Breonna Taylor-Who Owns the Fault?

Last week a grand jury in Louisville, Kentucky, handed down the result of its investigation of the police-shooting death of Breonna Taylor.Breonna was a 27 year old, black emergency medical technician shot dead in her own apartment in a hail of bullets in the early morning hours of March 13, 2020. Imagine yourself for a moment as Breonna’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, deeply asleep, abruptly awakened by a “bang” outside the apartment door, a shout, and the door breaking inward. You live in a “Stand Your Ground” state. As such, you understand you have no duty to retreat in the face of a threat. Disoriented and afraid, you reach for your 9mm handgun and fire a shot at the plain-clothed intruders, striking one in the leg. In the next minutes thirty-one shots are fired in return by the invaders, six of them striking–and killing–your girlfriend. 

Last week’s grand jury verdict: One of the officers, Brett Hankison, was indicted on three counts of “wanton endangerment,” one count for each of the three people in apartments adjacent to Breonna’s who might have been killed by Officer Hankison “blindly” firing ten shots from his .40 calibre semiautomatic pistol. Several of those shots entered adjacent apartments. 

The other two officers identified in the investigation, Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly and Det. Myles Cosgrove, were not indicted by the grand jury Wednesday. The attorney general said Kentucky law finds that the officers were justified in their use of force in response to Walker’s shot.

While many were hoping that the officers who shot Taylor would be held responsible for her death, Cameron said murder charges were “not applicable to the facts before us.”

The grand jury decided that, faced with a man who fires one round in what he clearly perceives as self-defense, the police are justified in producing a hail of gunfire (31 or 32 shots), including six shots that take the life of an innocent woman. That is a startling and enraging conclusion, but in consideration of every detail of known context and the system that produced that context, it may be the technically “legal” conclusion–even though that conclusion feels tragically unjust. 

Adrenaline is a powerful drug. “Fight or Flight” isn’t the half of it. Adrenaline galvanizes the mind of everyone in whom it courses, home defender and policeman alike. It clouds judgment. Training and reflexes take over. Adding adrenaline to the firepower and lethality of modern-day handguns produces an explosive mix. Everyone in this sad incident, home defender and policeman alike, was facing split-second adrenaline-fueled decision making. 

I am outraged at a system that sets the stage, trains some of the players, and sets in motion a tragic, miserable, heart-rending scene that results in an innocent young woman’s death. I am the more outraged to consider how likely it is that race played a role in the setting of the stage and the actions of the players. Let us not lose sight of the culpability of those who set the stage. 

I want justice, but the justice I want is far broader than castigating three police officers. Those three men were playing (very badly) a role assigned to them by an unjust, biased system. I want people to wake up to the systemic injustice that focuses enforcement of draconian drug laws on the black community–while drug use among whites is often overlooked with a nod and a wink. (Better to legalize, regulate, educate, and treat–the way society deals with alcohol after the disaster of Prohibition.) I want us to understand and reform a legal and law enforcement system so negligent that it issues a “No Knock” warrant to break down an apartment door in a “Stand Your Ground” jurisdiction and then blames the innocent and legally compliant inhabitants of the dwelling. I want us to wake up to the sloppiness of the investigative division of the Louisville police that was so inept, misinformed, and anxious to ask for a warrant to apprehend a man who was nowhere near the home they proposed to invade. I want accountability from the legislators and law enforcement officials who pushed a “Stand Your Ground” law, broadly promoted the ownership of lethal weaponry and the arming of police with military arms, and then look away when the tragedy they helped stage is played out.

Those are the goals for which people march–and that is why, even in the unlikely event that somehow the three police officers involved are charged with murder, the protests will not stop. We need to focus on why these horrible events keep happening. We must work toward the awareness and reform that will make them less likely. None of this will happen while Republcans hold majorities in any government body. Conservatives and their enabling media want the public to focus on the protestors, not on the gross injustice that drives them to protest.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. After I wrote this I discovered that Trevor Noah gave eloquent voice to the same issue last July. Here’s the link to his 12 minute youtube video:

Pedophilia, Ref. 90, and Politics

Just talking about children and what is quaintly called “the facts of life” makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Talking about sexual abuse of children is downright disturbing. “Make it go away! Ugh.” Sexual predators are feared, despised, and widely shunned–appropriately so. Comprehensive Sexual Education (in the early grades especially) is meant to assure that children are equipped with the basic facts necessary to understand and call out inappropriate behavior–whether that behavior comes from a stranger, a family member, or a trusted social leader like a scout leader, a minister, or a priest. Making this point–education as protection, a sort of sexual exploitation proofing–is not glamorous; it does not make headlines. Failing to loudly make this point leaves a gap for cynical exploitation of humanity’s discomfort with the subject of sex and children–and sex in general. 

