• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Old West Moves East

When I was a boy, my farm town used to put on a show called a greased pig contest. A young pig would be greased and set free in a watered down arena. To the rough-edged delight of townspeople, the local kids, those daring enough, would climb inside the arena and attempt to catch the greased pig, which they would soon learn was smarter, faster, and, oh, so very much slicker. The mud and feces besmeared pig catcher got to keep the squealing and exhausted animal which in a year or so would end up on the family dinner table.

This tradition has moved east, for I saw something that reminded me of it just the other day. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee provided the slicked-down arena. The Navajo Indian Settlement Act, S1171, was the greased prize. A plane-load-of-free-loaders from New Mexico were the eager and expectant participants.

But before this show could come to Washington, advance men, like those who used to come to the farm towns to advertise a coming event such as a carnival, circus, or even a greased pig contest, were needed to make it a success. Chief among the new breed of advance men was the Bush administration’s new Secretary of Interior, the erstwhile Governor of Idaho, Dirk Kempthorne. He had proven essential to the carnival atmosphere by issuing a slick opinion, called a hydrologic determination, that there is more water in the Colorado River than anyone ever imagined.

So how is there more water? Why, because our diminished rivers no longer fill our shrunken reservoirs. Ergo, there is less evaporation from these reservoirs and therefore more water available from our rivers. Thus, we enter the head-spinning world of New-Science-on-the-Potomac where politics trumps all reason, all common sense. Indeed, this New Science, truly, as the poet would have it, “calls all in doubt.”

And what’s to be done with this miracle water found on the drought stricken Colorado River? Well, that plane load of free-loading politicians and assorted hangers-on, headed by representatives for presidential aspirant Bill Richardson, had come east expecting to celebrate the easy passage of S1171. Thereby, Kempthorne’s miracle water would be used to expand the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project (NIIP) and to build a billion dollar pipeline to Gallup, New Mexico, and to portions of the Navajo Reservation–with all but a sliver of the costs coming at taxpayer’s expense.

As for the Navajo-Gallup pipeline, the Indian Health Services will have to find 100’s of millions of dollars more to get the water to the intended Indians, especially those living seasonally in isolated traditional dwellings known as Hogans. In the case of Gallup, a city of about 30,000 souls, its ruling elite dream of becoming a new Moab for mountain-biking, boutique-beer-swilling Yuppiedom–if they only had the water.

But perhaps the most embarrassing aspect of the scheme S1171 represents is the fact that the billion-dollar, federally-constructed NIIP loses large amounts of money every year even though the Congress, for decades, has funded all its operating costs, ignoring its own long-standing prohibition against doing so. Some suspect payola, postponing, thereby, a long over due accounting of all Indian irrigation projects and hiding the outsized lies undergirding them. These circumstances give finer definition to what Washington means when it promises to help the Indians.

Yet, despite all the advance work done to make the hearing a greased success, a damper was put on what should have been a festive, glad-handing event by the most unlikely of participants. The Department of Interior, the very people preaching the good news that the Colorado River is brimming with new water for new projects, announced that since it had not participated in the New Mexico Indian negotiations resulting in the Navajo Settlement Act now before the Committee, it could not support it. There was no hush, because at these affairs there are no surprises.

Out of 23 senators on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, only two were in attendance, both from New Mexico. Putting on an amateurish act of sputtering disbelief so common to western melodrama, Jeff Bingaman, the Committee chair, played the good cop, while Pete Domenici, the Committee’s Ranking Member, played the bad cop. In fact, Domenici could be heard declaiming loudly, off mike, that they would just take this plan to the Corp of Engineers to construct if Interior didn’t fall in line.

And why did Interior, the Department of Bad Irrigation Projects, as they,re known out west, decide to wreck a hearing that had every indication of being well staged for quick passage of S1171? The new Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, Bob Johnson, speaking for Interior, said the bill did not comport with longstanding policy requiring, among other things, that OMB review the economic feasibility of Indian settlements and the costs of other alternatives.

Imagine my surprise at this complete turnabout, since only weeks earlier I had brought the subject of economic review of the Navajo settlement up with Mr. Johnson at a Bureau conference entitled “Managing for Excellence. (The words and wisdom of convicted felon and former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles were held up for approbation several times during the conference, indicating, perhaps, just how ambitious an undertaking bringing excellence to Interior really is.)

