Writings and observations

trahant MARK


A new regular writer here. From his website self-description: “Mark Trahant is writing a book about austerity. He blogs, posts often on Twitter (including daily news poems). Trahant was recently a Kaiser Media Fellow and is the former editor of the editorial page for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Mark is a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribe and a former president of the Native American Journalists Association. He is the author of The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars, about Henry Jackson, Forrest Gerard and the campaign for American Indian self-determination. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho.” He’s writing now most regularly on austerity.

The next four years will be defined by austerity. President Barack Obama, indeed, the country, will jump from one economic crisis to another. And until a consensus emerges about what we should do next, well, every fight will leave both sides unsatisfied.

President Obama made the case for progressive investment by government. He said during his inaugural address: “We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher.”

He also promised hard choices ahead, yet, “we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”

But most important he talked about promises. “The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

And so it is with Indian Country. The promises made through treaties are not gifts from Washington, but promises that ought to be secure even during an era of austerity. But how to make that so?

That’s a real challenge. Especially when the administration and Congress agree on so little about the era ahead, the hard choices that must be made, or even the promises that have been made.

But if the choices ahead are hard, the division in the country’s politics are even more so.

The most significant step the United States could take to resolve its budget and demographic imbalance is to press forward with health care reform. The Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, if you prefer, is just a baby-step. The bottom line is this: The United States spends too much on health care and gets too little in return, our health care coss 17.6 percent of gross domestic product. No other country in the worldspends that kind of money. The average among most nations is under 10 percent of the economy and even the second most expensive country, The Netherlands, only spends 12 percent on health care.

We do that one thing — fix health care — and we don’t need to rip apart the federal budget and priorities. We don’t need to strip promises made to American Indians and Alaska Natives by treaties, law or executive orders. We don’t even need to shortchange elders and soon-to-be elders from the promise that was restated in every paycheck (you know, the payroll tax).

But to make that happens we need to keep pressing for next steps in health are reform. We need to move on beyond fighting about what’s barely been started.

The Congressional Budget Office boils this down to two problems: The increasing cost of health care, or medical inflation, hitting us at the same time as the population ages.CBO says: “As aging causes the number of Medicare beneficiaries and elderly Medicaid beneficiaries to rise, higher health care spending per person has a greater impact. Conversely, when health care costs are growing, having more beneficiaries imposes a larger budgetary cost.”

I believe Indian Country offers a solution here (as I have written before). Federally-funded, but locally designed and controlled health care centers, such as the Alaska Native Medical Center, show that there is a way to bring the cost of health care down and improve the quality of that care.

At the end of this debate, if there is a resolution, then the U.S. health care system will look more like the Indian health system than the other way around.

Unfortunately, the other way to “balance” the budget is the austerity path we’re on at the present. This basically follows what’s being tried around the world with little success. The problem with cutting budgets repeatedly, and without a strategy, is that there is no way to bring back growth. A country of 315 million people cannot be stagnant.

The practical fights begin Wednesday. First Congress will revisit the debt ceiling, and then in the weeks ahead, debate over budgets and the sequester. But absent from those fights are a clear strategy about what success looks like.

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peterson MARTIN

Dear President Obama:

Congratulations on your re-election and inauguration to your second term as President of the United States. Our ability to have highly competitive elections followed by peaceful continuations or transitions of governmental administrations is perhaps the single most important defining characteristic of our great country.

I hope that you can also break the chain established by your two Democratic predecessors – Carter and Clinton — who will be most warmly remembered for what they did after leaving the White House, rather than what they accomplished while living there.

You had some strong accomplishments during your first term. Obama Care, which has been used as a pejorative term, will likely end up as a complimentary term. Presidents Roosevelt and Johnson would have been elated with the terms Roosevelt Security and Johnson Care for their two landmark programs. Likewise, the 2013 Detroit Auto Show has attracted major positive attention from both the industry and the public. The most talked about car has been the new
generation Chevy Corvette from a company that might not even exist without your support for the GM bail-out. And, of course, we can’t overlook the final destruction of that terrorist slimeball Osama ben Laden.

