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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
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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
Jim Vesely
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Lee Moriwaki
Lee Moriwaki
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Joni Balter
Joni Balter
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Eric Devericks
Eric Devericks
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Lance Dickie
Lance Dickie
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Bruce Ramsey
Bruce Ramsey
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Kate Riley
Kate Riley
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Lynne Varner
Lynne Varner
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Ryan Blethen
Ryan Blethen
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April 30, 2004

They're just numbers

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz way underestimated the number of war dead in a testimony he gave Thursday before a congressional committee.

This isn't just some underling making a mistake; this is our deputy DEFENSE secretary -- and he can't tell us how many men and women have died in this war?

"It's approximatelty 500, of which -- I can get the exact numbers -- approximately 350 are combat deaths," he said.

As the brief in The Times today reports, as of Thursday, 722 soldiers have died since the start of the war, 521 of them from combat.

Clearly, the number of Americans who have lost their lives to this war just isn't that important to this administration. For shame.

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Posted by Colleen Pohlig at 01:53 PM

What is censorship?

Censorship used to be defined as actions a government would take against publication of information. But in the case of "Nightline" tonight, censorship is the word used about the broadcast company that will not allow its affiliates to air the ABC broadcast. I'm not sure that's censorship.

Other editorial page editors across the country, for example, decided not to use the controversial Doonsbury comic strip showing a soldier in Iraq swearing over his wounds. I decided to use the Doonsbury episode and we printed it; would it have been censorship to edit the strip? I think not, otherwise editorial decisions would have no place, and we would simply distribute anything that came to us.

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Posted by Jim Vesely at 01:27 PM

More mommy government

Take a look at the new Texas rules on food in public schools:

Yes, lots of kids are too fat, and it's largely because of their diet. Some nutritional control of school lunch menus makes sense. But this much?

Some highlights:

1. No deep-fried food. French fries are limited in serving portion and frequency per week, and must be baked. Potato chips baked, too.
2. No whole (4 percent) milk or chocolate milk.
3. No fruit drinks that are less than 100 percent juice.
4. No carbonated beverages, including diet pop. (What’s wrong with diet pop?)
5. No sugar candy, licorice, sugared popcorn. No gum, including sugar-free gum.

Exceptions: Restricted foods may be sold during the school day at three events per year.

“This policy does not restrict what parents may provide for their own child’s lunch or snacks,” Texas says. But children “may not provide restricted items to other children at school.”

Trade your donut, and you’ve violated state policy.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 01:11 PM

Phil bows out

Former state Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge has withdrawn from the governor's race. Talmadge is bowing out officially for health reasons. But he is also leaving because his campaign never got out of gear. He pondered leaving the race a few weeks ago, before he was diagnosed with a benign tumor on his kidney.

Talmadge's departure sharpens the distinctions in the race. Now it is just Attorney General Christine Gregoire and King County Executive Ron Sims in the Democratic primary and former Sen. Dino Rossi on the Republican ticket.

Interestingly, Talmadge declined to endorse either Democrat. He may change that posture in the months ahead, because Talmadge, if anything, loves to be in the middle of things. But the decision not to endorse either fellow Democrat says something about the wariness or even bad blood that developed among fellow Democrats in the quiet months of the primary election season.

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Posted by Joni Balter at 01:07 PM

Smells fishy

When is a fish a fish? The new proposals from the Bush Administration are causing a splash of indignation from fish advocates in the Northwest because new federal guidelines would count hatchery salmon along with wild salmon.

The problem, if that's the way to see this, is that the count would produce too many fish, and perhaps change the endangered listing for salmon. Hatchery guys say fish raised in ponds or tanks may be different than wild-grown salmon, but not when they come back to the lakes and streams in three years or so.

Those fish are as robust as any salmon. Agree? Is this about fish, or growth and sprawl?

