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

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pacific NW Portal: Four years

Forty eight months ago today, we launched Pacific NW Portal to build stronger ties between the many sites that comprise the regional netroots community.

Four years is an awfully long time in the digital era, and we're grateful to all of the wonderful people who have loyally supported the Portal since its inception. Almost all of the major improvements we've made to the site were based on suggestions from people who generously shared their ideas and didn't hesitate to point out what they thought were flaws or problems preventing the Portal from working properly.

A couple weeks ago, we rolled out the latest edition of the Portal, Version 4.3 (otherwise known as the "Inaugural Edition"), a much needed upgrade which introduced new syndicated blogs.

The Portal is in need of a few additional fixes which we hope to have completed relatively soon, but otherwise it appears to be in good shape.

We'd like to express our profound appreciation to everyone who has promoted and linked to Pacific NW Portal over the years.

Thanks for reading... and please, keep that feedback coming!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friends in (Formerly) High Places

You may have heard recently that former President George W. Bush’s former White House Counsel sent a letter to Karl Rove (via Rove’s attorney) telling Rove not to testify before or produce documents to a congressional subcommittee investigating possible malfeasance by the Bush Administration. The letter claimed Executive Privilege, stated that Rove had total immunity, and therefore could not testify before Congress.

To say that the former President was stretching the concepts of privilege and immunity beyond the breaking point is a colossal understatement. One can only hope that Congress brings contempt proceedings against Rove rather than buckle to the former President.

The Concept of Privilege

The Executive Privilege asserted by the former President (and thank goodness the word “former” is in there) is analogous to the so-called marital privilege in the criminal arena. By looking at the marital privilege, we can see how ludicrous the claim of Executive Privilege is.

There are really parts to the marital privilege. The first is a criminal defendant’s right to preclude his/her spouse from being called as a prosecution witness in a criminal trial. That privilege exists only during the existence of the marriage. In other words, if a criminal defendant divorces his/her spouse prior to trial, the privilege disappears.

Let’s play make-believe by assuming that there is an Executive Privilege of the sort claimed by the Bush Administration. That privilege disappeared at noon on January 20, 2009. The only person who can assert Executive Privilege at this point is named Barack Obama.

The second part of the marital privilege is that it applies only to “marital communications”. A conversation between husband and wife that is related to the marriage is privileged and may not be admitted into evidence without the consent of both spouses. But there are circumstances under which the privilege does not apply. For example, a conversation between spouses while a third party is present negates the privilege. If the conversation relates to criminal activity, the privilege disappears.

If anyone who was not on a “need-to-know” status witnessed any communication between Rove and the Administration, or had access to any documents claimed as privileged, the privilege would disappear. And if the conversations or documents relate to potentially illegal activity, the privilege would also disappear.

Since the only way to know if who was present during a conversation, or who had access to documents, is to call Rove as a witness, Congress should be able to call him. But if he has a privilege, then how can he be forced to testify? By granting Rove and others immunity, as President Bush claims he has done, he has also eliminated any claim of privilege.

The Concept of Immunity

Immunity in the legal sense means that a person cannot be held liable for any wrongs that are covered by the immunity. In the criminal arena, a person who is granted full immunity cannot be prosecuted for the crime in question, and therefore may be forced to testify even if the testimony would otherwise violate the privilege against self-incrimination. Thus, prosecutors conducting grand jury inquiries may decide to force a witness to testify by granting that witness immunity.

If Rove has full immunity, as claimed by the former President, then any privilege would, and should, disappear. Rove, or anyone else covered by such immunity, could be forced to testify before Congress.

The Concept of Catch-22

Congress is trying to find out whether there were any illegal activities conducted by the Bush Administration, whether known or unknown to the President. If a President could simply claim privilege and grant immunity to all possible witnesses, then nobody could uncover anything illegal. It would be like putting the wolf in charge of the henhouse. Such logic might make for entertaining reading, such as that penned by Joseph Heller in Catch-22, but it makes for a non-transparent government and a dangerous precedent.

Dirty, rotten, filthy, stinking rich

Oh, the trials and tribulations of being rich. Here's NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lamenting the state of the economy, and giving us yet another reason not to support any public funding of stadiums for his league's owners.
"Unfortunately ... many of our clubs are having the difficult process of letting go employees. There is uncertainty out there, and we have to cut our costs so that we can continue to keep this business a successful business and grow this business at some point."
Cry me a river, Roger. Instead of the clubs cutting the employees who could very well be the neighbor down the street,trying to earn a living to pay the bills and put the kids through college, how about you stop paying bloated salaries to spoiled athletes, while putting the public on the hook to build more state-of-the-art stadiums? Or maybe you could have smaller rosters, because do you really need the 51st and 52nd man?

Does your club's #1 draft pick really need a $25 million signing bonus, when $24 million will do? Imagine how many employees could keep their jobs with that extra million, if your clubs told Drew Rosenhaus and his ilk to stuff it every time they came with hat in hand? It's not as if football players are going to disappear if athlete salaries get an overall 10% reduction.

Sorry Roger, I'm not buying your woe is me act. And following the Wall Street business model where you get rich off of the public isn't going to gain you any sympathy.

Remember to vote for Sherril Huff

Starting today, we're going to post daily reminders about next Tuesday's special election to pick a Director of Elections for King County.

The number of absentee ballots that has the county has received from voters so far is abysmally low. It is estimated that ninety percent of voters who received ballots in the mail have neglected to return their ballots.

This election is incredibly important. The stakes are high: Will we have a skilled professional at the helm of King County Elections through the end of 2011, or an unqualified and potentially deeply partisan individual in charge?

The NPI Advocate has endorsed Sherril Huff because she is by far the best candidate for the job. She knows how to manage elections and she capably represented the people of Kitsap County as their Auditor for eight years.

We are fortunate to have her as our Director of Elections now - and we need to keep her working for us.

Jason Osgood, the Democratic nominee for Secretary of State in 2008, said of Huff when she announced her intention to run for 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.
Tuesday's election is a choice between moving onwards and forwards or sliding backwards with the takeover of the department by one of Huff's unqualified rivals. What will it be? The decision is in our hands.

Et tu, Reichert?

Well, that didn't take long.

Last week, when our own Andrew Villeneuve was in D.C. for the inaugural festivities, he happened to encounter Rep. Dave Reichert at an event in the Dirksen Senate office building. When a skeptical Washingtonian questioned where Reichert's sentiments now were, he responded thus:
Reichert himself then spoke, assuring the assembled group that he was in fact "on board" with President Obama's new direction for America.


Reichert acknowledged that he expects his feet to be held to the fire. He didn't promise to be a reliable vote for legislation President Obama supports, but it's evident that his intention is to keep an open mind. And that's commendable.
Wednesday, of course, Dave Reichert showed his true colors by voting against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

So now I'm going to hold his feet to the fire.

The world's foremost software company resides in Dave's district. They just announced they would lay off 5000 workers. The world's foremost aviation company isn't quite in Dave's district, but thousands of its employees are, and a whole bunch of them are losing their jobs too. One would think that Dave would be all in favor of "recovery and reinvestment" in his district.

But guess again. See, when Dave Reichert says he's "on board," the reality is he's lying. I'm sorry, I couldn't think of a more tactful way of saying that that was still true. Flat out lying. Fibbing. Confabulating. Dissembling.

Speaking with forked tongue.

You have to understand how Republicans think. George Lakoff, in his masterwork Whose Freedom, does a fabulous job of explaining why Republicans are uniquely eager to tow the party line: the notions of obedience and loyalty to higher authority figures is central to the Republican mindset.

That is why, as I've said many times before on the NPI Advocate, Dave votes like he's told. When he says during a campaign debate that he likes to collect all the facts before deciding how to vote - he's just flat-out lying.

And in this instance, the Republican authority figures to which Dave willingly gives his fealty (or in other words, since Dave is such a ridiculously un-influential member of the House, pretty much any other Republican member of Congress), have decided that the party line includes zero incentive to help America recover.

The thinking goes like this. If the stimulus package works and the economy recovers, the Republicans won't get any credit. Obama and the Democrats will get all the credit. So voting for the stimulus gets them nothing.

But if the stimulus fails and the 2010 elections find America still mired in recession or even in the trenches of a depression, then it will have been to their advantage to have voted against it.

They'll be able to say "See, we knew that wasn't gonna work! Vote for us!"

Never mind that it was their policies - implemented by means of their votes in the House and Senate ever since the 1994 "Contract with America" that shifted control of those bodies to the Republicans - that got us into this mess. No, they won't go out of their way to remind anybody of that.

You'll notice that nothing in their chain of thought touches, even for a fleeting moment, on what might be the best course of action for America. For the very people that Congresscritters like Dave Reichert have been elected to represent.

Our fate is irrelevant to them.

It's all about positioning and posturing for the next election.

Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) gave a sound-bite for yesterday's NPR All Things Considered program, explaining the rationale for the unanimous Republican dissent against America's recovery and reinvestment in us:
I don't think there's any downside to voting against that.
No downside. No downside for them, that is.

They can, as far as they can see, be complete obstructionists, standing unwaveringly in the path of progress, and get away with it. The downside for America is that we're teetering on the edge of a cliff, staring into the deep, deep abyss of a recession, and we need this stimulus to keep from falling in.

To the extent that they care at all about any upside to the vote, it was whether there was any upside for them. Not for us.

The upside for America, of course, is building a bridge to get us safely to the other side of that abyss.

So, to Dave Reichert and every other Republican Congresscritter who says with one face that they're on board with President Obama's new direction for America, yet votes with their other face to obstruct that new direction, I say this:

You are a liar. A flat out, unrepentant, craven liar. You care for nothing but your own power and your own fortunes. You care nothing for the very real suffering of the people you are supposed to represent. You care nothing for our fates, our fortunes, our jobs, our livelihoods, nor our retirements. Our ability to provide for our families is as nothing compared to your angling to keep your job in two years.

I can see right through you, and so long as I have breath in my body and a keyboard that works, I will do my utmost to make sure that as many other citizens of this troubled nation can see you for the self-centered, narcissistic, disingenuous, power-mad fools that you really are.

The stimulus package might work, or it might not. That remains to be seen. But either way, two years from now I'm not going to let anybody forget that when the chips were down and America needed all the help it could get, that you voted to do nothing. You voted to let us fall off that cliff.

And you did it for the most venal of reasons: selling out your fellow citizens in an attempt to save your own skin.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Legislature considering allowing school districts to shift to four day week

Recently, Sate Representatives Newhouse (R-15), Chandler (R-15), and Simpson (D-47) announced they were introducing legislation to allow school districts to shorten the school week from five days to four.

The intention of House Bill 1292 is to provide local superintendents and school boards with a new option for cutting costs.

The proposed legislation reads, in part:
The legislature finds that school districts are seeking innovations to reduce operating costs and preserve limited resources for the primary purpose of student learning. Efficiencies in transportation, heat, lights, maintenance, and food expenses are possible from operating for four rather than five days per week, but current law poses a barrier to this innovation by requiring a set number of instructional days in each school year.
Granted, this legislation wouldn't necessarily force students, parents, and teachers to move to a four day week. It would simply give district administrators extra leeway to decide when to hold classes. The question is whether such a change would be in the best interest of Washington's students.

I am a high school student, so I can easily imagine what a four day week would look like. The loss of one day each week would mean that classes would be an hour long instead of fifty minutes. That may not sound like much, but it adds up.

I and my peers would be at school for eight hours and ten minutes a day, plus whatever amount of time we spend studying and working on extracurricular activities - which for many kids is an hour or longer every day.

So that's roughly nine and a half to ten hours at school four days out of seven. Then there's travel time, which varies depending on how close a student lives to a school, and homework, which can easily take over an hour for most students and more than two hours for those taking advanced classes.

Considering that young people are urged to get at least eight hours of sleep each day, that leaves very little family time or free time.

That is not fair to me, nor to any other student.

I am unequivocally opposed to the idea of a four day school week. The savings are minimal at best, while there is considerable risk of a negative impact to students. If cutting costs is the most important objective, why don't we have students and teachers telecommute to school?

We have brick and mortar classrooms because school is not simply about teaching a curriculum. It's about learning to live in society.

Go into any school and ask students what their favorite class of the day is. Chances are you'll hear lunch over and over again.

There's more to school than reading, writing, and math.

Governor Gregoire and state legislators have a responsibility to ensure that our public schools remain strong and vibrant, even in these tough economic times. There are better ways to save money than shortening the school week (like turning lights off on school buildings during the nighttime when nobody's around).

Cost cutting measures that could hurt students are not shortcuts worth trying.

Parents pack hearing on education bill

Washington parents from across the state converged on the Capitol yesterday in support of an education reform bill (HB 1410) which proposes big and exciting changes to the state’s struggling school system. One hundred twenty people packed the hearing room, only thirteen of which opposed the bill.

The enormous number of people testifying unnerved House Education Appropriations committee chair Kathy Haigh who had to practice crowd control.

She told the group that she "had never had one hundred and twenty five people trying to testify on a bill before."

Committee member and bill sponsor Representative Ross Hunter (D-Medina) said that now is the time to fix Washington schools.

As for paying for a better system, he said:
It’s our responsibility to provide the resources if we are going to ask kids to meet more rigorous standards.
Responding in part to opposition to the bill by the state’s teachers union, the WEA, Representative Pat Sullivan (D-Black Diamond) told the group:
I want to do what’s right and fair for the teachers of Washington state. I want to do what’s right and what’s fair for classified and administrative employees across this state, but most of all, I want to do what’s fair and right for the students of Washington. We owe it to them to do everything possible to come up with a solution to improve the way we deliver education in this state.
Chief among the WEA’s objections to the bill are the proposed changes to the state’s teacher pay system. The new system would reward performance and skill, instead of seniority which is currently a major factor in calculating compensation. Studies have shown that increased years spent in the classroom don’t correlate to increased student learning so why pay more for it?

National accreditation and mentoring have been shown to work better and HB 1410 proposes a pay scale based on these.

Cheers to the Washington State PTA and the League of Education Voters for rallying such a visible show of support for these two bills. This is the year to rebuild our school system. The kids just can’t wait any longer.

Obama slams Wall Street over bonuses

Music to our ears:
President Obama fired a warning shot at Wall Street on Thursday, branding bankers "shameful" for giving themselves $18.4 billion in bonuses as the economy was spinning out of control and the government was spending billions to bail out many of the nation’s most prominent financial firms.


"That is the height of irresponsibility," Mr. Obama said angrily. "It is shameful, and part of what we’re going to need is for folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility."
It's so refreshing that we finally have a President who is speaking out against corporate greed and piggishness. The next step is to back up these words with strong, decisive action. Those individuals who thought it was okay to help themselves in the midst of this crisis need to be punished. Harshly.

Blagojevich convicted, ousted from office

Good riddance:
The Illinois Senate voted to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office Thursday, marking the first time in the state's long history of political corruption that a chief executive has been impeached and convicted.

The 59-0 vote followed several hours of public deliberation in which senator after senator stood up to blast Blagojevich, whose tenure lasted six years. And it came after a four-day impeachment trial on allegations that Blagojevich abused his power and sold his office for personal and political benefit.

The conviction on a sweeping article of impeachment means the governor was immediately removed from office. The Senate also unanimously voted to impose the "political death penalty" on Blagojevich, banning him from ever again holding office in Illinois.

Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, Blagojevich's two-time running mate, has become the state's 41st governor.
What a relief. Finally, this joker, this farce of a leader, is out of power.

Ironically, Blagojevich's decision to defend himself on talk show after talk show made it all the easier for the Illinois Senate to unanimously vote to convict him. He's a laughingstock. A guy who either considers himself a saint or pretends as if he does. All that Blagojevich accomplished with his publicity blitz and talk show tour was to provide extra fodder for late night comedians.

For a month, he has been an entertaining distraction. Now his power is gone. He's just a citizen again. And before too long, he may be incarcerated.

As of this afternoon, Blagojevich's official website was still up, having yet to be replaced by that of Governor Pat Quinn's.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Democrats in U.S. House pass American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

Earlier today, by a vote of 244-188, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - the massive economic stimulus package that President Barack Obama has requested from Congress.

All votes in favor were cast by Democrats, with every Republican voting no. The Republicans were joined by eleven conservative Bush Dog Democrats, including Idaho's Walt Minnick.

Republicans have supplied various phony excuses for voting against the rescue legislation, from "there's not enough tax cuts" to "the Democrats drafted this bill and didn't seek our input."

When Republicans were in the majority, they didn't think twice about excluding Democrats when putting legislation together. But now that they're in the minority, they can't stop whining about how ostensibly oppressed they are.

It's pretty pathetic.

As for the idea of having an economic stimulus with only tax cuts in it, we have four words for the Republicans: Been there, done that.

Congress cut taxes many times during the Bush years, especially for the wealthy. Those tax cuts didn't avert the economic disaster we're in now, and they didn't encourage Americans to conserve money by saving and investing.

Instead, during the Bush error, we were urged to spend, spend, spend.

(Remember when Dubya told us to go to Disney World in the aftermath of September 11th?)

Then Republicans (mis)led the way by plundering and wasting the Treasury of the United States, setting a terrible example for American households.

Conservative Republicans have been in charge of this country for much of this decade. For about half of the 2000s, they had a stranglehold on not one, not two, but all three branches of our government.

We are paying the price today for years of Republican fiscal irresponsibility, Republican ignorance, and Republican giveaways to Wall Street.

Now our economy is in the toilet and Democrats have successfully routed Republicans for two consecutive election cycles.

Yet Republicans have learned nothing. Apparently, that's because their precious right wing ideology cannot fail - it can only be failed.

Republicans have clung so stubbornly to their silly tax cut mantra for so long that they have even suckered Democrats into believing that tax cuts are a good thing.

Here is what every American family sitting around the kitchen table worrying about our future needs to know: Tax cuts do not stimulate the economy.

It's a myth; the greatest hoax that's ever been perpetrated on the American people. (Sorry, couldn't resist a James Inhofe joke).

Does that statement sound shocking? If so, then that's a testament to the prevalence of stale conservative ideas in our civic consciousness.

Think about it. The whole premise of tax cuts is the foolish notion that people always know how to spend their money better than the government.

But what use is a three or five or seven hundred dollar check to working men and women who have just lost their jobs? A one time rebate check is not a salary.

The reason we pay taxes to begin with is so that collectively, we as a people can accomplish together what we cannot achieve individually - like building a railway or electric transmission lines. Our tax dollars, pooled into a shared treasury, comprise our common wealth.

Our common wealth is our greatest strength as a nation. In times of economic hardship - which are what we are faced with at this moment - we need to put our common wealth to work to revitalize our economy.

Congress would be doing the American people a tremendous disservice if it passed another big tax cut. Such an act would amount to a tacit admission that we cannot figure out how to wisely use our common wealth, when we know that our infrastructure is falling apart and we could create jobs by rebuilding it.

The American Society of Civil Engineers just today released their annual report card giving the nation's infrastructure a "D".

The Society estimates that a five year investment of $2.2 trillion is needed merely to fix what is broken, unsafe, outdated, and deprecated. No category in the Society's report received an A or B; the highest grade was a C for bridges.

This is certainly part and parcel of the sad legacy that is the Bush error. But those days are behind us. We have a new President and a new Congress with bigger Democratic majorities. We cannot continue to make the mistakes of the past. We cannot gamble with America's future again.

This country voted for change in November 2008, not more of the same.

Shame on House Republicans for being one hundred percent against economic recovery for the United States of America.

This legislation isn't perfect, but we have to start somewhere. There are definitely some good things in this recovery bill, like Jerry Nadler's successful amendment that added over three billion dollars of mass transit capital funding. That's just the kind of investment we need.

Cheers to our Northwest Democrats in Washington and Oregon for voting yes on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Jeers to Dave Reichert, Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Greg Walden, and Mike Simpson, plus Walt Minnick, for voting no.

I need a new crystal ball

What a difference a year makes. Heck, what a difference a week makes.

It's hard to describe my feelings upon President Obama's first full week in office. But then, I imagine I don't really have to. Like me, everyone reading this is probably feeling that same, unfamiliar mix of relief and elation at the flurry of positive, beneficial, forward-looking actions and decisions coming from the Oval Office on a near daily basis.

Ordering the closure of Guantanamo.

Formally banning torture.

Putting stringent restrictions on who can claim executive privilege in keeping presidential records secret, and when they can do it.

Reversing the "Mexico City Policy"

Letting the EPA, whose staff scientists all support the idea, move forward on granting California a waiver to set their own more stringent vehicle emission standards.

And the hits just keep on coming.

A year ago, we didn't know who was going to be president. We didn't even know who the Democratic Party nominee was going to be. The smart money, so we were all told, was on Hillary Clinton.

My personal pick, one year ago, was John Edwards. I loved his populist message. The fact that he was the only candidate brave enough to actually talk about the class warfare that conservatives have been conducting against middle and lower income Americans. I loved that he made his career fighting big corporations on behalf of ordinary people, and winning.

