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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
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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June 30, 2005

The Freedom Tower in New York

The new design for the building to replace the World Trade Center in New York is out. It is a skyscraper with an antenna on top; and a fortified bottom—the fortification because the building is expected to be a target of terrorists.

There has been a great fight over the design. I saw a show on PBS about it, months ago; it chronicled a struggle between an idealistic architect backed by New York’s governor versus a commercial architect backed by the private developer. The idealist, Daniel Liebeskind, had a design that was much more striking and original, but I thought if it was to be a private project, the choice of the architect should be none of the governor’s business. If the developer wanted the more down-to-earth architect David Childs, then it should be Childs. And that is how it worked out.

As a practical matter, I think both of the original designs were too grandiose, as is this one. The World Trade Center was the No. 1 terrorist target in the United States. It was attacked twice, in 1993 and in 2001, was destroyed and a huge proportion of its tenants were killed. To rebuild a thing just as tall as the WTC is to say, “To hell with you, terrorists, we build it right back again.” Well, that feels good, and it may be the attitude the U.S. government should take, but for a private investor it’s not good business. It is taking unnecessary risks with tenants, and may make the place harder to rent out. It if it were my capital at risk, I wouldn’t build one big building that stuck up 1,776 feet to flip the bird to Islamic extremists. I’d let all the patriots with no capital at risk call me a coward and a weenie, but I'd build three buildings a third as tall and keep my tenants, and my investment, safer.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 06:59 AM

June 28, 2005

What's a Share in Boeing Worth?

I note that Boeing is buying back more shares. Maybe that answers, at least in part, a question I’ve long had about Boeing stock and stock in other companies like Boeing. That is, where’s the value?

A stock is a share in a business. You buy it normally with the idea that when you want to sell, someone will buy it from you, based on how well the business is doing. But at some point there has to be some value given to the owner of shares, or else why would anyone want to own them? This could be several things. The company could be sold, so that you were cashed out. Or you could get a dividend from the company, either a special dividend as a disbursement of assets or an ordinary dividend as a share in the stream of earnings.

At today’s price Boeing stock pays a dividend of 1.6 percent. That’s not much. If were some little company, with a chance of becoming 20 times bigger, it would not be paying a dividend at all and we would not care because the payout would be in the future. But this is Boeing, a mature company. The future is now.

What, then? Is Boeing a candidate to be sold? I don’t think the government would let it be sold. When T. Boone Pickens made a run at it back in about 1988, the Washington State Legislature chased him off, and it made it clear that it was willing to violate the state constitution to do so. Maybe I’m naive here, and Boeing could be sold to a legitimate U.S. buyer like, say, General Electric. (Certainly not to a Chinese company.) But I have never heard speculation of it.

But if there is almost zero chance of Boeing being acquired because it is so big, and is in a politically sensitive business, why is it at $65 a share, which pushes its dividend yield down to 1.6 percent? Where is the value to the stockholder? If you say the value is the assets, or the knowhow, or the market position—the stockholder doesn’t get any of that. Why should he be willing to pay for it?

He is, because other people are. A circle.

Boeing's planned buyback of 5 percent of its shares is a payment of corporate cash to shareholders. Is that what keeps Boeing stock up? I covered business for years, and I remember these announcements about buybacks, and they never seemed to move stock prices very much. Is it because they were anticipated? Is the yield only 1.6 percent because everyone thinks Boeing will raise its dividend?

Or is Boeing stock, and much other stock, priced with only a vague relation to dividends and the prospect of buyout or other payment of corporate cash--and, if so, why?

Someone please tell me what I'm not seeing here.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 06:36 PM

Response on Preachers at School

A reader writes about my post on the Ten Commandments ruling, in which I recalled a teacher in public junior high school in Lynnwood who, in 1964-65, brought in a whole series of preachers to discuss their various religions. The reader says:

You might be surprised to know that your study of various religions in junior high school would probably be constitutional under current federal law. From what you describe, your teacher took pains to present a range of differing religious views as well as the views of an atheist.

In other words, he did exactly what the Supreme Court has described is acceptable: he acted with neutrality toward and between religions, giving the views of (or funding of) no single religion, or religion vs. irreligion, any special prominence. To paraphrase Justice Scalia, if the state expresses a range of views equally, it cannot be said to be "establishing" one of them.

This reader is probably correct. That is, it’s not illegal under Supreme Court rulings for a teacher to do what my teacher did. But I think no teacher would dare do it, and if any teacher tried, the principal would stop him, and if the principal didn’t, the district would.

Respond to this reader.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 06:15 PM

June 27, 2005

The Ten Commandments

Here is the Kentucky 10 Commandments case, and here is the Texas case. I have read some of this and skimmed some of it. Scalia is a better writer than Souter, and historically probably he is right. In constitutional law, the separation of church and state doctrine is not much more than 50 years old. I generally like the doctrine, myself—I am not religious—but it is a 20th century invention. Like the transformation of the commerce clause in the 1930s, the changing of the establishment clause in the 1940s was a de facto amendment of the Constitution by the judges--a practice I don't like.

