Monday, November 13, 2006

Student publications improve awards showing

The Nashville convention brought another round of awards to my students. The newspaper earned its third straight national Pacemaker Award, the highest honor in scholastic journalism. The paper also placed fifth in the Best of Show contest for papers with more than 16 pages. The 2006 edition of the yearbook earned fourth place in its page-count category of 275-324. That’s the highest placing ever for our school’s yearbook.

One student, the newspaper’s editor in chief, earned an “excellent” rating in the on-site contest for commentary writing. The topic was how music downloading was hurting artists and performers.

The Best of Show and Write-Off contests are always a toss-up as far as I am concerned. We’ve had great products and talented students come away with no awards, and we’ve had some surprises, too. But I was starting to sweat the Pacemaker announcement. This year six Washington state news publications were among the 55 finalists. Typically about half the finalists are named Pacemakers, announced in no particular order. Four Washington finalists were named winners right away in the announcements but not us. I waited as several more were called and finally our name was read. I admit that I would have been disappointed to have not been named this year – one, because I believe the work was the best my students have done, and, two, because it is tough to lose when you’re sitting right next to all the winners. Also, during Best of Show for newspaper, just as I said as an aside to my colleague that things did not look good for placing, my school’s name was called. Ironic.

Three in a row is also an achievement of which I am particularly proud. I am glad it shows sustained excellence and I think at this point the newspaper’s reputation for string journalism can be cemented not just with people who know what a Pacemaker is or who support free expression but with casual readers and with those without long-term or close knowledge. It’s a reward and a validation of effort and toil. And it feels pretty darn good.

-- Composed in the airspace over the Midwest (posted from Issaquah, Wash.)

Nashville highlights

I took six students to the national high school journalism convention in Nashville, Tenn., over the Veterans Day weekend. As usual it was a blend of unexpected kinks in travel plans, fantastic learning seminars and speakers, and exposure to interesting and new cultural experiences.

The best laid plans: In order to save a bit of money and to arrive in time for the opening keynote presentation, I arranged a 6:30 a.m. departure from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, meaning we would need to arrive by 5 a.m. That meant leaving Wenatchee by roughly 2:15 a.m. I knew I could not ask a parent to drive us, but luckily one parent said we could borrow the Suburban vehicle. So, Wednesday night I went to bed at 8 p.m., woke at 1 a.m., loaded the kids at 2 and we were off. No traffic, weather or security troubles.

The only trouble was with our plane once we were aboard. Apparently the pilots were late because of a late pickup. They also had a delay in their pre-flight paperwork and then the air-conditioning system needed a servicing. So we sat at on the plane as the pilots completed their pre-flight checks, informed us that the plane was being repaired and that we would be underway soon.

Minutes passed. My mood, normally one that would have been intensifying in stress, was calm. I knew we had a layover in Atlanta of just 50 minutes, so any delay of more than a few minutes would mean the connection would already be boarding, and we would have to hurry. The Seattle plane left almost an hour late, and still I was calm because the amount of flight time the pilot indicated would still allow us to arrive in Atlanta with just a few minutes to spare – I hoped.

As soon as the plane landed, we grabbed our gear and aggressively moved toward the front exit from Row 35. We hurried from one terminal and concourse to the next, rushing through crowds of slow walkers, pull-along bags and custodial workers as we dashed down the escalators, ran along moving sidewalks and implored the automated train to drive faster. We arrived just a minute too late. The plane was gone.

A couple bright points were that our luggage would not have made the plane even if we had, so that would have been a complication to deal with in Nashville, and we did get seats on another flight just an hour later (even though our friends from another school had to wait even longer for a replacement connection). And we arrived in Nashville in one piece, having had a slight delay that just made us hurry a bit more but did not eliminate any of our planned activities.

Saturday night’s celebratory dinner brought another set of complications to our travel plans. We decided to eat at a local restaurant legend, the Wildhorse Saloon. I knew the restaurant did not take reservations, so I planned to arrive by 6:30 p.m., early enough to avoid a long wait on a busy night. The students had also decided they wanted to travel in style – by limousine. So I arranged a limo instead of a taxi, which turned out to be just slightly more expensive.

The awards ceremony ended late, so we had to hurry back to our hotel and return to the convention hotel. As we came to the designated pickup spot, I saw a limo and looked for the valet captain to make sure it was ours. Just then the limo pulled away. Several conversations with hotel staff led me to discover that it had been our limo and that the driver had picked up the wrong group – another group headed toward the Wildhorse. We arranged a new pickup and went downtown.

By that time, about 7:15 p.m., the Wildhorse was jumpin’. Packed. Three-hour wait. So we started walking around the neighborhood looking for a place that could accommodate a group of seven with minimal wait. Problem was that most of the places open were bars.

Finally, after at least a half dozen inquiries and walking in a loop of about eight blocks, we spied a small restaurant on a corner, Rippy’s. It wasn’t full, but it was definitely a bar. Apparently in Tennessee, minors are allowed in bars until about 10 p.m., as long as they are not served alcohol. I scrambled to put a table together, and we sat down to some authentic barbecue and live country music. Everyone in our group seemed happy to experience some authentic Nashville life, and despite the tobacco smoke wafting around the room, they were warm and full. The joint was fun.

Sunday’s travel seemed to go well because the closing ceremony ended early and we arrived at the airport early by a couple hours. We had a leisurely lunch, walked around, chatted. I had a splendid 30-minute relaxation massage. The flight to Atlanta was uneventful and brief.

After our hourlong layover, we boarded the flight to Seattle. We taxied and taxied and taxied. Then the pilot announced there would be a delay as a problem had been discovered. And we had to return to the gate to have it investigated by the maintenance workers. A few minutes later, he announced that a bearing needed replacement and if available it would be at least 60 to 90 minutes of repair time. Meanwhile, we heard reports by cellphone back home that the mountain highway through Snoqualmie Pass would have nasty weather and driving conditions. It was a one-two punch for my well-planned itinerary.

We did get in the air with a shorter delay than expected, but the weather in Washington still looked bad. One of the students had called or sent a text message to a friend back home. Turns out that friend, also a member of our yearbook staff, called her father, who was staying at the family’s condo in a suburb east of Seattle. I checked my voicemail, and the dad had called offering to help in any way possible, and we made arrangements to stay the night there. Looks like it would be a big slumber party and no school on Monday.

Update: We did stay the night, and it was very pleasant and orderly. At about 9 a.m., we’re on our way.

Learning and friends: Meanwhile, the extra day will allow some additional reflection about the learning that took place at the Nashville convention. The keynote speakers, Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute, and Fred Clarke of the International Red Cross, were amazing. Clark shared his 50 writing tools, and I had a nice chat with him after his keynote as he signed my newly purchased copy of his book. I’m a real fan of his writing instruction. Clarke spoke about the collateral damage of conflict and shared his humanitarian work through photography. He presented information about conflicts I did not even know existed, and his photos made clear the point of his work.

In all, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel was a beautiful venue to host our convention, we had a good time, and we learned a lot. For several students it was a chance to recharge the batteries, while for others it was an inspiration to improve skills. I got to know each of my students better, and I look forward to returning this week (whenever we do) to put the new knowledge and experience to work.

-- Composed in the airspace over the Midwest (posted from Issaquah. Wash.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

'Borat' is offensively funny

I am so glad I had the chance to laugh my pants off Saturday night when I saw the new movie "Borat" in Seattle. The auditorium was packed, which is always nice when the crowd responds well to the humor on screen.

This movie blows "Jackass" away. It is far beyond a Christopher Guest mockmentary. It is hilarious. Just when I thought that singing the Kazakhi national anthem (sassy new words to our own tune) ar a rodeo was over the top, there is the naked wrestling match, the poop situation at a Southern mansion and the Pamela Anderson abduction. How this movie even got made despite more than 50 police interruptions is amazing.

In a few spots I had no idea whether I should even be laughing. I mean, some of that stuff is offensive! When I was involved in the state leadership program, one of the staff members developed a presentation on humor and a diagram that displayed varying levels of humor on a pyramid. The lower and less-offensive types, such as self-deprication, were at the bottom, and the pinnacle of the pyramid contained the types most likely to offend, such as racial and geneder humor. Let's just say "Borat" balances on the very tip of that pyramid. But just because it is offensive does not mean it ain't funny. It is. And gross.

See it if you can!

