October 19, 2006

Darcy Burner Interview (WA-08)

The follow-up to our first Pacific Views interview with Darcy Burner, Democratic candidate for the 8th Congressional District of Washington State (WA-08), is finally here. On 8/22/06, the candidate sat down with me and the tape recorder for another 45 minutes. Publication has been delayed for all the reasons this sort of thing gets delayed when itís relying on someone who's doing it for free. But at least itís before the election. This was Burner's primary argument concerning the importance of the race against incumbent Republican Dave Reichert:

Darcy Burner: ... Obviously, September 11th is almost five years ago and the 9/11 report has been out for about three years. And in those three years, the commissioners have come back over and over again and given Congress and the administration failing grades for implementing the actual things that would keep the American people safe from terrorism.

There are some fairly straightforward things on the list. Ensure that first responders can talk to each other on the radio. Police, firefighters, FEMA. There was a problem on September 11, and it cost first responder lives because they couldnít be told to evacuate the towers, because there was no way to reach them because their radios couldnít communicate with each other. It was still a problem with Hurricane Katrina, and it cost more lives. And the bills that would fix that problem sit in a subcommittee of Homeland Security that Dave Reichert chairs. If you look at the areas in which Congress has gotten an F, there are five areas in which there are clear Fs, for failure to implement the recommendations. And of those five areas, Dave Reichertís subcommittee is responsible for two of them. For a third, itís arguable, that it ought be in his subcommittee, that he should fix it.

One of the recommendations, on which Congress has gotten an F, that is sitting in his subcommittee, was the recommendation that Homeland Security funding be allocated according to risk, instead of pork barrel politics. Some areas of the country are more at risk for terrorist attacks than others, so letís make sure that thereís adequate funding to protect the areas at highest risk. It makes sense, itís a very non-partisan thing. There are five bills that have been introduced to address that particular issue. All five of them, I think three of them were introduced by Republicans and two by Democrats, five bills introduced on both sides of the aisle, are sitting in the subcommittee on Homeland Security that Dave Reichert chairs. If we want to talk about protecting the American people, we have to start with the full implementations of the 9/11 Commission recommendations, and Dave Reichert is the biggest obstacle to that happening. Heís the problem. ...

We also talked about the economy, Iraq, terrorism, water issues and agriculture, local growth concerns, earmarks, net neutrality, municipal wireless and Iran, so head below the fold for the full post.

Q: Youíve talked a lot before about the need to invest in civic and social infrastructure. The economyís not doing all that great, so where do we come up with paying for that and getting the economy going better?

Darcy Burner: The decisions that we make about who we raise money from and what weíre taxing, and what we spend money on, are really moral decisions for this country.

So, letís start by recognizing that itís not just a question of how much in and how much out, but how we raise it and what we spend it on. That matters as much as the total numbers. And Iím a huge advocate of fiscal responsibility. Thereís a rule that had been in place under the Clinton administration that I think it would be very healthy for this country to implement again, basically the Ďpay as you goí rule. If you want to spend something, you have to figure out where youíre going to get the money from, cut spending in some other area or find some new source of revenue. If youíre going to cut taxes, you need to figure out which spending youíre going to cut. You treat it like every household does. If you have a new car and you have car payments, where are you going to get the money to make them? So, fiscal responsibility is obviously a critical thing.

That being said, there is an enormous amount of money that is being wasted right now by the federal government, while we are then choosing not to spend money on things we really should be spending it on. And our tax system is skewed [so that] the middle class and poor are getting a really raw deal right now for the benefit of the very, very wealthy. And weíll talk a little bit about both of those things.

We know there are billions of dollars that have gone missing in Iraq. Billions. Probably tens of billions of dollars that have gone missing in Iraq. We could identify what theyíve been spent on and whoís pocketed them or what theyíve been used for, right? That is an enormous waste. The fourteen and a half billion dollars in tax subsidies to the big oil companies that the Congress voted into place last year, that are taking effect during a period in which the oil companies are making more in profits than any companies ever in the history of the planet, is a waste of taxpayer money. The no-bid contracts to Halliburton represent huge wastes of taxpayer money. And we say that we canít afford to do critical things that we clearly ought to be doing.

