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

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tim Eyman's I-1033 would preemptively snuff out any hope for tax reform

One of the reasons that we consider Initiative 1033 to be the most dangerous measure that Tim Eyman has ever offered is that its main consequence - the freezing of budgets and public services at current recession levels - has a whole host of very ugly side effects. One of those side effects concerns tax reform.

As readers know, tax reform is a top priority of ours, and it's a challenge the Legislature has repeatedly failed to address, because, well, there are no easy solutions, and easy solutions are about the only thing the Legislature can agree on. (That's why legislators so often take what I will figuratively call the lowest road. It may be a study, the creation of a blue ribbon commission, accounting tricks, or a budget which ends up leaving those Washingtonians who are the least well-represented with the shortest straw).

Tax reform is, however, imperative because our state's tax structure is incredibly regressive. Previous Tim Eyman initiatives have resulted in the loss of vehicle fees and draconian limits on the amount of property taxes that the state, its counties, and cities can collect. As a result, we are now heavily dependent on the sales tax, which fluctuates based on consumer spending.

So ironically, it is Tim Eyman who deserves some of the blame for our fiscal instability. Eyman, of course, will say voters approved his initiatives on vehicle fees and property taxes. That's true, but voters also just reelected the Governor and the Legislature, who he blames, wrongly, for the size of the deficit. He's wrongly blaming them but we can rightly assign him some of the blame for being an irresponsible citizen who should know better.

All Governor Gregoire and the Legislature did in past bienniums was make investments that the people of this state were demanding, in schools, environmental protection, healthcare, and so on. When they raised the gas tax, the right wing threw a fit and ran an initiative to overturn that investment in better roads. Tim Eyman boldly predicted passage of the repeal attempt, Initiative 912. Instead, voters affixed their seal of approval to the Legislature's investment.

When they restored the estate tax the right wing threw another fit and put Initiative 920 on the ballot. Voters again said no, vindicating the Legislature and affixing another seal of approval to an important investment in public schools.

So when Tim Eyman claims there's a "tax revolt", he's wrong. The people of this state don't want to dismantle our common wealth as Eyman claims. What they do want is for taxes to be assessed and collected fairly. People understandably don't want to have to pay more than their fair share. Eyman's initiatives purposely do not address this; if they did, Eyman could not stay in business.

He needs voters to feel angry and resentful towards government, so that he has negative emotions to exploit, year after year.

Initiative 1033 is purposely designed to create a favorable environment for Eyman by making government not work and wrecking the gears of representative democracy. Paralysis is good for Eyman's profit machine.

If I-1033 passes, it would preemptively snuff out any hope of meaningful tax reform. There would be no point in doing away with outdated tax exemptions, for example, because the revenue regained by the state would have to go into the wealth redistribution fund that Initiative 1033 sets up.

That wealth redistribution fund is where any revenue above what was collected this year goes, into a giveaway fund for rich property owners, rather than our common wealth. I-1033 is an outrageous wealth transfer.

I-1033 would also obviate any chance of easing the pain of future budget cuts with new revenue, a possibility that Governor Gregoire now says she is open to:
"My number one concern right now ... is how do we do the cuts? How do we get there?" she told reporters at a news conference this morning. "There are no good options because the cuts are either social services, corrections, health care or education."

The governor said she's told legislative leaders to make their case for taxes, including the possibility of sending voters a proposal.

"I didn't want revenue last year because I couldn't figure out how you could do a revenue package that wouldn't hurt the economy. I'm still stuck in that rut but I've told leadership to come make your case," Gregoire said.

"I've told them come on in and convince me that's the right thing to do and that people will support it. At some point the people, I assume, don't want us to take any more cuts. I'm already hearing about 'why did you cut education?' Well there aren't any options."
There's really no chance the Legislature would have the courage to even ask voters to approve a referendum raising revenue if I-1033 passes.

It won't happen.

So if the existing situation, with all of these awful budget cuts, if that seems bleak, brace yourself for Initiative 1033. If it goes into effect we will all be living in a fiscal nightmare for years as budgets and essential public services become frozen under a thick layer of artificial ice. That ice will be impervious to any new revenue that isn't approved by voters in an election.

That is what it is so galling about Initiative 1033. It robs our common wealth of future revenue, siphoning off money that should be going to schools and instead funneling it directly into the pockets of rich people, like Eyman donor and Bellevue Square owner Kemper Freeman Jr.

I-1033 prevents one hundred percent of our sales taxes from going into our public treasury in subsequent years. Anything above the amount that went in this year would have to go into the wealth redistribution fund, which would eventually be principally divided between rich people.

Homeowners would be ripped off and renters completely scammed.

I-1033 is a reverse Robin Hood scheme designed to help the rich at the expense of small businesses, family farms, and working people.

When the side effects are considered, it becomes apparent that Initiative 1033 is really an evil triple whammy: It freezes over the services we all rely on to prosper in our daily lives, it punishes anyone who isn't already rich by funneling the tax dollars it siphons to them, and it has been cunningly designed to prevent our state from doing any tax reform or saving for a rainy day.

So it's like a virus that has mutated and - once it has infected the body - cannot be dealt with through traditional means.

The only way to prevent the Initiative 1033 virus from wreaking havoc on Washington is to prevent it from getting into our system in the first place.

Vote NO on Initiative 1033.

Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033: Let's make sure things never get better!

I think we can all agree that this has not been a good year, economically speaking, for our state. The worst recession in three decades forced our Legislature to craft a horrible, horrible budget with horrible, horrible cuts to some really basic public services. And Governor Gregoire refused to pursue any creative alternative.

Horrible though it was, I don't see how they could have done much better. There's just no money right now. We don't like it, but we get it.

We're all sucking it up, tightening out belts, holding bake sales so our schools can buy basic supplies, and trying to hold on until better times.

In that context, Initiative 1033 seems really... strange. Basically, Tim Eyman is saying "Here we are in the most dire economic situation most of us have ever faced. Woo hoo! Isn't that great? Let's make it permanent! Let's make sure the state can never help us out any better than the meager, watered-down offerings available this year. I know things are rough right now, folks, but let's make sure they never get any better!"

Seriously. I-1033 would set force all future budgets to be based on the current budget, created in the worst fiscal year in living memory.

Eyman's message is "Yeah, I know we had a lot of cuts this year, and they were pretty hard to swallow, but let's lock those cuts in, baby! Hold on all you want, but I'm making sure those better times never come!"

Who is this guy, the Grinch that Stole Washington?

When hard times hit, people turn to the government for help. That costs money. When the housing market collapsed (thanks, Wall Street!) the whole nation turned to the federal government for help, and thank God the government was able to do something. Otherwise we'd be in the midst of another depression.

I want that here, too. It's not like there's never a state-level crisis, and when the next one comes we should all want the Legislature and the Governor to be able to do something. Yet I-1033 would make less money available during hard times. Initiative 1033 says When Washington State needs to help out its citizens, let's make sure it can't. Let's starve government because we think it's bad and force it to lay off front line public servants so it gets smaller.

We call Initiative 1033 a jobs killer for a reason.

The Seattle P-I's Joel Connelly, a pretty sober-minded fellow, summed it up pretty well, writing "Bluntly put, I-1033 jerks away the ladder by which this state would climb out of recession."

How, for the love of all that is holy, does I-1033 make any sense outside of the right wing worldview that we know is completely disconnected from reality?

In a reality based world, I'd have to conclude that Tim Eyman is simply insane. Off his nut. Just plain cuckoo.

Perhaps neither I-1033 nor any of his previous initiatives have made a lick of sense to me because I don't inhabit Eyman's bizarre alternate reality. That alternate reality apparently has been very appetizing to voters in the past, and they've followed Eyman there like children running after a Pied Piper.

We can't make the mistake of following Eyman there again. Our very economic recovery hangs in the balance. Vote NO on Initiative 1033.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Democratic sellouts help Republicans keep public option out of BaucusCare bill

Swell. Max Baucus just sold out on the compromise:
After a half-day of animated debate, the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday rejected efforts by liberal Democrats to add a government-run health insurance plan to major health care legislation, dealing the first official setback to an idea that many Democrats, including President Obama, say they support.

All of the other versions of the health care legislation advancing in Congress — a bill approved by the Senate health committee and a trio of bills in the House — include some version of the government-run plan, or public option.

But the Finance Committee chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, long ago removed it from his proposal because of stiff opposition from Republicans who call the public plan a step toward “socialized medicine.”
So as expected, the Senate Finance Committee's bill, which has become fondly known around the Internets as BaucusCare, will move out of committee without a public option attached to it. Just the way Max wanted it.

There's no better feeling than doing just what the likes of Cigna and BlueShield want in the name of bipartisanship, eh, Senator?

In case you're wondering which Democrats are the sellouts and which Democrats are the true fighters who are actually working for what is best for the American people, here's a simple list that separates the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

The Sellouts
  • Every Republican on the Senate Finance Committee
  • Max Baucus of Montana (the Chairman). Jeers especially to him for not taking a stand and retreating from Democratic values like a coward.
  • Kent Conrad of North Dakota
  • Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas
  • Bill Nelson of Florida*
  • Thomas Carper of Delaware*
The last two on that list did vote for one of the amendments. It could have passed if Baucus had joined them in voting yes and dragged one of the other Democrats along with him. (Psst, that's called leadership, Max.)

The Fighters
  • Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia (and Vice Chair of the Committee)
  • Maria Cantwell of Washington (That's our Senator!)
  • Ron Wyden of Oregon
  • John Kerry of Massachusetts
  • Chuck Schumer of New York
  • Debbie Stabenow of Michigan
  • Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico
  • Robert Menendez of New Jersey
Chuck Schumer, by the way, owned Senator Grassley during the debate over the amendments. The New York Times captured the exchange:
“I think that Medicare is part of the social fabric of America just like Social Security is,” Mr. Grassley said. “To say that I support it is not to say that it’s the best system that it could be.”

“But it is a government-run plan,” Mr. Schumer shot back.

Mr. Grassley, a veteran Senate debater, insisted that Medicare did not pose a threat to the private insurance industry. “It’s not easy to undo a Medicare plan without also hurting a lot of private initiatives that are coupled with it,” he said.

Mr. Schumer pounced. “You are supportive of Medicare,” he said. “I just don’t understand the difference. That’s a government-run plan and the main knock you have made on Senator Rockefeller’s amendment, and I am sure on mine, is that it’s government-run.”
A public option is socialized medicine! But by golly, leave Medicare alone! That about sums up Grassley's absurd and ludicrous position. But hey, he's trying to have it both ways, like a good Republican.

The fight for the public option is by no means over. Baucus may have sold out, but he's not the only one with the power to shape legislation.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pittsburgh police turn United States' evil sonic cannons on... American protestors

So much for free speech. From The Guardian, last Friday:
Only a few hundreds protesters took to the streets of Pittsburgh to mark the opening day of the G20 summit of world leaders, but the police were taking no chances.

Sonic weapons or long-range acoustic devices have been used by the US military overseas, notably against Somali pirates and Iraqi insurgents.

But US security forces turned the piercing sound on their own citizens yesterday to widespread outrage. Pittsburgh officials told the New York Times that it was the first time "sound cannon" had been used publicly.
The Guardian also notes, "It is feared the sounds emitted are loud enough to damage eardrums and even cause fatal aneurysms."

Forgive the Hollywood reference, but for those who don't understand what this type of weapon is, think of that scene in the first Iron Man movie when the antagonist, Obadiah Stane, paralyzes the protagonist, his boss Tony Stark, with an acoustic device developed by Stark Industries so that he can remove the "arc reactor" (which keeps Stark alive and also powers his suit) from Stark's chest.

That's roughly analogous what happened in Pittsburgh. The United States military used a dangerous, sophisticated weapon that was researched and developed using our common wealth and turned that weapon on its own bosses... the American people! Granted, we weren't all exposed to the sonic cannon, but some of us were, and that is simply unfathomable. Outrageous doesn't do justice to this banal and wholly unjustified act of brutality.

See for yourself. Not the same as being there, of course, but you imagine what it's like to be in the vicinity of these sonic blasts.

