Archive for the 'Trahant' Category

Apr 05 2015

Leave this cheap oil in the ground

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Could we be nearing the moment to really address climate change?

A quick answer is “no.” Of course not.

The Republicans in Congress are hell-bent on pretending that climate change does not exist let along agree to any shifts in policy. So they continue to fight for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. As the House Energy and Commerce Committee tells the story, the pipeline expansion “would carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day 875 miles from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. From there, the oil would go to refineries in the Midwest and Gulf Coast. The new pipeline would also transport some of the rapidly-increasing oil production from the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana.”

But here is the thing: There is already a glut of oil and the idea of adding more makes no sense.

As National Public Radio reported last week “there has been some concern that the U.S. will run out of places to put it all. Some analysts speculate that could spark another dramatic crash in oil prices.” How big a decline is an unknown. NPR quotes a Citigroup analyst saying $20 a barrel is possible. Others predict a continued fall in oil, to, say, $35 a barrel. Oil is a commodity and traded on public markets. So the price depends on perception about its supply and scarcity.

One reason why there is so much oil out there is that people are using less. The Nation recently wrote that the Energy Information Administration “projected that global oil demand would reach 103.2 million barrels per day in 2015; now, it’s lowered that figure for this year to only 93.1 million barrels. Those 10 million “lost” barrels per day in expected consumption may not seem like a lot, given the total figure, but keep in mind that Big Oil’s multibillion-dollar investments in tough energy were predicated on all that added demand materializing, thereby generating the kind of high prices needed to offset the increasing costs of extraction. With so much anticipated demand vanishing, however, prices were bound to collapse.”

I happen to think the decline in consumption is a long-term trend. There are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that people drive less after 40 years old — and the Baby Boom is long past that. A New Direction Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future, a 2013 report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund found that “Americans drive no more miles in total today than we did in 2004 and no more per person than we did in 1996.”

And, while Baby Boomers are less inclined to drive, the Millennial generation is thinking about transportation differently, “driving significantly less than previous generations of young Americans. Millennials are already the largest generation in the United States and their choices will play a crucial role in determining future transportation infrastructure needs.”

Even if gas prices stay low these trends are not likely to reverse. As the New Direction report points out: “If the Millennial-led decline in per capita driving continues for another dozen years, even at half the annual rate … total vehicle travel in the United States could remain well below its 2007 peak through at least 2040—despite a 21 percent increase in population.” Continue Reading »

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Mar 27 2015

Natives explore the next 10,000

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

What will Alaska look like in 10,000 years? Who will be here? What will they do? And, most important, what will preserved from the past kilennium?

These are not easy questions. Even thinking about the next decade, let alone thousands of years, is interrupted by every crisis that requires attention. There is business to transact. Cell phones buzz. Unanswered emails compound. And, so, we think about the now, not the next.

What if we step back and only think about the future? We turn off our phones, don’t answer email, and ignore interruption.

The First Alaskans Institute recently gathered a group of people together for a week in Bethel to have that very conversation. Elizabeth Medicine Crow said that very idea is a part of the institute’s vision and came from the founding board members. “I think intuitively it makes a lot of sense for Native people. But I also think for most people it’s really hard to wrap their arms around, ‘what does that mean? For 10,000 years.’ It’s really not so much of a mystery for us because we can actually turn around and look directly at our past because we’ve been here for longer than that. We know that as stewards of our time, on behalf of our people, that we have at minimum a trajectory of that much time to look forward to.”

Medicine Crow, who’s president of the institute, said it was a chance to convene a diverse gathering of people who were eager to think deeply about “where we’re going.”

“So it’s not just corporations, it’s not just tribes, it’s not just non-profits, it’s also artists, it’s elders, it’s young people, mothers and fathers, aunties and uncles, storytellers, performers, it was a real mix” she said. “It’s non-hierarchical. So it’s not just people who have a title. Leadership to us is our Native people who are stepping up to help our communities and to help our people.”

Medicine Crow is Tlingit and Haida from Kake. She told a story about a lesson she learned from Polynesian navigators. “The traditional practice of sailing by the stars requires that they set their bow looking forward but they are navigating from the stars behind them because from that they can know the direction their bow is going. I think that is such a powerful analogy about the way our ancestors think about time. And the way we should think about it, too.”

The long story that reflects the Alaska Native experience — or Native America’s for that matter — is mostly about the interruptions from the past century or two. So the current challenges are not the norm, certainly not over a 10,000 year history, but nonetheless require our attention to get back on course.

And some of this course correction requires immediate action. In less than fifteen years, for example, Alaska will have a higher percentage of Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Hispanics and African Americans than white people. “The state is already super-diverse. It may not look or feel that way depending on where you’re from in the state but as a whole the state is really diverse. As we continue to march through time, especially for Alaska Native populations, most of our population is under the age of 25 and that birth rate is only increasing. So if you apply that to all the other populations, the same thing is happening, plus we’re having so many more people move up. What Alaska will look like on its face is going to be a lot different by the year 2040 than it does today.” Continue Reading »

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Mar 24 2015

On the House budget

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The House Budget Committee unveiled its budget Tuesday — and the details are not good news for Indian Country.

First: The budget calls for more spending cuts than any previous Republican budget, some $5.5 trillion over the next decade. The pay off would be a balanced budget. But most of those cuts fall into “domestic” spending and that’s the source of most of the federal dollars for Indian Country.

Second: The budget repeals the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. “Obamacare is not working for America’s families, doctors or employers. It is imperative that the President’s health care law be repealed so that we can start over and make targeted, common sense reforms that will improve access to affordable health care choices,” the House Budget committee said.

