Letters to the Editor, September 1996

Defer, Deflect and Deny

Jon Marmor's article on trust in government ("Crying Uncle," June 1996) was both interesting and thought provoking. As is often the case, what was not written may also provide insight.

Though much finger pointing and blame laying was heaped on the media by the politicians interviewed, none appeared to even suggest that behavior of the body politic might be part of the problem. I found the three D's of politics, defer, deflect and deny, very evident in their comments.

People do not need the popular media to give them a sense that all is not well. Comparing political rhetoric to political behavior gives an early clue. Following the money trail confirms that money still overwhelms the voice of the people. The political wallet must be filled before access to the political ear and mind are given. The business of government is driven by the economics of election and re-election. As Will Rogers said many years ago, "We have the best Congress money can buy." (Substitute political leadership for Congress and you get a glimmer of why government may not be trusted.)

Power, perks, pork and back room deals still appear to be the order of the day. Lip service is given to political reform and campaign reform but in spite of the rhetoric, the votes disappear.

Trust in government? Not until politicians show accountability by cleaning their own house. Limit campaign spending. Limit the political clout of seniority. Neutralize influence peddling by equalizing the influence of individual politicians. Eliminate irrelevant riders to legislation. Remove perks, and subject yourselves to the same rules as the people you purport to lead. No special treatment, no special favors.

William A. Koch, '75, '79

Profiles in Cowardice?

After observing public policy during 35 years as a newspaper reporter, I believe Columns' June article on distrust of politicians omitted a major factor that should be given top priority by the UW Trust in Government Project.

Simply compare the contrasting Congressional votes to the following prevailing views: Polls indicate most citizens favor universal health care coverage and about 70 percent favor a ban on assault weapons. About 75 percent don't smoke and nearly everyone knows it is unhealthy. Two-thirds cast pro-choice votes in the last Washington State ballot.

While the vast majority of the nation passionately opposed Congressional pay raises a few years ago, they were approved easily in a secretive midnight session. It was financiers like Charles Keating--not the general public--that persuaded both parties in Congress to deregulate the savings and loan industry at a cost of billions to taxpayers.

Most citizens favor campaign funding reform, but Rep. Linda Smith currently is loathed by nearly all of her Congressional colleagues for even suggesting it.

Instead of seeing their views reflected, the majority observe their "representatives" unashamedly voting regularly in response only to such big campaign contributors as the National Rifle Association, agri-business interests, financial institutions, tobacco and insurance companies.

Unlike some bygone politicians who ignored popular opinion to vote their own principles (and were glorified in John F. Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage), politicians now blatantly pervert the will of the majority strictly for money, Profiles in Cowardice?

Coming only two decades after the campaign crimes that led to the resignation and unpopular pardon of Nixon, it should come as no surprise to anyone involved in the UW project that the majority now is frustrated and appalled by a deliberately unrepresentative government, controlled by politicians who are overtly and shamelessly bought and paid for. This is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned. Nor is it--as some of the article's optimistic politicians hoped to suggest--just a passing fad that will go away if they ignore it.

Don Tewkesbury, '54, '56

The Right To Be Wrong

Thank you for your informative article on why Americans no longer trust their government. There was, however, one reason for American cynicism toward their elected officials which was unfortunately omitted and which has recently surfaced locally. Why should people participate in the electoral process when the express wishes of the majority are blatantly ignored? ... This right is increasingly being violated by local officials again and again. The people of [King] County voted against being taxed for a new concert hall, but the Seattle City Council voted through a taxpayer-financed package to fund it anyway.

The [Mariners] baseball stadium issue is no different. No wonder only 50 percent of registered voters show up to vote. They know their vote doesn't matter, and the ability of our elected officials to pass a publicly financed stadium financing measure against the expressed will of the majority of the electorate in King County is a perfect example of why voter apathy prevails. Sure, it might be legal, but if something is legal, it does not necessarily mean that it is ethical. After all, if the military regimes in Burma and Nigeria have the legal ability to void national elections whose results they do not like, King County Executive Gary Locke and County Council Member Peter von Reichbauer may as well practice the same tactics in King County. Maybe they truly believe that these public projects benefit everyone in King County, but it is a poor and dangerous excuse for arrogantly ignoring the concept that in a democracy, people have the right to be wrong.

Gregory Dziekonski, '85, '89

Don't Blame the Reporters

You sure were irresponsible in quoting Dan Evans in your article on why Americans don't trust their government. Why would you quote a statement that you know is not true? [Gov. Evans said, "Watergate changed everything. It bred a new type of investigative reporter who started out believing something was bad and they were determined to find it. It created combative reporting ever since."]

... Watergate changed everything but not because the investigative reporters were determined to find something bad. Deep Throat told them something was rotten in the White House and they simply followed his clues. Watergate was only an event that revealed the nefarious activities of trusted public officials.

Do not blame our nation's cynicism and distrust on the reporters; they simply uncovered some of the crap going on.

... I know Columns is meant to promote UW and its graduates, but please draw your line of responsible journalism higher!

Jeannine Hooker, '90

Protecting What's Left

I always enjoy going through Columns. But I disagree with some of your comments in the June issue regarding the citizens' growing distrust of the federal government.

