Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.
November 27, 2013 at 1:00 PM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature on the Opinion Northwest blog. Here editorial writers Lynne K. Varner and Jonathan Martin debate whether an armed robber on a Seattle Metro bus indicates an unsafe city.
Did you see The Times story about the 19-year-old man who got on the King County Metro RapidRide C Line bus at Third and Pike Street wearing a nylon stocking over part of his face and began robbing passengers at gunpoint? He got personal property from a few before he was tackled by other passengers and held until police arrived. The suspect was “agitated and belligerent” during the arrest, reported the West Seattle Blog.
This was not only a scary moment that could have ended more tragically (was that gun loaded?) but it also was not good advertising for public transit. I’m sympathetic to calls to ride public transportation as both a cost-saver and a way to reduce our carbon footprint. I’m willing to strike a bargain with King County Metro: I’ll get out of my car and ride the bus, saving personal money on gas and saving the public coffers on costly repairs to heavily used and clogged roads. In exchange, it must reassure me that I’m not taking my life into my hands each time I board a bus.
This morning I took the 70 bus to Third Avenue in the heart of Seattle’s downtown retail corridor. People hung out in front of the Macy’s, McDonald’s and other points along the city street. The 7-Eleven did a robust business selling beer and malt liquor. Police sat on bikes nearby, but did not engage anyone. The time it took my bus to show up, no more than 15 minutes, I was accosted by a couple of guys who thought I looked extra good today (Nope, never met them before.) I grew more cognizant of the dirty unswept street and the smell of weed. I sidestepped people who were hanging out on the street as though they were at a block party. Yes, others were commuting to work or going shopping, but I felt we were in the minority.
To endure that and get on the bus and be confronted by an armed robber is more than any commuter should be expected to bear. Bus-related crime is up and, given the armed robbery and shooting of a Metro bus driver last August, more brazen. Bus operators have reported 45 assaults on passengers inside buses between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, a Metro spokesman told The Times in a news report. There were 27 assaults during the same period last year. The same story quotes a Seattle police spokesman noting a spike in cellphone robberies on buses, light-rail trains and near transit centers countywide.
I do not suggest we put armed guards on buses or wall off drivers from passengers, but we should consider whether a brazen armed robbery at dinnertime is a harbinger of bad things to come.
Here’s what that incident yesterday tells me: when hundreds of thousands of strangers mingle each day, weird things very occasionally happen. According to King County Metro, there were 137 arrests or infractions issued on buses during the entire month of September. That month, there were 385,768 people boarding buses every weekday. By my rough calculations, that works out to .000016 arrests per weekday boarding.
Contrast that with the national rate of fatal car crashes per 100,000 of population: 10.39. It’s not a perfect analogy but, Lynne, you get my point. You are far more likely to get into a crash, or even die, on your commute across Lake Washington than I am to even witness an arrest on my bus ride in from Wallingford. Your car is a death trap! Take a bus!
This incident, and the bus-driver shooting in August aren’t good for public perception. But these crimes didn’t happen because of the bus. They just happened on the bus. If we’re going to anecdotally tie location to crime (which the news media often does), you’d have to never walk into a coffee shop because of the Lakewood police and Café Racer shootings both happened in cafes.
Okay, Metro bus riders can be kooky. Toenail clippers. Heroin nodders. The ranters. But mighty Seattle grinds to a halt without Metro. One bus removes 40 cars from the street. Weekday mornings, my bus, the 358, stops at Denny and Aurora, and dozens of Amazon workers (along with Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien and myself) hop off and walk a few blocks. If your answer to perceived (not statistically-based) fear of transit is for us to instead make single-occupancy car commutes, Amazon could not plop 15,000 jobs into downtown Seattle because their workers would be stuck in traffic.
Public perceptions are easily made and hard to reverse. But the data do not support your premise. I’ll bet you one of those soy London Fog drinks you favor that if you hop on my bus any random morning, you’re more likely to find a city council member than a gun-waving nutso.
November 26, 2013 at 1:36 PM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature of the Seattle Times Editorial Page. Here editorial writers Lynne K. Varner and Bruce Ramsey come down on opposite sides of a recent Washington Supreme Court ruling supporting state law forbidding guns to persons arrested for, but not yet convicted of, a gun crime.
Lynne, take a look at the case of Roy Steven Jorgenson of Woodland, Cowlitz County, which came down Nov. 21 from the Washington Supreme Court. He was arrested of shooting someone and was about to be tried for first degree assault. Out on bail, he was arrested for having a 9-mm handgun and AR-15 rifle in his car. He wasn’t threatening anyone and wasn’t defending himself. He just had them. And under the state law forbidding possession of weapons by anyone charged with a serious crime, he was convicted of illegal possession.
At the Washington Supreme court he argued that the law violated his constitutional right to bear arms. Five justices—Steven González, Barbara Madsen, Debra Stephens, Susan Owens and Mary Fairhurst—disagreed, and the court ruled against him. They did not argue that the law was needed to defend the public, but that the Legislature thought it was, and that the court should defer to the Legislature under a rule of “intermediate scrutiny.”
