McMorris Rodgers is Math Challenged

Fentanyl and the Southern Border

The March 3 McMorris Rodgers’ “Weekly Update” email, the propaganda email she sends to her loyal followers, came with the subject line “Fentanyl Is Tearing Families Apart”. The header read, “Stopping the Flow at the Southern Border”. In late February McMorris Rodgers led fifteen of the fifty-two members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on a visit to McAllen and two other Texas towns along our border with Mexico to hold “field hearings”, a media event to demonstrate Republican commitment to “Stopping the Flow”. (Rep. McMorris Rodgers [R-CD5, Eastern Washington], largely by virtue of her seniority among Republicans in the U.S. House, took over as chairperson of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on January 3rd).

McMorris Rodgers’ email links to a minimally visited (625 hits in twelve days) zoom interview on Facebook. Spokane County Sheriff John Knowles appears on the same Zoom interview. In the email and the video’s introduction McMorris Rodgers starts off by demonstrating her devotion to Republican attack-messaging (the bold is mine): 

One thing is crystal clear: President Biden’s open border policies are turning every town into a border town. 

Sadly, President Biden’s open border policies are only making things worse.

This is another demonstration of a fundamental principle of propaganda: if you tell a lie often enough people will believe it. This particular Republican lie has the added partisan benefit of advertising to prospective immigrants the falsehood that the border is “open”. It is a frequently repeated public service announcement that likely makes the problem worse. 

At the very end of the Facebook interview McMorris Rodgers says, “Since the beginning of 2023 DEA has seized 4.5 million fake pills laced with fentanyl and Customs and Border Patrol [sic] has seized more than 1400 pounds of fentanyl…An open border policy has created this crisis.” A little earlier she tells the audience that Customs and Border Protection estimates that they are intercepting only five to ten percent of the fentanyl that comes across the southern border—and that most of that is collected at the official ports of entry. (She then implies what she clearly does not know—or have evidence for: that a lot of the remaining 90-95% comes across the border elsewhere than the ports of entry.)

Let’s realistically examine the numbers she offers. If, and this is a big if, all of the 1400 pounds of fentanyl interdicted just in the first six weeks of 2023 were accurately divided into “therapeutic” doses (0.3 mg), it would be enough to lace into more than 2 billion pills (yes, that’s with a “b”). Conversely, this 1400 pounds of fentanyl divided into lethal doses, each of 2 milligrams, would be sufficient to stop the breathing of nearly every man, women, and child in the U.S. (318 million lethal doses). Those by themselves are nearly incomprehensible numbers—but that was the amount of fentanyl McMorris Rodgers says was seized in just the first six weeks of 2023. Crazier still, those doses are thought to represent only 5 or 10 percent of the total amount amount of drug that law enforcement agencies estimate are pouring across the border. 

Fentanyl’s effect (either pleasant or lethal) is so concentrated that the amount displayed below (actually an ounce of sugar) is sufficient to divide up into 14,000 lethal doses or 94,000 ‘pleasant’ doses. (The block, shown for scale, is a 1.25 inch cube.)

Ask yourself how many places in a truck, a camper, or any automobile one could hide that amount of moldable powdery solid before crossing the border at a legitimate port of entry. 

McMorris Rodgers is appropriately concerned about the epidemic of fentanyl-related death, especially among young people in the U.S., for whom fentanyl overdose is now the leading cause of death. However, her politically convenient, divisive, blame-casting propaganda as the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee is either unserious or delusional—or both. McMorris Rodgers’ propagandistic nod to Trump-induced border wall fever—combined with her tiresome, perennial Republican rhetorical drumbeat of “open borders” is nothing but cheap politics. She is not usefully engaged in solving this issue. She is interested in exploiting it for political gain.

If even a minor dent can be made in the flow of fentanyl across the southern border, technology and effort must be focused on the ports of entry where thousands of trucks and cars pass every day—not on the hinterlands. Willy Sutton, the infamous bank robber, would laugh at the Republican focus on the rest of the border: that’s not “where the money is.” Moreover, despite McMorris Rodgers’ rhetoric, as this article details, the Biden administration is already busy tightening the ports of entry (if only the Republican House majority will vote for the money to support the effort—instead of threatening the country with bankruptcy over the debt limit).

The obvious conclusion to be drawn from the numbers that McMorris Rodgers herself presents is this: there is no amount of money spent on border intervention (and criminalization) that will make anything more than a small to modest dent in the fentanyl epidemic. 

If McMorris Rodgers were more interested in actually tackling the problem of death from unintentional overdoses—instead of constantly trying to score partisan political points to impress the Republican base—she would turn more of her attention and legislation elsewhere. For example, she might support providing reality-based education about the dangers of ingesting street drugs and increasing the availability of life-saving interventions like naloxone (Narcan). (Unfortunately, that sort of personal empowerment is not typical of Republican orthodoxy. Think of their resistance to reality-based sex ed.)