In that setting, Johnson had told me it was not the habit of Reclamation to require economic evaluation of Indian projects even though federal policy required it. I asked if they didn’t think it was important to know if the public’s money was being well spent on these projects, particularly in light of the fact that NIIP lost money, lots of it, every year. No answer was forthcoming other than a meaningless deflection about everyone having a right to an opinion.

Now, for another subplot in this growing western melodrama–The small grassroots organization I chair had insisted several years ago, when the infamous Animas-La Plata project, another purported Indian project, was up for funding, that the published policy governing Indian water settlements be observed, including an economic evaluation. We consulted with OMB itself where we were told that office had been directed to butt out. Moreover, the attorney representing the Department of Interior, a flack by the name of Mike Connors, told us straight out that, while the policy was still in force, Interior was free to apply it selectively. This all took place during the Clinton administration when the hapless Bruce Babbitt was running Interior, thus giving the lie to the idea the Bush administration invented the concept of executive exception. Mr. Connors can now be found working for Senator Bingaman as counsel for the Committee.

And then there are the absent 21, the members of the Committee who sensibly were not there, knowing, first hand, that someone else’s greased legislation is nothing to wrestle with. But the Senator from Colorado, Ken Salazar, noted for his easy collapse into a compromising position on almost any and all issues probably should have been there unless he truly believes the water alchemy concocted by Interior. Otherwise, the water Senators Bingaman and Domenici want for New Mexico belongs to the people of Colorado under an interstate treaty called the Colorado River Compact, and Salazar should be protecting the interests of Coloradoans. But remember he’s already caught his porker. It’s called the Animas-La Plata project and quid pro quos are what Washington runs on.

Is it too cynical, even in a world as obviously devoid of decency and justice as present-day Capitol Hill, to suggest that Senator Domenici’s recent conversion to the get-out-of-Iraq brigade might be a bargaining chip for billions of dollars in new water projects for New Mexico?

One thing is for sure, Mies van der Rohe’s dictum that “less is more” has been turned into a carnival of nonsense, greasy legislation and all.

In an interesting coda to the above, Senator Domenici, still in a “I want it, I get it frame of mind, gave a direct warning to former Iowa congressman Jim Nussle and the Bush administration’s new designee to head OMB at his confirmation hearing. He told him that if OMB did not reverse course on S1171 that he would not vote favorably for his confirmation.

But there is still more. In a more recent House hearing on its version of the Navajo settlement act, HR1970, Colorado congressman Mark Udall, apparently acting as surrogate for his cousin, New Mexico congressman Tom Udall who is HR1970’s sponsor, lit into the fretting Bob Johnson, Reclamation’s new commissioner, who is obviously only carrying stinging coals for OMB.

Declaring himself the undying friend of the Indian, Udall said OMB had to get over its queasiness about how the public was being asked to spend its money, for after all hadn’t Governor Richardson promised at least $75 million toward a tax bill that will easily exceed $1 billion in construction costs alone? Wasn’t that enough he intoned? Never once did Mark Udall, the man who would be the next Democratic senator from Colorado, ask questions concerning the baffling hydrologic study; never once did he elicit concern over the adverse impact this settlement would have on Colorado’s legitimate rights to water in the Colorado River under the interstate compact; and never once did he show concern that more irrigation for the Navajo might actually cause them to lose more money than presently.

PHIL DOE, who once worked in the Interior Department, is chair of Citizens Progressive Alliance in Littleton, Colorado. He can be reached at: ptdoe@comcast.net

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 16, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Backfired on Erdogan
Chitrangada Choudhury – Aniket Aga
How Cotton Became a Headache in the Age of Climate Chaos
Jack Rasmus
US-China Mini-Trade Deal: Trump Takes the Money and Runs
Michael Welton
Communist Dictatorship in Our Midst
Robert Hunziker
Extinction Rebellion Sweeps the World
Peter A. Coclanis
Donald Trump as Artist
Chris Floyd
Byzantium Now: Time-Warping From Justinian to Trump
Steve Klinger
In For a Dime, in For a Dollar
Gary Leupp
The Maria Ramirez Story
Kim C. Domenico
It Serves Us Right To Suffer: Breaking Down Neoliberal Complacency
Kiley Blackman
Wildlife Killing Contests are Unethical
Colin Todhunter
Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!
Andrés Castro
Looking Normal in Kew Gardens
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail