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October 31, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Are we so blinded by our love of sports that we’re willing to be fleeced by the most profitable sports league in the world and its billionaire team owners?
In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts.
Throughout the report, Easterbrook provides an exhaustive look at how American taxpayers have financed “70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums,” in addition to many ongoing infrastructure and operating costs. Here’s a tidbit about the Seattle Seahawks:
CenturyLink Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play, opened in 2002, with Washington State taxpayers providing $390 million of the $560 million construction cost. The Seahawks, owned by Paul Allen, one of the richest people in the world, pay the state about $1 million annually in rent in return for most of the revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and broadcasting (all told, perhaps $200 million a year).
The Seahawks are a great team, but this is just plain wrong, especially when we’re struggling to fully fund public education and to sustain the cost of essential services such as the Metro transit system and health care.
Here’s the kicker: The National Football League is tax exempt. To the IRS, the NFL has been known as the Nonprofit Football League for decades. NBC News reports it gets away with this by only claiming tax immunity for the main office, which operated in 2011 with about $255 million worth of revenue. The NFL’s main function is to distribute billions generated from licensing and television deals to its 32 for-profit teams, each worth on average $1.2 billion according to this Forbes report. Still doesn’t pass the smell test. How many trade or charitable organizations pay their top official (in this case NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) nearly $30 million? (more…)
October 29, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Will the umpteenth time be a charm for the House and Senate as lawmakers begin ironing out differences on a half-trillion dollar farm bill? I hope so. While both sides are in agreement on some parts of the five-year program – for example, eliminating $5 billion subsidy paid to farmers and landowners whether they grow crops or not – ugly battles over steep cuts to the food stamps program stalled past talks.
Not to mention the government shutdown. With that madness over, cooler heads ought to prevail on a compromise that sets smart, economical farm and nutrition policy for the next five years. Failure could mean higher milk prices and other food-related consequences outlined in this Seattle Times story. Also at stake is Washington state’s $40 billion agriculture industry, the third largest exporter in the nation and the source of 160,000 local jobs.
Conversations west of the Cascades have centered on the school nutrition program. That’s certainly a big deal to large and urban school districts, but jobs supported by the farm bill should resonate in the Seattle area as well. Nearly 40 percent of Washington jobs are dependent on trade. Agriculture products make up nearly 50 percent of the Port of Seattle’s total exports (totaling $4.3 billion) and support 22,000 port workers, according to a joint press release from Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene. (more…)
October 22, 2013 at 6:50 AM
If voter anger and frustration with Congress are waning after the mindless closure of the federal government, and flirtation with a massive credit debacle, a “60 Minutes” report will renew the head-shaking disgust.
Correspondent Steve Kroft laid out the pure self-serving greed and aggrandizement behind a lucrative device known as Leadership PACs. The rules around campaign financing are mushy enough, and a case before the U.S. Supreme Court seeks to blow the lid off, but Leadership PACs are different, and pure gold.
As the CBS report “Washington’s open secret: Profitable PACs,” explains, members of Congress can use “money solicited from friends and supporters to advance agendas, careers and lifestyles.” The money can be used to wine and dine contributors, put family members on the campaign payroll, and even make loans to political causes at rates that might embarrass a corner cash-advance lender. And, besides, no one is auditing where the money goes.
Kroft confronted Democrats and Republicans who are members in good standing of this Order of the Out-Stretched Palm. They respond with nary a blush.
They were living the good life and endowing loyalty, support and more donations. Sure they could be noble and forego pay during the federal shutdown; access to cash was not a problem.
October 18, 2013 at 6:00 AM
In the vast arena of public education, the part least understood or addressed well is mental health. Think about it. Schools remain vigilant about ensuring students perform well academically. Immunizations are legally required and periodic check-ups for hearing and vision remain even as school systems have cut back in many areas. These things are appropriate because they directly impact students in the classroom.
Mental health also directly impacts students, as I note in my latest column. But a combination of stigma and inattention has left mental health issues on the periphery of education policy discussions. I write in my column about the many ways that is changing.
An example: In the Seattle Public Schools, all the comprehensive high schools and middle schools, plus the Interagency Academy and the World School, have mental health professionals on staff. This is possible because of the Seattle Families and Education levy, a seven-year measure approved by voters four times, most recently in 2011 for $231 million.
A focus on student health that includes the range from emotional/social issues to diagnosed disorders is a key piece of prevention efforts. It is obviously needed. About one in five adolescents has a mental health disorder and 60 percent to 90 percent of them don’t ask for or receive treatment, according to Child Trends. Most mental health needs of adolescents are first identified in schools, although the point I make in my column is that intervention often does not come soon enough.
