Plains Indian Art: A Living Legacy

“The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” is in its final stage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (through 10 May 2015). An amazing and profound exhibit of American Indian art, it deserves all the raves it gets. The reviewer for Indian Country Today called it “a rare and important showcasing of the art and creativity of some of the original inhabitants of Turtle Island.” The New York Times reviewer described it as “one of the most completely beautiful sights in New York right now.” A reviewer in the New Yorker magazine said the show is “the most comprehensive of its kind...exactingly selected and elegantly installed.”

I visited the exhibition in late March. My word for the experience: overwhelming. I was not alone. Hundreds of people, many visibly moved—some even shaken—by the power of the art and artifacts, made their way through the gallery. As I moved from one piece to another, thoughts and emotions swirled through me, pushing me to contemplate what this exhibit means.

The impact of the exhibition hits immediately. Two pipes displayed at the entrance bring home the significance of prayer and tobacco, reminding us that smoking encompasses a ceremony of breath. The sculptural forms of the pipes are mythic figures, intercessors and companions in making breath visible. Visible prayer. Far cry from today’s public health campaigns against tobacco adulterated with chemicals.

A Quapaw tanned leather robe is complexly painted to tell a battle story and show how the Quapaw cooperated with French traders. Its center holds images of celestial powers—sun and moon. The robe carries so much content so vividly portrayed that I could feel the lives of the villagers and warriors, the traders, the lands on which they lived. Even after three centuries (the curators date the robe c. 1740), the energies of cultures meeting, cooperating, conflicting are palpable. The robe, like the pipes, is alive.

Another robe, thought to be Illinois, depicts a mythic bird, with sharp geometric shapes and lines that seemed to me to foreshadow the rise of modern art. The museum catalog, which I bought as a record of the exhibit, confirmed this, stating that the robe displays “all the tenets of the finest geometric painting…: intricately balanced composition, precisely controlled and sharply delineated forms, elongated tapering lines, small unpainted elements, and shifting focal points and rhythmic movements.”   
The displays of clothing—women’s dresses, men’s shirts—pushed me to an emotional edge. They are stunning works of art, but, more significantly, they carry intense energies of those who made and wore them. I felt their presence. If you think that’s strange, consider these remarks in a recent New Yorker magazine article by NYU Professor Jessamyn Hatcher, an expert in textile and fiber art: “Clothing is different from most other kinds of objects in museums. Garments never lose the imprint of the body that was once inside them; indeed, the chemical reactions between the materials of the garments and the wearer’s body are ongoing.”

In a move of great significance, the texts on the walls of the exhibit and in the catalog speak in the present tense, unlike so many discussions of Indians that deploy past tense verbs, as if Indians no longer exist. The exhibition, though it presents primarily old works, makes clear that Indians exist, here and now; that Indians have survived centuries of invasive colonialism and domination. 

This point is emphasized by the inclusion of contemporary works by Native artists, which, in the words of Gaylord Torrence in the Introduction to the catalog, “reveal lasting forms along with evolving concepts.” The exhibit and catalog, he writes, “present a view of Plains Indian aesthetic traditions over the long history…and as they are being redefined today.” 

There is a past tense to the exhibition, simply because the older objects represent an era that no longer exists: the era defined by horses and buffalo. But even this, as Colin Calloway explains in an opening essay in the catalog, “was a phase in a story of perpetual change.” Horses and buffalo still live, but they are not the defining elements of contemporary Plain cultures.

The catalog authors are forthright in naming the historical factors that disrupted Plains Indians and their art. Torrence: “Artistic expression from this period…reflects the efforts of missionaries, forced educational policies, effects of Wild West shows, and perceptions of popular American culture.” Calloway: “The United States demanded the destruction of their way of life as well as their military subjugation.”

Part way through the exhibit, I recalled the epithet about Indian trade beads—that Indians are so simple they valued  “trinkets.” It dawned on me that the pervasive integration of trinkets—beads, buttons, small metal objects—with such native ornamentation as porcupine quills and feathers marks a sophisticated aesthetic consciousness of daily life. Indian art is integral to everyday objects, not a separate category of performance.

