There is a critical vote today in the US Senate on drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve. NPI Blog has some information on how you can (quickly) voice your opposition.
Our good friend Stefan’s noble crusade to purge our voter rolls of medical researchers was dealt a crushing blow today, when King County Elections rejected his challenge of the voter registration of Dr. Daniel Sosin — a commissioned member of the Public Health Service — currently serving at the CDC in Atlanta. Carla at Preemptive Karma has summarized the decision, and you can download the official ruling here.
Unable to exact revenge on an epidemiologist, Stefan is now turning his sights towards future biochemists, urging prosecution of Chun C. Chen, a sophomore at the University of Washington, who voted in the November election despite the fact that he was not a citizen. Of course, one of the reasons we know about this incident, is that Mr. Chen went down to King County Elections three days after the election, told them he was not a citizen, and asked to have his registration cancelled.
Here’s a kid who made a mistake, realized it, admitted it, and tried to fix it as best he could, and now Stefan is going out of his way to publicize it, knowing full well it could result in revocation of his student visa, and ultimately, deportation… all to make a tiny political point. It’s just another example of how some people on the other side couldn’t give a shit about how many lives they disrupt or careers they destroy in the service of their larger political agenda.
Oh… and don’t you just love Stefan’s typically paranoid musing?
Of course it’s possible somebody impersonated Mr. Chen when he registered to vote, voted and/or cancelled his registration.
Yeah Stefan, and it’s also possible that you are not delusional… but equally unlikely.
Hmmm… perhaps I’ll file a challenge to Stefan’s voter registration on the grounds that he is “incompetent for the purpose of rationally exercising the right to vote” under RCW Chapter 11.88…?
TJ at Also Also has posted a more thorough discussion of the Sosin case, pointing out what a complete waste of time (and taxpayer dollars) it was.
The argument over Social Security privatization isn’t about rival views on how to secure the program’s future – even the administration admits that private accounts would do nothing to help the system’s finances. It’s a debate about what kind of society America should be.
And it’s a debate Republicans appear to be losing, because the public doesn’t share their view that it’s a good idea to expose middle-class families, whose lives have become steadily riskier over the past few decades, to even more risk. As soon as voters started to realize that private accounts would replace traditional Social Security benefits, not add to them, support for privatization collapsed.
But the Republicans’ loss may not be the Democrats’ gain, for two reasons. One is that some Democrats, in the name of centrism, echo Republican talking points. The other is that claims to be defending average families ring hollow when you defer to corporate interests on votes that matter.
Paul Krugman of the New York Times then goes on to lambast Senator Joseph Lieberman, who he calls The $600 Billion Man, for mindlessly repeating the Bush administration’s empty rhetoric, and for his own empty gesture of voting against the bankruptcy bill.
It isn’t always bad politics to say things that aren’t true and claim to support things you actually oppose: just look at who’s running the country. But Democrats who engage in these tactics right now create big problems for a party that has been given a special chance – maybe its last chance – to remind the country of what Democrats stand for, and why.
Read the whole thing.
Destroying Social Security may not be the only “reform” the faltering Bush administration has trouble passing this year. Apparently, a permanent repeal of the estate tax is facing strong opposition, only this time from traditional GOP allies: the insurance industry.
Leading the charge for the life insurers, who stand to lose a combined $12 billion in premiums if the estate tax is ended, is Frank Keating, the Republican former governor of Oklahoma who now is president of the American Council of Life Insurers. “I am institutionally and intestinally against huge blocs of inherited wealth,” he says. “I don’t think we need the Viscount of Enron or the Duke of Microsoft.”
Speaking of Microsoft, the senior member of the royal family will testify before Congress this week, also in opposition to repealing the estate tax. Bill Gates Sr., the father of the world’s richest man, has suggested that the tax be retained on estates in excess of $3.5 million, a level that would exempt all but one-half of 1 percent of estates from the tax.
“We wouldn’t have an Internet or microprocessors or human genome projects without the funding from the federal government,” Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said in an interview.
“Those are the things that make our economy so wonderful and make it possible for people to get very, very wealthy.”
