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Posts published in May 2015

First take

Larry Kenck, who has been Idaho state Democratic chair for about three years, is departing for health reasons. Personable but also fair quick with sharp responses to Republicans, he's been a sound enough leader for the Idaho Democrats, but if he's found a way to make a dent in the overwhelming Republican machine in the state, it isn't visible yet. Not that it seems to have impinged his efforts, but - will the party go for a Boise-based chair next time?

What, Gandhi less than a saint? A contributor even now, more than 60 years after his death, to the enduring bitterness and conflict between India and Pakistan? An insightful piece in Foreign Policy today gets too exactly that, in compelling fashion. India's population, while majority Hindu, long has included a large minority of Muslims, but in the runup to independence Gandhi and the pro-indepedence Congress group he fostered was dominated by Hindus, and he countenanced a number of anti-Muslim efforts and rulings. Muslims feared that with independence (even once Pakistan was broken off from India) that Hindus would overwhelm the new country's power structure, and Muslims would be sidelined at best. Gandhi spoke repeatedly in favor of religious pluralism, but his approach to the independence movement was heavily grounded in Hinduism, and he made no secret of it. Critics (including no less than Leo Tolstoy) blasted Gandhi back in the day for mixing religion into the pro-independence movements. A piece well worth reading.

Mother of Earth returns


This is a great day for Al Goozmer (pictured above). So the tribal president wants to show us everything in this village of about 200 people.

We start at the airstrip where there’s a new fire station. A mural painted in vivid colors proclaims, “TUBUGHNA: The Beach People.”

Then he shows us the tribal garden growing fresh produce. A few vegetables are already sprouting inside the greenhouse. But this is just a beginning, Goozmer said, “I asked them to look into putting another garden on the other side, that is going to be dealing, primarily, with our native berries, blueberries, salmonberries, and all the other berries here.”

But the real gem is ahead. We’re on our way to visit a piece of land that’s being donated to the tribe by The Nature Conservancy. The land is a couple of miles from the village. On the way, between the beach and a high bank of soil, Goozmer picks up a clump of earth, and explains how the land evolved over time.

He is that passionate about the land.

“I have a son who was 36-years-old and I never have seen him until he was 36. When we first met, we just fell into each other’s arms and cried and cried. It was just an awesome, awesome thing,” Goozmer said. “This is the same thing with the land. Our land, it was traditionally our land for the past thousand years, is coming back into tribal government, tribal hands. It’s like meeting your long lost relative again and reuniting with them.”

Goozmer starts his telling of the story with a coal mine that has been proposed by PacRim Coal. The land is near a deportation point for the minerals that would be shipped out. It’s a 160-acre parcel that had been homesteaded and was later donated to the Catholic Church. Then, in 2008, instead of selling the land for development (for what Goozmer calls “boo koo bucks") title was conveyed by the church to The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy has now donated that land back to its first owners with support from the Great Land Trust. The deal includes a conservation easement, limiting development and allowing tribal members use of the land for subsistence hunting, fishing, and berry-picking.

The return of such a parcel to an Alaska Native village is historic because the idea of tribal lands in Alaska is growing in both importance and inevitability. However a discovery a couple of years ago made this particular site even more important: It’s a rich cultural and archaeological site showing significant evidence about how Tubughna people have lived for the past thousand years.

“When we learned of the deep cultural significance of this place to the Tebughna people, we realized that the people of the Native Village of Tyonek would be its best long-term stewards,” said Rand Hagenstein, Alaska state director for The Nature Conservancy.

The formal title for this land is now, Etnen Bunkda, or Mother of the Earth. It comes from the Dena’ina name for the region. There is evidence of several homes from different periods of time, demonstrating a long arc of history for Tebughna as residents.

The site also includes a number of cold storage pits. These were the first refrigerators, deep holes once lined with grass and bark to preserve salmon and other foods for winter consumption. The Mother of the Earth site is a clear example of the Tebughna reliance on fish for a thousand years.

“Land managers do not fully take into consideration the fact that indigenous people have a whole cultural identity that’s related to land and subsistence, an appreciation for what the land provides,” said Heather Kendall-Miller, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. So the agencies responsible for making decisions about land, fish and game did not get the subsistence connection to the land. “The Chuitt River is one of the last rivers in the entire Cook Inlet that still has habitat for King Salmon. And that would have been impacted by the coal project,” Miller said.