Effective government sponsored efforts against the fentanyl epidemic will have to wait until Republicans either are returned to the minority or until they perceive that harping on closing the border is no longer a winning issue for them. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. In this same video Spokane County Sheriff John Knowles points out something with which we all should be able to agree: we need more drug treatment resources to in order to offer an effective and real alternative to incarceration. Preferring to concentrate on the punitive side of the equation, McMorris Rodgers offers barely a word on treatment or prevention.

We Make National News–Again

North Idaho College on the brink

On March 6, the New York Times published, “The MAGA-fication of North Idaho College”. Even that title falls short of reality. There is a radical right wing majority (3 to 2) on the North Idaho College Board of Trustees that has its hands on the wheel and is driving North Idaho College (NIC) off the cliff. 

Here’s a clip from the article that offers orientation for those of my readers who haven’t been following this story [the bold is mine]:

For most of the past two years, [North Idaho] college’s governing board [of Trustees] has been a volatile experiment in turning grievances into governance. Trustees backed by the [Kootenai] county Republican Party [Central Committee] hold a [3 to 2] majority on the board. They have denounced liberal “indoctrination” by the college faculty and vowed to bring the school administration’s “deep state” to heel and “Make N.I.C. Great Again.”

The injection of such sweeping political aims into the routine administration of a community college that had 4,600 students enrolled last year, one better known locally for its technical training programs than the politics of its faculty, has devolved into a full-blown crisis. The school has faced lawsuits from two of the five presidents it has had since the start of the previous school year. A district court judge ordered one of those presidents reinstated on Friday in a ruling that castigated the trustees for “steering N.I.C. toward an iceberg.” The college has lost professors and staff and had its debt downgraded by Moody’s, which cited the school’s “significant governance and management dysfunction.”

The troubles culminated last month in a letter from the regional higher education commission, which warned that the 90-year-old college could be stripped of its accreditation if changes were not made in a matter of weeks — an effective threat of closure and a potential catastrophe for Coeur d’Alene, a town of 56,000 in the Idaho Panhandle. The college is the sixth-largest employer in Kootenai County and a source of skilled labor for much of the local economy.

This is a big deal for Coeur d’Alene, for North Idaho, and for the Inland Northwest. If North Idaho College loses its accreditation, the resulting exodus of students and faculty from the region will have long term and wide-ranging effects. 

How did it come to this and why? Why can’t we, in the words of Rodney King, “just get along” on what should be mutually beneficial goals of education that so very obviously strengthens the regional economy?

On February 25, the Kootenai County Democratic Party held the “Hijacking Democracy Symposium” in Post Falls. North Idaho College was a major topic. Around two hundred people attended—in no small part, I expect, because people are beginning to pay attention to the regional consequences that the collapse of North Idaho College would produce. A number of people close to the matter spoke at the Symposium, including former members of the Board of Trustees. 

As is common with community colleges, each member of the Board of Trustees of NIC comes from one of five geographically defined zones within Kootenai County, but members are elected to the Board by voters on a county-wide ballot. Positions on the Board are, at least nominally, non-partisan. Every two years either two or three of the five seats appear on the ballot. Ordinarily, these elections draw little notice. In more normal times than the present the people who run for positions on the Board because they have expertise and experience in education offer and a commitment to the mission of the College. 

Todd Banducci, the Board member whose name appears in nearly every article about the ongoing Board controversy, has held a seat on the NIC Board since 2012. During his first two four year terms he was characterized by other members of the NIC Board as “a man who always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder”, but, as the single dissenting voice, he lacked the power to make any major changes. 

Prior to the 2020 elections Banducci told at least one of the other Board members that “things were going to change”. Few paid any attention to that not-so-veiled threat. Three of the five seats (Zones 3, 4, 5) on the Board of Trustees were coming up on the ballot in the fall. Banducci ran unopposed to retain his seat from Zone 3 (Post Falls, more or less). Using his position as a member of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee (KCRCC) it appears that he recruited two like-minded folk (both of them Kootenai County Republican Precinct captains), Gregory McKenzie (Zone 4, Hayden, Dalton Gardens) and Michael H. Barnes (Zone 5, Rathdrum and NE). Zone 4’s incumbent, Dr. Joe Dunlap (who had served as the President of NIC from 2012 to 2016), ran a quiet campaign to retain the seat he had held since 2016. The Zone 5 seat was vacant. Banducci’s candidate, Michael Barnes, was challenged by Dr. Paul Sturm, a man with 28 years experience in higher education, something apparently seen by the KCRCC as a disqualification. 

With three of its own, Banducci, McKenzie, and Barnes, on the ballot, the KCRCC transformed what were usually sleepy, nonpartisan races into contentious, partisan, ideological contests. The candidates were polled with a litmus test questionnaire and the KCRCC went to work touting their slate of partisan ideologues. The KCRCC slate won over nonpartisan educational expertise and administrative experience by substantial margins. 

Armed with a new 3-2 majority, Banducci was elected chairman of the NIC Board. The three didn’t hesitate to flex their idealogical muscle. They sparred with the NIC President Rick MacLennan repeatedly, and, then “without cause” (but coincident with a dispute over a mask mandate), in September 2021 the three voted to fire MacLennan, replacing him as President with the College’s wrestling coach. 

