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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 31, 2014 at 12:19 PM

Judicial candidate Sarah Hayne's ‘misleading’ campaign statements no surprise

The King County Bar Association took the rare step of admonishing a district court judicial candidate Thursday.

It should come as no surprise that the candidate, Sarah Hayne, is affiliated with Citizens for Judicial Excellence, the political action committee made up of defense attorneys and dedicated to electing judges sympathetic to the plight of their many of clients caught driving under the influence.

Hayne, a former member of the group and wife of CJE co-founder Stephen Hayne, distributed campaign literature citing 22 years working as a pro tem judge, prosecutor and defense attorney. (Read the news side story by Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner.)

“Yet she told KCBA that she worked on a limited or part-time basis during the bulk of that period,” according to a bar association news release. “As a result, KCBA finds those written statements to be misleading.”

A Sarah Hayne campaign flyer also identifies her as “exceptionally well qualified,” and attributes the statement to retired Kent Municipal Court Judge Robert McSeveney. However the phrasing suggests that she was praised by a bar association because it is language commonly associated with bar association assessments of judicial candidates.

“The bar asks candidates to sign a pledge to fairly campaign so that contests for judicial office do not impair public confidence in the integrity and objectivity of the judicial process,” the bar noted in its news release about her experience. “Ms. Hayne signed that pledge. Unfair or potentially deceptive campaign conduct by judicial candidates can undermine public confidence in the courts unless the public is certain that such conduct will not be tolerated.”

Last year the state Ethics Advisory Committee determined that the PAC, a contributor to Sarah Hayne’s 2014 campaign, attempted to organize a social mixer at a golf club that “undermines the public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of judicial officers.”

This year the group is actively working to elect its kind of judges.

In addition to Sarah Hayne’s campaign against incumbent King County District Court Judge Ketu Shah, the group has also contributed to attorney Marcus Naylor in his campaign against attorney Lisa O’Toole in the northeast position 3 election. That race has flown under the radar a bit because it’s the only open judicial election in the district.

O’Toole, who’s been a prosecutor and a municipal and district court pro tem judge for the past six years, is aware of the PAC’s support of her opponent, but says she’s confident voters won’t be swayed.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind that they might get in and make it so that I’m outspent,” she said. “But I didn’t let that dissuade me.”

Naylor, a county public defender and judge pro tem, could not be reached for comment, but notes on his campaign website that he will bring “integrity, impartiality, empathy” to the bench.

Citizens for Judicial Excellence has also contributed to Dawn Bettinger’s campaign to oust incumbent District Court Judge Janet Garrow, incumbent District Court Judge Mark Chow’s campaign to retain his seat against challenger Phillip Tavel, and Jon Zimmerman’s campaign against incumbent Seattle Municipal Court Judge Kimi Kondo.

The PAC also contributed to Damon Shadid’s campaign against incumbent municipal court Judge Fred Bonner, but Shadid returned the funds.

October 31, 2014 at 6:16 AM

Remembering what skulls really stand for on Halloween

I see skulls everywhere: from lawns decorated for Halloween to pajama pants and dog sweaters. Somehow, an image that used to stand for death, motorcycle gangs and pirates evolved into a symbol of cuteness much like Hello Kitty.

Two major days for skulls or calaveras, the Mexican version, have arrived with Halloween and Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. The cute-washing of skull imagery, however, strips away the symbolism and deeper meaning of recognizing, honoring and mourning the dead.

Halloween started out as a precursor to All Saints Day, a Catholic day of obligation on Nov. 1 that precedes All Souls Day on Nov. 2. Halloween morphed from a vigil for dead saints and souls into costume parties and candy binges for kids.

Dia de los Muertos looms close to meeting the same fate.

The holiday, stemming from both indigenous and Catholic traditions in Latin America, involves remembering loved ones who have died by building altars or decorating graves with personal items, marigolds, favorite food and beverages, and calaveras. The holiday, solemn in nature, provides an avenue for grief years or decades after a person has passed away.

