Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ford farewell: Rest in peace, loyal clunker

ST. CLOUD — So long, 1FTRW07L61KA12455, and thanks for your eight years and 178,662.7 miles of service.

That's the Vehicle Identification Number for a 2001 Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat pickup — one of nearly 700,000 vehicles traded in under the federal government's "cash for clunkers" program that ended last month. As a result, the truck must die.

The F-150 was one of about 40 clunkers acquired by Starling Chevrolet in St. Cloud. Under the rules of the Car Allowance Rebate System, a consumer traded in an older vehicle on a new one and received up to $4,500 toward the down payment.

The government has been slow in paying dealers, so most of them, including Starling Chevrolet, have been storing the clunkers, waiting on the individual payments to arrive before sending the cars and trucks to the salvage yard.

Last week, Starling received the government payment for the F-150, so its number came up.

Starling mechanic Chris Moon drove the truck, which still ran remarkably well, from its spot on the last row of the dealership, between two other clunkers, a Chevrolet TrailBlazer and a Chevrolet S-10.

It would be the second car "killed" today, the first being a yacht-sized Lincoln Continental that, Moon says, "did not go down without a fight."

Moon pulls the F-150 into the service bay, raises it on a lift and drains the oil. He lets it back down, opens the hood and pours in the engine-killing poison — two quarts of sodium silicate, or "liquid glass." He drives the truck to a separate spot on the back row, and the process begins.

Regulations say that Moon must keep the engine running at about 2,000 rpm, about double idle speed. After a few minutes, the liquid in the sodium silicate begins boiling off, and the remainder of the sandlike substance gets hotter and hotter, bonding itself to the internal moving parts that oil would normally lubricate.

Soon, a half-dozen other mechanics come to watch. Moon has spent 10 years at Starling trying to save ailing vehicles, and the idea of destroying a healthy one makes him and the other mechanics uncomfortable.

After six minutes, the big V-8 engine is laboring. But, Moon says from behind the tilt steering wheel, "The air conditioner is still blowing cold air."

After seven minutes and 51 seconds, the engine seizes. A wisp of smoke rises from the custom K&N air filter.

1FTRW07L61KA12455 is dead.

"And another one bites the dust," Moon says. "That was a nice truck."

The next day, a flatbed wrecker arrives from Preston's Auto Parts and Salvage Yard in Kissimmee. The F-150 is delivered to a holding area. Preston's co-owner, James Glover, looks it over.

If Moon is the reluctant assassin, Glover is the undertaker.

He pays Starling and a couple of other dealerships $50 each for the clunkers. After plucking off a few nondamaged powertrain parts, such as the alternator and air-conditioning compressor, he will remove the locked-up engine and place it in a pile with other clunker engines, and they will be crushed.

Then the truck will be rolled to the back of the yard, put up on a lift, and several workers will disassemble it.

Tires and wheels? Worth maybe $125, Glover says. Catalytic converter? $65. Transmission? $125.

And there are the doors, fenders, windows, rear axle, leather seats, air bags — all told, Glover says, he might be able to get $1,000 out of the truck, though that could take months, even years, of waiting for people to show up wanting all the right pieces.

GMAC seizes assets of Joseph Pontiac in Fenton; owner also operates Joseph Chevrolet in Millington

FENTON, Michigan - Add Joseph Pontiac to the list of General Motors dealerships faced with extinction.

The parking lot in Fenton sits empty and mega car dealer Joe Hood stands to lose much more than just the new Pontiacs that once filled the dealership along Silver Parkway.

Hood, in an interview Friday that left his voice breaking, said he has days to come up with about $7 million to pay off a mortgage, inventory and long-term notes he owes to GMAC. Within the past few weeks, Hood said the lender has seized his assets after he failed to pay the balance on about four to five vehicles that had been delivered to customers.

If he doesn't come up with the money, his assets, including equipment and the buildings and land at 16555 Silver Parkway, could be auctioned off.

Also, Hood has a purchase agreement with another dealer to sell Joseph Chevrolet in the Tuscola County village of Millington, which remains open. (A Ford dealership he operates, Joseph Ford in Grand Blanc Township, is not affected.)

"Had Cash for Clunkers not happened, had GMAC worked with me a little bit, I'd still be there," said Hood, 61, known for his quirky TV commercials. "My only hope is that I've got a guy on the East Coast (who may) bring me enough money to pay GMAC off totally."
Joseph isn't the only area car dealership that has run into recent financial troubles.

In May, GMAC took back cars on the lot at the Zehnder Chevrolet dealership, 511 N. Main, in Frankenmuth. The dealership, owned by Martin Zehnder, subsequently closed.

Zehnder, 72, told The Saginaw News that a drop in car sales and plans by GM to cancel his franchise led to his decision to close the business.

Hood said when GM announced it was phasing out Pontiac, he was "pretty devastated," but came up with a plan for a new used car superstore. He said he was going to receive about $600,000 from GM to wind down his Pontiac business, had been approved by another company for used car inventory, and that everything was going as planned until late July. He even was selling off his last new cars on the lot.

"We can change this to an independent used car lot, we continue employment of people, we can continue selling cars," said Hood, owner of Joseph Auto Group.

But without payments from the government on new cars he sold through Cash for Clunkers, not having received "contracts in transit" payments for cars sold and not having received rebate payments from GM, Hood in early August didn't have all the cash to pay GMAC when the company came looking for vehicles to seize.

"GMAC found out that I did not have enough money in my account, they immediately shut everything down," he said. "They shot down all my accounts. Now I have zero control over my cash."

Hood said he understands GMAC has its rights to seize property, but said with a bit more flexibility from GMAC he believes he could have paid what he owed GMAC on the cars in about a month.

GMAC spokesman Michael Stoller said seizing vehicles isn't something that happens over a couple of weeks.

"We've been working with Joseph Hood and his dealerships for many months trying to find a resolution," Stoller said. "GMAC works with its dealers to the extent possible, but there comes a point in time when we can no longer extend credit lines and would be required to reclaim our collateral in a default situation."

Stoller wouldn't comment specifically on Hood's debt to GMAC, but said they have worked collaboratively and cooperatively with Hood and "we're willing, to a point, to work with him if there's an opportunity to resolve this in both our affairs."

Signs on the Joseph Pontiac building in big, bright letters say "Coming Soon Used Care Superstore Sales & Service." But there's a smaller sign posted on the door that reads Credit Financial Services has moved to a new location in Grand Blanc Township. It's the same location as Hood's Ford dealership.

Advertisements have said Joseph Pontiac would be converted into a used car lot with a service center featuring hourly labor charges priced below the competition.

That's what resident Harry Walters, 70, of Fenton Township thought was happening after Hood lost his Pontiac franchise. But the sudden closure has left him and other residents wondering if it's closed for good.

"It's a shame that it's going to be vacant because it's such a big area," said Walters, a retired machinist.

Michael Burns, Fenton's assistant city manager and Downtown Development Authority director, said that because he doesn't know what Hood is doing with the property, he didn't want to comment.

Standalone Pontiac dealers have known for months that they would lose their new vehicle lineup as GM announced it would phase out the Pontiac brand by the end of 2010.

In April, Hood said the dealership that had been located in Fenton since 1996 and dates back to 1987, had 45 employees.

Now Hood is hoping with a new East Coast business partner he can pay off his GMAC balance to save Joseph Pontiac, hire his staff back and open the used car store.

Hood said with Michigan's economy and job situation, someone needs to help small businesses stay in business so they can continue providing jobs.

"You would think that somebody with some power, could say 'stop, we want to get the bottom of this before total destruction occurs,'" Hood said. "I just don't know what is."

State Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, said he has been in contact with state Treasury officials on Hood's sales tax payments and the state Attorney General's office to work on legal remedies for Hood and other dealers that fall into similar situations.

Scott said Hood and his company have done a lot for the community over the years, including providing jobs for citizens.

"The governor really should come out ... and try to create some incentives for GMAC to try and work out deals with auto dealer owners such as Joe Hood to try to keep them in business," Scott said. "The amount of job loss that could happen means less revenues for the state, one, and it's going to exacerbate our unemployment problem, the amount of people needing unemployment checks, welfare assistance, Medicaid. It's not a blow our state can take right now."

Joseph-Fenton Land LLC hasn't paid winter 2008 taxes on three parcels along Silver Parkway and summer taxes of nearly $60,000 for the parcels are due mid month.
Genesee County Treasurer records show a winter 2008 delinquent tax balance of $15,400.

One of the parcels, vacant land listed by Mansour Realty Inc., appears to be for sale for $3.9 million.

A sign on 13.75-acre property with frontage along U.S. 23 says the land is under contract. The Flint Journal could not reach Mansour Realty officials for comment.