Justice Charles Wiggins wrote the main dissent, signed by justices Charles Johnson, Jim Johnson and Tom Chambers. (Apart from González, Lynne, this is a case of the women versus the men.) The law was unconstitutional, Wiggins argued, because it applied to everyone charged for certain offenses, and that violated due process of law—the 14th Amendment. In Wiggins’ view, this was not about the right to own guns. “It is entirely appropriate to prohibit some individuals accused of a serious crime from possessing firearms,” Wiggins wrote (italics mine). But he argued that an accused person accused ought to have the chance to argue for himself and have a judge make a decision specific to him.
Jim Johnson, the court’s conservative, said he agreed with Wiggins on due process, but another thing bothered him. The majority had used “intermediate scrutiny.” When a fundamental right is at stake, he said, the court should use strict scrutiny, which means the law had to be “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “compelling governmental interest.” Washington’s law isn’t.
I agree with Wiggins and Jim Johnson. Firearm ownership is an individual right, whether we like it or not. (And the majority opinion by González admits this.) The judge should have been allowed to suspend that right for Jorgenson (and probably would have, too) by citing risks specific to him. A blanket prohibition pokes too large a hole in a constitutional right.
Bruce, I’ll take your argument apart in a second. But first, let me start with the question of why anyone would need to drive around with a 9-mm Tokarev and an Olympic Arms AR-15 rifle in their car? Is he on the lam from the mob? Does he have a Napoleon complex and need the extra metal, so to speak?
I know about our Second Amendment rights. But I am tired of gun owners ending up on the front page crying about how they did not know fill-in-the-blank-name-of-shooting-victim would get a hold of the weapons and shoot themselves or others. Then, once their lax gun ownership responsibilities have created a mess, they look to taxpayer-funded emergency and social services to clean it up. Want to know what I’ll be thankful for on Thursday? When I do not have to hear another gun owner tell me why they have the right to walk around armed like they’re headed to Afghanistan.
But I digress.
The case before the state Supreme Court was about intermediate versus strict scrutiny, the difference between narrow application of a goal needed to achieve a compelling public interest and something broader. State law prohibits people from having a firearm if they have been released on bond after a judge has found probable cause to believe the person committed a serious offense. The law is a preventative measure erring on the side of pubic safety.
“The State has an important interest in restricting potentially dangerous persons from using firearms,” Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote in the majority opinion.
You note that Roy Jorgenson was arrested under suspicion of shooting someone. It was more than that Bruce. He was released on bond after a trial court found probable cause that he had indeed shot someone. The justice system weighed the evidence against Jorgenson and found it credible enough to continue moving the case forward. As the majority opinion noted, when a trial judge finds probably cause, public safety justifies temporarily limiting a person’s right to possess firearms. Note the word “temporary.”
Firearm ownership is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution. But your right to bear arms should not extend to putting the public at greater risk. State law, reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, strikes the right balance.
November 14, 2013 at 6:14 AM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature of the Seattle Times editorial board. Here Bruce Ramsey and Lynne K. Varner offer different takes on a proposal in Switzerland for a guaranteed minimum income.
Apologies in advance if this gives you indigestion, but I just read that Switzerland is thinking about offering a monthly allowance to every citizen. No strings attached.
Americans will immediately think of Social Security, but Swiss citizens of all ages, not simply the elderly, would receive a check from the government. Others might think of public assistance, but Switzerland is not trying to help the poor here. There would be no means-testing. If advocates of the proposal gather enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot, and if it passes, every Swiss citizen could count on a check.
Bruce, I’m intrigued by the plan’s author, German-born artist Enno Schmidt, and his invitation to consider what kinds of lives we would all lead if we could count on a small, but consistent, monthly stipend. Schmidt is part of the basic-income movement getting notice in many parts of Europe and among socialist political circles. It has its roots in income-inequality debates but unlike the minimum-wage battle here in the U.S., basic-income proposals do not rely on recipients participating in the workforce. So it’s not about improving incomes by raising working wages, but rather achieving the same means with a monthly check from the government for as long as you live.
This New York Times story compares conversations surrounding the idea to talk in the U.S. about Robin Hood taxes and single-payer health care. The article notes that “certain wonks on the libertarian right and liberal left,” are coming together around the idea, although they differ on whether the money should be an unconditional stipend or a means-tested minimum income to supplement the earnings of the working poor.
And from the same Times story, Charles Murray, darling of the conservative right wrote in his books, “In Our Hands: A plan to Replace the Welfare State,” guaranteeing $10,000 a year to all Americans over 21 and who stayed out of jail.” Let me take a moment to fantasize about what I would do with my check.
In the end Bruce, this is not an idea for America. But Switzerland is a smaller country with one of the most stable economies in the world. The Swiss are a socially conscious lot. Guaranteeing every citizen the ability to feed and shelter themselves without the stigma attached to welfare may work for them. What do you think, and more importantly how’s your digestion?
My digestion is fine but my dander is certainly up. The Swiss are a levelheaded people, and I hope they vote this idea down.
Life requires work. The government should not give able-bodied and able-minded citizens an idleness option in the prime of life. It’s bad for them. It’s bad for the people around them, especially their kids.
The chief promoter of this bad idea argues that the receipt of free money will “unleash creativity and entrepreneurialism.” And guess what? Enno Schmidt’s an artist, which is one of the few occupations on earth that millions of people will pursue even if not paid. Put on a stipend, many an artist would go on making art. (Indeed, there was a sculptor in Norway who had a deal like that with the local authorities, and Oslo has a park full of his work.) But, put on a stipend, would a watchmaker go on making watches? Would a waitress go on serving table? Would your garbageman go on picking up trash?