Enter Referendum 90. Early this year Washington State Republican operatives, were quick to sense a wedge issue ripe with potential for riling their base. They leapt at the opportunity to “refer to the people” the new Comprehensive Sexual Health Education Law (aka “Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5395”). (Such a “referral” to a vote of the people is a “referendum,” hence, Referendum 90.) They gathered twice the required number of signatures necessary to get Ref 90 on the ballot–in spite of pandemic restrictions. They accomplished this feat by spreading overblown fear and lies of what such sexual education might entail, and then used their alliance with a network of churches for signature gathering. Even if they fail to block the law, for the statewide fundamentalist Republican base sex is a winning issue–it gets out the voters to cast votes for Republican candidates. Visit and observe that Referendum 90 is front and center on the Spokane GOP website. In fact, it is the only voting issue linked on their introductory page. All else is presented only as general statements. 

If I needed proof of humanity’s fascination with and discomfort over matters sexual, it was confirmed by the reaction to my post Pedophiles Against Sex Ed! on August 19. No other post in almost four years of writing got more attention. It garnered a click rate of 54.9%, a full ten percentage points above the rough averageFor mentioning pedophilia in the priesthood I was accused of anti-Catholic prejudice by a friend from whom I have not heard since. Such are the deep emotions that sexual matters raise in our country. 

The combination of sex and children as expressed in the word pedophile commands attention. It broadly evokes revulsion and disgust.* 

In Washington State Republicans exploit human unease with the educating our young about sex, but national Republicans go a big step further. Trump and his son are busy painting their opponents as pedophiles

Growing numbers of Republican supporters subscribe to the QAnon conspiracy, the completely whacko idea that Donald Trump is engaged in a pitched battle with a ring of pedophiles and sex traffickers associated with the Democratic Party. QAnon is a cult, a group as impervious to reason and fact as glass is to water. Several Republican candidates nationwide are QAnon cultists, and some appear poised to become members of the U.S. Congress. [Locally, Rob Chase(candidate in LD4) and Jenny Graham (incumbent candidate in LD6) dabble with QAnon conspiracy theory.]  Most alarmingly, Mr. Trump, while pretending not to know what QAnon stands for, dogwhistles for their support

But this takes the cake: Trump Junior, stumping in Arizona on September 22 with Charlie Kirk (See P.S. below) said, “You know what the left is doing? They’re justifying pedophilia,” Like his father, Trump Junior lies and distorts with impunity for political gain, but in this statement he is only echoing a whisper campaign around pedophilia currently spreading on electronic media. The accusation: California lawmakers have legalized pedophilia! It is utter bullshit, of course, spread through networks of folks apparently unequipped or unwilling to question it. The truth: California recently passed a law that allows for some sentencing leniency in the case of consensual heterosexual sex between two young adults unfortunate enough to have ages that bracket the 18 year old cutoff that defines statutory rape. This is a  commonsense legal adjustment known as a “Romeo and Juliet” law. I strongly urge you to watch the 3:27 video that is part of this news report debunking this base-riling BS. Trump Junior and Charlie Kirk are disgusting excuses for humanity. They deserve to be kicked into the dustbin of history.

If Trump–and a lot of other Republicans–manage to eek out victory in the November election it will be with the very considerable aid and support from groups and people with ideas that should be evoking disgust, revulsion, and a huge voter turnout among Democrats, Independents, and all decent Republicans. If Republicans do not eek out victory, then we have a long road ahead trying to educate the citizenry around honesty, integrity, and fact-checking.