Calaveras remind the living of the inseparable connection between life and death and that our lives are spent surrounded by death. Use of the skull goes back thousands of years, but some credit Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada for making calaveras a pop culture standard in Mexico in the early 20th century. Posada, an influence to legions of artists who followed, incorporated calaveras in artwork, advertisements and editorial cartoons making political or religious statements.

In Mexican culture, people embrace irony, and a skeleton engaging in living activities fits that scheme. Mexicans also tend to revere and make fun of death as a way to confront the discomfort, fear and pain that comes with immortality.

That’s why the calavera is not just a symbol for Dia de Los Muertos, but for Mexican and Latino culture in general. The Barra Fuerza Verde, the official Latino fan club for the Seattle Sounders professional soccer team, uses a calavera adorned with icons such as the Space Needle for its logo. A member of the group told me they chose the calavera image to distinguish the group as Latino and pay homage to indigenous roots.

Now that Dia de Los Muertos is going mainstream in the United States, people refer to the holiday as a “celebration” not in the same vein as a wake, but as in “fiesta,” as if all things Latino must invariably include parties and festive outfits.

Dia de los Muertos is about remembering the dead, both the sadness and joy of the life a person led. What scares me is that the tendency of Americans to commercialize and drain a holiday of its meaning, much like what happened to Halloween and Cinco de Mayo, is happening to Dia de los Muertos.

Our society, in general, struggles to fully process death and grief more than an initial burst of shock and sadness. I see that play out on social media every time a celebrity dies, or tragedy strikes such as last week’s school shooting in Marysville.

The Puget Sound community will continue to grapple with that loss of life for years to come, but as British columnist and former CNN host Piers Morgan pointed out in a column, the national media quickly moved on to other news the day after the shooting.

In the days to come, familiar images of ghosts, zombies and calaveras will fill my line of sight and that of many other people. We might eat candy and cookies shaped like those ghoulish figures.

Regardless of the revelry, I hope people take a minute to consider the source of the imagery – lives now gone urging us to remember they were people once, too.

October 31, 2014 at 6:09 AM

Ebola aid workers can't be trusted

Whatever tattered remnants that were left of American health care workers’ benevolent image is now gone.

They can thank Kaci Hickox for that.

The Maine nurse, who heroically spent a month treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, has undone her noble act of charity with a defiant, in-your-face flouting of the voluntary, 21-day self-quarantine that several states have adopted for aid workers returning from the stricken nations of West Africa.

By refusing to abide by the quarantine – she took an unsanctioned bike ride Thursday – Hickox has dispatched the iconic image of emotive nurses and selfless physicians, replacing them with an all-too-believable caricature of arrogant caregivers and jerk doctors.

Farewell Florence Knightingale.

Hello Nurse Ratchet.

Hickox thinks she’s proving a point; that she and other asymptomatic returning health care workers are no threat to the public, and thus should not be treated as outcasts. Instead she’s coming off as self-centered, arrogant, and uncaring of public concerns. And that’s pissing people off.

She’s had a little help in her butchered facelift of health care workers image. New York Dr. Craig Spencer also returned from Ebola work in West Africa last week. Spencer, who may have followed federal protocols, still gallivanted around the most populous city in the country for days before he became symptomatic and notified health authorities.

The New York Post reported that Spencer initially told authorities he’d self-quarantined, but later admitted to his extensive outings after police checked his credit card history. Health officials refuted that account, but if true, that’s all the proof anyone needs to know that a self-quarantine is no quarantine at all.

His belated onset of Ebola should also show Hickox why rational people are concerned about her cavalier attitude.

Spencer came down with the disease within the 21 days after he returned. It doesn’t appear that he passed the disease on to anyone once he became symptomatic, but that risk would have been heavily minimized if he’d been fully quarantined through the accepted observation period.

Hickox did not have symptoms at last report. But she could develop them. And if she did, she’d be a risk to anyone in the general public she then came into contact with.

That’s why the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention protocol of daily monitoring of returning aid workers isn’t enough.

Hickox, Spencer, and anyone else who’s been exposed and wants to come into the United States should be quarantined in the country of exposure before being allowed to enter the U.S.

