Ed cetera

Join the informed, opinionated journalists of The Times' editorial staff in lively discussions at our blog Ed Cetera.

December 17, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Thanks for the sales tax deduction, but what about fixing the tax code?

In another example of Congress kicking the can down the road, lawmakers approved a one-year extension of a sales-tax deduction on federal income-tax returns.

The extension gives some relief to about 28 percent of Washington taxpayers who itemize their tax return and claim an average deduction of $600, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The certainty is fleeting considering that about this time next year we’ll be waiting to find out if Congress will grant another extension on the deduction — something Congress has done each year since 2004.

A Seattle Times editorial urged lawmakers to keep the deduction going. Taxpayers in Washington benefit from the deduction because we are one of eight states in the nation that do not collect state income tax. The federal government allows people who pay state income tax to deduct it on their federal tax return. Washington residents deserve a break, too, right?

Making the deduction permanent, however, would make much more sense than year after year of extensions. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has pushed several bills to do so, but Congress hasn't passed any.

The sales-tax-deduction issue raises some broader questions about tax policy. One reason the sales-tax deduction comes up for a vote each year is because Congress wants to overhaul the entire tax system. The  question is, when is Congress going to reform the tax code? A Seattle Times reader, in response to our sales-tax deduction editorial, wrote to us suggesting that instead of focusing on a sales-tax deduction, which less than one-third of Washington taxpayers take advantage of, why not talk about establishing a state income tax and then everyone would get to take a deduction? That is not the way to solve tax policy, but does highlight the need for a comprehensive look at taxes.

Taxes are tedious, but we’re stuck with them. Creating a simpler, fairer and streamlined federal tax policy would make sense. But, so would a Congress that passes more laws instead of pushing real action down the line.

December 17, 2014 at 9:35 AM

A glimpse inside Washington's gun culture after Initiative 594

On Saturday morning, I found myself surrounded by knives, guns and ammo. Lots and lots of it.

I went with some friends to check out the first gun and knife show in Centralia since the roll-out of Initiative 594 on Dec. 4. The new law, passed overwhelmingly by a majority of voters, closes the "gun show loophole." Under current federal law, background checks are required only for sales by licensed firearms dealers. I-594 expands those background checks to private transfers or sales, common to gun shows.

"Remember to dress Lewis County and not Seattle-USC," my friend text messaged me beforehand. I think I blended in just fine, other than the fact I was one of only two people of color there. At the entrance of the venue, a huge sign read "NO LOADED GUNS." Security guards at the entrance provided zip ties to help people lock guns they wanted to bring inside to trade.

Once inside, the whole thing felt like an indoor swap meet. The place had the festive mood of a holiday bazaar with a whole lot of camo colors. For about an hour, we perused aisles and aisles of rifles, shotguns, bullets, stun guns, handcrafted knives, holsters, jackets, war paraphernalia, National Rifle Association pamphlets on Second Amendment rights, and even dehydrated food for hunters. I could purchase an AR-15 assault-style rifle for $600. Or perhaps three gun cleaning kits for $90, as advertised in a sign that enticed buyers with this friendly reminder: "X-mas is coming! Best present ever! Will fit in man's stocking!"

For the full experience, I went through a free background check after eying a $300 Winchester shotgun. Bremerton-based Palmer Ordnance was there to run the background checks using the federal database. I filled out a private-party transfer information sheet and a federal Firearms Transaction Record known as Form 4473. There was only one guy ahead of me but he had such a common name, it was taking a while to find him in the system. If your name is John Smith and a felon shares your name and birth date, it could cause delay.  Eventually, the man was told something like he would have to wait as long as three business days for the background check to be completed before he could purchase the gun. The buyer shook his head, canceled the deal and walked away.

Then it was my turn. We had a slight problem.  The vintage gun I was interested in purchasing did not have a serial number. Someone brought it over from the dealer's table. No digits anywhere, but that didn't stop the process. They started the check; I was cleared almost instantly. I suppose that's one advantage to having an uncommon full name and a felony-free record.

To complete the trade, I would have to show the dealer this confirmation note:

There were certainly big dealers at the show, but most of the exhibitors appeared to be hobbyists and small-business owners. One seller from West Seattle did not need a license to set up a table. He was trying to help an elderly friend sell some of her late husband's guns. It had taken two years for them to figure out the combination to his old safe. Inside, they found more than $4,000 worth of guns, including a vintage German Nazi pistol. If he could sell a few of those, he said, "it sure would help this widow get through a tough time."

Another seller several rows over waved around a copy of the initiative as he tried to explain to a customer how taxes would be collected under the new law. He looked frustrated. (According to a non-partisan legislative analysis, retail sales tax does not apply to sales or transfers between two unlicensed people if they've complied with all background checks. A licensed dealer who facilitates the transfer of a firearm between unlicensed people "is not obligated" to collect a use tax.)

Some of the wording in the new law could be clarified. But from my experience,  I just don't view the concept of background checks as a huge burden. Of course, there are many others who adamantly disagree. On that same morning, just 25 miles away in Olympia, hundreds of gun-rights protesters met and openly exchanged their weapons in defiance of Initiative 594. (Read The Seattle Times' news story.) The people in this crowd spoke as though gun-control supporters, including myself, are out to take away their right to bear any arms. That's not true.

Back at the gun show in Centralia, I walked the Winchester back to the dealer, thanked him for letting me explore the screening process and pondered what had just happened. Technically, I was not supposed to handle the firearm at all until the background check was complete and the seller was notified, but the gun had no ammunition and I probably looked harmless. In any case, there was no way anyone there was going to enforce the rule.

I left the show with a pro-gun sticker, an old Vietnam War medal and a book. No gun.

My friend, who has been to these swap meets many times before, encouraged me to take one last look around. I saw law-abiding people, some of whom probably feel unfairly targeted by the provisions in I-594. They shouldn't.

The new law will hopefully prevent sellers from inadvertently selling arms to people with bad intentions. And though some gun enthusiasts might be annoyed at the prospect of having to go through a background check and maybe waiting a few extra days to be cleared, state law does not prohibit responsible owners from purchasing weapons in Washington state.

December 16, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Inslee promises $2.3B more for schools, but does he go far enough?

Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday night presented a $2.3 billion proposal on education spending for the next two years.

The announcement is part of the governor’s multi-day rollout this week of his budget priorities. His decision to announce different parts of his plan on separate days and wait until Thursday to provide funding details makes it harder to put his numbers into context.

Inslee said his education plan would fulfill the McCleary obligation -- a state Supreme Court decision mandating the state to fully fund basic education -- a year early. It also would provide more funding for early education and higher education. The governor’s plan calls for $1.3 billion toward McCleary in 2015-17 and $2.4 billion more to be spent in 2017-19.

Not everyone agrees on the cost of McCleary. The state Office of Financial Management has projected that fulfilling the mandate would cost the state about $5.7 billion during the next four years.

“The Governor’s proposal is far short of the complete plan the Court has ordered, and will, in my opinion, lead to sanctions by the Supreme Court if adopted,” said Randy Dorn, State Superintendent of Public Schools, in a statement.

Inslee’s spending package also doesn’t include funding for Initiative 1351, a measure voters approved in November that limits class size from kindergarten through high school and calls for adding 25,000 new staff to public schools.

The initiative was drafted without a funding source, leaving it up to the Legislature and governor to figure out how to pay for the hefty cost – estimated at about $4.7 billion over the next four years.

State lawmakers like Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, have repeatedly said the state just doesn’t have the money to pay for it on top of meeting the McCleary obligation.

Lawmakers, however, will likely not have an easy time ignoring Initiative 1351 without a fight.

“It’s the law — he can’t propose not to fund it,” said Jonathan Knapp, president of the Seattle Education Association, a major supporter of 1351, in a Seattle Times news story by education reporter Katherine Long.

Overall, the governor’s package, which he called “new investments” in a statement, includes some juicy bits such as:

  • $156.3 million for early education
  • $144.8 million for special education
  • $386 million for teacher raises
  • $125.5 million for college scholarship programs
  • A promise to continue freezing college tuition at state schools

Inslee’s plan would make education spending 47 percent of the state general fund. That's up from 39 percent in 2007 and up from 45 percent in the most recent budget cycle.