The Native American Rights Fund represents the village in the land transfer.

In addition to subsistence, the transfer of this land adds to the larger Alaska debate about tribal lands. This agreement recognizes the possibility of the land being taken into trust by the Interior Department once that process is open.

“For us to again have a land base is just awesome. We have our identity refocused and reconnected back to the land of who we are,” said Goozmer. The village was once a part of the Moquawkie Indian Reservation.

However, he said, “the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act took away our ability to own land.”

Instead the land title was conveyed to regional and village corporations. “So we became shareholders instead of land owners. The corporations … are the owners and we have shares, but it’s not the same.” But the transfer of such a significant piece of land is a step in a new direction. “For us, as Natives, to be land owners intricately tied to the land, its resources, its animals, and what it produces, this is our grocery store and our pharmacy,” Goozmer said. “Hopefully this is just a beginning to get our identity back and reconnect us to the land.”

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

First take

Basic rule of thumb: Mergers of giant businesses hardly ever are a good deal for anyone other than a handful of insiders and stockholders. Competition is massively reduced (you can call that the diminishment of a free marketplace, if you like), for one thing. For another, unlike the merger is really well thought out (which seems not to be the usual case), service and operations take a nose dive. That in part for a third problem, which is that massive mounts of money changes hands, tremendous debt is created, and gets who gets to pay for it? Customers, employees and vendors top that list. So there was cheering in this quarter when the proposed Comcast-Times Warner Cable deal collapsed. And there's hope now that the same will happen as Charter Communications tries its takeover of Time Warner (it also wants to gobble up a third cable company, Bright House Networks). Keep your eye on this one.

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo has inherited the long-running Idaho torch for a federal balanced budget amendment - like other Idaho delegation members before him, most notably Larry Craig - and is pumping hard for it. He indicates a Senate vote will come later this year, and maybe it will, but there's really nothing new here, as the long history demonstrates. But there's also little value in it, as former Oregon (Republican) Senator Mark Hatfield said in voting against it, that it was a "political gummick." Why? First, because Congress could balance the budget this year of it chose to bring income and expense into alignment (and actually has done so, mostly recently in the late 90s) - but it won't, because that would mean tax increases and unacceptable budget cuts, neither of which a constitutional amendment would cure. Second, because any balanced budget constitutional amendment would have to include a trap door for emergencies (the country's been invaded, and we can't fund a defense?), and any trap door could be easily abused and render the amendment meaningless. And Crapo must know all this . . .

First take

Lots of political discussion over the last weekend about the predicament of Republican presidential candidates asked whether, considering what we now know about the absence of weapons of mass destruction and other issues, the United States should have invaded Iraq in 2003. I thought it was a terrible idea at the time, but I was in the minority then. The candidates are on the spot now because, while the nation overall has long since concluded the invasion was a bad idea, they're in the position of disowning an important decision of the last Republican president, and one they (all or nearly all) long supported. Then too there are some who take this view, expressed in a front-page Oregonian article by a former Army sniper: "I have trouble with the question itself just because it lends itself to disregarding the sacrifices that have been made."

He is wrong. The equation of support for a war - any war - with respect for the soldiers who are or at risk of being killed or wounded has two serious problems the sniper ought to consider. Americans ought to respect the work and sacrifices made by its people in uniform whether in peace or war, and in any war. If the sniper wants to tie that to support for engagement in any and all military conflicts, that means he's arguing we should be obliged to support, and for all time, any war we may enter - however self-destructive to the nation, however ill-conceived or even grossly immoral, it might be. Blind support for a war that does more damage than good to our country - is that the form of patriotism he suggests?

There is another problem. Many critics of the American conflict in Vietnam, in the 60s and 70s, felt obliged to denigrate the troops as well as the decision to engage there. The sniper's logic - linking a decision to support the troops and the decision to get into a war - legitimises that Vietnam logic too, and it was wrong then, and wrong now.

