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On Taking It Back, Or, Wisconsin Recalls, Explained March 14, 2011

News is suddenly moving so fast that it’s becoming hard for me to keep up; that’s why we’re not finishing the story today that we just began Tuesday. You know, the one about Titan Cement suing two North Carolina residents who appear to be doing nothing more than speaking the truth.

Unfortunately, other important news has forced itself to the front of the line, and it’s going to demand that we break schedule, whether we like it or not.

That’s why today we’re going to be talking about Wisconsin, and how workers there are fighting back against the State’s Republican legislators and Governor, who seem to have gone out of their way this past three weeks to govern without the consent of the governed.

It’s kind of chilly today in Wisconsin…but I can assure you, things are heating up fast—and it ain’t because of spring.

“I will tell you this: Any business where two partners don’t trust each other, any business where one party says, ‘You need to do X, Y and Z because I told you,’ is a business that is not only not run well, it is a business that can never be as successful as it can be,”

–Former National Football League Players’ Association executive director DeMaurice Smith

As so often happens, we need a bit of background:

In Wisconsin, a recall involves first, the collection of signatures, then, if you get enough, a recall election.

Once the proper papers have been filed, those who want to recall an elected official have 60 days to gather signatures for a recall petition that equal 25% of the number of votes cast in the prior gubernatorial election in that “political subdivision”.

What that means in English is that if you’re looking to recall a State Senator and the last time a Governor ran, 50,000 votes were cast in that Senator’s District, you need to gather 12,500 signatures in 60 days to force a recall election in that District.

The election is not to ask the question: “Should this officeholder be recalled?”

Instead, the incumbent will run against other candidates, and whoever has the most votes either keeps or takes over the office.

It is possible that multiple candidates will emerge from within the same Party; if that happens a “recall primary” election is held.

A primary would take place four weeks after the signatures are turned in, the recall election itself would be six weeks after, and both elections would be held on a Tuesday; all of this according to Article XIII, Section 12 of the Wisconsin Constitution.

You can’t recall someone until after they’ve been in office for a year, so the Governor can’t be recalled…today…but because the Senate elects half of its Members every two years there are a group of State Senators who can be recalled; they were elected in 2008.

If three Republicans were to be recalled and replaced by Democrats, the State Senate would change from majority Republican to majority Democratic.

If you’ve ever been to Embarrass, Wisconsin (home of The Chair That Grew), you’ve visited Robert Cowles’ 2nd District. (For the record, it’s more or less 100 miles due north of Milwaukee, and there’s some football team that plays in Green Bay that’s also in his District.) He’s been a Senator since 1987, and in ’08 he ran unopposed. His District voted 52-46 for Obama over McCain in ‘08, and chose Bush over Kerry by almost exactly the same margin in ‘04.

I do not have a feel for who might run against him, but I have some calls out to try to get an answer; if I learn more, we’ll add it to the story.

One Senator who might be in trouble is Alberta Darling (so far as I know, she’s unrelated to cricket great Joe Darling), who represents District 8, which is basically Milwaukee’s northern suburbs.

In ‘08 she only won by 1007 votes (of about 100,000 cast).

It’s worth noting, however, that her District cast the most votes for Governor in 2010; as a result her opponents will be required to gather more valid signatures than in any other District (20,343, by one reckoning).

Her opponent last time was Sheldon Wasserman; he’s a former State Representative, an OB/GYN from Milwaukee, and a member of the State’s Medical Examining Board.

(On a side note, it looks as though the Governor might be messing with the Board as well; he refused to allow two recent physician nominees selected by the Board to be seated, and he’s apparently looking to nominate his own people.)

Just as in District 2, this District voted for Obama in ’08, and Bush in ’04.

Sheila Harsdorf, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on State and Federal Relations and Information Technology, was sent to Madison to look after the interests of the State’s westernmost District, “The Fightin’ 10th”, as Sir Rev. Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, would say.

Even though she thinks State workers are taking too much from the public Treasury…her relationships with the Federal Government are so good that she had no problem taking in $195,000 in Federal farm subsidies over a ten-year period for Beldenville’s Trim-Bel Valley Farms, of which she just happened to be a 50% owner as recently as 2008 (for all I know, she may still be an owner, more current information was unavailable).

This is another one of those Districts that went for Obama in ’08 by about just the same margin as it went for Bush in ’04.

Luther Olsen of the 14th (located about 40 miles or so due north of Madison) is another farm owner; he owns 20% of Waushara’s Riverview Farm; they also happily accepted at least $58,502 of your money and mine, because Olsen, like Sheila Harsdorf, apparently believes that’s a better use of our money than, you know, paying a public school teacher or something.

(Fun Fact: did you know Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, used to be a Milwaukee public school teacher?)

Olsen did not face an opponent in ’08…and once again, this District went Obama in ’08, Bush in ’04—although it went about 4 points farther for Bush than for Obama.

And that brings us to Randy Hopper.

This District (the 18th, which most notably includes Oshkosh and Fond Du Lac) is another one of those Republican seats that are considered among the most “gettable”; that’s because just 163 votes separated Hopper and his ’08 opponent, Jessica King.

