Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Posted By on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 at 1:53 PM

Washington state poet laureate Tod Marshall takes a knee in the Seattle Times
Tod Marshall, Spokanite and Washington state poet laureate, is in a mood to protest for freedom of speech.

Eastern Washington takes a considerable amount of pride in the fact that the state's poet laureate, Tod Marshall, is a Spokane resident and Gonzaga professor.

His term as poet laureate is in the home stretch as he nears the completion of two years scampering around the state, meeting with groups large and small, encouraging people to find the poet inside themselves and enjoy the words of their fellow Washingtonians.

Lest you think Marshall is a quiet academic type, content to wallow in the wonderful wordsmiths of yesteryear, you should maybe check out his column for the Seattle Times, published online Tuesday and in the major daily in Wednesday's edition.

In his column, titled "Let's all take a knee to stand for justice and to pray for a return to decency," Marshall delves into this weekend's hysterical public relations war between the current president and the professional football players who are daring to protest for the rights of black Americans and against police brutality. Marshall is particularly perturbed by the president's use of language to sow division in the country:

"The president devalues language, abuses truth and leeches the meaning from words. As Holocaust scholar Timothy Snyder reminds us, without agreed upon language there can be no shared truths. Without shared truths democracy fails.

"Further, without shared understanding of language, we cannot have honest and open conversations about race and social justice, about economic inequalities and health-care policy, about the history of discrimination in our country and the possible routes toward transcending mistreatment of any part of the population."

Marshall's term ends in early 2018, and no doubt he'll be heard from again on the state of the country — in poems or columns.

You can read the entire Seattle Times piece here.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Posted By on Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 11:02 AM

I’m a Freeman Scottie — class of 1999. I was born in Valleyford, and went to Freeman schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. Of the roughly 70 of us who graduated that year, about a dozen of us went through K-12 together. We called ourselves “13-year survivors.”

My father was a Freeman graduate, too: class of 1965. He was a center on the  varsity football team and sometimes donned the giant Scottie dog head to be the mascot. My brother, Jon, also attended Freeman, and was one of the alternative school's early graduates. When he died of cancer less than a year after graduation, the community came together to celebrate his life in the elementary school gym. To me, it felt like the whole world was there.

Freeman is my family.

When I heard that my alma mater experienced a fatal shooting on Sept. 13, I was swamped by grief. I knew the parents of two of the girls who were shot. When the news talked about specific teachers helping in the aftermath, I knew who they were. Some of them were my teachers, too.

And when the Spokesman-Review described where the shooting took place, I was transported to the hall outside the science classroom. It was like I was standing right there. Of course, the building is different now and the lab is in a completely different place, but that didn’t matter. Anyone who went to Freeman probably did the same thing.

I spent the whole day watching the news through Facebook and reading every scrap of information that came out from officials. I watched them talk about people and places I knew, feeling weightless, disconnected, disbelieving. I messaged with old friends, checking on them, making sure they were OK. All the time, my heart was breaking in a million pieces for a place that to me still felt safe and innocent. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not here.

Reports say that the shooter had an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a handgun. We are just now starting to hear about where he got the guns, and why he did what he did. The Spokane County Sheriff says it was “a bullying-type situation,” and that the shooter wanted to show the consequences of that bullying.

Bullying is not OK, but neither is violence, and what the shooter did was wrong and selfish. It ruined lives. There is no excuse for what he did.

What I keep thinking about is how this kid — still a child — had access to these weapons. I doubt that he, or his parents, or whoever gave him access, is part of a “well-regulated militia.” And it seems to me that an AR-15 is a bit much for hunting deer, although I’m told that it happens. No, an AR-15 is really for killing people. It’s for protecting your home from others who would do you harm. Many people believe the world has become a dangerous place and defending yourself against it is not only a right, but a requirement.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Posted By on Sun, Aug 13, 2017 at 7:37 AM

Yesterday, the Spokesman-Review published a piece by their regular “faith and values” columnist Steve Massey with the headline, “Transgenderism neither normal nor acceptable.” It was a poorly reasoned piece that twisted Scripture to urge bigotry against transgender people.