And while I liked Obama's message too, especially his message of hope and "yes we can," the truth is I just didn't think America was ready to elect a black man. I just didn't think he had a chance.

Of course, Edwards bowed out before Super Tuesday, dashing my hopes there, and then got taken down another few notches with that adultery scandal. Clinton ran such a shallowly reactive, focus-group-tested, insider-advisor-driven, and ultimately tone-deaf campaign that voters never had the chance to see the real person behind the image.

So we nominated Obama, and I'll be darned if he didn't walk away with the whole shebang.

The American people surprised me, in the best way possible. They showed me that they are not only ready to elect a non-white man to lead the nation, but that they were eager to do so.

For one shining moment in my memory of politics, the people woke up, smelled the coffee, and actually voted in their best interests rather than letting themselves be manipulated by wedge issues and hyper-partisan screeching about trivialities that don't amount to a hill of beans--nor, for that matter, to a plate of beans on the dinner table.

Unlike most talking head pundits who get to be on TV, I can admit when I'm wrong. And as the title of this post suggests, boy was I wrong. Happily, gleefully, and with immeasurable relief, wrong.

Thank you, America, for being better, smarter, wiser, and less gullible than I gave you credit for.

Thank you, Barack Obama, for being the most amazing, savvy, transformational person to step onto the public stage in the past 40 years.

And thank you, Mr. President, for giving us a week in office filled with rays of that hope you spoke of so often and so eloquently.

It feels wonderful. It is wonderful. And it shall yield a wonderful harvest in the years to come.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Republicans extortion tactics on Holder nomination continue

By virtue of the good graces of the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and a Democratic majority in the Senate, Eric Holder will get a vote on his nomination for Attorney General in committee tomorrow.

But at least one Senator is planning to try to bring the process to a screeching halt: John Cornyn of Texas.
The question Republicans want answered before Holder is confirmed: Will you prosecute those who took part in that torture?

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that he would block committee proceedings, scheduled to resume at 2:30 pm on Wednesday, if he did not receive answer from Holder. "I'm not going to allow things to proceed," he said. He added that it was "physically impossible" for Holder to get the answers to him by then, thus assuring a conflict would ensue.
Pure and simple, some Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are extorting the President of the United States, by their willingness to allow Holder to be confirmed in exchange for some sort of guarantee that crimes committed by the Bush Administration will go unpunished. It is flagrant disregard for the rule of law. You have to wonder if Senator Cornyn took his oath of office seriously (you know, that part about "supporting and defending the Constitution"). Perhaps, like the swashbuckling Captain Jack Sparrow, Cornyn has had a few too many (terms, that is) and thinks the Constitution "just be guidelines", only to be followed when it is to his benefit.

Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, announced earlier today that he will vote to confirm Eric Holder as Attorney General. Another Republican on the committee, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, had indicated earlier that he would support Holder's nomination. In following up on the story earlier today, I exchanged email with a staffer for Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee. While the staffer noted that they can't predict what tactics Senate Republicans will use to try to hold up or derail this nomination, they expect Eric Holder to be confirmed.

Kudos to Senator Whitehouse for calling out his Republican colleagues over the seedy tactics they have used with respect to this nomination. Eric Holder will likely be confirmed, but asking nominees to ignore the rule of law in the name of political expediency is never acceptable. Thankfully, we have people like Sheldon Whitehouse looking out for our interests.

Inslee, Israel launch progressive energy caucus in the House of Representatives

This morning, U.S. Representatives Steve Israel and our very own Jay Inslee announced they are officially forming a new progressive energy caucus in the House of Representatives: the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition.

SEEC's primary objective will be to put teeth into legislation to ensure that our government actually takes action to solve the climate crisis, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and protect our environment. Said Inslee:

The 111th Congress convened in a perfect storm. The melting of the Arctic ice cap is speeding up toward a point of no return and the economy is in turmoil. We are in need of bold, aggressive action, and that’s exactly what the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition is about.
Israel added:

This year, we have a historic opportunity to finally reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition will lead efforts in the House to create the incentives and make the investments we need to transform our economy, our infrastructure, and our environment.
Inslee and Israel are the co-chairs of SEEC, which their announcement says consists of thirty five members as of today. Vice chairs for 2009 include:
  • Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.),Vice-Chair for Speakers;
  • Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Vice-Chair for Outreach;
  • Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Vice-Chair for Membership; and
  • Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Vice-Chair Whip
Though the Coalition is being officially announced today, it actually got started last year, when Inslee saw a need for advocates of a new approach to energy to be better organized:
The SEEC formed at the end of the 110th Congress when Inslee and Israel called a meeting for like-minded members of Congress to discuss how they could impact the 2008 House energy and economic recovery bills. In the 2008 and 2009 economic recovery packages, the group successfully inserted provisions for the federal support of advanced-battery manufacturers.

The Coalition will be working with House leadership, the White House, and other groups in Congress to advance their energy priorities.
SEEC has already met with President Obama's assistant Carol Browner to talk about the climate crisis and energy policy.

The Northwest Progressive Institute applauds the formation of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition. We look forward to working with Representative Inslee and his colleagues to build a clean energy future for America.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Environmental committee stacked against good legislation

Just to keep us on our toes, state legislative committee assignments change with each election cycle, creating a new environment for progressive legislation every two years, either newly hostile or newly receptive. The Washington Senate’s Environment, Water and Energy committee is one whose new makeup makes it less receptive to forward-thinking environmental legislation this year, with the addition of two senators whose green records are less than stellar.

All state environmental legislation must pass through the EWE committee, which considers issues relating to water, climate change, and energy efficiency. Washington’s environmental community is expecting strong legislation this session on such big issues as a cap and invest carbon trading system, controlling storm water runoff, and making our buildings more energy efficient. Some of these concepts have broad legislative support but that support will be pointless if these bills wither and die in committee.

Senators Tim Sheldon (D-Mason County) and Brian Hatfield (D-Pacific County) are new additions to the EWE and potential obstacles to good environmental legislation. Both lawmakers received dismal lifetime scores (34% and 48%) from the Washington Conservation Voters Legislative Scorecard that put them firmly in the ranks of Republicans on green issues.

Senator Hatfield was the only Democrat to vote against the toxic toys bill last session which made Washington a national leader in eliminating toxins from products for kids, while Senator Sheldon has consistently voted against protecting Hood Canal and the Puget Sound. Both senators have local special interests to protect, agriculture and timber, but it is conceivable that compromises can be made that are agreeable to all parties.

Lawmakers must remember that they are responsible to and representing all members of their districts and weigh what is best for the common good when choosing to support or reject legislation. In particular, what is good for the environment is often good for everyone in a community, because we are all touched by the health of the environment.

Just ask Hurricane Katrina survivors whose homes felt the effects of years of shoreline degradation. We are all connected to our environment.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Swift action needed on recovery plan, President Obama says

In the first weekly address of his presidency, President Obama urged support for the stimulus package he's asking Congress to approve. Inaction, Obama explained, will lead to continued deteoriation of our economic security.
In short, if we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse.
7.2% unemployment is bad, but 25% (what we saw in the Great Depression) is worse. The stimulus package will help cushion our slide, even if it doesn't produce a recovery all by itself.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan will be the largest transportation public works since the National Highway Act in the 1950's. The biggest investment of our common wealth domestically to revitalize the economy since the New Deal.
It’s a plan that will save or create three to four million jobs over the next few years, and one that recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment - the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work even as, all around the country, there’s so much work to be done.
For the past sixty years, the infrastructure created during and since the New Deal has served as a foundation for economic growth.

When you turn on a light in Washington State, odds are the power for that light was created by hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River.

When you drive across I-90 to go to Eastern Washington, you use a road that was built as part of an extensive interstate highway system.

Currently, our nation is relying upon outdated and crumbling infrastructure which needs to be replaced. By investing in our communities, we'll save billions by becoming more prepared for emergencies and averting catastrophes like the Minneapolis bridge collapse of July 2007.
We’ll save taxpayers $2 billion a year by making 75% of federal buildings more energy efficient, and save the average working family $350 on their energy bills by weatherizing 2.5 million homes.
The plan doesn't just encompass public works, either:
To ensure our children can compete and succeed in this new economy, we’ll renovate and modernize 10,000 schools, building state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries, and labs to improve learning for over five million students. We’ll invest more in Pell Grants to make college affordable for seven million more students, provide a $2,500 college tax credit to four million students, and triple the number of fellowships in science to help spur the next generation of innovation.
Projects that benefit over five million students. Think of that!

We will not be the last Americans to walk this Earth. To make sure that our posterity - our children, their children, and our great-grandchildren - are adequately prepared for a future as Americans we must invest now. That is exactly what President Barack Obama promises to do.

And when money is spent, it'll be spent transparently:
I know that some are skeptical about the size and scale of this recovery plan. I understand that skepticism, which is why this recovery plan must and will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my Administration accountable for these results. We won’t just throw money at our problems - we’ll invest in what works. Instead of politicians doling out money behind a veil of secrecy, decisions about where we invest will be made public, and informed by independent experts whenever possible. We’ll launch an unprecedented effort to root out waste, inefficiency, and unnecessary spending in our government, and every American will be able to see how and where we spend taxpayer dollars by going to a new website called
After eight years of a regime that squandered our common wealth, we finally have an administration that is going to put our shared resources to good use creating jobs. America, this is our time to change our neighborhoods, change our state, change our nation, and change the world.

Washington's major political parties reelect leaders for new terms

Not surprisingly, incumbent state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz held off a challenge this weekend from Snohomish County Democrats Chair Mark Hintz, to retain his leadership position at the party reorganization meeting in Olympia.

State committee members voted 98-64 to retain Pelz as chairman.

Replacing Vice Chair Eileen Macoll is former Spokane County party chair Sharon Smith. She won by a vote of 107-59. No updated list of party officers or press release has yet been posted on the Washington State Democratic website.

The Washington State Republican Party also voted to retain the services of former state Senator Luke Esser as chairman, at its reorganization meeting in Tukwila. Esser has presided over the party's downward spiral in Washington since losing a reelection bid to his state Senate seat in 2006.

Though the Republicans picked up two seats in the Legislature (both marginal districts for Democrats), they lost another statewide elected office when Peter Goldmark was elected Commissioner of Public Lands in November.

Vote for Sherril Huff - Keep wise management at the helm of King County Elections

In just nine days, King County will hold a very important special election to determine who will be at the helm of King County Elections for roughly the next two years. This special election, which has received scant attention amidst the coverage of Barack Obama's inauguration and the legislative session (now in progress) is our first countywide vote by mail only election.

We're having this special election because the people of King County voted last November in favor of a right wing ballot measure, Charter Amendment 1, which created the position of an elected Director of Elections.

(We at NPI opposed the charter amendment because we believe jobs like this - which require professional skills - should be appointed rather than elected. But the amendment passed, so now we've got to deal with the consequences).

Six candidates are running in what is a free-for-all election with no primary. The person with the most votes - and it may not be an outright majority - will assume the office of Director of Elections. The field includes two Republicans - David Irons, who challenged Ron Sims for County Executive in 2005 and lost, and Pam Roach, the brazen Republican legislator from the 31st District who is one of Tim Eyman's favorite allies. Neither of them has experience running elections.

Then there's Julie Kempf, who used to work at King County Elections in 2003. She was fired for for lying about the late mailing of absentee ballots and violating state law. She was accused of forging documents to ensure the blame fell on other employees, although she was never charged.

And there's Chris Clifford, the teacher turned activist who launched a recall against Seattle Port Commissioner Pat Davis. (After the Supreme Court decided the recall was valid, Davis announced she would retire from the Commission in 2009). Clifford has no experience in elections and is rather brash in person.

Former financial services manager Bill Anderson is also running. He believes his background in banking will help him run King County Elections, but at a recent candidate forum hosted by the King County Democrats, Anderson's lack of knowledge about elections was plainly evident.

His response to at least half a dozen questions was to defer to Sherril Huff, the current appointed Director of Elections, who has been in charge since 2007.

Huff herself is the sixth candidate in the race and easily the most qualified.

She has a rich background in local government in Kitsap County. She also knows how to manage elections - she was twice elected by the people of Kitsap County to be their Auditor. Huff is endorsed by the Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, King County Executive Ron Sims, and Jason Osgood, the 2008 Democratic nominee for Secretary of State.

We're honored to support her as well with the NPI Advocate's endorsement.

King County Elections has come a long way since the 2004 gubernatorial recount exposed a slew of problems. Under Huff's leadership, the department has moved into a centrally located secure facility in Renton, the number of ballots with unmatched signatures in recent elections has plummeted, and accountability has been vastly strengthened. Huff's calm demeanor has been readily evident in all the major debates that have been held so far.

She speaks plainly and communicates well - I interviewed her recently and was very impressed with how she responded to my questions.

Given that none of Huff's competitors are ready for the job, choosing to retain her is one of the most important votes we can collectively cast this year.

On Tuesday, February 3rd, let's make a smart decision by keeping Sherril Huff at the helm of King County Elections.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bush's departure doesn't mean automatic restoration of civil liberties

Last week, the ACLU issued a response to a secret court's assertion that the American people could be spied on without properly authorized warrants:
The Court of Review was wrong to hold that the warrant requirement doesn't apply in foreign intelligence investigations. When the government monitors Americans' phone calls and emails, it should have to justify its actions to a court, and it should have to do so on a case-by-case basis. The government should not be able to nullify Fourth Amendment rights simply by invoking national security. The Court of Review was correct, though, to find that probable cause is a key constitutional requirement.
As early as Novemeber, Wired quoted Seymour Hersh saying, ""You cannot believe how many people have told me to call them on January 20. [They say,] 'You wanna know about abuses and violations? Call me then.'"

...and of course, now we learn just how wide they cast their net:
He [a whistleblower] said he was told to monitor certain groups in order to eliminate them as suspects for more intense targeting. Those groups, he said, were U.S. journalists and news agencies. But rather than excluding the news organizations from monitoring, he discovered that the NSA was collecting the organizations' communications 24 hours a day year round.
Remember when Dubya reportedly said it's just a piece of paper? Well, this is part of the piece of paper he was talking about:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
I wonder if Bush remembers this. I seem to also remember that guy claiming "They hate our freedoms." It shouldn't be too surprising though.

Doublespeak was par for the course for that administration - let's hope it doesn't get its grubby hands on the new one.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Republican Senators resort to extortion on Holder nomination

In an effort to derail the nomination of Attorney General-designate Eric Holder, it seems Senate Republicans are now resorting to extortion. They'll confirm Holder if he promises not to prosecute any Bush Administration officials for any involvement in acts of torture, according to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse(D-RI).
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have asked Eric Holder to make a commitment, before he is even confirmed, that he will not prosecute any Bush Administration officials for their involvement in acts of torture during the last administration.

Anyone familiar with the criminal justice system - especially those with experience as prosecutors or judges - should know that a prosecutor should make no determination about who to prosecute before he or she has all the facts, and particularly not in response to legislative pressure.
Senator Whitehouse makes a good point about the separation of powers. It isn't for the legislative branch to hold up executive branch appointments, in order to extract promises from those appointees, especially with regard to potential future prosecutions. But it's much more than that.

I understand that President Obama wants to get beyond the partisan divisions and rancor and look to America's future. That's all good and well, but the United States was founded on the rule of law. You often hear that "we are a nation of laws, not men." If the rule of law were not important, what would separate our nation from countries like Myanmar (Burma) or North Korea?

If Eric Holder, or any other Obama appointee subject to confirmation by the Senate, were to agree not to investigate alleged wrongdoing Bush Administration officials and forward alleged crimes for potential prosecution, it would be an egregious abdication of responsibility, not to mention an act of questionable legal ethics. It would say to future generations that at a time when the Bush Administration felt it was above the law, Democrats did nothing but stand idly by and let it happen.

And then we'd be no different than them.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama's first Executive Orders

Now that the Bush/Cheney regime is gone, the work of undoing the harm they have caused to the United States has begun. The president has the power to issue Executive Orders, which have the force of law but are not actually laws.

One of the most important things President Obama is doing is revoking some of the Bush executive orders that promoted torture and secrecy.

One of the first executive orders was about ethics. It requires every Executive Branch appointee or member sign a pledge that he/she will not be beholden to lobbyists. This is crucial to ensuring a more open government.

The second executive order mandates the release of presidential records at the end of a term. This repeals Executive Order 13233 approved by Dubya, allowing historians a comprehensive look at a vast array of documents. Scholars deserve the freedom to judge a President based on that person's actions.

Americans have the right to see what our government does and to critique it at will. Thank you, President Obama, for making government more transparent.

The third reiterates the Fourth Amendment and the Geneva Conventions by ensuring lawful interrogations and getting rid of Bush's inconsistent policy that permitted torture.
Section 1. Revocation. Executive Order 13440 of July 20, 2007, is revoked. All executive directives, orders, and regulations inconsistent with this order, including but not limited to those issued to or by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from September 11, 2001, to January 20, 2009, concerning detention or the interrogation of detained individuals, are revoked to the extent of their inconsistency with this order. Heads of departments and agencies shall take all necessary steps to ensure that all directives, orders, and regulations of their respective departments or agencies are consistent with this order. Upon request, the Attorney General shall provide guidance about which directives, orders, and regulations are inconsistent with this order.
This protects our Constitutional rights and reaffirms that America is a country which does not torture. After eight years of abuse of our civil liberties, President Obama is bringing back the inalienable rights espoused in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.

A fourth order is meant to initiate a review of how we jail enemy combatants. The introduction states:
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, in order to develop policies for the detention, trial, transfer, release, or other disposition of individuals captured or apprehended in connection with armed conflicts and counterterrorism operations that are consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.
In other words, the order seeks to clarify how we deal with people we catch up with who have harmed Americans or are threatening to do so.

A fifth order instructs the military to prepare to close the detention centers at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, in order to effect the appropriate disposition of individuals currently detained by the Department of Defense at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base (Guantánamo) and promptly to close detention facilities at Guantánamo, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.
At last, we'll be shutting down this infamous prison where we have been indefinitely holding people in violation of our tradition of due process. Kudos to President Obama for ordering Guantánamo's closure.

In addition to the above mentioned executive orders, President Obama issued a proclamation calling January, 20, 2009 a "National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation." And after eight years of divisive politics that is exactly what we need.

We at NPI applaud President Obama for taking steps to reinvigorate our American freedoms and restore our country's moral standing in the world.

Education reform bills hit legislature

It looks like Washington state is finally ready to address inadequacies in its public education system, and with negative reports coming out hot and heavy lately, it comes not a moment too soon. The question is not that reforms are needed, but how can we pay for them?

The results of 17-months of work by the Basic Education Finance joint task force have been drafted into two bills, HB 1410 and SB 5444, which are gaining momentum in the legislature and new legislators are signing on daily. Are your lawmakers on board?

There’s a lot of good stuff to like in there: increased high school graduation requirements, universal all day kindergarten, a more equitable teacher compensation system and better financial accountability. Basically, our schools could start to resemble average schools around the country.

Wait a minute, you say! Our schools aren’t that bad. Well, that’s not what national studies and rankings keep telling us. Education Week magazine just awarded Washington an overall C grade for education, putting us in the bottom 20 states, which is similar to the grade we received from the League of Education Voters this month. Added to that, we are near the bottom of just about every national metric there is: class size, teacher pay and funding. Moving up to just average would be a huge leap for us.

Successful schools don't come cheap. We’re looking at an extra investment every two years of eight to ten billion dollars over current state education allocations. That’s an increase of around 85%--pretty substantial.

So, we need the money, but where will it come from? Task force member and former state Treasurer Dan Grimm has some suggestions:
His first is an extension of the sales tax to services, such as health care and financial advice, providing enough for $3.1 billion in improvements. Or, a package could authorize local property tax levies for community colleges, a payroll tax for the Basic Health Plan, a capital gains tax and a sales tax on motor vehicle fuels.
This is not an exhaustive list. More options are possible. If we want to boost our kids up to the national average, if not actually above it, we need to put on our own thinking caps and figure out a way to do it.

Microsoft announces big layoffs

Well, the rumors were true:
In light of the further deterioration of global economic conditions, Microsoft announced additional steps to manage costs, including the reduction of headcount-related expenses, vendors and contingent staff, facilities, capital expenditures and marketing. As part of this plan, Microsoft will eliminate up to 5,000 jobs in R&D, marketing, sales, finance, legal, HR, and IT over the next 18 months, including 1,400 jobs today. These initiatives will reduce the company’s annual operating expense run rate by approximately $1.5 billion and reduce fiscal year 2009 capital expenditures by $700 million.
This is bad news for Redmond, Puget Sound, and all of Washington State. Losing five thousand high tech jobs will really hurt.

Now, it's possible a few of people getting pink slips will be able to find work elsewhere in the company, but most will have to leave Microsoft and find another employer, or retire if they can afford it. Microsoft says it will offer severance packages to employees who are being displaced.

Governor Chris Gregoire's office has just issued a statement on the layoffs.
It is disheartening that one of Washington's premier businesses is reducing its work force. Unfortunately, it is another indication that the national economic recession is deepening.

Today’s news underscores the need to pass my Washington Jobs Now initiative and the federal recovery plan.

I am confident these efforts will get people back to work as well as remake our state and national economies.

Together we must find the path through this recession and get our economy moving again. Washington is a state of innovation, determination and creativity.

We can and must create new jobs for our families.

Those Microsoft employees affected by today’s announcement should know that Washington’s Employment Security Department and local rapid response teams will help them file for unemployment insurance and explore other job opportunities. Our highest priority is to help those workers find other good jobs as quickly as possible.
Microsoft is also halting building expansion plans in an effort to cut costs. Combined with the layoffs and other belt-tightening measures, the company expects to save one and a half billion dollars for the 2009 fiscal year.

First actions nothing but good

Less than forty eight hours after assuming office, President Barack Obama has already ordered the delay of the military tibunals of Guantanomo inmates, giving his administration time to evaluate the tribunal process. The BBC has the details:
The two-page document, ordered jointly by Mr Obama and the US Department of Defense, sought a 120-day suspension of trials.

The delay would "permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process",
This move, if it is any indication of the rest of his presidency, illustrates President Obama's willingness to examine the best course of action before attempting to sovle a problem and working to ensure basic human fairness and justice - something this country has been needing for a long time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Are we headed for a depression?

The news isn't getting much better in the financial sector.

Last week the Los Angeles Times reported that "an index of bank stocks slid 4.1%, giving it a loss of 21% for the week."

What does the future hold for Americans and the world?

Will we see Depression-era lines at soup kitchens? 21st century Hoovervilles springing up to replace suburban sprawl? Desperate men and women fighting each other for whatever jobs they can get their hands on?

No matter how many paper securities become worthless or how many numbers disappear off the computers at financial institutions, it's important to remember all the world's raw materials, equipment, knowledge, and the people who use them have not disappeared. The main difference between a depression and a recovery is that in a depression, much more of those things are idle - not producing anything - thus leading to great scarcity.

In a recent interview about the December occupation of the Republic Window and Doors factory in Chicago, a union activist said they were perhaps most inspired by developments in Latin America, such as the Brazilian land occupations, the Venezuelan employee-run co-operatives, and the Argentine factory occupations:
Time will tell whether the Republic struggle will be viewed as a bell-weather event or a flash in the pan. On the one hand, the occupation led to a huge outpouring of support - from solidarity rallies all across the country to donations of money, food and essential supplies. That this support was on a scale unthinkable only a year ago is proof that this action spoke to the desire of working class people to seek ways to resist to the current economic onslaught. On the other hand, for this event to be a spark others will have to pick up the baton. That means organized labor will have to take some measure of risk, embracing militant tactics when necessary and abandoning its reliance on political maneuvering as the primary means for the advancement of a working class agenda.
As the financial situation worsens and more resources fall idle, will we let ourselves become the victims of a collapsing economy, or will we invest in our common wealth and put people back to work? The latter course of action is the only responsible choice. Problem is, conservatives and Republicans don't want to spend public money rebuilding our infrastructure. They're fine with tax cuts to people who don't need any more money, but they're against making investments in things we all use and rely on, like our highway system or electric grid.

We can stave off depression and preserve economic security, but we have to invest. In Barack Obama's words, we must remake America.

And we have to start now.

Yakima County Republicans oppose emergency medical services

Defying logic, the Yakima County Republican party has decided that funding first-responders isn't worth it.
The Yakima County Republican Party is against Yakima’s proposed EMS levy.

“We encourage the city’s leaders to do what many of us are doing: tighten their belts and learn to live within their existing budget,” county party Chairman Max Golladay wrote in a statement released today.
While Yakima isn't New York City, in light of 9-11, I'd like Max Golladay to use that line on the victim of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other emergency, or the family member of someone who has a stroke or suddenly goes into cardiac arrest. Tell that to the family whose house is on fire, Max.

"Tighten your belt" and "live within your means" have been standard GOP fare since Ronald Reagan (or maybe Barry Goldwater, but I'm not up on my Republican dogma, for obvious reasons). Of course tightening your belt and living within your means only apply to policies and causes the Republicans oppose, and don't apply to no-bid contracts for cronies or corporate welfare with no strings attached. Times have changed but the GOP hasn't, which is just one reason why we refer to it as the Graveyard of Progress.
For the owner of a $168,000 home, the city EMS levy would add an extra $42 per year.

Backed by city leaders and Fire Chief Charlie Hines, it would generate $1.3 million a year in new tax revenue. Hines would use it to hire 12 new firefighters and a dispatcher.
$42 per year translates to 11.5 cents per day. That's hardly a burden.

For the common good, there are certain things that the common wealth must pay for. Most Americans would agree that emergency medical services are not a luxury, they're a necessity. An investment in firefighters and EMTs results in lives saved and potentially lower property damage costs.

If you have an emergency and need a first responder in Yakima, can you afford to dial 911 and get no response? If Max Golladay and the Yakima County Republicans have their way, one day that's precisely what you'll get.

Clinton confirmed as Secretary of State

By a 94-2 vote earlier today, the United States Senate voted to confirm Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State. Senator "Diapers" David Vitter of Louisiana (and D.C. madam infamy) and Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina were the dissenting votes. Apparently, Senator John Cornyn had his concerns addressed sufficiently to vote for Clinton's confirmation.

At one point during the debate, Senator John McCain, in a magnanimous attempt to halt the politics of the past, tried to cut off debate and get to the vote.

Just before a recess a few minutes ago so that senators could attend their policy luncheons, Senator John McCain, whose failed presidential bid resulted in his return to the Senate, tried to cut off the hours of debate and move quickly toward Senator Clinton’s confirmation. He argued that she must begin work on the world’s problems — the United States is fighting two wars, the fragile ceasefire over Gaza, a deteriorating situation with North Korea.

And then Mr. McCain, with the heft that only he could offer given his unusual situation, invoked yesterday’s inaugural wonderment. “We had an election and we also had a remarkable and historical time yesterday and this nation has come together as it has not for some time,” he said, noting the high popularity ratings of President Barack Obama. “The message the American people are sending us right now is they want us to work together and get to work right now.”
In this instance, John McCain is right. Now is the time to get to work. While the inauguration is still fresh in everyone's minds and good will is still in the air, it's time to get down to the people's business. Barack Obama promised change, but it's up to all of us to help deliver it.

Eating our values

Like millions of others, both in Washington D.C. and across the nation, I watched with rapt attention yesterday to President Obama deliver his inaugural address.

It was an incredible speech. If there had been a "when Obama says something that should have been said long ago" drinking game, I'd have been legally barred from driving after about two paragraphs. One line, though, really caught my attention because it resonates so strongly with one of my pet issues:

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
The issue is food: What we eat, where it comes from, and how we make it.

The reason that matters, as our society is slowly coming to understand, is that everything has a carbon footprint. Driving your car has a carbon footprint. Turning on your lights or running your dishwasher has a carbon footprint. And so does eating an apple or a slice of bacon.

Mark Bittman, whose career started as a New York Times columnist and cookbook author, has just branched out with a book called Food Matters, which is a look at the overall sustainability of the food system. He considers the numbers: how many people live on this planet, how many people are likely to eventually live on this planet, how much food this planet can produce, and perhaps most importantly, the carbon footprint of the food we currently eat.

Bittman shows--in numbers that really aren't disputed by anybody--that of everything we eat, meat has the highest carbon footprint.

This stands to reason: the cow we eat itself ate a diet of mostly corn, which was grown in the Midwest using all kinds of energy and petro-chemical fertilizers. Humans could have eaten that corn, but instead we took some of it and converted it into meat. But a cow does not turn a pound of corn into a pound of meat; it's more like 10 pounds of corn per pound of meat. It should be no surprise that meat has a large carbon footprint.

There is a moral dimension here as well, one that President Obama was getting at in his speech.

I don't mean whether it is moral to eat meat. I won't say we should all become vegetarians. I was a vegetarian for fifteen years of my life, but I'm not one anymore. I eat meat, and I enjoy it. I have no moral issues with being higher on the food chain than a cow, and frankly, cows are darned tasty.

But I do have a moral issue with consuming more meat than the planet can sustain. For me to enjoy a lifetime of delicious steaks, juicy burgers, crispy bacon, fried chicken, and all that other wonderful food while knowing that in doing so I am imposing an unfair burden of CO2 onto future generations, that's not moral.

That would be just as immoral as driving an SUV to work when I could ride my bike, or leaving all the lights on in my house on before going on vacation because I want the house to look occupied.

People look at a brownie or a cookie and say "a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips." There is an analogy there between the high carbon cost of meat and the amount of time that the resulting carbon dioxide is going to float around the Earth's metaphorical hips.

Some of Bittman's numbers are staggering, and you have to read the book to get the whole impact of them, but here's one conclusion that jumps out. Bittman estimates that, worldwide and in the long term, the sustainable amount of meat per person per day is probably no more than a couple of ounces. A mere eighth of a pound.

Forget about grabbing a quarter-pounder at Mickey-D's for lunch and hitting Taco Bell for a beef burrito on the way home. You want a big juicy T-bone steak? Fine, but that's your meat for a week.

The other dimension of food's carbon footprint is one that has nothing to do with eating meat-vs.-plants, but rather, has to do with transportation and processing. Michael Pollan, America's other leading food guru, has written extensively on the benefits local and unprocessed foods from a perspective of health, nutrition, and food security. I want to talk about it from the perspective of carbon.

I live in the Puget Sound. If I eat a strawberry during the month of June, that strawberry probably came from Washington (in fact, I know it did because I get them at the local farmer’s market). If I eat a strawberry in the month of December, that strawberry came from Mexico if I'm lucky or Argentina if I'm not. How much diesel fuel gets burned up shipping a strawberry half way around the world so I can have one in the dead of winter? I don't know the exact number, but then, it doesn't really matter. Whatever the amount, it carries moral cost.

If I get a snack-size bag of Doritos from the vending machine at work, that's 180 calories (it says so on the back), about the same as one ear of corn on the cob. But it took a lot of energy to process the corn into a handful of Doritos, put them in a little mylar baggie, and ship them from factory to warehouse to distributor and ultimately into that vending machine. Considerably more energy than it would have taken to grow the ear of corn and ship it to a supermarket. Energy equals carbon. There is a moral component to the decision to eat an ear of corn versus a bag of Doritos.

The lessons are simple: eat local food, and eat foods that are closer to their natural state. But those same lessons also reduce our carbon footprint. This makes following them not only healthy and tasty, but also moral. Responsible.

President Obama is right. The world has changed, and we must change with it. As our new President said yesterday:

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world.
One of those changes is to reform the way we eat, to feed our bodies while remaining mindful of the moral compass that gauges our stewardship of the planet we live on.

LIVE from D.C. - Reichert says he's "on board" with President Obama's new direction

Good morning! Feels great to wake up and realize that Barack Obama is now our President, doesn't it? I'm still in the District of Columbia, which is humming with activity as Congress and the new administration get down to business.

At the moment I'm sitting in the Dirksen Senate office building, where the Evergreen State congressional delegation is very graciously hosting a coffee for Washingtonians who journeyed to the District of Columbia for yesterday's historic inauguration. We just heard from several members of our delegation, including both of our senators and three of our representatives, who shared their experiences from yesterday and answered questions.

The funniest moment came shortly after Patty Murray had finished answering a question. Representative Dave Reichert had just walked in and joined his colleagues Jay Inslee and Jim McDermott behind Murray and Maria Cantwell. The four Democrats had been talking about what Washingtonians can do to help support Barack Obama and move his agenda forward past Republican obstructionism.

As Murray concluded her train of thought and looked around the room to see if there were further questions, someone stepped forward, pointed at Reichert, and asked in a booming voice, "What about that Republican? Is he on board?"

The whole room immediately exploded into laughter.

Reichert spread his hands and smiled broadly, looking surprised (and maybe a little hurt). He then proceeded to hug Inslee, McDermott, and Cantwell, while Murray reminded everyone that representing our state transcends partisan politics, and that Reichert in particular agrees with the Democratic members on many issues.

Reichert himself then spoke, assuring the assembled group that he was in fact "on board" with President Obama's new direction for America. (Apparently this includes withdrawing responsibly from Iraq - Reichert mentioned that he was looking forward to welcoming our troops home soon. Of course, he didn't mention that while Dubya was in power, he unfailingly supported the occupation, but Dubya is no longer around to demand Reichert's allegiance).

Reichert acknowledged that he expects his feet to be held to the fire. He didn't promise to be a reliable vote for legislation President Obama supports, but it's evident that his intention is to keep an open mind. And that's commendable.

His tone of voice suggested that he was genuinely excited about the inauguration and very honored to witness the swearing in of our nation's first African American president. Of course, it's great politics for Reichert to speak favorably of Obama and his ideas - after all, a majority of his constituents voted for Obama. Nevertheless, his stated desire to work cooperatively with the new administration is appreciated. Plenty of Republicans are already trying to muck things up by causing trouble (ahem, cough, John Cornyn). And we don't need that.

We will be watching closely in the weeks and months ahead to see how Reichert votes on key bills moving through Congress, and how willing he is to help get progressive legislation to President Obama's desk.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 undergoes renovation

Change hasn't just come to the country today, but also to the web and blogosphere. The official White House website was re-launched with the sleek new design you see below.

New White House website

It comes as no surprise that President Obama, who built the largest people powered campaign in history by embracing technology, has upgraded and improved the Presidential website on his first day.

It seems natural that he becomes the first President with a blog. Given the President's statements about having the most open and accessible Administration in history, we are hopeful that the blog will be used to facilitate two-way discussion with the people, and not a graveyard for press releases. Right now, there is no ability to comment on the posts.

Also of note is that President Obama will be making a video address each Saturday morning of his Presidency, and posting it on the website.

And at the top of the Presidential website is a way for you to sign up to receive updates from President Obama and his team.

So get signed up, join the conversation and help President Obama create the change you want to see in our nation.

LIVE from D.C. - The end of an error

Earlier today, the door on one of the most corrupt and destructive administrations was slammed shut with the inauguration of Barack Obama.

His ascension to the presidency marks the end of the Bush error - and the lifting of a unwelcome, dark shadow that has been hanging over our nation.

The light is free; our democracy endures. The Bush/Cheney regime is gone.

We've known this day was coming ever since that magical evening on November 4th, when Barack Obama routed John McCain and (unofficially) became the President-elect. But now it has actually happened. Barack Obama is no longer our nation's chief executive-in-waiting - he is the President. Our President.

It's truly a joyous thought.

Dubya flies away from U.S. Capitol
Above: The Sikorsky helicopter carrying Dubya flies over the National Mall

Dubya was in power for so long that it's amazing to realize he's no longer in control. For me, it's an especially remarkable feeling, because I've only been actively involved in politics for about seven years. And today was the first day since I became an activist that Bush wasn't in charge of our government.

Watching the inauguration at the Capitol today was immensely satisfying. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. It was cold, crowded, and chaotic, but it was wonderful. Simply wonderful. The best part, by far, was observing the happiness of the millions of people around me.

Crowds pack National Mall
Above: Looking back towards the Washington Monument during the inauguration

Sitting on the edge of the Reflecting Pool after the program was over, I watched as people around me hugged, danced, celebrated, got their pictures taken, and laughed in merriment, excited that new leadership has come to our nation's Capitol.

Biden limo in the Inaugural Parade
Above: Vice President Joe Biden's limousine rolls down Constitution Avenue

Later, I watched the Inaugural Parade, which was a delight to witness. There were dozens of police motorcycles, marching troops from every branch of the armed services, and the Obama and Biden motorcades, carrying our President, Vice President, and their families in newly built Cadillac limousines.

On the Internet, Obama's inauguration was marked by the unveiling of a new White House website, and many U.S. Department sites were also rapidly updated to reflect their incoming leaders and the priorities of the Obama administration.

Inaugural Stage
Above: A closeup shot of the inauguration stage

Obama's inaugural address was about what I expected: powerful, soaring, and crisp. It was both realistic and optimistic, delivered with conviction and thoughtfulness. As Obama spoke, I could hear his words punctuated with murmurs of agreement and satisfaction from people around me. Obama's meaning and intent were clear.

There was no Orwellian doublespeak, no hidden agenda, no empty rhetoric in his address. Obama spoke reverently of the values that this country was founded upon and has always stood for. He didn't just pay lip service to them.

And that is what America has been longing for. An end to the fakery and nonsense of the Bush administration. Anyone who spent time actually scrutinizing Bush and his people could see that the words didn't match the actions.

(Healthy Forests, anyone? Clear Skies? Hello!?)

And as time went by, more and more Americans realized that Bush and his cronies were literally gambling with the future of the country.

They were (deliberately) careless stewards of our government because they don't believe in government. They set out to put a wrecking ball to our common wealth - and they've done a fine job of tearing things up. Now the hard work of clearing up their mess begins. These are certainly perilous times for our country.

The more quickly President Obama gets down to business and starts reversing the harm of the Bush error, the better the prospects of a faster recovery for our depressed economy, overstretched military, and polluted environment.

Inaugural Address of President Barack Obama

Below, for your reading pleasure and enjoyment, is the complete text of President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address.

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. '

Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics.

Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America... they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit - to choose our better history, to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life.

They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished.

But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.

We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works... whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward.

Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.

With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us - and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.

We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West... know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect.

For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.

It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility; a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).
America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.

Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Senator Ted Kennedy collapses at Inaugural luncheon

On such a joyous day in America, it brings us sadness to report that Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) collapsed at the Inaugural luncheon in Statuary Hall and went into convulsions.

There are no reports as to Senator Kennedy's condition at this point.

Also, Senator Robert Byrd was also taken by medical staff from the luncheon, moments before Senator Kennedy's collapse.

We don't yet have any information as to Senator Byrd's condition either.

All of us at NPI wish Senators Kennedy and Byrd the best as they battle their health problems. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends and staff.

More details will be posted as they become available.

UPDATE, 6:22 PM: Senator Kennedy is expected to stay overnight at Washington Hospital Center. His condition was brought on by fatigue according to Dr. Edward Aulisi, chairman of Neurosurgery at Washington Hospital Center.

As for Senator Byrd, he appears to be doing just fine.
Also during the luncheon, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, appeared to be experiencing some difficulty.

Byrd, 91, was very upset and distraught over the incident involving Kennedy, a spokeswoman said. She noted, however, that Byrd later recovered and returned to his Senate office.
We look forward to seeing both Senators return to the Senate floor soon.

What it means to me

As I watched Democratic leaders on television, gathering and speaking over lunch on Capitol Hill today, and I noticed that both Bush and Cheney's faces were absent from the group, I finally came to the realization that IT'S OURS! Those people in charge with the power to steer American's future, they're my people. They share my values and dream my dreams.

It's hard to know which aspect of Obama's inauguration is more satisfying, the end of eight years of feeling divorced from my government and what it stands for, or the beginning of a journey in which I can respect and admire my leader and support his actions.

As I go about my day with a lump in my throat and joy in my heart, I'll feel solidarity with the majority of Americans who are proud to be on this journey with me. God bless America!

LIVE from D.C. - In place

Well, I finally made it inside the ticketed zone.

Thanks to some good information and sheer good luck, I'm in a relatively good spot behind the Reflecting Pool. Although there are many people in front of me, I have a pretty good view of the Capitol. What an exciting moment!

We're listening to the Marine Corps band at present. Obama is due to be sworn in just an hour and a half from now.

The helicopters overhead are making it a bit difficult to really enjoy the music but I can hear what's going on very clearly, which is good.

The National Mall looks absolutely packed.

This will probably be the last update from me until after the Inaugural Speech. I want to absorb everything and that is hard to do while typing on a tiny keyboard. Less than ninety minutes to go before the Bush error is over!

LIVE from D.C. - WOW!

I haven't seen any news reports or aerial footage, but I can tell you that the National Mall is basically bursting here in Washington, D.C.

This is incredible. Just the sheer volume of people is breathtaking. Helicopters are roaring overhead and sirens wailing as motorcades and ambulances race through the streets around the Capitol. People are standing shoulder to shoulder trying to pass through security. Getting out of Metrorail stations has become a seemingly impossible task according to reports I've heard. Anyone not in a security line at this point probably will not make it into a ticketed area.

And it looks like the public viewing area at the Mall is full.

LIVE from D.C. - This is nuts

If you don't like massve crowds packed like crushed cereal, then you'd be wise if you made the decision to watch the inauguration festivites from home. Pandemonium is the order of the day at most Metrorail stations. The crowds are so big and so tight that floor and walls inside stations are barely visible in many places.

Park and ride lots are full, for the most part. Metro has had to take some trains out of service due to broken doors - people have been holding them open. The situation is no better on the roads. Many arterials into D.C. are simply closed. A nasty collision has shut down the Clara Barton Parkway, one of the few main roads that was supposed to be open.

Metro's Red Line is also experiencing delays due to a disabled train.

