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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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May 31, 2005

"Deep Throat" and the Newsweek case

“Deep Throat” has outed himself. He’s the real-life character in the book and the movie of “All the President’s Men.” And it turns out that Deep Throat was the No. 2 guy in the FBI.

We’ve just gone through a brouhaha over a Newsweek story, based on a single source, that said a Quran had been put in a toilet. There was talk about how the news media should not rely on unidentified sources. Well, OK. Here’s a famous case. It’s probably the most famous unidentified source in the past 50 years. He’s identified: He was No. 2 at the FBI.

That’s a good source. In the movie Hal Holbrook (as Deep Throat) speaks only on “deep background,” and Robert Redford (as Carl Woodward) agrees not to use any information he can’t get from other sources. He and Bernstein worked hard and got the story.

It all depends on the source. You have to judge each one as it comes.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:18 PM


May 28, 2005

Singapore as Transit Heaven

On our competitor’s op-ed page Friday, Seattle resident Bernie Zuccarelli pays homage to the auto and transit policy of Singapore. To car owners, that Asian city-state is one of the most unfriendly places on Earth. It requires that before you buy a car, you buy a Certificate of Entitlement, which is a right to buy a car. These are issued in limited numbers—a few hundred a year—and auctioned off to the highest bidder. You can also buy one from an existing car owner, which requires that he scrap his car. After you buy the car—and there may be taxes on that—you have to pay an annual tax on engine displacement. The tax in U.S. dollars on a 600cc car is about $300 a year; on a 4000-cc car, $3,770. On top of that there is road pricing—that is, electronic tolls that vary by time of day, with higher charges for the central city.

The one time I was there, there were no traffic jams. And yes, Singapore has a transit system, both on rubber tires and steel wheels. But, like Mr. Zuccarelli, I was a tourist. A tourist generally carries a lot of stuff only from the airport to the hotel, and in Singapore will take a taxi. After that, he just carries himself--to the museum, the restaurant, the shopping district, wherever. It’s different when you live there. I lived in Hong Kong for three and a half years without a car. You can do it, but an American will feel the limitations of it.

You have to pick stuff up from a store—a piece of furniture, pots and pans, some sporting equipment. Where people don’t have cars, shops deliver, though the American does not like to cede control of what he’s just bought. It means someone has to be home to wait for the delivery. And most such cargo carrying is not from a store, but from one residence to another. Doing that is more difficult with transit. What if you want to meet some people for a barbecue, and you have to bring two bags of groceries and an ice chest of drinks? Or you have a baby in tow, or a couple of kids, and all their stuff? Or you want to get together four friends and go to the movie? The answer is: You can do most of these things without a car, but not as easily or quickly. (And it really helps if your friends have cars.)

The other thing is that Singapore is tiny, smaller than King County, but with 4 million people. Most of the people live in government apartments. Hong Kong is even more compact. It would be much harder to live without a car here.

Singapore has achieved its transit nirvana by using penalties. Our writer acknowledges this and then, a few sentences later, contradicts himself. He writes, “There is a cost structure that in and of itself makes it prohibitively expensive to own and operate a car.” Yes, and that wouldn’t go over well in the U.S.A. A few paragraphs later he recommends Singapore’s system, and says, “For Seattle and the cities that surround it, the answer must be a transit system so good that it all but forces people to leave their cars at home.” No such transit system is possible. What we're talking about here is taxing cars until people of moderate means are forced to sell them.

Basically, in Singapore you have to have a high income to drive. I like the no-traffic-jams part, but I just hope in that world I’d be one of the people with wheels.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 08:38 AM


May 25, 2005

Disney's Hong Kong Problem

Here’s a question for the aficionados of corporate social responsibility. Should Walt Disney allow the serving of shark’s fin soup at the new Disneyland in Hong Kong? According to a story in the Hongkong Standard, a professor at Hong Kong University has protested this because many sharks are endangered and because the harvesting is inhumane. Of course, this professor is a gweilo—a foreigner.

The Disney company says it has to conform to local customs, and by local custom, if you’re restaurant is going to do a business in fancy banquets, it has to serve that soup. I lived in Hong Kong 15 years ago, and that appeared to be the case then. (I had my share of shark's fin soup, but not the top-of-the line stuff.)

The environmentalists will say that shark’s fin soup is ‘unsustainable,’ and maybe it is. If it is, then it will eventually go away. But how much is it Disney’s responsibility to make that happen? Disney is a foreigner in Hong Kong. It is setting up shop in a former European colony, where the non-European people are sensitive about foreigners getting on a soap box and telling them what to do. Whether the people of Hong Kong are ready to swear off shark’s fin soup I do not know, but a campaign against it would have more credibility if a Chinese were behind it.

Then again, from an environmental point of view, it is much easier to put the screws on Disney than some Hong Kong company. I am reminded of another case, about toothpaste. It was about race relations, not environment, but otherwise similar.

For years a Hong Kong company made a toothpaste called Darkie, sold under the logo of a grinning black man in a top hat. When I moved to Hong Kong in 1989, they still sold that brand. I was amazed by it. Well, soon after I got there, the Hong Kong company was bought out by Colgate, and there was pressure to change the name and logo—not pressure in Hong Kong, but in the United States. And Colgate changed it. The new logo looked more like a white guy, and the name was “Darlie.” However, the name in Chinese--spelled in four characters--is still “Black Man Tooth Paste.”

You can see the before-and-after photos here.

The internationalization of sensitivities is one of the consequences of the internationalization of business. And whether Disney does or does not decide to serve shark’s fin, it is companies like Disney that will take it off the menu first.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:17 PM


May 24, 2005

Forbidden Vanity Plates

What bizarre things make the news: According to a story in the Times Tuesday, someone with a 2002 Audi has the Washington vanity plate “C9H13N.” That is listed in some sources (but not all) as the chemical formula for methamphetamine, an illegal drug, but also for amphetamine, the (highly regulated) legal drug.

There is a (tiny) to-do about this plate, because it is against state policy to issue a vanity plate that makes reference to “alcohol or illegal activities or substances.” I guess that’s why I haven’t seen the vanity plates, “STONED,” “HEROIN,” or “ABUD4U.” Somehow, “C9H13N” does not seem like a threat to the public peace and order. Nobody will know what it means.

“JOHN316,” a plate on the car of a prominent Republican woman in Pierce County, is similarly cryptic, though probably more people know Biblical verses than chemical formulas. Some busybody objected to JOHN316, but the state recently reviewed it and reapproved it. I don’t see the problem with it—or with other plates one might imagine, such as “RAPTURE,” “JESUS,” “ALLAH” or “OM.” Indeed, such plates might make traffic jams—and parking lots—more interesting.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:17 PM


May 22, 2005

A Substitute's Lament


A reader responds regarding Seattle public schools:

If only Seattle parents sent their children to school curious about learning and respectful of the incredible opportunity they have, so much else would fall into place. I substituted in about 20 Seattle schools in 2003 and saw first hand the difference between a class where the kids wanted to know stuff, and the class where a kid bragged about spending the previous day at Wild Waves because her parents didn't think it mattered that much about missing a day of school (albeit with an inexperienced substitute). Needless to say, demoralized staff in the latter kind of school costs the District, as they stress and seek new placements. There's also the challenge of kids who seem to enjoy wasting school materials, thinking there is an endless supply. Teachers often provide new pencils, tablets, construction paper and other supplies only to see kids grinding away at the pencil sharpener, cutting one hole in the middle of a piece of construction paper and throwing the rest away, or wadding up a first draft when the other side of the paper is blank. Teachers bend over backward for students who are really trying to learn, so fostering that interest at home will do wonders, and probably cut personnel costs and materials costs as well. An experiment might be to ask every parent to provide their kids with a small box of crayons, a tablet, and 2 pencils in June, and see if they can make them last until September, while producing a few stories and math problems along the way.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 08:51 AM


May 20, 2005

On Orderly Fascism

A reader replies to my column on World War II and American culture:

After reading numerous books and articles about the Nazi experience (including, most lately, They Thought They Were Free), it's become clearer to me that the demonization of Hitler in the post-WW II era is one of the great disservices to the American people perpetrated by the propagandists who shape thought. Not that Hitler was not an evil man, because, if there is such a thing, he surely was evil. On the other hand, he was not the cartoon figure of Satan in flesh that most people picture. Throughout the 1930s, his anti-Bolshevism and orderly fascism had the support of many, particularly within corporate structures, in the United States and Great Britain. And, of course, among many, if not most, Germans. The disservice about the exaggerated view of hindsight that we now get of Hitler makes us susceptible to the idea that we will know evil when we see it because it is too obvious not to be seen. Actually, though, evil is led by steps into a society by leaders who are irrational and who peddle fear, preach security and religious solutions, who bid people to turn away from using their intellects and embrace the "truths" they find in their animal emotions and in their "common sense." Fascism, to steal from Emily Dickinson, comes on little cat's feet before there is any hint of the sound of jackboots hitting pavement.

Respond to this reader.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:12 AM


May 19, 2005

Response on Seattle Schools

This reader responded to my "Backtrack on Seattle Schools," in which I said the district should close schools:

You're not seeing the point - I too would support school closures if it came anywhere near balancing the budget, and if it was done with quality of education in mind. The other cuts you mention would still be necessary with the additonal $17 million dollar deficit. Raj Manhas said he would support this plan even if the budget wasn't busted. Why? Because it is about engineering rather than money savings or educational quality.

And you seem to think that school communities would stay intact and be moved as a whole to other schools, and that is not the case at all, except for the alternative programs (i.e. Pathfinder). Schools ask parents for support of time and money. School choice forces parents to rate the schools in their area, and that information needs to be taken into account. We aren't selfish for doing what the district encourages us to do. Care about the school, involve ourselves in the process. I bet they wish they'd encouraged a "whatever" attitude now. Too late. We are vocal, politically active, and focused.

As for the budget tool, did you notice their editorial comments for each budget option? And that they have no idea how much they might save from many of the options? I love a "bold plan" based on inferior information. That's not a house I want to live in.

Respond on this topic.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:04 PM


Audit the District!

Here is one parent's reply to my blog on the Seattle Schools:

The time has come for a complete outside audit of the Seattle School District. Seattle students receive, on a per student basis, more than $2000 more than those in my kids' school district. And yes, we also have English language learners and economically challenged children as well. Seattle has a grandfathered levy lid advantage of 34% while other districts can only locally levy taxpayers at a rate of 24%. While they cry foul on revenue shortfalls, the money has to be wasted somewhere in their system and Superinentendent Manhas was on the right track by looking at the costs of transportation and low enrollment schools. His plan may have not saved enough money given the program driven changes to the buildings involved but sooner or later, Seattle will have to operate large (neighborhood)schools like the rest of us do. There are 925 students at my son's middle school and he had 752 kids at his elementary one year. Other districts are in need of revenue fixes, not just Seattle who wants to hang on to overly costly policy while the rest of us make do with far less. Entering into a contract with the SEA that they could not deliver on was a mistake as well. This new school board seems to be baffled by their own conflicted priorities and lack of fundamental funding basics. Something has to give.

Respond to the response.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:27 PM


May 18, 2005

Backtrack at Seattle Schools


Management of the Seattle Public Schools has backed away from its plan to close 10 schools to save money. Here is the story and here is the statement by Superintendent Raj Manhas.

Parents protested, and the school district heeded them. But what alternative does the district have? The schools are, roughly, 70 percent full. It is expensive to keep extra buildings open. If you don’t cut money by closing schools, you have to cut someplace else—by firing teachers, for example, or by ending school bus service, which really means ending choice.

The district has a handy-dandy program for you to make your own choices, here. (Press "Budget Model.") Give it a try. I did; I came up with $7 million in savings, and not all of them would be welcomed. That’s only one-third of the job. Not good enough.

There are two arguments, basically, against closing schools. The first is that its MY school, close someone else’s. That is more of an emotion than an argument. The second is that the district shouldn’t close a school that is academically successful. But that is mistaken, too, because what makes a school academically successful are the teachers, students and parents, not the buildings. Move the people to the new buildings and they will be successful there, too.

I think the school district should have stuck with their closures. They may well have to go back to them.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 02:11 PM


WWII: A Response


A reader writes about my column:

You stated that "It should be no surprise that Germany did not join our enterprise in Iraq. When the French refused, we mocked them as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."

This statement implies that the Germans and the French refused to join the Coalition to invade Iraq out of some noble purpose or higher moral standard. On the contrary, some fact checking might be in order here. It's been proven by UN and many other reports that the French and Germans (along with the Russians) were supporting Saddam Hussein's regime with economic and arms support. They were also participating in the oil for food outrage, acting as middlemen, providing a platform for Saddam to launder his money. You know this- you work at a newspaper. It's been all over every paper in the world! Therefore, I find the above statement by you to be a bit disingenuous, to say the least.