“This budget repeals Obamacare in its entirety – including all of the tax increases, regulations, subsidies, and mandates” the House Budget committee said. That includes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

The proposal would also transform Medicaid into a block grant program, giving the money directly to states. Medicaid now represents some 20 percent of the Indian health system funding.

In a language that’s not English, the report said, “the budget repeals Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion so the program is able to focus on its core mission of serving those in our communities most in need of assistance.” Translation: We’re cutting insurance for those who can least afford insurance. This is nuts. The Medicaid expansion has been the key to making health insurance more available. Since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act there has been a 35 percent decline in the uninsured, according to new data from the Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly 17 million people have insurance coverage under the law. The House budget offers no replacement provisions for those who would lose their health insurance coverage.

This report is full of Orwellian language. Another of my favorites is this line: “We do not invite the across-the-board sequestration cut that would occur if we were to simply budget or appropriate a defense spending level that is above the existing cap mandated under current law.” In other words, the sequester applies to every other part of government, but not Defense. As I mentioned in my last post, this is an attempt to balance the interests of those in Congress who want deep spending cuts with those who want more money for defense.

The budget does not actually appropriate dollars. That is still the job of appropriations committees. But this document would be an overall limit to spending and would force the folks writing budgets to keep their numbers below the caps. This budget is similar to Paul Ryan’s recent approaches to spending and House Democrats said that would mean a cut of at least $375 million to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a $637 million reduction for the Indian Health Service. But that’s just in direct appropriations. If you reduce Medicaid that could trim as much as a billion dollars from Indian health programs.

The Senate will unveil its budget later this week as well. The goal is to have a budget enacted before April 15. The Senate’s budget will not require a supermajority, by rule it cannot be filibustered. So this budget will reflect the will of the Republican majority in both Houses. The budget still will face a likely veto, especially since it includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Mark Trahant holds 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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Mar 12 2015

The battle is about to get ugly

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The battle over federal spending is about to get ugly. Real ugly.

It’s been a Republican promise to balance the federal budget within a decade. And in an election campaign that promise look soooo easy. Cut a penny here, another there, and somehow, magically, revenues match spending and there’s a balanced budget. Since Republicans now control both the House and the Senate this should be a done deal, right?

But that’s not how it happens in the real world. In the federal system there are all kinds of fiscal obligations that move through the system automatically. If a person is eligible for Medicare or Medicaid … then the money is spent. Congress doesn’t have to appropriate a cent. The automatic side of the budget is growing because Baby Boomers are older and drawing more benefits such as Social Security.

But that’s only the beginning of this complex spending debate.

The money spent on American Indians and Alaska Natives is a tiny fraction, far less than one percent of the overall budget. Yet every idea to cut federal spending ends up significantly impacting tribal communities, making it impossible for tribal leaders to plan ahead, and disrupting ongoing initiatives ranging from education to economic development. The president’s budget would benefit Indian Country.

And while there are supporters of Indian Country initiatives in Congress, the bigger issue is the overall budget and how much pressure there will be to trim spending for all every federal agencies.

The president’s budget does address the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office reports that the spending plan would have “no net effect” on the deficit in 2015 but would reduce deficits between 2016 and 2025.

But that’s not enough for those in Congress who demand a balanced budget. And even the sequester was not enough to do that.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told a Senate panel that “the reality is that balancing the budget for any sustained period is probably not in our immediate future.” The budget would have to shrink by $5.5 trillion in ten years or eight times the size of the sequester plan and 65 times the Ryan-Murray budget deal (which didn’t last long).

You might think those numbers would be big enough, deep enough, to scare off even committed Republicans. And that’s true — when it comes to Defense spending.

Defense News quoted Sen. John McCain saying he will do “whatever it takes to avert sequester on defense. I will not agree to any budget that does not stop sequestration. We just had testimony this morning that will put the lives of American men and women in uniform in danger if we continue with sequestration.”

So that’s fight number one. Republicans who want to live up to a balanced budget pledge versus Republicans who want to end the sequester — at least as far as military spending. In a lot of ways this will be a contest of wills between the House and the Senate.

So which budget will prevail? The president’s budget — at least in terms of overall spending — has no chance. Congressional budgets will be unveiled shortly and then the fight begins and we can start to wonder what kind of last minute deal will be needed to keep the government operational.

As I said, the battle over federal spending is about to get ugly.

Mark Trahant holds 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 free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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Feb 27 2015

The power of Native voters

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

I have been writing for years about the success — well, at least mostly — of Native American voters. During recent presidential election cycles the turnout from Indian Country is inspiring, helping to swing elections from Arizona to North Dakota.

And just last year Alaska Native voters helped dump a hostile state governor and replaced him with Gov. Bill Walker, an ally, as well as electing Byron Mallott, a Tlingit leader, as the Lt. Governor.

But do you want to know something really cool?

The demographic shift that reflects Native voting power is only beginning. What’s more the landscape is changing faster than expected and should bring about dramatic changes in states as “red” as Alaska and Oklahoma.

A new report looks at the numbers and the results are stunning. In 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today that proportion stands at 63 percent and it’s likely to be less than 44 percent by 2060. The report, “The States of Change: Demographics and Democracy” is a collaboration of the liberal Center for American Progress, the conservative American Enterprise Institute and demographer William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution. One of the goals is to “document and analyze the challenges to democracy posed by the rapid demographic evolution from the 1970s to 2060.”

One lens that is particularly revealing: States where people of color are the majority. The report said: “Right now, there are only four majority-minority states: California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas. But with the ongoing demographic transformation of the country, our States of Change projections find that this will become more and more common.” So in five years Maryland and Nevada will be in that category. Then by 2060 the number of majority-minority states will reach 22, including seven of the currently largest states, making up about two-thirds of the country’s population.

