Writings and observations

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

For over a year, Ridenbaugh Press Publisher Randy Stapilus and I have been writing about the worsening conditions in several counties in Southwest Oregon – Curry, Jefferson, Jackson in particular. Problems started several years ago when millions of federal dollars previously paid to those and some 15 other Oregon and Washington counties began to dry up. We’re now at a point of instances of open lawlessness.

Those dollars originally came from timber sales on federal lands – lands from which local governments receive no taxes. The original purpose was support for public schools. A few counties squirreled away some of those bucks against future conditions. Several – including the three above – spent ‘em all to keep up with budget growth without raising taxes. Now, sequestration and other federal pressures have reduced the flow to a trickle. And several counties – most notably Curry – are close to bankruptcy.

While county commissioners and others have lobbied hard for a resumption of the federal payment, they realize long-term continuation of the program is highly unlikely. They also know there’ll be no White Knight riding to their rescue and tax increases – large tax increases – are dead ahead. Now the public knows that, too.

Curry voters face a bond election next month. If it passes, the minimally staffed jail and the minimally staffed sheriff’s department will survive. Somewhat. If it fails – as several other issues on the same subject have repeatedly – it’s almost certain the jail and the whole department will close. My money’s on the “no” vote.

Jackson County law enforcement has been curtailed for several years. In Josephine – Grants Pass – conditions are already grim. With nearly no county deputies, several “posse comitatus” groups roam the county 24/7 – armed to the teeth – looking for “bad” guys. Mountain-sized legal liabilities go with them. And it’s getting worse.

As Stapilus blogged here the other day, a mine has been operating illegally near Grants Pass without operators filing all required permit paperwork with the feds. On more than one occasion – when BLM people showed up onsite – they were met by armed civilians of the “Oath Keepers” group. BLM folks backed down each time – as they did with Clive Bundy in Nevada. Still no BLM paperwork today. No apparent county law enforcement involvement. Except a former sheriff siding with the lawbreakers. Now, the BLM has closed the Medford office, some 30 miles away.

As Stapilus wrote, “Hardly any law enforcement . . . groups of angry and heavily armed ex-military wandering around . . . what could go wrong here?” What indeed?”

All of this was in my mind this week when a column by Professor Robert Reich popped up on the old I-net headlined “Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless.” He was reading my mind! His main point was government, large corporations and our political system have become unresponsive to the American public. Power has become so concentrated that us average guys are being flipped off by all of ‘em.

Among his points: corporations firing workers with no warning and/or making more of the labor force part time. In 2005, we had nine major airlines – today just four. Eighty percent of us are served by just one I-net provider – Comcast, AT&T or Time-Warner. In 1990, the five biggest banks held just 10 percent of all banking assets – now they hold 45 percent. Fifty years ago, more than a third of workers were unionized – today less than seven percent. Major health insurers are larger – giant hospital chains are far bigger – powerful digital platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Google are “gigantic!”

Then, there’s politics. Over 85 percent of congressional districts are called “safe” for incumbents in the 2016 elections and only three percent are toss-ups. Presidential election states are already being called “red” or “blue” with only a handful to be statistically contested. Voters in most states will not see a presidential candidate on their home turf. So, more and more voters feel disenfranchised. Voter turnouts are smaller.

I believe there’s a straight line between the points Dr. Reich makes about so many Americans feeling powerless in their lives and the increasing instances of lawlessness we’re seeing in Oregon, Nevada and elsewhere in the country. Whether they call themselves “Oath Keepers” or “posse comitatus” or “Bundy’s Freedom Fighters,” they all fit into the same mold – mad at government in nearly all forms, feel their personal “liberties” are being take away, say they “want their country back,” are armed to the teeth with up to and including automatic weapons and large supplies of ammo.

Wife Barbara drove Interstate 5 in California the other day. She saw many signs posted on barns and other outbuildings from Redding north reading “State of Jefferson.” Many local license plate frames read the same. Four Northern California county commissions are on record officially endorsing creation of the State of Jefferson for themselves while Southern Oregon border county governments are being heavily lobbied to join in.

Jefferson is not a new idea. It goes back to the 1930’s. But there’s a different, angry, more well-armed mood abroad in the countryside now. While it’s nearly impossible to exit the 50 states, when you have publicly elected officeholders in contiguous jurisdictions voting to try it – backed by a well-armed public and a widespread feeling among Americans that they aren’t being listened to any more – the idea can easily gather momentum. Throw in some citizen posse groups with automatic weapons, closing of government offices, voter strangulation of law enforcement agency budgets, add some Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey for the posse people and you’ve got a fire ready to light.

