Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 18, 2016

Open Your Eyes

Filed under: Film,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 10:19 pm

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 6.17.39 PM

This is the news release for a 40-minute documentary I just watched and found deeply moving. The film begins by stating that there are 40,000,000 blind people around the world today and that 90 percent are in poor Third World countries like Nepal, where the elderly husband and wife regain their sight from an operation funded by the Seva Foundation. I found the film of more than routine interest because I have cataracts in both eyes like the couple but can rely on Medicare to pay for the surgery when my time has come. Scheduling information is in the press release and I urge you to take advantage of your HBO subscription since it will be about the best thing you see on the premium channel this month.


For Immediate Release

HEARTWARMING DOCUMENTARY OPEN YOUR EYES, FOLLOWING NEPALESE SPOUSES ON A REMARKABLE ODYSSEY TO RESTORE THEIR SIGHT, DEBUTS JULY 18, EXCLUSIVELY ON HBO

Nearly 40 million people worldwide are blind, mostly from cataracts, and 90% of them live in the poorest countries. Yet most cataract blindness can be cured by simple surgery implanting an intraocular lens that once cost $500 and is now available for less than $2.

OPEN YOUR EYES follows Manisara and Durga, an aging couple from the remote Himalayan Mountains of Nepal, as they embark on a transformative odyssey to regain the sight they lost over the years by undergoing this life-changing procedure. Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky (HBO’s Oscar®-nominated “The Final Inch”), this inspiring documentary debuts MONDAY, JULY 18 (7:30-8:10 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO Other HBO playdates: July 20 (9:00 a.m., 4:35 p.m. ET only, 5:00 p.m. PT only), 24 (11:05 a.m.) and 28 (noon) HBO2 playdates: July 21 (8:00 p.m.), 25 (2:10 p.m., 12:40 a.m.) and 30 (11:30 a.m.)

The documentary will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand. In remote Nepal, many hillside farmers’ eyes slowly turn milky white as they lose their eyesight from exposure to a lifetime of harsh sun. A team of resourceful Nepali eye specialists combing the area finds Manisara and Durga, who have been married 50 years, and urges them to come to a distant city for a chance to see again. But Manisara is skeptical. Only when her youngest granddaughter plops onto her lap does she decide to move forward.

Filmed over the course of three days and set against the backdrop of the breathtaking Himalayan Mountains, OPEN YOUR EYES follows their extraordinary journey to see again, as Manisara and Durga are carried and guided through narrow paths and down winding roads, all the while facing the great unknown with courage, grace and hope. Finally, the couple arrives at an eye hospital in Palpa, which offers free cataract surgeries once a month through support from the Seva Foundation. Performing the surgery is Dr. Gurung, who has traveled from Kathmandu. Reflecting on what could be, Manisara says, “What would make me truly happy? I must tell you, I will be happy to see the world again.”

Husband and wife are laid beside each other for the operations, and in mere minutes, intraocular lenses have been inserted and Manisara and Durga’s eyes have been bandaged. All in all, 54 surgeries will be completed successfully that day, with each procedure taking around six minutes. The original title song of OPEN YOUR EYES was composed by Salman Ahmad and features guest vocals by iconic musician and humanitarian Peter Gabriel. In addition to the Oscar®-nominated “The Final Inch,” director Irene Taylor Brodsky’s HBO credits include the upcoming “Beware the Slenderman,” as well as “Saving Pelican 895,” “One Last Hug: Three Days at Grief Camp” and the Peabody Award-winning “Hear and Now.”

Producer Larry Brilliant co-founded Seva Foundation, the international NGO responsible for restoring sight to four million blind people globally. He is also chairman of the board of the Skoll Global Threats Fund and was one of the leaders of the World OPEN YOUR EYES – 3 Health Organization’s successful smallpox eradication program. OPEN YOUR EYES is directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky; executive producer, Laurene Powell Jobs; producer, Larry Brilliant; produced by Irene Taylor Brodsky and Sophie Harris; original music by Salman Ahmad.

For HBO: senior producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.

The declassified 28 pages: connecting the dots on 9/11

Filed under: Saudi Arabia,September 11 — louisproyect @ 4:38 pm

George W. Bush and Prince Bandar bin Sultan: the two architects of 9/11?

On May 18th I wrote about the allegations that “the Saudis” were behind 9/11 that would supposedly be proved by a 28-page section of a report that remained classified. Even without having seen those pages, I was certain that nothing within them could support the notion that the Saudi monarchy would have conspired to attack the WTC and the Pentagon since a Marxist class analysis and a reading of Akbar Ahmad’s “The Thistle and the Drone” would reveal two major points against this claim:

  1. Although most of the hijackers were Saudi citizens, they were originally from Yemen and were as hostile to the monarchy as they were to the USA.
  2. Blamed for the attack, al Qaeda was hardly an instrument of Saudi royal ambitions since it had carried out terrorist attacks a number of times within Saudi Arabia itself.

Since writing this article, the 28 pages have finally been declassified and released to the press. There is nothing in them that would change my mind although the usual cast of characters has jumped at the opportunity to crow that they prove Saudi Arabia was “behind 9/11”, including Salon’s Ben Norton who wrote an article titled “28 pages” showing Saudi connection to 9/11 attacks finally released after 14 years. Norton notes that “FBI and CIA documents disclosed that, while some of the Sept. 11 hijackers were in the U.S., they likely had contact with Saudi intelligence officers, the pages reveal.” Actually, the hijackers also had contact with American intelligence operatives as well. Does that prove that the USA was “behind 9/11”? If you’ve had the intellectual deficit to believe “truther” material, you’ll nod your head in agreement of course.

You would think that someone like Ben Norton, who believes even if mistakenly that he is a serious reporter, would have taken the trouble to mention that these hijackers were also in touch with FBI informers. With superficial and propagandistic hacks such as him, you can never tell whether he is sweeping the facts under the rug or whether his ignorance is to blame. In a trial, they say that ignorance of the law is not a defense. The same thing can be said about journalism as well.

Back on July 25, 2003, the NY Times reported:

The F.B.I. may have missed its best chance to prevent the Sept. 11 plot when one of its informants developed close ties to two of the hijackers living in San Diego, yet never alerted the bureau to the impending attacks, according to a Congressional report released today.

The declassified report by a House-Senate committee focuses closely on the incidents in San Diego, where Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi settled soon after arriving in the country in early 2000. The informant told his F.B.I. handler they were “good Muslim Saudi youths” who had come to America to go to school.

It is likely the informant being referred to here is Abdussattar Shaikh, who rented rooms to al-Midhar and Alhazmi. One hardly knows what to make of an FBI snitch keeping the crime of the century a secret from his handlers, especially when the human beings drawn to the filthy job of informant are not especially known for their scruples.

That being said, the newly issued report is replete with references to suspicions about the men gleaned from informants. It appears that there was substantial evidence that they were up to no good but specific plans about a 9/11 attack did not appear on the FBI’s radar.

If the FBI was effectively turning a blind eye to the 9/11 terrorist attack, the CIA was even more complicit. The CIA had identified Alhamzi and Al-Midhar as al Qaeda operatives  but did not pass that information along to the FBI agents in San Diego. So naturally you can conclude that such negligence was no accident.

Indeed for the “truthers”, there was no intelligence failure. Everything pointed to 9/11 being an inside job with the hijackers, the CIA and the FBI being in cahoots. If the FBI kept the plot a secret from the American people, surely this must prove that it was the USA itself that sought a “false flag” excuse to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. Any fool could have seen that the invasion and occupation of the two countries have been the best thing that happened to the USA since its birth in 1776. The expenditure of trillions of dollars has led to utter chaos in the region, after all, and very little of it of benefit to multinational corporations.

Not only does the Times article refer to FBI failing to take action on the plotters, it also identifies the man who is key to the 28-page “revelations”:

Meanwhile, unresolved questions surround the strange relationship that developed in San Diego between the two hijackers and a man from Saudi Arabia, Omar al-Bayoumi. Mr. al-Bayoumi met the two soon after their arrival in the United States and helped them settle in San Diego, allowing them to stay at his apartment for several days and co-signing a lease on their apartment.

You can read the 28 pages at http://intelligence.house.gov/sites/intelligence.house.gov/files/documents/declasspart4.pdf. They document a myriad of contacts between the hijackers and Saudi officials, most of all Omar al-Bayoumi. But they also point to Prince Bandar as a possible accomplice. It seems, for example, that his wife had been sending money on a regular basis to Osama Bassnan who was instrumental in helping hijackers Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhazmi financially when they were in San Diego. So it is a simple matter, it would seem, to connect the dots: Khalid al-Midhar/Nawaq Alhazmi –> Osama Bassnan/Omar al-Bayoumi –> Prince Bandar. In fact this was the point that Michael Moore made in “Fahrenheit 9/11”, with a lot more panache than Ben Norton and about as much credibility.

