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May 31, 2007

On TV tonight

Posted by David Postman at 12:29 PM

I filled in for Dave Ammons this week as the host of TVW's Inside Olympia. On the show that airs tonight -- and repeats through the weekend -- I interview two veteran journalists, John Hughes and Bryan Johnson. Hughes is editor and publisher of the Daily World in Aberdeen and Johnson is a senior correspondent and analyst at KOMO TV. Together they have more than 90 years experience in Washington state media. Both have worked their careers almost entirely at the places they work today.

For me it was an interesting hour. Johnson and Hughes are great story tellers and every day work harder than many journalists half their age.


TVW

Inside Olympia airs tonight at 7 on TVW.

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Al Gore's book tour brings him to Seattle Monday

Posted by David Postman at 8:52 AM

Former Vice President Al Gore will be in Seattle Monday evening to promote his new book, "The Assault on Reason."

(UPDATE: The event is sold out and there will not be tickets available at the door.) Tickets to the event at Town Hall are $5 and available on-line starting at 10 a.m. today. You can get more information here.

From what Gore and reviewers say about "The Assault on Reason," it strikes me as a book-length elaboration on something Gore said when he was in Seattle last year.

In describing the state of the union, Gore quoted German philosopher Theodor Adorno on the rise of the Nazis.

Adorno conducted a kind of autopsy on the Third Reich and he said the first sign of this descent to hell was when this happened, and these are his words: All questions of fact became questions of power.

...

And I'm not drawing an analogy to what happened there. I'm not. But it's dangerous when we allow questions of fact to become questions of power.

Gore obviously was directing his comments at Republicans. But I've often thought about the Adorno quote since then. I think it can be said of partisans on both sides that way too often emotion and ideology trump facts. A lot of what I read from the left and right too readily blurs the line between questions of fact and questions of power.

At MSNBC, Howard Fineman writes this morning about running into Gore outside the cable channel's D.C. studio. They talked about the new book and the state of politics. Fineman says Gore is worried about the "collapsing political ecosystem of America" and that in the book, "he sees nothing less than a nation succumbing to blind stupidity."

As we chatted, I offered the thought that emotion in politics can be a good thing. It supplies energy to the never-ending debates that define and inspire us. We're sort of like a nuclear reactor. "Yes," he said, "but the facts are the control rods!"

Good point. But the analogy raises more questions than it answers. Who decides what "the facts" are? Will the voters take "the facts" into account even if they are told them? And will our country destroy itself if the voters ignore "the facts?"

I don't think the facts need to be in quotes as Fineman does above. Yes, there's often debate about facts. But many times there are clear facts, an objective truth, that can be found. Reporters need to try to remember that and keep looking for the facts — not "the facts" — even if ideologues confuse that with questions of power.

I've tried reading some of Adorno's work since hearing Gore's speech last year. I didn't get far. It is difficult reading, to say the least. The quote Gore used, though, has gained at least some renewed currency on the left. It's included in Mark Crispin Miller's book, "Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them)."

Here is the passage that includes the line Gore paraphrased. It's from what is considered Adorno's masterpiece, "Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life."

Lies have long legs: they are ahead of their time. The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power, a process that truth itself cannot escape if it is not to be annihilated by power, not only suppresses truth as in earlier despotic orders, but has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false, which the hirelings of logic were in any case diligently working to abolish. So Hitler, of whom no-one can say whether he died or escaped, survives.

You can see why Gore was quick to say last year that he was not drawing an analogy between Republican control of D.C. and the rise of the Third Reich. Adorno clearly saw the blurring of truth and power as Hitler's legacy.

Adorno was from the Frankfurt School of philosophy that was influential in the post-war years in Germany. He said one other thing that I had heard previously, though I didn't know who said it or in what context. And that, too, comes from Minima Moralia: "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric."

That was seen as Adorno's comment on the fascists' destruction of culture in Germany as well as his own survivor guilt. It's a statement that has been pretty much discredited and even ridiculed in some corners.

One might just as well cast a skeptical eye toward the Frankfurt School and contend that "To write theory during Auschwitz is absurd." A few months before his death, Adorno was lecturing at the University of Frankfurt when three members of a radical separatist student group rushed the podium, bared their breasts, and "attacked" him with erotic caresses. As he left the stage, angered and humiliated, the women declared that "as an institution, Adorno is dead."

Gore has revived Adorno, at least a little, and I doubt he worries about any similar "attack" on him.

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May 30, 2007

Light blogging ahead

Posted by David Postman at 1:21 PM

I have some things to do for the paper and a little TV, too. I'll be around the rest of the week, though. If you want to help out, please feel free to post links in the comment thread for stories or posts you think would be of interest to PoP readers. No debates, here; just share with us what you're reading that you'd like to share. A quick line of description and a link is all that's needed.

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Fort Lewis can't keep up with Army war deaths

Posted by David Postman at 8:33 AM

The grim reality of increasing war casualties is creating a logistical problem for the Army. Michael Gilbert at The News Tribune has the story:

Fort Lewis, which this month has suffered its worst losses of the war, will no longer conduct individual memorial ceremonies for soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead the post will hold one ceremony for all soldiers killed each month, the Fort Lewis acting commanding general, Brig. Gen. William Troy, wrote in a memo to commanders and staff last week.

"As much as we would like to think otherwise, I am afraid that with the number of soldiers we now have in harm's way, our losses will preclude us from continuing to do individual memorial ceremonies," Troy wrote in the memo, according to a copy obtained by United for Peace Pierce County and posted on the group's Web site.

The peace group has Troy's memo here. Peace Pierce County says Fort Lewis is suffering "casualty fatigue."

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May 29, 2007

Bush fetes Stevens as feds investigate senator's remodeling job

Posted by David Postman at 1:55 PM

Sen. Ted Stevens may be feeling some pressure from the federal corruption investigation in Alaska now that the Anchorage Daily News has confirmed the FBI and a federal grand jury are looking at the remodeling of the Stevens home.

But in D.C. he is still a cherished GOP icon. Last week he was the guest of honor at a social dinner at the White House.

The First Lady's office confirmed this morning that the May 23 dinner hosted by President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush was a "social dinner" to honor Stevens' service in the Senate. He is the most veteran Republican member of the Senate.

The office staff was going to forward me the guest list and menu. When I get that I'll add more here.

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Sen. Ted Stevens' remodeling job part of FBI Alaska probe

Posted by David Postman at 10:34 AM

The Anchorage Daily News has the story this morning about the FBI's interest in work done on Stevens' home south of Anchorage. The investigation involves the role of Veco, the oil field service company already implicated in the widening Alaska corruption scandal.

Richard Mauer writes:

Three contractors who worked on the project said in recent interviews with the Daily News that the FBI asked them to turn over their records from the job. One said he was called to testify about the project before a federal grand jury in Anchorage in December.

The remodeling work, which more than doubled the size of the house, occurred in the summer and fall of 2000. The four-bedroom home, about two blocks from the day lodge parking lot at the Alyeska ski resort, is Stevens' official residence in Alaska.

And it's all on the record with names attached:

Last year, some six years after the project was completed, Paone said, "the FBI came over to me and I gave them all the paperwork I had on it." When he was questioned by the FBI, he said, agents seemed particularly interested in Veco and its officials. The government already had copies of most of his invoices on the Stevens home, having obtained them from Veco files, he said.

Paone said he followed that up by testifying before a federal grand jury in December.

About a year ago, Hannah, the house mover, came to work at his yard in South Anchorage and found an FBI agent's card on his office door, he said. When he called the agent, he was told the government was going to subpoena his records on the project. He said he sent his father downtown with all the files. He hasn't gotten them back, he said.


MORE: Now that we know that Ted Stevens' home is at least part of the Alaska corruption scandal, it's worth revisiting the news from last fall about the unusual way in which the new U.S. Attorney in Alaska was chosen. Unlike most of the previous ones, the appointment of Nelson Cohen happened without advice from Stevens himself. And Stevens says he's still looking for an Alaskan to replace the Pittsburgh native with.

The senator's son, former state Sen. Ben Stevens, has already been named in the corruption scandal. His office was one of six lawmakers' office raided by federal agents last year. Ben Stevens has not been charged. But the plea agreement with Veco officials say ben Stevens improperly took money from the company for lobbying fellow lawmakers and other questionable chores.

As I wrote last fall, the investigation was so sensitive that Ted Stevens was cut out of his customary role in choosing U.S. attorneys in the state. The Daily News reported that Stevens had been pushing to give the job to an Alaskan, but the Department of Justice brought in an Outsider instead. A Stevens aide told the paper that the senator was "furious at the way the attorney general handled this."

It sure seemed like the feds were working hard to keep Stevens from having any influence. An investigation that came even close to Ben Stevens was certainly a matter of some sensitivity for the Administration. Wev Shea, a former Republican U.S. Attorney in Alaska, told me at the time that he was confident that the raids on Ben Stevens' office and the others likely didn't happen until President Bush himself was briefed and gave his OK.

Today's Daily News story says that one of the contractor's on Ted Stevens' home remodeling testified before a grand jury in December. What I wonder is whether at the time Stevens was cut out of selecting a U.S. attorney whether the feds already knew that the senator could become involved in the case.

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May 25, 2007

Edwards backs off call for Memorial Day war protests

Posted by David Postman at 3:53 PM

Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards has been urging supporters to demonstrate against the war at Memorial Day parades. The Hill reported a week ago that Edward's anti-war Web site, supporthetroopsendthewar.com, suggested that people make signs that say: "SUPPORT THE TROOPS -- END THE WAR." The paper quoted the Edwards site as saying:

Bring them to your local Memorial Day parade. Then take a digital photo of yourself and your family or friends holding up the poster and tell us about it. We'll include it in a 'Democracy Photo Album' on our site."

But the Web site is a little different now. After much criticism of the call for Memorial Day protests, Edwards' site now says Monday should be off limits for such demonstrations.

Buy a bunch of poster-board and markers. At a picnic or with family and friends, make signs that say "SUPPORT THE TROOPS - END THE WAR." Bring them to your local Memorial Day parade. Many parades are held on Saturday or Sunday. If your parade is on Monday, however, we ask that you choose another action to honor the fallen. Then take a digital photo of yourself and your family or friends holding up the poster and tell us about it. We'll include it in a "Democracy Photo Album" on our site.

I am assuming that The Hill did not just edit out the lines about the Monday parades. (The same thing was quoted elsewhere as well.) I've asked the Edwards campaign about the change and I'm waiting for an answer.

I originally went to the Edwards site to read what he was urging people to do. I'd like to know what all of you think about anti-war protests at local Memorial Day parades. Is it better to do it on Saturday or Sunday than Monday? Is it inappropriate to mix honoring the military dead with a protest against the Iraq war?

There are plenty of people who didn't like the idea, including some Democrats and anti-war activists. There also are plenty of more conservative critics. The Hill story includes comments from veterans who don't like it. At Salon, Joe Conason didn't like it either. And it's not because he likes the war or dislikes Edwards. He said it would be "an act certain to infuriate many veterans, embarrass others and delight the Republican right."

His call to protest risks offending the sensibilities of everyone who believes the holiday should be solemnly commemorative rather than politically noisy. Even many vets who have come to despise the Bush administration believe that antiwar displays on that day are at best insensitive, reviving bad memories of the Vietnam era.

So while most of what Edwards proposes on his Web site is laudable, it is neither kind nor smart to wave protest signs on Memorial Day.

Protesting at parades was just one of 10 things that Edwards is suggesting people do this weekend to protest the war. He also urges people to pray, write letters and circulate petitions.

So what made Edwards change his mind about Monday? I'll let you know if I hear back.

And enjoy the weekend, however you choose to spend your time. I'll be back Tuesday morning.

UPDATE: There were changes made since Edwards' site first went live, including a clearer statement about the call for Memorial Day weekend protests. Edwards campaign spokesman Mark Kornblaue told me this morning:

"From the beginning of this effort John and Elizabeth Edwards wanted to make it clear while Americans should support the troops while speaking out against the war in the days leading up to Memorial Day, on Memorial Day we all find out own ways to respect the fallen and treat the holiday with respect."

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New open records chief for AG McKenna

Posted by David Postman at 11:23 AM

Greg Overstreet, Attorney General Rob McKenna's top deputy for public records and open meetings, is leaving to start a private practice concentrating on open government. McKenna announced this morning that the new open government ombudsman will be Deputy Solicitor General Tim Ford.

The ombudsman job was created by McKenna when he took office in 2005. And with Ford's appointment, it continues to be a job held by attorneys who worked for the Building Industry Association of Washington. Ford and Overstreet both were attorneys for the builders' lobbying group, an organization that has often fought open records battles with state officials.

Overstreet was well received in the job. The Washington Coalition for Open Government — a group that includes the media and activists like the Evergreen Freedom Foundation — recently gave him one of its "Key Awards" for his work at the AG's office. He wrote the Attorney General's 2006 Model Rules on Public Records and was editor-in-chief of the Washington State Bar Association's Open Records Desk Book.

Ford, 42, left the BIAW in 2005 to join the AG's office.

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Final order on Pat Davis recall

Posted by David Postman at 11:03 AM

Here's the final order and ballot summary for the Pat Davis recall petition. There are a few changes in there from what had been proposed yesterday.

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On Norm Maleng

Posted by David Postman at 9:48 AM

Everyone knew the same Norm Maleng. There was no public face put on for politics. No mask of nice, no off-stage temper tantrums or ego that had to be massaged or restrained for public consumption. If you read — and you should — the fine story written this morning by Jennifer Sullivan and Steve Miletich, you will find various descriptions of a serious lawyer who handled the most challenging cases with a calm compassion, a man with personal kindness that unfortunately is so rare in our time it surprised people to experience it first hand, and a public official whose mark on criminal justice will be felt for decades to come.

There's a lot of talk these days about restoring civility to politics. Maleng never lost it. He had a small-town way about him. That served him well in his years as King County prosecutor. It wasn't much of a benefit the three times Maleng ran for statewide office. On that stage, one needs a little flash, a little strut even.

