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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Back at 2010: We're done

In a few hours, 2010 will mercifully be over.

Not many progressives would likely disagree that this hasn't been such a great year. While it's true that there were some crucial legislative victories at the federal level, the outcome of the midterm elections has dealt a severe blow to hopes for further progress over the next few years.

Chances for an economic recovery have diminished due to Democrats' embrace of failed right-wing policies (we're looking at you, President Obama).

We will remember 2010 as a year of disappointments and missed opportunities more than anything else. Here in Washington State, the stage has been set for a dismantling of government, presided over by Democratic elected officials who only seem to know how to follow, not lead.

Big oil companies, Wall Street banks, timber behemoths, selfish captains of industry, and soda manufacturers successfully colluded to dupe a majority of Washingtonians into voting against their own future health and prosperity.

The triumph of greed will have unthinkable consequences for our quality of life unless we work forcefully, quickly, and creatively to reverse the damage done to our common wealth and our democracy in November.

Perhaps more than anything, our state needs a leader who will stand up to the evil that Tim Eyman represents and stop greed in its tracks. Chris Gregoire has already proved herself incapable of meeting this challenge. She's given up.

She recently the audacity to submit a column to the state's newspaper of record — one of the corrupt institutions talking about what a great job she did putting together her immoral budget. That's not leadership.

To be fair to Gregoire, she doesn't have much to work with, as I argued recently in my post Progressive movement needs to reinvent itself before it can reinvent government. It's hard to govern responsibly when you're figuratively on your own.

Gregoire is likely to be succeeded in 2013 by either Tim Eyman ally Rob McKenna (who coauthored Eyman's unconstitutional I-747) or Jay Inslee, who has shown real courage in our nation's capital. Inslee responsibly voted against the Wall Street bailout in 2008, and more recently, he responsibly broke with the President and bravely opposed the senseless tax cut deal struck by Obama with Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. He was a source of inspiration and strength throughout 2010. We sincerely hope he will continue to be in 2011 and 2012.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Washington Huskies win Holiday Bowl, 19-7

Photo of Washington Huskies quarterback Jake L...Capping a remarkable turnaround that began with the hiring of Steve Sarkisian as their head coach two years ago, the University of Washington Huskies tonight decisively upset the Nebraska Cornhuskers to win their first bowl game in more than a decade.

Led by quarterback Jake Locker (who was making his final collegiate appearance), the Huskies scored two touchdowns, a field goal, and pulled in two more points on a safety to win nineteen to seven.

In doing so, the Huskies improved their overall record to 7-6 for the first time in years and avenged a blowout loss inflicted by Nebraska back in September.

UW's defense was outstanding, holding Nebraska to just one touchdown, which Nebraska scored in the first quarter after Washington had taken a ten point lead. The Cornhuskers' defense consistently tried to give its offense a chance to catch up, making a crucial stop in the second half to deny Washington a touchdown, but Nebraska simply couldn't get anything going.

The Huskies did not play a perfect game — kicker Eric Folk missed two of three field goal attempts, and Washington blew four tries at a touchdown in the third quarter, as mentioned. Those extra points would have lifted Washington to a 32-7 victory. But the missed opportunities were thankfully not fatal.

That Washington prevailed at all was a shock, considering that the Huskies were winless just two seasons ago (under Tyrone Willingham), and didn't live up to the rather high expectations set for this season.

The Huskies' victory also means that Governor Chris Gregoire can collect on her friendly wager with Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. Gregoire had staked fillets of Washington salmon on the outcome of the game, while Heineman had countered with a box of Omaha steaks. Looks like the gov and First Mike will be enjoying a fine steak dinner in the near future!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Back At 2010: Republicans and Conservatives In Their Own Words

Remember these quotes? Take a stroll down Memory Lane:

"I never considered myself a maverick."

John McCain, in an interview with Newsweek, bizarrely disavowing the image he'd crafted of himself in years past (April 2010)

"[Tiger Woods] is said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn your faith -- turn to the Christian faith, and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'"

— Fox Noise host Brit Hume, on his Sunday show (January 3rd, 2010)

"The first thing that has to be done is secure the border ... East Germany was very, very able to reduce the flow. Now, obviously, other things were involved. We have the capacity to, as a great nation, secure the border. If East Germany could, we could."

— Alaska "tea party" favorite Joe Miller, on the campaign trail just a few weeks after defeating Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary (October 17th, 2010)

"I have wasted an hour of your time."

Fox Noise host Glenn Beck, apologizing to his viewers after an interview with Representative Eric Massa, who resigned from Congress in the spring

''It may be a blessing in disguise. ... Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. Haitians were originally under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon the third, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you will get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal. Ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other."

Right wing pastor Pat Robertson, stupidly commenting on the earthquake in Haiti, suggesting the island nation had it coming to them (January 13th, 2010)

"The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there. It's natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is."

Rush Limbaugh, suggesting that efforts to clean up the oil spill triggered by the Deepwater Horizon were a waste of time and money (May 3rd, 2010)

"I'm opposed to giving people money for doing nothing."

Newt Gingrich, in a speech to two hundred plus right wing activists, denouncing the idea of public assistance for the unemployed (December 16th, 2010)

"I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you."

— Delaware's Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Christine O'Donnell, speaking to the camera in a television ad, unintentionally reinforcing voter awareness of odd comments she had made years before (October 6th, 2010)

"My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better."

— South Carolina's extremist right wing lieutenant governor Andre Bauer, arguing that the very idea of a social safety net is immoral (Janaury 24th, 2010)

I don’t know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don’t know that.”

— "Tea party" darling Sharron Angle, during a conversation with members of Rancho High School’s Hispanic Student Union (October 15, 2010)

The majority of them in my opinion and I think in the opinion of law enforcement is that they are not coming here to work. They are coming here and they’re bringing drugs.

— Arizona governor Jan Brewer, denigrating undocumented immigrants in a Republican primary debate (June 15th, 2010)

"BP was prepared to meet all genuine claims, all viable claims. It said frequently it would pay legitimate claims. Not good enough for the government. They have successfully demonized and now looted BP."

— Fox Business' Stuart Varney, defending BP's behavior in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Snow visits parts of Puget Sound again

A convergence zone is dumping several inches of snow on many cities and towns around Puget Sound this morning, causing headaches for commuters in some places, but nothing like the mayhem of last month, when some folks were trapped on Interstate 5 for six hours or more due to treacherous conditions.

Depending on where you live, you may have up to inch of snow on your lawn, or just a dusting, or nothing at all. Some rural roads, like NE Novelty Hill Road from 208th Ave NE to Avondale Road NE near Redmond, have been closed temporarily due to the snowfall by road crews.

The precipitation has been heaviest in Snohomish County, where authorities and nonprofits are preparing to open cold weather shelters through the end of the year to accommodate people who have nowhere else to go.

Unlike Everett and environs, Seattle is bare and wet, so people heading to or from the city center shouldn't have much trouble getting around.

AFTERNOON UPDATE: There's a slight chance of a little bit of snow tonight, but you only need to get the chains out for your tires if you're crossing the mountains:







There's a chance for more snow tonight in the lowlands, too. If you'll be traveling after dusk tonight, drive carefully and stay safe.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010!

A reading from the Gospel of Luke:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.

