Archives for September 2008
Blowing the Whistle on ICE
Radley Balko has an interview with former DEA agent and “House of Death” whistleblower Sandy Gonzalez. The “House of Death” case involves an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent named Guillermo Ramirez Peyro who took part in torturing and murdering people (including one legal U.S. resident) while also being paid over $220,000 by the U.S. Government. After Gonzalez demanded some accountability for this disaster, he was pushed out of the DEA. The full interview is here.
Join us at the Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally for an evening of politics under the influence. Officially, we start at 8:00 pm at the Montlake Ale House, 2307 24th Avenue E. Some folks show up early to enjoy the fine cuisine.
For tonight’s activity, we’ll simply be reeling over the Buildergate scandal. No, not the Buildergate that has ensnarled Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and jeopardizes his re-election chances. Rather, the Buildergate scandal that has ensnarled gubernatorial hopeful Dino Rossi (
R G.O.P. Party) and seriously jeopardizes his chances at nearly beating Gov. Christine Gregoire again, filing another lawsuit to overturn the election, and then offering another un-statesmanlike slam at the state Supreme Court in a resignation speech.
If you find yourself in the Tri-Cities area this evening, McCranium should be announcing the local Drinking Liberally. Otherwise, check out the Drinking Liberally web site for dates and times of a chapter near you.
That oughta earn her brownie points with the print media…
COURIC: “What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read…?”
PALIN: “I’ve read most of them.”
Get that? She couldn’t even name a single newspaper or magazine. No wonder she’s so well informed.
In anticipation of the VP debate…
Thank you, Seattle Times
For weeks I’ve been pushing the point that there is no state budget deficit, an argument, I was afraid, that was largely falling on deaf ears. Until now: “Rossi ad in error on state deficit – there isn’t one yet.”
That’s right, that’s the Seattle Times’ Bob Young setting the record straight (for the most part) on one of Dino Rossi’s erroneous and intentionally misleading campaign memes.
Dino Rossi is airing statewide radio and TV ads suggesting Gov. Christine Gregoire has ignored the state’s $3.2 billion budget shortfall.
The ads, titled “Denial,” never directly say that. But the ads repeat several times a Sept. 15 statement by Gregoire that “We do not have a deficit today.”
The ads assert the state has a deficit. A female narrator says about Gregoire: “Is she dishonest or is she in denial?”
The ad is inaccurate for this reason: The state is facing a projected $3.2 billion budget hole next year, but it does not have a deficit today.
The current budget, which runs to June 30, 2009, is balanced and the state has several hundred million dollars still in reserve. Part of the reserve is in a rainy-day fund that Gregoire pushed to create.
Exactly. (Well, not exactly. The $3.2 billion projected revenue shortfall is not for “next year,” it’s for the budget ending in 2011, that must be written next year. But why pick nits?)
So why is this distinction so important? Because when Rossi and the media repeat the imprecise term “budget deficit” voters understandably associate that with the hugeass federal budget hole created under the Bush administration (and about to be made even hugeassier with the impending Wall Street bailout), which is simply misleading. Our state constitution prohibits deficit spending, and thus the next biennium budget will be balanced. And the implied accusation that Gregoire has not been spending within our means is utter bullshit when she’s managed to sock away hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus.
So thank you Bob Young for taking this issue seriously—considerably more seriously than it was taken by the folks on your own ed board.
Buildergate: the smoking gun
Above is an excerpt from the official minutes of the Master Builder Association’s (MBA) May 21, 2007 “chair officers meeting,” and that is the smoking gun that inextricably links Dino Rossi to the BIAW’s illegal fundraising scheme. That is the heart of Buildergate.
Rossi called not one, but at least three MBA board members to solicit funds for “the BIAW’s war chest,” a war chest that was explicitly described at the MBA’s previous meeting as “a fund for Rossi.” And it is clear, both from the context of this excerpt, and from the stated response to Rossi from MBA Second VP John Day, that the subject of those calls was indeed these solicited funds.
What should now be absolutely obvious to even the most objective observer is that Rossi was an active participant in the BIAW’s illegal fundraising scheme… a scheme for which the PDC found the BIAW guilty of multiple “egregious” violations of Washington’s campaign finance and disclosure laws, and which is now being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s office.
But it is important to note that even if the BIAW had scrupulously conducted its campaign within the letter of the law (and it didn’t), Rossi would still be guilty of a major violation of our campaign statutes, for it is absolutely positively 100% illegal (not to mention grossly unethical) for a candidate to coordinate activities with an independent expenditure campaign.