Second terms provide the opportunity for a president to establish the legacy of his administration. Unfortunately, too often it ends up being a negative legacy, such as Johnson’s Vietnam, Nixon’s Watergate, Carter’s Iranian hostage situation, Reagan’s gun sales to Iran, Clinton’s Lewinski affair and Bush-the-Younger’s middle east malaise. This is your opportunity to break that chain and leave a positive second term legacy.

Let me give you some advice on making your second term more successful. And don’t write it off just because it is coming from a guy in a state that only gave you 32% of the vote. A couple of Idahoans have been among the best advisors in your administration. Jim Messina, a 1988 graduate of Boise High School, managed your incredibly successful 2012 campaign. Mitt Romney and his supporters were convinced, right up until election night, that you were toast.
But Jim Messina orchestrated one of the best run and most successful presidential campaigns in history.

Likewise, the other half of your team, Vice President Joe Biden, selected Coeur d’Alene native Bruce Reed to be his chief of staff. Reed served as President Clinton’s chief domestic policy advisor and, more recently, served as staff director of the Simpson-Bowles commission appointed by President Obama to seek solutions to the federal fiscal mess.

First of all, make some congressional friends. The solutions to most of our problems lie with the ability of you and Congress to forge compromises, but such compromises require that you have friends on both sides of the aisle. Harry Truman used to invite key congressional players to the White House to drink whiskey and play poker. LBJ invited congressional members down to the LBJ Ranch in Texas for barbecue and arm twisting. Maybe you could invite members of congress to the White House kitchen to brew and sample some of your homebrew.

You already have a ton of friends and supporters in the northeast. Turn some of your attention to the west, Not just the coastal states, but also to the interior. For example, while we don’t have hurricanes or many destructive tornadoes, climate change is causing growing problems here as well. A good signal that you have an interest in the west would be to announce you are cheering for the 49ers in the Super Bowl.

You did a good job of getting the Republicans to compromise on the issue of taxation. And it appears they are also going to cut you a temporary bit of slack on raising the debt ceiling. Now you need to look at how you might compromise on discretionary spending and entitlements. Don’t automatically assume that all of your traditional allies are providing you with the best
possible counsel. An example is AARP. I have been an AARP member for about fifteen years. They do a fine job of offering discounts for car rentals and hotel rooms. They also offer some fine insurance programs, which I participate in. But they have also shown that they can provide lousy self-serving counsel on legislative issues. An example is AARP’s support for the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, which prohibits Medicare from negotiating bulk purchasing prices with drug companies. This is one of the reasons that U.S. made drugs are cheaper in Canada than in the U.S. The greatest generation knew what it was like to sacrifice. Now the baby boomers are going to have to do the same thing if we are going to solve our fiscal problems and see our economy strengthened.

And, finally, make a concerted effort during the next four years to reduce our tendency to meddle in the affairs of foreign countries. You need to help ensure that the United States makes its own foreign policy. Sometimes other countries make potentially disastrous foreign policy and military decisions while knowing that the United States will back them up, even if not in our country’s best interests. We were better served in a variety of ways when we had the military draft. In addition to saving money, it also caused our youth, parents and others to be more constantly concerned about foreign military interventions.

God speed to you as you begin your second term, Mr. President. Whether we voted for you or not, 315-million Americans are depending upon your leadership to guide us into a peaceful and prosperous future.

With best regards,

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Newly installed Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick visits Portland Fire & Rescue at SW 12th and Columbia in Portland, the site of a recent rescue. (photo/from Commissioner Novick, Facebook)

The legislatures move on (well, Oregon’s is in sort of recess, but loads of bills are posted and are being reviewed), and they’ll be a big deal this week.

And winter continues to bear down hard.