The year and half since the firing of MacLennan has been marred with constant turmoil, accusations, and lawsuits. Three Board members resigned, which triggered the need for the State Board of Education to make interim appointments. (Two resignations were strategic. The third was Barnes, one of KCRCC triumvirate, whose resignation was forced under accusations that his legal residence was actually in South Dakota.) All this upheavals resulted in the unnecessary expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal maneuvering and broken contracts with successive appointees to the NIC presidency. Last fall’s (2022’s) electoral chance for a rational, non-ideological majority on the Board foundered on the Zone 5 seat contest pitting appointed incumbent Broschet against KCRCC candidate Waggoner. (Some speculate that Broschet lost because voters who were primed to dump Banducci [whose seat wasn’t on the ballot this time] incorrectly took out their ire on Broschet.) 

The whole saga of the last two years of NIC Board governance has been pretty much the definition of a sh_tshow. (For flavor and color of the current 3 to 2 ideological majority on the NIC Board I recommend Shawn Vestal’s excellent commentary “NIC board scores big with Holocaust denier, not so much the bond raters”.) 

At the Hijacking Democracy Symposium in Post Falls a couple of weeks ago the question arose, “What is the end game of the KCRCC sponsored NIC Board majority that is driving this mess?” Conspiracy theories suggesting destruction of NIC for the purpose of a cheap land grab for a new school modeled on the private, ultraconservative Hillsdale College—or for acquisition by real estate interests—were discarded for a variety of good reasons. The prevailing opinion was this: Banducci and company are animated by a deep-seated ideological fear that somehow NIC is controlled by the evil “deep state” that is out to wreck the country and subjugate people of like them. As such, professors of a “liberal” bent must be weeded out, their tenure curtailed, and their positions given over to those who will toe the right wing line. Banducci and company are sincerely driven by the same paranoid right wing Republican ideology as Florida’s Gov. DeSantis, his ally Christopher Rufo, and, locally, members of the Liberty Lake City Council (think Chris Cargill) and members of several local school boards intent on controlling what can be mentioned, taught, and read. 

The moral of this story? Catastrophes like this one could averted if more people paid closer attention to local elections—and if more people considered running for board positions, as precinct committee officers, and other civic engagements. If average citizens don’t pay more attention we will find ourselves controlled by Banduccis. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. The dysfunction continues. The new (since the 2022 November election) KCRCC 3-2 majority (Banducci, McKenzie, and Waggoner), was no time in putting the newest NIC President, Dr. Nick Swayne, on administrative leave “without cause”. They replaced him with interim President Greg South, likely an ideological ally. Last week a Kootenai County Judge ruled that the Board must re-instate Swayne because the Board lacked the authority to place him on leave “without cause”. Judge Meyer added, “By keeping Dr. Swayne on leave, the Board is permitting its Interim President to make discretionary decisions that should be made by Dr. Swayne.” One might presume that Mr. South was furthering the KCRCC agenda. 

P.S.S. If you have any doubt of the commonness of this sort of Fox News/social-media-induced paranoid thinking that Banducci and the KCRCC demonstrate, read the letter to the editor that I have copied below. It recently appeared in a North Idaho newspaper. This is the depth to which we have sunk, spurred on by the incessant, mind-numbing BS that spews from Fox News, OAN, the Epoch Times, and many sites on social media. Especially ironic, of course, is this writer’s raving that the press and social media are “firmly under the control of the government” even as his letter is published in the paper. Paranoia strikes deep…

Our nation is in a state of chaos. Each day we’re reminded of another crisis, each could topple the union of its own accord. This administration doesn’t appear willing to tackle even one. Some cases in point:

More than 7 million illegal aliens crossed our porous borders over the past two years, stressing our economy, disrupting our society and providing our enemies an open route to the heartland.

Our national debt exceeds GNP. Inflation is at 40-plus year highs, manufacturing has been shipped overseas, and we are on the cusp of losing “reserve currency” status. We will be bankrupt in short order.

Vaccine mandates undermined faith in our health system and the government. If rising excess fatality hits the pace forecast by many, we will face societal collapse.

Globalists at the UN and WEF seek to destroy the US and supplant it with a single World government. Most of our elected leaders have been coopted or compromised. Our own President is prepared to sign treaties handing our sovereignty over to the World Health Organization.

We no longer have a free press, essential to protecting our liberties. The mainstream press and social media are firmly under the control of the government, pushing whatever narrative they are handed.

Our military has become a social petri dish, with decisions made to support the Woke agenda vs increased lethality, while the Chinese laugh.

Our enemies, China, the UN, the WEF, the WBO, the World Bank, are at the gate, waiting to pounce on a weakened USA.

Congressional District Change of Party

It comes with a big change of infrastructure

The Spokane County Democratic Party’s Tom Foley Legacy Dinner will be held this Saturday evening, March 11th. The Dinner brings together eastern Washington Democrats to honor Tom Foley, one of the greatest Democratic Congresspeople ever to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from the State of Washington. The Dinner sold out last week. Tom Foley (1929-2013) was a native Spokanite who represented our 5th Congressional District (Eastern Washington) in the U.S. House for thirty years, the last six of which as Speaker of the House.