Please don’t chalk this up to an old alarmist living in a small town next to the Pacific with a myopic view of the world. Aside from actually living in Josephine, Jackson or Curry Counties, this is a pretty good spot to assess the situation. Especially when considering that our little county – Lincoln County – has one of the highest crime rates in Oregon. And law enforcement agencies scrapping services. We’re living it.

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Rainey

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Otter calls special session (Boise Statesman, IF Post Register, Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News, Lewiston Tribune, Pocatello Journal)
Soft oil prices weaken industry in Idaho (Boise Statesman)
Support found for CWU bond proposal (Boise Statesman)
Potato growers at Shelley sue USDA (IF Post Register)
CWI land assessed $5m under purchase price (Nampa Press Tribune)
Idaho asks for re-up on No Child waiver (TF Times News)

Eugene secret exit plan for leader pondered (Eugene Register Guard)
Lakeview marijuana grow plan draws concern (KF Herald & news)
Safeway store turning into Haggens (KF Herald & news)
Interior plans $4 million for wildfire planning (KF Herald & News)
Time to retire pot-sniffing dogs? (Medford Tribune)
Jackson Co sets pot dispensary guidelines (Medford Tribune)
Umatilla toughens rules on its adult zone (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Supreme Court decision expected on PERS (Pendleton E Oregonian)
new homeless camp site found in Portland (Portland Oregonian)
Changes sought for lottery rules, split (Portland Oregonian)

Sex abuse at WWU investigated (Bellingham Herald)
Officials look into options to oust Kelley (Everett Herald, Olympian, Longview News)
Judge kicks lawsuit on police race bias (Everett Herald)
DOE explores natural gas to replace diesel (Kennewick Herald)
Sage grouse conditions at Yakima army center (Kennewick Herald)
Businessman looks for spot on Lonview port panel (Longview News)
Volcano may erupts off Pacific coast (Seattle Times)
Lawmaker Fagan, accused of ethics issues, quits (Spokane Spokesman)
Commissioner Mielke may be Spokane Co exec (Spokane Spokesman)
Legislators look at pot taxes (Vancouver Columbian)
Clark Co may ban e-cigs in public places (Vancouver Columbian)

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First Take

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Pop Quiz: which is the most urbanized state, New York or Nevada? Between Alaska and Montana? Between Utah and Ohio?

Among these three states – Idaho, Iowa and New Hampshire – which has the highest rural proportion in its population?

If you answered Nevada (94%) is more urban than New York (88%); Alaska (66%) more than Montana (56%) and Utah (91%) more than Ohio (78%), give yourself an A. If you also know New Hampshire (40%) is more rural than Idaho (30%) and Iowa (36%) is more rural than Idaho, give yourself an A++.

Behind these figures lies an incontestable fact: our nation is steadily, inexorably becoming more urbanized. As children and grandchildren steadily leave rural areas to find jobs in urban areas, those of us left in the rural areas are more and more retirees and the elderly.

We sense that a way of life – connected families living close to the land and most often trying to make a living off of some form of resource conversion – is being lost.

The future looks uncertain. The “can-do, tomorrow will be a better day” attitude starts to erode. Fear creeps into the pysche. For some it is fear that medical challenges will force one to move into an urban area to be closer to the needed medical services. For others, it is fear that a heavily urbanized population in which a 9-1-1 call will be responded to within five minutes will lead to more restrictions on firearms.

What is more disturbing though is the few folks left in rural areas do not see the connection between an America becoming ever more urbanized and the proliferation of federal regulations regarding activities on adjacent public lands.

Too many country folks think their use of the national forests or the public range should get priority. We don’t grasp that our neighbor down the street, the Forest Service’s district ranger, has to manage for the urbanite in New York City’s equal interest in the public lands.

Surprise! The urban dweller sees the national forests as a place where he or she can camp, hike, raft, ride horses, bird-watch and a dozen other multiple often competing uses. The urbanite does not see timber cutting as a compatible use.

So, some rural county commissioners turn to schemes and dreams that the Federal government can be forced to sell federal lands because those living next to and off of the public resource can do a much better job of managing the resource. Dream on , my friend. It will never happen.

