Transparency: New year brings election reports & changes to Trahant Reports

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Trahant Reports

Every so often I like to post an update about the mechanics of Trahant Reports. I write often that transparency is a value in the digital world — and so that must include my work.

Trahant Reports, of course, is an unusual business. I give away my words for free. Every column posted on my blog is free for the taking by other media. It’s also found on my blog, Apple News, and across social media platforms. Once in a while people pay me anyway — thank you — and others, occasionally, commission pieces directly. But the bulk of my reporting is free use. My goal is to keep it that way.

How does that work? I try to make it up with paid speeches. I had planned last year on turning some of my work into a book that I could sell. In fact I sort of reserved the summer months for just that. Then the Republicans set out to repeal the Affordable Care Act and I was compelled to write everything I could on the topic. (I produced some 85,000 words on Indian health, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.)

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Authory database

I also fixed a recurring problem: Saving my material in a searchable form. (So far I only have 2017 available but I am working on a solution to back further in time.) Here is link to my archive database, via Authory.

But I also wrote less in 2017 than I did in 2016. Last year I posted 109 pieces. The year before that it was 157. Why so few? I didn’t get lazy. It’s just 2016 was an election year. I am thinking that 2018 will require a lot more posts. (Speaking of that I am working now on my database of Native American candidates for Congress, state offices, and state legislatures. I should have a new graphic and post soon.) Please help: If you know of a candidate, drop me a note. Here is the #NativeVote18 list that I am updating.

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Trahant Reports is also a broadcast and podcast. Every Monday morning I post a 3-minute commentary for Native Voice One. This year I did a little fundraising for this project — shout outs to First Peoples Worldwide, Norm DeWeaver, Shawn White Wolf and Gerald Sherman. This year I also produced three half hour special reports, one on climate change, another on health care, and a preview of the 2018 election cycle. There will be more audio in my future. And, ideally, I would like this part of my operation to be self-sufficient (even though all of the content remains free for tribal radio stations, other nonprofit users, and listeners.)

As many of you know, I also write daily news rhymes on Twitter … @NewsRimes4lines. I have been doing that since the Seattle P-I days. I took a break while I was out of the country, but I’ll start it up again next week. It’s not really a part of my business. But I like the discipline of writing something first thing in the morning. And it’s fun.

There are two big changes ahead for me next year.

The first one is after May I will no longer be an academic. I still want to find a ways to work with young people but for me it’s hard to do that in a university setting. I don’t want to worry about grades or lesson plans. Instead I’ll focus on news, our history, trends, and what we can learn. I am not sure how this will work as a practical matter … but after May my “free” operation will have to be self-sustaining.

Then that leads to the second big change. I will be working with FNX on a new TV magazine show. We’re naming it Wassaja — as a tribute to so many of the great journalists from previous eras. We have been working hard on the first few shows and hope to debut the 60-minute production this spring. As they say on TV … stay tuned.

Thanks again for a great year. Trahant out.

 

Happy New Fights: Battle over the budget will grow as deficit spending explodes

 

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President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at the White House on the tax reform legislation. (Official White House photo by Stephanie Chasez)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The first year of the Trump era has been challenging: The administration and the Congress sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act and radically redesign one of the nation’s best public health insurance programs, Medicaid. That plan failed.  And I’ll come back to that point shortly.

But first: Congress did move forward with its other agenda item, to rewrite the tax code and reduce the amount of federal income taxes that most pay. And the two key words here are income tax. That’s important because most people pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes. The Joint Committee on Taxation looked at the numbers a couple of years ago and found that 80 million tax filers that earn $40,000 or less pay no federal income tax and many even get cash refunds. But we pay $121 billion in Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. Even those families who make between $40,000 and $75,000-pay three times as much in payroll tax as in federal income tax—nearly $190 billion of the former and just $64 billion of the latter. The total income for a household has to exceed $100,000 more before income tax is a bigger cost than payroll taxes. Bottom line: Wealthy people get a tax cut.