Criticising a policy is not in conflict with supporting and respecting the people this nation has asked to do a job. A point to ponder this Memorial Day. -rs

And (taken from a Facebook post of veteran Frank Lundberg, guessing he won't object): "Some ways to honor all of us might be to cease these endless futile wars and truly support the VA by reforming the bureaucracy and providing all necessary funding for medical treatment." Second that.

First take

So what's a sea lion afraid of? Not a lot, really. They congregate in port areas where people are; people don't bother them. Smaller animals don't, and sea lions are hefty creatures. And sea lions by the hundreds have been hanging out at certain Oregon port areas, especially Astoria where they've been taking over dock area supposedly in use by people. So how do you scare a sea lion off? The Port of Astoria is about to try a fiberglass orca, one used up to now in parades. Should be interesting to see how it does.

Supply and demand: Oregon is said to grow about three times the amount of pot it consumes (and still in the neighborhood after legalization hits in another month or so). The state Senate Republican leader even described the state as the "Saudi Arabia of marijuana." So where does the excess go? You could argue that Washington, and maybe Colorado, would be logical markets. But what about interstate trafficking? That could be a major (legal) obstacle.

Season of discontent


Try drawing a straight line through the results in the school-related election results from this week, and where it seems to land is on a season of education discontent in Idaho.

You might run into trouble trying to get a lot more specific than that – the discontent appears to bounce in several directions. But indicators of discontent were all over in last Tuesday’s elections.

As usual this time of year, a bunch of levy and bond issues were on the ballot, and as usual a good many (a lot of those supplemental levies that just maintain existing operations) passed.

But voter turnout was low (it seemed generally lower than last year) and overall support for incumbent positions seemed down. Even, for that matter, some proposals for money-saving improvements.

This year the biggest proposal, a $56.1 million bond at Idaho Falls failed, though barely. That amount alone was triple the total amount of all the school issues that passed.

A batch of school board elections wound up with striking sometimes unconventional results. In the largest school district in Idaho, West Ada, two of the three seats up for election went to outsiders. Julie Madsen, a physician, took out a board member who had served 13 years. And maybe the most interesting winner of the night was the other newcomer there, Russell Joki, a former Nampa school superintendent (and failed 2013 Meridian City Council candidate) who for years pursued a legal case against school districts charging fees to students. “School districts should not be charging fees for any part of the locally approved, endorsed, or sanctioned educational experience offered to students,” he wrote in a 2013 opinion piece. What will he do about that now as a board member?

In Caldwell, where all three board seats were decided by extremely small margins, a local tempest developed when a challenger, former Democratic legislative candidate Travis Manning, defeated an incumbent. Some area conservatives argued he should be disqualified: He’s a teacher in a neighboring school district, and associated with the teacher’s union. But Manning’s politics may have a lot to do with it too, and the dynamics of the Caldwell board may change a bit with his arrival.

Then there was the case in southeast Idaho of two small districts, North Gem and Grace (in Caribou County), which were proposed for consolidation. It would seem to make perfect sense. The districts have small populations and school attendance and a limited tax base. On top of that building renovations (especially a century-old school at Bancroft) and other costs have been pressuring taxpayers, something a merger might ease. But the voters, after seeing a good deal of local divisiveness on the question, rejected it, which means they’ll soon be faced with several difficult and expensive bond issues.

The Idaho Legislature’s actions on schools this year may have been a side factor in some of this. The legislature funded schools a little more amply than in most recent years, and that could have affected some attitudes locally.

But the common thread, in so many places, of boat-rocking is hard to miss. A fair number of voters seems to have decided they’re not happy; what they haven’t yet concluded, evidently, is what to do about it.

First take

It's beginning to look as if the NSA mass surveillance program could be going down. The Guardian in England reports that "dysfunction in Congress has gotten so bad it might end up actually doing some good: the NSA’s mass surveillance powers under the Patriot Act are now on the verge of expiring after a dramatic 1am vote in the Senate on Saturday morning." This may be the opportunity to sift the pernicious pieces out of the act, which has useful as well as dark elements.

A headline on the front page of the Twin Falls Times News asks, "Do jumpers have a death wish?" The reference is to the people who jump into the Snake River canyon at Twin, either powered from the canyon side or the Perrine Bridge. Another story leads with the point, "After a 73-year-old BASE jumper died earlier this month while attempting a dangerous stunt from the Perrine Bridge, many are questioning why the sport is still legal." The counter is that such people have a "life wish," that they're living "according to their own dreams." Hmm. Some dream.