Gates says his son, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes magazine to be $46.5 billion, “doesn’t have any confusion about the fact that his success has a lot to do with this country.”
The Republican response? The estate tax isn’t fair to rich people.
“The death of a family member should not be a taxable event,” says Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., who sponsored the repeal in the House of Representatives.
I’ll tell you what isn’t fair… the record budget deficits that will be paid off by our children and grandchildren… the millions of kids who are losing their health insurance nationwide… the unfunded mandates from the ironically named “No Child Left Behind” that are bankrupting our public schools. Meanwhile, the wealthiest Americans are saving billions from the Bush tax breaks, while Dick Cheney’s Halliburton buddies don’t even get their hands slapped for overcharging the Pentagon by more than $108 million for fuel imports into Iraq.
There’s absolutely no economic rationale for repealing the tax on the top one-half of 1 percent of estates. If anything, the estate tax is pro-billionaire, as it gives the very wealthy a powerful disincentive to die.
Bastard Idiot Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) provides the muscle for the WA state GOP, then the pointy-headed criminal mastermind is the right-wing lying sack of shit faux-think-tank, Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF).
I haven’t spit much bile in their direction… but I intend to. In the meanwhile, here’s a quick link to EFF’dUp in WA, a somewhat amusing parody blog of their efforts to decertify state labor unions.
The front page of Sunday’s Everett Herald featured a story about the Snohomish County town of Gold Bar, and how it is struggling to stay incorporated in the aftermath of tax-cutting initiatives. [Cash-strapped town could fall off the map]
The reason Gold Bar and numerous other cities around the state are struggling financially can be traced to the passage of the car tab initiative in 1999, which lowered licensing fees to a flat $30 rate. Since then, Gold Bar has lost about $707,000 in revenue, according to the Association of Washington Cities. That loss is bigger than the city’s 2005 general fund of about $508,000. The city already has tightened its belt, cutting expenses on staff training, laying off staff and restructuring the police service contract with the county, which has saved the city about $194,000, said Hester Gilleland, the city’s clerk and treasurer.
Gold Bar Mayor Collen Hawkins realistically acknowledges that the deepening financial crisis could force the town to disincorporate, forcing Snohomish County to take over services. Residents would lose local control of local services, while facing uncertainty over who would run the local water system, which counties are simply not set up to do.
And they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.
Hawkins said she finds it ironic that even she voted for Initiative 695 – the major cause of the city’s financial headaches.
The town’s registered voters supported the initiative by a vote of 354-138. Courts eventually struck down the measure, but state lawmakers heeded the will of the people and adopted $30 license tab fees anyway.
In 2002, voters approved a second car-tab initiative, which eliminated a $15 license registration fee that Snohomish County and several other counties had been charging. That money was earmarked for street repairs. As a result, the street fund in Gold Bar dropped from $17,200 in 2002 to nothing in 2004, Gilleland said.
“Even though these initiatives are appealing, they are giving a death warrant for local government,” Hawkins said.
Some might argue that these are the unintended consequences of ill-conceived initiatives like I-695, but I’d say it was intentional. While many voters — and even some mayors — didn’t realize the local impact of these statewide measures, many of their strongest and most vocal proponents knew exactly what they were doing.
We are witnessing the gradual devolution of state and local governments. Small towns across the state will be forced to disincorporate as tax revenues continue to dry up, possibly pushing some Eastern Washington counties into insolvency as they struggle to provide additional services.
Meanwhile, the structural deficit built into our antiquated state tax system has created a cycle of perpetual, multi-billion dollar budget gaps that makes it impossible for Olympia to lessen the blow, or assume more of the burden itself. When Republicans talk about cutting government waste, they’re no longer talking about making government more efficient, they’re talking about cutting programs entirely. They’re not interested in convincing the public to embrace a dramatically smaller and limited form of government… they know that if they just sit back and patiently defend the status quo, they will achieve this vision, with or without public support.
