Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Feeling politically homeless with Trump's cabinet "deplorables" and a Democratic Party in disarray / Finding hope in those on the front lines

OXFORD, Miss. – It’s hard not to feel a little politically homeless these days. I’m thinking of that old folk song, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.”

I see the cabinet choices of President Trump, and if there ever was a group of “deplorables”, this is it: A Treasury nominee whose nickname is “Foreclosure King”; a Labor nominee who prefers robots to workers because they don’t want vacations or pay raises; a Commerce nominee who sees the “1 Percent” as victims and who helped transfer the U.S. textile industry to Asia.

Then I see this same president sign an executive order withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, an Obama-supported secret deal that would have allowed private corporations to sue nations that pass environment or worker-friendly laws inhibiting their profits. Trump has also given notice that he may be targeting NAFTA, a similar bad deal for workers.

Those are good, long-overdue actions that neo-liberal, corporate friendly Democrats like Bill and Hillary Clinton would have never done despite candidate Hillary’s shallow assurance she had switched from supporter to critic of TPP.

On the Democratic Party side, I see a party truly in shambles with devastating losses not only in Washington, D.C., but also in legislative halls and governor’s mansions across the nation. A time for some good soul-searching and change in leadership and direction, right? Not so fast. A lot of the same old faces are still around, including 76-year-old U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Then there’s U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., in the news recently after suffering a “Twitter Attack” from the president, who essentially told Lewis to mind the business of his district instead of telling everybody Trump was not a “legitimate president.”

Lewis is a bona fide civil rights hero, but let’s face it. He started that fight with Trump. Furthermore, Lewis diminished himself in my view during the campaign primaries when he questioned Bernie Sanders’ civil rights credentials. Sanders was an activist in Chicago who was even arrested for his pro-civil rights protests. Where was Lewis’ preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, back in those days? Besides, one warrior doesn’t attack a fellow warrior for political expediency.

I know Democrats who applauded U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., when he sanctimoniously went after Trump’s Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, during confirmation hearings for not declaring Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal”. This is the same Marco Rubio who hired “The Vulture”, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, as his campaign finance chairman during the presidential election. Singer successfully soaked financially strapped Argentina for nearly $5 billion on a $50 million investment, helping to spiral that country into economic chaos.

By the way, for all his grandstanding, Rubio ended up supporting Tillerson’s nomination.

Here in Mississippi, the Republican takeover in Washington, D.C., has emboldened state GOP leaders like Gov. Phil Bryant and his kindred conservatives in the Legislature. These so-called fiscal conservatives—that description becomes a joke when the issue is corporate largesse—continue to squeeze the state budget, underfunding roads and highways, the state trauma care system.

Now Bryant says it’s time for the state to consider instituting a lottery, a way to raise needed funds without raising taxes. It’s a lot of baloney. As with casinos, a state lottery would just provide another excuse for lawmakers to cut taxes on corporations and the rich while letting the rest of us poor suckers spend our money in the hope of getting the lucky number that will make us rich!

The real hope out there are the activists on the front lines working hard for the people, not themselves or their friends, activists like Bill Chandler and his team at the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance. They’ll be fighting at least a half-dozen or more anti-immigrant bills this legislative session that echo Trump’s anti-immigrant rants.

These people-serving activists include the United Auto Workers and students at Tougaloo College, Jackson State University, and the University of Mississippi who’ll be leading the “March on Mississippi” March 4 in Canton to protest voter suppression efforts and the failure of Nissan to provide an intimidation-free atmosphere for union-sympathetic workers at its Canton plant.

In fact, activists as far away as Nashville, Atlanta and Greensboro, N.C., were already on the streets in January protesting the conditions at the Nissan plant. Of course, protesters of all stripes have been taking to the streets ever since Trump’s election, pledging their support for women’s rights and other issues.

