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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
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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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June 18, 2004

A sweet mess

NAFTA has been in force for 10 years, and all tariffs on Mexican goods are gone except for six products, according to the NAFTA representative at the Mexican Embassy, Hector Marquez. The six products: sugar, orange juice, powdered milk, peanuts, corn and dry beans.

It is an interesting list. There is no machinery on it, or anything high-tech. It’s all foodstuffs. Furthermore, most of the things on the list are items subsidized by the United States, like corn and milk, protected by quota (sugar) or special land restrictions (peanuts.)

Consider the case of sugar. The United States protects the sugar market by limiting imports, so that the U.S. price is more than triple the world price. For a free-trade attack on this policy click here.

As part of NAFTA, we agreed to let the Mexicans ship sugar here beginning in 2001, but only if surplus to Mexican needs. They were using sugar in their soft drinks. Our corn-syrup producers invested in capacity in Mexico, to be fed by American yellow corn. (The Mexicans eat white corn.) So in comes the corn, the bottlers switch to syrup, and suddenly the Mexicans have lots more sugar to sell in the United States -- and at that fancy price.

We slammed the door on the Mexican sugar, and Mexico retaliated by slapping a 20% tax on fructose-sweetened beverages.

Supposedly, Mexican sugar will be allowed completely free entry in 2008. It would be great for consumers, but I’ll believe it when it happens.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 01:51 PM


June 16, 2004

Finally, an upturn

Wednesday’s story on the local economy seems to ring true. A man I know in the computer industry who had been out of work for a long time has just got a job.

Today I was talking to Roland Dewhurst, the CEO of Associated General Contractors, a trade association whose revenues are based on its members’ revenues. AGC’s revenues are growing at a rate between 5 and 10 percent. The state of Washington has a new state revenue forecast out Thursday, and it will be up-not by a whole lot, but up.

Usually when this happens, the trend sticks. When the economy starts recovering, it keeps growing for a long time, because people respond to what other people do. No guarantees, of course: if America is attacked by al Qaida and goes into security overdrive, confidence will shatter. Dewhurst said he thought the upturn in big-ticket construction “is very tenuous.”

What does all this imply for how well President Bush is doing on the economy? Not much. I don’t think the job of the president has much to do with trends in private employment, and when it does have an effect it’s difficult to estimate what it is. In Bush’s case, cutting taxes probably helped and the war probably hurt.

But the main reason for an upturn, it seems to me, is that it has been almost three years since an al Qaida attack on U.S. territory, interest rates are at rock-bottom levels, and people have been sitting on plans. Some of them decided it was time to move before the rates went up.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:00 PM


June 15, 2004

Cop-out on the Pledge

Jeers to Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer for their cop-out in the Pledge of Allegiance case, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow.

It matters nothing to the American people whether atheist Michael Newdow has proper custody of his daughter. This is not some narrow issue that applies only to her.

The words “under God” were added to the Pledge in 1954 by a bill sponsored by Rep. Louis Rabaut, Democrat of Michigan, who said (quoting Justice Rehnquist) "its purpose was to contrast this country's belief in God with the Soviet Union's embrace of atheism.” Rehnquist goes on to quote several oaths with “God” in them and several presidents, from Washington to FDR and Eisenhower, who invoked God. He argues, “All of these events strongly suggest that our national culture allows public recognition of our Nation's religious history and character.”

But that is not a constitutional argument. It is an appeal to the national culture.

Justice Thomas is the most interesting. He argues that asking kids to say "under God" in tax-supported schools has established a religion. Judging from recent cases, Thomas says, “under God” is unconstitutional. Then he goes on to say that the recent cases are wrong.

Thomas’s opinion says that the clause forbidding the establishment of religion does not apply to state governments, several of which had an established church when the Constitution was ratified. And since a state (California) and not the federal government asked Newdow’s daughter to recite the Pledge, you would have to look to the state constitution.

I don’t know about California’s constitution. Our constitution says, in part, “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment,” except that the state can hire certain chaplains.