Anything less is inviting public comparisons to Gaëtan Dugas, the Canadian flight attendant once identified as the “patient zero” of HIV in North America. Dugas continued to have unprotected sex even after being diagnosed and after doctors warned him that future liaisons would expose his partners to the deadly virus.

More than anyone, doctors and nurses should recognize the possibility for such associations and conduct themselves more cautiously. Inexplicably, they don’t. Hickox and Spencer exemplify that, and there are 150 such Ebola aid workers returning to the U.S. each day.

People trust health care workers because throughout recorded human history healers have been exalted to a unique, almost unquestioned status. In return, they’ve treated runny noses, saved lives on battlefields, and extended lifespans.

But if Hickox and Spencer are any indication, there are plenty of callous, self-absorbed bullies in the profession. That’s reason enough to revoke their previously enjoyed societal status and impose a mandatory – not voluntary – quarantine on anyone exposed to Ebola.

That’s an inconvenience that Hickox says treats her as a criminal. Not so. Science is on her side, but public opinion isn't.

She’s been asked to conduct herself as a traditional caregiver, and put societal peace-of-mind ahead of her personal convenience. Such self-sacrifice had been part of the social contract, but based on her insolent stance, that doesn’t look likely.

So long as Hickox and returning aid workers like her are allowed to impose their potential exposure on the general public, fear can’t be nursed.

Meanwhile the only point she’s making is that the people we trust with our lives aren’t to be trusted.

October 30, 2014 at 6:21 AM

Should college athletes be paid for performance?

The Pac-12 this week held itself out as the most progressive big athletic conference in the country in passing a suite of reforms of the increasingly criticized "student-athlete" model.

Here's what progressive reforms look like: guaranteed 4-year scholarships for athletes, and an ability to tap the scholarship later if they leave before graduation; reimbursed medical expenses for on-the-field injuries up to four years after leaving school; liberalized transfers within Pac-12 schools; and a seat at the Pac-12 governance table.

It's hard to argue with any of these, although it is surprising they're new in a conference and at institutions that reap tens of millions from the athletes' performances. Washington State University President Elson Floyd, who chairs the Pac-12 CEO group, said the conference is working on "the total cost of attendance." That term of art refers to the gap between an athlete's scholarship and the out-of-pocket costs, estimated to be an average of $3,500 per athlete.

But left off the list are the increasing demands for a "pay for performance" model for student athletes. In August, a federal judge sided with former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon in a lawsuit demanding residual compensation for athletes' likeness in broadcasts and video games, putting huge pressure on NCAA president (and former UW president) Mark Emmert. A bigger anti-trust lawsuit filed by attorney Jeffery Kessler, who envisions an "open marketplace" college athletics, is pending.

The argument for performance-based play boils down to simple equity. The average salary for a big-time college football coach last year was $2.05 million (the UW's Chris Peterson earned $3.2 million), while student-athletes worked an average of 43 hours a week, requiring them to miss classes. Forbes argued athletes are "core members of their university's marketing teams."

I asked University of Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward about the pressure. "It's a terrible model. It just wouldn't work."

Indicative of the pressure building, the arguments against pay for performance are no longer just about the value of amateurism. There could be tax consequences for scholarships — upwards of $50,000 a year. Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wonders how a marketplace would work. Would female and male athletes be paid equally? If so, what are the Title IX implications?

"The unintended consequences of pay for performance are mind-numbing," said Woodward.

What do you think? Click here and offer your argument. If we get enough comments, we'll publish excerpts.

October 28, 2014 at 6:03 AM

U.S. Ebola workers should self-quarantine before coming home

There’s something completely more frightening about a doctor coming down with Ebola than someone from the general public.

More than anyone else, physicians know how to protect themselves from deadly contagions. That’s why the latest case of Ebola in America is so troubling.

About a week ago, New York Dr. Craig Spencer returned to his home in the most populous city in America after spending a month treating patients of the contagious killer in Guinea.

You’d think that someone whose occupational ethos is “first, do no harm” would take extraordinary precautions. Instead, Spencer followed existing protocols, answering airport questionnaires and registering his possible exposure with U.S. immigration and health officials when he returned to the only American metropolitan area with 20 million inhabitants.

