by Goldy, 07/31/2005, 12:30 PM

Darryl at Hominid Views takes a break from his family vacation to report on the partial collapse of the Dunn Memorial Bridge in upstate New York.

Dunn Bridge Collapse

As Darryl points out…

The relevance to the Seattle area is obvious. The Dunn Memorial Bridge was built in 1971; the Alaska Way Viaduct (AWV) was built in the late 1950s. Dunn was inspected a couple of years ago and rated a 5 out of 7 for safety. The AWV has had widely recognized safety problems since the Nisqually earthquake of 2001.

No one was injured or killed, but had the top deck collapsed entirely, it could have taken two other levels with it to the bottom of the Hudson river, with catastrophic consequences for people on the bridge, and the economy of the region. As it is, there are no estimates of when the bridge will reopen.

Will Seattle be so lucky when (not, if) the AWV fails? Let’s hope so, because the Viaduct is a double-decker structure, a collapse of one section could result in a chain reaction, leading to the deaths of hundreds of people. Even a partial collapse similar to that in Albany would result in traffic mayhem in Seattle. Interstate 5 would pick up the majority of the 100,000 plus vehicles that use the roadway on a daily basis, contributing to what is already one of the worse traffic problems in the nation.

Of course, I-912 would repeal funds for replacing the AWV, as well as dozens of other projects throughout the state intended to fix unsafe intersections, interchanges and other sections of roads with a history of accidents and fatalities. But even if we dodge the bullet of a catastrophic AWV collapse….

People will die if I912 passes

by Goldy, 07/31/2005, 9:39 AM

Speaking at the Baptist World Alliance’s centenary conference in Birmingham, England, former President Jimmy Carter blasted Bush administration policies in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners have been held indefinitely, without charge or access to lawyers.

“I think what’s going on in Guantanamo Bay and other places is a disgrace to the U.S.A.,” he told a news conference. “I wouldn’t say it’s the cause of terrorism, but it has given impetus and excuses to potential terrorists to lash out at our country and justify their despicable acts.”

“What has happened at Guantanamo Bay … does not represent the will of the American people,” Carter said. “I’m embarrassed about it, I think it’s wrong. I think it does give terrorists an unwarranted excuse to use the despicable means to hurt innocent people.”

Notice my emphasis on the word “unwarranted.” Carter clearly stated that terrorist acts could not be justified, and while Guantanamo “may be an aggravating factor … it’s not the basis of terrorism.” Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, also continued his long standing criticism of the Iraq war.

“I thought then, and I think now, that the invasion of Iraq was unnecessary and unjust. And I think the premises on which it was launched were false.”

Yeah, I know… you righties are going to instantly jump in attacking and maligning Carter, but he is one of the few true statesmen our nation has, and a voice of wisdom and reason that is heeded overseas, if not here at home. It is also one of the curious ironies of American politics that one of the figures most reviled by those on the religious right, is a man who was arguably the most genuinely and passionately devout President in perhaps a hundred years… and an Evangelical Christian to boot.

Go figure.

by Goldy, 07/30/2005, 11:19 AM

Thursday’s post on Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen, and his incessant lobbying to repeal the estate tax (“Frank Blethen, Get Well Soon“), prompted an e-mail from a prominent member of the media, reminding me that this is not the first time the Blethens have donated space in their own paper to run an anti-estate-tax ad — an ad so dishonest, that not even a Times reporter would dare to uncritically repeat its claims unchallenged.

I have long criticized the Times’ lack of objectivity in championing estate tax repeal, but the writer raises some interesting questions by pointing out that this is not the only issue on which the Blethens have used their editorial bullhorn to further the family’s own financial interests. In attempting to justify dissolution of the Joint Operating Agreement — a calculated move that is intended to shutter the competing Seattle P-I — the Times has argued that its status as a “family-owned newspaper” somehow makes it more sensitive and responsive to the values and needs of the community. But the writer makes an observation that might strike some as counter-intuitive… that Seattle might be better served by absentee owners.

This is yet further validation of my view that a newspaper run by absentee corporate owners is far less threatening to journalistic and editorial balance than is a newspaper run by local owners.

To further the Blethens’ own financial interests, the Times editorializes (1) against the estate tax, (2) against ownership of multiple local media outlets (translation: don’t let the Hearst Corp. own both a newspaper and a TV station in Seattle because that sort of potential synergy might let the newspaper stay alive), (3) in favor of massive development of the South Lake Union area, which will drive up the value of the Blethens’ properties in the area, and, as I recall, (4) a few years ago, in favor of a proposal to reroute the light rail line up the Eastlake corridor instead of Capitol Hill, an idea that likewise would have fattened up the values of the nearby Blethen properties.

The Hearst Corp., by comparison, doesn’t require its local newspaper to editorialize one way or another because Hearst has no vested interest in doing so. All it cares about is that its newspaper out there in faraway Seattle makes some money.

