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A Matter Of Opinion

Archive for January 2008

Spokane soldier killed in Iraq


Another war death hits home.

An Army sergeant from Spokane was killed along with four other 4th Infantry Division soldiers on Monday when a roadside bomb exploded, destroying their vehicle in Mosul, Iraq.

Sgt. James E. Craig, 26, was married in Spokane in July and deployed in December for his third tour in Iraq, according to his father, Joel Craig, of Cheney.

“He was a wonderful man who loved the Lord Jesus Christ with his whole heart,” Craig said of his son. “He served his country with dignity and honor.”

Spin Control v. 2.0

Jim Camden’s blog is a must for political junkies. Check it out.

Our View: Leadership is adrift

Yes, there’s an unusual amount of snow, but so much that schools need to close for an entire week? So much that vulnerable people are reduced to being shut-ins? So much that commerce must grind to a veritable stop?

No.

In today’s editorial, we make the case that the current level of service in response to these snowstorms is unacceptable. Other cities can dig out much more quickly. Spokane shouldn’t settle for less.

UPDATE: For those wondering where the mayor has been, she will be holding a press conference at 6 tonight at City Hall. I’d imagine local stations will go live with coverage.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gregoire flew into town and declared an emergency. Kootenai County has done the same.

Letter: Thumbs down on stimulus plan

The plan is simply election-year pork we’ll all have to pay back, with interest, someday in the future. Therefore, I can’t support it. It’s thinly disguised income redistribution; tax the “rich” and give it to the middle and working class. While this is a noble sentiment, Congress should call it by its proper name, not an economic stimulus. But honesty in Washington may be too much to ask for, especially in an election year. — Steve Temple, Sandpoint

Judging by the majority of letters we’ve received, members of both sides of the aisle are dissatisfied with the bipartisan stimulus plan. Left: It doesn’t give the money to people who really need it. Right: Rebates fuel a spending inferno and only permanent tax cuts will spur economic growth.

Where do you stand on the stimulus plan?

Our View: Law laboratories

Travel can be broadening. It’s also a good way to pick up ideas that work elsewhere, in Our View.

Excerpt:

No more plastic bags? Ultra-clean vehicles? Imagine. But remember when it seemed beyond imagination that states would ban smoking in bars? Or make it illegal to drive without seat belts? In this era of federal government gridlock, it falls to cities and states to become laboratories for creative and landmark legislation.

Is there a good idea elsewhere that you wish were implemented here?

Terrible news on the charity front

St. Vincent de Paul’s Family Services to close due to financial difficulties

This is a huge blow to the city.

Excerpt:

The service center, which provided food and other emergency services to 60,000 people a year at North Regal Street and Trent Avenue, will close Feb. 29, though the society will continue to provide services through various Catholic Parishes on a smaller scale, Cain said.

Clients will be referred to Second Harvest, the region’s food warehouse and distribution center, and the Salvation Army, which also operates a food bank.

St. Vincent de Paul provided food to more people than any other agency in Eastern Washington, according to a statement released today. In the past, the center was staffed by four full-time and three part-time employees.

Good morning, Snowkane! (loose thread)

Yeah, I swiped that from weatherman Brian Albrecht.

So, last night on the drive home I became that other driver you need to look out for. I took my usual safe route up the South Hill, Cedar, which is a gradual climb. I usually turn left at 29th, but that road was so choppy and rutted coming into work, I continued along High Drive.

Things we’re going smoothly until I reached the counterintuitive (he said, rationalizing) intersection at Grand. This is the one where the cars going straight yield to the ones turning left.

Except I didn’t yield. Luckily the driver with right of way didn’t trust me and stopped as I blew through the stop sign. So, be careful out there. You never know when a driver like me will be nearby.

So, what’s on your mind this morning?

Downtown Spokane: Share your vision


(Christopher Anderson photo/S-R)

Three of the folks working hard on the updated Downtown Spokane Plan — Downtown Spokane Partnership President Marty Dickinson, Melissa Eadie, a Spokane city planner on loan to the updated plan process and Jeffrey Callahan Nave, a member of the DSP board, met with the editorial board this afternoon. The 1999 plan is being updated for the next five to 10 years.

The group is hoping for more citizen input at upcoming meetings and on its Downtown Spokane Web site here.

