Monday, October 13, 2014

Poll: 60 percent of voters favor I-594 for universal background checks

Posted By on Mon, Oct 13, 2014 at 1:54 PM

Although both of Washington's conflicting gun-control measures are losing support, the majority of voters still prefer Initiative 594, the measure to expand criminal background checks for all gun sales, according to a new poll by Elway Research.

In the latest poll, released this morning, 60 percent of voters surveyed said they would "definitely" or "probably" vote for I-594. Meanwhile, 39 percent said they were more likely to support its rival measure on Election Day, Initiative 591, which would prohibit the state from enacting any additional background checks except those mandated by the federal government.

Support for the competing measures has been declining since April when voter majorities paradoxically favored both. This change may indicate that voters are less confused about the similarly titled initiatives than they were six months ago.  

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Friday, October 3, 2014

WA Senate Democrats announce plan to override Hobby Lobby decision

Posted By on Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 4:48 PM

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent
  • Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent
Unhappy with the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision in June? A group of Washington state senators said they've found a way to neutralize the court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate in Washington state.

In an announcement outside a Hobby Lobby store in Seattle on Thursday, five state senate Democrats – Sen. Karen Keiser, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, David Frockt, Kevin Ranker and Jamie Pedersen — introduced a proposal that would make access to birth control a fundamental employee right, regardless of an employer's objection to providing contraceptive coverage on religious grounds. Citing the Washington Law Against Discrimination, the proposed bill would give women recourse to take legal action if their employer-based health insurance plan won't pay for their birth control. 

"If you are working for an employer who treats one class of employees differently, and puts a burden on and barriers up to one class of employees...that's the definition of discrimination," Keiser, D-Kent, told the Inlander over the phone. Keiser said the senators have been working on this legislation since mid-July. They plan to introduce the bill at the start of the 2015 session. 

"There are very serious health and economic issues involved when you have unplanned pregnancies and unplanned births," Keiser said. "We have to remind people there's a reason birth control is important. Not only is it an individual right, it's really a way to have healthy families and kids.

We interviewed U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, about the Hobby Lobby case in April. After the Supreme Court's ruling in June, Murray spearheaded a bill to override the justices' decision, but the measure failed to garner enough votes to move forward.  

Of course, with the November election just weeks away, senate Democrats are hoping their latest proposal will draw voters to the polls.

"If we end up with an outcome that doesn't change what party is in the majority [in the Senate]," Keiser said, "we can finalize the proposed bill, but it will never become law under the Republican majority because, unfortunately, birth control is a partisan issue." 
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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Q&A with Seattle venture capitalist, minimum-wage activist and one-percenter Nick Hanauer

Posted By on Thu, Oct 2, 2014 at 11:35 AM

Nick Hanauer
  • Nick Hanauer
Nick Hanauer is filthy, stinkin' rich. The Seattle-based venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur has started or funded more than 30 different companies. He was one of the first major investors in a small bookseller start-up you may have heard of: Amazon.com. Seven years ago, he sold one of his businesses, an Internet advertising company called aQuantive, to Microsoft for $6.4 billion in cash. 

A self-professed "proud and unapologetic capitalist," he's also an unlikely advocate for raising the minimum wage and reducing income inequality in our country. Last week, Hanauer spoke with the Inlander over the phone ahead of his lecture this evening at the Fox Theater. The event, hosted by the Thomas S. Foley Institute at Washington State University, is free to attend and starts at 7:30 pm. For more information, click here. (His responses have been lightly edited for length.)

INLANDER: Your Politico Magazine article this summer, a memo to your "fellow zillionaires," and 2012 TED Talk on inequality both have gone viral. Why do you think your arguments have resonated with so many people?

The first reason is that economic inequality is a much bigger problem in our country than it once was. The income share of the richest one percent has tripled over the last few decades while everyone else’s income has stagnated, so ordinary people are feeling the effects of economic inequality in a more and more palpable and real way in their everyday lives. The subject is very much on most people's mind.

The second thing is that my argument is quite different from the traditional liberal, fairness-based argument, which is that we should feel sorry for people and pay them for that. My argument is a more effective and robust argument about the nature of prosperity and capitalist economics and the obvious connection between the money that workers earn and the sales that businesses enjoy. Pointing out the connection between those two things and the necessity of making sure workers earn enough to continue to support the businesses that form the backbone of our economy is just common sense. People who argue otherwise are just idiots. 

