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Posts published in June 2013

Big data in Indian country

trahant MARK


The 21st century is a world where data - bits of information about what we do, what we say, and how we spend money - has become as important as the story narrative. It’s hard to make any kind of case with a story alone. You need facts to back up your account. You need details. You need numbers.

Right now, of course, big data is a hot story all by itself. The Guardian newspaper broke the story about how the National Security Agency has developed a powerful tool for collecting and analyzing billions of bits of information. The newspaper cited an NSA fact sheet saying this is a tool that “allows users to select a country on a map and view the metadata volume and select details about the collections against that country."

In this map, countries with scant data are green and countries where lots of electronic spying is occurring, such as Iran, are red.

The collection of private communication is a serious issue, one that in a democracy requires a vigorous debate. But the second I saw this map, I was reminded yet again that Indian Country has a different kind of data problem. There is too little reliable, timely information.

If Indian Country were to show up on the NSA’s data heat map we would be the brightest green zone on the planet.
In an era of austerity this lack of data has serious consequences. Quick: What’s the unemployment rate in Indian Country? Has it gone up or down since the sequester? What’s the actual number for furloughs? How about our spending patterns? I could go on and on.

The honest answer to every one of these questions has to be a “don’t know.” A year ago the Bureau of Indian Affairs reported that it would not release a 2010 Indian Population and Labor Force Report because “of methodology inconsistencies.” Donald E. Laverdure, acting Assistant Secretary -- Indian Affairs, wrote July 2, 2012, that the “collected data from those 2010 methods did not adequately meet the standards of quality and reliability that are required of Federal agencies in reporting official statistics.”

In a rare data driven document, the Economic Policy Institute released its picture of American Indian and Alaska Native unemployment finding that the national unemployment rate did jump during the recession from 2007 to the first half of 2010, and increased 7.7 percentage points to 15.2%. That same year EPI reported the “unemployment rate for Alaska Natives jumped 6.3 percentage points to 21.3, the highest regional unemployment rate for American Indians.” (more…)

Those people

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

Katty-corner across 8th Street from the Idaho State Capitol and on the northern edge of Boise's downtown sits a large parking lot, often used over the years by state employees, sometimes over the years by others, usually professionals or lobbyists who work the area.
A Boise redevelopment agency is looking at the partial block for use as a local transit center, like those in many other cities, where buses and other multi-passenger vehicles may arrive and depart as a hub location. Many cities have similar local transit systems.
The Idaho Statesman reported last week that on April 1 two state representatives, Brent Crane of Nampa (the House assistant majority leader who's being touted in some circles as a congressional prospect) and John Vander Woude told Mayor David Bieter they opposed the transit center, or at least its location across the street from the Statehouse. What was their objection? Bieter quoted Crane as saying he didn't want “those people” congregating so close to the Statehouse.
“Those people”?
Bieter said Crane's reference was to bus riders. Vander Woude waas quoted as explaining, "What do you normally see when you go to a bus terminal?" Vander Woude said. "Does it become a collection point, a shelter, even a homeless place where people will park because there's a lot of people coming through for panhandling or whatever?" Crane evidently hasn't clarified his intent. But apparently the “those people” comment apparently is undisputed.
There's been no firestorm since, and it's a fair guess that a good many Idaho legislators, whether they'd admit it publicly or not, would agree that they'd as soon “those people”, whoever they are, keep their distance.
This has a certain timeliness.
The many changes in the rehabilitation of the Idaho Statehouse are still quite new, and that adjustment in the legislative environment have had an effect on the way lawmakers and the public interact, a subject that came up last week in a Pocatello panel on Idaho politics, sponsored by Idaho State University and the Idaho State Journal. (Disclosure: I was on the panel.) Some of those environmental changes are good, as Pocatello Representative Elaine Smith suggested, in that they allow more public access to meetings and events, in person, in much better and larger meeting rooms, or on line. (more…)

What not to say

carlson CHRIS


It is becoming increasingly clear in this day of instant communication and 24/7 news coverage almost everyone is going to have their 15 seconds of fame before television cameras. We all watch with amazement at times at the incredibly stupid things some people say to their embarrassment in front of cameras.

Conversely, one can always tell if a person has had media training because they stay on their message regardless of what the reporter may be asking.

In the interests of keeping any of my readers from embarrassing themselves allow me to offer a few tips on what to use when being interviewed by a reporter:

Rule #1: Never repeat the negative, which also almost always means never repeat the question back to the reporter. The media always asks questions in the negative: “Mr. Nixon, are you a crook?” It was answered by “I am not a crook!” Remember the headline?

