Daily open thread

Former Nixon aide John Dean says that President Bush’s illegal domestic spying surpasses the crimes that got his former boss impeached.

“Had the Senate or House, or both, censured or somehow warned Richard Nixon, the tragedy of Watergate might have been prevented,” Dean told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Hopefully the Senate will not sit by while even more serious abuses unfold before it.”

How can we force Congress to be a check and balance on the White House? Help the Democrats seize control. And how do we do this? Help Darcy Burner meet today’s fundraising target. Click here to contribute.

Dori plugs Podcasting Liberally on KIRO!

I owe a debt of gratitude to my good friend Stefan for booking me on the Dori Monson Show yesterday, where I had the opportunity to repeatedly plug Podcasting Liberally. Downloads have gone through the roof, and I’m getting lots of positive feedback. Hey thanks, Stefan.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, go check out Stefan’s post, in which he once again proves that when it comes to media savvy, he’s as clueless as he is humorless. (With enemies like him, who needs publicists?) Meanwhile Dori, apparently with nothing better to talk about, decided to take a shot at spinning political scandal out of a barroom conversation between a bunch of political junkies. So a few minutes before airtime, I get a call asking me to come on the show and defend myself.

I’m not sure what Dori expected. Did he think I’d be apologetic? Flummoxed? Embarrassed? Hell… did he read the blurb I wrote promoting this week’s podcast? Not only didn’t I edit out the exchanges in question… I highlighted them!

Famously outspoken WA State Democratic Party chair Dwight Pelz joined us last night, and we didn’t manage to get him to say the word “fuck” once. (Although Carl did make up for it by talking about sticking green glowsticks up people’s rectums.)

Judging from Stefan’s post, the prisoners at Abu Ghraib aren’t the only ones with a glowstick up their ass, but I expected more from Dori. This is a guy who hangs out in pro sports teams locker rooms, and yet Dori incredibly told me that he never uses “the f-word.” Ever. Yeah, sure Dori… and I suppose you never fart either.

Dori spent most of my segment going after Sandeep Kaushik, implying that it is somehow scandalous for an aide to King County Executive Ron Sims to be caught on tape saying the word “fuck.” Oh please. If you ask me, Dori was hoping to get Sandeep fired… but… um… Sandeep used to write for The Stranger for chrisakes, so I’m pretty sure Ron knew he had a few four-letter words in him when he offered him the job. As former colleague Josh Feit put it over on Slog:

What? Our Sandeep, at a bar cussing? Horrors! Bars? Cussing? And I thought the Democratic party was the effete elitist party.

I guess in Dori and Stefan’s world, it’s okay for the Vice President of the United States to say the word “fuck” on the floor of the Senate, or for a Supreme Court justice to make an obscene gesture in church… but heaven forfend if Sandeep cusses… in a bar. Yeah, in Dori and Stefan’s world, Carl talking about sticking glowsticks up people’s rectums is offensive… but actual US soldiers sticking actual glowsticks up the rectums of actual prisoners at Abu Ghraib isn’t.

I mean… what the fuck?

Forget for a moment how incredibly dishonest it is for Dori to spend an hour disparaging the Democratic Party based on the barroom conversation of a handful of bloggers. The very fact that Stefan and Dori have decided to ignore the very serious topics we discussed and instead focus on our less than solemn language tells you how desperate they are to change the subject from the failed Bush administration and the rubber stamp Republican majority that props it up.

Well, fuck them. The whole point of recording the podcast in a bar is to try to capture the kind of spontaneous conversation and debate that makes Drinking Liberally such an intellectually satisfying and entertaining event. If Dori wants to get all sanctimonious with his screened calls and his feigned outrage, that’s up to him. Hell… he’s the “professional.”

But personally, I’d rather be brutally honest than politely lie.

Front Burner

8th Congressional District candidate Darcy Burner earned two posts on Slog today, the first from Eli Sanders pointing to the national Dems growing confidence in her campaign, and the second from Dan Savage asking you to help put her over the top of her quarterly fundraising target. I agree with both, but especially want to emphasize the latter.

