Housing Levy-Tonight

“The Housing Levy” Ordinance will be addressed this evening at the Spokane City Council. Today I want to use this ordinance as a civics lesson for myself and my readers. The issue was flagged to me in a blanket email sent me by an interest group whose work I respect, FUSE Washington. I encourage you (after further reading) to register your comments on “The Housing Levy” with your City Council members this morning in advance of this afternoon’s and evening’s meeting. FUSE has set up an easy way to send an email which you can access here. Another good option is to go to the City Council Members page from where you can email individual members of the Council or offer a blanket comment to all of them (in the right hand column). My guess is that numbers of favorable comments are probably more important than eloquence or numbers of words.

Civics Lesson:

This evening in the course of their electronic meeting the City of Spokane City Council will consider ORD C35982, aka “The Housing Levy.” This is our local government at work. Marching and demonstrating is often necessary to draw attention to issues, but the process of working toward solutions for issues surfaces at meetings like this. Thanks to the wonders of TV and the internet you can watch, listen in, and even participate (in a limited way) at the November 30 Briefing Session at 3:30PM and/or the Legislative Session at 6:30PM. Click that link to watch from the comfort of your home some of the work your elected city officials actually do. 

On the City Council Agenda for November 30 ORD C35982 appears first on page 8, mid-page. This short intro is pretty dry and bland:

Imposing a sales and use tax for the construction, acquisition, and rehabilitation of attainable housing and for housing-related supportive services; and enacting a new chapter 07.08C of the Spokane Municipal Code. (Council Sponsor: Council Members Wilkerson, Stratton and

To read the details of ORD C35982 you have to scroll down to page 448 in the 735 page agenda (at least those are the page numbers in the pdf file). [Useful trick: CMD-F on my computer offers a window. Pasting or typing “ORD C35982” in that window shows there are three instances in which ORD C35982 appears in the whole 735 page document. Clicking takes you right there. Voila!] I encourage you to click on the agenda link (repeated here), skim a little and then navigate to pdf page 448 to look at the actual “Ordinance” (“a piece of legislation enacted by a municipal authority”). 

The summary of ORD C35982 on page 445 clarifies a lot:

The Washington state legislature has authorized, by passing HB 1590, cities and counties to impose an additional 0.1% sales and use tax, provided that the revenues from that tax must be spent on the construction, acquisition, and rehabilitation of affordable housing, and on housing-related supportive services. This ordinance imposes the sales and use tax, describes project funding priorities, sets a sunset date, and provides a framework for application review and project funding recommendations.

That is 1/10 of a penny on a dollar purchase made within the City of Spokane. That levy should raise $4,100,000 for local use to start to address the issue of affordable housing. Put another way, the levy is one dollar on a $1000 purchase, a collective tiny tithe for the good of the community. 

Anyone paying attention knows that housing in Spokane is really tight, downright unaffordable for many. This proposed ordinance is our local government working to provide some relief. ORD C35982 did not materialize in a vacuum. It builds on a law passed by the WA State Legislature and signed by the governor on March 31, 2020, HB 1590, “Allowing the local sales and use tax for affordable housing to be imposed by a councilmanic authority.” Take-home point: municipal and county government action is circumscribed by the state constitution and state law–one small example of “the rule of law” and the importance of understanding how all this works in civil society. The ability of the City of Spokane City Council to consider and pass ORD C35982 rests on someone’s idea, the drafting of the language of HB 1590, the efforts of our state legislators, the governor, the drafters of ORD C35982, and the City Council members who support it. Who knew?

It will be very, very interesting to track the news coverage of ORD C35982. If the City Council passes the ordinance this evening, will the Spokesman article about it be titled “City Council Imposes Yet Another Tax on Spokane” or “City Council Takes a Step to Address Affordable Housing”? That is, will the news coverage light up the anti-tax mind frame or the “let’s help out our fellow citizens” mind frame. We will see.

Keep to the high ground,

Vaccines!–Part II

We now have three Covid-19 vaccines reporting encouraging early results in Phase 3 trials. Induction of immunity to Covid-19 among vaccine recipients is in the range of 90% for all three vaccines. 

The development of Covid-19 vaccines rests on striking advances in the life sciences that have occurred mainly in the last three decades. (See P.S. and P.P.S. for background. Reading an older post, Viruses–an Orientation, might be good for additional perspective. Vaccine! Part I, last Monday’s post, offers historical background on vaccines.)

The two first announced vaccines results were from the companies Pfizer and Moderna. Both of those vaccines are classified as “mRNA vaccines.” The third vaccine, produced by AstraZeneca, whose early results were announced last Monday, is a “chimpanzee adenovirus vector vaccine.” (Incidentally, the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, is another “adenovirus vector vaccine.”) That vaccine classification obscures a basic fact: All these contenders use the tools of modern molecular biology to stimulate the human body’s immune system to make antibodies to a single component of SARS-CoV-2, specifically the “spike protein.”