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The Humane Society of the United States has ranked the 50 states according to the strength of their laws “dealing with animal cruelty and fighting, pets, wildlife, equines, animals in research, and farm animals.”

Oregon ranks 4th. Washington ranks 7th (tied with four other states). Idaho ranks 50th, next to the last (which is South Dakota). (The non-state is the District of Columbia.)

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idaho RANDY
The Idaho

Now that we’re properly into 2013, time has come – yes, it has – to start looking at the political races of 2014. In Idaho, that starts with governor.

The most day-glo prospect, as we sit in January, is that of a Republican primary pitting incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter against Representative Raul Labrador. It’s a prospect too that allows for a real choice for Idaho Republicans.

There’s absolutely no certainty it’ll play out that way. Otter has said he plans to run, but he may have been saying that for purposes of fundraising or avoiding lame duck status. Labrador has expressed some interest in running for governor, but the pull of Washington is often heady stuff. Neither may wind up filing for the office next year.

There are reasons it could happen, though. The guess here is that a big reason Otter ran for re-election in 2010 was that enough people (Republicans among them) had challenged his handling of the job, and Otter responds to challenges. He has one now. Otter is on the side of the Republican party that is more establishment-oriented and concerned with economic growth; while ideology is important to him, he has shown himself willing to bend on a variety of items. He, like the state’s senators and Representative Mike Simpson, could be put in the “realist/pragmatist” camp. You can put on the relevant bill of goods for Otter establishing a state health insurance exchange, dumping immediate reconsideration of the Luna school laws, and improving the state’s transportation system.

Those stands have put him distinctly and fiercely at odds with the part of the party that’s more ideology-driven. Otter’s recent intense lobbying of the state Republican organization for the insurance exchange, and party leaders’ repudiation of it, was but one recent example.

And Labrador (along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who seems to have been almost cast off by Otter) is very much a central figure in that more insurgent ideology group, one overlapping with the Tea Party but extending beyond it. He and Otter were in opposition (over gas tax policy) even back when Labrador was in the Idaho, not the U.S. House. In the Labrador-Simpson dustup in the last few weeks, Otter would clearly be placed closer to Simpson.

If Labrador does decide to bag Washington and run for governor, Otter might feel hard-pressed not to contest him. If Otter doesn’t run, there’s a widespread presumption that his close ally and appointee Lieutenant Governor Brad Little will. A few years back, Little would have been considered a field-clearer, an easy winner. Today, he would sweep the general election, but the outcome in a statewide contested primary is harder to assess.

If it turned into an Otter-Labrador battle, the first big battle for a long time among sitting major Idaho political figures, how might it turn out? Hard to say. A general election-type electorate likely would decide for Otter, but this would be a closed primary, a much better group for Labrador.

That Simpson-Labrador spat you saw could well be writ large in 2014, if it mutates into an Otter-Labrador battle. If that happens, Idaho turns into a serious political battleground.

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Idaho Idaho column

rainey BARRETT


“Ignorance breeds anger.”

That’s my iconic shorthand for the outrageous behavior causing so many raised and uninformed voices in today’s national “discussion” of gun ownership responsibility. Not gun control. Gun ownership responsibility. How they’re used. Which ones should be generally available. Who should not have them. Who should not. The national responsibility we have to each other to see that guns are used properly for the safety of all concerned.

State legislatures – especially in the West – are being deluged by constituents who’re scared. Scared someone is going to take their guns away.

Who? Many will say “President Obama” or “the feds” or “Congress” or some other “they.” Angry? Yes. Ignorance In spades.

No one has – and no one will – take away anyone’s guns. No one. No time. No how. No one in the recent – very preliminary – federal examination of what can be done to stop shooting massacres and improve public safety is talking “gun control.” No one that is except those who aren’t paying attention. They’re angry. And the anger comes from what? Ignorance.

No one’s talking “control,” that is, except the NRA and others who have large economic interests in assuring guns are more available than ice cream.

