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

April special election results: King County public safety radio network levy winning big

Minutes ago, King County Elections published the results of the first round of ballot counting for the April 2015 special election. While there are no offices up in this election, voters in a number of jurisdictions were asked to decide the fate of a number of ballot measures, including a countywide levy to replace a major portion of the region’s aging public safety radio network (King County Proposition #1).

NPI supported a “Yes” vote on this measure, and we are delighted to report it is passing with an overwhelming margin of nearly two to one. Here are the results:

Approved: 64.99% (162,458 votes)
Rejected: 35.01% (87,527 votes)

In a statement sent to NPI, King County Executive Dow Constantine praised the lopsided yes vote, saying it was critical for first responders.

“A reliable emergency radio network is the lifeline that keeps all of our communities safe, used thousands of times a day by police, firefighters and medics in every corner of our county,” Constantine said.

“I want to thank the voters of King County for acknowledging the need to replace a dangerously outdated system and ensuring that our first responders have the tools they need to communicate during life-threatening emergencies.”

In the City of Sammamish, voters are giving the thumbs up to a nonbinding plebiscite asking whether the city should create an initiative and referendum process. 55.25% currently stand in support of bringing direct democracy to the city, while 44.75% are opposed. Around 5,500 of the city’s residents have weighed in, with more votes to be counted in the days to come.

In Klahanie, an exurban neighborhood bordering Sammamish that has been part of unincorporated King County since it was built, residents are overwhelmingly supporting a proposal to join the City of Sammamish.

A staggering 86.83% of Klahanie voters participating in the election are backing annexation, while just 13.17% are opposed. Around 11,000 people live in the area that will be added to Sammamish. 2,156 of those who are of voting age are backing the proposal to join Sammamish. Just 327 are opposed.

The looming annexation will bring Sammamish’s population to around 66,000, surpassing nearby Redmond (although perhaps not for long).

In greater Covington, a proposal to increase the sales tax to pay for road maintenance is failing, 53.27% to 46.73%.

Proposals by South King Fire and Rescue and the Emunclaw School District to issue bonds for fire equipment and school modernization aren’t doing well, either. To pass, a bond proposition has to win a sixty percent yes vote in an election with forty percent minimum turnout – the so-called sixty/forty rule. Neither of these bond propositions is currently meeting the 60% threshold, though both are close.

Enumclaw’s bond proposal is currently getting a 58% yes vote. The South King Fire & Rescue bond is receiving a 57% yes vote.

A proposition to renew the Vashon-Maury Island parks levy, on the other hand, was closer to passage, with 59.52% voting yes (60% needed). 1,657 votes have been cast so far in support and 1,127 in opposition. The margin of passage will need to tick up by about half a percentage point for the measure to succeed.

It’s Special Election Day! Have you voted?

In many jurisdictions across Washington State, today is a special election day. While it is common knowledge that we hold a Top Two election in August and the general election (which is really more like a runoff, thanks to Top Two) in November of every year, state law also provides for two special election windows: one in February, and one in April. The April special election period concludes today.

In King County, there are several measures on the ballot. Just one is countywide – the others are confined either to cities or special districts.

So if you live in King County and are registered to vote, you got a ballot with at least one measure on it. That’s Proposition 1, which would fund the replacement of the region’s aging radio network for first responders. NPI supports a “Yes” vote on this levy; more details about it are available in this post.

Sample ballot for April 28th, 2015 special election

Also on the ballot in King County:

  • The City of Sammamish is asking its residents, in a nonbinding plebiscite, whether they would like the powers of initiative and referendum to be added to the city charter. Most cities in King County have direct democracy.
  • Citizens in the Klahanie neighborhood in east King Coutny will decide whether they would like to join Sammamish. Presently, Klahanie is in unincorporated King County. Sammamish is proposing to annex Klahanie after voters there repeatedly declined to join Issaquah. Many residents of Klahanie have previously expressed a preference for Sammamish over Klahanie.
  • A levy to pay for street resurfacing, enhanced asphalt patching and crack sealing is being considered in the greater Covington area.
  • South King Fire and Rescue is seeking approval to issue bonds to acquire new firefighting equipment. To pass, this proposition must receive a 60% yes vote, and at least 40% of the voters in the jurisdiction must participate.
  • The Enumclaw School District is also seeking approval to issue bonds, for school modernization. The 60/40 rule will be in effect for this measure too.
  • Vashon residents will decide whether to renew their parks levy.

Measures are also on the ballot in other counties in Washington State.

If you were sent a ballot, be sure to fill out and send it back in, either through a post office, or by taking it to a drop box. Don’t blow off this special election: vote and exercise your civic responsibilities!

We’ll have analysis of the results tonight after 8 PM.

Horrible tragedy unfolding in Nepal following massive quake; thousands dead and injured

Last night, as most of the Pacific timezone was headed to bed or snoozing away following the end of another workweek, a massive earthquake struck Nepal, including the capital of Kathmandu. Initially reported as a magnitude 7.5 tremblor by the U.S. Geological Survey, it was later revised to 7.8.

The quake stuck at a depth of fifteen kilometers, and the epicenter was declared to be thirty-four kilometers east southeast of Lamjung, Nepal. In the hours since, it has been succeeded by a number of powerful aftershocks.

Some background from the USGS:

The April 25th, 2015 M 7.8 Nepal earthquake occurred as the result of thrust faulting on or near the main frontal thrust between the subducting India plate and the overriding Eurasia plate to the north. At the location of this earthquake, approximately 80 km to the northwest of the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, the India plate is converging with Eurasia at a rate of 45 mm/yr towards the north-northeast, driving the uplift of the Himalayan mountain range. The preliminary location, size and focal mechanism of the April 25th earthquake are consistent with its occurrence on the main subduction thrust interface between the India and Eurasia plates.

Although a major plate boundary with a history of large-to-great sized earthquakes, large earthquakes on the Himalayan thrust are rare in the documented historical era. Just four events of M6 or larger have occurred within 250 km of the April 25th, 2015 earthquake over the past century. One, a M 6.9 earthquake in August 1988, 240 km to the southeast of the April 25 event, caused close to 1500 fatalities. The largest, an M 8.0 event known as the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake, occurred in a similar location to the 1988 event. It severely damaged Kathmandu, and is thought to have caused around 10,600 fatalities.

Damage in Kathmandu is said to be catastrophic. Many centuries-old temples and historic buildings, including a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have been reduced to giant piles of rubble, with people trapped inside.

At least 1,500 people in Nepal are thought to be dead. It’s the worst disaster that the country has seen in more than eighty years.

The quake was also felt in China and India.

In the Himalayas, avalanches triggered by the quake resulted in the deaths of several people on Mount Everest, the world’s tallest aboveground mountain.

This BBC report puts the devastation into pictures, with a number of video snippets from affected areas, including Kathmandu.

The Times of India has been liveblogging the response to the quake. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to help in any way possible. India is already delivering relief supplies by air, using its fleet of cargo transports.

The White House released a statement from National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan pledging assistance.

“The American people express deep condolences for the lives lost in today’s earthquake,” she said. “The earthquake and subsequent landslides caused widespread damage and loss of life in Nepal, India and Bangladesh. The United States is deploying a team of disaster response experts to Nepal, is providing an initial one million dollars in disaster relief assistance, and stands ready to assist the Government and people of Nepal and the region further in this time of need.”

If you would like to help with disaster recovery, you can make a donation to Mercy Corps, which has teams in Nepal now assisting survivors.

Mercy Corps is based in the Pacific Northwest and has an excellent reputation. It is known for keeping overhead low and ensuring that dollars are transformed into aid for people who need it. Its staff have decades of expertise responding to disasters in both the short and long term and know how to organize the delivery of food, water, and shelter for those in need.

Washington State Legislature adjourns Sine Die; special session to begin next week

With a great deal left undone, the Washington State Legislature adjourned sine die this evening, two days ahead of the deadline for adjournment of an odd-year regular session fixed in the Washington State Constitution.

The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate remain far apart on an operating budget for 2015-2017, and haven’t yet finished working on a capital budget or transportation package either, necessitating a special session.

