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Posts published in “Trahant”

Will Native Americans turn out?

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Montanans have long recognized the importance of the Native vote. Speaking at the National Congress of American Indians in September 1956, U.S. Rep. Lee Metcalf called political participation Native people’s best hope because “Indians are their own best spokesmen, their own best diplomats, but they can only exercise these roles effectively only in proportion to their … combined strength and their concerted voice.”

In other words: The more Native folks who vote, the more power and say we will have over our future.

Montana is an a great example of that promise. And, there is a long list of success stories: The elections of Sen. Jon Tester, Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Tribes, as well as Governors Brian Schweitzer and Steve Bullock (who’s in office now).

You can even argue that because of that success at the ballot, Montana produced the best relationship between tribes and a state government, in well, possibly forever.

As former Gov. Schweitzer once said, “Indians have played a major role in my Administration from day one. They lead departments, provide sound policy advice, run programs, and work tirelessly on my behalf to stay connected to tribal leaders, members, and communities throughout Montana.”

Former Sen. Carol Juneau recently wrote in Char-Koosta News about the state’s leadership role. “We now have three Indian majority senate districts and six Indian majority house districts in Montana that give Indian country a real voice in the direction of our state,” she said. “We have a much stronger state-tribal relationship being built because of this political power.”

Think about the significance of Native Montanans strength and voice. America Indians make up less than seven percent of the state’s population, but have have a say, even determining election winners.

So that’s how it ought to be. Only it’s not always that way — even in Montana. (more…)

The global warming reason to vote?

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The People’s Climate March in New York City Sunday was supposed to be huge. There were some 1,500 organizations as sponsors, including several indigenous groups from around the world, expecting more than 100,000 people.

But they were wrong because more than 310,000 people showed and feeds on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were jammed with reports of family and friends marching and demanding environmental justice. The New York event even started with a request for permission to protest on occupied Native land.

And if the New York City protest wasn’t enough, there were similar events across the globe. As Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, said Sunday, “You know what, this is the most important place in the world right now.”

So if people understand the implications of global warming and climate change, do politicians?

“Time is not on our side,” said World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in a news release. “If we don’t act on climate change, it means we are living at the expense of what we leave to our children. It’s like borrowing money and leaving a huge debt to our children.” (The WMO has an interesting “weather” report from the future, explaining some of the climateprojections in an easy to understand newscast.) Though averting that scenario is still possible, “It will require bold decisions, courageous decisions,” he said. (more…)

On Scotland, and tribal implications

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

What about Scotland? Will it vote to remain a part of the United Kingdom or go its own way? And, could this be a future for tribal nations?

Thursday’s vote — a simple “yes” or “no” — is the ultimate question and answer in democratic form. Should we be our own country?

Should we? Rarely do citizens get to vote “yes” or “no.” Most of human history is about the war that follows such outrageous demands. We spend lives trying to answer that a question, fought by those who are willing to die (and kill) to prove their authority.

That’s what’s remarkable about Scotland. This independence movement and the alternative (which is yet to be defined) is based on individual sovereignty expressed on a ballot. The draft constitution says elegantly: “In Scotland, the people are sovereign.”

I was in Aberdeen in 2009 for a conference on sovereignty and saw this movement first-hand. I talked to people who were enthusiastic about Scottish Gaelic being taught alongside English. There already was a sense of national purpose, rethinking what a country could and should be in the 21st century.

The notion of “devolution,” or returning power to Scotland, has been unfolding since a new Prime Minister, Tony Blair, fulfilled his election promise. The Scottish Act of 1998 provided the legislative structure. Blair told BBC that devolution would “show the whole of the United Kingdom that there is a better way that Britain can be governed, that we can bring power closer to the people, closer to the people's priorities and that we can give Scotland the ability to be a proud nation within the United Kingdom.”

A lot of folks hoped that would be that. Scotland would have “enough” power. Or to use that clunky phrase from American Indian law, be a “quasi sovereign.”

