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

Monthly Archives: January 2013

Analysis: New Republican-backed bills would cut injured workers’ benefits

Last week all pretense of bipartisanship in State Senator Rodney Tom’s new coalition was abandoned with its introduction of five anti-labor bills purposely intended to weaken worker’s compensation. The new caucus formed by Senators Tom and Sheldon and the Republicans is trying to rush these bills through to passage. A floor vote is expected in the near future.

We at NPI urge you to call and write your state legislators (especially your state senator) and let them know that you oppose these bills.

Q: What is worker’s compensation?

A: Workers who are injured on the job are sometimes suddenly deprived of the ability to support themselves and their families. Worker’s compensation is a legally mandated insurance benefit that guarantees disability insurance for wages, medical expenses and vocational rehabilitation. For some injuries this is temporary. Some injuries result in permanent disability. In the case of workplace fatalities, the surviving spouse and children receive the pension; the image of the widow and children of a slain police officer not becoming homeless applies here.

The agreement is that the employee does not sue the employer. And, in return, the employer pays the insurance premiums into the system. Workers who take steps to increase safety may participate in a “retrospective” or “retro” program offered by the Department of Labor & Industries in which they pay lower premiums.

Q: It’s 2013. Aren’t workplace injuries a thing of the past?

A: Some occupations, such as police officer or firefighter, have known risks. Unfortunately, in occupations such as farming, manufacturing or logging, not all employers have a safety culture or strive to earn a safety certification from a standards organization.

In 2011, more than a hundred people died from workplace injuries. More than twenty-five percent of the cost of worker’s compensation arises from overexertion. People feel pressured to work beyond the limits of their physical capabilities.

The cost of workers compensation could be lower if more employers fostered a strong safety culture. But instead of cutting costs by preventing injuries, this set of bills cuts the benefits paid to the workers.

Q: Wasn’t worker’s compensation just revised in 2011?

A: Yes. With Senate Bill 5566 the guarantee of a pension was modified and a cash settlement option was allowed. The settlement option was opposed by organized labor because a cash payment might be far less than the value of a pension. Remember that the injured worker has not yet been paid for the time lost and may feel pressured to settle in order to pay mounting bills. The settlement money can go to creditors, then leaving the worker in the care of the social services system, funded by the taxpayer instead of the employers’ insurance premiums. SB 5566 provided some protections to make sure the workers understood the terms of the settlement. But some workers could be subject to shoddy legal representation.

One of the arguments against the new bills is that the recent changes have not had time to be evaluated.

Q: How do the new bills affect injured workers?

A: Here is a bill-by-bill analysis. Note  that SB stands for Senate Bill. The corresponding House bill has the prefix HB.

SB 5124 / HB 1464

Under the current system, the amount of a worker’s monthly benefit is based on both wages and medical benefits. Under 5124 the medical benefits are excluded in determining the amount of the pension. This could reduce the amount paid to the worker by as much as forty to sixty percent.

SB 5126 / HB 1465

This bill undermines the definition of workers compensation as an assured benefit workers can rely on independent of any other proceedings. Under 5126 the state can recover some of the damages if the injured worker sues a third party, such as an equipment manufacturer. This could intimidate some workers into not taking workers compensation in order to receive all of a third party settlement. Any other settlements are no longer independent awards to the worker.

SB 5127 / HB 1097

5566 allowed structured settlements for workers age fifty-five and over, with the age dropping to fifty-three in 2013 and to fifty in 2016. Under 5127, there would be no age restrictions on who could receive a lump sum settlement.

A worker age fifty-five may have a good estimate of his or her medical conditions and expenses from the injury until retirement. In contrast, a worker age thirty cannot predict how the injury will affect future health. A worker with a severe injury at the age of thirty could suddenly lose the ability to walk at the age of fifty. The settlement could be insufficient to cover the effects of the injury at a future time.

A cash settlement can be spent quickly or could be taken by creditors. Then the injured worker is thrown back onto the social services system, paid for by the taxpayer rather than by the employers.

SB 5128 / HB 1463

Under the current law, all lump sum agreements negotiated between the worker and the employer must be approved by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (BIIA). Before the final approval a settlement officer must explain the terms of the agreement to the worker and ensure that the worker understand the agreement. Under 5128 if the worker has been represented by an attorney, the conference is not required. This removes the protection for a worker who may have had shoddy or unethical legal representation.

Under the current law a settlement covers all anticipated expenses with the exception of medical care, which can be renegotiated. Sections 1.(1)(a)(i) and 1.(7) compromise this and imply that a settlement could include medical expenses and prevent future liabilities if a medical condition worsens.

Another part of this law applies to the worker who has an injury that is not permanently disabling, receives a settlement and returns to work after rehabilitation. If the worker suffers a subsequent injury, the initial injury could be declared a pre-existing condition causing the recent disability. In this situation the worker could not file a new claim. So if a person’s knee is hurt in the first injury, future injuries to the knee might not be covered.

This bill also requires the expenditure of money for outside consulting firms to do a study of the system every few years, including a comparison with other states. This implies that instead of being a leader, the state is being cautioned make sure it is not more progressive than other states.

SB 5112 / HB 1313

This bill applies to employers in the “retro” or safety program. Under 5112, they are granted a new right to require an injured worker to come in for a new medical evaluation as often as twice per year.

The employer has the right to choose the doctor or nurse doing the evaluation as long as the practitioner is on the approved provider list. This makes it easier to challenge the injured workers paid leave status. It places the decision in the hands of the employer’s medical provider rather than the patient’s own doctor.

Research in Motion set to officially unveil its new BlackBerry 10 platform tomorrow

In less than eighteen hours, executives at Canadian telecommunications pioneer Research in Motion will simultaneously take the stage at a set of media events in major cities around the world to officially unveil BlackBerry 10, the company’s much anticipated next-generation mobile operating system, which RIM hopes will put its line of smartphones back in the vanguard of mobile computing.

Tomorrow’s product launch, which will be anchored by RIM CEO Thorsten Heins in New York, is the biggest in the history of the company.

The tech press have been invited to attend special events where BlackBerry 10 will be showcased in more than a half-dozen cities around the globe: New York and Toronto in North America, London and Paris in Europe, Jakarta in Oceania, Johannesburg in Africa, and Dubai and New Delhi in Asia.

BlackBerry users and enthusiasts all over the globe (including us) have been anxiously awaiting tomorrow’s product launch, for it represents the future of the platform that we rely on to get things done.

At these events, RIM is expected to officially unveil its first two BlackBerry 10 handsets, which will reportedly be called the Z10 and the X10.

The Z10 will be a touchscreen-only phone with an advanced virtual keyboard that more closely mimics the physical keyboards that BlackBerry is known for, while the X10 will sport a QWERTY keyboard similar to the one found on the BlackBerry Bold 9900/9930 series for thosewho prefer a phone with an actual keyboard.

RIM has promised that both handsets will run BlackBerry 10 equally well.

The company has spent months developing and perfecting BlackBerry 10. Multiple delays have sorely tested the patience of loyal customers, who have continued to stand by RIM as others have abandoned BlackBerry for Android and iOS. But the waiting for #TeamBlackBerry is about to come to an end. At tomorrow’s launch, RIM is expected to unveil pricing and availability information for the Z10 and the X10, which RIM says an unprecedented number of wireless carriers are committed to launching. There have even been rumors that some carriers may be shipping handsets as early as this week to those who have preordered.

While RIM has not yet introduced BlackBerry 10 to the general public – that’s what tomorrow’s launch event and the 2013 Super Bowl ad the company has purchased are for – it has already earned high praise from developers and enthusiasts who have been given prototype devices to play with.

It’s said to be fast, fluid, and very stable.

Because the BlackBerry 10 platform does not actually share any code with the current BlackBerry OS (which is based on Java), it lacks the flaws and quirks of BlackBerry smartphones now on the market. Instead of Java, BlackBerry 10 is built on QNX Neutrino, the same underlying operating system that powers RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, introduced in 2011. QNX can already be found inside of vehicles, nuclear power plants, and data centers in addition to the PlayBook. Now, it will be at the heart of RIM’s BlackBerry smartphones, too.

The first release of QNX actually came out two years before Mike Lazaridis founded Research in Motion. However, like RIM, QNX’s heritage is Canadian; it was created by University of Waterloo students Dan Dodge and Gordon Bell. Dodge continues to oversee development of QNX; he is now the lead software architect for Research in Motion, and has been tasked by RIM CEO Thorsten Heins with executing on the company’s vision for BlackBerry 10.

Unlike nearly all of the major operating systems in use today, QNX has a microkernel instead of a monolithic kernel. In layman’s terms, this means the operating system has a different architecture. It’s very compact and portable; the kernel simply doesn’t have that many lines of code. It is modular to its core, unlike Linux (used in Android), XNU (the kernel inside of Mac OS X and iOS) or the NT kernel (found in Windows), which are monolithic or mostly monolithic.

So what does this mean for users? In a few words, stability and true multi-tasking. As PlayBook owners can attest, when a misbehaving application crashes, it doesn’t brick the tablet. The application having a problem may need to be restarted, but the device doesn’t have to be, nor do other open applications.

RIM’s decision to buy QNX Software Systems from Harman International in 2010 may end up being viewed years from now as the move that saved the company from a disastrous fate. In QNX, RIM has a robust, industrial-grade operating system with a proven track record and a promising future… an OS capable of making its BlackBerry smartphones ultramodern and cutting-edge once again.

