Ed cetera

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

April 18, 2014 at 6:40 AM

Turn the Missouri man free

No jail time for a clerical error. Missouri, the Show Me State, is not showing me much with its stubborn insistence that a man overlooked by criminal justice bureaucrats should spend 13 years in jail for embarrassing them.

Maybe all those folks in Missouri should be mindful of the state motto: "The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law." The story about Cornealious Anderson, well told by Jim Salter of The Associated Press, is really the tale of a life turned around.

Anderson was convicted in 2000 for his role in a 1999 holdup of a fast-food restaurant. Sent home to bide his time before heading off to 13 years in prison, he waited for the telephone call or knock on the door that never came. In the meantime, he overcame his sole bout of youthful, stupid male behavior, and went on to marry, have a family, learn a trade, and earn a living. And stay out of trouble.

He never hid, never ducked the law or fiddled with his identity or whereabouts. The most telling point for me was a couple of sentences in the story about his being stopped for a couple of traffic violations. Anderson was not in the database for his conviction or prison sentence.

On his own, he played by the rules and succeeded down a new penitential path that corrections officials can only dream about. How many ex-convicts, free after 13 years behind bars, have a shot at the stability and citizenship Anderson produced? Through his own efforts and the support of people who cared about him, he changed for the better.

Now a deeply embarrassed – no, mortified – bureaucracy wants to make him pay. This is stupid, outrageous and insulting. Society and taxpayers got lucky. Respect what Anderson achieved, and is working to sustain. Back off.

April 17, 2014 at 6:25 AM

An almost-united front on the fish-consumption issue

Looks like newspapers across the state are chiming in on the fish-consumption issue, and nearly all of them see the same danger The Seattle Times observed in an editorial last week.

They say Washington industry and local governments could face a devastating problem when the administration of Gov. Jay Inslee finally announces its position on that rather odd-sounding question, how much fish do Washington residents eat? If the state does what federal regulators want, it would mean water-quality standards so tough no technology could meet them, and require the expenditure of billions of dollars to remove infinitesimal and undetectable amounts of contamination. A decision, in the form of a proposed rule from the state Department of Ecology, is expected sometime in the next few weeks.

The regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency is bringing all the pressure it can bear on the states of Washington and Idaho to adopt fish-consumption figures much higher than the ones they currently use – perhaps 25 times higher. This typically would mean water regulations 25 times tougher. Already, the regional EPA regulators have convinced Oregon to do it – giving the Beaver State by far the highest water-quality standards in the country.

How come? It appears a matter of political theory, not science. The Pacific Northwest regional office argues that as a matter of “environmental justice” the state ought to increase standards to protect minority populations that eat large amounts of fish. Yet, other EPA regional offices have taken the stand that current standards are tough enough to protect the entire population. No scientific evidence shows otherwise. And for all the bluster, the regional office doesn’t have the authority to require the state to do anything – any decision would have to come from Washington, D.C .

The Times argued last week the Inslee administration should stand up to the regional bureaucrats, or at least adopt a more modest proposal. Here’s what everyone else is saying:

An editorial in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin says the state ought to wait and see what happens in Oregon before it follows suit.

“It seems silly to base important public policy on a number pulled from thin air. Let’s hope Inslee takes it seriously and considers the full ramification of the decision.”

The Tri-City Herald editorial board says the rules might force the closure of the Boise-Cascade Wallula plant, as high costs in this state might encourage the parent company to invest elsewhere. Six hundred jobs are at stake in the Tri-Cities alone.  

“... the goal is not only unattainable but unmeasurable. We need clean water standards that make sense for the environment and the economy. The Oregon model does neither.”

A blistering editorial in The News Tribune of Tacoma starts off by saying “the other Washington is leaning on this state to adopt a water purity standard so absolute that it could siphon hundreds of millions of dollars out of people’s pockets and strangle the creation of new jobs.” It notes that the city of Bellingham has estimated sewer bills will rise from $35 a month to $200 or more.

“Those who demand extreme environmental policies are sometimes oblivious to the costs they would impose on the people least able to bear them. For many families, even a $100 sewer bill would mean less money to keep the car in repair, less gas to drive to work, less food and clothing for the children. The humane policy isn’t ‘let them eat fish.’”

An editorial in The Daily News of Longview worries that the Inslee Administration has sided with “environmental extremists at almost every opportunity,” and may do so again.

“We sympathize with Inslee in that he’s dealing with a regional EPA that seems to have crossed the line into activist agenda-setting and ought to be reined in by the main office in Washington, D.C., something that’s unlikely to happen. What the governor needs to do here is to resist federal pressure and to insist on reasonable standards, a course recommended by, among others, the customarily ultra-liberal and ultra-green editorial board of the Seattle Times.”

Among the state’s editorial boards, the only call for higher standards comes ironically enough from the City of Smokestacks.  An editorial in The Herald of Everett dismisses worries as a “business panic.” It says the approach of the regional EPA office is based on science and declares with certainty that if the state Department of Ecology doesn’t act, the federal agency would.

“The key is to ensure that the final rule reflects the best available science, the letter and spirit of the Clear Water Act, and the values and public health of all Northwesterners.”

April 17, 2014 at 6:13 AM

Seattle Times editorial writers win Sigma Delta Chi award for marijuana editorials

Congratulations to Seattle Times editorial writer Jonathan Martin and retired writer Bruce Ramsey for winning the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Editorial Writing for large newspapers.

The winning entry comprised a series of editorials about Washington state's marijuana legalization process that Ramsey and Martin wrote in 2013. Among them was an editorial calling out Washington's congressional delegation for not taking a lead in efforts to amend federal law to accommodate the experiment unfolding in our state and Colorado. They also implored Attorney General Eric Holder to stand down on possible federal prosecution and urged reforms that would allow federally insured banks to serve marijuana enterprises legal in our state.

The Seattle Times was the first metropolitan newspaper to endorse the legalization of marijuana in a February 2011 editorial. Ramsey wrote that first editorial and a month before Initiative 502 was on the ballot in November 2012, he wrote an attention-grabbing column about smoking marijuana for the first time in 20 years. He continued to write about that issue for the Opinion pages until his retirement in December.

Martin came to the issue of marijuana as a reporter covering issues around marijuana. In a 2011 news story, he showed how easy it was to get a medical authorization for using marijuana at Hempfest. He joined the Times editorial page early in 2013.

Martin isn't the only editorial writer on our staff to have been honored with Sigma Delta Chi award. Writer Thanh Tan was part of a Texas Tribune team that won a 2012 Sigma Delta Chi award in the online reporting/digital video category for an examination of the effects of the Texas Legislature's deep cuts to family planning programs.

April 16, 2014 at 6:45 AM

Build icebreakers to protect U.S. interests in the Arctic

Republicans in Congress are toting extra heavy campaign baggage as they head into the 2014 election season, and look beyond to 2016. They have virtually no legislative achievements or profile beyond being an impediment.

In its desperate attempt to find bipartisan issues to help tout a constructive role, the GOP should embrace modernizing the U.S. icebreaker fleet to protect American interests in the Arctic.

Conditions in the Arctic are changing, and one does not have to look too far ahead to imagine the fabled Northwest Passage becoming a reality for a portion of the year. It has to do with, you know, that climate change thing. If Republicans can get beyond that, the other reality is a time-saving shipping route that is attracting global attention.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, are working their respective chambers to sustain federal funds to refurbish the Polar Sea icebreaker, and keep the U.S. Coast Guard working on the design of a new icebreaker. Granted the topic can be pretty obscure for their land-locked colleagues, but the issues are basic for the security of the country.

