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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dwight Pelz to retire as Washington State Democratic Party Chair in February

Former King County Councilmember Dwight Pelz, who has ably led the Washington State Democratic Party for more than three fourths of a decade, announced today that he will retiring as state party chair on February 1st, 2014, the date of the Washington State Democratic Central Committee’s next meeting in Vancouver.

In a letter copied to state commiteemembers (of which I am one!), Pelz repeatedly described the opportunity to serve as chairman as a great honor, and expressed confidence that his successor will build on the legacy he is leaving behind.

I am writing today to state my intention to resign as Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party on February 1, 2014. That is the date for our next Central Committee Meeting, to be held in Vancouver.

At that time I would expect the State Party Central Committee [the WSDCC] to elect a new Chair.

It has been my honor to serve the Democratic Party for the past eight years. The leaders and the activists and the foot soldiers and the members of our Party do a great job electing Democrats and upholding Democratic values.

It has also been my great honor to serve our elected Democratic leaders, including Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Chris Gregoire, Jay Inlsee, our Democratic members of the US House of Representatives, Speaker Frank Chopp, our statewide elected officials, our Democratic members of the State House and the State Senate, and Democrats elected at every level of local office.

The mission of the Washington Democratic Party is to elect Democrats, and I am proud to say that we have never lost a major race in my four election cycles – 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012. We have built or maintained impressive margins through these years, essentially turning Washington from Purple to Blue. I am most proud of the election of Jay Inslee as Governor, an election that many thought we would lose. Jay Inslee is a profoundly progressive governor, in stark contrast to his opponent in this race.

To the extent I have been successful I largely owe that success to the talented staff that have worked for the State Party these past eight years. Jaxon Ravens, Shawna Ousse, Misty Shock Rule, Patrick Mead, Kim Cobuzzi, and Heather Hess comprised the most experienced staff of any state party in America. Marygrace Galston, Michael King, Rory Steele, and Timothy Anderson led the most potent Coordinated Campaigns of any comparable sized state in the nation.

The State of the Party is strong. You will elect a new chair to work with our grassroots leaders, our elected Democrats, our candidates, and our allied partners to continue to elect Democrats in Washington in 2014 and 2016.

Thanks to the Washington State Democratic Party for this, the greatest honor in my 40 year political career.

Governor Jay Inslee wasted no time in thanking Pelz for his many years of able leadership and service to the Democratic Party.

Dwight has been a fantastic leader for Washington state, as a legislator, King County Council member and as party chairman. He is tough, committed, as bright as they come and cares deeply about our state. Dwight never backed down from a fight and from the many, many conversations we’ve had, I know he cares deeply about the issues that families in Washington care about. He’s been good for the entire state and I thank him for his service.

By choosing to retire mid-term (he was reelected to a two-year term ending in early 2015 last January) Dwight Pelz is heading out the door on his own terms, and with a very impressive record. During his tenure, Democrats not only held on to the governor’s mansion twice and kept Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray in office, but also elected a Democratic commissioner of public lands (Peter Goldmark) and a Democratic attorney general (Bob Ferguson).

Today, Democrats hold every position in the state-level executive department, with the exception of Secretary of State. (Democrat Kathleen Drew came close to winning last year, but couldn’t quite manage to defeat Kim Wyman).

Democrats also held both houses of the Legislature through Pelz’s first seven years and would still but for defectors Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, who have called themselves Democrats for years but failed to act like Democrats.

Pelz’s record on U.S. House races is more mixed.

In the seven years he has led the state party, it did not manage to unseat a Republican incumbent in a congressional contest, despite favorable electoral winds in 2006 and 2008. Granted, incumbents are tough to take out, but the party did have opportunities, particularly against Dave Reichert in the old 8th District.

The party has been much more successful at defending open seats. Though it was not able to hold Brian Baird’s old district in southwest Washington in 2010, it did hold the 1st and the 6th last year. The party also won the new 10th District.

Pelz will thus leave office with the same number of Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation as when he took over from Paul Berendt: eight.

Many Democratic activists who are far more grizzled than I have told me they have seldom seen a state party chair as effective as Dwight Pelz.

Dwight presided over a well-run and responsive state party office that took on huge electoral challenges and met them, particularly last year. Republicans thought that the governor’s mansion was theirs for the taking, but Democrats knew better. When the dust had settled and the votes had been counted, Jay Inslee was the undisputed winner. Dwight ought to be proud of that victory…. it was huge.

In the nearly eight years that Pelz has been in charge of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party has had a total of four chairs: Diane Tebelius, Luke Esser, Kirby Wilbur, and now Susan Hutchison. (Tebelius and Pelz, incidentally, were elected on the very same day: January 29th, 2006). Pelz’s dependable leadership has been a significant advantage for the Democratic Party, and replacing him won’t be easy. He is a shrewd strategist, a skilled fundraiser, and energetic speaker, known and loved for telling it like it is – sometimes with colorful language.

As a Democratic activist I am personally grateful to Dwight for all of the years of hard work he has put in. All of the phone calls, the rallying speeches, and the long hours in the office supporting Democratic candidates. He’s earned a rest, and I hope he enjoys traveling the world, which he says he intends to do.

Much as I wish he would continue to stay at the helm of the state party, I respect his decision to retire, and I thank him for laying the groundwork for a orderly, seamless transition. His successor’s most immediate major priority will be to reclaim the Washington State Senate, which Republicans seized with the help of Tom and Sheldon. Both will have to face voters next year.

The WSDCC won’t meet again for another four months, so that gives Democrats who are interested in the state party’s top job time to think about running and then get around to the state’s forty nine legislative districts and thirty-nine counties.

The state party’s charter restricts voting for officers to the state party’s one hundred and seventy-six regular members: two representing each county and two representing each legislative district in the state.

I happen to represent one of those votes. I will be looking forward to hearing from the candidates and talking about their ideas for partybuilding with them.

Whoever is elected will have big shoes to fill, that’s for sure.

House Republicans bent on taking another vote to defund the Patient Protection Act

The blackmail continues:

House Republicans plan to attach a one-year delay of [the Patient Protection Act] and a repeal of its medical device to a stopgap spending bill on Saturday, a move that could ensure much of the federal government shuts down on Tuesday.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) outlined the maneuver to Republicans in a closed-door conference meeting on Saturday; members could be heard cheering outside the room in a Capitol basement.

Republican lawmakers inside the meeting chanted, “Vote! Vote! Vote!” after hearing the plan, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said.

In yet the latest sure sign that Republicans are inhabiting some parallel universe where up is down, north is south, and east is west, The Hill quoted Alabama Republican Mo Brooks as saying, “When people understand what the House of Representatives is doing, in that we are willing to fund 99 percent of the federal government that all parties agree of funding, then the American people are going to see that we’re not the obstructionists — the Senate is.”

Nice try, Republicans.

The Senate has already passed a “clean” stopgap budget bill that keeps the federal government running for a few more weeks. There are no gimmicks or right wing goodies in it, nor are there are Democratic reforms or initiatives in it.

House Republicans, by refusing to simply concur with the Senate, are taking the country closer to the brink of a shutdown. They know it, and they don’t care. They’re determined to play hardball. They seemingly believe that the president and Senate Democrats will ultimately capitulate if they wait long enough.

And they have reason to cling to such a belief.

After all, they’ve played hardball in the past (remember the manufactured debt ceiling crisis in 2011?) and wrought concessions out of the White House by refusing to yield. The debt ceiling showdown in 2011 set a very bad precedent that Republicans are now hoping to repeat. At the time that President Obama made that bargain, we called it a raw deal all around… and it was.

We can’t stop lurching from one invented fiscal crisis to the next because Congress is broken. The House and Senate are both controlled by extremists. In the House, the extremists have a hold on the Republican “leadership”, and in the Senate, the extremists have the filibuster at their disposal, allowing them to block legislation.

Consequently, since the Republican Party is now a political machine run by hardliners, congressional Republicans go into hostage-taking mode on a regular schedule, hoping to force Democrats into untenable corners and get them to vote for “compromise” bills that sabotage our common wealth and public services.

President Obama and his team, however, appear to have finally begun to realize that there is nothing to be gained by continuing to negotiate with the hostage takers. The president is personally invested in the Patient Protection Act, and dismantling it is not something he is willing to do – period.  And so, rather than trying to hammer out another grand bargain with John Boehner, the president has gone golfing, while Press Secretary Jay Carney issued the following statement:

Today Republicans in the House of Representatives moved to shut down the government. Congress has two jobs to do: pass budgets and pay the bills it has racked up. Republicans in Congress had the opportunity to pass a routine, simple continuing resolution that keeps the government running for a few more weeks. But instead, Republicans decided they would rather make an ideological point by demanding the sabotage of the health care law.

Republicans have tried and failed to defund or delay the health care law more than forty times, and they know this demand is reckless and irresponsible. The President has shown that he is willing to improve the health care law and meet Republicans more than halfway to deal with our fiscal challenges, but he will not do so under threats of a government shutdown that will hurt our economy. Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown. It’s time for the House to listen to the American people and act, as the Senate has, in a reasonable way to pass a bill that keeps the government running and move on.

The first part of Carney’s statement is on point and appropriate. The second part shows the Obama administration unfortunately still has a very weak posture when it comes to fiscal responsibility. When are they going to learn? We don’t need another grand bargain like the one the White House agreed to in 2011.

We need to get rid of the sequester as soon as possible, not continue down a path that will result in more draconian budget cuts.

The President should not be willing to “meet Republicans more than halfway to deal with our fiscal challenges.” Democrats control the presidency and the United States Senate. Why on earth would the White House say the president is willing to meet Republicans “more than halfway?” It defies sense. They know the Republicans are hostage takers. They know the Republicans fly the elephant above the stars and stripes. This is not a group of people who want to negotiate in good faith.

But even if they were willing to negotiate in good faith, capitulation would still be a mistake. Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats owe it to the people who elected them to rally behind Democratic values and stand fast to protect our nation’s common wealth and its public services. Democrats ought to remember: they were elected to lead, not to capitulate.

Commentators and pundits, meanwhile, should remember that the American people had the opportunity to elect a Republican Senate and a Republican president last year. Instead, they elected a more Democratic Senate, reelected a Democratic president, and cut the Republicans’ majority in the House down by several seats despite gerrymandering. The 2012 elections were a rejection of the right wing agenda that House Republicans are now attempting to ram through the Capitol.

Despite what Republicans are saying today, the ball is still in their court. They could easily avert a shutdown on Tuesday if they wanted to. But they don’t.

Michael King’s embezzlement demonstrates why progressive and Democratic organizations need strong internal controls

Yesterday, King County prosecutors charged Michael Walter King, the former executive director of the now-defunct Senate Democratic Campaign Committee (SDCC) with six counts of theft following a six month investigation, in which Seattle police found that King had stolen more than a quarter of a million dollars from the Senate Democratic caucus to fund his gambling and alcohol addictions.

King is expected to plead guilty and may end up serving a couple of years in prison, and he will be required to repay most of the money he stole.

According to the charging papers, he admitted to police in an interview: “I did these things, and I have to accept the consequences, and I do.”

The SDCC’s three 2012 co-chairs – Ed Murray, David Frockt, and Sharon Nelson – held a conference call today with reporters to discuss the results of the investigation and their profound disappointment of King for his crime. Both Jim Brunner and David Goldstein have well written writeups covering what was discussed.

The embezzlement, uncovered by Argo Strategies’ Jason Bennett and first reported by Seattle Met’s PubliCola back in February, robbed the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee of hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been used to support candidates like Tim Probst, who came a few dozen votes shy of unseating ultra right wing Senator Don Benton in the 49th LD.

Had Probst won, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon would not have been able to engineer a Republican takeover of the state Senate.

King was able to steal as much as $300,000 before he was stripped of his check writing ability and ultimately fired. His embezzlement demonstrates why progressive and Democratic organizations need strong internal controls.

Many businesses have such controls – to prevent fraud and to comply with federal and state laws. But how many nonprofits and campaigns do?

King was able to transfer more than a quarter of a million dollars from the SDCC’s accounts to his own because he had opportunity, because he was under financial pressure (he needed a way to fund his gambling and alcohol addictions) and because he figured out a way to rationalize his actions.

Rigorous oversight would undoubtedly have mitigated or eliminated King’s opportunity to steal, but unfortunately, no one was providing such oversight.

However, there is a common system of internal controls that nonpofits, campaigns, and party organizations can adopt, from the accounting best practices initiative COSO. It’s called the Integrated Framework, and it consists of five components:

  • A control environment
  • Risk assessment
  • Control activities
  • Information and communication
  • Monitoring

Control environment refers to an organization’s culture and ethos, and the processes or systems an organization has in place to foster honesty and integrity. Risk assessment involves analyzing what could go wrong and how to prevent wrongdoing. Control activities are the policies and procedures an organization adopts to minimize the risks. Information and communication ensures people are on the same page, and monitoring is the carrying out of oversight duties.

COSO has a longer description of each component for readers who are interested.

Accounting texts tend to emphasize the importance of control activities (the third component of the framework) because effective control activities can greatly reduce or eliminate opportunities for people to commit fraud.

Perhaps no control activity is more important than segregation of duties. When one person has control over both assets and records, they can more easily commit and conceal fraud. That’s why the segregation of duties principle calls for putting different individuals in charge of related activities.

For example, a firm’s accountant should not have access to the cash register, and the clerk should not have access to the books.

Documentation and records retention is also essential. If proper documentation is not kept, it makes it difficult to see what transactions and events have taken place. Since records can be falsified, it’s also important for organizations to insist on the prompt forwarding of receipts and other source documents for review.

Physical safeguards are necessary too. Such controls can ensure that vital records or cash are kept under lock and key and surveillance. People within the organization should not be allowed to share each other’s accounts or ID cards; otherwise, it could be difficult to establish who was responsible for doing what later on.

