I’m deep in code monkey mode today, so I don’t expect to do much writing unless something really strikes my fancy… though that doesn’t mean my co-bloggers won’t fill in the gap. Just thought you should know.
Archives for April 2008
Dave Reichert (AKA Congressman 401) traveled to Colombia this weekend with US Trade Representative Susan Schwab and 8 other lawmakers. The reason for the trip is that the folks who tell Congressman Reichert how to vote are eager to pass a Free Trade Agreement with our strongest South American ally.
One of the things making the passage of the agreement complicated for the Bush Administration is what recently happened in the region. In March, the Colombian military attacked and killed a high-ranking FARC official in Ecuadorean territory along with 22 others. FARC is a left-wing Colombian rebel group that has financed its operations through drug trafficking and actively fights Alvaro Uribe’s government. However, by attacking them on Ecuadorean soil, the Colombians triggered a regional crisis, with both Venezuela and Ecuador sending troops to the border and the Uribe government receiving condemnations from nearly every country in the region. The Colombians were forced to apologize for their actions.
In the wake of this incident, however, President Bush made a speech where he emphasized that passing the free trade agreement was a matter of national security because it was important to send a message to the Colombians that we stand by them in their fight against terrorism. You read that right: following an action by the Colombians that was condemned by nearly every country from Chile to Mexico, the Bush Administration told us that it’s in our national security interests to reward the Colombians. You couldn’t even script a fictional scenario about how the Bush Administration’s foreign policy has been an epic failure better than how that episode actually played out.
But this being a free trade agreement being proposed, it doesn’t just have to do with rewarding the Colombians with more of our military might under the auspices of fighting “narco-terrorists.” It’s largely about eliminating tariffs on the goods that we exchange with them. And these agreements have become a major point of contention, especially within the race for the Democratic nomination. The Democratic candidates are finding it necessary to take strong stands against free trade agreements as the economy worsens. The latest casualty of this backlash against free trade is Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist Mark Penn, who met with the Colombians in support of the agreement, and is no longer working on the Clinton campaign, while his PR firm is no longer working with the Colombian government. It’s a fitting end for the man who made it impossible for many people on the left to support Clinton in the primaries and certainly helped give the nomination to Obama through his own arrogance.
As for Obama, he’s focused on what I also find to be a serious problem with this trade agreement:
Free trade has become an emotional election issue, especially for Democrats. Both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, contending for the Democratic nomination, oppose the legislation. On Wednesday, Sen. Obama reiterated his opposition, saying that Colombia wasn’t doing enough to stop the killing of Colombian trade unionists.
“The violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these types of agreements,” Mr. Obama said at a meeting of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO in Philadelphia.
“We have made a big effort, and the number has fallen to 26 last year from 205 in 2001,” Mr. Uribe said, speaking of assassinated union members and teachers. “So far this year, there have been 11 murders.”
Human Rights Watch disputes the number. Mr. Vivanco says 17 unionists have been killed so far this year.
Blaming the effects of free trade agreements for the loss of jobs throughout America is an oversimplification that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The more serious problems with free trade agreements occur when we use them as a way to reward bad behavior, or as a way to promote our own failed policies. Both of these things are occurring in Colombia. There’s little difference between the actions of Colombian right-wing paramilitaries and the actions of left-wing rebels. Both groups have a history of using terrorist tactics and funding themselves through drug trafficking. But the left-wing rebels are the “narco-terrorists” who threaten our national security. Why? Because they’re on the same side as those who are demanding labor reforms and other restraints on the corporations that wish to do business there. This administration still equates dissent over their economic philosophy with the threat of terrorism. And because of this, Colombia finds itself increasingly more isolated for their willingess to be our close ally as the rest of South America grows more and more anti-American and anti-capitalist.