RIM executives say that BlackBerry 10 is like nothing on the market today. In demonstrations, or demos, the company has provided glimpses of the new user interface, which is based on concepts they call Hub, Peek, and Flow. The Hub is an always-on, always-accessible all-in-one messaging center that handles emails, tweets, status updates, BBMs, LinkedIn invitations, and text messages. Users can easily get to the Hub at any time, no matter what application they’re in with the swipe of a finger. Messages can be sorted by account or by service with just a few taps of the finger; the Hub is said to be very customizable.

The hub in BlackBerry 10

The Research in Motion team shows the hub, off one of the key features of BlackBerry 10, which acts as a conversation manager. (Courtesy of Research in Motion Ltd.)

Flow is described as the ability to move between applications without needing to click on a home button or go to a home screen. A BlackBerry user can choose to run multiple applications at once and quickly move between as desired. Users can also peek at adjacent applications without leaving the application that they are in.

RIM obviously hasn’t officially released specifications for its new handsets yet; it will do that tomorrow. But the new phones are expected to be 4G capable, with fast processors, plenty of memory, larger screen sizes, and higher quality displays than previous BlackBerrys. The handsets will launch with a much larger application selection than either iOS or Android had during their debuts; RIM says that over 70,000 applications will be available to users through the BlackBerry World storefront at launch. (The storefront will serve up music, movies, and television shows in addition to applications, RIM says).

In recent days, a number of major companies, developers, and content providers have announced their support for the BlackBerry 10 platform, including:

The list (which is much longer than what you see above) does not yet include Instagram, Netflix, or Skype, but that doesn’t mean it won’t eventually. RIM has a good relationship with both Facebook (the owner of Instagram) and Microsoft (the owner of Skype), so it’s very possible those services will work with BlackBerry 10. Netflix has publicly shown less interest in the BlackBerry platform, but RIM may well be working behind the scenes with them. We’ll have to wait and see.

Reuters checked with each of the United States’ Big Four carriers (Verzion, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile) and all of them have confirmed they will be selling BlackBerry 10 handsets in the near future. Every major Canadian carrier is on board as well.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has already awarded Research in Motion FIPS 140-2 certification, which means that BlackBerry 10 is already primed for development by government agencies and in corporate environments. That’s a good thing, because RIM needs to be able to start shipping the new phones out to customers as soon as possible.

BlackBerry 10 handsets will also come with a feature RIM calls BlackBerry Balance. Balance allows for multiple profiles to be stored on a handset – a personal profile and a work profile. Corporate IT departments can wield full control over the work profile on a BlackBerry 10 handset, while the entirely separate personal profile remains under the control of the individual user.

Balance is RIM’s response to the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend. With Balance, users who want a fully-functional BlackBerry won’t need to carry a second phone. Instead, they’ll be able to make use of multiple profiles on just one device.

BlackBerry Messenger has also been revamped for BlackBerry 10. RIM hasn’t said much about the improvements to BBM, but BlackBerry enthusiasts are hoping that video calling will be supported. (BBM got voice chat support last month).

We should know more tomorrow.

If you are interested in participating in the launch event, you can watch the whole thing live from the comfort of home – RIM will be offering a livestream beginning at 7 AM Pacific Time. We’ll be watching and cheering for RIM.

Senate Republicans want to assign letter grades to Washington’s public schools

Washington State Senator Steve Litzow (R-41st District; Mercer Island) has introduced a bill that would assign a letter grade to public schools and school districts in the name of “accountability.” High-performing middle, junior high, and high schools would receive financial rewards from the state.

Litzow’s proposal turns on its head the policy of providing additional funding to low-performing schools with high-needs students. Schools failing to make adequate progress would be assigned an “F,” reminiscent of the much-reviled “No Child Left Behind Act” from the early years of the Bush error.

The stated goal is to infuse performance-based private-sector methods into the public sector as a reward for productivity. The result would be to increase the funding gap between the have and the have-not schools.

K-3 schools would be graded as feeder schools, based on the grades of their middle schools. Charter schools, very small schools, and alternative schools would be exempt from the proposed grading structure.

Letter grades would be based on their “accountability index” — a measure of the increase in student achievement on statewide standardized tests — as well as the school’s reduction in student achievement gaps and, possibly, other outcome measurements. For high schools, at least 50% of the school’s grade would be based on the “accountability index” and the remainder on graduation rates, advanced coursework such as AP and baccalaureate courses, post-secondary readiness such as ACT or SAT scores and the high-school graduation rates of at-risk students.

School recognition rewards would be used for faculty and staff bonuses, additional equipment and personnel and would not be subject to collective bargaining — essentially merit pay for schools.

Schools that earn top marks would gain more control over their budgets, as provided by subsection seven of Section Two:

Each school that earns a grade of “A” under section 1 of this act or improves at least two letter grades shall have greater authority over the allocation of the school’s total state budget including apportionment funds and state categorical funds, as specified in rules adopted by the office of the superintendent of public instruction. The rules must provide that the increased budget authority remain in effect until the school’s grade declines.

The bill is cosponsored by two partially conservative Democratic senators: Steve Hobbs (Lake Stevens) and Brian Hatfield (Raymond). It also has five Republican cosponsors: Andy Hill (45th District; Redmond), Pam Roach (31st District; Auburn), Michael Baumgartner (6th District; Spokane), Bruce Dammeier (25th District; Puyallup), and John Braun (20th District; Centralia).

SB 5328 is likely to be heard in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee (which Litzow now chairs, following the Republican takeover of the Senate), on January 30th. The hearing will be broadcast live on TVW.

Should it pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, it is unlikely to make it through the Democratic-led House Education Committee.

Students won’t stay silent on high tuition

I lobbied on Monday.

That may not seem like much, seeing as hundreds of people did the same thing on the exact same day. But seeing as I’m a student at a university, for some, it might be a big thing indeed. I was there with 59 other Western Washington University students who met with more than 60% percent of the legislature to talk about higher education affordability and access, including supporting new revenue, lowering tuition, and the Washington DREAM Act.

It was a very positive experience for these students, and will hopefully grow into greater engagement. Whatever happens, though, it is a contradiction to the mantra that students are apathetic, that they don’t care about the world beyond them.

From one of the many, many organizing sessions I’ve been to, there’s a saying: people aren’t apathetic, they’ve just become alienated and disempowered by our legislative process. They feel like even if they do become involved, the political situation doesn’t change, and students still get shafted. But we’re trying to change that.

It first happened this year with the largest youth-focused voter registration drive in the state, with more than 15% of Western’s student body alone being registered to vote, many for the first time; we had even more ballots than people we registered returned at our on-campus ballot box. We’re continuing with what has started off as a strong legislative engagement program; it will grow and continue to evolve organically as more students get involved and take ownership of this struggle. Students are being shown that a difference can be made, that we can erase this sense of alienation and take control of our future sooner, rather than later, when the mistakes made by attacking our shared society may be too great to fix.

That also requires the legislature to listen. Nobody wants to be seen as anti-student, but actions speak louder than words. More than 1.4 billion dollars have been cut from Washington’s higher education system, resulting in tuition increases that have put some of the ways we pay for higher education in jeopardy. Increases in financial aid don’t help the neediest like some like to think, instead deterring students, not just because of debt, but also because every piece of paper is an obstacle to receiving an education.

Students want to cut through the excuses and see their opportunities for education expanded, not closed. And students are tired of excuses. Students might be alienated, they might feel disempowered, but they’re definitely not apathetic. Monday, at the very least, has shown that.

So, Olympia, be prepared to hear a lot from the yet-to-get-a-college-degree crowd, lest the group already with theirs continue to make it harder for us (and those after us) to get ours.

In fact, let’s call it a “hello”.

President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address: A heartening, uplifting call for progress

Four years ago, I stood on the National Mall in our nation’s capital and witnessed the swearing-in of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth President of the United States of America. It was a historic day – a happy and joyous day that offered a welcome respite from weeks of bad economic news and feelings of uncertainty.

Nearly two million people stood shoulder to shoulder that cold January morning, waiting for our nation’s first black president take the oath and deliver his first inaugural address. As noon came and went, the realization hit home for me and others standing on the Mall: The Bush error was finally at an end. A new era had begun. A new chapter in our nation’s history was about to be written.

When President Obama stepped to the microphone that day four years ago to deliver his first inaugural address, he seemed mindful of his new and enormous responsibilities. He immediately assumed the role of Reassurer-in-Chief, reminding us that America has been through tough times before, and has come out ahead.

I especially remember these words: “Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.”

Four years later, those words carry even greater significance and meaning than they did then, considering what has transpired in the time between the President’s First Inaugural Address and his Second today. Though Barack Obama repeatedly called for unity and cooperation as a candidate, as President-elect, and finally as President, his efforts to find common ground were stymied from the beginning by Republicans, who spurned his overtures and wasted little time in declaring that their top priority was his defeat – not the country’s well-being.

No president has governed without opposition, but few presidents have had to deal with the kind of disloyal, knee-jerk obstructionism that Barack Obama has faced from Republicans in Congress, not to mention the Republican Party and its hate speech fueled noise machine outside of Congress.