There was a motion introduced in the House of Representatives last year to provide access to health insurance for National Guard and Reservists and their families, and the House of Representatives voted it down because they said that we couldnít afford to provide health insurance for our soldiers. But apparently, we could afford fourteen and a half billion dollars in subsidies to the big oil companies. I would say their priorities are very skewed.

Q: How did Dave Reichert vote on that one?

DB: He voted the wrong way. He voted against providing health insurance for the families of National Guard and Reservists and he voted for the subsidies for oil companies.

On the tax side, I think we need to figure out a way to ease the burden on the middle class and poor. In real terms for most of those families at this point, their disposable income has gone down. The cost of housing is so much higher than it used to be, wages are stagnant. The average tax break for families in this country under the Bush tax cuts was all of $50 a year and the increase in healthcare costs alone has more than eaten that up. Much more. So families are worse off now than they used to be. The middle class and the poor are worse off than they used to be. But for people who make more than a million dollars a year in income, the Bush tax breaks were worth an average of more than $43,000 to them. I do think we need to take a look at ensuring that the very wealthy and corporations pay their fair share, while reducing the burden on the middle class and poor.

Q: You see that as helpful to the economy generally? Some people would say that taxing capital reduces the amount that would be spent on business infrastructure, etc.

DB: So they claim, but the evidence is actually contrary to that. For example, consumer spending. If you impoverish the middle class, consumer spending goes down, which we know to be bad for the economy.

Q: Things have changed a lot with regard to the Iraq war since the last time we spoke, and itís become very unpopular with a majority of the public, and the war on terror seems to be turning into this perpetual, ever expanding war Ö

DB: So letís distinguish for a second between whatís happening in Iraq and what it actually takes to protect the American people from terrorism, because those are two different questions.

We, and weíll start with Iraq, the more controversial and interesting to the blogosphere piece of this puzzle, I come, as I think you know, from a military family. My dad spent 20 years in the Air Force. My brother Jay just got out of the Army after spending 20 years in, he was with the 101st Airborne in Iraq during the initial invasion. My husband is a vet, my brother Tim is a vet, my cousins are vets, a very military family, which is not atypical for the kind of poverty and occasionally lower middle class background that my dad and his family came from. The military was a means of upward mobility. Do a service for your country and your country will take care of you.

When we talk about whatís going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, it isnít an abstraction for me, because I know the people who are over there. My brother and my cousins. My friend Phil Sutek, who I was very close to in high school and who was one of the first fatalities in Afghanistan. His helicopter went down and he left behind a young wife and two very small children. We asked our soldiers to go over there and take out a government that we told them was a threat to us and they did it in less than three weeks. We asked them to ensure that there werenít any weapons of mass destruction that could be a threat to us and they did that. We asked them to maintain stability while the Iraqis adopted a constitution and elected a new government, and they did that. And at this point, theyíre sitting over there getting shot at and blown up because the Republican politicians in Washington D.C. canít figure out what their plan is to give Iraq back to the Iraqis and bring our troops home. Thatís got to stop.

The choice that we are faced with right now, and I think that Democrats need to be very, very clear about this, is the following: Do we want this indefinite occupation of Iraq, which is the plan of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress, or do we want to have the military give us a viable plan to give Iraq back to the Iraqis and bring our troops home, which is the Democratic alternative. And when the people of this country understand that thatís the choice, itíll be clear which way they want to go.

So thatís Iraq. Thatís a different question from how we protect ourselves from terrorism.

After September 11th, there was a bipartisan commission put together, called the 9/11 Commission. It was run by a Republican, Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey. There was a local, prominent Republican, Slade Gorton, on the commission. And they were asked to come up with a set of recommendations on what we could do to make the American people actually safer from terrorism. And they published a report that included 41 specific recommendations for actions that we need to take to make ourselves safer from terrorism. Obviously, September 11th is almost five years ago and the 9/11 report has been out for about three years. And in those three years, the commissioners have come back over and over again and given Congress and the administration failing grades for implementing the actual things that would keep the American people safe from terrorism.

