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December 31, 2006

Governor lacks leadership on viaduct

The Governor made a big mistake by asking for input from Seattle voters on the viaduct.  The whole viaduct debate is a falsely framed debate that will be made even more confusing by a public vote.  Understanding the complexities of how the different proposed replacements will be funded and whose pocket that funding comes out of will not be clear to voters.

The fact that a reduced capacity tunnel or surface expressway, are not on the table also limits the choices presented to voters.  Voters will be asked to choose between the two most auto-oriented proposals, and that simply doesn’t make sense, not for transit, the environment or the future of a livable Seattle.

If a public vote is inevitable, as it now appears, many choices should appear on a ballot. The public should vote using Instant Run Off Voting (IRV).  IRV would allow voters to express their first, second and third choices, and give elected officials the ability to see these results.  Only having two choices is an outmoded voting method, and in this case will really skew what the true public opinion is.

Like most tax issues that reach the ballot, I think the viaduct vote will largely boil down to the typical division in Seattle of home-owners versus renters, a division of young liberal Seattle and old conservative Seattle.  The property owners have their yards, views and most of all semi-annual tax bills, reminding them about their obligations to our schools, parks, state and local governments.   Those are the no-voters.  They have the advantage, because they are the voters who vote in special and primary elections, and they don't see the need for a waterfront for all.

Cross Posted on Urban Transit

Posted by EzraBasom on December 31, 2006 at 07:09 PM in Policy | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 30, 2006

On Questioning the War

Here's a description and partial excerpt of a great Senate speech (with narrative) on First Amendment rights during wartime:

[He], for example, took the floor of the Senate to challenge the "campaign of libel and character assassination" that had been directed against those who opposed the war. He charged that citizens and senators alike had been subjected to intimidation and vituperation by "the war party in this country". The goal, he maintained, was "to throw the country into a state of terror, to coerce public opinion, to stifle criticism, and suppress discussion of the great issues involved in this war."

He conceded that "in time of war the citizen must surrender some rights for the common good" but he argued that this did not  include the "right of free speech." To the contrary, even "more than in times of peace it is necessary that the channels for free public discussion... shall be open and unclogged" so that citizens may freely discuss "every important phase of the war," including its causes, the manner in which it is being conducted, and the "terms upon which peace should be made". [He] concluded that "it is no answer to say that when the war is over the citizen may once more resume his rights," for "now is precisely the time when the country needs the counsel of all its citizens."

Those aren't the sentiments of Robert Byrd, one of the Senate's great orators, but of Robert La Follette, Senator from Wisconsin. The year was 1917, and the debate was on account of the "Espionage Act", passed by a congress responding to the fear- mongering of President Wilson during WWI. The excerpt comes from the superb recent book by law professor Geoffrey Stone titled Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism.

Wilson had not only promoted the idea that "German spies and sabatuers" [Stone] were everywhere among us, he hired George Creel, a master of public relations, to create a full-scale propaganda campaign called the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to whip the public into a war fervor. The CPI project also had the consequence of sewing hatred and fear of all things German, and branding any American citizens who questioned the propaganda as complicitors and traitors. Stone describes it this way:

In World War I, Creel's efforts concentrated on two main themes: feeding hatred of the enemy and promoting loyalty to the nation. The CPI produced war movies, such as The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin, that depicted unspeakable German atrocities. Its pamphlets, speeches and editorials included vitriolic attacks on German culture, false charges that Germans and German Americans were orchestrating criticism of the Wilson administration, and incendiary attacks on the loyalty of those who questioned the war.

If you replace the words "Germans" and "German Americans" with "Muslims" and "Muslim Americans", the whole enterprise sounds and feels awfully familiar.

Now that our great Pretender-in-Chief has successfully orchestrated the deathly act of revenge over which he has obsessed since 1991 (the killing of Saddam Hussein), I have to wonder how much more hostility he and his neocon propagandizers will visit upon American citizens. And now that a newly elected Democratic Congress has promised to investigate some of the most outrageous crimes wrought by this administration - from unparalled levels of war profiteering and hightly questionable usurpation of executive power to unconstitutional attacks on our civil liberties (the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th amendments all come to mind) - we should wonder just how far this administration and the authoritarians who sit at its helm are willing to go in defending the indefensible act of attacking, invading and occupying a sovereign nation that posed us no immediate harm. As the saying goes, "desperate men do desperate things". George W. Bush, now the embarrassing embodiment of the phrase "lame duck", is nothing if not desperate.


Posted by shoephone on December 30, 2006 at 04:36 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 26, 2006

Labor Helps Voters Connect the Dots

Working America is a program of the AFL-CIO that reaches out to working people either not unionized or retired and helps them see the importance of good governmental policies for their lives.  Whoa!  Is that smart or what?  Here's the description they post on their site:

With the combined strength of nearly 9 million union men and women and millions of nonunion workers who share common challenges and goals, we fight in communities, states and nationally for what really matters—good jobs, affordable health care, world-class education, secure retirements, real homeland security and more.

And we work against wrong-headed priorities favoring the rich and corporate special interests over America’s well-being.

This organization, which they call a community affliate, combines community organizing with professional research, communication and education.  Their efforts paid off handsomely in the November election.

According to a post on firedoglake by guest blogger Tula Connell, election night polling by Peter D. Hart Research Associates revealed that 80% of Working America members who hadn't voted in 2002 voted in this election.  And, 80% of those new voters chose Democrats in the Senate races vs. 20% for Republicans and 77% chose Democrats in their House races vs. 23% for Republicans.

Here's how they did it:

Since it was created in 2003, the organization has signed up more than 1.5 million members—and has done so by sending canvassers door to door, day after day in middle- and working-class neighborhoods where people are hungry to become part of a dynamic movement in which they can take action and make a difference.

Working America enables workers who do not have the benefit of a union on the job to join forces with 9 million union members in the AFL-CIO to work for good jobs, health care, retirement security and more.

The majority of Working America members identify themselves as politically moderate  (54 percent), and 32 percent own guns. But when Working America canvassers come to their doors and discuss how the policies of the Bush administration affect them and their families, they make the connection—and divisive social issues like abortion and gay marriage that may have impacted their vote fade when compared with the benefits of voting your pocketbook.

Today's post focused on a contest the organization ran asking people to write in about "Bad Bosses" this summer.   More than 2500 employees submitted their stories about their bad bosses.  The post provides brief stories about several of the entries, including the winner:

The winning entry described her boss as a millionaire dentist who, because so many patients canceled appointments on Sept. 11, 2001, took the money he would have made that day out of his employees’ paychecks.

In the process of allowing people a place to vent and share their stories, the Working America folks helped their readers connect the dots as to why they are in such powerless positions in the first place.

Economist, author and commentator Julianne Malveaux pinpointed the real story behind bad boss behavior. Co-author of Unfinished Business: A Democrat and A Republican Take on the 10 Most Important Issues Women Face, Malveaux was among guest panelists commenting on Bad Boss entries:

When people talk about their bosses, they are really talking about imbalances of power, the absence of civility, and a disrespect for working people that is reflected in the fact that the average CEO makes more than 800 times as much as a minimum wage worker. Lots of folks have good jobs with good pay, but an increasing number have good jobs with good pay and poor working conditions.  The numbers suggest that the job market is healthy and robust.… The stories that people tell about the way they work are discordant notes in the gleeful song of prosperity and success.

Working America encourages members to join in an online community where they regularly vote on the issues that most concern them.  In addition, members get free workplace advice; they have access to databases of information on the health and safety records of 250,000 employers; and they can see where jobs from their communities have been outsourced.   

I like it.  Nice combination of old-fashioned organizing and good use of the new media.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 26, 2006 at 10:24 PM in Strategery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Triangulation, Pandering to the Right, Both, or Neither?

Kos diarist Frederick Clarkson has started a very thought-provoking conversation today. Just how far should the Democrats go to get votes? Must we pander to the religious right in order to be seen as people of values? If we do, will we lose more votes from the left than we gain from the right?

It turns out that a consulting group called Common Good Strategies is currently helping Democratic candidates craft messages that omit the use of the well-worn phrase "separation of church and state". They claim that it's divisive, that 80% of Americans identify themselves as religious (a poll number I, personally, don't trust) , and that the phrase is not explicitly found in the Constitution. But there are dozens of phrases that aren't found in the Constitution that we still hold as guiding principles, ie., "pension security", "health care for all", "right to travel", "equality for women"... The fact is, the phrase "separation of church and state" clearly explains a concept ingrained in the opening line of the First Amendment to the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise therof.