My favorite part is where the police loudspeaker sounds out the warning, I hereby declare this an unlawful assembly.

Somebody should have shouted back (and perhaps they did) We hereby declare your warning unconstitutional.

The Constitution of the United States does not give any police authority in the United States the ability to declare protests "unlawful" simply because they don't want them to occur, or occur in some particular location.

The First Amendment is pretty clear on this subject. It says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Congress shall make no law...

But hey, when a bunch of world leaders are in town, who cares what the Constitution says? It's only a piece of paper, right?

President Obama, for his part, was not concerned about how protesters were being treated. He actually used the words "very tranquil" to describe the summit, when asked at the end what his response was to protesters outside.

Sorry, Mr. President, but that's about the most ridiculous and untrue thing you've ever said, and to us it's as appalling as the Orwellian platitudes frequently offered by George W. Bush. You obviously never bothered to take a look at what was going on outside on the streets of Pittsburgh. Or you would have noticed the tear gas and sonic cannons. I'll quote, from the police loudspeakers in the video:
I hereby declare this to be an unlawful assembly...I order all those assembled to immediately disperse...No matter, what your purpose is, you must leave... Other police action may include actual physical removal, the use of riot control agents, and or less lethal munitions, which could cause risk of injury to those who remain...
Yeah, that's tranquil, all right... in Opposite World!

Being black on campus can be lonely

Sometimes I’m the only woman in the room. Sometimes I’m the only one in a group who doesn’t speak French or Hindi or even “techie.” Do I feel uncomfortable? Yes, sometimes.

If I don’t know anyone at a party I pretty reliably gravitate towards people who look like me or speak my language. I prefer to be in my comfort zone.

With just these pretty limited experiences, I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be to be one of only 131 black freshmen out of a class of over 5,000 starting at the University of Washington this week. Will these kids feel lonely? Misunderstood? They'll probably feel pretty uncomfortable sometimes.

Former UW student and African-American, Lull Mengesha, recently wrote The Only Black Student to help African-American college students adapt to life at a PWI, that is, a predominately white institution, but white readers can also learn a lot from the book, like how stereotypes and a lack of courtesy can make black students “feel like [they] were a million miles from home.”

The kids at UW were fascinated with Mengesha’s hair.
Around the sixth time someone asked to touch his hair, though, or maybe it was the tenth or fifteenth, Mengesha started to wonder if everyone at the UW viewed him as some sort of exotic pet.
While he was a UW student, Mengesha was repeatedly stopped by campus cops for no reason, and was way too frequently mistaken by other students for a basketball player or, much less cool, a drug dealer.

Stories like these help to explain why thirty percent of African-American college students drop out in their first year, much more frequently than whites do. Many factors contribute to these drop outs, like students' financial difficulties or poor academic preparation in high school, but social differences also play a significant role.

If you are a student coming from a primarily black high school, meeting white America for the first time in college is a big adjustment.

African-American educator and activist Geoffrey Canada was in Seattle recently, speaking about his ambitious project to educate Harlem’s poor black children, the Harlem’s Children Zone. Canada’s goal and the promise he makes to his students’ parents, is that every last one of the children in his care will attend college. Yet, even Canada knows that just getting into college, hard as it is for inner-city kids, isn’t enough. These kids have to overcome many challenges in order to stay there.

Students work incredibly hard to get into college and it’s in society’s best interest to keep them there, for four years at least. Tutoring and academic support for those kids not prepared for the rigor of college is hugely important, but making all students feel welcome is crucial too. Schools where blacks feel valued will attract more black students, which could eventually lead to African-Americans feeling like less of a minority at those colleges and universities and more like a substantial and important part of the student population.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Premiering tonight on PBS... The National Parks: America's Best Idea

Tonight, the Public Broadcasting System (better known as PBS) will premiere one of its greatest documentary series ever: The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

Produced by legendary filmmaker Ken Burns, the series tells a story of a progressive, characteristically American invention that has become popular around the world: the idea that our great beautiful and wild places should be protected and made accessible for the enjoyment of all as part of our common wealth.

As PBS describes it:
The narrative traces the birth of the national park idea in the mid-1800s and follows its evolution for nearly 150 years. Using archival photographs, first-person accounts of historical characters, personal memories and analysis from more than 40 interviews, and what Burns believes is the most stunning cinematography in Florentine Films' history, the series chronicles the steady addition of new parks through the stories of the people who helped create them and save them from destruction. It is simultaneously a biography of compelling characters and a biography of the American landscape.

With 391 units (58 national parks, plus 333 national monuments and historic sites), the National Park Service has a presence in 49 of the 50 states (Delaware is the sole exception). Like the idea of freedom itself, the national park idea has been constantly tested, is constantly evolving and is inherently full of contradictory tensions: between individual rights and the community, the local and the national; between preservation and exploitation, the sacred and the profitable; between one generation's immediate desires and the next generation's legacy.
This truly promises to be a must-see series.

Readers, we encourage you to join us in tuning in tonight to catch the first installment of The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

The program ("The Scripture of Nature") will air tonight at 8 PM on:
  • KCTS Seattle (usually Channel 9)
  • KSPS Spokane (usually Channel 7)
  • KYVE Yakima (usually Channel 47)
  • KTNW Tri-Cities (usually Channel 31)
  • KWSU Pullman (usually Channel 10)
  • Oregon Public Broadcasting (Channel 10 in Portland, check other cities)
It looks like only KBTC is not planning to show the program, and since its coverage area overlaps with KCTS, viewers of that station can catch it on KCTS.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Alderwood Mall Apple Store employee walkout on the horizon?

Does anybody like an angry Genius?

On October 3rd, Apple definitely will not.

As we think about labor relations in the 21st century technology and service economy, we must be mindful that fair wages, safe working environments, and non-retaliatory feedback mechanisms are as important as they've ever been.

Employees at the Apple store in Lynnwood store characterize their management as “abusive,” and say that there have been possible state and federal labor law violations at the store. The workers also say that their request for an internal investigation has been ignored.

Apple has a history of being a notoriously secretive company; they do, after all, sell proprietary software. It's no surprise that their labor problems have not been widely publicized. The actions of these employees illustrate the importance of taking a stand and demanding fair treatment in the workplace.

Why is progress so hard?

This morning DailyKos had a piece about how pressure is mounting on Blue Dog Democrats to get behind the public option. I should hope so. Data is mounting up that it makes excellent fiscal sense. The public option is polling above 60 percent nationally. It's even polling well in their more conservative-leaning districts.

It's not exactly rocket science to see that impeding the public option only impedes their own re-election prospects. And yet, the Blue Dogs don't yet seem to get it.

It would be frustrating enough if it were just this one issue. But it isn't. It's everything.

I defy anyone name a single piece of important progressive legislation that didn't share similar traits: economically smart for the long term, obviously beneficial to the populace at large, and yet steadfastly opposed by the supposedly intelligent people who we sent to Congress so they could improve the country in the first place!

It's always like this. Progress is always so hard. Why? Why is it so hard for these elected Senators and Representatives to just to the right/smart/not-evil thing?

Just be good. That's all I'm saying. Do unto others, and all that.

Pass legislation that tangibly improves people's lives, go home to your districts and say "re-elect me because I tangibly improved your life, and if you send me back here are three other important things I'll work on for you."

Personally, I'm not that hard to please. I'm really not. I think that's a great deal. You make my life better, I give you my vote. Win-win, right? Easy.

So why, O Ye August Elected Officials, do you make it so hard? Why do we have to drag you, kicking and screaming like a two year old to the bath, just to vote in the public interest?

Oh, right. It's because you took money from corporate interests, isn't it? Yeah, that's it.

Why do you do that? Why? Sure, it's easy money, but it ends up making you feel obligated to stab your constituents in the back.

You take the money, and suddenly you find yourself having to say, in public, that you're not in favor of fiscally responsible, publically beneficial, and wildly popular pieces of progress like the Public Option. You make us question why we ever sent you to D.C. in the first place. You make it harder--and more expensive--to get yourself re-elected.

It's not like it's even that much money. Most of the time, it's chump change compared to the real costs of an election. So explain to me--while you're busy telling me how the $900 junk insurance that we can't afford is better for my family than a robust public option--how that makes any sense.

Stop making it so hard, guys. Quit stabbing us in the back. Do what we sent you to Washington to do, and we'll send you back. Deal?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Washington will Race to the Top to help fund and improve its schools

As I mentioned on Monday, the amount of money Washington’s government has to pay for critical services is not getting any larger, but in fact is shrinking, to the tune of a lost $1 billion this biennium. To a state budget that painfully squeezed out $9 billion in lost revenue during the last legislative session that loss will hurt.

Families with kids in school are really going to feel the pain. My school district, Lake Washington, lost a huge chunk of state funding and avoided laying off teachers (families' last choice) by cutting in practically every other possible place: by reducing bus service and even charging families on some bus routes, increasing fees for after school activities, sports and all-day kindergarten, eliminating most teacher training and cutting back in school maintenance.

Believe me, students and parents are feeling those cuts.

Thanks to the Obama administration's emphasis on education, there is a small reason for hope. As part of the federal stimulus package, "Race to the Top" funds of $4.3 billion will be awarded to states who demonstrate a serious commitment to improving education. The administration is looking for dramatic changes and innovations in the way states educate their youth. We should be proud that Washington's hard-won education reforms that the legislature passed last winter are part of the package that could get us there.

The administration is looking for:
In four areas, Washington and its schools must stand out: standards and assessments, teacher quality, data collection and turning around low-performing schools.
Washington’s new state education chief, Randy Dorn, plans to apply for the first round of funds this fall and says that he is "confident about our chances."

The advocacy group League of Education Voters has a detailed course of action to compete for these funds and sees two areas in which we could improve and increase our odds of landing some stimulus dollars.
While Washington meets the basic eligibility requirements to apply for a Race to the Top grant, two key barriers to a competitive application remain. First, our teacher evaluation system is wholly inadequate and can’t distinguish between the most and least effective educators. Second, state law prohibits intervention in chronically under performing schools. The upcoming legislative session can remedy these shortcomings.
Washington should be working to earn federal money meant to foster improvement and innovation. Without it, what’s left to cut out of our schools in order to make up for the newest revenue shortage? Heat? Electricity? Paper? These things have already been cut. How much farther can we go?

It looks like without a portion of the Race to the Top funds we are looking at fewer teachers in Washington classrooms next year, the last choice for most families.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Constantine, Hutchison sharpen contrast at Executive forum in Kent

Autumn has finally arrived... and with it, frenetic schedules for the two candidates vying to become the next King County Executive: Democrat Dow Constantine and Republican Susan Hutchison.

Earlier tonight, Constantine and Hutchison sparred at a forum in Kent sponsored by the Minority Executive Directors Coalition, which turned out to be an intriguing flash point in a contest that is getting more pointed by the day.

Senator Claudia Kauffman got the event rolling with a South King County welcome and a brief introduction to some of the issues facing cities like Kent, Auburn, and Renton. After waiting for Hutchison to arrive, the discussion got underway, moderated by Enrique Cerna of KCTS 9, who is no stranger to the job.

Hutchison's opening pitch was constructed from the predictable stock introduction she uses almost everywhere she goes: her nonpartisan, nonpolitician schtick. She did add a new spin to it, suggesting her reporting on the Green River Killer case has given her an appreciation for how the criminal justice system works.

(It's amazing what a career in television can do to prepare a person for public service. Hutchison portrays herself as an outsider, but if her workplace had been one of the nation's largest local governments, she would be talking constantly about her experience as Kiro County Council Chair).

Naturally, we were also treated to an undefined vision of change.

Dow introduced himself as the only candidate who represents South King County, and the only person in the race who "really represents anyone." He argued that he has fought to reform King County government and protect basic human rights.

Dow claimed his opponent has little to offer except for "prepackaged soundbites and attacks", adding that he has diligently sought to keep King County shipshape in tough economic times, by instituting performance measures, supporting a hiring freeze in county government, lowering the costs of doing business, and reducing the size of county council staff.