Until the Trump election in 2016 I mostly thought of politics as something that happened every four years around the presidential election. In addition, thanks to our arcane, archaic, compromise system for electing our President, the Electoral College, and thanks to my never living a “swing” state, it was easy to think of my involvement—and my vote—as counting for little. I was wrong.

Living in eastern Washington in the early 1990s I was aware—and I was quietly proud—that we were represented in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. by Tom Foley, a man I assumed everyone in eastern Washington recognized as a person of great integrity—and a major asset to all of us living in the region. By 1994 Tom Foley had ably served in the U.S. House for twenty-nine years. By the time I was paying any attention at all Tom Foley was Speaker of the U.S. House. I assumed that a man of high stature and integrity was electorally secure in 1994 (an assumption that I suppose was shared by many others as well as, perhaps, Tom Foley himself). After all, he had won every election up to 1994 by large margins, often receiving more than sixty percent of the vote. That was about to tip.

When the results came in for 1994 general election the voters of eastern Washington, by a margin of four thousand votes among two hundred and sixteen thousand cast, Tom Foley had lost. Worse, the winner, George Nethercutt, campaigned on a platform of term limits, promising to serve only three terms. To his everlasting discredit, Mr. Nethercutt disavowed his term limit promise and went on to serve five terms. When Nethercutt finally stepped down in 2004 he anointed Cathy McMorris Rodgers as his chosen successor. She has held the position ever since.

What most voters (including me) did not understand in 1994 was this: when party control shifts in a congressional district, money and support flows in from multiple sources to consolidate the new winning party’s power in the district. What Nethercutt won by that slim electoral margin in 1994 using his term-limit-lie was far more than a change of one person to another. The current day salary of a U.S. Representative is $174,000 plus a variety of benefits (clear here for the details), but that is just the tip of the iceberg. U.S. Representatives also receive (since 1995) something called the “Member’s Representational Allowance” (MRA), a sum of money that currently varies between 1.2 and 1.4 million dollars. The MRA, paid out of taxpayer dollars, is meant to cover the cost of offices in the district the member represents (as well as their D.C. office), salaries for up to eighteen full time employees, travel to and from D.C., and mailing expenses (something of a holdover from the pre-email era). (For details click here)

The eighteen full time employees provided for in the MRA are meant to cover “analysis and preparation of proposed legislation, legal research, government policy analysis, scheduling, constituent correspondence, and speech writing.” Of course, if one is able to rely on outside sources for many or most of these functions, the money in the MRA can be used to hire interns and incubate new political/idealogical talent. 

In the early days of the Trump presidency when Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ and the entire Republican Party’s sole purpose was to repeal the Affordable Care Act—and I still naively thought that she might listen to a local physician—I visited her office in downtown Spokane with some regularity. This is what I wrote about the experience at the time in a post entitled Member’s Representational Allowance:

  • Most of [McMorris Rodgers’] staff in Eastern WA seems devoted to interfacing with constituents, not discussing legislation. In fact, my experience has been the local staffers are usually less informed regarding legislation than I am.
  • Whoever holds this office uses the money to help advance like-minded individuals by offering internships and work opportunities. During McMorris Rodgers seven two year terms [as of 2018] she has fostered the careers of several. Toppling an incumbent House member changes the political landscape of the District more broadly than one might appreciate.

So where does the rest of the work McMorris Rodgers’ MRA is supposed to cover actually get done? That was made abundantly clear when I, invited as an interested physician, attended McMorris Rodgers’ “constituent briefing” on healthcare policy in 2017. McMorris Rodgers’ policy and legislation incubator is the Washington Policy Center, a service for which she pays nothing. I wrote about the experience of the briefing in a post entitled “Constituent Biopsy by the Washington Policy Center fbo CMR”, a post worth re-reading in the current context. It was there I first observed Chris Cargill (of the WPC), frequent “Guest Opinion” writer for the Spokesman now elected to the Liberty Lake City Council and agitating for the Council to take over book approvals for the local library. 

All of that said, the results of the 2022 midterm election in one corner of Washington State offer some hope. Tucked away in the southwest corner of Washington State in Congressional District 3, one of McMorris Rodgers’ nurtured trainees, U.S. Representative Jamie Herrera Beutler, last August was primaried out of the running to retain the seat she had occupied for twelve years. She lost by a tiny margin to an extremist even further to the right than she, Joe Kent, who went on to lose (by another small, but slightly larger, margin) to Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. One hopes that Ms. Perez’ win heralds the beginning of the unwinding of the McMorris Rodgers’ political incubator.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. I tried to research the history of the Washington Policy Center (WPC), the 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides idealogical and policy support for McMorris Rodgers and other local and statewide Republicans. The WPC is generally understood to be part of the Koch-donor-funded, Powell Memo-inspired, free market/libertarian State Policy Network, an organization founded in the early 1990s. Despite WPC’s local and Washington statewide influence, the internet, Wikipedia, and the WPC website shed almost no light on the specific history of the organization, as if it sprang fully formed out of nowhere. One intriguing article from 2001 noted:

The Washington Institute Foundation, a Seattle-based organization that promotes limited government and free-market solutions to local issues, has changed its name to the Washington Policy Center. Daniel Mead Smith, president of the center, said the new name reflects the organization’s growth and its ability to influence policy in the state.