And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

— Luke 2:1-14; from the New American Bible
Readers, whether you're celebrating the Feast of the Nativity today or simply taking advantage of the holiday to relax and relieve stress, all of us at the Northwest Progressive Institute would like to wish you a very merry Christmas.

If you're exchanging gifts this morning, we hope you'll remember to be kind to the environment and reuse or recycle as much as you can. Most product packaging can be recycled these days, including plastic. Many cartons or bags have symbols on them indicating that they can be recycled; plastic bags are also often marked with a number in addition to the symbol which indicates what type they are for sorting.

As you might expect, today's weekly presidential address (which goes out on Saturdays) is Christmas-themed. It features First Lady Michelle Obama in addition to the President, and was recorded earlier this week before the family left for Hawaiʻi, where they are spending the holiday. The full audio is available for download, but here's an excerpt from the transcript:
Michelle Obama: This is the “People’s House.” So Barack and I try to open it to as many people as we can, especially during the holiday season.

This month, more than 100,000 Americans have passed through these halls. And the idea behind this year’s theme, “Simple Gifts,” is that the greatest blessings of all are the ones that don’t cost a thing — the comfort of spending time with loved ones … the freedoms we enjoy as Americans … and the joy we feel upon giving something of ourselves.

So in this time of family, friends, and good cheer; let’s also be sure to look out for those who are less fortunate, who’ve hit a run of bad luck, or who are hungry and alone this holiday season.

Barack Obama: Because this is the season when we celebrate the simplest yet most profound gift of all: the birth of a child who devoted his life to a message of peace, love, and redemption. A message that says no matter who we are, we are called to love one another – we are our brother’s keeper, we are our sister’s keeper, our separate stories in this big and busy world are really one.

Today, we’re also thinking of those who can’t be home for the holidays — especially all our courageous countrymen serving overseas.
It is likely that the Obamas will spend part of their Christmas Day doing just that — visiting with soldiers at one of Hawaii's military installations, as they have done for the past couple of years, and thanking them for their service.

We can't all visit a mess hall to do likewise, but if you'd like to send a message to deployed soldiers, sailors, or aircrew, you can easily do so using this online form provided by the Department of Defense. You might also consider participating in Netroots for the Troops' holiday fundraiser.

Once again, Merry Christmas from all of us at NPI. Blessings upon your household, family, friends, and table during this joyous season!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Momentum builds for Senate rules reform

The New York Times published a nice article today about Democratic enthusiasm for Senator Tom Udall's efforts to overhaul the United States Senate's outdated rules, which have been abused to the extreme by the Republican caucus throughout the past two years.

When the Senate reconvenes in early January, Senator Udall plans to introduce a motion calling for the chamber to adopt its rules by majority vote, in keeping with the Constitution, which says that each house of Congress may determine its own rules. The reason Udall hasn't already introduced such a motion is because it could be blocked under the current rules. Udall explains the conundrum:
[T]he rules make any effort to change them a daunting process. Currently, the rules for the Senate continue from one Congress to the next. However, as last modified in 1975, even attempts to change the rules can be filibustered, and in fact require an even greater threshold (two-thirds, or 67 senators) be met than for the regular business of the Senate.

When the authors of the Constitution believed a supermajority vote was necessary, they clearly said so. And while the Constitution states that we may determine our own rules, it makes no mention that it require a supermajority vote to do so. In addition, a longstanding common law principle, upheld in Supreme Court decisions, states that one legislature cannot bind its successors. To require a supermajority to change the rules, as is our current practice, is to allow a Senate rule to trump our U.S. Constitution and bind future Senates. This should not be.
By adopting Udall's motion, the Senate could establish a new precedent that respects our finest traditional values rather than subverting them. Democracy requires majority rule with minority rights. But the Senate rules, as currently written, give a minority the power to block anything from leaving the chamber. That's not democracy.

The filibuster won't be abolished in January, but if the Senate were to adopt its rules by majority vote, that would be a big step forward.

The Fix the Senate Now campaign, which NPI supports, has proposed eight ideas for reforming the chamber's rules. The eighth idea — getting rid of the filibuster — isn't on the table, as I just mentioned, but prospects for the other seven are improving.
  1. On the first legislative day of a new Congress, the Senate may, by majority vote, end a filibuster on a rules change and adopt new rules.
  2. There should only be one opportunity to filibuster any given measure or nomination, so motions to proceed and motions to refer to conference should not be subject to filibuster.
  3. Secret “holds” should be eliminated.
  4. The amount of delay time after cloture is invoked on a bill should be reduced.
  5. There should be no post-cloture debate on nominations.
  6. Instead of requiring that those seeking to break a filibuster muster a specified number of votes, the burden should be shifted to require those filibustering to produce a specified number of votes to continue the filibuster.
  7. Those waging a filibuster should be required to continuously hold the floor and debate.
  8. Once all Senators have had a reasonable opportunity to express their views, every measure or nomination should be brought to a yes or no vote in a timely manner.
None of these ideas has been publicly endorsed by the full Democratic caucus, but each and every one of the returning Democratic senators have signed onto a letter to Senator Reid calling for rules reform:
All Democratic senators returning next year have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him to consider action to change long-sacrosanct filibuster rules.

The letter, delivered this week, expresses general frustration with what Democrats consider unprecedented obstruction and asks Reid to take steps to end those abuses. While it does not urge a specific solution, Democrats said it demonstrates increased backing in the majority for a proposal, championed by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and others, to weaken the minority’s ability to tie the Senate calendar into parliamentary knots.
This letter is a very encouraging sign. We urge the Pacific Northwest's Democratic senators to push hard for the ideas outlined above, to at least ensure that some of the most antiquated and ridiculous provisions in the Senate rules are abolished or altered to prevent majority rule from being sabotaged.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Senate ratifies New START arms control treaty by a vote of seventy-one to twenty-six

Congratulations are again in order to President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, this time for successfully shepherding the New START arms control treaty with Russia through the U.S. Senate.

The treaty, negotiated with Russia from the spring of 2009 to the spring of this year, was initially signed by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in Prague on April 8th, 2010. It is not as bold or as ambitious as its predecessors, but it is still critically important. Its ratification is a significant victory for America's national defense.

The treaty's provisions call for the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers (whether they be installed in missile silos, bombers, or submarines) to be reduced by half, and for a new inspection and verification system to be established. The number of deployed strategic warheads, meanwhile, must be limited to 1,550, down nearly two-thirds from START I (which went into effect in the 1970s).

As mentioned, the ratification vote was seventy one to twenty six. A two thirds supermajority is required by the Constitution to approve treaties negotiated by the President, so a minimum of sixty six votes were needed to pass New START.

All of the Pacific Northwest's senators voted for ratification, except for Jim Risch and Mike Crapo of Idaho, who should be ashamed of themselves.

No Democrat voted against ratification; all twenty-six "nay" votes came from Republicans. Three Republicans did not cast votes.

Republicans who voted "aye" were Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Robert Bennett of Utah, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and George V. Voinovich of Ohio.

Bennett, Gregg, and Voinovich are retiring in a matter of days, and half of the remaining Republicans represent states that voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

Neither Mitch McConnell nor John McCain were willing to vote for the treaty.