The Polar Sea, idled in a Seattle shipyard, was taken out of action by massive engine failures. The Coast Guard has the recently refurbished Polar Star and the Healy, a medium icebreaker and research vessel. The Coast Guard needs options and they are well-described in a March 28 report by the Congressional Research Service.

Even the Polar Star is estimated to have another seven to 10 years of service, about the time the Polar Sea would be ready. That still only gives the Coast Guard two icebreakers, without construction of a new vessel.

This is a basic federal investment in a basic mission to protect U.S. sovereignty, security and economic interests. And to support U.S. maritime activities and enforce U.S. laws. Nothing could be more bipartisan and worthy of support by Republicans and Democrats.

April 16, 2014 at 6:25 AM

The problem with taxing bicyclists in Seattle

In approving a plan to stretch 474 miles of bike highways and byways through Seattle, the City Council puts a new challenge on itself. To fully build out the master plan, the city needs to find about $20 million a year for 20 years.

The most common solution — if it can be said that comment-thread trolls want to problem-solve — is to make bicyclists pay. Okay, what would that look like?

One option is mandatory bike or registration licensing, with some fee. Half of Seattle's 634,000 residents have access to a working bike, according to a Seattle Department of Transportation bicycle survey. But with even a hint of analysis, the notion of a bike license falls apart. It has been tried elsewhere — Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and many cities in California — and failed, with one after another repealing the laws.

Administrative costs were too high, and there were clear problems with enforcement. In L.A. and D.C., the law was used to harass citizens. The Oregon city of Medford repealed its bike license law in 2010 at the request of local police, who said it was unenforceable for non-resident commuters. So how would it work here? Would Seattle cops sit on the Burke-Gilman Trail at the Kenmore border?

There's also some sort of excise tax. Imposing a $25 fee on bicycle sales was proposed by state House Democrats last year in a transportation package. U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Portland Democrat and the strongest pro-bike voice in Congress, suggested a bike tire tax as a symbolic gesture in an interview with The Portland Bike Blog has reported on support for a symbolic bike tax among Portland's bike advocates.

I'd be fine paying some sort of user fee, but there are practical problems with this. Taxes cost money to collect, so it would have to be significant enough to be worth it. And if it's significant enough to raise real money, it puts Seattle bike-sellers and suppliers — many of them small and locally owned — at a competitive disadvantage to big box retailers and neighboring towns.

Teasing out the practicalities ignores, of course, the clear public value of encouraging cycling for congestion relief, to cut carbon emissions and for better health. Good bike infrastructure is increasingly an economic development incentive to lure jobs downtown. It's not a coincidence that Amazon chose to fund dedicated "cycle tracks" as a public amenity for its future Denny Triangle campus.

So how would it work, making bikers pay? If you have a reasonable suggestion, email me at

April 15, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Interactive: Where do your federal taxes go?

Happy Tax Day.

Did you get a refund this year? Or were you like me and surprised you did not withhold quite enough in 2013 to avoid having Uncle Sam shake you down for a bit — or maybe a lot — more?

For many, Tax Day is a mindless ritual. We get that refund and spend it, forgetting it was our money all along. But admit it: When some citizens are forced to pay more by April 15, all those headlines about waste and fraud in government programs become a little more relevant. Even the most bleeding-heart liberals might think twice about where their dollars are going, and whether that money is being spent wisely.

No matter your feelings about this day, check out the taxpayer-receipt interactive below from the White House. Input your payments to Social Security, Medicare and income taxes in 2013. Know that half your taxes are paying for national defense and health care. Less than 3 percent is spent on education and job training.

What do you think? Is that how you want your money to be prioritized? Leave a comment.

April 14, 2014 at 6:21 AM

Forum: The gender pay gap is real. Have you been affected?

The wage gap between men and women is pervasive. Whether the national average difference is 77 percent, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, or 84 percent, according to the Pew Research Center, male employees still have an advantage.

That's just wrong. Women deserve equal pay for doing the same work as their male peers and an equal shot at climbing up the success ladder.

The gap has closed over the years, but as Pew notes in the video below, progress is slowing down. Take a look:

Have you personally experienced pay inequities in your career? What do you think is the cause of this? Do you have ideas for solutions to close the gap? Scroll down to the form at the end of this post and tell us.

First, take a look at Saturday's Seattle Times editorial supporting the city's efforts to close inequities within its own ranks. The narrative is a familiar one. Many lower-wage jobs tend to be held by women, while most of the higher-paying jobs and leadership positions are held by men.

The same trends apply nationwide. The current system limits upward mobility, but there's hope for change as employers start to analyze the root causes of pay inequity, women continue to outpace men in earning college degrees and bosses allow more flexible hours.

Alas, many of us demand changes now and lament the reasons why inequities persist in this post-"Mad Men" world.

Here's a few reasons, culled from various news reports:

  • According to the Pew Research Center, women are more likely to take career breaks to care for their families. 

And research has shown that these types of interruptions can have an impact on long-term earnings.  Roughly four-in-ten mothers say they have taken a significant amount of time off from work (39 percent) or reduced their work hours (42 percent) to care for a child or other family member. Roughly a quarter (27 percent) say they have quit work altogether to take care of these familial responsibilities. (Fewer men say the same. For example, just 24 percent of fathers say they have taken a significant amount of time off to care for a child or other family member.)

  • Last Friday, The Washington Post reported on a new federal government study showing pay inequities have improved over the years. But experience level, motivation and work performance also make a difference. 

However, it added: “To the extent that the explaining factors are subject to employee or employer control, some unknown portion of the explained gap may reflect the effects of discrimination (either societal or employer-specific).”

  • In that same Post story, a policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation suggests it's important for women to understand — and defend — their worth. 

[Romina] Boccia said other factors besides discrimination can play a role in creating a pay disparity, including how much women are willing to aggressively negotiate for higher pay and whether they accept non-wage benefits that can help working mothers, such as longer maternity leave, assistance with child care and flexibility with work hours and locations.

We can pull a lot of teeth thinking about the pay gap, but don't forget that money is not the sole measure of success for all women. In December, I wrote an Opinion NW blog post about Pew's research on wages and questioned whether women are genetically predisposed to make less because they have children and are more likely to stay home to be caretakers. As noted in that Pew study, it found "that the majority of those who choose to cut their hours, reject promotions, or quit their jobs altogether to raise their children or care for loved ones were still plenty satisfied in life. No complaints or regrets."

Regardless of the reasons why women leave (or return to) full-time jobs, they deserve to be treated and paid fairly according to their abilities and experience levels. Let's keep the pay-gap discussion going.

Have you experienced the wage gap in your line of work? How so? Tell us in the form below. We may use your responses in a follow-up blog post. Contact information will only be used for verification purposes and will not be publicly posted.

April 11, 2014 at 6:30 AM

U.S. Sen. Murray wants answers about oil-train safety

Corrected version

Shipping crude oil by rail has resulted in horrific accidents that claimed lives and devastated communities. Concerns about the safety of crude oil shipments are escalating  along with the predicted number of trains headed across Washington.

The Washington State Legislature had a chance to help protect Washington residents, and let local communities prepare for the worst. Unfortunately, HB 2347, which would have provided basic information to public-safety agencies, withered and died in the Majority Coalition Caucus-controlled Senate.

The vulnerability and exposure of the public is only going to grow, and state senators this past session shuffled their feet and looked out the window. That sad history made the news of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C. all the more important.

