Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.
May 21, 2013 at 7:15 AM
The kerfuffle over the Internal Revenue Service’s treatment of tea party groups seeking tax exemptions might be more bureaucratic mush than political malice.
A lengthy story Sunday in The New York Times by three reporters describes the implosion that occurred when the Cincinnati IRS office was flooded with 60,000 paper applications seeking to qualify for a niche category of political activity and tax avoidance. The goal was 501(c)4 status that does not require registering as a political action committee or disclosing donors.
All of the anger and frustration with the IRS is understandable, but it is also just as evident the table pounding is an effort to revive moribund tea party groups. They did not have much, they did not offer much. Now they have Righteous Indignation to exploit.
The Cincinnati office was overwhelmed with work, and no one in the IRS hierarchy appears to have noticed or cared. The employees in the administratively obscure department that screened the applications started looking for shortcuts, and a processing shorthand to sort out the applications. The key-word technique also snagged liberal groups looking for special tax treatment in the social welfare category, along with the tea party groups.
The IRS has a duty to staff up to meet these challenges. The work cannot be sloughed off to the agency’s hinterlands, and expect no one will notice. At the same time, Congress has a duty to provide the budgets to pay for the work. Congress cannot play it both ways, looking for kudos for budget cuts, and whining about the mistreatment of citizens by a plodding bureaucracy.
The IRS comes off badly for process and procedures, but the lame, self-serving congressional efforts to turn this into a Nixonian abuse of tax authority suggests nothing else to talk about.
May 21, 2013 at 6:30 AM
Seattle Times business reporter Amy Martinez reports on plans by Eastside real-estate developer Kemper Freeman to build a $1.2 billion expansion of his shopping and dining complex in downtown Bellevue next to Bell Square. The news heightens the stakes outlined in a Seattle Times editorial Tuesday urging the Bellevue City Council to adopt a set of rules guiding ethical behavior and conflicts of interest for elected officials. Its only been two years since council leaders promised such a policy.
It would not take a close reader to pick up on the familiarity of this topic. Bellevue’s part-time council has been enmeshed in allegations of ethics violations and conflicts of interests for about as long as it has been planning a Sound Transit rail line. Two years ago, rancor reached a level where even divided members of the council agreed guidance was needed in the form of an ethics policy. State ethics laws are too broad to address the gray areas that many local elected officials find themselves in. Bellevue has a part-time council and its members hold jobs that sometimes bring them into contact with city planning and policies. This Times story outlines an outside investigator’s look in 2011 into potential conflicts of interests involving three council members. Two were absolved, Claudia Balducci, a current council member, and Grant Degginger, who has since left the council.
The Bellevue council is considering a proposed ordinance borrowed from the Kirkland City Council. Discussion at the last Council study session was long and lively. The agenda packet included a 20-page Q&A on the proposed code of ethics. It is very thorough and worth reading. The council session video is here, with the ethics discussion starting about 40 minutes in. The lack of action at the end was disappointing. There’s still time. The proposal is scheduled for the March 28 agenda. The council should act then.
May 21, 2013 at 6:09 AM
The state’s master of tax limitation by ballot measure is no lefty, and voters of a progressive stripe typically scorn anything with his name on it. But Tim Eyman of Mukilteo says he’s for the people’s right to vote on ballot measures whether right or left. That is an issue in Spokane, where the progressive group Envision Spokane tried in 2009 and 2011 to pass a “Community Bill of Rights,” and are trying again now.
The 2009 measure has been pared down to four planks. First, “Neighborhood residents have the right to determine the future of their neighborhood.” Second, “The right to a healthy Spokane River and aquifer.” Third, “Employees have the right to constitutional protections in the workplace.” Fourth, “Corporate powers shall be subordinate to people’s rights.” This last is an attempt to nullify the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.
The Spokane measure is not friendly to business, and Greater Spokane Inc. (the chamber of commerce) has been trying to keep this and another ballot measure, banning corporate lobbying, off the ballot. The chamber’s argument is that both measures are unconstitutional, and they may well be. But at the state level, the rule is that the people get to vote. If they approve a measure, opponents can ask a court to declare it unconstitutional. But the effort of collecting signatures gives you the privilege of having it on the ballot, and the right of the people to vote on it.
At the local level it hasn’t been that way. Cities often sue to keep measures they don’t want off the ballot. Monroe and Longview did with ballot measures to shut down traffic cameras.