Arthur Amiotte (Oglala Lakota) addresses this in an opening essay in the catalog. He writes, “art is where the underpinnings of tribal thought and values are encrypted.” He adds, the adornment of clothing and other items to signify “successful encounter[s] with spiritual powers” and “success in the hunt or battle” amount to “message systems advocating collective tribal pride.” 

Amiotte discusses how these practices and materials changed in response to U.S. government prohibition of Indian ceremonial and social occasions: “Some…pieces were exchanged for food and household necessities at the newly established trading posts.” Ornamented clothing also became “decorative outfits for show performers” in “Wild West tours.”

“Today,” Amiotte continues, tribal arts and ancient beliefs “are once again conjoined…imparting a clear message: ‘We have survived, we are here today, well-adorned, in joyous celebration of our heritage as Native Americans.'”

“The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” opened in Paris, at the Musée du quai Branly, traveled to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, and completes its journey at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It draws on the strengths of each of these institutions, in a collaborative effort to recognize and promote “masterpieces of non-Western art”; in this case, the “sophistication and power of Plains Indian art.”

The exhibition catalog is a work of art in itself, containing images and detailed descriptions of every item, together with a series of informative and scholarly introductions. The Met has placed digital images, videos, and an audio guide online, so those who cannot visit in person may yet experience the power and beauty of the work.

The U.S. and Israel: Mirrors of Religious Colonialism

The governments of the United States and Israel share a common religious-political tradition, rooted in the story of the Family of Abraham. It undergirds their relations with the peoples who were there first. In the U.S., the Indians; in Israel, the Palestinians. We can explore how one government echoes the other.

A recent article by David Shulman in the New York Review of Books reviews what he calls “the finest Israeli documentary ever made about the occupation, ‘The Law in These Parts.'” Shulman holds the Renee Lang Professorship of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and participates in Ta’ayush, an activist Arab-Jewish Partnership organization. Ta’ayush works with Palestinian farmers and landowners to defend their homes, fields, and grazing grounds.

The documentary focuses on a group of jurists, legal advisers, and judges who sat in the military courts in the occupied Palestinian territories. In Shulman’s words, the film shows that “the legality of torture, mass arrests, prolonged administrative detention without trial, the violent suppression of civilian demonstrations, punitive house demolitions, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, and other practices … have become commonplace under Israeli rule.”

These themes and events—”the general, remorseless processes of dispossession and expulsion”— echo the history of violent dispossession of Native Peoples in the Americas, where destruction of Native communities were the hallmark of colonial invasion and ‘westward expansion.’

As Shulman explains, the appropriation of Palestinian land for Israeli “settlements” started with “ideologically motivated, religious settlers, who fairly quickly won government backing.” He points out, “Initially, when the question of the legality of this procedure came up before the Israeli Supreme Court [in 1979], the court … declared [it] illegal and forced the government to move the projected settlement to a nearby hill.”

The court’s ruling, however, was short-lived. As recounted by Eyal Press in another review of the Israeli documentary, “Just hours after the ruling was handed down,” the government began plotting how to get around the law.

The plot provided another echo of American colonialism. Where the American colonizers relied on 15th century Christian imperialism—the “doctrine of Christian discovery”—the Israelis borrowed a doctrine from the 19th century Ottoman Empire.
Ottoman law identified a category called “mawat”—”dead” land. It applied to lands outside a village that had not been cultivated for a period of years. The Israeli government argued that this law was still in force in Palestinian territories, and that such “dead” land could be appropriated by Israel.

The terminology of “dead land” again echoes Christian colonialism against Native Peoples in America, where the invaders who wanted to ‘legally’ appropriate land declared it “terra nullius”—Latin for “no one’s land.”

As soon as the Israeli government determined to use this old Ottoman doctrine, the military began flying helicopters over Palestinian lands, looking for areas that could be labeled “mawat” and seized by the state. Israeli occupiers streamed into these areas, building a string of new “settlements.”

When the new occupations were challenged by lawsuits, the Israeli Supreme Court changed its tune. It ruled that the Israeli state, as an occupying power, had discretion to dispose of the lands as it saw fit. Under this rule, the court regarded the Israeli state as the “custodian of enemy property,” with the implication—however far-fetched—that the Israelis were taking care of the land until it could be restored to its owners.

Here again, we find an echo of the American colonial invasion: the notion that the United States government is the “guardian” of the property of the Native Peoples. This doctrine supports the power of the government to do what it decides is best with the property, even where the original Peoples are still living on the land.

As Shulman says, “In the end, the law is only one delimited dimension of a pervasive political program.” But one important political consideration distinguishes the Israeli from the American colonial program: the question of citizenship. Whereas the United States government has frequently attempted to “assimilate” Native Peoples and has unilaterally declared them to be “citizens” of the U.S., the Israeli government has resisted citizenship status for Palestinians.

As Daniel J. Elazar explains, in his essay at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, “Israel as a Jewish State,” “Formally, Israel is built on the modern European model of centralized, reified statehood. In contrast, the weight of the Jewish political tradition, while emphasizing the importance of political independence for Jewish survival and fulfillment, is directed against that conception of statehood.”

This means that the nature of Israeli citizenship presents serious obstacles to the “assimilation” of Palestinians. The issue boiled up in early May 2014, at an Israeli government cabinet meeting: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pushed for a change to Israel’s constitution—to affirm that Israel is “the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people.”

As reported in The Guardian, Netanyahu added that the civil rights of minorities, including Arabs, would be guaranteed. Civil rights are also recognized in the U.S., but, unlike Israel, the U.S. Constitution mandates a separation of state and religion. Despite this major difference between Israeli and American colonial programs, the fact remains that the foundations of the two systems are mirror images: state power rooted in religious and imperial colonial doctrines.

To add one more echo: In January 2012, Israel’s High Court rejected a challenge to Israeli mines in Palestinian territory, ruling that the occupation has gone on for so long that its legal status has “unique characteristics.” Compare this to the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., which held that the “longstanding, distinctly non-Indian character of central New York” made it impossible to enforce Oneida ownership of the lands.

In Israel as in the U.S., a colonial occupation of lands belonging to others has developed its own special rules to justify itself. This “justification,” however, is not the same as “justice.”

“In the Spirit of Crazy Horse”: Peter Matthiessen Leaves a Legacy

Peter Matthiessen left this life on April 5, 2014. His obituary appeared in the Arts section of the New York Times, a fitting tribute to the only writer to win the National Book Award in both fiction and nonfiction.

Indian Country remembers Matthiessen for his book, “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,” an indictment of the U.S. government’s prosecution and conviction of Leonard Peltier in the killing of two FBI agents at Pine Ridge in 1975. The book became a lightning rod for non-Indian attacks. Two lawsuits delayed distribution of the book at a crucial time in Leonard’s legal appeals, when an FBI agent and a former South Dakota governor each sued Matthiessen and his publisher for libel. Courts eventually dismissed the suits, but the costs to defend the book amounted to two million dollars.

Matthiessen wrote with breadth and depth about subjects around the globe. The New York Times obituary listed a sample: “‘Under the Mountain Wall: A Chronicle of Two Seasons of Stone Age New Guinea’ (1962); ‘Oomingmak: The Expedition to the Musk Ox Island in the Bering Sea’ (1967); ‘The Shorebirds of North America’ (1967, revised as ‘The Wind Birds’ in 1973); ‘Blue Meridian: The Search for the Great White Shark’ (1971); ‘The Tree Where Man Was Born’ (1972), a contemplative account of East Africa; and ‘Sand Rivers’ (1981), about a safari in the Selous Game Preserve in Tanzania.”

“In the Spirit of Crazy Horse”—like other exposés of the government’s efforts to imprison leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM)—riled not only the FBI and a governor, but also some reviewers. Two negative reviews of particular significance were in Newsweek magazine (March 28, 1983) and The New York Times Book Review (March 6, 1983).

The Newsweek reviewer, Peter Prescott, found the book “bloated” with interviews and documents, but nevertheless said, “Matthiessen argues convincingly that…Peltier…was railroaded into an illegal conviction…. The accounts he gives of federal lawlessness…become in time stupefying.”

In an astonishing turnabout, however, Prescott concluded that Peltier did not deserve further attention because his case is “not particularly interesting. Its manifold injustices are in no way unique or even uncommon.”

In other words, the Newsweek reviewer dismissed the significance of Leonard’s case on the ground that the same injustices are happening to other people all the time! This perspective contradicts human rights and the bill of rights, but it passed the editors of a national magazine.