Once home, he monitored his temperature twice a day for any change. That change came Thursday. He notified local health officials of his worsening condition, and was whisked into isolated care.

I’m no epidemic chicken little, but monitoring and testing for infection after entry to the U.S. seems too passive and reactive a policy for an active epidemic killer.

While denying U.S. admission to anyone coming from the affected West African countries is extreme and counterproductive, a 21-day quarantine of any person who has come into regular contact with Ebola patients before they're allowed into the U.S. seems a reasonably protective measure for the general population.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had similar thoughts last week after Spencer became the first reported case in metro New York. However, with the doctor having already returned and traveled extensively in the area, they opted to impose a mandatory involuntary quarantine on anyone suspected of Ebola exposure upon arrival.

That led to nurse Kaci Hickox being forced into quarantine Friday after returning to New Jersey from a month in Sierra Leone, even though she showed no symptoms.

Federal officials, who themselves had considered instituting similar protocols late last week, pressured both states to allow the quarantines to take place in people's homes and the governors relented.

Hickox, who was released Monday, said her involuntary quarantine violated her human rights. That may be true. But what about the human rights of the people who might come into contact with her, or anyone else who could become actively infected after returning to the U.S.?

Knowledgeable health care specialists, such as Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, King County’s chief of communicable diseases and chairman of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, make compelling civil liberties and financial arguments against such “overkill.”

Duchin notes that about 150 Ebola aid workers enter the United States each day. To address that volume before entry, 3,150 people would have to be quarantined at any given time. That certainly would be very costly, and logistically complicated.

Still, where’s the harm in taking the extra precaution of sequestering anyone exposed for the three week Ebola incubation period, in the source country of the exposure, and before setting foot on U.S. soil?

Duchin reminded me of Americans' over-the-top reactions in the early days of HIV and SARS. Then, when little was known about the ailments, swimming pools were drained and disinfected after someone with HIV swam in them, and scores of people began wearing surgical masks in an attempt to avoid airborne SARS.

In hindsight, none of that was necessary, or even effective.

But they did help people feel safe. And a preliminary monitoring quarantine of people exposed to Ebola is far from an ineffective, over-the-top precaution.

“It’s rather predictable that with a new disease that’s scary and unpredictable, people have a lot of fear and mistrust,” argued Duchin. “There is a kind of predictable time period that the public needs to become comfortable with the facts, to understand that the risk is not as high as they imagine it to be.”

To hasten that learning curve, last week President Barack Obama hugged an Ebola survivor from Dallas in an attempt to calm fears.

Experts worry that mandatory entry quarantines will discourage professionals from going to help contain the outbreak.  And the need for medical workers in those nations is clearly great. But I question why any health care worker would engage in behavior that could potentially spread – not stem – the spread of Ebola.

It's additionally troubling that aside from the first reported Ebola case in the U.S., all subsequent cases have been health care workers - the very people who should be best protected and should take extra precautions to protect their exposure being spread to anyone else.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who travelled to Ebola-affected nations in West Africa Sunday, said returning health care workers should be “treated like conquering heroes and not stigmatized for the tremendous work that they have done.”

She’s right.

But those health care workers should also recognize that they're taking a voluntary risk that they have no right to impose on their fellow Americans.

October 27, 2014 at 6:19 AM

Just say 'no' to excessive demands for school fundraising

During my sophomore year in high school, I raised more than $1,000 to pay for about half of a trip to visit Japan as part of a cultural exchange program.

After numerous car washes and selling candy bars to classmates, I learned that fundraising isn’t easy. Even though I had a part-time job, neither I nor my family could have covered the cost of the entire trip out-of-pocket.

Raising money for something extracurricular like, say, a visit to Japan, makes sense for public schools, but raising money to pay teachers’ salaries or basic school necessities is extremely troubling.

In recent weeks, parents at Gatewood Elementary School in West Seattle scrambled to raise close to $90,000 in a matter of days to keep a teacher’s job in their school.

Interim Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland suggested the same option to parents and students at Garfield High School, who learned last week one of their teachers would be reassigned to another school that is over-enrolled with students.

