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.

Monday, March 29, 2010

McKenna's miscalculation

Republicans have gotten a lot of mileage out of health reform. It’s been a reliable conservative bugaboo for over a year now, and with last week’s passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, its ability to incite fear and anger has only grown.

With election season looming, Republican hopefuls are using this fear and anger to strengthen their own election chances. Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna won’t be running for the governor’s office for another two years, but last Monday he spied an opportunity to rebuild his “waning” cred with his party. On Monday, McKenna joined a group of conservative states in a federal lawsuit to overturn the new health law. In doing so, he made himself the symbolic state leader of a burgeoning citizens' rights movement. All in the name of political calculation.

At Saturday’s Thurston County Republican convention, candidates used the specter of Democrats' “socialistic" health care system to rouse the crowd, but it was McKenna who had Republicans on their feet cheering his decision to join the lawsuit. According to The Olympian:
And to say McKenna lit up the convention, held at Olympia High School, is an understatement. McKenna jolted the more than 90 delegates and 10 alternates to their feet several times with a speech defending his lawsuit against majority Democrats’ attacks.

“When you talk about the theme that gets people mad, he is at the center with that court case,” Thurston GOP Chairman Scott Roberts said of McKenna. “He has completely galvanized the base. And quite frankly, I think that base was probably waning from him a bit in the past year.”
What McKenna doesn’t see while he is being cheered on by hard-core conservative activists is that as he increases his popularity with the right-wing, anti-government crowd, his popularity with the rest of the state decreases. That’s a political miscalculation.

In November 2008, Washington voted overwhelmingly for President Obama, and solidly for Governor Gregoire. Our state is not looking for a partisan ideologue for governor.

The Seattle P-I notes that Democrats have been waiting for ammunition against competitive gubernatorial candidate McKenna.
Republicans have a hard time winning in Washington because Democrats have successfully portrayed them as scary, right-wing ideologues.

McKenna was looking like the exception. Democrats will now try to tar him with the same brush they've used to dispatch every GOP gubernatorial candidate for the past 25 years. And it looks like McKenna has just given them at least some of the paint they'll need.
In just a week, the Facebook group Washington Taxpayers OPT OUT of Rob McKenna's lawsuit has amassed almost nineteen thousand members.

It looks like McKenna, not health reform is making Washington citizens angry. That's a political miscalculation.

Happy sixth birthday, NPI Advocate!

It's time to celebrate another blogoversary!

Today marks six years since this blog, The Advocate, was launched as a project of the Northwest Progressive Institute. Compared to the history of Earth or even the history of civilization, six years doesn't seem like a long time.

But much has changed in the 2,193 days since we began publishing this blog.

For example: A young Illinois state senator, nominated by the Democratic voters of his state to be their nominee for United States Senate, was selected to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts.

After electrifying the convention with an unforgettable speech, he went on to overwhelmingly win his bid for Senate, and was sworn in on January 3rd, 2005.

Then, only two years later, he declared his intention to seek the Presidency as a Democrat. Following the longest contested primary season in modern history, he was nominated by Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Party's standard bearer for President on August 26th, 2008.

On November 4th, 2008, he was chosen as America's first black president by popular vote, and he took office on January 20th, 2009.

All of that and more happened actually within The Advocate's first five years. But I don't mean to imply that our sixth year was uneventful. Here's a quick look back at some of the highlights from the last three hundred and sixty five days.

Liveblogging: The Advocate offered extensive coverage of Netroots Nation 2009 in Pittsburgh, the first end-to-end test run of Central Link, Central Link's opening weekend in July, KCTS' King County Executive debate, the opening of the Airport Link extension in December, and Vice President Joe Biden's appearance in Seattle for Patty Murray last month.

Notable Announcements and Scoops: Readers of The Advocate were among the first to learn that Craig Pridemore was running for Congress, that Rob McKenna had approved more than half a million dollars in bonuses to his top staff last year, that netroots author Jill Richardson was coming to town (she appeared at a party co-hosted by NPI), and . We also broke the news that Susan Hutchison had decided to come out strongly against Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033, and that our Fellow, Mike Finkle, was appointed to the King County District Court bench.

Guest Posts: Every now and then, we publish guest posts by distinguished special contributors. Our three favorite guest posts from the last twelve months were John Stokes' series on realizing a real transformation in education, Yuki Cheng's remembrance of events around the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, and Oregon gubernatorial hopeful John Kitzhaber's campaign pitch.

Most Popular: Readers really liked our daily reports during Filing Week 2009, the "Susan Hutchison Unabridged" transcript we published (of her remarks at a North Bend candidate forum), our recap of Senator Cantwell's interview with Bill Press (in which she announced her support for a public option), and the photos we published of Tim Eyman holding a NO on I-1033 sign, to name a few.

Today marks the end of a fun and exciting sixth year, and the beginning of the Advocate's seventh year. We're still going strong, and we hope you'll stick with us as we continue to chronicle our perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How about Earth Year instead of Earth Hour?

Last night, governments, businesses, and households participated in the fourth annual Earth Hour, an event organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) which is intended to promote a greater awareness of the climate crisis.

Participating in the event annually is pretty simple: All an individual or family has to do is turn off lights and non-essential appliances from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM local time. Many governments and landlords have gotten into the act of darkening properties they control, especially landmarks (skyscrapers, bridges, stadia, and the like), as well as issuing proclamations and statements about Earth Hour.

The symbolism is truly lovely, but a realist can't help but scoff at this idea. Why turn off the lights for one hour... and then turn them back on? What good does that do for the planet besides save an insignificant amount of energy?

(And, to be clear, I'm using the word insignificant in a relative sense. If we measure the amount of energy saved worldwide during that hour against worldwide energy usage - which is growing constantly - there's no comparison).

Instead of Earth Hour, we should have Earth Year. It should be the norm for structures and landmarks to be darkened at night. Save the lights for special occasions. Not only does would this save energy, it would save money and reduce light pollution, which has become a huge problem.

The Lake Washington School District, where I spent a good deal of my childhood, figured this out not so long ago. The district used to leave lights on to illuminate the exterior of its buildings at night. Nowadays, the lights are kept off, leaving school campuses dark and peaceful between dusk and dawn.

Likewise, I know many neighbors around Redmond who have replaced their standard porch or yard lights with modern, motion-activated versions which only turn on when someone is nearby, and then switch off automatically.

Unfortunately, the efforts of those who are trying to conserve are all too often quickly canceled out. Consider the City of Sammamish. The people who run Redmond's southern neighbor have stupidly lined the city's main thoroughfare, Southeast 228th Street, with a unbeliebably excessive number of streetlights. From the air, the four lane arterial must look like an airport runway. I've never liked driving it at night because it always reminds me how wasteful humans can be.

If I ran Sammamish, I'd remove all the streetlights from SE 228th. I don't see what purpose they serve. The street is mostly bounded by strip malls and apartment complexes which are adequately lit on their own. Drivers don't need streetlights to see where they're going in the dark; the headlights in today's cars are incredibly powerful and do a perfectly good job of that unaided.

But what about safety? Don't lights help deter unwanted criminal activity? Well, actually, no. The International Dark Skies Association (PDF) explains:
Light for the sake of light does not equal safety. Bright, glaring lights that illuminate some nighttime events and locations can diminish ambiance, but did you know that they can decrease security as well? Overly bright lighting creates a sharp contrast between light and darkness, making the places outside the area of illumination nearly impossible to see. Bad lighting can even attract criminals by creating deep shadows that offer concealment.
Permanent lights can allow criminals to see what they are doing and provide a showcase for vandals and graffiti artists to display their “work.”
Imagine how much energy we could save if Seattle and its suburbs all passed laws requiring that vacant workplaces shut off exterior and interior lights at night, or else be fined (there would of course be an exception for occupied areas).

At the very least, cities could ask employers to turn off the lights.

Utilities like Puget Sound Energy have come up with another technique: Shaming customers by showing them how much energy they're using versus their unnamed neighbors, which perhaps could be taken to a new level.

My point here is this: Symbolism isn't going to solve the climate crisis. As a DECA alum, I give Earth Hour an A+ grade; it's a fine marketing concept.

But it's going to take a lot more than marketing to cool and calm our planet's fever. It's going to take decisive action. It's going to take a real commitment to conservation. As I'm sure fellow dark skies advocates would agree: what better way to get started than by adopting the habit of keeping lights off at night?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is a maximum wage ratio the way to realize the goal of a living wage?

During my campaign for Seattle City Council, one of my top priorities was fighting for fair wages and benefits. The driving reason was the realization that the state’s minimum wage isn’t enough to reasonably afford to live in the city. Not only does it impact the lives of workers who struggle to make ends meet, this growing economic disparity has the potential to affect everyone, transforming Seattle from a thriving multi-income city to a very slanted shadow of itself.

I, along with others, supported at the time something called a Living Wage Ordinance, which would require employers in the city to pay what it actually costs to live in the city. I knew that this idea was especially popular among the shelter workers that I knew or worked with.

Even as I supported it, I questioned the practicality of the answer. My shelter already worked with fewer staff than our services required in order to meet budget demands; higher costs would reduce our services.

While trying to wrap my head around an answer to a living wage, we were beginning to hear horrible reports about top executives giving themselves hefty bonuses while employees at the bottom were struggling to put food on their family’s tables. Around then I heard people talking about something called a maximum wage ratio.

The answer, while strange at first glance, would not only increase wages at the bottom to enable people to afford to live in the City of Seattle, but it would also curb our region’s rapidly growing income disparity.

Rather than enact legislation that would make companies increase the bottom rung, which may be possible for some (Bank of America) and extremely difficult for others (homeless service providers already struggling), it would limit the ability of companies to get away with underpaying their most valuable employees.

With the maximum wage ratio, the minimum wage for a company is set as a percentage of the earnings of the highest paid individuals in the organization.

What this accomplishes is that it allows for each company to budget their bottom line while keeping the wages locked in fairness. This also helps to reduce the necessity of adjusting the minimum wage, allowing the minimum wage to keep better pace with the prevailing economic climate.

One other thing that it slows is the steady increase in upper management raises that do not trickle down to lower-paid workers. A CEO of a company can feel free to raise his salary any time he wants, but he has to stay within the ratio.

Although some object that this penalizes executives, such a scheme may still be quite generous. For example, at an 8 to 1 ratio a CEO can still make a very high salary, but now his employees will be receiving a wage they can live on.

Obviously, this solution isn’t completely perfect and answers to some tough questions will need to be figured out... such as how to count internships or those pesky bonuses we’ve heard about (or what to do in the case of executives who pay themselves almost nothing but get other benefits). It’s a start, though, and an idea that could restore some form of income equality, as well as preventing such a striking disparity from redeveloping in the future.

U.S. Senate passes Healthcare and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010

By a vote of fifty-six to forty-three, the United States Senate has today approved H.R. 4872, the last component of healthcare reform, primarily intended to fix flaws and problems in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Among the "fixes" in H.R. 4872 is the elimination of the notorious "Cornhusker Kickback", which was placed into H.R. 3590 to obtain Senator Ben Nelson's vote. Nelson, not surprisingly, voted against H.R. 4872. He was joined by Arkansas Democrats-in-Name-Only Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln.

(Lincoln is up for reelection this year and is being primaried by Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, who has the support of the netroots).

All Republicans voted against the legislation, except Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who is out with an illness. That means the Pacific Northwest roll call was pretty straightforward: Democrats Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, Jon Tester, Max Baucus, and Mark Begich were all "ayes", while Republicans Jim Risch, Mike Crapo, and Lisa Murkowski were "nays".

Patty Murray was first to issue a statement on H.R. 4872.

"Today’s passage ensures that seniors in Washington state will be able to stop worrying about falling into the ‘donut hole’ and not being able to afford the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy," declared Washington's senior senator. "Health insurance reform is going to help families and small business owners in Washington state in so many way starting this year."

"Today’s passage is just one more step toward lower premiums, more choices, and the health care security and stability our families deserve."

H.R. 4872 also forces private, for-profit banks to exit the student loan "business", which the CBO says will save taxpayers $61 billion over the next decade. Most of the savings will be reinvested in the form of aid to institutions of higher learning. The legislation also strengthens Pell Grants.