It’s Official: Lisa Brown for Mayor of Spokane

It’s Time to Pitch In

Last Thursday, March 2, at the historic Woman’s Club of Spokane at 9th and Walnut, Lisa Brown made official what has been rumored for months: she is running for Mayor of the City of Spokane. Ms. Brown is a welcome and formidable challenger to the incumbent Mayor, a local former TV news broadcaster. In contrast, Lisa Brown comes with an impressive résumé of administrative and legislative experience at the state and local levels. 

Most recently, Lisa Brown served, mostly from her home in Spokane, as the Director of the Washington State Department of Commerce, an administrative position from which she was able to help direct millions of dollars of state funds to actually address the long term issue of homelessness in Spokane. (The issue of homelessness is one that the Washington State Department of Commerce is structured to address.)

In contrast, under Mayor Woodward’s administration, the executive branch of government of the City of Spokane couldn’t get its act together to take advantage of six million dollars in available federal funds. Under Woodward’s leadership, the City’s Department of Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services lost two Directors, one (Cupid Alexander) in seven months and the second (John Hall) in just three months of their hiring, hamstringing the Department by frequent turnover. (See RANGE Media’s article Passing on the Bucks for details). That Ms. Woodward couldn’t retain a Director for NHHS shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with her now infamous quote, “I think we need to get to the point where we’re working to make homelessness less comfortable and get people connected to services.”

Lisa Brown had extensive executive and legislative experience prior to her four year stint at the Department of Commerce. She served between 2013 and 2017 as Chancellor of Washington State University Spokane. From 1993 to 2012 she represented Legislative District 3 (which largely corresponds to the boundaries of the City of Spokane) in the Washington State Legislature, first in the House and, starting in 1997, in the State Senate. From 2005 to 2012 she served as Majority Leader of the Senate, retiring to become Chancellor of WSU. While Chancellor she oversaw the establishment of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine here in Spokane, which opened in 2015. Amidst all of this, Ms. Brown taught as an associate professor in Gonzaga University’s graduate-level organizational leadership program from 2001 to 2012.

Incumbent Mayor Woodward announced her candidacy for a second term eight months ago, on July 26, 2022. It was bizarre timing, coming, as it did, in the midst of others’ pleas for campaign contributions right before the Spokane County Commissioner election primary (part of the “Midterm Elections” generally). In those eight months Woodward’s campaign has recorded only 176 total donations (business and individual), many of them high dollar donations from wealthy real estate personalities you might recognize. For example, Larry Stone pitched in $1000. Mr. Stone can afford it. His is the money behind “Curing Spokane”, the strategically-timed, thinly-veiled electioneering video on YouTube ginning up homelessness and crime that was likely instrumental in getting Woodward elected in 2019. Mr. Stone is also the owner of the Trent Homeless Shelter or TRAC, aka Woodward’s Warehouse, the building put forward by Woodward as the out-of-downtown site to put homeless people. Taxpayer dollars lease the building from Mr. Stone at an expected cost of at least $1.6 million over the lease’s five-year term.

This fall we have a chance to put Spokane on “A Better Way” by electing Lisa Brown Mayor of the City of Spokane. We have a choice between a candidate with long proven administrative skills and deep roots in Spokane and an incumbent who has presided over a wobbly executive branch that cannot organize itself to take advantage of available funds and relies on law enforcement threats and lawsuits to lump together, characterize, and coerce the most vulnerable among us.

A few years ago only ten percent of registered voters in the United States had ever made a contribution to a political campaign. (At the time I looked that up—in 2017—I was one of those 90% of voters who had never contributed.) While we may lack the resources to contribute thousands of dollars, we have strength in numbers. It would make a powerful statement, regardless of the dollar amounts, if Lisa Brown’s campaign gathered a couple of hundred individual donations in the first week or two. As Emry Dinman suggested on Sunday in the Spokesman, this will likely be a hard fought campaign. In such a campaign early money makes a big difference. Go to, hit the donate button and make a contribution of what you can to this campaign as a way of showing that we’re paying attention.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. I was stimulated to make early contributions to local political campaigns not only by the debacle that was our 2016 presidential election, but also by a new awareness of the meaning of the name of an organization I had long heard of but which I never really studied closely, EMILY’s List, a group formed in 1985 to encourage pro-choice women to run for elective office. When I, very belatedly, learned that EMILY stands for “Early Money Is Like Yeast” early donating—and its value—suddenly made a huge amount of sense to me. It sends a signal. It gives a campaign a better idea of its finances. It allows a campaign the time to invest in infrastructure on which to build success. 