I am also wary of the idea that we have to exclude religion from everything touched by government. I remember a case when it was included in the public schools in a deep but reasonable way. In 8th grade at Meadowdale Junior High, Lynnwood, my English teacher, Rex Crossen, got interested in religion. He made the following deal: Any of us could bring in our minister, rabbi or priest, and that person could have a full hour to explain his faith. We started with the Mormons. An LDS minister came in, and the teacher left—went to the library—and the preacher had us for an hour. We had a Nazarene, a Catholic, and I don’t know what all. There were no Jews in our class, so we had a field trip to Seattle. We visited the Russian Orthodox church near the Seattle Times. We spent an hour at a synagogue with Rabbi Levine, who made the best impression on me of any of them. (I don’t think we had a Muslim, but probably it would have been difficult to find one in 1964.) We also had debates in class between a theist and an atheist on the existence of God. It was wonderful. It was the most memorable class I had in that school. And it would probably be forbidden today, though it was not an establishment of religion.

I am also skeptical of the claim, which I hear from liberals, that the conservatives now in power are trying to set up a theocracy, or make Christianity official—acts which are clearly unconstitutional. It seems to me it’s more the other way around—that liberals are going about trying to erase all public signs of religion. See our story of the 10 Commandments outside the courthouse in Everett. They have been there since 1961, at the beginning of John Kennedy’s administration. (Was the Kennedy administration theocratic?) They have been there 44 years, and now, suddenly, we have to defend ourselves from them. The liberals do have a point about displays of religion on courthouse grounds, but it’s a small thing. I have been to that courthouse several times, and I never noticed them.

I guess under the court’s rulings they can stay outside, but a posting of the commandments inside the courtroom is forbidden. Whatever.

Final note: Right near the Seattle Times is Denny Park, Seattle’s first park. In that park is a bust of Mark Matthews, a Methodist minister who played an historic role in early 20th century Seattle. He was a political figure but also a very religious one, as I discovered when I read a biography of him and reviewed it for the Times. Like much statuary, the bust was not paid by public funds, but by a private group; still, when it was placed in the park in 1942, there were people who didn’t approve of it. Those people lost, and the bust was placed. It is still there. Should Seattle take it down?

I am no fan of Matthews, but I would leave it there.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 06:33 PM

June 24, 2005

Does "Downfall" Absolve Germany?

The New Republic has an article here that claims that the movie, Downfall (2004) whitewashes the Nazis and absolves Germany of guilt for World War II. I saw the movie only once, and I didn't have this issue in mind when I watched it, but that sure wasn't my reaction. Not even close. I thought it was a powerful picture.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:06 PM

A Property Rights Case in Seattle

John S. Fujii, the owner of the parking garage across Second Avenue from the Smith Tower, comments on my post about Kelo v. New London:

As owners of the Sinking Ship garage site at Second and Yesler, we, too, have a property rights appeal before the Washington State Supreme Court. In our case Monorail states they have no public use for the surplus site that is under dispute and the Washington consititution provides greater property rights protection than the US consitution. However, the tide of judicial deference toward the wishes of condemning agencies runs deep. The tide is showing signs of shifting ever so imperceptibly and we hope we are part of that shift later this year when the ruling is made. If not, we have had our day in court.

To clarify: Under the state constitution, the Monorail can take Fujii's property for a monorail station, because that is clearly a public use. Fujii's argument is that the Monorail needs only part of the property for that, and that he has a right to keep the rest of the parcel.

One of the precedents is a case involving the state convention center in Seattle. When the state wanted to expand the convention center, it condemned the land across Pine Street. It did not need the ground across the street, but air rights starting on the fourth floor. The owners of the ground sued, saying that they would sell the air rights but wanted to keep the ground rights. Justice Richard Sanders agreed with them, but the majority on the court sided with the state, which validates Fujii's statement about "judicial deference toward the wishes of condemning agencies."

Respond to this post.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:38 PM

June 23, 2005

What Is "Public Use"?

In the Kelo v. New London case, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is OK for the government to take your property for “economic development”—that is, for other private interests to build condos, a hotel, a marina, and, in this case, a Pfizer research lab. It was a terrible ruling, but an interesting case for parsing out the justices.

The majority interpreted the Fifth Amendment line about taking of private property “for public use” to mean that private property can be taken if there is a public benefit. “Benefit” is much more promiscuous and obliging than “use.” This position was based on rulings going back to 1896, but mainly the public-housing rulings of 1954 and later. It was supported by all the liberal justices: Stevens, Breyer, Souter and Ginsburg. The moderate Kennedy had a separate opinion that tried to be a bit less permissive of government.