Income inequality in this country is growing to historically high levels. CEOs today make 300 times more money than their workers. How did we get to this point?

It’s a combination of things. Part of the problem was a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of economic theory by policymakers. Some of this is a consequence of good-natured misunderstanding. Some of this is consequence of the pursuit by wealthy citizens of their narrow self interests.  For 30 years policy makers on the right and left accepted that trickle-down theory and they enacted policies that they thought would create general prosperity, and in fact, only enriched the already rich. What we're trying to do is point out that that’s idiotic. We’re trying to remind people that a thriving middle class is not a consequence of growth, it’s the source of growth and prosperity in capitalist economies.

In fact, your “middle-out” economic theory is based on your argument that trickle-down economics doesn't work. In nut shell, what's middle-out economics all about?

The essential argument for middle-out economics is that a thriving middle class is not a consequence of growth. Rather, a thriving middle class is the source of growth and prosperity in capitalist economies, which means that a policy focused on the middle class is how you generate prosperity and growth — not policy focused on rich guys like me.

What policy solutions would you recommend for reducing income equality and helping grow the middle class?

A tax code focused on the middle class — where rich people actually pay more in taxes than middle class people unlike in our current system, where the $400 billion the government spends annually on tax exemptions theoretically to make people rich (which are simply rewards to rich people for being rich) are rather deployed to help middle class people become rich. A fairer split between workers and owners in the value of what business enterprises create by raising the minimum wage and ensuring middle class people are fairly paid and closing the gap between the pay of CEOs and ordinary workers.

In your Politico Magazine piece, you warn your fellow plutocrats that the "pitchforks are coming" as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, noting that the United States isn't immune to the "same forces that started the Arab Spring—or the French and Russian revolutions." Do you think we really should be worried about some kind of social uprising?

At the end of the day, what history will show is if you concentrate power and wealth enough you will either have a revolution or a police state or both. That there’s only so much abuse ordinary citizens are willing to take. It makes little sense in a democracy to disenfranchise most people. Participation and inclusion are the most important things in an economy. The more people who are included, the better it goes, and democracy is the form of government that leads to inclusion, which is why it causes prosperity and why all prosperous places are democracies. But when you allow wealth and power to concentrate, you end up with an economy that isn’t inclusive. And that kills the economy.

Did the Ferguson thing scare you? It scared the shit out of me. That is what I’m talking about. That’s not about race. That’s about exclusion. That’s about disenfranchisement. That’s about a bunch of people who are excluded from the economy and they’re pissed. The thing that happened in Ferguson — that is what I'm talking about. These are people who are poor, angry, disenfranchised and poorly treated and not well politically represented, and so you have this powder keg situation where you have a bunch of white police officers trying to keep under control poor, angry people of color. Then something bad happens. And that can happen in Spokane where you live if we are not careful.

So what do your one-percenter friends have to say about your views?

I would say five years ago my views made my fellow one-percenters very angry and very defensive. Today, most of the wealthy people I know and associate with have in one way, shape or form come around to generally agreeing with my view. And I think the nation is making progress. Morgan Stanley, of all institutions, released a report stating economic inequality is the number one threat to the economy. The fast food industry is struggling. No one can afford to eat their stuff anymore. Walmart sales are flat and that's because when you don't pay for your workers enough to buy their stuff, that doesn't work out for anybody.

Is this a problem we can expect Congress to solve? 

Oh jeepers. I would say forget about Washington D.C and focus locally. I see no hope for the federal government to do anything materially or constructively in the near term, but Spokane, Washington, could institute a higher minimum wage and should, for my money. That's where people's energy should go. Spokane could certainly use a slightly higher minimum wage, not $15 dollars an hour because the cost of living out there is much lower than out here, but you could certainly do more than $9.32. But me? I’m absolutely not thinking or worrying about the United States Senate. 

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

How would Jesus vote? Conservative group guides local churchgoers to the polls

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 3:50 PM

Most everything you need to know about the political beliefs of “We Believe – We Vote” can be found in the graphic at the top of their website. The “T” in “vote” is a Christian cross, right next to an American flag superimposed upon a bald eagle.


