Ed cetera

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

November 27, 2014 at 8:05 AM

Cartoon: Happy Thanksgiving from corporate America

November 25, 2014 at 6:04 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 24, 2014 at 8:45 AM

Should Woodland Park Zoo elephants go to zoo or sanctuary?

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

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

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

Here's an excerpt:

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

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

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

Send them to sanctuary: Bruce Harrell, Kshama Sawant

Sawant via statement:

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

Harrell via email:

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

Undecided: Mike O'Brien, Sally Bagshaw

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

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

Bagshaw's statement sent out Wednesday:

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

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

Rasmussen via email:

I want the best for the elephants.

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

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

Clark via email:

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

Burgess via email:

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

Send them to another zoo: Jean Godden

Godden via phone interview:

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

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

November 24, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Thanksgiving is for eating, not shopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 20, 2014 at 6:05 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



November 19, 2014 at 6:09 AM

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


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

When Inslee appeared in Seattle Monday to accept recommendations from his Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce on a market-based carbon pollution plan, state Senate Transportation co-Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Energy and Environmental Chairman Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, wasted little time expressing “serious concerns” over his policy direction and process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 19, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Task forces: a place where "good ideas go to die"

A major problem for special education is the term “special education.”

A new report examining Washington’s special education programs calls for the governor to establish a 12-person commission to revamp the current system. But, steer clear of the terms “special education” or “task force,” the report insists. “Blue Ribbon Commission” sounds much better.

The recommendation comes from representatives of 138 social, health, educational, parent, student and child advocacy groups with a stake in special education that provided input for the report.

They determined that using special education or task force in the name of the new commission could keep the the group from effectively carrying out its mission. (Read more about that here.)

Task force was ruled out because, as the report states, “The term ‘task force’ was generally not desirable, some suggesting the term connotes a place ‘where good ideas go to die.’”

The case against special education points to a larger problem that happens when educators say "special education." Students often do not want to be associated with the term and within schools, those programs often seem isolated.

“Kids (with disabilities) avoid getting help because they have to be labeled and identified,” said Stacy Gallett, director of the state’s Office of the Education Ombuds, the agency that produced the report. “They get stigmatized.”

So, would using “Blue Ribbon” better serve the commission? At first, that term made me think of a first place animal at the state fair.

But, turns out the governments and elected leaders assign Blue Ribbon to panels or commissions made up of the top experts in a particular field chosen to analyze an issue, according to Wikipedia. The U.S. government assembled a Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future from 2010 to 2012. Washington has a Governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

As the report makes it clear, Washington’s special education program needs serious upgrades. Perhaps giving 12 people the title of “Blue Ribbon” will add a sense of empowerment and urgency unlike the use of the term “Czar” for government appointees.

We’re not talking the state fair or Russian rulers. We’re talking about improving the education and lives of Washington’s 135,000 special education students.

Regardless of what the commission is named, what matters most is that its work is indeed blue ribbon (which as an adjective means excellent).

November 18, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Clapper on lessons learned after North Korea's release of Kenneth Bae

Kenneth Bae has been reunited with his Lynnwood-area family for a little more than a week now, and the details of his rescue continue to fascinate.

James Clapper, the U.S. intelligence director, detailed his secret trip to North Korea on Sunday's "Face the Nation." Watch the video below:

Here's the takeaway: This was not exactly a slam-dunk mission. The Obama administration had good reason to keep it a secret until the two Americans, Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, were safely on board a flight back to the U.S. Let this episode in U.S.-North Korea relations be a lesson and launching point for better understanding between the two countries. The Obama administration deserves credit for sending a top official to hear out North Korea's concerns while avoiding any quid pro quo actions that might have set off pundits. (Remember the political fracas surrounding last summer's release of several Guantanamo Bay prisoners in exchange for the release of Taliban prisoner Bowe Bergdahl?)

According to Clapper, the North Koreans released the Americans despite expressing disappointment there was not some "breakthrough" message from President Barack Obama. Will they be as benevolent the next time an American visitor is viewed with suspicion?

In the interview with anchor Bob Schieffer, Clapper spoke almost exclusively about the operation and hardly mentioned Bae or Miller. That's probably the best move at this time. Let the pair return to normalcy.

Their experiences should be sufficient warning for all western travelers contemplating a visit to North Korea: Be very careful. And if you're genuinely looking for a place to have fun and relax, maybe just avoid this country altogether.