Governor Jay Inslee announced yesterday he is summoning legislators back to work in a thirty-day special session to begin Wednesday, April 29th.

“Before the Legislature convened in January, I said we must fund education through a sustainable and responsible budget, approve a transportation improvement package and make progress on fighting carbon pollution,” Inslee said. “That work remains undone. A special session will allow lawmakers to focus on these priorities and I expect the work to be done within the thirty-day session.”

“It is time for all sides to compromise, and on Monday I hope to hear openness to that and acknowledgement that the House and Senate will have to move toward each other in order to get the people’s work done.”

A proclamation signed by the governor was published today, making the special session official. It reads as follows:

WHEREAS, in accordance with Article II, Section 12 (Amendment 68) of the Washington State Constitution, the Legislature adjourned its 2015 regular session on April 24, 2015, the 103th day of the session; and

WHEREAS, work remains to be done with respect to the 20l5-2017 biennial operating and capital budgets and bills necessary to implement those budgets; and

WHEREAS, work remains to be done with respect to the 2015-2017 biennial transportation budget and bills necessary to implement that budget; and

WHEREAS, work remains to be done with respect to critical policy bills that need to be acted upon by the Legislature; and

WHEREAS, the Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader, Senate Republican Leader, and Senate Democratic Leader, working together with the Governor may agree upon additional matters that are necessary for the Legislature to address;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Jay Inslee, Governor of the state of Washington, by virtue of the authority vested in me by Article II, Section 12 (Amendment 68) and Article III, Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution, do hereby convene the Washington State Legislature in Special Session in the Capitol at Olympia on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, at 1200 p.m. for the purpose of enacting legislation as described above.

Signed and sealed with the official seal of the state of Washington this 24th day of April, A.D. Two-thousand and Fifteen at Olympia, Washington.

Two years ago, lawmakers nearly ran out the clock trying to get a budget agreement hammered out. A state government shutdown was averted, but with only hours to spare. Whether lawmakers can avoid another eleventh hour situation this year remains to be seen. The special session certainly won’t be very productive if Senate Republicans keep canceling meetings and choosing to take Fridays off.

Loretta Lynch confirmed as the United States of America’s new Attorney General

Well, it’s finally happened. After many contemptible delays, the United States Senate finally took up Loretta Lynch’s nomination today and voted to confirm her as the nation’s next Attorney General, which means that incumbent Eric Holder can finally pack his bags and leave office, as he has wanted to do for many months.

A relieved President Barack Obama hailed the vote.

“Loretta has spent her life fighting for the fair and equal justice that is the foundation of our democracy,” the President said in a statement.

“As head of the Justice Department, she will oversee a vast portfolio of cases, including counterterrorism and voting rights; public corruption and white-collar crime; judicial recommendations and policy reviews – all of which matter to the lives of every American, and shape the story of our country.”

“She will bring to bear her experience as a tough, independent, and well-respected prosecutor on key, bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform. And she will build on our progress in combatting newer threats like cybercrime. Loretta’s confirmation ensures that we are better positioned to keep our communities safe, keep our nation secure, and ensure that every American experiences justice under the law.”

The U.S. Senate’s Democratic caucus voted in unison to confirm Lynch, joined by Bernie Sanders and Angus King, the two independents who caucus with them.

Ten Republicans crossed over to provide the votes needed for Lynch to win a majority. The remaining Republicans voted nay.

The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was a party-line vote:

Voting Aye: Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR), Jon Tester (MT)

Voting Nay: Republicans Jim Risch and Mike Crapo (ID), Steve Daines (MT), Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (AK)

The ten Republicans who crossed over to back Lynch on confirmation were Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Thad Cochran of Missisippi, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Ron Kirk of Illinois, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (showing leadership for a change), Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas did not participate in the final vote (he was the only senator who was absent), but nevertheless lambasted Mitch McConnell from afar for lining up votes for cloture and then for voting to confirm Lynch.

The vote on cloture was 66-34. Cruz participated in that vote.

Even though Republicans now have the U.S. Senate majority, Cruz is still completely uninterested in governing. Without question, he’s about the furthest from presidential material that the Republicans have, with the possible exception of Donald Trump, who is a complete and utter joke.

We extend our congratulations to Loretta Lynch, America’s first black female attorney general. We look forward to seeing her assume her new duties.

Lake Washington teachers latest to walk out in protest of inadequate education funding

Teachers in the Lake Washington School District – which serves 26,700 students in NPI’s hometown of Redmond along with the neighboring cities of Kirkland and Sammamish – have voted to walk off the job on Wednesday, May 6th in protest of the Legislature’s completely inadequate response to the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, and its refusal to fully fund Initiative 1351, approved by voters this fall.

The Lake Washington Education Association is the eleventh WEA local to vote to go on a one-day strike. LWEA represents seventeen hundred hardworking teachers (including my father, who teaches at Redmond High School).

LWEA President Kevin Teeley said in a news release that his members are particularly upset with Republican State Senator Andy Hill – who represents many of them – for his irresponsible, gimmick-laden budget, which would increase class sizes for grades four through twelve, and refer I-1351 back to voters. Hill’s budget also lacks $370 million in professional pay and benefits than the House budget.

If that weren’t enough, teachers are fed up with Hill for his support of a ill-conceived scheme to require student test scores to be used in teacher evaluations.

Teeley was blunt in assigning blame where blame belongs.

“Senator Andy Hill, who wrote the Senate budget, pulled his kids out of Lake Washington schools and sent them to private schools so they would have small class sizes,” Teeley said. “Apparently, he believes his kids deserve small class sizes, but not the rest of the students in the Lake Washington School District.”

Teeley also noted that since the recession hit in 2008, lawmakers have repeatedly neglected to give teachers a cost of living increase or help them with their healthcare expenses. As economic data shows, the stock market has bounced back in spectacular fashion, and the wealthy are doing quite well, but middle and low income families have been left out of the recovery.

“It’s amazing how the Legislature can meet in an emergency session and find the money to give Boeing an $8.7 billion tax break, but they can’t seem to find the money to fund schools as mandated by our state Constitution,” Teeley said.

Several north central WEA locals are going on strike tomorrow. Teachers will be taking to the streets to raise public awareness of the Legislature’s inability to act on school funding and tax reform. Courtesy of WEA, here’s a rundown of protest sites:

Anacortes: 11 AM to 2:45 PM, picketing at 12th and Commercial downtown

Bellingham and Blaine: 8:30 AM to 10:45 AM, meet at Depot Market Square, make signs and march on assigned routes; 10:45 AM speakers; 11:35 AM lunch; 12:30 PM resume march

Mount Vernon and Conway: 9 AM to 10 AM, picketing at various intersections in Mount Vernon; 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM, rally at the courthouse; 1 PM community service projects at Hillcrest, Kiwanis and Lakeview parks

Ferndale: 8:30 AM to 10 AM; meet at Riverwalk Park, make picket signs, walk along Main Street; 10:45 AM attend Depot Market Square rally in Bellingham

LWEA’s decision to strike will no doubt be criticized by Hill and his backers, who would like nothing more than to break up the union. But it is a wholly justified response the Legislature’s failure to discharge its duties.

Ubuntu and Kubuntu 15.04 “Vivid Vervet” released; Debian 8 “Jessie” due Saturday

Editor’s note: If the terms GNU and Linux don’t mean anything to you, this post is probably going to read like a bunch of gibberish. Sorry. But do read on if you’re interested in learning more about the wonderful world of free software.

Free software enthusiasts, it’s time to rev up your Advanced Packaging Tool instances! Ubuntu 15.04 and Kubuntu 15.04 “Vivid Vervet” have landed, and Debian 8.0 “Jessie” is not far behind. That means it’s time to update — unless your machine is  running a Long-Term Support (LTS) release for maximum stability.

It’s rare that Ubuntu and its derivatives sees a major release in the same week as its community-driven parent, Debian. Both Ubuntu and Debian utilize the GNU toolchain and the Linux kernel to provide an operating system that is incredibly robust, powerful, and largely free of proprietary software.