The spike protein lives on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus particle. The spike protein is the “corona” of this particular coronavirus. It binds to the outer membrane of our cells, the first step in Covid-19 infection. At least theoretically, a strong antibody response to the spike protein should halt the virus in its tracks.

All the current frontrunner vaccines ultimately depend on offering a specific strand of messenger RNA (mRNA) to the molecular machinery of our cells (see P.S. for detail). That machinery is indiscriminate. It will translate whatever mRNA is presented to it. It doesn’t matter if that mRNA was properly read from the host cell’s DNA or whether it was injected by virus particle (as in Covid-19 infection) or whether it was delivered into the host cell by vaccine technology. Whatever protein(s) the mRNA specifies is what the cell’s molecular machinery turns out. 

Note: Unlike nearly all traditional vaccines this modern vaccine technology tries to focus the immune system on neutralizing just one key antigen. That is very elegant, but it is new and different. The ideas have been around at least since the first SARS epidemic in 2003, but because that first SARS virus was quashed in the early stages, these techniques have not been broadly tested in humans until now. 

The three current frontrunner vaccines differ in how they present mRNA to the cell’s molecular machinery. The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines both use the same (or very close to the same) mRNA. Messenger mRNA in its naked state outside of a cell is quickly degraded. These two vaccines differ in the specifics of their packaging and delivery of the spike protein mRNA code, but both vaccines require very cold temperatures to keep the mRNA stable. That makes for some tricky and expensive delivery logistics. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine uses a different trick. The coding for the spike protein was reverse engineered  from the original RNA code into a string of DNA and spliced into the genome of a wholly different virus. In this case, the virus used is a weakened chimpanzee adenovirus still capable, at a low level, of infecting human cells. The adenovirus becomes the vehicle that carries the spike protein coding (in form of DNA) and injects it (along with rest of the adenovirus genome) into the host cells. There are comparative advantages and disadvantages between this adenovirus vector method and the mRNA method. The AstraZeneca adenovirus vector vaccine, using DNA, is much more temperature stable than the mRNA vaccines–and it is cheaper and easier to make in large quantities. But there are some practical worries. Some folks receiving vaccination might already have antibodies to adenoviruses that could interfere with optimal delivery of the DNA. Moreover, the weakened chimpanzee adenovirus itself may stimulate its own immune response with attendant side effects. 

The mRNA vaccines of Moderna and Pfizer are trickier to handle than the adenovirus vaccine of AstraZeneca, but the mRNA vaccines, if properly delivered, seem, at least based on current reports, to offer the best protection. The details of AstraZeneca’s Phase 3 research presentation raised eyebrows already by mid-week, bringing into question the applicability of the early results to older populations. (See After Admitting Mistake, AstraZeneca Faces Difficult Questions About Its Vaccine.) Time will tell. All this scrutiny will ultimately bring out the details.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will hold a public hearing on proposed emergency authorization of both the Pfizer and Modena mRNA vaccines on December 10. If approved, distribution of these two vaccines in the U.S. could start by December 13th. 

I was recently asked if I trust “the vaccine” for Covid-19. My answer required some contemplation. What I trust is that the scientists toiling in corporate and university laboratories the world over are doing their best to produce vaccines that are safe and effective that will offer us a path out of this pandemic. I trust them regardless of monetary incentives, ethnicity, nationality, and personal egos. There will be side effects that occur with each vaccine–and I could suffer from one just like anyone else might, but I trust the transparent efforts to minimize the number and severity of side effects. I can have a pretty dark view of human nature at times, but I cannot picture a person evil enough to knowingly unleash a vaccine with dire side effects on their fellow humans.

All of that said, although I would like to snap my fingers and go back to my former life, I can endure this isolation a while longer as more and more results come in. As that occurs I am hopeful that confidence will build and by the time a vaccine is actually available for me to use I will be happy to take the small risk of receiving it. 

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Molecular Biology Basics: Both RNA and DNA consist of strings (“strands”) of small organic molecules called nucleotides. (Remarkably, both DNA and RNA each use only four nucleotides.) The order of nucleotides in a strand of DNA or RNA is read in sequential chunks of three nucleotides. Each ordered chunk of three nucleotides is call a “codon.” In turn, the order of codons specifies the order of stringing together amino acids (of which only 20 amino acids are used). Those strings of amino acids then fold (by molecular rules) into proteins.  Proteins are the primary building material of life on earth.

