Inspire Seattle: whither progressives?

How can we meet basic community needs during difficult (if not desperate) economic and political times?

This was the question addressed at a meeting of Inspire Seattle on Saturday night, at the home of David and Shamah Gamrath in West Seattle.

During the first hour or so, people networked and ate the pot-lucked food. (It was an odd feeling to be networking in person, instead of online.) The next hour was spent on comments by the panelists in response to questions from the host, David. During the last half hour there was time for questions and answers from the audience.

The three panelists were:

  1. Julia Sterkovsky, Executive Director of the Seattle Human Services Coalition, a multi-racial, multi-cultural group of human service providers and concerned community members committed to helping Seattle-King County residents meet their basic human needs
  2. Richard Conlin, President of the Seattle City Council and founder of Sustainable Seattle.
  3. Eric Oemig, former Washington State Senator for the 45th district, who served from January 2007-2011. Eric has been called one of the most liberal senators. His defeat last November was due, in part, to funding by the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. Eric was also a founding member of Inspire Seattle.

Of the 40 or so attendees, there were maybe two or three people who appeared to be conservatives. Everyone else was progressive or apolitical.

BTW, the next meeting of Inspire Seattle will be on May 21, when the topic will be the Washington Investment Trust (state bank).

David began by asking: are we entering a stage in American history in which there is a new “normal” for what government is expected to provide? In other words, will we just have to make do with fewer  government services and a smaller safety net?

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Boeing ignores taxbreaks, ships jobs to South Carolina and Texas

Two headlines in today’s Seattle Times tell an important story about Boeing:

Boeing will refurbish flight-test 747-8s in Texas

Boeing: S.C. work won’t stop despite NLRB complaint

Yet in the 2008 biennium alone, tax breaks for Boeing cost the state $195 million (reference) in return for taxbreaks meant to keep jobs in Washington State.

According to The Solution: Close Tax Loopholes

So we now have a loophole for software manufacturers like Microsoft that will cost the state $143 million this year, another loophole for airplane manufacturers like Boeing that will cost the state $104 million, and a loophole (or “special tax break,” see how that works?) for struggling newspaper publishers that will cost the state $18 million.

Taxbreaks for rich corporations are, of course, a national problem.

Boeing … actually received a tax rebate totaling $75 million over the years 2008-2010 (on profits of $9.7 billion), or General Electric, which, according to Robert McIntyre — director of the nonprofit group Citizens for Tax Justice — had an effective tax rate of negative 15.8 percent from 2006 through 2010. (Forbes has noted that GE has “displayed an uncanny ability to lose lots of money in the U.S. and make lots of money overseas, where tax rates are lower.”)
— from Support for corporate tax reform on the rise

What’s ironic, and sad, is that Boeing gets much of its business from government contracts: it’s a major defense contractor.

Republicans like national defense, but they don’t like paying for it with taxes.

Yet even many Democrats (in name only) show sympathy for taxbreaks for rich corporations. Using a Republican talking point, they say: raising taxes will be a jobs killer.

On that theory, we might as well push for a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Banana republic here we come.

How our legislators should deal with I-1053

There’s a straightforward way for our state legislators to work around Eyman’s I-1053, an initiative that conflicts with several provisions of the state constitution. Will they pursue it?

On Feb 29, 2008,  Senate Bill 6931 was brought before the Washington State Senate for a vote.  SB 6931 would have imposed a 42¢ per liter surcharge on the sale of certain types of liquor to fund driving-under-the-influence patrols and chemical dependency treatments.

Lt. Governor (and Senate President) Brad Owen  refused to allow the bill to go forward.  Owen ruled that SB 6931 required the approval of two-thirds of the senate for passage, by virtue of Tim Eyman’s so-called Taxpayer Protection Act.

In response to Mr. Owen’s ruling, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown asked the state Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus to force Mr. Owen to allow the bill to proceed.

