Writings and observations

OSPREY HATCH: Transportation Department crews placed an osprey nest atop a high platform; soon an osprey flew by to inspect their work. ITD environmental planners were concerned that relocating the nest from the Del Rio Bridge on the U.S. 20 business loop east of St. Anthony would drive the birds away. Twenty minutes after ITD workers left the site, however, an osprey landed, apparently ready to homestead.. (image/Idaho Department of Transportation)


This week’s Briefings were heavy on legislative and post-legislative activity, but there was plenty of resource news too … such as the posting of a nest of Osprey in Idaho.

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Briefings Digests Idaho

rainey BARRETT


The Boston bombing-identifying-chase-capture portion of our latest national horror is over. With our global informational reach to instantly deliver sights and sounds of such a tragedy, nearly all of us were swept along as it played out. Over those five days. Even back here in our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods. Emotion and information overload.

Now come two steps certain to follow such events: the slow gathering of facts; the lemming-like rush of some politicians to make damned fools of themselves in pursuit of self-service. Chalk Lindsey Graham up as the first little animal over the cliff.

Some background on the junior Senator from South Carolina. Law degree in hand, he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1982. Stayed right there in South Carolina, he did. But on his bio sheet, he calls himself a “Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran.” Fact is, he never left South Carolina. Just happened to be in the service and living at home during those campaigns. Like most of the rest of us. In the Senate, his best public statements have been made as he moves his lips – channeling John McCain.

Without waiting for more of the aforementioned facts to be discovered, and within only a few hours of capture of the surviving suspect, Graham simply dumped the American court system and our Constitution by demanding the young fella be labeled an “enemy combatant” and tried militarily.

In previous Senate committee hearings, Graham has notoriously said Americans accused of terror-related crimes should be denied due process and when they say “I want a lawyer, you say ‘Shut up! You don’t get a lawyer’.” It’s in the record.

Two other facts Graham turned his back on. First, suspect Dzhokhr Tsarnaev is a naturalized American citizen. He has the rights you and I do. Second, there’s never been a court decision about whether the Constitution permits the government to hold American citizens arrested on American soil as “enemy combatants.” That issue, itself, is a whole different can of legal worms. Unless you’re Lindsey Graham. But you have to remember. He’s up for re-election in 2014.

Of course, McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Chuck Grassley, Saxby Chambliss and Peter King – among others – jumped right off the same lemming-killing verbal cliff. All within hours of capture and with no more facts than we got in our collective living rooms. Babbling about “no Miranda right,” “need to know about future attacks,” “no right for Tsarnaev to remain silent” and other uninformed political garbage.

All of this posturing and judgement rushing – all of it and more – is regrettable. And forgettable. Wiser minds – not running for re-election – have decided Tsarnaev will be tried as a civilian. In a civilian court.

There are many more facts to be discovered. Also issues of citizenship and immigration. Constitutional law is a huge factor. Questions of whether the brothers acted alone or with others – whether there are international connections. Government agencies here and abroad are part of the active investigation. City and state authorities have multiple roles to play.

Like a bad rash, Graham and the others are only symptoms of much larger diseases in this country. Division. Alienation. Prejudice. Graham is South Carolina’s problem. The other three are the nation’s.

There can be no excuses offered in defense of what the brothers apparently did. None. There can be no leniency proffered. The cowardly, vicious and murderous act demands punishment. Not the absolute retribution Graham and the others seem to want. Punishment. Justice. Not retribution.

As events of the Boston attack unfolded, something great slowly emerged in this country. Hearing more – seeing more – knowing more – the rest of us slowly became brothers and sisters with Bostonians. Like them, we were sickened, horrified, confused, angry. We felt emotions. Many of us wanted to help – to say “whatever you need, ask.” Known or not, there were bonds developed.

In the aftermath, justice must be shared and dealt with in the same way. Emotions have their time and place. We should not forget. We won’t forget. But, going forward, the issue must be the even-handed, national administration of “justice for all.” Just as law enforcement provided exemplary service to find and capture, so must the legal system be allowed to do its job. Without interference. Without prejudice. Without emotion.

Those who continue to offer uninformed, irrational, unsought, politically self-serving advice in this matter – like Graham and his cohorts – should proceed directly to the cliff.

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trahant MARK


If you look at the failed history of termination – the idea of ending the federal-treaty relationship with tribal governments – there were two distinct motives. Some believed it was the next logical step for Indian progress, an economic integration. While others hated government and used termination as a method to shrink and attack government.

National Congress of American Indians President Joseph Garry, a member of Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said at the 1958 convention, that Congress adopted the termination resolution in good faith … “believing it would be good for Indian people” even though it was clearly dangerous and a disaster. That’s why nearly everyone, friends and foe alike, were at least partial supporters of termination policy.

Utah’s Republican Senator Arthur Watkins was from the shrink-and-attack government camp. He was zealous about termination, badgering tribal witnesses when they came to Capitol Hill, refusing to even consider alternatives. He dismissed treaty obligations outright. Indians, he said, “want all the benefits of the things we have – highways, schools, hospitals, everything that civilization furnished – but they don’t want to help pay their share of it.”

This story should have a familiar ring to it. The same forces are at play when it comes to austerity. One camp sees the problem — the country’s demographic imbalance — and opts for austerity as a solution or at least a partial solution. While the other camp hates government and sees austerity as a tool to shrink and attack. Arthur Watkins would be at home in a Tea Party crowd.

The practical problem with austerity, however, is that it does not lead to growth, especially over a short period of time. But from those that hate government, there was an evidence that too much debt also made it harder for an economy to grow. A pair of economists, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, published a paper in 2010, that found that public debt slows growth when it reaches or exceeds 90 percent of a country’s Gross Domestic Product. This work became the intellectual rallying cry for austerity. As House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan put it: “Economists who have studied sovereign debt tell us that letting total debt rise above 90 percent of GDP creates a drag on economic growth and intensifies the risk of a debt-fueled economic crisis.”

But last week another paper found Excel errors in that Reinhart and Rogoff paper (based on the work of a graduate student) and reached a conclusion that “contrary” to Reinhart and Rogoff, namely that the “average GDP growth at public debt/GDP ratios over 90 percent is not dramatically different than when debt/GDP ratios are lower.”

Of course we all make mistakes. But you would think that this is enough information to at least raise questions about austerity (or at the very least, the speed of the execution of austerity programs). But that’s hardly the case. Indeed, the data does not matter to austerity’s zealots. Ryan’s budget calls for balancing the budget in a decade, requiring a dramatically shrinking of government — a sort of termination policy for all.

There are many that buy into austerity because they believe it to be good for people. The idea of limiting federal deficits is certainly appealing and over the long haul important. But what’s missing from that debate is that federal spending must also get more people working and there must be a real investment in the next generation, in other words, spend money now. We cannot be successful with the long-term challenges – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, pension deficits – unless we do something about the first problem first. The U.S. actually has an incredible opportunity here: low interest rates. Borrowing money at this moment is extraordinarily cheap. So the country has a decade, at least, to solve the first set of problems before resolving the longer-range demographic imbalance.

The United States sharply cut government spending after World War II when debt levels exceeded 120 percent of GDP. Indian Country remembers that era well because it paralleled the termination era. Severe austerity and termination are related ideologies.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:

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