Universal citizens

When is being a "citizen" of SeaTac the same as being a "citizen" of Southwest Washington, or Whatcom or Snohomish counties, or the northern Lake Washington suburbs? Answer: when you're a member of SeaTac Citizens for Responsive Government, the Snohomish Action Committee, or any of the similarly named organizations ostensibly located in each of those other locales. Or of the Penninsula [sic] Committee, or Northwest Washingtonians for Better Government, or the more generic Citizens for Sensible Government, Washingtonians for Economic Development, People for Sound Government, Citizens for Quality Representation, or Rural Communities for Representative Government.

All of these purported groups are "independent expenditure" fronts supporting particular Republican legislative campaigns; as such, they bypass the limits that Initiative 134, passed in 1992, places on donations to actual campaigns. And they're all run out of the Green Lake office of the pro-business political action committee United for Washington. They all have the same two officers: United for Washington's executive director, Bruce Boram, and Elliott Swaney, political director of the developers' lobby group Building Association of Washington.

But you can bet that when these "independent" groups' mailers arrive at homes around the state, their return addresses will be post office boxes not in Seattle but in Kelso, Kamloops, or some other local burg. They'll probably attack the local Democrat for being "out of touch" with the district. And if this year reprises 1996, they'll tip the money balance heavily toward some Republicans, and help send some Democratic legislators packing.

Of course the Dems do the same thing: Remember the 1996 "Friends for a Better Washington" brochure hinting, wrongly, that Sens. Murray and Gorton supported Gary Locke for governor? Boram cites a recent "hit piece" of similarly murky origin directed at Congressman Rick White. But the Democrats can't touch United for Washington and the building association for ingenuity in inventing citizen fronts. In 1996, The Seattle Times reported, 25 of 27 independent-expenditure groups were UFW/BIA creations. This year, Boram says, he's being more restrained: "I think I'm treasurer on 19."

Dems holler that these "deceptive" fabrications serve to obscure sudden campaign-cash infusions and their sources. That's not the intent, replies Boram. "They're set up that way to focus a [fund-raising] effort. People want to get involved with particular campaigns. This helps them do that."

Who needs ecotourism?

So the Makahs have stopped insisting that migrating gray whales (the kind they're allowed to hunt, per their deal with the federal government) could already be off Neah Bay. They'll wait till next month, when everyone agrees the migrants pass this way, to give chase—if they can. The seas will be rougher and, for the paddlers, more perilous.

But sparing the resident whales is a boon for commercial whale-watching operators, who'd hate to see their meal tickets spooked or driven away by whaling. Many opponents of the Makah hunt argue that the tribe should lay off trying to kill whales and show them off instead—by getting into the ecotourism business. If it does, this whole brouhaha has been great publicity. But whatever you think of the hunt, you have to admire the spunk (and savviness) of Makah Whaling Commission executive director Denise Dailey, who muses, "I know the tribe has talked of [getting into] it. But there's side effects of ecotourism too. Your culture goes up for sale. You give up a lot."

Ahab Onassis

You've heard of commercial whaling, research whaling, aboriginal whaling, and subsistence whaling. But consider jet-set recreational whaling, as described by Christopher Andersen in Jackie After Jack, a scandal-drenched new biography of Jacqueline Onassis:

"[Aristotle] Onassis was openly contemptuous not just of Washington but of all governments—an attitude plainly evident in the way he conducted another of his enterprises, whaling. Flouting international law, Onassis ignored size limits on whales. An estimated 96 percent of all the sperm whales he slaughtered were undersize. As a direct result of Ari's actions, herds off the Peruvian coast were decimated.

"Those who knew him then said Onassis definitely had a violent streak, and that he took pleasure in the carnage. So much so that he invited his guests on whaling 'parties,' during which the male guests were invited to put down their drinks, grab a grenade harpoon, and join in the slaughter. 'It was an amazing spectacle—something out of Melville,' said one of those who went along. 'There was this great thrashing of tails, and the men at the harpoons shouting in Norwegian and in Greek. Slowly the water would begin to turn red, until it seemed as if the entire sea was crimson.' . . .

"Ari took special pride in one of the yacht's more curious features—the bar stools with seats covered in the foreskins of white whales. 'Madame,' he announced to Greta Garbo, 'you are sitting on the largest penis in the world!' Garbo would become another regular aboard the Christina."

Bye-bye, blues

Why would a medical insurer want to sound like a car? First King County Medical, the local Blue Shield, changed its name to Regence, which sounds like a Buick, or maybe a brand of overflounced drapes. Now Blue Cross of Washington and Alaska has become Medical Service Corporation Premera Blue Cross, "Premera" for short—which sounds like an upwardly mobile Honda. MSC Premera Blue Cross spokes-person Teresa Moore explains that this mouthful resulted from a June merger with Medical Service Corporation of Eastern Washington, under the holding company Premera. Medical insurers and HMOs are piling together just as newspapers did when they formed priceless names like Post-Intelligencer and Press-Scimitar.

Moore notes that such merging is now rampant. But so far it's produced only two other names that sound like they come from a holding company or phoneme-crunching naming consultant. Among the 60 Crosses and Shields listed on the national "www.bluecares" site: Highmark and Trigon Blue Cross/Blue Shield, in Pittsburgh and Virginia respectively.

Nevertheless, Moore says the new Premera, etc. will stick by its "Blue." She notes that one survey found that the "Blue" brand "was the second-most-recognized name in the country after Coca-Cola." But I already hear folks dropping "Blue Shield" and just saying "Regence." This New Coke is here to stay.

 
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