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Ed cetera

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

August 27, 2014 at 6:04 AM

What it means for schools to lose control over Title I funds and No Child Left Behind waiver

No one should envy school district leaders right now. Many are in the process of sending letters to parents telling them their child's school is failing to meet adequate yearly progress. Plus, they've lost control over a total of nearly $40 million in Title I funds used to help poor students improve reading and math skills.

Things didn't have to turn out this way. Seattle Times' reporter John Higgins provides some important context on the "failing" label in this Sunday news report.

Also in Sunday's newspaper, the editorial board lamented the Legislature's failure to be more pragmatic last session. The refusal of many legislators on both sides of the aisle to make a simple change with regard to teacher evaluations — a change already adopted in Seattle Public Schools and many other state school districts — caused the entire state to be stripped of a key waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act. Washington is the only state in the country to lose its waiver.

Here is an excerpt from the Sunday editorial:

In previous years, Highline Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield said about $1 million in Title I funds helped the district add full-day kindergarten classes. Now, that money must be set aside to transport children to schools of their choice or to pay third-party tutors such as Kumon Learning Centers. The district could apply to be a provider, but there is no certainty. Only if parents don’t seek private tutoring for their children might the district be able to get the money later. Administrators say it’s hard to plan ahead without steady funding.

The right-leaning Washington Policy Center's Liv Finne is extra critical, in a center blog post, of the confusing nature of letters that have been sent out so far to parents.

As students get ready to head back to school next week, no one knows yet exactly how many low-income parents might take advantage of the opportunities now before them to change schools or give their kids private tutoring.

What is clear is that losing flexibility in spending has consequences.

  • Some of the Title I funding in question is supposed to pay to transport kids to schools that are meeting federal standards. Since most schools are considered "failing," parents don't have much choice but to keep their kids where they are. Therefore, most of the set-aside funds will likely be spent on tutoring.
  • If administrators do their job right and notify low-income parents of their right to get their children free "supplemental education," then the private tutoring companies should see an upswing in business. It will be interesting to compare the cost and return on investment of sending a child to a Sylvan Learning Center or Kumon versus the cost of providing students with in-school programs such as after-school tutoring, extended kindergarten and professional development for teachers.
  • Highline School District spokeswoman Catherine Carbone Rogers says schools could try to qualify as tutoring providers, but the choice is up to parents. If they go with the private sector, the district cannot coordinate curriculum or hold those out-of-school programs accountable.

August 26, 2014 at 6:09 AM

Lakeside basketball and Steve Ballmer, just the latest symptoms of a bigger problem

It’s bad enough that many college athletes are callously manipulated in the money-saturated world of intercollegiate athletics. Society considers young adults old enough to advocate for themselves.

But when high school teens – inexperienced in self-advocacy – are used in the same exploitative manner, something has fundamentally broken in American society’s basic educational promise to its children.

That broken promise was laid bare last week when Seattle Times reporter Mike Baker detailed how area billionaire Steve Ballmer created a foundation to recruit talented minority child basketball players to play for Lakeside School’s basketball team.

According to the report, recruiting and academic standards were loosened in order to stock the team with high-level players. In some cases they were provided lavish accommodations. In others, child athletes weren’t even required to maintain a core level of classes.

The tactic paid dividends, with Lakeside going from a winless season in district play to the state championship game in five years.

But Lakeside, a Seattle private school known for educating Bill Gates and Paul Allen and for maintaining an impeccable academic reputation, and Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO who indulged his hoops whimsy at his children’s school, are but sideshow attractions in the rampant athletic exploitation of children.

Other schools – public, private and coast-to-coast – have indulged in the flagrant use of children for sporting purposes.

Locally, Chief Sealth High School coaches violated recruitment rules to build a West Seattle girls basketball juggernaut in 2006, Garfield High fired its athletic director in 2011 for faking grades of star athletes including basketball player Tony Wroten Jr., Kent-Meridian High School was forced to forfeit a season of victories in 2013 for fielding an player who’d used up his athletic eligibility, and Jefferson High in Federal Way faced having 36 football players ruled academically ineligible in 2011.

In each situation, including Lakeside, scores of adults benefited from the exploitation of children for their athletic entertainment potential, but no grownup was there to defend or advocate for them.

Recruiters and sport camps get paid for identifying and coaching up talented kids, the grade schools and colleges the athletes attend use student athletes to create lucrative sport programs, and the NBA benefits by getting readymade players.

But the athletes, who’ve spent their lives training to entertain, have often been neglected a base level education in the process.

Renowned University of California at Berkeley sports sociologist Harry Edwards likens the process to a modern day slave trade.

“It’s an almost intractable situation, and everybody has hands on the tiller guiding this kids’ fate and telling him ‘As long as you develop as a basketball player, you’ll be ok, and there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,' ” Edwards said. “Usually, there’s no pot of gold. And there’s nobody saying ‘Academics are important’.”

It may surprise some that parents are among the first to feed from the child athlete trough, especially those from impoverished backgrounds. In such situations, it’s common for the parents to see the potential of their child athlete as a way out of poverty for the entire family.

And while it is true that just the path to and promise of becoming a professional athlete is far better than the environment many of these families are in, that promise rarely pays off and often comes at the expense of the child’s education.

Barring league expansion, there are never more than 360 players in the NBA at one time. And around 60 are taken each year in the draft. Conversely, the National Science Foundation reported that an average of 1,148 U.S. college graduates earned math Ph.D.’s each year from 1998 to 2008.

So a child is more likely to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics than make it to the NBA. And the unemployment rate for mathematics Ph.D.’s has got to be a shade better than that of poorly educated, failed professional basketball players.

Sadly, too many poor minority families feel compelled to serve their athletically gifted children up to a process that’s more likely chew them up and spit out than prepare them for a life of middle-class independence.

Left academically crippled and without a career, the children often end up as cultural refuse; more likely to become a burden on society than a contributor to it.

For every LeBron James – the high school-to-pro phenom who ranked last year as the third highest paid athlete in the world – there are dozens of Doug Wrenn’s, the below-average high school student and above-average UConn and UW basketball player who derailed his career with a series of off court infractions including shoplifting sneakers and brandishing a gun during a road rage traffic dispute.

And for every Michael Strahan – the loquacious former NFL player turned morning TV host – there are countless Dexter Manley’s – the former NFL defensive end who testified before Congress that he was illiterate.

If the country doesn’t want its streets littered with poorly educated, failed and frustrated would be athletes, it’ll prioritize education over entertainment, and stop baiting children with the biggest sucker bet in America – a career in professional sports.

August 26, 2014 at 5:13 AM

Poll: Should Woodland Park Zoo send its elephants to a sanctuary?

When African elephant Watoto collapsed last week at the Woodland Park Zoo and had to be euthanized, her death reenergized  a long-running debate over elephant exhibition in rainy Seattle. Today The Times asks for your opinion.

For years activists have contended that the exhibition of elephants is a matter of cruelty that can be considered separately from the display of other zoo animals. The world's largest land mammals are confined to a small space; in captivity they are prone to disease, and Seattle's climate cannot be considered hospitable. The Times editorial board supports their position, and it has called for the zoo's two remaining elephants to be sent to an elephant sanctuary.

The Woodland Park Zoo directors prefer to build a bigger and better elephant display. Even before Watoto's death, Woodland Park had been planning to transfer her to another zoo. Watoto is of the African variety, and her fellow elephants Chai and Bamboo are Asian. The zoo's plan would build a same-species herd, involving acquisition of at least one Asian female, and possibly a second — that one might be of breeding age. The five-year $3 million plan also involves the renovation of the elephant barn, outdoor rain shelter and timed feeders for night grazing.

One option ends elephant exhibition. The other continues it. Which do you prefer?

August 25, 2014 at 8:34 AM

Up, up and away! – first Superman comic sells for $3.2 million

Federal Way comic dealer Darren Adams now can boast – he really does own the world’s most valuable comic book. For a short time, anyway, until payment arrives and his pristine copy of Action Comics No. 1 goes to a new owner.

In a much-watched auction on eBay Sunday night, Adams’ copy of the most desirable comic book in existence sold for a record-breaking $3.2 million. That’s a little over $1 million more than the previous record, $2.16 million, for a slightly-more-yellowed copy of the same comic book. What’s special about it is that the June 1938 comic book is the first appearance of Superman – fewer than 100 are thought to survive – and Adams has the best copy known. Not a tear, crease or wrinkle.

So ends a story told by the Times Aug. 1. Adams said he purchased the comic quietly for a seven-figure amount a number of years ago – he promised not to disclose details -- and somehow he managed to keep the secret until the sale was announced a month ago. In a statement released by eBay, Adams said, “I’m proud to have owned the most valuable comic book in the world. Working with eBay on this auction allowed me to share this rare treasure with their global community and ensure the next owner is just as passionate about its place in history.”

There may not have been many people with the wherewithal to place a bid, but at least the watching was free. Bidding started Aug. 14 at 99 cents and within 3 minutes hit $1 million. The biggest players waited for the clock to run out at 6 p.m. Sunday. With 90 seconds to go, the price stood at $2.4 million. Then $2.6 million. Then $2.7 million. Within the last couple of seconds came a bid of $3.2 million – and right on top of that, another that topped it by $100. The final gavel came down. Sold for $3,207,852, to someone with the monicker “S***p.”

An eBay spokesperson says name of the purchaser cannot be confirmed until the transaction is complete. By the way, Superman’s creators, cartoonists Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, sold the rights to their character in 1938 for $130. Now a single copy of that first Superman story has sold for 24,675 times that amount. As Clark Kent’s editor was fond of exclaiming -- great Caesar’s ghost!

August 25, 2014 at 6:06 AM

Seattle Times recommendations for the November 2014 election

This summer and fall, Seattle Times editorial board members are interviewing candidates in select races for state and federal office, and in pro and con campaigns in statewide and local initiatives. We published our recommendations for the August primary, and many of those endorsements are restated below. We are continuing interviews for the remaining races that will be settled by the November ballot.

If you have questions about King County Elections, call 206-296-VOTE or go to kingcounty.gov/elections.

If you have questions about Snohomish County Elections, call 425-388-3444 or go to the Snohomish County Election division website.

For questions about Washington state elections, go to the Secretary of State election website.

Here are our recommendations for selected races in King and Snohomish counties and for ballot measures. Read how these election endorsements are made, explained by Editorial Page Editor Kate Riley before the August primary.

State ballot measures:

Initiative 591

I-591, is wholly inappropriate, unnecessary and potentially a reckless retreat. It’s hard to discern whether the mushy vague language of the brief initiative is a product of poor writing — or entirely the point. Vote no on I-591.

Initiative 594

I-594 provides a practical expansion of background checks on all gun sales — clarity and consistency to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. I-594 is no protective panacea against the kinds of public assaults Seattle has suffered in recent years. But it is a step forward. Vote yes on I-594.

Read editorial endorsement for I-591 and I-594 -->

Initiative 1351

Endorsement to come

Advisory vote No. 8, SB 6505: a marijuana excise tax

Endorsement to come

Advisory vote No. 9, ESHB 1287: a leasehold excise tax on tribal property

Endorsement to come

Seattle ballot measures:

Propositions 1A and 1B: competing measures on early learning and universal prekindergarten

Endorsements to come

Proposition 1: a King County Metro Transit funding measure

Endorsement to come

Citizen Petition No. 1: monorail

Endorsement to come

State legislative races:

Legislative District No. 1, Representative Position No. 2

Edward Barton, Republican

Edward Barton, first-time candidate for office, displays the intellect and moderation to be a strong lawmaker from the 1st Legislative District, which straddles the King-Snohomish line. He is the better option for voters over the incumbent, state Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 5, Representative Position No. 1

Endorsement to come

Legislative District No. 5, Representative Position No. 2

Chad Magendanz, Republican

After two years representing Eastern King County’s 5th Legislative District, state Rep. Chad Magendanz easily has earned another term. Magendanz brings much-needed moderation and intellectual rigor to Olympia. His professional and civic résumé — U.S. Navy submarine officer, Microsoft manager and Issaquah School Board president — is impressive.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 11, Representative Position No. 1

Zack Hudgins, Democrat

Hudgins, a two-term lawmaker with Microsoft and Amazon.com experience, is running unopposed. He has been a leader on higher-education issues, including the Real Hope Act — which extends state financial aid to undocumented students — and extending in-state tuition rates to veterans.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 11, Representative Position No. 2

Steve Bergquist, Democrat

Bergquist, a small-business owner and substitute teacher, gets the endorsement because he is far more capable than his Republican opponent, Sarah Sanoy-Wright. She lacks basic comprehension of a range of issues. Bergquist has a somewhat sparse record in his first two-year term, but represents the interests of his district.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 21, State Senator

Marko Liias, Democrat

The editorial board recommends Liias reluctantly over his Republican opponent, Dan Mathews, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012. Liias is a veteran in Olympia from a supportive district, yet he is reluctant to assert any independence from powerful interests, such as the state’s teachers union. Liias is strong on transportation issues and supports job-creating incentives for high-tech, but he needed a stronger challenger, not a budding perennial candidate.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 21, Representative Position No. 1

Endorsement to come

Legislative District No. 21, Representative Position No. 2

Lillian Ortiz-Self, Democrat

Lillian Ortiz-Self is reluctantly recommended for election. Ortiz-Self has an academic and professional background in education and counseling, and in management of programs. She says she is cautious about not just dumping money into the K-12 system without ensuring effectiveness, but demonstrated no independence from teachers union positions in an interview.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 23, Representative Position Nos. 1 and 2

Endorsements to come

Legislative District No. 30, State Senator and Representative Position Nos. 1 and 2

Endorsements to come

Legislative District No. 31, State Senator

Cathy Dahlquist, Republican

State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, the longtime lawmaker best known for her fiery temper, faces a sharp and seasoned opponent this year from within her own party. State Rep. Cathy Dahlquist is the easy choice for the 31st District Senate seat.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No.31, Representative Position No. 1

Drew Stokesbary, Republican

For the open state House seat in the 31st District, Republican Drew Stokesbary of Auburn is the candidate most likely to be a voice for fiscal responsibility. The incumbent, Cathy Dahlquist, is vacating the seat to run for state Senate.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 31, Representative Position No. 2

Endorsement to come

Legislative District No. 32, State Senator

Chris Eggen, Democrat

Shoreline Deputy Mayor Chris Eggen, a Democrat, is the better choice over the incumbent, state Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, who is seeking a second term. Challenger Eggen is rated “very good” by The Municipal League of King County, compared to Chase’s “good” rating. Eggen knows what is ahead, especially with education.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 32, Representative Position No. 2

Ruth Kagi, Democrat

Kagi has served in the state Legislature since 1999, and from the beginning she has been a leader on issues for the state’s youngest constituents and struggling families. Kagi chairs the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee, where she is a strong, effective voice for child-sensitive foster-care reforms, family-support services and early learning. She is also on the Appropriations Committee.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 33, State Senator

Karen Keiser, Democrat

Karen Keiser is better qualified than her challenger and has earned another term. After 18 years in the Legislature, Keiser is known as a faithful supporter of labor and an advocate for health-care reform.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 33, Representative Position No. 1

Endorsement to come

Legislative District No. 33, Representative Position No. 2

Mia Su-Ling Gregerson, Democrat

Mia Su-Ling Gregerson’s record demonstrates her potential to be a thoughtful lawmaker. Despite her near-perfect voting score with the Washington State Labor Council in her first session, Gregerson displays indications of independence.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 34, Representative Position No. 2

Endorsement to come

Legislative District No. 36, State Senator and Representative Position Nos. 1 and 2

Endorsements to come

Legislative District No. 37, State Senator

Pramila Jayapal, Democrat

In a crowded contest for Seattle’s 37th Legislative District state Senate seat, Pramila Jayapal stands out for the breadth and depth of her civic involvement. The Democrat is a passionate and effective social-justice activist, armed with an MBA and experience in the private financial sector. That said, her election would test her ability to balance a progressive streak with pragmatism and the ability to reach across the aisle to find compromise.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 37, Representative Position No. 1

Daniel Bretzke, Republican

The 37th Legislative District’s Position 1 needs a legislator willing to compromise and represent the best interests of a diverse district where many schools are struggling and persistent achievement gaps threaten to leave students behind. That means turning out the incumbent, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, in favor of the promising political newcomer, Daniel Bretzke of Seattle.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 37, Representative Position No. 2

Endorsement to come

Legislative District No. 38, State Senator

John McCoy, Democrat

McCoy is one of the rare Democratic lawmakers who acknowledges a daunting and perilous link between the education and financing issues of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision and Initiative 1351. The proposal for lower class size on the November ballot would add only more financial stress.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 38, Representative Position No. 1

June Robinson, Democrat

Robinson brings a career in public health, housing and human services to her new duties. She has signed the initiative to reduce class size, which comes with an unknown, unfunded price tag.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 38, Representative Position No. 2

Mike Sells, Democrat

Sells is a former teacher in the Everett School District, and a longtime officer of the Snohomish County Labor Council. Sells helped promote the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center, which opened in 2010. The center draws on local education resources and aerospace employers to train people for industry jobs.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 39, Representative Position No. 2

Endorsement to come

Legislative District No. 41, Representative Position Nos. 1 and 2

Endorsements to come

Legislative District No. 43, Representative Position No. 2

Frank Chopp

After 20 years in elected office, Democrat Frank Chopp remains a relevant and effective representative of the 43rd Legislative District in Position 2.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 44, State Senator

Steve Hobbs

During eight years in the state Senate, Lake Stevens Democrat Steve Hobbs has demonstrated a deep streak of independence, and a willingness to work with members of the opposing party.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 44, Representative Position 1

Rob Toyer

Rob Toyer, a financial planner, is a Marysville City Council member. His immersion in municipal finance is good preparation for confronting the Legislature’s difficulties.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 44, Representative Position 2

Mark Harmsworth

Mark Harmsworth, a tech consultant, is a Mill Creek City Council member and deputy mayor. He seem far more likely to be a problem-solver, at a time when problems number in the billions.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 45, State Senator

Andy Hill, Republican

State Sen. Andy Hill, a wonkish, moderate Republican from Redmond, was a calming force in the Legislature’s recent budget storms. He served as the Senate Majority Coalition’s lead budget-writer despite being a first-term rookie, and he helped channel $1 billion more into basic education without significantly raising taxes or doing damage to other vital state services. He deserves particular credit for drawing Democrats into the Republican-led Senate budgeting process.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 45, Representative Position No. 1

Roger Goodman, Democrat

Goodman has an admirable track record of working to end sex trafficking and combating domestic violence. As chairman of the Public Safety Committee, Goodman, an attorney, also has a prolific record of tightening state drunken-driving laws. Few lawmakers have passed as many bills as Goodman, who has represented the 45th District since 2006. Goodman’s acquiescence to his party’s hard-left positions on education funding are a serious concern.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 45, Representative Position No. 2

Larry Springer, Democrat

Springer, the owner of a Kirkland wine shop, is the House Democratic caucus’ voice of reason on business issues. Though a member of House Democratic leadership, he shows strong independence, particularly on education reform ideas that cut against the powerful state teachers union. Springer’s deliberative, welcoming style should be a model of legislative demeanor.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Legislative District No. 46, State Senator and Representative Position No. 2

Endorsements to come

Legislative District No. 47, State Senator and Representative Position Nos. 1 and 2

Endorsements to come

Legislative District No. 48, State Senator and Representative Position Nos. 1 and 2

Endorsements to come

State Supreme Court races:

Justice Position No. 1

Endorsement to come

Justice Position No. 3

Endorsement to come

Justice Position No. 4

Endorsement to come

Justice Position No. 7

Endorsement to come

Congressional races:

United States Representative Congressional District No. 1

Suzan DelBene, Democrat

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, spent her first term in Congress operating at a level beyond her rookie status. She deserves re-election to continue her work on behalf of the 1st District.

Read editorial endorsement -->

United States Representative Congressional District No. 2

Rick Larsen, Democrat

Voters in the 2nd District have only one credible choice, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett. He has worked hard on legislation that loops back to support jobs in his district and the state.

Read editorial endorsement -->

United States Representative Congressional District No. 6

Derek Kilmer, Democrat

Kilmer has made a promising start, securing $120 million in new investment for Naval Base Kitsap and working to support national defense and veterans’ programs. Kilmer’s most serious challenger is Republican real-estate broker Marty McClendon. McClendon says he is running because he supports limited government. He does not appear to have a grasp of congressional issues.

Read editorial endorsement -->

United States Representative Congressional District No. 7

Jim McDermott, Democrat

Twenty-six years in office is a long time, but U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, grasps issues important to the 7th Congressional District better than his four fringe challengers. Seattle voters would probably benefit from a fresh perspective in Washington, D.C., but with no viable challengers in this race, they ought to stick with McDermott.