Frankly, while the content was offensive, it was unfortunately not unfamiliar. Transgender people are disproportionately victims of discrimination, violence and homelessness. Consequently, the rate of transgender people who report attempting suicide is a staggering 41 percent.

Massey cited this statistic in his column with an apparent cluelessness regarding the role his own words surrounding it had in contributing to this tragedy. In fact, he implied that the high rate of suicide was actually evidence that transgender people suffer from a disorder, and that Christians must not treat being transgender as normal or acceptable.

Far too often bigots with fundamental (or perhaps fundamentalist) misunderstandings of the Bible suggest that the best way to love is to hate.

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To summarize: People disproportionately bully, assault, disown, and deny employment, housing and health care to transgender people. Consequently, a disproportionate percentage of transgender people feel hopeless and attempt suicide. Massey’s unbelievable takeaway? We’ve got to stop being so accepting of transgender people. Seriously?!

But look, neither this bizarre argument nor the misuse of Scripture throughout his column were particularly surprising. Far too often bigots with fundamental (or perhaps fundamentalist) misunderstandings of the Bible suggest that the best way to love is to hate.

For example, they will say “love the sinner, hate the sin.” But when the alleged “sin” is actually an inseparable part of who someone is (i.e., race, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation), the distinction becomes illusory.

The arguments Massey wielded against transgender people aren’t even new. Near-identical arguments were (and, sadly, continue to be) used to argue for slavery and segregation, against interracial marriage, against women’s rights and against gay rights. If history is any lesson, they've never been particularly convincing in the long run.

So Massey’s column is simultaneously offensive, damaging, wrong and a little boring — we’ve just all heard it so many times before. So perhaps it’s not surprising that before I could even get around to writing this response, the Spokesman-Review’s editor, Rob Curley, penned an apology. Spoiler: It falls well short.

Curley states that he is not sorry for running the piece. He believes that words matter and that strong, uncensored speech can help force people to decide who they stand with and against. Further, he notes that in these divided times — where Facebook filters out opposing views — it’s especially important that we are exposed to differing opinions. Curley says what he is sorry for is not providing context, such as a counter-opinion or relevant news reports.

As a former newspaper editor and publisher, I’m sympathetic to Curley, and I actually admire some of his prose. It’s worth reading. But ultimately he fails to fully take responsibility or promise action.

Massey isn’t just a pastor that the Spokesman-Review is giving a platform to. He’s a regular columnist, whose voice they’ve chosen to elevate. In fact, for their “faith and values” columns, they’ve chosen two Christians. This isn’t exactly representative of this region’s entire faith community. How about they let one go and broaden the perspectives provided? (My vote is to keep Paul Graves, who is also a former Sandpoint mayor and an acquaintance I have long admired.)

Also, as I’ve noted, Massey’s arguments are unfortunately not novel. It’s likely that the Spokesman-Review's readers have already heard bigoted opinions like this numerous times before. What they are far less likely to have heard is an opinion from a transgender person, to name just one example. Newspapers should strive to raise up new voices, not merely provide megaphones to those already being heard — and not just when a regular columnist decides to attack them.

Curley mentions segregation in his “apology” before concluding about the need for us to listen and understand each other. I agree that dialogue is important, but so is taking a stand. Advances in racial equality happened, in large part, because of an activist press. Massey wrote his column in response to an Associated Press piece that was supportive of transgender people. The Spokesman-Review should endeavor to follow the AP's lead.

Finally, Curley’s greatest failure was not explicitly acknowledging why an article supporting bigotry against transgender people would trigger alarm. He has an obligation to acknowledge the discrimination that transgender people face, to disavow it, and to recognize transgender people as readers and human beings, not merely political pawns in a “dialogue” between the left and right as society makes up its mind.

Because: Transgender people are people. They are normal. And, as a Christian, I believe they deserve not merely our acceptance, but our unconditional love. ♦

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, has been active in protecting the environment, expanding LGBT rights and Idaho's Republican Party politics.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

Posted By on Fri, May 5, 2017 at 11:28 AM

click to enlarge A counterargument to McMorris Rodgers' defense of Thursday's Trumpcare vote
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers penned a defense of Trumpcare in the Washington Post.