Mind you, I would much rather that less money needed to be spent on political campaigns in the U.S. in order to get good people elected. That is only going to happen with the reversal the right wing Supreme Court decisions that declared corporations are people and money is speech. In the meantime we have to play the hand we’re dealt in order to regain a position from which such change is possible.


What will it take to get more people housed and on their way to a stable life?

Some homelessness—and the miseries of being homeless—have been and may always be with us as a society, a city, and as a nation. The task before us is to make homelessness uncommon. The methods are twofold: diminish the many factors that render people homeless and, at the same time, build out paths that the homeless can use to rejoin housed society. 

Each individual’s homelessness comes with a unique—and often complex—story, a story that may (or may not) involve a sudden rise in rent, loss of a job, spousal abuse, loss of familial support, physical illness, physical disability (sometimes combined with drug use for control of pain), and, yes, mental illness, and drug addiction. The further one has fallen the harder it is claw one’s way back. Homelessness runs along a spectrum from couch-surfing with what may be a diminishing circle of friends, to living in one’s car or ancient RV or a tent, to living on the street, the situation in which only the most visible homeless people find themselves. Somewhere along this spectrum life is reduced to finding food, basic shelter from the elements, basic physical safety with some control over one’s remaining belongings, and a place to relieve oneself. 

One of my recurring nightmares is that I wake up on the street in a doorway in a part of the city with which I’m unfamiliar. I’m stripped of identification, no cell phone, no credit card, no mailing address I can access, no access to the internet, a desperate need to relieve myself, and only a few dollars in my pocket to use for food or transportation—but I don’t know where I should go. Passersby look at me with a tone of judgement, as if to say, “You must have made ‘bad choices’ to find yourself here.” Ringing in my ears is Mayor Woodward’s infamous, “I think we need to get to the point where we’re working to make homelessness less comfortable and get people connected to services.” In this nightmare it is hard to imagine being less comfortable and more hopeless.

As Camp Hope demonstrated, just having a place to be where one can be contacted, where there is some basic sense of community and a reasonable expectation that one’s belongings won’t be summarily pitched into a dumpster, offers a start on the climb back into housing, work, and society. (Of course, this all was notwithstanding Mayor Woodward’s, Sheriff Knezovich’s, and Chief Meidl’s unhelpful threats to “clear the camp”, refusing to provide electricity, and trying to prevent neighbors from providing water).

Camp Hope is gradually shrinking as people are helped to find shelter and services through the efforts of dedicated people and organizations, and homelessness is, for now, less and less in the news. Without multi-pronged and continued efforts, though, the issue will rise again in the heat of summer or the cold of next fall. There is some light. From an article by Shawn Vestal:

The best path forward on that overall problem is also the hardest path forward: Unify the regional response to homelessness and eliminate the forking paths.

The effort by a trio of former Condon administration officials – Gavin Cooley, Rick Romero and Theresa Sanders – to pull local governments together and initiate a 90-day process to investigate and design a potential regional homelessness authority is the brightest hope our region has for truly addressing this crisis.

Those officials are still trying to secure agreement among government leaders, which is no easy task, and if they do, there is an even more daunting challenge ahead to bring together the many parties – including the many service providers and the existing bureaucracies.

There is (and should be) a unifying theme: to provide a place to be and the very basic necessities of life, shelter and some sense of safety and community, that is, “Housing First”, is the way forward, clearly the best way to help people access help that can lead to a stable life. 

As Shawn Vestal outlined in the above quote there is a welcome movement at the level of administration to address the issue of homelessness, but there are also a number of examples of “Housing First” rising up in Spokane and the surrounding area (and nationwide) that deserve evaluation, study, and support. The work of architect Charles Durrett is the common thread through several local groups working to provide basic housing and community through co-housing “tiny homes”—a concept on which Mr. Durrett has worked all over the nation. 

Mr. Durrett is a principle in the architectural firm “The Cohousing Company” based in Nevada City, California. He has been instrumental in bringing the concept of cohousing from Europe to the United States. He knows Spokane well. He was the architect behind the very successful Haystack Heights Cohousing Community on Spokane’s lower South Hill. In the last several months Mr. Durette has visited Spokane, Colbert, and Colville to offer his vision of tiny home cohousing communities as part of the solution for the housing crisis. 

This next Wednesday, March 8, on the third level of the downtown Spokane library at 6:30PM Charles Durrett will present “Talking Tiny”, providing attendees with the details of and background for the cohousing concept. I urge you to attend with me. Mr. Durrett will give his talk with the support of a newly formed non-profit, Small But Mighty, that is intent on bringing tiny home cohousing to Spokane. Here’s the flyer. RSVP by clicking here. (The website is a work-in-progress.)

Keep to the high ground,


Trains & Regulations

Flammable Oil Trains Still Roll Through Spokane…

Unless you’ve cut all ties with the media, by this time you have heard and read multiple articles addressing the train derailment and toxic chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio, near the border with Pennsylvania. The derailment occurred on February 3. It looks like the derailment occurred on account of an overheated (and not properly monitored?) wheel bearing in one of the trucks (the undercarriage where the wheels are mounted). People are naturally upset, and, no surprise, right wing media are trying to spin the story in favor of Republicans. It seems that Republicans are outraged, simply outraged! that the Biden administration in general, and Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, in particular, didn’t have stronger regulations in place to prevent just such a disaster. 