Fear of the unknown is driving much of the public clamor. Fear because many causing the most noise and disruption have not looked carefully at what’s been done in recent weeks. And what’s NOT been done. For that, I blame the bloody NRA and the right wing nuts in public office. And – in many respects – a media carelessly dealing with the issue of guns and throwing around the words “gun control” where no such words – and no federal legislation – exist in today’s dialogue. Institutional ignorance causing public anger.

Case in point. In an attempt to be oh, so very clever – Idaho largest fish wrap “newspaper” topped it’s Jan. 18th editorial page with this headline: “SHOOTING FROM THE HIP CLIPS DEBATE.” Needless to say, the subsequent editorial below that journalistic crap didn’t measure up. How could it?

But what it did do was make an absolutely false claim – in black and white – in the first sentence. “Vice President Joe Biden … slapped together one of the most sweeping gun-control bills in American history.” Direct quote. Absolutely false. After meeting with more than 250 groups involved in any way with guns and public safety, Biden produced a report with some 27 recommendations. Not a “sweeping gun-control bill.” A list of recommendations. In it were two which would require legislation if – IF – the President wants to go forward. So far, no bills have been written.

Small point? No, it’s not small. Not when you add CNN, Fox, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC and all the rest. All of whom are tossing around words like “gun control” and “pending legislation.” Words that distort. Words that are wrong. Words that inflame. Words that add to the ignorance. Words that anger and scare.

In a number of state legislature’s, the fear mongers are publishing proposed bills to let the states ignore federal laws regarding guns, health care and other things. Nullification. Some will be passed. But case law on nullification is stacked 12 feet high. It doesn’t work. It won’t work. But people elected to public office are adding to the bad information – spreading their own ignorance – which in the end will cause more anger. And fear.

So, some of the ignorant – some of the angry – fueled with false “information” – have turned to local law enforcement. In several western states, some sheriffs – especially ones with overly tender butts about keeping their core voting constituency happy – have added to the cacophony. They’ve made wild promises about not enforcing laws or regulations they deem “unconstitutional” and have promised to keep federal law enforcement officers from doing their job. The local media has relayed this paranoia on the front page of every little cage liner. More ignorant disinformation to stoke more anger. Instead of competent leadership, these badge carriers are showing their own lack of understanding of how our criminal justice system works. Of how American’s government works. About their own damned jobs!

I’ve long believed many of our nation’s ills have been caused by the lack of understanding by many people about government – how it works – what it does – what it can do – what it can’t do. Extensive polling supports that thesis. Now, from that under-informed – misinformed – pool, we’ve elected too many people to public office who continue to operate with little to no more understanding than they started with.

Systemically, our public education system has contributed to this problem of ignorance of our civics. Now, some of those civically illiterate former “students” are in our media. In Congress and the legislature. City hall and the court house. And some – as we’ve seen in recent days – carry badges.

More than discussion, this nation needs to act on the issue of responsibility with firearms. Not “gun control.” Gun responsibility. Just as not everyone should drive on our highways or pilot an airplane, not everyone should have a firearm. We must find them and isolate them as we do with highway and aviation safety. For the same reasons of public interest and public protection. There are medical issues. There are law enforcement issues. There are legal issues. There are responsibility issues.

A media that can’t accurately report – public office holders fanning verbal fires for their own self-interest – law enforcement officials who make ignorant statements with false and inflammatory promises – these we can’t afford. The subject is just too damned important.

We’ve kicked this can down the road for decades. We are at a national moment in which we need to pick up that dented can and dispose of it in a wise manner for our national interest. For our national survival.

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stapilus RANDY

The View
from Here

The 2012 Idaho legislative session was not a wonderland of greatness, but it did make one significant structural improvement over every session that had gone before: The budget panel, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, held hearings at which the public could testify.

Never before had the panel which sets the state budget taken the opinion of the general public, only of analysts and department leaders and spokesmen. The opportunity did not go ignored by the public. Two hearings pulled in about 1,500 people, astonishing turnout for a public hearing about numbers.

JFAC Co-Chair Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who was instrumental in launching the hearings, said in an Idaho Statesman article out today (paywalled), “I guess I’m in favor of openness and transparency.”

Even more to the point: “It’s important for them to see the face of the father with a handicapped child or the parent concerned about their child’s education.” In other words, to see the practical, real-world human effects of pushing those numbers around.

This year, no more public budget hearings. (Other committees do allow for public testimony, but not on the budget.)

That was the decision, evidently, of Senate President pro tem Brent Hill and new House Speaker Scott Bedke. They spoke partly of just wanting to return to the “old way” of doing things, and also of making sure that other committees set the policy – that JFAC not be driving it.

Whatever the (highly) limited merits of that, I’m going to be – at the admitted risk of doing some mind-reading – less generous.

I think they (and/or whatever caucus members pressed for the change) didn’t want that “face of the father with a handicapped child or the parent concerned about their child’s education” to show up, to be in front of the cameras, when the budget numbers are discussed. Idaho lowballs on its social service spending, and while that sounds good from a low-taxes and hold-the-line perspective, it sounds less good when matched against the faces of the people whose lives may be damaged by those decisions.

I don’t think they want that other side of the equation to be especially visible. This session, they won’t be.

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You can put this under constituent service, or something less lofty, but consider …

Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressman Mike Simpson are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to recognize Greek yogurt under their MyPlate nutrition guidelines. In a letter to Secretary Vilsack, they point out that Greek yogurt has twice the protein and more calcium than regular yogurt, and is low in fat.

Besides recognizing Greek yogurt in MyPlate nutrition guides, which is part of the USDA food guidance system, the group also requested a pilot program be set up within the Children Nutrition programs to allow schools to receive credit for protein content when serving Greek yogurt.

“We urge the USDA to update the agency’s nutrition guides to reflect the many benefits of Greek yogurt. Not only is it a great source of calcium, a serving of Greek yogurt has more protein than the same amount of beans. By allowing schools in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs to get credit for serving Greek yogurt, kids receive a healthy product and it is a positive economic impact for Idaho,” said the three members of Idaho’s congressional delegation.

No argument here with the idea of including the yogurt on a list of healthy foods; it may belong there. But this stands as an especially obvious case of members of Congress doing something solely because of local interest.

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bill BILL

First in an occasional series of posts on legislation in the Northwest this season.

The rights of birth fathers sometimes have a way of getting overlooked, but they can come back to get in the middle of things post-birth. A new Idaho bill (SB 1015) suggested by the state Department of Health & Welfare points that out and suggests some ways to smooth the process.

From the bill’s statement of purpose:

When an adoption is done correctly, all parties experience a sense of peace, including the birth mother, birth father, adoptee and adoptive parents. On the other hand, a failed adoption can cause serious problems for the adoption agency, the attorney, the biological parents, the adoptee and the adoptive parents. While rare, more and more problems in adoptions can be attributed to a lack of attention to birth fathers’ rights. For example, three adoptions were overturned in Utah last year, and adoptees were returned to their birth fathers because agencies or attorneys followed laws that favored the birth mother over the birth father.

This legislation is intended to clarify the statutes in Idaho governing paternity, the putative father registry, termination of parental rights and adoption. These changes are being proposed for the purpose of strengthening the adoption laws in Idaho thereby reducing the chances that an adoption will be overturned in Idaho as occurred in Utah last year. In particular, this legislation will do four things:

1. Further the best interests of the adoptee by reducing the risks of a custody tug-of-war and disruption/dissolution while, at the same time, increasing the odds of stability and permanency;
2. Clarify that putative fathers must strictly comply with statutory provisions in order to protect their inchoate interest;
3. Establish a date/time certain for putative fathers to take action to protect their inchoate interest with respect to a child born out-of-wedlock; and
4. Direct the Department of Health and Welfare to produce and distribute a pamphlet or publication, in English and Spanish, informing the public about the inchoate interest of putative fathers.