Today the Spokesman-Review ran a Cathy McMorris Rodgers editorial originally published in the Washington Post, in which she defends and discusses her support of the health care bill the GOP pushed through the House of Representatives on Thursday.

The Inlander received a counterargument from a California man who, noting that he's not a Washingtonian, said that given that health care is a national issue, he wanted to respond. He also sent this letter to the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, as well as the Washington Post:

Representative Rodgers,

I am glad that your son has the care that he requires. Truly. Nothing could be more traumatic then having your newborn suffering from a deadly disease. That it could financially ruin your life as well would generally not even cross your mind at that moment of first realization. However, you never had to suffer the agony of that second problem, did you? Given your economic status at that time, you already had insurance that covered your child’s condition. Therefore, I must take issue with your characterization of the AHCA that the Republican-led house passed this week.

At the time your 3rd child was born, the ACA was in effect, and members of Congress were on that system. Further, your salary as a member of Congress allowed you to afford virtually any insurance plan offered in the state of Washington at that time. And, on the off chance you had had another child born with a congenital disease, none of them could deny coverage to your newborn because of the guarantees of the ACA. You did not put that in your op-ed. Too embarrassed to admit you benefited from “Obamacare”? Also, about your son, Cole, born in roughly 2007 (by my estimate), you, as a member of Congress, were given many options to purchase very good health care under group plans that could not refuse coverage of pre-existing conditions. I’m sure you did, as you could afford it.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Posted By on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 2:33 PM

When I wrote an essay about the Gonzaga basketball team and Spokane, which ran on The Guardian U.S.’s website on March 14, I had meant to capture how important the Gonzaga basketball team has always been to me. But by characterizing the city in an unfairly negative way with errors in fact of various sorts, it has led to a lot of understandable frustration among Spokanites.

The Guardian released an apology today about the way the article came off, but I wanted to pen my own mea culpa as well.

The goal of any piece like this should be to humanize, and this essay didn’t do so. My piece was meant to highlight a point of genuine optimism. It was written as a response to the people outside of Spokane who speak poorly of our hometown. Where I am able to tell these people that they’re wrong about Spokane, is, in part, in the success of the Zags and the sense of community the team engenders. This is what I had tried to show, but in lacking a greater nuance and understanding of contemporary Spokane, it was poorly conveyed. Instead of a piece of optimism, it came across as someone panning a town from afar. That is a thoughtless thing to do, and was never the intention.

Honestly, I’ve been enthralled and charmed by much of the response. The #CodyComeHome hashtag is hilarious and creative, and I really do want to check out all the new shops and restaurants that have popped up in the recent past. I’ve been blown away too by the civic pride so many Spokanites have had in responding to this piece, and, it’s been perversely flattering to read the mirthful stuff that nationally beloved writers like Shawn Vestal and Sharma Shields have penned in response.

Spokane still has problems; every city does. But there is also an overwhelming amount of development and progress and wonderful happenings there. Politically, it’s a different city than from when I grew up. The downtown food scene has gotten way better, the literary and music scenes are thriving, and, most importantly, it is home to some of the most fantastic people I have ever met. These aspects of Spokane deserve their fair share of focus as well. Short articles often have to sacrifice nuance for a clear narrative, and in trying to emphasize the team’s success, the struggling Spokane angle was drawn out more than needed. Clearly, it is not “dreary” and “desperate” as Vestal jokingly wrote. Clearly it’s not the only source of “hope” for the city.

Spokane is still home for me. It is where I went to school, where I grew up, where I went to my mother’s funeral, and it is where I left; but I always come back. It is a place I love, and it is far stronger than a single article. To anyone who was hurt by the essay, I apologize. Spokane is a place, as so many residents know, that is full of courage and progress and success. (No doubt even Larry Gagosian would be proud.) ♦

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 3:15 PM

click to enlarge People find solace from post-election blues on Facebook's "Pantsuit Nation," and through local events and marches
Pantsuit Nation began as a Facebook group for Hillary supporters, and since has continued growing as a community of support and acceptance.

Each time I scroll through my carefully curated Facebook newsfeed — a less "social" one that's filled with lots of news media and local businesses' postings (it comes with the job here) — I always pause to read the stories shared by members of the group Pantsuit Nation.

