Masks, Vaccines, Religion, and the Usual Suspects

Buried on the Coronavirus page in the A Section in last Sunday’s Spokesman (September 26), there was an article entitled “Rally against vaccine mandates draws 4,000 to downtown”. The gathering was organized as the “Rally for Medical Freedom,” a title that obscures the motives of the rally’s principle organizers, Caleb Collier and Matt Shea. Shea and Collier have been featured speakers at nearly every anti-government protest and rally from the early days of the coronavirus lockdown to the present. Just enter their names in the Search window at (See hereherehere, and here.) Long before the coronavirus, Matt Shea allied with Ammon Bundy during the Malheur Wildlife Refuge armed standoff in 2016, something we would all do well to remember.

Matt Shea declined to run again for the seat he had held as Washington State Representative from LD4 (Spokane Valley north to Mt. Spokane) after the exposure and controversy over his tract, “The Biblical Basis for War.” Since then Shea, Collier, and company seize every opportunity to rile their far right religious flock against existing government. While regional Intensive Care Units fill with unvaccinated Covid-19 patients, the inanity of Shea and Collier’s current protests against vaccinations and masks is exceeded only by the extremist religious fervor with which they pump up their followers over gun “rights”, abortion (as “The Church at Planned Parenthood”), the establishment of the theocratic breakaway “Liberty State”, and over any effort government might make to limit the current pandemic. 

Shea declined to run again for his seat as the state representative from LD4 last fall after being credibly accused of “domestic terrorism.” For at least the last ten years Shea has disguised his anti-government agitation in a cloak supposed Christian piety. Shortly after leaving the Washington State legislature in January 2021 Shea’s extremist religious politics came on full display as he took on the mantle of pastor of the Covenant Church. Ken Peters, the founder and prior head pastor of this non-denominational entity on Princeton Ave in near north Spokane was moving on to establish more “patriot churches” elsewhere. (Non-denominational simply means that as a pastor in such a church there are no institutional checks and balances on the finances or on the personality cult the pastor establishes with his [or her] flock.)

In Pastor Ken Peter’s absence, Shea took over. When Peters returned from Nashville, Shea decamped with much of Peter’s former Covenant Church flock to a new location in downtown Spokane in a large building at 115 E Pacific Avenue. (On google maps the building is labelled “Healing Rooms Ministries International Office”. The building is also the address of the “Revival Culture Church”.) 

Caleb Collier is Shea’s apparent aide-de-camp in all Shea’s recent religio-political agitation. Collier, an ex-Marine who was once a council person on the City of Spokane City Council, is/was the co-host of “Church and State”, a local podcast producer with a flashy, flag-draped website. (That website may or may not be up-to-date. Its last “Latest Episode[s]” is dated July 23, 2018.) Collier was recently identified as “executive field coordinator” for the John Birch Society. Rumor has it that he has been fired under questionable circumstances even from that extremist organization. 

The common theme to all the protests that Matt Shea and Caleb Collier lead is straightforward: everything government tries to do is evil and must be resisted—resisted in the name of God and Shea and Collier’s particular concept of “freedom”. “Don’t you dare attempt to quell a pandemic with a requirement to wear masks or get vaccinated; don’t you dare attempt to limit the violent deaths by introducing common sense gun regulation; don’t you dare suggest that Biden was elected in a free and fair election!” Behind it all among these religio-political assault weapons toters is the implied threat of an armed uprising. Shea’s “The Biblical Basis For War” was a justification, not an outline for a Sunday school lesson. Shea and Collier, under the cloak of Christianity, are assembling an armed cult whose reason for being is to demonize and oppose government in any form but their own. Surely not everyone at the protest last Saturday fully subscribes to Shea and Collier’s message, but these two men are assembling a coalition of gullible believers carrying assault weapons instead of pitchforks. That last Saturday’s rally was entirely peaceful is no guarantee of future performance.

These people mean business. Learn their names and their backgrounds. Stay alert. Re-read the history of the takeover of the government of the Weimar Republic in 1920s and 30s Germany, by the religio-political movement of Nazi Aryanism. Take heed. It can happen here. It creeps up. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. This post was partly inspired by reading an opinion piece by a conservative commentator, Robert Kagan, last weekend in the Washington Post, entitled “Our constitutional crisis is already here

50% Electric Vehicles by 2030?

It will take more than a non-binding executive order and soothing words from the Big Three

If we all converted to full electric cars (EVs) tomorrow (not hybrids, which retain a gas engine) many of us would need to figure out a way to plug in our cars to at least basic house current (15 amps at 110 volts) while parked at home. Seventy-eight percent of drivers in the U.S. drive less than 40 miles in a day, a drive requiring less charging time on a 110V, 15 amp outlet than the time most cars spend at home each day. With this basic home charging we would need far fewer non-home charging stations than we have “gas” stations today. I have owned an EV for three years. In that time I have only used a non-home charging station when I have been more than 150 miles from home. 

There is more good news about electric vehicles. Electric motors provide nearly instant acceleration. Merging on the freeway with an EV is not a problem. Brakes wear out much more slowly in an EV than in a vehicle powered by internal combustion—regenerative braking kicks in as soon as you take your foot off the accelerator. That not only returns some electrons to the battery but it slows down the car. Driving downhill on a mountain road requires little or no braking and no downshifting. EVs are nearly silent, there are no roaring engines and no blue smoke belching from an exhaust pipe. Electric vehicles (EVs) require far less maintenance: they require no oil changes, air filters, catalytic converters, or exhaust systems. All they share with carbon burning vehicles are the tires, suspension and steering systems, windshield wipers (and washers), and the minimally used brakes. (Of course, with a hybrid or even a “plug-in” hybrid you keep all the complexity and maintenance issues of a conventional vehicle while adding a battery and an electric motor.) Furthermore, and I say this slightly tongue-in-cheek, but in the event of the apocalypse you can manufacture “fuel” for an EV at home with solar panels—but if you’re dependent on oil extraction, refining, and distribution for your fuel you could be out of luck. 

So with all these advantages what’s the problem? Why don’t we see far greater numbers of EVs on the road? Range, lack of standardization, and inertia. While it may be true that most cars in the U.S. travel less than 40 miles in a day, many people are understandably reluctant to buy a vehicle with a range of only, say, 100 miles. before searching for a charging station, figuring out how to connect to it, and then waiting hours for the vehicle’s battery to take on a charge. Drivers’ comfort with the ease of long distance travel in their carbon-burning vehicles is a source of skepticism and of massive inertia against the adoption of EVs. The Big Three automakers, fully wedded to their profit centers in internal combustion engines and the burning of fossil fuels, understand range issues and lack of standardization—and they are likely just fine with that status quo. 

Whatever else one might think about Elon Musk of Tesla Motors, the largest EV manufacturer, Musk clearly understood these issues (and others) when he bought a large share of Tesla stock and became the chairman of Tesla in 2004. Tesla not only built cars that are exciting to drive, cars that would compete with anything else on the road, but Tesla, importantly, in 2012, embarked on investing in a worldwide system of Tesla “Superchargers” to address the issue of range. 

We recently returned from a trip from Spokane to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in a full-on EV, a Tesla Model 3 (the economical version of a Tesla vehicle), that we’ve had for three years. With a range of nearly 300 miles on a full charge, the availability of electrical outlets at motels and some camp sites, and the ever-growing network of Tesla Superchargers (now including West Yellowstone MT and Jackson WY) acquiring “fuel” for the trip required only minimally more planning than with a carbon fueled vehicle.

For the first time since I’ve owned the Model 3 I explored what was available in non-Tesla Supercharger “fast” charging, what’s called Level 2, the only charging for other EVs that might undertake this trip (other than 110V, 15 amp conventional outlets at motels and homes). The disparate entities investing in the placement of these charging stations are no doubt motivated by noble intent (see Yellowstone Forever in Gardiner MT), but “filling up” a 100 mile battery at a Level 2 charger like this would take around four hours; chargers offered by different networks offer confusing directions (lack of standardization); and if your vehicle’s range is really only 100 miles, you’ll have a hard time making it through the parks before running out of electrons. Only a devoted EV nerd would attempt this trip in a vehicle dependent on the existing non-Tesla charging systems. It is hard not to suspect that the Big Three makers of carbon-fueled automakers are just fine with this, too.

On August 5th President Biden signed an aspirational executive order aimed at making electric vehicles half of all new vehicles sold in the United States by 2030. (The order also proposed new emissions standards to replace those Trump threw out during his administration.) According to Yahoo News:

Biden’s 50% goal, which is not legally binding, does have buy-in from Detroit’s Big Three: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, now a unit of Stellantis.

Conspicuously not invited to the signing ceremony was any representative of the world’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer, Tesla Motors, a peculiar omission. 

With this executive order and the Big Three’s cooperation we’ll see American highways fill up with full-on electric vehicles (not just hybrids) in the next nine years, right? I wish I believed that, but I would be a fool to do so. Remember when mileage standards were introduced and the Big Three used a gaping loophole in the requirements to shift production to the gas and diesel-guzzling trucks that offered a better profit margin? 

The Big Three automakers have, for at least a century, invested in the technology to burn gasoline and diesel fuel to power transportation. Along with this investment, a huge and enormously lucrative infrastructure has developed to mine, refine (think Koch brothers), and distribute the fossil fuels that currently power most of our transportation. There is massive inertia in all this. 

