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Ed cetera

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

October 21, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Seattle disses Thug Kitchen, vegan cookbook signing cancelled

The authors behind Thug Kitchen, an expletive-ridden food blog and cookbook, were looking forward to visiting Seattle this week to discuss their vegan recipes and America’s relationship with food.

They packed their suitcases only to learn Monday they were uninvited.

Book Larder, a culinary-themed bookstore in Fremont, decided to cancel a book signing scheduled for Wednesday night over concerns that critics would take over the event.

The authors also canceled two events in the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this month after people threatened to disrupt and protest.

Critics call the recently released Thug Kitchen cookbook, subtitled “Eat like you give a f—k,” an example of racism and cultural appropriation. Instead of the book inciting a nuanced discussion of the term thug, a vocal few silenced the conversation in Seattle before it could begin.

The controversy started when the authors, Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway, revealed during an interview with Epicurious that they are a pair of white 29 year-olds who live in Hollywood. They had cloaked themselves in anonymity since launching the Thug Kitchen as a blog in 2012.

On the phone this week, Holloway and Davis told me they created the fake thug persona — vulgar, hyper-masculine, snarky and arrogant — to instill confidence in readers to act like a “badass in the kitchen” and have a few laughs.

“There is an aura of elitism surrounding eating well, and so many people tend to associate health with wealth,” the book states.

The authors elected the term “thug” and the liberal use of expletives as an anti-elitist attempt to empower “everyone who wants to do better but gets lost in the bulls—t.”

I heard about Thug Kitchen more than a year ago when my husband sent me a link for a recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with quinoa and motherf—king cranberries.

The recipe came with some interesting instructions:

“Roast those sons of bitches for 20 minutes, stirring half way, or until the sprouts are golden and kinda burnt in some places. Goddamn delicious. Just trust. Boiling these tiny cabbage-looking motherf—kers is a crime. ROAST OR GTFO.”

I couldn’t stop laughing and kept reading to see what other verbal lashings the blog dished out along with surprising healthy sounding recipes. It reminded me of an irreverent cooking show, “Bitchen Kitchen," that features a chef who dresses like the frontwoman of a female rock band.

The Thug Kitchen blog read to me like an articulate chef obsessed with fresh vegetables who listened to a lot of hip-hop and rap. I e-mailed my husband back with, “I bet the blogger is white.”

I wasn’t surprised or appalled that Thug Kitchen is the brainchild of two white vegans, but a lot of other people were.

The problem is that thug is a loaded term. The media grabbed onto the term to describe Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman after an impassioned interview following his team’s victory in a championship game last January. Sherman said he was frustrated that thug turned into “the accepted way of calling somebody the n-word.”

I can also see how some people are offended when someone commercializes and capitalizes on the cultural heritage of another group.

I can relate. I cringe every time I pass a Chipotle or Taco Bell and see how non-Mexicans make millions from butchering Mexican food into an unrecognizable version of itself.

The cover of the Thug Kitchen coincidently features a photo of tacos. Double appropriation!

It’s hard, however, to decide which culture owns the term "thug." Anyone immediately assuming it refers to a black man from the ghetto is also guilty of stereotyping.

In the two years before the authors’ identities came out, the blog received plenty of feedback, but most of the critiques asked for less foul language and less use of particular ingredients like cauliflower and chickpeas. No one had ever accused the blog of racist behavior.

I agree that the term thug comes with baggage and in a society as racially and culturally complex as ours, we must look past words as labels and at what they mean in context.

Using thug to degrade or vilify someone, as in the case of Sherman, is an insult. But, using thug to redefine healthy cooking and eating and make it a lot less boring, shouldn’t offend anyone.

Sherman said the “thug” reaction to his interview opened up an opportunity for him to talk about negative perceptions of black male athletes.

“I felt the need to turn the discussion on its head,” he told the Associate Press.

In a similar vein, the authors of Thug Kitchen want to turn the perception of healthy cooking on its head — or at least talk about it. But at least for now, that won't be happening in Seattle.

“Some people were not interested in having a conversation,” Holloway said in reference to cancelling book signings. “They had their minds made up.”

October 20, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Dave Chappelle’s status as racial commentator-in-chief reflects loss of faith in leaders and institutions

There was a time when Barack Obama was the go-to figure in conversations about race for most of white America.

As a 2008 presidential candidate, he riveted the populous with an exploration of the nation's “racial stalemate.”

Those days are over, thanks largely to the popularity loss that comes with being a two-term president. And Obama hasn’t helped his own case as the nation’s racial healer-in-chief.

His beer summit, after a police officer arrested a famous black academic for breaking into his own house when he was locked out, was an embarrassing oversimplification. And Obama’s Trayvon Martin “could have been my son” comment did more to polarize people over the shooting of an unarmed black Florida teen than enlighten them.

Now, with barely two years left on Obama’s Oval Office tenure, it seems the only person white America is willing to listen to on matters of race is comedian Dave Chappelle, who just finished a sold-out, five-day run at Seattle’s Neptune Theater.

Chappelle, whose comedy provokes surgical reflection by way of blunt force trauma, has built a landmark career on probing the culture’s fixation on and repulsion of race. Among his most culturally introspective creations were that of Clayton Bigsby, a blind, black, white supremacist, an imagined reparations day for African Americans, and a 1950s-esque parody of a white family named “Niggar.”

Chappelle’s in-your-face entertainment value notwithstanding, the realization that mainstream America is more comfortable taking its racial cues from a comedian rather than its first elected biracial president should leave the nation with a gnawing sensation in the pit of its collective stomach.

Faith in satirists instead of democratically elected leaders speaks to the troubling deterioration of Americans’ faith in national institutions, and perhaps America itself. But we’ve all played a part in that depreciation.

A CBS News poll released Friday showed that American confidence in federal agencies is distressingly low. Among the departments judged fair or poor in the poll were the Veterans Affairs (66 percent), the Internal Revenue Service (65 percent) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (60 percent).

While the IRS is habitually disliked because of its tax collecting job, two departments have taken high profile hits in recent months; the VA  for lax and sometimes life-threatening service, and the CDC for its handling of three reported Ebola cases in the United States.

Other institutions don’t fare any better. Congress is drawing historically low approval ratings. And the American news media, which has devolved to degrees of sensationalism only seen before in sport and tabloid entertainment coverage, is right there with federal lawmakers.

An aggregation of recent polls show 81 percent of Americans disapproving of the job Congress is doing. Meanwhile, national confidence in the news media has declined steadily for generations.

In the most recent Gallup Poll on the subject, just 22 percent of Americans have confidence in newspapers, while 18 percent have confidence in television news. The TV ranking is a disturbing point below confidence in the internet – the medium where rumor and conjecture trump vetted information seven days a week.

With more young people seeking their news from satirical shows like “The Daily Show” than mainstream TV news media, Fox News and MSNBC need to recognize that their habitual sensational programming is disrupting the fabric of America.

The vast majority of Americans find it abhorrent.

The shift in public confidence also provides a message to elected officials, or more appropriately the political parties that exacerbate and obscure civil debate to elect them. When citizens eventually turn fully on the two party system, there will be no one to blame but the parties themselves.

Already, no one trusts them.

As for loss of faith in federal agencies, there’s a mix of real need for reform – as in any bureaucracy – and a hyper critical assumption of incompetence at every turn. The delivery of basic services isn’t too much to ask for, but perfection is.

That brings me back to Chappelle and Obama. The president’s rating remains under water, with an aggregate of recent polls placing him at 42-53 approve-disapprove. In this climate, he’s more likely to discuss Ebola than race in America.

Perhaps he should take a page from Chappelle. Being outspoken about sensitive topics made the entertainer a star after an unremarkable start in show business, and just grossed him an estimated $385,000 for his five night stand in Seattle.

A thoughtfully candid Obama might find mainstream America ready to listen to its president again. The alternative is to continue the downward distrust of the leaders and institutions we ourselves have created. And that’s no laughing matter.

October 20, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Half a million jobs are coming to Washington. Are we ready for them?

Thinking about taking a class to learn coding? Now might be a good time.

Economists project that Washington will add about 500,000 more jobs by 2022 ­­­– reassuring news for a state that is one of the fastest growing population wise in the country.

It makes sense that as population grows, so do jobs in response as people will need more services.

But Washington’s tech economy is giving the entire state a boost. The fastest growing job in the past 10 years was software application developers, which jumped by a staggering 227 percent to more than 52,000 workers in 2014, according to the Employment Security Department.

Going forward, construction, an old-standby, will grow the fastest, adding about 54,300 or 39 percent more jobs to a total of 193,000 in 2022.

Other booming sectors include “professional and business services,” which encompasses software development and will reach 461,000 jobs, and “healthcare and education services” that will balloon to 476,700 jobs.

Overall, Washington non-agricultural jobs are expected to mushroom by 17.5 percent from 2012 to 2022. During the same period, the state's population is projected to leap by about 750,000 or 11 percent more people to 7.56 million.

