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Even as Air Force One was about to land in suburban Maryland this morning — bringing President Obama back from his vacation in Hawaii to resume negotiations aimed at avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases and spending cuts — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was on the floor of the Senate warning that a dive off that cliff seems inevitable.

The Titanic
Courtesy of George Behe's Collection

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Most people who boarded the luxury ocean liner didn’t survive the trip. For some, the only thing separating survival and drowning was a split-second decision.

Now, 100 years after the tragedy, a Seattle woman wonders what she would do if she had been in her relative's shoes on the night of the sinking.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – One measure of success for governors is their ability to get better results out of schools. As Washington Governor Chris Gregoire prepares to leave office, the state’s high school graduation and dropout rates have improved, but not a lot. And there’s still a significant achievement gap between white and non-white students.

One of the busiest places to be this time of year is the operating room. But it's not because of holiday accidents. Huge numbers of patients have surgery in December by choice.

Dr. Tim Smith is a sinus surgeon at Oregon Health and Science University. The week before Christmas this year, he performed 10 surgeries in three days.

“We joke with one another that people think it's busy at the mall this time of year, they ought to check out their outpatient surgery centers.”

Liz Jones / KUOW

People who earn minimum wage in Washington state are about to get a small raise.  On New Year’s Day, the hourly rate increases by 15 cents to total $9.19.

Washington’s minimum wage is higher than any other state. But studies show it’s still far below the minimum cost of living here.

Amy Radil

The holidays often bring extra presents and messages from loved ones. But to receive those messages, you have to have an address.

Anyone who needs a mailing address can have the mail sent to 77 South Washington St. in Seattle's Pioneer Square. That’s the post office run by the Compass Housing Alliance. Most of the 3,500 people in Seattle who use that address are homeless or in temporary housing.

Courtesy Photo

Seattle Public Schools is paying $750,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a teacher who was fired for refusing to work in a building she says made her sick. 

Former teacher Denise Frisino says when she worked at Nathan Hale High School seven years ago, the mold was so bad that she had a hard time breathing and a terrible cough. "It was to the point where I could not be inside the building for long. It was not a minor thing. It was a severe reaction," she says. 

Tripat Singh
KUOW photo/Derek Wang

A group of religious leaders from numerous different faiths called on Washington state lawmakers Thursday to change the state’s gun laws. The new group spans several different religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. It represents a new voice joining the chorus that’s calling for more gun restrictions following the Connecticut school shootings.  

Mental illness
Flickr illustration/madamepsychosis

Tragic and unexplainable acts of violence are often attributed to mental illness. In the aftermath of terrible tragedies, like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, anecdotal and unconfirmed stories of mental illness begin to circulate.

Dr. Jennifer Stuber from UW’s School of Social Work visited Weekday to discuss the link between violence and mental illness and particularly how the media plays a part in the dissemination of misinformation. Below are highlights from her interview.

The top forces commander at Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord has decided to seek the death penalty against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. He’s the 39-year old soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians earlier this year.

Bales is accused of conducting two predawn raids on villages in southern Afghanistan. The victims were mostly women and children and the Army says some of the bodies were burned. Prosecutors had asked for a death penalty trial and top commanders at Lewis-McChord agreed.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Chances are, you've heard the public service announcements that say "It's up to you to be ready. Get a kit. Make a plan..."

For years, emergency managers have urged people to stockpile enough food, water and supplies to last 72 hours after a disaster. In the Northwest, basic assumptions like that are now under scrutiny, especially when it comes to the risk from a big earthquake. Two committees in Oregon and Washington have been working for more than a year to come up with wide-ranging recommendations to improve the region's disaster resilience.

Washington State Capitol
Flickr Photo/Alan Cordova (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Little information is available yet to conclude whether the shooter in Newtown, Conn., was diagnosed with, or treated for, mental illness. But last week’s incident has raised questions around the country about mental health and funding for treatment and services. 

King County Department of Assessments

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata announced Wednesday the city will spend $19.5 million for construction and renovation of 570 new low-income housing units. It's part of an effort to ease the trend of low-income families moving out of the city.

Peter Steinbrueck
KUOW photo/Derek Wang

It’s almost a year before the 2013 general election, but the race for Seattle mayor continues to draw a crowd. Former Seattle City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck held a press conference Wednesday morning to formally announce his candidacy.

Liz Jones / KUOW

To many people, the holidays are about family tradition. Tradition is what brings Barry Ford and his wife, Shirley Babilya, to Seattle every December. They drive their RV across country from Iowa to do a job they love in the town where Ford grew up.

This year, the couple is 1,849 miles apart. Shirley is home in Iowa recovering from a heart attack and Barry is on his own in Seattle this season. When some Seattle neighbors found out, they stepped in to help fill the void.

When Governor Chris Gregoire leaves office in January, she’ll take with her nearly a quarter-century’s worth of expertise on one of the most contaminated places on earth. Cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been one of her top priorities. Before Gregoire was governor, she worked on Hanford issues as the state’s attorney general and before that as ecology director.

Gregoire knows cleaning up Hanford is no easy task. She’s been involved longer than many of the top federal site managers. And despite all of the problems and complexities she’s still optimistic.