POSTSCRIPT: President Obama chose to deliver his statement on the ratification of New START at a press conference rather than releasing a written statement to the media, emphasizing the importance of the vote.
This is the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades, and it will make us safer and reduce our nuclear arsenals along with Russia. With this treaty, our inspectors will also be back on the ground at Russian nuclear bases. So we will be able to trust but verify.

We’ll continue to advance our relationship with Russia, which is essential to making progress on a host of challenges — from enforcing strong sanctions on Iran to preventing nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. And this treaty will enhance our leadership to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace of a world without them.
Ratifying New START was a no-brainer. It's truly appalling that most of the Senate Republican caucus chose to withhold their support. The President can talk about bipartisan cooperation all he wants, but the reality is, he's dealing with an opposition party that wants to crucify him. And Republicans are going to have far more votes in Congress in a matter of days than they currently have. That will make legislative successes of any kind few and far between.

The President owes a lot to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They marshaled Democratic votes to get his postelection priorities through Congress on a short timeframe (with the exception of the DREAM Act). If Obama had had to deal exclusively with Republicans, he would have gotten nowhere. Democrats provided a whopping eighty two percent of the seventy one votes that New START received.

This New START vote should (but unfortunately won't) put to rest Republicans' offensive claims that they can be trusted to look out for America's security. The reality is that politics are more important to Republicans than anything else. They proved their critics correct today by mostly refusing to vote with Democrats in favor of this vitally important arms control treaty.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

AT LAST! "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is repealed!

After seventeen years, the fight to end the shameful, discriminatory policy that has infamously become known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has succeeded, at long last.

By a vote of sixty five to thirty one, the United States Senate today joined the House in approving legislation that rescinds the policy. (The vote in the House on Wednesday was two hundred and fifty to one hundred and seventy five).

Earlier, the Senate overcame a filibuster on a sixty three to thirty three vote, with the help of several Republicans (George Voinovich, Mark Kirk, Scott Brown, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe), who were persuaded to stop playing politics and vote their consciences. No Democrat voted to continue the filibuster.

All of the Pacific Northwest's senators voted in favor of ending debate on the repeal legislation (putting an end to the filibuster) except for Idaho's two Republican senators, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo.

The breakdown for our region's Senate delegation was the same on final passage. Richard Burr of North Carolina and John Ensign of Nevada opted to join with the aforementioned Republican senators on final passage, abandoning their caucus, which mostly stuck behind Mitch McConnell and John McCain.

The Republican opposition was shamefully led by John McCain, who has taken a beating on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart throughout the autumn for his crusade against equality in our military.

President Obama congratulated the Senate and said he looked forward to signing the repeal legislation into law shortly.

"Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend," President Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

"By ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love."

"The Senate did the right thing today in giving men and women who serve our country the ability to do so without fear of discrimination," added Senator Maria Cantwell, in a news release sent to NPI. "This is a victory for U.S. service members across the country and around the world who for more than a decade have been subjected to unnecessary and arbitrary discharge from the military under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. It is a victory for military readiness because it will enable our force to retain volunteers who serve honorably."

Senator Jeff Merkley echoed Cantwell's sentiments.

“This is a victory for equal rights. And it is a victory for our national security as well. All men and women serving our nation should be able to do so without hiding who they are. And our nation is well served by utilizing the talents of all Americans."

We at NPI thank Congress for belatedly acting to put an end to the travesty that became informally known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". Although this discriminatory policy will not end overnight, its demise is now guaranteed.

For that, we are truly grateful.

The institution that calls itself the Congress of the United States of America has finally done something progressive for a change. How refreshing.

DREAM Act killed on procedural vote; five Democrats part of obstructionist opposition

"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

Ted Kennedy, 1980

As Ted Kennedy so eloquently said a little more than thirty years ago, the task of remaking America and raising quality of life is a never-ending vocation, particularly since even incremental progress is difficult to achieve.

That truth was validated today when the Senate failed to advance the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (or DREAM Act).

The DREAM Act would allow young people who entered America without proper authorization as children to obtain permanent residency if they enlist and serve in the military for at least two years, or if they complete two years of education at a four year institution of higher learning.

Passage of the legislation is actually a goal of the Department of Defense, which is seeking to maintain "a mission-ready, all-volunteer force".

The DREAM Act has been introduced in several incarnations since 2001, the year it was initially written. Despite having undergone several revisions, the legislation has never made it through Congress. It received added impetus recently when President Obama made it a legislative priority, and Nancy Pelosi managed to successfully steer it through the House of Representatives last week.

Today, however, the DREAM Act, in its current form, became the latest victim of the U.S. Senate's undemocratic rules, when it was blocked from moving forward on a vote of fifty-five to forty-one. If the Senate actually adhered to the principle of majority rule, we would be celebrating the DREAM Act's passage at this moment. Instead, we're once again left contemplating why a supposedly democratic legislative body can't function democratically.

The DREAM Act could have cleared all procedural hurdles were it not for five Democratic senators who sided with most of the Republicans. They are Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

They are the DREAM killers, because had they voted with their Democratic colleagues, this legislation would be headed to President Obama's desk.

Their betrayal is beyond disappointing. They have no legitimate objection to this legislation. The purpose of the DREAM Act is to allow innocent kids with "good moral character" to obtain permanent residency so they can have a future in this country. It is not amnesty, as the bill's opponents have claimed.

Kids who have come to this country, the so-called land of opportunity, and want to contribute to its prosperity and well-being should be allowed to do so. The DREAM Act is not a free ride. The DREAM Act does not provide a "get out jail free" card: young people who want to take advantage of it would have to stay out of trouble and prove themselves. They would have to behave responsibly.

The DREAM Act "is not only the right thing to do for talented young people who seek to serve a country they know as their own, it is the right thing for the United States of America," President Barack Obama affirmed in a statement sent to NPI.

"Our nation is enriched by their talents and would benefit from the success of their efforts. The DREAM Act is important to our economic competitiveness, military readiness, and law enforcement efforts.'

"And as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported, the DREAM Act would cut the deficit by $2.2 billion over the next ten years. There was simply no reason not to pass this important legislation."

While the President says his administration "will not give up on the DREAM Act", there is no chance of it passing before 2013. In a few weeks, Republicans will control the House of Representatives, and they will make sure the DREAM Act stays on ice for as long as they wield the gavels.

Senator Harry Reid is also losing Democratic votes in the Senate, adding to the difficulty of getting anything through Congress' smaller chamber.

We thank Senators Cantwell, Murray, Merkley, Wyden, Begich, and Murkowski for voting to move this legislation forward.

They did their part, and for that, they have our appreciation. We are also grateful to Senators Durbin and Menendez for their leadership on this issue. We hope to celebrate the passage of the DREAM Act in 2013.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

U.S. House of Representatives approves Barack Obama's giveaway to the rich

Shamefully following in the footsteps of the Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved Barack Obama's deal with Republicans to continue the Bush-error giveaway to the rich by a vote of two hundred and seventy seven to one hundred and forty eight.

The Democratic and Republican caucuses each provided about an equal number of votes for the deal (in fact, the difference was only one vote). One hundred and twelve Democrats voted no; they were joined by thirty-six Republicans.

The Pacific Northwest's congressional delegation was split, although along philosophical lines instead of partisan ones.