Ubuntu, though better known, is based on Debian and makes use of its many innovations, including the Advanced Packaging Tool, better known as apt, which makes installing system and application updates a breeze.

While Ubuntu sees a new release no matter what every six months – complete with wacky codenames like “Vivid Vervet” – Debian generally only sees a new major release every two years. That means this Saturday’s planned release of Debian 8.0 “Jessie” is a really, really big deal. Debian releases, by the way, are named for characters in Disney’s Toy Story franchise; the current 7.0 release is aliased wheezy.

Today’s release of Ubuntu 15.04 doesn’t bring a lot of changes to the Ubuntu user interface. Most of the improvements are under-the-hood, such as the adoption of systemd, which has proven to be somewhat controversial, even though most users will probably like it because it means faster boot times.

Nevertheless, there are a few user-facing refinements, like new default wallpaper and the restoration of menus to their proper place underneath application title bars.

The bigger user-facing changes this time around can be found in Ubuntu’s sister Kubuntu. Kubuntu has been sailing above the chaos that has been the implementation of Unity in the default Ubuntu flavor for years, quietly moving to the latest iteration of the KDE Software Compilation with each passing release.

However, last year, the KDE Software Compilation’s developers decided to make the compilation more modular, and allow its major components to be developed more independently, at their own pace. Hence, the many KDE projects are now collectively referred to under the title KDE Frameworks.

For this release, Kubuntu is breaking serious new ground by making KDE’s new, cutting-edge Plasma 5 desktop environment (which is one of the aforementioned frameworks) the default. Kubuntu users who choose to upgrade to 15.04 will notice right away that their desktops look quite different.

Plasma 5 ships with an airy, beautiful, and colorful theme called Breeze.

Screenshot of Kubuntu 15.04 Vivid Vervet

“Plasma 5, the next generation of KDE’s desktop has been rewritten to make it smoother to use while retaining the familiar setup. The second set of updates to Plasma 5 are now stable enough for everyday use and is the default in this version of Kubuntu.” — The Kubuntu developers

It’s also got an updated build of LibreOffice. While LibreOffice is not a KDE application, many Kubuntu users (myself included) make heavy use of it.

I’m certainly looking forward to seeing Plasma 5 improve. Perhaps sometime in the next year, KDE and Mozilla can figure out how to improve Firefox integration into KDE. There was a big discussion about this last year and it seems to have sparked some renewed interest in cooperation. That would be very welcome.

Debian developers are spending their week getting Jessie prepped for release. As is common with a major new Debian release, a large number of packages are getting updates, and many new packages are being introduced. A smaller number of packages are being obsoleted. A recent status report from Steve McIntyre goes over some of the things that are getting attention from developers ahead of the big day.

Readers who aren’t techies might wonder why we care so much about what’s happening with Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Debian. Why are these releases newsworthy, and what do these operating systems have to do with progressive politics?

The answer is that Ubuntu/Kubuntu and Debian are a critical part of the software stack that runs most of the machines NPI’s websites are served from, not to mention most of my own computers. Because we at NPI believe in living our values and walking our talk, we have made a conscious choice to use Ubuntu/Kubuntu and Debian, which principally consist of software that is free, unlike Mac or Windows.

Free software, or libre software, refers to software that respects your freedom as a user. In the famous words of Richard Stallman, think free speech, not free beer.

Free software systems are released under licenses that allows anyone to share with a friend, look at their source code to study how they work, and make improvements if they want. If improvements are made and publicly released, they must be released under the same license. (This is known as the share-alike principle.)

Most free software is released under a license like the GNU GPL. The set of freedoms that this license – and many others like it – are based on is as follows:

  1. The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The philosophy that underpins free software is based on the same values and principles that progressive politics are based on, including opportunity, trust, cooperation, and mutual responsibility. It only makes sense that progressives should use and be evangelists for free software. Hence, this post.

While I’m on the subject of free software releases, I’d be remiss not to mention that WordPress, which is another hugely important part of our software stack, saw a major update today with the release of Version 4.2, codenamed Powell.

WordPress is the content management system that powers the Cascadia Advocate, as well as In Brief and many of our other projects.

Like Ubuntu/Kubuntu and Debian, it is free software. WordPress gets along very well with those operating systems and libre web servers like Apache and nginx that are installed along with them as part of a server software stack.

(The operating system runs the computer, the webserver handles requests for resources from the Internet and passes them to applications like WordPress.)

So, happy release day to everyone who is a part of Ubuntu/Kubuntu and WordPress. Debian devs, we’re looking forward to congratulating you as well, when you get Jessie shipped – hopefully, this Saturday as planned.

Our sincere thanks to all the wonderful people who give of their time, talent, and treasure to make free software. The free software community is proof that humanity can do amazing things together in spite of our many differences.

Maria Cantwell, Ron Wyden vote to fast-track Trans-Pacific Partnership in Senate Finance

Deeply disappointing news to share tonight: So-called “fast-track” legislation that would prevent Congress from considering amendments to prior to a future vote on ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is moving forward after the U.S. Senate’s Finance Committee voted twenty to six to advance it.

Among the twenty senators who voted in favor were Washington’s Maria Cantwell and Oregon’s Ron Wyden (who is also the committee’s ranking member). Five other Democrats joined with them to help the Republicans advance the bill. One Republican, Richard Burr of North Carolina, sided with the remaining Democrats.

The roll call was as follows:

Voting Aye: Democrats Ron Wyden (OR), Maria Cantwell (WA), Bill Nelson (FL), Thomas Carper (DE), Ben Cardin (MD), Michael Bennet (CO), Mark Warner (VA), Republicans Orrin Hatch (UT), Chuck Grassley (IA), Mike Crapo (ID), Pat Roberts (KS), Mike Enzi (WY), John Cornyn (TX), John Thune (SD), Johnny Isakson (GA), Rob Portman (OH), Pat Toomey (PA), Dan Coats (IN), Dean Heller (NV) Tim Scott (SC)

Voting Nay: Democrats Charles Schumer (NY), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Robert Menendez (NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Robert Casey (PA), Republican Richard Burr (NC)

That wasn’t all. As The Hill reported, Cantwell didn’t just vote for fast-track. She also inexplicably opposed an bipartisan amendment offered by Debbie Stabenow and Rob Portman that would force the Obama administration to put enforceable currency manipulation provisions into trade deals. The White House didn’t like the Stabenow/Portman amendment, of course, but that’s to be expected.

Despite having Ron Wyden’s support, the currency manipulation amendment failed on a vote of fifteen to eleven, thanks to the nay votes of Cantwell and four other Democrats. If Democrats had stuck together, the amendment would have passed.

“I think there is great economic opportunity outside the United States and I support Trade Promotion Authority,” Cantwell said in a late evening press release sent to NPI and other media outlets following the committee’s vote.

The release did not elaborate on Cantwell’s pro-fast-track stance or offer a rationale for her position. Instead, it focused on two amendments to the bill that Cantwell sponsored that the committee voted to adopt. Cantwell says that these are intended to bolster enforcement and make it easier to gather labor statistics.

Watching Maria Cantwell and Ron Wyden do the work of the United States Chamber of Commerce and Wall Street in the U.S. Senate is more than unsettling… it’s incredibly disturbing, particularly considering that Cantwell and Wyden have been such pioneering leaders on issues like Internet freedom.

We’re used to thinking of them as the good guys. But today, they sided with big industry’s armies of lobbyists over the people of the Pacific Northwest.

There is plenty of evidence showing that past trade schemes like NAFTA and CAFTA have resulted in the deterioration of our manufacturing sector, a staggering number of lost jobs, and bigger trade deficit (PDF).

And the latest, best analysis of the fast-track, “Trade Promotion Authority” legislation that Obama wants (PDF) shows it’s just as bad as legislation that George W. Bush asked for more than a decade ago and didn’t get.

Perhaps Senator Cantwell hasn’t seen the research… like this fine piece from EPI. Or maybe she has seen it and doesn’t think that it’s credible. Either way, she and Senator Ron Wyden are letting us down on a matter of major importance.