It's also a phrase that has been uttered repeatedly by the Supreme Court, in upholding that section of the First Amendment. Obviously, concepts benefit from the repeated use of understandable phraseology.

I share Clarkson's trepidation about the hiring of triangulation consultants like those from Common Good Strategies. We've heard a lot about the need for Democrats to "frame the debate", but if Democrats are going to avoid certain language in order to avoid offending someone, that pretty much gives the right wing all the power over the debate. If we are afraid to talk openly about what really matters to us - which "values" we hold dear - then we may as well pack it up and let a new party emerge, one that takes it's values and its underlying principles of liberty seriously.

Clarkson puts it quite simply:

Which important constitutional, Democratic, progressive, or common sense principles will also be abandoned by Democratic Party operatives because the words don't appear in the Constitution? What other elements of textual literalism shall we advocate to help make Antonin Scalia a happy man --  and to pander to the religious right? What central tenets of constitutional democracy and the advancement of human and civil rights shall we abandon in the name of short term political gain?

Now that Democrats have proven we can win crucial elections by staying true to our core values, why should we ever pander again? Triangulation is just so... 1990's. Let's get back to the future and start shaping a real public policy - as Democrats who know who they are and aren't afraid to say so.

Posted by shoephone on December 26, 2006 at 09:07 PM in Strategery | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 24, 2006

Bah, humbug!

As anyone who grew up anyplace that actually gets winter storms knows, when you get big storms, trees come down.  When trees come down, so do power lines.  When lots of trees come down, it sometimes takes a while for the power to come back on, because the power crews are busier than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

That is not so much fun, if you're one of the people with your power off.  But it doesn't (necessarily) mean someone screwed up.  It's not automatically cause for an endless round of recriminations and investigations.  Or worse, endless whining, endlessly amplified by the bored and lazy media.

I would prefer to see our elected officials dealing with important issues like transportation, global warming and getting toxic chemicals out of our bodies and our environment. Not playing pin the blame on the bureaucrat.

Posted by Jon Stahl on December 24, 2006 at 11:03 PM in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

And So This is Christmas

I love this John Lennon song about Christmas.  Enjoy.  And enjoy your holidays.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 24, 2006 at 12:27 PM in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Republicans Under Pressure

I used to have a writing teacher who said over and over, "Put your characters under pressure and see what they're made of."  Very smart man, that fiction writing teacher, (Leonard Bishop of the Bay Area and then later Kansas).  So much of what he taught about writing was equally true of life.  Like, "Every scene should both be interesting in itself and should further the overall story."  See what I mean?

I was thinking of that pressure thing today as I realized how nakedly self-centered and just plain mean-spirited the Republicans seem to be.  I think that sums up what the voters saw and didn't like.   So I'm musing about what happened that made the voters see more clearly what these Republicans are really like. 

Then I got it.

We happened.  That's what happened.  It's the very people Time Magazine just honored - specifically the folks testing out this new technology to see how we can use it to take our country back. 

We've been watching them and reporting on their doings over the last couple of years.  In the process we've been putting these guys, and they are mostly guys, under a tremendous amount of pressure.  They have not had their doings scrutinized in a long time.  They've gotten lazy, all those corrupt Republican Congresscritters, lazy enough to take vacations paid for by Abramoff to play golf at St. Andrews gold course in Scotland, lazy enough to put their wives and children on the public payroll, lazy enough to funnel huge amounts of dollars to their campaign contributors, lazy enough to ignore a semi-open gay Representative when complaints are coming in regularly about his uncouth behavior.    

(The only ones who didn't get lazy were folks like the Bushes, who've been hiding their illicit activities for generations, good times and bad.  They aren't going to get caught selling armaments to the Germans in the run up to World War II or participating in the unconstitutional Iran-Contra affair or conduct a little insider trading while being the front for a company run with Middle Eastern money.  Let alone the smaller things like getting a DUI or skipping out on Texas Air National Guard service.  They may destroy the entire Middle East, ruin our ability to lead in the world for decades and decimate our treasury but they know how to cover up anything related to how they earn their money and how they play their shell games.)

So, outside of the inherited aristocracy, the Republicans just weren't ready for us. 

This is a small part of what we did:

  • We supported Joe Wilson in his mission to get people to see the damage done to this country by the Administration's illegal attempts to discredit Wilson and his wife. 
  • We publicized the Jack Abramoff scandal far and wide and uncovered Congressman after staffer after consultant with ties to Abramoff and stories about the greedy, illegal actions they took.  We revealed the impact of what they did on the women now in prostitution in the North Mariana Islands and their total disrespect for their Indian Tribal clients.   
  • We replayed Stephen Colbert's incredibly bold "comedy" performance at the National Correspondents' Association Dinner.
  • We made Ned Lamont a viable candidate against Joe Lieberman and show the country that we can raise money and influence elections.
  • We taped George Allen being his racist self and then got that tape out there.
  • We caught Conrad Burns sleeping during a hearing and then later talking patronizingly about his little Guatemalan house painter. 

I'm sure we only uncover a fifth of the illegal, greedy, mean-spirited things they are doing but, nevertheless, what we are able to reveal and draw attention to is making a big difference.  The spotlight has not been kind to the Republicans.  They have been siphoning off the nation's treasury while pointing over there - "See, we're under great danger from those liberals and their gay marriage and abortion and immigration, and . . . all those other nasty liberal things," or "Catch those terrorists before they get over to our part of the world!" or "We're going to bring democracy to the Middle East".  And, we've pulled that curtain back on at least some portion of what they are doing.  It's not pretty. 

So, as I watch Virgil Goode, Republican Congressman from Virginia, whine about our new Congressman from Minnesota, Keith Ellison, planning to take the oath of office on the Koran or warn about the coming influx of immigrant Muslims, I say "Let the American people see how mean-spirited and small some of these folks are".   Same with the Republican Congresswoman from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who talked about welcoming the assassination of Fidel Castro.   And with the Bush Administration's attempt to portray James Webb as an angry, ungrateful troublemaker. 

The pressure of the information revealed by the new media will be their undoing because it allows us to see who they are - and increasingly, it looks like they are characters out of a lousy book.   

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 24, 2006 at 11:00 AM in National and International Politics, Strategery | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 23, 2006

D.C. Circuit to Katrina Victims: Merry Christmas. Now Go Jump in a Lake.

Thanks to the D.C. Circuit Court, and it's nose-thumbing response to last week's ruling that FEMA honor its promise on housing assistance, thousands of dispersed Hurricane Katrina victims will remain uprooted from their homes at their own expense -- at least for the next three months.

The ruling suspends Judge Richard Leon's order, which had included a strong admonition of FEMA's "kafka-esque" bureaucracy, and the charge that the agency's confusing, contradictory instructions to evacuees were an unconstitutional hindrance to appealing the denial of housing payments. So, FEMA gets to pop the champagne corks until a trial over the payments begins in March. The circuit court relented on only one aspect of Leon's ruling -- that FEMA clear up the language of the original instructions. Nice gesture. Unfortunately, it doesn't translate into needed dollars, and so, the evavuees remain in limbo and in dire straits. Considering that thousands of Louisianans spent Thanksgiving in temporary trailers, Christmas should be a lot of fun. And this week New Orleans is again under water, due to heavy rains that overflowed pump systems still not properly repaired since the hurricane.

What chance is there that the circuit court will ultimately rule in favor of the people, instead of the bureacracy? Part of the answer may be found by looking at the bios of those who serve on the court. Its current makeup reflects a tilt to the right, with both the conservative and (somewhat) liberal judges racking up an impressive array of judicial and prosecutorial experience. The one glaring exception is Janice Rogers Brown, whose appalling display of intellectual vacuity during her Senate confirmation hearings is cause for concern. People for the American Way and the NAACP offer details on her judicial history that reinforce the impression of a woman zealously tied to extreme views of libertarianism and the rights of corporations over citizens. If her lone dissents on rent control and displacement of low-income residents in California are any kind of a bellwether for her vote in the upcoming FEMA case, I'm guessing that social service agencies in the towns where evacuees now hang their hats may start to see a deluge of pleas for help.

And New Orleans? It's entirely possible the city's population will remain where it is -- at less than half of its original number. Heckuva job, FEMA. And, oh yeah -- Merry Christmas.