The state Supreme Court’s decision was not to issue a writ of mandamus. (See Brown v. Owen (2009) .)    Whether one agrees with the reasoning in the decision or not, a remedy for the ruling by Owen in favor of a 2/3 vote is also stated there:

¶ 27 Both Owen, as president of the senate, and Brown as a member of that body are subject to the procedural rules of the senate.   Owen was required to rule on the point of order by Sheldon, and Brown was allowed to address the senate in opposition to the point of order.   Owen gave a parliamentary ruling as is his obligation as president of the senate.   Brown had the option to appeal to her colleagues and overturn Owen’s ruling with a simple majority of the senate.   She did not. Instead, Brown asked this court to intervene by ordering Owen to forward a bill, that pursuant to Owen’s unchallenged parliamentary ruling, failed to receive sufficient votes for passage.

In other words, Senator Brown and the legislators had the opportunity themselves to overturn Owen’s ruling with a simple majority vote.

Similarly, Democratic legislators in Olympia now have the opportunity, and the obligation, to eliminate tax exemptions for wealthy corporations and individuals by majority vote, despite I-1053’s 2/3 supermajority requirement for raising revenue. The reason is simple: I-1053 is apparently  unconstitutional.

According to Article 2, Legislative Department, Section 22 Passage of Bills  “No bill shall become a law unless  . . . a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.”  The state constitution also says that the constitution cannot be amended by initiative.

What was at issue then, as now, is majority rule.  The same remedy is available to the Senate today.  They can overturn by a simple majority a ruling by Owen that a 2/3 vote is required for passage of revenue bills.

Constitutions exist precisely to protect the People from unjust and deceptive initiatives such as I-1053. The reason we don’t have direct democracy (where the voters vote for legislation without relying on elected representatives in Congress) is that most people lack the time and inclination to understand the issues well enough to vote intelligently on complex legislation.  Furthermore, voters are easily deceived  and can be tricked into voting for unjust initiatives, such as I-1053, that are against their own self-interest.

I-1053 perpetuates an unjust and regressive tax system. It is causing devastating cuts to education, social services, and public safety.

See also Resolution on ending taxbreaks for billionaires and  I-1053 is apparently unconstitutional.

Will the Democrats defend the constitution, which cannot be amended by any initiative, and go on to  produce the kind of budget that  Washingtonians want and need?

How the Koch Brothers worked to defeat Democrats in Washington State

[Note: For later news on this topic, see: State Republicans fined for violating reporting requirements in 2010 elections.]

In October, 2010 a formal complaint was filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission against the Washington State chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-funded organization that has promoted the Tea Party and that has funded many right wing campaigns.  The complaint alleges that

Americans for Prosperity Washington (AFPWA) has violated campaign finance law in hiding its financial contributions, expenditures, communications, and even its existence from the public eye.

Throughout the election season, AFPWA produced and executed both political advertising independent expenditures and electioneering communications against Democratic incumbent senators in the 30th, 41st, 45th, and 48th Legislative Districts. This has included mailers, canvassers distributing leaflets, and advertisements in the print media.

The tagline on each advertisement reads, “No candidate authorized this ad. It is paid for by Americans for Prosperity Washington PO Box 249 Duvall, WA 98019” (all known pieces are attached).

On PDC, under committees, under independent spending, under in-kind donations, no records of any kind exist for AFPWA. They have not filed a single C1, C3, C4, or C6 report — they do not exist on paper with the PDC.  This is a direct violation of many campaign finance laws…..

The complainants include the Sierra Club (Seattle) and Dwight Pelz, chair of the Washington State Democrats.

Progressive incumbent Democratic state senators Randy Gordon (41st LD) and Eric Oemig (45th LD) lost tight races, partly due to the campaign expenditures of AFPWA.  Gordon lost in the recount by 192 votes, 0.32%.

AFPWA  supports “market-based” policies.   Their website says, “Americans for Prosperity – Washington State is supporting dozens of grassroots organizations around Washington State for the Tax Day Tea Parties.”

According to Wikipedia

AFP was founded in 2004 when Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) split into FreedomWorks (formerly Citizens for a Sound Economy), for 501(c)(4) advocacy activity, and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (formerly the Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation). Dick Armey, who had become chair of CSE in 2003 after retiring from Congress,[2] stayed as chairman of FreedomWorks, while David H. Koch stayed as Chairman of Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Like CSE, AFP was founded with the support of David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch of Koch Industries.[3][4][5] Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) had been established in 1984 by David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch. “CSE received almost $5 million from various Koch foundations between 1986 and 1990, and David Koch and several Koch Industries employees serve[d] as directors of CSE and the CSE Foundation.”[6]

The Center for Public Integrity has produced this analysis of the Koch’s web of influence.

