March 7, 2014 at 6:04 AM
One week after a Seattle City Council subcommittee's controversial and preliminary decision to limit ridesharing services to 150 drivers per network at any given time, Lyft, uberX and Sidecar have each come forward to reveal the number of drivers on their respective platforms.
During a Feb. 27 hearing, council members complained loudly that these companies were refusing to release that information. The city's top officials have struggled for months to reach an agreement on how to legalize ridesharing, which has disrupted Seattle's highly regulated taxi industry.
Now armed with a little more information, council members should revisit the cap number they proposed and at least raise the limit on the number of drivers from each company who can work at the same time.
A March 10 vote by the full council has been postponed until March 17.
On Friday afternoon, uberX sent out a press release revealing it "has 900 active drivers on its system. This number does not include drivers who have left the system or those awaiting background checks to join the system. That number also does not include UberBlack or UberSUV drivers."
The service also said more than 300 drivers are active at any given time and continues to grow with demand. So if the city's proposed legislation is passed, hundreds of drivers using their personal cars will lose the ability they currently enjoy to earn income through uberX.
Uber Seattle General Manager Brooke Steger's statement:
“It remains our position that caps on drivers have nothing to do with safety. We are only now releasing these driver numbers to illustrate to the Council that this legislation will kill ridesharing as we know it. In the face of steady or increasing taxi revenues, the Council is still choosing protect the taxi industry over the tens of thousands of their constituents who have called on them to remove the caps.”
Last week, Geekwire's Taylor Soper reported that Sidecar has nearly 1,000 drivers in Seattle.
After the uberX email came out, I asked Lyft for similar information.
Spokeswoman Erin Simpson wrote back that more than 1000 drivers in Seattle have "gone through the safety approval process to join the Lyft platform."
Many of these local residents drive with Lyft on their way to work, while they are running errands, or on the weekends to make ends meet. The cap that Seattle city leaders want to enforce will restrict the number of Lyft drivers allowed on the road at any given time to 150 total. The cap will prevent these drivers from being able to use Lyft, especially during times when passengers who have chosen to live car-free in Seattle need them most.
March 6, 2014 at 6:04 AM
As the Washington Legislature nears its March 13 deadline, now is the time to track and review efforts to end sex trafficking.
Yes, this is a statewide crisis. In the Seattle-King County area alone, the most recent studies suggest hundreds of children as young as 11 years old are being sexually exploited for commercial purposes. Organizations such as the Center for Child & Youth Justice and YouthCare are building new models to identify and treat these sex workers as victims, not criminals.
Below, watch video of StolenYouth's Jan. 29 forum at Town Hall to understand how advocates are responding to the problem.
This year in Olympia, lawmakers took up several measures to strengthen the state's laws against trafficking. So far, two bills outlined below have passed both houses. Lawmakers should make sure several other measures get to the governor's desk before time runs out. They must maintain the state's position as a leader in combating sex trafficking through strong legislation.
Here's a rundown of several bills related to sex trafficking and their status as of Wednesday:
HB 1292 — Allow survivors of the commercial sex trade to petition a judge to have previous prostitution convictions vacated. As The Seattle Times editorial board wrote in two editorials on Feb. 10 and Feb. 26, clearing criminal records gives victims the opportunity to find jobs, go back to school and start fresh.
STATUS: Passed the House and Senate. Headed to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk.
HB 1791 — Expands the definition of sex offenses to include the crime of trafficking in the first degree when force, fraud or coercion is used to cause the victim (minor or adult) to engage in a sexual act for commercial purposes.
STATUS: Passed the House and Senate. Headed to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk.
EHB 2335 — Expands extended foster-care services to young adults who are employed for at least 80 hours per month. Those in this program receive assistance with housing until they are 21, which has been shown to keep them from becoming homeless — and easy targets for traffickers. In Washington state, 35 percent of foster kids are homeless within a year of leaving the system. As I wrote in this Feb. 19 column, authorities believe a large number of sex workers are foster kids.
STATUS: Passed the House and is included in the House budget proposal. ($83,000 in state funding plus $23,000 in federal matching dollars). The Senate should approve this line item.
HB 6126 — Courts statewide would be required to appoint an attorney to represent children placed in the foster-care system. Washington is one of a handful of states that does not mandate legal representation for kids in dependency cases. In this Feb. 16 editorial, The Seattle Times editorial board argued that "helping foster kids navigate the system as soon as they enter it is likely to keep them out of trouble and save the state money in the long run. Attorneys can help shorten a child’s time in care and improve his or her chance of finding a permanent home."
STATUS: The bill passed the Senate and is in the House Rules Committee awaiting a vote of the full chamber.
Two bills passed out of the Senate Law & Justice Committee this year, but were placed in the Senate's "X" file, meaning neither is likely to go further. Lawmakers should try again next session.
Here's a summary of those two stalled measures:
HB 6434 — Addresses the demand side of the sex trade by authorizing authorities to seize the property of buyers, including money, cars, boats or aircraft used (or intended to be used) to patronize a sex worker.
HB 6435 — This bill would have required convicted criminals to pay restitution to their victims, including medical services, mental health care, rehabilitation, lost income, legal fees and other losses.
March 5, 2014 at 6:30 AM
Members of Congress do not, cannot, will not agree on anything, but the prospect of one proposed change has bound them together. The Federal Communications Commission is contemplating allowing cellphone calls on planes.
Listen to the howling. Virtually no one likes the idea, including the federal Department of Transportation. Airline passengers are already shoe-horned into tight spaces, and seething about the cost of air fares, and the payment of fees for, well, everything.
Now those passengers must contemplate being squeezed next to some yammering idiot for hours and hours. Opposition among passengers who have flown four or more times in recent months pushes 80 percent. This is a truly horrible idea.
This is all about phone calls. Those loud, chatty confabs that would go on and on and on –endlessly. This is not about using tablets or smartphones or music players. The FAA lifted a ban last fall on using that electronic gear to send emails, text or surf the Internet during takeoffs and landings. Go for it.
Want a preview of what it would be like for even a fraction of a typical flight? Ride a crowded morning or evening commuter bus. The conversations – not fast calls home or to work – often share too much information, are too loud and too long. The annoyed looks from those trying to read or doze cross genders and generations among riders miffed about audio violations of precious space.
