The good, the bad, and the vexing

Here are start-of-week cheers and Bronx cheers. First, the good stuff: Dave Niehaus in the Baseball Hall of Fame and justice at Fort Lawton.

Here are start-of-week cheers and Bronx cheers. First, the good stuff: Dave Niehaus in the Baseball Hall of Fame and justice at Fort Lawton.

Here are start-of-week cheers and Bronx cheers. First, the good stuff.

Dave Niehaus in the Baseball Hall of Fame

My generation, which is also Dave Niehaus', fell in love with baseball not only on sandlots but via the medium of radio, which painted wonderful word pictures of the actions of what we imagined to be larger-than-life heroes perfoming heroic feats on distant fields.

Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, inducted Sunday, July 27, into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., related in his acceptance speech how as a boy in Princeton, Ind., he had been seduced by Harry Caray's St. Louis Cardinal broadcasts into a similar life. Later, he said, Angels owner Gene Autry told him that he particularly appreciated the pictures drawn by Niehaus of Angels' game, which he broadcast before coming to Seattle. "You called a great game," Autry told him. "It was not the same game I saw but it was a great game."

Here in the Puget Sound area, Leo Lassen's Seattle Rainiers Pacific Coast League radio broadcasts gave thousands of us a similar love for the game. Before each game broadcast, Lassen conducted a 15-minute tutorial on baseball's fine points for the benefit of listeners. His "back, back, and it's over!" home run calls preceded Niehaus' "fly, fly away" homer calls over the past 30 years on Mariners TV and radio broadcasts.

Beyond Niehaus' professionalism, he has become beloved here because of his obvious decency and good heartedness. He ranks with Mariner Edgar Martinez as someone beloved by fans as a person as much as a performer. Well done, Dave; do not fly away from Mariners broadcasts anytime soon.

Justice at Fort Lawton

Justice finally was done last weekend at Fort Lawton in Seattle to the names of some 28 black soldiers wrongly implicated in the killing there 64 years ago of an Italian prisoner of war.

A POW-black trooper scuffle took place at Lawton in 1944 before the body of Italian Private Guglielmo Olivotto was found hanged on the post. Army prosecutor Leon Jaworski, later a judge who gained fame as a Watergate prosecutor, quite literally railroaded the convictions of the black GIs, withholding relevant evidence and otherwise obstructing their defense. While conducting the prosecution, he lived at The Olympic Hotel and attempted to stimulate as much self-serving publicity about himself as was possible. He sent fawning letters to Seattle Post-Intelligencer editors inviting such coverage.

A book published three years ago by Seattle author Jack Hamann, which I reviewed at the time, prompted an Army investigation leading to an appeals court reversal last year of the black GIs' convictions and dishonorable discharges. Hamann concluded in In American Soil that Olivotto probably had been lynched by a white racist military policeman. Others have had other theories about the identity of the real perpetrator.

The surviving GIs and/or their families were honored at events here last weekend. Few, surprisingly, expressed bitterness or anger; most expressed gratitude at the righting of a wrong. The wrong, of course, can never be fully righted. Many of the African American soldiers' lives were ruined by the episode. We would like to think that such injustice would be impossible in today's America. Less likely, yes; impossible, no. The price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilance.

The bad stuff is all too apparent:

Our taxing Seattle City Council

The careless and pliable Seattle City Council did it again last week by voting to put on our fall ballot additional property tax increases to fund a parks levy and upgrades at the Pike Place Market. Council members took particular pride that they had, for a change, defied Mayor Greg Nickels by going for the parks levy.

Seattle traditionally has supported any measure identified with parks. So the levy has at least an even chance of passage — even though it could not be worse-timed, from an economic standpoint, for property owners already highly taxed and hard pressed by rising food, energy and other costs. The market levy is more urgent and justifiable.

The vexing Sound Transit board

The board last week voted to submit a ballot measure, mainly to be financed by sales-tax increases, of some $18 billion to $22 billion (depending on how you count financing costs) which mainly would extend a light rail system through King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. The first leg of a local system, between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and downtown, isn't finished. It is way over its promised price tag and years behind the original construction schedule.

King County Executive Ron Sims and state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, presumably representing the views of Gov. Chris Gregoire, earlier expressed doubt about the entire package and, then, attempted to reorder priorities more greatly toward immediate expansion of bus service. (Bus ridership has exploded in the wake of gasoline-price increases but present capacity is sorely lacking.) They got the bum's rush by their colleagues.

If it is possible, the Sound Transit board has been even more obtuse and careless than the Seattle City Council in making proposals which would impose big new tax burdens on both businesses and individuals for projects of dubious priority. One can at least make a case that Seattle parks and the public market could use the money productively. Light rail, either in Seattle or in the three counties, cannot be justified as a technology by any rational cost-benefit analysis. Moreover, while expanded bus capacity could make an immediate impact on traffic congestion, the proposed light rail expansion would not be completed for many years — and, then, would not reduce congestion at all.

Crosscut's David Brewster characterized the Sound Transit proposal as "an artful package" which might stand a chance of passage. I see it, rather, as a crude and transparent political package devised by Sound Transit Chair Nickels and his allies to buy the support of on-the-fence board members. It delivers projects and public money to those board members' jurisdictions without regard to their transportation usefulness. The whole light rail enterprise is about the most flagrant public-works boondoggle I have seen over a lifetime in the public sector.

Will voters accept a 2008 transportation ballot measure quite similar to the one they rejected one-sidedly in 2007? We properly will hear much about it between now and November. In the meantime, Sims and Hammond deserve bows for their integrity and independence in trying to meet real transportation problems with real transportation solutions.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of