American Indians and Alaska Natives are very much a part of this new majority because we are younger and growing faster than an older white population. Continue Reading »

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Feb 20 2015

Unfinished business for Alaska tribes

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Do Alaska Native tribes posses sovereignty?

A simple question. And, in Indian Country, the answer is usually a quick “yes.” Of course. But in Alaska just asking this question is an act of defiance. The state and many of its citizens have assumed, planned, and operated on the premise that tribal powers no longer exist, so the state is free to impose its will on Alaska Natives.

A simple question that’s framed by dueling narratives. One story says the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act — ANCSA — was a termination bill that should have extinguished tribal sovereignty. The other counters saying ANCSA was primarily a land settlement. A land bill that did create native corporations but did not answer questions about governance.

A simple question with multiple answers. Alaska, however, has stuck to a refusal to recognize tribal authority and has spent millions of dollars on litigation. In one such case, a federal court recognized tribal communities’ authority to put land into trust, removing lands from state control and a recognition of Indian Country (a status similar to reservations in other states). Alaska appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

Then in November a new governor was elected. Bill Walker, an independent, and he promised a new way of doing business. A Walker transition team report said: “Where no tools exist, they must be created, such as establishing a mechanism (e.g., legislation, constitutional amendment, etc.) where Alaska tribes – as sovereign nations they are – negotiate and partner with the state of Alaska on an officially recognized, permanent government-to -government basis.”

But on Feb. 9, the state of Alaska fell into its old patterns. It asked the appeals for a six-month stay to rethink its policy followed by some sort of status report. The state said: “The central issue in this appeal is purely legal: whether the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act precludes the creation of new trust land in Alaska. However the decision whether to continue to pursue a judicial remedy, seek congressional action, or determine and implementing strategies for integrating trust land into Alaska’s ownership pattern — with the resulting impacts to state regulatory jurisdiction — are policy matters entrusted to a state administration that was inaugurated only a few weeks ago. As the state’s chief executive, the governor has the authority and obligation to frame state policy.”

I can think of a lot of governors who like the notion of absolute state authority, especially when it conflicts with tribal communities. But the hashtag would read: #NeverGonnaHappen. Native Americans have a right, even an obligation, to govern ourselves. Continue Reading »

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Feb 13 2015

Planting ideas (colleges)

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Congress has recognized the importance and the value of tribal colleges. A Senate resolution sets Feb. 8 as the “National Tribal Colleges and Universities Week.”

There are 32 fully accredited tribal colleges and universities on some 75 campuses across the country, reaching thousands of students, delivering higher education for a fraction of the cost of other public institutions.

“All across America we have teachers helping students in some of the poorest, most remote corners of our nation. We have students who are committed to persevering, have been raised with the cultural strength of their tribe, and are determined to shine brighter to make this world a better place,” said U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, and sponsor of the resolution. “In North Dakota, I’ve been awestruck by the commitment I’ve seen from our educators and staff at all five of our tribal colleges to engaging with our Native kids – to showing them that they can achieve higher and grow stronger both personally and professionally.”

But when it comes to public policy, tribal colleges do not get the resources required.

A few weeks ago, the Atlantic published a critical report about tribal colleges and called them a “poor return on more than $100 million a year in federal money.” And, a top line of a hundred million sounds like a lot of money. The primary complaint was that the schools’ graduation rates are lower than other institutions.

But here is the rub: The same report acknowledged how much less is being spent on Native students. “Congress sets tribal college funding and is authorized by federal law to give schools a maximum of $8,000 per student. But in reality the schools get $5,850 per student on average. And that funding can be used only for Native American students; nearly a fifth of those enrolled don’t identify as Native,” wrote Sarah Butrymowicz for The Atlantic. “Howard University, a historically black college, by comparison averages more than $20,000 per student from the federal government.”

And that’s just the beginning. A report by the Century Foundation estimates the total cost for a community college averages $10,242 per student.

But The Atlantic piece seemed to blame tribal colleges themselves for inadequate resources — and a performance metric based only on graduation rates.

Fortunately there is another way to look at this issue. The Montana Legislature is considering legislation that would boost funding non-Indian students who attend tribal colleges on a per student basis. A bill by Rep. Susan Webber, D-Browning, would match the amount of funding that state community colleges receive on a per capita basis. Under current state law tribal colleges — seven based in Montana — receive about half as much per student as community colleges. Non-Indian students make up nearly a third of the student body at Montana’s tribal colleges. As Blackfeet Community College President Billie Jo Kipp put it: “Compared to what Dawson Community College gets, we get $3,000. They get $6,740. We provide similar services, we provide similar—if not more—training programs, workforce development programs, to non-Natives as well.”

Tribal colleges remain, in my mind, an unfair bargain. A bargain because they deliver higher education at a much lower cost per student. And an unfair bargain because they should not have to do that. There should be the resources available to get the job done.

Tribal colleges serve another critical role. Let me explain. If you look at the economy of a local community, pick the town, you’ll find that there are often four pillars of activity that create jobs. These are: government, health care, higher education and private sector. We know that government (tribal and federal) plays a huge role in any reservation economy. It’s the same with Indian health (now Indian Country’s single largest employer). In communities with strong tribal colleges, that becomes a third leg for economic development because there’s an infrastructure surrounding a campus that creates good gigs ranging from professors to maintenance workers. The fourth leg, the private sector, is usually the weakest link for a lot of reasons. Continue Reading »

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Feb 05 2015

The ObamaCare soap opera

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act on February 3. Then, this is not new. The House has voted nearly sixty times to either revoke the law or to make huge changes. But this time the House and the Senate are in Republican hands. So that means what was a symbolic act now has the potential of becoming law.