The main dissent was written by the moderate O’Connor and signed by the three conservatives: Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas. Basically, O’Connor said, yeah, we’ve allowed government to do this before, but it was to get rid of a social problem, not simply for “economic development.” O’Connor said that taking people’s property is invasive, and that it shouldn’t happen for such vague reasons.

Justice Thomas, the court’s originalist, went further. Citing dictionaries and legal works going back to the 1700s, he argued that “public use” means use by the government or use of a private parcel in which the public has a legal right of access, as in a common-carrier railroad. He discussed a series of cases, starting with a lawsuit over an irrigation ditch in 1896, that strayed from that idea, and that led to the public-housing cases (principally Berman v. Parker,) which he said were wrongly decided.

To sum up: The court’s liberals aproved a widening of the government’s power. O’Connor, Rehnquist and Scalia would have defined that power in a more restrictive way, so as to disallow it in this case. Thomas would have narrowed it across the board.

I’ll go with Thomas.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:32 PM

June 22, 2005

Interest-Only Loans and the Price of Housing

In reply to my blog on interest-only loans, a Seattle reader writes:

Interest-only loans allow people to buy a much more expensive house than with a traditional 30-year mortgage. Although this is good in one regard, since it allows more people to enter the housing market, it has also been one of the reasons for the dramatic increase in local prices... The pool of people buying any given price range has increased abruptly. Although this might seem like it would allow more people to buy a home, one of the unintended consequences is that the price of housing has gone up. This is happening because there are now more people chasing after the same properties.

For example, if you have two people with fairly modest incomes of $35,000 each they would qualify for an interest-only loan of up to $450,000. This is almost seven times their gross income. The traditional rule is between 2 and 3 times gross income.

Respond to this reader.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:19 AM

June 21, 2005

Interest-Only Loans

Chang Mook Sohn, the state’s economist, was talking about the booming housing market, and the risk in it. He cited an interesting statistic: in the Seattle market (and probably that meant King and Snohomish counties), 37 percent of home buyers were applying for interest-only mortgages.

The highest proportion, he said, was in San Diego: 47 percent. But Seattle was eighth in the nation in its appetite for this type of loan.

In an interest-only mortgage, you pay interest for a fixed time—typically 5, 7 or 10 years—and at the end of that time, your loan converts to a traditional principal-and-interest loan. At that point you owe just as much money as at the beginning, because you haven’t paid down any of the principal.

If you catch things right during a housing boom, these loans can be tools to make money. Basically, you can buy more house. But you are also taking a greater risk in case of a downturn.

I did a web search for “interest only loans” and read some of the appeals. Some warn of the risks. One says: “These interest only mortgage home loans are the best for people who are self-disciplined and who understand the potential risks associated with these loans.”

But are the people attracted to these loans self-disciplined?

Another says: “Your mortgage loan is the lowest-cost source of credit available to you. Yet each month you are forced to pay down your loan.” (The injustice of it!) What if instead you could use the money…for other purposes, such as investing or paying off high-cost debt?”

Yes, or on a foreign trip, or a boat, or some new toys.

This is dangerous stuff. Several web pages note that interest-only loans were used in the 1920s. Yes, and some of the people who took out those loans regretted it in the 1930s. Others did O.K.

Caveat emptor.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 06:31 PM

June 18, 2005

What Makes Us Rich

Here is an excellent interview with Bill Lewis, author of “The Power of Productivity.” I wrote a column about that book, which described the most interesting economic-research project I had seen in years. You can get a flavor of the book from the column and from the interview at Tech Central Station. (Thanks to Instapundit for the pointer.)

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 09:30 AM

June 16, 2005

The Source on Boys

Wendy McElroy, a Canadian feminist, has a good column about the educational problems of boys. Business Week also had a piece on it, as did I about a month and a half ago, and my colleague Joni Balter.

We all quoted the same guy, Tom Mortenson. And it was not all reading each other’s stuff, either. Joni and I found him on our own, and it's unlikely Business Week found him from the Seattle Times. It’s a pretty narrow topic, and if you go looking for information, you’ll quickly find this one man, who lives in a little town in Iowa and has made a specialty in educational data.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:39 PM

June 15, 2005

Response to Drug Wars column

A reader responds to my opinion column today on the war on drugs.

My late wife battled metatastized breast cancer for five years before dying at the end of a long painful struggle. I had to be the most adult I've ever been in my life while that occurred, while holding down a high-pressure superdupersecret job thingie [at a military base]. I had all that stress--making things at work that had never been attempted, much less successfully done--while not being able to see a shrink as it would adversely affect my superdupertopsecret clearance, then go home to a woman dying inch by painful inch.

In her last six months, the ONLY thing that allowed her to keep down any food was cannabis, and not that stupid pill Marinol either. Obviously, it's a pretty big dichotomy for Mr. TopSecret to go see the local corner dealer, but how hard is that (I have teenage kids and the irony of using my stepdaughter to score for Mom is an article unto itself). I was and am so disgusted with the bull and hyprocrisy surrounding this subject.