Check out more cool and interactive charts from the Washington Business Alliance.

That sounds great, but some elected officials, policymakers and workers worry that too many of those jobs will be low-wage jobs paying under $15 per hour. Indeed, sectors like retail and leisure and hospitality are also expected to add thousands of new jobs.

The concern echoes a broader trend of wages staying flat even as the total jobs increase. Washington should consider itself fortunate compared with other parts of the country, where the economic recovery hasn’t ushered in more jobs – just higher profits for companies.

I can see how someone in a minimum wage job would feel left behind when software developers see their six-figure wages growing. In 2014, the average annual income for software developers in Washington was around $113,000, while it was closer to $29,000 for retail salespeople.

Income disparities, however, are not the cause of problems as much as they are a symptom of other factors. The market rewards different jobs at different scales – that’s a reality.

What troubles me is when workers feel stuck in a particular job, or that students leave schools unprepared or unqualified for high wage jobs.

Preparing a qualified workforce is partly the state’s responsibility, but it’s also up to workers to position themselves for work or better-paying jobs. That means going after the right training or experience.

The rise of Washington’s economy and population should be an opportunity for the entire state and its workers.

October 17, 2014 at 12:02 PM

King County, Washington state must remain at forefront of fight against sex trafficking and Backpage.com

Earlier this week, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg joined with community groups and seven local law-enforcement agencies to announce a new effort to crack down on the commercial sex industry by focusing on the thousands of  johns who fuel the demand for this illicit trade.

On Wednesday, Seattle Times reporter Sara Jean Green wrote about how recent stings have led to 105 arrests within three months. That same day, a new coalition that includes the Organization of Prostitution Survivors outlined plans to catch more buyers, deter them from committing crimes and help them to understand the harm their actions inflict upon vulnerable women and girls. The editorial board commended the collaborative project as a meaningful step toward saving these victims from a life of enslavement and manipulation by pimps.

A high number of sexual encounters these days are initiated online via seedy adult classifieds ads on sites such as Backpage.com. (King County reports there are at least 100 sites frequented on a daily basis by about 27,000 men countywide.)

As King County and police officers in Seattle, Kent, SeaTac, Federal Way, Bellevue and Des Moines prepare to take a tougher approach toward arresting and prosecuting more buyers, keep an eye out for potential actions from the state Supreme Court.

Next Tuesday, the justices will hear arguments for a case in which three girls are suing Backpage.com for damages after their former pimps posted their photos and advertised them for sex services online. Once they were able to escape the life, the juveniles reported they were repeatedly raped and beaten. The Seattle Times published an editorial on Oct. 3 that encouraged the court to allow this case to move forward in Pierce County Superior Court.

Internet companies such as Backpage.com have tried to argue they are immune from liability when ads on their site are posted by a third party. The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote an amicus brief repeating claims the Communication Decency Act is meant to promote free speech on the Internet.

Several nonprofits that work extensively with trafficked victims have filed briefs on behalf of the girl, including the National Crime Victim Law Institute, Shared Hope International, Covenant House and Human Rights Project for Girls.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has met with Backpage.com executives on numerous occasions. Here's an excerpt from the Washington, D.C.,-based organization's court filing:

Subsequent to these meetings, Backpage has made minimal, but largely ineffective, adjustments to its practices, and it continues to facilitate the sale of children for sex on its website. Backpage voluntarily reports only selective information to NCMEC about ads suspected of child sex trafficking. NCMEC refers these ads to the appropriate law enforcement authorities. Those reports account for what NCMEC believes to be only a small fraction of the children trafficked online at backpage.com.

FAIR Girls, which has saved thousands of child victims of sex trafficking over the past 11 years, also wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs. The nonprofit disclosed its efforts to post an ad in Backpage.com's escort section warning potential buyers of the harms caused by trafficking. According to the brief, Backpage.com emailed FAIR Girls and offered to relocate the ad to the website's "community" section:

This clearly indicates that Backpage.com does in fact review and decide which content may be placed in the "Escort" section of Backpage.com...

Advertisements with clear sexual content pass through the Backpage.com screening process on a regular basis, however, advertisements that do not suggest sexual exchanges do not.

When FAIR Girls found a photo of one of their saved clients still being advertised on Backpage.com, they tried to report the offense. Here was Backpage's response:

"Thanks for bringing these ads to our attention and reporting them to us. We have tried to remove as much of the content as we could find."

The ad with the victim remained on the site.

In the state of Washington's amicus brief, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson asserted that the Communications Decency Act "was not meant to create a lawless no-man's-land on the Internet." Here's an excerpt:

It was intended to immunize legitimate websites that serve as mere conduits for content created by third parties. In other words, (Section) 230 immunity is appropriate where a challenged website is engaged in displaying legitimate, lawful content and the offending material unpredictably originated entirely from a third party. In contrast, assuming the truth of Plaintiffs' allegations, Backpage.com's entire business model is predicated on advertising prostitution and similar illicit activities, including sex with children, and it actively encourages and develops that specific advertising content through its methods of operation...

And finally, here's a section culled from the amicus brief of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women:

The trial court agreed with Respondents' assertion that Backpage.com's posting rules and content requirements are a thin facade and that Backpage.com serves largely as a hub for sex trafficking. Consequently, if the Court grants Backpage.com Section 230 immunity, the purpose of the Communications Decency Act ("CDA") will be perverted only to protect websites, not children, and a legal protection will be carved out for the rapidly-growing internet marketplace of trafficking in women and children for sex.

Watch streaming video of the oral arguments on TVW.org.

October 16, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Round up: Washington daily newspaper editorial boards so far all reject Initiative 1351, the 'class-size reduction' initiative

Updated, 11:45 a.m., Oct. 21

Though a recent poll suggests Washington state voters seem poised to approve Initiative 1351, the state's newspaper editorial boards are so far all thumbs down.

An Elway Poll, released this week, shows 66 percent of participants say they will definitely or probably vote for the initiative. Only 24 percent are definitely or probably against, and 11 percent are undecided.

Here's The Seattle Times editorial position:

Voters should reject I-1351.Backed by the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, the initiative calls for limits on class sizes from kindergarten through high school — thus, more classrooms and staff members would be needed to meet that requirement. It provides no source of funding for this generous expenditure, though sponsors say it would cost an additional $1 billion per year. They argue blithely the money would come from additional tax revenue at the state level.

The next question: What money is that?

But we are not alone. Seven other daily newspapers from the News Tribune of Tacoma to the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin in the state's southeast corner are recommending voters reject this measure. Here are excerpts of their full editorials:

If initiatives could be charged with crimes, I-1351 – the class size measure on November’s ballot – would be convicted of malicious mischief. Innocuous as it sounds, it is a grave threat to Washington’s safety net – to funding for foster children, early learning, homeless families, foster children and the mentally ill. If approved, it could also push the Legislature to further cannibalize the state’s higher education system.

-- The News Tribune of Tacoma

Washington cannot afford Initiative 1351.

A fiscal note released Wednesday by the Office of Financial Management estimates the class size reductions required by I-1351 would add $4.7 billion to the cost of K-12 education in Washington through 2019. But that’s an understatement.

-- The Spokesman-Review, Spokane

Initiative 1351, which would mandate smaller class sizes in public schools across the state, is the wrong idea at the wrong time and should be rejected by voters. The idea sounds appealing; who wouldn't advocate for smaller class sizes? But weighed against the difficult budget task already facing the Legislature and against valid questions regarding whether smaller classes enhance learning, the arguments in favor of the initiative prove to be paper thin. Because of that, The Columbian urges a "no" vote from the electorate. As always, this is simply a recommendation. We have faith in the ability of voters to examine the issues and reach their own conclusions.

-- The Columbian, Vancouver

Small class sizes in our schools sound like a good idea to us and to the hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians who signed a petition to get Initiative 1351 on the ballot. Before voting, however, people need to look beyond the feel-good sound bites.

If you research I-1351 you will find lots of numbers: numbers about how many kids are in an average class size in Washington, numbers that rank us with the rest of the nation, numbers on how many more teachers we need to hire.

You will not, however, find numbers on how much I-1351 will cost.

-- The Tri-City Herald

Voters should reject I-1351.The Washington Education Association is pushing the initiative, which comes with a $1 billion price tag, and recklessly suggests it can be funded by some magical new tax revenue. Even strong Democrats, such as Sen. Jamie Pedersen of Seattle have backed away from this initiative, as have other groups like the League of Education Voters.

-- The Olympian

Initiative 1351 requires the Legislature to allocate funds to reduce class sizes and increase staffing support for students in all K-12 grades, with additional class-size reductions and staffing increases in high-poverty schools. Sounds great, but it is not affordable. The state is currently under court order to fully fund education, which means lawmakers need to carve about $2 billion from other parts of state government or raise taxes to comply. Approving I-1351 with its specific demands and no funding mechanism will further complicate the state’s effort to target more dollars to education.

-- Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

Initiative 1351 should serve as this year’s poster child of cynical political ploys. This feel-good measure, pushed onto the Washington ballot by teachers unions, would direct the Legislature to dedicate more money to reduce K-12 classroom sizes and “increase staffing support” — translation: more teachers — with a focus on high-poverty schools.

-- Yakima Herald-Republic

Initiative 1351 on the current ballot is an irresponsible, self-serving, budget bashing measure that exploits a soft spot with voters while hiding the enormous, untenable price they will be forced to pay. Worse, the research suggests all that expense and sacrifice will bring little or no improvement in the education of their children. Nothing.

All instinct and sense calls for a no vote, but Initiative 1351 rises from a political strategy that voids sense and plucks at emotion. The ballot title purrs: “ ... Direct the Legislature to allocate funds to reduce class sizes and increase staffing support for students in all K-12 grades, with additional class-size reductions and staffing increases in high-poverty schools.” Who wouldn’t want that?

--The Wenatchee World (Need subscription to read full editorial.)

The Everett Herald has not weighed in yet. I will add that link when available.

Update: This post was updated at 7:25, Friday, Oct. 17, to add the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board's position.

October 15, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Poll: Is there a better way to select judges in Washington?

After spending two days listening to a parade of candiates from selected judicial races vying for The Seattle Times editorial endorsement, two motifs emerged for me: the majority of incumbents and challengers fear money is having an increasingly negative effect on judicial races; and while most candidates think there’s a better way to select judges, there’s little consensus on what that better way should be.

Like many states, Washington’s judiciary is elected by voters. But while elections ensure that candidates interact with the people they’d preside over as judges, elections also carry a host of problematic.

Judicial races are chronically low energy contests. And because so few voters actually end up in court, the judiciary and the attorneys who aspire to the bench are largely unknown commodities.

Most voters wouldn’t consider those barriers to deciding on a candidate, so long as they have a chance to learn more about them. But long-held canons of judicial conduct prohibit candidates from explaining how they’d interpret the facts of a case as a judge.

Instead, all judicial candidates can really discuss is their resume and personal history.

Compounding judicial campaigns’ inherent difficulties is the national trend of money increasingly influencing their outcomes. Historically, judicial campaigns were run outside the purview of gaudy politics. But in recent years political action committees have sprung up to back certain candidates or oust others.

That’s been reflected in Washington where the Citizens for Judicial Excellence PAC is actively involved in a handful of races in King County this year.

But if elections are troubled, what are the alternatives?

  • One option is to publicly finance judicial campaigns, leaving each candidate the same resources to their effort. But independent groups could still fund campaigns that affect outcomes.
  • Another popular option is for the sitting governor to select judges for openings from a slate assembled by a nonpartisan merit selection commission. Those candidates would then stand alone in regular retention elections. That system distances candidates from the electorate and is subject to political influence.

I'm equally unsure, but would probably favor trying out the merit selection system. Which selection process do you think is best?

October 14, 2014 at 6:05 AM

Charts: Wake up and fund public health, prevention services

"When public health is effective, the public isn’t thinking about it," says Metropolitan King County Council member Joe McDermott, head of the panel's budget committee this year.

It's true. Prevention is not sexy. Fewer people care when the system works. However, the Ebola scare sweeping the world should be a wake-up call. Why wait for an outbreak to happen here? We need strong, robust public-health departments nationwide to keep communities safe.

As Judy Stone's bluntly worded Oct. 6 blog post for Scientific American points out, a dysfunctional U.S. Congress continues to politicize public health while its members slash federal funding to local governments. The result is weaker capabilities to monitor and respond to diseases and infections that know no borders. See the sorry state of emergency preparedness funding in the chart below from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "2013-2014 National Snapshot of Public Health Preparedness" report:

Here in Seattle and King County, an invisible infrastructure is working its magic and keeping us all relatively safe. Next time you see a public-health worker, give him or her a pat on the back. The work they do is essential and up against a chronic funding gap that can no longer be ignored, as stated in Monday's Seattle Times editorial.

In the next biennium, the public-health department faces a $30 million budget shortfall. For the prevention division, composed of staff members devoted to minimizing communicable diseases, this means a potential loss of $4 million affecting the department's capacity to conduct disease investigations, combat obesity and tobacco use, inform the public and collect data to identify health trends.

“We’re able to respond, but I’ve got to say we are at a very thin place,” warns Interim Director Patty Hayes.

The editorial board encourages the council to prioritize about $4 million to keep prevention services whole, but McDermott says that will be a challenge due to a chronic shortage of revenue (to understand the "structural gap," here's a short King County video featuring budget director Dwight Dively) and to the fact that 73 percent of the county's discretionary funds is tied up in justice and safety programs. Public health and human services represent just 5 percent of expenditures.

The chart below breaks down how funding is divvied up in the general fund budget. (Keep in mind the $30 million shortfall takes into account public health funding from local, state, federal and grant sources.) About 24 percent of general funds, or about $6.5 million, is spent on prevention services. This is the division that controls communicable diseases, collects data and informs the public among other duties. About 51 percent of funding, or $13.6 million, goes toward Community Health Services in the county's various clinics. This money helps to pay for primary care, dental care, maternal support services (MSS), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and family planning. These services are at risk of being severely cut or changed by January 2015.

In the chart below, Public Health is showing how the budget gap has been exacerbated over the years. In 2000, voters repealed the state motor-vehicle excise tax, which had been a major source of funding for public-health services. While the cost of doing business keeps increasing,  state and general funds have simply not kept pace. Federal funds are also way down, despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

 

To address its funding woes and the major problem of direct services through the county-run clinics, County Executive Dow Constantine and Public Health — Seattle & King County have wisely entered into partnerships with other health providers such as UW/Harborview Medical Center and Neighborcare Health for primary-care services and Planned Parenthood for family planning services. Still, thousands of patients — mostly women, children and infants — are at risk of falling through the cracks.

More must be done at the local, state and national level to ensure prevention efforts are not overlooked.

October 13, 2014 at 9:54 AM

Poll: What should Woodland Park Zoo do with its two surviving elephants?

In case you missed Saturday's editorial, The Seattle Times again called on the Woodland Park Zoo to release its elephants to a sanctuary.

These creatures are loved. They are major attractions for visitors. But they are suffering where they are.

Watoto's death should force city leaders to reassess the future of the zoo's pachyderm exhibit. Last week's necropsy results indicate the poor thing either fell or laid down — and could not get up. It remains unclear just how long she was in that position before zookeepers found her the morning of Aug. 22. Soon after, they made the decision to euthanize her. (For background on the economics and struggles of elephants in captivity, see the Seattle Times' "Glamour Beasts" investigative series.)

As the editorial states:

Time to leave these elephants alone.

Resolve to treat them more humanely, and consider turning the confined space where they are trapped now into a learning center for conservation efforts.

Other zoos in Alaska, Toronto and Detroit have sent their elephants to the Performing Animal Welfare Sanctuary in California, where the weather is warmer and the animals have space to roam freely.

Here's a 2013 testimonial from Detroit Zoo Director Ron Kagan, which opted to move its elephants in 2004. (Hat tip to the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants Facebook page, which posted this video on Friday.)

http://youtu.be/dbR_ykgnMHk

What do you think? Vote in our poll.

October 10, 2014 at 12:50 PM

Microsoft CEO Nadella's "wrong" comments about women expose important truths

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s misguided advice to women might be "wrong," but his comments were right on about the challenges women face in the workplace.

Reactions to Nadella's suggestion that women should trust the “system” and allow karma to usher in a better raise quickly dismissed him as completely off-base.  Nadella himself apologized and called the comments “wrong” within hours. Some people question how a powerful CEO with an army of handlers could have made that type of mistake in public as if he’d never considered the question before.

Perhaps he hadn’t. Nadella's comments are another example of the deeply in-grained anti-women bias in the tech and the corporate worlds overall. The New York Times points out numerous studies showing that women need to be more aggressive in asking for raises and promotions. Waiting for the “system” to reward women hasn’t worked for decades, but at least Nadella acknowledged that there is a “system” – one in desperate need of change.

At Microsoft, the “system” is more than two-thirds male, but the ratio is similar at other large tech companies and in other industries such as real estate and finance. The “system” doesn’t just exist in the workplace, but also in how we think.

Let’s play word association: What gender do you picture when you hear words like CEO, stockbroker, tech worker or breadwinner?

I pictured men. I, and I’m sure many people, frequently fall into the trap of unconscious bias: we are used to seeing men in power and women as the assistants. Even though we say things like, “We need to pay women better,” or “We need more women CEOs,” we revert to familiar stereotypes even if they are erroneous.

Another unconscious bias is the idea that men are supposed to be aggressive competitors like football players on the field and women are supposed to be leaders and nurturers like school teachers. Men see their colleagues as competitors for the next raise or promotion while women tend to view colleagues as fellow members of a team.