The coding for the proper stringing of amino acids to make a specific protein can be contained in a segment (a gene) of either DNA or RNA. In non-viral life (like you and me) the flow of information is from the DNA contained in the nucleus of the cell to a complementarily coded messenger RNA (mRNA). That specific mRNA travels from the nucleus to the cell’s cytoplasm. There the mRNA string is read by a macromolecular machine called a ribosome into the specific string of amino acids that will form a protein. 

Molecular biologists in the last several decades have figured out how to manipulate the genetic code contained in DNA and RNA, snipping sequences of the code (genes) from DNA and RNA, moving them, and splicing them into other DNA and RNA code strings. That is the substance of “genetic engineering,” the science behind these vaccines and behind all “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs).

P.P.S. An Ode to the Science behind this vaccine development: The pace and the detail of this vaccine effort is absolutely mind-blowing. No previous vaccine has been brought successfully into widespread use in less than four years (ten years is more usual). We are now less than a year into Covid-19 (even if seems like ten…). 

If you mentally clear away all the nationalist, paranoid bullshit we’ve been fed the last four years and take a broader world view, it is clear that what we are seeing in the build-up to these vaccines is a world wide scientific collaboration founded on advances in the life sciences and communication that few if any of us fully grasp. In January Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of the virus that causes Covid-19. They published the result in an open forum on the internet and within weeks the scientific community in all corners of the globe set to work on a vaccine. They share information not just on paper but on the internet in real time. By October there were 321 vaccine candidates in development world-wide with 56 of them in clinical trials. As I’ve tried to wrap my head around just the three current frontrunner vaccines I’ve read of work done and connections made in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Brazil, Switzerland, Russia, as well as the U.S. The difference between a collaboration and a conspiracy is that a conspiracy is formed in secret for some nefarious purpose. I refuse to believe that is the case here, although I can begin to grasp the suspicious mindset which tends to assume the worst of human nature and goes to a dark place of the chip implantations and fear of the “New World Order.” Imagining some evil force behind it all is far easier than actually grasping the details of the science and how science works.

TG’s Holiday History

Many of you already read Prof. Heather Cox Richardson’s daily email, Letters from an American. I admire all her work, but today’s post is, for me, a must-share. Put the history of this holiday into perspective.


November 25, 2020

Heather Cox Richardson    

It doesn’t feel like much of a Thanksgiving this year. Lots of chairs are empty, either permanently, as we are now counting our coronavirus dead in the hundreds of thousands, or temporarily, as we are staying away from our loved ones to keep the virus at bay.

Lots of tables are empty, too, as Americans are feeling the weight of an ongoing economic crisis.

Rather than being unprecedented, though, this year of hardship and political strife brings us closer to the first national Thanksgiving than any more normal year.

That first Thanksgiving celebration was not in Plymouth, Massachusetts. While the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags did indeed share a harvest feast in fall 1621, and while early colonial leaders periodically declared days of thanksgiving when settlers were supposed to give their thanks for continued life and– with luck—prosperity, neither of these gave rise to our national celebration of Thanksgiving.

We celebrate Thanksgiving because of the Civil War.

Southern whites fired on a federal fort, Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor in April 1861 in an attempt to destroy the United States of America and create their own country, based not in the American idea that “all men are created equal,” but rather in the opposite idea: that some men were better than others, and had the right to enslave their neighbors. In the 1850s, convinced that society worked best if a few wealthy men ran it, southern leaders had worked to bend the laws of the United States to their benefit. They used the government to protect slavery at the same time they denied it could do any of the things ordinary Americans wanted it to, like building roads, or funding colleges.

In 1860, northerners elected Abraham Lincoln to the presidency to stop the rich southern slaveholders from taking over the government and using it to cement their own wealth and power. As soon as Lincoln was elected, southern leaders pulled their states out of the Union to set up their own country. For their part, Lincoln and the northerners set out to end the slaveholders’ rebellion and bring the South back into a Union in which the government worked for people at the bottom, not just those at the top.

The early years of the war did not go well for the Union. By the end of 1862, the armies still held, but people on the home front were losing faith. Leaders recognized the need both to acknowledge the suffering and to keep Americans loyal to the cause. In November and December, seventeen state governors declared state thanksgiving holidays.

New York Governor Edwin Morgan’s widely reprinted proclamation about the holiday reflected that the previous year “is numbered among the dark periods of history, and its sorrowful records are graven on many hearthstones.” But this was nonetheless a time for giving thanks, he wrote, because “the precious blood shed in the cause of our country will hallow and strengthen our love and our reverence for it and its institutions…. Our Government and institutions placed in jeopardy have brought us to a more just appreciation of their value.”

