Writings and observations

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

(The following was written a week before the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. It’s here today with no apologies.)

Imagine your neighbor has begun nailing all his furniture to the floor, has tied his pickup to a tree and put long ropes on all three kids. He’s convinced God is going to turn off gravity across the world and all he has and cares about will be drifting out into space. Soon.

Now, before you write the guy off as an idiot from our little burg-in-the-woods, hear him out. Listen to his reasoning. Here it is. “It hasn’t happened yet – which means it will.”

That’s right. You got it. Gravity still worked this morning and is likely to continue all day. But, in his world, gravity will end – everything and everyone will become weightless and fly off the earth. He knows it’s true. Because “it hasn’t happened!”

With precisely this same kind of anti-logic, thousands and thousands of Americans have been rushing to gun stores since our general election. They are cleaning off the shelves of rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic weapons, pistols and millions of bullets. Some stores have been cleaned out and the underground weapons business is going strong, too.
So what connects these two unrelated pieces of nutcase off-the-wall-ness? Well, two things. First, President Obama has been re-elected. And, second, he’s going to take away your guns and put extremely high taxes on ammunition. The same ammunition gun owners won’t need if he takes their guns. Oops. Just injected some rational thought there. Sorry.

Some stores sales are up 100% in a year. Seems lots of people “think” they will need more guns and ammo to protect themselves because government is going to take away their “absolute” rights and they need protection. Though it hasn’t happened. Which means it will.

But the REALLY deep thinkers promise the President may also end the food stamp program. And IF that happens, people will need a lot of firepower to protect themselves from the starving masses.

None of this – NONE of this – is made up. I swear. Except my ersatz neighbors tying down all their worldly possessions so they don’t float off when gravity ends – which they will because it hasn’t. But these gun nuts are sure what hasn’t happened is going to happen. Because it hasn’t. But it makes the point.

I’d like to say all these nutcases came up with this off-the-wall thinking all by themselves. But such is not the case. They’re simply regurgitating the twisted output of the National Rifle Association and of its demented CEO, Wayne LaPierre. Since President Obama’s first days in office, the NRA has sent millions of pieces of paper with this twisted message thereon. Too many of the looneys cleaning out gun stores today are simply reading from that script.

I’m a gun owner. Used to be an NRA member about 30 years ago. But no more. How this troll-at-the-top survives is a mystery. Many current members I know have no use for the guy or the direction he’s taken the organization. While the NRA does yeoman’s work with gun safety and young shooter classes, it’s gone off the edge of LaPierre’s flat earth politically. And philosophically. A force to be reckoned with on Capitol Hill? Yes. But no longer a healthy force dedicated to now-seldom-mentioned Second Amendment responsibilities as well as those Second Amendment rights. Now it’s conspiracies and PACs and lying to millions of people who mindlessly trail along behind.

For my money, that’s what the NRA under LaPierre has come to. Creating panic. Illogical runs on shooting stores are typical in many other states coast-to-coast. Using the “what-hasn’t-happened-yet-means-it-will-happen” school of illogic, cozy little fortresses are being restocked with multiple weaponry and piles of ammunition. That little cottage down the street – with window boxes brimming with geraniums – may be an arsenal inside, with AK-47′s and a hundred boxes of bullets.

The horribly sad part is this type of national citizen rearmament craziness has never occurred at such a level under any other president. Not even during wartime. But it’s occurring during the term of our first mixed-race president. So, has race something to do with it. Undeniably, yes.

But so does national fear abroad in the land. Fear of banks. Fear of strangers who look different and who speak different languages but who are Americans just the same. Fear on the part of people who have traditionally been in control now losing that control. Fear of changes – changes in nearly everything coming faster and faster. Fear separating us from each other.

For some, that means buying guns. And more guns. Stashing hundreds of boxes of bullets. To do what with? Kill your neighbors? Kill your neighbor’s kids? Kill someone you know down the block who might just be hungry?

Have the people who mouth this crazy “it-hasn’t-happened-which-means-it-will” trash thought about who they think they may have to shoot with their new weaponry? Have they looked at the faces of strangers and even neighbors with the conscious thought they may kill these people? Could they kill these people? For what? A meal? A drink of water? Could they put a familiar face on the fear that’s driving them to buy more guns and then pull the trigger?

Buying your gun based on some stupid, irrational B.S. is one thing. Putting the face of a neighbor or friend in the gunsight and pulling the trigger is a whole different situation.

Thanks, Wayne.

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Last week, Washington and Oregon were two of the first six states to get initial (conditional) approval from the federal government for their plans to set up state-based insurance exchanges. Idaho is rapidly approaching a final decision point on whether to start.

An Oregon statement on the plan called Cover Oregon says: “Cover Oregon is a central online marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for and compare health coverage options and access financial assistance, starting in October 2013. Coverage for plans purchased through Cover Oregon will be effective January 1, 2014. Through Cover Oregon, individuals and families will be able to easily compare plans, see quality grades for carriers and plans, and access financial assistance to help pay for premiums.”

Doesn’t, in truth, sound much like tyranny, and actually sounds more like a free marketplace.

That aspect of it – the federal requirement for a setup notwithstanding – may have resonated with free marketeer Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who (a day after the federal approval for the neighbors) said he would support establishment of a state-run exchange in Idaho. (Failure to set one up on the state level would result in establishment of a federal-run program.) But actual setup takes action as well by the state legislature, and that’s where things get complicated, and political.

A comparable proposal died earlier this year in the legislature but, partly because of personnel changes, chances may be better in 2013. An early spate of news stories on key players in the health and welfare committees suggest the proposal has at least a reasonable chance of getting to the floor in either chamber.

But whether it passes remains an open question, and so is its impact on Idaho Republican politics.

The insurance exchange easily could turn into a purity test for Idaho conservatives, with “squishes” – presumably including, improbably, Otter – being distinguished from the purists who simply say: hell no. It might (we don’t know yet if it will) pit parts of Republican leadership (not all of it) against large parts of the caucuses. It could split Republican leaders against each other.

An exchange battle could have an early effect on the elections in 2014 as well. Representative Raul Labrador doesn’t have any direct involvement with state legislating, and health insurance is outside the normal turf for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, but watch closely to see if either of them speak out about a state-based health exchange, especially if against it. That could turn into an early indicator of a gubernatorial challenge for governor, either against Otter or his close ally and lieutenant Brad Little. (At least one Republican legislator last week was overheard saying that after his exchange announcement, Otter can’t win the Republican nomination for another term.)

Idaho could move in a simpler manner by copying pieces of other states’ plans, adapting them as preferred, or it could try – a much more complex effort – to reinvent the wheel. If time gets tight, Idaho officials may find it practically easier to do the first, but politically easier to do the second.

A fly on the wall of the upcoming Republican caucuses would be rewarded with entertaining listening.

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Idaho Idaho column

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

A week or so ago, a friend and I spent a few hours bell-ringing for the Salvation Army in our little burg-in-the-woods. It’s one of the annual activities of our Rotary club – one I look forward to each year. Not so much now.

My friend and I have stood in the cold outside several local “big box” stores through the years. We have time for good conversation and, for the most part, enjoy interacting with others during the holidays. My favorite moment is when a young parent puts a few coins in a small child’s hand and shows them how to put the money in the red kettle. Then quietly instructs, “Say ‘Merry Christmas’.” Touches my old heart.

What doesn’t touch my heart is watching what too many shoppers have put in their carts as they roll out past us to the parking lot. Oh, there’s the usual supply of small appliances, toys, clothes, lots of electronic stuff and a bit of groceries here and there. Just like the carts in your town, I’d guess.

But we keep seeing more. Cases of beer. Many per cart. Boxes and bottles of wine. Many per cart. And guns. And boxes of ammunition.

Now, I’m a tippler. And a gun owner. So my reaction to this annual scene is not one of moral judgement by the uninitiated. My own shopping could mean buying a firearm of some sort, maybe some ammunition and – more often – some spirits.

No, what I have trouble with each December is reconciling the armament and bulk alcohol with the real spirit of Christmas. Thinking of the birth of Christ as reported in the gospels – remembering tenderness, wonderment, joy and surprise we experience – filling our thoughts with Christmas.