Still, it’s unclear at this point how education spending fits into the rest of Inslee's budget and what taxes he wants to use to pay for it.

December 15, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Are Washington state lawmakers riding the free-meal gravy train?

On Monday, The Seattle Times weighed in on a new policy limiting state legislators to 12 meals per year paid for by lobbyists. Is that too many or too few? There's really no need to get hung up on the number. What really matters is transparency.

Lobbyists currently lack an easy way to report whom they have met with and how much they have spent. The Public Disclosure Commission needs new software to make that information simple to record and accessible to citizens. (Surely a programming genius out there could create an app for this?)

None of this would even matter if lawmakers were banned from receiving free meals and entertainment. Alas, politics is all about relationships. No rules would ever stop lobbyists and lawmakers from chatting — whether it's in a hallway, over a sandwich, coffee shop or steak dinner.

Lawmakers each earn $42,106 annually, in addition to a $120 daily stipend while they are in session. From the outside, that would seem like plenty of money for a part-time politician to pay his or her own way. But after speaking with several legislators, I'm not so sure about that. (Scroll down to vote in our poll asking whether legislators should be paid more or receive free meals.)

Washington's citizen Legislature model means both chambers are filled by people from all parts of the socioeconomic spectrum, from middle-class teachers and farmers to attorneys, small-business owners, wealthy retirees and former tech executives. Some take a leave of absence from their full-time jobs during the session; others don't or can't. Some still get paid by their regular employers; some don't.

State Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, says he makes ends meet by working full-time for Regence BlueShield in addition to his duties as a lawmaker representing South Seattle. Legislators meet in Olympia for a few months each year, but they must respond to constituents' concerns and attend meetings year-round. The truth is being a lawmaker is a privilege, but it's also a 24/7 job. Pettigrew says he is offended by the caricature of the politician as a free-loader who can be won over by a free shrimp plate.

"Influence happens in a whole bunch of different ways. I’ve never had a meal with you, but you could still have an impact on thoughts I have," he says, adding the current salary and benefits offered to lawmakers restricts who can run for office.

"It’s expensive. The only way you can afford it is you have to live off of that [$42,106] salary, which is hard for anybody that has a family. Or you are wealthy enough where it doesn’t impact your bottom line. Or you’re in a place like me, where I work. I have a full-time job and I’m a legislator."

State Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, is a political science professor at Central Washington University. He uses his $120 daily stipend to pay for child care, while his legislator salary helps to pay for monthly expenses, including travel, food, a rental in Olympia and his house payment back home. There is not much left over. He says he understood what he was getting into when he ran for office, but he is concerned that placing limits on the number of meals that can be picked up by lobbyists might lead to unintended consequences.

"I’ll get to 12 meals and I’ll just pass on dinner invitations, because I can't afford to eat out at Mercato [in Olympia] three days a week," Manweller said. "At the end of the day, rich lobbyists will sit down with rich legislators to make decisions for the rest of us. The lower middle class and the middle-class legislators simply won’t be at the table where these important decisions are made."

Keep in mind legislators are often invited to several receptions and meals each day (under PDC rules, general receptions open to all legislators won't count toward the Legislative Ethics Board's 12-meal limit).

"We’re not trying to get a free meal," Manweller says. "Trust me, we want to be home with our families, but a lunch or dinner is the only time you can get 8 or 9 legislators and lobbyists in the same place. There are different perspectives. They’re all being challenged."

What do you think? Vote in our poll.



December 15, 2014 at 6:20 AM

As Gov. Inslee asks for $1 billion more, where are the promised efficiencies?

As Gov. Jay Inslee rolls out his first two-year budget this week, pay attention to how many times he talks about tax revenue and how rarely he talks about making government more efficient.

His budget director, David Schumacher, last week had a telling quote in The Seattle Times:

“After seven years of cuts, the ability to get significant amounts of revenue from quote ‘efficiencies’ is just not there anymore,” Schumacher said Tuesday afternoon in a briefing with reporters.

Making government more efficient is not just about cutting. It should be a focus on remaking calcified bureaucracies into responsive, innovative service delivery agencies. But as Inslee makes a case this week for at least $1 billion or more in new revenue, savings via lean management would help taxpayers' faith in the government. That's what he promised as a candidate.

Top of Inslee's government reform agenda has been "lean management," a set of principles borrowed from the private sector "to give taxpayers the best service at the lowest possible cost." A report to the Legislature details efficiencies thus far. For example, the state Department of Financial Institutions reports streamlining oversight of consumer loan companies. They cut a process involving seven-plus employees that took nine months down to one employee, using an automated system.

Great. That might have saved the agency some money. Why haven't those savings been passed on to taxpayers?

Sen. Andy Hill, the Republican's lead budget-writer, wonders too. "In the last two budgets I’ve written, he’s resisted violently booking any savings based on lean management. It was a hard no."

Compare candidate Inslee's government reform white paper with his Governor's office website, and you'll see that "reducing middle management" has dropped off. That idea referred to the Washington Management Service, a job class created in the 1990's to draw private sector talent to government. Wages for the mostly non-union jobs are higher, and pay raises are discretionary (and have tended to be bigger than rank-and-file). That drew the ire of unions and of fiscal conservatives, prompting reforms in 2005 that limited the ranks of Washington Management Service employees.

Although Inslee promised to "thin" the "overabundance" of mid-level managers, that's not happened. I also can't find evidence of his pledge to review the Washington Management Service.

In fact, the percent of Washington Management Service jobs has grown under Inslee.

Covering government for two decades, I've consistently heard from line workers that they're poorly managed, and that contributes to poor morale and a rigid workplace. An interesting note in a recent state workforce report: overtime is up 13 percent in 2014, at a cost of $91 million. Is that good management?

Hill, a presumptive rival for Inslee in 2016, suggests Inslee should borrow from former Gov. Gary Locke's "Priorities of Government" effort that forced agencies to rank the importance of their work.

"That only works if you have an executive willing to say, 'No, I need you to really tell me what your high priorities are to do.' We don’t see any of that."

Government reform isn't just about squeezing savings out of the $33.7 billion biennial state budget. But when you're asking taxpayers for a billion more, it certainly helps.

December 12, 2014 at 6:01 AM

With mistrust running rampant, careful screening of potential cops is crucial

As daily protests prompt the nation to have uncomfortable conversations about police use of force, it's important to also reflect on a powerful and persistent cop stereotype – namely that too many are hyper-aggressive, infatuated by weaponry, and so psychologically damaged that they’d be rejected by the military.

Those are big assumptions. However, some versions of them are probably shared by poor and minority communities disproportionately at the wrong end of night sticks and service pistols.

But I know most officers don’t fit that ominous caricature. Most are brave public servants who surpassed highly selective and costly recruiting standards that weed out far more applicants than are accepted.

Ideally, those who make the grade are intelligent, able to evaluate their surroundings and the actions of others, are good communicators, have a good authoritative presence, strong integrity, ethics, sound decision-making skills, and are even-tempered, according to Susan Saxe-Clifford, a nationally recognized California-based police psychologist.

“When you put a gun in someone’s hands, that’s the ultimate responsibility in society,” Saxe-Clifford said. “You can choose them well, and train them well, but when an incident occurs, it’s all judgment.”

Still, for most police departments the dire need for highly functioning officers can cause standards to waiver. And few departments administer routine psychological assessments.

“I don’t know of any agency that does ongoing psych testing,” said Sue Rahr, director of the Washington state police academy. “My guess is that I don’t think the unions would tolerate it.”

Rahr, who advocates that police be more guardian than warrior, has requested about $140,000 from the state to expand a study of her training philosophy. With the additional funds, she’ll use confidential surveys to track former cadets up to 10 years into police service to see if her training stuck.

Meanwhile, nationally recognized standards for psychological assessment – which crucially includes an interview with a specialist before a candidate even becomes a cadet – are varied in their application. And, they cryptically determine if an applicant is fit or unfit for duty, but don't always explain why.

“Close to half the states … don’t do anything close to what would be considered a professional level of psychological screening,” said Stephen Curran, a Maryland police psychologist with decades of experience. “And there are some states that have no interviews with a psychologist.”