Well, maybe.

The Affordable Care Act is like a national soap opera that should rivet any audience. Will the law survive? What sort of challenges does it face legally and politically? And, most important, what does this daytime drama mean to Indian Country?

Here is the story so far.

Turn back to to 1974. President Gerald Ford signed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act into law, a measure that modernized the federal delivery of health care in Indian Country. But that law had an expiration date; it needed another act of Congress to renew it. And that did not happen. Congress let the bill lapse despite repeated attempts. That’s where the story takes a turn. The whole health care reform debate was heating up and folks in Congress decided to roll the Indian Health Care Improvement Act into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This language was shortened to the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” — and it’s now the law of the land. The Indian health provisions were made permanent so future Congresses would not have to renew them.

The Affordable Care Act had other benefits to Indian Country. The law improved funding channels for Indian health facilities, a source of money that’s growing during lean budget years. Next year’s Indian Health Service budget estimates more than $1.1 billion collected from Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans Health Administration and private insurance.

But Republicans have been adamantly against the Affordable Care Act. Four years ago a Republican House was elected and that body started voting over and over to repeal the law. But nothing ever happened because the Democratic controlled Senate ignored the actions in the House.

But like any good soap opera there are new characters joining the story. The Supreme Court could strike down part of the law, causing a lot of confusion. And the Senate is now run by Republicans who will definitely consider the House legislation to repeal the law. This will not be easy. The Senate usually needs 60 votes in order to pass legislation (stopping the threat of a filibuster). And there are not 60 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

That’s another twist. Democrats were short 60 votes back in 2010 — so they turned to an arcane process called budget reconciliation that allowed the legislation to pass with a simple majority, or 51 votes. Now many Republicans are asking their party leaders to do the same thing and use the budget reconciliation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That idea would probably work if there was a Republican in the White House. But you can bet that President Barack Obama will veto any attempt to roll back his signature health care legislation. So that means Congress would need a two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto. There are not nearly enough votes in either the House or the Senate to do that.

But many Republicans see repeal (enacted or not) as an important statement that will define the 2016 election campaigns. Continue Reading »

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Jan 28 2015

A possible climate turning point

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Consider the massive storm that resulted in a state of emergency throughout much of New England with temperatures in the teens, gusty winds, and snow measured by the foot not the inch. We know from the science that climate change will make storms more severe and more common.

It’s also the moment when the Obama administration stepped up to preserve the environment — as well as protect Alaska Native communities — by limiting future oil and gas development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and along the Coastal Plain.

A White House blog put it this way: “This far northern region is known as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins” to Alaska Native communities. The Refuge sustains the most diverse array of wildlife in the entire Arctic — home not only to the Porcupine caribou, but to polar bears, gray wolves, and muskoxen. Bird species from the Coastal Plain migrate to all 50 states of the country — meaning that no matter where you live, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is part of your landscape.”

But pretty much all of official Alaska saw this issue differently. On Capitol Hill, Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said the administration has “effectively declared war on Alaska. That’s my view of it.”

“It’s a one-two-three kick to the gut of Alaska’s economy,” she said, adding that the governor told the Secretary of Interior that Alaska has a budget hole of about $3.5 billion — a problem that will be made worse without more oil production.

And this is an odd time for Alaska. The state budgeted for oil to be selling at more than a hundred dollars a barrel — and now the price is less than half that. This is a state that an oil and gas trade group brags that 92 percent of the state’s revenues come from that single industry.

So Alaska has had a grand old time with its oil money. Instead of a personal income tax, Alaskans receive their version of a tribal per capita every year. In fact Alaska ranks second lowest in the country in overall taxes (Wyoming is first) but that figure is skewed because nearly all of the money comes from corporate taxes. There is no income tax or sales tax.

Perhaps this serious budget shortage might actually force Alaska citizens to contribute to their state and pay taxes the way, oh, 49 other states and the District of Columbia do. Continue Reading »

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Jan 23 2015

Unlocking digital tools

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

It’s time for State of the Unions. President Barack Obama, of course, on Tuesday. Then, a variety of state reports across the country. And, on Thursday, Indian Country’s national version, the State of Indian Nations. National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby spent about an hour talking about some of the challenges facing the more than five hundred tribal governments.

“Today, I bring a simple message from the tribes of the 21st Century: We must tear down barriers to growth, simplify regulations that are limiting opportunities, and acknowledge that tribes have the capability as governments to oversee our own affairs,” Cladoosby said. “Congress and the administration need to find ways to help bring federal agencies out of the 19th Century and into the 21st Century. We need them to be partners for growth and not barriers to growth.”

President Cladoosby’s talk covered much ground — a lot of material critical to tribal governments, such as rethinking the federal-trust relationship, an invitation for leaders of Congress to visit Indian Country, and for Washington’s NFL franchise to finally, finally, change its name.

I’d like to expand on two themes from the State of the Indian Nations speech — youth and technology.

The most common age in America today is 22 years old. This year, 2015, the Millennial Generation will pass the Baby Boomers as the largest-age group in the country. Indian Country is even younger than the rest of the nation. The American Indian Alaska Native population from birth through age 24 makes up 42 percent of the total Native American population (compared to about a third for country as a whole.)

We are at a moment in history where we really ought to be investing more resources in young people. Yet, instead, as President Obama said in his State of the Union, we’re loading up this generation with student debt — a total that now exceeds a trillion dollars. This is the logic behind the president’s call to make community college free. A proposal that will benefit Indian Country, including tribal colleges and universities.

But this is also about technology. We need a structure to prepare people for jobs that don’t yet exist. Continue Reading »

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Jan 19 2015

State of the Union mentions

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trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Indian Country is rarely mentioned during a presidential State of the Union. That’s too bad. There is so much a president could do to improve the administration of federal Indian policy.