I'm not trying to suggest that the Germans have a higher moral standard about war so much as a more intimate knowledge of it, and therefore a more realistic way of applying the moral standards we all say we have. I don't think oil-for-food or money laundering have much to do with what the German people think and feel about this war, any more than I would think that some profits by Exxon or Mobil would determine how Americans felt about it. Some on the Left say we went in to benefit Halliburton, and you suggest that the Germans stayed out to benefit some of their own companies. Well, maybe; but I doubt it.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 01:17 PM


Our liberal imagination

If we had some ham, we could have some ham and eggs dept:

Here is the editor-in-chief of the Seattle Weekly, Knute Berger, in his current column opposing Mayor Nickels’ plan to allow high-rise condos downtown. Now, the mayor’s aim is to increase Seattle’s density, which it is obligated to do under a state law called the Growth Management Act, while putting the least pressure on single-family neighborhoods. The mayor’s answer is to pile density into the downtown.

Berger doesn’t agree with that, and he doesn’t like density in the neighborhoods either, and I assume he is not willing to repeal the GMA and come out for “sprawl.” Then what? Here’s his answer:

If Seattle offered excellent schools and free day care, it would be costly—but would it be more costly than putting the viaduct underground? If you put $4 billion into improving Seattle schools and creating family-friendly programs, you could increase density by growing the number of people per household without massive new development. There are alternatives to dealing with urban growth and density by promoting high-rise development that will clutter the skyline, block the sun, and benefit mostly the well-to-do.

First, the $4 billion is a lump sum, which is what you need to build a waterfront tunnel, and not an income stream, which is what you need to run a school district. Second, Seattle doesn’t have the $4 billion even for the waterfront tunnel, but only a promise of half that, from a gas tax that applies to the entire state. It is unconstitutional to spend gas-tax money on schools, or on day care, so really Seattle has none of the $4 billion in this particular dream.

Imagine this Bill-and-Melinda-sized experiment anyway. I think it would fail. That is, if Seattle spent a bunch more on the public schools, and it did offer free day care, it would not attract that many families with kids. The main reason is that the ability to "fix" the schools with money is much more limited and costly than liberals believe. And even if you could do this, you would raise the demand for housing in the city. You would have the people with kids bidding for houses against people without kids, who are buying $400,000, $500,000 and $600,000 houses now--prices that are inflated by the Growth Management Act that liberals created and still defend.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 12:15 PM


May 17, 2005

Our Heroic Pizza Vendors

My former Times colleague Casey Corr, who is running for the Seattle City Council seat held by Richard Conlin, has put out a witty press release about the Council’s attempt to get high school kids to stop eating pizza from street vendors.

The story is apparently this: in an attempt to promote student health, and satisfy the moms who fret about obesity and junk food, the Seattle School Board has required school cafeterias to stop serving certain sugary or greasy foods. At high schools with open campuses, many kids are buying lunch elsewhere. One place is from vendors who sell hot pizza—hot, salty, fatty, delicious pizza—from the back of trucks.

These trucks are supposed to be no closer to the school than 200 feet. The Seattle City Council has now expanded that to 1,000 feet, in an effort to ruin the vendors’ businesses and herd the students back to the official cafeterias. This is supposed to be on account of their health, but the political pressure comes from the union for the cafeteria employees, who are concerned with their jobs.

I remember what it was like to be a high school student—still under adult control, but chafing at it. I know if I were there I’d be cheering for the pizza trucks, and booing the city council. The school board, too. Especially them.

As a parent of a boy about to go to high school, I rue my son's attraction to pizza. I like it about once a month; he could eat it every other day and with the same topping on it each time. I understand the politicians’ urge to save our youth by promoting better nutrition, but I think it’s a lost cause, and further, I think this goes too far toward social engineering. Basically it is not the business of the city council to concern itself with what students eat for lunch. And I have a certain admiration for the entrepreneurial zeal of folks who bake and sell the pizzas. There’s a market, and they’re serving it even if the public schools won’t.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:55 PM


May 15, 2005

On Academics and Pundits


Peter Irons, professor emeritus, political science, at the University of California at San Diego, wrote me about Michelle Malkin’s book, In Defense of Internment, which defends the treatment of West Coast Japanese-Americans during World War II. I reviewed the book in the Seattle Times last year. Irons wrote:

I thought you might want to write something about her retraction of the claim in her book (on p. 123) that Aiko Herzig-Hoshinaga, the head researcher for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, "surreptitiously shared confidential [CWRIC] documents" with me. After Malkin failed to respond to an email I sent her several months ago, in which I told her this claim was untrue, I emailed her again this week, repeating my demand that she retract this claim, which bordered on defamation. Much to my surprise, she promptly agreed, and notified her publisher, Regnery (a leading right-wing house) to excise the claim from future editions. Malkin also retracted the claim on her personal blog, at michellemalkin.com… To my knowledge, this is the first time Malkin has retracted any claims in her book, other than minor factual errors (dates, etc.).

Irons invites me to write about this. I responded:

I understand that it is an important matter to you, because the book mentions your name. The closest I ever got to your position was having one of my book reviews turned around backwards by Ann Coulter in Treason--essentially she said the Seattle Times had denied that Judith Coplon had been a Soviet spy, when my review had said the opposite--and Coulter mentioned my name only in an endnote, not in the main text. Still I was sore about it. In an email I asked her to do what Michelle Malkin has volunteered to do, which is to make a small change in later editions. Coulter did not reply, and did not make any change in the paperback edition, which came out well after my email to her. So think I understand your feelings on this.

If my review had mentioned you, or the matter at all, I would be obliged to write something. But it didn't. Nor was the matter a crucial part of the book--that is, the thesis of the book does not stand or fall on whether Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga shared documents "surreptitiously" with you. And I argued in the review that Malkin's book as a whole did not make its case.

I want to express some sympathy for Malkin here. She is a political pundit--an "unabashed right-wing columnist", as you say--who gets paid only for what she writes, and she has to satisfy a public that likes strong and definite opinions about a wide range of topics that are in the public eye. She cannot be expected to follow the same standards as an academic who makes a study of a narrow subject, usually for several years, and publishes it through a university press, all while being protected by tenure and supported through teaching. That doesn't absolve a pundit from responsibility for mistakes, but you can't expect the same depth of verification. I think you should be satisfied with Malkin's quick agreement to acknowledge a mistake, post it on her web page and change future editions.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:09 AM


May 14, 2005

Finally a strip club lawsuit

I wondered when someone would sue the city of Seattle over its selective ban of strip clubs. In a column a couple of years ago I called Seattle’s law the “Strip Club Oligopoly Act.” An oligopoly is a shared monopoly—and that’s what Seattle has: four strip clubs with licenses and a moratorium on any further licenses. Well, now someone has filed that lawsuit.

When I bring this up to people, the most common reply I get is, “So you want more strip clubs?” Or “So you think Seattle needs more strip clubs?” But I don’t see the role of the City Council, or of government at any level, to decide how many of each sort of businesses the people need. The people decide that through the market. Government decides whether a business is legal or not, and the conditions of operation. You can ban it, you can allow it subject to a lot of regulations, or a few regulations or no regulations. But if you want to set the number, there is only one fair number: zero. Otherwise the market sets the number.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 06:08 PM


May 13, 2005

Hypocrisy, the minor sin

Much is being made of the hypocrisy of Spokane Mayor Jim West for opposing gay-rights bills for years but being a closet gay himself. The P-I made a point of it, and so did we. I think Danny Westneat has a more sensible attitude in this column, in which he says:

I also find troubling this notion that consistency between your personal and public life trumps all else, including the presumption of privacy. Are we now going to out the sexual orientations of all 25 state senators who voted against the gay-rights bill, to see if they are hypocrites, too? Do we ask all female politicians whether they've had abortions, to see if their lives match their voting records? So West is a hypocrite. So what? Hypocrisy is among the most meaningless charges in politics. West is finished, but let's be clear why — potential child molestation and abuse of his office to get dates.

“Hypocrisy” often depends on one’s politics, and it does here. There are gay libertarians and conservatives who oppose gays being added as a protected class under antidiscrimination laws because they oppose all such laws as a violation of the freedom of association. I don’t know whether that was West’s reason, but it is a nonhypocritical one—and one you don’t hear about from the progressives. To them, if you oppose such laws, it’s on account of hate, or some religious belief you ought to clear out of your head.