The bill unfortunately does not provide much relief to students and their families. It doesn't contain a generous increase in federal student aid, which means it does not address the skyrocketing cost of tuition.

But it does end one of the greatest ripoffs in American history.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Money is not the root of all evil

When you think about it, money is actually a very good thing. Without it, the modern world literally couldn't function. Indeed, by providing a common means for exchanging economic value, money simplifies our lives to an almost unimaginable extent and should count as one of humanity's great inventions.

Money isn't the root of all evil. Greed is.

In its simplest terms, greed is the pursuit of economic value above and beyond other sorts of value. For example, social value or human value. Most of what's wrong in our economy today can be attributed to greed. The Great Recession is almost entirely the result of greed run amok. And, I should add, greed on the behalf of a shockingly small minority of society's members.

The banking system collapsed, taking the housing market down with it, largely because a few very greedy people put their own pursuit of economic value ahead of absolutely everything else, and did so with absolutely no regard for the damage to social and human value their actions would cause.

In its simplest terms, that's evil. I don't know what else to call it.

Greed is the ultimate selfish motive, so to the extent that it destroys social and human value, greed is the root of all evil. Conversely, letting go of greed can be the source of much good.

This past week, I've come across two very heartening examples of doing good by letting go of greed. Both are in the housing market.

First, as the New York Times wrote about earlier this week, a non-profit organization has sprung up in Boston to help homeowners who have suffered foreclosure because their mortgages are underwater. It's called Boston Community Capital, and its basis is not in greed but in recognizing the greater importance of social and human value.

What they do is to buy foreclosed homes from the bank, then sell them back to the original homeowners at their present market value. Boston Community Capital recognizes that it's not good for anybody when a homeowner gets booted out of their home.

Obviously it's bad for the homeowner. It's also bad for the property, as unoccupied properties are subject to greater rates of vandalism and general degradation, which only lowers the property's value further. It's bad for the neighborhood, too, as a vacant property lowers property values for surrounding homes. If too many homes go vacant in a neighborhood, that can turn into a vicious circle of descending home values, pushing more mortgages underwater and resulting in even more foreclosures.

Basically, foreclosure sucks for all concerned. Foreclosure itself is a greed-based strategy: the bank repossesses a house in order to salvage whatever economic value they can out of it at present market prices, but with no regard to the collateral damage in social and human value terms.

So, Boston Community Capital buys those homes from the bank--when the bank has already resigned itself to taking pennies on the dollar for what their balance sheets say they are owed--and returning the homes to the original homeowners on terms they can actually afford. By preferring social value and human value over economic value, Boston Community Capital breaks that vicious circle. They are providing a mechanism for continuity in the ownership and occupancy of the house, which then supports that property's value but also the values of property in the whole neighborhood.

Ironically, placing social and human value above economic value has the net effect of also supporting economic value in a way that placing economic value above all else doesn't. Neat, huh?

The second heartening piece of news comes from, of all places, Bank of America. They seem to have taken a lesson from Boston Community Capital, as reported this morning on Public Radio's Marketplace program. Bank of America is announcing a plan to forgive homeowners some of the amount they owe on their mortgage when that mortgage is underwater. In effect, for those homeowners, Bank of America is going to pay down a hefty chunk of the principal on their loan.

Bank of America has recognized that the greedy strategy of demanding a homeowner to make good on a $400,000 mortgage on a house whose market value has fallen to $250,000 is stupid. The light has finally dawned on them that, in focusing exclusively on economic value, they'll only be destroying the very economic value they seek to hold on to. To their credit, Bank of America has they've realized it is better to write off the $150,000 difference so they homeowner can stay in the house and continue to make payments.

I take both of these things as a very good sign, and not just for the housing market.

In my view, nearly all the difficulty humanity faces in making progress on the problems that threaten us boils down to greed.

Why can't we make progress on global warming? Because of greed-based motives in industries that have for too long grabbed enormous amounts of economic value by hiding the true costs of the goods and services they provide in the form of CO2 emissions. Those CO2 emissions are now catching up with us--that hidden cost is coming due--but those industries won't let go of the greed. They can't find a way to put the human value of the billion or so human lives that may needlessly be lost due to global warming above the economic value they so greedily prize.

Why can't we make progress on meaningful health care reform? Why did "health care" reform get watered down to "health insurance" reform? And why did even getting that much take fourteen months of fighting tooth-and-nail, every day? Because the insurance company can't find a way to place human value, in terms of the lives that are lost due to insurance greed and quality of life that is sacrificed on that altar, over the economic value they so greedily prize.

Why can't we quickly and painlessly shift to a food production system that is sustainable, healthier, and organic? Because "big-Ag" is entrenched in a greed-based model that seeks to pump out the greatest number of marketable food calories with the smallest input of economic value (that is, at the lowest cost), regardless of the consequences in terms of social and human value.

All our problems boil down to greed. They always do. So I take heart in seeing two examples, nearly back-to-back, of the positive results that occur when people let go of greed and act accordingly.

In my view, the fate of humanity in the 21st century rests largely on whether we can, as a global culture, shift away from greed-based thinking and towards a model that values social and human value above economic value. If we can, then solving those serious, threatening problems will be simple.

The solutions are mostly quite obvious--you really want cheap, global health care for all? Just let go of the greed: Put _everybody_ in the same insurance pool and charge as small a premium as necessary to pay for the actual amount of services consumed. Simple. Universal health care, described in 24 words.

You want to stop global warming? Just let go of the greed. Energy companies ought to be putting their vast amounts of cash into crash research programs for sustainable energy development. It's good for the planet, may save a billion lives, and is the only way they themselves can survive in the long term. But they can't do it because in the short term it would "affect shareholder value" (code words for "wouldn't give us the return our greed demands.")

The solutions are simple, and to get them, all we have to do is give up the greed. Money is a very good thing, but some things really are more important.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The McKenna backlash continues

Rob McKenna's decision to put the State of Washington's name on an ill-conceived Republican scheme to invalidate the just-signed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is still provoking an incredibly strong response a full twenty four hours after it was first confirmed.

In the wake of her condemnation of McKenna's actions during media availability yesterday, State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has sent McKenna a letter formally asking him to reconsider. She also confirmed that she and Speaker Frank Chopp are investigating the possibility of writing a provision into the state budget forbidding McKenna from spending public money in an attempt to deny uninsured Washingtonians the healthcare they need and deserve.

The Washington State Democratic Party announced it had filed a public records request for "all documents relating in any way to your decision to join in bringing or threatening a lawsuit challenging some or all of the historic health-care legislation approved by the House of Representatives on March 21, 2010."

"The public has a right to know whether McKenna generated this idea himself or whether he is acting on behalf of the National Republican Party or the insurance industry," argued Dwight Pelz, Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party.

Pelz, who formerly served on the King County Council with McKenna, added that the Party wants to know how much the suit will cost the people of Washington State.

The Washington State Labor Council also chimed in on Tuesday, adding its voice to those of many others blasting McKenna for his thoughtless meddling.

"His participation in this suit without consulting the Governor and our elected state leaders is inappropriate and we call on him to withdraw his name - and our state - from this partisan political showmanship on the taxpayers' dime," WSLC President Rick Bender said.

Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, in contrast, came to McKenna's defense, releasing a statement agreeing with him and repeating previously recycled boilerplate about how awful it is that insurance companies will now be on a tighter leash.

Meanwhile, the Facebook group Washington Taxpayers OPT OUT of Rob McKenna's lawsuit has surpassed eight thousand members. At the beginning of the day, its membership was only half that number. It certainly indicates that Washingtonians are angry at McKenna.

Tell Rob McKenna: Washington's treasury must not be used to deny its people care

If Rob McKenna's plans to join a last-ditch Republican scheme to block the Patient Protection and Affordable Act in federal court anger you, you should take a moment out of your day today to let McKenna's staff know how you feel.

Here's how to get in touch with McKenna's office:

Web contact form
Telephone: 1-360-753-6200
Complaint Line: 1-360-664-2162
Fax: 1.360.664.0228
Facebook group: Washington Taxpayers OPT OUT of Rob McKenna's lawsuit
Sign Fuse's petition

Remember, Rob McKenna is justifying his actions by claiming he's trying to protect Washington's citizens. McKenna's office needs to know that he is misrepresenting the people of Washington by committing the state's resources to this lawsuit without having been asked by the governor or the Legislature.

McKenna claims he can do as he pleases because he's an independently elected official. But the Constitution says he's supposed to act as the legal adviser to the state's elected leaders. None of them asked him to file this lawsuit. Governor Gregoire and Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler have already made it plainly clear they oppose McKenna's actions and he is acting without their support.

McKenna didn't even bother to notify the governor of his ill-conceived plans, which would have been the courteous thing to do.

Then again, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that McKenna's understanding of constitutional law is lacking. He's the coauthor of an unconstitutional Tim Eyman initiative. Unfortunately, he was able to successfully fool. Washington's voters into electing him to the post of Attorney General twice.

Now, however, it looks like he's finally losing his mojo.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Rob McKenna shows his true colors, says he'll join suit to block healthcare reform

Ever since Rob McKenna declared his candidacy for Attorney General in 2004, he has craftily and cunningly portrayed himself as a reasonable Republican who believes in progressive policy directions (like consumer protection).

Today, it appears that facade may finally be falling apart in the wake of McKenna's disgraceful announcement that he intends to join a lawsuit to block implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The news comes as no surprise to us. Before he was attorney general, McKenna was a right wing King County Councilmember and a Tim Eyman collaborator (he actually coauthored Eyman's Initiative 747, which the Supreme Court later found to be unconstitutional). Longtime transit activists haven't forgotten his attempts to destroy Sound Transit from within, which were eventually thwarted when King County Executive Ron Sims refused to re-appoint him to the Board.

Now, five years after taking office as Attorney General, McKenna is banding together with other reactionary Republicans in an attempt to thwart legislation that would provide insurance to half a million Washingtonians.

And he has the gall to say he's doing it to "protect citizens".

What he really means is that he wants stop the big, bad federal government from picking on those poor insurance companies.

McKenna is deluded if he believes that the people of the Evergreen State are going to approve of him using our tax dollars in an effort to deny Washington's uninsured the healthcare coverage they need and deserve.

Democrats, naturally, are furious.

"I don't know who he represents. He doesn't represent me," Governor Gregoire told reporters before a bill signing ceremony this afternoon, adding that McKenna had not bothered to consult her office about his plan to join the suit. "I don't think he represents a million and a half Washingtonians that will be helped by this. I don't think he represents small business that will be helped by this."

"I will actively oppose this lawsuit if it moves forward," she promised.

Democratic Party Chair Dwight Pelz was swift to issue a condemnation. "Keep your hands off of our healthcare coverage, Mr. McKenna," he said in a news release sent to NPI. "You and your wife and your children can see a doctor when they are sick, but for over 400,000 people in Washington that is not the case. Each year around 1,000 residents of our state die because they do not have healthcare coverage."

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown also made her displeasure with McKenna known during media availability with reporters. "I'm extremely disappointed. I think this bill is good news for Washington State. So I'm not sure why he would make a move like that. I'd like to make sure we meet with him and help him understand the fiscal implications for our state before he does that."

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler echoed Brown's comments. "It’s my hope that we come together as a state to enact reform, rather than let families continue to suffer while lawyers battle in the courts," he said in a statement.

Representative Jay Inslee, one of the two hundred and nineteen Democrats whose votes were critical in passing H.R. 3590, was incensed. "We fought over 2,000 insurance industry lobbyists in Washington DC to protect Washingtonians health care. We shouldn’t have to fight our own Attorney General too," Inslee declared.

"Stripping families of their legal rights to insurance, may be the South Carolina way, may be the insurance company way, may be the Tea Party way, but it’s not the Washington way," Inslee continued in his news release.

"Rob McKenna does not know, or does not care that a significant part of this comprehensive reform includes the solution to decades of Medicare reimbursement disparity for Washington health care providers and hospitals."

Meanwhile, in the Other Washington, Robert Gibbs expressed optimism that the Republican lawsuit would fail when asked about it during the daily press briefing.
Q: What’s the White House’s reaction to the states that have threatened to sue over this legislation? Is that something that the President and the team are taking seriously?