Read editorial endorsement -->

United States Representative Congressional District No. 8

Dave Reichert, Republican

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, has consistently rated among the most moderate members of Congress. But voters should keep an eye on his willingness to remain independent. During the 2013 government shutdown, he lacked a strong voice calling out the House GOP’s disastrous tactic of tying a budget vote to repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Read editorial endorsement -->

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9

Adam Smith, Democrat

Adam Smith is a nuanced thinker and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, which makes him a key advocate for this region’s military interests and an influential voice on U.S. involvement in armed conflicts abroad. Smith’s primary opponents, Democrat Don Rivers and independent Mark Greene, are perennial candidates. Republican challenger Doug Basler works in marketing, but has hardly waged a campaign.

Read editorial endorsement -->

United States Representative Congressional District No. 10

Denny Heck, Democrat

Heck has displayed the same hardworking competence he did as former Gov. Booth Gardner’s chief of staff, demonstrating more interest in policy than partisanship. He was this state’s lead on the marijuana-banking issue, helping convince federal regulators to ease banking restrictions. Last year, he won a bill reforming the reverse-mortgage market. Heck is leading the House fight to reauthorize the federal Export-Import Bank, critical to Washington exports.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Snohomish County:

Snohomish County Executive

John Lovick, Democrat

John Lovick’s endorsements and his campaign treasury point to strong support for his re-election. Snohomish County has budget stress from a natural disaster, and persistent management issues with the county jail. Lovick has the experience, leadership and temperament to lead Snohomish County government.

Read editorial endorsement -->

Snohomish County Sheriff

Ty Trenary

Trenary should be retained with the same enthusiasm that won him the appointment in July 2013. He was the unanimous choice of the Snohomish County Council to replace John Lovick, who resigned to be county executive. Trenary has 23 years in the sheriff’s office, and his range of service and leadership roles are reflected in a smooth transition. His department draws praise for its tireless performance after the Oso landslide this past spring.

Read editorial endorsement -->

August 25, 2014 at 6:02 AM

3-minute recap: Video chat on problems, solutions for Washington's mental health system

In case you missed last Thursday's Google+ On Air Hangout on mental health care here in Washington state, here's a three-minute highlight video from the nearly 45-minute long online chat.

Watch the full replay and read The Seattle Times editorial board's week-long series of editorials, which shine a bright light on the successes and pitfalls so far of the mental health system in this new era of the Affordable Care Act.

The hangout — a live-streamed video conversation involving several local health care experts and the Times' Jonathan Martin — had a forward-looking bent, with ideas aimed at the next Washington State Legislature:

  • Washington State Hospital Association CEO Scott Bond addressed the immediate crisis with psychiatric boarding, recommending wards be reopened at Western and Eastern State Hospitals after years of downsizing. He also emphasized the potential of telemedicine (also known as HB 1448, which died in the 2014 Legislature) as a way to ease shortages of psychiatrists.
  • Sound Mental Health CEO David Stone recommended an expansion of the community safety net, including a controversial idea (which Martin has also blogged about) of Assisted Outpatient Treatment, which is a form of court-ordered outpatient care.
  • Cinda Johnson, an educator , author and the mother of a woman living with bipolar, suggested the creation of a “navigator” network to help families access the best care for their loved ones.
  • Editorial writer Jonathan Martin talked about the financial cost of the Supreme Court’s psychiatric boarding ruling, and why more robust funding should be considered a core function of government.

 

August 22, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Superman reaches stratosphere as Action Comics No. 1 hits $2 million mark on eBay

For those of you keeping track of what is surely one of the most important stories of the summer, Darren Adams’ copy of Action Comics No. 1 has surpassed the $2 million mark on eBay. The Federal Way comic-book-and-sports-card dealer appears well on his way to setting a world record with the priciest comic book of all time.

I wrote about this one three weeks ago — the world’s most perfect copy of the world’s most desirable comic book. Action Comics No. 1  features the first appearance of Superman in 1938. Creamy white pages. Not a wrinkle, tear or dimple. Rust-free staples. The holy grail of comic books, and the sort of thing that might remind responsible citizens how much they once loved comic books, and wonder why they let silly business like adulthood get in the way.

Bidding started at 99 cents on Aug. 14. Within three minutes it reached $1 million. At 4 p.m. Thursday the price had reached $2,050,100, just shy of the record set in 2011, for another copy of Action Comics No. 1, formerly owned by the actor Nicolas Cage. That one went for $2.16 million. Arguably this one is in just the teensiest better shape.

Final gavel falls at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

The opinion here? Oh, in the professional judgment of this former 12-year-old comic-book fiend, Action Comics No. 1 is by far the coolest comic book of all time. Watching the bidding in the final minute is gonna be the most fun ever. And seeing as how this guy could never bid that high — whatever it sells for, it won’t be nearly enough.

August 21, 2014 at 6:13 AM

Should Obama go to Ferguson?

Whether President Barack Obama goes to Ferguson, Mo. in the wake of the police shooting of an unarmed black teen has become the question du jour among American politicos.

Obama’s liberal base and a righteously raw black community have clamored for the nation’s first black president to get directly involved in the latest episode of deadly violence meted out upon a defenseless black youth.

But visiting Ferguson would not only be a risky move for a president bogged down in political immobility, it would more likely inflame tensions than quell them.

And given his track record dealing with issues of race, it’s probably better that Obama maintain some distance while demonstrating an empathetic engagement.

His presidential performance in two previous race storms – the Henry Louis Gates racial profiling and Trayvon Martin shooting incidents – didn’t live up to his 2008 "More Perfect Union" campaign speech on race, or the country’s subsequent and wildly unrealistic expectation that he single-handedly improve America’s racial climate.

After Gates, a noted black Harvard University professor, was arrested on suspicion of burglarizing his own Cambridge, Mass. home in

2009, Obama conducted the infamous Rose Garden “Beer Summit” between the president, the professor and the white cop who arrested Gates.

Obama’s painfully awkward opening act in addressing the nation’s most enduring social issue achieved little more than to embarrass everyone involved.

But it left the president with a credibility gap in dealing with issues of race. That may explain why the usually detached Obama took the uncharacteristic step of emphatically wading into the next racial episode that captured public attention.

In 2012, an unarmed Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood vigilante utilizing Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” self-defense statute. In the hypersensitive aftermath, the president remarked that the black teen “could have been my son,” or “me 35 years ago.”

He was criticized in some sectors for a simplistic statement on a complex situation.

Obama seems to have learned from these episodes. Asked Monday by ABC if he would visit Ferguson, the president was cautious.

“When they’re conducting an investigation, I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other,” he said.

Six years into his presidency, Obama sounds like he’s adopting the well-established presidential practice of assuming an imperial posture on volatile domestic social crises.

President George H.W. Bush, for example, expressed shock when a jury acquitted Los Angeles police of beating motorist Rodney King, but was quick to call for law and order when riots erupted.

When presidents have stepped into social issues, as Bill Clinton did with his controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy towards gays in the military, it often complicates the situation, rather than improves it.

So publicly wading into the Ferguson situation would be a bad move for the president.

What do you think?

August 20, 2014 at 6:03 AM

Continue the push for human rights in Vietnam

Remarkable changes are afoot in Vietnam, a country that Americans left in humiliating fashion nearly 40 years ago when Saigon fellto communist forces.

Last week, the U.S. Army's highest-ranking official visited Hanoi to mend old war wounds and to set the stage for a new, friendlier era that goes beyond diplomacy to possibly include arms sales to Vietnam. Here's what U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told USA Today in a Aug. 18 news report:

"That's not to say it won't happen without some effort. But I think there's a possibility that Vietnam could be a very strong partner. Look at our history with the British or the Germans or the Japanese. It could be like a phoenix rising from the ashes. That's what I hope happens here in this relationship."

For many in Seattle's large Vietnamese-American community, including myself, it's difficult to view any actions by Vietnam's government without skepticism. Overseas Vietnamese — predominantly made up of refugees and citizens of the former South Vietnam forced to flee after the communist takeover — have long staged protests and movements for democracy, religious freedom and human rights in their homeland. The regime has largely ignored those pleas— until now.

Vietnam has few options. Its leadership needs allies to fend off China's aggression in the South China See and to increase trade.

Among the reasons to believe the tide has turned and Vietnam is on the verge of a substantive political shift:

  • In July, a band of journalists formed the country's first independent journalism organization to protect freedom of the press and reporting free of government censorship, according to the group Reporters without Borders.
  • The U.S. is actively engaged and interested in balancing Beijing's powers in the region, reports Voice of America. The Vietnamese are just as interested in keeping China at bay and maintaining sovereignty.
  • This month, 61 members of the Communist Party signed an open letter calling "for more political openness," according to The New York Times.
  • Vietnam badly wants to join the Trans Pacific Partnership, a major free trade agreement under negotiation by the U.S. and 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific.

This represents a golden opportunity to ensure Vietnam follows through with its obligation to improve labor conditions and its human rights record, which Human Rights Watch warns "deteriorated significantly in 2013." At least one analyst tells the BBC that Vietnam stands to benefit the most from joining the TPP because of the high volume of apparel and footwear now made and exported to the U.S.

Prominent Vietnamese political dissident and constitutional scholar Cu Huy Ha Vu was released from a Vietnamese prison in April. In a stirring May 16 guest column for The Washington Post, he called for future negotiations to include forcing the Communist Party to release some 400 prisoners of conscience and to repeal a series of laws designed to maintain one-party control.

The U.S. and other TPP countries should insist upon those reforms before diplomatic relations with Vietnam are extended to include the sales of military weapons and membership in a lucrative trade agreement.

August 19, 2014 at 7:03 AM

Mikado, yellowface debate at Seattle Repertory Theatre forum

Corrected version

Should historic works created during different times with different sensibilities be shelved? Should the work be altered? Can the work be done if proper context is provided? How often do you see representations of people who look like you on a regular basis? (No. Yes. Yes. Almost never.)

These were just a few of the questions asked at a Monday night forum on theater and race sparked by a recent Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society production of "The Mikado" that cast 40 non-Asian actors in Japanese roles. The event, "Artistic Freedom and Artistic Responsibility," featured a panel of theater artists and was organized by the Seattle Repertory Theatre, the City of Seattle's Office of Arts & Culture, the city's Office for Civil Rights and King County's cultural-services agency 4Culture. In addition to the panelists, the discussion drew in discussion from audience members who had submitted comments in advance.

