December 14, 2008

Gratitude to the American People

Watching McCain on "This Week" this morning, I'm reminded of what we might be dealing with had McCain or Clinton been elected.  I doubt that any other President-elect would be getting such high marks for the transition preparation.  As the Wall Street Journal says, "the nation is rooting for him".

I certainly prefer the more sane version of McCain that we are seeing now but he would have been a disaster as President, not to mention the Republicans damage that would have been part and parcel of any McCain presidency.  Imagine the horrific Cabinet appointments.  Imagine the heightened Union-bashing.  Imagine the odds of getting decent healthcare.  Imagine how the rest of the world would be reacting. 

I've always thought that the American people do pretty well when they are paying attention.  The trick now is to keep that up.  Obama is going to need us paying attention to support the action plan we will need to pull us out of this Republican-created disaster we are in as a county,

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 14, 2008 | Read comments & add your own (0)

December 13, 2008

The Logo Roads Not Taken

Candidate Races,Media

Here are the other logos that the designer, Sol Sender, considered before the wonderful winning logo we know so well.   Logos.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 13, 2008 | Read comments & add your own (0)

December 11, 2008

Fraud at the Port -- Definitions and Penalties

Policy,The Politics of Business

The latest P.I. article on fraud at the Port of Seattle focuses on what the CEO and the commissioners think the word "fraud" means and what punishments should be meted out. It is stunning that, when faced with the results of their own investigation, port leadership implies that their past usage of the phrase "zero tolerance" may actually be open to interpretation:

When Yoshitani took the helm of the port from Mic Dinsmore in March 2007, he promised a different leadership style -- the reverse of Dinsmore's top-down, heavy-fisted approach.

In dealing with scandals since then, Yoshitani has revealed a pattern with his response to each controversy: support an expensive investigation that revealed widespread dysfunction, strengthen a host of port policies and procedures that had been ignored, and implement reforms while delivering slaps on the wrist to most of the employees in question.


But it's not just the Port CEO who vacillates over appropriate punishments for the offenders. For some, it comes down to what the definition of the word "is" "fraud" is:


Tarleton said that, when she pushed for "zero tolerance" for fraud during public meetings and news interviews after the state audit, she "wasn't aware of civil fraud."

Like Yoshitani, who has likened violations of state law to "jaywalking," Tarleton compared civil fraud to parking violations.

"If I had been aware of the fact that there was civil fraud related to willful, deliberate misrepresentation in the oversight of leadership responsibilities, I would have been more cautious about using 'zero tolerance,' " Tarleton said. "There is a difference between civil and criminal -- a difference between getting a parking ticket and breaking into a bank."


If civil fraud is like getting a parking ticket then those who committed fraud with millions in taxpayer dollars at the Port of Seattle can breathe easy -- they'll only be expected to pay a fine of $38 to the Municipal Court of Seattle. (That's what my parking ticket last January cost me.)


But maybe, just maybe, there's more to the legal concept of what constitutes civil fraud:


Fraud, in addition to being a criminal act, is also a type of civil law violation known as a tort. A tort is a civil wrong for which the law provides a remedy. A civil fraud typically involves the act of intentionally making a false representation of a material fact, with the intent to deceive, which is reasonably relied upon by another person to that person's detriment. A "false representation" can take many forms, such as:

  • A false statement of fact, known to be false at the time it was made;
  • A statement of fact with no reasonable basis to make that statement;
  • A promise of future performance made with an intent, at the time the promise was made, not to perform as promised;
  • A statement of opinion based on a false statement of fact;
  • A statement of opinion that the maker knows to be false; or
  • An expression of opinion that is false, made by one claiming or implying to have special knowledge of the subject matter of the opinion. "Special knowledge" in this case means knowledge or information superior to that possessed by the other party, and to which the other party did not have equal access.

If you or I had committed any of the above actions at our jobs we might have been given a reprimand. But more than likely, we would have had our asses kicked out the door. And there may well have been legal action taken against us. It's Reality Check Time. Mike McKay, a former U.S attorney, understands quite well the seriousness of civil fraud. In referencing a brief that port managers presented to the commissioners about TTI Constructors' bid on the third-runway embankment, McKay had this to say:

That memo became "less specific, more vague, and more misleading with each iteration" as it passed through the e-mail boxes of at least eight managers until it became "a material misstatement of fact" that used "overtly misleading language intended to lull the commission into taking no action," according to McKay's investigation.


