Friday, March 24, 2006

Is it just me, or...

The Kitsap County Public Works Building, constructed in 1992, needs over $1 million in repairs. Part of it is because materials unsuitable for this climate were used, but there’s also an issue of substandard construction — things like windows being installed upside down and backwards.
Am I the only one who sees the irony in the Public Works Building being located directly across the street from where all the county’s building inspectors work?

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge James Allendoerfer recently confirmed what thinking people already understood: Enronesque legislators cooked the state’s books to the tune of $250 million in illegally imposed “sin” taxes, to balance the overly-bloated $26 billion two-year budget.
These are the same folks who patted themselves on the back for passing a supplemental budget this year that spends most of an unexpected $1.4 billion surplus. They didn’t spend it on one-time costs like school buildings — but things that will become ongoing costs funded by increased taxes in future budgets.
Voters passed Initiative 601 in 1993 to reign in a legislature, which was spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave. That didn’t stop cagey spenders from exploiting a loophole that allowed moving dollars between state accounts in a shell game that bypassed the intent of I-601.
A handful of business groups — namely the Building Industry Association of Washington, The Washington Farm Bureau, The Washington State Grange, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, challenged the loophole, and Allendoerfer, in our view, correctly, slammed it shut.
This would be a victory for taxpayers — if the state weren’t arrogantly still collecting those taxes — and will, until the Supreme Court decides this.

Kitsap County Department of Community Development (DCD) officials have gone way out of their way to okay construction of a monster home in Manchester that’s not only completely out of character for the area, but violates height restrictions and blocks views from existing, nearby homes. For the record, although I own a home in Manchester, this doesn’t impact me.
Dick and Helen Asche appealed to the Hearing Examiner, after DCD allowed the homeowners to aggregate an adjoining lot — after the illegal building permit had been issued — therefore mitigating the height restrictions — and covering its butt. Incredibly, the Hearing Examiner sided with DCD.
Why, when DCD goes out of its way to deny permits to sensible projects, does it jump through legally questionable hoops to skirt the spirit and intent of the law to do something so utterly and completely wrong?
I’d also be surprised if DCD has heard the last of the Asches.

Representative Sherry Appleton really stepped in it when she proposed giving the Suquamish Tribe a bunch of our tax money to fund some questionable reservation projects.
A proposed Early Learning Center was a laudable idea that would not only benefit tribal children, but others as well, and deserved funding. But the other tribal projects, including a totem pole, were nothing but pure pork and political payback. Appleton should know better.
The tribe is not a friend of Kitsap County taxpayers. It rakes in millions of tax-free dollars from its casino and other business operations, yet sues the county on a regular basis, costing us millions. Hypocritically, it often doesn’t adhere to the very same rules it sues over. As a “Sovereign Nation” it doesn’t have to. Other “Sovereign Nations,” like Canada, for example, can’t sue the county over things like land use issues, yet the tribe can. What’s wrong with this picture?

Finally, there’s a persistent rumor that once November’s election is over, and Kitsap Republicans lose the political ground many anticipate, a group of mainstreamers are going to attempt to wrest control of the party from the extremist right-wing represented by perennial candidate Lois McMahan and chairman Matt Cleverly.
The mainstreamers’ goal is to offer voters credible, centrist, common sense choices — besides left-wing Democrats. In my view, it’s Kitsap’s only hope of ever moving local government back towards the center

Monday, March 20, 2006

Setting the record straight on NASCAR

Am I the only one who believes our local daily newspaper has compromised itself ethically over its coverage of the NASCAR issue? It appears to me at least, that the Kitsap Sun opposes the project and is systematically abusing its position of community trust by attempting to influence public opinion against it.

No matter where you stand on the NASCAR issue, a newspaper’s job is to report the facts — who, what, where, when, why, and how — in a clear, concise, and unbiased manner, and allow the reader to use those facts to make up his or her own mind on a given subject. Journalism 101 teaches it’s professionally unethical to use inflammatory headlines or manipulate the reporting and positioning of news stories as a vehicle to express editorial opinions.

Some recent examples: The front page, lead story headline on Jan. 19, read, “Group: EPA should test for racetrack lead.” The subhead reads: ”A study finds elevated levels of the toxin in the blood of NASCAR crew members.”

This certainly sounds ominous, and if NASCAR is going to bring that here, we sure don’t want it. Right?

However, the real facts of this story are hidden in what’s called the “jump,” — the continuation of the story on another page — in this case the bottom of page five. The majority of readers never turn to the “jump.” Editors know this.