Seattle Channel plans to broadcast the video. Many artists in other cities who could not attend the event watched a livestream and discussed it on Twitter with the hashtag #SeattleAFAR. Here is video from Howlround.


I first wrote about the problematic production in a Seattle Times column four weeks ago, "The yellowface of 'The Mikado' in your face." The column sparked a national debate — community groups like the JACL spoke out against the show, protesters demonstrated outside most of the shows, national outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, NPR and CBC covered it, and influential bloggers like Angry Asian Man and Reappropriate wrote about it. Read, watch and listen to all the coverage at " 'The Mikado,' yellowface: All the coverage."

While Seattle Repertory Theatre organization was not involved in the making of "The Mikado," the show did take place at its Bagley Wright Theatre space through an arrangement between the city of Seattle and Gilbert & Sullivan Society that dates back to 1962. The society is a community theater group that depends mostly on volunteers.

Kathy Hsieh, theatre artist and co-executive producer for SIS Productions, moderated the discussion. The ground rules given at the beginning of the forum would work well for any discussion about racial issues.

  • Take time to listen before responding. Listen to listen not just to prepare a response.
  • Treat each person’s perspective as the truth for him or her. If everything goes the way we want it to, everyone will feel a little or a lot uncomfortable.
  • Be willing to accept that while you may mean well your actions or words may come off as hurtful to others.
  • Give each other the benefit of the doubt.

How can producers and directors learn about what might inflame community members? The Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, for instance, expressed surprise that anyone would be offended by its production and casting choices.

"The cardinal sin for the producer is to be caught unaware. When you’re engaged with the community, then you know when you are likely to piss them off," said Valerie Curtis-Newton, artistic director of The Hansberry Project. "You make choices based on that."

Several people said engaging a community does not mean tokenism — for instance, talking to one Jewish, African American or Native American and taking that single person's perspective as validation.

"What you should not say is I have an Asian or Jewish friend and they’re cool with it," said Fern Renville, managing director of Red Eagle Soaring Native Youth Theatre.

She added that she saw parallels between how people are defending the offensive stereotypes in "The Mikado" with how people are defending use of an ethnic slur for the Washington NFL team mascot.

Roger Tang, founder of Pork Filled Players, a Seattle Asian-American theater group, said, "The audience does have the right to say what it thinks of it. If you do a half-ass job on racial stereotyping and you are lazy about it, you are going to hear about that."

How does a group go about building those relationships with a community?

One case study was presented: A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) was producing "The Ramayana" and built partnerships with South Asian and Southeast Asian community leaders in a program called Ramayana Ambassadors. While the program began as a marketing partnership, the ambassadors ended up advising the artistic collaborators on the Ramayana story, organizing events and creating programs that complemented the show. The partnership led to strong ticket sales and it expanded ACT's reach into new audiences. Here is more information about how ACT built the Ramayana partnerships.

How should a theater group deal with protesters?

Beverly Naidus, associate professor of interdiscipinary arts at the University of Washington Tacoma, offered these pointers:

  • Do not ignore them.
  • Do not make assumptions about what they are thinking.
  • Do not assume that one gesture or invitation is enough to address concerns.
  • Do not hope that it will all blow over.

What does the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society think after hearing all of this?

Mike Storie, producer for the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, attended the forum as an audience member and spoke briefly. He had just returned from a summit of other Gilbert & Sullivan societies brainstorming different ways to do "The Mikado," which the Seattle group does not intend to produce for another six years.

"The goal here is to be able to produce the Mikado in a way that context is taken care of in a way that it can be changed," Storie said. "Some of suggestions were good, some were ridiculous. Changing name from Nanki Poo to Frankie Poo probably won’t fool anybody."

"I can see that it does hurt somebody," Storie said about his recent production of "The Mikado." "There’s no way I as a white man can get in the head of somebody who is Japanese. Nor can someone get into my head as a white man."

Does it end here?

"What makes this time different?" asked Curtis-Newton. "Because we do this really well. Seattle does this, like 'Let’s have a community feeling moment, make sure that everyone feels good about everyone else’s opinion and that we are all just loved.'

"I’m a double Virgo. I want to know what the hell happens next? What are you willing to do producers to make it different? What are you willing to do artists to make it different? What are you doing as audience members to make it different?

"If we are here 6 years when Mike does the Mikado again having not learned a single thing, it’s on us. This room seeds the ambassadors, seeds the conversations, each one of us can begin to help move things forward."

Hsieh, the moderator, said the organizers plan to use this forum as a starting point for workshops and more events that will bring other national artists to Seattle. It sounds promising.

"The Mikado" remains incredibly popular for Gilbert & Sullivan community theater groups around the country to produce. Those groups want to perform and share the humor and music of the opera. The smarter groups understand that if they want the work to live on, they need to figure out a way to make the opera relevant for a modern society. The show I went to in July may have been filled with appreciative audience members, but they were almost all over 50. The fan base will eventually die out if these groups don't think about how to appeal to younger audiences, and people will forget Gilbert and Sullivan ever existed.

If Seattle could become a lab of experimentation on producing historic works that engage the community, that could potentially move the performing arts forward not just in this city, but across a whole nation headed for a multiracial future.

This blog post, originally published at 7:03 a.m. on Aug. 19, 2014, was corrected at 9:50 a.m. and 12:26 p.m. the same day. An earlier version omitted the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture as an event organizer and gave the incorrect name for A Contemporary Theatre. This post has also been updated to include video of the forum from Howlround.

August 19, 2014 at 6:02 AM

'The Mikado,' yellowface: All the coverage

The controversy about a Seattle "Mikado" production began with my July 14 Seattle Times column, "The yellowface of 'The Mikado' in your face."

My Opinion Northwest blog post about the experience of watching the show: " 'The Mikado,' yellowface and seeing the Seattle show"

If you spot other writing worth sharing, please let me know at schan@seattletimes.com or let me know on Twitter @sharonpianchan

News coverage:

NPR segment by Sam Sander: "Why We've Been Seeing More 'Yellowface' In Recent Months" NPR Codeswitch's Kat Chow (a former Seattle Times intern) also did an online chat: "Roundtable: The Past And Present Of 'Yellowface' "

MSNBC news segment by anchor Richard Lui: "Stereotypes in 'The Mikado' Stir Controversy in Seattle"


CBC Radio segment by host Stephen Quinn: "The Mikado controversy: Does opera have a race problem?"

NBCNews.com: "Stereotypes in 'The Mikado' Stir Controversy in Seattle

Northwest Asian Weekly: " 'Yellowface' controversy over the 'The Mikado' — Gilbert & Sullivan opera incites protest"

WQRX, the New York classical music rado station, news story: " 'Asian blackface' in 'The Mikado" stirs controversy in Seattle"

Statements by community groups:

Seattle Repertory Theatre announced community dialogue for Aug. 18: Artistic freedom vs. artistic responsibility

Japanese American Citizens League: JACL Objects to Usage of Yellowface and Stereotypes in Seattle Production of The Mikado

OCA Greater Seattle on "The Mikado"

Chinese American Citizens Alliance: "Yellowface in 2014? Is It 2014 or 1914?"

Radio interviews:

Mikado cast member and KIRO Radio host Dave Ross and I debated the issue on his show: "Seattle Times editorial columnist and Dave Ross go head-to-head over "yellow face" in "The Mikado"

Ron and Don Show on KIRO Radio: "Seattle Times columnist says opera starring Dave Ross is racist"

Opinion commentary:

Seattle Times guest opinion by Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society Producer Mike Storie and Board member Gene Ma: " 'The Mikado' is worth performing." (Editorial Page Editor Kate Riley and I personally invited supporters of the show to submit guest opinion offering a different perspective from my column.)

Seattle Times guest opinion by artistic director Rick Shiomi, who created a 2013 Minneapolis version of "The Mikado" without stereotypes or yellowface acting: "Making 'The Mikado' without Asian stereotypes"

Seattle Times guest column by Westfield State University Professor Robin DiAngelo who writes about whiteness: "What does it mean to be white?"

Letters to the editor representing multiple perspectives in our Northwest Voices blog. Ken Narasaki, who co-wrote a play called "The Mikado Project," contributed one of the letters.

CNN.com guest commentary by Jeff Yang: "Yellowface staging of 'Mikado' has to end"

Angry Asian Man blog: "Real-life yellowface! Now playing in Seattle"

Seattle Times commentary by theater critic Misha Berson: "The ‘Mikado’ controversy: A call for calm discourse"

International Examiner editorial board: " ‘The Mikado’ controversy an opportunity to create and educate"

Atlantic Media's Quartz commentary by Gwynn Guilford: "It’s time to stop using 'exoticism' as an excuse for opera’s racism"

Stranger commentary by Brendan Kiley: The problem with The Mikado

ReAppropriate guest post by Sean Miura: "Undoing 'Mikado': Japan is not an imaginary place, and I am not a metaphor"

The You Offend Me You Offend My Family blog has a humor take (I approve of the KKK and apocalypse scenarios in this humor post): "6 Times When it’s OK for white people to don yellow face"

Actress Erin Quill writes her own lyrics for a song from "The Mikado" on her blog: "I have 'A Little List' too — buckle up"

Actress Lucy Sheen, on a personal blog, responds to the KIRO Radio debate with Dave Ross where he asks whether Japanese actors who wear kabuki-theater makeup are playing Caucasian roles: "Kabuki is NOT white face"

Bo Lim, an associate professor of Old Testament at Seattle Pacific University, used "The Mikado" to discuss about stereotypes still used in evangelical teachings in a post for the Sojourners website: "Why Evangelicals Should Care About 'The Mikado' Controversy If They Care About Reconciliation in the Church"

August 18, 2014 at 6:20 AM

Busting the stigma of mental illness

In the course of researching for the "What's troubling mental-health care" editorial package published in Sunday's Seattle Times, I heard again and again stories of people with mental health disorders living full, healthy lives. These stories rarely make it into the paper, as they are shoved aside by tragedies linked to mental illness.

Here are two stories, shared in order to give other people hope for recovery, and to tear at the stigma of mental illness:

Steve Murphy was working a construction job away from his native Seattle when he experienced his first signs of illness. He was helping build a coal processing plant in Kentucky, working with strangers, when he stopped sleeping or eating much. His speech became rapid and impulsive. Classic signs of mania, he now realizes.