Periodic independent review of transactions and records can help uncover discrepancies and suspicious expenditures. The review should be conducted by someone outside of the recordkeeping chain of command.

Many organizations try to partially accomplish segregation of duties and authorization of transactions by requiring two signatures on checks above certain amounts. This ensures that a second person within the organization is signing off on major expenditures, minimizing the risk of fraud.

Ongoing supervision is also critical. The Senate Democratic caucus should have assigned someone to regularly go over the accounts with and without Michael King once they decided to give him check-writing authority.

But sadly, it seems nobody thought to provide this oversight. Senators took a hands-off approach to day-to-day operations. They gave King flexibility but they didn’t couple it with supervision; as a result, King was able to conceal his stealing for months. Had he been caught and stopped, and replaced with a competent executive director ahead of November 2012, Probst might have won his race.

Jason Bennett, who served as the SDCC’s compliance officer and treasurer, was required under his contract to file timely and properly prepared reports with the Public Disclosure Commission, but the accuracy of the information he was submitting was not his responsibility – nor should it have been.

Remember, the segregation of duties principle calls for different individuals to be responsible for related activities.

I have no doubt the WSDC, the successor to the SDCC, has given serious thought to putting sensible internal controls in place to negate and prevent a repeat of the King embezzlement. But I wonder: how many other progressive and Democratic organizations have done the same?

Many clubs, associations, and grassroots political organizations are run by volunteers, including a volunteer treasurer and chair. Such organizations look and operate very differently than for-profit businesses.

They still need internal controls, though.

Therein lies the challenge: How can organizations within our movement instill confidence in donors that the money they’re giving will be managed with care? Perhaps we need to develop a guide to best practices that is especially tailored for progressive nonprofits and campaigns, which provides tailored guidance and practical ideas for internal controls that they can realistically implement given their personnel constraints and resource limitations.

Pacific NW Portal 5.6 (Otter Rock) released

On behalf of the NPI team, I’m pleased to announce that we have completed work  on a new release of Pacific NW Portal – Version 5.6, codenamed Otter Rock.

Otter Rock is a maintenance release – the sixth in the Newport series. In other words, there aren’t any new major features… just bug fixes, updates to the index, and tweaks to functionality and branding to make things work better.

Like every prior release of Pacific NW Portal, Version 5.6 is named after an Oregon coastal town or community. Otter Rock is located in Lincoln County only a few miles of north of Newport. It is the smallest Oregon community to have its own Mo’s Seafood, and also home to the Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area.

Otter Rock, Oregon

The Oregon coast at Otter Rock, just north of Newport. (Photo by GC Menezes, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

This post constitutes our official changelog for Version 5.6. Please feel free to leave questions, suggestions for future versions, or other thoughts on Otter Rock in the comment thread.

  • New syndicated blogs for the Washington Outlook. Our Washington State page has four new syndicated blogs, replacing several blogs that had gone dormant. Our newly syndicated blogs are:
  • Feeds for many Washington news sources reindexed. Several of the Evergreen State news sources that Pacific NW Portal has long indexed have recently revamped their websites and moved their content to new locations. Unfortunately, when they changed their URL scheme, they didn’t bother to redirect their old URLs. Consequently, we had to manually update a number of feeds that had gone dead. We are now indexing Crosscut, The Bellingham Herald, Q13 Fox, the Capital Press and several other sources again.
  • New art on the front page. The graphical header above the Federal, State, and Local columns now consists of photo art derived from photographs in NPI’s image library. Depicted from left to right are the U.S. Capitol, Washington’s Legislative Building and the Seattle skyline.
  • New afternoon and evening greetings. The afternoon and evening greetings now depict scenes from Oregon, while the morning and night greetings depict scenes from Washington. The afternoon scene is a spot on the Oregon coast near Newport (fittingly, as Pacific NW Portal 5 was codenamed “Newport”) and the evening scene shows a beautiful summer sunset on Crater Lake, with Wizard Island in the foreground.
  • Duplicate filters turned on for more feeds. Owing to the number of feeds Pacific NW Portal indexes (some of which overlap or contain the same content), we’d begun seeing some duplicate items cropping up in several feeds. We have enabled additional duplicate filters where appropriate to ensure news items don’t show up twice or even three times.
  • New feeds added to Breaking Now. We have added several new sources to the Breaking Now (Nationwide Traditional) feed. They are:

That does it for this release. If you have thoughts on any of these changes, or ideas for future improvements that you’d like to see, leave a comment in the thread.

The tech pundits are wrong: BlackBerry may be struggling, but it’s not a doomed company

On Friday, BlackBerry Limited (formerly Research in Motion) announced that it expected to lose somewhere between $950 million to $995 million in the second quarter of its current fiscal year, and plans to lay off forty percent of its workforce in an attempt to control costs and adjust to the decline in revenue.

Inevitably, this news was reported or received by many tech pundits as the latest sign that BlackBerry is disintegrating, crumbling, dying.

(The company previously announced a few weeks ago it was conducting a “strategic review”, which could lead to a sale of the company).

While it’s true that BlackBerry has not been faring well lately, this news – bad as it is – does not mean the firm is doomed. BlackBerry is not in bankruptcy, nor is it on the verge of collapse, even though it may seem like it is thanks to endless rounds of unfavorable and negative media coverage, much of it undeserved.

While the job cuts BlackBerry has acknowledged are coming will be very painful, they are needed to bring down its operating expenditures. BlackBerry doesn’t dominate the smartphone market like it used to, and there is far less demand for its handsets. The company has no choice but to downsize, as Chris Umiastowski writes:

Let’s look at the job cuts. Almost always, cuts like this happen in a reactive manner. Things aren’t going well in the business, and senior management responds with cost cutting. If that was all there was to this I’d be overly negative also. But when I think back to how quickly BlackBerry grew in the two years prior to the business peak, it is my observation that they let hiring get way out of hand. Just consider how many handsets they were pumping out each year. Each handset required a hardware design team, supporting software versions, marketing, carrier teams, supply chain management, and support from accounting and legal.

Nowadays, BlackBerry has a much smaller product portfolio. So far this year it has introduced just four handsets running its new BB10 operating system: the Z10, the Q10, the Q5, and the Z30. The “Z” series consists of slate touchscreen phones, while the “Q” series phones have traditional QWERTY keyboards.

I have and use both the Z10 and Q10, and they are excellent devices, but they have not been well marketed. I continue to meet people who own older BlackBerrys, but have not heard about BlackBerry 10, let alone seen it in action.

That suggests there is a significant awareness problem. People don’t know that the new handsets run a new and powerful operating system that is much more stable and reliable. They don’t know that the new handsets can run Android applications. They don’t know the new handsets have the incredibly useful Time Shift camera or (in the case of the Z10 and Z30) the amazingly powerful predictive virtual keyboard.

BlackBerry acknowledged that sales have been well below expectations in its press release. In fact, unsold devices are the reason for the loss:

As a consequence of the more intense competition the Company is experiencing in its hardware business, it expects to report a primarily non-cash, pre-tax charge against inventory and supply commitments in the second quarter of approximately $930 million to $960 million, which is primarily attributable to BlackBerry Z10 devices.

Emphasis is mine.

In other words, BlackBerry manufactured too many Z10s ahead of the Z10 launch, expecting that the Z10 would sell better than it did. The company apparently learned from this and did not repeat the same mistake when it launched the Q10 or the Q5. (The Z30 was just announced and is not on sale yet).

Without the inventory writedown, BlackBerry would be reporting a much, much smaller loss. Remember, the total loss is expected to be between $950 and $995 million; the inventory writedown will be in the neighborhood of $930 million to $960 million. It accounts for ninety-six percent of the total loss.

In a nod to market realities, BlackBerry also announced it intends to refocus on the enterprise and “prosumer” markets. That suggests the company has defined a narrower and more sensible target market for its handsets.

“Going forward, we plan to refocus our offering on our end-to-end solution of hardware, software and services for enterprises and the productive, professional end user,” said BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins.

“This puts us squarely on target with the customers that helped build BlackBerry into the leading brand today for enterprise security, manageability and reliability.”

BlackBerry’s ability to retain its enterprise customers is key. Right now, BlackBerry is stuck in a Catch 22 situation: In order to bolster BlackBerry 10 adoption, the company needs to convince its existing enterprise customers to switch to BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 (BES 10) and deploy BB10 handsets.

But if existing customers aren’t confident the company won’t be around to take care of them down the road, they’ll be hesitant to invest in BlackBerry 10.

The company absolutely needs to break out of the downward spiral that it’s in if it is to survive as a going concern. Though news reports have suggested the board is looking at selling BlackBerry, it’s not clear who would buy it. The Canadian and American governments are almost certain to object to a sale to a firm based in Asia, even if any are interested, and Microsoft, sometimes mentioned as a buyer, has no need for BlackBerry, having just bought Nokia’s handset business.

Rather than trying to sell itself, BlackBerry ought to:

  • Take on an enterprise-focused equity partner like IBM, Oracle, or Cisco like Chris Umiastowski says. This should be the outcome of the “strategic review” the company is conducting. Perhaps the biggest reason to do this isn’t even to improve the balance sheet (the company has $3.1 billion in cash and investments) but rather to shore up investor and customer confidence. If people think BlackBerry is sticking around, they’ll feel more comfortable choosing BlackBerry 10 or migrating to BlackBerry 10.
  • Completely rethink its marketing strategy. Awareness of BlackBerry 10 is low, even among the “prosumers” the company wants to target. The company’s advertising for BB10 devices needs to be totally redone, as it hasn’t been effective. A new approach is needed, led by a new marketing executive. The company should also look at encouraging BB10 adoption through product placement in television and Internet shows, targeting “prosumers”.
  • Improve its execution. BlackBerry announced a few months ago that it would bring BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) to iOS and Android by the end of summer. The worldwide launch was supposed to begin yesterday, but there were so many hiccups and complications that it has been paused. There’s just no excuse for this. BlackBerry needs to show it can deliver, and so far, the launch of BBM has been an embarrassing failure.
  • Diversify into new markets. Companies like Western Union, Intel, and IBM have reinvented themselves when they needed to. BlackBerry needs to develop other lines of business besides smartphones. With QNX, it has a strong presence in automotive computing. It should work to expand that and look at other markets it can compete in with QNX.

Predictions about BlackBerry’s death are just that… predictions. Tech pundits are  like political pundits. They don’t know what is going to happen, but they speak and act as if they do, and they don’t worry about issuing corrections or mea culpas down the road… unless they’re held accountable and get asked about that prediction they made way back when.

(This happened to Fox’s Dick Morris last year).

We could do with more neutral and thoughtful reporting in the tech blogosphere, and less futurism and sensationalism. As Yoda says to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back when asked to make a prediction about Han, Leia, and Chewie’s survival: “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”

BlackBerry can turn itself around. It’s not dead and it’s not dying. Struggling, yes, but not dying. Again, history is filled with examples of companies that have reinvented themselves in addition to companies that have failed.

It seems tech pundits have forgotten that, once upon a time, Apple was in a predicament even worse than BlackBerry’s.

As Walter Issacson writes in Steve Jobs:

Business Week ran a cover asking “Is Apple Mincemeat?” Red Herring ran an editorial headlined “Gil Amelio, Please Resign”; and Wired ran a cover that showed the Apple logo crucified as a sacred heart with a crown of thorns and the headline “Pray”. Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe, railing against years of Apple mismanagement, wrote, “How can these nitwits still draw a paycheck when they took the only computer that didn’t frighten people and turned it into the technological equivalent of the 1997 Red Sox bullpen?”

On March 15th, 1997, Apple (then known as Apple Computer) told the public and the press that it would lay off around 30% of its workforce in an attempt to cut costs. The announcement bears many similarities to Friday’s news from BlackBerry. Here’s the San Francisco Examiner report on that news:

Apple Computer Inc. Chairman Gil Amelio swallowed hard as he laid out his plan to save the beleaguered computer giant – a plan featuring fewer products and a considerably smaller work force.

The much-anticipated announcement Friday from Amelio and other top Apple officials began with the news of a 31 percent cut in the company’s work force: 4,100 workers – 2,700 full-time employees and 1,400 contract workers – will lose their jobs.

“It’s very painful for us to be laying off people who have been working very hard to bring Apple back to health,” Amelio told reporters and analysts in a telephone conference.

But, he said, the only way to return the company to profitability was to slim it down from its present 13,400 employees and to cut its line of software and computer models.

Ultimately Apple’s board lost confidence in Amelio and replaced him with Steve Jobs, although Jobs initially refused to accept the title of CEO. It took many years to rebuild, but Apple went on to become extremely profitable and extremely successful by almost every measure, launching the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Today Apple has a massive cash hoard and a high market cap.

It’s come a long way since 1997.

I wonder what today’s tech pundits would have said about Apple had they been blogging about the company in 1997. Would they have proclaimed it on the verge of death? Would they have been rooting for its demise?

It seems to me that many tech writers are ill equipped to practice business and financial journalism. They may be good at critically evaluating gadgets, but they don’t understand how to properly analyze a company. Sadly, they are more emotionally and mentally invested in seeing their own predictions come to fruition. And many of them have predicted that BlackBerry will soon be gone. Kaput. Dead.

It’s possible BlackBerry will be sold. It’s possible that BlackBerry’s stock price will keep sinking and its market cap will keep declining. It’s possible BlackBerry’s fortunes will get worse before they get better, or might not get better at all.

But none of these things is certain. It’s also possible BlackBerry will streamline and refocus, take on an equity partner, and return to stability and profitability.

That’s the point I want to make here in this post. Too many tech pundits write as if they know for a fact what is going to happen.

But they don’t. They do not have precognitive powers.

When someone like Darrell Etherington of TechCrunch reports on BlackBerry’s problems launching BBM, he ought to leave out commentary like this:

The launch of BBM for iPhone and Android, should it ever actually happen, will be a nice escape raft for people still clinging to the sinking ship, but that’s about it. The other ship BlackBerry is conceivably aiming to float here, the one where it builds a competitive cross-platform messaging platform to rival WhatsApp and others, has already sailed long, long ago.

Etherington’s sarcasm and dismissiveness adds no value whatsoever to his reporting. In fact, it diminishes his reporting. He would been smart to delete the last paragraph of his post prior to publishing it. Too bad he didn’t.

Let’s imagine what this paragraph might have looked like, circa the late 1990s:

The launch of the iMac, should it ever actually happen, will be a nice escape raft for people still clinging to the sinking ship, but that’s about it. The other ship Apple is conceivably aiming to float here, the one where it builds a competitive computing platform to rival Windows and others, has already sailed long, long ago.

The company Etherington happens to work for (AOL) has certainly had its own problems since being spun off from Time Warner. Yet AOL has managed to avoid being commonly branded as a sinking ship like BlackBerry has. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it employs a number of tech pundits itself. (AOL owns TechCrunch, Engadget, Tuaw, and the Huffington Post).

To date, I have refused to buy into the negative press and apocalyptic predictions about BlackBerry. Friday’s news doesn’t change my perspective. I take a long term view of things. The layoffs and the loss are a sad development, but not a catastrophic one. I will continue to use and enjoy BlackBerry 10, and encourage friends and family to install BBM when it does become available for other platforms.

In my experience, nothing beats a BlackBerry when it comes to security, productivity, and messaging. BB10 is a fantastic mobile platform and I look forward to seeing it get even better with the forthcoming release of BlackBerry 10.2.

House Republicans vote to slash food stamps with disgraceful “let them starve” legislation

Once again, we have occasion to say: So much for compassionate conservatism.

By a vote of two hundred and seventeen to two hundred and ten, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives has voted to make significant and destructive cuts to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, colloquially known as food stamps. Their legislation reduces funding for SNAP by $4 billion a year and would permit states (especially Republican-run states) to make drug tests or work requirements a prerequisite for nutritional assistance.

To put their cuts in perspective, the amount of money that would be “saved” annually under this scheme isn’t enough to even buy a third of a new Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier (which the United States is committed to building two of).

Republicans are perfectly willing to spend huge amounts of money acquiring guns, tanks, and big ships, but when it comes to taking care of America’s most vulnerable – forget about it. They’d rather use America’s common wealth to buy bombs than help people who have nothing or very little to eat put some food on their table.

It’s just disgraceful. As Patty Murray likes to say, they’ve got the wrong priorities.

Not a single Democrat voted for the bill, and fifteen Republicans voted against it, including Don Young of Alaska, who apparently listened to his conscience prior to casting a vote. The roll call for the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

Voting Aye: Republicans Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert (WA); Greg Walden (OR); Steve Daines (MT); Raúl Labrador and Mike Simpson (ID)

Voting Nay: Democrats Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Jim McDermott, Denny Heck, and Adam Smith (WA); Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader (OR); Republican Don Young (AK)

Not Voting: Republican Jaime Herrera-Beutler (WA)

Many Democrats delivered forceful speeches in opposition to H.R. 3102. Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas appropriately referred to the legislation as a “let them starve” bill. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered an eloquent, thoughtful speech against the bill, in which she noted:

The Republican proposal on the floor today slashes at, on the legs on which many of these people stand. Indeed, cutting these investments is a full assault on the health and economic security of millions of families. Consider this: one in five children, and it will soon become one in four, but one in five children struggle with hunger and nearly half of all SNAP recipients are children; nearly four million Americans over age 60 rely on nutrition assistance; five thousand active-duty military families, active-duty [military] families rely on SNAP, depend on SNAP; nearly three million veterans and their families don’t get enough to eat each month, and this bill will jeopardize food assistance for as many as 170,000 veterans.

Emphasis is mine.

U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene, who represents NPI’s home congressional district, scolded Republicans for wasting everyone’s time with a scheme to slash SNAP when they know it has no chance of passing the U.S. Senate or being signed into law by President Barack Obama. (The White House has made it plainly clear the bill passed by the Republicans would be vetoed right away).

DelBene’s floor remarks were as follows:

Madam Speaker, we’re debating an extreme bill with no chance of becoming law, when we could be weeks into conferencing a farm bill.

SNAP has prevented millions from falling into poverty.  In the western part of Washington state, 690,000 people are still experiencing hunger—and we should not be arbitrarily cutting off aid.

This bill would force states to cut off people struggling to find a job, also stripping them of transportation and childcare assistance. If states don’t comply, they lose funds for SNAP Employment and Training programs, like the model program we have in Washington State that has led many to self-sufficiency.

Even at the height of the recession, 60% in Washington’s programs found employment and more than half were off assistance two years after the program.

House leadership says this bill will lead to more people working. But how does cutting programs proven to help people find jobs accomplish this?

All this bill does is cut the lifeline for 3.8 million hungry American families, children, veterans and seniors.

This bill is not a serious proposal. Vote no.

Thankfully, H.R. 3102 will be dead on arrival in the Senate. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has already flatly pronounced the bill dead, calling it a monumental waste of time. We agree. We can’t think of many pieces of legislation that are more deserving of a quick burial than this travesty of a bill.

Why creating House districts could make the Washington State Legislature more diverse

Editor’s Note: The NPI team is pleased to welcome Richard Champion as a contributor to the NPI Advocate. Richard is a committed Democratic activist who currently serves as the 2nd Vice Chair of the King County Democrats. He resides in the 30th LD and is active in the 30th LD Democrats. As with all posts by our contributors, the views expressed here are his, and not those of NPI. Enjoy, and feel free to leave your own thoughts on this idea in the comment thread.

Two years ago, I weighed in on our state’s redistricting process with a substantive diary on Daily Kos in which I talked about what a constitutionally-compliant set of maps might look like, and presented some examples.

As before, I was spurred to look more closely at the consequences of redistricting following the late John Milem’s lawsuit challenging the legality of the Washington State Redistricting Commission’s decennial maps.

Article II, Section of 43 of Washington’s Constitution and state law (RCW 44.05.090) state that redistricting maps should be drawn so as to:

  1. Coincide with the boundaries of local political subdivisions and areas recognized as communities of interest;
  2. Make the number of counties and municipalities divided among more than one district as small as possible;
  3. Be convenient, contiguous (connected by transportation), and compact territory; and
  4. Provide fair and effective representation, encourage electoral competition, and not drawn to purposely favor of any political party or group.

While the state Constitution doesn’t forbid single-member House districts, RCW 44.05.090 currently states that state representatives are elected at-large in the legislative districts. Washington is one of only ten states left that still has multi-member districts. Single-member districts allow for a more logical hierarchy between the House and Senate, as well as allowing for more majority-minority districts resulting in more legislators from racial minorities in the state legislature.

While Washington isn’t under the umbrella of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – even before the Supreme Court’s recent decision eviscerating Section 4 – greater diversity in our elected officials is a worthwhile goal, particularly in light of Washington state’s decreasing legislative diversity.

In Washington, redistricting is done by the Washington State Redistricting Commission, which has two Democrats, two Republicans and a nonvoting, nonpartisan chair. Since the committee members are chosen by the Legislature’s four major party caucuses, the plans they produce look like incumbent protection maps. And that’s because both parties are trying to protect their own.

This results in safe districts that unnecessarily split counties and cities, which is in violation of what’s in both the state Constitution and state law. Washington is one of only ten states that has multi-member districts. RCW 44.05.090 states:

The house of representatives shall consist of ninety-eight members, two of whom shall be elected from and run at large within each legislative district.

Multi-member districting has been in decline since the Voting Rights Act was adopted and specifically the 1982 Supreme Court case Thornburg v. Gingles, in which a unanimous Court found that:

… the legacy of official discrimination … acted in concert with the multi-member districting scheme to impair the ability of … cohesive groups of black voters to participate equally in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice.

Since the adoption of Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court’s decision in Thornburg v. Gingles, states not covered by Section 5 of the Act have taken a better safe than sorry approach by eliminating their multi-member districting so as to not be subject to court challenges.

It’s plainly obvious that when you have smaller districts of ‘communities of interest’ you are less likely to dilute the voting strength of communities of color and therefore better allow them to elect candidates of their choice.

A fine example is South Dakota, which, like Washington, has two state representatives and one state senator elected from each legislative district, except for two legislative districts (the 26th & and 28th) which are split into single-member House districts since the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations are (or were until recently) covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

In both 2011 and 2012, Hans Dunshee (D-District 44/Snohomish) introduced House Bill 1092 which would have changed the state law to state:

Each legislative district shall be divided into two house districts, denoted as house district A and B, with a single member of the house of representatives being elected from each house district.

This would have resulted in Washington being analogous to other western states like Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, and Wyoming which also have a “two-in-one” legislative structure. Suffice to say, the bill – which would have potentially displaced several incumbents – failed to get a vote.

This points at another issue with the current multi-member districting – legislator crowding. For example, in the 12th and 25th LDs, all of the legislators reside in Wenatchee/East Wenatchee and Puyallup, respectively, even though those cities account for less than half of the population in the district. As shown below, that would not be possible in a single-member House district map.

Also at issue with multi-member districting is that its at odds with the commonly understood American hierarchy between upper and lower legislative bodies, wherein senators represent larger populations with more broad and diverse interests and concerns, while representatives have narrower, more cohesive constituencies.

In states like Washington, senators and representatives have identical communities resulting in less diversity of legislative mindsets; to say nothing of decreased diversity in legislators themselves. In addition, single-member House districts would allow for partisan diversity from region to region.

Currently, eastern Washington is represented exclusively by Republicans… if we don’t count the Democrats who hail from within Spokane.

The existing districts are uncompetitive, but smaller House districts would enable Democrats, particularly in Yakima, to at least have a chance of being elected – and encouraging electoral competition is one of the principles that the Redistricting Commission is supposed to be using when creating their plans.

Those of you reading who like the sound of this idea may be wondering: How might we go about replacing legislative districts with House and Senate districts?

First, let’s look at the legislative map created by the Redistricting Commission. It is important to note that their plan split twenty-four cities that didn’t need to be split due to size. These are: Aberdeen, Auburn, Battle Ground, Bellevue, Bellingham, Bremerton, Burien, Des Moines, Edmonds, Everett, Issaquah, Kennewick, Kent, Kirkland, Lakewood, Lynnwood, Marysville, Mount Vernon, Mountlake Terrace, Pasco, Redmond, Renton, Sammamish, and Yakima.

Furthermore, their plan split seven counties that didn’t need to be based on their population. The counties that got split are Cowlitz, Franklin, Grant, Grays Harbor, Lewis, Okanogan, and Skagit.

Take a look at this gallery of current statewide Washington legislative maps. (Note: Deviations from actual map are the result of Dave’s Redistricting App not allowing for the splitting of voting precincts, while the Commission could):

Redrawn state map of legislative districts

Redrawn state map of legislative districts
Picture 1 of 6

Electoral performance of the current Washington legislative map based on the 2008 Presidential and 2010 Senate elections:

Washington Legislative - Chart

Last year, John Milem (a citizen activist from Vancouver who followed the redistricting process closely) filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the Redistricting Commission’s maps. As part of his complaint, Milem created his own plan that he felt would actually follow those previously stated canons of redistricting.

Here is a statewide look at his legislative map:

Milem Lawsuit - Legislative - Statewide

And an inset of the Puget Sound region:

Milem Lawsuit - Legislative - Puget Sound

One of the big flaws with Milem’s plan is that he does not take incumbency into account. By that, I don’t mean protecting incumbents from an electoral challenge, but preventing incumbent state senators from representing a district where they do not reside. Specifically, I’m talking about senators who aren’t up for election in the year following the completion of redistricting, in this case in 2012.

California is currently facing as similar problem in the aftermath of their complete overhaul of their redistricting process.

Only half of Washington state senators are up for election each cycle, so when tasked with legislative redistricting – as opposed to congressional redistricting where all incumbent U.S. Representatives are up for election in each even-numbered year – anyone attempting to draw new maps must seek to avoid having those state senators not up for election districted out.

In at least four cases, Milem districted two state senators into the same district when neither were up for election in 2012 – his 4th (Ranker & Ericksen), 25th (Eide & Keiser), 21st (Kohl-Welles & Murray) and 8th (Sells & Shin) Legislative Districts.

Under Milem’s plan, more than 8% of the State Senate would be represented by senators who don’t live in their district.

One solution to this would be to do what Texas does (one of the few sensible things they do) which is to make all of state senators stand for election the year following redistricting. Then, after the election, they’d have to draw straws, with half getting the short straw and serving a two-year term, and the other half drawing a long straw and serving a four-year term. While Texas still does a ridiculous amount of gerrymandering, they don’t have to for reasons of state senators not being up for election. Washington could do the same thing.

I don’t like the practice of splitting cities when cities could be divided more simply or not at all. Milem splits the cities of Tacoma and Renton into four and three LDs, respectively, while Tacoma only needs to be split into two districts and Renton does not need to be split at all, which I was able accomplish in both cases.

But I do agree with much of what John Milem proposed – and that’s why you’ll see several similarities in our approaches. In the end, his plan split only five cities that didn’t need to be based on size; those being: Bellevue, Bothell, Coulee Dam, Renton, and Yakima. Also, his plan splits only one unnecessary county, Skagit, but he disregards the necessity for connectivity with his Island County district having no way to get from Camano Island to Whidbey Island.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able create a chart of the electoral performance of John Milem’s proposed legislative map, since I don’t have shape files for his plan to plug into Dave’s Redistricting App and it’s too hard to “eyeball” it.