Update: The D.C. Circuit Court website doesn't allow direct linking to the bios. Click the supplied hyperlink to their home page, then click on "judges and managers" and then click on the bios.

Posted by shoephone on December 23, 2006 at 03:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nuclear warhead nearly detonated in Texas in 2005

Here's a rather chilling story. Evidently workers dismantling a nuclear warhead in Texas last year nearly detonated it. UPI reports on an Austin American-Statesman article that a government watch organization, The Project on Government Oversight, was told that the warhead nearly exploded because an unsafe amount of pressure was applied while it was being disassembled,

The workers at the plant wrote an anonymous letter warning that the long hours they were required to work were causing dangerous conditions. The plant operators, at Pantex, near Austin, were being required to work 72 hours each week.

"A spokesperson for the Energy Department declined to respond to safety complaints in the letter."

January 4th and adult supervision can not come soon enough.

Read story at NewsCloud

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 23, 2006 at 08:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 22, 2006

Why Stop with Public Financing of Judicial Races?

In the news this week about the governor's budget, plus the weather and the Christmas season, I'm guessing that some of us missed the news that Governor Gregoire is going to ask for public financing of Court of Appeals and Supreme Court races.  Both the PI and the Times covered it when she introduced it on Tuesday.  She included $4.4 million in her state budget proposal for the bill.

I applaud the direction.  My question is, "Why stop there?"  The timing is good to jump on public financing for the judicial races given the insane amounts of money that was spent on the three Supreme Court races between the primary and the general elections.  I understand that.  Plus, Gregoire is cautious by disposition.  But what an opportunity to go all the way and ask for public financing of all statewide and legislative races. 

As it is, only one state so far has public financing for judicial races alone - North Carolina.  Two states - Maine and Arizona - have public financing for all statewide and legislative races.  Candidates don't have to sign up for it but year by year more do.  It works in so many ways, giving legislators more time to govern and providing a more level playing field for a more diverse field of candidates.   Several other states are considering switching over. 

The legislature will have the opportunity to discuss the possibilities.  Shay Schual-Berke, a Democrat from Normandy Park will be introducing the governor's proposed bill plus some reforms that the PDC has been looking for.  Mark Miloscia, Democrat from Federal Way, will introduce the more comprehensive bill, proposing public financing for all statewide and legislative races. 

I say bring it on.  I look forward to a robust public discussion of this incredibly important issue.  If you would like more information on public financing, a relatively new organization in Washington State, Washington Public Campaigns, has been gearing up to move this issue forward.  The governor has provided the opening.  Let's drive it on through!

ALSO:  Chad (the Left) Shue reminds us in the comments that "there will be 4 Town Hall type forums on this very issue beginning on January 4th in Everett and moving south to Olympia by Saturday, January 6th. The event on Friday night in Seattle will feature David Sirota, author of "Hostile Takeover"."

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 22, 2006 at 05:21 PM in Policy, Washington Culture | Permalink | Comments (4)

History of Mid-East in 90 Seconds

I love what the Internet allows us to access.  Sometimes I forget that it is just a few years old and gets better every damn month.  And it stuns me that so many people don't use it much, don't see the amazing video-clips and analysis and maps and photos.  I miss tons but I also stumble across some of the most amazing stuff.  Like this dynamic map of the history of the Middle East over the last 5000 years - in 90 seconds.  It just lays out the rulers and the territory they ruled over time.  There's not much on the current situation but it is very cool.

Feel free to provide a link to your favorite new find. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 22, 2006 at 04:22 PM in Media | Permalink | Comments (6)

December 21, 2006

Viaduct Issue is a Perfect Use of Instant Runoff Voting

An instant runoff voting ballot would allow Seattle voters to rank their Viaduct replacement options in order of preference e.g. No rebuild/surface #1, Tunnel #2, Rebuild #3. If no option wins 50% of the votes, the votes of the third place option are redestributed until there is a majority for one of the options.

InstantRunoff.com even has a Flash demo showing how IRV would have helped Gore win the election while allowing people to vote for Nader as their number one option and Gore as number two (of course, properly counting the votes in Florida would have made Gore President as well).

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Posted by Jeff on December 21, 2006 at 11:48 PM in Ballot Initiatives | Permalink | Comments (3)

December 20, 2006

Santa's Jewish. Who Knew?

I really got a kick out of this story in Wedneday's New York Times, especially since it is the middle of Hanukkah week. It's about an Orthodox Jewish family on the west side of L.A. (not far from where I grew up) who decorated the outside of their house with a full-on Christmas display, including a life-size Santa that bellows into a microphone, "What is this Hanukkah you speak of?"

A few of their neighbors, also Orthodox, are none too pleased.

But the mom, Mary Loomis-Shrier, heir to an exotic lingerie fortune, isn't too worried. She says that some of her Jewish neighbors don't mind, in fact their kids have dropped off toy lists into her mailbox. Besides, what's religious about candy canes and snow globes?

Her story is a new twist on the fabricated "War on Christmas".

I wasn't raised Orthodox but I still had to go to temple every Saturday. I attended Jewish summer camps, celebrated all the Jewish holidays and broke the Yom Kippur fast with the best of them. And every December, directly across the room from our beautifully illuminated Hanukkah menorah stood... our Christmas tree. We joked about our "Hanukkah bush" but let me tell you, the holiday season would not have been complete without it. Otherwise, my sister and I would have had nothing to dance around while the Mitch Miller Singers belted out their versions of Frosty the Snowman and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Gosh, I miss those days. And we weren't bad dancers either.

Posted by shoephone on December 20, 2006 at 12:07 AM in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 19, 2006

Harry Reid on Leaving Iraq

"The Clock is Ticking, Mr. President", is the title of our upcoming Senate Majority Leader's post over at Huffington Post.   Building on what the Joint Chiefs said earlier today, Reid clarifies his position on Ieaving Iraq.  (This calls for posting the entire piece):

Frankly, I don't believe that more troops is the answer for Iraq. It's a civil war and America should not be policing a Sunni-Shia conflict. In addition, we don't have the additional forces to put in there. We obviously want to support what commanders in the field say they need, but apparently even the Joint Chiefs do not support increased combat forces for Baghdad. My position on Iraq is simple:

1. I believe we should start redeploying troops in 4 to 6 months (The Levin-Reed Plan) and complete the withdrawal of combat forces by the first quarter of 2008. (As laid out by the Iraq Study Group)

2. The President must understand that there can only be a political solution in Iraq, and he must end our nation's open-ended military commitment to that country.

3. These priorities need to be coupled with a renewed diplomatic effort and regional strategy.

I do not support an escalation of the conflict. I support finding a way to bring our troops home and would look at any plan that gave a roadmap to this goal.

It's been two weeks since the Iraq Study Group released its plan to change the course and bring our troops home. Since then, the President has been on a fact finding tour of his own administration -- apparently ignoring the facts presented by those in the military who know best. The President needs to put forth a plan as soon as possible, one that reflects the reality on the ground in Iraq and that withdraws our troops from the middle of this deadly civil war.

Give 'em Hell, Harry!

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 19, 2006 at 09:56 PM in National and International Politics, Strategery | Permalink | Comments (2)

"If only they'd all been honest from the beginning..."

No, I'm not talking about the Bush Administration.

I'm quoting David Sucher,who makes a great observation:

Wait until the City Council decides to put the surface/transit option on the ballot because it is scared (with good reason) that otherwise the Rebuild will win. The Governor will freak and will see how idiotic her decision was.

If only they had all been honest from the beginning they wouldn't be left with only two very bad choices. They with held information about the retrofit and surface options to stack the deck in favor of the tunnel - but now it may backfire.
In order to make good public policy decisions, one must consider all the options, all the facts, fairly and without prejudice.  It is clear that everyone who has approached the Viaduct thus far has done it with strongly preconceived notions and wishful thinking, and that has prevented an open, honest discussion about a critical decision for our city's future. 

I am sure I am not alone in feeling that this whole process is in the midst of failing us terribly.  But I have a feeling that it's the Mayor and City Council who are going to end up taking most of the blame in the end.

Posted by Jon Stahl on December 19, 2006 at 07:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Background on Shia-Sunni Split

TRex at Firedoglake has a great post up that outlines the history that created the schism between the Shia and Sunni Muslims.  He brought in Jebediah from Foreign Policy Watch and Juan Cole of Informed Comment to help educate the readers.  Nice job.

