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Weekly Reader: A groundbreaking moment

Cliff Dwellings

With the issues around social justice, the future of democracy, climate change, and a global health crisis, we are clearly living in a historic point in time in the United States. But one piece of history that may not be fully understood or appreciated by most Americans is the confirmation of a Native American as Secretary of the Interior. As Secretary Deb Haaland’s new boss might say, it is a really, really, really BFD.

As always, this Weekly Reader features links to recent articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.

Dr. Len Necefer, writing an op-ed for Outside Online, notes that The Department of the Interior Shaped My Life in a moving story about the groundbreaking news of Secretary Haaland’s confirmation and what it means for Native Americans.

I was raised in Lawrence by my Navajo mother and Scottish and Romanian father. As a child, the juxtaposition between the history of Haskell Indian Nations University and the vibrancy of the young Native people pursuing a college education left me confused about how these two realities could exist on this small plot of land in eastern Kansas. Growing up, I would present my Certificate of Indian Blood to the Indian Health Service clinic on campus for routine dental and medical screenings, as promised in treaties from over a century earlier. 

Because of the unique relationship that the federal government has with American Indian tribes, and the fact that American Indians have a unique political and legal identity in addition to race, my healthcare and education were controlled by the policies of the Department of the Interior. The policies of Congress, the Department of the Interior, and consequently those of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, over the past century have defined Haskell and the many Native people within it by the (failed) policies, (lack of) funding, and multitude of (broken) treaty obligations.

As Dr. Necefer notes, “a number of secretaries of the interior in recent decades have been more supportive of tribes and advanced beneficial policies.” However, not a single one of those secretaries has “had to live with the effects of these policies after their tenure.” Until now.

There is no one size fits all for Native Nations when it comes to economic development, energy, and climate policy….The challenge of this position, in this time, is significant. Secretary Haaland not only inherits the long and tumultuous history of the position she has been appointed to, but also the uncertain questions of the role of federal lands in climate policy….Auntie Deb, as she is known endearingly within many Native communities, is well aware of how her tenure will affect her life, those of her community, and Native people throughout this country. She has a stake in the game, and her future success will open the door for many other Native people after her.

This is truly a BFD.

History is also being made in the response to the coronavirus, as the administration works to clean up the mess made by the former denier-in-chief. While most of the nation recently watched President Joe Biden’s thoughtful, sober, and hopeful speech concerning the response to a deadly, worldwide pandemic with the gravity it deserved, Mark Sumner, writing at The Daily Kos, let us know that those who chose to turn to conservative media sites for information found something…how shall we say it…different. He observes that Fox News’ coverage of Biden speech underscores the total disintegration of conservative news.

Meanwhile, on Fox News, viewers saw a presidential address as they never had before — with a real-time box allowing Tucker Carlson to mug for the camera in response to everything Biden said. Under the banner “Live Tucker Reaction,” Carlson did his best to demonstrate outrage and disgust with expressions large enough to overcome the relatively small size of his on-screen box. Meanwhile, the shifting Fox chyron offered its own commentary, including reminding viewers repeatedly in the last 10 minutes that “Biden speech nearly finished; Tucker will respond.” And spending the last couple of minutes pouting that “Biden should be finished.”

On the one hand, it may seem a wonder that Fox News decided to air the speech in any form. After all, since President Biden moved into the Oval Office, Fox has determined that it would be much better to cover anything — including devoting a full day to a misread press release about a plastic toy potato — rather than deal with the issues facing the nation. But the Carlson-in-a-box episode may serve to underscore something that’s been obvious for months: Fox News is dead.

John Stoehr, writing for The Editorial Board, looked at Mitch McConnell’s hissy-fit about getting rid of the filibuster and writes, Actually, McConnell has always been bad at his job, and nuking the filibuster will prove it.

It didn’t have to be this way — and it might not have been this way had Mitch McConnell lived up to his reputation as a master tactician. Think about it. If you don’t want the majority to emasculate you, and you don’t have a tool for stopping the majority from emasculating you, there’s only one thing to do: stop giving the majority reasons for emasculating you. Mitch McConnell could have vowed not to abuse the filibuster, as he has so many times before, in the hope that the Democrats don’t take it away. Instead, he vowed to block everything if the Democrats take away his favorite tool for blocking everything. I can’t imagine Nancy Pelosi doing something so dumb.

Of course, this is the man who stole a Supreme Court seat before looking the other way while the Russians sabotaged a Democratic presidential candidate. This same man rammed through another Supreme Court justice by breaking the rule he totally made up to prevent a former Democratic president from naming a Supreme Court justice. To prevent the Democrats from nuking the filibuster, he would have to keep his promise not to abuse it, but honestly, after all this time, why would the Democrats trust him?

Stoehr has another important Editorial Board piece, this time about the really bad coverage of the border situation, in Chuck Todd and the anti-moral press.

Reporters prefer covering partisan conflict, especially conflict that has no foreseeable way of being resolved. Conflict begets attention begets profits—or just a feeling of being pivotal to the country’s destiny. The press corps will be at the heart of the action even if its members have to invent the action.

The border is an old mess the new administration must clean up. But it is not a ‘political crisis’ unless Chuck Todd and others think decency and law constitute political crises.

I’ll end with links to four articles you should really, really, really read.

First up, my friend and former colleague Tom Mayes interviews Empire State Development EVP Holly Leicht for Preservation Magazine in Loss, Redemption, Renewal: The Moynihan Train Hall. While the transportation solution isn’t perfect by any means (that would require demolishing Madison Square Garden), the design work on the James A. Farley Post Office Building in Manhattan is beautiful in helping bring back memories of old Penn Station in New York.

Cory Albertson, writing in The Bitter Southerner, has a deeply personal article entitled The Radical Queerness of Dolly Parton. This thoughtful essay by the Georgia-born Albertson offers thanks for the ways Dolly’s music, stage presence, and insistence on being different spurred him to “hitch a ride with the wind.”

If, like me, you’ve laughed at the Progressive insurance commercials about how to avoid becoming your parents, you’ll enjoy the report by Ashley Fetters in The Washington Post entitled, The story behind Dr. Rick of the Progressive insurance ads.

It doesn’t hurt that when Progressive introduced the Dr. Rick ads in April 2020, they quickly became a warm, sunny island of gentle observational humor in a vast sea of grim commercials murmuring about “these uncertain times.” Or that they’re performed by a cast of veteran improv actors recruited from the Groundlings and Second City. (In one roundly beloved bit, two of Dr. Rick’s patients struggle not to stare at a stranger with blue hair. ‘We all see it,’ Dr. Rick tells them under his breath, as they continue to gape. ‘We all-l-l see it.’ That bit was largely improvised.)

And for something you never expected, take a look at Liz Alterman’s post in McSweeney’s entitled 24 Surprising Ways to Injure Yourself When You’re Over 50. I laughed especially hard at numbers 10 (opening a jar}, 11 (moving that jar back and forth as you squint to decipher its expiration date) and 15 (reaching into the backseat of your car for an umbrella). I’ve come dangerously close to injuring myself with all three!

Stay safe out there and have a good week.

More to come…


Image: Bears Ears National Monument by DJB

This entry was posted in: Historic Preservation, Weekly Reader


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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