One issue that will require lots more discussion is the idea to tear out the skywalks so that downtown has a more pedestrian feel.
Listen to Dickinson explain the emotional ramifications of messing with the skywalks.

And another idea that will generate discussion is the idea of making downtown’s one-way streets into two-way streets again. It happened on Post Street. Dickinson lists the advantages. Listen here.

There are dozens more ideas floating out there for the future of downtown, as the updated plan process moves forward.

Share some of your ideas with us.
Blog lines are open.

Confusion over school libraries

This line in Sunday’s Our View editorial has caused much consternation.

Lawmakers are considering two bills. The Senate version would mandate that districts use a specific formula for spending on libraries. The result would be more money for librarians, but Spokane Public Schools says that would come from current allocations.

Spokane parent Lisa Layera Brunkan says the bill was never intended to rob Peter to pay Paul. However, the Senate Bill report does have some wording that has caused confusion.

According to the office of state Sen. Tracey Eide (one of SB 6380’s sponsors), new language will be forthcoming that makes it clear that this will be new funding on top of what districts already receive, which was always the intent.

Meanwhile, articles here and here show that this issue has resonated on a national level with librarians.

And here’s an article that ran in the Los Angeles Times in December.

Our View: Be Prepared

Governments had a spotty performance in dealing with the snow. That’s too bad, because it was a chance to demonstrate the allure of alternative transportation, namely the bus.

Letter: Just say no to war spending

Who is winning this war? Private contractors and Cheney’s old company. We the people have invested almost $700 billion for war since 9/11. Do you feel a trillion dollars safer? I think our actions have fueled the hatred in the world, not abated it. And can we imagine what a trillion dollars invested in this country’s infrastructure, education and health care would have accomplished? Can we urge and support our legislators in just saying no? — J. G. Sugg, Spokane

I watched most of the State of the Union last night. Though nothing the president said shocked or inspired me, I did find it interesting to watch Nancy Pelosi behind him and observe which members of his audience stood/applauded when. I wish I had caught the whole thing, but switching stations I saw the tail end of Sen. Obama’s interview after the speech, in which he mentioned the constraint of who he was sitting next to. It must be a very narrow line to walk for him and for Sen. Clinton, whose post-speech interview I unfortunately missed completely.

One thing the left side of the aisle looked iffy on was war spending. They’ve got to maintain their image of “supporting the troops,” but they made no bones about their continued opposition to the president’s policy on Iraq.

What were your impressions of the speech (and the audience) last night?

Boomer U: What are your college regrets?

In my Sunday column, I said most boomers have one of two regrets about their college years.

Those who partied too much wish they’d studied more.


Those who studied too much wish they’d partied more. Boomer U will make wishes come true.


My idea is to let boomers do one semester do-overs. Pay full tuition, live in upscale dorms, party more if you didn’t in college and study more if you failed to get enough of that.

So here’s my question for boomers out there? What are your college regrets?

(S-R file photos)

First Amendment for students, too

In Monday’s editorial, we advocate legislation that would allow student journalists to deal with real-world First Amendment challenges.

We agree that there ought to be some boundaries — obsenity, libel, privacy — that adults must supervise, but censorship based on truths that cause discomfort is going too far.

Smart Bombs: Next sure thing?

Mr. Smart Bombs weighs in on the subprime lending mess and wonders whether the country will fall for the next too-good-to-be true trend in the economy?

What do you think?

UPDATE: A “recovering banker” named Richard Martens (see his blog here) sent me this YouTube link to a British skit on the subprime mess. It’s funny. The subprime part kicks in at about the 3-minute mark.

“So you take this package of dodgy debt and call it a structured investment vehicle?”


Weekend letter: Spokane slow on snow

One of our writers appears to have had an inkling about what was coming over the weekend:

Being a newcomer, I need to further my education about Northwest ways. I moved here from the Midwest, and I am accustomed to snow, cold weather and icy conditions. I find the lack of cleaning snow and ice from parking lots in Spokane unusual for a town of this size. I have witnessed people falling in parking lots, at bus stops and an EMS crew having difficulty transporting a patient by stretcher to the ambulance. People in wheelchairs or with mobility limitations are further impeded in accessing stores and professional buildings. (…)

Ordinances requiring businesses to clear parking lots and sidewalks of snow and ice are in place in other towns. The same goes for requiring homeowners to clear sidewalks in front of their homes for the safety of people walking. This newbie is wondering why we are not more concerned about this public safety issue. — Nancy A. Bartmess, Colbert

Question: Proportionally, how much should individuals, business owners and the city should be responsible for clearing snow after (and during) storms like we’re seeing this week?