There’s also this:

“I have a lot of correctional facilities, a couple universities, and a couple of tech schools [in my district]. I have the second largest population of state employees in the state.”

Hopper also chairs the Senate Education Committee…and there’s also a story going around that his wife is telling people that he’s been providing some “private lessons” to his 25-year-old mistress down in Madison; this according to the MAL Contends… blog—and that’s not going to help a family-values candidate.

He owns two radio stations, one an AM-talk Ag Report and Hannity broadcaster, the other an FM station that caters to the “music at work” market; this may allow him to mitigate some of the potentially-about-to-occur bad publicity, and certainly can’t hurt at election time.

Perhaps the most unrepentant Republican during this process has been Glen Grothman of the 20th (which actually, literally, includes Fredonia, and that has to have some deeper meaning…), and he can afford to take a strong stand.

This guy might well be a mortal lock in this District: the Sheboygan area is one of the most reliably Republican-voting regions of the State over the past 30 years, and of all the Senate candidates who faced opposition in ’08, he won with a larger margin of victory than any of ‘em. (He didn’t get 61% of the vote in ‘08…he won by 61% of the vote.)

(Fun Fact #2: Our friends at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel created these two most excellent voting trend maps for your dining and dancing pleasure; they illustrates how Wisconsin can swing wildly back and forth between Republican and Democratic “electoral domination”.)

Moving on: Mary Lazich, of the 28th, occupies another seat that is going to be tough to get—her District encompasses Milwaukee’s western suburbs (a reliably Republican voting region; in both ’04 and ’08 Republican Presidential candidates won with over 60% of the vote), she did not face an opponent in ’08, and this is another District that will require more than 20,000 signatures to force an election.

“…Fate has been hounding me like a Mormon missionary with an Amway franchise…”

–A. Whitney Brown, appearing on the television show Almost Live!

We’re going to complete today’s “Recall Roundup” with one of the most vulnerable of all the Senators: Dan Kapanke, the Senate Majority Caucus Chair (and a pretty good ”get” if you’re running a recall campaign). He’s from the 32nd, which is all the way across the State from Milwaukee, on the Minnesota border, pretty much in Wisconsin’s southwest corner.

He won by less than 3 points in ’08, his District voted 61%-38% for Obama over McCain…and 53%-46% for Kerry over Bush in ’04, which is the largest margin of any of the 8 Republican Senators currently under recall threat. (Go back and have another look at those voting trend maps, and look at what’s happened to this corner of the State.)

He’s hard right on social issues, but the Farm Bureau loves him.

He is quoted as saying that he expects the signature gathering effort in his District to be successful (only about 15,400 signatures are needed) …and he’s also quoted as having the belief that there is such a thing as a Wisconsin State Senate arrest, despite the presence of an “immunity from arrest” clause in the Wisconsin Constitution.

As of March 8th, 57% of voters in the 32nd would rather have “generic” than Kapanke in a recall election, and they had to close the road outside his house on Friday to keep the hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered there safe.

Now before we close today…we need to offer “big ups” to DavidNYC, who posted a fantastic interactive results spreadsheet at the Swing State Project site; we’ve been referring to it a bunch in this story and you should have a look at it yourself.

And with all that said, that’s today’s “scorecard”, folks, and you can keep track of all the races—or volunteer to help—from one handy location:…so bookmark the spot, help out any way you can, and let’s start with Wisconsin…and then move on to Ohio and Indiana and Michigan next.


On Fence-Straddling, Or, And Now, A Few Words From Blanche Lincoln September 27, 2010

Those of you who’ve followed my work over a period of time know that I’m usually the one suggesting moderation and keeping everyone in the big tent, and, even in this most difficult year, I’m the one telling folks that sometimes you just have to hold your nose and vote for the candidate that sucks less.

And even though the last thing I’d ever want is a Speaker Boehner or a Leader McConnell (or even worse yet, DeMint), the fact remains that there are two Democratic Senators I would actually vote against, even if the candidate that sucks more does win…and those two are Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson.

One of those two is up for re-election this year, and thanks to a particularly ridiculous vote by Senator Lincoln, we found ourselves in a bit of an email exchange, which is what we’ll be talking about today.

And there is still this most difficult question of all: If we are eventually fortunate enough to find truth, who among us will know how to make good use of it?

–Jean Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences

So here’s the deal: as you may or may not know, Senator Lincoln’s was one of the Democratic votes that killed any chance of reforming the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy and also killed the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for non-citizens who serve in the US military…despite the fact that she is one of the Senate co-sponsors of the DREAM Act and has publicly supported repealing DADT…despite the fact that this vote hurts her in a re-election campaign, by painting her as a flip-flopper…and despite the fact that her vote hurt Democrats nationally, twice, once by not forcing Republicans to vote against the Defense Appropriations bill (“they hate the troops!”), and, secondly, by making Democrats deal with a very, very, angry base, for no good reason.

I’m part of that angry base, and, even though I normally try to be a bit more restrained, I just had to send a note to the Senator’s office to make a point; here’s that note, reproduced:

Apparently Senator Lincoln has no interest in supporting troops who are gay who are serving today, despite the flag-waving stuff on your own home page?

