Writings and observations

trahant MARK


So where to begin? I put my column on hold this summer so that I could make my move to Anchorage (I am teaching for a year at the University of Alaska Anchorage, holding the Atwood Chair for journalism) and to work on a couple of other longer range projects. Labor Day is over and now it’s time to get back to work.

There remain lots of dull, policy stories that are not being written by anyone else. Meaty stuff. Before I took my break, for example, it was unclear whether Congress would appropriate federal money on time and if another government shut-down was on the way. Now that I am back: Who knows? Some in the Congress are willing to shut down the government to stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The only thing clear is that the Republican party is deeply divided on Capitol Hill.

A proposed Continuing Resolution had to be pulled from the House Wednesday because there wasn’t enough votes for that measure to pass. There is a bloc of members in the House and the Senate that will take about any step required to thwart the Affordable Care Act (or Obama Care, if you prefer). That means closing the government, refusing to pay the bills that Congress has already charged on the national credit card, and at the same time, destroying their own party’s leadership. As Politico put it: “The GOP is clearly struggling with itself over how best to keep the government operating and placate conservatives who want to cut off all funding for implementing Obama’s signature reforms.”

The problem is that no side has a majority. There are three distinct caucuses: Democrats, traditional Republicans and the new radical Republicans. None of those three groups has an easy way to win enough votes to win a majority.

Take the House: There is a natural governing coalition that could band together, Democrats with a few Republicans to make enough votes to pass a budget and basically keep the government humming. But the problem is that if Speaker John Boehner taps this coalition too often, then he’s toast. He’ll lose his job. He needs to keep a majority of Republicans happy. Even if that means chaos.

What’s more any support Boehner picks up from Democrats will have a price tag in terms of policy. The Continuing Resolution that was just pulled back included some exemptions from the sequester for the Defense Department. That’s not going to happen with Democratic votes; far more likely that Democrats would demand sequester relief for domestic programs.

The Senate landscape is a bit better for those who want a functioning government. By the radical Republicans’ count there are 14 senators who would shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act. That’s probably not enough to gum up the works, especially if traditional Republicans vote with Democrats.

So what does this all mean for Indian Country? The days and weeks ahead are going to be rough and, yes, the government could shut down. There are two significant issues that have to be resolved quickly.

First: The next budget cycle starts on October 1 and Congress is running out of time to reach a deal. The House leadership’s miscue this week didn’t help because it shows how divided that caucus remains.

Second: The government’s authority to borrow money has almost reached its limit. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates there’s only enough wiggle room to keep the government operating until sometime between October 18 and November 5. “Unless the debt limit is increased, there will come a point where the Treasury does not have enough cash to pay all bills in full and in time.” This is far more serious than a government shutdown because it impacts everything from interest rates to a paying retirement benefits.

So here we go again. Another step to the edge of disaster (with one side shouting, “jump, jump, jump!”) Perhaps there will be a last minute breeze of sanity. But it seems that every time that reason is about to happen, then the right wing advocates demand another cyclone.

It’s going to get real windy.

Mark Trahant is the 20th Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a journalist, speaker and Twitter poet and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. Comment on Facebook at:

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carlson CHRIS


It’s too bad more voters in Idaho’s First Congressional District don’t tune in the venerable, long-running Sunday morning news interview program, Meet the Press. If they did they would see their relatively new congressional representative, Raul Labrador, at his patronizingly worst, shamelessly hawking himself to the right wing pooh-bahs inside the beltway who handout those $2 million a year executive director positions at their “think tanks” and foundations.

How else can one begin to understand what motivated the Tea Party favorite in his 6th appearance in a remarkably short time span to offer the gratuitous advice to the nation’s black leadership to renew the politics of hope, as Dr. Martin Luther King did, rather than continuing to follow the politics of despair?

Rep. Labrador’s comments came on the program just prior of the 50th anniversary of the historic Civil Rights march on Washington, D.C., and the delivery of Dr. King’s immortal “I have a dream” speech. The congressman claimed to have watched the 17 minute tape of the speech three times yet he still presumed to offer his gratuitous advice.

He offered no specifics to backup his claim but rather passed it off as accepted fact, and unfortunately was not immediately challenged by any on the panel of interviewers.

To any objective viewer it looked like he was pandering to those that think America has done enough to expiate for the forefathers having initially embraced slavery; to those who believe the African-American has

received too many “affirmative action” breaks, those who think the handup has become a hand out; to those who cheer the Supreme Court’s recent adulteration of the Voting Rights Act.

As my former Gallatin Group partner, Marc Johnson, noted in his essay on the subject of the Pew Research Center’s study on Race in America: “Fewer than 50% of Americans believe the country has made substantial progress in the direction of racial equality. . . about half of those surveyed said a “lot more has to be done” to create a truly color blind society.”

Johnson then cites the study documenting the retreat – not forward motion – on key measures like the growing gap in median income and household income between Black Americans and White Americans. Blacks are three times more likely to live in poverty than whites; black home ownership is 60% that of whites; rates of marriage are less for blacks than whites; out-of-wedlock birth rates are higher for blacks than whites. And then there is of course the incredibly higher rate of incarceration Blacks face than Whites do.

Despite this depressing trend, the fact is most African-American leadership continues to hold out hope for progress and an eventual color blind society evolving. Congressman Labrador’s gratuitous comment is insulting and demeaning to a colleague of his, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who marched with Dr. King and continues to believe in the hope of the American dream for all.

Congressman Labrador certainly has an ability to sell his “up-by-the-bootstraps” story and has mastered quickly the art of promoting himself. He projects a perception as a “comer.” The inside the beltway media is of course fascinated with a Hispanic Republican, from the implied “rural, redneck state of Idaho” no less, and Labrador has skillfully parlayed that into the impressive number of six appearances on Meet the Press.

The current best seller, This Town, by Mark Leivovich of the New York Times, starts out with a long description of the funeral services for Tim Russert, the long-time host of Meet the Press. It documents how for many years this was the show to be on, and Russert was the one to be interviewed by. While it many respects being written about by Mike Allen in his daily “Playbook” memo (a subsidiary operation of Politico) has taken over top rank in the DC media hierarchy, Meet the Press is still up there.

As one watches Labrador’s appearances, keep asking how is he relating what he says to his First district constituents?

To this writer and long-time observer of the political scene it is transparently clear he is advertising his availability to take one of those few but lucrative executive director positions at an association, or a think tank or a foundation.

One gets the feeling he knows how much former governor and Interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne pulls in, or former Jim McClure resource staff assistant Jack Gerard, or former Larry Craig staffer Greg Casey. Each pulls in several million bucks a year.

Congressman Labrador wants to join them, and the sooner he does, the better. Then maybe the district will send someone to represent them more dedicated to serving the district’s needs rather than finding a stepping stone to wealth.

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