Writings and observations

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The healthcare.gov web site is working. I spent some time on it this weekend and it was easy to navigate, pages popped up when they should, and I quickly found answers.

All of this is good news because it will make it easier for folks to fill out the forms and see what’s possible under the Affordable Care Act. If you want insurance to begin on January 1, 2014, then you need to fill these forms out this month. The deadline is December 23.

But for American Indians and Alaska Natives this process is both confusing and damning. It’s confusing because it’s a form that requires financial information, a lot like a tax return, so it means rounding up some documents. The damning part? I’ll get to that shortly. First let’s explore the healthcare.gov process.

For American Indians and Alaska Natives: The most important form is “Appendix B.” This is the paperwork that secures a lifetime exemption from the insurance mandate. Lifetime is a pretty good deal. So paperwork or not, this is worth doing this month (or you can also file this with your tax returns in April).

There is help to fill out these forms. Go to the Indian Health Service or a local urban or tribal clinic. Find someone there who has been trained. You should get answers, because, as IHS acting director Yvette Roubideaux wrote recently, “I don’t know is not an acceptable answer.”

One of the best things I read this weekend was an item in Montana’s Char-Koosta News with a schedule of community meetings on the Affordable Care Act. Yes! This should be happening across Indian Country.

There needs to be information, not just cheerleading, about what this law means and how it might change the Indian health system. (This is the main reason for my five-part video series with Vision Maker Media .) The law will shake up the Indian health system dramatically, opening up new funding sources, as well as presenting new challenges.

The problem is that so much of the discourse has been cast in absolute terms. Democrats need to recognize that this law, like the web site, is not perfect. It’s just one step — and a complicated one at that. And Republicans would better serve the country if they would stop crying repeal and look for constructive additions or subtractions.

Then it’s the same in Indian Country.

I often hear from people who say that Obamacare should not apply. American Indians and Alaska Natives have a treaty right to health care and therefore insurance is not needed. I agree. But then what? It’s a hard fact that Congress is not going to fund the Indian health system as it should. So the only two options are to use this law to expand resources or to watch the Indian health system decline every year as funding shrinks.

There are real problems with this law — and that’s what we should focus on.

Indian Country has a huge stake in the expansion of Medicaid. This is money that will directly improve the Indian health system. It’s funding that does not require appropriation from Congress. But states need to make the decision to opt in — and too many are saying no. Indian Country needs to make sure that the legislators and governors know what this means to their constituents who rely on the Indian health system. (I still think the ultimate solution is to label Indian Country as a 51st state for Medicaid purposes.)

Another concern of mine is that in some cases, individuals will have to purchase the insurance, paying real money, to get a tax credit down the road. On paper that looks like an easy call. But to a family that’s looking at a long list of monthly bills, then one for insurance, even if it’s “free” later is one that might be skipped.

Or, how do tribes pay for insurance as employers for part-time or seasonal employees? It’s a new expense that might not work in a budget environment that is already under pressure because of shrinking federal contracts. Tribes will have do one of three things: Hire fewer people, pay a fine, or come up with the money to buy insurance.

The healthcare.gov web site may work perfect today. But there still is a lot of fine tuning ahead when it comes to the Affordable Care Act. Especially for Indian Country.

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 on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/TrahantReports

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Trahant

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Majority Caucus chair, State Senator Russell Fulcher, is doing a favor for the voting public as well as the media by challenging incumbent Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter in a contest for the Republican nomination. He could also be doing Otter a favor.

For 104,000 Idahoans who would be eligible for an expanded Medicaid program, however, Fulcher is ensuring their needs will not be met. Real suffering even unnecessary deaths, will occur.

By challenging his party’s sitting governor what looked like a dull run-up to a third almost uncontested term suddenly has created the magic “buzz” candidates and their campaigns like to generate, but few do.

The Meridian senator has already generated extensive coverage by a media desperate for the good copy a hotly contested race between Tea Party conservatives and status quo regular Republicans will provide.

The media loves intra-party fights.

Now the perception (whether true or not) is a real horse race is shaping up. The result should be more scrutiny of the candidates, their issues and stances. An attentive voter can be the beneficiary if this translates into a more informed vote.

Many political pundits were surprised by the Otter campaign’s bland response to Fulcher’s announcement which more or less said “we’ll see you down the road.” If ever there is a good time for an incumbent to start defining his challenger its right at the get-go when they announce.

Governor Otter’s campaign manager, the normally competent Jayson Ronk, missed one of the best opportunities to frame what the race will be all about.

Fulcher will sound a familiar theme borrowed from Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential race: “a choice, not an echo!”

Like Tea Party candidate Bryan Smith, an Idaho Falls attorney challenging Rep. Mike Simpson in the second congressional district, he will claim he is the true conservative, not the incumbent.

The glib five-term State Senator from District 22 is counting on true blue Republicans (Only those previously registered as R’s will be able to vote in the May primary) responding to his message that the Governor sold the state down the river by registering Idaho’s insurance exchange with the hated ObamaCare program.

