Inside Opinion

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

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Archives: Oct. 2010


Halliburton joins the Gulf spill’s rogues gallery

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Except for the bacteria that have been busily eating the spilled petroleum, it’s hard to find any heroes in this year’s Gulf oil catastrophe.

Successive presidential administrations, for decades, let federal regulators operate in virtual partnership with the offshore oil industry they were supposed to be supervising.

The Obama administration either suppressed or was clueless about the immense quantities of oil being spilled from BP’s Macondo well.

BP itself, of course, bears ultimate responsibility for the disaster that happened on its watch, for the negligence of its contractors and particularly for any corners it cut for the sake of maximizing its profits.

Now it appears that Halliburton, which provided the cement slurry was supposed to seal the newly drilled well last April, bears more responsibility for the spill than it seemed at first.
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Tacoma: The latest enabler of a marijuana industry

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Tacoma City Council – perhaps confusing Tacoma with Seattle – has taken the side of a fast-emerging marijuana industry that’s been shopping for compliant local governments.

The council has countermanded the city administration’s attempt to close down eight medical marijuana dispensaries (up from zero not too long ago) now operating in the city. The idea is to wait until the 2011 Legislature legalizes them. But it’s highly unlikely that next year’s more conservative House and Senate will do what heavily Democratic legislatures have already refused to do. What then – permanent toleration?

The council might want to listen more to the citizens complaining about these operations and less to the people with a vested interest – often a big financial interest – in seeing them proliferate. At the very least, it should show a little more interest in the rule of law.

Some members of the council appear to have bought claims that Initiative 692, which legalized medical marijuana, is vague or ambiguous about dispensaries. Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist isn’t vague on the issue: “Nobody among the elected prosecutors I talk to reads the law to allow for dispensaries.”

Lindquist says they’re illegal. The state attorney general’s office says they’re illegal. The state Department of Health says they’re illegal. The Tacoma City Council knows something they don’t know?

The problem isn’t the dispensaries per se; it’s the remarkably lax “medical” system of which they are the nexus. I-692 directed state officials to specify medical disorders that cannabinoids might legitimately help treat. These now include AIDS, epilepsy, severe nausea, hepatitis C and some other clearly identifiable illnesses. They also include “intractable pain … unrelieved by standard medical treatments and medications” – a very elastic term that invites exploitation from people who simply want a legal defense for smoking dope.

Guidelines on paper are nice, but there is virtually no enforcement of them in this state. Marijuana is the only controlled substance that Washington doctors can recommend with no oversight. No agency tracks their written recommendations of the drug.

The state Medical Quality Assurance Commission – which must wait for complaints before acting – regularly sanctions physicians for over-prescribing oxycontin, hydrocodone and other potentially dangerous drugs. In the 12 years I-692 has been on the books, the commission has never charged a doctor over medical marijuana. The complaints do come in; one has come from a school nurse who reported that a 14-year-old boy had been given a recommendation to use the drug.
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As goes the state, so goes the Senate?

In case you’ve been wondering why you’re seeing so many ads in the Senate race between Patty Murray vs. Dino Rossi, check out the new installment of Nate Silver’s Political Calculus, posted last night on The New York Times.

Silver’s math-intensive analysis shows that Washington is more likely than any other state to decide whether the Republicans take control of the Senate. (And you wondered what math majors do for a living.)

With polls pointing to an ultra-tight outcome, the same advice goes for both Democrats and Republicans: Get the ballot in.


Tough conclusions about race and crime

State Supreme Court justices Richard Sanders and Jim Johnson sailed into a squall a couple weeks ago when they disputed claims that racism explains the disproportionate rate of black imprisonment. The remarks prompted the Seattle Times to withdraw its endorsement of Sanders’ re-election almost as fast as NPR fired Juan Williams.

We wound up editorializing that a single-minded focus on racism can obscure more concrete problems, such as poverty and lack of legal representation, that might have concrete solutions. Centuries of institutional racism – especially slavery and Jim Crow – may have created the problem, but remedies must be found in the here-and-now.