The Fed Under Fire

The Federal Reserve is one of the most powerful and secretive institutions in Washington, long considered beyond the reach of lawmakers. But now, as details emerge of how the Fed secretly doled out more than a trillion dollars during the financial crisis, a rare bipartisan movement in Congress demands that the Fed be held accountable.

Obama's Auto Task Force: Driven by Wall Street?

The General Motors flameout has been a disaster for blue collar Americans working on assembly lines. Out of 123,000 GM workers left in North America, 20,000 are scheduled to lose their jobs.

Meanwhile, the Auto Task Force appointed by President Obama to oversee the process is led by Wall Street financiers focused on turning a profit and boosting stock prices. It's an approach that has some people worried.

Kucinich Grills Lewis on Fed Emails

Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis took a pounding Thursday from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. One of the most damning exchanges occurred between Lewis and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), when Kucinich exposed Lewis' request for government cover from shareholder lawsuits stemming from BofA's troubled merger with Merrill Lynch

Prior to the merger, according to Kucinich, Lewis requested a letter from New York Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson declaring that the government had ordered him to acquire Merrill's losses. Kucinich presented e-mails from Bernanke and his general counsel contradicting Lewis' own claim that his lawyers didn't think disclosure of Merrill losses to his shareholders before the merger

Sen. Lindsey Graham Debates Himself on Detainee Torture

Senator Lindsey Graham was a passionate critic of the Bush Justice attorneys during this past summer's Armed Services Committee hearings on interrogation.

Lately, however, Graham seems to have had second thoughts on the matter. At a recent Judiciary subcommittee hearing investigating the torture memos, Graham mounted a feisty defense of Jay Bybee, John Yoo and the lawyers who provided legal cover for detainee abuse.

This performance sent ANP producer Mike Fritz back to the ANP archives to confirm that this was indeed the same Lindsey Graham we remembered from the summer, and sure enough, it was. As this video reveals, same guy - different message.

Republicans Debate "Socialist" Resolution

The Republican National Committee will conclude a special session with a much-anticipated vote on a resolution to re-brand the Democratic Party as the "Democrat Socialist Party."

ANP senior producer Harry Hanbury roamed the RNC meeting with a camera and spoke with committeemen and state chairs to hear their thoughts on the vote and their ideas about both parties. He returned with this portrait of party leaders working on their message.

Monday, September 14, 2009

4 reasons why Obama's health plan is no bargain

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- America is finally getting a detailed look at the sweeping, long-awaited health-care reform platform championed by President Obama. This week the Democrats have unveiled their two primary proposals -- a 700-plus page bill in the Senate and the outline of the forthcoming version in the House that presents essentially the same blueprint for change.

The crucial question about Obama's agenda has always been whether it really will slow the disastrous rise in health-care spending, or actually increase it while hiding the real costs of the new system. On analyzing the bills, the conclusion is inescapable: Obama promises Americans what appears to be a bargain by heavily subsidizing their premiums. But the only way to pay for what's really outrageously expensive coverage will be huge tax increases, especially on the same middle class that's being wooed as the chief beneficiary of reform.

0:00 /4:21Curing public health care
The plans contain four proposals that will substantially weaken the ability of the market, already limited by burdensome regulation, to restrain medical spending.

First, they will impose rich, standard packages of benefits, with low deductibles, for all Americans. Those policies, typically containing everything from in-vitro fertilization to mental health benefits, are usually far more expensive than anything most people would pay for with their own money.

Second, the plans would impose on a federal level the doctrine of community rating, in which all customers have to be offered the same rates, regardless of their health risks. Community rating forces young people to pay far more than their actual cost, a main reason for today's 46 million uninsured, while it subsidizes older patients.

Third, Obama would ban consumers from buying private insurance across state lines, perpetuating the price differences in today's fragmented market, instead of allowing all Americans to shop anywhere for the best deals.

Fourth, both plans propose what's known as a "public option," or a Medicare-style plan that would compete with the private offerings. The previous three proposals would make the private plans extremely expensive. With the same subsidies, the Medicare-style plan could put them out of business.

Before we get into the specifics of each problem, it's important to note that Obama's health-care plan is not included in his 2010 budget. The administration pledges that his health-care plan won't expand the deficit because it will be entirely paid for by tax increases. But even if the deficit stays the same, spending and taxes will be far from the same. By most estimates, Obama's plan will cost more than $200 billion a year by 2019. All told, government outlays as a share of GDP are projected to reach 26% by that point, up five percentage points from when Obama took office.

Now, let's examine the four ways in which the new proposals are likely to increase costs:

1.) The two bills would require states to establish insurance "exchanges" that would offer a variety of plans. The rub is that the federal government would impose minimum standards on all of those plans, from New York to Wyoming to Hawaii, that are often more stringent and expensive than the existing laws require.

A case in point is the first requirement, the minimum benefits package. Today, many states require a menu of costly coverage, while others impose only light requirements. Colorado, for example, mandates hair transplants, rehab services, and hearing aids, while Illinois requires none of them. The Senate bill gives a preliminary list that includes mental health and prescription drug benefits, and substance abuse programs. That's the minimum menu that all states would have to offer.

A special panel of experts would add to that list -- and you can bet that the additions would be substantial and costly. As a result, it would be far more difficult for consumers to purchase basic, stripped down, low-cost policies for catastrophic care that are bargains in states like Alabama or Indiana.

2.) In its purest form, community rating requires that insurers charge the same premiums for all their patients, regardless of their age, obesity or any lifestyle differences. New York, New Jersey and a half-dozen other states have stringent community rating laws. In most states, insurers can charge their customers according to their actual costs, so a 62-year-old smoker would pay, say, $10,000 for a policy versus $800 for a 20-year-old marathoner.

The senate plan would impose a strict, narrow band on all premiums nationwide: Insurers could never charge more than twice as much in premiums for their most expensive patient versus their least costly. So the 62-year-old's policy might fall to $5,000, and the 20-year-old's would go to $2,500. The senior would get a big subsidy, and the youngster would pay far more than his real cost.

3.) The state "exchanges" would exist in 50 totally separate markets. Even with the harmonization of community rating and benefits packages, the differences in prices across states would remain large.

Allowing Americans to buy insurance anywhere, at the lowest prices, would create nationwide competition that would drive down costs everywhere. But the Obama plan will not allow a true national market. It's remarkable that Obama would endorse a plan that perpetuates big price differences. His solution for Medicare is to do just the opposite by flattening costs in the most expensive regions to match the lowest levels anywhere in the U.S.

4.) The so-called public option is now included in both the Senate and House bills, and is strongly endorsed by Obama. Under the public option, the exchanges would offer a plan resembling Medicare for more than 100 million working Americans. Today, most of them are covered by their employers' plans. But the Democrats' proposals contain a "pay or play" provision that would allow companies, in effect, to drop their coverage and substitute a payroll tax.

Because their health care costs are growing so rapidly, it's likely that most companies would dump their plans. "That's what will happen," says John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis, which champions free-market solutions to health care. "Employees could then go to the exchanges and get subsidized insurance."

The problem here is that the public option would compete directly with the private plans. Both would be heavily subsidized, with Americans making up to $110,000 eligible for assistance under the Senate proposal. It's likely that the Medicare-like option will drive out private insurers, since the government plan has several advantages. The plans impose public-utility-like restrictions on the insurers, capping their profits and transferring premiums from the insurers with the younger, healthier patients to those who serve an older, sicker population. Those restrictions will hardly make them nimble competitors. At the same time, the imposition of costly benefits packages and community rating will raise their costs.

That the government enjoys an edge in purchasing doesn't mean that the overall costs will fall. It's precisely the opposite. The public plan will be so heavily subsidized that Americans will tend to over-consume expensive medical services just the way they do now under regular Medicare. Only this time, the number of patients will be almost three times larger.

The demand for everything from knee surgery to mental health counseling will soar. But the government will keep a lid on prices, so Americans, for the first time, will be faced with rationing. The hospitals and physicians simply won't be able to satisfy the unhinged demand for the services that look like a bargain.

