05 October 2008

even more politics: initiative 1000...

Lately Martin Sheen has been on the local airwaves telling us that if we do not vote against this initiative (which they do not name other than I-1000 in the spot), soon insurance companies will seize control of our healthcare system and force us to take life ending drugs by denying coverage.

Well, since I lived in Oregon which was the first state to adopt a death with dignity law, I put three and six together and came up with twenty-five--that they were referring to a similar initiative here in Washington.

Admittedly I didn't do that much research on this one. The ad is blatantly alarmist and its credibility is immediately suspect. Still, I wanted to know, so I did a search and found the other sides website, confirmed that this is a death with dignity initiative and that it does not give insurance companies any additive powers. In fact, the same safeguards the original Oregon law had are all there: the patient needs to be terminally ill with an estimated 6 months or less to live, otherwise mentally competent and informed consent is required to receive the prescription. Physicians are not required to administer the lethal doses personally, the patient usually does this themselves at a time of their own choosing.

I would encourage you to visit the debunker page as well as the list of endorsements from past and present local political leaders, religious leaders and faith groups, as well as other non-governmental organizations and action groups.

I am not 100% certain where I fall on whether or not I would ever ask for a lethal dose in order to end my own life should I become terminally ill, but I do think that no government should criminalize this practice or demonize the physicians who are willing to offer their patients this option. Dr Kevorkian anyone?



04 October 2008

more politics: state race...

There is an ad running up here in the Seattle area that has been bugging me, one of those typical attack ads where they play a sound byte from the opponent and then quote some headline that appears to contradict their statement or expose it as untrue. Know which ad I am referring to yet?

Anyway, as I understand it our state has a law that prevents our legislature from passing (and the governor from signing) an unbalanced budget, which is why we have a surplus every year. Oregon similarly runs a surplus, but their laws require them to give it back to the taxpayers after the books are closed for that fiscal year. In Washington it rolls over and helps us when we go through dry spells.

Anyway, this ad was running again today on something I recorded, so I paused it and looked up some of the articles that are quoted. I offer you a chance to go read them for yourself, but the budget shortfall mentioned in these articles is a projected shortfall for 2009-2011 budget years and not 2008. Read a summary of the Spokesman Review article referenced here, I do not subscribe to the Spokane paper myself so I can't quote the article directly, still the summary does clearly state that it is a projected future shortfall, not a present one.

This article from the Seattle PI explains the nuances of Rossi's charge that the Gregoire administration isn't acknowledging the projected deficit exists, which isn't clear from the ad that seems to charge the deficit exists in the current budget. According to the article the state will see 273 million less in revenues in the last months of the current budget which was written 2 years ago, but Gregoire and her staff have already made cuts and frozen hiring for some state positions to save a projected 290 million.

The 2009-2011 budget hasn't been written or voted on by the legislature yet, so arguing over it the way this political ad does seems deceptive and partisan. I would encourage you to read the article, because in it, Gregoire charges our states financial troubles are linked directly to the national economy and the harm it has suffered under Bushes economic policies, but cites examples of how our state has attempted to regulate the banking industry here in Washington. I happen to know that beginning in Jan 2007 we now require loan officers to pass criminal background checks and register with the state for licenses to operate here as they had previously in other states such as Oregon. I heard from contacts in that industry that a surprising number of people already active in the mortgage industry were found to have criminal records and denied their licenses.

Still, Rossi charges that it is wrong to accuse our states own recession on the national economy or the Bush administration economic policies. I don't see how it cannot be linked myself. Boeing, Microsoft, Nordstroms, Washington Mutual are some of our largest home-grown corporations and they all rely on the global and national economy for strength. Our ports in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Vancouver and elsewhere in the state are another major financial engine for the state, are the timber and energy industries. None of these operate in a bubble that magically fastens at our borders.

So what is this forcasted defecit? Well they are now projecting 256 million less for 2009-2011 than previously forcasted (I imagine when the previous budget was drafted), but interestingly not less than this budget cycle. They are expecting revenues to increase, just not at the same pace.

So how much is the shortfall? Only a mere 0.817%. Take into consideration that the budget process involves the governor's staff producing a draft proposal and submiting it to the legislature for approval. Since state law requires that it balance, there will be much haggling over exact numbers, if the forcasted decrease in revenues is too pessimistic or not pessimistic enough, whether the pay raises given to state employees during labor negotiations were too much, appropriate, or not enough, not to mention whether or not we should continue to fund a myriad of programs and social services that always generate a lot of bickering. So will the budget ultimately be the responsibility of the state's cheif executive? Not exactly.

So why paint this picture except to detract from the similarities between the republican gubenatorial candidate and the current federal administration. A quick peek at the video's the Dino Rossi campaign submitted to YouTube revealed that he spent most of his time working in the real estate industry and he proudly points out that he has spent a fraction of the time in Olympia that Gregiore has.