Not to be left off the hiring freeze bandwagon, Hutchison claimed she supported the idea before it was implemented. She said she even called and thanked Kurt Triplett for instituting the freeze. But she did not thank Dow for his role.

Cerna asked Hutchison about her ties to Republicans and conservatives, wanting to know if she had any strategy for wooing progressive votes. Hutchison apparently thinks she doesn't have any work to do because she responded by simply citing poll numbers that show some Democrats and independents supporting her candidacy. She then acknowledged that she has ties to conservative groups, adding, "I just encourage you to not take too seriously what you read in left-wing blogs."

That's rich, especially coming from somebody who was paid to read a teleprompter on weeknights. Yes, we should rely exclusively on the six o'clock news to inform ourselves. Who needs a transcript and full context from an event like this when we can have edited sound bites served up to us in by well meaning producers between advertisements for cars and laundry detergent?

Asked about annexation, Dow pointed to the county's recent efforts to help cities adopt unincorporated urban areas, like the southern part of the North Highline area, which recently voted to join the City of Burien.

Susan remained hesitant about forcing cities to annex unincorporated parts of the County. She focused on what she called the county's "bad reputation" with cities. But she did not explain how she would be a bridge builder. (Perhaps that's because when the going gets tough, Hutchison goes canoeing.)

The topic moved to transportation, and more specifically, transit governance. Hutchison, predictably, said she wants to consolidate all transit organizations under one person to be appointed by the Executive. She then asserted that the ferry district was created so the county can be in the flood district business (which Dow shook his head at and later challenged).

Dow said the ferry district, approved by a near unanimous vote by the county council, was created because the state wanted to get out of the business of providing passenger ferry service to Vashon Island. (It's called passing the buck, and in our statehouse, it happens all the time).

After Hutchison claimed the county wasted millions testing Lake Washington ferry service, Dow quickly responded, saying she was being misleading.

Dow noted that he had worked with his former rival Fred Jarrett to give the county the taxing authority to keep buses rolling, and that he had supported both the Roads & Transit package (which failed) and the successful Sound Transit 2 proposal.

When the conversation turned to dollars and cents, Hutchison issued a lukewarm endorsement of budgeting by referendum, signaling the only time she would support raising revenue is if voters approved a proposition that did so. (Nice to know we've got such a champion for representative democracy).

Dow said he'd push for serious tax reform to shake up the most regressive tax structure in the country. Hutchison made no comment on the validity of an income tax or a conversation about moving towards progressive taxation.

In regards to keeping services, Dow observed that he has released a concrete plan while his opponent has put out nothing. Hutchison passed up an opportunity to offer a detailed pitch for protecting essential services, instead spending her time trying to explain why she doesn't have a plan.

And when it came time to deliver closing statements, Hutchison butressed her prior answers by declaring that America has a citizen run government, even mentioning George Washington. (How original).

Constantine emphasized that voters should ask two questions when selecting a candidate: Who is most able to lead us forward, and who shares our values.

And with that, the forum was over.

I'll update this post later with a transcript of Hutchison's answer on transit governance. All in all, an illuminating discussion.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This Just In: Wolf Blitzer bombs in front of a national television audience

And he wasn't even on CNN. Shocking:
In a scene seemingly taken from the “Saturday Night Live” parody, the “Situation Room” host had trouble with a number of questions on an episode of “Jeopardy! Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational Tournament” on Thursday, landing at a score of negative $4,600 at the end of Double Jeopardy.

Wolf flubbed questions about a type of pasta, King David and Jesus’ hometown, an accused person in court, the word “excerpts” and 1850s economics.
Blitzer actually said, "What is Jerusalem?" when Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek recognized him to provide the answer to the question about Jesus' birthplace. Blitzer evidently doesn't do much caroling at Christmastime, or he would have known the correct answer is Bethlehem (as in, O little town of.... Maybe that's becaue he's always cooped up in the Situation Room.

Some of Blitzer's other flubs follow. These first two, the like Jesus' birthplace answer, are from the Three E's category, for words with three e's in them:
Answer: An accused person in court, along with his counsel
Wolf: What is a defendant? (One E too few, Wolf. Try defense.)

Answer: Selected some material from a larger work
Wolf: Annotated. (He didn’t even have the “what is” in there. And that’s not what annotated means, and it only has one E. So, three-fer.)

Finally, to the clue “The 1850s saw a bad one of this 5-letter word that refers to an economic crash and the fear-driven rush to sell,” Wolf responded, “What is a crash?” This, friends, is how you wind up $4,600 in the red at the beginning of Final Jeopardy.
The episode (for now) is available for viewing online, if you want to watch The Tonight Show's Andy Richter breeze through whole categories while Wolf struggles to get points in edgewise. Even Desperate Housewives star Dana Delany (who portrays Katherine Mayfair) outperformed Blitzer, who found himself further behind but more embarrassed as the show stretched on into its second half.

Blitzer sure provided a fine demonstration of how it's a lot easier to read a prompter than it is to think on your feet.

No wonder he's the Most Trusted Name in Pointless Blather.™

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bits and pieces: Health care reform, Washington state budget

Health care reform

I don’t mind spending time in the car because it’s an opportunity to listen to AM 1090, progressive talk radio. Yesterday I had the good luck to catch Amy Goodman’s show Democracy Now on the station. Amy opened the show with a disturbing statistic on the uninsured.
Nearly 45,000 Americans die every year—that’s 122 deaths a day—due to lack of health insurance. That’s the startling finding of a new study that appears in the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
This number is more than the expected number of deaths from breast cancer last year -- 41,000 people -- and many common diseases such as kidney disease.

So, instead of donating money to the American Cancer Society, maybe we should be helping people access health insurance instead?

Washington's budget

You might have heard that Washington is forecasted to lose another $238 million in revenue this biennium due to low sales tax receipts. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll see an even bigger number.

At a meeting with Democratic activists yesterday in Seattle, two state legislators, Senator Margarita Prentice and Representative Ross Hunter, told the group that the budget deficit will be actually closer to $1 billion when the increased need for services and other factors are considered. Neither lawmaker was receptive to activists’ request for new revenue sources.

At the meeting, Hunter, chair of the House Finance Committee, used an interesting metaphor to describe the effects of Tim Eyman’s job-killing measure, Initiative 1033, on Washington’s economy. He said that people like to describe Washington’s economy as a roller coaster, with peaks and valleys. Under I-1033, our economy would be one half of a roller coaster ride, the bottom portion. No peaks, only valleys.

Tim Eyman wants to take Washington on quite a ride.

Tracking Seattle's trash

Whoops! My cat knocked over my coffee cup, so I grab a couple of paper towels to mop it up. The towels go into the trash and I pour myself a new cup of coffee.

Sound familiar? How long do you think those paper towels were actually being used? All of thirty seconds? Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are demonstrating through a new study how much time and energy it takes to dispose of our garbage, some of which is only used for a few seconds. Seattle’s reputation as an ecologically savvy city earned us the right to participate in the study.
Through the project, overseen by M.I.T.’s Senseable City Laboratory, 3,000 common pieces of garbage, mostly from Seattle, are to be tracked through the waste disposal system over the next three months. The researchers will display the routes in real time online and in exhibitions opening at the Architectural League of New York on Thursday and the Seattle Public Library on Saturday.
Seattlites donated garbage this summer ranging from soiled coffee cups to a washing machine, which the MIT researchers then tagged with small electronic tracking devices.

Collecting, sorting, transporting and eventually disposing of trash is an expensive and challenging job for cities. Not only will studying garbage's journeys help waste managers create new efficiencies in the waste system, but it will also educate the public about the life of objects once they leave their possession. Those paper towels didn’t just disappear when I tossed them into the trash can.

Seattle has been reducing its waste and increasing its recycling for five straight years. In 2008, it recycled fifty percent of its trash, easily beating the national average of 32.1 percent. We are definitely getting the hang of it.

MIT expects to have results of the study available in a few months, but in the meantime, anyone can check out an exhibit on the Seattle Library’s fifth floor, displaying the route, location and travel time for each piece of tagged trash. You can learn much more about the project at the Senseable City website and test your recycling know how with this cute online game.

In reality, I always use a cloth to wipe up spills, never a paper towel. It’s a lot less expensive and think of all the trees that aren't sacrificed cleaning up my mistakes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Initiative 1033's backers exhibit their disdain for representative democracy

Recently, in response to one of Tim Eyman's emails hyping his latest scheme to paralyze Washington State, I authored a post which explained why Initiative 1033 represents Tim Eyman's boldest attack to date on representative democracy.

This annoyed Virgina conservative Paul Jacob so much that he decided to reply this weekend at Salem Communications', one of the Republican Noise Machine's more prominent Internet destinations. (Townhall, for those who don't know, was originally operated by the Heritage Foundation; it is now run by Salem Communications, which owns quite a few radio stations and other Internet portals).

Jacob's biography suggests that, like Tim Eyman and other Grover Norquist clones across the country, he is an infallible believer in the initiative and referendum process, and doesn't care much for our cherished tradition of representative democracy. His biography also helps explain why his reply to my post is based on a series of misrepresentations.

What misrepresentations? Well, take Jacobs' title, The loving grip of the wise elite, which is a snide reference to what he evidently thinks we believe.
Smart people should rule the world.

That, anyway, is what certain folks who consider themselves far smarter than you or me tend to think. These clever souls hang out with other brainy people, all of whom are very impressed with the intelligence they find around themselves — at places, say, like the Northwest Progressive Institute.

Yes, for the good of everyone, they must rule.
Lovely, a weak attempt at sarcasm wrapped in an old forlorn stereotype about supposed liberal elitism. I have to confess I was surprised that I didn't see the words "latte drinking" or "Birkenstock" in there somewhere, but maybe Jacob just didn't get the memo about using choice words to bolster the frame he was invoking.

Jacob doesn't bother to develop a serious argument against idea factories, where, as he put it, "clever souls" can "hang out with other brainy people." Perhaps that's because conservatives are the ones who have invested billions of dollars in think tanks, leadership training to develop political talent, and policy networks to funnel ideas between states or to our nation's capitol.

The whole point of such infrastructure is to harness and refine political thought, and it's a well-oiled machine. Progressives are playing catch up, as we and others have pointed out on many occasions.

Jacob's insinuation that we consider ourselves elite is even more amusing considering how unconventional NPI is. Most think tanks start out with plenty of seed money, wealthy patrons, and connections.

NPI is the opposite of that; it's been built block by block by activists who believe our movement needs infrastructure if we're to make headway towards restoring and strengthening the American promise.

Jacob goes on to provide a predictable distortion of progressive thought.
Without such leadership, after all, how would the little people — those of us less brilliant, less progressive — know precisely how much revenue, how much of "our common wealth," should be obtained by state government through taxes and then spent on various programs?

You ask: What programs? Programs these really smart people think up, of course.
Pooling our resources together into a common wealth to do for ourselves what we cannot do in our separate and individual capacities is an American tradition which dates back to colonial times and beyond, before Europeans even arrived on this continent. How much we invest in our common wealth, and what we invest in, has ultimately been decided by popular demand throughout our history.

For instance, during the Depression several decades ago, Americans wanted President Herbert Hoover to intervene and take action to save the economy from further collapse. But Hoover would only offer a very limited, measured response, because he figured that individual initiative would rescue the nation from its economic woes.

Frustrated by this, the American people turned to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who signed into law the creation of many services that have endured to the present day, most notably Social Security. These services were not created because "really smart people" wanted to legislate what was best for everyone; they were created because the American people wanted and demanded them.

If that were not the case, Social Security would have been dismantled after the Depression. But it hasn't been, even though staunch conservatives have tried to do away with Social Security or privatize it many times.

In an attempt to convince their fellow Americans that less government is good, conservatives often use the blandest, most generic language they can think of, hence Jacob's repeated use of the word programs.

The assumption is that government does lots of unnecessary things, and we are mocked for wanting government to do more of them.

This assumption makes sense inside of a conservative worldview, but not in reality. In reality, government offers essential services that people want and need, like schools, libraries, roads, parks, or police and fire protection.