After my wife died but before I got rid of the rest of her stash, the company I worked for lost its contract; all us 'critical' employees were transferred without our knowledge. Lo and behold, I got a surprise urine analysis. I failed it; I freely admit that I partook (along with her) at the end of her life. My bad or good luck, depending (If I would have stayed with that company I'd be a contractor-target in Iraq), but the hilarious irony of the whole deal is that when I was informed that I was druggie scum by one of my bosses, a flaming DT-tembling alocholic with one hand on his Bible, he told me to ask the Lord for forgiveness. I found another job instead.

Drugs! Drugs? Booze is a drug. Asprin is a drug. Yes, I realize that the difference here is legal versus illegal, but our drug policy IS an abject failure and few folks have the guts to tell the emperor he has no clothes on...

One thing I do know, I'd do it again in a heartbeat if it would preserve the life of a loved one one more day.

Respond to this reader.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:27 PM

The stiff-arm flag salute

Several readers have responded to my book review of “To the Flag,” a history of the Pledge of Allegiance, with comments on the salute that was used before the hand-over-heart. A reader in Port Townsend writes:

Enjoyed your article today but I don't intend to buy the book so I'm hoping that you can fill me in on whether or not he described the change in the way we saluted the flag. Up through the third grade we saluted the flag beginning with a hand over our heart and, on the words "to the flag", we extended the arm to point to the flag with the palm up. (At least that's how we did it in Everett but I'm quite sure that it was nationwide.) Because the Nazi salute was so hated and the extended arm was similar to the Nazi salute (except for the palm of the hand) the extension was dropped, probably in 1942.

Did the author mention that at all?

Yes, the author did. There were several salutes. The original one was the military karate-chop-at-eyebrow, then extending the arm to point to the flag with the palm up.

Rex Curry, a libertarian lawyer from Florida who has a web page about all this, and who praises the book on the Amazon website, writes that the Nazis took their salute from the American one:

1. The original Pledge of Allegiance to the USA's flag used a straight-armed salute and it was the source of the salute of the monstrous National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis)…

2. The Pledge began with a military salute that then extended outward toward the flag. Due to the way that Francis Bellamy (the Pledge's creator) used the gestures, the military salute led to the Nazi salute.

3. Bellamy was a self-proclaimed socialist in the nationalism movement and his dogma influenced socialists in Germany, and his pledge was the origin of their salute. Many people forget that "Nazi" means "National Socialist German Workers' Party." A mnemonic device is the swastika (Hakenkreuz in German). Although the swastika was an ancient symbol, it was also used sometimes to represent "S" letters joined for "socialism" under the German National Socialists.

My reply:

What is the evidence that the Nazis got their salute from Americans, or any doctrine from Bellamy? The book clearly says Bellamy was a Christian socialist and a member of the Nationalist Club, an organization spawned by fans of his cousin's book, "Looking Backward." But there are all kinds of socialists, from Harold Wilson to Pol Pot, and all sorts of nationalists. Their doctrines may be wrong, but most of them do not engage in genocide or start world wars.

And even if the National Socialist German Workers Party got an idea for a salute from the American public schools, so what? If they got their hooked cross from the Indian swastika, does that compromise the Hindus? I don't think so. I read a book a few years ago trying to link Henry Ford to the Nazis. One of the arguments was that Hitler admired Ford and had a picture of him in his office. That's interesting, but it isn't the same as Ford having a picture of Hitler in his office.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:57 AM

June 13, 2005

Those 1940s Reds

Slate promotes the story as “The Communist Who Built Our Atomic Bomb,” which is more definite than the story. Still, the story of Robert Oppenheimer is a bit of confirmation of the picture that conservatives have long drawn of the Roosevelt-Truman decade of the 1940s being infiltrated by communists.

I grew up a generation later, and was educated to believe that the worry about this was all a “witch hunt,” which is to say, a search for things that didn’t exist. The clear message to my generation was that there weren’t any communists, or not any that mattered. My teachers discussed this issue entirely in relation to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who was careless in his accusations.

McCarthy, however, came toward the end of the period. The low-hanging fruit had already been picked—and what a crop it was, too. There were several high-profile cases of Americans charged with spying--cases in which conservatives tended to argue that the people were guilty and liberals, that they were innocent. In several key cases, the conservatives have been shown to be correct. In recent years definitive (and non-right-wing) books have come out on the cases of Elizabeth Bentley, Judith Coplon and Alger Hiss.

Ronald Radosh, a leftist turned conservative, is out with a new book on the communists in the film industry, called Red Star Over Hollywood. In the late 1940s, the House Un-American Activities Committee called in 19 Hollywood folks, most of them screenwriters. They questioned 10, who became known as the Hollywood Ten. Dalton Trumbo, who would later write the script to Spartacus, was one of them.