Several things jumped out at me:

  1. There are such seemingly small differences that separate these two groups of Muslims.  That is so much easier to see from the outside than it is with distinctions that we grew up with, say between Protestants and Catholics or between Conservative and Reform Jews. 
  2. There is a clear divide between the majority Sunni nations of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Eqypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, the Emirates and Turkey and the majority Shiite nations, Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon.  Most Muslim nations outside the Middle East are also Sunni, i.e. Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan and India.  Eighty-five percent of the world's Muslims are Sunni.  I have read in other places that the real issues in the Middle East, the places where the most violence will occur, is between these two sects, not between Islam and the West. 
  3. For the Shiites, descendants of the prophets are revered, a category which includes the clerics Ayatollah Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr.  Oops!  That second one is proving to be a real problem for the U.S. and several of the proposed scenarios for us to extricate ourselves from this quagmire include trying to isolate him in the current Iraqi government.  Hm, wonder how that's going to work, given his status?
  4. It's been 500 years or so since the conflict between the Sunni and Shia peoples has been inflamed to the extent it is today.  This ferocity of violence has occurred since we invaded Iraq.  Sure, it has been fanned by politicians in Iraq to further their power, much as occurred in post-Tito Yugoslavia, but our invasion and occupation set up the conditions.  Says Cole on an NPR interview:  "For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, Sunnis and Shiites have lived in Iraq largely free of conflict.  It was our invasion of that country that inflamed the sectarian tensions and created an environment of chaos that has given birth to a Medieval bloodbath".
  5. Boy, we can make a mess when neither we nor our leaders know much about history.  I am reminded that King Abdullah II of Jordan said on This Week a few weeks ago:  he believes we are on the verge of three civil wars in the Middle East - in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iraq.  Our actions or inactions have increased the likelihood that each of these conflicts go violent.

Please, please, please, let us have people with foreign policy experience, people like Wes Clark and Richard Clarke and Richard Holbrook and Rand Beers, running our foreign policy again.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 19, 2006 at 07:22 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 18, 2006

Big Ideas, Not Enough Money

Not only do we have no idea where to find enough money for a Viaduct-replacing tunnel, we're $2 billion short on the tab for replacing 520.

We should tear down the Viaduct, and use the money to replace 520.  We're going to have to live without the Viaduct for a few years no matter what.  If we can live without it for 3-3.5 years, or with less than 50% capacity for 5.25-7 years, then surely we can live without it forever.  Let's try putting in place the mitigation strategies (which we'll need to do no matter what), then closing it for a while to see how things go.  We'll adapt just fine.

Posted by Jon Stahl on December 18, 2006 at 08:25 PM in Policy | Permalink | Comments (1)

Considering Obama

Barack Obama is likely to announce his candidacy for President sometime this next month or so.  His presence in the race will be very welcome, no matter how far he is able to take the race.  There is no question Obama is a very appealing candidate.  I heard him at one of his campaign stops in Seattle earlier this fall and was impressed both by his message and delivery and by the welcome extended to him.   Here's a video-clip of him at a recent New Hampshire stop that illustrates this.

Initially I was concerned, like others, at his lack of experience at the national level but have since realized that his easy, healing manner is probably more important than the lack of experience.  A person without an enormous ego, and I think he fits that description, will bring in the right people to provide the necessary expertise and will then listen to them.

Both pundits and Obama himself have talked about the generational aspects of his candidacy.  In an interview in the latest Newsweek, Obama talks about the American people's desire to get beyond partisan politics.  He responds specifically to this question of the generational aspects of his possible candidacy.

Our politics has very much been grounded in debates over the '60s. There's the '60s, the backlash against the '60s, the counter-backlash within the Democratic Party against the '60s. We've been effectively talking about Vietnam, the sexual revolution, the civil-rights movement for a generation now, and it doesn't adequately describe the challenges we face today. My peer group, I think, finds many of those divisions unproductive. We see many of these problems differently, on race, faith, the economy, foreign policy and the role of the military.

Part of the reason the next generation can see things differently is because of the battles that the previous generation fought. But the next generation is to some degree liberated from what I call the either/or arguments around these issues. So on race, the classic '60s formulation was, "Is it society and institutional racism that's causing black poverty or is it black pathology and a culture of poverty?" And you couldn't choose "All of the above." It looks to me like both. [The younger generation] is much less caught up in these neatly packaged orthodoxies.

There's another aspect of Obama's appeal that interests me as well.  Obama was not raised by an American black parent.  He carries little or no internalized racism and the subsequent feelings that instills.  I heard a piece on NPR last week that brought that aspect of it up.  The commentator, Steven Barnes, whom I'm pretty sure is African American,  argued "that one of the reasons Sen. Barack Obama could be such an appealing candidate is that he doesn't carry the cultural baggage of slavery, since his father was an immigrant to the United States".  Barnes reminded us that Colin Powell, the other African-American who was seriously considered presidential material in the 90's, had a father from Jamaica. 

I recently read a book by a friend of a friend, Joy DeGruy Leary, a professor at Portland State University, entitled Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, that reminds us of the impact of slavery on the post-slave generations an discusses the distress that African-Americans still carry around, through no fault of their own.  Someone like Obama, who carries less of that distress, may be an interesting bridge for us as a society in reconciling both our institutionalized and internalized racism as long as we realize that there are reasons he doesn't carry it in the same ways. 

Go Obama!  We need the healing.  We need the opportunity to talk openly about the rifts in our society and the impacts that it has had on us individually and collectively.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 18, 2006 at 10:05 AM in Candidate Races, National and International Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 17, 2006

The Names of Ghosts

With one week until Christmas, Iraq in the throes of a civil, political and military bloodbath, and thousands of Northwest residents waiting -- praying -- for their electric power to come back on, we are, justifiably, distracted from other enduring stories of struggle and loss. It's easy to forget that, from a snug pocket of the American South, an entire population has been scattered among ruins.

The effects of Hurricane Katrina are varied and unrelenting. The population of New Orleans is less than half its original number. Many relocated to Baton Rouge, while those who could fled to Houston, Dallas or Atlanta. Still others are struggling to acclimate and make ends meet in cities as far away as Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle. The federal housing agency, HUD, plans to tear down 5,000 brick-fortified public housing units and replace them with new homes (mostly condos) in an effort to gentrify the area and spur economic development. But where will the old residents of public housing end up? Last week FEMA appealed the recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ordering the agency to resume rent payments for hurricane evacuees around the country. Leon had declared the government's cessation of payments to be unconstitutional and labeled FEMA's bureacracy "Kafka-esque".

Meanwhile, the past few days saw a demonstration by housing advocates in front of Mayor Nagin's residence, and a nearly unanimous vote of the Louisiana Legislature calling on the governor to fire ICF Emergency Management Services of Virginia, the company contracted to run the $8 billion housing prgram that has been interminably slow to get going.

But there's a silent class of NOLA's natives who remain unaccounted for: those who died in the storm and are difficult to identify -- because water does things to bodies that have lain long in it, making DNA almost non-existent. The AP's Rukmini Callimachi tells a gruesome story, the kind usually seen on television's C.S.I., that brings the shock, horror and sadness right back to the home of the heart. The bodies are "stuck in a forensic purgatory -- unknown, unclaimed and unable to be buried more than 15 months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall". It's the story of the lost and -- in one case -- found. Callimachi recounts the bittersweet saga of two elderly brothers, their release from that purgatory and how forensic investigators grasped onto the smallest details to help complete the cycle of life for one grateful family.

He shoved the door open. The mud that once flowed across the floor had turned gray and crusty, and as it hardened it receded and revealed some of the dead men's belongings -- like the medicine bottle, lying in a corner of the living room.

Stone knelt down, picked it up and scanned the label, holding it to the oval of light  pouring in from a broken window.

Turning it in his hand, he read: Warfarin, 5 mg. The medication -- typically prescribed to prevent blood cots -- was last filled at the neighborhood's Sav-A-Center on Aug. 18, 2005, 10 days before the storm.

Also on the label was the address of apartment 4D. And a smudged name.

"How do you pronounce that?" asked Stone, struggling to sound out the unfamiliar syllables.

Keistut Pranckunas.

It's like uttering the name of a ghost.

Posted by shoephone on December 17, 2006 at 12:32 PM in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 16, 2006

What Part of "NO" Don't You Understand?