MR. GIBBS: I heard Nancy-Ann talk a little bit about this, this morning on television I think. My sense is that a lot of big pieces of legislation are challenged in some ways. We certainly have -- you’ve seen the intent of some to do -- to challenge this legislation on grounds we don’t think will be very successful.

Q: You don’t think their suits will be very successful?

MR. GIBBS: We don’t.

Q: Okay. And is there any kind of a plan or a reaction to deal with that in the coming --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I assume there will be many things that we will deal with in the coming weeks, months, and years ahead as health care reform is implemented. But I think that -- you know, look, some of the states and some of the players might end up being kind of curious, but, again, I think there’s pretty long-standing precedent on the constitutionality of this.
It's our great hope that the courts will strike down this last ditch Republican scheme to obstruct the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The social safety net that we have built and are continuing to build to protect our most vulnerable is both moral and constitutional.

What matters most in the classroom?

If you have kids in elementary school or if you can remember that far back yourself, you know that the moment you find out who your next year’s teacher will be is momentous. That assignment can make or break your school year.

It’s no surprise to me that my kids have great grades in their classes taught by fun teachers whose excitement about teaching their subject matter is contagious, and that they struggle more in the classes where their teachers are having problems communicating with their students. You probably know what I’m talking about.

(Point of information: not all good teachers are fun. I learned much of what I still remember and use from junior high from Mrs. Ellis, a decidedly un-fun teacher. Mrs. Ellis was passionate, dedicated and tough, a killer combination.)

Because of these experiences, the opening lines of a new report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation entitled “Empowering Effective Teachers” rang true:
The contribution of teachers to student learning and outcomes is widely recognized. A teacher’s effectiveness has more impact on student learning than any other factor under the control of school systems, including class size, school size, and the quality of after-school programs. In a study of Los Angeles schools, the difference between the performance of a student assigned to a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher averaged 10 percentile points on a standardized math test. Researchers studying high schools in North Carolina found that having a class with a strong teacher had an impact 14 times greater than having a class with five fewer students.
The impact of a top-notch, born-to-teach teacher cannot be understated, which is why the Obama administration is making attracting and keeping great teachers a core goal of its education policy. It's a good thing, because the nation is doing so poorly at it.

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, teacher policy is an area in which most states get a failing grade. In the nonpartisan research group’s 2009 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, the nation gets a D+ on state teacher policies. We can do much better.

The report identifies many places where states are weak: Most states use feeble teacher evaluations and make automatic tenure decisions, both processes failing to take into account how much students have learned. States make it tough to remove ineffective teachers. They provide few alternative routes for professionals to become a teacher, and they poorly prepare elementary and middle school teachers for their jobs. States' outmoded compensation structures don’t reward teachers for their prior related work experience, for teaching in challenging schools or for teaching in shortage subject areas like math or science.

The good news is that because of a financial incentive from the Obama administration, states are scrambling over one another to be the first to improve. Take our state for example. This month, the Washington legislature passed a bill (SB 6696) that creates a tough, multi-criteria teacher evaluation, improves the state's teacher preparation and recruitment system, finds ways to attract teachers to work in high-need schools and subject areas, and establishes a state-wide process for moving consistently ineffective teachers out of schools.

Without the nudge from the federal government, the issue of teacher effectiveness would have been overshadowed by the state's budget problems and no legislative progress would have been made this year. Thank you President Obama.

Ask any kid. After lunch, recess and friends, their favorite teacher is the best part of school. And parents place teachers in the number one spot. Definitely, creating and retaining great teachers is a great place to focus education reform efforts.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pridemore, DelBene laud House for passage of landmark healthcare reform bill

As the members of the Evergreen State's Democratic congressional delegation reflect on their votes for H.R. 3590, two who hope to join them in the House next year are adding their voices of praise to those of the many Washingtonians celebrating the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Suzan DelBene, who is running to replace Dave Reichert as the 8th District's Representative, did not mince words in the statement her campaign released to NPI, which was appropriately titled, Reichert votes against health insurance reform bill; Turns his back on suffering families across the 8th District.

"By voting against the reform bill today, Congressman Reichert backed big insurance companies, turning his back on these suffering families and businesses," DelBene said. "He continues to toe his party’s line, choosing politics and the status quo over the needs of middle class families. Today we saw meaningful progress and I’m thankful that Congressman Reichert did not get his way."

DelBene (who supports a public option) added that she strongly believes Congress' work on healthcare reform is unfinished, and expressed concern about Republican-led efforts to roll back privacy and reproductive rights.

Reichert, meanwhile, posted a release defending his "no" vote which is filled with baseless Republican boilerplate derying the legislation.

It remains to be seen if Reichert's vote on H.R. 3590 will be his undoing, but it will certainly become a major issue in the 2010 campaign.

Craig Pridemore, who is vying to succeed Brian Baird as the 3rd District's Representative, congratulated the incumbent for his vote, but lamented how long it took for Baird to make up his mind.

"[Representaitve] Baird shifted from opposition to equivocation and then support," Pridemore said in a statement released to NPI. "While I applaud his ultimate vote, it took too long for Congress to reach this day, undermining public confidence and delaying the needed pace of change and reform."

Pridemore also took a swipe at his Democratic primary rival, Denny Heck, for not staking out a clear position in favor of healthcare reform, quoting a report from The Hill which noted that Heck "would only lay out a series of policy goals and declined to delve into the details of the Senate bill."

"Early in the legislative session, Heck bragged that he was happy he didn't have to be in Olympia to take the tough votes during this difficult economy," Pridemore declared. "Now he refuses to take a position on tough issues in Congress. I'll continue to stand foursquare with the working people of the 3rd Congressional District, reflected in my votes and my values."

In historic vote, United States House passes Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Moments ago, by a vote of 219 to 212, the United States House of Representatives concurred in the Senate amendments to H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will extend healthcare coverage to millions of Americans.

Immediately after reaching the magic number of two hundred and sixteen (required for passage), Democrats broke into applause and chants of "Yes, We Can!"

The full roll call is available on the House Clerk's website. Here is the roll call for the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana):
Voting Yes: Representatives Brian Baird, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott, Kurt Schrader, Adam Smith, David Wu

Voting Nay: Representatives Doc Hastings, Walt Minnick, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Denny Rehberg, Dave Reichert, Mike Simpson, Greg Walden, Don Young
The final tally: Ten Democrats from our region voted in favor; all seven Republicans and one Democrat (Walt Minnick) voted against.

President Obama is expected to speak tonight after the House of Representatives has passed H.R. 4872, a bill to improve and adjust H.R. 3590. That bill will be passed under the rules of reconciliation and sent over to the United States Senate.

There's a lot not to like about this bill. It does not have a public option. It does not strengthen or protect reproductive rights (rather, it diminishes them, although not to the extent the U.S. Conference of Catholic Biships wants). Not all of its provisions take effect immediately. H.R. 3590 is not, in the view of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a triumphant accomplishment.

Let's not be under any illusions: We have a long, long way to go to get to universal healthcare for all Americans. But tonight, we've at least taken a step forward.

And something is better than nothing.

It seems that almost every progressive blog in the country has posted a link to former Bush speechwriter David Frum's analysis of today's events, which in his words is the most crushing legislative defeat for the Republican Party since the 1960s. We'd be remiss not to mention it; it really is a must-read.

Here's my favorite excerpt:
We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?
Good question. Frum also points out:
It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.
We concur. Our guess is that Democrats and Republicans will do some horse trading in the 2010 midterms. In House races, Republicans may succeed in getting rid of some Blue Dogs in conservative districts, and Democrats may knock out a few Republican incumbents in districts that voted for Barack Obama and decide they're unhappy with their Republican representation. Democrats may pick up open seats vacated by Republicans, and vice versa.

On House floor, Inslee suggests confidence will grow in healthcare reform bill with time

Minutes ago, Representative Jay Inslee spoke briefly on the floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 3590, the monumental healthcare reform bill that is on the verge of being passed by Congress. Inslee's remarks were as follows:
We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union ... that is what got America started. And when we form a more perfect union, it is always a continuous, and controversial process; social security, Medicare, civil rights, at those times it was always controversial.

But Americans are going to grow confident in this for two reasons. Number one, we know all Americans should have a choice in healthcare. It shouldn't be the government's choice, it shouldn't be the insurance company's choice, it should be individual Americans choice, and that is what they will get today. Number two, we know that a nation is truly healthy only when all of its citizens have healthcare. Today we will have choice, today we will have healthcare, today we are forming a more perfect union in the tradition of this great country.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer kicked off debate on the bill earlier this afternoon, after the House agreed to a resolution setting the terms for the debate. There's been talk that Republicans will try to delay or prolong the vote on final passage, but they seem rather dejected now that they know that Democrats have the votes. A Talking Points Memo reader observes:
It's fascinating to watch the debate. All of the Rs have very long, very disappointed, very glum faces. None of them seem able to even conjure up a bit of good old-fashioned outrage for a decent rant. They know what's coming. They know they can't stop it. They look defeated.

As a decades-long C-SPAN junkie, I don't think this debate will have nearly the kind of fireworks that we might have been expecting. After all of this, I believe this is going to end with a whimper. There's just no heart in the Rs for a fight anymore. I wonder if the same is true with the tea partiers. Will they be angered or deflated?
It's certainly a curious sight to see. It's taken so long for Democrats to get their act together than the right wing seems to have gotten it into their heads that nothing was going to happen (or could happen if they shouted their objections loudly enough), especially after Republicans won the special election in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy's position in the Senate.

What's becoming clear is that this debate hasn't just severely tested Democratic endurance. It's also taxed Republican mettle as well. It's only natural that they appear weary and exhausted after unsuccessful fighting so long and so hard to bury progress in a graveyard. In concert with their noise machine, they have been unanimous and disciplined in their opposition, while Democrats have struggled mightily to whip their own in support of President Obama's top legislative priority. Democrats may have stumbled badly along the way, but they're going to finish this marathon, and Republicans are powerless to stop them.

Baird says he'll vote for healthcare reform bill

It's official... After weeks of deliberation, Brian Baird has finally taken a position on H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, releasing a long and protracted statement which ends with his commitment to vote yes:
Weighing the concerns against the benefits of the legislation, and considering that the status quo is unsustainable, I will vote for this legislation.

This does not mean all of the problems of improving health care, lowering costs, reducing the deficit and others are solved by this bill. We must continue to work for further improvements in each of these areas and I am committed to doing so. But on balance, I believe this legislation will be much better than what exists today, I believe it represents a number of improvements in both content and process over the legislation as passed by the House, and, it is the best we are likely to be able to accomplish at the present time.
His decision means that Washington's congressional delegation will be strictly divided on party lines when it comes time to vote on final passage.

Fellow Democrats Jim McDermott, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Adam Smith, and Norm Dicks are already "yes" votes. Dave Reichert, Doc Hastings, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers are all prepared to vote "no".

Baird's decision also means that Walt Minnick will bear the dishonor of being the only Democrat from the Pacific Northwest to vote against H.R. 3590.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why does the tea party crowd hate America?

We ask because "tea party" protestors are threatening to take up arms against our democratically elected government:
Tea Party activists have gathered on Capitol Hill today for a “Code Red” rally against health care reform. Speakers at the event included Republican Reps. Steve King (IA), Michele Bachmann (MN), and Mike Pence (IN). The gathering was organized by Tea Party Profiteer organizations like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity. ThinkProgress attended today’s rally and spotted a sign threatening violence if health care passes. The sign reads: “Warning: If Brown can’t stop it, a Browning can,” referring to Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) and a Browning firearm.
The people who made those signs evidently weren't paying attention in civics class. Or maybe they never studied U.S. government. If they had, they'd know that treason is highest crime that any American can commit. It is explicitly mentioned in the Consitution, and may be punished by death:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
Threats of violence weren't the only sickening display exhibited by "tea party" protestors today. Groups of them also hurled demeaning epithets at Representatives Barney Frank (Massachusetts), Andre Carson (Indiana) and John Lewis (Georgia):
Standing next to Lewis, emerging from a Democratic caucus meeting with President Obama, [Representative Andre] Carson said people in the crowd yelled, "kill the bill and then the N-word" several times, while he and Lewis were exiting the Cannon House office building.

"People have been just downright mean," Lewis added.