There are some fairly straightforward things on the list. Ensure that first responders can talk to each other on the radio. Police, firefighters, FEMA. There was a problem on September 11, and it cost first responder lives because they couldnít be told to evacuate the towers, because there was no way to reach them because their radios couldnít communicate with each other. It was still a problem with Hurricane Katrina, and it cost more lives. And the bills that would fix that problem sit in a subcommittee of Homeland Security that Dave Reichert chairs. If you look at the areas in which Congress has gotten an F, there are five areas in which there are clear Fs, for failure to implement the recommendations. And of those five areas, Dave Reichertís subcommittee is responsible for two of them. For a third, itís arguable, that it ought be in his subcommittee, that he should fix it.

One of the recommendations, on which Congress has gotten an F, that is sitting in his subcommittee, was the recommendation that Homeland Security funding be allocated according to risk, instead of pork barrel politics. Some areas of the country are more at risk for terrorist attacks than others, so letís make sure that thereís adequate funding to protect the areas at highest risk. It makes sense, itís a very non-partisan thing. There are five bills that have been introduced to address that particular issue. All five of them, I think three of them were introduced by Republicans and two by Democrats, five bills introduced on both sides of the aisle, are sitting in the subcommittee on Homeland Security that Dave Reichert chairs. If we want to talk about protecting the American people, we have to start with the full implementations of the 9/11 Commission recommendations, and Dave Reichert is the biggest obstacle to that happening. Heís the problem.

Q: The New York Times reported today on a U.N. coordinated scientific report that predicts dramatic increases in the need for water around the world, and weíre facing droughts here in the U.S. as the rest of the world is facing droughts. Have you looked into this issue? Because people are talking more and more about this issue, when I was in Costa Rica, it was on the news down there, how people are concerned that there will be wars over water in the not-too-distant future.

DB: Well I went to see Al Goreís film, An Inconvenient Truth, which I highly recommend. But that was one of the issues that he talked about. That the shift that weíre seeing is changing where water is, itís changing the rainfall patterns, itís changing glacier melt, itís changing the water picture very dramatically, the atmospheric changes that weíre talking about when we talk about global warming. Or, as some of my friends locally like to call it, catastrophic climate disruption, because global warming makes it sound like, well maybe weíll all be sitting out on a beach in Tahiti, which isnít the image we want to convey.

But waterís going to be a huge issue. Itís already a huge issue in this country. If you look at the fights over the Colorado River, water is already a big issue here and itís a much bigger issue in other parts of the world. Weíre relatively fortunate in this country. Itís clear weíre going to have to address it. Weíre going to have massive dislocation of people, refugees. Hundreds of thousands, millions, of refugees. Because changes in water patterns, change which parts of the world are inhabitable by people and weíre going to have to deal with it.

Iím a tech person, so my response to problems like that is to want to innovate new solutions. Letís come up with better technologies for water purification, letís come up with better ways to conserve water, letís come up with better technologies for water desalinization. Letís come up with better ways of transporting water, more efficiently and more effectively. If we did that and we made some infrastructure investments, and we address the problem of climate change, we could head off, or cope with, many of the problems weíre talking about. But itís a big thing, not a little thing. Itís not a thing that will get done unless we really focus on it. Weíve got to decide itís a priority.

Q: One of the prime users of water is agriculture. There are, as of the last agricultural census, about 3,000 farms in King and Pierce Counties and about 90 percent of them are below the $100,000 income level, where theyíre usually subsidizing their farming activities by another job. What do you think can or should be done to preserve small farm diversity, here in this area and around the country generally? Because itís obviously not just a problem here, these numbers of small farms are declining all the time.

DB: I had a conversation yesterday or the day before with the woman who was hired to run PCCís [Puget Consumersí Co-op] Farmland Trust, which was very pleasant, sheís an amazing woman, but there are programs like that that help. There are things that we can do. I mean, I live close to where a bunch of those farms are, out in Snoqualmie Valley, and I love what, for example, Full Circle Farm is doing. Theyíre a little organic farm thatís actually just expanded. They grow organic greens and sell them to PCC, and they sell them to restaurants around here, and they have a CSA program that I fully support. They are making a go of it as a small farm by, in some ways, fundamentally changing what the business model looks like, really innovating, and you can order CSA subscriptions on their website. And I think thereís an extent to which thatís a big piece of the puzzle. Letís look at what we can do in terms of organic farms, what we can do in terms of empowering farmers.