In fact, anytime you find yourself defining something by a negative, stop and repeat as a positive. Think how many people define themselves by saying what they are not instead of what they are. At all costs avoid using negatives of any kind.

If a reporter says “Aren’t you misleading the viewers? John Jones says you are.” You don’t say “no, I’m not misleading the viewer.” That’s repeating the negative. Instead, you respond “John Jones is wrong. Here are the facts (or here is the truth).” You come back with a positive statement.

Use of the word “not” in any circumstance should be the big flag to you.

Not is negative, pure and simple.

Rule #2. Stay on your message. If you decide to do an interview, do so with a clear thought of what message you want to deliver regardless of what question the reporter asks. The reporter always has his or her pre-conceived idea of what they want you to say, but it’s your interview and you decide what you want to say.

One of the best examples of staying on message was a CNN interview early one morning with Rick Scott, the multi-millionaire businessman running for governor of Florida in 2012. His message was he was all about creating jobs and he had the know how to do so.

No matter what question the reporter asked he brought it back to his message that he was all about jobs. Every answer was “jobs.” He was relentless.

So what if the reporter got frustrated? Scott got his message across.

Incidentally, he won.

Rule #3: Master the technique of “blocking and bridging.” This is the device that enables you to stay on message. It simply means you quickly dispense with the question you’re being asked, that is you block the thrust of what the reporter is asking and you bridge to what you want to say. (more…)

A word to do without

rainey BARRETT


Though you’ll find stout defenders of freedom of speech at our house, there’s a word appearing more often these days in our politics – nationally and locally – we’d actively work to abolish from any public political expressions in this country. It’s a despicable word. It’s a word with no place in thoughtful political dialogue. In nearly all cases, it’s a clear demonstration of the ignorance of those that use it. It has no place in any intelligent discussion of America’s politics.
The word is “Hitler.”

Used as a name, the word’s moat terrible meaning has been around our national culture since the 1920′s. Used as a political brickbat – a demeaning, disgusting weapon – the word was roundly resurrected in the early days of the tea party. It showed up in much of the literature – was repeatedly flung to crowds from microphones – and was on many, many placards, banners and signs announcing the arrival in the streets of the loony, far-right fringe of the Republican Party.

The other day, Sen. Grassley – an Iowan whose recent public rants have become more weird than usual – reached into the verbal dung pile to attach the word “Hitler” to American foreign policy. Grassley said this country “has no foreign policy” and the last time that happened was in “Sept. 1939, when Hitler started WWII in Poland.” There is so much wrong with that bogus claim Iowans of all political stripe should be embarrassed.

Here in our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods, the word popped up recently
in a local column about an 84-year-old woman who sells guns out of the back room of her home. Lots of ‘em. She was referring to the latest nutty far right conspiracy tale that the Dept. Of Homeland Security is buying up all the ammunition as a means of gun control.

“We saw the same thing during Hitler’s regime and I’m old enough to remember it” was the quote. Pure crap. But she made it into the local almost-daily, almost-newspaper with it.

I’ve used this space before to dispel the oft-told lie about Hitler taking guns from Germans in the 1930′s. He made it tougher for Jews to have guns and required them to be registered, yes. But Hitler actually loosened gun laws and encouraged all “pure Germans” to arm themselves – a complete contravention of the Treaty of Versailles which required disarming of the German Republic following WWI.

But the lie persists. I ran across a Georgia gun dealer’s site on the old I-net the other day. Prominent picture of Adolph giving the salute behind and to the right of a picture of President Obama with a Hitler moustache and the warning “This one’s after your guns, too.” (more…)

Road trip Boise

The Andrus Center, named for the former Governor Cecil Andrus and aimed at providing educational events on public affairs, has opened an intriguing new location - across the street from Boise's Grove Hotel, on the southern side of downtown, and across another street from a large new supermarket. Its location on Capitol Boulevard will be high-visibility.

Around-Idaho travelers Chris Carlson and I, running around the state on our book tour (Chris' book are Medimont Reflections and Andrus, mine with Marty Peterson the Idaho 100), had a chance to check out the new digs, just being transferred from a location on the Boise State University campus. There's a real chance this could become a major venue for some high-profile events in months to come, and conversation seemed to be leaning in that direction.

We were there at a book signing and talking event, introduced by the center's director, David Adler, and Andrus himself. As elsewhere, we attracted not mobs of people but a substantial number, enough to make for another nice event.

Next stop on the road, tonight, will be at Ketchum, at an event hosted by former state Representative Wendy Jaquet.