The real victims of Fulcher’s challenge, however, will be the estimated 104,000 Idahoans eligible for Medicaid under new rules being promulgated. In addition this expansion would greatly relieve most every county’s indigent fund that pays a large share of the cost for medical treatment that the poor cannot afford. For Fiscal Years 2014, 2015 and 2016 the Federal government would pay 100% of this expansion cost estimated to be $750 million each year.

The problem is the Legislature sees this as Phase II of ObamaCare and another invasive Federal intrusion. If it approves participation at the end of the three years the state is supposed to start picking up 10% of the cost.

So the Legislature has already foregone FY 2014. Fulcher’s challenge of Otter premised on Otter’s supposed cave-in to the Feds on a state-run insurance exchange virtually guarantees the governor will not support FY 2015 and 2016 participation in the Medicaid expansion despite a $1.5 billion infusion of federal funds into the state. The estimated savings for state and county taxpayers in FY 2015 is $80 million.

Make no mistake, folks, a New England Journal of Medicine study in 2012 claims that for every 172 new enrollees in Medicaid there is one less death. Therefore one can plausibly lay 600 deaths directly at the feet of Governor Otter, Senator Fulcher and Idaho legislators who in their blind hatred of Obama and ObamaCare are saying they don’t care.

What’s puzzling is that Otter, while succumbing to Fulcher’s pressure with regard to Medicaid expansion, turns around and invites the chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to speak at a fund-raiser in Coeur d’Alene on December 6th openly taunts and derides for their 18th

Fulcher has to be happy about this “arrogance” on Otter’s part, knowing full well that arrogance was a major issue contributing to unknown State Senator Don Samuelson’s upset of three-term GOP Governor Robert Smylie in the 1966 GOP primary.

Most of the time gubernatorial decisions and legislative concurrence does not mean life or death for people. Every once in awhile though playing politics has real life or death consequences. The issue of Medicaid expansion is just such an instance.

While Senator Fulcher’s challenge to Governor Otter’s bid for a third term promises to be entertaining one hopes the media and the voter understands it has already had sad consequences for the some 600 Idahoans who the study says will die because of lack of access to an expanded Medicaid program our governor and legislature turned its back upon.

Think about it.

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Carlson Idaho

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Most of us move many times in our lives. For whatever reason exists at the moment. Life’s exigencies as it were. In the process, we’re deluged with changes in nearly everything. New environment – new and different shopping – new geography and place names to learn – sometimes different local customs or practices – new driver’s licenses or passports. Leaving friends. Meeting new people. The whole moving experience is often change top to bottom. We get used to it.

I’ve moved many times. Many and often. Across town, state-to-state, coast-to-coast and border-to-border. Life’s adjustments caused by relocating have been regular and varied. So often, in fact, I thought our most recent was just another “pack-‘em-up-and-move-‘em-out.” Wrong.

The first time we moved to the edge of the Pacific was a decade ago. We did it because we’d never lived there. Simple as that. Lots of exciting new things to experience and a very different living environment. My flat land artist wife has been ocean-smitten for years. So when the moving bug hit this time, like Brigham Young, she pointed westward and the family wagons moved. And we learned all over again.

Coastal living – Oregon coastal living – is a whole new deal. Take shopping, for instance. Most communities are small with limited store selection. If you want a Costco or Mode or Best Buy, you have to drive more than 50-75 miles inland. Then back. There may be an occasional Safeway or Fred Meyer but most grocery outlets are small, regional types like IGA or Ray’s or Grocery Outlet or Mom & Pop’s.

Prices for everything – everything – are higher. It’s a lifestyle premium you pay for rainfall that can exceed 90 inches a year. Yes, Virginia, 90! And there’s the fog and cold and other things that aggravate your arthritis and rheumatism. Lots of seniors try living near the ocean but find some of the frailties of age can make it a painful experience. So they either develop a tolerance or move inland again.

You can’t just go to a store near the ocean and buy anything you want or need at any time. One June, I was looking for a long-sleeved shirt at the largest chain store in Brookings and was told they only carried long-sleeved shirts between September and April. If I really wanted one in June, it would be a 180 mile drive. Until September, of course.

Medical care is most often sketchy. Hospitals – where they exist at all – are small and specialists are few. So major medical needs result in 100-200 mile drives inland or, in the case of a real emergency, air ambulance. Cost for that? Don’t even think about it.

You get used to two-lane highways at all times. Or occasionally one-lane. No Interstate or beltways. And you know, in nearly all cases, North and South are the only ways out of town. Until you get to the next two-lane heading East which could be many miles away. In the small coastal towns, don’t even think of trying to turn left off Highway 101 from May through September. Backs up local traffic for miles.

Then there’s mold and mildew. Everywhere. In, around and through everything. If you store household goods commercially, you must have heated and climate-controlled lockers. Dehumidifiers are as standard in most coastal homes as air conditioners further inland. Houses that look in good shape outside can have rotten footings and mold-despoiled electrical systems. You learn to deal with mold and mildew. Or you move away from the coast.