And by calling MBA board members and asking them to contribute to the BIAW’s “fund for Rossi,” that is exactly what Rossi has done. The documentation is clear: Rossi was an active participant in the BIAW’s illegal “independent” campaign, and to even attempt to assert that his actions did not rise to the level of coordination, simply beggars the imagination.
Dino Rossi has displayed a stunning and flagrant disregard for our state’s campaign finance and disclosure statutes… laws overwhelmingly passed by voter initiative. The only question remaining is whether our local media will report on Buildergate as the major scandal it truly is, or if Rossi will be allowed profit from his unethical and illegal behavoir, remaining unpunished and unscathed until well past the November election.
Buildergate Scandal: Rossi caught soliciting illegal BIAW funds!
Documents released today reveal that Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi was not only aware of the Building Industry Association of Washington’s (BIAW) illegal fundraising activities, but that he actively solicited funds on their behalf from at least one organization, the Master Builder’s Association (MBA). According to a summary of events posted by attorney Knoll Lowney:
The MBA was one of the groups solicited for a donation. On April 30, 2007, BIAW President Daimon Doyle attended the MBA’s Board meeting to solicit a donation to BIAW’s campaign fund, which was considered a “Fund for Rossi,” according to Sam Anderson, the MBA Executive Director. Based upon a formula, MBA was targeted for a donation of over $570,000! The Board decided to table the request until the next meeting three weeks later, expressing concern that most MBA members were democrats and may not appreciate the donation and also about other pressing MBA expenses including building repairs.
When MBA leadership met next on May 21, 2007 at a “Chair Officers Meeting,” the discussion turned to BIAW’s pending request for campaign funds. While discussing the request, all three of the MBA’s top officers reported that they had received calls from Dino Rossi. The one call for which additional detail is provided clearly confirms that Rossi called to support a MBA contribution to the BIAW’s governor’s race war chest. The minutes leave no question that Dino Rossi spoke to this officer about whether and when MBA would give to the BIAW’s governor campaign fund. The officers receiving calls from Rossi were then-MBA President Doug Barnes, First Vice President Joe Schwab, and Second Vice President John Day.
The PDC has already found the BIAW and MBA guilty of multiple “egregious” campaign finance violations, and the Attorney General has subsequently filed suit. And now we learn that not only did Dino Rossi know about the illegal fundraising, he actively solicited money for it.
This is a major scandal… the kind of scandal that could change the entire dynamic of this election.
Gregoire vs. Rossi: Budget Footnotes
After two debates between Governor Chris Gregoire and former state Senator Dino Rossi, the budget has taken center stage. And even though we’re dealing in facts—straight budget numbers—the candidates have two completely different versions of the budget story. It’s a little maddening to listen to.
Gregoire has repeatedly insisted that Rossi doesn’t “understand the values of the people of the state of Washington,” pointing out that Rossi balanced the 2003 budget “on the backs of seniors and children.” And ultimately, she explains, Rossi’s budget created a $2.2 billion deficit anyway—which she had to balance.
Rossi, for his part, has insisted that Gregoire is a “tax and spend liberal” and that her current budget is careening toward a $3.2 billion deficit.
Their respective responses? Rossi claims that he didn’t leave a deficit. Gregoire claims the state currently has a surplus.
I tried to get to the bottom of this disagreement after their first debate. I’m not sure I was successful.
Thank God then, that at their second debate last week, moderator David Postman pulled a question out of the hat (questions at the Association of Washington Business debate last week were submitted by AWB members) that addressed the budgeting stand off.
Postman, in his last gig as chief political correspondent for the Seattle Times before starting his new job in media relations for Vulcan, by the way, quoted a question from AWB member Jim Suits, president of Summit Capital Advisors in Tacoma.
Postman: “Governor Gregoire, you claim you inherited a $2.2 billion deficit from the budget written by Senator Rossi. Senator Rossi you say the budget was balanced and you detect a current problem the same way you did back then. You can’t both be right.”
(Big laugh from the audience)
“Here’s your chance to each take two minutes to try and convince us all you’re right.”
Okay, HA readers, take off your partisan hats. I’m going to print both candidates’ answers verbatim.
Well thank you for the question. The record is clear. When I came into office in January 2005, Washington state was sitting on a deficit, a $2.2 billion deficit that we had to balance the budget with. Now, how did we do it? Well, we lived within our means, and we also made cuts, and we also had some new revenue.