The Idaho Tour: White Bird to Boise

After a fine stop at Lewiston, Chris Carlson and I continued on Sunday headed south to Boise.

Sunday afternoon we had a fine flash-neighborhood gathering at White Bird, where Chris had some friends. At a house overlooking the Salmon River (and depending on the flow, sometimes right on top of it), people gathered and talked and ... bought books.

Today we're in Boise; our main book event today will be at the Andrus Center at 301 S Capitol. Tomorrow, on to Ketchum and beyond.

Summer of irregular order

trahant MARK


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, has outlined his congressional agenda for this summer. “We have a busy month ahead of us and July will be just as busy, with our continued focus on making life work for Americans through our conservative solutions,” Cantor wrote to members of the Republican caucus. “During that stretch, members should expect a number of important issues to reach the house floor, including: the continuation of the appropriations process ...”

This summer’s budget conclusion -- at least from Cantor’s point of view -- is “regular order” for Appropriations bills for fiscal year 2014 and some sort of resolution of the debt limit.

The key message for Indian Country and the programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives is the House Fiscal Year 2014 budget will based on the Budget Control Act, the law that gave us the sequester. So, Cantor wrote, “the overall spending level contained in the twelve appropriations bills is written to the sequester-level of $967 billon.”

First, it’s interesting that Cantor would again pledge “regular order.” He’s saying the House would pass its budget and appropriations bills and the Senate would do the same. Then a conference committee between the two legislative bodies would negotiate the differences until common ground is found.

But it’s misleading at best. Regular order has not happened on the budget. The House, so far, has refused to appoint members to a conference committee with the Senate instead insisting on a “pre-conference” negotiation. An editorial in The New York Times said the House actually prefers chaos to regular order. “Clearly, what is frustrating Republicans is that they do not have an imminent crisis to exploit to get their way,” the editorial said. “Since 2011, they have repeatedly relied on the threat of a government shutdown, or a possible credit default, to force damaging spending cuts. (That is how the sequester was created.)”

So even though the process of regular order is not working for the budget -- the big picture review of federal spending -- it is supposed to work for the individual appropriations bills that write checks agency by agency. Let me be clear about this: A regular order on appropriations would be a good thing for Indian Country. There are many friends in the House that could use that process to improve spending on at least key programs, such as health and education. (Remembering of course that the overall budget is somewhere between irresponsible and awful.) At the same time -- and in a contrary move -- the overall Appropriations process will be worse because House Republicans want more money for Defense and to pay for that they will look to cut more domestic spending.

It will be up to the Senate to say no.

Unfortunately this situation won’t change until after the next election. Because it’s not only the Senate that can say no. Republicans are in a position to halt any new spending, or even a lifting of the sequester itself. South Dakota Sen. John Thune recently told The Washington Post, “I don’t anticipate that the sequester gets turned off. That to me is one of the few areas where we actually have cut spending.” He’s the number three ranking Republican in the Senate so his views are reflective. (more…)

A case for closure

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

Since 1981, the four states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana have – under terms of a federal law signed into effect early that year – created and formed a joint agency aimed at planning for electric power production and resource (especially fish) production, and meshing the two goals together. It is now, after a name change a while back, called the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and it is based at Portland.

It's a fair-sized agency, starting with a council that has two members from each of the four states, and including staff at Portland and elsewhere. For decades, it has rolled along, often not much noticed by the public or many other people aside from the Bonneville Power Administration, with which it is required to work. It delivers occasional reports and recommendations.

Here's a little secret few people probably have ever realized: All it would take to eliminate this agency is for three of the four state governors to agree to end it. That's it: The Council would then vanish.

That's one point about the council that its very first member, Idahoan Chris Carlson, makes in his new book Medimont Reflections: 40 Years of Issues and Idahoans. (Disclosure: I'm the publisher of that book, which is being released right about now, through Ridenbaugh Press.) You can find this highly obscure dissolution provision in the Northwest Power Planning Act at section 839b(b)(5)(A). If the governors invoked it the Council would be gone, period.

Here's another point Carlson makes: The governors should use that authority and eliminate the council. (more…)

First take: Sentence changes


SENTENCE CHANGES There's talk that serious changes in sentencing might not make it through this year's Oregon legislative session. But when you have the hard-nosed coalition of DAs, who have been most opposing to relaxing the sentencing rules, getting behind some serious compromises, you have to think that something may be coming. Something, along the lines of figuring that the prosecutors wouldn't be doing this if they didn't some wall handwriting. Not that it's all a settled deal. But a useful piece in the Eugene Register Guard does suggest some lines along which a final substantial bill may emerge.