You will not often read, watch, or hear this type of criticism in the local MSM, because most of Seattle’s working journalists either rely on Frank to sign their paycheck, or envision the possibility that they may have to rely on him in the future… and so I have kept the writer’s name anonymous. I, on the other hand, have little to lose by speaking my mind. Alas, nobody pays me anything for my rabble-rousing, and as to potential employment with the Times, I’ve probably already burnt that bridge in numerous, incalculable ways. (Although I welcome Frank to prove me wrong by offering me a paid column.)

As to the writer’s arguments, I find them very compelling on the facts, despite my deep reservations about media concentration and corporate ownership. Unlike the Times, the P-I’s editorial staff appears to be largely free from ownership interference… much like my excellent home town daily, the Philadelphia Inquirer, which has maintained a remarkable degree of editorial independence from newspaper giant Knight-Ridder (who, by the way, owns 49 percent of the Times.)

I suspect that the editorial boards of both the Times and the P-I attempt to take positions on important issues of the day, based on what they genuinely feel to be the best interests of the community. The difference is, the former is strongly influenced by the vested interests of its owners, while the latter is not. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with the editorial pages of both papers, but I can’t help but sense that the process by which the P-I comes up with its opinions is slightly more honest and forthright than that of the Times.

Neither, of course, could possibly be as forthright as HA. This is an admittedly liberal blog with the oft stated goal of promoting progressive candidates and causes, and thus, unlike the MSM, I make no effort to feign objectivity in the opinions I express. But we all editorialize for the same reason… not simply to vent (though that’s fun too), but to influence public opinion and policy.

It is in this light that the writer reminds us of the dangers posed by uncritically accepting the Blethens’ blatant lobbying and electioneering on behalf of their own financial interests.

If you were Patty Murray or Maria Cantwell, and your state’s largest newspaper reminded you over and over that its owners are watching closely which way you vote on the estate tax repeal — and are not only editorializing but lobbying against it — that might cause you to consider putting your re-election prospects ahead of your conscience, mightn’t it?

And that, of course, is exactly what Frank Blethen wants… for Sen. Cantwell to vote against her conscience and the interests of the vast majority of American families, in order to pander to the selfish interests of the owners of a paper that could make or break her in an extremely close election. Meanwhile, it should be noted that Sen. Cantwell is not getting the same sort of pressure from the owners of the P-I — the privately held Hearst Corporation — even though the Hearst family heirs have much more to gain from permanent repeal of the estate tax than the Blethen family could ever dream of.

So perhaps it’s not a question of family ownership after all. It’s merely a question of what sort of family, and how much they respect the journalistic standards and editorial balance of their newspapers.

by Goldy, 07/30/2005, 1:22 AM

Ooops. Here’s your weekly litter box, a few hours late.

by Goldy, 07/29/2005, 12:34 PM

Hmm… I’m having a little trouble getting excited about the $220 million the new federal transportation bill includes for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. On the one hand, we weren’t expecting anything, and every little bit helps. On the other hand… what a bunch of fucking cheapskates.

The federal money represents 5 to 8 percent of the total cost of the project. By comparison, $220 million is less than .08 percent of the $286 billion total the bill sends to states… or to put it another way, about 2.4 percent of the roughly $9 billion in unaccounted for cash that was stuffed into duffle bags in Iraq. Nice to know we have our priorities straight.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but let’s be honest, if a double-decker freeway was on the verge of pancaking a couple hundred Texans, there’d be a billion or more in federal dollars thrown at the project. And of course, if I-912 repeals the gas tax hike, then we can kiss even our paltry $220 million goodbye.

A lot of people are playing up the potential loss of this money as a selling point for defeating I-912, but I’m wondering if that argument might be counterproductive. Judging from some of the nastier emails and comments I’ve received lately, there are many in Eastern WA who would be absolutely giddy over the chance to deny Seattlites a couple hundred million in federal aid. Hell… there are some folk out there who could absolutely give a shit about whether the Viaduct collapses, a sentiment that was clearly expressed in the following missive from “James” with the fake email address:

“… I hope it comes down during rush hour. A few hundred dead liberals might make the difference in the next election.”

I suppose “James” thought he was being funny, and I certainly wouldn’t argue that all I-912 supporters are such total and complete assholes. But a comment like this is just more evidence that this has become an emotional issue, not a rational one, and that we don’t have a chance of defeating I-912 merely on the basis of sound public policy arguments. We need to start making it clear to people in Eastern WA, and other rural voters, exactly what they’re going to lose if I-912 passes. And I’m not just talking about the specific local transportation projects that the gas tax hike is intended to fund. I’m talking about what they risk losing in the future: our good will.

If they want to balkanize state transportation funding, fine. Because while King, Pierce and Snohomish counties have the majority of the infrastructure needs, we also own the vast majority of the state’s wealth, and in the short run, Seattle voters have the most to gain from spending all gas tax dollars locally. Ironically, if I were to seriously run an initiative that requires transportation revenues to be spent locally, its most fervent supporters would come from Eastern WA. What a bunch of dumb fucks.