In the “jump” a representative of an environmental activist group called Clean Air Watch, confesses just 47 people were studied — and only minimally. He admits, “We didn’t take any air samples. We just looked at the associations between exposure and blood lead levels. We’re hoping NASCAR will see the light, so to speak, and fund us to do a larger study.”

So what’s this so-called “front-page news” really about? It’s about an environmental group trying to intimidate NASCAR into funding a “study” the group could use against it. But if you didn’t read the “jump,” only the headline or the first few paragraphs, you could be led to think because race cars burn leaded gas, everyone attending a NASCAR race is routinely exposed to lead poisoning, and they’re hiding that fact from us.

Meanwhile, a story about the “Back The Track” event being held that very same evening at the Tacoma Dome was buried back in the sports section.

Also hidden in the sports section, under the fold, on Jan. 21, was a story about NASCAR switching to unleaded fuel for the 2008 racing season. Do you think that should have rated equal coverage, or that the original story wasn’t “front-page” quality news to begin with?

The main front-page story the next day, Jan. 20, talks about the task force made up of supposedly “undecided” citizens, studying impacts of NASCAR tracks in other communities. Since the committee is finding primarily only positive news when cold-calling members of racetrack communities, the story makes a point to say, “The feedback has left task force members mining for nuggets of possible negatives.”

Excuse me? In spite of being stacked with at least three members vehemently opposed to the track, “mining for negatives” isn’t the task force’s job. The group is charged with polling racetrack community citizens, collecting data, and simply compiling and reporting the results — positive or negative.

But such positive news about the track couldn’t possibly be left to dominate the front page, so right next to the story about the committee was a companion piece about how ISC’s funding proposal hasn’t garnered any legislative support yet. Except for a brief comment by Commissioner Jan Angel, the story failed to mention that with the entire House and one third of the Senate up for re-election in November, legislators won’t align themselves with any issue that could be used against them at election time.

Meanwhile the story about the previous evening’s “Back The Track” event was again buried on the sports page — in spite of the fact it drew over 5,000 supporters, according to turnstile tallies.

Do you see a pattern here?

Then there’s the Letters to the Editor. The anti-track letters, which run almost daily, have been rife with misinformation, distortions and outright lies. Supportive letters are either ignored, or the most illiterate-sounding ones run — those perpetuating the elitist stereotype of the uneducated, beer-swilling, redneck race fan. Employing often-unfounded scare tactics about traffic, noise, the environment, and especially increased taxes, has seemingly been elevated to an editorial art form.
For example, on Jan. 20, a letter appeared accusing the Kitsap Economic Development Council (KEDC) of pushing an agenda, “…hitting up the citizens of Washington State to fund the track.”

Although it endorsed the concept of the track, and supports the ISC funding plan, the KEDC has no “agenda”; and has certainly has never advocated, “hitting up” anyone to “fund the track.”
On Jan. 22, there were two letters stating the authors didn’t want any of their tax money used to build the track. Neither do I. The proposal calls for no new or increased taxes — unless you attend a race. It’s a true “user fee” if there ever was one. It doesn’t cost anything if you stay home on race day. Meanwhile taxpayers did fund Qwest and Safeco Fields — whether they ever attend a game or not.

It’s the editorial page editors’ job to know the facts behind the financing package — and I believe they do. So in my view, providing letter writers with an ongoing forum to blatantly perpetuate misinformation and continually allow the truth to be distorted without correction is irresponsible. Correcting the letter writers about the cold, hard facts isn’t censorship, because not doing so betrays community trust.

Finally, is it just me, or does anyone else see a conflict of interest having the mouthpiece for C.H.E.C.K., the track’s main organized opposition group, sitting as a newly appointed Kitsap Sun editorial board member? Why isn’t there a member from the Checkered Flag Club too?

This isn’t about being for or against the track. All this is about, is doing what’s right and telling the truth. Sadly, many track supporters have come to view the Kitsap Sun’s reporting and its Letters to the Editor on the NASCAR issue as a joke. Unfortunately, it isn’t very funny.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Rantings of a Radical Centrist

As we open this new adventure, I thought it best to post what are my political leanings so there is no confusion about where I stand on things and the filter through which posts here will be colored.

I had been reading and posting on a 26th District Democrats Internet news group. While trying to pass along the Kitsap County business community’s feelings on issues, I’ve been pointedly asked why I bother, since to some other members, I don’t sound like much of a Democrat.

So here’s where I stand — you, the reader, can decide what that makes me.

While writing my Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal column, The Last Word, since 1988, liberals and conservatives alike regularly accuse me of blatant partisanship — sometimes over the same issue. Growing up in the deep south, I view myself as what’s referred to there as a “Dixiecrat” — socially moderate, fiscally conservative. However, over the years, I’ve become what I term a “Radical Centrist” — an independent thinker — and voter. Both parties disdain people like me because we consistently challenge the status quo.