S-R photo: Kathy Plonka

Loose (and slippery) thread

The snow has begun and is falling steadily enough to convince me the 2- to 4-inch prediction I heard is credible. Enough to drive me inside from an apple tree pruning chore I’ve been putting off. Got far enough into it to discover that today’s trees are not nearly as climber-friendly as those I knew 40 or 50 years ago. So it’s an inside day, just right for launching a blog discussion on whatever inspires you. Click on “Comments” and share your thoughts.

TGIF: Thread Goes In, Finally

It’s after 9 and today’s Loose Thread is just now being posted. Round up your favorite topics, click on “Comments” and post away.

Loose thread for Thursday

Ah, but which loose thread? The kind in which you can click on “comments” and start a blog conversation…or the British rock group?

Thoughts to share?

Here’s a loose thread you can pick at without fear of coming unraveled. Just click and post.

E-mail hoaxes

Clark County Republicans were so moved by a pass-around e-mail about Barack Obama they posted it on their Web site. It was then taken down.

Emails saying Obama is Muslim and doesn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance get passed around all the time. A lot political fiction does. I’ve been sent many things like this and asked why the media won’t report them. One good site to check such items is snopes.com, a longstanding debunker of urban legends.

What stock do you put in such e-mails from family and friends? If the information is wrong, do you point it out or do you quietly delete the message and move on? What examples have you received?

How far have we come…really?

As an American, I take great pride in the fact that a woman and a black man are potential candidates for the presidency of the United States. No matter what your political party..that has to be evidence of great change. Imagine what MLK JR would of thought of that just 40 years ago.

Thanks to eric Blauer for that comment posted on Friday’s loose thread.
It gets me to wondering, though, how far we’ve really come. Yes, the leading-contender status shared by Clinton and Obama is an important benchmark for us as a nation. But African Americans and women are not the only groups who have had to pry open the door that stood in the way of their full participation in the political process. How about gays, American Indians, the physically handicapped, Muslims? How about Eastern Europeans? Honestly, would a presidential candidate named, say, Serge Yevshenko stand a chance?
It’s my belief that our culture is still covered with numerous layers of intolerance, and while I’m pleased to see progress being made, I wonder if we have the dedication to keep going.

Loosening another thread for the weekend

Friday’s loose thread has generated a vigorous conversation about racism. Check it out. Join in if you feel so inspired.
Or, if you want to talk about other topics, here’s your chance. Click on the comments link and post away.

Open records 101

Friday’s editorial cheers the idea behind a bill in the Legislature to prevent government agencies from using the threat of lawsuits to chill citizen oversight.

Car warranty scam

Yesterday at work, I was introduced to a variation of this scam. But instead of getting a postcard warning me that my car warranty was about to expire, I got an automated phone call telling me the same and that the consequences would be dire.

To act, I needed to press 1. So I did. A woman comes on the line to ask how she can help. Knowing my warranty was nowhere near expiration, I ask her who she worked for. She mumbled “dealerships.” I asked which ones. She said “various ones like Honda.”

I told her my warranty was not nearing expiration. She said, “Oh, well, we just want to give you a quote on extending it just in case it was.”

I hung up. It’s pretty clever, because in pressing “1”, I couldn’t tell what number I was calling. Apparently, it’s some oufit out of Florida and that they like to prey on seniors in particular by scaring them. So slimy. I was telling a friend about this and she got the call at work, too.

Have you?


How much did you pay for college?

Our editorial today begins:

Are you having a pleasant day? Got enough sleep? Coffee’s especially soothing? The kids got off to school with minimal mayhem? Well, here’s one way to ruin it: Visit one of those online cost-of-college calculators and figure out how much it’s going to set you back when the kids are ready to enroll.

