Posts Tagged ‘Trahant Reports’

9
Jan

Trahant Reports: Health care remains the 2012 election riddle

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Mark Trahant

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

This election ought to be about one issue, a referendum on health care reform.

Republicans say it’s about repealing Obamacare. Every candidate has pledged to repeal the law (as if presidents had such power) as a first act in office. But then what? What actions would follow to improve health care and dramatically lower the costs? Is there a conservative alternative? (I don’t see kicking young people off of Medicare as a solution – that idea doesn’t drive costs down).

But the “what next?” question remains a tough one for President Obama and the Democrats. The Affordable Care Act was a baby-step, a beginning, not an end.

This single election question matters because the cost of health care is the federal deficit. We are paying far too much for an inefficient health care system when we also have an aging population that is facing expensive medical care. Just think, if we solve this one problem, then the rest of the budget is manageable.

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20
Dec

Trahant Reports: Federal budget no so bad, only consider it a transition plan

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Mark Trahant


Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the Era of Contraction – the shrinking of the federal government – and what that policy means to Indian Country.

Only not this year. Last week Congress finally approved money for fiscal year 2012 (three months into the spending year) and many programs serving American Indians will get more money, not less.

First, the big picture. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, describes this year’s spending bill this way: “When all FY 2012 Appropriations legislation is complete, Congress will have cut discretionary spending for two straight years in a row – the first time this has occurred in modern history.”

Indeed: This budget is about less.

The Environmental Protection Agency takes a 6 percent cut from the president’s request or a budget of $8.4 billion. The House conference report makes clear that EPA is a Republican budget target because it represents “unnecessary spending” and a “regulatory overreach, which has a detrimental effect on American businesses and the recovering economy.” (To give an example of the spite towards EPA. The administrator’s budget is cut by one-third.) Of course even these numbers are more than Republicans wanted to spend. The House was proposing funding EPA at only $7.1 billion.

The Administration for Children and Families takes a hit of $855 million (even though the demand for services is increasing). But defying logic, Congress also appropriated $5 million for abstinence education, money that was not asked for in the president’s budget.

Other agency reductions include 3 percent less for the Internal Revenue Service, a 5 percent cut for Homeland Security, and a 5 percent cut from Congress’ own budget.

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12
Dec

Trahant Reports: Why the payroll tax fight matters

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Mark Trahant


Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

Congress has a long to-do list to complete before the end of the year.

It must enact a budget, either a real one, or for most federal agencies, a Continuing Resolution that funds the government after the current one expires on Dec. 16. Many ask: “Why doesn’t Congress just pass the budget?” Because neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have enough votes to say yes, but they do have enough votes to reject the alternative.

Still, Congress must pass a new round of payroll tax cuts and extend unemployment benefits or both of those programs will expire at the end of the year.

Currently Republicans are adding all sorts of amendments that have little to do with either a budget or a tax cut. The House bill on the payroll tax, for example, requires a 60-day deadline for permitting the Keystone XL Pipeline to pipe oil from Northern Alberta across Montana, South Dakota and other states in the midwest. There is significant opposition to the pipeline construction from Indian Country. The National Congress of American Indians in June said: “The Keystone XL pipeline . . . would threaten, among other things, water aquifers, water ways, cultural sites, agricultural lands, animal life, public drinking water sources and other resources vital to the peoples of the region in which the pipeline is proposed to be constructed.”

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Mark Trahant


Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

The debt ceiling negotiations are deep underground. While there’s plenty of action on the surface, posturing, mostly, there are also quiet talks about both temporary and real solutions. Indeed, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told CNBC on Monday that there will be a “deal” and that default is off the table.

Hopeful news. We’ll have to stay tuned. Meanwhile I am in Alaska on assignment … so I thought this might be a good opportunity to write about what I’ve been reading this summer.

My three picks:
- Walter Echo-Hawk’s “In the Courts of the Conquerors: The Ten Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided.”
- Roberta Ulrich’s “American Indian Nations from Termination to Restoration, 1953-2006.”
- Alison Owings’ “Indian Voices: Listening to Native Americans.”

These three books have relevancy to today’s headlines.

Echo-Hawk’s book ought to retire the entire debate about judicial activism. It has become a conservative article of faith that judges should narrowly follow the law when deciding cases. But Echo-Hawk methodically picks apart that fiction. He shows that even sainted justices, such as John Marshall, invented a legal theory from dust about the doctrine of discovery in Johnson v. M’Intosh. “Marshall claimed that the nation had no choice in how it dealt with the tribes and that the normal rules of international law did not apply,” Echo-Hawk wrote … “Thus, the normal rules governing the relations between the conqueror and conquered were simply ‘incapable of application’ in the United States. It was the Indians own fault.”

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Mark Trahant


Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

Last week President Barack Obama held his first town hall on Twitter. A really great idea and I plunged in with this question:

“#AskObama Indian Cntry’s unemployment rate is unacceptable. Cutting govt jobs will make this situation far worse. What steps to fix this?” @TrahantReports

A Twitter town hall is a great idea. In theory. This first round revealed three huge problems.

First, the president didn’t play the game. Twitter requires focus, honing and shaping ideas into 140 characters.

This is not an easy thing to do, but its very nature it changes the conversation. Twitter captures raw essence, not routine answers. The president stuck with routine answers.

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Mark Trahant



Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

The new Era of Constriction – shrinking all levels of government – is both an opportunity for tribes and a threat.