On this matter, we’re expected to trust the social imagination of an artist?
Or a libertarian, namely Charles Murray. In his book “In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State” (2006) he proposed a grant of $10,000 a year to every American over 21 and not in jail–but provided that we give up all other benefit programs. But it wouldn’t be done that way. And he knew that. And the author of “Losing Ground” (1984), the famous indictment of the welfare state, should have known better than to make a such a proposal.
Paying people not to work results in less work done. I trust myself here. I’m about to retire. If I didn’t have sources of money, I wouldn’t do it. I’d keep working. I can stop working now, in my 60s, because the system under which I’ve worked, and the decisions I’ve made under that system, give me an option of idleness. That I have this option after almost 40 years of work is one thing. But should the young have it?
And if we’re talking about a payment too small to live on, but big enough for a fling—what would be the social purpose of that? Imagine something like Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend, which this year pays $900 to qualifying residents. Suppose every adult American had it, adding $200 billion to the deficit every year. Would that be a wise expenditure?
It might, as you say, provide everyone an income “without the stigma attached to welfare.” But the stigma is good. It is a sign of cultural health. We shouldn’t want to end it.
November 4, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature of the Seattle Times editorial board. Here Bruce Ramsey and Lynne K. Varner offer dramatically different takes on tracking, the practice of grouping schoolchildren by perceived ability.
Lynne, I see there is still argument about tracking, the practice of dividing up schoolchildren in the same grade into groups of faster and slower learners. I’m for it, for a reason that seems obvious: kids learn at different speeds.
I went through the Edmonds School District in the late 1950s and the 1960s. I think I was always tracked. Even in first grade, in Lynndale Elementary, Mrs. Kinsel had three reading groups, the blue birds, for the faster readers, the brown bears for the medium ones, and another group for the ones who hadn’t got the hang of it yet.
Race wasn’t an issue. We were all Caucasian. Some kids were ahead and others behind. That fact remained constant for my entire time in school.
Some of the opponents of tracking seem to think these differences are the result of differential treatment, and if we could just treat all kids the same they’d all perform the same. My entire experience tells me this is a fantasy. I didn’t believe this as a kid and I don’t believe it now. Kids are different. I was a fast reader and a slow runner, and treatment didn’t have much to do with it. School is supposed to let you reach your potential—and our potentials are different.
Other opponents of tracking might admit differences, but they believe that the most important concern is the students who are behind. If the slow ones benefit by being placed with faster-moving students, they’ll say, then do it. But what if that slows down the faster ones? What if it makes them bored with school? And it will. Do we sacrifice the faster learners in order to narrow a gap? No. You try to reasonably accommodate the students you have.
My support of tracking in theory does not mean I approve of every implementation of it. Any system should evaluate kids from time to time. Some start slow and speed up. Some start fast and peter out. You told me that you were put in a secondary track, took the Scholastic Achievement Test, and scored high. Always there should be such escape valves.
Bruce: Grouping students by ability is one way to turn large classes into smaller learning environments. But historically, the practice has also trapped students, many minorities or from low-income families, into low-level classes. If public education is to do a better, more equitable job this time, tracking has to be fluid. Students should be able to move up and down the academic track based on performance. The best teachers track students in order to more nimbly make instructional decisions, not to consign students to the bottom of the academic heap.
Broadly speaking, academic tracking is making a comeback. As reported by the New York Times, a recent analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress data found that 71 percent of fourth-grade teachers grouped students by reading ability. I hope grouping students can drive resources in a more efficient and focused manner. My fear is the opposite happens and struggling students are given fewer resources and less experienced teachers.
In high school I was placed on a non college-bound track. Teachers and guidance counselors made scheduling choices for me based on factors outside of my control: my home address changed at least a dozen times due to family circumstances. I was a smart, but inconsistent student. I did not have perfect attendance. Thus, those creating my class schedule were left to decide that I needed only enough education to land a job after graduation. Think cashier: secretary if I was lucky. And so I spent high school taking typing classes, business math, shorthand and writing classes where we learned to write the formal letters that our teachers imagined future bosses would dictate to us one day.
Late in my senior year I learned about the SAT. I signed up. I had no time or money to study. I scored high enough to apply to college late and get in. I dodged a bullet so to speak. Tracking had become a trap. Education researchers and civil rights groups eventually argued successfully to end tracking because while it purported to divide students by achievement, it also divided us by race and class.
Can our public education system equitably carry out a system of sorting students by ability? Schools are headed back in that direction, so we’re all about to find out.
October 10, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature of the Seattle Times editorial board. Here Bruce Ramsey and Lynne K. Varner offer dramatically different takes on the federal budget battle and the government shutdown. This interactive includes a poll about American sentiment toward the political standoff.
Republicans are just taking on a partisan-passed law.
Lynne, all the sewage poured on the Republicans for “shutting down the government” is partisan and unreasonable. Yes, the Republicans are stubborn. But stubbornness takes two. And which side is asking to negotiate? The Republicans. Who is refusing to give a centimeter? Obama and the Senate Democrats. And the voices in the press (around here, anyway) are saying, “oh, you pig-headed Republicans.”
