Monthly Archives: January 2016

Exit Sunny Jim

When I moved back to Seattle in 1990 – sick of work and life in Washington, DC – George H. W. Bush was the new president, and Seattle had just elected a new congressman from the 7th District, a former psychiatrist and state legislator named Jim McDermott.

I tried hard to like McDermott. He was always friendly to me (and everyone else), and I agreed with him on most issues. I admired his opposition to U.S. wars (at least when a Republican was in the White House), and I appreciated his staunch advocacy for a single payer health system. But over the years I couldn’t help but notice that McDermott, in one of the safest Democratic seats in the country, never actually did anything.

Nearly three decades later, McDermott, now 79, has finally announced his retirement. After an entire generation in Congress, he’ll primarily be remembered for three things: his unsuccessful push for single payer, his illegal exposure of illegal activities by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and his staunch, if futile, opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which earned him the nickname “Baghdad Jim.”

In hindsight, McDermott was right about Iraq. But for all his noisy, usually fruitless advocacy, he was remarkably ineffective at the normal things long-term congresspeople achieve. He has no signature legislation to his name. If Seattle interests wanted money, legislation, or favors from Congress, they went to one of the senators, Patty Murray or Maria Cantwell, because they got things done. For all his seniority, he never rose to any position of real power even in his own caucus, let alone the House.

His only real utility to his party colleagues in three decades was his illegal takedown of Gingrich and, in 2009-10, being one of the only Democratic physicians in Congress – meaning that he got a few improvements to the Affordable Care Act done behind the scenes, a bill that never even seriously considered a public option, let alone single payer/ In return, he was used as a visible, “expert” Congressional advocate for a bill he was ideologically opposed to. It was sad, really. For at least the last decade, a lot of local Democrats have been quietly, impatiently waiting for Sunny Jim to go away.

Now he has, and the Democratic vultures who would replace him have wasted no time circling, smelling a rare chance for a lifetime sinecure in Congress. Rep. Brady Walkinshaw got in first last month, announcing even before McDermott formally announced his retirement. Mayor Ed Murray had been angling for the job for years, but he has another new job now. Since he and a number of his allied city council candidates share Walkinshaw’s political consultant, Christian Sinderman, it’s a safe bet Walkinshaw checked with Murray before announcing. In short order, he’s already raised over a quarter million dollars, and at 31, he’s young enough to pile up lots of seniority in a long congressional career. As an appointee to the state house who has never actually faced a competitive election, Walkinshaw is also exactly the kind of “moderate” Democrat the local establishment loves: a reliable vote who doesn’t really ever do anything and is notably more conservative than Seattle voters. Jim McDermott, at least, had a personality and took strong progressive stances on issues. That, not his ineffectiveness, was why he never got much traction in his own party. Walkinshaw is much more their style.

A number of other Democrats are reported or rumored to be interested in the seat, including two who share Walkinshaw’s blandness: Sen. David Frockt (ZZZ-46), who has a similarly undistinguished record in Olympia, and county councilman Joe McDermott. Former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan is on most observers’ lists, but that’s been true for most prominent local jobs in recent years, and her window of opportunity has likely passed. Sen. Pramila Jayapal is relatively young, progressive, extremely ambitious, and has a formidable local network – the only question is whether she’ll run this year or wants to wait for a U.S. Senate seat to open up. There’s a strong push for local socialist icon Kshama Sawant – including a post urging her to run from Bernie Sanders’ office, which, especially this year, would be a huge advantage. At least one prominent local Democrat thinks there is “zero down side” to her jumping in the race, but as yet she’s expressed no interest.

Other names being bandied about: former mayor Mike McGinn, Reps. Reuven Carlyle and Gerry Pollet, city councilman Mike O’Brien, county councilman Rod Dembowski, and ambitious Port of Seattle commissioner Courtney Gregoire. Jayapal and Sawant don’t live in the district (which no longer includes South Seattle), but, amazingly, that’s not a requirement for Congress.

To wage a competitive campaign, candidates will likely need to raise at least a million dollars. Local voters will likely skew left this fall, with a presidential race and potential ballot measures on a statewide minimum wage hike, paid sick leave, and a carbon tax driving progressive turnout. The best case scenario? A crowded primary with real choices. The worst case? A choice between two mainstream Democrats in November, either of which would spend the next three decades enriching their friends and blandly continuing to use Seattle’s safe, wealthy district to do absolutely nothing.