For your fifth-grader, let’s say you have your eye on an in-state, four-year public university that currently charges about $6,000 a year, such as the University of Washington. You’ll need about $46,000 and that covers only tuition. Let’s say your child’s interests would take her to an out-of-state public university that currently charges $20,000 a year. Now, you’re looking at … gulp! … more than $150,000. Add tens of thousands of dollars more for private schools.

During our edit board meetings this week, as we discussed this topic, we all reminisced how relatively inexpensive our educations were in the older days.

So it’s your turn to reminisce: How much did you pay?

Letter: Obama not tough enough

About this Obama thing: It reminds me of when women were fainting and squealing over Elvis and every time Frank Sinatra would sing. I don’t think the people are thinking about the welfare of the country. (…)

Politics is a dirty business and Obama is too nice. Like Carter, he will find it is easier to say you will make changes than to really do it. We will have eight years of a man you liked. Maybe we need someone tough and not liked as much. Everyone has vilified Hillary for years, never talking about the good things that she has done. But if an Obama is what people want, that will finish our country down the drain. — Frances L. Shank, Chewelah, Wash.
AP Photo

Do you think likeability and the appropriate toughness are mutually exclusive in a candidate?

The Drive at 5

The roads are pretty bare.
Be careful out there.

Here’s a laugh track for your ride home.

Listen here.

Avista: Advantage and Homegrowns

We had a fascinating interview this afternoon with Scott Morris, chairman, president and CEO of Avista.

I found two things particularly interesting. One is Avista’s subsidiary Advantage IQ which pays energy bills for large chains, such as Starbucks. It’s one of their growing success stories. The idea for it came out of employee brainstorming and it took about 10 years to finally turn a profit.

Listen to Morris’ explanation of the subsidiary.

Also, when I grew up here you felt like you’d have a good job for life if you could get on with “the water power.” (Avista’s former name was Washington Water Power.) Anyway, Morris pointed out that the company still employs many homegrowns. He sees this as a strength, because employees who grew up here understand the community from the ground up.

Listen here.

(S-R file photo)

Our system of “universal care”

“Even if you don’t have health insurance, you are still taken care of in America. That certainly could be defined as universal coverage.” Former HHS Director Tommy Thompson in 2004, explaining why it was OK to spend $1 billion in Iraq toward the goal of universal coverage when we don’t have that in this country.

“The immediate goal is to make sure there are more people on private insurance plans. I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.” President Bush, last July in Cleveland.

Yeah, good thing we have those ERs, which are increasingly unable to immediately care for patients who are having heart attacks.

Imagine a loved one who is having a heart attack having to wait 20 minutes for care. Why do we put up with this?

The free enterprise system says close the ERs down. So, should we just leave it at that?

Letter: Primary purpose

I just don’t understand why anyone would have a problem with the primary election. The main purpose of a primary is for each party to select their candidates for the general election. It isn’t proper for people to cross over and influence the selection. People can vote for whomever they want, no matter what party, in the general election in November. — Marilyn Moore, Spokane

Idaho Republicans would like to close their primaries to prevent Democrats from “influencing” their choice of candidate. To me, primary elections represent the utmost confusion of purpose. Why are they done the way they are? Are they a government concern or a party concern? Should it or shouldn’t it all come down to who’s paying for them?

Loose Thread Blowing All Over the Place

Did any opinions blow into your brains as the wind blew, whistled and roared through the Inland Northwest night?

Blog lines are officially open, unless the wind blows them shut.

Mental Illness: How pervasive?

(Mark Williams conducts the Spokane British Brass Band in a rehearsal in Yakima in 2006 at a music educators conference. Photo Courtesy of Larry Pittman)

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that mental illness touches 1 in 4 people, but this figure takes into account milder forms of so-called mental illness. In our editorial today, we went with the statistics on serious mental illness which afflicts 1 in 17 people.

Doug was skeptical about the 1 in 4 figure, but I am not, because almost every person I know well has at least one story of mental illness in the family, ranging from mild social anxiety to schizophrenia. Our differing views prompted a good editorial board discussion last Wednesday.

Now, it’s your turn to weigh in. Does 1 in 4 sound realistic to you? Blog lines are open.