What gives?  We just had an election and the voters clearly said they want us to withdraw from Iraq, not helter-skelter, but definitely draw down forces, doing our best not to destabilize the region.  And the polls back that up.  So, what the heck is the President doing calling for more troops to go in?  And why, oh why, is John McCain, along with a few others, calling for the same thing? 

But we are beginning to hear some sanity.  Governor Bill Richardson, weighing a run for the the Presidency in New Hampshire this weekend, called McCain out, saying the last thing we need is to send more soldiers over.  Good on him. 

Active US military personnel have started speaking up as well.  The Nation magazine is reporting that nearly 1,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, mostly active-duty and including dozens of officers, have signed an Appeal for Redress.  They will be petitioning Congress to withdraw American troops from Iraq.  This is huge.  The last time it happened was in 1969, when 1,300 active-duty military folks signed an open letter in the NYT opposing the war in Vietnam. 

It is starting again to feel a lot like the late 60's.  Get strapped in.  I think we're in for a bumpy ride.

UPDATE:  Add Powell to the folks saying more troops is not the answer.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 16, 2006 at 10:09 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

With Dems in Charge

"This last election was an intervention", said Patrick Leahy, incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoking at the Georgetown Law Forum, his alma mater, a few days ago.  It was a lovely talk and gave me great hope for the upcoming session, assuming Tim Johnson's health holds up. 

He has great plans for the Judiciary Committee and hopes to operate in a bipartisan manner, just as he did the last time he was chair of this committee in 2001-2002 for the brief period when Democrats last had the Senate. 

He says that the constitutional balance must be restored and that we need real oversight.  We need our checks and balances.  Among many other things, he said that he will begin restoring the oversight function by investigating the war profiteering that has gone on in Iraq. 

It is hard to win a battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis who still are without basic services, even as they watch billions of dollars being siphoned off by unsupervised contractors.  Too much of that money is unaccounted for, and many of the facilities and services it was supposed to provide are still nonexistent.  And now this week we read about plans to spend hundreds of millions more to create jobs in Iraq.  Weren’t we supposed to be doing that with all those billions of other taxpayers’ dollars?

At the risk of incurring another of Vice President Cheney’s special season’s “greetings,” I ask:  Where did all the money go?

If you have the time and technology to watch the talk, do yourself a favor and do so.  It is uplifting to be reminded of how our country is supposed to work. 

I have to say though, I think we're in for a showdown.  I don't see how this exceedingly stubborn President will allow the oversight, constitutionally mandated as it is, that is coming down the road. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 16, 2006 at 09:24 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 15, 2006

Gregoire Ballot Missing Two Choices

Why is Gregoire not offering voters a real choice on the viaduct. Why limit us to just rebuild or build a tunnel?

Seems to me that two great choices include the tear down / reclaim the waterfront option and the tear down and wait to see if traffic adjusts.

The ridiculous thing to me is that during reconstruction, we're going to be without the viaduct for some 4 to 7 years. If we can live without it for that long, can we truly not live without it permanently? Everything we do to adjust in the city during the construction phase might actually be a workable option indefinitely. The future of transportation in this city is public transit, rail, bicycles - not highways.

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Posted by Jeff on December 15, 2006 at 06:36 PM in Best Practices, Policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Shout-out of Thanks to Our Congresscritters

A few days ago, Adam B had an a link on a front-page article at DailyKos to a chart that listed what the Democratic Congresscritters gave or raised for several of the national Democratic organizations working to elect Democrats to the House this last year, 2005-2006.  The organizations included the DCCC, the Red to Blue program and the Frontline program.   Here are the totals of what our incumbent Democratic Congresscritters contributed through these programs in the 2005-2006 season:

As of 12/12/06                           

                        Gave or Raised///Cash on Hand

Norm Dicks          $778,200        ($404,734)
Jim McDermott        49,000           331,448       
Jay Inslee              991,567          (146,536)
Rick Larsen             75,500           302,992
Adam Smith          680,500          (224,372)
Brian Baird            311,775           598,678

By and large, they came through like champs (and there are other ways small amounts of money could be transferred so this may not include everything they gave).   McDermott was constrained by his need to pay for his court cases and Larsen had a reasonable race on his hands, so both of them were not able to be so generous.  But three of the others, Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee, and Adam Smith gave very generously, and all three were in the red as a result.   Brian Baird was quite helpful as well, although not nearly as generous.  Next time he's on my list of folks to call.   

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 15, 2006 at 10:06 AM in Candidate Races | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 14, 2006

Ted Stevens Might Well be Vulnerable in 2008

Jonathan Singer of MyDD says we have to assume that Ted Stevens may be forced to retire in 2008 or may find the going harder than he's accustomed to because of the scandal beginning to engulf Stevens' son, Ben, departing Alaska State Senate President, a scandal that may wind up impacting Ted as well.  Here's a piece I wrote a month ago when Ted announced he would run again, talking a bit about that scandal and detailing Ted's history of porky habits.

Normally, Democrats haven't much of a chance in our neighboring state to the north.  Alaska has not elected a Democrat to the House or Senate since the 1970's.  But Singer suggests that a qualified Democrat be identified and supported early just in case.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 14, 2006 at 09:41 PM in Candidate Races | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fascinating Proposal for Iraq

Jerome a Paris put up a diary on DailyKos a couple of days ago highlighting an idea put forth by a fellow ex-pat, David Sinclair, which was also posted on European Tribune.  It is an innovative way to think about getting out of the situation in Iraq without getting whupped and by being of real assistance to the Iraqi people.  Here's the core of the summary:

Remove American troops from Iraqi cities, as requested by the Iraqi people, by Iraqi leaders, by the American military, and now by Donald Rumsfeld. Our soldiers will no longer have the horrendous task of trying to police a people the do not know or understand. The Iraqi people will no longer wake up to the sight of an occupying infidel army on their street. 

America reassumes direct responsibility for protecting the Iraqi oil, preventing further sectarian fighting over it and eliminating a primary cause for civil war. We have previously shown benign neglect for the Iraqi oil and passed the responsibility to the British. They outsourced it to a British security company. In 2004 it hired a paramilitary Oil Protection Force controlled by Sunnis.  Shiites retaliated by infiltrating the OPF in 2005 and killing began.  Further sectarian fighting for the oil can be stopped and high security provided for oil production by redeploying about 20% of American troops to the "Enclave": an isolated, easily defended, desert area next to the Kuwait border and the Persian Gulf that produces 71% of the oil and controls most exports.  American soldiers will defend the perimeters of the Enclave, form Quick Reaction Forces, and man a powerful base providing air support throughout Iraq. They will be doing important work suited for their abilities, training, and equipment. We do deserts!

Under strict international scrutiny, all profits are returned to the Iraqi people, paying directly for the army and distributing the rest equally to the 275 constituencies of proportionally elected members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives. Therefore, the oil profits and the resulting power are partitioned fairly among the competing factions (to avoid civil war) without splitting the country (to avoid regional war).

He went on to make the specific arguments as to why this might work.  Among other things, it could well appeal to both Republicans and Democrats here, mighty important for success there.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 14, 2006 at 08:52 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fareed Zakaria: ‘What [Bush] Needs Is a Therapist’

Jon Stewart and Fareed Zakaria talked about how Bush is taking the pressure to make a change in Iraq on "The Daily Show" last night.  The discussion was intelligent, straight-forward and occasionally funny.  It was a refreshing change from the standard journalistic reports these days that refuse to take it for granted that George Bush is living in a bubble.  Zakaria said several times that Bush still believes his policy is working in Iraq, suggesting in a widely quoted phrase that "the president may be the last neoconservative in office". 

Zakaria said he thinks this entire round of consultation - with the State Department, members of Congress, the military, military strategists, is "Bush putting on a charade".  He says that he believes that Bush continues to think this will all work out and that nothing is likely to change his mind - no polls, no discussions, nothing - until it gets so bad on the ground that he can't miss the implications.   

When asked by Jon Stewart what role the president’s advisors might be able to play, Zakaria responded: “Without being flippant, I think maybe what [Bush] needs is a therapist.”

Zakaria also discussed the role of elections in the Mid-east.  It doesn't seem to occur to Americans that people will vote democratically for the person who most opposes the U.S. since they distrust us so much.  He talked about the recent elections of Hamas in the Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon and (essentially) Moqtada Sadr in Iraq.  I would add Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran as well.  The implication was that we may not want to be promoting democracy so ardently until people can run on being our friend without being laughed out of town.