But while we’re on the subject, why just balkanize transportation dollars? Let’s devolve the state portion of the property tax to local school districts, and let that money be spent locally too. After all, it’s not my problem if some poor kid out in Ferry County get’s a crappy education. If parents can’t afford private tuition, that just represents a moral failing on their part, doesn’t it?

I mean really… why should I give shit about you people if you don’t give a shit about me? Hell, I only drive east of the pass once or twice a year, and if the roads on the other side fall apart, I’ll just borrow or rent an SUV for those occasional excursions. So go ahead… split the state in two… divide King County between rural and urban… drop your taxes, raise your Confederate flags, and collapse into the ranks of a third-world economy. We’ll just sip our microbrews and lattes and laugh… before we buy up anything left of value, until all of Eastern WA is comprised of little more than the quaint vineyards and gentleman-ranches of dot.com millionaires.

See… we didn’t so much mind subsidizing the schools that educate your children and the roads you drive on and the ports that bring your products to market, until you started pissing on us in return. The Viaduct and the 520 bridge are crucial to our economy, and we’re going to rebuild them, with or without you… but if it’s without you, then Katie bar the door, because you’ll have driven me and a whole bunch of other urban voters firmly into the “fuck you” camp. And you know what? There’s more of us than there are of you… so prepare to be fucked.

And one more thing… nothing tastes better than a firm, crisp, tangy New Zealand braeburn apple… so hell if I’m going to continue buying mealy, WA state, storage apples out-of-season, simply out of some misplaced sense of loyalty. So there.

by Goldy, 07/28/2005, 11:07 PM

Whenever Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen catches a cold, he hocks up a loogie of an editorial, railing against the estate tax. But do this too often (say… more than about once a month) and readers will start tossing out the op/ed section like the soggy piece of Kleenex it sometimes is. So today Frank tried a new approach at blowing out his selfish message… he actually bought an ad in his own paper!

Andrew’s got the full text and a great analysis over on the Northwest Progressive Institute Blog. He does a great job of deconstructing the ad’s many lies and misrepresentations… and I really love this quote he found that nails Frank’s incessant whining, dead on:

Three generations of Blethens have managed to keep their inheritance in the family despite a much higher estate tax than the Times now rails against. If the current generation proves unwilling to make the same kind of sacrifices as their elders, then the Blethen family should blame itself, not the tax code.

Man… that David Goldstein guy really knows what he’s talking about.

The estate tax is being gradually phased out through 2010, when it will be repealed for one year, before returning in 2011 at the old rates and thresholds. Barring legislative action, I fully expect Frank to take his own life in 2010 (it would be the financially prudent thing to do) so as to guarantee another generation of Blethens expectorating on the op/ed page. Of course, Frank would prefer to live, and thus had hoped that the Senate might permanently repeal the estate tax this week. But apparently the votes weren’t there, so Senate Majority Leader Bill “Kitty Killer” Frist has put off a vote until September.

That gives us plenty of time to contact Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and ask them to hold firm against shifting $23.4 billion in taxes off the very richest US families and onto the backs of the poor and middle class.

by Goldy, 07/28/2005, 4:56 PM

Would be millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam was sentenced to a 22-year prison term yesterday, and U.S. District Judge John Coughenour, a Reagan appointee, used the occasion to decry the government’s use of secret tribunals and other tactics that abandon “the ideals that set our nation apart.”

“The tragedy of Sept. 11 shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism,” said Coughenour in a voice edged with emotion. “Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete. … If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.”

As far as Iranian-American filmmaker Cyrus Kar is concerned, these ideals have already been abandoned. In an interview today on NPR’s Day to Day, Kar describes his 55-day ordeal, imprisoned in Iraq by American forces who knew he was innocent.

Kar had gone to Iraq, with permission from the US government, to complete work on a documentary about Persian emperor Cyrus the Great. While riding in a hired taxi, he and his cameraman were arrested at a checkpoint after washing machine timers were found in the trunk. Such timers are sometimes used as parts in roadside bombs.

The two were blindfolded, handcuffed, charged as enemy combatants, and subjected to humiliation and abuse by US soldiers. They even served a stint at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, where a guard smashed Kar’s head against a cinderblock wall, and his cameraman was forced to publicly disrobe.

The taxi driver admitted the timers were his, and an FBI investigation cleared Kar within 10 days of his arrest… but the military refused to release him until the day before a hearing in federal court. When he asked the military why it took 45 days to release him after they learned of his innocence, Kar was told: “bureaucracy.”

Kar is not so sure.

“You have to be really, really gullible to believe that it is this well established process that won my release and that the release curiously came the day before the attorneys of President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had to appear in court. It’s just too much of a coincidence, and I honestly believe and I’m quite certain that I would have been there for a long, long time had the ACLU and the press not gotten ahold of this and driven this case home.”

Once a supporter of the war, Kar now believes the occupation is doomed, and says if an American is treated so inhumanely, imagine what ordinary Iraqis are going through. But the worse part for him was losing his faith in American justice.

“I came to realize that I’m not considered an American. Being an American is an exclusive club that really wants no part of folks of my ethnicity.”

