Writings and observations

If you were among those wondering who would be first out among the Republican presidential crowd, you can thank Rick Perry for putting your wondering to an end. He opted out on Friday, four months or so before any real votes were cast, but a couple of months or so after he clearly was stuck on the kids table for the debates – no Carly Fiorina moment for him. Gail Collins of the New York Times reacted, “His departure is a crushing blow for those of us who have already put in the time to read “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington,” in which Perry announced that Americans were tired of being bossed around and being told “how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house” and “what kind of cars we can drive.” I will not even have the opportunity to point out that Washington doesn’t actually tell us any of those things.” Now . . . who’s next? –rs (photo/Gage Skidmore)

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First Take

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Tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s email server? Donald Trump’s obnoxious phrase of the week? Or Rand Paul argue the benefits of assimilation to American Indians and Alaska Natives? So much nonsense.

Yet this week is the unofficial start to the 2016 campaign. So we’ll be getting more debates, more absurd policy pronouncements and more theater.

And at the same time as the election contest picks up, we’ll also be witnessing a new round of idiocy from the United States Congress.

Congress has about three weeks left to fund the government. As President Barack Obama said over the holiday weekend: “As always, the deadline for Congress to pass a budget is the end of September. Every year. This is not new. And if they don’t, they’ll shut down the government for the second time in two years. At a time when the global economy faces headwinds and America’s economy is a relative bright spot in the world, a shutdown of our government would be wildly irresponsible. It would be an unforced error that saps the momentum we’ve worked so hard to build. Plain and simple, a shutdown would hurt working Americans.”

This makes no sense because Indian Country will be disproportionately impacted by a government shutdown. I’ll have more to say about that soon.

But let’s swing back to the political season because the only way to improve Congress is to elect new people. We need members of Congress who are willing to be politicians and govern by making choices about the options ahead.

We should start by focusing where there are the most Native Americans: Arizona’s First Congressional District. There are twelve tribes located within this district, including the Arizona side of the Navajo Nation. (Navajo doesn’t have quite enough people for its own district, even if you include Utah and New Mexico.

Arizona’s first congressional district is the nearest thing to an American Indian majority district. (Arizona did all it could to prevent Native Americans from voting. It’s only been since 1970 when a court opened up election rolls.) The population of the district is 724,868; and 23.2 percent of that is American Indian. Four years ago that number was about 22 percent and unless the district lines change, those numbers will continue to rise.

Two Native women have already run for this seat, Mary Kim Titla in 2008 and Wenona Benally Baldenegro in 2012. Titla, San Carlos Apache, is now the executive director of the tribal youth organization, UNITY, INC. Baldenegro is a Navajo and a Harvard-educated attorney.

Both lost in the primary – and that’s the challenge for this district.

Statewide only 11.9 percent of those eligible cast ballots (and less than 29 percent of registered voters). But if the Native vote could turnout in higher numbers during primary elections, then the results will be different. That sentence is easy to write, and yet so difficult to do.

However in last the general election Native voters did turnout successfully. Some ten million dollars were spent trying to win this “swing” district for Republicans. It was the top House district for so-called “dark” money or third-party spending that ran mostly negative ads. Two groups alone spent roughly $2.6 million supporting Republicans, the American Action Network and Young Guns Network. But big money lost. The Native vote trumped and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick won re-election by rolling up significant margins in precincts with Native voters in Apache and Navajo counties.

However Kirkpatrick’s win stirs another issue and that’s the disappointment many feel after she supported the sneaky transfer of forest land for the Rio Tinto mine. (She’s now running for the U.S. Senate; Sen. John McCain is running for reelection and he engineered the mine transfer by attaching it to a must-pass bill.)

And that’s exactly why a Native candidate is needed. It will take about 35,000 votes to win the primary next August and probably about 120,000 votes to succeed in the general election.

Expect a lot of candidates to run because it’s an open seat. Roll Call lists the Arizona district as one of thirty “toss up” seats. There should also also be a long list of American Indian candidates for this race, there are lots of people who could put together the resources to win. This is the ideal moment for Arizona’s tribal communities to have a representative in Congress – and so every obstacle should be removed to make this so.

It’s time.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He 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.

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Trahant

One thing you reasonably can take from Vice President Joe Biden’s interview on the Stephen Colbert late show last night is this: He’s not running for president. He didn’t say that in exactly those words, but he said again, if anything even more clearly, that when you run for president you have to give it everything that’s in you, and “I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there. I’m being completely honest. Nobody has a right in my view to seek that office unless they’re willing to give it 110 percent of who they are.”