Winds can be a problem. In some of the more exposed places they can hit 50 to 70 miles-an-hour during the larger storms. Things in your yard that aren’t battened down disappear regularly. Replacing all or part of wind-damaged roofs or fencing is as permanent a job security as being a mortician. And a not-unexpected additional homeowner cost.

Weather can change on a dime. We’ve experienced 75 degrees on Christmas day followed by a dusting of snow on New Year’s Eve. It can rain for an hour – a day – three weeks straight. Living permanently near the Pacific requires a change of wardrobe. Rainproof outerwear or slickers. Water-tight shoes and boots. You keep an umbrella in the car at all times. Even though most “coasters” think using one is for tourists.

These are just some of the issues you face when taking up permanent residence near Oregon’s Pacific shoreline. Very different from the blue skies of August when you and the family spent that week in a rented condo and you thought maybe this would be a good place to retire. That week doesn’t really represent the struggles of year-round residence. Over a 12 month period, living by the sea can be a very trying experience. It ain’t for sissies.

So, here we are. Again.

“Why,” you ask? “Why do it again given all those drawbacks – the irritation – the problems?”

Well, I’ll answer that. In a bit. Right now, the sun is out. The sky and the ocean are blue as a baby’s bright eyes. And the surf’s really pounding. Gotta go. I’ll get back to you.

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Rainey

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Thanksgivings abound on the part of those who write about Idaho politics – directed at the political figure of the moment, Russ Fulcher. With his decision to run for governor against incumbent C.L “Butch” Otter, politics in Idaho took on some new coloration.

Maybe the challenges of the activist outsiders like Fulcher and (for the second district congressional seat) Bryan Smith will collapse by primary day. But as of late 2013, the raw materials are there for a really competitive showdown that could send Idaho politics, post-2014, sailing off in some new directions.

Caveats must be noted. Otter, who has won every primary and general election contest he has entered with one exception (for governor, in 1978) over four decades, is a strong campaigner. Fulcher is not nearly so experienced and may not be as strong on the stump (though we’ll find out more about that). Otter will have a well-organized and well-funded campaign, likely better than Fulcher’s on both counts. In 2012 organized cadres of activist candidates ran against incumbents for a number of legislative seats, and in Idaho’s second U.S. House district, and they most failed, often without coming close to a win. There’s a fair argument that 2014 could do the same.

And you can make the point that there’s not much real policy difference between the two sides here. Fulcher is campaigning as a libertarian, small-budget critic of the federal government and President Obama; that is different from Otter, who has campaigned in the same essential ways (allowing for changes in the presidency) for 40 years, exactly how?

The “how” is more a matter of attitude than anything else. Establishment incumbents, like Otter and Representative Mike Simpson, have some record of actually governing, while means compromising with actual conditions. Fulcher and Smith can argue against compromising – they’re purists. How their governing actually would differ over the haul from Otter’s or Simpson’s is a fair question.

Take a look at the last time Idaho Republicans ousted an incumbent governor in their primary, in 1966. That year, a state senator named Don Samuelson (in his third term, compared to Fulcher’s fifth), encouraged by conservative activists in his party, took after three-term incumbent Robert Smylie (then 19 years continuously in major office, compared to Otter’s 28 as of next year). It was an assault by energetic party activists who had failed in a number of preceding contests but did well in 1966 in part over a sort of Smylie fatigue. In his memoir, Samuelson concluded flatly, “I had not beaten Smylie; he had beaten himself.”

All this was only about issues as such to a limited degree. The sales tax was a big issue that year, and Samuelson campaigned against it, but voters nonetheless approved the tax even while electing Samuelson. It was also a year full of Republican primary contests pitting conservatives and moderates, in which conservatives mostly won.

The voters in the Republican primary next May will toss Otter and Simpson for Fulcher and Smith (and other counterparts in other contests) if they are in a sufficiently anti-incumbent, purist and uncompromising mood. They’ll keep them if they aren’t. That, more than whatever the candidates and their campaigns do between here and there, is likely to make the difference.

What goes into how those voters feel between here and there will give us plenty to discus in the meantime.

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Idaho Idaho column

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

A basic tenet of folks on the right in this country is they can’t abide unity. It’s what they preach. It’s on their signs in the streets and is the major theme of their boisterous and usually crazy gatherings. But unity is a concept they can’t grasp. It happens again and again. And it always will.

The Achilles’ Heel of the extreme right is distrust coupled with anger. Why? Because the prime motivational forces of those most drawn to the lunatic fringe are – wait for it – distrust and anger. The passions that bring them together are most often distrust of – or anger with – government. Or some element of thereof. Read their literature. Listen to their preferred media. Hear their spokesmen. No words of peace. No talk of love. No promise of better times. No plans offered. Just the ever-present distrust and anger. Of someone or something. Always.