Voting for Obama's immoral, deficit-raising giveaway to the rich were Democrats Norm Dick and Rick Larsen (Washington), Walt Minnick (Idaho), plus Republicans Dave Reichert, Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (all Washington), Greg Walden (Oregon), and Don Young (Alaska's at-large representative).

Voting against were Jay Inslee, Jim McDermott, Brian Baird, Adam Smith (all Washington), Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader, and David Wu (all Oregon), as well as Republicans Mike Simpson (Idaho) and Denny Rehberg (Montana's at-large representative).

Ordinarily, in the aftermath of an important vote like this, I'd include an excerpt from the White House's emailed statement to us. But in this case, I'm not going to bother, since I'm pretty sure readers of The Advocate have already heard plenty of empty rhetoric from President Obama on this subject (and others).

We extend our thanks to the eight Democrats and two Republicans from our region who voted against this ill-conceived, fiscally irresponsible legislation. Contrary to what Barack Obama and Republican leaders claim, come January, no American family that is struggling to put food on the table and pay the bills is going to be thinking, well, at least Congress extended the Bush tax cuts.

Continuing the failed right wing economic policies of the past is not a prescription for economic recovery. The Bush tax cuts did not prevent the onset of the Great Recession, and making them permanent will not set the stage for our escape from the Great Recession. What the economy really needs is more stimulus.

Aid to the jobless (including the ninety-niners) could and should have been approved by Congress without anything else attached.

But, since elected Democrats don't understand how to wield power, Republicans dictated how the matter would be decided. Maddeningly, they're still in nominally charge of the country, even though they don't control the presidency or either house of Congress (until January).

We do want to recognize Oregon's Democratic congressional delegation for voting in unison against Obama's giveaway to the rich.

Not only were each of its four Democratic representatives opposed, but its two senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, were as well. That's the kind of principled, unified opposition we wish Washington's Democratic delegation, and the Democratic delegations in other states, had offered.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Where's the outrage? Governor proposes not funding the people's priorities

Conservatives – usually quick to complain about “the will of the people” whenever a Tim Eyman initiative is suspended or ruled unconstitutional – have been conspicuously silent since Gov. Chris Gregoire announced the suspension of Initiatives 728, 732, and 1029 in her latest budget proposal.

How is it that the people who screamed at the top of their lungs when the Legislature set aside I-960 – which was approved by only 51.24 percent of the people – can be so silent when initiatives that were approved by a far larger margin are suspended?

Perhaps now is an appropriate time to remind them that Initiative 728 – which mandated reduce class sizes, extend learning programs, expand teacher training – was approved by 71.73 percent of the people.

Maybe they’ve forgotten that Initiative 732 – which mandated that school teachers, other school district employees, and certain employees of community and technical colleges receive annual cost-of-living salary adjustments – was approved by 62.69 percent of the people.

And they seem to have overlooked the fact that Initiative 1029 – which requires that long-term care workers be certified as home care aides based on an examination, increases training and criminal background check requirements, and establishes disciplinary standards and procedures – was approved by 72.53 percent of the people.

So where's the outrage?

Oh, that's right... we forgot. Only successful right wing ballot measures count as the "will of the people". Progressive ballot measures don't count because... well, er... they just don't count. That explains why we're not hearing any Republican senators yowl that the proposed budget is immoral. And it explains why Tim Eyman hasn't complained either. He's always wanted to take an axe to state government... now Chris Gregoire is doing it for him.

Progressive movement needs to reinvent itself before it can reinvent government

This past Saturday, the 2010 Legislature reconvened for a second, one-day special session to address the latest shortfall in revenue, which was creating a big hole in the current budget. The hole had to be dealt with, since the current budget is supposed to carry us through the first half of 2011. I couldn't go down to Olympia to observe the special session in person (nor did I want to) but I did keep TVW on in the background as I alternated between cleaning and debugging software.

As I watched the proceedings — obviously choreographed in advance — I was reminded of the one-day special session held three years ago to reinstate Tim Eyman's Initiative 747, which had been struck down by the state Supreme Court, and Barack Obama's more recent announcement that he had reached an accord with Mitch McConnell to unconscionably extend all of the Bush tax cuts.

The sorry business that took place on Saturday is just more proof that if there's anything elected Democrats are good at, it's robotically betraying progressive values in bad times, and acting like Republicans.

The right wing doesn't need the presidency or the governorship or even legislative majorities to wield power either in This Washington or That Washington. They're nominally in charge of things anyway, because their thinking pervades elected Democrats' response to the recession.

Here in the Evergreen State, Chris Gregoire, Frank Chopp, and Lisa Brown are presiding over the dismantling of state government. They will all say they're trying to make the best of difficult circumstances. They'll say they're making cuts with heavy hearts because they have no other choice.

Well, that's not true. There's always a choice — but it's not always easy to see.

We don't blame Gregoire, Chopp, and Brown for what happened on Saturday. The reality is, the progressive movement in Washington State has failed to provide them with the ideas and tools they need to govern responsibly, failed to effectively reframe the debate about economic security, and failed to win most of this year's ballot measure battles (of seven, four were lost, and by large margins).

Because it is out of shape and out of sorts, the progressive movement isn't in a position where it can lead the reinvention of government.

Consequently, Democratic elected leaders have committed themselves to courses of action that would otherwise be unthinkable.

Lawmakers just took away millions of dollars from the University of Washington, Washington State University, and Western Washington University, for example.

What kind of Democrat votes to defund public institutions of higher learning? A Democrat with (seemingly) no other options, that's who.

My state senator, Eric Oemig, who narrowly lost a reelection bid to smooth-talking Republican Andy Hill, offered amendments both in committee and on the floor to lessen the severity of the cuts. His amendments were predictably rejected, but he had anticipated that. His point in offering them was to remind his colleagues of the point I made earlier in this post — that there's always a choice.

The morally appropriate thing to do, ironically, would have been to break the law (Initiative 1053, which went into effect on December 5th) and raise revenue to cover the shortfall by majority vote.

And incidentally, while I'm on the subject, the reason I-1053 is on our books at all is because the progressive movement didn't organize against it.

Leaders of key constituencies within the movement (who control most of the available resources) concluded that I-1053 couldn't be beaten, and deliberately chose to do almost nothing to stop it.

This is no exaggeration. It's not like they didn't know it was coming. Tim Eyman announced it before 2009 was over, filed the measure in early January, and was collecting signatures by February. He ran out of money midway, but the Association of Washington Business Association of Greedy Lobbyists came to his rescue.

By now, it should be evident that Tim Eyman isn't going into retirement anytime soon. He's going to keep running initiatives as long as he can find a sugar daddy to underwrite him, whether that's wealthy individuals like Michael Dunmire, the gambling industry, asphalt pavers, or Wall Street banks and oil companies.

That was actually apparent to me almost nine years ago; it's why I founded Permanent Defense in February of 2002.

Sadly, Permanent Defense remains pretty much the extent of efforts to fight Tim Eyman year-round. You'd think by now there would be a well-developed coalition working around the clock to organize early, strong opposition to Eyman's next destructive scheme to wreck government. But there isn't. Which leads me to the first major problem I think is afflicting our movement: We don't think long-term or plan strategically for the future.

When the right wing loses, it regroups, plots a return to power, and then attacks. That was the story of the 2010 midterms.