As a supporter of Democrats, I have to say; “nah nah na na, nah nah na na, hey hey hey…good bye!”

Have a great November…and honestly, we won’t really miss you.

The Senator was kind enough to offer a response, which arrived Friday.
Today we’ll look at what she had to say:

Thank you for contacting my campaign regarding my recent vote on the Defense Authorization bill.

The stalemate we find ourselves in today is an example of Congress’ failure to appropriately deal with issues of critical importance to Arkansans and the American people, and that is why people are so angry.

Both political parties are so focused on how they can tear each other down that they’ve forgotten that we were all elected to build our country up by coming together, finding common ground and working to move our nation forward.

So far, so good…

I voted against the Motion to Proceed on the Defense Authorization bill today because of the lack of an open amendment process. I had eight amendments to improve services and benefits for Arkansas’s veterans, Guardsman and Reservists. But under the process and time-frame established by the Democratic Majority Leader, none of my amendments will merit consideration this week.

Well, now we’re getting to something.

Apparently you felt, Senator, that Arkansans would be so grateful that you absolutely killed reforms that even you support because you couldn’t insert a few amendments, that they would ignore the fact that…you absolutely killed reforms that even you support because you couldn’t insert a few amendments.

Well, guess what? This kind of thinking is exactly why you’re gonna lose your job.

Try to imagine, Senator, if you hired me to paint your house, because I made such a great sales pitch (“I’ll paint that house, and I’ll paint it cheap, and I’ll use good quality paint!”)…and then I held a press conference to announce that I’d like to paint your house, just like I told you I would…but I can’t, because right now you won’t allow me to propose cutting the grass and redesigning the pool.

That’s appears to be what you just did…and if I came up with a story like that, wouldn’t you fire me?

However, my vote against this procedure does not in any way alter my co-sponsorship of the DREAM Act or my support for allowing the military to repeal the ‘Dont’ Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. These important issues were taken hostage by an election year political agenda at the expense of full and open debate on a $726 billion defense spending bill. I look forward to the day we can debate these issues fully and vote on them.

You might still support the DREAM Act, and you may still support DADT…but your vote killed ‘em both…which means you’re holing those issues hostage, right this very second…and since you’ll become a lame duck in November, and you won’t be around after January, you probably won’t be debating much of anything.

Transparency should be the rule, not the exception. I have heard Arkansans loud and clear, and I will continue working to ensure that we do things in an open and transparent way.

If you had heard Arkansans loud and clear, you probably wouldn’t have supported either of these reforms in the first place…but if you really believed in these ideas, what you should have been doing these past 18 months is gettin’ out there and doing a better job of explaining why, so that Arkansans would have heard you loud and clear.

That’s called “political leadership”, and that’s how you win elections, and, sad to say, a lot of other Democrats this cycle also seem to have been unable to grasp this most basic lesson from Politics 101 (Barack Obama, I’m looking at you…).

There are many important issues in this critical bill that deserve our full attention. When we are ready to get serious about debating the multitude of issues that are relevant to this bill, I am prepared to help move that debate and this legislation forward.

Translation: I hope to be the super duper important 59th vote, after the election, and I hope that y’all will get serious about making a deal so that Olympia Snowe can get something and I can get my last eight amendments, even though by then I’ll be fired and my Party will have taken a beating in the election and the reform I claim to have supported will basically die away in the night, pretty much thanks to me.

In late July, I was able to gain unanimous approval by the Senate for the most ambitious Child Nutrition Authorization Bill in the history of our country. It didn’t require a procedural motion. It was bipartisan, paid for and reflected the best of what this Senate can be. I hope that process becomes the norm.

Well congratulations to you for having the political courage to support feeding babies, and I’m willing to bet that if a “don’t strangle puppies” bill comes along, you’ll probably have the intestinal fortitude to support that as well.

Again, thank you for contacting my campaign.

You’re more than welcome, and you have yourself have a great day.


On Really Padding The Résumé, Or, “Vote For Me! I Died In Viet Nam” June 27, 2010

We have already seen some impressive efforts in this campaign season to do a bit of résumé padding, particularly as it regards things military; so far Illinois’ Mark Kirk has managed to turn himself into a kind of camouflage Austin Powers, while Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal’s trying to catch up with some “Vietnam” service of his own that no one else in the theater of operations exactly knew about.

But now, in the race for Alabama Governor, we may have seen something that takes us to a whole new level of “inflation”: the Republican candidate is running an ad that not only suggests that he served in Vietnam…it seems to imply that he actually died there, and has now come back to save the State.

Which is some serious irony indeed, considering that the candidate is actually a medical doctor.

And with that, let me introduce you to the either living…or undead…Dr. Robert J. Bentley.

“I have fought for Queen and Faith like a valiant man and true;
I have done my duty as a man is bound to do;
With a joyful spirit I Sir Richard Greenville die!”
And he fell upon their decks, and he died.

–From The Revenge, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Now as regular readers know, I post far and wide, including at Left in Alabama, where our friend mooncat has been running with this story, which is how I became aware of the events we’ll be talking about today.