The New York Times reviewer was Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz. Despite his reputation as a constitutional and criminal law scholar, Dershowitz did not regard the evidence of an FBI frame-up as very significant. He wrote, “Matthiessen…fails to convince.” Dershowitz’s review was replete with white guilt clichés, like the comment that it will be “impossible for any sensitive reader ever again to enjoy Mount Rushmore.”

Dershowitz waxed romantic about the historical Crazy Horse—”a noble 19th-century leader of Indian resistance”—but as for Leonard Peltier and AIM, they were “violent…self-destructive…self-appointed…radical(s)” who “exploited their…heritage for their own personal ends.”

Dershowitz concluded, like Prescott, with the suggestion that Peltier “ended where (he belongs)—in jail.” Dershowitz’s book review prompted a protest in his office by Harvard students and members of the Massachusetts Indian community, who accused him of “insult” and “slander” of Indians.

Without Matthiessen’s understanding of Indian people and culture, the book never could have been written. No amount of “objective interest” would have been enough to gain admittance to the homes, hearts, minds, and memories of the numerous Indian people whom Matthiessen interviewed. Too many Indians have been affronted by too many well-intentioned whites—from authors to missionaries to lawyers—for any Indian person to easily share information with a writer or reporter, especially on a topic of potentially lethal significance.

Matthiessen’s ability to enter people’s lives gave him access not only to Indians present at the shoot-out and involved in previous and subsequent events, but also to crucial informants on the other side—most notably David Price, the FBI Special Agent whose aggressive surveillance of AIM leaders made him a key figure in the prosecution of Leonard Peltier.

Matthiessen didn’t idealize anything to conclude that Leonard Peltier’s conviction and imprisonment amount to an injustice. Matthiessen’s interviews—revealing fabricated testimony, intimidated witnesses, suppressed evidence, and other prosecutorial wrongs—were confirmed in 12,000 pages of documents obtained from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by Peltier’s attorneys. These documents eventually led Matthiessen to conclude that “Leonard Peltier deserved a new trial, not only because of dishonest proceedings…but because of accumulating evidence that the authorities had wanted him out of the way whether he was guilty or not.”

“In the Spirit of Crazy Horse” includes chapters about the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the late 1960s and early 1970s, providing a valuable addition to that period of American history. Despite the enormous publicity focused on AIM during its periods of high conflict, no comprehensive account of the movement and its organization occurred until Matthiessen’s book. His interviews with most of the key figures and many observers offer a definitive history of AIM.

Matthiessen also includes a very useful chapter on the Wounded Knee trials, showing the misconduct and political aspects of those prosecutions. Still other chapters discuss the impact on AIM of COINTELPRO, the FBI secret counter-intelligence project directed against domestic protest groups—including a discussion of the activities of then South Dakota Assistant Attorney General William Janklow cooperating with the FBI’s program to “neutralize” AIM.

The bulk of “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse” consists of a very detailed presentation of the 1975 Pine Ridge shoot-out and its aftermath in criminal prosecutions. Separate chapters present the shoot-out itself from the viewpoints of the Indians and the FBI. Matthiessen provided extensive documentation and interview material, and carefully reviewed every aspect of each event in an attempt to come as close as possible to what may be said to be the truth. In the course of several chapters, a full, moving history emerges.

Ultimately, the central thread of “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse” becomes an exploration of the long conflict between whites and Indians, showing it as attempted cultural genocide. Matthiessen helped us understand that the Indian wars have not ended. Today, rangeland is less important than the minerals beneath it, and the forces of giant energy corporations have supplemented the cowboys.

The overall coordination of the Indian wars is still in the hands people whose vision of the world is dominated by the quest for ever-greater accumulation of material wealth. In this context, “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse” demonstrates that a shoot-out between Indians and FBI agents at Pine Ridge reservation in 1975 was a battle and not simply a crime.

Annenberg Rescue of Hopi Sacred Objects: Cautions and Lessons

Congratulations to the Hopi, the Annenberg foundation, the French lawyer who represented the Hopi pro bono, and U.S. embassy officers in Paris. This team brought about the rescue of a number of Hopi sacred objects that were on the auction block in Paris.