Now, I noticed my opponent is constantly attacking me for this new revenue. In fact he’s attacking the people of the state of Washington. Because guess what? When it came to the transportation investment, it was voted on by the people of Washington who said, ‘Yes it’s time we got our infrastructure up and growing. We want safety. We want congestion relief. Just invest.’ And that we have done. And we have shown results
The other thing they said is, ‘You know what, we’re also going to agree we need to have an estate tax in this state, making sure that that top one percent are paying for education’ — that’s where the money is dedicated. Sixty two percent of the people of the state of Washington said that’s what they wanted to have done.
So we balanced the budget then, we can balance it again.
But Let me be clear about the rhetoric you’re hearing from my opponent. Today we sit on a surplus. We are one of a handful of states that do. We have literal money in the bank. The projected, and I emphasize the word ‘projected,’ deficit is for 2011. Who knows what happens between now and then, but I’ve already begun curbing spending. About $290 million. For example, I have said we will not be able to move forward with the Family Leave Act. It is suspended. I have made it clear that we are not going to continue to hire, and we are going to cut contracts. We’re going to save money and we’re going to continue because I want to continue to have one of the largest surpluses in the history of the state– which I left this last legislative session with. $850 million. Those are the facts. That’s the truth. I inherited a $2.2 billion deficit. And balanced the budget. And today we have a surplus.
Well, those aren’t the facts and this is the truth
I actually resigned the state senate in December 2003—a year before she took office. And there were a couple more supplemental budgets written, and the incumbent, as AG, lost two lawsuits worth a half a billion dollars. So if there was a projected deficit, I think we need to look in the mirror.
The bottom line, though, is that an hour after she was sworn in as governor, even though during the course of the campaign she said, ‘Now is not the time to raise taxes, oh no we’re not going to raise taxes,’ one hour after she was sworn in, the Seattle Times asked her to repeat her no taxes pledge, [and] she says, ‘Oh well I never really meant no new taxes.’ Then she raised our taxes by $500 million including the death tax, which is chasing entrepreneurs out of our state. We need to eliminate the death tax in the state of Washington.
Well, you know what. She’s going to raise your taxes again during the course of this effort, and it’s somewhat ridiculous, since I resigned a year earlier, [that] she blames me for somehow having a deficit.
What ended up happening, by the time the budget was written, money was flying into the coffers of the state. She raised taxes a half a billion dollars on the very same budget she was raising spending by 13 percent. That’s a classic definition of a tax and spend liberal if you ask me. That’s exactly what happened. There’s your truth.
Postman got the last word (and laugh): “Jim, I hope that cleared it up for you.”
I’ll get to my footnotes (and my scorecard) on Gregoire’s and Rossi’s answers in a moment. But first, I checked in with Jim Suits at Summit Capital Advisors in Tacoma yesterday (who told me he’s a strong Rossi supporter) to see if he felt like the candidates answered his question.
“They both gave me what we often refer to at the office as an IRS answer,” Suits says, “100% correct and 100% useless.” Suits says that while both candidates are “good at spin,” neither one “got to the heart of the matter.” And for Suits, “the heart of the matter” is: Why did balanced budgets, one balanced by Rossi and one balanced by Gregoire, both slip into deficits?
“What Gregoire said was absolutely right,” Suits says. “Today, September 29, we do not have a deficit. And what Dino Rossi said is also right. We had a balanced budget in 2003. The issue I was trying to get to was, if they’re both right, how could we end up with a deficit?“
Right. And the answer is this: Rossi’s budget wasn’t sustainable and Gregoire’s current budget isn’t sustainable. Democrats will tell you that these budgets aren’t sustainable because we have a revenue problem (thanks Tim Eyman), and we can’t meet all the needs that the public wants us to meet, like paying for quality education. And Republicans will tell you it’s a spending problem—because government is out of control.
The Democratic claim seems tied to a larger issue about Washington’s tax system: Our regressive sales tax doesn’t generate the kind of revenue that a progressive income tax would. It also seems subjective. For example, does everyone think spending $64 million to provide health care to 38,500 uninsured kids, as Gregoire did in 2007, is a state responsibility?
The Republican claim is inaccurate on its face. For example, when Rossi declared his candidacy in October 2007, he staked out his run on this fact: State spending had increased 30 percent under Gregoire.
