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December 16, 2013 at 6:00 AM
The serial tragedies of gun violence perpetrated by young men provoke two responses, depending on which adjective you focus on: gun or mentally unstable.
I ranted in October that proposed public policies to address recent shooting incidents got lost in the shouting about the first adjective. Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, were culpable because they wouldn’t decouple mental health improvements from the gun issue, believing, I suspect, that is the only way the latter will pass.
Well, something happened last week that gives me hope.
December 4, 2013 at 5:38 AM
On the eve of my retirement, Times Editorial Page Editor Kate Riley suggested I pick my favorites from the 342 columns I’ve written for The Times since 2000. Here are 10, with my own headlines:
1. “Games With Words,” April 12, 2000. This was my takedown of the World Trade Organization protesters, who used loopy logic to justify their disruption of an international conference.
2. “A Republican War,” April 9, 2003. I hated the Iraq war and wrote three columns against it before President Bush started it. This one was written while U.S. soldiers were on the way to Baghdad. In it, I predict that the conquest of Iraq would result in an electoral disaster for the Republicans in 2004. I was wrong; the disasters came in 2006 and 2008.
October 21, 2013 at 12:49 PM
UPDATE: One of the two people killed in the Nevada middle school shooting was a teacher who stepped in to protect his students. This Huffington Post story has the details. The teacher’s death may renew ridiculous suggestions by the National Rifle Association that teachers should be allowed to carry a gun or at least have one handy in the classroom.
This New York Times story noted the public is less than enamored with the idea.
#Guncontrol and #schoolshooting began trending on social media minutes after CNN and other news outlets reported two people had been killed and two others were in serious condition after a shooting rampage Monday morning at a Nevada middle school.
Sparks Middle School, located just outside of Reno, was evacuated quickly. Parents picked up their kids. District authorities have gone from tweeting “Code Red” to offering Twitter updates from the crime scene. A new name joins Newtown and other schools in that macabre section of the American lexicon reserved for mass school shootings. Public discourse on social media quickly turned to gun control, a debate that illustrates better than any other policy issue, America’s stark political divide.
Tweeting under the name @globaloutrage, Jack Scharber asked:
“Another day in America. Another school shooting. When are we going to confront the awful root causes of this senselessness?”
“Another shooting in America kills more innocent kids. Their obsession with guns is destroying the country.”
Time for another run at comprehensive gun control. The kind that includes background checks and other safeguards argued for by the Seattle Times Editorial Board, most recently here. I’m not too hopeful this latest shooting will be the catalyst that moves people from their fixed positions on both sides of the debate. That is because the problem has never been a lack of political effort to better regulate guns, the problem is that these efforts never get very far. The heavy thumb of the Second Amendment lobby tamps down on anything that hints of gun safety legislation. A prime example can be found in this piece by the National Rifle Association’s legislative policy arm. The powerful gun lobby brags about the veto by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) of gun control legislation last June. The article calls New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg “an extremist” for promoting sensible gun control through “Mayors Against Illegal Guns.”
The exception may be Washington state, where almost enough signatures have been secured to mount an initiative calling for universal background checks for gun sales. Initiative 594 would go first to the Legislature. But if lawmakers failed to pass the measure, it would go to voters in 2014, a Times blog reported. Among those helping secure signatures here was Cheryl Stumbo, a victim of the 2006 shooting rampage at the Seattle Jewish Federation. This Washington Post story warns of the uphill battle gun control advocates face in Washington state.
If I’m correct and this latest tragedy failed to move beyond #Nevadashooting on Twitter, then it sadly is just another day in America.
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 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 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM
The choice of turning the old PacMed Center into apartments or classrooms is expected to be made Tuesday.
The Pacific Hospital Preservation and Development Authority, the public entity that owns the sprawling art deco-style building atop Beacon Hill, is holding a public meeting Tuesday starting at 6 . Afterward, the authority’s governing council is expected to vote on whether to lease the Pacific Tower building to Seattle Central Community College or to a Miami-based developer looking to convert the historic building into market-rate apartments.
For reasons underscoring the vital importance of education and healthcare, Seattle is better off if the college is chosen. Seattle Central’s plan to expand its nursing, dentistry, respiratory, surgical technical and optician programs would increase employment options for students entering the fast-growing medical fields. Healthcare providers would have access to skilled, locally-trained employees.