And that wasn't an isolated incident. Early this afternoon, standing outside a Democratic whip meeting in the Longworth House office building, I watched Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) make his way out the door, en route to the neighboring Rayburn building. As he rounded the corner toward the exit, wading through a huge crowd of tea partiers and other health care protesters, an elderly white man screamed "Barney, you #$%^&*" ... a line that caused dozens of his confederates to erupt in laughter.
Meanwhile, Representative Emanuel Cleaver (Missouri) was spat upon.

Sickening behavior like this is unfortunately what we've come to expect from the far right wing. Now, not every tea party protestor is a racist. But many of them are are, and the ones who are are not are refusing to condemn the bigots around them. Instead, they're encouraging the bigots.

We've heard that some on the right wing are trying to pretend these incidents did not occur. It's no matter that eyewitness accounts and video footage of the incidents exist: anything that makes the "tea party" protests look reprehensible must be a liberal conspiracy!

The "tea party" crowd has clearly become desensitized to the point where they're unable to comprehend just how hurtful their words are. That's how powerful the Republican Noise Machine's hate speech is.

Friday, March 19, 2010

KING5 releases another useless, pointless job performance poll of state leaders

This afternoon, Seattle NBC affiliate KING5 released another one of their useless polls purporting to measure how the public feels about lawmakers' job performance (and Governor Chris Gregoire's, as well). It pretty much goes without saying that the poll found people to be unhappy with Washington's elected leaders, a sentiment echoed by Governor Gregoire herself when asked about her reaction to the poll.

What's baffling to us is why KING5 wastes money commissioning these polls from SurveyUSA in the first place. Why do the people who run the station feel the need to quantify how Washingtonians feel about the Legislature's work? The numbers are absolutely useless. They don't tell us anything we don't already know.

It's simply not a secret that people are feeling sad, angry, upset, frustrated, annoyed, and anxious about the state of our state.

They're out of work, or they can't find the money to pay for college, or they have no idea how to pay for the medical care a sick family member needs. Or they're worried about their friends and neighbors.

Most people don't pay close enough attention to what's happening in Olympia to be able to effectively evaluate the job the governor and legislators are doing. What little people do know tends to get filtered through traditional media outlets like KING5, which do a lousy job of providing fair and in-depth political coverage. (And no, a half hour show on Sundays featuring consultants and conservative pundits does not qualify as fair and in-depth political coverage).

We don't need a poll on state leaders' job performance to tell us Washingtonians are unhappy. So what good are polls like these? Seriously. There's just no point to them. They don't suggest how people are likely to vote when they get their ballots later this year. If KING5 wanted to obtain numbers on how people might vote in November in legislative contests, it could commission an electoral poll.

We at NPI are fond of saying that the only poll that really matters gets conducted on Election Day. All we have to do is look at recent electoral history to see how truly irrelevant "job performance" polls like this one are.

In spring 2005, as Dino Rossi's gubernatorial election challenge was being litigated in Chelan County Superior Court, Governor Chris Gregoire and the Legislature were working to pass a transportation package to make Washington's roads safer and smoother. The legislation was a top priority for Gregoire.

The package had hardly been signed into law before a right wing initiative was filed to repeal it. Shortly thereafter, a SurveyUSA poll found that 58% of Washingtonians disapproved of the job Gregoire was doing, while only 34% approved. (That's not far off from the poll released today, which puts Gregoire's approval at 31%).

Initiative 912, spearheaded by KVI's John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur (the latter was fired from KVI last year) ultimately topped the minimum requirement for valid signatures with ease... and made the ballot. Tim Eyman jubilantly predicted victory; the conventional wisdom was that voters would torch the gas tax increase and take out their anger on Gregoire. But they didn't.

Instead, they defeated the initiative by a comfortable margin.

That same legislative session, the Legislature and Governor Gregoire acted to restore the state estate tax, which had been struck down by the Supreme Court. The following year, thanks to Martin Selig's money, right wing activist Dennis Falk qualified a measure to repeal it, asserting that Gregoire's action was deeply unpopular. Falk had the support of editorial boards; Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen in particular campaigned desperately for Initiative 920's passage.

But it was rejected overwhelmingly.

Besides rejecting I-920, the people also substantially enlarged the Legislature's Democratic majorities. For example, the 45th and 48th LDs, which collectively span the north Eastside, each went from having one Democrat in its delegation before the 2006 election to having an all-Democratic delegation.

Two years later, voters had the opportunity to choose between Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi for a second time; they decisively chose Gregoire, even though Rossi's allies spent millions on advertising and attack mail to convince them otherwise. Voters also kept both the House and the Senate under Democratic control.

And last year, the right wing tried to force a public vote on the domestic partnerships expansion that the Legislature worked very hard to pass. But instead of gutting the law, voters sustained it. They also overwhelmingly rejected Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033, intended to lock in recession era budget cuts.

What do the outcomes of all of these elections suggest? They suggest that when push comes to shove, the people of Washington trust the governor and Democratic lawmakers, and support their efforts to protect our common wealth.

Much has happened in the past five years, but the people (for the most part) have been sending a remarkably consistent message at the real polls.

It's possible that we could see a change this year. But job performance polls of state leaders are not a good indicator of whether voters are of a mind to oust the Democratic majorities in the Legislature in November 2010.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

CNN's Christiane Amanpour to become host of ABC's Sunday news show, "This Week"

ABC, a unit of The Walt Disney Company, announced a few hours ago that it has recruited CNN's most respected reporter, Christiane Amanpour, to be the host of its weekly Sunday news program, This Week, beginning in August 2010.

The deal is a major coup for ABC - which has found a credible and reputable successor to George Stephanopolous - but it's also the chance of a lifetime for Christiane, who has long been the only bright spot at CNN.

ABC News President David Westin celebrated the announcement in an email to staff of the network's news division, writing:
With Christiane we have the opportunity to provide our audiences with something different on Sunday mornings. We will continue to provide the best in interviews and analysis about domestic politics and policies. But now we will add to that an international perspective. All of us know how much the international and the domestic have come to affect one another – whether it's global conflict, terrorism, humanitarian crises, or the economy.
The great thing about Amanpour is that she is an actual journalist. Not a pundit, not a former spinmeister, not a Villager. An actual journalist.

Her hiring seems to have left many on the right wing speechless. Here's a priceless comment from the ABC News website left by an unhappy conservative:
Mr. Westin, are you nuts?? Why would you pick a Left Winger to host a supposed talking head program. I know her liberal, anti America and israel bias will show thru. Jake Tapper would have been a better choice. I guess you were afraid you would not have gotten invited to the right cocktail parties if you had hired a conservative.
Notice Ron in Texas' word choice. He wrote "talking head program". See, his expectation is that Sunday morning news shows are supposed to be hosted by Villagers who book lots of establishment conservatives.

Amanpour is not a Villager. Rather, she's an courageous newsgatherer who has extensively worked abroad, outside the New York/D.C. media axis. Strike one.

Amanpour's reporting has never had a conversative slant, and she herself is not a product of the Republican Noise Machine (which inherently means she's a liberal, since reality has a liberal bias). Strike two.

Finally, Amanpour is not a cheerleader for the United States, because she knows that real journalists aren't cheerleaders. Real journalists seek truth and report it. That's just what she's done as CNN's chief international correspondent... from the Balkans to Rwanda to Iran. Strike three.

It's easy to see why the right wing is unahppy with the selection of Ms. Amanpour. But we're excited, and we commend ABC News for making a great choice. With Christiane, This Week finally has a chance to rise above Press the Meat (er, Meet the Press) and Face the Nation on Sunday mornings.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

There's more to healthcare reform than money

With as much focus as has been placed on health insurance reform as a major component of the health care bill, it's easy to forget that there's more to this than money. And I'll fess up: I'm as guilty as anyone of focusing too much on the money angle. With as much as I'm paying for insurance right now--and probably you as well--can anyone blame us?

But, for all that insurance reform is honestly necessary and critical right now, it's only half the battle. At last November's TEDMED conference, Intel researcher Eric Dishman gave a great talk on what the other half of health care reform is.

And it's a big, big other half.

Two factors come into play: demographics and central-vs-local delivery of health care. I highly suggest you watch Dishman's talk at the above link, but if you haven't got 20 minutes to do so, I'll try to sum up:

Demographics: Basically, the population is aging. Advances in health care, delivered in spite of insurance companies if not through them, have led to longer life spans.

This is a good thing, but it puts us in a situation where for the first time in history there are more middle-aged and elderly people than young people. Low birth rates in the developed world, and increasingly so in the developing world, mean that this will continue to be true.

Because there aren't any "death panels" in the health care bill that will be hunting down the elderly (really, there aren't), this means that in about ten years gerontology is going to be the biggest factor governing health care delivery and expenditures nationwide.

Dealing with dementia, reduced capacities of the elderly to live independently, falls and hip fractures leading to assisted living, that's where growth in health care is now. And it's only accelerating.

Central-vs-Local: Health care today is delivered primarily at hospitals and doctors' offices. It is centralized. You get sick, you go to the hospital. Time for your annual physical, you go to your primary care physician's office. It's not like in the good old days when the country doctor made house calls. That was a distributed model of health care. Very local. But that's just not how medicine works today. Today, everything is very centralized.

And often, there are good reasons for this. It is truly impractical to provide certain health care services in the home. I'm guessing you wouldn't want a team of surgeons and nurses descending on your home to perform a hip replacement operation. Nor would you want them wheeling an MRI machine into your living room to give you a scan. For one thing, your house probably isn't wired to provide enough current to even run the machine.

But centralized delivery isn't appropriate for everything, and gerontology is where these two trends collide.

For elder care, it's all about extending life and preserving the quality of life. Preserving freedom, mobility, and independent living for as long as you can. For that, you absolutely want as many services as possible provided within the home. With senior populations growing at many times the rate of the younger crowd (all those baby-boomers reaching middle age), it is neither practical nor effective to deliver health care in a centralized model.

The reason why is that elder care demands a focus on maintenance and monitoring. It's all about maintaining a person's capabilities for as long as possible, which you do by monitoring those capabilities so you can spot problems early. But monitoring, by its very nature, is not something you can do effectively in a fifteen minute doctor's office visit.

You won't spot the subtle signs of diminishing mental capacities, which may impair someone's ability or likelihood of taking their medicines on the right schedule, in an office visit. You won't spot the subtle signs of muscle tremors and diminished balance that raise the chances someone will suffer a debilitating fall if you're examining your patient once every few months while they're sitting on an exam room table.

You can only spot these things in the home, in a person's natural setting, with a care model that makes use of modern technology to watch for these subtle signs.

We can't do this in a centralized model. We need a revolution in health care away from treating hospitals as "cathedrals of health care" and towards a decentralized model where, as Eric Dishman calls for, at least 50% of health care is delivered in the home. That being the 50% that needs to be done in the home, that you want to be done in the home, and--because it's there to catch problems early--that reduces the need for the other 50% as well.

That's the other half of the health care reform puzzle. And we need to figure out how to do it pretty fast, because our parents and grandparents are going to need it pretty darned soon.

Max Prinsen wins King Conservation District election, according to unofficial results

The King Conservation District has announced that Max Prinsen is the winner of yesterday's special election for a three year term on the Board of Supervisers.

Prinsen, who has previously served on the Board, was endorsed by the Washington Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, and Dow Constantine. He triumphed despite the presence of two other progressives on the ballot (which led to a split progressive vote). Prinsen received 1,722 votes, edging out the right wing's candidate (Mara Heiman), who received 1,488 votes.

One of those other progressives, Kirk Prindle, has already announced he'll run for King Conservation District next year. If he wins next spring, he would join Prinsen on the five-member Board of Supervisers.

4,232 ballots were cast in total, a thirty three percent increase in participation over last year's election, in which 2,757 votes were cast. That's still only a tiny fraction of the registered voters who live in King County.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Internet Explorer 9 won't work on Windows XP: So much for backwards compatability

Microsoft today released a "platform preview" of the next version of Internet Explorer (Version 9) to show developers that it's serious about supporting web standards and the next generation languages of the Net (HTML5 and CSS3).