If they continue down this path, they will quickly destroy much of the goodwill and gratitude they have earned through their leadership on issues like Internet freedom and Wall Street accountability. We appreciate Cantwell and Wyden’s leadership on environmental and consumer protection. But we need them to be champions for worker protection, too. We need them to stand with Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown. And regrettably, they’re not. They’re missing in action.

Last night on MSNBC, Chris Matthews asked President Barack Obama to respond to several criticisms that have been made of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including by Senator Warren. Obama responded by saying, “I love Elizabeth. We’re allies on a whole host of issues, but she’s wrong on this.”

Wrong how, Mr. President? “Trust me, I know what I’m doing” is not going to cut it. If the Trans-Pacific Partnership is so wonderful and full of goodness, why is it a secret? Why can’t the people of this country read it and see what it says?

Senator Warren asked and answered that question in a post on her blog today, responding directly to President Obama:

Here’s the real answer people have given me: “We can’t make this deal public because if the American people saw what was in it, they would be opposed to it.”

If the American people would be opposed to a trade agreement if they saw it, then that agreement should not become the law of the United States.

She adds:

The Administration says I’m wrong – that there’s nothing to worry about. They say the deal is nearly done, and they are making a lot of promises about how the deal will affect workers, the environment, and human rights. Promises – but people like you can’t see the actual deal.

For more than two years now, giant corporations have had an enormous amount of access to see the parts of the deal that might affect them and to give their views as negotiations progressed. But the doors stayed locked for the regular people whose jobs are on the line.

If most of the trade deal is good for the American economy, but there’s a provision hidden in the fine print that could help multinational corporations ship American jobs overseas or allow for watering down of environmental or labor rules, fast track would mean that Congress couldn’t write an amendment to fix it. It’s all or nothing.

Before we sign on to rush through a deal like that – no amendments, no delays, no ability to block a bad bill – the American people should get to see what’s in it.

Sherrod Brown has been leading this fight, and he points out that TPP isn’t classified military intelligence – it’s a trade agreement among 12 countries that control 40% of the world’s economy. A trade agreement that affects jobs, environmental regulations, and whether workers around the globe are treated humanely.

It might even affect the new financial rules we put in place after the 2008 crisis. This trade agreement doesn’t matter to just the biggest corporations – it matters to all of us.

Senator Warren’s criticisms are spot on.

Considering that past trade schemes haven’t delivered the benefits that were advertised and promised at the time they were adopted, the last thing Congress should be doing right now is giving up its ability to mark up and critically evaluate a mammoth, unprecedented trade scheme like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Our founders gave us a republic with a system of checks and balances for a reason. They wanted a separation of powers. Presidents almost always ask for – or demand – more power than they should have, regardless of party. This is one of those times where Congress needs to say “Sorry, no!” … not, “Sure, yeah, whatever!”

Browse with confidence: NPI’s core network now encrypting all visits by default

It seems like hardly a week goes by these days when we don’t hear about yet another data breach or newly-discovered exploit in widely used software. Bad neighborhoods have existed on the Internet for a long time, but danger now seems to present itself at every turn. There’s malware lurking all over the place, email accounts are constantly being hijacked to send spam, and websites are being broken into to steal information or cause damage to a firm’s reputation.

Sadly, many of these incidents are happening because people aren’t taking basic steps to stay safe. Technologies like HTTPS and SNI exist to encrypt data and user sessions, but they aren’t as widely used as they ought to be.

NPI has always been a security and privacy conscious organization, and we have repeatedly spoken out here in support of good cybersecurity hygiene.

But we know that speaking out isn’t enough. Real leadership means setting a good example for others to follow. We have to walk our talk.

And today, we’re doing just that.

With so many grim developments on the cybersecurity front lately, it’s our pleasure to be the bearers of some good news for a change.

Over the past year, we’ve invested in some important improvements to our web infrastructure, with the last pieces going into place this week. Thanks to these improvements, which are made possible due to the generosity of our loyal supporters, we are now able to encrypt – by default! – all visits to our core network (nwprogressive.org), which includes the Cascadia Advocate and In Brief.

What does this mean? It means that when you type in nwprogressive.org or navigate here from a link or bookmark, your browser will communicate with our server over an encrypted connection.

How can we guarantee this? Because we’re no longer giving anybody the option of connecting to nwprogressive.org insecurely.

Try typing the address for this blog right now, and our server will redirect you. It’ll require you to connect over a secure port, and you’ll see the prefix change to HTTPS if you didn’t put in. The idea here is to make sure that data sent by our web server to your computer gets scrambled as it travels across the Internet using Transport Layer Security (TLS). Likewise, if you fill out a form on our site and send us data, the contents will be encrypted while in transit to our server.

We have actually been using HTTPS to manage NPI’s websites for quite a long time, but now HTTPS is the default on the frontend as well as the backend.

You can tell that the connection is secure because a padlock icon will appear in your address bar. Additionally, because we have invested in an extended validation certificate, the padlock icon should be green, and part or all of your address bar may also appear green. If you’re using a desktop browser, you’ll see NPI’s name.

For example, in Mozilla Firefox on a Mac:

Screenshot of address bar in Firefox with Cascadia Advocate loaded

If you click on the green portion of the address bar with NPI’s name in it, a tooltip pops up verifying that you’re accessing NPI’s website over a secure connection, and the certificate is trusted.

Depending on what browser and operating system you have, the address bar will look different. The green background might stretch across the entire width of the bar, or it might only appear behind the text that says Northwest Progressive Institute. Regardless, some part of the bar will turn a shade of a green, as you can see from the following compilation of browser address bars:

Examples of address bars with green fields Not many organizations go to the trouble of investing in extended validation certificates. They can be pretty expensive (though we secured ours at a very good price) and a bit of a bother to set up.

But EV certificates have one critically important advantage over regular secure certificates: they’re immune to spoofing in two of the most-widely used browsers in the world. Those are Firefox and Chromium (which Google Chrome is based on).

Coincidentally, Chromium/Chrome and Firefox also happen to be the browsers of choice for the vast majority of people visiting NPI’s network of websites. That much we know from consulting our server logs and site statistics.

So, most of you reading this benefit from our investment in an EV certificate.

Certificate spoofing can certainly be malicious (with an intent to cause harm) but sometimes it is done by institutions we trust – like our employers or our schools – that want to spy on us. Researcher Steve Gibson explains:

Any corporation, educational institution, or other Internet connectivity provider who wishes to monitor every Internet action of its employees, students or users—every private user ID & password of every social networking or banking site they visit, their medical records, all “secure” email… EVERYTHING — simply arranges to add one additional “Pseudo Certificate Authority” to their users’ browsers or computers.

It’s that simple.

By “pseudo certificate authority”, Steve means a fake entity invented by the corporation or institution that wishes to spy on its users, as opposed to a real certificate authority like Symantec’s Thawte, Comodo Group, Trustwave, GeoTrust, or the newly-formed, free software community-backed Let’s Encrypt.

Consider Steve’s hypothetical:

For example, suppose that “Bendover Industries” installs a commercially available “SSL Proxy” (also known as an HTTPS or TLS Proxy). Then, as part of prepping computers for use inside their network, Bendover’s IT department simply adds one additional “trusted” Certificate Authority to each computer. That’s all it takes.

Now, whenever anyone inside Bendover’s network makes a “secure” connection to any remote public web site—their bank, Google Mail, Facebook, anything—that connection is intercepted by Bendover’s SSL Proxy appliance before it leaves the building.

On-the-fly, the SSL Proxy Appliance creates a fraudulent “spoofed” web server certificate in order to impersonate the intended remote web site, and it signs that fraudulent certificate itself using the signature of the also-fraudulent Certificate Authority that was previously planted inside the user’s browser or computer.

If this sounds villainous, well, that’s because it is. Do note that the technique Steve is describing can only be practically and readily implemented on computers that an institution controls. A personally-owned computer that an institution’s IT department doesn’t have access to can’t be tricked out with a pseudo-CA.

The consequences of this spoofing are pretty serious:

Instead of connecting to the remote web server, the browser is “securely” connected only to the local Proxy Appliance which is decrypting, inspecting, and logging all of the material sent from the browser. It inspects all content to determine whether it abides by whatever arbitrary policies the local network is enforcing. Its users have NO privacy and NO security. Or perhaps it just silently logs & records everything for possible future need. Either way, it has obtained full access to everything the user enters into their web browser.