The next year Lincoln got ahead of the state proclamations. On July 15, he declared a national day of thanksgiving, and the relief in his proclamation was almost palpable. After two years of disasters, the Union army was finally winning. Bloody, yes; battered, yes; but winning. At Gettysburg in early July, Union troops had sent Confederates reeling back southward. Then, on July 4, Vicksburg had finally fallen to U. S. Grant’s army. The military tide was turning.

President Lincoln set Thursday, August 6, 1863, for the national day of thanksgiving. On that day, ministers across the country listed the signal victories of the U.S. Army and Navy in the past year, and reassured their congregations that it was only a matter of time until the United States government put down the southern rebellion. Their predictions acknowledged the dead and reinforced the idea that their sacrifice had not been in vain, as Lincoln himself did just three months later in the Gettysburg Address.

In October 1863, President Lincoln declared the second national day of thanksgiving. In the past year, he declared, the nation had been blessed.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, he wrote, Americans had maintained their laws and their institutions, and kept foreign countries from meddling with their nation. They had paid for the war as they went, refusing to permit the destruction to cripple the economy. Instead, as they funded the war, they had also advanced farming, industry, mining, and shipping. Immigrants had poured into the country to replace men lost on the battlefield, and the economy was booming. And Lincoln had recently promised that the government would end slavery once and for all. The country, he predicted, “with a large increase of freedom,” would survive, stronger and more prosperous than ever. The President invited Americans “in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands” to observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving.

The following year, Lincoln proclaimed another day of thanksgiving, this time congratulating Americans that God had favored them not only with immigration but also with the emancipation of formerly enslaved people. “Moreover,” Lincoln wrote, “He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions.”

Lincoln established our national Thanksgiving to celebrate the survival of our democratic government.

Today, more than 150 years later, President-Elect Joe Biden addressed Americans, noting that we are in our own war, this one against the novel coronavirus, that has already taken the grim toll of at least 260,000 Americans. Like Lincoln before him, he urged us to persevere, promising that vaccines really do appear to be on their way by late December or early January. “There is real hope, tangible hope. So hang on,” he said. “Don’t let yourself surrender to the fatigue…. [W]e can and we will beat this virus. America is not going to lose this war. You will get your lives back. Life is going to return to normal. That will happen. This will not last forever.”

“Think of what we’ve come through,” Biden said, “centuries of human enslavement; a cataclysmic Civil War; the exclusion of women from the ballot box; World Wars; Jim Crow; a long twilight struggle against Soviet tyranny that could have ended not with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in nuclear Armageddon.” “It’s been in the most difficult of circumstances that the soul of our nation has been forged,” he said. “Faith, courage, sacrifice, service to country, service to each other, and gratitude even in the face of suffering, have long been part of what Thanksgiving means in America.”

“America has never been perfect,” Biden said. “But we’ve always tried to fulfill the aspiration of the Declaration of Independence: that all people are created equal….”

Biden could stand firmly on the Declaration of Independence because in 1861, Americans went to war to keep a cabal of slave owners from taking control of the government and turning it into an oligarchy. The fight against that rebellion seemed at first to be too much for the nation to survive. But Americans rallied and threw their hearts into the cause on the battlefields even as they continued to work on the home front for a government that promoted the common good.

And they won.

I wish you all a peaceful holiday.
Keep to the high ground,

Happy Thanksgiving

Have a safe, masked, socially distanced Thanksgiving. I look forward to next Thanksgiving by which time I have growing confidence a vaccine or vaccines will spell the end of the pandemic and a chance for the world to begin picking up the pieces. May we all stay healthy until that time.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Vaccines!–Part II will be arrive on Friday. I’ve learned a lot and sorted what I want to say, but I’m struggling to say it clearly.

Vaccine!–Part I

The first news I saw when I awoke last Friday was that Pfizer would ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, BNT162b2. This is a milestone in humanity’s battle against infectious disease, an epic struggle few of us in the modern world fully appreciate. BNT162b2 is based on a completely new biological approach to stimulating an immune response. BNT162b2 uses of a manufactured strand of mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) to stimulate an immune response. Messenger RNAs are transient organic molecules that are a critical step in translation our genetic material into the proteins that are the building blocks of life. Sixty years ago the idea that mRNA even existed was only a hypothesis. Now a molecule of mRNA, the one that carries the instructions for the spike protein that protrudes from the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, may offer humanity a way out of the Covid-19 pandemic. But I’m getting ahead of the story I want to tell. The story is rather long, and for that reason I want to tell it in two parts. 

The very first vaccine arrived on the scene only a little more than 200 years ago in London, England, as the very first example of stimulating immunity to a horrific disease without experiencing a bout of the disease itself. The story of that discovery explains why the word vaccine itself comes from a Latin word that meanscow: vacca.