Keep to the high ground,

*The word “disgust” took on new meaning for me when I came upon its etymology. The word is related to nausea, revulsion and nausea when presented with rotten material, a very, very basic human emotional response that protects against consuming something that might sicken or kill us. Consider its close relation to “gustatory,” of or relating to taste. The English thesaurus offers synonyms: “revulsion, repugnance, aversion, distaste, abhorrence, loathing.”

P.S. Does the name Charlie Kirk, youthful founder of Turning Point USA and darling of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), ring any bells? This lying provocateur was scheduled to appear yesterday as a speaker at the Candlelight Christian Fellowship just across the border in Coeur d’Alene. There is another local tie: Charlie Kirk was the featured speaker right here in Spokane at the Spokane GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner in April 2019. Click that link for more. 

I listened to the livestream of the 9AM Candlelight Christian Fellowship yesterday, September 27. It was far more like a political rally than a church service. Mr. Kirk presented to an audience that held him in awe for his glib presentation of alternative reality.

(The Candlelight Christian Fellowship was recently in the national news as its mask-eschewing pastor, Paul Van Noy, struggled against the resultant Covid-19. He was in the ICU for 18 days at Kootenai memorial hospital and given a 20% chance of survival.)

The American Redoubt

Most of my readers live in what we call The Inland Northwest, an area of somewhat fuzzy boundaries generally consisting of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Many of you may not know that same area is also the American Redoubt, a chilling concept that contains an active invitation to certain people to congregate here. If you consider the American Redoubt as just one more fringe movement, you need to pay closer attention. In the decade since the early Obama administration and the rise of the Tea Party, the American Redoubt has grown from an idea to an insular media system that has allied elected Representatives in at least two state capitols. The American Redoubt was first proposed in 2011 by survivalist author and sovereign citizen James Wesley, Rawles (the comma is part of his legal name) who self describes as a Constitutionalist Christian libertarian. For a primer on the background of the movement I recommend A Gathering of Eagles: Extremists Look to Montana.

The word redoubt refers to “a place of refuge or retreat,” a refuge with military, defensive quality. The American Redoubt invokes the (paranoid? fearful?) concept of a “National Redoubt” defined in wikipedia as “an area to which the (remnant) forces of a nation can be withdrawn if the main battle has been lost or even earlier if defeat is considered inevitable.” As such, the American Redoubt speaks of withdrawal of “us”, the like-minded, upright, God-fearing Christians (and some Jews) into the defensive redoubt of the Inland Northwest. In Rawles own words: “People who recognize that they are of the [Christian] remnant, that they are God’s elect, will in increasing numbers choose to vote with their feet.”

The American Redoubt provides its own media bubble, from which all competing ideas are easily brushed aside. I encourage you to visit Redoubt News. Browse the headlines. Consider the person with a mindset that possesses no reference to an opposing view. Then visit Radio Free Redoubt or consider buying a defensible property through Revolutionary Realty in Coeur d’Alene that welcomes you to “the Heart of the Great American Redoubt, North Idaho!” Here are the sort of people Revolutionary Realty says you’d be joining:

“All with the same thoughts about our situation as a whole, all seeking security from what they, and I see as an oncoming storm. The people I work with aren’t tinfoil hat wearers, they are generally all the same group, common sensical, down to earth, both conservative and libertarian in their leanings, very much “to each his own”.

As a Group, North Idahoans are BIG Second Amendment Supporters, they believe in their guns, and it’s awful strange, because they come pretty close to NEVER shooting each other….”

Among the bits of chilling material on the Redoubt News website is a link to Amrron (The American Redoubt Radio Operators Network), established in 2011 along with Redoubt itself. Visit. They self describe as “the largest conservative mostly-Christian radio network outside of a faith-based organizational structure (such as Salvation Army and LDS).” Is what you see at Amrron preparation for the defense of America or for establishment of a Christian Fundamentalist state? 

The idea behind the American Redoubt is just nebulous enough that it can be dismissed as a slightly over-the-top version of the Boy Scouts’ motto “Be Prepared,” but to think of it that way without a more detailed look is a mistake. The American Redoubt is a dismissal of American unity, a calling together of Christian Fundamentalists of a certain stripe into a region in which they believe they are on the verge of electoral domination. 