Ready for some "light" reading on why? Check out the U.S. State Department's May 20 travel warning:

Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizen tourists have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention.  North Korean authorities have arrested U.S. citizens who entered the DPRK legally on valid DPRK visas as well as U.S. citizens who accidentally crossed into DPRK territory. The Department of State has also received reports of DPRK authorities arbitrarily detaining U.S. citizens without charges and not allowing them to depart the country.  In the past 18 months, North Korea detained several U.S. citizens who were part of organized tours.  Do not assume that joining a group tour or use of a tour guide will prevent your arrest or detention by North Korean authorities.  Efforts by private tour operators to prevent or resolve past detentions of U.S. citizens in the DPRK have not succeeded in gaining their release.

November 17, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Stop saying Washington ranks 47th for class size

Don’t believe the hype. Washington does not rank 47th for class size.

I’ve heard numerous people cite that statistic to explain why they voted for Initiative 1351, a measure that called for limiting class sizes in Washington. Voters narrowly approved the initiative in the recent election by 50.7 percent.

After all, 47th out of 50, that’s outrageous! Well, that ranking does sound startling, but it doesn’t refer to class size.

In an editorial, The Seattle Times explained what the ranking is for:

In its 2014 annual report on state education achievement, the National Education Association, the country’s largest union for educators, warns against conflating the two measures: The “ratio of students to teachers must not be confused with ‘Average Class Size,’ which is the number of students assigned to a classroom for instructional purposes. Class size and student-teacher ratio are very different concepts and cannot be used interchangeably.”

In Washington state, the average classroom had 23.7 students during the 2011-2012 school year. That is more than the national average of 21.2 students per class, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The editorial board opposed I-1351 because of a lack of funding and because most research on class sizes show that smaller classes are most beneficial before third grade. The Seattle Times recently published a news story on conflicting data and evidence about class size, who it helps most and how it influences learning.

I couldn’t find any national rankings for class sizes and neither could John Higgins, the Seattle Times education reporter.

Even though the 47th ranking doesn't exactly pertain to class size, it's the only measurement available and has been used for years to quantify class size, said Rich Wood, a spokesperson for the Washington Education Association, the state's teachers' union, which backed I-1351.

"People understand that the class sizes in Washington are way too big," Wood said.

As Higgins pointed out in his story, some experts and researchers find that teaching quality and styles have as big a role in influencing student outcomes.

Washington spends roughly $15 billion per year on education. During the next four years, the state is on track to boost that spending by about $5.7 billion to comply with the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary school finance ruling. Implementing I-1351 would require an estimated additional $4.7 billion through 2019, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

The question remains whether the state Legislature can come up with that money and what positive effects the extra spending will have on improving education for Washington’s kids.

November 14, 2014 at 6:20 AM

Yet another flashing light at state Department of Social and Health Services

The budget slashing of human services during the Great Recession is coming back to bite Washington.

The $90 million cut from the state's mental health system from 2009 to 2013 directly led to a state Supreme Court's ruling in August banning very sick patients from being warehoused in hospitals, and probably will lead to a similar ruling next year regarding a lack of treatment in jails. A wavering financial commitment to court-ordered foster care reforms in the same era resulted in an extension of court oversight.

In a column tallying up the "flashing red lights" in state human services, I included a less-noticed new red light at Lakeland Village, an institution for people with developmental disabilities near Spokane. The problems there also flow directly from Great Recession budget cutting: as described in a Seattle Times story, a $1 million cut in 2011 forced dozens of patients into cheaper care that to me veers toward simple warehousing of patients.

But the response since then by the Department of Social and Health Services -- to dispute and fight these red flashing lights -- is exacerbating the problems. Federal auditors and disability advocates have now objected annually at least three years now, including an astonishing 41,231 separate violations of Medicaid rules in 2013, as described in a Seattle Times story. Patients who are in the most expensive type of care the state offers were parked in front of "The Jerry Springer Show" with the blinds folded.

In October, federal Medicaid auditors found yet more serious problems, this time with basic nursing care.

A letter from the watchdog group Disability Rights Washington summarizes violations, including a pressure sore untreated for five weeks and the spooky image of patients strapped to chairs or blank walls.

That six residents were observed “tied to a chair” with no activities other than watching television or facing a wall is intolerable, regardless of whether the tying mechanism was a “seatbelt” or any other type of restraint.

DSHS said last year the violations were just paperwork problems — that staff were merely failing to document rehabilitative services. But David Carlson, legal advocacy director of Disability Rights Washington, said the outside reviews — his group and federal auditors — dispute that interpretation, again and again. "It seems like once a year they're getting this reminder," he said.

What makes this even more aggravating is that it's happening at a very expensive state institution. The annual cost at the state's five institutions for the developmentally disabled is up to $200,000 per resident, while about 15,000 other people with developmental disabilities have lingered on a waiting list for services.

So far, Medicaid has not deployed the big hammer to fix the problems at Lakeland Village — withholding millions of federal dollars. And Disability Rights Washington hasn't sued, although it could.

In a statement, DSHS said it sent federal auditors a corrective plan late last month, was reviewing care for patients identified in the most recent report, and was hiring eight new staff members at headquarters.

After three straight years of complaints, maybe DSHS is fixing this. Or I wonder if DSHS is waiting for yet another court order, forcing it to comply and turn off these flashing red lights. The agency fought demands to end psychiatric boarding, and lost. It fought an extension of oversight in the landmark foster-care Braam case, and lost.

The public may empathize with an agency that is trying to do tough, important work to help society's vulnerable, even with budget cuts. But an agency that digs in its heels, that ignores the flashing red lights, smacks of bureaucratic arrogance.

November 14, 2014 at 6:15 AM

LBJ events should steer Seattle toward a greater society

Seattle is being treated to a flourish of LBJ activity, and I can’t get enough.

Much of the hoopla is focused on 2014 being the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which President Lyndon Baines Johnson was instrumental in passing.

School children are taking up the subject, as Seattle Times colleague Jerry Large wrote Thursday. But some historic figures have as well.

Last week, former Gov. Dan Evans was joined by Gary Gayton, a delegate to LBJ’s first White House Civil Rights Conference, and Stanley Barer and Gerry Johnson, former assistants to U.S. Sen. Warren G. Magnuson, for a discussion about the 36th president at the Seattle Central Library.

And starting tonight, the first of two Robert Schenkkan plays about LBJ will be performed at the Seattle Repertoire Theater through Jan 4.

The first, “All the Way,” is a Tony award winner that explores Johnson’s maneuverings to enact the Civil Rights Act. That starts today.

A host of political operatives back East raved to me about the Broadway production featuring “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston earlier this year.

The second play, “The Great Society,” is a Schenkkan world premier exploring how LBJ’s attempt at ending poverty in America was undermined by the war in Vietnam. It opens Dec. 5.

I’ll see both.

For me, Johnson was a multidimensional president of immense contradiction. Though raised amidst the racist attitudes of his time, the rural Texan was responsible for codifying full citizenship for a group of people the U.S. former Supreme Court once declared “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

But more than anything, LBJ was a dealmaker. During last week’s library panel, Gerry Johnson recounted a quintessential LBJ moment.

Having been cornered in an elevator by then-Senate Majority Leader Johnson, Vermont Sen. George Aiken tried to distract LBJ by mentioning that he admired his colleague's cufflinks.

“Johnson immediately took them off and gave them to him,” Gerry Johnson said, adding that Aiken later recounted: “I get the e-ffing cufflinks and Johnson has me.”

There are also infamous tales of Johnson unnerving people by speaking to them while he sat on his Oval Office toilet.

He could be coarse, but LBJ used those zany tactics to pass the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1968, and put the first African Americans on the U.S. Supreme Court and in a cabinet post.

You won’t find colorful, effective politicians like him prowling the corridors of American power anymore.

But we can certainly enjoy the stage productions and reflect on a time when America nearly went all the way with LBJ.

November 13, 2014 at 6:04 AM

King County Council wisely steps up to save public health, women's health services

Hats off to the King County Council for unveiling a proposed 2015-2016 budget this week that keeps the county's 10 public health clinics open — at least for now.

"The council recognized the importance of these services, especially maternity support services and the [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children] that are unique to the county and that others don't provide," said Councilmember Joe McDermott, chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee.

Faced with a $15 million annual shortfall, Public Health — Seattle & King County has been scrambling to find partners to take over some or all of the direct services provided at its clinics, including primary care, family planning, maternity support and supplemental nutrition for infants. An Oct. 30 Seattle Times editorial commended efforts by cities and local health care partners to keep sites open in Federal Way and White Center. Public health employees even agreed to wage concessions, but it wasn't enough to close the funding gap.

Before this week's announcement, two sites were slated for closure in January — the Northshore Public Health Center in Bothell and the more heavily-used Auburn Public Health Clinic. (I profiled one of the clinic's patients in a Nov. 3 blog post.) Last week, I followed up on a community effort to save the Auburn site, which included pledges from various groups totaling about $700,000. That amount fell short of the $1.6 million needed to prevent closure.

McDermott said budget-writers saw the response and knew they had to act to preserve public safety, care for vulnerable children and prevent unintended pregnancies. Auburn School District has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the county.

“Thanks to key partnerships we propose keeping all ten county public health clinics open into the biennium," McDermott said in a news release. "This is only a bridge. We will continue working with many partners – and our state Legislature – to find a more sustainable solution for Public Health.”

The budget committee meets Thursday morning. A final budget is up for a vote before the full council next Monday, Nov. 17.

Remember: this is a band-aid approach to paying for public health. Community leaders must stay at the table — and the Washington Legislature will have to get more involved to find a long-term funding source.

Where there's a will, there's certainly a way to fund cost-effective prevention for women and children who need it most.

November 12, 2014 at 6:32 AM

Why Washingtonians should care more about trade

Most people don’t think much about trade. Sure, we all know the goods we buy at the store had to come from somewhere, but do most people stop and think about where that somewhere is or how the movement happened? Probably not often.

I spent several hours Monday hearing from a variety of experts, business executives and politicians (including U.S. Sen. Patty Murray), discuss the role of trade in Washington and how to strengthen what is a vital industry in the state. The Washington Trade Conference pulled together a few hundred people who care, and know, a lot about trade.

Let's face it, trade isn't the most riveting topic. But, here is a juicy tidbit gleaned from the conference: In Washington, about 40 percent of jobs are related to trade. That means close to 850,000 jobs in the state involve production of goods from apples to airplanes as well as transportation, handling and shipping of goods to other states or countries.

A common theme many speakers touched on was a lack of public awareness of the trade industry’s prominence in Washington and the fact that the state is a major international player. Our top five biggest trading partners include Canada, China, Japan, United Arab Emirates and Mexico.

The reason this matters is because 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States and 80 percent of the world’s buying power exists beyond our borders.

At Boeing, the largest private employer in Washington, about three-quarters of the planes the company makes go to other countries, where demand for air travel is growing much faster than in the U.S. Another major Washington employer,, depends on trade on a local, national and international scale.

Washington can continue benefiting from the trade industry. Our globalized world relies on constant exchange of goods, services and ideas. The question is how can individual players, like the state of Washington or companies based here, make the most from trade and not be left behind. The good news is that hundreds of people, including those who attended the trade conference Monday, are on the case.

Perhaps trade doesn’t spark attention or enthusiasm in most Washington residents, but it should. As a state, our policies should help facilitate trade such as supporting the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, investing in infrastructure to make it easier to move goods and hammering out trade agreements to make sure we can keep growing our economy.

November 11, 2014 at 6:40 AM

Lighting Seattle's Green Lake park for safety



The 2.8-mile paved trail around Green Lake makes it Seattle's most-used park. But in the low-light winter months of the sun-deprived Pacific Northwest, the trail, which is not lighted, is dark for up to 15 hours a day.

I was reminded how dark the trail gets from dusk til dawn when my wife, a frequent Green Lake runner, came across a chilling story about a female walker grabbed from behind on Oct. 10.


KOMO's Kristen Drew interviewed the woman, who seemed to follow the textbook for staying safe: she had no ear buds in, carried mace, and knew self-defense tactics.

As chilling as that is (for a runner or her husband) it has to be put in context. For the volume of people at the park, Green Lake is not an unsafe place. The presence of other people diminishes risk.

But Google "Green Lake and attempted rape". This story is not an anomaly. It seems to happen few years. Darkness aids and abets these type of crimes.

So why is Green Lake not lighted? Joelle Hammerstad, a Seattle Parks spokeswoman, said it would be "really, really expensive" - likely millions of dollars. "There hasn't been any hew and cry asking for lights around Green Lake," she said.

Hammerstad accurately said that lighting city parks has been a "lightning rod" for controversy, but those efforts have usually involved big sports fields, such as Magnuson Park. That's not what is needed at Green Lake.

It would be more in line with lighting added to Denny Park in South Lake Union, where residents helped raise money for lights, a dog park and a playground. It is now well used in the increasingly dense neighborhood.

It's an idea the Seattle City Council and the newly formed parks district should consider. It would cost millions, but in exchange you'd get safer access to the city's most-used park for more than just daylight hours. What do you think?

November 10, 2014 at 12:01 PM

A sweet and long-awaited homecoming for Kenneth Bae

This photo of Kenneth Bae greeting his mother, Myunghee Bae, speaks a million words.