What the populist revolts of both Trump’s campaign and the Bernie Sanders campaign in the Democratic Party showed was a deep revulsion against the political establishment. People indeed do want their country back. Like me, a lot of them feel kind of homeless these days, something the political establishment has rarely felt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Still no proof of Russian email hacking but plenty proof of DNC skullduggery

 (Vladimir Putin)

OXFORD, Miss. – Back in the summer of 1992, just months after the failed coup that led to the fall of communism and Boris Yeltsin’s rise to leadership in a new post-Soviet Russia, I traveled with my late wife Marilyn to Moscow and met Roman Fiodorov.

Fiodorov was our bespectacled, sharp-witted guide through the ancient churches and towers of the Kremlin. He liked to tell a good-if-sometimes-grim joke as he regaled us with tales of Ivan the Terrible and Rasputin.

“Ah, you Americans,” he said at one point. “Two people get hurt in a car accident, and it’s front-page news. Here in Russia, hundreds get sent off to Siberia, and it’s not even in the newspaper.”

 The Cold War between the United States and Russia was finally thawing. Americans and Russians could share in a little self-deprecating humor. The candle-lit, Icon-filled Orthodox churches in Moscow were filling with people able to show their faith and belief openly and without fear.

Today, as the cold, wintry drifts of January bring the new Trump Era in America into view, I wonder at the Cold War nostalgia that the 2016 presidential election seems to have unearthed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants President-elect Donald Trump to be his personal “lap dog,” charges John Podesta, who chaired Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign. He’s echoing similar comments by New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof.

Of course, Podesta is referring to alleged Russian hacks into the Democratic National Committee’s email system that revealed how the DNC secretly worked to scuttle the primary campaign of Clinton’s chief Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders.

Disgraced former DNC Interim Chair and television commentator Donna Brazile, who resigned her post after revelations that she slipped questions to primary candidate Clinton to give her an edge during televised debates, now calls herself “one of the main victims of the Russian attacks.”

Both Democrats and Republicans are planning further investigation into the matter. The CIA, FBI and NSA have publicly concluded that Putin and Russia were the culprits. President Obama ousted 35 Russian diplomats to show his anger. U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who would have put Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency in 2008, has called Russia’s alleged hacking “an act of war.”

Only one problem threatens to undermine this new Cold War mentality: Not the CIA or anyone else has yet produced any concrete evidence that Putin or the Russians indeed did the alleged hacking. Even the agencies’ much-ballyhooed report released to the public after their meeting with Trump this month included no specific evidence. Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks published the emails, says that the Russians were not his organization’s source. An Assange  associate says no hacking even took place, that “an insider”, not a Russian, provided WikiLeaks with the information.

The rising Cold War-like hysteria reached ridiculous proportions in late December when it was determined that the supposed hacking by Russians into the state of Vermont’s electronic grid—an offense that prompted Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, to call Putin “one of the world’s leading thugs”—never happened. The Washington Post reported a story that had no foundation!
What baffles me about the controversy over the leaked emails—regardless of their source—is that it shows Trump was partially right when he claimed the system was “rigged” during the campaign. He was wrong in believing it was rigged against him. The system was actually rigged against Bernie Sanders and any other challenger to the Clinton Machine within the Democratic Party.

Certainly neither Russia nor any other nation should be interfering with the American political process. Is Putin happy Trump won? Sure he is. Candidate Clinton talked about imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, something that likely would have put the United States in a direct military confrontation with Russia.

Still, whoever gave WikiLeaks that information did the American public a service. Voters needed to know that Democratic Party leaders were putting the lie to their party’s name by trying to make sure they, and not the people, got to choose who the general election candidate would be.

Putin is no angel, far from it, and a sadness continues to underlie Roman Fiodorov’s joke because there’s likely still truth to it.

When Trump takes office this month, he’ll bring with him people like his choice for secretary of state, Exxon Mobile Chief Executive Rex W. Tillerson, a businessman who has worked closely with Putin and the Russians for years. What that portends for the environment as well as for relations with China, NATO and Europe is uncertain and even unsettling, like many of Trump’s cabinet choices.

Still, that doesn’t take the stink off the Democratic Party’s near self-destruction in the 2016 election, where its loss of the White House only compounds its loss of Congress, plus 900 legislative seats and two-thirds of governors’ offices over the past eight years.