I was just reading that thereís a new restaurant that opened in Washington D.C., or maybe I was listening to it on NPR, which a group of farmers in North Dakota got together to open because they wanted to create more of a market for their produce. So they opened a restaurant and ship their produce there, so thereís this market for their fresh produce. And I thought, well, thatís a really clever idea. You cut out the middle men and you take it directly to the consumer.

I think weíre starting to see some interesting things happen with farmerís markets. But farmerís markets are a step in the right direction, at least for small farms. CSAs, community supported agriculture programs, are a step in the right direction. Making it easier for farmers to understand both how to grow the things that they can make reasonable money growing, and giving them the channel to get those things to market and make a decent profit, make a big difference.

Q: Do you think that there are any other neglected local issues that people in the district might be interested in hearing a little bit more about?

DB: Iím sure there are. There are some interesting issues around growth and how we handle growth that arenít discussed as much as I think they probably ought to be. My district contains some of the highest growth areas in King and Pierce counties. All those places where theyíre building new subdivisions, those are in the 8th. Itís pretty clear that donít have adequate funding for the schools, to deal with the increase in population for those subdivisions. That we donít have adequate funding for roads. Itís pretty clear that some of the policies of the Growth Management Act are creating some interesting difficulties. Iíll give you a concrete example.

I live out at Ames Lake, which is in unincorporated King County, about two miles west of Carnation. Ames Lake, as the name implies, has a lake in the middle. A lake, at the moment, which is relatively clean. But itís a community that was developed out of old Weyerhaeuser forest land in the 1950s, and so a lot of the early houses that were built there, including mine, had septic systems that were installed in the 1950s and the 1960s. And these are relatively small lots, a lot of them are waterfront lots, either on the lake or one of the streams that feeds the lake, or on the outlet. And so thereís a real concern about the integrity of the septic system. Thereís virtually no capacity for somebody who buys a house in that community to put in a new septic system or new septic drain field, or to redo their septic system. So there just really arenít a lot of options for somebody whose septic drain field fails. Which means the default is likely to be, for homeowners whose drain fields fail, that theyíre going to try to hide it. Thereís no viable alternative, which means that we have water quality problems, because we have pollution from failed septic drain fields going into the water system. Thereís no evidence that we have a lot of that right now, but itís a real concern to members of the community. The obvious solution is to get us off individualized septic systems, at least for the lots that are so close to the lake and to the streams, where thereís a real danger. And do either some form of waste treatment, or there are actually systems where you can do a kind of group septic, where you move everything away from sensitive areas, protects those sensitive areas. The Growth Management Act effectively doesnít let the community do that.

Carnationís in the process of putting in a brand new, incredibly high tech, incredibly clean sewage treatment plant, because theyíve been polluting the watershed that Redmond draws drinking water out of. Theyíre doing the right thing, theyíre putting in a sewage treatment plant, and Ames Lake is about two miles away, but canít hook in. There are a whole bunch of other subdivisions around Ames Lake that are relatively densely developed, I mean, Ames Lake has about 1200 residents. You could, within a three or four mile radius, put together somewhere between five and ten thousand people in moderately dense communities, and create a community that way. But again, because of the Growth Management Act, because of the way it was written, thereís literally nothing that can be done.

Now, I understand the reasoning behind wanting the restrictions to be the way they are. Thereís a real fear that where you put in sewage treatment plants you get much denser development and growth. Theyíd like to avoid much denser development and growth in that part of unincorporated King County, even if it is just a stoneís throw from Redmond Ridge, where they decided to put in really dense development. Nonetheless, they want to avoid encouraging development outside the urban growth boundaries. I understand that, but thereís no good solution then for places where you already have development and youíre concerned about protecting environmentally sensitive areas. And I think itís a politically very difficult thing for anybody to take that up and go back and re-open the bill. I suspect the fear is that you would then get loopholes in that would allow developers to do massive development and that would be a problem. So nobody wants to open the can of worms, so thatís a problem. Thereís a whole set of growth-related issues.