Now finally, we come to my proposed State Senate and House proposed redistricting maps. There are fourteen maps in all in this gallery, and you can page through them by clicking the navigation buttons below the first image.

The first two maps show a state-level view of proposed House and Senate districts, while the remaining twelve maps are insets of populated areas like Puget Sound and the heart of the Inland Empire. You can click on any image for a bigger view.

Statewide Senate map

Statewide Senate map
Picture 1 of 14

Here is a chart of the electoral performance of my proposed State Senate map:

Richard's Senate - Statewide - Chart

And here is a chart of the electoral performance of my proposed State House map:

Richard's House - Statewide - Chart

Now I’ll go through the proposed districts and note their characteristics.

(Note: I used numbering similar to what’s being used currently, but in cases of where there was an incumbent state senator that wasn’t up for election in 2012, his or her district number took precedence. For example, Derek Kilmer wasn’t up in 2012, so his hypothetical “new” district is numbered #26, even though #27 more closely resembles his proposed district.)

1st SD: Likely-to-safe Democratic suburban district straddling King-Snohomish County line with all of Bothell (which is in both counties), Woodinville, Brier, and Kenmore. HD 1 is an entirely King County safe Democratic district, including Bothell (King County portion), Woodinville, and Kenmore, while HD 2 is a likely Democratic completely Snohomish County district including Bothell (Snohomish County portion), Brier, and the unincorporated North Creek community.

2nd SD: Safe Republican rural/suburban district straddling Pierce-Thurston County line with most of JBLM and all of Steilacoom, Yelm, Orting, and Eatonville. HD 3 is the more westerly likely Republican district, including JBLM, Steilacoom, Yelm, and Dupont. Obama lost by less than two hundred and fifty votes here in 2008, but it’d take an exceptional circumstance for a Democrat to be elected here. HD 4 is the eastern safe Republican, more rural district, including Orting, Eatonville, and the unincorporated Graham community.

3rd SD: Tossup urban/suburban district with northern Spokane and unincorporated suburbs north of Spokane. It’s worth noting that I made 3rd and 6th SDs basically electorally equivalent. In both proposed senate districts, Patty Murray won by 50.1-50.0%. Both very swingy, in pursuit of electoral competition (and since Spokane must be split). Also, like the 6th SD, the House districts redounded to a safe Democratic district entirely within the city of Spokane, in this case HD 5, and a likely Republican, mostly suburban district, in this case HD 6.

4th SD: Safe Republican suburban/rural district east of Spokane centered around Spokane Valley. HD 7 is the more rural and more Republican district, while HD 8 is the region on Spokane Valley (and Millwood) nearest the city of Spokane and somewhat less conservative, though both are still safe Republican districts.

5th SD: Likely Democratic district; located in a different area of King County than the current 5th District, represented by Mark Mullet in the Senate. This was drawn as a diverse (53% white) district, including all of Kent and Covington. HD 9 is western Kent safe Democratic majority-minority house district, while HD 10 is a tossup district including eastern Kent and Covington (only 58% white).

6th SD: Tossup (see 3rd SD) Spokane County district with southern and northwestern Spokane and Cheney, Medical Lake and Fairchild Air Force Base. As stated earlier, with Dave’s Redistricting App, you cannot split precincts, though it would require enough land to connect the college town Cheney with the rest of the district. HD 11 and HD 12 are similar to HD 5 and HD 6, respectively, in that they are composed of a safe Democratic city of Spokane district and a likely Republican district mostly made up of populations outside the city. Its also worth noting that the dividing line between SD 3 and SD 6 was very cleanly done along I-90.

7th SD: Safe Republican Okanogan highlands distric that includes the entirety of the counties of Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille as well as northern (rural) Spokane County. HD 13 is a safe Republican district, but it notably happens to have the highest Native American population (11%) of any proposed House District by including both the Spokane and Colville Indian Reservations as well as all of Okanogan, Ferry, and western Stevens Counties. HD 14 is a less diverse, safe Republican district that takes in Pend Oreille County, eastern Stevens County, and northern Spokane County (which is very rural).

8th SD: Safe Republican Benton County district with all of Richland and almost all of Kennewick (split to connect Benton and Frankling Counties) as well as the Hanford Nuclear reservation. HD 15 is a safe Republican district wholly within the city of Kennewick (25% Hispanic), whereas HD 16 is a safe Republican district, including the cities of Richland, West Richland and small amount of Kennewick.

9th SD: Safe Republican southeast Washington district containing Walla Walla and Pullman (both college towns) and agricultural territory. This district includes the entirety of Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, Asotin, and Whitman Counties as well as some of rural southeast Spokane County. HD 17 is a safe Republican district, including Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, and Asotin (excluding the Lewiston area) Counties, while in HD 18, including all of Whitman County, the Lewiston area in Asotin County, and rural southeast Spokane County.

10th SD: Tossup-to-lean Republican Snohomish and Island County district containing Marysville, Arlington, Stanwood, the Tualip Indian Reservation and Camano Island. HD 19 is the more rural, lean Republican district outside of Marysville including the Tualip Indian Reservation, while HD 20 is a tossup district that’s nearly completely within the city of Marysville.

11th SD: Safe Democratic district consisting of Renton, Newcastle and southwest Bellevue. The Commission’s 11th LD is bizarrely shaped, but a majority-minority district. My 11th SD is not, but is only 53.3% white. I had to very slightly gerrymander HD 21 to make it majority-minority house district. HD 21 is pretty much all Renton, while HD 22 is a less diverse (57% white) safe Democratic district made up of northern Renton, all of Newcastle and the Newport, Somerset, and Factoria neighborhoods of Bellevue.

12th SD: Safe Republican district has all of Kittitas and Chelan Counties and East Wenatchee in Douglas County. HD 23 is a compact safe Republican district spanning Cashmere, Wenatchee and East Wenatchee. It has a sizable Hispanic population (27%), while HD 24 is a safe Republican district composed of rural communities in the electricity-generating Kittitas and Chelan Counties.

13th SD: Safe Republican district including all of Lincoln and Grant Counties, most of Douglas County except East Wenatchee, and rural western Spokane County. While still a safe Republican district, HD 25 is a majority-minority house district (46% Hispanic) in southern Grant County centered around Moses Lake, but also including the small towns of Quincy and Mattawa. HD 26 is a safe Republican district, more rural and considerably less diverse (82.6% white), with US Highway 2 running through the middle. It includes all of Lincoln County, most of Douglas County, northern Grant County, and rural western Spokane County.

14th SD: Safe Republican district in northern Yakima County comprising all of Moxee, Selah, Zillah, Sunnyside, and Grandview and the western (more white) part of the city of Yakima. The city of Yakima was split due to it being rather segregated, with east Yakima being heavily Hispanic, while west Yakima not having much of a minority population. Thus, in the interest of creating electorally competitive (See: SD 15) that didn’t divide a “community of interest” (read: communities of color), I split the city of Yakima, which isn’t necessary based on its population. Both HD 27 (east) and HD 28 (west) are safe Republican districts, but HD 27 is a majority-minority house district with a 57% Hispanic population.

15th SD: Tossup majority-minority senate district (47% white) taking in the rest of Yakima County not in the 14th SD, Skamania County, Klickitat County and a small portion of Clark County. HD 29 is exclusively east Yakima and Union Gap, a majority-minority house district (51% Hispanic) and electorally, a tossup district. HD 30 contains basically all of the Yakama Indian Reservation and has the second highest population of Native Americans (10.7%) of the proposed House Districts. HD 30 is a tossup district and, while not majority-minority, is only 51.7% white.

16th SD: Safe Republican majority-minority senate district that has all of Franklin and Adams Counties, rural Benton County and a small portion of unincorporated Yakima County south of Grandview. Both HD 31 (south) and HD 32 (north) are majority-minority house districts and very safe Republican districts.

17th SD: Lean Republican district entirely in Clark County containing eastern Vancouver, Camas, and Washougal. HD 33 is a tossup district entirely in eastern Vancouver, while HD 34 is a likely Republican district including all of Camas and Washougal and a small amount of the city of Vancouver in the Mill Plain area.

18th SD: Safe Republican district containing rural and suburban unincorporated Clark County with the small towns of Battle Ground and Ridgefield. HD 35 is a rural, very safe Republican district centered around Battle Ground, while HD 36 including the unincorporated census-designated places in the Vancouver suburbs of Orchards, Five Corners, and Mount Vista is more moderate, likely Republican district where Democrats could be electorally competitive.

19th SD: Tossup district comprised of Pacific, Wahkiakum, and Cowlitz Counties and a small portion of Clark County in and around La Center. HD 37 is a likely Republican district in eastern Cowlitz County, including Kelso, Kalama, and Castle Rock, and the small portion of Clark County in SD 19, while HD 38 is a lean Democratic district including all of Pacific and Wahkiakum Counties and Longview in Cowlitz County. It is worth noting that considering the performance of Obama and Murray, this would be considered rather electorally competitive, but conservative and biconceptual Democrats have been elected in this area for a long time.

20th SD: Safe Republican district consisting of all of Lewis County, including the cities of Centralia and Chehalis, and rural southern Thurston County. HD 39, which is mostly southern Thurston County and rural areas around Centralia in Lewis County, was won by Obama by more than 450 votes in 2008, though based on Murray’s performance in 2010 is still at best only a lean Republican district. On the other hand, HD 40, including nearly all of Lewis County, is a very safe Republican district, particularly for western Washington.

21st SD: Safe Democratic coastal Whatcom County district containing all of Bellingham, Ferndale, and Blaine. HD 41 is a likely Democratic district including Ferndale, Blaine, and northern Bellingham, as well as the Lummi Indian Reservation, while HD 42 is a safe Democratic district containing southern Bellingham and the unincorporated Sudden Valley community south of Lake Whatcom.

(Aside: The numbering of this district was the biggest conundrum in creating this map, since the current 21st LD is represented by Sen. Paull Shin, who wasn’t up for election in 2012. Several other senators were in the same boat, specifically the 38th LD’s Nick Harper, the 44th LD’s Steve Hobbs, and the 32nd LD’s Maralyn Chase. I chose to make it the 21st district and moved it to Whatcom County, since it least resembled the proposed Snohomish County senate districts. This would result in one state senator, Paull Shin, representing a district where he doesn’t live, but that is better than four in John Milem’s proposal.)

22nd SD: Safe Democratic Thurston County district including the state capital of Olympia and its suburb Lacey. HD 43 is a likely Democratic district containing Lacey and the unincorporated census-designated place Tanglewilde-Thompson Place. HD 44 is a safe Democratic house district centered around Olympia.

23rd SD: Lean-to-likely Democratic Kitsap County district taking in the cities of Poulsbo, Silverdale and Bainbridge Island. HD 45 is a safe Republican central Kitsap County district containing the unincorporated census-designated places Silverdale, Tracyton, and Erlands Point-Kitsap Lake and nearby areas. HD 46 is a safe Democratic northern Kitsap County district containing Poulsbo, Bainbridge Island, and the Port Madison Indian Reservation.

24th SD: Lean Democratic district containing all of Clallam and Jefferson Counties and northwestern Grays Harbor County with the natural border of Chehalis River, including Aberdeen north of the Chehalis River and the cities of Port Angeles, Hoquiam, and Port Townsend. HD 47 is a tossup-to-lean Democratic district that has the 3rd largest Native American population (7.2%) of the proposed house districts by including the Makah and Quinault Indian Reservations as well as rural section of Clallam, Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties as well as the towns of Port Angeles, Hoquiam, Forks, and Ocean Shores. HD 48 is a more compact & affluent, less diverse (90.5% white) lean-to-likely Democratic district centered around the cities of Port Townsend and Sequim.

(Aside: Like the 19th SD, according to the performance of Obama and Murray, you’d expect this area to be a lean Democratic district, moderate-to-conservative Democrats have been elected here for a long time by comfortable margins.)

25th SD: Lean-to-likely Republican Pierce County district centered around Puyallup and unincorporated Tacoma suburbs of South Hill, Waller and Frederickson. Both HD 49 and HD 50 are lean-to-likely Republican districts, but are composed of Puyallup and South Hill (west) and Waller and Frederickson (east), respectively.

26th SD: Likely-to-safe Democratic Pierce County district in northern Tacoma (excluding the Hilltop area), Gig Harbor and Fircrest. I created a majority-minority district in southern Tacoma (SD 29) and didn’t want to split Tacoma into more than 2 SDs, which resulted in this 79% white district. HD 51 is a safe Democratic district including the Tacoma neighborhoods of Northeast Tacoma, New Tacoma, and North End, while HD 52 is a tossup district including Fircrest, Gig Harbor, the unincorporated Artondale area, Fox Island, and Tacoma’s West End neighborhood.

27th SD: Tossup-to-lean Republican district with the larger cities of Bremerton and Port Orchard and rural areas in southern Kitsap and Pierce Counties on the Kitsap Peninsula. This area saw some of the smallest drop-offs in Democratic performance when comparing the results of Obama in 2008 and Murray in 2010, which is likely due to the large military (naval) presence in the Bremerton area and Murray’s work on veterans’ issues. HD 53 is a tossup district centered around Bremerton, while HD 54 is a lean Republican district including Port Orchard. It’s the only district to cross the Pierce-Kitsap line (which resulted in it being somewhat odd-shaped).

28th SD: Lean Democratic suburban Pierce County district between Tacoma and Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM), including the cities of Lakewood and University Place and unincorporated communities in Parkland and Spanaway. Also included a small part of JBLM to have a more compact district, but not necessary. HD 55 is the southern, more diverse (less than 56% white) lean Democratic district including parts of Lakewood, Parkland and Spanaway, while HD 56 is the northern lean Democratic district including all of University Place and part of Lakewood.