On Thursday, she was up with a post I particularly want you to see, and I’ll explain why in just a second, but before I do, I just wanted to acknowledge her excellent work.

So here’s the deal: the Bentley for Governor Campaign has been running an ad called “A Man’s Word”, which is one of two ads that give the impression that Bentley served in Vietnam, even though he did not serve there.

In this ad, a list of names appears about six seconds in, and remains visible for about three seconds, along with an image of a fighter aircraft and a banner that says: “Hospital Commander Vietnam War”; a reference to his three-month stint as the interim commander of the base hospital at Pope Air Force Base, in North Carolina.

Here’s the ad, for your perusal:

Now if you go and check out mooncat’s Left in Alabama posting, she’s gone to the time and trouble to do a screen grab of the “list”, along with pointing you to the second questionable ad.

It needs to be addressed further, but I’m going to ignore that other ad, for today…and that’s because, to me, the list of names, including the font, the background, and the method of writing branch of service and “conflict served” all looks just a little too much like either the panels used at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall or the design of a US military gravestone.

“If you want to use issues to define people as to where they stand on the issues, that’s fine,” Bentley said. “But you shouldn’t distort the facts.”

–Robert Bentley, to Michael Tomberlin of The Birmingham News, May 17, 2010

So if Bentley did actually die in Vietnam…could he still be elected?

As it happens, there is some precedent here. Mel Carnahan, who was dead at the time, put the whup on John Ashcroft pretty good in their 2000 Senate contest; unfortunately Missouri’s closed-minded Acting Governor Roger Wilson was not willing to let Carnahan actually serve in the office, appointing his wife instead.

Which brings us to the final question: could the undead actually serve in office?

Have you ever met my Congressman, Dave Reichert?
Steve King?
Louie Gohmert?
Michelle Bachmann?
Arizona Governor Ann Brewer?

Any one of those people could have appeared in Zombieland, and I’ll let you decide which is your favorite later.

They’re also all serving in elected positions today, suggesting the undead can in fact hold high office—and if you need an even better example, Dick Cheney has been undead at least a couple of times, which didn’t keep him from serving as the 43rd President of the United States.

And with that, we come to the “let’s wrap it up” part of the deal:

Dr. Robert J. Bentley, the Republican nominee for Governor of Alabama, is running ads that either intentionally or “accidentally” inflate his military record by making you think he served in Vietnam…or he actually died there and he’s now walking the Earth as one of the undead and a medical doctor, bringing his unique perspective on end-of-life issues to the People in the best way he knows how.

I wish I knew which it was; my efforts to obtain some sort of comment about any of this from the Bentley Campaign were unsuccessful…which is probably a good idea if you’re running ads that suggest you were in Vietnam, when you really weren’t, and you know you’ll eventually be facing some incoming fire of your own.

It’s already been a pretty hot summer in Alabama.

Let’s see if we can’t spread this story around and make it even hotter for Dr. Bentley…because if anybody deserves to be in a warm place, it’s someone who tries to take advantage of the way we feel about those who die for this country.


A Fake Consultant Exclusive: Political Robots Fail In Operational Service July 16, 2009

It has been quite some time, Gentle Reader, since we addressed the issue of political robot design, but recent events have forced us to return to the subject once again.

As you undoubtedly are aware, three high profile ‘bots from Robotican™ Labs have recently experienced major failures.

It was originally thought that the problems were isolated to the Robotican™.1 Congressional Series of Devices…but it is now known that the failures also extend to the .2 Gubernatorial Series as well.

In today’s story we will examine what is known about these failures, how they may impact other devices in Political Service, and what solutions might be available to address these issues.

First, a bit of background: In 2007 we examined the state of the robotic art in considerable detail, and there is some information from that analysis which should be brought to the table today:

In putting today’s “non-optimal behavior modalities” into a proper context, it’s important to remember that Robotican™ Labs devices are not designed for fully autonomous operation—instead, they depend on central management of operating parameters and onboard software updates that are “pushed” out to the devices on a daily basis.

The reason for this design choice is to enable all Robotican™ devices to create a more consistent “ideological display” output: in other words, to allow the .1 Congressional Series, the .2 Gubernatorial Series, the .3 Presidential Series, the Murdoch Series of Media Robots (and the Murdoch’s derivative, the Atwater SpokesBot Series) to all deliver the same messages simultaneously, and to provide the ability to immediately revise that ideological output should operators determine the need for such change exists.

This can have its disadvantages, and there are many who have noted a “parroting” effect over the years; a problem now rendered more acute with the expanded use of YouTube as a campaign analysis tool by both opposition and independent researchers.

(Systems fielded by the Democrobot Device Program are far more autonomous, which reduces the “parroting” effect. Of course, this also makes it much more difficult to get the ‘bots to operate in unison; an effect that has been noted frequently by observers since at least 1968.)

The failure that is the easiest to explain, I’m told, is the recent breakdown of Robotican™ Lab’s Revo-Ensign v1994.1. The Revo-Ensign ‘bot is one of the many Revolution®-Class v199x.1 Devices that were introduced into service during the 1994, ’96, and ‘98 election cycles. Several of those devices have failed in spectacular manner, most notably the Revo-Vitter v1998.1, the Revo-Greene-Waldholtz v1994.1, and the Revo-Foley v1994.1.