EVs are not like smartphones. Smartphones filled a nearly virgin economic niche. Smartphones took advantage of a niche that almost entirely new—before smartphones there were cell phones, but there were no pocket dictionaries, encyclopedias, adaptive calendars or pocket entertainment centers. The first iPhone came out in 2007 and now, fourteen years later, smartphones are ubiquitous. They seem essential to daily life. 

In contrast, electric vehicles are filling a niche that is already fully occupied. EVs’ challenge is to replace methods of transportation deeply embedded in our way of life and the economics of every family, a niche occupied by enormous, decades-old corporations comfortable making vehicles powered by internal combustion engines that have consistently generated a profit for stockholders. To expect the Big Three to risk that profit on an electric vehicle future is like expecting a leopard to change its spots. 

If we are to achieve a low or no carbon future that might blunt the impending catastrophe of climate change, shifting to EVs from the internal combustion engine (and electrical power generation away from fossil fuels) is essential. Corporations deeply entrenched in the economics of fossil fuels cannot be expected to lead the charge. The shift will not happen without government intervention that standardizes a fast charging network similar to (and probably integrated with) Tesla’s Superchargers, a network supports efficient long distance travel. For government not to take the lead is to condemn EVs to a niche market local travel and, worse, to give up on addressing climate change. 

As long as Republicans (and a few Democrats, like Joe Manchin) who are wedded to and dependent on the fossil fuel companies, people who give only lip service (if that) to global warming, as long as these people remain in office, addressing the need for the standardization and provision of fast-charging infrastructure will not happen. Without such governmental standard setting and support a zero carbon future cannot occur. Keep that in mind as you contemplate for whom to vote in coming elections.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Corporations are only as good as the people who run them. I have no doubt of the good faith efforts to promote conversion to EVs of many people employed by the Big Three, but the soul of these corporations is wholly invested in the fossil fuel economy. These corporations, by flashily signing on to Biden’s aspirational executive offer are simply buying time. As corporations their motivation is guard the lucrative investments they’ve already made. 

McMorris Rodgers Gets A Free Pass

Enchanted by the drug industry and an imagined free market

Democrats’ Stumble on Drug Prices Shows Power of Industry” was a headline in the New York Times on September 15. Ironically, the photo at the top of the article featured featured our very own Cathy McMorris Rodgers (U.S. Rep, Congressional District 5, Eastern Washington):

The article focuses on three Democratic members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (or a sub-committee of that committee—the article is unclear) who voted against a proposal to rein in drug prices paid by Americans. They were Representatives Scott Peters of California, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Kathleen Rice of New York. 

According to the article:

The United States pays higher prices for prescription drugs than any of its peers — about 250 percent of the price paid on average by other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, according to a recent report from the RAND Corporation. And those high costs ripple through the federal budget and the economy, increasing insurance premiums, and putting lifesaving medications out of reach for some patients.

Every American knows that ridiculous drug pricing is a major problem; a problem that was exacerbated when, in the lead up to passage of the Affordable Care Act ten years ago, the pharmaceutical lobby managed to induce legislators to strip from the measure the ability of Medicare to negotiate with drug companies on the basis of price. On September 15, the three Democratic committee members featured in the article voted “Nay” on measures which would have put forward into the 3.5 trillion dollar infrastructure bill drug expense savings of at least 500 billion dollars. 

McMorris Rodgers is the ranking (senior) member of the minority party (Republican) of the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. That also makes her an ex officio member of all the subcommittees of Energy and Commerce. McMorris Rodgers has voted against virtually all efforts to rein in drug prices for years. A statement on her website:

What we do know is, if H.R. 3 becomes law, we’d lose hope to cure cancer or treat genetic conditions. Instead of price controls, we should focus on the areas for bipartisan work.

H.R.3 is the “Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act”. McMorris Rodgers’ statement is the major talking point of the pharmaceutical industry, that paying (inflated) prices for drugs through Medicare and patients’ pocket is necessary to fuel pharmaceutical innovation. This is a talking point that totally ignores the exorbitant paychecks of pharmaceutical company executives and the drug company profits paid out to investors. Of course, the talking point is precisely in line with the Republican slavish fealty to the “free market” in health care—a complete illusion. A few years ago McMorris Rodgers claimed to be working very, very hard to rein in drug pricing (and helping preserve small pharmacies) with a bill that would trim the power of Pharmacy Benefit Managers—a tack of dubious value that never went anywhere. McMorris Rodgers was unable to move that bill or its successor in spite of the relatively prominent position she held for six years as Chair of the House Republican Conference (replaced by Liz Cheney—herself now also replaced). 

It is ironic that McMorris Rodgers’ drawn face appears at the top of this New York Times article, an article in which McMorris Rodgers is not mentioned by name. Instead, the article focuses on the three Democratic defectors presumably taken in by the same well-funded arguments of lobbyists for the drug companies that already dominate the minds of every Republican on the committee, every one of whom voted “Nay” on September 15. The New York Times writers are focused on the short term while ignoring the need to vote these Republicans out of office if any progress is to be made with any of this. 