After introducing his readers to Tim Eyman, Jacob goes on to briefly outline Initiative 1033 using conservative framing, mentioning the provision I critiqued in my post, which allows I-1033's draconian services freeze to be circumvented only if voters explicitly approve doing so on a case by case basis.
[T]his democracy idea doesn’t sit so well with Andrew Villeneuve, who tells us on the Northwest Progressive Institute’s blog that “I-1033 is the boldest assault yet in Tim Eyman’s war on representative democracy.”

Villeneuve believes permitting mere citizens to occasionally vote directly on taxes and spending, on economic policies, is somehow illegitimate — and destructive of the delicate brain surgery done by legislatures.

Oh, he freely admits that the first Americans to raise the banner of Progressivism brought us initiative, referendum and recall. But many of today’s self-described progressives now say “thanks, but no thanks” to the idea of empowering the actual people on the receiving and funding ends of government.
Jacob either did not read my post very thoroughly (and is thus misrepresenting my position by accident), or he did and is deliberately being duplicitous. I suspect it's the latter. There are a few progressives who want to abolish the instruments of direct democracy; we at NPI (like most progressives) are not among them.

I did not argue - and we at NPI do not believe - that occasionally putting questions to the people is unwise. The people of Washington have enacted a number of good ideas over the years, including Washington's public disclosure law several decades ago, and more recently, our tough anti-smoking law.

What I did argue was that the initiative and referendum weren't intended to subvert our republican form of government (note the small r).

Tim Eyman's measures are deliberately engineered to mess with representative democracy, particularly local representative democracy, or home rule.

Eyman's "one size fits all" schemes prevent neighbors across the state from making their own decisions about how and when to deliver the services they want and need, besides tying the hands of the Legislature and the Governor. Initiative 1033 is the latest and worst of these schemes.

Jacob goes on:
The little guy has apparently outworn his welcome.

Everyman (or -woman) might not vote the right way — that is, the “left” way. Thus, all decisions must be made by special-interest barnacled politicians. Otherwise, disaster lurks.
Apparently the audience for Jacob's reply is not conservatives who are capable of reasoning well, because even reasonable conservatives can see that this train of thought, attributed to me, doesn't make sense.

Just for fun, here are the principal problems with it.

First, the same forces that corrupt representative democracy can also corrupt direct democracy... and do. Special interests need only spend a certain sum of money to force a public vote on something. They can then spend even more trying to influence the outcome of the vote. Just as "special-interest barnacled politicians" can be bought, so can the electorate. It is deceitful to argue that direct democracy is purer than representative democracy.

Second, and more importantly, a person who has no faith at all in majority rule would not support any kind of democracy, either direct or representative. A person with so little regard for his or her fellow citizens would not believe them capable of voting either the "right" way or selecting the "right"leaders. There are people out there who advocate autocracy, oligarchy, and anarchy because they view democracy as flawed, but they are not progressives.
"If all public services were dependent on voter approval to exist year to year, Washington would not even be a State,” claims the hyperbolic Villeneuve. “Our beautiful corner of America would be known as The Evergreen Chaos."

Such Chicken Little statements have little to do with the reality of Eyman’s proposal. I-1033 will not require any program to be re-upped by voters yearly.
First it was little people, then the little guy, now it's Chicken Little.

Jacob's vocabulary sure is... little.

Eyman's proposal would in fact, force voters who do not want their essential services gutted to regularly approve revenue increases, because that would be the only way to deice its draconian limits once it has frozen into place.
More troubling, though, is Mr. Villeneuve [sic] complete lack of faith in the voters.

Villeneuve is mistaken on the merits of I-1033, but he is dangerously unbalanced in arguing against the right of the people to check the actions of their government through initiative and referendum.

"The initiative and referendum were not intended to replace the Legislature," he says. But of course, legislators aren’t being replaced, merely overruled. By their bosses.
Maybe Jacob does have a comprehension problem. He's quoted me enough that even his own readers (at least those who are intelligent enough to parse what I wrote) should be able to tell that he's misstating my position.

If I had no faith in the voters, as Jacob presupposes, then I would not believe in democracy at all, as I explained a few paragraphs ago.

As for I-1033, there are no merits to argue about. It is a scheme so malicious that it cannot be improved or mitigated. It's not possible to turn it into good policy because it's rotten, though and through.

Incredulously, Jacob then goes on to cite, of all people, James Madison, lifting a very brief passage out of Federalist No. 49 about the people being the only legitimate fountain of power. He doesn't even bother to link to the whole essay for context.

As anyone who has studied the debate over ratification of the Constitution knows, James Madison was one of the biggest proponents of representative democracy of his day (he called it republicanism). In Federalist No. 10, Madison goes out of his way to argue that direct democracy is unworkable because such a system of government can be unraveled by mischievous factions:
From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.
So much for Jacob's lofty appeal to our fifth President for wisdom. Jacob then takes issue with my quoting Winston Churchill:
Funny how Villeneuve edited Churchill. Britain’s prime minister did not use the term "representative democracy" at all. He actually said, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
Yet another disingenuous paragraph.

Churchill didn't throw in the word representative because he didn't need to... the United Kingdom doesn't have an initiative and referendum process. Representative democracy is all they've got. Since the 1970s the government has referred a few questions to the people of the United Kingdom to weigh in on, but it did not even do that in Churchill's time. And again, there is no such thing as a citizen-initiated initiative or referendum in the U.K.

(The same is true in the United States, at the federal level).

Since Jacob is such a big fan of context, here is a longer excerpt of what Churchill said, encompassing both the brief snippet I quoted and the longer version of the quote that Jacob used, which can be commonly found on the Internet.
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters.
Emphasis is mine. It's pretty obvious that Churchill was talking about representative democracy, not direct democracy.

I didn't get into the context (PDF) in my original post, because I merely wished to offer a very brief aphorism that readers would recognize. Churchill did not originate the remark about democracy being "the worst form of Government", but since he did not attribute a source, history has given him the credit for it.

Villeneuve’s last refuge is to denounce the entire concept of voter initiatives for one additional reason. “Every time we the people of Washington State are forced to vote on Tim Eyman’s measures, it costs each of us a pretty penny,” he writes. “Eyman seems to have forgotten that holding elections — like every other public service the government provides — carry a price tag.”

Oh, sure, democracy is nice and all, but it costs too much. Perhaps a king would be cheaper?
Jacob's final misrepresentation is perhaps his richest. Since he's totally dispensed with the context of what I wrote, I'll take an opportunity to reestablish it.

Tim Eyman, like other zealous Grover Norquist clones, has spent nearly his entire political career trying to get the people of Washington State to believe in a free lunch. A free lunch is, quite simply, the idea that we can have it all and not pay for it... that we can get to some end result without doing the math.

Eyman tells people that government is wasteful and inefficient, implying that the same levels of service could be provided with less revenue; he never bothers, however, to identify what he considers wasteful.

That also explains why he has demurred from seeking office. Just as his initiatives are not concerned with responsible governance, neither is he.

He would like to enjoy all the benefits our common wealth provides without having to pay anything. This "me-first" worldview is not only selfish, but dangerous, for when it is cynically harnessed to drum up support for Eyman's schemes, it negatively affects our quality of life.

One of the benefits our common wealth provides is, obviously, elections.

It costs money to print up ballots, mail them out or distribute them to poll sites (in Pierce County's case), employ personnel to operate the machinery to tally them (or manually tally them) and record the contents. It also costs money to print up the voter's pamphlet and mail that out.

The objective of Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033 is to slowly drown government in a bathtub by freezing the resources currently available to fund public services, thus ensuring death by a thousand cuts. The only way to ease the chokehold of Initiative 1033 is to refer a proposition to the people of a particular jurisdiction so they can explicitly approve a one time increase in revenue.

But since elections cost money, under Initiative 1033, a community would have to pay, repeatedly, to exempt itself even if its residents aren't selfish and want to protect their quality of life by sustaining service levels.

The aim of my original post was to make plainly clear that budgeting by referendum is not only inconsistent with our republican tradition and impractical (especially when taken to an extreme), but also expensive.

By equating our opposition to budgeting by referendum and abuse of the initiative process as synonymous with opposition to direct democracy altogether, Jacob has managed to set up and knock down an fine straw man. His reply does not even attempt to refute our arguments about Initiative 1033; instead, as noted earlier, it justs declares at one point that I'm wrong.

So a conservative enthralled with direct democracy doesn't agree with our criticism of Tim Eyman's latest initiative. What else is new?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

University of Washington Huskies take down No. 3 USC, Seattle goes wild

Wow. Just wow.

Taking a break from politics here, but a deserved one.

Jake Locker and the Boys in Purple just took down the No. 3 Trojans, 16-13 in a hard fought game at Husky Stadium.

The U District of course, is going nuts at this moment, with fans swarming the field and Husky fans everywhere letting out big victory yells.

For fans of a team that went 0 and 12 last year, to stun USC - who are seven time Pac-10 defending champions - with an upset at home three games in the season, this victory tastes unbelievably sweet.

And it sends an important message: The Huskies are back.

Under new coach Steve Sarkisian, who coached at USC last year under Pete Carroll, the Huskies are off to a 2-1 start, and are tied for the Pac-10 conference lead.

Haven't been able to sing Bow Down to Washington in a while... now, finally, Husky fans can sing a rousing rendition of the University's fight song.

This win seems on its way to becoming a legend in the annals of UW football history. A game for the ages, on par with the Whammy in Miami.

Washington won the game largely through its defense, which held USC to thirteen points and forced three turnovers. Washington scored three field goals and one touchdown for a total of sixteen points, the last field goal coming with just a few seconds left on the clock.

Already, the national media is taking notice... ESPN's current headline reads, for instance, Upset in Seattle.

We've got a lot of work to do to win this November's elections, but it feels awfully good to have something sweet to celebrate this weekend as we get closer to the date ballots drop.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Government should take charge of technology innovation, not outsource to Google

Google will soon begin bidding on federal government contracts. The company is working toward compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), a requirement for obtaining government IT contracts.

There are obvious concerns with Google managing data for the government. These include:
  • Who owns the data?
  • Who has access?
  • What if there's a breach in Google's data center?
  • How will Google employees handle such sensitive public information?
These questions are the government's primary concerns and must be answered adequately before entering any agreement with any contractor.

However, such questions open the door to more fundamental questions about how our government can and should use technology, and even more broadly how it should operate going forward.

Openness and transparency are concepts fundamental to effective participatory democracy. Without openness, there can be no understanding. Without understanding, citizens cannot responsibly participate in their government.

Does housing data, information, and knowledge in centers owned and operated by private companies go against these principles?

Google has made a business out of making the answers to the questions of how and where information is stored (as well as managed) opaque.

They argue that with data being "in the cloud," you don't need to be concerned about the details; just know it's there when you request it. This is acceptable for personal email, but it is alarming in the realm of government data.

There, the details matter. The protocols matter.

A better approach would be making investments into our government's own information technology infrastructure. This sort of capacity investment makes America stronger by making our government smarter, more responsive, and more efficient.

Just as we encourage students to pursue and a college education to increase their networking and job opportunities, we too must encourage smart investments in building our government's technology capacity.

The federal government should be the world leader in information technology innovation. Our friends at the Sunlight Foundation and the attendees of the Gov 2.0 Summit are already thinking about how to leverage technology to make government more effective. Moving forward in that direction is the smart thing to do, but we should be careful not to unwisely outsource the work.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Stand up to conservative bullies

I wondered if the newspaper layout was some kind of a joke. The irony was just too much. Located on the same page this week were an article on the exposé of the grassroots organizing group ACORN and its accompanying conservative outrage, an article about Representative Joe Wilson’s Tourette’s moment last week, and an article about drunken military contractors having frat boy evenings in Afghanistan.

What do these three stories have in common? The connection is the hypocrisy and bullying behavior of the Republican Party.