On the first anniversary of her son's arrest on Nov. 3, 2012, the elder Bae wrote a Seattle Times guest column outlining her anguish over his imprisonment. Considering reports he had been hospitalized at least twice for health problems, Bae appeared robust Saturday night as he stepped off the plane at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

How sweet to witness this peaceful outcome for the Bae family. Imagine what these last two years have been like for them; not knowing when, whether and in what condition their loved one would be released by arguably the most unpredictable and secretive regime in the world.

Kenneth Bae's return to the United States was so unexpected, his wife and children were not able to fly to Washington in time to greet him. Sister Terri Chung says this Thanksgiving will be extra special.

The family worked hard behind the scenes and in the public eye to ensure he would not be forgotten. Chung deserves special recognition for being the main spokesperson and heart of the operation.

The Seattle Times and other news organizations tracked Bae's journey home throughout the weekend. The family is clearly grateful for his release, which The Seattle Times editorial board first advocated for on Dec. 31, 2012. Our latest editorial was published on Oct. 24, 2014. Over the last two years, Bae's name went in and out of the headlines. At one point in 2013, the former NBA player Dennis Rodman tried to get involved. President Obama prayed for his release. North Korea freed two other American detainees in December 2013 and last month. In the end, a top-secret visit to Pyongyang from the nation's top spy tipped the scales and made all the difference for Bae and yet another imprisoned American, Matthew Todd Miller, who was released with him.

There are still many lessons to learn from Bae's ordeal. In time, he might have insight to share into life inside North Korea's notorious prison system. The release of all known American prisoners now clears the way for the U.S. to determine the next steps in its troubled relationship with the reclusive country.

For now, Bae needs time to recover and to enjoy his newfound freedom.


November 10, 2014 at 6:06 AM

Helping Latino parents help their kids

Corrected version

In the south Seattle neighborhood of White Center, parents, many Spanish-speaking, are learning how to teach their children years before they enter the classroom.

A trend of training parents to be better first teachers for their infants and toddlers is gaining momentum nationwide in the push to improve early education. But, that type of training is an especially important tool for Latino parents in Washington, where the fastest growing demographic of students are Latino.

From 1986 to 2008, the number of Latino students in Washington jumped 372 percent to 151,444 – and those numbers are on the uptick. Overall, Latinos make up 18 percent of the state's population under age 18.

Resources to early education are improving, said Dan Torres, Director of Community Momentum for Thrive by Five Washington, the state’s public‐private partnership for early learning.  (Dan Torres is no relation to me).

The state Legislature has signaled it might provide more funding for early education and Seattle voters just passed a prekindergarten initiative – two steps in the right direction, Torres said. But, one of his agency’s top goals is just to connect parents with information, education and services that already exist.

“It’s a missed opportunity if we don’t engage parents,” he said. “The message is that if you build it, people won’t necessarily come. You have to be intentional about outreach and maximizing participation rates.”

He recently visited with the parents in White Center and other areas where training, known as parent learn and play groups, are taking place. Torres emphasizes that targeted outreach and training is crucial. Most parents want to help their children any way they can, but need extra guidance. He mentioned that some parents, particularly immigrants, think the best way to teach their children English is to have them watch television.

Turns out there are better methods. I say that because I learned to speak English mostly from my older sister, who picked up the language, and a love of spinach (thank you, Popeye), from watching television. Our parents, Mexican immigrants, spoke to us Spanish.

The idea of intentional outreach resonates with me. I could have been labeled disadvantaged, but ended up being a high-achieving student.

I recall being bilingual as long as I can remember and went into preschool with a few skills. My mom, who had been a school teacher in Mexico, taught me to write the alphabet before I entered school.

I’ve heard numerous educational experts state that parents are the first and best teachers for children. As long as we’re focused on producing better students, enabling better parents sounds like a great idea, too.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly labeled parent learn and play groups.

November 7, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Gov. Inslee should have revealed 'no' vote on Initiative 1351 sooner

Leaders shouldn’t be afraid to influence their constituents – that’s part of the job. I’m disappointed to hear that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee voted against Initiative 1351, but didn’t reveal his preference until after the election.

Supporters of I-1351 billed the law to limit class sizes and for Washington schools to hire 25,000 new workers, about a third of which would be teachers. If it passes -- and it's too close to call right now -- the law could add a $4.7 billion burden on the state budget over the next four years.

“I did have concerns about financing, so I did not support it,” Inslee said in a post-election interview with TVW.

Many observers, including myself, predicted the initiative would easily pass because the idea of keeping class sizes small sounds appealing to many voters.