Media Follies 2015!

Media Follies 2015:

It’s a holiday season tradition! Here, for the 20th year (!), is the list of overhyped and underreported stories of the year. As usual, there’s no shortage of candidates – so many, in fact, that we’ve split this into three sections. The local list is below; the national and international lists follow. Add your own in the comments! And as always, here’s to better local news coverage in 2016.

2015’s Most Over-Hyped Local Stories

One Word: Seahawks.

Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon are not local companies: For them, the Puget Sound is a push pin on a world map with several hundred of them. Stories that assume we should root for these companies because they’re “ours” are laughably provincial.

Plus, as usual, car crashes, fires, violent crimes, big (or not) weather “events,” heartwarming stories of photogenic kids overcoming adversity or reuniting with pets, and every other staple of Chuckle-Buddy News. Every time you watch local TV news it lowers your IQ.

2015’s Most Underreported Local Stories:

Sigh. There’s dozens to choose from:

What to do with Bertha? For a couple of years now, local and state politicians have resolutely refused to consider a backup plan in the increasingly likely effect that Seattle’s downtown tunnel project proves either technically or financially impossible. It’s only in the last month, as another “Bertha restart” deadline looms and both seem nearly undeniable, that a Plan B has begun to be quietly floated…wait for it…asking local voters for the money to build another tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

There could hardly be a clearer expression of Seattle’s addiction to Real estate prospects masquerading as transportation initiatives. The downtown tunnel fiasco has eclipsed another project in trouble: the Capitol Hill streetcar line, already a year late for its original opening date. Meanwhile, the Mercer Mess continues to stew in gridlock. Those two projects have dominated local discretionary transportation money for the last decade. What do these projects all have in common? They’re insanely expensive, actually make our local transportation worse, and yet make developers wealthier. That last bit trumps everything in Seattle politics. Will it change in 2016?

Will the new city council stand up to the developer/urbanist alliance? That alliance has dominated Seattle politics since the days of Greg Nickels; the city’s current proliferation of construction cranes is the direct result. But with district city council elections this year dominated by our housing affordability crisis, and especially the razor-thin election of longtime Nick Licata aide Lisa Herbold, the days of Seattle shoveling money to wealthy developers and begging them to build more expenive new housing may be in jeopardy.

At minimum, there’s a strong push to require developers in Seattle to do what they do in every other city in our region – pay toward the infrastructure improvements all those new housing units will require. Also paying to help replace the affordable they’re tearing down in the process would be a nice bonus. With several new council members who campaigned on housing affordability, the acid test of whether Seattle’s city council will be more progressive won’t be more resolutions opposing discrimination in some other part of the world – it’ll be whether big money doesn’t always gets its way when its goals conflict with public needs.

Meanwhile, existing transportation infrastructure is a mess: Voters who passed Ed Murray’s record $930 million transportation levy this year likely didn’t read the fine print: that the city is under no obligation to actually fund the awesome wish list of desperately needed, long-deferred repair projects the levy advertised. The money for all those previous tranportation follies (streetcar, Mercer Mess, etc.) came from somewhere – it was transferred from previous such promises. Seattleites will need to keep up the pressure in 2016 if the promises are to be kept this tim

Local homeless population continues to explode: Another side effect of tearing down existing affordable housing stock is that the number of people sleeping on friends’ couches, in cars, in tent cities, in shelters, and on the streets has gone up dramatically – over 10,000 a night in King County this winter. With the increased visibility has come both pressure to do something and a backlash to make the problem Just Go Awsy. Welcome to the New Gilded Age.

State and local governments have sabotaged pot legalization: Colorado, which passed a legalization initiative on the same day in 3013 as Washington state, had its retail weed system up and running in early 2014. Meanwhile, our state’s drug warrior-dominated Liquor Control Board issued only 21 retail permits for the entire state, vastly less than demand, and has repeatedly delayed even those permits. Countless ocal governments tried at every turn to block implementation as well. And to think that without Costco’s liquor privatization initiative, the state would have a ready-made network of retail stores instead.