The American Redoubt with its internet news, radio, and “Christian” preachers can call out a hundred heavily armed “Patriots” on short notice to defend against a rumored threat of “antifa terrorists” converging on Sandpoint, Idaho, in buses and SUVs. These folks do not necessarily share every tenet of faith that underlies the Redoubt, but they stand ready to shoot with only a little excess agitation. This is exactly the way people come to shooting each other–hived off in a media bubble, not listening to the voices and ideas of others.

For my readers living in Eastern Washington take note of the similarities between the concept of the American Redoubt and Rep. Matt Shea’s, and candidates Rob Chase’s and Bob McCaslin’s “State of Liberty,” the proposal to split Washington State in two along the Cascade mountains. In their imagined state Christian Fundamentalists would hold sway as the majority–and those not of that stripe could be ignored. 

That the State of Liberty and the American Redoubt are kindred ideas should be no surprise. There is fluid interweaving of the Fundamentalist Christian ideologues that support both concepts. To name a few: Matt Shea (WA LD4 Rep), Heather Scott (ID District 1A Rep), ally and provocateur Ammon Bundy (of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Occupation fame), Joey Gibson (founder of Patriot Prayer, frequent flier in Spokane and north Idaho and recently in the news in Portland OR); Pastors Ken Peters and Matt Shea (again), with Gabe Blomgren, Caleb Collier and others of the Covenant Church and TCAPP (The Church at Planned Parenthood); and the Byrds of the Marble Community Fellowship in northern Stevens County. All stoke fear of “liberals”, wave guns, flaunt supposedly Christian credentials, and advocate for Christian separatist movements.

Read about the American Redoubt. Pay attention to the associated names so you recognize them in the media. Those names appear again and again. With the help of inexpensive electronic media, they have assembled and continue to spread a poisonous separatist ideology. Never underestimate the power of a few determined individuals possessed of pernicious ideas to lead others, often initially well-meaning people, down paths they would not otherwise tread.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. I am chillingly reminded of this quote from Margaret Meade, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Clearly, Ms. Meade had a different sort to group in mind, not Christian Separatists, White Supremacists, or Nazis but her quote applies just as well.

Local Republican Defection?

It is notable when a staunch local Republican publicly endorses two Democrats for elected office. On Sunday, September 20, the Spokesman Review “Editorial Board” (aka the publisher, Stacey Cowles) endorsed Lance Gurel and Lori Feagan for the two WA State Representatives to the State House in Olympia for Legislative District 4 (Spokane valley north to Mount Spokane). The Editorial was entitled, Voters should step out from under Shea’s shadow in the 4th

Mr. Cowles wrote, “Voters should choose legislators who not only understand Eastern Washington values but also will work collaboratively in Olympia to accomplish goals that serve the region and the state. They also, it should go without saying, ought to avoid candidates who would embarrass the district.” 

Mr. Cowles’ Editorial highlights the support that Bob McCaslin and Rob Chase (the two “Prefers Republican” candidates for these LD4 seats), consistently offer to Matt Shea’s theocratic [my word] Liberty State movement, a fringe proposal that has burbled along on the far right for years. The proposal gained greater airing (and scrutiny) in recent years with Rep. Matt Shea’s agitation for the idea among his fellow travelers (and now his parishioners) at the Covenant Church on Spokane’s near north side,  and with his alliance and support of the “American Redoubt” movement centered in North Idaho. Shea and McCaslin gained notoriety with their followers (and to a lesser extent with the rest of us) by proposing the formation of Liberty State with a bill filed in the Washington State House of Representatives. The fact that these folk take the Liberty State proposal seriously–and semi-publicly acknowledge the far right “Christian” theocratic reason for proposing it–is not just an embarrassment   for our region, it is unsettling and a bit frightening. 

The Spokane County Republican Party is riddled with ideologues allied to Matt Shea. Indeed, for a time the Spokane GOP chairwoman was Cecily Wright, a woman who was also the organizer (with her husband) of Northwest Grassroots, a far right organization in Green Bluff that hosted James Allsup, the Pullman-based white supremacist marcher at Charlottesville. Our very own Cathy McMorris Rodgers unflinchingly accepted the endorsement of the Matt Shea wing of the local GOP. (So far, the Spokane GOP seems to be avoiding listing endorsements for the November General Election. Are they worried over potential backlash?)