In eastern Washington we need to focus not on the defector Democrats but on the block of Republican Representatives, including our own McMorris Rodgers, who are enthralled by the rhetoric of the pharmaceutical industry.

Keep to the high ground,


How We Know What We Think We Know


I have long been interested in how we know what we think we know (epistemology). I tried to write about epistemology and conspiracy theories in a post, Trust and Knowledge, a couple of years ago, but my writing pales next to Doug Muder’s thoughtful analysis in last Monday’s, September 13’s, Weekly Sift, On Doing Your Own Research. I’ve copied and pasted his post below. Once again, I highly recommended signing up to receive the one to three emails he sends out nearly every Monday morning. (Sign up here in the left hand column.) I look forward to his level-headed analysis every week.

Keep to the high ground,


On Doing Your Own Research

by weeklysift

It’s easy to laugh at the conspiracy theorists. But our expert classes aren’t entitled to blind trust.

One common mantra among anti-vaxxers, Q-Anoners, ivermectin advocates, and conspiracy theorists of all stripes is that people need to “do their own research”. Don’t be a sheep who believes whatever the CDC or the New York Times or some other variety of “expert” tells you. If something is important, you need to look into it yourself.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of pushback memes. This one takes a humorous poke at the inflated view many people have of their intellectual abilities.

While this one is a bit more intimidating:

And this one is pretty in-your-face:

I understand and mostly agree with the point these memes are trying to make: There is such a thing as expertise, and watching a YouTube video is no substitute for a lifetime of study. In fact, few ideas are so absurd that you can’t make a case for them that is good enough to sound convincing for half an hour — as I remember from reading Erich von Daniken’s “ancient astronaut” books back in the 1970s.

Medical issues are particularly tricky, because sometimes people just get well (or die) for no apparent reason. Whatever they happened to be doing at the time looks brilliant (or stupid), when in fact it might have had nothing to do with anything. That’s why scientists invented statistics and double-blind studies and so forth — so they wouldn’t be fooled by a handful of fluky cases, or by their own desire to see some pattern that isn’t really there.

All the same, I cringe when one of these memes appears on my social media feed, because I know how they’ll be received by the people they target. The experts are telling them: “Shut up, you dummy, and believe what you’re told.”

They’re going to take that message badly, and I actually don’t blame them. Because there is a real crisis of expertise in the world today, and it didn’t appear out of nowhere during the pandemic. It’s been building for a long time.

Liberal skepticism. Because the Trump administration was so hostile to expertise, we now tend to think of viewing experts skeptically as a left/right issue. But it’s not. Go back, for example, and look at liberal Chris Hayes’ 2012 book The Twilight of the Elites. Each chapter of that book covers a different area in which some trusted corps of experts failed the public that put its faith them: Intelligence experts (and the journalists who covered them) assured us that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Bankers drove the world economy into a ditch in 2008, largely because paper that turned out to be worthless was rated AAA. The Catholic priesthood, supposedly a guardian of morality for millions of Americans, was raping children and then covering it up.

Experts, it turns out, do have training and experience. But they also have class interests. Sometimes they’re looking out for themselves rather than for the rest of us.

More recently, we have discovered that military experts have been lying to us for years about the “progress” they’d made in promoting Afghan democracy and training an Afghan army to defend that democratic government.

It’s not hard to find economists who present capitalism as the only viable option for a modern economy, or who explain why we can’t afford to take care of all the sick people, or to prevent climate change from producing some apocalyptic future.

Such people are very good at talking down to the rest of us. But ordinary folks are less and less likely to take them seriously. And that’s good, sort of. You shouldn’t believe what people say just because they have a title or a degree.

If not expertise, what? So it’s not true that if you argue with a recognized expert, you’re automatically wrong. Unfortunately, though, recent events have shown us that a reflexive distrust of all experts creates even worse problems.

  • It’s hard to estimate how many Americans have died of Covid because we haven’t been willing to follow expert advice about vaccination, masking, quarantining, and so on. Constructing such an estimate would itself require expertise I don’t have. But simply comparing our death totals to Canada’s (713 deaths per 100K people versus our 2034) indicates it’s probably in the hundreds of thousands.
  • Our democracy is in trouble because large numbers of Americans are unwilling to accept election results, no matter how many times they get recounted by bipartisan panels of election supervisors.
  • The growing menace of hurricanes and wildfires is the price we pay because the world (of which the US is a major part, and needs to play a leading role) refuses to act on what climate scientists have been telling us since the 1970s.

Without widespread belief in experts, the truth becomes a matter of tribalism (one side believes in fighting Covid and the other doesn’t), intimidation (Republicans who know better don’t dare tell Trump’s personality cult that he lost), or wishful thinking (nobody wants to believe we have to change our lives to cut carbon emissions).