In Seattle, even relatively new Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole says she had to answer the department's 1,800-question psychological exam, go through an interview with a psychologist, and submit to a polygraph test to get the job. But it's the type of advance evaluation she said is necessary for the stressful and demanding job.

"I want to be certain that we're fair and produce the right candidates, and that we select people who will succeed," O'Toole said.

Absent that it’s not hard to imagine one of those psychologically unfit applicants making their way into active policing. And that’s how an unfit cop – and his or her inevitable poor judgments – can be the brush that paints an entire profession.

December 10, 2014 at 4:43 PM

Participate in a video chat on the recreational and medical marijuana markets

Readers learned last Sunday in a Times editorial how easy it is to get medical marijuana in Washington — without medical authorization. Is this what voters thought the market would look like when they legalized marijuana?

Join panelists in a live video discussion in this post Thursday at noon about the competing medical and recreational markets. Panelists include:

  • John Schochet is deputy chief of staff to Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who was a prime sponsor of the 2012 marijuana legalization initiative. Schochet, a Virginia law school graduate, has been a policy adviser and special counsel to Holmes since 2010.
  • David Mendoza is a policy adviser on marijuana issues for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. Mendoza, a Seattle University law school graduate, previously worked for the state House Democratic caucus and Puget Sound Sage.
  • State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles has represented Seattle’s 36th District in the state Senate since 1994. Kohl-Welles was prime sponsor of a 2011 medical marijuana regulation law that was partially vetoed by then-Gov. Christine Gregoire. Kohl-Welles has worked on medical marijuana legislation since 1998.
  • Rick Garza is the director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the agency that regulates the recreational marijuana market. Garza, who was appointed to lead the Liquor Control Board last year, has been with the agency since 1997.
  • Muraco Kyashna-tochá is an anthropologist who runs Green Buddha, the oldest medical marijuana collective in Washington state. A cannabis activist and award-winning educator, Muraco has been featured in the New Yorker magazine, New York Times and NPR.

Have a question for the panel before the event begins? Send it to and it may be discussed during the chat. The Hangout will take place in the video player below (allow. Discuss the panelists' points and send in questions during the chat in the chat window surrounding the video player:

December 10, 2014 at 12:17 PM

The arrogance of Uber elsewhere hits home in Seattle

Timing changes everything.

When Uber started illegally operating  its taxi-like network in Seattle in 2013, I applauded the company's disruptive business model because it filled a basic demand for transportation alternatives. Over the next year, the Seattle City Council and Mayor Ed Murray worked in good faith to establish a regulatory framework that allowed taxis to co-exist with ride-services such as uberX and Lyft.  From my own experience using both those networks and the Flywheel app on my smartphone, as well as hailing the occasional taxi — I have noticed a shift in customer service for the better. This is why competition is good.

Seattle became the first city in the nation to embrace and work out a business environment that addressed (some, though not all) liability issues for drivers and provided consumers with more options for getting around. There was something so responsive and organic about the process. Many believed other cities would quickly embrace the same approach.

That has not happened. Something has definitely changed. What works for Seattle has not worked for our neighbors down south in Portland, where leaders have steadfastly refused to allow Uber to enter the market until they work out some sort of compromise. The network's decision last weekend to thumb its nose at local authorities and start rolling through the Rose City anyway smacks of arrogance.

On Monday, the city of Portland filed a lawsuit against Uber. (Here's a Dec. 10 news story by KGW.) According to The San Francisco Business Times, prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles also announced this week lawsuits against Uber for alleged consumer protection and business practice violations.

Uber can blame only itself for its troubles in the court of law and public opinion.

This company I've defended in previous blog posts (and in a CBC interview just last month) is beginning to remind me of the old boyfriend who acts so nice and humble at first. But once he gets what he wants, he reveals himself to be self-serving and immature. Uber dreamy? More like uber jerk.

Even worse, Uber has morphed into the guy who won't take no for an answer; the  man who believes he is entitled to the entire cake.

I don't recognize the version of Uber making headlines for corporate raider behavior and misogynistic marketing schemes. Times like this call for a Biggie Smalls reference: "Mo money, mo problems."

Uber's valuation at $40 billion has inflated the egos of its CEO, Travis Kalanick, and his executive team. The last few months have been a public relations nightmare for the company, as outlined in many, many stories. Here's a partial list of Uber's tactics that have come to light:

I want the old scrappy start-up I fell for. Until then, I have made the personal decision to delete the app from my smartphone. My intention in doing so is not to punish Uber's drivers on the ground in Seattle, though that is the effect. Many of Uber's drivers are immigrants and people trying to make an honest living. They have probably purchased vehicles for this very purpose. If they are going to make that investment, they deserve honest leadership at the top, not a bunch of tone-deaf executives who resort to unethical means to make money and kill competition.

Kalanick's Dec. 4 promise in a blog post to run a "more humble company" reads as if it is from a man with a giant ego trying to buy his way out of an image crisis with expensive public relations messaging. Uber's latest troubles in Portland and elsewhere indicate the company still doesn't quite get it: Consumers reward sincerity, not hubris.

December 10, 2014 at 5:05 AM

Reader callout: What headlines would you like to see in 2015?

Another year gone by, and it has been a busy one for us. No one could have predicted the crazy news year that unfolded, but that doesn't mean we didn't try last New Year's Day in a headlines contest. Click on the image to the right to read the headlines The Times editorial board and our readers wished to see in 2014 in an archived page of our Jan. 1, 2014, paper. And participate in this year's contest at the bottom of this post (or by clicking this link) to possibly win some Seattle Times swag and get published in the paper and online.

So how'd we do last year? Some we nailed:

Boeing to build 777X in Wash. state

Wash. expands background checks to all firearm sales

Some were half-true:

Free Macklemore concert draws record crowds following Seahawks Super Bowl win — The Seahawks won, of course, but Macklemore was only spotted in the Seahawks locker room after the win.

Woodland Park Zoo retires elephants to a sanctuary, closes exhibit permanently — The zoo announced in November it's closing the exhibit, but the elephants seem to be headed to another zoo instead of a sanctuary.

Gas prices sink to $1 a gallon — a gas station in Oklahoma recently advertised $2-a-gallon gas. Not quite to $1, yet.

Bill Clinton returns from North Korea with Kenneth Bae — Bae was released in November, but it took a visit from director of national intelligence, James Clapper Jr., to secure his release.

Tim Eyman drafts initiative to save King County Metro Transit — Prop. 1 passed in November to expand Metro service, but Tim Eyman was a no-show at the drafting party.

Wash. farms and tech companies fill all jobs after Congress reforms immigration — Immigration reform is on the way after an executive order from President Obama, with no help from Congress.

And some are comical, or sad (based on your views), considering events that happened in 2014:

Patty Murray becomes U.S. Senate majority leader — not only is Sen. Patty Murray not majority leader, but Democrats lost control of the U.S. Senate entirely.

Steve Ballmer's new job: Bring NBA back, find a new arena site — Ballmer skipped town, found a great site in L.A.

Bertha leaves town: Hwy 99 tunnel under budget, nearly complete — There's always 2015 right?

December 8, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Why do small police departments need 18-ton armor-plated assault vehicles?

The U.S. Department of Defense's 1033 program was a mostly obscure surplus military equipment program until the Ferguson, Mo., riots, when America suddenly alerted to the creeping militarization of local police.

Details of the decades-old program, which has given away about $5 billion in weapons and equipment since 1990, were opaque until last month, when the Defense Department suddenly granted public disclosure requests. Voila, we now have a nifty database, thanks to the Marshall Project, a new nonprofit journalism outfit focusing on criminal justice.

How did America's police become an Army? This is how, with details for $30 million in military gear obtained by Washington State law enforcement under the 1033 program (click here to see for yourself).

Scrolling through data posted thanks to a records request for Washington state agencies , you might wonder whether small police forces in  Grandview, and Oak Harbor, and the Mason County Sheriff really need a $733,000, 18-ton Mine-Resistant Ambush Vehicle (MRAP). That's  a fully armor-plated assault vehicle used by the U.S. military in Iraq. In all, 17 law enforcement agencies have received them via the 1033 program.