I’m glad that Nadella apologized and hopefully he will be more conscious of how his company treats women and compensates them for their hard work going forward. His blunder serves as another reminder to women that the “system” isn’t set up in our favor, and that the battle to make progress continues.

Books like Claire Shipman and Katty Kay's The Confidence Code and Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever's Ask for It, demonstrate that getting better pay isn’t just a matter of asking, but requires women to believe that they deserve that raise or promotion, and can prove they’ve earned it. The more women push, the less uncomfortable and taboo it will become.

That’s a driving factor in the #DisrupttheDefault campaign launched by Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on expanding opportunities for women and business. Check out five ways to start disrupting.

Nadella quickly admitted his mistake and went into full damage control, but let’s dwell on his comments a little longer. They expose how much room our society has for improvement and the crucial task of disrupting the status quo. We can all play a role in that.

Click here to vote on what you think of Nadella's gaffe.

October 10, 2014 at 11:55 AM

Plainclothes Seattle police chief makes the case for more uniformed officers

Sipping on a honey nut smoothie in a downtown cafe Thursday morning, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole didn’t act like the city’s top cop, or even dress the part.

O’Toole, who took over the embattled department in July, wore civilian clothes, spoke in hushed tones when she used the word “police,” and conversed with a personal ease atypical of law enforcement officials – all that while her department was heavily deployed to secure Vice President Joe Biden’s visit.

As if to drive home the point that she’s not an everyday police chief, O’Toole proposed a selfie when I asked for a photo.

What big city police chief does that?

O’Toole, who insisted on being called “Kathy,” seems to enjoy the anonymity her newness brings. She rarely wears her uniform, noting that in civilian clothes she can see what Seattleites are doing when they don’t think police are watching.

The chief recounted an eyebrow-raising plainclothes stroll around downtown last week with City Attorney Peter Holmes, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and King County Sherriff John Urquhart to observe commonplace crime on city streets.

“We all saw it first hand, and we agreed we have work to do,” O’Toole said, adding that social services are equally important in the effort.

The law enforcement triumvirate noticed people smoking pot out in the open – still a no-no in Washington even though consumption is legal. Rather than run the violators in or ticket them, O’Toole’s inclination is to have officers encourage public smokers to “put it out.”

But officers need to be present to make that suggestion. And Seattle cops are conspicuously unseen on city streets – particularly downtown, where violations and unruly behavior are more concentrated.

“I’ve been shocked by it myself,” O’Toole insisted with a look of astonishment.

Again, not the response one expects from a police chief.

“Police officers have been somewhat hesitant to enforce downtown because of all the scrutiny in recent years,” she added, referring to the department's new use-of-force protocols imposed by a federal consent decree. “They’re confused about what they can do, and what they can’t do. We need to get back to basics.”

In addition to implementing a data-driven policing model with community input, O’Toole says she intends to commission a resource allocation study of department staffing levels and deployments, but admits to a gut feeling that she needs more cops to keep the city safe.

She compared Seattle to Boston, where she was also police commissioner.

Both cities have approximately the same population. But Boston has about 800 more uniformed officers than Seattle, while Seattle has about twice the acreage to police.

Her solution would create a more visible police presence on city streets, but she also wants to encourage all officers to actively engage citizens even when they are not breaking the law.

The more cops idea already has a receptive audience, even among some critical City Council members.

Councilmember Tim Burgess notes that the city was poised to add a net increase of 100 officers before the Great Recession hit. In the ensuing years, the city has struggled to maintain its uniformed staffing levels.

“If Chief O’Toole can establish why we need more officers and how we’re going to use them, I’m going to be supportive of her,” Burgess said Thursday.

That spirit of support may also extend to the rank-and-file of a police department that has had four chiefs in four years.

“I expected there would be some resistance to an outsider,” O’Toole said. “There hasn’t been nearly as much as I expected.”

“I think that people [in the department] are crying out for leadership at this point,” she added. “Internally people just want to get beyond the challenges of the past few years, move on, and implement the consent decree.”

O’Toole seems like she’s offering Seattle cops a way out of the departmental doldrums. But the jury’s still out on whether the officers will follow her lead.

October 9, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Denial won't delay the inevitable, gay marriage is here to stay

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to deny several lower courts' appeals to uphold state bans on same-sex marriage, effectively legalizing marriage equality in 25 states and counting. At a time when domestic violence is so common and horror stories like this murder-suicide in Indiana make me question why some people get married in the first place, shouldn't our society be discussing the elements of a respectful relationship and good parenting? The focus on defining whether marriage should be a union between one man and one woman ignores the reality that the overall institution could be improved.

All we're really doing by delaying same-sex marriage rights is keeping attorneys for all sides busy and giving politicians a wedge issue to distract them from other matters.

The bottom line is a sea change in public opinion that has led even more states to lift their bans on same-sex marriage. See the Associated Press interactive below.

As The Seattle Times editorial board pointed out in Wednesday's editorial:

The fact that couples in the other states do not enjoy that same right (to marry) is an issue the high court will have to revisit. That inequity is untenable. A uniform ruling is necessary to end discrimination by states.

Take Monday’s decision to deny seven petitions as a sign the high court is not ready to weigh in. Still, no ruling this term is better than the risk of conservative justices knocking down recent gains on one of the major social issues of our time.

The swing vote on the divided court is Justice Anthony Kennedy. On Wednesday morning, as many prepared to celebrate the first married couples in Idaho, Kennedy blocked a lower court's order allowing the weddings. For more than a dozen couples and their supporters in Boise, joy turned to despair.

The photo below should be displayed alongside Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's beaming face in the history books. As a former journalist and five-year resident of that great state, I want the next generation of children to see the consequences of a governor's determination to block law-abiding citizens from a legal right many others take for granted.

If the partners pictured above had entered the Ada County Courthouse in Boise as one man and one woman, they would not be bawling in the arms of friends and family. They would be proudly holding up their marriage certificate on the steps outside, toasting love and eating cake. (Read the Associated Press and Idaho Statesman news report.) Alas, Idaho's Constitution unfairly dictates that same-sex couples are not treated equal, and Idaho's top leaders appear hell-bent on making sure they never are.

The well-regarded SCOTUSblog is following Idaho's legal actions and has reached a couple interesting conclusions. First, Idaho wants the court "to issue a final, definitive ruling on whether the [federal] Constitution allows states to ban same-sex marriage." We're in agreement there. But here's the part from that same post that is worrisome:

Idaho’s application also said that, if it can get its case before the Supreme Court, it would also seek to argue that Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage is not actually a law that discriminates against sexual orientation.  It is a law that favors man-woman marriage, and thus it would allow a gay or lesbian person to get married to a person of the opposite sex.

So Idaho wants to make it okay for gay and lesbian individuals to wed, just not to the person they actually love and are committed to? That makes no sense and turns marriage into a farce.

There's still hope for Gov. Otter to go the graceful route other state leaders have taken, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. On Monday, those Republicans recognized the inevitable truth that they were on the wrong side of a losing battle. Both gave up their legal fights against marriage equality.

Otter should do the same.

Just one state over, Washington voters joined a national movement when they affirmed same-sex marriage rights two years ago. One of the leaders of that movement, Ed Murray, is now the mayor of Seattle. He is married to his partner. After this week's news cycle, I've never been more proud to live in a place where individuals are allowed to live honestly and with the same protections afforded to straight people.

Gay marriage is here to stay and the people of this state are doing just fine. To our neighbors in Idaho, I bet you'll be okay, too.

October 8, 2014 at 6:05 AM

Shaping Seattle's understanding of Latinos through film

Many people in the Northwest tend to equate “Mexican” with "Latino,” but that’s a limited perspective. As a Mexican-American, I see that dynamic play out on a regular basis like when people think all Latinos wear sombreros and eat spicy food.

Even so, many people have a superficial view of Mexican culture based on chips, salsa and margaritas, and the knowledge level goes down even more for countries like say Uruguay and Bolivia.  I'm all for exposing non-Latinos to not just Mexico, but to the cultural bounty of the 20-plus countries that make up Latin America.

Enter Jorge Enrique Gonzalez Pacheco, a Cuban immigrant who moved to Seattle in 2006 after a stint in Miami. He recognized the void of Latino awareness in the Northwest and founded the Seattle Latino Film Festival.

“This is a festival for Latinos and people who don’t know about Latinos,” Gonzalez Pacheco, a poet and writer told me. “There is much more to know about Latinos than restaurants and manual labor.”

The film festival, now in its sixth year, continues expanding its programming, locations and audience. This year, the festival is screening films at seven Seattle locations and on public television in Redmond and goes through this Saturday (read more here).

I talked to Gonzalez Pacheco about what film festivals can do to raise cultural awareness and why not just Latinos would be interested in watching Latino films.

