by Inlander Readers & r & & r & Racism in Spokane & r & Many aspects of life in Spokane changed in my 15-year absence, while I lived and worked in Los Angeles -- the unveiling of new businesses, churches and schools, and neighborhoods in formerly undeveloped areas. Even with this growth, the mentality towards non-whites has lagged.

Downtown several weeks ago, two twentysomething teenage girls yelled racial slurs towards us about going "south of the border." They insinuated through their bigoted comments that my husband is not Caucasian. Yet these girls are also ignorant. My husband is Asian. At that moment, I was embarrassed by the Spokane to which I brought my mixed-race family. Further, while at school and at play, my daughter has borne scars from comments about her skin color and birthplace.

How can Spokane and its people achieve an attitude of racial tolerance? Parents: Inventory your biases, make adjustments to your thoughts and vocabulary, and teach your children accordingly. Business owners: Broaden employee diversity and remove racial biases in all employment decisions. School districts: Create diversity policies and curriculum within the classroom. City officials: Create more programs and functions encouraging diversity in both business development and other city growth and promotional opportunities.

Until then, Spokane will always remain the small-minded town of yester-year.

K.D.C. & r & Colbert, Wash.

The War on... What? & r & That the present administration has made a mess of the war in Iraq, from the truncated and ideologically blinkered planning stage through the actual execution and occupation, is beyond dispute. The evidence is publicly available and, in muted tones, now acknowledged by the president himself. This is a reality that has received much public attention. There are other realities, however, that should also be heeded. These have to do with critical American and global interests in the Persian Gulf region, realities that persist and exist independently of the present administration.

In this observer's opinion, President Bush has done a very poor job of explaining these interests and how they relate to the war. But other national leaders and public commentators have not done much better, though this is hardly a matter that lies beyond their understanding. Given the vital importance of these interests and the trends that threaten them, it makes sense -- amidst the harsh scrutiny that Bush deserves -- to include a discussion of American and global interests in the Persian Gulf region and how they might be secured.

In the end, while the Gulf is far away, its collapse into the chaos of failed states, Islamist movements and nuclear weapons will predictably result in exceptionally severe, close-up consequences for all of us. That is why responsible voices on both sides of the aisle concur in the view that failure in Iraq is not a choice. Given the abysmal record of the Bush presidency in so many aspects of its policies, it seems futile to look to it for a better public understanding of what is at stake in the Gulf. Others must address such realities, for these are matters that will be with us as a nation well beyond the Bush presidency. In the absence of a such a sober discussion, it is difficult to imagine how even a new administration will get Persian Gulf policy right or build the public support for it that is ultimately required.

SHANE E. MAHONEY & r & Cheney, Wash.

The Wal-Mart Model & r & According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, "More than 60 percent of Wal-Mart employees -- 600,000 people -- are forced to get health insurance coverage from the government or through spouses' plans -- or live without any health insurance." I have decried this policy for years. It is unfair of Wal-Mart to soak up tax dollars meant to provide health care for the poor in order to benefit their bottom line. Lately, I have begun to think that it is unfair unless all employers are allowed the same access to public funds for their employees' health coverage.

An aging workforce and spiraling medical costs impact every employer in this country. Each year, more and more opt out of providing medical insurance, or they move their operations to other countries. The crisis gets worse and nothing gets done. Companies are dumping their health care costs at a far greater rate than they are dumping their pensions.

Their solution to this problem does not include a race to the bottom, but maybe a race back to the top. By lowering the enrollment age for Medicare to 55 instead of 65, all employers in this country would be relieved of the costs of insuring their older workers. The Medicare pool would benefit from an influx of younger beneficiaries, which would lower the per person cost of coverage. Medicare is an efficient single-payer system that allows people to choose their own doctor, hospital or clinic, so there would not be the mistrust and resentment now aimed at HMOs. Administrative costs in the Medicare system are very low when compared to any other health care provider in the country. With older employees covered by Medicare, companies would be better able to provide heath insurance to their younger employees.

This would be a great benefit to employers. It would also benefit workers who have never had health coverage before and now find that they need to pay more attention to their health. Workers with preexisting conditions would be able to change jobs without fear of losing coverage. Older workers who became unemployed would not lose their life savings in a medical emergency at a time when it is too late for them to recover. One big reason for age discrimination would be removed.

In its own perverse way, Wal-Mart has pointed us in the right direction. It is clear that they believe in a single-payer system for medical insurance. I hope they will make public their support for it and provide funds to underwrite the campaign to expand Medicare to those workers who are in desperate need of a real solution to our health care crisis.

GLENN LANGE & r & Marcus, Wash.

A Closer Look & r & The Inlander is a vital venue for providing context to ideas that don't seem to get anywhere in other area media. The article on trains, "Track to the Future" (1/5/06), is a good example of a thoughtful look at lost, neglected or killed opportunities, with a hopeful summation of resurging concepts, proposals and actual projects. Thank you.

However, while reading it, I had a strange sensation that this particular article was from some 30,000-foot level. I can appreciate if that perspective was exactly the goal of the writer and editors -- estimating the extent of awareness of general readers is an art, and if the conclusion was that train infrastructure was somehow low on the list, then the tone was appropriate.

And I get it that a weekly newspaper can't have too narrow a focus on subjects or it will lose the general reader. But because Eastern Washington has a pretty long list of complicated railroad issues -- some in Spokane and some in the surrounding rural areas -- I was disappointed that a cursory mention of them never took place. Such a mention would have, for me, eliminated the whiff of an unappealing aesthetic odor to the article.

Aesthetics and style matter. But because clunky, complicated and not-a-bit-sexy local and regional issues did not emerge, I found myself questioning the actual point of the article. The sidebar by Joel Smith ("Could It Happen Here?") was a burst of relevancy, for me anyway.

Paul Haeder's good, and the "Treading Lightly" series is a welcome one. I look forward to future stories, but as a reader concerned about local sustainability choices, I also look forward to getting hit with facts that feel like a four-by-four between the eyes and make me want to connect the dots and make a difference.

TERRY LAWHEAD & r & Spokane, Wash.

Make & Takes @ Art Salvage Spokane

Sat., June 19, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sat., July 17, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
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