Since the 1994 electoral cycle all Robotican™ Devices (including Murdoch Series Media Robots) have come with the Moral Majority snap-in pre-installed as an Operating System enhancement.

The problem seems to be an incompatibility issue between this snap-in and the Human.exe program’s RealityEmulatorProcess, which is one of the core processes that is allowed direct access to the Operating System Kernel.

In order to avoid “Uncanny Valley” problems, Robotican™ software engineers of the 1980s programmed for a certain number of “moral failures” in the robot fleet, but they could not anticipate the data errors that would result when Human.exe, the snap-in, and the OS Kernel interacted.

The most obvious sign of non-optimal behavior was seen in the Media.exe program. When the program is initialized it calls the MediaModulatorProcess (the second of three core processes that can access the OS Kernel). Software engineers now know that in failure mode the output from that Process can become severely garbled.

In some instances so many “unrecoverable errors” occurred that over the years since the snap-in was introduced several Revolution©-Class Devices have required “unscheduled withdrawal” from Political Service.

The repair appears to be fairly simple, and Robotican™ software engineers have, on several occasions, asked for permission to remove or modify the Moral Majority snap-in, but in every instance the requests have been denied by Corporate Management.

(It is not known if Fundraising.exe is impacted by the presence of the snap-in. The third “core” process, AcceptDonationsProcess, is called by the program, but considerable research conducted in the runup to the 2000 campaign cycle suggested the Process remains unaffected, even when the Operating System is in failure mode. More recent research, however, contradicts those conclusions.)

Now here’s where the story turns weird.

During 1998 and 1999 Robotican™ design teams were preparing to field test the Operating System Release Candidate for the Compassionate©-Class Devices that would be introduced into Political Service for the 2000 cycle and beyond.

Instead of removing the Moral Majority snap-in from the new OS, Corporate Management ordered engineers to create a new program, Faith.exe, as its replacement; the theory being that a closer association between Faith Factors and the OS Kernel would yield a more robust design that would be less likely to fail. Associated with the program are two new core processes, MoralObjectionProcess and JustifyActionProcess.

At the same time, a Revolution©-Class ‘bot was transferred from .1 Congressional Service to .2 Gubernatorial Service: the Revo-Sanford v1994.1. Normally, this would involve the installation of new OS components…but in this case, the Robotican™ design team was ordered to implement a retrofit of the Revo-Sanford to a Compassionate©-Class Device.

The result was the Compasi_Sanford v2000.2…and the problems began almost immediately…and strangely enough, on several occasions animals seem to be associated with the bizarre behaviors noted by engineers and technicians working on the project.

Examples? At one point in 2004 the Device was confusing pigs with humans, and in 2005 the Compasi_Sanford held a news conference to announce his intention to appoint a horse as his Legislative Liaison.

This was hardly a unique situation: an effort to retrofit a Revolution©-Class Device from .2 Gubernatorial Service to a Compassionate©-Class .3 Presidential Service Device resulted in the release of the GWBmatic 3000 v2000.3 and its own upgrade, the v2004.3—Devices that many say set the “gold standard” for political robot failure.

(There are some who would say the gold standard was not set by the GWBmatic 3000, however, pointing to the Evangi-Haggard v.1984.SB, which imploded in a most spectacular manner in 2006.)

Experts will tell you that you will encounter more problems with any retrofit project than you will in a “new build” project; the Robotican™ engineers I have been in consultation with are suggesting that the same effect is in play here.

It should be noted, however, that others feel the Faith.exe program and its MoralObjectionProcess and JustifyActionProcess are the real source of the problem, and that any effort to apply software of this type to ‘bots working in Political Service will inevitably result in disaster.

The third Device we will we discuss today is not part of a Series of Robotican™ Labs ‘bots, but is instead a “one-off” experimental design: the SarahCuda v2006.Xa.

For more or less a decade Corporate Management had been pressing design engineers to develop a system that could effectively function in a “consistent ideological output” environment while avoiding the “parroting” problem…and for those in the Robotican™ “Skunk Works” engineering group, this task now had the highest priority.

One possible solution, designers thought, would be to create disassociation between the SaraCuda and the Compassionate© Series of ‘bots.

With very little in the way of time or resources, Skunk Works engineers decided to attempt deployment of the still unproven “Maverick II” software suite, and by 2006 the Device was being field-tested in the remote and friendly environment of Alaska.

The software suite does have its limitations, however: because of the lack of resources available, there was no effort to develop a fully-functional QueryResponseProcess. Instead, the designers installed “call and response” and “predictive algorithm” technologies that were based on “sampling” responses into the Device’s onboard data storage facility for recall later.

Although the Device was experiencing anomalies during its experimental phase of Alaska Gubernatorial Service, Corporate Management was so desperate in the runup to the 2008 election that they rushed the SaraCuda into full operation, despite the concerns of test engineers.

