In a late night addition to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill, Congress slipped in a provision that will hand off 2,400 acres of land sacred to the San Carlos Apache to a foreign mining concern. The ancestral and ceremonial lands, a part of the Tonto National Forest, includes the site, Apache Leap, where Apache warriors jumped to their deaths rather than be captured by US troops.
“Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland. We’ve had dancers in that area forever – sunrise dancers – and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas,” said Terry Rambler, Chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.
The measure which has failed several times in the past but was inserted into the must-pass defense appropriation bill thanks to the efforts of Arizona Republican Senator, John McCain. On passage of the NDAA, the land will be given over to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of the Rio Tinto, a massive mining concern based in London, England and Melbourne, Australia that has been salivating over the prospect of mining the area for years.
Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell was critical of the way the provision moved forward. Speaking of the numerous land bills being considered, she said,“I’m happy to see public lands bills make progress. The preference on public lands bills is that they go through a typical process of public lands bills and they get debate and discussion.”
Of the way Tonto National Forest land was handled, she said however, “I think that is profoundly disappointing.”
Perhaps ironically, tribe Chairman, Terry Rambler was in Washington DC at the time for the White House Tribal Nations Conference.
Leaders from the 566 federally recognized Native nations engaged with the President, Cabinet Officials, and the White House Council on Native American Affairs on key issues facing tribes including, respecting tribal sovereignty and upholding treaty and trust responsibilities.
Rambler had been concerned that the long sought land deal might be inserted into the NDAA. When the latest version of the bill was read on Tuesday evening, (Dec 2) there was no mention of the Apache land. On Wednesday morning, there it was. He is asking that the Senate not vote on the appropriation until the measure is removed.
“It may seem impossible but our elders have taught us not to lose faith in the power of prayer and of course prayer will be there to help guide us through, but as far as a strategy, we know it’s going to take a grassroots effort and a lot of awareness in the public eye to see our side of the story and that’s what we need to get out there,”
Beyond the symbolic and spiritual importance of the lands involved, Rambler is also concerned about the potential ecological aspects of the mine and how it will affect his people in years to come. The company plans to us a mining technique called block cave mining which digs under the ore and then lets it collapse into the hollow for recovery. Eventually, the land above it will subside as well. Rambler explained,
“What those mountains mean to us is that when the rain and the snow comes, it distributes it to us,” Rambler said. “It replenishes our aquifers to give us life.”
He’s not sure how that will happen once the land starts subsiding. Resolution Copper promises to monitor it.
Overall, the land deals being considered for inclusion with the NDAA are a compromise. There is bipartisan support for the give and take process and there are benefits in most of them, but somewhere, a line must be drawn.
The National Congress of American Indians members passed more than five dozen new resolutions at its annual meeting recently, but one of the first things the organization will deal with during the lame duck session – the period of time between Election Day and when the new legislators enter Congress in the new year – is a three-year-old resolution opposing the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.
“As Congress opens the lame duck one of the first issues will be the Keystone XL Pipeline,” Brian Cladoosby, NCAIpresident and chair of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, told ICTMN following NCAI’s 71st Annual Convention & Market held this year in Atlanta. “NCAI has a resolution opposing Keystone as tribes in that region are concerned about the potential impact to their aquifer.”
NCAI members’ resolutions set the organization’s policies and guide its advocacy until the issue is resolved or the resolution is withdrawn. In the case of the pipeline, NCAI members passed its resolutionin June 2011 opposing the $8 billion pipeline that would transport oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico. The resolution cites the pipeline’s negative impacts on cultural and environmental resources and expresses solidarity with the First Nations in their struggle to protect their communities, aboriginal lands and treaty rights against the pipeline and other extraction industries’ devastation.
The Keystone issue flared up in 2012 but receded from the headlines until recently when House Republicans in their post-election victory mode suddenly brought it to the floor for a vote. On Friday, November 14, the House voted 252-161 to pass legislation that would force the $8 billion TransCanada pipeline project to move forward. The Senate rejected the bill on Tuesday, November 18. Fifty-nine senators voted for the bill, one short of the 60 votes needed to clear a filibuster. Fourteen Democrats joined the Senate Republicans in voting for the bill. The vote was 59-41.
So with its Keystone and other older policies in place and more than 60 new resolutions pointing the way, NCAI is ready to deal with the new post-election political landscape – even if it’s a little obscure at the moment.
“NCAI is fully committed to strong and effective action to advance tribal priorities. First, we will be navigating the lame duck session of Congress, and then next year will be a new environment in Congress particularly with the new leadership in the Senate,” Cladoosby said. “It is too early to predict exactly how next year will go, but we are already identifying opportunities.”