Q. Why did you start the Seattle Latino Film Festival?

A. When I moved to Seattle in 2006, I saw that there was rich and varied Latino community here, but there wasn’t a type of cultural embassy to represent the various cultures here. I started to get to know the community here, who were the major players and most represented groups. In Seattle, I found that people here adore cinema and films, but the city lacked a good reference point for Latin American cinema. That’s when the light bulb went off in my mind and I decided to start a film festival. In 2009, we started the festival and to date, we have an organization that helps create awareness of Latin American culture in both Seattle and for the entire state.

Q. Are you targeting the local Latino audience or a broader audience?

A. The idea was to create a multicultural film festival. What is missing in Seattle is for the broader community in Seattle to truly know Latinos outside of just restaurants or washing cars and how we are on a deeper level. We as Latinos also need to let ourselves be known. The festival caters to a broader audience and helps Latinos to feel pride in our culture.

It’s important for Latinos in this country to not be seen as immigrants coming here to take jobs or break the law. On the contrary, Seattle is a city that is open and welcoming to immigrants and other cultures and that provides an opportunity for Latinos to showcase our culture and different experiences.

Not only are there Latinos from different countries here, but a new generation of American-born Latinos who also want more awareness of their parents’ and grandparents’ culture and homelands. The festival provides a new perspective on the intellectual side of a culture that is both beautiful and vivid.

Q. Why is it important to raise cultural awareness about Latinos?

A. Part of my own personal philosophy is that the more you can learn about the unknown, the better. When I arrived from Cuba, I was 33 and I landed in Miami. I stayed with family, who welcomed me into their home and took care of me. I appreciated their help, but staying in Miami didn’t satisfy my desire to see more of the United States. I ended up in Seattle and I remember my first winter, I had never driven in snow, so I went out and tried it. My friends were worried about me, but I wanted to master driving in the snow. In a similar vein, the film festival brings new experiences to people who don’t know about Latin American culture. I talk to festival goers all the time who tell me, I learned about something I didn’t know about my home country. We are entertaining people, but we are also educating them. When something is foreign to me, I want to learn about it. Curiosity is a good thing when it leads you to better understanding.

This year's festival focused on New Chilean Cinema featuring films such as "Best Worst Friends."

October 7, 2014 at 6:07 AM

Dueling Columbus-Indigenous Peoples holidays obscure nuanced understanding of American history

Seattle City Council's decision to commemorate the second Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” will be tough for some Italian-Americans and U.S. traditionalists to accept.

The date is already set aside as the federal holiday commemorating Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ arrival in North America in 1492.

Even before the Catholic benevolent organization Knights of Columbus successfully lobbied for the holiday in 1934, celebration of Columbus’ arrival in the New World had been ritualized for generations in the U.S. to foment patriotism.

The holiday has also come to carry huge significance for many Italian-Americans, whose immigrant ancestors were greeted with hostility during their mass migration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Having since carved out a place in the national identity, many Italian-Americans now see the holiday and the man it’s named after as the principle credential for their Americanness. It doesn’t matter that he thought he’d landed in Asia and never actually set foot on the North American continent.

Columbus’ sterling reputation among Italian-Americans isn’t shared among descendants of the indigenous people who lived in the land he "discovered" thousands of years prior to his arrival.

His fateful journey precipitated a European powers land grab and pestilent genocide; the likes of which humanity had never seen. Historians differ on how many indigenous people were killed through colonialism and smallpox, but it’s somewhere between 2 million and 100 million.

To put that into context, it’s estimated that about 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and 7 million died from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s forced Ukrainian famine.

So, America’s indigenous people – including many Latinos with indigenous ancestry – understandably have a visceral reaction to Columbus’ name.

But placing an Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same date as Columbus Day does little more than create a dueling holidays scenario in the arena of popular culture.

For most Americans the 10 days set aside as federal holidays are nothing more than brief respites from their workaday existence. There’s little chance that an Indigenous Peoples’ Day will have much success deconstructing their mistaken belief that “Columbus discovered America.”

A better idea would be to accurately teach the good, bad and ugly of American history in American schools.

Yes, the United States gave the world jazz and Hollywood, put a man on the moon, and has served as a citadel of modern democracy. But it also infected hundreds of rural Alabama blacks with syphilis for an experiment, exploited Chinese labor to build the transcontinental railroad, and all-but finished the genocide of Native Americans that Columbus effectively started.

No one person or people can claim exclusive credit for all of the nation’s accomplishments, nor should they shoulder exclusive blame for all of its shameful acts.

Instead Americans should have a nuanced understanding of our complicated history. And since such detailed instruction is absent in most school curriculums, we’ll have to find a special way to convey it.

A national holiday should do the trick.

October 6, 2014 at 6:34 AM

Washington's economy makes gains while household incomes were better off in 1999

Talking about the “good old days” often seems like a waste of time to me, but when looking at household incomes, it turns out the days past were actually better.

Fifteen years ago, households in Washington made more money: the state’s median household income dropped to $58,977 in 2013, an 8 percent decrease compared with $64,009 in 1999 (adjusted for inflation), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

During the same period, Washington’s per capita gross domestic product, which measures economic output based on population, rose to $54,654 per person in 2013 from $50,472 in 1999, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That represents an 8.3 percent increase with various fluctuations over the years.

The point is that the state economy is doing better now than in 1999, but pocketbooks are not.

Still, there is some good news, said Hans Stroo, government affairs associate for the Washington Business Alliance. The trend of household incomes going down reversed in 2012 and, for the past couple of years, started moving in the right direction: up.

“We have not recovered to previous peaks for household income,” Stroo said. “The median Washington household is still earning significantly less than before the recession.”

Since arriving in Seattle last month, I’ve heard plenty of people bemoan how Seattle is changing and how Amazon and new apartment buildings are ruining the city.

Cities should celebrate job growth and new housing because that shows that the city is attracting economic growth and investment. Seattle's not the only bright spot. My hometown region of the Tri-Cities has seen some of the best increases in median household income in the state.

When I decided to move here this past summer, I was excited to join a dynamic, growing city in my home state. But, I can see how those changes don’t energize other people as much and why some people even feel resentful.

The economy is improving, but people feel left out – and understandably so. In 1999, I finished high school and danced to Prince's song, "1999" at many parties and celebrations.

The lyrics of that song, "Two thousand zero zero party over" were spot on for the millions of people who were working full-time jobs and still are now – the difference is the money was probably better back then.

October 6, 2014 at 6:13 AM

Hey Mr. President! Washington state has two good candidates for U.S. Attorney General

Rumblings from within the Beltway suggest that Washington State is getting short shrift as President Obama ruminates over who will replace Eric Holder as U.S. attorney general.

Politico reported last week that Obama has narrowed the pool to former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.

But that shortlist does not include at least two Washington heavyweights who deserve serious consideration: former Gov. Christine Gregoire and departing U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan.

Durkan was an immediate dark horse candidate when Holder announced he was stepping down last month. Although Durkan was reported to be on the “long list” of candidates, interest in her appears to have cooled. The president should have another look.

Meanwhile Gregoire, whose name was circulated for a number of previous Obama administration cabinet vacancies, has oddly not even been mentioned. She too would bring Puget Sound verve and stature to the office.

“Either of them would make a great attorney general for this country and be an excellent representative for this state in that role,” says State Democratic Party Chairman Jaxon Ravens.

Whomever the Democratic president chooses will be instantly cast into a hostile dance with the GOP-controlled House to defend and protect Obama’s few legislative accomplishments in the final two years of his administration.

He’ll need a Gregoire or a Durkan by his side to protect the legacy he’s fought to build.

October 3, 2014 at 6:05 AM

Washington lawmakers don't need to use Hobby Lobby ruling to drum up votes

Months after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the controversial "Hobby Lobby" ruling allowing privately held corporations to deny payment for certain types of birth control for female employees, Washington lawmakers are finding ways to fight back. This is to be expected. Washington is one of the most progressive states on protecting reproductive rights. Just weeks before election day, some Democrats are using this issue as a strategy to put them back in control of the state Senate, led by the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus since 2012.

Voters should look deeper before they take the bait.

On Thursday, a group of Democratic lawmakers announced they are planning to file legislation — a "work-around" — next session to ensure employers do not deny women the full range of birth control options available to them through the Affordable Care Act. Joined by Gov. Jay Inslee, state Sens. David Frockt, Kevin Ranker, Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Karen Keiser said they are drafting a bill that would likely use the state's anti-discrimination and Human Rights Commission rules.

The press event was staged at a community center two blocks from a Hobby Lobby store scheduled to open Friday in Seattle at 13200 Aurora Avenue North. Good to know they are doing their homework, but this was clearly also a bid to secure the women's vote ahead of the November general election.

In a press release distributed to reporters, the Democrats warned their efforts to fight the Hobby Lobby decision might be hindered if they do not take back the majority in the upper chamber. In particular, they targeted Republican Sens. Andy Hill, Steve O'Ban and Democrat-turned-Republican candidate Mark Miloscia. If "elected or re-elected this year, it is unlikely that any progress on ensuring individual reproductive choices will be achieved," they warned.