Excerpt from edit:

In two Inland Northwest families, the hopes of parents ended in public tragedies. At 1 p.m. today at Spokane Valley Baptist Church, family and community members will honor former Spokane resident Mark Williams. He was a well-known musician and composer who moved to Bellingham partly to be closer to his 24-year-old son, Brian Williams. Brian, who suffers from schizophrenia, is accused of stabbing his father to death Jan. 3.

“My brother gave his life trying to help his son become well,” Mark’s brother, Grant Williams, told The Spokesman-Review.

And in a Spokane courtroom this week, Bryan Patrick Kim is being tried on aggravated first-degree murder charges. His parents, Richard and Terri Kim, were killed more than a year ago. Kim, 19, has a bipolar disorder.

The Drive at 5

You know the drill….
Safe and happy weekend.

Wanted: Your walking three miles to school stories


( In this S-R file photo, Pratt Elementary students walk to school.)

Our editorial today gave kudos to a Spokane Regional Health District plan to raise walking awareness and activity.

In this snowy weather, some like to reminisce about walking to school each day in knee-deep snow. Believe at least part of these stories. In 1969, half of the country’s students walked or rode bicycles to school, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Now, fewer than 15 percent do.

The Spokane Regional Health District would like to get children back in the habit of walking to school. It’s part of an initiative to get the whole county walking for health. We’re a chubby group. Six out of 10 Spokane County residents are overweight. North Idaho residents share the problem; 62 percent of them are at overweight or obese.

We’re in nostalgia mode this week at AMOO, so nostalgia away and tell us some walking-to-school tales.

Loose Thread Friday

Good morning!

What’s rattling around your brains this winter-thaw day?

Blog lines are open.

The obsession with Hillary Clinton

I’m having a difficult time finding cartoons that don’t feature Hillary Clinton. There are several candidates still in the presidential race (on both sides), but the undeniable fixation — and it is largely negative — is on Clinton. One cartoon is so brutal (complete with PMS reference), that I’m not going to use it.

Because of this, I’m finding it hard to strike any kind of balance with cartoons. Are the other candidates really so hard to caricature? Not for me, but I can’t draw.

What is it about her that draws so much attention?

The Loose Thread Drive at 5

We forgot to give you a loose thread today, so we’ll end the day with it instead.

What’s on your mind?

Remembering the Big Snow: 1968-1969

I might be in the minority, but I’m loving the big snows of the last few days. It’s good for the environment, especially the Spokane River, but it’s also been a great nostalgia boost.

Spokane folks who were around in the winter of 1968-1969 remember the big snow season we had that year. When we long-timers get together and weather comes up, we reminisce, especially about all the snow days. I was in eighth grade at St. Charles School and remember looking out the window in March and wondering when all the snow would finally melt.

A few years ago, Mike Prager, our S-R weather guru, wrote about that big snow:

That year, as fall changed to winter, the weather brought nothing more than a mix of rain and snow through Christmas.
Then, a windstorm ushered in arctic air. A low of 25 degrees below zero on Dec. 30 was followed by an 8-inch snowstorm that didn’t stop until New Year’s Day.

Maybe it was nature’s warning.
Measurable snow fell in January on 20 of the 31 days. A six-day stretch of snow early in the month was followed by another arctic freeze down to 19 degrees below zero.
The last week of January was the worst. It snowed every day from the 25th through the 31st, and morning lows dipped below zero on four of the days.

February brought relief, but single-digit cold returned in March. Winter finally said goodbye with a half-inch dusting on April 29.

So any other old-timers out there have Big Snow memories to share. Blog lines are open.

(S-R file photo from 1969)

The Drive at 5, Take Two

It’s snowing out there. More snow is expected.

I see this snow and feel grateful that the snow pack might be OK this year. So much depends on it. So let it snow, but be careful out there.

Update: Lynn and I, without knowing, both did Drives at 5. Great minds think alike? I’d be honored, Lynn’s a bright one, for sure.
Enjoy all your drives this snowy evening. Better yet, get home and stay home.

No more Wal-Mart Kittens, please

In our editorial today, we looked positively on ordinances that will prohibit the selling, giving away or bartering of animals on public space.