Which one of us is Galileo? The foundational myth of modern science (Galileo saying “and yet it moves“) expresses faith in a reality beyond the power of kings and popes. People who have trained their minds to be objective can see that reality, while others are stuck either following or rebelling against authority.

The question is: Who is Galileo in the current controversies? Is it the scientific experts who have spent their lives training to see clearly in these situations? Or is it the populists, who refuse to bow to the authority of the expert class, and insist on “doing their own research”?

Simply raising that question points to a more nuanced answer than just “Shut up and believe what you’re told.”

Take me, for example. This blog arises from distrust of experts. After the Saddam’s-weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco, I started looking deeper into the stories in the headlines. Because I was living in New Hampshire at the time, it was easy to go listen to the 2004 presidential candidates. Once I did, I noticed the media’s habit of fitting a speech into a predetermined narrative, rather than reporting what a candidate was actually saying. Then I started reading major court decisions (like the Massachusetts same-sex marriage decision of 2003), and interpreting them for myself.

In short, I was doing my own research. Some guy at CNN may have spent his whole life reporting on legal issues, but I was going to read the cases for myself.

When social media became a thing, and turned into an even bigger source of misinformation than the mainstream media had ever been, I began to look on this blog as a model for individual behavior: Don’t amplify claims without some amount of checking. (For example: In this weeks’ summary — the next post after this one — I was ready to blast Trump for ignoring all observances of 9-11. But then I discovered that he appeared by video at a rally organized by one of his supporters on the National Mall. I’m not shy about criticizing Trump, but facts are facts.) Listen to criticism from commenters and thank them when they catch one of your mistakes. Change your opinions when the facts change.

But also notice the things that I don’t do: When my wife got cancer, we didn’t design her treatment program by ourselves. We made value judgments about what kinds of sacrifices we were willing to make for her treatment (a lot, as it turned out), but left the technical details to our doctors. At one point we felt that a doctor was a little too eager to get my wife into his favorite clinical trial, so we got a second opinion and ultimately changed doctors. But we didn’t ditch Western medicine and count on Chinese herbs or something. (She’s still doing fine 25 years after the original diagnosis.)

On this blog, I may not trust the New York Times and Washington Post to decide what stories are important and what they mean, but I do trust them on basic facts. If the NYT puts quotes around some words, I believe that the named person actually said those words (though I may check the context). If the WaPo publishes the text of a court decision, I believe that really is the text. And so on.

I also trust the career people in the government to report statistics accurately. The political appointees may spin those numbers in all sorts of ways, but the bureaucrats in the cubicles are doing their best.

In the 18 years I’ve been blogging, that level of trust has never burned me.

Where I come from. So the question isn’t “Do you trust anybody?” You have to; the world is just too big to figure it all out for yourself. Instead, the question is who you trust, and what you trust them to do.

My background gives me certain advantages in answering those questions, because I have a foot in both camps. Originally, I was a mathematician. I got a Ph.D. from a big-name university and published a few articles in some prestigious research journals (though not for many years now). So I understand what it means to do actual research, and to know things that only a handful of other people know. At the same time, I am not a lawyer, a doctor, a political scientist, an economist, a climate scientist, or a professional journalist. So just about everything I discuss in this blog is something I view from the outside.

I don’t, for example, have any inside knowledge about public health or infectious diseases or climate science. But I do know a lot about the kind of people who go into the sciences, and about the social mores of the scientific community. So when I hear about some vast conspiracy to inflate the threat of Covid or climate change, I can only shake my head. I can picture how many people would necessarily be involved in such a conspiracy, and who many of them would have to be. It’s absurd.

In universities and labs all over the world, there are people who would love to be the one to expose the “hoax” of climate change, or to discover the simple solution that means none of us have to change our lifestyle. You couldn’t shut them up by shifting research funding, you’d need physical concentration camps, and maybe gas chambers. The rumors of people vanishing into those camps would spread far enough that I would hear them.

I haven’t.

Not all experts deserve our skepticism. Similarly, one of my best friends and two of my cousins are nurses. I know the mindset of people who go into medicine. So the idea that hospitals all over the country are faking deaths by the hundreds of thousands, or that ICUs are only pretending to be jammed with patients — it’s nuts.

If you’ve ever planned a surprise party, you know that conspiracies of just a dozen or so people can be hard to manage. Now imagine conspiracies that involve tens of thousands, most of whom were once motivated by ideals completely opposite to the goals of the conspiracy.

It doesn’t happen.

I have a rule of thumb that has served me well over the years: You don’t always have to follow the conventional wisdom, but when you don’t you should know why.

Lots of expert classes have earned our distrust. But some haven’t. They’re not all the same. And even the bankers and the priests have motives more specific than pure evil. If they wouldn’t benefit from some conspiracy, they’re probably not involved.