Q: Mostly federal, or state and local?

DB: It varies. Some of them are very local, some are state, some are federal. I had breakfast with the mayor of Duvall the other day and he was talking to me about infrastructure issues for Duvall. They have a sewage treatment plant and an urban growth boundary and Duvall is growing like crazy. And itís intended to grow like crazy, but the problem is that the road infrastructure hasnít kept up and there arenít that many jobs in Duvall. People are having to commute west to their jobs across these roads that really arenít designed for that many people to travel on them. And itís one of the few relatively affordable housing communities left as close in as it is to Seattle, not that itís that close in.

So, he wanted to chat with me about what we might do, relative to solving some of the regionís transportation issues. Obviously, we can invest in more roads and itís clear as we increase development that some additional road investment has to happen, including some additional road investment that isnít happening. Itís also clear that if Sound Transit actually does the light rail system theyíre talking about to the Eastside, that will have a substantial impact, that we could do a lot with light rail in Bellevue and Redmond. I think the plan is to stop it in Redmond, but that doesnít really help the problem in Duvall much.

Q: A lot of times when transportation bills make it into Congress, there are communities that really need these things and then there are debacles like the Ďbridge to nowhereí in Alaska. What sorts of checks do you put in place where youíre looking at it and youíve got a dividing line between, Ďthis community really needs it and this is just pork for somebodyís district.í Where do you make that division.

DB: Itís a good and interesting question, and one I know that a lot of members of Congress are struggling with right now. My understanding is that, if the Democrats take the House, that the new chairman of the Appropriations Committee is somebody who is rather philosophically opposed to earmarks, which would do a lot to reduce some of the pork that we see in the federal budget. That the way the system works right now, with the earmarking, you do an up or down vote on the bill, but all kinds of stuff gets added and attached, on behalf of, maybe, certain Senators from Alaska, which wasnít part of the original package. And the earmarking process is clearly one of the big issues. I havenít been inside the process enough to know how exactly you fix earmarking, but clearly it needs to be fixed.

Q: Blogger question: Net neutrality. How do you understand this issue and how would you vote on it?

DB: Iím a big fan of net neutrality. And I would vote for net neutrality and against things that would undermine net neutrality, just to be explicit. One of the things that has been so remarkable about the internet is that it has been such a level playing field in so many ways. Whether I am a 17 year old high school student or a 43 year old Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, maybe it doesnít matter on the internet, because if I can write a compelling story, people will read it. If I put together a blog that has fantastic content, people will come.

Thereís the old saying, Ďfreedom of the press is interesting as long as youíve got a press.í The internet gives everyone a press. And what the telecom companies are talking about doing is making some presses a lot louder than others and effectively silencing some of them. If you partition the internet and you give priority to certain kinds of traffic, that would be bad for Pacific Views, that would be bad for Northwest Progressive Institute, it would be bad for David Goldstein. David Goldsteinís not spending any money on his blog, yet he single-handedly can influence local politics. It would be bad for Stefan Sharkansky. I like reading David Postmanís blog, but it would be a tragedy if that were the only viable political blog in the Greater Seattle area.

Q: Municipal wireless?

DB: I think itís a good thing. I live in one of the areas of the world with the highest concentration of wireless hotspots anywhere. When I go visit other cities and I have my laptop, Iím all, Ďwait, wait, whereís my wireless.í I mean, here, thereís Starbucks every three blocks, if thereís not a Starbucks thereís a Tullyís, if thereís not a Tullyís thereís the King County library thatís got the free wireless. You can go to Crossroads, you can go to Marymoor Park, and I think that thatís good for us in terms of our ability to participate and to use the internet. Itís also good for us economically. It means that employees of companies like Microsoft can do their work from virtually anywhere. Yeah, Iím a fan.