In standing with the Spokane progressives, Eyman is also promoting his next ballot measure, Initiative 517. This measure would declare that at the local level, the collection of enough valid signatures would put a measure on the ballot. No more pre-election challenges.
A related fight is underway in Vancouver. There a proposed ballot measure would stop the city from spending money on any Columbia River Crossing project that includes light rail. Opponents of light rail collected enough signatures to get it on the ballot. The Vancouver Columbian reported that the city is refusing to put it there, arguing that it is unconstitutional.
Eyman would say it is not the city’s business to determine that. It’s the court’s business, and after the people vote.
What is the point of voting on a measure that is unconstitutional? There is a point. It puts that issue on the table for public discussion–and an issue is not unconstitutional. The vote is an official measure of public sentiment on it. The words approved by the people may be invalid as a statute, but they still constitute a thought. A request. A voice. A kind of lobbying by the whole electorate. And there is value in that.
May 20, 2013 at 12:00 PM
President Obama’s commencement speech Sunday at Morehouse College in Atlanta underscored the still-vital role of historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs. These institutions were created when African Americans and other students of color were shut out of American universities and colleges. They remain an critical option for many students, educating a disproportionate share of low-income and minority students. Without HBCUs, many students would emerge from high school without a higher education option.
The challenge is how to get more students to make the leap from high school to college. About 66.2 percent of last year’s high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or
universities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. My recent column argued for more state funding and support of programs that help struggling high school students graduate and move on to college or a four-year university. (more…)
May 20, 2013 at 6:16 AM
The need to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to the 21st Century, as the editorial board argued Sunday, is heightened by the willingness by wireless companies to turn over your phone records without a warrant.
A recent nationwide project by the American Civil Liberties Union found law enforcement routinely get geo-location data for cell phones from wireless companies without a warrant. As the ACLU points out, it is incongruous that police must get a warrant to put a GPS device on your car, but can track your cell phone’s movement without even showing probable cause to a judge.
I first came across this issue reporting on the 2009 manhunt for Maurice Clemmons, who killed four Lakewood police officers. In our book, The Other Side of Mercy, my colleague Ken Armstrong and I learned that detectives were trying to track him via cell phone pings. Officers were camped out in Renton just hours after the shooting because a cell phone linked to Clemmons pinged in the neighborhood. Police were very leery about us reporting those details because cell phone pings, they believed, were a secret weapon.
Not so much, it turns out. Wired reported that Sprint Nextel alone received 8 million request for cell phone pings, a volume so high they created a back-door web portal for police.
But wireless companies – squeezed between an outdated federal law, non-stop requests from law enforcement and customers’ expectations of privacy – are sacrificing their customers’ privacy. The pickle is one reason that wireless firms – including Sprint, in this letter to Rep. Ed Markey, a privacy advocate – want ECPA updated.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder agreed, sort of, under questioning by Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina. Notice that Holder doesn’t know what to say at first, until an aide slips him a briefing paper. Here’s the C-SPAN link.
May 20, 2013 at 5:40 AM
A sentence of 15 years’ hard labor for American Kenneth Bae is totally disproportionate and inhumane for anything the man may have done. But probably he did do something not too smart for an American in North Korea.
I have done some not-smart things myself in places like that. In 1972, traveling in the Socialist Republic of Romania, I gave the book, “Seven Days in May” to a man who approached me in a public gardens.
“Is it a political book?” he said.
“Naw,” I said. “Just a novel. About some generals who try to overthrow the government.”
“That’s political,” he said, stuffing the book in his coat.
I felt a thrill doing that. It was a tiny act of subversion against the government of Nicolae Ceaușescu. It was also a risk, but I was willing. My blue passport would protect me. (more…)
May 20, 2013 at 5:05 AM
The apartment-hunter web page Rent.com sent me an email saying it “has compiled a list of the 10 best cities for newlyweds—and Seattle made the cut!”
I thought, “You’ve gotta be kidding. In super-singles Seattle? In high-rent Seattle?”
I read on: “This list is based on the number of married couples, families with children under six (since many newlyweds are putting down roots for a future family), mean annual income, cost of living, and rental availability in each city.”
Regarding Seattle, it said:
“Seattle, WA – With an above average mean income, the highest percentage of any city on our list with children under six years old, and also having recently legalized same-sex marriage, Seattle is definitely a place for ALL newlyweds to check out.”
Gay marriage, yes. Higher than average incomes, yes, though not close to the highest on the list. The high-roller places were Washington, D.C., and San Jose.