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

One more day

As expected, the final days of the election season showed most races tightening. Some races are as close as possible, within just one percentage point. My last-minute handicapping, with predictions:
  • The Montana and Rhode Island Senate races have seen a resurgence by the Republican incumbents, Conrad Burns and Lincoln Chaffee, respectively. Chaffee might be able to hold on at the last minute, but Burns is going down despite Air Force One criss-crossing the state to fire up the base. Arizona is also now a tossup, though I believe incumbent Republican Sen. John Kyl will hold on -- barely.
  • Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington state Senate races all will turn or remain in Democrat control.
  • Tennessee will stay Republican because Harold ford Jr. won't be able to make up the deficit, and because I really do believe racists undercurrents have inflated opinion polls to date.
  • Missouri and Virginia will both flip to Democrats. The stem-cell issue in Missouri should turn out progressive voters, and if George Allen in Virginia has never been above 45% in polls as an incumbent, this Democrat tide will sweep him out.
  • That means, as long as the Dems keep New Jersey and Montana, they could lose Rhode Island and still win a majority with Missouri and Virginia.
  • On the House side, all indicators point towarda Democratic pickup of at least the needed 15 seats for a majority, plus an additional 15 seats or so. That will be tough to spin by the GOP on Wednesday morning.

On the local scene, the hottest race seems to be the one for Chelan County District Court judge. A Wenatchee World newspaper report showed that Nancy Harmon, the candidate who won 42 percent of the primary vote, has raised $58,000 toward her campaign with about $45,000 coming from her own money. The job pays about $125,000 per year -- well over her current salary as a Douglas County deputy prosecutor. Her opponent, Tony DiTommaso, has spent about $38,000 with about a third of that coming from his own money. They both seem like nice people to me, and I would be satisfied with either, though I am supporting Harmon and donated to her campaign. Both have run fine campaigns, if a bit snippy at times.

I think the statewide initiatives will have mixed results:
  • I-920 would abolish the state estate tax, which is 4% on estates over $2 million. Family farms are exempt. Family newspapers are not, and the state's family-owned newspapers (like The Wenatchee World and The Seattle Times Company, which owns papers in Seattle, Yakima, Walla Walla and Maine) are very much in favor of eliminating this tax. I predict it will not be abolished.
  • I-933 would allow landowners to sue the state for compensation when the state devalues property through eminent domain or prohibiting development. This is strongly backed by the state Farm Bureau. I predict it will not pass.
  • I-937 would force power utilities with a certain number of customers to develop alternate and renewable energy resources, ultimately comprising 15 percent of their total power generation. This is something I generally believe in and support, yet the initiative does not include hydro power as a renewable resource. That's why I oppose it. The law, if passed, would force utilities like our PUD to siphon resources into untested alternatives over the current clean renewable power source from the river. Sadly, I predict it will pass. I hope it gets amended or thrown out by a court.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Are we killing journalism in America?

This came across on my e-mail discussion list for journalism educators last week. It is from the Character Counts Web site. It raises some important questions about media ownership and about the way that the media themselves are manipulated and controlled by powerful institutions.

Killing Journalism

A prominent Russian reporter famous for well-documented stories criticizing her government was recently assassinated. Her courage and commitment to the highest purposes of journalism was admirable. And the fact that she was murdered for doing her job reminds us not to take a free press for granted.

More than ever, we need a vigorous press to ferret out and publish "all the news that's fit to print" and to do so "without fear or favor." Unfortunately, the willingness and ability of the press to tell us what we need to know has been seriously threatened by investor groups looting venerable newspapers in search of greater shareholder value.

Last year, the Knight-Ridder chain of newspapers (including the largest papers in Philadelphia, Miami, Minneapolis and San Jose) were sold off in pieces. The Tribune Company (owner of 25 television stations and 11 daily newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and the leading papers in Chicago, Baltimore and Orlando) is currently poised to auction off its media assets.

Just last week, the Tribune effectively fired the very courageous publisher of the Times after he refused to make drastic newsroom cuts he thought would prevent the paper from giving readers the coverage they deserved.

Meanwhile, the news media, especially TV, seems even more dominated by a tabloidesque emphasis on lurid stories rather than important ones and political coverage designed to produce more heat than light. The great bias of the new corporate culture is not political ideology but profits. Not enlightenment but entertainment.

The big losers are a public too disdainful of journalists and too blinded by partisan perspectives to care. There is much to criticize about modern journalism, but despite the unremitting claims of bias by both liberal and conservative ideologues who label anyone who says things they don't like or don't agree with as a fool or enemy, we have the best journalism in the world. But all that is in jeopardy.

We don't shoot journalists in this country, but we are killing journalism.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Washington state's leadership legacy

Reunions can be wonderful celebrations or awkward affairs. I've been to a few in my life -- happy to see some of my high school classmates 10 years after graduation, and bored out of my mind meeting endless cousins at family affairs. But the reunion Saturday night at the Tacoma Sheraton was one of the most wonderful moments for me in a long time.

The Washington Student Leadership Program is celebrating 50 years in 2006. At the central of the leadership program are its summer leadership camps now held at the Cispus Learning Center, camps I was pleased to work for from 1992-2000. Saturday night was the gala event to recognize the founders of the program and to celebrate all that has happened in 50 years -- lives touched, students impacted and programs expanded.

I had been thinking a lot about the leadership program in the past few months, thinking about how much I liked being part of it and how big an impact it made on who I am today and how I got here. And when I heard about the reunion and celebration I knew I had to go. The program organizer had written to me in an e-mail that I would be so helpful in finding some of those "lost" former staff members. I knew she meant this because when I was on staff I used to keep track of and keep in touch with everyone -- by real mail before e-mail. But those words on the screen glared at me. I had lost contact with everyone I had worked with on staff except my friend Andy, who still works with the leadership program and who often tells me stories of his recent camp experiences, and that fact astonished me.

So Saturday night was a trip -- a trip down "memory lane" and a mind trip. I have rarely been overwhelmed by memory as I was when I walked to the entrance of the ballroom. I wasn't sure what to expect exactly. I went with Andy and I knew I would see people I had not seen in years. I've seen a few of these people over the years, and for others I have talked on the phone or by e-mail or through other people. But there was something almost magical as I saw person after person who I recognized and hugged, my jaw dropping at how much people have changed -- or really how much people are the same. And it was just like camp, just like the experience at Cispus where I always could leave my crazy life behind for a few days and just live in the ideal for a while, where everyone was friendly and by working together you could solve the problems of the world. Saturday night was a little like that.

I caught up with lots of people:
Wes and I worked together at the Cascade middle level camp for a couple years. He now owns a software company in Snohomish, Wash., and told me that his life is completely consumed by that -- but it's good. Wes and I spent some fun times laughing and playing jokes and just hanging out in the Sasquatch room at Cispus.

Ingrid and I worked together at Mt. Baker high school camp and at Cascade middle level camp, and she is now a health and fitness teacher in Bellevue and lives in North Bend. I always remember Ingrid being such a warm and fun person and she and I were buddies on many a camp activity, whether it was a skit or a song or a campfire.

Jeff and I first worked together as junior counselors at Mt. Baker, then at Cascade, where is is now the assistant director. Now working in technology at a Seattle law firm, I have seen Jeff a couple times in the past few years, and I have kept tabs on him here and there. So many of my favorite happy memories from camp involve Jeff. He always inspired me to do a better job, and his humor and stability was comforting and disarming. His genuine personality came through even on Saturday night as he shared his camp experiences with the audience.

Tricia and I also started at Mt. Baker and continued at Cascade, where she is now assistant director now. She worked for a while in Seattle private education and now teaches multicultural education classes at Highline Community College. If I ever needed a boost of self-confidence I got it from Tricia, and she is perfect for the job she has now. I remember her being pregnant at camp one summer and that child is now almost a teenager.

Jim was my high school principal and we also worked together at Mt. Baker. He's now retired from education but works for the state Department of Social and Health Services in Ellensburg. His daughter, Angie, and I served in student leadership together at Ellensburg High School and were buddies. She said doesn't remember, but we worked together at Cascade camp for at least one summer session. I have photos somewhere.

Beej, my own high school adviser, had numerous roles in the leadership program, including some recent work with the newsletter. It was great to catch up with her (she looks the same) and to find out she is a loyal reader of this Weblog.

Pam and Clay are now married and working as the co-directors of Mt. Olympus, where I worked for a few summer sessions with them. I had also worked at Cascade with Pam, who is still teaching English in Mukilteo. They looked great and also happy.

Trent and I worked together at Mt. Baker, and he was also the junior counselor I had when I went to camp as a delegate from Ellensburg High School in 1991. He has had more of an impact on me than he will know. He's now an attorney with a Seattle firm.

Vince and I worked at Mt. Baker, Cascade and Mt. Olympus together, and he is now a challenge course facilitator at Cispus and also the director of the bilingual leadership program at the new Chewelah Peak learning center near Spokane. He told me he plans to leave Washington soon to start his own leadership skill development operation in Louisiana, closer to family. But, he said he is committed to the bilingual camp in Washington for two more years.

Ken was the director of several camps, including Mt. Olympus, where I worked with him for two summers. What an inspiration! He is now retired from Bellingham schools and is the assistant athletic director and women's basketball coach at Biola University in the Los Angeles area.

And there were so many others who I wanted to talk with longer but couldn't: Susan (the program coordinator), Marty (the Cispus director), Lois, Sandy, Joe, Ruth A., Ruth C., Lana, Eleanor, Shannon.

And noticably absent were two of my closest camp pals, Mona and Steve. I know where Mona is because we share common friends, but I have completely lost contact with Steve, who was my Eastern Washington buddy and who got me into more "trouble" (and several scrapes) than I care to admit.

I had told Andy a few months ago that I was considering coming back to camp, if someone would have me. I worked camp for a lot of reasons, and I admit some of those were selfish. As a young person in college and as a newer teacher, I didn't have a lot of good things in my life, I knew I had the support of my friends from camp, and I gained the confidence to do so much of what I do now. I left in 2000 because I decided to pursue a leadership position with the journalism workshop, a position I held for seven years and left after this summer. Maybe now is the right time to return to camp. I had two offers just last night. I need to think about what I could offer and where that fits in my path, but I am thinking more and more that it could be the right choice.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ten and counting

Just 10 days remain before what will surely be known as Black Tuesday around the Republican National Committee offices. Control of the House of Representatives will probably switch to the Democrats -- that is almost a foregone conclusion. The main question seems to be how wide the margin will be. Two major pollsters are indication somewhere between 18 and 30 seats will change hands. The Dems need just 15 to take control.

The Senate has been a horserace all summer and fall. A couple weeks ago, things looked very good for the Democrats. The last week has seen some of those races tighten. I speculate that the undecided or uncommitted voters have started deciding or committing. The Republican candidate they may have had doubts about before might not seem so bad after all, perhaps.

First local, then the nation:
In Washington's Senate race, Maria Cantwell sent a last-minute plea for more cash to keep her ads on the air in the final days of the campaign. An Oct. 19 poll shows her leading strongly, 51-42 over challenger Mike McGavick, the former insurance executive and former chief of staff to Sen. Slade Gorton. The last-minute cash call came just as McGavick announced that he was loaning his campaign $500,000 in cash to keep it afloat in the remaining days. Cantwell and McGavick are both millionaires, and a Seattle news article this week showed they are among similar company. I sent Cantwell $50 anyway, just because I like her so much.

In Washington's congressional races, one of the hottest in the nation is the 8th District seat held by moderate Republican Dave Reichert. He faces very stiff opposition form former Microsoft executive Darcy Burner. The ads have been messing up the airwaves, with accusations of lying and inexperience and anything else that ad-makers think will stick. This one will definitely go down to the wire.

The state Democrats also think they can gain some ground in Eastern Washington. The 5th District seat held by Cathy McMorris of Spokane (and formerly by Speaker Tom Foley) is now in play. McMorris was overheard on a recent conference call to ask the speaker, Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, to mention some of her good work on veterans affairs. Craig chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. A reporter was accidentally placed on mute instead of having the call blocked while waiting for the conference call to begin last week. McMorris also said the race was tougher than she expected. The challenger is Okanogan farmer Peter Goldmark. He has a Ph.D. and developed a strain of wheat that is now farmed all over the inland empire. He also served as chair of the board of regents at Washington State University and as the head of teh state agriculture department. This is a man who would be great in Congress.

In my own 4th District, Doc Hastings still has not posted a single sign in Wenatchee that I have seen. The Democrats first sent an e-mail this week praising their chances to win with Burner and Goldmark. A later e-mail included Wright. I head a couple weeks ago that the campaign was pretty much broke, but I saw a sizable ad for Wright in the local paper this week, so perhaps there has been a recent infusion of cash. Meanwhile, there has been a strong letter-writing campaign, and I have seen a Wright letter several dayes recently. No letters have supported Hastings. However, Hastings is well-liked in the district, and he does not need to convince many voters to fill the box next to his name. The "R" is good enough. I only wonder if Hastings faced a stronger and more dynamic candidate if he would be sweating more now. Wright's low-key manner would make an election night victory even sweeter.

The nation:
Go with the devil you know maybe? That appears to be the case in Montana's Senate race, where incumbent Conrad Burns has been saddled with scandal over his dealings with Jack Abramoff. Burns trailed his Democrat challenger, John Tester, by a wide margin recently, but an Oct. 26 poll shows Tester leading just 51-47. Dems are counting on this race to move them closer to controlling the chamber.

Democrat challengers in Minnesota, Rhode Island, Ohio and Pennsylvania still lead with strong margins.

The races to watch continue to be New Jersey, where the polling has been a seesaw of activity, and Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. Each of those last three states is especially crucial and the Dems face an uphill battle. Holding New Jersey and winning just two of the other seats wins control. Yet, recent polling shows a statistical dead heat, perhaps due to the Republicans pumping money in there so they can have a small bright spot on election night.

Those three states have also been very much in the media the past week. In Missouri, a state ballot measure woud permit stem-cell research. The Democrat candidate supports that. So does actor Michael J. Fox, who filmed an ad for her, and he was shaking throughout due to his Parkinson's Disease. He was criticized heavily by Rush Limbaugh and others on the right for "faking it" but Limbaugh later apologized. It focused attention on the Show Me State, and people who support stem-cell research in Missouri might be enough to tip the scale in a very close election. I doubt this one will be resolved on Nov. 7.

In Tennessee, the Republicans aired a cheeky ad that made fun of Democrat Harold Ford's attendance at a Super Bowl party sponsored by Playboy magazine. The ad closes with a white woman winking at the camera, kissing the air and inviting the candidate to call her. Many on the left have criticized this as racist, though I have yet to see a clear explanation of just how. At the same time, I don't have a detailed understanding of race politics in the South, so perhaps just the implication that a white woman -- a call girl no less -- would go after a black man is racist. Perhaps it is also the coded language of the South, where people still might harbor prejudices and the ad hopes to capitalize on them. Again, this Senate race is back-and-forth, and I wonder if the Dems can really pull this one out. It seems less about whether a candidate will be a good Senator and more about who is white and who is not.

In Virginia, where Sen. George Allen is barely hanging on to a seat against challenger Jim Webb, the Navy secretary under President Reagan, the past has also surfaced again. Turns out Webb wrote a few novels and they contain some steamy passages. Allen is trying to capitalize on that. Don't go throwing stones -- the Republicans have their own steamy writers, including Second Lady Lynne Cheney. This race has really tightened in the last couple weeks, and I thought Allen would win despite all his "macaca" missteps. But in the remaining 10 days, Allen may just look desperate and a Democratic tide could be enough to send the not-quite-liberal Webb across teh Potomac to the Senate.

All in all, there are still a few days for Karl Rove and his machine to make some sort of October surprise. Yet, voters all over are already marking their ballots. I have mine on the kitchen counter, waiting for some big event that might change my position on one of the nonpartisan issues or on a ballot initiative. I pretty much know how I am voting, but I like to wait until election day to actually do it, even though all balloting in my county is by mail. Ten and counting -- I can hardly stand the tension.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

'That damn marijuana'

Canadian troops in Afghanistan are apparently having difficulty working through thickets of 10-foot-high marijuana plants to find hiding Taliban outlaws. My friend RyeCatcher says that we could have won in Vietnam if we had this problem.

Read the full text at the aptly named

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Election battleground: 21 days to go

With every poll that is issued, the Republicans have got to just be sweating bullets. More and more, the individual congressional races seem competitive. A few months ago, there were maybe a dozen competitive districts. In the last few weeks, that number has more than doubled, and all the seats in play were with Republican incumbents. Today, my main electoral source has it up to as many as 50. Fifty!