The President enters his second term older and wiser. Four years ago, the President did not initially appreciate that Republicans were simply not interested in working with him to solve America’s problems. He tried many times to be accommodating, and as a consequence, he ended up negotiating from a position of weakness when he could have been negotiating from a position of strength.

In his First Inaugural Address, the President spoke of America as on a journey. (All emphasis in the following excerpt and the other excepts in this post is mine).

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

He went on to say:

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.  Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

Four years later, we can say that we have begun that work of remaking America. But unpleasant decisions continue to be put off, and narrow interests continue to be protected… most recently in the legislation the President signed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes, and the same could be said of old politics.

President Obama returned to his This is the journey we continue today metaphor for his Second Inaugural Address, a speech that I very much enjoyed and that I hope serves as a harbinger of things to come. I felt it was heartening and uplifting; the President skillfully avoided sounding lofty or grandiose. The President made the most of an opportunity to set a new tone for a new term, and he embraced the logic of progressive values at several key points in the speech. He began with a nod to our founding documents – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution:

Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional — what makes us American — is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.

And then he reminded us that, as a nation, we have often had to confront adversity and prejudice in attempting to live up to our ideals.

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

The strength of this country, the United States of America, stems from our ability to do great things together, as the President said. Cooperation trumps competition. Had the thirteen colonies that broke away from Great Britain ceased to remain united following the War of Independence, this country, as we know it, would not and could not exist today. And had Abraham Lincoln not succeeded in holding the Union together, our nation might well have continued to splinter and fragment, and the evil institution of slavery would not have been abolished when it needed to be.

I felt the speech hit three really high notes, twice midway through and once again at the end. The first passage that resonated deeply with me was a defense of our nation’s essential public services – specifically Social Security and Medicare – which the President laudably framed as commitments.

We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

The second passage that made me cheer was the President’s call for action on the climate crisis – a threat humanity has so far failed to meaningfully address.

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.

And the third passage that hit home for me was the President’s call for all of us to leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren, befitting of the legacy that was left to us by previous generations of Americans.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law –- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity — until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

Linguistically and metaphorically, President Obama could have gone in a completely different direction with his Second Inaugural Address, but he chose to build upon – rather than depart from – the foundation he created with his First Inaugural Address four years ago. Today’s speech felt very much like a sequel to what I heard four years ago. It was reinforcing and reassuring.

America is on a journey… a never-ending journey, a difficult journey with unforeseen twists and turns, but a journey we are nevertheless bound to continue, for our journey is not complete until our country fully embodies our finest traditional values… the very best of who we are. That seemed to me to be the crux of what the President was saying today. We can either go forward or backward, and we certainly don’t want to go back. So the only direction to go is forward.

Or, as George Lakoff put it six years ago when he wrote Whose Freedom?

Progressive freedom is dynamic freedom. Freedom is realized not just in stasis, or at a single moment in history, but in its expansion over a long time. You cannot look only at the Founding Fathers and stop there. If you do, it sounds as if they were hypocrites: They talked liberty but permitted slavery; they talked democracy but allowed only white male property owners to vote. But from a dynamic progressive perspective, the great ideas were expandable freedoms: expanding civil rights, voting rights, property rights, tolerance, education, science, public health, workers’ rights, protected parkland, and the infrastructure for progressive freedom — the banking system, court system, transportation system, communication system, university system, scientific research system, social services system, and all the other aspects of the common good that we use our common wealth for. Expanding and deepening the ideas of the Founding Fathers is what dynamic progressive freedom is about.

Progressives don’t look backward to before these freedoms were extended to some “original” nascent idea frozen in time, and they don’t work to reverse these freedoms as radical conservatives do. As times change, freedoms must expand — or they will contract. Freedom doesn’t stand still. Radical conservatives are not going away. If progressives do not keep expanding American freedoms, radical conservatives will contract them.

Those of us who truly believe in the idea of a more perfect union must lead the way forward so that American freedoms are expanded, not contracted. We are called to be men and women of action. That’s what it means to be an activist.

Leadership is about being in the vanguard. It’s about taking communities… and cities… and counties… and states… and a country… to new heights. Setting a good example for our world. For humanity. It is difficult, tiring, and often thankless work. But it is important work. It makes a difference.

It is on occasions like today that we get to see President Obama doing what he does best: Inspiring us to believe that meaningful progressive change is possible and attainable. Now, it’s true that President Obama is not the progressive champion that some activists anticipated he would be (or perhaps imagined that he would be) to be during his first presidential campaign. He did not govern as a true and fully committed progressive would govern during his first term.

But his most deeply held values are progressive, and that is evident from his oratory. When the President delivers a speech rooted in the logic of progressive values like he did today, before a large audience (millions of people watched this speech!), he is advancing the causes we here at NPI hold dear by encouraging people to think progressively — to think with a progressive mindset.

We at NPI have disagreed with President Obama on many occasions these past four years. We feel, for instance, that the President was wrong to overrule EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s efforts to strengthen air quality standards and expand environmental freedom. We believe the President should have sought authorization from Congress to intervene in Libya. And while we are glad that the President renounced torture prior to taking office and again after doing so, we remain disappointed that he did not act to hold his predecessor and his predecessor’s appointees accountable for having eroded and violated our civil liberties.

Four years ago, as the Bush error ended, we had high hopes and high expectations for Barack Obama’s presidency. Four years of knee-jerk, practically unyielding obstructionism from Republicans have tempered our expectations for a second term. The House remains controlled by Republicans thanks in part to gerrymandering, and prospects for advancing legislation like the DREAM Act or the DISCLOSE Act there seem pretty dim.

But President Obama does have the opportunity to help Nancy Pelosi rebuild a Democratic majority in the U.S. House over the next two years if he chooses. Senate Democrats just proved that a tough map need not be a barrier to electoral success. And, having had to deal with a hostile House for two years, the President knows what to expect over the course of the next twenty-four months, which is a good thing. So do his supporters: Bountiful idealism seems to have been replaced, to a degree, by sober realism. (Idealism mixed with realism yields pragmatism!)

In retrospect, the President’s first term accomplishments don’t seem as small as we might think. No, the Patient Protection Act didn’t get us as close to Medicare for All as it should have, and no, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act did not provide for the level of public investment our country needed to confidently and expeditiously shake free of the grip of a deep recession.

But that legislation still represents meaningful progress.

And let’s not forget the rescue of the automotive industry, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the passage of the New START treaty, the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (which created Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) or the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.

Much of the good legislation enacted in President Obama’s first term made it to his desk during the first two years of his presidency. The final two years of his presidency could turn out to be equally productive, if the President lends his voice to filibuster reform, rallies his party to reclaim the U.S. House in 2014, and assists Michael Bennet in building an even stronger majority in the U.S. Senate.

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that an incumbent president’s party doesn’t usually do well in midterm elections. But there’s nothing more fun and more satisfying than turning conventional wisdom on its head. Judging from the reaction of some of The Washington Post’s columnists (who did not care for the President’s Second Inaugural Address), today’s speech was one for the ages.

Congratulations to Barack Obama and Joe Biden on this Inauguration Day 2013. Here’s to the next four years.

The sale of the Sacramento Kings to Chris Hansen shouldn’t be a cause for celebration

This morning, the Maloof family, who have owned a controlling interest in the NBA’s Sacramento Kings for more than a decade, ended weeks of speculation by announcing that they have agreed to sell their stake in the franchise to a group of investors led by San Francisco hedge fund manager Chris Hansen.

Hansen’s group, as Northwest readers know, has been trying to lay the groundwork for more than a year to bring men’s professional basketball back to the Emerald City following the departure of the SuperSonics in 2008 (a sad story, chronicled in the documentary film Sonicsgate, which can be freely viewed online).

Hansen has proposed building a new arena in Seattle’s SoDo (South Downtown) neighborhood, near Safeco Field and CenturyLink field, that would serve as the home venue for an NBA franchise, and possibly an NHL franchise as well. Late last year, Hansen signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with King County and the City of Seattle to secure access to public financing and support from local officials for the arena project. Now, Hansen and his investment partners, including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Peter Nordstrom, have landed a team.

Hansen’s statement:

We are happy to announce that we have entered into a binding agreement with the Maloofs to purchase a controlling interest in the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise. The sale is obviously subject to approval by the NBA Board of Governors, and we look forward to working with the League in the coming months to consummate the transaction.

While we are not at liberty to discuss the terms of the transaction or our plans for the franchise given the confidential nature of the agreement and NBA regulations regarding public comments during a pending transaction, we would just like to extend our sincerest compliments and gratitude toward the Maloof family. Our negotiations with the family were handled with the utmost honor and professionalism and we hope to continue their legacy and be great stewards of this NBA franchise in the coming years and decades.

The Maloofs issued their own, equally cryptic statement:

The Maloof family announced today that an executed purchase and sale agreement has been reached to sell the family’s interest in the National Basketball Association (NBA) Sacramento Kings to a group led by investor Chris Hansen. The transaction requires approval by the NBA’s Board of Governors and therefore no comments or details regarding the agreement will be released.

“We have always appreciated and treasured our ownership of the Kings and have had a great admiration for the fans and our team members. We would also like thank Chris Hansen for his professionalism during our negotiation. Chris will be a great steward for the franchise,” said Gavin Maloof, Kings co-owner speaking on behalf of the Maloof family.

