again, "Israel has a right to defend itself." How many times have U.S. politicians uttered those words?

What about the Palestinians? Forget about any supposed right they might have to defend themselves. What about their human rights? To be treated with dignity? To have access to food, clean water, and shelter?

The United Nations' Special Rapporteur to the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, explained a few weeks ago that what Israel is doing is unacceptable.
Such a policy of collective punishment, initiated by Israel to punish Gazans for political developments within the Gaza strip, constitutes a continuing flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
That's not to say that attacks by Palestinian militants against Israelis are just - they're not. But Israel is punishing all Gazans, not just those responsible for inciting violence. We're willing to bet that Israelis wouldn't like it one bit if roles were reversed and it was Palestinians that were choking Israel and stopping the flow of food and medical supplies.

The United States could and should help to ease tensions by ending unconditional support for Israel and instead insisting that Israel work out a peace agreement that has teeth with the Palestinians. Not a vague and useless "road map", but a realistic path towards peace that involves the international community.

When such an agreement is reached, both the United States and Arab states like Saudi Arabia should insist forcefully on its implementation.

There can't be peace in the Holy Land unless the world stops taking sides. If we're the trailblazing nation that we often boast we are, then we'll take the lead instead of waiting for the Saudis to do so.

If we truly want to facilitate in bringing peace to the Middle East - and that should be our objective - our loyalty must be to a peace agreement.

We can't play the blame game again.

Neither the United States nor any other nation should be providing a blank check to any of the parties in the conflict.

If we continue to allow ourselves to be used as an ammunition depot, the bloodshed will continue. History tells us that. How many U.S. presidents have tried to broker a lasting end to the violence in the Holy Land and failed?

Barack Obama is destined to fall into the same trap if he doesn't make some serious changes to our foreign policy.

Department of Veterans Affairs will have a much brighter future under Eric Shinseki

In less than a month, President-elect Barack Obama will be taking office as the Forty Fourth President of the United States. Joining him in the executive branch will be a team of tough and experienced Americans ready to clean up the mess that the Bush administration is leaving behind.

One of those team members - our new President's choice for Secretary of Veterans' Affairs - is Retired General Eric Shinseki, whose distinguished career in the United States Army gives him a rock solid background for the job.
Shinseki is the first four-star general of Asian American ancestry in U.S. history and also the first Asian-American to lead one of the five U.S. Military services . He is a veteran of combat in Vietnam, having been left with a maimed foot. During his tenure as Army Chief of Staff, Shinseki initiated an innovative but controversial plan to make the Army more strategically deployable and mobile in urban terrain by creating the Stryker Interim-Force Brigade Combat Teams. He conceived a long term strategic plan for the Army dubbed Objective Force, which included a program he designed, Future Combat Systems.
Shinseki is a highly regarded former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and most famously a thorn in the side of the Bush administration.

You may recall that it was Shinsheki who correctly informed Congress that Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz's estimates for the number of troops needed to keep Iraq stable after a U.S.-led invasion were way too low.

Shinseki was publicly rebuked by Wolfowitz for drawing on his expertise to provide lawmakers with reliable information. Hinsight has shown that Shinsheki knew what he was talking about, while the neoconservative Wolfowitz didn't.

As a retired member of the Armed Forces, I am particularly pleased with Shinsheki's selection. The Department of Veterans' Affairs badly needs a leader who can reorganize the bureaucracy, advocate for better care for the men and women who have honorably served our country in uniform, and modernize facilities that have been allowed to deteoriate by the current administration.

We at NPI hope General Shinsheki's nomination is unanimously confirmed by the Senate next month, and we wish him the best of luck in reforming the V.A.

Fargo Microsofties unimpressed by Seattle area's record snowfall

While I was perusing my RSS reader this morning, I came across a post on Microsoft employee Raymond Chen's blog The Old New Thing which made for some very entertaining reading. The post provides the text of a fake emergency update from Microsoft Real Estate and Facilities in Fargo, North Dakota.

The fake alert was created to make fun of the real updates that have been going out regularly to Microsoft's Redmond employees over the last week and a half, describing what's open and what's closed at the campus.
Fargo Campus Open with No Interruptions

Due to normal cold weather and heavy snowfall the Microsoft Facilities in Fargo, including satellite areas (ABC, DEF, and GHI) will have NO SERVICES INTERUPTED due to Snow/Ice conditions in the local area.

Effective For: Thursday, December 18, 2008 through the end of April

Please exercise normal caution driving and walking on campus as you are more likely to be attacked by a bunny than slip and fall on the ice.

Campus Services

Reception: Building lobbies will be open. If your building reception is closed then they will be fired.

Shuttle: Campus shuttles will not be operating because there is no such thing as a campus shuttle in Fargo.

Mailing Services: Mailing Services will be operating under full service.

Food Service: There will full menu service available in all buildings.

Facilities Maintenance Response: A full maintenance staff is at work on campus today.

Building Services: All services such as heat, lighting and network connectivity will be operational.

Other Advisory Notes:

Security: Corporate Security advises its services will remain available to the campus. If you need assistance, stop by the office and wake them up.

Parking: Park as usual, the snow plow drivers will just plow around you. You're all capable of driving on snow/ice so plowing will be limited.

Connectivity: You shouldn't have any connectivity issues because you're expected to be at work. We only had 10" of snow and 40mph wind.

Microsoft Company Store: The Company store will not be open today because the Fargo Campus doesn't have a company store.

Area Roads: In light of the continuing snowfall and icy road conditions, most local roads are snow-covered and slippery and will remain that way until March. For information on current road conditions, please look out the window.

Weather Updates: For information on how the weather is impacting Microsoft services and accessibility, please visit regularly throughout the day or tune into your local news stations for updates when you are in the office as conditions on campus could quickly change but they probably won't since cold, snow, and ice is the normal conditions this time of year.

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities
The snow and ice only seems paralyzing to those of us here in the lowlands of Western Washington because our winters tend to be wet and mild. Arctic blasts for us are a major weather event. Usually, we get the best of both worlds: A winter wonderland up in the Cascades that's just a couple hours away, and warmer, more pleasant conditions where we live.

Most of the season, we have the luxury of being able to head up to the mountains to ski, snowboard, sled, or even dig snow caves if we want - and then the freedom to return home hours later to an unfrozen neighorhood.

But in Fargo, temperatures in the teens or even below zero are just part of life.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Some ideas for improving snow response

As the snow and ice slowly melt out of sight across central Puget Sound, newspaper op-ed pages and online message boards continue to be filled with complaints from King County and particularly Seattle residents who aren't happy with the municipal response to the series of storms we've just had.

Summarizing our sentiments in his column last Wednesday, Joel Connelly wrote:
Seattle mayors have been telling us for 40 years that neighborhoods are the city's lifeblood. Madrona has been full of life in the deep freeze. The snow has been shoveled, at least on our block. People are making their way about on cross-country skis. Parents are towing little kids, the enchanted and the uncomfortable, around in sleds.

It's just that, after a time, folks want to be able to get out. As I talk to friends around the city, there are other 34th avenues in the Emerald City that are also choked by snow.
Most people seem to be coping with the snow as cheerfully as they can. The garbage may be piling up, those gifts for family members may still be undelivered by UPS and USPS, and the power flickering from time to time, but we can deal with annoyances.

That said, when the pantry's almost depleted, folks want to be able to get to the grocery store to buy some food. Is it too much to ask that our major roads be cleared within half a day of the end of a snowstorm?

It shouldn't be.

People who can't telecommute or take time off from work need to be able to get to their jobs. Commuters and travelers don't want to be stuck for hours waiting in the cold for buses that don't materialize.

Without further griping, here are some ideas for city and county leaders to think about - possibilites that could improve our response to snow and ice storms.
  1. Put snow plows on garbage/recycling trucks and buses. This would greatly increase the size of our snowplow fleet and help get our roads cleared faster. Metro, Rabanco, and Waste Management could put their drivers through a training course on how to operate their vehicles with snow plows attached. In the spots where plows aren't needed - or plowing would only leave behind ice - they could simply be raised into the air.
  2. Don't use articulated buses. This suggestion has already been made by several commentators. Vehicles that are prone to jacknifing on ice shouldn't be on the road in or after a snowstorm, period.
  3. Improve city/county coordination. From reports we've heard, many of our county's more rural communities did a decent job of getting key arterials cleared, while more urban cities - like Seattle - didn't. Eastern King County includes plenty of mountainous Cascade terrain. Surely there are people working in county government who know how to effectively clear snow. Get those people to train SDOT's employees as soon as possible.
  4. Post countywide snow response plans. All city Public Works Departments in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties should submit a snow response plan to the county DOT. A map should be posted on the Web and mailed out to residents that shows which arterials are likely to be passable first, which are prone to closure, and which municipality is responsible for the plowing.
  5. Use mobile alerts to inform people of road closures and snow routes. Conditions can change quickly when a storm system is moving in. King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties (and all the cities within) need to expand RPIN and create a more personalized mobile alert system that alerts subscribers when there is a road closure or bus rerouting that affects them. Subscribers should be asked when they sign up to type in the names of the roads or numbers of transit routes they used on their regular commute. This way, accurate information could be distributed speedily and effectively.
  6. Urge property owners to shovel their sidewalks. We've heard recent pleas from municipal spokespeople on TV asking people to clean nearby storm drains and gutters to prevent flooding, but not so many reminders about shoveling sidewalks and driveways. Snow response doesn't just fall upon government, it's a job for all of us.
  7. Redesign Metro's website. It should be possible for anyone who is looking at King County Metro's website to see the emergency status of any route not operating normally without having to hunt around for that information. The current website is outdated and needs to be replaced with a better designed one.
We'd add to that list the construction of a light rail network, but we're already building one. Sound Transit's Central Link route opens next year, with University Link, North Link, South Link, and East Link to follow.

Having light rail will be helpful during future storms, because trains are much more durable and reliable than buses.

