Inside Opinion

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

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Archives: April 2012


No dancing around this: Prom pinches parents’ pockets

Students in Sedalia, Mo., dance Saturday at the school's Junior/Senior Prom. (Sydney Brink/The Associated Press)

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Going to the senior prom didn’t used to be a budget buster.

Oh, some big spenders would pop for an orchid corsage instead of a carnation, but the big event could easily cost both parties less than $100 total if her mom made her gown and he wore a nice suit instead of renting a tux. Tickets to the prom, held in a crepe-papered gym with a theme like “A Night to Remember,” might set you back $20.

If you could relate to that at all, then you are old. Very old. Read more »


Washington wines are winners

Waterbook wines are poured in the downtown Walla Walla tasting room. (Staff file photo)

Gov. Chris Gregoire gave Washington wines a plug Monday while signing the capital construction budget, which includes money for a wine research center in Richland. She recalls a trade mission to Europe when she responded to a question about California wines: “They make jug wine. We make fine wine.”

I’m not sure I’d go quite that far. Having visited many California wineries in Napa and Sonoma, I think there’s quite a lot of good wine being made there. California has far more wineries than Washington (about 3,500 to 740), and accounts for about 90 percent of U.S. wine production. But, as Gregoire implied, Washington wineries focus on quality, not quantity.

I recently returned from a very quick trip to Washington wine country, from Yakima, through Prosser and on to Walla Walla. Here are a few highlights: Read more »


Warn parents, kids when predators are classmates

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

School is supposed to be a safe harbor for students, not a place where sex predators can connect with them while posing as normal students. But that’s a real risk in Washington schools, as an outrageous Clark County case shows.

Jeremiah Thompson – a 19-year-old senior at Prairie High in Vancouver – was charged last week with raping a 14-year-old off campus on April 12. The girl reportedly had agreed to hook up with him at a nearby grocery store; whatever her intentions, she was well below the age of consent, and she sought medical care and a rape kit afterwards.

Let’s take a wild guess: She might have been less dazzled by Thompson if she’d known he was a registered sex offender, not just a senior interested in a freshman.
Another wild guess: Her parents might have warned her to watch out for him if they’d known he had a scary criminal record.

And scary it was. He’d been running into trouble with the law since he was 13. Three years ago, he was charged with molesting a 7-year-old girl and plea-bargained a lesser offense.

A month later, he sexually assaulted his mother, then assaulted his brother after he pulled Thompson off her.

Sweet guy. He was convicted (as a juvenile) of both crimes; after that, he repeatedly violated probation, failed drug tests and did stints in juvenile detention, according to the Vancouver Columbian.

Somehow, Thompson wound up being classified as a “Level 2” sex offender, a medium-risk category. Teenagers have a right to a public education regardless of their criminal histories. He wound up back in a regular school with access to every girl at Prairie High. No one warned his fellow students or their parents.
Read more »


Mental illness & violence: Look behind the anecdotes

Mental illnesses can be scary – think of the screaming meltdown an American Airlines flight suffered last month. The bizarre behavior of some people with severe psychiatric disorders has amplified public perceptions that they are dangerous.

This narrative got another boost Friday when a one psychiatric patient at Western State Hospital killed another, reportedly by jamming a pen or pencil into his ear. In response, the Department of Social and Health Services released the following fact sheet:

Fact 1: The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent.

Here is what researchers say about the link between mental illness and violence:

– “Although studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, and further, the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population (Institute of Medicine, 2006).”

– “…the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).”

– “The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is very small. . . only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill (Mulvey, 1994).”

-“People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al., 2001). People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population (Hiday, et al.,1999).”

Fact 2: The public is misinformed about the link between mental illness and violence.
Read more »


What’s real reason for withholding records in Powell case?

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Despite strong circumstantial evidence in the December 2009 disappearance of Susan Cox Powell, authorities in West Valley City, Utah, never filed any charges against the only person they say they suspected: her husband, Josh Charles.

Now that he’s dead – having killed himself and his two young sons – there’s no good reason to withhold records related to the investigation. The Salt Lake Tribune has tried to get those records, but the West Valley City Council has refused to release them.

The Tribune’s request is legitimate. It is in the public interest to determine why authorities failed to take action against Josh Powell – which might have prevented the February murders of 5-year-old Braden and 7-year-old Charlie in Graham. And the newspaper could look into whether taxpayer money was responsibly spent in the two-year investigation.
Read more »


The dirty little secret of the top two primary

Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians share a gripe about Washington’s top two primary: The system lets a candidate claim the party label even if the party itself has endorsed his opponent.

In constitutional terms, this is “forced association.” It’s a no-no. Big time.

Does Washington’s primary do this?

The law tries to evade the problem by not letting a candidate simply put “Republican” or “Democrat” behind his name on the ballot. Instead, he or she “prefers Republican Party” or “prefers Democratic Party.”

In the latest challenge to the law, the Democratic Party cites evidence that the “prefers” business doesn’t clarify anything.

Washington ballots carry a disclaimer informing voters that a candidate preferring a party isn’t the same thing as a party preferring a candidate. If everybody got this, there’d be no constitutional problem.

But there’s no reason to assume every voter does get it. If every voter were that educated, you wouldn’t get people like Dale Washam or Michael Hecht elected to important positions.

The Democrats’ new petition to the Supreme Court recounts experiments by Mathew Manweller, a political scientist at Central Washington University.

Testing active voters’ reaction to ballot replicas – complete with disclaimers – Manweller found that 35 percent of them perceived that the candidates who “preferred” a party were actual nominees of the party.
Read more »


Democracy has suffered under top two primary

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The Democratic and Libertarian parties are taking another hard legal swing – maybe their last – at the state’s top two primary. We hope it connects.

The primary, which has nuked Washington’s smaller parties, has been upheld in principle by the U.S. Supreme Court. The remaining quarrel is over whether it violates the First Amendment right of association as it is being applied in Washington state.

Top two is popular largely because it successfully counterfeits the state’s cherished blanket primary, which was killed by federal courts a decade ago. The old primary allowed voters to pick any candidate from any party up in any contest.

Party leaders couldn’t leave well enough alone. They argued – correctly – that the system allowed Democrats to choose Republican candidates and vice versa, forcing them to accept nominees their political opponents may have helped select.

It was a slam-dunk Bill of Rights argument. But their victory in the Supreme Court led voters to adopt the top two system, a supposed replica of the blanket primary. Under top two, citizens can still vote for anyone in the state primary regardless of party. The top two candidates – only the top two – move on to the general election in November.

The high court says this passes muster, and who are we to argue? But the fact that a law is constitutional – or popular – doesn’t make it a good law.
Read more »


Our green is fading this Earth Day

If Mother Earth were a political candidate, she wouldn’t be happy with her polling numbers.

Just in time for Earth Day, a Harris poll shows that the percentage of Americans concerned about the planet has dropped from 43 percent to 34 percent – in just the past three years. Another survey shows that 49 percent of us think economic growth is more important than environmental protection. Only 41 percent think the opposite.

The Christian Science Monitor editorial board suggests that the slumping economy is a big factor in those attitudes.

According to the Harris poll, American adults are less likely now than three years ago to take the following “green” actions: Read more »