And especially this Christmas – 2012 – when we mark the murder of 20 elementary school children who went to school one morning – looking forward to pageants, plays, singing carols, exchanging gifts and learning more each year about the true “reason for the season.” Doing all the “kid things” we did. They were anxious with fun and hope – doing projects they’d spent hours and hours practicing. Until bullets ended all that.

And the ones that didn’t die. There were more than 600 kids in that school. The ones who heard the shots and the screams. The ones who saw the blood and the bodies of friends they had ridden with on the bus or walked to school with an hour or two before. The little survivors who watched. The child survivors suddenly flooded with emotions and experiences far beyond their youthful abilities to cope. Christmas 2012.

And the parents. The young parents who will stand before small coffins and open holes in the earth. The ones who will go home to silent houses and empty bedrooms littered with all the things left lying around that Friday morning after the kids were gone. To school. To the safety of our public education system. In a small, usually quiet Connecticut community. What of them? What of their lives long after the Christmas of 2012?

And the parents who took their children home that day. The parents who came terrified onto the school grounds. The parents crying and screaming names of kids – not knowing if they would answer – if they were alive. Or dead. The parents who suddenly weren’t dealing with the same suburban realities they’d experienced just the day before. The ones now swimming in a sea of red lights, blue uniforms, ambulances coming and going at a dizzying pace. The noise. The sounds of vehicle engines and sirens mixed with the crying of parents who’d already received their tragic news.

And those kids who went home. The ones we’d call “the lucky.” The ones with heads filled with experiences and emotions they could not come close to understanding. The ones faced with trying to cope with things most adults can’t fully understand. The ones whose lives are invisibly scarred and who face lifetimes that will always be divided into “before Christmas 2012″ and “after Christmas 2012.

And the teachers. Mourning the ones – the friends – who died. The children they taught. The ones who died. Maybe they can cope. Maybe they can’t. What will their lives be like? Will they forever listen for noises they used to ignore? How will they react to someone walking or running past the classroom door? How will they view the next adult – unknown to them – as he or she walks down a hall? What will that first hour back in the classroom really be like? For the teacher.

I can’t help mixing those pictures – those questions – with several years of experiences ringing Christmas bells and watching rifles, shotguns and ammunition rolling out of our “big box” stores at Christmas time. The events of Connecticut, Christmas 2012 – with the cacophony of bells and seasonal songs – all that joy – and joy ended – keeps coming back to me in the form of questions.

When are we going to admit we’ve talked this gun business to death and make stopping the unabated slaughter a national commitment?

When are we going to stop declaring “wars-of-choice” and divert some of those billions of dollars into mental health research so we can identify and deal with potential assassins before they kill more of us?

When are we Americans going to tell the National Rifle Association to GO TO HELL and instruct our ever-cowering members of Congress to find the guts to create laws dealing with this armed insanity?

Christmas this year – in Newtown – will not be the same. Just as it was in past Christmases in Portland, Aurora, Tucson, Detroit, Durham and so many, many other places for so many, many other years.

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Randy Stapilus
View from Here

And so as we end another year, another round of madman shootings – just this week three dead and one injured at Clackamas Mall in Oregon – where only luck kept the death toll from rising much higher – and at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where so many children were slaughtered.

How much longer, how many more insanity-driven shootings, before something meaningful is done? Not, to be sure, with the idea that there’s such a thing as a perfect prevention, but with the idea that mass killings should be at least harder to accomplish, and diverted more often. And recognizing that it doesn’t have to be this way: The United States really is an aberration among the more developed countries around the world, most of which see nowhere near as much of this sort of violence.

Drawing in part from a Jeffrey Goldberg piece in the Atlantic and a spate of other articles, here are a few thoughts.

• If someone is determined to kill, they will kill. But the impact can be lessened. If guns were not the hand weapon of choice, violence would not end, but fewer people probably would die. Last week in central China a man entered a school and attacked about two dozen people – but he did it with a knife, and while many of those people were slashed and stabbed, all of them lived. The attack was not prevented entirely, but the efficacy of weaponry made a difference.