The president could urge Congress to fund Treaty Right obligations as automatic. After all, it’s essentially the same kind of spending as interest on the federal debt. (A cost, by the way, that the Congressional Budget Office figures will triple in a decade, reaching some $800 billion.)

Or insist on multi-year budgets for the Indian health system, making it much easier to plan ahead, be more efficient, and improve health care.

In a perfect world the president would ask Congress to invest in the next generation of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Everyone talks about how important young people are — so why not do something and something substantial?

Funny thing about that last point: That’s exactly what President Barack Obama will propose in his annual message to Congress.

The United States “dedicated ourselves to cultivating the most educated workforce in the world and we invested in what’s one of the crown jewels of this country, and that’s our higher education system. And dating back to Abraham Lincoln, we invested in land-grant colleges. We understood that this was a hallmark of America, this investment in education. But eventually, the world caught on and the world caught up,” he said in a Knoxville, Tennessee, speech, a preview of the State of the Union. “And that’s why we have to lead the world in education again.”

In an economy where knowledge and technology fuel the future the president said “the single most important way to get ahead is not just to get a high school education, you’ve got to get some higher education.”

Even though the president’s message was broad, he was also giving an apt description of the 37 tribal colleges and universities. Then again, the president is not new to this issue. He’s already championed increasing opportunity for Native students, most recently signing an executive order affirming that commitment.

So any boost in funding for community colleges will likely result in more money for tribal colleges too and that’s a smart investment for a lot of reasons.

First consider the big picture, the budget. It’s clear that the US government is on an austerity course. Money for education and other domestic programs has been shrinking not growing (measured by share of the economy). But the entitlement side of the budget —
Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare — is getting more expensive because of the sheer size of the Baby Boom generation.

The problem is that the country is not investing enough in the next generation; instead it’s saddling young people with student debt, now exceeding some $1.2 trillion (more than any other type of household debt). It’s we Baby Boomers who should be shouting about the stupidity of this policy. Fact is we need young people to be as successful as possible, as quickly as possible, to pay for our retirement. The generation called the Echo Boomers is huge, some 90 million people. (The most common age in America right now is 22 years old.) Continue Reading »

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Dec 17 2014

Old gimmicks and governing

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

We just watched the end of The Old School Congress. It passed bills with thousands of pages, giving permission to members in the House and Senate to sneak legislation into larger bills. And better: To do so in a way without transparency or consequences.

Arizona’s Rio Tinto mine giveaway is a case in point. Actual legislation to support an Australian mining company never found support; it’s not smart politics. Which senator (other than John McCain who has long championed the deal) was willing to go before voters and say this is a good deal? But tucking into a Defense Authorization bill? Old school.

It’s a similar story for Sealaska and lands that were part of a promise under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. This time the old school process worked in favor of Alaska Natives. “Words cannot describe how pleased we are that this lands bill has passed through Congress,” said Sealaska President and CEO Anthony Mallott. And, unlike the Rio Tinto deal, this one was transparent. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was clear about her role in the deal.

The budget bill that Congress passed — the so-called cromnibus — was very much old school. It was signed into law Tuesday. It’s a massive spending bill, $1.1 trillion worth, wrapping up all sorts of regular appropriations with one page or one paragraph special deals that were inserted into the nearly 1,700 page document at the last minute.

But old school has its benefits. Federal Indian programs — especially the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs — were funded with modest increases. This budget means the rest of the year — from now until the end of September — should be drama free. Agencies will know how much money is available and what can be done.

But this is when the Old School ends. In a few days a new Republican Congress takes over. While many leaders are fond of the process — the give and take of legislation — the core of the party’s constituency is dismissive. The new school sees legislation as simple, clear and transparent. Not bad values, at that. But they also see legislation as either good or evil. And federal spending is not good.

What’s missing from the discourse, then, is the reality that we are already in an era of austerity. Most federal spending has been declining for five years straight and cutting domestic spending even more will not produce the kind of results that the New School wants. Continue Reading »

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Nov 25 2014

New Alaska governor, new vision

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Alaskans from across the state met on the campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage over the weekend to talk about the transition to a new governor’s administration. The process itself was unusual, a crowded, open forum about ideas.

But even more rare: The depth of participation by Alaska Native leaders, chairing several key committees, participating on panels, and having a say in what happens next.

The co-chair for the Gov.-elect Bill Walker and Lt. Gov-elect Byron Mallott is Ana Hoffman, executive and president of the Bethel Native Corp. and co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives. She read a statement Sunday said the public transition process was designed as a “collaboration” and “to create a vision for Alaska.”

That vision represents a significant shift. Starting with this sentence: “We should identify best practices and utilize tribal structures to capture the values in our state,” Hoffman reported.

Think about that for a minute. In a state where the idea of native governance has been reduced to only a for-profit corporate model, the new leaders’ of the state are talking about using tribal structures to improve values and lives. In other words: Tribal governments matter. Even in Alaska.

Hoffman’s articulation of the transition principles carried forth some other radical notions.

— That Medicaid expansion can lead to self-sufficiency (as well as improved health care). This is exactly right. Medicaid dollars for the Alaska Native medical system, like the Indian health system in other states, is funded by federal dollars. That means more health care dollars; a bigger pie.

— “We have covered the entire spectrum from education to oil and gas and we recognize there are greater economic development opportunities ahead for Alaska,” Hoffman said.

— And, I love this, the document says, “We all agree to put fish first.”

This is how it should be. In a world where fish come first, there is a natural order, a sanctity of life, and a guarantee of clean water and health families.

