Inside Opinion

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Tag: Joint Base Lewis-McChord

June
6th

Life spared, Bales owes the world an explanation

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

‘I intended to kill them.” That’s all he has to say?

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to massacring 16 Afghan villagers last year, owes humanity some explanation for that atrocity. Single-handedly, in one night, he did incalculable damage to America’s standing in Afghanistan and handed a propaganda bonanza to the Taliban.

“There is not a good reason in the world for why I did the horrible things that I did,” he told the judge at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Of course there’s no good reason. But how about a bad reason? How about any reason at all?

Bales’ defense team, and a legion of folks opposed to the Afghan war, have tried to turn him into the poster boy of everything the Army has done wrong on that side of the world.

The problem is, Bales’ enormity is an outlier by any reckoning. It has few parallels in all the years since Vietnam.

Innocents suffer and die in war; Sherman was talking precisely about noncombatants when he remarked, “War is hell.” In Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, air strikes have taken the lives of countless bystanders. In battle, soldiers and Marines have killed noncombatants, deliberately in some cases — but almost always in the heat of battle.

But we’ve seen nothing like what Bales did on March 11, 2012. On a quiet night, in the relative safety of an Army compound, he armed himself with a pistol, rifle and grenade launcher; he sneaked off in the darkness to a nearby village, barged into a mud-walled home and gunned down unarmed people without provocation.

Then he returned to base, chatted with a friend, slipped out to another village and did it all over again.

The calculation behind it is reminiscent of the “kill team” — several JBLM soldiers who murdered three Afghan men, apparently for sport, in 2010. But Bales produced a far higher body count in far less time, and many of the bodies in that count belonged to children.
Read more »

May
20th

Vets deserve a soft landing in employment

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

What America’s veterans tend to need most is quite simple: good jobs.

Some positive news on that front has come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to its latest numbers, Americans who’ve served since 9/11 – many Iraq and Afghan war combat vets among them – having been breaking into the civilian work force in greater numbers. Their unemployment rate reportedly fell to 7.5 percent last month, though it remains higher among those 24 or younger.

But the raw numbers don’t tell you what kind of jobs veterans have been finding. Nor do they tell you how National Guard and Reserve troops have been treated by their former employers.

A new Los Angeles Times report suggests that many of them have been treated shabbily – sometimes by the federal government itself.

Last year, the Times found, the U.S. Labor Department and Office of Special Counsel accepted 1,430 new cases of alleged criminal job discrimination against National Guard and Reserve veterans. That number compared to 848 in 2001: an increase of more than 60 percent.

These disputes commonly involve a 1994 law that requires the former employers of service members to offer them jobs comparable to the positions they left or would have gotten had they not served.

Cases referred for prosecution are the worst of the worst – the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Most veterans presumably are not eager to sue the people who sign their paychecks.

Many of these disputes are settled informally, sometimes with the help of the Defense Department. But there’s no telling how many vets have just shrugged their shoulders and moved on.
Read more »

April
1st

Extend visa program for Iraqi and Afghan allies

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Being a U.S. soldier in a war zone is hazardous duty, but at least Americans know they’ll be coming home to a safer place when their tour of duty ends.

Iraqis and Afghans who worked with American troops and contractors as translators, drivers and guides – frequently at great risk to themselves and their families – have no such reassurance.

They often live among people who might resent the aid they provided and consider them collaborators. They’ve been targeted by militia groups and others for harassment, threats, kidnapping and even death. In 2011, one foreign aid provider in Iraq estimated that at least 1,000 of these workers had been killed. Read more »

March
7th

Lawmakers should intervene in rail dispute

Map shows Point Defiance Bypass route adjacent to I-5. (WSDOT)
Map shows Point Defiance Bypass route adjacent to I-5. (WSDOT)

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

A decision by the Federal Railroad Administration on the controversial Point Defiance Bypass is great for Amtrak. But it could be an economic blow to the future of several South Sound communities and add to the transportation nightmare thousands of commuters already face every day.

And it’s all to shave a few minutes off of Amtrak trains’ time between Seattle and Portland, and run a few more trains on that route. That’s an unacceptable tradeoff.

On Monday, the FRA gave the go-ahead to the $89 million bypass project that would reroute Amtrak trains from along the Puget Sound shoreline through South Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. A three-year study found that the project – which would extend by 3.5 miles the rail line now used by the Sounder train to Lakewood – would not adversely affect the environment.

Perhaps, but sending high-speed trains down tracks that cross at-grade intersections would certainly lead to accidents, huge traffic disruptions and economic impacts, especially to Read more »

Jan.
5th

Agenda for action in 2013

This commentary will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Again this year, The News Tribune’s editorial board has identified what we believe should be fundamental priorities for Washington state, this region and our communities.

The agenda below reflects the values and concerns that will guide our commentary through 2013.

At the top is education. With Washington’s economy recovering from five years of distress, this state should finally be able to invest more in its public schools and colleges. The state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision is more than enough reason to expand the opportunities we owe our children and grandchildren.

Our 2013 civic agenda:

FUND EDUCATION

Public education needs a radical rethinking this year.

For decades, the Legislature has been evading its responsibility to fully fund the state’s schools, expanding other programs while forcing school districts to rely on local levies to pay for such basics as textbooks, school nurses and bus drivers.