This criticism coming from anyone in the Republican Party rings totally hollow. U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-CD5, Eastern Washington) and nearly all of her fellow Republicans have consistently criticized all regulation as hampering the wonders of the free market. In the first year of the Trump administration (2017) they showed their colors by passing two bills through the U.S. House: H.R. 26, The REINS Act--Regulations of the Executive in Need of Scrutiny and H.R. 998, SCRUB–Searching for and Cutting Regulations that are Unnecessarily Burdensome Act of 2017. Fortunately, neither came to a vote in the Senate (perhaps because the Senate was distracted by trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act). These bills’ long names and acronyms properly express their intent: to make it immensely harder for the Executive Branch to establish regulations and to make it easier, even mandatory, to re-evaluate and toss out regulations that meet certain broad criteria. Similar bills are put forward by Republicans in every two year Congress—but they only come to a floor vote when Republicans are in control, like they were in 2017. Any Republican who calls for more regulation of anything (other than books in libraries and classrooms) is blowing smoke. 

Doug Muder in his February 27th entry in his “Weekly Sift” (if you’re not signed up for Muder’s column—you should be) nailed the lesson from East Palestine (the bold is mine):

Long-term, I think the main lesson to be learned from this disaster is that government needs to regulate business. Every year or two I see another study totaling up some awesome quantity of money that government regulations “cost” the economy. ($1.9 trillion a year, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.) Typically, these studies list every dollar companies spend to avoid killing people and poisoning the land — and they completely ignore the benefits of companies not killing people and poisoning the land. (If it really does cost us $1.9 trillion each year to avoid living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, that sounds to me like money well spent.)

The Obama administration tried to require railroads to improve their braking systems. (A better technology has existed for decades.) It also wanted to strengthen cars that carry hazardous materials, so that they’d be less likely to rupture in an accident. But the industry claimed that installing the new systems would be too expensive, so the regulation was never implemented. The Trump administration then reversed course and slashed railroad regulations — because, you know, regulations just get in the way of corporations who otherwise would always do the right thing.

Railroad lobbyists have been very successful in fending off any regulation at the federal level that might reduce their bottom line, the more so with Republican than with Democratic administrations. 

If regulating trains at a federal level is so challenging one might imagine that a city should try to defend itself. Take the City of Spokane with hundreds of oil tank cars rolling through downtown every day, each one of them a potential bomb of volatile oil that could level hospitals, high schools, and whole city blocks. When such local ordinances are contemplated, the industry turns the argument used at the federal level on its head: We can’t have every city we pass through regulating trains, such regulation must be done on the federal level! 

Does anyone remember City of Spokane’s November 2017 ballot Proposition 2 “Ordinance Regarding Prohibition of Oil and Coal Shipment by Rail” that would have required a fee for each tanker of un-stabilized oil or uncovered coal that rolled through downtown Spokane? Proposition 2 set off alarm bells in corporate board rooms. What if other cities enacted similar ordinances? We must squash this like a bug! Industry cash flowed to the Political Action Committee (PAC) “COMM TO PROTECT SPOKANES ECONOMY – 2017”. Arguments were made that the City would become embroiled in expensive litigation. Ozzie Knezovich and Michael Cathcart came out against it. From the Spokesman:

The railroads, coal mining concerns and companies behind the proposed Vancouver Energy Terminal poured thousands of dollars into the campaign to defeat Proposition 2, with ads appearing on social media, TV and radio. The Committee to Protect Spokane’s Economy, a politcal group funding the effort to defeat the measure, raised $264,000 [actually, according to the PDC, it was $368,042 in the final reporting], the bulk of that coming from BNSF. By comparison, the Safer Spokane group raised just $7,000, the bulk of that coming from individual contributors.

With industry’s lobbying money weighing on the electoral scales in a ratio of 53:1, Proposition 2 gathered only 43% of the vote. Today the tanker cars full of volatile, untreated, explosive Bakken crude continue to roll through downtown Spokane. When will an overheated bearing cause a derailment and explosion in Spokane that dwarfs the disaster in East Palestine? 

Keep to the high ground,


Dobbs is just the Beginning

And Eastern Washington is part of the new battleground

Last June the new, manufactured right wing on the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a half century of judicial precedent, rescinding a women’s right to make medical decisions about their own bodies. Justice Thomas threw a few more sticks on the fire with his concurrent opinion suggesting that the Court should go further and reconsider rights to contraception (Griswold), same sex marriage (Obergefell), and sexual privacy (Lawrence). At the time, many Republicans, like our own U.S. Rep. McMorris Rodgers (CD-5, eastern Washington), fearing blowback in the upcoming fall election, responded with, “Who? Not us. But we think that abortion is a States’ Rights issue that state voters ought to decide.” States’ Rights, whether McMorris Rodgers means it or not, is a dog whistle that harkens back to ‘States’ Rights’ to decide to maintain (or not) the ‘right’ to own slaves. The ‘States’ Rights’ trope still plays well among white supremacists.