The current leaked email controversy actually reeks of a “lap dog” mainstream media more than willing to promote an inside campaign to shift attention away from Democratic Party skullduggery to Russia and Vladimir Putin.

And it’s also hypocrisy. Consider the United States’ long history of mixing itself into the elections of other sovereign nations—from Iran to South Vietnam to Chile to Nicaragua to Libya to Honduras to the Ukraine, where a democratically elected president was ousted with U.S. complicity in 2014 with no regard whatsoever how neighboring Russia might feel about that situation.

“Systems are different, but people are the same, “ Roman Fiodorov told us Americans back in 1992. “People just want a (normal) life.”

He was right, and the fact that “systems” and politics often make that difficult is no joke.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Clintonism has nearly destroyed the Democratic Party. Only a revolution from within can lead to its resurrection

This column, which ran recently in the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Mississippi, is a follow-up and elaboration on an earlier posting in which I declared “Clintonism is dead.” Clintonism—and President Obama’s embrace of neoliberalism was a continuation of it--has nearly destroyed the Democratic Party. The current fiasco—and President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet choices thus far show how much a fiasco this is—brings to mind the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress during Bill Clinton’s first term as president. This is worse, however. Much worse. The Democratic Party’s loss of vision, its Clinton-inspired rootlessness, helped put us in this mess. Only a revolution within the party can lead to its resurrection.

OXFORD, Miss. – I was surrounded by staunch Democrats who knew my leftist leanings and that I wanted Bernie Sanders to win the Democratic nomination for president. The table between us was laden with drinks and food, but the air was thick with politics.

One by one, they made the case how it had to be Hillary Clinton, not a socialist-turned-Democrat like Sanders. One of them was a former Texas congressman with whom I had rarely before disagreed.

“Tell me you’ll vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination,” more than one asked.

It was the pressing question of the late-season Democratic primaries: Will Bernie’s troops support Hillary? I resisted answering long into the evening, but the pressure—or those drinks—finally wore me down. “Sure,” I said, “I’ll vote for her.”

And cast my vote I did—holding my nose--for a seasoned veteran politician backed by deep-pocketed financiers and a Democratic Party establishment that did its best to scuttle Sanders’ primary challenge, and she lost against a foot-in-the-mouth firebrand with zero political experience.

On the morning after election night, having gone to bed before the final results were in, my wife Suzanne woke me with an ominous, “Joe, he won.” For 20 minutes, I tried to rouse myself into the brave new world of the Trump era. It wasn’t easy.

Within 48 hours, I was reading post-Apocalyptic eulogies to the America that was before Nov. 8.

“America died on Nov. 8, not with a bang and a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide,” award-winning journalist and author Neal Gabler wrote. “We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity.”

Gabler wasn’t finished. “Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities?”

It was ridiculous, handwringing, nearly hysterical comments like these that finally cleared by head.

Look, I’ve got no illusions about Donald Trump. His promises to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure at the same time he’s going to oversee a massive tax cut to business and the wealthy ring about as true as Clinton’s election-season conversion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.  His treatment of his own workers and contractors put the lie to his self-proclaimed role as champion of the working stiff.

And yes, many of those who voted for Trump are the same racists, neo-Nazis and misogynists who’ve crawled out from under their rocks since election day to taunt and threaten minorities and women.

Still, Gabler and many of the anti-Trump post-election day protesters are wrong when they issue a blanket indictment of all Trump voters, millions of whom voted out of an economic desperation that Clintonite neoliberals ignored for too long.  Those voters are not bigots. Many of them supported Obama in 2012, only to see him buddy up to the same Wall Street insiders and lousy trade deals that were part of the Clinton world. New Yorker magazine reported just before this year’s election that Wall Street executive Thomas R. Nides was well positioned for a place in President Hillary Clinton’s inner circle and possibly as her chief of staff.

At least Trump offered the illusion of change.