What is missing from these calculations is a “smoking gun” that would prove that Prince Bandar directed Bassman and al-Bayoumi to render financial and logistical support knowing in advance that it would be for terrorists whose goal it was to fly passenger planes into the WTC and the Pentagon. In order to make such a case, you would have to confront the most counter-indicative datum, namely the true relationship between the House of Saud and Osama bin-Laden who is referenced extensively throughout the 28 pages as if they were joined at the hip:

The FBI has also developed additional information clearly indicating that Bassnan is an extremist and supporter of Usama Bin Ladin. In 1993, the FBI became aware that Bassnan had hosted a party for the Blind Shaykh at his house in Washington, DC in October 1992. Bassnan has made many laudatory remarks to FBI assets about Bin Ladin, referring to Bin Ladin as the official Khalifate and the ruler of the Islamic world. According to an FBI asset, Bassnan spoke of Bin Ladin “as if he were a god.” Bassnan also stated to an FBI asset that he heard that the Government had stopped approving visas for foreign students. He considered such measures to be insufficient as there are already enough Muslims in the United States to destroy the United States and make it an Islamic state within ten to fifteen years. According to FBI documents, Bassnan also knew Bin Ladin’s family in Saudi Arabia and speaks on his mobile telephone with members of the family who are living in the United States.

After reading this, you’d think that the families of 9/11 casualties would be as interested in suing the FBI and CIA as they were the Saudi government. If you look through the 28 pages, you will see repeated references to the “FBI assets” knowing about every single move of the hijackers and the assistance they were receiving from people like Bassnan. So why didn’t they put them all in jail before 9/11? Maybe it is because they had no idea that 9/11 was in the works.

For some, it is easy to connect the dots. Paul Sperry, a reporter for Murdoch’s NY Post, added the missing link (Khalid al-Midhar/Nawaq Alhazmi–>Osama Bassnan/Omar al-Bayoumi–>Prince Bandar–>George W. Bush) in an April 2016 article that anticipated the declassified material:

But Bandar held sway over the FBI.

After he met on Sept. 13, 2001, with President Bush in the White House, where the two old family friends shared cigars on the Truman Balcony, the FBI evacuated dozens of Saudi officials from multiple cities, including at least one Osama bin Laden family member on the terror watch list. Instead of interrogating the Saudis, FBI agents acted as security escorts for them, even though it was known at the time that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

“The FBI was thwarted from interviewing the Saudis we wanted to interview by the White House,” said former FBI agent Mark Rossini, who was involved in the investigation of al Qaeda and the hijackers. The White House “let them off the hook.”

In other words, the political conclusion you are forced to draw if you are Ben Norton or any of the other hacks who believe that the Saudi royal family has ambitions indistinguishable from ISIS is the same as the 9/11 Truthers, namely that it was an “inside job”. We are forced to conclude that the CIA, the FBI, the White House and the Saudi monarchs sat down and devised a plot that would lead to the deaths of privileged stock brokers in the WTC and life-long employees of the Department of Defense in order to create a panic over al-Qaeda that would lead to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq that most policy-makers now view as a disaster to US interests.

Since we will never be able to get our hands on “the smoking gun” until after a successful socialist revolution in the USA that will allow us to open up the safes of the CIA and FBI, we will be forced instead to rely on a class analysis no matter how boring that is. In my view, for what it is worth, the Saudi ruling class has zero interest in apocalyptic plots to create a worldwide Wahhabist empire even if that was something close to the heart of Osama Bassnan. Like capitalist ruling classes everywhere, its main interest is in stability so that its investments and future investment possibilities can be safeguarded.

Furthermore, the Wahhabism of the Saudi state cannot be interpreted as a medieval version of the kind of ambitions we associate with a globally transformative movement like Socialism. Instead it is a commitment to very conservative personal behavior that in most cases leads to passive acceptance of the status quo. In Pakistan, where the Saudi state has arguably devoted more resources to spreading its religious and political values than anywhere, graduates of the Saudi-funded madrassas offer no challenge to the status quo. Like most devout people, their focus is on the afterlife rather than social transformation even of a reactionary type.

On the other hand, al-Qaeda does challenge the status quo. The 9/11 attacks were consistent with its terrorist strategy that had been unleashed all across the world, including inside Saudi Arabia. There is little question that the men who took part in the 9/11 attacks were seeking to drive a wedge between the West and the Ummah. Instead of seeing them as acting on the behalf of the Saudi state or the CIA, it makes much more sense to put them into the context of a movement that emerged after the collapse of the USSR. When there was a Soviet Union, young men and women from traditional Muslim families could see Marxism, even in its distorted forms, as an alternative to the rotten systems that the West had imposed on the Middle East and North Africa in its pursuit of oil profits. Once it vanished, new hopes were placed in political Islam—something we are still paying for now as the Arab Spring has been caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Islamic fundamentalism and the decrepit neoliberal ‘socialist’ states of Gaddafi’s Libya and Assad’s Syria that people like Ben Norton stepped forward to justify.

 

 

July 16, 2016

Lo and Behold

Filed under: computers,Film — louisproyect @ 7:40 pm

At the age of 74, Werner Herzog has just made his 38th feature film, a documentary about the Internet titled “Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World”. The German director shows no sign of the age-related decline that has affected so many of his peers such as Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Of course, given the fact that Allen hasn’t made a watchable film in over 35 years makes one speculate that he has never lived up to his accolades to start with.

Unlike the mega-celebrity from Hollywood, Herzog belongs to that rarefied world of “foreign” or “independent” films that inevitably get screened in art houses and rarely get nominated for Academy Awards. In other words, he makes the sort of film I live for, starting with his narrative film “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” that I saw in 1977 and that made me a devoted fan. It starred Klaus Kinski, a member of Herzog’s repertory company at the time, as a deranged conquistador determined to find the lost city of El Dorado to seize control over its legendary riches, even if it cost the lives of every man in his expedition. In the final gripping scene, he is the sole survivor adrift on the Amazon River with monkeys overrunning his raft. It was not a stretch for a Marxist like me to see it as a critique of colonialism even though 7 years later I would be dismayed to discover that he had made a TV documentary taking up the cause of the Miskitos in Nicaragua. It was only 10 years later that I figured out that the Atlantic Coast Indians had legitimate grievances and that Herzog was right to make such a film.

If there is one thing you can predict about a Werner Herzog film, it is that it will be unpredictable. “Lo and Behold” is nominally a series of interviews with pioneer computer scientists like UCLA’s Leonard Kleinrock but refracted through Herzog’s off-kilter sensibility that runs through the film like a black thread. For example, upon the completion of his interview with Ted Nelson, who anticipated the rise of the Worldwide Web, he allows Nelson to take his photo like a fan—a gesture that defies conventional documentary techniques to say the least.

Herzog is obviously fascinated by the computer scientists who come across as gee-whiz techno-optimists who clash with his own darkly absurdist vision of life even as he shares their breathless testimonies to the spectacular rise of the Internet. It is reminiscent of his near-obsession with the German-American jet fighter pilot Dieter Dengler who was shot down over Vietnam. In the 1997 documentary “Little Dieter Needs to Fly”, he describes how Dengler became obsessed with flying after seeing Allied fighter-bombers destroying his German village during WWII.

If you’ve seen that film, you will understand why Herzog seems just as fascinated with Elon Musk whose SpaceX company is building rockets that are intended to create a colony on Mars. Like Dengler, flight brings Musk closer to eternity or at least a taste of it. In explaining the need for colonizing Mars, Musk describes it as a hedge against something “going wrong” on Earth, the result of either a manmade or natural disaster. Will we have an Internet on Mars, Herzog playfully asks. With a cold smile, Musk says that we will after sending up a few satellites to circle the planet. One can hardly escape feeling that we are in the company of someone who would have made Aguirre blanch.

The film does not limit itself to the Internet. It is also devoted to displaying the latest in robotics and interviewing the geeks who work in the field. We meet Joydeep Biswas, a Carnegie-Mellon engineer who displays  six inch tall soccer-playing robots that dart about a miniature field scoring goals against each other. He has a particular fondness for robot number 8 that seems to be just a cut above the others. After Herzog asks Biswas if he loves that robot, the engineer grins sheepishly and admits that he does. It is a priceless moment.

If most of the film is devoted to the wonders of the Internet, Herzog makes sure to illustrate its dark side. He interviews the Catsouras family at their home in Orange County, near Los Angeles. The father, mother and three teen daughters sit around their dining table as the father describes the trauma they faced after a fourth daughter died in an auto accident in 2006. When a photograph taken by state troopers leaked out to the Internet showing her nearly decapitated head, the family was horrified by the photo that had gone viral and their inability to suppress it after a judge ruled that a dead person does not have the right to privacy. Mrs. Catsouras tells Herzog that the Internet was the anti-Christ to her.

As the conversation with Catsouras family over these grizzly matters transpires, your attention is fixated both on them and three trays of baked goods sitting on the table in front of them. The contrast between the muffins, cakes and cookies and their woeful experience could hardly be more striking. It makes you wonder if they prepared the goodies for the film crew and that Herzog decided to leave them on the table just for their macabre counterpoint to the matters under discussion. I am sure he did.

After the press screening, I chatted briefly with NY Times film critic A.O. Scott about “Lo and Behold”. He was a bit surprised that I did not have much to say about Herzog’s utter lack of attention to the frequently aired concerns about the political implications of the Internet’s explosive growth. There is nothing about the monopolistic tendencies of Jeff Bezos, the NSA’s ability to snoop on our emails or phone calls, the threat of cyberwarfare, and the like. Scott was right, of course, but I doubt that Herzog had much interest in making the kind of film that Laura Poitras would have made. Herzog is primarily interested in human psychology, and particularly what some might consider abnormal psychology. With his command of cinematic techniques gathered over nearly four decades and a sense of the absurd matched by very few filmmakers today, Werner Herzog marches to the tune of his own drummer. “Lo and Behold” opens at the Lincoln Center Film Society on August 19th and better theaters everywhere. Highly recommended.