When Maleng made his last statewide run — for governor in 1996 — he finished a distant third in the Republican primary. The results came in on the night of his 58th birthday. "Norm is always everybody's second choice," his campaign manager said that night. That doesn't get you elected statewide. But it's a testament to Maleng's character and humanity — people who couldn't agree on much else could agree on him.

I spent a day with Maleng at the end of that 1996 primary campaign. We were in Aberdeen. Maleng, as I recall, had driven the 2 ½ hours by himself to attend a forum by the League of Women Voters.

He arrived early to shake hands, but there were none. When it came time to take the stage last Thursday, the only other candidate was Democrat Mohammad Said, a little-known Eastern Washington physician campaigning largely on a platform of Middle East trade, tourism and peace. There were about 25 people present — including the Girl Scout troop standing by to collect audience questions, surrogates representing three other candidates and two reporters.

"I am really happy to be here," Maleng said, facing about 425 empty seats in the Grays Harbor College theater.

I believed he really was happy to be there. He was happy to see people, to make his case, to talk about growing up on a dairy farm, about what he would do as governor and had done for years as prosecutor. Norm Maleng was being Norm Maleng.

He will be missed.

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May 24, 2007

Richardson blasts Congress over war, immigration

Posted by David Postman at 5:08 PM

Presidential candidate Bill Richardson just finished talking to a small crowd of Democrats at the Westin. Before the event began, Party Chairman Dwight Pelz asked for a show of hands to see how many people came from outside King County. It looked to me like it was about half.

On the way out I ran into Jeff Smith, the veteran Democratic Party activist and former party executive director. He says that support from the outside-Seattle-crowd is a big part of Richardson's appeal.

"The people in Seattle and King County could vote for any of the candidates and feel good about it. But when you look out at the state, people have different needs. He plays well, very well, in Eastern Washington and not just with Hispanics. To all those people who are looking for a Democrat they can feel good about voting for, he's really the best candidate."

JOHN LOK/THE SEATTLE TIMES

Gov. Bill Richardson speaks in Seattle.

Richardson, the New Mexico governor, is now in a private meeting at the hotel with state labor leaders affiliated with the Washington State Labor Council, president Rick Bender told me. He then will meet with local presidents from the SEIU, says David Rolf. That's a bit of scheduling that tells you a little bit about the current state of local union politics.

Earlier in the day Richardson visited the Microsoft campus.

I need to write a story for tomorrow's paper on the Richardson visit. But here's some quick takes.

Richardson was tough on his Democratic friends in congressional leadership. He was critical of their decision to drop withdrawal timetables form the Iraq funding bill and for the emerging immigration bill.

On Iraq, Richardson said, "I am not in a good mood on this." He said Congress should vote to "de-authorize" the use of force in Iraq. He said that could not be vetoed by President Bush.

"It's the Congress' right to initiate war, and to stop war."

He said Democratic leaders are "worried about being called weak." But he said the public supports ending the war. His plan would have all troops out of the country by year's end, replaced with an all-Muslim peacekeeping force.

On immigration, Richardson said he couldn't support a bill like the one Senate Democrats propose that would have a guest worker program with no labor protections for those workers.

He also doesn't like what is being called the "touchback provision." That would require illegal immigrants to return to their home country and get a visa before being able to return here legally. Richardson said that congressional Democratic leaders told him that provision was put in the bill to satisfy Republican leadership.

Richardson didn't mention any of his Democratic primary opponents by name. But at least a couple of times I was pretty sure who he was talking about when he said things like, "This race should not be about celebrity status or money or legacies."

His push is for a race based on qualifications and experience. He says he is an "insurgent" candidate.

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Bill Richardson in Seattle

Posted by David Postman at 11:09 AM

He appears later today. He's in the news today. The New York Times has this interesting look at the Democratic presidential candidate's decision to oppose Congress' immigration reform proposal.

Mr. Richardson initially said he would support the immigration compromise announced earlier this week. But on Wednesday, he said that after reading it in detail, he had decided to oppose it, saying the measure placed too great a burden on immigrants -- tearing apart families that wanted to settle in the United States, creating a permanent tier of second-class immigrant workers and financing a border fence that Mr. Richardson had long opposed.

"This is fundamentally flawed in its current form, and I would oppose it," he said. "We need bipartisanship, but we also need legislation that is compassionate. I'm not sure that this is."

Mr. Richardson said he did not want to be pigeonholed as the immigration candidate, but the moment is forcing him to take a stand on a volatile issue that carries major risks for all the presidential candidates. In aligning himself with the view that the bill is insufficiently compassionate, he is in agreement with a key segment of his party, including many Hispanic voters, that want more focus on reuniting families.


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Judge to consider final Davis recall language

Posted by David Postman at 7:54 AM

King County Superior Court Judge Charles Mertel is scheduled this afternoon to consider the proposed "ballot snynopsis of recall charges against Port of Seattle Commissioner Pat Davis."

Last week Mertel cleared the way for recall sponsor Chris Clifford to begin collecting signatures for the recall. From the bench, Mertel edited what Clifford had offered, changing some language, adding some clarifications and striking some allegations.

Mertel now needs to approve a final order based on what he said last week. Here's what the proposed order says, as prepared by King County Sr. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tom Kuffel, and of course subject to change.

Shall Pat Davis, Port of Seattle Commissioner, be recalled from public office because, as alleged by King County registered voter, Christopher Clifford:

1. Commissioner Davis committed an act of malfeasance when she signed an agreement to provide Mic Dinsmore, an outgoing Port of Seattle employee, with a gift of approximately $239,000 of public money outside of his employment contract.

2. Commissioner Davis committed an act of malfeasance by signing an October 10, 2006 memorandum addressed to the former chief executive officer of the Port, which had the potential effect of obligating the Port of Seattle to pay monies not voted on or approved by Port of Seattle Commissioners at a regularly scheduled public hearing.

3. Commissioner Davis committed acts of malfeasance by voting in executive session on or about January 10, 2006 and June 8, 2006, in violation of the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act (Ch. 42.30 RCW).

4. Commissioner Davis committed an act of malfeasance by knowingly exceeding the purposes for executive session in the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act (Ch. 42.30 RCW) by negotiating and voting on a gift of public money in executive session.

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May 23, 2007

The candidates are coming

Posted by David Postman at 4:11 PM

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will be in Seattle tomorrow for a quick campaign visit. The newly announced Democratic candidate for president will meet with party supporters at the Westin in the afternoon.

Barack Obama is scheduled to be in Seattle June 1 for what the campaign bills as its Seattle kickoff. Shouldn't that be the Washington state kickoff?


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D.C. Dems quash ethics debate

Posted by David Postman at 9:13 AM

The Democratically-controlled U.S. House Tuesday stopped a potential reprimand of a senior Democratic member accused of bullying a Republican and threatening "earmark revenge." It was the first chance the new Democratic majority had to show how it would handle such complaints. They voted mostly in unison — including all Washington Democrats — to table the complaint against Rep. John Murtha and prevent any debate.

The L.A. Times sets the scene:

This debate played out this month in a vivid exchange between Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), a former FBI agent, and Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), an ex-Marine, after Rogers led a failed bid to scuttle $23 million for a project in Murtha's district. Rogers charged that Murtha confronted him on the House floor a week later and shouted something like: "I hope you don't have any earmarks in the defense appropriations bill, because they are gone and you will not get any earmarks now and forever."

"I replied to him that threatening retribution is not the way we do business in Congress," Rogers said in the Republican radio address last weekend. "To which he replied, 'That's the way I do it.' "

Rogers introduced a resolution that said Murtha had violated House ethics rules. As Dana Milbank writes:

Apparently, the credulous Rogers took seriously the quaint provision in the Code of Official Conduct stating that a member "may not condition the inclusion of language to provide funding for a Congressional earmark . . . on any vote cast by another member." "There's not going to be any more go-along-to-get-along, 1950s-style American politics around here," Rogers told The Post's Jonathan Weisman. "I've had enough."

But Tuesday afternoon Majority Leader Steny Hoyer moved to table the resolution before anyone could get up to speak about it. More Milbank:

Republicans erupted in jeers and shouts of "Debate!" Murtha, in his usual seat in the back corner of the chamber, enjoyed a chuckle and accepted handshakes from well-wishers as they left the chamber.

The New York Times said squashing the debate still "offered something to members of both parties."

It allowed Democrats to avoid taking a position on whether Mr. Murtha is truly undignified or dangerous, and it enabled Republicans to enjoy the discomfort of their opponents across the aisle.

The Post's Capitol Briefing blog looked at the 219 to 189 vote to table the motion:

The most revealing aspect of the final vote tally might well be those few members who crossed party lines, including those who voted "present". Three Republicans chose their personal relationship with Murtha over party affiliation, while five Democrats from rural districts voted against the anti-war leader.

Only two Democrats actually voted against tabling the motion. The other three officially avoided a vote either way by voting "present." One of the no votes is not a rural Democrat. The Post slips up by listing Rep. Earl Blumenauer as coming from North Dakota. He's from Oregon and represents Portland and the suburbs.

The LA Times said Blumenauer issued a statement saying his vote was not a "judgment on the allegations since I don't know the facts about what happened, and that's exactly the point."

Citing a pledge the Democrats made, he continued: "A discussion of a potential violation of House rules is in order if we are going to be the most ethical and transparent Congress in history."

Because there is potential for a complaint to the House Ethics Committee, most of the members of the committee, including Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, voted "present."

When the story of Murtha's threat first emerged, Congressional Quarterly acknowledged everyone knew the outcome of any complaint against the veteran lawmaker:

Boehner will ask the House to rebuke Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John P. Murtha, whom Republicans accuse of threatening a GOP lawmaker in a specifically prohibited manner.

No one expects the Republicans to prevail on such a vote, but the minority leadership sees a chance to frame a picture of Democratic arrogance.

And as Talking Points Memo reminds us this morning, late last year Murtha said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plans for ethics reform:

"Even though I think it's total crap, I'll vote for it and pass it because that's what Nancy wants."

UPDATE: And how's that ethics reform coming? Not so great, says the NY Times.

The Democratic leaders were forced to scrap a promise to double the current one-year lobbying ban after lawmakers leave office. Now, they are struggling to pass legislation requiring lobbyists to disclose the campaign contributions they "bundle" -- collect and deliver -- to lawmakers. Failing to deliver on both measures would endanger similar provisions already passed by the Senate.

Other House rules changes this year appear to have done little to alter business as usual on Capitol Hill.

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May 22, 2007

A port in storm

Posted by David Postman at 2:10 PM

Greg Roberts at the P-I has the latest on the Port and the saga of Commissioner Pat Davis and executive director Mic Dinsmore.

In an April 22 e-mail to Tay Yoshitani, who succeeded Dinsmore in March, Commission President John Creighton wrote that he believed Davis "committed an illegal act" in signing the memo on her own. Creighton said he was sorry the mess landed in Yoshitani's lap in his first month with the port, then added, "But the quickest way out of the mud is for Pat to submit her resignation."

A week earlier (before the matter became public), Commissioner Lloyd Hara had e-mailed Creighton and said he also saw Davis' action as illegal. And, Hara wrote, "I agree with you (that) if Pat was in cahoots with Mic, Pat should be admonished or possibly censored (sic) by the Commission. I can't believe that they felt that they could pull a fast one ... and no one would catch it."

Dan Savage says Davis is "Seattle's Paul Wolfowitz." He offers that without comment. I'm not so sure. But I don't think this is a case of what could be called "pulling a Wolfie," or maybe "the full Capone."

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Gregoire says there's no conflict in her fundraising

Posted by David Postman at 12:45 PM

Peter Callaghan makes two very good points in his TNT column this morning about Gov. Christine Gregoire's recent fundraising solicitations. And I know they are both difficult for partisans to accept.

Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser issued a press release criticizing Gregoire for soliciting donations while she still had legislation to sign. Callaghan said that was a "political shot."

But taking political advantage doesn't mean he doesn't have a point.

And while there doesn't seem to be a question that what Gregoire is doing is legal, Callaghan adds:

Just because what used to be illegal is suddenly legal doesn't make it the right thing to do.

Gregoire, though, sees it differently. She says her critics need to prove she's been influenced. She was asked about it at a press conference Monday:

"I'm not starting the campaign. I've heard some of this criticism. I really don't know what they're talking about. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever that has influenced my signing of bills, other than trying to figure out what's the right policy for the state of Washington. Period. So, those who say there's some influence — prove it."

Sometimes, of course, the appearance of a conflict is to be avoided. And whether or not her re-election campaign has officially started, there is no doubt it is underway. Gregoire has already raised nearly $1.7 million. I'm not sure what difference it makes whether she has held a formal kickoff.

Lawmakers, though, should resist criticizing Gregoire on this. The change in law that gave Gregoire the ability to send out the invitations was an unintended consequence of legislation to end a 30-day post-session freeze on legislative fundraising.

That was done as an enticement to lawmakers to vote to set an earlier state primary date. Earlier bills to change the primary failed. Late primaries tend to favor incumbents. So if lawmakers were going to give up that advantage, they wanted to be able to start raising money earlier in the campaign season.

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Steinbrueck backs a replacement

Posted by David Postman at 9:41 AM

City Council candidate Venus Velázquez kicks off her campaign tonight with an endorsement from Peter Steinbrueck, the councilman she wants to replace.

The Velazquez campaign sent out an advisory this morning saying Steinbrueck would appear with the candidate at Pravda Studios on Capitol Hill tonight to make the announcement.

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McDermott's Iraq dialogue

Posted by David Postman at 9:24 AM

Congressman Jim McDermott says he will continue to reach out to a broad spectrum of Iraqis as he tries to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. I talked to McDermott on Friday about a New York Times story that said a member of the Iraqi Parliament visiting D.C. as the congressman's guest had ties to the Sunni insurgency and has been accused of complicity in a murder.

Muhammad al-Daini, a Sunni Arab member of the Iraqi Parliament, wants the U.S. out of his country and said in D.C. that Iraq's problems today are caused by the American invasion and occupation. McDermott met al-Daini on a trip to Jordan. He said he found him articulate and proficient in English and wanted to bring him to D.C. to meet with members of Congress. McDermott told me:

"I think members of Congress have a responsibility to try to hear from all sides. I know that we're not dealing with saints, here. I'm not carrying any luggage for any of them. I just want to hear that they have to say."