Back in the 1990s, Bill Clinton looked and talked like a progressive, a politician who cared for the working stiff, the marginalized. Yet, as writer Ben Dickenson has pointed out, “every budget of his administration instigated Reaganite tax cuts, draconian law and order policies, privatization, and tens of billions of dollars on military spending.”

With Hillary’s strong support, Bill Clinton “cut welfare spending, gave tax breaks to corporations and established trade agreements to carve up the world for US business. Promised health reform was abandoned, civil liberties pegged back, and race issues were not addressed.”

Cornel West, in his post-election analysis in The Guardian, summed it up this way: “Trump’s election was enabled by the neoliberal policies of the Clintons and Obama that overlooked the plight of our most vulnerable citizens.”

One of the great ironies of this election is that the Clintons’ “New Democrat” path was initially charted by the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council as a means to recapture the white vote, particularly in the South. The wrongness of that path became crystal clear on November 8 of this year.     

The saddest news from November 8, however, is that working folks likely will still be looking for a leader four years from now, a leader who truly wants to help and this time means it from the bottom of his or her heart.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Indie Memphis: Exploring new ways to tell stories in film, and blurring the line between features and documentaries

(Werner Herzog in 2009. Photo: Nicolas Genin)

MEMPHIS - The German filmmaker Werner Herzog, whose films range from his remake of the early horror classic Nosferatu to his documentary about wild man actor Klaus Kinski My Best Fiend, once had this to say about feature films versus documentaries:

“For me, there is no clear distinction between so-called documentaries and feature films. The boundary is always blurred. … For me, it has always mattered how truth is constituted in images or in the cinema.”

It’s an idea that goes back to the 1930s when the Worker’s Film and Photo League (known as the FPL and recently featured in a Turner Classic Movies showing) and later Nykino and Frontier Films produced film that showed the harsh reality of the Great Depression in a way that Hollywood couldn’t or wouldn’t. Eventually Nykino and Frontier Films pushed the boundaries that separated fiction and nonfiction by incorporating dramatic elements into real-life montages.

Documentaries today are rediscovering some of those old truths articulated by FPL, Nykino and Frontier Films founders Leo Hurwitz, Ralph Steiner and others, according to a panel of current documentary filmmakers at last month’s Indie Memphis film festival in Memphis, Tenn.

“What’s exciting in film now is everything is up for grabs,” said Tom Yellin, co-founder and president of The Documentary Group. In a reference to acting philosopher Constantin’s Stanislavski’s famous concept of the invisible wall separating stage and audience, Yellin said modern-day filmmakers are “breaking the fourth wall.”

“Some of our earliest documentaries were staged,” said Lisanne Skyler, a New York-based screenwriter. “We’re doing it more creatively, dynamically.”

The panelists noted that documentary makers today are breaking away from the “talking heads” style of filmmakers like Ken Burns and incorporating various dramatic elements, animation, and other techniques to tell their stories in fresh and exciting ways. “Bringing animation to a real story can get to a larger truth,” Skyler said.

“It doesn’t mean the old techniques don’t have value,” Yellin said.

“A documentary is about real people,” award-winning documentary filmmaker Jamila Wignot said. “You’re trying to be honest about the real truth of a person. The line is absolutely murky.”

“I come from old school journalism,” Yellin said. “It relies on the integrity of the people making the film about crossing the line. Everyone seeks truth.”

“When I shoot fiction, I make it like a documentary,” Skyler said. “Maybe there’s just more room in documentary to evolve. I’ve come to appreciate a well-structured story. I think documentary has become more personal (with) more expressionistic ways to tell a story.”

“It’s a question of authenticity,” Yellin said. “Character, character development, three-act structures, story arc, all are important in documentary today. … Just because there’s good information, it doesn’t mean there’s a good story.”

I thought about these comments as I listened to the panel and recalled how many of the great film noir of the 1940s and 1950s—The House on 92nd Street, Call Northside 777, The Naked City, and The Wrong Man—were told in documentary style although they dealt with fictional characters.