In addition to the Keystone pipeline issue, appropriations and spending will loom large during the lame duck session. Congress has not yet finalized a spending plan, Cladoosby said. “We are strongly urging adoption of House Interior Appropriations, as it has higher spending levels for both Indian Health and education,” he said.
Indian country won a victory this year with the passage of the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act of 2014, but here’s more work to be done in the area of tax reform. Tax extenders are up for renewal during the lame duck, Cladoosby noted. There are nearly 55 tax provisions, known as extenders, which expire at the end of this year, including important charitable giving incentives. Congress needs to renew the provisions in order for people, businesses and tribes to use them in filing taxes in 2015. “Tribes have some very important tax incentives for job development in Indian country that are up for renewal. That includes accelerated depreciation and the Indian employment tax credit,” Cladoosby said. “We really need to make these tax incentives permanent, and these discussions will be a springboard for tax reform discussions in the next year.” Cladoosby said NCAI will advocate for reforms to the tax code that will “respect tribal sovereignty and create jobs in tribal communities.
NCAI will continue to prioritize legislation for the elusive “Carcieri fix” to restore the Interior Secretary’s authority to take land into trust, and will support voting rights initiatives, and the Department of the Interior Tribal Self Governance Act of 2014, Cladoosby said. It also backs reauthorization of The Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Actof 1996 (NAHASDA), which provides grants and financing guarantees to tribes for affordable housing. A couple key NCAI priorities, Cladoosby said – are a reportjust released from the Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence “that will drive attention and I believe there will be a need for hearings,” proposed new regulations for the right of way on Indian lands, trust land in Alaska, and federal recognition.
And in the very near future, there is President Obama’s sixth White House Tribal Nations Conferenceto look forward to on December 3 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. The conference will provide leaders from the 566 federally recognized tribes the opportunity to interact directly with the president and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs.
“I think tribes will be working up even more ideas for administrative action as we head into the summit with the president in the first week of December,” Cladoosby said.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Researchers have been scrambling for more than a year to make sense of a strange disease that’s causing West Coast starfish to die by the millions.
Now it looks like help could be coming from Congress.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck from Olympia introduced a bill Thursday that would dedicate federal funds for researching the epidemic, which has now spread along North America’s Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico and in some places on the East Coast as well.
The disease has hit more than 20 species of West Coast starfish. Scientists are calling it the largest marine disease outbreak ever recorded.
Drew Harvell, a marine epidemiologist at Cornell University, has been studying the outbreaks in Puget Sound and is leading nationwide efforts to understand the epidemic. She says this legislation is critical because tracking marine disease outbreaks is so challenging.
“Disease outbreaks — they’re like lightning strikes. They occur unpredictably and rapidly,” Harvell says. “To identify their causative microorganisms or stop them from spreading requires significant scientific investigations on really short notice.”
Report to Congress Is Requirement Under the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010
The Department of Justice released today its second report to Congress entitled Indian Country Investigations and Prosecutions, which provides a range of enforcement statistics required under the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, as well as information about the progress of the Attorney General’s initiatives to reduce violent crime and strengthen tribal justice systems.
The report, based on data compiled from the case management system used by U.S. Attorney’s Offices (USAO), shows prosecutors in 2013 continued to bring substantial numbers of cases to federal court (a 34 percent increase over FY 2009 numbers) and prosecute a substantial majority of all cases referred to them. Of the cases that were declined for federal prosecution, most were declined for insufficient evidence or because they were referred to another prosecuting authority, such as the tribe, for potential prosecution.
“As detailed in this report, the Department of Justice is making good on our commitment to strengthen cooperation with sovereign tribes, reduce violent crime, and ensure justice for every individual,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “From our work to empower Indian women under the landmark Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, to the task force we established to safeguard children in Indian country from violence and abuse, we have made significant strides – in close partnership with tribal nations – to bolster the safety and security of all American Indian and Alaska Native communities. As we move forward, we will continue to expand on this critical work; to deepen our ongoing efforts; and to reaffirm our dedication to the promise of equal rights, equal protection, and equal justice for all.”
Although declination rates are an imperfect means of evaluating the effectiveness of criminal justice in Indian country or elsewhere, the report shows that with few exceptions, areas where the largest populations of American Indian people live and suffer from the most serious crime rates, such as the Southwest and the northern plains states (which together handled approximately 70 percent of the 2,542 cases resolved in 2013), federal declination rates were the lowest in the nation. For instance, South Dakota had the second to highest number of cases resolved in the country last year, 470 cases, and one of the lowest declination rates of 26 percent. Arizona resolved the highest number of cases, 733 cases, and had a declination rate of 28 percent.