If anything, get ready for more regulations from the federal agencies, not fewer. Despite Idaho having established a good system of adjudicating water rights, as shortages begin to occur in the urban areas more restrictions on its use will be promulgated.

Charges for grazing rights will begin to rise towards true market value. The feds will spend more on fire suppression than ever before and will start more pre-emptive fires. Wild horses, sage grouse and their habitat will see more restrictive regulations placed on other uses. All because most urbanites see the public lands as a public playground.

These were the thoughts coalescing in one’s mind as I read about another example of the “Cliven Bundy” syndrome. You may recall how this Nevada BLM lease-holder consistently used and abused his grazing permit. His illegal activties reached the point where a warrant for his arrest was issued, but when the local sheriff and the BLM officers arrived at this scofflaw’s ranch they were met by heavily armed supporters spoiling for a fight.

Something similar is going on in Josephine County, Oregon, where two prospectors have been ordered to file a mine plan of operation on a claim they call Sugar Pine Mine. The Oathkeepers, a self-righteous group of supposed former law enforcement officers, have a volunteer possee surrounding the site to “protect” it.

Travesty, pure and simple. It reads like a Louis L’Amour western melodrama – you know, rich mine owners, hired guns supposedly to protect but really to provoke. It flies in the face of the law despite these folks wrapping themselves in the Constitution.

Oregon, incidentally, is 81% urban; more urban than Georgia, or Minnesota or New Mexico or Michigan or Pennsylvania. The earth is shifting.

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Carlson

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Debates over murder charges in E Idaho (Boise Statesman)
Prospects for a special legislative session (IF Post Register, TF Times News)
Critics of ag-gag go to court (Nampa Press Tribune)
Female attorneys not sought out for judgeship (Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News)
Variation found in school enrollments (Nampa Press Tribune)
Idaho inexpensive for bad-driver insurance (Pocatello Journal)

Eugene school emails detail exit plans (Eugene Register Guard)
Klamath Co continues pot moratorium (KF Herald & News)
Work stars on building new Klamath high school (KF Herald & News)
Looking at Medford school board races (Medford Tribune)
Pendleton airport, police get budget raise (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Lawmakers ponder domestic-abuser gun bill (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Legislator considers left-lane hog bill (Portland Oregonian)
Obama headed to Portland next week, May 7 (Portland Oregonian)
Reviewing Salem school board candidates (Salem Statesman Journal)

Lynden passes $48m bond for schools (Bellingham Herald)
Monroe looks to pass school bond (Everett Herald)
Hanford seeks much more money for cleanup (Kennewick Herald)
About 270 mill jobs to be lost at Shelton (Olympian)
Port of Olympian helps fund harbor patrol (Olympian)
Many juniors bypass new state high school tests (Seattle Times)
Spokane transit tax issue looks to be failing (Spokane Spokesman)
Looking ahead to special legislative session (Vancouver Columbian)
Clark teachers consider single-day walkout (Vancouver Columbian)
Some bond measures passing, others failing (Yakima Herald Republic)
Sunnyside votes to ban pot business (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

harris ROBERT
HARRIS

 
Oregon
Outpost

The following statistics are from the latest National Education Association report of 2014 for the 50 State plus the District of Columbia. (Except as noted)

Average US per capita income is $44,200
Oregon per capita income is $39,258 making it 34th of 51 States + DC
The US average paid in local and state taxes per capita is $6,414 which is 14.5% of total average per capita US income (NEA latest stats was for 2011-12)
In Oregon, the average paid in local and state taxes is $6,093 (26 of 51), and is 15.5% of total per capita income. ( NEA latest stats was for 2011-12)
K-12 school revenue in Oregon is $11,988 per pupil versus the national average of $12,357. Making Oregon the 25th of 51 and 97% of the national average.
The national average teacher salary is $56,610, while average teacher salary in Oregon is $58,638 which is 103.6% of the national average making Oregon 14 of 51 in highest salary. (Salaries don’t include other compensation such as retirement, or health insurance, so Oregon, with its excellent benefit program is likely in the top 6 States +DC for total compensation per teacher)
The average student teacher ratio in the US is 15.9, while Oregon has a teacher student ratio of 21.5, Number 3 highest of 51 and 135% of the US average.