Since Permanent Defense was founded in 2002, Eyman has lost more battles than he's won. But it doesn't matter. Even if Eyman is failing most of the time, his occasional success keeps him relevant. He's relentless.

We need to be relentless. We need to be thinking long-term, and visualizing where we want to be a few years from now. We need to lay the groundwork for our future success. We need idea factories, communication channels, a leadership pipeline, and more advanced tools for voter engagement.

We need to build a permanent campaign to sustain momentum in between elections and apply lessons learned for next time.

Most importantly, we have to decide where we want to go and how we're going to get there. Institutions and constituencies need to collaborate on developing a plan of action for the movement so we can take control of our destiny. Collaboration must be broad-based: nobody who wants to participate should be left out.

The second major problem afflicting our movement is that we don't communicate effectively. For years, George Lakoff has been trying to explain that you can't understand twenty-first century American politics with an eighteenth century brain. He's written several books on the matter: Moral Politics, Don't Think of An Elephant, Whose Freedom?, Thinking Points, and The Political Mind. Psychologist Drew Westen has also written authoritatively about the role of emotion in politics.

While a few individuals and institutions have taken Lakoff and Westen's advice to heart, they are the exception to the rule. This becomes apparent when examining most of the paid media created by the Democratic Party, well-established progressive organizations and their consultants. Ads typically do not employ progressive frames or even reinforce the progressive moral system, which stems from empathy and mutual responsibility. The logic of progressive values is simply missing. (For example, an ad boasting that a Democrat delivered tax relief for constituents is actually making use of right wing framing).

Then there's the jargon problem. Too often, jargon finds its way into talking points, op-eds, and even advertising. Insiders may know the meaning of terms like "GAU" (General Assistance – Unemployable), but voters don't. To his credit, Speaker Frank Chopp has devoted a significant amount of energy to addressing this problem. He insisted on renaming GAU to Disability Lifeline, which is a much better name for a vital service. Chopp also came up with Apple Health for Kids.

Overcoming the framing and jargon problems would be easier if we became reacquainted as a movement with the art of storytelling.

A story is memorable; it sticks with people. Statistics and dry appeals to the dispassionate mind, conversely, are forgettable.

Case in point: The speaker I remember best from this year's Netroots Nation is Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Most of his address to us consisted of richly told stories. Some were humorous. Some were discomforting. All were captivating.

When we communicate, we need to tell our story, we need to tell it authentically, and we need to tell it in the language of progressive values. We need to appeal to voters' and taxpayers' emotions.

The third major problem afflicting our movement is that we spend very little energy or resources tackling the root causes of our problems. We spend most of our time, talent, and treasure dealing with symptoms. For instance, corruption is a civic disease that has infected our politics. Money talks, and it's used by corporations and powerful lobbies to purchase loyalty, votes, and even laws.

The Supreme Court, years ago, interpreted the Constitution to find that money is speech, and more recently, it decided that since money is speech, Congress can't create laws restricting money's use in electioneering.

Corruption is killing progress on a whole host of policy directions. So why haven't we done more to address it? I think it's because symptoms often seem like emergencies that have to be dealt with immediately.

We're so busy putting out fires that we're not thinking about the conditions that are allowing the fires to burn in the first place.

Corruption is what Lawrence Lessig calls a "first problem" ... it's not necessarily the most important problem, but it's a problem that has to be solved before it will become possible to make progress towards solving other problems.

A weak common wealth is another "first problem", since all vital public services require money to function. We can't do much to protect the environment, for instance, if we can't appropriate any resources.

The fourth major problem afflicting our movement is that we confuse what we do with how we do it. In other words, the movement is stuck in the past.

At the end of the King County Democrats' biannual reorganization meeting earlier this month, one of the precinct committee officers who had traveled to south Seattle to participate stepped up to the microphone to rant about the disappointing results of the 2010 midterms, complaining that the Democratic Party didn't communicate effectively with voters. At several points during her "good of the order' monologue, she suggested that the party attempt to increase its effectiveness and visibility by holding more marches.

It's this kind of mentality that is holding us back. We have to embrace new tactics and technologies if we want to make progress.

We simply can't confuse what we do with how we do it.

Marches may have helped advance progressive causes decades ago, but these days, they're ignored by the gatekeepers in the traditional media, so they don't have an impact. If we had a stronger network of progressive media outlets, we could cover our own protests, and force the traditional media to pay attention (like the right wing's noise machine does) but we don't.

We have to spend our time, talent, and treasure as wisely as we can. In order to do that, we have to be willing to abandon the status quo.

As Clayton Christensen, a professor for Harvard Business School, told Steve Hamm and William C. Symonds of BusinessWeek a few years ago: "The more successfully you use a way of working, the stronger your culture is, which is a great strength right up to the time when you need to change."

Progressivism has needed to evolve its means for many years now. If we want to reinvent government and save it from the clutches of the right wing, we need to reinvent our own movement first so we can get the job done.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Help a friend in need

One of our local community's most active bloggers — Shaun Dale of Upper Left — recently alerted his readers to the financial difficulties he's having in a sobering post entitled Poverty seriously sucks. He writes:
I'll wake up tomorrow without bus fare to get to work or the two or three bucks I need to get a tube of denture adhesive that makes it possible to do little things like eat and talk.

Rent? Not even on the map at this point. When the phone or power goes, so does the blog, I guess. Peter's already been robbed to pay Paul - taking out the draw that paid last months rent meant my last paycheck didn't cover my overdraft, and the way charges pile up, the next one probably won't either.

Holidays? You've got to be kidding.
It really does suck to be impoverished and unable to pay all the bills. It's pretty outrageous that our President is cutting deals with Republicans to extend tax breaks for billionaires while people like Shaun are running out of money through no fault of their own. When are we ever going to get our priorities straight?

Here's the good news: Like many bloggers, Shaun has a tip jar, and he accepts contributions through PayPal. If you've got some change to spare, please consider helping Shaun make ends meet. It would be a real shame if Upper Left was silenced... Shaun's been keeping it going since October of 2003. That makes Upper Left about half a year older than the NPI Advocate!

I should mention that Shaun didn't intend to launch a fundraiser by posting about his financial difficulties. He was just trying to be upfront with his readers, possibly so they wouldn't wonder what had happened if he went offline. Our mutual friend Carl Ballard consequently launched a fundraiser for Shaun over at HA Seattle.

We're joining in because we value Shaun's voice. Even if you're not a regular reader of Upper Left, we urge you to pitch in a few bucks. It doesn't have to be much. If you're a coffee drinker, forgo a latte. A few bucks makes a world of difference for someone who can't afford bus fare.

All you have to do make a donation is click that button.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Authenticity matters: Why Obama's surrender to Republicans is bad for his future and ours

One of the most beliefs that we at the Northwest Progressive Institute hold as activists is that authenticity matters in politics. It's why we don't forsake or compromise on our own values, and it's why we don't hesitate to criticize friends and allies who make the mistake of selling out for political gain.

We believe that Barack Obama's deal with congressional Republicans to extend George W. Bush's giveaway to the rich for another two years symbolizes the bad strategy, bad politics, and bad policy that NPI was created to counteract.

