by Jon DeVore, 05/31/2009, 11:04 PM

“Kansans for Life,” (yeah, I know) says it deplores the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.

We value life, completely deplore violence, and are shocked and very upset by what happened in Wichita today.

They should be upset I guess, since by my count there were over 80 references to Tiller in their 24 page spring newsletter (PDF,) including the main front page story. Obsess much?

And you’ll notice the second story in the pdf newsletter is about Kathleen Sebelius. A reader at TPM and Josh Marshall point out that the fact Tiller was a donor to Sebelius was something the GOP tried to make a big deal of during Sebelius’s confirmation hearings.

The subjugation of women movement spent decades demonizing Tiller, and then used Tiller’s support as a justification for attacking Sebelius, so the assassination is not exactly some random, out of the blue event. More like sadly and horribly predictable.

That doesn’t mean the gunman isn’t, at some level, nuts, as someone who would do such a thing clearly has issues. But the subjugation movement will now correctly come under intense public scrutiny for the kinds of tactics and rhetoric they have employed in pursuit of their goals. (And yes, the First Amendment gives one remarkably broad freedom to say many, many things when commenting on public issues, but it also gives everyone else the right to be repulsed and sickened by extremism.)

And pretty soon someone in the traditional media will inevitably demand that liberals be respectful and civil, because nothing earns respect like gunning a doctor down at a church service. I’d say we’re a wee bit past “civility” now.

What a terrible day.

by Jon DeVore, 05/31/2009, 8:10 PM

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the man in police custody in connection with the assassination of Dr. George Tiller had a “brush with the law” in the 1990′s.

Scott P. Roeder, the man who was detained by Johnson County officials as a “person of interest” in the Sunday morning killing of George Tiller, has a brush with the law in his past.

He was convicted in 1996 of criminal use of an explosive after police discovered a blasting cap in his car when his car was pulled over because his car was not registered. Roeder served time in Kansas prisons before an appeal was granted on the basis of the search of his car being unlawful, according to court of appeals records.

The article goes on to quote court documents saying that Roeder’s convictions for driving offenses were sustained, and mentions that they were somehow related to the “Freeman Group.” It’s not completely clear if the reporter means the “Freemen,” the nutjobs who holed up in Montana during the last Democratic administration.

At any rate, the killing of Tiller was a political assassination as vile as any assassination. The American Taliban had hounded Tiller for decades, and Tiller had even suffered right-wing attacks previously, having been shot in both arms and enduring a bombing of his clinic. The former attorney general of Kansas, Phil Kline, had relentlessly harassed Tiller and the women of Kansas with legal maneuvers until even Kansans said “enough” and booted Kline from his state post.

While details are still emerging, the pro-subjugation-of-women movement is trying to scramble for political cover.

“For the movement, it could not come at a worse time,” the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, which lobbies against abortion, said of the killing.

“If they make it seem that people who embrace the pro-life movement are kind of this extremist violent group, that could diminish some of the passion and energy on confronting Sotomayor.”

Nice sensitivity there. Don’t let the family grieve or anything.

I don’t know why anyone would think violence is part of the pro-subjugation strategy, other than say, all the violence. Weird how so much of it happened during the last Democratic administration. I’m sure that’s just an unhappy coincidence and has nothing to do with intemperate and inflammatory comments made by political leaders and media personalities.

There’s no discussing things with people who think they have exclusive insight into the supernatural and wish to impose their beliefs on all of society. They either follow the law or they suffer the consequences, and any bastard who thinks he has the right to be judge, jury and executioner needs to feel the full force of a real jury, judge and well, life in prison.

The death penalty is killing after all.

UPDATE 8:45 PM PDT–McClatchy just moved a story with some interviews of people who knew Roeder.

Those who know Roeder said he believed that killing abortion doctors was an act of justifiable homicide.

“I know that he believed in justifiable homicide,” said Regina Dinwiddie, a Kansas City anti-abortion activist who made headlines in 1995 when she was ordered by a federal judge to stop using a bullhorn within 500 feet of any abortion clinic. “I know he very strongly believed that abortion was murder and that you ought to defend the little ones, both born and unborn.”

The McClatchy article also discusses Roeder’s association with right wing extremists.

Morris Wilson, commander of the Kansas Unorganized Citizens Militia in the mid-1990s, said he knew Roeder fairly well.