While SSL/TLS interception cannot be prevented when a user doesn’t have control over the computer he or she is using, it can almost always be detected, because certificate spoofing results in a fingerprinting mismatch between the public key and the private key (which the institution running the pseudo-CA doesn’t know).

In the course of his research into certificate spoofing, Steve discovered, as I mentioned earlier, that EV certificates cannot be spoofed in Firefox or Chromium/Chrome, owing to the way that those browsers are made:

Since both Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome/Chromium browser projects are fully open source, we were able to inspect the way EV certificates are validated.

They maintain their own private internal lists of trusted EV certificate authorities and will ONLY display the green EV coloration when the server’s certificate has been signed by a chain of certificates terminating in one of those known root authorities. This means that they cannot fall prey to EV spoofing the way Internet Explorer was designed to.

The EV handling within Opera and Safari are unknown. They are closed source browsers, and they do not appear to publish any formal statements about their handling of EV certificates. (If anyone does have any definitive information about Opera or Safari, please drop us a line.)

If the above is Greek to you, don’t fret.

Here’s the takeaway that you need to know: If you’re connecting to NPI’s website in an open source browser like Firefox or Chromium and your browser address bar doesn’t partially turn green, it means the connection is not fully secure.

The absence of the green field might occasionally be due to the presence of mixed content. That’s when a page you’re accessing over HTTPS loads embedded content like images or scripts over a regular ‘ol HTTP connection that isn’t secure.

We haven’t scoured every single page and post on nwprogressive.org yet to remove all of the hardcoded HTTP prefixes that may exist. But we’ve corrected enough that you should see the green field most of the time.

If you never see it, it’s quite possible that your secure browsing is being intercepted. To know for sure, you’d want to compare certificate fingerprints (if you know how… if you don’t, you could ask a tech-savvy friend, or contact us for assistance.)

When an institution lacks the power to sniff or intercept Internet traffic, it sometimes blocks use of HTTPS altogether, which is really unfortunate.

The Bellevue School District does this, for example. I know they do it because I’ve logged onto their guest Wi-Fi network before and discovered that it’s not possible to securely connect to any website. It doesn’t matter what it is.

Because this domain now only accepts traffic over HTTPS, it’s not going to load at all on a public Wi-Fi network where HTTPS is blocked. That’s a consequence we are willing to live with. None of us should be using an Internet service provider or Wi-Fi network where HTTPS has been blocked anyway.

Projects not hosted at nwprogressive.org are not yet set to require visitors to use HTTPS, but will be soon. Permanent Defense will be next – it already has its CA-issued certificate. After that, we’ll move on to Pacific NW Portal.

Making websites secure is hard work, so it may be a few months before we’re done. But the effort has been and will be well worth it.

If you have any questions or comments about the security upgrades we’ve made here, please don’t hesitate to get in touch or leave a comment here. In either case, your message to us will be transmitted over an encrypted connection!

Analysis: State Treasurer’s grand tax reform plan is fatally flawed, shouldn’t move forward

Yesterday, State Treasurer Jim McIntire – who is responsible under state law for managing and overseeing the investment of the public’s money – unveiled a rather grand and ambitious plan for reforming the state’s tax code, which he says he hopes will be a “conversation starter”. The plan would dramatically alter Washington State’s tax structure (mostly in good ways), but at an unacceptable cost.

McIntire’s proposal, which does not have the support of the governor or any caucus of the Legislature, was drafted in consultation with Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn. Dorn has repeatedly called on the Legislature to put more money into public education to comply with the Court’s McCleary decision.

Dorn and McIntire both sit on the sidelines of the budgeting process. While each has a bully pulpit as an officer within Washington’s executive department, neither has a vote or much of a say in budget negotiations. Nor do McIntire and Dorn have the ability to alter the budget after it leaves the Legislature. (Governor Jay Inslee, on the other hand, has this power thanks to his line-item veto pen.)

The plan McIntire and Dorn have come up with certainly fits with the aphorism Go big or go home. While we appreciate their willingness to put bold ideas on the table and stand behind those ideas, they’ve produced a proposal that has something for everyone to dislike. It is too flawed, in our view, to merit further consideration.

Let’s take a look at an outline of McIntire’s plan, and then I’ll explain what we mean. McIntire begins by noting that our tax code is extremely regressive (it’s the worst in the nation) and also very unstable, owing to our reliance on consumption taxes for revenue. It’s simply not a system that can carry our state forward as we move further into the twenty-first century. That we agree with.

McIntire’s prescription for fixing this is as follows:

  • Eliminate the state property tax, lower regular property tax limits, and limit excess local school levies;
  • Set the B&O (business and occupation tax) rate at 1.0 percent for business services and at Boeing’s 0.29% for all others;
  • Cut the state sales tax to 5.5 percent;
  • Create a constitutional 5 percent flat rate income tax dedicated to education (with a $50,000 deduction for a typical family of four); and
  • Require a three-fifths vote of the legislature to make any changes to the income, sales or B&O rates.

Let’s break down the problems with this proposal.

First, the bar for success is too high. Notice that McIntire and Dorn’s plan relies on a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature and a vote of the people to pass. That’s a huge lift.

A campaign of this magnitude and difficulty requires years of groundwork and a major, sustained investment of time, talent, and treasure, not to mention buy-in. It certainly isn’t something that could be done in the current session or the next one.

We’ve heard that Dorn is planning to retire as Superintendent of Public Instruction. If that’s true, by the time January 2017 rolls around, he’ll be leaving office, and won’t be in a position to advocate for this proposal as an elected leader.

We do not have the luxury of waiting or the capability to dither and procrastinate on tax reform any longer. In the short term, we need to take small and concrete steps to raise revenue to keep our vital public services from falling apart. Long-term, we need to lay the groundwork for bigger steps that will be a harder sell.

We’ve known for decades that our tax code needs overhauling, but in that time, we’ve mostly succeeded in making it worse, not better. Lawmakers have talked plenty about reform, and studied the problem, but haven’t acted.

Even when the Legislature was controlled by Democratic supermajorities in 2007 and 2008, the political will to pursue comprehensive reform wasn’t there.

Republican Governor Dan Evans, considered by many to be the finest and most effective governor in Washington State history (so popular, in fact, that he won three consecutive terms) tried repeatedly in the 1970s to pass a constitutional amendment explicitly allowing the state to levy an income tax.

Amazingly, Evans was twice able to secure a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature to pass an amendment. He even had the support of The Seattle Times in his efforts. (Back then, the Times editorial board was much more progressive).

But he was unable to persuade a majority of Washingtonians to agree, and the amendments died at the ballot box, leaving his tax reform efforts on ice.

The last time the people of Washington voted for a proposal to create an income tax was in the 1930s, during the early depression years.

Sadly, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down that initiative, which is why Evans and the Legislature sought to amend the Constitution instead of simply imposing an income tax through statute.

The logic the Court relied on to reach its decision makes no sense to us, and we suspect that today’s Court would discard the precedent if it had the chance to.

But today’s Legislature is not interested in levying an income tax. Democratic legislative leaders haven’t even put the idea on the table, preferring to join Governor Inslee in coalescing behind a modest capital gains tax.

They recognize the groundwork has not been laid yet. There’s a lot of education and outreach that needs doing before we can move from conversation to action.

In the meantime, smaller-scale actions (like creating a capital gains tax) need to be taken to bolster confidence in state government and shore up our treasury.

The second problem with the McIntire/Dorn proposal is that it eliminates the state property tax levy, while leaving the business and occupation tax in place.

For those who don’t know, the B&O tax is a tax on a business’ gross receipts. It’s widely considered to be unfair and problematic. But, bizarrely, the McIntire/Dorn proposal keeps the B&O tax instead of scrapping it, while at the same time eliminating the state property tax levy… which is exclusively devoted to our state’s schools and is a much more stable source of revenue than the sales tax.