I’m impressed that the parents in West Seattle pulled together that kind of money so quickly, but I’m dismayed that parental fundraising is becoming a much more crucial component of school funding.

The amount of money raised by private supporters for U.S. schools boomed to an estimated $880 million in 2010, a whopping 348 percent increase compared with $197 million in 1995, according to a study by Ashlyn Aiko Nelson and Beth A. Gazley of Indiana University.

The researchers analyzed fundraising by what they call “school-supporting nonprofits,” which include groups such as charitable school foundations, booster clubs and parent teacher associations or organizations known as PTAs and PTOs.

An Oct. 21 news story in The New York Times highlights the disparity between two schools in the San Diego area. A school in an affluent enclave brings in about $1,500 per student per year in private funding while a school in a lower income neighborhood brings in closer to $20 per year per student.

The study states that privately-sourced money for schools by no means replaces state, federal or local funding sources. Still, our public school system continues segmenting into schools that have and schools that have not.

Parents should feel free to raise or donate money to public schools as they wish, but the fact that schools rely on that money more and more troubles me as a taxpayer who believes education should serve as an equalizer for our society by giving kids an opportunity to succeed, regardless of their parents’ income.

I don’t have children, but if I did, I’m not sure I want strong fundraising skills to be an essential qualification to be a good parent.

At Garfield High School, students responded to Nyland’s suggestion by staging a walk-out – a strategy that might not have any effect on their cause, but at least demands accountability over how school resources are spent and doesn't just fall back on parents to save the day.

I’m comforted to see the students engaged and outraged by their school district. They demonstrate that at least part of the educational system is working.

October 27, 2014 at 6:03 AM

DUI attorney PAC shows why Halloween and Election Day go hand-in-ghoulish-hand

It’s no small matter that the final stretch before Election Day comes in the build-up to, and afterglow of, Halloween.

What other holiday more accurately reflects the spirit of American elections than the ghoulish, netherworldly exaltation of All Hallows Eve?

And like the most terrifying haunted house, the dark arts of campaign politics are not for the faint of heart.

A common spooky campaign practice I've noticed is to put a candidate with the same name as an incumbent on the ballot. The fake candidate will invariably siphon some of the incumbents’ electoral support, thereby increasing the chances of the opponent.

It doesn’t always work, but it’ll always scare the hell out of an incumbent.

Until recently, those kinds of shenanigans rarely found their way into judicial campaigns. Typically those contests operated above the common fray of Philistine behavior, deceptive ads and big money.

But now, even judicial elections are subject to eerie campaign tactics.

A group that gives me that creepy campaign vibe is Citizens for Judicial Excellence, the Washington political action committee hell-bent on electing local judges who are more sympathetic to defendants, or who are intimidated by the group’s financial might.

The political action committee, composed largely of defense attorneys who specialize in driving-under-the-influence cases, had seemed a benign influence since its 2010 inception. But that public perception changed this year when the group opposed sitting King County district Judge Ketu Shah, whom founding group member Stephen Hayne had singled out for support just a year earlier.

The candidate the PAC chose to back instead is Stephen Hayne's spouse, Sarah. Although Sarah Hayne has been an attorney for nearly 20 years, she has limited recent courtroom experience, and opted to forgo the King County Bar Association’s traditional review of judicial candidate credentials.

In the final weeks before voters cast their ballots, Sarah Hayne’s campaign has drawn on the dark arts campaign playbook. In a direct affront to the bar, she has misleadingly appropriated bar language in her campaign literature.

“Exceptionally Well Qualified” is the bar’s highest judicial candidate grade. It’s also the exact, all-caps headline describing Sarah Hayne by retired Kent Municipal Court Judge Robert McSeveney on her campaign flyer.

The bar will only act if a complaint is filed. None has been.

This type of judicial campaign hocus-pocus first materialized last year -- less than two months before Election Day -- when Citizens for Judicial Excellence invited “judges, prosecutors, county council members and attorneys” to a complementary appetizer and cash bar social event at the Newcastle Golf Club.

Made aware of the event in advance, the state Ethics Advisory Committee determined that “attending an event sponsored by this organization undermines the public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of judicial officers.”