“No Device can successfully function in a hostile media environment running call and response software, and they knew it when they sent her out there, and they did it anyway. I couldn’t believe they would be so willing to accept the risk, even after we warned them what might happen…”

–Harry Paratestes, Robotican™ design engineer

Although initial results were encouraging, it soon became clear that the limitations of the software were going to lead to the very disaster predicted by the design and test team. After the 2008 election, there was hope that the Device could be repaired and returned to Gubernatorial Service, but a cascading series of failures within the Operating System and the MediaModulatorProcess have now caused Corporate Management to initiate an “unscheduled withdrawal” of the Device from Service.

As of today it appears that the Device has been returned to Experimental Service, and it also appears that the call and response software is still running, suggesting that extensive development effort lies ahead before a successful redeployment can occur—or that the Device may be converted into a Murdoch Series Media Robot.

It’s time to bring this story home, so let’s see where we’ve been:

Robotican™ engineers are dealing with three different failures in three different types of ‘bots—and in two of those failures, there are crippling incompatibilities that appear to be beyond the ability of the engineering team to resolve. Corporate Management appears to be unwilling to acknowledge that an incompatibility exists…and unwilling to allow removal of the software that is at the heart of the failures.

In the third case, desperation compounded by lack of time and resources led to the massive failure of the still-experimental SaraCuda, and it now appears that an effort may be underway to “repurpose” the Device for Media Service.

Will the current Robotican™ fleet of Compassionate©- and Revolution©-Class Devices be capable of leading the charge back to victory, or will Corporate Management be forced to place a new generation of ‘bots into operation?

Can a Robotican™ Operating System be fielded that does not require the Faith.exe program or its derivatives?

And finally, has the reliance on a consistent ideological output—and the resultant “parroting” effect—become more of a detriment than an advantage in the effort to garner votes at election time?

These are the questions for the future…and the next time we address this subject, maybe we’ll have more answers.

WARNING—Self-Promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation Scholarship, and I was not selected in either the first or second rounds. There is one more chance…and today is the last day of voting…and while I’m not normally inclined to use the “hard sell”…I guess I will today.

If you like what you’re seeing here, and you’d like to help me make these stories even better, swing by the Democracy for America site (even if you have before…) and express your support.

All of us here thank you for your kind attention, and we now return you to your regular programming (which, in keeping with the “hard sell”, is rated PG, instead of the usual G).


On Tradition, Or, Same-Sex Marriage, Seen Through A Telescope April 10, 2009

Dangerous Things are happening in America these days, we are told, and the once-innocent citizens of Iowa and Vermont have already been exposed to the hazard…and now it looks as though the contagion might spread to States across New England.

But lucky for us, our friends on the Right are here again to save to save us from…(insert horror film music here)…

…The Gay.

The Gay, it turns out, want the opportunity to marry.

Among other complaints, our friends on the Right feel this will destroy religious tradition, which will ultimately destroy first Christianity, then the Nation. Therefore, religious tradition must be protected at all costs.

Well as it turns out, there are some people from our past who know a few things about religious traditions and how they distort reality—and today, we’ll examine the lessons they have to teach us.

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

“The King James Bible”, Ecclesiastes 1:5

“…I wish, my dear Kepler, that we could have a good laugh together at the extraordinary stupidity of the mob. What do you think of the foremost philosophers of this University? In spite of my oft-repeated efforts and invitations, they have refused, with the obstinacy of a glutted adder, to look at the planets or Moon or my telescope.”

Through which the satellites of Jupiter were visible, Galileo Galilei

“The proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures.”

–From the Catholic Church’s indictment of Galileo Galilei, 1633

So you get up every day and look up at the sky, and it’s obvious that the sun starts out over here…and at the end of the day it ends up over there.

Aristotle and Ptolemy figured it all out: each planet was placed on its own “sphere”, the earth in the center, and everything rotating around it; each planet (and the sun) inside the other, with the stars on the outside, in a Celestial Sphere”…all of this resembling Russian “Matryoshka” dolls.

And it’s no surprise that this interpretation of the motion of planets and the sun became not just “common sense”, but the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, it was in the Bible, it was something you could see every day, and as the Greeks would have told you, it was logically “beautiful”—and who could want better proof than that?

To make a long story short, a Polish-born Church Canon named Nicolas Copernicus did. In 1543, near the end of his life, he released the book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (“On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”), which suggested that all the planets, including the Earth, actually orbit the Sun.

It took another 40 years before someone would challenge Dogma on this point in a “threatening” way, but by 1584 Giordano Bruno’s The Ash Wednesday Supper was considered challenging enough to earn him the Heretic’s Fork…just before he was burned alive on the order of the Church.

By 1616 Galileo Galilei was being warned by the Catholic Church to stop talking about what he was seeing through his telescopes; a moon that was not a perfect sphere and the viewing of the phases of Venus being just two of his problematic observations.

Of course, the real reason all this was so problematic was because there were those in the Church who felt that the Word of God was to be interpreted literally…which meant that anyone who challenged either the text of the Bible or Church Dogma in any way had to be both factually wrong…and an enemy of the Faith.

Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?