Chatting on cellphone calls has not been allowed on planes for 23 years. No reason exists to change that.
March 4, 2014 at 6:11 AM
Opinion Northwest recently asked for readers' thoughts on Congress' failure so far to extend federal unemployment insurance. The Feb. 21 blog post followed this editorial calling on lawmakers to help struggling but active job-seekers.
Within days, the post received more than 300 responses from across the country — the map at the top of this post shows locations of responses we received. Many people explained how the temporary assistance had helped them to keep their families housed and their Internet connections available so that they could post their resumes online. A few disagreed with the extension, saying it discourages the long-term unemployed from trying harder to find work. Older workers offered heart-wrenching stories about the difficulty of getting an interview and holding on to a position in today's economy. During the process of verifying a few different writers' identities, a few phone numbers were disconnected.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Senate is plotting again to pass an extension measure with the help of some Republicans. The Congressional Budget Office outlined the benefits of a short-term fix in this Dec. 3 analysis. "Recipients of the additional benefits would increase their spending on consumer goods and services. That increase in aggregate demand would encourage businesses to boost production and hire more workers than they otherwise would, particularly given the expected slack in the capital and labor markets," the report concludes.
Here in Washington state, the Employment Security Department reports about 28,000 people exhausted their federal benefits on Dec. 28 after Congress failed to act. Since then, the agency estimates thousands more drop out of the system every week.
What happens to them now?
Scroll down to read some of their stories.
Support a federal extension of unemployment insurance:
I support the extension due to the fact that I lost my job of 29 years in June. My benefits ran out in January. No one will hire me due to my age. I'm 64 years old. Having 26 weeks is not long enough to find a job at my age. It is devastating to our budget with first the loss of a long-term job, and then no unemployment to help with expenses. My job loss was due to my position being eliminated. I would have loved to continue working until I was old enough to retire, but my employer had other plans. We have now had to put our home up for sale, we sold our second vehicle and have cut out anything possible to cut back. I've gone from a job that paid over $3,000 a month, to unemployment at less than half of that amount, and now down to zero for my income — it is hard to live on just my husband's Social Security. I need to work, and have worked since I was a teenager. I need the extra weeks of unemployment to carry me until I can find a job. It is not right to not extend the benefits to those of us who are struggling to find a job. Something needs to be done to help all us who are out of work.
— Sharon Washburn, Yakima
I was laid off from King County in September of 2013. I was working as the Department of Transportation's only wildlife biologist on staff.
I have had many interviews, but none have yet ended in a job offer. Believe me, if you have not been through this experience of being laid off and searching for work, it is not only a full-time endeavor, it also barely pays the bills (and I am a single person with no dependents, no debt, no mortgage). It also takes its toll on one's mental and physical health, going through bouts of depression and feelings of self-worth. In four weeks, my unemployment insurance will run out. It's a scary prospect to not have any income coming in when I have been trying so hard, day in and day out to find employment in my field.
I wish that all of the Republicans who continuously have voted down extending unemployment benefits could be laid off and see how tough it is to find a job in today's market. Then they might be more empathetic for the nearly 2 million people who are losing their homes, losing their savings and ultimately losing hope without this vital lifeline between jobs. But as long as our representatives have their cushy jobs, with full benefits, they can’t relate. Therefore, I don’t hold out much hope for an extension. Listen to your constituents Congress. That's YOUR job.
— Todd Martin, Seattle
I have been laid off for more than six months now and I am using my life savings and help from family members to pay my bills and put food on the table. Things are so tough financially that it's hard to focus on looking for jobs. I have to figure out how to survive every day and how to support my family. Unemployment benefits needs to be extended to give people a resource to use to survive while looking for work.
— Roger Montoya, Seattle
I am one of the thousands who lost their benefits. I will be 60 this month. No one wants to hire older people. I am sure they figure it is not worth the time. I have been in sales for 40 years. I have sold different products and have been successful. The job market is awful. Employers are so specific as to criteria. Employers are able to delay and pick and choose employees. They are in no hurry to hire. The unemployment rate is way higher than what is being published. Those of us who are unemployed have no lobbyist, no advocate.
— Calvin Graedel, Seattle
I used to work in corporate procurement. Federal unemployment benefits helped me to pay for storage since I no longer can afford an apartment in Seattle. I also used the money to pay for my LinkedIn account to help network with potential recruiters and apply for jobs, to put gas in my car to go to interviews, and to pay for electricity so I can shower and cook.
One of the great ideas I've read about is from this petition. Congress should use the extra $5.7 billion in the war budget to pay for a three-month extension of assistance to long-term unemployed Americans, currently numbering 1.7 million, instead of using that $5.7 billion for Pentagon contractor pork that the Pentagon doesn't want and doesn't need.
— Frank Motley, Federal Way
I support an extension for an obvious and highly biased reason — I'm unemployed. Unemployment should not become synonymous with lazy people who won't get off their backsides and prefer to suck at the teat of Mother UI.
I have over 20 years experience at the upper management level. Lots of success, great references, well-honed interviewing skills and gray hair: A deadly combination in the current job market. I'm not blaming it all on age, but ageism is real and it does take longer to find work. And for those of you who instantly think we should just work for less, I'm happy to. But then I'm overqualified, which scares potential employers.
I use my unemployment, which I paid into for many years, to help keep my house, get food on the table and try to stay on top of utility bills. I don't vacation, shop, go to the theater, etc. I work hard at finding work. And the UI payments go a long way toward helping me become a good statistic instead of a tragic one that requires even more state or federal support since I can't pay my own way.
And I still find it fascinating that a government that was so ready to support the very organizations that created our current situation is so willing to stomp on those left in its financial dust.
— Kris Reed, Bellevue
Opposed to an extension:
Having experienced many months of unemployment myself during the Reagan Recession without qualifying for any benefits, I think a sense of urgency is vital to returning to employment. I took any temp job I could get, and accepted a position that was not in my career path. But the experience proved valuable later, especially the lesson in humility and having savings for a rainy day. I am a progressive, but don't agree with unlimited extensions.