There is an appropriate interest in keeping the building consistent with its historic role as a place for good health care. The building was built in 1932 as a hospital for military veterans, merchant seamen and the Coast Guard. From 1998 to 2011, the building was the headquarters for Amazon.com.
A credible plan is not marred by the big feet of House Speaker Frank Chopp, who unilaterally earmarked $20 million from the state capital budget to pay for Seattle Central’s renovation of the building. An additional $4.8 million from the state operating budget would cover lease payments and other operating costs for two years.
Chopp’s rare public flexing of political muscle, detailed in this Times story, rankled some, including Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina. Chopp’s 43rd legislative district includes Seattle Central and the Democrat found a workable way to preserve a historic building and help a fine educational institution grow.
Chopp is not the first legislator on either side of the political aisle to earmark money for a project in his or her district. That does not mean keeping an eye on the public debt created by capital spending is not a worthwhile endeavor. It is. But in this case, the spending is on an important and beneficial project.
June 14, 2013 at 12:43 PM
As the state House and Senate near a budget deal (we all hope), lawmakers are reminded to make sure higher education has enough money.
This is not the year for cuts. At a minimum, the budget must include maintenance-level funding that allows our public universities and community and technical colleges to pay for current programs and obligations.
Budget proposals from the Democratic House and the Republican-led Senate Majority Coalition include maintenance-level funding. Both budgets also invest more money in the State Need Grant.
But in letters to key lawmakers this week, education leaders from both the state’s four-year and two-year systems expressed serious concerns about the budget prospects. (more…)
May 31, 2013 at 7:00 AM
My column this week noted the education reforms in Colorado, a state of similar population and demographics to Washington. Colorado is further down the road making school improvements and offers lessons for this state. The biggest lesson is about charter schools, which Colorado has had for nearly 20 years. An advocacy group in Denver, A-Plus, produced a report last year that credited a handful of high-performing charter schools as driving the bulk of improvement growth scores seen in the Denver Public Schools.
Denver has 32 charter schools serving more than 10,000 students.
The district’s growth score was among the highest compared with other large urban districts in Colorado – essentially improving by 1 percentile point when scores from charters were included. In response, the district has launched a principal training program in which school leaders will spend a year in high-performing charter schools to glean best practices to take back to the traditional schools. And a group of middle schools is asking the district for permission to tweak their school calendars like charter schools do.
My column mentions a school funding proposing by Colorado state Sen. Mike Johnston. This Denver Post article best explains it.
At the end of my column I linked to Johnston’s speech. If you have the time, it is worth listening to. But below is a powerful excerpt.
May 23, 2013 at 6:00 AM
UPDATE: The U.S. House of Representatives voted 221 to 198 in favor of a Republican plan to avert a scheduled doubling of student loan interest rates. The bill now goes to the Senate which is unlikely to take it up anytime soon because of ongoing work on the farm bill for now and immigration next month. Good.
Even though Congress needs to act by July 1 or student loan interest rates will jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, the bill passed Thursday by the House is a terrible solution. It would set a temporary low interest rate on students loans but the problem is future interest rates would be attached to 10-year Treasury notes. That sets in motion interest rates that would vary with the markets. Hundreds of thousands of student borrowers would be saddled with higher, rather than lower, debt.
A better option, offered by U.S. Rep Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, was blocked by Republican leadership from even coming up for a vote. DelBene’s bill would have kept current low student loan interest rates for two years while Congress worked on a long-term solution. The Senate has a bill similar to the one offered by DelBene.
A nation that already owes more than $1 trillion in student loans must do something to rein in student loan interest rates. But the GOP plan harms students more than it helps them. The Congressional Budget Office projects the legislative plan would translate to a 5 percent interest rate on Stafford loans in 2014. Sounds okay, right? But that rate would soar to 7.7 percent in 2023. Moreover, Stafford loan rates would be capped at 8.5 percent, while loans for parents and graduate students would have a 10.5 percent ceiling under the GOP proposal. This Congressional Research Office analysis does the math.
GOP sponsors of the bill are trying to sell it as a facsimile of a proposal by the Obama administration. Not quite. Yes, President Obama supports tying student loan interest rates to an economic indicator – many Democratic lawmakers do. But the details of the president’s plan matter. (more…)
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.