Of course, heavy snowfall can and does stop trains - the Arctic blast we've had has disrupted Amtrak service (and Sounder to a lesser extent) - but trains are more rugged than buses, and less likely to be out of commission in bad weather.

Is solving the climate crisis really a top priority for Washington State?

It's interesting how people sometimes use events to reinforce their worldview.

About a week ago, I was at the store, in line, and I overheard a woman ahead of me commenting about the recent onslaught of winter to the checker.

She talked about bringing Al Gore up here and showing him this weather, adding that it was ridiculous that President-elect Barack Obama and the "idiots that voted for him" were proposing the implementation of pollution penalties to discourage the burning of dirty fossil fuels.

By using the example of the record snowfall we've had, she reinforced her already existing view of the nonexistence of global warming, illustrating that she doesn't understand the concept of systemic causation nor the significance of more extreme weather in our region - which is known for its mild climate.

And apparently she hasn't seen any of the evidence that profoundly documents what the climate crisis is doing to our planet right now - or what will happen once we pass the tipping point. Preventing global warming is one of the most serious challenges humankind faces, as it affects all ecosystems - the entire biosphere.

The consequences of the climate crisis preclude human well-being, and anything that can be done will help, even if it doesn't seem to amount to much.

Every little bit helps.

Currently, the State of Washington isn't doing enough to prevent the onset of catastrophe. The Associated Press recently filed a report on Governor Gregoire's slackening response to the climate crisis:
Recognizing a tough budget situation, the state is planning to pursue a less-aggressive plan to curb climate change than many had hoped.

The centerpiece of the plan is a regional cap-and-trade system that would limit the amount of greenhouse gases that industrial polluters emit while allowing them to buy and trade credits for the amount they can produce.

But some of the ambitious recommendations put forth by a task force Gov. Christine Gregoire established last year likely won't be pursued when the Legislature convenes next month.
Yet, talking about budget limitations, reporter Phuong Le observes:
Gregoire is leaning toward giving away most of the pollution credits, rather than auctioning them off as environmentalists had hoped.
Why is Gregoire thinking of giving credits away when we have such a serious revenue shortfall? If we're going to be creating a credits system, the credits should be auctioned off, not given away.

That's money that could be invested by the state in the development of renewable energy. We can't solve the climate crisis unless we repower America.

The money from the auction could help stave off cuts to environmental protection efforts. Combined with other creative ideas, like repeal of unnecessary tax exemptions - it could help prevent deep cuts to critical public services.

Lawmakers need to consider the common wealth and the common good as the budget makes its way through the House and Senate. Opportunities to generate revenue shouldn't be ignored. Washington State will not be able to effectively escape this recession if government ends up being gutted just to save money.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Readers, whether you're celebrating the Nativity of the Lord today or just spending some time with your family, please accept our wishes for a very Merry Christmas. Take an opportunity to rest, relax, reflect, and have fun - that's what holidays are for! If you make your home here in the Northwest, chances are you've got at least a foot of snow outside like we do.

The snow has made for an unusually white December 25th, but it's also making travel and transport of goods difficult. Governor Chris Gregoire has just declared a statewide emergency due to the winter storms. Snowfall has already reached record levels in thirty of the Evergreen State's thirty nine counties.

Here's an excerpt from her news release today:
Gregoire's proclamation directs state government to support emergency response activities in the affected jurisdictions, allowing state agencies to make extraordinary expenditures and use of resources. State actions are coordinated through the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at Camp Murray.

States of emergency have been declared in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston counties, the cities of Gig Harbor , Spokane, and Spokane Valley and by the Makah Tribe.
If you have to leave home, make sure to stay safe out there. Drive slowly, carry chains, and don't follow other vehicles too closely.

Peace be with you...

The Northwest Progressive Institute Team

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Northwest Senators call for increased investment in energy infrastructure

Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Senator-elect Jeff Merkley (D-OR) issued a call today for the Obama Administration to make investments in improving and updating our nation's energy transmission system, as part of the economic stimulus package, according to a press release NPI received. This is important to the Northwest because the Bonneville Power Administrations ensures that our region has enough transmission capacity. But BPA needs to update its infrastructure to deal with increased demand for renewable energy sources, future growth, and to create green jobs.

Following is the full text of the letter the Senators sent to Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Robert Byrd (still Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, for now), and Senator Thad Cochran (Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee).

Dear Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader McConnell, Chairman Byrd and Senator Cochran:

We are writing to request that the economic stimulus package include $5 billion in additional United States Treasury borrowing authority for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Providing BPA access to capital unavailable on today’s frozen credit markets will immediately stimulate the economy by helping create an estimated 50,000 direct and ancillary green jobs and allowing 4,700 megawatts of new renewable resources to come online in the next two years.

In order to remain a world economic leader we urgently need to transform and revitalize our nation’s energy system to be cleaner, more diverse, and more distributed. Now is the time to make the long neglected investments necessary in our nation’s electricity grid to increase its efficiency and reliability and to meet future demand growth by integrating more renewable and distributed sources of energy onto the grid.

According to a recent report by the Department of Energy, 20 percent of the United States could be powered by wind energy by 2030 if approximately $60 billion is invested in new transmission capacity over the next 20 years. However, future demand growth and the need to accommodate vast new wind farms and other renewable resources threaten to overwhelm BPA’s current infrastructure and its ability to meet national reliability standards.

A timely increase in BPA’s borrowing authority is needed to maintain the value of BPA’s existing systems and to add new transmission capacity and smart grid technologies to meet regional load growth and a more diverse array of energy sources. Increasing BPA’s borrowing authority will quickly enable critically needed energy infrastructure improvements to go forward, creating jobs and ensuring the continued economic prosperity and global competitiveness of the Pacific Northwest , which depends on reliable and affordable energy supplies.

In addition, increasing BPA’s borrowing authority will have virtually no long term cost to taxpayers given BPA’s 25-year record of making its annual payments, with interest, to the U.S. Treasury.

We look forward to working with you to include this vital measure in any stimulus bill considered by the 111th Congress.


Senators Cantwell, Murray, Wyden, Crapo, Tester, and Senator-elect Merkley

It's nice to see our Northwest Senators working together on policy initiatives that will jumpstart our economy and protect our environment. We applaud their efforts and hope to see more teamwork, for the benefit of our region, during the next Congress.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Wonderland

Ok, yeah, so all this snow is pretty inconvenient. Let's just get that out of the way. But beyond all the bother, there's really a lot of wonder to be found as well.

We got about eight inches of the fluffy white stuff at my house here in Redmond. More than some, not as much as others. Snow brings out the community. My family and the four neighboring houses around our little cul-de-sac, much like most suburban families, really never talk to one another. There's no animosity involved, it's just that we live our own lives, going to and from work, driving kids to school and soccer practice, then coming home to hole up inside for dinner. It's the routine.

But when the snow comes, the routine gets buried. If we can't drive, our car-culture is paralized. No work, no school, no deadlines.

Our little street is kind of steep, and I know from experience that if anybody drives on it the packed snow will turn to ice and before long nobody will be able to get out. And the city doesn't plow down here. So when the snow comes, the shovels come out. I usually head outside around nine in the morning on a snowy day, and start scooping a one-car-width lane down the street. It's work, but the physical labor is a nice change of pace from sitting at a computer all day, and the exercise keeps me warm.

But I can't manage the whole street myself, especially not when we get an 8 inch dumping. So before long, those neighbors come out with their own shovels. Between the five of us, pretty soon we've got a clear lane of pavement with branches out to everyone's driveways. We talk. Catch up on how each other's kids are doing and what's new in people's lives. I learned that one neighbor is writing a book. Another has an import/export business. One neighbor's kid, who I used to pay to help me with my yardwork, is at the UW now doing his prereq's for the college of engineering.

Yeah, the snow's inconvenient. But it brings the neighbors out for some good old-fashioned community. Together we accomplish an impromptu public works project, for the common good, that none of us could manage on our own. There's something wonderful in that.

Yesterday afternoon, back inside the house, I was looking out at our balcony at the snow on the rails and decided to take this picture. This is where the snow tapers off as the rail runs under the eaves. So big deal, right? Well, I know this is tremendously geeky of me, but it put me in mind of something that's been bugging me since High School.

See, although I'm as big an athiest heretic as you're likely to find this side of Richard Dawkins, my mom sent me to a Catholic high school. Which was weird, because on the one hand we had to study the bible and the sacrements and all that stuff, but on the other hand, being a Jesuit-run school the science curriculum was first-rate. I mean, really really excellent, which is why my mom had sent me there in the first place. So since that age, I've been aware not only of the general tension in society between science and religion, but also keenly aware that the two can get along. The Jesuits manage it just fine, which makes me wonder why other religious groups can't. Not all of them, of course, but you know the ones I mean.

So this picture put me in mind of that. Notice the way the snow tapers off. That's a sigmoid curve. Sigmoids show up all over the place. They're in statistics. In population growth dynamics. They are fundamental to the operation of the computer you're staring at right now: the behavior of every one of the billions of transisitors in it is described by a sigmoid curve, albeit one that has such sharp transitions and such a steep slope that it becomes, effectively, an on/off switch. There are many curves that are ubiquitous in mathematics and nature, but the sigmoid must surely rank as one of the more iconic symbols of science and technology.

And here it is, described with elegant beauty in the slope of a snow bank.

To me, that is utterly emblematic of how you can't revere the natural world without also becoming aware of the science behind it. Me, I love science for its own sake, because it's fascinating and helps me understand how things work. But if I were a religious man, it would seem the most natural thing in the world to love science because it illuminates the intricate masterpiece of God's work. So when I see a sigmoid curve in the snow, it simultaneously evokes a sense of wonder and confuses me all over again as to why some religious groups have such animosity toward science.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bush announces auto industry aid package

This morning, President Bush announced a $17.4 billion loan package to rescue failing American automakers. The plan will be paid for using TARP funds (Troubled Asset Relief Program, part of the original financial bailout), as Congressional Democrats had wanted.
The terms of the loans authorize $4 billion each for GM and Chrysler on Dec. 29 and another $5.4 billion for GM on Jan. 16.


Another $4 billion could be authorized in February if necessary and Congress and President-elect Barack Obama decide to do so.


The package includes many of the restrictions that were included in the failed legislation and requires the companies to achieve “positive net value” by March 31 and produce plans toward viability. If the administration is not satisfied, the loans could be called off – essentially forcing any of the companies into bankruptcy.
And what might some of those restrictions be that were included in Bush's plan? Yes, that's right, Bush is sticking it to the UAW.
Bush included the provisions suggested by Senate GOPers that killed the bailout agreement in Congress. Chief among them is a requirement that American automakers lower worker salaries to the same level paid by foreign carmakers with factories in the U.S. by the end of '09. GOP lawmakers have been pressuring Bush to include the provision since he announced he would develop a WH-run bailout.
It's a sad day when the American government sells out American workers in order to keep foreign companies competitive. But then we've been having a lot of sad days for the past eight years. And, if you ever believed the Republican line about the "free market" you ought to go get a shovel, because it's piling up pretty high. And I'm not talking about the snow we're having either.

Here is the UAW response to the rescue package, which notes that sacrifices must be made by all stakeholders.
"We're pleased that the Bush administration has acted today to provide urgently needed emergency bridge loans to America’s auto companies and to pursue a process for restructuring outside of bankruptcy," said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. "This will keep the doors of America's factories open, keep Americans working and prevent the devastating economic consequences for millions of Americans and thousands of businesses that would have resulted from a liquidation of operations by one or more auto companies."


"While we appreciate that President Bush has taken the emergency action needed to help America's auto companies weather the current financial crisis, we are disappointed that he has added unfair conditions singling out workers," said Gettelfinger. "These conditions were not included in the bipartisan legislation endorsed by the White House, which passed the House of Representatives and which won support from a majority of senators.
This eagerness by President Bush and Congressional Republicans to prop up foreign interests has got to be a campaign issue in 2010. The party that used the slogan "Country First" for its national convention does not represent American interests. Either you're for the United States of America or you're not, and the Republicans in Congress and the White House are clearly not. And the voters need to hold them accountable, since they are supposed to represent us.

Like I said before, the Republican old boys network can step up, wave the flag, sing another chorus of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and pay homage to mom and apple pie all they want, but it all means nothing if, in the end, the actions they take support foreign interests and hurt Americans.

Yes, American automakers have been badly mismanaged for as long as I can remember. But the workers who are being asked to bear the brunt of this problem, had no say in the business decisions that led us to this day. It's simply unfair to expect the UAW to sacrifice everything so that management can collect a payday from the federal government and continue business as usual.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Barack Obama taps Oregon State's Dr. Jane Lubchenco to take over NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) one of the federal government's most important agencies, will soon be led by a renowned marine biologist who has worked at Oregon State University for three decades:
Lubchenco, a conservationist who has devoted much of her career to encouraging scientists to become more engaged in public policy debates, is also a vocal proponent of curbing greenhouse gases linked to global warming. The transition team could not be reached for comment, but several sources confirmed today that Lubchenco had been picked and was headed to Chicago for the upcoming announcement.

The appointment marks a shift for NOAA, which oversees marine issues as well as much of government's climate work. Lubchenco has criticized the agency in the past for not doing enough to curb overfishing.
Dr. Lubchenco is an outstanding choice for NOAA Administrator. We at the Northwest Progressive Institute commend President-elect Barack Obama for tapping one of the Pacific Northwest's brightest and most respected scientists for this important job. OSU's loss will be America's gain.

Daily Kos user strobusguy nicely sums up our reaction to this appointment:
Her appointment will help bring the very best minds we have to the issues of marine conservation and climate change. She is one who understands the need for integrated solutions, and for clear communication links between the scientific world, policy-makers, the media, and the public. She will also make the job of reclaiming scientific integrity in the Obama administration a high priority.
And The Oregonian observes:
Lubchenco would be the first woman to head the prominent science agency, which boasts an annual budget of about $4 billion. NOAA encompasses about half the workforce and budget of the Department of Commerce. Its divisions conduct the nation's study of oceans, weather and global warming.
This is by far one of the best appointments President-elect Obama has announced so far. (His choice for science advisor is also a great pick).

We look forward to toasting the future of NOAA when Dr. Lubchenco is confirmed by the United States Senate and officially becomes its new leader.

Governor Gregoire's budget is unacceptable

Governor Chris Gregoire is currently speaking live at a press conference in Olympia, announcing her 2009-2010 budget proposal, which doesn't look pretty.

Regressive and uncreative are two words I'd use to describe this plan, which is mostly comprised of deep cuts to critical public services that we need to climb out of the economic hole we're in.

Among the "features" of this budget:
  • Funding to reduce class sizes would be slashed by a fourth
  • Teacher cost of living increases would be frozen for the next biennium
  • Pay raises for state workers and home care workers would be dropped
  • Implementation of Initiative 1029 (which funds heightened training for home care workers) would be delayed. I-1029 was just approved by voters in November.
  • Funding for the Basic Health Care Plan, which provides healthcare to low income Washingtonians, would be nearly halved
  • The state's four year colleges would be forced to implement an across the board thirteen percent cut in spending. Community colleges would have to cut spending by six percent.
  • Students would be hit with a substantial tuition hike.
  • Twelve percent cuts for social and health services
  • Financial ad and treatment subsidies for the disabled and those recovering from drug addictions would be ended
  • The closure of thirteen state parks
  • Elimination of the popular seasonal Anacortes to Sidney, British Columbia ferry run that also stops in San Juan Island's Friday Harbor
  • Gutting money for state geologic research on slope stability and emergency preparedness measures, including tsunami evacuation route planning
The governor plans to tap the Rainy Day Fund (which is a good move) and her budget assumes at least a billion dollars in aid from the federal government.

Several reporters asked the governor if she had considered raising revenue so that cuts wouldn't be so brutal. The governor bristled at these questions, appearing incredibly defensive and replying by heatedly asking, "What would you have me do? What would you have me do?"

The governor was just asked at the press conference if she considered closing any tax loopholes or exemptions to bring in additional revenue - something NPI has urged her to do. "I thought of that," the governor said, saying she "rejected" the idea. She did not elaborate, not even a little. "There'll be something for everybody not to like in this budget," Gregoire added later.

Well, Governor, we're not just unhappy with one particular part of your budget, we're unhappy with the whole thing.

This is the best you could up with? This is it? You're slamming students with tuition hikes, you're cutting healthcare for the poorest among us, you're eliminating help for the disabled, but you reject the idea of repealing even a single one of the hundreds of tax loopholes on our books?


"Thunder snow" strikes much of King County

The National Weather Service has been warning of the possibility of significant snowfall over much of King County for days, but apparently, there are plenty of people who decided to ignore the forecasts and warnings as snow repeatedly failed to materialize over the last seven days.

This morning, those who ventured out unprepared are paying the price:
Drivers appeared to be completely caught off guard by the snow Thursday morning, abandoning vehicles on SR-520 as traffic gridlocked. Some drivers were turning around and driving the wrong way on the highway in an attempt to get back home.


Drivers on Thursday morning were met with steady snow in the Seattle area, causing dozens of spinouts and bringing traffic to a standstill on some highways. Many school districts throughout the region again closed or delayed classes due to ice and snow (see complete list).

Traffic was completely stopped at times on parts of State Route 520 on the Eastside as snow covered the highway, and some drivers abandoned their cars and began to walk down the freeway.

In what Department of Transportation officials called a very dangerous thing to do, some drivers were turning around and using the shoulder to drive the wrong way on 520 in an attempt to get off of the highway.
The National Weather Service says:


Expect colder temperatures tonight and tomorrow, with a low of 21° F tonight and a low of 18° F Friday night. That snow isn't going anywhere, and more might fall this weekend. If you can avoid going in to work today, try to stay home.

It's pretty slow going out there.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kansas Senator to retire, possible Democratic pick-up?

Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), failed GOP presidential candidate and right-winger, is planning to announce his retirement from the U.S. Senate in 2010.
Sen. Sam Brownback will announce Thursday he is retiring from the Senate when his term ends in 2010, allowing the Kansas Republican to explore a run for governor.


Brownback, who unsuccessfully sought the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, will not reveal his future political plans during the three news conferences planned for Thursday in Kansas. But a source close to Brownback said he will file gubernatorial paperwork in January.
And why is this important? Because it's an opportunity to increase the Democratic majority in the Senate to filibuster-proof levels.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who enjoys widespread popularity in Kansas, is term limited and will be forced out of office in 2010. Sebelius represents a bright Democratic Party hope in a sea of red. She's a Democrat who has proven her mettle in statewide elections. Don't bet against Governor Sebelius to win the Senate seat, should she decide to pursue it.

Chrysler shuts down its assembly lines for at least a month, Ford extends idle time

Merry Christmas:
Chrysler LLC, awaiting word on a federal bailout, said Wednesday it will idle all of its 30 plants for at least a month in an effort to bring output closer in line with plunging demand for new cars and trucks.

The privately held carmaker said it will shut its assembly lines at the end of Friday's shift and keep them closed through at least Jan. 19, extending a holiday shutdown that was already put in place.

Separately, Ford Motor Co. announced that it will shut down most of its North American assembly plants for an extra week in January, according to the Associated Press.
It's no secret that the Big Three are hurting, but the situation is getting particularly bad in Detroit, which hasn't received any help from Congress or a firm commitment of aid from the Bush administration.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has happily doled out billions to the greedy pigs at AIG, but seems reluctant to provide General Motors and Chrysler loans for a fraction of that amount. (Ford has said it only wants a line of credit from the feds as a backup if things really go south).

Every day, more bad news seems to be arriving about the state of the economy. Companies are downsizing, cutting back, or going out of business.

Detroit's problem is that automobiles are major purchases, and not many Americans are in the market for a car or truck right now. Even people who want a new car may not be able to get one because banks are reluctant to provide financing except to those people who already have really good credit.

Consequently, GM and Chrysler have started singing the praises of credit unions, which are in great financial shape and still have money to lend.

This was posted on Chrysler LLC's blog this morning:
December 17, 2008 9:15 AM
No Credit Crunch at Credit Unions - Auto Loans Available
Mike Ellis - Editorial Director - Online Media

Tough time to get an auto loan?

Not at credit unions. They’ve avoided the subprime mortgage meltdown and other risky investments that have crippled many segments of the financial services industry, said David Adams, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Michigan Credit Union League.

“One of the critical things affecting auto sales, as you all know, is the lack of affordable financing, especially for people who have a few blemishes on their credit scores,” Adams said. “Credit unions are in a position to lend this money because their structure as not for profit cooperatives,” he added.

Credit unions are in a position to lend. And to sweeten the deal, Chrysler has joined the “Invest in America” credit union loan partnership, which offers affordable financing and additional credit union cash discounts of from $500 to $1,000 on most Chrysler, Jeep or Dodge vehicles. The new discount is in addition to most existing cash discounts.
Regular readers of the NPI Advocate know we've been touting the virtues of credit unions all season long, since before Washington Mutual collapsed. Especially in these tough economic times, it makes no sense to stick with a bank. Credit unions have better rates, lower fees, and superior customer service. And through the Shared Branching network, they match the convenience of banks.

A partnership with credit unions isn't going to save GM or Chrysler, though - they're in serious trouble.

Without help, they'll probably have to go into bankruptcy, which would have a devastating ripple effect on our economy. People cheering for the demise of GM and Chrysler need cold water splashed on their faces. The failure of either company would have a domino effect. Suppliers might be forced into bankruptcy, and the businesses that depend on those suppliers likewise crippled, and so on.

At this point, any money provided by the Bush administration to GM and Chrysler is likely just to be temporary, short term assistance.

Something more substantial will be needed as a followup, and that aid package should have stringent conditions set to shake up Detroit's rusted culture, to stop nonsense like General Motors' 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid.

The Wall Street Journal's Jeff Sabatini sums up our reaction:
Not in my lifetime has a car company come up with anything as absurd as the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, the latest example of hybrid greenwashing.

The two-wheel-drive model's 20-mpg combined fuel-economy rating may be 5 miles per gallon better than the regular Escalade's, but it's still tied for the worst mileage of any hybrid vehicle rated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The beefier four-wheel-drive hybrid weighs so much — well over 3 tons — that it is exempt from government mileage testing. Imagine that, a hybrid in the same category as Hummers.

Like every other Escalade, the hybrid model reeks of excess rather than thrift, from the company that recently apologized for disappointing consumers and ignoring their needs.
Earth to General Motors - building a hybrid version of a giant luxury SUV was a stupid, boneheaded idea and a waste of resources.

Hybrids are supposed to be more efficient than most cars on the market. The Escalade "hybrid" gets an abysmal twenty one miles to the gallon on the highway, and twenty in the city.

Whoever was responsible for the decision to create this car (ahem, Mr. Wagoner?) needs to be fired from General Motors, because the company is going to collapse if the people in charge think the future is cars like the 2009 Cadillac Escalade, no matter how many loans the federal government provides.

We've all heard about the Volt, which sounds promising, but until that car has been brought to market, GM needs to axe output of luxury vehicles and start producing affordable, fuel efficient cars. R&D money needs to go into development of more electric cars, not mistakes like the Escalade hybrid, which makes no economic sense in addition to being an environmental disaster.

The Escalade's list price is $71,685. Think about how astronomically high that is for a second. Few families can afford such a car with the economy the way it is. Even affluent Americans are scaling back and tightening their spending.

The 2009 Toyota Prius has a MSRP of $22,000, by contrast. That's less than a third of the Escalade's price. Why should a family that needs a car for everyday driving get an Esacalade versus a Prius?

The unpredictable cost of fuel and higher cost of ownership don't justify getting a luxury SUV for those trips to school and the dentist - to say nothing of the detrimental impact to our environment.

The Big Three's pain may be largely self-inflicted, as evidenced by the 2009 Escalade, but it would irresponsible for us to do nothing while Chrysler, General Motors, and maybe even Ford go into bankruptcy.

We, the people of the United States, through our federal government, must save Detroit from itself. If we don't, the economic calamity that will result from the collapse of the American automobile industry will have far-reaching consequences that could make the recession we're in now look like paradise.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gael Tarleton: Restoring trust at the Port of Seattle begins with greater transparency

Editor's Note: Two weeks ago, the Port of Seattle disclosed that an independent investigation of its construction management practices led by former U.S. Attorney Mike McKay had uncovered nearly a dozen instances where Port employees committed civil fraud. The report's findings, due to be presented to the Port Commission today, come as no surprise to longtime Port watchdogs, who have long suspected that there was willful lawbreaking going on under ex-CEO Mic Dinsmore.

In this special guest post, reform-minded Commissioner Gael Tarleton - first elected to the Port's legislative body a year ago - reflects on what needs to happen if the Port of Seattle is to regain the trust of the community it serves.

No wonder the people of King County are fed up and just want to "throw the bums out" at the Port of Seattle.

Most people hear only what’s in the news - the papers, the blogs, the radio, and television. And what’s in the news about the Port of Seattle can be summed up briefly: Endless scandal. Wasted money. No accountability.

Sadly, corruption isn't a problem found only inside the Beltway or in Chicago.

President-elect Obama says that federal stimulus money will only go to those public works projects that are shovel ready.

Well, my shovel’s pretty ready - I’ve been using it non-stop since the day I took office eleven months ago.

And there’s more to come - the Department of Justice investigation into criminal misconduct of individuals and companies associated with the Port could leave another mountain of rubble to clear.

Government employees manipulating contracts to dole out public money to their buddies? Elected officials rewarding former fifteen year CEO Mic Dinsmore with raises year after year as ethics and tax dollars evaporated?

Enough is enough. This wasn't just a "get it done at any cost" culture.

It’s much worse than that.

It’s about flagrant, conscious disregard for the laws and ethical standards that are the hallmarks of great institutions.

The internal rot at the Port of Seattle means this institution is at risk of crumbling from within. Restoring public trust is going to take a lot more than a new policy. The only thing that's going to save the Port is if the people of King County know everything that's going on here.

Since that’s a pretty daunting task - no one pays attention until the house is falling down - the jury’s still out on the future of the Port. But for those who are watching - it’s your Port. And you get the last word.

Have a suggestion or an idea to share with Commissioner Tarleton about improving the Port of Seattle? Please leave a comment in the thread.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich to begin

The Illinois House of Representatives voted unanimously, 113-0, today to begin impeachment proceedings against Rod Blagojevich, who defiantly clings to power.
The Illinois House voted 113-0 today to begin impeachment proceedings against Gov. Rod Blagojevich by creating an investigations committee to consider allegations that the two-term Democrat abused his office and may have participated in criminal activity.


The vote to start an impeachment investigation came six days after Blagojevich was arrested at his home on federal charges that included allegedly trying to peddle the vacant Senate seat. The committee is scheduled to have its first hearing tomorrow morning.
The action by the House follows Attorney General Lisa Madigan filing suit in the Illinois Supreme Court to have Blagojevich deemed "unfit to serve", and the governor meeting with a prominent Chicago criminal defense attorney.

Since it seems that Rod Blagojevich has no shame and isn't going to leave office of his own accord, hopefully either the Court or the Legislature will expedite its proceedings and bounce the governor out of office.

Even if he's acquitted of the charges, which seems very unlikely given the information that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has presented so far in the unsealed criminal complaint. Blagojevich is too much of a distraction and so tainted with the stench of corruption that he is unable to effectively carry out the duties of his job and should step aside.

Arctic blast in Western Washington could last through Christmas

Think the weather's bound to get warmer after the very cold weekend we just had? Think again. The National Weather Service predicts we're in for a long cold spell, and what's worse, there are a series of storms on the horizon.

The first one begins tomorrow night.
3:28 PM PST MON DEC 15 2008

Because the highs are well below freezing, any precipation that falls will be snow. Roads and highways that do not already have ice on them are dry, so snow will accumulate quickly when the flakes start coming down.

Bottom line: Wednesday looks to be a very snowy day.

If there's important business you need to take care of, do it today or tomorrow. Don't wait, because local roads may not be navigable later this week.

And what happens after Wednesday? Don't expect conditions to get any better. In fact, expect more storms. KOMO's Scott Sistek explains:
Forecast models then show another very strong arctic blast following in that storm's footsteps for Thursday and Friday -- at least on par, but possibly even colder than what we're seeing now. In that case, we'll see highs in the teens/low 20s, and lows in single digits.

Then, forecasting models show another significant storm coming in for this weekend. Although timing differs in the models between late Friday or Sunday for arrival, if this one goes as forecast, we could see major snows here. There is some "hope" in that one model has it as of now going farther south into Oregon, which would limit the moisture for the northern half of Washington.
As for Christmas, we could very well be seeing snowfall then - and the below freezing temperatures may not disappear until 2009 arrives.

Now is a good time to stock up on food, extra batteries, and finish that Christmas shopping, if possible. The cold's not going away and more snow is coming.

It's official: Washington State's electoral votes go to Barack Obama and Joe Biden

We knew this was coming, but it's still joyful news. From a news release sent to NPI by the Secretary of State's office:
The 11 members of Washington’s Electoral College today cast their votes for the Democratic ticket of President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden.

The state’s Electoral College, reflecting the views of a majority of Washington voters in the November General Election, voted in the State Reception Room of the Legislative Building.

“The Electoral College is a key part of our nation’s process in choosing its President and Vice President,” said Secretary of State Sam Reed, who presided over the voting. “While it doesn’t carry the same excitement as the November 4 popular election, it carries the same impact. Other than a fire alarm that delayed the vote, I’m pleased that today’s event went off without any unpleasant surprises.”