The lines will grow. And so will the spending, and the taxes. And that's what Obama isn't telling you.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Organizing a Teach-In or Townhall Meeting

Without question, meeting with and developing long-term productive relationships with legislators is the most effective form of grassroots lobbying. This is true for representatives at the local, state and national level. Visits with members of Congress can be arranged in Washington, DC or in the members' district/state office. Typically, members of Congress are in the district every Friday to Monday and in Washington on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Make sure you allow enough time to schedule the meeting. Budget at least two weeks lead time for a meeting with the member as opposed to a staff person.
On Staff Level Meetings

Many people assume that if they are only allowed to meet with a staff person, it is because they are not being taken seriously and their meeting will not have an impact. This is not at all true. Members of Congress rely very heavily on their staff people. Staff people are the gatekeepers in a congressional office. They decide what information makes it to the member's desk, what constituent concerns are communicated most strongly and very often staff people will even decide whether or not a member of Congress will sign onto a resolution or not. Developing a good, solid relationship with an influential congressional staffer can make you a more effective advocate than if you were able to meet with the member. Sometimes meetings with members of Congress are a quick handshake and a photo-op and don't allow for much substantive discussion. Very often, the substantive work is done at the staff level. That is not to say that developing a relationship with a member is not worthwhile. Just don't discount the importance of staff people.
Understanding Staffers' Needs

Congressional staff people tend to be young, overworked and underpaid. They are usually called upon to juggle numerous issues and may not be familiar with all the issues on their agenda. They rely very heavily on organizations and individuals that can explain complicated issues to them in a concise and clear way. If you can show a congressional staffer that you can be a resource for reliable, concise information about the Palestinian/Israel conflict, he or she will value your relationship. Staffers also need to be cautious. They do not want to give their bosses bad advice or recommend a course of action that can mean political suicide. When it comes to the issue of Palestine/Israel, the risks are high. That makes it critical for you to show a congressional staffer that you are a constituent who votes and that you speak for many other voters in the district. This can be demonstrated by the people you bring with you to a meeting, or by the number of faxes you can generate on a given topic.
Note: Faxing a letter rather than mailing it is much more efficient and effective. Changes implemented after 9/11 to how mail is delivered on Capitol Hill mean that letters can sometimes take months to reach a congressional office.

Preparing for the Meeting

Do Your Research
Gather some key information about the legislator, like committee assignments and voting record. Also, check each members' official website for a short biography that can help you identify ways to make a personal connection in the meeting. Maybe you attended the same high school or both share a love of scuba diving. Personal connections can put the member at ease and help him/her remember meeting you.
Assemble the Group
Decide who will attend the meeting. It can be very effective to assemble a group that reflects the breadth of agreement with your position. This could mean inviting representatives of different religious communities or a coalition of community leaders. You do not have to assemble an all-inclusive group for one, big meeting. It can be more effective to ask groups of 3-5 people to schedule separate meetings. This means that the office is meeting with concerned constituents 5 times a month rather than one, and that can make a more significant impression.

Select Topics and Requests
Meetings with members of Congress do not usually last more than 15-20 minutes. Staff meetings can run much longer. It is critical to be prepared with a few talking points (contact Global Exchange for the latest updates) and one or two concrete requests. The two key reasons for meeting with congressional offices are to educate them on the issue and to hold them accountable to the will of their constituents. The most common mistake many activists make is leaving a congressional office without asking for anything! What you ask for will depend on your legislator's past voting record on the issue or reaction to your information.

Positive: If your legislator has a good voting record or reacts positively to your message, you can ask that he/she:
• Signs a favorable resolution (does not sign a negative resolution)
• Makes a public statement in support of your position at a community event or with the press
• Introduces a resolution or drafts a letter to the President urging a certain policy direction
• Organizes other members of Congress to support a similar policy direction

Neutral: If your legislator has a neutral voting record or no firm position on the issue, you can ask what it would take to get him/her to take a position or be convinced. This can be as specific as asking how many letters or phone calls from constituents the member would need to be swayed in one direction or another.

Negative: If your legislator has a bad voting record on this issue and seems firm in his/her position you can ask that he/she do no harm by:
• Not taking a lead on efforts that are detrimental to peace.
• Not introducing bills, sponsoring resolutions or speaking out in the press in support of unbalanced policies.

Assign Roles
Make sure to involve everyone in the meeting. Make sure everyone understands the desired outcome prior to the meeting. Assigning certain talking points to each person helps everyone prepare for the meeting and have something to say. Identify one person to lead the meeting. This helps keep the meeting flowing and allows one person to make sure all the important points are covered. Also assign one person to take notes. You may want to do a practice session before the actual meeting.

Prepare Materials
Assemble information and materials about your topic to leave with those you are meeting. But don't overwhelm them with paper! It is a good idea to leave a written record of any specific requests you are making of a legislator, whether it is asking that he/she sign onto a resolution or an invitation to attend a community function.

Confirm the Appointment
• One week before the meeting.
• The morning of the meeting.

Conducting the Meeting

• Start by thanking the person for meeting with you.
• Connect with the person by acknowledging something in common or by asking a question. (Example: If it is an aide, ask what brought them to work with the representative). While this can be effective in breaking the ice, don't spend too much time with small talk. Members of Congress and staffers are very busy and you want to make sure to have the time to cover the substance of why you requested the meeting.
• Introduce yourself and the other members of your group. Describe who you are and what you do in the community.
• Explain why the issue is important to you. Show that the issue is personal and communicate your concerns on a personal level.
• Show that you are local—legislators pay particular attention to constituents. You need to show that your support can help the person get reelected.
• Acknowledge your legislator for any previous positive actions. Find something to thank them for, even if it is only that they have not done anything negative.

Presentation of Issues
• Stick to your agenda and assigned roles.
• Involve all of the participants.
• If you have traveled to Palestine, consider bringing photos of checkpoints, demolished homes, etc. Visual aids like these can personalize the issues and are very effective.
• Be honest and don't claim to know more than you do about an issue. Do offer to get back to the person with an answer if you are not able to answer during the meeting. But only do this if you know you will follow up.
• Keep the lines of communication open. Give the legislator a chance to express an opinion. If he or she is supportive, don't be afraid to ask for help in advancing your issue and in contacting other like-minded legislators.
• Keep the communication positive. Never burn bridges. Even though the legislator or the staff person is rude or uncooperative never lose your cool, argue or threaten.
• Make specific requests and ask for an immediate answer.
• If the representative (or their aides) are unwilling to make a commitment, set a date for a follow-up meeting or a time you can call the office for an answer.
• Ask what would be required to get the representative to do what you are asking. You can ask how many phone calls or letters would make a difference.
• Carefully record any questions, objections or concerns.
• End on a positive note and thank the representative or staff person for holding the meeting.
• Ask for business cards if you have not already done so and make sure to leave contact information and written material they can look over.
• Fill out the Lobby Meeting Report (available in the Global Exchange lobbying toolkit) and send it to Global Exchange.

A Word on Framing the Issue and Staying on Message
When deciding how to frame an issue with a representative, it is important to distinguish between your own connection to the issue and what will appeal to a member of Congress. Members of Congress can be risk-averse and concerned above most else with getting reelected. Given that mindset, it is key for pro-just peace activists to frame this issue in a nonthreatening way AND in a way that communicates to the representative that he or she will be held accountable to voting constituents who want to see more balanced, constructive policies. This is not a matter of deception. It is a matter of choosing your words effectively with your goal in mind.

Whatever your specific request of a representative, your message should include asking them to focus on the goal of advancing peace for both Palestinians and Israelis. This can include the following talking points. The last two years have been disastrous for both Palestinians and Israelis. Unless a settlement is reached that ensures peace, security and freedom for both peoples, neither side will be truly secure or free. America has a responsibility to pursue constructive policies that can advance the cause of peace. This is good for both Palestinians and Israelis, and for Americans. One-sided resolutions that uncritically support Israel or only condemn Palestinians do not advance the cause of peace. They damage America's credibility abroad and entrench those with extremist, anti-peace positions.

Ask that the representative judge whether or not to sign future bills, resolutions or letters by asking a few key questions:
• Is this piece of legislation balanced?
• Does it uncritically support or condemn only one side of the conflict?
• Does it offer both sides incentives to make the compromises necessary for a lasting peace to be achieved?

Don't Let Remarks Like These Side-Track You

Representative (or staff person): I am (My boss is) a strong supporter of the state of Israel.
Activist: We are not here to ask you to stop supporting Israel and to start supporting Palestine. We're asking you to support policies that are both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. Until a just settlement is achieved between Palestinians and Israelis, neither people will be able to live normal lives in peace and security. Do uncritical and unbalanced policies that only perpetuate the suffering of both Palestinians and Israelis really help Israel?
The answer above will allow you to keep the meeting focused on your message and goals. The representative's comment should not be seen as an opportunity to convince the representative of all the reasons you may believe Israel is not worth supporting or why Palestinians should be supported instead.

Representative (or staff person): The Palestinians cannot be rewarded for terrorism.
Activist: Violence against civilians is certainly condemnable. It is clear that both sides have paid a high price in civilian casualties. It is our hope that a just peace settlement will ensure that no more Israeli or Palestinian civilians will be killed in the violence of this conflict. That is why we are asking you to support balanced policies that can bring both sides closer to peace.