Let’s be fair here. What has happened? The Democrats in the Senate have passed a continuing resolution that funds everything in the government. The Republicans in the House have passed one that funds everything in the government except Obamacare.
Imagine two families were going to have a barbecue and the plan made months before was to have beef, pork, chicken and fish. Imagine one family changed its mind about the fish: They hated the whole idea of fish, but they were OK with the beef, pork and chicken. And if the first family insisted on the original plan and the second family insisted on no fish, and they were at loggerheads and guests were starting to go hungry, what would be the reasonable course of action?
Have the beef, pork and chicken, and save the fish until later. And if they couldn’t agree and the result was no food at all, would it be reasonable to put the entire blame on the family who didn’t want the fish?
It’s true that Obamacare is the law. But so was paid family leave, and the Legislature in Olympia refused to fund it, and it wasn’t funded. Legislatures can do that. They make the law. And Obamacare was a partisan law, passed entirely by Democrats, including members of the House of Representatives who are no longer in office. It squeaked through the U.S. Supreme Court by one vote. It is the law, yes, but this fight means it is still in play.
Basically, the people making ugly faces at Republicans are supporters of Obamacare. They are saying, “We won! Fight’s over.” And it’s not over. It angers them that it isn’t over, and they are having a tantrum about it.
Republicans shut down government, they can open it back up.
Interesting analogy Bruce. To misquote any restaurant chef, “You don’t want the fish, don’t eat the fish!” House Republicans must stop trying to prevent others from choosing the fish, or in the real-life example, medical coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Americans are not pleased. A new Gallup poll shows the GOP’s brand is at a new low. A CNN/ORC International poll spreads the blame among Republicans, Democrats and Obama. Nobody is winning in this ugly battle.
The federal government is closed and the nation’s ability to make good on its debt is imperiled due to a law that passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. Sure, laws are not sacrosanct. They are altered or thrown out regularly by Congress and state Legislatures. But Americans enduring a second week without employment or a paycheck would prefer House Republicans to not abuse the power of the taxpayer purse by re-fighting a battle they lost.
Defenders argue this is just the messy democracy James Madison and other Founding Fathers envisioned with the whole “checks and balances” principle. Please! Someone show me where in the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers or the Bill of Rights it is proposed that the losing side of a legislative debate shut down government until they get their way.
What may have started out as a crafty tactic by the tiny but powerful tea-party wing of the GOP has gone far afield. The Pentagon has turned to a charity to pick up the costs of burying dead American soldiers, this Associated Press story sadly reports. Another Associated Press story warns that the benefits of more than 500,000 military veterans and surviving spouses and children are at risk during the government shutdown.
Bruce, you ask rhetorically which side is willing to negotiate and then answer the Republicans. But it was Obama who invited the House Republican conference to the White House only to have 18 out of the 232 invited attend, reported the Daily Kos website.
Ever mindful of the 2016 presidential election, this New York Times story says GOP leaders may be softening their stance because they are starting to feel isolated from even their strongest supporters — business — and because backers like the Koch brothers are distancing themselves from the shutdown battle. It’s a timely shift in strategy inspired by tanking poll numbers.
August 15, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature of the Seattle Times editorial board. Here Bruce Ramsey and Lynne K. Varner disagree on who should be held responsible in the Schulte case, in which two family members were killed and two others seriously injured by a drunk driver.
Bruce and Lynne also debated the topic in a Google+ Hangout. Here is the video replay, and their arguments for and against the lawsuit below.
Family was right to sue
This past spring the Schulte family was crossing a Northeast Seattle street when a drunk driver plowed into them, killing Dennis and Judy Schulte and seriously injuring their daughter-in-law and 10-day-old grandson. As this Times story reports the Schultes have filed a group of claims totaling $45 million against the City of Seattle alleging it should have done more to keep the driver, Mark W. Mullan, off the road.
The family’s claims are neither frivolous nor a shakedown of a deep pocket. They are seeking damages but also, and perhaps more importantly, changes in the way the city monitors people under court supervision.
The question of liability hinges, as it often does in these cases, on whether government did enough to prevent the accident. No government entity can keep its constituents safe 100 percent of the time, but how hard government tries is a key factor.
Here are the facts: At the time of the crash, Mullan was under the supervision of Seattle Municipal Court because of a previous drunken-driving arrest. He had been arrested twice in the months leading up to the crash in Seattle and Snohomish County for driving under the influence. He defied a court order to install an interlock device on his pickup truck.
What was the point of supervising Mullan if the conditions of his supervision were not going to be enforced? When Mullan did not install the interlock device on his truck, that disobedience should have triggered consequences, possibly including jail time.
Of course Mullan is more at fault than anyone. He got drunk and drove his vehicle into a group of people. But bad behavior is sometimes enabled by the inaction of others. The city became responsible for Mullan’s behavior when he was placed under court supervision in Seattle. There may be legal standing to go after his insurance company; insurers should think twice about covering people with multiple drunk driving arrests. The search for accountability may include Washington state, which licenses drivers and outlines here the consequences for those arrested, and separately, those convicted of a DUI.
Why was Mullan allowed to keep his vehicle? Would knowing he could face a jail term for driving without an interlock device have stopped him on that fateful day? Who knows. What we do know is that a credible argument can be made that more should have been done to stop him.
A family has suffered grievous and permanent harm through no fault of their own. Medical bills, from hospitalizations to long-term care, will mount for years to come, possibly adding up to more than the amount of the claims. As I write this, the daughter-in-law is in a nursing home relearning how to talk, swallow and walk.
This family is in for years of physical, emotional and financial anguish. They should not be forced to bear it alone. I doubt any jury would ask them to.
Lawsuit the wrong way to respond
Lawsuits like this trouble me.
I have an idea what it’s like to be in a terrible accident. Decades ago I was in an accident in which my mother was almost killed, and I was in the hospital for a week. I can’t argue with the sorrow or the anger, or the statement that no amount of money can restore the family the way it was. But I don’t agree with suing the city for $45 million.
The lawyer’s argument is that the driver was under a court order to get an ignition interlock installed on his vehicle, and that it was the city’s responsibility to make sure he did it, and the city didn’t. Therefore the accident is the city’s fault.
My argument is that it’s the driver’s fault that he disobeyed a court order and didn’t have an interlock and it’s his fault he was drunk. He was driving. The accident is his fault.
We all have our biases here. I think of responsibility as flowing from choices, and choices as made by individuals. When people say something is “the city’s fault,” I think: Which person in the municipal government is at fault? Did some person make a wrong decision? If so, who? And if you can’t put your finger on anyone in particular, and want to blame “the city” as a whole, maybe the blame you want to assign is a diluted kind and not the real thing.
And who would pay? It matters who pays. If there is liability insurance, an insurance company would pay, and it would try to pass it on to future policyholders, all of whom are innocent. If there is no insurance, it comes out of the city’s general fund and I have to pay because I’m a taxpayer here, and I’m innocent. Making “the city” pay is a way of spreading out the actual payment to people who are innocent, but that collectively have deep pockets. The aim is to maximize the amount of money, including the one-third to the attorney.
Then I hear, “It’s not about the money. It’s about getting the city’s attention.” Well, if it’s “not about the money,” don’t ask for money. If it’s about getting attention, about shame, ask for the appropriate city official to parade for three days around Westlake Square in his underwear with a sign that reads: “I failed to protect the public.” Is that terrible? (Worse than having to pay $45 million?) Buy a full-page ad in the The Seattle Times showing the miscreant’s face and saying, “I’m sorry for failing to protect the public.” That will get people’s attention, and it won’t cost $45 million.
Lynne, there was another case like this at the Washington Supreme court a few days ago. In Lowman v. Wilbur, a woman hit a utility pole with her car after driving home from a drinking place with a blood-alcohol count of 0.14 and driving 13 m.p.h. over the speed limit. Her passenger, who was severely injured, sued (among others) Puget Sound Energy because the pole was only 4.5 feet from the road, and it was supposed to be 10 feet from the road. Except for Justice Jim Johnson, the court ruled that Puget Sound Energy was liable. I agreed with Johnson.
“It certainly cannot be a wise policy of this state to make Washington taxpayers insurers on behalf of criminal motorists,” Johnson wrote.
July 8, 2013 at 6:00 AM
The military overthrow of the elected civilian government in Egypt–a very unpopular government of the Muslim Brotherhood–has left the U.S. government in the position of feeling powerless while being blamed for exercising power. What should Americans think of this? Editorial board members Bruce Ramsey and Lynne K. Varner have their own takes on it.
Lynne, I’m tired of America’s interference in places like Egypt. Americans don’t get this. We’re used to being No. 1, the top dog, the people who get to manage the Earth. But we don’t have a right to that authority; we have let the academics and politicians who itch for the joys of global management talk us into believing we have a moral duty to do it. Foreigners think Americans do it because there is profit in it. Sometimes there is, but there are also losses.
To my understanding, Egypt has been the No. 1 recipient of U.S. government aid, or No. 2 after Israel, since the Jimmy Carter administration. What benefit did the U.S. taxpayer get for that? That Egypt didn’t attack Israel? Last time Egypt attacked Israel, in 1973, the Egyptian army had its pants pulled down. Also, Israel has nuclear weapons. I could be totally mistaken, but I’ll hazard to assert that Egypt does not need to be bribed to let Israel alone.
And if it did, who should pay that bribe, eh?
Look at where this aid gets Americans. Our government underwrites Egypt’s military. Egypt has an election: Democracy! Yay! Arab Spring! Whoopee! The Muslim Brotherhood is elected to power, promising to have an inclusive government. Well, it lied. It isn’t inclusive. It demonizes its opponents as traitors. Three years in, Egyptians don’t want that government any more. Egypt’s military, with all its U.S. tanks and guns, takes over in a coup.
What happened is all the valuable influence bought by U.S. aid? The New York Times reports frustration at the White House because of “lack of leverage the United States has over Egypt.”
Our ambassador there, Anne Patterson, an official almost no American has heard of, is a huge public figure in Egypt, her face on signs, crossed out as if she were Satan. Says the New York Times, she is “a symbol for angry young Egyptians of America’s meddlesome role in their country’s affairs.”
Has the U.S. government been meddlesome? Yup.
And what is the U.S. government’s attitude toward the coup? We’re Americans. We don’t believe in military coups. We believe in elections, and civilian government. Ambassador Patterson said she was “deeply skeptical” that “street action will produce better results than elections.” As an American, what else could she say? That put her against the people in the street. But the U.S. government was also deeply skeptical of the Muslim Brotherhood government, because it was run by zealots who didn’t like liberty or democracy or the United States.