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Posted by Jim Vesely at 11:04 AM

April 29, 2004

Re: Keeping their stories straight

A reader responds to "Keeping their stories straight"

President Bush was well-advised to bring his team with him when he appeared before the 9/11 Commission. A solo Republican in front of them is a sitting duck. Commission members Gorelick and Ben-Veniste have turned this into a "let's blame Bush" media circus and it was a foregone conclusion that it was also going to be a bash-Bush situation.

Written by a STop blog reader

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Posted by Lance Dickie at 04:59 PM

Duct-tape discipline, again

A few days ago I blogged about a middle-school teacher who got so frustrated he duct-taped a couple of students to their desks. My take on it was that the teacher is a poor disciplinarian, but I could also imagine what jerks the kids probably were, and I was more inclined to laugh than get righteous.

A reader responds:

Cut back on that caffeine man, it’s making you loopy. If I duct-taped your big self to a desk, I am sure a simple assault charge would surely follow. The teacher was obviously nuts. What else could explain such a violation of a child? By the way, if the teacher in question did something like that to my daughter, he wouldn't have to worry about my kid’s legal rights. As soon as I could ascertain that the actual event took place, I would simply thump him all over the parking lot at the first opportunity. Poor teacher, my foot.

I replied: “Assault, did you say?”

He responded: Yes. As one irresponsible adult to another, not someone charged with the care of somebody else's brat children.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:30 AM

Keeping Their Stories Straight

President George Bush met with the Sept. 11 commission Thursday to account for his leadership of the nation before and after the 2001 terrorist attack. Exuding the confidence of his political ads, Bush squared off against his questioners. Just the president and the commission members.

Well, almost.

To help him through any rough patches and keep the administration's story straight, the president was accompanied by Vice President Dick Cheney, White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales and two additional members of the White House staff. To eliminate any intimidation factor, the interview was held on neutral turf, in the Oval Office.

Everyone settled in for a full, frank and open discussion that would not be under oath, electronically recorded or formally transcribed. Negotiations eventually allowed commission members to take notes.

The president, who had opposed creation of the commission and stalled on giving the commission an extension of its deadline, refused to appear unless Cheney was with him.

Well, what ever it takes -- hand holding, note cards, aides de camp and ventriloquism -- to get the full story.

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Posted by Lance Dickie at 11:25 AM

April 28, 2004

Trouble in transportation city

The beleaguered regional transportation package can not buy a break. The proposal to raise taxes and spend money on roads and other transportation improvements in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties has hit numerous snags. The latest is a vow from the oil industry to publicly oppose the plan if a boost in the gas tax in the three counties is part of the proposal.

The regional package, still aimed at a November vote, is not popular enough to sustain an anti-campaign from any quarter. Regional planners are in a bind. If they drop the gas tax, they lose a major portion of funding and have to further trim the transportation to-do list. If they leave the gas tax in, the oil industry will hammer them during the campaign.

The truth about this plan is it should wait for another session in Olympia to fine-tune the taxes that can be used. Right now, the plan relies too heavily on a sales tax increase. Planners are trying hard to save the package for fall, because they believe it has the best shot with so many voters expected to participate. It would be better to fix the plan and make it a good package than to run it fast with so many flaws.

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Posted by Joni Balter at 12:16 PM

The socialist hermit

The Washington Post has found the emblematic man for the new Pacific Northwest: Applegate, a hermit on Orcas Island who eats seeds for breakfast, practices “open-field defecation,” and is building a boat to sail to Cuba so that he may die under the rule of Fidel.

And how does he do this? On five acres of private property.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:25 AM

April 27, 2004

No drinking

Gov. Gary Locke’s urging Monday of judges not to drink in public is puzzling, considering the governor’s signature has been on legislation supporting Washington’s wine industry.

Locke, apparently a teetotaler himself, urged participants in the Superior Court Judges Association conference to take a pledge against drinking in public or at least hold themselves to one drink. In the audience was state Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge, who was arrested last year for drunken driving and received a deferred sentence.

For sure, elected officials, all adults for that matter, should conduct themselves in an appropriate and responsible way. Bridge did not and she is paying the consequences with community service and possibly the loss of her seat when she comes up for election.