Let’s start with ACORN, an organization historically linked to the Democratic Party and President Obama in particular. Yes, some of the group’s employees gave extremely bad advice to “investigators” masquerading as a prostitute and a pimp, but ACORN responded quickly by firing those involved and initiating an independent review. Democrats quickly capitulated to Republican outrage over the incidents and their response has been severe.
The Senate voted Monday to block the Housing and Urban Development Department from giving grants to ACORN, and the Census Bureau last week severed its ties with the group for the 2010 national head count.
Score one for conservatives who have had it in for ACORN for a long time.

What happens when organizations linked to Republicans conduct immoral behavior? They get their contracts renewed. Private security guards in Kabul who threw raunchy, boozy parties and posed “a significant threat to security" are being investigated, but there is no talk of the federal government severing ties with their employer:
The guards work for ArmorGroup North America, which has an $180 million annual contract with the State Department to secure the embassy and the 1,000 diplomats, staff and Afghan nationals who work there. The State Department renewed the contract in July despite finding numerous performance deficiencies by ArmorGroup in recent years which were the subject of a Senate subcommittee hearing in June.
It was Donald Rumsfeld who made private contractors, particularly those connected with Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, an integral part of our armed forces.
Indeed, Rumsfeld's trademark "small footprint" approach ushered in one of the most significant developments in modern warfare--the widespread use of private contractors in every aspect of war, including in combat.
These hired mercenaries from the likes of KBR and Blackwater have killed Iraqi civilians, stolen Iraqi treasures and sexually assaulted their co-workers, all while continuing to earn billions of tax-payer dollars.

Where’s the conservative outrage? All I see is hypocrisy.

And so we get to Representative Wilson who broke congressional rules last week by yelling, “You lie,” during President Obama’s congressional address. Wilson was grudgingly contrite about the incident, and Republicans stood behind him. House Dems actually showed some backbone in censuring him, but only because they were led to do so by senior black lawmakers.

In this instance Republicans stood their ground and defended the bullying behavior of one of their own. What do Democrats usually do when the bullies attack?

When Van Jones was recently ambushed by the conservative media for signing a suspicious petition, the Obama administration caved to Republican pressure by not defending Jones, and allowing him to resign from his government position. Score another one for the bullies.

Repeatedly, conservatives let their media attack dogs maul Democrats, and repeatedly progressive organizations and Democrats roll over and take it. Belly up. What did our parents teach us to do with bullies? They taught us to stand up to them. If you don't, bullies will continue to pick on someone who they think is weaker than they are.

Democrats need to defend their own, not back down and stand up to the bullying hypocrites. If they see we are weak, conservatives will keep hitting us until we fall. And now's not the time to fall.

Senator Maria Cantwell: Baucus bill does not constitute real healthcare reform

Encouraging words from our representative on the Senate Finance Committee:
Sen. Maria Cantwell said unless significant changes were made she would be unable to support a major health care reform bill unveiled Wednesday by the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The Washington Democrat, a member of the Finance Committee, said the measure from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., did not include a government-run insurance option and failed to overhaul the Medicare reimbursement formula which is critical to Washington state.

"I wouldn't vote for a bill that doesn't have Medicare reform and the public option," Cantwell said in a telephone interview. "What would I tell the people in Washington state?"
That's our Senator. Those who were worried that Senator Cantwell would not stand strong in favor of a robust public option ought to feel heartened by these comments. That's a great quote, too... What would I tell the people in Washington State? Almost feels like we're eavesdropping on a meeting between her and Max where she's patiently explaining why BaucusCare is simply not acceptable.

Baucus' feeble bill is pretty bad, and not much of an improvement over the status quo. In fact, the most it could accomplish as designed is to offer a little temporary relief which would really only succeed in reminding everyone how timid Congress is in trying to address our problems. (See also, Congress deadlocked over how to not provide healthcare, by The Onion).

Passing the Baucus bill would be like trying to put a bandage on a broken body... the broken body in this case being our healthcare system.

President Obama has repeatedly insisted that a public option is only one element in his plan. What he often fails to say is that the public option is about the only element in there that could have any meaningful impact on the insurance industry's business practices. Without a public option to keep them honest, insurance companies will just look for opportunities to go back to their old ways.

They'll find loopholes and exploit them. Just look at what credit card issuers are doing now. That's bad enough, but healthcare goes beyond dollars and cents. Lives are at stake. People who don't have coverage need to be covered.

Any bill that does not incorporate a robust public option is a nonstarter. Progressives in the House and Senate should stand strong and vote down any bill that doesn't include one. Enough caving to the Bush Dogs, er, I mean, Blue Dogs. Force them to join us instead of the other way around. It's time to take a stand. If progressives on Capitol Hill can't do that at this pivotal time, then they will be sending the message that reaching a deal, any deal, is more important than the progressive values they profess to believe in.

We are already compromising by not moving forward with single payer healthcare. The public option cannot be compromised... period!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Susan Hutchison now says Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033 "would be a disaster"

Less than three months after telling NPI that she had "no opinion" on Tim Eyman's jobs-killing Initiative 1033, Susan Hutchison has come to the conclusion that the initiative, as we've insisted all along, is simply awful.

At a dinner hosted by the Suburban Cites Association in Tukwila, Hutchison responded to a question about Initiative 1033 by immediately declaring, "I think if it passes it would be a disaster," adding that it "goes too far". The tone of her response suggested her opposition to Initiative 1033 will be worn henceforth as a badge of honor, rather than something she'd prefer that voters not know.

Hutchison had previously told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer she was leaning towards opposing I-1033, and when pressed, suggested she would vote no. Tonight she solidified her position against Tim Eyman's jobs-killing scheme.

We're heartened to see this, but we'd like to see Hutchison take her opposition to the next level by urging her supporters to join her in voting no. If she truly agrees with us that Initiative 1033 would be destructive to our communities, she ought to do everything she can to participate in the effort to defeat it. Sending an email to her supporters would be a good first step.

Hutchison's opponent, Dow Constantine, made clear months ago that he unequivocally opposes Initiative 1033 and has spoken out on many occasions against the shortsightedness of Tim Eyman's initiatives.

Hutchison and Constantine are also in agreement on Washington's other statewide ballot measure, Referendum 71; both plan to vote to approve the referendum in November. (An Approve vote keeps the law).

We'll post a full transcript of Hutchison and Constantine's answers to the Suburban Cities question about Initiative 1033 later tonight.

UPDATE: Full transcript of the I-1033 Q&A:
QUESTION: If Initiative 1033 is approved by the voters, what do you believe will be the impact on plans for annexations and growth in King County?

HUTCHISON: I haven't seen any polls on, uh, 1033 yet, and I'm not quite sure it's... it's on the radar of our voters... yet. But... it's certainly on the radar of all of you, and the mayors I've talked to.

And I think, uh, if it passes, it would be a disaster... for King County and all of our cities throughout the state. You know, I fundamentally don't like government taxing and spending, taxing and spending. And, uh... but 1033 just goes too far.

I think we could agree that, uh, we need to have revenue caps to an extent that do take into account reasonable inflation and employee compensation and healthcare and all those things. Um... Our current tax structure, as we've said many times, is fairly volatile. But instead of refunding surpluses in, uh, good times, we... need to protect, uh, all of our, uh, services that we provide when the economy, uh, takes a downturn, by being able to use those surpluses to fill up our rainy day funds. So, um... I would be against 1033, and will vote against it.

CONSTANTINE: Well, I'm strongly opposed to I-1033, which probably comes as a huge shock to many in this room. [LAUGHTER] I uh, I know at first glance it sounds good to many people, like most of the initiatives do. But objective analysis shows that it will, in fact, be devastating for our state, counties, and cities. It will stop annexations altogether.

And it's going to make it very, very difficult for people to take on new territory, if they're stuck with the same, uh, budget numbers that they had when they had a smaller jurisdiction. It's the kind of legislation that would preclude policymakers from providing the high level of service that their citizens demand.

When a similar initiative passed in Colorado, it was so disastrous that the Republican governor organized the effort and got voters to overturn its key provisions. But the damage was done... in that state. Our office of fiscal management calculated that by 2015, this initiative would cost the state government nearly six billion dollars in tax revenues and deprive cities and counties of another nearly three billion dollars.

I know many city officials are concerned about the potential cost of providing services to new residents. You know... So this would make you use the 2009 budget as your base. And here we are, cutting and cutting and cutting.

Your new base is going to be the rebased lower budget. And... when times improve, you're not going to be able to go back to the level needed to provide the services your citizens expect, to make up for some of the shifting of funds from essential, but long term, functions into immediate needs. You're going to be stuck with this recession-era budget as your base moving forward.

It is a prescription for disaster. And it's a prescription for us staying in this recession for much longer than we need to.
Dow's response was good, and considering the audience, well thought out. What voters need to know, very simply, is this: Initiative 1033 is a jobs killer. It would ravage public services, trap us in a permanent recession, and lead to more layoffs. It is a proven failure and a transfer of wealth from we the people to a small group of wealthy property owners. It is Tim Eyman's most destructive initiative ever. Only by rejecting it can we protect our communities and stave off job losses.

Don't want these bad economic times to get worse? Vote NO on Initiative 1033.

How to keep from getting wrung out by politics: Advice for fellow activists

I have to say, lately I'm feeling really wrung out by politics. I've got that awful, worn, weary, bone tired, no gas in the tank feeling.

It's not a good feeling. Worse, it inhibits my motivation for doing anything to advance the causes that matter to me. I spent some time this past few days thinking about why I'm feeling this way, and I thought I'd share in the hope that I can help others who may be sharing similar feelings.

I wish I had a simple answer for this feeling, but at least for me it isn't simple. There's a lot going on here.

Part of it is focus. There are so many important issues in play right now: reducing emissions to slow the climate crisis, workers' rights, our state's horrible budget and revenue problems, Eyman's jobs-killing initiative 1033, voting reform, basic economic fairness for the middle class, education reform and the skyrocketing cost of education, food system reform, restoring civil liberties, and... healthcare.

All of it matters to me. I have a core belief, which I think is shared by many, if not most progressives, that I don't have very much right to complain about any of those things if I'm not out there trying to do something about them. So I end up feeling responsible, to some small measure, for all of them. But there's only so much of me to go around, and it's definitely not enough to address all of them. The whole pile of problems ends up feeling like an insurmountable, Herculean task.

Part of it is simply fatigue. How many years have I been at this? Too many. Not enough. Not as many as some. How many thousands of fundraising letters have I received? How many click-this, sign-that, call-your-congressperson emails? How many letters to the editor have I written? How many blog posts? How many conversations? Uncountably many. How many issues well and truly solved? Zero.

And part of it is a matter of unintentional psychological warfare. There's this theory of human motivation called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Briefly stated, it says that before people can be motivated to pursue lofty, noble goals like voting system reform, their more fundamental needs for food, safety, belonging, and so forth must be met.

Maslow's theory certainly has some problems (it doesn't explain the existence of starving artists, for instance), but at its core I think it's probably pretty solid: take away or attack something low down on a person's hierarchy of needs, and you're going to pretty rapidly focus that person's attention there, rather than on more lofty items. Right now, all we hear about is healthcare. That hits me down near the bottom of the hierarchy, right at the security level.

The relentless ebb and flow of the health care debate, with its endless interpretations of whether the public option is in or out wears at me, leaving me feeling very insecure for my family's long term security. With my security under attack it's hard to spare any thought for, say, restoring civil liberties, however critically important that actually is for our nation's long term health.

So what can I do? I labeled this post as a "how to" for a reason. Because I think I've got an answer, or at least a partial one, as to how to escape this spiral of wrung-out hopelessness.

Focus and Trust. Focus is part of the problem, but also part of the solution. I have to recognize that no, I cannot attack every single problem out there, no matter how much I might care to.

I have to pick one. One singular problem. Focus on that, so that my one person's worth of political energy can do more versus one singular problem, than if I spread myself so thin against everything that I have no effect at all.

That only works, though, with trust. Trust in you, my fellow progressives, to handle the rest. If you're feeling wrung out, just pick one thing. Your one thing will be different than my one thing, and that's okay.

Your one thing probably won't even be on my list of many things. That's good. Between the millions of progressives in Washington State (not to mention across the nation), every problem will have somebody attacking it.