The video-clip is in two parts.  It's worth a look.

Part 1

Part 2

Hat tip to Truthdig.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 14, 2006 at 08:31 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 13, 2006

Reflections on a Silent Meditation Retreat

Before I jump into writing on politics again, I want to share my reflections on the silent retreat I was at last week and muse on how it effects my writing on politics.

Before I do that, I want to thank Jon and Jeff for jumping in last week while I was away and entreat them to keep writing, even with my return.  I also want to welcome my friend, shoephone, to the blog.  Shoephone is a regular commenter on many of the blogs, national and local, and I asked her if she’d step in with a post or two in my absence.  She wrote a nice piece on the Air Force’s new Active Denial System (ADS), a pretty scary new technology to control crowds.  She has indicated she will continue to write here and I look forward to reading her posts when she does.

Now, the reflections:

First, being away in a beautiful environment with meals cooked for you and plenty of time to just “be” is an enormous luxury.  People who have no idea what a silent retreat is tell me how much they appreciate that I had the opportunity to be away from all that bombards us every day.

The conference center that the retreat was held at was across the street from a beautiful beach in Pacific Grove.  The weather was lovely, if chilly, and I walked on the beach twice a day and went out to soak up the view of the ocean from a couple hundred yards away many other times during the day.  I saw a seal up close once, pelicans swooping along the crests of the waves all the time, dozens of human seals in their wet suits with their surfboards trying to find the right wave, frisky dogs and many fellow walkers and sitters. 

In the routine I developed for myself, I skipped two of the three optional meditation sessions each afternoon and used the time to nap or meditate on my own on the small lanai outside my room. I wrote a bit in a journal but there was no reading allowed.  I really caught up on my sleep.

Inside the cavernous meditation hall, I sat quietly with the other 300 attendees during the required morning and evening meditation sessions and sat one of the optional afternoon sessions.  The meditation hall was also where the teacher, Adyashanti, held a 2-hour satsang once each in the morning and the evening.  Listening to him talk and dialogue with the folks who asked him questions was why we were all there.   The meditation and quiet time was what allowed us to digest what he said, work with whatever came up for us individually and sometimes, more as the week went on, just be blessedly quiet in our minds.

So what’s the point of doing this?  What did I get out of it besides some wonderful quiet time in a beautiful place?

1.    Hearing truth.  The first time I heard Adyashanti I knew he was my teacher, although I’d never thought I was a teacher kind of person.  The truth of what he said resonated throughout my body and has ever since.  With Adya, the truth comes with great humor and humility, which makes it pretty easy to absorb.  He brings in wisdom teachings from many traditions; he tells stories on himself; he talks about the same thing from many different angles.  Some hear the word “truth” better, others “spirit” or “consciousness”.

2.    Some clarity on my transition over the last three years.  Adya talks about dismantling our egos and our identity basically (my words here) because they inhibit our freedom to be part of a larger consciousness.  Shortly after I first heard him talk, I had two dreams about losing my wallet with all my identification.  I mentioned this recently to some folks who had also been following Adya for awhile, and they all nodded at this.  I guess it’s pretty familiar.  Anyhow it represented what in fact has happened to me as I found myself leaving a fairly successful career and moving from the Bay Area back home to Seattle to do politics, whatever that might look like.

Adya talked about how the ego flairs up, dies down, flairs up again but how the oomph seems to go out of it over time once that process begins.  I have sometimes wondered if I came up here and just reconstructed a new, different ego and identity in place of the old one.  But as he talked, I realized that although that is to some extent true, it hasn’t taken hold of my being in the same way as before.  I have more freedom to just be present in a given situation, to not have to be in the role of a blogger or someone who connects to the Democrats or is a friend or a sister or an aunt, although that last one may be the hardest to stay free in.

3.    Remembering how to meditate.  I meditated for a dozen years, just sitting at the foot of my bed, before I encountered Buddhism in its new, westernized form.  Then I practiced in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh for many years.  Then I found Adya.  Then a couple years ago, my cat died and I quit meditating.  How very odd, you might rightfully say.  But in the last years of my cat’s life he had taken to calling me to meditate.  (Cats really like meditation, go figure).  He would come and sit on my lap every morning when I meditated or sometimes when I was writing and cause me to pause and just sink into being present. We would walk together slowly many evenings in the park near where I used to live.  When he died, I just quit for awhile. 

Then it became hard to remember why and how I had meditated all those years.  And I had not found a sangha (sitting group) to meditate with so I slowly lost the feel for it. 

The first couple of sittings at the retreat were quite difficult for me.  I know how to appear quiet but I was not quiet inside.  Then Adya said something that reminded me of the way I always found meditation to work best for me.  Adya is careful not to tell people how to meditate, for fear of being taken strictly I suspect.  But something he said reminded me of “noticing”.  Stepping back and noticing what my mind is thinking about is a gentle way of realizing where my mind goes.  I might realize that I was planning the menus for Christmas meals, or analyzing a friend’s actions, or trying to feel understood by my sister, or thinking about my knee, or wondering what is for dinner.  Years ago I read a book that a Zen teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, had written about the value of just noticing over the years, and of how it slowly changes our behavior.   Over time, we notice off the cushion as well as on.  It had been the method I used to meditate and I was glad to be reminded of it.

I’ve since begun meditating every morning again.  I remember how and why I do it.

4.    Abiding in silence.  I had the opportunity to pull back from my thoughts for a moment here or there, and then a few moments at a time, and be present with a spaciousness that is bigger than me, that connects me to everything and everyone else around me. 

5.    Remembering not to take things personally.  Adya talks a lot about “conditioning” and how so much of what everyone does is based on their previous experiences.  It helps me put those difficulties I have with other people, generally minor but frustrating nonetheless, in perspective.  Those things that other people do that annoy me or seem needlessly to make their life difficult, which then bumps into my life and I then have to deal with, these things just are.  They are not done intentionally to frustrate me.  The more I can see that and take it in stride, the better off I am, the freer I am.

6.    Noticing that we are so much more similar than we are different.  The weekend I came back, I stopped over in Portland, which is where I do family.  I went with my sister to hear her mother-in-law sing as part of a chorus, at a retirement community.  I was overwhelmed with the sense of connection with this group of people, heaven knows probably more Republican than Democratic, who were sitting stiffly listening to Christmas carols and a cute-but-corny sketch that the group did.  I want to hold on to that awareness of the truth as often as possible, with friends and people I’ve never met alike.   

There’s more of course but that hits the high spots on the personal front.

Now, the political front. 

How does what I heard or realized or remembered impact what I do here in this odd business of writing about politics for a blog that I seem to be called to do?

1.    A welcome break from thinking about politics and the world out there.  I didn’t think a lot about politics during those 5 days and it was a relief not to take any more information in or digest it and figure out how to write it up.  (Okay, I did sneak a glance at the headlines when I was in the gift shop looking for Vitamin C or an energy bar.  I knew that John Bolton had resigned.  I knew that the Iraq Study Group had presented a report.  I didn’t need to read anything to know that Bush had ignored it.)  It reminded me that all that knowledge and opinion I hold in my head can be set aside for awhile, anytime, not just on a retreat.

2.    The reality-based community of bloggers – that image of ourselves and our work that we try to hew to in this new media form we are creating – is akin to looking at what is really in front of us personally rather than holding to some personal ideology or identity.  That focus on what is really true about what is in front of us is valuable.  The election seemed to open up a new sense of freedom for writers to talk about what is important beyond the headlines. 

I have read a bit more in the last few weeks about things we haven’t talked about much about in years – class warfare, feminism, racism, the craziness of our drug policies, unions; there’s been an odd déjà vu quality about it. I’ve even heard the word “hippies” several times, which I’ve decided is a code word for all of the above.  We have an interesting challenge in front of us – how to write about these critical things, and other issues like immigration policy and sustainability that have been in the forefront, in a manner that people can hear so that we can assist in making this country what we want it to be.  And, how to write about them clearly, without having to hold to some “company line”.

3.    I can avoid the ego traps of either the blogging world or the political world.   I don’t have to go to every event or try hard to get known.  I can just do what makes sense to me, what I am called to do.  And I will be happier for it.