This conversation ought to continue next Tuesday when Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler holds a public hearing about insurance plans and coverage of mental health services. Participation is vital because testimony from the public hearing will be used to craft rules guiding mental health parity requirements in this state. Families looking for more information about mental health services can find plenty at the Early Assessment Support Alliance website.
October 11, 2013 at 9:23 AM
The GOP can do better. The party will be haunted by the legacy of a pointless shutdown of the federal government, and the looming threat of the first-ever default on U.S. government debt. Republicans need to look at their bench, and mount challenges to that timid, stodgy crew snugly in place on Capitol Hill.
My column makes that point. The shutdown has idled tens of thousands of workers outside of government for lack of access to federal services and regulatory needs. The closure of national parks has devastated tourist-dependent communities. None of this will be forgotten by voters at election time.
The crisis is grounded in the hostility of a small band of Republicans upset about the Affordable Care Act. The political issue is the failure of the larger party and its leaders to run the legislative chamber it controls. A political disaster morphed into an economic tragedy for American families. Shameful.
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.
September 19, 2013 at 11:34 AM
Watch the one-minute video below released by House Republicans this week and tell me what’s missing:
Notice there’s zero mention of immigration reform? Offering lip service to Latinos for their contributions to America, then refusing to address one of this fast-growing voting bloc’s chief issues makes House Republicans look out of touch.
In the Times editorial board’s Thursday editorial, we argue for three of four Washington Republican congressional members — U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, Doc Hastings of Pasco and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas — to rally behind a comprehensive immigration reform package that includes a path to citizenship. (more…)
August 30, 2013 at 12:02 PM
Prime Minister David Cameron asked the British Parliament to approve a military attack on Syria and it voted no, 285-272. Britain is staying out. France, the former colonial power, is the Obama administration’s only pal. And what does the U.S. Congress have to say?
Nothing. It’s not in session. Keith Koffler at Whitehousedossier.com made the cynical comment that the real reason for no vote is, “They’re on vacation.” Members of Congress don’t want to have to drop everything and come back to Washington, D.C., and listen to endless speeches and have to vote. “Do not underestimate the power of this,” Koffler writes.
In the House, 116 members have signed a petition for a vote. But that’s only a quarter of the opposition-controlled chamber. When it comes to U.S. military action in places like Syria, Libya and Somalia, Congress has been constitutionally on vacation for a long time. It’s used to letting presidents make war.
Time magazine asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., whether the Obama administration should wait for Congress to return and vote. Her answer. “There have been consultations.” But “consultation” is not a vote. British Prime Minister David Cameron could have skated through on “consultation.” On a vote, he lost.
The Constitution is unclear on this. It gives Congress the power to declare war. It makes the president the commander of military forces. Everyone agrees that the president can use the military to defend against an attack, or an imminent attack on American soil or forces. But Syria does not threaten us. U.S. forces would be committing an act of war—a “discrete and limited” act as Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest says, but still, blowing stuff up and killing people to punish Syria’s government for using weapons Obama told it not to.
Congress should vote on this. If the British people, who don’t have a written constitution, can have this sort of check-and-balance on the warmaking of their leader, Americans should have it too. We could have it if Congress called itself back from political vacation and insisted on it.
August 5, 2013 at 6:45 AM
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. skittered back to their home districts for five weeks of vacation. They must be exhausted. Congress passed 15 bills in 2013.
My column this past Friday talked about the GOP election apparatus gearing up for a 50-state strategy. I welcomed the campaign offensive because someone needs to explain what the party stands for. Confused, vexed Republicans are among those most perplexed.
Comments appended to the column online wagged a rhetorical finger and invoked other symbolic uses of a digit. None of those upright expressions of anger were accompanied by a coherent defense of the party.
A story from the Washington Post, featured in the Seattle Times’ excellent CloseUp feature on page A3, made it clear why there is a scarcity of vigorous defense.
There is nothing to defend. Not even zesty partisans are willing to promote gridlock, empty imaginations, and a wholesale lack of political skills.
July 1, 2013 at 6:00 AM
The state Legislature narrowly averted a government shut down last week by passing an operating budget. Congress had a fiscally-related deadline too but failed to meet it. The result is that today federal student loan interest rates rose from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. That’s double the current rate paid by more than 7 million students nationwide. The jump hits Washington state hard. Last year, 45 percent of the freshmen enrolled in our public higher-education system borrowed for college.
Congress’ failure is disappointing. Times editorials here and here argued for action by Congress. Last year, lawmakers extended the current rate when they could not agree on a more long-term solution. But they failed to do so this time. A nation hamstrung by more than $1 trillion in student loan debt must tackle interest rates.
Congress recessed for the Fourth of July holiday and several members of the state’s delegation, including Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Suzan DelBene will be at the University of Washington at 10 a.m. this morning to push for the Keep Student Loans Affordable Act of 2013 (S. 1238) which would extend low rates for a year giving Congress time to work on a long-term solution.