So what's my problem? I don't know what problem I'm going to pick off of that very long list in my head. That's going to require some further thought. But I do know this: Everyone who has made a difference lately in attacking the big problems of the day has done so by picking ONE. Markos Moulitsas picked giving the people a voice, and helped popularize political blogging as we know it. Jill Richardson picked our food system, and wrote Recipe for America.

Everybody who has made a difference has picked something. So here's the deal: I'll pick something, you pick something, and together, we'll change the world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Let Glenn Beck know: Washington State doesn't tolerate hatred, fear, and bigotry

As most readers have probably heard, Fox Noise personality Glenn Beck, whose venomous, toxic hate speech fills the screen weeknights on Rupert Murdoch's cable channel, is being given the key to the City of Mount Vernon by that city's ignorant mayor, who admires Beck and thinks he's just a swell guy.

Naturally, this has angered progressive activists across the country, since the eliminationist poison Beck spews is about as far away as a person can get from our nation's finest and most enduring values.

But let's not direct our disgust for Beck on people who don't deserve it, namely the merchants of Mount Vernon, who did not invite Beck to their city and are already struggling during these difficult economic times.

Calls for boycotts of Mount Vernon's small businesses are hopelessly counterproductive. A better idea: Call Mount Vernon merchants up and promise to patronize any shop whose keeper is willing to put up a sign in their store window saying they are opposed to Glenn Beck and his eliminationist views.

Those wishing to protest when Beck comes to town should get in contact with the Young Democrats of Skagit County, who are organizing a peaceful demonstration:
A loose coalition of groups in Skagit and other community members call on the community to demonstrate against Mayor Bud Norris giving Glenn Beck the key to the city. The demonstration will be held outside of McIntyre Hall 2501 East College Way at Skagit Valley College on Saturday, September 26 at 5:30 p.m. PDT. The group will extend as far to the west as numbers of protesters allow.

The message of the protests is, “Hate is NOT a Skagit Valley value.”
Emphasis is ours.

If you plan to go, bring friends and family, with homemade signs and banners calling for nonviolence, a civil discourse, and an end to hate speech.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Health insurance profits turn the stomach

Cigna insurance subscriber Jo Joshua Godfrey was having problems breathing. In over two years she visited her "in-network” Cigna medical providers more than a dozen times, never finding relief from her symptoms. The physicians assistants that she saw, not doctors, told her she had bronchitis and sent her home with prescriptions that didn't help.

When out of desperation she finally took her medical records to an "out-of-network" physician, he immediately told her that she had lung cancer and that the cancer was obvious on her X-rays from the very start.

By ignoring Jo’s cancer, Cigna’s employees saved their company around $125,000. Ignoring Jo’s cancer also almost cost Jo her life and gave her two years of suffering.

Why are we trying to protect this immoral health care system? Should Wall Street profit be the number one concern of the insurance companies that we depend on for our health, our lives?

Jo’s story is part of Brave New Films latest effort to “create a just America” by using new media and Internet video campaigns. Its newest video, Sick for Profit, tells Jo’s story and many others. I encourage you to watch it. The stories are both disturbing and galling. After watching Sick for Profit, I have to wonder if most Americans feel that the free market and making a profit are more important than protecting human life?

The answer seems obvious to me. No.

Some people are afraid of the bureaucracy that a government-run health care plan would create, but what we have now are insurance company bureaucracies that choose profits over good medicine.

At 2:30 p.m. this afternoon, hundreds of people will rally outside Cigna’s office in downtown Seattle to protest Cigna’s opposition to a public insurance option and call for quick action to pass legislation ensuring access to affordable health care for all Americans. Jo Joshua Godfrey will be there. If it were up to Cigna, she wouldn’t be here at all today.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In memoriam, eight years later

Today is the eighth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. In honor of those who died that day, we're republishing a poem that we now post annually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man on sticks studied everything closely
Then shared his perceptions on what he saw mostly
"I see pain, I see 20 tears,
I see sorrow - but I don't see fear."

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

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

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

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

Republicans don't understand freedom

If conservatives want to make the on-going health care debate an issue about Americans’ freedom, Democrats need to say, “Bring it on.”

Many Americans who are struggling under the inequities of our current health care system would love to be free from medical bankruptcy and from suffering without being able to afford medical care. Some dream of the freedom to start a new business or a family, or to change jobs without worrying about how they would be able to afford health insurance in those new situations. Americans desire the freedom that comes with knowing that we will be cared for if our health changes for the worst.

We all want the peace of mind that comes with not having to worry about the “what ifs.” “What if I have an accident?” “What if my cancer comes back?” “What if they raise my premiums again?”

Where’s the so-called “freedom” in our current system? What’s free about being limited to the health care providers that are listed in your insurance plan? What’s free about paying large yearly rate increases at the same time your coverage is shrinking? How free do you feel when you lose your insurance coverage when a serious health issue arises? How about when you are on the phone with your medical insurer trying to understand why they have denied your claim?

This sounds like freedom from feeling secure to me.

Conservatives don’t have a copyright on the word “freedom,” and they obviously don’t know what it means, yet still, during the debate over health care reform, they have successfully tied “freedom” to another concept that they use to their advantage, fear. As President Obama stated in his Congressional address on Wednesday night:
But we also know that there are those who will try and scuttle this opportunity no matter what – who will use the same scare tactics and fear-mongering that's worked in the past. They'll give dire warnings about socialized medicine and government takeovers; long lines and rationed care; decisions made by bureaucrats and not doctors.
We don’t want the conservative version of freedom and we won’t succumb to their attempts to incite fear.

Americans will have real health freedom when they can choose between many affordable insurance plans, including a government option, that guarantee them continual coverage and quality care from the doctor of their choice. Let your representatives in Congress know that this is what you want them to create, pass and deliver to President Obama for his signature.

It's time to stop being afraid.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I-1033 is the boldest assault yet in Tim Eyman's war on representative democracy

On Monday, Tim Eyman sent out an email to his supporters (copied of course to reporters, legislators, and the governor's office) claiming that his latest scheme to wreck our common wealth – his jobs-killing Initiative 1033 – can't be all that bad because it includes "the safety valve of voter approval."

By that, Eyman means that the draconian, recession-perpetuating limits in his initiative, which freeze services at their current low funding levels, can be circumvented if voters explicitly approve more funds.

Eyman arrogantly stated in his email, "Opponents of I-1033 never, ever acknowledge that fact because they can't/won't answer this simple question: What's wrong with going to the voters?" (Emphasis is his, not ours).

We have actually addressed this argument on several occasions, and Tim Eyman knows it, because he trolls the Internet looking for comment threads and message boards where he can cut and paste the talking points that he sends out to his supporters. That makes his snide statements not only supercilious, but false.

What we've pointed out is that Eyman's measures are engineered to create voter fatigue. By making it illegal for elected leaders to make responsible decisions on their own - in other words, forcing them to seek voter approval to sustain any public service – Eyman is hoping to permanently focus public dialogue on costs rather than the benefits our common wealth provides.

He wants to turn people against government and in favor of future schemes from his initiative factory, which he will personally profit from.

So what's wrong with "going to the voters", for everything? Plenty.

First, budgeting by referendum is not representative democracy. Washington, like the United States, is a modern day constitutional republic, not an Athens-style direct democracy where every issue is voted on and decided by the people. We elect representatives and senators to make our laws, a number of at-large officers to execute our laws (most notably the governor, but also an attorney general, secretary of state, etc.), and judges to interpret our laws.

The initiative and referendum were created by progressives around a century ago (added to the Constitution by amendment) as tools that empowered the people to take action when the Legislature was unresponsive.

The initiative and referendum were not intended to replace the Legislature. Putting every decision about raising revenue in the hands of the people defeats the whole point of electing a House and Senate... and it is not what our Founders intended. In fact, our State Constitution explicitly stipulates that the Legislature's power to raise revenue may not be abridged: "The power of taxation shall never be suspended, surrendered or contracted away." (Article VII, Section 1.)

Second, budgeting by referendum does not work in practice.

Even those who argue that representative democracy is flawed cannot disagree with Winston Churchill's famous conclusion that it "is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

It's bad enough that some services we consider essential, like King County's Medic One, hinge on approval of levies every few years.

Imagine that taken to the extreme. Imagine if all decisions elected leaders make today had to be made by voters, or even merely all decisions concerning revenue (which, as discussed earlier, seems to be Tim Eyman's end goal.)

The results would be disastrous. Our state simply would not function. Because the outcomes of elections are not known until they are decided, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do any advance planning, which is the whole point of a budget. And in today's modern, sophisticated times, advance planning is crucial.

All projects that government embarks on, like the construction of a new road or sewer system, require planning from start to finish, which somebody has to do; so every stage requires money.

Budgeting by referendum could theoretically work if the more than six million of us that live here could be gathered into giant rooms for periodic town meetings and if there was unlimited time for debate at those meetings, but since this is not the case, budgeting by referendum is not feasible.

The answer to every policy question would be in doubt. Will the new fire station be built? Will the police department get funded this year? Can we buy the land needed for that park? Or - and here is the ultimate irony - should money be appropriated to conduct the next election? (More on this momentarily).

If all public services were dependent on voter approval to exist year to year, Washington would not even be a State.

Our beautiful corner of America would be known as The Evergreen Chaos.

Finally, elections cost money.

Every time we the people of Washington State are forced to vote on Tim Eyman's measures, it costs each of us a pretty penny. Eyman seems to have forgotten that holding elections - like every other public service the government provides – carry a price tag. A not insignificant price tag, either.

The Secretary of State's office has estimated to NPI that state-level elections this year will cost about $4.1 million, which will be reimbursed to counties. There are no at-large contests for elected office across the state this year, unlike in even numbered years... just five special legislative elections and a judgeship to be decided. So the lion's share of that $4.1 million is paying for Initiative 1033 and Referendum 71 to be on our November ballots.

Additionally, it cost between $10,000 and $15,000 just to complete the random sample check of Initiative 1033's signatures, the Elections Division tells us.

Perhaps we should pass a law which says that any initiative which would deprive our public treasury of funds must be paid for out of pocket by the person sponsoring it; the common wealth would then not be used for the purpose of supporting a vote on any proposal which would hurt it. That would make Tim Eyman appreciate how much his ballot measures cost the rest of us even if they don't pass.

More practically, however, how are county and city governments supposed to be able to afford to "go to the voters" under Initiative 1033 since Initiative 1033 locks in all of the current budget cuts, leaving cities and counties with no flexibility and no way to pay for an election without negatively impacting other public services like police or fire protection? Now there's a problem that Tim Eyman didn't think of when he drafted Initiative 1033, because the scheme he imported from Colorado is rotten and unworkable, through and through.

Initiative 1033 cannot be mitigated or improved so that it becomes a sound idea because is not offered in good faith or with good intentions. It's an poorly written, badly conceived, mean-spirited, cynically designed initiative that would wreak havoc on our communities. Of all of Eyman's proposals, it is perhaps the most destructive and the most dangerous because it is his boldest assault yet on representative democracy. It is imperative that we send it back to the swamp of awful and venomous gimmicks from which it came.

Vote NO on Initiative 1033.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

President Barack Obama delivers special address to Congress on healthcare reform

Congress is finally back from its August recess, and healthcare reform is taking center stage tonight as President Barack Obama addresses a special joint session of Congress on the issue. The President is expected to denounce the scare tactics the right wing has used to scare Americans into doubting the wisdom of doing any reform, call for Congress to pull together and get something done, and explain the basic elements and principles that comprise the reform proposal.

HERE WE GO, 5:15 PM: The President is at the podium...

LAYING THE BACKGROUND, 5:20 PM: The President began his address by observing that his first priority upon taking office had been to act to save our nation's troubled financial system and rescue the economy. But, he continued, launching into the subject of his address - to resounding applause - "We did not come here just to clean up crises. We came here to build a future." He added:
I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.
Nice of the President to offer a shout out to Representative Dingell.

A CALL TO ACTION, 5:30 PM: The President reminded Congress that America is the world's only advanced democracy that does such a poor job of providing healthcare coverage to its people.