Another thought: A legislator can oppose a thing from a public-policy view as bad and engage in it himself and not undercut the rationale for his public stand. If a legislator who had voted to penalize methamphetamine were caught using it, it would undermine him but not necessarily his public policy stand. The critics making a big deal of West as a hypocrite speak on the assumption that their public policy stand is correct. And maybe it is, but we should not write as if it were obvious.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:25 PM


May 12, 2005

Fumbling Rhetoric on Trade

One of my fascinations is the rhetorical tricks of pundits, particularly the ones I don't agree with. Here is a argument against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) by Alan Tonelson, author of "The Race to the Bottom."

Tonelson begins his op-ed piece by arguing that the CAFTA countries are too small to bother with. He is writing for the San Diego paper, so he says CAFTA's output of $85 billion amounts to less than that of San Diego, $125 billion. That doesn't make it a bad agreement, but it establishes that by itself it is not a big deal in economic terms.

Then he writes: Yet even such tiny countries, half of whose populations fall below rock-bottom local poverty levels, can become major suppliers to the United States, especially if CAFTA-like trade deals attract export-oriented investment seeking penny-wage work forces. For example, from 1997 to 2004, U.S. goods imports from the CAFTA 6 rose by 38.8 percent, to $17.66 billion. Yet U.S. goods exports to these countries increased only 35.7 percent, to $14.98 billion during this period.

I would use the same statistics to say: "Even such tiny countries can become important sources of business. For example, from 1997 to 2004, U.S. goods imports from CAFTA rose 38.8 percent, and our goods exports rose in tandem by almost the same amount, 35.7 percent." He undermines the second figure with the qualifier “only,” but really, the percentages are about the same—and they suggest that Central America, though economically small, is growing and could be more important in the future.

Next, he writes: Worse, the biggest share of U.S. exports to the CAFTA 6 isn't traditional, job-creating exports at all - i.e., they aren't consumed in the purchasing countries. Instead, it consists of fabric sent to the region, stitched into final apparel and home furnishings products, and shipped right back to the United States. Rather than serving new foreign markets, these "exports" serve the same domestic market U.S.-based factories once supplied. The only difference: American workers are removed from the equation. Thus, CAFTA isn't a trade agreement at all - it's an outsourcing agreement.

Is it important or not? First, he has told us these are piddling little countries, worth less together than San Diego. Now he tells us they’re an important threat to American labor. Which is it?

Next he writes: The CAFTA countries can't benefit, either. The U.S. market for the labor-intensive goods they need to sell is already saturated with Third World imports thanks to previous outsourcing agreements. According to U.S. government and World Trade Organization reports, the recent expiration of global apparel quotas will start exposing Central Americans to even more competitive pressure from Asia and its vast supply of even cheaper labor.

Now he tells us they’re not going to threaten American labor. I want to yell at this guy: Make up your mind! You are in the column business; you have 750 words, or thereabouts, to make a point. Make it, and stick to it.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:55 AM


May 10, 2005

The rights of Mrs. Murderer


Should the ex-wife of the Green River Killer be forbidden to write an account of her life and sell it? The mother of one of the 48 murder victims is asking a court to do just that, according to this story.

There is a difference between acts that should be discouraged by social convention and acts that should be punishable by law. I am all for the social convention that says that the murderer’s wife should not make money out of her husband's notoriety. It's tacky and tasteless. But I can’t see a case for forbidding it by court order. Such a ruling is prior restraint of speech and violation of the First Amendment and the Washington Constitution of 1889.

A convicted killer may have his rights, including his First Amendment rights, taken away. His ex-wife is not convicted of anything. Her rights are intact.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 01:09 PM


May 09, 2005

The fast starters

Several hundred middle-school students from the Puget Sound area won awards in theJohns Hopkins University Talent Search for high scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. This is the test given to high school seniors, and it was not required that seventh and eighth-graders take it. These are kids who had grades high enough to be asked to take the test, who had parents who wanted them to take it, who did take it, and who scored high.