I got up before 4 AM and made it to a Metrorail station without difficulty. Now I'm just waiting with a gazillion other people to get on a train.

This is nuts. I've never seen anything like this and it's possible I never will again. The number of people heading downtown is colossal.

UPDATE: Finally made it onboard a Metrorail train. Took some patience and perserverance. Now heading south to Capitol Hill. Woohoo!

Monday, January 19, 2009

LIVE from D.C. - Inaugural eve

In less than eighteen hours, the Bush error will be over.

After eight long and torturous years that has seen devastation wrought upon our country's economy, environment, military, and health by a failed right wing agenda, a new chapter is beginning in the American story.

United States Capitol on Inauguration Eve

A new president, our first African American president, is taking office, while the regime responsible for the mess we're in is packing its bags and departing.

The news on so many fronts is grim, but you wouldn't know it from looking at the faces of the people congregating in Washington, D.C. for tomorrow's historic inauguration. There's happiness, joy, and excitement; a sense that something better is around the corner. A gut feeling that we as a people are going to pull together and collectively solve these problems that are ailing us.

I saw so many signs today of a cultural shift - perhaps a fitting prelude to the other changes we need - that I don't know where to begin.

Teamsters Sign Congratulating Obama

For one thing, I've been amazed at how friendly everyone here is. People who don't know each other smile and ask how things are going. A whole throng literally shouts out in concern if a passersby happens to drops something on her way out the door. Anyone who wants their picture taken in front of the Capitol needs only to turn their head and address the person next to them - odds are excellent such a request will be obliged. Public places, though crowded, seem lively and welcoming.

It's hard not to get an uplifting feeling watching a group of kids jumping into the air on the Capitol steps and shouting Obama! as their happy expressions are captured on flash memory. (Indeed, Obama has replaced cheese around these parts as the catchphrase for taking pictures).

The amount of Obama merchandise being worn or displayed is staggering. Obama shirts, buttons, pins, posters, mugs, and every other kind of souvenir imaginable are for sale somewhere within a short distance of the Capitol.

Street vendors are also selling hand and foot warmers (it's pretty cold here in the D.C. area - the high is expected to be around thirty four degrees Farenheit tomorrow, and the low tonight is a chilly twenty three).

Getting into House and Senate office buildings today often meant standing for about ten minutes in a line to go through a security checkpoint. People were constantly coming out at the same time, holding manila envelopes with tickets inside. That included me - I picked up my ticket today.

(I'll hopefully have a decent vantage point of the scene tomorrow, but that will depend on how early I can get there and clear security.)

Arch at Union Station in D.C.

Mobile networks are expected to under siege tomorrow morning, which means updates from me could be sparse, as I'll only have my BlackBerry with me (not that a laptop would be of any help, though!) To ensure that there's a better chance of something getting through, I'll be composing text only posts first and then adding pictures later, time and bandwidth permitting.

If you're not planning to watch the inauguration with someone, it's not too late to decide to join a party tomorrow morning.

A few other bits and pieces from today...

Snow evacuation routes. I couldn't help but notice while I was walking through Baltimore this morning that they have signs clearly marking which arterials are snow routes. The signs depict a car getting towed and warn, no parking during snow emergency. Seattle and other Puget Sound cities would do well to put up such signs, and pass ordinances authorizing the towing of vehicles illegally parked during inclement weather. It would make it easier to plow.

Great news for adults to choose to smoke. That was the title of a large sign in front of a Baltimore convenience store that I saw while I was waiting for a bus today. Underneath was a large Marlboro logo and then the boast Lowest Prices Allowed By Law!

Now, cigarettes are a common item at many retailers, but it's becoming increasingly unusual to see these poison sticks being so cheerfully advertised. Low prices for tobacco products are actually bad news for people who are trying to quit smoking and don't need to be tempted to start up again.

There's only one kind of news that's actually beneficial to smokers: a friend's declaration that he has decided to quit using tobacco.

MARC rules. MARC, the Maryland version of Sound Transit's Sounder commuter rail, is by far the best way to get between Baltimore and the District of Columbia. Like Sounder, it often shares tracks with Amtrak, and trains can be boarded at the same stations. There's never any traffic and the trains are relatively comfortable and pleasant to ride in (despite being old).

MARC is administered by the Maryland Transit Administration, the statewide agency responsible for rail and bus service in the Baltimore metro area and beyond. MTA's buses, like Chicago's, have prerecorded announcements that greet boarding passengers and disclose station stops when they are approaching.

Who's here. It turns out a lot of local elected Democrats are here for the inauguration, including Governor Chris Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and many Seattle City Councilmembers. Most plan to spend a good deal of their time lobbying for federal stimulus money for the Evergreen State, rather than just having fun.

Well, that's it for tonight. To NPI's readers back home, if you'll be up before the crack of dawn tomorrow morning, see you then... I'll be out and about very early on my way to the inauguration. Good night and good riddance to Dubya!

Guantanamo prisoner is freed after six years in captivity

Is justice really being served if it takes six years to receive it? I feel sure that Haji Bismullah doesn’t think so.

As told in the New York Times, Afghan detainee Haji Bismullah was released from six years of captivity in Guantanamo Bay prison by a military panel this weekend. Apparently, Bismullah was not just innocent of working with the Taliban, as he was accused, but on the contrary, he and his whole family had “fought to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan,” according to a sworn statement by his brother, a pro-American Afghan official.

Like his brother, after fighting the Taliban, Bismullah worked as a pro-American government official. His job was coveted by a rival clan associated with the Taliban, so in order to take over the position for themselves, clan members framed Bismullah by turning him into the Americans as a Taliban supporter. Basically, he was framed.

For an administration that places such a high premium on loyalty, imprisoning someone who has fought for our cause, someone who is a friend of our government, on the premise that they have assisted the enemy is the epitome of hypocrisy. In this case, friendship was repaid with prison.

It also shouldn’t have taken six years to find and consider the evidence used to clear Bismullah. It would have taken much less time to find the evidence had the U.S. military only looked. It’s obvious that no effort was made to discover the truth.

This situation demonstrates that for the Bush administration, freedom and justice are principles that are fine to use in speeches, but in reality are applied selectively. This error which the New York Times called “a mistake of grand proportions” is more evidence that Obama can use when he prosecutes the incompetent and corrupt Bush administration. Then, justice will be served.

LIVE from D.C. - Inaugural preparations at Capitol nearly complete

I'm here at the United States Capitol on the eve of the inauguration of Barack Obama, the Forty Fourth President of the United States of America.

It's pretty chilly outside, but the sun is shining through the clouds as it goes down and people walking the National Mall seem to be in a festive mood - aware that history is about to be made tomorrow.

(View of the Capitol, picture taken with my BlackBerry)

The closest spot you can get at this moment is the barrier behind the orange and yellow areas. Security is fairly heavy and the Capitol Police are busy warning people that the whole area will be locked down in just a few hours.

One officer, asked how he was getting in and out, replied, "I'm not going anywhere." He pointed at the Capitol and added, "That's my hotel tonight."

Big screens have been set up in the ticketed areas to help attendees see the ceremonies. Unless you have a seat really close to the staging area - as in really close - it'll be hard to see. There are a lot of obstructions.

The timeless wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr.

Since today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I'm posting an excerpt from Dr. King's Letter From Birmingham Jail. Here he is talking about expanding freedom through nonviolence. (Typos are contained in the original manuscript.)
The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides - and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history.

So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream."

Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience."

And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime - the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Take a few moments today to read the whole thing.

Day of Service today

Today is the National Day of Service called for by the Presidential Inaugural Committee to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1983, Congress set aside the third Monday in January as a national holiday to honor Dr. King. President-elect Barack Obama has declared that this year, the day should be used to help better our communities - a tradition begun in 1994 with the passage of the King Holiday and Service Act. Obama's team has set up a website that makes it easy to find local service projects.

To honor the President-elect and to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. we hope that everyone will participate in a service project. It's through our collective strength that we have the power to change the world.

Across the country, some 10,000 events have been posted. That correlates to one event for every three hundred and fifty three square miles in the country.

Follow the links to find:
There is no way greater to honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. and the presidency of Barack Obama than to serve our community. As Barack has said:
It is that fundamental belief -- it is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work.
That is what the day of service is about. For our nation is only as good as the least fortunate among us. Obama reminded us of this in 2004:
If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription and [is] having to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent.
This is what the day of service means. That we can serve our country. In JFK's words, that we ask not what our country can do for us, but for what we can do for our country. We owe it to ourselves and our posterity to make a difference.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This land is your land, this land is my land

Watching this video of a nearly 90 year old Pete Seeger, with Bruce Springsteen and friends, singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" on the Mall in Washington, D.C. today, I was struck by the gravity of the moment.

First, there was the symbolism of Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, the President who freed the slaves, watching over a celebration in honor of the first African-American to be elected President, another man who is from Illinois.

And then there were the lyrics:
words and music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me


I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me


The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me


As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Chorus (2x)

©1956 (renewed 1984), 1958 (renewed 1986) and 1970 TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc. (
During the past eight years, we've been reminded over and over by the Bush Administration that America is a land of haves and have nots; that those of means matter and those of lesser fortune do not. While corporate gluttony ruled at the expense of everything else, ethics and legalities included, our economy has tanked. Where once the United States of America was at the global pinnacle of leadership in the world, that status has been eroded through foolhardy and reckless foreign policy decisions.

Indeed, that last verse of Woody Guthrie's song reflects on the current state of our nation. Some are grumbling and some are wondering if this land is still made for you and me.

Last November we started down the path of reclaiming our American legacy when we elected Barack Obama President. Now we have the opportunity to reshape our nation, to restore its promise to all Americans, not just those who can afford it.

But we can't rely on one man to do everything. We all have a responsibility to do our part. The Constitution begins, "We, the People" not "I, the President."

Yes, we have come a long way in the 233 years since the Declaration of Independence. But there is much work yet to do. So don't think of Tuesday as the day when Barack Obama can finally implement his agenda. Think of it as the day when we put the past behind us, and we all move forward into the future, together.

Woody Guthrie got it right. This land is your land. This land is my land. This land was made for you and me.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pacific NW Portal Version 4.3 released

This evening, the Northwest Progressive Institute team is pleased to announce the completion of Pacific NW Portal Version 4.3, the "Inaugural Edition". Version 4.3 consists of a small set of minor enhancements that have been needed for some time to make the site current. Loyal Portal readers have probably noticed some of the updates already as we began phasing them in - primarily syndicate changes.

To the front page, we are happy to welcome Oregon's Chuck For as one of our syndicated blogs. Joining the Washington Outlook are The Other Side and Washington Outsiders, two very fine Evergreen State blogs from outside the Seattle area. Joining the Oregon Dispatch are Global Strategies and Unconventional Folly, two fresh Beaver State blogs that we like.

A teaser for our inaugural coverage has been added on the front page, and some outdated graphics have been replaced here and there.

And that's about the extent of the changes.

As always, we welcome your feedback - if you have ideas about how to make Pacific NW Portal better, we want to hear them.

A summary of the Bush error

Last night on Countdown, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann provided one of the most remarkable summaries of the Bush error that I've ever heard. If you didn't see it, you can watch it yourself, but in case you prefer to read, here is a transcript of Keith's segment, Eight Years in Eight Minutes, created by TrueBlueMajority.
George Walker Bush.
43rd president of the United States.
first ever with a criminal record.
our third story tonight,
his presidency: eight years in eight minutes.

early in 2001 the U.S. fingered Al Qaeda
for the bombing of the USS Cole
Bush counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke
had a plan to take down Al Qaeda.
instead by February the NSC
had already discussed invading Iraq,
and had a plan for post-Saddam Iraq.

by March 5 Bush had a map ready for Iraqi oil exploration
and a list of companies.
Al Qaeda?
Rice told Clarke not to give Bush a lot of long memos.
not a big reader.

August 6, 2001
a CIA analyst briefs Bush on vacation:
"Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S."
Bush takes no action tells the briefer—quote
all right, you've covered your ass now.

next month Clarke requests
using new predator drones to kill Bin Laden
the Pentagon and CIA
say no.

September 11th
Bush remains seated for several minutes
to avoid scaring school children
by getting up and leaving.
he then flies around the country
and promises quote a full scale investigation to find
those folks who did it

Rumsfeld says Afghanistan does not have enough targets
we've got to do Iraq.
when the CIA traps Bin Laden at Tora Bora
it asks for 800 rangers to cut off his escape
Bush outsources the job to Pakistanis
sympathetic to the Taliban
Bin Laden
gets away

in February General Tommy Franks tells a visiting Senator
Bush is moving equipment out of Afghanistan
so he can invade Iraq.
one of the men who prepped Rice for her testimony
that Bush did not ignore pre 9-11 warnings
later explains quote we cherry picked things
to make it look like the president
had been actually concerned about Al Qaeda
they didn't give a bleep about Al Qaeda

July and Britain's intel chief says Bush is
fixing intelligence and facts around the policy to take out Saddam
January 03
Bush and Blair agree to invade in March
Mr. Bush still telling us he has not decided
telling Blair they should paint an airplane in UN colors
fly it over Iraq and provoke a response
a pretext for invasion

the man who said it would take several hundred thousand troops
the man who said it would cost more than a hundred billion
the man who revealed Bush's yellowcake lie
his wife's covert status
the White House liars who did it
and covered it up
not fired
one convicted
Bush commutes his sentence

then in Iraq, stuff happens:
Iraq's army, disbanded
the government de-Baathified
200,000 weapons, billions of dollars just
foreign mercenaries immunized from justice
political hacks run the Green Zone
religious cleansing forcing one out of six Iraqis from their homes
Abu Ghraib
the insurgency
Al Qaeda in Iraq

other stuff does not happen:
post-war planning
body armor
vehicular armor

the payoff?
and billions for Halliburton, Blackwater and other companies
while Mr. Bush denies VA healthcare to 450,000 veterans
tries to raise their healthcare fees
blocks the new G.I. Bill
and increases his own power with the USA PATRIOT Act
with the Military Commissions Act
public orders exempting himself from a thousand laws
and secretly from the Presidential Records Act
The Geneva Conventions
sparking a mass rebellion at the Justice Department

secret star chambers for terrorism suspects,
overturned by Hamdan v Rumsfeld.
denying habeas corpus,
overturned by Boumediene v Bush.
200 renditionings
sleep deprivation

Rumsfeld warned in 2002 that he was torturing
that it would jeopardize convictions
out of 550 at Gitmo
hundreds ultimately go free with no charges
dozens are tortured
eight fatally
three are convicted

on U.S. soil twelve hundred immigrants rounded up
without due process
without bail
without court dates
without a single charge of terrorism

it wasn't just Mr. Bush no longer subject to the rule of law
he slashed regulations on everyone from banks to mining companies
appointed 98 lobbyists to oversee their own industries
weakening emission standards for mercury
and 650 different toxic chemicals
regulators shared drugs
and their beds
with industry reps
the Crandall Canyon mine owner told inspectors to back up
because his buddy, Republican Mitch McConnell
was sleeping with their boss
McConnell's wife is Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao
her agency overruled engineer concerns about Crandall Canyon
and was found negligent
after nine miners died in the collapse there

Mr. Bush's hands off
as Enron blacks out California
doubling electric bills
after months of rejecting price caps Mr. Bush bows to pressure

the blackouts end

Mr. Bush further deregulates commodity futures
midwifing the birth of unregulated oil markets
which just like Enron jack up prices to an all time high
until Congress and both presidential candidates call for regulations

and the prices fall

deregulating financial services and lax enforcement of remaining rules
created a housing bubble
creating the mortgage crisis
creating then a credit crisis
devastating industries that rely on credit
from student loans to car dealers

firms that had survived the Great Depression could not survive Bush
those that did got
seven hundred billion dollars
no strings, no transparency
no idea whether it worked

unlike the auto bailout
which cut workers' salaries.
a GOP memo called it
a chance to punish unions

but Bush failed even when his party and his patrons
did not stand to profit
investigators blamed management cost cutting communication
for missed warnings about Columbia
Bush administration convicts include
sex offenders at Homeland Security
convicted liars
every kind of thief in the calendar
and if you count things that were not prosecuted
the vice president of the United States actually
shot a man in the face

the man apologized.

Mr. Bush faked the truth
with paid propaganda in Iraq
on his education policy

tried to silence the truth about global warming
rocket fuel in our water
industry influence on energy policy

politicized the truth of science at NASA, the EPA,
the National Cancer Institute, Fish and Wildlife
and the FDA

his lies
exposed by whistleblowers from the cabinet down
"complete BS" the treasury secretary said
of Mr. Bush on his tax cuts.

Rice's mushroom cloud
Powell's mobile labs
Iraq and 9-11
Jack Abramoff
Jessica Lynch

Pat Tillman
Pat Tillman again
Pat Tillman, again.

the air at Ground Zero
most responders still suffering respiratory problems.

global warming
carbon emissions
a Clear Skies initiative lowering air quality standards
the Healthy Forests initiative increasing logging
faith based initiatives
the cost of medicare reform
fired US attorneys
politically synchronized terror alerts

the surge causing insurgents to switch sides
that abortion causes breast cancer
that his first recession began under Clinton
that he did not wiretap without warrants
that we do not torture.

that American citizen John Walker Lindh's rights
were not violated
that he refused the right to counsel

heckuva job Brownie
some survivors still in trailers
New Orleans still at just two-thirds its usual population

the lie that no one could have predicted the economic crisis
the economists who did
no one could have predicted 9-11 except
one ass-covering CIA analyst
or thirty
no one could have predicted the levee breach
except literally
Mr. Bill
in a PSA that aired on TV a year before Katrina

Bush actually admitted that he lied about not firing Rumsfeld
because he did not want to tell the truth.
look it up.

all of it
all of it and more leaving us with
ten trillion in debt
to pay for 31% more in discretionary spending
the Iraq War
a 1.3 trillion dollar tax cut

median income down two thousand dollars
three-quarters of all income gains under Bush
going to the richest one percent
unemployment up from 4.2 to 7.2 percent

the Dow, down from ten thousand five hundred eighty seven
to eighty two hundred seventy seven
six million now more in poverty
seven million more now without health care

buying toxic goods from China
deadly cribs
outsourcing security to Dubai
still unsecure in our ports
and at our nuclear plants
more dependent on foreign oil
out of the international criminal court
off the anti ballistic missle treaty
military readiness and standards down

with two unfinished wars
a nuclear North Korea
disengaged from the Palestinian problem
destabilizing eastern european diplomacy with
anti missile plans
and unable to keep Russia out of Georgia

2000 miles of Appalachian streams
destroyed by rubble from mountaintop mining
at his last G-8 summit,
he actually bid farewell to other world leaders
saying quote—goodbye from the world's greatest polluter

consistently undermining historic American reverence
for the institutions that empower us
education, now "academic elites"
and the law, "activist judges"
capping jury awards

and Bin Laden?
living today unmolested in a Pakistani safe haven
created by a truce endorsed and defended by George W. Bush

and among all the gifts he gave to Bin Laden
the most awful, the most damaging not just to America
but to the American ideal
was to further Bin Laden's goal
by making us act out of fear rather than fortitude

leaving us with precious little to cling to tonight
save the one thing that might yet suffice:


Also worth checking out is David Horsey's cartoon summarizing the Bush error, originally published on December 21st, 2008.

The wrong type of economic stimulus

Recently Lockheed Martin, one of the biggest military contractors in the United States, has come up with a new argument for extending their defense contracts: it would be good for America's economic security, nonwithstanding the fact that, out of the top fifty defense contractors, the company has the most instances of misconduct since 1995 (forty eight).

Go figure... Lockheed Martin wants to take advantage of the bad economy to build more war machines. Though building more weapons would secure jobs, it would also mean spending money - a lot of money - that could be better spent on other projects, ones that could benefit the United States better than adding to our already sizable arsenal. We need Lockheed to maintain what we've already got, instead of creating more weapons we don't need.

Unfortunately, as Congressional Quarterly notes, it looks like Lockheed's tactics are working. (It doesn't hurt that Lockheed has a sizable lobbying operation).
...there are early signs that the jobs argument may be working with President-elect Barack Obama's new team and with Congress.

“The Obama administration understands that any major cuts to weapons spending would be a negative for the economy,” said Loren Thompson, a national-security analyst with the Lexington Institute who has consulted for defense contractors.
Ah, Mr. Thompson, I disagree. Ending the programs used to produce unnecessary equipment, and shifting money to other projects and technologies could create both jobs and products that could truly benefit the American people, instead of providing a false sense of security. That's what Obama should do.

After all, it doesn't matter how many F-22 Raptors the U.S. has, they aren't going to prevent a person from detonating a bomb somewhere like a stadium, dam, or skyscraper. And we already have a powerful arsenal of weaponry. Look at our navy, it's the biggest and baddest around. We have like a dozen aircraft carriers in service. No other military power has even half of that number.

Building even more tanks, missiles, and planes won't solve pressing political or domestic problems, but investing the money into civil projects and the sciences, to advance American well-being in a way that is not harmful to other nations and human beings, would be a worthy investment.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Corporations: pay no taxes, get federal funding

What's wrong with this picture?

According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), many of the largest American corporations utilize offshore tax havens to avoid or defer paying taxes, yet are still beneficiaries of federal financial rescue packages.

For the uninitiated, the GAO is the non-partisan, independent, investigative arm of Congress; specifically examining how Congress spends taxpayer dollars.
The study, by the Government Accountability Office, singled out Citigroup as having 427 subsidiaries in offshore havens like the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and Switzerland. Bank of America has 115 subsidiaries in offshore havens, while Morgan Stanley has 273, the report said.

Bank of America received an additional $20 billion in government aid on Friday, on top of a previous $25 billion, and a federal promise to absorb nearly $98 billion in soured mortgage-related securities. Citigroup is expected to get $50 billion.
This is enough for the average taxpayer to scream, "Hey federal government, what about me?" While you and I pay our taxes, and are presumably good citizens, the beneficiaries of our common wealth are avoiding their responsibility to do their part. How is that fair? It's not!

So instead of propping up the bottom line of corporations that are raping the public coffers after having dealt in greed and excess, the federal government should be putting more money into assisting the people.

And you should be outraged that they're not.

You can read a complete copy of the GAO report here

Congress considering two worker's rights bills

Two important bills affecting worker rights are coming before Congress: The H-1B and L-1 Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act and the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

The first gives U.S. workers a fair chance at jobs in the technology sector. The Bush administration's policy has been to allow companies to give preferential treatment to foreign information technology workers over U.S. citizens.

This policy has been described in the Department of Labor's Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2006-2011. It states:
...H-1B workers may be hired even when a qualified U.S. worker wants the job, and a U.S. worker can be displaced from the job in favor of the foreign worker.
These foreign workers are brought in under the H-1B visa program. Employers have been allowed to state they want H-1B foreign workers only in want ads, and to fire American workers so that H-1B workers can take their place.

This policy has not only hurt American workers, but also foreign workers, since the company often exercises control over the worker's visa, and can determine whether or not the person can stay in the country.

The H-1B worker also becomes dependent on his or her former employer for assistance with paperwork if he or she wants to find another job. Consequently, employers get a docile workforce that will not unionize or stand up for worker rights.

Last year, the Department of Labor uncovered systematic underpayment of wages to workers holding United States visas. Hilda Solis, the Secretary of Labor-designate, argued at her confirmation hearing that it should be federal policy to require employers to seek American talent first.

Many industry lobbyists say they need to hire foreign workers, because they can't find Americans to do the jobs. But that's not what the Urban Institute found:
According to the [Urban Institute] study, Americans and green card holders received 435,000 Bachelors, Masters, and PhD.'s in science, engineering and computer science yearly from 1985 to 2000. However, the economy could only produce 150,000 jobs annually for these graduates during the same period. That's a deficit of 280,000 jobs annually. High-tech employers couldn't produce enough jobs for 4.2 million STEM graduates, with two-thirds of these graduates never able to practice their craft. Separate studies by Harvard University, Duke University, the Rand Corp, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation also report an oversupply of STEM graduates.
The other bill, The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, is named after a woman who lost a pay discrimination lawsuit because the Supreme Court said she filed her legal challenge after the statue of limitations had expired.

Lily learned about her pay discrimination too late to file within the legal deadline, but that made no difference to the Court, which ruled her challenge was invalid because she didn't file suit within one hundred and eighty days of her first unfair paycheck.

Unless the law is changed, the Supreme Court's ruling will stand, meaning that any employer that could figure out a way to hide pay discrimination for six months would be able to get away with it, leaving workers with no legal recourse.

The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, first proposed in 2007, was cosponsored by President-elect Barack Obama and supported by Democrats, but opposed by Bush and the Republicans, who managed to block its passage in the 110th Congress.

The legislation declares that a violation occurs with every discriminatory paycheck. It would restore fairness and justice in the American workplace. It has just been passed by the House and is now before the Senate.

The Bush error has been a disaster for civil rights and America's working men and women. These two acts will help repair the damage.

Greater transparency at CIA would discourage risk-taking, Hayden claims

Surprise, surprise:
Outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden is going around town telling folks he has warned President-elect Barack Obama "personally and forcefully" that if Obama authorizes an investigation into controversial activities like water boarding, "no one in Langley will ever take a risk again."
Imagine, for a moment, what might happen if there was a public investigation into the Central Intelligence Agency's operations.

I wonder if that would mean people like the Secretary of State would no longer privately fret about the United States having a double standard...
After all we have said about elections, if the first time a Communist wins, the U.S. tries to prevent the constitutional process from coming into play we will look very bad.

(Nixon Secretary of State William Rogers)
I wonder if an investigation would mean the CIA and ambassadors supposedly representing us would no longer claim that recipients of U.S. military aid - like Colombia - have few human rights problems.
Declassified U.S. documents show that the CIA and former U.S. ambassadors were fully aware, as far back as 1990, that the military in Colombia -- the third largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel and Egypt -- were committing extrajudicial killings as part of "death squad tactics."


When the killings became more and more widespread, the armed forces themselves asked the paramilitaries to hide the remains, to keep the country’s homicide rate from soaring any further, paramilitaries who took part in a demobilisation process negotiated with the right-wing Uribe administration have confessed.
I wonder if that would mean the CIA would no longer distribute "Freedom Fighter's Manuals" with instructions for extortion, blackmail, torture, murder, and political assassination.

What is to stop a group of people indoctrinated from not having a conscience? If it takes "investigations" into their activities in order for them to start to fear the "risk" of public outrage, then the world will be better for it.

Circuit City liquidation will leave empty Big Box Marts all over the country

The impending shut down of Circuit City Stores profoundly illustrates one of the reasons why municipalities across the United States need to stop allowing the construction of endless superstores: When a big chain fails, it leaves behind massive buildings and parking lots that are hard to fill.
The Circuit City move will also hurt the nation's malls, which have suffered from the rise in vacancies as other chains have liquidated. But analysts say that the demise of Circuit City, whose stores range in size from 20,000 to 25,000 square feet, will hurt the fortunes of mall operators even more.

"It will bring to market a glut of big box spaces across the country," said John Bemis, head of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.'s retail leasing team. "It will have one of the largest impacts on big box real estate across the country."
It's one thing to build warehouse clubs with sparse furnishings that are more easily converted to other industrial uses (which is Costco's practice).

It is another to build stores with entrances that look like plugs and an interior that is designed only for retail use. America would be better off with fewer big box marts and fewer giant retail chains.

That said, it's never a good thing when thirty thousand people lose their jobs. This is a sad ending for Circuit City Stores and bad economic news too. Every day, we keep hearing about more layoffs and closures. Our economy is still sliding. We desperately need our government to act and get this situation turned around.

Federal Way students can't watch Obama's inauguration without parental permission

Via KING5, here's another stupid "administrative policy" from the school district that decided Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth shouldn't be shown in school:
Millions of people will be glued to the TV next week when President-elect Barack Obama takes his oath of office. But in Federal Way, students will need to get permission from their parents to watch the historical inauguration in school.

“I think that's a little overkill,” said parent Pam Ditzhazy. “Maybe it should even been required to see it. It's a huge event.”

Federal way principals received an e-mail notifying them of the rule.
Coming Soon to Washington, D.C.: The Inauguration of Barack Obama, Forty Fourth President of the United States, First African American to be Elected President. This event has been rated "R" by the MPAA for... betraying conservative values.

This decision is so ridiculous that it can't be boneheaded. But all the same, the district has tried to come up with an excuse to justify the policy:
The concern is that the televised inauguration was not listed in syllabus handed out at the beginning of the term. The district considers the inauguration a full length documentary, unlike some newspaper or internet reference articles which do not require pre-approval.
The televised inauguration of America's next president is not a feature film. It's a current event, one that everyone who has the opportunity to witness should watch. Our next Commander in Chief is going to speak to our future. Young people, especially, should hear his message.

KING5 asked school officials in Tacoma and Seattle if students there needed parental permission to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama. The answer? Of course not.

If you'd like to (politely) tell Federal Way's Superintendent to stop this nonsense, you'll find his contact information at the bottom of his official biography page.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hey, Bush! Leave those kids alone

In the last policy address of his presidency, George W. Bush reiterated his support of No Child Left a Brain. Bush also gave his first policy address about education back in 2001 in the early days following his ascent to power. He apparently misunderestimated the situation. He's correct that our schools need to be improved. But the fixes he tried to introduce were all wrong.

We know the right wing agenda has failed America's students.

Many conservatives and business executives want more standardized testing and a diversion of funding away from public schools to private ones. We believe that education should be about learning to love learning and to critically think. But we both know that the current system is not working.

So, how is it that we have someone who had a 2.5 grade point average lecture America about education? I will have to defer to Bush on that:
We saw a culture of low expectations. You know what happens when you have low expectations? You get lousy results. And when you get lousy results, you have people who say, there's no future for me in this country.
Luckily we know there is a future for this country with Barack Obama as president and Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education.

Young people voted for this new president in record numbers. They voted for him in part because they believe in public education. When we have a country where students are educated to think instead of follow orders, we know that there will always be a future for America. Unfortunately, the No Child Left a Brain Act leaves no room for critical thinking, just tests and more tests.

In Advanced Placement World History (a high school course that offers college credit), students get a chapter to review as a class and I chose the chapter about American expansionism. The most interesting subject for me was the founding of Canada because Canada is currently going through a political crisis.

It is very relevant to the class and to current events (See the Daily Show's take). My teacher told me that I couldn’t do that because I needed to instead review the whole chapter instead of a more in-depth topic.

I asked her why and she said that the founding of Canada will not be on the test, but that Simon Bolivar will be. With all respect to Simon Bolivar, I don’t want to gloss over his accomplishments; instead I want to focus on something that matters right now and is more interesting to me.

Curriculum nowadays is designed around test preparation. That's evident in Dubya's narrow minded thinking about the matter:
And for those who claim we're teaching the test, uh-uh. We're teaching a child to read so he or she can pass the test.
No, we need to teach students to read so that they can contribute to society. We need to teach reading so that students are able to think critically and sustain our democracy. I don’t care what is on the test, I care about what is happening outside the classroom. In the real world, tests don't look like the WASL or the SAT. They're common, everyday challenges that have to be overcome.

That's what teachers should be helping students get ready for.

We believe in a school system that provides each and every student with the resources they need to learn and succeed. That is the future we strive for, Mr. Bush. A future where the government provides an equal education for all.

We call upon President-elect Obama and Secretary of Education designate Arne Duncan to reform our schools to restore progress towards this future. Nothing less than America's survival as a democracy is at stake.

Israel attacks United Nations' Gaza HQ

Oops, sorry about that:
Israel shelled the United Nations headquarters in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, engulfing the compound and a warehouse in fire and destroying thousands of pounds of food and humanitarian supplies intended for Palestinian refugees.

Another Israeli bombardment on Thursday killed the Hamas security chief.

U.N. workers and Palestinian firefighters, some wearing bulletproof jackets, struggled to douse the flames and pull bags of food from the debris after the Israeli attack, which was another blow to efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Dense smoke billowed from the compound.
Israel has also either accidentally or purposefully shelled buildings housing journalists who are reporting on the conflict. It seems like Israeli forces are out of control in the Holy Land. "Grave mistakes" like this are inexcusable. There's no justification for opening fire on United Nations facilities. None. Ever.

Is the United States going to do anything to insist on an end to this violence? Or will we continue writing blank checks to Israel, assuring the Israeli government that they can do whatever they want with our tacit approval?

We can't be peacemakers if we're taking sides.

Thomas Jefferson has been there

You can’t listen to Thom Hartmann without having your horizons widened. Yesterday, during a brief period in the car I caught ten minutes of Thom's Air America radio talk show on which he read a quote from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson. The relevancy of the piece was pretty obvious to me in this giddily hopeful Bush-Obama transition period.

Here’s the section of the letter Thom read, written by Vice-president Thomas Jefferson to Senator John Taylor of Virginia in 1798, during the time that Congress was deliberating the Alien and Sedition Acts:
…A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to it's true principles. It is true that in the mean time we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war & long oppressions of enormous public debt…If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake.
Jefferson was opining on what he considered gross overreaches by the opposing political party, the Federalists, and he yearned to reduce their grip on power. Luckily, he only had two years to wait until his own election as president in 1800 for this to occur.

Americans have only five days left before the current “reign of witches” passes over and flies shrieking off into history, and there are positive signs that our government is already regaining the “principles it has lost.”

It took a lot more than patience though to make it happen. Thom Hartmann played a role as did thousands of dedicated Americans who joined a political campaign for the very first time. Let’s celebrate our success and the return of American principles.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

EPA to use best available science again

It's official: the Environmental Protection Agency is going to start using the best available science as the basis for its decisions again.
Lisa Jackson, President-elect Barack Obama's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, pledged Wednesday that decisions at the agency will be based on science and the law and not politics.

Jackson's opening statement at her Senate confirmation hearing was the clearest signal yet that the Obama administration plans to take the agency in a different direction. The Bush administration at times ignored the advice of scientific experts on decisions ranging from global warming to air pollution.

"Science must be the backbone of what EPA does," said Jackson. "EPA's addressing of scientific decisions should reflect the expert judgment of the agency's career scientists."
This is good news amidst the drudgery of the economic crisis. Let's hope that the new administration makes good on Obama's promise to combine the goals of economic recovery and environmental protection into a single, paramount objective. The EPA will have a critical role to play in the years ahead. It's heartening to see capable hands at the helm again after eight years of regress.

At the Governor's Ball

The official party celebrating the arrival of Washington State's elected leadership is just getting started here at the Legislative Building in Olympia.

Here is a snapshot from inside the rotunda.

View of the rotunda at the Inaugural Ball

House votes in favor of CHIP expansion

Earlier today the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, which has cruelly been vetoed twice by outgoing President George W. Bush.

The House vote was 289 to 139. Supporters never mustered more than 273 votes for similar legislation in the last two years.

The bill, which would extend coverage to four million uninsured children, symbolizes the shift in priorities in Washington. The vote came five days after the House, defying a veto threat from Mr. Bush, passed two bills to combat sex discrimination by employers who pay women less than men doing the same or substantially similar work.

The child health bill would provide $32.3 billion over four and a half years to continue coverage for seven million children who now rely on the program and to extend coverage to more than four million who are uninsured.
The Senate is expected to take up the bill soon and pass it, making it one of the first bills that President Obama will sign into law. Now that's change we can believe in.

Quality health care is not a privilege that should only be afforded to those with the means to pay for it. Rather, it is a right that should be guaranteed to all Americans, regardless of economic means. That innocent children have been victims of a heartless policy position by the current administration is unconscionable.

Thankfully, those days are just about over.

UPDATE: You can find the roll call vote here.

For the Washington delegation, Republicans Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers were the only no votes. All of the Democrats and Congressman Dave Reichert voted yes.

Welcome Commissioner Goldmark

Welcome Commissioner Goldmark!

That's what a blue sign hanging in the foyer of the Natural Resources Building in Olympia proclaimed today as Peter Goldmark took office as Washington State's thirteenth Commissioner of Public Lands. Goldmark succeeds Republican Doug Sutherland, who held the post for eight years.

The blue sign served as the backdrop to an inaugural reception held in Goldmark's honor, marking the end of Peter's transition to power.

It was evident just walking around DNR's headquarters that the Sutherland era is over, but the change is also noticeable on DNR's website.

The big picture of Sutherland on the front page has been replaced by a nice photo of Commissioner Goldmark. See for yourself:

Screenshot of DNR website showing Goldmark photo

Goldmark announced last Friday that he has decided to promote Forest Practices Division Manager Lenny Young to serve as the Supervisor of the Department of Natural Resources. (The Supervisor directs the day to day operations at DNR).

Goldmark said of his second in command to be:
Lenny brings experience, strong ethics and a commitment to public service that will help him be successful in this very important position. His science background and can-do attitude will serve DNR and the people of Washington very well.
Young, for his part, seems ready to take on the job:
I’m honored to have been selected by Commissioner-elect Goldmark to help implement his vision of sustainability and economic opportunity. I look forward to working with my colleagues in this new capacity.
NPI extends its congratulations to Peter and Lenny on their new responsibilities. It will be rewarding to watch both of them in action.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Apologies in advance for treading into a topic which almost invariably provokes vitriol from all sides. While I do hope people add their thoughts in the comments, for what it's worth let me ask that we all try to keep them civil and focused on the underlying issues. Leave name-calling and so forth for elsewhere.

Here's the thing. On a fundamental level, down below the latest human tragedies that fill our headlines, be they Israeli tragedies or Palestinian tragedies, down underneath all of that I just don't get what the Israelis and Palestinians are fighting about.

I'm not going to get into who's right, and who's wrong. I think neither side has any right to claim the moral high ground anymore. I am just hoping, in sincere terms, that someone here can help me understand.

Let me explain. So as far as I've been able to learn on my own, the basic issue is over who gets to control various pieces of territory in and around Israel, including the Gaza strip and some distributed chunks of the West Bank (Wikipedia, as always, has a pretty good map of the affected areas at their main Israeli-Palestinian Conflict page.)

After the 1993 Oslo accords, Israel agreed to cede control of these territories to the Palestinians in a phased manner, in exchange for peace. Sounds reasonable to me. But then it all fell apart because in the end nobody could agree about who gets to control Jerusalem. In 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, it all went to hell, and here we are over fifteen years after the Oslo accords and they're still killing each other.

This is the part I don't understand. I mean, I get it that Jerusalem is an enormously symbolic place. When you add up the people in all the religions that have a historical and religious tie to Jerusalem, you see that it is pretty much the top dog of holy cities of humanity.

So both sides want it. I get that. What I don't understand is the tradeoff that seems to be continually taking place in the region.

On the one hand, you have the possibility of peace. Of stability. Of the ability to live a life without fear of sudden death from the skies or getting blown up at the supermarket. A life of watching your children grow up without starvation and/or PTSD.

On the other hand, you have control over a symbolic city.

Those two just don't have equivalent worth in my head. To me this choice is a no-brainer. I cannot fathom how this choice could ever be so difficult. I don't understand how controlling Jerusalem is so important--to either side--that it's worth the cost. That it is worth the lives of their children, their mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. But especially, their children.

Growing up, my parents taught me, both through words and actions, that parents will pretty much do anything to protect their children. They taught me that this was a basic human truth that crossed all lines of race, creed, color, religion, and geography. I believed them on an intellectual level, then. Now that I am older and have kids of my own, I understand in my gut what they were talking about.

So when the Israelis intentionally make it so damn difficult for food, medicine, and supplies to get into the Gaza Strip, knowing full well that all this will do is cause suffering and anger within the Palestinian population there, I don't get it. They know, they have to know, that the result will, eventually, be that Hamas or even just some random angry Palestinian is going to fire rockets into Israel, and somewhere, a mother will weep. A father will cry out in anguish. The casket maker will buy a new car. And an orphaned child will go to live with relatives.

And when the Palestinians smuggle weapons in from Egypt with which to express their fury and frustration at being caged like animals in Gaza, knowing full well the military reaction they will bring down upon themselves from Israel, I don't get it. I mean, I get their frustration. I understand their rage over their situation. But they know, they have to know, that the inevitable result of lashing out at Israel is a rain of unholy hell from the Israeli air force, and all over Gaza, mothers will weep. Fathers will cry out in anguish. The casket maker will buy a new car. And orphaned children will go to live with relatives.

How is it worth it? This, I do not understand. How is any argument over any piece of land anywhere on earth ever worth the lives of so many children? How is it ever worth this unending cycle of violence?

It doesn't fit with my understanding of the love human beings are supposed to have for their children. Am I to believe that the Israelis and the Palestinians love their children less than I love mine? No. It is inconceivable. So how, then, can I reconcile choice by both sides to have war and death when they could choose peace and life?

This, I do not understand.

Can someone--anyone--explain it to me?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tunnel to replace viaduct after all?

After years of wrangling over the Alaskan Way Viaduct, our elected leaders have finally reached an accord on what to replace it with:
Gov. Chris Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and Port of Seattle Chief Executive Officer Tay Yoshitani Tuesday formally announced their agreement to replace the highway along Seattle's central waterfront with a deep bored tunnel under downtown Seattle.

The pact stems from a year-long study of solutions for replacing the central section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Officials said thousands of hours of technical analysis, public meetings, and letters and e-mails from the public, interest groups and local jurisdictions were considered in the decision.
The idea of a tunnel has been declared dead so many times (and then revived) that this morning's announcement is comical, in a way. Given how controversial the project is, we can hardly consider this deal to be final (hence the question mark in this post's title), but it certainly is remarkable to see such a consensus between the state, city, county, and port on this project.

To be fair, this is not the same cut and cover tunnel that had originally been proposed under Alaskan Way, which was overwhelmingly rejected by Seattle voters in a March 2007 "advisory" vote. This proposal calls for a deep bored tunnel dug under downtown, running under 1st Avenue for 1.7 miles. We're happy with this proposal if - and this is a big if - we can find the money to pay for it.