Again, voters should be skeptical. There's no bill in place yet to be opposed, or supported, by members of either party.

Washington State has long supported a woman's right to privacy and access when it comes to reproductive health care, including abortion care. Even before Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1972, this HistoryLink story explains how Washington voters passed Referendum 20 in 1970 legalizing abortion in the early months of pregnancy. In 1991, voters passed Initiative 120, which guarantees that every "individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control" and abortion (with few exceptions) and the "state shall not discriminate against the exercise of these rights in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information."

If this were Texas, where I used to report on women's health politics from AustinI'd say go all out. Fight the good fight. But it's Washington, the friendliest state in the nation when it comes to reproductive freedom and lack of barriers to birth control and abortion. NARAL Pro-Choice America gives the state an A+ grade for choice-related laws. We don't have lawmakers demanding transvaginal ultrasounds, slashing family planning funds or passing policies to force abortion clinic closures. Vigilance is appreciated, but state legislators' priority during the next session must be to tackle the other urgent task of preserving the state's fragile social safety net and funding public education.

Every woman should have the right to decide which birth control method is right for her, especially if those options are legal and covered by federal health care law. As The Seattle Times editorialized on July 1, the Supreme Court's ruling allowing private corporations to deny coverage of certain types of birth control is "an insult to women, and personal religious liberty." Five of the male justices sided with privately owned corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, run by families opposed to covering four of the 18 methods provided to women under the Affordable Care Act — two emergency "morning-after" pills and two types of intrauterine devices known as IUDs.

The Democratic senators who met Thursday morning are right to be critical of the high court's decision. They should take action if the federal government does not. But by trying to take out moderate, pro-choice Republicans such as incumbent Andy Hill for not being more assertive or rabid about supporting abortion rights, they risk affecting issues that go way beyond women's health. (Note: Democratic State Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, ranking member of the Senate Ways & Means Committee chaired by Hill, opposes abortion.)

How about another press conference explaining how women's rights will be protected and how the Legislature plans to tackle the elephant in the room known as the Washington Supreme Court's McCleary ruling? Thanks for supporting gender equality, but legislators also need to offer up more details on how they will comply with the court, reform the school system and find billions more to educate the state's children.

 

 

October 2, 2014 at 6:05 AM

Love craft beer? Thank a farmworker, and pay them better

While sitting at many bars, I often picked up a pint of craft beer and proclaimed that beer is made with hops, most of which come from the same place I did: Eastern Washington.

“Washington is the largest producer of hops in the world,” I told friends or random strangers dozens of times during the 15 years I lived out of state. “We don’t just grow apples, you know.”

Many people were surprised to learn that Washington is the globe’s top source for hops, and this should be a source of pride especially as the craft beer movement is exploding nationwide.

But like many other crops that make up this state’s $49 billion agricultural industry, the workers who pick the crops often reap the least rewards — they deserve better wages.

As The Seattle Times reported Monday, the booming hops business is now suffering from worker shortages that have hit other major Washington crops, like apples and asparagus, in recent years.

Craft beer is a premium product valued for attributes like the artistry of how it's made and complexity of flavors. The craft beer business shot up 20 percent nationwide in 2013 to reach yearly sales of $14.3 billion, according to Brewer’s Association, a trade group. In Washington, the state with the second highest number of breweries in the country, craft beer drives an industry of more than $1 billion per year.

I’m no big spender, but I find myself regularly plunking down $6 or more for a pint. I haven’t considered how much of that $6 went to the farm worker who picked the hops, but I’m sure it’s in the pennies.

People like phrases such as “farm to table” or “locally-sourced.” It sounds wholesome and pure. We like picturing a brewer standing over a vat focused intently on producing the best batch of beer.

We often forget to rewind a few steps back when the hops were picked so they could flavor that fermented drink.

Farmers complain they can’t compete for workers with apple growers who pay more. In a world of supply and demand, I question why hop producers don’t just up their wages instead of insisting on keeping them low. If paying workers more means the price gets passed on later on down the chain, so be it.

In America, however, we have a tendency to not consider the farm worker. Just like with food, we like bowls of fresh, shiny fruit on our tables and, similarly, an array of cold, artisan-made beers at our local bar to choose from, but paying more for those products outrages most Americans.

The average percentage of income Americans spend on food has gone down during the past several decades, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The decline occurred even with the proliferation of high-priced chains like Whole Foods, gourmet farmers markets and marked-up organic produce in any grocery store. Americans still want their food cheap.

And for decades, we’ve been able to get away with it thanks to many immigrants, mostly from Mexico, accepting low wages to do strenuous jobs. We worry about working conditions for children making our T-shirts in India, but do we worry as much about the asparagus worker in Othello?

People cheer when a factory opens and hires hundreds of “unskilled workers,” but when it comes to long-time, essential industries like agriculture, both consumers and even unemployed workers prefer to look the other way as if produce magically shows up when we want to consume it.

So next time you see a farm worker, buy that person a beer, or least think about the work it takes for that pint of beer to end up in your hands.

October 1, 2014 at 6:19 AM

Critics of juvenile justice racial disparities win minor victory in Seattle City Council

Opponents of a new King County juvenile detention facility may not feel like it, but they won a significant victory at the Seattle City Council Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee meeting Tuesday.

Before they expressed passionate concerns that minority youth are disproportionately locked up, the council’s procedural go-ahead for the new $210 million King County Children and Family Justice Center seemed a mere formality.

But by raising strong objections, the coalition of juvenile incarceration foes earned a commitment from the council Tuesday to study the racial impact of the new center’s construction.

That came even after a Seattle Times editorial called on the committee to approve the needed land use alteration. The committee provided its nod  – with one abstention – but also agreed to schedule the full council vote for Oct. 13. Granting two weeks instead of the standard one week before the vote will provide the council time to gain firmer assurances from the county that racial impact concerns are incorporated into the new center’s design.

Should community concerns not be addressed in that time, opponents of the new center will be tempted to blame the council. In truth they can only blame their neighbors. Some 55 percent of county voters and more than 65 percent of Seattle voters approved the project two years ago.

Meanwhile, county officials are privately confident that the measure will pass the full council. They have made a compelling case for the new center, while showing an awareness of the racial disproportion issue and demonstrating a laudable track record in reducing the disparity.

And Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention Director Claudia Balducci seemed agreeable to the committee’s conditions Tuesday after the vote.

But in order to allay what committee Chairman Mike O’Brien described as a loss of trust in the community for its elected officials, King County will need to aggressively address legitimate concerns community members have raised.

September 30, 2014 at 1:18 PM

Another delay for the Burke-Gilman's 'missing link,' and an alternative

The long-delayed end to the Burke-Gilman Trail's "missing link" will be delayed again.

The Seattle Department of Transportation has pushed back the timeline by "eight or nine months" for completion of an environmental impact statement (EIS) on route options for the recreation trail superhighway through Ballard, according to SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan. The draft EIS will be published in 2015, the final version in 2016, because the city switched consultants.

That means the planning alone for the missing link will finally be done nearly three years after the city began the EIS process back in 2013. That means that, for years to come, cyclists in Ballard will continue playing chicken with 50,000-pound dump trucks.

Why the city switched is — like everything else with the missing link — in dispute.

SDOT says the Ballard maritime and industrial businesses who've sued to block the city's preferred route option — a trail running across their driveways along Shilshole Avenue Northwest — objected to the initial consultant SvR because they had done design work on the preferred route. Josh Brower, the businesses' attorney, disputed that, saying they'd lodged no formal protest.

The reasons for the delay are less interesting to me than the options going forward.

Quick background: The missing link is the 1.5-mile gap in the Burke-Gilman, roughly from the Ballard Locks to the Ballard Fred Meyer (SDOT history is here). The Seattle City Council in 2003 opted for a route along Shilshole Avenue, through the Ballard industrial zone. Businesses (including the Ballard Chamber of Commerce, Ballard Oil, Salmon Bay Sand & Gravel and others) sued, claiming the route, which crosses 55 driveways, would put bicycles in direct conflict with trucks.

The businesses won in 2012, and the city started the EIS process, which includes looking at alternatives.

I wrote about a "Plan B" alternative proposed by the businesses, which would put a protected bike lane along Leary Way Northwest and Northwest Market Street. The group submitted a letter to SDOT on its plan, and now has a website. That route makes even more sense today than it did then. Brower points out that its Plan B mirrors the design of new protected lanes on Broadway Avenue East and Second Avenue.

"It’s pure Copenhagen style," said Brower. "It’s what they’re putting everywhere else in the city."

The route isn't perfect; it is not the dedicated recreational trail design that makes the Burke-Gilman so well-used, and loved. Some Ballard businesses would object, undoubtedly.

But it has the best chance of being built in the near future. If the city wants the Shilshole route after the whole planning process, Brower said his clients go back to court. "You could add another three to five years of appeals," said Brower. "Now we’re looking at 2021-22."