It is time for the Republican leadership to come clean about its agenda. If they don’t believe in shuttering city halls across the state, if they don’t believe in denying health care to tens of thousands of children, if they don’t believe in mediocre public schools and a university system that can’t possibly grow to meet the needs our rising population… then they need to tell us how they intend to pay for these and other basic services without raising taxes. But if what they truly believe in is minimal government and zero regulation, then they need to let voters decide on this agenda for themselves, instead of dishonestly relying on our broken tax structure to enact it by default.
I reproduce for your reading pleasure the lyrics of a little song my 7-year-old daughter and her 6-year-old cousin wrote tonight, spelling mistakes intact. I’ll buy a beer for the first person who correctly deciphers the content.
Prosint Bose is stopied and men.
Prosint Bose looks like a piall of po.
Prosint Bose is men,
and we are geting out of here.
And yes, there is a point to posting this online, which I will get to later.
Mark gets the beer, but Scott deserves credit for decoding most of it. The correct translation is:
President Bush is stupid and mean,
President Bush looks like a pile of pooh,
President Bush is mean,
And we are getting out of here.
I should mention that when I asked my daughter to translate the spellings, she could hardly stop laughing as she sang me the song. Children have a natural predilection for scatological humor, and often take great joy in mocking adults… so what could be funnier than comparing the president of the United States to a pile of pooh?
Like any doting parent I spent some time pondering the lyrics as we drove home from her cousin’s house, and a couple observations came to mind that prompted me to blog on her little exercise in political satire.
First, it struck me that her commentary was not really all that more childish than the level of discourse that sometimes runs through the threads on this blog. One might argue that “a pile of pooh” is as apt a political metaphor as any, for describing the Bush administration; indeed, I could probably write a couple thousand words expanding on the analogy. But on its own, it’s just the kind of empty (if sometimes funny) personal attack that too often substitutes for real policy debate. President Bush may very well be stupid and mean, but until my daughter backs it up with evidence and analysis, she’s not going to persuade many of her peers.
However, my second observation runs a bit deeper, and it is one which I am happy to see has already been touched upon in this thread. My daughter comes from a very politically passionate family — you might be surprised to learn, even more so on her mother’s side than her father’s. Even without direct instruction, she is being raised through osmosis, to be a liberal Democrat, in the same way that a child might be raised a Catholic or a Jew… in the same way that her Seattle-born, Irish Catholic mother and her Philadelphia-born Jewish father were both raised with a shared political philosophy.
Just like the friends of mine who describe themselves as “recovering Catholics,” there are certainly many children who grow up to reject the political tendencies of their parents, through some combination of thoughtful conversion and sheer rebelliousness. But politics and party identification tends to run through families… and it runs deep.
No doubt there are many voters who are politically secular, with no loyalty to one party or another, but it is safe to bet that few if any of you who regularly join me in this blog fall into that category. We are the political hardcore; for most of us, our political ideology is deeply rooted in our childhood, even for those who rejected the politics of their parents. Thus, our politics are integral to our personal identity.
I myself am a liberal, and while I may be persuaded to adopt a traditionally conservative position on particular points of policy, I am no more likely to accept Karl Rove as my savior, as I am Jesus Christ.
But as a liberal, I am also proudly a moral relativist. I do not believe that those of you with whom I disagree with politically, are evil. Wrong, but not evil. (Well… maybe Cynical.)
For the umpteenth time I want to repeat that I don’t mind the name-calling and invective, indeed, I encourage it if it makes an otherwise wonkish policy debate a little more entertaining. But I also encourage a little more self-awareness… an understanding that your core political beliefs are not nearly as much a product of reasoned introspection as you would like to imagine, and that the political “other” is not really so different from yourself. It is rhetorically convenient to demonize the opposition as a bunch of liars and thieves, willing to do anything to seize power, but if you truly believe this, then I suggest you need to look deep into your own heart — and your childhood — to confront your own inner demons.
So here’s hoping we can all continue to walk together through the dog park of Washington politics, avoid stepping in the occasional “piall of po,” and sometimes even learn something from one another.