McIntire, who served as a member of the Washington State Tax Structure Study in 2001-2002, ought to be familiar with the conclusions of that report, which called for the B&O tax to be done away with. As the report’s conclusions section declares:

Our business and occupation tax is a dramatic violator of the principle of neutrality among like businesses. The pyramiding of this tax on goods as they move through the production chain is a fundamental problem that requires correction.

Nobody in Washington seems to like the B&O tax… and no other state in the Union levies a comparable tax… so why keep it?

We think McIntire’s approach here is backwards.

We should keep the state property tax levy (though change it to be more progressive) while repealing the business & occupation tax. We could replace it in whole or in part with a value-added tax (VAT) as the study committee recommended, pollution penalties from cap and trade, or a tax on business income.

The details can be worked out, but the bottom line is, removal and replacement of the B&O needs to be part of any credible progressive tax reform plan.

The third problem with the McIntire/Dorn proposal is that it sets up an income tax with a flat rate instead of a graduated rate.

Convincing the people of Washington to support a state income tax is going to take a lot of work. So long as we’re putting in the effort to build public support for this incredibly important change, we ought to go with a graduated income tax that is based on ability to pay. Wealthy families should be asked to pay a higher rate than lower and middle income families, like they do at the federal level.

A graduated income tax is both fair and sensible.

Consider the analogy of a sports club where members are asked to pay dues. The club’s golf course, basketball court, and fields (for volleyball, gridiron, soccer, baseball, etc.) can’t be maintained for free. Someone has to keep up the grounds and monitor their security. Hence, club members pay dues, and dues are means-based. The most well-off members of the club serve as its patrons and benefactors, and may even offer to match contributions made by less-wealthy members.

That’s the same principle we need governing our tax code.

Contrary to what the radical right says, it’s not about punishing success. It’s about paying it forward. There are no self-made men or women in this country. Everybody who succeeds in business does so using the infrastructure and public services paid for by the taxpayers, and should contribute back, so that our communities remain strong and vibrant. It’s patriotic to be a taxpayer.

The fourth and most serious flaw in the McIntire/Dorn plan is the proposal to require a three-fifths vote of the Legislature to change the rates of the state’s major taxes going forward. We are completely, firmly opposed to this.

Budgets and budgeting decisions should be reached by majority vote, as provided for in Article II, Section 22 of our Constitution.

Our founders gave careful thought to what threshold was appropriate for passage of legislation, and they settled on a majority vote, because it’s the only standard that makes sense in a democracy. They thoughtfully gave us a plan of government that balances majority rule with minority rights. We should not upset that balance.

I’m guessing that McIntire and Dorn included this element in the hopes that it would lead to some Republican buy-in. But it won’t. Republicans are simply not interested in a grand bargain with Democrats on tax reform.

Neither is the man that many of them take their cues from: Tim Eyman.

Eyman will settle for nothing less than total capitulation from Democrats. He’s presently working to qualify an initiative to the ballot that tries to blackmail lawmakers into passing a constitutional amendment to overturn League of Education Voters. His incredibly destructive I-1366 would cut the state sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5%, resulting in the loss of about a billion dollars per annum, if the Legislature doesn’t do as he wishes by April of next year.

McIntire and Dorn certainly deserve credit for prodding the Legislature to think bigger. Unfortunately, the plan they’ve put on the table to serve as a “conversation starter” is a nonstarter. It gets too much wrong, and therefore shouldn’t be the basis for what the progressive community in Washington uses to construct a winning framework for a comprehensive, meaningful overhaul of our tax code.

NPI to region’s congressional delegation: Stand strong against fast-track for TPP

Editor’s Note: The following message regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership is being sent today to our region’s United States Senators and Representatives, excluding Ron Wyden and Dave Reichert, who are on record in support of legislation to give President Obama the authority to negotiate a final incarnation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that couldn’t be amended by Congress. We are publishing our message to them here on the Cascadia Advocate as an open letter.

Dear Senators and Representatives:

The Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI) supports good jobs, fair trade, and the right of the American people to make their own laws. The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), based on what little has leaked from the secretive negotiation process, threatens to undermine all of those values.

On top of this, the White House is demanding authority that would unacceptably limit your ability as a member of Congress to properly assess, improve, and make an informed decision on the TPP. A bill to grant this authority is on the verge of being introduced in the House and Senate following recent discussions by Representative Paul Ryan and Senators Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden.

In a recent opinion piece, Senator Elizabeth Warren laid out some of the main problems with the TPP. It would:

  • Erode important safeguards designed to prevent future financial crises
  • Allow companies to use secret trade tribunals to challenge and override U.S. laws, including labor and environmental protections
  • Prevent the U.S. from enacting new limits on toxic financial products, or from taxing international financial transactions
  • Undermine the middle class by promoting the offshoring of good jobs

Senator Warren has also drawn attention to a particular provision whose text has recently leaked, referring to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process. ISDS allows multinational corporations to challenge laws passed by our government — things like environmental or safety regulations — to potentially win millions of dollars in “damages” that would have to be paid by American taxpayers. And they could do all this without ever having to go to court in the United States.

Large corporations have already used ISDS provisions in other trade deals to attack regulations and laws designed to protect the middle class. They sued Egypt for raising the minimum wage, they sued Germany for eliminating nuclear power to keep its citizens safe, and right now Phillip Morris is suing Australia for implementing tobacco regulations designed to cut smoking rates and protect children.

“The name may sound mild, but don’t be fooled,” wrote Senator Warren in a February guest column for The Washington Post. “Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.”

We agree with her. In fact, so does the government of Australia, which has also raised serious objections to ISDS and has so far insisted that it be excluded from the process in the final TPP language.

There are larger issues with the TPP than just the possible loss of sovereignty. The trade deficit has soared in recent decades.

For example, the U.S. deficit with Japan reached nearly $80 billion in 2013. It is estimated that the trade deficit with Japan alone resulted in 896,600 jobs eliminated in the nation across nearly all congressional districts.

The recent trade deal with South Korea, which was promised to create at least 70,000 jobs, has instead cost jobs in the United States – possibly in the neighborhood of 85,000 – and led to a larger trade deficit with South Korea.

Estimates of the cost in jobs from NAFTA runs into the millions.

The progressive movement in the Northwest has united in opposition to Fast Track authority, in order to allow Congress to exercise its full range of powers to address problems in the TPP. This coalition is an unprecedented alliance that includes the Sierra Club, the International Association of Machinists, the NAACP, the Presbyterian Church, farmers, and many others.

NPI is deeply concerned by the TPP. We urge you to oppose any proposed bill that would give fast track authority to the White House and limit Congress’ ability to review, debate, and propose amendments to the final text.

Finally, we ask you to commit to insisting that fairness be the foundation of all future trade deals. Any agreement we ratify should include rigorous labor and environmental protections that allow for good jobs to be created in the Pacific Northwest. We simply can’t afford a new trade scheme that hurts low and middle income families and destroys our remaining manufacturing base.

Sincerely,

Robert Cruickshank
President
Northwest Progressive Institute
Andrew Villeneuve
Founder and executive director
Northwest Progressive Institute

Federal grand jury returns ten count indictment of State Auditor Troy Kelley

State Auditor Troy Kelley has been indicted by a federal grand jury for filing false tax returns, making false declarations, obstructing justice, and possessing stolen property, the United States Attorney for Western Washington announced today.

The ten count indictment was returned by a jury in the U.S. District Court in Seattle. Kelley is due to be arraigned in the Tacoma division this afternoon.

“Mr. Kelley spun a web of lies in an effort to avoid paying his taxes and keep more than a million dollars that he knew did not belong to him, but instead should have been returned to thousands of homeowners across this state,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes in a statement. “I commend the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation for their diligent work to piece together the voluminous records that form the basis for the charges in this case.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service jointly allege that Kelley made a lot of money by stealing from the people he worked with while he was in the mortgage reconveyance business.

From 2003 to 2008, Kelley ran a business that was supposedly responsible for tracking documents pertaining to real estate sales and refinancing agreements.  Kelley’s arrangement with his clients provided that he was supposed to return money to borrowers while keeping the residual balance as his fee.