By surrendering to congressional Republicans' legislative blackmail, the President has demonstrated that he lacks the courage and the strength to fight for what he believes in. He can say otherwise — and, in fact, he has — but actions speak louder than words. Rhetoric is meaningless and empty when there is no follow-through.

We're normally not fans of the White House press corps, but we have to hand it to reporters like Chuck Todd for illustrating the absurdity of the White House's position at yesterday's hastily-called press conference.

Chuck's initial question was as follows:
Mr. President, what do you say to Democrats who say you’re rewarding Republican obstruction here? You yourself used in your opening statement they were unwilling to budge on this. A lot of progressive Democrats are saying they’re unwilling to budge, and you’re asking them to get off the fence and budge. Why should they be rewarding Republican obstruction?
His follow-up was just as good:
If I may follow, aren’t you telegraphing, though, a negotiating strategy of how the Republicans can beat you in negotiations all the way through the next year because they can just stick to their guns, stay united, be unwilling to budge — to use your words — and force you to capitulate?
We don't normally care for the narrow-minded, insider-like focus on political implications which afflicts the White House press corps. But in this case, the political implications are quite relevant. A Democratic president has surrendered to a Republican opposition that is currently out of power in both houses of Congress on a major issue, setting a terrible precedent that bodes ill for the next two years.

If the President wasn't so cut off from reality, he'd display some real empathy for disappointed supporters and former staff, who are justifiably angry that he is breaking a campaign promise. Instead, the President has turned on his own donors, volunteers, and voters, denigrating them for not blindly following him off the cliff he has chosen to jump off of.

From his press conference yesterday at the White House:
So this notion that somehow we are willing to compromise too much reminds me of the debate that we had during health care. This is the public option debate all over again.

So I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats had been fighting for for a hundred years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people and the potential for lower premiums for 100 million people, that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise.

Now, if that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are, and in the meantime, the American people are still seeing themselves not able to get health insurance because of preexisting conditions or not being able to pay their bills because their unemployment insurance ran out.
President Obama has some nerve calling supporters of the "public option" purist and sanctimonious. The public option was no idealist's dream. It was forged and named by incrementalists. Many progressives, ourselves included, strongly supported the inclusion of that provision because we recognized that trying to create a single-payer system overnight was unrealistic.

In supporting the public option, we were being practical.

The President also exaggerated in his own role in describing the outcome of the battle to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He did not "pass a signature piece of legislation". Congress did. And specifically, Nancy Pelosi deserves the credit for doing the heavy lifting required to move the bill through the House after many pundits, talking heads, and insiders had pronounced it dead. Obama would have had no bill to sign were it not for the efforts of Nancy Pelosi.

The President fails to understand that there are two kinds of pragmatists, and there is all the difference in the world between the two. As related by George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute in Thinking Points:
Changing to a position you do not believe not only lacks integrity, it's a flawed and ineffective political strategy. There are, of course, progressives who are truly biconceptual and are partial conservatives. Here, too honesty — and authenticity — is the best policy. If you believe the conservative perspective is more appropriate to some issue area, argue your case, but do so using the linguistic frames that best represent your larger values and worldview.

The prevalence of biconceptuality among voters requires to consider the role of pragmnatism in issue politics. There are two kinds of political pragmatists. Both are willing to compromise, but for different reasons.

The authentic pragmatist realizes you can't get everything you think is right, but you can get much or most of it through negotiation. The authentic pragmatist sticks to his or her values and works to satisfy them maximally. The inauthentic pragmatist, on the other hand, is willing to depart from his or her true values for the sake of political gain.
An inauthentic pragmatist surrenders his or her moral vision by selling out, and in so doing, surrenders trust as well. That is the sin President Obama has committed.

The President, of course, is claiming that he has abandoned his previous stance because he wanted to save the American people from having to pay higher taxes. By characterizing taxes as an affliction, and any increases in taxes as harmful and unacceptable, the President is reinforcing the George W. Bush/Grover Norquist/Tim Eyman right wing frame that we at NPI have been trying so hard to deconstruct.

The President can defend his intentions all he wants. But he's mistaken if he thinks we're going to take him at his word. His own political operatives have already suggested that one reason they made this deal is so that they can turn tax cuts for the wealthy into a campaign issue in 2012.

If that's not crass gamesmanship, we don't know what is.

What is perhaps most outrageous is that despite having capitulated so obviously, the White House is arrogantly and defensively insisting that progressive activists and progressive media are wrong to criticize because the deal is not as bad as we think, and we would agree with them if we would just read all of their fact sheets and talking points. Sadly, this isn't the first time they've talked down to hardworking activists. As Keith Olbermann said last night:
Yesterday I had an exchange with a very Senior member of this Administration who wanted to sell me on this deal. I pointed out that that was fine, except that — as I phrased it to him — "frankly the base has just vanished." "Well," he replied, "then they must not have read the details." There, in a nutshell, is this Administration. They didn't make a bad deal — we just don't understand it.

Just as it was our fault, Mr President, for not understanding your refusal of even the most perfunctory of investigations of rendition or domestic spying or the other crimes of the Bush Administration, or why you have now established for those future Administrations who want to repeat those crimes, that the punishment for them will be nothing.

Just as it was our fault, Mr. President, for not understanding Afghanistan. Just as we didn't correctly perceive, Sir, the necessity for the continuation of Gitmo. Or how we failed to intuit, President Obama, your preemptive abandonment of single-payer and the public option. Or how we couldn't have foreseen your foot-dragging on "Don't ask, don't tell." Just as we shouldn't have gotten you angry at your news conference today and made all the moderate Democrats wonder why in the hell you get publicly angry so often at the liberals who campaigned for you and whether you might save just a touch of that sarcasm and that self-martyrdom for the Republicans.

And of course, Mr. President how we totally betrayed your Administration by not concluding our prayers every night by saying "Thank you for preventing another Great Depression, you are entitled to skate along on your own wonderfulness indefinitely and if you get less than you could have on healthcare reform or taxes, well, that'll be okay, we're happy to pay $10,000 for a $300 car because hey, it could've been $20,000, right? And because we only expect you to do one thing correctly during a presidency and you had pretty much cleared that obligation when it proved that you were, indeed, not John McCain."

We are very, very sorry.
Like Keith, and like most of our brothers and sisters in the progressive movement, our allegiance is not to any person or party, but to our country and to our values. Freedom, opportunity, and prosperity. Protection, fulfillment in life, fairness. Caring and mutual responsibility, carried out with strength. Community, service, cooperation. Trust, honesty, two-way communication. These values form the basis of our moral system. These are the values we are committed to.

And these are the values we will defend, no matter what.

As Keith correctly concluded in his Special Comment last night: "We are bound to principles. If the individual changes, or fails often and needlessly, then we get a new man. Or woman. None of that is disloyalty. It is self-defense."

Fortunately, it appears that there are a growing number of Democrats in both the House and the Senate who feel the same way. There is open rebellion in the House over the deal (which Obama struck exclusively with the Republicans) and Senate Democrats aren't much more enthusiastic. Complicating matters for the White House is that some extremist Republicans aren't willing to vote for it either.

What this White House just doesn't seem to understand is that surrender is not a way to win respect from anybody, let alone supporters. Throwing in the towel without even fighting — and then blaming friends and allies for the outcome — isn't leadership. Pretending that it's possible to do business with people bent on your destruction is foolish and irresponsible.

