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August 26, 2014 at 5:13 AM

Poll: Should Woodland Park Zoo send its elephants to a sanctuary?

When African elephant Watoto collapsed last week at the Woodland Park Zoo and had to be euthanized, her death reenergized  a long-running debate over elephant exhibition in rainy Seattle. Today The Times asks for your opinion. For years activists have contended that the exhibition of elephants is a matter of cruelty that can be considered separately from the…

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Comments | More in Polls | Topics: elephants, woodland park zoo

August 25, 2014 at 8:34 AM

Up, up and away! – first Superman comic sells for $3.2 million

Federal Way comic dealer Darren Adams now can boast – he really does own the world’s most valuable comic book. For a short time, anyway, until payment arrives and his pristine copy of Action Comics No. 1 goes to a new owner. In a much-watched auction on eBay Sunday night, Adams’ copy of the most desirable…

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August 22, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Superman reaches stratosphere as Action Comics No. 1 hits $2 million mark on eBay

Darren Adams of Federal Way shows off what likely will be the priciest comic book of all time.

Darren Adams of Federal Way shows off what likely will be the priciest comic book of all time.

For those of you keeping track of what is surely one of the most important stories of the summer, Darren Adams’ copy of Action Comics No. 1 has surpassed the $2 million mark on eBay. The Federal Way comic-book-and-sports-card dealer appears well on his way to setting a world record with the priciest comic book of all time.

I wrote about this one three weeks ago — the world’s most perfect copy of the world’s most desirable comic book. Action Comics No. 1  features the first appearance of Superman in 1938. Creamy white pages. Not a wrinkle, tear or dimple. Rust-free staples. The holy grail of comic books, and the sort of thing that might remind responsible citizens how much they once loved comic books, and wonder why they let silly business like adulthood get in the way.

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Comments | Topics: action comic, auction, ebay

August 18, 2014 at 6:19 AM

Auditor Kelley makes a right move in Insurance Commissioner’s case

Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley.

Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley.

State Auditor Troy Kelley made an unfortunate decision last May when he decided not to investigate a rather serious charge against a state agency — that the Office of Insurance Commissioner was pressuring a judge to rule in its favor. But since then he has come up with a pretty solid idea, a performance audit that will examine whether judges ought to work for state agencies in the first place.

It’s about time someone analyzed that question in a formal way. The charge from hearings officer Patricia Petersen calls attention to the fact that many state agencies conduct appeals hearings in their own offices, using judges who are subject to discipline and termination by agency managers. The arrangement raises doubt about the impartiality of hearings – as it certainly seems to in this case.

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August 12, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Looks like SEIU organizing strategy may backfire — on Washington taxpayers

U.S. Supreme Court. (photo/ Associated Press)

U.S. Supreme Court. (photo/ Associated Press)

More than a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling likely to shake the left side of Washington politics. But this state hasn’t heard in any official way what effect Harris vs. Quinn will have – and now it looks like we’ll have to wait for a legal decision sometime in the months or even years ahead.

But what a punchline this one will likely carry. The June 30 federal ruling concerns a clever strategy to beef up membership in the Service Employees International Union in Illinois, similar in every way to an SEIU organizing effort in Washington. Read between the lines and it is possible to see that Washington taxpayers may be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars.

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Comments | Topics: Harris v. Quinn, SEIU

August 11, 2014 at 6:13 AM

Why Gov. Jay Inslee goes against the grain industry

Wheat harvest along the Washington-Idaho border, 2013 (photo by Jeff Horner/ Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)

Wheat harvest along the Washington-Idaho border, 2013. (photo by Jeff Horner/ Walla Walla Union-Bulletin)

A letter from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee explains a curious decision that has bollixed up the wheat harvest throughout the western United States this year. Good bet it will infuriate more people than it will soothe.

In it the Democratic governor appears to say the issue is purely a labor dispute involving 44 union positions at the Port of Vancouver. The only acknowledgement of the enormous disruption he has caused for thousands of farmers and for the rural economy from the Washington coast to the Midwest is a throwaway line: “I remain committed to a healthy, thriving agricultural industry.”

The letter is the fullest explanation Inslee has offered – read it below. But first it might be useful to check in with agriculture, which has been doing all it can to reopen the United Grain Corp. terminal, a facility responsible for nearly 20 percent of the exports from the West Coast.

On July 6, in the 17th month of a lockout involving the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Inslee withdrew State Patrol protection for Washington grain inspectors who had been crossing what they called a dangerous picket line.