Seattle Times Washington Bureau reporter Kyung M. Song explained that Murray presided over the first congressional hearing focused solely on the safety of transporting crude oil by rail.

One of the witnesses before Murray’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation was Barb Graff, director of Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management. Song reported Graff laid out disturbing details about the expected growth of daily shipments through the city, the flammable nature of the cargo, and the potential hazards along the route.

As I wrote in a Jan. 16 column about oil shipments, lawmakers in the other Washington have been pushing for answers from the federal bureaucracy. New tank car standards were adopted in 2011, but the demand for rail containers raises questions about the ability to handle the demand.

Getting answers as Murray and her colleagues learned on Wednesday can be a frustrating experience.

The hazards are clearly known. After the state Senate in Olympia ducked its duties, it is reassuring to hear the topic and questions raised on Capitol Hill.

Information in this article, originally published April 11, 2014, was corrected April 11, 2014. A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Barb Graff's name.

April 10, 2014 at 6:27 AM

Three newspapers: Appoint an Eastern Washington justice, Gov. Jay Inslee

With the retirement of state Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson for health reasons, Gov. Jay Inslee will have the opportunity to appoint a justice to the nine-member panel. The Spokesman-Review and the Yakima Herald-Republic have joined The Seattle Times in encouraging the governor to look East of the Cascades for his choice.

Johnson has been a conservative, libertarian and populist influence on the court and a strong believer in open government -- and something of an outlier. Though he was a native of Seattle and has lived for years in Olympia, he also has a strong sense of the differences in the state and the challenges facing natural-resources based economies in the more rural parts of the state.

Of course, there  are many factors to consider in selecting a qualified justice, including judicial philosophy, but experience matters too. In an editorial last week, The Seattle Times editorial board urged the governor to consider appointing a justice from Eastern Washington.

The governor should consider appointing a justice from Eastern Washington, which has more than 23 percent of the state’s 22 appellate court judges, because they are elected by geographic division, but fewer than 10 percent of its Supreme Court members. Although Justice Debra Stephens hails from that side of the state, she is from its most urban spot, Spokane. Justice Susan Owens comes from Forks, a rural Clallam County community. The rest of the justices come from the populous and more urban King, Pierce or Kitsap counties.

A Spokesman-Review editorial also made the same pitch. The Spokane newspaper noted the court's current "West Side tilt."

Of course, the chief consideration for such a choice is the wisdom to intelligently interpret whether laws conflict with Washington’s Constitution. However, there will probably be several qualified candidates, so it’s not untoward to push for more regional balance among the nine seats. Currently, the court has a decidedly West Side tilt.

The selection of a qualified jurist from east of the Cascades would be a nod to the  [former Gov. Chris ] Gregoire slogan of “One Washington,” which she invoked in selecting Stephens. We believe a continued commitment to regional balance would help further the goal of cooperation and inclusion.

This week, a Yakima Herald-Republic editorial chimed in, specifically asking for a Central Washington appointee. After all, Gov. Inslee used to practice law in the Yakima Valley before he went into politics.

Johnson, though a Seattle native who worked in the Puget Sound area, understands how people think and work in Washington’s small towns and rural areas. He comprehends how people value private property rights — especially how government sometimes doesn’t — and his being an Army veteran sets him apart from other members of the court.

Whomever the governor selects will have to stand for election in November along with candidates for the three other open seats. For a candidate from rural Washington, winning a statewide election for a relatively low-profile race might be difficult. But a gubernatorial endorsement could certainly goose the campaign.

April 10, 2014 at 6:23 AM

A ride-service fan's doubts about uberX, Lyft and Sidecar petition

Within the last couple weeks, I've used taxicabs, Lyft and uberX. The drivers were all nice, the prices comparable, the cars clean. This consumer is convinced the increased competition in Seattle has helped to improve service quality. There's room in Seattle for many transportation options.

So why are the ride-service companies taking advantage of their popularity and scaring people into thinking they're going to be put out of business? The three have formed a coalition to circulate a petition to repeal the Seattle City Council's new regulations, which include insurance requirements, driver training and a limit on each network to 150 drivers at any given time.

If the referendum passes, the new law would be suspended until voters have their say. In a March 28 press release, coalition spokesman Brad Harwood says, “The ordinance passed by the City Council would severely limit transportation options for Seattle residents and visitors alike by making it extremely difficult if not impossible for services like Lyft, Sidecar and uberX to continue serving the city.”

Again, I'm a fan of these services. But it's hard to believe that they're going anywhere when Lyft has been posting ads looking for drivers on Facebook. Sidecar posts ads on Craigslist. UberX, too. (See the photo to the left.)

The council's cap does seem arbitrary and unfairly protects the taxi industry. But the other provisions passed by the council last month are important for consumer safety in this burgeoning market. Why rock the boat when the council has already told the companies they would be willing to revisit the limits? Seems to me Lyft, uberX and Sidecar should be sharing more of their data with the council and cooperating to develop commonsense regulations, not vilifying their entire effort to ensure safety.

Groups have a right to organize petitions and get measures on the ballot for voter approval. But be careful about this one. Know that if you sign it, it gets on the ballot and voters pass it, the ride-service companies will win big, but consumer safety provisions could be compromised. Luckily, there have been no serious accidents involving ride-service drivers in Seattle, but the death of a six-year-old girl in San Francisco revealed potential insurance coverage gaps and prompted Lyft and Uber to expand their coverage. (Read more about the change in a March 14 Seattle Times news report.) 

The city should regulate ride-service drivers to a certain extent and level the playing field for taxis, as the Seattle Times editorial board argued in a March 13 editorial.

"They spent all this time operating illegally. The least they can do is operate legally and let people know what they're doing," says Don Stark, a lobbyist for Yellow, Orange and FarWest taxi dispatch services.

Are the rules passed by the City Council unfair to the ride-service companies? To what extent? We really don't know yet. Mayor Ed Murray signed the ordinance on March 19.

Instead of creating ill-will against the city council (which includes several members sympathetic to the ride-services' cause) with a highly politicized referendum,  the companies should work with regulators. Focus on balancing consumer demand and rider safety.

April 9, 2014 at 6:25 AM

Should a new Seattle waterfront include a Viaduct park?

The airbrushed sketches for a glittering new Seattle waterfront lack rain, authenticity (as Crosscut's Knute Berger notes) and maybe (as the Times' Danny Westneat joked) a few Disney princesses. They also lack any hint of the Alaskan Way Viaduct that has dominated the waterfront for 60 years.

That's why my ears perked when Seattle planning director Marshall Foster said at a briefing to Times staff on Tuesday, "We've been looking at ways to preserve part of the existing Viaduct."

"We don't want to wipe the slate clean. We want a reminder of how Seattle was."

Saving a hunk of the Viaduct once it is replaced has been batted around for years, but Seattle has consistently batted it away as being too unstable to save, even as a park.

Upon further review, the city still is. Foster said planning for a future waterfront, currently about 30 percent designed, may incorporate Viaduct columns into plans for overlook viewpoints at Seneca and Columbia streets downtown.

But saving a piece of the Viaduct itself - even a small piece, such as the Seneca offramp - would be too expensive because of the state of the structure. It's too rickety to go farther, he said. "You're talking hundreds of millions of dollars to just keep it up, before you improve it," he said.

I'm a fan of keeping at least some of it, and like the work that Kate Martin, who ran for Seattle mayor last fall on that platform, is doing to force a public vote on preserving the Viaduct. Her group,, is putting together a feasibility study - including engineering, cost, economic impact and design sketches - for a potential fall ballot initiative.

