Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Archives: Dec. 2009


Baarsma packs it in

I was doing the downtown holiday tourist thing with my daughter Wednesday and riding the Tacoma Link back north when I spotted Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma sitting across the aisle.

“Hey, Bill, how long are you still mayor?” I called out.

“One more day!” he responded, holding up one finger and grinning like he wasn’t at all sad about it.

I ended up snagging a car ride home with the lame-duck mayor (my daughter had other things to do), but first Baarsma needed to swing by his office in the Tacoma Municipal Bulding. When we got off the tram at Ninth and Commerce, he pointed at the Winthrop Apartments.

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Lindquist’s take on the dumb 9th Circuit decision

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist put us on to the Ninth Circuit ruling I wrote about in the post below (I hope I was scathing enough). Here is the opinion, which mandates court orders before CPS can question children at school about possible abuse. And here is Lindquist’s opinion of the opinion:

As long as this case remains the law, it will seriously handicap investigations where there is a child witness or victim. This case is the worst of both worlds. One, it will handicap investigations in cases where there was abuse and the child is not safe. Two, it will handicap those investigations where abuse is wrongly suspected, e.g. turns out the child got the black eye from rough-housing with his brother.

In some cases there will be probable cause for a court order to interview the child, but in many cases there will not yet be probable cause, and therefore the most important witness, the child, may not be interviewed. This is an obvious blow to the truth-seeking process.
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Child abusers win one in the 9th Circuit

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

A new federal court decision is creating ripples in the world of child-abuse protection. They aren’t good ripples.

Ruling earlier this month in an Oregon case, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals imposed tight new restrictions on investigations of suspected child abuse – restrictions that tip the balance of power in favor of the suspected abusers.

The judges held that Oregon’s equivalent of Child Protective Services violated the Fourth Amendment when one of its caseworkers and a deputy sheriff took a girl aside at school and asked whether her father had been fondling her. The ruling’s implication is that they should have obtained a warrant – or the permission of her parents – before doing so.

Washington’s Children’s Administration is scrambling to comply with this brand-new and rather astonishing requirement. Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist says it will “seriously handicap” investigations. He also points out that it will make it tougher not only to quickly identify child abuse, but also to rule it out. A boy who shows up to school with suspicious bruises may have gotten them from his mother’s live-in boyfriend – or a fall from a tree. It’s important to find out, fast, what’s going on.

Probable cause – which must be established to get a warrant – often can’t be determined before talking to a child. Teachers, for example, frequently develop an acute sixth sense about the possibility of abuse, based on subtle changes in a student’s behavior, eye contact, mood and classroom performance. But try persuading a judge that Billy’s sudden quietness and tendency to look at his shoes is evidence that a crime has been committed.
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Deputy is domestic violence’s collateral damage

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

It was the kind of call that law enforcement officers dread, but it is sadly all too common: a domestic.

One family member is hurting or threatening another, and someone calls 911. Emotions are running high, and alcohol or drugs may be involved. One or more of the parties may be armed.

Every call is a step into the unknown for those who respond.

Four days before Christmas, Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Kent Mundell and Sgt. Nick Hausner experienced every law enforcement officer’s nightmare: a domestic call turned very, very bad. They were trying to escort a “drunk and belligerent” man with a history of domestic violence from a family member’s home when he pulled out a gun and began shooting.
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Headlines for the new year

We’re working on our annual feature listing headlines we’d like to see in the new year. Look for it in Thursday’s paper. In the meantime, here’s a sampling of headlines that are in the running:

Homeland Security rescinds ‘must board naked’ rule
Underwear now allowed

Russell Investments changes mind, stays in Tacoma
Seattle ‘way too freaky,’ says CEO Doman

Obama wins 2nd Nobel for actually delivering peace

Your turn. What news are you hoping greets us all in 2010?


Air terror came way too close this time

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

There’s something to be said for getting shot at without getting hit. It tends to focus the mind.

Americans are once again very focused on airline security since Friday’s foiled bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner. The near-catastrophic suicide attack has reminded us that there are plenty of anti-American terrorists out there – and still plenty of ways we could be doing a better job of stopping them.

That particular attack was reportedly stopped by a malfunctioning detonator and a passenger who lunged over seats to tackle Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. It should have been stopped much earlier, by denying the Nigerian suspect a visa to visit the United States in the first place. His father, a retired Nigerian bank chairman, had recently warned the American embassy in Lagos that his son may have fallen in with terrorists.

Sounds like a very credible source, but the red flag only put Abdulmutallab on the Department of Homeland Security’s longest and least reliable watch list – not the “no fly” list that could have barred him from both a visa and the flight. One Obama official said there was “insufficient derogatory evidence available” to look more closely at him.

That makes it sound as if the government bears the burden of proving the threat from a suspected militant. Actually, someone like Abdulmutallab – a foreigner on foreign soil – has no right whatsoever to enter the United States; the United States can grant that privilege, or not, on its own terms. Its own terms should certainly include a clean bill of health with regard to suspected terror ties.
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An alternative to axing boards, commissions

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

State government has a host of small appendages: commissions, boards and advisory committees with a dizzying variety of functions. Many may wind up casualties of the brutal cost-cutting the Legislature will soon begin as it deals with a $2.6 billion shortfall.

Some of these boards and commissions have already been killed. Early this month, Gov. Chris Gregoire eliminated 17 by executive order, including the Aviation Advisory Committee, the Religious Advisory Board and the State Genetics Advisory Board. Few state residents probably are aware these bodies even exist, so they’re unlikely to be missed by many.

The governor has also requested that state lawmakers finish off another 78 boards and commissions, including the Committee on Agency Officials’ Salaries, the Fairs Commission, the Midwifery Advisory Committee and the Livestock Identification Advisory Board. Read more »


Words still radical after 2,000 years

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

To the world’s hundreds of millions of Christians, Jesus of Nazareth was far more than – like Buddha or Socrates – one of history’s great teachers of ethics. But what a teacher he was.

Christmas – with its odd jumble of colored lights, nativity scenes, Santa Claus, ancient pagan customs and frantic commercialism – pays vague homage to Jesus’ arrival 2,000-odd years ago. Real appreciation requires dusting off the second-hand pieties and looking precisely at his recorded statements.

Consider the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew, a discourse so radical it remains startling today.

In a Roman world obsessed with dominance, wealth and military power, Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . those who mourn . . . the meek . . . those who hunger and thirst after righteousness . . . the merciful . . . the pure in heart . . . the peacemakers.”

Against the deep-rooted human instinct for vengeance, he taught, “Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Nor was it just a matter of not hitting back. “Love your enemies,” he said, “and pray for those who persecute you.” Those words have been hanging in the air a very long time, and the idea of loving enemies has yet to catch on.
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