• With something on the order of 300 million guns of various kinds in the United States, the idea of getting rid of them, or even very many of them, is futile. Leaving aside legal issues, there are many legitimate legal uses of many guns apart from those use by law enforcement and military, and self-defense is a legitimate use. But relatively few people really know how to properly, carefully and safely use a firearm. Anyone who thinks the Clackamas or Newtown events could have been stopped by a population of shoppers or educators who’d been packin’ ought to stop to visualize what probably would have happened in fact: A frantic shootout by panicked people that would have doubled, tripled, quadrupled the death toll. A public of vigilantes ready to shoot first and ask questions later would be vastly more dangerous than what we have now.

• Do we really need, on the open market and available for any (prospectively crazed) person to buy, semiautomatic firearms that can kill dozens of people in minutes? Yes, other guns can kill, too, but not so many people, so quickly. Do we really need such easy access to 30-round magazines for AR-15 semiautomatics? Shouldn’t it be at least harder to access such lethal firepower?

• Gun critics also, though, should stop to ask: What should we do, how should we respond, if a maniac with a gun shows up in a public place? Should there be no response? Goldberg’s Atlantic article points out how a school administrator in Georgia prevented a potential mass shooting because he was armed. The takeaway seems to be that carefully training and then arming a select and limited number of key personnel working in public places – a concept something like having marshals working on airline flights, not as their primary job but with strong secondary training – could in fact help.

• We should be getting a little clearer idea at this point of what sort of individual usually does this sort of thing. A widely applicable profile has begun to emerge: A young man, with job and/or relationship problems, cutting social ties around him … Red flags ought to start popping up after a while. More attention is needed to properly identifying these red flags, to try to divert these shooters before they become shooters.

• Maybe some gun ownership rules should be considered. There are rules now theoretically banning guns from people convicted of certain crimes and with certain mental conditions but, as observers have pointed out, few to none of the recent mass killers even fell into those categories (not that this might have stopped them from getting hold of the weapons anyway). We may need some more sophistication in how we approach this. Goldberg: “It has to be made more difficult for sociopaths, psychopaths and the otherwise violently mentally-ill (who, in total, make up a small portion of the mentally ill population) to buy weapons.”

None of these ideas are complete answers. But they, or some combination maybe in concert with other ideas, could save some lives.

What we should not do is fob off the argument about how to deal with these crazed shootings. Remember: This can happen anywhere, even in your neighborhood. What we’ve endured so far should be more than enough.

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NW Reading

“Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen,” sang Woody Guthrie – but you’re a lot less likely to serve time in the Crossbar Hotel if you use the latter.

That was the angry point of Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley’s letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder about the Department of Justice’s ongoing refusal to go after even the most brazen bad guys in the financial section. And leading to the sad but logical conclusion that “jail time is served by over 96% of persons that plead or are found guilty of drug trafficking, 80% of those that plead or are found guilty of money laundering, and 63% of those caught in possession of drugs. As the deferred prosecution agreement appears now to be the corporate equivalent of acknowledging guilt, the best way for a guilty party to avoid jail time may be to ensure that the party is or is employed by a globally significant bank.”

How that can be called justice is hard to imagine.

From his letter:

On Tuesday, the Justice Department entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with HSBC related to more than $800 million in illicit narcotics proceeds that drug traffickers laundered through the bank’s Mexican and American affiliates, as well as over $600 million in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer highlighted just how brazen the violations were, with traffickers depositing “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller window.” Sanctions violations were equally deliberate, with the bank intentionally stripping information from transactions to avoid detection. Yet despite these clear and blatant violations, the Department of Justice refused to bring criminal charges against the bank, relevant employees, or senior management.

Indeed, Mr. Breuer stated yesterday that in deciding not to prosecute, the Department considered the “collateral consequences” of its decision on the financial system. Mr. Breuer stated “If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy?” The HSBC decision comes on the back of deferred prosecution agreements with Standard Charter Bank and ING Group related to similar charges.

I do not take a position on the merits of this or any other individual case, but I am deeply concerned that four years after the financial crisis, the Department appears to have firmly set the precedent that no bank, bank employee, or bank executive can be prosecuted even for serious criminal actions if that bank is a large, systemically important financial institution. This “too big to jail” approach to law enforcement, which deeply offends the public’s sense of justice, effectively vitiates the law as written by Congress. Had Congress wished to declare that violations of money laundering, terrorist financing, fraud, and a number of other illicit financial actions would only constitute civil violations, it could have done so. It did not.