"Our collective failure to meet this challenge – year after year, decade after decade – has led us to a breaking point," the President declared. "Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans."

DEFENDING THE PUBLIC OPTION, 5:45 PM: The President denounced the right wing's "death panel" myths as a lie, and similarly labeled the rumor that his plan will provide unlimited healthcare to immigrants who have not obtained their citizenship status as a falsehood. He spoke up in favor of the public option, which he insisted is only one element in his plan. He said, in part:
Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. The insurance reforms that I’ve already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear – it would only be an option for those who don’t have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance
(Emphasis added). The President went on to say:
It’s worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I’ve proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn’t be exaggerated – by the left, the right, or the media. It is only one part of my plan, and should not be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end – and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.
CONCLUSION, 6:05 PM: The President delivered one of the strongest, most eloquent, and most emotional rhetorical finishes to a speech that I can ever remember just a few minutes ago.

He referenced a letter delivered to him from Senator Edward Kennedy upon Teddy's death, and went on to deliver a passionate rejoinder to right wing's long-running psychological assault on progressivism and government.
That large-heartedness – that concern and regard for the plight of others – is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

This has always been the history of our progress.
The conclusion mixed a sense of history, a moral call to action, and an untold story to send a powerful message: This is our moment. Healthcare reform simply can't wait. The status quo will not suffice. Too many Americans are suffering from an immoral, broken system that puts profit ahead of people.

In the President's words, "We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test."

Monday, September 7, 2009

What Labor Day is really about: Honoring the work of America's union movement

What is Labor Day?

Why is everything closed on the first Monday in September? Why do we get a day off from school only a few days after school has just begun?

As a young child, before I studied history and jumped into politics as an activist, a tiny fraction of my September every year was devoted to wondering what Labor Day was and why I was treated to a three day weekend so soon after the first day of class. I can't remember anyone ever bothering to explain it to me, so it turned into an annual mental ritual until I started picking up history books and reading them cover to cover (I'd run out of fiction to read, so that left nonfiction).

And therein I discovered the answer: Labor Day is a day of reflection, meant to honor the great gains won through blood, tears, and sweat by America's union movement, although the idea for the holiday comes from Canada.

After the Civil War, during a period in U.S. history best known as the Gilded Age, American workers found themselves on the losing end of a growing disparity between themselves and a wealthy elite. The wealthy, captained by robber barons like John D. Rockefeller, monopolized entire industries, creating vast fortunes through dishonest and unethical business practices.

Workers found themselves treated by employers as replaceable, individually unimportant beings entitled to nothing.

To change this dismal situation, workers began organizing together into unions to achieve the strength they needed to force employers to acknowledge their rights and offer basic benefits. And for decades thereafter, they struggled mightily to better their lives and the lives of their fellow Americans.

As President Obama eloquently summarized in his speech earlier today:
We remember that the rights and benefits we enjoy today were not simply handed out to America’s working men and women.

They had to be won.

They had to be fought for, by men and women of courage and conviction, from the factory floors of the Industrial Revolution to the shopping aisles of today’s superstores. They stood up and spoke out to demand a fair shake; an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Many risked their lives. Some gave their lives. Some made it a cause of their lives-like Senator Ted Kennedy, who we remember today.

So let us never forget: much of what we take for granted-the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, health insurance, paid leave, pensions, Social Security, Medicare-they all bear the union label. It was the American worker-union men and women-who returned from World War II to make our economy the envy of the world. It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history.

So even if you’re not a union member, every American owes something to America’s labor movement.
America's union movement is the reason families can be together when a mother gives birth to a new child, the reason workdays don't stretch on from before dawn till after dusk, and the reason seniors can retire in dignity without being forced to stay on the job till the day of their death. Like the President said, even those who aren't union members can thank progressivism, and specifically the union movement, for these basic economic freedoms and protections.

These days we take so much for granted that it's hard to remember there was a time when workers everywhere were treated with a cold, ruthless indifference. Many corporations and wealthy business owners, unfortunately, still treat their workers unfairly and have gone to great lengths to intimidate and discourage them from organizing into unions. The Employee Free Choice Act, a bill before Congress, would address this situation and make it harder for powerful business owners and executives to interfere with unionization attempts.

President Obama had the good sense to mention the Employee Free Choice Act today in addition to talking about healthcare reform:
And just as we know that we must adapt to all the changes and challenges of a global economy, we also know this: in good economic times and bad, labor is not part of the problem. Labor is part of the solution.

That’s why Secretary Solis has made it a priority at the Labor Department to protect workers - your safety, your benefits, your right to organize and bargain collectively. It’s why some of the first executive orders I issued overturned the previous administration’s attempts to stifle organized labor. It’s why I support the Employee Free Choice Act... to level the playing field so it’s easier for employees who want a union to form a union. Because when labor is strong, America is strong. When we all stand together, we all rise together.
Amen. Here's to the day the Employee Free Choice Act becomes the law of this land, shepherded through Congress by our forty fourth President, Barack Obama.

Here's to the generations of workers that came before us who fought tirelessly so that we could lead freer and happier lives.

And here's to a better future that will see economic injustice ended and protections for workers reaffirmed, not just here at home, but all over the world.

Make the most of Labor Day: Get out and enjoy King County's parks while you can

It’s Labor Day, and if you live in King County, there’s a good chance you will ignore the rain and head outside since our region is blessed with incredible natural beauty. Maybe you’ll go to your favorite park. You’ll walk your dog there, let your kids play on the playground or maybe just take in the rain-drenched scenery.

The favorite park you visit today could be one of 39 currently on the chopping block as King County struggles to balance its books during the down economy.

As if that isn’t bad enough, if Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1033 passes in November, all of these parks may never reopen for visitors. If we can’t afford to keep them open today, I-1033 will make it impossible to afford them in the future either.

Tim Eyman’s latest attempt to devastate Washington would lock our state, county and city governments into their current, recession-starved budgets, budgets that are already too small to continue to provide the park system that King County residents treasure. As our Executive Director Andrew Villeneuve has written, I-1033:
...freezes services at their current levels, prohibiting government from investing almost any more than what it invested the previous year in schools, roads, parks, libraries, pools, or police and fire protection.
Does this sound familiar? In 2002, King County also closed forty four parks, half of which were closed for over a year. There were many reasons for the closures: a slumping economy had decreased the county's revenue, and the demand for county services was going up, but it was Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747 that really tied the hands of the county, because it placed artificial, draconian limits on our common wealth. The county couldn't raise enough revenue to maintain the services that it offered.

Tim Eyman is now trying to dig the county’s hole a lot deeper. I-1033 doesn't place limits on any one revenue source... instead it freezes all services at their current levels. That's why it's more dangerous.

Parks aren’t the only valuable service that we receive from the county, just one of the most visible. We can add to it: mental health, law enforcement, public health, natural disaster planning, transportation and environmental services.

King County provides the infrastructure that allows all of us to make the most of life, secure in knowing that the basic priorities of our society are being met.

What is hopefully only a temporary interruption in park service could become permanent if we make a mistake and approve another shortsighted Eyman measure. King County's thirty nine fabulous parks are just one of the many services hanging in the balance this November.

Please remember to vote NO on Initiative 1033.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tim Eyman, sidekicks launch another I-1033 publicity stunt... in court

So, Tim Eyman and Mike "Feel Like You've Been Duped" Fagan (who, by the way, is running for Spokane City Council) are now trying to obfuscate the real impact I-1033 will have to Washington State. The Olympian reports:
The sponsors of Initiative 1033 have sued state officials to stop information from being included in the statewide voter’s pamphlet that they contend is erroneous and misleading.

The lawsuit alleges the state Office of Financial Management made assumptions while drafting the fiscal impact statement to be included in the pamphlet that exclude types of revenue that should fall under the measure if approved Nov. 3.
Even though Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna's office has said there's nothing wrong with OFM's fiscal impact statement, Tim Eyman and Mike Fagan still contend that the information is misleading. There's a case of the pot calling the kettle black if there ever was one.

Eyman's move was undoubtedly intended to garner publicity, but not many media outlets have picked up on the bait.

Voters deserve the right to know how I-1033 will cripple our state, just like a similar measure did to Colorado in the 1990s. Residents of Spokane ought to be particularly upset that one of the measure's cosponsors is seeking to represent them. If his and Eyman's handiwork goes into effect, quality of life in Spokane... and every other city across Washington... will suffer dramatically.

Mike Fagan is not the first Eyman sidekick to run for office, however. Eyman's former associate Monte Benham of the Tri-Cities ran for the House of Representatives as a Republican and lost, twice.

Fagan's only claim to fame is that he has helped one of the United States' most notorious Grover Norquist clones promote measures that interfere with government's responsibilities to deliver essential services to the people of Washington. He apparently thinks that qualifies him to be a legislator in Washington's second largest city. Not far from his name on the ballot will be his and Eyman's handiwork, the badly written, ill-conceived Initiative 1033, which would wipe out $2.1 billion in funding for city-provided public services. Including Spokane's.

If the residents of Spokane's District 1 think through the contest for Spokane City Council, they'll pass over Mike Fagan in favor of his well-qualified opponent, who has roots in the community and believes in effective government.

As for Eyman's lawsuit, it will no doubt come crashing to earth as a giant flop as soon as a judge has the opportunity to toss it out.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Party with NPI tonight in Pioneer Square

Readers, if you've ever pondered why schools can't easily buy food from local organic farms, or why processed junk food is so much cheaper at big supermarkets than raw, natural food, then come by Fx McRory's tonight in Pioneer Square to talk to the netroots authority on our nation's food system, Jill Richardson.

NPI and Living Liberally are hosting a book signing and social mixer for Jill, who's in town on tour to promote her new book Recipe for America.

Here's the details for the event:

Book signing and social mixer with Jill Richardson
Fx McRory's
406 Occidental Avenue S in Seattle's Pioneer Square
Friday, September 4th, 2009 - that's tonight - at 8 PM
Sponsored by the Northwest Progressive Institute and Living Liberally
Open to the media and the public

Fx McRory's will be serving a number of vegetarian specials, and even an organic version of its new local cocktail, Finamoré Pineapple Express.

So come by, join us for some very tasty refreshments, meet Jill, and learn what we can all do together to fix our broken food system.

South Sound and Eastside readers can also catch Jill in Tacoma next Saturday at King's Books (3 PM) or in Duvall at the Grange Cafe on the 7th (also 3 PM) for Slow Food Snoqualmie Valley's Labor Day Eat-In.

New Federal Communications Commission Chairman taking a stand for Net Neutrality

One of the most refreshing changes to take place in Washington, D.C. since the election of Barack Obama has been the change in leadership at the Federal Communications Commission.

With Kevin Martin gone, we finally have a Commission that believes in the basic principles that underly the democratic Internet.

New Chairman Julius Genachowski has made it clear that his agency will fight for equality for all content online and punish those that want to make some websites more accessible than others. Here's Genachowski during an interview with The Hill (hat tip to YES! Magazine)
“One thing I would say so that there is no confusion out there is that this FCC will support net neutrality and will enforce any violation of net neutrality principles,” Genachowski said when asked what he could do in his position to keep the Internet fair, free and open to all Americans.

The statement by Genachowski comes as the commission remains locked in litigation with Comcast. The cable provider is appealing a court decision by challenging the FCC’s authority to penalize the company for limiting Web traffic to its consumers.
Cable and telecom providers have no right to build barriers to prevent access to any part of the Web. The next step in ensuring that the Internet is open free of content discrimination is to make it the law of the United States.

That's the new priority for the SaveTheInternet Coalition, of which the Northwest Progressive Institute is a member.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Conservatives can even make "stay in school" sound dangerous

Did you know that President Obama is planning to indoctrinate our children with his socialist propaganda next week, and is asking students to pledge allegiance to his “goals?” And teachers are collaborators in this exercise?

You didn’t? Well, you’re right. This is just one more example of how conservatives use overheated rhetoric to turn something harmless, or even positive like this speech, into something scary and ominous.

Remind you of something? Death panels? Pulling the plug on Grandma?