Several agencies (police departments in CentraliaConnellLong Beach, Moxee, Napavine, Quincy, Raymond, Soap Lake, South Bend, Wapato, Westport, and sheriffs departments in Franklin, GrantLewis, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties) got enough combat-quality rifles (7.62- and 5.56-millimeter) to outfit all or almost all of their entire forces. (Note: the number of sworn officers comes from the FBI's Crime in the U.S. report).

Does every officer need SWAT-type gear?

Special note, however, goes to the Wahkiakum County Sheriff and Snoqualmie Police. With seven officers serving 4,000 people in a county so small the department has just one incorporated town, the Wahkiakum sheriff got 18 combat rifles, six .45-caliber automatic pistols and six 12-gauge shotguns. Watch yourself in Cathlamet, folks.

The 14-member Snoqualmie department received a mine-resistant vehicle and an armored truck, six combat rifles and six sights. Most surprising: it got three bomb robots ($10,000 a piece), one for every four officers. Really?

The Evergreen State College police department -- perhaps preparing for a Star Trek convention gone wrong -- received two combat helmets and bullet-proof armor plating.

The Puyallup Tribal and Sequim police departments each got enough night-vision goggles to see through just about anything. The Skamania County Sheriff (19 officers) got a bomb robot and an armored truck

The Thurston County Sheriff, the Forest Service office in Clarkston and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection all tricked out their gyms, getting tens of thousands of dollars of weights, treadmills, elliptical machines, "steppers" and recreational equipment.

In all, it's an amazing array of gear -- outdoor grills, TVs, fax machines, underwear, snowshoes, portable generators, scooters, a lawn mower, field kitchens.

Why is this proliferation of weaponry necessary? I asked Mason County Sheriff Det. William Adam, whose department got an MRAP, an armored truck, 13 combat rifles and 10 bayonets and scabbards (Bayonets? Really?).

"It has nothing to do with the military except they were prior military equipment," Adam said. "Everything we’ve used is for public safety and public trust."

The MRAP, for example, was used in a domestic violence situation this summer, allowing officers to get near the house of a barricaded suspect without exposing officers to potential gun fire. I pointed out the sheriff already has what Adam called a "tank" -- a smaller armored vehicle. The MRAP, he said, is so intimidating that suspects will simply give up. "We call that a win-win situation," he said.

The bayonets, he said, are basically oversized utility knives, useful for backwoods search-and-rescue and wilderness training. "Yes, the way they’re described is odd," he conceded.

He notes that small police departments disproportionately benefit from surplus gear because they're more cash-strapped than urban forces. "We’re interested in getting equipment that does not cost us anything. Our budget has been so curtailed, so we have to find ways to stretch the dollar," said Adam.

I respect the dollar-stretching, but law enforcement is missing the costs -- to public trust, and to potential misuse -- of appearing to gear up for battle with civilians.

Here's the Marshall Project's widget detailing 1033 program donations. What do you see?

December 6, 2014 at 4:20 PM

How I learned it's ridiculously easy to buy pot at Seattle medical marijuana dispensaries without a "green card"

Last summer, some friends visiting from the Southwest were full of questions about what it was like for us Washingtonians to come out of the shadows and just buy  marijuana over the counter, like civilized people. I  didn't know, even though I voted for Initiative 502 to legalize recreational marijuana. When my friends tried to buy,  they found that none of the area's recreational stores were stocked. I suspect they left the land of marijuana legalization a bit disappointed.

If only I'd known then what I know now: It is ridiculously easy to buy weed at some medical dispensaries in Seattle, without going through the hassle of getting a doctor's authorization.

Sunday's editorial refers to a Seattle Times writer purchasing 2 grams of marijuana for $20 at two out of three random dispensaries without a so-called "green card" authorization. Yes, that was me.

Store No. 1

I've never purchased marijuana in my life, and made no attempts to cover up that fact when I entered the 420 Collective on Rainier Avenue South. I'd driven by the shop when it was a nail supply store with its windows completely covered up. The place was so shady looking even back then I never ventured in to get a manicure. It was hardly surprising to see the sign change to "Medical Cannabis Health Services." A second sign, with a giant marijuana leaf, pointed toward the store's rear entrance.

I walked into what appeared to be a waiting room similar to a doctor's office. Three friendly guys saw me and opened the door to the room with "the goods." The place reminded me of a candy shop — except instead of bright gumballs, there were big jars on the counter with the most unappetizing looking wads of weed.

A big man behind the counter asked what I was looking for and how much I wanted to spend. He said he could work something out for about $15 a gram, and proceeded to open up a bunch of jars for me to smell. Quite the salesman, that guy.  I said I only wanted to spend $10. He said he would work something out. One of the other guys asked if I was planning to smoke on my own. I said no.

As they weighed my order, I asked if I needed to have a medical license. Yes, they said.

I told them I didn't have one. They seemed to pause, so I said, "What if I’m gonna get one?”

One of the guys asked how old I was. I replied truthfully. Their responses included a variation of “What? You look way younger than that!” and “No way.” (Uh, thank you?)

“Just as long as you’re of age," one guy said.  I asked one more time, “I’m supposed to have a license?” The seller behind the counter gave me the equivalent of a wink and a nod and said something like, “Yeah, but it’s okay this time.”

They never asked for proof of age. Within a few minutes, I left with $10 and a gram of "cherry pie" in a sandwich bag.

Store  No. 2:

The moment I walked in The Green Door, located next to a Taiwanese boba shop on South Jackson Street, I just knew I wasn't going to get far. A big gold sticker outside the entrance listed the King County Sheriff's Office as an ally. There was a members-only sign to the left. I had to be buzzed into a small waiting room with a bank-teller type window. On the other side a guy with dreads, asked what I wanted. I didn't see any pot visible, so I just asked if I could purchase something without a license.

He said no, and suggested I try other shops.  If they didn’t work, he told me to try Cannabis City, Seattle's first legal recreational marijuana store.

So I walked three doors down to the next shop.

Store No. 3:

Walking those few steps made me feel nostalgic. Growing up, my family would come up to this plaza in Little Saigon for Vietnamese food. We spent many a meal at Huong Binh. Today, that restaurant is right next to a new dispensary called "Seattle Caregivers."

At first, I thought the shop wasn’t open because its windows were covered up, as if it were being remodeled, but the door opened. There is a big sparse waiting room with a window and an unlocked door to yet another room where the marijuana is on full display. The salesman invited me in and asked me to excuse the mess. I noticed dozens of small jars of weed on the counters and in the display case. I told him I just wanted a little, like a gram. About $10 worth. He said he could work with that.

I told him I didn’t know much about this stuff and would take his recommendation. He knew I was not purchasing just for me because he said something like, “Does she know what she’s doing? Or maybe it’s a he?”

I felt like I was reliving that moment I'd had barely 20 minutes earlier at the 420 Collective. This guy started to weigh a gram of marijuana on a digital scale. I asked if I needed a medical license, because I didn’t have one. He said yeah, but did I have my driver’s license? He’d just need to see that. I said it was in the car and started stepping back as if I was leaving to get my wallet (which was true).

Before I could even turn around, he said, “That’s okay. What year were you born?” Again, I told him the truth. “Oh, so you’re 32? You’re older than me!” he said lightheartedly. Nope, I said. “I’m 33.”

I handed him the cash, and he gave me a bag of weed. The flavor? Pineapple express.

Final thoughts:

As I drove home following this random experiment, all I could do was ask myself, Why did these guys have to make it so easy, especially if they thought I looked too young? What if I were an underage kid?

The point is that two of the three stores didn't seem to care who they sold to.  I'm sure not all medical dispensaries are staffed by careless bad apples, but it's disturbing to see some dispensaries making a quick buck with impunity. As the editorial stated, the two businesses that sold to me did not have so much as a business license to operate. I'm also disturbed that, the less affluent the area, the more ubiquitous these green medical signs seem to be. What's up with that? As if this is an activity only immigrants and low-income folks partake in?

I was one of those voters who happily checked the box to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Having dealers move their operations from the black market to the medical dispensaries is not what I — or other voters — had in mind.

December 4, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Recap: 8 things to know about Seattle, King County's sex trafficking crisis

In case you missed Wednesday's Google+ Hangout On Air about sex trafficking in Seattle, watch the full 43-minute video below. (To see the same video with links to related articles and resources, go to this link.)