Know thyself. As you divide up the world between things you’re going to research yourself and things you’re going to trust to someone else, the most important question you need to answer is: What kind of research can you reasonably do? (Being trained to read mathematical proofs made it easy for me to read judicial opinions. I wouldn’t have guessed that, but it turned out that way.)

That’s what’s funny about the cartoon at the top: This guy thinks he credibly competes with the entire scientific community (and expects his wife to share that assessment of his abilities).

My Dad (who I think suspected from early in my life that he was raising a know-it-all) often said to me: “Everybody in the world knows something you don’t.” As I got older, I realized that the reverse is also true: Just about all of us have some experience that gives us a unique window on the world. You don’t necessarily need a Ph.D. to see something most other people miss.

But at the same time, often our unique windows point in the wrong direction entirely. My window, for example, tells me very little about what Afghans are thinking right now. If I want to know, I’m going to have to trust somebody a little closer to the topic.

And if I’m going to be a source of information rather than misinformation, I’ll need to account for my biases. Tribalism, intimidation, and wishful thinking affect everybody. A factoid that matches my prior assumptions a little too closely is exactly the kind of thing I need to check before I pass it on. Puzzle pieces that fit together too easily have maybe been shaved a little; check it out.

So sure: Do your own research. But also learn your limitations, and train yourself to be a good researcher within those boundaries. Otherwise, you might be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

A School Board Takeover in the Making

Our Children are at Stake

Bear with me: There are action items at the bottom of this post.

It’s time to wake up, pay attention, and push back. School Board elections can no longer be ignored as sleepy backwaters. Doing your research, talking with friends, filling out your ballot and turning it in is suddenly very important. What follows pertains to just one School District, Central Valley, but what is happening in Central Valley is part of a nationwide effort quietly rising in many Districts. 

Background on CVSD: The voters of the Central Valley School District elect five School Board members (two or three in each successive odd numbered year). They serve four year terms with no term limits. Candidates running for a position on the CVSD School Board are elected by the voters of the entire School District, but where they live among the five geographic areas, sometimes referred to “internal” districts, determines the candidate or candidates against whom they are eligible to run. (City of Spokane readers take note: this is NOT the way elections for District 81 School Board work.) Two of the current five members CVSD Board, those representing internal Districts 5 and 2, decided by May of 2021 that they would not seek re-election this year. Only one candidate filed to run for a school board seat from internal District 2 before the August Primary, Teresa Landa. As a sole candidate for the position, Ms. Landa’s name did not appear on the primary ballot. In internal District 5 three candidates filed before the August primary, all of them conservative Republicans. Pam Orebaugh and Rob Linebarger, a rabidly right wing pair, won the “top two” primary. Allied in their intent, these two are now the only printed choices for this position on the November ballot. Like many off-off year August primary elections, this year’s primary was marred by poor turnout. Only a quarter of the registered voters in CVSD turned in their ballots–and, of those, the votes were sprinkled almost evenly among the three candidates. The two winners, Pam and Rob, have now recruited a third candidate, Brett Howell, who filed (after the August Primary was over) to run as a write-in against the internal District 2 candidate, Teresa Landa. Clearly, the three of them hope to occupy 2 of the 5 seats on the Board for the next four years. So far, this probably sounds like run-of-the-mill politics, but, perhaps, a little more heated and calculated than what one might imagine for school board races. 

On Monday, August 23, the Central Valley School Board held a meeting that was forced to adjourn after 30 minutes. A belligerent vocal minority of those attending refused to wear masks in open defiance of the state-wide mask mandate then in place. Although the Spokesman article failed to note their presence, Pam and Rob, likely the organizers of the anti-mask group, stayed on to address their followers after the meeting adjourned. In this video, Rob, i.e. Mr. Linebarger, is seen firing up his approving crowd. It is a revealing performance you ought to watch:

Mr. Linebarger’s conspiracy-laden oration speaks for itself. This is not a man interested in the intricacies of school budgets and discussion under Roberts Rules of Order. This is a man who sounds primed for revolution, armed, if necessary. Pam, i.e. Ms. Orebaugh, is also present, seen intermittently sitting to the far right in the screen view and referred to as an ally. At 01:54 she walks across the room behind Mr. Linebarger. 

The group that supports the ideology of Pam and Rob maintain a closed Facebook page on which Pam Orebaugh is the Administrator. (It’s called the Central Valley School District Parent’s [sic] Coalition. Consider joining. It would be illuminating.) They also constructed a website devoid of original content that serves as a donation portal for their 501(c)(3), Washington Citizens for Liberty. I urge you to click and explore. The site is devoid of identifiers. It contains only click-through content under the “NEWS” button that takes the reader off-site to The DefenderPopulist Press, and The National Pulse. Never heard of any of these “news” outlets? Neither had I. None of the three offers any clarity about who funds them (not that it requires much money to aggregate crazy-making, glossy articles on the web). A brief visit to The National Pulse offers some idea of the backing: there is a prominently linked article highlighting Steve Bannon’s “Local Takeover Strategies”. Pam and Rob, it seems, are following Bannon’s playbook.