As noted in the statements, terms of the sales agreement have not been released for public consumption. Of course, that hasn’t stopped media outlets in Seattle or Sacramento from reporting on details of the deal and speculating that Hansen will move the Kings to Seattle later this year and that they will begin playing next season at KeyArena, which the Sonics called home for decades.

As far as some Seattle sports columnists seem to be concerned (ahem, Steve Kelly!) the deed is already done and the Kings are headed to Seattle.

Except that they aren’t. Not yet, anyway.

While Hansen surely intends to bring the Kings up north, he has to get permission from the NBA’s Board of Governors first. The NBA has historically given new owners permission to relocate teams, although that didn’t happen with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1994. NBA Commissioner David Stern has indicated that he will allow Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to present a counter-offer to the NBA’s Board of Governors, including a plan to build a new arena in Sacramento.

(The current venue, Sleep Train Arena, is the smallest stadium in the NBA, and is considered outdated, even though it is only twenty-five years old).

Johnson is reportedly trying to find a deep-pocketed buyer for the team who will match the price that Hansen and his group paid for the Kings.

Even if Hansen gets the okay from the NBA to move his newly-acquired franchise to Seattle, it will not mean the return of the Seattle SuperSonics, as Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine said today. McGinn and Constantine are both wrong when they talk about “bringing the Sonics home” or “the return of our hometown team” being “within reach”.

The Sacramento Kings are not Seattle’s “hometown team”. The Kings are not the Sonics; they are the Kings. Chris Hansen can choose to rebrand the team if he gets permission to move it up here, but that will not make the Kings the Sonics of old.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder were relocating back to Seattle, it would be accurate to say “The Sonics are coming home!”, for that franchise was the Sonics for forty-one years before Clay Bennett and his Oklahoma City Raiders moved the team to the middle of the country. But that is not what is happening.

(Bennett, as Northwest readers know, bought the team in 2007 from Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz with the intention of moving it, though he initially claimed to be interested in trying to keep the team playing in Seattle).

Why is this important? Because McGinn and Constantine are speaking as if a deal has miraculously been struck to bring the team formerly known as the Sonics back here — or as if Seattle has been awarded a brand new franchise by the NBA to replace the stolen Sonics, when in fact the NBA has done no such thing.

At the risk of sounding like a robot, I’ll say this again: The Kings are Sacramento’s team. If they move to Seattle, they will no longer play in Sacramento. Seattle will have taken the Kings away from Sacramento, just as Oklahoma City took the Sonics from Seattle nearly a half decade ago.

Where is the justice in that?

The taking of the Kings from Sacramento is not the return of the Sonics; it is the relocation of the Kings to Seattle. Let’s not deceive ourselves here.

I seem to remember diehard Sonics fans feeling pretty bitter about the loss of the Sonics back in 2008. And those fans had, and still have, every right to feel that way. Our region was robbed of its men’s professional basketball franchise by a group of wealthy conservative business tycoons from the Sooner State.

Well, imagine how basketball fans in Sacramento are feeling right now. (Or better yet, read what they’re saying).

They’ve just received the news that the majority stake in their beloved team – the only major league sports team in Sacramento – has been sold to an ownership group from out-of-town who are building an arena in another city.

They’re hearing news reports that their team is as good as gone. They’re enduring the same unsettling scuttlebutt and gossip that became a fixture of conversations around these parts after Howard Schultz announced the sale of the Sonics and the Storm. (The Storm stayed in Seattle after being resold to Force 10 Hoops).

My guess is that many of you reading this post feel the same way I do about this news: it’s not a cause for celebration. If the Kings come here and are rebranded as the Sonics, I know I won’t think of them as the Seattle SuperSonics. I’ll think of them as the Seattle Kings. New colors, new uniforms, and a new name won’t change the fact that our region will have taken another city’s major league team… something we haven’t done before. (Sounders FC, the Mariners, and the Seahawks all began play in Seattle as expansion teams).

Some of you reading this post, on the other hand, may be happy and excited, because you’ve wished, hoped, and prayed for the return of men’s professional basketball to Seattle for years, and you don’t care how the city gets a team as long Chris Hansen (who doesn’t even live here) gets one. It is after all, true that the Kings have moved before… from Rochester to Cincinnati, from Cincinnati to Kansas City/Omaha, and then from Kansas City to Sacrament in the mid-1980s.

If you feel that way, fine, but be open and upfront about what’s going down. Have some compassion for the fans in Sacramento. Don’t ignore what they’re going through by calling the potential relocation of the Kings a homecoming.

Remember, the Kings are not the Sonics. They are a club that began playing decades before the Sonics even existed.

Gun control supporters rally in Seattle

A large crowd of gun control supporters, mobilized by StandUP Washington, marched from Seattle’s Westlake Park to a rally at the Seattle Center this Sunday afternoon. The mood was somber, as victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting were remembered, but there was also a spirit of resolve.

The event had a dual purpose, to remember, but to also call for action. With Washington’s legislative session beginning today, it’s a perfect time to press legislators for a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons. The recent gun tragedy can’t be another gruesome event that creates words which only dissolve into inaction. We must act.


StandUP Washington rally at the Seattle Center (Photo: Kathleen Reynolds/NPI)

Washington Ceasefire board president and event organizer, Ralph Fascitelli, told the group that the politicians we send to Olympia need “political courage” to pass sensible regulations. He reported on a new Washington Ceasefire survey of registered state voters that showed a two to one margin in favor of a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons.

Rabbi Ted Falcon, of the Interfaith Amigos, had a deeper, more spiritual theme. He said that the crowd had assembled, “Because something’s broken, and it’s us. We talk about stopping violence rather than talking about healing what’s broken. What causes us to use these weapons is a lack of power, a lack of voice. Something is broken…and it is our system.”

Offering some hope for change out of Olympia this winter was state Senator Ed Murray. “We are going to see movement in Olympia…It’s going to take time and a lot of work.” Instead of being intimidated by the enormity of the challenge, Murray suggested that we consider this quote by French philosopher Albert Camus:

Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children.

This seems like the least a humane society should strive for.

Senator Ed Murray (Photo: Kathleen Reynolds/NPI)

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn spoke in favor of a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, closing the gun show loophole, preventing the mentally ill from owning guns and, with fervor, allowing cities like Seattle to regulate guns within their borders.

Gun control supporter and parent, Elizabeth Canning of Redmond, said that she came to the rally with her friend because “I want our legislators to know that there is real support for gun control legislation in our state. The tide has turned and I wanted to be a part of the kickoff for what I hope is a renewed charge in Washington for responsible policies to reduce gun violence.”

Some attendees reported a group of guns-rights advocates in the front row, hassling those around them. That’s disrespectful behavior at a memorial event.


Rally participants (Photo: Kathleen Reynolds/NPI)

Here’s something to ponder: In Washington state, nearly 6,000 people have been killed by guns in the past decade. That’s more than ten times the number of firearm deaths in England in the same period, a country with almost eight times Washington’s population.

We’re obviously doing something wrong and it’s time to act. Let’s take a step towards sensible gun regulations.

Tired of destructive, self-serving Eyman initiatives? Help us stop Tim’s profit machine

This morning, at the Secretary of State’s Elections Annex in Olympia, Tim Eyman and his pals Eddie Agazarm and Paul Jacob showed up to deliver what they said were 345,000 signatures for Initiative 517, Eyman’s latest scheme, which is intended to make it easier and cheaper for Tim Eyman to qualify initiatives for the ballot every year, so he can eke even more profits out of his initiative factory.

I attended Eyman’s press conference and responded afterwards on behalf of all of the good people in Washington State who are sick and tired of destructive, self-serving Tim Eyman initiatives that drain our common wealth, undermine our plan of government, and weaken the vital public services we all rely on.

Following Eyman’s remarks, I announced that NPI is spearheading the formation of a new political action committee to oppose I-517: Stop Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine. Our goal is to build a strong and diverse statewide coalition to defeat this measure and protect the initiative process – which Eyman already exploits on an annual basis – from further abuse and manipulation. The initiative and referendum were created to allow the people to

Stop Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine is not an NPI project. It is a coalition open to all who are tired of destructive Tim Eyman initiatives and want to help organize opposition to Eyman’s most self-serving scheme yet. Twice during the past few years, Washington’s progressive movement has come up short against Tim Eyman because no one stepped up to jumpstart the opposition. We cannot afford such a leadership vacuum now… or ever again. There is too much at stake.

I have been working against Tim Eyman’s initiatives for nearly eleven years now, as longtime NPI readers and supporters know.

I’m committed to opposing Eyman and his profit machine because I care about Washington. I was born here, raised here, and have no intention of ever living anyplace else. I love to travel, but I also love to come home to Washington.

I want to live in a state that invests in its schools and universities, that keeps its parks and public lands open and accessible, that makes mental health treatment and restorative justice a priority, and that pays its teachers and first responders a living wage. I want to live in a state where it is easy to start a business or a nonprofit, where government is open and responsive to the needs of the people, and where the most vulnerable get the help they need instead of being ignored.

Tim Eyman’s initiatives represent a threat to that vision.

For more than a decade, Eyman has sought to turn Washingtonians against their own government. He is relentless; failure doesn’t faze him (and why should it, for he makes money whether he wins or loses). His initiative factory has churned out one destructive measure after another with each passing year, backed by wealthy benefactors such as investment banker Michael Dunmire of Woodinville, Bellevue developer (and light rail opponent) Kemper Freeman, Jr., and big oil companies like BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Tesoro.