Judge Coughenour is right. Once we abandon the ideals that set our nation apart, we all cease to be Americans.

UPDATE:
I just listened to a much more in depth interview with Kar on the CBC’s As It Happens. (RealAudio stream.)

Kar gives more details of the circumstances surrounding his arrest, and his treatment at the hands of American soldiers, including the unique culture of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. As an Iranian born American, who served in the US military, and has now been victimized by it, Kar has unique and disturbing insight into what he saw happening on the ground in Iraq.

“There are a lot of innocent people sitting in jail — don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of really evil bad people I saw there too — but that makes it even more egregious to lock innocent people up, and that only leads to a growing insurgency, an insurgency that’s picking up speed. It is far more dangerous to go to Iraq today than it was right after mission had been declared accomplished, because the insurgency has been mushrooming, and the only reason it’s been mushrooming is because unfortunately we are creating… we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction, and it’s leading to the senseless deaths of a lot of American soldiers there.”

by Goldy, 07/28/2005, 9:41 AM

The Independent Task Force on Elections that Ron Sims formed in the wake of the disputed 2004 election has released its recommendations. I haven’t seen a copy of the full report yet, but judging from the media reports (P-I, Times) it is hard to argue with most of the proposed reforms.

ELECTION RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Hire and work with an independent, external “turnaround team” to resolve leadership, organizational culture, policy and operational problems that confront the King County elections office.
  • A separately elected official with primary responsibility for elections will increase accountability to citizens, the task force believes.
  • IN KING COUNTY

  • Institute vote-by-mail and regional voting centers in 2006; place two election observers at or adjacent to counting stations during recounts.
  • STATEWIDE

  • Change the primary date to the first Tuesday of June.
  • Automatically restore voting rights to former felons upon release from prison.
  • Conduct only one manual recount when a recount is necessary.
  • Require election officials to receive all ballots by 8 p.m. election night, except those of military and out-of-state voters.
  • Limit the number of elections each year six to four.

Of course, the recommendation getting the biggest headline is that of hiring an outside team of management experts to quickly turnaround the elections division’s “seriously flawed organizational culture.” Sims released a statement in which he said he would “enthusiastically embrace” the “SWAT Team” proposal… which does not necessarily call for the firing of Dean Logan. According to task force chairwoman Cheryl Scott, Logan’s tenure is “between him and the county executive,” and Sims spokesman Sandeep Kaushik said there are no plans to force out Logan.

“It’s up to Dean,” Kaushik said. “He’s been in a tough spot. I think as long as he has the determination to carry on and right the ship, then we would like to help him in any way we can to do that.”

As many of you know, I have spent many pixels defending Logan and his department from what I believed to be unfair, dishonest and politically partisan attacks. I have talked to a number of county auditors (R and D) and other elections officials from across the state, and all expressed great respect and admiration for Logan. Not a single person who has worked with him questioned his honesty and integrity, and he was clearly hired for the job because nobody in the state had more expertise in elections procedures than him.

Whether Logan lacks the management skills to successfully run such a large and complex bureaucracy as KC Elections is another question, which if I were Sims, I would leave to the management experts on the SWAT Team to answer. One thing I do know is that Republican charges of a corrupt department that fraudulently stole the election from Dino Rossi, were proven entirely baseless in a court of law.

The task force was split on whether King County should elect an auditor like all of the other counties in the state… and so am I. Some members said an elected auditor would make the office more accountable to voters, while others pointed out that doing so does not guarantee electing a good manager. While such a move is certainly not an immediate solution, there are good arguments on both sides. Considering the highly charged partisan atmosphere surrounding elections at the moment, I would hope that the county waits a little while before addressing this issue.

As to the other recommendations, I could easily accept them all as a package.

Moving the primary to June (or at the very least, August) is a no-brainer that was the number one reform requested by every auditor in the state plus Sec. of State Sam Reed. Both parties deserve a slap on the nose for failing to include this in the election reform package that passed during the last session. If the R’s really care about assuring that overseas military ballots go out on time, they should stop their obstructionist tactics on this issue.

Automatically restoring the voting rights of felons upon release from prison is also a procedural no brainer. Unless somebody can prove that there is some societal gain from denying felons the franchise — and I would argue the opposite — there is absolutely no justification for adding this procedural layer of complexity to our system. In the end, the task force made a cost-benefit analysis; if there are any benefits from denying felons the right to vote, it certainly does not justify the costs.

Republicans claim that this is a Democrat plot to create more Democrat voters… to which I respond “bullshit” and “who cares?” There is absolutely no direct evidence that felons tend to vote Democrat, and that argument is particularly irrational in WA state where the vast majority of felons are white, working-class men… the core Republican demographic. But felon demographics is entirely besides the point; African Americans tend to overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and no Republican would seriously suggest denying them the franchise.