The representative's comment should not be seen as an opportunity to discuss the fact that three times as many Palestinians—the vast majority of them civilians—have been killed in this conflict or to convince him/her that Israeli state-sponsored terrorism should not be supported. It will be difficult to let comments like these pass without wanting to set the record straight. But if you only have 15 minutes of a representative's time, you will want to stick to your message, raise the issues your group agreed upon prior to the meeting, and make sure that you have time to ask your representative for something.

Congress and the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict

Every member of Congress, whether in the House of Representatives or the Senate, is elected by the people to serve their interests and reflect their will. Earlier, we cited some striking figures about American public opinion on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Just as a reminder—
• 77% of Americans support establishing a Palestinian state;
• 74% of Americans support applying economic and diplomatic pressure on Israel to reach a peace settlement;
• 69% of Americans say they want the Bush Administration to lean toward neither side in the conflict.
Yet as a body, the US Congress is vocally and uncritically supportive of Israel. Though Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid and maintains a 36-year old military occupation, Congress has never held a hearing to discuss how Israel uses the aid, how it conducts its occupation or the human rights situation of the 3.5 million Palestinians living under that occupation. In the 107th Congress, no less than 37 bills and resolutions were introduced that dealt with Israel or the Palestinians. Less than ten of those were constructive. The majority expressed solidarity with Israel, condemned Palestinians, or introduced the possibility of sanctions against the Palestinian Authority. Congressional leadership in the 108th Congress has made shielding Israel from compromises called for in the Roadmap a higher priority than supporting this international peace initiative.

Congress—the body that is supposed to most closely represent the will of the people—could not be more out of sync with American beliefs and attitudes about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Members of Congress are not hearing us. Or worse—they are hearing us, but are choosing to ignore us.

The remainder of this toolkit is designed to give you the tools you need to convince your representatives in government to listen and to play a constructive role that helps, rather than hinders the cause of peace for all the peoples of the Middle East.

Negotiating the Terrain

This issue, more than most others, is perceived as sensitive and politically volatile on Capitol Hill. Before embarking on a plan of congressional activism, there are some helpful points for you to know, and remember.
Congress Can Have an "Us vs. Them" Mentality

Even though more Americans want their government to be balanced on this issue, organizations and activists that are uncritical of Israeli policies have typically been more vocal on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress and their staffs are just not used to hearing the voices of those seeking balance in US policy. This has led many in Congress to believe that there is no mainstream constituency concerned with Palestinian/Israeli peace. Many believe that only their Jewish and Arab-American constituents care about their position on this issue. And they assume that all of their Jewish constituents share the views of the lobby groups that are uncritical of Israel. That misunderstanding very often leads them to believe that it is just politically safer to support Israel uncritically.

A goal of congressional activism should be to let members of Congress know that the vast majority of their constituents want to see balance in American policies. It is key to let them know that this is not a question of Jews against Arabs—not in Palestine/Israel and not here at home.

For example, a recent poll conducted jointly by the Arab American Institute and Americans for Peace Now about the attitudes of Jewish and Arab-Americans found a belief on both sides that the Bush Administration should be steering a middle course in its policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; strong backing in the two communities for secure and independent states for Israelis and Palestinians alike; and support in both communities for a negotiated peace proposal that is broadly based on a land for peace framework. There are several new grassroots groups within the American Jewish community that are working to advocate for a just peace, often in coalition with Arab-American or American Muslim groups.

This Isn't about Being Pro-Israel or Pro-Palestine

Just as members of Congress too often see this as a question of Jew vs. Arab, they are also likely to view advocacy efforts through a pro-Israel or pro-Palestine lens. Many congressional offices will see pro-just peace constituents as wanting to change their position from pro-Israeli to pro-Palestinian. A goal of congressional activism should be to shift this perception and encourage members of Congress to focus on a solution to the conflict that is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine... not to mention, pro-American. It is key to be clear about that when communicating with congressional offices. For better or worse, Palestinians and Israelis are neighbors. Neither side is going anywhere. Neither people will have true peace, security and freedom unless the other also has peace, security and freedom. Members of Congress should be encouraged to pursue balanced policies that seek to advance the cause of peace and justice, not the perceived interests of one side over another.

Lobbying Congress—Like Democracy—Is a Process, Not an Event

If you remember only one thing in this handbook, let this be it! When working for a just peace in Palestine/Israel, remember that you are asking members of Congress to think about this conflict in a new way, in a way that challenges ingrained assumptions and may be politically costly. That takes time and sustained effort. It cannot be done in an hour-long meeting or with a letter, no matter how well written it is. Above all it takes a relationship.

A goal of congressional activism should be to build a relationship with a congressional office that can affect attitudes and policies over time. You will want to introduce yourself and others who share your goals to your representatives as constituents who care about this issue enough to let it affect how you vote. Because lobbying is a process and not an event, congressional activism will be more effective if you take the time up front to plan a course of action to affect change over time. Developing a strategy is a key to effective activism, whether you are a lone constituent or part of a grassroots activist group.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Media painting Obama healthcare plan bleak?

The traditional US media has been painting a picture of President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan as a lot worse than it is and may be ignoring the positive things about the reform, according to author Michael Lux.Political battles over Barack Obama’s healthcare reform are now gaining momentum in the United States.

9/11 an inside job? NYC speaks out

Web journalist Lori Harfenist found on the streets of NYC that, eight years after the 9/11, New Yorkers think it’s scary to think it was an inside job, because if so – what can you believe in or and who can you trust?

United Nations Rise Against Wooden Dollar

British economists from Capital Economics said as a result of a recent research that the Russian ruble was expected to lose about ten percent of its value against the dollar. Russian analysts share such a conclusion and say that there is nothing terrible about it. The United Nations Organization in its turn published a new research in which it criticized the dollar as an international currency and offered to replace with an artificial one.The report from the UN conference on Trade and Development particularly stated that the global currency system was not efficient. The system, the report said, hampers the development of the world economy and serves one of the reasons for the current economic crisis.

One of the authors of the report said that replacing the dollar with an artificial currency could solve a number of problems connected with the state debt and the imbalance in the field of international trade.

"A viable solution to the exchange-rate problem would be a system of managed flexible exchange rates targeting a rate that is consistent with a sustainable current-account position, which is preferable to any 'corner solution.' But since the exchange rate is a variable that involves more than one currency, there is a much better chance of achieving a stable pattern of exchange rates in a multilaterally agreed framework for exchange-rate management," said the U.N. body.

“This subject is not new at all, but I do not think that this problem will be paid any attention to during the upcoming several years. The crisis of trust and the crisis of finance is enough for the economy today, no one needs a currency crisis. One needs to look into current problems and not create new ones,” finance expert Alexander Osin told the Noviye Izvestia newspaper.

However, a new currency has all chances to emerge some day, the expert said.

The subject of the dollar’s replacement surfaced for the first time in November of 2008, during the G20 summit in Washington. It was Russia and China that offered the issue for discussion. China support Russia, but other members of the summit decided to take a break without setting forth any objections, though.

USA Sick and Ready to Collapse for Three Reasons

The map of the collapse of the United States in 2010, made by Russian scientist of politics Igor Panarin, has received millions of views in the United States over one day only. The Wall Street Journal published the map on its front page at the end of 2008. Alaska is pictured on the map as a part of Russia. Hawaii were shown as a territory of Japan, whereas four new states were pictured on the territory of the USA: the Californian Republic, the Central North American Republic, the Texas Republic and the Atlantic America, which included the traditional states.n spite of the fact that the map was published many months ago, it attracted public attention only a while ago. Will the United States break up like the USSR did?

Anatoly Vasserman, a political advisor, believes that Igor Panarin created the map on the base of several important arguments.

First and foremost, the US state debt has skyrocketed from $2 trillion to $11 trillion within a decade. The USA will never be able to pay off the debt.

Secondly, the political structure of the nation is vulnerable. There is neither universal legislation in the country, nor common traffic rules. The US Army does not execute its major function – defense – anymore since many foreign nationals prefer to serve in the army to obtain the US citizenship.

Thirdly, the split of elites, which was especially visible under the conditions of the crisis.

The problems, which Panarin named, are absolutely real. However, there is only one thing that is real: America will not be able to cope with these problems.

The USA is sick, but the illness began a long time ago and had a number of exacerbations. However, none of those illnesses has ever resulted in the collapse of the nation. The USA survived several immigration and economic crises. There was the split of elites before – it once resulted in the civil war between the North and the South.

Winston Churchill once said that Americans will find a way out of a difficult situation only after they try all other ways. It goes without saying that the map of the United States will remain unchanged in 2010. Igor Panarin made his map in 1998, although it did not produce any attention on either the Russians or the Americans.