The smaller, relatively moderate local Republican group, who confusingly call themselves the Republicans of Spokane County, declined to even mention LD4 candidates among their Primary election endorsements. Of course, both organizations make sure they append the word “radical” to every mention of someone of the “Democrat Party” persuasion. 

Stacey Cowles’ endorsement of Lance Gurel and Lori Feagan, two Democrats, is a striking departure for a man whose wife sits on the board of the Washington Policy Center. Cowles’ endorsement of these two skilled, reasonable, community-minded, sober Democratic candidates, Feagan and Gurel, feels like a long overdue repudiation of the smoldering extremism that has infected the local Republicans for too long. 

There is much of politics over which Stacey Cowles and I disagree, but not on this. 

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Northwest Grassroots, the organization mentioned above organized by Cecily Wright and her husband, had a website advertising their organization and meetings in Green Bluff. I linked to it many times when I was writing about the James Allsup debacle. That website link now goes to this:  If you click “downloads” on that page it takes you to this video: The site says that the video download was “last modified” on August 4, 2020. It is a half an hour of Alex Jones, the king of conspiracy theorists, talking about his relationship with both Donald Trump and QAnon. Jones was recorded last April. I find it chilling to watch. I don’t think it is much of a stretch to think of this NWGrassroots wing of the local Republican Party dialed into this dangerous nonsense. Rob Chase’s involvement with Northwest Grassroots is clear, as is his dabbling with QAnon.  Rod Higgins, still a councilperson and now former mayor of the City of Spokane Valley, not only attended but took to the podium at NWGrassroots (in this video at 38:00 minutes) to demonstrate his scheming against and lack of respect for fellow elected council members. Although the Northwest Grassroots website appears to be abandoned, the organization still maintains a Facebook presence. (Are you surprised?)

All of this hides in plain sight. The shame is on the voter who casts a ballot for and lets themselves be represented in elected office by these people. Sadly, the local Republican Party has played along with and been infiltrated by these folk for a long time.

Update Your Priors!

“Update your priors” comes from statistics and epidemiology, but it applies to so much more. 

“Priors” are your prior knowledge and beliefs, inevitably fuzzy and uncertain, before seeing evidence. Evidence prompts an updating; and then more evidence prompts further updating, so forth and so on. This iterative process hones greater certainty and generates a coherent accumulation of knowledge.”

This is the way science, indeed, the advancement of all human knowledge, is supposed to work. At this moment We the People of the United States are struggling to “update our priors” against frozen ideology, ideas resistant to updating. 

We are seeing the progress of science in real time as new evidence has demanded readjustment of our understanding of the transmission and treatment of Covid-19. It is hard to keep up, but getting through this without worse death and disability depends on updating our prior understanding in light of accumulating evidence. For a review of where we’ve been in our approach to Covid-19, where we now are, and how got here I recommend Dana G. Smith’s  The Most Likely Way You’ll Get Infected With Covid-19, published online September 16 as part of* Dr. Smith recounts epidemiologists’ evolving understanding of the transmission of Covid-19 from fomites to aerosols and ventilation. The article is a vivid reminder of the need to update our prior ideas in light of accumulating evidence, rather than parade around mask-less because “it’s my right.” 

A second article on Medium, Why More Covid-19 Patients Are Surviving the ICU by Chris Baraniuk traces the evolution of the medical care of Covid-19 patients. The article offers an excellent example of incremental updating of one’s priors with emphasis on sharing of data among healthcare workers not just from vaunted bastions of U.S. medicine, but among international groups of healthcare workers sharing not only formal papers but sharing what might work and what doesn’t work over nearly instantaneous electronic media–in almost a real time collaboration. Chinese, European, and American doctors and nurses are sharing and updating precious data and insight across borders, while the man who sits in the Oval Office casts blame on others, alternately gushing over and damning foreign and domestic leaders, states, cities, and countries.