It seems a foregone conclusion that we're just three weeks away from the night that will lead to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She's not my favorite Democrat, but I would sure be happy to see her slam a gavel down. Let alone the idea that oversight committees that would move forward with some much-needed investigations of the executive branch.

The Senate, though has been a completely different matter. Months ago it looked like the Dems would basically have to run the table, a prospect that seemed incredibly daunting. Today, the Dems seem poised to approach a majority and possible recapture control of the chamber. They need six additional seats to gain control.

They needed to keep their possibly vulnerable seats:
Washington: Check
Michigan: Check
Connecticut: Check (well, Lieberman will win but he'll still be a D.)

They needed to pick up open seats previously held by a Democrat:
Minnesota: Check
Maryland: Check

And they need to pick up seats in the areas where Republicans were vulnerable:
Rhode Island: Check
Pennsylvania: Check
Montana: Check

So it comes down to four key states: Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia

Word comes today in The New York Times that the Republicans are essentially bailing on Ohio, deciding that Sen. Mike DeWine can't pull it out against challenger Sherrod Brown. They want to concentrate their resources (mainly money) on the states where they absolutely need to win and think they still have a shot. Apparently, that is not Ohio. Or Rhode Island. Apparently, it comes down to just Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia.

That's bad news all around. Those three races have each been tightening in the last few weeks, and the GOP has candidates that all have weaknesses and have been absolutely battered in the campaign so far. The best part is that the Dems need just two of these to take the Senate. Most likely that will be Missouri and Tennessee, where the incumbents are weakest. Virginia will be a tough challenge, but the trend is for a Democrat tide to come in on Election Day.

So for 21 days, expect to hear nothing but battleground reports from these three states. It's all about Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. If the Democrats can prove successful in those states, every shred of conventional wisdom will be revised. And come Nov. 9, the morning after, people will be talking like they were on the day after Election Day in 1994. I just hope Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid don't stand in front of that lame picture of the Capitol with a banner reading "Under New Management" -- it's cheesy.

Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. Get ready to know them well.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Feelin' free

There are a lot of people I admire, some I even consider heroes. Tonight, I added someone else to the list: Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union. I attended a speech she gave Wednesday night as keynote to the yearlong First Amendment Festival at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

The hour's drive with two friends was so worth it. Strossen impressed me with her breadth of knowledge, her articulate expression of the rationale behind the mission of the ACLU and her passion for explaining it all. The auditorium was not fully packed, but there appeared to be several hundred people -- a good mix of students, older members of the community and academics -- attending, listening and later asking questions.

Her speech not only gave the history of the First Amendment but outlined the importance of defending those rights. She listed example after example of cases where the ACLU had defended the rights in the First Amendment -- in some situations describing a behavior that was unpopular or unsavory. She also had been asked to concentrate on the religion freedoms, and she presented support for why the ACLU was necessary and listed its many accomplishments.

I was struck throughout her presentation at how she remained objective and principled. When her position is one of absolute defense of first freedoms, it is easily defensible. She did not hedge, she did not equivocate. Furthermore, she walked her talk. In a question-and-answer session after her speech, she responded to more than a dozen queries on a wide range of civil liberties topics: Internet filters, pornography, school newspapers, flag burning, same-sex marriage, copyright. She patiently listened to what were surely the same questions she gets asked at every speech, and she capable answered them all. In one case, she honestly could not understand the question from a young man who clearly was nervous and inarticulate, offering to respond to him by e-mail. Another young man posed a pointed series of questions about the ACLU's position on flag burning and appearing anti-military when those same military members are fighting to preserve American freedoms. It was here where she was most patient and tolerant of the free speech she so values. Additionally, her knowledge of the cases that affected public schools was especially impressive.

The fact that such a luminary in the field of civil liberties would speak on the CWU campus made me proud to be an alumnus. Central Washington desperately needs to have dialogue about civil liberties and foundation freedoms. The role of the academy in society is to make available speakers and experiences that force each of us to question and which provoke us to think. Nadine Strossen at CWU was just such a speaker and experience -- the perfect opening to what promises to be a year of phenomenal opportunities to the campus community.

Tonight, I am especially pleased to be a graduate of CWU and a member of the ACLU.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Is Mike McGavick dumb?

Michael Kinsley, the former editor of The New Republic and Slate magazines and CNN commentator now a Washington Post columnist, used the ads of Senate candidate Mike McGavick as fodder for a column. McGavick trails in his campaign to oust Sen. Maria Cantwell from her Senate seat. Kinsley lives in the Seattle area.

Check it out here.

The best quote from the essay:
"If you knew nothing about Mike McGavick except what is in his TV commercials and on his Web site, you would conclude either that he is a moron or that he thinks you are a moron."
Well, you already know what I think. I met McGavick a couple weeks ago at one of his "Open Mike" events here in Wenatchee. I went as a Democrat with the intention of asking him a question supplied by local Demo organizers. I tried to pin him down on his position on privatizing Social Security. He had few specifics on how he differed from the privatization plan offered by the president. In that session, McGavick showed he is a very personable man whose intelligence comes through despite the fact that he tries to be straightforward and plainspoken. But in a clear attempt at an applause line he offered, without prompting, that English should be the official language of the nation. It was just a cheap grab for applause with a borderline racist comment. He knew his conservative eastern Washington crowd.

Is Mike McGavick a moron? Nah. But he is a fool if he thinks that vague plans and cheap applause lines will get him enough votes to unseat a generally well-regarded and sharp incumbent.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

A Democratic Senate?

For months, the polls nationwide have indicated that the Democrats' chance of regaining control of the House of Representative is the best this year since the GOP took power after the election of 1994. All summer, people said that the Senate was a different story. State by state, it looked like there were some strong candidates and some open seats and that maybe the Democrats would pick up a few seats but not enough to gain control of the chamber, currently 55 Republicans to 44 Democrats and one independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Basically, the idea of retaining all the Democrat seats plus picking up six seats meant the Democrats would have to run the table come Election Day.

Well, it looks increasingly likely that the scenario may just happen. Democrats running for re-election or against a Republican or in an open seat are up all across the country. Democrats are surging.

Part of the good news is that the open seats or seats with weak Republican incumbents are in states with strong Democrat energy or with voters that are fickle: Montana, Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota and Missouri among others.

Here in Washington state, Maria Cantwell won in 2000 by a slim margin of just a couple thousand votes. She has been a target for six years, and with state Republicans mad as heck after the 2004 gubernatorial recount where they also lost, Cantwell has been the number one Democrat to beat purely for vindictive reasons. Her opponent: a former insurance CEO who took a $28 million payout as he left the job, a job where he fired workers in order to "save the company." He's a former chief of staff to Slade Gorton, the moderate whom Cantwell sent into retirement six years ago. But Maria is a fighter and a shrewd politician. She carefully selected issues important to her constituents and doing what every freshman senator knows is priority number one: constituent services. Her issues are the environment, energy and workers. She has had to defend a pro-war vote to Washingtonians much more liberal than she, but so far everyone has fallen in line and Cantwell has led in the polls throughoutthe campaign season. Absent the Republican momentum that her opponent needed to fund his campaign and to energize the base, she'll get a second term.

Even in New Jersey, where Robert Menendez left his seat in the House to fill the vacancy left when John Corzine became governor. Memnendez has also faced some flak for a scandal, but a Sept. 30 poll has him up 44-41 over the Republican, Tom Kean Jr., the son of a very popular former governor (and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission).

Some other races have been prime targets for the Dems, too. It's been obvious for a while that Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum, the leader of the super-conservatives, and Montana's Conrad Burns, suffering under the weight of the Jack Abramoff scandal, would go down. That's just two Republicans of the six needed to win a majority.

Lately, though, Democrats in some of these other states have started to pick up a lot of momentum. In Ohio, Sherrod Brown is walloping Mike DeWine in a state that often is a bellweather of the nation. Brown's up 45% to 42% in an Oct. 3 poll. Democrats in Ohio are energized and organized after the voting fiasco in 2004. The man responsible for President Bush's re-election victory via Ohio screw-ups is running for governor, and Ohioans are set on stopping him. I suspect turnout will be very heavy for an off-year election.