–Groucho Marx, from the movie Duck Soup

Despite the warning, Galileo wouldn’t let it go. He kept observing, and he kept writing, which led to his attempt, in 1632, to obtain a license to publish the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems…which led to his being hauled before the Inquisition…which led, in June of 1633, to him forswearing any of his previous beliefs, presumably to avoid the Heretic’s Fork himself.

The Church was able to hold all this together for another half-century—but Isaac Newton essentially “won the argument” with the publication of his three editions of the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica from 1686 to 1742.

Many of you will recall that the Catholic Church was in fact destroyed by this chink in the armor of Biblical literalism, with the Church actually ceasing operations in 1802.

Obviously, I’m kidding—but the fact that nothing terrible happened hasn’t stopped any number of religious leaders in this country (and their followers, for that matter) from claiming that allowing same-sex marriages will have the same impact on faith in America today.

Which brings us to the moral of today’s story: the next time someone tells you that same-sex marriages will destroy religious traditions…that the world as we know it will come to a horrible end…and that anyone with any “common sense” can see that for themselves…tell ‘em to go get a telescope and get over it.


On Bucking A Trend, Or, Yes, Virginia, Sometimes Politicians Deserve Respect September 19, 2008

We are all guilty, from time to time, of beating up on our politicians–and why not?

It only takes a moment to think of someone we elected who immediately went “off the rails”…who today can’t even remember the promises they are busy breaking…and who can’t wait to get out of elective office so they can move on to lobbying their former colleagues.

Occasionally, however, we come across officials who are bucking the trend: working hard, dedicated to doing a good job for the voters that put ‘em in office…and doing that good job even when all around them were working feverishly to bring on indictments.

Such a politician is the subject of today’s unusually upbeat story…and with that said, allow me to introduce you to Port of Seattle Commissioner Lloyd Hara.

Who loved the movie Pulp Fiction? For me, the thing that made the movie was that the story was not told in “linear” time; instead bouncing around a bit, with the end eventually becoming the beginning.

Today, telling the Lloyd Hara story, we’ll do the same.

The Port of Seattle is a public agency charged with operating the water terminals within its area of jurisdiction as well as Sea-Tac Airport. It has a real estate operation which leases certain assets to tenants, is involved in efforts to improve regional freight mobility, and has relationships with certain contract providers and vendors who, among other things, make available legal and consulting services.

The Port has a CEO, five Commissioners who serve as a Board of Directors (for the princely sum of $6000 a year…), and a staff who perform the daily tasks of running a Port’s operations.

When you think of Seattle politics I suspect you imagine people who look like they could be working at Microsoft mingling with people who are squeaky-clean idealists—and I’m here to tell you that this can occasionally happen.

But it might surprise you to know that Seattle is far from squeaky-clean in its political history. In an effort to write their own chapter in the history of local corruption, former Port CEO Mic Dinsmore and certain members of the Port staff seem to have run the Port as their personal fiefdom.

It appears that lavish personal entertaining on the taxpayer’s dime was considered a personal perk, along with lavish, no-bid contracts for the consulting and legal services (who appear to have been associates of Dinsmore) that were concealed from the Commissioners…the effort to inappropriately influence Port elections is also alleged…and in the case of the contract for the “cruise ship consultant/operator”, a deal was struck that guaranteed the consultant/operator profit no matter how the year’s business turned out–and most of the profit even if things went well–despite the fact that the Port put up virtually all the assets and took on almost all the liability.

Now I’m not saying everyone involved was trying to profit off the Port, but I will say that the Commissioners, for many years, didn’t seem to be noticing what was happening…and it was probably far too easy to conceal what was being hidden, if you get my drift.

We’ll return to this story in a minute…but first, let’s jump back to a moment in Rotary Club history that also features in Lloyd Hara’s history.

Rotary International was a men’s-only operation for many years, but the door was cracking open because of a court case involving a Rotary Club in Duarte, California that eventually found its way to the Supreme Court. In 1984 Hara, as the Rotary “Governor’s Special Representative” led the formation of the Seattle-International District Rotary Club…and the club was to eventually challenge Rotary International by being the first Rotary who sought from the time of its formation to initiate women (only Duarte had women members at the time); a challenge that resulted in Karilyn Van Soest attending the International Convention in 1989 as only the second woman ever to be the President of a Rotary Club.

By 1989 Hara had already served as the youngest Auditor in King County history and was in the middle of his 12-year run as Seattle City Treasurer, earning numerous awards for the effort, including being named to City and State Magazine’s Public Officials of the Year list in 1987 (the class of five includes Dianne Feinstein, who was mayor of San Francisco at the time) and, as he tells us, named the Nation’s Best Treasurer in 1987.

He left the Treasurer job in 1991 to become the Regional Director for FEMA (back when they actually hired for competence), and he had also been teaching at Seattle University…and then in 2005 he was elected Port Commissioner (a legally nonpartisan position) on a reform platform, earning a variety of endorsements, including that of the Sierra Club. In the same election John Creighton became the second half of the “Reformist Bloc” to join the Commission.

At about the same time, the Washington State Auditor’s office was charged by initiative to, for the first time, perform “performance audits” in addition to the financial audits they had always conducted…the Port had released “incomplete” results from an internal audit of their own…the pressure from all the sudden reform caused Dinsmore to leave (leaving a questionable sudden pay raise in his wake)…and in December 2007 the State’s audit report was released—causing lots of things to hit lots of fans.