A "secret" Facebook group created by and for supporters of Hillary Clinton in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 election, I was late to discover the online collective. It now boasts more than 3.9 million members, and continues to grow, with nearly twice the members it had a month ago. Think of it as something akin to a "Humans of New York"-style mouthpiece for the many disaffected people out there watching in utter dismay and shock as one more major donor or industry CEO is named to Donald Trump's cabinet, or when they see any other litany of headlines regarding the president-elect.

As Trump's inauguration a month from now looms heavy over the heads of Pantsuit Nation's millions — PSN for short — I have noticed men and women from all backgrounds continue to seek solace, understanding and acceptance in the forum. Despite reading heartrending tales of social injustices, sexism and racism that seem too familiar now, most sentiments so openly shared there have, in my eyes, been stories of hope and comfort.

While the online PSN community spans across the nation, local groups in the Inland Northwest have also been gathering post-election to express support, outrage and acceptance.

Earlier this month, Spokane arts nonprofit Terrain held RALLY, a community art display and gathering for locals to talk about and creatively express whatever they're feeling following the 2016 election. Art for RALLY is on display through Inauguration Day (Jan. 20), and a second show and art-making night is set for this Monday, Dec. 19, from 6-9 pm.

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Posted By on Thu, Jul 9, 2015 at 3:58 PM

click to enlarge Forget “wide-ranging interviews” of politicians. Go narrow and deep.
Focus, Cnn. Focus.

Tuesday night, CNN landed a rare thing indeed: A full-length interview with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The reviews were mixed: Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik praised journalist Brianna Keilar for “asking hard questions,” while conservatives lambasted it as “softball.”

I saw it as suffering from a different problem. Within the span of 19 minutes, Keilar asked about Clinton’s e-mail scandal, the Clinton Foundation, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, corporate taxes, her trustworthiness, her Republican rivals, sanctuary cities, her treatment of the media, which woman should be on the $10 bill, and who did the better Hillary on Saturday Night Live, Kate or Amy?

It was, in other words, the “wide-ranging” interview of a politician. The problem is that there are too many wide-ranging interviews of politicians, and not enough deep-digging ones.

This gets to conservative critiques that Keilar didn’t ask the right follow-up questions. It could be because Keilar was ill-prepared. Or it could be because Keiler had a list of topics she had to cover and needed to get to the next one. 

That’s the issue with wide-ranging interviews: Politicians that like to dodge or filibuster can more easily duck, weave or stall on topics to get out of putting forth substance on topics they don’t want to talk about. Clinton, of course, is known for being reluctant to take a detailed stand even on subjects as trivial as which woman she’d like to see on U.S. currency or her favorite ice cream flavor.

Keilar could have taken one topic: (Hint: Not Donald Trump) and lasered in on that instead. It doesn’t have to be e-mails. It could be transparency in general. Or her views on Iran. Or Syria. Or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Or immigration. Or legislation pertaining to Wall Street. Or tax reform. And spend the next 20 minutes talking about that.

Look at how great this interview with Jeffrey Goldberg and President Obama is. Goldberg had an hour with the president, not an easy thing to get. But instead of skipping along the surface of numerous issues, Goldberg homed in on one: The Middle East.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 11:46 AM

In a post on their website titled “Inlander Columnist gets it wrong on WPC,” you can imagine my disbelief to see The Washington Policy Center’s response after I wrote they opposed Proposition 1.

The author of the post, Eastern Washington staffer Chris Cargill, clarified they didn’t oppose it. Or support it. They don’t take positions; rather, just educate the public. However, Cargill has made it his business to destroy the Central City Line, the electric trolley project contained in Spokane Transit Authority’s Moving Forward plan. He has labeled it the “electric folly” and even penned an op-ed in the Spokesman-Review called "Electric Trolley not Spokane Transit Authority's best idea.” The day before my column was released, the Washington Policy Center hosted a breakfast for their constituents at the Davenport about Proposition 1 under the theme "the case, the cost, the concern?" For all the focus on one project, their report concluded public transportation as a whole is not underfunded. This is a view completely opposed to the point of my column — that we haven’t properly funded Spokane Transit Authority and as we continue to grow the benefits of public transportation become impossible to ignore.  