As to conducting a single, manual recount when a recount is necessary… well… I hadn’t thought about that before. Yeah… I suppose I could go for that. The manual recount turned out to be a model of bipartisan cooperation, and an extraordinarily open and transparent process. From a public trust perspective it would have eliminated the bullshit “two out of three” argument the Rossi folks used. My only concern is that manual recounts are burdensome and expensive, and this reform would result in a few more of them.

The one recommendation with which I’m least comfortable is making election night the deadline for receiving ballots. While I’m sure it would simplify the process, I’d have to have a better idea of how many ballots might be disqualified by such a move, before I could voice an opinion.

In the end, simplifying the process is the theme of most of the recommendations, not the least of which being the most significant one: moving to an all mail-in election by 2006. As I’ve previously written, I don’t like mail-in voting, but the die was cast when we liberalized it a few years back. Voters overwhelmingly avoid the polling place, and it simply doesn’t make sense to support two entirely different voting systems. Yes, King and other counties had problems with mail-in ballots, but by eliminating the much more complicated poll voting, it will permit the elections division to focus on fixing and perfecting their mail-in ballot operations. This is common sense.

In the last election, 70 percent of voters voted by mail… in some counties as high as 86 percent. The market has spoken, and critics of mail-in voting on both the right and the left need to accept the will of the people and work to make mail-in procedures as secure and reliable as possible. Critics, like our good friend Stefan, argue that moving to all-mail voting would only further undermine public trust and confidence… but that’s a load of crap. The best way to restore public trust in elections is to conduct them smoothly and accurately, and the easiest, quickest path towards that end is to eliminate unnecessary complexity from the process.

I personally will miss the polling place, and regret that we as a state ever strayed down the path towards all-mail elections. But here we are, and there’s no turning back, and I’m pragmatic enough to reluctantly accept it. To stick King County with a burdensome, expensive, untenable dual system, while the rest of the state goes all-mail, is to assure that KC elections will be the whipping boy in all future close elections. Perhaps that works politically for Republicans seeking a campaign issue to help them overcome their numerical disadvantage in King County, but it just isn’t good public policy.

So all in all, it looks like the task force has made some very practical recommendations. I’m sure there is more fodder for partisan sniping in the full report, but I’ll get to that when I see it.

by Goldy, 07/27/2005, 10:47 PM

Those of you who frequent my comment threads know that Christmas Ghost and I don’t have much nice to say about each other or our opinions. But some things transcend politics.

Ghost has posted to her website a plea for help in finding her 17-year-old niece, Cheryl Ann Magner, who has been missing since the beginning of June.

Cheryl Ann Magner

Cheryl is about 5’8″, and was last known to be seen in Marin County, CA… though she may have been spotted in the East Bay area. If you have any information, please contact Cheryl’s mother at 415-472-2994, or the San Rafael police at 415-484-3000 (www.srpd.org.) And if you operate a blog that is read in any of these areas, please repost this information there too.

by Goldy, 07/27/2005, 1:35 PM

As Friday’s filing deadline approaches, I’d like to take a moment to categorically deny rumors that I plan to challenge Dave Irons in the Republican primary for King County Executive. Those rumors were irresponsibly started by me, last night at Drinking Liberally, and are utterly ridiculous… considering the cost of the filing fee.

So I just want to make it absolutely clear, that I will not enter the race… unless somebody comes up with $1,653.05 by the Friday, 4:30 p.m. filing deadline.

But while Irons apparently won’t benefit from a stiff primary challenge, according to the Seattle Weekly, Safeco CEO Mike McGavick may have some competition in the Republican primary after all.

While the state Republican party establishment moved quickly to coronate McGavick as the GOP challenger to Cantwell, former KIRO-TV anchor Susan Hutchison had pollsters in the field checking out her prospects against Cantwell. … Hutchison describes herself as a “moderate Republican” who lives in Seattle and sends her children to public school. She has not decided whether to run for Senate. Would she oppose McGavick for the GOP nomination? Says Hutchison, “I am not competitive, but I am pragmatic.” Says Republican political consultant Brett Bader : “Susan wouldn’t shy away from a tough fight.”

A “moderate Republican” huh? Isn’t that just another way of saying “Democrat”…?

In another hotly contested race that is sure to capture the imagination of several people, one of my favorite local bloggers, Carl over at Washington State Political Report is mulling over a run for an open seat on King County Cemetery District #1 (Vashon Island). As we all know, Cemetery District is a political stepping stone to the highly coveted Weed Control District. Best of luck Carl as you start a promising political career.

And finally, a big round of applause to HA regular Richard Pope for finally screwing up the courage to run for public office. Richard will be challenging 20-year incumbent Patricia Davis for Position No. 4. Despite the fact that I disagree with almost everything he writes in the comment threads — and quite frankly, I find him a little nutty — Richard strikes me as smart and honest and incorruptible… and so he has earned my official HA endorsement. (There… that should put the final nail in his political ambitions.)

by Goldy, 07/27/2005, 10:50 AM

The other Washington is all a titter over reports of an illicit affair between Karl Rove and “comely lobbyist” Karen Johnson.