29th SD: Safe Democratic majority-minority senate district in southern Tacoma, Fife, and unincorporated communities in Parkland and Midland. Both HD 57 (south) and HD 58 (north) are safe Democratic majority-minority house districts.

30th SD: Likely Democratic King County district that’s principally Federal Way, most of Des Moines, and unincorporated Lakeland communities. It’s worth noting that all of Des Moines can’t be in the same district since both Sen. Eide (LD-30) and Sen. Kaiser (LD-33) live in Des Moines and weren’t up for election in 2012. HD 59 is a lean Democratic, less diverse (57.5% white) district in southern Federal Way and unincorporated Lakeland South, while HD 60 is a likely-to-safe Democratic more diverse (52.4% white) district in northern Federal Way, most of Des Moines, and unincorporated Lakeland North.

31st SD: Likely-to-safe Republican rural/suburban district with in southeastern King County and eastern Pierce Counties and the modestly-sized cities of Buckley, Maple Valley, Black Diamond, Enumclaw, and Snoqualmie. HD 61 is a safe Republican district that crosses the King-Pierce County line, taking in Enumclaw and Buckley plus the unincorporated communities of Prairie Ridge and Lake Morton-Berrydale. HD 62 is a lean Republican King County district that includes Black Diamond, Maple Valley, Snoqualmie and North Bend. A strong Democratic candidate could potentially turn HD 62 into a tossup district.

32nd SD: Safe Democratic southeast Snohomish County encompassing the cities of Edmonds, Lynnwood, and Mountlake Terrace, which often help King County carry the state. HD 63 is a fairly diverse (59% white) safe Democratic district centered around Lynnwood, while HD 64 is a much less diverse (76.5% white) safe Democratic district including Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, and Woodway.

33rd SD: Safe Democratic King County majority-minority senate district taking in the cities of Burien, SeaTac, Tukwila, and the northern tip of Des Moines. HD 65 is a safe Democratic, much-less diverse (56% white) district including Burien, Normandy Park, the northern tip of Des Moines and the unincorporated White Center community, while HD 66 is a safe Democratic majority-minority house district (36% white) including SeaTac, Tukwila, and unincorporated Riverton-Boulevard Park and Bryn Mawr-Skyway communities.

34th SD: Safe Democratic district including the Seattle neighborhoods of Downtown, West Seattle, Delridge, Georgetown, South Park, and Beacon Hill west of Beacon Ave as well as Vashon Island. HD 67 is a safe Democratic district including West Seattle and Vashon Island, while HD 68 is a safe Democratic majority-minority house district including the Seattle neighborhoods of Downtown, Georgetown, Delridge, South Park, and Beacon Hill west of Beacon Ave.

35th SD: Tossup-to-lean Democratic district containing all of Mason County, western Thurston County, and southeastern Grays Harbor County, including Montesano, Cosmopolis, and Elma. HD 69 is a lean Democratic district crossing the Grays Harbor-Thurston county line, including Tumwater, Montesano, Cosmopolis, and Elma, while HD 70 is a tossup district spanning all of Mason County, as well as a small amount of unincorporated northwestern Thurston County.

36th SD: Safe Democratic Seattle district west of Highway 99 (also known as Aurora Avenue) including the neighborhoods of Ballard, Queen Anne, Interbay, and Magnolia. HD 71 is a safe Democratic district encompassing the neighborhoods of Fremont, Westlake, Queen Anne, Interbay, and Magnolia, while HD 72 is a safe Democratic district that spans the neighborhoods of Ballard, Phinney Ridge, North Beach/Blue Ridge, Crown Hill, and Greewood.

37th SD: Safe Democratic southeast Seattle majority-minority senate district, including the neighborhoods of Rainier Valley, Seward Park, Central Area and Beacon Hill east of Beacon Ave. HD 73 is a very diverse (28% white) safe Democratic majority-minority house district, including the neighborhoods of Rainier Valley, Seward Park, and Beacon Hill east of Beacon Ave, while HD 74 is a safe Democratic district including the neighborhoods of Central Area and Madison Park.

38th SD: Likely-to-safe Democratic Snohomish County district including the cities of Everett and Mukilteo. HD 75 is a likely Democratic district including all of Mukilteo, Everett neighborhoods south of Highway 526, and unincorporated communities of Lake Stickney and Picnic Point-North Lynnwood, while HD 76 is a safe Democratic district nearly exclusively in the city of Everett north of SR 526.

39th SD: Lean Republican multi-county district (taking in areas of King & Snohomish) including the Cascade foothill cities of Monroe, Granite Falls, Carnation, and Duvall. HD 77 is a likely Republican Snohomish County district including Granite Falls, Monroe, and unincorporated communities of Canyon Creek, Three Lakes, and Woods Creek, while HD 78 is a tossup district crossing the King-Snohomish County Line including the cities of Duvall, Carnation, Sultan, and Skykomish and the unincorporated community of Maltby.

40th SD: Lean Democratic district containing all of San Juan County, coastal Skagit County – principally Anacortes, Burlington and Sedro-Woolley – and Whidbey Island in Island County. HD 79 is a likely Democratic district including all of San Juan County and the cities of Anacortes, Burlington, and Sedro-Woolley in Skagit County, while HD 80 is a tossup district though there was a very small drop-offs in Democratic performance when comparing the results of Obama in 2008 and Murray in 2010 (only 2.4%), which is likely due to the large military (naval airfields) presence on Whidbey Island and Murray’s work on veterans’ issues.

41st SD: Tossup affluent exurban district containing Issaquah, Sammamish, and the unincorporated East Renton Highlands. HD 81 is a tossup-to-lean Republican district including the city of Sammamish and unincorporated communities of Union Hill-Novelty Hill and Klahanie, while HD 82 is a tossup-to-lean Democratic centered around the city of Issaquah and unincorporated communities of East Renton Highlands, Fairwood, and Maple Heights-Lake Desire.

42nd SD: Safe Republican rural Whatcom, Skagit, and northern Snohomish County district with the only major cities being Mount Vernon and Lynden. HD 83 is a very safe Republican district centered around Lynden, while HD 84 is a tossup-to-lean Republican district with the moderately-sized city of Mount Vernon and low-population density Cascade foothills areas of Skagit, eastern Whatcom, and northern Snohomish Counties.

43rd SD: Safe Democratic Seattle district centered around the University of Washington, Seattle’s largest employer. HD 85 is a safe Democratic district including the Seattle neighborhoods of Green Lake, Maple Leaf, Windermere, and Laurelhurst, while HD 86 is a safe Democratic district including the Seattle neighborhoods of Wallingford, University District and Capitol Hill.

44th SD: Tossup Snohomish County district that takes in the cities of Lake Stevens, Snohomish, and Mill Creek. HD 87 is a tossup-to-lean Democratic district centered around Mill Creek, while HD 88 is a tossup-to-lean Republican district including the cities of Lake Stevens and Snohomish.

45th SD: Likely Democratic district containing only Kirkland and Redmond. HD 89 is a likely Democratic district entirely within the city of Kirkland, while HD 90 contains all of Redmond, the Kingsgate area of Kirkland, and some of the unincorporated community of Union Hill-Novelty Hill. It is important to note that socially liberal Republicans have done well in affluent Eastside (of Lake Washington) areas, like those included in these districts, but Redmond and Kirkland have been voting far more consistently Democratic since 2006 than they used to.

46th SD: Safe Democratic district including Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, and the Seattle neighborhoods of Wedgewood, Lake City, Northgate, and Broadview. HD 91 is safe Democratic district including the cities of Shoreline and Lake Forest Park and the Seattle neighborhood of Cedar Park, while HD 92 is a safe Democratic Seattle district spanning the neighborhoods of Wedgewood, Broadview, Bitter Lake, Haller Lake, Pinehurst, and Lake City.

47th SD: Tossup-to-lean Republican suburban King-Pierce County district encompassing Auburn, Milton, Sumner, and Bonney Lake. HD 93 is a tossup-to-lean Democratic King County district including all of Algona and the King County portion of Auburn (which is 90% of the city), while HD 94 is a likely Republican King-Pierce district including the cities of Sumner, Edgewood, and Bonney Lake, as well as the Pierce County portion of Auburn and both Milton and Pacific, which have the distinction of also being in multiple counties.

48th SD: Likely Democratic district containing the very affluent community of Mercer Island, the very wealthy city of Medina and the affluent neighborhoods of northern Bellevue. Despite Obama and Murray’s strong performance in this district, socially liberal Republicans have done well here for a long time. HD 95 is a lean Democratic district including the extremely wealthy small suburbs at the eastern end of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge including Medina, Clyde Hill, Hunts Point, Yarrow Point, as well as Mercer Island and western Bellevue. On the other hand, HD 96 is a likely Democratic district in eastern Bellevue – only 55.6% white.

49th SD: Lean-to-likely Democratic district consisting of western Vancouver (and its unincorporated suburbs, which fall under the jurisdiction of Clark County). HD 97 is a tossup district composed of the unincorporated Vancouver suburbs including Walnut Grove, Felida, and Minnehaha as well as part of the city itself, while HD 98 is a safe Democratic district that’s nearly completely within Vancouver.

My Washington State Senate redistricting plan splits only six cities that didn’t need to be, based on size, with those being: Aberdeen, Bellevue, Coulee Dam, Des Moines, Yakima, and Kennewick (slightly for transportation-connectivity). This is only one more city than Milem’s legislative redistricting plan.

In addition, my plan splits only four counties: Douglas, Grays Harbor, Island, and Skagit, while Milem split only one unnecessary county – Skagit. Milem, though in my opinion, failed to have contiguous, i.e. connected by transportation, legislative district for his district including Island County, since there is no means of transportation between Camano and Whidbey Islands.

To the question as to whether this map, as well as single-member house districts, result in a greater number of districts where minorities have a good chance of being elected, the numbers bear it out. In the Redistricting Commission’s map, with multi-member disticts, there are only 4 majority-minority senate districts, and therefore only 8 house seats in districts that are majority-minority.

There’s one district (two House seats) with a white population between fifty percent and fifty-five percent and two districts (four House seats) with a white population between fifty-five percent and sixty percent.

On the other hand, my Senate plan results in five majority-minority senate districts (a twenty-five percent increase over the Commission’s plan), three Senate districts with a white population between fifty percent and fifty-five percent (a two hundred percent increase) and one Senate district with a white population between fifty-five and sixty percent (a fifty percent decrease).

My House plan results in twelve majority-minority house districts (a fifty percent increase), two House districts with a white population between fifty and fifty-five percent (no change), and seven House districts (a seventy-five percent increase). That’s a significant difference from what we have now.

To summarize: My Senate map would result in fewer divided “communities of interest” (in this case minorities). My single-member House map would give minority Washingtonians a better chance of getting elected to the Legislature.

So there’s my plan for what I consider to be a constitutional alternative to Milem’s plan. If people in Washington state would like single-member House districts, then the time is now to change the law, as it’ll give lawmakers a long time to prepare for possibly being districted-out before the 2021 redistricting process.

If people are concerned about the undue influence that incumbents can have on the Redistricting Commission, as documented by The News Tribune of Tacoma last year, Washington should consider adopting the language that Iowa has, as former Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed discussed, and stipulate that redistricting will be done “without regard to party and incumbency”.

White House: Larry Summers has withdrawn his name from consideration as Fed Chair

The White House has just dropped a Sunday evening bombshell: Neoliberal economist Larry Summers – who President Barack Obama was on the verge of nominating to be the next Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve – is no longer being considered for the position, at his own request!

“Earlier today, I spoke with Larry Summers and accepted his decision to withdraw his name from consideration for Chairman of the Federal Reserve,” said President Barack Obama in a statement sent to NPI and other media outlets.

“Larry was a critical member of my team as we faced down the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and it was in no small part because of his expertise, wisdom, and leadership that we wrestled the economy back to growth and made the kind of progress we are seeing today. I will always be grateful to Larry for his tireless work and service on behalf of his country, and I look forward to continuing to seek his guidance and counsel in the future.”

We would greatly prefer that President Obama seek the advice and counsel of wise economists like Dean Baker, Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, and Christina Romer on economic matters in the future… not Larry Summers. That aside, there’s no question that this is a hugely positive development for our country.

Larry Summers has just done what the President of the United States was unwilling to do: Recognize that he’s not the best man for the job.

The full text of his letter was as follows:

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing to withdraw my name for consideration to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

It has been a privilege to work with you since the beginning of your Administration as you led the nation through a severe recession into a sustained economic recovery built on the policies to promote employment and strengthen the middle class.

This is a complex moment in our national life. I have reluctantly concluded than any possible confirmation process for me would be acrimonious and would not serve the interests of the Federal Reserve, the Administration, or ultimately, the interests of the nation’s ongoing economic recovery.

I look forward to continuing to support your efforts to strengthen our national economy by creating a broad based prosperity and to reform our financial system so that no President ever again faces what you and your economic team faced upon taking office in 2009.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence Summers

Summers apparently had the full support of the President. If he had wanted to be Fed Chair, the President was going to nominate him, never mind that his prospects of confirmation were about as far away from certain as a prospective nominee’s could be. But Summers evidently concluded that the best thing to do was to ask the President to pull his name from consideration – which is what we and many other progressives been asking the President to do for days now.

The President may not have been willing to listen to the likes of us, but he certainly listens to Larry Summers, as he made clear in the statement the White House Press Office released tonight. Summers, thankfully, realized that his nomination would have been counterproductive, distracting the Obama administration from making progress on a number of important policy fronts (like immigration).

It also could have ended in an embarrassing defeat. Summers may be arrogant, but he has a reputation for being smart. He saw the writing on the wall. Three Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee had already pledged not to support him (Jon Tester, Jeff Merkley, and Sherrod Brown). Elizabeth Warren is also said to have been a no vote, but stayed quiet out of respect for the President.