That’s got to stop, said the Washington Supreme Court last January in its landmark McCleary decision. The court demanded that the Legislature comply with the Washington Constitution, which states that “ample provision” for basic education is the “paramount duty of the state.”

Nor does basic education consist of harried teachers in overcrowded classrooms. As common sense and the court defines it, “ample” means far more the bare bones. Every child, even in poor school districts, must be offered the high-end academic skills needed to succeed in a complex, technology-intense world.

This means the Legislature must appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars more per year to the K-12 system. That’s going to require some very tough choices in Olympia, probably including more taxation.

REFORM EDUCATION

The Supreme Court has no authority to raise taxes or micromanage legislative budgets. Budget-writers are accountable to the voters, which means that the public holds the ultimate power to demand or deny adequate funding for schools.

The public understands that simply dumping more money in an underperforming school system will produce only a more expensive underperforming school system. But Washingtonians can be persuaded to invest more in the system if they see greater accountability in their schools, high academic standards, and science-based teaching and administrative practices.

Voters will pay for results. They won’t pay for the status quo.

PRESERVE HIGHER ED

College opportunity doesn’t fall under the constitutional definition of basic education, but few students will find success in tomorrow’s economy without vocational or academic training beyond high school.
Read more »

Dec.
27th

Norm Dicks: Embodiment of a better Congress


Congressman Norm Dicks

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

To understand what Washington will lose when Norm Dicks leaves Congress five days from now, you have to meet the man.

He comes across as a latter-day Teddy Roosevelt: beefy and bombastic; exuberant, gregarious and dominating; funny, friendly and full of stories. Though he talks nonstop, he’s no bore: The ideas just come too fast.

After about 10 minutes, you realize Dicks is not merely a consummate politician, but also a man of rare intelligence and insatiable curiosity. Once he’s on one of his favorite subjects – stealth aircraft, for example, or Puget Sound cleanup – you start to wonder if anyone else knows as much as this guy.

At 72, he still looks and talks like an irrepressible ex-Husky linebacker, which he is. On the issues he follows, he’s also a formidable intellectual with a dazzling grasp of technical detail and broad context.

Many of the tributes now being paid to Dicks amount to inventories of the projects and funding he brought home to Washington and the 6th Congressional District during his 36 years in office.

None of those lists is complete, though, because he’s done so much. Here is a sampling: Read more »

Nov.
15th

Horrifying testimony on the road to justice

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The Army’s Article 32 hearing for Sgt. Robert Bales was so replete with witnesses and evidence that it looked as if he were on trial.

In fact, it was a preliminary procedure. Commanders at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will now decide whether the evidence tying Bales to the murder of 16 Afghan villagers on March 11 justifies a court-martial.

That’s a foregone conclusion.

Soldiers saw Bales returning to Camp Belambay alone – covered in blood – the night of the massacres. DNA experts linked the blood to at least one of the victims. Comrades testified that he made what sound like self-incriminating statements.

Prosecutors have won outright murder convictions with far less evidence than emerged in this hearing.

Bales is entitled to due process, and the Army is giving him plenty of it.

His skilled defense attorneys are raising key questions about his state of mind, including reported drinking and Valium abuse, and the possibility that he suffered from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. They’ve turned up ambiguous evidence that there were more than one American involved in the slaughters.

The law must presume Bales’ innocence.

Let’s take a step back. Whoever committed the atrocities detailed in the hearing hardly deserves to be called human.

It’s the murder of the children that pushes this case beyond all bounds of empathy for Americans in combat zones.

The testimony included: A dead child whose head was stomped so hard that a footprint remained visible on it. Boys and girls being shot as they attempted to hide or run – while shouting, “We are children.” Children piled up, splashed with kerosene and burned along with parents and loved ones.
Read more »

Nov.
11th

November brings opportunities to help feed the hungry

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

September may have been national Hunger Action Month, but in Pierce County, November is when the action gets into high gear.

Contributions are especially important this year. The 67 Pierce County food banks, meal sites and shelters have experienced a record amount of need that will only increase during the upcoming holidays.

By the end of September, they had had 1 million client visits – 60,000 more than in 2011, says Emergency Food Network executive director Helen McGovern. She notes that many of those clients are picking up food for an entire family, so the actual number of people needing assistance is even greater. Children home from school over the holidays won’t be getting their free and reduced-price meals, putting yet more pressure on low-income families.

In weeks to come, several worthy events offer opportunities to help the hungry by either donating food or cash. The EFN can distribute $12 worth of food with each $1 donated.

Please consider taking part in at least one of the following events:

• Vessels: This juried art show and auction at 6 p.m. Nov. 16 gives participants a chance to bid on three-dimensional artwork, with half the proceeds going to the artists and half to EFN. The $25 admission includes wine and hors d’oeuvres. The event is held at the Charles Wright Academy Performing Arts Center.

• Empty Bowls: This hugely popular event will be held the day after Vessels, Nov. 17, at Charles Wright from 1 to 3:30 p.m. The purchase of a locally crafted bowl – think holiday gifts! – enables you to try soups from several different local restaurants. Proceeds go to the EFN.
Read more »