The preview isn't a beta release of the browser; rather, it's a demonstration intended to show off what Microsoft has been working on. The main highlights are a faster JavaScript engine, support for embedded audio and video (though not Vorbis), support for scalable vector graphics, and hardware accelerated rendering.

The main lowlight is the disclosure that Internet Explorer 9 won't be compatible with Windows XP, which is still used by possibly more than a billion people.

It's not the first time Microsoft has cut off its users.

After the company restarted development of Internet Explorer in the middle of the decade, it decided not to bother making the new version compatible with Windows 2000. The much reviled IE 6 thus became Microsoft's last browser release for Windows 2000. Ironically, Microsoft rival Mozilla continues to support the platform; the latest version of Firefox (3.6) runs just fine on Windows 2000.

IE 8 is now fated to be the last supported browser release for Windows XP. Users who wish to upgrade to Internet Explorer 9 when it comes out will have to rent (er, purchase a license for) Windows Vista or Windows 7 from Microsoft.

Planned obsolescence is one of the things I dislike most about proprietary software. As I wrote last year, it leads to an unnecessarily high amount of e-waste. People end up discarding peripherals, components, and entire computers that they mistakenly think have reached the end of their useful lives. What they don't realize is that all of that old hardware is still good. It might not be able to run the newest proprietary software, but it won't have trouble running the latest and greatest free software.

A computer manufactured in the 1990s, for example, will happily run the most recent release of Xubuntu, which ships with updated versions of Firefox and OpenOffice. And Xubuntu - unlike Windows - can be easily upgraded with a few clicks of a mouse when a new release comes out. Free software like Xubuntu can do wonders for extending the life of old hardware. Research has borne this out: In 2004, the government of the United Kingdom calculated that migrating to GNU/Linux distributions like Xubuntu can result in fifty percent less e-waste.

Another great reason to make the switch to free software.

Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin attack eleven year old Washingtonian activist Marcelas Owens

Last week, after eleven year old activist Marcelas Owens courageously stood up with Senator Patty Murray and Democratic leaders in Congress to call for healthcare reform, I had a sneaking suspicion that the Republican Noise Machine would quickly turn its sights on him, and trash both him and his family.

And sadly, I was correct: In less than a week, Marcelas has been the subject of attacks and ridicule from the likes of Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck. Our friends at the Washington Community Action Network - who Marcelas' mother Tiffany worked with before she died - have also been disparaged by the trio.

Years ago, I might have reacted to these attacks by calling them disgusting and repulsive. But just about everything that right wing hate talkers like Malkin, Beck, and Limbaugh say these days fits that description.

Nothing that comes out of their filthy mouths surprises me anymore.

Their behavior is indefensible and shameful, and regrettably, it's not condemned often enough by conservatives with a conscience.

We at the Northwest Progressive Institute are incredibly proud of Marcelas for speaking out in support of healthcare reform, and to his family for encouraging him to tell the story of what happened to his mother, Tiffany.

I myself became at an activist when I was fifteen, and I know what it's like to be in the trenches but not even be able to vote. I also know what it's like to be vilified by the right wing. It's not pleasant - who likes being put down? - but in a way, it's also a badge of honor. If you get attacked by the likes of Beck and Malkin, as Marcelas did, it means you've been identified as a threat to the right wing agenda. It's a grim validation of the work you've been doing.

Our message to Marcelas tonight is this: Keep it up. America's future depends on progressive youth like you getting involved and staying involved. Don't be intimidated by the right wing's talking heads. They're bullies, which inherently means they're also cowards and hypocrites. The proper response to their meanness is to keep speaking out for healthcare reform on behalf of all the families out there who don't have a lobbyist representing them in our nation's capital.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Special election tomorrow for King Conservation District Board of Supervisers

Tomorrow, the King Conservation District - a little known public agency that is tasked with promoting responsible stewardship in King County - is holding an election to fill an open seat on its Board of Supervisers.

This is an unusual election; it's not being conducted by King County, but by the conservation district itself. There are no mail in ballots. To cast a vote, you have to journey to one of seven polling places and fill out a ballot. The polling places are each located within a different library:
  • Auburn Library: 1102 Auburn Way South, Auburn WA 98002
  • Bellevue Regional Library: 1111 110th Avenue NE, Bellevue WA 98004
  • Carnation Library: 4804 Tolt Avenue, Carnation WA 98014
  • Des Moines Library: 21620 11th Avenue S., Des Moines WA 98198
  • Seattle Public Library: 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle WA 98104
  • Shoreline Library: 345 NE 175th, Shoreline WA 98155
  • Vashon Island Library: 17210 Vashon Highway S.W., Vashon, WA 98070
All of the polling places are open from 10:30 AM till 8 PM... except for the Seattle Public Library polling place, which will close a half hour earlier than the others. If you're planning to vote in Seattle, be sure to arrive by 7:30 PM.

You are eligible to vote if you are registered to vote in King County and you do not live in Federal Way, Enumclaw, Skykomish, Milton, or Pacific. You will be asked to present photo identification when you arrive at one of the seven polling places.

And who should you vote for? Well, NPI doesn't make endorsements in candidate elections, but our friends at HA Seattle and MajorityRules are uging their readers to support Kirk Prindle. He's a wildlife biologist who has worked to safeguard wetlands and streams. He lives in Seattle and has most recently worked for the City of Issaquah. Recently he was appointed to Seattle's new Urban Forestry Commission.

Other candidates include Teri Hererra, a realtor from Redmond, Mara Heiman, a board member of the right wing Citizens' Alliance for Property Rights, Mary Embleton of Seattle, and Max Prinsen of Renton (who is endorsed by the Washington Conservation Voters). You can see biographies for all of them at the King Conservation District's website.

Coffee Parties: Tea Parties for grownups

If the corporatist Tea Party movement is fueled by conservative angst (with a little help from Fox News), then the newly created Coffee Party arose from liberal reaction to so much angst. Where Tea Partiers use anger, Coffee Partiers use compassion. Tea people threaten. Coffee people listen, and they do it with civility.

Last Saturday, the Coffee Party, founded only weeks ago by documentary filmmaker Annabel Park, held its first "national Coffee Day” in more than 350 coffee shops in 44 states. In NPI's hometown of Redmond, Washington, a group of around forty people gathered at the SoulFood bookstore for a two-hour political discussion.

For now, the group is focusing on discussion, but in the future, the Coffee Party hopes to:
Transform our disappointment in our current political system into a force that will return our nation to a course of popular governance, of the People by the People for the People.
It all starts with talk.

Coffee Day was open to people with “diverse backgrounds and diverse perspectives,” yet the Redmond event attracted mostly progressives. In fact, many attendees were disappointed that President Obama is not governing as progressively as they’d like.

Whereas Tea Partiers are scared of the change that they expect President Obama to create, Redmond Coffee Partiers haven’t seen enough change. Their hope in Obama has turned into disappointment. The Coffee Partiers shared a common feeling of disillusionment with the political process and the political parties.

Prominent issues for the group were public campaign financing—keep corporate money out of politics—health reform, the accessibility of higher education and changing our national culture from a “we society to a me society.” Participants didn't feel like they had a way to get involved in the political system and have their voice heard. That strikes me as silly.

Today we are blessed with a universe of tools we can use to get involved, have our say and connect with the like-minded. Take NPI for example. We are a netroots organization supported by individuals and powered by activists. Our blog comment section is always open for discussion.

Americans can Twitter, blog, comment on online news, listen or call in to talk radio, attend a local political party or League of Women Voters meeting, or call, email or visit their legislators. You can even start your own neighborhood discussion group. The Coffee Party was started by a Facebook rant. The power of the Internet!

The group is still searching for a direction and a method of getting there, but for now, participants are enjoying discussing the issues that are close to their hearts. People who attended Saturday’s Redmond event thoroughly enjoyed it, and most attendees stuck around for the entire two hours.

If you missed Saturday’s meeting and want to get in on the discussion, you won’t have to wait very long. A “Coffee Summit” is being organized for Saturday, March 27, to continue the work started last week. Put it on your calendar or try one of the above methods for getting involved in the political discussion. You've got options.

Taxation without representation: Visa, MasterCard, and Discover strike again

Since well before President Barack Obama's inauguration, America's biggest corporations - with the unwitting help of the "tea party" crowd - have been doing their very best to redirect populist anger away from Wall Street (where it belongs) and towards the federal government, which has slowly succeeded in treating the symptoms of the Great Recession while utterly failing to address its causes.

Every so often, however, corporations quietly remind us who the real villains are by informing us that they're unilaterally changing their policies.

Today was one of those days. As I opened the monthly statement from our merchant services provider (the company that handles our credit card payment processing), I was greeted with the following notice:

Card associations periodically review their interchange rate programs and other fees, modifying them as they deem appropriate. This is to advise you the associations have recently announced modifications to many of their interchange rates and other fees. Based on a variety of factors, including the recent association actions and other business considerations, we will be raising your discount rates.

Effective April 1, 2010, qualified discount rates for MasterCard, Visa, and Discover full acquiring transactions, as applicable, will be increased by .03%.
Translation: We regret to report the credit card issuers have decided to jack up their rates again, because they can and nobody's going to stop them. We don't have much choice but to pass the increases on to you. Sorry.
Also effective April 1, 2010 for Discover full acquiring, the Discover International processing fee of 0.30% will be passed through to you. This fee is charged for card sales (including cash over and cash advances) when the country of where the merchant is located is different than the country of the issuer.
Translation: The suits who run Discover had a board meeting and somebody in the room came up with the bright idea to tack on this charge, which will help boost their bottom line. Genius! Ain't capitalism great?

But the best part of this notice was the following...
Visa has introduced several processing fees: Visa has introduced an international acquiring fee of 0.45% for international sales transactions or 0.90% of the transactions amount for sales transactions for high-risk merchants for the merchant category codes [list of codes]. Visa has also introduced an acquirer processing fee of $0.0195 for each Visa authorization. A Visa misuse of authorization fee of $0.045 will be applied to each authorization that is not followed by a matching sale. A Visa zero floor limit fee of $0.10 will be applied to each transaction that is submitted without a proper authorization.
Translation: We apologize for making your head spin with this mumbo-jumbo, but Visa told us to tell you that they're just not making enough money right now. A thirty-three percent increase in profit for Q1 2010 is simply not satisfactory. So be prepared to pay up to help Visa fatten that margin.

A couple months back, we microblogged a quote from a New York Times article which nicely sums up Visa's power and manipulative practices:
“A dollar is no longer a dollar in this country,” said Mallory Duncan, senior vice president of the National Retail Federation, a trade association. “It’s a Visa dollar. It’s only worth 99 cents because they take a piece of every one.”
And every time it raises taxes on merchants, Visa is making each Visa dollar worth a little less. Merchants can pass the higher Visa taxes onto their customers, but that means raising prices... and many merchants feel it's unfair to force customers who prefer paying by cash or check to pay hidden Visa taxes.

The alternative, however, is to not accept Visa cards at all, which results in lower sales, since a growing number of people prefer to pay with plastic.

Point is, merchants have no control over Visa's policies, even though those policies directly affect their livelihood. It's taxation without representation.

What's ironic is that this was what the original tea party - the Boston Tea Party - was about, all those years ago. Colonists in Massachusetts were protesting Parliament's decision to tax them without their consent. They asked royal governor Thomas Hutchinson to send the tea back to Britain; he refused... so liberty loving Americans threw it overboard into the harbor.

These days, it's not an imperialist foreign government that's taxing us without our consent; it's imperialist corporations. As George Lakoff writes, corporations are really unaccountable private governments... not persons:
Large corporations... are highly bureaucratic and impersonal, can be extremely wasteful, and - via tax deductions for business expenses, tax breaks and subsidies - use vast amounts of taxpayers' money, often in extravagant and wasteful ways. Because of patent law or the ability to buy out or drive out competitors, large corporations often consolidate their sovereignty over an industry and then, with competition highly restricted, can set high prices justified not by costs but by a desire for high profits. This is operation outside the market, like a private government. When this happens, corporations have, essentially, the power to tax citizens, with money going to corporate profits.
Unfortunately, this truth is lost on today's "tea party" protestors, who, unlike the revolutionaries of the 1770s, are really just tools of Wall Street.

They think they're patriots, but all they're doing is operating a huge smokescreen on behalf of this country's biggest corporations, who want Americans to take out their anger on Democrats in Congress instead of them.