Authenticity matters in politics. Voters can sense dishonesty, complacency, and desperation. And they punish it. Given how little Carter, Clinton, and now Obama — the only Democratic presidents since Johnson — have done to address the root causes of our greatest problems, America can't afford another Republican presidency. Modern Republican presidents are simply better at demolition than Democratic presidents are at construction.

So it's incredibly important that Democratic presidents and presidential candidates not surrender their authenticity. They have to protect it at all costs.

Barack Obama isn't just putting his own future at risk by capitulating to the likes of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. He's putting our future — America's future — at risk, too. Shame on him.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

President Obama in his own words

So much for change we can believe in. Like the old saying goes: the more things change the more they stay the same.

Here is Senator Barack Obama at the Democratic Primary Presidential candidate forum at Drexel University on October 30, 2007:
Those kinds of progressive tax steps, while closing loopholes and rolling back the Bush tax cuts to the top 1 percent, simply restores some fairness and a sense that we're all in this together, as opposed to each of us being in it on our own.
Where is the fairness today, Mr. President? Where's the feeling that we're all in this together, when the wealthiest individuals aren't paying their fair share?

Back in January 2008, Senator Obama delivered a response to President Bush's State of the Union Address, in which he addressed the President's tax policy.
We heard the President say he wants to make tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans permanent, when we know that at a time of war and economic hardship, the last thing we need is a permanent tax cut for Americans who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them. What we need is a middle class tax cut, and that’s exactly what I will provide as President.
Here's Senator Obama on CNN in May 2008:
Q: So, you want to just eliminate the Bush tax cuts?
A: I want to eliminate the Bush tax cuts.
And here is candidate Obama in a Faux News interview during the campaign:
It is true that I would roll back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans back to the level they were under Bill Clinton, when I don't remember rich people feeling oppressed.
Even today, his campaign's tax plan is on Organizing for America's website (formerly Obama's campaign website):
Obama will ask the wealthiest 2% of families to give back a portion of the tax cuts they have received over the past eight years to ensure we are restoring fairness and returning to fiscal responsibility.
With apologies to Governor Howard Dean, what I want to know is what in the world is President Obama doing supporting tax cuts, which have bankrupted this country and given us the largest deficit in the history of the United States?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Unprincipled Obama caves to Republican demands to extend Bush's giveaway to rich

Pundits and talking heads can now rejoice: As they breathlessly predicted, Barack Obama has caved to Republican demands to extend Bush's unaffordable tax cuts (including the tax cuts for the wealthy), vindicating every skeptic and every critic in the progressive movement who has characterized him as a spineless executive:
President Obama proposed a compromise on the thorny political issue of tax cuts on Monday, describing a tentative agreement that would extend all of the George W. Bush-era reductions set to expire the end of this year and continue unemployment benefits for 13 months.

In a televised statement, Obama announced what he called "a framework for a bipartisan agreement" that would temporarily extend the tax cuts for the middle class and for the rich alike. The tentative agreement reached Monday likely means that taxes will not increase on Jan. 1 as originally scheduled.
As McClatchy's Steven Thomma and David Lightman explain, the "compromise" announced by Obama is really a one-sided deal that he struck with the Republicans, where they get everything they want in return for promising to support aid to the jobless... which they should have been either forced into supporting or voting against anyway. Obama and his team didn't bother including congressional Democrats in the negotiations, because apparently they just arrogantly expect everybody to fall in line.

The word disgusted doesn't even begin to describe our reaction to this capitulation. This isn't leadership. This isn't the responsible governance we thought we voted for in 2008. And this certainly isn't change we can believe in.

This is giving in to the status quo. This is cowardice. This is surrender. This deal, this proposal, represents everything Barack Obama ran against in 2008.

In acceding to Republican demands to keep all George W. Bush's unaffordable tax cuts in place, Barack Obama has proved himself to be no leader, but rather to be just another spineless politician who doesn't walk his talk.

Remember this?
[W]hen it comes to the economy – when it comes to the central issue of this election – the plain truth is that John McCain has stood with this President every step of the way. Voting for the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy that he once opposed. Voting for the Bush budgets that spent us into debt. Calling for less regulation twenty-one times just this year. Those are the facts.

And now, after twenty-one months and three debates, Senator McCain still has not been able to tell the American people a single major thing he'd do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy. Senator McCain says that we can't spend the next four years waiting for our luck to change, but you understand that the biggest gamble we can take is embracing the same old Bush-McCain policies that have failed us for the last eight years.
Emphasis is mine.

That's from the stump speech Barack Obama delivered in Canton, Ohio, on October 27th, 2008. If "embracing the same old Bush-McCain policies that have failed us" is indeed the disastrous course of action that Candidate Obama said it was, why is President Obama making this deal? Why is he reneging on his own beliefs?

And (to use a Barackism)... make no mistake, that's exactly what he is doing. He is embracing an extension of the Bush tax cuts, while foolishly trying to reconcile his new stance with his previous position.

He might as well pretend that he was never against extending tax cuts for the wealthy, so he can sound like the Republican he's morphing into.

At this point, Obama's promises are nothing more than empty rhetoric.
I have no doubt that everyone will find something in this compromise that they don’t like. In fact, there are things in here that I don’t like — namely the extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and the wealthiest estates. But these tax cuts will expire in two years. And I’m confident that as we make tough choices about bringing our deficit down, as I engage in a conversation with the American people about the hard choices we’re going to have to make to secure our future and our children’s future and our grandchildren’s future, it will become apparent that we cannot afford to extend those tax cuts any longer.
Rarely have I heard so much nonsense uttered in less than thirty seconds by somebody that I voted for. I'm used to hearing disingenuous sound bites and speeches from Republicans. I never thought I'd hear anything so hollow from somebody calling himself a Democrat.

How can he declare, with a straight face, that we cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts any longer while announcing that he will sign legislation to extend them!?

Either Barack Obama really believes what he is saying, which would mean he's naive, or he doesn't, which would mean that he's being dishonest. Either way, I'm sorry to have to admit that I have misjudged him. I figured he and his team would evaluate their options and realize that capitulation is the worst course of action they could take. Paul Krugman explained the situation well yesterday:
Republicans want to make those tax cuts permanent. They might agree to a two or three-year extension — but only because they believe that this would set up the conditions for a permanent extension later. And they may well be right: if tax-cut blackmail works now, why shouldn’t it work again later?
The Bush tax cuts were supposed to expire at the beginning of 2011. That date is now being pushed forward. In two years, the Republicans will simply demand that it be pushed forward again. And they'll win, again.

Because if they're good at anything, it's blackmailing Democrats.

They can now proudly tell their base that they've bested Obama, despite not having control of either house of Congress. I've said this before: They act from a position of strength even when they're out of power. Obama acts from a position of weakness even though he's supposed to be the Commander-in-Chief.

The hard choice... the tough choice... the courageous choice... would be to let all the tax cuts expire. The responsible thing to do would be to put our common wealth first, and stop buying into wrongheaded right wing ideas about economic freedom, which got us into the recession we're in.