Associate Attorney General Tony West announced the findings in remarks to the Four Corners Indian Country Conference today on the Navajo Nation in Flagstaff, and met separately with the Attorney General’s advisory subcommittee on Native American issues to discuss the report, among other matters.
“We are witnessing an unprecedented era of collaboration among U.S. Attorneys’ offices and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors across the country,” said Associate Attorney General West. “This report shows the fruits of this continuing partnership between the federal government and American Indian tribes, including enhancing training and capacity building for tribal court systems and improving responses to victims in Indian country.”
“Over the past five years, the Justice Department and our tribal partners have taken important steps forward on our journey toward a safer Indian Country,” said Timothy Purdon, U.S. Attorney for the District of North Dakota and chair of the Attorney General’s advisory subcommittee on Native American issues. “Vigorous enforcement of federal laws is vitally important to strengthening public safety on American Indian reservations. We are pleased to see in this report that U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country continue to work hard to remove the most dangerous offenders and work closely with tribal law enforcement and prosecutors. These promising numbers are the direct result of this enhanced communication and collaboration.”
“The FBI continues to be committed to public safety in Indian Country,” said FBI Assistant Director Joseph S. Campbell. “Our partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal agencies remains strong as we continue to aggressively address violent crime and victimization in tribal communities.”
The information contained in the report shows the following:
The Justice Department’s prioritization of Indian country crime has continued to result in substantial numbers of prosecutions, despite resource constraints that impacted the U.S. Attorney community in 2013. Between FY 2009 and FY 2012, the number of cases the department filed against defendants in Indian country increased nearly 54 percent. In FY 2013, due to fiscal challenges, overall case filings in Indian country declined somewhat compared to FY 2012, but still remained 34 percent above the number of cases filed when the department first began its department-wide tribal justice initiative in 2009. Notwithstanding the fiscal impact of the sequester, reduced budgets, and a hiring freeze, federal agents and prosecutors continued to focus their efforts on improving public safety in Indian country.
A substantial majority of Indian country criminal investigations opened by the FBI were referred for prosecution.
A substantial majority of Indian country criminal cases opened by the United States Attorneys’ Offices were prosecuted.
USAO data for CY 2013 show that 34 percent (853) of all Indian country submissions for prosecution (2,542) were declined for prosecution. In CY 2012, USAOs declined approximately 31 percent (965) of all (3145) Indian country submissions for prosecution. USAO data for CY 2011 indicate that just under 37 percent (1,041) of all Indian country submissions for prosecution (2,840) were declined.
The most common reason for declination by USAOs was insufficient evidence (56 percent in CY 2013, 52 percent in CY 2012, and 61 percent in CY 2011).
The next most common reason for declination by USAOs was referral to another prosecuting authority (21 percent in CY 2013, 24 percent in CY 2012, and 19 percent in CY 2011).
The most common reason FBI Indian country investigations were closed administratively without referral for prosecution was that the investigation concluded that no federal crime had occurred.
For instance, all but 30 of the 164 death investigations the FBI closed administratively in CY 2013 were closed because the FBI established that the death was due to causes other than homicide – i.e., accidents, suicide, or death from natural causes.
Other important developments in FY 2013:
VAWA Pilot Projects
The fight against domestic violence in Indian country has been an especially important priority for the Department of Justice, and in 2013, Congress and this administration took an historic step forward with the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013), which the President signed into law on March 7, 2013.
Congress, in VAWA 2013, provided new tools to fight domestic violence in Indian country, and the department spared no time utilizing them. From the date the act took effect, March 7, 2013, through the end of fiscal year 2013, U.S. Attorneys with prosecutorial responsibilities in Indian country have charged defendants with the amended provisions of the federal assault statutes that strengthened penalties for domestic assault offenses, such as strangulation and stalking. And, while the new law’s tribal criminal jurisdiction provision takes effect generally on March 7, 2015, under VAWA 2013’s “Pilot Project” provisions, the department recently approved three tribes’ applications voluntary “Pilot Project” to begin exercising special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction sooner. These tribes – the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon, and the Tulalip Tribes of Washington – will be the first tribes in the nation to exercise special criminal jurisdiction over crimes of domestic and dating violence, regardless of the defendant’s Indian or non-Indian status, under VAWA 2013.