At the awards ceremony Sunday they had a list of all the winners. The ethnic dispersion was wide. The first girl awarded was African American. There were East Indian names, Jewish names, and varous other European surnames. The strongest showing was by Asians. By my count there were:

9 named Wang or Wong (same name in Chinese)

6 named Lee or Li (same in Chinese, though “Lee” is also English)

4 Kim

4 Nelson

2 Smith

1 Jones

That was the SAT, which has verbal and math. There was another list of the SET Mathematics Awards, which were students under 13 who scored 700-800 on the math SAT. This was a list from the entire United States. It had:

14 Lee or Li

10 Wang or Wong

9 Zhang or Zheng

8 Xu or Xue

6 Wu

5 Chen

5 Huang

4 Kim, and one each of Smith, Jones, Olson, Gordon, Hughes, Miller, Nelson. (Nelson was from Washington). Also one each of Armaneous, Barshteyn, Choquette, Dwivedi, Enache, Fidaleo, Gupta, Hazi, Ivanov, Ji, Kopczynski, Laniyonu, Mao, Nagao, Ou, Patil, Quek, Rayala, Sokolskaya, Tyutyunik, Ueki, Vijay, Wei, Xie, Ye and Zehender.

There were two much shorter lists of first-place (rather than merely high) SAT scores for seventh and eighth grades. These were nationwide lists.

For seventh grade only 19 names made this list. Named were the student and the school. Three were homeschooled. Two of the 19 were from here: Jessie Gong, Einstein Middle School, Shoreline, and Lawrence Xing, Lakeside School, Seattle.

For eighth grade there were 36 names nationwide, four from here: Rich An, Washington Middle School, Seattle; Timothy Firman, Lakeside School; Ashoat Tevosyan, Kamiakin Junior High School, Kirkland; and Sophie Arlow, the Overlake School.

Congratulations.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:03 AM


May 08, 2005

PBS and the BBC model

Another reader writes on whether PBS should give up government money:

A few years ago PBS' slogan was "If PBS doesn't do it, who will?". Well, the answer turned out to be The Discovery Channel, CNN, The History Channel, The National Geographic Channel, BBC America, and a host of other cable channels that provide a wider variety and better quality than PBS ever could.

Remember that the staple fare of PBS' heyday was BBC programs imported from the UK at relatively cheap rates (cheaper than producing indigenous shows at least). The fact is that PBS is a pale, malnourished imitation of the BBC. While the BBC is a great institution, it is far from immune to bias, and it is funded by draconian legislation (see this page and this page for example) that could not be enacted today in the UK. The British public put up with the TV license because it's all they've ever known and they grudgingly acknowledge the quality that the BBC turns out as being worth it. It's a model that PBS can never duplicate, simply because Americans would never put up with a $200 tax per household per year to pay for it - especially not given the appalling track record of PBS executives in managing even a fraction of that revenue.

So if PBS wants to be a player again in the TV industry it must somehow find a funding model that works, and more importantly, a mission that means something and that no other TV station can co-opt or duplicate easily. Being the de facto propaganda arm of the liberal left probably doesn't fit the bill.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:24 AM


May 07, 2005

A Liberal Reply on PBS

A reader sends this note:

Yes, you and others may be right that PBS should be free of government money. AND, as a liberal that has studied journalism and reads mass quantities of it of every kind, I agree that there probably is a "liberal bias". (Why else would I like it, I guess.) But, the sad truth is, it is one of our few remaining national repositories of competent journalism so I personally would hate to see ANYTHING jeopardize that. It's downright scary how few voices there are left "speaking truth to power" - to steal a phrase that I think Colin Powell used to refer to the need for intelligence analysts to tell it like it is. (If you don't believe this, read the article I attached about the memo that came to light in the recent British election and reflect on how little has been made of this revelation in the American press.)

Somewhere in my rat nest of papers and files I have an academic study that was itself a compilation of other studies that looked at the understanding of the "facts" about the justification for the invasion of Iraq. The study (University of Maryland, I think) was released about six months to a year after the invasion of Iraq I think. The questions were ones like 'was there a link between el Qeada (sp?) and Iraq', 'was Sadam Hussein involved in the 9/11 attacks', etc. Of the groups that did best in the survey, the public TV and radio audience scored highest, Fox TV viewers scored worse. (If you're interested in the source, email me and I'll find it for you.)

The fact that our country was lied into a war should be a source of outrage for every American, even those that might have supported the idea. The means, in an undertaking of this consequence, can't justify the ends. At a time like this, can we afford to undermine one of the few sources that was clear on the facts? I don't think so.