We Believe – We Vote has for the past five years made it their mission to use "biblical and traditional values to make informed voter recommendations to the faith-based community."

WBWV sits down with candidates, asking them to weigh in on issues ranging from the U.N.'s “Agenda 21” to whether “the state should ban licensed therapists from using their clinical judgment to help a minor turn away from unwanted same-sex attraction,” and ends up producing one of the more unusual, more in-depth local voter guides out there, one they’ve encouraged pastors to send their flock flocking to.

This week, We Believe – We Vote published its candidate evaluations. The interesting part isn’t who the group loved more (Hint: Republicans), it’s the details. 

The group is led by Penny Lancaster, a retired Central Valley school teacher who has long been moonlighting as an anti-pornography and anti-casino crusader, though she prefers the phrase “pro-family.” (Her name came up earlier this year when Inlander writer Heidi Groover talked to people at Miss Kitty’s in our East Sprague cover package.)

“It really bothers me when I see how many people don’t vote,” Lancaster says. “And I think a lot of people don’t vote when they don’t know who to vote for.”

Years ago, she says, her reputation as an activist led to friends asking her who to vote for in elections. “I started feeling convicted that I had not done a very good job of reviewing candidates,” she says. That led to her bringing together a group of conservatives of “many different stripes” to interview candidates, debate over their merits and then offer endorsements. Today, its board of 35 people includes 6th District Rep. John Ahern, former city councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin and Dick Erb, the former VP of Operations for the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family.

WBWV specifically targets local churches, including a statement for pastors to put in church bulletins or project on the overhead screen as the election approaches:

“It is our privilege and duty as Christians to vote in the General Election by November 4. As your pastor, I am not endorsing any candidates, but I recommend www.WeBelieveWeVote.com as a website with a number of non-partisan resources available for your review.”

And in previous years, some pastors have done just that. “I’ve heard people say, 'Oh yeah, we have that in our bulletin,'” Lancaster says. “We have over 400 pastors on our email contact list, and 2,000 individuals. We’re hoping to have an impact on the election.”

The website even features a guide discussing what churches can and can’t do politically to avoid the risk of losing their tax-exempt status. (“In fact, you may be surprised at how much influence you can have,” one line of the guide reads.)

“I think our position is that pastors are shepherds of their flocks. … They should give [their parishioners] encouragement to be good citizens to investigate the candidates,” Lancaster says. “They should be connecting what the Bible says about culture and life and death to what’s going on to the culture today.”

That’s where things get tricky: It’s easy for churchgoers to agree on what the Bible says about loving your neighbor, it’s less easy to agree on what it says about, say, the expansion of Spokane’s Urban Growth Area.

The group doesn’t believe in using land-use and zoning laws to restrict development in most cases, but does believe in using it for moral reasons, like squashing casinos and strip clubs. The site justifies that (mostly) pro-private property, free-market stance through a Bible verse in Genesis that simply says, “Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.”

And their gun-rights support is justified through an Old Testament passage from wall-builder Nehemiah: “From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor…”

That socially conservative viewpoint infuses their assessments of even less partisan races. District Court Judge Gregory Tripp gets criticized for being “vague in articulating his view on ‘the law of nature and nature's God' as being the foundation of the rule of law” while WBWV expresses concerns over Supreme Court Justice Debra Stevens endorsement “by GLBT Bar Association of WA.”

Despite the many controversies Spokane Valley Rep. Matt Shea has weathered, the group calls Shea “the incumbent with a good Biblical moral and ethical record; has served the district honorably.” Lancaster elaborates that she has personal knowledge of Shea beyond what’s been reported in the media.

“I know Matt well. I heard the backstories on all of that,” Lancaster says. “I was there when he was going through that divorce.”

Shea, state Rep. Kevin Parker, Sen. Michael Baumgartner, Sen. Brian Dansel and County Treasurer Rob Chase all get the maximum five stars in their ratings. (The Democratic candidates aren’t even listed on the general election handout; Lancaster says it’s because they all got less than three stars.)

Most liberal candidates refused to sit down with WBWV for an interview. Baumgartner's opponent, Rich Cowan, and prosecutor candidate Breean Beggs, however, were exceptions.