Rove, who stands accused of using leaks and slurs against Sen. John McCain , terrorism adviser Richard Clarke and CIA agent Valerie Plame , was mum yesterday when we called about Johnson, a never-married, fortysomething GOP loyalist from Austin, Tex.

The two are said to have gotten acquainted when Johnson sat on the board of then-Gov. George W. Bush’s Business Council.

“Their friendship reportedly deepened after Bush appointed Johnson – a little-known spokesperson for the Texas Good Roads Association – to a seat on his Transportation Department transition team in 2000,” Radaronline.com reports. “The plum appointment enabled Johnson’s lobbying firm, Infrastructure Solutions, to snare such high-paying clients as Aetna and the City of Laredo.”

So we’re not only talking about an extramarital affair, but the possibility that Johnson may have received some nice favors in return for her, um, favors. According to reports, Johnson frequently flies to D.C., and often appears at Rove’s side at parties… so it makes you wonder why the “liberal media” has long kept quiet. According to one Texas reporter:

“I’ve heard the stories, but I would never write about Karl and Karen. If you want to keep your job as a reporter in Texas, you make believe you don’t see them together.”

Uh-huh. Gotta love that freedom of the press thing.

But perhaps my favorite part of the story is the official response:

Johnson declined to comment on the story. A White House spokesman told Radar that Rove’s relationship with her was “the business of these two individuals who have personal lives.”

Isn’t that rich? So when it comes to reports of an extramarital affair by a hypocritical, venal rumor-mongerer like Rove, we should respect his privacy. But when the goal is retaliating against a former ambassador, exposing the cover of his CIA-agent wife is fair play. There’s the “ethics of outing” for your, Bush administration style.

Still, as much as I somewhat enjoy this tawdry illustration of “what goes around, comes around”… I just don’t buy the rumor, and thus I’m a little uncomfortable promulgating it. First of all, if he really was having an affair, you’d think Rove would be too smart to allow himself to be publicly seen with his illicit paramour, especially considering the poisonous political and media environment he helped create. And second… I’m pretty damn sure Rove is gay.

On what do I base this stunning accusation? Well, mostly on an acute sense of irony. But if you adopt the same scrupulous adherence to the truth that Rove himself has used to viciously smear countless numbers of political opponents, the pieces of the puzzle start to fit together like Rove’s dick in Gannon/Guckert’s well-lubricated anus. Take for example this excerpt from the New Yorker, in which Rove breathlessly recounts his first meeting with a young George W. Bush:

“It was the day before Thanksgiving, 1973… I can literally remember what he was wearing: an Air National Guard flight jacket, cowboy boots, bluejeans, complete with the

by Goldy, 07/27/2005, 8:51 AM

I guess crime does pay. According to the National Journal, senior staff like Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and other White House aides implicated in illegally blowing the cover of CIA operative Valerie Plame (not to mention the ensuing cover-up,) have had their salaries raised from $157,000 to $161,000.

Doesn’t say much about “the era of personal responsibility, but then, I suppose with all those legal fees they’ll be paying, they could use the extra pocket money.

by Goldy, 07/26/2005, 3:38 PM

The Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally meets tonight (and every Tuesday), 8PM at the Montlake Ale House, 2307 24th Avenue E.

Last chance to personally buy me a drink for the next couple of weeks.

by Goldy, 07/26/2005, 10:13 AM

I guess Democrats welcome debate and Republicans don’t. That’s what I come away with from state Rep. Ed Murray’s guest column in the Seattle P-I (“Save First Hill train station“), and our friend Stefan’s snide response over on (un)Sound Politics (“Ed Murray admits: Sound Transit is pointless.”)

If you ever wonder why politicians are so reluctant to publicly stray from the talking points, this is it… because the minute you stupidly attempt to engage in some sort of reasonable debate, some prick twists your words out of context for partisan gain. Dare to examine all sides of an issue, or worse, (gasp) think out loud, and you might as well ask your opponents to call you a “flip-flopper.”

Apart from King County Executive Ron Sims, there are few elected officials who have shown more support for Sound Transit than Rep. Murray, who chairs the House Transportation Committee. So when he publicly voices constructive criticism of Sound Transit’s plans, he deserves to be listened to, not ridiculed. Indeed, the fact that he is such a strong supporter — and that as a savvy politician he surely recognizes the risk of straying off-message in the vicious world of new media — makes his criticism all the more credible.

The point of Rep. Murray’s column is to emphasize the importance of saving the First Hill Station, which would serve one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Seattle. But in closing his column, Rep. Murray reiterates his support for light rail:

I believe in the vision that Sound Transit is trying to realize. People need a better way of getting where they need to go. They need other options aside from hopping in the car and sitting in traffic.

It took creativity and imagination for Sound Transit to find a way to extend the train to Sea-Tac International Airport.

Let’s keep the faith with the citizens who voted for Sound Transit. Let’s use the same creativity that got the train to the airport to save the First Hill station.

Creativity, imagination, and leadership… that’s also what it takes to publicly criticize a project you strongly support.

