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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

The opinions you read below are those of the individual writers, not necessarily views that will become formal positions of The Seattle Times. Respond to STop
(Please be aware that your name and comments may be published here, unless you specify otherwise).

Currently, STop cannot automatically post readers' comments on the blog. However, the editorial staff will regularly post readers' comments. Your comments are sent directly to the individual editor or writer.

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Jim Vesely
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Jim Vesely
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Lee Moriwaki
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Lee Moriwaki
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Joni Balter
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Joni Balter
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Eric Devericks
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Eric Devericks
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Lance Dickie
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Lance Dickie
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Bruce Ramsey
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Bruce Ramsey
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Kate Riley
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Kate Riley
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Lynne Varner
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Lynne Varner
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Ryan Blethen
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Ryan Blethen
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December 21, 2005

The Common Good

A reader responds to "Anti-Discrimination, 2":

Your post implies that individual freedom is the highest virtue that can be promoted; all else is subservient. A person may be against discrimination, but freedom is the higher value, so discrimination should be allowed. While I think individual freedom is something that should be valued near the top of the list of virtues (and in most cases should be highest valued), there are many cases of where freedom should not be...

Some aspects of anti-discrimination fall under this. A business that discriminates by not hiring women eventually does worse because people shop there less (if they know about the policy) and it limits the pool of smart employees from which it draws. Theoretically it would be self-correcting over the long term. That's the micro-economic argument put forward in my economics course at least. However, in reality there's a lot of parity in the quality of the employee pool and businesses can hide their policies pretty effectively. It could take centuries to correct society-wide inequality. My personal opinion is that our gain from reducing inequality is greater than our loss of freedom in this case.

I don't think that anti-discrimination always trumps individual freedom. That means I don't have a nice, clean, pure philosophy like that of libertarianism. It's easier to measure something against the libertarian "freedom" yardstick than it is against the measure of "greatest good" because you get a lot more opinions on what constitutes good. But I think it's an eminently reasonable philosophy, even if it leaves intellectual room for a nanny-state that I don't like.

Philip Weiss, Bellevue

Respond here.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 01:40 PM


Anti-Discrimination, 2

On my previous post, Anti-Discrimination, I argued against the anti-discrimination laws on the grounds that a free person should have the freedom of association. If you don't want to deal with people you don't like, that should be your right, as long as you are willing to take the social and business consequences of your actions. I have received several emails interpreting this to mean that I'm in favor of bigotry. For example, one reader writes:

You opine that any person who disagrees with you in any way will destroy personal property which you seem to value far more than you esteem the freedom of the individual.

What freedom of the individual? If I want to rent out my house, and someone comes to me of a different religion, and I say, "I don't want to rent my house to a person of your religion" --or your race, or your sexual orientation--whose freedom has been violated? A taboo of modern American society has been violated--I grant you that. I will have done an unpopular thing. I may be criticized by my neighbors, and I may lose my friends. But it is my house, and if someone offers to rent it, I should have the freedom to say yes or no. A transaction requires the consent of both parties.

The anti-discrimination laws don't use this view of freedom. Consider the op-ed by Anne Levinson, (click here) in Wednesday's paper. She's a lesbian, and she's arguing in favor of adding gays and lesbians to the list of protected groups. She writes:

I and other lesbians and gay men wake up each day in this state and in this country of ours not having such basic universal rights as the right to employment and housing, the right to make medical-care decisions and have hospital visitation rights for our partners and children, and the right that every parent wishes for his or her child: the right to marry, have a family and be part of the fabric of the community.

The right to make medical-care decisions and to visit partners are rights to do things, like the right to speak, to worship, to travel, to vote and to buy and sell. I'm for those rights. But what is "the right to employment and housing"? You have the right to seek employment and to contract for housing. In my view, you do not have the right to demand that someone give you a job, or that someone sell you, rent you (or give you) a place to live.

On the front page today (click here) we ran a story about a company in Ohio that is threatening to fire employees who smoke, including those who smoke away from work. Smokers are not a protected group under the anti-discrimination laws, and this is legal. I think it should be legal. Whether it is nice, or fair, or good is another thing. I don't like the paternalism of it, the company's attempt to reach into the workers' private lives. I can imagine that being a bargaining issue with a union, if they have one. But just because we don't like what somebody does is not reason enough to make what they do illegal. In a free society you should have a right to be biased, bigoted, wrongheaded, and to manage your life in that way as long as you do not trample on the similar rights of someone else.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:43 AM


December 19, 2005

Anti-Discrimination

State Sen. Finkbeiner is in the spotlight regarding an anti-discrimination bill for homosexuals. For today's story, click here. It is too bad that this whole issue is framed as being pro-gay or anti-gay, because that is not the only way to look at it. I oppose protecting gays under anti-discrimination laws not because I oppose gays, but because I oppose anti-discrimination laws.