Fortunately, not all Democrats appear willing to fall into line. Representative Peter Welch of Virginia is already circulating a letter urging colleagues to reject the deal, while Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is vowing to do what he can to sink the proposal in the Senate. Unusually, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid did not immediately react to Obama's announcement by chiming in with their agreement. Aides for both have said they each plan to discuss the matter within their caucuses.

We at NPI, on the other hand, have no doubts whatsoever about our position. We urge Democrats in Congress to reject this deal. Allowing all of the tax cuts to expire would be a better outcome than extending them. Our common wealth needs the money. If we're ever going to get out of debt, then we need to stop pretending that public services don't cost anything. Because they do. There is no free lunch.

We don't have a future as a country if we keep financing tax cuts — especially for millionaires and billionaires — with money borrowed from China.

Like many unprincipled Democrats before him, Barack Obama has bought into the right wing myth that taxes are a burden, a necessary evil. In reality, taxes aren't a necessary evil. They're just necessary. Federal taxes can be thought of as our membership dues to America. As George Lakoff wrote in Whose Freedom?
Since the days of the Commonwealths of Virginia and Massachusetts, it has been part of the genius of America to put together the common wealth for the common good to provide an infrastructure that everyone needs and can use to achieve his or her individual goals. That's what taxes are about, and without them we would not have that infrastructure: highways, the Internet, public education, scientific research, the banking and court systems, the stock market, public buildings, levees to hold back floodwaters. Without such an infrastructure, America would break down, no business could flourish, and there would be little or no individual succeess. Without the commonwealth — government for our common good — there would be no America.
We call on our Democratic congressional delegation, and every Democrat in America who professes to believe in progressive values, to oppose this deal and vote it down. It's disastrously bad policy and disastrously bad politics.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Two NPI boardmembers elected to King County Democratic leadership

This morning, the King County Democratic Central Committee held its biannual reorganization meeting, which traditionally takes place after the conclusion of an election in an even-numbered year. A reorganization meeting is basically a gathering at which precinct committee officers approve new bylaws, choose the leadership of the organization for a term of two years, and conduct other business (such as considering resolutions).

As longtime readers know, I've liveblogged reorganization meetings before, but I had too much to do at this one to offer blow-by-blow coverage.

Like running for office.

I decided a few weeks ago to seek a leadership position in the county party because I don't want my activism to be limited only to what I can do through NPI. With the exception of supporting or opposing ballot measures, NPI doesn't do electioneering. We're a strategy center and an idea factory, not a political party. We don't field candidates for office, or support candidates.

But, as progressives were painfully reminded a few weeks ago, elections have consequences. We can't move forward if we can't move legislation. And we can't move legislation if Democrats are in the minority.

Not all of our readers might agree that trying to build a better Democratic Party is a good use of time, treasure, and talent. But I believe it is. I think it makes more sense than trying to create a new political party.

I know from experience how hard it is to create something out of nothing — it's the story of this organization, which began with zero resources.

The Democratic Party can and should be a bottom-up force for progressive change.

Admittedly, the Democratic Party is not yet as democratic as it should be. Many Americans equivocate the Democratic Party with the current crop of Democratic officeholders in our nation's capital — including President Obama, who is sometimes referred to as the leader of the party, by virtue of his office. But the real leaders of the party are the hundreds of thousands of Democratic precinct committee officers and precinct captains across this country. They deserve a party leadership that is accountable to them and the Democratic voters they represent.

What needs to happen for the Democratic Party to become more democratic is this: The movement must become the establishment, while remaining the movement. I know that sounds confusing, so I'll put it another way: We have to crash the gate (as Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong said) and displace the establishment without becoming corrupted ourselves. We have to remain true to what we stand for, no matter what. Power entails responsibility.

I believe everyone who was elected this morning is committed to building a democratic Democratic Party. I am proud to be serving as King County's new Second Vice Chair alongside fellow NPI boardmember Steve Zemke, who has succeeded Suzie Sheary as the next chair, and the many other talented and enthusiastic officers who were elected or reelected.

For the record, here are the people who were elected or reelected to govern the King County Democrats through 2011 and 2012:
  • Chair: Steve Zemke
  • 1st Vice Chair: Megan Gustafson
  • 2nd Vice Chair: Andrew Villeneuve
  • 3rd Vice Chair: Chad Lupkes
  • 4th Vice Chair: Omaha Sternberg
  • Secretary: Chris Maryatt
  • Treasurer: Jeff Upthegrove
  • State Committeeman: Javier Valdez
  • State Committewoman: Ann Martin
All the positions were uncontested except State Committeewoman. The chair of the 5th District Democrats challenged Ann Martin for that job, but was unsuccessful.

Megan, Chris, and I are all younger than thirty-six, while Chad, Omaha, Javier, and Jeff are all younger than forty five. Only Steve and Ann are older than forty five. Collectively, I'm guessing that we are one of the youngest leadership teams in the history of the King County Democrats.

What everybody who was elected this morning has in common — along with folks like Ivan Weiss, Sarajane Siegfreidt, and Dean Fournier, who are also part of the executive board by appointment — is a desire to make King County even more progressive, and to help our fellow county organizations become more successful, so we can keep our state moving forwards instead of sliding backwards.

I'm looking forward to the next two years. I think we're capable of accomplishing some great things together. You can certainly expect to see more full disclosure notices stuck at the top of my posts over the next two years.

ONE MORE THING: I want to commend Gael Tarleton and Rob Dolin (who are also on our board) for their words of wisdom this morning. Gael spoke in her capacity as Seattle Port Commissioner, and Rob Dolin spoke as a candidate for State Party Secretary (and also later in support of my candidacy for 2nd Vice Chair). And finally, one of our staff, Daniel Warwick (who belongs to the 48th District Democrats) also came this morning and volunteered to register and check-in PCOs; his efforts were much appreciated.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Joe McDermott appointed to succeed Jan Drago on Sound Transit Board of Directors

Newly-elected King County Councilmember Joe McDermott has been appointed to succeed Jan Drago on Sound Transit's Board of Directors, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced today.

The appointment must be confirmed by the county council, of which McDermott is now a member. (He left the state Senate earlier this year to seek the job and was quickly sworn in following the certification of the November 2010 elections, since he's filling the remainder of Dow's unexpired term).

Other King County Councilmembers serving on the board include Democrats Larry Phillips and Julia Patterson, and Republican Pete von Reichbauer. State law guarantees King County ten positions on the federated board, which are filled by the executive and confirmed by the council.

“It is critically important that we continue to have strong south King County representation on the Sound Transit Board, and Councilmember McDermott’s extensive legislative experience will serve all of our customers well,” Constantine said in a news release. “The 8th District includes the cities of Burien, SeaTac and Tukwila, and these are all emerging residential and job centers for our region that need good transportation alternatives.”

“We need to connect communities within south King County to each other, recognizing that people live, work and play outside downtown Seattle,” said Councilmember McDermott. “Working together and thinking creatively, we can produce a transit system that meets the needs of the entire region. I am honored to be a South County representative on the Board.”

We at NPI commend Executive Constantine for this appointment. It only makes sense that Jan Drago be succeeded by her permanent replacement, Joe McDermott. Joe's commitment to creating transportation choices and livable communities makes him an ideal addition to the Sound Transit Board. We're very pleased that he will be involved in helping make the critical decisions that are in front of Sound Transit during the next few years.