Andrew Garber has done an excellent job in today’s Seattle Times, of explaining in layman’s terms why it is the state government faces cutting services, even as existing taxes are producing an estimated $1 billion in additional revenues over next two year budget: “State budget writers tangle with high cost of just standing still.” I hope the Times doesn’t mind if borrow one of their graphics, to help explain:
What we have is a “structural deficit,” where the costs of maintaining existing services at current levels are rising faster than tax revenues. The economic figure that most close tracks growth in demand for public services, is growth in personal income, yet because our tax structure is so heavily dependent on sales and excise taxes (only New Hampshire is more dependent on a single tax) government revenues simply cannot keep up with demand.
Excise taxes, like those on gasoline, alcohol and tobacco, are taxes on volume, not price, and as such rise slower than consumption over time, as inflation raises the price of the product and eats away at the value of the dollar. For example, while the Legislature added a nickel a gallon to the gas tax last year, the gas tax is now half what it was a couple years ago as a percentage of the retail price. While that is a dramatic example, it illustrates the impact of inflation on excise taxes in general.
The general sales tax, which is by far our largest source of revenue, also becomes less adequate over time, for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that we only tax goods… an ever decreasing portion of our post-industrial service economy. At the same time, inflation, particularly in health care, is hitting the state budget much harder than it is the private sector.
Nowhere is the state’s inflation problem better illustrated than in health care, which has been described as the “Pac-Man eating the state budget.”
For example, a single dose of Avinza, a prescription pain-relief medication, jumped $72 in the past year to $208 a dose. The cost of an electric hospital bed went up $101, to $1,407. And the cost of a wheelchair increased by $98, to $2,366.
Add cost and caseload increases to expected cuts in federal Medicaid spending, and the state suddenly finds it needs about $695 million in additional funds over the next two years to maintain existing health-care services for the poor.
Some would argue the solution is to simply cut health-care services for the poor. But even if one were to follow such a Hobbesian policy, it would end up costing our economy more, not less. Poor people will continue to get sick, showing up at emergency rooms at more advance stages of illness, when treatment is more expensive, and shifting the costs to the rest of us. Whatever savings we might see in lower taxes will more than be eaten up in higher insurance premiums.
And the inflationary pressures aren’t just limited to health-care:
To maintain existing levels of service, the state needs to come up with an additional $90 million to pay for prisons over the next two years, $164 million to run colleges and universities, $383 million for public-employee pensions and $444 million for public schools. That doesn’t include pay raises or benefits increases.
Of course, Republicans argue that the solution is simply to reign-in spending, but their usual metaphors fall flat. Running a government is not like running a business, or balancing your household budget. Increasing class size does not make teachers more productive, and we just can’t cut federally mandated “No Child Left Behind” requirements, like a family might cancel cable TV.
Indeed, the whole anti-tax movement that is partially responsible for our perpetual budget crises, has government finances exactly ass-backwards.
After all, people want the services, said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. Perhaps the true question is, “how much [money] do we need, to do what we want to do?”
We levy taxes to provide the services voters want; we don’t provide services simply to spend the tax dollars we have. What’s missing from the debate is the real debate… the debate over the proper size and scope of government. Republicans don’t want to have this debate because they know they’ll lose, and because they know that without the debate, we’ll just continue continue hobbling along with the status quo, gradually defunding and eliminating government programs, until their dream of a libertarian dystopia is achieved by default.
In the end, Washington state will be faced with the choice between implementing an income tax… or becoming Mississippi. There are many in the Republican leadership who would greatly prefer the latter.
A big thanks to fellow blogger Stefan, over at (un)Sound Politics for his help in uncovering massive, pro-Rossi vote fraud! According to Stefan’s analysis of the polling book accountability worksheet, there were 30 more ballots than voters at Bothell Regional Library, Precinct 3271.
A quick glance at the King County election results showed Dino Rossi leading Christine Gregoire by a 226 to 198 margin in Precinct 3271. Using the “proportional analysis” methodology Rossi’s attorneys are proposing in his election contest, and applying it to the 30 “mystery ballots,” this clear example of organized fraud by Rossi supporters cut Gregoires lead by two votes — over 1.5% of her final margin — in this single precinct alone. Extrapolate this out to all 2616 precincts, and Gregoire would have won the election by a 5,361 vote landslide!