Any American knows that the economy is based on a large market. The larger the market can be, the faster the nation can overcome economic difficulties. America has never suffered from any crisis after WWII, that is why they perceive the current crisis so painfully. However, the interest, which so many Americans have shown to the research of the Russian professor, proves they treat the imminent threat seriously.

The USA will not take a risk of triggering a global war. If it does, the nation will suffer from much greater damage than it did during WWII. There were no intercontinental ballistic missiles 70 years ago. However, the nation can provoke smaller, local wars, for example a conflict between China and India. If it happens, the USA will not try to have Russia involved in any regional conflict because Russia, for the time being, is the only state that is technically capable of destroying America.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Franklin County added to areas with West Nile infected horses

West Nile virus (WNV) has been confirmed in seven more horses, including one in Franklin County, the first confirmed equine case in the county for 2009, the Washington State Department of Agriculture announced today. Two of the horses have been put down; the other five are recovering.

A Quarter horse gelding from Pasco was euthanized earlier this week. The attending veterinarian reports the horse was not current with vaccines for WNV. The age of the horse was not immediately available.

Additional cases confirmed Thursday by the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Pullman include:

A 16-year-old Paint mare in Benton City was euthanized. The horse was not current with vaccines.
An 11-year-old Arabian gelding in Benton City is recovering. The horse was not vaccinated.
A one-year-old Paint mare in Benton City is doing well. The horse was not current with vaccinations.
A 20-year-old Quarter horse gelding in Warden is gradually improving. The horse was not vaccinated.
A 4-year-old Tennessee Walker Appaloosa mix in Ellensburg is recovering. The horse was not vaccinated.
A 4- year-old Arabian mare in Ellensburg is recovering. The horse was not current with vaccinations.
The total number of confirmed cases of WNV infection in horses stands at 39 as of Sept. 3, with cases confirmed in Adams, Benton, Grant, Kittitas, Yakima and now Franklin counties. The first cases were announced July 24. No confirmed cases of West Nile virus in horses have been reported in Western Washington this year.

WNV is spread by mosquitoes that have fed on an infected bird. The disease can sicken people, horses, many types of birds, and other animals. It is not spread from horses to other animals.

WNV is fatal in about one-third of all horses that show clinical signs, although most horses do not become ill and show no symptoms at all. Those that do become ill display loss of coordination, loss of appetite, confusion, fever, stiffness, and muscle weakness, particularly in the hindquarters.

Veterinarians who learn of potential WNV infections in horses or other animals should contact the State Veterinarian's Office at (360) 902-1881.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Economic Downturn Hits Some Industries, K Street Firms Hard

Washington, D.C., is enjoying the long Labor Day weekend, and the Center for Responsive Politics is no different.

But in your leisure time, check out this front-page story by Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen, who uses our research and data in noting Sunday: "In a year when Washington's influence industry should be thriving, with epic battled over health-care and energy legislation, lobbying in many sectors is in marked decline as defense contractors, real estate firms and other companies pull back in a down economy."

Eggen also notes: "Lobbying revenue for many of the city's most powerful advocacy firs, including bellweathers such as Patton Boggs and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, plunged 10 percent or more in the first half of the year."

While some firms and industries are certainly hurting, not all are. For our take on this issue, check out our reporting here, here, here and here.

And, of course, enjoy your barbecue.

States and Municipalities Aggressively Lobby Federal Government for Scarce Aid

Tucked within the Catskill Mountains, the tiny village of Kiryas Joel, N.Y., is best known for its almost exclusively Hasidic Jewish population and sky-high poverty rate.

Kiryas Joel has also this year spent as much of its own money to lobby the federal government -- $140,000 -- as cities exponentially larger, such as Chicago, Dallas and Tucson, Ariz.

Such lobbying largess represents a broader uptick in local, state and territorial governments spending their own taxpayers' money in a bid to influence Congress and federal agencies. The trend comes despite -- or perhaps, because of -- a deep recession that's eviscerated local governments' budgets from Maine to the Mexican border.

At $41.56 million through June 30, the non-federal public sector ranks 12th among 121 profiled industries and special interest areas in terms of federal lobbying expenditures, a Center for Responsive Politics analysis indicates.

That's more than the non-federal public sector spent on federal lobbying during all of 2001. Since then, its lobbying expenditures have increased each year, growing to more than $84.1 million in 2008.

So far in 2009, 73 local, state or territorial governmental entities have spent at least $100,000 between January and June to lobby the federal government. More than 750 have spent at least $20,000.

Topping the list? Puerto Rico. Three elements of its territorial government have combined to spend $610,000 on federal lobbying during the first half of 2009.

The island territory is followed by Pennsylvania ($540,000); Miami-Dade County, Fla. ($410,000); Los Angeles County, Calif. ($380,000) and Riverside County, Calif. ($300,000).

It's a sensitive topic for many local and state governments: Elected officials from, and hired lobbyists for Kiryas Joel and a dozen other municipal entities did not return requests for comment. Nor did officials from the National League of Cities or the United States Conference of Mayors.

But some local politicos openly contend lobbying the federal government is a wise and potentially lucrative investment, particularly for municipalities struggling during an economic downturn to provide essential services for their residents -- water, housing, transportation, jobs.

"We're not building museums. We're trying to address simple, basic needs for our people here," said Barrett Pederson, mayor of Franklin Park, Ill., which has spent $180,000 on federal lobbying efforts during the first half of 2009. "We want to make sure the message of Franklin Park and our residents is put in front of Congress in a clear, constructive matter."

The bulk of Franklin Park's 2009 federal lobbying expenditures -- it ranks 13th nationwide among local, state and territorial governments -- went toward securing federal funding for flood control and sewer rehabilitation projects, Pederson said.

Henderson, Nev., won't ever match the glitz of the city of which it's a suburb -- Las Vegas. But this year, it's edging its typically high-rolling neighbor in federal lobbying expenditures, $100,000 to $80,000.

Federal lobbying in part helped Henderson secure federal support for turning land near a small airport into a business zone instead of residential lots -- a city priority, said Santana Garcia, an intergovernmental relations specialist for Henderson.

"We wanted to ensure it was appropriately developed, and we were successful," Garcia said.

As for Puerto Rico, the territory must fight for federal attention without the clout of voting representation in Congress. Therefore, says Alison Lynn, director of strategic communications for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, hiring consultants can provide needed help.

"We're in a different situation than 99 percent of Americans -- a pretty unique situation," Lynn said, noting that the island is angling for more federal funding for war veterans and health care issues, among others.

She notes, too, that while Puerto Rico out-lobbied all other local, state or territorial government through June, it's scaled back expenditures compared to recent years. Indeed, the territory is on pace this year to post its lowest annual lobbying output since OpenSecrets.org began tracking such numbers in 1998.

Like any private entity, non-federal governments must adhere to federal lobbying disclosure rules. Generally, these rules apply to people paid by an organization to lobby federal officials on behalf of the organization's interest.

But mayors, city council members, city managers and other such officials find themselves exempt from federal disclosure rules. That means the true value of government-on-government lobbying is probably significantly higher than what's known.

Consider that city mayors routinely travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby the federal government on a variety of issues, from parks and public safety, to more recently, securing federal economic stimulus funding. Some do so under the auspices of umbrella groups, like the United States Conference of Mayors, while others do so unilaterally on behalf of their own jurisdictions.

A number of mayors met in February with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden about stimulus relief, while another mayoral delegation met with Obama administration officials in April about environmental concerns.

Mayors who've this year met with Obama or top Obama officials include Thomas Menino of Boston, Richard Daly of Chicago, Tom Leppert of Dallas, Bill White of Houston, Manny Diaz of Miami, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Ray Nagin of New Orleans, Phil Gordon of Phoenix, Luke Ravenstahl of Pittsburgh and Gavin Newsome of San Francisco.

Reliance on such stealth lobbying may in part (along with bruised city budgets) explain why big cities with high-profile politicos may be relying less on registered Washington lobbyists than smaller municipalities.

That federal lobbying expenditures of all kinds aren't disclosed is "unbelievable," says Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

"Not only are these numbers outrageous, but they almost assuredly understate the case," Norquist tells Capital Eye. "At the least, it should be reported when taxpayer dollars are used in any form to lobby the federal government, and frankly, I don't think taxpayer dollars should be used for this purpose at all. Taxpayer dollars are not voluntary."

Back in Kiryas Joel, the $140,000 worth of those taxpayer dollars spent on lobbying this year roughly equals the average yearly income for nine working residents. Reports filed by the lobbying firm the village hired, Russ Reid Company, indicate its lobbying centered on transportation and federal appropriations legislation. (See these reports here and here.)

And despite its status as the nation's most impoverished municipality, Kiryas Joel is on pace this year to nearly double its previous lobbying record -- $160,000 in 2006.