Meanwhile, their lobbyists are already doing all they can to convince those same elected Democrats not to strengthen regulations, give regulators more power to enforce existing regulations, or appoint new regulators who won't be lapdogs. It's a giant pincer strategy, and to date, it's been pretty darn effective.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Meet the hypocrites: Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers

It's hard to deny the positive effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), more commonly known as the "stimulus package", when projects in a congressional district create jobs and, when completed, provide some benefit to the community. Who wouldn't support such economic stimulus? Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Colville), that's who. McMorris Rodgers was happy to vote no on ARRA back in January 2009, but now is more than happy to take credit for the good it has done back home.

Here is the Congresswoman supporting the awarding of $35 million in stimulus funds to a transportation infrastructure project in her district. Apparently, it's all wasteful spending until the funding is spent in Washington's 5th Congressional District.
“One year ago today, President Obama signed into law the controversial $787 billion stimulus bill. I voted against that bill because it didn’t include enough measures to truly stimulate our economy, such as tax relief and infrastructure spending, while spending far too much money on other government projects that would not create jobs. The fact that over 3 million private sector jobs have been lost since the stimulus bill became law supports that argument."
So not only is McMorris Rodgers a hypocrite for taking credit for the results of funding she didn't support, but she also is one of those Republicans who is adamantly against earmarks and what's commonly called pork, unless of course, it's funding for her district.

Take, for example, Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers' own words as published in an op-ed in August 2009:
The other area of potential waste that I wanted to highlight for concerned citizens originates right here in Congress, through earmarks. These funding requests often favor parochial projects that may not benefit the whole country but that are important to a particular member of Congress.

At their worst, these earmarks have bought us "the bridge to nowhere" in Alaska, the Woodstock Museum in New York, and other pork projects that cannot be justified. In the interest of full disclosure, I have requested funding for projects on occasion when they were a priority for the nation and a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer funds
Not so fast Congresswoman! As The Daily Evergreen of Washington State University notes:
In reality, she “porks” with the best of them. In 2008, McMorris-Rodgers had, “24 records (of pork barrel spending) for a total of $19,654,512,” the Citizens Against Government Waste calculates. Aside from the pork spending, she and her fellow Republicans implemented the regressive Bush Tax Cuts, which significantly contributed to the budget deficit.
The Bush Tax Cuts were the biggest pork barrel project for rich people and corporations in the history of our nation, and 24 requests for funding in one year for a total of $19.6 million doesn't seem to be "on occasion" as the Congresswoman describes them. Her words simply don't match her actions, which is why Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the latest GOP hypocrite, though certainly she won't be the last.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Legislature adjourns sine die; special session ahead to finish state budget

Representative Dave Quall and Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen have just brought the gavels down to close out the 2010 legislative session, which began on January 11th and must end today in accordance with the Washington State Constitution.

The Legislature is not, however, finished with the 2010 supplemental budget, which means they'll have to go into overtime. Consequently, before the House and Senate adjourned, they passed a resolution providing for a special session to finish the budget. By agreeing to the resolution, the Legislature set boundaries for the session, meaning that other matters besides the budget can't be considered:
[A] resolution convening the legislature shall specify a purpose or purposes for the convening of a special session, and any special session convened by the resolution shall consider only measures germane to the purpose or purposes expressed in the resolution...
Legislators are supposed to be back at work at Monday. In the meantime, the Democratic leadership will be working through the weekend to try to reach agreement on the budget. Governor Gregoire, Majority Leader Lisa Brown, and Speaker Chopp are currently talking about what they expect to see in the special session in a news conference on the Capitol Campus.

Governor Gregoire is saying that she doesn't want a special session to last longer than seven days, and she expects agreement on the budget within that time.

POSTSCRIPT: The news conference wrapped up around 9:30 PM. The governor has released a statement commending legislators for their work during the past sixty days and reiterating the specifics for the forthcoming special session:
Gregoire tonight signed a proclamation to convene a special session of the Legislature beginning Monday, March 15th, and has asked Senate and House leadership to focus on reaching a compromise budget and revenue package to close the state’s $2.8 billion gap, as well as legislation to create jobs. Gregoire is urging the House and Senate to complete their work in a seven day session.

"We have to move forward with a jobs package that puts more Washingtonians to work. Jobs are the way out of this recession. We need a package that puts people to work quickly,” Gregoire said. "And we have to find a balanced approach that combines difficult cuts and new revenue to fill our budget gap."
One final tidbit: Gregoire, Chopp, and Brown were asked what they thought of the Republicans' press release calling the special session an "embarrassment".

Chopp responded by simply saying the Republicans are always negative at the end of session. Governor Gregoire, however, took a couple minutes to sling a quiverful of arrows at the GOP, pointing out that many states have had to go into special session to deal with budget shortfalls, including states where Republicans are in power. She asserted that Washington is in a better position than most states.

Senator Al Franken to deliver closing keynote at Netroots Nation 2010 in Las Vegas

On the campaign trail, Al Franken fought for the middle class, focusing on issues like making college and health care more affordable. During the recount, he fought for a fair Democratic process. And as a U.S. Senator, he fights every day for real progressive values just as the former Sen. Paul Wellstone did.

That fighting spirit is exactly why we chose Minnesota Sen. Al Franken to close out our fifth annual Netroots Nation convention in Las Vegas.
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is already set to be the keynote speaker on the first night of the Convention, which begins on July 22nd and runs until July 25th.

Attending Netroots Nation (originally known as YearlyKos) has become an important summer tradition for the team at NPI. At least two of us have been to every convention, and we don't plan on missing this one!

And yes... we definitely plan on commissioning another "Washington Progressive Blogroll" t-shirt. We'll begin taking preorders as Netroots Nation 2010 gets closer. As usual, we'll be doing a very limited run of t-shirts. They're exceptionally durable and carefully crafted for us by a local union print shop.

We'll be accepting prepayment online this year, so if you want to be guaranteed of getting a shirt, all you have to do is whip out your credit card, visit our website, and we'll reserve a shirt for you. (As usual, we'll also accept cash and checks from folks who'd rather pay in person!)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Republican Dale Brandland announces his retirement from state Senate

State Senator Dale Brandland, a Republican who represents the 42nd District, has just announced his decision to retire from the Senate.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Brandland - who was first elected in 2002 - disclosed that he has decided not to run again.

The 42nd Legislative District encompasses most of Whatcom County. It includes northern Bellingham plus all of Whatcom's other incorporated cities: Lynden, Ferndale, Blaine, Everson, Sumas, Deming, and Nooksack.

The district's two Representatives are Doug Ericksen and Kelli Linville. Linville is a senior member of the House Democratic caucus; she currently chairs the House Appopriations Committee. She now has the option of running for the position Brandland is vacating; but if she does, House Speaker Frank Chopp would need to find a viable candidate who can hold the seat.

POSTSCRIPT: In its story, The Bellingham Herald gives a nod to the two Democrats who have expressed interest in succeeding Brandland:
Pat Jerns, the 63-year-old CEO of Keller Williams Western Realty in Bellingham wants to focus on jobs and supporting businesses.

Richard May, 42, owns several coffee stands and cafes in Whatcom County employing 20 people and believes there is too much “business as usual” in Olympia and not enough listening to constituents.
The most credible candidate the Republicans could field would seem to be Representative Doug Ericksen, although he'd have to vacate his House seat to run for Senate, giving Democrats another opportunity for a pickup.

Suzan DelBene qualifies for "Red to Blue"

Suzan DelBene, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Representative in Washington's 8th Congressional District, is one of the party's top prospects in the 2010 midterms, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced this morning.

Since 2006, the DCCC has recognized and promoted what it thinks are its top prospects each cycle by including them in its "Red to Blue" program, which provides "financial, communications, grassroots, and strategic support".

The first "Red to Blue" round for 2010 includes thirteen candidates. Two others besides DelBene are running in Left Coast districts.

"These candidates are generating excitement back home and are making the case to voters that their commitment to creating jobs and standing up for the middle class is far better than turning back the clock to the failed Bush policies of the past,” DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said in a statement.

Darcy Burner earned a spot in the Red to Blue program during each of her bids for Congress. Now Suzan DelBene has accomplished the same feat.

"I am honored that so many people in Washington’s 8th Congressional District have joined our campaign to stand up for middle class families, create jobs and strengthen our economy," DelBene declared in a news release sent to NPI.

"The early strength we have demonstrated by being named to the Red to Blue program means we have the support, confidence, and momentum it takes to win in November."

Here's the full list of Democratic candidates who made the cut:
  • Ami Bera (CA-03)
  • Paula Brooks (OH-12)
  • John Callahan (PA-15)
  • John Carney (DE-AL)
  • Suzan DelBene (WA-08)
  • Lori Edwards (FL-12)
  • Raj Goyle (KS-04)
  • Roy Herron (TN-08)
  • Bryan Lentz (PA-07)
  • Rob Miller (SC-02)
  • Steve Pougnet (CA-45)
  • Dan Seals (IL-10)
  • Tom White (NE-02)
Today's announcement is certainly welcome news for DelBene, who has already built a bigger campaign war chest than Dave Reichert.

If Chris van Hollen and his team are smart, they'll pay careful attention to what's going on in WA-08, and make an effort to be involved at the end of the campaign,
when Republican campaign operatives will undoubtedly try to come up with an October surprise of some kind to use against DelBene.

Reichert and his pals did it to Dave Ross and Darcy Burner; it's a given that they're going to try to torpedo Suzan's candidacy in the final weeks of the 2010 contest. Suzan's success will depend on how Democrats respond.

Grayson strikes a blow for real Americans

Yesterday, U.S. Representative Alan Grayson introduced a bill that would provide a buy-in option allowing access to Medicare for anybody who wants it.

Read that again, and let it sink in.

It's an amazingly simple bill. Not even four pages long, and the language is so simple that basically anybody can understand it.

The bill is elegantly crafted. In a nutshell, here's what it does:
  • Allows Medicare access for all citizens and permanent residents.
  • Provides an age-bracket structure for determining premiums. The brackets are: under 19, 19 to 25, 26 to 35, 36 to 45, 46 to 55, and 56 to 64. Beyond that, the existing Medicare age categories apply.
This is brilliant in its simplicity.

The simpler you make an insurance system, the better and more robust it is.

When you accept everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions, and when your default position is to say 'yes' to coverage rather than bean-counting everything under a default 'no' position, the whole system is much cheaper to administer and operate. Oh, and it manages to provide more actual health care to more people.

Theoretically, the simplest possible system would cover everyone, under a single premium rate. That's unlikely to happen (since, you know, the U.S. isn't actually becoming a socialist nation, despite what tea partiers might like you to think), but Grayson's proposal is still simple enough to be pretty darned good.

But I want to call attention to two other aspects of this bill which are slightly more subtle, but which constitute powerful offense and defense strategies in and of themselves. First, the bill stipulates that none of this would take effect until January 1 of the calendar year following the bill's enactment.

So if we imagine the bill being passed and signed into law, let's say, in July, there would be a five month window in which Americans who hate the present system (*raises hand*) would be champing at the bit to buy into this new system but couldn't do it yet.

This would put unimaginable pressure on the for-profit death mongers in the private insurance industry to change their business practices quickly, or else face a sudden and brutal drop-off in their membership numbers.

If you see Aetna or Regence or any other AHIP members opposing Grayson's bill, this is why. They'll try to convince you that if the bill passes, Satan himself will visit your living room and rip out your intestines.

But what they really mean is "if this bill passes, real Americans will leave so fast their collective wake will rip out our intestines." Cry me a river, AHIP.

Second, the bill's final paragraph states that under-65 participants in the Medicare buy-in (or as the bill itself rightly declares, the Public Option) aren't eligible for financial assistance with their premiums.

This is a powerful defense against the bill's inevitable nay-sayers, because it means that the younger age brackets, the ones who are still of working age and presumably earning a living, would have to pay their fair share.

Retirees, those on fixed incomes, can seek out assistance but everyone else has to pay their fair share. The nay-sayers will want to claim that this bill is just some sneaky way of letting everyone in on government assistance with health care costs - and heck, they'll probably claim it anyway - but this final provision of Grayson's bill is the counter-argument.