McDermott has been working to bring al-Daini and other Iraqis to the U.S. with wealthy businessman, peace activist and now presidential candidate Dal LaMagna. The two traveled together to Jordan after last fall's election.

When I read the New York Times story last week and heard some of the familiar criticism of McDermott from the right, it struck me that he has never considered Iraq the enemy, even those the U.S. administration and the new Iraqi government consider opponents.

I asked McDermott if he sees Iraq as the enemy. He thought about it for a few moments, then said:

"I didn't think it was a war that should have happened. Certainly Saddam was not a nice man, and his regime was not a benevolent one. But I did not see that the Iraq people should have thousands and hundreds of thousands of casualties as we tried to take over.

"This is one of the more advanced countries in the Middle East. Baghdad was among one of the better cities. ... I think Saddam was kind of a useful target to get people stirred up. It's pretty clear that he's now gone and still we have a mess and we still don't want to get out.

"I never have viewed the Iraq people as either being our enemy or being unable to govern themselves. I really think it's time for us to withdraw."

There is a political agenda to his efforts to get Iraqi's like al-Daini to America. McDermott says that helps counter what he calls the administration's "very one-sided propagandist presentation on what's going on over there."

And McDermott wants to influence the American media.

"The American public, who get their information off television primarily and a little bit from the print media, simply are not getting a broad exposure to this. My feeling is only as they get more and more restless, then Republicans will get more and more restless, and finally they'll go the president and say, 'Get us out of there.' ''

And it's not just Iraq that McDermott is worried about. He is active in the House Dialogue Caucus, a bi-partisan group now trying to open conversations between America and Iran. He said a video conference was scheduled this week to allow members of Congress to talk to Iranian officials.

The group, led by Republican Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Democrat Gregory Meeks of New York, was born of the sense that "we didn't use diplomacy first" before invading Iraq. But McDermott said the group is not trying to usurp the administration's role in foreign policy.

"We're not conducting diplomacy, we're conducting dialog."

LaMagna's work with the Iraqis has become central in his new candidacy for president. But McDermott, who applauds the businessman's commitment to ending the war in Iraq, says he won't be backing him for president. McDermott is waiting for Al Gore to join the race.

"I want Gore and Obama. That's my dream team."

He said he realizes that a lot of Gore backers "were folding" but he is still holding out and "thinks that's a real possibility."

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May 21, 2007

McKay has a new job

Posted by David Postman at 4:43 PM

Fired U.S. Attorney John McKay will be an executive at Getty Images. Here's the story from Editor & Publisher.

And here's the AP version.

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Don't misunderestimate a funny phrase

Posted by David Postman at 2:15 PM

From Joel Connelly's column in today's local Hearst paper:

In Bushspeak, he was our most "misunderestimated" president, but Harry Truman was guided by a motto he kept on his Oval Office desk: "The Buck Stops Here."

Also, see:

It's time for me to fess up to my misunderestimations

...

Instead, it's time to fess up to what this columnist "misunderestimated," as President Bush would put it, in 2006.
Connelly, Nov. 10, 2006

They, and everybody else, "misunderestimated" -- in Bush-speak -- the talents and burning ambition of a young Microsoft manager named Darcy Burner.
Connelly, Nov,. 3 2006

To use a famous Bushism — coined as self-description by the president — Gov. Gregoire should not be "misunderestimated."
Connelly, Dec. 9, 2005

A wartime president should never be, to use a Bushism, "misunderestimated."
Connelly, Nov. 11, 2005

Neighbors in Need had "misunderestimated" — to use a modern Bushism — demand for food.
Connelly, January 1, 2005

In The Northwest: Murray shouldn't 'misunderestimate' Nethercutt

...

By challenging Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Nethercutt is taking on a tenacious politician underestimated — "misunderestimated" in Bushspeak — since she was a preschool teacher lobbying in Olympia.

...

At this point, a reverse argument should apply: George Nethercutt should never, ever be "misunderestimated."
Connelly, May 14, 2004

Of course, to use a favorite Bushism, the resurgent Democrats cannot be "misunderestimated."
Connelly, March 12, 2004

The highest volume of letters, pro and con, came over a New Year's Day column. It argued that President Bush should not be (to use his word) "misunderestimated" and that some strident anti-Iraq war protests in Seattle play into his hands.
Connelly, Jan. 13, 2003

As this desk tries constantly to tell condescending Seattle liberals, George W. Bush is not a man to be — as he puts it in classic Bushspeak — "misunderestimated."
Connelly, Nov. 8 2002

The president raised spirits when he visited CIA headquarters, but also brought smiles by repeatedly vowing he would not be "misunderestimated."
Connelly, April 1 2002

He still mangles words, telling CIA employees the United States should not be "misunderestimated" and reopening Washington, D.C.'s, airport by promising that "ticket counters and airplanes will fly out of Reagan airport."
Connelly, Jan. 30, 2002


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McKay says '04 election "smelled really bad."

Posted by David Postman at 8:03 AM

Former U.S. Attorney John McKay spoke to the Mainstream Republicans conference Sunday in Wenatchee. I didn't cover the meeting, but from reading this morning it appears he was well received by the moderates.

In a speech yesterday morning McKay gave the most detailed public description of what his office did to investigate alleged fraud in the 2004 governor's race. According to Richard Roesler's report in The Spokesman-Review, McKay thought the election "smelled really bad."

"As a citizen and as someone who watched it, I didn't like it," the Republican former official said. "I didn't like what happened at all. Through incompetence, through a mistake, whatever it was, I didn't like the way the election was handled." But a public-corruption case, he said, needed "conclusive evidence of a conspiracy" — something the federal task force was unable to find.

After his speech, McKay met with reporters and bloggers. Roesler says that Sound Politics' Stefan Sharkansky showed McKay what he claimed were 500 illegal votes.

McKay declined to review the data, saying that it's no longer his job. He called Sharkansky's findings "very troubling stuff" and suggested that Sharkansky present the evidence to the FBI and to the current U.S. Attorney, Jeff Sullivan. But he repeatedly cautioned that an improperly cast vote, or errors, or incompetence aren't enough to trigger federal corruption charges. That, he said, takes conclusive evidence of a conspiracy — like a whistleblower inside an elections office. And that, McKay said, is exactly what his task force was unable to find.
"Votes that were not in compliance with the law don't mean that a crime's been committed," he said.

At the P-I, Neil Modie said McKay referred in his speech to

"cybercowards," apparently meaning conservative bloggers who have criticized the lack of prosecution, and scorned the purported evidence of election fraud alleged by Tom McCabe, the aggressive, conservative executive vice president of the Building Association of Washington and a Rossi supporter.

...

McKay said the evidence McCabe presented was "a joke from an evidentiary standpoint that a crime had been committed. ... Every FBI agent who looked at the evidence and every federal prosecutor who looked at the evidence that the BIAW sent in concluded that it was completely, utterly insufficient to move forward in an investigation."

Sharkansky has not weighed in yet on his meeting with McKay. He said he appreciated the time and that McKay's answers were "candid and informative." He will post his comments, and audio of the gaggle, later.

Another blogger who was there has a different take than the MSM on McKay's sit-down with writers. Mark Gardner puts this headline on his post at Whackynation:

McKay indicates federal investigation of 2004 election could reopen

Only Gardner has this:

"The case is still open," McKay said.

And he writes:

McKay said that a federal case has to show criminal intent to fraudulently influence a federal election, i.e., races for Congress and the Presidency. If there was voter fraud in the governor's race, then there was probably voter fraud for the federal races.

McKay said Sharkansky should take his investigatory work and speak with FBI Agent Joe Quinn, the lead investigator for election fraud in 2004. "Joe is the best guy for document cases," McKay explained.

I don't know if McKay's speech will do anything to assuage critics like Sharkansky. But just as a reader this morning, it doesn't look like McKay did much to build confidence in the '04 election. Don't be surprised to hear renewed calls for a federal investigation.

CORRECTION: Sean Cockerham at the TNT also has the McKay quote about the case being open. He quotes McKay saying:

"There is still a case on this election," he said.

I'm sure I'm just not seeing it, but I can't find Cockerham's story online, which is why I missed this. He has the most thorough story on McKay's comments about the '04 election and when I find a link I'll add it here. (Here's the story.)

Cockerham also has response from McCabe about how the BIAW's evidence was treated.

McCabe, who urged the White House to fire McKay, said in a Sunday interview he's not surprised that McKay called the evidence a joke.

"That's certainly how he treated it," McCabe said.

He and BIAW general counsel Tim Harris said McKay should have investigated the discrepancy in those signatures. The FBI has the power to do that, they said, not the builder's association. McCabe and Harris charged McKay instead ignored it.

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May 18, 2007

Judge clears way for next step in port recall

Posted by David Postman at 4:53 PM

Superior Court Judge Charles Mertel ruled today that the sponsor of a recall petition against Port Commission President Pat Davis can start collecting signatures. Josh Feit has the news of Chris Clifford's victory in the latest turn in controversy over former Port CEO Mick Dinsmore's contract buy-out:

The judge even changed some of Clifford's language, making it more damning. The judge, for example, added the word "knowingly" into the accusation that Davis entered into a pay out contract with Dinsmore.

Clifford needs 150,000 signatures, which won't be easy. And an appeal to the state Supreme Court would be the likely next move for Davis' attorney, Suzanne Thomas.

Feit has taken to calling Clifford "good government activist Chris Clifford." He's certainly active. Even a cursory search of his gadflying ways is exhausting to read. Since the 1990s he has run unsuccessfully for city, county and state offices about a half dozen times. He's a former law student, former GOP state legislative staffer. He's recently been involved in a Valley annexation fight, and previously a critic of the King County elections office, objected to a homeless encampment, sued to get a fellow Republican off the ballot to help his longtime ally Sen. Pam Roach, fought the location for a state home for sex offenders, fought what he said was Seattle officials' unfair treatment of some local bars, opposed closed city meetings following the Mardi Gras riots, filed an unsuccessful federal suit claiming city police conspired to close his downtown club because it catered to blacks, pushed for pipeline safety, was hailed as a "fiery bar owner" by conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, promoted an unsuccessful initiative to create a one-strike-you're out sex offense law, filed lawsuits that delayed Boeing's redevelopment of the old Longacres site and that tried to stop the Seahawks from moving.

He was the subject of a profile in the Times in 1993 where he was blamed/credited for "almost single-handedly thwarting the state's most powerful company and its high-paid Seattle lawyers." He was described as a lifetime NRA members, former seimi-pro football player, lover of wildlife, had Chinese pheasants as pets, was a licensed falconer and "once had a bloodhound he used on volunteer missions for local police agencies."

Clifford loves politics and would still like to run for office but sees himself as unelectable: "I'm too outspoken and too blunt."

And, I'd add, too busy.

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On TV this weekend

Posted by David Postman at 11:17 AM

I taped a segment this morning for KING 5's Up Front with Rober Mak. I was on with David Goldstein and Stefan Sharkansky. (Spoiler alert: David and Stefan disagree a lot.)

We talked about this, this, this, this, and even this.

The show airs Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on KING and at 8 p.m. on KONG.

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What I don't know

Posted by David Postman at 9:12 AM

There is plenty I don't know about politics, particularly that strange strain of Seattle politics. (For example, why is Peter Steinbrueck going to quit the city council to focus on his anti-viaduct work? Wouldn't most people who felt passionately about a major city project think maybe they should get on the council if they feel so strongly about a civic project?)

But knowing what I don't know, I was still surprised to read Colby Underwood described as one of the most powerful forces in city politics. That comes from O. Casey Corr at Crosscut. As a city council candidate, Corr used young Underwood to help him raise money. Corr gives an insider's view of how this apparent financial wunderkind operates:

Today, he is a unique power in Seattle politics. It might be nice to get the endorsement of Peter Steinbrueck, Norm Rice, the Sierra Club, or the dailies. And it's a big help if the mayor backs you with his organization. But Colby is a special force, because his participation gives you instant credibility. With Colby, the big boys and girls in politics know you have a shot at raising the $150,000, $250,000, or perhaps even $300,000 needed to mount a serious run. That possibility terrifies incumbents and intimidates potential rivals.

Underwood has gotten brief mentions in the dailies, in part from his work raising money for The Committee for a Two Newspaper Town. He was mentioned in this 2001 Jim Brunner story about "The Boys" who ran Nickels' campaign. In hindsight, one sign that Underwood was gaining in prominence in city politics came in a 2005 column by Joel Connelly at the PI when he used the money man to try to paint Corr as "hizzoner's man."

On May 31, Neighbors for Nickels paid $10,111 to Colby Underwood for consulting and fund raising. On the same day, Underwood received $2,000 from Corr's campaign. Greg and Sharon Nickels have given Corr $500. Corr has given $375 to Nickels.

(Ah ha!)

Underwood also raised money for Darcy Burner last year, and has already signed on to help her in her 2008 race. Corr says he's also being courted by the Obama and Clinton presidential campaigns.

I've wondered how Corr would do migrating from journalism to politics and now back. It seems to be working pretty well. I hope to see more of these sorts of true tales of the city. It'd be silly for Corr to ignore his political past or try to avoid writing about it. Instead Casey, embrace your inner Dominick Dunne. Tell us what goes on in the salons of Seattle.

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GOP has secret candidate for Snohomish exec

Posted by David Postman at 7:30 AM

Jeff Switzer at The Herald reports that Snohomish County Republicans have found a candidate to run against County Executive Aaron Reardon. But county GOP chairwoman Geri Modrell wouldn't tell Switzer, or anybody else, who the man is.

Modrell said only she and two other people are aware of the mystery candidate's plans to run in the November election.

They remain tightlipped.

"He needs one more week of relative quiet to firm up the business project he's working on," Modrell said. He can't afford the distraction of reporters and others calling with questions about his campaign, she said.

(And in case you didn't get the joke in the April Fool's Day post, Eric Earling says he is not the candidate.)