Top federal lobbying expenditures by non-federal governmental entities between January 1 and June 30:

Government entity / organization 1st quarter $ 2nd quarter $ Through June 30 $
Puerto Rico 230,000 380,000 610,000
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 270,000 270,000 540,000
Miami-Dade County, FL 205,000 205,000 410,000
Los Angeles County, CA 190,000 190,000 380,000
Riverside County, CA 160,000 140,000 300,000
San Diego County, CA 110,000 120,000 230,000
Wayne County, MI 115,000 115,000 230,000
State of Nevada 120,000 110,000 230,000
City of Phoenix, AZ 100,000 120,000 220,000
City of Jacksonville, FL 90,000 100,000 190,000
City of Birmingham, AL 95,000 95,000 190,000
Municipality of Anchorage, AK 95,000 90,000 185,000
Village of Franklin Park, IL 30,000 150,000 180,000
State of Indiana 83,500 83,500 167,000
Orange County, CA 77,500 87,500 165,000
City of San Antonio, TX 81,100 81,100 162,200
City of New Orleans, LA 60,000 90,000 150,000
City of St Helena, CA 60,000 90,000 150,000
Monterey County, CA 60,000 90,000 150,000
Broward County, FL 70,000 70,000 140,000
City of Chicago 70,000 70,000 140,000
City of Dallas, TX 70,000 70,000 140,000
City of Tucson, AZ 70,000 70,000 140,000
Madison County 70,000 70,000 140,000
Santa Clara County, CA 70,000 70,000 140,000
Village of Kiryas Joel, NY 70,000 70,000 140,000
Cuyahoga County, OH 80,000 60,000 140,000
Village of Bensenville, IL 110,000 30,000 140,000
Plaquemines Parish, LA 80,000 50,000 130,000
Lower Colorado River Authority 90,000 40,000 130,000
City of Auburn, AL 62,500 62,500 125,000
State of California 62,500 62,500 125,000
City & County of San Francisco, CA 60,000 60,000 120,000
City of Austin, TX 60,000 60,000 120,000
City of Carrollton, TX 60,000 60,000 120,000
City of Detroit, MI 60,000 60,000 120,000
City of Houston, TX 60,000 60,000 120,000
City of San Francisco, CA 60,000 60,000 120,000
King County, WA 60,000 60,000 120,000
Sacramento Area Flood Control 60,000 60,000 120,000
Sacramento County, CA 60,000 60,000 120,000
City of Miami, FL 70,000 50,000 120,000
Santa Rosa County, FL 70,000 50,000 120,000

Several Lobbying Firms Enjoyed Second Quarter Financial Success

The economic slowdown hasn't meant a slowdown in revenue for many well-connected K Street lobbying firms. During the second quarter of 2009, several lobby shops reported earning significantly more than they did during the same period last year.

Topping the list of firms who had the biggest increase compared to the second quarter of 2008 is the Podesta Group (formerly PodestaMattoon), which long-time Democratic strategist Anthony Podesta founded. During the second quarter of 2009, the firm reported earning about $6.4 million -- nearly $2.5 million more than it earned during the second quarter of 2008. To date, their lobbying has been most prolific around appropriations and the federal budget. They have also worked on various defense, health care, energy and other issues.

Another notable increase is show by the Gephardt Group, the lobbying and consulting firm founded by former Democratic majority leader and presidential candidate Richard Gephardt. His firm earned about $1.3 million during the second quarter of 2009, an increase of 250 percent compared to the second quarter of 2008. So far during 2009, the company has earned $2.4 million -- nearly three times as much as it earned during all of 2007. To date, they have also been most active on the hot issues of health care and energy.

Here is a list of the top nine firms showing the largest increase in lobbying during the second quarter of 2009, compared to the second quarter of 2008, each of which earned at least $800,000 more this quarter than they did during the same period last year.
Firm Second Quarter,2009 Second Quarter,2008 Difference
Podesta Group $6,370,000 $3,910,000 $2,460,000
Brownstein, Hyatt et al $5,405,000 $3,560,000 $1,845,000
Holland & Knight $5,330,000 $3,860,000 $1,470,000
Bryan Cave LLP $1,570,000 $120,000 $1,450,000
Crowell & Moring $1,300,000 $350,000 $950,000
Nelson, Mullins et al $1,500,000 $550,000 $950,000
Gephardt Group $1,280,000 $360,000 $920,000
Arnold & Porter $1,770,000 $952,000 $818,000
Van Scoyoc Assoc $7,345,000 $6,545,000 $800,000

Angler involvement key to successful clean-up effort on Skokomish River

Officials with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) credit the volunteer efforts of anglers and a local landowner in improving sanitary conditions on the Skokomish River.

The cooperative clean-up effort last week by WDFW employees, anglers and Hunter Farms–a private landowner–increased the number of portable toilets and trash receptacles in the area, and removed human waste and trash from the banks of the river.

The results of the clean-up prompted the state Department of Health (DOH) to reopen the nearby shellfish harvest area in the river delta on Wednesday. DOH had closed the area to shellfishing Aug. 18 because of the potential for human waste to contaminate the shellfish.

“The hard work put in by all these volunteers really turned the situation around, as evidenced by DOH’s decision,” said Phil Anderson, WDFW interim director.

“We appreciate anglers’ cooperation and we’re pleased that personal behavior has changed dramatically,” Anderson said. “Continued angler cooperation in maintaining sanitary conditions will help preserve fishing opportunities on the river.”

Anderson said WDFW will continue monitoring the river for fishing violations and angler use of waste-disposal facilities.

The Skokomish River is open for recreational salmon fishing seven days a week from the mouth of the river to the Hwy. 101 Bridge.

WDFW officers tracking cougar that reportedly attacked child in Stevens County

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officers are searching for a cougar that reportedly attacked a child yesterday in Stevens County.

A 5-year-old Canadian boy reportedly was attacked and injured while he was hiking with his family on the Abercrombie Mountain Trail, along Silver Creek in the Colville National Forest east of Northport.

His parents, of Rossland, British Columbia, reported a cougar suddenly jumped out of a brushy area onto the boy, who was near his mother on the trail. The mother reportedly fought off the cougar and the parents took the child to Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail, B. C., about 25 miles away. The boy’s parents have asked that their names not be made public.

The parents said their son was treated for head wounds at the hospital and released, and is expected to recover completely.

After WDFW was notified of the incident by the boy’s father this morning, WDFW officers contacted local hunters with hounds trained to tree cougars, to assist in searching for the cougar. If the animal is found, it will be killed.

“When human life is threatened in this way, we take no chances,” said WDFW Regional Enforcement Capt. Mike Whorton. “Cougars that have attacked people clearly pose a continuing public-safety risk and are euthanized if they are captured.”

Colville Forest officials, contacted by WDFW, are posting the trailhead with signs advising users that cougars and other potentially dangerous animals are in the area, and offering advice on how avoid or deal with an encounter.

The last cougar attack in Washington was last year in Douglas County. Since records have been kept, there have been 18 reported cougar attacks in the state, including one fatality in 1924 in Okanogan County.

WDFW estimates the state’s cougar population at about 1,900-2,100 animals.

WDFW sets trap to capture cougar in Discovery Park

Enforcement officers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) set a trap today in Seattle’s Discovery Park in an attempt to capture a cougar that could be in the area.

The trap was set after the department received another report of a cougar sighting in the area. Since Tuesday, the department has received three reports of cougar sightings in Seattle – two in the Magnolia area and one in the Greenwood area.

Meanwhile, Seattle Parks and Recreation has closed Discovery Park to the public until Monday, Sept. 7, when park personnel and enforcement officers will reassess the situation. The park could reopen earlier if a cougar is captured, said Capt. Bill Hebner, who heads WDFW’s North Puget Sound enforcement program.

Enforcement officers also will be searching the park with the aid of two Karelian bear dogs that are trained to help track and locate bears and cougars.

“We are treating these reports seriously and doing what we can within an urban setting to capture and relocate the animal,” Hebner said.

Residents near the park should be aware that a cougar could be in the area, Hebner said. People living in the area can take a few safety precautions, including keeping small pets inside the house and closely supervising children playing outdoors, he said. For more information on preventing conflicts with cougars, visit WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/cougars.htm.

Anyone who sees a cougar should call WDFW’s Mill Creek office at 425-775-1311 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. After hours or on the weekends, people can call the local Washington State Patrol office or 911.

Ecology adopts wetland mitigation banking rule

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has adopted a new rule that establishes criteria and a certification process for wetland mitigation banks across the state.