I don’t think that forbids the Pledge, because saying the Pledge doesn’t require any money. Still, it is a government loyalty oath, defined and made universal by Congress, and it does ask (but not require) a statement that invokes the authority of God.

Historical or not, I think the Court should have thrown it out.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:10 PM


Draft talk

Here's a prediction: Reinstatement of the military draft will be Topic A November 3rd, the day after the big election. People planning the presidential debates should not allow that to happen. I hope journalists and interviewers such as Jim Lehrer remember that voters deserve to know what both candidates honestly think about a draft. No one will mention it now because the first guy to acknowledge a potential need will pay for it in popularity polls.

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Posted by Joni Balter at 05:03 PM


June 11, 2004

Foreign clothing for all

Protectionist members of Congress, according to this story, are clamoring to extend country-of-origin quotas on imports of clothing. Members of the World Trade Organization agreed years ago to end these quotas by 2005, but the petitioners say there is an emergency and the quotas ought to be extended.

They ought be allowed to expire. The whole idea of having a physical limit per country is silly; there simply ought to be a market which any producer can join.
The petitioners are worried that China will take all the business, and that the end of quotas will throw millions out of work in Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Haiti, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

This claim has all the marks of calculated exaggeration. If some jobs do shift from one foreign country to another, I don’t see why I have to worry about it. Anyway with the end of quotas there should be more business to go around, and more prosperity.

As an American consumer, I do not want my government to forbid foreigners from offering me things for sale. It is not in my interest, nor in theirs.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:58 PM


June 10, 2004

A bucket of water for the BBQ ban

The Washington State Building Code Council has gotten itself into the news by proposing to forbid apartment and condo dwellers from barbecuing on their balconies. The ban is part of an international fire code that the council is set to adopt tomorrow, June 11, at a meeting in Spokane.

The word of the ban has gotten out, and the Council is under pressure to back off from the ban.

Good. Grilling hot dogs, burgers and chicken is something people can handle. It involves a risk, I guess, but life involves risk, and there comes a point at which reducing risk is not worth it. If charcoal cooking is such a hazard, maybe the law can require that barbecuers have a bucket of water handy -- though how government would enforce that, I don’t know.

Another thing. The proposed barbecue ban isn't even a law. It's a regulation. The Legislature apparently delegated its authority to this unelected committee called the Building Code Council. Well, it shouldn't have. Banning a popular activity like this should be an issue for legislators who will have to face the voters, and not be delegated to some unelected council that the public has never heard of.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:44 AM


June 09, 2004

Re: The biases of journalists

A reader responds to "The biases of journalists" :

The fact that more members of the mainstream media are progressive or liberal than are conservative or libertarian doesn't prove bias. It merely proves that there are more liberals or progressives in the media than there are libertarians or conservatives.

During my career with Pulitzer Prize-winning organizations, I noticed that reporters, copy editors, makeup editors went to great lengths to avoid bias in their work. Didn't notice the same for publishers or owners.

Examples of bias:

The executive editor at the major metropolitan paper where I worked told us on the news desk not to use Washington Post or New York Times articles on the Watergate investigation because "they take us down roads we don't want to go." i.e. Richard Nixon (whom newspaper had endorsed in all his political campaigns) was looking like the crook he claimed not to be. That is bias; Republican bias.

Al Gore was constantly reported, virtually everywhere, as "stiff" or "wooden" or "robotlike" in his demeanor when he held his emotions in check. But when Howard Dean used emotion trying to rally his supporters he was described as "ranting" or "raving" or "maniacal." That is bias; Republican bias.

Fox News (and other sources) reported that, at the change of administrations, Clinton staffers had left wide-spread destruction to government property when they removed the "W" from computer keyboards and glued a few desk doors shut to vex the incoming Bush administration. Fox purposely avoided reporting that the incoming Clinton administration had received the exact same pranks from the outgoing Bush the Daddy's administration. That is bias, right-wing bias.

Those who claim a liberal bias in America's newspaper industry conveniently ignore the fact that America's newspapers have always endorsed the Republican or conservative candidate much more than the Democrat or liberal candidate in presidential (1964 excluded), senatorial, congressional and governor races. They also overlook that the majority of publishers and owners contribute heavily to Republican candidates' campaigns while virtually ignoring Democrats.

