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Who gets heard in Washington?

Condemning false prophets is not now the vigorous cause of times past. Modern democracy deems no one to have a privileged hold on truth; it follows that everyone is wrong sometimes. And so it's unfair somehow to single out our scatter-eyed seers for abuse.

But if we're no longer prepared to push hatpins through the tongues of false prophets, may we at least escape their endless chorus?

Doubtful. The no-pause news cycle demands material and rewards its providers. And so the ghosts of false prophets past, present and future will be found explaining away their misjudgments, down to the fine detail of how it is that their oracles depended on the wise conduct of someone else who dropped the ball, or on local factors that didn't work out quite in keeping with desk expectations, or on the failure of whole foreign nations to comply with geopolitical schemes that called upon them to behave like the West's chess pieces, or on the prospect of finally prevailing if only we'll stay the course against all evidence to the contrary. Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Adelman, Perle, Frum, Gaffney, Ledeen, Cohen, Woodward, Will, et al. - the choristers of war have clung to one principle in common, summed up as follows: Those who will be heard on the subject of war in Iraq are those who have been heard already.

In case there was any doubt, now comes another crew, the Iraq Study Group, to demonstrate that no statute of limitations impedes the franchise on credibility of Washington's false prophets. The document the Iraq Study Group produced is a national disgrace, a testimony to high naivete and plain silliness in the service of our national demand for expected results that never arrive - but at least it got a hearing.

A critique of the war in Iraq awaits another day. The point for now is that other voices within earshot of Washington get no hearing. They never will get one if Washington can't apply two bedrock precepts to its own din. Those precepts are that tangible track records of accomplishment, based on modes of foresight often described as visionary or strategic, actually matter for our collective future and should be shared; while the Washington-preferred modes of explanatory and face-saving afterthought condemn us to collective variations on failure and should be shut out of our counsels.

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We need specific examples. Among many that could be cited, one has been in the news recently - or, more accurately, due to the problem of who gets heard in Washington, her example has eclipsed her name in the news.

Her name is Rebecca Adamson, founder of First Nations Development Institute and now of First Peoples Worldwide [Adamson is also a columnist for Indian Country Today]. When Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank of Bangladesh were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, the recognition implied a considerable stride in human affairs - culturally appropriate economic development had taken a seat at the table of international affairs, where strategies for war and peace are formulated. Adamson's name came up offhandedly as far as anyone here knows - someone mentioned her as having done similar work to Yunus' microloans of money, someone else remembered her resistance to the idea that Yunus and Grameen overly influenced her own approach to economic development in Indian country, and someone else again chuckled that maybe she'd admit the influence if she had gotten the Nobel instead of Yunus.

Needless to say, as an economist day-in, day-out, Yunus broke his own trails and deserved his days of glory. But if Indians and women were heard in Washington, Adamson's narrative would be familiar enough to deserve a more generous hearing than it got. It goes like this: In her supporting role at the now-defunct Coalition of Indian Controlled School Boards, Adamson sat in on funding negotiations following passage of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. From those negotiations, she learned that while a law was on the books ordaining Indian control of Indian education, federal decision-makers would fund only what they - Washington - wanted. To assert a wider control would require Indian control of their own purse strings, and that would mean building Indian-directed prosperity from the ground up. The task would be a slow one, but ultimately it would secure more tribal control, over education or anything else, than Indian self-management of programs the federal government must agree to fund.

That was the genesis of FNDI and a gamut of Adamsonian development strategies that are still going strong for Indian country. But most of them were smallish, one-step-at-a-time strategies, not the stuff of Nobel prizes in a nation that purports to think big.

So what about her latest uncredited coup? In the late 1990s, she founded FPW on a project to defend the indigenous land rights of the San (aka ''Bushmen''), first peoples of the Kalahari Desert. After years of workshopping constitutional rights for the San, FPW receded into a fund-raising role for them as others mounted the legal case. Now the Botswana courts have ruled that the San were evicted illegally from their lands. The decision in effect restores their legal right to a traditional nomadic life on their Kalahari homelands - an unprecedented restoration ... if it works out that way.

Now that the decision's come down, Adamson, mindful of how far legal rights went for Indian education in 1975, has positioned FPW to make grants on behalf of San resource control.

There's a track record of accomplishments here - the accomplishments of nomads, women and Indians, and other allies. And there's another record, an implied record of all the Washington leadership elite misses by dialing up its own voice, obsessively.