Just this week, in Missouri, State Auditor Claire McCaskill has edged ahead of incumbent Jim Talent. I predict she'll win this race. She has made stem-cell research a cornerstone of her campaign, and a ballot measure on that topic should fuel turnout in her favor. She also has won a statewide race more than once in a state not known for electing a lot of Democrats. In contrast, Talent won a special election against Jean Carnahan, who was appointed to fill the seat her late husband won in 2000 (ousting John Ashcroft). Essentially, he beat a non-candidate, so he has not truly been tested, and he has a poor record and unpopular party to defend.

In a year where every seat counts, the Democrats have also set their sights on Rhode Island and the seat held by Republican Lincoln Chaffee. He's essentially a Democrat, even announcing that he voted against President Bush in 2004. But he had a tough primary battle against the anti-tax candidate, and he had to run to the right. Now, his Democrat opponent, Sheldon Whitehouse, is up 46-40 in an Oct. 1 poll.

The Democrats' best chance for that sixth pickup seat looks like it will be Tennessee, a state that has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since Al Gore Jr. left in 1992. Harold Ford Jr., a son of a longtime Tennessee political family and a congressman himself, is the face of the new Southern Democrat. He faces Chatanooga mayor Bob Corker, and has raised far more than Corker has. A set of polls last week show Ford with a slight edge.

The Democrats have strong candidates in other states, such as Virginia, Nevada and Arizona, but it appears that unless the next month gets even worse for the Republicans, those Republicans will hold their seats. The most notable of those is George Allen in Virgina, hanging on with the slimmest of margins after public relations nightmares with the Confederate flag and a history of racist comments. It has been said that Allen has presidential ambitions and was looking past 2006 to the nomination process, but even if re-elected he will be so damaged and bruised that he won't be very attractive to many across the country. His brand of racism and good-ol'-boy politics may play well in Virginia, but I doubt he will be very appealing when standing on a stage next to fellow Republicans who are virtually revered (John McCain, Rudy Giuliani) or who have a huge presence (Newt Gingrich, Bill Frist).

Sure, there are 30 days till Election Day, and we all know that a lot can happen. The past week's events show that a scandal can break, gain momentum and be contained all in just seven days. The Republicans are down for the count. We'll see if the Democrats will see a total KO or if somehow the GOP can get back up on its already shaky legs.

I wrote months ago that this fall would be the most exciting election in years, and I think I was right.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

The sun shines for Dems

I'm a Democrat, through and through -- that's no news flash.

I like being a Democrat. And, as an Eastern Washington Democrat I am used to the fact that there are not a lot of us around. In Seattle and many other urban areas, a person can walk down the street and look at the bumber stickers protesting the war in Iraq, promoting Democrat candidates or just the ideals of progressives and liberals. But in Eastern Washington, especially in Chelan County where I live, seeing a yard sign for a Democrat is pretty rare and makes a person perk up just to know a neighbor thinks similarly.

But here's the real news: Even in Wenatchee and Chelan County, there are Democrats, and this year especially there are a lot of people who will be voting Democrat.

I have never felt this stronger than today when I went around several neighborhoods "dropping literature" for the only two candidates on the ballot that will be mailed Oct. 18 to Chelan County voters. I went around neighborhoods with literqature for Richard Wright, who is running for Congress against Rep. Doc Hastings, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, who is running for re-election. I moved quickly along the sidewalks, placing the lit under doormats. I saw three people who came to the door and to whom I passed the lit in person. One woman, age 88 I learned later, was pleased to see me with the lit and said she would vote for candidates "as long as they're Deomcrats." Another man, a former history teacher living just a few houses down the winding street, said he always votes and that he definitely votes for Democrats. Later in the afternoon, a very smart older man asked me about all sorts of things such as debt service and finance but basically wanted to know if Wright had a chance. I said he does.

All in all, it was an energizing day to be a Democrat, even here in Wenatchee. About a dozen people of all ages had gathered at the local office to take the materials around the community. Wright himself was there, and he went out to ring some doorbells, too.

Meanwhile, I still have seen no signs for Doc Hastings in Wenatchee. Zero. Not a one. Usually the local GOP leaders post some big signs on their vacant land or in the yards of run-down rental homes near high-traffic areas. This year, I have seen none. I'm not sure whether Hastings thinks he has it in the bag, if he is too busy to organize a campaign or if he just doesn't have the support. My hunch is that he is overconfident, and the last week in Washington, D.C., has shown him in the hot glare of the spotlight in his role as Ethics Committee chair. He is loyal, and so far his loyalty to Speaker Dennis Hastert has earned him lots of plum jobs and a perch as the next chair of the Rules Committee, but I think the Mark Foley scandal might bring down the Republican leadership of Congress and their slim majority.

Even before last week's revelations, polls showed that Democrats were within striking position of recapturing the majority. Now, with the Republicans reeling from scandal after scandal after scandal, their values being questioned, the Democrats are very appealing to a voter who does not have a lot of loyalty or commitment to a party. Guess what? There are a lot of those people in Eastern Washington.

The sun shone today for me as I walked around the neighborhoods with my Maria Cantwell and Richard Wright flyers, and I know that in the remaining 30 days or so it will shine for those candidates and for all Democrats around the country.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Slimming down

Thursday at 7:05 a.m. a simple act not only brightened my day but put me in a good mood for hours. During the past week I have worked my way through my closet wearing shirt-and0tie combinations that I have not used in a while, and avoiding doing laundry by wearing ]some garments I have not worn in a while. Finally, Wednesday I did all the laundry, thinking I had worn all the combos possible.

Then, Thursday morning I spied a pair of brown pants that have hung in the closet for a couple years. I bought these pants a couple years ago in one of those times when I just grabbed a pair off the shelf thinking I could just find my size and assume they fit fine. They didn't fit fine. They were a little snug across the rear and through the thigh, even though they have pleats. Honestly, they looked weird, and they were obviously cut for someone slimmer than I was when I bought them. Hoping I would fit in them, I kept them and I tried them on a few times over the past couple years.

But Thursday morning was the day. You've probably already figured out that they fit. And the euphoria I experienced was nothing short of glorious. What an exciting moment to have such tangible evidence that one is getting slimmer. I've been working on a few small methods of losing some weight and getting slimmer, and over the past few months I have dropped just a few extra pounds. I knew I was on the right track in July when I was sick and weighed at the medical center. The scale read less than I thought, but I figured that was just because of being sick. But, I have continued to lose a bit of weight while increasing the few pushups and weights I do daily. It's amazing what one moment and a pair of pants can do for self-esteem, energy and the feeling one has throughout the day.

I'm still working, but I know that if I stay the course I will be closer every day toward my goal for health and wellness. Those brown pants are the symbol so far. A pair of jeans in a bag on the closet floor is the motivation to keep going.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Florida fool

You would think that a person elected to Congress would be a person who has some common sense. You would think that a person with oversight of Internet predators and exploited/missing children would himself be someone who stood up for children. You would think someone in a position of authority would be worthy of respect and admiration. If you thought those things about Mark Foley, who until Friday represented the 16th District of Florida in Congress, you'd have been wrong.

Turns out former Rep. Foley is a creepy, dirty old man. He resigned Friday when it became apparent that the reports of his online messages to a former male page in his office would become public. Pages are always juniors in high school, and it's not a good idea, let alone legal, for a Congressman to be contacting the youngster and making lewd comments in online chat. This kid was 16 at the time of the online chat!

Slate has the text of the instant messages, via ABC News.

So now, Foley's gone and there is the fallout. Turns out the Republican House leadership knew about the situation for months and sat on the info and perhaps tried to cover it up. This just has not been a good Congressional term for the GOP. Three Republican Congressmen were indicted this term: Tom DeLay of Texas, Bob Ney of Ohio and Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California.

The Foley vacancy also means the Democrats have a chance at picking up the seat that was considered a solid win for the Republicans. Foley's name stays on the already-printed ballots, but any votes for him would go to his as-yet-unnamed replacement. Still, if I think it would be hard for even a die-hard Republican to bring him- or herself to mark the bubble next to the creep's name.

Is it any wonder that increasingly people want a change in control of Congress?

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Diverse Seattle weekend entertainment

It was a fantastic weekend of entertainment as diverse as can be imagined. On Friday I saw Paul Simon in concert (see previous entry). Saturday was a touring stage musical and an unusual movie.