The Seattle Times opposed the initiative and urged voters to look beneath the surface at the details. Among our major concerns was a lack of funding and that the state Legislature is on the hook to boost education spending by more than $5 billion during the next four years.

Every daily newspaper editorial board in Washington opposed I-1351, but only a sparse number of elected officials came out against it and a “no” campaign was almost nonexistent.

Inslee said he didn’t want to sway voters by taking a stance before the election, but instead, he dodged a chance to lead and prevent a flawed initiative from going forward.

“We are going to continue to try to move forward on improving our finances no matter how this initiative goes forward,” Inslee said during his interview.

As governor, he should have expressed his concerns with the initiative and let voters know where he stood so they could follow his example. Now, the initiative might require a recount and, if it does pass, it could suck up lawmakers’ time and resources from other matters, and it might not ever be fully implemented.

Inslee might have wanted to let voters make up their own minds, but that’s no excuse for sitting back and not doing what voters expect him to do: lead.

November 6, 2014 at 12:12 PM

More community action necessary to save women's health services in South King County

The race to find enough funding to keep the Auburn Public Health Clinic open just got a nice boost from local funders, but it’s not enough to prevent closure in January.

More cities, nonprofits and businesses still need to step up to help thousands of South King County’s most vulnerable women maintain access to family-planning services, as well as support programs for mothers and newborns.

On Wednesday, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other county leaders announced a coalition has come forward and pledged between $550,000 to about $700,000 total to help Public Health — Seattle & King County offset a revised shortfall of about $1.6 million to keep the only standalone family-planning clinic (and its two satellite offices) accessible.

Here’s the key date for the community to act: Nov. 17. On that day, the Metropolitan King County Council is set to vote on the budget for the next two years. A blueprint will be revealed about a week before.

The more funds can be identified before then, the less likely the county will have to consider peeling off resources from other critical service areas.

At the end of the day, this is a stopgap measure until funding at the county, state and federal government levels prioritize funding to keep up with demand. The price of not maintaining the Auburn Public Health Clinic could be high, as outlined in a Seattle Times editorial published last Thursday:

Nearly 2,000 women are at risk of losing access to birth control. If they can’t find help elsewhere, Public Health estimates the site’s closure could lead to as many as 576 unintended pregnancies in the first year.

This would be a setback for King County, where the teen pregnancy rate has only recently started to fall. Auburn School District’s teen pregnancy rate is the third highest in the county.

The funding partners announced so far include the cities of Auburn, Algona and Pacific, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Group Health Foundation and Orion Industries. The latter business manufactures metal for the aerospace industry, but clearly understands the need for Public Health’s services in a region with a high concentration of low-income families.

Constantine said he will continue to find partners, but time is running out.

Who else will step up to the task of protecting critical prevention services for women and infants?






November 5, 2014 at 7:05 AM

Cartoon: Phew, the election season is over

November 4, 2014 at 8:22 PM

Updates from Seattle Times Opinion writers out on the town on election night

ORIGINAL POST 8:22 p.m.:

Hope everyone got their ballots in on time, as the 8 p.m. deadline just passed and ballots should be released here shortly.

Here are live results (50 to 60 percent of the final vote will be reflected tonight, according to the Secretary of State), and news columnist Danny Westneat is live-blogging about the results as they come in.

Opinion writer Thanh Tan is moving between election events. She stopped first at the Initiative 594 event at the Edgewater Hotel. The Seattle Times editorial board supported I-594 over competing measure I-591. I-594 would expand background checks on all gun sales. Thanh has been posting to Twitter and Instagram from the event:

On Instagram: #KingCounty Exec #DowConstantine speaks to hopeful #I594 supporters. More people die from gun violence than from car accidents, he says. #waelex

On Instagram: Dispatch from #I594 event. Sandy and Lonnie Phillips are visiting from San Antonio, TX. Their daughter was one of the victims gunned down in #Aurora, CO. They've called 10,000 WA voters since arriving Oct. 20 to advocate for #background checks. "It's not a slippery slope. It's a first step toward sanity." #waelex

UPDATE 10 p.m.:

Seattle Times editorials on gun control Initiative 594 and prekindergarten Proposition 1B were just posted. And, Thanh left the Proposition 1B event a bit ago:

On Instagram: #Seattle @mayoredmurray & state Rep. Ruth Kagi embrace as #Prop1B leads w/67% of vote. #waelex #prek #preschool

November 4, 2014 at 4:32 PM

Election Day cartoon: Turf wars

November 4, 2014 at 7:15 AM

About those car break-ins...