— Rick Bergdahl, Issaquah
No, I do not support an extension of federal unemployment insurance. Unemployment insurance is dangerous.
Benefits are disbursed based on an assumption of approval. In many cases, it becomes an overpayment, and must be paid back, with interest. The unemployment insurance department acknowledges this, and considers it a source of income.
Applicants should never be considered a source of income. This is nothing short of predatory lending.
I filed some years ago, received money, and then was asked to repay. It was considered a "non-fraud overpayment," which means they acknowledge I wasn't trying to do anything wrong.
It was $8,095. Add $80.95 interest every month while I was homeless and out of it for a few years, and now it's $11,373. If I don't pay $341 every month, there would be interest. If I get a job, they would garnish. If I put money in the bank, they would take it. If I go bankrupt, the debt would remain.
I don't recommend unemployment insurance to anyone. I don't think it should expand. I think they should either give out money, or not. I think they should stop preying on the unemployed. If government is intended to balance itself, then whose job is it to fix this?
— Allen Ereaux, Mountlake Terrace
The system is flawed. I personally know people who are retired with over a million dollars in their IRAs legally drawing unemployment benefits. They retired, then took a part time job and were let go. How fair is that? I also know people drawing benefits who are working for cash. Is anyone minding the store?
— Tom Malicki, Mount Vernon
March 3, 2014 at 6:25 AM
To drive across Snoqualmie Pass in mid- to late-Feburary was to play chicken with weather. The pass opened and closed like the Fremont Bridge, as state crews swept and re-swept the suddenly snowy pass. I was fool enough to nearly get stuck twice.
This traveler's hassle, however, was a golden ticket for Northwest energy generation. On Feb. 4, The Bonneville Power Administration, which supplies about 30 percent of the Northwest's electricity, estimated the snow-fueled stream flows would be 80 percent of average come spring snowmelt because of an usually dry winter. On Friday, the estimate had risen to 90 percent.
For BPA, which forecasts its surplus power sales, the February storms translate to a $30 million windfall. BPA spokesman Michael Hansen said the figure depends on continued favorable weather and energy market prices. But such a sudden change in snow pack, he said, is unusual.
Click on the regions below to see the change in snowpack since Jan. 1. For comparison, here's the same graphic from Feb. 18.
*Snow water equivalent represents the depth of water in the snowpack, if the snowpack were melted, in inches.
Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service. (SEATTLE TIMES / GARLAND POTTS)
February 28, 2014 at 6:02 AM
Arizona’s odious anti-gay “religious freedom” bill would have exempted true believers from state anti-discrimination and other laws if they could argue that compliance would violate their religious beliefs or moral principles. Fortunately, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill Wednesday.
But imagine if that kind of thinking had prevailed 50 years ago, when Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. We might still be living in a land of whites-only lunch counters and segregated movie theaters.
Many of the arguments for segregation had religious foundations. Misguided preachers, including the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, cited Bible verses that they said showed separation of the races was God’s plan.
During a 14-hour filibuster inveighing against the act, the late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., cited proscriptions in Leviticus against allowing farm animals to cross-breed, and against sowing fields with several kinds of seeds.
“God’s statute, therefore, recognizes the natural order of the separateness of things,” Byrd said.
If Congress had inserted a “religious exemption” like Arizona’s into the Civil Rights Act, segregationists would have embraced it en masse. Jim Crow probably would have survived virtually intact.
When Brewer vetoed the Arizona bill, she said it had “the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve.”
She was right. You won’t find any mention of gays or sexual orientation or same-sex marriage in the bill’s text. It could have opened the door to religion-based discrimination against just about anyone.
We’ve been there. Let’s not go back.
February 27, 2014 at 6:30 AM
Here is how a stunning PBS documentary describes itself:
“In Secrets of the Vatican, FRONTLINE tells the epic, inside story of the collapse of the Benedict papacy and illuminates the extraordinary challenges facing Pope Francis as he tries to reform the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, root out corruption and chart a new course for the troubled Catholic Church and its 1.2 billion followers.”
Viewers might easily imagine they’ve heard it all. Oh that. Why bother? Take everything you have ever heard about the Catholic Church and the global clergy child sexual abuse scandals, the dodgy Vatican bank, add in drug abuse, and multiply it all by ten. A primary insight is that Pope Benedict really did not step down from the papacy so much as flee the job.
Watch the video below:
No one could make up what this documentary reveals. For all of the horror on display, the reality is basic: arrogance, hubris and insularity will bring down any organization, even one ordained to do God’s work on earth. A human organization manifests all human frailties. Allow it to make its own rules and hide, and the worst happens.
This is a tragedy that defies description. Abuse of people, power and a benefit of the doubt that goes with the job description. Pope Francis is viewed as the institutional savior who comes from far enough outside the Roman Curia and the inner sanctum to instigate and sustain change.
The only optimism in the documentary are references to a new beginning for a wounded church, and a religious crusade to save the church.
The cruel joke of priestly celibacy is the first fraud to erase. Allow priests to marry. Just for starters. Watch “Secrets of the Vatican.” You might know the story line. You have no clue about the depth of the shame.
February 27, 2014 at 6:25 AM
Until 1973, homosexuality was medically classified as a mental disorder. The vestige of that fundamentally wrong notion — that same-sex attraction is an illness to be cured — lives on in the fringes of psychology through the practice of "gay conversion therapy."
In the coming weeks, Washington should become the third state to ban such "treatments" for minors. A bill in the Legislature, HB 2451, is hung up in the Senate Health Care Committee. Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, told The Seattle Times last week she didn't plan to put the measure up for a vote, and there wasn't sufficient support in the Senate. Without a vote, the bill dies this week.
That's a mistake.
Gay conversion therapy, also called reparative therapy, is premised on the idea that sexual orientation is mutable, and that young gays and lesbians can be made into heterosexuals, often via religious counseling (hence the derisive title of "pray the gay away" therapy). The practice has a grim history; methods for forcing conversion include electroshock and ice water baths, administered while the patient watched gay porn. In legislative testimony, Daniel Cords of Seattle said he tried suicide "more times than I could count" after being forced into reparative therapy by fundamentalist parents.