Otherwise, we need to be looking at surface+transit.

$4.2 billion is a hefty price tag. But a tunnel would be a good investment.

It would preserve arterial speed on Highway 99, open up Seattle's waterfront, and move traffic underground, significantly reducing noise and pollution.

A tunnel would also be very safe.
Contary to what you might think, structural engineers agree that tunnels are one of the safest places to be during an earthquake because the tunnel moves with the earth. Tunnels are inherently strong – for example, no Seattle area tunnels were damaged during the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. These include the I-90 tunnels (Mt. Baker and Mercer Island), Battery Street Tunnel, 3rd Avenue Bus Tunnel and the Burlington Northern Tunnel.
It's bridges and viaducts that are unsafe places to be during an earthquake. Not tunnels. Tunnels are engineered to be safe.

The likelihood of a strong earthquake shaking Seattle sometime over the next few decades is very good. It makes sense to construct a structure that's going to be able to withstand that quake and remain intact.

Tunnels in San Francisco and Los Angeles served as vital lifelines in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta and Northridge earthquakes years ago. A tunnel under 1st Avenue South in Seattle could be a vital emergency arterial through the city in case of disaster. We have the Downtown Transit Tunnel but it's not as long and it would be harder for emergency vehicles to access.

The deal that our elected leaders have worked out now likely hinges on the state's ability to get federal money for the project. If Congress will agree to provide, say, a billion dollars or so for the tunnel, then the project could move forward. If federal money isn't forthcoming, this deal may have to be scrapped.

In that case, the city, state, county, and port will simply have to figure out how to make a surface only option work, because we can't have an aerial structure along the waterfront. There are obvious advantages to having a tunnel for thru traffic, but we can't bankrupt ourselves trying to fund the construction of one megaproject. We already have a serious revenue shortfall problem.

No, Atlas Shrugged is still fiction

Yesterday, a friend e-mailed me a link to a Wall Street Journal article, 'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years, and asked me what I thought about it. I read the article and started to reply to the e-mail, but decided to blog about it instead because there was a lot to say.

The first thing you have to remember is that, despite the mask it wears of being a respected journalistic entity - and by implication, objective - the Journal's editorials consistently slant far to the political right.

The article attempts to paint a picture of the current economic bailout package as the very worst sort of government excess that Ayn Rand warned about in her classic novel Atlas Shrugged. The article also not-so-subtly attempts to pin parts of this on Obama in a way that (because Rand was writing from her experiences having lived in Soviet Russia)attempts tar him with the communist brush.

It's ludicrous, but transparently so, so I won't worry about that too much. Anyway, the WSJ jumped a lot of sharks last year with their election coverage and editorials so I suppose we shouldn't be surprised.

The article also criticizes the bailout package for being redistributionist. It boggles the mind that the WSJ can do this with a straight face.

The very deregulatory practices that a) that the WSJ cheered from the sidelines, and b) led to the financial crisis which triggered the bailout, are themselves responsible for the biggest redistribution of wealth in American history: a transfer of ungodly sums from the middle and lower income families to the wealthy.

Those who wish to criticize redistribution should start by observing that while productivity and GDP growth have increased at a remarkably steady rate since World War II, wage growth has remained essentially flat since sometime in the early 1980s. Which is to say that about thirty years ago, corporations stopped sharing the increased profits from increases in worker productivity with the workers who are themselves responsible for generating those profits.

I have a word for that, but I can't print it in a family blog. I guess redistribution only bothers the Wall Street Journal when the money isn't going to those who already have more than they'll ever need.

The article goes on to whine about the bailout package in the context of the projected 2009 federal budget deficit and the cumulative federal debt amassed in the Bush years. Funny.

I don't remember the Wall Street Journal decrying Bush's fiscal policy during the height of the Bush error, even when it became clear it wasn't working.

Where were the scathing editorials criticizing the cost of the Iraq occupation? Where were the scathing editorials criticizing the veritable blizzard of no-bid contracts awarded to Halliburton and so many other corporations with deep cronyistic ties to the administration?

(Contracts, I might add, which have proven to be over-inflated and under-administered. That is, we spent too much for contracts that have been poorly executed in the obscuring fog of non-existent federal oversight).

Yes, we're spending a lot of money to help out Wall Street. Yes, we have a huge federal debt. Neither of those things are good in and of themselves. But we are also facing the very real possibility of falling into a depression if meaningful steps aren't taken to address the financial system's breakdown.

And if the previous Great Depression taught us anything, it is that when your choice is more debt or economic disaster, you engage in deficit spending to stimulate the economy and you worry about the budget later.

It's a rock-and-a-hard-place decision, but I for one am glad that meaningful steps are being taken. (They're not perfect, and frankly, I'd have spent the money differently were I in Paulson's shoes, but they're better than nothing.)

Rand's central thesis in Atlas Shrugged, that government intervention inevitably begets a vicious downward cycle of stifling innovation and growth, was certainly applicable to Soviet Russia from which she hailed.

But that economic system was radically different in its fundamental organization than the (admittedly flawed) capitalist system we have here.

In Rand's vision, the government has all the power and uses it poorly, while the private sector may only bend over and take it.

Anyone who looks at the American economy today and claims that the government has all the power is, frankly, a fool. Corporations are presently at a zenith of power not seen since the British East India Company amassed the influence to dictate its wants to the British Government, which dispatched its navy and re-wrote its laws to the company's pleasure.

The central example in Atlas Shrugged is a railroad owner who dreams to build a dominant, nation-spanning rail network. One boxcar to rule them all.

In the book, this brave and visionary entrepreneur is taxed and regulated into oblivion. True, forcing a business into bankruptcy through over-taxation and over-regulation is rarely good for anyone.

What Rand fails to address is the risk inherent in letting her protagonist, Dagny Taggart, succeed in her quest. So let's play out this thought experiment - hey, if the Wall Street Journal can get away with criticizing the Wall Street handout based on a published work of the imagination, then surely I can criticize their article based on some plausible imagination of my own.

Let's say Taggart does achieve her dream, and not a parcel or packages moves from point A to point B without her say-so and to her profit.

Where does Taggart stop? At the nation's borders? Why should she, when there's good money to be made in Canada and Mexico? Why stop there?

Why not run rails down to Tierra del Fuego and buy up the rail infrastructure in Europe? Expand, expand, expand! Raise that bottom line!

The risk, of course, is that Taggart will over-extend, over-reach. Try to grow too far, too fast, too big. It's a risky move, for if anything goes wrong, the whole leveraged house of cards can collapse.

Let's say, for the sake of our thought experiment, that a disaster at a major coal mine reduces coal supplies and drives up Taggart's fuel prices.

She raises her freight fees to compensate - gotta maintain that profit margin! - and inadvertently triggers a slowdown in shipping. Which slows down the economy and slows down the demand for Taggart's rail lines.

The rail system (which, in Rand's philosophy, should have been allowed to monopolize the nation's shipping infrastructure), goes under, taking the whole of the economy with it. When you grow or attempt to grow too big, you can become vulnerable to being de-stabilized by any unexpected event that affects your business.

Except now, in this version of the story, Taggart's railroad has become "too big to fail". Taggart knows it, and the politicians know it.

So Taggart will turn to the only source of money available - the government - for a bailout. Hat in hand, Taggart will say "So sorry. I messed up. But you can't let the people suffer for my mistake! Fill my hat with gold or the nation will endure such misery as you cannot comprehend."

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand offers us a straw man vision of government regulation that kills all, and argues that the polar opposite extreme - no regulation at whatsoever - must be the way to go. No wonder the Wall Street Journal digs this book.

But it's a false choice.

There is a middle ground, and we have seen some hints of it in the wake of the financial meltdown. Ironically, the Wall Street Journal article itself hints at them in the article's one spot of salience:
The current economic strategy is right out of "Atlas Shrugged": The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you.
There is a certain bilesome measure of truth, there. It is galling to witness billions going to those Wall Street firms, the ones who are "too big to fail," precisely because they screwed up royally.

Like I said, I'd have spent the money differently than Paulson.

But lost in the WSJ's criticism is the observation that if a corporation is "too big to fail," then like Taggart's railroad in our imaginary version of Atlas Shrugged, it is also too big to exist.

That it should never have been allowed to grow that large in the first place, because the risk to society should it fail is too great.

And again, it is the deregulatory actions begun in the Reagan years (Hmm. Right about when American workers stopped getting their fair share. Coincidence?) and culminated in the early 2000s (See NPI's The Man who Broke the Economy) which enabled those Wall Street firms to become "too big to fail" in the first place.

And again, where was the WSJ's criticism then? Their criticisms of the bailout package ring hollow knowing that there weren't any, or that if there were, they were solitary voices speaking in a wilderness of deregulatory glee.

No doubt Ayn Rand would scream in frustration at my argument that those corporations literally should not have been allowed to get that big.

She would certainly decry it as regulation against innovation. As the worst sort of big government meddling. Yet, those very regulations, from Glass-Steagall onward, were born of the last really big financial crisis: the Great Depression.

It was the regulations, federal programs, and fiscal policies put into place in the wake of the market crash of 1928 which led to the rise of the middle class and a series of wildly successful decades through the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, in which U.S. productivity shot through the roof and the economy grew by leaps and bounds. It is also hugely ironic to note that Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, smack in the middle of this boom period.

(Side note: recently, Daily Kos ran an excellent series detailing the macro-economics of the Great Depression, written in layman's terms with graphs thatare easy to understand. It is well worth reading: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Rand shows us a false choice between two extremes, and demands that we choose one of them. But as usual, the world is considerably more complex than that and the best answer lies somewhere in between, at a place where government regulation can curb the worst excesses of corporate greed while at the same time providing an economic framework in which innovation can take place. We know this is possible. We've seen it happen in the post-World War II boom.

Sometimes, regulation is good.

Sometimes, regulation is necessary.

Sometimes, government does use its power wisely.

And sometimes, corporate interests driven by an underlying motive of greed push less than scrupulous politicians to re-write the laws and repeal the regulations, leading to the sort of crisis we are witnessing today.

Yes, that part of Rand's central message is true: politicians do respond to crises. But when such a crisis has been brought on by the worst excesses of brazen, venal greed, by those who do place their own bottom lines above any larger interests of the world, the nation, or their fellow man, then I say good.

Let the government intervene. Let the only player on the stage who has the power to change things and doesn't answer to a profit-driven board of directors, act. Let the politicians hear the frustrated and enraged screams of their constituents, and let them act in our interest for a change.

The government is the only entity that can act to undo what greed has wrought. We all know the corporations won't do it on their own.

Inauguration coverage

This morning, I'm pleased to announce that the Northwest Progressive Institute will be offering live coverage of the inauguration of President Barack Obama in exactly one week. I will be on the scene in Washington, D.C. for the swearing in, blogging intermittently from my BlackBerry.

I can't guarantee smooth and uninterrupted updates, because I have a feeling every wireless network is going to be overwhelmed during the event. There will be millions of people jammed into the center of the city.

Nevertheless, I'll try my best to report what I'm seeing, hearing, and experiencing. I have a ticket to the inauguration, so my vantage point shouldn't be too bad, either. I'll set up a temporary email address this weekend for readers to submit questions about the inauguration. Hopefully, if all goes well, I'll be able to respond in real time next week here on The Advocate.

Stay tuned for additional updates over the next few days!

Monday, January 12, 2009

On looking forward

By now, most of you are probably familiar with the Change.Gov "Open for Questions" system, where we can all sign up to submit questions to the Obama team and vote on the worthiness of questions submitted by others.

In many ways, it's a beautiful system and if nothing else it is a great experiment in 21st-century style direct democracy. So far, two rounds of question submission and voting have been conducted. Round 2 closed recently, after garnering 76,031 questions from 103,512 people, who collectively cast 4,713,083 votes. Let's hope they keep doing this.

But on to some actual results. To no one's real surprise, the top question was about investigating the torture and warrantless wiretapping to determine who, if anyone, broke any laws and to prosecute them if they did.

Yesterday, on ABC's "This Week" program, George Stephanopoulos asked for Mr. Obama's answer:

STEPHANOPOULOS: The most popular question on your own website is related to this. On it comes from Bob Fertik of New York City and he asks, “Will you appoint a special prosecutor ideally Patrick Fitzgerald to independently investigate the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.”

OBAMA: We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. And part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering [up].

Mr. President-elect, a simple "Yes" would have sufficed.

Sir, I am not satisfied with that answer. First of all, raising the spectre that CIA operatives would be too worried about going to jail to do their jobs is a straw-man argument. CIA operatives who do their jobs right (that is, within the bounds of the law) have nothing to worry about. The ones who don't, well, I'm not really going to lose any sleep about their potential legal troubles.

But more importantly, investigating crimes that may have taken place and prosecuting the offenders is a very forward-looking thing to do, and you know it. You're a legal and constitutional scholar of the highest order, so I know you're as aware as anyone of the power--and the danger inherent in that power--of setting precedent. Either directly, by taking new actions, or indirectly by tacitly consenting to the prior actions of others. The Bush administration set these precedents by acting directly. But they will not have succeeded unless you give your tacit consent.

All that is required for evil to triumph, Mr. Obama, is for good men to do nothing. If you do nothing, now, about the terrible precedent that torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo (which we know took place), or about the warrantless wiretapping program (knowledge of which, again, is now part of the public record), then you sir are culpable of letting that precedent become established. Of letting two noxious and invasive weeds set their roots deep between the flagstones of our democracy.

Investigating and prosecuting is forward looking. It protects the future. It is what is necessary, both at home and abroad, to demonstrate that although America is as imperfect as any other collection of fallible human beings, that we do police ourselves and in the end we do live up to the values of decency and respect for others that we claim to espouse.

We claim to be a nation of laws, Mr. President-elect. If we do not investigate transgressions of those laws and prosecute those who break them, then the rule of law is meaningless. We claim to be a nation of equal justice for all, but how can that be true when there are no consequences for those who were responsible for the torture of other human beings or for the violation of the 4th amendment rights of thousands of law-abiding Americans? We teach our children in grade school that no one is above the law, so how will we explain to them when our children ask why these things were allowed to happen and why no one was punished for them?

Our rule of law is the foundation of our society. Repairing the cracks in that foundation is among the most forward-looking things you will have the opportunity to do during your tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. I know it won't be fun. I know it won't be easy. I know there are those who will cry, in shrill and derisive voices, that it is nothing more than politically-motivated retribution. But you know better. And I know better. And the millions of people who voted for you, as well as the millions who voted for justice on Change.Gov, know it.

You can wrap indifference in a cloak of fine words, telling us to ignore the past and look to the future. But sir, the future is shaped by the past. You cannot tend to one while ignoring the other.

Big Challenges face lawmakers returning to Olympia

Washington lawmakers are sharpening their pencils and their battleaxes today as they descend upon Olympia for the start of a most likely heated 2009 legislative session. During the 105-day period legislators must figure out a way to maintain necessary state services and create new jobs, while not raising taxes. With a $5.7 billion projected budget deficit, something will have to give.

On the table right now is Governor Gregoire’s proposed budget which makes drastic cuts to health and social services, education and state employee salaries. Sadly enough, the governor has received the most praise for the budget that she calls “ugly” from Republicans. They are relishing this opportunity to decrease the size of state government and to push for less regulation.

If lawmakers want to create jobs the best method they have is by investing in people and infrastructure. Unfortunately, many of the cuts planned by the governor will have the opposite effect, and the state will probably decrease its own payroll by up to 2,600 workers over the next two years. Gregoire and many lawmakers are banking on a share of Obama’s stimulus plan to fund state infrastructure improvements. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown would like to see this money go to transportation projects like roads and bridges, and technology improvements like electronic medical records and improved broadband access to rural communities.

Only spending cuts have been officially proposed so far, but what other revenue options are available to the legislature?

Taking on more debt won’t be an option, even though, contrary to popular belief, Washington isn’t required to pass a balanced budget. The governor is required to submit a balanced budget (as she did) but the legislature doesn’t have to approve one. Despite this fact, most lawmakers will agree that taking on debt to pay for daily operations isn’t good fiscal policy and the final budget will probably be balanced.

Gregoire ran her 2008 campaign on her pledge of no new taxes and she seems prepared to stick to that, but that doesn’t mean that the legislature will. In fact, Democrats are mumbling about a variety of ways that they can raise a little more cash, from a temporary increase in the state sales tax to a tax on services from doctors and lawyers. Some Democratic voters would like to see some legislative chutzpah on a state income tax, a more progressive and steady source of income than Washington’s tax current system contains. Unfortunately, it will take an enormous grassroots effort to make any progress on that front.

A great option that Gregoire has been heard to reject but that NPI advocates is to eliminate state tax loopholes and exemptions that have overstayed their welcome. From The Olympian:
The budget policy center [the Washington State Budget and Policy Center] wants lawmakers to take a close look at eliminating some of the 100 tax breaks passed by the Legislature between 1995 and 2007. Combined, they will cost the state $1.6 billion in the 2009-11 budget period, the center says.
Eliminating these loopholes one hundred percent would cover over a quarter of the projected $5.7 billion deficit. It is certainly worth serious consideration.

It will be March before we know what sort of revenue options the legislature will try. By that time we will know how much federal stimulus money we will get and the latest state budget forecast will be out. Until then, let the games begin!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review: Free Writer surpasses Microsoft Word under the hood

These days, whether for work, home, or school, most people in America use a computer for word processing.

The era of the typewriter ended long ago, and typing speed is considered by many people to be more important than good penmanship.

For over a decade, the king of word processing has been Microsoft Word, perhaps the most well known and widely used component of Microsoft Office.

Microsoft Word is everywhere: on library workstations, on school/college machines, and in workplaces large and small. New computers built by major manufacturers like Dell or Hewlett Packard (HP) often come bundled with Microsoft Works Suite, a cheaper version of Office that includes Word.

Most installations of Word can be found on machines running Windows, but the software is also available for Mac. (Word is not offered for Linux, though it is possible to install and run it on Linux using Wine).

Like millions of other users, I have the latest version of Microsoft Office running on my computer, and while I like the interface, I've become more and more dissatisfied with Word's performance.

This weekend, I was preparing a thank-you card to send to a friend who has long been a source of inspiration and strength for myself and the rest of the Northwest Progressive Institute team.

The card, which I created in Word, included several lines of text on the front, plus a photograph taken by an NPI staff member and a high resolution SVG I had illustrated in Inkscape and exported to PNG.

When I printed the document, I was annoyed to see that the photograph was fuzzy and the lines on the graphics rough.

I knew that Word's image compression must be to blame, because I can get sharp and beautiful photo prints using Adobe software.

I could have sent the card anyway, but it just wasn't crisp enough for me.

I exported the document to portable document format using Microsoft's Save As PDF Add-In for Office. Then I tried to print it from Adobe Reader to see if the quality would be any better. The graphic came out more smoothly, but predictably, the photograph looked even worse.

Frustrated, I wondered how another word processor would compare to Microsoft's. So I fired up's Writer and recreated my thank-you card there. is a free suite of productivity tools developed by Sun Microsystems with assistance from the open source community. can be installed on all major operating systems, including Linux, Mac, and Windows, but also FreeBSD, Irix, and Sun's own Solaris. It's truly multiplatform.

OpenOffice's user interface is not as sleek as Microsoft Word's. From my perspective, Word 2007's intuitive ribbon and glitzy appearance take first prize in the design category, but that's almost where the superiority ends. When it comes to performance and quality, beats Word, hands down.

My first test of OpenOffice was printing that thank-you card. I ran it off, unsure of what to expect. When I picked it up from the printer tray, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did the photograph on my card look much better, but the graphic did, too. (The text looked identical to the Word printout).

Pleased, I authored a handwritten note on my card, put it inside an envelope, stamped it, and set it aside to be mailed.

Next, I wondered how would fare against Microsoft's Save As PDF Add-In. I often need to export documents to PDF, and I've noticed that Word tends to produce PDFs that are considerably large in size.

So I created a two page document as a test. The first page was a fake memo with several paragraphs of Wall Street gibberish (corporate mumbo jumbo) generated using David Powers' fabulous Lorum Ipsum extension.

The second page contained a table. The table shows the outcome of Washington gubernatorial races from 1998-2008. It lists the year, Democratic candidate, and the Republican opponent who was defeated.

The PDF produced by Word was about 196 kilobytes in size. The PDF produced by Writer was about 45 kilobytes in size.

Not only was the Writer PDF four times more compact, but it correctly exported the table on the second page, whereas Word somehow messed up the table borders. (The border widths in the PDF produced by Word are not all the same, but they're supposed to be. The PDF produced by Writer has a flawless table).

Compared to Word, Writer also seems to use slightly less memory. Since I started comparing Writer and Word, I've pulled up Task Manager in Windows to check memory use at regular intervals. For example, while I was writing this post, Winword.exe clocked in at around 104,500 K, while soffice.bin (Writer) clocked in at 99,100 K. Each processor had the same three documents open simaltaneously.