Hollywood still defends these guys, and hates how they were blacklisted after being hauled in front of the congressional committee. From a civil liberties view, they have a point. In normal times, and maybe even in abnormal times, it is not the government's business to ask political questions of screenwriters. But the story has also been told as if they were not communists, or as if it didn’t matter to the nation’s culture if they were. But it did affect some films, particularly during the war. And for the record, they were Reds.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:35 PM

June 10, 2005

Breastfeeding Decorum

On May 9 I heard a snippet of the Kirby Wilbur show about breastfeeding. He was worked up about the indecorousness of a certain incident, though I didn’t have the radio on long enough to hear why. I see in today’s Seattle P-I, columnist Robert Jamieson tackles the topic, and he attributes the hoo-ha to Barbara Walters, who was grossed out on an airplane. He then quotes KOMO’s Ken Schram, who replied to the argument that it is “natural” by noting that urinating is natural, too, and that he didn’t want to have to see it at the mall. Then Jamieson upbraided Schram, saying “urination is not on par with providing a basic human need.”

Good grief. This should not be an argument about whether something is “natural” or whether a “basic human need” for a baby to eat is comparable to a “basic human need” to pee. Both needs are basic. Nor is it a matter of rights. A person has a right to take care of either need, but how to do it is a matter of manners and decorum--and different sorts in each case. I appreciate when lactating mothers are discreet about their breastfeeding, which, in my experience, they are. What “discreet” amounts to will depend on the situation. That will be different on an airplane than in a mall, because there are fewer options in an airplane.

The other thing I’d add is that even though we guys have opinions on this, we’re not in a position to do much about them. The police are not going to be issuing tickets to mothers with babies. I'd guess property managers will be reluctant to do a whole lot. I remember years ago a mother was ejected from the lobby of a prominent Hong Kong hotel and told to do her breastfeeding in the ladies’ room. That was a woman with a non-Chinese name, and she wrote and complained about it to the (English-language) newspaper. Probably the letter hurt the hotel more than any breastfeeding the woman did. All of which is to say, I think mothers with babies will mainly get to do what they want. They will set the standard of what is done, and the rest of us will get used to it.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 04:34 PM

Breaking the Medical Monopoly in Canada

From Canada: This is what happens when the state takes over medical insurance in the name of the people. The socialists stick you with a rule that you have to wait in line along with everybody else, even if you have the money to pay for private care.

They think it’s fair that way. I don’t. What’s the point of earning and saving money if you can’t spend it on yourself? In this case it is a man who needed a hip replacement, was suffering, and didn’t want to wait a year for the government doctors to take care of him. The law of Quebec said the man could spend the money on a new car, or a bunch of steak dinners and movies, or a life supply of chocolate bars, but not on his own health. That would be un-egalitarian.

He has won in court. Good for him!

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 02:46 PM

June 09, 2005

Why we care about politics

A reader makes the following comment on Charles Cook's observation that more Americans care about who's president than they used to:

It's my opinion that we take politics so personally because many of the "beltway's" policies were never democratically debated and rarely ever publicly supported.

Take the whole socialist movement through the New Deal. Was it just a temporary fix for that period or should it be the foundation for all of America's policies? Abortion? Not debated. Low level international diplomacy? The people have never been given a voice in State Department policies. Social engineering? Welfare? Taxation? Environment? Law? Healthcare? Education? All these policies and institutions have been beyond the people's reach to debate and influence. So it seems only reasonable that left thinkers believe their progress is being taken away while right thinkers feel that nobody ever supported extreme left policies in the first place.

For me this one of America's most electric times. People are being heard and speech is starting to shed the shackles of political correctness to allow all opinions to be heard. Even colleges are slowly and very reluctantly returning to allowing other person's opinions no matter how unpopular. This process will unite America, not divide it further. I trust democracy.

Respond to this reader.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 09:28 AM

June 08, 2005

HOW do ya do that on transit?

Here is a reader's reply to Bernie Zuccarelli, who argued that Seattle people should adopt a Singapore-like regime that would force many of them to get around entirely by foot, bicycle or public transit.

I think it is really neat that Zuccarelli has been able to seamlessly integrate his life with Metro Transit. This has been one of the big hurdles for me, as I have experienced a lot of things where I couldn't figure out how to use transit, and I would appreciate some guidance or suggestions here. Could Zuccarelli provide some tips for us on how he is able to use Metro effectively for handling his kids' obligations? Things like getting the kids from school to a dentist appointment and then back again, for example. Or what he did to make it easier take his kid to an overnight birthday party where you're supposed to bring your own sleeping bag as wells as presents & who knows what else the mother insists has to go? Also, getting back there at 11:30 p.m., because the kid got in a tussle or had an ear infection and has to go back home right now? Also, what about taking the kid and her friends out for a treat or movie; what does he do to assuage the other moms? Another thing is getting the family to the inlaws for Christmas or Thanksgiving; does he have some sort of big bag for sticking all the presents and salad fixings in that makes it pretty easy to get there that way?