The situation at the Port looks more and more dire with each piece of information that becomes public. And the feds still have their investigation coming up. Kristin Millares Young's reporting has been, in my view, exemplary. Her latest article is a searing series of observations about the confusion and incompetence at the Port -- then and now.


Posted by shoephone on December 11, 2008 | Read comments & add your own (1)

December 10, 2008

Nuttiest Letter to the Editor

Current Affairs,Media,Policy

Letter writer to the New York Times forgets to put brain in head before typing:

To the Editor:

For some people, abortion is a nonnegotiable issue. A nation that runs out of people cannot perform the activities of a sophisticated society.

We have a shortage of primary care doctors. There are other skilled-worker shortages. You cannot kill the future population of a nation and then wonder why that nation does not have the people it needs to do the jobs it requires to function.

Our nation needs to face up to the 48 million lives lost through abortion since 1973. I think at least some of that number would have become the skilled people we need now and will need even more as our population ages.

Abortion is at the very center of a host of our troubles.

Elinor Hite
Carrollton, Tex., Dec. 7, 2008


Boy howdy, that's some logic Elinor's using. I wonder how she explains the 1.9 million jobs lost in the past year (jobs = people, dear Elinor), right here in the ol' U.S. of A! and all the outsourcing of good jobs to Asia by the Captains of Corporate America. Hmm... They must have been phantom workers...


Seriously -- doesn't her letter belong in The Onion instead of the NYT?

Posted by shoephone on December 10, 2008 | Read comments & add your own (1)

December 04, 2008

An Anger to Emulate

National and International Politics,Taking Action

Folks in Mumbai are righteously angry.  People are protesting the failures of the Indian government.   (See here and here.)  They are mourning the 173 dead in what some are calling India's 9/11, but they are also asking why the government wasn't able to stop it. 

“We’ve come to show our solidarity against the apathy of the government and we want the government to change and be proactive and not lazy,” said Abiti Phoksey, a 64-year-old woman who runs an upholstery business. “They have a duty towards the nation,” she added.

Their anger is focused on the government's ineptitude and it is having consequences.  India's Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, resigned early on.  Both the Deputy Chief Minister and the Chief Minister of the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the main city, were forced to step down in the last day. 

Some politicians get it.  The mayor of the city asked the people to voice their concerns. 

The anger is fueled by a series of revelations that India was warned about a possible terror strike on Mumbai by sea several months ago.  The anger highlights the split between the new, highly educated and technically savvy folks, concentrated in Mumbai as it happens, and the old lumbering, bureaucratic institutions of government.  The obvious governmental failures in this critical national security area is likely to have significant repercussions in how India functions.

So, I'm jealous.  I think we have something to learn.   Why didn't New Yorkers force Rudy Giuliani to quit when it became clear that he was responsible for the death of hundreds of firefighters and police who didn't have up-to-date communications equipment?  Why didn't we rise up (in larger numbers) when President Bush turned his attention to Iraq when he should have been concentrating on Tora Bora and on assisting the moderates in the Arab world to bring their radicals back into the fold?

Partly, it's the timing.  The rallies in Mumbai were organized by text message.  The workers of Mumbai have now had a few years of living with streamlined ways of working.  I'm basically convinced that the Internet would now prevent a war like Iraq from happening here.  And, of course, we managed to elect Barack Obama, a clear win for the more democratic and tech savvy amongst us.

Nevertheless, I think there is a lot to be learned from watching that raw righteous anger, unprotected by the institutional forces of savvy politicians and complicit media.    

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 4, 2008 | Read comments & add your own (0)

December 03, 2008

It's Official: Port of Seattle Committed Fraud

Kristin Millares Bolt reports that the Port of Seattle's investigation of itself (overseen by commissioners Bryant and Tarleton) shows the Port committed fraud while under the leadership of former CEO Mic Dinsmore. Not much of a surprise.

Among other things, port employees steer[ed] contracts to favored contractors for work that was already done, lied to the Port Commission and broke up large contracts into smaller ones to avoid state bidding laws.


The McKay report also found that Dinsmore, who led the port during the period in question, also violated the port ethics policy "when he used the services of a port consultant, McBee Strategic Consulting, to obtain a paid internship for his daughter."


A few of the greatest hits:

  • That a port employee, prior to the bid submission date, shared "a detailed internal port estimate" with primary third runway contractor TTI Construction on a third runway contract and didn't tell senior port leadership.

    That port employees "falsely represented a $2 million cost reduction as a $9.4 million reduction in an attempt to avoid commission scrutiny" of a third runway embankment contract. Former Port Chief Executive Mic Dinsmore and current Aviation Director Mark Reis negotiated the contract at a steak house with TTI Construction.

    That a commission memo written about that TTI Construction contract by the port staff used "overtly misleading language intended to lull the commission into taking no action."

  • That port staff steered work to their favorite contractors, "often awarding contracts for work that had already been performed".

  • That port staff broke up large contracts into smaller contracts to avoid state and port bidding requirements.

  • That port staff "amended a $25,000 no-competition "emergency" professional services agreement to more than $1 million and added work that was outside the scope of the original agreement, after the "emergency" window had passed.

  • I've been reading a lot of fiction lately, mostly from The Best American Short Stories of 2008, and it's a very good collection. But it turns out that sometimes the old saying, "truth is stranger than fiction" still holds. And the port story would be purely entertaining if it didn't include the sad fact that taxpayer dollars were used to commit the aforementioned frauds.

    Well, we don't have Mic Dinsmore to kick around anymore. The question is, will current Port CEO Tay Yoshitani make good on his promise to hold the offenders accountable?

    Last December, Yoshitani said he would have "zero tolerance" for fraud. In a statement released Wednesday, Yoshitani said, "I stand by my word. Any staff member who has committed fraud will be appropriately disciplined and potentially terminated."

    "Potentially terminated"? Please. Those people should probably be in jail. At the very least, we await news of their pink slips.

    Ironic Side Note: McBee Strategic Consulting is the same firm that Glynda Becker (Karl Rove's liaison to the WA state GOP, during the firing of former US attorney John McKay) joined after leaving political life. Mike McKay, John's brother and also a former US attorney for Washington, conducted the investigation of the Port of Seattle.

    Posted by shoephone on December 3, 2008 | Read comments & add your own (3)

    Doug Sutherland's Last Act as Lands Commissioner: A Middle Finger to the Puget Sound

    Candidate Races,Environment,Policy,The Politics of Business

    Before toddling off into the sunset as a sexually harassing, corporate lackey has-been, Doug Sutherland signed off on the deal to transform the waters off Maury Island into a huge, polluting gravel mine. Environmental groups promise to file a lawsuit to stop the action. Hopefully, a judge will approve their claims against Sutherland's work order.

    Right now I'm feeling pretty thankful that Washington's voters saw the light, dumped Sutherland by the side of the road and elected Peter Goldmark to lead the state lands commision. The next four years are going to be very different. 

    Posted by shoephone on December 3, 2008 | Read comments & add your own (3)

    November 27, 2008

    President-Elect Obama's Thanksgiving Day Address

    I almost wrote President Obama.  It seems like we have a split presidency right now.  Obama is doing the real leading - like dealing with the economic collapse and bolstering our confidence; Bush is attending to the ceremonial functions like talking to the APEC leaders in Peru and pardoning the national turkey. 

    So, here is our real president's Thanksgiving Day Address.  Lovely

    Arianna Huffington talks about why she is thankful to the Obamas.  She clarifies what makes me tear up the most about having Barack and Michelle preparing to move into the White House.  Their total decency.

    I'm particularly thankful for all the non-political teachable moments we are getting from the Obamas: It's not worth holding a grudge (see asking Hillary to be Secretary of State). There is no one better to help you raise your kids than grandma (see asking "First Granny" Marion Robinson to move into the White House to help Malia and Sasha adjust to life in DC). No matter what they throw at you, stay calm, centered, and collected (see "Muslim," "Socialist," "palling around with terrorists"). All great lessons to bring home with us this Thanksgiving holiday.