In the late 18th century, when the United States was an infant country, smallpox (aka variola, a Latin word meaning “pustule”) killed 10-20% of the population (the higher percentage in densely populated cities) and disfigured countless others. In Eurasia death from smallpox was a fact of life, something to be feared–but endured–an experience almost seen as a rite of passage. The disease was so common in Eurasia and Africa that the majority of people had acquired immunity to the disease. Not so in the Americas. There, when smallpox arrived with some of the first European contacts, it devastated native populations, wiping out the structure of whole civilizations. (Guns, Germs, and Steel).

Regardless of that startling and rarely recounted history, the disease smallpox is now gone from the planet (although the virus that causes it still exists in a few laboratories–a fact that fuels a whole genre of dystopian science fiction. Smallpox was conquered by the very first vaccine–and its expanding use over almost two centuries.

Smallpox survivors were immune to the disease–and they also were often identifiable by the scars, called pockmarks, left on their skin from the healed pustules. (It is called “small” pox to distinguish it from “The Great Pox,” syphilis, another major scourge.) The observation of post-infection immunity to smallpox led to a centuries-old practice called variolation, in which people seeking immunity were intentionally infected with smallpox (by scratching smallpox pus into their skin) under relatively controlled conditions. The roughly 1 in 50 death rate (2%) from variolation was a big risk, but an improvement on the 1 in 10 death rate from the epidemic disease. In the mid-1700s variolation was the best method available to become immune to smallpox.

Then came Edward Jenner (1749-1823), an English physician, and Blossom the cow. The story goes that Dr. Jenner astutely noticed that milkmaids who had suffered cowpox were immune to smallpox. Jenner saw the chance to test an idea based on this observation when Sarah Nelmes, a local dairymaid, presented to him with a case of cowpox. She had contracted it from the udder of her cow (Blossom). Jenner used pus from a cowpox pustule on Sarah’s hand, scratching it into the skin of his gardener’s young son, James Phipps. Six weeks later Jenner variolated James (Jenner had been practicing variolation just like many other physicians of the time). As Jenner expected, James was immune to the smallpox inoculation (variolation); James did not demonstrate the typical painful sore in response to the scratched in smallpox pus. Voila! the smallpox vaccination was born. (Cowpox is a disease similar to smallpox but much milder, much less common, and not nearly as transmissible.) 

Like many inspiring and rather mythic stories of famous events, Dr. Jenner’s story is a convenient summary. The fuller, fascinating story, can be read here. Scientific progress, like properly raising a child, “takes a village.” One Dr. John Fewster, a practitioner of variolation, years previous to Jenner’s experiment had observed that some dairy farmers did not develop the reaction other patients did when variolated with smallpox pus. After their sub-usual reaction to variolation these same farmers were, nonetheless, immune to smallpox. Dr. Fewster, noting this fact, learned from these farmers that all who did not react to variolation had at some point suffered a case of cowpox. There were no medical journals at the time, but doctors got together in London to eat, drink, and share stories like Fewster’s. There is good evidence that Jenner was exposed to Fewster’s story decades before he saw the opportunity and screwed up his courage to test his idea by vaccinating young James Phipps. Memory being what it is, it is entirely possible Dr. Jenner by that time had forgotten where he’d acquired the original idea, but he spent a lot of time thinking about it. Records show that before the vaccination of Phipps, Jenner had already gotten a reputation as “the cowpox bore” at local medical society gatherings. The point here is not to denigrate Jenner’s achievement, but only to cite the medical culture that set the stage. Communication, the sharing of stories, is essential to the progress of science.

Most of us have been exposed at one time or another to this story of Jenner’s discovery, but usually without much context. At the time Dr. Jenner scratched cowpox pus into young Mr. Phipps arm, the term “virus” mean “an infective material.” No one had any idea of a submicroscopic particle that could cause disease, what we now call a virus (See Viruses–an Orientation). Chemistry as a science was in its infancy, biochemistry was unheard of. Cells and their nuclei could be seen with the some optical microscopes, but DNA, RNA, mRNA, and protein chemistry weren’t even dreamed of. All of that understanding comes from scientific developments that belong to the mid-20th century, one hundred and fifty years later. 

The whole idea of vaccination is to cause the body’s immune system to develop immunity to a disease without suffering the effects of the disease itself. Jenner’s use of cowpox to induce immunity to smallpox, that is, using a live virus of one disease to immunize against disease caused by a different virus is nearly unique in the history of vaccination. Almost all vaccines for the last two hundred years following Jenner have used live, but weakened (“attenuated”) or killed forms of whole disease-causing virus to stimulate an immune response. (At least that is true for vaccines against viral diseases; “toxoid” vaccines to bacterial toxins, like those against diphtheria and tetanus, are a slightly different story.) All of these attenuated and killed virus vaccines present a whole array of antigens (chemical parts of the virus recognized as foreign material by the vaccine recipient’s immune system) to which the body might form an immune response. Key idea (1): Both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines are meant to induce immunity to one specific chemical, the spike protein that lives on the surface of the viral particle. This is a whole new idea. I’ll expand on that in the next email.