The big winner in the tax bill, however, is business. The new law sharply drops what corporations and small business pay in federal income taxes. The Tax Policy Center calculates that savings at nearly three times as much for business owners in 2019 as for people who whose primary source of income is wages or salaries. The Tax Policy Center found that all households would get an average 2019 tax cut of about 1.6 percent of after-tax income (roughly $1,200). Those who make most of their income from wages would get a tax cut of about 1.5 percent of after-tax income, or about $1,200. But owners of pass-through businesses such as partnerships and sole proprietorships would get an average tax cut of 4.3 percent of their after-tax income (about $4,300).

It’s important to note that corporate taxes have gone up in recent years, but are not at historically high levels (as shown in this Tax Policy Center chart.) During the 1950s corporate taxes were 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

 

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One way Congress looks at business taxes is to account for “pass through” taxes. So if you earn money as, say, a freelancer. Then you can deduct expenses on another form. This process could be useful to a few people in Indian Country. If you do work that could be considered a “business” (and make enough to pay income taxes) make sure that you are set up as a business because you will pay less tax under this new law.

So lots of people — and especially companies — will pay less in federal taxes. And the federal treasury will have a lot less funding as a result.

“The tax bill will provide a bonanza to the most well-off Americans and profitable corporations, even as it leads millions of Americans to lose health coverage and ultimately raises taxes on many low- and middle-income Americans,” writes Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “And, faced with criticism that the tax bill will swell budget deficits, President Trump and House Republican leaders have made clear that one of their top priorities for 2018 will be to use the fast-track budget “reconciliation” process — the same process they used to pass the tax bill — to cut assistance programs that aid millions of struggling families, to try again to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cut Medicaid, or both.”

The process of reconciliation means that budget cuts next year could pass the Senate with only 50 votes — all Republicans. That’s awful. But the good news is that even might be a huge hurdle for Republican leaders. The problem is that the Republican majority is not sure what it wants. Some members want more money for the military and are willing to work with Democrats (who want money for domestic programs to make that so). Others want stark budget cuts; sequester times X. Others just want to find a deal of some kind, something that governs the country.

We already know these divisions are deep because the Republican-only majority has been unable to pass a budget for 2018 (which started October 1). The government is running on a temporary spending bill that expires Jan. 19. Right now the House is working off a funding level that would significantly increase defense spending and slight reduce domestic programs. The Senate is basically working off last year’s budget.

That’s all well and good for now but remember the pressure will increase to balance the budget as the cost of the tax legislation is calculated. As the National Congress of American Indians said: “The current tax reform legislation amounts to little more than a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over the next ten years. This deficit increase will inevitably create pressure to cut federal programs and services that are extremely important to tribal communities. Deficit-financed tax cuts that lead to austerity budget cuts would affect all Americans, but would disproportionately impact American Indians and Alaska Natives who rely on federal funding of the trust responsibility as well as social programs.”

Congress is governing at two and three week intervals because there are not enough votes to pass a real budget. And that’s not a good sign going forward because the budget only gets more complicated next year because of other issues that Congress has been avoiding.

Happy New Year.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

Trahant Reports is on iTunes or Soundcloud. Download here. 

Business as usual: Minnesota governor set to pick US Senator #NativeVote18

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Rep. Peggy Flanagan and Congressman Tim Walz continue their partnership in Minnesota. Flanagan is running for Lt. Governor and Walz Governor as Democratic Farmer Labor Party candidates. (Campaign photo)

Trahant Reports

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has scheduled a news conference Wednesday to announce his pick for the U.S. Senate. The StarTribune reports it will be, as expected, his Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

“In selecting Smith, the governor is choosing one of his most trusted advisers and someone who has worked for years traveling the state and building relationships with influential DFLers (Democrats) and business leaders,” the StarTribune said.

That’s all well and good. It’s business as usual. The safe bet. Then we in Indian Country know what could have been … and why Peggy Flanagan would have made history. Then, here is the good part, she’s still a candidate for Lt. Gov. in November 2018. And there is reason to think that down the road she could very well be the inside pick for such an office. And so we ought to do all we can to see that Flanagan wins her race. There are six Democrats running in the Minnesota primary for governor. (Flanagan is running with U.S. Rep. Tim Walz and she is the only declared candidate for Lt. Gov.) At least seven Republicans are also seeking election to the Minnesota governor’s office.