I would support the addition of more conservative voices on PBS as long as they rise to the high level of journalism it practices. I think conservatives have actually undermined some of their causes by allowing sloppy and blatantly partisan outlets like Fox and talk radio bombard Americans with innuendo, hyperbole, and half-truths. As long as it has worked for them, they're content to continue no mater the consequence to our social fabric, I think. We need more open and honest debate, not less, and PBS is just as good a place as any for that. Let it be an example to the nation of how we can listen and speak HONESTLY and respectfully to each other. But, then, maybe pigs will fly.

Respond to the reader's letter.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 09:09 PM


May 04, 2005

State Television

In a piece in Slate, Jack Shafer argues that liberals ought to reconsider their support of federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which pays for 15 percent of the Public Broadcasting System. I agree. For years, PBS has been generally liberal, and liberals, believing that programming "quality" required government, have supported it politically. Now the Corporation is in Republican hands. The Bush people want PBS to be more conservative and the liberals are hollering about censorship. Ho, ho, ho. The liberals are acting as if PBS it were their property, and it isn’t. It is a quasi-governmental entity, the closest thing we have in America to State Television.

I like some of the programming on PBS, and am not suggesting that it be shut down or even that it be made conservative. It simply ought to be freed of the umbilical cord connecting it to politics. It should survive through ad revenues, grants, support from “viewers like you”—but not money voted by politicians. Thoughtful conservatives have said this for years. The Bush people now give liberals cause to join them.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:40 PM


An Israeli Optimist

I had a fascinating interview the other day with Ellezer Yaari, executive director of the New Israel Fund. The Fund is a philanthropic group with liberal goals—pro-Israeli but also stressing commonalities with the Palestinians rather than intransigence. If the two sides are ever to quit fighting, I think people like Yaari will have to prevail.

In his view, it is very significant that the government of Israel is forcing 8,000 settlers to give up their homes in Gaza. It is only a small number compared with the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. But it is a first step. Yaari said, “That the right-wing government is executing this is tremendously important”—because the Likud government is, to a considerable extent, the settlers’ government.

Yaari argued that this is the second such important step from the Likud government of Ariel Sharon. The first, he said, was the building of the fence and wall in the West Bank. I have criticized the wall because it is mostly not on the ‘green line’ (the de facto border), but inside the Palestinian territory, therefore laying claim to Palestinian land. But Yaari said it not only defines a land claim but a greater amount of land not claimed.

“It puts a border to Israel,” he said. “Israel didn’t have borders. What we were raised on, the rhetoric of the past 40 years, was that it was indivisible.”

The next logical step, he said, is for Israel to evacuate the West Bank settlements on the Palestinian side of the fence. To the Palestinians that is probably not enough, because it leave Israel in control of Palestinian land inside the wall. But it would be progress. It would narrow the gap between the two sides.

Will Sharon do that? Yaari said he might. Sharon wants more progress on his watch—and he is 78. And it is a good time: “Hizbollah is defeated,” he said. “The fact that Hamas is going to be represented in the Palestinian Authority is a good sign. When radicalism is joining the mainstream, it is a good sign.”

Regarding terrorism, he said, “there is a kind of cease-fire right now.” The recent Passover holiday “was one of the nicest times in Israel in the past four to five years. The restaurants were full.”

It’s never easy to back down from a position backed by both nationalism and religion, but Israel is going to have to evict a lot more settlers from towns that are not, after all, in Israel. It deserves praise for having begun.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 12:13 PM


May 03, 2005

Insensitivity, or a Civil Rights case?

“Woman wins bias case over service dog,” was the headline on a story on B1 today. The story was about Joyce Fischer-Jones, who took a dog into a convenience store. The proprietor grabbed at her, she said, and demanded that she take the dog outside. She said she tried to explain that she needed this dog because she had panic attacks and agoraphobia, but that the proprietor wouldn’t listen. So she filed a complaint with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, and won a judgment of $21,222. Moral of the story: Not all service dogs are for the deaf or blind.

The story is told from woman's point of view. The story says the proprietor, Ho Park, could not be reached for comment.

The proprietor’s name suggests that he is Korean, and probably an immigrant. Probably he has seen a good deal of fake IDs, shoplifting, misbehavior and unconvincing excuses. Very likely he had never heard of any such thing as a guide dog for the agoraphobic or chronically panic-stricken.

Very likely $22,000 is a lot of money for him. In my view, making him pay that much for what he did is overkill. A simple talking-to by a cop or some official should have solved it.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:34 PM




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