So if smallpox vaccination (using cowpox) is so highly effective, why it did it take a hundred and eighty years (1980 declaration by the World Health Organization [WHO]) to eradicate smallpox from the globe? Again, we are taught simplified stories in school, while the truth is almost always more complicated. There was opposition smallpox vaccination within the medical profession itself for technical and economic reasons. And there were anti-vaccinationists even then:

People quickly became fearful of the possible consequences of receiving material originating from cows and opposed vaccination on religious grounds, saying that they would not be treated with substances originating from God’s lowlier creatures. 

A half century after Jenner’s original work the British government became involved:

Variolation was forbidden by Act of Parliament in 1840 and vaccination with cowpox was made compulsory in 1853. This in its turn led to protest marches and vehement opposition from those who demanded freedom of choice.

It was another 130 years before this same vaccination technique proven by Jenner succeeded in the eradication of smallpox, a disease that has no animal reservoir (like Covid-19 does). That 130 years was spent by countless people teaching about the vaccine and the good that could come from its use, figuring out how to make quantities of uncontaminated cowpox material, and establishing distribution networks, knowhow, and standardization to accomplish world wide vaccination. Arguably, this would never have been accomplished without the cooperation of the United Nations and its associated World Health Organization (WHO), the organization recently defunded by the Trump administration, and the work of WHO’s parent organization, the U.N., an institution derided from some pulpits as part of the evil “New World Order.” Many of us older folk remember the scab that developed over the vaccination they received in their youth–and the exhortation not to pick at it. Today routine smallpox vaccination of the general population is not recommended.

Key idea (2): Application of complex logistics is essential to vaccine success. We read today of the challenges of producing, distributing, and administering sufficient quantities of anti-Covid-19 vaccine to relieve the world of this scourge. We might reflect on the necessity of worldwide cooperation to make that happen–and on the fact that it took 180 years and intensive international cooperation to eradicate smallpox.

In Part II I hope to explain these novel mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 in a bit more detail.

Keep to the high ground,

CMR, Elections, Covid

Unless your only sources of news are Rush Limbaugh, the evening commentators on Fox, or any number of syndicated, right wing, often Evangelical “Christian” AM and FM radio stations, you know by now that, absent an armed rebellion, Joe Biden won the popular vote and will prevail in the Electoral College. 

Much of the country breathed a sigh of relief that the process of the elections themselves went very well. There were no bombings or shootings or reports of gross, wide-spread voter intimidation. Secretaries of State (the folks who oversee the logistics and conduct of elections in the states), including notable Republican Secretaries of State, likes the State of Washington’s SOS Kim Wyman (R) and Georgia’s SOS Brad Raffensperger, have stood up to defend the accuracy and integrity of state elections processes. 

Mr. Trump and much of the rest of the Republican Party continue to shamble along like the undead in a horror movie with a long-nurtured plan to contest the results of the election as illegal and illegitimate. It is frightening to contemplate that if the results had been closer in more states this tactic that might have worked, throwing the whole electoral process into question and chaos worse than the drama in Florida in 2000. That disgraceful episode handed George W. Bush an Electoral College victory in spite of garnering a minority of the countrywide popular vote. This time, instead, at least for those Americans who actually pay attention to the details of how voting works, Trump’s and the Republican Party’s lockstep efforts to discredit the election results look like a pathetic, unAmerican power grab, a power grab that threatens the fabric of our country. (For an excellent overview of the tactics of today’s Republican Party I suggest Fintan O’Toole’s Democracy’s Afterlife, free to read in the December 3 issue of the New York Review.) 

How do the three Republican Representatives from Washington State to the U.S. House of Representatives stand on their Party’s gross attempt to undermine American’s faith in the electoral process? The quotations that follow come from a November 10th article in the Spokesman.

GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse, representing Central Washington, said he wants to see the Trump campaign’s lawsuits work their way through the courts to give voters confidence in the outcome, but said, “That doesn’t mean that I believe there was illegal activity in any state.”

“Unless you’ve got hard evidence, accusations like that are not well-founded,” Newhouse said in an interview Saturday. “And that’s why I think a legal challenge is OK and reasonable, but to come to that conclusion before the results of any kind of recount or investigation, I think, probably does diminish the confidence the American people have in our system. And so, if I were president, I would be very, very cautious about making that kind of a statement.”