As I suggested last year, solving the mess of the missing link with a Plan B could be a win-win-win.

Cyclists get a far safer route that doesn't require playing chicken with dump trucks. Ballard retailers would get a boost from tons of bicycle and pedestrian traffic outside their doors. And old Ballard industrial and maritime businesses — the ones that every mayor and City Council member say they value — could feel like they're not being slowly pushed out of the city.

Mayor Ed Murray has proven adept at deal-making. How about taking on the missing link, Mr. Mayor?

September 30, 2014 at 6:02 AM

'Last Days In Vietnam' film premieres in Seattle on Friday, reopens old wounds

Growing up, my parents never revealed details about their experiences living through the Vietnam War. I knew they had survived the conflict, but I never associated them with old news footage of helicopters flying over rice paddies or combat scenes in Oliver Stone films such as "Platoon." After having the opportunity to recently screen American Experience's "Last Days In Vietnam," I wish I had been more curious about my parents' story, and those of so many other Vietnamese immigrants who fled after South Vietnam fell to communism on April 30, 1975.

I highly encourage Vietnamese immigrants and American veterans in the Seattle area to head to the Varsity Theatre in the University District to see the film, which runs for one week from Oct. 3 to Oct. 9. Directed by Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, this theatrical run is a chance to see the film before its national broadcast on PBS in April 2015.

Here's the trailer:

http://youtu.be/RTWX-BB4aAA

I was in elementary school when my nerdy computer programmer father revealed he'd once been a lieutenant in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, otherwise known as the South Vietnamese military. He promised proof once my mother returned from her first visit to Vietnam in 1994. She came back with disappointing news: My dad's family had burned his military photos after he and my mother escaped in October 1978. Under the new regime, having such images around placed the family at risk. My father had already served six months in a re-education camp, and they did not want to relive that nightmare.

Years later, a family friend gave my parents a couple of undated photos that were snapped in Vietnam (most likely after the Tet Offensive in 1968). I scanned one of them below. My dad, Duc Tan, is the third man from the right. He is wearing his uniform.

Watching "Last Days In Vietnam" inspired me to view this photo, my parents and an entire generation of immigrants in a new light. The film marks the first time I have seen a mainstream American documentary feature the voices of former South Vietnamese citizens — including a naval officer who helped the Americans keep U.S.-funded ships from enemy hands in 1975, a former student who later fled by boat and a former lieutenant who was imprisoned for 13 years after the fall. Another one of the many compelling story lines in the documentary is told by Miki Nguyen, a Seattle-area resident who was 6 when his father piloted a Chinook helicopter filled with refugees to a U.S. aircraft carrier. (Nguyen is scheduled to appear at screenings on Saturday and Sunday. Check this link for more details.)

Recent private screenings with dozens of Vietnamese immigrants and veterans in Olympia and Seattle reduced members of both audiences to tears. Many had never seen photos and images of those final, chaotic days. In post-film discussions, members of the community had more questions than answers. Whom do we blame? Why are we here? Those are questions these immigrants have not asked for some time, as they have struggled to make ends meet in America. Listening to their once-dormant perspectives was a stark reminder of the consequences of being on the losing side of a conflict. It's true, only the victors get to write the history books.

My hope is that "Last Days In Vietnam" ignites a conversation about the Vietnam War and its lasting effects on those who fought, those who stayed and those who eventually left. Forty years have softened the blow of that painful period, and now is the time to collect and preserve these powerful human stories from immigrants and American veterans. There are still lessons to be learned from Vietnam that apply to American foreign policy today, especially as the U.S. prepares to engage and arm Syrian rebels as it did the South Vietnamese military. This country's leaders must do all they can to avoid similar, tragic consequences.

Please go see the film.

Also, today is the final day of the First Days Story Project, a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. The fundraiser is an extension of the film, and an opportunity for Vietnamese immigrants and American veterans to share their stories of what happened after April 30, 1975. I made a donation to the cause because this is personal and I believe the act of storytelling might help to heal old wounds. Please join me if you feel the same.

September 29, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Seattle, the affordable city

Affordable housing has morphed into a loaded term in Seattle. Many residents and city leaders say it’s disappearing or there isn’t enough of it.

The idea that affordable housing is endangered in Seattle is misleading, however, because it depends on what how you define “affordable.”

Keeping housing affordable means spending 30 percent or less of household income on housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Affordable housing" as a technical term in general refers to housing developed with subsidies like tax dollars or grants reserved for residents based on income.

For the average person, affordable housing means not feeling like too much of your money goes to paying rent or a mortgage.

In Seattle, more people are paying more for housing than in years past. Average apartments rent jumped 31 percent in the past four years to $1,644 per month, according to RealFacts. The median home price in Seattle rose above pre-recession levels and hit a record high of $543,500 in July.

So what does that mean for how much people should spend on housing?

According to an analysis from Trulia, a real estate information company, a person in Seattle earning an average wage would have to spend 31 percent of their income to afford the average rent on a two-bedroom apartment of $1,750 as April 2014. Compare that with renters in cities such as Miami, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, who pay 51 to 62 percent, of their income to afford an average two-bedroom apartment. Based on HUD’s 30 percent rule, Seattle is relatively affordable.

While housing costs have climbed, so has the metropolitan area's median household income, which reached $66,345 in 2013, according to recent Census figures.

Based on the current median household income, here’s what households would ideally spend on housing according to the 30 percent benchmark:

Percent of Household Median Income Median Income Housing costs per year at 30% of income Housing costs per month at 30% of income
30 $19,904 $5,971 $497.59
50 $33,173 $9,952 $829.31
60 $39,807 $11,942 $995.18
80 $53,076 $15,923 $1,326.90
100 $66,345 $19,904 $1,658.63
120 $79,614 $23,884 $1,990.35
150 $99,518 $29,855 $2,487.94
200 $132,690 $39,807 $3,317.25

A person earning the median household income would be able to afford the average rent of $1,644. That works for a single person, but families and anyone earning under 60 percent of the median household income have fewer options. Indeed, Seattle’s share of single people living alone is on the rise.

City leaders want to keep families and poor people in the city, but housing costs are just one piece of the affordability puzzle. As The Seattle Times reported last week, costs for middle class families soared by 32 percent from 2000 to 2012 – a far greater pace than incomes.

The top of the City of Seattle's home page proclaims, "Working for a safe, affordable, vibrant, innovative, and interconnected city." Read The Seattle Times editorial on the city's efforts to produce more affordable housing.

Clearly the goal of keeping Seattle affordable is important to city leaders, but housing costs are heavily influenced by supply and demand and the demand is coming from the growing number of jobs here. For housing costs to go down, the market needs more supply or a major economic downturn like the one we had six years ago.

Housing costs are likely to keep rising in Seattle as the city adds more jobs and residents. Growth already causes tensions in neighborhoods that are developing more housing and becoming more expensive. It hurts pocketbooks, but I’d much rather live in a city where people can find work than one where jobs are going away (Hello, Detroit).

September 26, 2014 at 11:48 AM

Do city growth strategies subtly discourage car ownership?

After a long evening of revelry while attending a soccer tournament in Portugal a few years ago, I was more than ready to grab a taxi home.

But that very American inclination to pay someone to do for me what I could do for myself was quickly rubbished by my new friend-in-football Jürgen Meier from Munich.

“No Robert,” I remember Jürgen protesting in a slightly lubricated Bavarian accent. “We can walk it!”

Not wanting to appear narrow-minded, I relented and I unhappily scaled a few miles of Lisbon’s undulating topography.

Sure, Jürgen insisted we walk home because it saved money, but his core motivation — like most Europeans — was that he came from a walking culture.

Americans, conversely, have an emphatic driving culture. We’ll drive three blocks to a convenience store. I know this because I’ve done it … many times.

And we’ve always liked our cars proportionate to our hedonistic appetites. American motorists proudly sported battleship steel monstrosities in the 1970s, and bogarted cramped roads with Hummers 20 years later. But in rapidly growing cities, the cult of the car is under siege.

Metro areas nationwide are pursuing policies to steer residents away from the automobile and toward ambulation. In some population magnets like Denver, that attempted behavioral engineering has been overt. Here in Seattle — where, as a newcomer, I’ve done more walking in the past six weeks than in the past six months — it’s been less expository, but just as effective.

The driving culture shift is rooted in the decades-long population exodus from major cities after World War II. By the 1970s, most U.S. cities had degenerated into grimy, litter-strewn, expressionist distortions of their former selves. A generation of big city mayors started to reverse this trend in the 1980s, utilizing federal incentives, public-private partnerships and a defibrillator mentality to resuscitate downtown America. Among them was former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, who also presided over the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a group where big-city mayors shared best practices.

The effective reboot of city downtowns involved a massive investment in tourism attractions such as sports stadiums, convention centers and hotels. But it also involved a re-imagination of urban living that’s turned downtowns into sought-after residential spaces by putting them back at the center of American culture.