I'm not sure her plan for saving the upper deck of the full 14 blocks is doable, given the plan for a new Alaskan Way to run under the existing Viaduct, but I appreciate her contrarian streak against the airbrushed waterfront plan.

Foster's suggestion, of incorporating a memento of the Viaduct into the new waterfront, "is just to shut us up," Martin said. In her view, the city plan by famed architect James Corner is over-designed, out of scale and caters to tourists at the exclusion of residents. Referring to a 30-foot-wide sidewalk proposed on the waterfront, Martin said, "Don't put 30 feet down there. Put it 30 feet up there."

April 8, 2014 at 6:45 AM

More wise flight from the Pebble Mine project in Alaska's Bristol Bay

A proposed gold, copper and molybdenum mine for Alaska’s salmon-rich Bristol Bay is a truly bad idea. Yet another investor apparently agrees, and is heading to the exit.

Rio Tinto, described in a Wall Street Journal article as a “mining titan,” is handing off its 19 percent share of the proposed Pebble Mine project to two Alaskan charities. Read about this latest blow to Pebble Mine in a Washington Post story.

Attrition, or erosion, has taken its toll on the project proposed by Northern Dynasty Minerals of Vancouver, B.C. Last September, the London-based Anglo American – one of the world’s largest mining companies – pulled out of the deal.

Investor queasiness is understandable. Public opinion is solidly opposed to a project in a setting that produces millions of sockeye salmon a year, and supports a vast network of jobs in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. The fishery is put at risk by a mine project with a footprint of seven square miles, and the need for waste disposal sites covering 19 square miles.

Earlier this month the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced it would use its powers under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay and a salmon fishery of global importance.

Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, acknowledged  the  gift from Rio Tinto, but with a reminder:

“Rio Tinto deserves credit for its willingness to reconsider its position in the Pebble Project. This gift provides an example of what open discussion and relationship building between stakeholders with differing views can accomplish. However, BBNC’s opposition to the proposed Pebble mine has not changed.”

The proposed Pebble Mine has attracted stout congressional opposition, described in a June 2013 Opinion Northwest blog post. That added to the economic hazards the investment already faces. As Joel Reynolds, western director of the National Resources Defense Council, noted Monday in a statement, Rio Tinto “has confirmed that the risks of the project are too great and the opposition of the region’s residents too strong.”

April 8, 2014 at 6:22 AM

U.S. Senate passes unemployment insurance extension, House should follow

U.S. House Republican leaders continue to make themselves easy targets for ridicule on issues that should have bipartisan support. Last year, they nearly derailed the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act. For months, they have refused to consider comprehensive immigration reform. And now, they appear ready to deny unemployment benefits to more than two million Americans in desperate need of help as they continue to seek jobs.

Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants, including U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, are in no rush to provide temporary assistance to those trying to re-enter the work force. Meanwhile, struggling job-seekers such as Calvin Graedel of West Seattle find themselves spending their life savings and selling their homes to make ends meet.

Watch Graedel share his story in the video below, which was shot last month. (View the editorial board's page featuring previous editorials, more videos, reader views and resources.)

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed a bill to extend emergency unemployment insurance benefits. All Democrats and six Republicans signed on. But according to The Huffington Post, the bill's future in the House is bleak.

The Congressional Budget Office has said repeatedly that emergency unemployment benefits boost jobs because claimants plow their benefits directly into necessities such as food and shelter. Nevertheless, Boehner and other House Republicans would rather see jobs come from business-friendly Republican-sponsored measures.

The Seattle Times published an editorial on April 3 encouraging Washington's congressional delegates to nudge their caucus leaders toward a vote. Though every Democratic member supports extending unemployment insurance, not one of the state's four Republican representatives has joined them.

They should.

On April 3, Roll Call reported that seven brave Republican congressional members from other states were finally speaking up.

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and other House leaders portrayed the extension as unworkable after a three-month break in such benefits, and they are arguing for GOP alternatives to spur growth and job creation. But Rep. Peter T. King of New York said Thursday he and Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo of New Jersey had sent a letter urging Boehner and his team to move the Senate proposal (HR 3979) or an alternative.

“We want it extended,” King said. “We respectfully request that the House immediately consider this bill or a similar measure to restore unemployment benefits to struggling Americans,” the letter said.

McMorris Rodgers, leader of the caucus, is quoted in the story as saying, “There will be a conversation. We’re waiting to see what the Senate actually passes."

Well, the Senate acted. Your move, Congresswoman. Nearly 28,000 residents of Washington were cut off from federal unemployment benefits when the program expired in December. Since then, the state reports another 15,000 or so people have been affected. They need help now.

April 7, 2014 at 7:10 AM

Should Snohomish County landslide site be memorialized?

The scope of the Snohomish County mudslide is difficult to grasp. Aerial photographs lack the scale of a one mile-square disaster scene. Up close, evidence that an entire missing neighborhood – a red child’s hat, a twisted metal stair railing, the torn American flag now hanging in a command tent ­– have been so chaotically mixed in with fallen cedars and piles of mud that it’s equally easy to lose the scope.

What should the site look like in the future? Should Highway 530, which is still under 20 feet of mud in spots, be rebuilt, or moved? What of the Steelhead Haven neighborhood? The rescue and recovery efforts focus on the fringe; the force of the slide was so great it shoved everything out there, leaving 75 foot-high haystacks of mud dotting the former neighborhood.

Should the entire site be memorialized into something like a park?

Snohomish County government, which should be taking the lead, is in bunker mode, unwilling to answer questions about the known landslide risks or much else beyond the immediate recovery. Executive John Lovick didn't return my call Friday.

But discussions about memorializing the site are clearly going on. "That is being talked about behind the scenes," said Rep. Dan Kristiansen, the state House Republican leader who represents Arlington and Darrington. He doesn't have an opinion, he said, because the situation is still too "raw."

When I visited the Arlington side on Friday, 900 people and 31 excavators were consumed in a still-active recovery operation. A team of cadaver dogs from Sacramento trotted toward the site. Out on the mud field, a pile of muck is scooped and dropped in front of three-man teams, who sift it for remains or belongings. As important as this work is, it is not cleaning up the site. That has not really begun. Once it has, it will cost about $22 million, according to a back-of-the-napkin estimate by the state.

“You can’t leave it like that,” one rescue worker said, pointing to a ripped mattress sat on a pile of debris next to Highway 530.

He's right, of course. The site is going to have to be cleaned. But how much? This map, which I photographed at the site, shows the astonishing depth of the mud. By one estimate, there's 1 million dump trucks of mud out there.

It's not clear if memorializing the site means ending recovery operations before all the 13 remaining missing people are found. That would sit badly with some in Arlington and Darrington. "They need to find everyone who is missing, and reopen the road," said John Harper, chief of the Oso Fire Department, a 15-man volunteer force.

He stood next to Seth Jefferds, a captain in the department. Jefferds, a Steelhead Haven resident, who lost his wife and granddaughter in the tragedy, wore dark glasses.

"I can't tell you how tough it's been, and how tough it’s going to be," he said, choking up. His fellow fire fighters gripped his shoulder.

When I asked him about memorializing the site, he clearly thought it was too early. "We're looking for family members, because they're not forgotten," he said.

Steering clear of his grief, and the grief of other victims families, is the clear priority.

But it is not too soon to decide what should be one with Highway 530. That impacts, potentially, memorializing the site. Washington State Department of Transportation Travis Phelps said the agency would soon release a plan to engage Darrington and Arlington in a replacement highway.

Snohomish County should do the same regarding the quiet discussions of memorialization.