Locke seemed to forget he was talking to a group of distinguished adults who should be able to set their own boundaries of behavior without a sanctimonious lecture from a governor, who urges public abstinence on one hand but also has been a big supporter of the state’s burgeoning wine industry.

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Posted by Kate Riley at 12:06 PM

That new Iraqi flag

The Iraqi Governing Council, which is not governing Iraq, has designed a new flag.

The immediate reaction on the street is that it looks too much like the flag of Israel, a neighboring country most Iraqis consider an enemy. I think it does, too. Further, they have replaced strong colors with weak ones, which is symbolic of a country occupied and domesticated.

My immediate reaction to this story was: Don't mess with their flag. It is enough to have invaded the country, defeated its army and imposed military rule. If we have appointed some busybodies as a "governing council," they should be told to leave the flag alone. This "governing" council represents us, because we appointed it. If the Iraqi people want to change their flag, let them do it after we're gone.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 12:00 PM

April 26, 2004

New wave of women

As abortion rights advocates and leaders grow increasingly frustrated at the decline in active support among women under 30 who tend to take reproductive rights for granted, interestingly, another group is becoming more visible: young first-generation Americans and recent immigrants.

Many of these women come from countries where abortion is either illegal or if legal, is incredibly hard to access for cultural and/or religious reasons, or is no longer available due to the Bush administration's refusal to help fund overeas family planning groups that perform or provide information on abortions.

Many of these women know the true horror of not having access to the same services that we often take for granted in America -- family planning, including safe and legal abortions.

The march for reproductive rights in D.C. Sunday showcased this new wave of women who have pledged to fight for a woman's right to choose. According to The New York Times, of the roughly 1,400 groups participating in the march, dozens were new to the effort and had names like South Asians for Choice, and Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority.

I hope this was a wake-up call to young American women, many of whom naively believe we will always have that right.

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Posted by Colleen Pohlig at 02:28 PM

April 23, 2004

Duct tape education

I suppose I should be outraged, but when I read a story like the one about a Missouri teacher taping middle-school students to their desks, the outrage just does not come.

I think of this lost soul of a teacher, so ineffectual at discipline that, in his desperation, he takes to restraining his young charges with duct tape. I try to imagine the extent of their juvenile felonies, and their shock at the unexpected restraint. Then, the next school day, come the protests from the parents, huffing and puffing about their kids’ legal rights, threatening to slam the teacher with a state law designed for kidnappers.

I can imagine all my politically correct friends saying, “The school shouldn’t do that!” Yeah, I suppose so, but I just think of the poor teacher, driven to pulling out his hair, knowing that he was going to get in trouble and not caring anymore and just taping the precious little miscreants to the furniture.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 12:06 PM

April 22, 2004

Terrorism and Democracy

I recently spent an hour in a group interview with the ambassador of Egypt, Nabil Fahmy. He made an interesting point about terrorism. It is asserted widely that terrorism is caused by a lack of democracy-in Palestine, for example. But we have had terrorism in the United States-by the Unabomber, by Timothy McVeigh, by whomever put the anthrax in the envelopes.

The Germans had the Bader-Meinhof gang, and the Japanese had the poison-gas folks in the subway. Democracy does not inoculate you against spawning terrorists-though one might reply that all of the terrorists he mentioned were marginal to the societies concerned, and that in Palestine, anyway, the terrorists are more than just marginal. Still, when one links terrorism directly to a lack of democracy-as the neoconservatives do-it puts terror into a perspective that is not accurate.

The neocons also like to say that America is targeted because the terrorists hate democracy. But Fahmy says, “Why do the terrorists target you, rather than Italy or Great Britain?” There are lots of democracies. We are not targeted mainly because of who we are. It is much more about what we do.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 02:09 PM

April 21, 2004

Stealing Iraq's oil?

A reader objects to a line in my column that said, “We are not in Iraq to steal the oil.” She writes, “You must be kidding. That's one of the primary reasons we're there! If not to steal it outright, certainly to control it.”