"Bombay Dreams": The Broadway musical based on Bollywood turned out to be far better than I had imagined in the show I attended to open the season at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. Maybe it was just my own unfamiliarity with the show, let alone with the Bollywood genre, but I really liked this musical. The story moved along, for the most part, at a good clip, the songs were upbeat and well-performed, and the staging was nice. I wish the sound quality and timing could have been a bit better, but you can't expect perfection. All in all, I will be humming "Shakalaka Baby" for a afew weeks to come, that's for sure. I bet if the song were released with a major performer involved, it would not only skyrocket to the top of the charts, it would revolutionize pop music today. I think I need to give the Bollywood genre a closer look.

"The Science of Sleep": I saw a trailer for this film a few weeks ago and thought it looked interesting enough to go see. The show at the Egyptian on Saturday night was pretty full, even though the film has been playing a week or more. The audience really seemed to enjoy Gael garcia Bernal's performance, and he played the character to the hilt. He rivals Johnny Depp for number of quirky characters and his ability to bring a special personality to each. The movie, though, takes a lot of effort to follow. It is exceptionally creative with beautifully designed special effects and sets to capture the dreams and imagination inside Stephane's (Bernal) head. This film belongs alongside "Eternal Sunchine of the Spotless Mind" and "Being John Malkovich." Crazy stuff, but interesting.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

He's still got it

On an almost-whim, I attended a concert in Seattle Friday night given by the musician whom I consider to be among the greatest in American music: Paul Simon. And although he is slowing down a bit, his songs defined decades of music, and he can still rock an arena.

I appreciated that most of the songs in the lineup were from his earlier years, including his Simon and Garfunkel days and his solo work. Especially nice to see was a great selection from the "Graceland" album of the '80s. But four songs from his new album, "Surprise," were also included, and I think they blended nicely, too. Simon was welcomed back to the stage for three encores, including "Call Me Al," "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and the new "Wartime Prayer." The encores are where the show really rocked. He should have just played the set all the way through and avoided the foolishness of the encore.

The Seattle Times preview
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer review

All in all, it was a swell concert, and I had a fantastic seat. I guess if you go alone, you can geta good seat at the last minute. I was on the main level (really the only level), in row 6 and with the stage just to my right. Honestly I think I had a fantastic view. My cellphone camera didn't provide much in the way of a digital memory, but I'll live.

The only stress of the evening came when I thought I would be late. I planned to leave Wenatchee by 4 p.m., plenty of time to get to Key Arena and settled in my seat. I stopped for a pop and ended up poking the straw through the bottom of the 32-ounce styrofoam cup. Yes, styrofoam. I block down the road I realized I had Diet Coke leaking everywhere and finally pulled over to try to sop it up. I got most of it down, went back to the mini-mart, cleaned up, got a new pop and, 20 minutes late, I was on my way again.

It was a pleasant drive over the pass (even heard Simon's "Father and Daughter" on the radio), but traffic came to a halt just east of Bellevue with some sort of collision in the Mercer Island tunnel. I did not really get moving again at all, as the I-5 traffic was backed up to exit onto Mercer Street for the concert and other activities in the Seattle Center area. The show started at 7:30, and I desperately pulled into a $10 parking garage at 7:40, abandoning my plans for free parking at a spot I know 10 minutes from Key Arena.

The opening act, the Jerry Douglas Band, was just ending, and there was a 20-minute break. I could have just parked where I planned in the first place and would not have missed any of Simon's show, but it all worked out fine.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Back to business

OK, I'm back. I know that I have been really, really bad in not posting here for five weeks (!), but it has been a heck of a month personally, and I just had no energy to invest in this. Honestly, it was a long and relaxing summer, and suddenly in mid-August I found myself adrift with no aim and nothing to prompt me to focus.

It's strange, this self-discovery. I have learned I need something in life to keep me going. It has to be tangible and attainable, not just a quality or concept. I realized over the summer that I had reached many of the material goals I had for myself with career and volunteer activities, and I finished my commitments for the summer workshop, so then I mentally just shut down. All that done, I had nothing to spur me on.

When school rolled around I continued in the same vein, and I was lethargic and unmotivated. Yet, almost a month into the school year, I feel my teaching is some of the best I have done. It's hard to reconcile.

So now, I am trying to get back into a routine that allows self-expression. That includes posting here to the Weblog. It wasn't that I didn't think of things I wanted to say. It was that I didn't have the energy to say 'em. Maybe now I will.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

George Allen is a boob

Sen. George Allen, a Republican from Virginia and also that state's former governor, is hoping to be the next president of the United States. But firs, he must get re-elected to the Senate this year, and the campaign to do so is making him look like he just might inherit the mantle of "Biggest Dummy" from another George we all know.

Last weekend, Sen. Allen used a racial epithet to refer to a young man who was videotaping him at a campaign appearance. The young man, of Indian descent, was working for the campaign of Democrat James Webb, Allen's opponent, and was following and taping Allen -- a common campaign practice. Allen referred to the young man as "macaca," which has varying definitions from a monkey to a slur against African Americans. In any case, it sure is not a nice term, and the excuse from the Allen campaign is that the senator thought he was using the term for the young man's hair -- a mohawk or mullet. Right.

Read Slates's analysis here.

If you want to watch the video for yourself, check out YouTube as well.

The sad part is that Rob Corrdery of "The Daily Show" had it right on that show's bit: It is not clear whether this incident will help or hurt Allen in Virginia or around the country.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Sweet Jesus!

OK need a goood chuckle? Check out the Jesus of the Week Web site. Each week, a new item related to the savior gets posted. Most of the items are from some sort of commercial venture. What would Jesus say? I bet he would laugh.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Summer on screen and stage

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels": I saw this new stage musical at The Paramount theater in Seattle on Sunday night, thanks to a free ticket from a friend of a friend. I had planned to attend the show this week anyway, so this was a nice bonus -- and the seats were pretty good as well if a bit further back that I usually like to sit. The show was fun and the plot moved along at a nice pace, but the second act started slow, and some of the elements were distracting. I liked the cast, and some of the numbers were hilarious. My friend spied some of the show's creative team in the lobby as we were exiting, and she tossed out a few compliments. She is always so good at picking out people like that. I would have walked right on by without kknowing a thing. She figured that they bigwigs were in the audience to see the tour's kickoff. Perhaps that is why so much of the house was "papered" -- to create a good audience.

"Little Miss Sunshine": I really enjoyed this movie, after waiting months from seeing the preview. The premise is sweet, the acting is wonderful, but the plot stumbles a bit toward the ending. It was not bad enough to ruin the entire movie for me, but I think perhaps I had built it up in my mind so that it would be very heart-warming, but it turned out to be just OK. Recommendation: Matinee.

"John Tucker Must Die": OK I admit this film interested me because it looked completely cheesy and fun. Turns out, it had a nice plot and a smart script. From the clever opening where I laughed out loud to the plausible resolution, this movie kept me interested all along. I mean, of course it was filled with teen angst and super cute girls and boys who are actually 25 and not teens, but it also had some substance. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised. Recommendation: Full price.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

A fork in the road for the Dems

Tuesday's primary election in Connecticut, which ousted three-term Senator Joe Lieberman, has been analyzed endlessly on the cable shout shows over the last couple days. But the real questions are whether this primary means that Democrat (and possibly all) voters are fed up with pro-war incumbents and will kick them out when given the opportunoty or whether the Democrats are doomed to repeat a previous mistake and allow the left flank of the party to dominate over an issue that may have been necessary for moderates to support. The war issue, which has been central in the debate since 2003, is poised to become even more troublesome for Democrat candidates who seek the presidential nomination in 2008. Most notable is Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has been an outspoken supporter of the war and a deliberate moderate.

Slate has a great and thoughtful analysis of the situation. The article states that Democrats have been at this crossroads before, and the Demos suffered politically for decades as a result.
The Lamont-Lieberman battle was filled with echoes and parallels from the Vietnam era. Democratic reformers and anti-establishment insurgents weren't wrong about that conflict, either. Vietnam was a terrible mistake for the United States. But like Iraq, Vietnam was a badly chosen battlefield in a larger conflict with totalitarianism that America had no choice but to pursue. In turning viciously on stalwarts of the Cold War era like Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Scoop Jackson, anti-war insurgents called into question the Democratic Party's underlying commitment to challenging Communist expansion. The party's Vietnam-era drift away from issues of security and defense—and its association with a radical left hostile to the military and neutral in the fight between liberalism and communism—helped push a lot of Americans who didn't much like the Vietnam War into the arms of Richard Nixon.