It could really be a big help to getting people to use the transit system if they knew how easy it was to handle these kinds of every day things.

Respond here.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 06:37 PM

June 07, 2005

Cook's Prognostications

Notes from a Washington Research Council lunch with Charles E. Cook Jr., editor of The Cook Political Report in Washington, D.C.

--The lesson to take from our bungled election for governor is not to be so cheap on the mechanics of elections—and, especially, on the caliber of personnel. “You tend to get the system you pay for,” he said.

--The deal by 14 moderate senators to approve some, but not all, of Bush's conservative judges was politically more of a victory for Bush than for his opponents, because Bush is getting most of the judges he wants. The perception is different because the Left claimed victory and the Right, defeat.

--President Bush won last November because in a divided electorate he had a post-Sept. 11 advantage as a national-security president, a more attractive personality than Kerry’s and a masterful campaign.

--Thinking he has a mandate when he really doesn’t, Bush has overreached on Social Security and divided his party on stem cells and the Schaivo case. Still, he has passed bankruptcy reform and tort reform, and that is something.

--Sen. Maria Cantwell is vulnerable next year, but only to a strong Republican candidate. One of the benefits of Dino Rossi throwing in the towel is that the party can start focusing on 2006.

--Because of the growing advantage of incumbency, Democrats have no hope of taking back either the U.S. House or Senate next year. About the best they can hope for is to cut the Republican advantage in half and take back one or both chambers in 2008.

--Rudi Giuliani may be leading the polls as a Republican nominee in 2008, but the social conservatives in his party will never let him have the nomination. Maybe Sen. John McCain of Arizona or one of the governors, like Mitt Romney of Massachusetts or Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Maybe Sen. George Allen of Virginia. Not Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has family problems, who doesn’t’ seem to want it, and who made a lot more money in the private sector. Not Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, who is too new to politics and lacks political skills.

--Sen. Hillary Clinton is leading the pack to be the Democratic nominee in 2008, but her lead is not strong considering that every Democrat in the country knows who she is. The Democrats will have an advantage in 2008 because the voters have historically “rotated the crop” after two terms in the White House, and because a lot of Americans like divided government. But they have a similar problem as their opponents: the candidates most likely to get nominated by the party faithful are not the easiest to sell to a national electorate.

--More Americans care about this stuff today than ever before. Lots of Democrats felt personally injured by Kerry's loss, and if Bush had lost, just as many Republicans would have felt crushed. Americans didn't used to take politics so personally.

My thought: Maybe we were better off paying less attention.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:25 PM

Aid Africa? Try Investment

How to help Africa? Bob Geldof wants a benefit concert and British Prime Minister Tony Blair proposes a big increase in aid. I’m a skeptic about aid; I agree with Paul Theroux, who said in his book, Dark Star Safari, that aid to Africa has been like Christmas presents that are abandoned when the batteries burn out. What’s needed is for the Africans themselves to focus on the social and political values favorable to business, and build the local institutions that encourage people to save, invest and create enterprises.

In that regard, I had an interesting talk with Maria Cattaui, secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. She was not dismissing aid—she is for aid for specific, targeted things—but her stress is on what poor countries can do for themselves. The first thing, she said, is to reform their own politics and governance so that markets are open and investment is safe.

In the poorest countries of Africa, she said, “the private sector is hampered by the most extreme abuse from the government. And by ‘the private sector’ I don’t mean the three or four largest, favored companies” but business enterprises of all sizes. The abuse they face is, essentially, arbitrary demands. A quick-and-dirty way to get a measure of it is simply to take a car (or better yet, a truck laden with goods) across the country and see how many times, and by whom, you are required to stop and justify yourself. Cattaui says she has done this. “It’s really quite frightening,” she says.

Foreign investment can be important, she says, but “much too much emphasis” has been placed on it. The first thing is local investment. It is to retain the money that now flees. Make that safe and treat it fairly, and the foreign investment will come.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:40 AM

June 06, 2005

Marijuana and States' Rights

The Supreme Court ruling Monday in the medical-marijuana case, Gonzales v. Raich, shows that the modern administrative state, formed ostensibly for liberal purposes, can just as well be used for illiberal ones.

The question at issue was whether the federal government has power under the Constitution to penalize the growing of marijuana as medicine even if a state allows it. The court ruled 6-3 that the federal government does have that power under the Constitution’s language on interstate commerce, which says that Congress may regulate “commerce…among the several states.”

Growing marijuana and giving it to a sick person in the same town is neither interstate nor commerce. But here the Supreme Court has strayed a long way from the plain meaning of the Constitution. The Raich court cites Wickard v. Filburn (1942), a case about a farmer who planted wheat to feed to his cattle and chickens. The Roosevelt administration argued in this wartime case that it needed to regulate that in order to control the wholesale price of wheat—and the court (which FDR had appointed) agreed. It blew a hole in the Constitution. The court now applies similar logic to marijuana.