“Updating your priors” doesn’t just apply to medicine. The BBC published a fascinating article, “The weird space that lies outside our Solar System” discussing the data coming back from the Voyager space probes, built and launched more than 40 years ago and still sending news from the far edges of our solar system and beyond. This updating of a credible, evolving, scientific understanding of our universe is happening even as active groups on the internet stay mired in flat earth and young earth theories, and share conspiracies around chem trails, evil spirits, pedophile rings, and world domination–with some candidates and elected officials, nearly all of whom are Republicans, either signing on or sharing uncritically. Jenny Graham(WA Rep, LD6) and Rob Chase (candidate in WA LD6) are local examples. This is the reason why for the first time in its 175 year existence Scientific American has endorsed a presidential candidate–Joe Biden–while offering a scathing assessment of Donald Trump’s science denial.

Even history has a need to update its priors. The U.S. history I was taught half a century ago ignored the realities of slavery, Post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the broken treaties with Native Americans, and the ravages of smallpox that decimated Native American populations before and during the European arrival. Now Mr. Trump not only wishes not to update the teaching of American history from what I was taught, he wants to expunge from the curriculum the scholarship of the last half century. 

The election this November is a referendum on “Updating Your Priors.” Mark the “D”s on your ballot if you want to move forward with incremental improvement, the “R”s if you want to go back.

Keep to the high ground,

* is an ad-free publishing platform founded in 2012. The “ELEMENTAL” tab on Medium, subtitled “Your life, sourced by science…a Medium publication about health and wellness” contains some quality journalism with good links. A new series of articles there, entitled Six Months In, explores where we are in the pandemic and how we got here.  

P.S. I should note here that I find no fault among those who functioned within the understanding of the world prevalent at the time. In March, Jeffrey VanWingen M.D., explained in detail in a youtube video how to make your groceries safe from carrying Covid-19 virus when you bring them home. His video, which went viral with 26 million views, might have been slightly over the top even then, but at the time his recommendations were an amplification of the best we knew. A quick visit to Dr. VanWingen’s Facebook page confirms he has updated his priors to include wearing masks. 

P.P.S. The need for (and wisdom of) updating one’s priors is grounded in Bayes’ Theorem (or Rule), a mathematical expression of conditional probability–and a challenge for every student of statistics. Thomas Bayes, who developed the theorem, was an 18th century Presbyterian minister. In a nutshell Bayes’ Theorem “expresses how a degree of belief, expressed as a probability, should rationally change to account for the availability of related evidence.” 

P.P.P.S. I am indebted to ideas expressed and linked in Betsy Brown’s daily blog, Update from an Epidemic, specifically her September 1 article, “Epidemiology and Masks“, for much of the underlayment of today’s post.

We Make National News-Again

“Daniel, you lying piece of shit. You’ve done it. You’ve started it. Don’t you EVER call me. You understand?” That message left on the voicemail of Daniel Walters, staff writer for The Inlander, a Spokane weekly newspaper. It was left by Jenny Graham, the incumbent Washington State Representative from the 6th Legislative District (SW Spokane County and the City of Spokane suburbs to the north, west, and south). When Mr. Walters called her back she responded with a homophobic slur, “”You cocksucker! You cocksucker! Don’t ever call me again,” and the line went dead. The language is jarring, especially considering that some of it was knowingly committed to a voicemail recording, but an examination of the circumstances leading to Ms. Graham’s invectives is warranted. She was incensed by Daniel Walters’ article in The Inlander, posted the day before her tirade, August 26, “Blind Links: Rep. Jenny Graham forwarded her Facebook followers to bizarre conspiracy sites without realizing it.” Note that the title itself offers Ms. Graham an “out” from the potentially damaging observations about her Facebook posts and shares. (I urge you to click and carefully read this article. It sets the stage for everything that follows.) 

More than two weeks passed, ample time for Ms. Graham cool off from her towering rage, call Mr. Walters, and discuss the substance of the original August 26 piece. (This unwillingness to engage with the press is reminiscent of Matt Shea’s [WA LD4 Rep], Heather Scott’s [N ID state rep], and Donald Trump’s categorical refusals to engage with news outlets they deem unfriendly.) His calls unanswered, at the end of those two weeks Walters wrote a second article describing his experience with Graham, “After an Inlander article about her links to conspiracy theory websites, Rep. Jenny Graham responds with profanity, threats and another conspiracy website,” published September 14. 