I hosted the discussion featuring Tim Matsui, director of  “The Long Night," King County senior deputy prosecutor Val Richey, Organization for Prostitution Survivors co-founder Noel Gomez, Seattle Against Slavery executive director Robert Beiser, and Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking executive director Mar Brettman.

The panel offered their insight on several key issues, including: the lack of data available to identify how many children are being commercially exploited, a disturbing rise in demand fueled by the Internet, the potential legalization of prostitution and ways the community can take action.

Watch “The Long Night” for free through the end of the week at

Below are excerpted quotes and takeaway points from the video chat that illustrate the complex nature of sex trafficking and potential solutions to prevent other kids from becoming victims of exploitation.

Prostitution is not a victimless crime.

The reason for that is the world of prostitution and sex trafficking is not pretty. One of the important things this film does is dispel the misleading notion that prostitution is really just a victimless crime between two consenting adults. When you watch the worlds of Natalie and Lisa, you come to realize how grim this existence can be and how important it is that we have comprehensive, meaningful services for people trying to get out of the life.

— Val Richey, King County senior deputy prosecutor

Once in, a life in prostitution is difficult to leave behind.

I don’t think people understand what a struggle it is to get out of that life once you’re so deeply entrenched in it. That’s the struggle that hundreds and hundreds of women and girls are having in the streets of Seattle. Every night, every day. Doesn’t stop on holidays. All the time... It is NOT a choice... These girls grow into adults, nothing is ever dealt with and they end up back out on the streets.

— Noel Gomez, Organization for Prostitution Survivors

Demand changes depending on the medium used to solicit sex. White, educated and wealthier men tend to buy sex online, but buyers generally come from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

“It’s important to set aside any perceptions we have for who we think the sex buyer is and start to look at the data for who they actually are.”

— Val Richey

Some fessed up to what they were doing. Some didn't think that much about it, and some were confrontational. It's proven — it's the guy next door. It's everybody. Demand is across the board. It's kind of crazy in that respect, I think.

— Tim Matsui, director of "The Long Night"

"In our society for men, we sort of accept this practice going on, even knowing how violent it is and how traumatic it can be and the things it leads to — people coping through drug use and alcohol use just to deal with that experience, and yet you don't hear a big public outcry about the need for men to not buy sex, even from men who aren't engaging in it themselves."

— Robert Beiser, Seattle Against Slavery

Legalization of prostitution is not the only answer. The Nordic model is widely considered the most effective model for curbing demand.

The problem is that legalization has consistently been shown not to work. What happens in a legalization system is that more men buy sex. And when more men buy sex, that increases sex trafficking. That increases child prostitution. That results in more exploitation. So in systems like the Netherlands or in Germany where they have tried legalization, or in Nevada where they’ve tried legalization, the result has actually been an increase in all those things we’re trying not to have more of, like harm against women and children.

A much more effective model has been shown to be the Nordic model in Sweden and has now been adopted in Norway, Iceland and a similar model in Canada. That model is to focus on offering services and not prosecuting the people who are in prostitution, those who are being prostituted. To not prosecute them, to not criminalize them. T0 not stigmatize them by putting them in jail and giving them a conviction. On the other hand, that system or that model also focuses on prosecuting and holding the buyers accountable for the demand for sex that they create. That system has been shown to dramatically reduce the sex trafficking in countries where it’s been used. And it’s probably the most effective model that’s been designed for dealing with this issue.

— Val Richey

Demand reduction leads to crime reduction. Businesses can help.

If we can reduce demand, then we can reduce the crime. One way that we want to start working with businesses in the future is to start educating them around the risks that sex buyers employed by their company actually pose to their company, so we'd love to get businesses involved in demand reduction efforts.

Another thing is businesses often unknowingly facilitate the crime. So the perfect example is the one that you brought up earlier, which is motels and hotels. And so we started with the Washington Lodging Association a few years ago, and members from their association were very supportive of bringing training to members throughout the state. So we worked with Val and Noel and others to create best practices for hotels and then we did training in King County to start. And we thought, hopefully we'll get 80 people, and we ended up with over 100. This says to us the hoteliers in our community are incredibly compassionate people. We kept hearing things like, "I have a 14-year old daughter. I'd never want this to happen on my watch in my hotel. "

They've been on the front lines of fighting it, working with law enforcement. We've now trained over 500 throughout the state in about six counties [to help identify trafficked individuals and refer them to services].

— Mar Brettman, Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST)

Nonprofits can't fix the problem alone. They need state funding and community engagement.

I think if we were doing more on the state level so that nonprofits didn’t have to be educating all the businesses and all the cities—that would be a huge thing that we could do that would prevent this issue. No one wants lots of trafficking victims and then lots of services to serve them. I think everyone wants people to not have to go through this in the first place. And I’d say for everyone tuned in, when Mar talks about engaging business — this isn’t waiting for some big corporation somewhere to take this on. If you work someplace, this is something where you can get involved.

— Robert Beiser

Ending sex trafficking requires understanding the root causes.

I think that trafficking for labor or for sex is really just a symptom of underlying issues. Sometimes it’s demand for sex or cheap labor or inexpensive food. And that creates a market... and if we then don’t look at things like heath care and education and sexual violence at home and because of lack of economic opportunity — those things create vulnerability and feeds the demand that we have for those cheap products.

If you’re moved by the stories about trafficking, then look at your level of influence within your sphere and see how it relates to a root cause that might cause vulnerability.

— Tim Matsui

Long-term advocacy and mentorship is key to help girls and women leave the life.

"These women and girls need a consistent person in their life, whether they’re in the life or trying to get out. no matter where they’re at...

At some point, they’re going to be ready and they’re going to leave. And if we’re not there consistently for them over the years, then where do they go? There was no help for me when I was getting out. And that’s why we started [Organization for Prostitution Survivors]. There’s so much need.

— Noel Gomez, prostitution survivor


December 4, 2014 at 11:15 AM

An unexpected activist for children in the immigration reform debate

Sonia Nazario never expected anyone to call her an immigration activist. Journalists often avoid taking sides in the issues they cover.

She won a Pulitzer Prize covering immigration and social issues for the Los Angeles Times and published Enrique’s Journey, a book about a young boy who travels on top of trains from Honduras to reach his mother in the United States.

Nazario thought she’d be done talking about child migrants by now — the first edition of her book came out in 2006.

In the past year, however, Nazario testified before Congress, delivered more than 60 speeches, wrote opinion pieces for the New York Times, and even appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to advocate for the rights of children coming to the United States from Central America. She also serves on the board of Kids in Need of Defense, a nonprofit founded by Microsoft and Angelina Jolie to recruit pro bono attorneys to represent unaccompanied children.

“I’ve covered unaccompanied minors for 15 years. I felt like I had to be a voice for these kids,” she told me while visiting Seattle Wednesday to speak at the Global Washington conference, a daylong event focused on international development and policy.

A surge of young migrants detained at the U.S. southern border during the past year brought the issue, which has been going for decades, to the forefront. Thousands of children arrived without their parents, many deported without representation or proper legal proceedings.

In the case of Enrique, the lead character in Nazario’s book, the young boy was what she calls an economic migrant, coming to the United States to reunite with his mother and have a better life. Many of the children fleeing in recent years are trying to escape violence and death from street gangs and drug traffickers.

“These kids are refugees,” Nazario said. “Why are we not treating them like refugees?”

Read more about the refugee question here. That topic has partly faded out of view for now and the hot immigration story du jour involves President Obama’s recent executive action to provide protections for up to 5 million people who entered the country without authorization.

Like many observers, Nazario and I find ourselves frustrated with the way the debate over immigration in America is reduced to black or white, right or wrong.

“We need to have a completely different conversation that focuses on what is pushing people out of these countries,” she said. “Until you deal what’s pushing people out, they will continue to come in large numbers.”

With about three-quarters of immigrants living in the United States unlawfully coming from Mexico and Central America, it is very important to look past how people crossed the border and instead why they crossed.

Much of the violence in Central America and Mexico connects directly to illegal drug trade fueled by demand in the United States. That is just one factor driving migrants north. There are many others.