None of this should come as a surprise, since as we all know… Republicans are more likely to cheat than Democrats.
The New York Times’ Frank Rich writes about “The Greatest Dirty Joke Ever Told,” an absolute must-read column on so many levels. Rich recounts a Friars Club roast of Hugh Hefner, just two-and-a-half weeks after 9/11.
The ensuing avalanche of Viagra jokes did not pull off the miracle of making everyone in the room forget the recent events. Restlessness had long since set in when the last comic on the bill, Gilbert Gottfried, took the stage. Mr. Gottfried, decked out in preposterously ill-fitting formal wear, has a manic voice so shrill he makes Jerry Lewis sound like Morgan Freeman. He grabbed the podium for dear life and started rocking back and forth like a hyperactive teenager trapped onstage in a school assembly. Soon he delivered what may have been the first public 9/11 gag: He couldn’t get a direct flight to California, he said, because “they said they have to stop at the Empire State Building first.”
There were boos, but Mr. Gottfried moved right along to his act’s crowning joke. “A talent agent is sitting in his office,” he began. “A family walks in – a man, woman, two kids, and their little dog. And the talent agent goes, ‘What kind of an act do you do?’ ” What followed was a marathon description of a vaudeville routine featuring incest, bestiality and almost every conceivable bodily function. The agent asks the couple the name of their unusual act, and their answer is the punch line: “The Aristocrats.”
As the mass exodus began, some people were laughing, others were appalled, and perhaps a majority of us were in the middle. We knew we had seen something remarkable, not because the joke was so funny but because it had served as shock therapy, harmless shock therapy for an adult audience, that at least temporarily relieved us of our burdens and jolted us back into the land of the living again. Some weeks later Comedy Central would cut the bit entirely from its cable recycling of the roast. But in the more than three years since, I have often reflected upon Mr. Gottfried’s mesmerizing performance. At a terrible time it was an incongruous but welcome gift. He was inviting us to once again let loose.
Read the whole thing.
I thought last week’s open thread was unusually civil and informative. I don’t know if that makes for an entertaining blog, but it was certainly a nice change-up from our usual name-calling.
So here’s a new sandbox to play in — or shit in — at your discretion.
Writing in today’s Seattle P-I (“We’re complacent about our own Osamas,”) New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff warns:
We don’t have to go to Saudi Arabia to find violent religious extremists steeped in hatred for all America stands for. Wake up — they’re here.
Discussing the proliferation of home-grown hate groups and violent attacks on judges and their families, Kristoff takes as a springboard the recent murder of the husband and mother of U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow. Suspicion immediately fell on the followers of white racist leader Matt Hale, who is currently jailed for seeking to murder Judge Lefkow. It was widely reported that postings to racist websites joyfully celebrated the murders.
And now this morning we hear about the fatal shooting of a judge in a Fulton County, GA court room.
Whether these recent acts of violence against our judiciary were carried out by angry individuals or organized hate groups, Kristoff warns of a disturbing trend that threatens to undermine our judiciary:
Threats to federal judges and prosecutors have increased sharply since they began to be tabulated 25 years ago, but the attack on Lefkow’s family, if it was related to her work, would take such threats to a new level. Who would want to be a judge if that risked the lives of loved ones?
None of this happens in a vacuum, and as anti-government rhetoric continues to grow not only in tone and volume, but in respectability, we need to be aware that there are those among us who might actually act on their anger.
As a service to my many right-wing readers, I just thought I’d tactfully mention the fact that CHRISTINE GREGOIRE IS GOVERNOR! I know a lot of you are still in denial, but fortunately, her first major act as GOVERNOR was to sign the Mental Health Parity Act… so now you can all get the grief counseling you desperately need.
In other news, Stefan continues his hunger strike until King County Elections finally releases the “big binder”… um… even though they’ve already released the binder to Rossi’s attorneys. Whatever.