But his number didn’t address a relevant question to his “tax and spend” equation: Did spending increase because government raised taxes to get more revenues or did spending increase because a robust economy increased state revenues without a tax hike?
Guess what the numbers showed? The 30 percent increase in spending was directly tied to a straight up increase in revenues without a tax hike. Revenues were $22.5 billion in 2003 and they grew by 31 percent to $29.5 billion in 2007.
As to the candidates’ answers to Suits’ question. Here are my footnotes and my scorecard.
1. Gregoire is absolutely right about the half-a-billion tax increase. According to Glenn Kuper at the state budget office, the estate tax—which voters reaffirmed in ’06—accounts for the tax hike. He says it brings in about $100 to $150 million a year. Score 1 for Gregoire.
2. Gregoire is technically right that we don’t have a deficit right now, and in fact, we have a surplus. But come on. The point is: Her program is not sustainable. Minus 1 for Gregoire.
3. The Family Leave Act is suspended? Okay, that sucks. And second: According to Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33, Sea-Tac)—Olympia’s leading advocate for family leave legislation—that’ll save us $72 million in the next biennium, knocking only about 2.2 percent off the projected deficit. Minus 2 for Gregoire.
4. Re: The $850 million surplus (a budget that included a heaping increase the state’s housing trust fund). Savvy budgeting. Plus 1 for Gregoire.
5. Rossi: “We need to eliminate the death tax in the state of Washington.” Okay, all three people Rossi’s promise affects were in the fancy shmancy ballroom that night at the AWB debate. Meanwhile, 62% of the voters said they approve of the tax. Minus 1 for Rossi.
6. Rossi says Gregoire raised taxes by $500 million and spending by 13 percent—making her a classic “tax and spend liberal.” Honestly, I don’t know what 13 percent is a reference to. I emailed and called Rossi’s spokeswoman, Jill Strait, to get some clarity on that. (Rossi typically says Gregoire raised spending by 30 percent. I know 13 and 30 sound the same, but I’ve listened to the tape over and over, and he definitely says thirteen.)
Strait has not responded.
However, for starters, Rossi’s accusation that the $500 million in taxes is somehow odious doesn’t make sense. As Gregoire noted, the voters approved the money. Meanwhile, for his accusation to have any bite, there’s got to be a direct relationship between the $500 million in new revenue and the 13 (30?) percent spending increase. Namely, Rossi needs to show that the tax is burdensome and the spending is frivolous or out of whack. Given that Rossi hasn’t been specific about the fat in the budget, his point doesn’t track. Minus 2 for Rossi.
Pope supporter sues Hague for defamation
As a blogger, you never know which otherwise boring, nondescript local politician might someday blossom into an endless source of amusing blog fodder. Take for example King County Councilwoman Jane Hague, who to this connoisseur of political snark has only grown better with age. In fact, we could say that Hague has aged like a fine wine… though if we did, she’d probably try to drink herself.
After she narrowly survived a hard-fought three-way race between herself, Richard Pope and a four-liter jug of Chablis, I had assumed that my fun at Hague’s expense was over. But that was before I received an email from Bellevue businessman Paul Brecht, one of Pope’s most ardent supporters during his 2007 run for county council, informing me that he is suing Hague, her husband, and her campaign consultants for defamation of character.
The lawsuit stems from a nasty piece of direct mail Hague sent out, in which she not only attacked her opponent (and God knows our friend Richard offers a rich enough vein there), but she also personally targeted Brecht for having the temerity to publicly endorse him:
Problem is, Brecht was never convicted of assault, and as he points out in his complaint, he has never been “on the top of any ‘law enforcement list’ of any sort for any reason.”
Defamation cases are awfully hard things to win in court. For example, I could relentlessly accuse Hague of eating babies, and she could never win a defamation case against me because nobody in their right mind could reasonably believe that I was seriously accusing her of baby eating. (Though, in fact, Hague does indeed eat babies. Really.) Or, I could falsely accuse her of taking bribes from Eastside developer Skip Rowley, and I’d be pretty much safe as long as I retracted the charge. (Though I’d like to see Hague prove that she doesn’t take bribes from Rowley. Huh? Betcha can’t, Jane.)
And let’s not forget that as a boozing, baby-eating public figure, Hague has even fewer protections against defamation than, say, an ordinary private citizen like Brecht. Hague falsely and maliciously attacked Brecht’s character in retaliation for him endorsing her opponent, and while I’m not sure if her lies quite fit the legal definition of “defamation,” it certainly fits the common definition of being an “asshole.”