We may not get a public option in the massive, 2,500+ page healthcare bill currently being fought over in Congress. But who cares? Go ahead and pass that one under reconciliation. Grayson's four pages of simple brilliance can fix the rest.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Coffee Party meetups this weekend

This weekend, the recently formed "Coffee Party USA" is holding nationwide meetups around the country to bring Americans who believe in a functioning democratic government (what a concept!) together, face to face.

(For readers unfamiliar with the Coffee Party, it's basically a tongue-in-cheek response to the "tea party" protests that the conservative establishment has been cheerleading and quietly helping to orchestrate for more than a year.)

Hopefully, at these meetings, participants will take some time to actually map out what values and principles they believe in. (And maybe even policy directions... although just identifying core values would be a good start.)

Remarkably, the Coffee Party's Facebook page has already attained one hundred thousand fans, including yours truly, despite the group's inability to define what it stands for, beyond the vague idea that its members want government to work.

I'm not kidding... this is as specific as it gets on the About page:
We want a society in which democracy is treated as sacrosanct and ordinary citizens participate out of a sense of civic duty, civic pride, and a desire to contribute to society. The Coffee Party is a call to action. Our Founding Fathers and Mothers gave us an enduring gift — Democracy — and we must use it to meet the challenges that we face as a nation.
A call to action to achieve what? A legislative response to the "Corporations United" ruling? The passage of President Obama's healthcare reform package? A more democratic Democratic Party?

Any of those objectives could be goals of the Coffee Party, but as of now, they're not. All the Coffee Party seems to be at present is a large mass of people wanting to push back against the tactics of the "tea party" protests.

It's a nice show of strength against negativism and cynicism, but if it's going to be anything more than that, it'll need an identity.

If you'd like to help the Coffee Party figure out what values it should stand for, you might consider going to one of the meetups that are being organized this Saturday. There are already several scheduled with at least a dozen attendees around Puget Sound. To find an event, just enter your zip code into the form on this page to find gatherings within a fifty mile radius of where you are.

Here's a sampling of some of the meetups:

Seattle Coffee Party Meetup
This Saturday from 1 PM till 3 PM
Cafe Allegro
4214 University Way Northeast
Seattle, WA 98105

Redmond Coffee Party Meetup
This Saturday from 2 PM till 4 PM
SoulFood Books
15748 Redmond Way
Redmond, WA 98052

Burien Coffee Party Meetup
This Saturday from noon till 2 PM
Elliott Bay Brewhouse & Pub
255 SW 152nd St.
Burien, WA 98166

Lake Forest Park Coffee Party Meetup
This Saturday from noon till 2 PM
Third Place Books (Commons Area)
17171 Bothell Way NE
Lake Forest Park, WA 98155

Eric Liu ends challenge to Adam Kline

Looks like State Senator Adam Kline won't have to worry about facing a serious challenge from a fellow Democrat this year: Author and activist Eric Liu, who declared his intention to run against Kline in the 37th District (and was to be to Kline's big competition), has just decided to drop out.

In a statement posted on his website and released to NPI via email, Liu explained that campaigning has taken a toll on his family life.
I've got some news to share. Our campaign has been going very well these first two months: great energy, robust fundraising, broad and deep endorsements and community support.

But there's one way it has been a failure. I have been unable to be both the candidate I want to be and the father I want to be. At every turn so far, I have been choosing to sacrifice time with my daughter and my family so I can squeeze in one more campaign activity. A profound imbalance has resulted, even this early in the campaign, and it does not feel right. In fact, it has hurt. I've been on the trail speaking about taking care of the next generation, but I'm not sure I've been doing that to the best of my ability in my own house.
He then concluded:
So after much reflection and discussion, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for State Senate. As I do so, I want to express deep gratitude to all those who've come out in support of our campaign.

It has been very humbling to know that so many people are so willing to give so much to this cause. The 37th District is a place of so much opportunity and hope and diversity, and it's been so exciting to give voice to that as a candidate. I know that I will be disappointing many people. But as hard as this decision was, it was also very clear. I hope for your understanding and support.
Liu originally announced his decision last night, at the 37th District Democrats' regular monthly meeting. From what we've heard on Twitter and Facebook, people in the room were surprised when he got up to declare his intention to end his candidacy. But it sounds like he's quitting for the best of reasons. And he's learned something from being a candidate: It's a heck of a lot of work.

One other Seattle Democratic senator still faces a primary opponent from his own party: Ken Jacobsen, who has served in the Legislature for about as long as anybody can remember, is being challenged by David Frockt.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Low-performing schools face tough love

What’s not to love about President Obama’s focus on turning around our nation’s lowest performing schools? Most Americans would agree that a good education makes us better workers and citizens. Our future labor force and voting public need strong critical thinking skills and knowledge of the world in order to be successful. But Obama’s methods of improving our national education system have caused a bit of controversy, and, as usual, the media is doing its part to fan the flames.

Take Danny Westneat’s column in Wednesday’s Seattle Times. In it, Westneat fires up the inflammatory language when describing what some struggling Washington schools are doing in order to win federal money:
Our latest plan to improve public schools is: Off with their heads!

Is this really what national school-reform efforts have come to? Your money or your teachers. Take your pick.
Westneat is referring to the choices available to low-performing, high-poverty schools who want to win up to $2 million a year for three years in federal grants to “transform” their school. Washington public schools that have scored in the lowest 5% of schools on their annual reading and math assessments (formerly known as the WASL exam) are eligible to apply. There are around 48 Washington schools on the lowest performing list.

So are these choices as horrible as he says?

Let’s take a look at the options. There are four available to troubled schools who want to apply for a federal grant, as outlined by the Washington Education Association (WEA), the state’s teachers union:
Turnaround model: Replace the principal and rehire no more than 50 percent of the staff, and grant the principal sufficient operational flexibility (including in staffing, calendar/time, and budgeting) to implement fully a comprehensive approach to substantially improve student outcomes.

Restart model: Convert a school or close and reopen it under a charter school operator (not allowed in WA), a charter management organization (not allowed in WA), or an education management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process.

School closure: Close a school and enroll the students who attended that school in other schools in the district that are higher achieving.

Transformation model: Implement each of the following strategies: (1) replace the principal and take steps to increase teacher and school leader effectiveness; (2) institute comprehensive instructional reforms; (3) increase learning time and create community-oriented schools; and (4) provide operational flexibility and sustained support.
The WEA is known to use the weight of its thousands of members to push back against school reforms threatening the status quo. Case in point: last year’s basic education finance reform that proposed a new teacher evaluation system. The union fought tooth and nail for its defeat.

This year, the teachers union is on board with President Obama’s school improvement strategy. It’s also behind a bill, Senate Bill 6696, putting these methods into law in order to make Washington eligible for federal Race to the Top grants.

The WEA doesn’t give its support lightly, but the fact that a nice chunk of money is involved doesn’t hurt. According to Education Week magazine, in 2007, Washington ranked 45th nationally in education spending per student. To make matters worse, last year about $800 million in state funding was cut from Washington’s public schools. We shouldn't be surprised that school districts are willing to try new things in order to find new revenue.

But Westneat does hit on some valid concerns. Does switching out teachers and principals really improve students' grades? What does this change do to student, teacher and community morale? Is it really smart to rely only on standardized tests to judge how students are learning?

Some parents and teachers in Seattle are questioning the Seattle School District's participation in the new federal strategy. You can take a look at some of their ideas at their Seattle Education 2010 website.

When he was head of the Chicago public school system, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan experimented with many of the same methods of school improvement that the federal Department of Education is now using. His track record is mediocre, but you can’t criticize him for not trying or caring. He implemented a slew of new programs and systems to improve high school graduation and college acceptance rates, pay teachers more and increase their training, and improve kids' reading, math and science skills.

The question is, are his methods really ready for prime time?

Danny Westneat likes what he hears from education professor and author Diane Ravich:
Stop scapegoating teachers and principals, she said. Go back to neighborhood schools so they again are a center of civic life. Stop teaching to multiple-choice tests. Put in a content-rich curriculum that includes the arts, science, history, geography, civics, foreign languages, literature and physical education. Tell parents to step up and stop blaming the system.
There are kernels of wisdom in there, but the truth is, there are no easy answers for high-poverty schools.

I hope President Obama has put his faith in the right man and his methods. Financially-stretched school districts shouldn't be used a laboratory for unproven ideas.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

82nd Academy Awards: Glitzy as usual, but why can't the ceremony be more imaginative?

Once again, it's Hollywood's biggest night.

The eighty second annual Academy Awards are being televised as I type, and so far, what's most memorable about the ceremony so far is what's not in it. As usual, there's an elaborately designed stage (with rather intricate backgrounds), plenty of glitter, colored lights, and people in fancy clothes.

What's missing is a presentation that's imaginative without sacrificing worthy traditions (like having the nominations for Best Original Song performed live on stage). I keep wishing they'd bring back Billy Crystal to do the show again. The last time he hosted (2004), we were treated to a classic opening montage and clever one liners deep into the ceremony.

(My favorite came after Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson had thanked the people of his home country. As soon as he was offstage, Crystal quipped, "It's official: There is no one in New Zealand left to thank.")

But no. Instead the producers picked two hosts for 2010: Steve Martin (who has previously hosted) and Alec Baldwin (who hasn't). The two seemed to share the screen somewhat awkwardly, especially at the beginning. Admittedly, the scenes of them sharing a hotel room bed and a couch were funny, but if you ask me, the typical Daily Show segment is funnier than the monologue they delivered.

The producers also should have dispensed with Neil Patrick Harris' forgettable opening so they could avoid leaving out Hollywood legends like Farah Fawcett from the In Memoriam segment. Seriously, what was up with that?

(They did separately honor famed director John Hughes with a rather touching tribute featuring many of the actors he worked with).

At least the sound quality improved over last year.

Here's a running tally of the winners:
  • Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell, for The Young Victoria
  • Best Animated Feature Film: Up (Pixar triumphs again....)
  • Best Makeup: Barney Burman, Mindy Hall, and Joel Harlow, for Star Trek
  • Best Visual Effects: Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones, for Avatar
  • Best Art Direction: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg, Kim Sinclair, for Avatar
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
  • Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, for Precious
  • Best Sound Editing: Paul N.J. Ottosson for The Hurt Locker
  • Best Sound Mixing: Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett, for The Hurt Locker
  • Best Film Editing: Chris Innis and Bob Murawski, for The Hurt Locker
  • Best Foriegn Language Film: El Secreto de Sus Ojos (from Argentina)
  • Best Original Song: "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from Crazy Heart – Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett
  • Best Cinematography: Mauro Fiore, for Avatar
  • Best Original Score: Michael Giacchino for Up
  • Best Animated Short Film: Logorama
  • Best Live Action Short Film: The New Tenants
  • Best Documentary Short: Music by Prudence
  • Best Documentary Feature: The Cove
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Geoffrey Fletcher, for Precious
  • Best Original Screenplay: Mark Boal, for The Hurt Locker
  • Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker
  • Best Actress (Leading Role): Sandra Bullock, for The Blind Side
  • Best Actor (Leading Role): Jeff Bridges, for Crazy Heart
  • Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Some final thoughts about Best Picture... Our friends at VoteVets are none too happy with the Best Picture award for The Hurt Locker. Jon Soltz tweets:
Best picture for Hurt Locker? What a poor representation of our troops to live in history. Disgraceful. I'm embarrassed.
Richard Smith adds:
Love that troops kept getting thanked by Hurt Locker crew who made a movie that does not resemble reality for troops at all.
Brandon Friedman echoes their sentiment:
The reason vets don't like The Hurt Locker is because the movie's praise is *based* on its purported "realism." #Oscars
I'll take the word of our veterans over the professional film critics any day. Truth be told, I was rooting for Avatar to win, and I'm sorry that it didn't.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cantwell says she'd vote for for public option if it can be added to reconciliation bill

Our own Maria Cantwell has become the latest senator to support bringing the public option back into the healthcare reform bill if it comes up for a vote in the Senate under the process of reconciliation, the Huffington Post is reporting.

Reporter Ryan Grim posed the question to Cantwell, who responded: "If the parliamentarian says you can and it can all work, yes... If it works, fine."