When the New York Times reported the rescue, one reader offered a critical comment: “If I were Hopi, and objected to the sale of these artifacts on religious grounds, arguing that it is inappropriate to sell these sacred items for money, I don’t think my concerns would be met by having a foundation buy the artifacts and give them to some particular Hopis or a foundation or something. Doesn’t the foundation’s purchase of these items simply confirm and help create a market for the artifacts? In other words, if it were me, I would object to the sale itself, not to the fact that I can’t afford to buy the artifacts back myself.”

The Hopi did object to the sale and tried every effort to stop the auction, but they were grateful for the result: “We thank the Annenberg Foundation for their good hearts in bringing our Katsinas home to our people where they will be cared for.”

Nevertheless, the critical comment bears some attention. It was repeated by a Bloomberg columnist, who said Annenberg “has legitimized the very situation it means to criticize, making the sacred objects seem fair game.” The columnist added, “The best bet for indigenous people to secure their cultural property is through the legal system, … taking a principled stand….”

The legal framework for protecting cultural property includes most notably the 1970 United Nations Convention on Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which refers explicitly to “the right to maintain, control, protect and develop … cultural heritage.” As the Bloomberg column argues, Annenberg could have “worked with the tribes to acquire the objects through legal mechanisms, [and] created a model that other tribes could follow.”

The problem is that the law is a tricky path. What looks like protection may turn out to be just another form of domination, as with the “trust doctrine” in U.S. federal Indian law, which turns trust law upside down by giving the “trustee” the power to take property from the “beneficiaries.” The Tee-Hit-Ton case in 1955 still stands as the precedent for that outcome.

Perhaps the best thing to say about the Annenberg intervention is that it shows how a combination of cultural pride, political action, legal threat, and money may succeed in changing the climate and context in which art collectors work. It is true that the auction house and sellers gained by the Annenberg purchases, but it is also true that the intervention increased awareness among art buyers and sellers.

Blouin ArtInfo, which bills itself as “the premier global online destination for art and culture,” carried an extensive interview with Sam Tenakhongva, a Hopi cultural leader who was the driving force behind legal action to stop the auction. Tenakhongva did not know of the Annenberg effort until afterwards, but he said it assists in getting people “to discuss and to think.” He added, “The work isn’t over.”

Similar views were expressed in ThinkProgress, another cultural forum, which saw the Annenberg Hopi effort as prelude to “a more difficult and sophisticated conversation about what art should enter the international market, and which, if any, should stay out of it.”

Thus, despite important cautions about participating in auctions to protect cultural property, it seems clear that the extraordinary event of an international foundation moving secretly to restore Hopi sacred objects is a significant marker in the ongoing struggle of Native Nations to guard their cultures. As Tenakhongva put it in the Annenberg press release, “This is a great day for not only the Hopi people but for the international community as a whole.”

For those critics who still say it would have been better for the Hopi to lose the objects and challenge the auction in court, there is a strange bit of history behind at least one of the objects that should give them pause about the efficacy of the law (in addition to the fact that the Hopi did try the legal route on this and a prior auction, without success).

It turns out that one of the items at the auction was a Zuni altar from the collection of Vincent Price, the late Hollywood horror film star who, as it turns out, was also a member and chairman of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The auction catalog says the altar includes depictions of historical incidents when Spanish gold-seekers and missionaries invaded Zuni lands. It says the altar “makes a strong impression and causes troubling emotions.”

How could such a significant sacred object become part of an “art” collection by a well-known member of a United States agency supposedly devoted to American Indian interests? The answer may be in the Board’s “mission” to “promote … the expansion of the Indian arts and crafts market.”

The U.S. Congress created the Indian Arts and Crafts Board in 1935. Its function and duty is the “promotion of economic welfare of Indian people through the development of their arts and crafts and the expansion of the market for such products.” In other words, from the perspective of the Arts and Crafts Board—and perhaps Price himself—anything that expands the “market” is good for Indians. The auction of Zuni and Hopi objects was a market function. Presumably, under this law, the more Indian “art” that is bought and sold, the better things are.

One may say this is an outmoded perspective, and that a more nuanced approach is needed, to distinguish between “art” and sacred objects. This, in fact, is a key point in the strengthening debate that the Hopi and Annenberg are fostering. It is also a reminder that the legal route recommended by some critics of Annenberg is filled with perils, not least of which is outmoded doctrines and concepts.