Murphy ended up taking a flight back home, where he was met by a girlfriend, whom he credits with saving his life. She helped get him into a psychiatric hospital, where, he said, he was diagnosed correctly as having bipolar disorder. He hasn't been hospitalized since. "I'm incredibly lucky, for so many reasons," said Murphy, now 61.

That was the beginning of his recovery. He said he found the right medication within a few years, and began working in the restaurant industry, including Red Robin, Flakey Jakes and Schwartz Brothers. He never told coworkers about his diagnosis, fearing the consequences.

Since 1989, he's run his own consulting firm, advising small businesses on finance and data processing. He's also become a mental health advocate, serving on the board of the Seattle nonprofit Transitional Resources, and going through the "In Our Own Voice" training with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Seattle chapter, which helps people share their recovery stories.

As part of that speakers' bureau, Murphy regularly visits Harborview Medical Center's psychiatric ward with a direct message:

“If you have mental illness, you can have a life.”

Murphy's prescription for recovery is to maintain treatment, including medications, to maintain a solid work life, and to maintain strong relationships. On that front, he's remarkably successful. The woman whom he met at the airport in 1977 became his wife. Steve and Chris Murphy have been married for 35 years.

Richard Martin, Jr., 62, diagnoses the problem of stigma with a physician's perspective:

 The only way you deal with stigma is having people who’ve walked that path talking about it.

An Army doctor with a glittering academic record, Martin interned at Madigan Army Medical Center in 1976. But as he was working at a military hospital in Denver, Martin (no relation to the writer of this blog post) was infected with the HIV virus in an accidental needle stick, although he didn't realize he contracted it until 1991.

Martin believes that he developed bipolar disorder as a symptom of the HIV infection, which became full blown AIDS. He continued in the medical profession for two decades, but the mental and physical symptoms of both illnesses made it difficult to thrive professionally. "I managed to work my way out of that profession. There was a large amount of prejudice with HIV, but I would imagine it was mostly my behavior," said Martin, who retired from medicine in 1999.

Martin, however, describes himself as "a resurrection story." Advances in the treatment of AIDS put Martin into remission since 2006, and his psychiatric symptoms subsided. He, too, joined NAMI's "In Our Own Voice" speaker's bureau, presenting at Seattle Pacific University, Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College. He is now finishing a master's degree in pastoral therapy at Seattle U.

Martin compares the current stigma of mental illness to breast cancer, which led to the emergence of the "pink ribbon culture."

"Women used to die for fear of exposing themselves to their doctor," he says. "I think we have to get there with mental illness."

August 18, 2014 at 6:19 AM

Auditor Kelley makes a right move in Insurance Commissioner's case

State Auditor Troy Kelley made an unfortunate decision last May when he decided not to investigate a rather serious charge against a state agency -- that the Office of Insurance Commissioner was pressuring a judge to rule in its favor. But since then he has come up with a pretty solid idea, a performance audit that will examine whether judges ought to work for state agencies in the first place.

It’s about time someone analyzed that question in a formal way. The charge from hearings officer Patricia Petersen calls attention to the fact that many state agencies conduct appeals hearings in their own offices, using judges who are subject to discipline and termination by agency managers. The arrangement raises doubt about the impartiality of hearings – as it certainly seems to in this case.

Petersen, who has been chief hearings officer in Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s office for 19 years, says a new supervisor attempted to influence decisions on high-profile cases by issuing unfavorable job evaluations hinting at disciplinary action. The office maintains it was within bounds, and Petersen's important accusation has been muddled by counter-allegations from the office that Petersen dealt with her concerns improperly. Last month an investigation commissioned by Kreidler’s office appeared to exonerate the agency of impropriety and assigned fault to the judge. Disciplinary proceedings, which could include termination, are now under way.

In an op-ed piece that ran in the Spokane Spokesman-Review Aug. 9, Kelley defends his decision not to investigate Petersen’s charges. If he had, she might have obtained whistleblower protection and action against her would have been put on hold. But Kelley says he views her case as a personnel matter, and says his decision has been bolstered by subsequent “revelations about the employee’s own conduct” -- namely the points raised by the Insurance Commissioner's investigation.

Not everyone would have made that call. The Times urged him to rethink. Kelley’s predecessor Brian Sonntag said he would have investigated. And a truly independent investigation by the auditor’s office might have come to a different conclusion.

But Kelley’s announcement of a performance audit to look at the grander issue is a different matter, and the idea has merit of its own. Kelley writes,

“While a whistleblower investigation of this particular situation was clearly not warranted, I believe that what is warranted is a larger, systemic review to determine if the practice by some state agencies of using in-house administrative law judges is good public policy. The internal conflict at the Office of Insurance Commissioner notwithstanding, several obvious questions arise about the role of administrative law officers in state government. Can an administrative hearing process be considered independent if it is housed within an agency and reporting to the head of an agency? If these processes are truly meant to be independent, why house them within an agency, which could intuitively raise issues about independence and impartiality?”

Many are asking the same questions, among them former Attorney General Rob McKenna and state Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee. Becker says she may introduce legislation next session to move hearings from the Office of Insurance Commissioner to another office within state government that has the capability to hold independent hearings, the Office of Administrative Hearings. Some 26 state agencies have the ability to stage hearings there, including Kreidler’s office, but nearly all reserve the right to overrule its decisions.

Phil Talmadge, the former Supreme Court justice who is representing Petersen as an attorney, suggests it might make more sense to create a statewide Superior Court to hear administrative appeals. In that case, the judicial canons would clearly apply and independence and impartiality would be assured. A constitutional amendment might be required. At this point it is unclear whether the audit will be done in time for lawmakers to consider the matter next year, but it sounds like Kelley has found a good way to dig in.

August 16, 2014 at 5:19 PM

Replay video chat on mental-health challenges

The Seattle Times editorial board started a conversation on the mental-health challenges facing Washington state with an editorial series this weekend. The exploration of these issues will continue through the week with guest columns, reader perspectives and a video Google+ Hangout

at noon Thursday. Join the discussion on this page, which will be updated with a video window when the event is live. Panelists in the Google+ Hangout will be:

David Stone, chief executive of Sound Mental Health

Cinda Johnson, co-author of "Perfect Chaos, A Daughter's Struggle to Survive Bipolar and a Mother's Journey to Save Her"

Scott Bond, chief executive of the Washington State Hospital Association

Jonathan Martin, editorial writer

Thanh Tan, multimedia editorial writer, who will moderate the discussion

http://youtu.be/4f2ohRYXlbM

August 15, 2014 at 6:01 AM

Lessons from Ferguson: Citizens have right to capture photos, videos of militarized police

Numerous journalism associations came forward on Thursday to condemn the unnecessary arrest and subsequent release of two reporters covering the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Mo.

Read The Washington Post's roundup of statements or see the tweet below from the American Society of Newspaper Editors:

https://twitter.com/INN/status/499953296845844480

Reporters Wesley Lowerey of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post were simply doing their jobs. So far, it appears police entered the McDonald's they were working in and escalated the situation for no good reason. Those uniformed officers should be identified, punished and trained on how to treat fellow citizens with respect, whether they are civilians or members of the press.

They only have themselves to blame for the widespread attention to their actions.

Reporters are in Ferguson to cover a story. When they become part of the narrative, journalists everywhere pay attention. Coverage blows up to a whole new level. Unfortunately, it took the mistreatment of these two journalists for Missouri officials to "get it" and send in State Patrol officers to seize law enforcement authority.

What's more striking to many of us is the series of images and video coming out of Missouri, including the photo below captured by The Washington Post. Are we looking at scenes from a war zone or Middle America? Hard to tell the difference these past few days.

https://twitter.com/washingtonpost/status/500000342294429696

The unrest reminds me of a 2011 rap song by Seattle's Blue Scholars called "Oskar Barnack ∞ Oscar Grant," about the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American man by a police officer at a BART station in Oakland. Rapper Geo's lyrics still resonate three years later — and after several similar incidents involving authority figures killing young black men — in his call for citizens to shoot (videos and photos) of cops.

"But guess what, the people got a weapon of their own/ The lens and a shutter built into a mobile phone/ Evidence admissible in court/Even more documented cases of what's been going on /Shoot the cops/Take your cameras out ya pockets people."

Not only do Americans have a legal right to document police activity (as we're reminded in this article from The Atlantic), but sometimes a phone with a camera is the only tool citizens have to hold increasingly militarized police forces accountable.

Here's a video featuring the Blue Scholars song, but be warned there is strong language.

http://youtu.be/CHCbALjuG7g

August 14, 2014 at 6:16 AM

About Robert J. Vickers, our new Seattle Times editorial writer

Greetings, Seattle! I’m Robert Vickers, and I’m the newest addition to The Seattle Times editorial board.

I arrive here having spent several years as a journalist writing about public policy, higher education, legal affairs and politics at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., and The Daytona Beach News-Journal in Florida.

I also taught journalism, communications and sports administration at Syracuse University for a number of years, and briefly at Bond University in Australia.

But rather than run down my resume, I’d like to share some things about myself so that you have a better idea of who’s talking with you in our pages and on our website.

I’m the son of a grade-school teacher and a career Marine. And although I consider myself a Southerner, I grew up traversing the American landscape. My father’s work moved the family on average every two years of my youth. He used to boast that he’d “gone further in one direction than the average man will travel in a lifetime.”

As a result of that upbringing, moving is not only easy for me, it’s become a powerful, instinctive impulse that I’ve only just recently begun to resist.

This wanderlust has been the defining characteristic of my adult life. Since graduating from college, I’ve lived in five different states and four other countries. And just before deciding to come here, I literally spent three months working in Daytona Beach.

Mentors, colleagues and friends have often been dumbfounded by my vagabond existence. What I’ve been searching for and why, I’ll share in future columns or blog posts.

You’re probably more curious about my politics. I shun labels. Instead of being D or R, left or right, liberal or conservative; I prefer to say I’m American. My focus is on the well being of the republic, not the advancement of a particular agenda, political party or trade union.

And I am passionate in my belief that our nation can persist only if a vibrant Fourth and Fifth Estate empower the public with relevant news and information.

Sometimes that may mean mixing sugar with your cod liver oil. But more often, it means giving the public its medicine straight, with no chaser.

I’ve never been much of a joiner. The high-end street gangs masquerading as major American political parties hold no appeal to me. Having covered politics on the city, state and national level, I see little difference between them, other than their manipulating different constituencies for their oscillating amusement. I liken their conflicts to the $1 bet Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy make in “Trading Places.”