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This is a Google fusion table with three tabs. The first is a spreadsheet; second is note cards for each candidate, and tab 3 is the interactive map.

Then November already looks to be interesting. There are now eleven Native candidates running for Congress, Governor, and Lt. Gov. There are also new candidates running for state legislatures, county commissions, and to run cities. Give President Donald Trump credit: His actions (or is that his craziness?) encourages people to run for office. We need more of that, not less.  (I will post a legislative preview of Native candidates in January.)

Voters in Virginia and Alabama are demonstrating that there is a growing wave; one that could reshape Congress, state houses, and legislatures.

— Mark Trahant

 

 

 

 

Updated #NativeVote18 map for Native American candidates running for Congress, Governor, Lt. Governor

Trahant Reports

Updated list of candidate for Congress and statewide offices. Working now on the list of candidates for state legislatures. (Drop me a line if you know of a candidate who ought to be in this database. Thanks. Mark.)

This is a Google fusion table with three tabs. The first is a spreadsheet; second is note cards for each candidate, and tab 3 is the interactive map.

 

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Grid: Yellow pins are Independents; Red, Republicans; Blue, Democrats and Green for Green Party. (Trahant Reports)

Minnesota’s governor could make history with a Flanagan appointment to Senate #NativeVote18

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Minnesota Rep. Peggy Flanagan, D- St. Louis Park.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

There is an uncomfortable, even painful re-balancing going on across so much of society. The old world of male hegemony is slowly coming to an end. Minnesota’s Sen. Al Franken lost his office because of his own actions — and that broader change.

“I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Sen Franken said.

Yet this is a tough issue for many Democrats. Franken was the kind of senator that folks wanted, especially on issues involving American Indians and Alaska Natives. As Tara Zhaabowekwe Houska wrote on Facebook:  “Al Franken has resigned, leaving a massive gap of progressive values in Congress. None of the victims who stepped forward called for his resignation. His decision to step down speaks volumes of his character and recognition of the bigger picture.”

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will appoint Franken’s replacement who then will have to run in a special election next year. The most likely pick is Lieutenant Governor Tina Flint Smith, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The appointment of Smith causes another problem: A Republican would automatically replace her as the Lt. Gov. That situation also presents challenges for an administration. But then again, time is short.

Two other names — both historic choices– are also possible, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe).

Flanagan is currently running for Lt. Gov. But because of her deep experience in politics, Flanagan could hit the ground running. She already knows her way around Capitol Hill. Since this would be a short term gig, that’s critical. There is another reason why Flanagan should get the nod: Since 1789 there have been 12,244 people serving in Congress. Never has there been a Native woman. Not by election. Not by appointment. This would be a chance to start a new era, one where indigenous voices are heard.

This is an important time in Congress. In addition to all of the challenges that the country is facing in the Trump era, there is also the issue of how Congress, as an institution, handles abuse by its members. The line needs to be sharp and absolute. Just this week four members from both parties have resigned, retired or are being investigated. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said he would resign after sexual misconduct allegations. The House Ethics Committee is investigating Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold for using taxpayer funds for an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement.  And Michigan Democrat John Conyers retired Tuesday from a House seat he had held for more than fifty years.

And to top it off Congress has an institutional problem. A payoff system that was both secret and a way for powerful members to act with impunity. As Rep. Susan Brooks, a Republican from Indiana, told Time magazine: “We were asking for anything related to sexual harassment. The response received today indicated that due to the confidentiality requirements of the statute, they cannot provide us with that.”

Transparency is the only way out of this mess.

But voters in Alabama are considering a candidate, Roy Moore, who would start his job in the Senate already knowing about these issues. The Washington Post reported about Moore’s sexual misconduct with multiple minors. A candidate who is not only backed by President Donald J. Trump but by the official apparatus of the Republican Party.

