Inside Opinion

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

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Archives: June 2010

June
30th

Afghanistan: Vague words or vague thinking?

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

When fighting a war, ambiguity is often useful; ambivalence, never.

The disputes that led to the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal last week exposed a little too much ambivalence about Afghanistan in the Obama administration. Among the revelations in the Rolling Stone article that brought down McChrystal was his cavalier – even contemptuous – attitude toward Joe Biden, AKA “Who’s that?”

Biden apparently doesn’t think much of the official strategy in Afghanistan. He opposed the build-up of troops Barack Obama has approved and had instead argued for a much smaller anti-insurgent strategy with a short half-life.
Obama has linked an American withdrawal from Afghanistan to July of 2011. No one – maybe not the president himself – knows the precise nature of that link.

In a new book, “The Promise” journalist Jonathan Alter quoted Biden as saying, “In July of 2011, you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out, bet on it.” But Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently called that date “a starting point,” and that any withdrawal would depend on what’s actually happening on the ground.

Obama may be on the same page. On Sunday, he said the United States won’t necessarily “suddenly turn off the lights and let the door close behind us” on that magic date.

But the president isn’t saying anything concrete about how fast and under what conditions the troops would be pulled out – all we really know is that he’s being far more vague and guarded than the loose-lipped Biden.
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June
30th

Put kibosh on higher education double-dipping

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

For some state workers, the promise of a generous pension just isn’t enough. They also want to start collecting it while they’re still working.

The Seattle Times found that 2,000 people collect both wages and retirement pay from the state. Fifty-eight of those were rehired into full-time positions within three months of their retirement, the majority in higher education. The vice president for business and finance at Washington State University, for example, collects an extra $105,000 on top of his already cool $304,000 salary.

State law prohibits workers from collecting a pension if they left with the understanding that they would be hired back. But often these deals are done with a wink and a nod.

WSU’s emergency management coordinator continued to answer work e-mails and requests for assistance during his “retirement.” Chris Tapfer’s bosses rehired him without so much as advertising his position, and he returned to work a few days after the minimum retirement period of one month. A colleague ribbed him in an e-mail, asking “What took so long?”

Defenders of double-dipping say the practice allows employers to keep in-demand executives, avoid the expense of hiring and training someone new, and reward dedicated employees with the ability to collect what’s due them.

But retire-rehires also amount to a sanctioned milking of the retirement system – and taxpayers. Many of these “retirees” are drawing benefits from a pension system that’s already $4 billion in the red.

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June
30th

The African-American Second Amendment

Clarence Thomas – standing alone in a concurring opinion – took the most fascinating position in the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decision this week.

It has to be one of the blackest writings ever to come out of the court, including anything authored by Thurgood Marshall. In arguing that gun ownership is “essential to the preservation of liberty,” Thomas dwells on the long and horrifying history of white massacres of unarmed or poorly armed African Americans in the South, especially after Reconstruction fell apart following the Civil War.

Thomas particularly execrates the United States v. Cruikshank decision of 1876, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal First Amendment and Second Amendment didn’t protect citizens against actions of state and local governments.

The context is important: The case arose from the infamous Colfax Massacre, in which more than 100 blacks were killed by a white militia after they tried to guard the local courthouse against a takeover by pro-slavery Democrats.

Excerpt from his opinion:
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June
29th

The Nalley Valley briefing DOT never gave

No one was more surprised than the members of The News Tribune’s editorial board to read Saturday of a $890,000 mistake on the Nalley Valley viaduct project.

The reason: Not four weeks ago, Department of Transportation chief Paula Hammond and Olympic region administrator Kevin Dayton had met with the ed board to talk about progress on the project, among other things. No mention was made of such a costly and significant error.

Monday morning, I emailed DOT officials to say we didn’t feel like they had been straight with us. Hammond called us to explain. “I profusely apologize,”

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June
29th

An individual right to bear arms – within reason

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s new ruling on the Second Amendment won’t likely shatter this state’s gun regulations.

The decision closely tracks Washington’s equivalent of the Second Amendment. “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired,” says the state constitution.

That “individual citizen” idea has triggered all the furor over the Second Amendment.

Because the amendment also mentions “a well-regulated militia,” opponents of an individual right have argued that the framers intended to guarantee a collective privilege of bearing arms – a privilege that withered away with the old-time militias or perhaps still survives in the hands of the modern National Guard.

In recent years, that argument has taken a beating from historians and respected constitutional scholars.

State charters adopted in the decades after the Bill of Rights was ratified specified that the right was individual in nature. In the rest of the Bill of Rights, the word “people” means individuals. It’s hard to turn around and argue that “people” excludes individuals in the Second Amendment.
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June
29th

Downsizing state budget easier said than done

Our Sunday editorial about the governor’s plan to downsize state government made a vague reference to the “cacophony” she’s bound to stir. Actually, the hue and cry was already mounting well before she unveiled her plan last week.

The state is now fighting 50 lawsuits, grievances and unfair labor practice complaints from employees and their unions, according to Gov. Gregoire’s budget director, Marty Brown. Many of the claims arise from steps lawmakers have taken to balance the state budget, including layoffs and changes to employee health care plans.

Just last week, the Washington Federation of State Employees

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June
28th

Donations: A partnership of recycling and charity

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Give Goodwill Industries credit for a good idea: a “donate movement” that emphasizes the environmental dimensions of donating clothing and household goods.

The concept was announced Monday in Tacoma, where Goodwill Industries International has been holding an annual conference this week. Levi Strauss & Co. is helping get the campaign off the ground by tagging its clothing with advice on extending the life of garments and eventually passing them on instead of throwing them away.

It’s a matter of connecting the dots. Americans now routinely recycle glass, plastics and paper for the sake of the environment. Many – though not nearly enough – donate clothing, appliances, tools, etc., for the sake of people less fortunate than they are.

But the donation of clothing and other goods is also a form of recycling that can serve multiple worthy purposes. Goodwill Industries itself is a good example: It resells donations and uses the proceeds to teach job skills to people who have trouble supporting themselves. At the same time, it estimates that it diverts 2 billion pounds of discards from landfills each year.
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June
28th

Misplaced offramp a costly mistake for state

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The state Department of Transportation erred twice in building – and now rebuilding – an offramp on state Route 16.

The biggest mistake: Engineering problems that led a contractor to build an offramp in the wrong place. The runner-up: Not being more forthcoming with the taxpaying and traveling public about the error.

Transportation officials acknowledged Monday what is now obvious: That crews are in the midst of tearing apart and lowering the recently completed eastbound offramp to Sprague Avenue.

A contractor built the ramp in the wrong place – because the state told it to. State engineers forgot to account for a third lane of the eastbound mainline, largely because the department had split design work between two teams – one for the eastbound lanes and one for the westbound lanes.

To avoid a second closure of Sprague Avenue, the eastbound offramp was included in the contract for the westbound work now underway. But no one from the eastbound design team apparently told the westbound engineers to account for an additional lane, and the westbound team apparently didn’t ask.

Paula Hammond, the state secretary of transportation, said Monday a review is under way to determine exactly what went wrong.

It appears that the blunder can be at least partly attributed to confusion resulting from a scramble for federal stimulus dollars. In its rush to qualify for the money, the state reassigned employees who should have been checking for inconsistencies in the Highway 16 plans to working on the Interstate 5 HOV lanes in north Pierce County.

Mistakes happen, although rarely are they this big (a fix will cost taxpayers $890,000) or this glaring.

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