Strengthening Partnerships and Support for Tribal Self-Governance
Strengthening partnerships and tribal self-governance was a major theme of the Attorney General’s message to tribal leaders on Nov.13, 2013, at the White House Tribal Nations Conference, where he announced a proposed statement of principles to guide the department’s work with federally recognized tribes. As the Attorney General said, “ As a result of these partnerships – and the efforts of everyone here – our nation is poised to open a new era in our government-to-government relationships with sovereign tribes.”
U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country are engaged in an unprecedented level of collaboration with tribal law enforcement, consulting regularly with them on crime-fighting strategies in each district. One important example of this is the department’s enhanced Tribal Special Assistant U.S. Attorney (SAUSA) program. Tribal SAUSAs are cross-deputized tribal prosecutors who are able to prosecute crimes in both tribal court and federal court as appropriate. These Tribal SAUSAs serve to strengthen a tribal government’s ability to fight crime and to increase the USAO’s coordination with tribal law enforcement personnel. The work of Tribal SAUSAs can also help to accelerate a tribal criminal justice system’s implementation of TLOA and VAWA 2013.
Instead of banning the neonicotinoid class of pesticides, Congress should follow Oregon’s example and use a collaborative and science-based approach to improving honeybee health, the executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries said.
OAN director Jeff Stone told a congressional subcommittee that the state’s nursery industry depends on pollinators, but also relies on chemical agents to kill pests and protect plant health.
“This chemical class, when used properly, is vital to the success of our industry,” Stone told members of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture.
The subcommittee, which includes Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader and Washington Rep. Suzan K. DelBene, invited testimony on pollinator health — a hot topic as honey bees have been decimated by colony collapse disorder.
Some researchers believe hive loss could be caused by a combination of parasites, nutrition problems or the stress of being moved long distances. Many beekeepers truck hives across farming regions each spring, pollinating crops in rotation as the season advances.
Others conclude heavy pesticide use — especially neonicotinoids — disrupts bee behavior, kills them outright or weakens them to the point they are susceptible to illness or infection. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenaur last year introduced legislation that would ban neonicotinoids, a synthetic pesticide.
Stone said there are alternatives, and described how Oregon handled spraying incidents in which thousands of bees were killed in 2013. The Oregon Department of Agriculture temporarily restricted the use of dinotefuran and imidacloprid, both neonicotinoids. An education campaign told people not to use the sprays on flowering linden and basswood trees.
Other speakers testifying included Dan Cummings, an almond and walnut grower in Hamilton, Calif., and chair of the Almond Board of California Bee Task Force.
Cummings said about 1.6 million honeybee colonies — approximately two thirds of all the commercially kept honeybees in the United States — are needed to pollinate California’s almond orchards. The orchards are completely dependent on honeybees for pollination, he said.
The Almond Board of California funds honeybee research, spending $2.3 million in health projects since 1995, Cummings said. “Without honeybees, there would be no crop,” he said.
Jeff Pettis, lead researcher at the USDA’s bee lab in Maryland, said a parasite called the varroa mite is wreaking havoc on honey bees. It’s full name is “Varroa destructor,” he said, “and it is perhaps the most aptly named parasite to enter this country. Varroa destructor is a modern honey bee plague.”
When Varroa destructor was first detected in the U.S. in 1987, beekeepers managed more than 3 million colonies for crop pollination and their winter hive losses ranged from 10 to 15 percent annually, Pettis told the committee. Beekeepers now have about 2.5 million colonies and winter hive losses average more than 30 percent per year.
“The economic sustainability of beekeeping is at the tipping point,” Pettis said.
A new book by former “Seattle Post-Intelligencer” Editorial Page Editor Mark Trahant tells how Sen. Henry M. Jackson, an advocate of policies that could have killed Native Americans’ cultural heritage, changed while working with a Native American congressional staffer.
The following registers a 10 on the chutzpah meter, the platinum standard for subjective book reviews: Noodling a volume about a critical period in the struggle for Indian self-determination — a publication supported by a foundation that I’m involved with — that analyzes the legacy of one of my long-deceased family members. Hmmm.
With this history, Trahant, the former editorial page editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, sets the burst of 1970s legislative progress affecting Indian Country within the broader context of major misfires, in particular the odious policy of “termination” that aimed to liquidate tribal sovereignty across the land.
Forrest Gerard, an unsung congressional insider and member of the Blackfeet tribe (who eventually became an assistant Secretary of the Interior during the Carter administration), is the tale’s hero. Gerard had the credibility, bureaucratic savvy, and political smarts to convince his boss, the bete noire of Indian Country, that it was time for a wholesale shift.