The national Dems are paying attention to Darcy Burner’s race and they’ve got a bunch of money to dump on her

Reed to appeal felon re-enfranchisement ruling

Secretary of State Sam Reed has decided to appeal a King County Superior Court ruling that the state’s felon re-enfranchisement laws unconstitutionally violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.

Hmm. I am disappointed, and not just because I think it is the wrong decision, but because I’d hoped that Reed might be a bit more pragmatic.

In announcing his decision, Reed made a joint statement with Attorney General Rob McKenna.

“We believe a rational basis does exist for the Legislature to deny felons the right to vote until they have completed their entire court-ordered sentences, including payment of criminal penalties, victim’s restitution, and legal fees, rather than separating out various sentencing aspects,”

Maybe, maybe not. I’m not saying that Judge Spearman’s decision is a slam dunk, but it is very compelling. The practical impact of our re-enfranchisment statutes is that we have created two classes of ex-felons: those who can afford to pay off their legal financial obligations, and those who cannot. The former have their voting rights restored, the latter are banned from voting for life.

Personally, I find this morally objectionable, but it is also a distinction that has proven to be extremely troublesome and expensive to administer and enforce… a fact that Reed himself acknowledged in the midst of last year’s controversial election contest.

In Washington, Secretary of State Reed said, the simplest way to fix confusion over tracking felons would be to automatically restore voting rights when people are released from prison, regardless of whether they’ve paid all their court debts.

And yet, given the opportunity to simplify our state’s re-enfranchisement system by adopting the model used in most other states, Reed has instead chosen to spend tax dollars defending a system that is costing taxpayers millions of dollars… and with uneven results.

But there is another practical consideration that is rarely discussed.

More than 250,000 ex-felons are currently ineligible to vote in WA state, about 3.7 percent of the state’s population, and 24 percent of African American men. About 46,000 of these ex-felons would have their voting rights restored if Judge Spearman’s decision is upheld.

So… exactly what is the social benefit of denying a substantial portion of our population the right to vote?

I’ve heard opponents of re-enfranchisement passionately argue that if we fully restore the civil rights of felons upon release they would have no incentive to make restitution to their victims. But in fact, the majority of the LFOs have nothing to do restitution.

For example, one of the plaintiffs in the case, Beverly DuBois, was convicted on a marijuana charge, and was ordered to pay LFOs totaling $1,620: a $500 victim assessment fee, $110 in court costs, and $1,000 to the Stevens County Drug Enforcement Fund. Unable to work due to injuries sustained in a car accident, DuBois has nonetheless made regular payments of $10 a month since her release… a court approved payment plan that doesn’t even cover the accrued interest. Since she was convicted in 2002, her outstanding LFO has actually increased to $1,895.69, and under current law, she will never be eligible to vote again.

Reed now argues that there is a “rational basis” for denying DuBois the right to vote, but I fail to see it. A permanently disabled woman gets ensnared on a marijuana charge, serves her time in prison, but due to onerous court fees she can never afford to pay off, she permanently loses the right to vote. Meanwhile, a more affluent ex-felon convicted of a similar crime, pays off his fines and has the franchise restored.

Perhaps a higher court will ultimately rule that a system that re-enfranchises ex-felons based on their ability to pay is somehow constitutional. But it certainly isn’t fair, and it does absolutely nothing to integrate these people back into society.

A picture tells a thousand lies

HA is an aggressively partisan liberal blog. I’m more than willing to fling muck at the other side, and I’m not above spinning the issues to make my points. But one thing I will not do is knowingly lie.

Why? Well, first of all, because it’s wrong. But just as important, it’s ultimately counterproductive, for if I’m ever caught in a lie it will utterly destroy the credibility I’ve worked hard to build up over the past few years.

Take for example California State Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, a Republican running for the 50th Congressional District near San Diego. He recently posted the following picture and description on his campaign website:

Downtown Baghdad?

“We took this photo of downtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it – in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism.”

Hmm. Over on Daily Kos the picture struck diarist AnthonyLA as kind of odd… all the signs are in Roman script, couples are holding hands, and people are dressed in Western clothes.