Any guesses on who the mystery man is? I don't know anything about the candidate other than what I read in the Herald, but my longshot guess is Doug Roulstone. I know he says he's going to run for Congress again next year, but if called to duty by the GOP, I could see him agreeing to take on Reardon.

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May 17, 2007

Five shots of Novocain, one with adrenalin, later ...

Posted by David Postman at 2:40 PM

Ralph Thomas has a short story in this morning's paper about fundraising solicitations for Gov. Chris (Ralph still calls her Christine) Gregoire sent while she was considering the fate of a stack of 2007 legislative bills.

Such solicitations would have been illegal in the past, when state law barred elected officials from soliciting or accepting campaign donations until 30 days after the Legislature adjourned. But lawmakers repealed the fundraising freeze last year.

Here's a little more on the story that the paper couldn't fit in today's edition. An invitation that fell into Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser's hands -- and which he included with his press release yesterday criticizing the timing of the solicitations -- came from former Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt.

The fundraiser will be hosted by Strategies 360, the consulting company that now employs Berendt. The firm was founded and is led by Ron Dotzauer. It's a pretty exclusive affair, with 45 tickets available for $500-per-person. It will be a dinner event on a rooftop terrace at Dotzauer's swanky Westlake Ave. office.

Gregoire's communications director, Holly Armstrong, said other invitations that went out while Gregoire was reviewing bills included on last night by state Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and another in June that will feature New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer. Spitzer, like Gregoire, is a former attorney general.

Today's story quotes Esser questioning whether it is ethical for the governor or her supporters to be soliciting donations "while folks are still wondering whether their bills are going to be signed or not."

In the past, legislative leaders from both parties past have raised money during the session for caucus funds, which are exempt from the session fundraising freeze. In March, for instance, Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt sent out a letter urging people to send money to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.

Hewitt's letter said:

"The Democrats have an expensive agenda ... that's going to cost us thousands of jobs and millions of dollars, unless you help stop them today."


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One year, 804 posts, and 10,906 comments later ...

Posted by David Postman at 8:10 AM

Postman on Politics launched a year ago today. Before I could get my initial post up, Eli Sanders at the Stranger had announced the blog was coming and raised the first of many questions and doubts people would have about it.

Postman tells me his blog will be more analytical than opinionated, and that when his opinion enters into his posts, it won't be ideological. Here, I think, lies the biggest question about the Postman on Politics experiment: Given that most successful political blogs these days are highly ideological, do web surfers really want a non-ideological blog that covers politics from an "objective" perspective? We're going to find out.

When I got a chance to post my own welcome I said:

I'm certain whatever preconceived notions I have about blogging will change as I do this every day. I want to be as open with you as possible, tell you how I do my job as well as why I do things a certain way, admit mistakes and be open to constructive criticism. (My editors would tell you that doesn't sound like me.)

So how have I done? I will let you judge whether it has been interesting. I do want to say how much I've enjoyed blogging. The past year has been one of the toughest of my career but also one of the most exciting. I'm still new at this and still have lots to learn.

It's tough in part because blogging is so much more personal than writing newspaper stories. Criticism stings more, mistakes are left for all to see and by design readers are given an avenue to say whatever they want, and to do it under the cloak of anonymity.

I've had to learn not to take things too personally. But I also have enjoyed the chance to respond and even argue on occasion. I've learned, though, not to respond to everything -- whether it is something in the comments or something in another blog. Lately I've written a few posts and comments and held on to them until the urge passed.

By the numbers of people who read the blog everyday I would say I was right that there was a niche for an "objective" political blog. (I've learned "objective" always has to be in quotes because few people believe such a thing really exists.)

I also think I've been right to try to maintain a standard of civility in the comments thread -- or at least try to do that. I wish it were better. The ideal would be that the many readers who don't leave comments would at least want to read them. I can tell you that non-commenters can look at the comment threads like it's the Mos Eisley Cantina.

Nastiness is one thing. But what has been surprising is the level of what reads like anger. And it comes from all sides of the political spectrum.

But most often, the community aspect of the blog has worked and I appreciate all the regular readers, the corps of commenters and other bloggers who often provide a quick and thorough challenge to what I write.

Of the 804 posts that have come before this -- an average of about three every day of the working week -- there are some I wish I hadn't written, many I wish I had done a better job on and a few that stick out as what the blog should aspire to be.

One in particular I want to mention is from last June. It was about Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick's criticism of Sen. Maria Cantwell's record on fuel economy legislation. I titled my post

McGavick's shot at Cantwell falls short

I got started on it because of a post written by Darryl at Hominid Views, who had picked up on a brief item in the Yakima Herald-Republic. Darryl clearly opposed McGavick, but I thought he had some interesting and important things to say about what seemed to be an erroneous attack on Cantwell's record in that regard.

I added to his reporting, researched the Congressional Record to get more details on what Cantwell had actually done, and interviewed McGavick. What I posted built on what Darryl had written and added, I think, the sort of thing I can bring to the blog.

It was something that would have been far different if it were a newspaper story. The blog makes that sort of collaboration -- unwitting as it was on Darryl's part -- through links and attribution.

It goes back to something I know I've written about before but is important for me to remember. As a former editor told me, the truth does not necessarily sit half way between two lies. It's not enough to say one candidates say one thing and another says something different. There can be a truth to be discovered and what's when this job is its most rewarding.

One last note: The post that got the most traffic over the last year was the one I wrote about Newt Gingrich saying we were in World War III. It also has gotten the most comments. Since last July 15, 269 people have left comments, as recently as April 9.

So thank you all for reading and thanks for the questions, comments, criticism, occasional compliment, the conspiracy theories, the copy-editing, the links, and everything else.

Now to celebrate the anniversary of Postman on Politics I'm off to the dentist.

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May 16, 2007

Technical difficulties

Posted by Richard Wagoner at 12:28 PM

No blogging today while we fix some computer problems.

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May 15, 2007

Former Spokane editor says no need for apologies

Posted by David Postman at 3:50 PM

Spokesman-Review Editor Steve Smith's apology for his paper's coverage of its owners' business interests didn't sit too well with the guy who was actually editor at the time.

(I wrote last week about the Spokesman's unusual arrangement with the Washington News Council to review its past performance on reporting about a major downtown development, River Park Square.)

From Memphis, former Spokesman Editor Chris Peck thinks Smith's apology was off-base and says the report by the news council was unfair and a rehash of old news. He wrote a column in Saturday's Spokesman giving his side. He said that having Smith apologize for coverage that happened before he was at the paper makes as much sense as having Peck apologize for what has happened at the Spokesman since he moved to Memphis:

Should I apologize for the sting The Spokesman-Review conducted to depose the now departed Spokane Mayor Jim West who was a closeted gay man?

Should I apologize for the paper no longer running the Bloomsday results in print?
What about an apology for cutbacks in Idaho coverage, or other decisions on how to deploy resources?

The answer, of course, is no. For me to apologize for news judgments I didn't supervise or plan could well be viewed as self-serving, scapegoating, and silly.

Peck wrote that the newsroom learned its lessons from the coverage a longtime ago.

Despite their best effort, the news council report strikes me as unfair.

The report inflates the importance of the RPS story and magnifies presumed flaws in coverage without answering the key question: Would any of what the council breathlessly found actually have impacted the controversy, or the politics, of the RPS project?

No.


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More government PR news

Posted by David Postman at 2:21 PM

Stefan Sharkansky continues to mine e-mails from the King County elections office. At the least, some of them provide a good look at how the office operates. And I've been particularly interested, of course, in the media operation.

A series of e-mails from last fall Sharkansky posted the other day show how King County elections went about publicizing Sherril Huff Menees in The Times and P-I. Huff Menees was then assistant elections director and later was promoted to director. As elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan wrote to one of the county's PR consultants:

It is important for our leadership to be seen and heard and to be recognized by media during this time when we are w/o a permanent director.

One step was to get the assistant director featured in The Seattle Times' "My First Job" series, a small first-person piece that runs in the jobs section of the paper. Egan wrote that she wanted to "use this opportunity as a chance to build up our assistant director." Egan helped write the piece, but wrote to Huff Menees that she didn't want to go too far:

My intention is not to put words in your mouth, but showcase you for the amazing woman and leader you are. The lesson you learned is very similar to customer service so I took the liberty of expanding on that aspect of your first job.

In its final form in the Nov. 5 paper, customer service was key to the description of Huff Menees' first job as a waitress:

This job taught me the true meaning of "dishpan hands" and that babies in highchairs can make a horrific mess in no time at all. More importantly, I learned the value of customer service — a lesson that has served me well from my two terms as Kitsap County auditor to the work I do every day at King County Elections. As a public servant for more than 20 years, not a day goes by that I am not reminded to treat others with kindness and respect. There are few circumstances involving working with others when this lesson does not apply.

At the same time, the elections office was working to get Huff Menees into the local papers and on radio. Sharkansky says this e-mail suggests someone was pitching P-I columnist Susan Paynter for a piece about Huff Menees.

Paynter's Oct. 27 column was headlined:http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/paynter/290133_paynt27.html

The elections-cleanup woman gets our vote

The column ended this way:

With so few seats in both the Senate and the House poised to tip the balance of control, it could come down to a counting of the absentees right here at home. If so, Democratic consultant Cathy Allen, for one, is happy to know things are now well in hand. "In the 8th, it's now at about 47 to 49 — well within the margin of error," she said.

So, in a tight one, it would be nice to know that this woman will be in charge of making sure it all works. That the place is run by a cool, calm, election-savvy woman who has been working well below the radar."

Of course, she still doesn't have the title. But we all have the benefit of her "cleaning work."

Allen was also a consultant to King County Elections, helping to devise and execute a media plan for the troubled office. Sharkansky writes:

The column doesn't mention Allen's business relationship with the Elections Office, so I asked Paynter if she knew about it. Her reply: It's my understanding that, since something like 2004, Democratic political consultant Cathy Allen and Republican consultant Randy Pepple have run focus groups together at the request of King County elections, as requested by Dean Logan. The intent has been to gather bipartisan feedback on election issues and woes. At the time I contacted Allen for a quote she was in no way working for or advocating for Huff-Menees in any manner whatsoever.

That last bit is clearly not true. According to her explanation, Paynter didn't seem to know the full extent of Allen's work as a publicist for the Elections Office. (Did Allen not disclose this to Paynter?) But Paynter did know that Allen had been on the payroll of King County Elections, and still quoted her without mentioning this fact. That doesn't strike me as very good judgment on Paynter's part.

Whatever the details, it worked out well for King County. Links to the Paynter column and The Times' My First Job piece are included on County Executive Ron Sims' Web site right next to the announcement that Huff Menees had been named director.

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State prison system wants its spin on the news

Posted by David Postman at 11:42 AM

The state Department of Corrections has been in the news a lot lately. The headlines paint a picture of a prison system struggling to deal with overcrowding and early release policies. Some sample headlines from The Seattle Times:

Early-release felon held in Federal Way rape, assault

Policy targets felons who defy terms of release

State corrections officials will issue warrants faster when felons are no-shows

State DOC to revamp handling of released offenders

Report criticizes state's supervision of released prisoners

83 felons freed as state uses too much jail space

The department hasn't complained too much about its press coverage. It comes with the territory. And there aren't a lot of "good news" stories about prisons. But now the department gets to at least make sure it gets its spin on the news of the day. From a DOC press release:

OLYMPIA — The Department of Corrections (DOC) has launched a new web feature designed to provide additional information and perspectives on DOC-related issues in the news and community.

The site, called "Straight Talk from DOC," will provide facts and information that help DOC be more accountable to Washingtonians.

It seems, though, that the effort may also be about trying to make the press accountable. The first installment is about this May 10 story
in the P-I:

Though police believe intensive supervision is the surest way to prevent repeat crimes by sex offenders, state Department of Corrections officials have quietly decided to ramp up caseloads for Seattle community corrections officers who oversee the state's largest concentration of high-risk rapists and child molesters.

The Department doesn't appear to have found any errors in the story. In fact, some of the "Straight Talk" is already in the article. The Department does get more room to state its case, of course.

It is true that DOC plans a gradual increase in the number of cases supervised by Community Corrections Officers in the King County Sex Offender Unit. Department managers reviewed existing unit caseloads and found that the average number of cases supervised by officers in the King County unit was significantly lower than the average in similar units across the state.

Part of the reason the numbers in King County were lower is that the King County unit primarily supervised high-risk Level 3 sex offenders. However, DOC managers concluded that this difference did not fully account for the lower caseloads supervised by King County unit officers.

In Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels' office has been doing a similar thing. But the "News Story Corrections" that press aide Martin McOmber sends take a more aggressive stand than the initial Straight Talk.

I don't mean to pick on the P-I, but the one example I have in my inbox covered two items in that paper in March, a story and a column. McOmber makes clear where he thinks errors occur and then writes his own "correction."

In today's Post-Intelligencer column "In the meantime, let's just retrofit it," the following passage contains an error:

Here's the thing — if leaders are willing to conduct temporary repairs that will cost around $915 million, why not just go all the way?

Correction:
These are not temporary repairs. Nearly all of the $915 million would be spent to permanently replace or upgrade portions of the Alaskan Way Viaduct corridor, including replacing the elevated roadway south of King Street with a surface street, building a new interchange at Royal Brougham Way South, and improving safety in the Battery Street Tunnel. All of these projects can be built regardless of how the portion along the central waterfront is replaced.

I think public officials have not just the right, but the obligation to point out errors. I don't like making mistakes and don't enjoy hearing about it when I do. But it's important to correct things before errors are repeated. (And in the world of online databases it can be repeated over and over again all over the world if a correction is not appended to the file.)

But I hope that Straight Talk and the mayor's e-mails do not take the place of a phone call to a reporter. Reporters need to be less defensive about corrections and sources need to be realistic about the distinction between an error of omission or commission and seeing something in print they just don't like.

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May 14, 2007

Wealthy anti-war activist a Demo candidate for president

Posted by David Postman at 3:48 PM

Dal LaMagna, anti-war activist, wealthy businessman, blogger and confidante to Rep. Jim McDermott and members of the Iraqi Parliament, is running for president.