The next day, last Tuesday, September 15, the national spotlight briefly turned to Spokane: the Washington Post published “A Washington lawmaker shared conspiracy theories. She threatened a reporter who wrote about it,” (The Post article gives a nod to two other of our local politicians who spread conspiracy theories, Matt Shea [LD4], and Matt Shea’s acolyte, Rob Chase. Chase is currently running for a seat in LD4 against a Lance Gurel, a decent, well-grounded accountant.)

On the heels of the Washington Post article, the story blew up local and some nationwide coverage in the SpokesmanThe HillThe New York Daily NewsFox 28 Spokane. For a balanced and thoughtful discussion of the controversy I thought the coverage on KREM was best. It also offers a chance to meet Mr. Walters. 

[Jenny Graham’s sharing Facebook posts from websites pushing twisted conspiracy theories is not an isolated phenomenon. This is a symptom of a disease of division that runs all the way to the top of our politics and government. I strongly recommend you take the time to watch The Social Dilemma, a documentary currently featured on Netflix (currently the #4 most watched Netflix video).*

We need to pay attention to the intellectual integrity of the people we elect. In the age of Covid, maintaining a legislator in Olympia who runs fast and loose with the facts and refuses to calmly engage with this media is dangerous, regardless of their good intentions,  Ms. Graham is a one-term Republican running for re-election in LD6 (See P.S.) She won her position in 2018 against Dave Wilson by a mere 324 votes (among a total of nearly 69,000 votes cast). Graham has a credible challenger on the ballot this November, Tom McGarry, a practical, decent, data-driven candidate.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. I am ashamed to admit that until four years ago I did not know offhand what Washington State Legislative District (or U.S. Congressional District) I live in. If you’re in that same boat as I was I encourage you to orient yourself by visiting There, click “My Elected Officials.” Better, especially if you like maps, check out

*A month of Netflix Basic streaming is $9.79. The trick is to cancel before it rolls over the next month and becomes a phantom drain on you credit card for months and months. If you don’t have an account already, they might offer a free trial.

Air Apocalypse

The smoke-filled air here in Spokane is ominous and depressing. It conjures up competing images of the end of world. I recall the Biblical image my mother spoke of in which the earth and humankind is consumed by fire (as the promised alternative to another worldwide flood). Then I imagine how a surviving dinosaur must have felt 66 million years ago as the sky blacked worldwide with the debris of the asteroid impact that ended the Mesozoic Era. Both images are of uncontrollable, unpredictable, unmodifiable events. In contrast, the current atmospheric event was predicted and it is modifiable. 

Last Saturday, September 12, Spokane, Washington, experienced the worst air quality for a 24 hour period since the county began recording to the PM 2.5 standard (Particulate Matter <2.5 micrometers in diameter) in 1999. “The 24-hour average Air Quality Index reading on Saturday was 368… That smashed a 24-hour record set on Aug. 19, 2018, when the reading was 257, also caused by wildfire smoke. Any reading over 100 is considered unhealthy for high-risk groups.”  (See P.P.S. below for my best understanding of how the “AQI” works.)

Check out this table of air quality events over the last 21 years from the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (SRCAA). Look at the right hand column, labelled “Cause.” Slide down. Wildfire smoke appears as the cause of poor air quality only on three days in the 16 years prior to 2015, whereas wildfire smoke is the only cause listed after 2017.

The SRCAA was established mostly in response to foul air from sources like diesel and gasoline engines and heating exhaust. The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, working hand in hand with EPA emissions regulations, engaged in community outreach to chip away at local sources of air pollution. During its first several decades these efforts significantly cleared the air. As seen in the table linked above, when the PM 2.5 standard measure was taken up in the 2000s “air stagnation/wood smoke” was the major issue. Once again EPA regulations around the efficiency of wood burning stoves coupled with SRCAA community outreach cut the haze. But here’s the crux: what we now face is not a local issue. What we now face is a regional, national, international and global issue that a county agency cannot address on its own. In the fight against wildfires and climate change and global warming that underlying them, SRCAA is reduced to measuring our misery with the AQI numbers, telling us when to hide rather than dealing with the source.