 

July 14, 2016

Misusing German history to scare up votes for Hillary Clinton

Filed under: Fascism,Germany,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 3:13 pm

Hermann Müller

Herman Müller: German SP head of state in 1928 and forerunner to the Clintons and Barack Obama

Over the last week or so, I have read two articles that offer a highly distorted version of events leading up to Hitler’s seizure of power that are put forward in order to help elect Hillary Clinton.

In “Can the Green Party Make a Course Correction?”, Ted Glick equates Jill Stein’s determination to run against both Clinton and Trump in every state with the German Communist Party’s “Third Period” turn. Referring to Jill Stein’s reference to Trump and Clinton on “Democracy Now” as being “equally terrible”, Glick linked her to the German CP’s refusal to unite with the Social Democrats against Hitler:

Jill’s words are an eerie echo of huge mistakes made by the German Communist Party in the 1930’s. Here is how Wikipedia describes what happened:

“The Communist Party of Germany (German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933. During the Weimar Republic period, the KPD usually polled between 10 and 15 percent of the vote and was represented in the Reichstag and in state parliaments. The party directed most of its attacks on the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which it considered its main opponent. Banned in Nazi Germany one day after Adolf Hitler emerged triumphant in the German elections in 1933, the KPD maintained an underground organization but suffered heavy losses.”

In Harold Meyerson’s “Bernie, Hillary, and the Ghost of Ernst Thalmann”, the same historical analogy is used to get out the vote for Clinton but this time directed more at disaffected Sanderistas than Green Party activists who Meyerson likely views as beyond hope:

In the last years of the Weimar Republic, the real menace to Germany, Thälmann argued, wasn’t the Nazis but the Communists’ center-left, and more successful, rival for the backing of German workers: the Social Democrats. The SDs, he said, were actually “social fascists,” never mind that they were a deeply democratic party without so much as a tinge of fascism in their theory and practice. But as the Communists’ rival for the support of the German working class, the SDs became the chief target of the Communists’ campaigns.

Thälmannism, then, is the inability (be it duplicitous, willful, fanatical, or just plain stupid) to distinguish between, on the one hand, a rival political tendency that has made the compromises inherent to governance and, on the other hand, fascism. And dispelling that inability is precisely what Bernie Sanders will be doing between now and November.

I’m neither equating Donald Trump with Hitler nor saying he’s fascist in the classic sense. Trump has no organized private army of thugs to attack and intimidate his rivals, as both Hitler and Mussolini did. But Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and nationalist appeals; his division of the nation into valorous and victimized native-born whites and menacing non-white interlopers; his constant employment of some Big Lies and many Little ones; and his scant regard for civil liberties make him the closest thing to a fascist of any major party presidential nominee in our history.

Yet a minority of Sanders’s supporters fail to grasp the threat that a Trump presidency poses to the nation—to immigrants, to minorities, to workers, and even to the left and to themselves. I doubt more than a handful will actually vote for Trump, but Jill Stein and even Gary Johnson will win some of the Sanders diehards’ votes (though for voters, moving from Medicare-for-All Sanders to Medicare-for-None Johnson requires either extraordinary ideological footwork or simple brain death). In states where the race between Clinton and Trump is close, however, a Sanders diehard’s vote for Stein or Johnson, or a refusal to vote at all, is in effect a vote for Trump.

Both Glick and Meyerson have long-standing ties to the left. Glick has been a member of the Green Party for 16 years and before that worked with a small group promoting an “inside-out” electoral strategy. In many ways, that is much worse than being strictly “inside” the Democratic Party because the brownie points Glick has accumulated over the years as some kind of “outsider” gives him the leverage he needs to subvert the genuine radicalism of a third party on the left. In 2004 Glick was part of a group of “Demogreens” who engineered the nomination of David Cobb as Green Party presidential candidate instead of Ralph Nader, who they feared would siphon votes away from John Kerry. Basically this is the same strategy Glick is pursuing today with Jill Stein being demonized as the equivalent of the berserk Stalinists of the “Third Period”.

Meyerson was active in the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee in the 1970s, a group better known as DSOC that would later on fuse with other groups to become the DSA. He is currently the vice-chair of the National Political Committee of the DSA and a contributor to liberal magazines both online and print.

Like Glick, Meyerson saw Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2004 as inimical to the interests of the Democratic Party although formulated in terms of defeating the horrible Republicans. Just as Glick argued in his article, Meyerson took Nader to task for not recognizing the differences between the two parties in “The American Prospect”, a liberal magazine he publishes. Referring to Nader’s appearance on “Meet the Press”, Meyerson took issue with his claim that the system was rigged:

He did, of course, assert that there were no very serious differences between the two parties, though host Tim Russert got him to concede that there were distinctions on such ephemera as judicial nominations, tax cuts, and environmental enforcement. The American government, Nader reiterated, was still a two-party duopoly.

So what does all this have to do with the rise of Adolph Hitler? The answer is nothing at all. Hitler is invoked as a kind of bogeyman to frighten liberals. He serves the same purpose as a warning from your parents when you were six years old. If you don’t brush your teeth, the bogeyman will get you. Now it is if you don’t vote for Hillary Clinton, der Führer Donald Trump will get you.

Unpacking and refuting such nonsense is dirty work but someone has to do it. To start with, it is necessary to put the German Socialists under the microscope to understand the historical context. If the German CP’s ultra-left position was a disaster, how else would you describe the social democracy’s failure to resist the Nazis? While there is no point in making an exact equation between the Democrats and the German social democracy (we should only be so lucky), it would have been incumbent on Meyerson and Glick to review its strategy especially since they are the American version of Weimar Republic reformists today.

Like the Democratic Party, the German Socialists cut deals with the opposition rightwing parties to stay in power. In effect, they were the Clinton and Obamas of their day. In 1928, the Socialists were part of a coalition government that allowed the SP Chancellor Hermann Müller to carry out what amounted to the same kind of sell-out policies that characterized Tony Blair and Bernard Hollande’s nominally working-class governments.

To give just one example, the SP’s campaign program included free school meals but when Müller’s rightwing coalition partners demanded that the free meals be abandoned in order to fund rearmament, Müller caved in.

Another example was his failure to tackle the horrible impact of the worldwide depression. When there was a crying need to pay benefits to the unemployed, whose numbers had reached 3 million, Müller was unable to persuade his rightwing partners to provide the necessary funding. Their answer was to cut taxes. If this sounds like exactly the nonsense we have been going through with the Clinton and Obama administrations (and a new go-round with Mrs. Clinton), you are exactly right. The German SP had zero interest in confronting the capitalist class. That task logically belonged to the Communists but the ultra-left lunacy mandated by Joseph Stalin made the party ineffective—or worse. When workers grew increasingly angry at SP ineptitude, it is no surprise that the most backward layers gravitated to Hitler.

The ineffectiveness of the Müller government led to a political crisis and its replacement by Heinrich Brüning’s Center Party. Brüning then rolled back all wage and salary increases as part of a Herbert Hoover type economic strategy. Needless to say, this led to only a deepening of the economic crisis and political turmoil. Eventually Brüning stepped down and allowed President Paul von Hindenburg to take over. And not long after he took over, he succumbed to Nazi pressure (like knocking down an open door) and allowed Hitler to become Chancellor.

Within the two years of Brüning and von Hindenburg rule, what was the role of the German SP? It should have been obvious that Nazi rule would have been a disaster for the German working class. Unlike the Salon.com clickbait articles about Trump the fascist, this was a genuine mass movement that had been at war with trade unionists and the left for the better part of a decade. Stormtroopers broke up meetings, attacked striking trade unionists and generally made it clear that if their party took over, the left would be annihilated. Indecisiveness in the face of such a mortal threat would be just as much of a failure as the “Third Period” but that is exactly what happened with the SP as Leon Trotsky pointed out in “What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat”, written in January 1932 on the eve of Hitler’s assumption of power.

In its New Year’s issue, the theoretical organ of the Social Democracy, Das Freie Wort (what a wretched sheet!), prints an article in which the policy of “toleration” is expounded in its highest sense. Hitler, it appears, can never come into power against the police and the Reichswehr. Now, according to the Constitution, the Reichswehr is under the command of the president of the Republic. Therefore fascism, it follows, is not dangerous so long as a president faithful to the Constitution remains at the head of the government. Brüning’s regime must be supported until the presidential elections, so that a constitutional president may then be elected through an alliance with the parliamentary bourgeoisie; and thus Hitler’s road to power will be blocked for another seven years. The above is, as given, the literal content of the article. A mass party, leading millions (toward socialism!) holds that the question as to which class will come to power in present-day Germany, which is shaken to its very foundations, depends not on the fighting strength of the German proletariat, not on the shock troops of fascism, not even on the personnel of the Reichswehr, but on whether the pure spirit of the Weimar Constitution (along with the required quantity of camphor and naphthalene) shall be installed in the presidential palace. But suppose the spirit of Weimar, in a certain situation, recognizes together with Bethmann-Hollweg, that “necessity knows no law”; what then? Or suppose the perishable substance of the spirit of Weimar falls asunder at the most untoward moment, despite the camphor and naphthalene, what then? And what if … but there is no end to such questions.