Failing to put HB 2451 up for a vote is also a mistake because the politics here are clear. The House passed it 94-4. Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, told The Tri-City Herald the therapy was "cruel and unusual," and "reminiscent of a country different than America." Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Centralia, on the House floor described his change from being skeptical to being convinced that some conversion therapy practices "border on child abuse." Watch his testimony below.
If the bill gets a vote in the Senate Health Care Committee, it will pass the whole Senate easily, according to Sens. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, and Marco Liias, D-Everett, who've championed the bill. Hearing concerns about religious freedom, amendments were passed on the House floor that emphasized the ability for pastors to counsel their flock. The bill only applies to therapy given to minors.
Nor is there any apparent legal barrier to HB 2451. The federal 9th Circuit Court (of which Washington is a member) upheld the California ban on reparative therapy, making a lawsuit here untenable.
Here are the major medical groups that have warned that gay conversion therapy is based on bunk science and is potentially harmful: the U.S. Surgeon General (in 2001), the American Academy of Pediatrics (1983), the American Psychiatric Association (2000), the American Psychological Association (1997), the National Association of Social Work (1997) and the American Counseling Association (1998).
Bottling up HB 2451 would put the Majority Coalition Caucus on the wrong side of history.
February 26, 2014 at 6:24 AM
A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published in The Journal of the American Medical Association indicates obesity rates have dropped among some toddlers, but the overall prevalence of the disease in kids and adults remains high.
Public health policies must continue to focus on prevention, especially among kids.
At the national level, First Lady Michelle Obama has fought hard to combat childhood obesity by launching the Let's Move! campaign. She has appeared on Sesame Street and on late-night television numerous times to convince people of all ages to be active and to make healthful eating choices.
Here she is with Big Bird in the White House kitchen:
And here's a hilarious (and highly effective) video encouraging Americans to be active, featuring the First Lady and "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon in a segment called "Evolution of Mom Dancing":
Obama makes exercise look fun and hip, but for many Americans— changing behavior is incredibly difficult.
Though this New York Times news story highlights a promising 43 percent drop in obesity among 2 and 5-year-old children over the last ten years, the CDC reported no significant reductions among other groups during that same period.
Overall, childhood obesity has tripled in adolescents over the last three decades. Immediate health effects include high cholesterol, pre-diabetes and loss of self-esteem. Obese adults are more likely to suffer from various cancers, type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
Public health policies have helped to cut tobacco use in half over the last 50 years. The same should be done to end the obesity epidemic.
In this Wednesday's editorial, The Seattle Times applauds recent successes in lowering obesity rates among 8th, 10th and 12th graders in King County schools thanks to an influx of funding focused on prevention efforts. (Read Seattle Times reporter Lornet Turnbull's news story.) Some schools updated workout equipment. Others altered menus to be more nutritional.
Here's an excerpt:
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that highlighted a significant decrease in obesity rates among 8th, 10th and 12th grade students in (Communities Putting Prevention to Work) schools in King County, from about 11 percent of students in 2010 to nearly 9 percent in 2012. Within those two years, the odds of a student being obese declined by 9 percent.
In nonparticipating schools, those numbers remained unchanged.
This experiment proves that targeted investments in prevention and intervention can be effective, even in low-income areas with high rates of the disease.
Here's a link to more information on the 17 percent decrease in obesity rates among key King County youth.
Also worth noting is Gov. Jay Inslee's "Healthiest Next Generation" initiative, which passed the state House of Representatives and is currently in the Senate Health Care Committee. House Bill 2643 would establish private-public partnerships to lower childhood obesity by creating more breastfeeding-friendly and healthy school environments. A public hearing was held on Monday. Senators should send the bill to the floor before Friday's cut-off deadline.
February 25, 2014 at 11:56 AM
In case you missed it, Monday's editorial in The Seattle Times opinion section argues that a cap on ride-sharing services in Seattle does not improve consumer safety and kills an emerging business model. The board also supports lifting arbitrary caps on taxi, for-hire and ride-sharing vehicles.
Let the market determine how many vehicles should be on the road. Don’t limit growth. Focus on consumer safety.
Discussions on insurance gaps must continue in light of accidents involving ride-share drivers in other markets. Lyft has started a committee to find some clarity. Seattle leaders should join that effort.
Ride-sharing quickly gained a following because it keeps more cars off the road and gives drivers a chance to make a living with an asset they already own. Like the taxi industry, many drivers for these new services are immigrants. The council should beware of picking winners and losers.
Agree with this view or not, the editorial board would like to hear from you.
Vote in the poll below.
Last month, readers sounded off on the ridesharing controversy. Take a look at what people said in this Dec. 19 Opinion Northwest blog post.
Then take a step back and realize a national debate is under way — from San Francisco to Chicago and Washington D.C. — over how to treat "sharing economy" phenomenons such as Lyft, uberX, Sidecar. Do these disruptive models deserve to be subject to regulations like any other business— or given a little flexibility because consumers really like them? I'm in favor of the latter, mostly because I enjoy the ease of using Lyft, uberX and Airbnb services. But it's no surprise to see agents of the status quo come swooping in to force fresh, uncertain concepts into a box.
The Seattle City Council's Committee on Taxi, For-Hire and Limousine Regulations meets again on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 4 p.m. Unless they have a change of heart, it appears the three members of the panel — council members Sally Clark, Bruce Harrell and Mike O'Brien – will vote to increase taxi licenses by a modest amount and cap ridesharing vehicles at anywhere from 300 to 600 licenses. Don't like that? Let them know.
Council members Sally Bagshaw and Tom Rasmussen oppose caps. Mayor Ed Murray says he "generally" opposes a limit but would support a "temporary cap." He's trying too hard to be balanced, but at least he's willing to consider shaking up the current taxi and transportation system. Here's a section of his state of the city address last week that seems prescient:
As elected leaders, I believe we should take as a challenge the renewed excitement, the focus and enthusiasm, the spirit of innovation that’s taken ahold of our city.
How can we ensure that City government is as talented and energized, as enterprising and innovative as the people it serves?
Our answer to this question should be informed by our common history as progressives.
As elected leaders, we cannot and should not seek to hit pause on progress by clinging blindly to the status quo, or inhibit innovation by protecting outmoded ways of doing business.