And what of (u)SP’s latest contribution to the transit debate? Well, posts like that (and I occasionally make them myself) are the blog equivalent of a fart: they’re noisy and smelly… but damn it feels good to let one out. Fortunately, they quickly dissipate.

by Goldy, 07/26/2005, 12:10 AM

Valerie Plame was outed as a CIA operative in retaliation for her husband publicly debunking the Bush administration lie that Iraq had attempted to obtain “yellow cake” uranium from Niger. But there’s another scandal involving Niger that has been getting much less press… the famine striking 2.5 million people, and the 150,000 children who could starve to death as a result.

Of course, droughts and locust plagues happen, so it’s not the famine that is the scandal, but rather the failure of the rest of the world to respond to it in a timely fashion. According to Jan Egeland, a top UN aid official, this tragedy was widely expected and months in the making, yet the international community acted slowly, if at all.

“Niger is the example of a neglected emergency, where early warnings went unheeded,” Mr Egeland told the BBC.

“The world wakes up when we see images on the TV and when we see children dying.”

Well, if pictures of starving children in Niger are what it takes to get the world’s attention, here you go:

Starving child in Niger

I’m not sure what to do about this tragedy, but Doctors Without Borders has volunteers on the ground, and is taking donations.

by Goldy, 07/25/2005, 11:52 AM

There’s a great job opening that offers long hours, zero pay, and frequent angry emails from the public. No, I’m not talking about blogging (though the description matches)… I’m talking about Seattle School Board. Unlike previous, hotly contested elections, two of three open seats are uncontested, and…

What stumps School Board observers is the District 5 seat, occupied by Mary Bass. Neither she nor anyone else has announced an intent to run.

So… are people really that satisfied with the performance of the Seattle Public Schools, or have we just given up all hope?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my neighborhood school, despite the constant funding shortfall and the apparent cluelessness of a distant, district administration. I come from a part of the country where urban school districts are often little more than holding pens for future prisoners. Compared to cities like Philadelphia and New York, Seattle schools are a paradise.

But that’s setting the bar awfully damn low.

We can do better, and that requires better, more creative leadership. So if you’re interested in running for school board, I’d be happy to hook you up with people who can provide some real campaign advice. But hurry up… the filing period opened this morning, and closes Friday at 4:30 pm.

by Goldy, 07/25/2005, 10:11 AM

Some of the most illuminating writing on the outing of Valerie Plame and the ensuing cover-up, has come from NY Times columnist Frank Rich. This week he delves into the timeline of the scandal, and reveals that its first casualty may likely have been the Supreme Court ambitions of longtime Bush friend, Alberto Gonzales.

In the days following Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement, the President’s vigorous defense of Gonzales, from attacks from both the right and the left, had many Washington insiders expecting the nomination of the nation’s first Hispanic justice. But as the conspiracy quickly unraveled over the past couple weeks, Gonzales’ own role in the scandal made the prospect of a confirmation hearing too much to handle for an already jittery White House.

As White House counsel, he was the one first notified that the Justice Department, at the request of the C.I.A., had opened an investigation into the outing of Joseph Wilson’s wife. That notification came at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2003, but it took Mr. Gonzales 12 more hours to inform the White House staff that it must “preserve all materials” relevant to the investigation. This 12-hour delay, he has said, was sanctioned by the Justice Department, but since the department was then run by John Ashcroft, a Bush loyalist who refused to recuse himself from the Plame case, inquiring Senate Democrats would examine this 12-hour delay as closely as an 18

by Goldy, 07/24/2005, 1:12 PM

Ken Vogel has a thoughtful piece in today’s Tacoma News Tribune, discussing the ethics of outing closeted gay politicians who actively oppose extending civil rights legislation to the gay community. The recent controversy was sparked by a letter WA state Sen. Ken Jacobsen sent to NY Times The Ethicist columnist Randy Cohen… and I freely admit that I have intentionally fanned the flames in my posts here on HA.

I was interviewed for the article, and Vogel quotes me accurately and in context. I stand by my comments.

David Goldstein, a liberal Seattle-based blogger, disagreed. He wrote on his blog, www.horsesass.org, that he’d consider outing a specific Republican state senator who opposed the gay rights bill if it would help pass the legislation next session.

That senator “should think twice before casting another hypocritical vote in opposition,” warned Goldstein’s post, which did not name the senator.

The post prompted a spirited debate among his readers in the comments field of his blog. Some accused him of blackmail or of practicing the type of intolerance advocates say the gay rights bill would outlaw.

Others asserted that aggressive politics by Republicans, mostly at the national level, justified outing gay Republican politicians at the state level.

But in interviews, Goldstein and Jacobsen said they’d rather not be involved in an outing

by Goldy, 07/24/2005, 10:11 AM

There was a great article in the NY Times this week on warehouse retailer Costco, and how its generous salaries and employee benefits have made it the “anti-Wal-Mart.” Costco shareholders enjoy one of the highest price-to-earnings ratios in the industry, but apparently, that’s not good enough for some investors.