“One thing will move the conversation forward,” Nazario said. “Latinos will go from 17 percent of the population today to 30 percent by 2050. Demographics are destiny.”

December 3, 2014 at 6:20 AM

Are Seattle's Ferguson protesters hurting their cause?

Protests simmering through downtown Seattle for more than a week are increasingly aggravating.

Like many places around the country, local demonstrators are upset with the recent grand jury decision against indicting a Ferguson, Mo., police officer for shooting an unarmed teenager.

In Seattle, protesters have snarled traffic and disrupted holiday celebrations. They’ve been the source of attacks on property, police and the general public. They’ve provoked pepper spray and percussion grenade responses from restrained police. And 11 of them have been arrested.

Presumably, protesters want an end to police brutality and racism. I say presumably because all they’ve done thus far is march, chant and disturb people minding their own business. At last check, none of the protesters have expressed a tangible policy change to anyone in a position of authority.

Additionally, they seem oblivious to the possibility that federal criminal charges and a civil suit will be filed in the Ferguson case.

To be sure, Seattle has its own regrettable history of deadly police shootings to atone for – most notably that of John T. Williams in 2010.

But while local protesters might say their demonstrations are as much about Williams as they are about Ferguson, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to appreciate the purpose of the protests when the people involved are causing caustic reactions from ordinary citizens.

Perhaps in their minds, they're parroting Nietzsche: “Out of chaos comes order.”

But the only order the Seattle protesters seem to be inspiring is an order for more police.

What do you think?

December 2, 2014 at 4:49 AM

Replay: Video chat on sex trafficking in Seattle area

On Wednesday, The Seattle Times editorial section hosted a Google+ on-air Hangout with "The Long Night" filmmaker Tim Matsui and experts on the front line of the local battle to end child sex trafficking. For some background on the film, which streams free this week, read my Monday blog post and take a look at my recent column on the topic.

You can view the 43-minute video chat above.

Here's the list of panelists who joined us: (Note: State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles did not appear in the hangout due to illness.)

Tim Matsui, a Seattle-based multimedia journalist and director of "The Long Night." He spent one year between the fall of 2012 and fall 2013 shooting video for the film, which includes the harrowing stories of two teen girls and local law-enforcement officials' efforts to crack down on the commercial exploitation of minors. The film was featured Monday in The New York Times' Lens blog. On that same day, Matsui was also interviewed on KUOW.

Noel Gomez, a co-founder of the Organization for Prostitution Survivors. Gomez worked in prostitution for nearly 15 years before she left the life nine years ago. She has since become an advocate dedicated to helping sexually exploited youth and women access resources and leave prostituion, if that is their choice. Read the testimonial she delivered before a congressional field hearing earlier this year on sex trafficking.

Val Richey, a senior deputy prosecutor with King County. Richey handles most of the county's felony prostitution-related cases and recently joined with a team of local officials and community organizations to kick off the "Buyer Beware" program to reduce demand. Read more about that effort in this Oct. 15 Seattle Times news report by Sara Jean Green.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a Democratic legislator representing Seattle. Kohl-Welles is the Legislature's leading voice on policy related to combating sex trafficking. Washington was the first state in the nation to pass anti-human trafficking laws. Read the Democratic caucus' round-up of bills that passed last session.

Robert Beiser, the executive director of Seattle Against Slavery (SAS). After several years at Microsoft, he left the tech world to work in the non-profit sector as a social justice advocate. Beiser began working on the issue of human trafficking in 2007. His work with SAS began in 2010 as the Public Awareness Campaigns Manager, and he has been executive director since 2012. Beiser is co-chair of the Demand Reduction subcommittee for the Washington Statewide Coordinating Committee on Trafficking.

Mar Smith Brettman, founder of Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST), a non-profit organization that aligns and equips leaders to use the power of business to prevent human trafficking. For ten years, Mar worked as a professor at universities in the U.S., Malaysia, and the West Indies, where she taught courses in philosophy, ethics, and religion and published peer-reviewed articles and essays on human rights topics. In her research, she found herself increasingly concerned about the brutal exploitation of children, women, and impoverished laborers that takes place through human trafficking.

December 1, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Bill Cosby and the power of internet shaming

One positive result of the recent attention to Ferguson, Mo., is that the news flowing out of that city drowned out stories about rape allegations against Bill Cosby in my social media feeds.

As much as I'm tired of seeing the proliferation of Cosby’s mug on Facebook and Twitter, the attention and internet shaming people showered on the scandal could end up creating more awareness and providing a platform for victims of sexual assault.

As in the case of Julia Marquand, a Seattle woman who posted a photo on Twitter of a man she’s says groped her near Westlake Park, police were initially not interested in pursuing the incident until after the photo went viral.

Marquand turned to social media after getting nowhere with the authorities. The man, who turned out to be a Level 3 sex offender, was charged with assault with sexual motivation, a gross misdemeanor.

Cosby's alleged victims have also used social media to push their messages and stories, but since the statute of limitations has passed, Cosby does not face prosecution.

Victimhood is losing its stigma. Victims of various situations and abuse take to social media to tell their stories. People are no longer afraid to expose publicly what are probably some of their worst experiences. That takes courage. It’s also risky in that you never know how the world will react. Take for example the #gamergate backlash against proponents of making video games more inclusive of women.

Much of what we read online or on social media is unsubstantiated, rumor, an exaggeration of the truth or downright false. On top of that, some people go online solely seeking attention.

Even people who don’t want attention end up inundated, such as #Alexfromtarget, who became an Internet sensation for no discernible reason. People have threatened him and his family and even hacked their private information including their Social Security numbers.

Perhaps without mainstream media and social media attention to the Cosby scandal, most of the allegations would have remained the faint rumors they had been for many years.

It’s disturbing it took a Youtube video of a comedian criticizing Cosby to ignite the public outcry. (Watch the video here. Warning: it contains profanity).

Although multiple women accuse Cosby of rape, only one filed a civil lawsuit that was settled out of court. If Cosby is guilty of those crimes, then at least now his victims might feel some sense of justice thanks to social media.

But dialogue over social media often turns into more an echo chamber than a conversation. It is a lot easier to retweet, repost and essentially borrow thoughts, facts and opinions of others than to come up with an original statement.

As a vehicle for truth and justice, social media can be an effective tool, but it comes with dangers. It’s up to all of us to remember we’re people on these networks, not just profiles or users, who have the power to second-guess, analyze and proceed with caution.

December 1, 2014 at 12:03 PM

America must re-define when police should use deadly force

In our eye-for-an-eye culture, the threat of deadly force is all the justification police need to return it.

That threat seems the pretext for Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson gunning down 18-year-old Michael Brown during an August altercation over walking in the middle of the street.

In his interview with ABC last week, Wilson - who has since resigned from the force - described Brown as a “very, very large, very powerful man.” Though the two men were about the same height, Brown’s reported 300-pound bulk dwarfed Wilson’s 210-pound frame.

When Wilson directed Brown to the sidewalk, he said Brown responded violently, landing a heavy blow to his face.

“I didn't know if I'd be able to survive another hit like that,” Wilson said.

So the officer pulled his gun and ordered Brown to halt. Wilson said Brown then reached toward his waist with one hand, made a fist with the other, and rushed him.

Wilson fired several shots, taking time to notice that two made Brown's body “kind of flinch a little.” The last discharge was from just feet away and into the top of Brown’s head.

Assuming Wilson’s account is accurate, Brown was violently aggressive.

But where was Brown’s deadly force?

When did taking a swing at a police officer become grounds for being shot dead? And how is it that the same physical aggression people pay to see in sporting arenas is the same aggression that got Brown – and uncounted others in disturbingly similar accounts – killed by police?

The example of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Cleveland boy shot dead by police last month, is more convoluted.

Police there responded to a call of someone brandishing a gun that was probably fake. Though it turned out Rice had a pellet gun, video of the incident shows police fatally shooting him two seconds after arriving.

Police had to presume that Rice may have had a weapon, so he did pose the threat of deadly force. But the officers didn’t appear to try to talk to him. They shot first and considered questions later.

Less fuzzy is the case of the man who Austin, Texas, police said had exhibited “violent anti-government behavior” before firing more than 100 shots into downtown buildings Friday. Police shot him dead.