Lauren Driscoll, who oversees Ecology’s wetland mitigation banking program, said the final rule contains provisions to ensure mitigation bank sites comply with and support local shoreline regulations as well as support local salmon recovery, surface water recovery, and watershed management plans.

“We also want to ensure that wetland banks are compatible with working farms,” Driscoll said. “The rule includes considerations for locating and designing banks so that they don’t adversely affect adjacent farmland.”

She said the new rule:

Encourages wetland mitigation bank sponsors to locate and design wetland mitigation banks to provide the greatest ecological benefits.
Establishes coordination among state, local, tribal and federal agencies involved in certifying wetland mitigation banks.
Provides timely review of wetland mitigation bank proposals.
Ensures consistency with federal wetland mitigation rules.
State and federal laws prohibit the loss of wetlands due to development. Wetland mitigation banks allow developers to provide compensation before harming a wetland at another site. Wetland mitigation banks are an important strategy for engaging the private sector and power of the marketplace to sustain Washington’s remaining wetlands.

“Wetland mitigation banking is designed to increase ecological benefits by increasing and protecting wetland functions. Mitigation banking also saves time and provides more certainty for project applicants,” said Gordon White, Ecology’s shorelands and environmental assistance program manager.

The availability of wetland credits doesn’t eliminate or change state and federal regulations requiring developers to avoid and minimize wetland damage. Wetland mitigation banks allow developers to provide compensation before harming a wetland at another site. Developers can purchase “credits” from the banks – subject to regulatory approval – to offset wetland losses that cannot be avoided.

Ecology has already certified eight wetland mitigation banks across the state – and another six are in the certification process. There also are four other non-Ecology certified wetland mitigation banks operating in Washington.

State Transportation Commission will hold a hearing for ferry fare proposal in Seattle, Sept. 8

The Washington State Transportation Commission is holding a formal public hearing regarding proposed ferry fare adjustments next week in Seattle. The hearing will be held on Tuesday, September 8, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Puget Sound Regional Council, 1011 Western Avenue, Suite 500, Seattle.

After listening to public comment on the proposal and taking into consideration the input from public meetings on the Kitsap Peninsula, in the San Juan Islands and on Vashon Island; and from comments received by mail, e-mail and phone, the Commission is scheduled to vote to either adopt or modify the fare proposal at the close of the public hearing.

Any new fares or policies would go into effect October 11, 2009. The entire fare proposal can be found on the Commission’s Web site at www.wstc.wa.gov

The proposal includes these elements:

Applying a 2.5 percent across-the-board general fare increase.
Making the in-need organization discount permanent (now a pilot program).
Allowing WSF to collect between 25 to 100 percent of the applicable fare as a non-refundable deposit for advance vehicle reservations on routes with a reservation system. This would be a pre-payment of a portion of or the entire fare and is not an additional fee.
Eliminating the tollbooth surcharge for multi-ride fare purchases (which had not been implemented).
Moving toward further implementation of tariff equity affecting San Juan inter-island fares by adding 5 percent on top of the 2.5 percent general increase.
Allowing WSF flexibility to enter into agreements with fire districts for free passage when on emergency calls in lieu of payment for fire protection services at ferry terminals.
Applying a 10 percent “peak summer surcharge” to only single fare purchases (not applicable to multi-ride/frequent user fares). The peak summer surcharge would be in effect between the end of June and the day after Labor Day.

People who would like to comment, but cannot attend the hearing in Seattle, may call into the meeting via conference call at 712-432-1620 and when prompted enter PIN number 404317#. People can also submit their comments to the Commission via e-mail or telephone, no later than 5 p.m., Friday, September 4, 2009. Contact the Commission at:

Unemployed on Labor Day? - September 3, 2009

Labor Day 2009 could become “Train for a New Career” Day for many unemployed workers in Washington.

Under a new state law that takes effect on Sept. 7, unemployed workers in Washington who are disabled, low-income, members of the Washington National Guard or recently discharged from the military may take advantage of a training-support program that previously was available only to dislocated workers.

The Training Benefits Program is operated by the Employment Security Department. It allows qualified workers to receive unemployment benefits for up to 52 weeks, rather than the usual maximum of 26 weeks, while enrolled in approved training for a new occupation. Unlike other unemployment claimants, training-benefits participants don’t have to look for a new job while they’re enrolled in training.

The program was created in 2000 for workers who were deemed unlikely to return to their previous occupation or industry, and who needed training to qualify for jobs that are in demand locally. The primary beneficiaries have been displaced manufacturing workers who also qualified for unemployment benefits.

But there are many other unemployed workers who also need training to improve their job prospects, said Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee, who advocated the program’s expansion.

“Until now, this program wasn’t available for many of our workers who need it the most,” said Lee. “These are people who have a track record of holding down a job or serving our country, and who need a little help to get back to work in a career that has a future.”

The Training Benefits Program pays only for weekly unemployment benefits. Enrollees are responsible for paying or obtaining financial aid for tuition, fees and other training expenses.

“Training and education help workers stay employed and earn more,” said Lee. “With training benefits, we can put that option within reach for more people who are struggling to make a better life for themselves.”

Since unemployment benefits are paid on a Sunday-through-Saturday schedule, training benefits for newly eligible enrollees who have been approved for the program will begin on Sept. 13.

To participate, eligible workers must submit a training plan within 90 days (and enroll in an approved training program within 120 days) after they receive their unemployment claims kit from Employment Security. The kit contains information about the Training Benefits Program.

Information and application packets also are available by phone (800-318-6022), by visiting a local WorkSource Office or online (http://www.esd.wa.gov/uibenefits/specialservices/training/training-benefits.php).

Details of expanded eligibility criteria
Unemployed workers who: · Were disabled by an injury or illness and need training for a new occupation.

· Earned less than 130 percent of the state’s minimum wage in their qualifying year and need training to get a higher-paying job. For example, a worker whose qualifying year is 2009 would have to average less than $11.11 an hour to be eligible (based on the 2009 minimum wage of $8.55 an hour).

· Were honorably discharged from the military or the Washington National Guard in the prior 12 months and who need training to find suitable work in their community.

· Are current members of the Washington National Guard who need training to find a suitable job locally.

Transportation projects helping the economy in rural and urban communities

In honor of Labor Day, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a proclamation encouraging state residents to celebrate Washington transportation workers.

Workers are busy in almost every county of the state right now. More than 135 projects funded by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are awarded or under construction.

“Transportation projects benefit the entire state of Washington” said Gov. Gregoire. “Our workers are building and maintaining safer, more efficient ways of travel – jobs that help support local communities and get our economy back on track.”

WSDOT’s most recent report, submitted Aug. 20, showed that contractor payrolls doubled for the second month in a row, with labor hours increasing by 150 percent from June to July. The employment data shows workers on Recovery Act-funded projects logged more than 144,000 labor hours in July, compared to just less than 58,000 hours in June. This is evidence that these projects are continuing to contribute to Washington’s construction workforce and sustaining our state’s economy.

“Every transportation dollar invested keeps critical transportation and infrastructure systems in place so travelers and freight continue to move and strengthens the local economy where workers live,” said Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond.

In addition to the Recovery Act investments, WSDOT is currently delivering the largest capital construction program in Washington’s history, including hundreds of safety and congestion relief projects funded by the 2003 and 2005 gas tax, worth $13.4 billion. As of June 30, WSDOT has completed 193 of 391 projects, and by September 30, 2009, 284 of the 391 projects (73 percent) will either be completed or under construction.

“Stimulus investments are providing good-paying jobs for an industry that has been losing them at a rapid rate,” said David D’Hondt, Executive Vice President of Associated General Contractors of Washington. “The repair and congestion relief projects are improving our overall quality of life. By providing congestion relief in areas such as the I-405/SR 520 interchange and repairing areas such as I-90 at the Snoqualmie summit, they are supporting commercial activity, improving safety and reducing carbon emissions from idling traffic.”

Washington state is administering the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act investments with an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability. Gov. Gregoire created a Web site, www.recovery.wa.gov/, so every Washingtonian can see where tax dollars are going and hold government accountable for the results. On the federal level, President Obama has appointed Vice President Biden to oversee all states’ recovery efforts and to root out waste and fraud. This combined oversight will ensure taxpayer dollars are put to good use and recharge the economy.

DNR temporarily closes portion of Northwest Timber Trail in Tiger Mountain

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) today closed a portion of the Northwest Timber Trail due to a timber harvesting operation in the area. The timber harvest will generate revenue to support K-12 school construction, Capitol campus construction, and county services.

The Cougit timber sale closes about 1.5 miles of the trail, starting about .4 miles in from the western (trailhead) side. DNR has posted signs rerouting users from the Eastside (7000) Road to the Power Line Road, which connects to the western end of the Northwest Timber Trail.