(Mike McCarthy)

Documentary film was a highlight of the 2016 Indie Film Festival in November. Noted Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy, whose credits include feature films like Cigarette Girl, offered his documentary Destroy Memphis, an 11-year project about the ultimately unsuccessful community effort to “Save Libertyland” and its Zippin Pippin ride in Memphis.

“Why not preserve the memory of Elvis Presley in any form or fashion?” McCarthy asked about the amusement park and ride that the famous singer used to enjoy. Despite an intense community-led campaign, the park was ultimately shut down, however, and the ride disassembled and reconstructed in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

(The Rev. John Wilkins, a blues and gospel performer featured in I Am The Blues, performing at Indie Memphis)

Daniel Cross’ I Am The Blues was another featured documentary that told the story of today’s blues artists in the Deep South and their dogged allegiance to an art form that laid the foundations of jazz and rock music.

Another highlight of the festival was Kallen Esperian: Vissi D’arte, a film directed by Steve Ross about Memphis’ own great soprano, Kallen Esperian, who sang with Pavarotti and Domingo before her career tumbled amid a variety of personal battles.

(To the right, Kallen Esperian at the Indie Memphis film festival)

None of these films veered too far from traditional documentary filmmaking. However, they did what all good films do. They sought and expressed a truth in compelling ways. In other words, they told a good story.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Clintonism is dead. Does the Democratic Party know it?

I’m an old protester. My first (in a long line) was way back in 1966 or 1967 when as a teenager I took part in a sit-in at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement, something that makes me look back with pride. This was in Greenville, North Carolina, and we were taunted and spit on throughout, a badge of honor today.

Still I’m having a hard time ignoring my friends on the Right as they point today to the irony of the protests taking place in cities across the country as a result of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election. Didn’t a lot of those same protesters excoriate Trump when he said during the campaign that he might not accept the results of the election if he loses?

Of course, the protests are about much more than the election. They are about the xenophobic, misogynistic, racist comments and attitudes exhibited by Trump and his supporters during and since the campaign, and they are about the fear that now exists about the country’ future.

Still, a hesitation other than irony haunts me about these protests, and it has to do with Hillary Clinton and the idea of a protest that could actually be interpreted as saying, “Long Live the Status Quo!”

Let’s face it. Hillary Clinton was the quintessential embodiment of the political establishment, the status quo, the polar opposite of change. As bad as Trump was and is, and that’s really bad, he represented the only voice (by a major candidate) for change in the general election for millions of non-racist voters who cast their ballots for him.

How could a seasoned veteran like Hillary Clinton, backed by deep-pocketed moneymen and a Democratic Party establishment that helped scuttle Bernie Sanders' primary challenge, lose against a foot-in-the-mouth opponent with zero political experience?

Sure, Trump tried to appeal to the worst of many people with his “Build the Wall” talk and so forth, but he also tapped into a deep working class malaise that the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party has too long been too busy wooing Wall Street to see. When Trump talked about bringing jobs back home from oversees and ending lousy trade deals that Bill and Hillary Clinton both championed workers listened, and many of them defied their union bosses to vote for Trump.

I don’t expect Trump to deliver much on those promises or hopes. When you boil his big talk down, he’s still calling for tax cuts to big corporations and the rich, and his treatment of his own workers and contractors don’t bode well for an enlightened attitude toward worker rights.

Which means working class folks are likely still going to be left out in the cold once the dust settles. Malaise and frustration make fertile ground for demagogues—always have—particularly when the so-called party of the people decades ago began ape-ing the Republican Party in servitude to the rich and powerful.

The neoliberal establishment still doesn’t get it. The New York Times wondered this week whether losing Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine may be “the future of the Democratic Party.” Give me a break. New Yorker magazine conjectured in its latest edition that veteran Wall Street insider Thomas R. Nides was well-positioned for a major role and maybe even Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff had she won. Democratic National Committee interim leader and television commentator Donna Brazile has been unapologetic about her role in slipping the Clinton campaign debate questions.