Henry “Scoop” Jackson is the boss and Interior Committee chairman, the unmovable senator who moves. And Abe Bergman, the Seattle pediatrician and star of Ric Redman’s The Dance of Legislation, is the gadfly finagler for Indian healthcare. Throw in presidential ambitions, Bobby and Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, James Abourezk, an Oklahoma senator’s wife, turf battles, the National Congress of American Indians, and the farsighted (you heard me) leadership of Richard Nixon and his aide, former Seattle land-use attorney John Ehrlichman. The first line of Trahant’s book could have been, “No one could have made this stuff up.”
Termination was conceived during the Truman Administration and found full expression during the Eisenhower years. The mission was to assimilate American Indians by paying off outstanding claims and neatly extinguishing — terminating — the special government-to-government relationships.
There was a progressive, fix-it undercurrent to the new paradigm that resonated with members of both parties, although most leaders in Indian Country knew that termination spelled cultural genocide. Jackson, who helped create the Indian Claims Commission in the 1940s in a similar fix-it vein, quickly embraced termination. In 1958, he sponsored the Senate companion bill to the notorious House Concurrent Resolution 108 that enshrined the policy.
At the time, most Indian issues fell within the purview of the Senate’s Interior Committee, which conflated America’s first inhabitants with questions of natural resources, territories, and national parks. It was a systemic reality reflecting the federal government’s patronizing approach: Just lump Indians in with minerals, mines, and public lands.
The beginning of a sea change came with New Mexico Sen. Clinton Anderson’s failure to stop the return of Blue Lake to the Taos Pueblos. With even President Nixon and Colorado’s Rep. Wayne Aspinall advocating the return of the sacred lands, Anderson came up with an ill-considered last hurrah, a bill to give the Taos Pueblo Indians use of the area while denying them the title to it. Scoop, Anderson’s successor as Interior chairman, unwisely followed his mentor’s lead (the transfer was, nevertheless, approved in a 70-12 vote). Trahant frames this as an issue of personal loyalty within the gentlemen’s-club culture of the United States Senate (Disclosure: In the 1960s, Anderson introduced his recently divorced twenty-something secretary to a middle-aged Scoop. At least one of its byproducts is grateful for that).
Scoop’s voting on the Taos Pueblos’ question is a stickler, one that fuels cynicism about American politics. Consider, similarly, Sen. Dan Inouye’s support a few years ago for opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. Was it a thoughtfully considered move or evidence of brotherly piety for Ted Stevens? Both? Loyalty shouldn’t trump the greater good, we know. We also know that men aren’t angels and governing involves compromise, sometimes too much, in fact.
Congress can often seem hopelessly anti-environment, what with right-wing Republican extremism, the power of extractive industries in both parties, and the rural bias of the Senate. This week is a partial exception, so savor it.
On Tuesday night, House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his Senate counterpart Patty Murray (D-Wash.) struck a deal to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2014, and reverse some of the painful spending cuts from sequestration. The Bipartisan Budget Act does not specify how much money would go to each government program, only that $63 billion that would have been cut from federal discretionary spending over the next two years will instead be replaced thanks to some increases in fees and some cuts from other areas such as federal employee pensions. About half of the spending will go to defense, and half to domestic agencies, including environmental programs. If it passes, it will be up to the House Appropriations Committee to determine exactly which program gets what.
Environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council are issuing statements celebrating the good news. “This is a positive first step in undoing some of the damage to national parks, clean drinking water, air pollution monitoring, and other environmental priorities,” says Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters.
The celebration could be premature, though. The bill may not even pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Conservatives were objecting to the deal before it had even been made, and anti-government zealots on the far right, such as the Ron Paul–affiliated Campaign for Liberty, are coming out against it.
And if it does pass, environmentalists will still have to pressure congressional appropriators to restore funding to important environmental programs. The wish list is long. Sequestration cuts have made it more difficult for state and local governments to monitor and maintain air and water quality. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund, for example, is an EPA program that gives grants to states to lend money to localities that need to make capital improvements to their drinking-water or wastewater-treatment facilities. Sequestration cuts have meant that governments are putting off these essential investments. Scott Slesinger, legislative director at NRDC, says restoring those funds and making sure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has adequate funding are top priorities. A blunt instrument such as sequestration can be very bad for NOAA because some years it needs to make a big expenditure, such as launching a new satellite, that will pay off over many years thereafter. But a hard, low cap on that year’s NOAA appropriation means it won’t have money for other programs.
Other environmental lobbyists point to clean air monitoring as an area where they hope to partially reverse sequestration. “A big area people ought to be concerned about is air pollution,” says Taurel. “A ton of money comes from the EPA and goes out to states to measure levels of smog in the air to tell people if it’s a code red day, or code orange day, and old people, kids, and people with respiratory problems need to stay in.”