I have little patience for sky-is-falling neurotics, and even less for manipulators or bullies. In the great American tradition, I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy. And while I enjoy genuine and civil debate, I worry that blind faith and tunnel vision are the cancers of our society.

A favorite axiom is: “Who is the bigger fool – the fool, or the person who argues with the fool?”

I’m also a very tall, 40-something black man who is stunned daily by people’s bizarre fascination with height. Anytime I leave my home, some gawking stranger will invariably invade my privacy to inquire about the details of my stature, whether I play basketball, and how the weather is “up there.”

Consequently, I’ve become quite callous to the subject. My exact height is no one’s business but my own. I do not and have never aspired to play basketball. And the atmosphere I breathe is just the same as everyone else’s. I’ll appreciate not having to reiterate any of this.

On a lighter note, I’m an intent follower of the Beautiful Game, love the Cleveland Browns (but hate the Steelers more), and have a major Jones for old movies – particularly corny Bob Hope flicks and racy pre-code Hollywood films.

I prescribe to two philosophies on music. 1) There are only two kinds: good and bad. And 2) Be able to appreciate all kinds of music because you never know what kind your significant other will like.

I also consider myself a beer snob, but prefer malty brews to the American craft beer tendency towards hops, hops, and more hops.

Most pertinent to my move here is that I come to Seattle in search of a city to love.

Here's to the start of a beautiful relationship.

August 14, 2014 at 6:03 AM

FCC should listen to tech-savvy Seattle and preserve open Internet

Well, Seattle residents have spoken. Many of them, anyway, in favor of preserving net neutrality and against creating a two-lane Internet highway in which Internet providers could charge some users more for faster access and connectivity.

The Federal Communications Commission recently released about 1.1 million comments from its first comment period.  TechCrunch's initial analysis found the most-used word by citizens was "Comcast" followed by "Verizon" — and the bulk of what they had to say was not very nice. A second comment period ends on Sept. 10, so go to this FCC link to make your voice heard.

As The Seattle Times editorial board wrote on July 19, May 16, May 11, April 27 and Jan. 15, the open Internet should be preserved and providers should be reclassified as "common carriers" like most other public telecommunication services.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy called on the FCC to leave its echo chamber in the Beltway and hold public meetings around the country. "Most of (those who had commented on the proposed rules online) will not be able to come to Washington to participate in the roundtables that have been scheduled, but their voices are more important than industry lobbyists and members of Congress," Leahy reportedly wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Great idea. FCC, please come to Seattle.

Local citizens here have plenty to say. In June, Mayor Ed Murray joined with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to pen an op-ed for The San Francisco Chronicle in favor of preserving an open Internet. Here's an excerpt:

We stand for transparency and believe that all data on the Internet should be treated equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment or mode of communication. We feel that innovation relies on a free and open Internet, one that does not allow for individual arrangements for priority treatment, also known as paid prioritization.

Last May, Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expressing a similar view. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson fired off his own letter on July 18.

The Verge's analysis shows Seattle ranked 5th on the list of cities where comments originated, an indicator of its position as a technology hub for start-ups and savvy Internet users. A different analysis of that information by the data analytics firm Quid for the Knight Foundation showed the West Coast is overrepresented in the comments about net neutrality, with Washington ranked 2nd overall.

NPR's Elise Hu provides some fascinating insight via the All Tech Considered blog, which produced a cluster map based on Quid's analysis of hundreds of thousands of comments, news stories and tweets. Hu reports the biggest cluster of commenters — 15 percent — said a "'pay-to-play' system will harm the diversity of the Internet."

In a Aug. 11 blog post for the Knight Foundation, Quid Co-founder Sean Gourley and head of intelligence services Sarah Pilewski reported on the six major narratives that have emerged from their research of public opinion on net neutrality:

1.     Don’t give us an Internet of haves and have-nots.

2.     Higher costs for consumers. “Don’t make me pay more for Netflix.”

3.     The FCC is a political organization with too many conflicts of interest.

4.     It’s a David and Goliath battle: startups versus cable companies.

5.     The Internet is a right and should be treated like utilities such as electricity.

6.     There should be no “free lunch” for content providers.

 

 

August 12, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Looks like SEIU organizing strategy may backfire -- on Washington taxpayers

More than a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling likely to shake the left side of Washington politics. But this state hasn’t heard in any official way what effect Harris vs. Quinn will have – and now it looks like we’ll have to wait for a legal decision sometime in the months or even years ahead.

But what a punchline this one will likely carry. The June 30 federal ruling concerns a clever strategy to beef up membership in the Service Employees International Union in Illinois, similar in every way to an SEIU organizing effort in Washington. Read between the lines and it is possible to see that Washington taxpayers may be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars.

The union has become a national powerhouse in recent years by organizing workers who have not traditionally been considered state employees, like childcare workers and those who care for the elderly and disabled at home. These workers, often at or just above minimum wage, are the least like traditional punch-the-clock union workers of any on the typical state payroll. Which explains why organizing efforts began in earnest only a decade ago, after most other public employees were already under union contract.

The high court ruled these "partial public employees" in  Illinois are so different that they cannot be compelled to pay union dues or an equivalent “agency fee.” Without that compulsion, participation can be expected to fall, perhaps precipitously.

One might think the ruling would have a major effect in Washington. There are some 41,500 workers who are considered public employees for collective bargaining purposes only. Most of them are the 33,000 home health care workers who are required to pay dues or fees to SEIU Local 775. Similar arrangements govern childcare workers represented by SEIU Local 925 and interpreters represented by the Washington Federation of State Employees. Residential home care workers are represented by the Residential Care Council, but do not pay mandatory union fees.

Considering how much influence SEIU has had in Washington state politics in recent years, the ruling could be a major blow for the coalition of progressive interests that has increasingly led policy development for Democrats in the Legislature. Last election cycle, SEIU spent a whopping $2.9 million to influence elections in Washington state, most of it through independent campaigns for favored candidates. Other money went to Washington, D.C. to support the union's national program.

SEIU declines comment on its policies in this state, says Local 775 spokesman Jackson Holtz. But it has sent letters to home health care workers who have objected to paying agency fees in the past, saying their mandatory payments will stop. Conservative activists cheer: The system is stacked in favor of labor, complains Maxford Nelsen of the Freedom Foundation, the conservative Olympia think tank that has made union political spending a top issue.

But the final blow has yet to come. The day the Supreme Court handed down its decision, the office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson promised an analysis of how the ruling would affect Washington state. Nearly six weeks later, state Sen. Jon Braun, R-Centralia, got tired of waiting and requested an informal opinion laying down the law. On Friday the attorney general’s office turned him down.

The problem is that a class-action lawsuit anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court decision was filed in federal court in Seattle last April on behalf of four Washington home health care workers. Centeno vs. the Department of Social and Health Services charges the mandatory dues were improper; Harris vs. Quinn makes it look like a slam-dunk. The suit is one of a number filed nationwide. The attorney general's office won't offer an opinion when litigation is pending, says spokeswoman Alison Dempsey-Hall.

That much is reasonable; the attorney general's office can hardly be expected to offer an evenhanded analysis when it must defend the state's position in court. But here is the point taxpayers might find chilling. The lawsuit seeks a full refund, plus attorney fees, from both the union and the state. Tens of millions of dollars are involved. Given the state’s joint and several liability laws, the money stands a good chance of coming from taxpayers’ pockets. Ultimately that was the cleverest thing about the union organizing strategy -- the state is on the hook.

August 11, 2014 at 6:13 AM

Why Gov. Jay Inslee goes against the grain industry

A letter from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee explains a curious decision that has bollixed up the wheat harvest throughout the western United States this year. Good bet it will infuriate more people than it will soothe.

In it the Democratic governor appears to say the issue is purely a labor dispute involving 44 union positions at the Port of Vancouver. The only acknowledgement of the enormous disruption he has caused for thousands of farmers and for the rural economy from the Washington coast to the Midwest is a throwaway line: “I remain committed to a healthy, thriving agricultural industry.”

The letter is the fullest explanation Inslee has offered – read it below. But first it might be useful to check in with agriculture, which has been doing all it can to reopen the United Grain Corp. terminal, a facility responsible for nearly 20 percent of the exports from the West Coast.

On July 6, in the 17th month of a lockout involving the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Inslee withdrew State Patrol protection for Washington grain inspectors who had been crossing what they called a dangerous picket line.

 

So the grain inspectors stopped inspecting and the grain-loaders stopped loading – all but the rare shipments that can get through without inspection. The state Department of Agriculture rebuffed an offer from UGC to pay for private security -- which couldn't have been a surprise for Inslee, because the department is under his control. The U.S. Department of Agriculture rebuffed requests from farm-commodity organizations to send inspectors of its own. Now, as harvest begins, so has the meltdown many had predicted. “We’re already starting to see it,” says Lola Raska, executive director of the Montana Grain Growers Association.

Montana normally exports 80 percent of its crop, most through the Pacific Northwest. Raska says elevators already are stuffed and farmers without adequate storage are forced to store their wheat outside. She says it’s only going to get worse in future weeks, and if farmers have nowhere to go with their grain, they can expect prices to fall.

In Washington, wheat is a $1.2 billion industry; in Montana, $2 billion -- but maybe it will be a little less this year, thanks to the Vancouver situation. International news reports indicate Taiwan has backed off U.S. purchases for fear of market-wide disruption. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the Taiwan Flour Mills Association says it purchased 1 million metric tons last year, but “a stoppage of this nature undermines the reputation of U.S. wheat in the marketplace.” Similar letters circulate from Korean and Chinese traders.

All of which makes Inslee’s explanation seem rather narrowly focused – like a governor looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Dated July 29, it comes in response to a query from congressional Republicans Jamie Hererra Beutler of Vancouver, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Colville, Doc Hastings of Pasco, and Greg Walden of Oregon. In providing State Patrol escorts, Inslee says,

“My intention was to provide enough time and space for UGC and ILWU to negotiate an agreement, and I was very clear with both parties that WSP’s services were temporary and not to be considered a standing arrangement.

“As is evident, negotiations during that eight-month period were unsuccessful, and over time it became increasingly clear that keeping WSP escorts in place was not leading to productive negotiations as intended. Therefore, in early June, I met with both parties and informed them of my impending decision to end the escorts, which I felt would provide them one last opportunity to come to the table. Unfortunately, UGC refused to return to negotiations.