How does Writer compare to Word with other features that I often use? Pretty well. I found that creating documents for Avery label templates was a snap, and Writer's mail merge was easy to use. Writer doesn't yet have as many built in wizards for document types as Word does, but there are a few basics available - letters, faxes, and agendas, for example. Writer also lacks Word 2007's SmartArt, but drawings and graphics can be easily inserted from other programs.

I use bullets and numbering frequently in my documents, and I've long had trouble changing my lists in Word. The 2007 version improved Word's handling of lists, but Writer gives me absolutely no trouble when I want to make changes. Writer's autocorrect functionality is also far less intrusive and annoying than Word's.

What about crash recovery? I purposely terminated to see what would happen to a document if the program was suddenly shut down. To my delight, all the data I had entered was promptly recovered when I restarted Writer.

Perhaps the best thing about Writer, though, is that it doesn't default to proprietary file formats. Documents are saved in .ODF (Open Document Format). ODF files can be opened with online collaboration tools like Google Docs or Zoho, as well as the latest version of Corel WordPerfect and IBM Lotus Symphony. (Symphony is based in part on

Microsoft has announced it will add ODF support to Office 2007 in the first half of this year with Office Service Pack 2. When that occurs, Word 2007 users will be able to save and open ODF files and even make ODF the default file format.

Saving in ODF is a really good idea because it allows for ultimate portability. An ODF file can be opened by different word processors on any major operating system, whereas support for proprietary Microsoft formats is more limited.

Just a few months ago, however, Microsoft succeeding in getting the Office 2007 file formats approved as an open standard. Naturally, Microsoft would prefer that its own file format be the dominant worldwide standard, as opposed to ODF, which is vendor neutral, but that doesn't mean we all have to do what Microsoft wants.

As Edward Macnaghten explains:
Standards exist for interoperability, and office document format standards should not be different. The goal is that someone in country A working for company B using product C can interchange documents with someone in country D working for company E using product D without any thought as to what precisely A, B, C, D, E or any other letter actually is. It simply works. There is no need to worry if any single vendor would continue in the office suite business or not, as any other vendor could be used.

ODF was created using existing standards with this interoperability in mind, using long public consultation and design periods to achieve this. The benefits of this are evident when examining the resulting formats themselves.

It has been implemented by a large number of office products and the list is growing.

OOXML was designed by a single vendor, Microsoft, with no extensive public consultation or design input. It was largely designed to co-exist with their legacy formats using their own products.
Interoperability and standards are a key part of NPI's position on technology policy. Without standards, we're all stuck using proprietary formats that serve as barriers to the free exchange of information.

Imagine if web pages were offered in proprietary formats. We all might have to buy browsers with various support for different formats. It would be a disaster - the Internet simply wouldn't be the accessible medium that it is. is a terrific product that should be considered a must-have for Windows and Mac users. (It's already included by default with many Linux distributions, like Ubuntu). is free, completely interoperable, and its Writer word processor beats Microsoft Word where it really counts.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hearst Corporation puts the Seattle Post-Intelligencer up for sale

Uh oh:
The Seattle P-I newspaper is being put up for sale. Steve Swartz, president of Hearst Newspaper Division, told the newsroom that Hearst Corp. is starting a 60-day process to find a buyer. If a buyer is not found, Swartz said, Hearst will pursue other options. The options include moving to a digital-only operation with a greatly reduced staff, or completely shutting down operations. In no case will Hearst continue to publish the P-I in printed form, Swartz said.
Hearst says it is has absolutely no interest in shutting down the P-I so it can acquire the Times. Hearst says it wants to ditch the P-I because the newspaper is bleeding money... even though the P-I is published under a joint operating agreement with The Seattle Times Company.

It looks like 2009 will either see the end of the Seattle Post-Intelligncer under Hearst management...or the end of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as we know it.

This is very disappointing news... terrible news. The Seattle P-I is a civic treasure. Its value can't be measured in terms of money. Losing it would be devastating, especially at a time when we need more news coverage, not less.

There has been a rumor floating around, picked up on a few blogs like HorsesAss, that Hearst wants to offload the Seattle P-I so it can buy Belo Corporation (owner of KING5 TV). Belo has said this rumor is false. The Stranger has more.

UPDATE: We've posted Hearst's letter to employees. Editor & Publisher has more on what happened inside the P-I newsroom this afternoon:
P-I employees were silent as they listened to the announcement, which lasted about 10 minutes. Some of them shed tears. Others held up cell phones or voice recorders in press-conference fashion.

Editorial Cartoonist David Horsey was nearly speechless.

"This is awful, awful, awful," he said afterward. "I was just standing there looking around at all these people I love to work with. I don't want this to happen to me or them."

P-I online reporter and blogger Monica Guzman cried at her desk with her head in her hands. She had just sent a Twitter post to the Web, saying, "Please, let us be O.K."

"It doesn't feel real," she said. "You hear about the problems in the industry all over the country and you start to think, 'Well, nothing that bad has happened to us yet, so maybe it won't.' You know it's naïve. You know it's stupid. And then it happens."
Governor Gregoire had this to say:
I'm truly saddened to hear the news. The demise of any newspaper is a tragedy not only for its employees and their families but for a free society where all voices are heard.

I pray that a buyer is found and Seattle can remain one of the few two-newspaper cities in this country.
What else is there to add? This sucks!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Obama: Delay switchover to digital TV

Good move, Mr. President-elect:
President-elect Barack Obama is urging Congress to postpone the Feb. 17 switch from analog to digital television broadcasting, arguing that too many Americans who rely on analog TV sets to pick up over-the-air channels won't be ready.

In a letter to key lawmakers Thursday, Obama transition team co-chair John Podesta noted that the Commerce Department has run out of money for coupons to subsidize digital TV converter boxes for consumers. People who don't have cable or satellite service or a new TV with a digital tuner will need the converter boxes to keep their older analog sets working.

Obama officials are also concerned that the government is not doing enough to help consumers — particularly poor, rural and elderly Americans — prepare for and navigate the transition.
The February 17th, 2009 cutoff of analog broadcasts has been poorly planned and executed. News reports and research by consumer groups suggests we're simply not ready to flip the switch to digital in February. Congress needs to push back the deadline to allow more time for the transition away from analog.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

First the snow... now the rain...

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few days, you probably know that warmer air hasn't brought any relief from winter storms to Washington State.

Instead of record snow, we're being soaked with unending downpours - and rivers everywhere are flooding their banks.

Rising water and mudslides have shut down Amtrak Cascades service between Portland and Seattle. A twenty mile stretch of Interstate 5 in Centralia and Chehalis is closed (Milepost 68 to Milepost 88). And all three of the state's major passes - Stevens, Snoqualmie, White - are also closed, leaving only one road open across the state: U.S. 14, which winds through the Columbia Gorge.

(See some of the slides that are causing havoc up in the Cascades at Flickr).

In King County, Highway 202 in Snoqualmie is shut down. U.S. 97 in Kittitas County is closed at Blewett Pass. U.S. 101 is closed in Pacific County - water is covering both lanes of the roadway in Raymond. Half a dozen highways in Pierce County are closed in places, including seven miles of State Route 162.

And that's just a short list of some of the major affected highways. There are at least five dozen that are closed, and hundreds more local roads.

Several cities, including Orting in Pierce County and Acme in Whatcom County, have been evacuated due to the swiftly rising floodwaters.

WSDOT is monitoring conditions in Fife, where water is threatening to overrun Interstate 5 in a second location.

Radar Imagery of Western Washington, January 7th, 2009

In short, it's pretty bad. For people trying to get across the state, ground transportation really isn't an option at the moment. The highway and railroad closures are also making it difficult to move freight.

The flooding is so bad that it's become a major national news story. As of 11:40 PM, the picture on the front and center of the New York Times' website showed a flooded Evergreen State home with kayakers in front.

The headline and summary read:
Melting Causes Flooding in Washington

Rain and wind lashed Washington state, causing avalanches and mudslides as snow began to melt.
The National Weather Service warns:


The Department of Natural Resources says at least twenty six significant landslides have been reported so far in connection with the storm. More are expected, especially in Lewis and Whatcom counties. The avalanche danger is considered "extreme", which is why all the passes are closed.

Some relief is apparently on the way. Dry weather is in the forecast for the weekend, and the avalanche/landslide risk is expected to diminish. For now, conditions are pretty bad, and a lot of people are miserable.

Warning: eating may be hazardous to your health

According to a newly published report, crops have been found to be a source of human ingestion of antibiotics given to livestock, even if the crops come from organic farms.I'll skip over how the antibiotics get from the livestock into the soil; it should be obvious. But the implications for public health are huge.
Health officials fear that eating vegetables and meat laced with drugs meant to treat infections can promote resistant strains of bacteria in food and the environment.

Roach said “the clearest public health implication” from treating livestock with antibiotics is the development of resistant bacteria that reduces the effectiveness of human medicine. Past studies have shown overuse of antibiotics reduces their ability to cure infections. Over time, certain antibiotics are rendered ineffective.

Scientists believe antibiotics also may have contributed to the explosive rise in asthma and allergies in children over the last 20 years. Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, following 448 children from birth for seven years, reported that children who received antibiotics within their first six months had a higher risk of developing allergies and asthma.

Such health concerns led the European Union in 2006 to ban antibiotic use as feed additives for promoting livestock growth. But in the United States, nearly 25 million pounds of antibiotics per year, up from 16 million in the mid 1980s, are given to healthy animals for agriculture purposes, according to a 2000 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
It's clear that in the United States, we have to change our ways when it comes to food. As it stands right now, the very thing we need to sustain life is causing health problems that will limit that life. That's not a sustainable equation.

The Bush legacy

According to NBC News, or more specifically the statistics, we're not doing very well in the George W. Bush years.

Then: 4.2% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2001)
Now: 6.7% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2008)

Then: 10,587 (close of Friday, Jan. 19, 2001)
Now: 9,015 (close of Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009)

Then: 115.7 (Conference Board, January 2001)
Now: 38.0, which is an all-time low (Conference Board, December 2008)

Then: 6.4 million (Census numbers for 2000)
Now: 7.6 million (Census numbers for 2007 -- most recent numbers available)

Then: 39.8 million (Census numbers for 2000)
Now: 45.7 million (Census numbers for 2007 -- most recent available)

Then: +236.2 billion (2000, Congressional Budget Office)
Now: -$1.2 trillion (projected figure for 2009, Congressional Budget Office)

And I'll add one more statistic to the list: 4223 (as of this post). That's the number of American casualties in Iraq.

There is only one word to adequately describe the Bush Presidency: FAILURE.

McCain's back - and so is his divisive slogan

I've long held out hope that John McCain would become the better man he used to be before he set his sights on the presidency once Barack Obama defeated him. It doesn't look like I'll get my wish - logging in today, the first thing I saw on Google News was an article from the New York Times titled McCain starts 'Country First ' PAC. The author writes:
Less than two weeks from the inauguration that he hoped would usher in his own presidential administration, Senator John McCain announced the formation of a new political action committee that will work to promote Republican causes.

Borrowing a slogan from his campaign, Mr. McCain is calling the committee, “Country First,” and it is likely to help lay the foundation for his 2010 re-election bid.
The PAC's website so far isn't much, but what it contains so far reminds me of McCain's campaign, which heavily emphasized his service in Vietnam, as if that by itself automatically meant he would make a great public servant.

The video on the website is just a barrage of images, expounding on his patriotism, but nothing else. Like McCain's campaign slogan, the committee's purpose and its name, "Country First", seems to imply that we don't all want America to be strong, prosperous, and healthy. It's too bad that McCain has decided to stay a right wing ideologue - he had more Americans' respect when he was a true biconceptual.

Heather Haworth: 1970-2008

This morning I learned with the utmost sadness that one of my favorite high school teachers, Heather Haworth, died yesterday due to complications of cystic fibrosis. Ms. Haworth was an exemplary teacher whose cheerfulness and encouragement made learning fun. She taught my ninth grade advanced science course, and she later also taught math in addition to science.

It was in her class that I first began to appreciate how serious the climate crisis was. Ms. Haworth devoted a special unit to explaining global warming and the greenhouse effect that was truly eye-opening. It was like watching An Inconvenient Truth four years in advance. I remember thinking, Why aren't we doing something about this problem? Why isn't this a bigger deal?

Ms. Haworth had a fondness for fun projects; two that I remember our class doing were hot air balloons and bottle rockets. We did the hot air ballons in the autumn and the bottle rockets in the spring. We built them during classtime and then later launched them out on the football field.

She also loved demonstrations - or as they were called in class, demos. One that my class especially enjoyed was the non-burning dollar bill.

Ms. Haworth had a gift for connecting with young people. She was an amazing person and I'm sad that I won't be able to have another conversation with her.

Redmond Junior High Principal Prato Barone' said of Ms. Haworth in his letter to parents and guardians today:
Heather was a dynamic and supportive person who devoted herself to her family and to her school. Her encouragement for students, staff, and the community was tireless. Memories of her fine instruction, leadership, friendship, and ever postive attitude will remain as a shining legacy at RJH.

A memorial will be planned in the near future. Details will be announced and posted on the school website as they become available.
I couldn't agree more.

NPI extends its deepest condolences to Heather's family and many, many other friends. This is a great loss for Redmond Junior High and for the community. Fortunately, as Principal Barone' said, Ms. Haworth's legacy will live on.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Senator Jeff Merkley sworn in today

Earlier today, the Northwest's newest Democratic U.S. Senator, Jeff Merkley, was sworn into office. His first act? Well, just by being installed as the junior Senator from Oregon we're sure Merkley is improving the quality of life in his home state, since Gordon Smith now has time to ensure that his frozen food company doesn't continue to dump waste in local waterways.

In all seriousness, adding Jeff Merkley to a group of Senators that includes Ron Wyden, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, gives the Northwest a formidable lineup (though we've got to get to work on Idaho). Like his colleagues, Jeff Merkley is someone we can count on to stand up for our values.

Senator Merkley issued the following statement today:
“Three decades ago, when I came to the Senate to work as an intern for Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield, I never imagined then that I would have the opportunity to sit in his seat. I will aspire to serve with the same integrity and bipartisanship that marked Senator Hatfield’s career.

“Our nation faces many challenges right now: an economy in recession, our armed forces engaged in two wars, global threats from climate change and the proliferation of nuclear weapon states. This is not the time for incremental change – we need bold leadership and action to address these challenges.

“We need to immediately pass an economic recovery package to create living wage jobs and lay the groundwork for future growth. We need to invest in green energy and tap into America’s legacy of innovation. We need to end the predatory business practices that drained wealth from working Americans and undermined our financial markets. And we need to start the difficult task of restoring America’s reputation in the world by responsibly ending the war in Iraq.

“Our job will not be easy. But working together we can again build a nation where every American has the opportunity to succeed. I look forward to working with President-Elect Obama and my new colleagues in putting our nation back on track.”
At NPI, we have no doubt that Jeff Merkley is up to meeting the challenges our nation faces, and we're proud to have another progressive voice from the Northwest in the Senate.

Tim Eyman taking out another $50,000 loan to finance 2009 initiative

Looks like somebody's short of cash again.

In an email sent out to supporters and the press just minutes ago, Tim Eyman announced that he's taking out another $50,000 loan against his line of credit to help finance his 2009 anti-jobs initiative:
We've got a huge list of supporters throughout the state (folks without email). We must send them all a mailing (via the post office) right away that informs them about the new initiative and asks them to donate. And the law firm of Groen, Stephens and Klinge of Bellevue did a brilliant job drafting the Lower Property Taxes Initiative and needs to be taken care of right away too.

Because of the incredibly tight timeframe, we can't allow even a day's delay. So I'm loaning $50,000 in start-up money to [my initiative campaign] today (see below) so our supporters can be given the opportunity to donate - I'm certain they're eager to, but they won't unless we ask them. That's what makes this first mailing so important. We must get this signature drive off to the fastest start possible.
What about Eyman's big loan from last year - the one he took out to pay the mercenary petitioners who collected signatures for his failed I-985?
P.S. My loan to last year's initiative is still outstanding - but that simply is not the priority right now - it can't be if we are to succeed with [this year's initiative]. We must focus all our attention, energy, and resources on the task at hand: raising funds for [this year's initiative].
Yet another example of a conservative being decidedly un-conservative with his own money. How many times has Eyman whined that the public's purse is being carelessly spent? Probably more than I could hope to count in my lifetime.

Yet here he is, carelessly taking out loan after loan to finance his schemes.

Eyman's personal bank account will get a boost later this month from his sugar daddy, Michael Dunmire, who told The News Tribune he's still backing Eyman.
Mike Dunmire, the Woodinville millionaire who has bankrolled past Eyman campaigns, said he was disappointed by the defeat of I-985 -- another Eyman measure -- this past November, but he’s still backing Eyman.

"I plan to be a significant contributor during the course of the year, but I don’t know how much yet," Dunmire said.

Dunmire said he also plans to kick in $100,000 at the end of January to the special fund that Eyman and his partners use to pay themselves for work on their initiative campaigns.

Dunmire said that should match an estimated $100,000 that Eyman and Spokane residents Jack and Mike Fagan have collected from smaller contributors, meaning Eyman should get $100,000 and the Fagans should be $50,000 apiece for their work on I-985.
One hundred grand... for failure.

I thought that right wing dogma held that people who fail should be punished, and need to learn discipline so they can "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps". I keep forgetting that the right wing doesn't practice what it preaches.

Eyman's like an all-important, self-centered Wall Street executive: he gets compensated handsomely, even if the company has a terrible year.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bad analogy, Mr. Majority Leader

A week ago, as Israel began pounding Gaza in retribution for rocket attacks by Palestinian militants, I observed that Democratic leaders had been just as complicit as Republicans in giving Israel's government their blessing to drop as many bombs and lob as many shells as they want:
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?
Now, in addition to offering one sided statements that don't encourage an end to hostilities, elected leaders are offering the usual assortment of bad analogies in an attempt to justify or explain their position. Jon Stewart showed clips of several of these dumb comparisons on The Daily Show tonight.

One, in particular, caught my attention - yesterday's episode of Meet the Press with David Gregory, who had Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as his guest.

From the transcript:
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the ground invasion into Gaza. Do you think on the part of this Israeli - of the Israelis this was offensive or defensive?

SEN. REID: I spoke to Prime Minister Olmert a couple of days ago. He indicated that they would do the ground activities. Let's understand the background. For eight years they've been firing rockets into Israel. They've become more intense the last few months. Israelis have been killed, maimed and injured. Sometimes more than 200 a day coming into Israel.

If this were going on in the United States from Vancouver, Canada, into Seattle, would we react? Course we do. We would have to.
When I first heard this, I was left wondering, Where did Harry Reid come up with this useless and odd analogy? I'm very much used to hearing worthless conjecture from right wing talking heads, but I expect my party's leaders in Congress to be more thoughtful and tactful than this. Especially on national television.

Washington and British Columbia - whose largest cities are Seattle and Vancouver - have long had a peaceful and friendly relationship. The Blaine-Surrey border crossing is one of the busiest in the nation. The Peace Arch, which stands at that crossing, symbolizes our friendship. Furthermore, the United States and Canada cooperate more closely on defense than any other nations in the world:
U.S. defence arrangements with Canada are more extensive than with any other country. The Permanent Joint Board of Defense, established in 1940, provides policy-level consultation on bilateral defence matters.

The United States and Canada share North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mutual security commitments. In addition, U.S. and Canadian military forces have cooperated since 1958 on continental air defence within the framework of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

There is also an active military exchange program between the two countries under which Canadian Forces personnel have been involved in Iraq. Moreover, interoperability with the American armed forces has been a guiding principle of Canadian military force structuring and doctrine since the end of the Cold War. Canadian navy frigates, for instance, integrate seamlessly into U.S. carrier battle groups.
Canada has been our closest ally for many decades.

Given our extensive history of cooperation, especially our mutual defense agreements, why would any U.S. political leader think it acceptable to justify their political posturing on the conflict in the Holy Land by depicting a scenario that pits our Canadian friends against us as imaginary villains?

Reid's comments may not fracture U.S.-Canadian relations, but they were still undiplomatic. There's already enough animosity in the world these days without this kind of careless commentary. Our elected leaders shouldn't be inadvertently souring the air by unnecessarily slighting our closest allies.

We could all surely benefit from having thicker skins, but that's no excuse for not being empathetic and polite, especially to people who have our backs.

Obama to tap Governor Gregoire to head U.S. Department of Commerce? Nope

Rumors are flying like crazy this evening that President-elect Barack Obama is planning to announce that our very own Governor Chris Gregoire is his new choice to head the United States Department of Commerce.

[UPDATE, 7:48 PM: Gregoire's legislative director, Marty Brown, is telling reporters that Gregoire did not travel to Washington, D.C. to accept a job with the Obama administration. However, Gregoire is scheduled to make an important announcement tomorrow morning at 6 AM. We'll keep you posted.]