But the line that caught my eye was the one about “the highest percentage of any city on our list with children under six years old.” I thought, “no way.”
I took the question to King County government’s demographer, Chandler Felt. He noted that in the small print, the claim was for the Seattle metro area, which includes all of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. He also noted that the census information is for children under five, not six.
“I looked at 2010 Census results for these 10 metro areas [Seattle, San Jose, San Diego, Minneapolis, Tulsa, Dallas, Houston, Charlotte, Raleigh and Washington, D.C.] The Seattle-Tacoma metro area has the lowest percentage of kids under 5 on the entire list.”
Well. And how about the claim that we have a high percentage of married people? Nope. “On that list, we’re tied with Charlotte for the lowest percentage of married-couple households, and we have the highest percentage single people living alone,” Felt said.
As for low rents: Try Tulsa.
May 17, 2013 at 1:19 PM
The totals are in and the Seattle Foundation reports a 50 percent jump in contributions from its single-day online fundraising event, GiveBig. The May 15th campaign brought in $11.1 million in online contributions. We encouraged Seattleites to give big in this editorial. Time to cheer the 54,500 who dug deep in their pockets and did so.
Seattle has one of the largest nonprofit communities in the nation. More than 1,400 participated in the social-media-fueled philanthropy marathon. A Times op-ed questioned whether GiveBig is getting, well, too big. A fair question, but one that does not detract from the power of the annual campaign.
The money will be put to good use. At the Martinez Foundation, launched by retired Seattle Mariners slugger Edgar Martinez and his wife, Holli, the $64,000 raised will help support minorities who want to become teachers and provide current minority teachers with critical supports. Research points to a link between teacher diversity and minority-student achievement.
The $15,000 raised by Reel Grrls will bolster the media and technology-training program’s efforts working with girls ages 9 to 19. GiveBig gave a huge boost to educational programs, for example the Technology Access Foundation, which operates a school in the Federal Way School District emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math.
Here’s some interesting facts from this week’s GiveBig campaign: The five nonprofits receiving the most money were: Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest ($220,120), The Seattle Public Library Foundation ($194,012), Northwest Harvest ($176,324), Edmonds Center for the Arts ($164,321) and The 5th Avenue Theatre ($159,915).
This region is driven by technology and a generous populace. Kudos to the Seattle Foundation for joining the two in a successful fundraising campaign.
May 17, 2013 at 7:15 AM
China, Japan, India, Italy, South Korea and Singapore hardly leap to mind when the Arctic is mentioned, but each country hotly pursued permanent observer status on the Arctic Council.
The scramble to attach themselves to the council, where the senior leadership meets every two years, is an indication of the dramatic changes and perceived opportunities that climate change is bringing to the top of the world.
The council, which met on Wednesday, was formed in 1996 to discuss environmental issues. Now the permanent members – Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland – are dealing with the interest stirred by the possibility of new shipping routes and access to natural resources.
Part of the meeting in Kiruna, Sweden was approving the applications for permanent observer status, and reminding the interlopers how little official power they will have. Russia and Canada and indigenous groups did not support the expansion. Canada was able to fend off, or at least delay, an application by the European Union.
India and the Arctic would seem to be, well, polar opposites. But an Arctic passage between East Asia and Western Europe would trim the distance of current shipping routes by 40 percent. The region would be attractive to cruise lines.
Growing economies also know the Arctic holds enviable oil reserves and gas deposits.
The opportunities and discussions are all modified with the words like expected, predicted and likely, but the potential payoffs are huge, and nations far afield want in on the action.
An online source, Alaska Dispatch – News and voices from the Last Frontier – offers a link-rich tutorial dubbed Arctic Council 101. Expect the council virtually no one knew about to make headlines as the ice melts.
May 16, 2013 at 11:58 AM
Sacramento Kings fans are basking in the victory of their determined mayor and former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson, community leaders and a group of eager buyers. Here’s the Sacramento Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman’s take on Wednesday’s 22-8 decision by the NBA Board of Governors to have the Kings stay put in Sacramento rather than move to Seattle. Times reporter Bob Condotta detailed the decision in this story.
Thursday’s Sacramento Bee editorial notes that the Kings’ future still hinges on the proposed new arena deal. But in the meantime, its tone was celebratory.
Now is a moment to celebrate that the Kings’ 28-year run in Sacramento isn’t over, not by a long shot. If all goes right, the team’s best days are still ahead.