Tim Eyman likes to portray himself as a virtuous champion of the people. But that’s a fiction. Eyman does not represent the people of Washington State. He has never had the courage to run for elected office himself. Instead, he belittles and insults people who do, while peddling schemes that make their jobs harder.

Nor is his initiative factory a grassroots operation. Money from powerful interests lubricates its gears, and Eyman serves as the pitchman for his schemes. Rarely does he take a backseat. In 2002, after he admitted having taken more than $150,000 from his own supporters for his personal use, he went into self-imposed exile, and turned over the I-776 campaign checkbook to his associates – but not before he said this to Associated Press’ David Ammons:

Eyman said he intends to continue pushing initiatives, but he intends to be paid, and to be up front about it.

“I want to continue to advocate issues and I want to make a lot of money doing it,” he said.

That is one of my favorite Eyman quotes. It’s worth nothing that Eyman didn’t tell Ammons, “I’d like reasonable compensation for the work I’m doing” or “I’ve spearheaded initiatves in the past as a volunteer, but I realize now I need to find a way to pay the bills… I’m going to ask my supporters if they mind if I take a salary.” No, what he Eyman said was, “I want to continue to advocate issues and I want to make a lot of money doing it.”

And he has. Last year, it appears he made out like a bandit.

We can see from looking at PDC records that more than $1.2 million was spent by the Initiative 1185 campaign committee.

Of that $1.2 million, $1,173,324.99 went to “Citizen Solutions”, a shell business run by Eyman’s associates Roy Ruffino and Eddie Agazarm.

I use the words shell business because “Citizen Solutions” is not run like a legitimate firm by honest entrepreneurs. Roy and Eddie were actually fined more than $8,000 in 2011 by the Department of Labor & Industries for violating Washington’s worker protection laws. Since being audited and fined, Roy and Eddie have dissolved and reformed “Citizen Solutions” as a limited liability company, or LLC.

They now require petitioners to self-register with the Department of Revenue and the Department of Labor & Industries as a condition of being offered a contract. That way, Roy and Eddie don’t have to worry about taking care of the people who work for them. (So much for compassionate conservatism, right?)

Over the course of the past year, we have learned a lot about how Roy and Eddie operate. People they have mistreated have bravely stepped forward to tell their stories, including Rick Walther, Steve Burdick, and Miles Stanley.

Thanks to their testimony, we know that back in April, Roy and Eddie attempted to force all of their petition crews to gather equal numbers of signatures for I-1185 and I-517, while only receiving payment for the I-1185 signatures. Petitioners who didn’t like this arrangement were told they would be fired. Ultimately, Roy and Eddie came up with a new arrangement: Instead of paying around $1.00 for every I-1185 signature, petitioners would receive seventy-five cents for each I-1185 signature and twenty-five cents for each I-517 signature.

Tim Eyman has claimed that no money for I-1185 was used to pay for I-517 signatures. But he could be lying, as he often has in the past. We’d like to see a forensic accounting done of his and Citizen Solution’s finances to see whether public disclosure laws were followed or not.

This much we do know: Most of the money that went to Citizen Solutions to pay for I-1185 signatures did not go to the petition crews. It was pocked by Ruffino and Agazarm (and possibly Eyman as well) as profit. Miles and Steve have testified in sworn affadivits that they were being paid a dollar per signature, and we know that other petitioners were collecting for the same level of compensation. The Secretary of State’s office reported last July that 320,003 signatures were submitted for I-1185. If each signature cost Ruffino and Agazarm a dollar, that would mean the cost of the signature drive was around $320,000.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume the total costs of the signature drive actually came to $1.25 a signature. That’s more than what the petitioners were being paid, but it allows us to suppose there may have been other costs associated with the signature drive. If we multiply $1.25 by 320,003, we get $400,003.75. That still leaves more than $700,000 unaccounted for.

What happened to all of that money? Where did it go? We know it didn’t go to the workers who gathered signatures outside of shopping malls, stadiums, and ferry terminals. We can only conclude it was pocketed as profit.

Ruffino, Agazarm, and Eyman have the means to take good care of the people who collect signatures for them. But they don’t. They are interested in making money on their terms, and they have no compulsion about exploiting other people to do that.

If I-517 passes, Ruffino, Agazarm, and Eyman will be able to turn petitioning into a year-round business. State law currently provides for a six-month window for gathering signatures on initiatives to the people (January to July). Eyman wants to lengthen that period by six months, so that each July, right after submitting signatures for one initiative, he could immediately begin working on a scheme for the ensuing year. Eyman doesn’t care that initiatives to the Legislature already have a longer-window of about nine months – a window he just took advantage of to get the signatures he needed for I-517. He wants his schemes to go directly on the ballot without having to wait for potential legislative action.

Eyman does a good job of making himself sound like an all-around good guy… a guy with good and noble intentions. He knows how to put people at ease… he can be disarming, even charming, when talking to reporters. And he excels at orchestrating media coverage for his schemes. The most dangerous place in Washington is between Tim Eyman and a television camera, as the Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly likes to say.

But there is nothing noble about Tim Eyman’s initiative factory. It is fueled by greed and exploitation. Eyman has said that he’s in this to make money for himself, as I showed earlier. And coincidentally, his pal Eddie Agazarm has been even more explicit. Last year, only hours after Agazarm concluded a meeting about I-517 with petition crew chiefs, he sent out an email trying to assuage concerns that asking people to collect I-517 signatures for no compensation was unfair:

Somebody said that they’d have to be asking their people to work I-517 for free.

That is definitely not the case as ALL petitioners and ALL managers will get paid very handsomely once I-517 passes. Think of the extra money we ALL make when we can work big turf ALL the time. Think of the money we can ALL make when we have petitioning year round. Think of all the extra petitions we can carry. Oh… we are gonna get paid for sure.

That second paragraph there pretty much says it all. Money is what this is really all about. Profiting from promoting an endless series of destructive, cynical initiatives that harm Washington’s quality of life. That is the last thing our state needs.

We sometimes get asked, by the way, if we are automatically opposed to everything Tim Eyman sponsors. We are not, but as I said this morning, we have never seen a Tim Eyman initiative to end homelessness. Or an Eyman plan for cleaning up Puget Sound. Or a proposal to repair the damage caused by his own initiatives from the early 2000s. All we have ever seen from Tim Eyman are initiatives that cause harm and inflict pain, often in unseen ways (think death by a thousand cuts).

Eyman avoids talking about the costs and consequences of his schemes, preferring to stick to his talking points even when challenged.

That is why I went down to Olympia this morning.

When Tim Eyman goes unresponded to, we don’t have an opportunity to talk about those costs and consequences, because the conversation becomes one-sided and dominated by Eyman.

Reporters from the Associated Press, The News Tribune, The Herald of Everett, KING5, and KCPQ (Q13 Fox) attended Eyman’s press conference. Most of them later reported on the signature turn-in for their respective publications. What follows are some excerpts from the stories they wrote, or segments they filed.

From Q13 Fox:

Eyman’s critics were quick to pounce on his new effort.

“This is a made up problem, a manufactured, pretend problem, and it’s not a crisis,” said State Rep. Reuven Carlyle.  “No one else is complaining about this issue. The time under state law is absolutely sufficient.”

A new group formed to fight back at Eyman’s latest effort Thursday.

“This is not about grassroots democracy,” said Andrew Villeneuve, Co-Chair of No on I-517.  “This initiative is really about making it easier for Eyman to do petitioning year round, for his associates to do petitioning year round, because that is their business. That is how they make their money.”

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

A committee called Stop Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine:  No on 517 announced its formation in Olympia moments after Eyman filed his measure.  It is the brainchild of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a hand-to-mouth group of young “netroots” activists that has opposed past Eyman initiatives.

The committee charges that I-517 is designed for the primary purpose of enriching Eyman.  The initiative would, it charges, make it “easier and cheaper for Eyman to operate his initiative factory, in part by making petitioning a year-round business for Eyman and his associates.

From The Herald of Everett:

Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a longtime Eyman nemesis, watched the trio speak to reporters then announced formation of a committee to fight the measure. Its name, he said, will be “Stop Tim Eyman’s Profit Machine.”

Villeneuve said if the initiative became law sponsors of initiatives would gain six additional months to gather signatures. That means petitioners could be out and about year-round which would make the business of initiatives and signature gathering more lucrative, he said.

“This initiative is just intended to make it easier and cheaper for people like Tim Eyman to do initiatives,” he said.

And the Associated Press:

Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute, who has long opposed Eyman’s initiatives, issued a statement Thursday criticizing the measure, saying that the aim of I-517 “is to make it easier and cheaper for Tim Eyman to run initiatives.”

If you want to help get involved in the coalition to defeat Initiative 517 and stop Tim Eyman’s profit machine, please sign up to help today over at Permanent Defense. This isn’t going to be easy. We would appreciate having you on board.

U.S. House passes H.R. 8, reinstating tax cuts and extending aid for the unemployed

By a vote of two hundred and fifty seven to one hundred and sixty-seven, the United States House of Representatives has passed H.R. 8, making permanent the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $400,000 a year, extending aid to the uneployed, and delaying the automatic reductions to federal expenditures that were set to go into effect at the beginning of the year.