And underneath all of this is still Plan Colombia, the multi-billion dollar drug war initiative first unleashed by the Clinton Administration in 2000 and continued by the Bush Administration. The Colombian drug war has always been a ready excuse for the excesses of right-wing paramilitaries, but the complete failure to even make a dent in South American drug production is making it clear what drug policy experts understood all along – it was destined to be a major boondoggle. The Bush Administration may still be able to convince themselves that bombing FARC outposts in the jungles of northern Ecuador will somehow stop the billions of dollars of cocaine from coming into the United States, but people like that should be sitting in rooms with padded walls and not in charge of our military.
As for Congressman 401, his excursion to Colombia was probably a good way to take his mind off of the fact that Darcy Burner is getting a lot of very good press for her work on the Responsible Plan to get out of Iraq. We need a Responsible Plan for Colombia too, but it doesn’t involve rewarding the Colombian government with a free trade agreement at a time when they’re moving the region closer to conflict. It doesn’t involve using the drug war as an excuse for political persecution. And it certainly doesn’t involve the failed drug control strategies like aerial eradication that have done nothing to curb the flow of drugs into this country while devastating the lives of an increasing number of people.
You may not notice it — in fact, you shouldn’t notice it — but I’ve just upgrade HA’s installation of WordPress to version 2.5. If anything appears not be working properly, you’ll let me know.
I have always found it very odd how local Republicans have never given Chris Gregoire much, if any, respect. On the blogs and elsewhere, Republicans still consider her an accidental governor, an aberration, a byproduct of the corrupt machinations in King County. They do not think she is a formidable candidate. They look at her the same way they looked at Patty Murray; someone outside the “leadership” class. But year after year, she rolled up big victories.
I don’t mean respect in the polite way. Frankly, I don’t care if the GOP plays nice. But to treat her candidacy the way Dino Rossi does, the way the GOP loseratti does, well, I don’t think it’s smart. Rossi is downright dismissive; it proves that he believes his own hype about the 2004 election. He’s surrounded by the elder statesmen of the GOP; guys who worked for Slade Gorton, the BIAW, and an assorted array of since-retired legislators. All of them coo into his ear, saying that the governorship was his all along.
I spent only a few hours on the bus, but I paid attention. Unlike Rossi, Gregoire has never had to deliver for a district; she’s good, but not great, at the retail side of things. But there’s a genuine likability there, a genuine warmth. Her economically disadvantaged upbringing has installed in her a mettle, a sense that you have to be strong inside and out to get things done. Rossi may be the salesman, but Gregoire is the sales manager. Rossi is the sizzle, Gregoire is the steak.
The GOP is going to come after her on state spending, specifically, on the 33% increase. (Read more about that below, in Goldy’s post.) While Rossi makes the intellectual argument, Gregoire will talk about what her budget does:
More kids with health care.
More resources for education for our people.
Protecting our environment.
Governor Gregoire doesn’t invest in these things because of how they pencil out on the page. She invests in these things because that’s the kind of person she is. And I think that’s the person Washington voters will re-elect in November.
The sandwich chain, not the underground train. And it has wifi.
There wasn’t any internets at the event at Zones, but good lord, Ron Sims was off his ass good. After he’s done with politics, he should get his own TV show.
Turns out Zones is the biggest minority-owned business in Washington state. They have 700 employees, up from 550+ not too long ago. They want to DOUBLE in size. When right wingers say that the Gov is running business out of town, I have to ask: which ones?
Rep. Dicks made it clear that he thinks Gregoire is one of, if not the best, Gov. since Rossellini.
During her speech, Gregoire listed several accomplishments, some of which you think wouldn’t excite a room full of liberals. More prison space, property tax lids, that kind of thing. But at least Gregoire is consistent: she’s committed to following the will of the voters. That goes for property taxes, but also teacher pay and class size initiatives. (The last two, Rossi’s 2003 budget didn’t fund.)
This laptop is taking some getting used to. My elbows hurts. More later, I promise.
Sen. John McCain has a well earned reputation as a foul-mouthed hothead, having called opponents and colleagues “shitheads,” “assholes” and on at least one occasion, “a fucking jerk.” Personally, I have no qualms with the occasional profane rant, but you gotta admit, it’s not exactly presidential behavior.