Result: The U.S. ambassador’s face is crossed out by both sides.
The goal of U.S. foreign policy should be the advancement of the legitimate interests of the United States. To me that means the protection of American citizens in Egypt, and in the neighborhood of Egypt, and of some rules for trade, investment, intellectual property, fishing rights, tourism, educational exchanges, extradition, etc., between Egypt and the United States. Our government has taken a much more vague and permissive view of what American interests are in Egypt and other places, and what sorts of things our politicians, and our military, are allowed to do in pursuit of these amorphous interests.
People with power like to use it, and will embrace political language that allows them to do what they want.
One of those chocolate bars of permissive language is “nation-building.” I don’t think it is part of the U.S. government’s job to go around the world building nations. I’m just a narrow-minded isolationist that way, Lynne. I look at this and think, “not our business.” We didn’t like it when the British were nation-building here, with their taxes and their redcoats, and we killed a bunch of them back in the 1770s and 1780s until they left us alone. It was a glorious thing, and last Thursday we celebrated it with fireworks. We wanted the British, and all the other European powers, out.
Should we be surprised that the Egyptians want the American government out? I’d want it out, if I were Egyptian.
I remember when the Philippines closed the U.S. bases at Clark Field and Subic Bay. They wanted the Americans out, not because they hated America (they don’t) or hated democracy (they don’t), but because it was their country and they didn’t want the former imperial power interfering with their politics (which we did). They kicked us out, and see if you can find a Filipino who regrets it.
Wow Bruce, I haven’t seen you this worked up since interest rates started to fall! You’re right to be upset. Egypt is a mess. The leadership of Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government is over. This Washington Post photo gallery offers vivid testament to the power of tens of millions of Egyptians to press for new leadershp.
Unfortunately, that alone is not enough. The Arab Spring protests spurred change, but they did not by themselves have enough power and influence to do the heavy lifting needed to totally break with repressive governments. The guy who led Egypt before Morsi, Hosni Mubarak, was deposed through the combined efforts of a popular uprising and pressure from other countries, including the U.S. President Obama last week traveling in Africa, justified helping to get rid of Mubarak:
…”When I took a position that it was time for Egypt to transition, it was based on the fact that Egypt had not had a democratic government for decades, if ever. And that’s what the people were calling for.”
So what will the U.S. do this time? Take away Egypt’s $1.5 billion annual allowance? Scramble the jets? The latter is unlikely. President Obama is keeping his options open, he said last week.
“The way we make decisions about assistance to Egypt is based on: Are they in fact following rule of law and democratic procedures? And we don’t make those decisions just by counting the number of heads in a protest march, but we do make decisions based on whether or not a government is listening to the opposition, maintaining a free press, maintaining freedom of assembly, not using violence or intimidation, conducting fair and free elections.
Taking a hands-off approach to Egypt is not an option for many reasons, Bruce. The reason to stay involved in Egypt is not out of fear Egypt will attack Israel. As you pointed out Israel can take care of itself. But the stability of the Middle East is an important U.S. concern.
We also care about preventing terrorism from taking root.
We care about democracy. We enjoy a democratic form of government here. We know the life-altering power of freedom and we want people in other countries to experience it. Hence, nationbuilding.
It is not certain how President Obama will handle the latest changes in Egypt. The country is falling apart. An interim president appointed what some are calling a military coup is not a democratic change in government. Moreover, Egypt needs a government to run the country’s day-to-day affairs. The government has to be transparent and accountable to the people. That kind of leadership is typically produced via election. Hopefully, Egypt will have a new government soon. Power vacuums can be dangerous, particularly in the Middle East.
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman was pessimistic in a column entitled, “Egypt’s perilous drift.”
If the U.S. is to help Egypt shift toward not only a democratically-elected government, but toward leaders who actually lead based on what the people want, this country will have to get deeply involved in nationbuilding. The key is applying pressure through our long relationship with Egypt and our generous aid package. The U.S. provides Egypt with $1.5 billion a year, according to State Department figures. That money can and should be directed and redirected to yield results America wants.
I would not cut aid to Egypt. But I would change where it is going. Right now, most of that goes to the military, Time for the U.S. to distance itself from Egypt’s military. Ordinary Egyptians chafe at our coziness with their military strongmen, hence the nickname for America is the sarcastic, “Mother.”
If we are truly only promoting democracy, we have to team up with democratic leaders only. The Egyptian military does not fit the definition.
June 17, 2013 at 6:07 AM
The Seattle City Council is set to vote on a proposal for public financing of campaigns for their own seats. Read our June 15 editorial. Here editorial board members Bruce Ramsey and Lynne Varner consider whether this is a good idea.
Lynne, why the push for public financing of the Seattle City Council’s election campaigns? As Seattle Ethics & Elections Commissioner Bruce Carter wrote, public financing “seems to have become a remedy in search of a problem.” There is a limit on contributions now. The average contribution in the 2011 campaigns was $231. Has the system been corrupted? Not enough for me to worry about it.
The real problem is different. It is that politicians have to go out and raise private money in order to get reelected. They don’t like doing this. It makes them feel dirty. They like spending the public’s money, but they don’t like asking their friends and supporters for private money.
Under public campaign financing, they don’t have to. The government pays for their campaigns.
