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Sun., June 5, 2011, midnight

Smart Bombs: Will parents learn lessons?

While I certainly think there is a revenue problem in Washington state, it’s hard to ignore that it is self-inflicted. Even when people clamor for more money in particular areas, they don’t demonstrate the knowledge or stamina needed to make sure legislators follow through. That’s not to say there isn’t any complaining; it’s just that it’s misdirected or comes too late.

The recent public hearings on upcoming budget cuts for Spokane Public Schools provide a good example. Judging from the testimony at the two sessions held at middle schools, parents are very much against the proposal to increase class sizes. This same sentiment was expressed by 72 percent of voters statewide when they adopted Initiative 728 in 2000, which called for smaller class sizes. But to balance the state budget for the next two years, the Legislature suspended full funding of the initiative (as it has multiple times in the past decade).

That was the time to complain. That was the time when the public could’ve made a difference.

I haven’t heard many complaints about that. A check of our archives shows precious few letters over the years on this topic. But many well-meaning parents lined up at the microphones and expressed outrage that the district could ponder increased class sizes. That’s like blaming the warden for prison overcrowding.

In the years since passing I-728, voters have adopted measures that repeal taxes, make it more difficult to raise taxes and rejected an income tax on high-income households. In doing so, they have solidified the grip of the current tax system, which is among the most regressive in the nation because it puts a greater burden on the poor.

So when I read recently that Washington state ranked 46th in the nation in education funding per $1,000 of income my reaction was one of weary resignation. We are near the bottom because we are a relatively rich state with a tax code that is ill-suited to tapping that wealth. I’m not averse to raising taxes, but in this state that means punishing the poor and small businesses even more.

We could fix this with an income tax, but the only way that will happen is when people start matching their votes to their wishes and speaking up when it actually matters.

It happened in America. I had just finished reading “Zeitoun,” by David Eggers, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Abdullah al-Kidd was handed down. No, said the justices, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft could not be sued for the despicable treatment of the former University of Idaho football player, who was arrested, detained but never charged.

Ostensibly, al-Kidd was arrested to testify against another Muslim student. But he never did testify, and the feds’ true target was acquitted, though he was deported. It looks as if that rationale was merely an excuse to hold al-Kidd in detention, where he was treated like a heinous criminal, including repeated body cavity searches that yielded only his dignity.

If you want to read a book-length account of what our Great American Freakout produced after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, I recommend the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born man who came to the United States and found the American dream in New Orleans. However, the combination of Hurricane Katrina and our overzealous anti-terrorism policies turned the dream of this respected contractor and family man into a nightmare.

When Katrina hit, Zeitoun stayed behind to watch over his business, home and several rental properties. Paddling around in a canoe, this resourceful man rescued the elderly and infirm and fed several dogs that had been left behind. You couldn’t ask for a better neighbor.

However, he was erroneously pegged as a looter and was arrested. His nightmare would’ve ended there had he been granted that hallmark of criminal justice: a phone call. But he wasn’t treated as a mere criminal; he was deemed a terrorist. And so he spent nearly a month in solitary confinement at a high security prison and nobody knew of his whereabouts. His family didn’t even know he was alive until a prison missionary violated protocol by contacting Zeitoun’s wife.

Zeitoun was subsequently released, but the family was shattered by the hurricane and the surge of anti-Muslim sentiment that swept away sanity and humanity.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5026.


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