And, of course, Trump himself has been accused by at least sixteen women of misconduct.

Congress, the White House, government, Hollywood, journalism, business, tribes, all have stories about the corrupt use of power. Enough. It’s time for a re-balancing of power. And most certainly, transparency.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

 

 

 

Paulette Jordan: What are you going to do to improve the world? Run for governor #NativeVote18

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Rep. Paulette Jordan announces her bid for governor in Moscow, Idaho. (Photo via Facebook)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Paulette Jordan is running for governor of Idaho. This is a big deal in so many ways. First, there have been very few Native Americans who have ever run at that level (Alaska’s Byron Mallott, Idaho’s Larry EchoHawk, and Peggy Flanagan in Minnesota).  Second, she’s the first Native woman who has the audacity to ask citizens to run their state. Yay!  And third: She already knows how to win over conservative voters.

Two years ago when Democrats were losing across the country, Jordan captured her second term as a state representative, winning by 290 votes. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but she won her race during a Republican wave. She was the only Democrat to win any office in North Idaho.

Jordan announced her candidacy Thursday night in Moscow, Idaho. She is a native of Idaho and a citizen of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho. (She served on the tribal council from 2009 to 2012.

“I grew up in a farming family and my grandparents showed me that cultivating the land was a continuation of our ancestral traditions of caring for homelands,” Jordan said. “Coeur d’Alene peoples have cared for Idaho homelands since time immemorial and Idahoans today practice the same combination of self-sufficiency and cooperation that my grandparents did. This reminds me of how connected we are to one another, it reminds me that Idaho is my family.”

Rep. Jordan is currently serving her second term in the Idaho House of Representatives. She is a member of the Idaho House Resources and Conservation Committee, State Affairs Committee, and the Energy, Environment & Technology Committee.  She is also an appointed Idaho Representative to the Energy and Environment Committee of the Council of State Governments for the Western Region.

At her announcement, Jordan said, “when asked, what are you going to do next to improve this world? I am going to run for governor.”

Idaho once regularly elected Democrats to state office, including former Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus (who won office a record four times). These days it’s a super-majority Republican state. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Idaho is also state where the legendary National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garry served in the state senate and was a candidate for the U.S. Senate. It’s where Jeannie Givens served in the legislature and ran for the U.S. House of Representatives (likely the first Native woman to do so). Both Garry and Givens are also Couer d’Alene tribal members. It’s also a state that that sent Larry EchoHawk, a Pawnee, first to the legislature, and later elected Idaho’s state’s Attorney General. He did lose a bid for governor. But the point is that Jordon has an uphill climb. And she could win.

One telling story about Jordan is that she lost her first race for the legislature in 2012 by less than a hundred-fifty votes. She went back to work — and won two years later. And again four years later.

Jordan said there is even an advantage to being a member of the minority party. “The majority party can be insular and keeps their circle small, because they do not need to cooperate to advance their goals,” she said in her announcement news release. “But, members of the minority party must engage colleagues across the aisle, and develop meaningful comprehension of policies and positions held by others, so that the shared work of governing can succeed.” Jordan continued, “In my family, our circle can always get bigger, and that’s what I see for Idaho. A bigger circle is what achieving justice for all looks like.”

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

 

 

 

Working: Funding government and tax bill is messy

A lot on my plate.

But I will be writing because there is a new deadline for Congress to fund the government this week. There are serious issues that go beyond money, partly because Republicans will need to either hold their caucus together or win votes from Democrats. Tough roads. Which one is the less traveled?

Recent piece in Yes! Making the case for a shutdown …

The tax bill, it turns out, was written so hastily that there are errors. Who knew? This means that the House must go to conference and work on a compromise with Senate. (The easy option would have been to pass the Senate bill and send it on to the president). A conference stirs the divisions that exist within the Republican Party. If the House gets its way, the bill could lose Senate votes (and be defeated).

I will post before the weekend. Mark

Republicans get their tax bill passed, and a shout out to the spirit of Andrew …

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Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon championed tax cuts for the wealthy — and sharp budget cuts — in the years before the Great Depression. (Treasury Department photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Turns out we’ve been worried about the wrong, Andrew. The Republican tax plan, President Donald J. Trump’s signature legislation, would make Andrew Mellon proud.