Now of course we are in a period hardly resembling the final days of the Weimar Republic. The good news is that a fascist takeover is highly unlikely since parliamentary democracy is more than adequate to keep the working class under control. The bad news, on the other hand, is that the left is so inconsequential and the trade unions so weak that there is no need for fascism.

But who knows? Another decade or so of declining wages and cop killings of Black people might precipitate the rise of a left party that has learned to avoid the reformist stupidity of the German SP and the suicidal ultra-leftism of the Stalinists. It is highly likely that people like Harold Meyerson and Ted Glick will be as hostile to it as they are to Jill Stein’s campaign today. Despite their foolishness, we should soldier on to final victory. The fate of humanity rests on it.

 

July 13, 2016

Adolph Reed: master of Marxism-Clintonism

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,two-party system — louisproyect @ 5:17 pm

Adolph Reed

Adolph Reed is an African-American political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a prestigious Ivy League school, and a ubiquitous presence on the Internet left as a public intellectual. Along with Cornel West and Michelle Alexander, he has figured as a prominent Black intellectual supporter of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Reed’s ideological profile is very much based on class orthodoxy bordering on workerism. To what extent his Marxism retains some of his early Trotskyist training is open to question. Reed was a member of the Atlanta Young Socialist Alliance in the late 60s and smart enough to drop out long before he was transformed into a loyal cult member like me.

That class orthodoxy leads him to embrace positions that echo Walter Benn Michaels, a Marxist academic who argues that race-based political demands divide the working class. For Reed, reparations for slavery fall into this category as he maintained in a Progressive article: “reparations talk is rooted in a different kind of politics, a politics of elite-brokerage and entreaty to the ruling class and its official conscience, the philanthropic foundations, for racial side-payments.” Like Michaels, Reed has a bit of a conspiracy-minded approach to such matters as if officers at the Ford Foundation were burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how to prevent Black people from reading “The 18th Brumaire” and building workers councils.

This kind of rock-ribbed class orthodoxy seems an odd match to Reed’s partiality to Hillary Clinton candidacies, even if on a lesser evil basis drawn from the Gus Hall playbook. In an April 28, 2008 Progressive article that starts off with the ostensibly insurrectionary-minded title of “Obama No”–a shot across Carl Davidson’s bow so to speak–, we learn that it could have just as easily been titled “Hillary Yes”:

I’m hardly a Clinton fan. I’m on record in last November’s issue as saying that I’d rather sit out the election entirely than vote for either her or Obama. At this point, though, I’ve decided that she’s the lesser evil in the Democratic race, for the following reasons: 1) Obama’s empty claims to being a candidate of progressive change and to embodying a “movement” that exists only as a brand will dissolve into disillusionment in either a failed campaign against McCain or an Obama Presidency that continues the politics he’s practiced his entire career; 2) his horribly opportunistic approach to the issues bearing on inequality—in which he tosses behaviorist rhetoric to the right and little more than calls to celebrate his success to blacks—stands to pollute debate about racial injustice whether he wins or loses the Presidency; 3) he can’t beat McCain in November.

I hate to say it but this sounds much more like what you’d read in a NY Times Op-Ed or an MSNBC panel discussion. Maybe Reed should have stuck around the Trotskyist movement for another 3 or 4 years to get a clearer focus on the two-party system. It might have damaged him psychologically but that’s a small price to pay for being less damaged ideologically.

Now, eight years later, Reed makes another pitch for Hillary Clinton in a July 7th radio interview on Doug Henwood’s “Behind the News”:

DH: The movement that has catalyzed with the Sanders campaign, how can we keep it from dissipating as November approaches. “Trump is so horrible, you know, hold your nose and vote for Hillary. etc.” There’s a great possibility for induced amnesia to set in. How do we fight that?

AR: What one does in November lies in a different dimension from the movement building concerns. From a pragmatic point of view there really is nothing else to do except to vote for Hillary. But that only becomes a big to-do if you have an exaggerated sense of the significance of your own vote anyway.

DH: People get so obsessed with something that takes five minutes to do in early November. It’s really remarkable.

AR: Absolutely. On some level it only comes down to a matter of taste and existential choice. I could vote for Gore in 2000. I lived in Connecticut and it was easy not to vote for Gore in 2000 and to vote for Ralph. I’d argue that this is a different moment and especially with Republican control of Congress-even if they lose the Senate which is a long shot . . . we’re going to be in the same position on the Wednesday after the election than we were on the Monday before the election. The real challenge is to try to disconnect the organizing from it being driven by the election cycle.

What was it that Molotov said to reporters after signing a non-aggression pact with the Nazis? Oh, I remember: “fascism is a matter of taste”. As far as existential choices are concerned, I would say that celibacy is an existential choice. Or assisted suicide. Or masturbating with a vacuum cleaner. That sort of thing, if you gather my drift.

But when Adolph Reed says that voting for a Democrat is a matter of taste or existential choice, who the hell is he kidding? The Democratic Party is about as much a challenge to class politics as the Constitutional Democrats (Cadets) were in Czarist Russia. Lenin wrote hundreds of thousands of words—maybe millions—arguing that the left would be violating its most basic principles by voting for the Cadets. Indeed, this was his main quarrel with the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democracy:

Briefly, the Cadets’ tactics may be formulated as follows: to ensure the support of the revolutionary people for the Cadet Party. By “support” they evidently mean such action by the revolutionary people as will, first, be entirely subordinated to the interests of the Cadet Party and carried out according to its instructions, etc.; and secondly, not be too resolute and aggressive, and above all, not be too drastic. The revolutionary people must not be independent, that is the first point; and it must not achieve final victory, it must not crush its enemy, that is point two. These are the tactics that, on the whole, will inevitably be pursued by the entire Cadet Party and by any Cadet Duma. And, of course, these tactics will be backed, defended and justified with the aid of the rich ideological stock-in-trade of “scientific” investigations, “philosophical” obscurities, political (or politicians’) banalities, “literary-critical” squealing (a la Berdayev), etc., etc.

The squealing Berdayev referred to immediately above, by the way, was Nicolai Berdayev, a Russian philosopher aligned with the Mensheviks and later on exiled from Russia in the infamous “philosopher’s ship” in 1922 that targeted men who were ideologically opposed to the revolution. In my view, this was one of the biggest mistakes of the Communists. When I was a freshman at Bard, Berdayev was very trendy, just like Kierkegaard. Their Christian Existentialism was just the sort of thing to appeal to 18 year olds suffering from Weltschmerz. Was this the kind of existential choice Adolph Reed had in mind? Perhaps so given the mood of disaffected Sanderistas.

The Real Rebels

Filed under: American civil war — louisproyect @ 12:51 pm

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 8.47.51 AM

Mark Lause

Mark Lause is a Professor of History at the University of Cincinnati. Author of 10 books, including most recently Free Labor The Civil War and the Making of an American Working Class, published in 2015 by the University of Illinois Press and Free Spirits: Spiritualism, Republicanism, Radicalism published in 2016 by University of Illinois Press.

View all posts by Mark Lause »

I can feel a certain sympathy for people who get hoodwinked into fighting for a Lost Cause that could never be worthy of the blood and treasure spent on its behalf. After all, as a child of the Cold War, my own closest brush with toting a gun to war came during Vietnam. In that conflict, the government, both political parties, the military, the media, the universities, the corporations, and the entire power structure insisted that the triumph of a Vietnamese effort to control of their own country would start toppling dominoes that would end in Anytown, U.S.A. By the end, most Americans actually doubted this. In hindsight, there’s no real issue as to whether the power structure of the people were correct, though some feel obligated to pretend otherwise.

Free State of Jones, by Victoria Bynum
Free State of Jones, by Victoria Bynum

Responses to the Free State of Jones by Gary Ross, and starring Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Mahershala Ali demonstrate that such denials of experience can last a long time. The movie offers a fictionalized version of the revolt of poor Southerners against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi. Newton Knight worked on medical duties at the front until his disgust with the war inspired his desertion and return home. “Captain” Knight held that title for his role as the leader of guerilla forces that successfully made parts of southern Mississippi a no-go zone for Confederate tax gatherers and conscript officers. It is based on Victoria E. Bynum’s superb historical account The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), and aims to be much more truthful than Hollywood’s first attempt at the subject in 1948, Tap Roots.

Free State of Jones directly confronts the issues of class and race that Tap Roots downplayed or avoided. This fact, in part, explains the mixed reviews.

A movie is not a documentary, of course. The page dedicated to Free State of Jones at “History vs. Hollywood” provides a useful corrective, and I would urge everybody who liked the movie to read Bynum’s book.

The set battle scenes (including civilians employing a battery against trained troops) provide an emotionally gratifying and crowd-pleasing symbol of the triumph of enthusiastic victory over tyranny. In reality, the success of the revolt in Jones reflected the weakness of the Confederate authorities as much as the bravery and determination of those rebelling against them. Too, the love story between Knight and the slave Rachel or the depicted fraternization among black and white victims of the Confederacy is, of necessity, a matter of guesswork, but its presentation in the film rings true.

read full article

July 11, 2016

Rooting for the Bulls

Filed under: animal rights,Spain — louisproyect @ 8:47 pm

The news that a bull had gored a matador to death for the first time since 1985 got me thinking about this barbaric “sport” the same day I saw “At the Fork”, the powerful documentary  about humane livestock breeding. My immediate reaction was to root for the home team—the bulls.