We must be willing to embrace new practices – even where they may be as disruptive as they are constructive.
February 25, 2014 at 6:25 AM
The Cascade Bicycle Club got valuable real estate on Monday with a front page Seattle Times story on the club's pivot toward a "more inclusive" recreation-first group. But the CBC took advantage with a rather a creepy email to members. (Yes, I'm a member.)
Here's an excerpt:
Let me introduce myself. I'm Bike "I'm smarter than you" Bot, the Director of Cascade's Intelligence Agency.*
I'm not human. I'm an internet program that's been trolling through how many emails you've been opening from the Cascade Bicycle Club and how many actions you've been taking.**
And I have to say, I'm a little disappointed (like Siri gets when you ask her a dumb question ... you know the tone). You've opened fewer than one out of four emails from Cascade, and you've never, ever signed a petition, sent an email to a decision-maker, or attended a lots-of-humans-in-the-room (ick) Cascade advocacy event.
CBC policy director Thomas Goldstein quickly sent out a follow-up email, apologizing for having "crossed a line." When I followed up with him this afternoon, he called it a "grievous error." "This didn't go through the usual communications vetting process," said Goldstein.
The intent, he said, was consistent with the tone of the Seattle Times story, which described how the CBC, after years of internal strife, was putting "less emphasis on lobbying." The email was essentially an opt-out for advocacy emails. "Members can decide about their own level of involvement," Goldstein said, whether it means signing petitions or just showing up for recreational rides.
But invoking omnipresent digital surveillance, even with a wink-wink tone, taps into the NSA backlash zeitgeist. Google recently admitted that Gmail users should have "no legitimate expectation of privacy," according to CNET. That's certainly not the association that CBC was hoping for, Goldstein said.
The creepy email, by the way, also had an eerie ending:
By the way, here's a public service announcement for all you humans from an internet bot: don't get any ideas from the movie "Her." We won't love you, we'll play you. Siri doesn't even like you. Plus, humans shouldn't be stealing my dates.
Sincerely trolling through your emails to create a better world,
Bike Bot, Director of Cascade's Intelligence Agency
February 24, 2014 at 1:02 PM
Alice Herz-Sommer may not have set out to change minds, but her essence and love for the piano transcended time, politics and the horrors of Hitler's concentration camps.
The world's oldest pianist and Holocaust survivor passed away over the weekend. What a life she lived. She won't be remembered as a victim, but for her incredible sense of optimism.
"Every day in life is beautiful," she would say. And she believed it, despite a life of profound suffering over the course of her 110 years, including the loss of her home in Prague, her parents and her husband after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.
I had not known about Herz-Sommer's life story until Friday night, when I saw the Oscar-nominated documentary short film based on her life, "The Lady in Number 6." Here's a preview of this poignant meditation on survival, aging and music as salvation.
Herz-Sommer's talent for playing the piano probably saved her life. The Nazis placed her and her little boy in a special camp for Jewish intellectuals and artists. The Germans allowed them to act, sing, play and live for propaganda purposes. Thousands were still sent on to Auschwitz and died.
American kids read about Anne Frank's diary in elementary school. Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" brought a shameful chapter in history back to life in movie form. The Holocaust is covered in history books and museums worldwide.
But there is a different, gut-wrenching and visceral reaction that happens when we hear survivors tell their own stories. We're lifted out of our comfort zone. Questions abound. How did this happen? How do we stop crimes against humanity? How do we live our best lives when the circumstances before us are so awful?
Thankfully, Alice Herz-Sommer left us with some answers. Through documentary film, her wisdom will continue to inspire.
February 24, 2014 at 6:30 AM
America can hardly sleep more soundly because an elderly protester against nuclear weapons is behind bars. She and two others exposed the expensive joke behind high security for nuclear bomb components.
How about a few demotions, transfers and cancellation of some no-doubt sweet civilian contracts to “protect” the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.? The idea of Sister Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 58, and Michael Walli, 65, spending serious time in jail is offensive.
The incident dates to July 2012, and Rice was sentenced last week to 35 months in jail. Congress held hearings last spring on the dismal status of security. The Department of Energy said improvements included management changes and independent security reviews. Right, as if those were needed to discover anything.
CNN recounted how these three heinous peace activists moseyed into the compound. They cut through an outer perimeter chain-link fence, walked nearly a mile on the site, and then cut through three more chain-link fences. Then they spray-painted messages, hoisted banners and splashed human blood on the buildings housing highly secured uranium enrichment facilities.
Hours passed before a security guard, so to speak, eventually discovered them, and they offered him food and started singing.
Perhaps the only person who completely gets this “high security” farce is Edward Snowden. This Tennessee waltz into a secure area rates no higher than civil disobedience. Otherwise, they did the federal government a favor.
February 21, 2014 at 6:03 AM
The Seattle Times' Monday editorial calling on Congress to extend unemployment benefits has received some heavy online traffic. Obviously, this issue hits a nerve for many of you out there who are searching for work or know someone who is. Here is an excerpt from the editorial:
In Washington state, at least 28,000 job-seekers so far have lost a critical financial lifeline. Many have put this money immediately into their local economies. It’s how they have afforded basic necessities such as rent, gas, groceries and utilities...
Without an extension, thousands more throughout Washington will continue to lose emergency federal assistance each week after their regular state benefits run out at 26 weeks.
Workers looking for jobs beyond that period now make up nearly 30 percent of the state’s unemployed population. There is an average of three applicants for every job opening.
There's good reason for lawmakers to return from recess and re-start this debate. According to a January Quinnipiac University poll, 58 percent of respondents support continuing this financial lifeline for those who've exhausted their state benefits.
Share your thoughts with us in the form below.
On Wednesday, Politico reported on new efforts by some Senate Republicans to get more members of their caucus on board with extending jobless benefits. One of the ideas being floated would prevent recipients from double-dipping into disability and unemployment funds. Another is to cut off aid after applicants get a job offer. Democrats should listen and negotiate a compromise.
Here in Washington, I'd like to know why you care about this issue. Some readers have already weighed in. (Check out this letter to the editor.) Are you unemployed and struggling to find work after 26 weeks? How does this federal aid help your household or your local community? How long do you think benefits should be available? How should Congress pay for it?