Similarly Seattle police shot and killed Stephen Johnston, 56, in August after he shot up his Queen Anne neighborhood and then fired on police when they arrived on the scene.

Such provocations often require a comparable response. But when there is no clear deadly threat, disparate fatal force remains the go-to police response.

Few would question the difficulty or danger of police work.

Cops must be equal parts psychologist, sentinel, and combatant when responding to crises in real-time.

To carry that burden, they are empowered with extraordinary weaponry and the training to wield it. But we expect police to also use exceptional judgment.

Somewhere, that judgment has become skewed. Re-setting it is a conversation the nation is dying to have.

December 1, 2014 at 6:03 AM

'The Long Night' film sheds real light on sex trafficking in Seattle, King County

How do we fix or prevent a problem if we don't even understand its scope? That's one of the questions that motivated me to write my most recent column on child sex trafficking.

In that piece, I mentioned Seattle journalist Tim Matsui's film, "The Long Night." Shot between fall 2012 and fall 2013, Matsui takes a journalistic approach to showing us what is happening to our young people on the streets. There is no judgmental narration or public shaming, as other sex trafficking films have done. Matsui does not have to tell viewers what to think or what is right and wrong. After seeing the film twice with different audiences, I can tell you viewers are moved to talk about the problem and do something. 

"I want people to have an emotional connection with the characters and to understand just how far-reaching the [sex trafficking] issue is, and how it comes from these root causes that we don't generally think about," he says. "Dysfunctional home life, domestic abuse, lack of education — these root causes create vulnerability that are then exploited."

Over the next seven days, the  documentary will stream at this link for free. (After next week, streaming video of the film will only be viewable for a fee.)

Here's a preview:

Prostitution in all forms is often perceived as a victimless crime. But once you associate sex trafficking with real people, especially children, does your perception change? Watch the film then join us here at the Opinion Northwest blog on Wednesday, Dec. 3, at 1 p.m. for a Google+ On-Air Hangout.

Matsui is scheduled to participate. We're also working on getting other experts to share their knowledge of the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the Seattle area. Why is this happening? How many kids are affected? What can or should be done about it?

Have questions you want us to address? Send me an email at The hangout will be live, but a recording will be embedded on this site afterward. 

Since independent documentary films rarely make money, Matsui says he hopes making the film available to a broad audience will help to "create measurable social change by driving people toward the engagement part of the project on leaving 'the life.'"

To learn more or get involved, like "The Long Night" Facebook page and follow the film on Twitter.





November 27, 2014 at 8:05 AM

Cartoon: Happy Thanksgiving from corporate America

November 25, 2014 at 6:04 AM

A needless attack on TVW detracts from real need for more transparency

TVW provides an important service for Washington state, airing raw video of legislative meetings and policy-oriented events that no other channel does. Not even close. Thanks to, busy people like you and journalists like me don't have to drive all the way to the state Capitol to see what's going on. We can view most proceedings over the air or on streaming online video —  in real time, or days, months and years later.

The Olympia-based public access channel does its work on a limited budget. Equipment should have been replaced years ago, but the Legislature has failed to help. Last March, The Seattle Times editorial board highlighted TVW's significance as an important tool to ensure government is transparent.

So I'm disappointed to read a Nov. 21 news story by The (Tacoma) News Tribune, which reports the state Senate's top Republican and some of his caucus are not so happy with TVW. Last Thursday night, they expressed dismay over two meetings that were recorded months ago in committee hearing rooms. State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, called these "pretend hearings, and TVW carried them with the credibility of a hearing."

Schoesler questioned whether TVW's decision to document those events was an "appropriate use of TVW or the Legislature." Why? Because they featured only Democrats? Or because they featured Democrats getting the spotlight and a public airing over at least one measure — the Reproductive Parity Act — that the Republican-dominated majority would not allow a hearing on?

TVW is stuck in the middle of a non-issue ahead of a tough session that is going to need the station to televise as many meetings as possible, whether they are news conferences or hearings, in a hallway or in a committee room. The state Capitol grounds are a public space. Wherever Democrats or Republicans meet, TVW is doing us all a favor covering what they have to say.

Viewers are smart enough to differentiate between a full hearing with all committee members, and one with just be a handful of lawmakers. TVW interim President Mike Bay says the Democratic events in the hearing rooms were indeed a new thing last session. Moving forward, the station could shield itself from lawmakers' ire by making locations and the nature of events crystal clear in graphics at the bottom of the screen. I looked at archived versions of the two meetings in question (on retirement and abortion) and it appears TVW has clearly  labeled them as Democratic sessions. They've got this under control without lawmakers meddling and telling them what they can or cannot air.

It doesn't seem to me that the station committed any major ethical lapses. Just this week, the conservative-leaning Washington Policy Center highlighted the first-ever use of remote video testimony (which is a great thing) in state Sen. Mike Padden's Law & Justice Committee. The Center linked to TVW's website, which made video of that hearing available for the public to view, and the Times today editorialized in favor of expanded remote testimony.

Bay says some of the station's equipment is so old, they cannot replace broken parts. All committee rooms are currently outfitted with three cameras for television. Heading into the 2015 session, one of those rooms will likely be a webcast-only room because there is no money to fix or replace the TV-quality cameras.

Lawmakers should gripe less about who gets air time and in which room. Focus instead on fixing the real problem of maintaining functioning cameras in the Capitol that shine a bright light on legislators' actions.

November 24, 2014 at 8:45 AM

Should Woodland Park Zoo elephants go to zoo or sanctuary?

UPDATE 10:24 a.m., Dec. 3, 2014: Seattle City Council member Nick Licata responded to the editorial board's request for his position on whether Chai and Bamboo should be sent to a zoo or sanctuary. His staff sent an email stating, "Councilmember Licata appreciates the work the Zoo has done to consider options for the elephant exhibit. He supports sending Bamboo and Chai to a qualified, safe sanctuary."


Woodland Park Zoo officials pleasantly surprised me when they announced a plan on Wednesday to phase out the elephant exhibit. I'm sure a lot of people were ready to give them a round of applause.

And then they blew it. Bamboo and Chai are likely headed to a different zoo on this list of accredited institutions by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

The Seattle Times editorial board published an editorial Wednesday evening calling on Seattle leaders to give these animals a break. They have worked hard enough for decades. Let them retire and roam free somewhere.(If you want to have your say, scroll to the poll at the bottom of this post.)

Here's an excerpt:

Details are yet to be ironed out, but the Seattle City Council — which also serves double duty as board members of the Seattle Park District — should require the zoo to retire these animals. Make no mistake: This is now an election issue for City Council races.

On Thursday, I asked each of the nine Seattle City Council members to respond to this question: Do you support the elephants going to another zoo or sanctuary?

As of Friday morning, every member of the council had responded except Nick Licata. Find out where they stand below.

Send them to sanctuary: Bruce Harrell, Kshama Sawant

Sawant via statement:

“Animal rights activists have made a compelling case. I agree with them that sanctuary is the best destination for the elephants.”

Harrell via email:

“I support the elephants going to a sanctuary. Our academic understanding of elephants has grown in the last several decades and the kind of captive confinement of elephants in small facilities like our zoo is an unhealthy practice. I think the health of the elephants outweigh the amusement value produced by this kind of confinement. The employees and president of the zoo, Deborah Jensen, have done great work but it is time to move forward. I would like to see a high-tech interactive elephant exhibit at the zoo, but I think it is time to send Bamboo and Chai to a safe sanctuary.”

Undecided: Mike O'Brien, Sally Bagshaw

Email from O'Brien's aide, Josh Fogt:

Mike said that he would ideally like to see the elephants go to a sanctuary. He understands the zoo has looked into that option and has determined that of the four possible sanctuaries, two are not accepting elephants and two have tuberculosis present within their herds. The zoo has said they don’t think it is in the elephants long-term health interest to move the elephants to those sanctuaries with tuberculosis. Mike doesn’t know enough about zoology to know whether that is a real concern, and so is inclined to believe the zoo at this point. He is not afraid to withhold funding from the zoo if he feels like they are not acting in good faith, but he has been encouraged by their recent decision to move the elephants.