In the 1989 Michael Moore documentary “Roger & Me,” a woman sells her rabbits for “pets or meat.” She shows Moore how she clubs to death the cuddly bunnies, unless a person buys them to keep as pets. Moore focuses on the pets-or-meat woman to tell the story of desperation in Flint, Mich., a community impoverished by the auto industry’s ups and downs.

The people who stand in retail store parking lots and on street corners selling puppies and giving away kittens tell a story, too, about Spokane. It’s a story that animal advocates hope is changing with enactment of an ordinance making it illegal to sell, give or barter away animals in public spaces anywhere in Spokane County.

So a question: Have you ever purchased a puppy or kitten in front of a grocery store or another public-like space? And how did the pet work out for you?

Blog lines are open.

(Brian Plonka photo/The Spokesman-Review)

Minimum wage and history

Dave Oliveria has an interesting question over at Huckleberries Online. What’s the lowest wage you worked for?

For me, it was $1.50 an hour. I was 14.

This graphic shows the buying power of a minimum wage salary through the years. The high point was $1.60 an hour in 1968. Check the graphic to see if your lowest wage translates to something that is better than today’s minimum wage, which is:

* $8.07 an hour in Washington state.
* $5.85 in Idaho, which is the same as the federal rate.

That $1.60 in 1968 is equivalent to $9.47 today. You can use this calculator to adjust your lowest salary for inflation.

My $1.50 translates to $8.15 today. So at age 14, I was making more than an adult does with the minimum wage in Washington by 8 cents an hour and by over 2 bucks an hour in Idaho.

What makes you happy?

Politics is not mentioned in this article, yet here we are discussing it every day. Are we masochists?

Anyway, this article has a lot of data on the distribution of wealth and the correlation between that and happiness. It also mentions other things that make people happy and miserable.

Excerpt:

Among the things psychologists say won’t make you happy in the long run are material possessions in general (we get bored with them, and they require maintenance), luxury items (every car goes the speed limit, every watch tells time), long commutes, wealthy friends or neighbors (you’ll be envious), complicated lives, bad marriages and, on a day-to-day basis, kids (they’re a lot of work) or one’s spouse (great for security, but not all that entertaining).

What will make us happy, shrinks contend, is simply aging: people tend to be most unhappy in their late 30s (often the peak of juggling career and children), then happier the older they get, on into retirement. Other things that work are good health, security (a home, job and retirement fund), independence, a good marriage, an interesting job, free time, having children (they’re good over the long run even if they do drive you crazy), friends and family, a challenge or sense of purpose, and interesting experiences like a vacation that can be remembered.

What makes you happy?

Lose thread: Jan. 5, 2008

I’ll be packing away Christmas decorations today, a task undemanding enough to give my mind the opportunity to drift. Care to offer some fodder for consideration? Click below to comment, and see what you can weave from today’s loose thread.

Loose thread

You have a choice. You can tell us how impressed you were by the thrashing Oregon gave the University of Southern Florida in the Sun Bowl, or…
you can start your own thread by clicking comment below.
(How about Jonathan Stewart’s 71-yard TD run!)

Letter: uh…letters?

Hello, Opinion readers! I am back for less than an hour after the holidays and have already taken three calls inquiring whether we are not going to be printing letters any longer.

We don’t usually print letters on Mondays, but this week our skeletal holiday production schedule also gave us only one Opinion page on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Have no fear! Tomorrow (the first day this year we’ll have our usual two editorial pages) the letters will return in full force. Thank you for your patience, and happy new year to all.

Personal reflection for 2008, No. 2

Walking down Lincoln early yesterday afternoon, I heard from behind me the distinctive crunch-crunch sound of a chain-reaction collision. As I wheeled around I saw the driver of the third and final car in the sequence of rear-enders jump out of his door and race around behind his vehicle. Reaching the rear, right door, he jerked it open and bent inside to check on what appeared to be about a 2-year-old child who was secured in a car seat.
I’m an ancient who’s been known to scoff at excessive regulation in our lives and has been heard to say that in my day a “child-restraint system” meant my father’s spring-loaded right arm.
While yesterday’s accident will be a headache for all involved and there will be expenses for repairs, it appeared that all the people — including this child — were OK. If it weren’t for that carseat, though, I’ll bet the outcome would have been much worse.
I think it’s fair to say that the long reach of the regulatory arm serves a valid purpose.

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