Some Wall Street analysts assert that Mr. Sinegal is overly generous not only to Costco’s customers but to its workers as well.

Costco’s average pay, for example, is $17 an hour, 42 percent higher than its fiercest rival, Sam’s Club. And Costco’s health plan makes those at many other retailers look Scroogish. One analyst, Bill Dreher of Deutsche Bank, complained last year that at Costco “it’s better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder.”

Mr. Sinegal begs to differ. He rejects Wall Street’s assumption that to succeed in discount retailing, companies must pay poorly and skimp on benefits, or must ratchet up prices to meet Wall Street’s profit demands.

Good wages and benefits are why Costco has extremely low rates of turnover and theft by employees, he said. And Costco’s customers, who are more affluent than other warehouse store shoppers, stay loyal because they like that low prices do not come at the workers’ expense. “This is not altruistic,” he said. “This is good business.”

Costco’s health plan includes extensive dental benefits, and part-time workers are eligible to join after just six months on the job, versus two years at Wal-Mart. As a result, 85% of Costco’s workers enjoy health insurance, compared to less than half of Wal-Mart employees. Costco also contributes generously to workers’ 401(k) plans, starting at 3% of salary after two years, and rising up to 9% after 25.

“When Jim talks to us about setting wages and benefits, he doesn’t want us to be better than everyone else, he wants us to be demonstrably better,” said John Matthews, Costco’s senior vice president for human resources.

The Wall Street response?

Emme Kozloff, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, faulted Mr. Sinegal as being too generous to employees, noting that when analysts complained that Costco’s workers were paying just 4 percent toward their health costs, he raised that percentage only to 8 percent, when the retail average is 25 percent.

“He has been too benevolent,” she said. “He’s right that a happy employee is a productive long-term employee, but he could force employees to pick up a little more of the burden.”

It is typical of the angry righties in my comment threads to fling accusations of communism and socialism when unable to formulate a more reasoned rebuttal, but of course, that’s just plain silly. (Debating Tip: the Cold War’s over.) I’ve worked for a number of start-ups, including one of my own, and embrace the entrepreneurial spirit that has built the U.S. into the greatest economic power in history. But I find our nation’s focus on maximizing short-term profits to be cruel, selfish, and in the long run… stupid.

The current winner-take-all attitude of many of our business leaders is not an essential part of a market economy… indeed, I have always believed that the best business transaction is one in which (gasp) both sides benefit. In my own business, I eventually tired of software retailers trying to screw me into one-sided co-op advertising deals, simply because they could. Longtime vendors would eagerly drive me into bankruptcy in a heartbeat if only I were stupid enough to sign the wrong deal — in the end, I pulled back from the consumer market because I refused to work with salespeople who I could never trust to treat me honestly and fairly. Hundreds of other small, independent developers pulled back, sold out, or gave up too, and as a result, the software catalogs are now a shadow of their former selves.

Happy customers are repeat customers. Happy employees are loyal, productive workers. And both are key ingredients to building a stabile, profitable business. Costco CEO Jim Sinegal clearly understands this.

“On Wall Street, they’re in the business of making money between now and next Thursday,” he said. “I don’t say that with any bitterness, but we can’t take that view. We want to build a company that will still be here 50 and 60 years from now.”

Hmmm. Personally, I hate the warehouse shopping experience, but it almost makes me want to renew my lapsed Costco membership.

by Goldy, 07/23/2005, 11:41 AM

The other day I explored the ethics of outing closeted gay and lesbian politicians who vocally and hypocritically oppose gay rights legislation. Wherever you stand on this issue (and I myself am ambivalent,) I think that in the current political and media climate, such outings are inevitable. There is at least one WA legislator for whom the rumors appear well supported and widely known, and it should come as no surprise if some blogger or gay rights activist — or even a fellow legislator — were to publicly reveal his or her secret life.

Under these circumstances, I do not think the MSM could resist covering the ensuing controversy. Any hint of scandal is good for the business, and once the story breaks, extended coverage can easily be rationalized, if not entirely justified. After all, when a politician makes a career out of appealing to family values conservatives, it is hard to argue that his or her non-traditional lifestyle is not germane to the public debate. Voters have a right to know when their elected officials fail to walk the talk, and journalists have the responsibility to inform them.

Indeed, there seems to be growing media interest in the issue. The day after I addressed the subject, Danny Westneat devoted his Seattle Times column to Sen. Ken Jacobsen’s letter to The Ethicist. I have since been contacted by other journalists, interested in discussing the broader ethical issues, and/or the specific rumors themselves. I refused to name names, but my sense is that I don’t have to. The Legislature is likely to have another openly gay member by the start of the next session… if reluctantly so.

For those of you who strongly believe that a person’s private life should remain private, and that sexual orientation should not leave one vulnerable at the polls, I absolutely agree. But then, neither should sexual orientation leave one vulnerable to discrimination in employment, housing, finance and insurance. One would think that politicians who find it necessary to hide their sexual orientation in order to win public office, would be more sensitive to the need to protect others from similar discrimination.