"I am honored to bear witness today to the election of President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden," stated Gov. Chris Gregoire. "This historic ceremony, as with Electoral College votes across the country, reflects our dedication to the democratic process and commitment to open and transparent government."

Each state has a number of electors equal to the number of senators and representatives it has in the U.S. Congress. Of Washington’s 11 presidential electors, one is from each of the state’s nine congressional districts, plus two at-large electors.
The eleven electors were selected by the Washington State Democratic Party earlier this year. I witnessed the election of one of these electors... Jafar Siddiqui of Lynnwood, who we chose at the First Congressional District caucus back in May. Representing the other congressional districts:
  • 2nd District: Maggie Hanson of Bellingham;
  • 3rd District: Jane Buchanan-Banks of Vancouver;
  • 4th District: Pat Notter of Wenatchee;
  • 5th District: Marcus Riccelli of Spokane;
  • 6th District: Bradford Donovan of Montesano;
  • 7th District: Lesley Ahmed of Seattle;
  • 8th District: Di Irons of Fall City;
  • 9th District: Calvin Edwards of Spanaway;
... and the at-large electors (who were chosen at the State Democratic Convention) are Kristine Fallstone of DuPont and Matt Daniels of Seattle.

Now that the votes have been cast, a "Certificate of Vote" will be mailed to the District of Columbia (more specifically, to Dick Cheney's office and the U.S. Archivist). Congress is scheduled to tally the votes cast by the members of the Electoral College on January 6th, 2009, a couple of weeks ahead of Barack Obama's inauguration as the Forty Fourth President of the United States of America.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hypocrites and sellouts

Following up on Andrew's earlier post, I'd like to echo Senator Barbara Boxer's sentiments and further explore the hypocrisy of Republican Senators from Southern states.

You see, for the past eight years we've all heard the same old white men from the South wax poetic about patriotism. Every time a defense appropriations bill has come up, or anytime President Bush needed votes to either start or continue his debacle in Iraq, the old boys club has stepped up, waved the flag, sung another chorus of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and paid homage to mom and apple pie.

But when the time comes to support American workers, these same politicians sell out to foreign interests. Here's one critic of the bailout.
Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the banking committee and a leading critic of the auto bailout proposal, said: “We’re hoping that the Democrats will continue to negotiate but I think we have reached a point that labor has got to give. If they want a bill they can get one.”
So why are Richard Shelby, and his colleague Jeff Sessions, such critics of the auto industry aid package? Here's one reason: Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Alabama Inc., located in Huntsville.


Current Investment:
$537.4 million


TMMAL manufactures V8 and V6 engines for Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks and the Sequoia full-size sport utility vehicle.*

But wait, there's more. Senator Shelby and Senator Sessions have a few other reasons to sell out the American automotive industry and American workers.

Alabama is home to three Honda and Hyundai plants. And just across the state line in Georgia, a new Kia plant is set to open and will likely employ many Alabamans.

And Sessions sounds like a cheerleader Japanese automakers.

Honda and Hyundai, Sessions said, “are building steadily, and they are progressing steadily” even though they are being hurt by the economic downturn just like the Big Three U.S. automakers of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

But Sessions said he visited the Honda plant in Alabama recently and the company is changing its assembly line from the fuel-hungry Odyssey minivan to the more efficient Accord sedan in response to the demand for more-efficient cars. “Those are the kinds of things a smart company does, so they are gaining market share,” he said.

Two other Southern Republican Senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, also voted no. Not surprisingly, both Toyota and Nissan have set up camp in Mississippi.

Toyota is set to build its eighth North American manufacturing facility in Mississippi. The state beat off southern rivals Arkansas and Tennessee to win the investment.

The $1.3bn plant, on 1,700 acres in Blue Springs, near Tupelo, will create up to 2000 manufacturing jobs and produce an estimated 150,000 Highlander sport utility vehicles a year. Production is scheduled to begin in 2010.

Nissan already has a plant in Canton, Mississippi, employing 4000 people.

As for Georgia, both Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson voted no. Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana also voted no.

So with the aid package failing to pass the Senate, what are the consequences of Southern Republicans selling out to Japanese interests? A not so merry Christmas for American workers.

General Motors Corp. said Friday it will temporarily close 20 factories across North America and make sweeping cuts to its vehicle production as it tries to adjust to dramatically weaker automobile demand.


Many plants will be shut down for the whole month of January, he said, and all told, the factories will be closed for 30 percent of the quarter.


The move affects most of GM's plants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. During the shutdowns, employees will be temporarily laid off and receive a portion of their normal pay from the company. They can also apply for state unemployment benefits, Lee said. [emphasis mine]

So while Southern Republicans are busy sticking it to the UAW, they're ensuring the American economy stays in the tank by keeping unemployment rates up and that the burden on social services in the states remains high. After all, for Republicans, sticking it to the union is more important than the health of the American economy. With them, it's not about what's best for the country; ideology trumps everything. And that's why the Republican party is now largely a marginalized regional party.

So wear your lapel pin, wave the flag, and sing your same old songs, but don't call me unpatriotic when I don't support your idiotic foreign policy. At least I haven't sold out American workers to benefit foreign interests.

What was that slogan on the banners at the RNC, again? Oh yeah, "Country First." So much for that.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Auto industry aid package falls apart thanks to Republican obstruction

Thanks, Republicans:
The Senate on Thursday night abandoned efforts to fashion a government rescue of the American automobile industry, as Senate Republicans refused to support a bill endorsed by the White House and Congressional Democrats.

The failure to reach agreement on Capitol Hill raised a specter of financial collapse for General Motors and Chrysler, which say they may not be able to survive through this month.
The sticking point with the deal was - surprise, surprise - Republican insistence that members of the United Auto Workers agree to steep cuts in pay and benefits. Republicans apparently don't want UAW members to be making a penny more than non-union workers employed by foreign manufacturers.

Perhaps that's because they would like nothing more than to weaken the union and shake Democratic resolve to stand behind a livable wage for American workers.

So what now? It looks like part of that enormous pie of Wall Street bailout money may get sent to the Big Three after all. Democrats had insisted on using some of that $700 billion blank check to help Detroit, but Speaker Pelosi, Leader Reid and crew rolled over on command when the Bush administration said no.

Now it looks like BushCo will have to use the Wall Street bailout money anyway, courtesy of Senate Republicans, who didn't have any problem okaying a big bailout for Wall Street a few weeks ago, but couldn't bring themselves to support loans to the Big Three for a fraction of that amount.
Bush officials warned wavering GOP senators that if they didn't support the legislation, the White House will likely be forced to tap the Wall Street bailout to lend them money, two Republican congressional officials told CNN earlier.

This is a noteworthy change since the White House and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson have previously refused to use bank bailout funds to help General Motors (GM, Fortune 500), Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) and Chrysler LLC.
Congressional Republicans seem to be really good at sticking to their guns. Meanwhile, Democrats appear to be really good at throwing up their hands, folding up their tents, and calling it quits when they run into trouble.

There's an old maxim about getting things done that's really simple, yet it seems to be completely unappreciated by congressional Democrats. And it's this: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

What is preventing Harry Reid from dragging this out and demanding that Republicans give in? A misguided belief that he's powerless without sixty votes? Some misplaced fear that the American people will judge him harshly for having tried to force the GOP to buckle and stop obstructing the passage of economic aid?

We are in the midst of what has been called worst recession since the Great Depression. General Motors and Chrysler are on the verge of collapse. The implosion of those companies would be devastating to the American economy. It would be a travesty if Washington, D.C. simply allowed Detroit to fall apart.

Providing specific and targeted help to General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler is economic relief we at NPI can get behind - unlike the vague, gigantic $700 billion blank check Congress wrote a few months ago with few limitations. Ironically, Senate Republicans were for that, but they're against this. Come again?

Automakers certainly aren't guiltless. They've created much of their own mess by relying on gas guzzling sport utility vehicles and trucks for profits. When times were good, Detroit did not innovate, nor did it look ahead. General Motors had the chance years ago to dramatically reshape the industry by continuing development of its EV1 electric car. Instead, the company forced Americans who were leasing EV1s to return them, and sent many of the cars to be crushed and destroyed.

Nevertheless, Congress has, or had, an opportunity to force Detroit to change its ways as a condition of accepting federal aid. Senate Republicans, instead of bargaining a deal in good faith, have torched the legislation because the United Auto Workers naturally balked at the scale of their unreasonable demands.

(UAW, at least, appears to have more of a spine than Congressional Democrats).

Consequently, we're back to Square One.

Perhaps now our One Man Congress, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, can act decisively and help stave off disaster for the future of American automaking by lending some of that Wall Street bailout money to Detroit.

UPDATE: Kudos to Barbara Boxer for pointing out Republican hypocrisy:
One of the Detroit's Big Three defenders was Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a regular critic of the automakers. She urged members on the floor to pass the emergency funds, noting that southern states like Tennessee and Mississippi have offered hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to woo foreign auto plants. "Why don't I hear my colleagues from Tennessee or Mississippi out here saying 'Whoa that was a bad mistake. Taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook.'" Boxer said.

"Something's wrong. Is this about the workers because they are tough and they joined a union? What is this? It doesn't smell right."
One last point: Allowing any of our automakers to fail wouldn't just mean havoc in Detroit, it would set off a chain reaction that would force many parts suppliers into bankruptcy, crippling the entire auto industry and causing economic calamity worldwide. So even if you have zero sympathy for the Big Three, please realize that you're begging for this recession to get much, much worse if you argue government should do nothing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Democrats take complete control of Island County Board of Commissioners

One of the major progressive success stories in the 2008 elections that hasn't gotten much ink (or pixels) is the Democratic Party's historic and surprising takeover of the Island County Board of Commissioners.

For years, the Board has been under Republican control, with Democrats shut out or relegated to a minority voice.