The Zuni altar made its way from its homeland to a Paris auction house through the efforts of a person who was proud of his role as a benefactor of American Indian art. In a 1992 oral history interview conducted by the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art, Price said he was interested in bringing attention to “what injustices have been done to American Indians through the lack of interest [in] their art, through the lack of interest in their lives and their problems.”

When the interviewer asked about the “essential connection between art …and an understanding of culture and its identity,” Price answered in the affirmative, but did not engage the issue. We can’t know whether, if Price were here today, he would take a different tack. But we do know that a different tack is necessary, and that the Hopi and their partners are leading the way.

New Declaration of Worldwide War Without End? CDC Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse

Laugh or cry?

… Congress is considering monumental new legislation that would grant the president – and all presidents after him – sweeping new power to make war almost anywhere and everywhere. Unlike previous grants of authority for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the proposed legislation would allow a president to use military force wherever terrorism suspects are present in the world, regardless of whether there has been any harm to U.S. citizens, or any attack on the United States, or any imminent threat of an attack. The legislation is broad enough to permit a president to use military force within the United States and against American citizens. The legislation contains no expiration date, and no criteria to determine when a president’s authority to use military force would end.

via New Declaration of Worldwide War Without End? Congress Poised to Abdicate Authority to Declare War | American Civil Liberties Union.

Never Fear – CDC is Ready
Get a Kit, Make a Plan, Be Prepared
If zombies did start roaming the streets, CDC would conduct an investigation much like any other disease outbreak. CDC would provide technical assistance to cities, states, or international partners dealing with a zombie infestation.

via CDC – Blogs – Public Health Matters Blog – Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.

War-mongers in Congress gear up for perpetual blood lust, while the Centers for Disease Control get ready for zombies! This stuff puts fiction to shame. Or, to borrow a suggestion from A.O. Scott in his wonderful review of two film documentaries about Bob Dylan:

The center of gravity is shifting, or perhaps the laws of gravity are being rewritten entirely, permanently troubling our ability to distinguish seriousness from whimsy, or reality from artifice.

via Bob Dylan in Two Movies at the Film Forum –

Contaminated Water Escaping Nuclear Plant, Japanese Regulator Warns –

Government officials have said that the water is probably leaking from broken pipes inside the reactor, from a breach in the reactor’s containment vessel or from the inner pressure vessel that houses the nuclear fuel.

via Contaminated Water Escaping Nuclear Plant, Japanese Regulator Warns –

Geez, I guess the water must be coming from somewhere…. did they check for a leaky toilet? No, there wouldn’t be plutonium there, unless someone tried to flush it down as the investigators arrived…..

How long can they pretend this is not a meltdown?

but not to worry:

“We’re basically in a brainstorming phase right now,” ….

ADDENDUM 18 May 2011:

Finally, the truth is acknowledged:

Cleanup Schedule Unchanged at Nuclear Power Plant After Release of Meltdown –

The company now acknowledges that a fuel meltdown occurred at three of the plant’s six reactors in the early hours of the crisis….

As Chico Marx said: “”Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

Pfc. Bradley Manning :: Mohamed Bouazizi ?

Paul Craig Roberts wrote, March 13, 2011:

In his marvelous book, The Emotional Lives Of Animals, Marc Bekoff describes the devastating impact on animals of being kept in small cages. US soldier Bradley Manning has been kept illegally in an even smaller cage for eight months with no end in sight. At his press conference on March 11, one reporter found the courage to ask President Obama about the conditions of Manning’s confinement. The great and noble president of the united states replied that he had asked the Pentagon and was assured that the conditions of Manning’s confinement “are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards.” Only a George Orwell could do justice to an american president who thinks that keeping a US soldier in conditions worst than those that drive caged animals insane is “appropriate.”

Our Time of Universal Deceit Needs An Orwell

I’m wondering: might Bradley Manning become America’s Mohamed Bouazizi? The Pentagon says it’s afraid Pfc. Manning might inflict “self-injury,” and is therefore keeping him in isolation. Farfetched as it is, the Pentagon’s fear must be that a Bradley Manning suicide would trigger a popular eruption of citizens outraged that this young soldier, whose only ‘crime’ is his embarrassment of United States officials, would be brought to suicide by his government’s actions.