Share your thoughts in the form below. Please leave your first and last name, city of residence, email and phone number. Contact information will not be publicly posted and is for verification purposes only.
February 20, 2014 at 6:08 AM
My Thursday column on sex trafficking and the foster care system opened with a line about the number of wards running away from homes they've been placed in by the state.
Below are three charts that show the extent of the problem between January 2010 and March 2013. These graphs from Columbia Legal Services are from the last report compiled by the state Department of Social and Health Services for a now-defunct working group called Missing from Care.
1. How many kids under the care of the state run away each month? DSHS reported a low of 116 runaways in January 2010 and a high of 172 in April 2012.
2. How many days did the kids go missing? The median number ranged between 29 days as of April 2012 to a high of 62 days in December 2012.
3. How many times overall did foster kids attempt to run away? These numbers are different from the first chart because some foster kids may have tried to run more than once in any given month.
As I mentioned in the column, DSHS has six people on staff who are trained to find missing kids. Casey Trupin, one of the attorneys for Columbia Legal Services who represented foster kids in the 2004 Braam settlement agreement with DSHS, suggests the state needs to hire three times as many locators."The more time that a foster youth spends on the streets, the more difficult it becomes to protect that youth from being trafficked and sexually assaulted," Trupin says. "We need to offer these youth solutions early on so that they can avoid these terrible outcomes."
Numerous advocacy groups are working to normalize the experiences of foster kids to prevent them from running away in the first place.
At the state level, bills to watch include SB 6126 and HB 2335/SB 6101. The former would make it mandatory for counties to assign foster kids with attorneys to help them navigate the legal system. The Times' editorial board supported the bill in this Feb. 16 editorial. The Senate passed the measure on Monday night. The House should do the same. The latter bills did not survive cut-off deadlines in the Legislature, but lawmakers should find the will to expand the Extended Foster Care program (at an estimated cost of about $1 million) so that more foster kids have a support system to help them transition out of state care and stay away from harm. If lawmakers can't do it this session, they should try again next year.
There's some hope for progress at the congressional level, too. On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., chair of a congressional subcommittee that oversees the foster care system, held a public hearing in Auburn on the issue of sex trafficking. Last week, he introduced a legislative package to combat the problem. Among the bill's highlights, as outlined on Reichert's website:
1. Help identify victims of child sex trafficking and ensure states develop plans to help and serve these children
2. Improve the data on this problem and the services provided to them
3. Ensure youth in foster care can live more normal, fulfilling lives that make them less vulnerable to sex trafficking
4. Ensure states do more to move kids quickly out of foster care into loving families if they can't return home
5. Ensure youth in foster care are better prepared for a successful adulthood.
Reichert says his legislation already has bipartisan support. The challenge is funding. Congress should find the political will to implement these reforms and end the sex trafficking of society's most vulnerable kids.
February 19, 2014 at 6:30 AM
The state House of Representatives took a big step early Tuesday morning with approval of an amended version of House Bill 2347, which seeks to reduce the risk of catastrophic oil spills from ships and trains. Now it falls to the state Senate, and its Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, to keep this important legislation moving.
Tracking the growing volumes of oil shipped through the state is necessary for local first-responders to be ready in the case of spills and resulting emergencies. Recent tragedies in North Dakota, Alabama, Alberta and Quebec reinforce the importance of being prepared for the worst.
State Rep. Jessyn Farrell’s legislation directs the state to gather and refineries to provide information about volumes of oil, types of oil, and the routes of vessels and trains. As the Democrat from Lake Forest Park notes, this will fill in gaps of knowledge about current routes and traffic on the Columbia River, around Grays Harbor and in Puget Sound.
The legislation empowers the state Department of Ecology to begin a study in 2014. A last-minute amendment would postpone any rule making inquiries until there is a permitted facility.
Communities need to be fully informed of the risks that go with the transport of vast quantities of oil. Local public-safety agencies need to know the nature of the hazards they might face. The legislation would gather basic information in response to the known risks that have claimed lives and destroyed property.
February 18, 2014 at 6:25 AM
At a meeting of Washington state county administrators last year, Jim Jones said one budget-busting scenario provoked the biggest wave of anxiety among the budget officers: a death penalty murder prosecution.
Jones, the Clallam County administrator and then-president of the Washington County Administrative Association, told me that five counties said the same thing: "If we had a death penalty case, and had to pay $1 million (in legal costs), we'd go bankrupt."
In an editorial calling for the repeal of the death penalty, The Seattle Times editorial board cited the enormous cost of capital punishment. Counties, with the duty of paying for courts, front much of the cost. The most comprehensive study comparing the cost of death and non-death sentence murder cases estimated the difference at $1 million - including the costs of lifetime incarceration. Counties have to pay for multiple top-end, death-penalty-qualified lawyers, experts, investigations and trials that stretch weeks, if not months.
Washington has a special state "extraordinary criminal justice costs" fund to help counties to defray aggravated murder cases. But the yearly allocation is discretionary, and the amount received is typically pennies on the dollar. That poses a complex question for lawmakers: If the Legislature insists on a capital punishment, shouldn't it pay the cost?
It doesn't, as the chart at right shows. Reimbursements typically favor small counties. Except for the Green River killer era, King County has fared very poorly.
Criminal justice costs consume two-thirds or even 80 percent of county budgets, Brian Enslow of the Washington Association of Counties told me. Counties are strappped, and the rare, unexpected murder case can blow up budgets.
Jones would know about these extraordinary costs: Clallam County spent $1 million in 2013 on the retrial of death-row inmate Darold Stenson, who was first sent to death row in 1994. It was enough to cause a "budget emergency" for the county's court budget, according to the Peninsula Daily News. The county during this time was so strapped it cut staff by more than 15 percent, with annual $1 million budget shortfalls.
It could have been worse: the Stenson retrial was mitigated by the county prosecutor's decision, two months into the process, to not seek the death penalty a second time. "It is hard to guess what it might have ended up costing if our prosecutor had not removed the death penalty as a possible outcome," Jones said.
The threat of a single death-penalty case bankrupting a county has come up again and again. In the late 1990s, Okanogan County put on hold all equipment purchases, including worn-out patrol cars, because of the costs of a death-penalty prosecution. Stevens County in 2009 tried to beg off the death penalty case of Christopher Devlin to Spokane County, citing a $1.2 million budget deficit.
“I have no doubt that the defense cost of Mr. Devlin and the costs to prosecute this case would be a serious blow to the solvency of Stevens County,” county prosecuting attorney Tim Rasmussen told the Spokesman-Review.
February 13, 2014 at 8:59 AM
When that fifth Olympic ring failed to open up during the opening ceremony in Sochi last Friday, I joked to a friend that someone was going to pay dearly for that mistake. The next day, a hoax story spread on the Internet that claimed the person in charge of that portion of the program was found dead. Though the story wasn't true (as explained by Buzzfeed), it certainly fed a negative, western media-driven narrative that this year's Winter Olympics are destined to be a disaster.
How many of you considered not watching the Sochi games? Tell us in the poll after the jump:
I had tinkered with the idea of not watching after months of hearing about Russian President Vladimir Putin's anti-LGBT policies. (Here's a round-up by PolicyMic.) Something about the host country spending about $50 billion didn't seem right, either. The Russian band Pussy Riot — heroes to many after they were imprisoned for singing anti-government songs — toured the U.S. last week to encourage Americans to boycott Putin's spectacle (Here's the CBS News report). Then came the tweets from some of the first journalists to arrive in the host city. Social media circles went nuts over images of dirty water, tainted food, shoddily constructed accommodations and photos of a shirtless Putin in hotel rooms.
Despite all that bad juju, I tuned in last Friday night to watch some of the opening ceremony and the competitions that have followed. The sight of those athletes walking into the arena and waving their countries' flags stirred up strong feelings of pride. What other non-violent, non-war international event do Americans pay as much attention to? This temporary show of unity is what makes the Olympics so special.
Every few years, these athletes make incredible sacrifices to reach the top of their sport. Their preparation makes for thrilling television. Of course, there's no denying the underlying political themes.
Sure, it was a little annoying to see Putin in the stands last Sunday with a smug look on his face as he watched Russia's figure skaters take home a team gold medal. But did you see 15-year-old skating phenom Julia Lipnitskaia spin, jump and flex her way to international stardom? Her performances so far have been brilliant. No one can deny her talent — or hold her nationality against her. Good is good.
As three-time Olympian Greg Louganis argues so effectively in this Wednesday guest column opposing a boycott of the games, engagement with the Russians is critical not because of the discriminatory policies in place there today, but because showing that America's delegation supports equality could change the lives of LGBT residents who will remain in Sochi long after the games have ended.
Earlier this week, the first openly bisexual athlete to win a gold medal at the games, Dutch speed skater Ireen Wust, told reporters she got a hug from Putin after her win. Who knows if that will make a difference in the long term for Russian policies. Wust's triumph is certainly a poignant moment reminiscent of African-American track star Jesse Owens' four gold medal-winning performances at the 1936 Berlin games, which was hosted and attended by Adolf Hitler.
Check out this fascinating video clip:
I'm hoping for more moments like that in Sochi, in which the Olympic spirit shines brighter than politics.
February 12, 2014 at 1:19 PM
Speculation abounds the mammoth tusk found at a South Lake Union construction site is a remnant of a prehistoric tunneling project. This would take a lot of pressure off a contemporary cousin, that white elephant Bertha.
Modern digital analysis — finger pointing between the contractor and government agencies — lays the blame on a big steel pipe or a rock that did not come up in earlier chats. Tsk, tsk.
Now it is tusk, tusk, and the speculation is over stalactites and stalagmites that were not present in the cave drawings plotting the path of the Ice Age project. Apparently paleo-communication skill sets have not dramatically improved in 15,000 years. That is the time frame assigned to the South Lake Union discovery.
So far that seems like a woolly estimate of when Bertha will be moving again.
February 12, 2014 at 6:30 AM
The NFL season is over, the Seattle Seahawks are Super Bowl champs, but everyone is still talking about the parade through downtown Seattle.
Steve Raible, the popular play-by-play announcer for the Hawks, was a favorite with the - what was it, two million? - fans who turned out in the frigid weather to cheer the team.
My gratitude and appreciation for Raible goes back to Jan. 19 and the NFC Championship between the Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. Seemingly minutes and one field goal into the game, the electrical power went out in my neighborhood and lots of others in North King County. (Expletives deleted.)
We hustled up a portable radio with functioning batteries, and dialed up KIRO AM and there was Mr. Raible. OK, I cannot remember the last time I heard him on the radio.
Indeed, I do not watch – or listen – to much pro ball. I like the college game a lot more. Still, the Hawks were on fire this season, for all the well established reasons. Attention must be paid.
So there we sat huddled on a stormy Sunday. Raible calls a great game. The college and Seahawks veteran has been broadcasting for years and, no doubt, doing it very well.
Read up on Raible, and it can almost tick off a person. He is not only in Georgia Tech’s athlete Hall of Fame, but Raible is also a popular and generous figure in community activities around the region. When, of course, he is not behind a microphone or on camera.
Steve Raible calls a great football game. I just had to say it, and catch up with his legions of fans who already knew it.
February 11, 2014 at 8:27 AM
North Korean officials said months ago that American prisoner Kenneth Bae would not be used as a political pawn. Their latest action suggests they've changed their mind.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced Sunday that North Korean officials had rescinded a second invitation for a special American envoy to fly to Pyongyang to meet with Bae. According to this Associated Press news story, the cancellation "signals an apparent protest of upcoming annual military drills between Washington and Seoul and an alleged mobilization of U.S. nuclear-capable B-52 bombers during training near the Korean Peninsula. North Korea calls the planned drills a rehearsal for invasion, a claim the allies deny."
North Korean leaders would be wise to let Bae — imprisoned for 15 months now — return to his family before his health deteriorates any further. Bae is not a public official or representative of the U.S. government. He entered the country numerous times as a tour operator before he was detained in November 2012. He is a father, husband, son and brother, and a man of faith who has apologized (possibly under duress) to the North Korean regime for whatever crimes they claim he committed.
The Seattle Times editorial board has published numerous editorials in support of a humanitarian release for Bae. Below is video of CNN's social media campaign, launched last Friday, to raise awareness about Bae's plight.