While Oregon is slightly below average in per pupil revenue we are well below the US average in per capita income. So individual taxpayers are paying a larger share of our lower than average income in taxes than most other states in order to fund an education system that pays its staff some of the highest total compensation in the country. (Compensation includes not only salary, but retirement and health care)

About 85% of school spending is on salaries and compensation. High cost per teacher and lower than average financial support for schools can result in only one thing. Fewer teachers who try their best in crowded classes during fewer classroom hours.

While most people agree on the problem, not enough revenue to pay for more teachers and classroom hours, we don’t agree on the solution, which has to be either cost containment in individual total compensation, or increased revenue. The question is, what is more fair. Or what is the least unfair way to deal with the financial crisis.

I don’t think there is serious consideration of decreasing K-12 spending or teacher salary, so the goal of any changes should be to increase the number of teachers and/or the classroom time. Or hopefully both.

Oregon will adopt a k-12 budget of about 7.3 Billion dollars/ biennium. In order to get Oregon’s education spending to the US average it would take an additional 3% increase, or about $220 million per bi-ennium, or $110 million per year. But where would that come from?

Oregon individual taxpayers are already paying a higher share of their income in state and local taxes than average. So individual taxpayers can argue that they are doing more than their part already.

What about other sources of revenue? The Tax Foundation ranks Oregon as 12th best in business tax climate. According to that article Oregon has the fourth lowest overall sales tax burden nationally for businesses. So we have a relatively friendly business tax rate – with a lot of specific tax breaks and tax expenditures for businesses – and one type of common business tax that is extremely low. If were looking for additional revenue, absent complete structural tax reform, the source that could be deemed most fair would fall on those who already have a good deal. Additionally increasing an inordinately low business tax rate would have the least negative impact on Oregon business competitiveness.

We should consider imposing a gross business receipts tax which is in essence a type of sales tax on businesses. It would be very simple to adminster, and could be very modest, and not subject to special tax breaks for favored businesses.

Oregon’s GDP in 2013 was $220 Billion. In order to raise $110 Million per year for education, an educational fund specific gross receipts tax would only have to be .05%. For a business with $1 million in gross revenue it would cost an additional $500/year. Not insignificant, but at a cost of less than $42/month, one that should be manageable by a million dollar business.

Why should we increase revenues for k-12 at all you ask? Because it would be part of the trade off in cost containment.

Is it fair to take actions that control the costs of individual teacher compensation? Since Oregon is below average in per capita income, and above average in per teacher costs salary, I believe the answer to be yes. We can maintain a comparatively good salary for teachers, especially teachers with less than 12 years experience, and control costs in benefits where possible.

But, we have court decisions that have to be followed, and contracts that have not yet expired. So Controlling costs means changes in political and legal paradigms. You can’t simply wave a wand.

Ban teacher strikes. Oregon is one of only 12 states that allow teacher strikes. The other 38 states all believe that public education is a public necessity and therefor require other methods to resolve labor disagreements. We’ve shown in a prior article how States that allow teacher strikes tend to have higher costs, and worse educational outcomes than states that ban teacher strikes.

Banning teacher strikes would allow school boards, particularly those in smaller communities, a more balanced playing field when negotiation with local teacher unions. Don’t put a child’s education at risk over hardball negotiation tactics. Banning strikes doesn’t mean teacher unions don’t have power to negotiate forcefully or aggressively. It just means they can’t threaten to close schools as the ultimate threat in contract negotiations.

Make all Public teachers state employees. This would allow the State to negotiate the terms of all teacher contracts going forward. While this would take away some local control. It may the they type of control a school board would be happy to cede. The School Board could then concentrate on curriculum, facilities, and budgeting and not get into a personally disagreeable negotiation with teachers, who they rely on for expertise and input in improving the local schools.

Most importantly: Condition the imposition of the business gross receipts tax on using it to hire teachers. One problem with simply increasing a tax with the intent of using it for a stated purpose is ensuring that’s what it’s used for. Rather than having the gross receipts tax go into the general fund, it could be directed to a special teacher hiring pool. These teachers, hired by the state, would be state employees and would be assigned to school districts as teachers on loan. These teachers could even be assigned based on a districts pro rata share of students, or assignment could be conditioned on the School Districts average teacher salary. The lower the average salary in a district, the more State pool teachers they could receive. This would make some sense. If a district is paying its teachers less, then the teachers in that district should have lower student / teacher ratios. The extra State pool teachers would allow the district to relieve its teachers of some workload, thus making better work conditions the trade off they would accept for their lower salary.