But, while these two traits draw them together, sooner or later they’re the same forces that create divisions of loyalty, splits in “philosophy” or give birth to factions which break off from the original group to form one or more new cells of the distrustful and the angered. This basic truth is what’s likely to make the Republican Party a minor national influence for years to come. And many elections to come. Evidence is everywhere.

Take the now-discredited Texan Dick Armey – around whom tea baggies gathered so faithfully a couple years back – that same Dick Armey had a “philosophical” falling-out with the big money guys in their faux “grassroots” club. He walked out the door with a “severance package” of $8 million plus. Stage far right of course. Seems he was seeing things differently from the billionaires who’ve been putting the big money in his pockets all this time. He was angry and distrustful. “Grass roots movement?” Oh, sure. Yeah. You betcha!

Then consider Jim DeMint quitting the U.S. Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, which began long ago as a respected conservative “think tank” but which has become a bastion of all things far, far to the right. His stated reason? He can “be more effective.” Sure. If you’d been reading his clippings recently you’d have known he was angry his far right minority views weren’t being adopted by the majority of his GOP colleagues – that he was feeling “stifled” and couldn’t carry out his “agenda.” He even put hundreds of thousands of dollars into 2012 primary campaigns against sitting senators. In his own party! Anger. Distrust. He also more than tripled is income!

Rep. Shelley Capito of West Virginia, says she’ll run for the U..S. Senate in 2014. Years of GOP membership and service. The ink wasn’t dry on the press release before three – count ‘em – three “republican” groups (small r) denounced her, saying they’d support someone else in the primary. Their joint “reasoning?” She occasionally voted for things they didn’t like and all said “she couldn’t be trusted.” Oh, yes. They were angry, too.

The Koch boys tried to take over the Cato Institute this year – another fortress of GOP “conservatism.” Not far enough right for the Koch’s and their phony “Americans For Prosperity” front. They lost in court. They were angry. From Pine Street in Meridian, Idaho, to “K” Street in Washington, DC, the far right is constantly in a state of amoeba-like throes of joining – then splitting. It was ever thus. It will ever be.

Faux news chief Roger Ailes was very angry when he took Karl Rove and political whore Dick Morris off the payroll this year. Temporarily for Rove. “Unprofessional behavior,” he said. “Angry and distrusted,” sez I.

Even John Boehner had to “fire” four members of his caucus from important committee spots so he could assure passage of whatever budget deal he and the White House might agree to. And they will. Naysayers who opposed him from within did so because he wasn’t “pure” enough – because he appeared willing to compromise. Purity rejects compromise.

Basic, child-like reasoning would say “put all your similarly inclined, disaffected into one organization – one club – one party – and you’d be a force to be reckoned with. Your numbers would be sizeable and your affect on elections could be greater.” It won’t happen.

What assures that is the one trait they all share – one which eventually also drives them apart. Ideological purity. DeMint, for one, has famously said he’d rather have a minority of 40 “ideologically united” senators than a 60 member majority of various beliefs. He preaches that at all those chicken dinners on the GOP campaign trail. In their own ways, each of these right wing splinter groups believes the same thing. Unity in theme. But each falls – or will fall – victim to disunity in practice. Distrust. Anger.

By the way, after nearly 25 years, representatives of DeMint’s crackpot Heritage Foundation are now barred from meetings of conservative House members on the Hill. A matter of purity I’d guess. Exiled. Even DeMint.

Contrast this evidence of the “unforgiving” with those who approach political decisions with more moderate beliefs. Rather than “purity,” those folks go for inclusion. The Republican Party used to do that. They did until 1964 when the Goldwater folks ran the Rockefeller folks out of the neighborhood. Put it on a graph and you can draw a straight line downward from 1964 to now if you’re measuring GOP tolerance of different ideas.

Remember Reagan’s 11th commandment ? “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican?” Remember those words? Look around you now only 25 years or so later. Now, it’s not only words they speak. The knives are out. Dare to be different from the ideology of the day and you’ll be dismissed as a heretic. And you’ll form another group. ‘Cause the other folk are angry with you. And they don’t trust you. Or you them.

I’m not pitching for the Democrat Party. But look no further than our most recent election for evidence that the Republican Party – as currently operated – is becoming irrelevant. Especially if you remember the televised crowd shots from the two national conventions. Democrats: black, brown and other skin colors – many, many women in leadership among the state delegations – younger folks – great inclusion. Republicans? Mostly older and mostly white. More men than women among the delegates. Read their platforms. Republican “inclusion?” You gotta be kidding!

Disaffected, more moderate Republicans? Yes, Virginia, still are some of those folk around. But they aren’t going to continue supporting candidates for anything while being shut out of party leadership. They’ll continue to be faced with incompetent – but “pure” – candidates on future Republican ballots. Walsh, King, Santorum, Gingrich, Cain, Brewer and more of their ilk in 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020 and beyond. They’ll be there. Guaranteed. “Ideological purity” and “exclusion” will make it so.