Rather than getting caught up in his own ego for a change, Larry Summers has removed himself from the picture and paved the way for President Obama to nominate a far more qualified candidate, like Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen.

And for that, we are grateful.

I don’t think there has ever been an occasion where we have thanked Larry Summers in the past, but in the wake of his decision to withdraw, we’d like to most heartily thank Larry Summers and congratulate him for his wise decision.

Larry Summers’ nomination for Fed Chair isn’t official yet – but it’s already in trouble

If the Beltway rumor mill is to be believed, President Obama is on the verge of nominating his old pal Larry Summers to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve.

Summers, as most readers probably know, is one of the country’s most prominent neoliberal economists and an admirer of Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan. He served as President Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury during the 1990s, as President of Harvard during much of the Bush error, and more recently, as Director of the National Economic Council for President Barack Obama.

Summers is quite wealthy (his net worth is said to be in the tens of millions), has a reputation for being arrogant and closed-minded, and bears responsibility for many of the economic policy changes that set the stage for the Great Recession.

Nevertheless, because he has such a good relationship with Barack Obama, the president reportedly favors him as the successor to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is stepping down in January. There is a more qualified and credible candidate waiting in the wings – Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen – but the president’s heart is said to be set on Summers, though he has not officially nominated him.

Choosing Summers, in our view, would be a terrible mistake, and would rank high on the list of President Obama’s worst mistakes.

For decades, the Fed has been run by power-hungry, overconfident old white men who don’t tolerate or listen to criticism. The United States’ monetary and fiscal policy has suffered as a result. The last thing this country needs is more of that. As Michael Hirsh writes in The case against Larry Summers for The National Journal:

The man whom Summers once considered a model chairman, Alan Greenspan, offers an example of the dangers of being too certain of one’s views without much accountability. Back in 1994, Congress instructed the Fed to police unfair and deceptive practices related to mortgage loans. But because the chairman believed in minimal regulation, no rules were ever written; Greenspan quietly slapped down efforts by governors such as Ed Gramlich to warn him; and the Fed did little to intervene in the emerging subprime fraud.

Greenspan was in charge for a very long time – an unhealthy amount of time, actually – and he left behind an awful legacy, the extent of which has only become apparent with the passage of time. Greenspan’s successor, Ben Bernanke (who was appointed by George W. Bush and reappointed by Barack Obama four years ago) has not been much better. Like Greenspan, he is a neoliberal and an insider.

Bernanke’s reconfirmation vote in 2010 was the narrowest margin of victory for a Fed Chair nominee ever. Our own Senators Maria Cantwell and Jeff Merkley (who sit on the Finance and Banking Committees, respectively) voted nay on Bernanke’s reconfirmation; Senators Patty Murray and Ron Wyden voted aye.

The day before the vote, Senator Merkley issued a detailed and thoughtful statement explaining his decision to vote no. He said:

Tomorrow, I will vote against confirming Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. The reason, in short, is that as Chairman, Dr. Bernanke failed to recognize or remedy the factors that paved the road to this dark and difficult recession.  Following our economic collapse, it is also apparent that he has not changed his overall approach to prioritizing Wall Street over American families.

My decision is based on my fundamental belief that our economy cannot recover if we do not put Main Street first.

Our nation is just beginning to emerge from the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and there is no guarantee we will continue on the road to recovery over the long or short terms. Unemployment remains far too high, credit is unavailable to too many businesses, and families are plagued by falling home prices and high foreclosure rates. Even as we move forward with our efforts to get our economy back on track, it is critical we carefully examine what led us to this point.

For too many years, federal regulators turned a blind eye to signs of an impending financial crisis. Tricks and traps proliferated in the credit card and consumer lending industries. Predatory mortgage loans exploded, fueling an unsustainable housing bubble. Regulators lifted rules requiring banks to keep adequate capital, and a laissez-faire approach to securitization, derivatives, and proprietary trading encouraged excessive risk-taking on Wall Street.

As a member of the Board of Governors, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, and then ultimately as Chairman of the Board of Governors, Dr. Bernanke supported each of these decisions, failing  to take the necessary precautionary steps that could have averted or mitigated financial collapse.

Senator Merkley concluded by noting:

These failures are very relevant to the future.  We need economic leaders who understand that the ultimate goal of economic policies and the key to meaningful economic recovery should be financially successful families, not oversized Wall Street profits.

Indeed, it should be recognized that although Wall Street prospered in the short-term from reduced leverage requirements, securitization of faulty mortgages, and the explosion of derivatives, Americans did not.  The expansion that occurred from 2002 to 2007 became the first economic expansion in which working families were worse off at the end than at the beginning.

This is not a path that we can afford to travel again.

We are very proud of Senators Cantwell and Merkley for their votes against Ben Bernanke’s reconfirmation. The above statement from Jeff Merkley epitomizes his courageous record and his incredibly solid work as a United States Senator. He is one of the best senators we have, and it’s a real shame we don’t have a couple dozen more men and women just like him serving in Congress’ upper chamber.

Sadly, although the stock market has recovered and Wall Street is humming again, ordinary Americans are still grappling with the consequences of the Great Recession. Income inequality is worse than it has ever been. Tuition and healthcare costs have gone up while wages have remained stagnant. Many Americans still cannot find work, or lack the skills to successfully transition into a new position in a new field.

It is extremely disappointing that President Obama, who paints himself as a defender of middle income families, is leaning strongly towards asking the Senate to sign off on putting one of the architects of the Great Recession into the driver’s seat at the Federal Reserve. The position of Fed Chair is one of the most powerful in the country, and it should be held by someone who can thoughtfully craft and implement monetary policy. In other words, not Larry Summers.

Summers has been called brilliant, gifted, and talented, and we have no doubt he’s got a sharp mind. But he also has his flaws, chiefly his adherence to a neoliberal ideology that has caused tremendous damage to our country.

The prospect of a Summers nomination has the Senate Democratic caucus in almost open revolt. A third of the caucus has reportedly signed onto a letter urging the President to appoint Janet Yellen instead. Yellen would be the Fed’s first female executive, and is widely respected. She would probably be able to earn the support of the entire Senate Democratic caucus and most of the Republican caucus.

But the letter apparently did not move Obama, who still wants Summers.

Again, Summers’ nomination has not been announced, but the White House is said to have been quietly letting Senate Democrats know that Summers is the president’s choice – apparently hoping to tamp down pro-Yellen advocacy.

But so far, the White House’s attempts to lay the groundwork for a Summers nomination have been backfiring, much like the administration’s attempts to rally Congress to back a military strike against the Syrian regime. Three Democrats who sit on the Banking Committee have now signaled they will oppose a Summers nomination. One of them, not surprisingly, is the wise and courageous Jeff Merkley; the others are Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Without Merkley, Tester, or Brown’s vote, Summers’ nomination will not be able to pass out of the Senate Banking Committee without Republican votes, because Democrats only have a three vote margin. Progressive champion Elizabeth Warren also sits on the Banking Committee, and although she hasn’t voiced opposition to a Summers nomination yet, it’s hard to imagine she would vote aye, especially when her colleagues Jeff Merkley and Sherrod Brown are voting no.

Senator Maria Cantwell, meanwhile, has indicated she’s completely opposed to a Summers nomination unless she hears a genuine mea culpa.

(Cantwell does not sit on the Senate Banking Committee, but she is one of the Senate’s most authoritative voices on finance).

As she recently told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly: “Nobody is going to get my support unless owning up to mistakes of the past… We need to usher in a new day. We need to usher in some daylight.”

Larry Summers, of course, is not known for his humility. I’m unaware of any occasion where he has accepted responsibility for his role in bringing about the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression… or for advising the Obama administration to respond to it with a stimulus bill that was way too heavy on tax cuts and not big enough to fully lift our country out of the recessionary gap it had fallen into.

Republicans don’t seem enthused about Larry Summers, either. Texas Republican John Cornyn, who is Mitch McConnell’s deputy, has made it clear he would not vote for Summers for Fed Chair. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas was even more blunt, declaring last month: “I wouldn’t want Larry Summers to mow my yard.”

Yellen and Summers are not thought to be that far apart when it comes to the basics of monetary policy (although Yellen has a record and central banking expertise that Summers doesn’t). However, as Michael Hirsh argues, temperament ought to be a consideration for the job of Fed Chair, much as it is for a judgeship.

The Federal Reserve chairman wields such enormous power, with so little accountability, that he or she is said to be the second-most-powerful person in government after the president. Decisions are habitually made in secret. The job requires a person of great personal tact, subtlety, and self-control. It requires someone who knows how to build consensus at the highest levels for the right kind of policies—someone who possesses the maturity and character to admit error and shift course when needed.

The inability to admit error isn’t just a serious flaw, it’s a fatal flaw that can result in catastrophic consequences, as we have seen.

America needs a Fed Chair, who, as Senator Cantwell said, will usher in some daylight. The country would greatly benefit from a more transparent Fed led by a more thoughtful and humble chairperson.

Given what’s needed, Larry Summers doesn’t even merit inclusion on the short list for the position. President Obama would be wise to listen to Senators Merkley, Cantwell, Brown, Tester and others, and drop Summers from consideration.

If he goes ahead and nominates Summers, he will, in our view, damage his administration’s credibility and risk a bruising confirmation battle that has the potential to end in an extremely embarrassing defeat.

Dissecting conservative Justice Jim Johnson’s dissenting opinion in Freeman v. State

Yesterday’s seven-to-two decision in Freeman et al. v. State of Washington et al. was a pretty resounding victory for the people of Washington and two public agencies that build and maintain transportation infrastructure on the people’s behalf (Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation).

But it wasn’t a unanimous decision. The court’s two Johnsons – Jim and Charles – filed a dissenting opinion in which they strongly endorsed Freeman’s position and argued that the majority were setting a bad precedent.

I had an expected a dissent – in the event of a victory for sense and transit – from Jim Johnson, who is easily the court’s most conservative justice. (Johnson coauthored Tim Eyman’s I-747 with Rob McKenna in 2001, and is rarely in agreement with his colleagues on a case of constitutional importance).

But I had not expected to see Charles Johnson’s name as a signatory to Jim Johnson’s dissent. Apparently, he found former Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge’s arguments compelling. (Talmadge, a longtime member of the let’s get rid of Sound Transit camp, argued the case on behalf of Kemper Freeman, Jr. )

In their opinion, the Johnsons echo several of the unsubstantiated claims that Talmadge made during oral argument and in his written pleadings.

I’d like to take an opportunity to explain why we at NPI think the majority’s decision is sound, and why the Johnsons’ dissent is off-base.

I won’t fisk every last passage of their opinion, but I’ll be excerpting quite a bit, so this will be a fairly long post. You have been warned!

Let’s begin, shall we? Here’s the Johnsons’ opening paragraph:

This court once again erodes the guaranties of the Washington State Constitution’s 18th Amendment, which prevents the diversion of gas tax, vehicle registration, and related funds for nonhighway purposes. Constitutional amendments allow a concerned citizenry to bind future policymakers, preventing fleeting political designs from undermining our most deeply rooted principles. As the State’s highest court, it is our sworn responsibility to safeguard all provisions of the Constitution, including those that may appear inconvenient or politically unfavored.

I would argue that the Constitution in its entirety allows for what the Johnsons are talking about – not just the amendments. Our Constitution serves as a plan of government for our state. It describes how Washington is to be governed. All of its provisions are important, not just the few that conservatives love to cite.

For example, Article II, Section 22 – which we’ve cited pretty regularly over the years – says pretty clearly that legislation shall pass by majority rule. It says that because the Founders wanted our Legislature to be a democratic institution. They knew that a balance had to be struck between majority rule and minority rights. So they created a supermajority requirement for amending the Constitution and expressly stated that majority votes would decide the fate of ordinary legislation.

Beginning in the early 1990s, right wing activists and the state’s business lobby became fixated on requiring a two-thirds threshold for raising revenue. But ironically, they did not propose a constitutional amendment because getting a two-thirds vote in each house of the Legislature for anything is difficult.

Instead, they asked voters to adopt the two-thirds scheme as a statute, first with I-601 in 1993, which narrowly passed while an even worse iteration, I-602, failed. Tim Eyman later sought to reenact I-601 with I-960, I-1053, and I-1185.

A statute cannot contravene the Constitution; the Constitution is the supreme law of the state. But that didn’t matter to Linda Smith and the crew behind I-601, nor was it a concern of Tim Eyman and his wealthy benefactors.

Sadly, when teachers, parents, and legislators brought a justiciable case against I-601/I-960/I-1053/I-1185, the Johnsons refused to join the Court’s majority in upholding our Constitution and striking down the two-thirds requirement.

Charles Johnson wrote a dissent in which he argued the Court should not decide the case on the merits, while Jim Johnson wrote a dissent which presented a flawed, outright defense of the four initiatives… or should I say fleeting political designs, designs that were undermining our most deeply rooted principles.

I bring up the LEV case here because I find it ironic that the Johnsons make the sanctity of our state’s Constitution the focus of their opening remarks in this decision. Where was their concern for our Constitution when League of Education Voters was being decided? If ever there was a case in which our Constitution needed defending against fleeting political designs, that was it.

But sadly, neither of them were willing to uphold Article II, Section 22.

Here, the Johnsons suggest that their colleagues are allowing the 18th Amendment to be undermined by giving Sound Transit and WSDOT the green light to go ahead with their planned realignment of Interstate 90 across Lake Washington.

The projects the agencies are working on now will result in two high occupancy vehicle lanes being added next to the existing east and west general purpose lanes and the construction of train tracks for light rail on the portion of the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge that we call the express lanes today.

The project to build the new HOV lanes is known as R-8A (Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations) and the project to bring light rail to the Eastside is known as East Link. R-8A is a WSDOT project; East Link is a Sound Transit project.

The 18th Amendment, for those unfamiliar with the Washington State Constitution, is a set of provisions approved in 1944 which says that gas taxes and certain vehicle fees may only be used for highway purposes. Johnson excerpts the amendment in his opinion; I’m going to go ahead and reproduce the whole thing here:

SECTION 40. HIGHWAY FUNDS. All fees collected by the State of Washington as license fees for motor vehicles and all excise taxes collected by the State of Washington on the sale, distribution or use of motor vehicle fuel and all other state revenue intended to be used for highway purposes, shall be paid into the state treasury and placed in a special fund to be used exclusively for highway purposes. Such highway purposes shall be construed to include the following:

  1. The necessary operating, engineering and legal expenses connected with the administration of public highways, county roads and city streets;
  2. The construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, county roads, bridges and city streets; including the cost and expense of (1) acquisition of rights-of-way, (2) installing, maintaining and operating traffic signs and signal lights, (3) policing by the state of public highways, (4) operation of movable span bridges, (5) operation of ferries which are a part of any public highway, county road, or city street;
  3. The payment or refunding of any obligation of the State of Washington, or any political subdivision thereof, for which any of the revenues described in section 1 may have been legally pledged prior to the effective date of this act;
  4. Refunds authorized by law for taxes paid on motor vehicle fuels;
  5. The cost of collection of any revenues described in this section: Provided, That this section shall not be construed to include revenue from general or special taxes or excises not levied primarily for highway purposes, or apply to vehicle operator’s license fees or any excise tax imposed on motor vehicles or the use thereof in lieu of a property tax thereon, or fees for certificates of ownership of motor vehicles.

Conservatives love the 18th Amendment because it guarantees that certain types of revenue can only be used to build and maintain highways, as opposed to rail infrastructure or bike paths. They argue that Interstate 90 was built and maintained with revenue collected exclusively for highway purposes, and therefore, Sound Transit and WSDOT’s plans for the corridor (which center around the construction of East Link) run afoul of the aforementioned Section 40.

In their legal pleadings and in publicly posted commentary, Kemper Freeman, Phil Talmadge, Tim Eyman, Michael Dunmire have depicted WSDOT and Sound Transit as utterly unconcerned about the 18th Amendment.

In reality, both agencies are well aware of Section 40, and they planned out the improvements to I-90 so as to comply with its requirements.

What the Johnsons do not acknowledge in their dissent – and what anti-rail conservatives either don’t get or won’t admit – is that the urban King County portion of Interstate 90 is not simply a highway. It is a multimodal corridor that contains a highway. And this distinction matters.

Because Lake Washington sits between Seattle and the Eastside, there is no street grid connecting the city and its suburbs. There are only two sets of bridges that cross the lake: the ones that carry Interstate 90 and State Route 520.

Both were originally designed for automobile traffic, but when I-90 was redesigned, it was redesigned as a multimodal corridor.

The same thing is happening with SR 520 now.

What do I mean by multimodal? I mean capable of carrying more than just automobile traffic. Corridors that are only designed for cars force people to drive instead of giving them transportation choices. And that’s bad.

If you’ve ever driven I-90 over Lake Washington, you’ve probably noticed there is a pathway on one side for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. This pathway is part of a trail that runs parallel to the highway, allowing people on foot or on bike to safely traverse the corridor. People who use the path, of course, are very familiar with its existence. SR 520 does not have a similar cross-lake path, but it soon will.

You may have also noticed the bus and HOV ramps that permit Metro and Sound Transit buses to enter and exit I-90 without having to wait in traffic.

For example, there are ramps connecting the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) to I-90; ramps at the Island Crest Way exit to facilitate bus access to the Mercer Island Transit Center, ramps at Bellevue Way, ramps at the Eastgate Park & Ride, plus the new Sunset interchange in Issaquah. Some of these are bus-only; others are also open to high occupancy vehicle (HOV) traffic.

As I said above, when Interstate 90 was redesigned, it was redesigned as a multimodal corridor, and the majority of the bill for the reconstruction of the corridor was paid by the federal government – with the understanding that when the region had its act together, the corridor would include high capacity transit.

In fact, the 1974 Memorandum of Understanding (PDF) on I-90 between the cities of Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue, King County, and the state explicitly refers to the express lanes as “transit roadway” and further states:

2. The I-90 facility shall be designed and constructed so that conversion of all or part of the transit roadway to fixed guideway [rails] is possible.

The time has now come to convert that transit roadway to a fixed guideway. This is exactly what Sound Transit and WSDOT are doing: carrying out the terms of that 1974 agreement, amended in 2004 (PDF).

Up until the people of Puget Sound created Sound Transit, the region had no viable plan for putting high capacity transit on I-90 and no agency to carry out such a plan. Now we do, and the prospect of a regionwide light rail system really, really bothers the likes of Freeman, Talmadge, and Eyman.

They pulled out all the stops to try and prevent Central Link from being built, but they failed. Central Link opened to great fanfare in July 2009; Airport Link brought Central Link into SeaTac International Airport five months later.

After their schemes to kill Central Link were stymied, Freeman & Co. shifted their efforts toward thwarting any expansion of the Link system, in the courts and in the court of public opinion. They played a role in defeating Roads & Transit in 2007, but Sound Transit went back to the ballot by itself the following year, and Sound Transit 2 (on the ballot as Proposition 1) passed handily despite their fierce opposition.

Tim Eyman and Kemper Freeman then tried to stop light rail from crossing Lake Washington by burying an anti-East Link provision in I-1125. Unfortunately for them, voters rejected I-1125. And, of course, there have been the lawsuits.

Freeman has now gone to court twice twice alleging that WSDOT was violating the 18th Amendment. Both times, the Supreme Court’s final judgment has gone against him, although in this case, Freeman has the support of the Johnsons.

Freeman and his camp don’t want the conversion to occur – for no good reason. Their only objection is their irrational hatred of transit. They’re just using the 18th Amendment as a pretext for trying to get the courts to halt the conversion.

They say they believe in the freedom of the automobile, but East Link’s construction won’t hurt anyone’s ability to drive across Lake Washington or anywhere else. In truth, it will help, because people who choose to take the train won’t be driving, so there will be fewer cars on the road than there otherwise would have been.

In addition, Sound Transit is contributing the majority of funds to build R-8A, so the highway portion of Interstate 90 will still consist of eight lanes after East Link is built. The new HOV lanes will open prior to the closure of the express lanes.

Naturally, WSDOT is involved since it is responsible for the maintenance and operations of the facility. But the state’s highway fund isn’t being tapped to make East Link a reality. Highway funds are only being used to improve the highway.

So what’s the problem? Back to the Johnsons:

The respondents attempt to circumvent these clear restrictions on the use of the MVF by doing indirectly what they cannot do directly.

The majority accepts their argument that the 18th Amendment is not implicated if the MVF is reimbursed by the entity buying or leasing the highway lands. However, this reasoning impermissibly transforms the MVF into a funding source for nonhighway purposes.

The majority’s reasoning does no such thing. There have (and until such a time passes when Section 40 is amended or repealed) will continue to be explicit restrictions on revenue collected for highway purposes.

The Court’s ruling in this case does not weaken the Constitution. It is a defeat for opponents of light rail, to be sure. But it is not a defeat for the 18th Amendment.

Johnson writes as if the 18th Amendment exists to make sure that highway lands are never used for anything but highways. But the 18th Amendment is concerned with money, not land use. It places restrictions on highway funds. It doesn’t place restrictions on how highway facilities can be used once built.

Consequently, state law permits the Department of Transportation to lease unused or unneeded highway lands – albeit under certain conditions.

(The Johnsons argue WSDOT isn’t meeting the conditions and is thus violating state law; we’ll delve into that in a bit).

The Johnsons go on to allege that the 18th Amendment is being violated because WSDOT is planning to spend money on R-8A along with Sound Transit. They claim:

The “East Link” project, as currently contemplated, most certainly puts MVF funds at risk in violation of the 18th Amendment.

Although the “R-8A” project would not be implemented but-for Sound Transit’s East Link project, the record reflects that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has still promised to fund portions of the construction.

For example, under the “umbrella agreement,” WSDOT proposes to spend $44.4 million in funding for the R-8A project, which includes an estimated $10.5 million for construction of “dowel bar retrofits.”

In other words, at least 44.4 million taxpayer dollars have been promised by the State to prepare the Interstate 90 (I-90) bridge for construction of the East Link project.

Under O’Connell, any appropriation of money from the MVF to satisfy this obligation will run afoul of the 18th Amendment.

Where is the evidence to substantiate the allegation that WSDOT is covertly and illegally helping Sound Transit with East Link construction costs? R-8A is not part of East Link. It is a project to improve I-90’s highway configuration ahead of the onset of construction for light rail expansion. Do the Johnsons not understand this?

Public works projects are certainly complicated things. For anyone reading who’s still confused, here’s a fresh explanation of what’s happening to Interstate 90.

WSDOT and Sound Transit are working collaboratively together to make a number of improvements to the bridges that connect Mercer Island to the east and west shores of Lake Washington, as well as the structure that carries Interstate 90 through the island. When the associated projects are complete, the corridor will serve the traveling public more efficiently and effectively. In addition to the bike and pedestrian path, which isn’t going anywhere, there will be:

  • After R-8A is built: Six general purpose lanes, just like there are today
  • After R-8A is built: Two high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, one westbound and one eastbound, adjacent to the general purpose lanes
  • After East Link is built: Two sets of train tracks will be located where the express lanes are today. They will carry East Link light rail trains.

The highway portion of Interstate 90 will benefit from the planned reconfiguration. And highway users will benefit. Highway funds will only be used to improve the highway portion. As Justice Madsen writes in a footnote of the majority opinion:

The dissent contends that MVF funds are at risk because WSDOT has promised to spend $44 million on the R-8A project.

The dissent asserts that WSDOT would not otherwise spend this money but for the light rail construction.

However, the record reveals that the light rail construction simply afforded WSDOT an opportunity to implement R-8A, which was the preferred plan that focused on the nonrail transit lanes.

More importantly, the appellants have not shown that these MVF funds will be used for the light rail construction. Thus, the appellants have not met their burden of showing a violation of Article II, Section 40.

Back to the Johnsons:

I also question whether Sound Transit’s obligations under the umbrella agreement fully reimburse the taxpayers for the value of the center lanes when occupied by trains.

Sound Transit’s estimated payment of $165.7 million to fund the construction of the new HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes on the 1-90 outer roadway will be credited against the amounts owed WSDOT for the light rail use of the center lanes.

In a true arm’s length lease, it is inconceivable that the modifications needed to make the property usable to the lessee, but which provide no benefit whatsoever to the lessor, would be credited against the rent due under the lease. It appears improper that the money paid by Sound Transit to replace the HOV lanes will be credited against its own rental obligations under the lease.

I’m assuming that when Johnson says “the taxpayers”, he’s talking about state taxpayers, many of whom are also Sound Transit taxpayers. (The Sound Transit taxing district covers the urban portions of King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties). The taxpayers of urban Puget Sound approved East Link in 2008 and helped nix Tim Eyman’s plan to interfere with it in 2011. The Johnsons do not mention or discuss these events. The well-argued and well-researched majority opinion does.

The Johnsons are wrong that the reconfiguration of I-90 will not benefit the traveling public that WSDOT (the lessor) serves.

As I have previously stated, the improvements planned to Interstate 90 will benefit all users, especially motorists. The completion of R-8A will improve cross-lake traffic, ensuring that there is always a high occupancy vehicle lane available to buses, vanpools, and carpools. WSDOT’s data shows that the reversible lanes have outlived their usefulness. These days, traffic flows more equally in both directions, and dedicated HOV lanes are needed that go east and west at all times.

Sound Transit has good reason to want to help WSDOT with R-8A. Both agencies want to improve traffic flow on I-90 sooner rather than later.

The Johnsons do not acknowledge this, but Sound Transit happens to operate bus service in addition to train service. Routes like the 550 and the 554 go over I-90 and will be able to use the new HOV lanes when they become available.

It so happened that Sound Transit had the money to get R-8A started, and consequently, it was agreed that Sound Transit would shoulder the majority of the costs, and in return, WSDOT would reduce the amount of money Sound Transit would owe for its lease of the transit roadway. This is a great example of fruitful inter-agency cooperation that should be viewed as a victory for taxpayers and for sense, not as a shadowy plot to undermine the 18th Amendment.

The building of East Link, meanwhile, will fulfill – at long last! – the vision for the corridor that our region’s political leadership outlined decades ago when they requested federal funding to rebuild the corridor.

By taking cars off the highway, East Link will lessen congestion on Interstate 90, making everyone’s commute more pleasant. Those who still choose to drive won’t have to share the road with so many other motorists, and those who choose to take the train will be able to get back and forth across the lake reliably and comfortably without having to concentrate on the road. Everyone wins.

Well, everyone except people who hate light rail.

The final pages of the Johnsons’ dissenting opinion are devoted to a discussion of RCW 47.12.120, the statute that gives WSDOT the authority to lease highway lands. This section provides that “The department [WSDOT] may rent or lease any lands, improvements, or air space above or below any lands that are held for highway purposes but are not presently needed.”

The Johnsons argue that since WSDOT has determined that the express lanes are “presently needed”, WSDOT cannot arrange to turn the roadway they occupy over to Sound Transit at a future date – even if the future date is after the completion of the new HOV lanes that are being built. They contend:

It has been well established that the center lanes to the 1-90 bridge are highway lands that are “presently needed” under the statute. In fact, this point was conceded by WSDOT in discovery.


Thus, according to the plain meaning of the words “presently needed” as they appear in RCW 47.12.120, WSDOT may not contract to lease the center lanes of 1-90 at a future date. Rather, a determination of whether highway lands are “presently needed” must be made contemporaneously with any contract to lease highway property.

They go on to say:

WSDOT is only authorized to lease highway lands that are unnecessary for highway purposes now—not at some point after the construction of the outer HOV lanes. At this moment in time, the center HOV lanes are both necessary and regularly used by the public.

In fact, it is difficult to imagine any property in the entire state of Washington that is needed for highway purposes more than the two center lanes of the I-90 bridge during any daily rush hours.

Furthermore, WSDOT already conceded that the lanes are presently needed for highway purposes.

Any determination that the lanes are not presently needed for highway purposes is clearly arbitrary and capricious.

As far as the Johnsons are concerned, the umbrella agreement between Sound Transit is “unlawful, indeed unconstitutional, and should be held void.”

The Johnsons’ seven colleagues reached a very different conclusion. Writing for the majority, Justice Barbara Madsen reasoned:

The appellants assert that whether a highway is presently needed must relate to the need at that moment, not a point in the future.

Accordingly, the appellants argue that WSDOT cannot lease the center lanes in the future because the lanes are currently in use and presently needed. This argument ignores that possession and control of the center lanes will not be transferred to Sound Transit until after the center HOV lanes are replaced by outer HOV lanes.

The lease is contingent upon this, at which point the lanes will not be “presently needed” under RCW 47.12.120 because they will be replaced. As the federal highway administration noted, “[t]here will be no net loss of HOV lanes.”

Furthermore, following the appellants’ interpretation would severely limit WSDOT’s authority to enter into contracts that may rely on future contingencies, such as in the present case.

The majority goes on to say:

The arbitrary and capricious or contrary to law standard requires more than a showing that WSDOT has erred; it requires that WSDOT acted willfully and unreasonably, without consideration and in disregard of facts and circumstances.

In this case, WSDOT considered numerous studies and engaged in extensive planning, as identified in the Umbrella Agreement.

Considerations included the “I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations FEIS [(Final Environmental Impact Statement)] and ROD [(Record of Decision)]; I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Access Point Decision Report; WSDOT I-90 Center Roadway Study; East Link FEIS and ROD; East Link/I-90 Interchange Justification Report; I-90 Bellevue to North Bend Corridor Study; the WSDOT Highway System Plan 2007-2026, and the legislative history reflected in the 2009 Engrossed Senate Substitute Bill 5352, § 204(3) and § 306(17).”

Taking all of the studies and historical materials into consideration, WSDOT executed its agreement with Sound Transit. A review of studies supports the respondents’ contentions that WSDOT engaged in a careful evaluation of the need of the center lanes at the time of transfer.

We agree with this analysis.

Like the majority says, Sound Transit is not going to begin leasing I-90’s transit roadway until after the R-8A project has been completed. WSDOT has determined that, after that point, the transit roadway will no longer be needed because the express lanes will have been replaced by two new HOV lanes that can carry buses, vanpools, and carpools in each direction twenty-four seven. This configuration will better serve the needs of the traveling public.

The Memorandum of Understanding that governs the design of Interstate 90 says that there are to be a maximum of eight lanes. Once the new HOV lanes are completed and operational, the express lanes won’t be needed any longer, and they can be turned over to Sound Transit for East Link’s use.

The Johnsons argue that WSDOT cannot make a determination about the express lanes now because of the “presently needed” language in RCW 47.12.120. Under their interpretation, WSDOT lacks the authority to plan for the future.

The Johnsons base their interpretation on the dictionary definitions of the words presently and needed, since the RCW doesn’t define them:

“When a statutory term is undefined, the words of a statute are given their ordinary meaning, and the court may look to a dictionary for such meaning.” State v. Gonzalez, 168 Wn.2d 256, 263, 226 P.3d 131 (2010).

“[P]resently” is defined as “at the present time : at present : at this time : NOW . . : immediately.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1793 (2002).

“[N]eeded” is defined as “be necessary . . . : REQUIRE . . . : be under necessity or obligation to.” Id. at 1512.

Thus, WSDOT is only authorized to lease highway lands that are unnecessary for highway purposes now—not at some point after the construction of the outer HOV lanes.

Note that I’ve left the legal references intact in the excerpt above, since the Johnsons are referencing definitions and citing precedent for the courts’ authority to look to dictionaries to decipher the meaning of words not defined in statute.

Once again, the Johnsons have come up short. What they don’t concede in their dissent is that the word presently has another meaning. I looked up the word in Random House Unabridged, and found these two definitions:

pres·ent·ly [prez-uhnt-lee]

  1. in a little while; soon: They will be here presently.
  2. at the present time; now: He is presently out of the country.

The usage note states:

The two apparently contradictory meanings of presently, “in a little while, soon” and “at the present time, now,” are both old in the language. In the latter meaning presently dates back to the 15th century. It is currently in standard use in all varieties of speech and writing in both Great Britain and the United States.

Other dictionaries also contain both definitions and note the apparent contradiction. In fact, Random House and Merriam-Webster have the little while/before long/soon definition listed first, and the now definition listed second.

Given that the word presently can mean “soon” as well as “now”, and given that RCW Chapter 42.17 does not define what “presently needed” means, it seems to us that the RCW permits WSDOT to make a determination that highway facilities or highway lands will not be soon needed, which is the case here.

Soon is commonly understood to mean in the near future. The first two stages of R-8A are already complete, and the third stage is set to be completed in September 2016. At the time the umbrella agreement was signed, R-8A’s completion was about five years out in the future. Considering that many transportation projects and plans take decades to go from conception to design to construction, five years could reasonably considered to be “sooner” rather than “later”.

Especially considering that the word “presently” can also mean soon or before long, we reject the Johnsons’ assertion that WSDOT violated RCW 47.12.120.

We concur with Justice Madsen that WSDOT’s umbrella agreement with Sound Transit governing the improvements to I-90 is legal and constitutional, and we congratulate the Supreme Court on reaching a sound and sensible decision.

Let the construction of East Link begin!

When are SSL and VPNs not secure? Why, when the NSA wants to spy on you, of course!

With each passing week, it is becoming increasingly clear that former NSA employee Edward Snowden’s document dump constitutes the largest and most important leak in the history of the United States of America.

While Snowden remains in Russia, newspapers in the West continue to sift through the documents he leaked, using those as the basis for new stories that expose the extent of the National Security Agency’s spying capabilities.

Institutionally, the NSA is addicted to what’s known in national security-speak as signals intelligence – basically, communications that they can intercept. That addiction – that seemingly bottomless hunger for information – has so consumed the agency that the concept of limits or checks on its power (even self-enforced limits) appears to have become something that only exists on paper.

Whatever the NSA wants, the NSA must have, and that is apparently why the NSA has devoted so many resources to cracking Secure Sockets Layer (SSL, the technology used to encrypt web traffic) and VPNs (virtual private networks).

Here’s New York Times with this latest revelation:

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents [provided by Edward Snowden] show.

In other words, if it’s online, the NSA has access to it. Anything you publish online is not securable – at least not from the NSA – despite what you may have been told by companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, or Apple.

The agency, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products. The documents do not identify which companies have participated.

The N.S.A. hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted. And the agency used its influence as the world’s most experienced code maker to covertly introduce weaknesses into the encryption standards followed by hardware and software developers around the world.

There’s more. The whole article is worth a read, and The Guardian has a companion article that is also well worth your time.

Security expert Bruce Schneier, who has been collaborating with Glenn Greenwald on the Snowden documents, has published a challenge to engineers and programmers all around the world, declaring that the United States government has betrayed the Internet – and it’s time to take it back. Schneier writes:

By subverting the internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. The companies that build and manage our internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: we can no longer trust them to be ethical Internet stewards.

This is not the Internet the world needs, or the Internet its creators envisioned. We need to take it back.

And by we, I mean the engineering community.

Yes, this is primarily a political problem, a policy matter that requires political intervention.

But this is also an engineering problem, and there are several things engineers can – and should – do.

One, we should expose. If you do not have a security clearance, and if you have not received a National Security Letter, you are not bound by a federal confidentially requirements or a gag order. If you have been contacted by the NSA to subvert a product or protocol, you need to come forward with your story. Your employer obligations don’t cover illegal or unethical activity. If you work with classified data and are truly brave, expose what you know. We need whistleblowers.

Meanwhile, our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have just announced a major victory in their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the federal government over NSA spying.

The Department of Justice will soon be releasing hundreds of pages worth of procedural documents, legal analyses, and FISC court opinions… including materials that describe how the executive branch has interpreted Section 215 of the Patriot Act. (NPI has supported the repeal of the Patriot Act since its inception in 2003).

Apparently, the Department of Justice has been unable to come up with a rationale or justification for keeping the materials a secret. Or at least not one that a judge will find credible. So at last, the shroud that has masked the legal foundation that the NSA operates on is beginning to lift. This is going to be big.

The EFF has been doing tremendous work on behalf of the American people and we’re very glad that they keep going back to court to demand transparency from the federal government. Americans have the right to know what their government is doing to them and to other peoples around the world in their name.

Edward Snowden is a national treasure, and he should be welcomed home in the United States as a free man rather than being prosecuted for leaking classified information. Snowden has done his country a great service, but sadly, because our government views him as a traitor and a lawbreaker, he’s had to go to a country like Russia to avoid being thrown into a prison cell. How is what Snowden did any worse than what Director of Intelligence James Clapper did (lying to Congress) or what the NSA has been doing (violating the Constitution of the United States)?

President Obama should issue a full and complete pardon for Edward Snowden so he can come back home without needing to worry about being locked up and prosecuted for his brave and courageous whistleblowing. America needs more men like Edward Snowden, and fewer men like James Clapper.

Restore America’s honor, Mr. President, and pardon Edward Snowden.

Microsoft buying Nokia’s handset division in $7.2 billion deal; Stephen Elop returning

Well, how’s this for late-breaking Labor Day news: Microsoft has just announced that it’s struck a deal with Nokia to buy “substantially all” of the Finnish phone maker’s Devices & Services business, plus license Nokia’s patent portfolio for ten years, for $7.1 billion in cash. As part of the deal, former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop will rejoin the company as an executive vice president.

Meanwhile, Nokia Chairman Risto Siilasmaa will become Interim CEO of Nokia.

The transaction, if approved, would make Microsoft a major player in the handset industry. For many years, Nokia was the world’s top maker of mobile phones, but it began losing market share as iOS and Android began taking off. Though its fortunes have declined, Nokia still makes and sells a lot of handsets.

In fact, its business as twice as big as Apple’s. It’s just not as profitable.

In late 2011, Nokia hired Stephen Elop to turn things around, and Elop, as many tech pundits predicted, forged an alliance with Microsoft to produce handsets running Windows Phone 7, and later, Windows Phone 8. The company’s Lumia line of smartphones are the best known Windows Phone devices.

Nokia was never Microsoft’s exclusive partner on Windows Phone, but it ended up being an almost-exclusive partner anyway. According to recent estimates, Nokia sells over eighty percent of Windows Phone handsets.

Microsoft executives apparently saw the writing on the wall, and concluded that the time had come to start doing what Apple and BlackBerry already do: Sell both the hardware and the software as one product.

Google, incidentally, is also in the handset business following its acquisition of Motorola Mobility. However, Android is (mostly) open source, and other companies make smartphones running Android – most notably Samsung, but also LG and HTC. HTC used to sell mostly handsets running Windows Mobile once upon a time, but now predominantly makes Android phones.

HTC is currently the second largest manufacturer of Windows Phone handsets, but whether it will remain committed to the Windows Phone platform after today’s big news remains to be seen, since Microsoft has just gone from partner to competitor.

Nokia will be a very different company after it hands over its best-known division (which employs some 32,000 people) to Microsoft. In a joint letter with Steve Ballmer, Stephen Elop called the deal the right move for both companies.

Today’s agreement will accelerate the momentum of Nokia’s devices and services, bringing the world’s most innovative smartphones to more people, while continuing to connect the next billion people with Nokia’s mobile phone portfolio.

With the commitment and resources of Microsoft to take Nokia’s devices and services forward, we can now realize the full potential of the Windows ecosystem, providing the most compelling experiences for people at home, at work and everywhere in between.

We will continue to build the mobile phones you’ve come to love, while investing in the future – new phones and services that combine the best of Microsoft and the best of Nokia.

Nokia and Microsoft are committed to the next chapter.

Together, we will redefine the boundaries of mobility.

This is certainly a major move for Microsoft, and has sparked quite a bit of conversation online. After the transaction closes, they will own the Windows Phone experience, much like their competitors do with their platforms. Lumia will be a Microsoft brand, like Xbox and Skype.

Whether the move will help Windows Phone’s market share remains to be seen. BlackBerry and Apple are the only companies that sell handsets running BlackBerry 10 and iOS, respectively, but they’ve each lost market share and mind share to Google’s Android platform (though BlackBerry has lost much more).

Contrary to what tech pundits like Matt Miller are suggesting, Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s devices business does not constitute the final nail in the coffin for BlackBerry. It does rule out Microsoft as a suitor in a prospective sale of the company, but Microsoft was never a likely acquirer of the Canadian mobile pioneer.

While BlackBerry has not been able to rebound in the North American market, it is far stronger overseas (particularly in Africa and Oceania) and it seems more likely to me that the company’s board will propose taking it private, as opposed to finding a buyer or breaking the company into pieces. BlackBerry 10 is by far the best mobile platform out there at the moment, and although it is rather young, it has a lot of potential. The forthcoming 10.2 release is expected to add a number of small but useful features missing from BB10 at launch, and add further polish and stability to what is already an incredibly secure and well-designed operating system.

What BlackBerry could really use is some kind of shot in the arm. Microsoft has just used its cash hoard to give its Windows Phone platform a boost and become a more global company. Time will tell if the acquisition was the right move to propel Windows Phone forward. For now, we can certainly call it a big move.