But that all changed just a few weeks ago when voters on Whidbey Island decided to replace the Board's two Republican men with two Democratic women, Helen Price Johnson and Angie Homola, who will soon join Commissioner John Dean on an all-Democratic Board of Commissioners. (Dean represents Camano Island and the northern tip of Whidbey; his term expires in 2010).

Homola and Price Johnson's victories are historic not only because Democrats have never had a 3-0 majority, but because no woman has ever won election to Island County's Board of Commissioners before.

Both victories are upsets, but Homola's is really impressive, because she defeated an incumbent Republican in the county's most conservative district, which encompasses Republican-leaning Oak Harbor and Ault Field (the proper name for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island). A recently completed recount confirmed Homola's narrow victory, which ultimately was just sixty two votes.

The next time it's raining and you're contemplating not walking your precinct, remember that Angie Homola only won by sixty two votes. Remember that John Driscoll only won by seventy two votes. Remember that Chris Gregoire only won in 2004 by a hundred and thirty three votes.

Every vote counts.

Remarkably, Island County also voted for Barack Obama and Chris Gregoire, and sent Democrat Mary Margaret Haugen back to the State Senate for another four year term. Democrats Peter Goldmark and Jim McIntire (who ran for Lands Commissioner and Treasurer, respectively) lost the county, but not by too much.

Cheers to the Island County Democratic Party for their impressive victory, and good luck to Helen and Angie as they join John on the Board of Commissioners.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Just In: Jason Osgood abandons candidacy for Director of Elections, endorses Sherril Huff

Jason Osgood, the Democratic nominee who unsuccessfully challenged Sam Reed for Secretary of State this year, and who last month declared his intention to seek election to the newly created position of King County Elections Director, has just announced he won't be running after all.

Here is the full text of Jason's statement on his withdrawal from the race.
Sherril Huff today announced her intention to run as a candidate in the February 3rd special election scheduled to fill the position of King County Director of Elections. Huff is currently the appointed head of the department and is now the most experienced and best qualified candidate seeking this position. Her exemplary performance in the November general election clearly demonstrated that Huff is the most logical choice in this race. I have therefore withdrawn my candidacy for King County Director of Elections, effective immediately, and am fully supporting the candidacy of Sherril Huff.

I had an opportunity to speak with Sherril Huff earlier today. After congratulating her, I reiterated my commitment to advocating for open source alternatives to current King County election systems of which I and others have been critical. Huff expressed a willingness to work together on achieving shared goals and advancing the cause of election integrity in King County. I am confident that in the months and years ahead we will all move forward together.

These last nine months have been an extraordinary experience, first as a candidate for Secretary of State, and recently as a candidate for King County Director of Elections. I am incredibly grateful for the amazing support I have received from so many citizens, activists and fellow Democrats. I have learned so much, met so many wonderful people, and had the time of my life. I have no regrets. Thank you all.
Huff's rivals will likely include Seattle Port Commissioner Lloyd Hara, who says he's in the race, and possibly Republican State Senator Pam Roach, who is a rumored (but not confirmed) candidate.

The filing period for the February 3rd, 2009 special election to select a Director of Elections begins tomorrow morning and runs through Friday afternoon.

Bid for first major University Link light rail contract beats Sound Transit estimate

More good news today from Sound Transit:
The University Link light rail extension moved closer to construction today as six bids on the first major construction contract came in below cost estimates. Condon Johnson & Associates, Inc. is the apparent low bidder with a $19.4 million bid to prepare the area where a tunnel boring machine will pass beneath Interstate 5 in downtown Seattle, with a bid 34 percent below the $29.6 million engineers’ estimate.
Assuming Condon Johnson gets the bid, they'll be working to prepare an area on two sides of Interstate 5 for light rail tunnel boring. A machine that will presumably be similar to the Emerald Mole (which drilled the Beacon Hill Tunnels) will be used to create a new underground corridor for Link trains to run through from downtown Seattle to the University of Washington.

Congratulations to Sound Transit for once again successfully fulfilling its commitment to under promise and over deliver.

Let the construction of University Link begin!

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich arrested this morning on corruption charges

Following up on Ken's post earlier this morning... this is good news. Corrupt Democrats must be kicked out of our party and brought to justice:
Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges.

Blagojevich and Harris were accused of a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy that included Blagojevich conspiring to sell or trade the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama in exchange for financial benefits for the governor and his wife. The governor was also accused of obtaining campaign contributions in exchange for other official actions.

Blagojevich was taken into federal custody at his North Side home this morning. A Blagojevich spokesman said he was unaware of the development. "Haven't heard anything -- you are first to call," Lucio Guerrero said in an e-mail.
If Blagojevich wants to plead not guilty to the charges, that's his right, but the evidence already gathered against him looks pretty bad (PDF).

(The case, by the way, is being prosecuted by Patrick Fitzgerald, the same guy who nailed Scooter Libby for obstruction of justice in Plamegate. The case is United States of America v. Rod R. Blagojevich and John Harris.)

Blagojevich should spare his family, his friends, and the Illinois Democratic Party any further embarrassment by resigning from office now.

This year has already seen the end of the careers of Kwame Kilpatrick and William Jefferson, people who claimed to share the ideals of the Democratic Party, but in reality only cared about themselves.

It's high time that Blagojevich joined them and exited public life.

UPDATE: Matt Stoller adds:
One little noticed part of the corruption problems encompassing Democrats like Rod Blagojevich in Illinois and William Jefferson in Louisiana is that they come from the more conservative/DLC/New Democratic wing of the party. Blago, when he was in the House, was the only Illinois Democrat to vote for the war, and as Governor pursued culture war issues like cracking down on violent video games. Jefferson was one of the few CBC members to vote for the war in Iraq, and has a well-trod history of voting against corporate regulations.
I'll echo Ken's comment and say good riddance.

This week in corrupt Democratic elected officials

Earlier this week Congressman "Dollar Bill" William Jefferson (D-LA), he of the $90,000 dollars in his freezer, was defeated for re-election by a newcomer, Anh "Joseph" Cao, himself once a refugee from Saigon.

Indicted U.S. Rep. William Jefferson suffered what may be the final blow of his storied political career in the most improbable way Saturday, when an untested Republican opponent took advantage of Louisiana's new federal voting rules -- and an election delay caused by Hurricane Gustav - to unseat the nine-term Democrat.

With the upset victory, Anh "Joseph" Cao, a eastern New Orleans attorney who fled war-ravaged Saigon as a child, becomes the first Vietnamese-American in Congress. He will represent a district that was specifically drawn to give African-Americans an electoral advantage and one in which two of every three voters are registered Democrats.

You see the word indicted before Congressman Jefferson's name, and that's because of his indictment on corruption charges.
Federal authorities accused Rep. William J. Jefferson yesterday of using his congressional office and staff to enrich himself and his family, charging the Louisiana Democrat with offering and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support business ventures in the United States and several West African nations.

The 16-count indictment also accused Jefferson, a former co-chairman of congressional caucuses on Nigeria and African trade, of racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The indictment was handed up by a federal grand jury and capped a long and tumultuous FBI investigation.


The lawmaker allegedly stowed $90,000 in his home freezer, wrapped in aluminum foil and concealed inside frozen-food containers.
But Congressman Jefferson isn't the only corrupt Democrat in the news. Earlier this morning, Illinois Governor Rod >Blagojevich found himself in federal custody on corruption charges.
A source said today that Gov. Rod Blagojevich was taken into federal custody at his North Side home this morning. The U.S. attorney's office would not confirm the information.


The stunning, early morning visit by authorities to the governor's North Side home came amid revelations that federal investigators had recorded the governor with the cooperation of a longtime confidant and had begun to focus on the possibility that the process of choosing a Senate successor to President-elect Barack Obama could be tainted by pay-to-play politics.
While these two men are innocent until proven guilty of the charges against them, there's enough evidence that they were sufficiently stupid in how they carried out their duties, that even the mere perception of corruption is enough for me to say good riddance.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lands Commissioner-elect Peter Goldmark to stop by Drinking Liberally tomorrow

Interested in talking to Washington State's next Lands Commissioner, Peter Goldmark, about his transition to power and priorities for the next four years? Or maybe just congratulating Peter on his amazing victory over Doug Sutherland?

Well, here's your chance. Peter will be stopping by the regular weekly gathering of Seattle's Drinking Liberally chapter tomorrow night shortly after 8 PM.

Please feel free to come by and share any questions or suggestions you have with Peter, who will soon be taking the helm of Washington State's efforts to protect our environment and assuming command at the Department of Natural Resources.

If you've never been to Seattle Drinking Liberally, the chapter meets every Tuesday at 8 PM at the Montlake Ale House just off of State Route 520. Join us and talk progressive politics in a friendly, informal atmosphere.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Worshipping at the wrong altar

This is representative of how screwed up our priorities are in America(not to mention a good reason why organized religion turns me off). Can you say golden calf?
With sport-utility vehicles at the altar and auto workers in the pews, one of Detroit's largest churches on Sunday offered up prayers for Congress to bail out the struggling auto industry.

"We have never seen as midnight an hour as we face this week," the Rev. Charles Ellis told several thousand congregants at a rousing service at Detroit's Greater Grace Temple. "This week, lives are hanging above an abyss of uncertainty as both houses of Congress decide whether to extend a helping hand." [emphasis mine]


While I agree that the government can't let the auto industry fail, the auto industry needs to get its house in order and start making fuel efficient vehicles that can compete in the marketplace. They need to fundamentally restructure the way they do business, before or as a condition of getting any taxpayer money.

So instead of praying over some of the most fuel inefficient vehicles and for billions to be handed over to inept corporate executives, at the altar of the Lord, perhaps Rev. Ellis should be praying for the poor and the hungry in Detroit. Perhaps he should be collecting food, clothes and money and putting it to good use in his community. Especially in a community that so desperately needs it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

King County Democrats reorganize for 2009-2010 election cycle

Every two years, following the conclusion of federal elections (be they midterm or presidential) the state and local Democratic Party organizations in Washington meet to reorganize and elect new leadership for the next cycle.