William Koch, brother of company owners David and Charles, has said of Koch Industries, “I did not want my family, my legacy, my father’s legacy to be based upon organized crime.” Koch industries was fined many times for violating environmental and safety laws. Of course, it has lobbied relentless, and supported candidates, to stop regulation and taxation.  See and Koch And Native-American Reservation Oil Theft.

Like AFPWA, the Chamber of Commerce funded campaign literature in Washington State, for example,  in support of Dave Reichert.

Money corrupts politics.   That the Koch brothers were so active in Washington State was news to me.

Thanks to David Spring for drawing my attention to this issue.

See The Kochs Mess With Texas, Our Minds and Our Future for a report on Kochs’ nefarious dealings in Texas.

If anyone has relevant  campaign literature from 2010, or further information about this topic, please comment below or let me know.

Should we Democrats stay silent as our house burns down?

Friends and fellow Democrats,

Our house is on fire. The fate of one million children is in that burning house. Our public schools are on in danger of collapse.  In 2008, we were 47th in the nation in school funding. Since then, billions more have been cut. The fire is growing worse every day and every year. Yet even though it is the Paramount Duty of our State legislature to provide a fire truck to put out this fire, and even though the Democratic Party has clear majorities in both the House and the Senate, last week Ross Hunter proposed a budget slashing billions more from our public schools – including suspending a monthly Basic Education payment – something which has never been done before in the history of our State. This week, Ed Murray proposed a budget which would slash school funding even more than Ross Hunter’s draconian budget! In fact, Ed would slash Basic Education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars more. Ross and Ed tell us they can not use the Fire Truck to put out the fire – because it might upset Tim Eyman.   

Resolutions have been passed unanimously by the 45th LD Democrats and the 32nd LD Democrats and some County Democratic organizations demanding that our Democratic Leaders use the fire truck to put out the fire. All of these Resolutions point to the Paramount Duty in our State Constitution – a Constitution which our Democratic Leaders have sworn an oath to uphold. 

We are now told we should not pass these Resolutions. Our Coalition Partners want us to think small and go slow and remain silent and trust our leaders – the same leaders who got us into this mess in the first place. Despite being faced with BILLIONS in budget cuts, we are told we should support House Bill 2078 which would shave a mere $44 million per year from tax exemptions our State hands to Wall Street Bankers. What we are not told is that on page 2, line 20 of this bill, it states: “the total amount each person may deduct under this section for any calendar year may not exceed one hundreds million dollars.”  So every Wall Street banker still gets $100 million in corporate welfare??? For reference, one hundred million dollars would pay for at least one thousand teachers. Instead of corporate welfare for the 10 major banks – each of which is making billions in record profits – we could save the jobs of 10,000 teachers and save the future of one million school children. 
The $44 million proposed cut in corporate welfare represents less than a 5% of the total we give away every year to these Wall Street Bankers – the very bankers who brought down our economy. According the Bureau of Economic Analysis, these same banks handed out a record $50 billion in bonuses to their top executives in 2010. 

This is our elected Democratic Leaders’ idea of a solution to our multi-billion dollar fire? $44 million represents less than 1% of the billons being cut from our public schools. For that matter, $44 million represents less than 1% of bank bonuses in 2010! Shockingly, the DOR has stated that no other State even offers this exemption! Yet we are asked to remain silent as our house burns down and be happy House Democrats have offered us this squirt gun of a solution. 

This week Ed Murray offers us another even smaller squirt gun. Senate Bill 5944 would not provide a single dollar to help put out the fire. Instead, it enshrines the Unconstitutional Two Thirds Tim Eyman rule for nearly every source of revenue except tax exemptions. When union leaders complained that this bill would not come close to putting out the Fire which is destroying our Schools and our State, and may make the fire worse, Ed told them to stay silent because he had 20 years worth of experience and he knows better than the rest of us what is best for our State. This is the same Ed Murray who in 2003 voted for the Boeing Blackmail bill which started the fire of corporate tax breaks in the first place. The same Ed Murray who earlier this week proposed cutting Basic Education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. Ed Murray needs to spend less time writing bills which only add fuel to the fire – and more time reading our State Constitution, 

The question now is whether we as loyal Democrats will heed the call of our Coalition Partners to remain silent as our house burns down? Or will we instead pass Resolutions demanding that our elected leaders honor our State Constitution and their Paramount Duty to put out the fire by suspending BILLIONS in tax exemptions to the wealthiest most profitable corporations in the history of our planet?  