“I’d say he’s a good ol’ boy except he was just so fanatic about abortion,” said Wilson, who now lives in western Nebraska. “He was always talking about how awful abortion was. But there’s a lot of people who think abortion is awful.”

Yep, it sure sounds like an assassination, although those of us who believe in the rule of law and democracy must hasten to add that Roeder is presumed innocent until he has had a trial by a jury of his peers or pleads guilty, something that Tiller was not afforded at church this morning.

by Goldy, 05/31/2009, 1:00 PM

According to the Seattle Times, housing prices fell throughout the region during 2008, with the median price per square foot dropping 5 percent in King County.  But one neighborhood is bucking the trend, North Beacon/Rainier Valley, which saw median prices rise 12 percent over the year.


[I]t boasts an amenity almost no other neighborhood can offer: the region’s first light-rail line, scheduled to carry its first passenger July 18.

There is a lot of opportunity to make fun of the Times’ latest effort at real estate market cheerleading, not the least of which being its apparent attempt to lump everything south of I-90 and east of I-5 as a single neighborhood. (The examples cited appear to be from distinct neighborhoods we locals would describe as Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, Mount Baker and Rainier Beach, covering a distance of five light rail stops… but then I guess from Times’ distinctly suburban perspective, all us Southeast Seattleites must look alike.)

Still, it’s good to see the Times finally acknowledging something we light rail boosters have been arguing all along: folks like choo-choos. In fact, they like them so much, they’re willing to move to be near them. On the flip side, I challenge the Times’ intrepid real estate reporters to find one anecdote of a person willing to spend a little extra for a house on the basis that it’s a mere eight minute walk to a bus stop.

Put aside for a moment the question as to whether this behavior is rational, and don’t worry your pretty little heads debating the relative economic efficiency of investing in buses versus rail. All that’s entirely beside the point. Rational or not, for whatever reasons, folks simply prefer trains and trolleys over buses. And it’s a preference whose impact is consistently repeated wherever rail systems are built.

It is ironic that, in a nation that otherwise reveres the market, establishment voices like the Times should so often ignore consumer demand when debating transit alternatives, always arguing that we should build the transit system that costs taxpayers the least, rather than the one they actually want. That’s no way to run a business, and I’d argue that’s no way to run a government either… at least not if your goal is to keep your customers happy.

So North Beacon Hill/Rainier Valley is about to get its light rail, and I’m guessing once it does, our region’s other four “neighborhoods” will want their’s too.

by Lee, 05/31/2009, 12:00 PM

Milwhcky just keeps on rolling. He won last week’s contest for his fourth win a row. It was the London Zoo in the UK (thanks to for posting the link). This week’s is a tough one. I may have to throw out a clue a little later today. Good luck!

by Goldy, 05/31/2009, 10:38 AM

You knew it would happen eventually, but now we get to see how the right responds to the first terrorist attack on US soil since Obama assumed the presidency:

George Tiller, the Wichita doctor who became a national lightning rod in the debate over abortion, was shot to death this morning as he walked into church services.

No, it’s not anywhere near the scale of 9/11, but it fits the definition of terrorism nonetheless: “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.”

Will Republicans rally around President Obama in his efforts to fight the terrorist threat, as Democrats rallied around President Bush in the immediate wake of 9/11? It remains to be seen.

by Jon DeVore, 05/31/2009, 10:09 AM

From the Young Conservative Anthem.

“Phase me, make me, into something that ain’t me

Serious c… can’t nobody shake me

great like the Gatsby, poppin posers like acne

Don’t matter if your gay, straight, Christian or Muslim

There’s one thing we all hate, called socialism.

It’s loathsome, and America ain’t the outcome,

Raise taxes on the people,

And you’re gonna feel symptoms, problems

I gotta message for a young con:

superman that socialism,

waterboard that terrorism”

See the video at HuffPo!

Adding, it’s very novel for students at an Ivy League college to lecture people about hard work and playing the hand one is dealt. Not saying people there don’t work hard, but if you’re going to an Ivy League school you’ve got a pretty good shot at a decent life. As with seemingly all conservatives, the sense of victim hood is palpable, constant and—hilariously absurd.

Likely these two will be installed on Wall Street in a few years, where they can dream up innovative financial products so another generation gets to enjoy the benefits of derivatives.

(Props to Aneurin for noticing this bit of strangeness.)

by Lee, 05/30/2009, 5:04 PM

- Kitsap County was forced to pay Bruce Olson $2,000 as reimbursement for the grow lights that they confiscated from him and never returned after the ill-conceived 2007 raid on his legal marijuana patch.

- The Marc Emery extradition hearings have been pushed back another few weeks as a potential plea deal is being worked out.

- Melissa Gira Grant writes in Slate about why the crackdown on Craigslist for their erotic classifieds will just lead to more problems when it comes to dealing with prostitution. Dominic Holden and Jonah Spangenthal-Lee write about a local case that illustrates the pointlessness of maintaining an absolute prohibition on paying for erotic services rather than regulating it.

- Scott Morgan dismantles the myth that marijuana is a “gateway drug”.

- In Mexico, the political party that most openly advocates for drug legalization has seen some of its candidates violently attacked, allegedly by the cartels. It’s an important reminder that those who steadfastly oppose drug legalization are on the same side of the debate as the organized crime groups who profit from the illegal drugs.

- Time Magazine writes about one of the most morally bankrupt aspects of the international war on drugs – the attempts to use the U.N. to ban the ancient practice of chewing coca leaves in indigenous areas of South America.

by Jon DeVore, 05/30/2009, 2:33 PM

Hard to re-brand the GOP when its elected officials step in poo like this. From The Columbian:

A proposal by County Commissioner Tom Mielke that Clark County should withhold some public health services from people without valid Social Security numbers has inflamed some Latino civil rights advocates.

At a hearing Wednesday, Mielke said he was “concerned about the service that we give to illegals, and the cost.”

“If we don’t have those Social Security numbers, I would like to know who those individuals are who we are serving that are here illegally, and why we serve them and help them in their health,” said Mielke, a Battle Ground Republican. “I think Sheriff Lucas is very interested in who they are.”

To their credit, Republican Sheriff Gary Lucas and Republican County Commissioner Marc Boldt rejected Mielke’s idea out of hand, as did Democratic Commissioner Steve Stuart.

Tough economic times always put resentments in sharp relief. You could wipe out all public health spending in Clark County and it wouldn’t make much difference to the economy one way or the other. Unemployment is high in Clark County not because of illegal immigration but because the local economy was so heavily depending on construction and endless growth. And coming on the heels of the swine flu stuff, it’s a pretty asinine proposal by Mielke.

This is basically Mielke representing the Limbaugh wing of his party, and the more astute politicians are figuring out citizens are beyond tired of that particular vintage.

by Darryl, 05/30/2009, 12:03 AM


(And there are over fifty more clips from the past week in politics posted at Hominid Views.)

by Goldy, 05/29/2009, 10:26 AM

There are a number of set strategies that come into play when running or opposing a ballot measure, and some of the most time tested involve the ballot title. So it is curious to consider the No side’s strategy in challenging the title to Referendum 71, which would put the recently passed domestic partnership legislation before voters.

No doubt the the original title assigned by the Attorney General’s office is more than acceptable to the Yes camp (those who would favor upholding the legislation), while the alternative proposed by the R-71′s sponsors (those who oppose the legislation) is more favorable to their electoral prospects.  Here is the original ballot title language:

“Same-sex couples, or any couple that includes one person age sixty-two or older, may register as a domestic partnership with the state. Registered domestic partnerships are not marriages, and marriage is prohibited except between one man and one woman. This bill would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of registered domestic partners and their families to include all rights, responsibilities, and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples and their families.”

And here is the alternative proposed by a referendum sponsor:

“The bill would expand the rights, responsibilities and obligations of registered domestic partners to be equal to the rights, responsibilities and obligations granted by or imposed by state law on married couples, except that domestic partnerships will not be called marriages.”

The original title is certainly more informative than the proposed alternative, accurately noting that “Registered domestic partnerships are not marriages, and marriage is prohibited except between one man and one woman.” Specifically restating our state’s DOMA-enforced definition of marriage can’t help but soften opposition to expanding rights for domestic partnerships, so I’m guessing that’s the language that the R-71 sponsors are most opposed to.  And for good reason.

But while a favorable ballot title (that is, favorable to your side) can amount to as much as a point or two advantage at the polls, it’s not worth a hill of beans if you don’t get your measure on the ballot in the first place, and that’s the kind of Sophie’s choice the two camps were faced with in making their calculation whether or not to challenge the ballot title.