The House acted in the final hours of New Year’s Day, after it initially appeared that Republicans were not going to bring the bill up for a vote. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the legislation early his morning (1:39 AM Eastern Time; 10:39 PM Pacific on December 31st, 2012) by a vote of eighty-nine to eight.

Democrats supplied most of the votes needed for final passage. Just over a third of the Republican caucus voted in favor of the bill, led by John Boehner of Ohio and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. The rest of the Republican caucus, with the exception of a few missing members, voted no, led by Eric Cantor of Virginia. (Cantor’s no vote quickly ignited speculation that he plans to challenge Boehner for speaker).

The roll call for the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

Voting Aye: Democrats Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Norm Dicks (WA) + Susan Bominici (OR); Republicans Jaime Hererra Beutler, Dave Reichert, Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) + Mike Simpson (ID), Greg Walden (OR), and Don Young (AK)

Voting Nay: Democrats Jim McDermott and Adam Smith (WA) + Earl Blumenauer, Pete DeFazio and Kurt Schrader (OR); Republicans Raúl R. Labrador (ID) and Denny Rehberg (MT)

Curiously, the Washington, Oregon, and Idaho delegations were each split.

Suzan DelBene, who took Jay Inslee’s place in the U.S. House, voted for H.R. 8. Her office released the following statement explaining the vote:

While not the perfect deal, Congress was able to finally come together with a bipartisan proposal that prevents the most damaging consequences of the fiscal cliff [manufactured fiscal crisis] from hitting millions of American families and small businesses.

Today’s deal saves over ninety-eight percent of Americans from seeing their income taxes go up, extends tax credits for working families and unemployment benefits for millions of people looking for work. It provides greater economic certainty for families and businesses and will help our economy grow. It also is a first step towards getting our overall fiscal house in order.

What’s today’s deal thankfully does not do is make harmful, draconian, across the board cuts which could have stalled our fragile economic recovery and hurt millions of working families, veterans and seniors who count on critical services.

But there is still much work to do. I still firmly believe the only way we will build a foundation for long-term economic growth is by taking a balanced approach to our budget that includes comprehensive tax reform and reigning in our spending to reduce our deficit.

So while we have prevented the worst from happening, we must re-double our efforts in the 113th Congress to address our long-term budget issues and passing policies that help working families, spur job growth and ensure economic opportunity for all.

Kurt Schrader of Oregon voted against H.R. 8. His rationale:

This is yet another short-term, Band-Aid solution that has become prevalent in Washington [D.C.] as of late.

It neither tackles the largest drivers of our deficits, nor lays a framework to say we will do so in the future. I remain staunchly committed to passing a big, bold deficit reduction and jobs package that puts everything on the table, including revenue, spending cuts and entitlement reforms, puts our nation back on a fiscally sound trajectory and promotes growth and certainty for our businesses.

Rick Larsen voted for H.R. 8. Here’s what he had to say about his vote:

A few weeks ago I asked people in my District what a $2,000 tax cut means to them. Patrick from Langley told me $2,000 pays his annual electric bill. Cathy from Eastsound said she would use the money to help her daughter pay for college. Annette said she would spend the money to support small businesses in Sedro-Woolley.

The people I represent spoke, and I listened. For that reason, I support passage of this bipartisan bill making middle class tax cuts permanent. House Republican leaders should let the House vote on this bill so we can send it to the President and stop tax hikes on all working Americans that take effect today.

This compromise is not perfect, but it is necessary.

This bill preserves tax cuts for all middle class Americans while letting tax cuts for the highest earners to expire. The bill limits tax deductions for the wealthiest Americans. The end result will be the most progressive tax code the United States has seen in decades.

My top priority is to grow the economy and create jobs. This bill preserves tax credits that help the middle class and help students pay for college. The preservation of research and manufacturing incentives ensures businesses will keep investing in future growth.

Coupled with legislation I authored in the recent defense bill that supports small business innovation, these measures ensures the United States continues making the investments it needs to create jobs in the long run.

The bill does not include cuts to Medicare and Social Security which would hurt seniors. While entitlement reforms continue to be part of the discussion as we address the deficit, we must make sure that any changes to these critical programs protect the guaranteed benefits that seniors are due.

The extension of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits will make sure that folks who are out of work through no fault of their own are able to stay in their homes and provide for their families.

This bill only gets half the job done. I am disappointed it does not deal with across-the-board spending cuts or the debt ceiling.

The debt ceiling must be raised immediately. Raising the debt ceiling does not allow more spending, but instead makes sure the United States can pay for the debts that it has already incurred.

Congress still needs to tackle the deficit in a meaningful way. I continue to support a bold and balanced plan to cut $4 trillion from the deficit through a combination of targeted spending cuts and increased revenues. We must replace across-the-board spending cuts in the sequester with a balanced plan that preserves vital investments in infrastructure, education and research that make our economy grow.

None of my constituents deserve to be forced to endure this economic brinksmanship. Congress has a responsibility to work in a bipartisan manner to prevent future manufactured crises like the fiscal cliff. I commit to working with my moderate Republican and Democratic colleagues to forge bipartisan compromises that make our economy stronger.

We have not received statements from any of Washington or Oregon’s other U.S. Representatives explaining their votes. Raúl Labrador and Mike Simpson have statements up. So does Don Young. Denny Rehberg has yet to make a statement.

President Obama appeared in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House to react to the House vote at 8:20 PM Pacific Time.

“A central promise of my campaign for President was to change the tax code that was too skewed towards the wealthy at the expense of working middle-class Americans. Tonight we’ve done that.”

“Thanks to the votes of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest two percent of Americans while preventing a middle-class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession and obviously had a severe impact on families all across America.”

We disagree with the president that allowing all of the Bush tax cuts to expire would have sent the economy back into recession. The economy is not a deity. Economy is just a word that we use to refer to our system for coordinating the production of goods and services. The economy is “nothing more or less than what we make and consume, nothing outside of us,” as Anat Shenker-Osorio writes in Don’t Buy It.

Conventional macroeconomics considers raising taxes to be contractionary fiscal policy. However, reducing expenditures/cutting services is also contractionary fiscal policy… and it causes far greater harm than raising taxes.

So, if our goal is to encourage economic growth without increasing our debt (because we do not want to be running unmanageable deficits), then we should be allowing all of the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 to expire, and using the regained revenue primarily to address our infrastructure deficit while also paying down our fiscal deficit. Recall that we did just fine in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton when taxes were higher for everybody.

Let’s get some additional context from Paul Krugman and Robin Wells:

Expansionary or contractionary fiscal policy need not take the form of changes in government purchases of goods and services. Governments can also change transfer payments or taxes. In general, however, a change in government transfers or taxes shifts the aggregate demand curve by less than equal-sized change in government purchases, resulting in a smaller effect on real GDP.

To see why, imagine that instead of spending $50 billion on building bridges, the government simply hands out $50 billion in the form of government transfers. In this case, there is no direct effect on aggregate demand as there was with government purchases of goods and services. Real GDP goes up only because households spend some of that $50 billion – and they probably won’t spend it all.

(from Macroeconomics, Second Edition)

When we invest in public services with our tax dollars, that investment creates a ripple effect that spreads outward, lifting the economy.

This ripple effect is known in economics as the multiplier, defined by Krugman and Wells as “the ratio of the change in real GDP caused by an autonomous change in aggregate spending to the size of the autonomous change”.

(Whew, that’s a mouthful!)

The multiplier also works in reverse: When we eviscerate services by gutting their funding, real GDP falls by a greater amount and the economy suffers.

However, when we cut taxes or lower tax rates, it’s up to households and firms to provide a boost in real GDP. And as we have seen, many households and firms choose to save or pay down debt when they get the opportunity, rather than spending or investing. People tend to be reluctant to spend or invest when they feel uncertain about the future. For instance, an executive feeling bullish about the economy and the direction of the country is far more likely to expand his or her company’s operations than an executive pessimistic about prospects for growth.

H.R. 8 does end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, generating more than $600 billion for the treasury over ten years. However, the Treasury is also losing nearly $4 trillion over ten years because other tax cuts are being extended. (These estimates are provided by the Congressional Budget Office).

President Obama acknowledged during his remarks that austerity measures will not result in a stronger economy. “[W]e can’t simply cut our way to prosperity,” he noted. “Cutting spending has to go hand-in-hand with further reforms to our tax code so that the wealthiest corporations and individuals can’t take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren’t available to most Americans.”

“And we can’t keep cutting things like basic research and new technology and still expect to succeed in a 21st century economy. So we’re going to have to continue to move forward in deficit reduction, but we have to do it in a balanced way, making sure that we are growing even as we get a handle on our spending.”

The President also signaled he will take a dim view of Republican attempts to exploit the statutory borrowing limit, or debt ceiling, to extract deep concessions from the White House in a second round of fiscal dealmaking.

“While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed,” the President told the White House press corps (and Republicans watching on television).

“Let me repeat:  We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred. If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic — far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff [manufactured fiscal crisis].”