I guess for me it comes down to this: While Rossi was attempting to strike it rich in the real estate industry (and getting hands dirty?), Gregoire was working her way up the ranks of public service. It is the same coin no matter which party or candidate is using it. On one side is the career public servant, the incumbent perhaps, who can be portrayed by the other side as entrenched in whatever it is about government that disenfranchises their side or as a self-sacrificing individual who works hard throughout their carreer in order to serve the public good by those like-minded as them. Then there is the challenger, the outsider who believes government is perpetually broken and needs their take-charge can-do-it-ness or their honest, unencumbered, untainted hands to restore government to its true self who could also be portrayed as inexperienced, unseasoned and illprepared to tackle the challenges of the office which require someone who knows the system, the players, and the rules in order to navigate the murky waters to bring the boat ashore.

Well, make up your own mind.



03 October 2008

nuclear vs nucular

I am watching the VP debate from last night on my DVR right now. I had people asking me about the first presidential debate as well as last nights debate and since I missed the first presidential debate, I figured I better catch this one right away.

I think for my part this was a more important one to watch because I know who Obama and McCain are, but I really don't know enough about either of the VP picks. So who are these people? Well, I understand Biden drives a midlife-crisis convertible old-school roadster and Palin drives an Expedition (or was it Excursion?). I guess in their own ways, they're both a little folksy compared to their ticket partners, carefully chosen to appeal to the elements of their respective parties that cannot relate to the polished looks and polished speech of Obama or the financial and political success of the McCain family.

Interestingly both candidates agreed in their words to support the civil rights of same-sex couples in virtually every way but that neither would support redefining marraige from the perspective of the state, but leaving it to faith-groups to define it for themselves. I think that is the only thing they admitted to agreeing on though.

Still I am troubled that in a few key moments Palin seemed to deliberately pass on the opportunity to answer a challenge by Biden and explain her position on something important and chose to change the subject instead. Twelve minutes in, Biden made some comments about McCain's insistence on deregulating healthcare the way republicans have ignored or weakened regulations in the banking industry and the Ifill asked if Palin would like to respond to that comment and she balked and shifted focus back onto taxes.

Then Ifill asked both candidates to discuss their different tax philosophies and whether it amounted to class warfare. Biden stated that increasing taxes on the wealthy while holding them steady on the middle class and even reducing them for the working poor is just fairness in his eyes. Palin then charged that this philosophy did amount to an attack on the middle class because it would impact small business owners.

Now this part I don't get, how does a business owner who manages to keep a family salary over 250K each year qualify as small? I know a lot small business owners who are doing quite well but who don't manage to take home more than 100K from their businesses to use in supporting their families. I think she is either ignorant to the nuanced difference between a businesses revenues and its profits, or she is deliberately playing a partisan game to deceive people into believing that a focused tax increase on the wealthy will impact those small business owners that Republicans historically claim to support but who seem to be left disadvantaged by their parties history of favoring large corporations through tax loopholes and refusing to regulate business and trade.

If Republicans had a track record of favoring small business and leveling the playing field in rural and suburban America between independent main street retail and the big box retail industry for example, then I would be the proudest Republican! The fact of the matter is that they don't make policies that keep our homegrown small-town businesses viable in today's global corporate economic system. What upsets me the most about what has been happening these past few weeks with the bank failures is that these already monolithic regional and national banks are being bought out for pennies on the dollar by even larger ones and what we will see when the dust settles is even fewer multinationals with even more power to exercise not only a choke-hold on our economy but far more influence over our political process than they should be allowed to have.

Instead of letting these banks be seized by bigger ones, the government should exercise its power to regulate and in some cases break these banks up into smaller pieces to be sold off to smaller regional banks with strong track records for fiscal integrity. Instead of letting CitiGroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase expand their empires, why not do the harder work of auditing these seized banks, clean up their books, renegotiate mortgages to strengthen the assets that are left and perhaps not even have to sell them of at auction in the first place. Couldn't the government assign a team of federal auditors to temporarily control a bank, clean house, meet with stockholders and reassure them that they will find the cancer and treat it and they will be free to bring in a new executive team within six months when the bank is once again thriving?

All this talk of bailing out wall street is upsetting to a lot of people who feel like it won't fix the real problem, which is a capitalistic environment that rewards greed and protects individuals who engage in unethical practices at nearly every level within the system from being held accountable for their actions.

Anyway, back to the debate... 29 minutes in Biden was talking about the subprime mortgage crisis and saying that he and Obama favor the Fed being able to go in and renegotiate these mortgages not just for the rate of interest but the principle as well. He said he did not believe McCain or Palin supported that plan. Ifill asked Palin if that was so and all she said was "that is not so" and quickly changed the subject. What I want to know is which part of that plan do they support or do they agree completely? She did not clarify but dramatically changed the subject to energy policy and her and McCain's plan to drill for more oil and natural gas in places like Alaska and offshore.

Again and again it seemed that she was not interested in debating topics and answering charges, but using her time to talk about topics she had likely been coached on and only as deep as her knowledge of the subject would allow. She didn't seem to be able to really dig in and explain her positions when challenged about the details. That really bothers me. Given the trouble she has had in interviews in recent weeks answering specific questions that do not seem to be overly difficult questions to answer, I have serious doubts about her ability to wrestle with real problems. Sure the executive is a figurehead that needs to be surrounded by a lot of advisers, but ultimately this person needs to be able to really study a problem and make a decision and own it, not pass the buck so they can claim plausible deniability. Ignorance is not an excuse!

Well, I would write more but I need to get ready for work. I'd love to know what you thought about the debate.