Friday, May 5, 2017

A counterargument to McMorris Rodgers' defense of Thursday's Trumpcare vote

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

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers penned a defense of Trumpcare in the Washington Post.
  • 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

On Spokane

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

People find solace from post-election blues on Facebook's "Pantsuit Nation," and through local events and marches

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

Pantsuit Nation began as a Facebook group for Hillary supporters, and since has continued growing as a community of support and acceptance.
  • 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

Forget “wide-ranging interviews” of politicians. Go narrow and deep.

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

Focus, Cnn. Focus.
  • 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

Washington Policy Center anything but non-partisan on Spokane trolley line

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

Idaho’s Reverse Robin Hood: the worst kind of class warfare

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

Oops: That isn't Nat Turner

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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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Meet Mariah McKay: the Inlander's new commentator

Posted By on Thu, Jan 22, 2015 at 8:27 AM

Mariah McKay makes her Inlander debut this week with a column that starts with her own immigrant story —"My Scotch-Irish great-grandfather was abducted by the English navy and shipped off to Canada" — but tackles the larger debate that continues to occupy America: What does a nation of immigrants do with the newest arrivals? How do we reconcile our laws with our humanity?

While it's her first column, it's certainly not the first time she's appeared in our pages. In 2008, we featured her in our "20 under 30" article highlighting the exceptional work of people under 30. And last year, Inlander readers voted her as the "Best Twenty-something Making a Difference."

No longer twenty-something, her work has taken her from government to biotech and public health, and we're honored to have her column every fourth week of the month.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson: Calm down... for what?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 9:39 AM

A rally last night in Seattle. - TIFFANY VON ARNIM
  • Tiffany Von Arnim
  • A rally last night in Seattle.

Sadness quickly turns to madness when the loss of one of our sons and brothers is minimized and coded away in polite legal terms with no intention of returning what was taken, no attempt at apologizing for the damage done. Life meets death in the streets, where walking, shopping, driving, talking, playing on the playground or listening to music can be deadly these days… just being black in America.

The flames erupting in Ferguson are the fires burning in the hearts of mothers of black sons in this nation. We cry for the life nurtured inside us those nine months, for the years of tending and mending our child, for the brief pride we felt in his manhood before the light left his eyes. We tell our sons to walk with both eyes open, hands visible and quick feet ready to run. We advise them to keep receipts for everything they purchase, speak politely and dress sensibly. We hoped that the toil of our ancestors would have freed them from the curse of these limitations and the threat of harm, and we dreamed that we would never awake to feel this pain. 

If tomorrow isn’t promised to my sons, to our black sons, why should they dream? What hope can we offer them tonight, the night when several hundred years of misogynoir and disrespect for black human life comes crashing in on us? I feel disconnected from my body as I write this. No words come to me as I search for promises I can’t give. Grief becomes rage as the names and faces of unarmed black boys and men recently killed scan through my mind: Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Ervin Jefferson, Timothy Russell, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Ezell Ford, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Steven Eugene Washington, Wendell Allen, Travares McGill, Ramarley Graham, Oscar Grant, Orlando Barlow, Alonzo Ashley… Even our heroes, Malcolm and Martin, were taken by bullets in their prime.

Where do we go from here? People who have not felt the lash of centuries of oppression beating down on their backs tell us to keep calm and carry on. What insanity makes those in power imagine they have any idea what the logical response should be? What psychosis perpetuates the myth that if we listen to “both sides,” we will somehow find the truth, as if the hunter and the hunted, the dead and the living, could be consulted with a fair and even outcome.

When my youngest son was 5 years old, an adult once asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, “A dog.” Laughing, the person said, “Oh, you mean you want to be a veterinarian?” “No,” he said, “I want to be a dog, because dogs have a life without worry.” The adult said, “Well, you know that’s not possible for you to be a dog.” Looking very serious, my son said, “Well, my mom said I can be anything I want to be when I grow up, and I think a lot of dogs have it easier than a lot of people.” Now that my son is 13, I sit him down to remind him of his early insights and, amid a swell of emotion, I tell him that, in America, a black 16-year-old who killed a dog was sentenced this summer to 23 years in prison, while a white police officer who was nearly 30 years old will not even face charges for killing a black teenager.

And, as the answers and questions blur together, I tell him that I cannot talk anymore about history or courts or reasons on this night. For a moment, I just need to hold him without words.  ♦

Rachel Dolezal, formerly of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene, is president-elect of NAACP Spokane and teaches courses in art, Africana history and culture at area universities.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Transit, public use and the problem of parking lot pee-ers

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 2:57 PM

Yesterday I went to the Spokane Transit Authority board meeting where the “task force” of concerned business owners — led by Greater Spokane Incorporated, Visit Spokane and Downtown Spokane Partnership — gave their opinion on how STA should use its Plaza.

The task force’s recommendations were mostly in line with STA’s existing plans, but they diverged in one hugely significant way. Rather than expanding the Plaza to bring in the community and create greater connectivity for non-transit users, they advocated the opposite. 

In Copenhagen, their bus stops double as quarterpipes. Can we at least have a Plaza that’s also an event space? - SAATCHI & SAATCHI
  • Saatchi & Saatchi
  • In Copenhagen, their bus stops double as quarterpipes. Can we at least have a Plaza that’s also an event space?