Instead, Congress placed these financial crimes squarely in the federal criminal code precisely because the consequences are so severe. Drug trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico continues to wreak extraordinary violence across North America, leading to 15,000 deaths in Mexico in 2010 alone and continued gang violence and deaths in the U.S. Drug cartels are also increasingly connected to terrorism. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 39 percent of State Department-designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) have “confirmed links” to the drug trade, as of November 2011. The consequences to U.S. national security for violations involving terrorism financing and Iran sanctions violations are obvious and severe. Congress deemed criminal law the appropriate tool for punishing and deterring actions that have such serious and damaging public consequences.

Refusing to prosecute on the grounds of financial stability is also troubling from the perspective of ending “too big to fail.” The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which declared some institutions to be systemically important financial institutions subject to tougher regulation, did not declare that those institutions would be exempt from criminal prosecution. Indeed, the Dodd-Frank Act explicitly created new authority to permit a failed institution to be wound down safely, without impacting financial stability. If a financial institution, because of its criminal actions, ultimately fails, that may indeed be precisely the consequence that justice and accountability demand, and which is so necessary to deterring future illegal behavior. I am deeply concerned that the Department’s continuing application of deferred prosecution agreements on the grounds of financial stability runs contrary to the intent of Congress and undermines the accountability to the rule of law that is so fundamental to a healthy, functioning free market economy.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, jail time is served by over 96 percent of persons that plead or are found guilty of drug trafficking, 80 percent of those that plead or are found guilty of money laundering, and 63 percent of those caught in possession of drugs. As the deferred prosecution agreement appears now to be the corporate equivalent of acknowledging guilt, the best way for a guilty party to avoid jail time may be to ensure that the party is or is employed by a globally significant bank. The Department’s deferred prosecution agreements may offer something in the way of promises of future compliance, but they look sorely lacking in justice and accountability.

I ask for your immediate response and explanation.

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Oregon Reading

Coal transport is becoming a front burner issue in Oregon, but it already has made the leap in Washington. A port in Whatcom County, in the Bellingham area, is considering handling large-scale coal shipments to China, and protests have grown quickly, and grown large.

A hearing last night at Seattle drew about 2,300, most of the apparently in opposition.

Pushing past the solidly green political climate of the Cascades-west is going to be tough for the coal industry, which is why it has been hiring professional help. The green-oriented Sightline Daily has outlined some of the professional contours in a notable piece out Thursday.

Some of them, the article notes, are organizations with long histories of pro-green activities. An example: “A Portland-based economic consulting firm, ECONorthwest has a long history of work supporting conservation, so many were surprised to learn the firm took money from Ambre Energy to produce an economic impact analysis. ECONorthwest’s analysis has become a key piece of support for the Morrow Pacific Project, a complicated scheme to move as much as 8 million tons of coal annually in barges on the Columbia River for onward shipment to coal plants in Asia.”

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Reading Washington

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

STOP THE PRESSES! HOLD THE PHONE! Or, as Wolf Blitzer would say, “We have BREAKING NEWS coming into the Situation Room!” Well, that’s what he tries to say – no matter how it comes out.

Have you heard of the “nones?” No, not “nuns.” NONES! Well, you’re going to get familiar with that label and be seeing and hearing more about that group if you follow elections. It’s the newest identifier word among political wonks and the Nate Silver’s of the world.

“Nones” are officially voters who have no specific religious affiliation. The “nones.” In the 2012 election numbers, “nones” accounted for 17% of the vote. Put in perspective, 17% is larger than Hispanic vote, 18-24 year olds or the hardest core of pro-lifers. Can you say “significant?”

The Pew Research Center says this new classification of voters is “politically important and consequential” and “one of the strongest Democratic constituencies in the population.” In 2012, Pew found about one in five survey respondents called themselves “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” All said they never attend church.

Now that attendance information might be unimportant if you figure there are probably a lot more “unchurched” folks out there who don’t vote. So what? But if 17% of the people who DO vote can be identified, the question for political campaigns is “how do we reach them?” ‘Cause they gotta be reached!