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rainey BARRETT


We’re experiencing an outbreak of ignorance by some elected officials coast-to-coast since this week’s debut of President Obama’s attempt to rein in mass murder and stop some of the killings on our streets and in our institutions. Sadly, some of these voices are in our own neighborhoods.

Here, in our little burg-in-the-woods, our fine sheriff has added his voice to others in similar offices across the country, threatening to ignore federal laws and court decisions. He and the others have so notified Vice President Biden – in writing – of their intent. If the subject of responsible gun ownership were not so important, some of those letters would be Exhibit “A” in a court test of competency in how our government works. They would not look good.

The form of these misbegotten writings is so similar it’s not hard to imagine their source is a national organization. American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)? NRA? Council of State Governments?

I’ve read several. Here’s the common theme: that the Vice President “NOT tamper with or attempt to amend the 2nd Amendment (to the Constitution)… any actions against, or in disregard for our U.S. Constitution and 2nd Amendment rights by the current administration would be irresponsible and an indisputable insult to the American people…we must not allow, nor shall we tolerate, the actions of criminals, no matter how heinous the crimes, to prompt politicians to enact laws that will infringe upon the liberties of responsible citizens who have broken no laws.”

Then there is the direct threat from our sheriff, though it is essentially the same in all these ranting epistles. “…federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the President offending the Constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Douglas County. I will refuse to participate in, nor tolerate enforcement actions against citizens that are deemed unconstitutional.”

There’s so much wrong with these legally-illiterate threats it’s hard to know where to start. But, for our purposes, let’s go to Article XV of the Oregon Constitution: “Any person elected or appointed to any office under this Constitution, shall, before entering on the duties thereof, take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution of the United States and of this State.”

Seems pretty clear. If it’s in the federal or state constitutions – or in law – you enforce it. I read nothing about a sheriff “interpreting” – nothing about “agreeing” – nothing about “ignoring” – no option to “refuse to participate” – and no authority granted to interfere with “federal officers” in the performance of their federal duties. Can’t find any of that.

All these angry epistles I’ve read contain the same tone – the same arrogance – the same refusal to uphold the oaths the signatories took upon their entry into service. They all ignore the fact that the U.S. Constitution is not amended or altered by presidents or even Congress. It’s only done by a vote of two-thirds of the states. They all talk of “NOT violating” the constitutional oaths they took, then threaten – in writing – to do just that. They all promise to interfere with “federal officers” trying to enforce “unconstitutional regulations or orders.” They all promise sedition.

Now, if the FBI, the BATF, or the Secret Service show up at our courthouse, I’d hate to think our sheriff – or any other elected official – would not recognize the legitimacy of their orders. Because such refusal IS sedition. And that could put a sheriff on the other side of the bars in his own jail.

None of these letters – none – seem to recognize the constitutional authority – the constitutional responsibility – the reason for the very existence of the U.S. Supreme Court. I doubt much of what the President has proposed will make it into federal law. But, if somehow it does, and if the U.S. Supreme Court says “That’s the way it is,” to all the sheriffs out there – “That’s the way it is!”

I suspect some of these badge carriers are playing to their local political base. Our Republican guy doesn’t have to. In our county, you could slap an “R” on a Rottweiler and elect it to something.

Our nation is rife with voices of elected officials at all levels threatening to go their own ways – attempting to erode one of the most basic tenets of our national existence: the rule of law. When a local sheriff tells the federal government he’ll pick and chose which laws he’ll enforce and which he’ll ignore – when a sheriff tells a higher level of government he will deliberately interfere with others carrying out their lawful duties – that sheriff is in direct violation of his oath of office. And the trust of the citizens who put the badge on his chest.

That is malfeasance defined. It’s sedition defined. It’s cause for removal from office. And it’s the law!

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Oregon Rainey