They suggested moving all services to the first floor. Shuttering the second almost completely. Removing the existing escalator and not replacing it. Restricting all retail uses to only the sorts of things that transit riders might be interested in.

The only concrete example of transit-specific retail the task force offered was “employment services.” You know, because everyone who rides the bus is unemployed, and everyone who drives a car has a job. So a WorkSource branch would be a perfect transit-specific tenant for the Plaza.

After the meeting, I drove back (sorry STA) to Fellow, the coworking space I started last year. As I was parking, I noticed a man urinating on the building between two cars in our lot.

He wasn’t drunk- or stoned-seeming. He was just a dude, in need of relief, taking a leak in broad daylight.

He noticed me as he was finishing up and, with a hip hitch and a zip of the trousers, he smiled and said, “Hi there.”

My first thought was how that parking lot experience felt like a metaphor for what had just happened at STA — someone coming to a place my friends and I have worked very hard to make cool and literally taking a piss on it.

But upon reflection, it’s most productive to think of the parking lot incident less as metaphor than an illustration.

The task force’s plans will never achieve their desired effect because you can never restrict use in public spaces enough to get rid of the parking lot pee-er.

Let me paint a picture of the space in which he was peeing: It’s a surface lot on a stretch of Howard that has almost no street-level retail. It’s also near the train tracks. No one purposefully walks around there unless they have very specific business in one of the handful of buildings on the block. And even then, people drive up, park as close to their destination as possible and shuffle quickly indoors.

I’ve seen people get in their cars and drive from one side of the tracks to the other.

I’ve never felt unsafe in this lot or on the street itself. It’s just ill-suited for pedestrians and starved for destinations. As a result, I have only ever had neutral, negative or just weird experiences on that stretch of road. No one besides our parking lot pee-er hang out there because, besides the beautiful new SUMAC mural under the trestle, no one has given those blocks a second thought for maybe a decade.

Conversely, all the traits that make it a bad place to hang out and have positive experiences is exactly what makes it such a prime place to drive up and find some random dude peeing. It’s secluded and empty of people.

We all recognize the STA Plaza currently suffers from usage woes. It’s a big space without much going on, and big spaces that are empty of people are hard to secure. Both the STA’s plan and the task force’s plan seek to solve this problem, but in opposing ways.

The STA wants to increase amenities to open usage to the entire community, offer more opportunities for engagement and make the Plaza a gathering place. The task force is asking STA to narrow the Plaza’s feature set to only the sorts of things bus riders absolutely need.

The problem with that plan, of course, is that the Plaza is still a public space. Even if you reduce the use to basically nothing, people are still free to hang out.

We know what public spaces with low use look like. They look like the parking lot near Fellow. They look like the stretch of Wall between Riverfront Park and Riverside. They look like the slope of hillside below the Post Street substation.

We also know how to make those places safer: make them more engaging. We turn an unused hillside into Huntington Park. We plan events to offset the lack of retail on Wall.

The crazy thing here is that DSP, GSI and Visit Spokane have all recognized this. DSP was absolutely instrumental in helping Terrain put on Bazaar, the art market we launched this June on a disused stretch of Wall St. I’ve had conversations with folks at Visit Spokane about their desire to drive tourism by activating public squares all around the city. All three entities were enthusiastic supporters of our recently passed park bond.

They totally understand the vision!

I worry though, that because of the fraught, 20-year political history of the project, and the pressure being exerted by certain downtown businesses, no one is recognizing that the Plaza has the exact same potential for activation as Huntington Park or Wall Street. Honestly, I think it has an even greater potential, because it’s indoors and is already the nexus of our transit system.

Let me be the person who says this: Good as it is, I don’t think STA’s plan goes far enough.

One of the greatest revitalizations of a public space I know of is the transformation of Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square from a squat parking garage in the middle of the city into a thriving meeting place.

They did it with smart planning aimed at attracting the greatest diversity of people possible — just like STA has done — but then they went further: creating a separate entity to program the space, filling it with cool stuff a couple hundred times a year. Now it’s the home of concerts, festivals and events, a hub of downtown Portland, and a big tourist attraction.

Now imagine how it would feel if a tourist or business traveler coming to Spokane for the first time grabbed the shuttle from the airport, rode downtown and found themselves disembarking onto an art market, or a free concert, or just a bustling place with a diversity of people and a diversity of shops.

Isn’t that the sort of town you’d want to explore? Like, “Wow, if their bus Plaza is crackling like this, what must their clubs be like? Their restaurants? Their neighborhoods?”

Then who better to ferry that person around to those destinations than, you know, STA itself. The word “synergy” gets thrown around, but come on now.

Now imagine that same tourist getting off the shuttle to a Plaza renovated according to the task force’s specifications: a smaller, more utilitarian space for the workmanlike ferrying of people from place to place, with maybe an employment office in one corner.

At any other time than peak hours, the space would feel empty and maybe a little alienating. If that tourist had to spend any time waiting for a transfer in the task force’s version of the Plaza, I honestly ask myself who he or she would run into.

It’s still a public space, even if no one’s using it, so the only person I’d put money on is that smiley guy from the parking lot, making the most of the solitude to take a quiet pee in the corner. 

Luke Baumgarten is the interim co-executive director of Spokane Arts, a cofounder of Terrain, the founder of Fellow Coworking and former culture editor of the Inlander. He tweets @lukebaumgarten.

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