Here is part of my reply:

"The oil market is international, with an international price. 'Control' of Iraqi oil boils down to two decisions: Are you going to sell it? And who gets the money from it? Iraq is going to sell it. We are not going to steal the oil; we just couldn't get away with that.

The remaining question is who gets the money from it. Some of it may get administered by a U.S. authority for a while, and some of it paid to Halliburton, but Halliburton will have to perform a service for it. Maybe there will be some funny business, but there won't be room for some grand theft of Iraqi assets.

Remember that oil is a flow, and most of the asset remains in the ground. The money from that flow mostly will go into the pockets of the Iraqi government. It's not going to end up in the U.S. Treasury."

I’ll add that clearly, the U.S. government wants to put the Iraqi oil into friendly hands. So oil is a part of the story. But when people talk about it, they so often talk as if the U.S. went there to take the oil. I don’t think that is true. We are there, however, to remake Iraq into something that pleases us, and that is what I focused on in the column.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:51 PM

April 20, 2004

Prisoners' rights at Guantanamo

Law Professor David Cole of Georgetown University argues in the New York Times that the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, should have the same rights to due process as U.S. citizens. I’m not sure what their status should be, but they need some kind of process. They have been declared to be “unlawful combatants,” which is neither a domestic criminal nor a prisoner of war. The U.S. government takes this to mean they can be held indefinitely without trial, without counsel and without repatriation. I don’t think our government should be able to hold anyone indefinitely without trial.

The precedent for calling them “unlawful combatants” was the case of eight German saboteurs who landed on Long Island and off the coast of Florida in 1942. President Roosevelt ordered them tried in a military tribunal. They appealed to civil courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court labeled them “unlawful combatants.” Six of them were electrocuted a few days later.

A few thoughts. First, they had been landed by a German Navy U-Boat on U.S. territory, in uniform and with explosives and detonators. They were soldiers incognito, more like spies. The Guantánamo prisoners were captured when we went to Afghanistan and engaged them on the battlefield. They seem more like prisoners of war, and would be, if they were fighting for a recognized state.

Second, the Germans did have access to U.S. lawyers and courts. And third, not everything we did in World War II was the right thing. The same Supreme Court that allowed the military tribunal for the German saboteurs allowed the detention of Japanese American citizens. If we are interested in liberty we should not be too eager to accept wartime precedents, because they almost always favor the government.

If the detainees at Guantánamo are part of the organization that attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, we have reason to hold them. Let’s have a reasonable process and consider them one by one.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:01 PM

April 15, 2004

All those men drivers

A reader phones in a complaint about our Wednesday editorial.

He says, “What makes you think that all folks that are impounded are male? Throughout the entire editorial, everything I read was ‘his car,’ ‘his this,’ ‘his that,’ ‘he’ and ‘him.’ Once again, your paper has managed to demonize the male… In the future, I hope it’s ‘their cars’ and ‘they’ have a problem.”

I’m the non-self-hating male who wrote the editorial. I’ll make two points:

First, according to a study of Seattle’s impounds, in the year ended Jan. 31, 2000, 81 percent of the drivers of impounded cars were, in fact, men. That’s more than four out of five.

Second, in the English language, the singular pronoun of indefinite gender is “he.” You say, “a driver has to stop his car.” This does not imply that the driver is male. I know that people have begun to say, “a driver has to stop their car,” in an effort to avoid “sexist language,” but it is not standard English, at least not yet. “Their” is plural. Academics, realizing this, have turned to alternating between “he” and “she” for indefinite pronouns.

Put me down as a reactionary, but I think it rattles in the skull.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 12:56 PM

April 13, 2004

Between Heaven and Earth

China, the Middle Kingdom, believes it is something special. Dazzling economic news tends to concur.

I still visualize China in extreme poverty and political bondage. Trips to China revealed an industrious, inventive nation, but one burdened by history, size and communist rule.