These folks are important. In 2008, for example, numerically they were as reliable a constituency for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants were for John McCain. Democrats didn’t identify the “nones” and go after those votes! There was no specific effort to target them. How could there be? And their number grew a full three percentage points from 2008-2012.

The demographics of “nones” make them hard to appeal to. They seem to be liberal on social issues – more likely to support same-sex marriage and legalized abortion. But half surveyed called their political ideology “conservative” and about 40% “moderate.” A real mixed bag. Still, they appear to lean heavily toward Democrats.

It’s not surprising that two-thirds of the “nones” believe churches and other faith-based organizations are too involved in politics while 70% say religious institutions are “too concerned with money and power.”

Remember – it’s the “money and power” factors that make groups like evangelical Christians and Catholics targets of political campaigns because they can plug into nationwide communications networks and fund raising. These “nones” don’t have a system of connection so, again, how do you find them and how do you reach them?

There’s a group called “Secular Coalition for America” that lobbies on behalf of atheists, agnostics and a few others. But membership in that one organization is nowhere near the 17% identified as a voting block.
Now, here’s where we wander off into speculation. The “what ifs.”

There are many, many disaffected Republicans out there. Their party has raced to the edge of the known political flat earth – leaving the moderates behind. Sort of “out in the middle of the political road,” so to speak. My own belief is there are more being left out than being included but the “included” ones have control of the party. And will continue to do so for many moons.

While the “controllers” will soon make some mealy-mouthed legislative overtures to Hispanics, Blacks and other target groups, it’s a good bet there will be nothing substantive enough to divert large numbers to the present GOP cause in the next few years. Bet on it.

So, “what if” that sizeable number of rational, more moderate Republicans reached out to this “nones” group? “What if” some of the more conservative-but-independent voters joined up? Could you put enough of these proven – and in some cases disaffected – voters together to make a political party?

Conversely, “what it” Democrats figure out how to communicate with this 17% of “nones” who really do go to the polls? Added to Hispanics, Blacks and other minorities beyond a serious Republican reach, seems you’d have a coalition that would keep the GOP elephants in the wilderness for several generations.

Well, as I said, “speculation.” But here’s a fact. When you can count those “nones” votes that make up as large a block as they do – and you know they’re out there and what they think – some smart political wonk is going to figure out how to reach them. And – more important – how to appeal to them and move them into a party.

So what’s your bet? Which more inclusive national political party do you think will be successful?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

As I walked into my publisher’s office for our weekly discussion on issues, political and otherwise, he threw out this opening gambit: “You must still feel guilt from having had Chief Allen call you a racist?

Dan was referring to my column/review of Louise Erdrich’s National Book Award winning novel, The Round House. A richly textured and finely written book, it is full of ambiguity. At one level it is an eloquent plea for tribal courts to have jurisdiction especially in capital cases over non-natives if they commit a major crime on native land.

“As usual, you’re wrong,” I shot back at my good friend who loves to twist one’s tail and succeeds because he outrageously exaggerates where one may be on an issue. “I took no position on the issue but rather pointed out what an important matter it is for tribes and how central it is to understanding the novel’s plot.”

“So, given your raising this controversial topic why not inform your readers why Congress and the Courts have come up with this concept of “quasi-sovereignty” for reservations? Check with some of your lawyer friends,” Dan suggested.

So I did, all of whom benignly indulge my “practicing law without a license.” Ever since learning of the 1902 Winter’s Doctrine, and laws in which Congress reserved rights to tribes, it has intrigued me why tribes have been reluctant to fully exploit the obvious power contained therein.

While Walter Echo-hawk’s book, In the Court of the Conquerors, outlined the ten worst rulings by the Supreme Court denying basic constitutional rights to Native Americans, he failed to point out that there are laws and court rulings, such as the Winter’s Doctrine, which give Native Americans first in time water rights on all bodies of water arising on
or passing through their reservations. Some tribes are starting quantify their claims while others prefer to let things simmer longer as water becomes ever more valuable.

When asked the question as to what they considered the key obstacle standing in the way of tribes attaining the right to enforce their laws on both natives and non-natives, all said the real issue is whether Tribal Courts are truly an independent branch of government.

One attorney said that in his state “and I suspect everywhere else the real issue is the lack of independence from the Tribal Council. Tribal Councils control Tribal Courts so instead of the rule of law you essentially have the rule of the council. If the council doesn’t like the result in a particular court case, the council overrules it or perhaps fires the judge.”