LaMagna confirmed just now that he will run and his Web site has gone live. The campaign also e-mailed potential supporters today saying an announcement will come soon.

That announcement may come from Baghdad.

LaMagna told me that he wants to fly to Iraq to continue his anti-war work with Iraqi members of parliament, then announce his run for the presidency as he leaves Iraq to return to the United States.

The e-mail sent to potential supporters says:

But, it's not going to be your typical campaign. Instead of traveling the country shaking hand while visiting diners, Dal intends to continue working towards stopping the violence in Iraq and constructing a competent government in waiting. He'll be traveling to Iraq where he hopes to cut through the Gordian knot and help facilitate an end to the violence by meeting with Iraqi citizens, generals, and representatives of the Resistance.

At the same time, his campaign staff will be working at home, listening to Americans and what they want in their government, determining the best ways to address the wealth disparity in the country, and promoting responsible capitalism, among a host of other issues.

Since January, LaMagna has been living and working in D.C., trying to get members of Congress to listen to Iraqis as part of the debate on ending the war. The New York Times wrote today about one of LaMagna's major efforts, being the D.C. host for Muhammad al-Daini, a Sunni Arab member of the Iraqi Parliament.

"The problem in Iraq is the American Army," Mr. Daini told a group of attentive American legislators gathered last week in the office of Representative Jim McDermott, an antiwar Democrat from Seattle. "What brought terrorism, what brought Al Qaida and what brought Iranian influence is the Americans."

Mr. Daini, soft-spoken and generally unsmiling, has been ushered from meeting to meeting by a public relations firm paid by an American businessman who calls the Iraqi politician "a true humanitarian." The businessman, Dal LaMagna, says he is devoting the fortune he made selling his high-end grooming tools business, Tweezerman, to seeking an end to the violence in Iraq, a goal he says Mr. Daini shares.

But a closer look at Mr. Daini's record in Iraq suggests a more complicated picture. The real lesson of his tour may be the difficulty of sorting out from Washington who is who in a distant, bitter sectarian conflagration, where hyperbole is rife and solid facts are hard to come by.

According to the Times, Daini's Shiite opponents say he has ties to Sunni insurgents.

He has publicly praised the Sunni insurgency for taking on American troops, and a reporter for a Shiite newspaper has accused him of complicity in the killing of the reporter's brother.

The Iraqi government says that documents Daini has been showing people in D.C. — and are said to be evidence of wrongdoing by the Maliki government — are forgeries.

LaMagna told me the story was "pretty tough." He told the Times he stands by Daini:

I like to hang with someone to get to know him," said Mr. LaMagna. "We brought in a cook. I jog with him in the morning. We have the same agenda: we want to stop the violence."

The Times didn't know that LaMagna was planning a run for president, or that Daini may play a supporting role in the campaign. Daini is scheduled to return to Baghdad Wednesday. Said LaMagna:

"He's going to go over and set things up so I can actually meet with people who I ordinarily wouldn't be able to meet with and then I'll go over there and expect to declare from there."

LaMagna said he would not stay in the heavily fortified Green Zone while in Iraq but get out to talk to as many Iraqis as he can. He said that being a candidate for president, even one not well known in America, will help open doors for him in Iraq.

"I don't know what it is about the White House. Even if you're running for the White House people take you more seriously. It helps getting access."

LaMagna is wealthy from the sale of his beauty tools business, Tweezerman. But he doesn't plan on spending much of that on his campaign. He says he has already loaned his campaign $49,000, which would still allow him to qualify for federal funds, too.

He calls himself a "progressive capitalist" and says that gives him a different take on issues than his ideological peer, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the liberal anti-war candidate making his second run for the Democratic presidential nomination. LaMagna said he also talked to some of the major Democratic candidates already in the race, but found their interest in him limited.

"I made an attempt to get myself involved in the other campaigns and sure they want me involved. They want me to raise money for them. But that's not what I'm about."

LaMagna ran as a Democrat for Congress from New York in 1996 and 2000. He lives in Poulsbo and D.C. He founded ProgressiveGovernemnt.org, and blogs at the Huffington Post.

He was co-chairman of Cantwell's 2006 re-election campaign. He got that post after he played a key role in getting Cantwell's Democratic primary opponent, Mark Wilson, to quit the race and join the incumbent's campaign.

I ran into LaMagna in January at reception for Cantwell. He told me he had just moved to D.C. to work full time trying to bring Iraqis to D.C. in an effort to help end the violence in Iraq.

He and McDermott met with Iraqis in Jordan on a trip in November. They came up with a plan that they said represented what Iraqis want as part of an end to the war. McDermott and LaMagna said that Iraqis want U.S. troops out of the cities and instead sent to guard the borders with Iran and Syria. They also want the former Iraqi army reconstituted and rearmed.

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Kitsap Dems' behind-the-scenes work to kill NASCAR

Posted by David Postman at 11:04 AM

Everyone knew that Kitsap area lawmakers opposed a NASCAR track. But I didn't know how well organized that opposition was until I read this story by Steven Gardner at the Kitsap Sun.

Gardner got e-mail traffic from lawmakers and other local officials, leading with Rep. Larry Seaquist's call to "Battle Stations," urging colleagues to "remain at General Quarters" to prepare to fight the track.

A couple of hours later, state Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor, responded, "I'm ready for my orders."

Seaquist, a former Naval officer, played an instrumental role in the NASCAR opposition. He worried at one point that his efforts could be derailed because of comments he made comparing the company pushing the track to neighbors with a yard full of junk cars.

Seaquist wrote that he'd enjoyed the hearing, then later added, "Since I typed the above I was just hauled off the floor to learn that I'd been quoted in the S. Times this morning calling these folks bad citizens. I guess I'm about to get a lesson in guarding my words."

Seaquist did get a lot of attention for his comments, which he later apologized for. But privately, he thought it had all worked out for the best.

Two days later he wrote to South Kitsap Fire Chief Wayne Senter, "While I'd rather have kept myself out of the 'junk cars' mess, the whole thing has ended up backfiring on NASCAR and the ISC — they ended up giving me a lot of air time here and nationally to lay out the anti- case."

Read the whole story to see tensions between Democratic lawmakers on both sides of the issue and more details on the Kitsap delegation's good cop/bad cop strategy. How bad did they want to stop the track? As Rep. Sherry Appleton wrote in one e-mail:

I want this dead, dead, dead.

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If you see John McKay ...

Posted by David Postman at 9:12 AM

Crosscut editor Chuck Talyor says he has some questions the media should ask the fired U.S. attorney. Taylor writes that after last week's "media blitz" by McKay he was left thinking:

Never have so many words been recorded that said so little that was new.

And here's what he wants to know:

  • Why is it OK for them to implicitly accuse the White House of orchestrating their dismissals as political payback without citing specific evidence? "It seems that given that no one takes credit at the Justice Department, that it can only be coming from one place, and that very strongly means the White House," McKay told the Times. That's pretty vague coming from a former prosecutor. Does he know something the rest of us don't? Let's hear it.
    • And what about the 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington? It's time to pursue disclosure of the evidence McKay and the FBI reviewed, to put to rest once and for all accusations by some that electoral corruption went unpunished. McKay has said that lots of evidence was considered and he came to a decision that there wasn't enough to make a case. It sounds like a judgment call, which is his job to make. But if we are to believe that McKay's firing was punishment by the Republican party, his decision not to prosecute becomes relevant to the public: Was it the right decision? Let's see the evidence. This would probably involve a months- or years-long documents request under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Taylor also responds to some comments on his post. And let me say, I know how you feel Chuck. And you put it here better than I've been able to:

One last thought: I knew this post would lead some to believe I was conservative, simply because I was questioning McKay's behavior. I wish people would stop trying to discern a motive from every piece of journalism they encounter. I dislike ideologues at both ends of the spectrum. They cancel each other out. This isn't about the political holy war. It's about integrity in government.


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Are new debate rules needed?

Posted by David Postman at 7:23 AM

Remember last year when Libertarian Bruce Guthrie mortgaged everything he had to self-finance a run for the U.S. Senate? He said he scraped together everything he could and risked his life savings to get more than $1 million to run against Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and her Republican challenger, Mike McGavick.

But Eric Earling tells us at Sound Politics that the money was never spent. In fact, Guthrie loaned the campaign the money and the campaign repaid him all of the $1.1 million except for $6,000. What the money transfer did, though, was get him a place on KING TV's Senate debate. Writes Earling:

KING 5 set qualifications for the debate so that only serious candidates would participate in what was a regrettably paltry debate schedule. Voters of the state tuning into a televised debate deserve to see candidates who are mounting serious campaigns for statewide office, not people simply willing to play accounting games to give themselves some airtime.

We've got some time until similar such opportunities for debates between statewide office seekers occur again. Let's hope future debate organizers can establish more rigorous rules so that limited time for substantive debates is itself limited to hearing from candidates actually serious about running for office. Voters of all parties deserve that.

Earling says Guthrie "wasted our time."

Did he? He followed the rules, though in hindsight those rules may not have anticipated this sort of financial paper shuffling. I do think it looks like Guthrie moved the money to get into the debate as opposed to using it to mount a serious campaign, which is what he said he was doing.

But he used his personal money to advance his campaign, just as Cantwell did in 2000 and McGavick did in 2006. They actually spent their money of course. But as Stefan Sharkansky wrote in a comment to Earling's post:

I wouldn't say he wasted our time. He did what any other candidate would do and took advantage of an opportunity to present himself and his message to the voters.

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May 11, 2007

FOI conference in Seattle

Posted by David Postman at 9:40 AM

I will be on a panel this afternoon at the National Freedom of Information Coalition conference, which they're calling Seattle Sunshine.

The panel is about election transparency.

What freedom of information issues are raised by elections? And what should FOI coalitions be doing to ensure that elections are as transparent as possible?

Also on the panel will be Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation and Jonathan Bechtle of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. The moderator is Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Speaking of transparency, Stefan Sharkansky has been getting copies of e-mails from King County Elections. Last year he requested "all work-related e-mails sent to/from certain King County Elections officials during July - November 2006."

Among what Sharkansky has published so far are e-mails showing what elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan thinks of Bechtle's work and that of a couple of Seattle Times reporters. (Note to Bobbie: I can deal with you criticizing Times reporters, but really, there is no excuse for mixing up the Times and the P-I.)

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May 10, 2007

VECO money was spread wide

Posted by David Postman at 10:55 AM

The Alaska oil field services company at the center of that state's growing political scandal and its employees have given about $1 million in political donations since 1989, including to George Bush's two presidential campaigns.

That comes from the Center for Responsive Politics, which released a summary this morning of VECO-connected donations to federal candidates and members of Congress.

CPR says:

VECO has been the top Alaska-based contributor to federal politics for at least the last five election cycles, the Center found. Like most oil and gas companies, VECO is staunchly Republican; 97% of its contributions have gone to Republican interests.

Alaska Congressman Don Young got the most of anyone, at least $257,000.

VECO has been Young's most generous campaign contributor over that period, according to CRP's research.

Only one Democrat currently in Congress got money from VECO. And it's hard to imagine it's a coincidence that the lone Democrat is Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' best friend in the Senate, the man he calls his brother, Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye.

No sitting Washington politicians seem to have gotten any VECO money. Former Republican members George Nethercutt got $7,000, Rick White got $3000, Jennifer Dunn got $1,000, and Linda Smith and Randy Tate each got $500.

Last September, Republican Senate candidate Mike McGavick returned $14,000 in campaign contributions from VECO employees and executives after the FBI began its investigation.

UPDATE: Democrats have already made clear they think the VECO scandal gives them a chance to beat Don Young. I don't know how much resonance it will have elsewhere in the country, but Democrats aren't wasting any time drawing attention to any local connections to Alaska corruption.

I just got a press release from the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party about Sen. Norm Coleman's $2,000 in VECO donations.

"Senator Coleman should immediately return the money he has raised from out-of-state criminals," said Brian Melendez, chair of the Minnesota DFL Party. "While we know that Norm Coleman can't stand up to George Bush to do what's right, we hope that he will at least have the backbone to stand up against bribery and corruption and return these funds."

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If only Brownie could have done this

Posted by David Postman at 8:19 AM

Horsesass.org has been blocked by Chinese authorities. Michael Brown of course wasn't so lucky.

UPDATE: Stilwell is more the journalist than I am today. He's done some research and found that lots of sites look blocked in China. He went to a site called Great Firewall of China where one can check for website censored by the Chinese government.

There is a disclaimer that says, in effect, that sites could be wrongly labeled "blocked" due to ordinary technical glitches, so please note that and perhaps take the results with a grain of salt.

For fun, I tested a few sites, including the NPI blog (this page,) Slog, The Seattle Times main page and HA. Those came back as blocked.

Curiously, the P-I and Daily Kos came back as "available."

Lastly, I checked Postman on Politics, mainly out of curiousity, as logically it would be blocked, being part of the Times web site. And sure enough, the result indicate it's blocked.

As much as I like the idea that the Chinese care one wit about my blog, I find it hard to believe this is any sort of concerted effort to block subversive sites. It's clear a lot of sites are blocked. I'm sure the Chinese would like to block as much American media as possible. But I'll have to decline the suggestion I'm an enemy of the People.

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May 9, 2007

When incestuous camaraderie was good for democracy

Posted by David Postman at 5:21 PM

I found this newspaper in an antique store in downtown Olympia Tuesday and was immediately drawn to the blurb on the cover announcing a story about the "Gridiron Club."


Pathfinder, April 5, 1941

The headline inside, given what I've been writing in recent days here and here about the D.C. social scene, guaranteed I'd read every word:

Gridiron Club -

Its Satirical Roasting an Aid to Democracy

Ah, for the halcyon days.

There are few written rules, much unwritten custom. At the start of every dinner the club's president, who by custom serves a one-year term, announces that "ladies are always present and reporters are never present," which assures guests that nothing which is to be said during the evening will be of such character that it could not be said in the presence of ladies and that no portion of the speeches or conversations will be quoted anywhere at any time. The prepared entertainment features, usually short skips burlesquing notables present or national events in the news, are generally reproduced in news columns of the newspapers.

...