Andrew Mellon was a wealthy industrialist who served in government as the Secretary of Treasury. Here’s what Trump’s own Treasury Department says about Mellon: “As the Nation embarked on the most materialistic period in its history, Mellon’s philosophy was one of debt reduction, tax reduction, and a balanced budget. His tax reform scheme, known as the Mellon Plan, reduced taxes for business. His theory was that big business would prosper in proportion to the lightening of its tax load and its profit would be transferred to the rest of the Nation. During much of his tenure, general prosperity and times of peace enabled Mellon to implement his measures. The Great Depression, however, beginning in 1929, undercut Mellon’s prestige and brought him under increasing criticism. Despite the downturn in the economy, Mellon continued his policy of balancing the budget by cutting spending and increasing taxes, which worsened the effect of the Depression on the ordinary citizen.”

History is prologue. Damn. You hardly have to change a word to know that this sentence is about now. Swap today’s Treasury Secretary Steven Terner Mnuchin for Mellon and the story still answers, what’s next?

Both the House and the Senate have now passed the legislation to cut taxes so that business will prosper by the lightening of its tax load and its profit would be transferred to the rest of the nation. The funny thing is that people really believe this load of crap. Then self-delusion was a common thread in the Senate debate. Maine Sen. Susan Collins voted yes because Mitch McConnell promised her budget cuts (including cuts to Medicare) would not follow. She even tweeted proof, a McConnell letter saying Congress has the power to waive such acts. But, does he have the will or the votes to do so?

The conservative wing is, at least, honest about this. When the tax cuts result in a massive expansion of debt they want sharp budget cuts. This is a core belief. And has been since Mellon’s time. Or as the Treasury Department puts it: “Despite the downturn in the economy, Mellon continued his policy of balancing the budget by cutting spending and increasing taxes, which worsened the effect of the Depression on the ordinary citizen.”

Or there was Arizona’s John McCain, the so-called champion of regular order, voting for a 479-page bill with handwritten amendments. A bill that will add (by Congress’ own estimate) about a trillion in debt was passed in a few weeks without the usual hearings or independent scoring. The maverick did not care about process. Get it done.

How bad is this bill? It’s right up there as one of the most unpopular bills ever. An average of polling shows its popular support at about one-third. And, get this, FiveThirtyEight reports that this bill is even more unpopular than tax hikes.

A couple of things about Indian Country: So many of our tribal citizens are the low end when it comes to earning. This bill does nothing to lighten that tax load. Indeed a late night effort to increase tax credits for children, making them refundable. (Remember nearly half of all Americans don’t pay income tax, it’s the payroll tax that is the burden. This would have helped.)

And instead of turning the dial back on fossil fuels this bill aligns the tax code for more development. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has made this part of the legislation her signature, not health care, and certainly not climate change (as she so eloquently talked about during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in October.) She owns this.

The Atlantic magazine says this bill “could forever alter Alaska’s Indigenous communities” by development. “The issue still divides Native villages, counties, and Native nations in Alaska. It also sets tribes with differing claims to Alaska’s North Slope against each other.”

This bill also strips the mandate to buy insurance. A win for freedom, right? Perhaps. But it also means that healthy people will not buy as much insurance leaving sicker, older people to pay the bills. It will weaken the insurance framework. At least 13 million fewer people will carry health insurance as a result.

However there are winners: Big corporations, rich would-be heirs (like the Trump children) and religious schools (an amendment by Ted Cruz expands tax-free savings for this purpose).

The process ahead: This bill will still have to be reconciled with the House. There are differences, such as taxing graduate students and deducting medical expenses.

But cutting taxes (and then the budget) is something Republicans have championed long before Andrew Mellon. So this bill is likely to become law soon. President Trump can make both Andrews proud.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please do so. Just credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com #IndigenousNewsWire #NativeVote18

Trahant Reports is on iTunes or Soundcloud. Download here.