Gov.-elect Walker praised Craig Fleener who had been his running mate until the fusion ticket came together with Mallott. Fleener, Athabascan, is a former deputy commissioner of Fish and Game and has worked for tribal governments. “This is the guy,” Walker said describing their conversation when he asked him to withdraw from the ballot. “He said, ‘OK. But you had better win.’ Without that, Byron and I would not be standing here today.” Continue Reading »

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Nov 19 2014

Welcome to 21st century Alaska

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trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Watching Alaska politics, for me, has been like looking back in time. The animosity of state institutions toward Alaska Natives is all too familiar. It’s Arizona during the 1950s and 1960s. Or Washington state during the 1960s and 1970s. Or Montana just after the turn of the new century. Not that those states are perfect now. Far from it. But what’s reflected in Alaska is a list of official state acts that show contempt for Alaska Native concerns.

Alaska voters just flipped on the time machine and zoomed forward. Welcome to the 21st century, Alaska.

The story is both improbable and historic. The year started with a three-way race for governor.

The current governor, Sean Parnell, who has been zealous litigant against Native interests during his time in office. His message was consistent: No to sovereignty. No to rethinking subsistence hunting and fishing in a way that would work for people who’ve managed game and fisheries for tens of thousands of years. And even a no when it came to ending court cases that Alaska Natives had already won. No. No. No.

Then two candidates, one an independent and the other a Democrat, challenged that idea in forum after forum. At the National Congress of American Indians in June, for example, Bill Walker and Byron Mallott already sounded like they were on the same page when it came to Alaska Native issues. This was expected from Mallott, a member of the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, and a clan leader of the Kwaashk’i Kwáan of the Raven people. But Walker was right there too, issue after issue, showing how to open the door to a new century.

Alaska should be the model for Indian Country and state relations. Alaska Natives are nearly 20 percent of the population and growing faster than the general population. And, like so many other states, Native presence, culture, and economic acts are intertwined with Alaska’s success. This state will never be more than an oil and gas colony unless it gets right with Alaska Natives.

The election is over. Promises are made. And now it’s time to see that model engaged. A transition team — one that includes Native leadership — is already moving forward.

Last August Gov.-elect Walker told me that it would take him about “fifteen minutes” for Alaska to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This alone is huge. The Alaska Native medical system is remarkable now, but imagine what can be done with additional money. Imagine what can be done with a better partner from the state. A partnership that should create new jobs and improve health care delivery. As Walker himself said, “It helps between 10,000 and 40,000 Alaskans. And it creates 4,000 new medical jobs in our state and brings down the cost of health care. Why would we not do that?”

Why not, indeed?

But “why not?” is worth asking about on so many issues of contention between the state and Alaska Natives. Continue Reading »

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Nov 07 2014

Who voted, and Indian country

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trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

This was a tough election. Those who are against the Affordable Care Act, don’t believe in global warming, and think that President Obama is the cause of all our problems swept into office. We won’t know the final tally for a month or so, but the Republicans picked up at least seven Senate seats, added to their majority in the House and did well in state houses.

But this is how this election was supposed to be. This is how the sixth year of a presidency looks (even for the now sainted Ronald Reagan). The whole premise of 2014 was to get out enough voters together so that the country would not have to take another step backwards. So we didn’t beat history.

Worse: We let a determined group of voters chart the next two years. These were voters that were older, more white, and more determined to reverse Obama.

The NBC Exit Poll showed how different this electorate was: Young people voted in smaller numbers than 2012. And, get this, even less than 2010. NBC said: “In today’s midterms, 37% of voters are over the age of 60 but only 12% of are under 30 years old. This 25 point difference is larger than the 16 to 20 point age gap seen in the last three midterms.”

But that same exit poll has this nugget about “a growing perception that the U.S. economic system is unfair. Sixty-three percent of voters said they believe that it generally favors the wealthy, compared to 32 percent who say it is fair to most Americans.”

That is important because it is a notion that can be used to build a policy argument, even in this political climate. (More about policy from me later this week.)

I’ll look more closely at the Native vote in the next few days, but I suspect that turnout was light there too. Cecilia FireThunder posted on my Facebook page saying, “I kinda looked at the numbers and we in Shannon and Bennett Counties did not do as well as we could have. Same thing happened with Tom Daschle, the organizers did not listen to us old timers on what they needed to do differently on the rez. Dems need to accept if they want our support in all things Democrat they have to listen to what works and its why we have to take part, not the candidates or single issues. Lets learn from these glitches and plan ahead every year all year round on Indian reservations in states with large NDN populations like SD where we have 9 reservations and Pine Ridge alone has at least 30,000 plus.”

So what did work? What should we celebrate this morning in Indian Country? Actually there are some bright spots.

There seemed to be enough Navajo voters turning out (even with the confusion on the tribal ballot) to return a Democrat, Ann Kirkpatrick, to Congress in Arizona. Continue Reading »

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Oct 29 2014

A test of policy, not character

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trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

I have to confess: I hate most political advertising. There is this idea in American politics that the best way to win is to knock the other person down.

Alaska is a case in point where misleading ads about character are common. An ad for Republican candidate Dan Sullivan complains that Senator Mark Begich is “pretending to ride” a snow machine. Or on the flip side: A Begich ad that tied Sullivan to the early release of a sex offender who then went on to commit murder (that ad is no longer used).

We’ve been trained, as consumers, to use this as a framework for making our decision — at least most of us. The thinking goes like this: Hard-core Democrats will vote their way, committed Republicans will stick with their guy, so it’s these character ads that are designed to reach out to people in the middle. I do get that. It’s even ok to use character ads where the candidates define themselves, such as several on Sullivan’s military record or others about Begich’s frugal nature.

But it’s public policy that matters.