Basically, I think the only institution that should be forbidden by law to discriminate is the government, because the government represents us all. Ironically, the same liberals who want to ban discrimination by law insist that the government practice "affirmative action," which is a variety of the thing they want to ban unversally.

I think the government should be color-blind, religion-blind, gender-blind and sexual-orientation blind, by law, at least in most instances. (I'm not for women in the Marines, and I'm not arguing for single-sex bathrooms. But these are exceptions.). I think the private institutions should mainly not discriminate, but that it should be their decision. They should decide who to hire and fire. If a Mexican restaurant chain wants to hire all Mexicans, it should be its business, legally. If a gay bar wants to hire only gays, that should be allowed. We should all be free to criticize, or to boycott, that restaurant chain or that bar; but the decision should be its own. Most important, at an individual level, a person should be absolutely free to "discriminate" by race, sex, religion, creed, sexual orientation, or whatever. Freedom of association means freedom not to associate--for whatever reason you want. Speaking up for the freedom of association is not an endorsement of other people's reasons for not associating. It is simply an endorsement of their rights.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 01:37 PM


December 16, 2005

On the Take

Business Week Online reported today that another syndicated columnist was on the take. Unlike other recent syndicated columnist the White House was not paying Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute. Bandow decided to really sully any journalistic principles he harbored and accepted money from indicted Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Business Week Online reports that Bandow took at least $2,000 for 12 to 24 columns touting Abramoff's clients. Bandow has resigned from the Cato Institute.

The poisonous mix of money, power, politics and press is on full display in this story. These threads are so tightly woven in Washington D.C. the players are tripping over themselves to advance agendas and protect egos that mean little to the American people. It is time the industry reevaluate its use of pundits and think-tankers, especially with reader trust so low. It is becoming clear that these Pundit Thinkers do not understand and/or do not care about journalistic ethics. When a newspaper allows a writer to abuse reader trust it becomes hard for readers to take newspapers seriously. As an industry we have been trying explain to readers what we do and why. This does not help. What is frustrating is that it is so easily avoidable. There is so much talent in the world of journalism. Tap into that, not some insulated pundit only capable of Washington Think without any regard for journalism's ethics.

This story also highlights how far lobbyists have penetrated every institution in Washington D.C. Armed with bottomless checkbooks from powerful clients lobbyists have their way with Congress, the White House and now the press. This lock the mighty have on our nation's politics is not new, but I fear it has become more ingrained. The Abramoff indictment will get some headlines, but will not change anything. I can't imagine a sea change of attitudes in Washington D.C. The lobbyists will keep at it armed with brief cases of cash, while newspaper credibility will suffer with every story about an abuse of reader trust.

I am curious what readers think. How damaging is it when a columnist gets caught taking payments for columns?

Respond to Ryan.

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 03:43 PM


A WASL for College, Maybe

A national study (click here) shows that only 40 percent of college graduates can read a complicated piece of text and figure out what it says.

College graduates! Maybe we need a WASL for college graduation.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:36 AM


Bluto 2

Sigma Phi Epsilon at Oregon State University had a similar experience to that of the Sig Eps at the University of Washington, who were profiled in The Seattle Times this week and in the news again yesterday, wrote Cam Saffer. Saffer, who is an OSU Sig Ep, said things changed in 2003 when his chapter entered into the Balanced Man program.

...the members decided on their own that we needed a change and the Balanced Man Program was that change. We held a membership review in 2003(which gave rise to the same type at UW) in which over 25 members were asked to leave. The fraternity began to change and now we are successful as ever and winning our awards (grades, intramurals, outstanding fraternity, etc) once again. The success of this UW fraternity is coming soon. They are headed almost in the same exact direction that my chapter has, just about 3-4 years behind.
I am writing to inform you that the Balanced Man Program is one that ensures growth. This is a four year development program targeted at personal growth from a young freshman into a leader to be successful in our fast-paced world. All the development programming-ballets, cooking lessons, etc is preparing us as young men to live in society and be prepared for a successful life.
I can honestly say that the amount of fun we have now, is as much, if not more than they had in the “Animal House” days. We still spend time with young ladies that we show respect to, and they respect us as gentlemen for our kind manners that most of us learned through the fraternity. This fraternity means so much to so many young people, and this new approach: The Balanced Man is setting tracks for a new era of social fraternities.

Mr. Saffer makes an interesting point. The Greek system does seem to be entering a new era. Fraternities of today remind me much more of when fraternities were founded in the 19th Century. As a pledge we had to learn about the history of the fraternity. The early fraternities were focused on academics, brotherhood, and preparing students for the future. There was definitely a gap between what we were taught and how we lived. The pendulum appears to be swinging away from a couple wild decades on Greek Row to a more cerebral approach to frat life. If Mr. Saffer’s e-mail is any indication this new/old approach is working and has not diminished the fraternity experience.

Respond to Ryan.

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 10:31 AM


December 15, 2005

Wikipedia 2

Turns out the massive online encyclopedia Wikipedia is more accurate than I thought. An Associated Press story states that Nature, a journal, did a side-by-side comparison of scientific entries in Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica and found almost no difference in the number of errors.

Earlier this week I questioned Wikipedia's model of having volunteers and users write entries. Wikipedia was embarrassed after a Tennessee man added to an entry that journalist John Seigenthaler Sr. was somehow involved in the assassinations of Robert and John Kennedy. The incident made me think about the future of newspapers and the push to have more readers involved beyond Letters to the Editor. I wrote:

Newspapers have seen the success of Wikipedia and tried to translate its reader-added content to Web pages. It has not worked well. The most notable debacle was at the Los Angeles Times. The editorial page put up a Wikitorial, where readers could change an editorial. It did not take long for the editors to lose control of the project. It was taken down after people started to post pornography.

As journalists we have to make difficult decisions about what makes it in the newspaper. Having the day-in day-out experience of translating information into thoughtful content is important. Too important to let somebody tamper with from his or her living room. Just ask Seigenthaler.

Technology that allows journalists to interact with readers is the future and a good thing. Newsgathering is a difficult task that has become more difficult in today's lighting society. Professional journalists are still going to be needed to gather and present information in a readable/listenable/watchable way. The Nature article does not change my mind. The potential for abuse is still very real for Wikipedia and for other content providers that give control to outside forces.

Respond to Ryan.

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 02:56 PM


No More Gene McCarthys

The death of Eugene McCarthy reminds us of what this man did: he ran a political campaign that brought down a sitting president of his own party. The event occurred in the New Hampshire primary of 1968. McCarthy, a Democrat opposed to the war policy of Lyndon Johnson, did not win the primary, but he did so well that it convinced Johnson not to run. McCarthy "lost the battle but won the war."

A number of persons and things made that possible. That included the persons who wrote big checks to McCarthy, giving him money to put his messages on radio and TV, and the institutional rules that allowed the McCarthy campaign to accept big checks. John Samples of the Cato Institute writes (click here for his article) that McCarthy was able to do it only because there were no modern campaign-finance laws:

About one-third of McCarthy's total fundraising in 1968 came from just 50 large donors. David Hoeh, the organizer of McCarthy's New Hampshire campaign, recalled later that a single "financial angel" saved their media effort at a crucial point.

The laws limiting campaign donations to small amounts make it more difficult to challenge an incumbent. The law does not apply to candidates donating money to themselves--which is why we have a gaggle of rich senators, such as John Cornyn (D-N.J.). Our own Maria Cantwell, Democrat, made a pile in a dot-com and parlayed that money into a senate sat. The Republican who now runs against her, Mike McGavick, is also wealthy. I don't know how much he plans to pay for his own campaign. Under the campaign finance law you can still bankroll your own campaign. You can no longer bankroll someone else's campaign--which is a rule that protects incumbents. Of course it was written by incumbents, who knew what effect it would have.

Campaign-finance laws reduce the political choices of Americans. For example, in 1948 there were four candidates for president: Truman, the Democrat;Thurmond, the Dixiecrat; Dewey, the Republican; and Henry Wallace, the Progressive. Wallace had been vice-president under Roosevelt, and if the Democratic pols hadn't booted him from the ticket in 1944 because he was too left-wing (and a bit kooky), he would have been president when Roosevelt died in 1945. At the end of WWII, when the Soviets stopped being our glorious allies, Wallace wanted to give them the secret of the atom bomb. In 1948 he ran a campaign of friendship with the U.S.S.R. and no Cold War, and a socialistic policy at home. His candidacy was made possible by a $100,000 donation from Anita McCormick Blaine, heiress to the International Harvester fortune.

People in power always have money. Essentially, they can extort it, though few call it that. Challengers like Henry Wallace and Gene McCarthy are the ones that need private, ideologically motivated money. If they get it, sometimes they can do great things. McCarthy did, in a way that has since been made illegal.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:12 AM




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December 2005

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