The former Lynnwood resident's family says he has been transferred from a hospital back into a labor camp to continue a 15-year sentence. Here's an excerpt of their latest public statement:
We are also distressed to learn that Kenneth was sent back to the labor camp on Jan. 20, which gives our family renewed urgency to bring him home. Kenneth suffers from chronic medical conditions that require treatment, including severe back pain. We remain gravely concerned that the stress Kenneth endures at the labor camp will be too much for him. We do not know whether his body will be able to withstand the strains of hard labor, eight hours a day, six days a week.
Last week, President Obama referenced Bae in his annual remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. On Friday, CNN launched a Twitter-focused campaign (using the Twitter handle @bringbaeback and the hashtag #BRINGBAEBACK) to help the family keep Bae's name in the media. The family and State Department officials say noted civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has offered to go to Pyongyang to help.
What now? U.S. officials cannot read the mind of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. His regime has been vague, signaling at different times that it might be willing to release Bae. They should show some humanity and outline exactly what it would take to do so.
February 11, 2014 at 6:25 AM
The notion of inviting venture capitalists into the state human services system sounds, I’ll admit, a bit creepy. When I heard that notion was floating around the 2014 Legislature, my thoughts went to the private prison industry and its dismal race-to-the-bottom practices.
But as Tuesday’s Seattle Times editorial suggests, the notion, in HB 2337, deserves a second look. So-called “social impact bonds” are racing around public-policy circles, embraced by the left (the Center for American Progress write-up) and from the libertarian right (Reason Foundation’s write up).
Massachusetts late last month closed one of these deals, taking funding from Goldman Sachs and others to reduce prison recidivism for men ages 17 to 23 on probation or coming out of juvenile facilities, according to the Boston Globe. An FAQ distributed by the nonprofit Living Cities, which helped put together the deal, has good details including the potential profit for investors. The chart in this post shows the complicated deal.
When I asked Eileen Neely of Living Cities about the “creepy” response, she seemed frustrated. The state of Washington would pay a contractor to build a bridge, right? “Why is okay for contractor to profit from transportation project and not in human capital?” she said. “On the flip side, we don’t balk when private companies make a lot of money selling tobacco to low-income people. Why shouldn’t we incentivize private capital to benefit low-income people?”
It took 18 months to put together the deal. Neely said it took time to find a program with clear metrics showing cost savings for the state. That’s one reason why the U.S. social impact bond deals target prison recidivism: “That lends itself because it’s a very definitive thing: Either someone is in prison or not,” she said.
When I asked her what advice she’d pass to Washington, should it pass HB 2337, she paused. A deal needs a strong champion in state government; a great nonprofit to deliver the service; and a pool of philanthropic-minded investors.
Washington certainly has the latter two. It currently lacks the first. Although the bill has strong bipartisan support, it appears to be bottled up in the House Appropriations committee, chaired by the powerful Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina. It also doesn’t have a Senate champion; no bill was introduced there.
This should be very appealing here, especially if its used to reduce recidivism. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and Department of Corrections secretary Bernie Warner co-wrote a Seattle Times op-ed last year advocating for sharper focus on the revolving door of recidivism, but there hasn’t been a full-force push at the state level. The state has tried myriad cost-saving prison reforms - from drug courts to reducing low-level drug sentences - as Washington dropped its incarceration rate to one of the lowest in the nation. The next cost-saving reform should be a focus on prison recidivism. Passing HB 2337 would be a good start.
February 10, 2014 at 12:16 PM
In an ideal world, the news that Michael Sam, an All-American college football player likely headed to the NFL, is gay would be treated with a shrug. Of course, there are gay men and women in professional sports, just as there have been gay astronauts, gay military officers and so on.
We're not in an ideal world. Ending bigotry is a slow march, but it has accelerated in the past decade. Sam, 24, and his future NFL teammates are part of a generation in which same-sex marriage is increasingly a given (17 states and counting). The millennial generation (born after 1981) supports same-sex marriage by a 2-to-1 margin, according to the 2013 Pew Research Center poll below. The welcoming reaction from Sam's Missouri football teammates (coach Gary Pinkel told CBS he was "proud" of Sam) is not an anomaly. It reflects changed politics.
Reaction to Sam's coming out may focus on the one-third, as well as the older, less tolerant members of the generation running NFL franchises.
But the Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith, the Super Bowl MVP, reflects the ideal-world shrug, which I suspect that sentiment is more pervasive in the NFL than anyone knows. He tweeted:
The NFL itself made a good showing of tolerance. "We admire Michael Sam's honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014."
ESPN writer LZ Granderson writes, Michael Sam is not "a novelty." He notes the history of out former NFL players, including ex-Husky David Kopay, who had dinner with Sam last night, and Wade Davis, who is advising Sam. That support will help.
And more importantly, Sam has talent. Undeniable, pro-level talent. The kind of talent that would make the prospect of him not being drafted, not being signed, not having his cleats laced up on Sundays perhaps the most blatant form of pop culture homophobia since Ellen DeGeneres was chased off of television in 1998.
Here's hoping the Seahawks — with a strong unconventional coach and a urbane fan base in a state that just legalized gay marriage, and a city that just elected its first gay mayor — will give Sam a chance to lace them up. Judging by his highlight reel, Sam is a sack monster.
February 7, 2014 at 6:30 AM
Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell offer a timely reminder about the vitality of the state’s viticulture.They have introduced a Senate resolution celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area.
The wine region was created on February 6, 1984 with four wineries. As the senators' note in a press release the region now has nearly 130 wineries that generate more than $500 million annually for Walla Walla County and Washington state.
The industry numbers are as dazzling as the 30 plus varietals produced by the state’s 750 wineries. Washington has more than 350 grape growers using 43,000 acres. For more statistics to amaze your friends over a pinot gris or merlot, check out this site for Washington wine stats.
Read about a family’s generous gift to support the Wine Science Center under construction at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland. The announcement was made this week at the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers conference in Kennewick.
A common link for the extraordinary local success of the science and business of wine is Washington State University. Raise a glass to WSU Viticulture & Enology.
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
Postman On Politics