Three reporters from Arizona, on the condition of anonymity, also let me in on another incident involving McCain’s intemperateness. In his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain’s hair and said, “You’re getting a little thin up there.” McCain’s face reddened, and he responded, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.” McCain’s excuse was that it had been a long day.
As Shecter points out, McCain would have many long days if elected President.
The Seattle Times editorial board urges Gov. Gregoire to be “careful” regarding the state budget…
Its additions were modest, and the $0.015 billion the governor vetoed was helpful in that regard. So was the $0.85 billion ending savings account. But these changes were on the top of a total — $33.7 billion in a two-year cycle — that was not modest. In four years, state spending has risen by 33 percent. […] Some of this spending was necessary. But the across-the-board spending has meant the state was not able to lower taxes in any substantial way.
Yeah, well, there are reasons to be careful regarding the state budget in the face of an antiquated tax system that virtually assures a longterm structural deficit, but not for the reasons the Times suggests. Indeed, every time they trod out Rossi’s intentionally misleading “33 percent” number — without offering readers the appropriate budgetary context — the Times does a great disservice toward the cause of fiscal stability.
Yes, the state budget has grown by about a third over the past four years, and no, that rate is not sustainable when compared to longterm budget forecasts, but our state government’s growth has absolutely been “modest” by any meaningful economic measure. In fact, a January 2007 analysis by the Washington State Budget & Policy Center clearly shows that general fund spending under Gov. Gregoire has merely followed the same trend established during the 1990s.
The Times would have you believe that it was the spending increase under Gov. Gregoire’s watch that is the anomaly, when in fact it was the slower spending growth during the national recession and tepid recovery that actually fell below historical growth levels. Gov. Gregoire’s budget merely returned the state to the established trend.
Indeed, as a share of the total state economy, Gov. Gregoire’s budget actually represents a reduced investment — a smaller share of state resources than any of the six budgets that directly precede it.
Anti-government/anti-tax critics can spout all they want about rising spending and per-capita tax increases, but those numbers are entirely meaningless when taken out of context… as they usually are. Read the academic literature and you will find that the most common metric used in comparative studies of government spending, and for analyzing the relative growth of both expenditures and revenues, is spending/taxation as a percentage of personal income.
The reason is twofold. First, the economic metric that most closely tracks long term growth in demand for government services is growth in total personal income. That is because many of the services provided by the government are commodities, and as personal income increases, so does consumption. As our state grows wealthier, demand for government services increases faster than population plus inflation.
The other reason to focus on personal income is that it is the only metric that tracks individual taxpayers’ ability to pay. The state invests in things like transportation and education and law enforcement — investments that provide the infrastructure necessary for our economy to grow and for all our citizens to prosper. Thus a spending increase, even when accompanied by an increase in marginal tax rates, does not increase the real burden on individual taxpayers if it results in a corresponding increase in personal income.
So how does our state stack up in terms of state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income? Again, according to the Budget & Policy Center, Washington currently ranks 36th nationwide… and falling.
There is a legitimate debate to be had over the proper size and scope of government, and the priority in which we make public investments, but it is fundamentally dishonest to enter this debate by reinforcing the common misconception that our state government is out of control, when by the most meaningful measure — the government’s total share of our state’s economic resources — even a four-year 33-percent increase represents a decline from historic trends. And it is equally dishonest to profess a concern for fiscal responsibility by focusing solely on budgetary expenditures while refusing to address the revenue side of the equation.
Washington state not only boasts the most regressive tax structure in the nation — one in which the bottom 20% of wage earners pay a whopping 17.6% of income in state and local taxes while the wealthiest pay only 3.1% — our tax system is also based on an antiquated, early 20th century model that over-relies on an ever shrinking portion of our 21st century economy: the manufacture and sale of goods. Economic booms can mask this structural deficit in the short term, but because our economic growth is increasingly occurring in sectors that remain un- or under-taxed, longterm revenue growth simply cannot keep pace with growth in demand for public services… at least not without raising marginal tax rates, shifting an ever greater burden on exactly those families who can least afford it.