R-71 sponsors have only until July 25 to collect 120,577 valid voter signatures. Add the recommended 20% cushion to account for duplicates, mismatched signatures and other discrepencies, and you’re looking at a target of about 144,000 signatures in less than eight weeks… and counting.

Had the No camp let last Friday’s challenge deadline slide, they could have printed petitions overnight and started collecting on May 23, giving them 63 days to gather their signatures at an average rate of about 2,286 signatures a day. But now, with a Thurston County Superior Court judge not scheduled to hear their challenge until next Tuesday, R-71 sponsors will have at most 52 days to gather signatures. At an average rate of over 2,769 a day, they’ve effectively added almost 500 extra signatures a day to their burden—a 21-percent increase—while losing two Sundays, a definite blow to a canvassing campaign that will likely rely on churches to produce a large chunk of its signatures.

Without a large infusion of cash to pay professional signature gatherers (we’re talking several hundred thousand dollars) this target just doesn’t seem doable, especially considering how noncontroversial the domestic partnership legislation has proven within the general population. Perhaps the R-71 sponsors are hoping for a miracle, but I don’t remember Jesus performing any magic tricks in the interest of promoting discrimination.

Meanwhile, the ballot title challenge itself was a crapshoot to begin with, with judges tending to retain the AG’s original language more often than not. Yes, the stuff about marriage being between one man and one woman sucks a lot of the outrage out of voters on the fence, but it will be hard for the No camp to successfully argue that voters should be presented with less information, unless they are fortunate enough to draw a judge who both sympathizes with their agenda, and is willing to use his court to act on it.  (You know, one of those damn activist judges the right is always complaining about.)

So it makes me wonder what the No camp’s strategy really is? Do they really believe they can gather the requisite signatures in a little more than seven weeks? Are they confident they have a chance of prevailing at the polls if they do qualify? Or have they wisely started to question whether waging a losing battle over R-71 might ultimately cause their anti-gay agenda more harm than good?

Yeah, I’m cynical, but this ballot title challenge sure does look like a poison pill. Which I guess, ironically, might make this religious right backed referendum our state’s second documented case of death with dignity.

The ballot title challenge has been withdrawn after wasting a week of precious signature gathering time.  So I guess there’s no dignity after all.

by Lee, 05/29/2009, 7:32 AM

Last week, the first Washington resident took advantage of the new Death with Dignity law, and chose to end her terminal illness with her family and her dog by her side. Another half-dozen individuals in the state have received the medication after being certified by physicians. This law, as in Oregon, is only used by a few dozen people a year. No one gets excited about people using the law, but supporters still work to make sure that people know it and can discuss it with their doctor. As Barbara Coombs Lee from Compassion & Choices explains in the Huffington Post, it pays off:

Most Compassion & Choices supporters would eagerly bargain away a few days of extended life in an intensive care unit in exchange for final days spent at home, in relative comfort and meaningful communion with those they love. Such folks don’t adhere to the doctrine of redemptive suffering and would rather slip away peacefully if imminent dying would be otherwise prolonged and agonized.

Well, the evidence is in. Recent studies indicate the single most powerful thing a person can do to improve the chance for gentle dying is — simply and courageously — to talk about it.
Talk to whom? First and foremost, talk to your personal physician. It’s never too early for this conversation. This March an important study appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine. A large, multi-institutional study, it evaluated the quality of life at the end of life for people with advanced cancer.

Lo and behold! Those individuals who had discussed end-of-life values and preferences with their doctors experienced significantly less suffering in their final week of life. A significant reduction in intensive care hospitalizations and high technology interventions accounted for this desirable outcome. Not too surprising, the patients who had talked with their doctors, and who experienced a more peaceful, pain-free end of life, also received less costly care than those tethered to the tubes and machines meant to extend their lives.

But one finding is stunning enough to be a game-changer in end-of-life care. For all the suffering they inflicted and all the cost they incurred, the tubes and machines actually bought no life extension. None.