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Comments | Topics: agriculture, economy, Jay Inslee

August 7, 2014 at 12:33 PM

Will a red result in Washington Senate primaries keep Tom Steyer from spending?

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate Action.

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate Action.

There’s been plenty of talk about the role free-spending California billionaire Tom Steyer might play in Washington’s upcoming legislative races — the man whose wallet might make all the difference. But if the results of the Aug. 5 primary tell us anything, it is that his money might go further somewhere else.

The largely-Republican Senate Majority Coalition Caucus seems to be in firm-enough control of the upper chamber that it will not be easy to dislodge. If results hold firm through late ballot counts and the November election, its numbers will remain steady next session at 26-23.

Democratic partisans will disagree that there is anything good about it, but the coalition certainly is a big deal. The Washington Senate is the only legislative body in the blue West Coast states where Republicans have a toehold, and its effect has been to steer Washington’s environmental policy down the middle while Oregon and California veer left. Steyer, a retired former hedge-fund manager with money to burn and a passion for climate-change legislation, offered plenty of hints before the primary that he might spend big in this state to change the chamber’s color.

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August 4, 2014 at 5:22 PM

How to investigate yourself and satisfy no one

Attorney Phil Talmadge and client Patricia Petersen testify at a June 16 hearing of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Attorney Phil Talmadge and client Patricia Petersen testify at a June 16 hearing of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. (Photo by Erik Smith/ Seattle Times)

Remember the Patricia Petersen case? The hearings officer who says her bosses at the state Office of Insurance Commissioner tried to pressure her into ruling in their favor? The office has finally released its report on the matter, and it looks like it ought to be filed with the Department of Told-You-So.

It is hard to imagine a vindication for a state agency as complete as this one. Not only does the report find the agency blameless, it also finds much to fault in Petersen’s behavior. So much fault, in fact, that the Office of Insurance Commissioner is using the findings as the basis for formal disciplinary proceedings, and termination seems one likely outcome. Not to mention a lawsuit from Petersen, and recriminations before the Legislature.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler and his crew should have known better. An investigation like this was bound to satisfy no one.

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August 4, 2014 at 8:08 AM

State’s papers: Inslee tactic at Vancouver boosts union at expense of ag industry

United Grain Corp. terminal at Port of Vancouver.

United Grain Corp. terminal at Port of Vancouver.

Newspapers across the state are chiming in against Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to choke off exports from the biggest grain terminal in the West, right on the eve of the wheat harvest. As described in a July 28 Seattle Times editorial, the governor’s unfortunate decision boosts the International Longshore and Warehouse Union at the expense of the grain-growing industry – which is worth $1 billion to Washington state alone, and more than that to other states.

Inslee has withdrawn State Patrol protection for state grain inspectors at the United Grain Corp. terminal, the biggest export facility in the west, where locked-out longshore workers are maintaining a picket line. Without protection, the state Department of Agriculture won’t send the inspectors — it says the union pickets have threatened and harassed its crews. Without the inspectors, the wheat exports can’t leave the port, except in rare cases. The terminal is essentially shut down.

Good news for the union in its contract talks, but rotten timing for agriculture. Harvest is about to begin. The grain needs to get through.

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Comments | Topics: grain terminal, Jay Inslee, labor council

July 30, 2014 at 6:23 AM

Photos: Picturing the devastation of fire country

Scorched earth lines Highway 97 between Okanogan and Brewster.

Scorched earth lines Highway 97 between Okanogan and Brewster. (Photo by Erik Smith / Seattle Times)

Southern Okanogan County, devastated by wildfire over the last two weeks, has the look of a war zone right after the combat has finished. The front has moved on, leaving ruined homes, blackened earth and the smell of smoke.

A ruined chimney is all that remains of a Pateros home.

Ruined chimney is all that remains of a Pateros home. (Photo by Erik Smith / Seattle Times)

I took a drive through the area last weekend and found plenty of evidence of the pitched battle that raged after lightning July 14 touched off the Carlton Complex fire. Worst-hit is the town of Pateros, at the confluence of the Methow and Columbia rivers. Approximately 25 percent of the homes within the city limits and the area immediately surrounding the city were destroyed. Devastation was near-complete at the Alta Lake Golf Course just outside the city, where Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers counts 52 homes burned. He counts another 30 within the city limits, and a county-wide total of 300, from the Methow Valley to Brewster. He cautions that his numbers are neither precise nor complete: The complete picture of devastation is only beginning to emerge. “It’s so hard,” he says.

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