...You comment about citizen distrust being "a healthy reaction to government abuse." I think the so-called abuse is the conservatives' criticism of government regulations that are designed to protect the environment and what's left of our dwindling natural resources. I acknowledge that government effectiveness is often less than perfect and that its regulations involve some "taking" legislation that prevent some rural property owners from fully developing their land. However, we cannot ignore the growing need for preservation of some rural lands in their natural state--for flood-runoff control and for fish and wildlife habitat.

Also, because of the effects of increasing population on the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink, we humans need to set better controls on our birth rate, in spite of the Far Right's extremist position against abortion.

Sadly, Columns also brings me news of the passing of many of my generation. I was particularly saddened by the death of Dr. Hans Lehmann, with whom I climbed on Rainier in 1957--our summit effort was tragically ended when a crevasse wall collapsed on a member of our party, who died a few hours later. Dr. Lehmann's presence was greatly appreciated during this trying experience. I've met him occasionally at mountaineering gatherings, the last time at an Explorers Club meeting in Seattle in 1975, when we entertained six top Soviet mountaineers during their first-ever visit to the U.S.

Dee Molenaar, '50

Not of the Every-Day Variety

The June issue of Columns was outstanding. The article on Dr. Martin Rodbell, "The `G' Man", was a remarkable insight on the man and an understandable presentation of a subject and job that are not of the every-day variety. Another article which gave me a start was The Best of 1996. The reason: I had only a few days before finished a poem, "In Teaching There is Love."

Joe J. Rutkowski, '35
Santa Barbara, Calif.

Overstating the Problem?

The June issue article "A Plague Upon Our Houses" is a bit misleading in that it implies infectious diseases were "once beaten by miracle drugs" but are now "back stronger than ever and closer to home." Today's infectious disease agents have probably been with us as long as people have existed. They evolve in response to their environments, not just antibiotics, but other animals, climate, plants, and human exposures including resistance of possible victims.

... Influenza is neither new nor emerging. The virus continuously changes a bit. When it changes enough, a point is reached where more people (and animals) are susceptible than resistant, causing an epidemic. If vaccine makers guess right, artificially induced immunity can prevent influenza and there are some antiviral agents which can also do this.

... Antibiotic resistance is a problem, but we are developing new antibiotics and also vaccines and other methods for dealing with the resistance problem. The concern with resistance development is certainly valid. Headlines have a way of overstating the problem, however.

The best "antibiotics" and communicable disease measures remain soap and water plus good hygienic practices and effective isolation of people while they are infectious. Proper food handling is too often overlooked.

Max Bader, MD, '61
Lake Oswego, Ore.

Stick to the Facts

Julie Rathbun's article "A Plague Upon Our Houses" helps focus attention on the increasing resistance of some microbes to antibiotics. However, the table "Emerging Diseases At A Glance" seems to contribute little to the article except to inject political correctness and social agendas into the discussion and raise questions.

For example, is tuberculosis spread because of poverty as stated in the table? If so, why weren't there widespread tuberculosis epidemics during periods when poverty was much worse than today such as the Great Depression? ... Poor personal hygiene practices are more realistic causes for the spread than poverty.

Is E. coli really an emerging disease? I recall it being included in school textbooks from the 1940s and '50s. Is it more prevalent today as compared to past periods or could it be that extensive modern news coverage only gives that impression? Again, poor hygiene, cooking and food storage practices contribute to the perceived problem.

For some of your readers the mixing of social agendas into a supposedly objective factual article reduces the credibility of the author and casts doubt on the entire effort. I hope the authors of future articles in Columns will stick to facts or at least label opinions as such--but that's probably too much to expect for the near future at least.

John Raynor, '56
Auke Bay, Alaska

Seeing Red Over Red Square

I believe that Columns Editor Tom Griffin has made an error in his June article titled "Unsolved Mysteries."

The lead-in is quite captivating, describing a car with its lights off quietly driving across "Red Square" on June 29, 1969. However, I don't believe that Red Square even existed on campus in 1969. In my experience as a student at the UW from 1967-1971, there was a Central Plaza made up of beautiful green grass with concrete walkways crisscrossing the expanse between Suzzallo and the Administration Building. On sunny days it was always filled with people studying, eating, sleeping or just relaxing.

Although it was nearly 30 years ago, and my memory could be failing me, I back up my recollection with a quote from page 67 of Norman Johnston's book The Fountain and the Mountain: "Construction moved rapidly forward, beginning in 1971 with the brick-paved plaza and its underground garage." Therefore, I do believe that Red Square was not in existence until 1971.

Patty Morris Cavennee, '71

Editor's Note: Ms. Cavennee is correct and the editor has been caught using a journalistic trick. The sentence should have read "what is now known as `Red Square.' "


The name of past UWAA President Caver Gayton, '60, '72, '76, was misspelled in the caption on page 34 of the June issue. On page 11, in a list of UW alumni who won medals in the Olympic Games, we misspelled the name of the winner of two 1936 medals in swimming, Jack Medica. Columns apologizes for these errors.

Letters to the editor are encouraged. Brief letters are more likely to be published; longer letters may be edited due to lack of space. Please include a daytime phone number and send all correspondence to: Editor, Columns Magazine, 1415 N.E. 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98105. You may send a fax to (206) 685-0611 or e-mail to columns@u.washington.edu.

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