There are real policy political differences between Mark Begich and Dan Sullivan. And we would be better off if the campaigns fought over those distinct issues, not character.

On issues that matter to Alaska Natives the issues are serious and the divide is stark. So it’s not really a surprise that the Alaska Federation of Natives board met last week in private before endorsing Begich’s re-election. It’s rare for AFN to endorse candidates, although not unprecedented (such as Senator Lisa Murkowski’s unlikely write-in re-election bid four years ago.)

So let’s focus on policy. Their differences are mostly about one thing: The role of the federal government.
At the top of the list for Alaska Natives has to be a commitment to subsistence, protecting the hunting, fishing and gathering rights of native people who’ve lived on the land for thousands of years longer than any modern nation.

Last week at AFN, Begich was clear about his stand when he said that subsistence is “a right you own, its inherent, not granted.” If that logical argument was carried to conclusion it would place Alaska Native hunting and fishing on par with treaty rights for tribes in lower 48. That’s critical because it’s because of treaties that states like Washington have had success with tribal co-management of species, improving the resource for everybody.

Sullivan, on the other hand, unsuccessfully tried to walk a fine line. He told AFN that he supports subsistence but was the state attorney general who pressed the Katie John case when it could have been over. His argument is that the issue is about federal overreach and that the state, not the federal government, could bring about a subsistence regime. That’s a tough sell. So much so that at one point AFN’s audience booed Sullivan’s response. Continue Reading »

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Oct 20 2014

Two weeks to go

Published by under Trahant

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

I am hoping that my ballot is in the mail today. I am ready to vote.

What I really like about voting early is that it’s an inoculation against all the TV and Internet ads. Once I have voted, I know that I am just wasting campaign or special interest money.
So here we are two weeks to go until the formal Election Day and counting of ballots.

Remember two years ago Indian Country voters outperformed. As I wrote then, this smallest demographic slice of the population made a difference in the outcomes in Montana and South Dakota races for the U.S. Senate (the only two states Nate Silver called wrong).

In 2014 these are my three elections to watch: Alaska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Two of those states have tight Senate races (the latest Real Clear Politics look at the average of all polls estimates a Republican pick-up of 8 seats, enough for a Senate majority.)

South Dakota is now polling within the margin of error for a four-way race. That means the race is essentially tied and it will be won by the campaign that’s best organized to get their voters to the polls.
Former Gov. Mike Rounds, the Republican in the race, is viewed unfavorably by more than half of those surveyed, 51 percent, and that could lead a lot of conservatives to vote for Gordie Howie, an independent. In the most recent poll, Howie is earning about 5 percent support. As more of the national talk, however, focuses on either independent Larry Pressler or the Democrat Rick Weiland, I think this makes Howie more likely to get Tea Party support. So watch: if Howie gets more than 5 percent, that will come from Rounds and make it more likely that Pressler or Weiland wins.

And which one? That really depends on Indian Country. Will there be a turnout and consistent vote for one or the other. President Obama won nearly 3,000 votes from Shannon County in 2012, 93.4 percent of the vote. Can that number grow as voters consider changing the name of the county to Oglala Lakota County? My guess is that Weiland will get the majority of those votes, but the bigger question is can he get a large percentage, 80 or even 90 percent? (If you look through the 2014 election map and every blue county is an American Indian homeland.)

The other thing to watch is early voting numbers. The bigger the early returns, the more likely outcome favoring Weiland.

Turning to Wisconsin. The hot race in this state is for governor — and there are several issues that impact Indian Country, including mining policy. Polls show this as a tight race. Two factors that are hard to see how they will play out is the increased number of jobs and the drop in gas prices. Both are good news — so it’s a matter of perception (Are the governor’s policies responsible? Or does the president get credit?)

The Native Vote Program for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters has a goal of increasing the Native American turnout by 6 percent. To put that challenge in perspective: The turnout of Native voters was only 34 percent in the last governor’s election while the general turnout was 52 percent. That means there is a lot of room for growth. Especially with early vote. (Just think: With early voting, a community could even hit 100 percent turnout.)

I’ll have a lot more to say about Alaska this week. The First Alaskans Institute’s Youth and Elders Conference is underway in Anchorage (Shoni Schimmel speaks today, yay!) and Thursday is the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Both are big deals — especially during an election year.
Gotta run. Idaho needs my ballot mailed back.

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WASHINGTON-OREGON-IDAHO Our acclaimed weekly e-pubs: 35-45 pages Monday mornings getting you on top of your state. Samples available. Contact us by email or by phone at (208)484-0460.

 

 
RIDENBAUGH BOOKS
 


 
This will be one of the most talked-about Idaho books in Idaho this season: 14 years after its last edition, Ridenbaugh Press has released a list of 100 influential Idahoans. Randy Stapilus, the editor and publisher of the Idaho Weekly Briefing and author of four earlier similar lists, has based this one on levels of overall influence in the state – and freedom of action and ability to influence development of the state – as of the start of 2015.
 
100 Influential Idahoans 2015. By Randy Stapilus; published by Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 202 pages. Softcover. List price $16.95.
100 Influential Idahoans 2015 page.

100 Influential Idahoans 2015
Idaho
 
 
"Essentially, I write in the margins of motherhood—and everything else—then I work these notes into a monthly column about what it’s like raising my two young boys. Are my columns funny? Are they serious? They don’t fit into any one box neatly. ... I’ve won awards for “best humorous column” though I actually write about subjects as light as bulimia, bullying, birthing plans and breastfeeding. But also bon-bons. And barf, and birthdays." Raising the Hardy Boys: They Said There Would Be Bon-Bons. by Nathalie Hardy; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 238 pages. Softcover. $15.95.
Raising the Hardy Boys page.