Though the event never materialized, it was an attempt to bewitch judges into unethical behavior and to demonstrate the groups’ menacing campaign muscularity.

Every special interest does what it can to fulfill its agenda, but misleading voters and attempting to spook judges makes my skin crawl. Sadly, they fit right into a traditional American election always conducted in the season of the witch.

October 24, 2014 at 8:58 AM

What happened to all the legal marijuana stores in Seattle?

Corrected version

"You know what's really been successful because of Initiative 502? The black market."

That a tough assessment, because it is exactly the opposite of what Initiative 502, the 2012 marijuana legalization measure, was supposed to do. And it's particularly tough because it comes from a frustrated Alex Cooley, a successful but straight-arrow marijuana grower (I profiled him in a column last year) who both supported I-502 and has multiple I-502 licenses for growing and processing.

But his assessment reflects a growing unease about the lurching roll out of Washington's historic recreational marijuana market. Prices, at $25 a gram or more, are far higher than any scenario analysis by an Liquor Control Board consultant, BOTEC, in planning reports before the launch. Tax revenues through about one quarter of the year are $6.5 million ($26 million for a full year). That will probably rise when more stores open (and prices fall), but so far it's a fraction of what was expected. BOTEC estimated tax revenues could be anywhere from $3.2 billion to $650 million over 10 years.

In an editorial this Sunday, the Seattle Times editorial board takes a look at the problems caused by Washington's lax medical marijuana regulations, an unregulated shadow market sucking customers from the recreational stores.

Cooley and others have other reasons. Foremost for Cooley is the "proximity problem" in Initiative 502, which bans stores within "one thousand feet of the perimeter of the grounds of any elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, or library, or any game arcade."

The City of Seattle map at right shows, in yellow, the tiny slivers that fit the definition. "There's a reason there's so few retailers and grows — there's no where to go," said Cooley.

I don't blame I-502's drafters for this, because the initiative was written to pass a popular vote, and did.

But the LCB made the "proximity problem" more acute. It first decided to measure the 1,000 feet by "common path of travel," which would've expanded the yellow. Under pressure from federal prosecutors, the LCB changed to a more restrictive "as the crow flies" interpretation. The yellow zones tightened. "If you use common path of travel, you double the number of properties," Cooley said.

The LCB's Rick Garza said the direct pressure from the state's U.S. Attorneys - who retain the power to close the whole I-502 market under federal law - caught the board's attention. "There wasn’t very many times when we heard directly from the U.S. attorneys. Basically what the feds said is, 'It’s illegal.' For them to share concerns about how we measured the 1,000 feet, that got our attention pretty quickly."

The fact that Seattle, triple the size of any other city in Washington, has only a handful of stores is "odd," Garza said, because there are 21 locations authorized for the city. The LCB has given the 21 entities who won a lottery for Seattle licenses until mid-November to get moving, or lose their chance at a license. "There’s so many reasons outside of the board that these businesses aren’t opening," Garza said.

Tweaking I-502 to loosen the 1,000-foot rule seems an obvious fix for some of this. State liquor laws put the buffer at 500 feet for schools.

Rolling out the world's first from-scratch legal marijuana market is a huge challenge, and deserves patience. But four months in, patience is wearing thin.

An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly described tax revenue estimates by the consultant BOTEC. 

October 23, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Bob Barker to Woodland Park Zoo elephants Bamboo and Chai: Come on down (to a sanctuary)!

When Mayor Ed Murray delivers his proposed budget Thursday evening at Seattle City Hall, he won't be able to miss the elephant (advocates) in the room.

Members of the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants issued a press release Thursday announcing plans to pack the 5:30 p.m. meeting. They'll "urge City Council members to withhold funding from Woodland Park Zoo until the Zoo's two surviving elephants are retired to a sanctuary." The mayor's budget blueprint reportedly includes $7 million in taxpayer funding for the Woodland Park Zoo.