I proudly registered as a Democrat on my 18th birthday. I’ve marched for peace, championed integration, and believe in diversity. But after 35 years, I’ve also come to question much of what’s evolved as gospel according to the Democrats.

The Party appears to me to have moved so far left it’s no longer the one I joined, but one supporting an ever-expanding and more intrusive government, that steadily regulates away many of our freedoms. The party that once stood for independent thinking and hard work has morphed into one promoting and protecting every minority (not necessarily racial) while heavily regulating the lives of the everyday folks doing the actual work of making America operate on a daily basis.

Unions, a core Democratic constituency (I began my journalistic career as a mouthpiece for union labor), have only one growing segment — government employees. Over the past three decades, the part of unionized America actually making and building things has steadily declined into near irrelevance.

Of course, it requires more and more unionized government employees — paid by our ever-escalating taxes — to write those continually increasing regulations, and even more to enforce them. This is all in the name of “protecting” us — in many cases, from ourselves. Do we actually need laws forcing us to use seat belts, or put helmets on our kids when they ride a bike? What ever happened to common sense and personal accountability anyway?

Just how intrusive has government regulation become under the Democrats? A proposal in Kitsap County once called for a $1,000 fine for urinating in your own yard. Is this a rampant problem? How would you prove it in court? How much did it cost taxpayers for lawyers in the prosecutor’s office to research and write this supposed “protection” anyway? Aren’t the cops busy enough dealing with real crime, including meth and other drugs, to worry about who takes a whiz in their back yard?

The Republican brand of gospel is quite different — not better, just different.

Republicans are seemingly obsessed with what goes on in our bodies and bedrooms. They’re evidently on a mission from God to closely monitor, regulate and/or prevent personal physical pleasure. Frankly, what we do in private is none of their damn business!

The government has no business dictating what a woman can or can’t do with her own body. Rowe v. Wade is the law of the land, is widely supported, and been upheld in court numerous times. The Republicans, seemingly would rather win this philosophical argument than an actual election. They need to just get over it and move on.

Gay adults have the right to have sex with other consenting gay adults. Republicans should stop obsessing over whatever perversions they imagine gays, who clearly make them uncomfortable, engage in, and accept them as human beings — just as they do unborn children.

I believe we have to provide for those in our society that can’t provide for themselves — but have no responsibility to those who won’t work.

I’m fiscally conservative, but strongly believe financial responsibility by the government and free-market capitalism aren’t mutually exclusive. Higher taxes and bigger government aren’t the answer, but part of the problem. I see the government having a responsibility to provide a positive, common sense regulatory environment where business can grow, so it can create jobs, which generate paychecks, that when spent, generate the tax revenue local governments run on — not over-regulate it to the point outsourcing those jobs overseas becomes almost mandatory for the business to survive. All that does is create more competition for the fewer jobs left here at home.

Coming from South Florida, I have many reasons to strongly believe in growth management, but see Washington’s GMA as written and interpreted to be a colossal failure. There needs to be more local control. People who don’t live here shouldn’t make our growth decisions based on a formula that works only questionably well in Seattle or Bellevue. I also feel people making those decisions should be directly accountable to the folks their decisions impact — not the Governor.

We need an educated balance between the environment and private property rights — and have a responsibility to protect both equally.

The “Blame America First” crowd annoys me. I believe big parts of the Patriot Act are wrong. I’m sick of partisan politics that demands blind loyalty to ideology, and makes campaign money more important than keeping America safe and strong.

I’m as tired of whining Democrats and their pathetic economic “class warfare,” as I am of elitist Republicans who just don’t “get it” that a growing, prosperous, and diverse middle class — not the corporate bottom line — is America’s true strength. What I call the "Walmartization of America" will be our economic downfall — not tax cuts for the so-called “rich.”

I’m a news junkie and in my work get to travel this country extensively. What I see, hear and read, tells me people in places besides the decidedly ultra-liberal Pacific Northwest hunger for political leaders at all levels of government that are true “Centrists.” They want smart, honest men and woman of character — not ideologues — but pragmatists strong enough to defy their party leadership when necessary — to do what’s right for their constituents.

These days, I feel like a man without a political “home.” I’ve never left the Democratic Party — but often wonder if it hasn't left me. There isn’t a way — especially at the local level — for Republicans to shoot themselves in the foot they haven’t thought of, but I do have extreme confidence in their ability to invent new ones.

Because party leadership is so ideologically entrenched at opposite ends of the political spectrum, they forget all of us here in the center. I’m left to wonder, if views like mine are truly welcome in either party.