The same day there was another home team victory. Two men got gored during the Pamplona bull run, the yearly event that was celebrated in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”, a novel that romanticized bullfighting and the macho values we associate with the morally questionable novelist.

To get a handle on this barbaric practice, I looked at Adrian Shubert’s “Death and Money in the Afternoon: A History of the Spanish Bullfight”, a 1999 Oxford University book. It is much more of a dispassionate scholarly work than the one I would have preferred to read, namely Timothy Mitchell’s “Blood Sport” but was immediately available as a Columbia University EBook. I will allow Schubert to supply the history while I will try to supply the passion.

Although the origins of bullfighting are shrouded in mystery, we do know that by the 11th century it had become entrenched in Spanish society as a pastime of the aristocracy. El Cid, the aristocrat and military leader who was celebrated in an epic poem and who fought both with and against Muslims, was into bullfighting. Like other aristocrats, he was on horseback and used a lance to kill the animals. The noblemen had underlings who fought on foot alongside them using swords against the bull. These two roles continue to this day in the bullfighting ring with the horse-mounted picador and the grounded matador, who has assumed the lead role once assigned to men like El Cid.

By the 1700s, bullfighting had become much more than a sport for the aristocrats. It had become a major source of revenue for public expenditures just like the lottery is today. It paid for good things like hospitals and bad things like the military.

Schubert identifies Francisco Romero as a key figure in the transformation of bullfighting into a mass, money-making spectacle. Born in 1700, Romero was a shoemaker by trade but became involved in bullfighting by assisting a nobleman who fought on horseback just as was the case in El Cid’s day. After becoming adept in the “sport”, he began to give exhibitions of fighting bulls on foot that climaxed with a single sword thrust. By 1726 he had become famous and gave bullfighting the impetus it needed to become a combination of entertainment and revenue generator. By 1749 Madrid had its first bullring and five years later King Ferdinand VI designated it a source of funding for municipal hospitals.

With the rise of the royalist state, the bullring became a microcosm of Spanish society. The seating was segregated by class and the rituals attending the matches were as stylized as the Super Bowl, which in its way performs the same function in American society today.

They performed the same role in the colonies of the New World as Schubert reports:

The new rulers of America wasted little time in introducing this spectacle of power to their recently conquered domains. Beginning in 1529, Mexico City celebrated San Hipólito’s Day, the day on which Hernán Cortés had conquered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán only ten years before, with a bullfight, and from 1535 on the entry of new viceroys into the capital of New Spain was marked with a series of bullfights.

When the Spanish empire began to crumble, the same colonies began to associate killing bulls for sport with their masters, especially in Cuba. For José Martí, the bullfight was “a futile, bloody spectacle …and against Cuban sentiment as being intimately linked with our colonial past.” Instead the Cubans preferred baseball that the colonial authorities viewed as “anti-Spanish” and had it banned from 1873 to 1874. The ban was reimposed in 1895 just after the war of Independence began. Cubans in Tampa and Key West held baseball games to raise money for the war effort and U.S. military authorities quickly banned bullfighting once they took possession of the island.

After Spain’s defeat, Spanish intellectuals tried to understand why their country was so weak and so decadent. Known as the Generation of 1898, they saw the American victory less in terms of the futility of colonization and more as an expression of their own problems. José Ortega y Gasset, the best known of this group, viewed bullfighting as expressing “pornography without voluptuousness”, “ridiculous Don Juanism” and denounced it as follows: “In sum, whatever has to do with enthusiasm, grace, arrogance, sumptuousness, everything, everything is made negative, corrupted, bastardized, deteriorated, because of those emanations that come from the bullrings to the city and from here to the countryside.”

If bullfighting was a symbol of Spain’s feudal past, essentially a product of the failure to carry out a bourgeois revolution, it naturally follows that General Franco would see it in the same terms as the 18th century monarchs—a way to express the hierarchy and “traditional values” going back to the 11th century and earlier. Schubert was a bit surprised to see that the left backed bullfighting as well. “In 1937 there was even one in Republican Alicante to raise money for the Communist Party militias. (The bulls might have come from the Popular Front Ranch [Ganadería del Frente Popular]!)” One can’t blame him for not having a sharper class analysis but it is obvious that the willingness of the Popular Front to use bullfighting to raise money might have something to do with its failure to retain power. Its inability to confront the Ancien Régime was its undoing after all.

The people of Catalonia were far more willing to carry out a social revolution in the 1930s than other Spaniards, largely as a result of experiencing Spanish power in the same way that the Cubans did—as a colony but one that was internal rather than external. In 2010, they finally caught up with Franco’s legacy and eliminated one of the pillars of fascist culture as Joe O’Connor reported in a National Post article on July 30, 2010 that cited Adrian Schubert:

Originally, the Catalans were separate, a kingdom unto themselves known as Aragon, with a distinct language, governing institutions and customs that persisted long after the birth of the Kingdom of Spain in 1469.

By the end of the 18th century bullfighting, as we picture it today, was already fully developed as a commercial enterprise. It was the first form of mass entertainment in Western society. Arenas dotted the Spanish landscape. Stars were worshipped like matinee idols. Festivals would end with a bullfight, followed by a feast. People loved it, even in Catalonia, the first region in Spain to industrialize and, by the 1850s, the wealthiest.

“A Catalan nationalist movement emerged in the 1850s,” says Adrian Shubert, a historian at York University. “The Catalans saw themselves as more sophisticated, more European, more advanced economically than the rest of the country.”

And the future, to the Catalans, was to be European, and being European meant no more bullfights. Bullfighting was a symbol of Spanish backwardness, of barbarity, a tradition unbecoming a progressive people. To the rest of Spain, bullfighting was the people; it was Castilian virility, artistry and bravery in the face of death.

“Franco detested the Catalans,” Mr. Shubert says. “He saw them as separatists and a threat to the unity of the Fatherland.”

Under Franco, the Catalan language was banned in public, and banished from media. Nationalism went underground and wouldn’t emerge again until after the general’s death in 1975.

Sooner or later bullfighting will die out entirely in Spain since young people raised in post-Franco Spain see it as inimical to their values. It is no longer the cash cow it once was and is mostly the pastime of an older generation and tourists seeking “the real Spain”.

CAS International, the largest worldwide organization committed to ending bullfighting, advises tourists on its website:

As a tourist, you can also help us in our fight to end bullfighting. A few tips:

  • Never go to a bullfight or a cruel patronal event, not even once. If you go to these events, your money and presence support the bullfighting industry. Ask other people to follow your example
  • Do not buy any bullfighting souvenirs
  • Let shop keepers know (in a polite manner) why you don’t want to buy bullfighting souvenirs. You can use our Spanish, French or Portuguese letter.
  • Do not eat or drink in bars and restaurants that promote bullfighting.

Among the tourists visiting Spain, a certain amount of them will be testosterone-laden men in their 20s who take part in the Pamplona bull run possibly without understanding its connection to what takes place in the ring. In fact, the run terminates at the bullring where the animals will be sacrificed at the altar to the traditional values of medieval Spain as Vox reports:

Veterinarians Susan Krebsbach and Mark Jones also tried to scientifically evaluate the suffering endured by bulls by showing video recordings of 28 bullfights to three independent veterinarians, who then graded the animals’ distress. They found that animals were typically wounded more than 10 times every fight, and that signs of distress like tail swishing, slowing down due to exhaustion, reluctance to move, and labored breathing were all common.

“The frequency with which bulls during bullfights exhibit behaviors identified as indicators of distress, suggest that fighting bulls experience distress — they suffer in the bull ring,” Krebsbach and Jones conclude.

It should not be particularly surprising that bullfighting inflicts massive amounts of pain on the roughly 250,000 bulls it kills annually. There’s plenty of evidence in the literature on dairy cows suggesting that cattle are capable of feeling pain. For instance, experiments have shown that giving painkillers to dairy cattle improves their gait — suggesting that they were feeling pain, and that alleviating that pain made walking easier. Cows’ behavior suggests an ability to feel emotion, as they warm to people who pet them and produce less milk among people who frighten them.

They’re also remarkably intelligent. “Cows can not only solve simple problems but they become excited when a solution is found,” researchers F. Bailey Norwood and Jayson L. Lusk write in Compassion by the Pound. “Cows can be trained to perform simple feats, such as pushing a lever for food, and they can read certain signs. Cows are especially adept at remembering directions and geographic locations, and at recognizing their peers.”

This is the animal that’s being tormented in a bullfight, that’s being stabbed repeatedly and having its organs pierced and ruptured.

In 1936 Munro Leaf wrote a children’s book titled “Ferdinand the Bull” whose eponymous hero preferred smelling flowers in the pasture to butting heads with other bulls or—naturally enough—being the prey of a matador.

The book was treated as a Rorschach test by the media at the time, which saw Ferdinand as either a fascist or a communist. The fascists themselves had no problem deciphering the message. Franco banned it as a pacifist work while Adolph Hitler ordered it to be burned as “degenerate democratic propaganda”. Following the Nazi defeat, the Americans handed out 30,000 copies to Germany’s children in order to encourage peace even as they were smuggling top Nazi officials out of harm’s way in order to build up a reliable anti-Communist resource.

Ever the jerk, Hemingway wrote a short story in 1951 titled “The Faithful Bull” that was intended to refute Munro Leaf. It ends this way:

So the man sent him away with five other bulls to be killed in the ring, and at least the bull could fight, even though he was faithful. He fought wonderfully and everyone admired him and the man who killed him admired him the most. But the fighting jacket of the man who killed him and who is called the matador was wet through by the end, and his mouth was very dry.

Que toro más bravo,” the matador said as he handed his sword to his sword handler. He handed it with the hilt up and the blade dripping with the blood from the heart of the brave bull who no longer had any problems of any kind and was being dragged out of the ring by four horses.

I have never read “Ferdinand the Bull” but I have good memories of the Disney cartoon that is completely faithful to the original.

July 10, 2016

The Dallas cops

Filed under: police brutality,Texas — louisproyect @ 3:54 pm

Before I transferred down to the Houston branch of the SWP in 1973, I worried a bit about the reign of terror that was a product of KKK collusion with the police department as this photo from a Newsweek article indicated.

06-copandcar_low

It was not just Marxists who were apprehensive about the cops. One morning as I was about to enter the Texas Commerce Bank headquarters in downtown Houston where I was working as a programmer, I spotted a cop telling a white man in a suit and tie that he had a bullet with his name on it. Who knows what prompted that? Jaywalking, I guess.

If Houston was bad, Dallas was no bargain either. About a year into my stay in Houston, I went up to Dallas with a couple of comrades to sell subscriptions to the Militant newspaper at the University of Texas in Arlington, a campus located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. We had contacts in the student government office who gave us a map of the campus and their blessings. When we stopped back there to say goodbye, they had a panic-stricken look on their face. A campus cop was sitting by the door and out of our sight when we walked in. He ordered us off the campus after recording our ID’s. About a month later, I got a letter from the Dallas-Fort Worth police department telling me that there was a standing order for my arrest if I ever tried to sell the Militant on campus again.

When I was bringing my wife up to date on the Dallas shootings, I mentioned the incident about the Houston cop and his threat to a solid citizen. She was shocked. Afterwards, I thought about how much was being said now about the Dallas police department being a model of race relations, with an African-American chief. I thought that it might be worthwhile to search Nexis for Dallas and police brutality to see what comes up. If Micah Johnson stated that he wanted to kill white cops, I wondered how familiar he was with the city’s history and whether it made much difference with a department that had been “reformed”. It is a very old story and one engraved in minds of the city’s African-American population, I am sure.

  1. The New York Times
    July 6, 1980
    Race Tensions in Dallas Focus On Police Shootings

To a lot of people, the problems began last October, when a 39-year-old black man being held hostage in an automobile was shot to death by the police as he dashed from the car toward freedom.

No action was taken against the officers who had mistakenly shot Lee Douglas Page, and no action has been taken against any police officers involved in a growing number of shooting incidents involving minorities since then.

Recently the Dallas City Council turned down a request for a civilian review board with subpoena power to investigate allegations of police misconduct. The three minority members of the Council voted ”yes,” while the eight white members voted ”no,” prompting an angry walkout by many of the blacks in the audience.

It was a reaction to a question that has caused more black-white antagonism than any issue in recent memory here. Dallas is one of several cities where tensions between minorities and the local police have grown this summer, but it is one of the few where emotions have been focused so strongy on a single issue.

2. The Washington Post
July 5, 1991
Beating of Suspect Filmed in Texas

A Fort Worth police officer beat a handcuffed car-theft suspect with a baton at least 28 times Wednesday afternoon, and a woman captured the incident on videotape.

Officer E. J. Parnell, a three-year veteran of the police department, was suspended from patrol duties.

Police Chief Thomas Windham said Parnell may face criminal charges.

The victim, Ernest Anderson, 21, was trying to escape from a moving police car when the officer stopped along a busy interstate highway and began striking him, police said. Anderson was treated at a Fort Worth hospital before being jailed.

The videotape, made by an unidentified woman standing in a friend’s backyard, shows Parnell hitting Anderson for two minutes using a double-handed, overhead swinging motion. Windham said it appears the officer used excessive force, although many of the blows missed the man. “Obviously the baton is being used in a manner which we do not train,” Windham said.

3. The New York Times
February 21, 1994
Man’s Shooting by Texas Police Provokes Anger

The 22-minute videotape, taken from a camera mounted on the dashboard of a Texas state trooper’s car, is a bit grainy. But the scuffle it depicts one night last fall between a black man and two white police officers comes across clearly enough, especially the bullets hitting the black man as he is running away.

The footage of what began as a routine traffic stop emerged recently in a courtroom in this small city in rural East Texas. The tape, and the legal proceedings surrounding it, have outraged many black people here and even caused some whites to express anger and dismay.

A grand jury cleared both officers of wrongdoing last fall, but the F.B.I. announced last week that its Dallas office was investigating the incident for “possible civil rights violations.”

On Friday, a Henderson County jury convicted the black man, 28-year-old Lorenzo Colston, of two charges of assaulting a peace officer. Mr. Colston, who was shot in the right elbow and buttocks, paralyzing his arm and causing him to limp, faces up to 10 years in prison on each conviction.

The regional chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has seized on the footage as a portrait of police brutality as vivid as the beating of Rodney G. King, which was videotaped in Los Angeles in 1991. In one sense, the Colston tape is even more graphic; it has a soundtrack, which includes the officers discussing the baton blows that they delivered to Mr. Colston and one of them warning Mr. Colston’s companion early in the incident, “It wouldn’t take much to set me off, all right?”

Repeated viewing of the videotape strongly suggests that Mr. Colston, who was intoxicated and at times appears highly belligerent, would not have been injured had he followed the officers’ instructions. But the tape also seems to make clear that the unarmed Mr. Colston posed no threat to the officers at the moment he was shot, which followed nearly a minute of fighting in which Mr. Colston, using his fists, frequently got the better of the officers.

4. The Guardian,
March 18, 2015
Video released of Dallas police shooting mentally ill black man dead at home

Footage show two officers fatally shooting Jason Harrison, who was holding a screwdriver, within minutes of arriving at home in response to emergency call

Video footage has emerged of Dallas police shooting dead a mentally ill black man holding a screwdriver six seconds after encountering him at his home.

According to a legal filing, Jason Harrison’s mother, Shirley Marshall, called emergency services on the morning of 14 June 2014, telling the dispatcher that her son was bipolar and schizophrenic and that she was worried about him, and he might need to be hospitalised.

Within two minutes of the officers’ arrival at the house, Harrison lay dying. He was killed by six gunshot wounds to the chest, arm and back, an autopsy found.

5. NY Times
June 8, 2015

Jarring Image of Police’s Use of Force at Texas Pool Party

McKINNEY, Tex. — No lives were lost. The incident played out at a suburban pool party, not an urban neighborhood struggling with crime and drugs.

But perhaps it was that suburban setting that helped make the images so powerful and disturbing. Now a video of a police officer pointing a gun at teenagers in bathing suits and shoving a young black girl’s face into the ground has become the latest flash point in relations between the police and minorities.

The cellphone video, taken at the community pool in Craig Ranch, a racially diverse subdivision north of Dallas, has set off another debate over race and police tactics, with activists calling for the officer to be fired and others arguing that the blame should fall at least in part on the teenagers.

6. The Christian Science Monitor
August 12, 2015
Officer fired over shooting of unarmed Texas athlete. Is that enough?;

Dozens of protesters showed up outside the Arlington, Texas, police station Tuesday night to demand Officer Brad Miller be charged with a crime.

The Texas police officer who shot and killed an unarmed college football player during a suspected burglary last week was fired on Tuesday for his actions and could face criminal charges.

Officer Brad Miller, who was still undergoing training with the department at the time, fatally shot 19-year-old Christian Taylor at a Dallas-area car dealership early Friday morning.

About 60 demonstrators showed up outside the Arlington police headquarters on Tuesday night to demand that Mr. Miller be charged with a crime. Many held signs with Mr. Taylor’s name on them or signs reading “Unarmed? Don’t shoot!” The protest was organized by the group Mothers Against Police Brutality.

“There are no winners in this situation,” said Christian’s father, Adrian Taylor Sr., to Reuters. “No matter what decision is made, it doesn’t bring my son back.”

After being called to the scene of the suspected burglary on the morning of August 7, Miller pursued Christian Taylor through the broken glass doors of the car dealership showroom without telling his supervising officer, according to Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson.

Rather than setting up a perimeter around the showroom, Miller confronted Taylor directly and ordered him to get down on the ground, an order with which Taylor did not comply.

When Taylor began to advance toward Miller, the officer drew his service weapon and fired it at Taylor, who is believed to have been about 7 to 10 feet away. He fired a total of four shots. When Miller’s field training officer, who had followed Miller into the showroom, heard the first gunshot, he initially thought the noise came from Miller’s taser.

July 8, 2016

At the Fork

Filed under: animal rights,farming,Film,food — louisproyect @ 8:12 pm

Opening today at the Cinema Village in NYC and the Laemmle in Los Angeles is a documentary titled “At the Fork” that makes the case for alternatives to profit-driven, industrialized and inhumane food production. As it happens, one of the interviewees is Mark Bittman who has written books and articles promoting the humane treatment of farm animals, many of which have appeared in the NY Times over the years. It is therefore something of an irony that no review of “At the Fork” appeared there in keeping with a recent decision to end the paper’s obligation as “newspaper of record” to cover all film premieres in NY. You will, however, find a review of “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”, a film that Manohla Dargis describes as follows:

Two idiots need dates; they get them.