In some ways, maybe he wishes he were there. He’s run for the office, after all. But he’s right. If you aren’t there, fully and completely into it, you shouldn’t do it. – rs

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First Take

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Happily watching a public falling out among political thieves is one of my more harmless diversions – particularly when it’s the right wing where such events are regular and always predictable. It’s happening again. This time, it’s the big guys. The really big guys. And a whole political party. And I don’t mean that jerk Trump. And it’s been a really big insider secret.

A couple of years ago, I noted in a previous column how the then-reclusive Kochsters were gutting the top level staff of the National Republican Committee. Charley and Davy wanted to step up their cancerous growth on the body politic. So, they went looking for talent. They settled on the top GOP staff and proceeded to lure many of ‘em out with big bucks. Really big bucks.

They nearly cleaned out the information technology office at the top. They also took several department folk who knew the ins and outs of mailing lists and operations of GOP field offices. They paid highly – read richly bought – a pollster or two. Poor ol’ Reince Priebus almost wound up alone.

They did one other – at the time – curious thing. Charley and Davy laid out some of their greenbacks to help what was left of the GOP crew develop some new computer software – programming that would identify such things as all state office staffs, workers – paid and unpaid – and a very snazzy voter identification system. Rience apparently agreed if only in an effort to stop the talent raiding and keep at least some of his staff intact. The deal was the GOP would do the development work and the Koch’s would pay the bill. For two years or so. Then they’d talk again.

Some months back, it was time for that talk. But Charley and Davy had other ideas. Apparently, in the original agreement, there was a clause allowing the Kochs to duplicate all that software and all the goodie information it contained. And guess what’s believed to have happened?

The Koch’s – who have more money than the national GOP AND Trump combined – and who can raise more money than the national GOP – now apparently have at least a working copy of all the computer files and all the voter info the national GOP thought it owned exclusively. It appears the stage is set for Charley and Davy to step up and over Reince’s body and what’s left of the NRC and go straight to voters with ad campaigns, direct mail, registration efforts and voter identification. Whoops! Wha’ hoppened?

The plain fact is the Kochs appear now even more in a position to become major and even more viable actors on the American political stage. They’ve got the bucks – they’ve got a new and higher public profile – and they’ve got direct access to millions of voters. Seems to me all this mostly defines what a political party is supposed to be. They now seem to be one!

The Kochs and all their various political fronts have been playing fast and loose with the truth for several years now. So have Priebus and his minions. Rience has dictatorially tried to limit debates, limit media access, pick and choose media “favorites,” stack the cards for who gets the most national GOP support. Hint: those running for office that sign “no tax” pledges, hold the line on abortion, help disenfranchise whole classifications of voters and generally see things his way.

But now, all the GOP office-holders – and would-be GOP office-holders – have a new voice in their ears. Make that “voices.” Trump. And Charley and Davy. Directly. Distinctly. With the background sound of dollars clinking. Dollars they own. Dollars they can give. Dollars they can withhold. More of ‘em than the national GOP.

It would seem the Koch boys have – or will soon possess – a parallel Republican Party. It would also seem the boys have reduced – or are about to reduce – the national GOP to National Republican Party Lite.

Now, some reading this may say “Look, Rainey. The National Republican Party is a recognized national political entity with a long history and lots of resources. These Koch guys may have big bucks but they’re just a couple of guys. And, while they may have some clout, they’re more like the tail on the elephant.”

Oh, yeah, sez I? Consider what a teenager with a bad complexion and an anti-social streak can do with his laptop in his basement in Cincinnati. One such teen can use today’s technology to infiltrate federal computers, bring large banks to their knees with a few keystrokes and tap into national security files. All with just a bit more knowledge about technology than the average bear. And the Koch’s ain’t your “average bears.”

With massive amounts of information they now apparently “own,” Charley and Davy can do a lot more than that Cincinnati kid. With their various front organizations, a heavy hand in the affairs of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – which has operatives in every state capitol – and with the political propensity of many political candidates to grovel for folks/companies with big bucks, seems to me the Koch’s are more scary now than they’ve ever been. Being “outed” by the media hasn’t reduced their clout. It’s just easier to see what that clout is and how/where they use it.

The public falling out of thieves. But it’s really more than that. It’s about the largest power grab in American politics in the last 80-90 years. And it almost got past us.