April 7, 2014 at 6:14 AM

Meet Erik Smith, the newest Seattle Times editorial board member

They say everything happens for a reason, but back in 2005 I would have had a hard time seeing it. I was spending my days trudging back and forth across the blacktop at a used-car lot in Spokane, shoving my hands deep in my pockets to ward off the chill, watching like an army sentry for any sign of movement at the perimeter. You never knew when a customer might come along.


But mostly, when I allowed myself to think about it, I spent my time wondering what on earth I was doing there. Like many a newspaper reporter I found myself in the cold during the downturn of a few years back. I can look back on it now, though, and realize that what I went through probably was one of the most valuable experiences of my life – albeit a rather painful one. And it’s that experience I bring to The Seattle Times editorial board as I take my seat as its newest member.

I guess you could say I stepped into the cold of my own volition. My wife at the time and I sort of hit the jackpot in L.A., as did everyone with the great foresight and intelligence to buy a house when the market was at its lowest point. We sold near the top and plowed the proceeds into a couple of small businesses in our hometown of Spokane, a pair of Curves for Women franchises, and we bought an apartment building to boot. We were going to take that L.A. money and live like kings. And then those small businesses tanked, like pretty much all family-owned small businesses do. That was the end of that. When I went knocking on the door of the local newspaper, I was told they were probably never going to be hiring anyone ever again – rather a common problem in those days. So I walked into the nearest Chevy showroom and explained that it was my lifelong ambition to sell great big gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks.

Here I was, a guy who once had senators and congressmen and captains of industry clamoring to return his phone calls, or at least pretending to be happy about it. Now I was starting my days by tying helium balloons to windshield wipers. Oh, the shame of it all.

I got over that pretty fast, once I started selling Chevies and Caddies hand over fist and I began making more money than I ever had in newspapers. And I realize now what an opportunity it really was -- a chance to be part of the world. It is something you really don't understand when you spend your career playing the observer. I had to get to know complete strangers; I would convince them to tell me of their innermost desires, and then I would help them to make the right decision, nearly always involving the purchase of a General Motors product. I did battle every day with my fellow salespeople and the deskmen. And even during those desperate times on those failed business ventures, when I was managing a staff of 12 and keeping a happy smile on my face while I tried frantically to keep the doors open – I was living an essential part of the American experience, yet something only a small percentage of news folk ever see.

At the very least, I am one of the few in this line who has paid unemployment insurance premiums and workers’ compensation taxes, and who knows what it is like trying to keep the state Department of Revenue at bay.

Most of my life, of course, I’ve been a reporter and writer. I’ve been in the biz since I joined the school-newspaper staff in ninth grade and started writing the weekly column about the “Far-Out Frosh.” I was the editor of my campus newspaper at the University of Washington, the Daily, and I spent so much time in the newsroom I have trouble remembering whether I ever attended any classes. There were internships at The Columbian in Vancouver and The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, and I spent a decade covering the Legislature for the Tri-City Herald and writing a snarky column about it all. For a few years I worked at a newspaper in Southern California, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, but the whole L.A. thing never took, and I always thought of Washington as home.

I guess I always have had a bit of that entrepreneurial bug. About five years ago, when I realized the only way off the car lot was to invent a job for myself, I joined with a number of people to launch a first-of-its-kind Internet news site in Olympia. As lead writer and pretty much everything else for Washington State Wire, I covered the Legislature with a business focus. And now, as I join the editorial board of The Seattle Times, an institution I greatly respect because of the role it has always played in building Seattle and the region, I hope I can bring a bit of that spirit to these offices. If it wasn’t for dummies like me who take a risk and fail, and for the small percentage of entrepreneurs who actually succeed, I’m not sure how our country would survive. It is the sort of spark that needs to be nurtured and encouraged, and I hope in my own small way, from this desk in downtown Seattle, I might be able to contribute to that.

You can trust me when I say that. I’ve dealt in journalism, politics and used cars. What better credentials could you ask?

April 4, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Ignore Jenny McCarthy. Local measles cases prove importance of getting vaccinated

Were you in King, Whatcom or Pierce counties this past weekend? Did you go to the Kings of Leon concert? Or downtown Seattle?

I hope you've got your measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot. Because this press release from King County is a powerful reminder that not getting vaccinated could really endanger public health:

A person who was confirmed with measles traveled to several Western Washington public locations while contagious. Most people in our state are immune to measles, so the public risk is low except for people who are unvaccinated. The woman traveled to Seattle for a Kings of Leon concert at Key Arena on March 28, when she also was at the Best Western Loyal Inn and the Wasabi Bistro. The next day, she was at Beth’s Café, Aurora Suzuki, Starbucks at First and Pike, and the Pike Place Market.

The Washington State Health Department has posted the full details of the unidentified woman's time in each location. State officials also report one confirmed measles case in San Juan County. Between March 21 and 22, a traveler going through SeaTac was also diagnosed with the disease, which is highly contagious.

The lesson? Protect your kids. Protect yourself. Get immunized. Read an Aug. 31, 2013 Seattle Times editorial, too, about the state's embarrassing seventh place ranking among states where parents demanded vaccine exemptions for their kindergarten-aged kids.

In 2000, CBS News reports measles was close to being eradicated. Today, there are two measles outbreaks in New York City and Orange County. No surprise: many of the victims are unvaccinated children. I can't stop thinking about those parents who refuse to protect their kids from deadly illnesses because they've been led to believe vaccines cause side effects such as autism. This  misguided belief places the rest of the community at risk.

Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a Seattle Children's Hospital pediatrician and author of the Seattle Mama Doc blog, has some answers to explain the madness.

Swanson was interviewed Wednesday evening on the public radio program "To the Point" about the rise of vaccine-preventable diseases. Shots to prevent measles, mumps and rubella were so profoundly successful over the years, Swanson suggests "parents forgot about the risks."

Though she says social media is a powerful tool to share information, Swanson says the speed with which misinformation can spread has led many parents astray. Somehow people continue to believe the bogus claims of celebrity moms such as Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavallari, who both ignore mainstream science when they say there's a connection between vaccines and autism.

Here's an excerpt and reality check from Swanson's April 1 blog post:

We get confused with all the attention paid to these outliers. We forget that about 9 out of 10 parents in the United States DO immunize following their doctor’s recommended schedule. We forget not a single study finds an alternative schedule is any safer. We forget that unvaccinated and under-vaccinated kids are at risk for preventable disease. We get confused how stories like this make us feel and we ditch what the science tells us. We forget that when we immunize ourselves we protect our body, the children too small to be immunized and those at high risk for severe infection.

I feel parents are being duped.

Another contextual piece to check out is Princeton neurologist Sam Wang's March 29 op-ed in the Sunday New York Times. Wang calls out the media for focusing most of its collective coverage of autism risk-factors on the vaccine issue, which has been widely debunked. Here's what he concludes more than 100 scientific papers published over the last two decades tell us so far about actual risk factors:

Although autism is believed to have a gene-based beginning, growing brains are also influenced by their environment and external events. Looking at when these risks are greatest can provide clues about when the growing brain is most vulnerable. Based on a large body of evidence, the known hazards occur before birth and fall into three broad categories: prematurity, prenatal stress and brain development.

April 3, 2014 at 6:42 AM

At $15, Seattle would be an outlier compared with other cities that increased minimum wage

Nine city or county governments across the country have increased their minimum wage. A University of California, Berkeley study commissioned by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray's income inequality committee concludes that a higher wage floor can increase productivity and reduce turnover, cushioning the macro-economic cost. Based on studies, it suggested companies could "adjust to higher minimum wages without cutting jobs or hours."

But the report's conclusion includes a big caveat:

While these studies are suggestive, they cannot tell us what might occur when minimum wages are increased significantly beyond existing local, state, or federal mandates.

Important, because an across-the-board increase from the already-top-in-the-nation state wage of $9.32 to $15 is, well, "significantly beyond existing local, state or federal mandates." And the experience of the nine other cities and counties with higher minimum wages shows they included a raft of trade-offs and concessions. As I write in my column today, such trade-offs are described by Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant as "two steps back."

The highest current wage among the nine cities  is $10.66 an hour (in Santa Fe city and county). Seven included lower minimum wages for workers who made tips. Seven phased in higher wages, over as long as four years. Federal and state workers were often exempted.

The $11.50 wage, passed in December by the city council in Washington D.C. had all three. The wage sprang from an effort to impose a higher wage at big box stores, said Michael Wilson, lead organizer of Respect D.C., an umbrella coalition of unions, social justice groups and leaders in the religious and African-American communities. When the Mayor, Vincent Gray, vetoed a big-box wage ordinance to allow three new Walmarts in the District, council members went further.

The District coordinated with adjoining Montgomery and Prince George's counties to all raise wages, "to undercut the argument that it’ll drive business away to other jurisdictions," Wilson said. It was phased in - over three years in D.C., four years in the counties - on the belief that "a timed implementation allowed businesses to catch up to the rising labor costs."

The biggest trade-off was continuation of a "tip wage" - a $2.77 an hour rate for workers who make tips. (Washington is one of seven states without a tip wage; servers make $9.32 an hour.) Wilson said "a huge push" by the restaurant industry prevailed, but his group instead got an existing sick pay ordinance extended to tipped workers, who'd been excluded.

Overall, "People see it as a huge thing," said Wilson.

For comparison, D.C. - with a higher cost of living and similar deep-blue politics - got to yes on a minimum wage that is less than half what Seattle's advocates are proposing, with a trade-off (a tip wage) that is called "draconian" here, and did it in a way that doesn't put D.C. on a higher-wage island.

April 2, 2014 at 6:03 AM

5 things to know about local TV news consolidation — and what you can do about it

In Wednesday's edition of The Seattle Times, the editorial board commended the Federal Communications Commission's decision this week to crack down on media consolidation by ending the practice of joint sales agreements (JSAs). A majority of commissioners agreed that waivers should be granted only in cases where station leaders can prove that partnerships truly serve the public interest through quality and diverse programming on public airwaves, and not just to to increase profits for private companies.

Are you one of the millions of Americans still getting your information from your local television news? Here are five things you should know:

1. Media consolidation is real.

Fewer owners nationwide control what viewers see and hear. Imagine what that means for communities and American democracy, which relies on many perspectives to maintain a self-governing, informed electorate. Look at the interactive graphic featured in a Oct. 29, 2013 Opinion Northwest blog post.

In Seattle, the commercial stations are all owned by out-of-state conglomerates. Last year, Sinclair Broadcast Group bought KOMO-TV and Gannett purchased KING-TV. KIRO-TV is owned by Cox Media Group. KCPQ-TV's parent company is Tribune. They are staffed by local (and beloved) news producers and reporters, but their financial interests are in the hands of owners who do not have close ties to the community.

That's not to say the quality of news has gone down the drain, but the loss of local ownership is something to keep in mind next time you notice there's a dearth of quality, local content and more packages stories from other markets.

2. Broadcasters have used JSAs to skirt federal rules and control more than one station in various markets.

Last October, The Wall Street Journal's Keach Hagey wrote a comprehensive report about the use of "sidecar" agreements, in which broadcasters such as Sinclair skirt federal limits and operate more than one station in some markets by outsourcing management duties. As noted in Wednesday's Seattle Times editorial, the FCC should force broadcasters to disclose all shared-service agreements.

3. The consolidation is sweeping the country.

The graphic below, by the media watchdog group Free Press, shows where JSAs and other forms of shared-service agreements are in place around the country. Free Press calls these partnerships "covert consolidation." (Read more about the ways broadcasters have violated federal rules on Free Press' blog.)

4. Partnerships may keep stations open, but they do not always produce quality local news for viewers.

Industry lobbyists claim these partnerships are keeping many stations open. Allow former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps to explain in a powerful February letter to viewers published by the Columbia Journalism Review:

Let me be clear: Not every transaction is bad. Consolidation may offer some limited benefits, as when stations pool money to buy a better weather radar. But there is a huge difference between that and merged stations reporting the same news by the same reporters.

So instead of making good things happen, I would be spending untold hours listening to big media tell me how their latest merger proposal would translate into enormous “efficiencies” and “economies of scale” to produce more and better news. Meanwhile, everywhere I looked, I saw newsrooms like yours being shuttered or drastically downsized, reporters getting the axe, and investigative journalism hanging by the most slender of threads. Instead of expanding news, the conglomerates cut the muscle out of deep-dive reporting and disinvested in you.

5. You can help to stop media consolidation, increase diversity of viewpoints on the air and encourage local ownership.

The FCC is getting ready to kick off its quadrennial review of broadcast ownership rules. Brush up on your knowledge of the connection between media and a vibrant democracy by visiting the Common Cause website. Support Free Press, or visit that nonprofit's page dedicated to demanding the five-member commission get out of Washington, D.C. to hear the public's concerns about seeing a greater diversity of perspectives on television. Show them you care.

April 1, 2014 at 6:06 AM

As Wash. extends financial aid to 'dreamers,' Congress should reconsider immigration reform

One of the few controversial measures to pass the Washington state Legislature with bipartisan support this past session is now in effect statewide. The REAL Hope Act is a shining example of how states can take small steps to reform immigration policy — with or without congressional action.

A Monday press release sent to the media from the Washington Student Achievement Council included a catchy subject line: "Calling all dreamers" — application for state financial aid now available.

This is a special moment for bright students — known as dreamers — who are at risk of going into a life of hiding after graduating from Washington's public schools.

The new law expands eligibility for the Washington State Need Grant to cover poor, undocumented high-school graduates who have lived in the state for at least three years. Information on how to apply for financial assistance can be found at the Washington Application for State Financial Aid's website.

Credit goes to the Washington Legislature for doing something to help more (though not all) motivated students realize their full potential through higher education. But state lawmakers can't provide those kids with a path to citizenship after they earn their degrees. Nor can they fully address the need for a lot more low- and high-skilled labor statewide.

Now is the time to remind Congress to step up and pass a comprehensive immigration reform package.

Efforts have stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives, where some members have indicated they are indifferent to the plight of employers looking for skilled labor and to the well-being of nearly 11 million people living (and working) in the U.S. illegally.

Washington's congressional delegation is split along party lines, with Time magazine reporting that Democrats are attempting to gather enough signatures for a "discharge petition" (a Time story explains what this is) to force a vote on the floor for H.R. 15, which is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina. As of Tuesday, the petition remains far short of the 218 signatures needed. Not a single Republican member of the state's delegation has signed on, though their districts would benefit from immigration reform.




March 31, 2014 at 6:02 AM

FCC should curb TV media consolidation by closing loophole

Watch what the Federal Communications Commission does on Monday. For the first time in years, the panel should move to slow down media consolidation by closing a loophole that has allowed a handful of the nation's largest broadcasters to skirt laws limiting station ownership.