They also ignore the fact that the campaign of character assassination against Bill Clinton (most of it lies) was funded mostly by a newspaper publisher and widely published as if it were all true. George Bush the Baby hasn't received the same poisoned coverage.

Let's get off this kick about there being a "liberal bias" in the news industry based on one fact (but no acts) while ignoring the "conservative bias" that could be shown by several facts and acts.

Written by a STop reader.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:26 PM


Reagan's record

Finally, an article that reports critically on former President Reagan's record--and his shortcomings. Of course, we should respect the man and empathize with his family in this time of mourning, but all the sugar-coated stories and commentaries are becoming tiresome. A few have sheepishly criticized Reaganomics and the resulting deficits, but that's been the extent of it.

As the New York Times article reports, what about his refusal to address the nation about AIDS until six years after it was first identified? His demonizing of mothers on welfare? His slashing of funds for family planning programs? His failure to extend federal civil rights laws?

Reagan basically made "social programs" a dirty term, vehemently opposing the federal government's role in supporting anything beyond bare-bones social security and disability. These were very real issues in America during his leadership, and his policies hurt the poor in particular.

We should be able to talk openly about the damage his policies did at the same time that we celebrate his successes. And most importantly, we should learn from Reagan's missteps. The Bush administration, however, is barreling down the same ruinous path when it comes to jacking up deficits and attacking family planning programs.

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Posted by Colleen Pohlig at 02:00 PM


June 04, 2004

The biases of journalists

It was no surprise to me that among the national news media, according to a recent Pew study, only 7 percent of journalists described themselves as politically conservative, and 34 percent describe themselves as liberal. Among local media, the balance is 12 percent conservative, 24 percent liberal.

As someone whose politics are sort of conservative (more libertarian, really), it’s something I’ve known all my career. It’s true. I’m used to it, and I don’t think a whole lot can be done about it.

The politics of journalists cannot be regulated by an affirmative-action law, because Americans don’t do that with political orientation (and thank goodness). And except on editorial pages, you can’t expect management to ask about the political beliefs of job applicants. Probably it would be illegal. And anyway, the source of the bias in journalism is not hiring bias, but a bias in the pool of applicants.

Journalists are mostly liberal because journalism students mostly lean slightly left, if they have any political leanings at all. At the university, the slightly-to-the-rights are in engineering, or accounting, or someplace else. They are not in journalism. There are a few in journalism who are strongly conservative or libertarian. There are also a few on the hard left, but not many; the Marxists find the American press horribly conservative, and take refuge in academia.

So you get a biased group. It is not the only occupational group with a political lean. If you surveyed the politics of social workers, or executives of pulp-and-paper companies, you would find even stronger biases. But those folks aren’t in the information business, so we don't hear complaints about them.

The bias of journalists has been around for decades, and has all the looks of a permanent condition. The one change is that conservatives have created outlets like the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard and talk radio, which are far more biased to the right than the mainstream press is to the left. The conservative press does help the national dialogue, but career-wise it is a ghetto, and if you work in it, you are labeled by it.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:58 PM


June 02, 2004

Seat-belt stats

“Strict seat-belt law saving lives, state says,” read the headline on a story last Monday. The story said the death rate in car accidents in Washington in 2003 was the lowest in history, and that the Washington Traffic Safety Commission credits the 2-year-old law that allows police to target and ticket a driver not wearing seat belts.

The story was accompanied by a graph that showed that the death rate from accidents has been falling for 30 years. The fall in the past two years continued that trend but did not accelerate it.

All this reminds me of the social scientist Charles Murray, who argued in his 1984 book “Losing Ground” that this was a standard government argument. There was a problem; government intervened to fix the problem; and the problem did get a little better. But it had been getting better before the government intervened.

One example, relating to traffic, was the 55-mph speed limit. When this was put into effect, fatalities dropped. Problem was, they had been dropping before it went into effect, and they continued to drop after it was repealed.

Is the seat-belt law the cause of the recent improvement? Maybe. Maybe not.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:32 PM




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