Additionally, the Washington Policy Center doesn’t seem terribly aware that saying it’s an “attack” every time somebody criticizes you doesn’t do a lot of good for your image. The Washington Policy Center is a right-wing think tank. The defensive response neatly comports with the portrayal since they have long depended on the public’s not knowing all the details about them.

I asked Cargill if he would disclose what percentage of their annual operating budget comes from Kemper Freeman. He wouldn’t. He equated it with newspaper advertisers influencing newspaper stories. Fair enough. However, the comparison doesn’t stick in this case. On the Board Of Directors, Freeman’s involvement is germane due to his heavily tangled record on transit and more noteworthy than just one of a thousand donors across the state. In 2011, he gave $1.1 million of the $1.35 million raised for Tim Eyman’s transit killing Initiative I-1125 and, more recently, his case against Sounds Transit’s light rail on I-90 was rejected by the state Supreme Court. His role, his influence, these actions – it informs the Washington Policy Center's basis in Spokane to pull statewide wins in an effort to defeat transit.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Posted By on Mon, Feb 16, 2015 at 10:13 AM

Class warfare is almost uniformly derided in Idaho. “Stop demonizing the rich and trying to create conflict between workers and their employers,” politicians frequently declare when economic inequalities are pointed out. But that’s not stopping a proposal from Republican leaders in the Idaho House to raise taxes on the poor and middle class so that taxes can be cut for the richest Idahoans.

The proposal would create a flat income tax of 6.6 percent, raising the lowest rate from 1.6 and dropping the top rate for individuals and companies from 7.4 percent. They’d eliminate the sales tax on groceries for everyone, but then increase the sales tax on everything else by one percent (a tax increase that would also disproportionately impact the poor and middle class).
The net impact of all of this fiddling with the tax code would be that the more money you make, the better off you would be. It’s the worst kind of class warfare – a direct attack on the poor to further enrich the already rich. You might call it a reverse Robin Hood.

How can we possibly justify taking from the poor to give to the rich? It’s hard to understand what motivates this kind of proposal. The logic behind it has to be more farcical than fiscal. I struggle to understand how anyone could think this was a good idea.

It’s all the more shocking because income inequality is such a hot topic right now. From Occupy Wall Street to the new $15 minimum wage in Seattle, people are speaking out and taking action. The outrage isn’t limited to just liberal cities and states. Some of our country’s “reddest” states, including South Dakota and Nebraska, overwhelmingly passed increases in the minimum wage during this past November’s elections.

And yet, in Idaho this year, we’re debating a tax cut for the rich and a tax increase for the poor.

The proposal will actually increase revenue for the state. The idea is to apply it to our crumbling roads and bridges. Lawmakers mindlessly repeat inflated figures required for maintenance to move goods and services throughout our state. Meanwhile, a more basic infrastructure that supports mobility is in need of maintenance: our society’s social contract to allow for economic mobility.

We need to strengthen people’s ability to find good-paying jobs and make it easier for families to make ends meet. Tax cuts may have some minor impact on the decisions large corporations make on where to locate (the research isn’t all that conclusive), but even small tax increases on those struggling to provide for themselves and their families clearly have a far greater and harsher effect.

Class warfare is alive and well in Idaho, but it’s not the poor who’ve been itching for a fight. Instead, it’s the rich who are complaining and pushing for a system even more weighted in their favor.

It’s time for Idaho’s leadership to end class warfare in this state. But if they don’t, I know which side I’m going to be fighting on.  ♦

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, is the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. He has been active in protecting Idaho's environment, expanding LGBT rights and the Idaho Republican Party.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Posted By on Thu, Feb 12, 2015 at 12:17 PM

In this week's issue, Rachel Dolezal writes about the trials and triumphs of black America; alongside her column is an illustration showing notable figures to celebrate during Black History Month. Unfortunately, we put Frederick Douglass' head beneath Nat Turner's name. Very embarrassing, we realize.

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Unity in the Community @ Riverfront Park

Sat., Aug. 20, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
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