Well as it turns out, Kaloogian lied. Kaloogian could not possibly have taken the picture in downtown Baghdad, because it’s actually a picture of the Bakirkoy suburb of Istanbul. (That’s in Turkey.)

Bakirkoy, Turkey

Kaloogian claims he took his picture during a 10-day trip to Iraq he ironically dubbed the “‘Voices of Soldiers’ Truth Tour.” If this is what Republicans like him mean when they talk about the “truth,” then our nation clearly can’t afford to have them maintain control of Congress.

Podcasting Liberally, 3/28/06

Famously outspoken WA State Democratic Party chair Dwight Pelz joined us last night, and we didn’t manage to get him to say the word "fuck" once. (Although Carl did make up for it by talking about sticking green glowsticks up people’s rectums.) Joining Dwight, Carl and me in polite political discourse was Mollie, Will, Michael and the charmingly linkless Sandeep.

Topics of conversation included noted scofflaw (and Green Party senate candidate) Aaron Dixon, noted gaybasher (and GOP state senator) Luke Esser, felon disenfranchisement, Republican administration incompetence, our nation’s dangerous slide towards fascism, and of course… sticking green glowsticks up people’s rectums.

The show is 55:53, and is available here as a 51.2 MB MP3. Please visit PodcastingLiberally.com for complete archives and RSS feeds.

[Recorded live at the Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally. Special thanks to Confab creators Gavin and Richard for producing the show.]

Political body counts

Yesterday, (u)SP’s Matt Rosenberg felt compelled to make the following comment about the tragic shootings on Capitol Hill:

Yes, the victims were of a group that often sported dyed hair, danced to electronica, and certainly in most instances were liberals, if they voted at all. Who cares?

The political persuasion of the victims hadn’t occurred to me at all, and it immediately struck me as odd that Matt felt the need to highlight — in his second paragraph — his assumption that the dyed-hair, electronica-dancing, bullet-ridden ravers were liberals. I’d intended to write on this myself, but wasn’t sure what to say.

Well, The Stranger’s Dan Savage knew exactly what to say, and he’s said it over on Slog:

It’s telling that while writing his post it consciously or subconsciously occurred to Matt that many of his readers would shrug and think, “Hey, some liberal voters and future liberal voters got shot and killed

Don’t let righties freep the KC Conservation District election!

Believe it or not, today is election day — one of those weird little King County Conservation District elections — and once again, our friend Stefan is trying to freep it.

There are only four polling places countywide, and you must vote in person between 11:30 am and 7 pm today. Stefan is pushing property rights advocate Bobbi Lindemulder… so that should be reason enough to get out there and vote for Kevin Raymond. Raymond is a land use attorney and former chief of staff to KC Executive Gary Locke; he is endorsed by Ron Sims, Larry Phillips and Dow Constantine.

This is, as I said, a weird little election, and it will likely be decided by a couple of dozen votes. So if you’re anywhere near a polling place today, stop in and cast a ballot:

  • City of Seattle City Hall. 601 – Fifth Ave Seattle, WA
  • King Conservation District. 935 Powell Ave Ste D SW Renton, WA
  • King County Fairgrounds. 45224 – 284th Ave SE Enumclaw, WA
  • Snoqualmie Valley Senior Center. 4610 Stephens Ave Carnation, WA

The KC Conservation District has a $6.1 million budget. Wouldn’t it be nice to have it supervised by people who actually believe in conservation?

Drinking Liberally… with Dwight Pelz

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

Noted liberal drinker Dwight Pelz will be joining us tonight, so if you’ve got some inside politics type questions, come on by and knock back a couple pints with the WA State Democratic Party chair. We’ll see if we can persuade Pelz to join us on our weekly podcast too.

And of course, for those of you on the other side of the mountains, please join Jimmy at the Tri-Cities chapter of DL, every Tuesday from 5:30 onwards, Tuscany Lounge, 1515 George Washington Way, Richland.

Court rules felon disenfranchisement unconstitutional

The debate over felon voting took an interesting turn today when King County Superior Court Judge Michael Spearman ruled Washington state’s voter disenfranchisement laws unconstitutional. Or more precisely, in issuing a summary judgement in favor of the plaintiffs in the case of Madison v. Gregoire, he ruled the state’s re-enfranchisement laws unconstitutional.