    Posted by Lynn Allen on November 27, 2008 | Read comments & add your own (2)

    November 25, 2008

    T-Minus 57 Days and Counting

    National and International Politics

    DarkSyde, a leader in the DailyKos community who specializes in science and global climate issues, posted a piece today at DailyKos, with the title I am also using.   Darksyde shares a NYT opinion piece written by Alan Stern, a NASA upper echelon scientist.  Stern wrote about the ineptitude and corruption that's been rampant at NASA.  This is bigtime whistleblowing and could be the beginning of a flood of current and former government workers telling us what isn't working so we can have a crack at fixing it.  

    Endemic project cost increases at NASA begin when scientists and engineers (and sometimes Congress) burden missions with features beyond what is affordable in the stated budget. The problem continues with managers and contractors who accept or encourage such assignments, expecting to eventually be bailed out. It is worsened by managers who disguise the size of cost increases that missions incur. Finally, it culminates with scientists who won’t cut their costs and members of Congress who accept steep increases to protect local jobs.

    The result? The costs of badly run NASA projects are paid for with cutbacks or delays in NASA projects that didn’t go over budget. Hence the guilty are rewarded and the innocent are punished.


    This cancer is bad, but it is curable. The new presidential administration could begin by accounting for cost increases more honestly, using the initial basis on which missions are started, rather than today’s practice of neglecting certain kinds of cost escalation. Further, scientists and engineers should be required, when formulating missions, to ensure their scope matches their budget. And NASA should be charged to reduce or cancel development projects that are not performing to cost. Of equal importance, Congress should turn from the self-serving protection of local NASA jobs to an ethic of responsible government that delivers results.

    Yes, controlling the costs of space missions, while ensuring their success and safety, will be a steep challenge for NASA, but NASA’s workforce, from technicians to top executives, is among the government’s most dedicated and capable. This is a challenge that can be met with appropriate leadership.

    I'm guessing that Obama's team is a magnet for folks who have been horrified at how inept and corrupt the Bush Administration has been.  It will be interesting to see how much the folks from the inside will be able to assist in uncovering some of the huge problems that we will have to deal with.

    Posted by Lynn Allen on November 25, 2008 | Read comments & add your own (2)

    November 23, 2008

    Lieberman Stinks up the Place on MTP

    Joe Lieberman appeared on Meet the Press this morning in an effort save his reputation, but he's still the Democrats' number one traitor. He lied and played the refusenik whenever Brokaw pressed him on why he hasn't apologized for campaigning for the Republican presidential candidate and for supporting Palin's most offensive statements about Obama.

    "I regret some of the things I said" just isn't going to cut it. Not with Democratic voters, anyway. Obama made a serious mistake letting this backstabbing creep retain his powerful chairmanship of the Homeland Security Commmittee, a position he has already stained with his incompetence. And, please, don't anybody bore me with that tired old saw, the magical number of 60. Lieberman looks out for nobody but Lieberman. How this reality escapes anyone simply boggles the mind. 

    I'm sickened by the current fetishism of bipartisanship. It's especially loathesome when one considers that Republicans are not/will never be interested in working with Democrats. The people who brandished the "nuclear option" are still in power and still in control of their party. They are only interested in obstruction. Dday, over at Digby's place, elaborates on this point quite well, first by quoting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and then by coming to the obvious conclusion:

    “What I’m saying to the new president and the new administration: ‘Do big things, and do them in the center, and you’ll be surprised at how much support you might have,’ " he said at the news conference.

    Otherwise, McConnell warned, his party would stand together and block a far-left agenda.

    “You're likely to have very significant unity among Republicans," he said.

    (under the Employee Free Choice Act, if 30% of the workforce wants an secret ballot election they get one. Thought I'd put some facts into the mix)

    This is what Barack Obama is stepping into. He's going to offer a hand of friendship and Senate Republicans are going to bite it off. They are thoroughly disinterested in compromise. They view it as a threat.

    Posted by shoephone on November 23, 2008 | Read comments & add your own (0)