The entertainment at these dinners is unique. Important men and events are treated with the club's own particular brand of humor, which has the usual result of showing them to be not so important after all. Foreign ministers are at first shocked and later delighted to find these members of the Fourth Estate dealing so lightly, not to say high-handedly, with the key men of affairs and in the presence of those men. It is this fact that caused Samuel G. Blythe, author and a past president of the club, to refer to the club as "one of the enduring symbols of our democracy."

Here's a PDF of the full article. The Pathfinder in 1941 claimed to be "America's Oldest News Weekly." TIME, that young upstart of a weekly, reported in the day that Pathfinder reached more than 325,000, "mostly farmers."

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Alaska corruption scandal resonates in D.C.

Posted by David Postman at 2:11 PM

Roll Call (subscription required) has the story:

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has dropped his support for a controversial salmon marketing program he created that has funneled tens of millions of federal dollars to fishing industry interests in Alaska and has become an element of a Justice Department corruption investigation into the Senator's former aide and his son, ex-state Sen. Ben Stevens (R).

If you want to follow the Alaska corruption story there's no better place than at the Anchorage Daily News. You have to register, but it's worth it. Also check out the paper's political blog.

The Anchorage Daily News says of the Roll Call piece:

The story says Stevens believes continuing funding "will be almost impossible given the current anti-earmark environment on the Hill." His son, former state Sen. Ben Stevens, once chaired the board, and some of the money went to groups with ties to him and his ex-business partner (and former Ted Stevens aide) Trevor McCabe.

Citing anonymous sources, the story says the program "has become a key element" in the FBI's corruption probe. The story also reports this: Nearly $300,000 went to the Alaska-based dog-treat company Arctic Paws, "owned by Brett Gibson and his brother Duane Gibson, a former top aide to both Stevens and (U.S. Rep. Don) Young who left Young's shop in 2002 to join now-incarcerated lobbyist Jack Abramoff at (lobbying firm) Greenberg Traurig."

Also from D.C., the Alaska Public Radio Network says Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, may give her Veco donations to charity.

And back at Roll Call, Nicole Duran reports the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee thinks the Alaska scandal can help unseat long-time Congressman for All Alaska Don Young.

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Gay donors' "stealth" campaign in Washington

Posted by David Postman at 1:39 PM

The Atlantic had one of its usually great political stories in the March edition. It was written by Joshua Green and was billed this way:

THEY WON'T KNOW WHAT HIT THEM

The software mogul Tim Gill has a mission: Stop the Rick Santorums of tomorrow before they get started. How a network of gay political donors is stealthily fighting sexual discrimination and reshaping American politics.

Public radio's Austin Jenkins read the story, and was curious if Gill's under-the-radar efforts had made it this far west. Jenkins writes at Crosscut: (And his companion radio piece can be heard here.)

After reading Green's piece, I headed to Washington's Public Disclosure Commission Web site and found that Gill and six other out-of-state donors contributed more than $25,000 to six, swing-district Democrats running for the Legislature. A similar picture emerges in Oregon.

Asked about this pattern of giving, Gill's political guy, Patrick Guerriero, former head of the Log Cabin Republicans, was fairly cryptic. He told me: "You're not being inaccurate in noting that." He also says: "There is an open line of communication about places where individuals can invest and try to make a difference."

Jenkins also learned something else about local gay politics:

Almost a decade ago, Tim Bradbury, the openly gay former King County judge, founded Fighting for the Majority. Today, he and Murray claim this gay political fund is the single largest contributor to the House and Senate Democratic caucuses in Washington.

That was news to me, too. And there was nothing at the PDC to enlighten me about Fighting for the Majority. That's because the group, not unlike Gill, has focused on raising money while keeping out of the limelight. It has gotten coverage in the Seattle Gay News but not much more than a brief mention outside of that.

Bradbury told me yesterday that for the 2006 legislative elections, the group he founded raised $45,000. That was split between the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees. The money comes mostly from a big annual fundraiser where attendees write checks to the caucuses.

"We bundle. We are not a PAC," Bradbury said.

He means bundle only in the colloquial sense. That's an unfortunate, and it seems inaccurate, description, because bundling is not allowed under PDC laws. And it's not happening in this case. I was asking PDC staff about how this works and what's allowed, and that sent staffer Lori Anderson off to ask her own questions. She said that the money comes from what is officially a joint fundraiser between the caucuses and Fighting for the Majority. It does not constitute bundling, which groups are prohibited from doing in the state.

Fighting for the Majority has found a low-key but apparently perfectly legit way to be players in legislative campaigns. It's a low-key effort in that the group's name doesn't show up as the single largest contributor to the caucuses. The work isn't known outside a fairly tight circle of political insiders.

But the strategy makes sure that the people who count know where the money came from. Said Bradbury:

"We raise money specifically from the gay community and our friends, and the Legislature knows it. And, in fact, that's one of our reasons for not donating to individuals, but to turn the money over to the caucus, which in turn decides how to target the money. We want not just a handful of legislators to be supported by the gay community, we want the entire caucus to be supported and be aware that they are being supported by the gay community."

The group formed nine years ago. In its first election it raised $12,500. And that was after one political operative told Bradbury "if you can raise $5,000 you can hold your head up. If you can raise $10,000 you can be golden."

If that was the gold standard, where are they at today at $45,000?

"Oh listen," Bradbury said, "that standard fell away a long time ago. They always want more."

CORRECTION: The quote from Bradbury in Crosscut says Fighitng for the Majority is the single largest donor to the Democratic legislative caucuses. That doesn't look to be accurate. Adam Glickman, spokesman for SEIU, said by e-mail:

on your post yesterday -- between the state council and the locals, SEIU gave at least 60K to each of the two democratic caucuses (roosevelt and truman funds) making us by far the top donor to each.

The PDC reports back that up. Even if you don't include the locals, the state SEIU donations to each Dem caucus is more than claimed by Fighting for the Majority.

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UPDATED: Science superstar slams state biotech fund

Posted by David Postman at 9:24 AM

One of Washington state's top biotech minds says the governor's Life Sciences Discovery Fund has been a series of missteps and is run by a board he describes as a joke. On his blog at the P-I, John Cook has the sharp comments from Leroy Hood, the biotech entrepreneur and former UW professor. Hood appeared at a Seattle technology summit Monday.

Hood touted the sharp focus of the stem cell initiative in California, which also includes a board made up of scientists, before ripping into Washington state's efforts.

"Contrast that with our own Life Sciences Discovery Fund, which I think has made every single wrong decision a fund can make. It is a lot smaller obviously, and hence the only way it is going to make any impact whatsoever is if it is focused. It is not focused at all. The two universities that are dominant here, it is to their advantage to have it be diffuse. And the board is a joke as far as science goes.... So, I think California was brilliant in making resource commitments and really focusing," he said.

You can find a list of the board members here.

Hood lobbied for creation of the fund. It was a major priority for Gov. Christine Gregoire in her first year in office. She signed legislation creating the fund in May 2005. Her press release announcing creation of the fund said:

Creation of Life Sciences Discovery Fund is part of the governor's economic development strategy. The fund is intended to create new jobs and put Washington at the heart of leading-edge research to cure debilitating diseases and improve the quality and yield of agricultural crops.

The fund is based on the $350 million in bonus funds that Washington will receive through the tobacco settlement agreement — $35 million a year for 10 years, beginning in 2008. Combined with matching funds for the grants and with non-state funds, the Life Sciences Discovery Fund could have a $1 billion impact on health and agricultural research in Washington.

"Life Sciences is about vision," said Gregoire before signing Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5581 in a ceremony at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Lee Huntsman, a former colleague of Hood's at UW, is now executive director of the Life Sciences fund. He told me by e-mail that he did not any comment about what Hood said. But he did express confidence in the fund:

I think it's fair to say that both the Trustees and the staff are pleased with the way the grant programs and the organization are coming together, encouraged by the response of donors and applicants, and optimistic that the Fund will be able to provide the benefits to the State that the Governor and Legislature intended.

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May 8, 2007

Obama schedules WA state campaign kickoff

Posted by David Postman at 1:52 PM

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will be in Seattle June 1 for two fundraisers. This will be the kickoff of his Washington state campaign.

The first event will cost from $25 to $100 per ticket and the more donors pay the closer they'll be to the stage. That's at the WaMu Theater in Quest Field Event Center. That evening there is a VIP fundraiser a the Westin. That will cost $2,300 for a photo with the senator, or $500 to just get into the reception.

The sponsors listed for the VIP fundraiser shows that Obama, with little experience in Seattle, has already lined up some Democratic stalwarts. The big names include Norm Rice, Congressman Adam Smith, Cynthia Stroum, Matthew Bergman, and Nick Hanauer.

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Fred Thompson wins state GOP straw poll

Posted by David Postman at 7:15 AM

Actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson won the state Republican Party's first straw poll Saturday night. Not bad for a guy who's not yet a candidate. (Or maybe that's part of the appeal.)

Chairman Luke Esser's e-mail update sent last night says Thompson got half of all votes cast at the party's 25th Annual Gala Dinner & Auction. There were more than 570 people there, though I'm not sure how many people voted. Here are the results:

Fred Thompson 50% Mitt Romney 16% Rudy Giuliani 15% Duncan Hunter 10% John McCain 5% Tom Tancredo 1% Tommy Thompson 1% Mike Huckabee 1% Newt Gingrich <1%

Wrote Esser:

Clearly the other candidates have some work to do to match the support that former Sen. Thompson is receiving from grassroots activists.

Two presidential candidates — Sen. John McCain and Rep. Duncan Hunter — had representatives campaigning at the event (every presidential campaign was invited to participate).

The Christian Science Monitor has a good story on Thompson.

Political strategists say his appeal has as much to do with conservative displeasure with the current Republican field as with his celebrity from a string of movie and television roles as a government authority figure.

There's lots of talk about how skilled Thompson is as a politician and actor. There are comparisons made to Ronald Reagan. But the Monitor watched his recent speech to a conservative group in Newport Beach, Calif. and found "reviews of Mr. Thompson's public debut as a semi-candidate were decidedly mixed."

Members of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, an influential conservative group that hosted the event, praised Thompson's plain-spoken style, his appeal to Southern voters, and his impeccable ideological credentials on issues like limited government, lower taxes and border security. But several people said they were worried by his sedate delivery — where was the fire, one man asked — and a lack of specifics in his homespun critiques of Democrats and inside-the-Beltway Washington.

UPDATE: About 29 percent of the people at the dinner voted. And of those, half voted for Thompson. That tells me there are a lot of undecided Republicans. You would expect the crowd at the GOP's annual dinner to be more focused on politics and the presidential campaign than most people. But even they either can't decide or -- like me -- just think this is bloody early to begin the presidential campaign.

And another thought: Duncan Hunter did better than John McCain? McCain's local backers have been among the most visible at GOP events, and still they only get 5 percent of the true believers?

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May 7, 2007

Does the net-roots see moderation as a "social malady"

Posted by David Postman at 5:33 PM

The current edition of The New Republic has a cover story on the net-roots:

The Left's New Machine

Inside the Most Important Movement Since the Christian Right

The piece is written by Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at TNR. He acknowledges that the magazine is a frequent target of criticism from the net-roots. But even given whatever history exists between the magazine and the bloggers, Chait does a good job explaining both the reasons for the growth of the net-roots as well as describing its role an ideological cudgel to move Democrats to the left.

I particularly liked the distinction he drew between the net-roots and the more generic "liberal bloggers."

Outsiders often use the terms "net-roots" and "liberal bloggers" interchangeably, but they aren't exactly the same thing. The netroots are a subset of the liberal blogs, constituting those blogs that are directly involved in political activism, often urging their readers to volunteer for, or donate money to, Democratic candidates. Other liberal bloggers, sometimes called the "wonkosphere," advocate liberal ideas but do not directly involve themselves in politics. Most of the popular sites in the wonkosphere are maintained by academics or (generally) young liberal journalists, such as former American Prospect staffer Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo or Washington Monthly blogger Kevin Drum. The quality of these blogs varies immensely, with the best ones offering a level of reporting and analysis far better than typical mainstream media fare. While journalistic liberal bloggers are not directly part of the netroots, the two groups generally regard one another as allies and criticize one another tepidly if at all.

Do you see those distinctions? I do. To me, as a reader, reporter and blogger, I look at the two types of blogs for different reasons. I would say that as a reader, I enjoy the "wonkosphere" side of things more. I'm a fan of both Drum and Marshall, for instance. Reading the netroots, though, provides a glimpse into what the left is focusing on at any given moment, and gives me more practical ideas for posts I should do. The net-roots tells me what progressives and often the Democratic Party are doing.

Chait draws parallels between the net-roots and the grassroots conservative movement. Others have done the same, of course. But he also gives a great summation of something that I have found difficult to explain myself:

FOR THE NETROOTS, partisan fidelity is the sine qua non. As Moulitsas told Newsweek in 2005, "The issue is: Are you proud to be a Democrat? Are you partisan?" What they cannot forgive is Democrats or liberals who distance themselves from their party or who give ammunition to the enemy. The netroots will forgive Democrats in conservative districts for moving as far to the right as necessary to win elections. But they do everything within their power to eliminate from liberal states or districts moderates like Joe Lieberman or Jane Harman, whose stances are born of conviction rather than necessity. This is precisely the same principle espoused by Norquist and other GOP activists. They will defend Republicans who need to demonstrate their independence from the national party in order to maintain their electoral viability. (As Norquist once remarked about Lincoln Chafee, "A Republican from Rhode Island is a gift from the gods.") But deviation by a Republican from a conservative state--say, Arizonan John McCain -- is unforgivable.

Another point of commonality between the netroots and the conservative movement is the belief that moderation is a kind of social malady brought about by residence within the Beltway. Conservatives believe that Republicans generally begin their national careers in a state of innocence but are perpetually susceptible to the blandishments of the liberal elite. The right has developed its own idioms -- e.g., "strange new respect" -- to describe the ways that they believe establishment bastions like The New York Times flatter and cajole conservatives into abandoning their principles.