Who stuck up for Angel Raich? No liberals; one moderate, Justice O’Connor; and two conservatives, Chief Justice Rehnquist and Juctice Thomas. Thomas was the most eloquent. He wrote that the court’s decision means that Congress can regulate almost anything, which is completely at odds with the famous statement by James Madison that the powers of the federal government were "limited and few."

Writes Thomas, “One searches the Court’s opinion in vain for any hint of what aspect of American life is reserved to the States.” His exasperation showed through when he wrote, “If the majority is to be taken seriously, the Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives and potluck suppers throughout the 50 states.”

Thomas has it right, for all the good it does.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 06:09 PM

June 03, 2005

The WTO No-Protest Zone Upheld

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued its ruling in Menotti v. Seattle, and it seems to me like a reasonable one. The essence of it to me is in these lines:

On the evening of the first day of the WTO conference and shortly before President Clinton was scheduled to arrive, Seattle was tense, the streets were in disarray from a long day of violent protest, and there was a general disruption of civic order…The city was required to take action to protect President Clinton and the delegates throughout the three remaining days of the conference.

Critics forget that the goal of the demonstrators who blocked access to the convention center was to shut down the WTO meeting. Not to protest it, but to shut it down. That is what they said their goal was. There is no constitutional right to do that, and certainly none to engage in property destruction, which the demonstrators shielded. The no-protest zone was a quick-and-dirty way to stop that. It would have been better to allow protests and arrest only those breaking the law, but the police couldn’t have done it that way. There were too many people. It had become a kind of military operation.

The ruling leaves open the right of specific individuals to pursue legal claims about specific treatment. I think that’s reasonable enough.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 05:23 PM

June 02, 2005

Women's Health vs. Men's Health

“Women often receive scandalously little attention in health research,” begins a P-I editorial today. Perhaps. But let's also admit that the health concerns of men get scandalously little attention in daily newspapers compared with the health concerns of women.

The publicly available search engine on the Seattle P-I, which goes back to 1999, lists 167 stories containing the phrase “women’s health.” There are stories about smoking (the editorial topic today), abortion, breast implants, alcohol, cancer, contraception, libido, hormone replacement, child marriage—on and on. In the same period, the P-I had 19 stories with the phrase “men’s health.”

Women’s share of the P-I’s stories: 90 percent.

Here at the Times, I did a search of the past five years. We have more pages than the P-I, and we have the Sunday paper, so our count of stories is higher, but the proportion is almost the same: 313 stories that mention “women’s health” and 48 that mention “men’s health.”

Women’s share of the Times’ stories: 87 percent.

It’s even worse than that, because if you look at the stories about men’s health, many of them are not about that at all. At the Times, all of the stories that contain the phrase, “men’s health” this year (May 9, Jan. 26, Jan. 23, Jan. 2) are references to the magazine Men’s Health. The May 9 story was about the city of Detroit proposing a tax on fast food. The Jan. 2 story was a feature on a magazine called Modern Drunkard. You have to go back to Dec. 26, 2004—a story about the heat from laptop computers and male sperm count—to find “men’s health” in a story about men’s health.

Now, if women had worse health than men, that would explain this distinctive focus. But women live, on average, six or seven years longer than men do. Women outlive men in every country in the world except for the poorest and most medically backward.

If I were into victimhood, I’d whine about the newspapers “discriminating” in their health coverage in favor of women and against men. Obviously they do, and part of it is the influence of feminism among the women who work there. But there are other reasons. Most stories about health are in the feature section—the part of the paper that used to be called the “women’s section” and is still targeted more toward women. But probably the most fundamental reason is that women are more concerned about their health than men are. There is also more political controversy about it, particularly about abortion.

The total effect is still quite striking: Stories mentioning the term “women’s health” outnumber stories mentioning “men’s health” by nine to one.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 11:35 AM

A Taiwan Optimist

Responding to my column on China and Taiwan, a reader writes:

Briefly, I have lived in Taiwan on and off since 1980. I presently teach at a national university.

I think your story was a good article, but there is only one point I would disagree with. I think, you think, that Chinese feelings cannot be changed. In fact, it is easy to change the attitudes of the whole country of China. The youth in China that you described all say they will never give Taiwan back, but that conviction, I believe, is not deep. Should the authorities change their line, the Chinese people will, I am quite sure, follow it. After all, most, if not all, of those Chinese have never been to Taiwan and really, don't care about Taiwan. I have spoken, I like you, with many mainland Chinese intellectuals and your depiction is totally accurate. Yet, I never got the feeling they cared all that much about the issue. America was once the villain of the Chinese, and all most over night became China's friend. The Chinese people accepted this change without hardly a thought.