But apparently, he got into the habit of keeping it all and ended up pocketing over $2 million in stolen money. Hence the indictment for possession of stolen property. The other counts are linked, as the U.S. Attorney’s statement explains:

When the amount withheld by title companies became the subject of civil litigation, the indictment alleges KELLEY obstructed the litigation, repeatedly lying in a declaration and in depositions while under oath.  For this conduct KELLEY is charged with four counts of false declarations and one count of attempted obstruction of a civil lawsuit.  Further, the indictment alleges KELLEY failed to pay federal taxes and obstructed the IRS in its efforts to collect taxes from him.  He is charged with corrupt interference with Internal Revenue laws and two counts of filing false income tax returns.  Finally, KELLEY is charged with making false statements to Internal Revenue Service agents who questioned him about his scheme in April 2013.

To say that these are serious charges would be an understatement.

Kelley’s credibility is completely gone. He may be innocent until proven guilty under the laws and customs of this country, but it looks to us like the feds have an excellent case and are prepared to go to trial with it.

Kelley may believe that when all is said and done, he’ll be cleared, but he simply cannot administer his office while a defendant in a major federal case. He should resign from his position immediately, as everyone from Governor Jay Inslee to Washington State Democratic Party Chair Jaxon Ravens is demanding.

But, judging from the long statement he put out today, in which he claimed to be the victim of an unjust investigation, it sounds like he has no intention of voluntarily resigning. In the closing paragraph, he declares, “Beginning May 1st, I will take a temporary leave of absence from my duties as Washington State Auditor to allow my office to continue to do its important work without distraction. I fully intend to resume my duties after I put these legal matters to rest.”

Kelley seems to be in denial. Why isn’t he resigning now? Why is he waiting until May 1st to start this leave of absence that he plans? How does he think he’ll be able to resume his duties when the case against him may take months and possibly years to resolve, during which time the 2016 general election will take place?

Kelley seems to be thinking only about self-preservation, which is unfortunate. It’s not how we expect someone in his position to act.

If Kelley continues to stubbornly refuse to resign, he can expect to face an effort to recall or impeach him. Those are the two methods by which an elected officer can be involuntarily removed from office. Article V of the Washington State Constitution outlines how the process of impeachment works:

SECTION 1 IMPEACHMENT – POWER OF AND PROCEDURE. The house of representatives shall have the sole power of impeachment. The concurrence of a majority of all the members shall be necessary to an impeachment. All impeachments shall be tried by the senate, and, when sitting for that purpose, the senators shall be upon oath or affirmation to do justice according to law and evidence. When the governor or lieutenant governor is on trial, the chief justice of the supreme court shall preside. No person shall be convicted without a concurrence of two-thirds of the senators elected.

SECTION 2 OFFICERS LIABLE TO. The governor and other state and judicial officers, except judges and justices of courts not of record, shall be liable to impeachment for high crimes or misdemeanors, or malfeasance in office, but judgment in such cases shall extend only to removal from office and disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust or profit, in the state. The party, whether convicted or acquitted, shall, nevertheless, be liable to prosecution, trial, judgment and punishment according to law.

SECTION 3 REMOVAL FROM OFFICE. All officers not liable to impeachment shall be subject to removal for misconduct or malfeasance in office, in such manner as may be provided by law.

The House could begin impeachment proceedings against Kelley soon, as it is still in session, and is likely to be in session through the month of may due to the stalemate over the state budget. A majority of representatives would have to vote for impeachment to begin a trial in the Senate.

The alternative would be a citizen-initiated recall.

The recall is one of several progressive ballot reforms added to Washington State’s Constitution during the Progressive Era.

In Washington, unlike other states, an elected official cannot be recalled without cause, which is why we don’t see many recall attempts. But with today’s indictment, it seems grounds exist to recall State Auditor Troy Kelley.

Here’s what the Washington State Constitution says about recalls:

ARTICLE I. SECTION 33. RECALL OF ELECTIVE OFFICERS. Every elective public officer of the state of Washington expect [except] judges of courts of record is subject to recall and discharge by the legal voters of the state, or of the political subdivision of the state, from which he was elected whenever a petition demanding his recall, reciting that such officer has committed some act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office, or who has violated his oath of office, stating the matters complained of, signed by the percentages of the qualified electors thereof, hereinafter provided, the percentage required to be computed from the total number of votes cast for all candidates for his said office to which he was elected at the preceding election, is filed with the officer with whom a petition for nomination, or certificate for nomination, to such office must be filed under the laws of this state, and the same officer shall call a special election as provided by the general election laws of this state, and the result determined as therein provided. [AMENDMENT 8, 1911 p 504 Section 1. Approved November, 1912.]

The Constitution also says:

ARTICLE I. SECTION 34. SAME. The legislature shall pass the necessary laws to carry out the provisions of section thirty-three (33) of this article, and to facilitate its operation and effect without delay: Provided, That the authority hereby conferred upon the legislature shall not be construed to grant to the legislature any exclusive power of lawmaking nor in any way limit the initiative and referendum powers reserved by the people. The percentages required shall be, state officers, other than judges, senators and representatives, city officers of cities of the first class, school district boards in cities of the first class; county officers of counties of the first, second and third classes, twenty-five per cent. Officers of all other political subdivisions, cities, towns, townships, precincts and school districts not herein mentioned, and state senators and representatives, thirty-five per cent. [AMENDMENT 8, 1911 p 504 Section 1. Approved November, 1912.]

RCW 29A.56.110 provides:

Whenever any legal voter of the state or of any political subdivision thereof, either individually or on behalf of an organization, desires to demand the recall and discharge of any elective public officer of the state or of such political subdivision, as the case may be, under the provisions of sections 33 and 34 of Article 1 of the Constitution, the voter shall prepare a typewritten charge, reciting that such officer, naming him or her and giving the title of the office, has committed an act or acts of malfeasance, or an act or acts of misfeasance while in office, or has violated the oath of office, or has been guilty of any two or more of the acts specified in the Constitution as grounds for recall. The charge shall state the act or acts complained of in concise language, give a detailed description including the approximate date, location, and nature of each act complained of, be signed by the person or persons making the charge, give their respective post office addresses, and be verified under oath that the person or persons believe the charge or charges to be true and have knowledge of the alleged facts upon which the stated grounds for recall are based.

For the purposes of this chapter:

  1. “Misfeasance” or “malfeasance” in office means any wrongful conduct that affects, interrupts, or interferes with the performance of official duty;
    1. Additionally, “misfeasance” in office means the performance of a duty in an improper manner; and
    2. Additionally, “malfeasance” in office means the commission of an unlawful act;
  2. “Violation of the oath of office” means the neglect or knowing failure by an elective public officer to perform faithfully a duty imposed by law.

As the indictment of Kelley alleges that some of his illegal conduct took place while he was Auditor, a citizen could argue to a judge that Kelley has committed an act of misfeasance or malfeasance, and is thus eligible to be recalled.

Assuming that a judge allowed a recall effort to go forward, a large number of signatures would need to be collected, “equal to twenty-five percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for the office to which the officer whose recall is demanded was elected at the preceding election” (RCW 29A.56.180).

Organizers of a recall would have two hundred and seventy days to collect signatures, or about eight months. Following validation of signatures, a recall election would be scheduled to take place within forty-five to ninety-days.

Kelley has no chance of getting reelected in 2016, so if he continues to refuse to resign, a recall might move up the date of his departure by six months to a year or more, depending on how fast recall organizers could collect signatures. A recall effort that appears to be gathering steam might pressure Kelley into resigning.

I bring all this up because we need and deserve a state auditor who has the trust of the public. Troy Kelley says he’s an innocent man and he is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, but these charging papers say he’s a crook, and there’s no way he can govern, let alone govern effectively, while under indictment.

Kelley should resign from office to focus on his criminal defense. He no longer has the ability to serve the people of the State of Washington.

If he is unwilling to do so, he should be removed from office.

POSTSCRIPT: Turns out someone filed papers to recall Troy Kelley even before he was indicted. The Seattle Times filed a story regarding the petition submitted by former State Representative Will Knedlik.