The Times and other critics have repeatedly cautioned about unsustainable budget growth while refusing to articulate which programs and services they would see slashed, or displaying an ounce of willingness to discuss the kind of fundamental tax restructuring that might allow state and local government revenues to reliably keep pace with both economic growth, and with the growth in demand for public services. If the Times editorial board wants a smaller state government — if they want to see less per capita real dollars spent on education, transportation, law enforcement, children’s health care, and other essential services — they should just come out and say it; we would all benefit from an honest debate. But the sort of disingenuous budgetary “concern trolling” they display in today’s editorial adds absolutely nothing to the discussion.
The nice thing about being a Democratic governor in Washington state is that you have several congressmen, many of them in safe seats, who have your back when you run for re-election. (Unfortunatly for Rossi, all he has is the BIAW and Jay Buhner.)
Riding the bus with the Gov today is Rep. Norm Dicks. He’s an Abrams tank of a man. Dicks is the perfect wartime consiglierie.
If you want to watch the kick-off online, check out the live feed here.
Turns out, Chris Gregoire’s mother was a single mom who worked at the local cafe, getting up early everyday to bake pies. At the start of every campaign, Gregoire returns to her hometown of Auburn, WA and visits the Rainbow Cafe. I’ve never been, but I like the small town dinners a lot. Since my family didn’t always have lots of money for expensive vacations, my dad and my sis and I would go on roadtrips around the state. The local diners were some of the highlights. OLne of my favorites? A dusty little joint in Washtucna.
Every politician should have a “Rainbow Cafe”.
First off, this is the nicest bus I’ve ever been on. Which isn’t saying much. Well, after the John Madden Cruiser, how many other “really nice” buses are there?
Somebody noticed my laptop, and just yelled at me.
“It’s about time we started kicking Dino Rossi’s ass.”
I’ll be riding the Gregoire campaign bus tomorrow, reporting from stops along the way (wifi willing).
The first event starts at 10:15 AM in Auburn with another later in Tacoma. The bus then continues to Vancouver (without me, though.)
Later that evening I’ll be at Peter Goldmark’s campaign kick-off at the Olympic Sculpture Park. He’s running for commissioner of public lands. Special guest is Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.
* Thank God I knew some people from Drinking Liberally, or I would have been bored out of my mind. I do appreciate the earnestness of the people there to debate resolutions, but holy shit did we really need to hand count the public financing resolution? I was there with a pregnant woman; standing in a hot sweaty gym for 4 hours was tough for me; I’m sure that extra 20 minutes of standing wasn’t good for her; and hello, the final four started at 3:00.
* Maybe it was a sense memory from being in a high school gym and later a high school auditorium, maybe it was the people I was with, maybe it’s just the events, but I was just asshole comment after asshole comment about the day’s events. It was like Mystery Science Theater 3000 except with politics.
* Sean Astin gave a good Clinton speech, but got cut off before he was done. It was good to hear him praise Obama but still be solidly in the Clinton camp. The first lady stuff, comparing Hillary positively to Abigail Adams and Elenore Roosevelt was marvelous. I feel bad about yelling, “thank you Frodo!” Especially since he didn’t actually play that part: “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy” would have been better.
* A bit better than 3 to 1 for Obama (I forget the actual count and it isn’t on the website yet, sorry if this is off). This seems fairly typical for Seattle.
* The Clinton subcaucus was a hoot. It was amazing to hear from all the people who are still going for her. A lot of great energy even in 30 second chunks. Also: Comfortable chairs in the auditorium.
* I put my name up for the state convention, and was able to keep under the allocated 30 seconds: My real name and number. There are plenty of under 30’s who support Hillary Clinton, and I’m one glad to be one of them. I’m supporting her because we can have a president who’ll work to make universal healthcare in this country and womens’ rights around the world a reality. My name and number.
* Thank Christ for the timekeepers. Molly, you rule! Janis, thank goodness you were there! It could have been a long ass break out session.
* How the hell long does it take to count the votes for delegate? Seriously, I still don’t know if I’m headed to the next level.