Another attorney said the lack of an independent judiciary is “the” reason why reservations remain so poor with no investment coming from the outside world. “Without an independent judiciary an investor simply cannot protect his investment – so, he doesn’t invest,” the attorney said.

It is for this reason alone these attorneys think it is highly unlikely that Congress or the Supreme Court will ever grant full sovereignty to tribes to the extent of permitting the prosecution and trial of non-natives. I believe they are correct.

We all subscribe to the notion that no one wants to be judged by the whim of any political body. We all want to be judged, and should be judged, in a court of law following the rule of law.

Tribes are aware of the real issue, but tribal councils simply refuse in most instances to fix it. No tribal council wants to give up any power, so tribal governments will never be fully sovereign despite their rhetoric to the contrary, and the tribal membership they represent will pay the price of no outside investment other than that related to a gaming operation.

It is for these reasons some believe tribes would be better off if Congress nullified all treaties and replaced them with the successful economic model of a regional native corporation which has to operate transparently under the rule of law including corporate law.

This is what Congress in fact did when it addressed the land claims of Alaskan Natives in the 1970’s. It created a number of Native Regional corporations, granted them tracts of the federal domain they could claim, just as it did for the state, preserved their rights to subsistence hunting even in the new National Parks that would be created, and provided other aid for business development.

Critics of course claim this is the rebirth of the Eisenhower-era effort to extinguish any and all special rights for Native Americans covered by treaties. It’s not. The discussion, however, of full sovereign rights will never take place without first addressing the key underlying necessity of a truly independent tribal judiciary.

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Martin Peterson
From Idaho

I recently moderated a forum for City Club of Boise featuring U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. Tidwell grew up in Boise before his family moved to Spokane, where he graduated from high school. He took classes at both the University of Idaho and WSU and received a degree in range science from WSU.

At a time when federal funding is threatened, forest fires are on the increase, forest restoration needs are growing, and timber harvests on federal lands have declined, it is a challenging time to be the head of the Forest Service.

Idaho has a greater share of its land mass in national forests than any other state. 38% of Idaho is part of the national forest system. Of Idaho’s 20.4 million acres of national forest land, an estimated 15 million acres are overgrown and vulnerable to the risk of wildfires. Last summer’s fires burned 1.7 million acres of forest and rangeland. The Forest Service spends 42% of its budget on firefighting and nearly one-third of its employees are firefighters.

Tidwell says that in recent years the annual acreage burned by wildfires has increased dramatically and has burned in excess of 8 million acres six times since 2004 and could reach 12 to 15 million acres in the near future. In addition, 30,000 homes have been destroyed in the last ten years, including 3,000 this year. Fire seasons are also running 60-70 days longer than before, with the days over when snows came in September and ended the fire season. Causes for this dramatic increase include past forest management practices, insect infestations and climate change.

Tidwell says that the Forest Service in now making forest restoration one of its highest priorities. Forest restoration includes hazardous fuels reduction, protection and restoration of critical habitat, including riparian areas and watersheds. In areas where restoration has taken place, oncoming fires drop from the crowns and become more manageable.

As an example of the benefits of fuel reduction, Tidwell said that this year’s Mustang Complex Fire north of Salmon covered 340,000 acres and that the work done on a logging project in the area helped fire fighters keep the fire from engulfing U.S. 93, the primary highway route in that
part of the state.

Tidwell said that he uses Idaho as an example of how things can be done. He cited two major successful restoration efforts in Idaho: Selway-Middle Fork, Weiser- Little Salmon Headwaters. Using these as examples, he tells others around the country that “If we can do it in Idaho, we can do it anywhere.”

He said that the Forest Service is also working to increase timber cuts and expects an increase of 20% in the next two years. When asked about the long history of law suits by environmental groups attempting to block timber cuts, he said that it is much less of a problem today than
it was in the past. A major reason for this reduction in lawsuits is an increased emphasis on collaborative efforts such as the Clearwater Basin Collaborative. Nationally, the Forest Service is working on bringing together timber industry executive, environmental leaders, and state and
local officials to increase forest restoration and watershed improvements, as well as increasing timber harvests.