Coombs Lee goes on to give some good advice on how to start up that conversation with your doctor, as most doctors will not initiate it. Compassion & Choices has been doing a tremendous amount of work making sure that Washington’s law works as well as Oregon’s, where even death with dignity opponent Sen. Ron Wyden conceded in front of Congress that the law has worked incredibly well when it comes to improving end-of-life care:

While I do not know how I would vote if the issue were to appear on the Oregon ballot once more, I believe it is time for me to acknowledge that my fears concerning the poor elderly were thankfully never realized, and the safeguards appear to have worked quite well in preventing potential abuses.

What is often not discussed by opponents of the Oregon law is the Oregon Death With Dignity Act has brought about many improvements in end of life care in Oregon. Pain management has improved. My state remains the only state to discipline a physician for the under-treatment of pain. However, perhaps the most important side effect of the law is that families, health professionals and patients know they can, and should have conversations about how they want to die and what their wishes are concerning treatment.

The end-of-life rules before I-1000 was passed into law allowed for physicians to make decisions on end-of-life care that should have been left up to patients. Changing that protocol and allowing for conversations about different choices to take place is not just giving patients better options, it’s also improving their care overall.

by Lee, 05/28/2009, 9:12 PM

Arnold Schwarzenegger on Rush: “I think that they say that Rush Limbaugh is the 800 lb. gorilla in the Republican Party, but I think that’s mean spirited to say that because I think he’s down to 650 lbs., so I think one should be fair to him about this whole thing.”

by Lee, 05/28/2009, 6:25 PM

On Tuesday, a medical marijuana grower in Wallingford named Roger Spohn was raided by what appeared to be four FBI agents. He soon realized that the agents were actually robbers and called the police. When the police arrived, however, they confiscated most of his plants. Spohn is a registered medical marijuana patient who was maintaining a grow for multiple patients, something which is not allowed by state law but in recent years has been overlooked in King County according to attorney Douglas Hiatt.

When Washington’s medical marijuana law was being revised in 2008, this was one of the major concerns from the patient community. At the time, I’d spoken with individuals who had grown for patients who were either too ill or too frail to grow for themselves. Some of these folks were known by law enforcement to be growing for multiple patients, but were left alone because they weren’t selling to non-patients. Many were worried that codifying a specific plant limit would lead to situations like the one that happened on Tuesday. They were right. After the police came to his house, Spohn was left with only the state-mandated limit of 15 plants (out of the nearly 200 he’d been growing).

At this point, I can’t say for sure whether or not Spohn was diverting any of his grow output to non-patients, but I’ve known Douglas Hiatt long enough that I’d be surprised if he stood up for a grower who was doing that. Most growers are patients themselves and worry greatly about going to jail. And Spohn hasn’t been charged with anything, meaning that the police don’t have any evidence that Spohn was diverting any of his supply. Hopefully, SPD is more concerned with finding the robbers who are not only guilty of breaking and entering and theft, but also of impersonating law enforcement.

If the police are unable to prove that Spohn wasn’t just growing for authorized patients in this state, SPD should return his plants. That’s not a legal judgement on my part, it’s a pragmatic one. Medical marijuana patients who were relying on Spohn for their medicine are now going to have to find alternative avenues. For a city that is so concerned with street dealers and gang violence, this was an incredibly short-sighted move by those officers. They just gave some very brazen criminals a larger customer base along with their stolen goods. To believe that that move couldn’t come back to bite SPD in the ass is wishful thinking.

The last time we had an incident with SPD confiscating medicine from an authorized patient, the DEA eventually got involved and the marijuana was never returned. Unfortunately, because Spohn was technically in violation of state law, even Obama’s DEA could get involved and the same outcome may transpire. If that happens, it will be another illustration of how last year’s attempt to improve our state’s medical marijuana law to protect patients was a failure.

by Goldy, 05/28/2009, 1:41 PM

I’ve already gone out on a limb by predicting that none of the challengers in the Seattle mayor’s race have the political chops to unseat unpopular yet effective incumbent Greg Nickels.  It’s not an endorsement of Nickels, I just calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.

So why haven’t I made a similar effort to handicap the King County Executive race? Well, because like nearly every other political observer I’ve talked to, I haven’t the foggiest idea who’s gonna eventually come out on top.