“…The only sustainable solution to this impasse is for both parties to come together immediately and engage in good-faith negotiations. This is how it works in every other grain terminal in the state, where grain is being inspected without interruption.

“It is my understanding that the two sides will meet in negotiations this week, and I hope that they can find a solution. Those interested in seeing this shutdown resolved should strongly urge UGC and ILWU to come to the table and finally reach an agreement.

“As you know, agriculture is one of our state’s key economic sectors, and I remain committed to a healthy, thriving industry.”

So much for the harvest.

See the full letter here: GovInslee_letter_PacNWoffices_072914

August 11, 2014 at 5:45 AM

With the end of psychiatric boarding, a new mental health crisis decades in the making

The state Supreme Court's opinion on Thursday invalidating psychiatric "boarding" has thrown Washington's already-messy mental-health system into chaos.

An estimated 350 very ill people across the state are currently being warehoused in emergency rooms, usually without treatment, because the state hasn't funded enough psychiatric beds. State and county mental-health managers are scrambling to suddenly find beds for them. If they don't, the patients could be cut loose, with potentially dire consequences, particularly to themselves.

King County mental health director Jim Vollendroff told me Friday morning eight people were in limbo. "We're scrambling for those," he said.

What's disturbing is that Thursday's ruling, In The Matter of The Detention of D.W., seemed to catch the state by surprise, with no advance planning. The state Department of Social and Health Services and Pierce County lost this case before a Pierce County Superior Court Commissioner, a judge and at the Court of Appeals. Their thin legal argument contended that patients were better off in ER beds, even untreated, because they were "warm and dry." The result at the Supreme Court was an unequivocal 9-0 ruling with a simple message: if the state is going to detain some in psychiatric crisis, it must treat them.

It's also useful to remember the history of how Washington got to this point, returning to the inhumane warehousing of very sick people. "We’ve underfunded the mental-health system for decades, and it's now coming to haunt us," said Victoria Roberts, deputy director of the Department of Social and Health Services' mental-health division.

This bad scenario has been building since 1979, the year of Washington' involuntary-treatment law. Justice Steven Gonzalez, who wrote the Thursday Supreme Court ruling, summed up the history:

By 1981, Western State Hospital, which at the time acted as an evaluation and treatment center, was filled to capacity and refused to accept more patients until it was ordered to by this court. Overcrowding has continued.

Pierce County sued the state for discharging still-sick patients from Western State Hospital from 2001 to 2004, in some cases dumping vanloads of people off at Tacoma homeless shelters. Other lawsuits followed. The state loses, settles, promises reform. Rinse, repeat.

Washington neglected to fully fund the county-based outpatient mental-health system or the state-run psychiatric hospitals. On inpatient side, Between 2000 and 2010, Washington reduced beds certified to take involuntarily committed patients by 36 percent - a net decrease of nearly 200 - and plunged to near-last in the nation for access to psychiatric beds per capita.

At the same time, the Legislature, squeezed by the recession, also stripped $90 million from preventative outpatient care. More than $57 million alone was cut in the 2009-2011 budget.

The result was obvious: The number of people in psychiatric crisis jumped, particularly in King County. The involuntary treatment law says that people deemed so sick - that they'll likely hurt themselves or others - must be held in a facility able to treat their illness and restore them to health.

But without enough beds, the state turned to a little-known administrative rule, called "single bed certification." It was intended to allow involuntarily committed patients to be temporarily held in hospitals not certified to treat their mental illness, but able to provide medical care not available at standalone psychiatric facilities, such as dialysis.

The grim truth is that "single bed certifications" became a patch on a system full of holes. Instead of assuring intensive medical care, boarded patients often got little treatment at all. The number of "single bed certifications" nearly tripled since 2007, to 3,412 last year.

The Supreme Court described it accurately: "warehousing." But the high court isn't the only one that's found Washington's access to inpatient treatment contemptible. King, Pierce and Snohomish county judges have ruled DSHS in contempt in criminal cases where Western State Hospital is supposed to restore defendants' competency. Currently, an estimated 100 defendants are backed up in county jails, sometimes for months, waiting competency restoration ordered by both the law and by judges.

Now that boarding has been declared illegal, and the mental health system is in an imminent crisis, Washington is at a fork-in-the-road moment.

The state Legislature - and particularly Speaker of the House Frank Chopp - has prioritized better mental-health funding in the past two budgets. Chopp has quietly convened a small task force and chipped away the budget and policy backlog, adding operational funding for about 50 beds, as well as new preventative care teams.

But many of those beds haven't materialized because operating funds don't build buildings, and opening a psychiatric facility is expensive. The state Senate's Majority Coalition did a disservice to families with mental illness last session by not passing a capital budget, which included $11.2 million help build new facilities. Had the budget passed, Friday's crisis have would have been smaller.

More mental-health investment must not be crushed by the $2 billion budgetary iceberg of the education-funding McCleary decision, due next year. If it does, Thursday's In The Matter of the Detention of D.W. will be just the beginning of court oversight of Washington's mental health system.

August 7, 2014 at 12:33 PM

Will a red result in Washington Senate primaries keep Tom Steyer from spending?

There’s been plenty of talk about the role free-spending California billionaire Tom Steyer might play in Washington’s upcoming legislative races — the man whose wallet might make all the difference. But if the results of the Aug. 5 primary tell us anything, it is that his money might go further somewhere else.

The largely-Republican Senate Majority Coalition Caucus seems to be in firm-enough control of the upper chamber that it will not be easy to dislodge. If results hold firm through late ballot counts and the November election, its numbers will remain steady next session at 26-23.

Democratic partisans will disagree that there is anything good about it, but the coalition certainly is a big deal. The Washington Senate is the only legislative body in the blue West Coast states where Republicans have a toehold, and its effect has been to steer Washington's environmental policy down the middle while Oregon and California veer left. Steyer, a retired former hedge-fund manager with money to burn and a passion for climate-change legislation, offered plenty of hints before the primary that he might spend big in this state to change the chamber's color.

Last year Steyer worked with the League of Conservation Voters to spend more than a half-million dollars on Washington races. There is plenty more where that came from -- he has vowed to spend $100 million on races nationally.  And in Washington state specifically, he filed papers July 5 to form a new political action committee, NextGen Climate Action, which has just $100 in the bank but could be a vehicle for political contributions. And The New York Times reported Monday that Steyer discussed Senate-takeover strategy during a lunch with Gov. Jay Inslee at the governor’s mansion. Here's an excerpt from the Times report:

Mr. Steyer’s strategy is to spend heavily this fall to help defeat sitting lawmakers who oppose Mr. Inslee’s agenda and pave the way for the governor to move his policies through next year — an example, his critics say, of the insidious influence of big money from outsiders that makes local elections less local.

Here’s the trouble. Steyer may have the money and the inclination. But primary-election night results don’t indicate much chance of success. Money can do wonders in politics, but it would take quite a reversal to change control.

The narrowest head-to-head matchup in a key race appears to be Democrat Matt Isenhower’s Eastside challenge to Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, in the 45th Legislative District. Hill is leading by a comfortable margin, 54 percent to 46 percent.

In the 28th District, in the south Tacoma suburbs, Republican incumbent Steve O’Ban was ahead of Democrat Tami Green, both of University Place, 56 percent to 44 percent. For Federal Way’s open 30th  District seat, Republican Mark Miloscia was beating Democrat Shari Song, 57 percent to 43 percent. And that pickup would offset a likely Democratic gain in the 48th, where Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, is stepping down and Democratic state Rep. Cyrus Habib has 63 percent of the vote so far.

Strangest race of the bunch was that of state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, in the 35th Legislative District. Sheldon crossed party lines with Tom to create the coalition nearly two years ago. In his first election since, Sheldon was challenged from the left by Democrat Irene Bowling, and from the right by Republican Travis Coutoure. As of the latest ballot count, Democrat Bowling has the most votes, 35 percent, a sign that Democrats managed to turn out a big vote against a politician they regard as a turncoat. But Sheldon appears to have squeaked through the primary with 33 percent, beating Coutoure by nearly 400 votes in the election night tally. “It’s a little hard when you are neither fish nor fowl,” Sheldon says – especially when a squeeze play seems to be at work.

Plenty of Republicans lined up for Sheldon, including all 24 Republican senators, and business interests and others rallied to his support with $161,000. In an email circulating through GOP ranks, apparently from Coutoure, the furious candidate accuses the state Republican Party of “failing to acknowledge my existence.” Coutoure could not be reached. Presuming the percentages hold, Coutoure will be out, and it appears reasonable to add his 31 percent to Sheldon’s 33 percent, for a conservative vote that will put Sheldon well over the top come November.

It’s up to Steyer to decide where he wants to put his millions, and whether it matters how much he spends. But if return on investment is his issue, other states may offer easier gains.

August 6, 2014 at 6:02 AM

As border children seek safety, some leaders show cowardice

Children considered refugees of Central America will not be sent to military bases for temporary housing, including Joint Base Lewis-McChordU.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash, issued a statement Tuesday that appropriately summed up the need for Congress to fund efforts to address the border crisis and to fix the nation's broken immigration system.

“I received word today that the Department of Health and Human Services is no longer seeking facilities for temporary shelters for refugee children from Central America at this time, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the 10th Congressional District.

“I trust HHS to make the right decisions about what facilities are best for the refugee children, but this situation will not simply go away because the children are not staying in our district. As we continue to experience this humanitarian crisis, I support providing emergency funding to provide adequate assistance to care for the children, as well as resources for proper immigration proceedings.

“We are a proud nation of immigrants, and I will continue to push for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.”

I was curious how this state would react if those kids did arrive. Would people protest their entry as they have in other cities? Or would they remember Washington's proud history of welcoming people who flee danger in their native countries?

As Sunday's guest column by former Washington Gov. Dan Evans made so clear, the U.S. has experienced its fair share of  immigration crises. He reminded readers that local churches and community groups responded in droves when the first wave of Vietnamese refugees arrived in the state after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Evans, a Republican, expressed his dismay with politicians of both parties who've failed to step up to what he views as their moral responsibility. He tells the story of one refugee couple in particular who rebuilt their lives from nothing, named one of their children Evans, and sent all six of their children on to college and successful careers:

The Nguyens are a stellar example of the success of our Vietnamese immigration program. Washington state has the third-largest Vietnamese population in the U.S., behind California and Texas. I’m exceedingly proud of the volunteer sponsors, support organizations and legislators who welcomed these productive new citizens to our state.

But that was 40 years ago. What should we do today about immigration?