New laws for 2013, Washington State edition

New Year’s Day is more than just a festive holiday and a turning point on the Gregorian calendar. It’s also the occasion when many laws and administrative rules go into effect, as prescribed by our Legislature. Here’s a summary of some of the new laws and rules taking effect in Washington today:

  • The minimum wage in Washington is increasing to $9.19 as of today, in accordance with Initiative 688. That’s good news for working men and women whose employers pay them no more than what the law requires (which is not a living wage). Unfortunately, the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 an hour. Washington and Oregon have higher minimum wages which are also the highest in the country.
  • Carbon monoxide alarms are now required in all homes. Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that can build up in enclosed spaces and result in serious injury or death. A carbon monoxide alarm is the only way to detect a harmful buildup of the gas, which is why the law now requires alarms to be installed. Don’t have alarms installed on each floor of your house yet? Home Depot has a large selection. If you’d rather keep your dollars in the community, pick one up at a local hardware store like McLendon’s.
  • Starting today, manufacturers of brake friction materials are required under one of the provisions of the “Better Brakes” law to report to the Department of Ecology the concentrations of copper, nickel, zinc, and antimony in their products. The goal is to reduce the amount of toxic deposits left behind on the state’s roadways by automotive brakes.
  • Attention anglers: The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife wants you to know that barbless hooks are now required for salmon, steelhead (the state fish) and cutthroat trout in the mainstem Columbia River above McNary Dam. See F&W’s announcement for more details.
  • Mandatory recycling of compact fluorescent bulbs begins today. RCW 70.275.080 prohibits Washingtonians from knowingly placing light bulbs that contain mercury in the trash. CFL bulbs containing mercury must be recycled. No exceptions! Ecology has a web page with more information about properly disposing of CFL bulbs.
  • The Underground Utilities Damage Prevention Act is now in effect. This legislation is an update of Washington’s so-called dig law, and it assigns new responsibilities to local governments and contractors when soil is to be excavated. Higher penalties are also now in effect for violations of the law.

This is an open thread.

Banished Words for 2013

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on December 30th, 2012, and republished on New Year’s Day 2013.

Every year since 1976, Michigan’s Lake Superior State University has released a thoughtful and humorous “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness”. Here is the 2013 (and thirty-eighth annual) edition, for your reading enjoyment:

FISCAL CLIFF — As one might expect, this phrase received the most nominations this year. If Congress acts to keep the country from tumbling over the cliff, LSSU believes this banishment should get some of the credit.

“You can’t turn on the news without hearing this. I’m equally worried about the River of Debt and Mountain of Despair.”Christopher Loiselle, Midland, Michigan

“(We’ve) lost sight of the metaphor and started to think it’s a real place, like with the headline, ‘Obama, Boehner meeting on fiscal cliff’.” Barry Cochran, Portland, Ore.

“Tends to be used however the speaker wishes to use it, as in falling off the fiscal cliff, climbing the fiscal cliff, challenged by the fiscal cliff, etc. Just once, I would like to hear it referred to as a financial crisis.” Barbara Cliff, Johnstown, Pennsylvania

“Continually referred to as ‘the so-called fiscal cliff,’ followed by a definition. How many times do we need to hear ‘fiscal cliff,’ let alone its definition? Please let this phrase fall off of a real cliff!” Randal Baker, Seabeck, Washington

“Fiscal cliff, fiscal update, fiscal austerity… whatever happened to ‘economic’ updates? Fiscal has to go.” Dawn Farrell-Taylor, Ontario

“Makes me want to throw someone over a real cliff,” Donna, Johnstown, New York

“If only those who utter these words would take a giant leap off of it.” Joann Eschenburg, Clinton Twp., Michigan

KICK THE CAN DOWN THE ROAD — “Usually used in politics, this typically means that someone or some group is neglecting its responsibilities. This was seized upon during the current administration and is used as a cliché by all parties…Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, Tories, Whigs, Socialists, Communists, Fashionistas…” Mike Cloran, Cincinnati, Ohio

“I’m surprised it wasn’t on your 2012 list — were you just kicking the, um, phrase down the road to 2013?” T. Jones, Ann Arbor, Michigan

“I thought that perhaps you weren’t ready to deal with it. You just kicked that can down the road.” Rebecca Martz, Houston, Texas

“I would definitely like to kick some cans of the human variety every time I hear politicians use this phrase to describe a circumstance that hasn’t gone their way.” Christine Tomassini, Livonia, Michigan

“Much the same as ‘put on the back burner,’ these two phrases still have heat and are still in the road. Kick this latest phrase down the road.” Michael F. Raczko, Swanton, Ohio

“I can’t turn on the TV any more without being informed that can-kicking has occurred. What’s wrong with the word ‘postpone’?” Kathryn, West Chester, Ohio

DOUBLE DOWN — “This blackjack term is now used as a verb in place of ‘repeat’ or ‘reaffirm’ or ‘reiterate.’ Yet, it adds nothing. It’s not even colorful. Hit me!” Allan Ryan, Boston, Mass.

“The next time I see or hear the phrase, I am going to double over.” Tony Reed, Holland, Michigan

“Over-used within the last year or so in politics.” John Gates, Cumberland, Maine

“Better nip this in the bud – it’s already morphed into ‘quadruple down.'” Marc Ponto, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

JOB CREATORS/CREATION — “It implies supernatural powers — such as the ability to change the weather or levitate. Most new jobs pay less than the lost jobs to ensure stratospheric CEO compensation and nice returns on investments. I respectfully propose a replacement term that is more accurate — job depleters.” Mark Dobias, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

“One of the most overplayed buzz terms of the 2012 presidential campaign. Apparently ‘lowering unemployment’ doesn’t have the same impact.” Dennis Ittner, Torrance, California

“Since jobs are only created by demand, consumers are the real job creators.” Scott Biggerstaff, Redlands, California

“It’s been over-used and pigeon-holed into political arguments left, right, and center to the point that I don’t believe it has any real meaning.” Adam Myers, Cumming, Ga.

“To belong to this tax-proof club, you don’t have to create a single job. All you need to do is be rich. In fact, many people who call themselves ‘job creators’ make their money by laying off people.” S. Lieberman, Seattle, Washington

“Uttered by every politician who wants to give big tax breaks to rich people and rich businesses…” Jack Kolars, North Mankato, Minnesota

“If these guys are capitalists, as claimed, they are focused on reducing expenses and maximizing profit. Jobs are a large part of expenses. So, if anything at all, they minimize employment to maximize profits. Up is down, black is white. Job creators are really employment minimizers.” Bob Fandrich, Fredericksburg, Virginia

PASSION/PASSIONATE — “Diabetes is not just Big Pharma’s business, it’s their passion! This or that actor is passionate! about some issue somewhere. A DC lobbyist is passionate! about passing (or blocking) some proposed law. My passion! is simple: Banish this phony-baloney word.” George Alexander, Studio City, California

“As in ‘that’s my passion.’ Please, let’s hope you mean ‘enthusiasm.’ ‘Passion’ connotes ‘unbridled,’ unmediated by reason and sound judgment. Passion is the stuff of Ahab, Hitler, and chauvinists of every stripe, and terrorists.” Michael T. Smith, Salem, Oregon

“Seared tuna will taste like dust swept from a station platform – until it’s cooked passionately. Apparently, it’s insufficient to do it ably, with skill, commitment or finesse. Passionate, begone!” Andrew Foyle, Bristol, United Kingdom

“My passion is (insert favorite snack food here). I’m passionate about how much I hate the words ‘passion’ and ‘passionate.’ Don’t wait for next year’s list!” David Greaney, Bedford, New Hampshire

YOLO — “Stands for ‘You Only Live Once’ and used by wannabe Twitter philosophers who think they’ve uncovered a deep secret of life. Also used as an excuse to do really stupid things, such as streaking at a baseball game with YOLO printed on one’s chest. I only live once, so I’d prefer to be able to do it without ever seeing YOLO again.” Brendan Cotter, Grosse Pte. Park, Michigan

“Used by teens everywhere to describe an action that is risky or unconventional, yet acceptable because ‘you only live once.’ Who lives more than once?” P.P., Los Angeles, California

“Just gives people, especially teens, a reason to do stupid things. I find it annoying and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here.” Daniel, Hickory, North Carolina

“Only a real yoyo would use the term ‘yolo.'” Sandra McGlew, White Lake, Michigan

SPOILER ALERT — “What was once a polite warning has turned into a declarative statement: I have just spoiled something for you. When news outlets print articles with headlines such as, ‘Huge upset in men’s Olympic swimming,’ with a diminutive ‘spoiler alert’ on the link to the rest of the article, I think it’s safe to say we’ve forgotten the meaning of the word ‘alert.'” Afton, Portland, Ore.

“Used as an obnoxious way to show one has trivial information and is about to use it, no matter what.” Joseph Joly, Fremont, California

BUCKET LIST — “The expression makes me cringe every time I hear it — and we’ve been hearing it for several years. I’m surprised it isn’t already in your master list. Let’s emphasize life and what we do during it. It’s such a grim way of looking at ‘what I want to do,’ and often it is in selfish terms.” Shea Hoffmitz, Hamilton, Ont.

“Getting this phrase on the Banished Word List is on my bucket list!” Frederick Fish, Georgia

TRENDING — “A trend is something temporary, thank goodness; however, it is not a verb, and I’m tired of news stations telling me what trite ‘news’ is ‘trending.'” Kyle Melton, White Lake, Michigan

“I’m sick of chirpy entertainment commentators constantly informing us of what ‘is trending right now.’ I used to like a good trend until this.” Nancy, Victoria, British Columbia.

“Trending leaves me wondering ‘in what direction?’ It seems to mean ‘increasing in attention received’ or ‘frequency in which it is referenced.'” John Hannon, Springfield, Va.

SUPERFOOD — “It’s food. It’s either healthful or it’s not. There is no ‘super’ involved.” Jason Hansen, Frederic, Michigan

BONELESS WINGS — “Can we just call them chicken (pieces)?” John McNamara, Lansing, Michigan

GURU — “Unless you’re teaching transcendental meditation, Hinduism or Buddhism, please don’t call yourself a guru just because you think you’re an expert at something. It’s silly and pretentious. Let other people call you that, if they must.” Mitch Devine, Rancho Santa Margarita, California

A Word Banishment salute to John Prokop of Oakland, California, who sent us a list of nearly four dozen words, phrases and acronyms that “bug the heck” out of him. Most of those that he mentioned are on this list or have been on previous lists.

Lists for previous years are available on Lake Superior’s site.

Two of the words or phrases on the 2013 list – job creator and guruwere nominated by us last year after LSSU released its list for 2012 (we always tack on a few words or phrases of our own). Our thanks to LSSU for including these two this time around. They’ve been worthy of banishment for quite some time.

This year’s list is quite strong, and we commend the Unicorn Hunters for doing such a thorough job putting it together. “Fiscal cliff” (which, as we’ve noted here on The Advocate, is a terrible metaphor for our nation’s financial problems) deservedly has the top spot, and we’re also very glad to see that “YOLO” made it on.

We’d complete the list by adding several more obnoxious phrases that we’d like to see banished for overuse, misuse and general uselessness:

ADORKABLE: A made-up word that combines dorky and adorkable; its chief Urban Dictionary entry defines it as “a higher state of being all dorks strive towards.” This mash-up has been in use for a number of years now, but we heard it way too often in 2012. It needs to go.

-GEDDON construct: This suffix, derived from the word Armageddon – which refers to a big battle that will supposedly take place at the end of the world – is increasingly used in manufactured words that serve to dramatize disruptive events. “Snowmageddon” has been used to describe major snowstorms, “Eurogeddon” to describe Europe’s fiscal problems (which are apparently worse than ours), and “Carmageddon” to describe the effect of closing California’s Interstate 405 for road work. These are all survivable events… which leads us to ask: What do highway closures, budget disputes, and weather systems have to do with the end of the world? Let’s stop -geddon in its tracks and banish it.

LITERALLY: The opposite of figuratively, but frequently used when the speaker or writer actually means figuratively. As with “like”, it has become a popular filler word with young people. It is also sometimes used to embellish a sentence – maybe because it packs more punch than figuratively. For example: “Me and my friends literally brought the house down with our insanely awesome party!”

MOMMY PORN: A stupid phrase that the media invented to give a name to the genre that Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and similar works of fiction belong to. We hated this one the moment we first heard it. It needs to be banished now before it sees wider usage.

SUPERSTORM: What Sandy supposedly turned into after it ceased to be a hurricane. After Katrina, Sandy was (and still is) the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, so perhaps “Superstorm” is an appropriate descriptor. However, as Popular Science says, it is not a meteorological term, and seems to have caught on with headline writers because of its shock value. We hereby place a one-year moratorium on it.

MEH: A synonym for mediocre, frequently seen in comment threads. Probably owes its popularity to the long-running television show The Simpsons. Used to describe one’s lack of enthusiasm for something, whether it be a candidates’ debate, final score of a game, or a news event. Its overuse has become rather grating. Time to banish it.

What words would you like to see banished that aren’t on this year’s list – or the Master List? Let us know in the comments. And, Happy New Year!

Happy New Year: Welcome 2013!

2013 has begun!

On behalf of the team at NPI, I’d like to wish all of our readers, donors, and volunteers a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

2013 holds special significance for us, because it is NPI’s tenth year. We’ll be celebrating this remarkable milestone that you’ve helped make possible all year long – online, at our Spring Fundraising Gala in April, at Netroots Nation in June, and at our Tenth Anniversary Bash on Thursday, August 22nd. (Mark your calendars!)

I rang in the new year with revellers on Queen Anne, as I have for many years running. Here’s a snapshot which shows the view I and many others enjoyed of the annual fireworks show at the Space Needle:

New Year's at the Needle 2013

Seattle rings in the new year with a fireworks show at the Space Needle. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

New Year’s is often associated with new beginnings. This is particularly appropriate in politics because the consequences of elections usually come to pass in early to mid-January, when newly-elected officeholders take their oaths and formally assume responsibility for governing their jurisdictions.

Notably, in Washington, Jay Inslee, Bob Ferguson, Kim Wyman, and Troy Kelley will be joining the executive department as governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and auditor, respectively. The 2013 Legislature will convene the same week. At the federal level, new members of Congress will take their seats just two days from now. President Obama’s second inaugural will be held on January 21st; he will be privately sworn in for his second term the day before.

A host of problems awaits our new and returning elected officials. Years of procrastination and fiscal irresponsibility have left our state and country in a precarious position. Instead of investing to keep our public services strong during difficult times, we’ve been cutting… and cutting… and cutting.

One cycle of austerity begets another, but we haven’t learned that lesson. Instead of tackling our giant infrastructure deficit and restoring badly needed funding to our first responders, parks, universities, colleges, and schools, we’re arguing over which of the Bush tax cuts should be extended and the order in which our remaining public services should go on the chopping block.

History tells us that what the right wing wants to do – shred services and enact more tax cuts (particularly for the wealthy) – is not a prescription for prosperity. The truth is, it takes investment to build a strong country and a strong state. We are benefiting right now from the investments that previous generations of taxpayers made with their tax dollars. But we’re not doing our part to ensure that future generations will have a healthy United States of America to inherit.

Stubborn problems are only insurmountable or unsolvable if we believe them to be. Often, we pretend that things that are manmade are outside of our control, when in reality, that’s not the case. Take the so-called fiscal cliff (the top entry in the list of Banished Words for 2013). There is no actual cliff; the phrase evokes a metaphor.

But it’s a bad metaphor.

What does the phrase fiscal cliff bring to mind? When we hear the word cliff, we think of a vertical, or nearly vertical, rock face. Most of us have seen some pretty impressive cliffs, or at least pictures of cliffs. A cliff is a dangerous place for a person to be, because a stumble could result in a fall, leading to serious injury or death. A derived word, cliffhanger, brings to mind “the image of someone left hanging from a cliff, thereby having an uncertain fate”, as Wiktionary defines it.

Cliffs are not made by human beings. The forces that created the Earth we know and inhabit today are not within our control.

Our finances, however, are completely under our control.

Past Congresses enacted tax cuts scheduled to end with the arrival of 2013, approved unemployment benefits also scheduled to end with the arrival of 2013, and decided that automatic reductions in expenditures would go into effect by a certain date in 2013. Our problems are entirely of our own making. That’s why we at NPI use the phrase manufactured fiscal crisis instead of “fiscal cliff”. Manufactured fiscal crisis evokes a much more appropriate and accurate image in our minds.

January 1st, 2013 began an hour and a half ago. When the clock struck twelve, a number of previous acts of Congress took effect (or, conversely, expired).

But no life-threatening calamity befell our nation at that point. We did not teeter off of some cliff and into a chasm when the clock struck twelve. The date simply changed, and in many places, the air was filled with the sights, sounds, and smells of exploding fireworks. Congress can still choose to extend (or not extend) certain tax cuts, alter the federal budget, and adjust the nation’s statutory borrowing limit at any time. It did not lose any of its powers when the new year arrived.

Of course, what Congress ultimately does – or fails to do – matters. The House and Senate cannot dither indefinitely; if they do, the consequences of previously-approved legislation will begin to take effect. As progressives, we should be advocating for Congress to adopt a course of action that raises America’s quality of life – a course of action consisting of policy directions built on the logic of progressive values. It is our job as progressives to explain what that course is and what we are for, not simply what are stand against. We have to coherently communicate what we are about; no one is going to tell our story for us.

If we want to meaningfully improve the national dialogue, we have to learn how to reframe. Reframing requires discipline; it’s hard to do. We at NPI are admittedly sticklers for reframing, but that is because we cannot go on offense without reframing. The language we use should reflect our deeply-held convictions. The metaphors we employ should be chosen with care.

We should avoid taking any cues from the traditional media, because the traditional media is frequently wrong. Especially when it comes to communicating news and information about the economy.

If you read only one book in 2013, read Don’t Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense about the Economy, by Anat Shenker-Osorio, published in late 2012. As the author writes in the book’s preface:

During my career exploring the range of ways people understand complex political issues, I’ve seen one thing over and [over] again: when we’re using the wrong metaphor, we’re sending the wrong message. When we frame our arguments with language that suggest the economy is a deity, or even a lesser living thing, we make our favored economic policy solutions incoherent in the process. In fact, we pave the way for conservative arguments about slashing budgets and eliminating services as the one true path to economic success.

Don’t Buy It is a thought-provoking, eye-opening book that builds on the work of George Lakoff and other reframing pioneers. Read Don’t Buy It, and you’ll appreciate the importance of discarding bad metaphors like “fiscal cliff”.

When we use the wrong metaphor, we send the wrong message. That’s a lesson we all need to take to heart in this new year.