4.    Noticing that we are so much more similar than we are different.  Remembering that the opinions that people hold that I may think are thoughtless or mean-spirited or downright wrong are just part of their conditioning.  It’s fine to try to alter their understanding of the world but I want to avoid trying to put things in a “right” or “wrong” frame as much as I can remember to do so.   

I was pleased at how much I brought back from this retreat.  I will be interested to see how much I can keep with me as the memory of that time fades.

Thanks for reading.  Now, back to regular programming.

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 13, 2006 at 09:21 PM in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 10, 2006


Meanwhile, in Africa, all hell is breaking loose and there appear to be no grown-ups around to stop it.  The biggest "grown-up" is off in Iraq creating its own disaster.  But, is there someone benefiting from this lack of attention to the spreading genocide and chaos?  Well, yes, perhaps there is.   

Devilstower, writing at DailyKos, reminds us that the Darfur situation is in free-fall and likely to only get worse.  He references an article in tomorrow's Christian Science Monitor by Rich Schapiro.  Most of us have a vague understanding that the janjuweed, the Arab militiamen that have colluded with the Sudanese government, have been slaughtering the mostly black African population "in what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian emergency".  Up until now, the rape, murder and destruction has been confined to western Sudan. 

No more. 

The article in the Monitor reports that we have the recipe for an ever spreading tragedy:

The crisis in Darfur has exploded in recent weeks, and now threatens to drag fragile neighboring countries into a regional war.

Both Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) have become engulfed in fighting that involves a toxic mix of rebel groups, government forces, armed militias, and civilians.

"It's not a steady deterioration," Jan Egeland, the outgoing UN humanitarian chief, told reporters last week. "It's a free fall, and it includes Darfur, eastern Chad, and northern Central African Republic."

Let's take Chad as an example of the downward slide.  Devilstower says, 

Chad, one of the countries being overrun by both refugees and chaos spreading out from Darfur, has already been named one of the world's "top ten failed states."  Only ten years ago, Chad seemed to be edging away from a history of unrest and invasion.  But a decade after the first multi-party elections, the country is once again crumbling under the combined weight of insurgency and the disaster in Darfur.  Rebel groups operating in Chad have even captured some of the Darfur refugee camps and driven out humanitarian groups.

Here's a young democracy, with an economy based on oil, trying to hold out against forces from both inside and out.  That sounds a lot like Iraq.  But no one is rushing in troops to help Chad.

Somalia is already a failed state.  The Central African Republic is going down the same road. 

Devilstower comes to a depressing conclusion as to why this is being allowed. 

Why not?  Maybe because it's Africa.  Chaos in African has opened up the mineral wealth of a continent to a world that's come to understand that it's much cheaper to fund chaos and corruption than it is to pay taxes and fair market prices.

As long as western corporations (and western governments) think that misery in Africa means bargains in the supply chain, they'll tut-tut over the problems.  But they won't act.

Our government, mired in a war we never needed to fight, has few resources to spare and won't for years.   A distracted American public, likely to go into isolationism as a result of the severe damage to our treasury, our reputation, and our ability to act in the world, not to mention the shame of a preemptive war that has destroyed a reasonably functioning country that wasn't doing a lot to bother us, has not put pressure on the government to act and is unlikely to do so.  And in the Sudan and now Chad and the Central African Republic, we see the negative results of our neglect.  The benefits will likely accrue very quietly to a few well-financed commodity producers.  Colonialism without any fuss. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 10, 2006 at 09:27 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 09, 2006

Bush Administration as a Cartoon Series

story photoComedy Central has ordered "Lil' Bush: Resident of the United States," a cartoon satire that re-imagines President Bush and key executives in his administration as elementary school misfits.

How very fitting. I've always thought that Bush and his gang were so "successful" because of the terror that most of us carry with us of being ridiculed by the school yard bullies.

Read story at NewsCloud

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 9, 2006 at 08:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 08, 2006

Anti-transit whackos lose (again) in State Supreme Court

The State Supreme Court voted 8-1 to uphold Sound Transit's car tab taxes.  It turns out that you can't write law that nullifies a contract you'd already entered into, in this case a contract with bondholders to collect car tab taxes to repay the loans we've taken to finance our light rail system.

Shame on the reporter Mike Lindblom and the Seattle Times for quoting Tim Eyman in the story.  (He's the only person quoted in the story, in fact!)  Tim Eyman is not a significant part of the story.  The parties involved in this case, according to the Supreme Court Opinion, were:








How come Lindblom couldn't get a quote from any of those folks (or their attorneys?)   Why did he have to provide yet another opportunity for liar/huckster Eyman to shoot his mouth off in the media? 

Just because Tim is always ready with another lie for reporters doesn't mean they have to act like his personal stenographers.

We deserve better.

Posted by Jon Stahl on December 8, 2006 at 10:47 AM in Ballot Initiatives, Media | Permalink | Comments (6)

Separating Tourists From Terrorists

The crowd is getting ugly. Soldiers roll up in a Hummer. Suddenly, the whole right half of your body is screaming in agony. You feel like you've been dipped in molten lava. You almost faint from shock and pain, but instead you stumble backwards -- and then start running. To your surprise, everyone else is running too. In a few seconds, the street is completely empty.

You've just been hit with a new nonlethal weapon that has been certified for use in Iraq -- even though critics argue there may be unforseen effects.

And so begins the article from Wired.com documenting the U.S. Air Force's approval of the Active Denial System (ADS), which shoots a beam of millimeter waves causing limited radiation, its wavelength somewhere between those of x-rays and microwaves. It has been developed for military purposes of crowd-control. Eye damage and cancer are just two of the health concerns raised about this weapon.

The military has been testing the ADS technology for the past 10 years, at a cost of $40 million, and claims that, if used properly, it will produce no lasting adverse effects. The unquantifiable factor is whether or not the same use will have the same results in each case. During the Vietnam War, police in Berkeley, CA often shot at protestors with rubber bullets thought to be "safe if used properly", but rubber bullets hitting someone in the head could, and did, cause death. Today, our nation's police forces routinely shoot taser guns, also deemed "safe if used properly", to rein in uncooperative suspects. It takes no more than a Google search to find that tasers have, on occasion, seriously injured some individuals, and in at least one case resulted in a death.

The ADS was tested on unpaid military personnel and the military claims that, of more than 10,000 exposures, there were six cases of blistering and one of second-degree burns. But considering that the system was developed -- and the tests conducted -- with such secrecy, it may be a bit of a stretch for the public to trust those claims coming from the same military command that approved the use of certain "coercive interrogation techniques"  for prisoners at Abu Graib.

The ADS technology is ready to deploy, and the Army requested ADS-armed Strykers for Iraq last year. But the military is well aware that any adverse publicity could finish the program, and it does not want to risk distressed victims wailing about evil new weapons on CNN.


The development of a truly safe and highly effective nonlethal crowd-control system could raise enormous ethical questions about the state's use of coercive force. If a method such as ADS leads to no lasting injury or harm, authorities may find easier justifications for employing them.

Posted by shoephone on December 8, 2006 at 09:52 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 05, 2006

NewsCloud Media Platform Now Open Source

I am super excited to announce that my project NewsCloud is now available to the open source community:

As Americans, we face a number of critical challenges: our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, threats to national security, rising costs of health care and college, rising federal debt, rising prison population, weak public schools, problems with our election system, decline of the middle class, global warming, energy independence, recovery from Hurricane Katrina, etc. The list goes on... Deep and thoughtful media coverage will be essential to help inform us to address these challenges in creative and constructive ways. Media consolidation, control by private corporations and the profit motive is often a barrier to quality and open, vibrant journalism.

While the blogosphere has dramatically expanded the ability for important stories and diverse views to get traction, it's important for the platforms which promote mainstream news, blogs and citizen-powered journalism to be open to public access. While there are a number of social network journalism platforms that allow a wide variety of original content, none of the latest Web 2.0 generation so far are licensed to the open source community to inspect, re-purpose and improve.

Today, we released code for NewsCloud to the open source community with a GPL license. Now other organizations can repurpose our platform to expand their own efforts or simply to improve the features they want to see in our site.


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Posted by Jeff on December 5, 2006 at 12:09 PM in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

NewsCloud Media Platform Now Open Source

I am super excited to announce that my project NewsCloud is now available to the open source community:

As Americans, we face a number of critical challenges: our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, threats to national security, rising costs of health care and college, rising federal debt, rising prison population, weak public schools, problems with our election system, decline of the middle class, global warming, energy independence, recovery from Hurricane Katrina, etc. The list goes on... Deep and thoughtful media coverage will be essential to help inform us to address these challenges in creative and constructive ways. Media consolidation, control by private corporations and the profit motive is often a barrier to quality and open, vibrant journalism.