If the Democratic Party s going to survive this debacle, it has got to reclaim its roots and turn to folks like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for guidance. Clintonism is dead. Dead. Even so, it is going to take a long time for the Democratic Party to reclaim the trust it has lost among working folks. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Labor South: Doing something I vowed I'd never do--Vote for a Clinton

OXFORD, Miss. – I drove back from my 50th high school reunion (yep, I’ve been around that long) in Sanford, North Carolina, Oct. 9, leaving behind the flooded creeks, downed power lines, and punishing rain Hurricane Matthew inflicted while my old school mates and I traded laughs and half-century-old memories.

The second presidential debate came on the radio somewhere near the Alabama-Mississippi state line, and my wife Suzanne looked at me as if to say, “Out of one storm into another!”

Listening to the debate--rather than seeing it--we missed Republican contender Donald Trump’s menacing stalk as Democrat Hillary Clinton tried to deflect her opponent’s charges regarding the 33,000 missing emails from her time as secretary of state.

Actually, the number jumped to 39,000 a few minutes later, as Trump borrowed a leaf from ‘50s-era communist witch-hunter Joseph McCarthy, who would waive a list of “known communists” in the Department of State ranging in number from 10 to 205. It depended on which speech as to whether there were 10, 57, 81 or 205.

Clinton’s responses to Trump’s attacks weren’t always encouraging. Regarding WikiLeaks revelations about her secret speeches to Wall Street executives, she essentially resorted to an ad hominem charge against the Russians for “directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election.” She did the same in the third debate on Oct. 19.

Certainly the United States would never try to interfere in the elections of another sovereign state, right? Well, there was Honduras and the brutal coup there in 2009 that had the implicit blessing of Secretary of State Clinton. And, of course, there was Libya and the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 that Secretary of State Clinton convinced President Obama to support.

Clinton’s frequent evocation of Trump’s alleged ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin is a little unsettling. “Clinton wants an air war with Russia,” Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein told hundreds of students and local citizens in Oxford earlier this month.

If Trump indeed is too buddy-buddy with Vladimir Putin, he’s also more than willing to go to war with Iran, vowing in a speech last month in Pensacola, Florida, that Iranian ships would be “shot out of the water” if they so much as inappropriately approach U.S. vessels. He also took aim at Iran in the third debate.

Chalk up another reason many American voters are profoundly unhappy with the candidates from both major parties this election. Fifteen years of war are enough, you two! Americans are sick of war.

Over the years, I have aimed my pen many times at the Clintons. I think President Bill Clinton’s so-called “triangulation” of politics was an effort to neuter any passion for social justice that might remain from the old Democratic Party that brought us the New Deal and the Great Society. His subsequent repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act deregulating Wall Street set the stage for the 2007-8 financial disaster. His wife has done little to distance herself from these policies of her husband.

Yet I’m going to hold my nose election day and vote for a Clinton, something I once vowed I would never do.

Donald Trump, for all his anti-system appeal and legitimate criticism of Clinton-pushed trade deals like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (Hillary Clinton now says she opposes TPP), is a reckless, dangerous demagogue, the crowning achievement of Fox News’ years-long, 24-7 intravenous injection of poison into American minds. Just like Fox News, Trump is perpetually factually challenged, hysterically biased, contemptuous of others’ ideas, so asphalted into his own mythos that he no longer can know what he doesn’t know.

Remember, it was Fox News that helped promote Trump’s ridiculous “birther” campaign to try and discredit President Obama by saying he wasn’t born in the United States.

It’s no accident that accused sexual predator and former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes has been in Trump’s camp, advising him in his debates with Clinton. For Ailes, Trump is a dream come true.

Not for me. Trump is so bad I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton. I’m hoping pressure from her primary opponent Bernie Sanders and the millennials who are forcing the Democratic Party establishment to shift away from the Bill Clinton model are going to keep Hillary Clinton from breaking the progressive promises she has made on the 2016 campaign trail.

At my recent high school reunion, I thought a lot about my own youth and youthful idealism. I like to think I’ve held on to a little of it.  Maybe that’s why I’m hopeful the United States is going to survive this political storm, just like my wife and I escaped Hurricane Matthew--with a lot of war stories but no serious bruises.