What I do know is the that the wet dream scenario for each of the four Democrats would be to face off against Susan Hutchison in November, but while she’s the only Republican, the only woman and the only candidate with name ID north of 30% in the race, I’m still not so sure this scenario is such a sure thing. Name ID and gender won’t do it alone, so if Hutchison expects to make it through the primary she can’t keep ducking interviews and candidate forums. And while I suppose the $58,200 she’s raised thus far is respectable, nearly $45,000 of it has come in the form of double-max donations from the usual suspects (Kemper Freeman, Bruce McCaw, John Stanton, et al), accounting for a stunning average of over $1000 per contributor. Thanks to contribution limits, at some point Hutchison is going to have to expand her base beyond the very, very wealthy if she expects to stay competitive, even in the money race.

Before Hutchison stepped in, the primary was shaping up to be a regional playoff, with Eastside legislators Fred Jarrett and Ross Hunter battling to faceoff in November against the winner of the Seattle bracket contest between Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips. But Hutchison is at the very least a monkey wrench that makes all efforts at prognostication nearly impossible. A fairly even split on one or both of the Democratic brackets works strongly in Hutchison’s favor, but even mildly lopsided outcomes in the regional contests could easily result in an early exit for the former newscaster. We’ll see.

As for the Constantine vs. Phillips, Hunter vs. Jarrett subplots, well, it’s too early to pick discernible favorites.  For a while there I thought Constantine was picking up momentum, but that appears to have stalled at least for the moment. And neither Jarrett nor Hunter have had time to do much campaigning or fundraising since the end of the legislative session.

So while I don’t know how interesting the debate will be, for the moment at least, it looks like an interesting horserace.

by Goldy, 05/28/2009, 10:00 AM

There are a lot of wire stories the Seattle Times could reprint and plug from their home page, but they chose this one:

National sales tax idea getting fresh look

With budget deficits soaring and President Obama pushing a trillion-dollar-plus expansion of health coverage, some Washington policymakers are taking a fresh look at a moneymaking idea long considered politically taboo: a national sales tax.


Had John McCain won the White House… were the Republicans currently even a credible opposition party, if not a legitimate threat to seize control of the House or Senate in 2010… then perhaps the notion of a highly regressive national sales tax might amount to something more than just a right-wing fantasy.  But he didn’t, they’re not, and it won’t.

So the question remains, why would the Times reprint this particular piece of pointless, idle speculation? Wishful thinking?

by Jon DeVore, 05/28/2009, 8:55 AM


Photographs of Iraqi prisoner abuse which U.S. President Barack Obama does not want released include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse, Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Thursday.

The images are among photographs included in a 2004 report into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison conducted by U.S. Major General Antonio Taguba.

Taguba included allegations of rape and sexual abuse in his report, and on Wednesday he confirmed to the Daily Telegraph that images supporting those allegations were also in the file.

The issue isn’t really whether horrific images are made available to the public, the issue is whether the leadership of the Democratic Party has the moral fortitude to do something to make sure this can’t happen again.

And that will require something like a Church Committee. There is certainly enough evidence to suggest that a large formal inquiry is warranted.

If the position of the Democratic Party is “we don’t like torture but we’re just going to forget it ever happened,” then we’re no better than the Republicans. This is bigger than partisan politics anyhow, it goes directly to what kind of civilization we supposedly are.

If top Democrats wind up being embarrassed or worse, then they have whatever is coming to them as well. We already know the Republicans will screech about “criminalizing politics,” as if all this is just some unfortunate accident rather than the result of deliberate policy. This wasn’t soldiers losing control in combat, this was systematic torture of defenseless people, executed with gleeful savagery.

The Obama administration has a choice to make, and for the sake of future generations, it better find a way to deal with this ugly episode in American history and give the people a full accounting of what was done in their name. A government that abides barbarism undermines its claim to being of, by and for the people it represents, a flaw similar to those of European tyrants that prompted the creation and growth of this noble experiment in the first place.

by Darryl, 05/28/2009, 12:46 AM

George H. W. Bush was, seemingly, a traitor in the Wingnut War on Empathy™:


by Goldy, 05/27/2009, 3:08 PM

A few weeks back I wrote a post arguing that as bad as the fundamentals may be newspaper industry wide, struggling publishers need to take a little personal responsibility for their own poor business decisions:

For while the whole industry is struggling, the financial precariousness of some of our most threatened papers is at least partially due to the awful business decisions of their owners, in particular, the incredibly over-leveraged position they find themselves in as a result of ill-advised acquisitions and other bone-headed ventures.