On the other hand, some could argue that the ouster of Lieberman -- and of Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney -- means Democrats have finally grown a backbone and are willing to toss out an incumbent with whom they are dissatisfied in exchange for a candidate they feel they deserve. In 2004, Democratic primary voters flirted with a very desirable candidate, Howard Dean, but ended up with what many considered the more stable, more electable candidate, John Kerry. Perhaps in 2006 and 2008 voters are now fed up and will vote for the candidate of conscience. Of course, they may just be self-destructing as in years past.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lieberman, McKinney lose primary races

Sen. Joe Lieberman has lost the Democratic primary to retain his Senate seat in Connecticut, although he vows he will file to run as an independent. The deadline to do that is tomorrow.

Cynthia McKinney, a Georgia congresswoman who had a much-publicized run-in with Capitol police earlier this year, has lost a run-off Democratic primary.

What do these losses mean for the Democrats and for the elections this year? It's not clear in the hours immediately following the closure of the polls. The McKinney situation is pretty clear: She's done. Her opponent will be the Democrat to run. For Lieberman, assuming he has gathered the thousands of necessary signatures for an independent run, the race continues. However, he will have to do it without the DNC money and without the support of many of his Democrat colleagues. Many of them vowed to support the winner of the primary -- as they should -- and the Democrats would be wise to not allow internal partisan differences consume or divide them.

So, Lieberman, the party's number-two in 2000, is forced to campaign to the middle -- a place where he has long been more comfortable anyway. Perhaps this will free him up to court those moderate voters who might have been reluctant to support a Democrat anyway. That race might also place the Democrats' chances for regaining the Senate in jeopardy. With a party split and one running as an independent it seems possible that the third candidate, in this case a Republican, could move in for a slim victory by plurality. George H. W. Bush and Al Gore know all about how that works.

I guess I cannot state enough how interesting this year's races have shaped up. Man, it will be a fun few months until Election Day.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Congressional elections heat up

This mid-term Congressional elections have heated up in the late summer, and it has been exciting to see the next twist in an election year where nothing short of control of one or both chambers of Congress. The public opinion of Congress, including people's opinions of their own representative, is at the lowest point since 1994, the landmark year when both houses of Congress changed control. Some interesting races:

OHIO: Rep. Bob Ney, seeking a seventh term, dropped out of the race, citing an increase in pressures on his family as criticism mounted for his involvement in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal. Ney has not been indicted but he has been identified as the congressman listed in several accounts filed by the prosecutors. He won the Republican primary recently. [ CNN report ]

GEORGIA: Cynthia McKinney is in a tough re-election battle. A run-off election will see who gets to be the Democrat candidate, since McKinney failed to acquire 50 percent of the vote earlier. She made headlines earlier this year when she was involved in an altercation with a Capitol police officer. She later apologized and was not charged. The issue appears to be her own behavior.

TEXAS: State Republican leaders have abandoned their effort to replace Tom DeLay on the ballot. DeLay had already won a March primary when he resigned from Congress in June. Democrats said he should remain on the ballot, obviously hoping that his name no longer would mean as much under indictment and after a resignation. Will the man who resigned get re-elected, or will he launch a write-in campaign for a fellow Republican? [ CNN Report ]

CNN also has a rundown on some other races as well.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Lieberman on the ropes

The three-term veteran Democrat Senator from Connecticut and the 2000 vice presidential nominee is on the ropes today as his state's voters go to the polls in a primary to decide whether to keep Joe Lieberman or to switch to Ned Lamont, a Democrat businessman with no political experience. Recent polls had Lamont up a few points over Lieberman, who vowed to run as an independent if he loses the Democrat primary. [ ABC News report ] [ CNN report ]

Although the poll had Lamont with 51 percent to Lieberman's 45 percent of likely Democrat voters, 45 percent of all Connecticut voters say they are unaffiliated with a political party. That bodes well for Lieberman, who could make a good run as an independent even if he does lose the primary.

The big scandal on the morning of the election was about the Lieberman campaign Web site, which the Lieberman folks say was hacked and forced to shut down, replaced by a page that said the site had not been paid for. They, of course, claimed foul play and accused the Lamont folks of dirty political tricks.

Here's a nice satire of the whole thing from Wonkette.

By the end of the day, it could be a whole new race, or it could all be over for Lamont, and Lieberman will be almost assured of re-election in one of the nation's most liberal states.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Shame on the GOP Congress

For a decade, the federal minimum wage has lingered down at $5.15. States with no minimum wage have to comply with the federal law. In some states, the state sets a higher wage, and in Washington right now that is $7.63. It started climbing a few years ago when voters approved an annual hike based on the increase in the consumer price index. Now, Washington's is the highest in the nation.

The summer session of Congress has seen a lot of movement on the minimum wage. Some of this has to do with the Democrat Party deciding in many states to help boost voter turnout by placing on the ballot initiatives that would increase the state minimum wage. This isssue is red meat for blue voters. Now, perhaps hoping to blunt these Democrat efforts, the GOP Congress has pushed a minimum wage vote. But the catch is that it is tied to a huge tax cut for the super-wealthy. Republicans who vote for the bill would get to go home for Labor Day campaigning able to brag about both increasing the minimum wage and cutting taxes for small business owners, while Democrats might be forced to vote down one of their favorite issues. For a decade, lawmakers have squelched an increase in the minimum wage while increasing their own pay seven times.

It's shameful.

It doesn't take an idiot to figure out that it is darn near impossible to live on $5.15 per hour and one full-time job these days. And, we all know the Congress has passed plenty of tax cuts in the last five years, and President Bush has signed them all. All of them.

Here is a bit of propaganda from the Democrat Party:
So here's the question that the right-wing extremists who control the Republican Congress will put before the Senate:

"Over seven million Americans can have a raise of $2.15 an hour by raising the minimum wage, but only if we give a tax cut to 7,500 ultra-rich people at a cost of $753 billion dollars."

It's despicable, it's wrong, and we need to stop it.

Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist has said that this will be the only vote he will allow on a minimum wage increase this year.

Enough is enough. Contact your Senators and tell them to reject this shameful bill by signing this petition:


P.S. -- Here are some simple facts that can't be ignored:

  • Someone working full-time for the $5.15 federal minimum wage makes just $10,700 a year. A single mom with two kids who works full-time for the minimum wage is about $6,000 below the poverty line.
  • The federal minimum wage has been stuck at the same rate since 1997. Since then, Republican leaders have raised the salaries of Senators seven times. Salaries of lawmakers have gone up by $35,000 -- almost three times the entire yearly income of someone on minimum wage.
  • The real value of the minimum wage is more than $3.00 below what it was a generation ago, and right now has its lowest buying power in over 50 years.
  • The minimum wage is the lowest it has been in over 50 years relative to the average wage.
  • Raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour adds up to more than one year of groceries, over 9 months of rent, a year and a half of heat and electricity, or full tuition for a community college degree.
Please do what you can to help call attention to this vitally important issue.

The world's richest and most powerful country must do better.
That last section says to please do what you can to call attention to this issue. Simply put, it is among the most important issues before us today -- what we do for the workers of America to help people live a comfortable life is essential. That is what the Democratic Party has stood for since the 19th Century, and it is what the Democratic Party must continue to stand for today.

This is what I can do. What can you do?

-- Ellensburg, Wash.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Watch for falling bats!

Bats falling from the skies? Believe it. Like all mammals, bats are vulnerable in the heat. The weather has become so hot in California that the younger bats are being pushed aside by older and stronger bats who want to make more room in the heat.

The Weather Channel has an interesting video. I got this tip from the Poynter Institute's feature called Al's Morning Meeting, which has story ideas for journalists.

-- Ellensburg, Wash.

Yes, it sucks

I read this delightful little essay about the power and beauty of the word "sucks." It's from Slate, of course.

A lot of people are offended that the word, which has origins with an oral sex act, is used so commonly and widely today. Doesn't bother me, though. I also really enjoy learning about the history of a word and how the usage has evolved.

So, this is worth a read, at least the first half. Check it out.

-- Ellensburg, Wash.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Off to work for a week

I had hoped to have an average of one post daily for July -- mainly to make up for the fact that I only posted once (!) during June. But the last few days have beene specially busy as I finalized details for the journalism workshop I co-direct. I thought I would have some extra time, but today I went to school to do the last-minute work, and the custodians had waxed the floor in the hall, so I could not get to my classroom to work. I had to come back later in the afternoon. Then, tonight, it took me forever to load all the boxes and various packages of supplies and givewaway items into the car. That Forester is loaded to the roof and the back end is riding low. The best part is that almost none of that stuff comes home with me. We sell, give away or consume almost all of it, thankfully.