The case involves three indigent ex-felons who petitioned the court to have their voting rights restored despite their inability to pay their “legal financial obligations.” The plaintiffs argued that by conditioning restoration of their civil rights on their ability to pay LFOs, the state had essentially levied a poll tax on ex-felons. In granting a summary judgement and ordering that they may register to vote, Judge Spearman agreed:

Thus, the court concludes that the state has not shown a rational relationship between a felon’s ability to immediately pay LFOs and a denial of the right to vote. Accordingly, the Washington re-enfranchisement scheme which denies the right to vote to one group of felons, while granting that right to another, where the sole distinction between the two groups is the ability to pay money, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Sections 12 and 19 of the Washington State Constitution and is constitutionally impermissible.

Of course the state will likely appeal, but this decision has the potential to dramatically impact the way we administer elections. The counties and the state are spending millions of dollars purging ex-felons from the voting rolls… an expensive, complicated and flawed process that now may be entirely unnecessary.

It also casts a new light on last year’s gubernatorial election contest, in which by far the largest number of disputed ballots were those alleged to be illegally cast by ex-felons. Should Madison v. Gregoire hold up on appeal, it will turn out that most of the ex-felons in question had their voting rights denied unconstitutionally.

WA’s current felon disenfranchisement laws are not only morally outrageous, they are difficult to administer and counterproductive. Secretary of State Sam Reed supports full restoration of voting rights upon release from prison, if only to simplify the voter registration process. And no less an authority than the American Correctional Institute argues that restoring voting rights helps integrate ex-felons back into society.

I had despaired that WA’s legislators lacked the fortitude to make this sensible reform in the wake of the Rossi campaign’s hype over felon voters, but now it appears that the courts may force their hands. It’s about time.

Guns don’t kill people, teen dances do

I haven’t spent much time following this weekend’s Capital Hill shootings, because… well… I generally don’t enjoy reading media coverage of random horrors such as this. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s depressing. And the coverage usually doesn’t teach us all that much about what really happened, other than the details.

Instead, I prefer to wait until the play or the song or the poem comes out, because quite frankly, artists do a much better job of making sense of these tragedies than journalists.

Still, I was reluctantly browsing through the copious coverage on Slog this morning, when I came across a couple of posts from Dan and Josh, criticizing the Seattle Times editorial board for their “pathetic,” “reactionary,” so-called soul-searching.

An armed madman goes on a shooting rampage at a private house party… and what lesson did the wise and solemn scribblers at the Times learn from this tragedy?

Teen dance rules in our city must be thoroughly reviewed to see if they go far enough to protect young people. One of the six victims was apparently a 15-year-old Bellevue girl. What precautions or rules could have helped her? Could anyone protect her at a private party at a private home?

[...]

At this point, our community has to rethink late-night activities of young people. We must do what we can to prevent such a horrific incident from happening again.

Uh-huh.

Hmm. Let’s see if I can come up with a hypothetical parallel.

I’ve had the privilege of being invited to a couple of editorial board interviews over the past few years. Now suppose I were to show up for one at the Times, armed to the hilt, and in a homicidal rage over say — dishonest efforts to repeal the estate tax — I were to mow down two generations of Blethens and their assembled editorialists? Do you really suppose that the next morning they’d publish an editorial suggesting that our community “rethink the activities of editorial boards”…?

No, of course not. They’d all be dead.

But this practical consideration aside, such a blame-the-victim editorial would be patently absurd. The cause of the tragedy wouldn’t be the editorial board, it would be the armed nutcase. (In this case, me.)

As Dan points out, a reasonable reaction to the tragic shootings might be to discuss gun control or the adequacy of our mental health services. But…

Is anyone shocked to discover that the old farts at the Seattle Times searched their creaky old souls and came up with the same old garbage? Young people are scary. Their parties are scary. Teenagers shouldn’t be out of the house after 10 PM. The city should do something about it.

Pathetic.

Pathetic indeed. And if anybody at the Times takes issue with me, I’d be happy to come down to your offices and discuss this face to face.