First, the problem. State and local governments are in deep financial holes. The optimistic view is that state governments have seen the worse and have turned the corner; they are still facing shortages, but far less than a couple of years ago. There are a lot of numbers to back up this argument. State budgets are smaller by some 14 percent, there are fewer employees, and budget deficits have been steadily getting smaller. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says 24 states are predicting shortfalls of $46 billion for fiscal year 2013, down from $191 billion in fiscal year 2010.

But that optimistic accounting is tempered by a couple of problems. The federal stimulus money is gone. “So even though significant budget gaps remain in 2012, there will be little federal money available to close them,” says the CBPP report, States Continue to Feel Recessions Impact. “As a result, states’ final 2012 budgets have contained some of the deepest spending cuts since the start of the recession.”

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Mark Trahant


Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

Canada just finished its national elections and the governing Conservative Party expanded its majority in parliament. Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper also announced the historic appointment of two Native Canadians to that country’s cabinet.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said it was the first time the cabinet would include both an Inuit member and a First Nations member, returning Health Minister Leona Aqlukkaq and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue.

This Canadian record-breaker is worth thinking about in the United States. There is a deep pool of Native American talent already working at federal agencies such as Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Indian Health Service, so it’s time to see the promotion of an American Indian or Alaska Native to the post of Surgeon General, as a member of the Federal Communications Commission, or better yet, to run another cabinet agency? (We’ll save the “who” on this list for another day.)

But will President Obama even have a second term? And will Indian Country be as excited about Obama in 2012 and it was in 2008?

It’s way too early in the process to answer the first question. We don’t even know yet which of the Republican challengers is the strongest contender making it hard to compare philosophy, record and approach to governing. And, answering the second question is also complicated. Many in Indian Country saw the last election in terms of immediate change. Some are disappointed because President Obama didn’t do this or that. But the U.S. government is slow. Real change needs to be a sustained effort over time. The president has done a solid job working with tribal leaders on core issues, ranging from consultation to protecting the budget from sharp congressional cuts. And the idea that U.S. policy could be worse – far worse, at that – is not a message that excites voters.

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Mark Trahant


Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

Republican Party unity on the issue of a massive restructuring of Medicare and Medicaid (if there is such a thing) ended this weekend. Presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on NBC’s Meet the Press that he opposed the House budget proposal designed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

“I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change,” Gingrich said. “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.”

I take issue with the notion that the Affordable Care Act is “left-wing” social engineering. To my way of thinking it’s just a baby step toward the type of reforms that are required by the country’s changing demographics. A radical left-wing solution would be single-payer health care system, not one where private doctors and insurance companies are guaranteed profits from the individual mandate.

But the country also needs a real debate about the hard reality of demographics – there are more seniors than ever, plus we all live longer – and it’s those facts that call for some sort of radical restructuring of Medicare. At least Ryan’s plan does that, even though I disagree with it. His idea is to essentially protect current seniors, shifting the burden to people my age (just under 55) and to younger workers. But this a really tough issue and there ought to be a consensus solution.

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9
May

Trahant Reports: Tribes should have a foreign policy

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Mark Trahant


Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

Nobel winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is trying to change the national debate about the deficit, the role of government and the impact of those policies on the day-to-day economy.

“There are principled ways of cutting the deficit … putting Americans back to work,” the Columbia University professor recently said in a speech, as quoted in the Nieman Watchdog. He said this is essential in a country where economic inequality is growing and where one percent of the population controls 40 percent of the wealth and takes one-fourth of the nation’s income every year.

He says remember: “The deficit didn’t cause the downturn. The downturn caused the deficit.”

I wish this was the official line from the Obama Administration. Instead both Republicans and too many Democrats are proposing policies of contraction. We should be shouting: Invest in people! Invest in infrastructure! Invest in ourselves!

Instead there is an unfortunate consensus supporting the policy of shrinking government without purpose; no one knows what the end game is supposed to look like, only the foggy notion that government should be smaller.

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25
Apr

Trahant reports: $100 tanks of gas destroying family budgets

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Mark Trahant


Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, “The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars,” is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

A few weeks ago Bloomberg News reported that Saudia Arabia is investing $100 billion in renewable energy sources. In other words the country with the largest known reserves of oil is spending its profits building power plants fueled by nuclear energy, wind, geothermal and solar power.

What does Saudia Arabia know that the rest of us don’t? Simply this: It’s far better to save every drop of oil for export (especially with prices exceeding $110 per barrel) and build a less expensive alternative at home. Why not? Saudia Arabia, like any desert nation, is an ideal spot for solar production.

The high cost of that oil impacts Indian Country in a number of ways.

Native American consumers are hit especially hard because so many reservations and Alaska villages are geographically isolated. Gas is always expensive – and when it creeps up across the country – well, the cost goes beyond reach. One Minnesota study reports that even in good times (when gas is pegged $1.50 a gallon) it costs nearly 44 cents per mile to operate a pickup truck. “Extremely rough roads” (what we would call “rez roads”) increase that price by another 5.5 cents per miles. And all those numbers total before $4 a gallon. Or worse, $5 or $6 a gallon.

The family math is daunting. When it costs $50, $100 or $150 to fill up a tank … then there is not enough money for everything else including food and other must-buy purchases. (Indeed: If four in ten Americans say the price of fuel is causing a serious economic hardship, what is that number in Indian Country?) The economic impact of soaring fuel will affect everything from the price of hay to the cost of working away from home.

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