And speaking of Rossi (who parenthetically, is NOT governor,) it’s been 128 days since his “official” gubernatorial campaign ended, but he still hasn’t disbanded his campaign staff yet. Ever wonder what they do down at campaign headquarters all day? Well I think this little gleaning from his monthly PDC expenditure report says it all:
02/18/2005 DIRECT TV $88.94 PO BOX 60036 LOS ANGELES, CA 90060
(I know there’s a good joke in here somewhere about his favorite TV channel. Any suggestions?)
I have voted in three cities — Philadelphia, New York, and Seattle — and to tell the truth, I miss those clunky, lever machines back East. Those big old booths with their dozens of levers made casting your vote feel physical and real; pulling that big lever at the end, hearing all those gears click into place and that curtain grind open, was the electoral equivalent of cracking your knuckles, or sinking your teeth into a thick, crusty sandwich… it delivered an odd, satisfying finality that you just don’t get from silently feeding your ballot into a scanner.
Ah well, the days of the voting machine are passing by. They are hulking and cumbersome, prone to breakdowns, and expensive to maintain, transport and warehouse. And while my personal experience as a poll worker assures me that they are exceedingly difficult to tamper with, recent events have left me more than a little uncomfortable with their inherent lack of an audit trail.
New York State is preparing legislation that would phase out mechanical voting machines, and replace them with newer technologies. Legislators will rightly require touch-screen voting machines to produce voter-verifiable paper trails, but as a recent New York Times editorial laments, they appear to be caving to lobbyists by ignoring a more reliable, cost-effect voting technology: good old, optical scan.
The big voting machine companies, which are well connected politically, are aggressively pushing touch-screen voting. These A.T.M.-style machines make a lot of sense for the manufacturers because they are expensive and need to be replaced frequently. But touch-screen machines are highly vulnerable to being hacked or maliciously programmed to change votes.
Security concerns should give Washingtonians pause as we rush towards voting reform in the wake of a disputed election whose main problem was its extraordinary closeness. Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting.org has made a sport of demonstrating to election officials how quickly their systems can be hacked. And Paul Lehto and Jeffrey Hoffman have produced a 29-page study documenting touch-screen irregularities in Snohomish County, that they say may have cost Christine Gregoire thousands of votes.
Given security concerns and high costs, the NY Times suggests that touch-screen machines should not be used at all.
The best voting technology now available uses optical scanning. These machines work like a standardized test. Voters mark their choices on a paper form, which is then counted by a computer. The paper ballots are kept, becoming the official record of the election. They can be recounted, and if there is a discrepancy between them and the machine count, the paper ballots are the final word.
Optical-scan machines produce a better paper record than touch-screen machines because it is one the voter has actually filled out, not a receipt that the voter must check for accuracy. Optical-scan machines are also far cheaper than touch-screens. Their relatively low cost will be welcomed by taxpayers, of course, but it also has a direct impact on elections. Because touch-screen machines are so expensive, localities are likely to buy too few, leading to long lines at the polls.
Of course, all this may end up being a moot point in Washington state, where two-thirds of the electorate chose to vote absentee during the last election; as this trend continues, the rationale for maintaining two distinct voting systems becomes less and less tenable. It seems likely that we will inevitably follow Oregon to an all vote-by-mail system, thus making Snohomish and Yakima counties’ spanking new touch-screen machines prematurely obsolete.
I’ll miss going to the polling place at least as much as I miss cranking the lever on those hulking, old machines. But at least I’ll be assured that my ballot will be counted using the most accurate and auditable voting technology available today: optical scan.
It’s been a long day, so I just quickly want to mention Wednesday’s editorial by Bruce Ramsey in the Seattle Times: “What kind of law let’s your neighbor shut you down?”
Ramsey writes about the plight of a Greenlake B&B that has run afoul of a local zoning ordinance after complaints by an ornery neighbor. Councilman Richard Conlin, who wrote the law in question, says shutting down such B&Bs is not what he intended, and that the ordinance may need to be modified. But the owners are suing to have the ordinance tossed out entirely on grounds that it unconstitutionally restricts their right to earn a living. As Ramsey points out, this could have far reaching implications if they prevail:
It suggests that your neighbors shouldn’t be able to stop you from working at home unless your work harms them in some verifiable way