Following Dobbs and Justice Thomas’ concurrent opinion, McMorris Rodgers and large majorities of Republican U.S. Representatives then twisted themselves into rhetorical knots to vote against legislation that would have federally codified the rights that Justice Thomas said the Court should revisit. 

Dobbs, for the moment, has fallen out of the news, but Republicans are not content to just leave outlawing a woman’s right to regulate her own body to Republican-dominated state legislatures. Now their efforts to meddle with women’s lives have moved back to the federal court system in the hope of using the courts to achieve nationwide restrictions. 

The new battleground is over access to mifepristone, a drug that, unbeknownst to many not in the medical profession, is now used in 50-60% of pregnancy terminations in the U.S. The battle over access to mifepristone is playing out in the courts under the radar of most of the media. Last Thursday, this battle was joined by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a battle announced in the Spokesman with the title, “Washington, Bob Ferguson lead lawsuit against Biden administration demanding increased access to abortion drug”. If you are puzzled as to why Washington State’s Attorney General would sue the Biden administration you would not be alone. The suit is not directed at something the Biden administration did, but rather at a rule established by and followed by the Food and Drug Administration, a part of the Executive Branch of the federal government currently under President Biden, hence, a “lawsuit against the Biden administration”. 

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, along with officials in 10 other states, filed a complaint Thursday against the Biden administration, demanding that it abandon certain restrictions to prescribe one of two drugs taken to cause an abortion. The complaint argues that mifepristone, a drug that blocks a hormone necessary in carrying a pregnancy to term, is treated discriminatorily by the Food and Drug Administration, which continues to require women to have it prescribed by certain medical professionals along with completing forms that could fall into the hands of people targeting abortion providers with violence.

“The federal government has known for years that mifepristone is safe and effective,” Ferguson said in a statement announcing the filing Friday. “In the wake of the Supreme Court’s radical decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the FDA is now exposing doctors, pharmacists and patients to unnecessary risk. The FDA’s excessive restrictions on this important drug have no basis in medical science.”

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington (rather than the Western District of Washington). According to the Spokesman:

The complaint was filed in Eastern Washington because of its location between the West Side, where abortion services are more plentiful, and Idaho, which has a state ban on most abortions that went into place after the Supreme Court ruling.

A hearing in the case is scheduled in March in the District Court in Yakima. 

The Texas Lawsuit

Meanwhile, the radical right is busy using the Federal Court system to outlaw this same drug, mifepristone, from use anywhere in the United States, not just the states that otherwise ban abortion. Mifepristone induced abortion is even safer than surgical abortion (both of which are safer than childbirth). Consequently, outlawing mifepristone would put women at risk in states where abortion is fully legal. 

The lawsuit, deceptively titled Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, will soon be decided by a carefully selected, radical right wing judge in the United States District Court for the Northern District of TexasMatthew J. Kacsmaryk. Given his priors, the likelihood of his ruling in favor of the plaintiff and against mifepristone is extremely high. (Kacsmaryk, along with five other judges in this District, were placed on this District’s bench during the Donald Trump/Mitch McConnell federal judge appointment blitz.) 

The basis for outlawing a drug generally considered safer and more effective than Tylenol is telling of the orientation of today’s Republican Party. The lawsuit is based on a 150 year old law, The Comstock Act, a holdover from an era (1873) when certain “Christian” busybodies used federal law to enforce their narrow view of sexual morality on everyone (rather like their modern day Iranian equivalent, the morality police). The Comstock Act gets around the claim of “States’ Rights!” by using the federal management of the Postal Service to outlawing the carriage of materials deemed “obscene” in the Act. It happens that the “obscene” material defined therein included “contraceptivesabortifacients, personal letters with any sexual content or information, or any information regarding the above items.” 

This may seem quaint to some, but Judge Kacsmaryk’s impending resurrection of the Comstock laws is a grave threat women’s control over their own bodies nationwide, even in states like Washington where abortion remains legal. So much for McMorris Rodgers’ and other Republicans lip service to “States’ Rights”… 

It is time to pay attention to these ongoing threats and vote accordingly. Whatever face any individual Republican like McMorris Rodgers wants to paint on and hide behind, not one of them would dare vote to repeal the still workable parts of the Comstock laws on which this Texas lawsuit depends. 

Support Washington Attorney General Ferguson’s efforts to support women in making their own medical decisions. Discuss the issue with friends and family—and remember what Republicans are willing to do to attack women’s rights when you vote this fall and in 2024. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. I was alerted to the Texas lawsuit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, by Judd Legum’s excellent coverage in Substack column “Popular Information”, specifically, his February 13 entry, “Inside the push for a nationwide ban on abortion medication”. Legum, an independent investigative journalist, is a terrific source of detailed, well-sourced information on corporate hypocrisy and right wing initiatives. I highly recommend adding his column to your reading list.