“I haven’t turned down anyone who wanted to talk with me so far,” Beggs says. “My father was a minister, and I come from a faith background. My politics are different, [but] I thought it would be an interesting conversation. And it was an interesting conversation.” Beggs' big area of interest, after all, is the one where WBWV has veered away from a traditional social conservative stereotype: The group is a big supporter of criminal justice reform, linking to this website.

A Smart Justice-style system, Lancaster says, “is a better use of taxpayer money. You get people back on the job and taking care of their families.”

Most interesting are the sections of the evaluations listing concerns for even very conservative candidates: Shea “on occasion has lacked tact and patience when working with others,” the group writes, while his opponent “lacks political experience.” Rep. Jeff Holy “supports some level of public sector union authority” and Sheriff’s Ozzie Knezovich’s “‘commanding presence’ may have a tendency to be intimidating.”

Rep. candidate Diana Wilhite gets dinged for having concerns “about ‘fairness’" and being willing to raise taxes in some situations, while her opponent Bob McCaslin, Jr., is criticized for having “limited solutions to problems of government over-reach, unions, and health care.”

You can read the whole thing at the link below:


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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hey, it's National Voter Registration Day!

Posted By on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 at 11:46 AM

Did you check into your social media outlets this morning and find yourself inundated with images like this: 


I sure did. No matter what stream I looked at, I'd find someone I followed nagging me about registering to vote. 

On Twitter, it was comedian, actor and Conan O'Brien sidekick Andy Richter: 


On Facebook, it was the Drive-by Truckers, one of my favorite bands: 


My first thought? "How do all these people KNOW I just moved to a new state and need to update my voter registration? Thanks a lot, Obama!" 

Second thought — there must be something going on, and indeed there is: it's National Voter Registration Day

What, you still had to go to work today? The boss didn't put up streamers or balloons? Yeah, same here.

Even so, it's a good reason to remember to get your democratic process on with this "holiday" aimed at encouraging people of all political stripes to make sure they're registered before this fall's election. It's such a popular idea that National Voter Registration Day has been endorsed by the National Association of Secretaries of StateMore than 1,000 organizations are taking part, including the diverse likes of trade unions, colleges, conservation groups, libraries, ministries and healthcare companies. 

How easy is it to register to vote? I just did it in the middle of writing this blog post, thanks to the handy National Voter Registration Day website that lets you register in any state in the union. Of course, you can go straight to the Washington state Secretary of State website to register online, download voter registration forms or have them mailed to you. You WILL have to sign your registration and mail it in, and be sure it's postmarked at least four weeks before election day (that would be Tuesday, Nov. 4) to be eligible to vote. You can also just drop in your closest Driver Licensing Office, like the one on Lidgerwood Street in Spokane, and register right there. 

So get on it!

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Friday, September 5, 2014

I-594 campaign for universal background checks releases its first TV ad

Posted By on Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 2:31 PM

The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility launched its TV advertising campaign yesterday to promote Initiative 594, a statewide ballot measure to broaden background checks on all gun purchases. 

The ad, titled "Prevent," features former Bellingham Chief of Police Don Pierce. Citing FBI data, in the ad, Pierce credits current background check laws with stopping more than 40,000 people — "felons, domestic abusers, you name it" — from purchasing guns in Washington state. 

I-594 would close the so-called "gun show loophole" allowing people to buy firearms online or at gun shows without submitting to a background check. The initiative grants several exceptions, however, including for immediate family members who exchange guns as gifts and people who temporarily borrow guns for hunting, sport or self-defense. Antique gun sales and transfers also are exempt. I-594 faces a competing measure this November, Initiative 591, which would prohibit the state from mandating additional background checks unless required by federal law. 

Watch the new ad below.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Primary Election Analysis: The political parties won; Al French; and the 6th District

Posted By on Thu, Aug 7, 2014 at 9:39 AM

The political parties won again. While there were two notable INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES on the Spokane County ballot this election — Bonnie Mager for county commissioner and Dave Wilson for Congress — neither advanced to the general election. There had been some talk of Independents being better able to win in Republican-leaning Eastern Washington, but the Democrats — May Lou Johnson and Joe Pakootas — won the day.