What do you net-rooters and liberal bloggers think? I know TNR isn't the place you would choose for a critique. But I think Chait does a great job and it's worth reading the whole thing.

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Cozy local connections between journalists and the people they cover

Posted by David Postman at 3:53 PM

The associate publisher of Hearst's Seattle paper says those D.C. dinners that mix reporters and politicians for hilarity and hob nobbing show an unseemly "incestuous camaraderie."

The PI's Ken Bunting wrote in a column Friday that he was glad to hear that the New York Times would stop participating in the White House Correspondent's Banquet and things of that ilk. He said he wasn't sure how long the Times' self-imposed exile would last:

But more interesting will be whether any others among the nation's media elite follow suit. In what we in Seattle call "the other Washington," hobnobbing is a well-accepted way of life.

I also wrote last week along similar lines.

What I wonder, though, is whether Bunting will use his authority at the PI to end his paper's involvement with a local version of those D.C. soirees. The PI has been a sponsor of the Washington News Council's Gridiron West dinners. These are obviously based on the original dinners of the same name, only they're nicer. People are not roasted at Gridiron West, but "toasted." It is Seattle after all. The news council promotes it this way:

The WNC's annual Gridiron West Dinner has become one of the most popular events of the fall. Always held in the week after Election Day, it is a bipartisan gala with songs, comedy, video tributes and affectionate "toasts" by and of prominent political, business, civic and media figures.

The PI has helped underwrite some of the dinners. In 2002 the paper was a $1,000 sponsor of the dinner. Among other corporate donors at the same level were the Benaroya Company, Carney Badley Spellman, Premera Blue Cross and (the group formerly known as) Republican Radio. In 2004 the paper again donated $1,000 to co-sponsor the dinner, along with other donors including the Port of Seattle, Rockey Hill & Knowlton, the Washington Dairy Products Commission and Weyerhaeuser.

PI cartoonist David Horsey has been involved as well. He designed bobblehead dolls of Slade Gorton and Tom Foley, he presented a retrospective of his cartoons of Gary Locke and Jennifer Dunn, and one year drew the art for the invitations and the program, later presenting framed copies of the work to honorees Jim and John Ellis.

Joel Connelly was a "toaster" in 2002 when four former governors were honored. (The Times' Joni Balter also spoke that year.) The news council recounted the event this way:

Journalist/politician teams "toasting" the governors were: (Rosellini) Adele Ferguson, longtime statewide columnist and Sid Snyder, State Senate Majority Leader; (Evans) Joel Connelly, political writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Ralph Munro, former Secretary of State; (Spellman) Slade Gorton, former U.S. Senator, and John Carlson, KVI radio talk-show host; (Gardner) Joni Balter, Seattle Times editorial writer and Norm Rice, former Mayor of Seattle; and (Lowry) Shelby Scates, former Seattle Post-Intelligencer political reporter, and Sam Reed, current Secretary of State. The governors all had a chance to respond to their "toasters" -- and did so, with gusto! Some of the toasters even toasted each other -- such as Ralph Munro's reading of a hypothetical story by Joel Connelly.

I e-mailed Bunting Friday to ask him about this but haven't heard back. I won't be surprised if the paper does distance itself from the Washington News Council. They're not on such good terms these days.

Last October, the council said that a PI series about the King County sheriff's office was "inaccurate, misleading and inflammatory." And the PI said the news council wasn't fair because it's executive director, John Hamer, is married to Mariana Parks, who works for Congressman Dave Reichert, the former sheriff who also the subject of the PI series.

SIDEBAR: At the Slog, Josh Feit says the PI is being hypocritical because of a business group its executives are involved with, the Community Development Roundtable.

Bunting is a member, as is the Times' Mike Fancher.

Writes Feit:

It fosters a clubby atmosphere between the rich and powerful movers and shakers and the top editors and executives of Seattle's newspapers.

Aren't the power players on this list, the same people you're supposed to be covering?

One distinction seems to me is the roundtable is about doing business, and not about reporters having a barrel of fun alongside the politicians they cover. Reporters would always prefer that their bosses stay out any group that makes it look like the paper is too clubby with the powers that be.

But reporters don't get their way. We can, of course, choose not to participate in anything ourselves that even borders on "incestuous camaraderie."


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Spokesman-Review reviews its own performance

Posted by David Postman at 10:52 AM

The Spokesman-Review Sunday published an investigation of itself. The report, written by independent journalist Bill Richards for the Washington News Council, looks into the paper's coverage of downtown River Park Square -- a major development project of the paper's owners.

The report was requested by the Spokesman as part of its unusual self-examination of the conflicts in the newspapers coverage of the Cowles' family business interests. The investigation found that the paper did not "investigate thoroughly in a timely manner and report promptly and forthrightly the financial structure of RPS." The paper also suppressed information that may have been unfavorable to the developers, and suffers from "the potential for self-censorship of the news product by reporters and editors."

Among documents the paper has posted on its website (though the links weren't all working this morning) was a response from the publisher, Stacey Cowles, and the editor, Steve Smith. Smith wrote:

In an accompanying column on these pages, Publisher Stacey Cowles says he rejects the report's findings of interference, direct or indirect. I can appreciate his viewpoint, though we come at the situation from different perspectives. Furthermore, I appreciate the freedom he extends me to draw differing conclusions. So, in the newsroom, we accept the findings. And we sincerely apologize for not adequately living up to our journalistic standards.

At Crosscut -- where Richards also writes -- editor Chuck Taylor writes that Smith was falling on his sword. That's probably right. My experience with Smith is that as aggressive and sometimes overly self-confident he can be in running the newsroom, he is also unusually open to criticism. His apology is even more unusual. Such things happen most often in the news business to settle litigation or to apologize for some less substantive transgression -- say publication of an offensive cartoon or photo.

I know that the paper's coverage of RPS -- and the family's development deals in general -- have helped foster distrust of the Spokesman's independence form the city's power structure. I wonder now if this will help get the paper past that.

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David Irons condemns whistleblower "until eternity"

Posted by David Postman at 8:14 AM

David Goldstein has a copy of an e-mail former King County Councilman -- and GOP county exec candidate -- David Irons sent attorney Richard Pope after Pope blew the whistle on the county GOP's campaign finance violations.

Irons says Pope, a fellow Republican, will lead a cold and lonely life for his transgression against the party.

In your effort to damage others I fear you have destroyed what little reputation you had remaining. It must be lonely sitting on that pedestal you built for yourself.

I personally forgive you for your actions and the manor in which you have so aggressively attack good people. As for your hate, I sorry to say that is likely to continue to consume you for now until eternity.

But as Goldstein accurately points out:

Of course, Richard informed the KCRCC of their disclosure violations way back in August of 2006, and only reported them to the PDC three months later, after they continued uncorrected and unabated. And again, in November, he informed them of additional problems, and didn't report these to the PDC until March, 2007.

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May 3, 2007

King County Republicans agree to $40,000 PDC fine

Posted by David Postman at 3:13 PM

The King County Republican Party agreed this week to a $40,000 fine to settle a Public Disclosure Commission case that found numerous reporting violations, including some campaign donation reports filed more than 300 days late.

An investigation found that in one KC GOP account, 74 percent of contributions and 70 percent of expenditures were reported late in 2006. The party failed to list employers and occupations of 91 percent of donors who were required to report that information.

In an agreement signed Tuesday by County Chairman Michael Young, the party admitted to multiple violations during 2005 and 2006. While the PDC fined the party $40,000, it agreed to suspend $17,500 of it if the county GOP has no violations through the end of 2010. Young also agreed to make sure his treasurer is well trained and will conduct year-end reviews of the books for the PDC.

The investigation began with a complaint from Republican activist and attorney Richard Pope. He initially informed party officials of their problems in an e-mail last summer. But they apparently did not follow up, and Pope drafted his in-depth complaint. You can find his complaint, and the other documents here at the PDC site.

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NY Times won't party with the stars, but what about those anonymous briefings?

Posted by David Postman at 10:41 AM

I was heartened to read this week that the paper of record had decided it would stop participating in those glitzy D.C. political dinners the White House Correspondents Association and others hold where reporters hob nob with politicos and celebrities of all stripes. From the New York Observer:

"I'd say our distaste for these events has been cumulative," wrote executive editor Bill Keller in an e-mail to The Observer. "There was no one thing. Or maybe everybody has his or her own cringe-making moment. For me personally, the tipping point may have been watching Karl Rove on YouTube, doing a rap routine with reporters at the TV correspondents' dinner."

I am not a D.C. reporter and am not invited to these events. To say I'd boycott them is like saying that if awarded the Nobel Peace Prize I would not go to pick it up. (And the Pulitzers have become way too political, haven't they? Who'd want one of those?)

N.Y. Times D.C. bureau chief Dean Baquet is right to tell his people to mothball the tuxedos.

"I think we need to start sending a signal to the public that journalists and the people we cover have a polite but adversarial relationship," said Mr. Baquet of the D.C. events. "We shouldn't do anything that goes against that right now."

But Peter Baker, the Washington Post's excellent White House correspondent, has an even better idea for how reporters can build credibility. He told the Observer:

"I have more of a problem with government institutions holding briefings with 40 reporters on background. That's what we should take a stand on."

Baker's right. They should take a stand on that. Again, I'm not in that mix and I know that D.C. reporters say those background briefings are the only way they can get certain information. But a lot of what is given to reporters in these briefings is not worth the constant quoting of unnamed senior administration officials.

The background briefings reached the height of absurdity in February on Vice President Dick Cheney's trip to the Middle East. From the New York Times coverage:

Vice President Dick Cheney, thinly veiled as a "senior administration official," told reporters on his plane on Tuesday that it was not correct that he "went in to beat up on" the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, for failing to confront Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

"That's not the way I work," said Mr. Cheney, violating the first rule of conducting a background interview: never refer to yourself in the first person, when it makes it obvious who is talking.

It was so silly that reporters asked the White House if they could tell readers that the unnamed briefer was Cheney. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked if he could get the ground rules changed after the fact. It seemed the obvious thing to do since most news agencies had found ways to say it was Cheney. The exchange from the February press availability is a classic:

Q: Tony, what's the upshot on your talks on the senior administration official transcript? MR. SNOW: I have spoken with the Vice President's office, and the ground rules that were laid out are going to remain in effect. (Laughter.)

Terry.

Q: Why?

Q: Why?

MR. SNOW: Well, I will direct that to them. They said that the opinion is that everybody on the plane had agreed to ground rules, and they were not inclined to change them.

Q: But didn't the Vice President change them in his comments?

MR. SNOW: I don't think so. I mean —

Q: — when he identified himself?

MR. SNOW: Well, again, I will not comment on a senior administration official briefing. I will simply tell you that that is the opinion of the Vice President's office. And for further — if you wish to go back and get them to referee it, you may do so.

Q: While we're on this — can I just continue? Can you explain —

MR. SNOW: Please. This is riveting.

Q: — on the topic of senior administration officials, why — explain why that device is ever used, and why the public isn't entitled to know who's talking when the people they pay them do what they're paid to do?

MR. SNOW: Well, as you know, sometimes, for instance, when we have senior administration officials who will brief in this room, it is important for matters of confidentiality, in terms of — they're able to be more open with you, as senior administration officials, and also it denies people an opportunity perhaps to — in any event, I'm not going to get — look, I'm not going to get myself stuck in the endless sort of spin cycle of trying to deal with rules on senior administration officials. If you would like those briefings to cease, we could probably make that happen, but I think you would be poorer for it, and we would, too.

You've been around this town long enough to know, Ken, that there are times when it is deemed appropriate to do so. And people do participate in those, as you did. So, I mean, it was a question that may have been posed at the time, but apparently no objection — the objection was not made at that time and venue.

Maybe it's time to start making more strenuous objections. And just as the N.Y. Times is walking away from glitzy D.C. dinners, so, too, could reporters decline invitations to background briefings. If you read, for example, what Cheney said on his Middle East trip, there was very little if anything said that was worth granting the vice president the cloak of anonymity. As is often the case, the briefing was self-congratulatory and lacked the candor one would hope for in exchange for hiding the briefer's identity. Couldn't we have lived without this?

"I would describe my sessions both in Pakistan and Afghanistan as very productive," the unnamed official said.

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What are the best political sites on the web?

Posted by David Postman at 7:28 AM

The Webbys were announced this week. These best of the Web awards cover a multitude of categories. In politics, two of my favorite sites were honored. The campaign finance site OpenSecrets.org won the Webby and FactCheck.org won the People's Voice Award.

Both are non-partisan sites that provide useful information. (I see Adam Wilson at The Olympian is also a FactCheck fan, but he warns, "FactCheck is probably too much for the casual news consumer, but for those who want to get down to the nitty-grits, it's well worth the time." I figure if you're reading PoP you're plenty gritty enough to find the site useful.)

What other great political sites are out there? What would you nominate? And by that I mean sites like OpenSecrets and FactCheck that provide data and research. There are plenty of sites that provide commentary and ideological spins on the news. I'd be interested in developing a list of the best political resource tools on the Web.

One I'd put on my list is the Public Disclosure Commission's site. It is one of the best campaign finance sites in the country and gets a lot of use in my office.

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May 2, 2007

A year later, senator sees gas price investigation

Posted by David Postman at 2:41 PM

Attorney General Rob McKenna's announcement last week that he would investigate Washington's record high gas prices surprised Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent. Almost exactly a year ago, Keiser asked McKenna to investigate, and was given a list of reasons why that wouldn't happen.

McKenna's office told her in April 2006 the state has no price gouging laws, that proving a violation of the Consumer Protection Act is "problematic," and gas prices are unregulated at the wholesale and retail level. Assistant Attorney General David Huey in the Consumer Protection Division wrote Keiser:

No government agency has the power to dictate what the oil companies, jobbers or local gas stations may charge for gasoline. No law requires that gasoline prices be low or reasonable or just. This means, under both state and federal law, oil companies and gas station operators may charge whatever price the market will bear.

...

An unexplained price differential, without more, is probably insufficient to invoke the Attorney General's investigative power under the CPA. In the absence of evidence of illegal conduct then, any examination of pricing differentials is the province of economists.