This is something that needs watching. Notice I didn’t say “fun to watch.” ‘Cause “fun” it ain’t!

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Rainey

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As millions of Americans go about the Labor Day weekend brought to them in the name of the working men and women of America, one wonders if much thought is given, especially in a right-to-work state like Idaho, to the debt owed to those labor pioneers who worked so hard to establish benefits we all take for granted: the eight hour work day and the 40 hour work week; overtime pay; health benefits; retirement plans to supplement Social Security; the passage of laws outlawing child labor and laws ensuring safe working environments are the priority not productivity.

Its doubtful much thought is given or thanks offered. In part this is due to a relentless campaign over many years by Republicans to portray labor as “greedy unions” that would rather see a business go broke if it cannot meet the union’s grasping effort to get paid more for doing less.

There’s greed in abundance, but today it is almost wholly monopolized by over-paid, unaccountable corporate executives who often install strategies that fail but still receive outlandish compensation for their failure. The failure usually reveals a woeful undervaluing of employees who are treated as “overhead,” not as people trying hard to do their best. Constant cutting of “over-head”can tempoprarily improve share price and/or provide the façade of a better return on investment number. But its short-term thinking that sacrifices the future for the present.

In past years, the gap between the average union worker’s paycheck and the company ceo once was 10:1. Today it is more likely 100 to one and growing. It’s at a point now where it is excessive enough to be an issue in the presidential campaign.

The decline in union membership is well-known, as is the proliferation of right-to-work laws which forbid the forced payment of union dues in an organized shop. There’s no argument that there was a time in the late 50’s when unions were their own worst enemies. Public disdain grew either because of corrupt union leaders or strikes supporting demands for excessive pay increases, or suspected “socialist” tendencies.

I once was a member of United Steelworkers of America local 338, the union shop at Kaiser Aluminum’s huge Trentwood rolling mill. I worked there the summer of 1965 to earn extra money before heading east for college.

Initially I was assigned to the box shop stacking lumber that came through a saw cut to the correct dimensions to make pallets for shipping coils and other products. During the afternoon break a union “brother” mosied over and said, “Slow down, kid. You’re working too hard.”

I was dumbfounded since I was easily keeping up. “But I’m doing fine,” I protested. The brother then got blunt and snarly. “Listen, kid, the company contract says that’s a two-person job. Your showing one person can do it is denying another person a job. Slow down or else. .”

Welcome to what’s called “featherbedding.” Not wanting to find out what the “or else” meant, I slowed down. The next day there were two of us during the work. In those days Kaiser was selling every pound of aluminum it produced at a handsome profit.

When the economy started to slide with inflation and interest rates rising, demand declining, and profits disappearing, Kaiser began to hemorrhage and a long slow struggle to right the ship began. To their credit the Kaiser unions recognized inefficiencies had to be removed, that contract niceities had to be sacrificed for maintenance of necessities.

Despite wage and benefit concessions for future profit sharing,eventually Kaiser went into bankruptcy.

The idea of labor/management partnership though has survived and many unions today work closely with management to maintain solid profitable production while providing a safe working environment and a decent benefits.

Unfortunately, state Democratic parties everywhere have become enamoured of Labor’s major legislative priority—raising a state’s minimum wage. While Idaho’s is one of the lowest in the nation, imposing an unrealistic, unsustainable number on businesses in Idaho is not the answer.

Idaho Democrats should take note of the fact that the four states that most recently increased their minimum wage did so through a ballot initiative. That’s not going to happen in Idaho.

The Idaho Democratic party would be better served by promoting a woman’s right to “equal pay for equal work.”

So what is Labor’s top legislative agenda for the next session: a law that mandates an Idaho employer has to provide a one hour lunch break for employees! In 2015 an Idaho employer can deny an employee his or her lunch break and force them to work eight or ten hours without the lunch.? Simply unbelievable.

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The Corrections Corporation of America, which used to run a massive Idaho prison (now under direct state control), is still plenty busy. The Daily Beast today is reporting this: “The latest quarterly finance report from Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit prison company, indicates that its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to manage a detention center packed with immigrant mothers and children is very helpful to its bottom line. Part of the reason their deal is so lucrative? The public isn’t particularly bothered by it.” The reviews haven’t always been good; at least one federal judge has issued a ruling severely blasting the conditions under which these children are being held. But when so much of the public dialogue is just about getting “them” outta here, more humane thinking tends to go by the boards . . . – rs

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First Take