Never would I imagine stories about China's economy overheating, but there is talk of ratcheting back the money supply. Since when did the dead wood of the state banking system conceive efficient monetary controls? Or the cash to release and withhold as a tool?

I blinked and China turned into a voracious consumer with a trade deficit! Sky-high gasoline prices can be traced in part to competition with China for foreign oil supplies.

These are not novelty stories about weight-loss camps for roly-poly Chinese kids, the spoiled progeny of a favored elite. China's economy is putting on muscle and brain power. Semiconductors replaced stuffed animals. China's negotiators are ready to arm wrestle with Washington.

Communism is not adroit enough to survive in this environment. China has more surprises to come.

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Posted by Lance Dickie at 03:37 PM

April 09, 2004

Welcome the Spring Bunny

This is the weekend of Easter egg hunts. The one thing missing is the word, “Easter.” They are now “spring egg hunts.” I checked this out with an employee with the City of Seattle who said it has been at least 10 years since the City of Seattle has used the E-word. “Not everyone celebrates Easter,” she said. Well, my family didn’t celebrate it in a religious way, either. “Easter” was a name; it was what it was. But now, instead of Easter eggs, we have “spring eggs.” Is the Easter Bunny now the Spring Bunny?

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 02:16 PM

Bidding up houses

The strong rise in house prices in King County and in Snohomish County runs counter to recent economic events. King, in particular, is the richest county in the state, per person, and was ground zero for the dot-com boom and the Boeing boom of the late 1990s. It was also hit the hardest in the ensuing bust. Employment Security’s year-end report shows that King and Snohomish counties had not recovered by Dec. 31, 2003.

Forget the unemployment rate. Think of employment, the total number of people working. That is a measure of buying power. Well, the total employment in the two counties was down eight percent from Dec. 31, 2000. None of the other big counties had been hit so hard. Whatcom, Kitsap and Thurston continued to add jobs through the recession as if there were no recession at all. Pierce and Clark lost some, but made them all up. King and Snohomish remained in an employment hole.

We’re talking roughly about a net loss of 120,000 jobs. That many jobs just went away. It’s a lot. And people responded by bidding up houses even further, so that a $300,000 house is now considered a “starter home.”


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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:27 AM

April 08, 2004

One vote for lap dances

The City of Seattle is now considering banning “lap dances” at strip clubs. I have never been the recipient of this particular artistic expression, but from what I hear “dance” perhaps understates it. The argument is made that Bellevue has banned the practice and instituted a “four-foot rule,” and that Bellevue’s customers now flock to Seattle. So what? Seattle is a city and Bellevue is a suburb. There ought to be some things you can do in the city, and by the standards of the world this one seems fairly harmless.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:41 PM

April 02, 2004

Vanity publishing

I cannot stay silent any longer. The whole thing stinks with a former White House insider flogging a book full of gossipy bits about the inner workings of the Bush administration.

I refuse to believe any of it. Certainly the timing is suspect. Splashy TV appearances as the congressional 9/11 hearings are winding down, and the presidential election is heating up. Talk about rank commercial opportunism.

As the author exploits this cheap notoriety, I hope someone has the guts to ask about the abrupt departure from the White House. Was there a demotion involved or a bitter defeat in a power struggle among those closest to the president?

Karen Hughes has a lot of explaining to do.

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Posted by Lance Dickie at 11:51 AM

Bloodthirsty conservatives

Being of generally right-of-center opinion, I tend to take personally some of the right’s insanities, the worst of which are its fantasies of using military force on civilians. Last night a caller on KVI-AM (Tony Snow show) suggested that the United States drop a nuclear bomb on Falljuah, the town in Iraq where a mob mutilated the bodies of four American civilians.

This is “an eye for an eye” at a ratio of what--10,000 to one?

Snow did not endorse it, but he didn’t stuff this guy’s suggestion back down his throat, either.

Other suggestions have been made in signed articles. Tammy Bruce, a commentator for David Horowitz’s web page suggested that Fallujah be “razed.”