 

Hardy

 
"Not a day passes that I don’t think about Vietnam. Sometimes its an aroma or just hearing the Vietnamese accent of a store clerk that triggers a memory. Unlike all too many soldiers, I never had to fire a weapon in anger. Return to civilian life was easy, but even after all these years away from the Army and Vietnam I find the experience – and knowledge – continue to shape my life daily."
 
Drafted! Vietnam in War and in Peace. by David R. Frazier; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton OR. 188 pgs. Softcover. $15.95.
The DRAFTED! page.

 

Drafted
 
Many critics said it could not be done - and it often almost came undone. Now the Snake River Basin Adjudication is done, and that improbable story is told here by three dozen of the people most centrally involved with it - judges, attorneys, legislators, engineers, water managers, water users and others in the room when the decisions were made.
Through the Waters: An Oral History of the Snake River Basin Adjudication. edited by the Idaho State Bar Water Law Section and Randy Stapilus; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 300 pages. Softcover. $16.95.
See the THROUGH THE WATERS page.


 
Oregon Governor Vic Atiyeh died on July 20, 2014; he was widely praised for steady leadership in difficult years. Writer Scott Jorgensen talks with Atiyeh and traces his background, and what others said about him.
Conversations with Atiyeh. by W. Scott Jorgensen; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 140 pages. Softcover. $14.95.
The CONVERSATIONS WITH ATIYEH page.

Atiyeh
 
"Salvation through public service and the purging of awful sights seen during 1500 Vietnam War helicopter rescue missions before an untimely death, as told by a devoted brother, leaves a reader pondering life's unfairness. A haunting read." Chris Carlson, Medimont Reflections. ". . . a vivid picture of his brother Jerry’s time as a Medivac pilot in Vietnam and contrasts it with the reality of the political system . . . through the lens of a blue-collar, working man made good." Mike Kennedy.
One Flaming Hour: A memoir of Jerry Blackbird. by Mike Blackbird; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 220 pages. Softcover. $15.95.
See the ONE FLAMING HOUR page.


 
Back in Print! Frank Church was one of the leading figures in Idaho history, and one of the most important U.S. senators of the last century. From wilderness to Vietnam to investigating the CIA, Church led on a host of difficult issues. This, the one serious biography of Church originally published in 1994, is back in print by Ridenbaugh Press.
Fighting the Odds: The Life of Senator Frank Church. LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 800 pages. Softcover. $24.95.
See the FIGHTING THE ODDS page.


 
JOURNEY WEST

by Stephen Hartgen
The personal story of the well-known editor, publisher and state legislator's travel west from Maine to Idaho. A well-written account for anyone interested in Idaho, journalism or politics.
JOURNEY WEST: A memoir of journalism and politics, by Stephen Hartgen; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. $15.95, here or at Amazon.com (softcover)

 

 

NEW EDITIONS is the story of the Northwest's 226 general-circulation newspapers and where your newspaper is headed.
New Editions: The Northwest's Newspapers as They Were, Are and Will Be. Steve Bagwell and Randy Stapilus; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 324 pages. Softcover. (e-book ahead). $16.95.
See the NEW EDITIONS page.

How many copies?

 
THE OREGON POLITICAL
FIELD GUIDE 2014

The Field Guide is the reference for the year on Oregon politics - the people, the districts, the votes, the issues. Compiled by a long-time Northwest political writer and a Salem Statesman-Journal political reporter.
OREGON POLITICAL FIELD GUIDE 2014, by Randy Stapilus and Hannah Hoffman; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. $15.95, available right here or through Amazon.com (softcover)

 
 
THE IDAHO POLITICAL
FIELD GUIDE 2014

by Randy Stapilus and Marty Trillhaase is the reference for the year on Idaho Politics - the people, the districts, the votes, the issues. Written by two of Idaho's most veteran politcal observers.
IDAHO POLITICAL FIELD GUIDE 2014, by Randy Stapilus and Marty Trillhaase; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. $15.95, available right here or through Amazon.com (softcover)

 
 
without compromise
WITHOUT COMPROMISE is the story of the Idaho State Police, from barely-functioning motor vehicles and hardly-there roads to computer and biotechnology. Kelly Kast has spent years researching the history and interviewing scores of current and former state police, and has emerged with a detailed and engrossing story of Idaho.
WITHOUT COMPROMISE page.

 

Diamondfield
How many copies?
The Old West saw few murder trials more spectacular or misunderstood than of "Diamondfield" Jack Davis. After years of brushes with the noose, Davis was pardoned - though many continued to believe him guilty. Max Black has spent years researching the Diamondfield saga and found startling new evidence never before uncovered - including the weapon and one of the bullets involved in the crime, and important documents - and now sets out the definitive story. Here too is Black's story - how he found key elements, presumed lost forever, of a fabulous Old West story.
See the DIAMONDFIELD page for more.
 

Medimont Reflections Chris Carlson's Medimont Reflections is a followup on his biography of former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus. This one expands the view, bringing in Carlson's take on Idaho politics, the Northwest energy planning council, environmental issues and much more. The Idaho Statesman: "a pull-back-the-curtain account of his 40 years as a player in public life in Idaho." Available here: $15.95 plus shipping.
See the Medimont Reflections page  
 
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Idaho 100, about the 100 most influential people ever in Idaho, by Randy Stapilus and Martin Peterson is now available. This is the book about to become the talk of the state - who really made Idaho the way it is? NOW AN E-BOOK AVAILABLE THROUGH KINDLE for just $2.99. Or, only $15.95 plus shipping.
 

Idaho 100 by Randy Stapilus and Martin Peterson. Order the Kindle at Amazon.com. For the print edition, order here or at Amazon.