My colleague Danny Westneat touched a live wire with his first-hand column about the police's blasé response to property crime; it had triple the readership of any other story in Seattle Times website and 550 comments (and counting).

Property crime is out of control. Washington has the third-highest property crime rate in the U.S. That makes stories such as Danny's especially galling.

What to do about the property crime problem? A Seattle Times editorial in September urged the Legislature to reconsider the state's sentencing grid for lower-level property crimes, based on interesting work by a group called the Council for State Governments Justice Center. That group is helping a new state task force convened by Gov. Jay Inslee that is using massive amounts of state data to re-examine how we deal with crime.

For data nerds (me included), this is fascinating stuff; all three reports by the CSG can be found here. They show why Washington's prison population continues to grow as overall crime drops, and why the state faces increasing demand to build a very expensive new prison. That's in part because, for some budget and some policy reasons, Washington's Department of Corrections stopped supervising thousands of low-level burglars after their release.


Instead, we basically wait until they become serial criminals, and then give them unusually long prison sentences. That deters crime for as long as they're in prison. But it ignores research showing the high cost-benefits of deterring crime through supervision and alternative sentencing.


Put this in the context of Danny's burglar. If police had bothered to make the arrest, and the burglar would've been prosecuted, the burglar (if he or she didn't have a huge rap sheet) would serve several months in jail, and then be released cold, with no probation officer to keep an eye out.

As the Times' editorial suggests, a different approach - emphasizing probation supervision and alternative sentencing - could help reduce the crime rate and reduce the need for a new prison.

I understand the frustration spilling out on the comment thread to Danny's column. My car was stolen from the front of my house this summer, with my daughter's bike in the trunk. I got the car back within a week when Seattle Police found it parked just off Aurora Avenue North, probably thanks to the fact the gas tank was almost empty when it was swiped.

Left behind by the car thief was an empty water bottle, full of cigarette butts, tucked into the cupholder. Police hadn't even dusted it for prints.




November 4, 2014 at 6:25 AM

What if both Washington state gun initiatives pass?

The likelihood that the conflicting gun initiatives on Tuesday's ballot both will pass has lessened amid a barrage of advertising in the closing weeks of the campaign. The percentage of voters who said they'd vote for Initiative 591 and Initiative 594 both fell from 32 percent in July to 22 percent in October.

I have no idea what those voters are thinking. The measures are fundamentally conflicting. Initiative 594 expands background checks. Initiative 591 restricts broader background checks, deferring to federal standards.

But the latest KCTS9 Washington Poll, led by the University of Washington's Matt Barreto, shows that both measures still could pass. I-594 is in stronger position in the Washington Poll (64 percent say they're certain, likely, or leaning toward a yes vote) and the Elway Poll (60 percent).

I-591 fell to 39 percent in the latest Elway Poll. But in the Washington Poll, the support and opposition to I-591 is more closely split: 45.4 percent certain-likely-leaning toward yes versus 43.4 percent certain-likely-leaning toward no. The undecided vote is 8.8 percent.

What would happen if both pass? There is no precedent, no landmark case law on this.

The Attorney General's office pointed me toward its 1993 opinion issued when Initiative 601 and 602 - two conflicting measures intending to limit state spending - were both on the ballot (I-601 passed).

First, the question would be kicked to the state Legislature, which would have to muster a two-thirds vote to amend and reconcile the conflict, or to nullify one (a two-thirds vote is required in the first two years of an initiative passing). Given the Legislature's history on gun measures, that seems very unlikely, although it would be very interesting to watch.

Next, it would be kicked to the courts. I suspect dueling lawsuits would be filed - one on behalf of I-594 in liberal King County, and a competing I-591 lawsuit filed in a conservative-leaning county. The 1993 opinion notes that when courts considering conflicting laws, deference is usually given to the most recent law. That would make no sense with initiatives passed on the same ballot.

It would undoubtedly go the state Supreme Court, which would "do everything possible to read them harmoniously," said Kevin Hamilton, an elections law attorney at Perkins Coie, who represented Gov. Christine Gregoire in the 2004 election dispute. But given the obvious conflicts of I-594 and I-591, that's probably not a viable resolution.

Instead, the court could simply defer to the initiative with the most votes. Some state constitutions, including California's, has such a rule. Washington's does not. "It would be a brand-new rule," said Hamilton.

In short, if both pass, the vote tally could count. Unsure how to vote? Read the Seattle Times recommendation for I-594 from July, or the New York Times endorsement of I-594 from Friday.

November 3, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Save women's health, maternity support services in South King County

Dariia Leavitt, 25, is just one among thousands of clients watching closely to see if the Auburn Public Health Clinic remains open next January.

Her story helps to make the case for why last Friday's Seattle Times editorial called on elected officials, health providers and women's health advocates to find about $1.7 million as soon as possible to keep the site open. Without that money or partners, the county will have to close a vulnerable section of South King County's only standalone family planning clinic in January.

Leavitt first sought help three years ago after her daughter, Eve, was born. At the time, Leavitt had just arrived from the Ukraine, could not drive and spoke little English. After her mother-in-law learned about the Auburn clinic, Leavitt initially signed up as a client for Maternity Support Services (MSS). Thanks to this state program administered by King County, nurses conducted home visits to check on the baby's health, offered Leavitt tips for better breastfeeding and answered her questions about being a first-time mother.

"It meant a lot to me," Leavitt said earlier this month in one of the clinic's meeting rooms, as Eve slept in her arms. The baby "got help when she needed it. We didn't have to wait until I had insurance or could drive a car, and I didn't have to borrow any money from anybody because I could afford paying the bill myself.

"And even if I didn't have the money at that time, I could pay the next time," she added. "You can't do that at regular clinics. It really helped me. I didn't have to get a credit card."

About 10,700 clients in the Auburn area — including women, teens, children and infants — rely on Public Health's nurses and staff to learn parenting skills and access supplemental nutrition programs. The family planning clinic offers reproductive health services, from cervical cancers screenings to treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and birth control. If the site shuts down and women can't drive further to the remaining clinics or find alternative providers, the community will likely have to deal with unintended consequences.

At worst, county officials estimate the number of unintended births could be as high as 576 within a year of the clinic's closure, costing more than $3 million in Medicaid expenses. As the editorial notes, the loss of the clinic would roll back the county's recent successes toward reducing the teen pregnancy rate.

Located in a commercial park, the clinic is not much to look at, but it appears to be a popular destination for new parents, women and teens. About 90 percent of clients are walk-ins. A client service specialist helps people sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Other random issues come up, too. That morning, a male client showed up and said he was suicidal. (The staff found a place for him to seek help.) In other words, the clinic is often a first stop for all sorts of people in trouble.

The county is not letting go of this valuable resource by choice. Local, state and federal funding has steadily declined over the years, even as demand has grown for services. For years, Public Health has tried to fill the funding gap. Today, there are no stones left unturned. Employees have agreed to wage concessions, but that's not enough.

Other counties have long done away with direct services such as family planning, but that does not mean the state's most populous county should follow.

When Dariia Leavitt recently needed help with her own medical issues, she says she came back to the Auburn Public Health Clinic because the sliding scale fees were reasonable.

She now works part-time as a grill cook at CenturyLink Field on game nights, and her family has health insurance, but she still goes to the clinic for family planning services because she has built a strong relationship with the nursing staff. Convenience is also a huge factor. She does not want to start over again with a new provider.

"I still want to come here to resolve my problems because of the years I've been coming here and the good experiences I've had here," she says. "I know that if anything happens with me or my daughter, we have a place to go to. It's not just hopeless, or looking for a new place, or borrowing money to pay for" higher costs.

Who will step up to the challenge of helping women and mothers like her? Lawmakers, health providers, businesses and foundations should seize this moment.

Here's some 2013 numbers to keep in mind, courtesy of Public Health — Seattle & King County:

  • Public Health provides 94 percent of Maternity Support Services in King County. The Auburn Public Health Clinic and its two satellite offices in Enumclaw and the Muckleshoot Reservation served 3,000 clients in the MSS and Infant Case Management program.
  • The Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program provides monthly payments to mothers to help them select healthful foods on a limited budget. Auburn and its satellites provide services to 5,600 WIC clients.
  • Family planning reduces poverty, improves health outcomes for women, decreases unintended pregnancy and prevents sexually transmitted diseases from spreading. In 2013, 2,000 clients came to the clinic for such services.

Demographics for the Auburn Public Health Center:

  • 97 percent have incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level.
  • 59 percent are people of color.
  • 11 percent are homeless.
  • 42 percent of family planning clients are uninsured.
  • 29 percent of pregnant women served by MSS indicate issues with alcohol and drugs.
  • 9 percent of visits require an interpreter.

Teen pregnancy rates:

  • King County's teen birthrate among Latinas is four times higher than the birth rate for all King County teens, and is 12 percentage points higher than the national average.
  • South King County is home to nearly 70 percent of teen births despite having less than half the population of King County's teen girls.

More from this blog Previous entries

The Seattle Times