Conservatives have the ability to turn the public dialogue around through the use of their vast media infrastructure and shameless celebrity commentators. They are turning a positive televised message from the president on staying in school and “maximizing...educational opportunities” into dangerous mind control.

Oh please. That is the kind of mind control that I want for my children. Don't you?

Unbelievably, I know some other parents who disagree with me and are very suspicious of Obama’s intentions. It’s possible that these parents might also be suspicious of Obama’s so-called “socialized medicine” plan.

In order to counteract these conservative falsehoods, progressives need to build up their own infrastructure of organizations, and inject positive progressive ideas and policies into the state and national dialogue.

This is the goal of NPI. We refute the right, we support the left and we also think for ourselves.

It's a media-run world and progressive ideas can’t win without a strong voice and presence. NPI is a part of that voice.

Letters, we get letters...

Couldn't resist sharing this... sent in by somebody calling themselves "Washington Native"; refused to provide an email address. Apparently it's easier to call people Soviets when you can do so anonymously... who knew?
You people are crazy! You make Glenn Beck seem calm and normal. Are you guys all transplants from the former soviet union? I've never seen pile [sic] of communist ideas in my whole life.

You are certainly entitled to your independent point of view and I hope you keep sharing it because the more people who read about your pro-big-government views the better off we are.

That's what make this country great, crazy people like yourselves are also welcome.
Another nameless commenter projecting their paranoia onto other people. The Internet's full of 'em. If Mr. Native was a calm and normal person, he wouldn't behave like a McCarthyite, pointing fingers and screaming "Communist!"

It's not clear what Mr. Native believes in, but if he's an atypical conservative who supported George W. Bush, then he's actually a believer in big government, for that is what today's conservatives believe in (to be fair, big government minus services that help struggling Americans, since government should only help people who already have money. Hurray for corporate subsidies and no-bid contracts!)

Just take a look at the spend-and-borrow policies of George W. Bush. We've spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the unjustified invasion of Iraq, plus Afghanistan.

And Mr. Native, don't forget that it was George W. who signed the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security, which brought us the infamous color-coded "alert" system. (We always think of Sesame Street characters whenever we see or hear reference to whatever status we're on now. It's always Yellow or higher).

Liberals, in contrast, are for an idea that's pretty simple, which dates back to America's founding: Effective government of the people, by the people, for the people. Government that works... and does, as Abraham Lincoln said, what we cannot do for ourselves in our separate and individual capacities. Like building roads, schools, and sewers.

Liberals are for a robust economy that offers good jobs, fair markets that provide a level playing field for businesses to compete, and opportunities for entrepreneurs.

In short, we believe in an America with a strong public sector and a strong private sector. It's the combination of both that makes our country work.

So anyhow, Mr. Native, thanks for giving us an opportunity to reflect on our values, and for pointing out that we live in a nation where dissent and disagreement isn't illegal. At least we can agree on that very uniquely Soviet idea.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book Review: Recipe for America

Sweet Onion Glaze

5 lbs local, organic Walla Walla Sweet onions from your nearest farmer's market
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil

1. Peel and coarsely chop the onions.
2. Put the onions through a juicer, if you have one. If not, puree them in a blender or food processor and strain the juice through cheesecloth or a fine sieve.
3. Combine onion juice, salt, and olive oil into a pot over high heat and bring to a boil.
4. Turn heat to medium, and reduce the until the liquid reaches a honey-like color and consistency.

This intensely flavored, sweet yet savory glaze is wonderful drizzled over steamed vegetables, spread over roast or broiled chicken or fish, as a salad dressing, or as a flavor enhancer for soups and stews.

In much the same way as the above recipe uses the technique of reduction to concentrate the unparalleled flavor of our local Walla Walla Sweet onions, Jill Richardson's book Recipe for America does the same for issues surrounding America's food system.

The food system is incredibly complex, and the issues surrounding it are no less complex. The food system touches health and health care, environmental protection, global warming, sustainability, economic security, and even national security. As Rousseau said, any society is only three meals away from revolution. Look what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

You could spend a long time reading books about how food relates to each of those issues. Or you could just read Recipe for America. In this surprisingly slim volume, Richardson has distilled each issue into a compact form. She spells out each issue's essential background, why it matters, and the consensus within the food movement of what should be done to address it.

This is not a book packed with wild, new policy ideas. This is a book that presents you with the best thinking from across the entire spectrum of health, environmental, agricultural, and economic experts as to how to create a food system that won't kill us. Richardson does, from time to time, augment these with her own ideas in areas where the consensus isn't so clear, but by and large Recipe for America is the concentrated wisdom of people who have spent their careers researching, thinking, and advocating for these issues.

Richardson has given us a thick, flavorful honey glaze, wonderful to drizzle over conversations, news reports, letters to the editor, and the occasional Congressperson. If you read only one book about the food system, make it Recipe for America. Oh, and make some of that Sweet Onion Glaze, too. It's really tasty.

And don't forget to join NPI and Living Liberally this Friday at FX McRory's in Pioneer Square:

Book signing and social mixer with Jill Richardson
Fx McRory's
406 Occidental Avenue S in Seattle's Pioneer Square
Friday, September 4th, 2009 at 8 PM
Sponsored by the Northwest Progressive Institute and Living Liberally
Open to the media and the public

Legal challenge to R- 71 rejected on technical grounds; but concerns valid, Court says

This morning King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector rejected a legal challenge seeking to block Referendum 71 from being placed on the ballot, determining that Washington Families Standing Together (the plaintiff) had selected the wrong venue to litigate in and that it had filed its legal challenge too soon (before certification of the referendum).

However, the Court's ruling also recognized the legitimacy of Washington Families Standing Together's charges against Secretary of State Sam Reed.

The allegations in the lawsuit are now findings of fact.

Remember, WFST's suit rests on the improper acceptance, by the Secretary of State, of two types of signatures on Referendum 71 petitions:
  • Signatures of voters who were not registered to vote at the time that they signed a Referendum 71 petition
  • Signatures on petitions whose circulator did not identify him or herself, and/or did not sign the declaration required by state law
The Court basically agreed with WFST on both of these points. First:
The Secretary of State concedes that he instructed his staff to accept signatures of voters who were not registered when they signed the petition. The court notes the plain language of the Washington State Constitution and the Revised Code of Washington requires voters to be registered before signing. While it may be common practice for individuals to register simultaneously with signing referendum petitions, and it may even be good policy, that does not mean that the practice is in accordance with Washington law. No Washington court has ever considered this issue, but state supreme courts in other jurisdictions have decided resoundingly against the Secretary of State's position.
And second:
Protect Marriage Washington/Intervenor also admits that their members stamped the declarations on thousands of petitions with Mr. Stickney's signature before filing the referendum petitions with the Secretary of State. Likewise, the Secretary of State concedes he has accepted more than 35,000 signatures where the signature-gatherer's declaration was either left blank or stamped en masse with Mr. Stickney's signature. In making this determination, the Secretary of State has relied on an opinion by the Attorney General issued in 2006. That opinion states that RCW 29A.72.130 requires not that the signature-gatherer actually sign the declaration, but only that the declaration be printed on the back of each petition... Based on the statute's plain language and the legislative history, this essentially renders the declaration requirement meaningless.
An additional problem with granting relief (in this case, the injunction sought by WFST) based on these concerns, Spector said, was that:
RCW 29A.72.170, however, does not require the Secretary of State to refuse to accept petitions that do not meet statutory requirements. It only limits his ability to reject petitions. In summary, under Washington case law it is unclear whether there are are any limits to the Secretary of State's discretion as long as he has chosen to accept petitions rather than reject them.
Confused? In other words, if Sam Reed decides to reject a particular petition, that decision can be challenged. But case law, according to Judge Spector, does not prescribe that the Secretary of State can be challenged if he decides to accept a petition or signatures on a petition that should be thrown out.

So Sam Reed can break the law and get away with it.

What is wrong with this picture?

It's time for reform of the initiative and referendum process. Reform has been needed for years, but previously the Legislature has capitulated after Tim Eyman showed up in a hearing room dressed in a prison outfit.

Perhaps now, legislators like Jamie Pedersen and Ed Murray will start caring about this problem, and they'll help us do something to fix it.

In the meantime, considering the Court's recognition that the foundation of Washington Families Standing Together's lawsuit is valid, the lawsuit ought to be refiled in Thurston County Superior Court immediately. These issues aren't going away... they'll come up again in the future. It would be advantageous to have them addressed in court now so we'll have a clear idea of what we need to do legislatively to strengthen the integrity of the instruments of direct democracy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Association of Washington Business leads astroturf effort to kill health insurance reform

A new astroturf effort dubbed Employers for Quality Healthcare has appeared on the scene to ensure that the corporate interests are protected and the health insurance system is not reformed. The group is a coalition of state chambers of commerce and “employer organizations” including, among others, the Association of Washington Business. In fact, AWB President Don Brunell is prominently featured in the group’s initial press release.

“Our health care system is just too expensive right now for many reasons, and we have to reduce costs,” said Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business. “At AWB, we feel it like all small businesses when we attempt to budget health, dental and vision care for our 34 people. And we know our 6,600 member companies are also struggling to meet the needs of their employees. We need health care reform, but it must focus on private-sector solutions.” [emphasis mine]

It should come as no surprise that a business organization like AWB is promoting a private-sector, market-driven solution which would continue to emphasize corporate profits over delivery of care. According to Brunell’s logic, there is no reason to ensure affordable quality health care for everyone when insurance companies can continue to deny coverage and pad the bottom line for shareholders. The private sector solution of which Don Brunell speaks is not health care reform, but a continuation of the status quo. As I’ve said before, the system Brunell is advocating rewards a select few (shareholders) who get rich off of the pain and suffering of the masses. Having a bunch of private governments in charge of the health care delivery system, with no accountability to anyone other than shareholders (or due process for that matter), promotes corporate greed at the expense of the general welfare.

In fact, the group sent a letter to President Obama and members of Congress, which is more about giveaways to business than improving the quality and affordability of health care for the consumer.

The press release also notes that the corporate interests oppose an American option that provides a public alternative to private insurance because it would “shift millions of Americans off their existing private plans”. Let me translate for the uninitiated. What these business groups really mean is that an American option would cut into corporate profits and rich shareholders would suffer. But does it really have to be that way? If insurance companies provided quality care at affordable prices, would millions of people leave their providers? Probably not.

So the bottom line is this: Would you prefer that your health care be provided by a system that focuses on delivering quality care to you, the patient, in consulatation with your doctor? Or would you prefer private insurance that denies you care in order to keep costs down and maximize profits for corporate shareholders? How much is your life worth?

Republican Party supports Tim Eyman's jobs killing I-1033, rejection of R-71

This weekend, the Washington State Republican Party decided to take a take a stand... for a poorer and weaker society that squanders its common wealth and discriminates against non-heterosexual couples... by endorsing yes on Tim Eyman's jobs killing Initiative 1033 and no on Referendum 71.

Neither of these stances are very surprising; the Republican Party here is firmly in the grip of its right wing base, who believe that government can do no good and who are opposed to civil rights for all.

In the last few years, Democrats have chalked up a pretty incredible string of victories statewide. We have defeated an array of right wing ballot measures, elected Chris Gregoire, Patty Murray, and Maria Cantwell over Dino Rossi, George Nethercutt, and Mike McGavick, won control of the State Senate and increased majorities in both houses of the Legislature, turned out Republican Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland in favor of Peter Goldmark, and of course delivered our state's electoral votes to John Kerry and Barack Obama.

As important as those victories were, they are now in the past. New fights are ahead. We have two new right wing ballot measures to deal with this year. Winning Referendum 71 and beating back Initiative 1033 will require a huge effort by progressives. We have to patiently explain the severe consequences of rolling back advances in civil rights and trapping our state in a permanent recession.

It won't be easy.

Tim Eyman, Larry Stickney, and their followers are trying to appeal to the worst in people, playing on negative feelings of fear, bitterness, and insecurity... and the Republican Party has signed on to help them. We can't let them succeed.

Let us dedicate ourselves to the task of protecting our quality of life by doing all we can to convince voters to reject Initiative 1033 and approve Referendum 71.