Not quite sovereign. And not quite free. (more…)

ACA is worth debating

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Newsflash: Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act. Of course they can’t even call it that; it’s only “Obamacare.” A word that’s pronounced with a sneer, derision and contempt.

Ok. That’s not news. The message about how evil the Affordable Care Act was branded around the fiftieth time that House Republicans voted for repeal.

But how does it stand as an election issue? Should candidates run on the merits of the Affordable Care Act?

If the question is asked and answered as a political one, then probably not. The law is still not all that popular.

A poll released this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation reflects that unpopularity. “Registered voters are more likely to have an unfavorable view of the ACA than a favorable one (49 percent versus 35 percent),” Kaiser reports. “Opinion tilts even more negative among likely voters1 (51 percent versus 35 percent).”

But the health care law is also not as a big deal with voters as it was a few months ago. “Asked to name in their own words the two most important issues in deciding their vote for Congress, the most frequently-mentioned issue is the economy and jobs (21 percent),” according to Kaiser. “Thirteen percent of voters name health care as a top issue, including just 3 percent who specifically mention the Affordable Care Act. Those who view the law favorably are about equally likely to mention health care as a top issue in their vote as are those with an unfavorable view (12 percent versus 15 percent).

I would suspect that Indian Country is no exception to this polling. Most of the people I have talked to are not keen on the paperwork associated with the Affordable Care Act and don’t like the idea that insurance will be a major funding source for the Indian health system.

That’s an notion that makes sense — unless you consider the alternative. The alternative is nothing. There is no plan from those advocating repeal to improve funding for the Indian health system. (One funding test for Indian health will come from the House Continuing Resolution budget, a short-term spending bill, and those details are expected shortly.)

There are important questions that should be asked of every candidate: If you support repeal, then what happens to the funding mechanisms for Indian health? How will that money be replaced in this austere climate? I have asked many Republicans running for office across the country and I have yet to hear one single satisfactory answer. (more…)

The power of social media

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

I remember getting in trouble as a teenager. The story beat me home. I was stunned at the velocity of information in a small community. The chain went like this: Something happened. People talked. And the story spread. Fast.

I guess that’s why social media, to me, is an old form of storytelling. It’s how we naturally tell stories, spreading the word to one friend (or follower) in real time. And then another. And again.

But while the forum is essentially the same, there are two new twists, the use of digital tools and the increased size of our network. (A generation ago our “network” might be a few friends gathered for coffee at the trading post. Today it’s a thousand friends on Facebook, their thousand friends, and definitely more on Twitter, Tumblr or Snapchat.)

The ice bucket challenge to raise money to prevent ALS — Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — or Lou Gehrig's Disease is a great example of how social media works. The brilliant campaign has earned more than $70 million with the goal of creating a world “without ALS!”

Every day my Facebook feed has new posts from someone taking this challenge. (Of course this whole challenge thing is familiar anyway. It’s a lot like the Winter Challenge that spread across Canada and Indian Country. Carielynn Victor, from Chilliwack, B.C., told Global News Canada that the idea was not a new one, but the concept of taking it public was new.)

So why ALS? It’s a fabulous cause and worth doing. That said: What if Indian Country could harness social media to impact the diseases that are killing most of our friends and family?

So heart disease is the leading killer in Indian Country. What if we raised money for research and action for American Indians and Alaska Natives? Or diabetes? Or any disease that impacts most of us. It could be money targeted to make a real difference in our lives.

Then, the power of social media is not just about money. Imagine what we could do to health disparities if social media challenged tens of thousands of people to walk more. Or eat better. Then post results in real time so that we all stay on task. (more…)

The spending cure

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

I’ve spent the past couple of months listening to political candidates in a variety of formats. I like most of them as people, but I am struck by how thin our political discourse can be.

Consider the federal purse. Politicians are quick to zoom in and focus on specific programs they’d like to trim. Cut the budget. Easy. Case closed. But what’s missing from that simple narrative is math.

Where is the real savings? What’s the cost right now and over the next few decades?

Three issues that jump out at me are higher education, immigration and health care.