With respect to climate change, Tidwell says that we should prepare for more significant effects. One of the most obvious effects is the severity of infestations from mountain pine beetles. They are at the most severe level ever and increasing. The growing length of fire seasons is also an indicator of climate change. And in the future we should expect to see some timber species that are native to Idaho beginning to disappear from the Idaho landscape.

But the next chapter on the work of the Forest Service will likely be written by federal budge appropriators. As the range of options for reducing the deficit are weighed, significant reductions in discretionary spending are likely to come to the forefront and the Forest Service is viewed as a discretionary program. One of the leading conservative think tanks, the Cato Institute, suggests that Congress should eliminate federal funding for the Forest Service and allow the department to charge fair market value for timber cutting, recreational uses and other uses for Forest Service Land. Not something that would prove popular in the western U.S.

These are interesting times for the Forest Service.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Whatever happened to the word “moderate?” You hardly here it these days. If you’re talking about someone’s politics, “so-and-so is on the right” or “so-and-so is on the left.” But no moderate. If you’re talking media, there’s “right” and “left” and “conservative” and “liberal.” But no moderate. If it’s congress, members are referred to as “right” and “left” but too seldom “moderate.” The word has almost disappeared.

My Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines moderate as: “avoiding extremes; observing reasonable limits; avoiding extreme political or social matters or behavior; reasonable; one who favors a moderate course.” Still sounds good to me.

I have friends on the right. And friends on the left. Over the years of my journalistic career, some of each have accused me of being a fellow traveler with the other. Right or left. And people I’ve never heard of who respond to these opinion pieces often start out by labeling me one or the other. Right or left. After so many years of this, I’ve learned to immediately discard whatever the response if it starts out “You are obviously a right winger – or left winger……” Or “nut.” Or “crazy.” Or worse.

For reasons I don’t fathom, we seem to have to label everyone. Assign them a space on some imaginary line that runs from right to left, left to right or some other extreme. Or put them in a box with a label on it. We do it with movie stars. George Clooney is obviously on the left while Sylvester Stallone is a “rightie.” We do it with musicians, rock stars, economists, scientists, the homeless and – at times – God. I’ve heard Jesus described both right and left. We do it with churches. Presbyterians, of course, are “always” left – Baptists and fundamentalists are “always” to the right. Whether true or not.

Political candidates often dodge the word “progressive.” That same dictionary defines it as “making use of – or interested in – new ideas, encouragement of self-expression, moving forward or onward.” Sounds not only reasonable to me but highly desirable. Especially in a government.

At our house, we’re registered Independents in political fact. Deferring again to Mr. Webster: “not affiliated with a larger controlling unit (read ‘political party’); not looking to others for one’s opinions; showing a desire for freedom.” What’s wrong with that?

But, you know, in today’s “everybody-must-have-a-label” society, I’ve been called “cowardly” for not being a member of either “major” party. I’ve been told I have no political voice in our democracy. I’ve even been called “un-American.”

These three words – moderate, progressive, independent – have either disappeared from most of our nation’s political discourse or have been redefined in some twisted ways to make them seem distasteful and repugnant. Our national camp is, for so many people, defined narrowly as “right,” “left,” “conservative,” or “liberal.” Anything else is not acceptable.

In the words of Col. Henry Potter: “Road Apples!!!”

It’s been my lifelong experience that the most noise, the most distortion, the most divisiveness come from the – wait for it – right and left. The majority of us – the moderates or independents in the middle – the great politically unwashed or unaligned – seem to endure as we make political decisions guiding the country. Doing so surrounded by the extremist clamor that defines two loud minorities. The two major political parties.

Yes, as a nation, we veer a little to one side or the other now and then. That’s a good thing. Because the middle – where most of us live – is wide enough and flexible enough – and smart enough – to accommodate the noisemakers and name callers while staying on course.

Even now, with tough economic conditions, high unemployment and wars, we “keep on keepin’ on.” Swings too far from the center line are largely avoided and those that occur are always – always – corrected sooner or later. May take an election or two. But, despite the rancor and occasional outright nastiness of the labelers, the moderate, progressive, independent center is where the most important decisions are made. The ones that endure.

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