(Often, this actually means retaining the existing leadership with a vote of confidence, but regardless of what occurs, it's still a reorganization meeting).

This morning, the King County Democrats are holding the 2009-2010 reorganization meeting in south Seattle. The meeting is underway as I type, although the principal business of electing the Executive Board has been completed.

The elected officers for 2009-2010 are:
  • Chair: Susan Sheary (retained)
  • 1st Vice Chair, Communications: Chad Lupkes (succeeding Rob Dolin)
  • 2nd Vice Chair, Bylaws and Resolutions: Joel Ware (retained)
  • 3rd Vice Chair, Finance: Rosemary Blackwell (retained)
  • 4th Vice Chair, Elections: Emily Willoughby (retained)
  • State Committeeman: Javier Valdez (retained)
  • State Committeewoman: Ann Martin (succeeding Gurine Nordby)
  • Treasurer: Andrew Peabody (succeeding Chuck Laney)
The appointed officers are:
  • Secretary: Kier Matthews
  • Legislative Action Committee Co-Chairs: Steve Zemke and Sarajane Siegfriedt
  • Sergeant-At-Arms: Ivan Weiss
  • Endorsements Chair: Dean Willard
  • Parliamentarian: Genessa Stout
  • Affirmative Action Chair: Joanne Cisneros
  • Recruiting Chair: Dick Gidner
  • Training Committee: Bryan Kesterson, Jean Thomas, Sharon Mast
We are currently in Good of the Order. Mercifully, this meeting isn't going to be as long as arduous as a rowdy convention, though we did spend some time considering a resolution on tax reform that was ultimately sent to the Platform Committee because several people proposed amendments and there weren't copies of the resolution available for everyone to read.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Recount complete in Minnesota, Al Franken's campaign still hoping for victory

Minnesota has supposedly finished recounting ballots in the ultra-tight U.S. Senate race between Democrat Al Franken and incumbent Republican Norm Coleman, but it will be days before we know the outcome of the race:
For two and a half weeks, elections workers in all 87 counties examined each and every one of the 2.9 million ballots to determine whether Republican Norm Coleman or Democrat Al Franken won the U.S. Senate election.

"Counting three million ballots under the glare of a thousand klieg lights. That's the hardest part, and it's over," said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie at an afternoon news conference.

If you factor in the Election Day results from the precinct that hasn't been recounted, Coleman has a 192-vote lead over Franken. But it's still too early to declare a winner, because there are about 5,300 ballots in dispute.
The Franken campaign's internal tally shows the former Saturday Night Live comedian and Air America host ahead by just four votes, according to Politico.

TPM has some background on the methodology behind the internal tally:
At the end of this hand count, it's worth restating a few necessary caveats. The Franken camp's methodology involves taking down the opinions of the local election officials regarding the challenged ballots, and assuming that the local referees' calls will be upheld by the state canvassing board. As such, we are dependent on the Franken camp's numbers and assumptions.

The state canvassing board are going to be the ones who truly decide this race, as they rule on each challenge one by one. The Franken camp thinks this process will end with them ahead by four votes, or possibly even more, but clearly there is plenty of potential variation left.
This internal tally does not rely upon any votes from a Minneapolis precinct where one hundred and thirty three ballots are missing.

Ironically, one hundred and thirty three is the final number of votes that separated Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi in the 2004 gubernatorial election. (The number was one hundred and twenty nine at the time of certification; the tally changed in Gregoire's favor as a result of Dino Rossi's unsuccessful election challenge when Judge Bridges removed five votes from the final count.)

It seems likely that the Franken/Coleman contest is going to end up in court. The result is so close and the stakes so high (Senate terms are six years) that neither side has any incentive to concede the race.

Dorn wants to spare schools from budget slashing

Washington's incoming superintendent of public instruction, Randy Dorn, wants to protect education funding from the budget ax, even going so far as to suggest raising taxes to keep schools operating as usual.

In an interview Wednesday, he stated:
It'll be a real choice of, what are the priorities. And to me there isn't a choice on what is a priority. The priority's already been determined by our constitution. That's the paramount duty...It's pretty simple to me. I don't get to push the button on budgets but I sure can try to influence.
According to the Washington Constitution, education is "the paramount duty" of the state; in other words, it's our biggest responsibility. Sending less money to our already struggling schools is irresponsible. Raising revenue, while not an attractive option, will serve the state better in the long run by producing students who are better prepared for advanced education or challenging work, and by producing less high school dropouts who will contribute much less tax revenue over their lifetime than their better-educated peers.

When the economy is rolling again, we will need educated people to fill the workforce. We don't want to fall behind states and countries that kept investing in their young people even in this time of crisis.

Raising revenue is always a hard sell but a few things will make it even more challenging this year. One is the governor's campaign pledge not to increase revenue. Another is Tim Eyman's Initiative 960, which requires a two thirds supermajority of both houses of the Legislature to pass a tax increase, plus approval from a vote of the people.

The Supreme Court is currently considering a legal challenge to I-960, which, if successful, would strike down the supermajority requirement.

Despite Gregoire's reluctance to raise taxes, we believe that when the Legislature gets in up to their elbows in the budget mess, they will have to consider the huge cost to society that cuts to education and other vital public services would have. The harm to schools is just the tip of the iceberg.

We are proud of Dorn for being brave enough to put the issue out there. Let's wait and see if he gets any company.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Democrats pick up House seat in Spokane, Ahern's loss confirmed in recount

Breaking news this afternoon from the heart of the Inland Empire: John Driscoll, the Democratic challenger in the 6th Legislative District, has prevailed over incumbent Republican John Ahern, a just completed recount shows.

Here's the official announcement from the Auditor:
The Spokane County Elections Department has completed the mandatory hand recount of ballots in the 6th Legislative District race between John Driscoll and John Ahern.

The total number of ballots counted, 75,947, was the same as in the original count. The margin between the two candidates shrunk by two votes giving Driscoll a 72 vote win over Ahern. The original count had Driscoll leading by 74 votes.

The total vote count was Driscoll 35,106 and Ahern 35,034. Those numbers will be certified at 11:00 am, Friday, December 5, 2008 in the Spokane County Elections Office.

The recount process was watched by official observers from both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party and by a representative of the Washington Secretary of State’s Office.
Driscoll's close win is good news for the House Democratic caucus, which has already lost Representative Don Barlow and the open seat left by retiring House Judiciary Chair Pat Lantz, plus a few other close races where Democratic challengers came close to knocking off Republican incumbents but couldn't seal the deal.

NPI calls on Governor Gregoire to include repeal of tax exemptions in 2009 budget

This afternoon, the Northwest Progressive Institute team sent the following letter to Governor Chris Gregoire, urging that repeal of unneeded tax exemptions be a key part of the budget proposal for 2009-2010.

Dear Governor Gregoire:

The projected budget deficit that our state must grapple with in the upcoming legislative session represents one of the toughest challenges that Washington has ever faced. State revenue is declining, leaving fewer dollars available to fund basic public services, and strengthening calls for big cutbacks in government spending.

Deep cuts may appear to be necessary to get us out of financial trouble in the near future, but the impact on our neighborhoods and our quality of life would be disastrous long term – and we would be hurting our own chances of escaping this recession. It would be a mistake to gut our investments in education, environmental protection, community safety, and healthcare during these tough economic times.

Your office recently asked Washingtonians, "What government programs should we sacrifice to ensure that we can continue to provide the essentials to the people of our state?

We believe a better question is, "What tax exemptions should we sacrifice to ensure that we can continue to provide the essentials to the people of our state?"

Every biennium, the State of Washington loses hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars in revenue through tax loopholes or outright exemptions that do not benefit the people of our great state.

Many of these exemptions are outdated; others made no sense to begin with and were enacted as a favor to a particular industry or special interest.

Repeal of such exemptions ought to be a key part of your budget proposal for the upcoming biennium. Just to illustrate where savings may be found, here is a small sample of some of the oddest exemptions:
  • RCW 82.04.062, which excludes the sale of precious metal bullion and monetized bullion from the sales tax,
  • RCW 82.04.255, the real estate commissions loophole,
  • RCW 82.26.040, the tobacco production loophole,
  • RCW 82.04.50(9), which excludes the sale of chemical sprays and fertilizer from the sales tax,
  • RCW 82.42.020, the crop dusting loophole,
  • RCW 82.08.0272, the bull semen insemination exemption
Several of the loopholes cited above are even more harmful than they might appear at first – particularly those that encourage the use and sale of pesticides, which are detrimental both to our state’s wondrous ecosystems and to human health.

Cutting back healthcare to children without insurance, or asking teachers to take a pay cut, or putting the cleanup of Puget Sound on hold (which all seem like possibilities your office might be considering given the dire straits we’re in) while leaving these exemptions on the books would be an outrage and an injustice to the people of the State of Washington.

We urge you to think creatively and push the Legislature to think of the single mother who is working two jobs and can’t afford to take her children to the doctor, or the family farmer who grows organic food, or the entrepreneur who is trying to keep that shop going on Main Street.

These are the people whose voices are rarely heard in Olympia.

Washingtonians deserve courageous leadership that doesn’t cower to lobbyists who want laws that are favorable to their employers.

Your budget for 2009 and 2010 must be concerned with the greater good and the strength of our common wealth above all else.


The Northwest Progressive Institute Team

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Black Friday blues

I know it's been almost a week, but Black Friday is still bugging me. Is this what it's come down to: hordes of marauding shoppers pillaging and killing in the name of materialism?

By now, you're probably familiar with the story of a 34 year old temporary Wal-Mart worker who was trampled to death by an out-of-control Black Friday mob in Long Island.

Roughly 2,000 people gathered outside the Wal-Mart's doors in the predawn darkness.