For The Columbian, it was the construction of a new $40 million office tower that landed a shrunken newsroom back in its old digs, and publisher Scott Campbell in bankruptcy court.  For The Times, it was Frank Blethen’s ill-fated foray into the Maine media market that has left him with a couple hundred million dollars of debt coming due, and no obvious means of raising more capital.  Both papers are currently losing money on their daily operations, but neither would be struggling to survive this particular recession if the bankers weren’t pounding at their doors.

That’s the kind of critical analysis one doesn’t often read from a medium tasked with covering itself, and so it was no surprise to be castigated in my own comment thread for daring to challenge the self-soothing meme that it’s Google and bloggers and various technical and economic macro-trends that primarily threaten the industry, rather than the poor business decisions of industry leaders themselves. But it’s an analysis I stand by based on the available facts.

And, it’s an analysis that just got a dumpster load of support in the form of an incredibly in-depth and well-sourced article in the latest edition of Seattle Business Monthly that details the Blethen family saga, and how their own dysfunction accelerated the Times’ “slide toward insolvency…”

What is remarkable about the Times Co.’s current financial state is not that it is happening—newspaper companies from the august New York Times Co. on down are struggling. But while it is true that the Seattle Times Co. has been hammered by the same forces affecting others, the management performance of the Blethens themselves during the past decade has contributed significantly to the Times’ current troubles.

“We asked questions that any one of our own publishers would have known, and Frank didn’t know the answers,” says Tony Ridder, chief executive of Knight Ridder, which owned 49.5 percent of the Times Co. from 1929 to 2006. “It was,” Ridder adds, “a weak business leadership.”

Ouch. It’s one thing when this kind of critique comes from me, the Times’ self-proclaimed volunteer ombudsman, but it’s another thing entirely when it’s coming from Bill Richards, a former Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reporter who the Times had hired for three years to cover its own JOA battle with the P-I.

Among the many disclosures culled from board meeting minutes, interviews and a Harvard Business School case study:

  • In 2005, the Blethens blew off a Knight Ridder offer of $500M+ for their share of the Times Co. This offer, which was never disclosed, was solicited by Frank Blethen, according to Ridder.
  • In 1997, Tony Ridder blocked the Blethens from using the Times as collateral to purchase a chain of Maine newspapers.
  • The owners of the Maine newspapers manipulated the bidding for the property so that Blethen ended up bidding against himself and overpaying for it, and no one else ever made a formal bid for the chain.
  • During the run-up to the disastrous 2000-01 strike, Frank Blethen took such a hard line, anti-union negotiating stance that Times labor relations chief Chris Biencourt, in a post-strike assessment prepared for the Blethen Corp., called the resulting strike “inevitable.”
  • Top Times officials were so sure the unions would fold they failed to secure adequate strike insurance before the 49-day walkout.
  • Frank Blethen and his cousins have used their dominance of the Seattle Times Co. to attempt to redress wrongs and injustices they felt were done to them by their own parents, including forcing the Times Co. to buy the Blethen Maine chain and providing jobs for any family member who completes college.

Richards concludes:

Blethen’s pride has repeatedly driven him into endeavors and to actions that have undercut the Times’ ability to survive and remain the family’s centerpiece. “Journalistically,” says Tony Ridder, attempting recently to explain this dichotomy, “The Seattle Times was a good newspaper. But Frank absolutely did not make good business decisions.”

Double ouch.

It’s a fascinating and, at times, somewhat sad read. It’s easy to feel empathy for a man like Frank Blethen, who says that he took his first job at the Times at the age of 21, in order to become acquainted with his physically absent and emotionally remote father, a man who never sent him a birthday card or a letter, and never called throughout Frank’s entire adolescence. It’s a tortured tale of Citizen Kane-esque proportions.

And it’s hard not to respect Frank’s goal of building family cohesion, and instilling pride in the newspaper and its values amongst the fifth generation of Blethens.

But as a businessman, that doesn’t let Frank off the hook, and I’m tired of reading his editorial board demand that individuals take the same sort of personal responsibility for our actions that the Blethen family has thus far refused to publicly take for their own.

by Jon DeVore, 05/27/2009, 1:44 PM

Some Republicans seem to think having empathy is a bad thing. This explains a lot.

by Goldy, 05/27/2009, 12:21 PM