Cantwell has become the thirty fifth senator to be listed on the PCCC's list of Democrats who support a public option through reconciliation. Senator Patty Murray is already on board, having told PCCC on Monday, "I don't know whether the votes exist in the Senate right now, but if the public option came up for a vote as we move ahead with reform, including under reconciliation, I would vote yes."

Also on board is Jeff Merkley of Oregon, one of the original cosigners of Senator Bennet's lettter requesting a vote on the public option, and his seatmate Ron Wyden, who echoed Murray's comments on Tuesday.

Montana's two Democratic senators are still unknowns, and so is Alaska Senator Mark Begich. The Northwest's three Republican senators are sure to be No votes.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ring of Fire quakes: An ominous warning?

Earlier today, Taiwan was rocked by a 6.4 earthquake. This followed the massive 8.8 earthquake in Chile on February 27th, which was preceded by a 7.0 earthquake off of Okinawa, Japan a day earlier.

On January 12th, Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 quake, and prior to that on September 29, 2009 American Samoa suffered the wrath of an 8.1 earthquake. And that's not to mention the March 23, 2009 eruption of Alaska's Mt. Redoubt.

What this geologic activity has in common (with the exception of Haiti, but perhaps there's a geological commonality that I'm unaware of since that's not my field of expertise) is that it all occurred in countries that border or sit on the Pacific Ocean, in what is known as the Ring of Fire. The Left Coast is included in the region.

While it's not uncommon for these areas of the world to have seismic and volcanic activity, five major events in such a short time seems to be more than just coincidence. And one year is a small fraction of time, geologically speaking.

Scientists have determined that fifty miles off of our coast lies a fault, which is capable of unleashing a 9.0 or higher earthquake.
Recent computer simulations of a hypothetical magnitude-9 quake found that shaking could last 2 to 5 minutes — strong enough to potentially cause poorly constructed buildings from British Columbia to Northern California to collapse and severely damage highways and bridges.

Such a quake would also send powerful tsunami waves rushing to shore in minutes. While big cities such as Portland and Seattle would be protected from severe flooding, low-lying seaside communities may not be as lucky.
While this appears to be a scene out of a disaster movie or an ancient prophecy come-to-life, it's more likely a period of heightened seismic activity for the Pacific Rim. Though we haven't yet heard from the scientists with a comparison of the collective events, it seems that they are somehow connected.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Marriage equality realized in the District of Columbia; Roberts won't help fundamentalists

This afternoon, Chief Justice John Roberts issued an order announcing that the United States Supreme Court will not interfere with the enforcement of the District Columbia's Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act.

This means that - as of tomorrow - gay and lesbian couples can apply for marriage licenses. The first licenses will be officially recognized as of next week.

Gay and lesbian couples who apply will soon gain all of the legal rights and responsibilities that our nation's capital city can bestow.

The Supreme Court's action makes Washington, D.C. the sixth jurisdiction within the United States where marriage equality is the law of the land.

Five other states (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Iowa) currently allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland, however, recognize same sex marriages performed in other states.

A group of fundamentalists in our nation's capital is attempting to force a public vote on the Act, hoping that voters would overturn the decision of the City Council.

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics previously found an initiative that proposed outlawing marriage equality to be unacceptable because it "authorizes discrimination prohibited under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act." The fundamentalists have appealed this decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which has yet to rule on the matter; Roberts' order allows that process to continue, whilst also allowing the District's Act to take effect.

Washington State Bank: A progressive answer to a problem created by right wing economics

Contrary to what conservatives would have us believe, reckless government spending has nothing to do with the current economic crisis.

In fact, both the Great Depression and the Great Recession were caused by the reckless actions of private financial institutions. Likewise, it wasn’t unregulated free enterprise that got the United States of America out of the worst economic calamity in history, and a laissez-faire approach won’t get us out of the current mess.

It’s been more than a year since the government used the common wealth to bail out endangered financial institutions, and during that year those same institutions have done precious little to fulfill their role in a capitalist system: providing access to the capital necessary for businesses to grow.

Conservatives say we should just sit back, cut government spending and regulation, and let the market do its thing: the Herbert Hoover approach, which worked so well before. But perhaps there’s a more... progressive approach.

One role of government is to provide the essential services that the private sector either cannot or will not provide.

So, if the private banking sector cannot or will not provide the capital necessary for businesses to thrive, maybe it’s time for the invisible and increasingly lazy hand of the market to let the more proactive hand of government take over?

Yes, it sounds somewhat exotic; conservatives will even say it smacks of communism, totally ignoring the fact that it’s been successfully implemented in North Dakota, where the Bank of North Dakota has been credited with preventing the Peace Garden State from suffering the same kind of financial crisis that has stricken almost every other state government in the nation.

The idea is pretty straightforward.

House Bill 3162, sponsored by Representative Bob Hasegawa (D-11th District), would create the Washington State Bank. Its role would be to stimulate our economy by financing student aid, infrastructure, industry, and community development, which is what BND has been doing since 1919.

“Imagine providing access to capital for small businesses, or otherwise leveraging our resources instead of having to do it with tax incentives,” Hasegawa says.

“Imagine keeping our resources local instead of exporting them as profits, never to be seen again—that’s what this bank could do.”

The Financial Institutions & Insurance Committee will listen to testimony on Hasegawa's bill this morning at 8 AM in House Hearing Room D of the John L. O'Brien Building (the House's office complex on the Capitol Campus).

Expect conservatives to complain about the government picking winners and losers. Expect scary words like “socialist,” “communist,” and “fascist” to be tossed around. (Quick mind game: Which of those three works is unlike the other?)

Expect them to wrongly characterize this as a “government takeover” of the financial system, even though it’s nothing more than the government providing essential access to capital alongside of – not instead of – private banks.

And expect to hear the contradictory conservative logic that the government shouldn’t compete with private enterprise because it has an unfair advantage afforded by its size and access to tax dollars, while at the same time saying we can’t trust the government to do a good job because people who work in the public sector are inherently incompetent.

But when they’re saying that, remember this: Conservatives asked for less government regulation of financial institutions, and they got it, it was their laissez-faire economic policies that created the mess we're in now, and trusting the market to sort things out hasn't worked.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Farewell, readers... and thanks to my friends at the Northwest Progressive Institute

As NPI reported last week, the King County Council appointed me to a newly created judgeship in the King County District Court. I was appointed on February 22nd, will be sworn in on March 4th, and will take the bench on March 8th.

I want to take this opportunity to say goodbye to NPI's loyal readers... and NPI's staff, who are truly a dedicated group.

It has been an honor and a pleasure to be a Fellow.

The Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from being members of organizations that, like NPI, advocate for or against initiatives, referenda, or legislation. That is why I gave notice that I would resign my fellowship with NPI, even while the appointment process was still unfolding. Before I go, though, I'd like to share with you an insider’s perspective on how one gets appointed.

Whenever a judicial opening on the King County District Court arises, the King County Council makes the appointment.

The new judge then stands for election in the next election cycle. In my case, it just so happens that all District Court judges will stand for election this fall.

The appointment process begins with an application for judicial rating with one or more of the six King County bar associations that conduct ratings.

Any applicant who receives at least one “Exceptionally Well Qualified” rating is referred to the Council. The ratings apply to candidates for election as well as applicants for appointment.

The six bar associations reflect the composition of the entire legal community in King County. Alphabetically they are: The Joint Asian Judicial Evaluation Committee (multiple bar associations representing various Asian ethnicities), King County Bar Association (general cross-section), Latino/a Bar Association, Loren Miller Bar Association (members of African descent), Q-Law (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered), and Washington Women Lawyers.

The rating application asks for all manner of information regarding an applicant’s professional life. This includes the names of opposing counsel and judges, as well as accomplishments and professional references. My application reached fifty pages.

Each bar association’s judicial evaluation committee checks as many references as possible before conducting applicant interviews.

A typical interview lasts twenty to thirty minutes, during which the committee peppers the applicant with questions.

There are anywhere from three to twelve interviewers. After the interview, the committee discusses the applicant’s qualifications and applies a standard that is essentially the same for all associations. The possible ratings are: exceptionally well qualified, well qualified, qualified, not qualified and not rated.

I received “exceptionally well qualified” from all six bar associations. Though that is not unheard of it is a rare occurrence. In my situation two applicants received four “exceptionally well qualified” and two “well qualified” ratings. The ratings are based on a applicant’s specific qualifications; applicants are not rated against one another. For example, all applicants for a particular position could all receive the same rating.

The committee recommends a rating to the bar association’s board, which can accept the recommendation and issue the rating, or reject the recommendation and issue a “not rated” rating.

Ratings last for eighteen to thirty six months, depending on the bar association.

The bar associations notify the King County Bar Association of their ratings. The KCBA refers the names of all applicants who receive at least one “exceptionally well qualified” rating, but must submit at least three applicants to the Council; those who are rated “well qualified” may be referred if necessary to reach the three-applicant minimum. The King County Council makes the appointment decision.

They do so based on the bar rating application, references and other information, and an interview conducted by the Committee of the Whole.

Once the applicants are referred an unofficial process begins.

Applicants gather letters of recommendation, provide additional materials, and attempt to schedule interviews with each of the Councilmembers.

In my case, I submitted a packet of information to each Councilmember. The packet contained a summary of my qualifications, a list of references, my detailed curriculum vitae, copies of my rating letters, and copies of letters of recommendation. I was able to meet with three Councilmembers and staff members for two other Councilmembers.

When all of the materials are in, the Council sets a meeting of the Committee of the Whole to interview applicants. Once the interviews are concluded, the COW goes into Executive Session to discuss the applicants, and makes a recommendation to the Council, who vote on a motion to appoint.

The interview consists of a two-minute opening statement, four questions that are the same for all applicants, and a two-minute closing. There are no follow-up questions, and the applicants do not know the questions in advance.

Applicants are called in alphabetical order by last name. Those waiting their turn are sequestered so they cannot obtain an unfair advantage.

The hearings are video-taped and accessible at King County's website. Just search for the February 22nd meeting of the Committee of the whole. I am the first interviewee, about ten minutes or so into the video.

One must be sworn in before taking the bench. I’ll be having a ceremony on March 4th, and take the bench on March 8th.

In between I’ll be filling out Public Disclosure Commission forms, ordering a robe, and clearing out my office. It has been quite a ride.

House Democrats release revenue proposal

It's been a long, pot-holed road to get to here, but with today's release of the House Democrats' revenue plan, the Washington legislature now has the tools it needs to create a supplemental state budget that will sustain core services.

The Senate released their plan last week. It focuses on three large revenue sources while the House proposal is an accumulation of five smaller measures. Both the House and the Senate plans would close tax loopholes and increase the state cigarette tax by one dollar per package. The House plan would raise less revenue, $760 million compared to the Senate’s $918 million, but it would take a little bit from more places. For instance, in addition to the cigarette tax and closing loopholes, the House plan also bumps up the business and occupation tax for certain service providers like lawyers and accountants, and borrows a bit of money from the lottery and transportation funds.

Where the two plans differ substantially is on sales tax. The House has proposed eliminating the state sales tax exemption on bottled water, custom software, candy, gum, plastic surgery and janitorial services. These changes wouldn't expire.

The Senate approach, House Bill 6875, is to raise the general sales tax by 0.3% for three years, and offset the impact to low-income families with a working families tax credit. More people would feel the impact of the Senate's sales tax plan than the House's and there would be no way for most people to avoid it.

The House's targeted sales taxes would create new revenue streams that could fund programs into the future. Each of its proposed taxes funds a logical program, for example, the proposed bottled water tax would fund environmental programs, and sales tax on candy and gum would fund low-income children’s health and dental care. Buy water, keep lakes clean. Buy gum, fix a cavity.

Due to last year’s basic education finance reform, lawmakers are already on the hook for finding more revenue for public schools. Under the House's proposal, money from closing tax loopholes, taxing janitorial services, and increasing the B&O tax on certain services could all funnel to our underfunded public schools. Right now these taxes would just maintain the status quo, but when the economy recovers, Washington schools could see a small increase in state funding.

Democratic legislators are taking a large political risk by raising taxes right now, but they've measured that risk against the option of leaving Washington's needy elderly, hungry and sick to suffer and die (yes die) under their watch, and they have done the right thing.