When P.J. Crowley, the state department spokesman, was forced to resign for telling the world that Pentagon treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning in military detention has been “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid,” he stated:

The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.

Crowley’s firing is further evidence that the “laws and values” of the Obama administration continue the policies and practices of the prior administration, and that Obama will also defend those policies when given an opportunity to change them.

Make no mistake: the Obama administration wants to have it both ways: to say the release of secret cables “critically impact” national security; and at the same time to say that the release of secret cables is not such a big deal. Obama is either wholly complicit in Pfc. Manning’s torture by isolation and confinement, or he is wholly captive to rogue elements of the government detaining Private Manning. Either way, there is no change we can believe in.

Obama ≠ ‘change we can believe in’ – new evidence

The recent WikiLeaks release of State Department cables provides details showing Obama not only failed / refused to investigate Bush administration torturers, but actively worked to stop an investigation….

The only ‘change I can believe in’ is change founded on investigation of what is to be changed….

GREEDY GEEZERS? – Seniors, entitlements, and the midterms

James Surowiecki [New Yorker Magazine, November 22, 2010] leaps to the conclusion that seniors are ‘greedy’ because we want to protect Medicare. What he neglects to point out is that the defense of Medicare is a defense of the only ‘single payer’ health care program in the U.S. Seniors may be current beneficiaries, but we are certainly not alone in thinking that single-payer is the preferred way to finance health care, as opposed to the private-proifit insurance scheme that dominates the U.S.

Polls before and after Obama’s election showed substantial support across the country and across age and class lines for a ‘public option’ — often referred to as ‘Medicare for all’ — in the debates about health care. Needless to say, Obama not only failed to capitalize on this broad support, but caved to the insurance industry without a struggle. It was left to seniors, the only section of the population with actual experience of the ‘public option,’ to defend against the industry juggernaut. That Obama ignored single-payer in the face of strong public sentiment can only be chalked up as another example of his overall failure to deliver (or even forcefully advance) any ‘change we can believe in.’

The fact that the health insurance industry is properly understood as a component of the financial sector of the economy, rather than as an aspect of health care per se, means that the ‘Affordable Care Act’ (a typical legislative misnomer) is but one part of Obama’s overall deference to and bailout of the financial sector, at the expense of everything else.

I didn’t vote Republican or tea-bag, and I am dismayed by the dysfunctionality of our party system that offered only these choices. Nonetheless, if there is an argument to be made about seniors and Medicare in relation to Obamacare, let us at least give credit where credit is due, to the recipients and defenders of a single-payer health care system.

Obama as a product of ‘affirmative action’ – a heretical view

Paul Krugman wrote (NYTimes, November 11, 2010):

… the main reason Mr. Obama finds himself in this situation is that two years ago he was not, in fact, prepared to deal with the world as he was going to find it. And it seems as if he still isn’t.

My take comes close to a liberal heresy…namely, that Obama is a product of ‘affirmative action,’ boosted and carried along through Harvard, etc., as a black face for the white system…. He never had to deal with outright racism or poverty in any significant way as a personal struggle. I can’t imagine what he did as a ‘community organizer’; my experience with that (in late 1960s New Haven especially) brought me close to people who had a strong capacity to confront the world as they find it. I have seen a Republican suggestion that Obama is a student of Saul Alinsky; this is bullshit, as anyone familiar with Alinsky’s methods knows. Alinsky was in-your-face; Obama is Stepin Fetchit by comparison….

Obama made a mistake in bringing Summers and Geithner into the administration, both culprits in the banking debacle; next, his mistake was to dump $$ into the banks w/o taking control of them (even George Soros said as much in an article in the November 11, 2010, NY Review of Books); after that, he was wrong to put aside calls for investigations into Bush malpractices (including torture and Iraq ‘intelligence’ manipulation)…. on all fronts, his mandate to ‘change’ things would have supported reviews of what was to be changed, i.e., what had been done to get into these various messes. By not uncovering the deep mess, he empowered the right-wing nuts by leaving their discourse unchallenged…. and they, sensing his weakness to confront, surged ahead.