AL FRENCH should be worried over his lackluster showing, but he’s probably not too worried. That’s because the primary election only polls residents of his 3rd District, while the entire county will vote in the general. Ironically, he looks to be less popular in his own district than he is in the other two. Anyway, more sympathetic voters should be coming in November, but he did draw the tougher challenger in Mary Lou Johnson — a fresh new face on the local scene, a woman and a possessor of actual ideas. French looks to have a real race on his hands.

For years now, the 6TH WASHINGTON LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT has been counted among the very few “swing” districts in the state — meaning in any given year, it could elect a Democrat or a Republican. That’s looking to be less and less the case, as incumbent Republican Michael Baumgartner 
Michael Baumgartner
  • Michael Baumgartner
landed 57.2 percent of the vote as of Tuesday — up from the 53.7 percent he took in the 2010 general election. Chris Marr did win in 2006 — the first Dem to hold the seat since 1940. If trends hold, he may be the last for some time. Challenger Rich Cowan did run a tougher bunch of ads against Baumgartner than he did against Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2012. Expect to see the tough ads continue, as Cowan needs to bring Baumgartner’s numbers down. Statewide Democrats and Republicans will continue to pour money into this expensive seat to win, but we’ll find out in November if it’s really still a swing district.

The general election on Nov. 4 is certain to be a completely different animal. Voters will be paying attention, candidates with hone their messages and don’t forget the wild card — statewide initiatives! Just to make it interesting, we’ll have two separate initiatives on the ballot in November regarding perhaps the most white-hot of all issues in America: guns. I-594 would require background checks on all gun sales, while I-591 would require that Washington only follow the tepid federal regulations on gun sales.

Despite the fact that I-594 has 70 percent support statewide, it will change the dynamics of the fall election. Every local candidate is going to be forced to wade in as they will be asked their views on gun rights. And you can bank on seeing a ton of outside-the-state spending, as gun rights advocates work to stop any limits to their perceived Second Amendment rights. On the other side, a variety of groups that have been activated by so many tragic mass shootings say they are ready to take on the NRA. Maybe it’s a discussion our nation needs to have, but it will create unpredictable politics. Conventional wisdom says it will create a headwind for progressives in Eastern Washington and Spokane County — where Democrats already have tough sledding.

Seattle do-gooders may add some common sense safety checks to our gun laws, but it could make life difficult for many candidates here and all over the state.
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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Primary Election Analysis: How strong is McMorris Rodgers' support?

Posted By on Wed, Aug 6, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Another primary, another embarrassing turnout. In May, only 26.1 percent of Idahoans bothered to vote. As of Tuesday night, with some ballots still to be counted, Washington state sat at just 23.9 percent. At least Spokane County (28.5 percent turnout, unofficially) did beat Kootenai County, with just a 21.7 percent turnout in May.

I point out the low turnout as a disclaimer for all that follows: It’s hard to make too much out of such a small sample, but for now it’s all we have. So on with the snapshot analysis of last night’s results; all figures are based on results as of Aug. 5.
While five-term incumbent CATHY McMORRIS RODGERS put a happy face on Tuesday’s results in the Spokesman-Review, the fact is it was her weakest showing since her very first federal election in 2004. District-
wide, she didn’t quite get to 52 percent; here in Spokane County, she failed to earn a majority, with just 49 percent support. In the 2004 primary, with two other strong Republican opponents, she hit 42 percent in Spokane County, where most of the district’s voters live. Since then, she has won her five elections without breaking a sweat, only failing to top 60 percent once, in 2006, when she “only” got 56 percent.

Rodgers’ primary result represents a 10-point drop in support from her 2004-12 general election average.

Why the fall? Since other local Republicans on the same ballot clearly outperformed her, it suggests her role in Congress may be the culprit. Being part of the House leadership isn’t a happy place to be, as now-former Congressman Eric Cantor (and Tom Foley before him) found out. Perhaps the do-nothing/blame-Obama agenda is wearing thin, or maybe Congress’s historically low approval ratings will hit both parties this year. It’s a tough spot for incumbents, hoping they can tiptoe through this election without anybody noticing they’ve been all hat and no cattle for the past two years.