Live in King County? Vote Yes by April 28th, 2015 to upgrade our region’s emergency public safety radio network

April may not seem like an election month, but in Washington, it’s actually one of two times during the year when local jurisdictions may schedule special elections, most often for the purpose of sending the voters a levy for their consideration.

This year, the nine-member King County Council has opted to place a proposition on the April 2015 special election ballot to address a crucial need: the aging of the region’s emergency public safety radio network.

The unfortunately-numbered King County Proposition #1 (identical in character to many past propositions that have appeared on ballots in prior years) would slightly increase property taxes to allow the county to replace critical communications equipment used by first responders that is at the end of its useful life.

Courtesy of the Yes on Proposition 1 campaign, here are some basic facts about the levy that every King County voter ought to know:

  • A YES vote for Proposition 1, the Emergency Public Safety Radio Network Replacement Project, will allow King County to replace our dangerously outdated emergency radio network system that police, firefighters, Medic One and emergency first responders all use to answer emergency calls.
  • The current emergency radio network is decades old, has dangerous gaps in coverage in populated areas and was designed to serve a much smaller area. This puts the public and first responders at risk. It needs to be replaced.
  • The current network was designed in 1992 to serve King County’s smaller population. Over the years, our population has steadily increased and residents are living in areas they didn’t before, which creates coverage challenges for the current network..
  • The improved network will provide essential equipment our first responders need to communicate during life-threatening emergencies. Without this network, public safety will be at risk.
  • A yes vote would replace radios used by first responders to communicate during crises, upgrade equipment in King County’s 9-1-1 call centers, increase reliability, and provide greater coverage for radio communications.
  • When callers dial 9-1-1, operators use the radio network system to ensure that local emergency responders are sent to the callers’ correct location.
  • Our communities are safer when our emergency personnel have reliable tools.The emergency radio network is used daily. It is a critical tool that is used by fire, police and EMS to do their jobs on every call, every day.
  • The improved network will be available to city, district, and county first responders – expanding coverage across all of King County.
  • The levy will only be collected long enough to pay for the project – nine years at most. It will cost the average homeowner just over $2/month to fund this network. A nominal fee for the added safety and security it will provide to all King County residents.

King County Proposition #1 enjoys strong support from mayors, fire commissioners and law enforcement chiefs across King County as well as county elected leaders, including eight of nine councilmembers, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Sheriff John Urquhart.

There is no active campaign opposing Proposition #1, but representatives of King County Fire Commissioners’ Association have weighed in against the levy due to concerns that passage of the levy could negatively affect rural fire districts’ ability to maintain staffing and service levels in the event of an economic downturn. The ordinance adopted by the county acknowledges as much (PDF):

Statement of Facts

  1. If the funding measure is put on the ballot and approved by the voters, fire districts’ levies may be reduced and services diminished.
  2. The King County council finds that any reduction in fire district staff or services resulting from the PSERN levy would be contrary to the public interest. This funding proposal is intended to address concerns about prorationing of fire district levies during the term of the proposed levy.

Fire commissioners Mark Thompson and James A. Fossos are concerned that the language of Section 5 of the ordinance do not go far enough to protect rural fire districts. In their statement against Proposition 1, they write:

If property values drop, fire districts could possibly be in a negative financial position and need to lay off fire fighters during the nine year term of the PSERN (radio system) levy.

Laying off firefighters is unacceptable, especially when a comprehensive prorationing protection plan could have been implemented by the County Executive to stave off any possible staffing reductions by impacted fire districts.

While we would like to see the county do more to protect rural fire districts,  Proposition #1 deserves our support. Rejection of this levy would prevent the county from getting started on replacing its share of our region’s crumbling emergency radio network. That would be a bad outcome.

Rural firefighters can’t do their jobs very well if they cannot reliably communicate with each other and their chiefs. Recognizing this fact, many fire commissioners have endorsed Proposition #1 in spite of the concerns expressed by Thompson and Fossos, and we at NPI join them in urging a yes vote.

Ballots for the April 28th, 2015 special election have been mailed by King County Elections. Please vote yes on Proposition #1 and ensure your ballot is postmarked by April 28th or deposited in a drop box by 8 PM that same day.

Sample ballot for April 28th, 2015 special election

NPI recommends a yes vote on King County Proposition #1. Above is a sample ballot indicating how to vote.

Voters who would like more information about the project that the levy would fund should call or email David Mendel, Emergency Radio System Project Director. He can be reached at 206-263-7942 or david (dot) mendel (at) kingcounty (dot) gov.

Hillary Clinton makes it official, finally: She’s running for President in 2016

Ending years of speculation, gossip, and when is she going to announce talk, former First Lady, United States Senator, and United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton declared in a video message that she will seek the Democratic nomination for President of the United States of America in 2016.

Clinton’s video opens with a montage of ordinary Americans talking about their hopes and plans for 2015 and beyond. She does not appear in her own video until a minute and a half in, where she can be heard saying, “I’m getting ready to do something too.” The video then pivots to a scene of her standing in front of a house, declaring, “I’m running for President.” 

“Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,’ she continues.

“Everyday Americans need a champion. And I want to be that champion. So you can do more than just get by – you can get ahead, and stay ahead. Because when families are strong, America is strong.”

“So I’m hitting the road to earn your vote — because it’s your time. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey,” she concludes.

Clinton’s 2016 campaign, borrowing a page from the 2008 Obama campaign and 2004 Dean campaign, will be called Hillary for America. The campaign website is now live, and Clinton has also posted her video to Facebook, where it has thousands of likes already, and is rapidly gaining more.

Hillary for America

Clinton’s remark that “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top” is already being called inspired by Elizabeth Warren in comments by talking heads on cable television. We certainly hope that Clinton seeks out Elizabeth Warren’s counsel often and incorporates her advice into her campaign.

There’s a lot to like about this launch. It’s low-key and doesn’t carry the same aura of inevitability Clinton’s people tried to create when they launched her 2008 bid. Clinton is due to begin campaigning in Iowa on Tuesday, which will constitute the next stage of her intentionally designed slow campaign rollout.

Though Clinton has not offered any policy prescriptions yet, her video message hints that her platform may be more progressive than in 2008. But we’ll reserve judgment until we hear specifics. Platitudes simply will not do. There are a lot of people waiting to hear her articulate what policy directions she intends to advocate for. We hope those policy directions are built on progressive values and principles.

Clinton has previously expressed support for keeping and enhancing the Patient Protection Act, and dismay at Republicans’ attempts to destroy President Obama’s credibility with leaders of other nations. She is a strong supporter of equal pay for equal work, LGBT rights (a gay couple was featured in her video), and Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

We will be particularly interested in hearing what she has to say on curbing the mass surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden, keeping Amtrak funded and building more high speed rail, replacing No Child Left Behind, defending Net Neutrality, protecting our workers and small businesses from harmful trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and speaking to other issues that big media often glosses over or ignores.

Reaction to Hillary’s announcement is starting to pour in, and we’ll post it as we get it. The Washington State Democratic Party was among the first organizations in our region to issue a statement.

“Washington State Democrats welcome Hillary Clinton to the Presidential campaign. She’s had a remarkable career fighting for our values as a party,” said Jaxon Ravens, Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party.

“This coming campaign will be hugely important for our country,” Ravens added. “The Republicans running for President uniformly have dangerous views that would be deeply harmful to the middle class and those seeking to enter it. We need a Democratic nominee who will put the middle class first, and we are pleased Hillary Clinton is seeking the nomination.”

U.S. Senator Patty Murray offered an enthusiastic endorsement.

“This is an exciting moment for those of us in Washington State and across the country who want our next President to keep fighting for middle class priorities and a government that works for all families, not just the wealthiest few. I am proud to stand with so many others to support Hillary in her effort to shatter that highest and hardest glass ceiling that has been cracked, but not yet broken,” she wrote.

So did U.S. Representative Rick Larsen.

“I endorse Hillary Clinton for President of the United States of America because she shares my belief that our country needs an economy that includes everyone and works for everyone. She has my full support,” he wrote. 

  • RSS Recent entries from the Permanent Defense Media Center