Huey said it may be appropriate to update a comprehensive study of the state's gasoline market published in 1991.

Last week McKenna issued a press release headlined:

Attorney General McKenna Announces Investigation of Washington Gas Prices

The release said:

"Should our research uncover price-fixing or other violations of our state's consumer protection or antitrust laws, the Attorney General's Office stands ready to take enforcement action," McKenna said. "Consumers can help by alerting our office if they overhear a conversation that suggests rival businesses intend to fix or manipulate prices, or if they spot prices that appear out of the ordinary and can't be explained by obvious supply and demand factors."

What changed? Not much. First, it appears that most of the "investigation" by McKenna and the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development will entail updating that old market survey. (Although a year ago it was described as a study done by economists it is now called "state government's most comprehensive investigation of that market in 16 years.") The AG has also asked consumers to submit tips about alleged price gouging.

The other thing different this time around is that Gov. Christine Gregoire and McKenna have been criticized for not doing enough to investigate rising gas prices. The Bellingham Herald editorial board has been at the forefront of that, and their message has been received. The paper editorialized in January that Gregoire "promised to look into the baffling and unfair prices Whatcom County residents pay for gasoline."

As a community we should demand she follow through with that promise and that she should use her political power to pressure oil companies to quit treating our community unfairly. People consistently pay more for gasoline in Whatcom County than anywhere else in Washington. Remember, Whatcom County is home to two of the state's oil refineries.

The paper reported that Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen also asked McKenna to investigate last year.

Kremen told Gregoire that he was unsatisfied with the response, which he characterized as "dusting off a study" that was more than 15 years old.

The Herald's efforts were noticed.

"It really did pique everybody's interest," Huey told me today.

"After that editorial there was some conversation between the AG and CTED at the staff level and they decided, well, we can maybe come up with the money ... and update that and see if that gives us any insight into the present market."

Better late than never, Keiser said today. "I think he should have taken it on last year," she said. "But it's better to at least have their attention than to continue to feel there is no there, there."

Keiser said it may just be "spin" that what was an economic study a year ago is now a major investigation. But she believes that the industry is "manipulating the market and American consumers are paying for that."

Findings from the first phase of the updated study are due in July. The state will hold a series of public forums in the fall to discuss the findings.

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John Lovick says he's in the race for SnoHo sheriff

Posted by David Postman at 11:01 AM

State Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, announced today he will run for the Snohomish County sheriff's position held by retiring Republican Rick Bart.

Lovick is the House Speaker Pro-Tem and most days presides over the House. He's in his fifth term in the House. He spent 31 years with the Washington State Patrol.

In a statement today, Lovick praised Bart's 12 years as sheriff:

I want to build on his past work as we move the Department forward. Under my command the Sheriff’s Office will be effective and responsive to the needs of our citizens.

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May 1, 2007

Edwards in Seattle

Posted by David Postman at 11:48 AM

At the Machinists Hall, the room is packed with hundreds of union members waiting for John Edwards. The format is that a panel of three people will first ask Edwards questions. The panel is Althea Johnson, a Boeing worker, Steve Kofal, a Social Security Administration worker and member of the American Federation of Government Employees, and Lucille Velasco, a housekeeper at the Seattle Westin Hotel and activist in the Hotel Workers Rising movement.

There will then be questions from the audience. The questions have been submitted in advance in writing. Edwards is also scheduled to hold a brief media availability before he leaves for his Everett event.


MIKE SIEGEL/THE SEATTLE TIMES

Presidential candidate John Edwards visits union members at the Aerospace Machinists 751 Hall in Seattle today.

The AFL-CIO is holding similar events with the six other Democratic candidates. The group's executive council voted to ask all its 54 unions to withhold making any presidential endorsement until the general board meets in August for the culmination of the endorsement process.

The first event was Sunday when Sen. Christopher Dodd appeared in Sacramento. The Bee reported:

In West Sacramento, meanwhile, Sen Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., declared himself "a labor man" at a gathering of activists Sunday at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Hall, a background he hopes will provide the foundation for his underdog presidential candidacy.

Dodd pointed to his record of siding with organized labor 95 percent of the time over his congressional career as a reason for area union leaders to spread the word on his behalf with their members.

Dodd told reporters that when it comes to organizing workers at Indian casinos, "I support the sovereignty of Indian country."

The position put him at odds with state labor leaders who have lobbied the Legislature to oppose the state's approval of Indian gaming compacts because they don't carry sufficient protections for unionization efforts.

It's May Day, and the crowd in Seattle is singing along to Solidarity Forever, or at least to the chorus.

MORE: Edwards began with remarks, and his mention of what he called a sad anniversary.

"Four years ago today George Bush flew onto an aircraft carrier and declared 'Mission accomplished.' Not quite. The Congress was given a mission this past November and that mission has not yet been finished, either. And that mission is to end this war in Iraq."

He said if President Bush vetoes the Iraq funding bill with a timetable for withdrawal, Congress should either override if there are the votes, or pass another, also with a timetable, and send it back to Bush.

"And if he vetoes that one, they ought to do it again. We have to stand our ground. We have to stand our ground. This is not politics, we have men and women dying in Iraq. … And elections have consequences. The American people said this last November that they want a different direction in Iraq."

He said if Bush doesn't agree to Congress' demands he will be thwarting the will of the American people.

Johnson, the Boeing worker, asked Edwards how he would protect against out-sourcing of manufacturing jobs.

Edwards said exporting jobs led to the closing of the textile mill in his hometown where his father.

"I saw what it did not just to my father but to the entire community," Edwards said. He also said:

"We need to get rid of these tax laws that are an incentive for companies to send jobs somewhere else. Next, we need trade agreement that have real labor standards, real environmental standards and that we can enforce those stands so that American workers have a better chance and also so workers in other parts of the world have a chance to lift up their standards of living."

He said he opposes the pending South Korean free trade agreement because it does not have adequate environmental and labor standards.

Velasco, the hotel worker, told Edwards that her job is tough and she is required to clean 60 rooms a day at the Westin. She wanted to know what Edwards would do to make sure that service sector jobs like hers can become good-paying, family wage jobs.

Edwards didn't have many specifics. But he said he'd do everything he could, as candidate and as president, "to make sure those are strong, middle class jobs." Earlier he said that he supports making it easier to organize workers and would push to make it illegal for companies to hire strike-related permanent replacement workers.

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Is it tacky to publicly air editorial disputes?

Posted by David Postman at 9:28 AM

In the comments of one of the Slog posts about Jamie Pedersen and The Stranger Monday, staff writer Erica C. Barnett said she found it tacky, and worse, for writers to air dirty laundry about editorial endorsements.

We've always done general, unsigned endorsements by the board. Trashing one another in print is counterproductive to the endorsement process (it's also tacky.) The voice of the paper carries more weight than that of an individual writer (like me), which is one reason we do Stranger endorsements, rather than Josh Feit endorsements or Erica C. Barnett endorsements.

Posted by ECB | April 30, 2007 3:23 PM

I'm not sure that Barnett's boss thinks that, at least not when it comes to other papers' endorsements. Last year, Stranger news editor Josh Feit hit hard at The Seattle Times editorial page for its endorsement of GOP Senate candidate Mike McGavick. He wrote a lot about it, on The Slog and in the paper. I thought he raised some salient points and I linked to his story. But he clearly thought the Times had a responsibility to publicly discuss the editorial board's deliberations, including the role of publisher Frank Blethen:

So, the question remains: What does The Seattle Times like about McGavick? In fact, I challenge the Seattle Times to add up the issues on which it agrees with McGavick (based on its editorial, I count two: storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain and repealing the federal estate tax) and measure them against issues on which it disagrees with McGavick (I count eight: the detainees bill, gay marriage, ANWR, gun control, net neutrality and media consolidation, teaching intelligent design in public schools, the war in Iraq, and Social Security). Seattle Times editorial page editor James Vesely did not return my call, so I'm stuck going off the paper's endorsement to figure it out.

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John Edwards shows new interest in Seattle

Posted by David Postman at 8:38 AM

John Edwards is in Seattle today to take questions from AFL-CIO members as part of the labor group's new process for presidential endorsements. Edwards appears at noon at the Machinist's Hall. He also has an event in Everett.

He chose Seattle for the event. The AFL-CIO let the candidates pick the city they wanted for their meetings with the rank and file. It's an interesting choice for Edwards. Campaigning for the Democratic nomination four years ago, Edwards largely ignored Washington state. I wrote in February 2004:

As 2003 closed, and it was clear Edwards was not campaigning in the state, his money dried up; he raised $3,900 in the last three months of the year, according to records filed with the FEC that includes no small donations.

The Edwards campaign, as has been the case throughout the race, did not respond to telephone calls asking for comment on its Washington operation.

Edwards finished fourth in the Democratic caucus, behind John Kerry, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich.

One difference between then and now is Joe Trippi now works for Edwards. In the 2004 race, Trippi was the Dean campaign manager. Seattle was a very big deal for Dean. I wondered if Trippi had anything to do with a renewed focus on the state. But Trippi told me this morning:

"The theory does not hold."

The event was on Edwards' schedule before Trippi joined the campaign. But he was glad to see it, and thinks Edwards has a natural base here.

"There's no question that if you look at where John Edwards is on everything from poverty to putting an end to the Iraq war, that in Washington state, and Seattle in particular, it's clear our message is resonating there."

In recent days, that message has focused on his anti-war stance. Trippi said that if President Bush vetoes the Iraq funding bill Edwards wants Congress "to send the bill right back to him and keep sending it to him. That is a very strong message that is getting through to people and we're going to get that message out in Seattle and Washington state." It's clear Edwards hopes to make inroads into the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party. As Trippi said, Edwards "really wants to end the war right now. He's not iffy about it."

There are also more practical reasons to campaign here in an election cycle that is front-loaded like never before.

"If you went through last cycle you learned a lesson and that is you can't just campaign in a few states, you have to be everywhere. And Washington proved that point in terms of the Edwards campaign last time. "There isn't that Dean candidacy soaking up the oxygen in the state like in 2004, and Kerry had the momentum."

The union meeting is open to members of AFL-CIO unions. Tickets were distributed by the county labor council.

I'll post more after the noon event.

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A premature verdict on Rep. Jamie Pedersen

Posted by David Postman at 8:27 AM

(NOTE: I reposted this because of formatting problems, which I guess still haven't been fixed. And I lost the original comments. My apologies.)

At the Slog, Stranger writers are arguing about Rep. Jamie Pedersen, whether he's done a good job and revisiting last year's battles over which Democratic candidate The Stranger backed in the 43rd Legislative District race. Eli Sanders today points to a P-I story about Pedersen's freshmen year to say he tried, but failed, to convince his colleagues that Pedersen was up for the job.

I'm not sure I can describe the amount of pushback I got from coworkers here at The Stranger for suggesting, during our endorsement debates last fall, that Pedersen would probably make a good legislator, and would certainly get more done more quickly than Stephanie Pure, who ended up being The Stranger's pick.

In particular, Josh Feit and Erica Barnett predicted that a Pedersen regime would be disappointing, annoying, and even corrupt. Did this doomsday scenario materialize?

Feit bites back here, and mentions "Eli's coverage of Pedersen, which Pedersen used as a campaign hand out."

I'm happy to have voted, along with Dan, Annie, Erica, Sarah Mirk, and David Schmader for Stephanie Pure, who, I believe would have been a solid legislator, particularly on renters' rights, where Pedersen flopped. Having said that, as my post below shows, Pedersen got due credit from me during the session.

The Stranger was tough on Pedersen. Dan Savage called the candidate a weasel, which became something of a theme. A headline on a Feit post from June said:

Pedersen is a Weasel. Part 9.

Barnett didn't like Pedersen's corporate buddies during the campaign or that he planned to stay employed by his law firm. Today she responds to Sanders:

And while we did predict that Pedersen would be disappointing (particularly on issues of interest to renters, which turned out to be true), we didn't say it would be "corrupt." What we pointed out was that Pedersen would continue to work for Preston Gates & Ellis, a corporate law firm that lobbies the Legislature, while serving as a legislator, which struck us as a conflict of interest.

I appreciate that Stranger writers are having this debate in public. No harm will come to the paper and it is likely to help people understand a little more about how the paper works. I'm all for public fights.

But if The Stranger wants to fight about Pedersen's first year they need to do more than read this morning's story in the P-I. It relies on quotes only from Pedersen and his seatmate in the Senate, Ed Murray. Pedersen thinks he did a good job.

"I had six bills that made it all the way through the process," he said.

And the P-I added:

Passing six bills is not the norm for freshman lawmakers.

"Being seatmates with the speaker of the House is not a bad thing," Pedersen said.

In fact, this year it appeared to be the norm for a freshmen Democrat to pass six measures, including bills, resolutions, joint resolutions, etc.

There are eight freshmen Democrats this year.

Roger Goodman had six bills pass.

Don Barlow had five bills and a resolution pass.

Deb Eddy had six bills pass.

Troy Kelley had five bills pass.

Christine Rolfes had five bills and one resolution.

Larry Sequist had four bills and two resolutions.

Kevin Van De Wege passed seven bills.

The bills seem to be pretty evenly doled out so all the new guys can return home with a list of accomplishments. It's certainly not all heavy stuff. Most of the freshmen carry at least some of the more non-controversial measures, like Pedersen's bill, "Recognizing Juneteenth as a day of remembrance."

I have no reason to dispute that Pedersen had a good first year. But before Eli, Josh and Erica spend the day fighting, they should dig a little more before assessing what kind of legislator Pedersen has turned out to be.

UPDATE: Not that the Stranger crew needs my play-by-play, but since I quoted Feit's poke at Sanders, here's Sanders' response from the Slog comment thread:

Just to clarify: Josh was my editor at the time I wrote that piece. And when a local campaign consultant wrote him to ask whether Pedersen really deserved the attention he got in my piece, Josh wrote back:

First in a series on the election. Focus was on Jamie cuz the facts stand: He's got some early advantages. Namely cash and gay I.D. for Murray's seat. The intent was to make that point, but then set him up as simultaneously vulnerable with all the challengers. I believe the ending and Murray quote get at that
.

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