First, receive the children fleeing from repression in Central America the same way we welcomed refugees from Vietnam 40 years ago.

Second, the U.S. House of Representatives should debate and pass its version of an immigration bill, which the U.S. Senate has already done. It is unconscionable to delay just because the issue is politically uncomfortable.

Then the House and Senate should meet promptly in conference to attempt to reach agreement on a comprehensive reform proposal.

Third, Congress should adopt rules that would allow highly educated foreign students to remain in the United States after graduating from U.S. colleges and universities, instead of requiring them to return home. These bright young graduates could help fill increasing worker shortages for high-tech jobs.

Fourth, our foreign-aid program should add a mini-Marshall Plan for Mexico and Central America. After World War II, the Marshall Plan reinvigorated a devastated Europe and helped immensely to create a peaceful and prosperous continent.

If the U.S. helped Central American nations build strong, free economies and working democracies, and treated Mexico as a true economic partner, the surge northward of desperate refugees would slow to a trickle. It would be an investment far more productive than a barbed wire-encrusted barrier that screams “STAY OUT.”

Election years offer a chance for politicians to bring up extreme positions to get votes, but knee-jerk efforts to shoo away children should grate on all of us. History ought to shine a dim light on those who take an ideological viewpoint on the humanitarian crisis at the border. The undocumented immigrants in question are innocent children, yet some urging deportation describe them as gang members and possible carriers of disease. As if this had something to do with Ebola.

The result? A good number of Democratic and Republican governors have been reluctant to help or have outright refused, as documented in news reports by USA Today and The Washington Post among others.

Most galling in my view is this statement by Republican Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter in a preemptive letter to the federal government, just in case it was considering whether to send those children to his state:

“It should be understood that the State of Idaho and its subdivisions will not be actively involved in addressing the humanitarian crisis the federal government has created. Idaho will not open itself to the unwelcome challenges with which other states have struggled at the federal government’s hands.”

That's right, kids. Fend for yourselves. Because the adults in this country already have enough problems. Your  fear of being killed or forced into a gang is none of our concern, even if the root causes of those problems are linked to U.S. foreign policy.

If there were a modern-day governor of the same stature as Dan Evans, that person would probably be Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. The Democrat was the first governor to advocate for the immigrant children after they began crossing into the U.S. Patrick's emotions were visible as he called upon his fellow citizens to show compassion for children sent by their parents on long arduous journeys to escape from violence.

Watch WBUR's raw video of that press conference:

http://youtu.be/ubpvoDIfKvY

Despite polls showing Massachusetts residents are opposed to housing the kids and Tuesday's news that no other bases would be considered for temporary housing, MassLive.com reports Patrick said he was proud of his state's "willingness to help."

Other leaders should be so brave. This border crisis is not over.

 

 

 

 

 

August 4, 2014 at 5:22 PM

How to investigate yourself and satisfy no one

Remember the Patricia Petersen case? The hearings officer who says her bosses at the state Office of Insurance Commissioner tried to pressure her into ruling in their favor? The office has finally released its report on the matter, and it looks like it ought to be filed with the Department of Told-You-So.

It is hard to imagine a vindication for a state agency as complete as this one. Not only does the report find the agency blameless, it also finds much to fault in Petersen's behavior. So much fault, in fact, that the Office of Insurance Commissioner is using the findings as the basis for formal disciplinary proceedings, and termination seems one likely outcome. Not to mention a lawsuit from Petersen, and recriminations before the Legislature.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler and his crew should have known better. An investigation like this was bound to satisfy no one.

Link to OIC report: OIC Investigation of Allegations of Ex Parte Contact

Link to public response from Petersen's attorneys: Concerned Citizens memorandum

Though the Office of Insurance Commissioner hired an independent attorney to write the report and notes that it had no control over his findings, even the most rigorous self-examination by a state agency would be suspect unless it reached damning conclusions about itself. Phil Talmadge, the former Supreme Court justice who is representing Petersen in the case, says he has filed a public-records request to find out exactly what the agency directed attorney Patrick Pearce to investigate. Was Petersen pressured by her superiors? Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee, thinks so.

“It's a question of trust at this point," Becker says. "Trust is a hard thing to gain and an easy thing to lose, and a lot of people have lost trust because of what is going on in that office, including this investigation."

For the last 19 years Petersen has presided over administrative hearings whenever insurance regulations or rulings are challenged, serving in a judicial role that is supposed to be every bit as fair and impartial as a judge in a courtroom. But starting late last year, when a spate of cases involving the Affordable Care Act began coming before her, she says a new deputy commissioner, James Odiorne, began pressuring her to rule in the agency’s favor. The Insurance Commissioner’s office maintains that it merely was trying to tighten up procedures and ensure that rulings reflected the latest thinking from the agency’s management. Matters came to a head when Odiorne dropped an unscheduled evaluation on Petersen in May, just as a critical case involving Seattle Children’s Hospital was coming before her.

Pearce’s report quickly dismisses the charge of pressure. He says Petersen had an “extremely strict” view that all matters concerning insurance regulatory policy needed to be aired during hearings, and he says it was proper for Odiorne to raise general issues outside of court, because he was not directly involved in prosecuting or defending cases. “The actions by Mr. Odiorne did not constitute improper ex parte communication,” he writes.

Instead, Pearce's report finds grevious fault with Petersen, for, among other things, sending a copy of her whistleblower complaint to one of the attorneys in the Children’s Hospital case – something Talmadge calls inadvertent as she sought legal help -- and for failing to disclose that her husband, a pediatrician had been a resident at the hospital more than 30 years ago, and occasionally supervises interns as a volunteer.

Talmadge says the report measures Petersen against a code of ethics for administrative law judges at the independent Office of Administrative Hearings, which doesn’t apply to a judge working for the OIC. Yet if the code did apply, he says it would be clear that Odiorne’s communications were improper. And Talmadge points to the strangest thing about the report: Though it says Odiorne did nothing wrong, it faults Petersen for not reporting him soon enough.

The Office of Insurance Commissioner says the report did the best job it could: “While it is understandable that some will disagree with the findings and conclusions of the independent investigator, the report represented the best option to get an unbiased and impartial accounting of the issues at hand,” says spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis in an email.

“The independent investigator, who has a background in law and who was selected through the contracting process that is available to state agencies, conducted several interviews and examined almost 2,000 pages of related documents to reach his conclusions.”

It is hard to imagine the report settling anything. Already Becker says she plans to launch an investigation of her own, using the powers of her committee. And one of the questions she will ask is why on earth the Office of Insurance Commissioner controls its own judges in the first place, rather than hearing cases at the Office of Administrative Hearings. More and more it is sounding like a case for true independence.

August 4, 2014 at 8:08 AM

State's papers: Inslee tactic at Vancouver boosts union at expense of ag industry

Newspapers across the state are chiming in against Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to choke off exports from the biggest grain terminal in the West, right on the eve of the wheat harvest. As described in a July 28 Seattle Times editorial, the governor’s unfortunate decision boosts the International Longshore and Warehouse Union at the expense of the grain-growing industry – which is worth $1 billion to Washington state alone, and more than that to other states.

Inslee has withdrawn State Patrol protection for state grain inspectors at the United Grain Corp. terminal, the biggest export facility in the west, where locked-out longshore workers are maintaining a picket line. Without protection, the state Department of Agriculture won't send the inspectors — it says the union pickets have threatened and harassed its crews. Without the inspectors, the wheat exports can't leave the port, except in rare cases. The terminal is essentially shut down.

Good news for the union in its contract talks, but rotten timing for agriculture. Harvest is about to begin. The grain needs to get through. The grain terminal is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the exports from the Pacific Coast, but all grain farmers stand to lose because of market disruption. That's because lower commodity prices may be the result. If Inslee’s decision boosts "working people," as the state Labor Council argues, there aren't many of them. The union staffs 44 positions. Meanwhile, Inslee creates hardship for many, many more hardworking farm families across the United States and for an entire farm economy that depends on the smooth flow of exports.

Other newspapers see it the same way. Negative notices are unanimous. The (Vancouver) Columbian says Inslee rewards “thuggish” behavior by labor:

Inslee, who was elected in part because of strong support from a variety of unions, has turned a tenuous situation into an unworkable one for the benefit of the ILWU. And in the process he has allowed intimidation tactics to give the union the upper hand.

This not only is harmful to the situation at the Port of Vancouver, but it sends a dangerous message to other unions and other companies throughout the state. Allowing thuggish behavior to triumph in labor disputes only invites future trouble and simply enables unions to view threats as an appropriate tactic. If harassment is allowed to alter the discussion between United Grain and the ILWU — and questions arise as to why state troopers did not address any harassing behavior — it will embolden other unions to embrace similar strategies.

The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review calls Inslee's decision rash:

Closure of the Port of Vancouver grain elevators not only threatens to interrupt export of Washington’s $1 billion crop, national farm groups are warning that the unprecedented breakdown of inspection activities at the port could endanger foreign buyer confidence in the reliability and integrity of the U.S. inspection system… Washington ports are fighting against other West and Gulf coast ports, including those in Canada, for cargo – grain, coal, cars, whatever. If our ports are not dependable, farmers from South Dakota… can exercise other options.

The Union-Bulletin in Walla Walla says agriculture deserves the same solicitude Inslee extends to Boeing and Microsoft:

Inslee needs to put the interests of the entire state — Eastern and Western Washington — ahead of politics and a labor dispute. The state needs to find a way to get the labor issues resolved or resume providing security for grain inspectors.

The (Portland) Oregonian says Inslee is applying pressure tactics at the wrong time:

By taking his action just weeks before the start of the annual wheat harvest, Inslee has pushed the stakes too high. Wheat is to eastern Washington and Oregon what Intel and Nike are to the Portland area or what Microsoft and Boeing are to the Seattle area – the economic foundation of the region. …It's time to harvest wheat and to harvest a new labor agreement. And it's the wrong time for the governor to be involved.

Meanwhile, the state Labor Council issued a broadside – a signed blog post from President Jeff Johnson – that denounces The Seattle Times for siding with agriculture instead of the labor union, and accuses the newspaper of "biased opinions" (as if there is another sort).

Once again The Seattle Times shows their absolute disdain for working people — never a thought for the workers and their families who have suffered 17 months of job loss and economic uncertainty — but instead the Times’ concern is getting this non-perishable commodity to market — money,  money, money.

“Shame on The Seattle Times. Their unabashedly biased opinions are not worth the paper they are printed on."

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