Those sound like the words of what we used to call a statesman, a person dedicated to how our country is supposed to function, the way we were taught in school.

GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of southwest Washington [protege of CMR] echoed Newhouse’s sentiment.

“We have not seen the evidence that would change the outcome in the several states needed to overturn the results of the election, but like all Americans the president has the right to press his claims in court,” Herrera Beutler said. “There are millions of Americans who support the president, and the public will ultimately have more confidence in our election system if the vote count and legal process is allowed to reach its conclusion.”

Then there is Cathy McMorris Rodgers, “our” U.S. Rep and grandame of the three (in office for 16 years, Newhouse 6 years, Beutler 10 years):

A spokesman for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said the Eastern Washington Republican supported the president’s stance.

“Cathy believes that every legal vote should be counted and that President Trump has every right to seek legal recourse in response to allegations of voter fraud and impropriety,” spokesman Jared Powell said in a statement. “She believes integrity and transparency in the election process is foundational to American democracy.”This is a gradation of opinion with McMorris Rodgers most adherent to the Republican narrative. She’s a follower. Her spokesperson conveniently avoids commenting on the content and validity of the “allegations” or consideration of the near zero likelihood of the allegations making a difference in the final outcome. She and her office must never question the Trump Party line. (For a particularly egregious example of the feebleness and disingenuity of the Republican claims read Michigan Republicans Backtrack After Refusing to Certify Election Results.)

For me there is nothing surprising in the statement from McMorris Rodgers’ spokesperson. In 2017 at a “Coffee with Cathy,” McMorris Rodgers invoked the supposed evil of George Soros (as financier and puppet master of Democrats). The reference was delivered to my face as if it were inconceivable that I might disagree with the story she had clearly internalized. McMorris Rodgers evidently subscribes to the narrative of Democrats as pitiable, misguided by the forces of evil. It is a narrative that dovetails nicely with her Fundamentalist upbringingthat labels those not of her particular faith as unfortunate creatures misled by Satan. She is an acolyte of the Republican narrative of minority rectitude and majority illegitimacy so well articulated by O’Toole.

As if any more proof of her adherence to that narrative were needed, McMorris Rodgers, instead of supporting Governor Inslee’s efforts to reduce the explosion of Covid-19 cases, only offers criticism. On the failure of Trump and Congress to come up with a second round of Covid relief funds McMorris Rodgers says “Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, is to blame for the inaction before Election Day.” Add up her statements. They amount to this: “We must keep the economy open regardless of spiking Covid cases overloading our health care system AND it’s the evil, misguided Democrats’ fault that the federal government isn’t helping more to keep businesses afloat.” People can be sacrificed on the altar of the economy (after all, God determines who survives and the righteous, if chosen to die, can look forward to a glorious afterlife). For McMorris Rodgers the way to deal with the current Covid crisis is to plow through it on the way to a vaccine. 

Keep to the high ground,

Spokane Co. Gov. Revamp

The way Spokane County government is currently organized, the three Spokane County Commissioners are the most powerful county-elected officials in eastern Washington. (See Concentration of Local Power.) Not only do they purport to represent far more people, but the reign of a Spokane County elected official is not term limited, unlike their City of Spokane counterparts. Commissioner Al French, an Architect/Real Estate Developer (according to his Linkedin profile), is now in the middle of his third four-year term as a Spokane County Commissioner. The region recently saw Mr. French flex his political muscle in the firing of SRHD Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz.  

The exceptional power of the three Spokane County Commissioners is destined to diminish in 2022. State government (within the confines of the state constitution) sets the rules for county government structure. In the 2022 election five commissioners from five newly drawn commissioner districts will be elected. This change has been brewing locally and in state government for years in an effort to produce a Spokane County governance structure that better reflects the size of the population governed. In 2018 a law was passed, SUBSTITUTE HOUSE BILL 2887, that detailed the three to five commissioner expansion. It should be no surprise that powerful interests fought tooth and nail against expanding representation in county government. The last battle of this fight concluded in August 2020 when the State Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that the new state law (SUBSTITUTE HOUSE BILL 2887) is, indeed, constitutional. Among those arguing against the law were Al French and Josh Kerns, two of the three current Spokane County Commissioners. Al French, as I covered on August 24, still didn’t give up, continuing to speculate on some means to retain his current position. Freeholder process? Delay implementation on account of Covid? Anything! 

So what is the county government reorganization that Commissioners French and Kerns are so anxious to avoid? Currently, each commissioner stands within their commissioner district in a primary election in August every four years (in every even-numbered year either one or two of the commissioners terms run out). In 2018 Al French polled fewer votes in the August primary election within his district than his Democratic challenger, Robbi Katherine Anthony. But here’s the catch: In the current system if, within a district, a candidate is within the top two in the top two primary both those candidates then stand for the General Election in November not just in their district but county-wide. This system pretty much guarantees that, if one party dominates county-wide, all three commissioners will be of that party–and so it has been for some time.