Chanting "push the doors in," the crowd pressed against the glass as the clock ticked down to the 5 a.m. opening.

Sensing catastrophe, nervous employees formed a human chain inside the entrance to slow down the mass of shoppers.

It didn't work.

The mob barreled in and overwhelmed workers.


Items on sale at the Wal-Mart store included a $798 Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV, a Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum for $28 and Men's Wrangler Tough Jeans for $8.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time of reflection and gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon us. But over the years, American pop culture, with a lot of help from retailers, have glamorized the holiday as a time for unfettered greed and materialism. Even California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, got into the act with his 1996 movie, Jingle All the Way.

With the economy in the tank, people losing their homes, demand at food banks growing, and unemployment rates going up, retailers would have you unload as much cash in one afternoon as you might normally spend in several months. But retail isn't solely to blame.

As a nation, collectively we have come to worship at the feet of the Almighty Dollar. We glorify those who have, and tend to forget those who have not. It's become part of our culture because we have come to accept it as appropriate.

During this holiday season, when many are suffering in this economic downturn, do you really need more things? Take a closer examination of yourself: is the happiness that a new electronic device brings more than just a temporary happiness until the next big thing comes along? Does money buy you happiness in the form of material goods? I doubt it. And lest you think me a hypocrite, I can freely admit that I, too, could be doing more for those who have less.

Shouldn't we all remember those who are less fortunate and give a little for our fellow human beings? That's the America I grew up believing in, and that's the America I believe Barack Obama is talking about when he talks about change. I believe it was Senator Paul Wellstone who once said that we all do better when we all do better. Let's do better.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Al Franken has slim lead in Minnesota over Norm Coleman, outcome unknown

As most readers of the NPI Advocate probably know, the contest for U.S. Senate in Minnesota between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken was so close that the state is conducting a recount to figure out who actually received more votes. As of the latest update (last night at 8 PM Central Time), Al Franken is holding a very slim lead.

Nov. 4 Ballots Cast for Norm Coleman: 1,103,291
Nov. 4 Ballots Cast for Al Franken: 1,107,528

Because the recount is still in progress (this is Day 9), there's nothing to get excited about right now - even though Franken is ahead in the tally.

These are only ballots that have been recounted so far; Coleman is expected to make up ground in the remaining batches to be recounted.

Each of the campaigns has been challenging ballots, although Coleman's team has contested nearly two hundred ballots more than Franken's team has.

The Franken campaign told supporters in an email update recently that it is concerned about ballots that have gone missing since the initial count.
According to the Secretary of State's website - not our internal data, but the official data from the Secretary of State - there are still numerous instances where the number of recorded voters does not equal the number of ballots counted in the recount. That means ballots were counted on Election Day but not included in the recount. We have been investigating these instances as we become aware of them, and have determined that, even if you set aside disparities resulting from clerical or technical errors, as many as several hundred ballots could be missing. In Ramsey County, Saint Paul Ward 5 Precinct 8, there is a disparity of 8 votes. In Dakota County, Inver Grove Heights Precinct 4, there is a disparity of 24 votes. In Washington County, Woodbury Precinct 7, there is a disparity of 29 votes.
Expect more legal wrangling in the days and weeks ahead. This contest may ultimately be decided in court - we'll see.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, it's runoff election time. Democrat Jim Martin is trying to unseat Republican Saxby Chambliss, whose disgusting attacks against combat veteran Max Cleland in 2002 are still infamous to this day.

Martin's campaign has been airing a tough but fair television ad criticizing Chambliss for repeatedly voting against America's veterans in the U.S. Senate. (Martin, like former Senator Cleland, is himself a veteran).

Voter turnout in today's runoff is light but heavier than usual for a runoff election, according to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

We should know the outcome in Georgia tonight.

If you have friends or family who live in Georgia, please call them now and urge them to vote for Jim Martin. Even if they didn't vote on November 4th, they are still eligible to vote in today's election if they are registered.

UPDATE: Sadly, Jim Martin has lost in Georgia. More proof that it's tough to take out an incumbent, even a slimy and corrupt Republican.

Canadian opposition parties announce deal to oust Conservatives from power

Some surprising news broke yesterday from north of the border: Three of Canada's opposition parties - the Liberals, Bloc Quebecois, and New Democrats (NDP) - have struck a deal to form a coalition government that would oust Canada's ruling Conservative Party and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, its leader, from power.

The opposition says that the economy is in trouble and Harper's government (we Americans would say his administration) hasn't stopped things from getting worse.

Because Canada has a parliamentary system, ousting Harper from power simply requires a vote of no confidence from the members of the newly-allied opposition parties, which collectively form a majority.

If the deal announced yesterday holds and Harper loses the vote, Canada's Governor General would either ask the opposition parties to form a government or call an unscheduled, early election (known as a "snap poll"). News reports from the BBC and the Globe and Mail have suggested that the Governor General is unlikely to call a snap poll because Canada held federal elections just a few weeks ago.

The BBC has more details on the deal:
The opposition Liberals and New Democrats signed a formal agreement to form a coalition that would govern until 30 June 2010 and have the tacit support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

The new prime minister would be the Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, who led his party to a serious defeat in the 14 October polls and had already announced plans to step down next May.

The opposition parties say they were spurred to action by the failure of the government to deal with the financial crisis and boost the country's economy, and that they are set to introduce a stimulus package.
The Conservatives are already trying to torch the deal by launching an ad campaign protesting the agreement as undemocratic.

Meanwhile, the Green Party's Leader, Elizabeth May, is endorsing the deal and entering the public relations battle by announcing her intent to create a website that would encourage Canadians to support the proposed coalition government.

On her blog yesterday evening, Ms. May detailed what the Conservatives are trying to do to avoid being ousted from power.
We have from now until December 8th to make it clear that the majority of Canadians want Mr. Harper to leave 24 Sussex Drive. We may need to make the case to the Governor General that Mr. Harper must not be allowed to cling to power by prorogation. He delayed the confidence motions by one week until December 8th in order to throw all the Conservative fire power - back-tracking, attack ads, illegal tape recording of phone calls, spinning on steroids -- at forcing the Opposition Parties to blink. If it doesn't work, he is threatening to shut down the House to buy more time. He may seek to dissolve the House (prorogation).
Here's a quick summary of the balance of power in the House:
The Liberals, NDP and Bloc together outnumber the Tories in the Commons. The Liberals have 77 seats, the New Democrats 37 and the Bloc 49, giving them 163 votes versus the Conservatives' 143.
As Elizabeth explained in the excerpt above, the Conservatives have delayed the vote on the confidence motions until December 8th at the earliest. That's next Monday. If the vote occurs then and goes against Harper, Canada will either hold new elections or the coalition government will assume power.

This is all rather fascinating to watch.

We at NPI extend our best wishes to the opposition parties and hope they succeed in sweeping Harper and his Conservatives out of power.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bill Sizemore thrown in jail after Oregon judge finds him in contempt of court

This is oh-so satisfying news:
Veteran ballot initiative activist Bill Sizemore was handcuffed and led off to jail this morning after a Multnomah County judge found him in contempt of court for a fourth time.

The ruling was in connection with a lawsuit filed by two Oregon teachers' unions.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Janice R. Wilson ordered Sizemore jailed until he completes and files federal and state reporting forms that are required for charitable organizations to retain their tax exempt status.
Sizemore is Oregon's version of Tim Eyman, although he has been active longer than Eyman has. Like Eyman, Sizemore is a sponsor of right wing initiatives (or measures, as they're known in Oregon) who has stayed in business thanks to the generosity of a few wealthy conservatives, such as Nevada millionaire Loren Parks.

There are other Grover Norquist clones around the country, but Sizemore and Eyman are two of the most infamous.

Both have been careless, but Sizemore's operation has arguably been far sloppier, as proved earlier this decade in court. Wikipedia explains:
In July 2000, the Oregon Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against two of Sizemore's organizations: Oregon Taxpayers United and the OTU Education Foundation. During the trial Becky Miller, Sizemore's top aide, under protection of state and federal immunity deals, testified in detail about the unethical and illegal practices of Oregon Taxpayers United. These included alleged money laundering involving both Sizemore and Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist, as well as falsification of federal tax returns and state campaign finance reports. Additional testimony reported financial deals designed to disguise or hide the sources of funding for campaigns, as well as to allow Sizemore to personally profit from the campaigns.

After three weeks of testimony and a million dollars in union legal fees, the jury found Sizemore's organizations guilty of racketeering, and the organizations were fined approximately $2.5 million. Sizemore refused to pay the fines and attempted to avoid the liability by changing the name of his organizations to Oregon Taxpayers Association and carrying on with business as usual. Without a trial, Sizemore was found personally liable for his organization's civil racketeering liability, and a judge shut down his 501(c)(3) education foundation. Nearly a million dollars were added to the fine as a result of Sizemore's resistance to earlier court orders/decisions.
Of course, Tim Eyman has been down this same road (blatantly violating our laws or attempting to circumvent them) - he just hasn't traveled as far as Sizemore has.

Eyman's taking of his donors' money for personal use was uncovered by Northwest Passage Consulting principal Christian Sinderman, who suspected that Eyman was lying about working as a volunteer while fighting Eyman's 2001 initiative, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Neil Modie, whose story about Eyman's transfer of money from his political action committee to a purposeless for-profit corporation he controlled prompted the Mukilteo resident to confess that he had lied.

A subsequent PDC investigation led to a lawsuit filed by then-Attorney General Chris Gregoire, who sued Eyman for concealing the big salary that he was paying himself. Eyman eventually settled the suit, agreeing never again to serve as a treasurer for a campaign and paying a $50,000 fine.

That suit was largely the extent of Eyman's legal trouble.

Sizemore, on the other hand, has been trying for years to avoid complying with the verdict in the racketeering case filed by the teachers' unions, and so found himself booked into Multnomah County Jail as a result.

Sizemore sponsored and qualified five right wing measures for Oregon's 2008 general election ballot. Voters defeated all of them.