Some environmental programs are likely to fare better than others. The EPA, for example, is a terrible bogeyman in the eyes of Republicans, so it may not see much additional funding. Interior Department programs, such as national parks, are less politically polarizing.
“You’ll have hopefully less closures at national parks in 2014 than you saw in 2013,” says Taurel. In addition to national parks and monuments being closed during the recent government shutdown, many were closed during portions of the year due to lack of funds. “One message from the government shutdown is that the public cares about public lands, especially national parks,” says Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club lands protection program. “So in theory you would see some of those cuts restored if Republicans are looking at public opinion.”
Why the conditional? Don’t all politicians care about public opinion? Well, many congressional Republicans do not. This is a caucus that rejected gun-control measures with 90 percent public approval in the wake of a massive school shooting. House Republicans are mostly just concerned with winning over the most radical elements of their base, in order to stave off primary challenges and then coast through the general election in their safely Republican districts. But there is not an anti–national parks lobby, much less one with the awesome power of the National Rifle Association, so there is cause for hope.
Some of the $63 billion is coming from oil and gas leasing. Of course, it would be better if no such drilling occurred at all, but it was going to happen anyway. The proposed budget deal would approve a treaty between Mexico and the U.S. to divvy up offshore drilling lease revenue from the GuIf of Mexico, which would add money to the treasury. Other components of the deal, such as limiting interest payments to oil and gas companies that overpaid on leases and eliminating federal assistance for deepwater oil exploration, are actually good, if minor, steps toward removing our enormous subsidies for fossil fuels. On the other hand, the deal does not eliminate tax subsidies for the oil industry, as President Obama has requested.
It is also worth putting the budget deal in its larger, lamentable, context. This is not so much progress as it is a partial reversal of a terrible regression. The sequestration cuts in the Budget Control Act of 2011 were supposed to be so draconian that it would force the two parties to reach a big bipartisan agreement to reduce long-term deficits. The whole premise was half-baked, since at a time of fitful economic growth, high unemployment, widening inequality, and record-low interest rates on federal government borrowing, our focus should be on stimulating growth through more deficit spending, not less. Stronger growth would also reduce budget deficits in the future through higher tax revenues and lower mandatory spending on poverty-relief programs such as food stamps.
Instead of pushing hard for stimulus, Democrats caved to Republicans’ economically illiterate anti-deficit hysteria. And then they found that Republicans were unwilling to make a deal that involved any additional tax revenue, thus dooming the efforts to find a grand bargain and locking in the sequester cuts. We also suffered through a government shutdown caused by Republicans’ irrational demands that President Obama and the Democratic majority in the Senate accede to their entire agenda, as if Mitt Romney had just won the election. Both the sequester and the shutdown adversely affected virtually every environmental program. This deal between Ryan and Murray is the outgrowth of those two catastrophes, and an effort to avoid their repetition.
“We passed the political hurdle where we’re finally starting to push back against the sequester, which is great from our perspective,” says Manuel. But the 2011 budget bill locked the sequestration levels in for 10 years, making them the new baseline from which future government funding levels are negotiated. Every effort to restore or increase funding is now a huge uphill climb. “The harm is still being done,” says Taurel, “because the sequester remains in place.”
Ben Adler covers climate change policy for Grist. When he isn’t contemplating the world’s end, he writes about cities, politics, architecture, and media. You can follow him on Twitter.
“Congress Must Act Immediately To Provide Rapid Recovery For Our Tribes And Work To Ensure That Political Gamesmanship And InactivityDoes Not Harm Native Peoples Again.”
Source: National Congress of American Indians
LaCONNER, WA- In his first statement after being sworn in as the 21st president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Brian Cladoosby – Chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community – called for reduced thresholds for federal tribal disaster assistance and challenged Congress to prioritize Native peoples in the post-shutdown legislative calendar, including acting on the Farm Bill:
“As I begin my term, my thoughts and prayers are with the South Dakota tribes. The Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes have been devastated by the recent storm that swept the Great Plains – and the federal government failed, again, to maintain treaty agreements that ensure disaster relief is provided when citizens are in distress. When the federal government neglects citizens in times of emergency, the effects can be long term.
Tribes are now eligible for federal disaster assistance under the Stafford Act, however the high monetary damages threshold hampers impoverished areas because what is lost by low-income citizens often does not meet the required amount. The federal government has a fiduciary duty to protect tribal citizens but without changes to the threshold, tribal citizens will continue to suffer from the consequences of disasters.