In any case, Brecht’s day in court is approaching, and he’s in need of an attorney now that Pope is likely to be called as a witness. So if anybody wants to help out, drop me an email and I’ll hook the two of you up.
James Wolcott on the Sarah Palin train wreck.
Crybaby Republicans get spanked
After the bailout bill went down to a surprise defeat, largely due to House Minority Leader John Boehner’s inability to deliver the Republican votes he had promised, Boehner blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, claiming that many members withheld their vote after she hurt their feelings by delivering a speech that was “overly partisan.” Um… it wasn’t.
The Republicans are a bunch of crybabies, and so it is fitting that in response, they got such a severe spanking at the hands of Rep. Barney Frank.
Would the last reporter who leaves Olympia please turn out the lights?
Chris Mulick has written his last blog post for the Tri-City Herald… or anything else for that matter, announcing that he’s turning in his press credentials tomorrow to take a public information post with the state Senate Democratic caucus.
I can’t point to one single reason that fueled this decision. There are many factors involved in the complex equation.
But certainly, the financial troubles plaguing this industry have created considerable uncertainty. And while the Herald has given me every assurance my job is safe in this bureau it’s unsettling how quickly the unthinkable has become reality in this business. With a young family, I’ve no choice but to risk jumping too soon. I simply can’t risk jumping too late.
Pretty soon the press houses in Olympia will consist of little more than Rich Roesler and Brad Shannon chatting with each other via a couple tin cans and a taut length of string.
Yet another Washington political reporter leaving the business, and only six weeks before one of the most consequential elections in history. This really sucks.
Better than Hoover (Part VII)
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 777 points today at 10,365… 223 points below where it stood the day President George W. Bush took office. That’s a 2.1% drop over Bush’s 7 years, 9 months in office, for an annualized return of -0.27% making him the first president to produce a negative annualized return since Herbert Hoover. (By comparison, the DJIA produced annualized returns of about 28% during President Bill Clinton’s eight years in office.)
And compared to the other major market indices, the DJIA looks good. The S&P 500 fell 8% today, and is now down about 21% over the Bush administration, while the NASDAQ Composite fell another 9%, for a stunning 40% decline during the Bush years. To put that in perspective, a $100 investment in an index fund tracking the NASDAQ would now be worth only $48.50 in inflation adjusted dollars.
Remember, it was the Bush administration who declared a crisis that required an immediate bailout, it was Bush who put forth the original proposal, it was Bush who joined with Democrats on a bipartisan compromise, and it was Bush who ultimately failed to bring his House caucus with him. Oh… and it was Bush’s failed economic policies and disregard for regulation that laid the groundwork for this mess.
So much for the “CEO president.”
I’ve edited the DJIA numbers to reflect the actual close; apparently it was dropping so fast at the buzzer it took a while for the ticker to catch up with the trades.
Seattle Times calls on candidates to curb debate
The Seattle Times wants the gubernatorial candidates to talk about budget cuts:
GOV. Christine Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi said the right things about taxes: They both pledged not to increase them to fill the state’s projected $3.2 billion budget hole.
That is the only rational position for a state that cannot abide higher taxes at a time of such economic fragility.
Because nothing boosts the local economy like slashing spending and cutting jobs.
It is not the “only rational position” and the fact that they would phrase it that way is a window into the arrogant and dismissive attitude of the Times ed board. It is a rational position—singular—but there are plenty of other rational economic positions, some even in favor of fiscal stimulus during an economic downturn. There are strong arguments to be made for avoiding tax hikes, but to dismissively imply that all those who dare to argue point are “irrational” is both childish and insulting.
Furthermore, not all taxes and tax breaks are equal, each providing different economic incentives and disincentives. For example, a gas tax holiday would only increase demand for expensive foreign oil, while eliminating jobs building and maintaining necessary transportation infrastructure. Surely, amongst the billions of dollars in new tax exemptions granted by the legislature over the past decade, there are some that are not delivering to taxpayers the promised return. Eliminating these nonperforming “tax expenditures” could contribute greatly toward balancing the next budget without any detrimental economic effect… though the knee-jerk, anti-tax Times would surely revile such a move as a tax hike.
I agree that the candidates need to start talking about what they intend to cut, but the Times’ efforts to dumb down and simplify discourse exclusively to a discussion of cuts, only serves to curb debate, not expand it, and is a disservice to their readers.
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