Among the things: the Commission hired a former US Attorney to conduct an internal investigation, the current US Attorney is conducting a criminal investigation, and the Commission has revoked many of the powers previously enjoyed by Port staff.

The State Auditor’s office presented 51 recommendations, new CEO Tay Yoshitani, previously Executive Director of the Port of Oakland, California joined with the Commission in moving toward adopting the recommendations…and as of August the Commission reports 45 of the 51 recommendations will have been implemented.

A new emphasis on accountability is emerging, something Hara and fellow Commissioner Bill Bryant discussed in a February, 2008 Town Square conversation.

Time for another “non-linear time” moment: in 1972 Hara was named as a respondent to a lawsuit, in his capacity as King County Auditor, in which a Mr. John Singer and a Mr. Paul Barwick sought a marriage license, which Hara, despite his personal support for the request, declined to issue—the second such lawsuit in US history.

To make a long story short, Washington State had recently adopted gender-neutral language in its statutes and regulations, and the Plaintiffs felt that the new language could be interpreted to permit same-sex marriage. This interpretation was not shared by the appellate courts, however, and Hara’s decision to reject the application was upheld.

I really began to appreciate Hara when his “Port Notes” began showing up in my email. I can truthfully say that I have never received more detailed and useful reports from any elected official…this being one example:

“Lora Lake Apartments: This complex in the shadow of the 3rd runway progressed from scheduled demolition, to a bone of contention with low-income housing advocates, to a pending transfer to King County Housing Authority, to a toxic waste site. It’s now unclear how severe the problem is, or whether the complex can ever be preserved as residential property. Needless to say, the transfer is on hold.

Eastside Corridor: After almost 2 years of negotiations, we authorized the purchase of the corridor from the BNSF and gave King County an easement for the trail. Every interested party has begun to weigh in — hikers and bikers, adjacent home owners, rail and transit interests, eastside cities and Snohomish County interests, business people and the public in general. We plan public hearings this summer and expect to broker a dual use facility of transit/rail and trail. It’s important to bring this corridor under public ownership, and the Port is probably the only government with funding capacity to make the $107 million acquisition.

3rd Runway: 20 years into the project, you may spot an FAA Learjet landing as testing continues this summer, looking forward to first commercial traffic in November. As you can see, siting a new airport in the region would be a very major undertaking.

T-30/91: We must complete the cruise terminal at T-91 in time for the 2009 season, and convert T-30 for container use shortly thereafter. Only T-91’s electrical cables are slated for reuse – not the gangway, the terminal building or other assets – so this bears watching for cost overruns.

T-25: On a 3-2 vote, we approved surface improvements for potential use as an extended container facility. John Creighton and I voted against. We originally contemplated a cold storage facility here, and I wanted to make sure the intended use was properly bid.”

–(Note: links are as they appeared in the original email)

As I said, this is far more detailed than the usual “Congressman So-and-so met with residents at the Senior Center” that I often see in my inbox—and as a taxpayer, it’s much appreciated.

All is not sunshine and rainbows, however. In 1991, Hara was investigated by Seattle’s Board of Ethics because of his relationship with Stuart C. Johnston. There were concerns that Johnston, Hara’s lead campaign fund-raiser and also a manager of City investment funds, might be inappropriately tied to Hara, who was the official responsible for overseeing the management of those same investment funds. He was later cleared of having committed any ethics violations.

Hara was fined $400 in March of 2008 by the State of Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission because his 2005 campaign failed to make certain filings in a timely manner.

Christopher Cain, who runs “The Port Observer”, was kind enough to offer this assessment of Hara and the Port reform efforts:

“Lloyd Hara runs a good campaign effort under the clever guidance of Sharon Gilpin, a campaign consultant. Effective campaigns are the key to remaining a Seattle Port Commissioner. As a Port Commissioner, and former accountant for the City of Seattle Mr. Hara has exhibited excellent qualities favorable to the public interest.

However, Lloyd has from time to time fallen prey to the old school ways of behaving badly. Numerous junkets to far off places will not make you a better steward of the public purse. Port CEO Tay Yoshitani’s handling of the accounting scandals was typical old boy club style politics and Hara has cozied up only because he wants so badly to be a part of that club. But Lloyd’s loyalty to the public must wreak havoc in attempting to balance the two relationships…

…The last few years have revealed some amazing things that have always lurked beneath the surface, but the path to change has been focused on changing public perception (as usual) and not really on how things are done at the Port. You can take the criminals out of the port but you can’t get corruption out of a system designed to be corrupt…Therefore, without someone willing to take on the establishment who understands this, all actions are futile exercises designed to get you re-elected. Lloyd understands this very well and likes to be a Port Commissioner.”

So that’s the story for today: despite what we often believe, there are politicians out there who are doing a good job for us, who have a history of working for the public good, and who like to keep us aware of where our money goes.

Not all is perfect…and some of his critics wonder if he is up for his current job…but all in all this is a politician I can surely respect, and in these times, that’s pretty good.