Thanks to SUBSTITUTE HOUSE BILL 2887, starting in 2022 there will be five, not three, commissioners in Spokane County, and, more importantly, they will be elected from five county commissioner districts in the primary and in the general elections. A commissioner candidate will have to pay attention to their district’s electorate, not just the majority party of the county. 

Here’s where the nuts and bolts of Civics come to the fore. It behooves us to pay attention. Note that the current Commissioners, French, Kerns, and Kuney, will be running from a smaller district both in the primary and the general election. It is unlikely but still possible that in the redistricting process two of them could even find themselves living (and competing) in the same district.

The Redistricting Timeline/How the Process Works: The data for the redistricting process comes from the 2020 Census. That data will be used by a redistricting committee of five members assigned the task of establishing the new district boundaries that will stand for the next ten years.Appointments to the redistricting committee will be made between January 1, 2021, and April 15th. The details of the process of appointment and qualifications for membership on the committee can be read at RCW 36.32.053. (That’s the Revised Code of Washington, the law we live under in the State of Washington, part of “the rule of law.” RCW 36.32.053 is a part of that law as revised by SUBSTITUTE HOUSE BILL 2887. These are the nuts and bolts of our governance.)  

Only four of the five members of the redistricting committee are voting members. Two are appointed, one each by the members of each of the “two largest caucuses” (read Democratic and Republican caucuses) of Legislative Districts 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9 (those LDs with territory within Spokane County) of the WA State House of Representatives. The other two are appointed, one each by the Democratic and Republican  caucuses of the same LD list from the WA State Senate. The four of those committee members appoint a non-voting fifth member as chair. (See P.P.S. for the cast of characters that will make up those caucuses.)

That sets up a two-two partisan split on the committee. There is an elaborate set of rules set out in the next Section of the RCW, 36.32.054 specifying the requirements for the districting process, including drafts, public hearings, public comment, and timing requirements. Three out of four votes are necessary to approve a final draft. If the committee deadlocks it must appeal to the (WA) state redistricting commission, which is then tasked with establishing the final boundaries.

This is a part of our representative governance, our “rule of law” for me always has gone on out of sight and out of mind. I now realize this was a mistake. Surely, powerful interests, like the real estate industry, have taken a keen interest in these processes of government while the rest of us have slept. It behooves us to pay attention. 

Action Item: For the redistricting committee that will be formed in early 2021 to do a thorough, fair, and just job of redistricting it will need funding–and that funding needs to come from the budget prepared by the same Spokane County Commissioners whose positions and power may be challenged by the work of the committee. 

It is damnably hard to find on the county website, but the Board of County Commissioners of Spokane County has given notice of a Public Hearing concerning the 2021 budget on Monday, December 7, at 10AM. The commissioners are accepting written comments on the budget via email at gvasquez@spokanecounty.org (Ginna Vasquez is the “Clerk of the Board”). 

Please send an email to the Commissioners in support of ample funding in the 2021 Spokane County Budget for the County redistricting committee to be formed in early 2021 so the committee will be able to do a fair and just job of redistricting. The idea is to let them know their constituents are paying attention.

There will be more on this topic as we go along.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Two of the three current Spokane County Commissioners have strong ties to building and real estate. French, as noted above, is an “Architect/Real Estate Developer.” Mary Kuney, an ally of Mr. French, is married to Max Kuney IV. He is the president of Kuney Construction, a major local construction firm founded by his great grandfather in 1930. Their list of building projects at that link reads like the history of the region. Josh Kerns, the youngest and least real estate-aligned commissioner, has a background in right wing political campaigns, including those of Matt Shea, John Ahern, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

P.P.S. Composition of the caucuses that will appoint the members of the redistricting committee:
The only Democrats currently serving in Legislative Districts 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9 (those LDs that have territory within Spokane County) are from LD3, central Spokane. Thus, the “Democratic caucus” that will appoint a redistricting committee member from the WA State Senate will be Senator Andy Billig, and the “Democratic caucus” from the WA State House of Representatives will consist of Reps. Marcus Riccelli and Timm Ormsby. 

In contrast, the “Republican caucus” from LDs 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9 for the Senate will consist of the State Senators from LDs 4, 6, 7, and 9, Mike Padden, Jeff Holy, Shelly Short, and Mark Schoesler. For the House of Representatives it will consist of State Reps. Bob McCaslin Jr., Rob Chase; Mike Volz, Jenny Graham; Jacquelin Maycumber, Joel Kretz; Mary Dye and Joe Schmick.