That’s about all you need to know about the aggressively stupid “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” a would-be comedy about a pair of imbeciles who are best understood as representations of the enduring, marrow-deep contempt that some moviemakers have always had for their audiences.

So a thoughtful documentary about food production gets overlooked while one exhibiting “marrow-deep contempt” for audiences makes the cut. I would argue that the failure to review “At the Fork”, the 95 percent of farming based on the industrial model, and the inclusion of a review of “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” are all joined at the hip and apt symbols of the Decline and Fall of American Civilization—such as it was.

“At the Fork” begins with a barbecue at the home of director John Papola’s father with heaps of spare ribs cooking on the grill. He explains that meat is king at his Italian family’s household even though for his vegetarian wife Lisa it is anathema. This leads the couple to conduct an odyssey across the USA in search of farmers who try as much as possible to create a setting for pigs, chickens and cows that are as close to their natural habitat as possible even though their ultimate fate is not death by old age but a slaughterhouse.

This ethical contradiction is addressed most cogently by Temple Grandin, one of America’s leading authorities of humane treatment of farm animals who has garnered attention for her achieving this status despite suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. Grandin advocated and designed a slaughterhouse that could be housed on a ranch, thus saving animals from the deeply traumatic long-distance travel on trailer trucks. Key to their effectiveness is a lengthy, circular ramp that has been proven to be less stressful for cattle that are not used to confinement.

The farmers and ranchers who operate such facilities are a remarkable breed with a keen sense of the ethical and economic factors that naturally collide with each other. In the case of egg farms, you get to the heart of the choices that must be made. In the typical egg farm based exclusively on profit, the chickens are confined in cages and fed through automated conveyor belts. It is the Fordist model applied to living creatures. But unlike a fender or a steering wheel, a chicken is a sentient being that suffers every single minute it is in such hellholes. By contrast, free range chickens that lay eggs in a setting close to that of their ancestors from millennia ago enjoy their lives while being a source of nutritious food. (Recently Bittman has made a strong case for eggs being a protein-rich foodstuff with very little risk of bad cholesterol.) A carton of eggs based on the industrial model cost about $2.50 while the free range type cost from 8 to 9 dollars.  In a different economic system, it is likely that the humane choice might come down to $5 but it would be worth the extra money just to have good karma.

If you have doubts that it matters much that a “dumb” chicken suffers one way or another, you might be better off going to see “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” anyhow. But if you are sitting on the fence, there is plenty to put you in the humane treatment camp especially the terrible fate that awaits pigs on the assembly line of Smithfield and other mega-corporations. The film takes you inside an immense shed where female pigs are confined in gestation cages. The Humane Society, whose executive director is interviewed extensively in the documentary, condemns their cruelty on their website:

Pigs are among the smartest animals on Earth. Studies show that they are more intelligent than dogs and even some primates: They can play simple video games, teach each other and even learn names. They also form elaborate, cooperative social groups and feel fear, pain and stress.

Yet on U.S. factory farms, where sows are kept in row after row after row of gestation crates throughout their pregnancies, they’re also among the most abused. The 2-foot-wide cages are so narrow, the animals cannot even turn around. They chew on the bars, wave their heads incessantly back and forth, or lie on the pavement in an apparent state of dejection. Nearly immobilized, the pigs spend months staring ahead, waiting to be fed, likely going out of their minds.

My only criticism of the film is its connection to Whole Foods that is described as a partner on its website. While the stores are certainly a superior source of food that is produced in humane conditions, its CEO John Mackey, who is an interviewee in the film, has little regard for humane conditions when it comes to human beings. In a Salon.com interview, he enunciated his libertarian beliefs:

When I was in my very early 20’s I believed that democratic socialism was a more “just” economic system than democratic capitalism was. However, soon after I opened my first small natural food store back in 1978 with my girlfriend when I was 25, my political opinions began to shift…

I didn’t think the charge of capitalist exploiters fit Renee and myself very well. In a nutshell the economic system of democratic socialism was no longer intellectually satisfying to me and I began to look around for more robust theories which would better explain business, economics, and society. Somehow or another I stumbled on to the works of Mises, Hayek, and Friedman, and had a complete revolution in my world view. The more I read, studied, and thought about economics and capitalism, the more I came to realize that capitalism had been misunderstood and unfairly attacked by the left.

While Mackey likely endorses the idea that pigs should not be confined in gestation cages, he certainly puts their welfare above that of others in similar confinement:

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, whose net worth exceeds $100 million, is a fervent proselytizer on behalf of “conscious capitalism.” A self-described libertarian, Mackey believes the solution to all of the world’s problems is letting corporations run amok, without regulation. He believes this so fervently, in fact, he wrote an entire book extolling the magnanimous virtue of the free market.

At the same time, while preaching the supposedly beneficent gospel of the “conscious capitalism,” Mackey’s company Whole Foods, which has a $13 billion and growing annual revenue, sells overpriced fish, milk, and gourmet cheeses cultivated by inmates in US prisons.

The renowned “green capitalist” organic supermarket chain pays what are effectively indentured servants in the Colorado prison system a mere $1.50 per hour to farm organic tilapia.

Colorado prisons already grow 1.2 million pounds of tilapia a year, and government officials and their corporate companions are chomping at the bit to expand production.

That’s not all. Whole Foods also buys artisinal cheeses and milk cultivated by prisoners. The prison corporation Colorado Correctional Industries has created what Fortune describes as “a burgeoning $65 million business that employs 2,000 convicts at 17 facilities.”

While I recommend “At the Fork” wholeheartedly, I hope that the director might rethink his ties to John Mackey—at least if he cares as much about human beings as he does about farm animals.

 

July 7, 2016

The political economy of American Indian gaming casinos

Filed under: indigenous — louisproyect @ 12:29 pm

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Episode 42 of “The Sopranos” opens with gangster boss Tony Soprano and his henchmen complaining about a protest threatened by American Indians at the upcoming Columbus Day parade in Newark. When Christopher (Michael Imperioli, who wrote the script) reminds them that native peoples were massacred, Silvio (Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen’s one-time guitarist) replies “It’s not like we didn’t give them a bunch of shit to make up for that like land, reservations and casinos.”

Tony decides to consult with Chief Doug Smith, who operates a casino in rural Connecticut owned by the “Mohonk” tribe (a fictionalized version of the Foxwoods resort owned by the Mashantucket Pequots). If the chief could make some phone calls to have the protest called off, Tony would use his mob ties to benefit the casino. Over dinner at the casino, when Tony tells the chief that he doesn’t look like or act an Indian, he replies with a smirk on his face that despite his 1/16th blood quotient he had an “awakening” that led him to claim his indigenous roots and start the casino. You are left with the impression that there’s not much difference between a Mafia don and a phony Indian. It’s all about the money.

In 1995, seven years before the “Sopranos” episode, Sixty Minutes aired an “exposé” of Foxwood that made the same point, namely that Indian casinos were a scam. The target of their investigation was Skip Hayward, the Pequot chairman who had been working as a pipefitter until he got the idea that running bingo games could improve his people’s economic situation. The bingo games proved very successful and led to the formation of Foxwoods with Malaysian seed money. The right of people with only a 1/16th blood quotient to benefit from casino profits outrages Sixty Minutes. Since a smallpox epidemic wiped out 90 percent of the tribe in 1633, it is remarkable that any have survived even on a 1/16th basis, especially when the colonists would wipe out even more Pequots a mere 4 years later with gun and sword.

The name Pequot might ring a bell since that is identical to the Pequod, Captain Ahab’s boat. Did Melville intend to evoke the tribe that was a victim of genocide? I would like to think so since he was a powerful advocate of indigenous rights in the South Pacific.

The question of Indian gaming casinos is close to me, having grown up in a tiny village in Sullivan County just 90 miles north of New York City. After many years of legislative wrangling, the county has received the green light from Governor Cuomo to open up a casino that will benefit an area hard-hit by the collapse of the tourist industry. For local residents, casinos represent a life preserver thrown to a drowning man just as does fracking, another proposed solution to the county’s economic misery. When I check my local newspapers each morning, there’s either an article on casinos or fracking. After following the Indian gaming casino discussion in Sullivan County newspapers for over 25 years, I am convinced that local opposition to the former probably has more to do with the message of the Sopranos episode than anything else. If there’s anything that white racists hate more than a poor Indian, it is evidently a rich Indian.

Both the Pequots and another tribe, the Stockbridge-Munsees, put in bids for a casino in Sullivan County but withdrew after learning that Orange County, a good 30 miles closer to New York City, got the green light as well. It is a universal rule that casinos succeed when they are in proximity to large cities. If a casino is closer to New York, it will get the lion’s share of the profits. This is one of the reasons that so few tribes start casinos. For example, there would be little reason for the Lakota, the Blackfoot or any other remnant of the once-proud plains Indians to open one up since they are so many miles from major cities.

Like the Pequots, the Munsees are a tiny shard of a once populous tribe (despite the controversy around this term, it is simply a description of a pre-state social formation and not intended as a sign of backwardness. In fact, there is more “tribalism” among advanced capitalist societies, when defined as irrational belief in one’s racial superiority.)