No surprise, the broadcast industry is vehemently opposed to ending the practice of Joint Sales Agreements, but this sort of business tactic (covered in-depth by The Wall Street Journal) has diminished local ownership and allowed a small number of big players to control the flow of information over huge swaths of the country.

Local television news is at risk of becoming more about profits for out-of-town corporate bosses than about informing communities with quality news. Why should viewers care about any of this? The fewer owners there are in broadcast news, the fewer perspectives will be featured on the public airwaves. Some argue it makes business sense for the industry to combine operations to be more efficient. But at what cost? With consolidation, women and minority ownership has dropped.

The Seattle Times weighed in on the JSA issue in a March 3 editorial, and encouraged the FCC to follow the advice of the U.S. Department of Justice's anti-trust attorneys:

Federal attorneys advised the FCC to better scrutinize every deal that comes before its five-member panel. The regulators should force companies to report when they operate multiple stations jointly in the same market, as they already do for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Failure to account for the effects of such arrangements can create opportunities to circumvent FCC ownership limits and the goals those limits are intended to advance,” Justice Department officials wrote.

Consolidation shrinks newsrooms and deprives viewers of in-depth journalism that speaks truth to power. The FCC has failed miserably to protect the integrity of the public’s airwaves through promoting competition, local ownership and diverse viewpoints.

Broadcasters have been using Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) to operate multiple stations in main markets, according to this Wall Street Journal report. The FCC limits stations to one full-power station in each market. But as Free Press explains in this blog post, "companies like Gannett, Nexstar, Raycom, Sinclair and Tribune have set up shell corporations that they then sell some of their stations to — while maintaining control of much of the content and revenue. The letterhead may have a different logo but behind the scenes it’s just one company pulling the strings. JSAs allow one station to sell ads for a competing station, but these deals almost always end up as de facto consolidated ownership."

Within the FCC, there is a division between those who think JSAs help to keep stations open and others who point to real numbers showing minority ownership has shrunk in recent years. Below, watch a March 26 exchange between FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler:

On the issue of curbing JSAs, Wheeler is right. The FCC should close the loophole. That might lead to more truly diverse ownership and programming.

"There's a potential that a local group can actually come in and pick up a license and represent the interests of a local community," says Ravi Kapur, a journalist and principal of KAXT Channel 1 in San Francisco and WRJK Channel 22 in Chicago. "There are different viewpoints in Seattle and San Francisco. You want people (working for those stations) to represent the sensibilities of those areas."

Kapur says JSAs and shared service agreements linked to well-financed media giants makes it harder for independent station owners like him to enter the market and to compete.

But even if the FCC cracks down on joint sales agreements, industry insiders warn it does not mean that minority ownership will suddenly increase. Wheeler's desire to hold an incentive auction and sell off spectrum currently owned by TV stations to wireless broadband carriers could further eviscerate minority ownership, as Kapur wrote about in this Oct. 26, 2013 guest column.

Harry A. Jessell of TVNewsCheck wrote a thoughtful column on Friday arguing TV broadcasting has become "a business for behemoths with negotiating clout."

(T)he notion that tightening up the ownership rules will free up stations that minorities and women will rush to buy and that broadcasting will experience a era of true programming diversity is pure fantasy...

The real obstacle to entering the broadcasting business is not the lack of stations to buy, but money. And I just don't see investors and banks lining up to back new small entrants who think they can make a go of it. The business has gotten too tough.

He's probably right, but I'd like to think that where there's a will there's a way. Independent, minority and women-owned stations could help to fill a void that is often overlooked by mainstream media. For instance, Kapur says his stations have survived because they feature programming that meets demand and is relevant to various demographics and ethnic groups.

For more in-depth research, read the Free Press report, "Cease to Resist: How the FCC's Failure to Enforce Its Rules Created a New Wave of Media Consolidation."







March 28, 2014 at 9:07 AM

World Vision's reversal on marriage policy for gay workers is start of a conversation

For a mere 48 hours this week, World Vision stood up for the legal rights of gay people to be married and to work for its international humanitarian mission. Finally, here was an example of how a faith-based charity could respond and adapt to a controversial social issue such as same-sex marriage.

What a disappointment on Wednesday to see this venerable global relief organization buckle under pressure from its conservative faction. As The Seattle Times' Lornet Turnbull reports in this Thursday news story, World Vision apologized profusely to its supporters as it re-implemented its policy of refusing to employ gay Christians in same-sex marriages.

One would think that most people could overlook a minor HR rule and coalesce around World Vision's human rights causes. Every year, the Federal Way-based Christian agency helps 400 million people around the world struggling with poverty, natural disasters, and sex trafficking.

Instead, the backlash was swift and sometimes mean-spirited.

Read this Huffington Post story by Kristen Howerton, which highlights some of the comments people made on World Vision's Facebook page. Some donors opposed to same-sex marriage boasted of dropping their adoptions of impoverished children in developing countries. Really? Is this what Jesus would do?

World Vision's initial announcement in a Christianity Today story on Monday was a practical step toward recognizing shifting public opinions. There is increased tolerance for same-sex marriages among some of the 50 denominations represented within the organization.

The Seattle Times wrote about the development in this Tuesday news story, also by Turnbull. To many, World Vision became an instant model for other faith-based organizations. Its leaders found a way to walk that fine line between biblical teachings and modern realities. The decision to allow local offices to employ gay and married Christians did not change the organization's official stance on the issue — World Vision still defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

World Relief President Richard Stearns' public apology for flip-flopping seems genuine. The organization will not likely face the kind of fallout Susan G. Komen did after that foundation's top leaders outraged supporters in 2012 by briefly withdrawing financial support for Planned Parenthood clinics to perform cancer screenings.

In this case, World Vision disappointed many with its initial announcement — and many more when it denounced a noble change in position.

Same-sex marriage is quickly losing its luster as a political wedge issue. According to a new poll featured in The Christian Science Monitor, 55 percent of respondents said they now support same-sex marriage rights.

The poll, conducted for a gay rights organization, found that support for same-sex marriage is highest among young adults, with 75 percent approval among those ages 18 to 29. Among that group, 58 percent said they are strongly in favor, compared with 13 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds identified as strongly opposed.

The only age group with a majority opposed to such recognition is those 65 years and older. Among that group, 55 percent said they disagree with gay marriage.

Pollsters said they are impressed by the speed with which public opinion in America is changing on the highly contentious issue.

“This is moving faster than any issue we’ve ever tracked,” said Alex Lundry of the market research firm TargetPoint. “This is the future talking to us.”

As tempers settle, people should not forget World Vision's mission to assist millions of people around the world.

Blogger Rachel Held Evans, the author of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood," apologized to her readers this week for coming out so soon to praise World Vision. She had encouraged people to donate or sponsor a child before the policy reversal. But thanks to Evans for also re-posting a thoughtful comment from a gay reader named Dan who was prompted to help a boy in the Democratic Republic of Congo after World Vision's original decision. "(N)one of this is the the fault of the child I sponsored," he wrote. "I'm not going to un-sponsor because they reversed their decision. It's ultimately about the child's welfare." Hear, hear.

Whether the issue is abortion, gay rights, or birth control access — a conversation is afoot. Faith-based nonprofits must continue to reconcile old beliefs with legal rights and the realities of today's world.


March 28, 2014 at 6:25 AM

The 'theoretical' and 'practical' of a Seattle $15 minimum wage law on tipping

Washington is one of just seven states that does not allow a lower wage for tipped workers; if you give a tip, it's on top of a wage that is at least $9.32 an hour. It's a settled issue. The federal minimum tip wage is an appalling $2.13 an hour, meaning that waitress in Idaho who calls you "hon" really needs that 20 percent tip.