I understand their motives. I just don’t get why I, a taxpayer in Seattle, should feel sympathetic to them. Because I don’t care how raising money makes them feel. It may be only five dollars and such-and-such cents a year, as they say. The cost of three cups of coffee. Fine. I’ll take the coffee. Giving that money to them for the purpose of reelecting them is like setting it on fire. I don’t do that.
Bruce, I’m not adamantly for public financing of campaigns, but I’m intrigued enough to support the Seattle City Council’s explorations.
The ability to fundraise, while an admirable talent, should not be a barrier to elective office. Publicly-financed campaigns could help attracted a broad, cross-section of people and expand political discourse. New York City has public financing and it is credited with getting more everyday people involved in politics. Money levels the playing field. It allows Joe Blow to have a shot against Joe Biden.
Several on the City Council support public campaign financing, Councilmembers Mike O’Brien,NIck Licata and Jean Godden. Licata’s “Urban Politics” blog offers a thorough historical view of Seattle’s experience with public campaign financing during the late 1970s, 80s and early 1990s. That ended in 1992 when state Initiative 134 passed, prohibiting public financing. The state Legislature offered a partial remedy in 2008, giving local jurisdictions the authority to create programs for public financing of campaigns.
I can disagree with your concerns as a taxpayer. When the government pays for political campaigns, the public pays. But think of it this way: the public also benefits from democratically-elected leaders and a corruption-free system. Public financing of political campaigns keeps those public benefits pure.
I don’t believe that money is always a corrupting influence. Large corporate expenditures do not automatically buy influence. But they do if the seller and buyer want it to. Money talks.
June 10, 2013 at 1:16 PM
Civil Disagreement pits two members of the Seattle Times editorial board against each other on a question. Here Lance Dickie (left) and Jonathan Martin debate the decision by Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning to disclose confidential information about the U.S. government.
Revealing secrets is not their call to make
The biggest secret to be revealed by Army private Bradley Manning and CIA contractor Edward Snowden is the abject failure of Congress to provide any oversight of the massive growth of America’s top-secret spy and surveillance infrastructure.
The trouble with Manning and Snowden is that, however history might judge their civil disobedience, it was not their call to make. Leaking gigabytes of classified information by Manning and Snowden’s revelations about endemic domestic spying were arrogant, dangerous acts. However shocking the disclosures, this is not the way to alert the public.
The values and vagaries of civil disobedience have stirred passionate discourse for centuries. And the consequences can range from blocking traffic in the name of a civil rights march, to putting individual and national security at risk. Manning and Snowden acted with a complete disregard for what might come next; no apparent sense of context or discretion.
These calls were not theirs to make. Each was entrusted with access to information, and they formally promised to respect the trust invested in them. Both violated that trust, and they are not heroes for that behavior.
America operates on a variety of levels of expectations of privacy and data security. Great swaths of society and commerce operate on presumptions of trust and privacy. Does applause for Manning and Snowden empower the IT clerk at the bank to go online with customer financial information in the name of economic equity and justice? Does an employee in a hospital or public health agency have the right to disclose names and details about sexually transmitted diseases in the name of protecting society?
Where was Congress while all of this top-secret data was being collected and reviewed? Paying the bills. Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin have spent years telling America about the breath-taking expansion of domestic spying. The PBS “Frontline” documentary on “Top Secret America” is a good place to catch up.
Manning and Snowden are oblivious to the consequences of their actions, and lots of the ramifications are yet to be revealed and understood. I can confidently share one indisputable reaction to their behavior.
Stupendous sums of taxpayer dollars will be spent to recreate the links that were revealed, clamp down on security, invest in new hardware and generally duplicate everything that was exposed and compromised. A clueless, duplicitous Congress will nod its head, feel a little giddy about closed-door briefings and sign the checks.
Manning and Snowden will cost the budget hundreds of billions of dollars, with negligible improvements for our security or civil rights.
Yes, indeed, Americans need to know what their government is doing for them and to them. Manning and Snowden likely only increased the zeal for official secrecy.
The two showed courage
Lance, we’ve now had two of the most significant whistle blowers in history — Manning and now Snowden — in just three years. They’re relatively low-level IT guys, with little education (Snowden was a high school dropout). And yet they had top-security clearance, and walked out with hidden intelligence gems.
Most importantly, they appear to have pure motives. That doesn’t mean they will or should be immune from consequences (Manning already pleaded guilty). But they were compelled to daylight actions taken in America’s name which fundamentally conflict American values of individual liberty and transparency. What’s reprehensible: Constitutional violations on an industrial scale, or the courage to disclose them?
Even before the disclosure that the NSA was sweeping metadata on Americans’ cell phone calls and directly tapping into leading Internet providers, we knew the $75 billion-a-year security state intercepted 60,000 phone calls and emails every second. The recent WikiLeaks documentary, “We Steal Secrets,” had chilling satellite photos of the physical expansion of National Security Agency sites across the country. Our constitution requires police to get a warrant before putting a GPS tracker on your car, or to get your phone records. But in pursuit of potential terrorism, those checks evaporate.
As a nation, we agreed to give up some liberties in the wake of 9/11 with the Patriot Act, with some caveats. Remember the outcry over the Patriot Act’s reach into public libraries? We are now 12 years on, the Patriot Act still the law, and the reach is now into our email inbox.