Also I think there is an interesting dilemma for China ahead. If they liberalize, which would be a prerequisite for reunification, they would also, through the process of liberalizing, give up their hard line claim to Taiwan. Thus, I honestly do not believe that the situation is nearly as bleak as many claim it is. Now, if China does not liberalize, then no one in Taiwan would favor reunification, not even the pro-reunification group.

I might also add that if you read more history, for example George Kerr's book Formosa Betrayed, you will know that the US has not only taken the role of standing between tthese two adversaries, but in fact, played a part in creating the mess by not following international law at the time--by, in fact, betraying the rights of the people of Taiwan following WWII.

I am happy you have explained the issue to the American public, and trust me, it even needs explaining to the Taiwanese public. I do hope though that the US works to defend the rights of the citizens of Taiwan for self-determination.

I was one, like almost everyone in the world, who never imagined that Lativia, Lithuania, and Estonia, as well as Belarus, Georgia, etc. would ever be independent countries. Having been shocked and surprised once, I have learned a lesson. Like you, I too am basically sympathetic to the Taiwanese, but I remember not to predict the future. Also, remember, the USA gained independence against the mightiest empire on earth at the time. So, I will continue to hope and to remain optimistic.

Respond to this view.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 10:11 AM

June 01, 2005

Singapore: the Author's Reply

Bernie Zuccarelli of Seattle responds to a comment I posted here about his P-I op-ed about cars in Singapore. The first part of his comment concerns the editing down of his piece from 1,500 words to 800, which he says “bleached it of all color and individuality.” I suppose it did, but I was once a copy editor, and remember the task of cutting 1,500-word epistles by half. It is not easy. My best advice to writers is to find out how much space the editor has, and if it is 800 words, write that many. It can save a bale of grief.

He also compliments me for calling him “Mr. Zuccarelli” rather than “Zuccarelli,” as the news columns would. I did it because I thought it sounded better. Blogging is different from newswriting. It sometimes approaches a conversation, and I think it needs to be personalized more.

He continues:

Now I can comment directly on Bruce's answer. Singapore also got it right in that the people understand that taxes aren't penalties. Taxes are the price you pay for things. To pass an initiative that says car tabs should not cost more than $30.00 should be considered just as foolish as passing an initiative that says The Metropolitan Grill should be able to charge no more than $5 for a steak dinner. Do you want a decent steak? It's going to cost you. Do you want to drive a decent car on decent roads? It's going to cost you. That's what Singapore did. And that's what someone -- or a few someones -- ought to go take a look at. I also admitted that it would be difficult to do this in a national economy that has been based on cars and gasoline for over 100 years. I also admitted it would be difficult to do in King County, which has an "auto row" (not "auto way" another of the editor's changes) in every city. I said “a transit system so good that it all but forces people to leave their cars at home” would be difficult. Bruce says that "no such transit system is possible." Where? Here in Seattle? Maybe. But that is because just as editors hold such slavish devotion to stylebooks, this city holds a slavish devotion to process. It doesn’t matter so much that the job gets done as it is for the process to be followed. That’s why it takes so long for something to happen around here. But I think that such a transit system does exist. I think it exists in Singapore. And all I asked for was for somebody to go take a look at it.

By the way, I don’t own a car. Just by circumstance, I haven’t owned one for over 20 years.

I thought long and hard before I moved here from the East Coast in 1996. Two factors that most influenced my choice were that there was a major league baseball team whose stadium was in the middle of downtown - -having Lou Piniella here was an even bigger bonus -- and the excellence of the transit system. I still believe that Seattle Metro is one of the finest transit systems in the country. I can’t wait till the bonds of process are removed so that trains and monorails can be built and get moving. I have seen Seattle do such great and wonderful things in the nine years that I’ve been here, that I can’t wait to see what a big, vast, and efficient transit system Seattle can put together when it really puts its mind to it.

Bernie Zuccarelli

Respond to this reader.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 03:47 PM

Deep Throat vs. the British Memo

A reader complains:

The main source of a 30-year-old story about a bungled burglary makes huge headlines at major newspapers across the country, but the discovery of a British memo proving that current president committed a far more serious crime -- repeatedly lying to promote a war -- elicits not so much as a peep from the mainstream press.

Have you members of the 4th Estate really been so miserably cowed? If you have, why do you even bother going to work each morning? You might as well be selling real estate -- it pays better.

Drew Poulin

My reply:

Watergate was a whole lot more than "a 30-year-old story about a bungled burglary." It was a story that brought down President Nixon. And the story of 'Deep Throat' entered popular culture via a famous movie. Also it is a case of the press writing about itself, and itself in a flattering pose, so we tend to make much of it.

And we did cover the memo to some extent here and here (though I can't find our original story, to which the letter refers).

I think the memo was not covered so much because it was foreign, and because it corroborated a story that has come out already, namely that the Bush people wanted to get Saddam from Day One. I think we should have covered it more than we did.

Respond to Bruce.

Posted by Bruce Ramsey at 09:24 AM


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