You can learn a lot by watching the TV ads. If Rodgers or her deep-pocketed friends start attacking her opponent, Joe Pakootas, you’ll know that their own polling is scaring them. And the fact is, if they’re really worried, they have the money to carpet-bomb Pakootas into oblivion. But a funny thing happened when Cantor took that approach in Virginia; he lost. If, however, Rodgers’ ad team continues with the vague endorsements of “Freedoms” (since when did that word go plural?) and sad pictures of Grandpa left out in the hall in his wheelchair (because that’s what socialists do to grandpas), you’ll know they’re probably feeling fine. Still, in one of the safest districts for Republicans, something has changed Tuesday: A lot of people voted for someone other than Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s election results, 2004-14, rounded to the nearest figure. Sources: Spokane County Elections Office, Washington State Secretary of State

Spokane County Only Results
2004 Primary: 42%
2004 General: 57%
2006 Primary: 57%
2006 General: 55%
2008 Primary: 53%
2008 General: 63%
2010 Primary: 58%
2010 General: 61%
2012 Primary: 54%
2012 General: 61%
2014 Primary: 49%

5th District Overall Results
2004 General: 60%
2006 General: 56%
2008 General: 65%
2010 General: 64%
2012 General: 62%
2014 Primary: 52%
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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

EARLY PRIMARY RESULTS: Johnson leading French; Pakootas to face McMorris Rodgers

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 10:39 PM

Spokane County tonight released early results of the Aug. 5 primary and while the vote won't be certified for two weeks, the November races — featuring the top two vote-getters — are beginning to take shape.
Joe Pakootas
  • Joe Pakootas

Joe Pakootas, a Democrat and a newcomer to politics, received 31 percent of the early returns, setting up his challenge of District 5 Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Read more about that race here.

For the Spokane County Commission, incumbent Al French, a business-friendly Republican and the subject of a recent Inlander story "The Bulldozer," was trailing early against Democratic challenger Mary Lou Johnson, with Bonnie Mager in third. 

In Washington's 3rd Legislative District, State Rep. Marcus Riccelli appears to be heading toward a rematch of his 2012 opponent, Tim Benn. Read more here.

In Spokane Valley, Bob McCaslin Jr. is leading a field of Republicans for a seat vacated by McCaslin's late father, who spent 30 years in Olympia. More here.

EARLY RESULTS (showing vote totals and percentage)

U.S. Representative District 5
Cathy McMorris Rodgers . . . . . . 38,945,   49.20
Dave Wilson. . . . . . . . . . 9,616,   12.15
Joseph (Joe) Pakootas . . . . . . 24,404,   30.83
Tom Horne . . . . . . . . . . 6,117,    7.73

3rd Leg State Representative Pos 1
Tim Benn. . . . . . . . . . . 5,627,   33.65
Marcus Riccelli . . . . . . . . 9,710,   58.07
Randy McGlenn II . . . . . . . . 1,343,    8.03

4th Leg State Representative Pos 1
Leonard Christian. . . . . . . . 5,286,   24.03
Diana Wilhite . . . . . . . . . 6,755,   30.71
Bob McCaslin . . . . . . . . . 9,671,  43.97

County Commissioner District 3
Al French . . . . . . . . . . 8,482,   36.17
Bonnie Mager . . . . . . . . . 6,376,   27.19
Mary Lou Johnson . . . . . . . . 8,544,   36.43

County Treasurer
Amy Biviano. . . . . . . . . . 30,028,   39.34
Mary Kuney . . . . . . . . . . 15,904,   20.83
Rob Chase . . . . . . . . . . 30,238,   39.61
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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Israel’s hypocritical claim of “self defense” goes largely unquestioned in U.S. media

Posted By on Sat, Jul 12, 2014 at 9:43 AM

Protesters express outrage at an impromptu demonstration in Spokane on Monday. - MARIANNE TORRES
  • Marianne Torres
  • Protesters express outrage at an impromptu demonstration in Spokane on Monday.