The U.S. Army announced Wednesday that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will face a general court-martial on 16 counts of premeditated murder and other charges. If convicted, the maximum penalty is death. The decision follows a pretrial hearing last month.

An attorney for  Bales says she's "disappointed" by the Army's decision to seek the death penalty against the Washington-based soldier accused of massacring Afghan villagers in March.

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho - The protected status of a small population of reindeer in the Northwest is getting a second look. Snowmobilers and an Idaho county that depends on winter snow sports petitioned the government to delist the animal.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to do a status review on woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho and Washington. They’re part of a larger herd from Canada.

GLENEDEN BEACH, Ore. - It goes without saying that the Pacific Ocean is vast. So it may come as a surprise to hear the sea described as "crowded." Perhaps even too crowded to make room for the nascent industry of wave and tidal energy.  Taxpayers and investors have pumped tens of millions of dollars into finding ways to turn the ocean's power into electricity.  In recent weeks, high stakes negotiations to identify wave energy sites on the Oregon Coast are finally getting somewhere.

Scientists will soon head to the Olympic coast to evaluate a dock that washed ashore in a remote section of Olympic National Park. It could be debris from last year’s tsunami in Japan. It might even be as big as the gigantic piece of debris that showed up on Oregon’s coast in June. That dock weighed 188 tons.

Dave Workman with the Washington state Marine Debris Task Force tells KUOW’s Sara Lerner scientists need to see if invasive species might be hitching a ride on the dock. They also need to figure out how to remove it.

SALEM, Ore. – The state of Oregon is at odds with the federal government over how to use money from Japan meant for cleaning up tsunami debris. It can’t be used to reimburse the state for money it’s already spent.

The Japanese government donated $5 million to the US this fall to help pay for the cost of cleaning up debris from last year’s deadly tsunami. But Oregon hasn't seen a penny of that money so far.

School buses parked in a parking lot.
Flickr / tncountryfan

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire proposed a new wholesale vehicle fuel tax Tuesday that you might notice at the gas pump. The governor said the move will help the state support education by helping cover the costs of getting kids to school.

Currently, school districts help pay for students' transportation needs, but a recent court ruling says state government is not doing enough to support education. That includes education-related transportation.

The Day Instagram Almost Lost Its Innocence

Dec 18, 2012

The wildly popular photo-sharing site Instagram nearly caused a user revolt when it revamped its terms of service and privacy policy to suggest it could allow uploaded photos to be used in ads without users' permission.

The change — which was posted in dense legalese on its website Monday — sparked users to vow to stop posting their color-filtered, tilt-shifted photos to Instagram.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Outgoing Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is proposing to extend two temporary taxes for three-and-a-half years in order to make a $1 billion down payment on a recent Supreme Court ruling that found the state is not adequately funding public schools. Much of that new money would go to reduce K-2 class sizes, speed up the phase-in of all-day kindergarten and help districts with basic operating and maintenance costs.

A massive fire that burned 61 homes in Central Washington was likely caused by Department of Transportation contractors. That’s the upshot of a report issued Monday by Washington’s Department of Natural Resources.

The aptly named Taylor Bridge Fire started August 13 right after transportation contractors did some welding work on that bridge. It happened near the mountain town of Cle Elum.

Doctor
Flickr Photo/Alex Proimos (CC-BY-NC-ND)

In less than 10 months, Washington state will launch its own health exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act. The exchange will be an online marketplace where people can buy health insurance with the help of a navigator.

Some say it will be like Expedia for health plans, and this has some insurance brokers worried. Many fear it will have a negative impact on their livelihood, just like Expedia removed the need for travel agents.

US Army

Suicide is now the number one cause of death for US troops. Nationally, more than two-thirds of suicides of active duty troops involve firearms. Most are personal weapons.

Former vice chief of staff for the Army General Peter Chiarelli wants commanders to have the ability to talk to distressed troop members about their private weapons as part of an effort to reverse the trend.

RICHLAND, Wash. – We’ve heard a lot about whistleblowers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeast Washington. Some workers there have gone public with serious concerns about how the government is cleaning up radioactive waste.

But this story is about a different kind of Hanford Whistleblower.

Every Sunday evening at 7:15 p.m. sharp, Chris Doran welcomes several Hanford Whistleblowers into his book-filled home. His wife Nancy brings out the tea and homemade baked goods. They sit and chat politely. And then, they start to play.

SALEM, Ore. - Governor John Kitzhaber called the Special Session after he said Nike was being courted by other states for a major expansion. The Democrat said he wanted lawmakers to authorize the governor to extend Nike an offer: In exchange for freezing the way Oregon calculates its taxes for as long as 30 years, Nike would agree to spend at least $150 million in capital improvements and expand by at least 500 jobs. Lawmakers grumbled about the short timeframe to consider the proposal, but in the end relatively few voted against it. Democratic Senator Mark Hass said it was a fair bargain.

President Obama grieved with the community of Newtown, Conn., Sunday night, telling residents at a memorial service that he was there to assure those who lost loved ones in Friday's brutal attack "that you're not alone in your grief, that our world too has been torn apart — that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you."

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