But the $15 minimum wage issue is re-stirring debate over whether it should come with a lower tip wage, or some acknowledgement that "total compensation" of workers includes tips. A state food service industry wage survey shows only chefs and managers made more than $15 an hour (including tips), but my bartender friends say that ridiculously low-balls tips.

The last panel of Mayor Ed Murray's Income Inequality Symposium Thursday at Seattle University offered an entertaining exchange on the pros and cons of a tip law.  Eric Pravitz, an earnest nail salon co-owner who supports a minimum wage which counts tips, sat next to Saru Jayaman, a charismatic restaurant industry advocate who denounces tip wage laws as a "draconian, sexist system." It was very Seattle: they clearly thought each other nuts, but in a friendly way.

Pravitz makes a compelling case. He and his wife opened two Hoa nail salons after working in a nonprofit and seeing "black market" practices of paying a largely immigrant work force in cash, and poorly. "The norm was workers were paid $60 to 80 day and worked 10 to 11 hours," with no Social Security or unemployment insurance, he said.

Pravitz said he starts workers at $9.75 an hour, with raises. But they also make at least $12,000 a year in tips (and that doesn't count tips paid in cash), raising the annual pay to $32,280, or $15.50, for the lowest-paid worker. All others are higher, he said.

A flat $15 wage, without tip credit, would raise costs 30 percent, Pravitz told an unsympathetic audience. Raising prices to compensate would drive customers to Shoreline or Renton, he fears.

His counterpoint was Jayaman, co-founder of the advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROCUnited), with rhetoric making her sound like socialist Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant's twin sister. Jayaman described tips as institutionalized sexism: 60 percent of tipped workers are women, they are disproportionately poor and will suffer sexual harassment for tips.

When Pravitz suggested his total pay equaled $15 an hour, Jayaman jumped. "You don’t actually pay your workers tips. Consumers pay your workers tips," she said. If tips should count as wages, Jayaman suggested a CEO who earns a stipend for serving on another corporate board should have that credited toward his salary. The best option, she suggests, is to eliminate tips, not accommodate them in a $15 (or higher) minimum wage.

Pravitz shook his head. Tips are part of the culture. People like giving them, and tipped workers like getting them. Then he delivered a line that sums up for me too much of the debate about a higher minimum wage: "There’s the theoretical and there’s the practical."

I'm all for exploring a higher minimum wage. Another member of the panel, the respected economic forecaster Dick Conway, presented a complicated formula — including inflation, local cost of living, tax structure and overall wage inflation — that led to a number: $13.48 an hour. Maybe that's the number. Maybe another.

But small business owners like Pravitz (and others who've come out with concerns) seem to be tossed aside in favor of radical rhetoric favoring an immediate tack in economic policy. Pravitz suggested he'd probably lose his business with a flat $15 wage. When another panelist, Allen Rickert, owner of Top Ten Toys, a locally owned, fair trade shop beloved by parents, suggested he'd lose half his annual profit with a $15 wage, a man behind me sneered, "Crack the whip harder!"

March 27, 2014 at 6:12 AM

A lifetime philanthropic award for Naveen Jain from Bellevue LifeSpring?

Bellevue LifeSpring, which will hold its annual luncheon on Thursday at Meydenbauer Center, is a nonprofit that works to feed, clothe and educate children and their families. The people it serves sound a lot like the investors who lost their life savings in InfoSpace, a Bellevue company founded by Naveen Jain.

At the Thursday lunch, LifeSpring will give its Lifetime Philanthropy Award to Naveen and his wife Anu Jain. Anu Jain serves on LifeSpring's board of directors. The award goes to people "working toward the betterment of the community," according to Trish Carpenter, president and chairwoman of LifeSpring's board.

The shareholders of InfoSpace may choke over that description of Naveen Jain. He is the founder and former chief executive officer of that Bellevue company, which has since been renamed Blucora.

Jain became a billionaire after he took InfoSpace public and the stock price skyrocketed. The only problem was that the company's revenues were an illusion — a product of accounting tricks and dubious deals woven together by Jain's masterful storytelling. He claimed in 2000 that InfoSpace would become the world's first trillion-dollar company.

When the stock market crashed in 2000, investors lost their life savings. Jain's dubious deals were detailed in a series of Seattle Times stories in 2005 called "Dot-Con Job." Investigative reporter David Heath and I co-wrote the stories when I was a news reporter.

Here were our main findings:

  • InfoSpace officials misled Wall Street and the public about how their company was doing, concealing that revenues were falling far short of expectations.
  • Much of InfoSpace's reported revenue came from "lazy Susan" deals, whereby company officials invested in other firms that turned around and gave back the same money.

Jain was ousted by the board in 2002. He started a company called Intelius, where he is now CEO. Intelius provides online data about people, their histories and connections to others. For instance, Intelius can be used to perform background checks on people.

LifeSpring's board president Carpenter said of the Jains, "I personally worked with both for probably 15, 16 years. The Jains specifically ... are very philanthropic. Not only are they supporting Bellevue LifeSpring but many other nonprofits in the community and across the ocean."

Asked whether she was aware of what The Seattle Times stories uncovered, Carpenter said, "I don’t have any knowledge of it nor would I want to hear about it."

What she apparently does not know was that while the Jains became wealthy, investors lost their savings. (Read about the Jains' $13 million Medina mansion in a 2005 Seattle Times story.)

"What I know of them is the good deeds," Carpenter said.

Here is one investor who listened to Jain: Bev Hess, a real-estate agent in Nebraska, invested $39,900 in InfoSpace, a third of the savings she amassed over 42 years. That $39,900 investment shrank to $1,450. When Heath and I spoke to Hess in 2005, she was 65 and said she couldn't afford to retire. "I'm working my butt off," she said. "That's what I foresee for the next five or 10 years." Check out how InfoSpace investors were affected in our 2005 story "Who lost: Retirement savings vanish as stock takes a nosedive."

In 2001, an investor filed a derivative lawsuit on behalf of InfoSpace, accusing Jain, the company's officers and directors of misleading shareholders. Jain paid InfoSpace $83 million in 2005 to settle the lawsuit.

Shareholders also filed a class-action lawsuit in 2001 over Jain's and other executives' actions. The company settled the lawsuit for $34 million in 2004. (Here is The Seattle Times news story about the class-action settlement.)

March 26, 2014 at 6:45 AM

A ray of sunshine, Madoff thugs headed to prison

A spate of horrific news from the Snohomish County mudslide to the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner has consumed our attention. A shocking loss of lives, and disturbing, perplexing circumstances.

The epic financial swindle orchestrated by Bernard Madoff was a different kind of American tragedy, but it has haunted the nation. Now a measure of good news has emerged.

Five of his key aides were convicted of fraud and are headed for prison for years and years and years. The verdict in New York is the latest development in an investigation that has taken five years. Madoff is already in prison with a 150-year sentence.

Madoff and his collaborators ran a Ponzi scheme that is now understood to date to the 1970s. The thugs headed to prison truly made it work. They produced all the phony paperwork and reports to convince investors their money was safe and earning a nice return.

Madoff is a potent symbol of the financial abuses suffered by America, but the criminal impact is wider and deeper. The federal government, and that means the White House and  Congress together, have not done much to hold crooked banks and mortgage lenders responsible for the scams they inflicted on the country. Americans put misplaced trust in investment ratings, which were supposed to inform and protect them. Not much has changed.

For all of the delight in seeing Madoff and his nefarious crew held accountable, there is a lot more to be done.

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