The Seattle Times editorial board, the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are among the institutions that have advocated for sending Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary where they can live out their days in a warmer climate and with more space to move around. The Woodland Park Zoo's third elephant, Watoto, was euthanized in August after she fell and could not get up. As of 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, here's the (very unscientific) results of an Oct. 13 Opinion Northwest poll asking readers what should happen to the two remaining elephants:

Murray and a few council members have indicated they are ready to take another look at the plight of the zoo's elephant exhibit. Perhaps they need another strong nudge to move faster. Ahead of Thursday's meeting, Friends co-founder and elephant advocate Alyne Fortgang emailed me a Sept. 30 letter from "The Price is Right" host and animal rights activist Bob Barker to zoo and city leaders. Here's what that letter states:  

Dear Mayor Murray, Council Members and Dr. Jensen,

I have devoted much of my time to helping animals and have been an advocate for releasing elephants to sanctuaries for many years. In October of last year, the three elephants from the Toronto Zoo were successfully retired to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). As you may be aware, PAWS provides elephants with space to walk, forage, swim and live their lives to the fullest.

Chai and Bamboo in Seattle have a similar poor quality of life as the elephants had in Toronto. (Sadly, Watoto died before she could have a single day in a sanctuary.) Like Toronto, Seattle’s elephants only have about an acre yard. Toronto Zoo’s elephant barn was 4 times larger than the barn at Woodland Park Zoo yet Toronto’s City Council and Zoo Board felt it was not large enough.

Seattle’s wet and cold climate forces these highly intelligent animals to be locked up in tiny cages in the barn. This 16 – 17 hours of daily confinement lasts for over half of the year. The conditions in which your elephants live are physically and psychologically damaging to these far ranging animals who are genetically wired to move great distances.

No matter how many millions of tax payer dollars Woodland Park Zoo and the City of Seattle spend on improving the elephant exhibit, the Zoo is landlocked and can never provide the amount of space these giants need. The Zoo cannot change the climate that causes the prolonged lock up.

Retiring the elephants and creating a non-live exhibit would make more sense; freeing up money to save elephants in the wild.

I’m asking Seattle’s Mayor, City Council and Woodland Park Zoo’s management to make the humane decision to retire Bamboo and Chai to PAWS.

PAWS stands for the Performing Animal Welfare Society in California.

Last year, The Huffington Post reported that Barker paid $1 million to move three elephants from the Toronto Zoo to the sanctuary. I'm curious to find out whether PAWS has room to accept two more elephants, and whether Barker might shell out some funds to transfer Chai and Bamboo down south.

October 22, 2014 at 12:06 PM

Washington Supreme Court should not dismiss Backpage.com case

Just because no case law yet holds Backpage.com responsible for exploiting children, that does not mean the classified ad site should always be immune from liability. The fact is Backpage.com and other sites like it create an environment where pimps can easily post ads every night selling girls (and boys) for commercial sex work.  They do so through methods that include the use of prepaid credit cards and by refusing to verify the ages of scantily clad photo subjects.

The Washington state Supreme Court has a chance to do something about these degrading business practices by allowing a case against Backpage.com to move forward in Tacoma.

During oral arguments at the Temple of Justice on Tuesday, attorney Erik Bauer argued on behalf of three girls who came under the control of pimps when they were young teenagers — two were in the seventh grade; a third was 15 year old. The trio is now suing Backpage.com for damages after their exploitation led to countless beatings and rape by adult customers.

"Backpage.com is an Internet content provider. These ads didn’t happen by accident," Bauer said. "It’s a systemic corporate effort to make a lot of money by marketing the nation’s children, including the children of the state of Washington."

In response, Backpage.com attorney James Grant said a key section of the federal Communications Decency Act was meant to preserve free speech on the Internet.

This might be true, but what about the rights of children to not be subjected to rape and abuse? Backpage.com can try to turn a blind eye to the consequences of its business practices, but its attorneys claim that it deserves "complete immunity" and no liability "for content passed by third parties" also makes it a willing accomplice to crimes against children.

Watch video of the oral arguments on TVW's website.