Can a new board majority help Seattle Public Schools? Progressives swept into power on the Seattle School Board last month. In the past, such expressions of voter anger haven’t helped, as superintendents and insular senior staff have continued their insistence on poor facilities, teaching to meaningless tests, and defunding programs and alternative schools that don’t conform to standardization.

Did I mention that SPD is still a problem?

2015’s Most Over-Hyped National Stories

The 2016 presidential race: Just….just stop. Please. And almost all of this coverage focused on polls that, ten or 15 or 20 months away from the election, mean absolutely nothing.

2015’s Most Underreported National Stories:

Climate change keeps accelerating; Nero fiddles, his opponents deny anything’s on fire: Despite another year of record heat, wildfires across the US West, ocean acidification, more unprecedented extreme weather events – including the largest hurricane, Patricia, ever to strike the Western Hemisphere – and endless scientific announcements that climate change is going to be worse than we thought and is proceeding at rates faster than our previous worst-case scenarios, the United States is still doing close to nothing about it domestically, largely hamstrung by Republican nihilism at both the federal and state level.

Incredibly, America’s biggest economic threat, biggest domestic policy threat, and biggest foreign policy threat was never mentioned at all in the midterm elections. What the United States government, which governs the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, isn’t doing to respond to this crisis isn’t just a crime against humanity. It’s a crime against the entire biosphere, one of unprecedented scope and depravity. If our country in this era isn’t remembered with universal revulsion in the future, it will only be because humanity is extinct.

The Republican Party has lost touch with reality: The unprecedented use of bald-faced, easily refuted, and endlessly repeated lies by high-profile Republican leaders and every single one of its 4,623 presidential candidates has become normal – and even on the rare occasions when mainstream media calls BS on the lies, nobody cares. The inmates are now running the asylum that is now the modern Republican Party, most notably in 2015 overthrowing John Boehner as House Speaker and destroying the well-funded candidacy of anointed establishment presidential candidate Jeb! Bush. The party’s continued existence in its current form is quite literally a threat to sentient life on Earth, if not through the mass extinction event it’s helping to enable, then because of the risk of its driving the rest of us insane, too.

Republican Extremism Has Real-World Consequences: While presidential campaign coverage focused on the horse race, the now-open calls to hatred, bigotry, and Flat Earth ignorance by virtually every candidate have led to numerous cases of real-world violence, including the second-worst domestic terror attack of the year, on Colorado Springs’ Planned Parenthood office.

Even worse, Republican-dominated state governments have turned into real-world laboratories in how to inflict the most possible misery onto outcast groups – from refusing to provide medical coverage to stonewalling advances in gay and other civil rights to voter suppression to slashing social services and committing economic malpractice. Funny how the problems in these states are always the “fault” of those with the least power, not those with the most.

A record number of police officers are charged for violent crimes committed on duty: As #Black Lives Matter became a truly national movement, phone cameras and video continued to capture and make public incidents that in past years would have been routinely covered up. Law enforcement officers in a number of jurisdictions faced charges for killings they had claimed were justified in the line of duty until video showed their accounts to be egregious lies. Sadly, these charges are still the exception rather than the norm, as in far too many cities and towns, including Seattle, thuggish police continue to be a law until themselves. An Amnesty International report in June revealed that no US state is in compliance with international standards on use-of-force by police officers. And US prisons and jails continue to be a torture-riddled human rights nightmare.

Justice Anthony Kennedy: “The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.”

The American Surveillance State Continues to Metastacize: In June, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, continuing to expand – despite headlines to the contrary – our government’s ability to legally record every aspect of our lives. Meanwhile, continued revelations from Edward Snowden’s now-dated shitton of leaked documents expanded our understanding of just how far Uncle Sam goes, legally and otherwise, to sniff around our lives. But on the bright side,

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s announcement that he will seek to re-classify broadband as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act, ensuring equal access to all websites by treating the Internet like a public utility, was the biggest victory for bottom-up organizing since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2010. When pro-net neutrality groups like Free Press, Demand Progress, and Fight for the Future opposed Wheeler’s initial proposal for “fast lanes” for companies that pay for speedier website loads, hardly anybody gave them a chance of securing a truly open Internet. Pity the government is also likely recording every keystroke.
Speaking of unexpected grass roots victories, the Keystone XL pipeline project is dead.,

2015’s Most Over-Hyped International Stories

ISIL Terrorists Are Under Every Rock!!: Especially the rocks in San Bernardino, and those rocky, rocky crags of Paris. Of course, neither was even close to being the worst example of even terrorism committed by Islamist fanatics in 2015 – more on that below – but if your goal is to hype the most irrational fear possible, it’s a given that the victims need to be white.