The Associated Press put a brief out on the wire just a little bit ago saying that Gregoire had disappeared and her whereabouts unknown. The Stranger's Eli Sanders then tried to get answers from Gregoire spokesperson Laura Lockard, but none were forthcoming in that conversation.
Q: Is Governor Gregoire going to be Obama's nominee for Commerce Secretary?

A: “We’re not able to speak to that so we’ll do a release in the morning.”

Q: Where is she?

A: “She’s out of state.”

Q: Is she in the country?

A: "I’m not allowed to say.”

Q: Is she going to continue as Governor of Washington State?

A: "I’m not allowed to say.”
Gregoire is definitely in Washington, D.C.

If this speculation is true, it would be a nice boost to Obama's cabinet, but a huge loss for the State of Washington. We don't like Governor Gregoire's 2009 budget proposal, nor were we happy when she called a special session to reinstate Tim Eyman's Initiative 747, but she's been one of the best governors we have ever had, and the campaign to reelect her in 2008 was extremely long and difficult. If Gregoire goes to Commerce, it'll be hard not to feel robbed.

Washington's Constitution says that the Lieutenant Governor becomes the new governor in the event of a vacancy:
In case of the removal, resignation, death or disability of the governor, the duties of the office shall devolve upon the lieutenant governor and in case of a vacancy in both the offices of governor and lieutenant governor, the duties of the governor shall devolve upon the secretary of state.
So Brad Owen would succeed Gregoire if she does in fact accept the job... at least at first. Then we'd have a special election to pick a new governor.

Of course, this could all just be unfounded speculation that is totally off base. It's certainly plausible that the Governor is up to something else that we don't know about. Just because she canceled a speaking engagement and her office won't disclose where she is doesn't mean she is set to join Obama's cabinet. Given that there's no source confirming The Stranger's hypothesis, and the Associated Press refrained from explicitly feeding the rumor mill, odds are it isn't true.

Al Franken declares victory in Minnesota

After two months of counting and recounting in Minnesota, we finally have a final tally that puts Al Franken 225 votes ahead of Norm Coleman.

Franken's victory doesn't mean that Coleman has given up. To the contrary:
The state Canvassing Board certified final results this afternoon in Minnesota's marathon U.S. Senate race, but that won't end the battle between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman, whose Senate term ended on Saturday.

Moments after the board certified that Franken had eked out 225 more votes than Coleman, attorneys for Coleman said they would file a lawsuit within 24 hours.


Coleman forces said they were mindful of the consequences of a prolonged election contest, but said that the results were "invalid and unreliable."
Unfortunately for democracy, Coleman is not accepting the outcome without a fight. He's pulling a Dino Rossi and filing a lawsuit contesting the election. Although his term in the Senate has expired, he still contends that he should be one of Minnesota's two senators.

In addition, Senate Republicans are threatening to block any attempt to seat Senator-elect Franken. This would cause chaos and make it difficult for the Senate to act on President Barack Obama's agenda.

Although Minnesota votes reliably Democratic in presidential elections, Democrats running for statewide office are often pitted against populist opponents from the Minnesota Independence Party as well as Republicans. The Independence Party enjoys major party status along with the DFL and the Republicans.

This results in the progressive vote sometimes getting split in statewide elections between DFL and the Independence candidates, resuilting in close elections when there is a strong Independence candidate.

This year, perennial Senate hopeful Dean Barkley received fifteen percent of the vote, causing the race between Franken and Coleman to be extremely close.

It's probably unrealistic to expect the Republicans to respect the choice of the people of Minnesota, but we wish they would anyway.

Senator-elect Franken's peers in the freshman class of Democratic Senators are Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Mark Warner of Virginia, Kay Hagan of North Carolinia, Mark Begich of Alaska, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, plus Michael Bennet of Colorado, who was selected by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter to replace Ken Salazar. Three new Democratic Senators will also eventually represent Illinois, Delaware, and New York.

We wish them all the best and hope they will serve their constitutents well.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

House Democratic Caucus Chair Bill Grant loses battle with lung cancer

Grievous news today:
Rep. Bill Grant succumbed this morning to lung cancer he was diagnosed with just a month ago.

Grant died at Providence St. Mary Medical Center, surrounded by his family, sources say.

A Walla Walla native, Grant was re-elected in November to serve for the 16th Legislative District, which covers all of Walla Walla and Columbia counties, as well as parts of Benton and Franklin counties. He served for 22 years.
A fourth generation wheat farmer, Grant also served his fellow House Democrats as part of their leadership team; he was Caucus Chair. His two plus decades of service in the House make him one of the longest-serving legislators in state history. He was a knowledgeable and spirited public servant.

He will be greatly missed.

We at NPI extend our condolences to Representative Grant's family and friends, especially his children and legislative staff.

Whoever succeeds Representative Grant will have big shoes to fill.

Richardson withdraws as Secretary of Commerce

Earlier today, Governor Bill Richardson informed President-elect Barack Obama that he is withdrawing from consideration as Secretary of Commerce. Richardson's withdrawal comes on the heels of a grand jury investigation into a company that did business with the state of New Mexico.
Gov. Bill Richardson has dropped his plans to be commerce secretary for President-elect Barack Obama, his office confirmed this afternoon.

Richardson's office released a statement this afternoon saying the governor was withdrawing his name as an investigation of a company that did business with the state is pending.


A grand jury in Albuquerque reportedly is looking into a possible "pay-to-play" connection between a Beverly Hills financial company's large contributions to Richardson political action committees and nearly $1.5 million the company received for work on a state road-building program.
You can find statements from President-elect Obama and Governor Richardson here.

This is sad news on a couple of fronts for me. One, is that Bill Richardson is the highest profile Latino elected official in the country, and that the best and brightest of that community isn't going to be in the Cabinet is a loss to the country.

And as someone who invested two years of my life into campaigning for Richardson and coordinating his campaign in Washington state, it's a blow to see someone who I once believed would be President, then Vice-President, then a member of the Cabinet, end up with nothing despite all of my best efforts.

We can't win them all, and we can't stop trying.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Oregon's objections ignored in logging plans

Just in time for the new year...
The Interior Department announced a controversial decision late Wednesday to double the rate of logging on 2.6 million acres of federally owned forests in southwestern Oregon. In doing so, it brushed aside the objections of the governor and two federal agencies charged with guarding the quality of the area’s water and the health of the fish that depend on it.
Oregon's timber industry would certainly benefit from the move, but at what cost? Earthjustice has the sobering and dirty details:
On the last day of 2008 the Bush administration finalized a huge giveaway of public forest land to the timber industry. The administration announced six "Records of Decision" that could change the course of how 2.6 million acres of public forests in Oregon are managed. The last-minute Bush timber giveaway promises over 500 million board feet of lumber per year to the timber industry at the expense of salmon spawning streams, healthy old-growth forests, and habitat for rare birds such as the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet...


The Bush administration consistently ignored highly critical scientific reviews that found the WOPR was based on insufficient study, incomplete modeling, and would likely not comply with laws safeguarding fish and wildlife habitat.
Rules designed to conserve our natural resources should not be tampered with or changed without a serious analysis of the likely environmental impact.

Unfortunately, the Bush error isn't quite over yet, and we still have people in charge of our national forests who think trees aren't worth anything until they're chopped down. To Bush's henchmen at the Interior Department, those splotches of green on a map of the western United States are where the dollar signs go.

Thankfully, Bush's people, who couldn't care less about enforcing or respecting laws like the Endangered Species Act, are on their way out. The Department of the Interior will soon be under new management.

Incoming Secretary Ken Salazar and his team would do well to remember that we don't inherit the earth from our grandparents; we borrow it from our children. Those simple words from an old and wise Native American proverb are all we need to start drawing up a new plan to sustainably manage our forests.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Newest Tim Eyman initiative would devastate Washington's economy

I see that Tim Eyman has cajoled The Olympian, the News Tribune, and the Associated Press into writing about his 2009 initiative moneymaking scheme. Eyman sent out a teaser email to his supporters and the traditional media this morning, announcing he'll be filing the initiative on Monday.

Eyman's "announcement" is not news to NPI; this is exactly what we've been expecting. We have a good guess as to what we're going to be fighting early, because Eyman files his initiatives to the people months in advance as initiatives to the Legislature, and this year is no exception.

His 2009 initiative exists in several preliminary versions filed in 2008:
  • Initiative 413
  • Initiative 415
  • Initiative 427
The reason Eyman files preliminary versions is so that he can goad the Attorney General's office into writing different ballot titles for him. Then he picks the one he likes the best and files that version as his initiative to the people, with the assumption that the Attorney General will just use the same ballot title.

(The title is the summary of the measure that voters see on their ballots. The Attorney General's office is responsible with drafting a ballot title for every initiative filed. It costs only $5 to file an initiative in Washington).

Anyway, Eyman's 2009 measure would hurt Washington's economy by imposing artificial limits on how much money goes into our schools, police and fire protection, libraries, parks, pools, our transportation system, and every other public service the government provides. State, county, and city leaders would only have the same amount of money that was spent in the previous year to work with, plus a little extra to account for inflation.

Considering Governor Gregoire's proposed budget consists of deep cuts almost everywhere, passage and implementation of Eyman's initiative would lock in the cuts and make them permanent, hurting all of us and making it impossible for the state to fund any major infrastructure improvements of any kind.

It's a cynical attack on our common wealth.

It's also badly timed. What America and Washington State need most right now is a government-provided economic stimulus. Read the latest articles in BusinessWeek and you'll find quotes from executives and workers from industry after industry expressing hope that Barack Obama's public works investment plan will help spark an economic recovery and lift us out of recession.

Libertarians like Tim Eyman believe in a failed ideology that government should be beaten and battered until it's the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. That's the whole point of shameless initiatives like these. They're designed to paralyze public services and make them stop working, creating even more anti-government sentiment and citizen resentfulness towards state leaders.

To qualify his anti-prosperity measure for the ballot, Eyman will need to submit at least 241,153 valid signatures from Washingtonians registered to vote - up from about 224,000 last year. (The minimum number increased because of record turnout in the 2008 elections. Initiatives require the signatures of 8% of the number of people who voted in the last election for governor).

Because Eyman doesn't have a grassroots force, he'll need about half a million dollars or so to pay an a small army of mercenary petitioners - many from out of state - to collect signatures for him. It's unclear whether he has a sugar daddy lined up to help him or not. The guy who's been bankrolling him for the last few years - investment banker Michael Dunmire - is apparently tapped out.

(Dunmire hasn't donated to Eyman since last spring, and Eyman took out a second mortgage on his house to help generate the money to put his 2008 measure on the ballot. Voters defeated Initiative 985 in a landslide two months ago).

Regardless of whether Eyman finds the money to buy his way onto the ballot or not, Permanent Defense is gearing up to vigorously oppose his latest scheme. As we analyze the initiative and calculate the harmful impact it would have on our state, we'll have more to say. For now, know that we are deeply committed to burying this vile plan to wreck our common wealth and our state.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Still crazy after all these years

Apologies to Paul Simon for the title of this post, but will someone please tell Congressman Bobby Rush that the race wars of the 1960's are over? This is a new time. That's not to say that as a nation we don't struggle with the ugliness of racism, bigotry and inequality. But now is not the time to lob molotov cocktails to reignite those race wars.

For those who don't know, Congressman Rush was a founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party, a group well known for its militant and confrontational tactics which gave it a reputation of being a black nationalist group. To be fair, the Black Panthers also engaged in human and social services in the African-American community, providing much-needed services in the community.

I know it's been a couple of days, but I still can't believe the words that have come out of Congressman Rush's mouth with regard to Governor Rod Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.

First, Rush compared Democratic U.S. Senators refusing to seat Blagojevich's choice to a lynch mob.
"Let me just remind you that there presently is no African-American in the U.S. Senate," Rush said at the Blagojevich press conference yesterday. "I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer. I don't think that anyone -- any U.S. senator who's sitting in the Senate right now -- wants to go on record to deny one African-American for being seated in the U.S. Senate."
Not content to stop there, Rush then, despicably, compared the situation with the Burris appointment to the desegregation of public schools in the South on CBS' Early Show.
RODRIGUEZ: Yesterday we heard you say that they shouldn't hang and lynch the appointee to punish the appointer. But do you believe that this is the way the only African-American Senator should be seated? Tainted, rightly or not, by a scandal and against the objections of most of his own party?

Rep. RUSH: Well, let me just say this, you know, the recent history of our nation has shown us that sometimes there could be individuals and there could be situations where school children--where you have officials standing in the doorway of school children. You know, I'm talking about all of us back in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas. I'm talking about George Wallace, Bull Connors and I'm sure that the US Senate don't want to see themselves placed in the same position.
There is absolutely no reason to inject race into this process. This has never been about whether an African-American or any other minority, should or should not replace Barack Obama in the United States Senate. This is absolutely about whether or not a sitting governor under indictment for trying to sell a U.S. Senate, should be permitted to appoint a replacement. This is about whether any person appointed by that allegedly corrupt governor (and I use the term allegedly loosely) can serve and be effective in the position, given the circumstances surrounding the appointment.

Of course, Congressman Rush is free to state his opinion that an African-American should be appointed. I can support that position, given the lack of African-Americans in the Senate. But by making the comments he did, Bobby Rush shows himself to be no better than the people who showed up to McCain/Palin rallies and made racist remarks regarding President-elect Obama. There is no place in our society for this kind of discourse. There is much that we can learn by having civil conversations from people who are different from us.

Note: It's neither here nor there, but interesting to note that in 2000 Bobby Rush defeated Barack Obama in his challenge to the incumbent Congressman.

Banished Words for 2009

Every year since 1971, Michigan's Lake Superior State University has released a thoughtful and humorous "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness." Here is the 2009 (and 34th annual) edition, for your enjoyment:
Environmental buzzwords are getting the axe this year. "Green" and "going green" received the most nominations.

GREEN – The ubiquitous 'Green' and all of its variables, such as 'going green,' 'building green,' 'greening,' 'green technology,' 'green solutions' and more, drew the most attention from those who sent in nominations this year.

"This phrase makes me go green every time I hear it." Danielle Brunin, Lawrence, Kansas.

"I'm all for being environmentally responsible, but this 'green' needs to be nipped in the bud." Valerie Gilson, Gales Ferry, Conn.

"Companies are less 'green' than ever, advertising the fact they are 'green.' Is anyone buying this nonsense?" Mark Etchason, Denver, Colo.

"If something is good for the environment, just say so. As Kermit would say, 'It isn't easy being green.'" Kevin Sherlock, Hiawatha, Iowa.

"If I see one more corporation declare itself 'green,' I'm going to start burning tires in my backyard." Ed Hardiman, Bristow, Va.

"This spawned 'green solutions,' 'green technology,' and the horrible use of the word as a verb, as in, 'We really need to think about greening our office.'" Mike McDermott, Philadelphia, Penn.

CARBON FOOTPRINT or CARBON OFFSETTING – "It is now considered fashionable for everyone, tree hugger or lumberjack alike, to pay money to questionable companies to 'offset' their own 'carbon footprint.' What a scam! Get rid of it immediately!" Ginger Hunt, London, England.

Mike of Chicago says that when he hears the phrase 'carbon footprint,' "I envision microscopic impressions on the surface of the earth where an atom of carbon forgot to wear its shoes."

Christy Loop of Woodbridge, Va., says that 'leaving a carbon footprint' has become the new 'politically incorrect.' "How can we not, in one way or another, affect our natural environment?"

Presidential election years are always ripe for language abuse. This year, the electorate grew weary of 'mavericks' and 'super delegates.' As Michael W. Casby of Haslett, Mich. said, when he suggested banning all of the candidates' names, "Come on, it's been another too-long campaign season."

MAVERICK – "The constant repetition of this word for months before the US election diluted whatever meaning it previously had. Even the comic offshoot 'mavericky' was terribly overused. A minimum five-year banishment of both words is suggested so they will not be available during the next federal election." Matthew Mattila, Green Bay, Wisc.

"You know it's time to banish this word when even the Maverick family, who descended from the rancher who inspired the term, says it's being mis-used." Scott Urbanowski, Kentwood, Mich.

"I'm a maverick, he's a maverick, wouldn't you like to be a maverick, too?" Michael Burke, Silver Spring, Md.

FIRST DUDE – "Skateboard English is not an appropriate way to refer to the spouse of a high-ranking public official." Paul Ruschmann, Canton, Mich.

Of course, the economy couldn't escape the list this year.

BAILOUT – "Use of emergency funds to remove toxic assets from banks' balance sheets is not a bailout. When your cousin calls you from jail in the middle of the night, he wants a bailout." Ben Green, State College, Penn.

"Is it a loan? Is it a purchase of assets by the government? Is it a gift made by the taxpayers?" Dave Gill, Traverse City, Mich.

"Now it seems as though every sector of the economy wants a bailout. Unfortunately, ordinary workers can't qualify." Tony, McLeansville, NC.

"Don't we love how Capitol Hill will bailout Wall Street, but not Main Street"? Derrick Chamberlain, Midland, Mich.

Speaking of Wall Street and Main Street...

WALL STREET/MAIN STREET – "When this little dyad first came into use at the start of the financial crisis, I thought it was a clever use of parallelism. But it's simply over-used. No 'serious' discussion of the crisis can take place without some political figure lamenting the fact that the trouble on Wall Street is affecting 'folks' on Main Street." Charles Harrison, Aiken, SC.

"The recent and continuing financial failings are not limited to 'Wall Street,' nor should one paint business, consumers, and small investors as ' Main Street .' Topeka (where I work), and Lawrence (where I live), Kansas, have no named ' Main Street .' How tiresome." Kent McAnally, Topeka, KS.

"I am so tired of hearing about everything affecting 'Main Street'. I know that with the 'Wall Street' collapse, the comparison is convenient, but really, let's find another way to talk about everyman or the middle class, or even, heaven forbid, 'Joe the Plumber.'" Stacey, Knoxville, Tenn.

Internet and texting blues -MONKEY – "Especially on the Internet, many people seem to think they can make any boring name sound more attractive just by adding the word 'monkey' to it. Do a search to find the latest. It is no longer funny." Rogier Landman, Somerville, Mass.

<3 – Supposed to resemble a heart, or stand for the word 'love.' Used when sending those important text messages to loved ones. "Just say the word instead of making me turn my head sideways and wondering what 'less than three' means." Andrea Estrada, Chicago.

Overuse in news and entertainment

ICON or ICONIC – Overused, especially among entertainers and in entertainment news, according to Robyn Yates of Dallas, who says that "every actor, actress and entertainment magazine show overuses this."

One of the most-nominated words of the year. "Everyone and everything cannot be 'iconic.' Can't we switch to 'legendary' or 'famous for'? In our entertainment-driven culture, it seems everyone in show business is 'iconic' for some reason or another." John Flood, Bray, Wicklow, Ireland.

"It's becoming the new 'awesome' - overused to the point where everything from a fast-food restaurant chain to celebrities is 'iconic.'" Jodi Gill, New Berlin, Wisc.

"Just because a writer recognizes something does not make it an icon (a visual symbol or representation which inspires worship or veneration) or iconic. It just means that the writer has seen it before." Brian Murphy, Fairfield, Conn.

GAME CHANGER – "It's game OVER for this cliché, which gets overused in the news media, political arenas and in business." Cynthia, Mt. Pleasant, Mich.

STAYCATION – "Occurrences of this word are going up with gas prices.'Vacation' does not mean 'travel,' nor does travel always involve vacation. Let's send this word on a slow boat to nowhere." Dan Muldoon, Omaha, Neb.

"The cost of petrol forces many families to curtail their summer voyages and a new word has sprung, idiotic and rootless..." Michele Mooney, Los Angeles, Calif.

DESPERATE SEARCH – "Every time the news can't find something intelligent to report, they start on a 'desperate search' for someone, somewhere." Rick A. Hyatt, Saratoga, Wyo.

NOT SO MUCH – "I wish that the phrase was used not so much," says Tom Benson of Milwaukee, who notes that it is used widely in news media, especially in sports, i.e. 'The Gophers have a shot at the playoffs; the Chipmunks, not so much.' "Casual language usage is acceptable. 'Not so much?' Not so much." David Hollis, Hubbardsville, NY. "Do I like concise writing? Yes. Do I like verbose clichés? Not so much." David W. Downing, St. Paul, Minn. "A favorite of snarky critics and bloggers." Jeff Baenen, Minneapolis, Minn.

WINNER OF FIVE NOMINATIONS – "It hasn't won an Academy Award yet. It has only been NOMINATED!" John Bohenek, Abilene, Tex.

IT'S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN – Nominated by Kathleen Brosemer of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., for "general overuse and meaninglessness. When is it not 'that time of year again?' From Valentine's sales to year-end charity letters, invitations to summer picnics and Christmas parties, it's 'that time' of year again. Just get to the point of the solicitation, invitation, and newsletter and cut out six useless and annoying words."
You can see the lists for previous years at Lake Superior's site.