Lance, I agree that Congress has been supine in its duty to check expansion of the security state. U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., summed up the “meh” reaction in an interview on FOX: “I don’t think you’re talking to terrorists. I know you’re not. I know I’m not. So, we don’t have anything to worry about.” Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said called the PRISM program legal.
Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., – guys across the political spectrum – admirably pushed back. Take a moment and watch Wyden’s fiery floor speech during the Patriot Act re-authorization in 2011. “When the American people will find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they’re going to be stunned, and they’re going to be angry. They’re going to ask, ‘Senators, do you know what this law actually permits?’ ”
The result: the Patriot Act sailed through Congress with little public debate. Now, because of Snowden, we’re having that debate. “The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change,” Snowden told Glenn Greenwald in an interview with the Guardian newspaper. “They’ll know the lengths the government is going to grant themselves power unilaterally to take create greater control over American society and global society, but they won’t be wiling to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to take stand in their interest.”
May 2, 2013 at 11:29 AM
Civil Disagreement pits two members of the Seattle Times editorial board against each other on a question of the day. It is an occasional feature of The Times’ Northwest Opinion blog. Here Bruce Ramsey and Lynne K. Varner take on the recent report that the pay gap between men and women is wider in Seattle than in any other major city.
Bruce, I don’t believe that women are the victims of some vast conspiracy to work us harder and pay us less. Salaries are based on a subjective algorithm that includes education, experience and the personal choices we make in our lives.
In large measure, we women determine our pay by the choices we make, argues this New York Times piece. I agree. We move in and out of the work force more than men. Our work/career trajectory accelerates while we’re single and, for many women, drops after we marry and begin to raise families. That smacks to me of punishing us for the choices we make – choices I might add that work well for society. Better that I raise my child to be a contributing member of society than shirk that responsibility in favor of chasing wages.
But gender disparities in pay are not solely about personal choices. If so, that would be a Mommy tax we could easily dispense with. Changes in public policy are needed to address the problem in a comprehensive way. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would fix the problem in part. The proposed law would make wage and salary information more transparent and easier to share for the majority of American workers. For example, companies could annually publish job titles and corresponding salaries in an accessible database. Employees seeking this information would be protected from workplace retaliation. I like this. We have to get over the American reluctance to discuss salaries and money.
Fifty years after passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, I hope society is beginning to view pay equity as not a women’s issue, but an economic challenge faced by families. Nearly half of households headed by women live in poverty. Your tax dollars go to help those families. About 12 percent of women over age 18 were the heads of their households. Their earnings are critical and society pays the cost in terms of social services for poor households, most of which are headed by women.
In turn, I and other women have to do more than get upset about the yawning gaps in pay based on gender. I was rooting around the website of a national organization devoted to equal pay and found a list of things women can do. Here’s some of what I gleaned.
Discuss pay rates with friends.
Read salary surveys, some are available free online.
Look for companies that not only pay well, but promote women throughout the organization, from the file clerks to the department heads.
Take more science, technology and math courses. Techology and engineering industries pay well and the fact that women are not as highly represented in those fields as men contributes to the wage gap. Also, research shows that women earn more for every math course they take.
Lynne, I wouldn’t be too worried about the “gender pay gap” being wider here. I doubt if the gap is about the Seattle area being a hotbed of discrimination. It is about the kind of jobs we have, which are jobs that disproportionately benefit men.
The Seattle area has a lot of computer, engineering and science jobs that pay well. I know a 22-year-old computer-science grad who has been hired for $120,000. I see tech people every day at lunch: most are men. That’s not discrimination; it’s that more men can do, and are willing to do, the sort of computer work for which Seattle’s employers are willing to pay good money.
The Seattle area also has well-paid blue-collar jobs: aircraft assembly, shipyard work, machine shops, stevedoring, commercial construction, etc. (In the rural areas it’s timber jobs, sawmill jobs, fishing, mining, etc.) There are women in all these fields, but more men. Women can work hard for long hours, and from time immemorial many have, but more men than women can handle a jackhammer or a big chain saw, or hoist a garbage can full of trash.
Women have made huge strides in indoor work: law, accounting, finance, medicine, human resources, academia and government. Look at what has happened in journalism. Nursing, which was a low-pay “pink ghetto,” has become better paid because women had more alternatives to it.
The “gap” everyone talks about is not between men and women with the same jobs. It’s between men and women as groups. The comparison reflects the fact that more men than women are employed full-time, and that more men than women work overtime. It reflects that women leave the job to bear and raise children, and fall behind the men who don’t leave. It reflects women’s preference for jobs with family friendly policies, and safer jobs, even if the jobs pay less.
After looking at the “problem” of the pay gap, a federal study (“An Analysis of the Reason for the Disparity in Wages between Men and Women,” U.S. Dept. of Labor, 2009) found that “there may be nothing to correct. The difference in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”
The raw difference in pay has been shrinking. In 1979, women’s aggregate earnings were an average 62.5 percent of men’s; in 2006, it had risen to 80.8 percent. The reason for the rise, the study said, is that women have been making career decisions more like men.
A final note. For more than a decade, more women have been graduating from college with bachelor’s degrees. By age 25, some 30 percent of women have bachelor’s degrees, but only 22 percent of men have them, because more men drop out to work in construction, shipyards, etc. As this cohort ages, I think the aggregate pay gap will shrink further.