Pam and Rob’s group, Washington Citizens for Liberty, is registered as a nonprofit, a 501(c)(3). Non-profits are not required to disclose their donors. Status as a non-profit also means that major donors receive a tax break paid for by you and me. In the post school board meeting video, Rob (Mr. Linebarger) rails against “propaganda” and brainwashing. Ironically, he and his followers blindly trust the blatant propaganda inspired by Bannon and his crew that is linked on the Citizens for Liberty website. These folks’ critical reading skills are so poor they cannot read the writing on the wall of the rathole into which they have descended. 

It is frightening enough such ratholes exist and that otherwise good people have descended into them, but it is even more frightening to think that such folk might acquire seats on a school board while disguised as reasonable people with critical thinking skills. 

Leaked internal emails and meeting minutes state the intent of Washington Citizens for Liberty’s fundraising and organizing. The group, led by candidate Rob Linebarger and disguised as a non-profit, is organized entirely around opposition to, and denial of, mask and vaccination efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19. Donated money will be used to mount campaigns to recall members of the CVSD school board and to work for a referendum to limit the governor’s powers. How this is not a dependent political action committee is beyond me–but enforcement of campaign finance law is a slow and halting process.

Fortunately, the election of far right Republicans to the District 5 and District 2 seats of CVSD is not a done deal. A much revered coach, civics, and social studies teacher at Central Valley High School, Stan Chalich, (pronounced with a soft ‘a’) is running as a write-in candidate for District 5. When he retired in 2017 following forty-nine years of service his career and background was covered in this Spokesman article. This is an exciting development. Chalich has the name recognition to pull this off–if a concerted effort is made on his behalf.

Here is electoral math: There are 65,972 registered voters in the Central Valley School District. Only a quarter of those voters turned in a ballot in the August Primary. Linebarger and Orebaugh and the third candidate each got roughly only 5,000 votes. It is a fair bet that many of those votes came from people who had not done much homework on the background of any of the candidates, rather than out of particular commitment to any of the three. The results of the November general election will greatly depend on turnout. The task before the November election is to make as many Central Valley School District registered voters as possible aware of the stakes in this election, the ideology of the contenders on the ballot, and the availability of a willing and excellent write-in candidate, Stan Chalich–and how to spell his name. 

The tools are the same ones Stan, Pam, Bannon, and Washington Citizens for Liberty are using: information about these candidates spread on electronic media, print media, and word of mouth–buzz. You can help salvage this election from these people.

Visit Candidate Stan Chalich’s new campaign website:

Visit, like, and share his campaign’s Facebook page.

Donate to Stan Chalich’ campaign using PayPal at

Educate your friends and relatives about the down-the-rathole extremism of Pam and Rob. 

At stake is the civil functioning of the Central Valley School Board. Other school boards are not immune. These are national tactics. 

Keep to the high ground,


WA School Board Electoral Civics

Stuff I didn’t know–and is worth knowing

Public education is essential to our humanity, our society, and our country. Providing public education is a complex undertaking. It is far, far more than just arguing over mask mandates and vaccinations (although you wouldn’t know that from some of the candidates running for school board director positions this year–see subsequent posts). Public education comprises nearly fifty percent of the Washington State budget. 

For a hint at the complexity, there are 256 school districts in the State of Washington all of which function under the umbrella of the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, led by Superintendent Chris Reykdal. The 256 districts are divided into nine geographical Educational Service Districts (ESDs). (See map.) Each of the 256 districts has both a number and name. Spokane Public Schools is also “District 81” and Central Valley School District (serving a large part of the City of Spokane Valley, mostly south of I-90, plus Liberty Lake) is also “District 356” (See another map or, better, an interactive map.) None of these districts conform neatly to the municipal (city and town) boundaries of the areas they serve. Spokane Public Schools, for example, extends south into Spokane County beyond the southern limits of the City of Spokane. Central Valley School District includes Liberty Lake.

When we as voters chose among candidates for the “director” positions (aka members) of one of these local school boards we are choosing among people volunteering for a time-consuming and unpaid job. A bill in the Washington State legislature in 2013 would have provided a salary of $42,000 annually. It did not pass. 

Candidates for school board director positions fall into two categories: 1) Selfless individuals who wish to serve the children and parents of their community. These folks often have some background in education or community service. They understand some of the complexity. or 2) People with a particular ideological axe or two to grind. In the school board elections we face this fall there are a number of candidates whose primary interest is to rail against mask mandates and what they imagine as the public school curriculum. The takeover of local commissions and boards by the far right nationalist wing of Republican Party is encouraged locally and regionally by followers of Steve Bannon’s “precinct strategy”.