The immediate problems caused by collapsing homes and widespread loss of livestock are only the beginning. Tribal ranchers and farmers in South Dakota will feel the economic impact of this storm for years to come as they will now have to rebuild their livelihoods from scratch. Allowing the current Farm Bill to lapse without action, coupled with the government shutdown, meant that support systems at the Department of Agriculture were unavailable to Native farmers and ranchers during this terrible storm. These failures of Congress prolong the claims process and inhibit Native food production and economic development. Further, with no Farm Bill and the lack of government funding for food assistance programs, many tribal citizens were left without access to food all while these vital programs are used as political bargaining chips. No one – especially our tribal citizens most in need – should ever have to go without food while being used as pawns in the lawmaking process.
Congress must pass a Farm Bill that will support tribal nations and others around the country who are in dire straits and it must keep nutrition programs with farm policies because there should never be a disconnect between food production and feeding people. Congress must act immediately to provide rapid recovery for our tribes and work to ensure that political gamesmanship and inactivity does not harm Native peoples again.”
About The National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit www.ncai.org
The government is back in business and now there are lots of questions. What was all that about, anyway? What’s next? And what’s the best course for Indian country?
To answer the first question you have to think on multiple tracks. Yes, the government was shuttered because of Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee, and the House Republicans that combined to fight the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
But that was never really the fight. It was only a distraction.
The primary division is simpler: It’s about the role of government and how to pay for that government. This is the debate that Republicans – and some of their Democratic allies – have already won, the austerity framework. It starts with the premise that federal spending is “out of control” and therefore dramatic steps must be taken.
It’s a faulty premise but the results are a disproportionate impact on Indian country.
Indian country has an oversized and direct relationship with the federal government so deep spending cuts wipe out both investment and opportunity. That means less money for schools (which is future opportunity), less for economic development, and less money in general for local government (healthcare is a different story … more about that in a series I have coming soon on the Affordable Care Act & Indian country).
Beyond Indian country, the problem with austerity is that it does not work. It starts a cycle of general economic decline, instead of “saving” money for taxpayers (now or future ones). The government shutdown is a case in point: It cost billions of dollars in terms of economic output. It made the problem worse, not better. Ireland will soon be the first country to move past the austerity terms of its bailout. But the budget cuts continue and the damage to the country is severe. As Stephen Kinsella writes in Foreign Affairs: “The real threat to Ireland’s recovery is demographic. A recent survey found that young Irish people have no savings whatsoever. Their consumption levels are far below those of their European counterparts. With more babies born this year than in any other since 1891, Ireland’s only boom in the next few years will be in people.” This sentence could be Indian country. Only we have no where to go.
So what’s ahead? The deep divide over austerity remains. The Senate budget “fully replaces the harmful cuts from sequestration with smart, balanced, and responsible deficit reduction, which would save hundreds of thousands of jobs while protecting families, communities, and the fragile economic recovery.” While The House budget “cuts government spending to protect hardworking taxpayers.” So in order to meet in the middle, the two Houses will have to resolve their differences and (key word here is and) then get a majority of votes in both the House and Senate. Democrats will have to be happy with austerity and Republicans will have to live with more spending. There needs to be a resolution of these differences before January 15, 2014, when a new round of budget cuts will be required under the sequestration law (The Budget Control Act) that continues every year until 2021.
And, finally, what’s the best course for Indian country in this budget maze? The National Congress of American Indians report the Senate level of appropriations remain short of what’s required. The Interior budget, for example, accounting for inflation, “the Senate level is 11 percent below FY10,” NCAI said. “The House proposed level would drop critical tribal governmental services to 19 percent below the FY10 level.” NCAI said tribes are losing ground for critical governmental services.
The ideal would be for Congress to consider treaty obligations separately from the budget. A smaller scale solution might be trying to convince the Congress to forward fund more tribal programs, so that the money will not be at risk every time there’s another fight in Congress.
But forget the ideal in this Congress. We’ll be lucky to get a resolution of any kind. And that means more austerity for Indian country.
Mark Trahant is the 20th Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a journalist, speaker and Twitter poet and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. Comment on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/IndianCountryAusterity.
Less than two months after the disclosure of secret National Security Agency surveillance programs, a new fight on the issue is taking shape in the U.S. House. At issue is a controversial amendment — introduced by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), supported by a bipartisan coalition, and set for a vote of the full House — that would require the NSA to place limits on the information it collects in its surveillance operations.
