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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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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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January 25, 2005

A Spokane story

Here is a story of corruption. Or influence. Or simply politics. You decide. I found it in a memoir of a prominent Eastern Washington businessman, Luke Williams.

Williams, who died last year, was a founder of American Sign & Indicator, the Spokane company that invented the digital time-and-temperature sign about half a century ago. He was also a conservative Republican. In 1962 he was Eastern Washington chairman for Dick Christensen, the Republican challenger to Sen. Warren Magnuson, and was state chairman for Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964.

His candidates lost both those elections. After Johnson won, Congress considered a highway beautification bill favored by Lady Bird Johnson. One part of the bill would have banned electronic signs, including the kind American Sign & Indicator made, if visible from a highway. Williams was convinced it would put his company out of business.

The Democrats had a huge majority and there was little doubt that the bill would pass. To save his company, which had 900 employees, Williams believed he had to lobby to get the bill changed.

The person in charge of the bill was Sen. Magnuson.

“I was pretty sure Magnuson would remember me,” Williams recounts in his autobiography, Luke G. Williams, American Entrepreneur (Spokane, Trade Mark Press, 2002). “I had no choice but to go back to Washington, D.C., hat in hand, and lobby the man I had almost unseated.”

He was sweating.

To his surprise, Magnuson didn’t bring up the past. “He wanted to hear all about my problem.” What did Williams need? To have time-and-temperature and public-information signs exempted. Magnuson had it done.

There was no condition. But Williams writes, “I’m sure that he felt that if he did me a favor I would be less active in anti-Magnuson politics in the future -- which I was.”

Another story. Fifteen years later, during the energy shortages of the 1970s, came another bill to outlaw electric signs. This time the man to see was Washington’s other Democratic senator, Henry Jackson. Williams saw him. Jackson had time-and-temperature signs exempted from the bill. This time there was a quid pro quo: that Williams stop his repeated efforts to bankroll challengers to Rep. Tom Foley.

According to Williams’ memoir, Jackson said: “Luke, I want one thing from you. Please get off Tom Foley’s case.”

“From that day forward,” Williams writes, “I never contributed to another campaign against Tom Foley.”

My question is, is there corruption here? There is no hint in the book that Williams thought there was. He tells the two stories matter-of-factly, as highlights of his life.

If there is corruption, who has corrupted whom?

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:54 PM


What's a senior citizen?

What is a “senior citizen?” How old do you have to be? At 53, I am well into middle age, and wonder about that. Especially when I get press releases like these:

News Release
Attend the Age 55+ Job Club Workshop
Sponsored by the
Seattle Mayor’s Office for Senior Citizens

The Alaska Building, 618 - 2nd Avenue,
Elliott Bay Room, 15th Floor
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
10:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon


Well, it didn’t quite say that 55 is a senior citizen, but almost. In my industry, we are advised to use the term “sparingly.” My desk editor looked it up in the AP Stylebook, and it said that. It also said, “See ELDERLY,” so we looked that up, too, and it said to use that sparingly.

I remember a rule from years ago not to call a person “old” in print unless we had verified that they were at least 80.

All of which is probably denial. I should not complain, else the politically sensitive types at the city rename the Office of Senior Citizens some other, less offensive thing, like naming the dump the “transfer station,” after which we shall not know what it is.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:43 PM


January 13, 2005

Bad manners

Bad manners were on display at Gov. Christine Gregoire's inaugural address. Understandably, Republican members of the House and Senate are still smarting about the election tallying. The GOP has a right to contest the election. But several Republicans refused to clap after Gregoire received the oath of office. They refused to applaud when she offered moderate Republican lines out of the Dino Rossi playbook, such as her proposal to establish a new approach to make it easier for businesses to work with state government. Several Republicans didn't know quite what to do on that one. Some broke ranks and clapped. Others like Rep. Skip Priest of Federal Way looked around to see if it was OK to clap.

It's OK to clap. Even better, it's part of the protocol of an inauguration. Republicans have been winning the PR battle in this strange election, until the inauguration when they looked a lot like sore losers.

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Posted by Joni Balter at 04:20 PM


Social Security Rhetoric

A reader writes:

Has there ever been a bald-faced liar to match George W. Bush? At yesterday's forum on Social Security, the president… lied right in their faces. Incredibly, their president told them this:

BUSH (1/11/05): As a matter of fact, by the time today's workers who are in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt. So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now.

Workers who are in their mid-20s will, by and large, begin to retire shortly after the year 2040. And will Social Security be "bankrupt--flat bust," as their joke-cracking president said? Sorry. According to the trustees' gloomy projections, the system will pay full benefits until 2042. It will then pay 73 percent of scheduled benefits, more than recipients get today. No, Social Security won't be "flat bust"--or anything like it--when young workers start to retire.