The eager sales job on the latest iternation of America’s endless, and endlessly profitable, war reached ridiculous heights. Be very afraid.

2015’s Most Underreported International Stories:

The bigger news from Paris came two weeks after its terror attacksOver 190 nations, including the US and China, reaching an historic climate change accord that for the first time assumes an end to the fossil fuel era. Of course, in US media the agreement had to be downplayed because one of America’s two major political parties constitues the only political force in the world that it still insisting the whole thing is a myth and/or Evil Liberal Conspiracy. And definitely US media can’t report that over 190 nations had to structure the Paris agreement in such a way that it couldn’t be torpedoed by the American hihilists. (Unless, of course, they win the presidency in 2016.) Similarly,

The Obama Administration Negotiated an End to the Iranian Nuclear Impasse. For over a decade, American hawks and sycophants of Israel in both parties have been pining for the US to militarily attack Iran. The only legitimate rationale for this got solved by diplomacy in 2015, which was a big deal – unless you’re part of a corporate media complex that relied on he said, he said reporting and the huge ratings boost that comes with the prospect of a really cool invasion. However, just as the Obama Administration avoided war in Iran,

It Made Things Exponentially Worse in Iraq and Syria. The American-led bombing campaign, against an enemy (ISIL) that was literally created with the expectation of such attacks, did little to slow down its military advances in 2015 – but the foolish American insistence on arming “moderate” (and mythical) Syrian rebels contined to be the primary way ISIL soldiers got new weapons. Mweanwhile, the Assad government (Syria) and the US-backed government of Iraq continued their own human rights atrocities safe from the not-so-prying eyes of American media, the Turks continued to use the whole mess as a convenient cover for massacring Kurds, and civilians caught in the six-way crossfire were the primary victims, always.

Boko Harem massacres over 2,000 Nigerian villagers. But since those victims were not white, they were of no real use to the Permanent War Machine ™. And, so, barely noticed and quickly forgotten.

Israel continues to quietly ensure the impossibility of Palestinian statehood: Palestine can’t have an independent state if it doesn’t have any land. This is why, while the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and (in all but name) Gaza is a legal and human rights atrocity, and Israel launched yet another military “cleansing” of Gaza in 2014 (itself all but ignored by American media), it’s the steady Israeli expansion of its civilian population onto these lands that is far more important long-term, because it guarantees the conflict will be intractable. These land thefts are obediently called “settlements” in American media, as if the land had never belonged to anyone before. Which is exactly what the Israeli government would like you to think – that the additional land it’s continuing to steal is uninhabited, and that Palestinians don’t exist. Palestinians are Asia’s 19th Century Native Americans.

Afghanistan is a total, but forgotten, clusterfuck: The national army of Afghanistan is the Taliban. Green on blue attacks are so frequent now that no one knows who’s a loyal member of the Afghan National Army and who’s a Taliban infiltrator. Meanwhile, aerial drone attacks have alienated most of the countryside, which never supported the corrupt, American-imposed puppet government in Kabul in the first place. That government is collapsing from its own corruption and greed now that the American military is supposedly in a “non-combat” role.

The Fukushima nuclear plants continue their meltdowns, and are still leaking tens of billions of becquerels of radioactive cesium into nearby rivers and ground water. And in 2014 TEPCO started simply dumping them into the Pacific Ocean, a process that continues with zero American media attention.

Police States R Us: While the US and its media, with ample justification, demonized the authoritarian governments of Syria and North Korea, it paid almost no attention to the steadily more authoritarian governments of Egypt and South Korea – the bigger nearby regional powers, to which the US continues to give massive amounts of military assistance despite our pro-democratic rhetoric.

And, on that cheerful note, get out and make your own news in 2016. If this compilation suggests anything, it’s that we can’t rely on corporate media to push for change, or even to tell us when change is desperately needed. We’ll have to do both ourselves.