Amash’s proposal would force the NSA to attest, when seeking a warrant from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, that it would gather information only on individuals that are under investigation. “Blanket” surveillance would not be allowed. The amendment would be added to an annual defense spending bill.
“In order for funds to be used by the NSA, the court order would have to have a statement limiting the collection of records to those records that pertain to a person under investigation,” he said. “If the court order doesn’t have that statement, the NSA doesn’t receive the funding to collect those records.”
Amash threatened to block the defense spending bill if his amendment was not given an “up or down” vote. Earlier this month, Amash introduced a similar proposal that won wide bipartisan support and was co-sponsored by 18 Democrats. It was killed in committee.
“This is the best chance we are going to get to keep the NSA from collecting the mass volume of phone records,” said Sina Khanifar, founder of Taskforce, which runs DefundTheNSA.com and has supported Amash’s efforts. “Support in Congress up until now has been pretty mixed and just getting a bill on the floor has been pretty difficult. In the short term, this is the best we are going to get and people will either have to vote for or against it, and people will have to make a statement of where they stand on this issue and make it clear to voters.”
Opposition to changing the status quo
The NSA is adamantly against the Amash amendment. On Tuesday, Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, scheduled a members-only briefing in response to the amendment.
“In advance of anticipated action on amendments to the DoD Appropriations bill, Ranking Member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of the House Intelligence Committee invites your Member to attend a question and answer session with General Keith B. Alexander of the National Security Agency,” read the invitation. The brief was held at “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information level” clearance, meaning that members cannot disclose what was learned in the briefing.
Amash’s amendment would affect the first section of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to request a warrant to receive “metadata” on a person’s phone calls. A court ruling changed the interpretation of the law so that a warrant authorizes the government to surveil all calls it feels is relevant. Many feel that this ruling went against the nature and spirit of the act.
Support for the amendment is likely to be low in Congress. As reported by The Atlantic Wire, only 11.3 percent of all members of Congress support the declassification of the secret court’s decisions. Less than 9 percent favor a reform or rewriting of the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
No members of Congress favor a repeal of the laws.
Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) has offered a competing amendment that, on the surface, also seeks to restrict NSA’s funding for surveillance activities. However, the amendment’s main provision, which prohibits spending for the purpose of targeting a “U.S. person,” is already prohibited, according to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Since the NSA insists that it surveils only metadata left from electronic transactions and not actual people, the Nugent amendment amounts to a red herring — something to distract from the Amash amendment.
Amash, who was elected to the House in the 2010 Republican sweep, has differentiated himself from other members of the class of 2010 as an anti-establishment, anti-spying, pro-controlled-military-spending libertarian. While many joke of a future Senate run for the Washington novice, the reality is that the junior representative forced House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to negotiate with him. Amash’s coalition controls 20 Republican votes, more than Boehner’s estimated margin for passage.
This has created friction among Republicans.
“The leaders have been clear with members whose amendments are being made in order that they are expected to vote for the bill on final passage if their amendments are adopted,” a leadership aide said to BuzzFeed.
The spending bill ignores a call to reduce the Defense Department’s budget by $50 billion next year as part of sequestration. Due to this, it is unlikely that the bill will pass the Senate.
“The majority ignores sequestration when it suits their purposes — for veterans, homeland security, and today, for defense,” House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said. “I wonder if my friends on the other side of the aisle will have the courage of their convictions to explain why it is acceptable to ask working families to dig deeper than they already have. Why would we slash research for Alzheimer’s and autism, kick children off the rolls of Head Start, and evict low-income families?”
The bill is $3.4 billion smaller than the Pentagon’s 2014 base budget request, with a war-funding section $1.5 billion larger than what the Pentagon requested.
More controversy on Syria
Amash’s amendment was not the only controversial addition to the defense spending bill. Another amendment was introduced to prohibit the use of funds “with respect to military action in Syria to the extent such actions would be inconsistent” with the War Powers Act. The proposal was introduced out of fear by Republicans that the United States may get tied up in another country’s civil war.
Previously, Republicans criticized the president for being slow to intercede in Syria.
The Pentagon recently offered Congress a detailed list of military options to help remove Syrian President Bashar Assad, as well as the cost of those options. The list was released after the White House acknowledged that there is no known way to remove Assad from power quickly or painlessly.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, in a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), pointed out that the options available — training the opposition, conducting limited stand-off strikes, establishing a “no-fly” zone, setting up buffer zones and searching for and destroying chemical weapons stockpiles — would require a massive build-up of military capital and billions of dollars a month.
“All of these options would likely further the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure on the regime,” Dempsey wrote. “We have learned from the past 10 years; however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state. We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action.”