A recent study by Goldman Sachs found that young people carrying huge student loans are purchasing fewer homes. As noted by The Washington Post’s Wonkblog: “Only a small share of young adults -- 6.6 percent -- are borrowing sums that exceed $50,000. But they carry a disproportionate share of the debt.”

And it’s not just fewer houses being purchased — it’s less buying of everything. This next generation is burdened with more than $1 trillion in student loans; the very same cohort we expect to pay for my generation’s retirement.

According to Pew Social Trends: The Millennial generation is “entering adulthood with record levels of student debt: Two-thirds of recent bachelor’s degree recipients have outstanding student loans, with an average debt of about $27,000. Two decades ago, only half of recent graduates had college debt, and the average was $15,000.”

So cuts in higher education “save” money — unless you look at the entire economic picture. The case should be made by citizens about why it’s sometimes smarter for the federal government to spend more money, not less, on key priorities. Educating the next generation, the one that’s going to pay all the bills, ought to be one of those areas where spending more now might save us all money down the road.

The economic impact of immigration is just the opposite. The same folks who would cut federal budgets want the federal government to spend even more money to secure the borders. But we are already spending record amounts. The federal government spends more on border enforcement than it does on the combined budgets of the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, US Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Money is not going to “solve” the border issue. (more…)

Rethinking a medical system

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

At a Billings hearing in May, Sen. Jon Tester expressed frustration about the management of the Indian Health Service.

The Montana Democrat said: “We need to live up to our trust responsibility and offer tribes the health care they deserve. Ongoing issues around service delivery, transportation for critical care, billing and reimbursement issues abound. We need to prioritize these issues and solve them.”

Tester, of course, is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. So his call for improving the agency is worth considering.

Then again, when former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) was chairman of the same committee, he also held hearings and published a report about the poor management record at IHS. “The investigation identified mismanagement, lack of employee accountability and financial integrity, as well as insufficient oversight of IHS' Aberdeen Area facilities. These issues impact overall access and quality of health care services provided to Native American patients in the Aberdeen Area. Many of these issues may stem from a greater lack of oversight by the area office and IHS headquarters fostering an environment where employees and management are not held accountable for poor performance.” The year was 2010.

So what kind of progress has the Indian Health Service made during those four years? Unfortunately that’s the wrong question.

In the blink of an eye, the very structure of health care has changed and is continuing to change dramatically in the United States. Yet the structure of the Indian Health Service is the same.

Take the name: Indian Health Service. On the agency’s web page it adds the descriptive line, “The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives.” (more…)

Presidents on the res

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The Associated Press, MSNBC and other news media are sticking to the story that Obama is only the fourth president to visit a reservation. I say at least seven, more likely eight.

So one by one here goes the documentary evidence (for those who care).

President Chester Arthur's visit to Wind River, Wyoming, 1883. Picture from Frank Jay Haynes collection, Smithsonian. The trip was on horse back and included a senator and the Secretary of War. (I love the umbrellas in the picture above.)

The second visit is President Warren Harding’s trip to Alaska in 1923. The first port of call was Metlakatla. (As Stephen Conn points out: Any presidential visit before the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act would be a visit to Indian Country.)

Third. President Calvin Coolidge’s visit to South Dakota.

A trivia question: How many US Presidents have been photographed wearing headdresses? (It went badly for Coolidge.) Answer: At least one, Jimmy Carter.

Fourth. Franklin Roosevelt visited at least three reservations, only once speaking on Indian Affairs. He traveled to Quinault in Washington state, Blackfeet, Montana, and Cherokee, North Carolina. (He was also photographed with a chief in North Dakota.)

Here is a film from the Montana trip. (The meeting was in Glacier National Park, but he traveled from the town now called East Glacier.) (more…)

Spending on waste or investment?

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

All you need to know about the November election is found in dueling documents: Paul Ryan’s budget and the House Democratic alternative. One is down, the other up. One “cuts wasteful spending,” while the other proposes investing in the future. Two radically different approaches to governing.

