Inside Opinion

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

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Archives: June 2013

June
30th

Remove some mystery from secret FISA court

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

The Obama administration is reportedly exploring ways to declassify some documents related to the controversial, secret FISA court.

That’s a welcome move, one that should cast light on the little-known work of the FISA judges charged with oversight responsibilities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The best outcome of declassifying the documents would be to help demystify the court, which was created by Congress in 1978 as a reaction to unauthorized domestic spying by the government in the 1960s and ’70s. Under FISA, a judge must approve a warrant for the

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June
29th

A surprisingly good budget from a divided Legislature

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The 2013 Legislature can’t be judged a success because it failed to approve the major highway improvements needed to keep Washington’s economy growing.

That said, lawmakers deserve praise for pulling together a surprisingly good operating budget last week in the face of deadline pressure.

For months, the Legislature was locked in the kind of partisan gridlock that has all but paralyzed the budget-writing process in Congress.

The Democrats who run the state House of Representatives were pushing to preserve the social safety net by ending a collection of tax breaks and

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June
27th

State commerce in the grip of the GOP

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The job’s not done yet, lawmakers. Now it’s highway time.

It’s great that the Legislature’s Republicans and Democrats finally settled on a state operating budget that reportedly directs an additional $1 billion to schools. We’re looking forward to seeing the details, where the devil often resides.

But the passage of an operating budget was always a foregone conclusion, despite the months of bickering over its specific provisions. The Washington Constitution requires the Legislature to approve one.

A genuine accomplishment of this Legislature – that includes you, Republican senators – would be passage of a transportation budget to unplug bottlenecked corridors where the state’s freight and traffic are now getting slowly strangled.

The $10 billion package – approved Thursday by the House of Representatives – is of paramount importance to the state’s economy.

Only one Republican – Puyallup’s Hans Zeiger – had the guts to support it. Most other lawmakers in his party appear willing to kill it for one reason: The highway improvements require new tax revenue. These legislators chatter about massive reforms in the Department of Transportation and other near-term impossibilities, but it really comes down to evading a tax vote.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, roads and bridges don’t grow on trees. Santa Claus doesn’t lug them down the chimney. You’ve got to buy them.

If you don’t need them, that’s one thing. But Washington sorely needs strategic investment in its infrastructure – in Spokane, at Snoqualmie Pass, on Interstate 405 and other places where cargo and cars are getting halted for lack of road capacity.

State Route 167 is the poster child of lost economic opportunity. That highway passes from I-405 through Renton, Kent and Auburn – only to get guillotined at Puyallup. A mere six miles separate it from the Port of Tacoma and the I-5 corridor.
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June
26th

A giant step forward on the path to marriage equality

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

The words “landmark” and “historic” get tossed around a lot after a U.S. Supreme Court decision comes out. Wednesday’s 5-4 ruling overturning a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act genuinely deserves those labels.

It signals what anyone who was really paying attention already sensed: That the nation is moving, slowly but inexorably, toward full marriage equality. And Washington state, the first one where citizens voted to make same-sex marriage legal, helped lead the way.

On top of polls showing a majority of Americans now support marriage equality, the fact

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June
25th

No excuses on state transportation vote

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

The Legislature must pass an operating budget before it calls it quits for the year. That’s a constitutional necessity. But it must also pass a transportation package. That’s an economic necessity.

With the special session winding down, the prospects of the $10 billion highway-and-transit proposal remain precarious. Lawmakers can’t let it fail. The consequences of its passage — or its rejection — are literally incalculable.

Aside from a festering dispute over a new bridge between Vancouver and Portland, the projects in the package enjoy broad support.

The most important of them, the Puget Sound Gateway, would break open freight chokepoints by extending state Route 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma, and by extending state Route 509 from the SeaTac area south to Interstate 5.

If those chokepoints stay in place, they could ultimately turn the ports of Tacoma and Seattle into maritime backwaters as Pacific Rim shippers and manufacturers shift their cargoes to competing routes free of chronic congestion.

Other regions have big stakes in this measure:

• It would earmark $175 million to rebuild I-5 interchanges near Joint Base Lewis-McChord to ease traffic jams that paralyze the freeway on a regular basis.

• It would widen and add lanes to Interstate 405 to relieve congestion in that corridor.

• It would extend highway and rail corridors in Spokane, expanding that area’s freight-shipping capacity. It would also widen Snoqualmie Pass to improve its safety and ability to handle large trucks.

Freight mobility isn’t a particularly sexy issue, but the ability to efficiently move goods — apples, jet components, electronics, wheat — is vital to Washington economic future. All of these projects would help move people efficiently as well.
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June
24th

Campus ‘diversity’ does not equal affirmative action

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Race-conscious college admissions survived a near miss in the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

The court might have forbidden the University of Texas from giving any consideration whatsoever to race in attempting to create a diverse student body.

That would have would shaken the world of higher education, which has gotten the once-precise concept of affirmative action entangled with the vaguer agenda of ethnic diversity.

Instead, the justices decided the case on narrow procedural grounds, scolding two lower courts for not taking a harder look at whether the UT might be using race to unfairly exclude applicants. The young woman who’d argued she’d been shut out because she was white won the right to put the UT on trial – but the Supreme Court didn’t overturn past rulings that schools can use race to assemble a medley of students.

This discussion needs more honesty. The honesty would begin by acknowledging that the term “diversity” is often used as a proxy for affirmative action, because the latter term seems to be falling out of fashion. But affirmative action would be a stronger foundation for any kind of race-based consideration.

Affirmative action has a straightforward goal: helping clearly disadvantaged students who’ve historically been frozen out of the economic mainstream.

It also implies real metrics. For example, if white men are earning college degrees at twice the rate of black men, we know there’s something amiss. Knowing that, we can look for causes and remedies. One of those remedies might be extra help qualifying for college, not necessarily extra points from the admissions office.

Love affirmative action or hate it, it has the virtue of clarity.
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June
23rd

US teacher education barely gets a passing grade

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

If the National Council of Teacher Quality were giving out an overall grade to America’s teacher-education programs, it probably would be about a D.

“An industry of mediocrity” is how the nonprofit advocacy group described the vast majority of the 1,430 programs that are supposed to prepare graduates to teach in the nation’s K-12 schools. Too many have weak admission standards for prospective teachers, fail to teach effective classroom management skills and don’t require that students master the content they plan to teach.

“A vast majority of teacher preparation programs do not give aspiring teachers adequate return on their investment of time and tuition dollars,” the report said. Read more »

June
22nd

If Common Core is a plot, then it’s a conservative one

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

To the hoax of the moon landing, George W. Bush’s secret masterminding of 9/11 and Detroit’s suppression of the water-fueled car, add another conspiracy theory:

Common Core is an Obamanian plot to seize control of America’s public schools.

This canard, astonishingly, is fast becoming an article of faith of the tea party movement and has even been picked up by the Republican National Committee, which ought to know better. As the adage says, a lie can make it halfway around the world while the truth is still lacing up its boots.

The Common Core State Standards — now being adopted by school districts in Washington and most other states — ought to be uncontroversial, especially to conservatives who beef about the basics that don’t get taught in public education. Read more »