Few cities have been affected as dramatically by this stratagem as Seattle. Now the fastest-growing major city in the country, Seattle has arrived at what city Planning Commission co-chair David Cutler described to me last week as a “tipping point.”

As the new resident onslaught prompts reactionary housing construction, the street, highway and transit capacity have not grown proportionately. At the same time, Seattle and cities under similar stresses have undertaken policies that effectively — but not explicitly — discourage car ownership.

Seven years ago, Seattle eliminated minimum parking requirements for new housing developments in urban center commercial zones, and has since steadily expanded this policy. The city has also earmarked many city streets for bus-only traffic lanes, while seeking to expand public-transit options.

Even as a new TransitCenter study finds people value travel time, proximity, cost and reliability of public transit most, the increased congestion and finite car capacity has made “walkability” a massive new consideration for where people of all ages choose to live.

“Millennials would rather be close to lots to do than be stuck in a commute to a house full of things to make payments on,” said Matt Lerner, co-founder of Walkscore, the Seattle-based company that rates cities and their neighborhoods by amenities within walking distance. “Walking neighborhoods are also great for older people because they can stay in them even if they don’t drive anymore.”

Rice, the former mayor, is one of those people. At age 71, he’s selling the single-family Mount Baker home he and his wife have lived in since 1975 to move into a downtown condo. “Behaviors are changing, but they don’t change as quickly as the citizens’ demand,” Rice said.

The difficulty in promoting a behavioral shift on car usage — overt or otherwise — is combating Americans’ entrenched love affair with the automobile. From the Great Depression when economically devastated families were kept together, sheltered and transported by their cars, to the post-interstate highway system where people regularly traversed the breadth of the nation for fun, the car has been central to American identity.

Beyond its utility, a car remains a formidable American symbol of freedom and status. It will take a mammoth cultural reprogramming for cities such as Seattle to wean residents off compact cars, sedans and SUVs and into walking, biking, and public transit.

But with traffic congestion growing faster than city residents can agree upon ways to accommodate it, my good friend Jürgen’s suggestion looks increasingly like the only viable option for a growing number of big-city America residents.

September 25, 2014 at 6:25 AM

Policing cars, and bikes, on Seattle's Second Avenue bike lane

Attorney Bob Anderton of Washington Bike Law looked down from his window at the new Second Avenue bike lane striped just beneath his his window. "It warms my heart," he said.

It also may cost him business. The new protected bike lane through downtown Seattle should reduce accidents on the notorious corridor, where Sher Kung, a young mother and lawyer, died just a week before it opened. 

After initial glitches, confusing signals were simplified, letting drivers and bikers know when green means green. And it's drawn triple the number of daily cyclists, according to Seattle Department of Transportation.

But it hasn't stopped a ever-present meme in bike politics: Cyclists ignore the rules of the road, no matter what. KING 5 had a Tuesday story about a shift by Seattle Police from education to enforcement along the bike lane. The first comment: "I can't wait to see a bike pulled over; but something tells me it's going to be a while before I see it."

Seattle Police spokesman Drew Fowler said the story overstated that shift, particularly its suggestion about targeting bikers. "We need to both be riding and driving safely. We'll be holding everyone accountable. If bicyclists runs a red light, they should get a ticket. If a driver runs a red light, they should get a ticket."

That's great, because drivers running red lights, or failing to yield to bikes or pedestrians, kill people. And bikes should follow the rules of the road or face consequences, such as speeding tickets, as The Seattle Times reported last year.

But I suspect the SPD is going to find fewer biking scofflaws with the protected lane and bike-specific signals. In my experience, bikes do rolling stops, or none at all, at stop signs because it takes energy to stop and start a bike. And a lack of certainty about the intentions of a driver behind the wheel of a 2,000-pound car provides incentive for a biker to go when they feel safe.

But data also suggests well-designed bike infrastructure helps with compliance. In the six months after Chicago installed bike signals on the downtown Dearborn Street bike lane last year, red-light compliance jumped 161 percent, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It's important to have infrastructure that speaks to people who are biking. Otherwise, they feel the roadway was not designed for them," Lee Crandall of Active Transportation Alliance said.

Anne-Marije Rook of Cascade agrees. She'd like to see a biking education component added to drivers' education, such as her home country of Holland does. "No one was taught how to safely ride in traffic," she said.

If the SPD is going to pivot toward stronger enforcement, officers should know the law. The SeattleBikeBlog's Tom Fucoloro posted a take-down of the KING story's inaccurate references to biking infractions that do not exist, including one supposedly requires cyclists to walk their bikes across crosswalks (the errors were later corrected without acknowledging mistakes).

Anderton, the bike attorney, has a book he calls "You're Not Going to Believe This," with incidents of bikers getting ticketed after being hit by drivers. Among them is the wacky story of a 25-year-old cyclist riding down the then-notorious Second Avenue bike lane (Anderton provided the police reports). Concerned that a driver next to him wasn't paying attention, the cyclist began blowing a police whistle, so loudly nearby pedestrians heard it. "I thought it was a police whistle and I turned to look," one witness said in a statement.

The driver nonetheless turned a sharp left across the lane, clipping the cyclists's back tire. The ticket, however, went to the cyclist ... for inattention. Anderton said, "I don't know how much more attentive my client could get - he was whistling at her!"

September 25, 2014 at 6:12 AM

Initiative 1351: For a multi-billion-dollar budget-buster, not much opposition

State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, raised eyebrows last week when he spoke up at a meeting of the 43rd District Democrats. He hadn’t been planning to say anything about Initiative 1351, the Washington Education Association's proposal to force smaller class sizes in every grade. But when a WEA representative got up and asked for an endorsement, and said the teachers' union basically was doing the Legislature a favor by forcing it to do the right thing – Pedersen couldn’t help himself.

“It probably wasn’t politically smart to speak out against it, but I felt I had to say something,” he explains.

He talked about the programs that would have to be cut to pay for the measure, and the lack of evidence that 1351 would do any good.  By the time he got done, he not only had defeated the endorsement, he convinced most of the room the initiative is a multi-billion-dollar menace. Some 57 percent of the Democrats who were there voted to oppose it; two more votes and the 43rd-district Dems would have gone on record against it.

Certainly it was remarkable that Democratic-party activists in one of the state’s most progressive districts failed to stand with the teachers' union. But more remarkable is that the argument took place at all. By no stretch could Pedersen’s impromptu remarks be called organized opposition, but this election season it is the closest thing to it. No one has launched a campaign to oppose Initiative 1351 – this in a state where even the most innocuous initiative can count on at least a token opposition effort.

The union-backed measure is one of the costliest proposals ever to appear on the Washington ballot. It would mandate lower class sizes from kindergarten to high school, a noble-sounding goal. But in the upper grades the educational case for smaller classes is somewhere between weak and non-existent. In grades K-3, lawmakers already are planning to hire more teachers to satisfy a Supreme Court order that they beef up spending on basic education. I-1351 would force the hiring of another 25,000 school employees for grades 4 through 12, at a cost of $4 billion every two years. The measure cynically doesn’t mention where lawmakers are supposed to find the money, avoiding a pesky problem that might give voters a reason to think twice.

Every interest with a stake in state spending stands to lose if the measure passes – social services, higher education, health care and even the public-employee labor unions that are counting on a cost-of-living pay raise next year. Social-service advocates say privately they are torn because they have traditionally been allied with the teachers’ union. Even if they were to begin speaking out, says a lobbyist talking on condition of anonymity, “what would we say? That we shouldn’t spend money on more teachers because it would take money away from programs for homeless people?”

Who wants to argue against teachers? Not the business community, which would likely be targeted by any tax increase. None need the ill will. The Association of Washington Business released a general statement of opposition last week, but that is hardly the same thing as a campaign. Though no polls have been released publicly, Washington business leaders have been hinting for months that they have weighed the question and see no return on a campaign investment -- and perhaps it might be wiser to support legislative candidates willing to take a two-thirds vote to overturn or suspend the initiative once it passes.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, says he assumes 1351 will pass but still wishes someone would make an argument this election season. "I think of it as cowardice," he says. Last week, at an AWB retreat in Cle Elum, he challenged lawmakers and stakeholder groups alike to begin speaking out against the measure. There were no takers. “Every newspaper of note in this state says it is a bad idea,” Schoesler says. “Business leaders, health care leaders, social service advocates – all agree it is the most horrible idea they have ever seen. But nobody can bring themselves to oppose it.”

With six weeks to go before the election, it appears the only argument WEA will get comes from the lawmakers who will have to deal with the mess. On the Democratic side, where WEA carries considerable weight, forthrightness like that expressed by Pedersen is rare. People have to understand the measure forces lawmakers to cut programs or raise taxes, he says. “If you get a chance to engage people in dialogue, they will often say, wow, I haven’t thought about that,” he says. Might be a little late, but at least there’s a little bravery this season.

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