I replied: “You can argue what to call a 27% cut, [but people] are not going to want a 27% cut, and we owe it to them not to put them in that position…Social Security has a long-term deficit in the trillions, and one that is easier to fix the sooner we start. If we're gong to keep it, there are three basic ways to fix it: 1., raise taxes; 2. cut benefits and 3, increase the earnings of invested money. What's your solution?”

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:13 PM


January 10, 2005

Disclosure and privileges

Should advice given by a government attorney to a government official be private or public? That was the question in the Hangartner case at the Washington Supreme Court last year, and at a Federalist Society forum in Seattle last week.

The court said the advice should be private, and that the public didn't have a right to see it. Supporting the court at the forum was Tom Carr, Seattle city attorney. His argument was that the attorney/client privilege is hundreds of years old, it is absolute, and it exists for a good reason: to encourage people to consult attorneys.

If his legal advice to Mayor Greg Nickels, or some other Seattle official, was made a public document, its value would be compromised. When he gave an opinion, people might think he was playing to the crowd, not serving his client; and his client might think so, too.

Opposing the court was attorney Judith Endjean. Her argument was that both the government lawyer and official are paid by the public and supposedly working for the public. If disclosure makes governing more difficult, her attitude is, “Tough bananas. Get over it.”

I come to this issue with a professional bias: I work for a newspaper, and we need to find things out.

An example of the use of the public-disclosure law is the outcry in June 2002 over the Washington State Ferries’ decision to inspect every 15th vehicle in line for a boat. Did the state have the legal right to do this? Using the public disclosure law, the American Civil Liberties Union obtained a copy of the state attorney general’s opinion on it -- which was that Washington State Ferries had scant legal justification.

I wrote a column about it.

I think there should be an attorney/client privilege if the public official is being sued. Otherwise, no.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 02:38 PM


Opening trumpet for I-900

Tim Eyman has filed Initiative 900 -- its text will soon be available among proposed initiatives here -- to strengthen the hand of the state auditor to do performance audits on state agencies.

A performance audit is a report on an agency that attempts to say how well it works -- not only whether its accounting is good, but whether it is efficient, and whether it is actually achieving what it was set up to do.

The current auditor, Democrat Brian Sonntag, has been saying for years that he supports performance audits, and still says so, but he is critical of I-900 on two counts:

The first is that it empowers him to audit local government as well as state agencies. "Performance audits are a management tool," he says, and it shouldn't be the business of the state to manage local government.

The second reason is that he does not think a reform so should be done by initiaitve. He says he wants to work with the Legislature to pass a bill. He adds, "I'm hopeful there will be a better reception in the governor's office than we've seen in the past eight years."

I can think of some local governments that could use a performance audit, though Sonntag might be right about it being outside the state's bailiwick. It could be used in a "good-government" way or a political way. He is undoubtedly right that in general, it is risky to widen state authority by initiative.

But it depends on the initiative. It will be a while before it's posted and people have time to analyze it. Even if it's not perfect, I-900 may break the logjam. As Eyman has said many times, initiatives are another form of lobbying -- and in this state, often a very effective form.

Another thing: Eyman always seeks easy-to-remember numbers for his initiatives -- like 200, 747 (from the airplane) or 776 (from the Revolution). Now it's I-900.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 02:32 PM


January 03, 2005

The heroic Mr. Hughes

“The Aviator,” the new Howard Hughes movie, is more than a story about a flamboyant tycoon, or a man going nuts. It contains a fine story of business and politics. As a former business reporter, and a fan of competitive markets, I particularly appreciated the business story -- though I haven’t verified how accurate it is.

As told by the movie, the fight between Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) of Trans World Airlines and Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin) of Pan Am was really a fight over a government-sponsored monopoly. At the dawn of commercial aviation across the Atlantic, Trippe was pushing a bill in Congress that would have made Pan Am the sole U.S.-flag carrier. To sponsor the bill, Trippe recruited a senator from Maine, Owen Brewster (played at his smarmy best by Alan Alda).

It was just after World War II, and in a Congressional hearing, Brewster denounced Hughes as a war profiteer. Hughes ably defended himself and attacked Brewster as the poodle of Pan Am.

For years, Hollywood monotonously portrayed big businessmen as baddies, which was probably because so many screenwriters were left-wingers. But in this pic Hughes, for all his quirks and eccentricities, is fighting for good things --good movies, good technology, and an aviation industry open to competition.

I never knew Hughes had fought against a state monopoly in commercial aviation, and I respect him for it.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:45 PM




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