Q: What about the larger question of how we deal with Iran right now? Itís becoming a big issue, as it sounds like there are people in the Bush administration right now who want to start an armed conflict with them over their nuclear plans. I donít think anyone really wants to see a nuclear Iran, but Ö

DB: Iran is a real threat. They have a government that is openly advocating for the destruction of other countries and the annihilation of millions of people, and they are actively and openly developing the capacity to follow through on that threat. I would say itís a real threat and we need to do something to address it. I think that we, again, need to be much smarter about how we address those issues.

I think we have a whole array of tools at our disposal. We have diplomacy and international institutions, and economic sanctions, and really basic things. We must secure all the loose nuclear material from the former Soviet Union before Iran gets their hands on them. And thatís not a terribly expensive thing to do, in the total scheme of things, but weíre not making the investments in doing it nearly quickly enough. Itís one of the other things that Congress has gotten a D on from the 9/11 Commission. Weíve got to secure this material. But we should look at all of the things that we can do to address this issue. And at the same time we should be building the kind of international community that will work together to say, ĎNobody will be allowed to cross certain lines. You cannot attack other countries, you cannot perform nuclear strikes on other countries, you cannot advocate or attempt to carry out genocide, or the entire world will be at your doorstep stopping you. Thatís really the right long-term solution. But we only get there if we invest in building the kind of international community and international institutions that will make that happen. As long as we are playing cowboy and going it alone, we canít get to the peace and stability we want. We are more endangered if we cowboy this, than we are if we actually build the kind of community that could put a stop to it.

Q: There exists right now under non-proliferation treaty the right to the civilian development of nuclear power. The people in the Iranian government are saying that India and Pakistan have not only got full nuclear facilities, but theyíve test fired nuclear weapons, they have active nuclear arsenals. There are other countries in the region that have active nuclear weapons, including several of Iranís other neighbors. What do you think the response to that is, in terms of building an international community?

DB: Nuclear power is a big problem. Itís one of the reasons we need to do substantial innovation around energy. Our dependence on oil and the difficulties that it brings, such as the finite and decreasing supply of oil in the world, means that dependence is a problem not only for environmental reasons, and itís a huge environmental problem. Not only for economic reasons, and itís a huge economic problem. But also for national security reasons, for international stability reasons. That thereís not enough oil in all the world, we canít drill our way out of this problem. The fights over oil are causing a tremendous amount of instability, particularly in the Middle East where the bulk of the oil reserves are. Layered on top of that, our failure to innovate viable, new technologies is leading more and more countries towards nuclear as the only real solution that they can foresee. Most nuclear weapons programs in the world have been preceded by a civilian nuclear power development program. Itís time for us to recognize that thatís not the answer.

With respect to energy policy, specifically, we have the capacity to innovate our way out of this problem. Weíve got companies here, in the 8th Congressional District, that are working on the next generation of solar cells, that are working on the next generation of wind turbines, equipment that can extract energy from ocean movements in a clean, non-polluting way, that are working on plug-in hybrid technology for vehicles, smart grid technology that will do a better job of transporting electricity from where you generate it to where you need to use it. Those companies are here. We just need to decide weíre going to make the investment to make it possible for them to be successful. If we do that, not only are we better off economically because weíve created huge numbers of good jobs, not only are we better off environmentally because we wean ourselves from this technology that is destroying our environment, but we are also substantially better off from a national security perspective.

Then, when a country like India, or Pakistan, or Iran, or the Congo needs to figure out what theyíre going to do about adequate electricity generation, there are viable solutions that arenít nuclear and arenít oil. If we say, Ďyou know, you can do it with solar cells. Or you can do it with wind turbines. Or you can do it by generating electricity from ocean movements. Or you can do it with hydrogen fuel cells.í Youíve got alternatives that donít destroy the environment, donít cause international instability and that donít involve the development of nuclear technology and the increase in weapons proliferation.

Posted by natasha at October 19, 2006 08:27 PM | WA Politics | Technorati links |
Comments

Great post on Darcy, nat. One thing I found in New York City is that Bryant Park in downtown Manhattan has free wireless. I really like the idea of communities providing free wireless for everyone that is paid for through the community taxes (and it's lots cheaper than other options).

Posted by: Mary at October 21, 2006 12:55 PM