It is never too late to change course, It is never too late to speak truth to injustice. It is never too late to demand that our elected officials uphold their oath of office to honor our State Constitution. Please go to our website, and read more about what is really happening in Olympia . Urge your friends and neighbors to sign our Petition. It is never too late to at least try to put out the fire.

Regards, David Spring

Cut workplace injuries, not workers compensation

Last Thursday night the state experienced the tragic on the job fatality of a worker at the Smurfit Stone Recycling Co.,  a paper recycling plant in Renton.  Rudimentary research efforts reveal that the state has a significant problem of fatal workplace injuries and that Smurfit Stone has a highly questionable workplace safety record.

This only calls more attention to the need to crack down on workplace safety problems as a way of saving money in the workers’ compensation system rather than cutting benefits.

More detail about how people are dying in workplace incidents can be found on the website of the Bernard Law Group.

The state government’s data on workplace fatalities can be found at this website:

After the shock of last week’s fatality, it is even more shocking to learn that there were 75 fatal workplace injuries in the state in 2009, the latest year for which a table exists.  There were 83 in 2008 and 88 in 2007.   Classified by industry, 60 were from private industry, 29 were from goods producing industry, 17 were from natural resources and mining and 17 were from agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.  Classified by event, 23 were from transportation, 22 were from assault and violent acts, 19 were from contact with objects and equipment, 5 resulted from falls and 3 resulted from exposure to harmful substances and environments.

High Beam research reported on October 3, 2009 that the Smurfit Stone company was fined $19,325 for OSHA violations stemming from the electrocution of a worker at its container board mill in Fernandina Beach, FL.  OSHA had previously issued a citation and notice of penalty Angust 25 for serious violations, five of which were electrical hazards.   This also suggests that  a low level of fines was issued by OSHA under the Bush administration, creating an environment of lax standards.   

According to the website of attorney Steven J. Malman in Illinois, on June 10,2010 Smurfit Stone settled an unlawful business practices case over alleged concealment of workers injuries and discouragement of workers compensation claims.

This is a report of criminal charges filed by Monterey County against Smurfit Stone for covering up injury data to create the appearance of lower injury rates.

This case was settled by the company, as was the Illinois case.…/Press%20Release-%20Smurfit%20Stone%20061610.pdf

More on this case can be found at:

[Note: I do not understand why WordPress insists on putting text in italics with an underline and will not format this thext in regular type.  Perhaps the WordPress mavens can provide information on this] contains a link to legal documents concerning the claims of asbestos injury sufferers in the company’s bankruptcy case.

One of the company’s plants caught on fire in May 2010:

Fire crews reported that the cause was an electrical problem in a piece of equipment:

Hiding Behind Tim Eyman

Democratic leaders hiding behind Tim Eyman
Democratic leaders hiding behind Tim Eyman

[From top right, clockwise:  House Chair Rep. Frank Chopp,  Sen. Steve Hobbs,  Rep. Judy Clibborn, Gov. Christine Gregoire,  House Ways & Means Chair Ross Hunter (on bottom left), Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, House Majority Floor Leader Larry Springer,  Lt. Governor Brad Owen (on upper-left)]

During the run-up to the 2010 election, our Democratic leaders depended on advocacy groups and Bill Gates, Sr. to market the idea of fair taxation. Now, despite the unconstitutionality and immorality of I-1053, our leaders fail to challenge I-1053.

Our leaders don’t lead.

Most of them say they oppose and certainly regret I-1053. But they won’t stick their necks out to challenge it.

Wouldn’t it be better to lose an election than to lose your soul?

The core problem is that voters vote against their own self-interest, because progressive voices are drowned out, squelched and disorganized. And part of the reason for that is the Democrats’ failure to lead. Perhaps the politicians fear retribution from the voters. Perhaps some (a few?) of them are corrupt and really don’t give a damn.  I’m sure that some of our legislators are afraid of the lobbyists who would descend like locusts on Olympia were they to try to remove tax exemptions.   For whatever reason, our leaders hide behind Tim Eyman.