School boards in Washington State are governed by state law, the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Title 28A, “Common School Provisions”. Much of what the local school board can and cannot do is spelled out there, but within those bounds each school board has the power to write and revise its own bylaws

The manner in which directors (members) are elected to local school boards varies from district to district. For example, the directors of the Board of SPS (Spokane Public Schools, District 81) serve for six year terms while directors of the Board of CVSD (Central Valley School District, District 356) serve four year terms. Residents of District 81 may file to run for any one of the five positions on the SPS Board regardless of their address. Residents of CVSD can only run for the CVSD board position associated with the particular geographic sub-district in which they live. 

Regardless of the CVSD sub-district requirement, candidates for school board for both SPS and CVSD run for the their position full-school-district-wide. In District 81 a candidate must look for votes from among what are currently 155,069 voters. That is the largest registered voter pool for any position on the election ballot anywhere in Spokane County in this year’s off-off year election–by a factor of more than two. The SPS registered voter pool is three times the number of registered voters (52,464) to whom a candidate for City of Spokane City Council for District 3 (NW Spokane) must appeal. Contemplate that. School board races usually attract less financial support and less press coverage than City Council races–and yet school board candidates have to search for votes among three times as many voters. 

CVSD’s (Central Valley School District’s) registered voter count is 65,972. That’s roughly the same number of registered voters (67,699) as those a candidate for City of Spokane Valley City Council faces (unlike the City of Spokane, City of Spokane Valley Council candidates are elected City-wide, not by District). The counts of registered voters are similar, but they are not the same voters, e.g. while CVSD includes the City of Liberty Lake, it misses parts of the City of Spokane Valley.

Out of these pools of registered voters typically only a fifth to a quarter of them bother to turn in a ballot in the August primary. Unless we voters are willing to let our school boards be taken over by far right ideologues, it behooves us to pay better attention to the candidates and the details of school board elections, especially this November. Meet the candidates, check out their backgrounds, share information with in-district friends and relatives, buzz a little on social media, and contribute money and time to the campaigns of the candidates who are equipped to do the better job. The future of our children depends on your involvement.

I plan to offer some detail of the school board races in SPS and CVSD in subsequent posts, but for the many of you who read this email who do not vote in these districts: do your homework on the candidates in your own districts–do it now. 

Keep to the high ground,



The meanings of words matters

What does the average Republican mean when they accuse Democrats of “socialism”? Is there any common understanding among those who hear the term? I suspect that for many older Americans “socialism” conjures up dire memories of the Cold War, the “communist threat,” and George Orwell’s 1984. Those images offer only a slim connection to the dictionary definition of socialism:

a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

In the United States we are, by almost any measure, a far cry from “the means of production, distribution, and exchange” being owned by the community. Professor Heather Cox Richardson, in a post I urge you to read in full, puts Republican shrieking against “socialism” into perspective: 

If this measure [the “second” infrastructure bill, the $3.5 trillion bill] passes, it will expand the ways in which the government addresses the needs of ordinary Americans. It updates the measures put in place during the New Deal of the 1930s, when Democrats under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt shored up nuclear families—usually white nuclear families—by providing unemployment insurance, disability coverage, aid to children, and old age insurance.

After World War II, people of both parties accepted this new system, believing that it was the job of a modern government to level the economic playing field between ordinary men and those at the top of the economic ladder. Republican presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon expanded government action into civil rights and protection of the environment; Democrats Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter expanded education initiatives, health care, anti-poverty programs, civil rights, and workers’ rights.

But opponents insisted that such government action was “socialism.” In America, this word comes not from international socialism, in which the government owns the means of production, but rather from the earlier history of Reconstruction, when white opponents of Black voting insisted that the money to pay for programs like schools, which helped ordinary and poorer people, must [by necessity] come from those with wealth, and thus redistribute[d] wealth. They demanded an end to the taxes that supported public programs.

The Republican Party has been captured, at least since Reagan’s election in 1980, by those wishing to dismantle social programs dating back as far as the establishment of a public education system. 

My laptop’s dictionary points out that people mean different things by “socialism”:

The term “socialism” has been used to describe positions as far apart as anarchism, Soviet state communism, and social democracy; however, it necessarily implies an opposition to the untrammeled workings of the economic market. The socialist parties that have arisen in most European countries from the late 19th century have generally tended toward social democracy.

The next time you hear “socialism” used as an accusation ask the speaker how they define “socialism”. Don’t prompt them. Be patient. Don’t accuse–or propose. The response might be interesting. Are they really just spouting Republican orthodoxy about “the untrammeled workings of the economic market” that they imagine might be had with no taxes, no governmental programs, and no regulation whatsoever–or are they still worried about the “communist threat” that informed their youth? 

Socialism is a word that lights up different images in different minds. Get a handle on what the word means to you and enquire what it means to people who hurl the word as an accusation.

Keep to the high ground,