Here's a key question from Justice Barbara Madsen to Grant that leads me to believe the justices will keep this case alive rather than dismissing it per Backpage.com's wishes:

What about a service provider that encourages a certain kind of content? I understand the cases haven't been as receptive to that argument by plaintiffs. But nevertheless there seems to be some room there for the courts at least to explore. So it's not simply that you're a neutral party. You're encouraging a certain kind of content, and why shouldn't there be some responsibility when you encourage a certain kind of content?

Case law might be on Backpage.com's side for now, but the justices should stir the legal pot and send a signal to the federal government to take another look at what the Communications Decency Act should or should not protect. Force Backpage.com to defend its very lucrative but shameful practices.

Let the three girls involved in this case have their day in court so that other children might be spared the suffering they endured as victims of sex trafficking.

For more background on this case, read The Seattle Times' Oct. 3 editorial against dismissing the lawsuit known officially as J.S., S.L., and L.C. v. Village Voice Media Holdings, et al.  I followed up on Oct. 17 with a blog post featuring excerpts from various amicus briefs filed by anti-sex trafficking organizations on behalf of the plaintiffs. On Monday, the editorial pages featured this guest column from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

October 22, 2014 at 6:25 AM

Seattle preschool Proposition 1B's consensus, and the alternative's problems

The Seattle Preschool Program —  known as Proposition 1B on the Nov. 4 ballot —  is racking up endorsements. The King County Labor Council, El Centro De La Raza, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and many other groups are on board.  You also have a rare consensus of Seattle's media organizations, including the centrist Seattle Times editorial board, the left-leaning Publicola,  The Stranger, and even tipped-over-off-the-left-o-sphere blogger David Goldstein.

All say voters should pass Seattle Proposition 1B.

The unanimity forms around the simple idea that it's time to get moving on universal, high-quality prekindergarten education. A pair of the nation's leading pre-K researchers laid out the research behind 1B in a recent Seattle Times guest column. If you missed it, read it.

Understanding the unanimity is important because there's a competing measure, Proposition 1A, on the ballot. Only one can pass. It's either-or. Prop. 1A does not create a citywide preschool program. It does not have any way to fund its child-care teacher training enhancements.

And it's a budget-buster for the city. Prop 1A binds the city to create a policy that caps all families' child-care payments — regardless of income level — at 10 percent of gross income. The city estimates that will cost more than $100 million the first year.

Prop 1A is just bad policy. Don't take my word for it. Read Democratic state Rep. Ross Hunter's analysis, sent to the Seattle City Council in September (at the time Prop. 1B  was called Initiative 107). Hunter, the state House budget chairman, is not a Seattle voter, but he knows pre-K issues cold. He's a longtime champion for pre-K, helping create a rating system for child care programs that will be incorporated into Prop. 1B.

Hunter calls the costs of the 10 percent goal "staggering" and "a serious misrouting of resources." Here's an excerpt from his report:

There is no constraint on the costs of the program a child attends. With the language here, people could send their kids to exclusive programs and ask for taxpayer support for a $30,000 program for a family making $250,000. This will have the perverse effect of driving UP child care costs.

Seattle has a big choice, and a huge opportunity with Prop. 1B. Take a moment to read the endorsements; these represent the political spectrum, analyzing the options and independently coming to the same conclusion.

October 21, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Seattle disses Thug Kitchen, vegan cookbook signing canceled

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, 1:57 p.m., Oct. 22

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. Nine 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.)

Here's where the initiative's flaws start to outweigh its good intentions:While the initiative would hire more teachers, it provides no funding for additional classroom space, improving the student-teacher ratio but not the classroom squeeze for some schools. Those who vote for I-1351 have to know that more funding from the state and through school district bonds will be necessary to provide the space needed for additional classrooms for more teachers.The state Office of Financial Management puts the initiative's costs at nearly $5 billion through 2019. The initiative provides no funding source, leaving that decision to the Legislature, which at the same time must find funding to satisfy the state Supreme Court's McCleary ruling to fully fund education, pegged at $1 billion to $3 billion each for the next two bienniums.

--The Herald of Everett

Update: This post was updated at 7:25, Friday, Oct. 17, to add the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board's position. This post was updated again at 11:45 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 21, to add the Wenatchee World editorial board's position. This post was updated again at 1:57 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 22, to add The Herald of Everett 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.

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