The Republican plan is in a hurry to balance the budget — slashing federal agency spending so that in a decade from now the budget will be balanced. These cuts would impact low-income populations, such as American Indians and Alaska Natives. Deeply.

And the Democrats’ budget is smart in the short-term — we do need investment now — but it fails to account for spending over a longer time frame. It leaves the answers to some big questions for a later date.

Then, truth be told, neither plan is designed for the long haul.

The United States (and much of the globe for that matter) is facing a demographic imbalance of a rising number of older people. Every day, for the next twenty years, some 10,000 people are turning 65. Think about adding that many people every day added to the rolls of Social Security and Medicare.

The good news is that Social Security is the easiest to fix, adjusting age and benefits, could make the plan solvent for the next generation.

But Medicare is wrapped in a bigger problem: the cost of health care in America.

A graphic from the Congressional Budget Office explains this well by breaking federal spending into four distinct categories: Social Security (growing); Interest on the debt (growing); all other federal spending (shrinking dramatically) and health care (growing faster than everything else). Or, as the CBO describes the problem, “Federal spending for the major health care programs and Social Security would increase to a total of 14 percent of GDP by 2038, twice the 7 percent average of the past 40 years.” (more…)

Transparency and the ACA

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The Affordable Care Act is a grand promise. Basically it’s a complicated insurance mechanism that’s designed to reduce the number of uninsured Americans, including those who rely on the Indian health system.

But one thing the ACA is not: Transparent.

This is a critical flaw because we are near another major deadline — March 31 — and some six months into the Act’s implementation and there is not one official scrap of information reporting how well Indian Country is being served. We don’t know how many folks across the country have signed up for Medicaid or how many have purchased insurance or how many individuals have policies that were purchased by tribes as sponsors.

Why does this matter? Because policy is being implemented on assumptions, not data. We don’t know what we don’t know.

This we do know: March 31 is an odd deadline. It’s the day when open enrollment ends for most Americans, including Native Americans who are not tribal members. But that deadline does not apply to American Indians and Alaska Natives who are tribal members. Then a monthly enrollment is possible. (I know, confusing, right?)

Native Americans still can receive a life-time exemption from the insurance mandate. Fill out a simple form and mail to get a certificate that could be included in your next tax return.

But we also know that the individual exemption is not enough. The Indian health system is underfunded and third-party billing — money from private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, and other programs — is the only way funding will improve. Like it or not, Treaty or not, the Congress is not going to pay for Indian health through appropriations. The $6 billion budget for the Indian Health Service shows the agency collecting more than a billion dollars from Medicaid and only $90,307,000 from private insurance. So there is a lot of room for growth. Again, if folks sign up, the Affordable Care Act is a different course from appropriations; it’s a money stream that’s automatic.

We also know that Indian Country has some of the highest uninsured rates in the nation, roughly one in three people. So every new insured American Indian and Alaska Native adds resources to the Indian health system (and especially medical care that is purchased outside of Indian health facilities).

This week there is a last minute push to get people in Indian Country to sign up. On Monday there was a national Tribal Day of Action sponsored by the White House. And in Montana, the state’s Insurance Commissioner, Monica J. Lindeen, has been traveling to the state’s reservations and urban Indian centers to sell the plan.

But it’s hard to know how well those efforts are working. There are too many questions: How many people signed up early? What’s the goal? Where is the transparency?

Early Affordable Care Act numbers are found in Washington state. Ed Fox, who directs health services for Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe of Washington, said the Washington Health Care Authority released preliminary figures to tribes for consultation. These are early numbers and will change, but they are an open important look in a state where the Affordable Care Act is working.

Some key findings: Washington probably ranks first in the nation in Medicaid “take-up” for the newly eligible. Some 6,000 or so of the newly insured Native Americans were enrolled by urban programs or tribes, and one-third with state worker assistance, and one-third a bit uncertain (possibly by someone with assistance or on their own). Washington also shows some 7,000 Medicaid re-certifications. (more…)