DNR urges recreationists in the area to use caution and be aware of heavy equipment and truck traffic. The agency also recommends avoiding the rerouted area during weekdays, when truck traffic is at its heaviest.

The area’s non-motorized, multiple-use trails (Preston, Iverson, and Northwest Timber) are closed seasonally to hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian use from October 15 through April 15. The temporary closure of Northwest Timber Trail will last through the remainder of the season and will open again in April.

A map showing the location of the timber sale and trails is at:

For more information about the trail closure and detour, contact Sam Jarrett, Recreation Manager with DNR’s South Puget Sound Region, at 206-375-0448 or sam.jarrett@dnr.wa.gov .

Recreation on DNR-managed lands
DNR manages more than 5 million acres of state-owned forest, aquatic, agricultural, conservation and urban lands. Most recreation on these lands takes place in the 2.1 million acres of forests that DNR manages as state trust lands. By law, DNR manages state trust lands to produce income for schools, universities, prisons, state mental hospitals, community colleges, local services in many counties, and the state’s general fund. State trust lands are also managed to provide fish and wildlife habitat and educational and recreational opportunities.

DNR-managed lands provide a variety of landscapes throughout Washington State. Recreational opportunities include hiking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, camping, motorized vehicle riding, mountain biking, and boating.

DNR’s main recreation focus is to provide trails, trailhead facilities, and a primitive experience in a natural setting.

International cooperation shuts down “quack medicine” Web sites

Working with the Washington Attorney General’s Office, Australian authorities recently announced they’ve shut down an Internet health scam that fleeced more than 60,000 consumers worldwide.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission obtained an order against Leanne Rita Vassallo and Aaron David Smith, both of Cecil Hills, a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, concerning false, misleading and deceptive conduct.

The Washington Attorney General’s Office, which is separately pursuing civil charges against the defendants, brought the case to the ACCC’s attention.

Attorney General Rob McKenna thanked the ACCC for its assistance. He said this is the first time the Washington Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division has reached across international seas to cooperate with foreign officials, but it likely won’t be the last.

“Web-world scams won’t save you from real-world laws,” McKenna warned.

Vassallo and Smith were alleged to have sold eBooks for a wide range of health conditions including acne, asthma, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, menopause and prostate cancer.

In the federal court in Sydney, Justice Peter Graham described the pair as “purveyors of quack medical advice and quack medicine.” He noted they had received more than $1 million in sales.

The defendants are permanently barred from making similar representations in the future.

The state’s case is still pending. The Attorney General’s Office is seeking civil penalties and restitution, in addition to injunctive relief.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Free gas offer stank, says Attorney General’s Office

Gas vouchers were a hot promotional tool last year, used to lure potential customers to dealerships, furniture stores and seminars. But as gas prices rose, so did the number of consumers fuming about these so-called free fill-ups. A Vancouver, Wash., car dealer must now reimburse customers who responded to one such promotion that the Washington Attorney General’s Office says was deceptive.

In an effort to boost car sales, Curt Warner Chevrolet, Inc., mailed a “Scratch and Win” promotion to Vancouver residents over April 3-6, 2008. Consumers scratched the card to reveal a number that determined their prize. The big bounty was $25,000 cash but odds were such that recipients were nearly guaranteed to win a $40 gas voucher.

“It was a free gas offer that stank,” Assistant Attorney General Mary Lobdell said.

In all, 211 people presented the mailers to the dealership to collect their prize but obtaining the $40 in free gas proved more difficult than they expected.

“We tell consumers to read the fine print but salespeople need to do the same,” Lobdell continued. “Businesses can be held liable for deceptive advertising campaigns, even those created or managed by other companies.”

Curt Warner Chevrolet was already on probation after signing a 2007 agreement with the Attorney General’s Office to resolve concerns about its advertisements and promotions. Back then, the company paid $22,000 in attorneys’ costs and promised to comply with certain marketing rules. The Attorney General’s Office alleged the “Scratch and Win” promotion was misleading and violated the 2007 agreement.

Consumers who attempted to redeem the winning card at the dealership received a certificate to participate in a rebate program. They had to pay $5 to enroll then purchase at least $100 of gas per month. Only after mailing those receipts would they receive a gas gift card for $25. Consumers had to continue buying gas and submitting receipts to receive additional gas gift cards.

At one point, Curt Warner Chevrolet ran out of certificates and attempted to substitute a vacation that required a $50 deposit. When a Vancouver man objected, the dealership promised to mail him a $100 gas voucher. When it didn’t arrive by the promised date, he filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

The dealership eventually sent a certificate for enrollment in the rebate program, along with an apology note. But the consumer’s problems didn’t end there. After buying gas and following the strict redemption rules, the customer received a $25 gas gift card that was rejected by a local fuel station. He was told the card could only be used at Speedway and Superamerica gas stations in a handful of states – the closest in Minnesota.

Under a new agreement to be filed in Thurston County Superior Court, Curt Warner Chevrolet will pay up to $8,440 in restitution to consumers who responded to its “Scratch and Win” promotion. Eligible consumers will receive a $40 card that can be used to buy gas from a nationally recognized brand with multiple stations in the Vancouver area.

A Florida business, Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants, Inc., was behind the rebate program. The company was sued by Florida Attorney General’s Office in February 2009 and agreed to a state takeover. Consumers who visit www.freebiegas.com, one of the many Web sites where Tidewater previously advertised its rebate program, are now redirected to a page with information about how to file a claim. Company president Crystal Clark separately pled guilty to drug charges in connection with selling Oxycontin.

The Washington Attorney General’s Office posted a warning on its All Consuming blog about gas vouchers offered by Tidewater and an Arizona-based company named BBZ Resource Management, which filed for bankruptcy. Since November 2008, angry consumers nationwide have posted more than 220 comments on the blog.


Consumers are eligible if they 1) Received the “Scratch and Win” promotion and presented a winning number to Curt Warner Chevrolet during the company’s April 3-6, 2008, marketing campaign and 2) Didn’t receive $40 worth of gas.

Curt Warner Chevrolet will contact eligible consumers by mail and notify them of their right to receive a $40 gas card. Any free gas that a consumer may have already received as part of the original voucher program will be deducted from their refund. Consumers will have at least 60 days to respond to the offer.

Consumers who have questions about the settlement can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Resource Center at 1-800-551-4636 (in-state only) or 206-464-6684 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays.

Schools Statewide Briefed on H1N1 Virus

September 1, 2009 - As children throughout Washington return to the classroom, state education and health leaders briefed school personnel Monday on the current status of H1N1, a new strain of flu that emerged in the spring. The virus is also known as the swine flu.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn, along with top officials from the state Department of Health (DOH), co-hosted a statewide video conference called “Preparing for H1N1 Swine Influenza.” School personnel were updated on the current status of H1N1 and offered guidance on steps schools can take to prepare for flu outbreaks during the coming season.

“Under our current plan, we are advising schools to stay open,” Dorn said. “There are specific steps to take if a student or teacher becomes ill. But we don’t want a repeat of what happened last May when schools in our state closed after the first reports of H1N1 surfaced. This fall, the severity of the virus will be the biggest factor in what measures our schools will take to maintain a continuity of education.”

The common seasonal flu is responsible each year for an average of about 36,000 deaths nationwide. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that rate could more than double with H1N1 because it is a new virus and people have little or no immunity to it. With about half of all respiratory virus transmissions occurring in schools, the timing of Monday’s update was crucial, Dorn said.

“Children in our schools spend a lot of time together in close proximity,” Dorn said. “The virus is passed from one person to another, so we’re concerned as students return to school. Everyone must practice good hygiene to slow the spread of the flu when it starts.”

On Monday, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the DOH provided schools the latest information on H1N1 as news broke about dozens students at Washington State University in Pullman reporting flu-like symptoms. In addition, the two agencies partnered last week on a letter to parents on how best to prepare for the virus.

Unless the severity of the virus increases, Dorn said guidance from all levels of government is to keep schools open. The final decision to close an individual school rests with district superintendents and school boards or a local public health officer, he added.

The CDC has released new guidance for families and school personnel if the H1N1 virus presents itself at the same severity as it did in spring 2009:

Stay home when sick
Separate ill students and staff until they can be sent home
Wash hands often
Clean more frequently in classrooms (the virus can survive on objects, such as desks, for 48 to 72 hours)
Treat high-risk students and staff earlier
Consider selective school dismissal

To offer a primary point of contact for schools, the state Department of Health is funding a one-year position at OSPI that will be responsible for monitoring pandemic flu.

Since this strain of swine flu was first reported in Washington in April, 154 people have been hospitalized and 14 have died. The virus is still circulating at a low level in the state and around the nation. Cases are expected to increase through the fall and winter.