While the blogosphere has dramatically expanded the ability for important stories and diverse views to get traction, it's important for the platforms which promote mainstream news, blogs and citizen-powered journalism to be open to public access. While there are a number of social network journalism platforms that allow a wide variety of original content, none of the latest Web 2.0 generation so far are licensed to the open source community to inspect, re-purpose and improve.

Today, we released code for NewsCloud to the open source community with a GPL license. Now other organizations can repurpose our platform to expand their own efforts or simply to improve the features they want to see in our site.


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Posted by Jeff on December 5, 2006 at 12:09 PM in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 04, 2006

Nail, Head, Goldy

Goldy asks (rhetorically): why are Republicans getting their asses hats handed to them in the fast-urbanizing suburbs of Seattle?  Maybe,um, because they don't like government.

Suburban Republicans are losing elections because suburban voters simply don’t trust Republicans to run a government they clearly profess to despise.... The problem with education? Those greedy teachers and corrupt, incompetent administrators. Transportation? Self-aggrandizing government officials, wasteful civil servants, and self-serving special interests. Crime? Liberal judges who care more about the rights of criminals than the rights of victims. Even when it comes to social issues Republicans have adopted the rhetoric of blame. The gay civil rights bill wasn’t about a class of people demanding the same legal protections as everybody else, it was about a bunch of perverts seeking to impose their disgusting lifestyle on the rest on us.

Meanwhile, at the same time Republicans are putting so much time and effort into maligning government as incompetent, inefficient, and sometimes, downright immoral, suburban voters enjoy the benefits of a functioning local government everyday. They love their schools, their libraries, their parks, their police and their firefighters, and they consistently choose to tax themselves to improve these services. Thus the main problem for suburban Republicans is that the reality of suburban life simply doesn’t match the bulk of Republican rhetoric.

Of course, with both the State House and Senate solidly Democratic, not to mention a competent and popular Governor, being a Republican in Washington just isn't much fun these days.  So who can begrudge them a little grumbling?

Posted by Jon Stahl on December 4, 2006 at 09:21 PM in Strategery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Every, every, every vote counts

As if we needed any more proof after the past few years' worth of elections, take a look at Montana.  Control of their statehouse was just handed to Republicans (50-49), after a recount in a tied race gave Republican Krayton Kerns a 3-vote victory. 

That's a tough break for Montana Dems (who otherwise had a great year!), and it even further underscores the importance of working hard for every vote in every local race.

Posted by Jon Stahl on December 4, 2006 at 09:00 AM in Candidate Races | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 03, 2006

What are 2007's most important journalism beats?

2007-2 I set up a Hot Topics of 2007 page to let NewsCloud readers vote on what they think will be the most important areas for citizen journalism attention next year. Please check it out. If you don't see an issue that you think is important, suggest one.

More importantly, we're taking volunteer sign ups from readers and bloggers who want to help select stories within these topic areas next year. Want to be the go-to citizen editor for "habeas corpus"? Now you can...

We'll wrap up the voting at midnight on December 31 and announce the top focus areas in January.

As always, send any feedback you have to me via email.

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Posted by Jeff on December 3, 2006 at 10:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Environmental Community's 2007 "Priorities for a Healthy Washington"

My friends in the Washington state environmental community have announced their 2007 Priorities for a Healthy Washington, their annual collection of four priorities for the 2007 legislative session.  Building on their impressive successes over the past three years, including the passage of I-937 and the defeat of I-933, banning toxic mercury, instituting e-waste recycling and mandating "clean car" emissions standards, the environmental community this year will prioritize the following four initiatives:

Save Our Sound
Puget Sound’s water and wildlife are in trouble. We want to leave our children the legacy of a clean and healthy Puget Sound, but that takes money and clout. We need increased funding and a new Puget Sound agency created in 2007 that will take leadership, maintain oversight, and hold accountable those responsible for results over the long term. And we need bold action this year to prevent and clean up water pollution and protect and restore habitat.

$100 Million for Parks and Wildlife
Preserve 133 places for parks and wildlife across the state by increasing our two-year investment to $100 million. As our state’s population grows, so too does the need for recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat, and farmland.  We have an opportunity in 2007 to protect those places that make Washington special and enhance our much-envied quality of life.

Eliminate Toxic Flame Retardants
Serious health concerns - for children and wildlife- are linked to industrial chemicals used as flame retardants known as PBDEs. High levels of these chemicals have been found in Washington residents, Puget Sound orcas and salmon, and the Spokane River. These chemicals should be banned in favor of safer effective alternatives already in use so we can have fire protection without poisons.

Clean Air – Clean Fuels
Washington can become a dynamic, competitive leader in growing the clean fuel industry. The 2007 Clean Air/Clean Fuels package encourages energy independence by providing incentives for Washington farmers to produce the most promising new biofuel feedstocks; reduces fuel consumption and costs for state fleets; protects our kids by cleaning up dirty diesel school buses; promotes advanced vehicle technology; and helps the state guard against health threats from global warming. 

If you want to jump in and help pass legislation to implement these priorities early next year, sign up for the Priorities for a Healthy Washington email list, and you'll get occasional emails with breaking news and timely action opportunities.

Posted by Jon Stahl on December 3, 2006 at 10:18 AM in Policy | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 02, 2006

Does Seattle have the largest Mayor?

This story in the times today got me worried. It's not that Mayor Nickels wants to keep building taller buildings in Seattle's most scenic areas, I mean it's that photo (first on left) and these... especially that last one:

Nickels St Nickels Sgn Nickels Dems Nickels

I want to live in a first class city as much as Mayor Nickels wants me to. I take comfort in knowing that while other cities might have the "People's Mayor", we've got the "Developer's Mayor". I just want to be sure that working for developers as hard as Nickels does helps him live well enough to eat the best and be bigger than all the other mayors.

I don't want to just live in the country's greatest city, I want to live in the city with the largest Mayor. Urban planning I've been told is all about density.

So, I took a look at the country's most populated city mayors and I think we can rest at ease, other than San Diego, Mayor Nickels is kicking ass... Clearly, dining frequently with developers is good for our city's mayor! So, there's no need for us to worry.

Or is there...?

See the rest at Idealog

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Posted by Jeff on December 2, 2006 at 03:53 PM in The Politics of Business | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Call of Silence

Sorry for the low number of posts here recently.  After a week of finishing up writing a proposal for a wonderful project I hope will be funded this next year, I immediately took off for northern California, winding my way to a 5-day silent retreat that begins tomorrow. 

Upon arriving here two days ago, I immediately called back to the Northwest to let people know that there is a place one can still sit outside in the sun and have a cup of chai.  OK, I was gloating.  I've never quite managed to leave snow and ice and arrive in sunshine like that before.  Three days to spend with friends, visiting and playing.  I had thought I would post more but find little time to get online - the one computer is not wireless and is through my friends' bedroom - rather hard to access early in the morning, my usual time to write.

Then, tomorrow, I head off to a retreat center on the coast - I know, life is hard - for five days of silence. 

Just sitting with myself, sinking deeper, noticing what is there, emptying out the clutter that my mind has collected.  No email.  No phone.  No reading, nevermind that I just purchased a copy of a friend's new novel that is outrageously good. No talking.  Very limited interaction - a wave to ask someone to pass the pepper, nothing more.  A nod to strangers on the beach who expect a hello.  Just meditation, talks by the teacher, walks on the beach by myself, lots of sleep, stretching. 

Knowing this time was coming, the opportunity for silence has been calling me.  For much of the year, I read vociferously, trying to figure out what is happening here, across the world, feeling the joy of possible turnaround here, the angst of war and the legacy of this stubborn set of leaders - who not only never went to war but have likely never taken the time to sink into the silence of their inner selves, to find what would truly make them happy.  So their confusion and unaccessed pain gets foisted on the rest of us.

I will undoubtedly continue to think about all this but without the newspapers and conversations to feed it, it will blessedly sink into the background for awhile, allowing me to access deeper parts of myself, to rest from carrying all this information and opinion for a brief time.  I am grateful for this time.

Later to all.   

Posted by Lynn Allen on December 2, 2006 at 10:42 AM in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0)