This column, which appeared recently in the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Mississippi, is a folo-up to an earlier posting on Labor South.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Standing Rock protest by the Sioux and their supporters: an effort to break from a long, sad history

(Famed 19th Century Sioux Indian Chief Sitting Bull, who was killed at Standing Rock in 1890)

The Dakotas lie outside the U.S. South, but the struggles of indigenous people such as the Sioux have parallels throughout the Global South.

In the 1934 Warner Brothers film Massacre, Joe Thunder Horse (played by Richard Barthelmess) tries to navigate the white majority world by playing an Indian in a Wild West show. After reconnecting with his Indian heritage and seeing the depth of injustice whites have done to that heritage and his people, he goes to Washington, D.C., to plead with the Indian Affairs Commissioner to do something about it.

“Every move I make is blocked by the same organized groups that have been bleeding the Indians for years,” the commissioner tells him. “Water power, oil rights, cattle ranges, timber—whatever the Indian happens to own, they manage to get it away from him. They control public opinion and legislation, and they’ve got me hog-tied.”

The same could be said today as American Indians from across the nation join in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Indians along the North and South Dakota border to protest plans by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners to build the so-called Dakota Access pipeline, part of which would be on Sioux land and under the Missouri River. The river is the tribe’s only source of water.

Tribal leaders say the pipeline seriously threatens the water supply on the reservation and could destroy ancestral lands considered sacred. In taking their stand, they and hundreds of their supporters have created the largest joint effort by American Indians in the nation’s history.

Company officials insist the Indians’ concerns have no foundation and that they have met with tribal representatives numerous times over the issue as well as provided the U.S. Corps of Engineers—which owns the land and approved the pipeline—with extensive data backing their claims. They say the pipeline meets and exceeds existing safety standards.

A federal judge denied a request by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to stop construction on the pipeline, but the Obama Administration proceeded with temporarily shutting down the part of the project that was a half-mile from the reservation.

The protest has led to dozens of arrests, including the filing of trespassing and riot charges against Democracy Now reporter Amy Goodman for filming a confrontation between Indians and the pipeline security officers. These confrontations have included the pepper-spraying of protesters and unleashed dogs lunging at them. The charges against Goodman were later dropped.

The dispute has gotten minimal attention from the mainstream media—no big surprise there—even during a presidential election when it would be interesting to hear the candidates’ positions.

It’s the latest chapter in the long, sad history of American Indians in this country. Four years ago, New York Times writer Nicholas D. Kristof traveled to the Sioux Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and called it “the poster child of American poverty and of the failures of the reservation system for American Indians in the West.”

Kristof said Census data showed that Shannon County there had the lowest per capita income in the nation in 2010 and that several other counties that included Sioux reservations were among the nation’s poorest. The jobless rate in Pine Ridge was 70 percent, 50 percent of the over-40 population suffered from diabetes, and as much as two-thirds of the adult population were alcoholics. Tuberculosis was rampant—eight times the national rate—and life expectancy was under 50 years of age.

The Pine Ridge reservation includes Wounded Knee, the village where the U.S. Seventh Cavalry slaughtered Chief Big Foot’s band in 1890, the last of the 19th century battles between U.S. military and American Indians.  Famous Sioux Chief Sitting Bull was killed at Standing Rock that same year in a shooting melee related to government efforts to crack down on the so-called "Ghost Dance" movement. The Ghost Dance was a mystical ceremony Native Americans performed to rid their land of the white man.

Maybe it’s better if the mainstream media stay away from Standing Rock. When they do come, they tend to treat American Indian issues like a John Wayne movie, such as the coverage by many news organizations of the Wounded Knee protest and hostage crisis on the Pine Ridge reservation back in 1973,  the Navaho-Hopi land dispute near the Grand Canyon 10 years later, and the so-called “Navaho flu” health crisis in New Mexico in 1993.

“I feel a sadness for the white man,” American Indian Movement leader Russell Means once said. “He has no roots. No foundations.”

And too often, the white man, in his greed, attacks those who do have roots and foundations but stand in the white man’s way.