With an increase of $110 million in revenue per year, the State could hire almost 1,300 pool teachers at a cost of $85,000/teacher. According to the NEA report, in 2013 Oregon had 26,418 teachers (It’s unclear if this is FTE’s or total teachers, including part time). So that modest gross receipts tax on Oregon businesses could increase our available teachers by at least 5%.

Outside the box ideas:

An ROTC for teachers: This idea isn’t a revenue idea. But there is a model for recruiting highly qualified candidates in a profession they may not otherwise consider. The Military pays for higher education through the Reserve Officer Training Corp as long as the candidates commits to serving in the military for a period of time after graduation. Oregon could consider a similar program for teachers. And at a little additional cost. If successful it would also end up producing more Oregonians with graduate degrees.

This program would offer any qualified undergraduate student who gets a teaching degree and teaches in a public school for five years two years of free tuition in any Oregon State university system graduate program. The “cost” to the State would be minimal. We already operate these schools, and adding a few more students would have a relatively small marginal cost.

Such a program should encourage high achievers who would like to go to grad school, but don’t have the finances, to consider a career in teaching to start. Hopefully, many of those teachers would even stick to the teaching profession. But even if they didn’t, the program should attract some dynamic and high level undergraduate students who may never have thought of a career in teaching, but would be willing to do it to finance their ultimate goal of a graduate degree.

It may be difficult, but there is a deal to be done here. We could Increasing revenues to get Oregon up to the national average. Out of fairness, the revenues would not come from individuals, as they are already paying their share, but through an increase in a business tax that is currently very low as compared to other states. This also has the benefit of having the least impact on Oregon’s economic competitiveness.

We should dedicate that increased revenue specifically to hiring more teachers making the greatest impact on student / teacher ratios and class room time.

Other non revenue/spending options that could also improve our school system should also be considered as part of the agreement to raise taxes and revenue. Particularly legislation banning teacher strikes and encouraging more students to consider a career in the teaching profession.

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Harris

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

ACHD bike lane issue resurfaces (Boise Statesman)
Developing oil and gas production in Idaho (Nampa Press Tribune)
Pocatello issues bonds for sewage work (Pocatello Journal)
The intense campaign for Gooding School District (TF Times News)
Residents try to save Magic Valley drive-ins (TF Times News)

Eugene civic stadium purchase finalized (Eugene Register Guard)
Lane official Leiken may run for governor (Eugene Register Guard)
Faceoffs expected in Medford school races (Medford Tribune)
Water levels falling in eastern Oregon (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Hermiston goes to work on dog licenses (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Pendleton school boundaries imposed (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Oregon lawmakers may tighten medical pot rules (Portland Oregonian)

Snohomish medical examiner office may change (Everett Herald)
Mint Farm pot development is off (Longview News)
AG asks Supreme Court to wait on school review (Olympian)
Idaho senators ignoring women for federal bench (Spokane Spokesman)
Dave Smith cars in Kellogg bought by Texan (Spokane Spokesman)
Ports redacted records on Sea-Tac alliance (Tacoma News Tribune)
Profiling Senator Murray (Everett Herald, Vancouver Columbian)
Looking ahead to drought conditions (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

stapiluslogo1

The bitterness was already there on the side of the anti-government Oath Keepers group, but it started to grow last week as well on the part of . . . the anti-Oath Keepers.
The scene was Grants Pass and Medford, at the Sugar Pine Mine near Merlin, where the Bureau of Land Management has been held at bay from enforcing its normal rules (requiring the filing of a plan of operations) by armed people associated with the Oath Keepers. On Thursday, the Medford BLM office closed out of concern about confrontations with employees.

The Medford Mail Tribune on April 24 reported that “Grants Pass sporting-goods salesman Dave Strahan was one of several protesters who said the sudden appearance of dozens of armed outsiders was fostering a reputation many community members have worked hard to avoid.”

Hard work indeed. Josephine County has been one of the counties in southwest Oregon hit by the loss of federal timber funds, and responded by refusing to increase local taxes to compensate – even though that has meant extreme cuts in law enforcement (layoffs of most of the sheriff’s department, for example) among other things.

Strahan remarked that “Over the last few years, I’ve gotten more and more questions from my customers about the safety of coming to Josephine County to recreate.”
\
Hardly any law enforcement . . . groups of angry and heavily armed ex-military wandering around . . . what could go wrong here?

Business in Josephine County may have to do some more belt-tightening of its own.