Five days ago, when I interviewed Ayman Nijim, a Gazan masters student working on his degree in Vermont, the bombardment of his neighborhood and other major population centers in Gaza had barely begun. Since then, he has posted updates that tally the numbers of dead and wounded in his town and others in the besieged area and memorialized specific friends killed in the bombing. While the news we see here might portray the success of Israel in targeting Hamas specifically, the stream of images coming directly from Gaza tells a different story. An ambulance carrying wounded to a hospital that can’t sustain electricity for more than 12 hours a day targeted and destroyed; homes, churches, and stores bombed without warning; children dead in their parents’ arms or missing entire pieces of their bodies. 

Mention of the tunnel economy is only made in reference to the weapons that can be brought in and neglects the fact that the tunnel system is also one of the only ways that Gazans receive any supplies whatsoever (food, construction equipment, medicine) as they live under siege. Americans hear the argument that Israel withdrew its troops and all military presence from Gaza in 2005 and therefore, Hamas supporters and civilians have no reason for their rage at Israel. What many people don’t comprehend about this so-called withdrawal is that it was replaced with an arguably more brutal blockade of the 139-square-mile strip, including restriction of access to the Mediterranean Sea that comprises its western edge. This restriction of movement and supply lines began when Hamas won the election in Gaza in 2007 and has degraded conditions in Gaza since then to nearly unlivable levels.

Over half of the population in Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on the planet, are children. For children over the age of 5, this week marks the third time in their lives that they have experienced major military strikes on their homes, schools and neighborhoods. As a result of this daily reality, the majority of people treated for psychological trauma and PTSD in Gaza are children who exhibit symptoms ranging from changes in appetite to loss of speech and permanently stunted brain development. These facts and the humanity of people living in the open air prison that Gaza has become are swept under the rug in favor of more militarism, calls for holy war and scrambles to justify Israel’s actions as self-defense.

Violence, in my mind, has no role to play in a functional human society. As we struggle toward realizing a better world, the attacks from the brutish mentality of war, colonialism and racism remain real threats to their victims. Self defense and nonviolence are complicated philosophies that every political group grapples with as they promote their visions of the world. International law supports the right of occupied people to defend themselves, but Israel’s government consistently shows little regard for those standards. (People interested in the legal technicalities at play in the case of Gaza can read Noura Erakat’s comprehensive piece here.) I can’t endorse the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel, but even less can I endorse the dishonest and chilling reaction from Israel, funded by the U.S., to level entire neighborhoods and put vast resources toward propagandizing the world into believing a lie.

Barack Obama said this week, “Budgets in Washington are tight, but our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad. The United States is committed to providing more than $3 billion each year to help finance Israel’s security through 2018.” That $3 billion a year keeps Israel flush in advanced weaponry including their much-touted Iron Dome missile defense system and the bombs and shells currently falling on Gaza. Americans who do not support the U.S. policy of supporting Israel’s actions and “right to exist” as a brutal occupying force based on apartheid policies have little to gain from their lawmakers, it seems. Breaking the normally sluggish pace of policymaking in Congress, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have already passed resolutions reaffirming unconditional support for Israel and repeating the idea of self defense, casting Hamas as the instigator of current attacks.

In our interview Monday, Ayman Nijim focused on his belief that Americans will soon come to understand our role in this violence and remedy our past actions. He said, “I understand it’s very hard, especially in the U.S. because of the Zionist lobby, but I believe there is deep knowledge now of the atrocities against their brothers and sisters in Palestine and [Americans] will spare no effort to break this lobby.” If you wish to express your support for justice in Palestine as a means to reach peace for everyone involved, the options may seem limited. Corporate and special interest control of our government is, in practical terms, total. The best hope for undoing the apartheid system in Palestine and Israel lies in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is currently gaining steam internationally and in congregations and campuses here in the U.S. The power of stories is also key. At every opportunity, we must learn to question the dominant tales of the culture and replace them with those that are accurate, fair and in service of humanity.

For those seeking an opportunity to express their outrage at this latest expression of militarism and violence funded by the U.S., the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) invites you to join in a rally and march this coming Thursday, July 17 at the Rotary Fountain in Riverfront Park at 5:15 pm. More information available at pjals.org. ♦

Taylor Weech, who hosts the weekly public affairs program Praxis on KYRS-FM, is a Spokane writer and activist. She's advocated, among other things, for environmental sustainability and all-ages access to the arts. She shares writing, photography and her podcast at truthscout.net.
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