Far right elements – ideological or moneyed – have done more to minimize the Republican Party than any Democrat victory ever. They control ballot access, money and what’s left of the Party structure. Those who don’t agree face difficult choices. Moderates can try to retake control which will require major efforts over many years and many elections – starting at precinct levels. The disaffected can shut up and swallow hard as they try to remain faithful to a Party that no longer represents them. Or they can leave. That’s about it.

Meanwhile, the amoeba-like joining and splitting of the various minorities that make up the purist crowd will dominate all things Republican.

Wait! Hear that? There goes another one.

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Rainey

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Dear Dr. Staben:

As a strong supporter of the University of Idaho and its flagship, land grant, national research status within the state, allow me to give you a conditional welcome to the great state.

Why “conditional” you may ask? Because you must understand you have been hired by an impotent board that has not for years served as the advocate for higher education it should. It is a board that has stood by idly as the budget for higher education has been eviscerated by a governor and a legislature that by their actions demonstrate they just don’t get nor appreciate the proper role education plays in securing a decent future for Idaho’s children as the driver of a thriving economy.

Oh, they will claim they do, but the facts conclusively demonstrate otherwise. So you will be working for a board and a governor that report to a legislature that with a few notable exceptions frankly is full of hypocrites.

Truth be told, many would admit if they thought it were politically palatable that all education, public and higher, ought to be privatized. You’ve come to a state that is not just suspicious but is downright contemptuous of teachers and public employees.

Right now there is a statewide radio campaign funded by the Joe and Kathryn Albertson Foundation called “Don’t Fail Idaho.” The foundation is run by Joe Scott, who by no stretch of the imagination could be considered a flaming liberal. He is in fact conservative but he understands education is critical to a good future for Idaho’s children.

The facts are damning: only 4 out of 10 Idaho high school graduates start college and only 1 out of 10 get a degree in an economy that needs twice as many college graduates to meet demands.

You will also find one of many reasons students don’t finish college is the cost. Again, the numbers are damning: in 1980 a student at Moscow and his family paid 7% of the cost in tuition and fees; in 1990 it was 13%; in 2000 it was 20%; and today it is 47%. Much of the increase in student fees and tuition can be directly correlated to legislative evisceration of public support.

If you have real courage, Dr. Staben, you will be an advocate for restoring more state support and reducing utilization on student fees. It is bad enough that predatory banks have swooped down on college campuses offering ever more expansive federally guaranteed student loans. For many middle class and poorer class students these loans have become a modern form of indentured servitude.

Have the guts, Dr. Staben, to call for a restoration of the .4 of 1% property tax that used to help fund education in this state in the years in which it truly was a priority. Understand why in the mid-90’s Governor Phil Batt removed the first .1 of 1 percent and then understand what a Faustian bargain then Governor Jim Risch pulled on the taxpayers by eliminating the remaining .3 of 1 percent in exchange for an increase in the more volatile sales tax.

Understand that in the mid-60’s Idahoans supported implementing a 3% sales tax believing it would exclusively be devoted to supporting public and higher education. Today, over half of the prospective revenue is not there because Republican governors and Republican legislators keep granting exemptions but don’t have the courage to admit they are supporting business subsidies while further eroding dollar support for public and higher education.

A return to a dedicated .4 of 1% would generate over $400 million annually and (using FY12 numbers) replace the $222 million now coming from the general fund for higher education and could also replace in total or in part the $199.5 million derived from student fees and tuition. The “freed up” $222 million could then be reallocated to other needs.

While you are at it, Dr. Staben, point out to the Board, the governor and the State Legislature, especially the chairs of the House and Senate education committees chaired by two gentlemen who are anything but the champions of education they profess to be, that Idaho has to be about the only state in the union where in three of our four major schools tuition has risen and grown more for in-state students than out of state students. Go figure.

Show all Idahoans who care about quality education across the board that you have the courage to be a true advocate for higher education. If you can muster real resolve you’ll show that the board in “even a blind hog occasionally finds an acorn” moment came up with a true leader.

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Carlson Idaho

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The United States Senate is a curious institution. It’s not democratic. It’s not representative. And it’s the ultimate millionaire’s sandbox.

So in the U.S. constitutional scheme: The 38 million people living in California get two votes out of 100, the same as the 576,000 folks who are residents of Wyoming.

One person’s vote is worth more if they live in a tiny state, but at least it’s a vote. Because some four million American Indians and Alaska Natives — citizens of tribal governments — aren’t counted as a unique constituency. By land mass, Indian Country’s 50-plus million acres are bigger than almost half the states. Even breaking that number up into population counts, Cherokee’s 819,000 people or Navajo’s 350,000 is in the same ballpark as one of those small states.

But that’s the deal. And the Constitution is sacred script (roll the organ-heavy musical theme now). So get over it, right?

But the thing is the U.S. Senate, this undemocratic institution, is made worse by the filibuster. Especially now that the filibuster has become a routine, invoked on every nominee or every bill. Instead of fifty votes, a supermajority of 60 votes, was required to get anything done. That changed last week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, used another rule (one requiring just 50 votes) to overrule the filibuster on judicial and executive nominees. Only now that that procedure has been invoked, it’s only a matter of time before the filibuster is gone forever. (The filibuster is only a tradition, not a constitutional procedure. It’s only been used for about a century. And in the past decade it’s use has increased significantly.)

Let’s be clear: The super-majority has not been good for Indian Country. One of the reasons it took so long to pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was that 60-vote hurdle. Or reach a final settlement on the Cobell lawsuit. Or we’ve been reading all about the complications with the Affordable Care Act. One of the key appointments, Donald Berwick, was never confirmed as the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and took the job with a limited timeframe as a recess appointment.

A filibuster-free Senate could also make it easier for American Indians and Alaska Natives to get appointed as federal judges.

This is one of those areas where the under-representation is beyond acceptable.

A current judicial nominee, Former Arizona U.S. Attorney Diane Humetewa, a Hopi, should have an easy confirmation, and this new rule means one less hurdle. If confirmed, she will be the only Native American as an Article III judge (representing the judicial branch of government). It’s a lifetime gig.

But over the past couple of decades the entire Senate confirmation process, not just the filibuster has been an obstacle. The National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund have been working on an education project to “ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives receive fair consideration for federal vacancies.” Right now there are 93 openings for judges.

When Arvo Mikkanen, who is Cheyenne and Kiowa, was appointed as a federal judge in Oklahoma in 2010, the state’s two senators, Tom Coburn and James Inhofe, went out of their way to keep him off the bench.

Mikkanen, writing in The Atlantic, asked Coburn, “what exactly do you think you know about me that disqualifies me for a spot on the bench? The implication of your quote last week — “I know plenty. I have no comment” — implies that you believe you have some non-public information that would cast a negative pall upon my nomination. So what is it? As a dedicated public servant, someone who has worked in the federal government longer than you have, I believe I am entitled to that answer; and then to be free of the dark insinuation your comment suggests.”

Not a word from Coburn. Nothing from Inhofe. And no hearing either. The nomination was eventually returned from the Senate to the White House without action. No filibuster. Not even a vote.

But the threat of a filibuster as well as the traditional deference to the state’s senators was enough to keep Mikkanen off the bench.

This is absurd. And it’s why the filibuster’s death should be celebrated.

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:
https://www.facebook.com/IndianCountryAusterity

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Trahant

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

A few years ago, the Heinz frozen food plant in Pocatello employed more than 800 who worked its packaging lines, eclipsing Union Pacific Railroad, the J.R. Simplot Co. and ON Semiconductor as the Gate City’s largest private employer.

Heinz’ recent announcement that it would close its imposing factory on Pocatello’s north end near the Quinn Road overpass and terminate its remaining 410 employees within five to eight months stunned the community, sending shock waves throughout Bannock County.

That bad news came on heels of the shutdown of the $700 million Hoku polysilicon plant in Pocatello. A bankruptcy judge recently blocked that plant’s sale to JH Kelly Inc., the plant’s Longview, Wash.-based general contractor, which bid $5.27 million for the abandoned complex and says it is still owed $25 million for its work on the project.

The entire Hoku plant will be re-auctioned onsite on Dec. 17. Its fair market value has been set at between $6.25 million and $35 million. The plant’s owner has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and owes an estimated $1 billion to creditors. Once operating, the plant was to initially employ 200 and eventually boost its payroll to 400 — or equivalent to the number now employed at the Heinz plant on the opposite side of town.

That Pocatello plant is one of three Heinz plants to be closed by the summer of 2014. The others are at Ontario, Canada, where 740 work, and Florence, S.C., where 200 are employed. Heinz plans to add 470 employees at existing plants in California, Iowa, Ohio and Canada, bringing its total work force in the U.S. and Canada to 6,800 hourly and salaried workers.

While displaced Pocatello Heinz employees will get severance benefits, outplacement services and other support, that’s little comfort to some who have worked at the plant for decades, stemming back to when it was owned by Kraft and Ore-Ida Foods. The unexpected shutdown is devastating for many of them and a major blow to Pocatello’s economy.

Kraft Foods built its first Pocatello cheese factory and warehouse along the Portneuf River in 1924, well east of Simplot’s existing phosphate fertilizer plant. By 1955, production at Kraft’s three-story structure on Kraft Road began to wind down, not far from Great Western Malting’s existing plant, which is east of the Hoku plant.

In 1967, Kraft Inc. started constructing its 450,000-square-foot plant where Heinz now operates and abandoned its old site along Kraft Road. In April 1989, 500 were working at the processed cheese plant when Kraft announced it would move operations to Tulare, Calif., after operating in the Gate City for some 65 years. Kraft had hoped 80 percent of its Pocatello workers would move to California, but only about 10 percent opted to do so, preferring Southeast Idaho’s much lower cost of living and other amenities.

By May 1989, only a month after Kraft’s bombshell announcement, it was disclosed that Boise-based Ore-Ida Foods Inc. had taken an option to buy the Kraft property to process low-calorie entrees and frozen potato products.

To their credit, Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus and Commerce Director Jim Hawkins hustled to dispatch a rapid response team to Pocatello to help soften Kraft’s gut punch to the greater Pocatello area and quickly fill the food factory.

By the end of March 1990, 150 Kraft workers were terminated after 50 laborers had been idled the previous February, leaving fewer than 50 distribution personnel before Ore-Ida took over the plant. Weight Watchers low calorie meals were among the main products churned out after Ore-Ida took over the plant.

Famous for its Tater Tots, the Ore-Ida brand was acquired by the H.J. Heinz Co. in 1965. Its division headquarters was in Boise until 1998-99 when a new frozen foods division was created in Pittsburgh, Pa. At that time, 235 of the 320 employees of Ore-Ida’s Boise HQ lost their jobs and 150 Weight Watchers plant workers in Pocatello were cut.

There have been telltale signs in recent years that production at the Pocatello Heinz plant has not been kept at full capacity as a steady drumbeat of layoffs sliced and diced employment by 50 percent.

In September 2009, 65 Heinz employees were let go. Last February, 80 workers were terminated as Heinz ended its TGI Fridays frozen meals line. The number of employees has plummeted from an 800 peak to its 400 level now. It’s been estimated that the Heinz plant shutdown will adversely impact another 200 people indirectly, worsening Pocatello’s unemployment rate.

In August, the city’s jobless rate stood at 7.8 percent, the highest of Idaho’s 11 largest cities. The Idaho Department of Labor on Friday, Nov. 22, disclosed that the Gate City’s unemployment rate declined from 7.7 percent in September to 6.9 percent in October.

Heinz
Heinz Factory Manager Kevin Trussel stands outside the Pocatello frozen food plant in happier days.

 

Needless to say, finding a new occupant for the Pocatello Heinz plant needs to be addressed with urgency as a top priority by Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Commerce Director Jeff Sayer as one of the state’s largest metropolitan areas faces a major economic setback.

That could prove daunting for the Idaho Department of Commerce, which has lost very capable personnel via recent terminations. Well-respected former Bannock Development Corp. Executive Director Gynii Gilliam recently resigned as Commerce’s chief economic development officer after the department’s tourism and international business administrators were removed.

Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad and Bannock Development Corp. officials must also go all out in filling the abandoned Heinz plant, copying pages from the playbook of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization in Magic Valley.

SIEDO has wracked up back-to-back successes by landing Chobani’s world’s largest $100 million yogurt processing plant, Glanbia Foods’ $15 million cheese innovation center and corporate headquarters, an Old Hickory Buildings manufacturing plant, LMS Defense Inc. corporate headquarters, etc., etc.

It could be an exercise in futility to try to persuade Heinz corporate executives to reconsider their decision to close their plant in Pocatello, which essentially is a fait accompli. If attempted, the success of such an effort would hinge on how well area leaders have developed trust and a close working relationship with Heinz officials over the years.

Last February, the Heinz corporation was acquired by an investment consortium consisting of 3G Capital and Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway for $23.3 billion. You can bet numbers were carefully crunched before it was concluded the three Heinz plants needed to be shuttered.

At the end of October, Heinz suffered a significant potential loss of revenue when McDonald’s severed ties with the corporation after a 40-year partnership.

There are distinct selling points in marketing the Heinz plant and property to food processors — state-of-the-art refrigeration technology, strategic rail access and close proximity to where Interstates 86 and 15 intersect. It was recognized in 2011 as the most productive plant in the entire Heinz organization. In 2009, the Pocatello plant was named Heinz factory of the year.

Indeed, shutdown of the Heinz plant will be a major blow to Pocatello’s economy, which has been on the ropes, but it’s not a fatal knockout. The Gate City has taken a pounding in past decades with the closure of the Bucyrus-Erie manufacturing complex, Garrett Freightlines, FMC’s elemental phosphorus plant, Ballard Medical, etc.

Getting Pocatello’s economy off the canvas demands urgency and resourcefulness to ensure it rebounds in the future and maintains the resilience it has enjoyed in the past.

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Mendiola

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

There’s not much ideological content to this, so Representative Mike Simpson may not get a lot of attention for his proposal of last week, which my be the most specifically useful to Idaho any of the delegation offers this term. And a repeat from 2010, at that.

But Idaho does need a third federal district judge. An act of Congress literally is required to create a new slot, as Simpson has again proposed. He said that “I recently met with Idaho’s federal judges and heard directly from them about the serious impact budget cuts, sequester, and the lack of an additional judge are having on the federal courts in Idaho. While I am fully cognizant of the budget crisis facing our country, I share the judges’ concerns about delays in the administration of justice and the impact that has on the Constitutional role of the courts.”

He has specifics: “As Idaho’s population has grown, so has the number of court cases.  Between 2007 and 2013 the District of Idaho has experienced a 26% increase in total filings and pending caseloads have increased 30%.  Idaho has a heavier caseload than other rural states that already have three federal district judges (Alaska, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming).”

If anything, Simpson understates. Idaho’s current senior federal judge, Lynn Winmill, has been pitching the case for a third judge for years. The situation in Idaho – which is one of the most understaffed states – has been reviewed repeatedly in recent years, and independent review panels such as the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit (earlier this year) have specifically endorsed an additional judge for Idaho.

The understaffing has led to inefficiencies and, ironically, extra costs. Winmill said in one letter on the proposal that “the District of Idaho has made great use of visiting judges to assist with the District Judge caseload. In reviewing the visiting judge statistics for calendar year 2011, we estimate that our visiting judge in-court time will increase by 57% (from 169 hours to 266 hours) in calendar year 2012, which doesn’t include their own preparation hours.”

In another letter last year: “In order to address our current caseload, we have done everything in our power to (1) conserve resources; (2) ensure fiscal accountability; (3) institute proactive techniques in our case management with regard to the ADR and visiting judge programs; and (4) retain and provide detailed statistical data, which is consistently monitored and analyzed. Unfortunately we cannot continue to rely upon our ADR and visiting judge programs as a substitute for a third permanent Article III judgeship.”

As to why no stronger push has happened for a third judge – over many years – there is a political note.

Many political Idahoans may pause when they consider that if a new Idaho judicial seat is opened, President Barack Obama will be filling it. (That would be the more likely since last week’s Senate action ending filibusters against most judicial appointments.) But as a practical matter, presidents rarely jam through judicial appointments over the serious objections of a state’s congressional delegation, even of the opposing party. Winmill, a Democrat, had support from Republicans in the delegation. And you never know for sure what a judicial appointee will do: the fact that they’re appointed by a Democrat or a Republican isn’t always a good predictor of how they rule. (I know you’re thinking of the Supreme Court. But most judicial appointees are less predictable.)

Simpson will not easily be able to advance his bill far. But he’s at work here on an Idaho-specific need, and a need of long standing.

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Idaho Idaho column

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

We – Barb and I – have just finished “the move from Hell.”

With a quick curtsey to the folks still living back there under the trees in the old forest in far Southwest Oregon, I don’t mean you’re still in Hell. It’s just, well, politically warmer there.

No, I mean by “Hell” one of life’s little experiences that really tests the limits of one’s patience, strength, durability and causes you to think you really are in Hell. Of course, all of those things are magnified when you both reach your 70′s and still try to do the things you did in your 40′s. You may look younger than your years. You may feel younger. You still may be living a lifestyle that belies those 70 years. But inside, when push comes to shove – or rather when push comes to lift and carry again and again and again – there’s no fooling about the rings on your trunk. Those higher numbers kick in with the accompanying pain.

From the off-the-beaten-path ‘50′s approach to life and seclusion of the forest, we’ve resettled beside the sea. The Pacific Ocean as it were. We’ve traded about 40 inches of rainfall per year for something like 70. Also more fog – more wind – more gray skies. And a chill in the bones that angers the old arthritis.

But, when the sun shines – and it does often here – and the ocean appears as blue as the skies – it’s a marvelous place to be. We’ve lived on the coast before – Curry County actually. Rainfall in Curry routinely tops 90 inches. But temperatures are so balmy year-round that growers plant lily bulbs and harvest the grown flowers all twelve months. Periods of heavy rain – very heavy rain- are punctuated by several days of beautiful skies. And it’s not unusual to hit 70 degrees in Brookings in December while the rest of Oregon shivers.

Now we’re enjoying the welcome and comfort of Lincoln County which – like much of the rest of Oregon – is a two-party neighborhood. Everything we own resides in four large storage units and we’re sharing a 30-foot motorhome with Rat Terrier Winston and Calico Clementine. Unusual names, yes. It’s a Churchillian thing. We’ve changed our driver’s licenses, the vehicle registrations and have become registered voters. Independent, of course. A different life awaits.

But – recovering from “the-move-from-Hell” is taking longer than before. The sore muscles and sprains are going to be felt for more weeks than previously. Going from living in 2,000 square feet to about 180 is not as easy to adjust to as in previous relocations. Even an older Winston is grouchier than he used to get.

As a people, we Americans are a very mobile group. The Census Bureau says about 36 million of us moved in 2012 and 2013. The area with the fewest movers was the Northeast (7.8 percent); the highest was the West (13.4 percent).

Most of us didn’t move long distances. About two-thirds stayed in the same county. Those that moved out-of-county numbered about 40 percent and relocated less than 50 miles away. About 25 percent of all who moved during 2012 and 2013 were renters.

The Bureau figures there were two main reasons for relocations: housing and employment. Among renters it was more the latter than the former.

Relocations are never easy. And some are tougher than others. This was a tough one for us. Oh, we’ll heal soon. And we’ll settle in once the new house is finished. Or, as is the case at the moment, one sells and the other gets started.

But our philosophy is – “let’s get on with it.” Time enough for recovery later. That’s why the grave is called “the final resting place.”

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Rainey