Another problem is the over use of citizen initiatives. The reason we don’t have direct democracy (where the voters vote for legislation, without relying on elected representatives in Congress) is that many issues are too complex for the average person. Furthermore, voters are easily deceived and can be convinced to vote for unjust initiatives, such as I-1053, which are against their own self-interest.

BTW, someone suggested I show scenes of suffering and loss that will result from I-1053.  If people send me such images I’ll combine them into a Flash animation that might be more effective than the static image above.

Political Extortion

What will it take for elected Democratic legislators in our state, and the governor, to refuse to accede to extortionists?

EXTORTION – excerpt from

“The term extortion is often used metaphorically . . .   It is also often used loosely to refer to everyday situations where one person feels indebted against their will, to another, in order to receive an essential service or AVOID LEGAL CONSEQUENCES . . . . .

“Neither extortion nor blackmail require a threat of a criminal act, such as violence, merely a threat used to ELICIT ACTIONS, money, or property from the object of the extortion.”

Unfortunately, a pattern of Democratic acquiescence has set in with the passage of Eyman’s I-1053.  This is not the same as being willing to compromise, a necessary part of democratic governance.

We are at a financial impasse caused by the apparently tacit agreement among Democrats in our legislature not to challenge Eyman’s I-1053 voting restrictions on the legislature in matters of taxation. Presumably, this is due to fear of possible political fall-out at the next election.

Because I-1053 is unconstitutional on its face since it is in direct conflict with at least four articles of the Washington state constitution, its status must be determined by our state Supreme Court.

Until its constitutionality is settled,  the legislature should proceed on the premise that it is not constitutional, especially in the area of ending or suspending selected corporate tax reductions.

This would enable the legislature to produce a budget for our educational needs that more closely resembles the needs of a modern state, instead of the Draconian lopping off of essential parts that the proposed budget now entails.

It changes nothing at all for the victims of current budget priorities if the Democratic enablers of Eyman’s I-1053 in our legislature are in pain and wish they could do otherwise.

What they must do is undertake a reassessment of whether or not to confront the extortionists head-on for the benefit of the people of our state.

Washington voters have repeatedly shown their support for education. With truthful, forthright explanation of why we must remove tax exemptions  in order to restore funding for education in this exceptionally straitened economic context, the potential “political fall-out” could not only be avoided, but turned into a political victory.

How much courage does it take to do the right thing?

Elaine Phelps

WSDCC State Committee Woman
President, May Arkwright Hutton Chapter, WSFDW

Washington Uprising! Demonstrators Occupy the Capitol and Demand Fair Budget

Folks are coming to Olympia in droves this week to demand a fair State budget. This is a week of action based on demands for a fair budget that were delivered to thCourtesy US Uncut Olympiae lawmakers on March 17Courtesy Devin CP at Flickerth. The Olympia Coalition for a Fair Budget put on a bang-up day of speech and music and entertainment on Tuesday, April 5th. Washington Can took up the action on Wednesday, April 6th. US Uncut joined OLY Fair Budget and Washington CAN and by Wednesday night, hundreds of people had occupied the rotunda, chanting and singing for a fair budget.

SEIU, AFSME, and health care unions are expected to take up the baton today and tomorrow. If you are in the area, come to Olympia. The march today begins downtown at Sylvester Park at 11:00 am and heads to the Capitol. Bundle up, it’s a little chilly this morning, but it’s going to burn off and be a beautiful day to be at the State Capitol.

Hope to have video up soon.

Devin CP at Flicker has a good set of photos up from the action yesterday. Sorry about the blurry pics, I am still working on grabbing video of the actions and trying to find the hours needed to capture the video from digital tape and render it to something that plays on the web.

To our state legislators: challenge I-1053!

The Democrats should be challenging Eyman’s I-1053 instead of  treating it as the law of the land. As it is, the legislature cannot fulfill its CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY so long as it continues on its current path.

You have the power right now to end or at least suspend the corporate tax reductions that may have been appropriate in better economic times but that are hurting us now.

Be strong, act with courage and on principle to let the voting public know that you are following the constitutional provisions that no initiative can repeal and under which the legislature is obliged to function. [Editor: see I-1053 is Unconstitutional]

You have sworn an oath to do so.