Referring to the burning of cities in World War II, this woman says, “There was a reason why we bombed Dresden into oblivion. There was a reason why Berlin was not saved. There was a reason why two atomic bombs had to be dropped on Japan after Hiroshima: they still refused to surrender unconditionally. Beasts of violence and destruction understand one thing: destruction.”

(It wasn't the people in Dresden who were unwilling to surrender. It was Hitler.)

A blogger at National Review (John Derbyshire) suggested that the occupation government cut off “essential services like water, electricity, and sewerage” in Fallujah “until the bombers are handed over.”

Building democracy, are we?

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:19 AM

Appropriate grocery shopping hours

In the weeks ahead I am going to confine my grocery shopping to the middle of the night when I can be certain the pen-wielding gatherers of signatures for initiatives will be sleeping. Several large, well-funded initiative campaigns in our state will take to the mini malls and grocery stores any day now.

There will be signature gatherers for an education initiative, another measure from Tim Eyman that would expand gambling and a variety of other proposals. You cannot tiptoe through the clipboards. There are too many of them.

This is prime signature gathering time, especially because so many campaigns are getting organized somewhat late in the cycle. Be careful out there.

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Posted by Joni Balter at 10:57 AM

Locke's primary mistake

Gov. Locke's rationale for vetoing the legistature's replacement for the unconstitutional but popular blanket primary doesn't hold water.

He says the Montana-style primary he put in place, which requires voters to select a partisan ballot but their choice remains private, will increase voter participation.

But the opposite is more likely.

According to a Washington Secretary of State study, voter participation in the two states that had blanket primaries in 2000 (California and Washington) averaged about 28.3. In the nine states that have a Montana-style primary, voter participation was a measly 14.5 percent.

Worse, if the parties have their way, they will pry open the records of voters' choices so they know who is voting for whom. In the 14 states with closed primaries where voters register by party and independents can't vote--the partisan ideal--voter participation is a measly 7.7 percent.

This week, top officials with the state Republican and Democratic party praised the governor's veto. But they refused to promise not to challenge the privacy of the voter's ballot choice.

Make no mistake, the parties are not done messing with the state primary.

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Posted by Kate Riley at 10:53 AM

Overpaid at the Monorail

The Seattle Monorail Project is one of the biggest, most complicated undertakings in Seattle in years. But the project started on the wrong foot when top executives announced early on that own their salaries would be quite large. Joel Horn, monorail executive director, earns a salary north of $175,000 a year.

Granted, his counterpart at Sound Transit, Joni Earl, earns a bit more. But for all its foibles, Sound Transit has been at it longer and its executives have earned some of their money.

The monorail ought to earn the public's respect, not come screaming out of the gate with super high salaries. I hear a few state legislators are reluctant to do much to aid the monorail until salaries come down. Lower salaries would help make the project a little more palatable, don't you think?

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Posted by Joni Balter at 10:45 AM

April 01, 2004

Just warming up

The City of Seattle’s auditor, Susan Cohen, has announced that she will be doing an audit of city departments to see how prepared they are for global warming. At a time of painful budget tightness, it might be wondered whether such a question might be postponed, perhaps to the next generation, but that is not the intention here.

Cohen says the global-warming audit was her idea, and that she got it from reading a Seattle Times story about skilift operators being worried about global warming and the snow pack. If global warming could shrink the snow pack, it could also shrink the runoff for the dams of City Light, and we remember what happened when City Light last came up short in that.

Cohen also read that the oceans might rise by two feet. If that happened, Seattle would have to make sure that in rebuilding the sea wall, the new wall would be high enough.

And then there is the matter of Seattle’s parks. Seattle Parks and Recreation is always planting new trees. The audit will inquire about the species of those trees, and whether they are suitable for a warmer world.

After having gotten this idea, Cohen went on an Internet listserv for municipal auditors, and asked her colleagues around the country whether any of them had conducted an audit around the issue of global warming. None of them had. We have in our city apparently the first one.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:39 PM


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