Unlike the Pequots who built their casino on reservation land in Connecticut, the Munsees were based in Wisconsin. This would lead one to ask what their connection to New York was. Were they acting cynically like Chief Doug Smith? In 2011, the Department of the Interior rescinded a 2008 rule adopted by the Bush administration blocking the opening of a casino beyond commuting distance from a reservation. It was only natural that the Munsees would take advantage of their roots in New York State.

Like many other American cities, rivers and mountain ranges bequeathed with indigenous names, Muncie, Indiana owes its to the Munsees. Wikipedia states: “The area was first settled in the 1770s by the Lenape people, who had been transported from their tribal lands in the Mid-Atlantic region (all of New Jersey plus southeastern New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and northern Delaware) to Ohio and eastern Indiana.”

You’ll notice the use of the passive voice “had been transported”, a tendency often found in prose anxious to shirk responsibility. The Lenapes, including the Munsee, were not exactly “transported”—they were expelled, mostly in the 19th century. White settlers bought the land from beneath their feet and drove them westward, first from New York and then from Ohio. As they moved toward Wisconsin and finally to Oklahoma, they left their traces along a trail of tears, including Muncie.

In addition to having their roots in New York, the Munsees have the added distinction of giving Manhattan its name. Likely the Lenape tribe that the settlers encountered was the Munsees, who called the island “Mannahattanink,” the word for “place of general intoxication” according to Mike Wallace—the Marxist co-author of “Gotham”, not the television personality of the Indian-baiting Sixty Minutes. In describing Manhattan as a “place of general intoxication”, the Munsees certainly demonstrated a grasp of the fine art of futurology.

New York State was anxious to cut a deal with the Munsees in 2004 that would grant them the right to build a casino in Sullivan County. In exchange, they agreed to forego their claims to 300,000 acres in Oneida and Madison Counties in central New York. As anybody with a familiarity with Lenape history would attest, the whites robbed them of their land in the 19th century. As might be expected, a judge ruled against their claim, giving them a sop in the form of the right to open a casino in Sullivan County.

As opposed to the version presented by Silvio and Sixty Minutes, native peoples were never given the right to open casinos on a silver platter. They only came into existence through struggle. Furthermore, Indians have conducted one battle after another to defend their rights to keep them going.

As might be expected, someone like Donald Trump had a vested interest in keeping them out of New York State since they would be competition to his Atlantic City properties. In 1993 he told a Congressional Committee “it’s obvious that organized crime is rampant on the Indian reservations. This thing is going to blow sky high. It will be the biggest scandal since Al Capone, and it will destroy the gaming industry.” In an April 4, 2011 Huffington Post report on Trump’s testimony before Congress, Marcus Baram noted:

Trump neglected to mention that his initial partners on his first deal in Atlantic City reputedly had their own organized crime connections: Kenneth Shapiro was identified by state and federal prosecutors as the investment banker for late Philadelphia mob boss Nicky Scarfo according to reports issued by New Jersey state commissions examining the influence of organized crime, and Danny Sullivan, a former Teamsters Union official, is described in an FBI file as having mob acquaintances. Both controlled a company that leased parcels of land to Trump for the 39-story hotel-casino.

The best account of the origins of Indian gaming casinos can be found in Jessica R. Cattelino’s “Tribal Gaming and Indigenous Sovereignty, with Notes from Seminole Country” that appeared in the Fall-Winter 2005 American Studies journal. Although she is ethnically related to Tony Soprano and his goons, her real loyalties are with the Indians who have used their economic power to reduce poverty and increase their political clout.

In 1988 Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that allowed casinos not only to be built on reservations but also to be exempt from federal taxes and regulations. For many people, including the racist enemies of Indian sovereignty, this piece of legislation was an act of charity intended to make up for past sins as Silvio put it in the Sopranos episode. In reality, it was recognition of facts on the ground that had been established by various Indian tribes, including the Seminole.

In the 19th century the Seminole were driven from Florida into Oklahoma just like many of their Creek and Cherokee brethren were driven from states to their north. The Seminoles fought against the American army in three separate wars in the 19th century and put up a stiff resistance. The word Seminole is likely a corruption of the Spanish word cimarrón, which means “runaway” or “wild one”, an apt description for tribes that happily accepted runaway slaves into their arms. Unlike other Indians, they never signed a peace treaty with the United States.

In 1979 the Seminole opened the first gaming casino without anybody’s permission—just as you would expect from such a militant group. It was dedicated to bingo, the first type of gambling ever hosted by most tribes and one that paved the way for the slot machines and roulette tables at Foxwood.

The Seminole saw this initially as an experiment that would pay off economically. In the past they had tried light manufacturing, cattle ranching, land leasing, and tourism but these ventures either failed or produced very modest profits.

But their casino, named Hollywood Bingo (after the Florida city, not tinseltown), turned a profit almost immediately. By 2001 five Seminole casinos were generating $300 million a year. The economic impact of this revenue has been remarkable. The proceeds fund health clinic, law enforcement (a serious concern on reservations where poverty has bred vicious crimes), the K-12 Ahfachkee School, and housing. It has also funded cultural enterprises such as the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, craftwork, language classes, festivals and other programs.

And like any other capitalist, the tribe has diversified economically. Profits from he casinos have been plowed into sugarcane and citrus fruit plantations, cattle ranching, ecotourism at the Billie Swamp Safari, and even airplane manufacturing. None of this is a result of government handouts. Instead it is a Horatio Alger story that if not vindicating the usefulness of capitalism at least is a testimony to native grit.

This is not to say that gaming casinos are a bed of roses. As expected, when millions of dollars are involved, there are men more than happy to separate Indians from their wealth, and none more so with such satanic duplicity than Jack Abramoff.

While Abramoff’s plot is far too complicated to review here in any detail, suffice it to say that he extracted millions of dollars from the Coushattas in Louisiana and the Tiguas in Texas by playing them against each other. In exchange for millions of dollars in fees, he promised them that he would lobby Congress to make sure that their casinos would go unmolested by the state and also protected from competition by each other. In an email message to his right-hand man Mike Scanlon, Abramoff wrote: “Fire up the jet baby, we’re going to El Paso!!” (The Tigua reservation and casino were near El Paso.) Scanlon replied: “I want all their MONEY!!!” In other emails, Abramoff referred to his clients as “morons,” “troglodytes” and “monkeys.”

After serving his prison sentence, Abramoff has tried to restyle himself as a reformer, speaking at various Washington confabs at presumably exorbitant fees. This has not impressed Indians who suffered the most from his heinous acts, especially the Tiguas who were essentially left bankrupt. After watching him in action at the Press Club in Washington, DC, Rick Hill, a member of the Oneidas, told the Huffington Post “It’s all bullshit. … You look at Jack — though he took money from my elders and our kids, and now he comes here, and he gets to prop himself up, and it’s an acceptable part of D.C. culture. He wouldn’t stand a minute on the reservation.”

Market forces, the sine qua non for capitalist production including that taking place on the reservation, generated the rivalry between the Coushattas and the Tiguas. The access to riches has made the blood quotient all-important. There are constant conflicts over who is really a member of a tribe that enjoys casino wealth.

On December 3rd, 2004, the LA Times reported:

Before the Indian casino opened here, few people had any interest in joining the Chumash tribe.

But now that each member collects close to $350,000 a year in gambling revenue, nearly everyone with a drop of Chumash blood wants in.

“A lot of people found out they were Indian,” joked George Armenta, chairman of the Chumash enrollment committee.

Infighting over lineage is tearing apart many tribes with gambling operations. Fueling the disputes is simple math: If tribal enrollment shrinks, each remaining member will collect more money.

Whenever a valuable resource become available to a historically oppressed people, whether it is oil or roulette chips, it will trigger such fights. That being said, it is foolish to expect Indians to renounce either oil or gaming. In the best of circumstances, such as is the case with the Seminole (or Bolivarian Venezuela), it can be used for the common good.

The vain hope that Indians can live as they did before Columbus persists among those who would prefer that time stand still. The most extreme version of that is Jerry Mander’s 1992 “In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations”, a work that warns Indians about the hazards of computers and other new-fangled technologies. The only sort of Indians that Mander seems interested in are those who are completely untainted by the outside world. If an Indian lives in a city or makes a living as a miner on the reservation, Mander ignores him.

He only pays attention to the “pure” Indian who survives by hunting or fishing the way that he did a hundred or a thousand years ago. Hence, he devotes an entire chapter to the Dene Indians in Canada, who live in the Northwest Territories where the traditional economy revolves around caribou hunting and ice fishing. In the 1970s, they discovered oil on Dene land and pretty soon all the usual culprits descended upon them: oil corporations, lawyers and real-estate developers. What is Mander’s biggest concern, however? It is that television, of all things, will disrupt the Dene’s simple life. He worries that televised soap operas will replace traditional story telling.

After surviving hundreds of years of genocidal onslaught, American Indians have developed survival strategies geared to a time and place. The right to make money from gaming casinos is part of that arsenal, whether or not some critics view it as contrary to the image of the “pure” Indian. That Indian was virtually destroyed in the 19th century, just as was the bison that the plains Indians relied on for food, shelter and clothing. It will be up to the Indians to define their own identity in the 21st century just as they have in the past. Our responsibility as supporters of indigenous rights is to offer our solidarity, just as we would when the FBI was besieging Wounded Knee. The battlefield has changed but the goal is as it ever was—to defend the rights of America’s native peoples.

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