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Oregon Oregon column

bear creek
 

Jeremiah Griffin scouts the Bear Creek site, in a greenway in the Rogue Valley, for any trash as crews prepare the are for landscaping. (photo/Oregon Department of Transportation)

 
Has a Clive Bundy situation arrived in southern Oregon? Maybe not quite yet, and if things defuse, maybe not at all. But plenty of people in the area are concerned about the real possibility.

So the Washington Legislature in fact is coming back, this Wednesday, having been unable to resolve the budget in regular session. Don’t expect this round to take just a few days.

Will Governor Otter call a special session this week? That remains as unclear today as it did a week ago, though prospects may be considered to diminish with time.

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Briefings

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

What the state will do with new road work funds (Boise Statesman, TF Times News)
Caldwell starts widening 21st avenue (Nampa Press Tribune)

Competition for Medford school board seat (Medford Tribune)
Oregon continues to consider speed limits (Portland Oregonian)

Ballingham airport may see quiet summer (Bellingham Herald)
Legislature prepares for return (Vancouver Columbian, Bellingham Herald, Bremerton Sun, Olympian)
Allen supports bill on species trafficking (Seattle Times)
Vancouver waterfront could generate revenue (Vancouver Columbian)
Water quality, permits mean conflicts (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

No child grows up hearing — or asking — for numbers. Instead the four words, “tell me a story,” are the ones deeply embedded into our human software. And that will never change. But the power of numbers, the importance of data, is growing exponentially and becoming essential to how we understand larger narratives.

Then this is not new. The use of statistics, counts, numbers, all have always been a part of how we tell stories. Buffalo hide paintings are great examples from another century. Pictographs recorded people, buffalo, soldiers, villages, and meteor storms. The data was recorded. Then we did the same things with ledgers, books, computer tapes, and a couple of decades ago floppy discs, CDs, and thumb drives. Today we carry more data capacity in our phone than we ever had in our offices and homes. And what’s on that recording? IBM once estimated that the content of all of human history totaled some 5 exabytes (or five billion gigabytes of information). Now we produce that many videos, pictures, and words every couple of days.

We need more useful numbers — and this is one of Indian Country’s great challenges in an era of both austerity and transparency. In 1900 the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget was $8.2 million. It took nearly 80 years before that funding level topped a billion dollars. Then the first $2 billion was in 2001. Last year $ 2.6 billion. And the Obama administration’s current request is for $2.924 billion. (I am working on a history of Indian appropriations — more on that soon.)

So I have been thinking about these numbers in the context of the recent narrative about Native youth. The stories themselves are inspiring, starting with the president’s visit with young people in North Dakota, followed by the recent meeting at the White House. As First Lady Michelle Obama put it: “So we all need to work together to invest deeply — and for the long-term — in these young people, both those who are living in their tribal communities … and those living in urban areas across this country. These kids have so much promise — and we need to ensure that they have every tool, every opportunity they need to fulfill that promise.”

This is where the numbers and the story intersect.

A commitment to invest deeply and for the long-term requires serious cash and resources. The president’s budget matches that rhetoric with a budget request of $1 billion to promote Generation Indigenous, an initiative designed for Native American youth. “In today’s global economy a high quality education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a prerequisite to success,” the Interior Department said. “President Obama set out a vision for a 21st century education system grounded in both high academic standards and tribal values and traditions. Making advanced education opportunities available for tribal members is a high priority for tribes, who see education as the path to economic development and a better quality of life for their communities through an educated and skilled tribal member workforce.”

Today’s Native youth are perfectly cast for this initiative. Even on remote reservations or Alaska villages this is the digital native generation. They have grown up collecting more data on their phones — music, Facebook posts, video and photographs — than any other generation in history. They grow up connected to other Native youth across the country making deep digital friendships with dozens, even hundreds of other Native American youth. That’s new. It’s exponential.

I also think about the digital opportunity ahead for young people who live in a remote community. You can live anywhere in the world and produce videos for YouTube. Or write computer code. In 1971 a Unix computer had a couple hundred thousand lines of code. Today the software for a modern car has more than 90 million lines of code. That’s a lot of jobs for young people who have the right skills. And why not Generation Indigenous?

Of course that means Congress will have to actually appropriate the kind of dollars to make youth a priority. Not just a story, but a future that’s bolstered by real numbers.

Mark Trahant serves as the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the freeTrahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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Trahant