Bagshaw's statement sent out Wednesday:

“Thanks to the Woodland Park Zoo director and board for making the decision to find a new home for Chai and Bamboo.  I support moving our elephants to a place where they will be safe, warm, and have room to roam. I look forward to learning more about the proposed schedule and the location where Chai and Bamboo will enjoy their retirement.”

Let the zoo decide: Tom Rasmussen, Sally Clark, Tim Burgess

Rasmussen via email:

I want the best for the elephants.

I am neither a scientist nor a veterinarian. Because of that, I am not qualified to determine whether one of the zoos under consideration or a sanctuary would be the best new location.

The Woodland Park Zoo is one of the best in the world.  I know that the Zoo staff care deeply about the wellbeing of the elephants and because of that I am confident they will make the right choice.

Clark via email:

Overall, I’m glad the Zoo has decided to find a healthy herd of new friends for Chai and Bamboo. My interest are that the elephants are healthy, happy and well cared for. I think professionals with experience in elephant health best practices are better to judge exactly where they go.

Burgess via email:

I’m not prepared to comment on where the elephants should go, but I applaud the Zoo for making the decision to unite Chai and Bamboo with other elephants. The decision about where they live is a question that is best left with experts in animal welfare, veterinarians, and others who have scientific knowledge of this issue.

Send them to another zoo: Jean Godden

Godden via phone interview:

My own feeling is that obviously it’s the zoo’s decision,. They are the ones managing the animals. We cooperate with them in the sense that we do own the grounds and they use the grounds. I support their decision. As a matter of fact, I have not heard good things about the sanctuary. When you talk about (Performing Animal Welfare Society), they’re a private zoo. If you give a whole lot of money, you can look at the elephants. But ordinary people can’t see them.

What do readers think? Vote in the informal poll below.

November 24, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Thanksgiving is for eating, not shopping

When I heard that more retail stores plan to open on Thanksgiving this year, I felt dismayed that shopping was tainting the purity of one of my favorite holidays.

Then I remembered I live in a nation of consumers and that Americans vote more with their dollars than they do at the ballot box.

Retailers began experimenting with Thanksgiving Day shopping a few years ago with stores like Macy’s, JC Penney, Best Buy and Target launching Black Friday sales a day early. The experiment is now a full-fledged trend, but of course, not all shoppers or merchants are joining in – many are outraged.

Instead of enjoying turkey and all the dressings with their loved ones, some people will be forced to work next Thursday. And what about those helpless shoppers who can’t resist a good deal? Are greedy retail companies taking advantage of them?

“The thing with Black Friday shopping is that people love it or hate it – there’s no in between,” said Jeff Green, a retail consultant based in Arizona. “The folks who love it are going to be there no matter what, and perhaps even on Thanksgiving Day.”

For some merchants, just keeping the doors open and the lights on translates into more sales and means they can get ahead of competitors on holiday shopping.

“Retailers figure if they are the first to get you, they’ll get more of your dollar,” Green said.

He’s not convinced that actually happens. Stores often lose money on door-busters like, say, a $200, 50-inch flat-screen television. The idea is that shoppers will buy more stuff once they are in the store.

Last year, Green parked himself in Macy’s on Thanksgiving and observed that most shoppers picked up a door-buster item and quickly left without buying anything else.

Also, retailers have shied away from talking about Thanksgiving Day results, Green said, and none have publicly said it’s been a success during the past two years.

Seattle-based department store chain Nordstrom does not plan to open on Thanksgiving, but might be open to it, said spokesman Dan Evans.

"If our customers let us know they want us to be open on Thanksgiving, we will certainly listen to the needs of our customers and how they want to shop," he said. At this point, customers haven't made a strong case. And, if customers who are itching to shop on Thanksgiving can always visit the company's web site.

Even on those last-minute trips to the grocery store on Thanksgiving, shoppers encounter signs reading, "We'll be closing at 5 p.m. so our employees can enjoy the holiday with their families."

Those messages remind me that the point of holidays is to disconnect from our everyday lives. I love Thanksgiving because it centers on spending time with family and friends and eating a delicious meal minus the pressure to exchange gifts.

I don’t plan on hitting the stores that day. Like most years, my main activity will likely involve moving from the couch to the dining table and back.

I respect any consumer’s right to shop whenever they see fit, but I have to wonder, “Wouldn’t you rather stay on the couch?”

November 20, 2014 at 6:05 AM

Are King County taxpayers ready to fund levy focused on early childhood?

Seattleites just voted overwhelmingly to fund universal preschool. Will King County taxpayers supplement that effort next August or October by passing the Best Starts for Kids levy? This measure being floated by King County Executive Dow Constantine would fund early childhood programs and youth services.

During a phone interview this week, Constantine said details are yet to be determined, but the levy would likely be a property tax increase. The foremost questions up for discussion: Do we want to do something? If yes, what is it going to do, and how? (Scroll down to vote in our unscientific poll.)

The argument for focused funding for early childhood development is easy enough to make. Study after study indicates that a mother's health and those early months and years after birth are a critical period for her baby's brain development. Brain growth and bonding equals healthy kids. Healthy kids become productive adults who are more likely to care for themselves and stay out of the justice system. Makes sense, right?

Common sense doesn't quite cut it when voters feel like they get squeezed more and more every year. As if Seattle and King County are not already pricey enough to live in. Levy fatigue is real and absolves the state somewhat of its obligation to fund certain services such as public health and education. I also wonder how excited voters will be to pay for preventive measures that will take years to come to fruition.

Here's what convinces me there's a need for some sort of paradigm shift: If we don't fund more prevention, our communities will eventually pay the price, and not in a good way. As the general fund chart below shows, a large portion of the county's budget is eaten up by the demand for justice and safety services. Think prosecutors, incarceration and deputies to stem violence. Something's got to give.

To build a case for action, the county will screen one part of a documentary series Thursday evening called "The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation" at the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center. (The screening starts at 6pm. Free tickets here.) Constantine will host a discussion afterward.

Watch an 11-minute preview of the film series below:

Opinion Northwest is curious whether you think the county needs to expand its role in early childhood services. Vote in our poll below.



November 19, 2014 at 6:09 AM

Critics should wait for Inslee’s carbon plan before bashing it

Corrected version

You don’t have to strain your ears to hear the steady drumbeat of politicians and policy advocates wailing about Gov. Jay Inslee’s imminent low-carbon emissions proposal.

Inslee appeared in Seattle Monday to accept recommendations from his Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce on a market-based carbon pollution plan.

“We also strongly encourage you to consider our substantive comments on your proposals, as the economic ramifications of those policies will ultimately determine their fate in Washington,” the legislative leaders wrote in a letter to Inslee.

Inslee's goal is to tax carbon emissions on the front end, rather than deal with their more costly environmental, health and economic ramifications on the back-end. And he wants to use the resulting revenue bonanza to fund deficient state responsibilities, such as education and transportation.

His plan could be horrible. It may be a silver bullet. Odds are, it’ll be somewhere in between. And certainly concerns about how business and consumers will shoulder the radical policy change must be addressed.

But before the governor is slated as a tree-hugging dictator determined to scuttle the state economy, he at least deserves the chance to present his full plan to the voters of the state.

“People suggest there’s some cloak-and-dagger conspiracy thing,” he told me recently in his Olympia office. “I sit at this table [and meet] every month with the oil and gas industry leaders. I’ve had more meetings with the oil and gas industry than I have [with hedge fund billionaire, environmentalist and Inslee benefactor] Tom Steyer.”

Opponents also warn of Inslee’s threat to use executive powers to implement a clean fuel standard. The governor has said he has that power. But he’s also said he intends to expose his plan to “a long public comment process” before seeking legislative approval.

If he does what he says, there’ll be plenty of time to slate provisions for going too far, or not far enough.

The wolves at his door should at least wait until there’s an actual plan to sink their fangs into.

Information in this article, originally published Nove. 19, 2014 was corrected Dec. 15, 2014. A previous version of this story quoted criticisms by state Sens. Curtis King and Doug Ericksen on Gov. Jay Inslee's report on low-carbon fuel standards, which were not related to his proposed carbon reduction pricing mechanisms. That quoted material has been removed.

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