Three of the last four years we have spent many late summer days cowering indoors, coughing, our eyes burning, our throats scratchy. The smoke comes from wildfires burning in every direction. Our Congressional District 5 U.S. Representative, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, has answers: We need to cut and clean out more of our forests. We’ve suppressed logging with regulation. While there is some truth in that it is a dismal failure as an explanation for the obvious ramp up of wildfires in the western United States in the last four years. The earth has warmed, as predicted. That energy added to the atmosphere has shifted rain patterns, fueled hurricanes, typhons, and tornados, even a new, massive, and destructive wind event in our heartland of Iowa (the “Derecho”). 

Choking on wildfire smoke in the late summer each year is an ominous call to address the issue that looms over us. The restatement of the Republican Platform by David Frum, a defector from the Republican Party, sums up the Republican view of climate change/global warming:

Climate change is a much-overhyped problem. It’s probably not happening. If it is happening, it’s not worth worrying about. If it’s worth worrying about, it’s certainly not worth paying trillions of dollars to amend. To the extent it is real, it will be dealt with in the fullness of time by the technologies of tomorrow. Regulations to protect the environment unnecessarily impede economic growth.

McMorris Rodgers mouths the words “climate change” but never gets beyond forest hygiene and hydropower as a response. Her dear leader, the President, the man she so unfailingly supports, is more transparent in the disdain for climate science that CMR conceals. He declares global warming a hoax–even as he works to build a seawall to protect his property in Scotland from the effect of climate change, a seawall he and his wealthy friends can hide behind. Is this another case of Trump understanding a threat like he did early on with Covid-19, while he deceives his followers to “avoid a panic”? He said of Covid-19, “It’ll just disappear,” even when he was aware it was a lie. In California on Monday, in response to a plea to address climate change, he said with a smirk (at 0:45),: “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” 

Vote them out. Vote them all out. Let’s address the problem before us before it really is too late.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (SRCAA) was established by Washington State law in 1967 in the midst of the environmental movement. [SRCAA preceded the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, founded by a law signed by a Republican president, Richard M. Nixon. Remember when Republicans acted as though they cared about the environment and paid attention to the scientific community?]  I urge you to poke around the SRCAA’s website. It is another countywide agency chaired by….senior Spokane County Commissioner Al French, yet another example of this man’s reach and power.

P.P.S. The AQI readings are a little confusing. Many of Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers we hear about are short term numbers, numbers that can vary widely over the day. (Those are the “Max..” numbers in the second and third columns of the table I cited.) Those short term readings are also the ones on this AirNow webpage (that’s part of EPA). In many ways, the more relevant numbers are the 24 hour average numbers you can also see at EPA Website

For any of my readers interested in the details of what the Air Quality Index actually measures, please read on. My source documents are:  and 

the video at

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is an attempt to relate the concentration of air pollutants to the danger they pose to human health. Any given AQI number presents the danger posed by only one of six different pollutants (ozone, PM2.5, PM10, CO, NO2, and SO2; Spokane sensors only measure PM2.5, PM10, and ozone, the local risks.). If two or more pollutants are detected, then an AQI is calculated for each one–and the worst (highest) AQI number is the one reported. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (P2.5) are the primary pollutant in smoke, the danger with which we are currently struggling. Larger particles, PM<10, are mostly what we see and think of as dust. (The PM10 measurement  includes PM2.5, but, since PM<2.5 don’t weigh much in comparison to dust, those smoke/soot particles, PM2.5, don’t contribute much to the PM10 measurement.)  

PM 2.5 (Particulate Matter 2.5) is a measurement of particulate matter in the air that is less than 2.5 micrometers in size. The basic measurement is the weight of particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter contained in a cubic meter of air. (Technically, SARS-CoV2 particles, between 12 and 50 times smaller in diameter than 2.5 micrometers, are contained in this measurement, but they weigh so little that unless there were a huge volume of virus particles in the sample [very unlikely] their weight would not contribute noticeably to the measured total weight of <PM2.5 material in any sample.)

Like all good science the understanding of the risks of various pollutants to human health has been updated as new data is acquired. For example, the special health risks of particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM<2.5 aka soot and smoke particles) compared to PM<10 (dust) were recognized by studies in the 1980s and 1990s. The PM<2.5 risks were recognized by the EPA in the new standard measurement and reporting of PM<2.5, measurements SRCAA has been making starting in 1999.