Oregon tax facts

From a report on who pays what in Oregon taxes, prepared by the Oregon Center for Public Policy. The numbers in brackets refer to sources, which can be found where the full report is posted online.

Who pays more, low- or high-income households? The income group in Oregon that pays the highest share of their income to state and local taxes: Lowest income households.[1] The income group in Oregon that pays the lowest share of their income to state and local taxes: The wealthiest 1 percent of households.[2]

Have taxes increased as a share of Oregonians’ income? Oregon state and local general revenue as a share of income in 1991: 15.8 percent.[3] Oregon state and local general revenue as a share of income in 2012: 15.0 percent.[4]

How much do working poor Oregonians pay in income taxes? 2013 federal poverty threshold for a family of four with two children: $23,624.[5] State income tax paid in Oregon by a family of four living at the poverty line in 2013: $230.[6] Of the 42 states with income taxes, the number that taxed the income of a family of four living at the poverty line in 2013: 16.[7] Oregon’s rank in taxing the income of a family of four living at the poverty line in 2013: 5th highest.[8]

What share of income goes to the top 1 percent? Share of income going to Oregon’s top 1 percent in 2013: 14.0 percent.[9] Share of income going to Oregon’s bottom 40 percent in 2013: 7.7 percent.[10]

What share of capital gains income goes to the top 1 percent? Share of income from capital gains going to Oregon’s top 1 percent in 2013: 53.0 percent.[11] Share of capital gains going to Oregon’s top 5 percent in 2013: 73.6 percent.[12] Share of income from capital gains going to Oregon’s bottom 95 percent in 2013: 27.5 percent.[13]

How do lottery and income tax revenues compare? Anticipated state revenue from personal income taxes in 2015-17: $15.75 billion.[14] Anticipated state revenue from the Oregon Lottery in 2015-17: $1.13 billion.[15] Anticipated state revenue from corporate income taxes in 2015-17: $1.08 billion.[16]

Do corporations pay a fair share of income taxes? Share of Oregon income taxes paid by corporations in 1973-75: 18.5 percent.[17] Share of Oregon income taxes corporations are projected to pay in 2015-17: 6.4 percent.[18]

Additional state revenue available in 2015-17 for schools, health and human services and public safety if corporations paid the same share of the state’s income taxes as they paid in 1973-75: $2.5 billion.[19] Amount of additional money Oregon schools needed in 2013-15 to provide all children a quality education: $2.2 billion.[20]

Do some profitable corporations pay nothing in income taxes? Number of profitable corporations doing business in Oregon that paid the corporate minimum tax in tax year 2012: 3,294.[21] Number of corporations with Oregon profits that used tax credits to reduce their 2012 tax liability below the corporate minimum tax: 218.[22] Number of corporations with Oregon profits that paid nothing in Oregon corporate income taxes for tax year 2012: 169.[23] Number of corporations with over $1 million in Oregon profits that paid nothing in Oregon corporate income taxes for tax year 2012: at least 49.[24] The names of corporations that paid nothing in corporate income taxes that support the public structures that create a strong business climate: The legislature has yet to make this public.

Who itemizes deductions and who uses the standard deduction? Share of Oregonians who itemized their deductions in 2013: 47.0 percent.[25] Share of Oregonians who used the standard deduction in 2013: 53.0 percent.[26] Share of Oregonians earning $100,000 or less in 2013 who itemized: 39.7 percent.[27] Share of Oregonians earning $100,000 or less in 2013 who used the standard deduction: 60.3 percent.[28] Share of Oregon’s wealthiest 1 percent who itemized in 2013: 95.5 percent.[29]

Share of the mortgage interest deduction benefits going to the highest-earning 20 percent of Oregonians in 2011: 61 percent.[31]

Who benefits from the Oregon EITC? Projected 2015-17 cost of the Oregon Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): $105 million.[32] Share of Oregon taxpayers benefiting from the Oregon EITC in 2013: About 16 percent.[33] Share of Oregon EITC going to working families in 2013: 100 percent.[34]