So that's where I will be for a week. I am excited -- I love being able to share with colleagues and also to help them get started or grow in a career I really enjoy. Then, four days with students is also enjoyable. It is a certain buzz and excitement about starting the year with goals and a good attitude.

Despite my good attitude now I am sure I will be tired and a bit cranky by the end of the week. Staying in a college dorm and eating mediocre food while trying to stay on top of running the workshop can really take a lot out of a person.

I will have Internet access during the workshop, and I will try to post something to get August started off right, but I won't have the flexibility to spend as much time as I might want on this.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Is West the right direction for the Democrats?

Two news stories in the last few days indicate that the Democrat Party is headed in a direction that could ensure Democratic Congressional majorities, the White House and elected Democrats in offices around the country. The party's centrists, those who compose the Democratic Leadership Council, have targeted the Mountain West as the key for election success. All I have to say is: "Finally!"

The Republican stronghold has moved increasingly toward the South in recent elections. The Mountain West used to be reliably Republican under Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan as the independent spirit and anti-government attitudes among the citizens identified with the traditional conservatives. But as the GOP has become increasingly controlled by Neo-Conservatives and Evangelical Christians, voters in the West, who with the exception of Utah generally are not religion-based voters, will search for a new party. That is exactly what the DLC hopes to capitalize on. It's exactly what I suggested as a Southwest Stragegy for 2004, but it did not happen.

What did happen in 2004 was two Congressional wins in Colorado and a capture of the state legislature for the first time since the Kennedy Administration. A Democrat won in Montana, a state that voted for George W. Bush by a strong margin. Democrats now have governors in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana.

The DLC held its convention last weekend in Denver, what DLC founder Al From has dubbed the capital of the New West. Speakers included Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Clinton mentioned the "American Dream Inititive," which outlines a set of policy initiatives aimed at middle class voters dealing with education, health care and the economy. Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, was a former chair of the DLC when he was governor of Arkansas. As a Senator, Al Gore was also a DLC member. So is Joe Lieberman.

In another move, the Democrat National Committee also voted to allow Nevada to hold a caucus in the week between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary in 2008. While Iowa and New Hampshire have traditionally been first in the nation, they are small states with nearly totally white populations. The Democrats also suggested South Carolina as an ealier primary. Moving the Nevada and South Carolina contests allows a broader representation of ethnicities to meet candidates early. With Hispanics becoming an increasingly large block of voters, including Nevada early has the benefit of a candidate needing to appeal to Latinos.

The move to capture the West is a good one for the Democrats. The values of the West: rugged individualism, fiscal responsibility, social and environmental responsibility, government investment in infrastructure for the benefit of the people -- those are Democrat values. When the party and its candidates are able to make that case to voters, I am confident they will be successful.

Finally, one decision is pending that could have a big impact on getting the message out and showing just how serious the Dems are about the West. The DNC should pick Denver as host city for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Denver is among three cities vying for the spot with Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York City. The Democrats could energize the West and develop new voter blocks with the move. They should act fast to do it.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Take a 'bite' outta Seattle

I love the Bite of Seattle, the city's annual festival to celebrate one of my favorite things: food. Oh man, so many delightful tastes, smells and sights awaited me as I walked around the campus of the Seattle Center earlier today. And this weekend is one of the hottest on record in the city -- 97 degrees yesterday. It is not supposed to be as hot today, thankfully, but there is something nice about enjoying good fair food while walking along in the sun at the Center.

Today I had some mango chicken on rice from an Indian restaurant. I followed that with a huge strawberry shortcake, which I had to throw away some of because I got so full and it was super sweet. I think I also got tired of it because the weather was hot and I had spilled some of the syrup on my shirt front. However, I bought one of those Tide On the Go pens, and I saved my shirt soon after. That was $2.99 plus tax well spent.

I am headed back over to the Bite with my friends the CIB and Superfrankenstein, so we will get another chance to chow down in just a bit. This is a rite of summer, and I really do enjoy coming to the city for it. I could not have asked for better weather, and my control of my portions and sugar so far this summer has paid off in looser shorts and the ability to indulge a bit more this weekend. Woo-hoo!

-- Seattle

Summer Movies '06 part 4

There is something special about a city like Seattle that has a sophisticated and mature film-loving population. Even better, theaters exist here to host small-run or independent or documentary films -- and I love 'em.

"Who Killed the Electric Car?": This movie is a fantastic documentary that really feels like a PBS special for the first hour or so. It traces the history of electric-powered automobiles and how they were shoved out of the marketplace in the 1930s by the internal combustion engine and cheap oil but later made a resurgence in the 1990s when California decreed that a certain percentage of cars sold in the state by each manufaturer must be emissions-neutral. Then, as the cars gained popularity, the companies fought the law and stopped producing the cars. Took them all back, in fact! The last half hour is pretty judgmental about who did, in fact, kill the electric car -- and while the blame could easily be placed at the feet of the automobile manufacturers and the oil companies, it also gets placed elsewhere (hint: the Bush Administration had a lot to do with it). My rating is to see this movie on DVD because it probably won't play very far outside the art houses of a green-friendly city like Seattle.

Bonus for energy watchers: The Huffington Post has a new song from Paul Hipp about global warming. Check it out.

Also, a video with Will Ferrell as the president on global warming. Funny.

-- Seattle

Presidential firsts and foibles

President George W. Bush had two firsts this week: He used his veto authority for the first time, and he spoke to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for the first time since becoming president in 2001.

One would expect that with Congress and the White House both controlled by the same party that there would be relatively few bills that would get passed of which the president would disapprove. But one might expect a couple here and there to slip through -- we all know Congress can be irresponsible sometimes. And one would expect that the president would sort of be the wise and responsible one, keeping outrageous legislation from taking effect, acting as a good steward of the nation's resources and treasury. Alas, for five full years, President Bush has signed everything Congress sent him -- everything. That is, until now.

In a move that made him look like he was out of touch with most of the citizenry and that he was trying to both save face from a 2001 decision and also earn political capital with his Christian conservative base, he vetoed a bill that in short would have allowed additional research using stem cells. Bush had in 2001, through executive order, banned the use of anything other than existing stem cell lines, and he had resisted numerous calls to relent, even a personal lobby from Nancy Reagan, wife of the president whose Alzheimer's Disease might have been assisted in treatment through advances gained by research on stem cells. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter were supportive, two colleagues at opposite ends of the GOP. Heck, even Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, the majority leader, came around to see that allowing more research was a wise move, even though is a medical doctor who should have been on board much sooner.

But Bush has vetoed the bill, and the votes are not present in the Senate to override (the initial vote was 63-37). I am not sure what he gained from this as he has no more elections himself, but he is trying to reassert himself as the moral leader and the party chief.

Then, a couple days later, Bush finally accepted an invitation to speak before the NAACP, the nation's largest group of African-Americans. He received a cool reception to say the least. Under the guise of whipping up support for Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Bush came to speak, something he did not do at all during his first term or even when running for re-election, something that most other presidents have done with regularity. Ninety percent of blacks voted for Al Gore in 2000, and Bush made only a slight gain in 2004, so he knows these are not his people. The body language and actions almost a year ago in New Orleans and teh Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina should also serve to illustrate that point.

Bush was introduced as the man who would sign the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, and he had a big applause line when he called for renewing the act, but that was pretty much the extent of the cheering. In fact, when he turned to a standard line he had used many times before in campaign appearances and other speeches, talking about faith and heart, he probably expected at least a holler from somewhere. Nope. Nothing. He mentioned a few of his black pals -- and they are few. Problem is, Condoleeza Rice, while very well respected by many Americans, is not a black icon, and certainly not seen as a hero by the kind of activists who would be likely to attend a convention of the NAACP. Georgia Rep. John Lewis would have lit the crowd on fire.

So this week of firsts was a one-two punch for the President, I think. The man needs to figure out what his priorities are and stop trying to look like he is the president and just be the president, someone who leads with the best interests of the country in mind and who looks respectable at al times. He had a couple gaffes at the G8 summit last week as well, when he swore when the microphone was live, and when he was seen on video giving a neck rub to German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- and she looked extremely unconfortable and moved so he would stop. It was creepy to watch.

The GOP should be paging the legends of image-making: Michael Deaver and Peggy Noonan. Stat.

-- Issaquah, Wash.