The most ferocious challenge to the racism-only paradigm I’ve run into comes from Heather MacDonald of the conservative Manhattan Institute, who published a statistically dense rebuttal in the Spring 2008 issue of City Journal. Some of her points:

• Criminals strongly tend to be fingered by victims of the same race.

• Multiple studies by liberal scholars have found that conviction rates are driven by actual crimes, not bias.

• The disparity in federal penalties for crack and cocaine possession, sometimes cited as a factor in disparate racial imprisonment rates, has an almost negligible effect. In any event, black leaders originally called for the crackdown on crack: “It takes shameless sleight of hand to turn an effort to protect blacks into a conspiracy against them.”
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Busted: A money scheme to fool the voters

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Three cheers for the election watchdogs who traffic in campaign finance reports, spreadsheets and databases, trying to follow the money and make clear the murky dealings of political operatives.

Bloggers, reporters and other guardians of disclosure have scored a major win by unraveling the tangled web Moxie Media wove in a blatant attempt to deceive voters.
That web now has Moxie and its owner, Lisa MacLean, square in the attorney general’s crosshairs.

On Thursday, the Public Disclosure Commission rejected a staff-negotiated deal that would have required MacLean to admit violating state campaign finance laws and pay $30,000 in fines and costs.

Give staffers some credit: They nailed MacLean with several campaign finance violations less than eight weeks after launching an investigation, a welcome change from the usual glacial pace of PDC probes.

But commissioners are right. The proposed penalty was far too weak given the brazen nature of the alleged offenses. The commission is calling on Attorney General Rob McKenna to pursue a civil action against MacLean – and to consider whether her tactics were so egregious as to warrant an election do-over.

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There’s more than racism behind crime rates

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Washington Supreme Court Justice Richard Sanders got himself in trouble – what else is new? – for asserting last week that blacks wind up in state prison at higher rates because they commit crimes at higher rates.

Predictably, he got slammed from all directions. He’s clearly guilty of insensitivity: That was an absurdly simplistic summary of an extremely complex problem. Still, his comments ought to be the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one.

The state’s black population is roughly 4 percent. Its prison population is roughly 20 percent. That disparity should appall anyone. But Sanders was right in one respect: Attributing the gap exclusively to racism won’t help solve the specific problems that perpetuate it.

Racism created many of the difficulties some minorities continue to struggle with. African Americans – who, with American Indians, suffered the worst of it – endured more than two centuries of slavery and another century of legal subjugation.

No group could survive a crucible like that without scars and disadvantages. Though most American blacks have since clawed their way into the middle class, far too many remain in poverty.
But if racism provides the overall context, more specific circumstances explain much of the disparity in arrests, convictions and imprisonment.
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Mass transit to Olympia: Let’s start planning

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord has traffic. Sound Transit has trains. Can we talk?

It’s time Sound Transit and the Thurston County Commission started thinking about bringing regional bus and train service to Olympia.

Anyone who travels between Olympia and communities to the north knows that traffic between Lakewood and the state capital has become routinely hellish. It can take an hour to an hour and a half to make what used to be a fast drive. The congestion has been aggravated by population growth, much of it at Lewis-McChord, where the troops seem to get reinforced every time the Pentagon closes bases elsewhere.

JBLM is now poised to get bigger still, with an influx of about 14,000 additional soldiers and dependents.

As it happens, Interstate 5 shrinks from eight lanes to six not far from where Lewis-McChord begins to disgorge its traffic. That bottleneck will get a lot tighter when the base swells to 36,000 people. Add that to the existing traffic nightmare, and it’s clear the state must create new HOV lanes to connect the planned high-occupancy lanes in Tacoma to points south.

But mass transit is also a logical part of the solution. Those HOV lanes would do the most good if they were efficiently carrying Sound Transit’s express buses through the congestion.

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